The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 21

88th key cover image

Okay, a little housekeeping before we get underway.

First, I’d hoped to wind this story down by chapter 21, but more and more changes to the original outline have forced a rethink on that… So, looking at a few more chapters (at a minimum), it was either do that or write one massive ‘War and Peace’ length chapter; in the end I’ve decided to break the conclusion down into smaller bits. Today’s chapter is a shorty and will wind down part three of the tale. Chapter 22 will begin Part IV.

Assuming no new stoppages to non-emergent surgeries, I’m going under the knife in early August, so Harry’s story needs to be done before that happens – one way or another. But another story will wrap by then, as well. The working title is ‘Saturday in the Park,’ and I’d say this newest story is more than halfway complete. I wanted to get this info out to you as it is quite possible that, if I finish ‘Saturday’ first, I’ll go ahead and post it before ’88’ wraps up.

So, assuming no major interruptions, both Harry and this new story will be out by the end of the month, and ‘Saturday’ won’t be released in chapter form. Its just one long piece so when it comes out that’s all she wrote, folks…the fat lady will be singing.

These are mad times. Covid has become a surreal part of our day to day routine now, if a most unwelcome part, and Putin’s Puppet (aka Herr Trump) seems to be doing his very best to completely destabilize the world between now and November. Some of you live in parts of the world that are easing up a bit, while others (mostly in the good ole US of A) are still battening down the hatches in one way or another. One way or another, this story has touched us all, and we aren’t close to the end of this tale.

One coping mechanism for many of us has been movies on the various streaming services, and I’ve got a couple of recomendations to share with you. If you’ve got Netflix, I’ve got to mention The Titan as one of the better sci-fi flicks I’ve seen in a while. Their recent documentary on Jeffrey Epstein ought to make your skin crawl, too. Over on Amazon Prime, I ran across a little bit of 60s Cold War nuclear paranoia that you might want to check out, titled The Flight That Disappeared. Really bad score, but the story asks a few important questions in a more-or-less fanciful setting. One last item to put in your pipe…Prometheus and Alien: Covenant ought to be considered as one long thought piece that, in many ways, takes off where Bladerunner left us (and I’d say the Bladerunner sequel, too). The Prometheus storyline is David’s, while Covenant belongs to Walter, but think of David as a stand-in for teleological ethical theory, and Walter as a Deontological döppelganger, while the humans – especially in Covenant – are idiots completely unfit to be roaming around the galaxy. If Ridley Scott gets green-lighted to make his conclusion, it ought to be a real barn burner, but I bring these two up now because there just seems to be something about the current zeitgeist that fits this storyline. Anyway, watch ’em and think about it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Anyway, let’s jump back into Harry’s story…

The Eighty-eighth Key

Part III

Chapter 21

____________________________________

Walking up to the wreck, Callahan thought it looked like an old Soviet T-54 main battle tank, but now, after several years under the desert sun, the original dark green paint had given way to a lizard-like patchwork of rusty tans and grays, the main turret punctured in at least two places by, he assumed, an Israeli tank that had scored a hard kill then moved swiftly on to the next encounter. 

You had lived on this battlefield by keeping your wits about you, or you died – and quickly, too. But wasn’t it the same on any field of combat, Callahan thought. Nothing had changed since Roman legions walked these plains, and as long as humans chose conflict over coexistence nothing ever would change

But right now he was looking for cover, because he could hear several helicopters – and they would be flying a standard search grid, looking for him – headed up the valley in his direction. He found what he needed by crawling under the shattered bulk of the tank’s main hull, and he waited for the first helicopter to show itself.

It didn’t take long.

The Huey flew over the tank once, then circled before setting down twenty meters away.

And as the rotors spun down his round-faced instructor stepped out of the Huey and walked right up to Callahan…

“Could you possibly have found a more obvious place to hide, Inspector Callahan?” Colonel ‘Benny’ Goodman cried. “Really! Have you not listened to one thing we’ve tried to cram inside that nonsensically thick skull of yours!”

Harry pulled himself out of hiding, brushing sand and gravel off his uniform as he stood, but then he jumped back when the colonel pulled out a holstered Beretta and fired three rounds into the sand by his feet.

“Let alone, Inspector Callahan, that in this heat every cobra within a hundred miles will try to find shade this complete!”

Callahan looked down at the still-writhing snake and shuddered.

“Well, I guess it wasn’t a total loss, Callahan. You evaded for fifty-five hours; not bad for your second time out.”

Callahan stood motionless long after the colonel had turned and started back to the Huey.

“Well, come on, Inspector! Or do you want to walk all the way back to camp!”

