The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 38

Part IV

Chapter 38

____________________________________

When Callahan returned from ‘sighting’ Stacy and Escobar he dropped to the floor, hitting his head on the side of the piano as he fell. Bullitt stumbled free of the effect and made it to his friend’s side, found a thready pulse, and went to the kitchen. He found a clean glass and filled it with tap water, then rushed back to Callahan’s side.

He was white as a ghost again, but this time Harry’s lips and fingernails were deep blue, almost obsidian, and his skin was very cold to the touch. Bullitt held him, coaxed him back and then helped him sit up. “You’re going to have a bruise on your forehead,” Frank said as Harry felt around his face for the source of the sudden pain he felt. “I think you hit the piano pretty hard when you fell.”

“I’ve never felt like this before,” Callahan grumbled as he took the glass of water from Frank. He drank and immediately regretted it; the water tasted foul, almost evil, and he put the glass down after the one sip.

“You’ve got to drink more than that, Harry. Your skin is hard, dried out. If you don’t get some water down you’re going to get sick. Real sick.”

“Tastes bad,” Callahan said, his voice almost a whisper now, “almost like something’s wrong with it.”

Frank smelled the water, shook his head then took a sip. “Nothing wrong with it. Now, drink it or we’re heading over to General for an IV.”

Callahan drank the water but he almost retched as he finished it. “Tastes bitter,” he groaned, “like bitter copper.”

“I hate to say this, but we have a problem.”

“No kidding.”

“What do we do with what we know?”

“Call the Colonel, tell him we overheard the information while we were tracking a suspect. He’ll know who to call, what to do with the information.”

“You don’t think we should…?”

“What? Set a trap for dozens of armed mercenaries trying to kill Reagan? You honestly think we’re prepared for that? Two of us against four teams of…?”

“I see your point.”

“This ain’t the movies, Frank. No sheriff in a white hat is coming to the rescue.”

“You want me to call him?”

“Go ahead. I can’t see straight yet.”

“See if you can stand up. Let’s get you to the sack.”

Bullitt helped Callahan slide under the covers, then turned out the lights and went back to the living room, but he didn’t call Goodman, at least not right away. He called his sister, told her that Callahan was feeling under the weather and that, maybe, what Callahan really needed was someone to take care of him for a few days. “Think you can handle that?” he asked her.

____________________________

She was sitting in the lone chair in his apartment, looking out the window down at a moving mass of people cruising between bars when she heard the door rattle. Someone was turning the doorknob, pushing on the door, and she sat bolt upright in the chair, suddenly frozen in fear. The door slid open slowly, she saw the barrel of a gun move into view, then a masked gunman was taking aim…at her…

Callahan jumped up, wiped icy sweat from his face, then swung his legs out of bed and went to the living room. Evelyn was asleep on the sofa, the front door was closed, the chain on, both locks engaged. He went to the kitchen and got a glass of water, forced himself to drink it, then he went to the chair and sat, watched her sleep.

A moment later he felt her gently shake his shoulder and his head popped up.

“You were snoring,” she said softly when he looked up at her. “Why’d you get out of bed?”

“Bad dream,” he said, shaking the cobwebs loose. “Wanted a glass of water.”

“You? Water? I’m stunned!” she said, grinning.

“It was so real…”

“What? Your dream?”

“Uh-huh. Someone coming in the front door, with a shotgun…”

“Here? In the apartment?”

“Yeah.” He got out of his chair and walked over to the closet, got the Smith and Wesson out of his shoulder-holster and checked the cylinder, made sure it was loaded, then he carried it back to his chair.

“What’s that for?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. Just a feeling.”

“A feeling? Do you get feelings like this often?”

Again, he shook his head – this time more slowly – but he canted his head just so, turned his good ear towards the door. “Go to the bedroom,” he whispered, “now!”

She looked at him, wondered if he was indeed some kind of schizophrenic but thought better of arguing with a man holding a 44 Magnum in his lap, so she stood and moved quietly into the bedroom, almost closing the door as she disappeared inside.

He sat in the darkness, his ears following stealthy movement up the stairs, then he heard the scratching of metal on metal…someone picking his lock…first the knob, then the deadbolt – which slid open with a little thud – then the door began opening…bolt cutters cut the flimsy little chain and he saw the barrel of an 870 pump glide through the slit…

She heard it happening, of course. First the locks failing, then the little chain falling, and she remembered thinking this had to be some kind of nightmare – just as Callahan’s 44 barked once, then a second and a third time. She heard running and one more explosion, this time a different kind of gun firing, then Harry’s 44 barking two more times…only this time farther away, like down the stairs or out in the street. She realized she was holding her breath, that her eyes were tightly shut when she heard a last shot fired from Harry’s 44…

Then she heard sirens, heavy footsteps coming up the stairs, Harry cursing as he turned on a light and she burst from the room and ran into his arms, holding him close and kissing his face a thousand times.

Then she felt his trembling, his icy skin, and she pulled back, saw he was bleeding from a wound on his face, two more on his chest and she helped him into the chair…

“Don’t touch anything,” he said calmly. “And call Frank, tell him what happened.”

“Can I touch the phone?”

“Yeah. Call him right now.”

She heard cop cars screeching to a stop outside, then men running up the stairs and pushing into the room, angry cops with their revolvers drawn, flashlights scanning…

“Inspector Callahan?” one of them said. “Is that you?”

“Collins? Yeah, it’s me. Get an ambulance, would you? I think I’ve been shot…”

The room was spinning now, everything was turning white, a bright, shimmering white, and he felt the world falling away…like he was soaring free, breaking away and flying high above all the worldly cares he was so very tired of…

________________________________

Then he was falling, flames everywhere, his world filled with the sounds of metal hitting the earth in a glancing blow, sliding limbs and burning brush crushed underneath his wrecked Huey, then wet mud giving way as his ship slid into the swamp a few hundred yards from C-Meds’ broken perimeter walls. The smell of jet fuel everywhere, coating everything, and he saw huge white snakes sliding through the grass, their red eyes looking into his, and he pushed his way up through the wreckage, up onto the right side of the burning Huey. McCall? Where is McCall? He looked down, down into the grass and now the snakes were coming for him, their mouths up and open, white fangs glistening in the moonlight, pink forked tongues probing ahead, seeking release in his flesh…

“I’ve got a pulse,” he heard someone saying very far away.

“Got to get a line in, fast…”

An Linh was below him now, pulling burning babies from the wreckage, passing them up to him through the flames. McCall was forward on the stick, and he was handing charred lumps of flesh to Jim Parish, who placed the broken bodies in little caskets, thousands and thousands of little caskets, every one of them open, and then all of the burned children began singing…singing You Can’t Always Get What You Want while pyres for the dead lit the night for as far as his eyes could see…

“Harry? Can you hear me? Harry? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me…”

The white snakes are at his feet now, the first one is coiling up his leg, probing, always probing…

“You are playing with fire, my boy.”

“What?”

“You are playing at things you don’t understand. Are you sure you really want to do this?”

He looked down and the white snake was gone. He saw the Old Man in his Cape standing with his Cane on a field of virgin snow, but music still filled this place, a choir of the damned still sung their lament…you can’t always get what you want…you can’t always get what you want…there’s no place like home…you can’t always get what you want…

“Harry?”

His throat burned…there’s no place like home…

“Harry? Open your eyes!”

‘Whose voice is that?’ You can’t always get what you want…

“Come on, shipmate, you can do it…”

“Jim? Parish, is that you?”

“Yeah, come on, buddy. Open up ‘dem baby-blues…”

“Where?”

“In the recovery room, at San Fran General, shipmate.”

“What are you…”

“Shit man, they invited me to teach some kind of gun-shot wound surgery and post-op management course to a bunch of second-year residents. I got in from San Antonio on the red-eye and decided to come down for a look-see, and next thing I know they’re wheeling your fat-smelly ass in the back door…”

“Yeah? The nerve of some people’s children.”

“Anyway, you got a couple of new scars to go along with the old ones, and don’t worry about that funky new one on your face. One of the OR nurses said it looks sexy as hell.”

“Swell.”

“What the fuck’s going on, man? People busting into your apartment at four in the morning, and then there you go, shootin’ up the neighborhood again. Same old bullshit…same old Harry.”

“Some things never change, Jim.”

“I know this much is true, Amigo. You sure as hell never will.”

“Amen, brother.”

Parish swooned. “Oh, Lord, say it ain’t so! Callahan! You’ve found religion!”

“Screw you, asshole.”

“Nope, nope, there he is, ladies and germs. The Callahan we all know and love.”

“What happened? Why the operation?”

“Some asshole took a pot-shot at you with double-ought-buck. One of the pellets hit your collarbone, a fragment nicked your brachial artery. Touch and go for a while. Y’all got good paramedics here. That’s who saved your ass, anyway. I just cleaned up the mess.”

“How long have I been here?”

“Probably four hours or so, why?”

“Has Frank been around? Or his sister?”

“Evelyn? She’s a peach, Amigo. And I hate to say it, but that girl is hearing wedding bells, so watch your ass.” 

Callahan nodded. “Is she here?”

“Uh-oh. You got it too?”

“Got what?”

“You’re getting all goo-goo-eyed on me, Callahan. Could this be love?” Callahan’s eyes filled with tears and Parish wiped away one falling down his cheek. “Well hell, that answers that question!”

“I was dreaming. About that crash outside of C-Med…”

“Yeah, I remember that night. That was some serious shit…Charlie inside the perimeter…”

“Something about that night, Jim, was a turning point.”

“Maybe a Foucault pendulum. The world just keeps turning and yearning, and there’s no way off.”

“I think I was close, Jim.”

Parish nodded. “You were, Amigo, but you’re back.”

“How long do I need to stay here?”

“Long enough to see if the patch holds.”

“Patch?”

“We had to repair the artery. Maybe a week. Surgically, it was no big deal, a three inch incision. That will hurt for a few days, then it’ll just itch like shit for a while.”

Callahan looked at Parish. “Thanks for being here, man.”

“Kinda weird, ain’t it? The way these things happen? Almost like things happen for a reason, ya know?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I got some snot-nosed greenhorns to go teach. I’ll drop by after they get you up to a room. Can I bring you anything?”

“I’d like to go back to the Caravelle, sit back and watch the world go by…”

“Harry?”

“Yeah…?”

“You can’t beat the world into submission. Sometimes you got to just go with the flow.”

“You can’t always get what you want, right?”

“I fuckin’ loved that song, shipmate. Seeya in a little bit.”

A minute later he looked up, saw Bullitt walking towards his cubby.

“Well hell, there he is?” Frank said. “How’s it hanging?”

“Down to my knees.”

“You wish, Callahan. You fuckin’ wish.”

“Frank? I was playing the piano, in a dream. And I saw it coming down, in my dream.”

Bullitt shook his head. “Yeah, Evie told me. I kinda figured as much, that something like that was starting to happen.”

“I don’t know what the fuck’s going on, man…”

“Did you see any faces?”

“No.”

“None?”

“Nobody. What is it? What are you not telling me?”

“One of ‘em was Briggs. Found him at the bottom of the stairs. The guy at the door was from Oakland PD and a close friend of Crawford’s…”

“So, motive.”

“Bingo. And this is the screwy part, Harry. The guy you nailed in the street was one of Threlkis’ lieutenants, and the car you nailed – nice shot, by the way – is registered to that shithead.”

Harry nodded. “That fits. The vigilantes have linked up with the crew taking over the Threlkis family.”

“Why do you think that fits? It doesn’t make sense to me…”

“It does if you remember that the Cartel was linking up to the Threlkis mob, while at the same time they’ve been financing the vigilantes.”

“Shit, you’re right. Why didn’t I see that?”

“I’m not right, Frank. Let’s call it a working hypothesis and try to figure it out from there, see if I’m right.”

“Yeah. By the way, a patrolman named Collins…”

“Steve, right?”

Bullitt looked at his notes. “Yeah? How’d you know?”

“He helped me with some stuff on the Spencer case.”

“Well, he ID’ed the Threlkis stiff, got all the info on the vehicle registration. Said he knew you.”

“Yeah, you need to take a look at him, Frank. Says he’s interested in CID, maybe homicide.”

“You think he’s got it?”

“Yeah, I do. I wanted to take him out for a ride along, see how he does, what kind of instincts he has.”

“Okay. I’ll put him with Carl tonight, maybe the next couple of nights. With you out we’re super short right now.”

“What about Internal Affairs?”

“They won’t be bothering you, Harry. This was open and shut, case closed, and embarrassing as hell for them. They were penetrated and now they know just how bad. All their cases since Briggs came on board will have to be reviewed now.”

“Ouch. That’s gonna hurt. Who recommended Briggs for IAD,” Harry asked.

“The Chief.”

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

“Man, their’s no way out, is there? If the department is infiltrated from the top down?”

“It’s early retirement time, bucko.”

Callahan nodded. “Yup.”

“Hey, anyway, Evie is waiting to come in, think she bit every one of her fingernails off.”

“Frank?”

“Yeah, Harry.”

“I got it bad, Frank. I love her, big time.”

“She’ll be single in about six months, but the ink on her divorce papers will still be pretty goddam wet.”

“You think we’re moving too fast?”

“No, not really. Matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen two people more in love. Just try not to get yourself killed again, okay?”

She ran into the recovery room seconds after Frank disappeared, and she was carrying a little stuffed dog as she came to his bedside…

“Well, look at this!” he said, smiling. “It’s Dorothy and her little friend Toto…”

“That’s right,” she cooed as she leaned over and kissed him. “There’s no place like home, right?”

He closed his eyes, blinked back an icy wave of fear as the music swept over him once again…you can’t always get what you want…you can’t always get what you want…oh, no…but if you try sometimes, well you might find you get what you need…

© 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 Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. Lyrics from the Rolling Stones You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The Samantha Walker television reporter is 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 cinematic-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 with these fictional characters? 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. 37

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 37

____________________________________

When Callahan went into CID two days later, Frank was waiting for him. He did not look pleased.

“Come in. Shut the door behind you.”

Callahan sensed something was up, but Bullitt looked strange. Very unsettled, really, and almost sick.

“What’s up?” Callahan said as he sat in Frank’s tiny office.

“Evelyn. She told me something. Something about you, and the piano. It didn’t make sense until I thought about Crawford.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Is that how you…?”

“Yes.”

“Goddamit, Harry. What the hell is going on with you?”

“I have no idea.”

“You did something with Evelyn? The same kind of bullshit?”

“Yup. She didn’t tell you?”

“Not the details, but what she did say scared the crap out of me.”

“You should feel it from this end, Frank.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Twice. I’ve done it twice. The first time, well, it was just an accident.”

Bullitt shook his head. “Well, whatever the hell it is, you just stop it. I mean right now. Just stop doing it. Am I clear?”

“Yeah.”

“Goddamn, Harry, if you put that in an affidavit for an arrest warrant the judge would haul your ass straight to the psych ward. They wouldn’t let you out for years.”

“Yeah. So…?”

“So? Fuck, Callahan, I’m not sure what I should do with this. It’s fucking outrageous!”

“Yeah, it is. It’s also true. Frank, you may not like hearing this, but I was in Briggs’ office. I saw that address by reading a post it note attached to a…”

“Goddamn, Callahan! I don’t want to hear it! Understand?”

“Frank? Did we, or did we not go to Crawford’s house?”

“You must be deaf.”

Callahan backed off, didn’t press the issue further. “Okay. Got it.”

“I couldn’t sleep last night, Callahan. My stomach is all tied up in knots…”

“Sorry.”

“And now my kid sister is telling me that she’s all wound up about you. That you two are long-lost soulmates. Is that about the size of it?”

Callahan shrugged. “There’s something between us, Frank.”

“And every girl you get close to gets killed, one way or another. You have any idea how that makes me feel?”

“You should feel it from this end sometime, Frank.”

Bullitt looked down, shook his head. “I know,” he said gently. “It must feel like shit.”

“I picked up more information from Records on the Spencer thing.”

“San Paulo get back to you yet?”

“Not yet. I think I’ll give ‘em another day, then I’ll call.”

“Oh, speaking of calling, Cathy is at the office already. She wanted to talk to you about a painting?”

“Okay. Same number?”

“Yup. And, oh, if you don’t mind I’d like Evelyn to stay out with us for a few days.”

“She’s a big girl, Frank. Let her do what she wants.”

“Just what the hell did you do to her?”

Callahan hesitated. “You sure you want to hear this?”

“No, but go ahead anyway.”

“I saw inside her apartment. I saw her husband attack her, beat her up. All of it, Frank. Everything about it.”

Bullitt looked down again, then he put his face in his upturned hands and shook his head. “I knew it. I knew he was hurting her and I didn’t do anything to stop it.” He looked up, his eyes red now. “You can really do this? See things like this?”

“Twice. And I don’t understand it, Frank.”

“Alright. Call Cathy, then we’re going to your place.”

“What?”

“You’re going to show me. Show me exactly what this shit is. How it works. Everything.”

“Frank, I don’t know ‘everything’ about this shit, okay? I don’t know how it works…”

“Then you’re gonna show me what you do know.”

“Frank, I don’t know…”

“Call Cathy, then let’s get breakfast.”

“At the diner again?”

“You know it, man. I’ve been dreaming about those pancakes for a week.”

Callahan went to his desk and called Cathy’s work number; a secretary answered and told him she was tied up in a meeting, and would be for the next hour.

He hung up and saw Frank standing beside his desk. “She’s in a meeting.”

“Okay, let’s go. I haven’t eaten since noon yesterday.”

They took two cars, and Bullitt ordered a double stack of chocolate chip pecan pancakes, and a large glass of whole milk.

“I hate to ask,” Harry asked, “but is there any chance you’re pregnant?”

“Man, I’ve been like this for a couple of weeks.”

“Do you feel cold, too?”

“Yeah? Why?”

“You need to go to a doc, get some labs done. You gaining weight?”

“No, more like I’m losing weight.”

“Call your doc, get a physical.”

Their breakfasts came and Bullitt finished his double order of pancakes in half the time it took Callahan to eat two eggs and a slice of toast, and Bullitt tossed down two large glasses of milk for good measure. Callahan looked on, clearly concerned – because if Frank was indeed losing weight it had to be because he wasn’t absorbing nutrients, and that couldn’t be a good thing.

They drove to Harry’s apartment, and once there he called Cathy’s office again.

“Harry? Sorry I missed your call.”

“No problem. Did you see the painting?”

“I did.”

“And?” 

“Are you really sure you want to hang something like that in your house?”

“It’s pretty stark, isn’t it?”

“It’s a waking nightmare, Harry. I looked at it once and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since.”

“I understand.”

“Well, anyway, I took the dimensions and I have a place in mind for it, if you really think you want to go with it.”

“You know, as far as I’m concerned that image pretty much sums up everything that’s happened to me on the streets of this city.”

“Jesus, Harry, I had no idea.”

“Nor did I.”

“I can see how…well, no, I’m not sure I’d want to be reminded.”

“Nor am I.”

“Do you want me to go ahead with designing the lighting for it?”

“Yes, please. And maybe you should go shopping, find me a few other paintings that you think might go better with the house.”

“Really? You don’t have anything in mind?”

“Nope.”

“Okay, I’ll work on it.”

“Thanks, Cathy.”

“For what, Harry?”

“Keeping an open mind, I guess,”

“Okay. Got it.”

She rang off, and he turned, found Bullitt staring out the window that looked down on the crowds roaming the bars along both sides of the street below.

“See something?”

“Huh? Oh, no, I was just thinking…you sure live in the thick of things down here.”

“Friday nights are kinda fun.”

“I can only imagine. See a lot of hookers?”

“No, they keep to the shadows, with the other sharks.”

Bullitt nodded. “So, how does this work?”

“Hard to explain, but the first time I played notes and thought about Briggs. Things started popping after that, and when I played another note another field of view popped into being.”

“You do know how fucking weird this sounds, right? I mean, this is like Planet Crazy kind of shit, ya know?”

Callahan nodded and shrugged his shoulders at the same time. “Hey, you asked.”

“Okay, show me.”

Callahan went to his Bösendorfer and retracted the keyboard cover while he sat at his bench. “You want me to look for something you thought of?”

“I don’t know, man. What do you think works best?”

“Well, chances are you’ll understand better if it’s something you thought of. Sit beside me, put your hand on my shoulder.”

Bullitt slid in close to Callahan and gently put his right hand on Harry’s back.

“Okay, try to clear your mind. Think about something, let that kind of dominate all your thinking.”

“Should I close my eyes?”

“Beats the hell out of me, Paco.”

“Okay, here goes.”

Callahan played a note, then another and another, and nothing happened.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Going to the doctor, and, like, what he might find.”

Callahan thought a moment. “Maybe it doesn’t work that way. Try thinking about something that’s already happened.” 

“Got it.”

Callahan played a note and something seemed to shimmer in his mind’s eye, and when he played another note he saw Walter Chalmers talking to Bullitt out at the airport, something to do with Johnny Ross, and Harry started to describe what he was seeing. “You’re at a gate, watching a Pan Am jet taxi. Towards the gate. Delgetti is with you. Chalmers is walking up to you, he’s speaking now. “He’s still my witness. I’ll be happy to turn him over to you after he testifies tomorrow…”

Frank jumped off the bench. “You got to be mother-fuckin’ kidding me!”

Callahan shrugged again, held up his hands.

“No, no, no, no. No fuckin’ way, Callahan. No way, man…” Bullitt started pacing in nervous circles, his arms flailing in mad arcs, his head shaking all over the place as he spoke.

“Frank, I don’t know what to say…?”

“Fuck! This is righteous! Totally bitchin’, man! Like, is there any way I could, like, tune in to what you’re seeing?”

“Uh, Frank? You do remember saying I shouldn’t do this. Like ever again, I think you said?”

“Well fuck that, man! You do, like, realize what we can do with shit like this?”

