The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 27

88th key cover image

[note: a short chapter here, but a necessary aside before we begin. Most have figured out by now that my ‘Adrian Leverkühn’ moniker comes from Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus. Fine, that’s true. But I want to draw your attention to another work by Mann, The Magic Mountain. Note we’re writing about Harry Callahan, or HC. The Magic Mountain is a sort of German bildungsroman, a so-called novel of development, or what many might call a “coming of age” tale, and it revolves around the experiences of Hans Castorp (HC) and takes place at a sanitarium in Davos, Switzerland. It opens with Castorp’s train journey to visit a friend in Davos, and it’s time for me to go away and let you read…]

Part IV

Chapter 27


Callahan leaned forward in his seat and looked out the DC-9s window; he saw the snow-covered alps just below, the view instantly bringing to mind the last afternoon he’d spent with Sara on the mountain in Davos. He’d tried not to think about her the past two months, and though there’d been a few times when he’d actually succeeded in doing so, by-and-large the image of her had been ever-present in his mind. But so too was the old man in the cape, and he knew that while he was in Davos he’d have to find the physician and talk to him.

The little jet banked steeply and he was suddenly looking straight down the wing at green pastures and pristine villages scattered across an immaculate landscape, then he heard flaps and leading-edge slats extending, then the ‘thump-bump-whining’ of landing gears. A minute later the jet touched down and he was pitched forward in his seat by thrust reversers and squealing brakes, yet all the arcane movements and noises had worked to jolt him back into the present.

“I hate airports,” he muttered as he walked up the jetway and into the concourse, looking for a sign leading to customs, which turned out to be easy enough to find. He followed signs and made his way to escalators leading to the basement-level train station, almost always surprised at how clean the airport was. He bought a ticket and caught the ‘local’ for the short ride to the main station in the center of Zurich and jumped on the train for the brief ride into the city. The main station was huge, far bigger than anything he’d ever seen in the states, and after a long walk up the platform to the main concourse area, he found the main ticket window and bought a round-trip ticket to Davos, the agent telling him he’d have to change trains in Landquart, but that he’d have plenty of time to make the connection.

Looking at a huge sign overhead, he noted his train was already boarding at the platform, and of course, it turned out to be right next to the train he’d just arrived on…so one more jog out the very same platform to, of course, the far end of the train, and now, almost out of breath, he walked into the carriage and found his seat. After the train pulled away from the station a conductor punched his ticket, and a minute later an old man wheeled a cart through the passageway, asking passengers if they wanted coffee or tea or a sandwich. Callahan asked for a Coke and a ham & cheese sandwich, which turned out to be particularly good, and he settled in and looked out the window. 

The train rattled and swayed through dozens of switches as it moved slowly through the yards, and as he watched the drab urban landscape passing-by on the other side of the glass he was struck by an odd observation: there was no litter, no graffiti – not even a scattering of homeless encampments to be seen, just a clean city.  And soon enough the urban landscape gave way to an almost perfectly manicured valley, with a lake on one side of the train and verdant pastureland out the other, the spotless train slipping through picture-postcard villages of the sort he’d spotted from the DC-9 on their approach to Zurich just an hour ago.

Only from here, right here in the middle of things, these little villages looked more like intimate settings from a storybook than small farming communities. He saw a new home, a chalet, under construction, and it looked almost exactly like all the other houses around it…even chalets that might have been built a hundred years before. 

‘Isn’t that what timeless means?’ he thought…

And in that instant he felt like he was adrift in time, cut-off and free to wander the crowded corridors of a library of landscapes, yet of the hundreds of glimpses available he found he couldn’t stop and look around…like there was something stopping him, something vital he had missed.

Then a jostling clatter as the train slowed for a station, and he opened his eyes, realized he’d been asleep and dreaming, and that his mouth was parched. 

He saw a station sign: Landquart…and realized this was his stop…he had to get off the train… 

‘Have I really been asleep that long?’

Then he was cast out on the platform, left waiting for another train, the train that would take him up the valley to Davos, yet that puzzling dream was still fresh in his mind.

‘If only I could have just reached out and taken hold of one…? But…what am I missing?’

He sat on a bench and looked up and down the tracks, found he was looking at a town nestled along the bottom of a long valley floor. There were more chalets here, but older buildings, too, more like medieval construction, small churches and homes that might have been a thousand years old, and he found the idea of homes so old to be somehow inexplicable. What would it feel like, he wondered, to grow up in such a place? San Francisco was barely a hundred years old now and already it had fractured along impractical, almost imposed socio-economic lines, divisions that seemed to fester with repressed anger. 

‘But, isn’t that where I really live? The embittered streets of my home? White people over here, some Chinese over there in a little enclave they call their own, leaving the blacks and the Mexicans and all the other undesirables stuffed away in a little corner of the city nobody really wants…like out of sight, out of mind? Oakland just as divided. Los Angeles – just more of the same but writ large.’

But here? Just an open tableau stretching back a thousand years. Timeless. 

He tried to picture himself living in this town, trying to fit into a culture whose roots stretched back almost to infinity.

‘But no, I’m a Californian.

‘But…what does that even mean?

‘That I’ve embraced a kind of rootlessness? That I have, in effect, no tribe other than who I happen to work for?’

He looked around the valley, at mountains that towered protectively over everything in view, and at the village around this little train station, and only one word came to mind: Cohesive. Like everything that had happened here had sort of evolved to fit into this particular landscape.

And my home? My city by the bay?

Fractured. No order. Frantic and frenetic.

He heard a high-pitched whistle and looked down the tracks, saw a red train approaching, and watched as it slid to a quiet stop next to the platform.

