The Eighty-eighth Key
Walking along Hesperian Boulevard towards Oakland, the man held his thumb out, hoping to catch a ride into the city. He looked grubby, and to most who looked at him as they passed, more than a little dangerous, and so car after car roared by without so much as a tap on the brakes. After a half-mile or so an old pickup truck pulled over to the side of the road and stopped; the man jogged up to the passenger and looked in…
“Where you headed, buddy?” the driver asked.
“Up to Oakland, I guess,” the man said.
“You guess? You don’t know where you’re going?”
“Not really,” the man said, shrugging.
“Well, get in.”
The man climbed into the old pickup and pulled the door to – right as the driver took off.
“So, you just getting here?” the driver asked.
“Illinois? Wow, you do time there?”
The man nodded, looked out the window.
“Got a place to stay?”
“No, not yet.”
“You ain’t on parole or nothin’, are you?”
“No, free as a bird.”
“How’d you swing that?”
“Wrongful conviction, case got thrown out.”
The driver whistled. “Whoa, you luck out, or what?”
“Or what,” the man sighed.
“Got a name?”
“Mason,” the man said.
“What do you do, Mason?”
“Cars, trucks – and I can do helicopters.”
“No shit? ‘Nam?”
“You know how to fly ‘em?”
“I was checked out in Hueys, but it’s been a few years.”
“No shit… ” the driver said. “What did you do time for?”
“Arrested – for stealing cars, but…”
“But you didn’t do it, right…?”
The man smiled and shrugged, and yet both men laughed knowingly.
“Well, Mason, welcome to the land of milk and honey.”
Harry Callahan looked around and smiled. “Looks like everything I hoped it would.”
Avi settled in the back seat of his government car and flipped through a folder full of briefing notes he’d missed this morning, but his heart wasn’t in it today. He’d been with Harry for two months and he had to admit he was missing the boy. And he was concerned about his mission, too. Because it was dangerous. Even Colonel Goodman thought it was dangerous, but necessary.
Yet now, Avi Rosenthal looked at Harry Callahan as someone more than his wife’s son: after their time together in Switzerland, and at Goodman’s training camp in the desert, he’d begun to look at Harry as someone more like the son he’d never had. The son that the unsettled circumstances in Europe after the war had conspired to take from him.
He leaned back and thought about those chaotic days…
Trying to get from Palestine to Germany had been impossible, but then he’d received word from Saul that Imogen was supposed to be in a refugee camp in Poland, and that he – Saul – was on his way to find her. Avi hadn’t quite known what to do about Imogen after that…except to let Saul handle it.
Like his older brother always had, he thought – now somewhat sarcastically.
He’d found her, alright. Then he’d conspired with Lloyd Callahan to get her to America. And away from him, and their life together in Palestine.
And it had taken him almost twenty-five years to find her. And…when he did, where was she? Right under Saul’s watchful eye – betrayed, by his own flesh and blood!
And when they were reunited it was too late. She was as barren as the desert, and at night almost as cold.
And that put Harry Callahan in a unique spot, a place Avi considered carefully now.
His party had asked him to run for prime minister, and while he had considered the idea – briefly – in the end, he’d thought it too politically risky. He had almost as much power as the PM but none of the political vulnerability. And running publicly would thrust Harry into the spotlight, wouldn’t it? And though a few people in the Air Force knew of his exploits, those could never become public knowledge.
But what if Harry embraced Judaism? What if he could be convinced to immigrate to Israel?
‘Don’t kid yourself,’ Avi said to himself as he looked at the passing landscape.
Because he knew as well as anyone that Harry Callahan wasn’t an American. No, he was a Californian, through and through. And while California just happened to be in America, Californians were different from all the other people who lived there…
Too bad, he thought. Still, he had to consider his feelings for Harry now that he’d been asked to run for office…
His car turned into the compound and pulled up to his house, but after he stepped out of the car his security detail met him on the walk.
“How is she today?” he asked.
The head of his detail spoke first: “She is with von Karajan again, going over final arrangements for the performance.”
“But, how is she?” Avis asked, because he could see it in their eyes.
“Fragile, so we took her to the internist yesterday, and we have news.”
“She is ill, Avi. Very ill.”
“Ovarian cancer, and it has metastasized.”
Avi took a deep breath, then he stumbled, began to fall…
And his men caught him, steadied him as he struggled to breathe…
He grabbed his chest, tried to get away from the pressure that had come for him…
“Oh no,” he whispered. “Not now. Please God, not now…there is so much yet to do…”
The man looked at himself in the mirror – and grinned.