‘Camp’ was an odd assortment of tents clustered between a few dozen palms that rimmed a small spring-fed watering hole not far from the Dead Sea. The desert here was warm during the day and positively cold at night, and after two nights of sleeping in the rough Callahan was whipped. He wanted a shower and a steak – in no particular order – then about twenty-four hours of serious rack time…

But no…that was not to be.

He was the first picked-up, but an hour later Al Bressler arrived – looking dejected, at least until he found he’d beaten Callahan…

Then Bullitt arrived – looking worn-out – and put-out. 

That left the Bennetts – Sam and Stacy. She was doing pretty good, too, considering she was dead. Or supposed to be, anyway. After the Israelis found the FBI had been penetrated the decision had been made to get her off the streets, and Jim Parish had been recruited to complete the deception. Still, not even the Israelis had considered the scale of the attack that took out Chip Bennett.

Stacy had some serious training under her belt from the FBI Academy in Quantico, but Sam had been a Marine in the war, so it was still even money who might be toughest of the two. 

“So?” Frank asked the group as he settled in with a bottle of cold water. “Who’s gonna last the longest?”

‘Who cares,’ thought Callahan.

Turned out everyone assumed Sam would come in well before his sister, because – of course – he was much older and therefore had to be in worse shape.

Stacy Bennett came in on the next Huey.

And the Israelis had yet to find Sam, and now Colonel Goodman was growing a little concerned.

“Suppose he fell into a ravine?” the colonel’s aide said.

“Or maybe a cobra found him?” Callahan added, still coming to terms with how close he’d come to another fatal encounter with the snakes out there.

They heard another helicopter approaching, but this one was coming from the coast, yet everyone gathered near the pad and waited for it to arrive.

But no, two new instructors jumped out before the heavy transport helicopter thudded away back to the northwest. 

Six hours later – a little after midnight – Sam stepped out of another Huey and joined the team in their mess tent for a quick de-brief, then everyone filed out and found their way to a tent for some sleep; not an hour later the sound of grenades and machine-gun fire filled the air, and the team bolted from their tents – running low to the ground to prepared trenches – only to be told this latest drill was over.

Callahan grumbled as he crawled back into his sleeping bag, wondering what the hell had happened to the comfortable little world he’d left behind in Switzerland…until he found a dead cobra coiled up on top of his sleeping bag.

“Swell,” he growled…but he was too tired to bitch about Goodman’s sick sense of humor just now…

_______________________________

Saul Rosenthal watched British troops loading German prisoners onto transport lorries, yet he was surprised by his lack of emotion as he watched the scene unfold.

“What a fucking waste,” was about all he could think to say as he looked back over the last ten years. A simpleton, really, a raving Austrian lunatic had appealed to the very worst in human nature, a deeply embedded populist anti-semitism combined with a sense of Aryan superiority, and with this divisive hate as his weapon of choice, Hitler had turned an industrious, democratic society in on itself, and he had taken Europe down the same rabbit hole with him. Not even twenty years after the end of the last war. Like a pendulum swinging back and forth between ever widening extremes, Hitler had exposed the raw edges of humanity’s desire for self immolation to a new light of day; he then watered and fed these impulses until the impulse became undeniable. And unstoppable – at least within the confines of Europe.

Rosenthal had watched as Hitler’s brand of divisiveness spread from the Tirol to Bavaria, from greater Germany to France and Italy. Hitler’s brand of hate wasn’t unique, either; it had laid dormant in Europe for ages, the virulence breaking out every fifty years or so, and he knew it would break out again. Hitler had tapped into this same awesome power of hatred just as the next populist leader would – wherever that might be – and humanity would be dragged kicking and screaming down into the warrens once again.

“Maybe Avi is correct,” Saul said to the wind as the last German troops were transported from Denmark. “Maybe Palestine is the answer. Perhaps the world will simply leave us alone.”

But Avi was the traitor that had leaked the scientist’s departure information to the Gestapo, and all in an effort to arrange his marriage to Imogen. 

And he had vowed to kill his brother, hadn’t he?

But how? How do you kill your own flesh and blood without becoming the very evil you hope to destroy?

Then he was hit by the thought: How could the liberal democrats of the Weimar Republic have killed Hitler – without becoming the very thing they wanted to destroy?

But was the equation ever really so simple?

Probably not.

If left as things stood now, he thought, humanity was doomed to cycle between altruistic periods of intellectual expansion and regressive interludes of irrational mysticism. Yet, if a strict balance was maintained between the two cycles, human development might be stymied; the only way forward would be to keep the irrational mysticism ‘within’ – somehow – under control.

So…how could he keep Avi under control?

‘Avi wants Imogen most of all, correct?’ Saul said to himself. ‘That means he wants a future only she can provide. And that means he wants to take her to Palestine.’

