The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 56

88Key pt7 image 1

Part VII

Chapter 56

The right thing to do…

The right thing to do…

Callahan sat at the Bösendorfer working through the song, Carly Simon’s ode to the hopeful and the broken hearted, trying to shake the feeling that somehow Carly had been writing that music with him in mind. ‘But music has always been like that,’ he thought. ‘We relate. We let uncertain music define certain distinct periods of our lives. So why does this song speak to me so…?’

‘What is the right thing to do…?’

It wasn’t just that Becky had grown abusive, and not simply abusive to him. He’d heard Lloyd’s screams and come running, only to find Becky savagely pinching him, and he found deep reddish-blue bruises all over his arms and legs, too. He jumped into the fray when he saw those fresh welts, pulled her away from Lloyd’s crib and pushed her out of the room, and he never forgot the absent, wide-eyed stare he encountered once he had her out by the kitchen. 

“What are you doing!?” he remembered shouting. “For God’s sake – what are you doing!”

But he knew he had lost when he realized there was nothing behind those eyes, not even pity. Simply no remorse at all. There were demons behind and within her eyes, memories he knew nothing about, a family history she’d managed to keep tucked away in the dark. He’d watched her after that first night at Trader Vic’s, not really sure what he’d seen in the heat of that night. Where was the line between passionate intensity and barely contained depravity? Unfortunately for her, they both soon realized, her need to control was no match for his ability to resist almost all forms of external restraint, most especially from anyone masquerading as an authority figure. Callahan’s career at the department was a living testament to that…

But this latest episode was too much. Lloyd was screaming hysterically now, trapped in an endless loop of need and fear as he reached out for her again and again, only to fall into each new trap she set for him. He’d never had a chance, and for Harry everything snapped into focus…

He looked at her in the kitchen that morning and knew things had fallen apart; he called Doc Watson, asked him to come down immediately, and a few minutes later they had Becky well and truly sedated. DD carried Lloyd down to Cathy’s house and Elizabeth played with him, and as was fast becoming the norm, the patient old soul within Elizabeth helped Lloyd to calm down. Watson and Callahan loaded Becky in the old blue Range Rover and together they drove her down to Stanford and admitted her for psychiatric observation. Callahan, awash in feelings ‘that he’d been down this road once before,’ had been in a state of barely controlled rage…

Yet soon he was in a state of shock, and Callahan let the doc drive back up the coast while he struggled with demons he’d thought vanquished long ago; but when he got back to his little house on the cliffs he found Elizabeth and Lloyd asleep on the sofa – lying exactly where her father had passed – and he knew right then and there other forces were at work inside Becky. Maybe it was fate, he suggested to himself, still struggling with the singular fear that the Old Man might show up at any moment and rain on that parade one more time. No, he told himself again, my life is unfolding like I’ve been forced to ride a giant roller-coaster – and there’s a sharp bend just ahead – only the tracks are coming undone, shaking loose as I approach the next glittering curve…

So he’d sat down next to the kids, watched them sleep – at least until DD and Cathy came by a few hours later. Yet DD didn’t say a word, she just collected the doc and left. Cathy came and sat by him, put her head on his shoulder – and she sat with him while their children slept. When he woke up a few hours later Lloyd was curled up on his lap, still sound asleep; Cathy was asleep too, with her head still on his shoulder.

Elizabeth was, on the other hand, sitting in a chair directly across from Harry – staring at him – and he was struck that, to him, it looked like she was lost, but also like she was trying to come to an understanding of something far away and still very obscure.

A few minutes later she came and sat by his side, the side opposite her mother’s, and she took his hand and held it while she fell asleep again.


Becky spent a month in rehab then came back out to the house on the cliffs – but everything was very different in the aftermath of her awakening.

Lloyd no longer reached out for her. For that matter, neither did Harry.

A few months passed like that until one day Becky called from work; she told Harry that her brother was in town and that he’d be staying with her at her apartment in the city for a while – yet she soon grew consumed by the only two passions she’d ever really known: medicine, and running away. She worked thirty hour days, collapsed, then returned for more of the same – until her family’s history began catching up to the moment.

