The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 47

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 47

It is early autumn on the Izu peninsula, and summer’s leaves are in a desperate, if futile, rush to soak up the last warming light of the year. Those usually first to let go and fall to the ground, the red leafed maples, have turned a deeper red, and some limbs have already been stripped bare by cold gales coming in off the nearby sea. Still, many trees along the forest trail still cling to the sun’s light, and summer’s greens and golds stand in stark contrast to the reds and deep orange notes of the changing seasons.

Callahan followed Fujiko along the path to the Inn of the Enchanted Spires one autumn day – as Frank had taken to calling the place – though Frank had remained in Ajiro, the village where he’d experienced his first living epiphany from Clavell’s Shōgun

Callahan had his Nikon out as he walked, and he had been shooting leaves and rocks as he walked along in the silence, though every now and then he had taken a shot or two of Fujiko. She stopped just ahead now and waited for him to catch up, and he found her standing on a tall granite outcropping with her arms outstretched to the sun – as if she too wanted to soak up the last warmth of summer.

Her long black hair was pulled up in a tight bun this morning, and now, instead of the more traditional clothing she had worn on their first trip here, she was wearing hiking shorts and low-cut boots, as well as a light fleece jacket over a gray turtleneck. She looked, in other words, like any other Californian – and Callahan had noticed the same divergence of character ever since he and Bullitt had arrived four days ago.

She had begun to set herself apart from Japan, he thought at first, because – perhaps – she had decided she was leaving Japan for good, but on their second day she had taken Frank and Harry to meet her older brother at his house outside of Osaka – and she had presented herself as the epitome of traditional Japanese culture when in his presence.

So, he assumed she was as yet undecided, still caught up in the vacuum of ‘finding herself’ – whatever the hell that meant. Yet she was different now, inescapably so. She had been taking language classes, and not English – but French. She had hinted in her letters about wanting to find work as a translator, and possibly in the diplomatic arena, and yet now that he was with her she didn’t want to talk about any of that.

At one point he had become convinced that she was trying to let him down gently, but then she told him she had made reservations at the spires – and for several nights. One room, not two. He teetered on the edge of confusion, until Frank said that by putting him a confused state she was only strengthening her negotiating position.

“Negotiating position?” Callahan barked. “What the hell…”

“Yeah, Harry, everything in life is a negotiation, from deciding where two people go for dinner to even to what color socks you alone decide to wear. My guess is she’s reserved a room out there for several nights to feel you out, then present her terms. The problem right now is she has no idea what kind of life you’re leading right now. You’ve gone from being a relatively easy to understand ‘cop’ to being the owner of two successful corporations, and the problem as I see it is she probably thinks she’s still going to be negotiating with the easy to understand cop she met last time. In other words, she has no idea of the changes you’ve undergone over the last year and a half.”

“Okay, I can buy that…”

“Yeah? Well, there are two parts to this equation, Callahan. You have changed. You deal with people from a position of real strength now, and that position can come through as decidedly and uncompromisingly direct. So in other words, you don’t suffer fools very well, not anymore. You had to when you were a cop because that was part of the game. You know – ‘to protect and serve.’ Well, you serve customers now, and your approach has changed. You’re much more concerned with the well being of your companies now and you tend to act decisively as a result. Just try to remember she has no idea of how you’ve changed, let alone the why of things.”

“So, how should I proceed?”

“Let her lay it out there. Don’t try to react until you’ve had a chance to think about things, especially if what she has to say seems to force a lot of compromises on you – but not on her. Step back from yourself if you can, and try to think one or two moves ahead. And don’t get boxed in by emotionally overreacting.”

He looked at her now, standing on the rock with her arms outstretched as if she was expecting to fly, and he brought the Nikon up to his eyes. He studied her for a moment – as objectively as he could – and he tried to think of her as a stranger might…walking down this trail and running into this scene. She was – objectively – beautiful. She looked almost like a statue standing there, a monument to man’s idea of irrational beauty – outstretched arms turned into the sun and the seaborne wind, muscles quivering as she teetered on the edge of the outcropping. It was, he thought, impossible not to overreact to her symmetry and beauty.