He found himself walking along the waterfront – several British-flagged cargo ships off-loading medical supplies. The shipping area was only now coming alive, after several weeks of bombing and resistance activity, and it felt good to see the city coming back to life. Seamen from all over the British Commonwealth were crawling around the wharves but in amongst this vibrant throng he saw a new, very different queue forming quayside…of refugees, if the look of the tattered scarecrows waiting there meant anything at all, and taken as a whole this looked like a very malnourished group…

‘But…what if I deny Avi the future he craves? Would that be punishment enough for his many betrayals?’

He looked at the ships as he walked along the water’s edge, the rough contours of a plan taking shape as he looked at the destitute scarecrows gathered in the shadows of a broken world. ‘I’ve got to keep her away from Avi, whatever I do. Somehow, I’ve got to break this new cycle he seems intent on starting…’

_____________________________

After another day in the desert Callahan was exhausted and his body felt sore all over, but so too did they all – though the oldest among them, Sam Bennett, still seemed the most ‘on the ball’ – both physically and emotionally. Harry knew Sam was carrying the heaviest burden of those in their little group – the death of his son – yet as far as Chip’s murder was concerned Sam’s sister Stacy seemed to have been the most adversely affected. The ‘attack’ had been uncovered only hours before it happened, and the advance word was a sniper was going to try to take out Stacy. The bomb in Frank’s Porsche had taken everyone, including the Israelis, by surprise; now Sam was intent on revenge and his fury burned with a ferocity that really troubled Stacy.

Yet, after talking with Stacy, Harry learned that what bothered her most of was much simpler, if far more deadly. Someone in the Bureau had ‘burned’ her, had been providing the Bay Area Vigilante Group with detailed reports of her whereabouts – details that had been known only to a very small group of people – and she knew once this person was uncovered they would surely be killed. The problem – for Stacy, anyway – was that every person on that list was a friend. The solution – as she now understood it – involved getting her close enough to the traitor to take him out. and as she told Callahan what she knew so far he began to see the dimensions of her problem. No matter how this turned out, if she took out an agent there was no way she could go back to work for the Bureau. Extrajudicial killings were not tolerated within law enforcement for all the obvious legal and moral reasons, and by ‘going off the reservation’ like this, it would make her a real pariah. 

They were gathering now, after shooting practice out in the desert, in the tent that they’d been using for classroom training, and after they settled in their seats Colonel ‘Benny’ Goodman came in – carrying several file folders that he put on a folding table well away from the tent’s floppy entry. Callahan watched carefully while the old Israeli set out his materials; he knew Goodman well enough by now to see that something was troubling him – and Callahan found that vaguely unsettling too.

“Good evening,” Goodman said as he pulled up a chair and, leaning on the chair, faced the group.

“What’s wrong, Benny?” Sam Bennett asked, for everyone had picked-up on the old man’s sour expression and agitated expression.

Goodman steepled his hands on his knee and nodded. “How many of you know Captain Jerome McKay?”

“Pencil Dick?” Callahan and Frank Bullitt at once, causing everyone – but Goodman, who looked confused – to laugh a little.

“Pencil Dick?” Goodman asked.

Sam Bennett cleared his throat, trying to hide his grin behind a deepening scowl: “McKay is,” Sam began, “an officious, pompous little know-it-all, Benny. He earned the name by being more concerned with budgets than with officer safety.”

“But…Pencil Dick?” Goodman repeated, and Frank held up his fist with only his little finger extended, and this he wagged bag-and-forth a few times.

“Ah,” Goodman said, his understanding now apparent.

“What about McKay,” Harry asked.

Goodman took a deep breath then dove in: “Well, it seems your Captain McKay might be the leader of the network.”

Callahan burst out laughing. “McKay? Are you fucking kidding me? He couldn’t lead a blind man to a goddamn urinal!”

Goodman fed a tape into the hulking reel-to-reel deck on the table and pushed play; scratchy audio filled the tent and Harry could hear cars in the background, as well as sounds you might hear in a busy restaurant, like the recording had been made somewhere like a sidewalk café…

‘What do we have on him?’ one voice could be heard asking.

‘Enough to compromise his chances in the election,’ a second voice said.

‘Photos?’

‘And audio.’

‘What does McKay want to do?’

‘Jerry? Fuck, he wants to kill the fucker…’

Goodman switched off the tape and looked at Bennett. “Well?”

Sam shook his head. “I don’t buy it. They knew they were being watched and they’re setting him up…”

Goodman nodded then looked directly at Bullitt.

“You’ve got something else, don’t you?” Frank said – but Goodman only nodded – before he took a file folder from the table. 

