The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 57.2

Chapter 57.2

“You come here at peril, young man.”

“Only you would think I’m young.”

“Nevertheless.”

“She was young then, wasn’t she?” Callahan said as he watched his mother walking home in the snow.

“Not then, Harald. Now. There she is, there, in the streetlight.”

“Where’s Avi?”

“Just now? At the university, crafting his alibi, putting the finishing touches on all his little betrayals.”

“Why? Why did he do it? Why did he betray his friends?”

The old man shrugged and looked away. “Perhaps you will ask him one day.”

“What? Avi’s dead.”

The Old Man turned and looked roughly at Callahan, and then, in the next instant, he was gone – leaving only a trail of laughter…and tears.

+++++

A week later he was sitting over the cliffs at his Bösendorfer, absent-mindedly working his way through a new composition even then taking shape in his mind, when he thought of the Old Man once again.

“Perhaps you will ask him one day.”

‘Can I do that? Can I go back and interact with people? But…what happens if I do…?’

The implications of the Old Man’s words were staggering, because if true there really were no barriers left in all the universe. Death was an absolute, a barrier beyond which no one could be reached – but not now.

‘But…what about the so-called Paradox of Time. How can I account for that? Or…is the past an absolute in and of itself…resolute and unalterable? Or maybe the past is structured more like a lightning bolt. If I go back and alter an element, what if a new branch forms – leading to a new outcome, yet leaving the original intact? How many layers of time could I create? How many outcomes could I construct from just one set of interactions? But – just how much chaos can the universe absorb before it implodes under the weight of so many inherent contradictions?’

Maybe time had some kind of safety mechanism, but his mind snapped shut and he was aware of something or someone reshaping his memory, almost as if some force was wiping strands of code from his mind…as he sat there. Could it be…?

Then he shook his head as an unwanted memory came for him.

“What if I just came back and wiped a memory away?”

“What was I just thinking about?”

He bent over the keyboard and played a chord, and in his mind he saw lightning.

+++++

Some guys were coming up from L.A.

Musicians of course, working on a new album and they had a track they wanted to lay down at the CliffHouse, as Callahan’s studio was being called these days, and because they wanted Callahan to play keyboards for the piece they’d asked him to get involved.

It was a fusion kind of thing, too. Jazz and metal, incongruous lifeforms, incompatible from the beginning, yet these guys were going to give it a try. They’d sent Harry a few tapes with their ideas laid down but so far Harry simply couldn’t see any way out…they were constructing a dead-end…music without purpose or form, or even meaning. Or…could he simply not see what it was they were trying for? Metheny had tried to go down this road and retreated, so why were these guys so willing to hang it all out there and risk everything?

“Am I too set in my ways?” he wondered aloud.

“Damn straight you are,” Lloyd said from the kitchen.

“Really? You think so?”

“Yeah, of course. Dad, you’re stuck in fifties jazz, and that’s when you break free of Gershwin. Things are moving on, getting rad…”

“Rad?”

“Radical, Dad. As in…not everything is all wrapped up in Oscar Peterson and Duke Ellington.”

“Oh? That’s news to me.”

“No shit.”

“Do you really enjoy talking to me like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like a scrote.”

“Man, if it yanks your chain I’m all in.”

“Swell.”

“I suppose you’re gonna make me go to school today?”

“Like Dude…can you think of any reasonable alternatives?”

“Robbie and I want to catch some waves.”

“That can wait til school’s out.”

“Crap!”

“Lloyd, please?”

“Ass-wipe!”

A grinning Callahan got up from the piano and started after the boy – but he was out the door and bolting for Cathy’s car before Harry could intercept and resume their ongoing tickle-fight. He watched, smiling, as Elizabeth climbed in beside his boy, and he shook his head – still grinning – as he watched them drive up the hill towards the Coast Highway.

And not long after two limos pulled up and parked in front of the CliffHouse Studio. Four musicians and a covey of roadies stumbled out of the cars, followed by huge wafts of blue smoke – and then an equipment van pulled up a few minutes behind the limos. Callahan was already in the studio, sitting within the confines of a u-shaped arrangement of keyboards and synthesizers, waiting for them as they entered.

He still wasn’t exactly comfortable with the new tech, but after fiddling with Yamaha’s latest pianos he had finally relented and made the effort. Now he was surrounded by Yamahas and Korgs – and even a Mini-Moog – because that was what the musicians who came up to the studio expected these days. If you were an accomplished keyboardist in the 90s, you had to be more than that – because while few were paying attention Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman had redefined the paradigm. Callahan had given in and grown into a full-fledged convert after he discovered how fun the new technology really was, yet another happy by-product soon emerged: with all the new tech in-house his studio became even more popular.

But the group of kids filing into the studio this morning was something else entirely. One guy made directly for a chair and pulled out a wallet full of syringes and shot up while the roadies hauled the group’s instruments in from the van. A ‘rode hard put away wet’ kind of girl was on her knees in the next instant, taking care of the guy’s main vein while the heroin got to work – and on seeing that Callahan got up and walked back to the main house for some coffee. He had seen a lot since he opened up the studio…maybe too much…but the studio was a business. One that catered to musicians of every persuasion. DD had cautioned him to keep his police officer’s frame of reference checked at the front door, and he tried.

But today felt different.

Still, the man with the golden arm was a gifted musician, maybe even a brilliant one and Callahan listened to his ideas and smiled. He got it then, and over the next week, the heroin addict and the detective grew to respect one another. Then to really like one another. When this new group finally began laying tracks down in earnest even the producer, a jaded Londoner who’d handled more than a few super-groups during the 60s and 70s, sat up and began paying attention. Something new was taking shape out there on the cliffs, and the old producer understood that “new” was something very rare indeed. This was a big deal, and he smelled money in the water.

When the album was released a few months after these sessions it rocketed up the charts in both the UK and the US, and for a while the CliffHouse became The Place to see and be seen – and Harry Callahan joined an elite fraternity of keyboardists.

But as interesting as that might have been, that’s not the point. And it never was.

+++++

The name of the group was Bright. Named after the group’s lead singer-songwriter, they were New York’s answer to British Punk, for a while, anyway. Then the group started down all kinds of different roads; they dabbled in Prog then drifted to Metal – but the one constant in the group’s odyssey seemed to be heroin. More to the point, the group’s tortured path followed Todd Bright’s addiction – and, in the end, wherever the needles in his arm took them. Still, no one doubted Todd’s inherent genius.

He was well educated, and that came as a surprise to many. He went to a posh boarding school in New Hampshire then went on to Princeton, and somewhere along the way, he discovered the poppy.  His music consumed more and more of his time, at first performing in local pubs but then soon enough in larger venues. His academic pursuits fell by the wayside as he grew in stature until at last he quit school and took his band on the road and into the big-time. Yet the ever-curious Bright read Castaneda and off they went to northern Mexico in search of magic mushrooms. He met with one of the Beatles and after that became convinced the only way to move his music to the next level was to drop acid, so all of them went down that rabbit hole too, but through it all heroin remained the one constant in his life.

So, in all their lives.

Callahan was warming up that very first day, sitting at the Yamaha and working through some of the more off-the-beaten-path chords that had become jazz staples over the years, but then Bright came over and listened for a while. And all the while he never took his eyes off Callahan’s hands.

“You know,” he said after a while, “technically you’re pretty good, but something’s missing. Maybe your music’s got no heart.”

“No heart?” Callahan said, his eyes never leaving the keyboard and no feeling more than a little annoyed. 

“Look at you, man. Sitting ramrod straight and like with your eyes are all wide shut, and you playin’ but you ain’t feelin’ shit. You’re like cold, man. You be all stone-cold perfection but your music ain’t got no heart. You got to get into the zone, Callahan. You got to feel the music, and to do that you got to let go, just let it all go and let the music talk to you, let it tell you where it wants to go. You got to listen to the music, Callahan, and you got to trust what you feel.”

Harry looked up at the addict through squinted eyes, the eyes that came from too many years on the street. “I do, huh?”

Bright looked into those black eyes and naked fear ran up his spine. He turned from the sudden darkness that had found him and went off in search of a safe place; once he’d recovered his sense of the moment he shot up again then went off to find his belle du jour, as he took quick comfort in the playtime he always found there. But soon he had to go back into Callahan’s darkness, and that scared him. Maybe, he thought, we ought to just pack up and leave.

But no, he ignored Callahan the rest of that first day, though even his mates in the band knew something heavy had gone down. Maybe Todd had seen something they hadn’t?

The next morning Bright took a different tack. He’d worked up vocals and an interesting bass line for their first piece, but he wanted a long, almost meandering piano intro to set a contrapuntal mood, so he walked over to Callahan and laid out the ideas he’d worked on through the night.

Callahan looked it over then worked through the bass lines, getting a sense of them and where the kid was headed – and in a flash, lost in the lyrics, he saw the kid’s genius. These weren’t just lyrics, Harry thought, the kid was writing poetry. And the bass line was pulling at his emotions, bringing the words into sharp relief.

He closed his eyes and his head fell until his chin was resting on his chest, his face canted a little to the left. He took the bass line and dropped an octave, then two, then he fell into a slower place. The kid on bass fell into the zone and Bright, now standing beside Callahan, smiled a little before he started in.

This first little snippet was hardly a minute long but when he heard the playback Bright smiled, then he walked over and mussed Callahan’s hair.

And Callahan grinned. After that everything was good. Maybe even cool.

It took three days to finish that first track but when it was in the can the producer called L.A. and asked one of the studio execs to come up for a listen. After that visit a photographer showed up and started documenting the sessions, then a hotshot director dropped by with ideas for the group’s next music video, and even Callahan could feel it then. Something big was happening, right out there on the cliffs.

+++++

Lloyd started showing up in the studio after school, and while Harry saw no reason not to let the boy get a taste of what it was like to be in on the creative process, perhaps in retrospect that was a little naive. Maybe if he’d never left his son alone in there with Todd Bright?

But Bright wasn’t a monster. He curtailed his use of heroin when the boy was around, though to take the edge off he wasn’t at all reluctant about lighting up a doob when Harry wasn’t around. Maybe pot wasn’t considered a so-called gateway drug, but maybe when all was said and done, in the end it was for Lloyd. Even though Todd never let the boy near his weed, eleven years old is an impressionable time in a boy’s life, and Todd Bright made a big impression on Lloyd Callahan.

But then an even more important event happened, something that changed all their lives in unexpected ways.

Todd was working on his latest piece, writing down ideas, then as words came to him he scribbled them down…occasionally plucking at an acoustic guitar to work through the melody. And on this day Lloyd happened along and, sitting at his father’s station he flipped on the Yamaha. Listening to Todd he heard him struggle with a passage that seemed all too obvious to the boy…

“What about this?” Lloyd said, then he fingered the passage he had in mind.

Todd Bright wasn’t an idiot, and he recognized talent when he saw it. He picked up his notebook and went over to the Yamaha and pulled over a small rolling desk.

“Again,” Todd said, and Lloyd played the line. “I like it. Where are you going with this?”

And Lloyd closed his eyes, his hands poised over the keys, and Todd looked on in awe as the kid knocked out one of the most gorgeous pieces of music he’d ever heard. New ideas came to him and he scribbled notes in his notebook, then he asked Lloyd to go back and replay a segment. In three hours the group had their newest single, a track that would go on to chart number one around the world. And Todd Bright listed Lloyd Callahan as the song’s writer, though he took credit for the lyrics.

When Harry learned of the episode he felt justifiable pride, yet at the same time he saw that something quite indefinable had changed in the boy’s outlook. Not conceit, nor even simple pride of accomplishment, Harry found a new sense of resolve in the boy, as if everything he did now had some kind of purpose.

Yet actually, it was Elizabeth Bullitt who first recognized the more important change. And she was the first to realize the danger that waited just ahead.

+++++

© 2021 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 and me generally growing somewhat old) 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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Come Alive (24.2)

[Music Matters, right? Sure it does.]

Chapter 24.2

‘Like a moth to the flame. A flame…that flame…her sun streaming through roseate glass, amber pulses…oh no, it’s turning inside a cobalt dream and I’m caught inside…’

Then he was face down on that white sandy road, only now it was steamy hot out, the air here scorching hot. 