And so it was in this way that for Becky Callahan the idea of motherhood slipped from her grasp. It was as if, when she realized what she had done to their son, that she either could not or would not trust herself to be around him again. There was too much hidden history behind her actions, too many repressed memories. Motherhood had been a hopeful thing, but she soon realized that older forces were pushing her into an abyss that had owned her from the beginning, and this was a gravity she simply could not control.

Yet once again, Harry Callahan did nothing to disabuse her of the idea. She had, in his eyes, failed them both – and he did not want her around Lloyd. 

Because, in truth, he no longer trusted her.

Because twenty years on the street had imbued in his outlook a profound distrust of abuse, and even in the very idea that someone could physically abuse a child. To Harry Callahan, the abuser was consumed by a morally repugnant personality flaw, a profound weakness of character. And so it was, apparently, an unforgivably deadly sin.

And as quickly as he’d fallen in love with Becky Sawyer – those feelings left, they disappeared. He soon felt embarrassed that he’d allowed himself to feel love once again. Because love had become a game of charades, a game with no resolution, little more than tales told in shadowy pantomimes on a sidewalk he no longer wanted to walk along.

Even so, the curious might ask – if it wasn’t love he felt for his son, what was it?

Because those who spent time at the house on the cliffs saw a father who loved his son, who doted on him to the point that many thought Harry was “spoiling” the boy. Even so, Lloyd still seemed a happy enough little boy, to most people, anyway.

Perhaps because Becky quite literally stayed away from him for several years, seeing her son on his birthday and at Christmas, though even on those days she came out to the house and stayed but a few hours. Lloyd, as a result, grew up thinking of Cathy when he thought of a mother in his life, because Cathy took over that role on as soon as Becky ran away from the consequences she knew would come if she remained out there. Another less apparent consequence was that Elizabeth became a sort of big sister to the boy, a role that would assume increasing significance in coming years.

And as Lloyd grew he came naturally to music, and music came naturally to him. Like Imogen, he was a prodigy. He composed elegant works – by the time he was five. Yet no matter how much he loved music, no matter how much attention he garnered from his accomplishments, he always felt as if something was missing. Missing…from his life.

His mother, perhaps? 


On the few days a year she came out to the house, when Becky came near him he grew visibly distrustful and distant. Lloyd simply did not trust her, and she knew he never would. Yet the feeling would return – of something missing from his life.

Harry was the first to detect this hole in his son’s life, but curiously enough Lloyd had no interest in talking about it with his father, or even with Cathy. He did, however, begin to talk about this emptiness with Elizabeth – for a while, anyway.

And during the latter years of this period, several years after his mother walked away, Lloyd came to know and understand the other half of his family. And actually, it was the first time Harry Callahan came to know them, too. Though not under the best of circumstances.


The Sawyer clan was an outgrowth of central Texas, and Becky’s parents raised their kids on a sprawling ranch just outside of San Saba, Texas. Their father, Clem, was the ranch foreman and was, generally speaking, considered a well-respected man in the community. The ranch itself was owned by an amiable enough sort, the wealthy owner of a Cadillac dealership in Fort Worth, yet even so it would be on-the-mark to say that the Sawyer clan really had very little money. As in – never did and probably never would. And in America, where wealth is so often equated with righteousness, being poor was often considered the opposite of righteous.

Yet it wasn’t so much that her parents were strict – in a biblical sense, anyway; rather they were simply mean people, and often violently so. Ranch hands didn’t stay long, friends never came out for dinner, and her parents never socialized in town – though they managed to go to church a few times a year.

But Becky’s mother and father were hard drinking Texans, and her six brothers were as well, so the only thing that saved Becky from rapid-onset ruination was an aunt who lived in town. Dorothy Richardson was a teacher at the local high school; algebra and calculus were the subjects she taught, though occasionally she taught physics, too; Becky tended to stay at her Auntie Dots’ house after school, and she usually did her homework there, too. Life was safer that way.