Goodman took several photos from the file then held them out: “Frank, tell me who you see…”

Frank rifled through the images and everyone saw his hands start shaking.

“That’s McKay, alright,” Bullitt snarled.

“And who else, Frank?”

“Senator Walter Fucking Chalmers.”

Sam Bennett whistled then let that settle-in for a moment – before deciding to speak, then: “Okay Benny, what are you not telling us?”

“Well, it looks like, from the information we’ve gathered so far, that the McKay group is either trying to influence Chalmers, or they’re trying to recruit him.”

Bullitt shook his head. 

“What is it, Frank?” Goodman said, wanting to draw this out slowly, let his students come to their own conclusion.

Bullitt scowled before he spoke this time: “If there’s a national leader, it’s Chalmers.”

“Why?”

“Because the bastard always looks for the easy way, that’s why. No scruples. No morals. He’s a psychopath who doesn’t care who or what he runs over on his path to glory.”

Sam Bennett coughed. “You said national, Frank. Why?”

But Bullitt grinned before he spoke again: “Because he’s already formed an exploratory committee, Sam.”

“For what, Frank?” Goodman asked – only now somewhat coyly.

“For president, Benny,” Frank grinned.

“Our sources say he made a name for himself going after the mob,” Goodman said now, leading them to a new conclusion.

“That’s right,” Frank replied.

“The Mafia?” Goodman added.

“Yeah, of course.”

“So, the Italian mob?”

“Yes, Benny, the Italians.”

“So,” Goodman smiled, “the Italians. But just out of curiosity, Frank, are there any other ethnically focused organized crime rings working out of the city?”

“The Chinese,” Callahan said.

“There is growing activity among the Vietnamese refugee community…” Stacy Bennett shared.

“What about the Threlkis family?” Goodman asked Callahan. “Who are they linked to?”

“The Italian syndicate down in L.A.,” Harry replied.

“Okay,” Goodman sighed. “Who have we left out?”

Silence.

Goodman looked around the tent. “Anyone?”

No one spoke.

“Okay. So, Miss Bennett, you work out of the Boston Bureau offices, correct?”

“Yes,” Stacy said, looking a little uncomfortable.

“And what ethnic group runs the biggest syndicate in Boston?”

“Evenly split,” she said, “between the Italians and the Irish.”

“Ah, the Irish,” Goodman said, smiling. “Anyone know Walter Chalmers’s ethnicity?”

“Irish?” Frank Bullitt replied.

Goodman nodded. “And how about Jerry McKay?”

“Let me guess,” Sam Bennett growled. “Irish.”

Goodman nodded before continuing. “And so, let’s go back to the beginning now. The Bay Area is a ripe target for all the economic reasons we’ve mentioned, but what do we know about the various law enforcement agencies in the region? Anyone care to guess which ethnic group has the largest representation within these ranks?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Callahan snarled. “Are you telling us that the Irish mob is burrowing into our department?”

Goodman nodded as he shrugged. “Sorry. But to be clear, their effort started across the bridge, in Oakland. High preponderance of Irish pubs in the area around Jack London Square, and many of those operate as fronts for the Irish mob, just like the Italian mob uses restaurants in New York and Boston. We found Chalmers has invested, and I use the term advisedly, heavily in such properties all around the region, but so too has Captain McKay.”

Sam Bennett squirmed in his seat. “Okay, do we have actionable intel on these two?”

Goodman shook his head. “Circumstantial only, like their investment activities. But…”

“Oh-boy,” Bullitt sighed, “here comes the fun part…”

“Indeed,” Goodman said, smiling. “You and Harry are going in. We have a few leads that need to be run down, the type of information gathering we think is best suited to people familiar with the American way of…”

“Shaking hoods down?” Callahan said, shaking his head.

Goodman shrugged. “You said it, not me.”

“So, me and Harry. Where?”

Now Goodman smiled. “Oh, I think we’ve found something perfect for you, Lieutenant.”

Frank looked at the old man, then he turned and looked at Callahan…

“But first,” Goodman added, “we’ll need to tune up your appearance just a bit…”

“Swell,” Callahan said, still looking at Bullitt. “I love it already.”

“Oh, Inspector, no doubt you will. No doubt at all.”

 ________________________________________________

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and now, a brief note on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a certain virus, not to mention a madman in the White House springing first to mind, and let’s just agree right here and now to not talk about age…) so that might not be the best way to proceed; and with my thinking along these lines first in mind I’d hate to have this story stop ‘unexpectedly’ without some mention of sources relied on here. Of course, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay. The Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the pivotal television reporter found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss to not mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan. Talk about the role of a lifetime…given life by an actor for the ages.]

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