But now he felt weak, weaker than he had in days. He tried to push himself up and gasped at the exertion, shocked by how far he had deteriorated, and by how fast.

He gave up and rolled over on his side, gasping for breath as he fought off waves of nausea, and only then did he realize he was really back. Back – to wherever this was. Tall grass still weaving through an insistent breeze, misty, snow covered peaks in the distance. And that forest on the far side of the field, the one with the hideously bright light at its heart? The light was still burning bright. He rolled onto his back and looked up through the cobalt sky to the huge ringed planet overhead, still hanging up there like a watchful eye, still a surface full of Jovian swirls dressed in blues and purples. A gas giant…isn’t that what we called them…once upon a time? But it seems closer now, but how could that be? An eccentric orbit?

A shadow passed and he tried to find the source – until Pinky flew in low over the grass and landed on the  sandy road next to him. She smiled at him, that gentle, almost sorrowful smile that seemed to bathe in the differences between them. Then she shook her head and sighed…

“I don’t know how you do this…?” she whispered.

“Do what?”

“Face this thing alone.”

“What thing…death?”

She nodded. “I look at the changes consuming you and I am filled with fear. I could not do it, and I do not understand how any being possibly could.”

He chuckled at that. “Well, as soon as you figure out an option I hope you’ll let me in on the secret. By the way, I hate to ask but just where the Hell are we?”

“Here? This was California, perhaps fifteen million years ago. I thought you might appreciate the irony.”

He shook his head and pointed at the ringed planet overhead. “I don’t buy it.”

“Earth was captured in a galactic collision eons ago; she belongs to another solar system now. As hard as it may be to comprehend, she’s been moving away from the Milky Way for a few million years.”

“Does anyone…are there any people here?”

She smiled. “A few. People we bring here from time to time.”

“Time to time? I get it…you’re trying to be funny.”

“There is a village not far from here, if you’d like to go and meet some of them.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

She nodded. “I am.”

“I’m just kind of curious, but what kind of people did you choose for this little experiment?”

“Thinkers, usually. Aristotle is here, Plato as well. Buddha and Jesus and a few others religious types just to keep things interesting. DaVinci too. What you might think of as an eclectic bunch.”

“How long have they been here? Millions of years?”

She shrugged. “Time doesn’t behave here the way you are used to, yet there is time enough to think. We could not bear to think of losing such voices, so we bring people such as these here from time to time.”

He looked at her, tried to see the truth behind her eyes. Was she playing him? But there was utter seriousness in her eyes now. Unexpected. Pure.

“Or perhaps you would like to go see your children now?” she said, changing the subject.

“What?”

“Your children. Eva and Britt are there now, as well.”

“They’re here?”

She smiled, then she stood and held out her hand. “Come. Walk with me. There is much we need to talk about…”

+++++

He came back to them, and the priest caught him before Henry began falling. Anton dashed to help and they carried his wilted form to a pew and laid him down, though soon Henry was surrounded by dozens of curious parishioners who had come over to see – and touch – this strange man who glowed with all the colors embedded in the glass.

And then Tracy was there beside him, smiling and holding out a hand. “Come,” she said. “Walk with me.”

Still phasing in and out of time, Henry stood and looked around, shocked by the sudden reappearance of the cathedral – still aglow in all its dazzling light. “What happened – while I was gone?” he asked.

“Gone?” Tracy said. “You haven’t gone anywhere.”

He nodded as he looked around. “I need some air…”

“I’m not surprised, you’re burning up, Henry. You must be running a fever.”

He shook his head. “I’ll be okay once I get outside.”

Anton helped him stand and get to the center aisle, and once there people stood aside as Anton and Tracy helped him to the entrance. He stepped out into the crisp November air and, his body still covered in rolling sweat, he took a deep breath – then almost instantly began shivering.

“Restaurant,” he gritted between chattering teeth, almost panting now as he pointed to a place across the street. “Let’s-go-there.”

Tracy ordered hot tea for him and the proprietors warmed him with hearty cooking, and soon Henry felt better…at least well enough to talk.

“Very weird, Genry,” Anton said with a sigh. “Never see anyone glow before.”

“Glow?” he asked.

“It was almost like a huge aura,” Tracy said, “only everyone could see it. It was kind of out there, Henry.”

Mike said not a word, though under the table he keyed the voice recorder on his phone before he brought it up to his coat pocket.

“It felt like I was moving back and forth between times,” Henry finally said. “I was caught there, caught between you and Claire,” he added, looking at Tracy, trying to read her willingness to accept the things he needed to tell her.

“Are you saying you could see Claire?” she asked.

But he shook his head. “I don’t think so, Tracy. It was more like an echo. You walking where she had, saying the things she said…”

“Wait one,” Mike interrupted. “Are you saying, well, that Tracy here isn’t a stranger?”

“No, she’s not,” Henry sighed.

“Oh, that’s just fucking great,” Mike snarled. “So tell me, Henry. Just when do the aliens get involved in this story again?”

“Aliens?” Tracy cried as her eyes darted around the table. “What aliens!?”

“Whoo-boy,” Anton muttered under his breath. “Can of worms open now.”

+++++

Sitting in the aft cabin with only the glow of an oil lamp to put her at-ease, Henry told her about the Seattle working group and his role in it, then about Pinky and her gang and even the whales and how they’d been a part of his journey so far. He did not go into what had happened to Eva and Britt and what he had just learned while he stood transfixed in the cathedral – if only because there were limits, he reasoned, to just how much she could absorb.

“You expect me to believe any of this,” she quipped at one point, her head shaking in quiet rage.

“Go ask Mike, or Anton.”

“What? And fall for some kind of sick joke the three of you have cooked up? No fucking way, Henry…”

So he laid back on his berth and cleared his mind.

‘Yes, I need you now,’ he said to Pinky. ‘Is it still too dangerous for you here?’

‘No, but it is dangerous for you, and for her.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The man, Mike. He is not what he appears to be, Henry. You are in great danger, and so is she.’

‘I figured as much.’

‘The woman. Does she need to understand these things?’

‘I need her trust, and I am in danger of losing it now.’

‘I understand. Move off the bed now.’

He rolled to the edge of the bed and stood, the room spinning as his blood pressure dropped.

“Help me to the seat, should you?” he asked Tracy. “– And, stay off the bed.”

“What? Why?”

But just then a pink orb dropped through the ceiling and hovered a few inches above the blanket covering the berth, and in the next instant Pinky was there in all her ten-foot tall feathered glory.

Tracy’s scream was best described as blood-curdling. Anton was just returning from taking Clyde for a walk and had just stepped aboard when her cry split the night; he of course fell back and flopped down into the river. Mike helped him climb back up on the swim platform but the aviator grumbled all the way down to the shower, just managing to get out of the way as Tracy ran from the aft cabin and up the companionway steps – swearing all the way.

“My, my…that went well,” Henry sighed.

“Maybe it menopause?” Anton said helpfully. “Or maybe not…”

+++++

“I have seen Britt and Eva,” he typed into the massaging app on his phone. “They are well, but they will not return for quite some time.”

He hit send and waited for the reply.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, QUITE SOME TIME?”

“That’s all I know. If you want to know more you’ll need to speak to Pinky.”

“WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER!!!”

“In California, I think you could say. Babies born, all doing well.”

“THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE.”

“I understand. All girls, by the way. Thought you should know.”

“FUCK YOU!”

“I’ll see you this coming weekend.”

“GO TO HELL!!!”

He moved to put away his phone but it chirped a moment later. It was Rolf.

“He, Amigo. What’s going on?” he said.

“I can hear Grandma-ma crying, Henry. What happened?”

“You have two sisters, kid. They were born in California a week ago.”

“But, how is that possible, Henry? Isn’t it too soon?”

“I think Pinky had something to do with it, amigo.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, my sentiments exactly.”

“Is my mother alright?”

“Yes, she’s very happy.”

“Okay. Are you still coming this weekend?”

“Yes, that’s still the plan.”

“When will I be able to see her, Henry? I miss her.”

“I don’t know, kid. Soon, I hope.”

They talked a while longer but it seemed a spark had gone out of Rolf when he heard he wouldn’t be able to see his mother this weekend. Dina was another matter entirely. She seemed rabid now, and he genuinely didn’t want to run into her while up there this weekend.

He took his meds and went topsides – only to find Tracy sitting in Time Bandits’ cockpit talking with Mike.

“So, all that stuff is true?” she asked as he came up the companionway steps.

“Why would I make-up something like that, Tracy?”

“I don’t know? Schizophrenia, maybe?”

“Ah. Well, yes, there is that.”

“That…thing…down there? That was Pinky?”

He nodded. “She’s actually very sweet,” he added unnecessarily.

“Right. A sweet alien. Why didn’t I think of that…?”

Anton came up the companionway carrying cups of tea, then he disappeared below – only to come up a few minutes later carrying a plate full of freshly baked scones. “I watch Dina,” he shrugged. “Not hard follow recipe.”

Henry grabbed one and took a bite. “Not bad, Ace. Always better when they’re warm, too.”

But then Anton leaned over and whispered in Henry’s ear: “Don’t move fast but whale behind you, maybe ten meters.”

Henry nodded and put down his bread, then in one smooth motion he stood and jumped overboard.

“What the Hell!” Tracy screamed, running to the rail as Henry swam out to the big male, the strong current carrying him downstream as Mike and Anton went aft to the swim platform.

But by then Henry was wrapped in the big male’s pectoral, locked in a huge embrace while he rubbed around the whale’s eye.

“Jesus H Fucking Christ!” Tracy muttered. “I’m not sure I can take much more of this…”

+++++

They cast off early the next morning, bound for Rouen – and the cathedral there that Monet had painted – and popularized for generations of American tourists and ex-pats. Tracy pulled up alongside Time Bandits once again and she held up her phone. Henry answered on the first ring.

“Are you okay now?” he asked.

“I was going to ask you the same thing.”

“Yeah. It took me a while to warm up, but thanks. You were very sweet. Again.”

“What’s going on, Henry? What does all this mean?”

“I’m not sure yet, Tracy, but I learned a few things yesterday I had no clue about.”

“Such as?”

“I’m still trying to piece it all together.”

“Can you contact that – alien – anytime you want?”

“Pinky. Her name is Pinky. And yes, most of the time I can, but she can block me out, too. How’s Anton doing over there?”

“Good. I like him.”

“He seems like the real deal to me. Good people.”

“Is Mike still asleep?” she asked.

“I heard him down in the galley a few minutes ago, right after I started up the engine.”

“Thanks for letting me have Anton today. Mike gives me the creeps.”

“Man, I haven’t heard that one in a while.”

She laughed a little. “That orca? He came with you across the Atlantic?”

“Yup, but we met out in Seattle.”

“Seattle? You met him?”

“Yeah, Pinky’s group is studying them, too. We’ve been together since then.”

“How long is that?”

“Geez, let’s see…I guess he’s been around about ten years now.”

“Henry, do you know how really weird all this is?”

“You’re repeating yourself, Tracy, but yes…I have a pretty good idea.”

“There’s another cathedral in Rouen, Henry. Are you going in?”

“I don’t think so, but feel free.”

Mike came up with coffee and scrambled eggs on toast, and Henry smiled as he shot a ‘thumbs-up’. “Well, time for some chow. How’s your fuel holding up?”

“A little above a half tank.”

“Okay. We’ll gas-up in Rouen. Let me know if your tank hits a quarter and I’ll pass over some jugs.”

They rang off and Henry managed to get some food down, then he left Mike at the wheel while he went below to take his morning meds. Pinky was waiting for him down on his berth.

“He’s recording all your conversations,” she said to him.

Henry nodded. “I know. I saw him yesterday.”

“We don’t know who he’s working for, but it is not for his navy.”

Henry was taken aback by this new wrinkle. “Oh? Who else could it be?”

“One of the other groups, perhaps,” she said. “I think they want to understand just how much you know about our technology.”

“But…why? I’m not threat to anyone else now.”

“Maybe. But someone obviously doesn’t think that is so.”