“Yeah.”

“So, what do you think. Can I tune in?”

“I have no idea. But…are you sure you want to?”

“Are you fuckin’ kidding me?”

“Okay, let’s try something,” Callahan said, sitting at the bench. “Sit next to me, one hand on my shoulder, just like last time, but this time put a hand out and touch the piano.”

“Just asking, but why?”

“I think maybe it has something to do with the vibrations, some kind of energy…”

“Okay, it doesn’t matter. Who the hell knows, right?”

“I sure don’t.”

“Okay, whatever,” Bullitt began, “I think it’s your turn now. You think of something…”

Harry began playing and Bullitt instantly recognized a very familiar melody. “That’s Rhapsody in Blue, right?” he said aloud.

“Yup, that’s right. Lay your hand flat on the piano so you can feel…”

But by that point Bullitt was mesmerized by the appearance of a silver sphere floating in the room, hovering just inches above the piano, and he saw the entire room within a kind of shimmering fisheye reflection, but then the sphere started to grow…

“Uh, Harry…?”

“I know, I know…just go with it, Frank.”

It felt like the sphere was coming closer and closer, then it seemed to vibrate intensely for a second – before it popped – and in the next instant he saw the distortion had inverted and he was looking at the inside of a room through what looked like a fisheye lens…

…only it wasn’t the same room he was sitting in…

…he was in some sort of concert hall…

…and a long-faced man was playing the piano, other musicians were still warming up, then came a long pause, the room in total silence…

…and then a clarinetist began playing the opening notes…

“Listen here, to the glissando,” Callahan said, his voice full of wonder.

“What are we seeing, Frank?”

“Gershwin and Ferde Grofé at final rehearsals for Rhapsody…it was a really famous moment…”

Bullitt stood and broke the connection. “Harry, I hate to say this, but we’ve got to focus on, well, you know…Stacy…”

Harry drifted back, but Frank immediately noticed that something was very wrong with Callahan. He was ‘spaced-out’ and drenched in sweat, his skin was pale – his face white as a sheet – and his hands were trembling….

“Harry, man, you alright?”

Callahan shook his head. “I don’t know, Frank.”

“Has this happened the other two times you did this?”

Callahan nodded. “Not this bad, though. I think it’s getting worse each time I try it.”

“I feel it too, just a little. What do you think would happen if I tried it?”

“Tried what?”

“If I played something. You could show me how, right?”

“I don’t know. We can try…” Frank sat and Callahan stood, but he kept close to the keyboard. “Put these fingers here,” he said, using his right hand on the keys to show Frank. “And your left fingers here. Now, just press them.”

Frank pressed them gently, too gently for effective hammer strikes.

“More like this,” Callahan said, demonstrating by hitting the keys up an octave from Frank’s hands.

“Got it.” Bullitt hit the keys, this time striking a perfect chord.

“Okay, just close your eyes and hit it, keep your fingers on the keys and when one chord is finished I’m going to move your fingers a little, make a new chord, and once that’s done hit it again.”

“Cool. I’m ready.”

“Okay, think of Stacy and hit it.”

Frank hit the first chord then Harry rearranged his fingers. A second chord followed, then a third, and a fourth…

“I got nothing, Harry. Nada!”

“Okay, I was afraid of that, but at least we know two things we didn’t know before.”

“Which is?”

“We can’t see forward in time – only back, and I may be the only real conduit that can reach these places.”

Bullitt looked at Callahan again. “Man, your face is still white as a ghost, Harry. Sit down, let me get you something to drink…”

Callahan turned and immediately dropped to the floor; Bullitt jumped over and knelt beside him, felt for a pulse but could hardly fine one.

“This ain’t good,” he said to the room. “Not good at all…”

It took a minute but Callahan’s eyes fluttered once then opened, then he looked around the room. “What happened?”

“You passed out, Amigo.”

“The room started spinning, then it was like I was standing in a room full of stars…”

“Hypoxia, man. Could you be, like, dehydrated?”

“Yeah, maybe so. Can’t remember the last time I had a glass of water.”

“Harry? You got to take better care of yourself…”

“Coming from someone who just ate four tons of pancakes, I find that kind of funny.”

Frank seemed to drift off for a moment, too, then he spoke: “I’m not sure you should do this again, Harry. Not if it’s going to hit you like this.”

Callahan nodded. “Maybe, but you’re right about one thing. We’ve got to find out what we can about Stacy, while there’s still time…”

________________________________

Didi Goodman had been rocked by Sara Callahan’s murder; perhaps more than anyone other than Harry. When Stacy Bennett arrived, her ‘legend’ was still intact and she, like everyone else on the team, never suspected Stacy might be working for any other group. Yet one thing had troubled her about the whole affair, ever since Sara’s body was discovered and the escape helicopter was halfway to Venice. Someone, either working at the clinic or planted in the village, knew enough about the clinic’s routine to know the best time to carry out both the hit, and the escape. This person had to understand local weather conditions, not to mention helicopter operations and limitations. They probably had a VHF radio installed at their location, one with an antennae tall enough to facilitate medium range communications. And, more than likely, they had remained in Davos after the event to maintain the integrity of their cover.

Davos had a long history welcoming foreigners, and people from all around the world could come to and leave the area without arousing the least bit of suspicion. These people, among the wealthiest in the world, regularly built large, well equipped residences all around the valley, and as a result the many businesses in town jealously guarded their relationships with these patrons. So, rather like the fabled ‘numbered’ bank accounts commonly opened at the largest Swiss banks, secrecy was assured, even when unusual installations might have raised eyebrows elsewhere.

VHF antennae, on the other hand, were hard to camouflage. While they could be hidden on an elaborate HF/UHF rig, such as might be found on the grounds of a serious Ham radio operator, VHF transmitter antennae looked different. If you knew what to look for, they could be easily identified, too. Given that there were few private helipads in the valley, very few people had reason to install this type of antenna, which further eased the task of finding and eliminating possible suspect facilities.

The first houses she found with such equipment were easily traced back to government entities. The United States maintained a small diplomatic compound in the village which, she knew, housed several CIA assets whose job it was to keep track of Soviet agents working in the area. They had a veritable antenna farm on their roof, too. The Soviet’s house was similarly equipped, Japan’s was too.

A house she identified as belonging to a Japanese industrialist was found, and she found this man’s principle businesses included manufacturing all kinds of radio equipment, so this house was scratched from the list of possible suspect facilities. Another house, quite small by local standards, was built across the valley from the main ski area, and this house had a modest installation. She had difficulty finding out who owned the house, which immediately increased her level of suspicion. It took a few days digging in the library and in the building permits office to locate even a sliver of information, and this indicated that a lawyer in Berne owned the house. Colonel Goodman set up surveillance on this firm and soon found that about a quarter of their income derived from unspecified business and legal consulting fees, and these fees were paid from an account that seemed to be in Panama City. More research revealed that these Panamanian accounts were fed by banks in Medellin, Colombia.

The colonel then sent two teams back to Davos; one to monitor all COMMS into and out of the suspect house, and the other to break-in and plant monitoring devices within this home and around the grounds. Within a month Goodman’s assets figured out that the Medellin Cartel was coordinating drug deliveries all over western Europe through this house and, as well, when ‘wet work’ was ordered by Escobar or his lieutenants, assassins were dispatched and their actions coordinated by the people stationed there.

Goodman then did something very uncharacteristic at this point; he ordered that the house be destroyed, and in such a way that maximum loss of personnel would be guaranteed. In fact, he wanted a display of force so large that it would send a crystal clear message to Escobar: we know who you are, what you’re up to, and if you don’t knock it off – you’ll be next.

The nearest house was a hundred and thirty meters away, so ancillary damage would be limited to broken glass and, hopefully, little more than that. Teams were moved into place, equipment and explosives delivered. Personnel movements inside the house were recorded and tallied, patterns analyzed, and then…decisions made.

 A few weeks later the Swiss night was split open when a blast, estimated to have been caused by a ton and a half of C4, rocked the valley. After the smoke cleared and as investigators moved-in to sift through the rubble, telltale signs emerged that drugs were being processed on site and reporters soon lost interest in the story. Images taken by a reporter in a helicopter revealed a blast crater fifty meters in diameter and ten meters deep, yet no one thought this unusual.

Yet in the aftermath, the volume of radiotelephone traffic in and around Medellin, Colombia, picked up dramatically. The colonel’s radio intercept teams were in place and ready for the deluge, yet it turned out that no one was ready or even in a position to counter what Pablo Escobar had in mind…

_________________________________

“So, tell me what actions we have taken so far?” Pablo Escobar said to the group assembled in the large living room of his estancia’s main house.

“We are sending coded messages to our partners indicating that we believe this action was undertaken by criminal elements in Italy,” a former KGB officer said, looking directly at Escobar. “We know the Americans and Germans have intercepted these messages…”

“And how do we know this?” Escobar asked quietly, looking at the lone female in the room.

“Our listening station in Arlington, Virginia picked up calls between FBI headquarters and CIA Langley,” Stacy Bennett said. “These messages repeated the Mafia connection we planted.”

“So,” Escobar continued, “they don’t know that we know the Americans did this to us? Is that correct?”

Stacy nodded. “That would appear to be the case, yes.”

“Appear to be?” Escobar chided. “You mean you are not sure.”

“The intercepts back up this assertion,” the ex-KGB field officer said. “Even intercepts in Naples back this up.”

“So why are you still unsure?” Escobar, looking pointedly at Bennett.

“Because I can’t believe Reagan would order such a strike on Swiss soil.”

“So,” the ex-KGB officer sneered, “who do you think did this?”

“The Israelis,” she replied, matter-of-factly.

The Russian smirked, shook his head. “They have nothing to gain. Why would they do this?”

“Revenge is,” Bennett said. “the oldest motive in the world.”

“For killing a crazy woman, the wife of a lowly cop?” the Russian added, his voice incredulous. “You can’t be serious.”

Escobar looked at her, nodding: “What about Reagan? Do we have a schedule of his movements?”

“He’s flying out to Santa Barbara in two weeks, going to spend time at his ranch.” Bennett replied.

“And we have the Stingers in California, correct?”

“We have three in place, but that won’t be enough.”

“Why not?” Escobar demanded angrily.

“Air Force One carries enough electronic and physical countermeasures to deal with six incoming missiles, both heat-seeking and radar guided. Again, and I’ve mentioned this before, you’ll need a swarm of Stingers, at least eight, preferably ten to twelve, to engage this aircraft while on final approach. And don’t forget, there will be F-15s right off each wingtip…”

“And you think these pilots would intercept incoming missiles with their own aircraft?”

“Yes, I do,” Bennett said. “As I mentioned in my plan, it would be best to have three to four teams in a staggered array around the approach to the runway, with each team carrying at least four Stingers. F-15 escorts will move to block one team’s launch, then the others will fire from their positions of concealment. So, the attack comes from multiple directions, and from staggered distances. Such an attack cannot be defeated.”

“So,” Escobar added, “We need ten more missiles in California within the week?”

“The more teams we have in place, each with four missiles, the more likely we are to achieve surprise and take out the target.”

“And Yuri, you are sure you can make the effort look like it was a Russian operation?”

“That is not a problem.”

“Harry? Can you get us in close. I need to see that guy’s face.”

A chord swirled through the fisheye distortion, and there he was.

© 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 Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is 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 cinematic-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 with these fictional characters? 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…]

Come Alive (1)

Come Alive, Part I

(While working on 88 I started thinking about things, and this story began taking shape in my mind. Rather than put it off I started work on what you see here. I’ll work on both stories this week, and I may revise some of the things you read here. Anyway, I hope you enjoy…A)

Henry Taggart wasn’t exactly what you’d consider a sympathetic character, at least you might not think so until somewhere near the end of his story. Most people he worked with, and certainly almost everyone he knew, understood that he was a bright man, even a very talented man. At times he attracted a certain following, those hangers-on and serial pretenders who gravitate, like moths to a flame, to other people’s money. And, years later, and quite predictably, when Taggart dropped out and disappeared from the cocktail circuit, very few noticed or commented on his departure. It might also be fair to say that he was soon forgotten, but perhaps that’s the type of decision we should put off…for now…at least until we know him better.

Taggart grew up in Newport Beach, California, his father was a lawyer, his mother a physician. By the time he was in junior high school his parents had stepped up to a waterfront house on Lido Isle; the Balboa Bay Club was just across the water and Doris Day lived, literally, next door. His father had a Swan 41 tied up at the dock just outside their living room, and Taggart learned to sail on her when he was of an impressionable age. His father campaigned the boat a few times, usually in local yacht club races but twice in PORC series races, aka the Pacific Ocean Racing Conference, which included races to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. After he graduated from high school, in Newport Beach, he was the assigned navigator on his second Transpac Race, from LA to Honolulu, and his father’s boat placed third in class.

It is, perhaps, relevant to mention these things if only because they have a certain bearing on the events in question, those which we’ll come to in short order, but the one thing that you should keep in mind as we move along is that Henry Taggart grew up without a care in the world. His parents were good people, and the Taggart’s lived within the blessings of what most would certainly call the very best of the American Dream. And, perhaps, then some.

If Henry’s father had one flaw it was that he was a pure self-starter, an ambitious man who simply could not relate to anyone not similarly self-reliant. Which was a problem, as it turned out because Henry was not so inclined. Instead, Henry became the joker, the class clown.

He drifted through school, bored to tears, but was never far from a self-deprecating joke. He played football, and did well, too, ending up an all-conference middle linebacker in his senior year, yet his grades were, at best, mediocre. His father had gone to USC and had wanted his son to attend the same school, but that simply wasn’t going to happen. Even UCLA said no, despite his football coach’s intervention on his behalf. 

So Henry ended up going to a small college up north, a little college in Menlo Park, California, that existed only to help bring up the grades of scholastic underachievers so that they could transfer to colleges like Stanford or USC. Henry was unimpressed, though at least the little college had a football team, and the small classes would provide a good venue for his practical jokes.

This little school, called Menlo College, also had a four-year business school that was held in high regard around the state, and oddly enough, by the Saudi royal family, who sent their princes to Menlo Park with nauseating regularity. These young men drove Ferraris and Maseratis, while the rest of the mere mortals in the student body was consigned to second-hand Buicks and Datsuns. The less than obvious end result of this dichotomy was that all the good looking girls at the college tended to drape themselves over the arms of Saudi princes. This became a source of dismay for some, but not Henry. He simply looked at these girls as transactional beings, trading their bodies for an otherwise unattainable lifestyle.

Because, for whatever reason, Henry just wasn’t into dating. He liked girls, enjoyed looking at them, and even, occasionally, talking to them, yet he never put two and two together. In case you’re disposed to think that Henry was ‘in the closet,’ no, that simply wasn’t the case. He had a few friends on the football team and made a few in class during his two years there, but nothing ever came from his associations with the girls there.

He transferred to Claremont College, and by then he’d decided he wanted to go into computer science. Keep in mind that this was at a time when Microsoft and Apple Computer did not yet exist, and when computers stored information on huge reel-to-reel tapes. Coincidentally, he met a girl in his first year at Claremont, and he finally did the deed, lost his virginity. It’s also fair to say that Henry was completely unimpressed by the whole thing, but perhaps that’s because he found he’d picked up a raging case of the clap in the aftermath. He decided to focus on his studies after that and found that he enjoyed hard work.

He went to Palo Alto next, to Stanford, still studying computer science. He met two rag-tag developers working nearby and soon hooked up with them; a few years later he was in on the ground floor at Apple. Still, he was bored, if unfulfilled, and an unrealized need to move on grew incessantly. 

He moved to Seattle, started working for a company that was creating a page layout program for newspapers and magazines, but he struck out on a new path, went to work on a new product line developing a so-called digital darkroom that could be used on personal computers, and there he met with his first real financial success. Even so, after a few years in Seattle, he found he was bored and felt compelled to move again.

So he joined a special effects company. Special effects for movies, that is, after someone from Stanford recommended him to people at MGM. He moved to Hollywood, which meant he could go home to Newport Beach, but he soon discovered that his father was not immortal, that his father had, in truth, grown old, and was now very frail. This dawning awareness stunned Henry Taggart because, indeed, the sight alone scared him to the point that, for the first time in his life, he became aware of death. How, he wondered, could you run away from that?

So he worked on code most days, compiling and troubleshooting, for the most part, coming up with new ways to create realistic effects, yet he wasn’t in on the artistic side of the business because, really, he had no interest in art…or even the movies that his company brought to life.

His father called him one Friday and asked that he come down to Newport, and he did as soon as he finished up a minor project, which meant sometime Saturday morning.

His mother was sick, as it turned out. Very sick. Breast cancer. Actually, her second bout with the disease, which surprised Henry because he’d never heard she had it the first time around. The idea that death stalked everyone began to consume his waking thoughts, then his dreams – and, eventually, his nightmares.

His mother was an internist and so knew the score. When her cancer was staged at level four she simply discontinued treatment and retired from her practice, then went home to spend what was left of her time with the only people who mattered, her family. It was, unfortunately, simply too much to expect Henry to spend much time with her.

Which turned out to be the case, though he dutifully went home when his father called and asked him to come down for the weekend. If Henry had been in a position to talk about his feelings he might have said that he was most afraid of his father’s manifest deterioration, and not long after his mother passed he learned that his father had inoperable prostate cancer, and that it had spread into the spine before it was detected.

So, within the space of a year, Henry Taggert lost his mother and his father. He had no other family. None. Anywhere. And for the first few months that one simple fact didn’t concern him the least.

But, for the first time in his life, Henry Taggart came to understand that he was utterly alone, and in time he found the sensation annoying, though perhaps just mildly so, then, over time, somewhat more bothersome. First, he’d had to decide what to do with his parent’s house, which after some hand-wringing he sold, and then what to do with the rest of the holdings, which were, as you might expect, substantial. Oddly enough, working through all these duties only increased his sense of isolation.

Another odd thing about Henry? He was frugal, always had been. He lived in modest apartments everywhere he ventured. He drove simple cars, like beige Chevy sedans with vinyl bench seats, front and rear. His clothes were off the rack, and usually from a cheap department store in a mall; same with his shoes. His one extravagance was running shoes because every evening he ran at least five miles. Until his knees began to fail, as these things surely do.

He noticed one morning that his hands were trembling. A week later other people noticed they were shaking, sometimes jerking violently. One of the co-founders of the company he worked for drove him to UCLA; within an hour a team of neurologists was testing him for Parkinson’s. The results were positive. He was told his symptoms would, more than likely, remain mild, and therefore controllable, for several years. As long as he took his medications.

Suddenly he wanted to go home, to Newport Beach, to talk with his father. But his father was gone now, wasn’t he? Instead, his friend drove him home; someone from the office drove his car to the apartment complex where he lived now, and he went into his apartment and for the first time in his life he really looked around, really took stock of his situation.

There were no paintings on the wall. There was a record player sitting on a shelf on a mail-order bookcase, and the thing had been state-of-the-art…twenty-five years ago…but that hardly mattered because he’d not bought a record in at least a decade, maybe two. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out some kind of soda and found stuff to make another kind of sandwich, then he went to his bedroom, sat on the edge of the bed and picked up the TVs remote and turned it on. Some kind of game show. He turned to another channel and saw Captain James T Kirk dressed like an Indian, holding a dying squaw as she lay dying, and that was just too much to bear. He flipped to another channel, and another – then turned the TV off, frustrated.

He went to the living room and ate his sandwich, then went to the bookcase. He’d picked up a few books from his father’s shelves before the estate movers cleaned out the old house, and he looked at a few of them now.

They were all about sailing. And not just sailing in general, but about cruising. Taking a long trip to nowhere. Maybe a years-long trip. And they all seemed to be about cruising in Scandinavia…Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. He picked one and pulled it from the shelf, popped the top on his soda, and went to the sofa. He sat and started to read, and he found that if he put the book on a pillow instead of holding it in his hand the trembling wasn’t nearly so annoying.

He read and read, and at one point he looked up and it was four in the morning. When the sun came up a few hours later he closed the book and thought about what he’d just read. He opened the next book and found a piece of neatly folded stationery from his father’s office; on this paper, he found a proposed itinerary for sailing around the Baltic; when he looked at his father’s precise handwriting he felt an overwhelming sadness, and more than just a little regret. He’d always worshipped his father but, he realized in that moment, he’d never really known the man. Let alone understood what made him tick.

He opened the next book in his little stack and found another piece of precisely folded paper, and here he found more notes. What items to take on the trip. What charts he’d need. Things he’d need to learn before he could go.

In the next book, he found an analysis of the ideal boat for a trip like this, premised on starting from New England so that a trans-Atlantic crossing could be included in the itinerary.

He sat back, lost inside a passing thought…‘What would it have been like to actually do that with dad?’ Then he found himself thinking about such a trip and, logically, he asked himself why his father hadn’t tried.

And the answer he came up with was simple enough.

Because he’d disappeared from his father’s life, and when the time came to make such a trip his father was all alone, and such a trip was beyond the scale of his failing health.

And Henry Taggart had a hard time digesting that shard of glass.

He went online and found that there was a boat show in Newport, Rhode Island going on for the next two weeks, so he booked a flight to Boston and packed a bag, then made a hotel reservation. He called an airport shuttle and made it out to LAX with a few hours to spare, so he had some coffee and a bowl of chili. Which sent his stomach into convulsions. He drank a bottle of pink stuff and walked onto the airplane trailing a noxious plume of methane-like gases, plopped-down in seat 2A and promptly fell asleep.

“Are you alright, sir?”

“What?” He opened his eyes, looked up, saw a flight attendant looking at him, and she appeared concerned. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“You’re shaking a lot. Are you cold?”

“No, I just need to take some medicine. May I have some water, please?”

He turned, looked around the cabin and saw several people looking his way. Some were shaking their head, others looked at him with something akin to sympathy in their eyes.