With an unstable home life to deal with, both Dot and Becky adhered to an unwritten code: Becky could escape this purgatory only by doing well in school. As her brothers were seriously below average students – with one exception – Becky caught hell from them, and the better she did in school the worse things got at home. Her oldest brother – the smart one – made it into Baylor University on a football scholarship and then went to the veterinarian school at the University of California Davis; he had vowed when he left San Saba to never return – for any reason. And he kept to his word.

The remaining brothers were so off the mark genetically that even the Army wouldn’t take them; their lives were somewhat unremarkable – at least until two of them held up a gas station, shooting the owner and killing her after they raped her. Both made it into the Huntsville Country Club after that, which to this day is considered the roughest prison in Texas, if not the United States. Becky rarely talked about those two for obvious reasons, yet the most embarrassing aspect to her, and for the family, was the court’s ruling that both were considered too feeble-minded to execute.

Becky was a brilliant student, socially more than motivated to get out into that other world and grab her slice of the American Pie. She breezed through her undergraduate requirements in three years and went on to do impressively well in medical school, ending up in San Francisco for both her internship and residency. San Francisco was her first choice as Davis was only about an hour away by car, and she reasoned that having a semi-sane brother nearby was better than having no family at all – and that was that. She chose emergency medicine as her specialty and within a few years was considered one of the best trauma docs in California. Her star was rising, you might say, and she successfully kept everything about Texas firmly out of her mind.

And it was about that time that she met Harry Callahan.

Tom, her oldest brother and by then a veterinarian in Davis, was a fairly stable compound at room temperature, but like everyone else in the Sawyer family he had an addictive personality and was a full-blown alcoholic by the time Becky made it out to San Francisco. And after Becky left her apartment for Harry’s house on the cliff, Tom decided he would do better for himself opening a practice in the Bay Area; and so, with Becky’s blessing, he moved into her apartment.

So when Becky fled the house on the cliff she had an instant roommate, a genetic time-bomb then rapidly ticking away, mutating hourly into a genuinely unstable compound within San Francisco’s effervescent, if rather debauched, underground sex scene. By the time she arrived back at her apartment, Tom was having sex with anything that had a willing spirit – male, female, or anything in between. Unprepared for this turn of the screw, Becky began to stress out when her brother brought seriously immune compromised gay boys into his bedroom, and it didn’t take her too long to figure out that Tom had simply replaced one addiction with another. And it was around that time that her increased stress led to serious migraines.

And then one night Tom came into Becky’s emergency room – as a patient – his face having been seriously rearranged by some biker-types who’d not appreciated his advances. As a precaution she had him sign a few extra consent forms and she found out that her brother was well on his way to having full blown AIDS – because it turned out that Tom had been into all kinds of people for quite a while. And so, without much warning she found herself caring for someone well on his way to being dead. Her migraines grew worse. Pharmaceutical reps began stocking her ER with samples of fentanyl patches, and these treated her migraines rather well. Rather too well, some might say.

And soon enough Becky Callahan was taking a one-way ride on the Sawyer family roller coaster, though she – just – managed to maintain her cool at work by tightly managing her addiction. Her work for Callahan Air Transport – Medevac Division, simply made her a more visible presence in the local medical community, expanding her credentials – and credibility – just as her addiction began to peak.

Then Tom died – a slow, gruesomely gradual death – and one she was forced to watch while looking on helplessly. She grew careless at work after that, often wearing fentanyl patches when still working the floor. Then she was caught stealing fentanyl from an ER stockroom, and Al Bressler worked the case. Harry became involved, her family background came into the open and in his feelings of betrayal he filed for divorce. She was fired subsequent to her arrest, and her fall from grace was as swift as it was final. Her case went to trial and she was convicted, but due to the circumstances she was given probation; she was told than that she would lose her license to practice medicine. Beyond depressed that day, she went home and took her remaining supply of fentanyl patches and applied everyone of them inside her arms and thighs. When she felt them taking hold once again she went to her balcony and jumped from the 27th floor, perhaps hoping to fly away – one more time.

By that time Lloyd Callahan was not quite eight years old and in the aftermath of his mother’s suicide his life went seriously off the rails – and a genetic time bomb began slowly ticking away as the roller coaster beckoned – one last time.


