The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 45

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 45

‘I need time to think, Harry.’

‘To think. Time to think.’ Her words kept echoing inside his mind as she left the boarding area and walked down the Jetway, getting on a Japan Air Lines 747 bound for Tokyo.

He still didn’t know what to say, what ‘to think.’ He didn’t even know if he’d lost her or not.

The ending she’d crafted was so ambiguous, and so…unfair. To both of them. Couldn’t she see that? Or…was that part of the plan?

When the big Boeing left the gate he went to the end of the concourse and watched it lumber out to the runway, then he just stood there and watched as she disappeared into the early morning sky. With his hands in his pockets and his head hanging down, there was nothing left to say, nothing to do, really, but to get on with getting on.

There was one dangling thread that needed his immediate attention, however, so he left SFO and drove over to the old house in Potrero Hills. Lloyd Callahan was in the front yard, on his knees by the flower bed picking weeds, when Harry drove up in his freshly repaired Range Rover. The old man looked up when he heard the door slam, and then he stood and walked up to the porch and sat in the shade, waiting for had to be the inevitable showdown.

“Well, well, the prodigal son returns. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Harry sat beside his father, his steepled fingers bundled on his lap. “I just dropped Fujiko at the airport. I think she’d had enough of me after a few days.”

“Different life, different expectations. Their culture is based on an enforced harmony; ours on pure, unmitigated chaos. What did you expect?”

“She was always telling me to be patient, to be open minded and willing to accept change.”

“Some changes are simply too much to accept, Harry. How did she leave it? Did she break it off?”

“No,” Harry sighed, “she wants some time to think.”

“And she’s left you dangling. How nice of her.”

Harry shrugged, his shoulders sagging in defeat. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Stand up and dust off your britches, Harry!” Lloyd yelled. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You’ve lived the life you wanted, the life you chose, and if she can’t or won’t accept who you really are, then fuck it and get on with your life!”

Harry nodded. “So, how do you like retirement?”

“I fucking hate it. The company called me a few days ago, told me they’d take me back on a part time basis if I’d just take one or two trips a year.”

“You gonna do it?”

“Hell, yes, I’m gonna do it.”

“What about the model trains?”

“Oh, I’ll have plenty of time for all that. What about you? You’re officially retired now?”

“Yeah, but one of the assistant chiefs called Frank a couple of days ago. The department wants us to stay active through the reserves. Minimal pay, but we’d keep our badges, all that jazz.”

“Of course you’ll do it, right?”

“With Fujiko gone, I reckon so.”

“Gone? That’s pretty final, Harry. What if she changes her mind, comes back?”

“Well, we’ll just have to see what happens, I guess. How’s the house doing?”

“Oh, fine, fine. Your contractor took care of everything, though I found some paint splatters on the dining room windows. I was thinking about gutting the kitchen next. New cabinets, appliances, all that crap. Keep it up so after I’m gone you won’t have any problem unloading it.”

“I doubt I could sell it, Dad.”

“Well, whatever you do, don’t rent it out. Renters will just trash it up, ruin it.”

“Okay.”

“How’s Frank?” 

“Starting his second round of chemo today. I’m picking him up at noon, running him back out to the ranch.”

“Your new place finished yet?”

“Yup. Moved in while Fujiko was here.”

“I’d like to see it someday. So, how do you like that Rover?”

“It’s a tank.”

“Great gas mileage, I bet?”

Harry snickered. “Nine in the city, twelve on the highway.”

“Ouch. I’m gonna need to get something pretty soon, myself.”

“What? After twenty years, you’re going to ditch the Ford? That’s a travesty, Dad. A few more years and she’ll be an antique!”

“Oh, I’ll keep her, but I want a pickup now. Something big.” 

“Another Ford?”

“Nothing but, far as I’m concerned.”

An uncomfortable silence followed, then Lloyd stood. “Well, you better go get Frank. Good to see you,” he said, holding out his right hand.

Harry took it, though in a way it hurt to do so. “Yeah Pops. You take care.”

He drove to the hospital in silence, and Frank was waiting curbside, looking a little irritated.

“I’ve been out here a half hour, Harry.”

“It’s not even noon yet, Frank.”

“Can we go down to the department, look over those reserve contracts?”

“You feel up to that?”

“No, not really, but if I’m gonna be puking my guts out for the next couple of days I’d like to have something funny to read between heaves.”

“Funny, huh?”

“Yeah, same job – for a tenth the pay. Funny, Harry. As hell.”

“Yeah. Well, I meet with a bunch of lawyers tomorrow morning about the helicopter thing.”

“Really? Can I come along?”

“If you promise not to barf all over the place, sure.”

“Cool. I hate kicking around that house all day by myself.”

“If you’re throwing up, you won’t…”

“I gotta question.”

“Shoot.”

“The girl. In the alley. Dell hasn’t get any leads, no witnesses.”

“I was wondering when you were gonna ask.”

“Well? Should we?”

Callahan took a deep breath, looked at his hands as if they were the guilty ones – because in a way, they were. “What do you think?”

