The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 24

88th key cover image

The Eighty-eighth Key

Part IV

Chapter 24

____________________________________

 Senator Walter Chalmers was in the living room of his house in The City, pacing back and forth across the vast, ornately decorated room, stopping from time-to-time to take a sip from a glass of ice-cold Chardonnay. He had started the afternoon in an angry state-of-mind; now, as the events of this morning came into sharper relief, he was growing more and more afraid of a certain, and, he feared, an inevitably terrible outcome to his brother’s latest debacle.

Four years ago Paddy had been approached by two South Americans who desired a meeting with the U.S. Export-Import Bank, their stated aim being to secure financing for a new airline to link Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru to gateways in Miami and Houston. The men claimed that they had secured financing from these countries, but only enough to fund about seventy percent of the proposed airline’s first two years of operation. Neither Boeing nor McDonnell-Douglas would commit to sales without one hundred percent of two years operations on hand, leaving the group only one option, to lease their first aircraft from ILFC…and this the group did not want to do.

The group had wanted to know if Senator Chalmers could intercede on their behalf and arrange for the US Ex-Im Bank to provide bridge financing, so Paddy arranged the meeting. After looking into the matter, Senator Chalmers learned that the South American group would need to take on a few U.S. investors, and with U.S. interests represented the Ex-Im Bank would have little reason not to lend the money, and though numerous meetings had been necessary, in the end, the group got their financing – and Boeing sold ten more 757 airliners.

Easy enough, Walter Chalmers had thought at the time, or so it seemed because it looked like everyone had come out winners – even before ink met paper.

Except that the investors Paddy Chalmers located here in the Bay Area soon wanted more return on their investment. A lot more, as it turned out.

Notably, they wanted easy little favors, really easy, at least in the beginning. Simple little things, like getting a nephew a job at one of the Chalmers family auto dealerships. More problematically still, Paddy had not objected to all the little favors that followed, though over time Paddy kept Walter out of the loop as ‘things’ progressed beyond simple nepotism. In a word, Paddy was in deep.

And by then, both Walter and Paddy had been invited to Medellin, Columbia, to meet with one of the biggest South American investors in the new airline, and Walter had – reluctantly – accepted. Yet he and his brother were both more than impressed with the grand estancia of their host, a soft-spoken man named Pablo Escobar, and when Walter returned to D.C. he did so with a very large campaign contribution in hand – not to mention a promise of more to come as time passed.

Of course, things went downhill even faster after Escobar had a US senator in his pocket.

When Senator Chalmers first met Escobar he had no idea who he was, so he had no idea how Escobar had made his fortune; yet all that didn’t matter now because he’d been bought and paid for, and as a result he was neck-deep in the largest criminal drug cartel operating on the West Coast…

“How fucking ironic!” he muttered as he paced the living room. He’d begun his career as a ‘Law and Order’ Republican riding on Richard Nixon’s coattails, only now it looked like he was about to go down in flames, forever linked to the very cartels he’d hoped to run out of the country. Worse than that, he’d be branded as just another corrupt politician bought-off by the most nefarious drug dealer in the world…

Yet the most ironic thought that crossed his mind that afternoon was far more troubling to him, and on a very personal level, because he finally understood where Frank Bullitt had been coming from during their final confrontation at SFO – just before he’d looked on passively as Bullitt killed Johnny Ross. Even worse, Senator Walter Chalmers had begun to see that the only person who could conceivably extricate him from this mess was none other than that very same Lieutenant Frank Bullitt. 

“My legal idealism,” Chalmers sighed, “pitted against Bullitt’s life of experience on the street. I should have known better, even then.”

But when he’d called the department earlier that afternoon – hoping to find the detective – he learned that Bullitt had recently retired…and after that bit of news he’d grown utterly despondent.

But ironic or not, his fevered thinking went, one thought kept running through his mind: ‘I have to find him…find out where he’s living. He’s the only one in the department who knows the real score.’

The sun was setting, the temperature falling rapidly now, yet Chalmers walked out onto the huge terrace that almost completely surrounded his house, and he walked over to look at the Golden Gate.

