The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 33

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 33

____________________________________

“But I don’t want to go back!” Lloyd Callahan bellowed. “Not to Israel, not to fuckin’ Switzerland…not even across the goddam Golden Gate Bridge!”

“I understand, Dad, but that bullet was meant for you. Like – for the back of your head. Does that compute?”

“I don’t give a damn, Harry! I’ve got work to do – right here, right now – and I’m gonna do it.”

“I’ve already hired a painter to come out and finish the house…”

“Well, you can goddamn-well-un-hire his fuckin’ ass, too!” Lloyd screamed. “And right fuckin’ now!”

“Pack a bag, Dad. We’re leaving.”

The two Callahans were still out on the front porch, still locked in a classic stare-down, when Frank Bullitt pulled up out front, and after he got out of his old green Mustang he just stood there watching as two lions circled one another, working out their dominance hierarchy up there in the shade of the porch…and when he’d had enough he decided to walk up and get into the thick of things…

“Hey Lloyd,” Frank said as he started up the steps, “need any help today?”

Harry wheeled around, red-faced and boiling under the collar: “I’m tryin’ to get his stubborn ass out to the airport.”

“And quite successfully too, I think.”

“Now Frank, don’t you come up here and stick your nose…”

“Oh, Harry,” Bullitt said matter-of-factly, “he’s goin’ to the airport alright, but we gotta talk first.” Frank looked from Harry to Lloyd, then back to Harry, his eyes magmatic. Then: “Harry, go get us something to drink.”

“Right.”

“Lloyd? Sit down.”

The elder Callahan took one look at the subterranean menace in Bullitt’s eyes and instantly decided that sitting suddenly made perfect sense, but now Frank paced back and forth, from one end of the porch to the other, apparently waiting for Harry’s return…

…and he appeared moments later, carry three Cokes over to the table by his father’s rocking chair…

“Sit down, Harry,” Frank added.

Harry sat, his ashen mood now almost pyroclastic.

“We got things to cover, Lloyd,” Frank began gently. “Too many. First off, Harry’s right. You were the target last night. Second question? Was it a Threlkis hit? I’m not so sure, at least right now. Two witnesses saw a middle-aged woman with a sniper rifle, and one of them picked Stacy Bennett from a photo-lineup this morning.”

“Shit,” Harry sighed.

Lloyd simply shook his head. “So, if it is Stacy…she knows just about anyplace Harry might take me.”

Bullitt nodded. “I called your office this morning. Y’all have a freighter headed out this afternoon. San Fran to Valparaiso to Cape Town to Niarobi and back. Five weeks. You need to pack up your stuff right now. Harry is going to run you out to SFO; you’ll get into my car out there and I’ll run you down to the wharf. You’ll be one less thing Harry and I have to worry about right now, okay?”

Lloyd looked down then slowly nodded his head. “Alright. You win.”

“Your ship leaves at 1630,” Bullitt said gently. “Need any help packing? Anything from the store?”

“No.” Lloyd stood, dejected, and left the porch, but the screen door slammed on his way inside.

“Damn,” Harry said, his voice suddenly beyond tired. “Stacy? Here already?”

Bullitt nodded. “Delgetti is running with this one; he already has a warrant registered on Interpol, and we have an image of her out at SFO last night, getting onto a plane bound for Mexico City.”

“That Interpol shit won’t matter.”

“Well, it’ll tell the Colombians that we know what they’re up to…”

“Is that a good thing?” Harry sighed. “Won’t she just go deeper underground?”

“Doubtful. They want to hurt us, but it feels like they want to do it slowly – so we have time to suffer…”

“Okay. But the best defense is a strong offense, right…?”

Bullitt shrugged. “Yup, I guess, but we can’t just sit around and wait for them to make the next move.”

“Hurt ‘em? Take out some of their product in the pipeline?”

“Bressler is working that angle now that he’s back at Vice…”

Harry shuddered. “Have you heard from Goodman?”

“They’re going over their phone intercepts, looking for signs of a new intermediary.”

“So…we…you and I…we take out whatever Goodman comes up with?”

“Maybe. But what if we back off? Get them to feel more comfortable, get them out of their hideouts a little at a time. Identify Stacy’s handlers, then let them lead us to her.”

“That’s not a strong offense, Frank.”

“The colonel thinks that’s the best way to…”

“And he’s been wrong the last two times, hasn’t he…?”

Bullitt looked down, lost in thought, then he looked directly at Callahan: “Well, what if he wasn’t wrong?”

“You mean, what if Goodman’s organization has been penetrated?”

“We’d be in a world of hurt, wouldn’t we?”

“Well,” Callahan sighed, “after Sara I began to think as much.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“I thought I was being paranoid.”

Bullitt smiled. “Yeah, but were you being paranoid enough?”

Callahan grinned too, but Frank could tell his friend was lost in thought.

“So,” Harry said, almost to himself, “what do we know? First, when did things start to go sour?”

“Well,” Frank muttered, “I’d say it all started after you took out those two over in Oakland.”

“And that was right after I ran into Escobar, on that helicopter flight moving product…”

“…so he’s taken all that’s happened since as a personal affront…like a loyalty challenge…”

“And so he decided to find a weak link and exploit it?” Callahan asked. “But why Stacy?” Callahan drifted for a moment, thinking…

“That friend of yours,” Bullitt said, “the doc from ‘Nam… What’s happened to him?”

“Came back here after she went to Davos. I guess he’s still up at…”

“We can’t afford to guess, Harry. We need to get our hands on him, fast.”

Lloyd came back out on the porch, carrying two small canvas duffels in one hand, his house keys in the other. 

“Ready to go, Dad?”

“No, but I gather that doesn’t really make a shitload of difference…”

“Anything I need to do while you’re gone, Mr Callahan?”

“No, Frank. Well, y’all just…well…just watch your backs, okay?”

“Will do,” Bullitt said. “Harry, drive up the Departures ramp, right up to the TWA sky-caps. Lloyd, get out and go inside and wait by the door; I’ll be a few minutes behind so get in my car as soon as I pull up to the curb.”

“Got it.”

Bullitt looked at his watch. “Harry, time to roll.”

“Okay, Frank. Seeya at the fort.”

“Yeah.”

The two Callahans drove out to SFO in silence, Lloyd still angry and Harry mad at himself for letting his dad get that way, until Harry turned into the airport and headed for the departures ramp.

“Well, son, this is it. You take care of yourself.”

“I will, Dad. Look, I know we don’t talk much about things, but I wanted to…”

“Don’t worry about it, Harry. We’ll talk it over when I get back.”

They looked at one another as Harry pulled up to the curbside baggage check-in area and stopped. His father held out his right hand and Harry took it.

“You’ve always been a good son, Harry. Both to your mother and to me. And I’m proud of you, in case I haven’t told you recently.”

“I love you, Dad.”

Lloyd nodded then hopped out of the car – and in an instant he disappeared into the milling crowd; Harry shook his head then drove off to get on the 101.

__________________________________

As planned, Bullitt met up with Harry at the Presidio; the old fort was one of the few places in the city where they could shake a tail, and where they could leave a car without fear of it being messed with.

“Rooney’s here,” Harry said as soon as Frank got out of his Mustang, “and he was able to locate Jim for me. He’s up at Travis right now, headed for San Antonio tomorrow.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“No, he was in surgery.”

“Well, we better get going. Traffic across the bridge will be a bitch.”

Callahan smiled: “Rooney’s waiting; he’ll run us up.”

Bullitt grinned at that. “Think I could sit up front today?”

Harry feigned surprise. “You ain’t ever growin’ up, are you?”

“Not if I can help it, Harry.”

__________________________________

“I noticed a real change in her the day before the blast,” Jim Parish said, speaking more to Frank than Harry. “She was tense, on edge.”

“Anything else?”

“I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help here, Frank. When Goodman got word they were going to try to take her out he set up that ruse…well, you know what happened. She had on a vest with a ceramic trauma plate covering her torso, but something’s bothered me about that night ever since it went down? I never saw a bullet impact…”

“What?” Frank said, surprised.

“Well, think about it. If they’d shot her, hit her in the vest, she’d have been knocked back by the impact, right? Well, when the blast took out Chip I looked in that direction for a split second, but when I looked back at her she was on the ground, and just like we’d planned she was holding her neck. I put on the gauze pad – that had been soaked in red dye – and tried to make he look dead…but I remember looking around for a bullet strike…”

“Where?” Harry asked.

“Well, first on her body, but she wasn’t behaving like she’d been hit anywhere…”

Bullitt snarled: “We missed the goddam most important thing. In all of the confusion, we missed the one bit of evidence that would have keyed-us in…”

“Exactly,” Parish sighed. “She knew when to fall…”

“When Chip triggered the bomb?” Harry said, crumbling. “That means she knew Chip…”

“Not necessarily Chip,” Parish added. “It could have been Frank, but she still could have stopped Chip from going up to the Porsche…”

“Man, that’s fucked up,” Harry sighed. “Bad enough to conspire to take out a cop, and a friend at that, but how fucked up do you have to be to sacrifice a nephew.”

“Escobar must have something on her…” Frank added.

“Or he had been using her for a while,” Parish said, thinking out loud. “She told me once that someone in the Boston field office had been investigating someone close to her, but when she told me that, I remembered thinking that that someone was really her…”

“What if that’s the agent she took out?” Frank said. “She’d have had to set him up big-time. Talk about pre-meditated…”

“That would make sense,” Harry replied. “Kill two birds with one stone.”

“Jim?” Frank began. “Any chance she’s been around here, that she might be scoping you out?”

Parish shook his head. “If she has I’ve missed it, and in case you missed it, this is a SAC base and it’s not exactly easy to sneak through the wire.”

“What about her mental collapse?” Harry asked. “Think she faked it?”

“No, I don’t. You can’t fake sudden spikes in blood pressure like that. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it, thinking about the guilt she would have been feeling. Mainly over Chip’s murder, how that death affected her brother, Sam. A real psychopath might be able to get away with that guilt-free, but my sense of her was that she isn’t now, or wasn’t then a psychopath.”

“Do you think money alone could be an inducement?” Harry asked.

“I wouldn’t have thought that possible,” Parish sighed, “with a senior FBI agent, but maybe I’m just being naive.”

“Naive?” Frank smirked. “Only if it was contagious, Jim.”

“Harry? What are you going to do to her?”

“Don’t ask.”

Parish nodded. “I kinda thought so.”

“So, you’re off to Texas?” Frank asked.

“Yeah. We’re developing a combined services teaching facility, and I want to be in on it at the beginning.”

“So, you’re staying in?” Harry asked, incredulous.

“Yup, and I know, Harry, but somewhere along the way the whole Duty, Honor, Country thing began to make real sense to me. Like maybe it’s the only thing left in the world that does. Anyway, I’m comfortable here. Where I’m headed…”

“Well, it’s a long way from the bar at the Caravelle, Jim.”

Parish nodded, seemed to accept the moment for what it really was: “I’m glad our paths crossed, Harry. I wouldn’t have gotten involved with the orphan airlift without An Linh, and, in a way, your coming into my life made all that happen. That was a real slice of life, maybe a once in a lifetime thing…”

Harry closed his eyes and shook his head, tried not to think about An Linh. “I hear you, Jim. Keep in touch, okay.”

“You know it.”

_________________________________

“So,” Frank said as the Huey lifted off from the pad at Travis, “you think he was telling the truth?”

“Jim? Hell, Frank, that guy doesn’t know how to lie, let alone…”

“Hey, just asking.”

“Well, the problem as I see it right now is we’re right back to square one. We’re stuck in the position of having to wait for Stacy to make the next move…”

“Unless, like you said, we can force the issue…”

“Okay, Frank, how? What are you thinking?”

“What if Sam got sick. You know, really sick? Think that might lure her in?”

Callahan shook his head. “No. She burned that bridge. In fact, I think she’s burned all her bridges.”

“Okay. Do you think we should go down to Colombia?”

“Why? Where we don’t know anyone, where we have no support, and where we don’t even know the language?”

Frank sighed. “Then yeah…I’m stuck.”

“We don’t have much choice, Frank. We get back to work, let her make the next move.”

“And what? When she takes the next shot we sit back and hope she misses?”

‘Mickey’ Rooney chimed-in at that point, over the intercom: “Why don’t you go after Escobar’s operations in the East Bay. If you become a big enough pain in his ass that ought to provoke a response.”

“Maybe,” Frank said. “Good idea.”

“What would happen,” Callahan added, “if the Threlkis mob really has linked-up with the Colombians?”

“If that happened,” Frank said, now thinking out loud more than anything else, “kicking that hornet’s nest might stir up some real trouble.”

“I hear one of his girls is getting married soon. We could fuck with his head, hit him where it hurts the most…”

“At a wedding?” Frank said, grinning again. “Come on, Harry, is nothing sacred?”

“Not with that scumbag, Frank. And I hate to change subjects, but what’s going on with you and Cathy?”

But Frank just shook his head, pointed at his headphones – and Harry nodded, looked out the window as Alcatraz slid by off their starboard side…

“Fog coming in the Gate,” Rooney said. “Gonna be close.”

Harry leaned forward and looked out the windshield; he could just barely see the Presidio as the afternoon flood carried cooler water into the bay, and he guessed they’d just make it back to the helipad – with perhaps only seconds to spare – before it, too, disappeared in the gloom.

________________________________

It was almost funny, Callahan thought, how fast Bullitt got into his car and drove off. No way would he stay and talk about Cathy, about the things tearing them apart. No fucking way. That guy held everything close, his feelings most of all.

He drove to his old apartment and found a parking place on the street about a block away, and he walked home in the same enveloping fog. He couldn’t even see across the street as he made his way to the entry, though he could tell someone new had taken up residence in Avi’s original hide under the fire escape.

It wasn’t just his imagination, he knew. The statistics were grim, and getting worse by the month: homelessness wasn’t quite pervasive yet, but the way the numbers kept increasing it wouldn’t be long before there was a real crisis in the city.

He put his key in the door and walked into the foyer, checked his mailbox to see if the post office had restarted service – they hadn’t – so he walked up to the third floor and went into his apartment.

And there, right in the middle of the floor, was a large manila envelope.

He walked over and picked it up, then went to his chair and sat. He flipped on a lamp and opened the envelope, took out several pages of information from Colonel Goodman, and a few more from Didi that included a small summary accounting of the money he’d spent on his brief journey across the South – which he found oddly depressing.

Goodman had nothing new to add. McKay had spilled all he knew and the Israelis were at odds trying to figure out what to do with him. There were rumors, nothing more substantial than rumors, that Stacy Bennett had been seen in Cartagena and Bogota. Which didn’t add up, Goodman added, because Escobar was based in Medellin. And none of that stuff mattered very much to Callahan because, he knew, he’d have been hard pressed to find Medellin on a map. About the only thing that mattered was she hadn’t been spotted in California…until yesterday.

He went to ‘fridge and opened the door – and instantly regretted the choice. The contents looked like some sort of evil experiment in bioterrorism, with glowing green orange juice the highlight. He looked under the kitchen sink and found some plastic trash bags and cleaned out the contents of the fridge and the small freezer, and these he carried these downstairs to dumpsters in the alley. He was still dressed in a windbreaker so he walked down towards the wharf in search of dinner. He was about to go inside his old stand-by, a Chinese place with excellent egg-foo-young, when he saw Bullitt’s Mustang drive-by…with a blond in the passenger’s seat…so he ducked into a shadow and watched Frank park down the street.