“I’m not sure…that’s why I’m asking you.”

“I don’t know, Frank. At some point a judge is going to ask us under oath how we came up with the evidence, and we may get away with ‘an anonymous source’ one time…”

“We can swear not to do it again after this one.”

“I think we’ve already used that line once,” Callahan smirked. 

“Yeah. I hate to see the pricks get away with it, though.”

“You think I don’t?” Callahan said as he pulled into the department’s visitor parking lot. “Man, this really chaps my ass.”

“What?”

“Visitor’s lot. Man, twenty years and bam! Nothing! It’s like we never worked here, ya know?”

“Well, once we’re in the reserves…” Frank said as they walked into the main building.

“Yeah,” Harry growled, “I know. We’ll at least have our feet halfway back in the door.”

“I feel fuckin’ naked without my 45.”

“Tell me about it. What’s with Delgetti? I thought he was gonna retire too.”

“Couldn’t make the numbers work. Five more years and he thinks he’ll have enough to live on.”

“What about another job. Did he try that?”

“He’s like all the other cops I know, Harry. He’s blue, through and through, can’t see himself doing anything else.”

“Hell, he could teach at the Academy, couldn’t he?”

“I don’t know. I’ll mention it, though.”

“He’s patient, would probably be good at it.”

They went into the main personnel office; their papers were ready and just like that they were back on the payroll. As detectives they had to remain available for calls on weekends and two nights a week, and they had to be available for emergency call-outs, but they were legal again. Their old badge numbers reactivated, their firearms permits renewed, they were real cops again.

“Sorry, Harry, but I’m going to need to stop at the head.”

“Gonna puke?”

“Yeah, think so.”

They ducked into the patrol division locker room and Bullitt lost a few pounds, then Callahan helped him out to the Rover.

“Man, I’m glad the suspension on this thing is so soft,” Frank said as he settled back in the right seat. “Can you give me some A/C?”

Callahan looked at his friend…pale, sweating, his hands trembling a little. “Wish it wasn’t so far. Would you rather go to the apartment? I had it cleaned, stem to stern. New sheets on the bed, too.”

“No, no way. Let’s head to your house, see what we can see. Just drive slow, would you?”

“I may faint.”

“What? Why?”

“Frank Bullitt…telling me to drive slow. This has to be a first.”

“I’m gonna beat this shit, Callahan. You watch and see. I’m flat-out gonna beat this shit.”

“You know, I think you will too. Attitude is everything, right?”

“Damn straight. Callahan, back off…you’re following too close…”

Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Hell,’ he thought, ‘who needs a wife…when I got Frank…’

Even driving slow, Callahan made it back to the ranch by half past three, but Cathy wasn’t home yet so they went to his house instead. And the piano was sitting there, waiting, crying out to them like a naked accusation.

“Well,” Frank said, “what’s the verdict.”

Callahan went to the piano, and he stared at the keys for the longest time. 

But…it didn’t take long for them to have all they needed to take care of the situation.

________________________________

It proved easiest to have Don McCall move into Callahan’s old apartment until the service’s new helicopters started arriving, while ‘Mickey’ Rooney and three other ex-military Huey drivers went off to Connecticut to go through a two-month Sikorsky S-76 school. Everyone, including Callahan and Pattison, would have to get current on helicopter IFR operations, as well as upgrade their ‘tickets’ to FAR airline transport ratings.

The new company’s name was Callahan Air Transport, or CAT, and Harry applied for and received an appropriate toll-free 800 number: CAT-CALL. It was easy to remember and made people smile, so a win-win situation as far as Callahan was concerned. Cathy designed the company logo and Harry was surprised at the results: a standing tiger…flashing a huge grin and sporting two fingers held up – making a ‘peace sign.’ She said it would be perfect for the San Francisco market, and it was.

The Presidio was slated to close soon, so Rooney and Pattison arranged for CAT to take over three helicopter maintenance hangers, as well as an operations building that, as luck would have it, had all the necessary radio antennas they’d ever need. Frank had to take a courses to become an FAA certified flight dispatcher, as well as a licensed radio operator, and those two courses occupied almost all his free time for the first two months – at least when he wasn’t taking chemo or puking his guts out.

Bell Helicopter offered a great deal on four new 212s if CAT would also buy two low hour Hueys they’d recently taken in on trade, and those six ships were the first to arrive at the CAT House, Frank’s chosen name for the Presidio base. One hanger was sealed off and the old helicopters repainted to match the new 212s: silver with deep maroon lowers topped with five pencil thin stripes in navy blue. Flashy Tiger decals were applied to the undersides and tails, and everyone agreed the Hueys looked pretty good decked out like this.

Callahan arranged to take over a large hanger at Mariposa-Yosemite airport (KMPI), and Cathy designed a small bunkhouse – operations center to house air crews during the long California fire season. By the time Pattison brought the first S-76 back to San Francisco, Callahan was looking at facilities in South Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes. Cathy thought Silicon Valley would be a prime market and convinced Callahan to look at a small operations center at Palo Alto’s small general aviation airport, and that turned out to be the third base in the network.

