The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 29

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 29

____________________________________

Harry watched Stacy Bennett, now sitting beside the pool behind Avi’s house at the Tel Aviv compound, as she took her morning coffee and, like Jim Parish, he was getting increasingly worried about her fragile – and rapidly deteriorating – emotional state. Since returning from her ‘assignment’ in Boston, and with so much fresh blood on her hands, she had at first reflected a stoic acceptance of the ‘work’ she’d done, but soon she bounced between deepening bouts of depression and raging fits of aggressive mania. When Stacy and Jim arrived in Davos for Harry’s wedding – and, as it happened, after a particularly violent outburst on the flight from Tel Aviv to Zurich – Parish asked Harry to keep an eye on her between dances at the impromptu wedding reception. After Sara Callahan returned to the clinic to wrap-up treatment, both Harry and Jim continued to watch Stacy when the team left for Zurich, first by train, and then on the flight back to Israel. 

And Harry was upset by what he saw on the train, enough so that he decided to bring up the matter with the Colonel after they boarded the El Al 707 for the return flight to Tel Aviv.

“Yes,” Goodman said, almost matter-of-factly – like he was remarking on the weather, “I’ve noticed, but Harry, I’ve often seen this happen after a first kill. Odds are she’ll get over it…”

But now, after a few days at the compound, he looked at Stacy by the pool and he could see other changes.

She was biting her nails, her fingers never stopped moving, and her left leg twitched every few seconds. Worse still, she refused to talk to anyone about what was obviously bothering her, and Parish was growing more concerned by the hour. She was, he told Callahan, an obvious candidate for suicide.

He watched her for a while that morning then decided to act; he returned to the house and called Dr. Adler, Sara’s attending psychiatrist at the clinic. After a few minutes wait for her to come to the phone, Callahan told Adler about his concerns, as well as Parish’s. 

Adler replied thoughtfully, and directly: “I noticed something odd about her at the reception. Not knowing the circumstances I felt it best to ignore the situation, but with what I know now I would concur. Suicide is a real possibility.”

“Do you know what’s going on? What we should do to help?”

“What you are describing, these suddenly emerging extreme manic-depressive swings, the tremors, the nail-biting…all may well be manifestations of an impending psychotic break.”

“What can we do?”

“Can you get her to me?”

“Of course.”

“And, uh, do you suppose your father could come along, too?” 

______________________________________

Goodman and the team had other concerns now. Growing concerns.

Walter Chalmers woke up one morning and simply left the compound; without a word said he took a taxi to the American Embassy in Tel Aviv; the team learned the next day Chalmers had returned to his Senate office in Washington, D.C. and was, apparently, hard at work. Then, two days later, he was gunned down outside of a restaurant in Georgetown, the apparent victim of a random robbery – at least according to breathless reports on NBC News, anyway.

The murder of a U.S. Senator stirred up a hornet’s nest of activity inside the FBI, and at Treasury – who controlled the Secret Service, because the move was seen by some as an open declaration of war between the government and a hidden, but growing, movement that few really understood. Regardless, the growing affiliation between the various vigilante groups on the east and west coasts with a new network of criminal enterprises was trouble enough, because this link-up was now seen as yielding ominous results. Chalmers’ open assassination was therefore regarded by insiders at the Bureau for what it really was.

War, pure and simple.

Yet, this was to be a war that played-out far from public view, and both sides knew it had to be that way. If the vigilantes moved to directly confront American political sovereignty they wouldn’t stand a chance, so the Bureau’s upper echelons remained uncertain what the group’s ultimate aims were. 

While a decades-long war of attrition was the furthest thing from their minds, few had come to terms with the Escobar dilemma that Harry Callahan had uncovered. Was this somehow linked to the drug trade? No, it couldn’t be, the old hands at the FBI said. The Columbians surely weren’t that sophisticated.