Why, he wondered, had that bridge become such an important metaphor about this city by the bay? Was it a symbol of a real ‘can do’ attitude that was even now slowly fading into a distant, unrecognizable past? Had the pursuit of easy money crushed that spirit?

But another heavy fog was rolling in, hiding even the bridge from view and, in a way, obscuring the future…and he shivered as a wave of cold, humid air whispered through the pines that flanked his most cherished view of the world.

“Easy money,” he said to the wind. “That’s all I wanted.”

Paddy was on his way over for dinner now, and he’d seemed jolly enough on the telephone. His brother had told him he’d found the answer to all their problems.

And they really needed to talk about it over dinner.

He looked at the pines bending to the suddenly insistent wind-borne flow, then he looked down on the city as it disappeared is this sudden, plaintive evensong.

‘Disappearing like this life,’ he thought. ‘Because without Frank Bullitt, there’s no way out. He’s the only person I can trust now.’

“…Like sand running down in an hourglass,” he said as he turned to go inside.

_____________________________________

Colonel Goodman paced the dock slowly, thinking about the cascade of events that had befallen his world over the last week.

First, Imogen’s unexpected cancer diagnosis, then her sudden, if a little mysterious death.

Avi’s heart attack, and with it another dear friend taken from this life.

And now, foremost in his mind was a promise he’d made to Avi years ago, that he was to protect Harry Callahan at all cost, and see to it that Avi’s final instructions were carried out.

‘But now Harry is out of reach,’ Goodman thought. ‘Worse still, he was sailing into harm’s way, carrying out the plan I have devised. If he is killed, his death will be blood on my hands, and I will have let Avi – and Imogen – down…and in the worst possible way.’

He came to the edge of the dock and looked down into the water, down to his tiny reflection thirty feet below. 

‘My face? That is my face down there, isn’t it?

‘And the eyes? Yes, those are mine, too.’

And yet, there was Harry, too. Looking up at him, pleading with him to let the team go, to let them finish what they’d started.

But that was why he was here. In Osaka. Waiting for Lloyd Callahan.

Because of all the people left in the world, Lloyd had the most at stake in this operation. So it was only fair that he talk to the elder Callahan before deciding how to proceed.

‘But this entire operation,’ he reminded himself, ‘is all about Hate. About cops killing cops because of ethnicity, or because of religious beliefs. That’s why we are there, why I am there. That, and because Avi Rosenthal wanted me there to protect Harry Callahan.’ 

And still he looked at his reflection.

“Or…was it ever really about Hate?” he said aloud.

His reflection was silent as he questioned himself.

“Killing is killing, whether carried out as simple revenge or legally sanctioned retribution. Look what we did after Munich. We hunted the killers down and killed them one by one, but that didn’t make those killings morally ‘right,’ did it? No, we killed them to settle a score. We killed them to let others know that we are not weak. We killed them as deterrence. So doesn’t that mean we killed them to stop even more killing? And if so, wasn’t that the right thing to do? But…what if those killings spawn even more violence? More death? Then what? Were we justified killing the killers of our athletes? Can killing ever be justified?”

“My,” his reflection said, “but that is a very strange question indeed, coming as it does from a man who has killed so many people.”

“But that was war! You can’t judge me for that?”

“Can’t I?”

Goodman was startled by the voice and he turned and looked around, his eyes settling on an old man in a loden cape. His white hair had yellowed as by extreme age, and he was leaning on a cane. But…something within the cane was alive…

Lightning? Inlaid silver strands of…lightning?

Goodman shook his head, tried to clear his mind…but the old man was still there, staring at him.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“You asked if I couldn’t judge you for killing the Munich attackers. Or did I hear you incorrectly?”

Goodman recoiled from the apparition, then drew a Walther TPK from his shoulder holster and without hesitation fired into its face. One shot…two…and then a third…

But the old man just stood there, smiling.

Goodman continued shooting until the little Walther’s clip was empty…

…then the old man simply left, like a butterfly on a freshening breeze…

Leaving Goodman to look at his hands, and when he found that they were awash in deep red blood he fell to his knees…

But my pistol…where is it?

He reached for his shoulder holster and found the little Walther still there, so he pulled it free and ejected the clip, and he saw that not one bullet had been fired.