He watched as Bullitt ran around and opened the passenger door, peered through the fog trying to see if he recognized the woman, then in a huff he just shrugged it off and ducked inside his favorite little Chinese restaurant. Still, even after he finished his meal the idea that Bullitt might cheat on Cathy bothered him…yet, with all the stories of her horrid behavior in Israel – and the simple, irrefutable fact that they still weren’t married – left him feeling off balance…like a truth he’d long taken for granted had turned to dust right before his eyes.

He walked home, now in a kind of deep funk, and walked upstairs with his head hunched over. He went to his chair and slipped off his shoes, then he dozed for a while before he went to bed –

Then the telephone rang, its harsh metallic shards pushing aside the dream…

He picked up the phone: “Callahan.”

“Inspector Callahan, I have you on the duty roster…”

“That’s right. Go ahead.”

“Signal One out near the Cliff House, officers on scene.”

“Show me en route.”

He slammed the phone down and went to the living room, slipped on his shoes and then trudged over to the hall closet. He opened the little wall safe and took out his Smith and his badge, put on an old sport coat over his shoulder holster and grabbed his windbreaker, then made his way down to the street…all while trying to remember where he’d parked the goddam car.

And only then did he look at his watch: three-forty-five! He looked up, could just make out the moon above the fog and groaned. “Why am I still doing this?” he asked no one in particular.

He drove across town completely unfettered by early morning traffic and his mind lost inside an absolutely black hole, but as the Cliff House drew near he saw the red and blue lights atop several patrol cars pulsing in the black fog, bathing the scene in alternating washes of crimson and cobalt…

He parked by the patrol cars and walked through the parking lot to a covey of patrolmen huddled behind some sort of gray coupe…a Ford, maybe.

“Hey, Harry,” one of the patrolmen said as he approached, “haven’t seenya in a while. Whereya been?”

Callahan ignored the question as he stifled a deep yawn. “Whaddaya got.”

“One stiff. Took one to the forehead, and one down around the main vein. Pants down around his ankles, looks like plenty of saliva on the guy’s pecker, couldn’t tell if he’d popped his wad yet.”

“Swell…”

He walked over to the driver’s door and looked inside, saw the wound on the vic’s forehead and bent over to look more closely while he pulled a penlight from his coat pocket. Powder burns on the skin, some reddish gray – indicating the muzzle had been placed right against the skin.

“So…this was the second shot,” he sighed as he pulled on latex gloves before he moved any further along. Next, he felt the back of the skull – “clean…no exit wound…small caliber hollow-point, maybe a 38, probably a 32…”

He looked around the guy’s neck, saw some smeared lipstick and nodded unconsciously: “Uh-huh.” He pulled back before he took a deep breath, then he went to look at the lower wound.

Same thing. Powder burns on the flesh just above the guy’s dick, so the bullet went through the bladder on the way to the large intestine…which accounted for the absolutely disgusting smell…because when the guy passed he lost sphincter control and everything came rushing out…into the seat…

So, our suspect was female and she was giving the guy head. When she got to the short-strokes, and when he was thoroughly distracted, she pulled out her pistol and put one in his groin, then sat up and put another into the vic’s forehead.

Very professionally done, all in all. Forethought, set the trap and spring it, all without giving herself away.

He heard a crime scene van pull up, and probably the coroner’s wagon too.

Sure enough, the technicians and a photographer were waiting behind the victim’s car and he turned them loose after he told the photographer what he wanted. He watched as fingerprints were lifted from the passenger door and off the passenger’s seat belt, then one of the techs barked “Got something!” and he walked over to the passenger’s door.

“What is it?” Callahan asked.

“Business card,” the tech said, slipping the card into a transparent evidence baggie and handing it to Callahan. He noted the name and address of an art gallery near Ghirardelli Square and handed the card back to the tech, then he walked over to the trail that led down to the old baths and the Seal Rocks overlook.

Because he had suddenly wanted to get away from all this death more than anything in the world, and now he felt sick to his stomach…just like some rookie at his first homicide. He shook it off and walked around for a few minutes, then walked back to the crime scene, then over to his car. He got a fresh note pad and walked back to the scene, got the incident service number and the responding officer’s name and badge number before he walked back to his car…

And Bullitt was there, waiting.

“What have you got?”

“Pissed off woman. Double tapped her vic, first in the groin, second in the forehead.”

“No leads?”

“One. An art gallery. I’ll check it out later in the morning.”

“Sorry I ran out on you last night. Had to go out to the airport. We drove by your place, wanted to take you out to dinner…”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“Evelyn. My sister. She came in last night, going to stay out at the place with Cathy and I for a while. Going through a shitty divorce, really down in the dumps.”

Harry felt a palpable release when the words hit, then a passing wave of guilt. “So, what’s with Cathy? I heard some unusual stuff…”

“Yeah, she’s been a little unhinged lately. Look, whatever you say, never, and I mean never, ever, say the word menopause around her, alright?”

Harry chuckled at the thought, then shook his head. “So, you guys are okay?”

“Yeah. See, the thing is, she says I’ve got commitment issues, and well, the thing is, well, I think she’s right.”

“Uh-huh. And what does that mean?”

“Well, see, the thing about it is, well, I think it’s time we got married.”

“Frank? You feeling alright? You look a little green…”

“I feel a little green.”

“You had breakfast yet?”

“No. You?”

Callahan sighed, tried to put his newfound anguish away. “I feel like I got about two hours of sleep,” he said, yawning again. “Maybe some coffee…”

“I need some fuckin’ pancakes or something. The Diner sound okay to you?”

“Lead on, sire, and I shall follow.”

When they were finally sitting at a corner table and breakfast was ordered, Frank leaned in close. 

“The Threlkis reception is going to be at The Top of the Mark…”

“No shit?”

“Yeah. You sure you want to go through with this?”

Callahan leaned back in the booth, then grinned. “Yeah…”

“Good. Because I have a plan…”

© 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…]

Saturday in the Park

(The final chapters of the 88th key are in the works, but as mentioned previously, here’s a short, short story that came to me during a restless night. I attribute this to too much hot sauce and not nearly enough guacamole, but high-ho, that’s the way things go from time to time.)

Saturday in the Park

Friday morning

“I talked to your mom last night,” she said to her husband as he stepped out of the shower, “and she mentioned tomorrow is your father’s birthday. Do you want to call him?”

“No.”

“You know, it’s none of my business, but…”

“That’s right, Abby. It’s none of your business, so drop it.”

“Does he even know about Micah?”

“I have no idea. And I don’t care.”

“Perry? He’s your dad…”

Her husband shrugged as he began toweling himself. “I don’t give a shit.”

“You mom thinks it would be a good idea.”

“They’ve been divorced for something like fifty years. Do you honestly think she knows what the hell she’s talking about?”

“Perry? I’ve never even met him, and your mom either can’t or won’t tell me anything about him. And he’s Micah’s grandfather, for God’s sake. Don’t you think your son has a right to at least meet him, to know he simply exists…!”

“Abby? Drop it, okay?”

She shook her head. “He won’t be around forever, Perry. Maybe one day you’ll want to reconcile…”

“No, I won’t.”

“Would you mind if I call him?”

She saw the expression on her husband’s face in the foggy bathroom mirror and quickly walked from their bathroom to finish getting dressed; when he came out a few minutes later his face was still beet-red, and she could almost feel his clinched jaw as it worked overtime.

“I’ve got two surgeries this morning, and rounds after lunch. I’m meeting Jack at the country club at three, and I want to squeeze in at least nine holes…”

“Don’t forget…we’re supposed to meet the Andersons at seven.”

“Yeah. I talked to Dennis yesterday. We’re going to meet them at the club after Jack and I finish up. We’ll go from there.”

“I thought you were going to play tomorrow?”

“I am, but that’s more like a business meeting. Jack and I need to talk to some potential investors about the new clinic.”

“What’s your tee-time?”

“A little before noon, so we should finish up by five or so. Why don’t you meet me in the Nineteenth Hole around six?”

“If I can get a sitter…”

She watched him slip into his sage green scrubs and Adidas sneakers, not really knowing what to think about him anymore. He had become a total money-making machine – yet somewhere along the way he’d simply lost his sense of humanity…but this thing with his father was too much.

She walked with him out to the kitchen and pulled his plate from the ‘fridge. Three ounces of smoked salmon and half an avocado, seven days a week. Slam down two glasses of Evian – at room temperature, no less – and grab a bottle to-go for the drive to the hospital. 

He sat and quickly dispatched his breakfast, then without a word walked from the kitchen to the garage.

She watched his little black Mercedes back down the driveway and out into the street, and she looked at her wristwatch as the roadster bolted down the street towards the gatehouse. 

‘Five-fifteen on the nose, like clockwork,’ she said to herself.

She walked over to Micah’s room and peered into the darkness, heard his quiet breathing and almost smiled, then she made her way back to the kitchen to put on her coffee. 

She went out to the backyard with her coffee and sat by the pool, waiting for the sunrise – and for her favorite time of day.

‘It’s not just Perry,’ she told herself for the umpteenth time. ‘It’s this life. The pointlessness of it all. But what about Micah? What’s all this secrecy and deceit going to do to him?’

On the rare occasion Perry made it home in the evening, he locked himself away in his study and in a heartbeat was online. Usually ordering sweaters. Bright, gaudy sweaters, or talking with his partners at the clinic about this or that new plan for expansion. Always making more money, and – usually – spending it on himself, yet if Micah dared ask to see his father in his study the boy felt like  he’d committed some sort of mortal transgression. And…did his father ever drop by to say goodnight to the boy?

That had stopped years ago, hadn’t it?

And in fourteen years Perry had never once bought Micah a birthday present, nor even a Christmas present. Not once. He always left that to her, or to his mother, and now she thought she could see how all this was going to end: Micah would end up feeling about his father exactly the way Perry felt about his own.

Blown apart, empty. A big hole where something important used to be.

Or, in a word, dysfunctional. 

So – she wanted to know – who was Perry’s father? Her son’s grandfather? She had a right to know, didn’t she? And she had an obligation to secure that knowledge for her son. He was old enough to understand and appreciate what a grandfather might mean at this stage of his life and, who knows, maybe this stranger might appreciate the chance to know his grandson.

Stranger things happened, after all?

______________________________

Saturday, in the park

She drove through Golden Gate Park on JFK, the car’s top down and with a mild November sun beating down on their shoulders and arms. She and Micah were looking for the turn-off to the old boathouse on the west side of Spreckels Lake.

“There it is,” Micah said – with not a trace of excitement in his voice.

“There are supposed to be some parking places on the street, and a few benches by a little beach. He said he’d meet us there.”

Micah peered ahead, always studiously observant, always oriented to his surroundings whenever he ventured outside.

“I see some benches,” he said a moment later. “Vacant, too.”

“Does this look like a good place to park?” she asked, and he shrugged as she slipped into one of the many open spaces. She flipped a switch and the BMWs clamshell top extracted itself from the boot and whirred into place, then she got out of the coupe and grabbed the picnic basket she’d prepared. “Would you grab the blanket, honey?”

“Sure.”

They walked over to the bench he’d said he would meet them at, and she looked at her Rolex. “We’re ten minutes early,” she said to Micah – as if to reassure him – but he had already walked ahead and stopped at the water’s edge.

When she got to him he was standing there – hands in his pockets – face cast down, looking at shadows and reflections on the surface.

“Want some tea?” she asked.

He shrugged. “No thanks.”

“Interesting place. I didn’t even know anything like this was still in the park.”

Nothing. Not even the glimmer of a response.

“Are those geese?” she asked. “Too big to be ducks, right?”

“I think so.”

“Would you help me spread the blanket?”

“Sure.”

She looked at the blanket and felt guilty about putting something so beautiful on the ground, but, after all, the Polo site had described it was a picnic blanket. She spread it out and Micah put the picnic basket on the windward edge to anchor it in place, then she sat and took a deep breath.

“Hard to imagine we’re in the center of the city,” she sighed.

“What kind of car does he have?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, here comes a Q-tip.”

“A what?”

“An old guy with white hair.”

She laughed at that. “Where’d you learn that one?”

He shrugged, but at least he had smiled a little – though his eyes never left the approaching car.

It was, she saw, and ancient Porsche. A 911 Targa, and though she was no expert she guessed it was a late-60s model, kind of a tangerine color with black seats, and she just knew that would be the kind of car he’d drive.

And then the driver pulled in behind her car – and looked their way.

And then the old man waved.

Seeing that, Micah stood and walked over to the Porsche, watching and waiting as the old man opened the door and slowly unfolded himself. 

And by the time the old man was standing Micah was right there by his side, and after a word or two she couldn’t make out she gasped when her son hugged the old man.

And when he returned the hug she smiled too, then she stood and watched them as they walked to her.

“You must be Abby?” the old man said as he reached out with his right hand. “I’m David.”

She took his hand in her’s, felt the galvanic reaction of his cool, dry skin on her own. “And I see you’ve met Micah,” she added – a little unnecessarily. “Could I get you some tea, or a sandwich?”

He looked at the blanket, then at the nearby bench and sighed before he lowered himself gently to the ground. “Hot tea if you have it.”

“I do. I brought pastrami sandwiches, if that’s alright?”

“Perfect.”

“Micah,” she started, “may I have the thermos and a cup.”

“Could I have some too?” her son added.

“Three cups it is,” she said as she poured and passed the brew…and the three of them sat in silence and took a few sips.

“So, happy birthday, David!” she resumed. “What number is it?”

“Seventy-eight, I think, but a few years ago I decided I’d rather not keep counting.”

“You think?” Micah snorted. 

“Well, I have to check my driver’s license from time to time, just to remind myself.”

Everyone laughed at that.

“And how old are you now, Micah?”

“I’ll be fifteen in January.”

“Ah. The best years are just ahead.”

“Yeah? They feel pretty crummy from here,” Micah sighed.

“Yup. You can count on that.”

“So,” Micah added, “what made fifteen special for you?”

David leaned back and looked at the sky, and for a moment she felt like he was communing with something up there.

“Fifteen,” the old man began, “was a big one, Micah. About eight in the morning on my fifteenth birthday my dad took me out to the airport and I flew alone for the first time.”

“What? Like on an airliner?”

He chuckled. “No, no, I soloed that morning.”

“Soloed?”

David seemed puzzled at that, then he looked from Micah to Abby. “I hate to ask this, but what exactly do you know about me?”

“Nada,” Micah said. “As in zip-a-dee-doo-dah.”

And she nodded in affirmation. “There’s been a kind of embargo in our house, David. Perry won’t talk about you, and neither will Denise. I hate to say it, but I have no idea who you are or what you’ve done.”

“And the same applies to you, I assume?” David said to Micah.

“Yes sir.”

And those two words hit Abby hardest of all. She’d never heard Micah voluntarily address anyone as ‘sir’ in all his life. 

“I see. Embargo, you say?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so, David.”

“Well, I guess I’m not all that surprised,” the old man said, shaking his head pensively. “Lot of burning bridges back that way.”

