The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 54

Part VII

Chapter 54

Callahan pushed the button on the bed-rail and raised his head, then he looked at the EKG beeping merrily along; it looked normal – at least to his untrained eye it did – and no one had been in to see him in the past half hour…so what the devil was going. He looked at the two IV bags running fluids into his arm and shook his head, then leaned back and closed his eyes.

The curtain flew open and a woman that looked – in her scrubs and lab coat – somewhat like a white fire hydrant as she walked in while reading his chart. Then without skipping a beat she stopped reading and looked up at him.

“Well, a few more tests we need to run, Mr. Callahan, but it looks like you’ve had a classic SIPA?”

“Seepa? What the hell is that?”

“Stress-Induced Panic Attack.”

Harry shook his head and rolled his eyes: “You’ve got to be fuckin’ kidding me!?”

“Well, you’re dehydrated and, apparently, had just sat down in a car, and let’s not even talk about the showdown with the ex-girlfriend in the parking lot. So, I want to rule out reflex syncopes…and let’s see, no diabetes – but I see an elevated white count. Been out of the country recently?”

“Iraq. Five months.”

She looked over the rim of her glasses when she heard that and started writing furiously on her chart. “Lean forward, please.” She listened to his lungs for a long time, tapping away like a woodpecker a couple dozen times before writing more notes. “Okay, I think we have enough blood drawn already, so I want to run another test or two. Anyway, just sit back and get some rest. You up for a visitor?”

“Depends. No ex-girlfriends, please.”

She snort-laughed at that then disappeared to parts unknown.

DD popped her head through the curtain a moment later. “Well, I hear you’re going to survive,” she said as she walked up to the bed-rail. “How’re you feeling?”

“Like an idiot.”

“Well, you’re not, but no more Fujiko for you!” she said sternly.

“That woman is infuriating.”

“You know, as soon as you said that your face started turning red. Harry, I think this is a much more dire situation than you realize. I think…you really need to get laid.”

Callahan brought a hand up to his face and rubbed his eyes while he slowly shook his head. “I’m sure glad to hear that, doc. By the way, where’d you go to medical school?”

“The University of Lonely Hearts, Harry, and I know all there is to know about the condition.”

“Well, the doc must be keeping you in fine shape. I’ve never seen you happier.”

“You know what? I am happy, Harry. And you aren’t. And that bothers me, a lot.”

A nurse walked in. “Callahan, Harry L.?”

“That’s me.”

“We’re going down to x-ray. Think you can walk?” she said as she removed the lines from his IV, then lowered the rail on his gurney after she put some grippy socks on his feet.

“Yup.”

“Okay, let’s go…”

As he walked from the room DD whistled: “Nice ass, Callahan!” – so of course every nurse on the floor lined up to take a look.

An hour later the fire hydrant came back to his room – still writing furiously as she came up to the bed – then, looking over her glasses she looked Callahan in the eye. “You’ve picked up an interesting fungal infection somewhere in your recent travels, Mr. Callahan. There’s already some anecdotal information circulating about patients presenting with a similar bug who have recently been in Iraq, and, well, I’d like to get a handle on this and see if this is what’s really going on. I’m going to admit you, send you up to the infectious diseases ward…”

“Wait a minute,” DD interjected, “isn’t that where all the Aids patients are? I don’t want Harry…”

“No, it’s not. And we’re capable of maintaining sterile conditions on our floors,” the physician snarled.

“Will he be in isolation?”

“Yes, full quarantine measures. Masks, gloves, gowns, the whole nine yards…”

Callahan watched this give and take like he was at a tennis match, his head bouncing from side to side as each new volley raced over the net, then he decided he’d had enough. “Okay, doc. But the real issue here is that my friend has advised that what I really need is to get laid. I have to assume I can’t get laid here, right?”

The eyes looking over the rim of the glasses is what got Callahan.

“Uh, no, I, well, no…”

“Well said, Doc. Well said.” 

DD – now turning beet red – disappeared down a corridor, beating a hasty retreat.

“Is she your…”

“No, she works for me.”

“What do you do?”

“Heard of Callahan Air Transport?”

“The helicopter thing?”

“Yes, that thing.”