His hands? Clean now, and he shook his head, tried to remember the old man’s features – yet he found he could barely recall anything at all about him.

And far out in Osaka harbor he heard a ship’s horn signaling the Harbor Pilot’s arrival, and Goodman could see, even from the docks, that this was Lloyd Callahan’s ship.

He walked back to the dock’s edge and looked down into the still water – and the old man in the cape stared back at him…until a faint breeze stirred the surface, leaving only a bare, lingering trace of the visage, fading like a string of echoes across the dappled water.

___________________________________

He watched the ship, perhaps coincidentally named the California, as tugs helped her to the dock, and he saw Lloyd Callahan out on the flying bridge talking to spotters fore and aft on a little radio. Lines were thrown from the ship as she touched, and then men on the dock hurried to tie her off; Goodman saw that Callahan was looking right at him now – and not knowing what else to do he waved.

And Callahan waved back, then disappeared inside the ship.

He was also the first man down the boarding ramp, and he walked straight to Goodman.

“Is it Harry? Has something happened to Harry?”

“No, sir. It’s about Imogen. I’m afraid she’s passed, and Avi Rosenthal, as well.” 

Callahan seemed to stagger back from the news – but caught himself and stood tall as he took a deep breath. “I couldn’t tell from your wire, but I sensed something awful had happened. What was it? Does Harry know?”

Goodman filled him in, spared no detail before he came to the crux of the matter: “Lloyd, I’m not sure how Harry will take the news. And, given the nature of the operation, my sense is that I should wait to tell him. Wait until the operation passes the crisis phase…”

“Crisis phase? What do you mean by that?”

“Well, the members of the team have moved into place, they are making what I’d call first contact with members of the opposition, so, for the first time we are moving into a position where we might uncover the real players…”

“So, telling him right now would, most probably, jeopardize the operation?”

“That is my concern, yes.”

“Well then, I’m sure you understand that Harry and his mother have been, well, let me just say they’ve not had a good relationship lately.”

“Yes, I understand.”

“So, I’m really unsure how he’ll take the news. Really, and I hate to say this, but I’m just shell-shocked. I guess there was a part of me that always wanted her to come home. To come back to me, and to Harry. And now that hope is gone…”

Goodman looked at Callahan and nodded. “You loved her, you took care of her when she needed help most, and you gave her a son – who she cherished most of all…”

But Callahan had turned away, and Goodman could tell that this ship’s captain was having a hard time holding it together. 

“How long will you remain in port?” Goodman asked.

“We leave tomorrow afternoon, 1600 hours.”

“Perhaps you might have an hour or two available?” Goodman asked gently. “Some time we could talk about things?”

Callahan comported himself and turned to face Goodman again. “Why don’t you come up with me now. I’ve just got some paperwork to go over, and we could have dinner in my cabin while I see to the formalities?”

“Fine. You lead the way, Captain.”

The California was a spartan ship, clean, obviously well run and in fine working order. She carried 500 passengers and typically about two hundred crew, as well as a modest amount of cargo, on an established route that saw her leave San Francisco bound for Honolulu, then on to Osaka and Hong Kong. Each crossing took twenty-one days, and Callahan was the ship’s captain for the duration of each passage. When he arrived home again, in three weeks’ time, he’d be off for the next fifty days – or until the next return crossing.

His cabin was just aft of the bridge, the visitors’ area was surprisingly opulent, and the cabin included a dining area as well as a small library. Callahan got on a telephone of some sort and talked briefly, then joined Goodman on a small balcony that overlooked Osaka harbor, and a gorgeously setting sun. They both leaned against the rail and seemed to allow the moment to pass in peace.

“I just had the most ridiculous encounter,” Goodman said as the sun drifted behind a nearby mountain range.

“Oh?”

“Yes. If I’m not mistaken, I think God just paid me a visit.”

“God? Really?”

“I know how that sounds, but…” And Goodman proceeded to tell Callahan all about the old man in the loden cape, right down to his shooting him with his little Walther, and when he was finished he looked at Callahan expecting to find disbelief in his eyes…

“You say there was something odd about the cane?”