It was, Callahan thought when he looked back on this period of his life, the busiest and most fulfilling time of his life, and by far the most successful from a financial point of view. 

It was also, when he cared to think about such things, the loneliest time of his entire life.

_________________________________

The first letter from Fujiko began with the news that she had decided to go back to school. She wanted, she wrote, to become a certified translator, perhaps work at the United Nations or at an embassy abroad. She made no mention of a future together, and Callahan accepted that at face value; from that point on he assumed the relationship was over.

He heard from Didi every month or so, primarily regarding the state of his investments but he also received a summary of Evelyn’s progress at the psychiatric clinic in Davos. What he heard about Evelyn was routinely negative; she had become progressively more disorganized mentally and was exhibiting increasingly violent tendencies. Didi had visited her at the clinic just once; she came away shaken by what she’d seen. Callahan never told Bullitt about this, fearing it might interfere with his treatment and recovery.

Frank did give Delgetti all the information they uncovered about the murder in the alley, but Dell simply would not move on the information without knowing the source. That left Callahan and Bullitt in a quandary; they could tell Delgetti the truth behind the information and risk humiliation, or worse, or he and Frank could simply take care of the matter themselves.

“Yeah, I know,” Harry said. “And if we do, what’s the difference between us…”

“And the vigilantes. I know, and we’ve had this conversation before,” Frank replied. “But here me out. If we know this is the type of offense that might warrant the death penalty…”

“Don’t even go there, Frank. Our system is built on a foundation of due process, and you know that. We circumvent that and what are we left with? We’re right back at Lake Shasta, aren’t we? It’s murder, pure and simple.”

“Yeah? Well the death penalty is murder too, isn’t it? I mean, once you brush aside all the niceties like ‘due process’ and ‘mandatory appeals’ what are you left with? A dead body on a gurney, that’s what. You can dress it up any way you want, but the end results are just the same.”

“Assuming guilt, yeah, that’s right. And – assuming all the appeals go against the perp.”

“And how many guilty mobsters have we dealt with who ‘got off on a technicality,’ Harry? Can you see taking this to court and the defense getting to Delgetti? Asking him about his probable cause for arrest? And he tells the court that Inspectors Callahan and Bullitt have some kind of magic piano that allows them to see into the past. Right! You know what happens then, Harry? They wrap us up in straight jackets and file us away in a little room with no windows and padded walls…!” 

“So…the choice is…either we do it – or we let the goons walk.”

“Unless you can think of a third option, then yeah.”

“We could plant some bogus info with someone inside the Threlkis mob, insinuate…”

“Same outcome, Harry, only our hands would be a little less bloody. Because it would still be murder, pure and simple. Remember the statute? To intentionally or knowing deprive a person or persons of their life… And we got four people in that car that knew what was going down, right? You want to fade the heat for that if we get some kind of screwball mistrial?”

Callahan sighed.

“And let’s not forget, Harry, according to the girl these clowns are gunning for you. Maybe they crawl out of the woodwork when you head into work one morning – and they pick you off on the PCH. You wanna wait around for something like that to happen?”

“Sounds like you’ve made up my mind, Frank. I still don’t like all the moral ambiguity.”

“Jesus, Callahan, since when did you grow a fuckin’ conscience?”

“After Shasta. That’s been burning a hole in my gut ever since.”

“Really? I thought that was kind of clear cut to you?”

“It was until I read about the kid finding her dad’s body on the porch. That kid is never going to know the reason why her father was killed. She’s never going to know about all the bad shit he did. All she’s going to remember is seeing her father’s shattered face sprayed all over a patio floor. So…what did we do to her, Frank? She’s blameless, yet she’s going to pay a helluva price for the rest of her life.”

“How many murder victims leave behind family in similar circumstances…?”

“You nailed it, Frank, right there. How many murder victims? Murder, Frank. Pure and simple.”

“And what did that fucker do to his daughter, Harry? To his own flesh and blood? Murder. Pure and simple. And if he nails you tomorrow? And gets away with it?”

Callahan looked down, shook his head.

“How do you think I’ll feel, Harry? Knowing we could have prevented your murder?”

Harry looked up, looked Bullitt in the eye. “Okay,” he said. “I don’t like it, but okay.”

________________________________

Bullitt did what he did best: with the information on hand he located the suspect’s vehicle. He photographed all the people coming and going from the suspect’s house. Then he tapped the phones and planted bugs in the house. He listened to the phone calls and developed a good idea what the people there were up to, and then…one evening just before an Oakland A’s game got underway he picked up a new recording from one of his bugs:

“We located Callahan’s place. Up north of here, place called Sea Ranch.”

“I heard of that. Bunch of pinko artists live up there.”

“When can we hit him?”

“After the next delivery. Benavides don’t want nothing to interfere with that, so nothing happens ’til that’s out of the way.”

“I heard this is gonna be a big one.”

