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…]

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