The Eighty-eighth Key (58.2)

88th key cover image

A short section today – but we’re getting to the point where music really matters…so pay attention…because you never really know where it’s going to take you. Or do you?

Chapter 58.2

The boy stood over the woman as she slept, for a time his eyes lost in the subtle textures of her hair. He thought he saw a pulsing in her neck and his eyes moved there, taking in the smooth, quiet motions of her beating heart, yet he quickly moved on because he realized it hurt too much to think about that heart growing still. ‘Why did my mother leave?’ he wanted to ask, but then again he’d never really gotten to know her. This woman was his mother, but how could that be? She wasn’t, not really. 

‘I wasn’t important enough to my mother. That’s why she left. Nothing else makes sense.’

“What are you doing in here, Spud?” his father said, coming out of the shower now and almost dressed for the day. “It’s kind of early for you to be up.”

But Lloyd had continued staring at Cathy, completely bereft now. Terrified. It was impossible not to see everything coming into focus. Death is. Coming for her. Where would he be without her? Who would understand his darkest moods if not this other mother?

Then he felt his father come close, felt his father’s hand reach out to him – but he pulled away and ran from the room.

+++++

Todd and Harry were scheduled for some serious studio-time in the coming days, with session musicians coming up from LA for most of the scheduled time in the second and third weeks, too. As these musicians represented a fifteen thousand dollar a day outlay, their time simply couldn’t be wasted, and even Todd recognized that.

So Todd started brainstorming, coming up with ideas and then bouncing them off Harry. Ideas Todd had nurtured while still out on the road began to take shape, and while Todd laid out simple guitar riffs – and occasionally the words he had in mind – Harry shaped the ideas on his racks of keyboards.

“Martin quit, Harry,” Todd said unexpectedly at one point their first morning. “Tired of the whole thing. Done.”

Martin Quist had been Bright’s keyboardist from the beginning, and while he had never been a real ‘creative’ he’d been a solid performer, especially out on the road. “Oh? What are you going to do?”

“Got no clue, man. I don’t suppose you’d come out on the road with us…?”

“No, I don’t see that happening.”

“Damn. I was kind of hoping…”

“Stage fright, Todd. Can’t do it.”

“No shit? Now that I isn’t see coming.”

“I had a hard enough time playing when my parents were around…”

“Really? So you never played for anyone?”

“No. There was a girl.”

“Was? What happened?”

“She died. High school.”

“Bummer. Sorry, man.”

“We went everywhere together. Taking pictures. Of everything, I think, and each and every photograph we took was the most important piece of art in the history of the universe.”

“I know that feeling. But don’t you think that just maybe whatever piece of art you happen to be working on is, in that moment, the most important thing ever?”

Callahan sighed. “You know, I haven’t written much on my own. I think I’ve always been content to play other material.”

“Yeah, you do kinda seem to have a thing for Gershwin.”

“So, you noticed, huh?”

Todd laughed a little. “Kinda-sorta. What about the stuff your mom wrote? You ever play that stuff?”

And Callahan shook his head. “No, not often. Not my thing.”

“What is your thing, Callahan? And don’t say Gershwin…”

Callahan sat back and thought for a while, then he kind of shook his head a little before he spoke. “I think maybe Bill Evans was on the right path. A trio. I guess if I could do anything I’d find a good bassist and drummer and just do my thing…”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah.”

“You ever think about doing it?”

“Sometimes.”

“What’s stopping you?”

“Timing, I guess. Besides, I’m just another hack musician. No one would want to sit and listen to me.”

Todd rolled his eyes. “Timing? What do you mean?”

“The time never felt right.”

“What would ‘right’ feel like?”

“No responsibilities, no one to take care of. Then maybe I could just let go.”

Todd’s gaze sharpened and he focused hard on Callahan now, listening to the way he moved, the way he breathed. “Is letting go hard?”

Callahan nodded. “It seems like that’s all I’ve done with my life. Let go. Fall in love and then let go.”

“Tell me about her, Harry. The photographer. What was that like?”

“I taught her how to hear and she taught me how to see…”

“So…you completed each other?”

Callahan nodded. “Completed. Yeah. That’s about the right word.”