“Yeah, it’s big alright. No helicopters this time. Morales is gonna use the big boat.”

“Sheesh, what are they bringing in? Ten tons again?”

“Bigger, or so I hear. And get this…the stuff is coming up by submarine!”

“No way!”

“Yeah, way. Them fuckin’ Colombians think of everything, man.”

“So…when’s this going down?”

“Next Tuesday, man. We meet up at the place in Sausalito. The boat will pick us up there…”

Bullitt made copies of the tape and then went to meet Callahan at the CatHouse. Rooney was there too when he played the tape.

“So who is this shithead?” Rooney asked.

“The guy gunning for Harry? Name is Raymond Salmi, until recently a resident of San Quentin. He killed his daughter a while back, because she put him in Quentin after he beat the living shit out of her. Harry here then proceeded to beat the shit out of Salmi, sending him to Quentin with about seventy stitches on his face.”

“Good job, Harry! You say he killed his daughter?”

“Yeah. He’s a real model citizen, now into drug running.”

“A submarine?” Rooney said. “Man, you guys need to tell the Navy.”

“Nope,” Callahan said. “This one is strictly off the books.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

Bullitt spoke up next. “I say we wait for them to board the boat and hit ‘em with some kind of bomb once they get out past the Golden Gate.”

Rooney frowned. “No way, Frank. Coast Guard would be all over you in thirty seconds flat.”

“So, you got any ideas?” Callahan asked.

“Yeah. Follow me.”

Rooney led them across the grounds to a hanger; he took out a key and unlocked a side entry and took them inside.

“What the fuck is that?” Callahan asked, his eyes registering both fear and lust.

“The Agusta-Bell AB-212-ASW variant.”

“The what?” Frank asked.

“An Italian built 212 Huey, specifically modified for anti-submarine operations, as well as over-the-water search and rescue ops. The Navy was conducting trials with this one off the coast for a few months. We’re keeping it here until reps from Italy come and pick it up.”

“What are those?” Callahan asked as he walked up to the port-side weapons pylon.

“ASROC, SUBROC, something like that. Apparently you launch the thing and it drops a homing torpedo onto the target. The thing is, you got to drop sonobuoys in a pattern around the target for the thing to work.”

Callahan stood on the skid and peered into the cockpit. “Looks like any other 212. What gives?”

“Check the back. There’s a dual sonar rig where we’d put a flight engineer, and a sonobuoy tech handles the drops. There’s also a dipping sonar.”

“Man, you’re speaking Greek now,” Frank said.

Callahan turned to Rooney: “Did you say there’s a dipping sonar installed?”

“Yup. And something called MAD gear.”

“Then we wouldn’t need a sonar operator,” Harry said.

“What’s MAD gear?” Frank asked.

“Magnetic Anomaly Detector,” Harry replied. “Depending on the set, you can pick up a sub several hundred feet beneath the surface.”

“How do you know about this crap?” Bullitt asked.

“I read a lot,” Callahan replied, smiling. “What about the torpedos? Those are green-heads, right?”

“Yup.”

“Where could we find a couple of war-shots?”

“In those crates,” Rooney said, pointing. “They sent those along just in case world war three broke out.”

“And the mini-guns?”

“Thousand rounds per minute, two thousand rounds per gun. Ammunition is right over there…”

“In those crates, huh?”

“Yup.”

“Harry?” Frank said. “What are you thinking?”

“Well, Frank. There are a lot of Great Whites around the Farallons. I think it would be too bad if those hoods had engine trouble while they’re out there, don’t you?”

“I’m more worried about the sharks, Harry.”

“Oh. Why?”

“Well, think about it…with twenty tons of cocaine in the water, those are gonna be some seriously fucked-up fish, Harry…”

As the three walked backed to the Cathouse they saw Delgetti waiting for them in the parking lot, and he walked up to Harry when they got close.

“Harry, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it appears your father had a stroke earlier today, at least that’s what they think…”

“Where is he? How is he doing?”

“I’m sorry, Harry. He’s gone.”

Frank helped him inside and sat while his friend came to terms with the moment, but it was only the second time he’d seen Harry cry and the sight shook him up. It wasn’t too hard to think what was going through his mind, too. This last stretch of their life together fouled by the Fujiko thing, their last precious stretch of time together ripped away – not by circumstance, but by choice. And now, here he sat with no one to hold, no one to understand or share the moment with, no sheltering love to call his own. Just an empty house on a cliff overlooking the cold heart of the sea.

________________________________

They used encrypted handsets that night. 

Bullitt followed the Threlkis crew to Sausalito, his only real concern that he had been made, that they were springing a trap. But no, the crew met up at an Italian restaurant overlooking the bay and a little after ten that night a Zodiac motored up to the docks below and they hopped in. Frank called it in to the Cathouse.

“Cat Baker to Able. Mice are on the loose, as planned.”

“Able copies.”

