Come Alive (30.1)

Sorry for the – pause – but another ambulance ride intervened and, for a while, the outcome appeared to be in some doubt. That’s the bad news. The good news? I’m home again and one of my youngest girls presented me with a litter of pups, so I’m busy making Momma-san my special concoction and doing my best to write a page or two.

And yes, of course, music always matters – so would you please tell me who I am?

Chapter 30.1

Early morning, Christmas Eve, Henry’s group standing on the platform at the Paris St-Lazare railway station. Henry in a wheelchair, Rolf by his side, while Dina stood behind the chair – grasping the handles possessively – as if daring anyone to challenge her right to take charge of Henry here and now. Anton stands off to the side, away from all three super-charged alpha-females, wary of them as he watches as they angled for position. He almost wished Captain Lacy had decided to join them, but on second thought he knew Lacy might prove to be the one volatile element that would send Dina over the edge. Rotterdam had been terrible, he realized, but Dina cutting loose today might mean the end of everything.

It was cold out on the platform, and as Anton watched little tendrils of steam waft away from the three woman he couldn’t help but think they looked a little like angry bulls readying to face a matador, and the sight confused him. He had simply assumed Dina no longer cared for Taggart, so much so he’d been more than a little surprised when he first saw her and Rolf stepping onboard Time Bandits. Hadn’t she run away? Had she not acquiesced and asked for a divorce? He could understand her return in terms of a protective impulse – to protect her grandson, Rolf – but he simply couldn’t fathom the fierce protectiveness he saw inscribed on her face as she stood behind Henry just then.

Yet Edith looked most seriously bent out of shape, like she hadn’t quite expected this last fight for the possession of Henry’s soul to be be held on such bitterly contested ground. This was, after all, Claire’s ground – and therefore her’s, too. Hallowed ground, terrain that had defined her entire life, but now – suddenly – this…imposter…was here, staking claim to a soul she had no right to possess. As Anton watched, malice seemed to drip from her eyes like pus from oozing sores.

And even Tracy seemed caught up in the moment. Standing back from the two divas, watching them, understanding what each felt yet pitilessly ready to push them out of the way at the decisive moment. She knew what was coming, and she was fairly sure she even knew when Henry would pass, so it looked to Anton like the youngest of the three was laying back in the shadows, like a lioness waiting to pounce on unsuspecting jackals.

Only Rolf seemed vaguely detached from the vulturine machinations beating the air over the grouped tendrils; only the boy seemed to cling to Henry with a kind of innocent purity, held within feelings he simply had no right to understand. To Anton, the boy looked suspended between love and fear – and a great, yawning unknown. His mother was gone now, taken from him by a host of unknowns and yet for all intents and purposes doing just fine – somewhere. And while Henry was like the father he’d never had, Henry was also the author of his mother’s disappearance, so how could a boy possibly love the dying man?

“I thought you had arranged for Milos to take us to Honfleur?” Edith growled.

“I wanted to take the train,” Henry sighed. “He’ll pick us up in LeHavre and bring us back tonight.”

Dina drummed her fingers on the wheelchair’s bicycle grips, her eyes inexplicably drawn to a locomotive’s lights as it pulled into the station. She watched the train glide to a stop and stood back to let passengers disembark from the First Class carriage, then she pushed Henry onboard…

“Where do you want to sit?” she asked Henry, leaning close to his ear as she spoke.

“Up there on the wheelchair row, by the window, please.”

Everyone settled in seats close to Henry, but for some reason he seemed lost to them already. He was, apparently, adrift in memory, and Anton smiled as the wonder of it all washed over the moment.

+++++

He’d made six flights already, but so far not one of the NASA astronauts assigned to the program had been able to get the ARV off the ground, and if Pinky knew the reason why she simply wasn’t going to tell anyone anything. Rupert Collins was, apparently, allowed onboard when Henry flew the beast, but as soon as anyone from NASA or the Air Force stepped aboard, the craft went into sleep mode and resolutely failed to respond to any commands – even Henry’s.

And people were pissed off. Some very important people, as it happened.

At Henry Taggart most of all, but some of that institutional anger had spilled over onto Rupert Collins, too. Yet the powers-that-be saw a way out of the dilemma, a plan that might even rehabilitate Rupert’s mojo enough to act as a kind of life preserver. Literally.

But Taggart?

By now, almost everyone in Maclean was certain Henry Taggart was behind this series of events, and they wanted him out of the picture. Not so much ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ but ‘dead and gone.’

+++++

An astronomer detected the asteroid on June 25th, 1908 while conducting a routine sweep of the southern sky. When she realized what she was looking at she called one of the Blues.

This was their project, after all. And a chunk of rock this big would seriously disrupt their work.

“What have you found?” the Blue asked as soon as it popped into her observatory.

The Red looked at her display and a magnified image of the impactor appeared.

“Do you have mass and velocity yet?”

The Red blinked once and graphs appeared on one screen, while the most likely point of impact appeared on a much larger, central display.

The Blue assimilated the information then closed his eyes; a moment later several Blues and one Green appeared beside the astronomer’s desk, their eyes first taking in the central display, then the smaller panel displaying all other known or relevant data. The Blues turned to the Green, who nodded before he closed his eyes.

Moments later a Pink appeared and, terrified, the Blues winked out and disappeared. The Green nodded to the central display and the Pink read his thought, then the astronomers.

“It will impact the polar ice cap in four days,” the Pink began. “Tsunamis and concomitant sea level rise will inundate all coastal cities within eighteen hours. Loss of life should be between sixty and seventy percent of the existing human population; sea life will be eradicated and ninety percent of the planet’s surface will be icebound within a year.” 

Greens were decision makers, but when decisions like this one needed to be made all Greens were obligated to consult with at least one Pink before taking action. Pinks were primarily pilots and astrogators, but of most importance to the question at hand, they were empaths, and not surprisingly the teams’ Pinks had been in charge of all contact with the indigenous population for the last fifteen thousand years.

“Do you want to change the point of impact?” the Pink asked.

“Yes.”

“Is it possible to deflect into deep space?”

“No. With the available energy, an impact in this forested land mass will result in the least loss of life. However, in order to achieve this, the lifter will need to maintain contact with the impactor almost all of the way to the surface.”

“During breakup, you mean to say?”

“Yes. Neither the craft nor the pilot are likely to survive.”

The Pink understood before she disappeared. Blues are such cowards, she thought.

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

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Come Alive (29.3)

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A short romp today, just to fill in a few cracks.

Chapter 29.3

He opened his eyes, saw firelight flickering on stone walls the color of grainy old mustard, then he heard Doris singing Que sera, sera somewhere off in the distance. Then – he wrinkled his nose and sniffed the air…

“Hamburgers? Are you cooking hamburgers?” Henry asked.

“So what if I am?” a cranky, half-inebriated voice replied – only this voice sounded just like Thelma Ritter’s, the actress who’d played Alma – Doris’s ‘perpetually on the prowl for fresh gossip’ housekeeper in the film Pillow Talk. “You want maybe I should fix you a Bloody Mary?” Alma snarled.

“I want to fuckin’ wake up now,” Taggart grumbled, trying to sit up again, his head exploding like a Technicolor kaleidoscope – again.

“Take it easy, Sport,” Tony Randall said as he breezed through the ancient stone living room on his way to the kitchen. “Don’t push it. The first couple of days are the worst…”

When Rock Hudson came in the door Henry rolled onto his side and did his best to ignore everything about this place…until Doris came in and sat on the edge of the sofa.

“How ya feelin’, Hank?”

“Peachy. Let me know what you get the elephant off my forehead, okay?”

She chuckled. “Come on, let’s get you up and go for a little walk.”

Then another blinding flash hit and he was back in an emergency room…in the middle of yet another intricately choreographed life-saving ballet…

+++++

Collins was standing behind him, watching his every move. “Why does it feel to me like you’ve done all this before, Henry?”

“Because I’ve done all this before.”

“Indeed. Do tell…?”

But Henry had simply shrugged that question off – as he concentrated intently on all the things Pinky had shown him – which was, essentially, nothing at all.

“You’ll need to clear your mind,” she’d told him, “in order to make the initial connection. The reactor will automatically ramp up output to meet the anticipated demand based on your initial input…”

“And I still don’t have to do anything?”

“That’s correct, because the same process is at work here, just like we’ve been working on with the orca. Logical progression, remember? If you get in a panic and blow the order of operations you create a discontinuity, so just slow down and think about the next thing you want to do. The system is reading that information, remember? But it’s also programmed to look at the logical progression of operations based on your current thought patterns. Got it?”

“I think so.”

“Just remember this, Henry: discontinuities suck, big time.”

So he looked at the shuttle Discovery’s anticipated transfer orbit on one graph in the 3D interface, and then he looked at the diamond pattern he was going to make in order to get to the third Lagrange point – and then back to the airfield here in Washington – on the large central display, and when their own trajectory had been computed the lines inside the 3D display turned from red to blue.

Discovery was currently approaching Hawaii at a modest 17,700 MPH, and would enter North American airspace a few hundred miles north of Vancouver, BC in just a few minutes, and once the computer had made a few adjustments in its orbital calculations the blue annunciator on the main panel turned white – and then Henry did exactly what Pinky had told him to.

He leaned back and shut his eyes, visualized what he wanted to happen and then just let the computer take over from there.

Klaxons were blaring all around the airfield when a few people thought they saw something rise through the aperture and zip off into the northwest sky, but few had really thought it possible something so large could move so fast, or with so much speed milliseconds after lift-off…

+++++

He felt like he was caught in some kind of perverted tug-of-war – pulled into the light one moment, then back into flickering firelight the next – but once he felt Pinky there by his side he seemed to relax a little…

“You’re fighting it, Henry. You just need to let go, let it happen…”

“I’m not ready,” he cried. “I’ve got more things to get done.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, dammit! Let me get back to the boat! Please!”

+++++

He could see Discovery on the plot, then he realized he’d have to slow down, a lot, or they’d blow by so fast no one on board would see a thing…

And no sooner had he thought that than vectors started to shift on his primary display and their speed began to drop precipitously, and a moment later he watched as the two trend lines began to converge.

“What are you doing, Henry?”

“Did you guys paint any identifiers on this thing…anywhere?”

“Identifiers? What do you mean, like…”

“Anything. Like even a big fat Boeing logo somewhere on the bottom.”

“Yeah. Some of the guys put the Phantom Works logo on the bottom. Why?”

“Excellent,” Henry sighed.

And just then the General saw the shuttle a few miles ahead. “Taggart…what the fuck are you going to do…?”

“Time to play close encounters, Rupert.”

“What?”

And a few seconds later the shuttle was only a few hundred yards ahead; so Taggart thought “match velocities” as they pulled up alongside…

+++++

“Uh, skipper, I hate to mention it, but you need to take a look at this.”

“What about that bus three under-volt?”

“Not now, Skipper.”

“What am I supposed to be looking at?”

The pilot pointed out his window and coughed once. “At the goddam flying saucer, sir.”

+++++

“Do I need to remind you this is a Top Secret project, Mr. Taggart?”

“It sure was, Rupert,” Henry said, standing and walking over to an exceptionally large viewing port. “Good job, too.”

Collins came over and stood beside Henry and they both peered into the shuttle’s cockpit; at least four helmeted heads were crowded around the cluster of windows on the shuttle’s starboard side, a couple of Nikons bursting away just for good measure, and Collins groaned. 

“Swell. I wonder if this will make the front page of tomorrow’s USA Today.”

Henry fiddled with his belt and unzipped his pants, and his cargo shorts dropped to the floor…

“Henry Taggart! You’re not…!”

+++++

“Uh, skip, he’s shooting the moon. At us.”

“Takahashi?” the shuttle commander growled. “You getting all this?”

“Hai! 400mm make very big moon.”

“Skipper? It looks like the other one is going to do it, too.” 

