The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 38

Part IV

Chapter 38

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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…]

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