‘I guess I’d better get used to that…’ he thought. ‘Because I’m the proverbial stranger in a strange land now.’

He picked up his bags at the carousel and found a shuttle to Newport; by the time he arrived at his hotel it was dark – and he was exhausted. His hands were shaking and he read the directions on the bottle of pills again; time to dose-up, he saw. He went out on the terrace and looked at the waterfront below, saw hundreds of sailboats festooned with flags and posters filled with feature after feature.

How many years had it been? Since he’d been sailing? Twenty-five? Thirty?

“This is insane,” he said to the night. “But why does this feel so right?”

+++++

After two days of solid looking, he settled on one boat, a thirty seven foot Nauticat. She was made in Finland, built like a tank and had both an exterior cockpit as well as an inside steering station. There were two heads, three sleeping cabins – though one was ridiculously small – and the workmanship on display, especially the interior woodwork, was beyond stunning.

The dealer had seen him crawling through the boat more than once, but he’d also seen the shaking hands – and so dismissed the man as a wannabe, and long past his prime.

“Is this your best price?” Henry asked. 

“Yessir.” the salesman replied.

“I’ve seen other reps here with boat show pricing. You have anything like that?”

“You know, if you were a serious buyer perhaps we could talk about that…”

“What makes you think I’m not?”

“Your hands. You have Parkinson’s, right?”

“Right.”

“So, you won’t be sailing much.”

“And why not?”

“Have you done much sailing, sir?”

“Two Transpacs and a bunch of ocean racing on a Swan 41. Does that count?”

“I see. What are your plans?”

“Cross to the Baltic, take the canals through Sweden, then hit the fjords in Norway, back to Denmark, then through canals to Amsterdam, then Paris, then the canals to the Med.”

“Well, with the shallow keep option on this one, this is the boat you’d want for that trip.”

“I came to that conclusion about an hour ago.”

“When would you be leaving?”

“Probably late April, early May, next year. That would give me a few months to get to know her, get her fitted out.”

“So, you’re telling me you’re actually going to do this?”

“I am.”

The dealer shook his head. “Ya know, I think I’ll have to check with my lawyer, see if I’d have any liability for selling a boat to someone like you.”

“Fine. Do it. In the meantime, what’s your best price for this thing?”

The dealer shook his head again. “If I knock fifty off, can you do four hundred?”

Henry pulled out his checkbook and wrote the check, handed it over to the dealer…

…who bunched his lips and nodded. He slipped the check into his wallet and looked at the lunatic standing there – shaking like a leaf. “We have some paperwork to do…”

“Ya know what? I’ve talked to a lawyer here, put him on retainer. Here’s his card. You get your stuff together and get it to him. He’s going to handle documentation and registration.”

“The electronics on this boat are decent, but there are some upgrades you might want to consider.”

Taggart opened a file folder and handed the man a list of items he wanted installed. “Think you can handle this stuff?”

The dealer looked over the list. “No problem. I can have everything installed in a week, maybe ten days. Everything but that Icom SSB. Not sure about inventory on those.”

“I’ll just go over to the Icom booth and buy one. Mind if I do it that way?”

“No sir.”

“I’ll pick up a life raft, too. Can you handle installing a hydrostatic release cradle?”

“For a Winslow?”

“Yup.”

“Sure, not a problem.”

“Okay. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Henry came back an hour later, and he noted the red “sold” sticker on the boat…his boat, now…and he smiled at that. He thought his dad would like his choice, too.

After the show began closing down for the night he stepped aboard and sat behind the wheel. He sighted up the mast, visually checked the tension of her stays and shrouds. The electronics would all have to go, better displays would need to be fitted, more capable radios too. He walked to the bow, looked down into the water and imagined his little ship cutting a fine wake through a boisterous sea, then he turned and looked up into the night sky, spotting the primary navigations stars with ease. 

“Alright, Dad. You’d better get ready, because we’re really going to do this.”

“Oh,” he heard the dealer say, “is your father coming with you?”

“Damn right he is,” Henry Taggart said, grabbing the forestay with his shaking hand.  

“What are you going to name her?”

He looked up at the stars and wanted to ask his dad, but then he thought of his father’s Swan. Her name was Bandit, but that wasn’t quite the right name for this new girl. 

“Time Bandit,” he said – finally. “I think that fits, don’t you?”

+++++

He opened his logbook to the next page and grabbed a pencil as it rolled by, then he looked at the GPS…

“Let’s see. Position North 59 degrees, 57’, 15.9. West 16 degrees, 20’ 08.18. Outside air temp 28 Fahrenheit, Barometer 29.6 and falling.” He looked at his watch and duly noted the time, 0830 hrs GMT, then noted the sea temp at the top of the page. “Still 34 degrees Fahrenheit.” He went to the wheel and looked off to the north, saw the line of icebergs still about four miles away and he nodded. He’d programmed the radar to make a scan every five minutes and sound an alarm if any bergs slipped inside a two mile guard zone, and so far everything had worked perfectly.

He went to the companionway hatch and slid it back, then he went up into the cockpit. “Sails drawing well,” he said to the wind, then he clipped his harness onto the jack-lines and made a quick survey of the shrouds and stays before he made his way aft to the Hydrovane self-steering rig. He checked tension and confirmed their heading was still accurate relative to the apparent wind angle, then he went below again and poured another cup of hot water. He picked a breakfast tea and tossed the bag into the water, then stepped down into the galley, opened the oven door, checked his banana bread and figured it was done. He took it out and set it in the sink to let it cool – just as the radar alarm went off…!

He stepped up to the inside steering station and looked at the display, then peered out into the fog…

“Yes, there you are,” he said as he looked at the aircraft carrier emerging from the fog about 2 miles ahead. He’d have to alter course hard to the right, so he went topside and disconnected the wind-vane self-steering rig, and then, once back at the wheel, he turned on the autopilot and changed course to 90 degrees magnetic. She was falling off the wind now so he let out the sails a little, adjusting them both with the push of a button, then he hardened up a little, to about 85 degrees and a few minutes later the ship passed about a mile to port…

…then came all her escorts…

…cruisers, frigates, a couple of supply ships…and then a submarine surfaced a few hundred yards ahead and a little to port and he watched the sub’s captain appear on the conning tower and he waved as they passed. Then he saw the captain speaking into a microphone…

“You need anything?” he heard through some sort of speaker on the sub.

As he’d had a loud-hailer installed he replied: “Got any dancin’ girls handy?”

“Sorry, we ran out last night.”

“The story of my life.”

Then he watched the captain wave once again and a moment later the sub disappeared beneath the waves. Five minutes later he was alone again; only the slowest support vessels remained on his radar screen…and a few minutes later even they were gone.

And these were the first signs of life he’d seen in 2,300 miles, after not quite three weeks at sea.

“Ya know, a dancing girl would feel pretty good right about now,” he said to no one in particular, then he walked down below and sliced some bread to go with his tea.

+++++

Not quite a week later he made his approach to Bergen, Norway, and he called customs on the VHF; they sent out a boat to guide him to the customs dock. An hour later he was checked into Norway and cleared to make his way into the center of town. A few minutes later he was tied off a few hundred feet from the old fish market, surrounded by what looked like thousands of people.

He was docked stern to the quay so the American flag flying off his stern was now visible to everyone passing by, and this soon caused quite a stir.

“Did you come all the way from America?” one little boy asked, holding his mother’s hand as they gawked at Time Bandit.

“Sure did,” Taggart said, grinning.

“He must be cold, Mama. Look! See how his hands shake?”

He turned away, set about washing the deck with fresh water, then he pulled the sails down from their furlers and bagged them. He wanted to take them up to the sailmakers, have them inspected and cleaned, but it was too late to do that today. He pulled out a chamois and rinsed the windows around the wheelhouse, then he dried them, doing his best to remove any spots that formed. When he’d finished topsides he went below and put on some real clothes and gathered two huge bags of laundry and hauled them topsides, then he looked at his watch. “Too late,” he sighed. “Add that to the list.”

He hopped ashore and walked over to an ATM and grabbed some cash, then made his way to the fish market and had a plate a smoked salmon and grilled shrimp before he set out walking.

A few minutes into his walk he saw a physicians office, noted they were open and went inside.

“Can I help you?” a young woman said in clear English.

“Do I really look like an American?”

“Yes, you do.”

“What is it? How can you tell?”

“The New York Yankees baseball cap. Dead giveaway.”

“Ah.”

“So, what can I do for you?”

“I just have some medications I need to get refilled.”

“I hate to ask, but do you have insurance?”

“Not anything beyond my US policy.”

She handed him a brochure. “This is information on a medical insurance policy good throughout  the EU, Norway, Sweden, all of Scandinavia, really. If you try to fill these the cost will be exorbitant, but with this policy they’ll cost almost nothing.”

“It’s medical insurance, too? Is it any good?”

“Yes, very. You can sign up online, make your payment, and it will be good within a matter of hours. If you’ll give me your prescriptions I’ll get the forms ready for you to take to the pharmacy, and you can pick them up in the morning?”

He smiled. “Sounds good. Do you know where I could find a laundry? I’ve got two huge bags to get done.”

“Are you wanting to do it yourself, or have someone do it for you?”

“It’s too much for me to handle, I’m afraid.”

“In that case, there’s a laundry that will do it for you up that alley, and they are open all night. They do hotel laundry, that sort of thing, but all the fishing boats that come in use them too.”

“You, Madam, are a lifesaver. Many thanks.”

“Would you mind if I take your blood pressure?”

“No?”

“Good. Please, be seated. I’ll be right back.”

She came back with a little rolling cart loaded with everything she needed, then she took his BP, temperature, and counted out his pulse. He also noted she was a physician, and not the receptionist or a nurse.

“Your pressure is a little low. Are you taking medications for your Parkinson’s?”

Of course, he’d not mentioned he had Parkinson’s. Was it really so fucking obvious all the fucking time?

“Yes, here they are,” he said, handing over all his bottles.

She wrote everything down, scribbled his name down too. “What’s your date of birth?”

He told her. 

“So, you’re – what – fifty eight?”

“That’s right.”

“And did you just come across from America?”

“Yes.”

“How many in your crew?”

“Just me.”

She put her pencil down and looked up at him. “Excuse me? Did you say you’re alone?”

“I think so. In fact, I’m pretty damn certain I was alone the whole way.”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but did anyone advise against your doing this?”

“The list is long, Doc. Too long to recite right now, anyway.”

“I see. So you are, like, a crazy person?”

“Probably so. But I won’t tell if you won’t.”

She smiled. “If you don’t mind, I’m closing up now but I’d like to see your boat. Would that be alright?”

“She’s not the cleanest thing right now, but if you don’t mind, I don’t mind.”

The physician went back into the office and turned off all the lights, then she led him to the front door and locked it behind them. 

“I’m down by the fish market,” he said.

“Lucky you. You’re early in the season. Two weeks from now you won’t be able to moor this close to the city.”

“I may gain ten pounds eating smoked salmon, too.”

“You could stand to gain ten pounds, Mr Taggart. Twenty pounds would be even better.”

“Music to my ears. I saw a five pound lobster up there with my name all over it. Well, here we are.”

“Time Bandit? So, are you stealing time?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Every chance I get.”

She nodded, then with the grace of a gazelle she leapt over to the swim platform and stepped up to the aft deck.

He did so rather less gracefully.

“Well, follow me,” he said as he led her down the companionway and into Bandit’s cocoon-like interior. 

“You need to get some padding on these corners,” she said, pointing at the dining table. “Where’s the galley?”

“Down there,” he said, pointing. “Mind me asking, but is this some kind of official inspection?”

“Sort of. As a physician, I’m required to report any vessels with potentially unsafe operators. It is a coast guard requirement.”

“Well, please take into consideration I just sailed three thousand miles across the Atlantic, without any trouble I might add.”

“Frankly, Mr. Taggart, I am amazed. Anyway, you needn’t worry. I’m not going to write you up for any violations…if that’s why you’re frowning.”

“Well, I feel like you kinda tricked me…into coming down here.”

“Ah. I see. Well, it seems it falls to me, but we have an old custom here. Any sailor crossing the Atlantic, well, the first person you meet has to buy your first dinner here. Lucky me.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“No. Sorry.”

“Well then, let’s go eat some lobster.”

“I hate to say it, Mr Taggart, but I can probably afford a hot dog. We don’t get paid as much as your American doctors.”

“Nobody gets paid as much as our doctors. Not even our doctors.”

“What does that mean?”

“The insurance companies make all the money in America. Lawyers suing doctors come in second.”

“And you know this how?”

“My mother. She was an internist. My father was, of course, a lawyer.”

“Ah, so you would know.”

He led her back up to the aft deck, hopped down to the swim platform then across to the pier. She followed but missed a step on landing and started to fall over backward…

…and he reached out, grabbed her hand, kept her from taking a swim in the icy water.

“Thanks!” she managed to say as she grimaced.

“Are you okay?”

“I think I twisted my ankle. Could you give me a hand?”

He helped her up to the fish market and she took a seat at a table close to an outdoor heater. “What would you like?” he asked.

“You decide. Just tell me the price before you buy anything!”

He went back to the same vendor and picked out a nice three pound lobster and an assortment of smoked fish. He pointed to their table and paid the bill. “Could you bring it over, please? She’s twisted an ankle.”

“Is that Dr. Bauer with you?”

“I think so, yes. And – maybe a couple of beers? And keep the change.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“So, I see you paid. You have broken a tradition thousands of years old!”

“You pull my leg any harder and you’re going to break it.”

“Excuse me?”

“Pulling my leg? Joking with me?”

“Oh, yes, I see. Tell me, are you married?”

“No. You?”

“No, not now.”

“Ah. Divorced?”

“Not really. So, you are divorced as well?”

“No. I never married.”

She looked puzzled. “Are you gay?” she asked flatly.

“No, but I do tend to be on the happy side.”

“What? Oh, yes…happy, gay…I get it. You don’t take many things seriously, do you?”

“As infrequently as I can,” he smiled. “And it drives people mad.”

“And you enjoy doing that? Driving people mad, that is?”

“Immensely.”

“I think I am going to need to ice this ankle,” she said, frowning.

“Painful?”

“Yes, and getting worse.”

“Where can we get an x-ray?”

“You have other things to do. I can manage.”

“We have an old custom where I come from. When we cross the Atlantic and then break a lady’s leg, we help them to the hospital.”

“I see. I had no idea Americans were so, what is the word…?”

“Gallant?”

“Yes, maybe so. We can at least finish dinner, can we not?”

“If you can manage, sure. I’d hate for this lobster to have died in vain.”

“You are a comedian, no? A stand-up? Is that what they call it? Like Robin Williams?”

“My hero. Don’t take his name in vain.”

She shook her head, ate some smoked whitefish. “Where to from here?”

“Reine, up in the…”

“Yes, a beautiful spot. Then north?”

“No, back around to Stockholm, then into the canals.”

“You are mad. You need at least two other people on board to help with the lines, if not they won’t let you transit.”

“I’m sure I’ll be able to find some adventurous hippies in backpacks and Birkenstocks.”

She shook her head. “Nice to have a plan, I guess. So, then to Gothenburg. Where to from there?”

“Copenhagen. Then inland, to Amsterdam. I want to be in Paris for Christmas.”

“That’s going to be quite a trip. I would have thought sharing such an experience would have made it even more meaningful.”

“Well, no one signed up, despite offers of hard cash…” he said, grinning again.

“You are very good at what you do, Mr. Taggart.”

“And what’s that?”

“Pushing people away. I wonder, are you aware you are doing so?”

“Completely.”

“So, you don’t like people very much?”

“I liked my father. No one else has ever measured up, so I figured, ya know, why bother?”

“Indeed.” 

“Well, I’m done. You?”

“Yes, I’ve had enough.” She pulled out a cell phone and made a call to what sounded like a baby sitter, then she called for a taxi – which pulled up within moments. He helped her to the door and she quickly pulled it to. “I’ll not need anymore assistance, please. I’ll see you in the morning, or when you get your insurance matters settled.”

“Are you sure I can’t help?”

She shook her head and the taxi drove off into the new city, and he stood there for a while, feeling kind of lost. It had felt good to talk to another human being, he thought for a moment. ‘But not that good…’

He went back to the Bandit and got his laundry, then trundled back into the old town and dropped it off – with a promise to pick it up first thing in the morning. Suddenly quite tired, he walked back to his little cocoon and dropped into bed, falling into a deep sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Sun slanting through an overhead hatch woke him, and he looked at his watch, saw it was almost noon and then realized his bladder was urgently calling for attention. Standing there, he realized he hadn’t even taken his shoes off, and looking in the mirror he saw a frightful thing staring back; the creature standing there with curly white hair standing at odd angles, and with more white stubble on its face than was considered polite. He went to the chart table and made sure the water pump was on and fired up the water heater, then he made coffee and opened his laptop. He connected to the recommended wifi channel and went to the URL on the insurance brochure, read over the terms and conditions and signed up for an annual policy, paid for it then printed out all the necessary policy information.

He drank his coffee in the shower and just managed to shave without slicing his neck open. His hands were shaking badly, he saw, then he realized he’d missed his late night and early morning doses and cursed at the world. Once dressed and medicated he went topsides and grabbed the sail bags and hauled them shoreside; he hailed a taxi and, after giving the driver an address for the sail loft, he sat back and took a deep breath. He saw the clinic he’d gone to yesterday, even thought he saw the physician inside, but he almost didn’t want to return. Almost didn’t want to see her again. Almost.

He had the taxi wait while he dropped off the sails, then he returned to the laundry and picked up bags and bags of clean clothes. It was after three in the afternoon by the time he finished putting his things away, time for his next dose and long past time to return to the little clinic. The idea of eating fish again made his stomach queasy so he made his way topsides and walked up into the old town. He found a Thai place and had a curry, then – with a sigh – set off for the clinic.

She was just finishing up with a patient when he came in, so he sat and waited. She was walking alright, then he noticed a little walking cast.

“You’re running a little late today, I see,” she said with a pleasant enough smile. “Did you find sleep last night?”

“It found me, and it didn’t leave until noon.”

She laughed a little. “You looked exhausted; I’m glad you rested. How do you feel today?”

He shrugged. “Still tired. How’s the ankle?”

“Not too bad. Come on in,” she said, leading him to an exam room. 

“You don’t have a nurse?”

“Not yet. There is a shortage of nurses here. Actually, a shortage of help, period.”

“How nice.”

“Nice?”

“That everyone is employed?”

“That tends to not be a problem here,” she said as she picked up a stethoscope. “Shirt off, please.” She listened to his heart and lungs, then palpated his neck and under his arms. She found a lump and felt around the area a few times…

“That hurts,” he said, and she nodded.

“Have you noticed anything different lately? More tired than usual, any odd pains or numbness?”

He pointed to his left breast. “Yeah. A little numb, right under the nipple.”

She palpated his breast, pausing a couple of times to feel his left armpit again, then she stepped back. “Pants and underwear down, then turn around and face the table, bend over…”

“Oh, Hell, you’re not gonna…”

“I’m afraid so, yes.”

“Payback time, I see. Please, be gentle. It’s my first time…”

Her greasy finger slipped in and she felt his prostate. “Feels okay,” was all she said, then: “Go ahead and get your clothes on.”

While he dressed she wrote on his chart, then she filled out more forms before she went out front and got on the telephone. He heard her chattering away and decided to come out to the reception area.

“We are going to take a little ride, Mr Taggart. Up to the hospital.”

“Right now?”

“Yes. Now.”

A taxi pulled up and she got him in the back, then walked around and got in beside him.

“I’m not even going to ask,” he managed to say.

“Good.”

She checked him in, walked with him to the lab where they drew vials and vials of blood, then she walked him to radiology.

“You’re going to have a mammogram,” she told him, “then an ultrasound. I’ll meet you right here when you are complete.”

“Finished,” he said, correcting her. 

“Ah. Yes, just so.”

“Did you say mammogram?”

“I did.”

“You do, uh, realize that I don’t have, you know, breasts?”

“Sorry, that is not exactly the case. You may find the procedure a little uncomfortable, but it doesn’t take long.”

“You’re, like, kidding…right?”

She smiled and walked off, back towards the lab, then a tech walked him back to a complex, dimly lit room filled with strange looking contraptions. 

In heavily accented English, the girl told him to stand “Right here!” and to lift his left arm “Just so!” She positioned what felt like a cold plastic clamp of some sort over his left breast and shoved as much tissue into the device as she could, then she closed the clamp…

“Goddam!” he yelled. “Could you POSSIBLY make this goddam thing any more painful?”

“Hold your breath, and don’t move, please.”

The machine whirred and clacked, and he broke out in a little sweat.

She came back and released the clamp, repositioned him and re-engaged the device.

“Do you enjoy doing this?” he snarled. “Is this, like, payback for every bad date you’ve ever been on?”

Without saying a word, she repositioned him once again and he began sweating profusely, and then, when he thought she couldn’t possibly be enjoying the experience more, she came in and told him they were going to do the other breast now.

Bug-eyed, he thought frantically how he wanted to protest that decision, but now the girl had an assistant on hand and he realized further commentary on his part simply wasn’t going to help.

He howled when they first clamped his right breast; the third time he felt like he was going to pass out, then, with his shirt still off, one of the girls led him to another dimly lit room, this one with a table for him to lie down on. Then…goo on the chest, the ultrasound wand pressed into his breasts, then along a line to his armpits. A half hour later, with his shirt on and his pride hanging somewhere south of his knees, he walked out to the waiting room.

“How do you feel?”

“Like I could tear your head off and toss your body to a pack of wild dogs.”

She smiled. “Let’s go get some coffee.”

“I haven’t eaten today. Think we could get something other than fish around here?”

“Probably best not to eat right now.”

“Oh? Why?”

“Let’s wait to hear what the radiologist has to say, hmm?”