Then she turned and looked down at him, and he thought her eyes looked different now. No longer soft and inviting, they looked feral, almost predatory in this setting…then she jumped and landed at his feet.

“I love this place,” she whispered. “The wind through the trees and the sea in the distance, each competing for dominance, each beautiful in their own way. But here, right here, you don’t have to choose. Both can reside inside you – just here!”

She took a step closer and paused, looked into his eyes and he saw the soft, inviting warmth he was used to…

“Just outside your house on the cliffs there is a tree,” she said, “and one morning I sat there listening to the sea and the tree and I could see my life unfolding there – with you. But now I can see that you have grown old in the last year. You are now consumed with the twin ideas of money and power, and I must admit, Harry, that I did not see this happening to you. Even Frank has changed, but not as much as you.”

“I thought we, you and I, were over. I had nowhere else to turn.”

“Yes, I see that. Now the question is an even simpler one: do you have room for me in the life you have chosen?”

“You know, I could say ‘of course I do,’ but that would be presumptuous. People work for me now. A lot of people, people who depend on me every day to make good decisions – decisions that impact their lives. And the really unexpected thing, Fujiko, is how much I enjoy this new life. It turns out I’m actually pretty good at this stuff, but more than that…I have been able to create something that lets a lot of very talented people do a job that makes them happy. What could possibly be better than that?”

“You see?”

“I do. But there is still one thing missing, one very important element that would make my life complete.”

“Yes? And that is?”

“You.”

“I see.”

“Do you? I’m not sure that’s even possible, Fujiko. Once you said we should be patient, that we should take the time to get to know one another before we took our first steps together…”

“I remember.”

“Well, that didn’t work. It didn’t because it couldn’t. There was nothing to lose, nothing on the line. It was too easy for you to walk away, and too easy for me to let you.”

“So, what do you propose?”

“That’s a loaded word, Fujiko, isn’t it. Standing out here in the wind by the sea.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Is that what you want now?”

“It is an interesting possibility.”

“I see,” he said, smiling even in defeat. “Are you sure you want to go to the inn?”

“Yes, of course,” she answered, puzzled. “I just watched a very serious change come over you, and now I do not recognize this person.”

“I’ve grown used to negotiating with people…”

“Is that what this is? A negotiation? Am I a commodity now…”

“What I saw was a continuation. You left California telling me you needed time, and when you say something like marriage is an interesting possibility you are negotiating for more time. Isn’t that true?”

“I would not call something so…”

“I would, and I would do so because it feels that way to me.”

She reached out, took his hand and pulled him towards the inn – but he did not budge an inch. She looked at him again, even more puzzled now. “I do not recognize this new man, Harry-san. There are great changes people face, true enough, but something deeper has changed within you.”

“I want you, Fujiko. And I want you because I love you. But in my three days here you have not mentioned those words once. Why?”

“Because I am afraid.”

“Are you afraid of me?”

“Yes. A little. These things in your eyes, they are so very different now.”

“Some things change, Fujiko. Some things never do. Are you saying your love for me has changed?”

“No, I am not. I am saying that we have three days ahead of us to find the answer to these questions.”

“Alright. Then please, lead the way.”

And that, Callahan said to himself, is what you call negotiating from a position of strength.

________________________________

“So, how is he doing?” Cathy asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Frank said over the long distance connection. “He seems unsure of himself one minute, then overconfident the next.”

“How did Fujiko look?”

“Look? She looks the same. I think she’s really unsure of herself now that she’s seen Harry.”