“Yes. Inlaid silver, or something like it, yet the stuff seemed to be almost alive. Like it was the essence of lightning, captured, harnessed, and almost, well, caged by the wood.”

And Lloyd Callahan nodded. “Yes, that’s exactly how Imogen described it.”

“What!? You mean…?”

“Yes, from the time she was a little girl. She always said he appeared before truly awful things happened to her, that he was warning her and at the same time comforting her.”

“You know, I think I need to sit down for a bit.”

“Alright. Dinner’s on the way, and I’ve a little whiskey stashed away for emergencies…”

“I think this qualifies.”

Callahan laughed. “I’d say so. It isn’t every day we meet God.”

Goodman shook his head. “I’m not at all sure what I saw. A hallucination, probably. Or overwork…”

“Yes? And the very same man Imogen experienced? Isn’t that a happy coincidence?”

“Oh, come on. You’re a ship’s captain. A man grounded in rational intellect.”

“True enough.”

“So, how can you explain this?”

“I can’t. But I will say this. If what you say is true, if it really happened, perhaps you should think about the gift you received.”

“The gift?”

“I don’t know,” Callahan sighed. “Call it what you will. Even a hallucination, if that suits you. But even hallucinations are grounded in facts of a sort, though they may be distortions or even misrepresentations of the facts. Yet what fascinates me right now is the congruence of experience you share with Imogen’s companion.”

“Companion?”

“Oh, yes. He was with her throughout her life. At times, he never left her side. Especially in that ghetto, north of Prague. I can never remember the name…”

“Theresienstadt?”

“Yes, that’s it. He was with her almost all the time there. Especially when she was writing.”

“Writing?”

“Yes, her music. Her Third Piano Concerto was written there, though to my knowledge it has been played only a few times.”

“I wasn’t aware there was a third. So, the piece she was working on was her fourth?”

Callahan leaned back on the rail and sighed. “So…did she finish?”

“Finish? What, the new piece?”

“Yes.”

“You know, I’m not sure.”

“Do you think you could find out?”

“Yes, certainly.”

There was a knock on the door so Callahan went to answer it; a steward entered the room and rolled a cart up to the dining room table, then set out their dinner. Goodman followed Callahan and sat across from him.

“The chow on this tub isn’t bad,” Callahan said.

“Good lord, I should say not. What is all this?”

“Lobster thermidor, prime rib, asparagus Hollandaise. You know, the basics.”

They both laughed at that.

“The ship’s officers eat pretty much what the passengers eat. By way of compensation, we have our own gym. If not, I’m afraid we’d all look like Santa Claus. So, are you good with iced tea, or do you need a shot of whiskey?”

“I think this is a whiskey night for me.”

“Splendid! Me too.”

They talked around the perimeter of the main issue for an hour or so, then Callahan revisited it: “So, about Harry. Why don’t you leave it to me.”

“What?”

“You give me the go-ahead when you think the time is right, and I’ll tell Harry about his mother, and, of course, about Avi.”

Goodman scowled at the thought: “I promised Avi I would take care of this. Besides, there are other responsibilities entailed.”

“Such as?”

“Well, the estate, for one. And there are other matters involved, but I’m afraid most of these are private matters. Affairs Avi wanted to be conveyed to Harry, and only to him – by myself. Most were committed to paper, though a few were not, and again, these were left for me to convey.”

“You were close friends, then? With Avi, I mean?”

“Yes. Since the early days.”

“Did you know his brother, Saul?”

“Not very well. I met him once, in Copenhagen.”

“Before the war?”

“No, no. In the sixties, if I recall correctly.”

“I see. Well, would you care for some dessert? We could walk down to the café for coffee and ice cream, if you like?”

“No, no. I have kept you from your duties long enough. If you could tell me what time to return tomorrow?”

“Why don’t you come around about noon? Just give the purser manning the ramp your name; they’ll see that you get to me.”

“Very good, and thanks for the hospitality.”

Callahan nodded, his mood different now, as he escorted Goodman to the door. A purser’s mate was waiting there, and she saw Goodman to the boarding ramp.

Callahan went back to the bridge, then walked out on the flying bridge, and there he watched Goodman leave before he made his way back to his cabin.