“I’m sorry. But yes, I’ve even used it a couple of times. So, you’re the Callahan in Callahan?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“Were you flying in Iraq?”

He nodded.

“See any action?”

“A little.”

“Any other combat?”

“Vietnam.”

“Really. What about other stressful environments?”

“SFPD Homicide Division. Does that count?”

“Any drinking or recreational drug use?”

“No.”

“What about sex? Heterosexual?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“But none lately?”

“Correct.”

“Want to have dinner sometime?”

He paused and thought about that for a moment. “Assuming you can get me out of this place, sure.”

“I think I can manage that.”

“It might help if I knew your name.”

She looked at her lab coat – “Perfect! No name tag again. I always forget. Becky Sawyer,” she said, holding out her hand. “But I’m still going to keep you overnight. I hope you understand.”

He took her hand and shook his head. “Fungus, did you say? Like…mushrooms?”

She snort-laughed at that: “Just need to rule out a few things. If I’m right and we catch it early it ought to be easy to treat. I’m also going to put you on something for your blood pressure; it’s a little high. For now though, I kind of want to take the edge off, so I have a little diazepam ordered.”

“Diazepam?”

“Valium.”

“No thanks.”

“Look, Callahan, you’re wound up tighter than a drum, and one way or another I need you to relax…so, sorry, but doctors orders this time.”

“So, I take it getting laid is out of the question?”

She laughed. “Not on the first date, Callahan,” she said as she walked out of the little room.

“Now that was interesting,” Callahan sighed as he watched her leave, talking to himself. “Not like any doc I’ve ever seen before, ya know?”

_________________________________

He was sitting in the bar at Trader Vic’s that next Friday, nursing a Suffering Bastard – with rum, no less – while he waited for Becky Sawyer, and he looked at his watch again – for the tenth time in as many minutes. Already a half hour late, but she’d said she would have trouble getting away before seven, so here he sat, feeling more than a little insecure.

Then – she was there. Walking right up to his little corner booth looking incandescent, almost a little too cute, and as he stood, a little “Wow…” slipped out.

And that caused her to smile. “Wow? Did you just say wow?”

“I did. Sorry…”

“Don’t apologize…please. In my book ‘wow’ is as good as it gets!”

She had kind of a Holly Hunter vibe going on, too. Short, yes, but a real firecracker. “I hate to say it,” he said, “but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen cute like you do cute.”

“Well Hot-Damn, Harry! Comin’ out of chute number one, and ain’t you sweet?!” 

“Wow…!”

“I guess scrubs and a lab coat don’t make the best first impression, huh?”

“Hell, I guess not.”

“Well Harry, you better buy me a strong drink ‘cause I’m horny as hell and Tag! – you’re it!”

He gulped – hard. “What?”

“Hard of hearing, too? Ain’t that the shits.” she said as she sat next to him – sliding in close. “So, whatcha drinkin’?”

“Suffering Bastard.”

“Ooh…sounds like a meanie. Order me two.”

He signaled their waiter and ordered two more – for the table.

“So? You horny?” she purred.

“Yeah, after one look at you I think that’s a fair assumption.”

“When’s the last time you popped your cork?”

“It’s been a while?” he said, a little confused by this direct line of attack…

“What? You mean…like a week or so?”

“I mean like probably more than five years.”

Her eyes went wide. “Man, no wonder your BP is off the fuckin’ charts…” she said as her hand slipped under the table and her fingers to the zipper on his trousers. She had him free in seconds and started in on him, working him over with practiced ease.

He started to grin, then his lower lip started to tremble a bit…

“Oh-h-h dear. I do believe you are close, Harry Callahan, and do you know what? I just dropped my napkin on the floor. Would you excuse me while I go down get it?”

She took him in her mouth and he grabbed the edge of the table as he erupted, their waiter grinning like mad as he walked up, delivering the two drinks.

“Would you care for an, uh, an appetizer?” the waiter asked –

– just as Sawyer emerged, her face a gooey wreck. “No thanks,” she smiled. “I’m good.”

Callahan cleared his throat. “Uh, you know, maybe we’ll just order dinner in the main dining room?”

“Hell no,  Callahan, I like this booth just fine. Order something for us while I go fix my face.”

They watched her walk off, Callahan almost in a state of shock, the waiter grinning toothily.