His shoulder-length red hair was drawn into a pony-tail, and he was sporting a full beard now, too. He pulled his tie a bit, loosened it a little – then thought better and snugged it up again. This was supposed to be a job interview, after all.
He walked back to the conference room and the men gathered there looked up as he came in.
“So, your name is Patrick?” one of the men asked. “Patrick Flannery.”
“Where’s your family from, Pat?”
“Well Pat, take a seat.”
“So, your resumé looks impressive. A top salesman award winner and more than once, great numbers for two years running. But selling Mercedes in New York is an easy gig, don’t you think? So, I take it you think you’re up to the challenges of selling out here?”
“Are you kidding?” Patrick said, his face a stoic mask. “Selling Porsches in California ought to be about as about as hard as…”
“Don’t say it, Pat,” all the other men in the room said, laughing.
“So, you know how this game is played, I take it.”
“Don’t call me sir, Pat. My name is Paddy. Paddy Chalmers. And I’m the Sales Manager here.”
“So, like I said, the stuff on your resumé – and your friends – tell me you’re ready to go, and without much training. That’s what I mean by how the game is played. Anyway, is that about the size of it? You ready to hit the floor today?”
“By the way, I like the hair. Kind of a laid-back Hollywood look, ya know?”
Patrick nodded, his face otherwise a mask.
“So Pat, we do things a little different here, but we’ll get into that later. Our mutual friends in Jersey vouched for you, so you’re in. Welcome aboard, and all that shit. I’m going to hand you over to one of our top producers, and he’ll show you the ropes then let you get settled into your new office.”
“Okay,” Patrick said, his face still impassive – yet vaguely menacing.
The other men in the room watched the new guy as he left the room, but they waited for the door to close before they began speaking…
“Boy, he’s a talkative son of a bitch, ain’t he?” one of them said.
“Hard as nails. That’s the word on the street, anyway.”
“Stone cold killer,” Chalmers said. “More than once, too.”
“Yeah,” Chalmers added, “you don’t want to fuck around with this one.”
“So, you think he’ll play ball?”
“No problem. And we can use him for dirty work if we need to. At least that’s what Carmine told me. Apparently, this guy really loves the wet stuff. ”
“Any problem taking out a cop?”
“Carmine told me this guy is a perfect fit for the operation.”
“We can’t afford no shit this time, Paddy. If we…”
“Look, Sean, if this guy gets outta line, like last time we take him down to the water, take him for a little swim – ya know? Just like the last guy…”
Patrick walked around the showroom with a stuck-up kid from Hillsboro, listening to the salesman’s standard spiel he was supposed to recite…
“Porsches sell themself, Pat. People that come here generally know what they want before they walk in the door; we’re just here to show ‘em inventory and get ‘em the numbers.”
Patrick looked at the kid and nodded.
“So, you sold MBs back in Jersey?”
“So, pretty much the same gig. Doctors, lawyers, the usual characters, right outta central casting.”
“You, uh, don’t say much. That approach work for you?”
Patrick shrugged. “Usually.”
“Well, you got the next one that walks in the door, man. It’ll all be on you, so do your magic.”
“So man, our inventory is kinda slim right now. Twelve 911s and two 930s, a couple of 914s leftover from last year…”
“Discontinued, right?” Patrick asked.
“Yeah, replaced by the 924, and in my opinion it’s an even bigger piece of shit than the 14.”
“What’s the word on the 928?”
“We should get our first one in three, maybe four months. So, you heard about her?”
Patrick nodded. “Where’s the used lot?”
“Man, we ain’t got much used stuff. Anything we take in on trade, if it ain’t a Porsche we wholesale it out, usually same day. Thing is, not many customers come in with a trade.”
“Cash buyers?” Patrick asked, grinning.
“Mostly. Yup, looks we got one…” the kid said as a woman walked in the main door, and he even whistled his approval. “Yowza, man. See if you can get me her phone number, wouldya…?”
But Patrick was already walking across the showroom floor by the time the kid realized Chalmers was there by his side…watching Pat as he seemed to glide across the brightly polished white floor to the woman.
“How does he seem to you, Steve?” Paddy Chalmers asked, his arms crossed across his chest.
“Kinda stuck-up, man. Like a know-it-all…ya know what I mean?”
Paddy watched quietly as the new guy walked the woman around a white 911 Turbo, then over to a Guards Red 924, yet even from a distance, he could tell Patrick was steering her back to a 911.
Then Pat took the woman out to the lot and straight to a Prussian Blue Metallic 911 Targa, and Paddy could tell the new guy was a natural. “Get the keys to that one, Steve.”