Callahan and Rooney were both up front that night, Harry on the stick and Mickey handling the weapons systems. Rooney had dug up the Navy sonar operator used during the evaluation flights of this helicopter, and the kid was sitting just behind them – currently with nothing to do. The plan was to hang back and get a rough heading on the boat, then head north a little before turning out to sea. They’d circle around, come in from the west, and that way avoid detection until the last possible moment.

The bird was an Italian made twin-engined Huey, but all the instrumentation was pure American made stuff on this bird, because she was meant for export. And this was the first time Callahan would get his hands on the newest night vision gear, too.

They headed out over the Golden Gate with all their anti-collision lights going, not making any effort to hide, and they watched the boat as it cleared land and hit the open sea – on a heading of 240 magnetic – a course that would take them just south of the Farallons. Callahan turned to the northwest and flew up the coast about ten miles, then all the Huey’s lights went dark and he put the helicopter about a hundred feet above the water as he turned to the west. Ten minutes later the jagged rocks of the Farallons came into view…

“Those rocks are going to make a lot of noise,” the sonar operator said over the intercom. “Head a couple of miles south and we’ll dip there.”

“Got it,” Callahan replied.

“It’ll take that boat about five hours to get all the way out here, Harry. We ain’t got the gas for that.”

“Anyone on the south island?”

“A caretaker, maybe. It’s not shark season so all the researchers should be on shore.”

“Okay, let’s take a couple of readings, see if we can pick something up.”

The dipping sonar sensor was on a reel, the idea being to work along an imaginary ‘picket line’ then to ‘stop and drop’ the sensor along this line and – hopefully – pick up a target and triangulate its position, in the process working up a course and speed on the sub as it moved through the water.

On the second dip the operator spoke up…

“Okay, I’m picking up engine plant noise. A diesel boat, pretty small too. Really noisy, like a Chinese boat. Man, I wonder how they got by San Diego? Okay, pull her up and let’s move…”

Callahan moved the ship a mile to the south and they dipped again…

“Shit! We’re right on top of her! Pull it up!”

So, another mile to the south and Rooney dipped the sonar again…

“Okay, same boat, got a turn count, making five knots, no, slowing now, some hull noises now, a little popping, she’s coming up to about fifty feet, no, wait…she’s surfacing…”

Callahan hovered while Rooney reeled in the sonar, but as soon as the sensor was out of the water he turned south and slipped even closer to the surface of the the water, putting some real distance between the sub and the Huey.

He turned back towards the sub and, using the night vision goggles, saw a few people walking along the curved surface of the gleaming black hull, then he saw someone pointing in their direction, then men scrambling for the conning tower…

“Okay,” Callahan said, “they’ve made us. Looks like they’re gonna dive.”

“You gonna take it out?” the sonar operator asked. “Man, the Navy will hear that shit from SanDiego to Puget Sound…”

Rooney looked at the operator. “Arm ASROC One.”

“Arming One,” the kid said, and Callahan appreciated his professionalism. “They’re blowing tanks, turn count increasing rapidly now.”

“How close do we need to get?” Callahan asked.

“We can fire anytime you want, range is good.”

“Fire ASROC One,” Rooney said, and the rocket leapt from the rail, went up to 500 feet AGL, and thirty seconds later a torpedo, dangling from three small parachutes, slipped into the sea.

“Torpedo in acquisition mode, no countermeasures, call it ten seconds to impact…”

Callahan looked at the surface of the sea, saw a momentary bubbling on the surface then a vast column of water erupted.

“Target is destroyed,” the operator whispered. “Dude, whoa, that was my first hard kill.”

“Yeah,” Rooney added, “mine, too.”

But Callahan was all business now. “Mickey, work up an intercept heading for the boat.”

“Call it 7-5 degrees magnetic, say about 10 to 12 miles to PCA.”

Callahan swung to the new heading and accelerated to 140 knots. “How’s our fuel?”

“Two hours if you throttle back a little. About an hour fifteen at present speed.”

“Okay, I think I see ‘em,” he said five minutes later. He flew right down the port side of the boat and several men started shooting at the Huey as it passed. “Will that torpedo work on a surface contact?”

“Sure. Just set the target depth for zero. Want me to light it up?”

“Go ahead,” Callahan snarled.

“Arm ASROC Two,” Rooney said.

“Arming Two. Two is ready, programmed to zero depth. We are in range, come to best heading of 2-5-0 magnetic.”

Callahan swung around, and he could see frantic action on deck through his night vision goggles, then someone with what looked like a small missile launcher stood on the fore-deck…

“Missile launcher,” Callahan yelled.

“Countermeasures to pulse and active,” the operator said calmly. 

“Fire ASROC Two,” Rooney said.

“Firing Two.”

Everyone on the boat stood transfixed as the rocket leapt from the rail, and the guy with the missile on the foredeck wasted his shot firing at the torpedo. Twenty seconds later the boat erupted in a huge fireball…and a minute later there was nothing left but an oil-slick on the waves.

“I’m picking up a narrow band search radar,” the operator said. “Probably a P-3 coming to identify the explosions.”

“Gimme a course for the Bridge,” Callahan said.