Henry looked around the room – knowing the Pinky knew the boat was bugged. “Well, it doesn’t matter. As soon as we get to Paris I’m going to head straight for the oncologist Dina recommended. After that, I doubt anyone will be interested in what I know.”

She held out her hand and rubbed the side of his face, then she disappeared.

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this…” he whispered, grinning just a little bit.

“Henry?” Mike called out. “There’s something on the weather you need to take a look at.”

“Be right up.” He took his meds and looked at the readout from the pulse oximeter on his finger and shook his head, then he walked up the companionway – and stopped in his tracks when he saw the look on Mike’s face.

+++++

They tied up at a fuel dock on the west side of Rouen and topped off their tanks, but Henry was more than a little concerned now…

“There’s some kind of arctic high moving down fast, real fast, but here’s where it gets interesting,” he said to Tracy. “There’s a deep low moving up from the Med, and another coming in off the Bay of Biscay. Last time this happened, back in ’99 I think, it flattened trees and dumped a ton of snow everywhere.”

“When’s it going to hit?”

“Looks like tomorrow morning.”

“Shit. When will we get to those locks?”

“Well, that’s kind of the point right now. I think we ought to tie off here and wait it out.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know, Henry. Half the places we’ve seen still don’t have power and people are getting angry. You sure you want to be locked up inside an industrial city with a couple hundred thousand pissed off hungry people?”

“Good point.”

“What’s on the far side of Rouen?”

“There’s a sheltered marina in Saint-Aubin-lès-Elbeuf. We can just make it this afternoon if we push.”

“Is there any danger the river could freeze?”

He hadn’t thought of that though the idea was a little terrifying, if unlikely. “I think the weather is going to warm up quickly behind the front, but if we get a heavy snow that will be problem enough.”

“Damn, Henry, all we need now is a plague of locusts…”

He nodded. “Do you want to stop for lunch or press-on?”

“Let’s get where we’re going. I assume we can come back by train if we want?”

“Yup. Okay, can you make five knots?”

“I can, but I’ll be at 90% of redline.”

“How many hours on the engine?”

“Not quite two hundred.”

“Okay, it should be okay if we vary our RPMs every now and then, but we’ll need to push hard through the city center.”

She nodded. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

As soon as he was aboard Mike cast off the lines and Time Bandits drifted out into the current while Henry idled the engine, waiting for Tracy to head out from the dock. He circled once then she came out into the current and joined up with him.

He called her on 16 then switched over to 21. “Everything okay?”

“Hart to start, and there’s not a lot of water coming out the discharge line.”

“Okay. You’ve probably pulled some garbage into the intake, or simply clogged the inlet. We’ll have to pull-in somewhere to fix it, but it shouldn’t take too long.”

“You mean like a mechanic?”

“Hell no. It’ll take me five minutes, tops.”

“Can you show me?”

“You bet.”

An hour later they cast off again and pushed hard for Saint-Aubin-lès-Elbeuf, the sky already full of mackerel clouds and the barometer falling rapidly. As they pied off at the little marina just east of the village center, a light snow started falling…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (24.1)

[Henry’s story seems to commanding a wee more attention right now, so if you don’t mind I’ll walk along that road for a while longer. Ah, music matters, right? And one of my girls had a few pups a couple of weeks ago (I named them Huey, Dewey and Louie – after you know who), and here’s a picture taken yesterday – kind of, if you will, nose to nose. 

DeweyWP

Anyway, here’s the next snippet…]

Chapter 24.1

“You do know you’re a goddamn lunatic!” Mike said as he helped Henry down the ramp to the boat. “You trying to get yourself all dead, or what?”

“Yeah, right. I just wanted to see how far down into the sewer my fellow human beings have sunk.”

“Really? So you had to fucking…hit me?”

“Why’d you let ‘em have at Anton like that, Mike? That wasn’t part of the plan, at least not that I recall…”

Mike tried to laugh that one away, and almost pulled it off, too. “Hey, the best laid plans, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I guess we got what we were after. Anton’s got papers now. He’s legal. That’s what matters, right?”

“Did a doc check him out?” Henry asked, still pissed off.

“I don’t think so, at least not after that airedale knocked him around. They did check us both for radiation exposure when we first got to Paris.”

“And?”

“Pretty bad, but nothing lethal. You’re probably shedding some in your pee, so we may need to flush the holding tanks at some point.”

Henry shook his head as he watched Anton climb aboard – slowly, almost painfully – and another wave of anger came over him.

“Where was Clyde hanging out?” Mike asked, changing the subject.

“No idea. He just showed up at dinner one evening while I was with Tracy.”

“Tracy?”

“The California Girl.”

“You said she’s a shrink?”

“Yup. Too bad for you, eh Mike?”

“Kinda dark out right now, but from what I could see she looks kind of cute.”

“Wait’ll you see her tomorrow then tell me what you think,” Henry sighed. “And I’m pretty sure she could knock the snot out of you if she wanted, so tread carefully.”

“No shit? Now that’s interesting…a shrink with a mean streak.”

“Not mean, Mike, just tough as nails. She left California more than a year ago. Went down through the canal then up to Florida, then on to Carolina before she crossed to the Azores. She ain’t the passive wallflower type, if you get my drift.”

“Shut up, you’re making me horny.”

“Go for it, Amigo; I can’t wait to see the results. Navy still paying your medical insurance?”

Mike laughed as he climbed aboard, then he helped Henry up onto deck before heading to the cockpit. Henry saw Tracy poking her head up Karma’s companionway and motioned her to come over, and a minute later she joined the three of them in Time Bandit’s cockpit.

“Anton? This is Tracy. I met her last night and she’s heading to Paris too, so she’ll be traveling with us all the way to the city.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the Russian said, extending a hand.

She smiled warmly and took his hand: “You’re the fighter pilot Henry told me about?”

“Da, but that last week. This week I learn painting. Flowers maybe sound pretty good now.”

“Well, Paris is the right place for that,” she said, laughing with him. “Henry, could you turn on some lights, please?”

Henry flipped a couple of switches and the cockpit was bathed in bright halogen light; Tracy leaned forward and looked at Anton’s face. “Mind of I look at those bruises?” she asked gently.

“No, please, I not hurt.”

“Mind if I look anyway?”

Anton shrugged and Tracy got to work. “What were you hit with?” she asked as she palpated the bone around Anton’s right eye, making him wince.

“I think it was a Beretta,” Mike sighed, looking down at his sneakers right about then.

“Jesus H Christ,” Henry muttered. “Well, don’t that just figure.”

“Hey, got papers so all good, right?” Anton grinned.

Henry shook his head conspiratorially and looked away. “Anton, why don’t you hang with me tomorrow and Mike can help you through the locks, if that’s okay with you, Tracy,” Henry said as he switched off the lights.

“Sure, I’d love the help.”

Clyde growled, a long, low, guttural sound that raised the hackles on the back of Taggart’s neck, and he followed the pups eyes until his own came to rest on a shadow about a hundred yards away, though still up on the upper quay.

“What is it?” Mike asked.

“One of yours, I reckon. Keeping tabs on us, I assume.” Henry looked at Anton, then at Tracy. “Why don’t we carry on down below?” he said quietly – but Mike pointed at his ears – then at the boat. His meaning was clear enough, too: the boat had been bugged again. “Tracy? Mike can show you where all the medical supplies are located. I’m going to take my nighttime meds now, then I’ll put on some coffee. Anyone feel like an Irish coffee before turning in?”

Everyone did, it seemed.

“Oh yeah, before I forget,” Tracy said, taking command of the moment. “The tide will be optimal at 0625, so up at 0545 latest.”

Mike and Anton looked from Tracy to Henry and then back to Tracy, not quite sure what to think about this changing of the guard. “That sounds about right,” Henry replied. “We can still get about eight hours sleep even with coffee.”

“I put on water, Genry. Go take medicine.”

“Good to have you back on board, Anton,” Henry said, smiling. “Sorry about all the bullshit.”

Anton shrugged then stepped into the galley and got to work; Tracy followed Henry to the aft cabin and sat on the bed while he sorted through his medications. “Henry, this boat is beyond fantastic. I hate to even think what she cost.”

“Yeah, me too. That was a carbon fiber mast, by the way, and there’s kevlar in the hull. My biggest concern is what all that fucking radiation did to the laminates, because hull insurance doesn’t cover acts of war.”

“Crap…I didn’t think about that – or I’d have never left the Azores.”

“We were about 15 miles off the breakwater at Rotterdam when the bomb hit, so call it 25 miles from ground zero. I think it was a low yield tactical nuke so no alpha radiation at that range, and the prevailing winds were westerly so fallout was minimal, but we probably took a pretty big hit of neutron radiation.”

“I suppose you have iodine tabs?”

“I think so, yeah, but I’m not sure what dose we need, or…”

“And the net is still down.”

“Right. No such things as books anymore, so you understand the dimensions of that problem.”

“You ever think the internet is one giant rabbit hole?”

“Oh, not often. Maybe two or three times a day.”

She laughed at that. “It has been a blessing – and a curse.”

“Odd choice of words, Tracy, all things considered.”

She turned a little red at that. “You should have been a shrink, Hank.”

Henry blinked hard and shook his head as images of Claire in the hospital filled his mind, because he heard her saying exactly the same words – and as Tracy’s voice was almost identical to the one in his memory he quickly found himself choking back tears…

“What is it, Henry?”

“Just…you sound just like Claire, and it’s all coming back to me now.”

She stood and came to him, put her arms around him and held on tight, then she gently spun him around until he was facing her. “What about me? I’m not Claire, Henry…”

She leaned-in and kissed him, an eyes closed, deep lingering kind of thing, and he felt a little weak in the knees when she ran her fingers along the nape of his neck – if only because everything still felt like Claire. Exactly like Claire. And all the time this was going down, he knew he couldn’t tell Tracy anything about such feelings, and because of that internal conflict the pain of his denial was becoming almost unbearable.

When she pulled away she looked into his eyes, only to shake her head and take a step back. “I shouldn’t have done that, Henry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

He took her hands in his and pulled her back into his arms. “Don’t be sorry, darlin’, ‘cause I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.”

She laughed a little, but the story was there in her eyes: “Too weird for you?” she asked.

“Hey kid, even when I’m wrong I’m right.”

“…and stops my mind from wondering, I think you’re going to say next?” she added.

“You know it, kid.”

“What are you thinking right now, Hank?”

He stood on the precipice and looked into the abyss, then took a step into the void: “Time. I wish I had more to give you.”

“We have what we have, Hank, and that only makes each moment more precious.”

He nodded understanding. “How ‘bout one step at a time?”

“Sounds safe, maybe even a little cautious. Sure you want to play with time like that?”

He smiled. “I’m not sure about a whole lot right now, Tracy. Only that your eyes are hypnotic, and they’re taking me someplace I never thought I’d go again.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

He shook his head. “No, actually. It’s really kind of wonderful.”

“Wonderful is good, Hank.”

“Coffee ready!” Anton called out from the galley. “Genry! Where you hide whiskey?”

“Come on,” Henry sighed. “We’d better do this.”

“Okay, if you say so.”

+++++

He lay still in the dark, looking up through the open hatch just overhead, watching stars drift by. 

She was by his side, her face resting on his chest, her fingers drawing lazy circles on his chest.

‘It should be Claire with me here right now…’

And the thoughts kept coming, rippling through the night sky like fireballs that just wouldn’t die-out and fade-away.

‘How close did we come to making a girl just like you?’

‘But we didn’t.’

‘All that happened fifty years ago, didn’t it?’

‘Is this a second chance?’

‘Is this just wrong?’

Her breathing slowed a little, the little arcs she drew grew smaller and smaller, then he heard sleep come for her. He turned his head a little and her hair crashed through his thoughts. 

‘You even smell like her.’

‘How is that even possible?’

‘I can’t do this. I can’t do this to you. I can’t do this to your mother.’

‘How can I not do this?’

‘This is the circle closing. The circle we started, Claire – you and I – the story we never got to finish.’

Wavelets lapped against the hull, a hollow sound that obscured all the other life out there in the darkness.

‘You are the ocean, aren’t you? How could you be anything else?’