“So,” Micah said, now almost agitated, “your fifteenth birthday?”

And David turned to face this ‘grandson’: “That’s the day I became a pilot. The first time I piloted an airplane on my own.”

“You mean, by yourself?” Micah scoffed. “Flying an airplane, by yourself? And you were fifteen? Bullshit.”

“Micah!” Abby blurted. “Watch yourself, young man!”

But David was fishing around in his back pocket, and a moment later he pulled out his wallet and then produced a few pieces of paper. “Come here, Micah.”

And the boy sidled over to the old man.

“I still carry this around with me, but heaven only knows why,” he said as he unfolded an ancient piece of paper. “See the date and time?”

“Yessir?”

“The signature by those figures was my flight instructors. Next is the aircraft type, a Cessna 150 in this case.”

“What’s this one?”

“That’s my current rating.”

“Can I see?”

He handed the papers over and watched the boy read.

“Airline Transport and Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument? What’s that mean?”

“It means I was an airline pilot, Micah. And that I taught a bunch of airline pilots how to fly.”

She could see her boy’s hands were trembling a little now, but she was more interested in how David would handle this situation. She wouldn’t have blamed him if he got up and left, but he seemed more confident than that – almost too confident.

“No shit?”

“Yeah, kid. No shit.”

And Micah recoiled a little on hearing ‘kid’ – but then she saw his reaction soften. “So, you were an airline pilot?”

“Yup.”

“Which one?”

“Which one what?”

“What airline?”

“TWA.”

“Never heard of it.”

And David laughed at that, gently but knowingly. “Ain’t it the truth,” he sighed.

“Micah,” Abby said, “TWA was one of the biggest airlines in the world.”

“And it just disappeared?” the boy said, not quite believing what he was hearing. 

“It became a part of American, probably before you were born.”

“Oh. What kind of plane did you fly?”

“Me? Oh, I started in 707s, then in the 70s I moved over to 747s.”

“Whoa! You flew those things?”

David reached out and flipped over his main license, pointed to a list of aircraft types he’d held current type ratings for when he’d retired. “703 was the 707-320c; 742 was the 747-200, and 743 was the 300 version.”

“What’s this one? AFONE?”

“Air Force One.”

“The president’s plane? You flew that one too?”

“Well, not really, but our flight academy trained all first time Air Force One pilots, and for a while I trained those guys. In order to do that I was checked out in the aircraft.”

“Whoa, that’s pretty rad.”

“Yeah, I guess it was.”

“So, you’re a teacher? Could you, like, teach me?”

He stifled a laugh – because it felt like he’d just recognized something important. “Well, I’m a little old for that now, Micah.”

“Oh.” Crestfallen, almost a frown, yet she continued to study both their eyes.

“I didn’t know you were interested in flying,” Abby said.

Micah shrugged. “When I have study hall, I read flying magazines in the library.”

“Yeah,” David sighed, “been there, done that.”

Connection. Bond formed. She watched, amazed, because with his body language David seemed to have led the way to that little bit of hidden information. “Is he old enough to learn?” she asked.

“He will be in January, as long as a parent signs for him.”

“Why does my dad hate you?” Micah blurted, and David looked down into his cup of tea.

“Think I could get some more tea, Micah?”

“Sure,” her boy said, leaning over to take the cup. “Ready for a sandwich?”

“Pastrami, you said?”

“I did,” she replied as she opened the picnic basket. “Half, or a whole one?”

“Better make mine a half,” David said, then his eyes went wide when she pulled out the sandwiches. “Dear God…those are huge!”

“About a pound per sandwich,” she said, grinning madly. “They’re the best thing this side of New York City.”

“Assuming I don’t stroke out after the third bite,” he grumbled under his breath.

“Just rye bread and Russian dressing,” she said. “Want a pickle?” she added, pulling out an eight inch long thing that seemed to have the girth of an elephant’s snout.

“Let me guess…that’s the family sized pickle?”

Everyone laughed, but she looked at him expectantly as he bit into the sandwich.

“Like it?” she asked.

“Man, that’s better than the Carnegie Deli.”

“Where’s that?” Micah asked.

“New Jack City, man.”

“New Jack?”

“New York, kiddo. You got to remember this, too. Everything evil in the world can be found in New Jack City, starting with death bombs like this beast.”

“Dad won’t touch these things.”

“Can’t say I blame him, but he’s missing out, isn’t he?”

“Yup,” Micah said, and it was the first time she’d ever heard him use that word, too. 

“Goddamn! That’s a huge pickle!” David said after he took out a pocket knife and sliced off a chunk, then he plopped it in his mouth – and then his eyes crossed: “Garlic and…peppers?”

“Yup,” Micah said again, grinning now.

“Son of a bitch, that’s good!”

“You cuss a lot,” Micah said, grinning too. “Dad never does.”

“Now that surprises me,” David sighed. “I wouldn’t have expected that…not in a million years.”

“Oh?” Abby said.

“He always had a way with words when I was around,” David said, rolling his eyes.

“So, why does he hate you?”

David shrugged. “He did a few things when he was younger that, well, he did things he knew would hurt me, and they did. Then one night he went too far, but that was long after his mother and I divorced. Anyway, he went too far then I said a few things I probably shouldn’t have. Bottom line, Micah, is after Denise, uh, his mother and I got divorced, he started taking sides, and usually against me. That’s when things got out of hand, and everything kind of spiraled down the drain after that.”

“Like what?” Micah asked, and she saw David’s glance just then…

“Micah,” she said gently, “these are the types of questions we can’t ask, okay. We talked about this, remember?”

“I guess.”

“Listen Micah, and this is important,” David said quietly. “The problem with questions like this is you’ll only hear one side of the story. The answers won’t be what you need to get at the truth, so the problem is a simple one: if you really want to know, when you’re a little older you can come talk to me about these things, but do so only after you’ve talked to your dad. Get both sides…”

“But,” Abby blurted, “Perry won’t talk about you, and I think Micah needs to know what happened. And the truth of the matter is, David, that I think I need to know what this is all about, too.”

David shook his head. “I’m sorry, Abby…Micah…but when it comes to Perry I’d have a hard time not telling you some pretty rough things…”

“Rough?” Micah asked, clearly perplexed.

“Things that might be real hard to hear, Micah. And your dad wouldn’t be here to defend himself. That’s not fair, and it sure isn’t the right thing to do.”

Micah looked unconvinced.

“I’ll put it to you this way, okay? If people were talking about you behind your back, telling your friends about things that – maybe – you’d done, things that you wouldn’t want them to know, well then, you wouldn’t like that, would you?”

“I might not like it, but as long as people were listening to the truth I’m not sure it matters. Still, I get what you’re saying.”

“Okay, good enough. Now Abby, mind if I tackle the other half of that sandwich?”

She reached to pull out the other half just as her phone chimed at an incoming text message:

Perry: I’m home. Where are you?

Abby: What happened to your game?

Perry: Called off. Jack had an emergency on-call.

Abby: Sorry.

Perry: Where are you?

Abby: Out with Micah, eating pastrami.

Perry: Oh. When will you be home?

Abby: Not too much longer.

Perry: You didn’t tell me where you are???

Abby: In the park.

Perry: Golden Gate? Where?

Abby: Yes, Golden Gate.

Perry: By the boathouse?

Abby: Yes.

Perry: So, you’re with dad???

Abby: Yes.

She watched the phone for a while but there were no more messages. 

“Micah, ready for round two?” she asked.

“Was that Dad?” 

She nodded.

“Is he coming?” her son asked nervously.

And she shrugged. “He knows you’re here,” she said – to David – but to her son as well.

“So, he didn’t know the plan today?” David said, almost defeated by the lie.

“No,” she said, and her shoulders hunched inwardly now, almost protectively so.

“Are you afraid of him?” David asked, and he was startled by how quickly she nodded her head.

“Mom?” Micah said, his voice full of sudden, unexpected concern. “Why?”

But she just shook her head as she handed David the rest of his sandwich, then Micah’s second half – before she continued: “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lied to you about that.”

David took in a deep breath and held it, then shook it loose in a long sigh. “He’s always had a bad temper, so I guess I should have expected reluctance on your part.”

“Don’t make excuses for her, man!” the boy said. “That’s all she does, every day of my life. He’s not at my game because of this. He didn’t come to my recital because of that. And she’s always right there, covering for him…”

“Because I don’t know what else to do, Micah!” she said as she withered before their very eyes, before the dam broke and she lost it.

David watched her closely, and then all of a sudden he wasn’t buying it – and when he looked at Micah he could tell the kid wasn’t either. Like he’d been down this road one too many times before, and this act had worn a little too thin. 

She looked up and in an instant stopped.

And, still looking at Micah, he watched as the boy went to her and how he hugged her tight.

“It’s okay Mom. Really, everything will be okay.”

And all of a sudden he knew he was watching the same show all over again. The cast of characters had changed…a little…but this die had been cast a long time ago.

So, he wondered, how do you break the cycle? How do you fix what, really, can’t be fixed? Or do you just give up and walk away – again? Pretend you didn’t see what you’d just seen?

He drifted back to other days, to that other life. The life that came with Denise, then with Perry and all the chaos he’d thought he’d never have to deal with again. 

Until the phone rang last night, that is, interrupting his reveries and bringing all that forgotten life back into into the present. 

And now, here he was was, in the flash of another lie back in the middle of it all. Denise. Married for just a few months when he discovered she’d cheated on him. And how, when he found the hastily concealed evidence, she’d blamed him for everything. He was gone too much of the time, she said; never home when she needed him, and the first time had been easy enough because, of course, in her mind he was to blame. The second and third times were harder to justify, but by then she’d ratified everything in her own mind – and he’d begun to see the light.

Because there were patterns buried within her all her little deceits. As familiar as an averted gaze, or subterfuges concealed within misplaced words, repeated again and again until everything became clear…

Then out of the blue she was pregnant, and after that everything started to fall apart. The numbers didn’t add up, and yet, for Denise a sudden reexamination of her life’s recent choices brought him back into the picture.

She wanted the baby and began talking to him as if she wanted him around as a father, and really, that too made perfect sense. If she was going to have a baby that meant she needed his steady income, and, in the end, he realized that was really all that mattered. Like a chameleon, she turned into the loving wife he’d hoped she might be and once again he allowed himself to fall into her tender trap.

He wasn’t the first man to fall into those grasping claws, he told himself, and he surely wouldn’t be the last. Because we never learn.

But in the end, he understood that if she was going to have a child it was better for all concerned if the child grew up with both a father and a mother under one roof.

But, of course, none of that mattered. Denise was what she was, trying to undo all the broken dreams she carried around by fucking the next man, and the next, and the next. To him, the only real surprise was that she had really expected he would just sit there and take all her endless humiliations…

So when he was served with papers he wasn’t surprised. He was surprised when she alleged he had been an abusive husband, but then again in short order he learned that almost every divorce attorney sprinkled that allegation into the filings as a kind of ritual guarantee of success. Yet when he produced endless documentation of her almost ritual infidelities he was astonished at how quickly the allegations of abuse were taken off the table. 

Just sign over custody and all that will disappear.

“I’ll sign when the alimony figure gets reasonable.”

And in an instant the allegations resurfaced.

“It’s nothing personal,” his own lawyer told him. “Just one of the tools of the trade.”

And he had never been more glad he’d decided against law school.

When a figure acceptable to both parties was hammered out he was, in an instant, free of her and, as part of this hastily arrived at package deal, free of his son – except for one weekend a month.

And in a way he felt lucky. Not to be free of Denise, but to be free of a system that seemed contrived to inflict as much emotional damage as possible on the combatants. As if a terminal marriage wasn’t brutal enough…

But…the numbers just didn’t add up. They never had. And that still remained the first big lie, intact to this day. To this very day.

And so here he was, looking at this manipulatively sobbing woman and her manipulated son out here in the park, and she was deceiving her husband – not for attention, but for some kind of truth. She had no way of knowing her life was already broken beyond repair, and that her son would harbor feelings of guilt and despair that would shape rest of his life, perpetuating cycles upon cycles of an unwillingness to face even the most simple truth.

‘My marriage is a farce. It is a farce because I never really had any idea what love truly means. What commitment really means. What taking an oath before God requires – namely endless compromise in the name of this thing lawyers and judges have come to define as love – no matter the toll.’

He took a sip of tea then slowly stood and walked down to the water’s edge. He bent down, took a pebble and threw it as far out over the water as he could, then he turned his back to the ripples and walked away from their endless implications.

And he saw them again, still sitting on their thousand dollar blanket lost in the clutches of their despair, and all he could do was shake his head…

“Because nothing ever really added up, did it? Never.”

Fog started to form over by the bridge and he nodded. “Why not?”

Clouds formed and blotted out the sun. “You too? You want to get in on the fun?”

He heard a growling motor and squealing tires, saw the rakish Mercedes convertible turning off JFK, headed straight for his Porsche. “Yes, this is just perfect. I am Gary Cooper in High Noon. But…where is my Grace Kelly?”

Screeching brakes, a slamming door, he looks and sees the gun in the hand, the anger in those eyes.

“I told you!” screamed the little boy who grew up without that one crucial piece of information, “I told you and I told you! I want nothing to do with you, ever again…”

“Perry,” she screamed, “I called him. I told him you said it was okay…!”

And then, the not-so-little boy running for his father, his outstretched arms now capped by balled-fists, his hatred manifest, the circle now almost complete.

David tried to step between Perry and Micah as the gun came up.

“I made a mistake once,” David shouted. “I never told you the truth about something important.”

Was it too late? Too late for the words to reach him?

He felt his body as it was pushed aside, heard the muffled pistol as it fired into soft flesh at close range. He stumbled, caught himself and turned in time to see Micah falling to the ground, a spreading crimson stain on the back of his sweater – now just covered by his father’s hand.

_______________________________

Saturday evening

The police had long-since finished taking their photographs, making measurements for their diagrams that one day they would show to a jury. He gave a statement to an earnest-faced young cop who dutifully took down everything he said, and he looked on with a knot in his stomach as firemen helped load Micah’s body in the Coroner’s wagon.

Abby looked like a dried-out husk sitting on her blanket, their half-eaten sandwiches strewn across navy fields of prancing polo ponies, her tears cold and blown away, like grains of sand on a windswept dune.

A wrecker backed up to Perry’s Mercedes, and he shook his head before he walked over to one of the cops standing by the patrol car where Perry still sat.

“Mind if I ask him something?” he said to the nearest cop.

“No, go ahead.”

He walked over to the back right door, saw the window was about half-way down so he leaned close: “There’s something I need to tell you. I don’t know if you can hear me, but I need you to listen.”

“What is it, Dad?”

“Well, just that, Perry. I’m not your father.”

There eyes met. “What did you say?”

“I’m not your father. I’m sorry…”

The boy seemed to turn inward for a while, buried under the weight of so many lies, then he spoke one more time: “Did you know who he was?”

“No, I never knew their names. Any of them. I’m sorry.”

The boy struggled to nod but turned away, and just then a cop got behind the wheel and they drove off into the evening fog.

He turned and looked at Abby, still sitting on the blanket down on the sand, and he walked over to her. He knelt and took her hand, squeezed it gently until she blinked once, then again.

“It’s getting cold,” she whispered, and he nodded.

“Is there somewhere I can take you?”