“Eight-five magnetic, eighteen miles.”

“Fuel?”

“We’re good. Pour it on.”

________________________________

When representatives from Agusta-Bell arrived to pick up their 212ASW they were surprised to find small red submarine icons painted on both sides of the hull…indicating the craft had made a hard kill. More troubling were the four bullet holes just aft of the rear door…

_________________________________

After the services for his father were over, he went to the house in Potrero Hills and walked through the old place. A couple of neighbors dropped by and offered condolences, then a real estate agent dropped by, asking when the house was going on the market. She fled the house in terror when she saw the look in Callahan’s eyes.

He found the stash of model trains, as well as rough plans for a layout, in the basement, and he shook his head. “Hell, I really didn’t know the guy, did I,” he said as he made a quick inventory of the contents of the house. He had his contractor coming at noon to go over a few ideas, so while he was waiting he mowed the lawn for the millionth time, then watered the flower beds.

He was waiting on the porch for the contractor when an old man walked up the steps and joined him. Callahan barely recognized him, a captain at the same company his father worked for, one who had trained his father right after the war.

“You’re Harry, right?”

“Yessir. And I’m sorry, I recognize you but I can’t remember your name.”

“You’d probably know me as Captain Leighton. Ben to my friends.”

“Yes, I remember now. Nice to see you again, Captain.”

“I wish it was under better circumstances. Your father wanted me to give this to you. I have no idea what it is, but he entrusted me with it a few years ago. I thought I’d better get it over here before age catches up with me, too.”

“Thanks. Could I get you something to drink. Some water, or maybe some iced tea?”

“No thanks. My wife is waiting in the car. Sorry about your loss,” he said as he walked back down the stairs.

Callahan sat and opened the envelope. Inside was a smaller manilla envelope, sealed, and with a bank’s address and a safety deposit box access code printed in his father’s neat script on the flap.

His contractor arrived and he slipped the envelope into his coat pocket, then took the contractor inside.

“We’ve got four bedrooms in here, three up and one down. I want to update the bathrooms and kitchen, refinish the floors, and turn the basement into a sort of den. I’ve also got plans for a model railroad that I’d like you to rough in down there, too.”

“What are your plans for the house?”

“Kind of a dormitory, really. I’ve got a small helicopter taxi operation starting up and a bunch of pilots that may need short term accommodations, and this old place will do for now.”

“The basement?”

“Just a place to unwind. A TV room, maybe a pool table…”

“And a model railroad layout?”

“You got it. Why don’t you take a look around and work up some plans and an estimate for me.”

“Will do, Mr. Callahan.”

He hopped into the Rover and drove across town to the bank listed on the envelope, then went to the safety deposit desk. After he finally got to the box he found an insurance policy and a couple of passbooks to linked savings accounts – and a letter.

He sat and read through the letter once, then a second time before he folded the paper and put it in his coat pocket. He wiped away a tear then closed the safety deposit account. He cashed-out the savings accounts into one cashiers cheque, then went to the insurance company and filed the necessary paperwork to cash-in the policy. With that done he went to his own bank and deposited the cheques.

And that was that. One man’s life condensed into three pieces of paper and then – poof! Almost all trace of his existence was wiped from the ledger.

And now, sitting in the Rover in a parking lot jammed full of empty cars, he felt just as empty inside, like the last of the lines that had tethered him to the past – his past – had just now been unceremoniously cut – and now, all that was in the past was simply gone, like a chalkboard wiped clean. And now, only faint traces of chalk remained on a vanishing board, echoes of what was fading from view, vague traceries of lives that only he could see and feel now.

The house? Well, Saul Rosenthal had bought that, hadn’t he? Or, in other words, his real father had bought his stand-in father the house he had grown up in, and the sensation he felt was more like being unmoored from existence than anything else he could think of. Everything he had taken for granted as a kid was an illusion, wasn’t it?

…but then another thought crept in…

‘And just how many people did I kill three nights ago? I’ll never really know, will I? How many people were inside that black metal tube now resting on the bottom of the sea? And on that boat? Twenty? Thirty? Fifty? So, how many ledgers did I close that night? How many hopes and dreams did I wipe away, consign to oblivion?”

Then another thought hit him, a thought that left him breathless and confused…

‘How many people have I killed, really? Vietnam? Call it a hundred? On the streets here in the city? Call it twenty, maybe twenty five over the years. And three nights ago? Let’s split the difference and call it forty. That’s a hundred and sixty five people. That I’ve killed. Me. A hundred and sixty five slates wiped clean. And how many people go through life without ever hurting anyone, let alone killing someone? What does that make me? A serial killer? A mass murderer? But…I never wanted to hurt anyone. I never set out to kill anyone – at least not until this year. Has death become too easy for me to justify, and to accept?’

He just sat there in the Rover for a while, but in the end he drove back to the Cathouse. All the pilots would arrive next week; the last Sikorsky would arrive this weekend. Frank was finalizing the radio installation. The Agusta-Bell people wanted to talk to him. The Navy, too. 