Goodman’s team, however, was not laboring under any such uncertainty. Goodman knew the assassination was Pablo Escobar’s opening move, and it was also Goodman’s opinion that Escobar wanted to – initially – destabilize the federal law enforcement community, and then force their hand, lead them to move on these various vigilante groups – one by one. So engaged, and once so distracted, Goodman assumed the Medellin Cartel would begin to pour product into the U.S. through their underground network of associated criminal enterprises, like the Danson chop-shop Callahan had worked at; from this modest start, the Cartel could then expand their initial dealer network to major cities coast to coast.

“With so much cocaine and heroin hitting the streets all at once your government will never know what hit them,” the Colonel mused, “at least not until long after the dust settles. And by then it will be too late, won’t it? It will take decades to repair the damage, if it ever can be.”

“And you still think this is all the work on one Columbian drug dealer?” Sam Bennett said.

But then Goodman shook his head. “No, I don’t think so, Captain. I think this operation has KGB written all over it; we just can’t prove it yet. Personally, I doubt this Escobar even knows the difference between a State and a U.S. Senator, because if he did he certainly wouldn’t have gone after Chalmers for his first move. That hit signaled the opening move of a decades-long campaign to destabilize the United States from within.”

“So,” Bullitt sighed, “this isn’t just about drugs?”

“I doubt it,” Goodman replied. “I’d say this is a political operation first, one that will utilize criminal enterprises to undermine social cohesion while at the same time these ethnic infiltrations of police departments will ultimately undermine the credibility of law enforcement. Once that happens whoever is pulling the strings will move to destabilize the federal political system.”

“So,” Sam Bennett grumbled, “after that comes revolution?”

“If I were setting this up,” Goodman said, “I’d foment civil war. If that happens the United States drops off the world stage, the dollar plummets and what’s left of the country is left to pick up the pieces. It’s asymmetric warfare, gentlemen, and no one does that better than the KGB.”

“Do we know what’s going on in San Francisco?” Bullitt asked, clearly shaken by this talk.

“More or less. There’s been a lot of confusion since Harry took out that Danson character. The Threlkis gang has a big reward out for you, by the way,” Goodman said, nodding at Callahan. “Paddy Chalmers is gone; they took him out while he was still in the hospital three nights ago. A couple of salesmen at one of the Chalmers’ dealerships have gone missing, too. We’ve found just one of the bodies. Some good news, though; we are establishing new phone traces one-by-one as we locate the crew that went underground, as some of them start moving around again. All-in-all, we’re getting back up to speed, but slowly.”

Bullitt looked angry now. “What about McKay? What’s he up to?”

“Playing it straight as an arrow, Frank. Back at work like nothing happened.”

“Maybe he had a ‘Come to Jesus Moment,’” Callahan said, grinning at Frank.

“I doubt it. Maybe we ought to put Delgetti and Stanton on him,” Bullitt said, now sounding frustrated.

Sam Bennett growled at that suggestion: “No way, Frank. We don’t want to tip our hand or expose those two at the same time…”

“I agree, Captain,” Goodman added. “Our problem now, at least as far as this team is concerned, is that you have all been, in a word, compromised. When you return it will be to make a little statement of our own.”

“Meaning?” Callahan asked.

“We will assign each of you a group of targets. Your assignment will be to get into place and take out as many of these characters as you can.”

With that, Goodman let his words settle over the team while he looked at them one by one.

“Like the Munich squads…” Sam Bennett said quietly…

Goodman simply shrugged.

And Stacy Bennett stood abruptly and ran from the room, her brother getting up and going after her.

“What’s that all about?” Goodman asked, his furrowed brow deepening.

“We gotta talk,” Callahan said. “Now.”

________________________________

This time Callahan asked Didi to have a JetRanger standing by for them at the airport in Zurich, and both he and his father helped a heavily sedated Stacy Bennett through the terminal and onto a shuttle to the little heliport off the threshold of runway 28. The flight to Davos lasted not quite two hours, but they were able to save time by landing on the clinic’s rooftop pad. Dr. Adler met them out there with a small army of attendants on hand, and Stacy disappeared into the clinic – leaving the two Callahans alone on the roof…

At least until Didi Goodman showed up, a deep frown on her face.

