The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 55

88Key pt7 image 1

A short chapter today, perhaps in need of a cup of Earl Grey by your favorite chair.

Part VII

Chapter 55

Pony rides and face painting, smiling clowns and magic acts. 

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone…

Birthday cake and Frank looking at his little girl, so in love with life now – when it was slipping away so fast now. 

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore waiting to take you away…

Harry had his Nikon out that day, determined to capture as many moments as he could. And maybe because he understood the meaning of this day better than most, and that memories of these last fleeting moments would take on a magic all their own. Sam and Dell and Al, all the old crew, sat off to the side in the shade of a few pines, keeping an eye on their friend as the day unfolded around them. Becky and DD, now suddenly best friends, scooped massive balls of ice cream into freshly made waffle cones, while Cathy moved among the little chicks in the protective mother-hen role she liked least about her new life, all too aware of the road that waited on the far side of the night.

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies…

And when the day was done, when all Elizabeth’s mates and chums had disappeared, she was tucked into bed by her father. Then Harry went to say good-night to Elizabeth, and after everyone walked to the patio above the cliffs while the girls sorted through the aftermath of the day, the night called out to them. So, as all the old crew gathered behind Harry’s place they watched the setting sun before the ancient rituals of fire led them deeper into the night – charcoal burning to glowing coals, steaks searing on grills and artichokes put to the boil as one last hollandaise was made, and too soon another dinner above the surf passed into memory. 

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes…

Frank went to the sofa in the living room by Harry’s Bösendorfer and his hospice nurse was summoned. Frank lay there with his head resting on Cathy’s legs as his friends gathered by his side, and a few hours later Frank’s pain was at an end. Harry and Cathy held him as he passed, all his friends sat with him when his last breath was finished, and as their final tears withered away.

Climb in the back with your head in the clouds and you’re gone…

And in Frank’s everlasting silence the nurse and Becky signed the Death Certificate – and that was it, all that was left was the sound of his silence. But the way ahead would only be found by picking up the pieces and reaching for the Will to move on. 

Yet Harry made his way through the rocks down to the surf, and he walked under cellophane skies of diamond-soaked tears, giving no heed to the ebb and flow of the day. He turned up at the house later that day and found Becky at the keyboard, Doc Watson and DD with her as she played show tunes she had committed to memory in another life. Cathy – and of course Frank – were gone now…though a memory or two lingered beside the sofa for a few hours more.

And a few days later he and Cathy stood at the edge of the cliff and scattered Frank’s ashes to the wind. Cathy held onto Callahan for an hour, both as rigid and quiet as cold stone, then she turned and walked to her house. Callahan drove into the city and picked up Becky after her shift ended and they drove over to The Shadows, because, he said, he needed to talk to her.

“Are you alright?” she asked as they sat by a window overlooking the city by the bay…

…and he nodded absent-mindedly, as was his way, before he looked away. “No, not really. I wasn’t ready for his music to end so soon.”

“He was in so much pain, Harry. At least, that is, at an end.”

“Oh, I think I understand all that, but it doesn’t change the emptiness.”

She nodded. “How else do you feel?”

“Like something…like a vital part of me has been ripped away. And Becky, sometimes it feels like I’ve forgotten how to breathe…”

“DD was trying to tell me about you two, but I don’t think I really understood, not really. There’s something about two cops like you and Frank, and I was struck by the thought that it’s a kind of pure, almost holy thing. Maybe a more intense kind of brotherhood, not of the flesh but something borne out of trust and need.”

He was looking down as she spoke, and though he heard her words his mind was fighting the impulsive desire to get up and run far, far away.

She looked at his silence, trying to read him. “So, where are you headed?” she asked as she watched his evasive posturing.

“Hmm? What?”

“Where are you running to now?”

He looked away. “I don’t know.”

“I know you don’t want company, but I’ll ask anyway. Mind if I tag along?”

He looked at her for just a moment, but then looked away. “You wouldn’t like – where I’m going.”

She shrugged. “How do you know what I’d like?”