“My parents. They live just outside of Boston.”

He nodded as he helped her stand, and he caught her when her knees gave way. She leaned into him for a moment, until she opened her eyes to the reality of her need.

“Could you take me to the house, please?”

“Sure.” He helped her to the little car and put her trembling body in the passenger’s seat, then he got behind the wheel and turned on the heat, closed the convertible top and latched it shut. “Where do you live?”

She told him and he turned into traffic and drove away.

And as he looked at the receding scene in the rearview mirror he couldn’t help but ask himself one more time, that all those things had never really added up. Not even once.

But why, now, did those things seem so far away, yet so very important?

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | as always, this short story is a work of fiction, and a continuation – of sorts – of an earlier story – but as always, thanks for reading.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 32

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Part IV

Chapter 32

____________________________________

Lloyd Callahan wasn’t quite frantic, yet, but it had been five months since he’d last seen his son, and that had been just after the premiere of Imogen’s concerto.

Harry had changed. Sara’s murder had done something he’d never expected would happen to his boy: Harry appeared to have simply given up. Like a party balloon that had slowly deflated, by the time Harry and the team made it back to Israel – after the brief stop in Davos – his son looked like a different human being.

He’d stopped eating and his eyes seemed to have sunken deep within their sockets, and around his eyes Lloyd had noted splotchy dark circles. When offered food Harry pushed it away, though from time to time he drank coffee…black coffee.

Then he’d done something Lloyd never expected: Harry had gone out to his mother’s crypt. He’d been followed, of course, but even his followers had little to report. Harry had reportedly sat in some modest shade and had talked – quietly – for an hour or so…to at least two people who remained invisible. When Colonel Goodman relayed that information, Lloyd felt sick to his stomach. 

Was Harry coming undone? Would the affliction that had plagued Imogen all her life now come for their son? Would Harry fall under the dark spell of that voice?

That Goodman girl wouldn’t let him to see his son, and he’d immediately resented her for that unwarranted bit of sanctimoniousness. And though he’d sat next to his boy at the premiere, Harry had sat there quietly, almost stoically, through the entire performance, the only emotion on display coming as the final crescendo approached. Lloyd had seen his son’s hands grip the armrests, could feel the tension rise in his boy’s quivering arms and legs, but then there had come un unexpected release, like the explosion Harry had been expecting didn’t come. And at first Harry had seemed confused, then relieved when the expected calamity didn’t materialize…

But then…nothing.

Harry had returned to the compound and disappeared into his room – what had once been his mother’s and Avi’s room – and the next morning he was gone.

And now, after one round trip to Hong Kong just completed, Lloyd was home for a scheduled rest-leave and not due to captain another sailing until early December. With almost a month on his hands, he had wanted to tackle some long overdue home maintenance – but had halfway been expecting his boy to come around to lend him a hand.

He was sitting on the covered front porch sipping his favorite Good Earth tea, watching homes come alive as his neighbors got home from work. Dogs were leashed and taken for walks, backyard grills lit-off and grilling burgers filled the air with their own uniquely familiar aroma, and, yes, he could hear a loud argument over mismanaged money already underway just across the street.

Life on the street was as boringly predictable now as it had been almost forty years ago, but even so he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about Harry’s girlfriend, June. He looked to the right, looked where their old house had been before some yuppies came in and built a multi-unit condo. In another world, another life, maybe she would be sitting out here with him, both of them waiting for Harry to get in from work. Or better still, Lloyd Callahan thought, Imogen would be in the kitchen…making dinner for the four of them.

Nothing had turned out the way he’d expected, he thought. Or wanted.

And now…all this bullshit with vigilantes and Columbian drug-lords, the police department in tatters and his son’s career up in the air.

It felt like the entire world was coming undone.

The Iranians taking the embassy almost four hundred days ago, all those people still hostages, Ronald Reagan looking like he might actually run that that peanut farmer out of the White House. The commies in Cuba lending a hand in Nicaragua, exporting their revolution to Central America, while the U.S. still seemed to be lost inside some kind of narcissistic coma after the Fall of Saigon.

Yeah…what had happened?

It wasn’t all that long ago, he thought as he sipped his tea, that Kennedy had challenged the nation to land men on the moon. And these crazy Americans had pulled it off, too. They’d fought a war in Southeast Asia and done it all at the same time, hadn’t they?

Then Oswald and the Grassy Knoll became a part of the lexicon, just before John, Paul, George and Ringo came along and She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah was all the rage.

Was that all a happenstance, he wondered? Could we have had the Beatles without Kennedy falling by the wayside? Would they have made sense to us without all that despair? Could everything that happened after – the free-speech thing over in Berkeley, all those wild groups up at the Fillmore giving birth to the next ‘real’ counter-culture – have happened without Kennedy’s murder? And all the murders that followed?

He looked down into his tea, swirled the cup and looked at the scattering leaves, wondering what might come next…

“Hey Dad.”

He looked up, saw what looked like just another long-haired freak standing on the steps to his house, but no…there was something in the eyes…

“Harry?”

“Yeah Dad, it’s me.”

He stood, almost stumbled to the floor but his son caught him; they stood staring at one another for a moment…then Lloyd Callahan grabbed his son and pulled him close, wrapped his arms around this cool echo of himself and held on tight.

_______________________________________

They walked down to the waterfront, down to their favorite clam-shack for a basket and a schooner of beer, and Harry talked to his father about where he’d been, and a few of the things he’d done. About the girl in New Orleans and a friend of his from ‘Nam out in West Texas. About his bus ride from there up through New Mexico, where things had gotten dicey…

“Dicey? What do you mean by dicey…?”

“Oh, the bus stopped in the town out in the middle of nowhere, Farmington…something like that. Time enough to go into this little diner for a burger. Some redneck started to beat up on his girl and she was like nine months pregnant. She went down hard and, well, so I intervened…”

“Which means what? You beat the ever-lovin’ crap out of the guy?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

“And…?”

“He was the mayor’s kid.”

“Hoo-boy. Have your badge with you?”

“No. I called Didi from their little jail.”

“Jail? No shit?”

“No charges filed. Turns out the kid’s father went and beat him up even worse.”

“What did Didi do?”

“Shit, I don’t know. About a half hour later they let me out and the mayor put me up in a hotel.”

“What happened to the girl?”

“Baby boy, healthy.”

“Uh-huh. What are you not telling me?”

“She wanted out. Out of that town, out of that relationship…”

“So you made that happen too, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What? Did you buy her a house?”

“Something like that?”

Lloyd shook his head. “Harry, man, I don’t know what’s eating you, but I’m not sure buying-up other people’s troubles and making them disappear is going to make all yours go away…”

“Yeah? Maybe not, but let me tell you something, Dad. If you’ve ever looked into someone’s eyes and seen despair, and I mean real despair, and you had the capability to snap your fingers and make it all go away, are you telling me you wouldn’t? Because the look in peoples eyes when you do that is something you wouldn’t believe…”

“I don’t know, son. Is it really your place?”

“Who’s place is it, Dad? I mean, really, and I hate to get all holy-roller on you, but didn’t someone say we should strive to be our brother’s keeper? Ya know, like once upon a time? To treat others as you’d treat yourself?”

“I know, but…”

“There aren’t any buts about it, Dad. No man is an island, right? We either look after one another or we don’t. Only thing I can tell, really, is that helping people when they’re down makes a difference. It changes things. Like a domino falling, maybe. You never know what the end results might be, but that doesn’t matter. If you see someone down on their luck and simply ignore them, think of it as a missed chance, or a missed opportunity to change the flow of all our falling dominoes.”

“Okay. So that’s what you’ve been up to?”

“I wasn’t up to anything, Dad, at least not anything I can make sense of yet, but all of a sudden I felt like I was drowning in history. My history. June, An Linh, then Stacy and Sara, all of it. I kept falling – back – into that stuff and as I was listening to mother’s composition I heard something different. Like a voice within the music telling me that it was time to, well, fall…forward? Does that make any sense?”

“Fall forward? I don’t know. Not really…”

“I know. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but it was there, in the music. As clear as any voice I’ve ever heard. Stop looking to the past. Move on to the future. And moving on, to me, meant finding a way to change the course of some of those falling dominoes.”

“Son? Don’t all dominoes, sooner or later, end up falling?” 

“Maybe so, Dad. But there’s something else going on here too, something I really don’t understand. And I’ve kept thinking about it, too… Take that girl in New Orleans. What drew her to me? Why did she follow me? Why didn’t I push her away, let her domino fall. Now, suppose she actually does become a physician, and suppose she ends up saving a bunch of lives? I mean, think about it, Dad. Is it all simple coincidence, or is their something else at work here…?”

“I don’t know, Harry. You’d have to go to seminary to find answers to questions like that…”

“Seminary? Oh no, Dad…you’re not going to put all this on God, are you?”

“What else?”

“Seems unfair. Everything we don’t understand gets dumped on Him. Kind of lazy.”

“Lazy?”

“Yeah, Dad. Like we really don’t take the time to look at things like this. The things that are hard to explain. We don’t even take the time to acknowledge them, let alone the why of it all.”

Lloyd looked at his son then shook his head. “You seem…different. What are you going to do now?”

“Get back to work.”

“At the department? Really?”

“Yeah, sure…why not? Got eight more years, ya know, ‘til I can draw retirement…”

They both laughed at the absurdity of that idea.

“What about you, Dad? What are you up to?”

“I’ve got four weeks off. Gonna get new shingles on the roof and paint on the gables.”

“Want some help?”

“I don’t know. You up to it?”

“Hey, Dad. I just put up three miles of barbed-wire fence in Alpine Texas. You got no idea what that means…”

“Fence is fence, Harry. What was so…”

“Rattlesnakes. I’ve never seen so many fucking snakes in my life…”

“I hate snakes,” Lloyd whispered.

“Who doesn’t?”

“Did you kill any?”

Harry looked away, and Lloyd could feel the change that came over his son in that seismic moment. 

“Only one more snake to kill, Dad.”

Lloyd nodded even as a chill ran down his spine. “So, you’re gonna go through with it?”

“She killed my wife, Dad. She made it personal.”

“Did you ever stop to think…”

“It doesn’t matter what she thought, Dad. She did what she did. Her choice. Now I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.”

Lloyd looked at his son and could only shake his head. “You know, Stacy was a little girl too, once upon a time. Maybe she just made a mistake, Harry. Maybe there was nobody around to keep her domino from falling.”

“Yeah. Ain’t life a bitch.”

____________________________________

“I’m glad the pitch is what it is!” Harry called down to his father. “Not sure I could handle it if this was any steeper.”

“We’re makin’ good progress, son. At this rate, we may finish by sundown.”

“What do you make it? Two more squares?”

“‘Bout that. Maybe a tad more.”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Why red?”

“What?”

“Why red shingles. Don’t you think that’s carrying the whole red thing a little too far?”

“They’re not red, Harry. The color is called Redwood Breeze.”

“Looks fuckin’ red to me, Dad.”

“I just couldn’t see doing gray again. She needs something new.”

“She?”

“This old house. She’s carried us through some times, ya know?”

“Reckon so.”

“Besides, after I’m gone you can change the color to whatever you want.”

“Dad? Would you stop with the ‘after I’m gone’ bullshit? It’s creepy.”

“Creepy?”

“Yeah, creepy.”

“I haven’t heard that one since you and Junie watched those horror movies…”

“Horror movies?”

“Oh, you know, like that Beast from 20,000 Fathoms thing. Crap like that.”

“That wasn’t crap, Dad. That was Art.”

“You say so.”

“Gonna need some more nails up here soon.”

“I’ll go get some. Why don’t you knock off for a minute? Go get us a couple of Cokes?”

“Will do.” Harry put his roofing hammer down and walked over to the ladder, then made his way down to the yard. Everything about this old place still felt like home, like a pair of old shoes…comfortable old shoes. He took a deep breath and turned to face the sun, held his arms out to soak up all the sun’s warmth, then he looked away, shook his head and went inside to the kitchen. 

It was the same refrigerator that had been in the same spot from when he was a spud, the same faucet at the sink, too…everything was the same, like his dad was afraid to change anything, afraid he might lose all his associations that had formed between Imogen and the things in this space.

He pulled a couple of glasses down and filled them with ice cubes, and he heard his dad sitting on the front porch as he poured the drinks. 

“Want anything to eat?” he called out.

“No, I’m good.”

He carried the drinks out, sat down beside his father as he passed over a glass.

“Feels good to do this together again, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. It almost feels like we’re connected to the earth through this place. When I think of home, this is it. I really used to like it when we put up the tree, had all those Christmas decorations and lights up.”

Lloyd nodded. “Took me a while to get used to all that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I grew up in Scotland, son. Christmastime in the 1930s wasn’t exactly like California in the 50s. If I got a new sweater for Christmas that represented a real financial burden for my parents. Things got different after the war, after the depression ended.”

Harry shook his head. “Hard to imagine.”

“People have gotten used to this life. Not sure they could go back to the way it was.”

“Maybe we won’t have to.”

“Things change, son. And if it’s predictable, it ain’t change. Remember that, okay?”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s okay. We’re gonna be alright.”

Lloyd took a deep breath, held it a second then let the air slip away. “Yeah, I hear you.”

“What did you think of Mom’s concerto?”

“Over my head. A couple of parts seemed unfinished, the ending most of all.”

“Yeah, I felt that too.”

“It felt like, to me, that the last few minutes of the thing were written by somebody else.”

“Yeah. Like somebody was trying to hide something,” Harry added.

Lloyd nodded. “Yeah. I was just going to say that.”

They both sat there for a moment, then Lloyd spoke again. “You think she was trying to tell us something?”

The thought hit Harry, and he leaned forward, took a sip of Coke from his glass. “Not sure, Dad. I thought it was more like that conductor had, maybe, changed something.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Again, I’m not sure, Dad, but something felt wrong.”

“Anyway you could check?”

“Well, I’d have to compare her original composition against what’s published, but the only person who was there was that Karajan fella, so he’s the only one who truly knows what she meant to say.”

“Who has the original?”

“I’m not sure. Technically, it belongs to me.”

“Who can you call to find out?”

“Didi.”

“Does that girl know everything?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“She’s cute, don’t you think?”

“I don’t want to think about her like that. I can’t. She’s holding things together for me right now.”

“Well, if you can ever get your head out of your butt take a good look at her. She’s cute as hell, son.”

“Why don’t you go after her, Dad?”

“No way. That goddamn psychiatrist squeezed the bejesus out of my nuts. I’m done with all that for a while.”

“What? No more Caverject?”

“Well now, I didn’t exactly say that…”

“Man, I don’t know how you do it…”

“Do what?”

“Give yourself a shot, in the willie…”

“You think about something else. Notably, about how good it’s gonna feel to pop your nut…”

“The doc? How was she?”

“Kinky as shit.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah. They do things differently in Switzerland.”

“Really? Not just tab A into slot B?”

“No way. She was a fuckin’ trip, son. Leather, whips, chains…”

“Whoa, Dad! Too much information!”

Both of them laughed, nervously, like fathers and sons often do.

“Anyway, I couldn’t handle her kind of medicine.”

“Jeez. I had no idea.”

“You know who’s weird? That Frank Bullitt character.”

“Frank? Really? How do you mean?”