“Come with me,” she said, trying to get them inside and out of the weather. “Things are happening. Apparently, your President Carter launched some sort of an attempt to rescue the hostages in Tehran, and word is there’s been an accident of some sort in the desert.”

“What’s that got to do with us?” Harry said, his hands stuck in his pockets to ward off an icy wind coming off the mountain.

“First things first. The helicopter takes you back first thing in the morning; your seats are booked on Swissair. Next, McKay has disappeared again. No trace of him and even your police department is looking for him this time.”

“Swell. What else?”

“The British spotted Escobar in Panama two days ago, and they think he’s been talking with the head of their military intelligence unit, and this is one more particularly nasty character. Name is Noriega, and he’s protected, supposedly a CIA asset.”

“Wait one,” Harry said. “We have a reported CIA asset selling arms to a Columbian cartel leader…?”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Didi nodded.

“And let me guess,” Lloyd added. “Those arms will be used against targets in the U.S.?”

“We must assume so at this point.”

“And what, supposedly, is Escobar buying?” Harry asked.

“Light arms, but several anti-tank weapons just left Panama for points unknown. We assume Los Angeles or San Diego.”

“No shit?” Lloyd said. “Hell, Harry, this could get kinda interesting…”

“And one last thing,” Didi said as a grin spread across her face. “Al Bressler has the clap.”

And Harry grinned at that bit of information, too. “No shit? You mean, he finally got laid?”

Didi didn’t know that was an old inside joke and looked confused.

“I suppose he’s seen a doctor?” Harry asked after he saw the look on her face.

“Your friend Parish is treating him. And, apparently, your doctor has been detached from his duties in California and has been assigned to the team, so he’ll be with you on your return to the states.”

“I hope he leaves me a few of those hypos,” Lloyd said under his breath as Harry walked back over to the helipad, where he helped the pilot tie-down the JetRanger. Harry also helped him tie-down the main rotor and cover the pitots and engine inlets; after that he rejoined Didi and his father and they went downstairs to find Adler and, Harry hoped, Sara.

As it happened, the five of them went off to dinner together, and a few hours later they dropped Adler and Sara back at the clinic before heading back out to the house. Exhausted, Harry went straight to bed while Didi got on the phone to talk with her father.

Taking the last Caverject syringe from his carry-on bag, Lloyd walked out front and waited curbside – until Dr. Adler pulled-up in a little white BMW. He grinned as they drove back into town together, not at all worried about Pablo Escobar or his fucking anti-tank weapons.

___________________________________

Harry and Didi drove into town very early the next morning and picked-up Lloyd at Adler’s chalet, then they drove to the clinic and took the stairs to the rooftop pad. Harry helped the pilot run through his pre-flight checklist then stepped outside to remove all the pitot covers and rotor tie-downs, and with that done they took off a few minutes later, the night sky finally giving way to the first shards of morning light as the helicopter climbed high enough to clear the mountains between Zurich and Davos.

They landed at Zurich-Kloten hard by the threshold to Runway 28; a shuttle met them and carried them directly to the customs gate. Once formalities were completed they made their way to the gate, but already Harry could tell something was very different today.

Heavily armed soldiers were patrolling the terminal, and anyone looking even remotely suspicious was being stopped and frisked. They watched as one detainee objected; several troops swooped down and literally carried the man kicking and screaming into an unmarked office.

“What the hell is going on?” Lloyd whispered.

“Gotta have something to do with the situation in Iran,” Harry said.

“Makes sense.”

When they got to the Swissair gate they were greeted by a phalanx of Swiss troops – flanked by two Israeli security officers; one of the troops walked up to Lloyd and challenged them both.

“Passports, please.”

They handed over their passports and tickets.

“You,” the soldier said, pointing to Lloyd, “into that room. Now!”

Another trooper escorted Lloyd to the indicated office, and they disappeared from view.

“Now, you! To the office over there,” the soldier said, pointing. “Now!”

Callahan followed a trooper to the office and stepped inside.

“Belt off, and take off your pants!”

“Excuse the fuck out of me?”