“Oh Hell, Rick, just bring us some food. I don’t care what…”

“Very good, sir…!”

She came back a few minutes later, fresh lipstick flawlessly applied, and she sat and downed half her Bastard in one long pull.

“You from Texas or somethin’,” he asked as she toyed suggestively with the cucumber slice in her glass.

“What was your first clue, Callahan?”

“You know, that’s the first time anything like that has ever happened to me.”

“Oh yeah? Well, odds are lookin’ pretty good it won’t be the last.”

By the time they left Vic’s, Callahan was toasted and Sawyer’s motor was running hard, so he opted for a cab ride to the condo down by the wharf.

He tried to come up for air about four hours later, but she wasn’t having any of it.

_________________________________

But then the phone started ringing – a little after seven.

He ignored it one time, but picked up on the second try.

“Harry? It’s Cathy,” and she sounded frantic. “Frank’s not doing well. I think he needs to go down to Palo Alto.”

“Alright, I’ll head down to the Cathouse. Has the doc been by yet?”

“He’s on his way now.”

“Okay. I’m gonna hop in the shower. Have the doc call me as soon as he knows what we need to bring.”

Sawyer was sitting up – and she was all business now. “What’s going on?”

“Friend of mine, up by the house. He’s end-stage pancreatic cancer. That was Cathy, his, well, his significant other, and she thinks something is wrong.”

“This isn’t where you live?”

“No. Listen, I’ve got to jump in the shower…”

“Yeah, let’s do it to it…”

They showered together – “It saves water, ya know?” she said – and he dressed in running pants and an SFPD sweatshirt, and he took the next call on the first ring.

“What’s up, Doc?”

“Can you fly up?”

“Assuming the weather is good, yeah.”

“Okay. We’ll get him ready.”

“Right,” he said as he rang off, then he turned to Sawyer. “Look, I’m sorry, but could I call you…”

“Sure, I’d love to come along,” she said, grinning. “Two docs are better than one, right?”

He called the Cathouse, had them get the 412 medevac ship ready. “I’ll be there in about ten minutes,” he told the dispatcher. When he turned to Sawyer she was dressed like a firecracker again, and he shook his head. “Wow,” he sighed.

“Sorry, I didn’t exactly bring a change of clothes…”

“Oh, it’s not that. Fact is, there’s nothing I’d rather do right now than get you out of those clothes and back in the sack. I’ve never had so much fun in my life…”

“Yeah? You seemed a little rusty to me, but I think with a little work I can whip you back into shape.”

He nodded. “Let’s go.”

“What’s the Cathouse?”

“It’s the call-sign for our main base.”

“Right, I like it. Kinda fits, ya know?”

His Rover was still at Vic’s so he called a taxi and they made the short drive to the valet lot to pick it up, then he drove down to the Presidio. Pattison was waiting for him when he pulled into the lot.

“What’s up?” Pattison asked.

“It’s Frank,” Harry said. “You free this morning?”

“I can be. Just came in to catch up on some paperwork.”

“Okay. You take the left seat.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I’m done with flying, Pat. I’d like you to take on the Chief Pilot thing starting today.”

“What? Is it a medical thing?”

“No, it’s a totally burned out thing, Pat. I’m done, at least for a while,” he said as he helped Sawyer get situated in the jump seat. They did a quick walk around and took off for the Golden Gate. With Sawyer on the intercom, Callahan narrated what was going on as they flew north just off the beach.

“Harry, there’s enough stuff back here to do minor surgery!” she said.

“Yeah, we had the doc kind of help us design and stock this thing.”

“It’s about ten times better than what the Fire Department has. Man, you guys ought to advertise this some.”

“We mainly use it for fire fighting situations.”

“Well, you guys could staff this thing with a doc and a nurse and basically offer an in-flight minor trauma bird. Y’all have some seriously cool shit back here!”

Pattison put the 412 down on the street just outside Cathy’s house, and as everyone was already out front waiting Harry just helped get people loaded. He groaned when he saw Bullitt – who looked half-past dead in the golden morning light.

And it turned out that Sawyer and Doc Watson knew one another, barely, and after they laid Frank down she started an IV and worked up his vitals.