“Gotta be a couple of Air Force pukes,” the shuttle commander, a Naval Academy graduate, said.

+++++

Henry got back in his seat and rolled the craft to the right, exposing the underbelly – and the huge Phantom Works logo painted there – then he commanded the ship to make for L1.

+++++

“All right,” the commander snarled. “I want all your compact flash cards – NOW! And no one is going to say a goddam word about this, are they?”

+++++

Pinky had warned him, yet even so the sight was staggering.

There was another ship out there, already parked at L3, but this one was beyond huge.

“What is that, Henry?” the General asked. “It looks like another ship.”

“It is.”

“You knew about this?”

“I did.”

“Is it Pinky’s people?”

“No, General, but you should know that, uh, her people, well, uh, they borrowed the original spacecraft that you copied.”

“They…what? You mean they swiped a spacecraft – from these folks?” Collins said, nodding at the huge structure. “And we’re headed there now? In a copy of their ship?”

“Ah-yup, that’s about the size of it.”

“And is this going to be, well, you know, like First Contact?”

“Yessir.”

“Henry! You’re wearing cargo shorts and flip-flops!”

“My t-shirt is new, General. And…oh, before I forget, they’re telepaths so try to keep a lid on it, willya?”

“What’s that supposed to mean, Taggart?”

“Just try not to think about state secrets, shit like that?”

“Now Henry…just how the hell am I supposed to do that?”

“Hmm…you ever see Debbie Does Dallas?”

© 2021 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 (29.2)

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A flight of fancy begins because everyone wants to, and yes, because you know this much is true.

Chapter 29.2

He felt someone attaching a line to the port in his chest, then he felt a needle in his arm as someone started drawing blood, yet he couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or not. He thought they were, at least it kind of felt like they might be, but he saw nothing but pure, blinding whiteness…and even that was tenuous…like looking through a veil of thin mist…until even that began to disappear.

+++++

It had been an Army Air Force base during the war, and not much since. Located about halfway between Seattle and Spokane, the facility had never been a particularly important one – used by primary flight cadets working out of Spokane on basic navigation exercises and doing touch-n-goes. There were the usual three runways in an equilateral triangular shape, one small tower and a couple of hangars for in-transit aircraft that broke down in flight – in short, it was just like any one of a hundred such airports around the country that had popped up overnight in the middle of nowhere right after Pearl Harbor.

And so after the war this airfield had sort of almost kinda maybe disappeared, except that Boeing liked to use it when a new aircraft popped off the assembly line and began pre-delivery flight testing. So in time Boeing built a couple of more hangars, the tower was enlarged and two of the three runways lengthened, and the airport never faded away, and when the DoD put the property up for sale Boeing snapped it up and, now a private airfield, it became ‘off-limits’ to the general aviation community.

Then, in the mid-1980s, the airfield’s status changed again.

The area around the airport was designated ‘restricted – military’ on aeronautical charts, so even innocent looking Cessnas and Pipers that intruded were run off by Air Force interceptors, yet because everything going on out there was in some way, shape, or form related to goings-on at Boeing no one gave it much thought. After all, a non-stop parade of 747 freighters was using the facility day and night these days.

And this parade really moved into high speed after Bechtel was engaged to build one of the largest aircraft hangars ever conceived, a building with three times the area of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, and at this old, barely used airfield, too. Construction proved time consuming and huge cost overruns plagued the entire project…if only because ninety-nine percent of the building was located underground. Still, five years after the project began the last construction vehicles left the area…tearing out all the local roads that led to the airfield as they withdrew…

+++++

Henry felt her fingers running through his hair and smiled, then he opened his eyes.

Yes, just so. Doris again. He could tell simply by the way air moved with her.

“You’re back with us, I see,” she said, wrinkling her nose, her eyes squinting just a little when she did. Then before he could say a word she looked up and it was like they could both see what was going on with him ‘back there’ – in that other place – and she took his hand and squeezed a little before she let go of him once again…

+++++

Rupert picked him up at the office on Lake Union and they drove over to an ancient chowder shack on the north side of the lake and hunted for a parking place before making their way in to wait for a table.

“Why don’t you buy a place around here?” the General asked. “Seems like it would be a good fit for you, and I wouldn’t need to spend a half hour looking for a parking place every time we come here.”

Taggart shrugged. “Don’t want to waste the money.”

“Seems like you got plenty of money, Henry.”

“I doubt I’ll stick around here much longer, Rupert. Maybe a year or two…then…”

But the General had scowled when he heard those words, then had kind of growled. “I’ve got plans for you, Hank, so don’t get all worked up about moving down to Hollywood just yet.”

Henry looked over the menu – doing his best to ignore the General – but they both already knew the damn thing by heart so that proved an unsuccessful dodge.

“Crab bisque and a seafood Louie, right Hank?”

“Yessir. And an iced tea.”

“Uh-huh. Look, we’re ready for you out in the desert. It’s time. I know you don’t want to be involved, but it looks like we’re stuck without you.”

But Taggart simply shrugged.

Collins took out a piece of paper and wrote a number on it and slid it across the table to Henry. “You get that just for showing up. You succeed…you get that fucker off the ground and you can multiply that figure by ten.”

And Henry had looked up at the General and nodded. “Okay. Then what?”

“We’ll need you to train a couple of NASA types…”

“Astronauts?”

“Yup.”

“And then I’m done, right? You just let me go?”

“Yup. That’s the plan,” General Collins said, looking right at Taggart while lying through his teeth. Because that wasn’t the plan…not at all and not even close. 

No…once Henry had a small group of Air Force pilots trained and fully up to speed, he’d have an accident somewhere out in the desert. Driving too fast probably, but it would be something like that. Collins had disagreed, of course, but people higher up the food chain had already made the decision, and that decision was final, someone in DC told him in no uncertain terms.

And so a few days later Henry waited on a bench not far from the software company’s office. He was going over some code while he worked on a bottle of Pellegrino, enjoying the midday sun when Rupert pulled up curbside and called out to him.

“You ready?”

Henry had ignored the question as he got in Ruperts old yellow Buick. “The money still isn’t in my account.”

“It will be, by closing,” Collins said as he pulled out into traffic.

“You know, General, when I was in that tank hooked up to the orca my memories were transferred to him…”

“Yeah, I think you told me that already.”

“Yeah? Well, the funny thing is, he still feels exactly what I feel.”

“You mean, like right now?”

“I think so, at least on some level I think he does.”

“That’s gotta be kinda weird.”

“Weird? Yeah, I guess so. But the weirdest part is really kind of out there, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t told you about this before.”

“Oh? Like what?”

“Yeah, I know. Now, I don’t really understand how all this shit works but now I can see things really far away. Maybe like orcas see things through echo location…that kind of far away…but on a practical level it feels more like I’m playing chess. Like I can see a couple of moves ahead, that kinda thing. And as a result, well, I can see when somebody lies to me…because lies aren’t logical moves.”

“What?”

“Yeah. And really, think about it. When you make a move on the board, say like when you tell me you’re going to cut me loose when I’m done with all this, I can see the next couple of moves you’re going to make. The logical moves, General.”

“Uh-huh.”

“An accident on a desert road? Isn’t that how they put it to you?”

Collins gripped the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned white.

“You see, that’s not really a logical move, because it doesn’t lead to you winning the game…”

“Why not?”

“Because the game just stops, General. There’s no next move, but you haven’t won, either.”

“So, who told you?”

“Who? No one told me anything.”

“Okay…so you can see ahead. Where are we headed right now?”

Taggart closed his eyes and his mind roamed for a moment. “Boeing Field, the general aviation ramp on the east side. There’s a red and white Cessna 150 waiting for us, registration is triple two-five-niner.”

Collins slammed on the brakes and pulled off the road, then turned and stared at Taggart. “You can see that? Now? Sitting here, right here, right now?”

Henry just nodded. “It’s…logical, General. And because it is I can see the way ahead, and if it’s not logical then there’s no way ahead, no next move, and I can see that too. And it’s getting like crazy weird as time goes by – because I can see other stuff, but only if it affects me in some way.”

“Henry, this is crazy.”

“Yeah, so tell me something, General. When they told you to get rid of me, why’d you go along with them?”

“Because, Henry…I have a plan.”

+++++

He almost ran down the curved stairway and out into New Orleans Square, and he walked as fast as he could as soon as he got into the milling crowd until he just melted away and was carried along with the rest of them, like a piece of debris floating away on a stream. He walked in a daze after that, through the castle to the merry-go-round, then past mad tea cups and toad rides until he found a bench in some shade. He grabbed a Coke and took a seat, and with his back to the passing throngs he leaned over and put his face in his hands, not believing he could have been so trusting of someone he knew he’d loved. She had all her life, too; he was sure of it, yet she’d dumped him when he went away to college only to turn around and spend Christmas with him. And the things they’d talked about? A life together? And she was hanging with Charles at the same time she was carrying our baby?

And then, apparently, the two of them had decided to end the baby’s life. ‘Not me. Not the father. The guy she was with while she was cheating on me…’

He spread his fingers and saw a green loden cape hanging before his eyes, then the silver filigree within the varnished cane.

Taggart looked up at the Old Man, surprised to see him here – 

“You look like you’ve seen better days,” the Old Man said. “Mind of I sit with you?”

Henry nodded. “Feel free.”

The Old Man sat and then sighed. “I’ve heard about this place. Very crowded, and it smells funny.”

Henry nodded. “It is that, and I agree.”

“Having a bad day?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“Women can be unpredictable. Some more so than others.”

Henry didn’t say a word, he just stared at the Old Man.

“What would you have done?” the Old Man asked.

“About what?” Henry replied.

“If she’d told you she was pregnant, and that she was seeing your friend.”

“He’s not my friend.”

“Oh, surely not now, but once upon a time he was your best friend, wasn’t he?”

Henry shrugged.

“So…no one was quite who you thought they were. A pity, I suppose, but life can be like that. Even the people who love you can be…deceptive.”

“What are you doing here?”

The Old Man tapped his cane on the pavement and thunder rolled over Anaheim. “The weather is about to change, Mr. Taggart. Dangerous weather, you might say, is fast approaching, and I’d be remiss if I failed to tell you that there are many people around you who are not quite what you think they are. Or even who they say they are, you might say.”

“Is that a fact?”

“Ah yes, sorry, but I must leave you now. Your companion has found you and she does not look at all happy…so…I will say goodbye for now…and auf weidersehen.”

Seconds later Edith walked up and stood in front of him. “Did you really think I wouldn’t find you, Hank?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbled, “and I’m not sure I care anymore.”

She laughed a little then sat beside him, exactly where the Old Man had been moments before.

“You probably don’t remember, but one day you and Claire brought me out here and we had lunch at the club and I got mad at her and ran away…”

He looked up and nodded. “Yeah, I remember. We looked and looked for you, even had Disney people helping us…”

“Yup, and I came right here, right to this bench. I remember hearing all those stupid cars over there; they were so loud I couldn’t even think.”

“Claire was so mad at you…”

“But you weren’t, Hank. You sat beside me and held me. Do you know what I remember most about that day?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head a little, “not really.”

“You were running your fingers through my hair and the sun was shining on my face, and I loved you both so much it hurt.”

“And now your father is gone, and your mother is all that’s left. So, tell me, how do you feel now?”

“I’ll love you for the rest of my life, Hank. Marry me, move in with us, let Tracy be your daughter…”

He winced as those words bit into his flesh. “She has a father, Edith, and you have a husband. You made those choices a long time ago, remember? And you still have time to fix things with Charles – so do it. For her sake.”

“No, Hank, I won’t fix things by trying to make this right. Unfortunately you’re the only person who can make this right.”

“Could you take me to the island, please. I think I’m done for the day.”

+++++

It might have been the very next day, so bitter was the memory.