“Your pants off now, or we will take them off for you!”

Harry growled but removed his trousers.

“Underwear, down! Then turn around and face that wall, and grab your ankles!”

Clinching his teeth, Harry complied…then he felt someone pulling his cheeks apart. 

“You are clear. You may get dressed now.”

What a perfect time to cut a fart, Callahan thought. Where was Bressler when he really needed him…

He met his father by the gate, and the two Israeli agents were waiting for them by the jetway when their flight was called. “Follow me, please,” one of the agents said as he led them on board the 707. Once Harry and Lloyd took a seat the main door closed immediately and the engines started.

They were the only passengers on the airplane.

“What the hell is going on?” Harry asked the agent.

“The mess in Iran. Israel is now on full alert and air-space all over the Middle East has been heavily restricted.”

“What was with that stuff at the gate,” Lloyd asked, apparently still quite offended.

“Terrorists made attempts at both Rome and Madrid overnight, taking advantage of the chaos in Tehran. They were making attempts to get at flights bound for Israel.”

“Jesus.”

The Israels simply shrugged. “That’s just the way it is. You get used to these things after a while.”

“What do you mean by that?” Lloyd asked.

And the Israeli simply smiled and looked away for a moment; when he spoke it was with a feeling of deep sorrow in his voice: “We are surrounded by people who want nothing more than to drive us into the sea, to kill every last Jew left on the earth. We are, Mr. Callahan, a people adrift on a sea of hate.”

“I understand that. But you said you get used to it, and I asked how? How do you get used to something like that?”

“What is the option? This world seems consumed by a madness that refuses to die, that somehow Jews are the cause of all the world’s problems. When you are born into this madness, when you wake up everyday, day after day, surrounded by evidence of such malignant purpose, what are you to do? Well, you grow to accept that the madness is real and that it will kill you if you stop believing in it. So, you get used to it, because if you don’t you will die of despair.”

“Sounds to me,” Lloyd sighed, “that one way or another you die.”

The agent shrugged. “Maybe, but for now I choose to live.”

The jet began its hurtling roar down the runway and after it climbed from the earth they turned to the southeast, towards the eye of that very same malignancy, and Lloyd Callahan shivered a little while he turned the agent’s words over and over in his mind.

The 707 turned into a consumptive wall of cloud and the jet’s pulsing strobes lit passing waves of snow, and all the while Lloyd looked into this blinding dawn, wondering what was hiding in the storm just ahead.

‘Life is so simple at sea,’ he reminded himself. ‘Maybe it’s time to get back to the city…’

_______________________________

Colonel Goodman met their flight at the gate in Tel Aviv and escorted Harry and Lloyd through security and back out onto the tarmac. They boarded a waiting Huey and left Tel Aviv at very low altitude, still heading southeast.

“Back to the camp, I take it?” Harry asked.

Goodman nodded. “Things are heating up in California – and falling apart in Iran.”

“Swell.”

Goodman held up a hand, asking for silence as something came through his headset, then he shook his head while he turned to speak to Harry again. “It may be safer for you elsewhere, Harry. Khomeini has complete control of the military now, and we’ve just learned that the Russians recently supplied a new group called the Revolutionary Guards with medium-range surface-to-surface missiles.”

“What’s the range?” Lloyd asked.

“Enough.”

“Shit. So, is that why we’re moving back out to the camp?”

“No, we’re just going out to do some target practice before we leave,” Goodman said, suddenly grinning at Harry. “Besides, we have a few new toys for you to play with.”

___________________________________

The new ‘toys’ were H&K PSG-1 rifles and SIG Sauer P220 pistols.

A new range had been set up with targets at 100, 500, and 1,000 meters, while a close-combat pistol range had been set up as well; several Israeli instructors were on hand to lead the festivities. Lloyd Callahan was not initially invited to participate, though he watched from a distance for a while. Then Harry asked Goodman to let his father work with a pistol… 

“Just in case…” Harry said.