“The whole time back at the compound, that woman never let up on him. Screaming at him all the time, and he just takes it.”

“He loves her, Dad.”

“Yeah? I’d sure like to know why, because I couldn’t live with anyone who went after me the way that woman went after him.”

“I must’ve missed something…”

“She was hitting on him, Harry, biting, you name it…”

“Maybe it’s menopause?”

“Yeah? Maybe. Anyway, I doubt those two will last much longer.”

“Too bad. I’ve always liked Cathy – kind of classy, ya know. Too bad.”

“Well, maybe they’ll get it together,” Lloyd added.

“You get those roofing nails?”

“Yeah, I put ‘em down by the ladder.”

“Oh well,” Harry moaned, “we better get back at it. We’re burnin’ daylight.”

“You gettin’ tired?”

“No. You?”

“I got a little bit left in me.”

“Well, let me buy the clams tonight, old man.”

“You ain’t exactly a spring chicken, ya know?”

Harry finished up the shingles, even running the ridge-line, then he went down and helped his dad get paintbrushes into thinner. After a quick shower, they met out front and were about to walk down to the waterfront when an old green Ford Mustang pulled up out front. Frank Bullitt jumped out of the car and ambled over.

“Lloyd,” Bullitt began, “good to see you again.”

“You too.”

“Harry? Long time no see. You get it all figured out?”

“Think so. What brings you out here?”

“Just thought I’d drop by. Y’all headed out?”

“Just down to the clam-shack. Wanna join us?”

“Sounds great. Wanna drive down?”

“Nah,” Lloyd said. “I need to work the kinks out. Legs’ll cramp up if I don’t.”

Bullitt nodded as they began the short walk down to the waterfront. “So, Harry. Where-ya been?”

“All over. New Orleans, Texas, New Mexico. Just looking around.”

“Oh? So…What are you going to do now?”

“What’s going on at the department?”

“Same ole same ole, but it doesn’t feel the same with Sam gone.”

“Nothin’ feels the same, Frank.”

“I know,” Bullitt sighed. “Anyway, Dell made lieutenant, so I just lost him.”

“When’s the next captains’ test?”

“December,” Bullitt replied, matter-of-factly.

“You going for it?”

“Yeah. Sam thinks I should.”

“I do too. It’s time. The division needs someone like you.”

“We could use you too, Harry.”

Callahan looked down, then nodded. “I kind of figured I’d put in my time, put in my twenty, anyway.”

Frank looked at Lloyd. “What are you going to do, sir?”

“I was eligible for retirement last year, Frank. I’m just not sure I’m ready to retire to my back yard yet.”

“Uh, Dad…we don’t have a back yard.”

“Goddammit, Harry, you know what I mean.”

Frank shook his head. “So, you going to keep at it a few more years?”

“Ya know, I’ve been wanting to go back to Scotland, visit relatives while I can still get around easily…”

“You’ve never mentioned that before, Dad…”

“And I’ve never told you I have hemorrhoids, either. So what?”

“I’d like to go with you, that’s all. That’s a part of me I know nothing about.”

“Are your folks still alive, Lloyd?” Frank asked.

“Goodness, no. They both passed during the war. I’ve got a sister in Glascow, though. I’d love to see her again.”

“I have an aunt? And I know nothing about her?”

“Aye, that you do, laddie,” Lloyd said…only now speaking in a thick brogue. “You’ll no doubt be awantin’ to meet her too, I reckon.”

“So, when are we goin’, Dad?”

“Well, she wants to come visit here. That may happen first.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway, I’m shipping out in a month. I’ll be gone through the new year, but we can talk about it when I get back.”

They arrived at the clam-shack and grabbed a table out on the wood deck overlooking the water; the tide was out and the briny shore was strong-smelling after a few hours in the sun. The last of the afternoon sun was slanting through houses and trees across the street, and a waitress clicked on patio heaters as the deck fell into shadow.

“Almost too cold for a beer,” Lloyd said.

“Never thought I’d hear you say that, Dad,” Harry said as their waitress walked up to the table.

“What’ll it be tonight, fellas?”

“I’m starting with an Irish coffee, Stella. The boys will be taking a pitcher of Anchor Steam, if I’m not mistaken. Then let’s have some fried clams. Any scallops tonight?”

“Yup, and fresh, too.”

“I’ll have a plate of broiled scallops then, Stella.”

“Me too,” Bullitt said.

“Better make it three,” Harry added.

“Slaw and fries?”

“Yup,” Lloyd said, just as Stella dropped her pencil. He bent to pick it up just before she did, and the sniper’s round slammed into her left shoulder before the sound hit the patio, spraying Frank and Harry with blood and bits of flying bone fragments. Everyone on the patio dove for cover…

…Everyone but Bullitt…

…who sprinted from the deck, his 45 drawn…

“You carrying, son?” Lloyd asked as he cradled Stella in his arms.

“Nope. I’ll get an ambulance headed this way…”

“You do that, boy,” Lloyd whispered, then he turned his attention to the wounded girl. “You hang on now, you hear? Help’s on the way, so you just hang on…”

He looked into her eyes, saw the stark terror lurking in her eyes, then came the fast, ragged breaths, the bloody foam from her mouth and nose…

“It’s alright now, lassie,” he whispered as he took the girl’s hands  in his own. “That warmth you’re feelin’? That’s God’s open arms cradlin’ you, cradlin’ you in his love. There’s nothin’ to be afraid of now, lassie. You’re going home now…”

She squeezed his hands once, tried to speak one more time – then she was gone.

Lloyd Callahan held her until the paramedics arrived, and when Harry found his father he was still sitting on the patio deck, his face awash in tears, his bloody hands shaking uncontrollably…

Frank had a patrolman drive them up to the house, and the two of them wrestled Lloyd into a hot shower before they got him into bed. Harry poured his old man a Scotch and made him drink a few sips, then he went out to the front porch.

Frank was waiting for him.

“Witnesses say it was a black Sedan de Ville, only plate information is the last three: 274.”

“It’s Threlkis,” Harry snarled.

“This isn’t over yet, Harry. Not by a long shot.”

“You got my paperwork ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I’ll be in first thing in the morning.”

“Could I make a suggestion?”

“Sure.”

“Get your dad outta here. Ireland might be far enough away, but I doubt it.”

Harry nodded, and after Bullitt left he went inside and called Didi…

© 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…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 31

88th key cover image

(quick note: still in hospital though sitting up to write less burdensome, hopefully home later this week…)

Part IV

Chapter 31

____________________________________

Callahan came-to in a field of flowers, and he lay easily on a bed of tufted grass – watching bright puffy clouds drift by overhead on the cool breezes gently caressing his brow.

He heard music, familiar music, adrift on one passing current; he sat up at once, rubbing his eyes, looking for the music’s source…but he only grew more confused. Across one of the fields beyond the softest breeze he saw a house, and while he knew the music had to be coming from there, this place he now found himself in felt utterly unreal…like music didn’t belong here.

He stood, still confused, and he continued to feel that nothing about this place was real. First of all, the clouds overhead were white, true enough, but the color of the sky itself was pale yellow, and though the view was in a way calming, so too was it unsettling. And the clouds? He felt as if he could almost reach up and touch them. He looked down, saw the grass in the fields was pure white, the leafy trees surrounding the house the color of fresh cream…almost like an infrared photograph, he thought.

“What is this place?” Callahan whispered. “It’s not real, whatever it is.”

Yet even as he expressed skepticism the music on the breeze grew even more insistent.

Chords he’d never heard before took root inside the house across the field and blossomed into the sky, leaving traceries of gossamer cloud well beyond the moment their creation, weaving crystalline kaleidoscopes across the sky that seemed to coalesce around a certain feeling.

He stood and took a deep breath, feeling most-of-all that the air in this place was of shattering purity, and that sounds traveled with equal precision. He looked at these new, swirling clouds and felt the music, really felt emotive expressions within each new shimmer…

“How can this be?” he said to this surreal landscape.

“How could it possibly be otherwise?”

Callahan jumped at the sound of this new voice, yet in an instant he knew exactly who was speaking. 

He turned and saw the Old Man in the Cape standing by his side.

“What are you doing here?” Callahan whispered.

“I thought that, perhaps, you could use a hand this evening.”

“What do you mean? Why would I need your help?”

“First June, then An-Linh. Your mother, so suddenly? And now Sara? So much loss, so much pain. I really don’t know how you’ve endured all of it. Or…have you?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Have you endured? Any of it?”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not so sure,” the old man began, “that you’ve ever felt anything at all, not really. Maybe pain is just an abstract something you simply brush aside, like lint off your sleeve.”

“Maybe you should get the fuck away from me while you still can.”

And that made the old man laugh for a moment, yet then he produced his ornate cane and pointed to an emerging cloud. “Listen to it, Harry. I mean, really listen.”

Callahan looked at the old man for a moment, then did as he asked. 

And yes, there was something strange about the swirling chord. Standing here next to the old man the impression it left was fleeting – but hardly unambiguous.

“Loss,” Callahan whispered. “Like a dirge.”

The old man simply nodded as he flicked his cane, shifting to a minor key. “And now?”

Callahan’s head tilted and his eyes closed. “Something deeper than loss. Something beyond.”

The old man flicked his cane and a new stream of consciousness emerged within the music coming from the house.

“And now?”

Callahan tried in vain to feel the music within but the struggle left him desperate, winded. “I’m not sure,” was all he managed to say.

“Try not to think of a specific feeling, Harald. Think more of a time you felt this structure.”

“A time? What do you mean?”

“You do know that other senses evoke memory? Scent, for example, can revive a childhood memory?”

“Yes.”

“Well…that’s what I mean. Reach into the chord, Harald. Let the music carry you to the memory, to the moment of the memory’s creation in your mind.”

“The pines outside my window. The way they brushed the glass when a storm approached…”

“What else?”

“Mother. Downstairs, playing the piano.”

“And what was she playing? Can you feel it?”

“It was almost always the same thing. She seemed to be playing to the approaching storm, like she was…”

“What, Harald? What was she trying to do?”

“It was like she was waiting for the storm to tell her something.”

“What else?”

“Well, it was like she was summoning something from within…”

“From within…what, Harald? The storm?”

“I’m not sure.”

The old man bent low over his cane and with sudden fury he flung another chord into the sky, and this time, when the full impact of the music hit, Callahan doubled over in crushing pain.

“Stand up, Harald.”

“I can’t,” Callahan whispered. “What is that?” he added, grasping at the stars that filled his sight.

“What is – what?”

“So many stars…”

“Yes. Find the one calling to you now…”

“What?”

“Reach out, Harald. Reach out…”

He felt hands reaching up, reaching for something far, far away, then he felt other hands on his own, clasping and pulling, pulling him back into the light…

And when he opened his eyes he saw Colonel Goodman standing overhead, then Frank and Al by his side, helping him stand.

“Sara?” he asked. “Where is she?”

But all he could hear now was that last shattering chord, fading away slowly on a dying breeze, and beyond those last fleeting tendrils only the Old Man’s voice remained…

“Find the star calling to you, Harald. Find her voice, now…while there is still time.”

____________________________________

Didi Goodman was the first to reach Sara Callahan. She had seen the helicopter flying up the valley, flying far too low for a commercial transport, and training and instincts had kicked-in at that point. By the time she reached the clinic the helicopter was already departing the area, and when she ran inside only a few sleepy nurses were looking around, trying to figure out what had just happened…

But by then word was spreading fast: the big American girl had been seen running through the wards with a pistol raised by her face, and she hadn’t been acting unbalanced – not at all.

Yet not one nurse thought to look-in or check-on Sara, even as Stacy Bennett made her way to the rooftop heliport…

…so it was Didi Goodman who found Sara. She found the body contorted on a blood-soaked hospital bed, the explosive head wound a massive wreck of shattered bone and brain; the immediate conclusion Didi reached was presumptive, but accurate, in its finality. Though Didi found a thready pulse, she took Sara’s hand in her own, held her while she slipped away, held her until nurses and doctors arrived, then she called her contact in Tel Aviv and passed along all she knew.

___________________________________

In the aftermath, Callahan and the rest of the team had to admit that all their efforts had been compromised, and the conclusion reached was obvious: Stacy Bennett had been on the inside all along. Who had turned her, they wondered. Escobar? Someone in the Bureau? Even personnel within the San Francisco Police Department were considered, but in the end none of that mattered.

Captain Sam Bennett receded from view after this last betrayal, the verdict more than he could stand. Frank Bullitt returned to Israel to join Cathy, who seemed particularly wrung-out by the news of Sara’s murder, and when she demanded that Frank quit the department he didn’t argue. Al Bressler stuck close to Harry after the funeral in Davos, and rarely left his friend’s side afterwards. Captain Jerome McKay disappeared soon after word of Stacy Bennett’s betrayal reached the group, and though Goodman wouldn’t say exactly where to, everyone assumed McKay made the trip east on the Israeli Jetstar – to a professional interrogation facility.

And this last effort turned the tide. Dozens of Escobar’s deepest assets were uncovered and arrested, the Chalmers’ dealer network was similarly laid bare and dismantled. Escobar reportedly gave up his ambitions on the west coast, concentrating on his operations in Florida, Louisiana, and New York, and though it was now assumed Stacy Bennett had been Escobar’s asset from the beginning, she had completely disappeared from view. Neither the Mossad nor Interpol had the slightest bit of luck finding here, and within weeks all leads dried up.

_________________________________________

The team gathered at Avi’s house in the compound after the funeral, but Goodman didn’t bother with his usual debrief this time. The group was simply too disoriented now, too incapable of further introspection, too upset by Stacy Bennett’s betrayal. And most of all, too rattled by the changes they had noted in Harry’s behavior in Davos. 

On their way to Davos the team had gathered protectively around Callahan – not simply to console him but to keep the outside world away – yet despite all that by the time they reached Davos, Callahan was little more than a trembling wreck.

When he slept, which he did too frequently now, he talked incessantly to someone on the far side of his dreams. Violent spasms followed, like he was wrestling demons in the night. 

When he met Sara’s parents at the funeral home he was tearfully guilt-ridden and unnervingly apologetic. When Callahan saw Sara’s closed casket he fell to the floor, completely undone.

Didi Goodman, not surprisingly, moved in and assumed the role of protective Mother Superior at that point, taking Callahan to the house and virtually isolating him there. Only Al Bressler penetrated her sudden impenetrable veil, though Frank and Cathy tried to break-through – and more than once. Still, Didi asserted an unusually deep hold on Harry now, and Frank began to grow concerned.

After the funeral, the team, and Didi, returned to the compound, waiting for the premiere performance of Schwarzwald’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Harry Callahan left the compound only once during those two weeks, to visit the Rosenthal Crypt – to talk with his mother, he said.

_______________________________________________

And the premiere turned out to be quite an event.

Because Imogen was still regarded as a native daughter, it seemed half of Denmark turned out for her last piece. Because of Saul and Avi Rosenthal’s deep roots in Copenhagen, their memory, too, played a modest role in the huge Danish presence. Avi’s stature in the Labor Party assured a huge Israeli contingent, and the simple fact that Herbert von Karajan was conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Tel Aviv implied a sort of German apologia, which demanded an international presence of politicians and diplomats from Europe and the Americas.

