The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 58.1

88th key cover image

And so…what were you expecting? A little music that mattered, once upon a time?

Chapter 58.1

Life was quiet now. Aside from the sea and the waves beyond the cliffs, which seemed to impose a rhythm all their own.

Yet Elizabeth was far away now, and the anchor that had moored Lloyd to his place in this order had suddenly gone. Cathy came undone just a little, before a sudden twinge in her belly changed the order of the universe one more time.

Ovarian cancer. Surgery. Chemo and radiation and the wildfires that followed. Elizabeth flying home to be with her mother and a hoped for sense of calm returned for a while, and yet with that quiet certitude firmly in mind, Harry Callahan finally understood just how much he had come to rely on a precious teenaged soul to hold his son’s life together.

Because now, suddenly, there was a little voice in the shadows that kept whispering to him. “Keep away. Don’t get too close to him. You’ll just push him away…like she did…”

Because, perhaps, Harry Callahan had arrived at that station in life where he was beginning to doubt all the simple things he had taken for granted all his life. Principally, that he was a good man. That his motivations were pure. No, now he was almost possessed by the idea that all the women he had ever known had rejected him for cause, that he was – somehow – little more or less than evil. He thought back to all the family disturbances he had responded to and a nauseating parade of angry men flashed through his mind’s eye, men ultimately helpless as he pistol-whipped them into submission, leaving them beaten and bloody on the living room floors of all their broken dreams.

He was standing in a surgical waiting room with DD and the Doc, looking out a window at stands of eucalyptus trees in the light of a golden morning sun. The air on the other side of the glass was thick and yellow-gray, the Stanford campus awash in autumnal smog, the temperature almost hitting triple digits, yet the only woman who could hold him to the present was in an operating room having her belly cut open…

He drifted to thoughts of Fujiko-san and all her silent rejections and he knew those had hurt most of all, that those cuts had been deepest. Yet he could always disappear. He could run from the pain, and so he had. To work. On the streets or in the air. And for a while he had even tried to talk with his old man, yet because some things never change those words never came easily, not even at the end. And so it went. He thought about Fujiko and the failure she represented and that naturally enough led him to thoughts about his father and how he had, ultimately, failed him as a son…so what made him think he was even remotely capable of being a father to his son…?

DD came up to him and handed him a cup of coffee, which for some reason reminded him of burnt acorns, and in the next instant he was thinking about Todd Bright and The Song…because wasn’t everything happening now because of that rock and rolling fiasco?

+++++

Bright was going to play Candlestick, so of course they had invited Harry and his family to come see the show. Then word had filtered down; Todd wanted Lloyd to perform their song on stage. Live. In front of seventy thousand people, playing with the group. 

This was a Big Deal, and Harry knew it. Yet he was against the very idea of his son up on a stage playing with a nascent super-group, potentially becoming some sort of teen idol, or worse, and without the mental framework to handle that kind of sudden fame. Yet Elizabeth had intervened, had promised to be there with Lloyd when he stepped out into the light, and more importantly, to be there after. And that was, what? – four months before she left to head east for college?

So Harry had relented.

The Song was slated to be the group’s second encore that night, because that was the song everyone in the Bay Area wanted to hear most…so make ‘em wait for it, right? Hit ‘em when they’re all up on their feet and screaming! Yeah! And…that was the plan.

So Harry and Cathy had watched the concert unfold from their seats, while Elizabeth and Lloyd looked on from backstage – yet from the beginning even Cathy noticed that Todd Bright was a little too juiced that night. His playing was forcefully loud but too many times he was off the beat or he messed up a chord, and a lot of people out in the crowd noticed. The other members of the group noticed. And then Todd Bright noticed, too.

So, after one of their older anthems Todd called Lloyd out on stage and handed over his guitar.

“I’m gonna handle the vocals,” he said to the eleven year old boy standing there in the light. “You play lead.”

And Lloyd had simply nodded. “Got it,” he said, and when Bright launched into material from the new album Lloyd gave what every music reporter in attendance regarded as a virtuoso performance. By the time the second encore was finished everyone in the stadium knew who the best guitarist on stage was, and even Todd Bright was ecstatic.

Because that had been the plan all along. Lloyd was going to be a bridge. The bridge…to draw in a new generation…and it had worked. Bright’s Candlestick performance was news, and then the rest of the tour suddenly sold out, while album sales roared off the charts to triple platinum.

And suddenly Lloyd Callahan was a very wealthy young man – who just so happened now wanted to tour with Bright.