The HKs were bizarre. The pistol grip, the cheek pad, even the shoulder stock were all adjustable to fit each shooter, so each member of the team was assigned a unique rifle. Then each rifle was fitted to each shooter by a factory trained armorer. The Zeiss-Hensoldt ZF-PSG telescopic sights were similarly custom-tuned with diopter lenses – and all this took most of the day to accomplish.

Early the next morning the team assembled at the makeshift rifle range and spent an hour going over their rifles, then bi-pods were fitted and an instructor asked them to gather around while he went over the loading and unloading process.

Next, the instructor slipped down into a prone position and fired one round at each of the three targets. When he finished the targets were pulled down then carried in by Jeep.

Sam Bennett looked at the three ‘bullseye’ hits and whistled.

“Not bad,” Callahan said. “Mind if I try?”

“No, please do,” the instructor said, stepping aside so Harry could take his place.

Callahan inserted a five-round magazine, insured the weapon was ‘safe,’ then assumed the same position. Once his HK settled on the bi-pod he sighted-in then fired at the 100-meter target.

“Three inches left,” the instructor said. “Now, perhaps we need to make a few entries and corrections before you shoot again?”

“Why not just adjust the windage knob?” Callahan asked…yet the instructor simply ignored him.

“First we need to know the temperature and barometric pressure and get these values entered. Next, the apparent wind angle and speed need to be entered. Any height difference between you and the target must also be accounted for. And all these values must be entered on the scope with absolutely no error.”

“Shit…why?”

“Because the reticle is computerized, Inspector Callahan. Once these values are entered the reticle compensates for all those variables. So, you can reliably drive tacks at a thousand meters.”

“Show me,” Callahan said, and only then did the team retire to a tent to begin the real learning process. By afternoon the team returned to the range and began again, this time in earnest.

“All your weapons have been bore-sighted by the armorer, but a few minor adjustments may still need to be made. Everyone deploy your bipod and assume the position…”

And at the end of two weeks, the team was ready for their final briefing.

The next day they boarded the little JetStar for what the team hoped would be the final act of this play, yet at this point, not even Colonel Goodman felt confident in the outcome.

The JetStar landed at Frankfurt and the team transferred to a U.S. Air Force C-141 for the flight to Travis Air Force Base in California, and no-one managed to sleep on this leg, not even Harry Callahan. 

At Travis, the team broke-up into two-man units, with each SFPD officer assigned an Israeli liaison officer to handle communications and target acquisition. Jim Parish and Lloyd Callahan went with the Colonel to a new safe-house off Skyline Drive in the hills above Palo Alto. The house, deep in an ancient redwood forest, was equipped for a minor siege and even had a small pad to handle a Huey-sized helo. Medical supplies were airlifted in when Chief Warrant Officer “Mickey” Rooney landed a new, civilian painted and registered 212 on the pad; ‘lent’ to the team by the Army, Rooney was on hand to provide air support once the operation began – supposedly in three days time.

Harry Callahan and his spotter slipped into the East Bay and set up a watch zone around the municipal airport in Hayward; the word was that Escobar, or one of his lieutenants, would be bringing in a very large shipment of ‘product’ later in the week. Callahan would take out the aircraft once it was on the ground by hitting the engine, or engines, with armor-piercing rounds; anyone foolish enough to leave the aircraft would regret the decision. The operational plan included letting the DEA claim credit for the bust – after the dust settled.

Frank Bullitt was given the unenviable task of tracking down Captain Jerry McKay after new communications intercepts confirmed McKay’s participation in Escobar’s operation. These phone taps also revealed a more extensive group of police officers involved in operations centered around Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose, and Sam Bennett went to the South Bay to tackle a small group of vigilante operatives working out of the San Jose PD. Callahan and Bullitt would ‘mop-up’ the remainder of known targets in San Francisco and Oakland after their primary targets were dispatched.

After the team moved into place it all came down to watching and waiting, everyone ready to make the opening moves in what would surely become a very long counter-offensive.

No one anticipated that other teams were working the very same targets, or that these other teams had set out the very same targets like tethered goats used to draw-in a predator.

The hunters, in other words, had just become the hunted.

/////

© 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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