Standing over an open coffin at the very same funeral home, only this time he was staring at his mother, not Edith’s father. And it was just one more cancer in a world full of such things, wasn’t it, one more body prepped and ready to slip away deep into the deep freeze of memory. And another room full of shocked friends and dismayed business associates, everyone sorry to see her go but still more or less happy to still be there among the living and breathing. Edith was there that day, too, and with her little girl Tracy – who wasn’t so little anymore – and they all sat next to his father, Edith holding his hand and his father looking very much the fading paterfamilias.

Henry sat there, too, trying to remember his mother, but all that came to mind were pancakes and the smell of fresh laundry. ‘And that’s just not right,’ he sighed. ‘She was so much more than that, but I never took the time to get to know her…’

Then it hit him. His father would be gone soon enough and then there’d be no one. No one to tell him about all the little things his mother did around the house, or at the clinic where she’d worked for more than thirty years. He looked around the gathered crowd and saw all the shell-shocked faces of patients she’d cared for and it wasn’t a stretch to think that any one of them knew his mother better than he did. He looked down and stared at his hands like they were the hands of a murderer, and that he’d strangled her with his very own brand of neglect. 

He heard a rustle run through the crowd and turned to see Doris walking up to the casket, then she just stood there for what seemed like hours. Everyone was looking at her standing there, wondering what the connection was, but Henry knew, and so did his father. They’d both loved gardening and they’d talked and talked about the virtues of one potting soil over another and which flowers tolerated the afternoon sun better, and they’d done so for decades. Simple things and a simple friendship, and here she was paying her respects out of simple friendship.

Then she came and sat beside Henry and squeezed his hand once…

+++++

I’m not ready to leave yet. The nurse above him looked frantic, and overworked…

Something important left to do. Too many things left unsaid…

Push through the fear. Open your eyes and breathe, stay with the living a while longer.

+++++

“You ever flown before?”

“What? You mean…actually flown a plane? Hell no, and I don’t want to, either.”

Rupert laughed at Henry’s gnawing fear, but he respected where it came from, too. He’d shot down a few Migs, first over Korea then in Vietnam, but he’d trained pilots, and those who thought they wanted to fly until they learned what it was actually like, so he knew the score. The little Cessna 150 was built reasonably well but anyone inside wouldn’t survive any kind of crash in one, either. They were just too small, and too light, but there was always one good way to tell if a student pilot was going to freak out – and wash out…

They were over Leavenworth, Washington and already starting their descent for Phantom Field, as the place was known these days, and the General was apparently in a good mood. He reached over and made sure the right door was latched securely – and locked – then he looked at Taggart’s seat belt. Secure, looked tight enough so let’s see what kind of stones this kid has…

Collins started a gentle turn to the right, but then he kept turning and turning until the right wingtip was pointing straight down – and Henry Taggart was leaning against the door while looking down at the rolling hills just 1500 feet below.

But his hands, Collins saw, were relaxed, and he hadn’t tensed up, either…so he kept the turn going, rolling through 360 degrees using just the ailerons, and still Taggart seemed completely unperturbed – almost too calm, really.

“So, did you see that coming or did I catch you off-guard?”

But Taggart had simply shrugged, then resumed looking ahead.

“Man, you’re no fun, Taggart…you know that?”

“What…you’d be happier if I blew beets all over your lap?”

Collins laughed. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“I was kind of surprised you picked a little plane like this. What gives?”

“Good price. Picked it up cheap…thought it might be fun instead of making that drive over and over. After they tore out the roads I didn’t have a choice, so…”

“Oh, I hear Leavenworth is pretty fun. Ever stop there?”

“Oh, if you like beer and sauerbraten and all that it’s just about heaven. At least the first ten times it is. Now I just want to get out there and get to work.” He reached over and tuned in an NDB, a non-directional beacon, and then set up his VOR for the intercept. “Damn clouds,” he snarled. “We don’t have any kind of ILS up and running yet, so I’m gonna have to shoot an NDB approach.”

Henry shrugged. “As long as you don’t need me to do anything.”

Collins made a couple of turns in the clouds and a few minutes later the runway appeared right where it was supposed to, and the General slipped the wheels onto the ground so gently a sleeping baby wouldn’t have noticed.

“I hate to say it, but you made that look easy.”

Collins nodded. “It is easy, once you know what to do.”

“Students? Do they panic when they get into clouds the first few times?”

“Some do, sure. You wash ‘em out as fast as you can, too. No room for panic in an aircraft, Henry, ever.”

“Well, it was a treat to watch you fly. You look like someone in his element, doing what he loves best.”

Collins taxied to the spot indicated by the tech on the ground, then he killed the engine and set the brakes before he started in on his log book, noting times from his wristwatch and jotting down engine hours on the page. Henry saw the General had almost ten thousand hours and shook his head… ‘No wonder he made it look so easy…’

“They got a line shack here, gal in there makes a pretty mean burger. You buyin’, or is it my turn?”

They took an elevator deep into the earth after lunch, and that spit them out into a little room full of biometric scanners and one way mirrors. After those formalities were out of the way the General walked Henry down a series of long hallways until they came to another set of scanners. The men in this room, however, were not behind mirrors.

Then, one last hallway and another secure door flanked by heavily armed men in uniform.

“I have no idea what you’re expecting to find in here, but everyone who’s made it this far, well, some of them get kind of weird…”

“Weird?”

“Yeah. One old fart I know, an old timer with a cast-iron stomach, mind you, fell to the ground and start crying when he realized what he was looking at. Some have just run away. A couple have barfed, and there are buckets in there hanging from the wall, I think, so if the urge to purge hits try and do it in one of those.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

The door opened and about all Taggart could tell was that the lights were turned down low, but Collins headed in so he followed – at a distance – and the closer they got to “it” the brighter the light became…until Henry could just make out the barest outlines of the craft…

And his first impression was that he was looking at some kind of colossal jellyfish. Like maybe the thing was covered with some kind of semi-translucent gel, something that seemed to glow faintly blue, and that this goop surrounded something inside, but then, as they walked deeper into the hangar, the true scale of the craft inside began to dawn on him.

“Holy shit,” he muttered. “This thing looks bigger than the Nimitz!”

“It is, by about three hundred feet. The reactor plant takes up more than fifty percent of the interior volume, too, and eighty-five percent of the vehicle’s mass.”

“The original was this big?”

“Yup.”

“I hate to ask, but where did it crash?”

“It was on the arctic icepack, and it didn’t crash.”

“What?”

“It was sort of a gift, or maybe think of it as a loaner, if you get my drift.”

“You have any idea where it is now?”

“The original? Gone, I think Beyond that, no, I don’t…”

“What about the reactor?”

Collins shook his head. “That’s why you’re here, Henry.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, a lot of us have been having a kind of odd feeling recently, like the distinct impression that most of Them think we aren’t up to the challenge of, you know, building this thing,” Collins said, groaning at the thought. “There’ve been a couple of times when I thought they were right, too, so when one of them turns up and starts implanting technical data in your head…”

“And the enhancements to the toroids? Are those complete?”

“Yes, we’ve redone both the containment toroids and inductive containment sleeves. Nothing happened, no change, so right now the damn thing is still hooked up to the external grid; even the avionics and all our test instruments are dead.”

“Test instruments?”

“Basic flight data, envelope parameters, general telemetry…”

“None of that is in the original. You need to remove it.”

It wasn’t just that Taggart said something so uncharacteristically direct, it was his tone of voice that troubled Collins; if nothing else it let him know that Taggart was in direct contact with Them – probably even right now – and they wanted all Boeing’s instrumentation out. He’d argued as much  before construction began, but like everything else on this project he had been overridden at every turn.

“Okay, but it’ll take a week or so to remove.”

“Fine by me. Let’s head back to the city.”

“That might not be such a good idea, Henry. There are a bunch of people looking at our operation right now…”

“How many billions have you…”

“Enough. And Henry, we have full facilities here. Like a decent hotel, really…”

Henry ignored the General and resumed walking out to the craft, not even paying attention to what he was saying now…just trying to stay focused on the one he’d started calling Pinky. It took almost ten minutes but he approached the craft’s entryway and walked up the ramp, Collins now too stunned to speak. 

Henry walked through a maze of corridors designed for beings three to four meters tall, trying to let his eyes adjust to the low ambient light, but Pinky was, by and large, guiding him now.

And she led him to the reactor spaces, guiding him to the critical spots she needed to see, then, when she was satisfied, she led him up three levels to the cockpit, and then directly to the one thing onboard specifically designed for humans: the chair. Taggart sat where she indicated and it felt like the entire mechanism began shifting to accommodate his build…

“Open the roof now, would you?” he said to the General.

“What?”

“Open her up.”

“Who told you about the aperture, Mr. Taggart?”

Henry reached out and placed his hand on a curved glass panel and while the fusion reactor began its complicated startup cycle instruments started to come alive all around the cockpit.

“Rupert? The overhead aperture? Open it now, please.”

Collins got on his hand unit and called in the request…

+++++

Sirens blared and men cleared out of the small hangars that lined the ramps beside the old line shack, and moments later the hangars, and the foundations they’d been rebuilt on, began to slide away on concealed tracks, revealing a mammoth circular opening that extended hundreds of meters beyond the old buildings. Two F-16s spooled up, ready to take off in pursuit if the general gave the order.

+++++

“You’d better leave now, Rupert.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Suit yourself.”

Henry reached out and activated a 3D holographic display revealing just about everything in orbit around the Earth, from satellites waiting to burn up on reentry to the Space Shuttle on its way to the ISS to install a new docking module. He closed his eyes and commanded the display to plot a course through the junk, then the display shifted and flickered before the inner solar system resolved on the plot.

“Where are you taking us?” Collins asked.

“Just a point in space.”

“A point?”

“A LaGrange Point, General.”

“Which one?”

“L-3.”

“That’s on the goddam far side of the sun!”

“As this is a test run, are you sure you wouldn’t rather stay behind?”

Collins shook his head. “Not on your life, Henry. And the aperture is 103 percent open now.”

Taggart looked at the Space Shuttle’s track and grinned… ‘This could be fun,’ he said to no one in particular…

© 2021 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 (29.1)

come alive im2 HR57 small

Medium length this time out, perhaps ten minutes or thereabouts, so you might do with a cup of jasmine tea to go with today’s music.

Chapter 29.1

He knew where he was even before he opened his eyes.

He could feel the fine sand in his fingers, and even an errant breeze through the tall grass that lined the road sounded almost comforting. Then he heard Clyde stand and the pup groaned when he tried to stretch, and at that point Henry decided he might as well open his eyes and get on with it. 

He sat up and instantly regretted it – he felt light-headed and dizzy beyond belief, so bad that he reached out and tried to steady himself before he fell – and this time even that didn’t work. Like an old redwood deep inside an arboreal forest, he fell slowly back to the cool white sand of the roadway, and then a hot white fog enveloped him…

Until he was aware of Clyde licking his chin, thin his lips – and THAT got his attention.

“Clyde, no licking the mouth. You know better than that.”

Clyde laid down again, this time draping his muzzle over Henry’s neck, then the pup sighed before he started to snore.

Henry opened his eyes and, though he hated to disturb the pup, he rolled on his side and found he could just see down the road towards the white house above the beach, and – about a half mile away he could just make out someone walking their way.

A woman, it seemed. Walking a dog.

“This hasn’t happened before,” he sighed, trying to sit up again and failing again miserably. Clyde, however, sat up and took note of the woman and the other dog on the road and slowly began to growl.

Blond hair, Henry saw. Kind of short, too. Turquoise culottes and a white short-sleeved top covered in pastel colored daisies.

“Yup,” he said as she came close, “it’s Doris.”

And her presence was, by now, completely normal to him.

“Hi Henry!” she said as she walked up to him. “Hope you don’t mind, but I brought along a friend for your pup. Her name is Bonnie.”