“We’re going to need a receptionist here,” Frank said as Harry walked in. “And some kind of reservation system.”

“Can we tie into one of the major airline reservation systems? Seems like more than half of our projected calls are going to be for flights to-and-from SFO. Maybe we can tie into American or United’s system in some way?”

“I’ll get to work on that,” Frank sighed. “What about a receptionist, and someone for reservations?”

“Any ideas?”

“I do,” Rooney said, walking out of his office. “I have two people in mind. Just give me the go ahead.”

“Do it.”

“Pay? Minimum wage ain’t gonna cut it, ya know.”

“Ask ‘em what the want. If it sounds reasonable go with it.”

Rooney nodded. “Any ideas on housing? Rents are too steep here in the city.”

“Yeah. My dad’s house, over in Potrero Hills. Rooms for four, being rehabbed right now. Get em rooms in a hotel around here for now, until the house is finished. That’ll be rent free, give ‘em time to save up and find a place of their own.”

“Sounds fair. What about Mariposa?”

“No way do I want someone full time out there. One week rotations during fire season. Same with Tahoe and Mammoth. We’ll rotate crew…”

“What if someone wants to be stationed out there?”

Callahan shook his head. “Not yet. Let’s focus on Bay Area operations first. If the Sierra operations suddenly look that intense we can work something else out then.”

“You want me to deal with the Navy and the manufacturers reps?” Rooney continued.

“Set up a time when we can both be there. No lies, just the truth, and see if the DEA can send someone, too.”

“No shit? You gonna own up to that?”

“Outside the line so no one has jurisdiction, right? And I’ll fill them in on the rest. Beyond that, fuck ‘em.”

Frank looked at Rooney; both shook their head in despair.

After Rooney left the room Frank went into Callahan’s little office. “You feeling okay, man?”

“No, not really. Thinking about Dad all day, wrapping up some of his affairs. I guess I’m feeling down about all that family crap.”

“I’m gonna meet Cathy at The Shadows. Want to come along?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind the intrusion. Sounds good.”

“Can you drive?”

“Yeah. You ready now?”

“Yup.”

“K. Let’s go.”

Callahan made his way to the Coit Tower neighborhood and parked, and they walked down to the restaurant and got a table. Cathy got there a few minutes later, and she looked totally beat. At seven months pregnant she was showing all the signs now: her face and ankles were swollen, her eyes puffy, even her fingers looked different, but because he knew she was self-conscious about her appearance Callahan tried not to show undue concern.

“What’s up with you, Harry?” she asked.

“You know my apartment building?”

She nodded.

“Well, the building is going up for sale. What do you think about picking it up, tearing it down and putting up some condos. Kind of up-market, maybe ten stories, something like that.”

“I don’t remember what the height restriction is down there that close to the water, maybe six stories. That’s why so many of those places haven’t been torn down. Too hard to cram enough units into six stories to make a new project viable.”

“Why?”

“Units would have to price out at close to a million a pop, that’s why.”

“Five blocks from the water? What would it take?”

“Probably four units per floor, one point five million per unit. You could make a nice profit at those prices.”

“Got a realtor who can make some inquiries?”

“Yes, if you really want to try it. You’ll tie up some serious assets for two or three years. You okay with that?”

“Yeah. Just make sure the damn thing is earthquake proof!”

She nodded. “Everything is nowadays. We’re overdue for a big one, too. And Harry, I have to ask, but do you want me to design it?”

“Hell yes! Why do you think I’m asking you?”

She smiled. “I didn’t want to make any assumptions.”

“You think about it. We’ve got time to spare, and you’ve got more important things to take care of right now,” he said as he looked at her belly.

“Okay, but I’ll get someone from the office on it right away.”

“Good. Now Frank, I feel like some wine tonight. Think you can manage the drive back to the ranch?”

_________________________________

The next year was a blur, a constant exasperating blur.

CAT took off, literally, and demand exceeded supply by a factor of two. Rooney recommended they order at least two more Sikorsky S-76s; Callahan ordered four. Demand at SFO was about as expected, but San Jose International was an unexpected bonus that made expansion of the Palo Alto base an immediate priority. Two big fires between Mammoth and Yosemite meant that three Hueys were in constant demand moving fire crews, still, Rooney realized they needed bigger helicopters so he began by asking the Air Force if they had any big Sikorsky S-64 Skycranes they wanted to unload. CAT purchased two and sent them into action hauling water and chemical retardants into terrain too remote for large ground teams to reach. The Forest Service contracts were beyond lucrative.

CAT then had to bring on two accountants to handle cash-flow and taxes. Both American and United allowed CAT to codeshare, so more people were brought onboard to facilitate that process. Then they needed ticket counters at SFO; San Jose and Oakland soon followed. When CAT’s payroll approached one hundred people Callahan realized he was getting in over his head; he approached a headhunting firm to recruit a CFO and they found one at Southwest who liked what she saw and wanted in on the action. Callahan liked her resume and flew her out.