The performance was startling.

The music seemed to carry the performers into deep emotional states, to possess the audience inside an almost otherworldly, trancelike state, and in the end all who came to the premiere agreed the concerto was one of the most significant works of the twentieth century. Deutsche Grammophon and TelArc had both recorded the performance and post-premiere sales were colossal; the Rosenthal Music Company of course had the publishing rights and sales were brisk. Symphony orchestras in San Francisco, New York, and Paris soon advertised their own performances.

And so, in the end, one Harry Francis Lloyd Callahan went from being a modestly wealthy young man to being positively filthy rich. 

So, of course, he disappeared completely from view.

___________________________________________________

For the first few months of this second act in the Life and Times of Harry Callahan, he turned up in New Orleans. He played piano in a bar that catered to people who had chosen to live on the other side of  life. He played Cole Porter songs for the most part, but Gershwin too from time to time. Men dressed like little girls nursed fruity five-o’clocktails while they watched Callahan play, while butched-up girls dressed like Bogart or Grant cruised the perimeters, looking for fresh meat hiding in the shadows.

There was a special kind of Hate for sale in the little bar just off Bourbon Street, too. Self-loathing cloaked behind veils of inward leaning pity, hiding in plain sight all the while, yet just beneath all those juxtaposed veneers a new currency emerged: patrons willing to sell their souls to whatever devil happened to be on hand. Anything to debase the moment, anyplace to explore the hidden depths of despair, yet no time for the moment.

Callahan watched new symphonies take shape around his piano night after night, and at one point he began to conjure new chords to paint the scenes around him. He began setting the scenes to music in the early morning, just after the bar closed, after he walked down to the Morning Call for thick chicory coffee and plates of powdered-sugar-covered beignets, where he put notes to paper for the first time in his life.

He’d rented a room off a splashy courtyard in Jackson Square, and most mornings, while he scribbled on his score, hookers came down for coffee before knocking off for the night. He was soon a part of their landscape and, without knowing the how or the why of such things, he wasn’t too surprised when a couple of girls started sitting next to him. One of the girls stopped by one night and started their first conversation:

“What are you writing? A book?” she asked that morning.

“Music,” Callahan sighed.

“What kind?”

He shrugged: “A symphony, I guess.”

“You mean, like with strings and all that stuff?”

“Yup, all that stuff.”

“You sure are writing a lot.”

Callahan nodded before he picked up another beignet, the slightest breath from his nostrils causing a blizzard of powdery-sugared chaos to drift across the pages on the table.

“You got to be careful with those things,” she said, grinning.

“Want one?” he asked as he picked up his cup of coffee.

“Sure.”

“Help yourself.” And he watched her as she ate. A farm girl, he guessed, mean father, rebellious spirit, run off from her home by a vindictive mother…he could see it all as he watched the girl. She wasn’t ugly – far from it – but she was damaged goods. Broken. A broken girl living a broken life.

“You live around here?” she asked.

“Renting a room,” Callahan said, pointing to the square, “over there.”

“Got anyone?”

“Anyone?”

“You married, someone like that?”

He looked away. “Not anymore.”

“Oh? Divorced?”

He looked up, looked at the ceiling fans turning lazily overhead. “No, not divorced.”

“Oh,” the girl said, “I’m sorry. Ya know, I was tellin’ my friend you look kinda sad. Like somethin’ real bad just happened to ya.”

He looked at her, but didn’t say a word.”

“Look, I didn’t mean to bother you…”

“You’re not bothering me.”

“Well,” she said, standing up abruptly, “thanks for the donut. Maybe, uh, I’ll see you around.”

Callahan nodded. “Yeah. Maybe.” He watched her go, not at all sure what he felt, not at all sure what Sara’s passing had done to him. Or…what it was doing to him…

He walked across the square to his room, passing a little fountain just outside his door, and he stopped now and looked down into the black water, watching his reflection as it morphed and rejoined over and over again.

He swallowed hard and blinked back a tear, walked to his door and opened it.

It was a glorified hotel room, nothing more, nothing less, but the quality of the decor was, maybe, just a little upscale for a hotel. He went to a cupboard and found a bottle of bourbon and poured two fingers, then loosened his tie and slipped out of his shoes. He sat on the sofa and looked through the thick plantation shutters as light came back to the city, and a few minutes later he was asleep…

…and back on the mountain in Davos, waiting for the Old Man in the Cape…

_______________________________________

The same girl was walking with her friends when she saw him walking on Bourbon Street the next night, and she followed him until he disappeared into one of those seedy underground places the real weirdos hung out in. She couldn’t decide what to do, either. Follow him, or just blow it off…this feeling she’d had all day.

The bar was in an obscure little alley off St Anne Street, between Bourbon and Royal, and the peeling front looked like it had been painted with old mustard. The entry was cleverly disguised as a ‘front porch’, the door suffused with the putrid glow of black lights mounted somewhere within the warped ceiling. There was only a small sign denoting the place, a large, rusted piece of flat iron that had had the word Dungeon cut into it with a welding torch.

“I don’t think this place is safe,” the girl’s friend said. 

“How do you know?”

“My parents told me. This place has a bad reputation.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know.”

Yes, the Dungeon had an unearned reputation, but mainly because all the local “pervs” came to the place. The social outcasts and the druggies with the ‘golden arms’ hung out in the shadows here, the latter dealing horse and hash in equal measure, while trannies and burnt-out socialites huddled by the bar and, as soon as Callahan arrived, the little tables clustered around the piano. The air seemed purple to the girl as she made her way in, and her nose wrinkled as scents ranging from patchouli and sandalwood, and the less noticeable shades of heroin melted in spoons, wafted by.

She went to the bar and ordered a Coke, then she settled-in and watched this bizarre parade of humanity roll by. The first thing she noticed was that life inside this haven had split into the times before and after this strange musician started playing, because as he approached the piano a gentle hush fell over the room; after he began playing she felt a sigh of relief roll around the room like a purple haze.

And she knew that first song, too. He played Cole Porter’s, surely the patron saint of decadent parties, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin,’ which must’ve made the heroin dealers smile. But now she watched him, watched the way he played, and she felt mesmerized as she watched the interplay of his music within the room. His eyes closed some of the time and never on the keyboard, he was a virtuoso, some kind of savant, the music drifting seamlessly between jazz classics for one set, then hitting such Beatles standards as Lady Madonna and Yellow Submarine. If a regular asked him to play something he did so with a nod and a smile, and the huge brandy snifter on top of the piano filled with dollar bills as the night went on.

Every now and then he took a break, went up to the bar and picked up a club soda with a slice of lime, and she hid from him the first time he did so, watched how people came up and thanked him. Then she picked up an errant thread of conversation; this guy had just showed up one night and started playing. No one paid him, no one knew his name. Business picked up, regulars started coming by almost every night instead of once a week or so, and the owners even asked the stranger if they could pay him. The rumor was, or so she heard, was that he’d declined. More interesting still, she heard his tips on the piano were split between the cocktail waitresses.

Which, for some reason, she didn’t find all that strange. Not for this guy, anyway.

Some time after midnight a glamorously attired platinum blond materialized, a semi-retired movie star now living in the quarter, accompanied by a few too-masculine hangers-on in her large retinue, and she moved through the bar like an ice-breaker, pushing aside the riff-raff on her way to a table by the stranger on the piano.

He looked up once and finished what he was playing, then got up and walked out of the bar.

She dashed out of the confusion and followed him, keeping to the shadows as he made his way to the Morning Call. He was early and the place was crowded with late-night revelers and that seemed to put him off, and she watched as he got his order ‘to-go’ before he walked across the street to the square, pushing aside a few seagulls and sitting on a vacant bench.

And she walked right up and sat beside him.

“That was quite a show,” she said as she smiled at the surprise in his eyes.

“What was?”

“The way you walked out on that Hollywood bitch.”

He grunted, then held up the paper-plate loaded with warm beignets.

She took one. 

“Thanks,” she said, not in the least surprised by his easy-going generosity.

“What are you doing tonight?” he asked.

“Watching you.”

“I see.”

“I heard someone say that you just showed up and started playing. No pay.”

“Yup.”

“So, why’d you walk out on her…?”

Callahan seemed startled by the question. “What? Walk out on who?”

“On Miss Hollywood.”

“Oh. I don’t know. Just the whole ‘look at me’ thing. They way she pushed her way in.”

“Okay. What are you running from?”

Callahan grimaced, then shrugged…but still he didn’t answer the question.

“It’s not fair if you get to choose which questions you’ll answer.”

“What makes you think I want to answer your questions.”

She bunched up her fist and gently placed it on his chest. “Because there’s a great big hole right there, and all I can see is pain inside.”

Callahan put his coffee down on the bench and started to leave…

“Please don’t go,” the girl said.

Callahan took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose, then he looked down and slowly shook his head. “What do you want?” he asked. “Money? If I give you some money will you go away?”

“I’m not after anything.”

“What about money? Can I pay you to…”

“No, sorry. That won’t work, either.”

He sat up and looked across the square to the Morning Call, saw that the late night crowd had thinned out a bit. “Well, I’m gonna go get my table. If you’re coming, come on.” He got up and walked across the street to the café, found his usual table and sat.

“You must be hungry,” she said as she sat beside him.

He spotted his waiter and held up two fingers, then turned to face her. “What’s your name?”

“Deni.”

“Let’s see. The other night I had you pegged for a farmer’s kid, mean daddy, and you ran away from home.”

She grinned as she shook her head. “Nope, not even close.”

“Okay. Tell me your story.”

“I will, if you’ll tell me yours.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty something. You?”

“Thirty something.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’ve been trying to figure that one out,” he said.

“Okay, where were you born?”

“San Francisco.”

“No way! I’ve always wanted to go there…”

“City of Broken Dreams, kid. Not for the faint of heart.”

“What’s your name?”

Callahan took a deep breath, let it slip out slowly. “Harry.”

“So, Harry the piano player. From San Francisco, no less.”

“No less.” His waiter arrived with two coffees and two plates of fresh beignets; he took one and his fingers reveled in the warmth.

“They sure are good when they’re hot,” Deni said, taking one and popping it into her mouth.

“What do you do around here, Deni?”

“I go to Tulane,” she began, but she stopped when she saw the look of disappointment on his face. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t handle liars very well.”

She deflated as his words bit. “Sorry. Can I try again?”

“No lies this time.”

“No lies.”

He nodded, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair.

“I’m from Houston, and…”

“And how old are you? Really?”

“Eighteen.”

“And you ran away from home?”

“My dad kicked me out.”

“Why? Drugs?”

She shook her head. “My step-mother. We didn’t get along.”

“So he kicked you out for that? Come on, tell me the truth?”

“You know what? You sound just like a cop.”

“That’s because I’m a cop.”

“What? For real?”

“For real.”

“So, I asked you before…what are you running from? Did you kill someone?”

“No – not yet, anyway.”

“You’re gonna kill someone? Who? A friend?”

“I used to think so, once upon a time.”

“What happened?”

But Callahan simply shook his head.

“Okay, why are you here, playing the piano night after night, and for free?”

“Why not?”

“That’s not an answer.”

“So, why are you here?”

“My best friend from school lives here. It was the only place I could think of to come to. I got accepted to Tulane, and I’m trying to find a way to get a scholarship or something.”

“You’re not a hooker…?”

ME? GOD no!” she cried. “Jesus…do I look like a – a fucking prostitute?”

“I don’t know what you look like.” But no, he thought, that wasn’t quite true. You remind me of my Looney Junes…the same legs, a little too much hair on the forearms, and almost the same eyes behind those thick glasses. But he could see now that she was genuinely upset. “So, tell me about Tulane,” he continued. “I heard its a tough school to get into.”

“It is.”

“What about scholarships? Hard to get?”

She nodded, looked away.”

“What do you want to study?”

“Pre-med. But I want to get into English literature, too.”

“What, like Milton and all that jazz?”

“Yup.”

“So, you wanna be a doc?”

“Yes. I think it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. Pediatrician.”

“And your dad just dumped you?”

“Yup.”

“What about your mother?”

And the girl turned away from the idea. “She’s engaged to Prince Valium, not really part of life anymore, ya know?”

“You said you’re staying with a friend? I don’t get it…you’re from Houston, but she’s…”

“I went to a boarding school, in San Antonio. My Grandmother paid for it.”

“But she can’t pay for…?”

“She died. Two years ago.”

“How long have you been staying with your friend?”

“Too long, I think. Her parents are getting a little wigged-out about it…”

Callahan nodded, and seeing the depth of her predicament he knew what he had to do now. He finished his coffee and stood, yet she just sat at the table, not knowing what to do. As he looked down at her he could sense her anxiety, but above all else he could plainly see her need.

“You’re coming with me,” he said, and he watched as she stood.

“Where?”

“Off the street, for now. You got any clothes or stuff?”

“Not really.”

He nodded. “Okay.”

They walked over to the Royal Orleans and he got her a room, and he made sure she had access to room service before he took her up to the room.

“I’ll be by at nine o’clock sharp. Take a shower and be ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“Ready to get to work.” He turned to leave…

“You’re not staying?”

“What?”

She looked at the bed. “You don’t want anything?”

His growl startled her, and she stepped back from the horror in his eyes.

“Nine o’clock,” he repeated. “Be ready.”

_____________________________________________

He took her to breakfast at Brennan’s, then on a long walk down Royal Street for new clothes. Back to the hotel, and he waited downstairs while she showered and put on clean clothes, then they took a taxi out to Tulane, to the admissions office. She stood there by his side in mute awe as he whipped out a checkbook and paid for her tuition, room and board – for four years – and secured rooming for her at the school for the rest of the summer by enrolling her in summer classes.

The sun was setting by the time they finished getting her set-up in the dormitory, and they rode back to the Royal Orleans in another taxi. He fed her and sent her up to her room, told her to be ready to go at nine the next morning and left.

He walked down to the Dungeon and slipped behind the piano. It was as if nothing had happened the night before, and the usual lonely hearts gathered around and listened as their stranger played the music of the dying and the damned.

The next morning he took Deni to a bank by the campus and set up accounts for her, then took her to lunch at the Court of the Two Sisters.

“I think you’re good to go now, kid.”

She just stared at him, not knowing what to say.

A waitress came by and dropped off menus, and Callahan ordered minted iced tea for two.

“Are you gonna talk to me?” Callahan asked as he tried to ignore her stare.

“I wouldn’t know what to say.”

“Okay.”

“I love you. I know that much.”

“You’re confusing love with gratitude, Deni.”

“I don’t think so, Harry. I think you’re afraid of love. Maybe even running from love. But what you just did for me was an expression of pure love. Love like I’ve never experienced before. And I really don’t know what to say.”

“How about ‘Thanks?’”

“Okay. Thanks, Harry-whatever-your-name-is. Thanks for making my life complete. Thanks for being there for me. Thanks for letting me love you.”

He nodded as he took out an envelope and handed it to her. “This is my contact information, Deni. If you need anything call the number in there. I’ll drop by from time to time, see how you’re doing. Let me know if you make it into medical school, and if you need help paying for it let me know.”

“One question, Harry. Just one, okay?”

“Sure. Fire away.”

“Why? Why me? Why are you doing this for me?”

“I’m paying off a debt, Deni. To a little girl I used to know, a girl just like you.”