+++++

So Elizabeth had come up with a kind of compromise solution. After her high school graduation ceremony, or so she said, she and Lloyd would join the group in Seattle and tour with them over the summer. In August she would head to college and Lloyd would return home, and it would be the adventure of a lifetime. Harry had been against the whole thing but first Elizabeth, and then Cathy had gone to work on him and, in the end, he realized he’d never really had an even chance, because while he had faced the enemy to meet them head-on, those closest to him had simply moved-in and out-flanked him when he wasn’t even looking.

But the truth of the matter was stranger still, for Lloyd had already achieved a rare kind of celebrity: when he walked down a street in the city people knew who he was. Girls stopped him on sidewalks and asked for his autograph and soon enough even going to a restaurant became an impossible nightmare, yet classmates at the little Sea Ranch Lakes elementary school hadn’t quite figured out how to deal with Lloyd yet, because they all still regarded him as a real asshole. Still, fame is fame, but there was no fame quite like the status an emerging Rock-God had in California back in the day.

So late one May day Harry and Cathy put their kids on an airplane and then they looked at one another as the enormity of what had just happened hit them both.

+++++

The next afternoon Harry went back into the city to look over a new property DD had found, then he dropped by the Rosenthal Store to meet with the staff and go over some new tech just in from Yamaha. There were two new transfers from the Copenhagen store working there now, an older fellow, an accountant, and a woman in her twenties named Ida. Everyone gathered around Callahan and listened intently to his halting description of Lloyd’s bravura performance at Candlestick, then they stood back and in mute appreciation watched as he banged out a Gershwin tune on a new Clavinova.

“Better send one of these up to the studio,” he gushed as he worked the keys.

“The action is pretty good, isn’t it?” Ida said as she watched the way his fingers moved over the keyboard, though Harry seemed to ignore her, only nodding vaguely after the fact.

He turned to the current store manager, a brilliant jazz pianist named Aksel. “Have your delivery crew pick up the old unit when they come, would you?”

“Of course. And are you liking the new Korg?”

Callahan nodded. “It came in handy laying out tracks on the new album,” he said quietly.

“Oh?” Ida said. “What album is that?”

And Harry looked at the woman and sort of smiled. “The new one – by Bright.”

“Really?” the woman replied, her eyes sparkling with fresh interest. “So, this new album was a family affair…” Yet she remembered thinking in the moments after she said those words that it looked like Harry Callahan wanted to kill and dismember her.

“We all saw Lloyd at Candlestick, but you were involved, too?” Aksel stated – and then more than unnecessarily he added: “This is outstanding!”

Callahan’s glance was withering, but then he seemed to catch himself even as he retreated a little. “I’m meeting Cathy for dinner in an hour. Are any of you free to join us?”

It turned out everyone was, so, hiding a minor grin, he called Trader Vic’s and reserved a small room. This revenge, he reasoned, would be very sweet indeed, because he knew just what he wanted to do…

+++++

DD came up from behind and put her arm around his waist. “It’s only been an hour,” she sighed.

“I was hoping… Well, I was hoping they wouldn’t find anything. But I guess the longer they’re in there, the longer they have her open, that just means they’ve found more. Like more cancer they have to remove, right?”

“You don’t know that, Harry.”

“When does Elizabeth’s flight get in?”

DD looked at her watch. “Three hours and change. One of the guys will fly her up here.”

Harry nodded. “Thanks for taking care of all that.”

“What about Lloyd? Why didn’t he come?”

“Said he couldn’t handle it. He was balled up on the floor, hiding in a corner. Looked like he’d been crying all night.”

DD nodded. “When you get right down to it, Harry, Cathy has been the only real mother he’s ever had. This has got to be rough.”

“I keep thinking about Frank. Maybe she just wants to go be with him now, you know?”

“Maybe,” DD sighed, “yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen her happier than she has been the past few years.”

“I’m not sure I can go on without her, DD. And I’m not really sure I can handle the boy without her.”

“He needs you, Harry. And he’ll really need you now. More than ever. You’re going to have to step up and get the job done, because this may be the most important thing you ever do.”

Callahan sucked in a deep breath and straightened up when he realized he’d been slouching a little, but it struck DD as a little comical, too…like he was getting ready to shoulder the extra load.

A nurse came into the waiting room and walked over to the doc; he pointed at Callahan and the nurse came over. “Sorry,” she began, “but this is going to take longer than expected.”