“Bloody liar,” he muttered as he returned to his desk. “So, if that jackass didn’t kill Saul, who the hell did?”

But after almost forty years at sea, he could read men pretty well, and everything he knew screamed that this Goodman character was a liar and that he had been caught off-guard by the question about Saul. He’d seen it in the man’s eyes, the darting evasions, the sudden hammering pulse, and the eyelid flutter.

“No, he’s hiding something,” he said to a framed picture of Harry and Imogen that sat on his desk. “He’s hiding the truth, and my boy’s life is in his hands.”

_____________________________________

Walter Chalmers was in the living room when the doorbell chimed, and he listened intently as his valet went for the door. He heard the usual greetings, coats being taken and put in the hall closet, then footsteps approaching.

‘More than one, so it seems.’

“Hey, Wally! There you are!” Paddy said, leading another man into the room…

Walter stood, taking his brother’s hand, listening as introductions were made…

“And this is Pat Ryan, from Jersey…”

Chalmers took Ryan’s hand and when he looked into the man’s eyes he very nearly passed out.

The eyes, the set of his eyes, even the grip of his hand…

Bullitt. 

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Ryan,” Walter Chalmers said genially, his heart now racing at this sudden turn.…

‘So, you’re working undercover. You’ve penetrated the operation. You know what’s going on, or at least you know some of what’s going on. Now I’ve got to get you fully up to speed, and I can’t compromise you. But how…’

“Walter,” Paddy asked, “you doin’ okay?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes. I started a new medication yesterday, makes me light-headed when I stand up.”

“Oh.”

“Mr. Ryan, could I get you something to drink?”

“Scotch, neat.”

Walter smiled. “Well, Paddy, what’s this big new plan you’ve come up with?”

________________________________________

Bullitt hadn’t known what to expect.

Paddy calling him into the office, telling him they had an important meeting to go to.

He’d excused himself, gone to the men’s room and activated the incredibly small hidden microphone the Israelis had kitted him out with.

Then, to Paddy’s 911 and the quick ride over to Snob Nob, the nickname for the houses located around Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower…

…but when they pulled up in front of the Senator’s house he felt a sudden lump filling his throat.

“This is my brother’s house,” Paddy told him then. “We’re having dinner with him, maybe go over a few things.”

“Right.”

“Come on…”

And then there he was, Walter Chalmers, the devil incarnate.

Then the sudden flushing, the instant of recognition, and Bullitt was about to go for the little PPK the Israeli’s had given him – for just this kind of situation – 

…until he saw that the Senator was going to cover for him…

…‘What the fuck?’…because all he could think to say was “Scotch, neat…”

And he hated Scotch. Positively hated the shit.

Then, when Chalmers asked Paddy “what’s this big new plan you’ve come up with?” – Bullitt knew he could just sit back and watch these two make their play.

“Look, Walter, one of my guys on the inside just learned that Jerry is going to put a hit on you…”

“What?! You’ve got to be kidding!”

“No way, man. Look, this is legit information…”

“But why? Why take out me? What have I done to them?”

“I don’t think that’s it, man. Me? I think they want you out of the way so they can run their own man to take your seat…”

Walter Chalmers looked down at his hands and nodded. “That makes sense.”

“Your damn right it does, that’s why…”

“Okay, so what’s your plan, Paddy.”

“Well, see, I was watching that Godfather movie a couple of weeks ago, and I think ‘why don’t we knock off McKay, then plant a bunch of bogus stories in the Chronicle?’ You know, tie the police department to the mob…? It’s like two birds with one stone, ya know? Smart, right?”

“You want to take out a police captain?” Walter said, hiding his feelings as best he could while he spoke.

“Yeah, man, and why the fuck not? The guy is as crooked as a cop can get.” Then Paddy looked at Ryan/Bullitt: “And I’ve got the man here that can pull it off.”

Walter Chalmers looked at Bullitt: “Oh?”

“Yeah, man. Look, Wally, Ryan here has made a bunch of hits, all of ‘em back east, so if the heat gets turned up we just send him down to Mexico for a while, then bring him home after things settle down.”

