The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 32

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…]

3 thoughts on “The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 32

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s