“You do know that you are scaring the ever-lovin’ crap out of me, don’t you?”

Again, the noncommittal smile as she led him to what had to be the hospital cafeteria. “Have a seat,” she told him. “I’ll get you something.”

She came back a few minutes later with some sort of hydrating solution and told him to drink it, then her name was paged and she went to a phone on the wall by the attendant and spoke for a minute or so, nodding once, then shaking her head.

“Okay, come with me please.”

“Where to?”

“We need to discuss your results.”

“We do? Well, how nice of you to include me in the discussion.”

“Please, Mr. Taggart. This is going to be difficult enough as is. Stop with the levity, okay?”

“Hey, you handle your world your way. Let me handle mine the way I want, yes?”

“I’m sorry. You are correct.”

Even in Norwegian, the words Surgery and Oncology looked vaguely familiar, and even the surgeon looked the part: fair-skinned and blond, his modestly cultivated face full of freckles, and, of course, he possessed a very calm demeanor.

“We are going to need to go into your left breast, perhaps also through the lymph nodes to your left arm,” the surgeon said. “Normally we’d do this in the early morning, but I understand you’ve not eaten today?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well then, perhaps we should think of moving you to surgery right now.”

“Excuse me, but that won’t work. I’ve got to secure my boat, take care of things there before I can do anything like that. Anyway, would someone please tell me what the devil is going on?”

The surgeon looked at the radiologist’s report. “It would appear you have a malignancy in your left breast, and probably a few lymph nodes are already involved. Waiting is not something you want to do, Mr. Taggart. Am I making myself clear? How long would it take you to secure your boat?”

“I don’t know. An hour?”

“Dr. Bauer? Can you accompany him, see that he finds his way around town without difficulty?”

“Yes, of course. Come on, Henry.”

Sitting in the back of another taxi he felt detached from his body as they bounced along the cobblestone streets. “Is this really happening?” he sighed, and he didn’t resist when she took his hand, then he realized he was crying and looked away, wiped his face as he looked at his reflection in the window. ‘I don’t know you, do I?’ he thought, then he realized that no, he really didn’t know the person in the glass anymore. He was a stranger now. Sick, and, apparently, getting sicker. He shook his head, realized she was still holding his hand and he liked the way she felt. Her skin on his. Simple.

He took her back to the Bandit, this time after walking down a long ramp – forgoing the obligatory hop across the water from the wharf – and he talked her through the ship’s systems in case he needed to be away for more than a day or two. He packed a little overnight bag, underwear, toothbrush, those things he might need for an overnight stay, then they walked the long way up to the street. Yet another taxi back to the hospital, and she walked him to admitting and he passed over his new insurance papers, his passport, his US medical insurance papers just for good measure, and after the clerk finished with them Bauer led him to the waiting room outside of surgery.

“I’ll see you in the recovery room,” Bauer said, smiling just a little.

“Why are you doing this?” Taggart asked.

“Nobody should be alone at a time like this. It has fallen on me to be here for you.”

He nodded. “It was the least you could do, right? After making me pay for dinner last night?”

She smiled, squeezed his hand, then watched him disappear into the pre-op area before she took a taxi back to her clinic.

+++++

He woke in a haze, an opiate fueled haze of blissful comfort. It was, he realized, a little like sitting in an inner-tube and floating down a river on a sunny day. Pleasant, care free, a lazy day.

Then he saw Bauer and it all came back in a rush.

His throat was sore, his chest felt heavy, and his left arm wouldn’t move. This last realization bothered him most of all, because he’d need that arm to steer…

She saw he was awake and stood, came to his bedside and took his hand again.

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” he croaked, his mouth dry, his voice ragged.

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”

He smiled. “Ah, at last. A kindred spirit.”

And she smiled too. “I’ve been to the boat. All is well down there.”

“Good. Do you know how long I’ll be tied up in here?”

“I should let your oncologist talk about your options before you consider that.”

“You’re a physician, no? You can’t tell me?”

“I could, but I’d rather not.”

“Humor me. Go ahead, I can take it,” he said, grinning.

“Jokes might not help today, Henry. You might not want to push aside the feelings you’ll have so easily.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Not good.”

“Chemo? Radiation? All those delightful things?”

She nodded. “At the very least.”

“Prognosis?”

She smiled, shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“Well, Hell. ‘I don’t know’ sounds very bad indeed.”

Again she just smiled, though she squeezed his hand again.

“Suppose I just check out of this hotel and take off. How long would I have? Enough to make it to Paris for Christmas?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Yeow! Well, now you’ve got my complete attention.”

“This is not my area of specialization, Henry. You really should talk with your oncologist about your options.”

He yawned, his eyes watered and she wiped them dry. “Would you like some ice to chew on?”

“All things considered, I’d rather have a beer.”

She smiled, shook her head and nodded at an unseen nurse; a minute later she used a spoon to feed him a few pieces of crushed ice, then wiped his forehead with a damp washcloth. The nurse came in a few minutes later and injected morphine into his IV, and within seconds he was adrift on the river again, marveling at how good the sun felt beating down on his shoulders.

+++++

Two days later he – finally – crawled out of bed, and he stood before a mirror when his nurse changed the bandages covering his surgical wound. He looked at the broad, circular cut under his left breast with a curious mixture of dread and outright horror, but the hideously long incision from there to his armpit looked more like something from a slasher flick. When he saw the drain dangling there he started to feel light-headed and asked to sit down.

A little later another nurse came in and wrapped his upper body in a clear plastic wrap, then she helped him walk to the shower. He sat in there and let the water beat down on his head for what felt like hours, but nothing seemed to wash away the sight of those incisions. 

His oncologist wanted to start chemotherapy immediately, but he had put her off. When he explained why she shook her head…

“There is a chance we can help you beat this, you know?” she said.

“It’s not much of a chance,” he countered. “And I’m not sure I want to spend the time I have left vomiting and watching my hair fall out.”

“We have new medicines that keep most of these things from happening…”

“And I have places to go, things I want to do.”

The oncologist knew she wasn’t going to change his mind, and at last she let her guard down. “You know, I think if I was in your position I might do the same thing.”

“But?”

“No buts, Mr. Taggart. In a way, your position makes perfect sense to me, and I’ll not stand in your way. It is, after all is said and done, your life. So it is your choice to make.”

“Okay. Can you give me an idea how long I might have, and how active I can be?”

“I could, but you won’t like what I have to say.”

He shrugged, then winced as lightning bolts of hot pain tore through his upper chest.

“You’ll want to heal before you try to sail again. Maybe a month, perhaps six weeks, but you’ll need to take things carefully, slowly.”

“Look, all I really want to know is this. Will I make it to Christmas?”

She shrugged. “That’s about six months away. You might, but by then you’ll be in a very precarious state.”

“Define precarious, please.”

“Very close to death.”

He nodded, felt a cold vice gripping his soul. “Well, that’s clear enough.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Hey. I asked, didn’t I?”

“Dr. Bauer tells me you plan on sailing up to the Lofotens. Reine, I think she said?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“It’s a beautiful trip. I envy you. But, why Paris?”

“Oh, when I was a kid my parents took me there for Christmas. I was seven years old the first time we went.”

“You went more than once?”

“Every year, all the way through high school.”

“I see. Yes, I think I can understand that.”

“Paris feels like going home to me, I think. Anyway, maybe completing the circle is a better way of looking at it.”

“You know, for an American that seems pretty unusual.”

“I had unusual parents.”

She nodded. “Well, I guess that’s that. There’s nothing more I can say, really.”

“Did I buy some time, doc? Doing this surgery?”

“A little, yes. Will it be enough? I honestly don’t know the answer to that, Mr. Taggart.”

He took a deep breath, winced at the pain and cursed when he saw his hands shaking. “Time for my meds,” he said.

“I’ll get your nurse.”

“Doc?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks. Thanks for everything.” She nodded and walked from his room, and he did not see her stop and lean against the wall, gasping for breath or see her crying. 

Dr. Bauer came by before lunch, just in time to see his latest reaction to Norwegian hospital food.

“It must be a universal law. All hospital food must, by law, suck.”

“Yes, it’s our secret weapon. How else could we get patients to leave so quickly?”

He nodded as he looked at the stuff on his tray, in the end pushing it away. “They tell me I can leave in the morning. How’s the Bandit?”

“Oh, just fine. My son is onboard, cleaning up a little.”

“Your son? I didn’t know…”

“He loves boats,” she said quickly. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. How old is he?”

“Fourteen, going on forty.”

He grinned. “Ah yes, I know the type well. Tell me, is he as sarcastic as I am?”

“Not yet, but give him time. Anyway, I will come for you in the morning around ten. Sorry, but I must get to the clinic now.”

And then she was gone.

+++++

His dreams were terrible that night. Nightmares punctuated by flailing interludes of restless turning, and it didn’t help that ‘night’ seemed to last a little less than two hours. By four in the morning he was sitting up on the side of the bed, doing the prescribed exercises that would, hopefully, help get his left arm back into the game. Ever since high school he’d lifted weights, and running every day had kept his legs brutally strong, and he felt like he the reserves of strength necessary to recuperate while sailing Bandit…but time would tell. Thoughts like these played with him, toyed with his sense of himself until he began to question everything he’d ever done.

Nurses came in and drew blood, then one stayed behind and wrapped him in plastic again, this time showing him how he would need to do it by himself once he was back on board, and once again he sat under the hot water, lost in thought.

‘I can do this.’

‘I can’t handle wiping my own ass right now. How on earth can I take the Bandit back out to sea?’

‘Maybe I should just put her on the market, go back to California…’

But making it to Paris for Christmas, one more Christmas, still seemed the best thing to do, and sitting there under that endless stream of hot water, he just knew he could handle his little ship and get her there.

A heap of gelatinous yellow muck, something that was supposed to approximate scrambled eggs, arrived after his shower, then that pretty oncologist dropped by once again.

She pointed at his tray: “What in God’s name is that?”

“Scrambled eggs. Want some?”

She leaned over, looked at the pile of yellow goo, almost studying it before she backed away in disgust. “Well, no surprises in your lab work, no new infection, anyway, so I’ll sign your discharge orders. Do you have any questions for me while you’re here?”

“Not unless you can transplant my brain into a new body.”

“Sorry. We’re all out of fresh bodies this week.”

“Ain’t it the truth.”

“So. It is off to the Lofoten Islands for you? When will you leave?”

“I’d imagine a week or so.”

“That is much to soon. Don’t do it.”

“Okay.”

“Where is your boat moored?”

“Tied up almost right in front of the fish market, down in the old town.”

“Nice. Would you mind if I dropped by sometime? See how you’re doing?”

“No, not at all – I’ll look forward to it.”

She smiled. “Ah, well, then I’ll see you soon. Good morning to you.”

“Yes, bye…” he said quickly to her retreating lab coat.

He stood up – too quickly – and the room began to spin…so he sat down and held on to the bed rails until the feeling passed, taking deep breaths all the while, then he tried again…this time more slowly.

“That’s better,” he said as he shuffled across the cold floor to the little dresser where his clothes had been stashed. He slipped out of his gown and pulled on clean underwear, troubled by how difficult even this menial chore seemed now, then he tried to pull his shirt on…and that proved to be simply impossible. He couldn’t raise his left arm high enough to get his arm in the sleeve, so he pulled the shirt off in disgust and threw it on the floor, walked back to the bed.

One of the dayshift nurses came in, saw his shirt on the floor and picked it up. “Having trouble?”

He grumbled, shook his head.

“Ah, I think perhaps you are.”

More grumbling, dark clouds forming over his head.

“Try to gather it up and work the shirt up your bad arm, like this,” she said, holding the shirt up and gently sliding the sleeve up his left arm. “Now, over your head, then get the other arm through, like this.”

“Okay,” he snarled. “Now, what about socks, and tying my shoes?”

“One thing at a time.”

By the time Bauer arrived, he was covered in sweat and his mood had darkened considerably. And he had still not managed to get his shoes on. She saw his frustration, then all his sweat-soaked clothing, and bent down, put on his shoes without saying a word. An orderly helped him into a wheelchair and got him to the street; Bauer helped him into a small van she’d hired to pick him up.

Getting onto Bandit proved even more problematic, and by the time he made it up into the cockpit he was almost in tears. Doing even the smallest things required two hands, and that meant two working arms, yet his left was still strapped to his torso, and now totally useless. Sensing his mood, Bauer left him on deck and returned to her clinic.

After school let out, Rolf Bauer met his mother there, and they went down to Bandit together. She’d thought about postponing this meeting but Henry had insisted, wanting to thank the boy for his hard work.

“So, this is your boy?”

“Yes. Rolf, say hello to Mr. Taggart.”

“It’s Henry, Rolf. Okay?”

“Okay. Nice to meet you, Henry.”

“Well, you did a bang-up job up here, really great. Many thanks!”

“You are welcome. Mother tells me you are sailing up to the Lofotens?”

“Yes. Yes, indeed.”

“I’ve never been.”

“Ah. Well, what did you have in mind?”

“I could act as crew, maybe?”

“Rolf!” his mother cried. “You cannot ask such a thing, it’s simply not polite to make such a request.”

Taggert watched the interplay between mother and son, all his pent up hope and her surprised reprisal, with a sense of brooding déjà vu streaming through his mind’s eye. Rolf, he saw, was a budding Henry! A real ‘smart ass’ in the making! A true kindred spirit! His mother? Overbearing, a little too controlling, kind of like someone he remembered…

“Excellent!” Henry said. “I could use an extra pair of hands!”

Which stopped mother and son dead in their tracks.

“What did you say?” mother and son said in the same breath.

“Sounds good to me?” Henry said, now grinning sheepishly. “And now, I need some food. Some real food. Anyone care to join me for dinner?”

“I would!” Rolf said, holding up his hand like he was still in school.

Henry looked at Bauer. “You too? Or are you going to stand there and pout all night?”

“Yes, of course I’ll join you,” she said.

“Do you know,” he chimed in, “that I have no idea what your name is?”

“Britt,” Dr. Bauer said. “I’m sorry, I just thought…”

“Britt? Britt Bauer? Okay, so BB it is…”

“BB?”

Rolf burst out laughing. “I love it! BB! Ha-ha-ha…”

“Oh, this is going to be a fun evening,” he said as he passed Britt on his way to the swim platform. 

She rolled her eyes.

When they’d made it up to the street he looked around, shook his head.

“No seafood for me tonight,” he snarled.

“I want Indian!” Rolf blurted out, and as his mother was about to correct him he cut in.

“My favorite! I didn’t know y’all had Indian food up here?”

“Really?” Britt said. “You really like it?”

“Hell yes, the hotter the better.”

“Me too!” Rolf cried.

“I feel a contest of wills building here, boy. You better not be foolin’ around, ‘cause I’m a pro from way back.”

She walked behind them, watched this frightful old American and her equally frightful son getting along like best friends who hadn’t seen each other in years and she couldn’t help but wonder…could this work? Could her son help this comedic lost soul? Could this lost soul fill in the gaps, help her son grow out of his years long depression? Was it worth the risk? 

“Damn, it’s getting cool out,” he said after a few minutes walking.

“You’re anemic, cold will effect you a little more now.”

“Of course it will. Why not?”

“I will put you on an iron supplement tomorrow.”

“Maybe I could just buy a sweater, like that one!”

There was a shop full of sweaters in a window display but she held out her hand. “Those are very expensive, you might want to try another shop…”

“Nonsense, these look fantastic. Dale of Norway. How about that…”

“It is pronounced like the word doll.”

“Of course it is,” he said as he stepped into the shop. He walked right up to one he liked and held it up to himself, checking for size. “Think this one is too big?”

“It might be a little difficult to put on,” she said, trying to be helpful.

“True. A cardigan it is, then.” He found one and she helped him with it. “Now this is comfy. Warm, too.”

“They are the best sweaters in the world,” Rolf said. 

“And I’ll bet you have two of them.”

“No,” he said, frowning.

“Well, pick one out.”

“Really?”

“Rolf,” his mother said, “no!”

“Rolf, ignore your mother.”

“You have no right to do this!” Britt cried.

“I have every right. Your son worked for hours on my boat. I need to do something for him, don’t I?”

She looked crestfallen and turned away.

“And you might as well pick one out, too.”

They walked out of the shop ten minutes later in black sweaters. There were lots of smiles all around.

Rolf ordered a beef vindaloo at the Indian place, and asked for it ‘extra hot’…

Mom order chicken tikka masala, mild.

“Lamb masala. Napalm.”

“I beg your pardon, sahib?” their perplexed waiter said.

“So hot it’ll melt my fork?”

“You are sure, sahib?”

“Oh yeah, baby. Bring it on.”

“I beg your pardon, sahib?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Very good, sahib.”

He sat back and looked at BB, really for the first time since they’d met. She looked to be 35, maybe 40 years old, and she looked like a mother. He didn’t know why, but she did. Maybe a little too stressed out when Rolf was around? Like she was in over her head? Beyond that, she looked like almost every other Norwegian girl he’d seen since he got here: tall, skinny, big tits, blond hair and a huge, toothy smile. In short, they looked like every other girl in Southern California, and probably ninety nine percent of the girls in Newport Beach.

The major difference, as far as he could tell, was that BB spoke better English than the girls in Southern California, and he’d long ago given up trying to understand girls from the San Fernando Valley…the so-called Valley Girls. They were an alien species.

Even so, he didn’t find her all that attractive, and sitting there beside her he wondered why. She was, really, objectively pretty. She was obviously intelligent, too. ‘So, why don’t I find her cute?’ he asked himself.

‘Maybe because you’re too fucking old, you asshole?’ he said, grinning.

“What are you smelling about?” she asked.

“I can’t wait to taste my masala. I bet it’s going to burn my lips off.”

Rolf laughed, she smiled…a little, too.

Then their plates came.

“You know,” he said, looking directly at Britt, “over in the States when we order like this, we share. We each take a little bit from each dish, so that way we get to sample them all.”

And she looked right back at him: “No way. I am not so stupid.”

“Rolf? You think you’re up to the challenge?”

“What did you say? Bring it on, Baby?”

“That’s my man. Pass me your plate!”

He split his serving into two portions and put half on Rolf’s plate, then he did the same with Rolf’s vindaloo. Staring at this culinary armageddon, he ripped off a piece of naan and pushed some vindaloo onto his fork and ate it.

The heat built slowly, and it was noticeably warm but not overwhelmingly hot, so he took a deep breath and loaded his fork with his weapons-grade masala. One look at the fumes rising from his fork should have been ample warning, but he sighed then put the fork in his mouth.

He chewed twice and swallowed, then downed a glass of water – which only made it worse.

“Mother of God…” he whispered, “this shit is hot.” He saw his waiter talking to one of the cooks, both were laughing and high-fiving…which, under the circumstances, was not a particularly good sign.

“My turn,” Rolf said, scooping up a mega-forkful of the masala and stuffing it unceremoniously into his mouth. His eyes popped wide open, he began sweating, then he swallowed and reached for his water.

“Hey, Buddy, it don’t help…” 

The kid let loose a string of Norse profanity which, of course, prompted a blistering counterattack by his mother. And while she was so engaged, Henry took a prodigious scoop of his masala and placed it on her fork.

Rolf saw the move and apologized to his mother, who then sat back and picked up her fork. Seconds later the deed was done.

She brought her napkin to her mouth and he heard her mutter something that sounded suspiciously like a Viking war-cry, a new version of “Die, Motherfuckers!” – then she too picked up her glass of water and downed it in one gulp. 

All three were now beet red and sweating like hogs, the cooks and waiters were laughing so hard that one had fallen on the floor, but still the other patrons had no idea what was going on…until Henry stood up and announced to one and all that – “Goddamn! My asshole is on fire! Somebody! Quick, give me some ice!” 

A waiter brought a scoop full of the stuff, and Taggart took the ice and shoved it down the back of his pants as he hopped towards the bathroom.

Now everyone in the restaurant was howling; Rolf’s crimson face was tear-streaked and Britt was laughing so hard she felt light-headed…

Henry Taggart calmed down as soon as he made it to the restroom, then he washed his hands and wiped his face with a paper towel. “You still got it, Champ.” With the ice thoroughly broken now, he thought it was time to get to the bottom of this little Britt-Rolf war-thing, and figure out a way to put an end to it…

+++++

They made it back to the Bandit way past Rolf’s bedtime, so Britt decided to tuck him in up in the foreword berth, then she rejoined Henry up in the cockpit.

“I don’t know how you get used to it?”

“What?” she asked.

“It’s a quarter past ten and it looks like three in the afternoon…”

She smiled. “Thank you for the sweaters. That was very sweet.”

“I saw the look in his eyes after he put it on. That was worth a million bucks.”

“Why didn’t you get married? You seem like you’d make a good father.”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

“Yes, but what I saw tonight wasn’t deception.”

He leaned back, crossed his arms. “What about you? Divorced? From what I can see, a man would have to be crazy to divorce you.”

She seemed to hesitate, thinking about how to say what she needed to say. “Rolf’s father was in the air force. He died in a training accident.”

“I’m sorry. You said…were you, uh, not married?”

“That’s right. Everything happened a few months before we were supposed to get married.”

“So, you’ve raised him on your own?”

“Yes.”

“Had you finished medical school?”

“I was an intern when he died, yes.”

“Sounds like a difficult time.”

“You know, I look back on it now and it was the best time of my life. I loved every minute of his childhood.”

“You’re a good mom.”

“You think so?”

“Seems like you care enough for two mothers, so yes, I think so.”

“My mother helped.”

“Oh? What is she like?”

“You know her. Haven’t you made an opinion yet?”

“Excuse me? I know your mother?”

“Yes, she’s your Oncologist.”

His eyes opened a bit more on hearing that. “Really? I had no idea.”

“Yes, I called her as soon as I suspected something. She got you right in.”