‘Is that what brought us together? The ocean? The womb of what was, the first circle?’

‘Are you with me now, or are you here to close the circle?’

+++++

Anton cast off the spring-lines and Henry slipped the transmission into forward, hit the port bow thruster and watched the dock slip away.

‘This is it,’ he sighed inwardly, ‘the last leg of a journey Dad and I started – once upon a time…’

He turned and watched Mike cast of Karma’s lines, watched Tracy push the tiller hard over, and the old Westsail eased into the current and came up alongside his stern. A minute later there she was, just a few feet away. She looked his way and smiled at him and suddenly everything felt full of promise. 

Fenders were pulled and stowed, lines coiled and readied for use again. Henry set the course on the autopilot and watched as Karma settled in off his starboard quarter, and he was grateful there still didn’t appear to be any traffic out on the water – at least not yet, anyway.

A little more than thirty miles to Caudebec-en-Caux, and they’d tie off there for the night. Visit the cathedral, have a quiet dinner then walk among the fallen leaves. Talk about all the impossible things they’d never get to do together, in a perverse way doing to her what Claire had done to him – because how else could he complete this journey without dying?

The chartplotter flickered and came alive, the GPS constellation suddenly going fully active again, then his phone chirped.

A text. From Dina.

“WHERE ARE YOU?” she wanted to know.

“Just leaving LeHavre, headed for Paris. You?”

“Home.”

“Home? I thought this was home?”

“I asked Pinky to bring us back. She understood my reasons.”

“I see.”

“Rolf is angry at me. He wants to be there with you.”

“You’ll have to do what you think best. So will he.”

“Do you know where my daughter is?”

“No.”

“Will you let me know if you find out?”

“Of course.”

He waited a while but she had apparently had enough so he put his phone back in the cradle.

Another chirp on the phone.

“My GPS is back online!” Tracy wrote. “Hallelujah!”

“You know, for an atheist you sure wallow in florid evangelical imagery an awful lot.”

“Sorry. Are you on AP?”

“I am now, yes.”

“What’s your speed?”

“Boat speed seven, speed over ground about four.”

“Could you slow down a little? I’m pushing pretty hard to keep up with you.”

He smiled at the unintended imagery. “Yup, can do.”

“I think I love you, Henry.”

“Let me know when you know for sure.”

“Okay.”

“And I think I love you too.”

“Oh, P.S., but I think Mike is an asshole.”

“You ain’t the only one, darlin’.”

He throttled back about a knot – then the phone chirped again. Rolf this time.

“Can I call you now?” the boy asked.

He texted his new number and hit send; a few seconds later his phone started ringing.

“Henry?”

“Yo. What’s up with you and your grandmother?”

“She has gone crazy, I think. I mean crazy crazy, Henry, and not some bullshit anger thing.”

“I understand.”

“I want to come there.”

“Okay. I’ll be up there later this week, after I get the boat settled in Paris.”

“I didn’t want to miss this part of the trip, Henry. I feel like I have let you down.”

“Not your fault, son.”

“I still feel bad.”

“Understood. Don’t let the feeling get you down. I’ll be there as soon as I can figure out the transportation.”

“So you’ll call me then?”

“Yup.”

“Okay. I love you, Henry. In case anything happens, I want to be sure you know that.”

“I love you too, Amigo.”

Silence again. Phone back in the cradle.

“You want coffee?” Anton asked, his head popping up the companionway.

“Maybe one of those cans of Ensure.”

“What kind. Got chocolate and some kind of brown stuff.”

“The brown stuff. Sounds intriguing.”

“I take your word. How far we go today?”

“Looks like 33 miles to go, maybe four knots over the ground so call it eight hours and change.”

“Autopilot steer now?”

“Yup.”

“Okay. We talk now? Is okay?”

“Sure.”

“I have new friend who got small airplane. Maybe range enough to fly Bergen one stop. Six seats. Is enough?”

“Who is this friend?”

“French Air Force. We talk, maybe can help.”

“Okay. We’ll talk to him when we get to Paris. Now, what about you? What are your plans?”

“Not him. She. And she give idea about way I can fly here. Air cargo, Middle East. Good money, maybe good idea.”

“Okay. What can I do to help?”

“You help?”

“If I can, yes.”

“You good man, Genry.”

Taggart grinned, but he looked away, too.

“What about boy? He come back? Why go Bergen?”

Henry nodded. “Yeah.”

“And Dina? She not coming?”

And Henry shrugged. “I doubt it, but you never can tell where women are concerned.”

“Ah, woman easy understandable, Genry. Want love, that all.”

“Your wife was that way?”

“Until she get sick, then love real important. More important than anything. Then my daughter, she want love after husband leave. Her kids too. Hard to in Air Force, but had to or else big trouble. Thing is, if feel love, very easy to give, easy to share. If love not real, then impossible. Oh, before forget, dog got bad gas. I mean real bad – like dead skunk.”

“He needs some fiber and a t-bone steak. He probably needs to get laid, too.”

Anton nodded. “Dog eat too much fish, oily, shit smell bad mean not good. Get laid not a problem though.”

“I agree.”

“Okay, go get brown can now. Need something else?”

“No, that’ll do it.” Henry watched Anton drop back down the hatch then turned to the radio and pulled up the BBC World Service, not quite sure what to expect these days.

+++++

Caudebec-en-Caux was another one of those places. The little cathedral in the center of the village held  precious memories – of his parents, yes – but also of Claire and Edith together. One Christmas when both families met up in Paris – and when Claire was in her French phase – they’d all made the trip up to Honfleur by train, stopping at Caudebec-en-Caux on the return trip.

Claire had been in love with cathedrals then. Taking pictures with her Nikkormat then pulling out a sketchbook and making quick drawings because, she said, someday she was going to make huge paintings of everything she loved about them. Just like Monet, she’d said with a smile. With that smile.

Only those somedays never came, and in the fading afternoon light he wondered what had become of her sketches and photographs. In a box somewhere, perhaps? Or in a landfill somewhere with all of her other hopes and dreams. He was pretty sure he could remember exactly where she’d stood, and when he closed his eyes he could see her standing there in almost the same light. Like Paris, the afternoon light in this part of France was a little pinkish, and when that light hit the old stone building something about the feel seemed to almost defy time. 

He led Tracy and Anton and Mike inside and let them find the light as it streamed through rows of stained glass, the pinks and blues and ambers on the stones adrift like ripples on a quiet little pond – and he assumed still holding onto secret memories God only knew. He walked over to the organ’s pipes, marveling at their four spires framing the massive stained-glass circle beyond, and he could feel Claire’s awe even as Tracy walked past in her aunt’s unseen footsteps.

Then she turned to face him.

“Claire was here, wasn’t she?”

He was cast in stone now. Resolutely still, his eyes cast in cold glass, his thoughts lost inside a kaleidoscope of kinetic eddies as he drifted from one time to the other. Claire here, now Tracy. The same eyes, the same voice, everything coming full circle over and over again.

He felt her standing in front of him, felt her wiping tears from his face, then kissing his hands. Anton was staring at him, and Mike, and then a priest was there.

“Perhaps it is a trick of the light,” the priest said.

“Have you ever seen this before?” Tracy asked.

“Once. Many years ago,” the old priest sighed. “Do you know why he cries so?”

“He’s been here before,” Tracy replied. “With someone very special, before she passed.”

“So he is talking with her again,” the father said. “We should leave them in silence.”

“He mentioned something happened at a little chapel in Honfleur,” Mike said to Tracy after they moved to the nave. “Do you know anything about that?”

She shook her head.

“He say very important,” Anton added. “We go Christmas Eve. He take us.”

Tracy turned and looked at Anton, then to Henry still standing before the pipes, the priest standing just out of reach. More people had gathered to look at Henry now, and a few seemed quite agitated at the sight.

After all, it wasn’t every day you saw someone that seemed to be aglow with all the colors of the glass…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (23.2)

[Work on The 88th Key is coming along, look for something new in a few days. As for me generally speaking I’m doing pretty good right now, at least slipping back into the groove again. Still, as always, Music Matters. Words do too.]

Chapter 23.2

An ancient diesel crane sat on the dock above Karma and Time Bandits, and men swarmed over both boats erecting lumber guides to aid them as they pulled each mast. After they were pulled, each was wrapped in plastic and then loaded onto a long trailer, leaving Henry to plug the hole through the deck left by the absent mast, though H-R had thoughtfully included one so it only took a few minutes to get that chore out of the way. All he and Tracy had to do now was wait for the fuel truck, so they decided to sit in Bandits’ cockpit while they waited. She brought a few croissant and a jar of citrus marmalade she’d put up while in Horta, and he used a French press to brew up some freshly ground Ethiopian coffee beans.

He was still almost in shock after talking with Tracy’s mother; once she’d ascertained he was alone on his boat she declared her intent to come to Paris as soon as North Atlantic air travel resumed. Now, watching the port come back to life he harbored no illusions; Edith would no doubt show up in Paris by the time they could move their two boats up to the Arsenal Marina.

Though even now Tracy seemed a little put-out by the whole thing. She had, after all, decided to leave on this trip after her divorce was finalized – which no doubt included the brutal family upheavals that inevitably follow such things. Yet Edith, her mother, had been through a real blockbuster of a divorce as well, and not too many years ago, so suddenly there was a very real potential for all kinds of combustible excess baggage if Edith showed up out of the blue.

Yet…Tracy was a physician. A psychiatrist too, true enough, but a licensed M.D. nonetheless – and assuming Dina followed through and didn’t return he knew he was going to need one soon enough.

“What medicines are you carrying onboard?” she asked as they sat in the shade.

“For?”

“You. As in, you know, your condition?”

But Henry had simply shrugged the question away. “I couldn’t really tell you, Tracy. Dina stocked three pantries with all kinds of stuff, right down to chemotherapy agents she put in the ‘fridge.”

“Mind if I take a look?”

“Nope, but could we finish our coffee first?”

She’s smiled at that. “I forget…I’m not on California time anymore.”

“It takes a few months to break free of all that crap,” he said, smiling at his decisive indecisiveness. “Two cups of coffee, however, and I’m right back in the groove.”

“This is good stuff. Where’d you pick it up?”

“In Copenhagen. Everything good in life can be found in Denmark.”

“Funny, I wasn’t planning on going north, but now I’m not so sure that was the right decision.”

“That’s the thing about having your home with you. I had simply intended to follow the weather, to stay in one place until the weather dictated a change.”

She looked away for a moment, then turned to face him again. “I know you’re used to all this by now, but the whole cancer thing is new to me, and I have a hard time accepting – your future.”

He nodded. “I understand. And yes, I get the whole five stages of grief thing, too. But frankly, I think I’m stuck in the pissed-off stage.”

She smiled at his self-deprecating humor, but she nodded her understanding. “I think I would be too. How could you not be?”

“Well, there’s a lot going on that we haven’t gone over yet. Hopefully we’ll have time to in Paris.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Henry.”

He nodded. “And that makes me wonder, Tracy. Why not? Are you homesick?”

She looked away, looked almost lost in thought. He poured a little more coffee and nibbled at his croissant while he looked at her. “You know, I don’t think I miss California – not really,” she said a while later – softly, almost gently. “The thing is, I grew up hearing about Claire – but all those conversations, all those memories, always seemed to include you. I don’t know, Henry, but it’s like you and Claire were inseparable, even in death. You were always the knight in shining armor, too, if you know what I mean…”

“Not true,” Taggart said ruefully. “I never, ever, not even once shined my armor.”

“But you were inseparable, weren’t you?”

“Yup.”

“So I have to assume everything I know about this whole thing is true…”

“I’m curious, Tracy. Listening to you for a while now, it seems that Claire has taken on the dimensions of mythology, even if it is only a family mythology. Why?”

“I think my mother grew up in Claire’s shadow, and because of that she grew up most unsure of herself, but all that changed when Claire got sick. From all the stories I’ve heard over the years, Mom seemed to blossom in the aftermath of Claire’s passing, and I think therein lies the tale – at least from a shrink’s point of view. Mom never felt guilt – I mean, how could she? – yet at the same time Claire’s passing was probably the biggest thing that everhappened to her – at least while she still lived at home.”