He sighed, then a tremor passed through the moment as he tried to focus. “I told DD about your proposal for the medevac helicopters. She’ll want to get together with you and a couple of the hospital’s administrators and go over the details, and she has a contract ready for you to sign. You’ll be CATs medical director, not to interfere with your hospital duties, and your rent is now part of your salary so you’ll have a little extra spending money.”

“Thanks. Thoughtful of you.”

He looked down at his hands, stretched his fingers for a moment. “I should be back in a while. Assuming I…”

“Assuming you what, Harry?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t know…”

“Well Harry, here’s the deal. Maybe you thought you could run away when it was just you, but it’s not – not now. You’ve got Elizabeth to think about now, and God knows but Cathy might not make it without you, too. Got that? You hearin’ me, Slick?”

“Listen, I don’t need you to lecture…”

“Yeah? Well listen up, Callahan, ‘cause I grew up in a house full of brothers. And you know what that makes me?”

“No, not really…”

“Well, it means I know where to kick, and I got a lot of practice so I don’t miss. You hearin’ me, Callahan? You maybe feelin’ a little twinge down there…?”

“Yeah, I…”

“Good. ‘Cause…you ain’t going nowhere. You’re gonna haul your fat ass back to that house and you be there for those two gals, ‘cause they need you right now more than you know. Fact of the matter is, Callahan, I’m beginning to need you just a little bit, too, but not half as much as you need me, so get your act together! Grow the fuck up! Life hurts – I get that – but you can’t turn and run away every time something doesn’t go your way!”

“Jesus, just who do you…”

“I’m the little red-head that kinda like, ya know, loves you, okay? So – get over it. And stop letting DD take care of you, willya? She’s not your wife, and she sure as hell ain’t your momma, so let her do her thing at work and then let her take care of her own family. She’s makin’ it too goddamn easy for you to just walk away whenever you want, but Harry, that ain’t the way the world works. Understand? That just ain’t right. Real men don’t turn and run. Real men buckle down and get to work, and they quit when the job’s done.”

“Just how many brothers do you have?”

“Enough, Callahan. Enough to know the difference between a man and a pretender. And as far as I can tell you ain’t no pretender, so I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let you act like one.”

Their waiter was standing by the table in slack-jawed awe, watching wordlessly as she took Callahan down, and when Harry looked up at him he just shrugged. “Don’t look at me. We’re having whatever the hell she says we’re gonna have.”

And for a while, that was the way of it all.


So…Callahan started flying again, at least he did a couple of times a week, usually on weekends so more pilots could have time off with their families. He still worked a weekend a month downtown – working homicide cases. He spent four afternoons a week with Elizabeth, in his quiet alcove over the rocks and the breaking surf – playing the piano. She was an apt pupil and learned quickly, and she had Cathy’s hands, long-fingered and strong. She also had her mother’s artistic temperament and sensibilities, and before many months passed she came to think of Callahan as more than a friend, even more than an uncle-figure. He took on the stature of a father to her, and that came naturally enough because Callahan soon regarded her as something like a daughter of his own. He grew fiercely possessive of their time together, of their time at the piano together. And for some strange reason, DD came to play less of an overt role in his life.

And anyway, she and the doc had twins and that pretty much changed her life. For the better, Becky might have said.

But then, yes, there was Becky Sawyer.

She put up with Callahan’s fear of getting married again for as long as she could, then one day she knocked him up side the head and threw his ass on an airplane. She took him to Vegas and she rented a car, then drove him down to one of those shotgun-wedding chapels and then and there she made him do the deed. She’d never been to Switzerland so off they went. An exhausted and saddle sore Callahan turned up at the Cathouse a few weeks later, finally ready to get down to some real work.

And about nine months later Becky gave Harry Callahan a son.


And life on the cliff gave way to a brief interlude of enchanted time in Harry Callahan’s life.