“Uh-huh. And how much for your services, Mr. Ryan?”

“For a hit this big? Fifty.”

“Are you serious?” Walter asked, smiling.

“C’mon, Wally. It’s reasonable, ya know? You’re talking about a cop, a captain even, for Christ’s sake.”

“And tell me, Paddy, how is this going to help us?”

“First off, it’ll get the fuzz off our backs, man. Send them a message, ya know?”

“That would be a message alright. Look, Paddy, I just don’t see why we don’t keep paying them off, you know? Protection is money well spent, right?”

“Not if they’re gonna take you out, Wally. We’re payin’ and they’re gonna do the killin’ – and that ain’t gonna work out so well for us, ya know? Particularly for you, Wally.”

But Walter still looked unconvinced. “Alright, but it seems to me we ought to be worried about the people giving McKay the order to get rid of me.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know who’s pulling his strings, ya know?”

“Okay, but suppose we take out McKay before they can take me out. What or who is going to stop that group from going ahead and making a move on me?”

As Bullitt listened to this exchange it was becoming clear that the Chalmers organization wasn’t the real target, they weren’t part of the vigilante network, let alone the organization supporting them. The Irish mob still seemed to be a part of the vigilante group, at least as far as he could tell from what little intel he’d picked up so far, but the real question still remained unanswered. Who was the prime mover? Who was calling the shots, and to what end?

“What group are you talking about?” Ryan/Bullitt asked, and Walter Chalmers seemed surprised by the question.

“I don’t know,” Walter said. “I wish I did, but I just don’t know.”

“No idea at all?”

Chalmers seemed to hesitate now, like he was afraid of saying too much. “All this started after I helped a South American group secure U.S. financing for a new air carrier. I don’t really know who or why they’d want me out of the way…”

“What your brother said isn’t enough? To clear the way to take your senate seat?”

“Well, I doubt it, because I’ve set up the preliminary organization to make a run for the White House.”

“What?” Paddy cried. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Walter shrugged. “I’m trying to keep this as low key as possible, at least until I look at some poll numbers.”

Bullitt stood and walked over to one of the windows overlooking the bay. “What if you announced your run, and at the same time made it clear that you were going to resign your senate seat so that you could dedicate all your energy to the campaign?”

“Now that’s an idea,” Paddy said. “What do you think, Wally?”

But before he could reply, Ryan/Bullitt continued: “That’s not the point, at least right now. The first thing you could do, Paddy, is get word out to…what’s the name of this captain?”

“McKay.”

“Yeah, well, so you get word to McKay, then you wait and see what their next move is.”

“And then I’m out of work,” Senator Walter Chalmers said, finishing his wine.

“Better’n bein’ dead, bro.”

Chalmers walked over to Bullitt and genially put a hand on his shoulder. “Ready for some dinner, Mr. Ryan?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Good. C’mon Paddy. Let’s finish this up while we eat. Mr. Ryan, you like cigars…?”

_____________________________

Mason/Callahan met up with Danson after his day job working on helicopters, mainly to have dinner before heading over to the chop-shop, but to shoot the shit a little.

“So, how did you get along with Pablo?” Danson asked as Mason climbed in the beat-up Chevy Nova Danson used to avoid scrutiny by law enforcement.

“Escobar? He seems like a good joe. Laidback once you get to know him.”

“Yeah. The most important thing to know about him is he rewards loyalty. If you’re loyal to him, he’ll be there for you in a pinch.”

Mason nodded. “I kinda picked up on that.”

“You ever been to the Rusty Anchor? It’s a Threlkis place, but I hear they make a mean burger.”

“Sounds right-on to me.”

“Good. I’ve been wantin’ to try it out for a while.”

It took just a few minutes in the late afternoon traffic to get there, but finding a parking place was another matter. Five minutes later they found a place and backtracked to the Anchor…

…And the first thing Callahan saw when they walked in was that Threlkis kid on the piano. The same kid he’d fucked up, so he kept his sunglasses on as they passed the bar – and he kept an eye on the kid at the piano. He scanned the room, looked for handy exits…the he noticed that the kid had recognized him…

Danson ordered a pitcher of beer – and, as always Anchor Steam – while they went over the menu, and they ordered hot pastrami sandwiches after their waitress said they were the best thing in the house.