“She did seem to take a personal interest.”

“Yes, because I had taken a personal interest. She still looks after me, you see.”

“I think I understand. Has she made your life difficult?”

Britt shook her head. “No, not really. She has controlled my life, but she…”

“I guess some parents do that. Maybe out of instinct, or perhaps because that’s the way they were raised.”

She shrugged. “Maybe.”

“So, about Rolf. Does he have any experience sailing?”

“A little.”

“Enough?”

“I don’t think so. Conditions off this coast can turn very harsh in a matter of minutes.”

“You’d rather he didn’t go?”

“I’m not sure, Henry. It could be a marvelous experience for him, and I say that because I think you might be a very good teacher. He is also at an age where he will remember something like this, and for the rest of his life. It could be a very good thing.”

“So, maybe a good thing? What are the negatives you see?”

“That you have Parkinson’s, and a very serious cancer.”

“Oh. That.”

“If something happened to you, would he know what to do? Could he take care of the ship and you? And if the weather turned violent, then what?”

“Sounds we need another adult to come.”

“I know nothing about sailing, and anyway, I could not take so much time off. This is the clinic’s busiest time of the year, and we are state supported so very rigidly controlled.”

“Oh well, something else to think about.”

“Unfortunately, I know someone perfect. A physician and a more than competent sailor.”

“And?”

“My mother.”

“I see.”

“No, Henry. I don’t think you do. But I can promise you one thing. She sees. She sees everything before it happens. She knows everything…before it happens.”

“Speaking sarcastically, of course.”

“Oh no, not in the least. Those who believe in mysticism, such people call it clairvoyance, others who know her well dismiss her ability as the expression of a profound empathy. But whatever it might be, when you’ve spent enough time around her, as I have, like Rolf has, you understand that one thing is true. You disregard her at your peril. You listen to her and, well Henry, you learn to have an open mind.”

“Empathy. Yes, I saw something like that in her eyes.”

“Yes, but it is much more than that. Still, I can tell you little else.”

“Should I ask her if she has any interest in coming?”

“You could ask, yes. But she already knows. And she has already made her mind up.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“She is a force of nature, Mr. Taggart. Please try to understand that much before you dismiss her out of hand.”

“She is my oncologist. Believe me, I take what she has to say most seriously.”

“Your hands are shaking, Henry. Is it time for your medication?”

He looked at his watch. “Damn. Fifteen minutes late.”

“You need a better system. Perhaps an alarm clock?”

He reached inside a pocket and pulled out a bottle, then slipped a pill under his tongue. “You know, it’s amazing how pleasant it is, even in the middle of the night.”

“It’s the Gulf Stream. Even this far north it moderates the climate, and in winter most of the coast remains ice free.” She yawned, and her eyes watered a little in the breeze.

“Ready for bed? There’s room up forward, with Rolf, and there’s a tiny stateroom just across from the Galley if you’d prefer.”

“Would you make love to me?”

He blinked several times in rapid succession, shook his head a couple of times. “You know, I didn’t see that coming.”

“A few hours ago, neither did I. Would you?”

“You know, Britt, I think the operant question right now is can I? The thing is, I can’t remember the last time…”

“Maybe we should go find out,” she said, holding out her hand.

And he took it, led her to his cabin under the aft deck.

It took a few minutes to coax ‘things’ back to life, but in the end ‘things’ worked just fine after all.

+++++

There was work to do, of course. Any trans-oceanic crossing exacts a heavy toll on almost every system on a sailing vessel, no matter the size. Rigging had to be inspected, the sails re-installed on their furlers, too. Engine oil had to be drawn and analyzed, the shaft stuffing box repacked. The water-makers membranes had to be flushed, the propane lines checked, and the propane tanks refilled. The main water tanks had to be emptied, flushed, emptied and refreshed until the lines ran clear. Diesel tanks emptied, the contents spun through a series of filters to removed any algae, then the tanks polished and refilled. All thru-hull fittings checked and rechecked…the list was almost endless and, even with professional help, took Taggart ten days to complete. Rolf was still in school, but the boy came down every afternoon and helped out for several hours, retiring to the saloon table down below to finish his homework and study for final exams. After a few days of this, his mother agreed to let him sleep on board; a few days later she started sleeping over, enjoying Henry’s company more and more.

On his first Saturday morning onboard, Henry sent the boy up the mast in a bosun’s chair; his mission – un-do all electronic fittings and spray with Boe-Shield, let dry and re-attach. Then spray all shrouds and stays with WD-40, then more Boe-Shield. He donned a wetsuit and grabbed a tank out of his locker, then slipped under the water and replaced all the anodes, finishing off the underwater work with a light scrub-down of the anti-fouling paint, clearing the ship’s bottom of speed-robbing plant-life.

All of it was a new routine, completely different than the time he’d spent with Time Bandit before he started the crossing. After taking delivery in Connecticut, he taken her up through the Cape Cod Canal to Boston, then up to Northeast Harbor, in Acadia National Park. He spent a few days anchored out in Somes Sound, then refueled before setting out for Norfolk, Virginia. He transited the Great Dismal Swamp Canal, first laid out by George Washington, then worked his way down to Charleston using the Intra-Coastal Waterway. As winter was settling-in up north, he had continued south to Key West, stopping in Miami for meds and a check-up.

It was true, he discovered. The sun was a restorative. He soaked it up for hours on end, and he was amazed at how good it felt after two months on the water. Even more amazing was Key West, and how he fell into the whole Conch-Republic vibe. He rediscovered drinking, then found that his medications and alcohol didn’t mix well. He ate foods he’d never tried before, weird stuff like deep-fried alligator tail and chicken wings so hot he cried, and in a way, he felt like he was beginning to shed old layers of skin, ridding himself of old, comfortable ways of being, in the process becoming something new and different…and as he grew more aware of these changes he found he was as confused as he was exhilarated. 

The boat scene in Florida was radically different than what he was used to, as well. Many more people were full-time liveaboards down here, and like any alternative community these people gathered and shared experiences and advice; in the Keys they came together around campfires on the beach or at bars in town, and he found himself falling into that vibe, too. He’d never done these kinds of things before, and he found himself pushing out of his comfort zone, sometimes being pushed, because these people had been there, done that, and recognized the symptoms of Henry’s long-constricted way of seeing the world.

Though he thought he was an experienced sailor, he soon learned the ins-and-outs of the live-aboard life, and he began to think that – assuming he could manage his Parkinson’s – he really could see living this way for the rest of his life. Yet he felt a hollow emptiness more acutely now, too, because most every “liveaboard” he ran across was part of a couple. He felt different, more like he was on the outside looking in. Different, and not just because of his medical condition.

Yet he still found that he had little interest in hooking up, and in a way he understood that his experience in college, watching those blond things latched onto the arms of Saudi princes, had really colored his take on relationships. He questioned the sincerity of things like love and fidelity, reduced them to equations of fiduciary responsibility that he could, in his mind, anyway, reduce to simple lines of code.

One night at a bar a girl came on hard and he’d almost been tempted, then she told him her price, what a few hours in the sack would cost, and with all his prejudices confirmed he washed his hands of the idea for good, prepared to enjoy the rest of his life as a singleton. He pulled away from the boaties after that, began to insulate himself from the world again, relying, as he had since he first started school, on sarcasm to maintain a certain kind of safe distance from people.

As winter washed away he sailed north, followed the Gulf Stream between Bermuda and the mainland as Spring came on, and he stopped off in Connecticut at the dealer, made sure Time Bandit was indeed sound enough for the crossing that lay just ahead. Two weeks later, in late April, he departed US waters on a great circle course that would take him just south of Greenland and Iceland, past the Faroes and Shetlands to Bergen. And in a way, he set his new life’s course in motion, too. What Henry Taggart did not, indeed, could not fathom was the depth of uncertainty that lay ahead.

Every journey is fraught with unknown hazards and frequent moments of incredible beauty, even joy, yet here was a man almost completely unprepared to join with others of his own kind. He had insulated himself from the vagaries of human companionship for so long that he simply had no idea what could happen when life caught him unprepared for the obvious, and because words like friendship and love had become ossified abstractions, he was equally unprepared to face the consequences of his previous existence.

Because the human soul craves companionship, and Henry Taggart was a starving man, wandering through a desert of his own creation, living a life tinted through the warped lens of a stunted imagination. Because he could not even imagine what might come next, he was completely unprepared when nature decided to reset his course.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | here ends part one; look for the conclusion in a week or so.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 36

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 36

____________________________________

He walked towards Cathy’s kitchen, his eyes downcast, his mood bleak, yet when he opened the door all kinds of aromas rushed through the air…with all the scents of ‘home’ and ‘breakfast’ making a ruthless assault on his senses. In a way, they tried to push aside Callahan’s sudden depression and, in a way, they did indeed work a little of their magic. He looked up and tried to smile, saw Frank and Evelyn looking at him, while Cathy seemed to reserve her examination to Evelyn, and, perhaps, how she was reacting to Harry. 

“You passed-out on me,” Frank said as Callahan stepped inside, “and I thought I’d better just let sleeping dogs do what they do, ya know?”

“Thanks. It kind of feels like I passed out,” Callahan said as he carried his coffee cup over to the sink. He rinsed it out and left it in the sink. “Man, it sure smells good in here.”

Cathy chimed in then: “I’m doing the eggs and bacon; Evelyn is making pancakes. And Harry, she makes good pancakes, so beware…”

“Yeah. Harry, come on over and meet my sister,” Frank said. “Evelyn? Meet my partner in crime, Harry Callahan.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Evelyn said, and Callahan found he simply couldn’t take his eyes off hers. They were kind of silver blue, like Franks, but there all similarities ended. Her eyes were soft, almost liquid, whereas Frank’s were peregrine. Frank was, generally speaking, compact, almost brutally so, while Evelyn seemed almost the exact opposite…fluid and almost lanky while not really tall. She was soft and polished where Frank was hard as nails.

“Yeah,” Harry said, holding out his right hand, “me too. I’ve heard a lot about you.” She grinned, and Callahan noted an uncanny similarity to Franks.

“All bad, I’m sure.”

Harry smiled. “All of it. Every word.”

She feigned anger and turned on her big brother. “Oh…you!” she said as pretended to sock her brother’s arm – in slow motion.

“Well,” Frank continued, “she really does make the best pancakes, and she brought some real maple syrup with her.”

“Oh?” Callahan said. “Where from?”

“Vermont. We, I mean, well, I have been teaching there for a couple of years. It’s more addicting than heroin, or so I’m told.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

She smiled, but it was kind of a pouty-frown kind of smile, though her eyes still sparkled. “Okay, I need to get in there and wash my hands. Why don’t you guys get lost for a little bit – while Cathy and I get to work?”

“Got it,” Bullitt said, turning to Harry. “Let’s go over and take a look at your house.”

Harry nodded when he saw the look in Frank’s eyes, and he followed Frank out the front door.

“A-Chief called me first thing this morning. Threlkis’ lawyers plan to file a wrongful death action first thing tomorrow morning.”

“So the old fart croaked?”

“Big time. Right there at the table, in front of God and about two hundred hoods. My guess is those hoods now have a lottery going, to see who can nail you first.”

“Good. Sounds fun.”

“Damnit, Harry, don’t you get it? Every goon in California just pasted a target on your back.”

“Yeah? So what’s new?”

“What do you have on that homicide out at Sutro?”

“The vic lives in San Paulo. I have a possible suspect, she lives in the city, but grew up there.”

“Next step?”

“Going to send a request to the San Paulo PD CID for more information on the vic and his ties to a couple of gangs operating in the area…”

“What was his CCH?”

“Robberies, drugs, dealing, a couple of DUIs, and he was recently found not guilty on a homicide case up in Oregon.”

“Prison?”

“Yup. A couple of long stretches.”

“Ballistics?”

“A thirty-eight plus P; Remington, semi-jacketed hollow point. Fired into the area above the penis with the muzzle less than an inch off the skin. The bullet – was lodged in the tailbone.”

“Ouch.”

“Bad way to end the day, that’s for sure. Second tap was to the forehead, same thing, about an inch from the skin.”

“So, she knew enough not to put the barrel directly on the skin. Interesting.”

“Firearms training, according to a recent arrest report, as well as a White Warrant application.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, Frank. She was on a mission.”

“Next step?”

“Going to look around the city for her, tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got court first thing in the morning.”

“Anything I was in on?”

“No, just a petty thug, evidence is pretty thin though. DA thinks he’ll walk.”

“Figures.”

“Same song, different day.”

“Okay, boys,” Evelyn said through a barely cracked front door, “y’all come on in now!”

“Coming,” Frank said, then he turned to Harry. “So, what do you think?”

“About?”

“Evelyn, you moron!”

“She’s cute.”

“And?”

“Frank?”

“Yeah, Harry.”

“Don’t set a wedding date just yet.”

“Already have. Christmas Day.”

Callahan shook his head as he followed Frank back into the house. 

“Swell,” he whispered as he walked into the kitchen…where he was confronted by a plate groaning under the strain of a mountain sized portion of pancakes. “Is this for the table?” he asked.

“Nope,” Evelyn said. “Those are all for you!”

There were five pancakes on the plate, each one not quite an inch thick and about a foot in diameter. He groaned as he guessed that about one stick of butter had been slathered on top of and between the cakes…

“You’re over here,” Cathy said, pointing to the place next to her’s.

And he saw another plate was already there, this one containing three eggs, a pile of bacon and some honeydew melon.

“Damn, Cathy, I’ve got enough right on this plate to feed a family…!”

“Frank has this every morning,” she said, grinning. “Don’t you, honey?”

Frank was bug-eyed as he carried his platter to the table. “Oh, sure. You bet,” he just managed to say before he burst out laughing.

Evelyn came over and sat on Callahan’s other side, and her plate had one small pancake and a single over easy egg.

Callahan frowned. “I sense a plot at work here, Frank. Don’t you?” And then Harry used a knife and fork to lift two pancakes, and these he placed on Evelyn’s plate. “There. An equitable arrangement, I think.”

And he was surprised by the look on her face when she heard that word: “equitable…” – because, he sensed, her life had been anything but, at least so far.

When they finished breakfast Frank and Cathy insisted they would handle clean up duties, and Cathy practically begged Harry to take Evelyn for a walk. And when Frank herded them to the front door and pushed them out into the sunshine, Harry understood. Frank and Cathy had been apart for a couple of weeks, and Frank was chomping at the bits…

“Cathy told me that’s your house,” Evelyn said as they made their way to the street. “Could you show me around?”

“Sure. At least, I’ll try.”

“What?”

“This morning was…the first time I’ve seen it. Not even the plans.”

“Are you serious?”

Harry nodded. “Frank and Cathy were having trouble, most of it my fault, so I asked her to build this for me. I looked at it as equal parts couple’s therapy and retirement planning.”

He looked at her when she didn’t say anything, and he found she was staring at him.

“Did I say something wrong?” he asked.

“No. Pretty much the opposite of wrong. I can’t imagine someone doing that.”

“Frank and Cathy are my best friends. I’d do anything for them.”

She chuckled at that. “I’d say you already have.”

He shrugged. “I guess I’ve discovered that real friends are hard to come by. And friendship is worth preserving. Whatever the cost.”

“Your house looks so different from Cathy’s, at least from here.”

“Yeah. It blends into the site, doesn’t it? Like it was designed to almost disappear.”

He led her to what would one day be the front door and helped her step up into the entry, then they walked to the huge expanse of windows that overlooked the cliffs, and the sea beyond.

“What a view,” she said as she reached the wall, then she turned and looked around. “Now…that’s odd…”

“What?”

“There’s not a single ninety degree angle.”

“What? Really?” he said as he too turned and looked around. Then he walked over to the roughed-in walls of his bedroom and looked closer. “I’ll be damned. You’re right.”

Everywhere he looked he saw rooms shaped like flattened and stretched hexagons, and she was correct…he found not a single right angle, and many exterior ‘corners’ were framed to utilize mitered glass windows so that, in effect, corners were wrapped in uninterrupted glass. The view wasn’t compartmentalized, and the result seemed to bring the outside world into these bare interior spaces.

“I told her I think she’s a genius. That may be an understatement.”

“I wonder how many clients turn her loose, let her follow her instincts. Sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime, to me, anyway. So, why’d you become a cop?”

“Wow. Now that was a change of subject…”

“Sorry.”

“If I could put it down to one reason…I guess it was because I rode around with a cop after witnessing a robbery. There’s a lot of crime that boils along just under the surface, that most people, thankfully, never see and so don’t have to deal with. But when bad stuff happens, I think it helps keep society together when there’s a group of people actively helping to keep some semblance of order. For us, it’s cops; other people use the military, while some can do without much of anything to maintain cohesion.”

She shook her head. “That sounds like the kind of answer you’d give to a reporter.”

“Sorry.”

“What did you learn on that first ride-along?”

“That there are a lot of very bad people out on the street. Predators, really, and most people simply have no idea how vulnerable they are. Until something goes down, anyway. I think I fell in love with the idea of figuring out how to help people get through those moments.”

She nodded. “That I can buy, Harry Callahan.”

“So, what do you do?”

“Frank hasn’t told you?”

“Nope. He’s never even mentioned you, or anything about your family, until he picked you up at the airport last week.”

“My, my,” she said – a little too wistfully, “how he’s changed.”

“I guess.”

“Well, back to me. I teach biochemistry; both at graduate and medical schools.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I thought I wanted to be a physician until I realized how much I loved chemistry. Do you, uh, think that maybe we could go out, maybe have some dinner?”

“Man, you really can change gears!”

“Sorry, but I always say what I think, what I’m feeling.”

“That’s cool. Kind of refreshing. So, what did you have in mind?”

“What?”

“What kind of grub?”

She shrugged. “Seafood, I guess. You know, every time I’ve visited Frank he promises to take me to Fisherman’s Wharf, and somehow we’ve never made it…”

“Okay, that sounds like a challenge I can handle, but the next couple of weeks might be kind of dicey…”

“The Threlkis stuff?”

“Yeah. Did Cathy tell you about that?”

She nodded. “Sounds awful, all this stuff with vigilante cops, the mob.”

“What else did Cathy tell you?”

“About your wife, you mean?”

“Yeah. Well, I guess you just answered that one.”

“Don’t be angry,” she said. “Please?”

He turned and looked at her, saw that she seemed to have turned inward on herself, almost reflexively. “I’m not angry, Evelyn. Like I said, Cathy and Frank are my friends, and I trust them. Whatever she tells you, I know she’ll tell you the truth.”

“And you’re not afraid of the truth?”

And in that instant he saw Crawford’s face lined up in the PSGs scope, then he relived the moment as he increased the pressure on his trigger finger. He shivered, and then saw…

“What are you thinking about right now?” she asked, concern evident in her voice.

“The truth.”

“You look sad and angry, at the same time, and maybe a little scared, too.”

He nodded.

“You want to talk about it?”

He shook his head. “Maybe someday. Not yet.”

“I guess you have to carry around a lot of bad stuff…”

“Yeah. Sometimes.”

“Well, if you ever do want to talk?”

“Yeah. I hear you.”

“Cathy says you play the piano. Like really, really play the piano.”

He nodded. “Sometimes more than others.”

“Now that’s an odd thing to say?”

“Is it?”

“Yeah. Like…why are some times better?”

He sighed. “There are times when music helps…”

“And others when it’s too painful?”

“Yeah.”

“Cathy bought a recording of the concert in Israel…”

Harry held up a hand and shook his head: “Please, Evelyn. No. That’s one of the things, one of the places I just can’t go yet.”

“Okay.” She seemed to deflate, and then she turned and walked away, looking at the framed walls as she made her way to the front door. “Could we walk down to the rocks?”

“Yes, sure, but the best way is from over here.”

She came back to him. “Oh?”

“Would you mind if we just hugged for a minute?”

And she stepped into his arms, wrapped her arms around him. Both seemed to relax, neither wanted to let go. 

‘I want to fall in love,’ he thought – in the heat of the moment. ‘I’m tired of being alone. I’m scared of living my life alone.’

“This feels so good,” she said, her voice almost muffled.

“It’s almost like we fit together.”

She nodded. “I was thinking that. Like two pieces of a puzzle.”

“So, let me show you the way down.”

“Down?”

“To the water.”

She shook her head. “I’m fine right here.”

“Has it been a while?”

“A while?”

“Since you could just let go, feel safe like this?”

“I’ve never felt like this,” she said. “I’ve never felt safe.”

He struggled with that for a while, then: “So, why? Why’d you get married?”

She shrugged. “I think I just wanted to strike out on my own, but that meant getting married, didn’t it? Like in that Carly Simon song, That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. That’s what it was like…living life in the shadow of other people’s expectations. The only problem with that,” she said, now with a tremor in her voice, “is that you can drown in other people’s expectations.”

“Is that why you didn’t feel safe?”

She shook all over now, buried her face in his chest and he felt her grabbing the back of his windbreaker, her fists balling-up defensively – like she was preparing to ward off blows…

And all he could do was pull her close, run his fingers through her hair, then he smelled her hair and seemed to drift away, wanted to fall away inside this moment. Hold time back…

She pulled away some time later, and he looked into her eyes, melted at the sight of tears on her cheeks. He cupped her face in his hands, wiped away her tears with his thumbs and lifted her lips to his.

Theirs was a gentle first kiss, as unexpected as it was an expression of tremendous need, then they fell back into this new embrace they’d discovered, each unwilling to be the first to let it go…

“Knock-knock,” Cathy said from some place outside this new little universe. “Mind if we come in?”

But they were already inside. Indeed, they had been watching for some time, holding hands like a couple of mad alchemists in love with their latest creation, smiling at the simplicity this life presented – even in the quietest moments.

“Harry?”

“Yes?”

“The A-Chief called. He wants to see us, ASAP. You ready to roll?”

She felt him tense, felt their moment wither and fall away.

