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…]

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