By the time Pat walked back to the showroom for the keys, Chalmers had them in hand and met him at the door.
“If you get her there, tell her a thousand under sticker is the best we can do.”
But Patrick simply stared at him for a moment before he spoke: “I already sold it. For sticker.”
But Patrick was already walking back out to the Targa; he opened the driver’s door and helped the woman get in, then walked around and got in the passenger’s seat…
“So, how am I doin’?” Bullitt asked the woman, grinning.
“Not bad,” she said. “But I think you should loosen up a little. You might be scaring these guys a little too much…”
‘She’ was going by the name of Debra Kildare, though she was in fact a Mossad agent assigned to the Bennett team, and regarded as one of Colonel Goodman’s best operatives…and Frank would be reporting to her during the team’s opening moves. “Oh,” she said as she opened her purse, “you’ll need my license for the title, and here’s my insurance card.”
“We better take it for a quick drive.”
“Keys, please,” ‘Debra’ said, smiling as she started the Porsche and deliberately made a few jerky shifts on her way out of the lot.
“Anyone following,” Bullitt asked as he watched her eyes scanning the mirrors.
They drove over to the park, and there they pulled into the aquarium and removed the top, stowing it upfront before returning to the dealership. They walked in together – and straight over to Chalmers, who was still waiting by the door.
“So, how did you like it?” Paddy asked as he introduced himself to ‘Debra.’
She nodded. “Any chance this young man could follow me home? I drove my car down this morning, and…”
“Of course. So, no trade-in?” Paddy asked.
“No. I’m getting this for my husband’s birthday.”
“I see. Shall we title it…”
“I have all the information here, Mr. Chalmers. We’ll register it to our production company if that’s okay with you.”
“We’ll take care of all that, and we can have your new car ready to go in a half-hour or so. Patrick, you have her papers?”
“Well Pat, let’s get to it. M’am, we’ll be back in a minute or two, if you’d like to wait…”
Goodman’s team had done their homework, had put Callahan out on the street right before Nigel Danson drove from his mechanics job home to his place in Oakland. As the team had seen Danson pick up hitchers more than once, they figured it was even money he’d stop and pick up Callahan, and knowing Danson’s background they’d figured – rightfully, as it turned out – that Callahan/Mason would be an easy recruit…
Danson worked a legit day job at the Hawthorne Municipal Airport, working as a mechanic on small general aviation aircraft five days a week. But he supplemented his income by working at a chop-shop in Oakland, an enterprise that took in freshly stolen cars and trucks, switched out VIN numbers and slapped a fresh coat of paint on the hot cars before pushing them through a shady dealer network all over northern California, providing unsuspecting new buyers with bogus salvage paperwork – papers good enough to pass muster at their local DMV.
But the real beauty of the operation was the network of legitimate informants around the Bay Area providing precious intel to the thieves, because several salesmen at these dealerships, most often high-end foreign auto dealerships, were providing this growing network with the addresses of new purchasers – as well as spare keys to the vehicles in question – in exchange for a cut of the action. Cars were then lifted in the middle of the night and driven to nearby trucks – that then covertly transported the stolen cars to one of the shops in the East Bay area. As soon as the fresh paint cured, within a few hours these lifted cars showed up in dealerships all over California, places like Sacramento, Stockton, and the Central Valley, and the profit margins made this new operation more than worthwhile financially. Yet, even so, the stolen car operation was just the tip of the iceberg…
And now Callahan was on the inside of the biggest chop-shop in the East Bay – learning the ropes under Danson’s tutelage – while living in a small apartment Danson had miraculously provided, and at an impossibly low rent, too. After one week’s work, Callahan took home over three thousand in cash, and this was in addition to his paycheck from his other job at a nearby helicopter maintenance facility Danson had hooked him up with. Harry figured he’d made more in one month doing this stuff than he would have in almost half a year at the department, and he found that more than a little humorous. At these wages, criminal operations would completely wipe-out legitimate businesses within a few years, and if you extrapolated these new, illegal synergies throughout the economy, organized crime would soon be the single most powerful entity in the region.
And this simply meant that organized crime rings would soon push aside more traditional political parties. After studying the nature of this trend with one of Colonel Goodman’s Mossad instructors, Bennett’s team knew this type of political collapse had already happened in Italy and Ireland, and even now Japan was suddenly at risk. If these organizations succeeded in the Bay Area, after already making real progress in New York and Boston, how long would the United States survive?
Yet the most important question remained unanswered: which nation-state, if any, was behind this operation?
And that, more than anything else, was what the Israelis wanted to know. And what Harry hoped to discover.
