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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