“You know,” Henry said, “it’s funny, but I barely remember your mother before all that happened – even though she was just a few years younger. But to say she was lost in Claire’s shadow really doesn’t do the situation justice, Tracy, because from the little I do remember it seemed she almost worshipped Claire. She tried to mimic Claire at school and it always backfired, too, and I think I remember those things more than anything else.”

“Dad told me about it,” Tracy said, looking down now. “Mom blossomed, or so he told me, but he also said that no matter how hard she tried she always paled in comparison to Claire.”

Henry shrugged evasively – though as he looked away he struggled with another flood of unwanted memory. “I wasn’t around for a lot of that, I guess. Most of that would’ve happened my senior year, and Edith was a sophomore that year.”

“That’s what seems so strange to me, Henry.”

“Strange?”

“Yes, strange. Because Mom always used to say she would have never made it through that year without you.”

“Oh, did she?”

“And funny, too, because one of the things Dad told me when they broke up was that he was tired of competing with you.”

“Yes,” he said, standing up suddenly, “that is funny.” Then he walked over to the lifelines and stepped down onto the quay – before he walked off with his hands in his pockets and his head hung low.

She couldn’t decide whether to follow him or not, but in the end her heart won that battle.

+++++

The fuel truck didn’t make it until almost 1500 hours, but by then the tide had turned again and there was no point trying to head upriver until early the next morning. Henry made arrangements for both boats to remain tied-up where they lay, then, after slipping another sublingual anti-nausea med under his tongue he took Tracy out to dinner in LeHavre. The three of them left for the half hour walk, with Clyde forcing a few diversions to water the grass along their meandering way.

“Have you ever transited a lock before?” he asked once they’d settled at a table and been handed menus, and once Clyde had settled on Henry’s feet.

“No, but I’ve been reading up on it.”

He sighed. “It’s nothing what you expect it will be, Tracy. These locks are huge so they might not be too turbulent, but your boat is heavy and it doesn’t have a bow thruster.”

“Yours does, I take it?”

“Actually, it has bow and stern thrusters so I can handle the lines from the wheel. You’ll have to tie off the tiller and work the lines from amidships. Don’t get me wrong here – you can do it – assuming you don’t panic if turbulence gets hold of you. Beyond that, just watch out for that bowsprit.”

“You really think you can handle your boat alone?”

He nodded. “I think I’ll need help once we get to the marina in Paris.”

“You were counting on Dina and that boy, weren’t you?”

“Yup. They’re still kind of MIA, if you know what I mean, so…”

“No, I don’t understand all that, Henry. And…what’s the big mystery? – I mean, it’s kind of hard to believe you don’t know where they are.”

He shrugged. “Like I said, there’s a lot going on.”

“And you don’t want to tell me.”

“If and when circumstances allow I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

“Gee, I love paternalistic assholes so much!” she said through a malignantly forced smile. 

“Not paternalism, Tracy. I simply don’t want to stretch the limits of credulity, at least not yet.”

“Well, I love a mystery.”

“Good. Is your ground tackle up to snuff?”

“I’ve anchored out a few times without any problem, if that’s what you mean?”

“Just in case things get sideways on us. Best to be able to get your anchor down in a hurry if you lose an engine in a narrow channel.”

“Nice. I like the way you change subjects.”

“Do you? Good. I’ve worked hard over the years to perfect the skill.”

“So, my mom’s sophomore year? Ready to talk about it, or is that a subject changer too?”

He shook his head. “No, not ready.”

“I see.”

“If your mom shows up maybe then we can cover some of that ground, because maybe it’s just not fair to talk about all that without her around to stick up for her point of view.”

Tracy nodded. “You’re right.”

“The other reason, if I may, concerns you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you. Look, you may be twenty something years younger than your mother, but you just have to understand that there’s a history between us.”

“What has that got to do with me?”

“Well, first of all you’re drop-dead gorgeous, and I’m still a male with a pulse and that means I recognize little things like that. Second, your mom and dad – and I – do have a history. A complicated history.”

“So, Dad wasn’t exaggerating…”

“No, he wasn’t, but also, well, look – it’s the reason I left LA for Seattle. And why I had to stay away.”

“So…you and my mom…?”

“It wasn’t as simple as that, Tracy. I was falling apart and she kept me from falling all the way down, but in a way she was still a kid. Worse still, to this day there’s no way I can look at her and not see Claire.”

“I figured it was something like that, but why Seattle.”

“Because…”

But Henry drifted on the crest of the word, lost in a wave as strings of memory pulsed into and out of view – but the pain was real, and the cost to all their lives too high.

She watched the change come over him and reached out, took his hand. “We don’t have to talk about it, Henry. I just thought that…”

“Someday, Tracy. There’s just too much I haven’t thought about in a long, long time, and only so much…”

“If my mom comes will things get weird between you two?”

He looked at her and shrugged. “I don’t know. I really don’t know what will happen. We were always an unstable compound, you know? Never meant to last, I guess.”

“You weren’t expecting any of this, were you?”

“What? You mean, like you – and your mom…”

“And all those memories. They were behind you, weren’t they?”

Henry shook his head, then he looked her in the eye once again. “You know what, Tracy? It feels like everything is coming full circle right now, yet I’m not really sure why. I’m closing in on the end of this journey, this return to Paris, but Honfleur was always going to be a part of that story, too. Now, here’s the weird part. In a way I think it was almost inevitable that we were going to meet up when and where we did. I know that sounds more than a little nuts, but think about it. Like, what if you’d decided to go to a different restaurant that night, or if I’d been a day late arriving. Think of how many things had to go ‘just so’ in order for us to meet when and where we did…and from the day I left California right up to that moment. And from the day you left, too. One little hiccup and we’d have missed each other – but that didn’t happen, did it?”

She nodded. “Kismet?” she grinned.

“Or…karma.”

“And there are a million possible explanations, Henry. It just happened, like these things do everyday, for everyone – everywhere.”

“Are you listening to what you’re saying, Tracy?”

“I’m a rationalist, Henry. Sorry.”

“Yeah, well so am I – but this was kind of a slap on the face.”

“Most people, especially when the end of life approaches, reach out for comforting explanations to perplexing questions. There’s nothing unusual about it, Henry, nothing new or unusual about your feeling this way right now.”

“I think you’re missing the point, Tracy.”

“What point is that? Your talking about ultimate causality, right? Things like predetermination, la forza del destino…”

“I’m not in any kind of a hurry to slap labels on these observations right now,” Henry replied. “Still, if I could ask just one thing of you right now, it would be that you try to keep an open mind about what you’re going to see between now and Christmas.”

She seemed to pause, to hold back for a moment, but then she smiled. “I can do that.”

“Good. Now, what do you think of these snails? Too salty?”

+++++

They walked back to the harbor, a good, solid half hour walk in a chilly breeze, but there simply weren’t too many options available yet. Only a few taxis were running around the city so far, and while there was a train scheduled to depart for Paris in the morning, air service still wasn’t an option – anywhere. The magnetic pole had re-stabilized – only now it appeared to be loitering over eastern Siberia – and the night sky was still alive with geomagnetic storms, and so for the time being the major airlines were limiting operations to very short haul overland sectors only. With almost thirty aircraft lost when the first storm hit, and with a final death toll more than twice the 9/11 tally, no airline seemed to be in a hurry to resume transoceanic operations.

They turned into the old port area and started for the quay where their boats were tied-off, with Clyde finally stopping here to shed a few unwanted pounds of salmon, but as they approached the quay Henry saw two navy blue Land Rovers idling there, just above Time Bandits

“Well, Hell,” he sighed as he recognized the same French Navy markings he’d spotted two nights ago, “this I was not expecting.”

“What?”

Taggart motioned with his head, indicating the Rovers parked ahead.

“Who are they?” Tracy said, now a little anxiously.

“The Bad Guys.”

“What? You mean, like mafia types?”

“No…worse. Naval Intelligence types.”

As they walked up a door opened and Captain Mike Lacy, USN, stepped out. Dressed regally now in navy blue sweats and a yellow ball cap, Lacy waited by the Rover while Taggart took Tracy down to Karma.

“Are you going to be okay?” she asked as he helped her aboard. “Or should I come with you?”

Henry shook his head. “No, stay here. I don’t know what they want, but I’m no threat to them now and they know it.”

She sighed. “Okay, but come get me after they leave.”

He nodded and turned to walk back up the ramp to the Rovers, but he stopped and turned to look at her again, measuring her every move as she went below, then he turned again and resumed walking up the ramp.

“So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company, Captain?”

“They want me to make the trip up the river with you, Henry. Sorry, I know this is going to be uncomfortable, but the alternative would probably be a helluva lot worse.”

“Well, I was wondering why you left clothes in your locker…?”

“I brought along a little inducement, too. If you don’t put up too much of a stink we’ll release Anton, providing he stays with you for the time being. By the way, who’s the dame?”

“The dame? Are you kidding? You trying out for a part in Casablanca, Mike?”

“Who is she, Henry?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

Lacy shrugged. “She’s not on our radar, Henry.”

“She a psychiatrist from California, left the US in April, came over by way of the Azores.”

“Uh-huh. You know her?”

“I do now,” Taggart said, grinning salaciously. 

“You dog…I shoulda guessed.”

“Where’s Anton?”

Lacy walked over to the other Rover and knocked on the glass, motioning to whomever that it was okay to come out.

Anton stepped out into the night, and even in the shadows Henry could tell his face was heavily bruised, and he walked over favoring his right leg.

“That’s just great, Lacy. What the fuck did you do that for?”

“Some Air Force intel guy did it before we could stop him. Apparently he was pissed off about the F-15 Anton waxed.”

“War…the gift that keeps on giving,” Henry sighed. “Like things weren’t bad enough already.”

“Look, Henry, Anton asked for political asylum and the French are willing to go along with that – provided you keep him off the streets.”

“That’s not a problem, Mike. I told Anton he was welcome to stay with me as long as he wants, and that still applies…”

“Henry, again, he has to stay with you…”

“Genry,” Anton grimaced, “they afraid I spy. I stay. I make no problem here.” Taggart held out his right hand and Anton took it, but then the Russian pulled Henry into a tight hug.

“Good to have you back with us, shipmate,” Taggart whispered.

“Good be back, my friend.”

“I’ll help you down.”

“No. Better I do alone, Genry. That way bastards get no satisfaction.”

“Fine by me.”

“Want I should take Clyde?”

“No, just be careful…the ramp is a little slippery.”

Henry watched the aviator limp over to the handrail before he turned to face Lacy, then he would up a haymaker and let it fly, his fist catching the captain off-guard and knocking him to the ground.

And when all the doors on both Land Rovers flew open, and as the heavily armed intel types raced to take him down – Taggart simply smiled.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Oh, just one more thought. Oh, have you watched Pixar’s Soul yet?

Come Alive (23.1)

Chapter 23.1

He woke to the sounds of the ancient village coming back to life. No cars. Still no cell phones. Smoke from fireplaces and old kitchen stoves. He heard a horse drawn cart roll by on the quay and smiled as he made his way to the head, but with no one onboard, not even Clyde, he suddenly felt more alone than he ever had in his life.

“But why now?” he said to the stranger in the mirror.

Was it because the last six months had been an aberration? An aberration that had redefined his expectations of what life could be. 

“Or just maybe, Dickhead, what might have been?” the stranger in the mirror said.

Had he chosen, he wondered, to follow a path different from his father in a fit of defiance, perhaps even repudiation? Or had he, more likely than not, simply drifted into the loneliness that had defined his life – kind of a default move after Claire and all the emptiness that followed?

The face in the mirror was quiet now, the eyes suddenly empty…almost hollow.

“Or did you never find your soul after that night?”

The face in the mirror smiled a bit at that, but then it turned and walked away.

+++++

He walked around the old port until he found a place cooking breakfast, and he marveled at the tastes of things cooked on a simple fire. Croissant baked in a wood fired oven were a revelation. Eggs harvested an hour before they hit the skillet had a flavor he’d never experienced before, and a slice of freshly smoked fish almost brought tears to his eyes. He looked back on a life consumed with factory processed foods and he knew the answer even before the question formed in his mind: the heat had been turned up too slowly, the frog had failed to jump out of the water in time…and suddenly, just when he’d looked up from one more burger and fries grabbed on the run, it was too late. 