“Yeah. Might as well face the music,” she heard him say, yet she wanted to stop him, wanted to protect him, wanted to keep him from hurting himself because, she suddenly realized, that’s what he had been doing all his life.

“Harry,” she whispered, “we can do this. We can make this happen, let it happen…”

But by then he had pulled away, their timeless connection broken. She watched him walk away and she felt so alone, just the way she’d always heard it should be.

_________________________________

“Goddammit, Callahan, what is it with you? Everywhere you go, people end up dead. It ain’t right, and the Chief has had it. He wants your badge…”

Frank cleared his throat: “Uh, Chief,” Bullitt began, “this op was my idea. Bullitt went in because Threlkis doesn’t know me from Adam. I figured that was the best way to…”

“To what? Give the fucker a goddamn mother-fucking heart attack?”

“No, sir…”

“Then, please, tell me. Tell me what the point of this goddamn clusterfuck was. Because I’d really like to know…”

“The case against him was at a standstill…”

“So? You decided to terrorize the man at his daughter’s wedding? Have you, like, forgotten those words we print up and put on the sides of our patrol cars? To Protect and Serve? Does that compute, or are you two operating on some other principle I’m not aware of?”

“No,” Callahan said.

“No, what, Callahan?”

“No, sir.”

“Alright, so hear this, you two. The Threlkis family is going to sue the city for something like ten million, and you know what? We will lose. We’ll probably settle on a lower figure, but so what? Because of your chickenshit bullshit, we’re going to end paying a crime family millions of bucks. Does that sound like effective policing to you clowns?”

“Look, Chief,” Callahan said, “no one knew he had a defective ticker…”

“Goddamnit to Hell, Callahan! Are you deaf as well as mentally retarded! Did you not hear one mother-fucking word I just said…?”

“We hear you, Chief,” Bullitt said.

“And now I hear about some retired cop from Oakland PD, living up by Lake Shasta. Shot in the fucking face, dead as a fucking door-nail. The poor SOBs fucking eight year old daughter found him, too. And the word is he’s the cop that took a couple of shots at you a few months ago. And now, guess what, Callahan? Investigators up there want to question you about this shit, too.”

“What?” Bullitt said. “When did this happen?”

“Saturday night, Sunday morning. That timeframe.”

“Callahan was with us, Chief. Up at Sea Ranch.”

The Assistant Chief looked from Callahan to Bullitt. “Is that right? Well, I hope so. I sure fucking hope so. Because you two wouldn’t last a goddam week inside fuckin’ San Quentin. I mean, I hope that’s fuckin’ clear as glass. Now, get the fuck out of my sight – both of you!”

“Well, that was fun,” Frank said when they were clear of the office.

They walked to the parking garage and got in Frank’s Mustang, then drove to where Callahan had parked the rental car. 

“I’ll follow you to the drop off, give you a ride back into the city.”

Callahan nodded and they drove out to SFO. Callahan fumed the entire way, tried to think of one good reason to stay with the department – and couldn’t. On the drive back to the city with Bullitt, that was about all Callahan could think of to talk about.

“You can’t quit now,” Frank said. “That would be tantamount to an admission of guilt.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m getting tired of all this bullshit, Frank. I’m doing the job I was supposed to, you know. And yeah, I know, our operations are compartmentalized. No one in the department knows what we’re up to, and yeah, sure, I know I’ve got a ‘get out of jail card’ stashed away and I’m not worried about it, but really? We got hoods pushing on us from one side, the courts pushing on us from another, and then, just for the joy of it all, we got our own supervisors pushing us from yet another side. Who pushes back for us, Frank? Who takes our side, when we’re in the right, or even when we’re wrong? No one. No one, Frank. And do you really think that’s right?”

“No, not really.”

“Come on, is that all you can say? Look, most of us come to this job thinking we’re going to do some good, maybe get to help people every now and then, and how do we get paid back for that? We’re a bunch of kids trying to do the right thing and nothing less than a herd of legal eagles line up and pick apart every decision we make. And they get to do that from the comfort of their swivel chairs in their padded offices, while we get to make the decisions in the rain, in the middle of the night, when we’ve had to pull a double shift or right after after wives die, or, more likely, file for divorce. Come on, do you really think this is fair? Or is this stacked deck really nothing more than a sideshow a bunch of lawyers cooked up on a slow Saturday night – you know, for their amusement?”

“I don’t think it much matters, Harry. It is what it is. We do the best we can with what we’ve got to work with.”

“Yeah, I know,” Callahan muttered. “That’s what you always say.”

“Because that’s how I feel, Harry.”

“So, what next?”

“I’m going up to Tahoe.”

“You’re going to take out Briggs?”

Bullitt shook his head. “No. I’m going to get him to the Colonel, send him to that little house of horrors. Let them figure out what he knows, and where we go from there.”

“Okay, Frank. You do that, but you tell Goodman I’m done. I’m through being a pawn on this board.”

“So. You’re going to turn in your paperwork?”

Callahan sighed. “No, at least not yet, but I’ve got to find some good reason to wake up in the morning, ya know? ‘Cause this ain’t doing it for me anymore. It might. It might if we were supported, if everyone wasn’t picking our motives apart, turning mistakes into a legal lottery where everyone stands to make a buck – everyone but us, that is.”

“What happened this morning? With Evelyn?”

“Two lost souls, Frank. Drowning, trying to hang on to the same life preserver.”

“Oh? Sounds fun.”

“Does it? Well then, this has been a real fun day.”

Bullitt pulled up to the curb in front of Harry’s apartment building, and both were surprised to see Evelyn sitting on the steps, apparently waiting for Harry.

“You going to be okay, Harry?”

Callahan shook his head. “You know, Frank. I’m not so sure right now.”

“You want me to take her back with me?”

He looked at her sitting there, then turned to Frank. “No, I’ll be okay.”

“What about her, Harry. Will she be okay, too?”

“I hear you.”

“She’s my sister, Harry. All that’s left of my family.”

“And you’re my friend, Frank. Maybe the only friend I have left in the world.”

“Alright. Just be good to one another. She’s had a bad couple of years, and my sense is she’s very fragile right now.”

“Yeah? Well, that makes two of us.”

Bullitt sat there for a while, watched his sister and his friend disappear inside the old walk-up apartment building, and he tried to get a read on what Harry had just said.

Was he still fit to be out on the street? Had he lost his edge?

He sighed, dropped the car into gear and headed out into traffic, not at all sure where these questions were taking him – and not at all happy he felt he needed to ask them – but all the warning signs were flashing red now. Callahan had come back too soon. He had been a flaming wreck before Crawford; now he was way beyond that. 

When he got back to Sea Ranch he called the colonel, told him what had happened, and what Callahan had told him.

“I expected as much,” Goodman said. “Should I come get him?”

“Not yet. I think we should give him some room, let him try to figure this out for himself.”

“Is he a danger to himself?”

“Harry? God, no.”

“Okay. Keep me advised.”

“I will.”

All in all, Bullitt thought, this was the best he could do, the best thing he could do for his friend.

Cathy was waiting for him out on the patio, and she’d made guacamole and fresh margaritas.

She held out her glass as Frank sat: “Well, what shall we drink to?”

Bullitt clinked glasses while he thought. “To new beginnings, I think.”

“To new beginnings,” she added. “And to those we met on all the old roads we traveled, once upon a time.”

_____________________________

She walked into his apartment and looked around, shocked by what she found. Walls the color of a smoggy day, beige carpeting threadbare in places, and a kitchen that defied easy description. Rudimentary, perhaps, best described the tiny space, and as her eyes roamed she tried to reconcile what she was looking at with the house he was building. After a moment she gave up and went to the tiny sofa and sat down, then she watched him as he took off his jacket and hung it in a tiny closet just off the entry.

“Could I get you something to drink?” he asked. “I have Coke and O.J.”

“Coke works for me,” she said, her eyes falling on the piano – which even though it was an upright seemed to be of exquisite quality. “What kind of piano is that?”

“What kind?”

“Who made it, I mean.”

“Bösendorfer. They’re made in Vienna, and in a roundabout way I distribute them here in California.”

“You what? Did you say…”

“Yup.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t get it…”

“It’s complicated.”

“Cathy described the piano she heard you playing on, and this isn’t it.”

“Oh. That was my mother’s. It’s…”

“Don’t tell me, you have another house.”

“Yeah, I do.”

She grinned, shook her head. “And where is this one? Colorado? Aspen, maybe?”

“Switzerland.”

“Of course it is. Why not?”

“Like I said, it’s complicated.”

“Are you serious? You have a house in Switzerland?”

“Yeah. Davos.”

“I hate to seem rude, but just how much money do you have?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea, really.”

“Of course you don’t. That makes perfect sense, too. So, do you really know how to play this thing?”

He brought her Coke and a glass full of ice; she looked at it closely and thought ‘at least it looks clean,’ before she popped the top and poured.

He walked over to the Bösendorfer and retracted the keyboard cover, began playing Carly Simon’s That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. He even tried to sing here and there – but his voice was too gravelly, more like a hoarse whisper, yet nevertheless she was impressed.

“Do you know any Bill Evans?”

He drifted into Peace Piece, then wandered back to Gershwin, as he always did – then he stopped and asked her to come and sit by him on the bench.

“Closer, please, and put a hand on me.”

“What? Why?”

“I want to try something.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere.”

She put her hand on the top of his thigh and he returned to That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. A few bars in, his playing slowed and his head seemed to relax, to fall away…

And he could see a living room – inside another apartment, and that snow was falling outside. Endless pines, their limbs falling under the weight of a massive snowfall. With another passage he saw Evelyn and a man, and then he saw the man was beating her, first with his fist, then with a heavy belt, screaming at her as he towered over her.

“Move your hand to my face, please.”

She moved her hand.

“Higher, just by my left eye.”

She adjusted her hand.

“He hit you here. That’s when you fell. When things fell apart…”

She jumped up and moved away from Callahan, now clearly terrified of him. “What the Hell are you doing?” she screamed, and she watched him, almost mesmerized, as he broke free of the piano and seemed to drift back into the present.

He turned and looked at her, clearly shaken by what he’d just seen. “It’s okay,” he began, gently. “I think I understand now.”

She backed away again, until her back was up against a wall. “What do you mean, ‘you understand.’ Just what do you think you understand?”

“What happened, to you. Why you left him.”

“How could you possibly know that. I mean, that’s simply preposterous!”

“It is, isn’t it? Would you listen if I described to you what I just experienced?”

She nodded. “Yes-s-s-s…but I don’t understand…”

“Neither do I, really. This is only the second time I’ve tried to do this.”

“Do…what, exactly?”

“Well, Evelyn, I’m not sure how, but some music, some chords within music, seems to connect me to…well, I’m not exactly sure, but it feels like I can slip through time, even to different places, and I can see things there.”

“Pardon me for asking, but are you, by any chance, like schizophrenic?”

“I don’t think so. But bear with me here, okay?”

“Alright?”

“The first thing I saw was a living room in an apartment. White walls, gray trim. Wood floor, like a mahogany color. Green leather sofa, matching wingback chairs. An oval shaped coffee table, very old…an antique…”

“Dear God…”

“You are wearing jeans and a red plaid flannel shirt, you are wearing socks, white socks, but no shoes. He is wearing jeans and has on a down parka, dark red, and those funky boots, the ones with the rubber lowers and the leather uppers…”

“How are you doing this…”

“He’s screaming at you. Telling you it’s none of your business who he talks to on the telephone. You’re holding up a statement, from the phone company, pointing at a number. New Haven. The phone number is in New Haven. You’re telling him he’s been having an affair with a woman there. There…at Yale…a philosopher. Last name Shaw, and that’s when he hit you, when you fell to the floor. Then he kicked you, more than once…before he used his belt…”

Callahan broke free of the vision, saw her curled up on the floor in what almost looked like a fetal position, only she had pulled her knees up to her chest and she was trying to rock herself, almost like she wanted to be held…

He fell to her, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. “It’s alright, Evelyn. I understand now…”

Her head came up, her face was tear-streaked and red, snot running out her nose and her teeth chattering. “This isn’t right,” she whispered. “What you’re describing…”

“That’s the way it happened, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but this isn’t normal. People can’t do this…”

“Yeah, I guess so, but nevertheless I think that’s exactly what I just did.”

“Oh, God…no…”

“It’s okay. It’s still me…”

“How did you do it?”

“Actually, I have no idea, but it’s something my mother told me about. She could do it, and I don’t think she was the only one.”

“You mean, the music…”

“Playing the music, not simply the music in and of itself.”

“So, playing the music lets you see things…”

“I’m not quite sure it’s that simple. It helped to have you touch me, at least it did this time. The first time it happened, well, I was just playing when what I thought were visions came to me. Only they weren’t simple visions. It was more like I was transported to another time and place. In a way, I could move around there, look at things, even move stuff around…”

“Harry, that’s just not possible. I’m sorry, but what you’re describing seems like…”

“What? A delusion?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“Okay. Wanna try a little experiment?”

“I’m not sure.”

“That’s not fair. You’re a scientist, right?”

“I think you could say that, yes.”

“So, we come up with a hypothesis then generate experiments to prove or disprove the hypothesis.”

“Well, kind of. It’s not really that simple.”

“Okay, but what’s a simple hypothesis? That some musicians can manipulate time and space, and while doing so they can observe past events? Does that sound about right?”

She shrugged.

“Okay, well, let’s go back to the piano. You think of some past event, you tell me what music to play, and then let’s see what happens. I report what I end up seeing, if anything, and you record the results. Do we account for source bias that way?”

“This is crazy. You know that, right?”

He nodded. “It’s crazy as Hell.”

She stood and held out her hand, and they went to the piano. He sat, then patted the bench on his left side. “Sit here.”

“Hand on your leg again?”

“For now.”

“Okay, I’m thinking about something.”

“Music?”

“Elvis. Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

He thought for a moment, then began playing. Slowly, then slower still, until he was in a room. A child’s room, and it felt like he was a wraith looking down, like the room was in the near distance and sheathed in an ion mist…

Chord by chord time advanced, until he saw a man enter the girl’s room. He came to her bed and leaned over, kissed the girl once on the forehead…and as the music moved so did his understanding of the scene below…the man…dressed in a uniform…military…Navy…a pilot…he’s telling his little girl goodbye, that he’s going to Vietnam…no, to Korea…and that he loves his little girl…

He felt her jump up and fall away, but he kept playing, saw the man leave the little girl’s room…then everything receded from view and he stopped playing, turned to see Evelyn on the sofa, balled up with her knees pulled up to her face, rocking back and forth, crying again, then sobbing hysterically…

“What is it?” he whispered as he came to her. “What happened?”

“I…I don’t know. The more I pressed my hand into you, the more I saw…”

“You saw…what did you see?” 

“You first. You tell me what you saw.”

“A bedroom. A little girl, asleep. A man, a naval aviator, telling her goodbye, then leaving her room…”

“That’s right,” she whispered, “yes, that’s right, but you missed the most important part…”

“What? What did I miss…?”

“That I wasn’t really asleep. I was mad at him for leaving me so I pretended to be asleep. I didn’t get to tell him that I loved him, and that I really wasn’t mad at him…”

“And he didn’t come home again?”

“Yes, that’s right. Did Frank tell you?”

“No. We’ve never talked about things like this.”

“Frank stayed up with dad that night. They talked and talked about his going to war, what it meant – to him – to serve. What country really means. But, I pretended to sleep, and I never got to say goodbye…”

“You were a little girl, you couldn’t possibly have known…”

“I was a selfish brat…”

“And you’ve been punishing yourself ever since.”

She looked up at him. “Yes. That’s right.” She stood and then flew into his arms, held him so fiercely it took his breath away.

“You don’t have to do that anymore, Evelyn. You don’t have to bear that cross alone.”

“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I just don’t know anymore…”

“What don’t you know?”

“How I can go on.”

“You don’t want to?”

“I really don’t know anymore, Harry. I think I ruined my life, like I’ve ruined everything ever since that night. I see a fault and I pick at it, pick at it like a scab. I pick and pick until I’ve infected everything around me…”

“So, what are you most afraid of?”

“Right now? That I’ll pick on you until we’re infected, that we’ll wither and die…”

“What if…I stop you. What if I won’t let you destroy us? Then what would you be afraid of?” She buried her face in his neck, and as he felt her tears he pulled her closer still… “Why don’t you just let go of all that for now. Just let it go, push it all away, think about how you want to be without all that crap cluttering-up your life.”

“Harry?”

“Yes?”

“I’m hungry.”

“I know.”

“How could you possibly know that…”

“Because…I can hear your stomach growling.”

She pulled away just a little, shook her head as she grinned at him. “All you cops…you’re all the same, you know? Nothing gets by you…”

“Hey, just the facts, M’am…just the facts.”

“Uh, I didn’t bring my wallet…? And that’s a fact.”

“I think I can handle dinner. Once, anyway.”

“Good.”

“So, wanna walk down to the wharf?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

He went to the closet, put on his shoulder holster then his windbreaker while she looked on.

“Do you always wear that thing?”

“Yes. Always.”

She shook her head but took his hand…

As they left the building Callahan scanned the street – as he always did – before he started walking down to the Wharf, and within a few blocks he spotted the tail. A black Sedan de Ville, four men inside. They would have to be Threlkis’ men, he told himself even as he smiled inwardly. ‘Now, how to get Evelyn out of the line of fire…’

He cut down Jones Street and made the jog onto Pier 47, and here he started to walk faster.

“Are we in some sort of hurry?” Evelyn asked.

“Kind of, yeah.”

“Okay.”

They made it out to Scoma’s and ducked inside, and while they waited for a table he saw the black Cadillac driving slowly out the pier, and, predictably, it stopped about where he had expected…effectively sealing them off from any escape, or at least he hoped that’s what they’d think.

Once at their table Callahan ordered wine and recommended she try the Dungeness crab appetizer and the abalone for her entree, and he chose the same. They took their time with dinner, though from time to time he got up and walked to a spot where he could see the Cadillac…

“You want to tell me what’s going on?” she said after his last excursion.

He shrugged. “Some of Threlkis’ goons followed us. They’re waiting for us, well, I should say me, to leave. My guess is they don’t think I spotted them, or they would have found a better place to hide.”

“You don’t seem very concerned.”

“I’m not.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Well, I don’t know who’s running the family right now, but I need to send them a message.”

“Really? Like what?”

“Basically, back off and don’t fuck with me.”

“I suppose this is something you feel you really need to do right now?”

“Well, if I don’t they’ll probably come in here and kill a bunch of people. All things being equal, I think it makes more sense for me to go out and kill them first.”

“Just like that, huh?”

“Yeah, pretty much. How’s your dessert?”

“Fine.”

“Well, I’ll be back in about a half hour,” he said, looking at his watch, “maybe an hour, tops.”

“And if you’re not?”

He shrugged. “Call Frank, I guess.”

She looked around, saw the restaurant was still full and ordered some coffee, and from time to time she too looked at her watch.

About fifteen minutes later everyone in the restaurant flinched as machine gun fire erupted a few blocks away, followed by six sonic concussions from a large caliber handgun, then the sound of sirens filled the night.

Not quite forty five minutes later Callahan rejoined her at the table.

“So, that took a little longer than expected?” she said matter-of-factly. 

He looked at his watch again: “Damn. Sure did. Sorry about that?”

“What went wrong?”

“Oh, not much. They were a little more stupid than expected, but hey, c’est la vie.”

“Well, is it at least safe to walk back to your place?”

“Oh, sure.”

“Good.”

“Good?”

“Yeah. Frankly, Callahan, I wasn’t sure about you. But now I am.”

“You are?”

“Yeah. I sure the hell hope you’re horny, because I’m going to fuck your brains out.”

Callahan turned, found their waiter and made eye contact. “Check, please.”

Turned out there was a taxi out front, which didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, not even a little bit.

© 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. 35

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 35

____________________________________

After consultations with the colonel and, presumably, whoever he was speaking to in Washington, D.C., the team’s first target was agreed upon…and the “green light” given to ‘set up’ the target. Actually taking out the target would be authorized only after the target was acquired.

The first target, William Crawford, was a recently – and a medically – retired patrolman from Oakland, and he had been identified as the man who tried to take out Callahan in the firefight near Hayward Executive Airport. His right hand had been shattered during that exchange of fire, and the injury had taken care of his active duty career; in the immediate aftermath he had assumed a leadership role in the Bay Area’s vigilante group, coordinating the group’s recent efforts to attack the team by helicopter assault. As members of the group had liitle to no military training their effort had rapidly fallen apart. Furthermore, the three man team that had penetrated the house and very nearly killed Delgetti had been identified as on duty officers from two East Bay agencies, and these three were a part of Crawford’s group, or cell.

Crawford’s house was located on a hillside near Hayward Executive, and the downed DC-3 had impacted houses not far from Crawford’s. When the FBI determined that Crawford had given the Go signal to take out the aircraft, the federal government had signed off on the operation. Still, the overall plan of action was to take out all members of the four known East Bay cells, and this totaled 23 men, not including Crawford.

“How do we do this without calling attention to our involvement?” Callahan had wanted to know, and even over the encrypted circuit he could tell that Goodman didn’t care if the team’s involvement was discovered or not. He and Bullitt had looked knowingly at each other when they heard that inflection point form in the air, and Callahan assumed Goodman’s intent was deliberate.

“We’re either expendable or the feds will disavow our actions,” Frank said after the call concluded, “put it down to rival factions fighting it out for supremacy.” 

“I can’t believe Goodman would hang us out to dry.”

“Well, Harry, I suggest you do. You’ll live longer.”

Callahan shook his head. “Think this through, Frank. If you think that’s a real possibility, then these kinds of actions simply aren’t right. Got that; simple as that. And if they ain’t right, why the hell do we want to be involved?”

Bullitt shook his head. “We are involved, Harry?”

