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.”


“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.”


“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.”


“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.”


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?”


“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?”


“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?”


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?”


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?”


“So, they know we’re here. That’s just great.”


“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?”


“Well, just come out and say so, would you? Now, you’re telling us that Captain McKay was hanging out in these places?”



“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?


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.


“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.


“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.”


“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…]

3 thoughts on “The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 30

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s