Avi Rosenthal opened his eyes and looked around the room as best he could; banks of monitors winked and beeped his vitals; he could see two nurses in the room, one of them writing, the other injecting something into an IV hanging overhead…
He tried to talk but found his mouth taped shut, then he felt hard plastic on his tongue just as he realized his throat hurt like hell.
‘I’ve been intubated, so I’ve already had surgery,’ the said to himself, trying to assert control over his emotions by rationally cataloging the elements of his surroundings…
He tried to turn his head and moaned as the pain in his chest increased, but this caused one of the nurses to turn his way. When she saw his eyes were open this nurse came to him, told him they could remove the tube now that he was awake, then she scurried off and was soon out of sight.
Then he realized the nurse talked with a very strange accent…
But Physicians soon surrounded his bed, poking here and prodding there, one of them pinching his toenails and watching fluid rebound, another shining a blinding penlight in his eyes, yet a few moments later the tube was gone – and in its place a searingly bad sore throat…
“Don’t worry, Mr. Rosenthal,” one of the voices said, “you’ll soon be…”
But Avi was focused on the man’s voice, the strange accent, and now he was growing very worried…
“Where…am I…?” he just managed to get out, his voice more a ragged, hoarse cracking sound.
“Houston. Texas. You’re at Texas Heart, Mr. Rosenthal.”
Avi’s mind raced… Texas Heart…Denton Cooley’s place in Houston. That could only mean one thing…he had a new heart…
The realization rocked him, left him feeling bereft of his senses.
“Are you – Cooley?” he croaked, but his soul screamed when the physician nodded. “So, new heart?” he asked.
“Mr. Rosenthal, you’ve been through a lot the past week. I know you have a ton of questions but we’ll go over everything after we get you through the next day or so. Try to calm down now, or we’ll need to put you under again, and that means another intubation. Just take a few deep breaths and try to think about something less stressful, okay?”
Cooley looked at the man, then at a beeping monitor, and a moment later Avi felt himself falling into the darkest well imaginable…
Imogen sat at her piano, her fingers wandering through vague shadows, her eyes closed as old memories came to her unasked.
Colonel Goodman was with her now almost all the time, and Herbert von Karajan, the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, had rarely left her side since news of her husband’s heart attack reached the house.
She had dropped to the floor, crying at first but soon deep in conversation with another unseen voice. von Karajan hadn’t known what to do, but Avi’s security detail had. They carried her to bed and called her physicians, and the conductor had simply followed them inside her room – and had rarely left her side since.
But von Karajan was a sympathetic soul. He understood the nature of music, the real purpose of the structures within a piece, and he realized that now was probably the most important time there was.
As soon as she could hear his voice, von Karajan had walked her to the piano and set her free.
And with pencil and paper in hand, he had scribbled down the symphony of memory that had burst free and come pouring from her soul. The music that came from this explosion shattered his soul, the beauty rendered him little more than a mute witness to the birth of something so utterly otherworldly…yet she seemed to be holding back one vital passage as she came to an obvious conclusion…
“Imogen? What is it? What are you hearing now?”
But she had nothing left to give and had begun to fall…
Goodman caught her, and the two of them just managed to get her to the bedroom. Guards were called, physicians were soon at her side.
“Dear God, Herbert!” Benny Goodman cried, aghast at her sudden implosion. “What are you up to?”
“You saw it for yourself. She is talking to God. She is transcribing what was said.”
Goodman tried not to smile, yet he nevertheless turned and walked from the room and spoke with Avi’s security detail.
“Is there any word on his condition?”
“The last donor heart was a match. He should be out of surgery soon.”
Goodman nodded. “I think one of us should contact Harry, let him know what has happened.”
“You can’t do that, Colonel. It is too soon. You could blow their cover, put the whole team at risk.”
And Goodman had then slowly nodded his understanding. “Are they in place?”
“Just barely, and we will need more time to get the Bennetts in place. Please, give it to them, or all this will have been a waste of time!”
“Where is Lloyd Callahan now?”
“If I recall correctly, his ship is en route from Hong Kong to Osaka.”
Goodman paced for a few minutes, then he walked to Avi’s secure phone and lifted the receiver.
“I need to get to Japan, quickly,” he said, then he listened for a while as other people passed along their advice. “Very good. Make it happen.”
He placed the phone in its cradle and walked from the house; his driver then took him to the airbase and dropped him off at the security hanger. His Falcon 20 began the journey east as other assets shifted in the long night ahead.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and lastly, 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, as does the Captain McKay character. 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.]