“Let me remind you, Frank; you said the gloves are coming off. I may be guessing here, but I kind of think this is exactly what you had in mind.”

“I just can’t help feeling that we’re being played. And…if we hit one of their guys they’ll turn right around and kill one of ours… So, where does it all end?”

“Frank…they damn near killed ten of our people up at the safe house…”

“Okay, so we take out an equal number. We send ‘em a message.”

“Ya know…that feels more and more like the Old West, like frontier justice. What did you say they call this sort of stuff?”

“Extrajudicial executions.”

“Yeah. Still, any action like this would be state sanctioned, right?”

“Yeah,” Bullitt said. “At least I think so.”

“Well then, all we really need to do is record these communications with the colonel. We’re golden after all that is covered, right?”

Frank sighed, then crossed his arms over his chest: “I already have.”

Callahan did a double take: “You what? You have all of the stuff where executions have been mentioned, or ordered?”

Bullitt nodded his head. “Actually, one of the Israeli kids helped me set it up.”

Callahan brightened. “So, Goodman has to know about it, right?”

“I would assume so, yeah. Still, I made copies of them, and have the copies in three different locations.”

Harry shook his head, wrung his hands. “These guys took out a U.S. senator, Frank. I doubt the feds will disavow us.”

Bullitt shrugged. “Sometimes it kind of feels like we’ve been put out here for a reason. That this assignment has fallen to us, to you and me, like we’re supposed to do it. Even if we’re sacrificed, I guess to me it feels kind of like we’re being sacrificed for some kind of greater good.”

“I’m not going to be sacrificed, Frank. Not for anyone. We take out these characters and then we either retire – or fuckin’ get back to work.”

“I hope they let us, Harry.”

“Well, I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but I’ll tell you what – I’m not going to sit around worrying about it.”

Frank looked at his hands for a moment, then shook his head. “You know, I’ve had to put people down before, but not like this. This feels premeditated to me, Harry. And it doesn’t feel right.”

“Don’t think that it’s not, Frank. It is premeditated murder, just like when Stacy planned to get herself into the clinic in Davos, and then murdered my wife. And you know what, for some reason I don’t think Stacy has lost any sleep over it.”

Bullitt nodded. “So. You and me. We track this Crawford guy down. We find him. We call it in, and then we take the shot.”

“Yeah?”

“Which one of us, Harry? Who takes the shot?”

“I don’t know. Wanna flip for it?”

Bullitt shook his head. “I don’t want this on you, man. You’re carrying around enough shit already…you don’t need this.”

Callahan shook his head as he reached into a pocket, pulling out a quarter. “I appreciate that, Amigo, but no way. You call it…” he said, flipping the coin…

“Heads,” Bullitt said – pensively.

Callahan caught the coin and took a look. “How appropriate,” Harry sighed as he slipped the coin back into his pocket. “Let’s go.”

______________________________

Crawford had gone underground after the botched Safe House ambush, but Captain Briggs had called in sick three days in a row – and on the third day either the Israelis or some spook at the NSA managed to pull a trace. Briggs was holed up at a casino-hotel just outside South Lake Tahoe – which made tracing outgoing calls difficult…but not impossible. It would just take more time, they heard over and over again.

So, after several days and with no new leads on Crawford, Bullitt made the call: “Let’s get back to work.”

“What?” Carl Stanton said. “Dell isn’t even out of the hospital yet, Frank!”

“Yeah, well, we’ve got work to do. And we have evasion plans. And I don’t want anyone to think they’ve scared us off…”

But Callahan was already back on the job, finding out all he could about security arrangement for Threlkis’ daughter’s wedding and reception, still planned for next weekend at the Mark Hopkins. And he’d picked up all the paperwork Records could dig up on Jennifer Spencer, too.

She was a nut job alright, Callahan thought after he read through the application for a White Warrant. Raped, obsessed with the idea of vengeance, the girl seemed to be a serial killer in the making, and he’d walked by her apartment a couple of times the past couple of days, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Kind of funny, too, because she lived about three blocks from his place.

Still, he really was more focused on the Threlkis reception, and Bullitt’s plan made perfect sense. Punch all the old fart’s buttons, provoke a hasty reaction and see what kind of response they generated from Escobar.

Clever, but dangerous.

And Callahan didn’t bother driving too much now, so he kept to cable cars and buses, occasionally a taxi, as he did his legwork around town.

He visited the cop who had sworn out the White Warrant, talked to him, got his impressions…

“She’s a fucking time bomb, Inspector. And when she goes off, man…it’s gonna be a big body count.”

“What else did you find out about her?”

“She’s got a sister somewhere, but I couldn’t locate her. And she had a membership at one of those gun clubs…you know…where you can take classes for a concealed permit, practice at their range, that kind of stuff.”

“Really? Know where that’s located?”

“Not offhand, but I bet I have it in my notes…”

“Think you could take a look around, let me know what you find out?”

“Sure, you bet…”

“How long have you been out of academy?”

“Me? Oh, almost five years.”

“What are your plans?”

“Plans? Oh, I don’t know. I kind of wanted to try for detective, but who doesn’t…ya know?”

Callahan nodded. “So, I got your last name – Collins, right? What’s your first name?”

“Steven. What do you need that for, Inspector?”

“Would you like to come down some weekend and ride with one of us, see if you like it?”

“No kidding? Sure…I mean…Hell-yes!”

Still nodding, Callahan continued: “Do you think Spencer would recognize you?”

“Yessir,” Collins said. “We got into it real good, a real knock-down drag-out kind of thing. Took three of us to get her under control, too. She bites and has vicious fingernails,” he said, rolling up his sleeve and showing off several lacerations on his left arm that had required stitches to close. “The only thing that kept her from doing hard time was the mental evaluation. Reactive schizophrenia, the shrinks called it.”

“So, you think she’s dangerous?”

“She’s a chameleon, Inspector. She blends in. My guess is she kind of lives in hiding, and she probably moves around a lot.”

“Paranoid?”

“Big time.”

“But…is she dangerous?”

“She had a little Beretta in her purse, Inspector. But she had a permit, ya know? So, yeah. Dangerous is an understatement.”

“For concealed carry? Wonder how she got that…?”

Collins shrugged. “The system is pretty fucked up, sir.”

Callahan nodded. “Yup, sure is. Well, I’ll be in touch.”

When he made it back to his apartment that night he pulled out Spencer’s paperwork and looked at her mug shot again: the black and white polaroid was still attached to the arrest report and he studied it for a long time, wanting to commit key features to memory. Her skin was pale, the word ghostly came to mind, and her eyes must have been light blue, or maybe light gray, yet the arrest report only showed ‘blue.’ She was about five-six, one hundred pounds, and had no tattoos or surgical scars. Beyond that, there was little about her appearance that suggested ‘dangerous mental patient’…but there rarely was – until you could put the person in better context.

No one looked good in a mug shot, period, but people’s eyes weren’t haunted with regret when they were out on the street, either. Her eyes were a mask in that one image, but then that kind of figured. What did Collins call her? A chameleon? That made perfect sense, he thought, and it also made her perfectly dangerous. He’d have to come at her sideways, hit her where and when she wasn’t expecting a take down.

He shook his head then stood and walked over to the window, looked down at the street below…just the usual Tuesday night crowd, husbands and wives out for a walk, hand in hand and stopping to look at storefront displays, or the usual afterwork type – a middle aged man out on the prowl, maybe looking for a quick pick up. Kids having fun, probably from one of the local colleges and away from home for the first time…

“Funny thing,” he said to the window. “I don’t see so much hate down there.”

The tides were off so very little fog tonight, he thought. Just a street scene. Nothing out of the ordinary…

He went and sat at his piano, then slid the keyboard cover into the body…thinking about nothing…other than the utter normalcy below…

And he played a chord, closed his eyes and drifted for a while.

Then another, still drifting.

And on the third chord he played, still with his eyes closed, he began to feel the scene below…but even ‘feeling’ was an inadequate description of the sensation that filled his mind…because in an instant he was outside his apartment, almost hovering above the street, drifting like fog between people, touching them, feeling their feelings…

And with the next chord he went spiraling into one of the bars, and he was looking down on…what…was that him? And the Threlkis kid, butchering every note he tried to play on that wretched old Baldwin?

He played another chord, a darker, more somber tone, and in an instant he was across the bay, still undercover and just when everything started to fall apart…but there was the Threlkis kid again…then gunfire and in the next moment he was soaring over the bay in the middle of the night…

He was only vaguely aware that he was playing now, that his fingers had entered into some kind of unholy communion with the keys on his piano…then he was in Briggs’ office, his office in Internal Affairs, and Briggs was in a panic now, flipping through files in a filing cabinet…

Callahan felt his fingers forming the next chord, then he zoomed in close, so close he could read read the file as Briggs read through the pages. It was Crawford’s file, but Callahan could see post-it notes stuck here and there…

An address near Lake Shasta…and a phone number, too…

“I’ve got to write this down,” he said, and he stood to go for his note pad…

And in the next shattering instant he was back in his living room, standing over his piano – and everything he had just experienced felt like a faraway dream, a dream like a puzzle, quickly fading away to a place beyond memory…

He ran to his closet, found his jacket and pulled out a notepad and he wrote down the address even as he felt the numbers and words slipping away…and then he ran for the phone and called Bullitt.

______________________________

Bullitt walked into Callahan’s apartment and made his way to the kitchen, grabbed a Coke from the ‘fridge then went to the sofa. “Okay, Harry. What’s so important that I had to…”

“I think I found Crawford’s 20,” Callahan said, with ’20’ indicating a suspects location.

Bullitt sat up, began paying attention. “Oh, where is he?”

“Up by Lake Shasta, right off the 5…”

“I know where Shasta is. Where’d you get the tip-off?”

Callahan shook his head. “I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Just that. I saw Briggs looking at a file folder…”

“You what?”

“Look, Frank, I know this sounds fucking strange, but just go with it. I can’t tell you any more than that.”

Bullitt looked dubious, but nodded. “Okay, what’ve you got?”

“Just an address. And what I’d like to do is…”

______________________________________

That Saturday night, Callahan went to the Top of the Mark and crashed the Threlkis wedding reception, confronted the old mobster with a bogus confession and looked on as he “vapor-locked” – or went into cardiac arrest – then he walked out. Frank was waiting on the street, parked in a beige Plymouth that Harry had rented the day before; when Harry reached the curb in front of the hotel Bullitt drove up and Harry jumped in. Once over the Bay Bridge, they made their way to the 5 northbound for Redding, then just beyond to the little village of Shasta Lake, California.

“Take this exit,” Callahan said at once.

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

Bullitt shook his head, grumbled under his breath.

“Right at the end of the ramp, then about a mile and a half, maybe two miles east.”

“Got it.”

“Okay. The road up here should be Old Oregon Trail. Turn right.”

It was now a little after two in the morning, and a light drizzle was falling, the windshield wipers making a smeary mess of the glass…

“There it is,” Callahan said. “Right…turn here. Then maybe a third of a mile. Spyglass Lane, turn left, go up about a hundred yards and stop.”

After they stopped on Spyglass, Bullitt turned to Callahan: “What now?”

“The house is at the end of the cul-de-sac, there’s a hill covered with scrub and pines beyond…”

“You’ve been here before?”

Callahan shook his head.

“Then how the hell do you know all this, Harry?”

And once again Callahan simply said “Don’t ask, Frank.”

Bullitt looked down, now shaking his head. “So, how do we get up above this house…carrying a sniper rifle through a residential neighborhood?”

“There’re only a couple of houses up here, a few hundred yards apart.” Then he pointed ahead and a little to the right: “There’s a little trail up this hill, through the trees. I’ll be able to circle around the house…”

“Hey, I hate to remind you, but it was heads. It’s my shot, Harry; not yours.”

“Sorry, Frank. Not this one.”

Bullitt nodded. “You using a suppressor?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s the effective range with that thing on?”

“No more than fifty yards, seventy tops, with the wind at my back,” Callahan said as he opened the door and walked to the back of the car.

Bullitt took the keys from the ignition and walked back to open the trunk; Callahan grabbed the black nylon bag and swung it over his shoulder and without another word took off up the hill. Frank quietly closed the lid and looked the car’s doors, then followed Harry into the trees. A hundred yards on they came to a street and crossed it, and Harry continued to move quietly through the scrub, circling around to the back of a beige one story house.

The drizzle had picked up a little, so the hillside was a muddy mess and Frank noted they were leaving perfect footprints in the soil as he made it to Harry’s perch. Callahan was setting up his rifle, getting ready to lie down on a bed of pine needles…

“You’d better grab a branch, try to obscure our footprints.”

“Yeah,” Bullitt said. “I’m on it.”

When Frank returned to the same spot he couldn’t see Harry until he was almost right on top of him, and the rifle was not visible at all. 

“Why don’t you go back to the car?” Harry said.

“No thanks.”

“Suit yourself.”

A little after four in the morning a dog inside the house barked once and a light came on in what looked like might be a bedroom, and Callahan swung the rifle towards the nearest door. A moment later the door opened and a black dog came out to do his business, then a man stepped out onto the back porch.

And even from this distance, Bullitt could tell it was Crawford…

And a half second later the man’s head simply disappeared, then the lifeless body tumbled to the concrete. The dog went over and curled up next to the dead man while Callahan disassembled his rifle and put it in its case. Bullitt swept their footprints as they made it back to the car, and ten minutes after the man fell they were back on the road, heading south for San Francisco.

Harry wadded up his sweater, turning it into a pillow of sorts, and then he leaned against the foggy window and promptly fell asleep.

When he woke up he noticed the sun was up and that the car was parked in front of Cathy’s house at Sea Ranch, but Bullitt was gone. At least he’d cracked open a window before he split, Callahan thought.

He went down to the construction site and walked around what would soon be his new house, then he went inside. All the walls were up, the roof as well, but it was ‘bare studs’ inside. Many of the windows had been installed, probably to keep the sea breeze from inundating the electrical and plumbing materials with salt laden moisture.

He walked around, guessing which spaces might be a living room or a kitchen, and he thought it funny as he’d never seen Cathy’s plans; he’d simply told her that he trusted her to come up with something that fit into the surroundings, and added he wanted lots of overhanging terraces and only two bedrooms. Well, now he could see, in bare skeletal form, Cathy’s interpretation of his personality come to life…

“Uh, can I help you?”

Startled, Callahan turned and saw what had to be a construction foreman standing about twenty feet away – with a roll of blueprints in one hand and a tape measure in the other.

“You work here?” Harry asked.

“I do. Brett Newman. And you are?”

“Callahan.”

“Oh. This is your place, right?”

“Yup.”

“Well, take a look around, but watch your step. Any questions, I’ll be up on the roof.”

“Right.”

A few minutes passed then he could see Cathy stepping out her house, carry two cups of coffee and headed his way…so he walked over to what had to be the living room and waited for her.

“You went right to the heart of the house, Harry,” she said as she came up to him. “Why am I not surprised?”

“I have no idea what part of the house I’m in, but I love it already.”

Cathy smiled. “Thanks. Frank Lloyd Wright did a house down in Carmel, the Della Walker house, and I wanted to borrow some of the major design elements from that house. Glass, stone, and copper. Low, strong horizontal lines. You’re standing in the living room. Your bedroom is just over here, same view, but the view will be framed by that tree,” she said, pointing to a scruffy pine that leaned out over the cliffs. “There will be a stone walk down to the rocks, right above the surf.”

“I’m really stunned, Cathy. I had no idea…”

“Really? Why?”

“It’s magic. Like it was designed by God or something…”

She laughed at that. “Nope, just little old me.”

“You’re a genius.”

“Well, I brought you some coffee. Frank said you had a rough night, something about Threlkis and the Mark Hopkins.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you meet Brett?”

“I did. What’s he do here? Construction?”

“Actually, he’s from our firm. He comes out twice a week and goes over the materials and workmanship, makes sure everything is up to my specifications, and that all the work is up to code.”

“I bought a painting a few days ago, pretty shattering stuff, really. A portrait, but a portrait of madness.” He handed over the gallery’s business card before he continued. “If you get a chance, drop by and see if there’s a place for it here in the house, and maybe where it’d fit in.”

“Okay. Sounds intense.”

“It is. Well, maybe it’s more than intense. Maybe it sums up my career, maybe better than I’d like to admit…” ‘And maybe it sums up the women in my life,’ he thought, but he left that unsaid. “It’s big, too.”

“Alright,” Cathy said, now more than a little curious, “I’ll swing by tomorrow when I go into the city.”

“Thanks. Great coffee, by the way.”

“From Kenya. Very smooth.”

“My coffee comes from May’s Diner, and it ain’t – smooth…at all.”

She laughed.

“How long ’til I can move in?”

She shrugged. “Depends on the temperatures. If it stays warm enough to lay stone through October, maybe around Christmas. If not, we’re looking at April or May. Any rush?”

“No, not really. Curious more than anything else.”

She walked over to a corner spanned by mitered glass; the main view here was of the sea. “Your piano will go here, in this space. Would you rather face the sea, or be broadside to it?”

He came and stood by her side, looked around the space, then at the views from different spots. “Amazing how different each is. I think here, facing the sea.”

She nodded. “That’s the way I drew it, but I wanted to make sure.”

“See. I told you I trusted you.”

She looked down, and Harry could tell she was blushing.

“Harry? Why this?” she asked, spreading her arms wide to indicate this house. “I mean, why me?”

Callahan stuck his hands in his back pockets then stood up on his toes, flexing up and down. “You know, I’ve known you and Frank for years, and just being around you, a lot of what you know about design has rubbed off on me. I listen, I guess I’m trying to say. Anyway, I think I’ve grown to trust how you look at the world…”

“Me? A Jimmy Carter Democrat?”

“Yeah, Cathy. You. And I appreciate your political points of view, too. I listen, and I learn.”

“Maybe if we took time to listen to one another more there wouldn’t be so much trouble brewing.”

“Yeah,” Callahan sighed. “Maybe.”

“I never got to tell you, but I was devastated by Sara…what happened and all…”

Harry nodded. “I know. We all were.”

“I don’t know how you handle it, Harry.”

He looked away. “Habit,” he ended up saying. “Like breathing, I guess. It’s hard to stop.”

“This Threlkis stuff last night? Will there be more trouble?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah.”

“Well, stay safe. I’m going to go put on breakfast if you want to come over?”

“Sure. Thanks. Did they do a good job on the house?”

“Good as new,” she said, smiling, then she turned and walked back to her house.

He walked around for a while, then ambled down to the cliffs that looked out over the surf-line, and even with just a gentle breeze blowing in from the sea the noise was spectacular. ‘What will it be like in a storm?’ he wondered.

Because a big storm is coming. He could feel it in his bones.

Threlkis. Escobar. The vigilantes. 

After taking out Crawford…who would come at them first? And how hard would they come at the team?

He walked along the edge of the cliff, always looking down at the surf, until he came to Cathy’s house…

He looked in, saw Frank and Cathy hugging in the kitchen, then he saw Cathy’s sister come in and pour a cup of coffee, and the sight of her took his breath away. Blond, shoulder length hair, gorgeous eyes…

Then she turned and looked directly at him, and a second later Frank and Cathy waved at him, beckoning him to come inside and say hello to his future…

He waved back and smiled, but for the past several hours the only thing he could truly see was Crawford’s face in the PSG’s scope, then, with just the slightest pressure on one finger, how a life had been so casually snuffed out.

Had Frank been, in the end, right? Was Crawford’s death really so different? Was his death really cold blooded murder? No more, no less? 

“And what if it was?”

He started for the house, but then he stopped. Shivering inside, he turned and looked out to sea.

“Oh, God…what have I done…?”

© 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. 34

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 34

____________________________________

With three chocolate chip and banana pancakes onboard, not to mention two glasses of whole milk, Callahan felt like a beached whale as he and Bullitt walked out of the diner. Satisfied with Frank’s plan to wreck the Threlkis wedding reception, Harry now felt more upbeat about his return to the street – certainly more than he had felt at four this morning…

“So,” Frank said as they walked up to his Mustang, “you think you could come up to Sea Ranch this weekend. Cathy would appreciate it…”

“I don’t know, Frank. This feels a little bit like a blind date, ya know? And I’m not sure I’m ready for that shit yet…”

“Look, Harry, I understand…but Evelyn is seriously easy on the eyes and a real sweetheart…”

Callahan nodded and held up his hand, but he stepped back a little, too, distancing himself from both Frank and his own thoughts. “Frank, I don’t know how good your math is, but let me remind you that basically I’m three for three. That’s three serious relationships in my life, Frank, and three dead women. Maybe you ought to mention that to Cathy before she gets her hopes up…”

“I’m sorry, Harry. I’d never put two and two together before…”

“I do. Every night.”

Bullitt shook his head. “Maybe all of us should head out for choir practice, like maybe tonight?”

Harry smiled. “Sounds good to me, Frank. Really good.”

Leaving Bullitt, Callahan drove across town and made his way to a row of art galleries the Wharf, and he wondered what he might find waiting there. How did a gallery’s business card find its way to the floor under the passenger’s seat inside the victim’s car? Lots of conjecture, Callahan thought initially – until he stopped dead in his tracks in front of one gallery.

Looking through the glass he found himself mesmerized by a series of what looked like self-portraits, all of them painted in shades of black and blood, and inside each of the works on display he found an unnerving howl of sexually-charged anger. They were, he thought, the works of a victim of sexual assault, a heavily traumatized victim that had, from what he could tell, internalized her anger until it spilled out on canvas.

He looked at his notepad, confirmed these images were in fact at the gallery in question, so he went inside to find out more. When he opened the door a bell rang out in an unseen office, and sure enough a husky-voiced middle-aged women came out to greet him…and in an instant Callahan found the woman’s penetrating eyes more than a little unnerving.

“So,” the woman said as she walked up to him, “what do you think?”