“You loved her, didn’t you?”

“Very much. More than I thought possible.”

She nodded, took his hand in her’s and kissed it.

“Now, about your father. I’d like to pay him a visit.”

She shook her head. “No, Harry. Not necessary. You’re my father now.”

The words startled Callahan, set him back in his chair. “I am not…”

“Well, you won’t let me in like a girlfriend…”

“Because I’m old enough to be…”

“My father. Right, I get that, and I love you for the respect you’ve shown me. You just need to accept what I’ve given you.”

“I’ll have to think about it, Deni.”

________________________________________________

He turned up next in Alpine, Texas.

He rented a small room in an old boarding house, one that had seen better days when cattle drives were still a big part of local life.

There was a saloon of sorts down on Main Street, but these days about the only things you could find behind the bar were Lone Star longnecks and a couple of decks of worn-out cards. An old gal named Millie held court behind the bar, and locals liked to say that Millie had been “rode hard and put away wet” more than once, but the truth was far simpler than that. Millie’s one true love had blown through town one weekend something short of thirty years ago, and when this tumbleweed decided to keep on rolling her roots held fast. She had turned into something inert after that, like a gas in the bottom of a beaker, and she had been changing dollar bills for cold bottles of beer ever since. 

Callahan walked into the bar in the middle of the afternoon and looked around. The old pine paneling the covered the walls had turned orange decades ago; now the wood look depleted, completely worn out. He saw an old upright piano against a far wall and walked over to it. Standing there, he reached for a memory and played it, found the tones the old girl made kind of pleasing, until he heard from Millie:

“Get the fuck away from my goddam piano!” the woman screamed. “And get the fuck outta here!”

Callahan turned to face the voice, then he walked up to the bar, put his hands out and caressed the old wood. “How old is this place,” he asked as he looked at the old wood.

“Older than you, asshole.”

He looked around, took in the posters for rodeos stapled to the wall by the door, flyers for bands that had played here years ago, but everything he saw was in the past. A dead space, he thought. Waiting for something, anything to happen.

“Do I need to call the sheriff on you? I told you to git!”

He turned and looked at the woman – instant ferocity clear in his eyes: “I’m looking for Don McCall. Know where I can find him?”

He watched the change come over her, a softening inside her glaring eyes.

“You know Donnie?”

“We flew together in ‘Nam. He saved my life.”

She nodded. “That’s our Donnie. Sooner or later he saves everyone, but no-one is ever there for him.” 

He heard the bitterness in her voice and the grating sound bothered him. “Why do you say that?”

She shrugged. “That’s just the way it is, mister.”

“Harry Callahan,” he said, holding out his hand.

She took it. “Millie. You really a friend, or you from the bank?”

“Friend. What’s with the bank?”

“His dad. Took out a big loan when the drought hit. Drought didn’t end, lost their herd. You do the math.”

Callahan nodded. “Got any cold beer?”

“Do bears shit in the woods?”

“Better give me one.”

“I ain’t givin’ you shit, Callahan…”

He pulled out his wallet and passed her a hundred. “Open up a tab for me, wouldya?”

“Sure thing,” she said as she passed over a Lone Star longneck.

“And call Donnie for me, please. Tell him I’m here and that I’d like to buy him a beer.”

“Okay.” Millie disappeared into her office and Callahan turned around and leaned against the bar. He could just about imagine Judge Roy Bean walking in the door, calling out for Lillie Langtry or brandishing a hangman’s noose…

Alpine, Texas, he thought as he walked over to one of the large windows that looked out on Main Street. Hot as hell out, and dry too, but at 4500 feet above sea level the nights were supposed to be cool. The town was surrounded by low, wind-sculpted mountains – more like hills, really – rising from a flat prairie that seemed, to Callahan, like a good place to raise rattlesnakes.

His thoughts drifted back to Hue City and those mad-flights out to C-Med to pick up the dead and the dying, and McCall sitting beside him in their Huey night after night. Quiet and even tempered, Callahan looked at this landscape and nodded.

This land looked like Don McCall – quiet, purpose built, solid and steady. 

“He’ll be here in about twenty minutes,” Millie said. “And he said I should treat you right, so you go ahead and play that piano if you want.”

“You serve dinner here?”

“Yessir, come about four-thirty or so. Tonight we’re servin’ t-bones and enchiladas, side salad if you want it.”

Callahan looked at his watch. “Better get a couple ready. I’ll be hungry as hell by then.”

“Alrighty.”

He moved over to the piano and sat, began a ragtime that sounded a little like The Yellow Rose of Texas, and Millie came over and sat behind Callahan, watched him play and felt the change that came over her old saloon.

“That was wonderful,” she whispered when Harry finished. “Reminds me of the times we used to have here.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I think most of us forgot what it’s like to live as a group of people, to look after one another, especially when times are tough. It feels like it’s everyone is out for his or her self these days, like…”

She stopped when a battered Chevy pickup pulled into a space out front, and she smiled when she saw Don McCall bounding into the saloon…

And Callahan met McCall as he crashed into the saloon.

“Dear God in Heaven!” Don cried. “It is you! Well, Harry Callahan, as I live and breathe, what the hell are you doing out here?”

Callahan turned to Millie. “Waitin’ for this lady to make me an honest-to-Pete West Texas t-bone steak, for one. She needs to get you one of these Lone Stars, too. Pretty good beer, I reckon, even if it is from Texas…”

McCall made to roll up his sleeves. “Them’s is fightin’ words, mister,” he said, grinning. “No one, and I mean no one makes fun of the National Beer of Texas…”

Callahan sidled up to the bar, McCall in tow, while Millie popped the tops on two more Lone Stars; McCall downed his in one long pull so Callahan followed suit.

“Millie,” Don barked, “keep ‘em comin’ ’til our toes are point’n at the ceilin’!”

“Better get those steaks going,” Harry whispered. “Maybe some bread, too?”

“Well Harry, sit you down and tell me a story…”

They moved to a table in back by the kitchen, Callahan beginning to think that this might be the best beer he’d ever had – at about the same time enchiladas baking in the kitchen began to fill the air with a magic all their own.

“Damn, Donnie, it’s good to see you. You’re looking good, life must agree with you…”

“It sure is good to see you too, hooch-mate. It’s a long way from Hue, ain’t it?”

Harry shook his head. “Man, that feels like a million lifetimes ago, ya know?”

“Don’t it? And every day over there felt like a lifetime.”

“Because it was.”

Millie brought out a basket of peanuts and plopped them down, with two more beers coming a moment later.

“So, what are you doing out here, Harry? Really…?”

“Just followin’ the wind, Amigo. Keepin’ my nose clean as best I can.”

“Give up on the cop thing?”

“Leave of absence. Taking some time off.” He slammed down half of the latest bottle and tried to stifle a burp, but it slid out through his nose and he grinned. “This stuff is really good.”

“Yeah, it is,” McCall said, his voice sliding down an octave.

“Millie mentioned problems with a bank?”

“Millie talks to much.”

“Maybe she just cares.”

“Maybe. So, yeah, bad drought out here the past few years, we lost the herd and dad decided to put up half the ranch as collateral so we could buy more cattle. Then the drought got worse.”

“How much is he in for, Don?”

“More than we’ve got. Damn, those steaks smell good. You know, Millie’s a damn fine cook.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

McCall looked down and grinned. “Sure Harry. You got an extra sixty large lyin’ around you could spare?”

“Sixty? Is that what you need? Anything else?”

“Harry, I got a list about as long as my arm. Things we got to repair or replace, including about ten miles of fence that needs some real work, and real soon, too.”

“How hard is that?”

“What?”

“Working fences.”

“Why? You volunteering?”

“Sure, why not…?”

“Yeah, right.”

“Would two hundred get your head out from under the water?”

“Two hundred what, Harry?”

“Thousand.”

“You got two hundred grand lyin’ around you just want to give me? Is that what you’re sayin’ Callahan?”

“Just tell me what you need, Don. I want to get this done before Millie gets back out here.”

“Are you fuckin’ serious, Callahan?”

Harry took out his checkbook and took a pen out of his coat pocket. The pen hovered over a check. “What do you need, Don?”

McCall shook his head. “Man, you’ve always been fuckin’ nuts, Callahan, but okay, let’s see. Dad needs a hundred to wipe out the loan. We need about fifty to get deferred maintenance out of the way, another fifty, maybe seventy to get the fence line, and we could use another hundred to get an up to date house on the property.”

“So, three, three-twenty gets you going, but what about cattle?”

“Call it another hundred.”

Callahan started writing. “No, let’s call it an even five hundred,” he said as he filled in the numbers, then he signed the check and peeled it out of his checkbook. “You wanna deposit it now, or wait til morning?”

“Are you shittin’ me, Callahan?”

“Nope.”

“I’ll be right back,” McCall said as he took the check and ran for his pickup; a few seconds later the Chevy was fishtailing out Main Street, headed for the bank.

“That was pretty cool,” Millie said from behind the swinging doors that led to the kitchen. “Is that why you came?”

“No, I just wanted to see an old friend.”

“The world needs more friends like you, Callahan,” she said as she disappeared back into her kitchen.

“Maybe so,” he muttered, taking a peanut and breaking the shell on the table then eating the nuts. Millie brought out a salad and promptly disappeared again, so Callahan went back to the piano, began playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, only very slowly.

McCall returned a while later, and as soon as he took his seat Millie brought out her steaks and enchiladas, and she joined them, taking her own dinner at the table.

“So,” Callahan said as he finished, “how hard is it to set fence posts?”

“You wanna set some?”

“Yeah, as long as you’re out there with me, I’ll give you a couple of days.”

“And the steaks are on me, gentlemen,” Millie added, “when you knock off for the day.”

“It don’t get much better than that, Harry.”

“I reckon I’m in.”

“What are you going to do, Harry? What’s next?”

“I miss the street. The work. I think I’m going home. I’ve got a few things I need to finish up there…”

© 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…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 30

88th key cover image

[a little note: surgery as expected a week ago, an unexpected post-op infection intervened and I’m in a new hospital, trying to beat that back. Well enough today to write, so finished this chapter. Not on email (Sorry, Christian). More as I know it…A]

Part IV

Chapter 30

____________________________________

Callahan and  his spotter were standing in a field just north of the little airport in Hayward – and they were kitted-out as surveyors, complete with blueprints for a golf course that was slated to be built on the property – and they were indeed surveying, in a way…

“The prevailing wind is generally from the north on this side of the bay, isn’t it?” his spotter asked.

“Yeah,” Callahan said, “but more often than not a little west of north, coming right out of the Gate. If the plane comes in at night they’ll likely land on 2-8, and if it’s a twin it’ll be on 2-8 Left.”

“Can you target an engine from head-on?”

“I can hit it, sure. The real question is what happens if the bullet hits the prop instead of the cylinder head. Nothing would happen, for all intents and purposes, except maybe a badly deformed bullet.”

“Could you hit a tire?”

Callahan shrugged. “I dunno – that might be more a matter of luck than skill, especially at night.” Callahan kept talking as a patrol car motored by, and when the cop inside waved at them Callahan waved back. “That’s the second time that patrol car has been by.”

“Okay, car number 245,” his spotter said. “We’d better pack up and get some lunch, do what a survey crew would do around noon.”

“Ever been to a Del Taco?” Harry asked.

“No…? What’s a del taco?”

Callahan grinned. “Take my word for it…you’re gonna love it.”

“Right. Let’s go…”

_________________________________

Al Bressler was spotting for Frank Bullitt near the SFPDs headquarters building, tracking down a rumor that McKay had been seen going into the building just after midnight. They’d been staking out the secured personnel entry ever since, but they hadn’t seen a thing.

“Maybe he left something in his office, ya know?” Bressler said. “Decided to sneak in and get it and leave without being spotted.”

“Maybe,” Bullitt grunted. “Whatever. Either he ain’t here or he’s already blown us off. You got his home address?”

“On Bismarck Street in Daly City.”

“Anyone watching it?”

“Yeah. One of the Israeli kids.”

“What about his wife? Anyone seen her?”

“No, and there’s been no movement inside that house, either.”

“Any intel on him would be more than useful right now, know what I mean?”

“Well…” Bressler said, his voice growing conspiratorially low…

“Well, what?”

“This is off the books, okay Frank? But he’s a weenie-wagger.”

“What?”

“He’s been spotted at those weenie-wagger arcades.”

“Speak English, would you?”

“Adult bookstores, ya know? The video booths? He’s got a habit, Frank?”

“A habit? What kind of fucking habit, Bressler? Heroin?”

“The man’s got to pull it off about every three or so hours…”

“Goddamnit, do you not fuckin’ know how to speak English?”

“He jacks-off a lot, Frank. Two, three, sometimes four times a day, usually at adult bookstores, usually out near the airport.”

“There. Was that so hard?”

“Sorry, Frank…”

“Man, you guys in Vice need to get out more…try walking around in daylight once in a while…”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So, are there any bookstores he hits frequently?”

“Yeah. All of them.”

“No shit? Pencil-Dick?”

“That ain’t the worst of it, Frank.”

“What?”

“He, uh, spends a lot of time on his knees.”

“Pencil-dick? No shit?” Bullitt chuckled, now shaking his head. “How did you find that out?”

“We run CCTV surveillance up in the ceilings in almost all of them. Besides guys sucking other guys, a shitload of drugs run through those places.”

Bullitt nodded. “Okay, we’re wasting time here; let’s head south, see if we can pick up a trail.”

Bressler got on the radio and called in their change of plans. Goodman replied and approved the move; Frank headed for the One-oh-one, still shaking his head. “So, Pencil-dick is in the closet, eh…? Well, that’s just too-fuckin’-rich. So, Al, you wanna rain on his parade a little?”

“He might be more valuable as a hostage that as a target…”

“Yeah,” Bullitt sighed, still thinking, “it’s the holy rollers who are wound the tightest.”

“McKay has always been wound pretty tight…”

Which only cause Frank to smile.

________________________________

Callahan loaded his spotter down with a couple of tacos and three bean burritos; the results after two hours had been, so far, predictably spectacular. The poor guy squirmed in his seat before quietly lifting a cheek and letting another SBD loose…

“Nice one,” Callahan grumbled before leaning over and letting another one rip.

“How do you do that?” the kid asked.

“Do what?”

“Make them so loud?”

“Practice, man.”

“So, you eat a lot of tacos?”

“Only when I need to clear the air.”

They both laughed…until the radio chattered and came alive.

“X-ray One, go ahead,” his spotter said

“Possible target information,” Goodman said from the safe house. “DC-3 inbound from KSAN.”

“Got it,” the kid said.

Callahan shook his head. “What the hell are we supposed to do with a ‘possible’ target? Shoot them down and hope they turn out to be the right target…?”

“Maybe wait ’til they come to a stop, shoot out the tires and nail anyone who comes out the door.”

“I don’t like it,” Harry snarled, now looking at the fence line along the west side of the airport. “There’s cover over there…”

“What’s the range from there to those hangers?” the kid asked, pointing at a row of hangers on the east side of the airport.

“Looks like six, maybe seven hundred yards.”

“How long does it take you to set-up that scope?”

“A minute or so. Maybe a little less.”

“Let’s move over there.”

The radio crackled to life once again and the kid answered: “X-ray One, go head.”