But Callahan was watching the kid as he stopped playing and went to the bar, and then the kid pointed at Callahan and the bartender went to the phone.

Callahan brought his left ankle up and unsnapped the ankle holster, then he slipped the little PPK under his left thigh, and at about that time the kid and two goons started his way.

And the kid walked right up to Callahan.

“You’re the fuckin’ cop who did this to me, aren’t you?” the kid screamed, holding up his scared hand. “You’re that Callahan fucker!”

And, with those few words, everything slipped into slow-motion.

Danson pushed away from the table and Callahan saw he was reaching for his waistband; one of the goons was pulling out a knife; the kid was backing away from the table, knocking the other goon off-balance and both fell to the floor…

Just like working Hogan’s Alley at the range, Callahan moved by reflexive instinct now, years of training taking hold and coming to bear…

“Assess the targets, prioritize, then shoot…”

For a split second he thought the little Walther might not be up to the challenge, but at this range and loaded with Silver-Tips it was the best he could do…

First shot: Danson, one to the face, one center mass…

Pivot to the goon with the knife, who was now backing away fast: a single shot center mass…

The other goon, on the floor, he was pushing away from the kid, reaching for a shoulder holster: first shot in the neck, the second in the face…

Pivot: once more to the goon with the knife, and one more round in the neck…

The kid was unarmed, so Callahan just dropped him with a hard hit from the Walther’s butt, then he turned and walked slowly towards the rear exit. 

He started down the alley, releasing the little magazine and pocketing it, pulling one of two spares from his coat pocket and slipping it in.

He turned a corner, saw a bus stop, and a bus just pulling to a stop so he ran for it, hopped on at the last second, then went to the rear so he could see if anyone followed.

Nothing. 

‘Gotta get to the city. No way my handler on the ferry…they know that one…’

Then he saw a maroon BMW, a little coupe, as it pushed through traffic and slipped in behind the bus. The brights flashed three times so Callahan reached up and pulled the cord, the chime telling the driver to stop at the next corner.

He hopped out of the rear/side door and waited for the Beemer to pull up.

“Get in!” Al Bressler said as the passenger door flew open…

…and moments later the BMW was headed into The City on the Bay Bridge.

“Well Harry, I’d say your cover is blown.”

“Ya think?”

“Why didn’t you take out the piano player?”

“You were there?”

“Yeah, I’ve been on you for a couple of days.”

“Is Goodman here? I’ve got some intel we need to go over…”

“No. He’s in Japan.”

“Japan? What the fuck is he doin’ over there?”

Bressler shrugged. “I don’t know, man. He pulled us outta Venezuela about a week ago. Sam is shadowing Frank right now, and Stacy is onto some snitch inside the Bureau.”

“Anyone following us?”

“I can’t tell.”

“Remember what Goodman said? When you feel doubt…”

“There is no doubt!” they said in unison, then laughing a little to cut the tension.

“Let’s get down to the wharf. We can lose anyone in there.”

“Right.”

“You got any 380s?”

“Glovebox.”

Callahan pulled out the box of cartridges and reloaded his spent clip.

“No doubt,” he said in a voice so low he thought Al missed it. “No doubt at all.”

“Doubt about what, Harry?”

“Some Columbian. Name is Pablo Escobar…”

“Escobar? Are you sure?”

“You’ve heard of him?”

“Fuck, are you kidding me? You ought to come work vice for a while. Escobar is pouring cocaine into the country, and I mean tons of the shit…”

“I think that’s who’s behind all this crap, Al. I mean, it’s more than a feeling, ya know?”

“Okay, we got ourselves a tail, the real deal, Amigo.”

“Whaddaya got?”

“Looks like a caddy, four men.”

“I’d kill for my forty-four right about now.”

“Got one of those MP-5s in the trunk.”

“Outstanding!”

“What about the parking garage at Ghirardelli Square? We can box ‘em in and take ‘em out there?”

“Go for it.”

“What’s the best way?”

Callahan shook his head. “Man alive. A cop here for how many years and you’re still asking me for directions?”