Harry nodded and he tried to meet her eyes, but he turned away and resumed staring out the window – looking across Lasuen Grove toward the stadium – and if anything the smog looked worse now. Almost, he thought, like burnt oranges. He put his hand out and touched the glass, feeling the heat on the far side of this air conditioned cocoon, and his eye was drawn to a 747 departing SFO – spewing even more crap into the atmosphere – and he shook his head at the wonder of it all.

“What have we done?” he sighed

When he turned back to face the room DD was sitting with the doc again – and it struck him that this was his reality now. This room. These friends. Because he could feel it now…Cathy would be leaving him soon.

He turned back to his reflection in the window, but this time Frank was waiting for him…

+++++

The group from the store filed into Trader Vic’s and met Harry and Cathy in the bar; there were six of them so Harry had a huge corner booth set up and he was ready for them. Appetizers were already on the way, he said, and he recommended everyone start off the evening with a round of Suffering Bastards. Cathy had looked at him and rolled her eyes, but everyone followed Harry’s lead and ordered one – and then, being musicians one and all, the group got down to talking about the only common ground they shared…

Lloyd and the Bright concert at Candlestick.

Cathy cringed. Because she had seen the change that had come over Harry in the days after the concert. It wasn’t really jealousy, or so she’d thought at first, but now she really wasn’t all that sure that it wasn’t…yet the very idea that a man of Callahan’s broad accomplishments could be jealous of an eleven year old boy was frankly ludicrous.

Or…was it, really?

But then Cathy had focused on the blond Dane sitting across from Harry. Ida something. Cute as hell, incredible blue eyes more like huge, cobalt spheres that never seemed to focus on anyone but Harry. Was she smitten or just another opportunist out on the prowl?

But no…it turned out that she was a serious student of music and had long ago taken up the challenge of learning Imogen Schwarzwald’s body of work, so, Cathy thought, it was only natural the girl direct her attention on Imogen’s son.

But it didn’t take long to figure out that there was more in the girl’s eyes than pure intellectual curiosity, and why not? Harry had, she saw, matured in the way some men do, meaning he’d simply grown more sexy as he aged. Besides, he was still pretty good in the sack…

And as Cathy watched Harry and Ida over the course of the evening she grew convinced there was something there. Yet she wasn’t jealous, and the realization left her breathless and amused at the same time.

And as evenings so often do, conversations split quite naturally into various pockets of interest, with most of the Danes from the store wanting to talk with Cathy about the concert, and Ida wanting to talk with Harry about his mother’s recently recovered Third Piano Concerto – the so-called Theresienstadt Concerto

“There’s real power inside that work,” she said at one point, “something that seems to defy time and space.”

“Oh?” he replied. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a fool, but the first time I played through the second movement I felt as if I was drifting through time. That something within the music had carried me back…”

“Back? Where?”

“I’m not sure, but it almost felt as though I could see her, your mother, but at the time she was surrounded by children. By very little children, most of them starving to death.”

He nodded. “And do you know the origins of the piece?”

“No, not really. Only that she composed it during the war.”

He looked at her then, taking real care now to contain his emotions but aware that this girl might very well know a lot more than she was willing to say right now. “I am surprised you’ve never read about the origins of the piece,” he replied.

“I’m not aware there’s anything on the material, at least not publicly. Are you telling me there is?”

“Perhaps,” he said – maybe a trifle evasively.

“Ooh…I love a mystery. Which can only mean that there is.”

Yet Callahan had simply smiled at her parry, unwilling to trust this newcomer just yet. Still, she had that look, and he found her eyes hard to ignore now. Because she had the eyes of a serious musician seeking traces of an ephemeral wisp, grasping in the dark for that quiet space between notes on the page when eyes closed and time seemed to Come Alive with meaning – that had always been hiding in plain sight…

+++++

The nurse walked with him into the recovery room, yet she seemed to give this growling man a little extra space. There was something about him…latent, explosive…like a pyroclastic flow that seemed too far away to do any harm…until it was upon you and there was nowhere left to run.

And she stepped further away when the man came to the patient.

He gasped once then broke out in tears, and she thought she knew just what he was feeling in that moment. He was coming to the realization that this woman had come to the fight of her life just a little too late to make a difference. The damage was already done, her road ahead a short, simple way through the woods.

And then the nurse had helped him sit because for a moment it seemed as if he was going to pass out…

Yet she didn’t leave the man just yet. She stood behind him and watched as he took the woman’s hand. She listened as he held her hand to the side of his face and as he said the words all the husbands and wives said at times like this. “I love you.” “I don’t know if I can make it without you.” And the one that hurt the most: “Please, please dear God, don’t take her from me now.”

Yes, he said them all. They all did, didn’t they?