Harry was, by then, in a better place to stay at home with Lloyd, so he did – at least on weekdays. And that first year was consumed with the intricacies of breast pumps and bottle warmers, for as soon as she was able Becky returned to the ER. She was, in fact, soon the head of the largest Level 1 Trauma Center in Northern California, which made her a kind of Very Big Deal in the eyes of the local medical community. Her association with CAT Medevac Services grew, too, and soon she was the de-facto CEO of this branch of Harry’s growing empire. 

Harry, on the other hand, moved off in new, uncharted directions. 

After Nils, the flamboyant merchant of all things electronica at the Rosenthal Music Company, moved to Tokyo, the company’s presence in the music world began a period of exponential growth. First in Tokyo, then in Osaka, Nils opened new branches in Beijing and Seoul and Hanoi. Up next, Sydney and Melbourne, then Rio and Capetown. 

And at the same time, Cathy’s expansion of Harry’s original house onto the adjacent property was completed, and now Harry had a complete recording studio at his disposal. Timely, for it turned out that among all his life’s unanswered ambitions, Harry Callahan now wanted to write and produce music most of all. And soon, perhaps because Nils by that time knew the community as well as anyone, many well established artists came up to Sea Ranch to compose and perform with Harry.

And some might think it impossible to overstate the significance of this turn of events, because both Elizabeth and his son Lloyd grew up within a very supportive – indeed, a very nurturing cocoon of tolerant artistic exploration – all taking place within the sheltering ambivalence and heady acceptance of the already very famous.

And though Cathy pushed Elizabeth to master the piano, Harry recognized something in his son that led him to believe Lloyd was a budding polymath. Lloyd started on the piano but soon drifted to strings; the viola when he was still in kindergarten, then, as he grew he naturally gravitated to the larger stringed instruments – the cello, then the upright bass come easily to mind, but then he took up world instruments like the koto and sitar. Finally, he followed the path of least resistance and fell into the world of the acoustic guitar, then the more easily misunderstood electric versions.

Lloyd was playing as a session guitarist while in middle school, though he was soon asked to tour with one very well known band. Elizabeth watched this transformation with more concern than either her mother or Harry, because she was seemingly more able to resist the uncertain gravities these influences imposed. Most notably…heroin and the other psychedelics.

Maybe Lloyd took this path out of an unspoken need to rebel. Or perhaps his nascent addiction was the simple by-product of being in such close contact to older, more well-established musicians, many being rebellious free-spirited suburban-anarchists who saw nothing at all wrong about helping a fourteen year old boy explore the more esoteric realms of psychedelia. As quietly as she could, Elizabeth let her mother know what was happening.

Harry’s reaction was somewhat less than quiet, and Lloyd’s first enforced stay in a drug rehab program led to a series of escapes and flights that, in the end, led to an inevitable period of decline punctuated by mental illness and several unsuccessful suicide attempts. It might not be too unhelpful to consider that the moral arc of Lloyd Callahan’s life in many ways mirrored the culture he grew up in: sheer genius giving way to the relativistic impulses of artists marching in lockstep down a road too easily traveled.

Elizabeth, who many might consider the other side of this equation, easily balanced and canceled-out Lloyd’s eccentricities; in word and deed, as Lloyd’s life spun out of control her’s seemed to maintain a perfect, arrow straight trajectory. Her grasp of the emotional lexicon of music soon exceeded Harry’s, and her technical abilities were never diluted by peripheral interests in other instruments. When a group asked her to contribute to a new recording she helped when and where should could – without ever turning her back on the course she’d settled on years before. After she graduated from high school she went to NYU where she majored in comparative literature, then on to the Juilliard School. By her twenty-third birthday she was a celebrated pianist in demand by symphony orchestras around the world.

But this isn’t Lloyd’s story, nor even Elizabeth’s. And yes, while this is indeed an account of Harry Callahan’s life and times, the first few years of that life after Frank’s passing were consumed not by Elizabeth or Cathy, and not even directly by his son, Lloyd. No, the next, and the most destructive period of Harry Callahan’s life came to him as a result of his marriage to Becky Sawyer, because she wasn’t always what she appeared to be, and because there are times when running away is the right thing to do.

© 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. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ 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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