“Of course it is,” Henry muttered. “And this is Doggie Heaven, right?”

She laughed at that one, her pert, squeaky laugh. “I don’t know about heaven, but it sure ain’t Upper Sandusky!”

“I see,” Henry chuckled. “Is that your house down there? The one by the beach?”

“No, that’s yours.”

“Mine?”

“Yes, Henry, of course. You’re home now, so…”

“What do you mean, home?”

“You’re here now. This is home now.”

“Now? You mean, like I’m dead?”

“That’s right!” she said, wrinkling her nose just a little, those precious little freckles dancing all across her face.

“But…”

Bright white. Searing pain. Lights in the ceiling, the same two-tone siren warning people to get out of the way… ‘But why me…now…I’m dead…right? Why won’t you just let me be…’

+++++

There were six of them now, forming an almost perfect circle around him, and the water was unbelievably warm here…like their bodies were warming the sea…

Then one of the younger males came to him and, with his head coming straight up out of the water, the orca hovered beside him, now almost motionless – yet he was eye-to-eye with the beast.

Then…a translucent sphere almost like a soap bubble…drifted down until it was half in and half out of the water and completely enveloping both Henry and the orca…

And a moment later they were airborne and arcing through the sky to the northwest, passing  over Vancouver Island at an impossible altitude…

Then, they were in a tank filled with water and the sphere – if it was indeed the same one – had enveloped his head. He turned to the orca and saw a similar sphere around its face and blowhole, and there appeared to be a bundle of cables connecting their two spheres.

Then he saw – Them.

Through a viewing port of some kind…dozens of them standing there on the far side or a transparent panel, staring at both the orca and him. Tall, feathery, and – at least one of them had wings!

Then he noticed the damndest thing…

…all of a sudden it felt like he was looking at himself floating there in the tank – only through the eyes of someone, or something else – but there was nothing else in the tank other than the orca.

+++++

Rupert stood. transfixed, staring at the sphere just outside of his cabin on the boat – and he suddenly felt almost afraid to move. There was something malevolent about the thing, almost like there was something – or someone – inside, staring at him…

…and a moment later the sphere seemed to expand – and then one of Them appeared.

Tall, covered in what almost looked like reptilian scales on first glance but were actually, he soon realized, feathers – white feathers tinged with shades of blue, from the color of a sunny day at noon to purest cobalt. And even its eyes were blue…a deep cerulean blue…and just now the creature was staring at him. Like it was waiting for him to make the first move.

“Do you have a name?” Collins asked. “What can I call you?”

The creature’s head canted to the side, then it smiled. “James Tiberias Kirk. Does that work for you?”

“What? Uh, no, not really.”

“Then I guess Luke Skywalker is out of the question, too?”

Collins nodded. “Yup.”

“Then let’s just settle on Yoda. I think that one fits me best.”

“Whatever you say, blue eyes…”

“Blue eyes? Say, I like that. Go with that one, will you, Rupert?”

“So, you know my name? What else do you know?”

Blue Eyes shrugged, an odd gesture considering his drooping wings spanned from ceiling to floor. “The craft you salvaged. You’ve made good progress everywhere but with the power plant. You’re about the screw the pooch big time with that one.”

“You don’t say. And you know this, how?”

“Rupert? Let’s just be friends, okay? No suspicions, no blind prejudice…”

“Uh-huh. You say so.”

“Okay, Rupert, we’ll do this your way. You’re building a tokamak reactor, but the walls of the toroids will never withstand the temperatures you’re going to generate. Your ship is going to just melt down, and years of work will melt down with it.”

“And why do you want us to succeed?”

“Well, Rupert, we’re the ones who left it for you in the first place, so please, give some credit where credit is due.”

“What material do you recommend we use?”

“Try graphite, Rupert.”

Collins looked up then sighed. “Alright. What else?”

“The boy out there in the water? Henry?”

“Yes? What about him?”

“You’ve been thinking he might be useful on the project…”

“And how could you possibly know what I’ve been thinking! I haven’t said anything to anyone…”

Blue Eyes smiled, then his eyes focused on Collin’s with feral intensity. “You and Henry. When you think about things in a certain way, we can hear you.”

“Just Henry and myself?”

“Yes.”

“So…you know what I’m thinking right now?”

“Yes, of course – and oh, by the way, you left your 50mm lens in the top drawer. You’ll need at least that much aperture to catch those whales in the moonlight.”

Rupert blinked rapidly as he digested the implications of the creature’s words, then he shook his head. “Lucky guess,” he said, backing up a step and growing very anxious.

“Rupert, just relax, would you – you’re starting to scare the shit out of me!? But one thing to consider…Henry would do well when it comes time to actually fly the craft.”

“Oh? He’s not a pilot, just in case that matters, and he’s certainly not a qualified test pilot, so why would…”

“Do what you want, Rupert,” the exasperated creature sighed. “It was just an idea…”

+++++

One of them appeared in his mind, and he felt almost certain it was one of the creatures on the other side of the viewing port, but this sudden, new presence was beyond disconcerting. Not like a thought, the creature was just – there – in the middle of his mind and pushing everything else aside. Standing there silently while looking him in the mind’s eye, the impression of strength and compassion he felt was overwhelming. 

“Hello,” Henry said. “Do you understand me?”

The creature nodded and stepped closer. “I like your eyes, Henry,” the creature said, and without quite understanding why he knew he was speaking with a female. “They’re – almost – honest, but to be truthful I’ve never seen brown eyes before and I find them kind of interesting. Almost shocking.”

“My eyes? Is that why I’m here?”

She smiled and looked at the orca hovering a few feet away from Taggart. “Did you know that their brains a similar to your own? The biggest difference we’ve found is that there is a larger part of their higher brain function dedicated to compassion and empathy than in you humans.”

“You’re joking.”

“No, no I’m not. Similar areas in your brains seem dedicated to organizational logic, a minor difference from your Neanderthal ancestors and very interesting. And do you know that orca family structures are more highly specialized than human families? The pods we’ve observed spend a much greater percentage of their time on child rearing activities, and teaching, than humans do. Much more than modern human families, especially.”

“Okay, so you’re an anthropologist. What can I do for you?”

“Anthropologist?” she said, chuckling. “Oh…no, not really. You would do better to think of me as a geneticist, but even that misses the mark.”

“What’s this cord between me and the whale?”

“He’s not a whale, Henry, and we’re implanting memories.”

“You’re…what?!”

“Implanting memories, into the orca.”

“My memories?”

“Yes, of course.”

“But…”

“We need to see if the biochemical structures of your memories are compatible with theirs.”

“Structures?”

“Yes, of course. Your memories are simply encoded biochemical sequences, and while the chemicals you use to encode memories are identical to what his brain uses, we became concerned that the storage and retrieval mechanisms of your brains might be sufficiently different to inhibit functional transfer.”

He nodded and shrugged. “At one point it felt like I was inside him looking at me. Were you expecting that?”

She shook her head and looked concerned. “No. We will stop now.”

And with that she blinked out of his mind and he was aware of his surroundings in the tank again – and that the cord linking him to the orca was now gone, too.

+++++

Edith was waiting for him at the gate when he came out the jetway, and with red-rimmed eyes and a tear-streaked face she ran into his arms. He didn’t know what to do now, either, as her father had just passed away and she’d always been close to him so he assumed she was coming undone more than just a little. He folder her in his arms and held her close, phasing between the reality of her and the shattering echos of her sister crashing all around them, falling to the floor like broken glass falling like tears from a broken dream.

He drew a deep breath and images of Claire filled his mind’s eye – just as Edith’s scents pushed aside everything else he’d been thinking on the long flight down the coast. Her hair, the perfume she had chosen, even the clothes she wore – everything was an echo. A consciously chosen echo, he noted, instantly on guard again.

His father had called the night before and told him to come down as soon as possible, and when his father told him why he understood all the reasons. For all concerned…but he knew he wasn’t prepared for her…

“How’s your mother doing?” he asked, and Edith stiffened.

“Fine, I assume.”

“And Charles? How’s he doing these days?”

She pushed away and looked Henry in the eye. “Please don’t bring him up, Hank. Promise me, okay? Not this time.”

“Yeah, sure. Okay.”

“And before you ask, yes, Tracy is fine. She loved your Christmas presents too, by the way.”

He smiled. “I’m glad.”

They walked down the long tunnel to the baggage carousels and collected his two silver Zero-Halliburtons, then made their way to her car…to her father’s station wagon, as it turned out. She was living at home again these days, and had been for almost a year now, at least ever since she and Charles had separated. She drove – maybe out of habit? –  and soon they were on the 405 headed south for Newport Beach.

“Dad didn’t tell me too much last night. Does anyone know what happened?”

She nodded. “Yes, it looks like a heart attack, a big one.”

Henry looked away, shaking his head at the inevitability of such things, but he was still of an age when things related to sudden death still seemed remote and untouchably far away. Now, this death was hitting a little closer to home, and he felt a sudden icy grip around his own chest and shuddered at the idea of things just stopping with little to no warning.

Edith got onto the 405, preferring – it seemed – to remain quiet, and he saw no need to break through that wall right now… but then…

“Do you remember that awful weekend, after our trip to Snowbird? You flew down for the weekend and I started pushing you away almost as soon as you got here?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that one, Edith.” She nodded as he spoke, and when he looked at her he could see tears streaming down her face. “What’s wrong, kiddo?”

“That weekend, Hank. That was it, the moment when everything started to go wrong with my life.”

“Why do you say that?” She looked away and a moment later cars were honking as she drifted out of her lane. “You want me to drive?” he added nervously.

“I was pregnant, Henry. With our baby. And dad insisted I have it terminated.”

He was sort of conscious of his eyes twitching, and even the corners of his lips began trembling. “What? Pregnant?”

She nodded, her eyes focused on traffic ahead now.

“And you didn’t tell me?”

“I was going to, that weekend. But dad told me not to; he said it would distract you from your studies and that school was more important.”

Taggart reached over and turned the air conditioning up to full and aimed all the vents at his face; he knew his face was turning red now, but all of a sudden he felt like he was on fire, too.

“You always do that, you know?” Edith sighed.

“Do what?”

“When you get mad. You turn red and start to sweat.”

“I’m not mad, Edith. I think I’m in a state of shock.”

She sat in silence for a while, then she looked up. “The exit for Disneyland is coming up. Wanna go?”

He took a deep breath and looked at her, then he grinned a little, and nodded. “Sure, why not. Sounds good.”

She exited onto the Garden Grove Freeway and a few minutes later made for the main entrance gates. When she got to the parking kiosks she presented her father’s 33 Club membership card and was waved through to the special parking lot for club members. They made it to the club after the short walk down Main Street and through Frontierland, and rang the doorbell next door to the Blue Bayou restaurant and waited for the attendant to buzz them in. After they made it upstairs they sat at a table overlooking New Orleans Square and Henry looked down at the line snaking into the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, every now and then catching hints of “Yo-ho! Yo-ho! A pirates life for me!” blasting from somewhere inside the attraction…

Then a wave of pain and nostalgia came for him.

“Why did you want to come here?” he asked Edith.

“I’ve been thinking about what our lives would have been like,” she replied, and he stood and went to the restroom when the waves of pain became too much.

They split a Monte Cristo – just like he and Claire used to do when they came here – and yet he drifted over memories that had never had a chance to see the light of day. Little pieces of fiction, really. Edith and this kid that never was walking hand in hand to the Haunted Mansion on Halloween, or as they walked down Main Street at night, maybe a few days before Christmas…

+++++

“One of the big differences we have observed,” the creature said as Taggart drifted in the tank beside the orca, “is that the orca live completely within the moment. Your kind, on the other hand, seem to become easily overcome with concerns about the future and even guilt over past excesses.”

Henry looked at the creature, then at the great black and white creature hovering by his side. “I thought you said that the parts of their brains that govern empathy are bigger than ours? Wouldn’t that mean…?”