He saw a woman hop off a boat and walk his way, and when she sat at a table near his he smiled. Not too tall, dirty blond hair, athletic build – very California looking.

“Is that yours?” he asked her as she sat.

“What? The boat?” she replied, in the pure, easy going lilt of a native California Girl. “Yes, it is.”

“I haven’t seen a Westsail in years. You’ve kept her in good shape.”

She nodded. “Almost lost her in that damn storm. Raced in under bare poles, bloody near piled up on the rocks a couple of times.”

“You single-handing?”

“Yes.”

“When did you cross?”

“Last April. I left from Oriental.”

“Me too, but from Mystic.”

“Oh? What did you come over on?”

“A Nauticat, but I picked up a Hallberg-Rassy a month ago.”

“Oh? Is that yours tied up over on the quay?”

“Yup.”

“So, you’re from Newport Beach, too. Small world,” she sighed. “Where you headed?”

“Paris. The Arsenal.”

“Yup, small world.”

He had to laugh when he heard that.

“What’s so funny about that?” she asked.

“Can’t you hear them?” he replied.

“Hear what?”

“The cosmic tumblers – falling into place.”

She smiled at that, then for the next hour or so they compared notes on how they might go about getting their masts pulled before heading up the Seine. When it was time to head out and start the day he hesitated, then looked at her one more time.

“Want to grab some dinner tonight?” she asked, her eyes twinkling a little.

“I was about to ask you.”

“He who hesitates is lost,” she said, grinning. “Look, we’re on the same errand, so maybe we can work on this together, maybe finagle a better price in the process.”

“Spoken like a true cruiser.”

They both laughed at that – just as Clyde hove into view, walking across the little bridge over the lock by the carousel – and Taggart stood and whistled once (loudly), causing the old pup to look his way.

And that was all it took. Clyde ran as fast as he could right up to Henry and sat on his feet, looking up expectantly as if to say “I need some salmon, please.”

“He’s yours, I take it?” she asked.

“Yes, and pardon my French but I don’t even know your name.”

“Tracy,” she said, smiling and holding out her right hand.

“Henry,” he said, taking her hand in his. “And this wayward beast is Clyde. He’s been out running with his buddies for a few days – haven’t you, Buddy?”

Clyde barked twice, loudly.

“Uh-oh, I know that bark.”

“Time to find some grass, I take it?” Tracy said, smiling at the pup.

“Yup. There’s a little park right by the boat, too.”

“I’ll meet you there in a few minutes,” she said, then she made her way back to the Westsail.

He turned to Clyde and grinned. “I’m not even gonna ask where you’ve been. I hope she was worth it.”

“Woof!”

“Why’d I know you were going to say that?”

They walked back to Time Bandits – without a leash – and Clyde hosed down everything he sniffed, holding the heavy load until he reached the grass, then he cut loose.

“Jesus H Christ, Dude! What have you been eating?”

This followed by a long, low rumble, then a slow, hissing fart – that whistled a little on the closing notes.

“Dude…I don’t know you…” Taggart snarled, as nearby pedestrians began pinching off nostrils while looking his way…before they fled in terror.

+++++

They met again for dinner, at the same little bistro he’d taken Mike and Anton the day before, and not quite knowing what else to order he asked for the same thing he’d had yesterday. Tracy followed his lead and asked for the same, though she begged off having wine with her meal, and luckily the owners had enough food to pull it off again.

“So, Tracy from Newport Beach,” he said casually, if only to get the conversation going. “Where’d you go to high school? Harbor High?”

“Yup…you too?”

He nodded. “Okay, I gotta ask. Your last name is?”

She grinned. “Tomlin,” – then she saw his face. “What’s the matter?”

“And let me guess,” he said as he tried to catch his breath. “Your mother’s name is Edith.”

“How’d you know that?”

“Does the name Henry Taggart mean anything to you?”

“Hank?” she said, her face turning beet red.

The name hit him like a hammer blow, though he only nodded a little. 

“You were with Claire when…”

He looked away, his heart breaking all over again. “I thought you looked a little too familiar,” he sighed. “It’s the eyes, I guess.”

“Six degrees of separation,” she whispered.

“And then a butterfly sneezes in Beijing,” he added.

“Do you believe in coincidences?”

“Me? I believe in the righteousness of tequila and fresh limes. Nothing else much matters.”

“Right,” she said. “Isn’t that called deflection?”

“And what are you? A psychiatrist?”

She simply looked at him – without saying a word – though a slow smile began to spread across her face.

“Oh God, say it ain’t so. Not a GD psychiatrist!” he cried, leaning back in his chair, crossing his arms protectively over his gut while he grinned a little too madly.

“And you’ll never guess who my inspiration was!”

“Don’t tell me…let me guess…how ‘bout my mother.”

She smiled at that, too. “You’re smarter than you look, Hank.”

He nodded. “How is your mother?”

“Okay, all things considered.”

“I heard about the divorce. Ugly.”

“Too much money involved, I guess,” she sighed.

“And so you cut the cord, cast off your lines and beat feet. Why not the Coconut Run? Been there, done that?”

She nodded. “My husband and I, a few years ago.”

“Divorce?”

She nodded again. “Orange County has the highest divorce stats in the state.”

He laughed at that. “More lawyers in California than there are in the rest of the world.”

“That’s not true,” she scoffed.

And he shook his head. “My dad used to say the state Bar Association Directory was thicker than War and Peace. I laughed once, then he showed it to me. Beat it by a hundred and twenty pages; smaller type, too.”

“I don’t want to get personal, but I talked to my mom from the Azores. She told me you were up in Norway. And that she’d heard you’re pretty sick.”

“If you lived with a dog that farts like Clyde you’d be pretty sick, too.”

Her eyes widened just a bit, then they watered a little, too. “What is it? Cancer?”

“What gave it away? The weight gain, or my rosy complexion?”

“Deflection, Hank.”

“Tracy, I got this thing called a comfort zone…”

She quietly held up her hands in mock-defeat. “Okay Hank, you win this round,” yet her eyes never left his.

“Thanks.”

Their snails arrived and they were predictably better than wonderful, and so they comfortably retreated a little and talked about sailing – as sailors are wont to do from time to time – and then he brought up Dina and Rolf.

“Where are they?” she asked after he passed along the bare contours of the situation, asking the next, most obvious question.

“They sort of took off after Brugge. I don’t know where they are now.”

“You brought that boat in here by yourself?”

“Oh, no, not really. There were two guys with us.”

“Two guys?”

“Yup, a real asshole as it turned out, Navy Intelligence, and a Russian fighter pilot we plucked out of the Channel after he took a missile up the tailpipe.”

“That sounds about right. For you, anyway.”

“It’s been a weird summer.”

“Sounds a little like an understatement, Hank.”

“That ain’t the half of it.”

“So, why Paris?” she asked as she picked at her salad.

“It’s got to do with my parents.”

“And Claire, I take it.”

“Yes, and Claire.”

“So, Paris is the end of the line?”

“Yup. I’m getting off the train there.”

“You mind if I hang around for a while?” she asked.

“Do I mind? Are you serious?”

She nodded.

“Look, even if I did, Tracy, going against the whole cosmic tumblers thing seems kind of irresponsible to me. Not to mention stupid.”

“So, you think I’m here for a reason? Is that about it?”

He shrugged. “My temperature gauge has always been stuck about halfway between agnostic and full-blown atheist, so cut me some slack, would you? Truth is, I’m not sure what I think, but I have days – not often, you understand, but every now and then – when I’m smart enough to keep an open mind about the things I don’t understand.”

“What kind of wine is that?”

“A Piesporter. Goes pretty good with salad, by the way.”

“Mind if I have a glass?”

“You can have two…if you twist my arm enough.”

+++++

He took Clyde out for a long walk about five the next morning, then he walked over to Karma – the name of Tracy’s Westsail 32 – to see if she was awake yet. The plan was to set off and motor across the mouth of the Seine to LeHavre on slack water – at about 6:15 that morning – and they’d meet up with an outfit that promised to remove their masts over on the old commercial docks. A fuel truck would meet them out there around noon to fill-up both boats, and if all went as planned they’d head upriver and tie-off for the night at a riverfront restaurant that had been recommended to them. He heard her moving about below so took Clyde back to Time Bandits, then he jumped in the shower after he downed his breakfast – a can of Ensure, today – before he checked the weather and the BBC World Service.

He saw lights on across the river, a lot of lights, and surmised that the power was coming back on sooner than expected – a great development – then he saw Tracy in Karma’s cockpit talking on a cell phone. He dashed below and pulled his iPhone out of the charger and powered-up the unit, and as soon as his phone connected to a network his calls, texts, and emails started flowing into their respective folders.

“God…anonymity was kind of nice, ya know?” he said to Clyde – who ‘woofed’ twice. “What? Already?”

Clyde farted. Twice.

“Okay, okay…you win…let’s go!” He hooked-up Clyde’s leash and pocketed his phone then headed for the bushes, and while he waited for Clyde to flush the lines he went through his voicemails, then his texts. Nothing from Dina. Nothing from Eva or Britt.

But one from Rolf.

That had come through sometime during the night.

‘Back in Bergen,’ read the text. ‘Call this number when you can.’ But while the text bubbles around his texts were usually blue or green, this one was pink.

“Not good,” he sighed, pocketing the phone as Tracy walked up.

“Hi there,” she said as she leaned into him, at the same time passing along her phone. “It’s Mom. She wants to talk to you.”

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 56v2 & Ch. 57.1

88th key cover image

Part VII

[Okay, just a heads up here. I’ve resumed Harry’s journey with a little editing of the last posted chapter, Chapter 56. Chapter 57.1 is all new material, and 57 will continue in short little snippets for the time being. Sitting for hours at a stretch just isn’t possible right now; it’s more like a half hour here and another half there. Writing now is more a mental process, stitching together the threads of the story as I lay in bed then trying to get the new bits down as I can. I’ve tried using the laptop in bed but it just doesn’t work for me now. So, this is the road ahead, at least for now.

And hey, because music always matters you might consider this.

So, there you have it. Read on…]

Chapter 56 v2

The right thing to do…

The right thing to do…

Callahan sat at his piano working through Carly Simon’s ode to the hopeful and brokenhearted, trying to shake the feeling that somehow she had been writing those words 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 is this song speaking to me so clearly…?’

‘What is the right thing to do…?’ he wondered.

‘Loving you? Is that really all there is left in my life?’

It wasn’t just that Becky had grown abusive, at least not simply abusive to him. He’d heard Lloyd’s screams early one morning and come running to his room only to find her savagely pinching his belly, but then he found ferocious bruises all over the boy’s arms and legs, too. He’d jumped between them, pulled her away from Lloyd’s crib and forced her out of the room, yet he never forgot the absent, wide-eyed stare he encountered once he had her isolated in the kitchen. 

“What the fuck are you doing!?” he remembered screaming. “For God’s sake – do you have any idea…?!”

But he knew he had lost the war when he saw there was nothing in Becky’s eyes – no remorse, no anger, not even pity. 

But – no remorse at all? 

And in that moment he had felt the demons behind her eyes, memories in hidden shadows of a childhood he knew nothing about, a family history she’d always managed to keep 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 their first moments. 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 restraint, most especially from anyone masquerading as an authority figure. Callahan’s career in CID was a living testament to that idea, but she had no idea, did she? And little things like his experiences with back alley abortionists and serial child abusers stayed firmly in shadows of his very own.

But this was too much. Lloyd screaming hysterically, trapped in an endless loop of need and fear as he reached out for the safety of his mother’s arms again and again, only to fall into each new trap she set for him. His personality was fracturing as he fell, but as is almost always the case Callahan couldn’t see his place in the evolving catastrophe.