For Harry Callahan’s fifty-fifth birthday he took Lloyd, Elizabeth, and Cathy to Davos, to go skiing, and the occasion marked a major turning point in Harry’s life, perhaps the last of its kind, too. The kids knew how to ski by then; Elizabeth was going to college the next year and Lloyd had just turned ten, and Cathy had been taking them up to Tahoe to ski for years. But Davos was different, because Switzerland was not California, and as stupidly simpleminded as this seems, it is a distinction too often lost on many people. 

For, as Harry had learned decades ago, there were villages in Switzerland that were already thousands of years old – before the Americas were even ‘discovered.’ Switzerland was, unlike the United States, a land governed by Tradition, ancient ways of being that made little sense to the freeway loving, suburban living people living of North America, and this was a distinction not lost on Harry. Yet for years he had wanted Elizabeth and Lloyd to come to terms with those differences, to understand them and, hopefully, come to appreciate them, as well.

And Didi Rooney was soon instrumental in this other part of their education. She still managed Callahan’s financial affairs, those not linked directly to CAT, anyway, and so she was still in charge of Harry’s Swiss holdings, which included the house in Davos. Every summer she took the kids – her own as well as Lloyd and Elizabeth – to Davos, and as Cathy and Harry usually came for the music festival in Montreux, they also spent time with the kids there. So the kids, Lloyd and Elizabeth, grew up with another world of generally happy memories rooted in the mountains of Switzerland, yet for some reason the kids had never come over in the winter.

Skiing is Switzerland is different from what most skiers in the Americas are used to. Cog-railways haul skiers to the summits of famous peaks in Switzerland, and Swiss skiers had for a hundred years dined in fine restaurants sprinkled all over these mountains. Meanwhile, in the America that came of age the 1960s and 70s, bulk-made cheeseburgers were on hand, served in cafeteria style lodges designed to hold thousands of skiers. The distinction here is a simple one: neither is fundamentally better than the other, they are simply different, as different as the cultures that spawned them, and it was precisely this difference Harry Callahan wanted ‘his kids’ to understand and appreciate.

As he had when he first met Sara, he took Cathy and the kids up the funicular railway to the mountaintop station; they skied several runs together, then Harry begged off another run just before lunch. He took Cathy to the restaurant and they had a fondue and salad while they looked out over the alps, and an hour later the kids arrived, tired and finally ready to eat something. They all made a few more runs after lunch, then skied back through the village and all the way out to the house. It was a day full of magic.

They followed much the same routine for several days and Lloyd seemed quite happy with his surroundings; indeed, to his father, the boy seemed happier than he had in months. And not to stretch the point too far, Harry felt happier than he had in years. and he put it down to Cathy being with him. 

There was an easygoing intimacy between these two old friends now, an intimacy borne of time and shared memory. Harry knew it was love, a loose varietal of love, anyway, and certainly not the frenzied passionatas he’d played years before. Harry wore tweed jackets those days and occasionally smoked a pipe, too, and though he needed glasses to read he rarely used them, hating the very idea of the blasted things. And in a funny, almost an odd way, Cathy fit into this category as well. They had ended up together almost by default, like time had worn away all the extraneous things in their lives and ‘each other’ was all that remained.

Yet a seismic shift was underway, a kind of tectonic moving of plates happening right before all their eyes. One evening while walking back from a fondue palace, Cathy reached out and took Harry’s hand. An easy motion, unremarkable to most anyone who happened to see this simple gesture of affection, yet this was something new. Like the grinding of plates over eons of time creates something new.

Lloyd, walking beside Elizabeth noticed it first, and he poked Elizabeth with an elbow and sort of giggled as the event registered in her eyes, then they looked at one another with ‘is this really happening’ plain to see in each others eyes.

But, and this is kind of important so pay attention, when he felt her skin on his Harry Callahan smiled, then he simply relaxed inside for the first time in a long time, and in his mind’s eye it was as if all the cosmic tumblers had finally aligned and settled into their rightful place. Cathy had been sleeping in a bedroom by herself until that night, but after the plates realigned in their new orientation she woke up in his arms, and there she would remain – forever more.

(next chapter will drop in a few days)

© 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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