“Did you say we’re going to Stanford?” she asked Callahan – quietly – over the intercom.

“Yeah. Why?”

“If you can radio ahead it would be a good idea to have an oncologist and a hematologist standing by.”

“Okay. Can do. How far out are we, Pat?”

“Call it twenty minutes.”

“Right.” Callahan looked up the frequency for Stanford, forgetting it was listed as SUMC, then he found the numbers quickly after that; with that done he patched Sawyer’s intercom into the COMMs net. “Becky? Push the white button here,” he said indicating the side of her headset, “to talk on the radio. I’ll call Stanford now, and you tell ‘em what you need, okay?”

“Right.”

“Pat? Need help with ATC?”

“If you can, sure.”

Harry called the flight in as a medevac and got a direct clearance to Palo Alto, and they were on the ground five minutes later. Physicians and orderlies took Frank into the ER; Harry told Cathy he’d go back to the Presidio, pick up his Rover and head back as soon as he could.

She hugged him, tears in her eyes, then he noticed DD wasn’t with them.

“Is DD with Elizabeth?” he asked, and Cathy nodded before she turned and ran into the hospital. He looked at her as she ran, a million conflicting emotions pulling at him…

“Okay, let’s go,” he said to Pattison.

“Man, he looks grim.”

Callahan turned and looked out at the Stanford campus as they climbed and turned west. ATC routed them back to the beach and north to the Gate, and they landed at the Presidio ten minutes later.

Pattison told them to leave, that he’d take care of the aircraft, so Harry and Sawyer walked to his Rover. “Where can I take you?” he asked. 

“Could we stop by my apartment, let me change real fast?”

“Uh, sure, but I don’t want to drag you away…”

“Nope, Callahan, you’re stuck with me this weekend. Ain’t no better way to learn about someone than watching them do their thing. And besides, I’m starting to have warm fuzzies about you.”

He looked at her and smiled. “Where to, Doc?”

She gave him the address and he smiled, shook his head. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Oh, nothing. But you should know I’m your landlord, just in case you fall behind on your rent.”

“What?”

Harry grinned as he talked – almost all the way to his first high-rise apartment tower, and he waited for her while she ran upstairs and changed; they drove down the 280 to Page Mill Road after that – breaking a few speed limits on the way. Cathy and Doc Watson were still in the ER waiting room, Cathy doing her best to hold it together but not coming close, and she ran into Harry’s arms as soon as he walked into the room.

He held her while she cried it out, leaving the two docs to sit and talk shop for a while, then a nurse came and told Cathy it would be okay for her to go back for a brief visit. Harry went and sat with Becky and Watson, and in this sudden, desperate calm now all too aware of the day’s spiraling cascade of events.

“I need to call Sam,” he sighed. “And Dell…”

“Harry? It’s going to be okay. My guess is he’ll be good to go home later this afternoon. We’ll probably just need to get a few things for the house.”

“A few things, Doc?”

“Hospice things, Harry. They’ll know what he needs, what we’ll need.”

The word slammed into Callahan like a blow to the head and he found it hard to breathe again; Becky scooted close then and started to talk him down…

“Lean back, Harry. Take a deep breath. Just close your eyes and try to let go for a while…”

“Ya know, my arms feel funny.”

“Oh?” Doc Watson said. “How so?”

“A burning sensation, especially around the joints.”

Watson looked at Sawyer and nodded. “Anything else? You been sleeping okay?”

“No. Not really.”

“Okay, just close your eyes, try to rest…” 

They got up and walked over to a vending machine. “You know,” Watson said, “I’m reading about this same shit more and more, kids coming back from the Gulf…”

“Yeah, I know. Me too. Harry’s not the first one we’ve run across, either…”

“You still at USF?”

“Yeah.”

“You and Harry? How’d it go last night?”

“I like him. A lot.”

“He’s good people. Been through a lot the last ten years, stuff you wouldn’t believe. What he’s doing with these helicopters…well, it’s something special.”

“He said he’s my landlord? What do you know about that?”

“Hell, he owns about ten huge apartment and condo complexes now, mainly in the city but he’s starting one down here now.”

“Are you serious?”

“My wife is his CFO. Not a lot about his affairs I don’t know, but the guy has the touch. Everything he does makes money. A lot of money.”