“Excuse me?”

“I saw you looking at Jennifer’s self portraits. What do you think of them?”

“They’re startling…and that one stopped me in my tracks. It’s very unsettling.”

“It’s the eyes that get me,” the woman said. “I try to look at them, but after a moment I find I have to look away.”

“Jennifer, you say? Can you tell me about her?”

“We’re going to have an opening and showing here in two weeks, if you’d like to meet her.”

“No, no, I’m just curious where all this comes from. I’ve, frankly, never seen anything quite like these.”

“May I ask what kind of space you might have to display works such as these?”

“Well, I’m building a new place up at Sea Ranch. It’s right on the water, and I think the majority of the space will be stone and glass, with redwood accents…”

“So, the space will be relatively dark?”

Callahan seemed to think about that for a moment. “No sheetrock, no painted walls, so yes, I guess you could call it dark.”

“Come take a look at this one over here.”

Callahan followed the woman to a secluded alcove, and yes, this space was dark compared to the rest of the gallery…and on the wall was another painting by the same artist. This one was different, however. 

First of all, this one was huge, easily six feet tall and, he guessed, about five feet wide – but the image itself was savage, almost primordially so. The woman’s face was contorted in rage, but her eyes were a hollow black…black and predatory, like a shark’s. Even her mouth looked feral, the teeth almost sharpened to points, and when he leaned in close he could just make out little drops of what looked like coagulated red blood on her teeth and around her mouth. Not obvious, but readily apparent to anyone willing to be drawn into such a work of madness.

“What’s her story?”

“What do you mean?” the woman said.

“Where did all this anger come from?”

The woman shrugged. “You’d have to ask her. Do you like this one?”

“No, not really. The one in front, that really caught my attention.”

“It does do that. It hasn’t sold yet, if you’re seriously interested.”

Callahan walked back to the front of the gallery and looked at that first painting again. “What’s the price?”

“Fifteen.”

“Thousand?”

The woman nodded, grinning while she sized him up. “I can hold it for you with a deposit of one thousand, if that’ll help,” she sneered, her voice almost condescending now.

Callahan pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check for the full amount and handed it over to the woman, who suddenly seemed completely flustered. “I won’t need to pick this up for a few months,” Callahan said. “Is it a problem to keep it here?”

“No, not at all, uh,” she said, looking down at the check, “Mr. Callahan. I was going to ask if we could keep it through the main showing, but this will work out magnificently!”

“So, what’s the artist’s name?”

“Spencer. Jennifer Spencer, and I do believe she currently lives here in the city.”

Callahan nodded. “And when was the opening, this showing?”

“A week from this coming Friday.”

“And pardon me for asking, but what was your name?”

“Leah. Leah Franklin,” the woman said, holding out her right hand. “So nice to meet you, Mr. Callahan. Could I get you a receipt?”

“Yes, please, and just use the address on the check.”

The woman looked at the check again and did a double take. “Davos, Switzerland?”

“That’s correct.”

“You are a U.S. citizen, aren’t you? If not, I’ll have to fill out some additional paperwork.”

“No, I was born right here in the city,” he said, grinning boyishly.

“I see. Well, if you’ll just let me know when you’d like to pick it up, please, just call me.”

“I will, Leah,” Harry said as he made his way to the door. “And, thanks.”

He walked to his car and drove downtown, parked in the detectives lot and went upstairs to the computer center by the main dispatcher’s room. “I want to see what you can find on a Jennifer Spencer, female, white, probably in her thirties, maybe late twenties. Last known address here in the city,” he told one of the Public Safety Officers working in the center.

“You want to wait, or will you be upstairs?” the woman asked.

“How long will it take?”

“Maybe ten minutes. I’ll need your badge number and the incident report number.”

Callahan nodded as he handed over his note pad. “I’ll wait, but I need to hit the head.”

“Got it,” the PSO said as she turned and got to work.

As he was walking up to the bank of urinals he heard the bathroom door swing open and looked over to see Captain Lionel Briggs walk in, and – inwardly – he groaned. Briggs was a carbon copy of Captain McKay; a paper-pushing bureaucrat-cop who had a well deserved reputation for being a bigot as well as a total prude. What Callahan didn’t know, however, was that after McKay’s disappearance Briggs had been transferred to Internal Affairs.

“Callahan! Just the turd I wanted to see. Zip up and report to my office – on the double!”

Callahan stood at the urinal, pissing away a quart of milk and two cups of coffee, as his stomach knotted. After he finished up he washed his hands and then splashed some water on his face, then he dried his hands and returned to the PSO’s desk and picked up a hard copy of Spencer’s driver’s license information, as well as a brief CCH, or Complete Criminal History, which listed an assault on a peace officer and a white warrant application. This last application really didn’t surprise Callahan; a white warrant was, generally speaking, what an officer filled out to have a suspected mental patient committed to a psychiatric facility for a 72-hour period of observation, and he looked at the dates of offenses and found the application and the assault happened on the same day.

The net takeaway after his morning’s work? Spencer probably had extreme issues with authority figures, and little ability to control her emotions when confronted by an authority figure – especially by a male. He walked down to records and gave the clerk what little information he had and asked if he could get a copy of Spencer’s arrest report and, if at all possible, a copy of the white warrant application and any evaluations made during her confinement.

“Callahan!” he heard Briggs yelling, “I said now, and I meant now!”

“If it’s okay with you,” Harry said to the clerk, “I’ll pick these up later this afternoon.”

“Okay,” the girl said, winking once and grinning as Harry rolled his eyes.

“Coming, Captain,” Callahan said as he walked down the hall to Briggs.

“Follow me.”

And Callahan followed Briggs downstairs to Internal Affairs, where his stomach instantly knotted into a burning mass of acid-drenched anxiety, and from there to an office with Briggs’ name on the door…which Callahan found utterly confusing…

“Are you working IAD now, sir?”

Briggs turned around and pointed to a chair. “Have a seat, inspector.”

Callahan sat.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while, but – apparently – you’ve been on extended leave to some sort of U.S.–Israeli counter-terrorism task force.”

Callahan didn’t say a word.

“And, apparently, you’ve been involved in undercover operations around the Bay Area.”

Again, Callahan made no effort to speak.

“Look, Inspector,” Briggs snarled, highlighting the obvious disparity in rank between them, “it’s this department’s policy that all, and I mean all undercover operations will be reported to this office, and a monthly summary of operations will be submitted to me directly. Now, why haven’t I received any such paperwork from you?”

Callahan stood and took out his wallet, then he removed a business card and handed it over to Briggs. “Call this guy. He’ll let you know what you need to know.”

Briggs took the card and looked at it briefly, then did a double take and read it closely: there was a name and phone number for the deputy director of the National Security Agency listed, and Briggs gasped as the implications became instantly clear. He handed the card back and took a seat.

“Jee-zus H Christ, Callahan, just what the devil have you gotten yourself mixed up in?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not allowed to…”

“Oh, yeah, I get that. Can you at least tell me if you’re still attached to this operation?”

Callahan was instantly on-guard, and looked directly into Briggs’ eyes, saw a flicker of evasive nervousness that was all the confirmation he needed to know that Briggs had been turned, but all Callahan did was shake his head and walk out of the office.

Predictably, Briggs did not follow, and he could just imagine that Briggs was on the phone now, calling someone in his network to let them know: “Callahan is back, working inside the department again.”

Once clear of IAD he started to do the math…

If Stacy had flown to Mexico City and on to Colombia, and that had taken the better part of a day, he could expect her back in the city sometime tomorrow. If, on the other hand, the Escobar cartel wanted to farm out a hit to the Threlkis organization? Well, if that was the case he and Frank could expect a reaction any time now.

He sighed and took the elevator upstairs and went directly to CID; Bullitt was in Bennett’s old office sorting through stacks of long-neglected paperwork.

“Harry! What’s up…I didn’t expect you up here so soon…”

Callahan walked in and closed the door behind him, then sat across from Bullitt. “Briggs is in IAD now, and he just pumped me. He’s in the network, Frank. I could see it in his eyes.”

Bullitt handed over a note from one of Goodman’s assets in the city; the gist of the memo was that, yes, Briggs had been identified in several calls to a known vigilante handler.

“So, what do you think?” Frank asked quietly.

“How sure are you that this office is secure?”

Bullitt shook his head and stood, and Harry followed him out of the building and to the parking garage; they drove over to Nob Hill and parked under Coit Tower, then walked down to The Shadows, Frank and Cathy’s favorite restaurant, and they ducked inside.

“Dell and Carl will be coming at four, and I got word to Al to come ASAP,” Bullitt said after they were seated in a dark corner with a good view of the main entrance. “Can you get word to Rooney, put him on stand-by?”

“No problem,” Callahan said as he stood and went to a payphone outside the restrooms. When he got back to the table Bressler was sliding into a seat next to Frank, and he looked very agitated.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked.

“I was followed,” Bressler said, “most of the way here. I lost one tail by the marina, but…”

“But, if they were pros they had you covered by multiple units…”

“I parked down by the docks and when it looked clear I took a cab up to the tower. Didn’t see anyone, but…”

“But you never can tell,” Frank whispered. “Man, I’m sure glad we made it through Goodman’s little spy-school…”

“What about Dell and Carl?” Al asked. “Think they know how to spot a tail?”

Harry looked at Frank and they both shook their heads.

Frank dropped a twenty on the table and the three of them stood and went to the back door; Callahan stopped and called Rooney, confirmed the extraction point and left the phone dangling. They left and made their way up Nob Hill by circling their way between houses all the way to Coit Tower, occasionally doubling back on their route to check for a tail, and they reached the parking lot at the tower just as a Huey’s rotors began beating the air overhead.

Rooney didn’t even bother setting the skids down, but dozens of gawking tourists stood by, fascinated, as three men in sports-coats hopped into a green US Army helicopter and disappeared into the usual late-afternoon fog just now flooding through the Golden Gate…

__________________________________

Once airborne, Frank put on his headset and switched to Comms, then he dialed in the CID tactical frequency and sent a prearranged signal to Delgetti and Stanton: “Inspectors 66 and 78, head to the stables,”  which would, hopefully, send them to the Presidio.

Rooney climbed out of the fog and turned south, made for Goodman’s safe house above Palo Alto; Dell and Carl would wait at the fort until Rooney came for them, because Frank had already decided enough was enough. But, in a flash his mind turned to Sam Bennett, and then to his two surviving kids. Things were about to get ugly…and he wanted to keep collateral damage to a minimum.

First things first, he thought. Briggs. Who had he called? What was the size and strength of the network Briggs had activated with a single phone call…?

“Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“I think we’re going to have to take Briggs, get him to Goodman, see if we can find out what he knows.”

Callahan nodded. “What about Sam?”

“I was just thinking about that.”

“We need to get them out of harm’s way.”

“Agreed.”

As the Huey passed Menlo Park the fog dissipated, and a few minutes later they were at the safe house. Two Israeli agents were there, and all their communications equipment was set up on the third floor of the massive house, so Frank told them what he thought the team needed.

“We picked up Captain Bennett,” one of the agents said, “when we heard the stable message. He and his wife are on their way to the Presidio.”

“He’s got two kids…”

“Already picked up and on their way.”

“Do you have direct comms to Goodman?”

The agent nodded: “Follow me.”

Frank told the colonel about Briggs and what had happened following Callahan’s encounter in IAD, then he asked the big question: “What if we bag him? Do you think he’s worth interrogating?”

Frank heard Goodman chuckle over the encrypted circuit, then: “We have to cut off the head of the snake, Frank. However we can.”

“Do you think Briggs is the control nexus?”

“No,” Goodman replied.

“Are you telling me to bag him, or take him out?”

“I think we’re at the point where we have to go on the offensive, Frank. I think it’s time to take out as many bad apples as we can.”

“Why now?”

“Because every time we cut off a head it just grows right back. We need to send these clowns underground.”

“How many?”

“We have more than twenty identified right now.”

“Any idea how we might proceed?”

Frank heard Goodman sigh: “If you could get them to gather in one spot…”

Bullitt could just see the newspaper headlines: Twenty cops murdered… and wondered why Goodman would want to call that much attention to the team’s efforts.

“Alright,” Frank said, “we’ll work on it.”

Once he’d signed off he went to find Callahan…

“What if Goodman is using us?” Bullitt asked after he recounted the conversation with the colonel.

“Well, the question becomes ‘who is using who,’ doesn’t it? And only then, why?”

“We’re too low on the totem pole to get anywhere near an answer to either one of those questions,” Frank said as he looked down, “but all I really do know is we simply can’t take out twenty law enforcement officers without bringing down the wrath of God. And I can’t see how Israel might stand to benefit if we did.”

“I say we take Briggs, tonight if we can, and that we find out what we can, directly from him.”

Frank seemed dismayed at the idea: “Are you really prepared to torture someone we know, even if Briggs is in it up to his neck?”

Callahan shrugged.

“Yeah, I thought so. Tell you what, Harry…I know I couldn’t do it, and I’d be really concerned if you thought you could. It’s one thing to talk about torturing someone, but something else entirely to actually get your hands dirty doing something like that.”

“So, what do you want to do? We can’t just hole up here…”

“First thing I want to do is get Briggs. Where we go from there is anybody’s guess.”

Bressler walked in: “Helicopter is about five out.”

Bullitt nodded. “Al? You have anything on Briggs?”

Bressler shook his head. “Nothing concrete, just a few rumors.”

“Such as?”

“His wife. The word is she’s addicted to a prescription anti-anxiety drug, and Briggs has been writing scrips using a hot pad and a borrowed DEA number.”

“No fucking shit?” Frank said, really shocked by that information. 

“They’re just people, Frank,” Bressler said. “Cops fuck-up just like everyone else.”

“Do we know what pharmacy he uses?” Callahan said, interrupting Al…

…who only shook his head…

“Is there a working file on him, Al, maybe in Vice?” Frank asked…

…and Bressler nodded slowly before he spoke: “Yeah.”

“So, we go in and get it tonight, see what we can figure out from there, then I recommend we all go back in to work tomorrow and act just like nothing happened.”

Callahan nodded. “I’ve got a couple of good leads off that homicide out at the cliffs this morning.”

“Good. Just try to stay around the station as much as possible for the next few days. Let’s let everyone know where we are for now, try to draw them out, identify who we can.”

“Then what?” Bressler asked. “Take them out?”

“Not unless we have to…”

“Oh, we’ll have to,” Callahan sighed. “This is simply coming down to kill or be killed, Frank. I doubt those were Mormons following Al this afternoon.”

“Okay, Harry, but think about this, would you? If we kill even one of these vigilantes, what makes us any different than them?”

“That’s a Boy Scout’s question, Frank,” Harry said. “Are we standing up for the integrity of the system, trying to keep it from collapsing, or are we…?”

“And what do you think those guys would say, you know, if you asked them? Maybe that they’re just trying to keep the system from collapsing? That and – what do we call it? Immigrants, or blacks, or Jews…or whatever…are causing the imminent collapse of the country. And that only they represent the best hope of preventing that collapse…”

Callahan held up his hand and shook his head: “No Frank, I think they’re trying to tear the country apart from the inside, because they think the system isn’t worth saving. Their political needs, the needs of this moment, can’t be accommodated by our system of laws, of checks and balances. The system as it stands right now is their enemy, it’s standing in their way and, as far as they are concerned, it needs to be pushed aside, burned to the ground.”

Bullitt seemed taken aback by the idea, but then he rose to the challenge: “Okay, if all that’s true, what does killing them accomplish – except possibly starting an all out war, another civil war?”

Callahan sighed. “Oh, that’s coming Frank. Sooner or later it will all boil down to just that…because I think that’s exactly what they want. They can’t tear the system down on their own, so they’ll get us to help them by corrupting the system from within, getting the people to lose faith in the system, and then getting the people to actively work to burn it down.”

“Man, Harry, I had no idea you were such a fucking cynic.”

“It’s not cynicism, Frank. It’s opening your eyes to what’s going on all around us right now. It’s keeping in mind that history really does repeat itself, and that people really, really don’t take that idea seriously enough, if they do at all. And, you know, that’s why Hitler chose the same path, Frank. Why his shock troops infiltrated German law enforcement. Why his ‘brown-shirts’ infiltrated peace movements, and then sabotaged their demonstrations, making peaceful protestors look like willful destroyers of the republic, and then branding them as the anarchists. And the funny thing about it, Frank? He laid it all out in that little red book of his, that Mein Kampf thing he wrote when he was in jail. It was all right there, and the Germans ignored it. And do you know why they did that, Frank?”

Bullitt just shook his head.

“Because they wanted to. They hated their country enough to want to burn it all down, from the inside. And look around, Frank. Look at the freaks and hippies who want to burn it all down, then look at the guys in button down shirts and three piece suits, and listen to the anger in their voices.”

“So, what are you saying, Callahan? That there’s no hope, that there’s nothing we can do to stop all this from going down?”

“Politicians sell hope, Frank, every four years…just like clockwork.”

“Sounds like you’ve given up on things, Harry…”

“I don’t know anymore, Frank. There’s just too much hate. Everywhere you look it’s Us and Them. Battle lines being drawn, my side is better than your side. And who knows, maybe that’s just a part of the human condition, how we’re wired. Maybe ‘peace’ is really the opposite of the way people are put together…”

Bullitt continued to shake his head. “Man, I don’t know. If that’s true, then, well, there’s no hope, is there? No way out of this mess.”

Harry looked up when he heard a Huey in the distance, but then he heard another helicopter, and another…

“What is it?” Bullitt asked when he saw the look in Callahan’s eyes.

“We’ve got company coming.”

“Yeah, Rooney is coming up with…”

“At least three helicopters coming, maybe four…”

They looked at one another, then stood…

“Are the PSGs here?” Frank yelled.

But the Israelis were already coming for them, bounding down the hallway at a dead sprint…

“Rooney reports he’s taking fire from…” one of them said.

Machine gun fire tore through the house, then several small objects landed on the roof and everyone froze…

A moment later Harry was flying sideways through the imploding remains of the house, and then he was dimly aware of being picked up and hauled into what he thought was a bunker of some sort. He recognized Al through the smoke, realized Bressler had just saved his life – but then Al ran back into the smoke and was gone…

The Israeli’s came in carrying several Uzis and MP-5s, and a minute or so later Al returned, this time carry Frank over his shoulder. “Just like the PT course at the academy,” he said through his infectious grin, and as he set Bullitt down Harry could see little cuts all over Franks face and arms…

He stood, felt light-headed and reached out to steady himself, then he took an MP-5 from the pile on a table and racked a round into the chamber…

Then he heard men running overhead – followed by more machine gun fire – and then the pathetic return fire of snub-nose 38s.

“Fuck this,” Callahan snarled – as he made his way through the rubble for the wrecked staircase. With his back up against the wall he made his way towards the machine gun fire up the stairs until he saw three men – strangers all – firing at unseen targets.

He flipped the selector to full auto and the safety to off and raised the weapon to his eye and squeezed off three bursts – and saw three men go down.

“Frank? Are you there?” he heard Carl Stanton yell.

“Callahan here. Can you make it to the stairwell?” He heard running, then saw Carl at the top of the stairs. “You alone?”

“I know Dell went down upstairs, the Captain, too…?”

“Bennett?”

“Yeah. Pretty sure they’re dead,” Stanton said as he joined Harry. “What about Frank?”

“He’s down here. Okay, as far as I could tell. What’s going on out there?”

“Two choppers followed us, jumped us when we cleared the fog. Our pilot called for backup but they shot out the engine, we went down a few hundred yards up the hill from here.”

Now it was eerily quiet, except that sirens could be heard in the distance.

“What about Rooney? The pilot?”

“I don’t know.”

“Anyone else in the Huey?”

“Mrs. Bennett was with the kids,” Carl said, shaking his head and holding back tears.

“Okay, you go find Frank – and anyone else down there. I’m going to find out what’s going on outside,” Harry said as he ran up the stairs. He saw Delgetti slumped in a corner and ran over, felt for a pulse – and found one, strong and steady – so he laid him out on the floor before he ran outside.

It only took a second to see where the downed Huey was; a steady flow of black smoke was rising through the evergreens up the hill so he took off in that direction…

…and stopped when he came on Sam Bennett. He was sitting up and looked confused, but the skin on the left side of his face was badly burned and Harry could see blood under his shirt…

…so he took off for the helicopter.

And found Rooney standing by the downed bird, shaking his head.

“Harry? You have any idea how much paperwork it’s gonna take to cover this shit?”

Callahan looked over the scene; Elaine Bennett was sitting in the shade of a redwood with her kids – and all were just fine – while Rooney’s co-pilot was busy dousing the remains of a small engine fire with an extinguisher.

“Did you get any registration numbers on the other birds?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Rooney said as he pulled out a tiny spiral notepad. “Ready to copy?”

“Shoot.”

Harry wrote the numbers down but he instantly recognized one of them, the LongRanger he had piloted with Escobar in the rear seat – and he was amazed at how reckless these people were, and how lucky they’d been to catch on to the teams’ use of Army helicopters.

The wailing sirens stopped on the hill beneath the house so Harry started to make his way back – just as the sound of several approaching Army Hueys drowned out everything else. He watched them circle overhead, saw Rooney wave at an officer leaning out and surveying the scene, so he jogged back down to the house. He saw firemen and paramedics standing around and called out for the medics, told them there were casualties in the house…

“Who are you?” one of the firemen called out.

“Callahan. San Francisco PD Homicide.”

“We heard heavy gun fire. Is it safe?”

“Yeah. Come on up.” He heard footsteps behind and turned, saw Bullitt walking out of the house, his shirt a tattered mess of glass fragments and pooling blood.

“Harry? I think I’ve had about enough of this bullshit. It’s time. The gloves come off, and they come off right fucking now.”

Their eyes met, and Callahan nodded. 

© 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…]