“Suspect DC-3 approaching San Jose. Get in position.”

“Roger.”

“Okay, that does it,” Callahan whispered as he started the Chevy Blazer. He looked at the fence line, and the glassy-smooth bay beyond, then shook his head. “We’ll be too exposed over there, and it’s the middle of the afternoon. This is nuts…”

“We can set out the surveying gear, hide by that pile of rocks and debris.”

Callahan drove slowly, carefully, not wanting to attract attention, until he found an old dirt track that led alongside the airport fence and took it. Once by the pile of rocks they set out all their surveying equipment, and Callahan took his H&K PSG-1 out of it’s case and began to enter all the physical parameters he’d need for the shot.

The kid tuned the radio to the SF approach control and they listened as the DC-3 reported leaving San Jose airspace, making for the East Bay and Hayward Municipal…

“Tuning in the control tower now,” the kid said.

Callahan took out a pair of binoculars and scanned the area: men in the control tower were looking to the south; ramp activity across the airport by the fueling stands looked normal; traffic on nearby roads moving slowly as the evening commute began…and a patrol car parked in deep shade by a building, almost out of sight – but…not quite…

“Pack up. Let’s go,” Callahan snarled.

“What is it?” the kid asked.

“We’re being watched. This is a set-up.”

“What?”

The radio crackled to life again, and this time the DC-3 checked in with the tower at Hayward Municipal, which cleared the aircraft for a straight-in approach to Runway 28, then cleared them to land.

The kid packed up the equipment while Harry slipped the rifle back in it’s case, then Callahan heard the DC-3 out over the bay. He turned and watched as it came in south of the San Mateo Bridge, heading for Union City…

“That’s not a straight in approach…?” he said. “Get in, let’s move…”

As Callahan moved to get in the Blazer he stopped and watched the DC-3 as it turned on final. He could just see the flaps lower, then the landing gears as they extended – when he saw a puff of smoke emerge from an industrial area underneath the aircraft, then a streak of flame as some kind of missile leapt into the sky, streaking for the DC-3…

…and the missile struck the DC-3’s left engine, severing the entire wing from the fuselage. The aircraft wallowed sideways once then fell straight down into a cluster of mobile homes. The explosion was devastating, and Callahan could see wildfires erupting all over the hillside beyond the homes.

And then five patrol cars emerged from their hiding places and streaked across the airport towards their Blazer.

Callahan slammed the transmission into Drive and turned towards the bay, driving across the rough landfill towards the water’s edge. He could see the kid on the radio, telling Goodman the situation as Callahan maneuvered the truck between piles of rock and construction debris…

‘Got to get that rifle,’ he said to himself, ‘secure it or swim out and dump it where no one can find it. Incriminating…’

Then, just ahead, a group of men stood and began firing at the Blazer…

“Get down!” he yelled as he spun the wheel…

Glass shattered and rained down on them as he made his way to a huge pile of rock.

They slid to a stop; Callahan grabbed the H&K from behind his seat and ran for cover, the kid not far behind – carrying an MP-5 of his own. Bullets slammed into the rocks and wet sand as they slid into positions of cover.

“You get the radio, kid?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell the Colonel we need some sort of diversion.”

“He’s working on it.”

“Good.” Callahan could make out at least five men working their way inland – towards their position – from the bay, and the patrol cars had stopped on their inland side – so they were effectively trapped between two lines of opposing forces. ‘Do I want to take them out?’ he asked himself. ‘If they’re cops, some might belong to the group, but, then again, some might not. Do I take a chance I might take out an innocent cop?’

He took out the PSG-1 and brought the scope up to his eye. Swinging it left, then right, he found the first cop, the one that had driven by that morning, and he studied his face. Not scared, he saw. Acting more like he was enjoying himself, this cop had his Smith & Wesson drawn and was holding it up beside his face.

‘200 yards, no wind, no elevation change,’ he thought as he dialed in the parameters, then he sighted in on the cop’s revolver and fired once.

The cop jumped back, holding his hand and screaming bloody murder as he hopped in a circle, but Harry could see the man wasn’t injured, just shaken-up a little…

Bullets slammed-in to the debris just overhead and rock fragments rained down on his head.

The kid let loose with his MP-5, spraying 30 rounds in the direction of the men coming in from the water. “That ought to make ‘em think twice,” the kid snarled.

Then dozens of rounds slammed into rocks overhead.

“Or maybe not,” the kid added as he slammed another magazine into his MP-5.

“You been in combat before?” Harry asked.

“Once or twice. I forget.”

“Right. Conserve your ammunition…” Callahan said, but the kid was already on the radio again.

“About five minutes out,” the kid said, hunching down as more bullets hit – and another shower of rock fragments rained down.

“Who is?”

“Air support.”

“Really?” Callahan looked out over the bay and yes, there were several helicopters up over the city. But…why so many?

More bullets slammed into the rocks, these coming from the police by the fence line, and Callahan rolled to a new position and sighted-in on a cop with a Remington 870 pump shotgun in hand. Callahan moved the reticle to the 870’s receiver and fired one round; the shotgun literally flew out of the officer’s hand and all of the others by his side ducked behind their squad cars – again.

But by then the sound of several inbound Hueys filled the air, soon pushing aside all other sound, and Callahan raised his head enough to see three Army Hueys flaring over the landfill – and dozens of troops repelling down to the mud. The men by the water stood up, looking confused now as their plans fell apart, as a fourth Huey, this one painted in civilian colors, flew directly to the kid and settled on the mud.

“Mickey” Rooney waved at Harry, then thumb-gestured that he and the kid needed to hop on the skids and get settled in. Callahan picked up the H&K and made for the sliding door, just as a round slammed into the Huey’s windshield.

Harry spun around and saw the first cop, the one he suspected was a bad apple, getting ready to shoot at Rooney; he sighted-in and fired one round – taking out the cop’s left hand – before he climbed in the back. A second later they were airborne, headed across the bay towards the north side of San Francisco International.

Callahan scooted forward until he was right behind Rooney.

“What’s going on?”

“Frank just got McKay. We’re gonna pick ‘em up.”

“No shit?”

“Hey, I just move the pointy end and go where they tell me. Better put on a headset, listen in on COMMs 2 and get up to speed.” 

Callahan put on a spare headset hanging behind Rooney’s head and flipped the rotary selector to COMMs 2; he listened as Bullitt told Rooney where they were, exactly, and where Rooney might be able to land.

“Roger,” Rooney replied, “ETA about five minutes.”

Then ‘Mickey’ turned to Harry. “You know the area?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, come up and take the left seat.” The Army co-pilot got out and climbed aft, leaving Callahan to crawl forward and slip into the seat. “What kind of hazards around the area?” Rooney added.

“Intersection: Linden and Airport Drive, a few open lots and what looks like a lot of open grass on a hill, but power lines run through the area…”

Bullitt came in on the channel again: “Okay Air 1, there’s a big vacant lot just north of the intersection, no power lines there.”

“Got it. We’ll be coming in from your northeast, from Brisbane.”

“Understood. We’re in the clear, no contacts.”

“You know the area, Harry?”

“Affirmative.”

Rooney was skimming the waves just then, keeping out of SFOs traffic pattern, and he came in over the One-oh-one freeway about fifty feet over the concrete…

“Okay Harry, your airplane…”

Callahan slid his feet on the pedals, his left hand on the collective, his right on the stick…

“My airplane.” 

He followed the freeway ’til they crossed Oyster Point, then he began flaring, bleeding speed and angling right so he’d get a better view ahead for his final approach…

Then he could see the intersection – and a Japan Air Lines 747 turning onto final for Runway 10 Left – before he saw Frank in a low crouch, his Sig 220 drawn, and someone face down on the ground at his feet.

“He’s taking fire!” Rooney called out.

The aft doors slid open and two Army gunners leaned out as Callahan put the 212 into a deep flare; they covered the last few hundred feet to Bullitt’s position at a twenty-degrees nose up AOA…

When the tail skid hit he brought the nose down, just as…

…the gunner in the left door fired a short burst. Then Callahan felt the Huey shift a little as men jumped on board, followed by the adrenalin-amped  shouts of: “GO!-GO!-GO!” as he pulled up on the collective and he twisted the throttle, adding power to his climb…

“Where’s that fucking 747!”he yelled.

“At your ten-o’clock, about five hundred AGL,” Rooney replied.

“Got him…! Bet that poor sum-bitch just shit his britches…”

Callahan cleared the power lines and flew due west for a minute, then…

“Your airplane, Mickey,”

“My airplane.”

Callahan undid his harness and climbed aft, went to check on a surprised Frank.

“What are you doing here?” Bullitt asked when Harry slid onto the mesh bench on the aft-most wall. “Thought you were in Oakland?”

“We were set-up, ambushed. That McKay?”

“Yup.”

Captain Jerome McKay was still face down – with a black nylon sack over his head, only now on the Huey’s floor, and he wasn’t wearing any pants.

“I’d like to ask,” Callahan said, grinning, “but, ya know, now just doesn’t feel like the right time.”

Bullitt grinned. “Yeah. This was one for the books. Did you say ambushed?”

“Yeah.”

“So, they know we’re here. That’s just great.”

“Yeah.”

“You have no idea what’s comin’ your way, you fuckin’ assholes,” McKay growled.

“Neither do you, Pencil-dick.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Well,” Frank said, “from what – little – I saw, Jerry, Pencil-dick just might be a little on the generous side.”

“Frank? Fuck you…”

“No thanks, Jerry; I’m tryin’ to quit.” 

____________________________________

The Huey landed near the cliffs just north of the little airport at Half Moon Bay; Frank tossed McKay into the back of a van and drove off towards an address in Santa Cruz; Callahan followed with everyone else in another van. When they arrived at this new house, Callahan found Sam Bennett was already there; so he concluded this initial foray had been almost a complete bust – except that Bullitt had nabbed McKay.

Goodman took McKay and, in heavy restraints, put him in a small concrete tomb in the basement, then he returned to the team – still waiting for him in the living room.

“Harry, what happened?”

“As soon as we started to set up a patrol car started cruising the area, scoping us out. He was just waiting to get us in place and they shot down that DC-3. My guess is they planned to put the blame on us.”

Goodman nodded. “It was a church trip, kids returning from a trip to the San Diego Zoo.”

“They’re playing hardball, aren’t they?” Sam Bennett growled.

“They caught us in a pincer,” Harry added. “Without extraction, they had us. By the way, who got the Army involved?”

“That was Rooney’s idea,” the Colonel said. “He figured we’d need a massive show of force to pull you guys out of there.”

“Well, that was a good call. Definitely saved our ass.”

“Now Frank, tell us about McKay?”

“I’d better let Al take this one, Colonel.”

“Okay. Al? What’s the score?”

“Well, you all know I was working Vice before this other stuff happened. We started picking up on McKay’s movements after we started watching peep-shows down around SFO. McKay turned out to be a regular.”

Bennett seemed shocked. “Jerry? Peep-shows?”

“Well, Captain,” Bressler continued, “yes, and no. Most of these places have video arcades, they’re kind of notorious. Limp-wrists hang out there, cruise the cabins, looking to…”

“You talkin’ faggots, Bressler?”

“Yessir.”

“Well, just come out and say so, would you? Now, you’re telling us that Captain McKay was hanging out in these places?”

“Yessir.”

“And?”

“And, well sir, he’s been, uh, servicing other men…”

“WHAT!” Sam Bennett cried. “You’re talking about a captain in the San Francisco Police Department, Inspector. Are you certain? You have proof?”

“We have closed-circuit video recordings, Captain.”

“Of McKay? Having sex – with men?

“Yessir.”

Bennett turned and stormed from the room; Callahan looked at Bullitt – who simply shrugged before he spoke: “They were in Academy together,” was all he said.

“Middle-age-crazy,” Callahan sighed, shaking his head.

“It happens,” Bressler added, “more often that you think.”

“Well,” Goodman said to the group, “we’ll have to break him, find out what he knows. In the end, his capture could really turn things to our advantage.”

“Break him?” Bressler asked. “What does that mean?”

“Torture, smart guy,” Frank snarled.

“Oh.”

“Well,” Callahan interrupted, “they were waiting for us, so we’re compromised.”

Goodman nodded. “From the beginning, but it’s interesting they were expecting us…or you, I should say. On the other hand, they weren’t in place to intercept Frank or Sam.”

“Which means what, exactly?” Bressler asked.

“Perhaps someone spotted Harry by chance. Right now, the prudent thing to do is pack up and leave. Maybe sit it out in Switzerland, at least until things settle down.”

Bullitt stood and began to pace the room. “Look, I left Cathy in Tel Aviv and she’s just about had it. She needs to get back to work, and, well, I need to start figuring out what comes next.”

Harry heard the pain in Frank’s voice and wondered how he could help. “Her house ought to be ready to go within a month. She can start on my house as soon as she gets back…but what about you?”

“Well, it kind of depends on what happens with Sam. My retirement, or whatever you want to call it, was a ruse coordinated with Sam. On the other hand, the paperwork was officially submitted, so only Bennett has the capability to reinstate me. I can return, or I can remain retired, ya know what I mean? I’m trying to figure that out.”

“Cathy’s the problem, right?” Harry asked, and Frank nodded.

“Yeah.”

“Why haven’t you two gotten married?”

“I don’t know. I guess because on one level I always felt like she already had one foot out the door.”

“Why’s that?”

Bullitt looked down. “She’s an architect. I’m a cop, ya know? The other side of the tracks.”

“So?”

“Sometimes it feels like we don’t go out with her friends…because she’s, well, we don’t because I’m a cop.”

Al looked thoughtful: “Do you get along okay with her friends?”

Bullitt shook his head. “Not really. They’re artists, ya know? Into pot, doing mushrooms, LSD…all that psychedelic shit, so…”

“Does Cathy do that stuff?”

“Not really. Yet…sometimes I get the feeling she’d like to be able to cut loose. It’s like I’m holding her back.”

Harry shook his head: “This story usually doesn’t have a happy ending, Amigo. Y’all need to talk this through, see where she wants to go from here. And where you want to be.”

“The only thing I know, Harry, is this job. When I think about what I want to do, it’s the job. I’m a cop, ya know? Retirement is not something that feels comfortable to me. It feels like a dead end.”

“What are you gonna do, Harry?” Bressler asked.

“I’m going to get to know Sara, spend a lot of time with her. Then I’ll see. A lot will depend on her, and how comfortable she is. Maybe how confident she feels.”

“Harry, I don’t want to bring this up too often, but the premiere of your mother’s last piece is coming up next month.”

“I know.”

“I don’t mean to be pushy here, Harry,” Al said, “but I’d really like to be there for that.”

“Me too,” Frank said.

“Okay,” Harry said. “I’d love to have you all there. With Sara.”

A messenger came in and handed a note to Colonel Goodman, and everyone watched him as he read the contents, his face turning brilliant red, then a ghostly white.

“Harry? It seems we may have made an unforgivable error. Stacy Bennett was picked up at the clinic in Davos by helicopter.”

“What?” Harry said, the room suddenly spinning underfoot.

“But not before she made an attempt on Sara’s life.”

Callahan closed his eyes as he fell to his knees, and nothing lay ahead but a vast field of stars.

© 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…]