“Frank, I don’t know how to say this but I’m unsure of myself around Harry these days. And maybe because everything he touches turns to gold. Three high-rise apartment towers under construction in a year and a half. Five small apartment buildings knocked down for new condo projects, and now he’s got both CAT and the new airline. He’s going to be on the cover of next month’s California Magazine, too…”

“Really? I hadn’t heard that.”

“Yeah, well, it’s happening. And what I said when I saw him last still bugs me. He doesn’t look well. More than that, he looks, uh – I guess the word I keep thinking about is ‘wrong’ – he looks all wrong to me right now…”

“Sometimes I think money does that to people. Money imparts a visible confidence, Cathy. I’ve seen it on the streets for decades, too. When you’re poor it’s something you can see in people’s eyes. Call it insecurity, call it fear, but the opposite holds true for really wealthy people. You can see wealth in their eyes, even in the way they smile…”

“Frank?”

“Yes?”

“What have you been smoking over there?”

“Cathy, I’m being serious.”

“I know you are, and that’s what bothers me. And I’m saying that Harry doesn’t just look different, he looks all wrong, too, like this isn’t the way he’s supposed to be…that something very fundamental within him has been altered.”

“Cathy? What have you been smoking?”

“Okay Frank, okay. But I need to ask you something, and please don’t take it the wrong way.”

“Okay.”

“That thing he does with the piano…”

“Nope, doesn’t work that way, Cathy. We’ve only been able to see into the past.”

“Yeah, but…what if that’s not all he can do?”

“Cathy? You’re barking up the wrong tree, and besides, even if he could, Harry wouldn’t do it. And anyway, he can’t – so whatever it is you think you’re seeing, put it down to stress and working too much, okay?”

“Oh, speaking of…I finally met that new CFO…”

“DD?”

“Yeah. She’s a hoot, too. Pure brainiac. Man, did he luck out with that one.”

“I told you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did. Oh, and that reminds me. The other Didi called. Evelyn checked herself out of the clinic in Davos and apparently she’s flown back to Boston.”

“What?”

“You heard me, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I heard you, but what’s her status? You said she checked herself out. What exactly does that mean?”

“There wasn’t a lot more than that she could tell me, Frank.”

“Boston, you said?”

“Yup.”

“That doesn’t make sense. She doesn’t know anyone there, not anymore. Or does she?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Well, hell,” Bullitt said. “That’s a fly in the ointment.”

“Why?”

“Well, the last reports we had stated she was becoming increasingly more violent. Now she’s flown the coop and we have no idea what her mental state is. That could be a real problem.”

“You think too much like a cop, Frank.”

“Yeah? Well, I find I live longer that way.”

“Well then, maybe you should call Didi, or even the clinic, ya know?”

“You have the numbers handy?”

“No, but I bet Harry does.”

“I have a bad feeling about this, Cathy. She’s never really been all that stable, but she was never violent before.”

“Aside from trying to hurt herself, you mean.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, maybe she’s externalized all that anger now.”

“What does that mean?”

“Maybe she, oh hell, Frank, I don’t know. Maybe she just got homesick and wanted to come back to the states.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“So, what’s next for you two?”

“I guess that depends on Fujiko,” Frank sighed. “Anyway, we should be back in Osaka tomorrow night. I’ll call you when we get to the hotel. How’s the spud?”

“She’s good, but I have no idea how you manage changing diapers without…”

“I do. Every time.”

“I’ve never smelled anything like it,” she added. 

“The joys of parenthood never end, I guess.”

She laughed at that. “Okay. Well, I’ll talk to you tomorrow sometime.”