“What’s a lot?”

Watson shook his head. “I’m not sure what it is now, but last year his net worth was over three hundred.”

“Thousand?”

“No…million.”

Her eyes went wide. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Watson just shook his head. “Once he told DD, that’s my wife, he was going out with you she ran your name, found out everything there is to know about you…”

“Did he…”

“No. He doesn’t know she does that crap, but she protects him like a lioness protects her cubs. And look, I’m just telling you so you go into this with open eyes, okay?” 

“He said he’s a cop, too. I don’t get it…”

“Retired after putting in his twenty but kept at it in the reserves. He’s still a homicide detective, still carries the gun and the badge. Man, if I had that kind of money I wouldn’t…”

But she wasn’t really listening anymore. She was, in fact, now almost completely mortified. She’d come off as some kind of horny nymphomaniacal slutzilla because she thought he might be a fun diversion for a few days…but then the warm fuzzies – as she liked to call them – had hit, and hit hard. Now she felt like she was in way too deep, and that was not someplace familiar to her. Not at all.

“Who’s Frank?” she asked.

“Frank Bullitt. His partner and best friend. Let’s just say that close is an understatement and leave it at that.”

“Got it. And Cathy?” 

“Not married but been together for more than twenty years. One kid, a little girl. Cathy’s an architect and does all Harry’s design work.”

“So, they’re all real close? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Closer than close, Becky. Again, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.”

“You mean, like some kind of triangle deal?”

“No, not at all, and Harry is just not wired that way. Conservative when it comes to things like that, sometimes he’s almost shy. Maybe old-fashioned is the best way to describe him.”

“Oh…”

“You haven’t fallen for him, have you?”

She turned and looked at Callahan, then at Watson – and she nodded. “Maybe, just a little.”

“Well, let me cue you in right now. If you’re looking for some quick fun, Harry is not the one for you. He’s complicated, yet I think you’ll find he’s worth the effort. But…if you hurt him, you’ll have to answer to my wife. And Becky…you do not want to do that.”

“I think I need a drink. A real strong drink.”

“Had a Suffering Bastard yet?”

“Oh. My. God. Never again…”

“Jesus…how many did you have?”

“I stopped counting at five…”

“Five? Shit…I’ve had three and thought my head was going to come off the next morning…”

“Doc…you obviously didn’t belong to the same sorority I did…”

“Oh…on that, I feel most certain you’re correct…”

________________________________

“I’m getting tired of that drive,” Callahan said as he backed the Rover into the garage at his Sea Ranch house.

“I think he slept the whole way. I was impressed, really, by how smoothly you drove.”

“Hah! Frank says I drive like an old lady.”

“You drive deliberately, Harry. I found it reassuring.”

He nodded. “Well, welcome to my home…be it ever so humble.”

“I wish the sun was out. I couldn’t really see it all that well.”

“Well, come on. I’ll give you the nickel tour.”

He took her around to the front door and took her in that way. “Cathy says the house has more ‘wow’ factor if you come in through here,” he added as he turned on some lights.

“Fuck!” Sawyer sighed before she covered her mouth with both hands.

“See. I told ya.”

“Shit, Harry…this is like something out of a magazine!”

“Oh, it’s been in Architectural Digest twice.”

“Crap! What’s out those windows…?”

They walked over and he turned on the outside floodlights, illuminating the layers of patios that led down to the cliffs, and then to the sea beyond…

“Fucking Hell!”

Callahan cleared his throat. “Why don’t you tell me how you really feel?”

“Jesus, Harry, I’m sorry, but I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” she said as she turned around and faced…

…the piano.

“What is that?” she moaned as she started for the glass alcove suspended over the rocks.

Harry watched, interested now because she seemed to regard the piano with something approaching awe…

“Is that a Steinway?” she asked.

“No.”

She walked closer, saw all the slate and stone accents woven into the design of the instrument…

“No way,” she sighed. “A Bösendorfer? I’ve never even seen one of these before…”

“Do you play?”

“Hell yes, I play!”

“Go ahead. Knock your socks off.”

“No way. I ain’t touching that thing, Callahan.”

“Why not?”

“That’s not a piano, Harry. That’s an act of faith, a living testament to man’s quest for perfection. But that thing? Harry, that fucker belongs in a goddamn museum.”