“Harry, I’d have never made it through academy if you hadn’t been there.”

“Well, I did put out that fire comin’ out your ass…”

“Not now, Harry.”

“Fremont to The Embarcadero.”

“Okay, got it.”

“And…take North Point.”

“Right.”

Traffic was, predictably, heavy as they neared Fisherman’s Wharf and, as always, there were pedestrians all around Ghirardelli Square but, as they pulled into the parking garage they found it remarkably quiet. 

“Go up a few levels.”

“Okay.”

“There, in those shadows.”

“See it.”

As the tires screeched to a stop Callahan bailed out and went to the back of the Beemer; Bressler came with the keys and opened it. 

“What are you carrying?” he asked Bressler.

“Same as you,” Bressler said, pulling an identical Walther. “This little pop-gun.”

“Okay, you take the HK, give me your Walther.”

“You hear ‘em?”

“What?”

“Footsteps. Coming up the ramp.”

“Go over there, beside that column. Wait’ll they pass you, then open fire from behind.”

“Right.”

Harry slipped into a low crouching run and went up the ramp about ten yards and there ducked into another shadow.

Then…

Four men. Two with Uzis, two with shotguns…maybe 870 pumps…

They were passing Bressler now…

Assess the targets, prioritize, then shoot…

But Bressler opened up with his MP-5, and – after a brief, blinding roar – Callahan watched as all four dropped to the concrete…dead.

“Well, fuck me!” Al said as he came out of his hide.

“I got to get me one of those,” Callahan whispered…

Then someone opened fire, bullets hitting the concrete ceiling overhead, chipped concrete dust filling the air…

Callahan ducked into the shadows again, but he couldn’t see Bressler…

…and suddenly everything was quiet. Too quiet.

Because the night was filled with the sounds of approaching sirens. He slipped out into the open and walked over to the Beemer, then he saw Bressler – still hiding and not wounded.

“Come on,” Callahan said. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

They passed several squad cars as they exited the area, and neither he nor Bressler could see a tail as they headed away from downtown.

“Where to?” Callahan asked.

“Ditch the car, grab a taxi, go the Hyatt and wait.”

“The Hyatt? You mean…”

“Yeah. The bar. That’s my bailout. Every night at eleven. If I’m there it’s because I’m blown.”

“Nobody gave me that option?”

Bressler nodded. “That’s why I’ve been on your ass, except when you were out in those damn helicopters.” Bressler pulled into a grocery store parking lot and started to get out…

“Aren’t you going to take the keys?” Harry asked.

“No. That’s the point. Let someone steal it, and then the car becomes a decoy. And a convenient dead end.”

“Right.”

Bressler went to a payphone and called for a taxi, and it appeared a few minutes later. They just made it to the Hyatt in time for the 2300 hrs meet, and a woman walked up to their table a few minutes later.

“You’re all over the news tonight,” she said to Harry as she pulled up a chair and sat. “Not particularly useful, I suppose you know?”

“Doesn’t matter. I need to get in touch with the Colonel.”

“Okay, let’s go.”

They followed her to a bank of elevators, and she pressed the down arrow, then walked off to the emergency stairwell, Bressler and Callahan following. She went down two levels then led them out into the atrium, and from there to a corner room.

Callahan walked in and was almost shocked to see Frank Bullitt curled up on one of the beds, sound asleep. And Senator Walter Chalmers was sitting in an overstuffed chair watching the news on television.

“Get some rest while you can,” the woman said. “We’ll be leaving in a few hours.”

“What the hell is going on?” Callahan said to her, but she just smiled and left the room.

Bressler walked over to the mini-bar and took out a Coke, then rummaged around until he found a Snickers before heading over to the TV.

“And I missed dinner,” Callahan snarled, his stomach growling as he sat on the edge of the second bed.

“Try room service,” Chalmers said. “It’s pretty good here.”

“Swell.”

Callahan grabbed a pillow and curled up on the bed – now too tired to think of food; he fell off to sleep wondering what else could possibly go wrong…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and last word or two 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 little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. To begin, 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 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). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. 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 not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…given life by two actors who will stand tall through the ages.]

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