“No, not really. All his empathy is directed to the family’s offspring, with some left for the other members of his immediate family.”

“Pods,” Taggart said.

“What?”

“Their families. We call them pods.”

“Really? Why? Doesn’t that simply make it easier for you to put some intellectual distance between you and all the others you feel yourselves superior to?”

Taggart shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose…but…what would you have us call them?”

“How about…families? Or would that make it too difficult for you?”

+++++

In his mind’s eye this little boy – his little boy – was walking along beside him, and they were holding hands while they waited in the long line to get on the log ride at Splash Mountain. The little boy grabbed hold of his leg when he watched logs full of screaming people make the plunge, then he hid his face with delight and giggled when he saw all of them getting drenched at the bottom of the chute. Henry could feel the little boys upturned eyes and the tiny, warm fingers in his hand, then like a wave the realization would come that this little boy had never been. They had never walked around Disneyland, and they never would, and suddenly everything about his life felt wrong…like he was marching out of step now, dancing to the beat of a different drummer…

+++++

“What are you thinking about, Henry?”

“An afternoon…that never was.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I.”

“Why are you crying so?” the strange creature asked.

“Because I still don’t understand,” the even stranger creature replied.

+++++

“How come you decided to tell me now?”

“Because dad is gone now, Hank. I guess I always thought you’d kill him if you found out.”

“Kill him? Why would you think that?”

“You were always so…conservative…about things like that.”

“Conservative? Me?”

“Do you remember talking about it when we were up at Snowbird?”

“About what?”

“Having a family someday. You told me you wanted to have a bunch of bambinos. Your words exactly, too.”

He drifted and tried to find the moment but instead he found Claire and remembered having the very same conversation with her one afternoon…here…maybe even at this same table overlooking New Orleans Square…with all the smiling faces down there, waiting for their ride to begin.

+++++

He had curled up in a fetal ball and was crying hard now, lost beyond and within Claire’s and Edith’s echoes, caught up in what was and what had never really had a chance to be. 

And the creature was staring at him, this much he knew, but then he felt extreme warmth and knew the orca was moving close. The huge pectoral then seemed to cup him and pull him close, and Henry could feel the bones in the orcas hand bending to cradle him…so he reached out to take it in his own.

And then the orca’s song began to fill the tank…

+++++

“Maybe we should go now,” Edith said as she watched the change come over his face.

“Why would he have done that, Edith. I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Edith looked away, then she nodded. “He didn’t, Henry.”

“So…who did? You?”

“No, of course not.”

“So? Who?”

“Charles did, Henry.”

“What?”

+++++

“When you were joined,” the creature added, “when your memories were being transferred, it seems he also gained the ability to feel your emotions…”

“You mean…in real time?” Henry asked.

“Perhaps so, but we have never seen this across species before, so we will have to wait and see. But for some reason it seems there is a profound sympathy between the two of you.”

+++++

“So…you and Charles were…together? While I was at Berkeley?”

“Yes. I’m sorry, Hank, but I thought you knew.”

“How would I have known that?”

“Because you stopped calling me. So…I thought you knew…”

“Communications breakdown, it’s always the same…”

“What?”

He shook his head and looked away. “Doesn’t matter. Say, why don’t we go down and do the Haunted Mansion?”

+++++

Rupert Collins helped Taggart climb up the midships boarding ladder, but after he took the offered towel Henry turned around and looked at the small male half submerged on his side down there in the inky water…

‘I know,’ he thought to the orca, ‘I will try to stay close, at least as close as I can…’

The orca nodded once and then slipped beneath the surface and was gone; Henry felt a flinching sadness and took another deep breath, not yet wanting to break the link…

“What was that all about?” Rupert said, clearly perplexed.

“I’m not sure.”

“Where were you? You’ve been gone for almost three hours!”

Taggart turned to the general and studied the man for a moment, then he took the next leap of faith. “Tell me about the ship. What kind of problems have you run into?”

It was Collins turn to stare now, but his was a withering glare that hinted at betrayal – or worse. “I’d advise you be very careful now, Mr. Taggart, with your next words.”

Henry met the glaring eyes and held them in his own for a while, then he grinned. “Well General, the only thing I can tell you right now is I can fly the thing.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. A bunch of ‘em just gave me a kind of flying lesson.”

“I see.”

“And the reactor. The problems you’re having? Well, I have the solution.”

“Oh? Give you a set of plans, did they?”

But Taggart pointed to his head. Nope. Everything’s right up here…”

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

The Eighty-eighth Key (59.4)

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…all alone in dreams of silence…you might find a memory waiting to be rediscovered…

Chapter 59.4

Callahan heard a door open and close somewhere beyond this little room, and he tried to push himself up on his good arm – and failed – then he looked at his left foot down by the end of the bed, and to the empty space where his right foot used to be. 

“I’m turning into a vegetable,” he mumbled at the hollow. “If I keep this up I might as well just pull the trigger.” He hadn’t stood to take a leak since the night he’d been shot, and he had absolutely no idea if he’d taken a dump or not since then. Probably not, he thought. He hadn’t had anything solid to eat since that night on the patio, so how could he have…?

Ida came in and opened the drapes and sunlight from beyond the cerulean Mediterranean sky flooded the room – then he squinted and tried to cover his eyes…which caused him to fall back into the pillowy bed.

“It’s not always going to be this bad, Harry,” Ida said, smiling at his frustration. “You’re going to get better. Trust me.”

“Right, if you say so. Any word on Lloyd?”

But Callahan needn’t have bothered looking for a reply; he already knew the answer to that one, didn’t he?

“No. Nothing,” she said.

Callahan nodded. “So? What’s on the agenda today? Maybe turn the cauliflower onto his left side? Baste him a little before putting his useless ass under the broiler?”

She grinned but shook her head. “No, you’re not getting off that easy! Today is strength training with your right arm and then, after lunch, the prosthetics people are coming out to do the second fitting.”

Callahan looked at the woman and sighed. “What are you doing here, Ida? You didn’t sign up for this…you don’t have to stay…”

She came close then and leaned over, put her hand on the side of his face. “I’ll leave, Harry, when you can beat me in a fifty meter dash,” she said, laughing and smiling and lighting up the room with her loving blue eyes.

And Harry nodded. “If that’s the deal then I guess you’re with me for the duration.”

“Then maybe you’d better get used to me.”

“Get used to you?” he said, voicing mock-angst. “Hell, I can’t exist without you!”

She leaned over and kissed his forehead, then she pulled back, wrinkling her nose. “That shirt’s coming off today, Callahan, and you’re getting a sponge bath!”

“Oh…joy…” he sighed, rolling his eyes and turning to sniff his pits. “I can’t wait.”

+++++

Colonel Goodman walked into a very plain looking office building and took the elevator to the eleventh floor; when the door slid open he was greeted by two soldiers aiming automatic rifles at his face. When the soldiers recognized the colonel they went back to their duty stations, and Goodman walked into the prime minister’s office.

Actually, into an outer office guarded by the most ferocious person in Israel – the PMs appointments secretary – who nodded at the colonel as he walked in and took a seat near her desk. She resumed typing and talking to someone on the telephone, presumably juggling fifty other tasks as she talked on the phone, deciding the fate of nations.

Then the PMs chief of staff walked into the outer office and looked at Goodman. “Okay, he’s ready for you.”

Goodman nodded and followed the chief of staff into the PMs office.

And this was not a ceremonial spot; no, this office was overflowing with papers and blueprints and two walls covered with aerial and satellite reconnaissance imagery – though most were crystal clear black & white photographs of a nuclear reactor under construction in Syria. 

“So, Benni, what the Hell went wrong?”

“Well, sir. just about everything that could go wrong – did.”

+++++

A hulking nurses aide lifted Callahan into his wheelchair and helped get his stump covered, then the aide pushed him out to the little porch off the living room. It was a nice view and Callahan hadn’t tired of the juxtaposition of city and sea, at least not yet, but there wasn’t a piano anywhere in the place and he felt naked without one.

The aide rolled him up to a table set for three, and he looked through the glass rail at the bustling city twenty floors below while the chair’s wheels were locked, then Ida and Didi came out and joined him.

“Chicken salad today, Harry,” Ida said cheerfully. “And some fruit I see, too. Think you can manage that for me?”

Callahan looked at the food and his stomach growled. “I’m not real worried about input right now,” he said hopefully. “It’s output that has me stumped.”

“We’ve got that figured out, so – you ready to dig in…?”

“Yeah…fix me a plate. It looks too good to pass up.”

“Ida made it, Harry,” Didi said, smiling at his reluctant salivations.

“Yes, it’s my mother’s recipe,” Ida added, “so if you don’t like it you’ll have to answer to her.”

Harry looked at the plate and reached for the fork by his plate; his hand was trembling and both Didi and Ida was trying their hardest not to stare at him as he reached for a piece of chicken.

Harry took a bite and everything about the food felt strange; the unusual spices, the different textures – all of it – yet he was so hungry none of that mattered and after he finished that first bite he was off to the races…

…at least, he was…until the first wave of cramps hit…

+++++

“So, what you’re telling me is that shooting Callahan proved, in the end, unnecessary?”

Goodman looked down, but even so he nodded. “Given what happened, yes.”

“So he really is our responsibility now,” the prime minister sighed, looking out the window to the sea. “You knew his mother, correct?” he added a moment later.

“Yessir.”

“And so I would assume you know she would not be at all happy about how this played out?”

“I think that’s a safe assumption, yessir.”

“So, let me see if I have this right. We decided that Callahan’s – gift – is too dangerous so we decided to take charge of his access to music, which, again, correct me if I’m wrong, appears to be the gateway he uses to travel through time. With me so far?”

“Yessir.”

“So, someone decides that maybe we should take control AND at the same time reduce the chances of his getting away from us by shooting him in the hand. Is that about right?”

“Yessir. But our sniper missed on the first shot…”

“And then blew his fucking leg off!” the PM screamed, so loud that the armed guards by the elevator jumped and picked up their rifles.

“Yessir” Goodman said, his voice a coarse whisper.

“And then it turns out that Callahan’s son – what is his name again?”

“Lloyd, sir.”

“Yes, just so. But, oh, where was I? Oh, yes, that this boy knew all about Callahan’s time traveling and could, apparently summon this Old Man at will? Then for some unknown reason the boy kills a degenerate musician…?”

“We don’t know that, sir. Not for a fact.”

“We don’t know what, Colonel Goodman?”

“Well, witnesses saw the boy shoot this musician, one Todd Bright. There’s no question about that, sir.”

“Oh boy, here it comes. The part that is going to just make my day…”

“Well, sir, you see, Mr Bright’s body was never found.”

“What?”

“That’s correct, sir. No body, so…”

“So we don’t even know if this Bright fellow is alive or dead? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“Yessir. That’s correct.”

“Dear god, what a clusterfuck.”

Goodman did not reply to that one – if only because he’d used the very same word to describe the operation two days ago.

“So, how’d you convince Callahan to come here?”

Goodman looked down. “I sent Major Hartmann to visit Callahan in the hospital. Uh, he was impersonating a police inspector, I might add, and he…”

“Dear god. Stop. Please. I don’t want to know any more…”

“Yessir.”

“So, what about this Callahan? What are we going to do with him?”

“Obviously, sir, we get him physically able to…”

“To time travel? Is that what you think is going to happen? My god, Goodman! He could kill us all, unravel – everything! And he’d most certainly discover what our role in all this was…”

Goodman smiled. “Yessir, of course he would.”

“So…how do you plan to contain the risk?”

“Well sir, I have my two best agents assigned to him now, and they assure me they have him completely under control…”

+++++

Ida leaned forward and fed him another grape, smiling and encouraging him to have just one more bite. “Oh, Harry, you’re doing so well! At this rate you’ll catch me – in no time at all…”

+++++

“And then what, Colonel?”