“It’s not worth a penny if it’s not played, Becky.”

“Shit, Callahan, don’t call me Becky around this thing. Rebecca. Shit,” she said as she walked around it, “this is unreal. I had no idea something like this could make me horny. I take it you play?”

“A little,” he smiled. “Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving and there are no restaurants around here. Either I cook or you cook, but one of us better get to it.”

“Where’s the kitchen?”

“Follow me…” he said as he led her across the living room to the kitchen, flipping on lights as he went…

Then the doorbell chimed.

He walked down and opened the door. DD and the Doc were standing there, scowling.

“What’s wrong?”

“Cathy threw us out. Said she didn’t need our help, and I’m pissed,” DD snarled.

“And I can just about guarantee she has no idea what she’s saying right now,” Becky said as she came down to the door. “You must be DD,” she said, extending her hand.

“Ah, the famous Dr. Sawyer,” DD said, sizing up this latest prize.

“Come on in,” Harry said. “We were just headed to the kitchen.”

“I went by the store with Liz and picked up some steaks and artichokes,” DD said.

“Perfect,” Becky said. “Got a cast iron skillet?”

“For what?” DD asked.

“The steaks! Best way to cook ‘em…”

DD just shook her head. “The boys do those down on the patio. I have a salad ready to go, but if you’d like to help with the artichokes…?”

Becky put her hands up. “No, no, I don’t want to get in anybody’s way.” She turned to Harry and the doc: “Boys? Need help with the grill?”

Callahan tried not to watch what was happening, but that only made his reaction more intense. Becky and DD were squaring off, evidently competing…but for what? Did Becky feel – in some way – that DD was his protector? 

With that question lingering in his mind he watched the performance unfold while he and the doc lit the fire and seared the steaks. DD, for her part of the performance, made a point of stamping the evening with her very own seal of approval – in effect, controlling everything that happened, right down to who ate what. ‘Funny,’ Callahan thought, ‘that I’ve never seen her in that light…’

Sawyer, however, did not find the evening funny, or even fun, and Callahan watched her anger build and build, and almost to a breaking point when DD insisted that margarine was a healthier product than butter. How could, he wondered, two otherwise sane women almost come to blows over the efficacy of melted margarine as a condiment for artichokes?

But what does it say that I’ve let DD take almost total control of my life?

She does a good job, doesn’t she? I mean, the results are evident everywhere I look?

So, does that mean she wants to exert control over my personal and social life, as well?

DD even directed traffic after dinner, sending “her boys” up to the kitchen to tackle the dishes whilst she and Becky – the girls – sat and talked a bit. Callahan had wanted to be the fly on the wall for that one, but it only took a few minutes to get things into the dishwasher and clean up the countertops. Still, when – the girls – came into the house they seemed to retire to their own respective corners, waiting for the bell so the next round could commence.

And of course the doc had wanted Callahan to play for them, so DD gave her blessing.

But Callahan turned the tables. “Doc? You’ve been taking lessons for months now. Let’s see what you’ve learned…”

“No, no…please, I’d only embarrass myself…”

“Come on, Doc. The Clair de lune, please.”

So Doc Watson made his way through the piece, and much better than the last time – when he had butchered the music almost beyond recognition. Still, Becky nodded her approval and even clapped a little when he wrapped it up, and DD even smiled at that acknowledgment.

“Alright, Harry,” Doc Watson snarled. “Your turn!”

“Me? You know, I think Becky plays. You up for it tonight?”

“No, not tonight,” Sawyer said, looking at DD. “Maybe some other time.”

“Okay, Harry,” the doc sighed, “it looks like it’s up to you. How about a Gershwin tune?”

Callahan looked at DD, then at Becky Sawyer. And he smiled.

Then he went to the piano, pulled out the bench and sat. Retracting the keyboard cover, he worked through some scales, checking that everything was in tune as he stretched his fingers, loosening them up. “Well,” he said, “let’s see if I even remember how to play this thing…”

He started by one-fingering his way through Chopsticks – which garnered smiles from DD and the Doc, then he blasted into Schumann’s Toccata in C, a short, breathless interlude before his planned finale. He asked everyone to step close, to put their hand on his shoulder, and though Doc Watson slowly put his hand there, he did so with trepidation. 