“Yup. You two sleep tight. Talk to you tomorrow, babe…”

__________________________________

She seemed happier now, more at ease than she had been since their reunion in Osaka, and perhaps because Callahan had decided to let Fujiko set the tone and pace of their time at the inn. He was struck most by the gradual transformation that occurred the longer they stayed in this soothingly atmospheric enclave, too: she reverted to her more formal self, to the much more traditional Japanese mannerisms he had seen on their first visit here, discarding her more western approach like she was shedding a layer of  skin. They spent most of their time in the hot springs, occasionally diving into the sea to cool down, but on the last afternoon she decided she wanted to do some rock climbing and off they went…

…To a cliff-lined stretch of coast close to the inn. She chose an easy hundred meter climb for their first ascent – easy because there were solid crags all the way up the face so an enormous variety of abundant hand and footholds. Still, a hundred meters without ropes was something Callahan had never tried before, so he was a little uneasy as he stood at the base of the cliff, looking up the sheer face at blue sky and scudding clouds.

She led the way but he picked his own route up, and he soon found the challenge, and the inherent danger, fundamentally exhilarating. At one point as he neared the summit he paused and looked down – and he felt a sudden tightening in his groin…as if his testicles had decided they’d had enough and were opting to sit this one out. He shifted his focus to the way ahead and finished his climb moments after she did.

They walked down a narrow trail littered with rocky scree back to the sea, then she made her way to a more difficult ascent. This face was smooth in places, though long, vertical cracks slashed deep channels in the rock near the top. Callahan looked at the cliff and shook his head.

“You sure you want to try this one?” he asked.

“Oh yes, very much so,” she said as she grabbed a handhold, beginning her ascent.

Callahan studied the rock face, saw Fujiko was headed up a dead end route, that she needed to be about ten feet to the right to gain the cracks that were the key to this face, so he started up this way…soon overtaking her as she ran out of easy hand holds.

“You need to get over here,” he said, “or you’ll run out of maneuvering room.”

“I will manage,” she said through gritted teeth, but he could tell her arms were stressed now, and that she was more worried than she put on.

He gained the first crack and began his final ascent, reaching the top in a few more minutes. He looked down, saw she was still fixed to the rock – in the same place – so he found the trail and ran down to the sea then out to the cliffs.

When he found her he climbed as quickly as he could to reach her, and when he got to her he could see that she was clearly terrified now.

“I’m here,” he said gently.

“I am tired. Not sure I can climb anymore.”

“We’re going to go down now, and I’m going to guide your feet, put them onto footholds. Fujiko, look at me. You can do this…”

“I am not so sure.”

“I am. Now, listen to my voice.”

“I will.”

He took her right foot and moved it down several inches.

“Okay, ease your weight off your left foot and onto your right foot, and do the same with your hands.”

“Alright.”

“Remember…try to keep weight on three points at all times. Two hands and one foot – three points. We’ll take weight off the descending foot first, the other three will support you.”

“Got it.”

“Then get your weight on the new foot and move the other down. Okay?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, move down to the new foot, but keep your hands secure on their holds.”

“Yes, please. Stay with me.”

“I’m right here…”

It took a half hour to reach the rocks below, and Fujiko was a trembling, nervous wreck by then. When her feet hit solid ground she flew into his arms and held him close; he could feel her arms trembling, her legs too, so he carried her to a large rock and helped her sit…

“Why did you want to climb today?” he asked.

“I wanted to feel close to the edge.”

“The edge…of what?”

“Of existence, perhaps even to death. I wanted to tempt death, and to cheat death.”

“Well, I guess we did.”

She nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, very much so. I feel wonderful, don’t you?”

“I’m not sure wonderful is the word…”

“You must let go, Harry. You must feel the limits of your existence…”

“You clearly have never been a cop before…”

She smiled. “Yes. So sorry, I forget this part of you. To have lived so close to death for so long. I could manage one afternoon only. You must please forgive me for bringing you to this place.”

“I enjoyed…”

“What did you enjoy? Saving my life?”

“Not exactly. I enjoyed helping you find the strength to find a way out of the dilemma you were in.”

“You told me I was not taking the correct way, and I willfully chose not to listen to you.”

“You live and learn.”

“If you are lucky,” she sighed.

“I’m not sure there is such a thing, Fujiko. I think people make choices, some good, some bad.”