“Well sir, one of my agents is a musician, actually a brilliant pianist. I assumed at some point he’d teach her, and then…”

“I see. Okay, proceed with the next phase of your operation. Now, what’s this I’m hearing about Northrup-Grumman?”

“They’re building a, well sir, what has been reported to me is best described as an alien vehicle. Wrecked. They are trying to rebuild it.”

“Wrecked? How? Was it shot down?”

Goodman shook his head. “No sir. Recall the Soviet submarine that went down in the North Atlantic three years ago?”

“Yes, of course.”

“The submarine collided with the object and subsequently sank.”

“So, this alien craft doesn’t fly, it…”

“It can do both, sir. It reportedly moves through water as easily as air.”

“And is capable of spaceflight, I take it?”

“Those are the initial reports, yes.”

“How far along are they? With their work, I mean?”

“Work on the craft is complete, but it appears they can’t figure out how to operate the bloody thing.”

“Okay, Benni, so what are you not telling me?”

“Well sir, what if we could get Callahan into the ship? The original ship. And watch the operators at work.”

The PM looked at his chief of staff – who looked away.

“And then what, Colonel?”

“We take the ship.”

“Take it? And do what with it?”

Goodman smiled. “Anything we want, sir.”

© 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 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.]

The Eighty-eighth Key (59.3)

88th key cover image

Another brief snippet to round out the day, another little burst of story to set the stage. And so, yes, the music plays on and on, bringing us closer and closer to…the 88th key…?

Chapter 59.3

And then one day Todd didn’t come to the clinic.

And even Harry’s nurses and therapists stayed away that day, too.

And the next day? No one came, once again.

Yet on the third day several people dropped by for a visit. Detectives and uniformed police officers from the cantonal police department. And, as it happened, perhaps because it turns out that irony is a given that bedevils us all, most of those who walked into Callahan’s room were homicide detectives.

And they wanted to know if Lloyd had been in contact with him.

“No? But will someone, anyone, tell me what’s going on?”

But no, not even one of them would. Not a single one. 

And still the staff at the clinic stayed away from Harry Callahan, and soon he began to think the whole world had forsaken him.

+++++

It was almost two weeks before Didi came to his room, and she did not look or act like herself.

She was evasive, she didn’t make eye contact. She spoke in oblique references to vague goings-on far, far away, until Harry had had enough.

“You need to tell me what’s happening, Didi. You can’t keep me in the dark forever.”

“It is very complicated here now, Mr. Callahan…”

And it was the way she said ‘Mr Callahan’ that cued him in. She was wearing a wire, and was under duress. 

“Just the broad strokes, Didi. What’s happened?”

“Lloyd and Mr Bright got into an argument – in the meadow behind the house. It appears that someone, perhaps your son, concealed a firearm when he entered the country, and during this argument your son shot and killed Mr Bright…”

“I see.”

“There were several witnesses, Mr Callahan, so there is no doubt about what happened.”

“Uh-huh.”

“There are, however, several questions about events immediately after Mr Bright’s murder.”

“Okay.”

“It seems that an Old Man appeared beside your son just a few moments after the event, and then both simply disappeared.”

“Disappeared? What do you mean, disappeared?”

“Just that, sir. And all the available witnesses report exactly the same thing; that within seconds of the single gunshot an Old Man appeared in the meadow beside your son, and almost as quickly your son disappeared, and I believe the Old Man, as well.”

Callahan nodded. “What gun did he use?”

“Your old duty revolver. The Smith & Wesson model 29; it is still registered with the police department in San Francisco so there is no doubt of ownership.”

Callahan shook his head. “I left it in the safe. At the house. And there’s no way Lloyd knew the combination to that safe…which means someone…”

And then Callahan remembered she was wearing a wire.

“Which means someone broke into my house and removed the pistol. You’d better call DD and let her know.”

“I already have. There was no sign of forced entry or anything else to indicate the safe has been tampered with.”

“So…somehow Lloyd got the combination.”

“You didn’t bring the weapon with you when you came?”

“Didi, how could I have. I never left the hospital, remember? I didn’t pack my bags, I didn’t even know we were leaving…”

“Is there anyway Ida, your employee from the Music Company, might have gotten hold of the combination?”

“There’s no way I can think of, but then again I have no idea how Lloyd could have gotten hold of the combination.”

+++++

A few hours after Didi left his room a police inspector came to visit Callahan. He was an old man, maybe about the same age as Callahan, but there any similarities came to an abrupt end. This inspector was short and lithe, more like a coiled spring that Harry’s lanky slouchiness, and his close-cropped hair was steel gray – like his eyes. He was a cold looking man, someone used to being lied to and then breaking down the liar piece by careful piece.

“You know,” the inspector began, “I believe you. At least I believe there were people who packed your belongings and moved you here. So, we have removed the hold we had placed on all your accounts. The good news is that the clinic will resume treating you; the bad news is that until your son is located and this matter is cleared up there is no way in hell someone like you will be permitted to reside in Switzerland. But here, Mr Callahan, things become tricky for you, because it appears you left the United States without officially clearing, so you are in Switzerland illegally. Also, for some reason the authorities in the United States will not re-admit you, so, technically, you are now a stateless person. Your U.S. Passport has been revoked and confiscated, I’m afraid.”

For some reason it was the cold, emotionless voice that bothered Callahan most of all. But no empathy for a brother police officer? That just grated him the wrong way.

So Callahan said not one word, he just looked at the other man eye-to-eye.

“You have nothing to say?” the inspector said. “Nothing at all?”

Silence.

“You do know that we have nothing like your Miranda protections here, Mr Callahan, so I would advise you be very, very careful what you say on your way out of our country.”

Still Callahan remained silent.

“I see. Well then, until we meet again, Mr Callahan.”

A minute after the inspector left a uniformed officer came into Callahan’s room and sat. And though the officer turned on the television, he sat in a chair staring at Callahan, and not knowing what else to do or say Harry closed his eyes and returned to the comfortably open arms of waiting sleep.

+++++

It was after midnight, at least he thought it was, and a second policeman was, apparently, gone for the night. Callahan sat up a little and looked out the window, then he realized he’d heard something unusual.

‘What is that? A helicopter?’ he asked himself…and not a minute later several men in black commando uniforms entered his room, then a large gurney was wheeled in and several nurses and orderlies helped transfer Harry to the gurney. The next thing he knew he was up on the clinic’s roof, and a huge Sikorsky was waiting for him up there – with no markings visible and with its massive rotors drooping low and barely moving in the still night. Men loaded him in the Sikorsky by pushing his gurney up the aft ramp, and seconds later the helicopter’s twin turbines started to spool up…and then he grew concerned. No one had said a word to him during this transfer, and he’d had no idea about the move beforehand…

After an hour flight through the mountains the Sikorsky landed at a large airport, and Callahan’s gurney was transferred to a waiting aircraft, and while he wasn’t sure Harry thought it looked like the US Navy’s version of the DC-9, the medevac version if he wasn’t mistaken, and he didn’t know what to think after that. Were they taking him back to the states? If so, who was ‘they’?

The jet started to taxi almost immediately and was soon airborne, and still no one came to speak with him. All the window shades were down so he couldn’t even tell what direction the aircraft was headed, then a military medic was by his side.

“How’s the pain?” the teenager said, and the kid sounded like he was from Brooklyn so that answered that question.

“I’m okay. Where we headed?”

“Home,” the kid said, and Harry nodded.

He drifted off again, trying to fight off the disorientation and the sense of rootlessness that had engulfed him after the inspector left his room the day before…

He woke up to the sounds of flaps extending and landing gears rumbling into the ‘down and locked’ position, and then the young medic came and opened up the window shade next to Callahan’s head. Sun streamed in through the scratched plastic outer pane and Harry squinted, trying to make out…

But…the sun was rising over land, so this wasn’t the United States – and now he was thoroughly confused.

“Where are we?” Harry asked the medic. “I don’t recognize this coastline.”

The kid knelt beside Callahan’s gurney and pointed to a city in the distance.

“That’s Tel Aviv, right over there.”

“Tel Aviv? You mean…Israel?”

“Yes, Mr Callahan. And the Colonel told me to tell you – Welcome Home.”

© 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 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.]

The Eighty-eighth Key (59.2)

88th key cover image

A brutally short snippet today, hardly enough for a sip of Coke let alone a cup of tea. But then again, music matters, so…

Chapter 59.2

After their first afternoon together on the clinic’s sun terrace, Todd Bright returned almost daily to visit Harry. And who knows, maybe Callahan was indeed truly clueless, or maybe he was just lonely – because – who wouldn’t be? And because Todd wasn’t just a vestigial remnant of his other life – the life he’d been forced to leave behind in California – Harry must have begun to see and feel that Todd Bright was a kind of life preserver. Tossed to a drowning man clinging to the last of his reserves, Todd was a musician speaking to the same needs Callahan had tried to address his whole life – first with and through his mother and then by playing the piano more and more on his own. And now, as they’d embarked on this peculiar musical journey together, Todd and Harry had formed a rather unique type of bond – that of creative collaborators. 

You just had to speak the language to know what it was that had developed between the two. It wasn’t a romance even if, on some levels, their collaboration was about romance. Their affinity wasn’t sexual, at least not on Callahan’s part, because he’d long known he simply wasn’t wired that way. Yet Didi saw something…an unusual attraction developing between the two…even if Todd was the one smitten.

So when he came to the clinic to visit Callahan, Todd came both as a musician and as a kind of paramour, if one coming at Callahan from an unexpected angle. Nurses and therapists saw it and were ‘sophisticated’ enough to ignore Bright’s surreptitious sidelong glances, yet when Didi was around she sensed trouble. Maybe, like seismic shifts deep within the earth and how clusters of such events foretell a magmatic eruption, she felt she was watching two men with wildly different expectations working towards a single outcome – the composition of a piece of music – yet the inevitable outcome was anything but a foregone conclusion to one of them.

And maybe Callahan felt the first rumblings of that peculiar shift when Todd started being a little more physical when he visited. Little things, really, like a hand on the shoulder, or pushing Callahan’s wheelchair, even when orderlies were standing by to do the chore. Then he showed up in time for physical therapy one morning, watching Callahan’s struggles with even the simplest arm movements, once the shattered arm was removed from cast and traction. And so Todd was there, always there, but now more as a cheerleader, pushing Harry to work harder because so much was at stake now.

Lloyd dropped by from time to time and he had no trouble at all seeing what was going down, and though he did indeed think his father was clueless that didn’t, in his mind anyway, excuse him. In fact, his father’s apparent cluelessness only made him angrier.

Perhaps because Lloyd saw this whole Fandango thing as a means to an end. Todd’s means to Todd’s ends. And then Lloyd simply decided he wasn’t going to be drawn into such a charade.

So when Todd started to talk openly about moving into the house, Ida was gobsmacked – but Lloyd wasn’t…not even a little bit. By that time, after Todd’s open flirtations and what Lloyd perceived as his ruinous influence, the boy had made already up his mind and he knew what needed to be done.

And one morning, while Todd was visiting Harry at the Clinic, he found a copy of his grandmother’s Fourth Piano Concerto and began playing – right through to the bitter end.

© 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.]

The Eighty-eighth Key (59.1)

88th key cover image

Perhaps. Perhaps not. You decide.

Chapter 59.1

DD and the doc stayed at the place in Davos for a week, and then, after making sure Harry was in capable hands, they returned to San Francisco. Didi and the Colonel stayed at a rented chalet not far away, until Colonel Goodman returned to Israel, that is. After that, Didi moved back into her room in the main house, leaving the two remaining bedrooms for Ida and Lloyd. Harry, of course, remained hospitalized, only now at an orthopedic clinic down the valley, where reports were that he was sleeping twenty hours a day and not at all interested in his physical therapy sessions.