And through it all a pale green respirator pumped a mix of gases into Cathy Bullitt’s lungs.

+++++

“This drink is really strong,” the girl said, slurring a word or two along the way.

“But good, no?” Harry smiled.

“The first one was good. The second was very good, but I think this is my fourth…”

“Actually, I think that one is number five.”

“I am going to be sick, aren’t I?”

Callahan nodded, though he didn’t quite manage to contain his grin. “Yes, I think that’s in the cards tonight.”

“You did this to me on purpose?” she asked, her swimming eyes narrowing a little. “You want to take me to your bed?”

“Ya know, actually, I’m not at all sure Cathy would approve.”

“Would you like me to ask her,” Ida said, grinning a little too easily now. “Or did you want us both tonight?”

Harry smiled at her frontal assault but then turned to Aksel, the store manager. “I think she’s going to need help getting home tonight. Think you can handle that?”

“Oh dear,” Ida said, burping once then looking hurriedly for the nearest restroom.

“Maybe you’d better go with her?” Harry said to him after she stood and dashed towards the Ladies Room.

And she almost made it, too.

+++++

Elizabeth stood over her mother, holding her hand in the darkened room, not at all knowing what to think now that their lives were changing in so many unexpected ways. ‘Should I leave school now?’ she asked herself. ‘Should I come home and take care of her? And what about Harry? Will he be able to handle Lloyd – without mom’s steady hand guiding his own?’

‘And why isn’t Lloyd here?’

Was he, she wondered, going to abdicate even now and turn Lloyd over to DD and the doc? ‘That would almost fit, wouldn’t it? She does everything else for him…so he certainly doesn’t need me…’

Yet when she’d seen him standing by her mother’s bed all such thoughts had withered and died on the vine. He was a wreck. Totally lost, a broken man.

‘There’s no way he’ll be able to handle Lloyd. No way at all…’

+++++

He was driving a 911 these days, a ragtop, because, he said, he liked the drive out of the city in the fresh air. Now Cathy sat beside him wrapped in a heavy coat and with the little Porsche’s heater blasting away, leaning a little his way and staring at him with a smile on her face. He had taken her to the gynecologists office and had even sat in the waiting room, if a bit stoically, waiting out there with all the other women…

And she’d felt so happy to see him waiting for her there that she simply didn’t want to spoil the mood. So…they had gone to the Fog City Diner and held hands like teenagers – again – and still she hadn’t mentioned her conversation with the physician.

Until they were almost home.

“I wonder how many times we’ve made this drive together?” she said – out of the blue.

And he had turned and looked at her. Waiting. Patiently.

“The lab work was loaded with markers,” she said next, because she was ready now.

“And?”

“Friday morning at Stanford. The early morning slot.”

And Harry had nodded once then reached for her hand.

“I think I’m afraid, Harry. I can feel it, you know? Something inside me has changed.”

He felt his hand strengthen around hers.

“It’s hard to explain, really. Like an icy cold hand reaches into you, right into your gut, and you just know.”

“I was with Frank when he found out,” Harry said at last.

“I didn’t know that. I wonder why he didn’t tell me?”

“He was protecting you, I think. He never really came out and said it that way, but that’s what it felt like to me.”

“Could you call Elizabeth when we get home?” Cathy asked. “I’d like her to be here.”

“Of course.”

“And I think I’d like to tell Lloyd, if that’s okay with you.”

He’d looked away then, but in the end it was easy enough to see the wisdom of her decision.

+++++

Todd Bright came out to the studio a few weeks after Cathy returned from the hospital, saying he wanted to work on some new material while the group took a break from touring. Implying, in his way, that he wanted Lloyd to lend him a hand when the boy wasn’t in school. It was all very logical sounding, too. Especially after Elizabeth returned to school – now that Harry had his hands full taking care of both Cathy and Lloyd.

And Harry was hospitable enough after Todd came ‘round. He and the doc fired up the grill down on the patio and cooked dinner for everyone almost every night, and for a time the return to this vague semblance of normalcy seemed to lift Cathy’s spirits – but her health was a day-by-day thing by that point. The cancer was everywhere and spreading faster than the chemo could counter and her life had been reduced to this one simple, irreducible calculus. She was – they were – running out of time.

And through it all Lloyd was internalizing Cathy’s transformation, manifesting moods he had no way of understanding – let alone the wherewithal to deal with such a rapid collapse – yet maybe things really do happen for a reason.

At least, that’s what Todd Bright told the boy as they worked on their next single.

© 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 before 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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