“What happened. To her, I mean?”

“Pregnant, and I didn’t know about it, then she went to see my mom – for advice. Mom sent her, well, not really directly but inadvertently, to an abortionist and she died afterwards.”

“Jesus, Harry. Man, I’m sorry…” Todd watched Callahan’s breathing change, then he saw the tears. “Do you, like, ever talk about this stuff with anyone?”

Harry shook his head, roughly wiped his face.

“Well, thanks for trusting me. I mean it, Harry.”

Callahan nodded. “We’d better get to work, Amigo. We’re burning daylight.”

Todd looked over by the entrance and saw Cathy standing there in her bathrobe, and she didn’t look – right. Harry followed Todd’s eyes then he saw her and ran to her side.

“I don’t feel right, Harry.”

“You’re burning up, baby. Come on, let’s get you to bed and let me call the doc…”

+++++

Cathy’s was a post-op infection. Septic shock followed, and death two days later. Once the ambulance picked her up, and when once she left the house on the cliffs, she never returned. Elizabeth did, but she seemed distant the entire time she was home, and she kept to that distance when Lloyd was around. Who knows, Harry thought. Maybe she blames me.

There was no else, were no other heirs, no one to divide the estate with, and Elizabeth didn’t want to sell the house. She’d keep it, she said as she packed to leave, to keep that part of her mother close – if only to remind her of better times. She had DD drive her to the airport.

Harry seemed to dissolve after he brought Cathy’s ashes to the cliffs from the funeral home. He was supposed to scatter her ashes on ocean breezes – but he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t handle the idea of losing even what little there was of her left, at least until he saw the look in his son’s eyes – when Lloyd saw the crematory urn and ran from the house. Horror. Revulsion. Despair. Those were the words that came to mind as he watched his son run through the rocks down to the beach.

+++++

Todd had made real progress…or so it seemed to Callahan when he ventured back into the studio a few weeks after Cathy passed. He looked at all the studio musicians huddled together in a group and wondered why Todd chose to use stand-ins instead of his band-mates, then he watched Todd in action. The group gathered around Todd and listened – really listened to him as he explained what he wanted, what he was trying to achieve with a certain sound, and no one argued with him. Not one of them offered an opinion – unless asked – and this freed Todd to let his imagination roam.

“It’s a wonder more groups don’t do it this way,” Harry said as he watched the musicians packing up for the day.

“Brian Wilson started the thing, at least in the LA scene. I think he made Pet Sounds without his brothers, then the whole Surf’s Up Feel Flows thing that followed, but that’s what broke them up, too. He was getting really out there, man. He’s still the best.”

“You mean he used session artists to write those songs?”

“Yeah. And when he got the music where he wanted it he brought in the group and they recorded their version. The problem, at least from what I’ve heard, is their label liked the session versions more.”

“Shit. Yeah, I can see that causing problems.”

“Lloyd came down last night while I was wrapping up and I just wanted to know, Harry…is that gonna be a problem?”

Harry looked at Todd and shrugged. “You know, if you can get him to talk, to open up even just a little, well…that just might be the best thing that could happen right now…”

Todd nodded. “I didn’t want to step on anyones toes, that’s all, Harry. I know it’s a tough time but you’re about the only real friend I got in my life right now, and I really don’t want to fuck that up.”

Harry paused and looked at Todd, then nodded. “Well, thanks for asking. And I don’t know, but he seems to like talking to you, so let’s just go with it. Now…show me what you got…”

That little abdication, Harry’s little surrender, probably didn’t register as such that day, and who knows…maybe it never did…yet the truth of the matter was easy enough to see when looking back on things a few years later. Harry simply stopped trying to talk to Lloyd after that. Maybe he was so used to being rejected by the people who claimed to love him that this turning away seemed almost normal to Callahan, yet both DD and the doc – those two closest to the unfolding implosion – noticed the change and remarked that what was going on out in the house on the cliffs was nothing less than a slow-motion train wreck.

Central to the run-up was Todd Bright and his lingering addictions. Of course heroin was the main attraction, at least in the beginning. Yet the whole house of cards came tumbling down out there on the cliffs when it happened that Todd Bright had fallen in love with Harry Callahan…

© 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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