Frank took her around the Cathouse, then Rooney flew her to Palo Alto and Mariposa before returning to the Presidio. She was impressed.

“I’ll go talk to Harry,” Rooney advised when they returned to the Cathouse. “Do you have a hotel booked?”

“Yes, at the Stanford Court,” Linton Tomlinson said.

“Well, just so you know, the tradition here is new-hires go to Trader Vics…”

“Let me guess. Suffering Bastards, right?”

“Ah. So you’re familiar?”

“We have one in Dallas.”

Rooney nodded then went to see Callahan.

“I think she’s a keeper, Harry. You should go meet her.”

“Yeah? Well, see if any pilots are free for Vics. I’d like some reaction-input.”

“That’s a no-go, boss. We’re still two down. Coburn with appendicitis and Tompkins has a busted collarbone.”

“How’d he do that?”

“Playing basketball at the Y.”

“Fuck. We need to put a gym in one of the hangers. We’ve lost two pilots to these bullshit injuries so far this year.”

“Daniels over at TWA told me they’re going to sub-lease one of their hangers out at SFO. Are we interested?”

“Fuck yes.”

“Roger that. If we’re gonna do Vics with this girl it’s gonna be just you and me.”

“Alright. I’ll be out in a minute. Let me put on a fresh shirt.”

“Try some deodorant too, Callahan. You’re drawing flies again.”

“Screw you, Rooney.”

“And guess what? It’s your week to stay at Mariposa, starting Friday.”

Callahan sighed. “Already? Feels like I was up there just last week…”

“Yeah? Well, that was two months ago, Ace.”

“Any fires up there now?”

“Two, both almost contained, but conditions are ripe for an outbreak.”

“What do we have up there right now?”

“One Skycrane, one Huey.”

Callahan shook his head. “Better find me another Huey, Mickey…”

“Navy has some of those 212s they want to offload, but the hours are up there…”

Callahan shook his head again. “Too much corrosion on those birds. See if you can drive the price down. Way-fucking-down. Now, get out of here, willya?”

When he walked into the waiting room and took one look at Tomlinson his heart skipped a beat. He looked at her left hand – ‘no ring…’ – then he remembered ‘single’ listed on her resumé. Not too tall, maybe 5’8” and a little stocky, she looked kind of like a college athlete. Blond, green eyes, great legs…oh, yes…

Then he realized she realized he was staring at her.

“Mickey tells me good things about you,” he said, trying to get back in the game.

“I’m impressed,” she said. “Y’all have done a lot in one year, come a long way for a start up.”

“Well, I sure hope you’re hungry…because I haven’t eaten all day…”

“Let’s do it,” she said. 

He’d made the drive up the hill to Vics so many times this past year he could do it in his sleep, and tonight was no exception. He handed the keys to Rover over to the valet attendant and they went inside. CAT had an account here and they bypassed the line, went right to a prime table. Rooney had to fly in the morning so he had an iced tea; Callahan asked Linton if a Suffering Bastard would suffice…

“I hope you’re not limiting me to just one,” she cracked, smiling a little.

They talked business for an hour and Callahan made up his mind. She’d do.

Then she asked a question he wasn’t expecting. “The scuttlebutt on you guys is that you took out some kind of submarine last year. What’s that all about?”

Callahan shook his head. “What did you hear?”

“Just that. You guys went out one night and took out some kind of sub.”

“I love rumors,” he said to Rooney, “don’t you?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that one too,” Rooney added.

“So, it didn’t happen?”

Callahan shrugged. 

“So, that’s it? You ain’t tellin’?”

“Ma’am, I never kiss and tell,” Callahan said. “Need another Bastard?”

“Yup.”

“Garcon!” Callahan called out, holding up two fingers and pointing at their drinks. “So, where you staying?”

“The Court.”

“Ah.”

“Ah?” she asked. “Is that Ah, good, or Ah, bad?”

“It’s ah, I may need a room there myself, because I sure ain’t driving back to the ranch tonight.”

“The ranch?”

“Sea Ranch. It’s a development about an hour or so north of here, on the coast.”

“Yeah, I think I saw something about it once. Nice place.”

“What about you? You live in Dallas, right?”

“Yeah, grew up there so Southwest was right for me.”

“So, why San Francisco?”

“You ever get tired of looking out over the bay?”

“No. Never.”

“Well, I’m tired of Dallas, and I’m tired of Texas.”

“No entangling relationships?”

“No. I was engaged two years ago. That didn’t work out too well.”

“Sorry.”

“I’m not. What about you?”

“No one.”

“Never been married?”

“No one,” he repeated.

“Well guys,” Rooney said. “I’m signing off. Gotta be on the ramp at seven.”

Harry stood and shook Rooney’s hand. “Be safe.”

“Yeah, you too.” A knowing glance and a little smirk said it all.

“One more for the road?” he asked after he sat down again.

“One more and I’ll be sleeping in the road. And you don’t need a room there,” she said, grinning. “My room has a king.”

© 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 (Covid-19) 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. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of 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 the 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: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. 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…and what a gift.]

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