Callahan then drifted into Prokofiev’s Death of Juliet, improvising as he went, but after a moment he paused: “Everyone? Please take a deep breath, try to clear your mind of everything, imagine drifting on water at night with nothing but stars overhead. Slowly drifting, you’re drifting…”

As he’d intended, DD felt it first. She began reliving the last two hours – only now she was seeing the world, experiencing the emotional intensities of the evening – through Becky Sawyer’s eyes. She felt the sense of isolation, the gnawing frustration, the almost utter despair of watching Callahan being torn and pulled by competing loyalties, then the anger she felt when this complete stranger began to take control of everything going on around them all…

Doc Watson saw it too, and what he watched was a savage performance, though one he’d seen repeated time and time again but never from the vantage of an intended victim, and he began to feel anxious, almost physically ill as he felt what Becky Sawyer had just experienced…

Then Callahan drifted into Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, playing the Autrefois, un roi de Thulé almost as an adagio, carrying Becky Sawyer into DDs mind, letting her experience the insecurities of a lonely woman who had always thought of herself as a failure, of a little girl always humiliated for her academic prowess and homely appearance. Even the doc watched these insights play out as an overwhelming feeling of pity washed over them all…

Before Callahan finished he wandered back into a very gentle Clair de lune, and this time he took them to Vietnam, to 1968, and to a night filled with automatic weapons fire and overrun positions, of men screaming for help on the command net, of mortar rounds landing inside the perimeter, of his shattered Huey spinning out of control and falling into a kerosene-soaked swamp – and then to the final, remorseless advance of the huge white snake, it’s red eyes and searching tongue reaching out for him…then…

He stood from the piano and walked out to the patio, leaving three human statues to claw their way back to the warmth of life, to see the world as it could be with only a little care and feeding of the human soul. He made his way to the little slot in the cliffs that led down to the sandy beach and, taking a deep breath, he began walking north…

He heard Becky calling his name, then, as she drew near, he heard her pleading with him to stop, to wait for her, so he stopped and turned to face the damage he’d done.

She ran into his arms, clung to his back, laughing and crying hysterically, caught on and within a Möbius loop of understanding and misunderstanding, trying to come to terms with everything she’d just learned and fought to forget…then she was screaming at him, screaming mercilessly, pitilessly – 

“Goddamn you, Harry, I love you I can’t live without you I can’t even breathe now just hold me please hold me and don’t you ever let me go please don’t let go…”

He felt water at his feet, the sand under his shoes sliding away on the ebb and he felt her sliding away, too. 

‘Can I hang on…? Can I hold on to love. Will she let me this time, or will she come again and again and tear this one from my grasp again and again…’

Then he felt DD and the Doc with them, all then standing in the surf, all feeling conjoined, all in sudden interwoven understanding, a new fabric created of and from the images of the night.

_________________________________

When he woke the next morning she was still clinging to him, fiercely clinging with his arm pulled tight to her breast, as if she had sought fusion with some fleeting essence.

Then he heard a knock on the door. His bedroom door…

Were they still here, he thought? The doc and DD?

As he disentangled himself from Becky she moaned, then he went to the door and opened it.

“Sorry for bothering you,” Frank said, standing there with Cathy and both still in their pajamas and robes, “but this couldn’t wait.”

“Yes?”

“The doc and DD came to the house last night, apparently after one of your, uh, excursions, and both were having some kind of meltdown.”

“Okay.”

“This wasn’t like the things we’ve done before, right?”

“No, not really.”

“What did you do to them?”

“I’m not sure I understand, not yet anyway. It was an improvisation, I think.”

“Well,” Cathy said, “DD has been up all night, and I’d say she’s almost in a state of shock, Harry. She can hardly talk right now, and I mean this morning, right now…”

“Frank?” Callahan said, “why don’t you go sit in the living room while I get some coffee on, but if I don’t tap a kidney first, things are gonna get ugly.”

He came out a few minutes later and Cathy met him in the kitchen, hugging him before he was even aware she was in the room. “What was that for,” he sighed.

She shrugged; “Do you have any eggs? I’ll whip up breakfast if you do, but I think you need to sit with Frank…

He nodded and went to the sofa and sat beside his friend.