Didi took Lloyd to look at a couple of boarding schools, which only seemed to depress the boy more than he already was, then DD sent word that Todd Bright wanted to come visit and the boy’s spirits picked up a bit, and Todd arrived a few days later, riding up from Zurich on the train. For Didi, anyway, things began to look up a bit after that.

Because more than anything – or so it seemed after his arrival – Todd wanted to spend time with the boy. So Lloyd took him skiing, and Didi spent a whole day with them at the new studio’s construction site – with Todd pouring over plans with the local architect who had sketched out ideas based on Cathy’s original work at the house on the cliffs. Lloyd joined in these brain-storming sessions and that seemed to lift his spirits further, and in the evenings Ida and Todd listened as Lloyd worked through new ideas on a new Bösendorfer in the living room. So, in a way, Lloyd seemed to break free of his own emotional lethargy, though the change itself seemed to be dependent on Todd Bright.

But then one day Todd announced to one and all that it was time to go visit Harry in the hospital, and Didi – looking closely at the boy for any kind of reaction to this unexpected development – thought she saw a shadow cross over his face. ‘He feels betrayed,’ she said to herself. ‘I wonder why?’

+++++

The orthopedic clinic was located atop a small hill between Davos and Klosters, and every patient room had spectacular views of the alps to help enliven their spirits. Some noted that the views were present to lend credibility to the somewhat exorbitant costs of treatment at the facility, but such people can never be pleased, can they? Todd Bright was impressed with the sprawling view from the sun terrace, that much was clear, and when a nurse wheeled Callahan out into the sun Todd seemed to blossom.

Didi and Ida saw it in an instant, though Didi was almost certain that Lloyd was too inexperienced to pick up on the signals Todd was putting out. And Todd was putting on a real performance that morning, as nurses and orderlies and even a few physicians had come out to the sun terrace to see, and perhaps even meet, the most famous grunge rocker in America. Then Todd told the gathered medicos that the real star of the show was actually Harry Callahan, because Harry had helped structure their last album from beginning to end. And of course how could they not recognize Lloyd Callahan, who had played lead guitar on their tour last summer. And the truth of the matter was that everyone at the clinic had heard about Lloyd, and when they realized who he was the youngest nurses seemed to grow more vapidly clinging than either Didi and Ida thought humanly possible.

For his part, Harry sat in his wheelchair under a very heavy blanket, his attentions focused somewhere in the clouds, and Ida couldn’t stand it anymore. She went to Callahan’s chair and pushed him to a far corner; then she pulled up a chair and leaned into him, kind of like a face to face meeting, some of you might even say.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, Harry?” she hissed. “Have you decided to sleep your life away? Is that it? When you have before you the most important task any man can have? To raise a son, to make for the boy a life both can be proud of? You will meet this need by…sleeping? By…staring, at the clouds? Harry? What has happened to you?”

Harry looked at her, his eyes glazed and unfocused. “Morphine,” he managed to say as a wad of spittle formed at the corner of his mouth, before the goo rolled down his chin.

“What? Do you want more morphine?”

Harry shook his head. “No. Too much morphine. Stop them.”

Todd came over and sat with Harry after that. In fact, Todd spend over an hour with Harry, talking incessantly about the new album, hoping Harry would still be able to add a few more contributions before Todd wrapped up production.

“Harry? You look positively stoned!” Todd said at one point, and Harry nodded.

“Morphine,” he managed to say.

“Ooh, isn’t it wonderful? I am so envious!”

Callahan felt like he was trying to walk up a mountain through mud up to his armpits, and he couldn’t understand how anyone could find that wonderful. “How is Lloyd doing,” Harry asked Todd when he found his breath.

“Wonderful, Harry! Just peachy! He’s not quite as accomplished on the piano yet, but in a few years? Who knows…?”

Harry smiled. “I’m glad you think so. But you’ll need to push him, to keep him focused.”

“Okay. What did you have in mind?” Todd asked, his interest brightening.

“The piece we were working on? Have you shown it to him?”

“The Fandango? No, not yet – I was waiting for you. Do you want me to show it to him? Really?”

But then, yes, Harry nodded. “See what he comes up with on his own. Work with him, give him your input after that, then drop by and show me what you two come up with before you show him what I was working on.”

And now, by effectively pushing Todd Bright into the role of intermediary between father and son, Harry had given Todd just the entry he needed…and everyone noticed how happy Todd became after that one brief exchange.

But when Ida came over and tried to speak to Lloyd, she found an entirely different reaction than what she had expected. “What’s wrong, Lloyd?” she asked, because she had seen the dark look in his eyes, a look that had, for a moment, well and truly frightened her. “Did something…?”

But then Lloyd had cut her off with a curt nod as he stood and walked away, yet with a faraway look in his eyes that somehow, to Ida, anyway, seemed alive with barely restrained fury. “Yeah,” the boy added a moment later, after she caught up to him. “It kinda looks like Todd wants to be my mother, doesn’t it? And you know, the funny thing is – I’m not so sure dad would mind if that happened…”

+++++

Bright had toured in Spain several years before and one evening, with no concert scheduled, the group had gone off in search of fun. For Todd Bright, fun meant inspiration, and as he’d heard all about flamenco off the group went – in search of Spanish dancers. Yet flamenco is more like a regional dialect, with different regions in Spain and, to a degree, Portugal, practicing different forms and, at the same time, celebrating different aspects of the confrontation between guitarist and dancer. In many parts of Spain, and yes, Portugal, there is another form, a perhaps even more celebrated form of ‘flamenco’, referred to as a fandango. And this is what Bright found that night…

At their heart, these dances appear to be contest of wills, so yes, in a sense the musical representation of human confrontation, yet Todd Bright found that he was captivated by the dialogue between the guitarist and the dancer, or between the hands of the guitarist and the dancer’s feet. When he learned that he had just seen the performance of a fandango, not what some might argue was the more generic flamenco, he became intrigued. First with the conditions that gave rise to the form, then more and more with the specific structures of the dance.

And at one point that night, while talking with the guitarist, he ran into an interesting anecdote about the fandango that captured his imagination, and he was soon consumed with the idea of writing a song that captured the essence of the tale. In the telling of the tale Todd heard, the clergy in Spain had, several hundreds years ago, first heard about the fandango and had immediately decided to issue a decree that such exhibitions of godlessness were a form of heresy and would henceforth be prohibited. But as sometimes happens – though perhaps not frequently enough – the voice of reason interrupted these sainted proceedings and one of the clerics advised that it was simply unfair to ban such things without first hearing and experiencing the music for themselves. What followed was, for Todd Bright, the start of a quest birthed in a moment of pure reason…

The clerics invited the best fandango dancers and musicians in the region to perform, and in short order the magic of the music captivated everyone in attendance, and so, of course, all talk of banning the music simply vanished without a trace. And while this episode is instructive it is not the equal of, say, rediscovering Aristotle’s lost manuscripts and kicking off the enlightenment, yet, for artists and musicians in ultra-conservative Spain, freeing the fandango of clerical restraint was a sort of watershed moment…

…and it was this moment that fascinated Todd Bright…

Because in the America of the 1990s and early 2000s, there was even then a hidden hand restlessly and relentlessly at work, a re-emergent censoriousness in the evangelical community trying to reassert control over young peoples’ minds all around the country, and through both ecclesiastical as well as political means. And without being too blunt about these things, groups like Bright were nothing less than the antithesis of this power grab by political Christians; yet in the centuries old anecdote of the fandango Todd Bright had found the germ of an idea he just couldn’t shake…

So when he first voiced his desire to work with Harry on a new fandango – an American Fandango, as he called the idea he was working on – he saw Harry’s as the perfect voice to help construct the foundation of this piece. Gershwin had been a heretic, at least for most classically trained musicians in the 1920s, when his works first gained wide appeal, but then again so had Elvis Presley’s gyrating electro-acoustic songs in the 50s. The same impulsive reluctance greeted Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, then it almost engulfed artists as different as Marvin Gaye and Stephen Stills. What Todd wanted to explore was as complex as it was enduring; was this reluctance a simple generational conflict or was something far more destructive at work? Were the inherent romanticism in voices like Gershwin and Presley and Wilson, like the ecclesiastical power structures in 17th century Spain, so threatening to the pillars of the establishment, and that they felt they had no recourse other than to resist change? Given that change is now and has always been inevitable, Todd felt he was onto something.

After listening to Todd lay out these ideas, Harry simply got into the whole thing. Todd had constructed a puzzle with no easy way out, however, and yet Harry saw this puzzle from the inception. How could modern forms of rock, especially something as powerfully dissonant as Seattle Grunge, produce a coherent narrative about what amounted to a cyclical romantic impulse always challenging established forms of expression – and in just a few minutes?

Impossible? Not hardly, or so Todd said. Zeppelin had done as much, he added, with both Kashmir and Stairway, and The Beatles had done so more times than he could count, so really, the only differences involved incorporating the structural elements of the fandango into the grunge-rock soundscape.

For Harry, however, his idea of a solution grew simpler still. 

The fandango employs a beat in 6/8 (classical) or ¾ (modern) time, and employs octosyllabic verse, so those two elements would provide the only constraints Harry would have to deal with, and because Todd wanted to stick with the older time structure that wasn’t going to be an issue Harry would have to deal with. The only question left to be answered was key, and Todd wanted to keep to a major key, even though older forms employed a minor-major format. So…done…again.

And while Harry and Todd had worked on ideas, even getting as far as putting a few down on paper, the next thing Harry knew he was flat on his back in a hospital and it was beginning to feel a little like music was the latest thing about to be yanked from his life. On the crest of that revelation Callahan found the idea of writing music quaintly quixotic and suddenly out of reach, and his descent into the darkest imaginable places began in earnest. 

Now sitting in the sun and looking down the valley towards Klosters he felt a sudden elation. ‘Maybe I can do this,’ he thought as the shock of an alpine breeze ran through his hair. ‘Maybe I can work through my son’s hands, realize what I saw in my mind…’ 

“At least until I can knock out rehab and get back to the piano…” Callahan said.

“What did you say, Harry?” Todd asked.

“I’ve got to get back to my piano.”

“Your piano?” Didi said, clearly concerned now. “Which piano, Harry?”

“Mother’s. The old Bösendorfer, from the house.”

Didi grabbed her notepad and began a new to-do list. “What else do you need, Harry?”

“Why am I in this wheelchair?” Harry asked.

Didi and Todd came close now, and she took his hand. “Harry? Your right leg was in bad shape. Your femur was shattered and the knee wasn’t replaceable, then an infection set in. They took your right leg two days after you…above the knee.”

“Oh,” he said, interrupting her. “That’s strange. Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“We did, Harry.”

“It’s the morphine,” Callahan sighed. “Tell the docs no more. None. I can’t do this if they keep me doped up.”

Lloyd walked up and looked into his father’s eyes, not sure what he was seeing now but oddly reassured. “Dad, you feeling okay?”

And Harry nodded. “I am. And son, I need you, so stop trying to avoid me. Please.”

© 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.]

Come Alive (28)

come alive im2 HR57 small

A long one today so fetch some tea. And just because it matters more and more…

Chapter 28

The shaking grew violent and everything around him began spinning, then feeling nausea and vertigo coming on he closed his eyes, reaching out with his hands to let his senses reassert some semblance of control, until he felt Pinky’s huge, rough hand on his arm. And only then did he open his eyes and look up at her.

She was working rapidly now and had just finished wrapping a new tape around his arm, but he could see concern in her eyes now – for the first time – and suddenly he felt scared. She leaned back then and he knew she was reaching out – but for who?