Yet when he looked at her in the kitchen that morning Callahan knew things had fallen apart; he called Doc Watson, asked him to come down to the house, and a few minutes later the doc had sedated Becky – before he came to terms with the devastation in Callahan’s eyes. DD arrived and 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 while everyone calmed 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 he’d been down this road before, remained in a state of barely controlled rage all the way to Palo Alto… 

Yet soon enough he was in a state of shock, and realizing his perilous state of mind Callahan let the doc drive back up the coast while he struggled with the very same demons he’d thought vanquished long ago. Lost in thought, fighting through waves of despair, when he got back to his little house on the cliffs he found Elizabeth and Lloyd asleep on the sofa – Elizabeth laying exactly where her father had passed – and he knew right then and there other forces were at work inside his little world. Maybe it was something other than fate, he told himself, still struggling with the singular fear that the Old Man in the Cape might show up at any moment and rain on his parade one more time. 

But no, he told himself once again, my life is unfolding like I’ve been forced to ride a giant roller-coaster and there’s another sharp bend just ahead – only the tracks are coming undone, shaking loose as I approach the seductively glittering curve…

So he’d sat down next to the kids and watched them sleep – at least until DD and Cathy came by to check on him 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 at least, it looked as if she was very nearly 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 before her doctors let her come back out to the house on the cliffs – but it was soon clear that everything was very different in the aftermath. She was hesitant, scared of what she might do if her fragile coping mechanisms came undone. 

Lloyd no longer reached out to her. For that matter, neither did Harry. He’d taken one look in her eyes and turned away when he recognized the demons lurking there.

A few weeks passed until one day Becky called from work; she told Harry that her brother was in town and that he’d be staying at her apartment in the city for a while – yet she soon grew consumed by the only passion she’d ever known: medicine. She worked thirty-hour days and stayed in the city, collapsed from exhaustion then returned for more of the same – until her family’s history began catching up to the moment, finally breaking free of the shadows.

And so it was in this way that, for Becky Callahan, the idea of motherhood gently slipped from her grasp – because it was as if, when she realized what she had done to her life she either could not or would not trust herself to be around Harry or Lloyd again. There was too much history behind her anger, too many hidden memories in her shadows. Motherhood had been a hopeful idea, but she soon realized that older forces were pushing her into the abyss, and if nothing else her psychiatrists had convinced her that she would forever be possessed by obsessions she would simply never be able to control.

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

Because, he had to admit, he no longer trusted her – and he knew enough about his own way of looking at the world that he never would again.

Because his 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. Because Harry Callahan, the abuser had consumed some kind of dark evil and would forever be marked by a profound moral weakness. And, he realized without quite understanding the ironies involved, that he viewed the abuse of a child as the most dangerously unforgivable sin there was.

And so, as quickly as he’d fallen in love with Becky – those feelings left, they disappeared behind the veils of his moral absolutism, and he soon felt embarrassed that he’d allowed himself to feel love once again. Because to Harry Callahan love had become a game of charades, an ongoing game with no resolution, a parade of lies told in shadowy pantomimes on a sidewalk he no longer wanted to walk on.

Even so, the curious among you 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 seemed a happy enough kid, to most people, anyway.

And perhaps that was because Becky quite literally stayed away from him for several years, seeing her son on birthdays and at Christmas, though even on those rare days she came out to the house she 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 as soon as Becky ran away from the consequences she knew would come if she remained with Harry. 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 – as the ghosts of unintended consequences gathered in the shadows.

And as Lloyd grew he came naturally to music, and music came naturally to him. Like Imogen, he was a prodigy. He composed massive symphonic works of elegant complexity – 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? 

Doubtful, you say?

On the few days a year his mother drove out to the house on the cliffs, it was apparent to one and all that when his mother came near he grew distant. Lloyd, everyone knew, simply did not trust her, and after a few visits she knew he never would. 

Even so, the feeling would return – the emptiness of feeling that something vital was missing from his life. A spark…if you will.

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 his time above the cliffs, and this was several years after his mother walked out of his life, Lloyd slowly came to know and understand the other half of his family – his mother’s side of this unbalanced equation. And actually, it was the first time Harry Callahan came to know them, too. Though when this happened…well, it was 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 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 Sawyers clan really had very little money. As in – never did and never would.

And it wasn’t so much that her parents were strict; they were rather simply mean people, and often violently so. Ranch hands didn’t stay long and Becky’s friends from school 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, she soon realized, safer that way.

With an unstable home 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 all, and the better she did in school the worse things became 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 to Texas – for any reason. And he kept to his word to the end.

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 his wife 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, however, was a brilliant student, more socially motivated to get out into that other world and grab her slice of the American Pie than anyone else in San Saba. She breezed through her undergraduate requirements in three years and went onto 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.

But 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 by opening a practice in the Bay Area and so, with Becky’s blessing, he moved into her apartment.

So after her stay at Stanford and after Becky fled the house on the cliffs she had an instant roommate, a genetic time-bomb even 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 – quite often – 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 supplanted 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 this time, as these things so often go – his face having been seriously rearranged by some biker-types who’d not appreciated his carefree 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 the 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 – yet she 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, gruesome death – and one she was forced to endure while looking on helplessly. She grew careless at work, often wearing fentanyl patches on the floor. Then she was caught stealing fentanyl from the ER stockroom, and Al Bressler worked the case. Harry became involved, her family background came into the open and he finally filed for divorce. She was fired from the hospital, her fall from grace as swift as it was final. Her case went to trial and she was convicted, but due to the circumstances she was given probation. Once home she took her remaining supply of hidden fentanyl patches and applied every one of them inside her arms and thighs, and she never woke up.

By that time Lloyd Callahan was not quite ten years old, and in the aftermath of his mother’s suicide his life went seriously off the rails – and yet another genetic time bomb began slowly ticking away.

________________________________

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 is 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 – so already old places long 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 in 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 soon became 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 in 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 in the 60s 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 better, 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 just before lunch. He took Cathy to the restaurant and they had 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.

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 this 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, yet certainly not the frenzied passionatas he’d played years before. Harry wore tweed jackets these 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. And somehow Harry was sure that Frank would have approved.

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 in Lloyd’s and Elizabeth’s universe this was something quite new, in the way that grinding tectonic plates create something new.

Lloyd, walking beside Elizabeth noticed the reaching fingers 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 other’s eyes.

But, and this is kind of important so pay attention, when he felt Cathy’s skin on his own Harry Callahan smiled, then he simply relaxed inside for the first time in a very long time, and in his mind’s eye it was as if 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 – forevermore.

Chapter 57.1

Didi was first to notice this first tectonic shift, this first gentle realignment. As luck would have it very early the next morning, this was just after she pulled Avi’s old Range Rover up to the door in front of the house. She was to drive them all to the train station for the trip down to Zurich, but she saw carefully concealed changes deep within Harry’s eyes as he carried the kids’ luggage out to the Rover. Was that a mischievous twinkle she saw? A release of pressure?

But Cathy was far less pretentious with her feelings that morning, and even the kids seemed to be skipping on air as they stepped out into the crisp winter light, so there was no question in her mind when she drove Harry and his new family to the station. After she dropped them off she returned to the house and put away the Rover, then she called a taxi to take her to the train station to rejoin the group.

But as it was still her duty even now she called in and reported this new development to her handlers at the Mossad, then she called Tel Aviv and talked with her father. He was not at all impressed.

+++++

The tea house and the various music additions were complete by that time, and with all the activity surrounding these various projects at an end life above the cliffs took on quieter hues. Perhaps not quiet the warm golden rays of a prolonged Northern California sunset, but fading in that direction.

Fading – because Callahan had followed through and stopped flying. At first he’d promised he would keep his hours and ratings current so he could assist during fire season, but those words proved hollow and before too long everyone at the CatHouse understood…Harry was through flying. And so Harry remained “in charge” of things in name only, and everyone understood that in time even Harry would disappear from their ranks. And of course DD understood the score first of all and began planning accordingly.

Curiously, Callahan maintained his status as a Reserve Inspector with the police department. He made the trek down to the department’s range – and to Hogan’s Alley – every month, and he still won the department’s annual combat pistol competition with nauseating regularity – well, at least officers half his age remained nauseated by Callahan’s prowess on the Alley. Harry went in one weekend a month and worked a solid 48 hour shift, catnapping when he could, and he opted to remain on-call status for really important incidents. For some reason Cathy seemed to understand this was a need, not a want; Harry was after all, just like Frank, a cop. They always would be, she realized, and there was by this point in her life no need to fight the unique gravity that bound Harry to this calling.

But Harry was, after his return from Davos, pulled in other less certain directions by an unexpected new gravity, and just as comets orbit their home star, Lloyd Callahan was pulled along on this new, disconcerting path. Soon, the unanswered questions posed by his mother’s life and death, still waiting out there in the darkness for what seemed an inevitable collision, took on a gravity all their own.

+++++

Once he had the original manuscript of Schwarzwald’s Fourth in hand, the one von Karajan had kept under lock and key for almost twenty years, Harry placed the precious score in a safe set in the floor of the MusicHaus. There were times when he took it out and looked at key passages, yet he understood that he could never, not ever and under any circumstances, play the key final passage – at least the end his mother had created. 

The end Herbert van Karajan performed at the premiere, and indeed at every performance since, had been hastily cobbled together by von Karajan himself – after he recovered from the experience of hearing Imogen’s shattering conclusion in Israel…the final phrasing that had, directly, ended her life even as the last notes drifted away. When Callahan met von Karajan, and this was near the end of the famous conductors life, the older man had explained everything in rich detail, right down to her final journey within the eighty-eight key, and perhaps the conductor hadn’t known what to expect when Imogen’s son heard the news, but he was utterly surprised when Callahan simply nodded understanding.

“You know of these things?” von Karajan asked, and when Callahan nodded the older man seemed taken aback – as if he had been of the impression that he alone knew the secrets contained in her music. “The Old Man in the Cape? Have you known him, as well…?”

“I have,” Callahan replied. “Almost my entire life…in one way or another.”

“Have you ever…?”

“I have. And there are many dangers within.”

“I could never bring myself to go there. He frightened me.”

They were sitting on a stone patio at von Karajan’s estate in Anif, just outside of Salzburg, enjoying the afternoon sun glancing off the nearby mountains, but there even so was an air of impermanence about the meeting. Karajan was old now, his pain immense, and though he wouldn’t say so the old man knew death was coming soon.

“Frightened?” Callahan asked. “Why frightened?”

“I have known the power of music all my life, or at least I thought I had, but that last afternoon with your mother was something of an epiphany. I suppose, you see, because I interpreted the music of others I rarely composed on my own, and I think I was, in effect, shackled to the past. Your mother saw the world in a different light, and the result was she experienced music quite differently than most others. I’m not talking synesthesia, Harald, but without going too deeply into something that is still a mystery to me, I think she saw music. She understood, and I think explicitly so, that music was for her a conveyance. And that, if you’ll pardon the digression, is what frightened me.” 

“A conveyance? What do you mean by that?”

“In the final passage, Harald, in the Fourth. She found a way not into death, but beyond.”

“Beyond? I’m not sure I follow…”

+++++

Callahan left Austria in a daze, von Karajan’s implications as dazzling as they were troubling, but he did not return home…yet. Instead, he returned to that most daunting past, to Copenhagen – and to his grandfather’s house near the university.

The old red brick house, her ancient timbers fresh with several new coats of pigmented oil, had been made into a museum dedicated to his mother’s life and works, yet the interior was almost blissfully untouched. The bedrooms were of course roped off, his mother’s first piano too, but the docent let him into his mother’s old bedroom on the top floor and he went to the window and looked out over the rooftops to the harbor and the ships beyond. How things must have changed since then, he thought, but really…how little might the important things change?

Yes, change was in the air – always. The wall was coming down in Berlin so Germany would be thrust into the miasma of unification, but perhaps with the Soviet Union dead and gone Europe would find herself in a new Golden Age…yet here in this little corner of the universe change was a little more hesitant, perhaps even resistant.

Gulls still wheeled about over the water and cotton-candy clouds scudded by in a majestic simplicity all their own, and as he stood there looking over the scene it was almost inevitable that soon he imagined he could hear horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping down cobblestone byways of the mind, and when he closed his eyes – standing exactly where his mother had so many times in her youth – he could almost see three-masted sailing ships gliding into the harbor.