“I never get tired of this view,” Bullitt said as he looked over the cliffs to the surf beyond.

“She created something timeless here,” Callahan replied. 

“I can’t help but think of all the nights we shared here, but at the same time I feel almost jealous, Harry. Of all the nights yet to be born here, of all the memories you’ll get to make – without me…”

“You’ll be with us, Frank. Always. When Cathy and Elizabeth and I are together here, you won’t be far away.”

“You believe in all that stuff, or are you just trying to make me feel good…”

“What difference does it make, Frank. I think what you believe is what counts right now.”

“I’ve always had a hard time with all that ‘die and go to heaven’ nonsense, Harry. It’s hard to believe in something you can’t see.”

“Hard? For me it’s been impossible. Sometimes I think it’s a struggle even for people who believe.”

“So, you were just trying to make me feel good…”

“Always the detective, always interrogating, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, well, if the gumshoe fits…”

“Right. The thing is, Frank, you’ll be with us, in our hearts and minds, wherever we are. Always. You can count on that.”

“It’s not the same, is it?”

“Meaning?”

“Not being here anymore…it’s not really the same, is it?”

“On one level, sure. But Frank, who knows what’s on the other side?”

“Well, take my word for it, Harry. When it starts to get close – the whole thing gets kinda personal – and a lot less abstract.”

“Isn’t it a trip we all get to make?”

“A trip… Harry, you’re a trip…! So…what the hell did you do to DD and the doc?”

“DD and Becky were locked in a dominance dance last night. I just let them experience things from another point of view.”

“Another…?”

“DD got to experience things from Becky’s perspective.”

“Jesus, Harry… When did you figure this one out?”

“It just happened, Frank. I didn’t plan it out or anything like that…”

“So…just what else can you do…?”

Callahan shrugged. “I don’t know. What’d you have in mind?”

“Just a thought.”

“Like…?”

“What if, while I’m dying, I was touching you – while you played? Do you think I could, maybe, go back…”

And in the next instant the Old Man in The Cape was sitting on the sofa, now directly between Harry and Frank; both jumped away from his sudden reappearance – but Frank flinched – as if he’d been shocked, or stunned.

“And this,” the Old Man said, “you will not do. You must not. You talk of crossing a threshold, a threshold beyond which no mortal being may cross. You would tempt more than just fate, Harald; such an action would negate all that you know, or have known. You, and everything you see here, would simply cease to be. Do you hear me, Harald?”

“I hear you,” Callahan said, leaning forward to look at Frank…

But Bullitt was frozen in time, mute and unmoving.

“I must have your word on this, Harald. While I can tell you little more than this, if you do such a thing Elizabeth will never come to be, and that must never be allowed to happen. So…your word, Harald, give it to me now!”

“Alright, you have my word, but is there anything I can do for Frank?”

The Old Man shook his head. “He seeks immortality, Harald, and you are but mortal, as is Frank.”

“And you? What are you, Old Man?”

“Me? I am but a humble traveler, a servant – if you will – seeking to atone for the sins of my father.”

“Your father? Who is your father?”

The Old Man looked at Callahan almost fondly for a moment, but then he looked away and shook his head. “That, my friend, is the question.”

And with that he was gone. In the next instant Frank blinked and resumed speaking…

“…in time? What do you think of that?”

Harry shrugged noncommittally: “That’s an interesting idea. I’ll think about it…”

Thunder erupted from a nearby storm cloud, and lightning slashed down to the sea.

Becky walked into the living room wearing one of Callahan’s t-shirts – and nothing else; when she saw Frank she turned and dashed back to the bedroom.

“Was that Becky?” Bullitt asked, and Callahan nodded. “Yowza, that’s a hot little number, Harry. Sure you’re – UP – to the challenge?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes, several times, as a matter of fact.”

“Uh, and Harry,” Bullitt said, wiping his cheek, “looks like you got a few pubes stuck in the stubble, if you know what I mean.”

Callahan brushed them away with a grin.

And then Frank smiled. “Well, I reckon there are plenty more where those came from. Don’t eat too much, Harry. Stains the teeth, don’t you know…”

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about 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 said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. 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. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. 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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