Callahan looked at the train, at how clean it was, noting that there was no graffiti on the cars, and, more importantly, that the people coming out of the cars weren’t nervously looking around, sizing up potential threats lurking in the shadows…they were just headed home after a quick trip down the valley to go shopping or to visit a friend, and that simple task didn’t entail putting your life at risk.

‘No, I’d never fit in here. In fact,’ he thought, ‘I’d be more like an infection. I’d be bringing my own anxieties and expectations and, in effect, transmitting them wherever I went…imposing my library of experience onto what was, truly, an ancient culture locked away in a valley – and almost cut off from the modern world. But, is that really all that I am…?’

“Sir, were you waiting for this train?”

Callahan looked up, saw what he assumed was the train’s conductor speaking to him. 

“Yes, sorry, just daydreaming…”

The old man smiled. “What carriage are you in?”

Callahan shrugged, handed over his ticket.

“Ah, follow me, please.”

He took his new seat just before the train eased out of the station, still lost in thought…

‘How many wars have we fought in just this century? How many millions killed? How many of those people killed others in order to not be killed? Why do we continue to manufacture conditions that leave us no way out – leaving us no option but to kill?

‘But look at this valley. Pristine. Untouched by war for hundreds of years. 

‘What have these people learned that the rest of us haven’t?’

Another attendant passed through the carriage and Callahan had hot tea to pass the time, his eyes rarely straying from the window and the passing landscape. And now the train seemed to reverse direction and traverse the side of a steep mountain wall, suddenly locked inside an impenetrable forest of ancient pine. Sunlight flickered through the trees, casting kaleidoscopic shadows on the walls inside the carriage – and the splintered light’s effect suddenly became almost hallucinogenic.

Looking up through the light he thought he saw his Looney June on a tattered bed, that grubby old abortionist with his filthy instruments tearing life from her womb, then he witnessed a parade of all the child abusers he’d beaten and wrecked over the last decade of his life. 

‘Is that really the world I live in? Why would anyone chose to live like this…’

And then another voice was unmistakably clear: “You presume a choice in the matter?”

Callahan shook his head, looked around the carriage to see if anyone else had heard the voice, but no, no one seemed to have paid the slightest bit of attention.

‘But I don’t want to live like that…’

“So, what of it?”

‘I could move here! I could change everything!’

“Could you, really? And I thought you just answered that question. Didn’t you regard yourself as an, what did you call it? As an infection?”

‘I could change, couldn’t I?’

“You are what you are.”

‘I can’t accept that.”

But that statement was met with silence, so Callahan closed his eyes, and now the shattered light played against the insides of his eyelids – casting afterimages on his mind’s eye through a pinkish veil…only now he felt like he was being pulled out of the carriage…

And in an instant he was standing at the window in his mother’s bedroom, at her father’s house in Copenhagen, looking out over a sea of red tile roofs and a harbor full of – three-masted sailing ships? He heard the clip-clopping of hooves on the streets below, and the air was pure and crisp as if this was an early autumn afternoon. He turned and saw what had to be his mother, and the little girl was sitting at a small white desk in the room, and she was busily writing fragments of notes in the margins of a book…

“Hi, Mom,” Callahan said like this was the natural thing to do under the circumstances.

“Oh, hello Harald. I’m so happy you found your way here. There are a million things I need to talk to you about…”

And on hearing those words Callahan opened his eyes and stood up, his trembling hands reaching out to steady his body as the train swayed over a crossing. He felt nauseous and made his way unsteadily to the washroom and splashed water on his face, then he lurched the length of the train before he returned to his seat. Now the train was rumbling across a narrow plain, and he saw huge mountains lining both sides of another valley floor, and a river running alongside the tracks, and even a small highway beyond.

Another little town lay just ahead, Klosters, as it turned out, and he watched the people coming and going from the carriage after the train stopped at the station – still he still felt like an interloper of sorts – and again the feeling of being dispossessed returned.

‘I feel like the things I’ve done have stained my soul.’

He waited, wanting the voice to return. Wanting to engage in a conversation with someone, anyone who might understand this sudden feeling of aloneness…but that was, apparently, not to be.

The train lurched once and then resumed its journey to Davos, and now he sat in silence, reaching out for the voice, almost begging it to return…until at last the jewel-like village hove into view. He could see ample snow still reaching halfway down the mountain, and even a few intrepid skiers making their way down to the midway funicular station, and he realized he wanted to be up there, too. Upon his magic mountain, in the snow with Sara by his side.

‘Is she what this has all been about? Sara? Is she the voice I need to help me make sense of my life? Or…was she meant to be the purpose of my life?

‘But…Goodman told me our life has come to be all about Hate…

‘But…what is Hate, really?’

He watched the village grow closer and closer until at last, he could the psychiatric clinic on the hill – a hulking presence that overlooked the valley almost like a brooding monster, the gray stone exuding nothing but uncertainty. An acid-borne knot formed in his stomach and crept up his chest, and he looked at the time and decided it was too late in the day to go up there today…

He hopped off the train and into the last light of day, unsure of himself now. 

“I don’t even know how to get to the house.”

But never mind all that, because Colonel Goodman had sent someone to look out for him.

And that someone turned out to be Benjamin Goodman’s daughter.


In a hospital room high above the valley floor, the girl heard another train whistle in the distance and she wondered… ‘Will he come for me today, on this train?’ – just as a nurse injected her afternoon dose of Haloperidol.

Her condition had deteriorated rapidly over the past two months, her physicians deciding to try Haloperidol, a good medication for treating psychotic hallucinations after the girl began talking to what she described as an old man in a cape. 


© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a 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…]

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