Then in his mind he was playing her Second Piano Concerto and he felt the overwhelming burden of fear she had as the Gestapo followed her in the snow, then the full weight of Avi’s betrayal…and in the next moment the Old Man was standing there beside him…

…in a gently falling snow.

© 2021 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 and me generally growing somewhat old) 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.]

Come Alive (22.2)

Chapter 22.2

Henry appeared feverish the next morning; his skin was a grim waxy gray and with a tinge of yellow around his eyelids. Mike heard him moving around down in the aft cabin and he went below to check on him; he found Henry leaning over the sink in the head, splashing his face with cool water. Henry looked up, saw Mike in the mirror and grinned.

“Where the Hell are we?” Taggart asked.

“About fifty miles from LeHavre. You have any idea where we can tie up when we get there?”

“Yeah, I have a place lined up across the river, in Honfleur. Get me an ETA and I’ll call…”

“Uh, right. We still no power…”

“Shit, how quickly we forget. Did you see any more lights after that power plant?”

Mike shook his head and looked away. “No, not a thing,” he said wistfully.

“Any ships in the Channel moving?”

“Nope. Everything’s still quiet, even the sea state. And…Dina and Rolf disappeared after you came down here.”

Henry turned and looked at Mike. “How long have they been gone?”

“Six hours, give or take. Oh, and at one point there must’ve been a dozen of ‘Them’ up above the masthead,” Mike added, pointing aloft. “Looked like an argument, too.”

“They get that way.”

“Look, Henry, I don’t want to be rude but I have no idea how to take care of you. If Dina doesn’t come back, just what the Hell am I supposed to do if you really go down…?”

“Once we make port it ought to become a non-issue. If something happens between now and then, get one of Them to bring Dina back.”

“And if they won’t?”

“They will.”

“So…you’re not worried about all this stuff with her and the kid?”

“Not really.”

“You know what’s going on with them?”

“Nope.”

“But you trust them? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I believe in what they’re trying to do, and they know it, too. The point, Mike, is that many of them trust me. A few don’t, but then again they’re not usually the ones hanging around.”

Mike sighed. “Well, if you’re not worried I won’t waste my time getting worked up about this stuff.”

“Any of that banana-nut bread left?”

“If Ivan hasn’t eaten all of it, you mean?”

“I detect a little bitterness in your voice, Mike. Still fighting the last war?”

Mike looked down. “Yeah, probably, but you know, the trouble with that is I almost like the guy. He reminds me of one of my redneck uncles. A patriot with all his loose ends…”

“And…you’re not?”

Mike laughed a little. “Point taken,” he said. “Can I help you with your meds?”

Taggart shook his head. “No, I got it.”

“Right. I’ll go rustle up some grub.”

Henry laughed at that. “Ready for the round-up, Duke?”

“I’d be content to feel some dry ground that’s not been heavily irradiated recently.”

Taggart nodded. “It’s been a bad week.”

“You could say that, yeah.” Mike shrugged, then he looked away. “Why don’t you take a quick shower. I’ll call you when breakfast is ready.”

“Maybe one egg and some of that bread.”

“Right.”

Taggart went to the panel and flipped on the mains, and when the breakers didn’t trip he smiled. He turned on the pressure water system and checked that the water heater was still operating, then he stuck his head up through a hatch and spoke to Anton: “Fire up the engine, would you?”

“Is safe now?”

“I think so.”

Anton hit the key and the diesel turned over.

“Go ahead and put it into forward, but keep the RPMs at 1400 for ten minutes, then run it up to 1800.”

“Got it.”

Henry ducked below and smiled again. Cold showers just weren’t in his playbook.

+++++

From a distance LeHavre looked almost pristine, but by the time Time Bandits approached the entrance to the commercial harbor the picture had soured – considerably. The storm had blown out windows on the windward sides of every building in view, and a huge crane used to offload containers from ships had been knocked loose from its foundations and now lay drunkenly half in and half out of water. On the other hand, people weren’t sitting back and crying in their milk; everywhere the three men on Time Bandits looked they saw huge teams clearing away rubble and busily rebuilding the port’s infrastructure.

Across the harbor, Honfleur had been spared the storm’s full impact by the simple happenstances of geography. The outer canal showed signs of the storm, with some minor debris still in the water, but the old inner harbor was blessedly untouched – though now devoid of the usual throngs of tourists over saturating the too cute sidewalk cafés that lined the marina. Time Bandits was, anyway, far too big to fit in the inner harbor, so Henry had contented himself to tie off just outside the little locks – just along the mole that led into the inner harbor.

Customs and Immigration were called, Anton’s lack of entry papers explained and a temporary visa issued on the spot, and then, just as he had done with his father too many times to count, once Time Bandits was secure he changed into clean clothes and took Mike and Anton to an ancient restaurant just off the harbor – hoping the proprietors had survived the storm and the place remained intact.

And yes, when Henry found the place was open his heart soared.

So Taggart slipped anti-nausea meds under his tongue and let them dissolve there while he ordered lobster bisque and escargot, then salad and duck. Anton had never been in western Europe, had never eaten anything like what he enjoyed that afternoon, and after a few bottles of red had warmed his soul a little he loosened up and talked a little…

…about his daughter and all the grandchildren lost in St Petersburg…

…and then, about his final flight. Tearing up the sky as he took off from from a captured air base just outside of Amsterdam, turning to engage flights of F-35s and F-15s, and then his vague recollections of that last dogfight in the sky over a sailboat far, far below…

“It funny, Genry. Everything about that day. I should have died at least two, maybe three times. My ejection seat had no life raft, and I forgot to put on my, what you call it, my May West. So no life jacket. And I eject at forty thousand feet and fall forever, and then I land in the water fifty feet from – you. And now here I am in this place, because of – you. I don’t pretend to understand these things, Genry, but I think maybe all this happen for reasons. I never think like these things before, but I should have drowned that day. I should be dead. Instead, here I am, with – you. Tell me this isn’t strange.”

“Anton? Do you know what toasted means?” Mike asked after he came back from the WC.

“Toasted? Da, like bread toasted?”

“No, toasted, as in drunk off your ass toasted.”

“I not drunk, Lacy,” Anton said quietly, almost gently. “I think about many times last two days. Like a burden lifted from soul. That is how feel now.”

Henry looked at the Russian, studying the easy-going warmth coming from his eyes just then. “What are you thinking, Anton? What do you want to do?”

“I think I want to become priest. I want to study this…feeling…”

Mike turned away, trying to hide the smirk spreading across his face…

But oddly enough, Henry Taggart did not.

“The first time I came here, and I mean here, to this restaurant, I was ten years old. Christmas Eve. Every Christmas Eve for the next eight years, as a matter of fact. One year when we came, and I was seventeen, my girlfriend had just died. Cancer. Breast cancer, if you can wrap your head around that. And Anton, a strange thing happened to me that night, something I’ve never been able to forget.”

“Oh? What happen, Genry?”

Taggart smiled. “I hope I can show you, my friend.”

“Tell me. You think my priest idea stupid?”

Henry shook his head. “Not if that’s the road you choose.”

Anton nodded. “I follow your road now, Genry. This where I supposed to be.”

They finished their meal after plates of cheese and glasses of port, then Taggart led them along smooth cobblestones through twisting alleys to a small chapel lost inside an ancient medieval neighborhood.

“My parents were married here, in this chapel, just after the war,” Henry said, looking at the old timbers that defined the outer contours of this memory. “And this is where I came on my seventeenth Christmas Eve.”

Anton and Mike looked at the old building, then at Henry. And there was something strange about Henry Taggart deep inside that moment, something otherworldly, almost like the moment was possessed of other times. Or perhaps more like Henry had slipped free of his body, of the time they were sharing, and that Henry had slipped away – leaving the husk of his body standing there on the wet cobbles while he drifted through time to a place more comforting.

But he came back to them, and Mike thought Henry looked contented. More content even than a man whose belly had just been filled with the most delicious food in France. And then Mike looked at Anton, and he saw that the burly old Russian was in tears, weeping openly.

“When I falling,” Anton sighed, “falling to the sea, I felt this time in heart. Is like everything since has leading me here, to this place…” 

“What kept you from drowning, Anton?” Taggart asked. “No life jacket, no raft. Why didn’t you die? Or again, and perhaps more to the point, who kept you from drowning?”

“You did.”

Henry shook his head. “No, it wasn’t me, Anton. It was you.”

“Not me. Can barely swim. Something help me to boat.”

Mike smiled. “It was the large male, Henry. It had to be.”

“What? The orca?” Henry asked, incredulity straining his voice. “I doubt the explanation is that simple.” But then Taggart turned and headed back the way they’d come, only this time he made his way to a little sidewalk crepe-stand not far from the boat. He ordered three and Mike and Anton watched in rapt awe as three Nutella and banana crepes took shape, only to be doused in Gran Marnier and flamed before being put on paper plates. Anton took one bite and swooned while Henry smiled at the memories of a little boy.

As they approached Time Bandits Henry saw men gathered there dockside, waiting, and when they moved to step aboard more men stepped out of the shadows and surrounded them.

Military Police. French Air Force. NATO Intelligence. And a captain from U.S. Naval Intelligence who tried her very best not to make eye contact with Captain Mike Lacy, U.S.N.

The group surrounded the Russian aviator. Handcuffs appeared, then Anton disappeared into the back of a dark blue Land Rover festooned with French military insignia.

And then the Russian was gone.

Henry turned and found Mike conversing with several of the NATO types; he turned his back on Lacy and stepped aboard, then he went below to take some meds while he was still able to concentrate. When Henry had calmed down he went back up to the cockpit and found Mike waiting for him there.

“Why?” Henry asked. “Why did you do it?”

“It’s who I am, Taggart. It’s my job. You were my job, but it’s over now. You made it this far and now it’s time for me to leave.”

Henry nodded. “Then I guess you’d better leave.”

“Well, good luck, Amigo. Seeya around the campfire.”

Henry nodded, and he stood there watching as Lacy stepped back into the shadows and disappeared.

The sudden quiet was overwhelming, his loneliness crushing.

He looked up to the masthead and saw only faint stars painted across the dome of the night. No spinning orbs. No Pinky.

No Dina. No Rolf.

He reached out to Eva and found only silence, the same when he tried Britt.

Taggart sat and flipped on the radio then hit the preset for the BBC World Service; he sat and listened to reports of nations around the earth slowly sorting through the rubble of sundered relations and dealing with simmering rumors of retribution, not at all surprised that things appeared to be headed to renewed conflicts in eastern Europe. He sighed and turned on the plotter and switched over to the weather overlay; a huge high pressure system had settled in over western Europe and several days of warm weather stretched ahead.

He heard a woman’s voice. Singing. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. And there she was, walking along the quay in pink culottes and a pastel yellow sweater. Short blond hair, a pink scarf over her head. She walked up to Time Bandits and stopped by the gate in the lifelines.

“Hi Henry!” Doris Day said. “Did you have a nice day sailing?”

He smiled and walked over to the gate and extended his hand. “You know it,” he said as he helped her aboard, then to a seat in the cockpit. “You know, I could swear I heard you passed away a few years back…?”

Her face split into an immense smile. “You looked a little too lonely just now so I thought I’d drop by and say hello.”

“Very thoughtful of you. Hello.”

“You were always so tongue tied around me. Why?”

“Because I had a crush on you.”

She giggled at that. “Well, truth be told, I had a little crush on you too.”

“Yeah, right.”

“No, really, I did. Your father took me up to a couple of your home games. I watched you play, and I always watched out for you when you came back from races.”

“So, this is what schizophrenia feels like? Is that what you’re telling me?”

She smiled again then leaned forward and pinched him playfully on the cheek, but then she stood and walked over to the gate and hopped down to the quay. She turned to him again, a little more serious now: “I was sorry to hear about Claire.”

Henry looked away, brushed away a tear. “Thanks.”

“You take care, Henry. Maybe we’ll…” 

But she stopped and turned away from him before she walked off into the night, leaving him alone with a million impossible questions hanging in the air apparent.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop soon.

Sorry for the quiet spell. Sometimes things don’t go as planned.

And yes, music still matters