“Perhaps so. Harry?”

“Yes?”

“I am ready to go now.”

“To the inn? Okay…”

“No, so sorry. I was not clear. I am ready to go to California with you. To be with you always. You have proven to me that you are a trustworthy partner, that you will be trustworthy always. I am ready now.”

“We have the tea ceremony tonight, correct?”

“Yes. a master will provide for us tonight, and after this night we will be together until time itself unties the cords of our existence.”

“I see.”

“Is this what you wish, Harry? Truly?”

“It is, yes.”

“Then this shall be. We shall become as one tonight.”

He followed her back to the inn and they soaked in hot spring water, then played in the sea. They had a small dinner, then they went to the outermost spire for the tea ceremony. This ceremony was different from the first, however; very stylized and rigid. Very little was said; the ceremony was more a ritual of movement, graceful movement, but there was a solemnity to the words and movements that entranced Callahan, and there was a marked difference in the way she made love to him after they returned to their spire. She was submissive one moment, then utterly possessive the next, and when they were ready for sleep she lay next to him with a contentedness he’d never felt before.

They picked up Frank in Ajiro the next morning then drove to Osaka. They dropped fujiko at her brother’s house and drove into the city, to their hotel. There was a message from DD waiting for Callahan, and as soon as he was in his room he called her.

“DD? Harry. How are…”

“Harry, there’s been some trouble here.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. Apparently Frank’s sister left Switzerland. She went to Boston, then made her way here. Is Frank with you now?”

“No. He’s going to his room now.”

“Well, Cathy’s gone.”

“Gone? What do you mean, gone?”

“Murdered, Harry. The baby’s not at the house, either; she was taken, and apparently by Frank’s sister…”

Callahan sat in rigid silence, his eyes wide open, and it felt as though the world had simply stopped moving.

“I have you on a flight out of Osaka at eleven tonight. One stop in Honolulu, then direct to SFO. A Captain Delgetti will meet you at the gate on arrival; Mickey will fly you up to the ranch.”

He tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come. Then he just managed to say “Three of us coming.”

“Yes, I made reservations for three.”

“I-uh-okay. I’ll call before we leave for the airport.”

“Yessir. If there’s anything new I’ll update you then.”

He hung up the phone gently and went to the sink and washed his face, tried to clear away the tears and the agony of the moment, then he heard a knock on the door.

It was Frank.

He let his best friend into room – then told him their world had just stopped and come undone.

_________________________________

Fujiko sat with Frank on the airplane until he fell asleep, then she joined Callahan.

“I have never felt such anger,” she said. “His heart has turned to cold stone.”

“Can you imagine being betrayed by your sister, by your own flesh and blood?”

“No, in truth I cannot, but his spirit is far from broken. He has become death – cold, vengeful death.”

“Have you ever seen a murder scene?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“There’s an ugliness, a brutal sense of violation when you look at someone who has been murdered. Like the time you spoke of after the tea ceremony, only time has been purposefully violated there. Worse then that, the violence of the scene is usually indescribably grotesque. Blood belongs in the body, not splattered indiscriminately over floors and walls and ceilings. When you look at a bullet wound or a knife wound you are looking into the eyes of madness, and that’s something most people never have to contend with.”

“What you are describing is horrible.”

Callahan nodded. “Then consider that Frank has investigated over two hundred murders. Think of how many times he has looked into those eyes, all the madness he’s seen. To solve a murder you first have to understand the madness behind the crime, so that’s several hundred varieties of madness Frank has had to come to terms with. And do you know – Frank has solved every case he’s been assigned.”

“He is a good police officer, is that what you are telling me?”

“Not good, Fujiko. Frank is the best of the best.”

“Yes?”

“But now he will have to sit back and watch other people try to find his sister, and his daughter.”

She shook her head. “This he will not do.”

Callahan smiled. “No, this we will not do.”

© 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 (i.e., Covid-19) waiting to list 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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