A shimmering blue sphere appeared, then a green one, but before their appearance really had a chance to register in his mind they were gone, replaced seconds later by first dozens, then literally hundreds of golden bubble-like spheres that quickly drifted down onto the bed, in milliseconds completely covering both Clyde and Taggart. He tried to keep his eyes open but they burned now, like his eyes had filled with soapy water, then it became hard to breathe. He felt the inward panic of looming suffocation and reached out with his hand…

Pinky took it, but then he felt a hot pinch on his forearm, just like the pain of an injection – and then he remembered the Old Man’s gentle laughter. He struggled to hold onto consciousness but he felt everything falling beyond and within a white hot veil, and the last thing he was aware of was swallowing hard and, for some reason, of wanting to cry.

+++++

When Tracy came into Henry’s stateroom she found him lifeless on his bed and began CPR, then she remembered he had an auto-defib unit on the wall in his head and dashed for it. She opened the unit and attached the leads then fired the unit…

+++++

He opened his eyes, tried to make sense of his surroundings.

Everything looked and felt so familiar, impossibly so, and he pinched his eyes and shook his head, trying to knock the spinning cobwebs from his mind.

“It’s my old bedroom,” he said, “and I’m back on the island.” He sat up and felt the cool breeze coming in off the Pacific and realized he’d slept with his window open again, but then he saw his physics homework on the desk and groaned in defeat. 

“Damn, I forgot…I didn’t finish it,” he said as he walked over and looked at a problem on the conservation of linear momentum that had stumped him for hours the night before. He looked at his alarm clock and sighed, then picked up his textbooks and the rest of his homework and put them in his book bag – before he realized he hadn’t showered and went off to his bathroom. He stood under the hot water trying to wash the remnants of the dream from his mind, something about his grandson living on a distant planet, and he laughed at the absurdity of the images that came to mind.

He dried off and dressed, then remembered they had a game that afternoon and that he was supposed to wear his practice jersey to classes today. ‘The pep-rally, Dufus! Remember?’ he said to himself for the umpteenth time. He shook off the ritual pre-game jitters that always came for him while he dressed for school on game days, then he heard his mother in the kitchen and his father down the hall in their bathroom, an ancient electric razor mowing the stubble on the old man’s face again. He picked up his book bag and headed downstairs, lingering scents of hot pancakes and crisp bacon pushing aside all his worries about botched homework and the teams’ rivalry with Huntington Beach High. 

“Hi, Mom,” he said as he bounced into her kitchen.

“Good morning, Bright-eyes. How’d you sleep?”

“Oh, you know, up-tight – as always.”

She put a plate of pancakes down on the table in front of him and he smiled as his dad came in and sat at the head of the table.

“Have a rough night, Sport?” his father said.

He shrugged.

“I could hear you tossing and turning all night, at least until I finally dropped off.”

“Sorry, Pops. Big day today?”

“No, nothing out of the ordinary. Finish that problem?”

He shook his head. “No, but I got Benson for study hall this morning. I’ll get it before class.”

“Well, okay, but you know the deal…bad report card and you stay home for Christmas.”

“I know, I know,” Henry sighed.

“Speaking of,” his mother interrupted. “Did you go ahead with the airline reservations yesterday?”

“I did indeed, and reservations at the Crillon, too.”

Which caused her to smile as she set a platter of scrambled eggs and bacon on the table. Henry waited for his father to take some, then he put some on his mother’s plate before he finished off the rest.

“Got your books ready?” his father asked as he stood and put on his jacket.

“Yessir.”

“We picking up Claire?”

“Yes, if that’s not a problem?”

“Well, it hasn’t been for the last ten years, so let’s get going…”

He kissed his mom and headed for the door, then he turned around: “You coming to the game tonight?”

“You know it!” she said enthusiastically. “I hear scouts from SC and Berkeley are going to be there tonight!”

He rolled his eyes as another wave of acid roiled his gut. “Thanks. I needed that.”

“I’ll see you there!” she said, blowing his father a kiss as they walked out the door.

It was just a few blocks to Claire’s house, but true-to-form Edith was out there waiting with her sister and he groaned. His father pulled up in front of their house on Via Barcelona and Claire hopped in and slid across the back seat, making room for her sister but keeping a wall of books between them – as a barricade. Henry turned around and looked at Claire, at her beauty – and as it always did – it took his breath away.

She’d started to look more and more like Olivia de Havilland this year – which wasn’t so surprising as the actress was some kind of second aunt once removed, or something like that – and like de Havilland Claire was as brainy as she was beautiful. She’d taken the full SATs her sophomore year and aced them – a  solid 1600 – and already Princeton and Yale had sent offers her way, so things were looking up on her end. 

But his score hadn’t even been close. With 1480 on his first try he might make it into Berkeley or USC, but his first choice, Stanford, would probably remain out of reach – and no one had to remind him that the Ivy Leagues would sneer at his 3.8 GPA. But football might make the difference, or so his father liked to say, and though there was some truth to the notion it left a bitter trace in his mind.

“I’ve got to hit study hall this morning,” he said to Claire – doing his level best to ignore Edith. “I just kept messing up the order of operations and the results don’t look right.”

“Oh? Let me take a look,” Claire said, and after he dug the papers out of his bag he handed them over. She scanned his work and smiled. “Nope, you got it.”

“What?”

“You’ve just to erase what you have there now and put what you had originally, then you’re there.”

“Always go with your first answer, Hank,” his dad admonished. “And don’t forget this little lesson when you retake your SATs.”

He took the homework back and looked at what he’d erased. “So, the answer is 93.7?”

She nodded. “Just don’t forget to put FPS down. You know how Benson loves to zing you for little goofs like that.”

“And they do on the SATs, right Hank?” his father added, nailing him one more time before they got to school.

He opened her door and helped her out, taking both their book bags, then he went to the front door and leaned in. “You going to be there this afternoon?” Henry asked his father.

“I might miss the first quarter, but I’ll try to be there for the kickoff. Coach say anymore about letting you have a go at fullback?”

Henry nodded. “I memorized all the runs, so I’m ready.”

“Well, son, this would be a good night to strut your stuff. I’ll seeya there.”

“Okay, Dad. Later.”

He took Claire’s hand and they walked in and put books in their lockers, Henry still doing his best to ignore Edith, then the first bell rang and they headed off to their classes.

+++++

Henry stood by the window, Claire’s hand in his, looking at the TWA 707 waiting for them out there on the ramp, the huge Trans World maintenance hanger just across the north-south taxiway framing their view. He turned and looked around for his father – and couldn’t find him in the crowd – until he spotted him coming out of the head and walking over to Claire’s father. 

Then the gate agents called their flight and boarded the first class cabin first, so their parents waved then boarded the aircraft. When coach was called Henry made sure Edith went first, then hand-in-hand he and Claire walked out the Jetway and up to the forward boarding door, and he smiled at the stewardesses as they stepped into the cabin. Their parents were in the last row of first class, and the three of them were in the bulkhead seat literally right behind his mom and dad. Boarding didn’t take long and soon enough the doors were closed and the engines on the left wing began spooling up.

Edith had been pestering him for days about taking the window seat and he’d gladly given it up so long as she promised to keep to herself during the flight, and Claire had, thankfully, taken the middle seat – so a flight in relative peace was a real possibility. Still, no sooner had The Pest taken her seat did the nonstop blather start…

“All I can see is engines,” she snorted.

“Good reason to close the shade and go to sleep,” Henry snarled.

“I’m not sleepy!” The Pest screeched, her whining chant easily drowning out the Pratt & Whitney turbofans idling on the other side of the thin layers of metal fuselage.

“Why am I not surprised?” Henry growled, but Claire gently squeezed his hand, in effect asking him to lay off and to not be so mean to her little sister.

He tapped her fingers with his, letting her know “message received” – and while he rarely thought about such things he marveled at how fundamentally attuned they were to each other.

“I don’t like this,” Edith wailed.

“What don’t you like?” Claire asked.

“The window. I don’t want to sit here.”

“Where do you want to sit?” Henry asked.

“Your seat. Now!”

As they hadn’t started their pushback yet, Henry opened his seatbelt and stood, then he helped Edith into the seat before switching, one of the stewardesses immediately getting on the PA and asking him to take his seat – which caused more than a little grumbling from the first class section. 

“I can’t get this thingy fastened,” Edith cried, her hands flailing about now, and Henry leaned over Claire and just managed to get her strapped in as the jet began pushing back.

“Anything else, Edith?” he growled.

“I want a Pepsi!”

“Edith, they serve Coke on TWA, not Pepsi,” Claire sighed.

“I want a Pepsi!”

“Well,” Claire added, “I hope you brought one with you.” And with that Claire took her little airline pillow and placed it on Henry’s shoulder, then she leaned into him, placing her head on the pillow with a deep sigh.

“You sleepy?” he asked.

“Yeah, I have been all day.”

“Want to skip dinner?”

“I don’t know. Depends on what they have, I guess.”

“Okay. go ahead and rest. I’ll wake you when they come around.”

“You know what I like. Just get me something easy to handle.”

The brakes squealed loudly every time the jet stopped, which was often as they were in a long line of aircraft waiting to take off, but then their turn came and he looked out the window as the Boeing turned onto the runway. The engines ran up a little then cut back to idle for a second, then they began to roar as the pilot applied full takeoff power – and Claire squeezed his hand again, only this time…hard.

Then the rush down the pavement and they were in the air, flying over a bunch of abandoned streets then the beach, and a minute later the jet made a smooth turn to the right, to the northeast, and steadied up on the new heading as they climbed high into the fading light of day. Claire soon eased up on his hand, and a few minutes later he heard her breathing deeply, apparently sound asleep. She twitched a couple of times, then came a violent spasm of some kind, and that one worried him, enough so that he went forward and asked his mother about it.

+++++

Seven in the morning on Christmas Eve found them at the Gare Saint-Lazare waiting for the train to Le Havre and Henry had wrapped himself around Claire, trying to ward off the penetrating dampness of this cold December morning. His father had gone for coffee, leaving his mother to sit there beside them, and he could feel a gently rising tension in his mother’s presence beside her, too.

His mother was, of course, an internist, so she had picked up on all the signs even before Claire had. The wayward wince here and there. Sitting in a chair at dinner and grimacing. Then she and Claire had disappeared yesterday afternoon…with no warning at all…just gone. And when they’d come back from – wherever – his mother had put Claire to bed and told him to let her sleep, and he knew better than to challenge his mom when something like this was afoot.

Yet Claire had insisted on joining their traditional excursion to Honfleur, because, she’d said, that making it to the Christmas Eve service at the little chapel off the harbor was something she had to do this trip. And then she’d told him it was important.

“Important? What do you mean?”

“I can’t explain it, Hank. It’s something I feel, maybe like a shadow that shouldn’t be there? Or maybe I’m standing in a shadow? Sorry…I just can’t put a finger on it.”

“That’s okay, baby. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.” Now she was by his side trying to stay warm, and each time she trembled he held her a little closer. And each time he felt her slipping farther and farther away.

Their train pulled up to the platform – apparently direct from the yard and freshly cleaned – and when the doors slid open he helped her into a window seat and slipped his jacket over her shoulders…

…and all the while Edith stood back watching his every move…

Because she knew something important had happened. Important…and bad.

+++++

She knelt in the chapel after the service concluded and he remained there by her side, not at all sure what was going on but certain of his place in their evolving little universe. She was praying, her head down and her eyes closed, and he looked at her – suddenly feeling more than a little amused. Claire had always said she was an agnostic, yet the few times she’d spoken about religion he’d kind of figured out she was really more an atheist. God was, she’d always maintained, the real villain in this movie – and she wasn’t going to let Him get away with shit. “If there’s a God,” she’d told him more than once, “me and Him are going to have a few choice words when I get up there.”

Presupposing things like heaven and hell exist, he’d always wanted to add – yet he never did. He couldn’t. He loved her too much to rock the boat. Hell, he knew he loved her too much, period. His love for her was all consuming, so much so that the idea of her heading off to some Ivy League college was becoming a source of real angst.

She finished her prayer – at least he assumed that’s what she’d been doing – but then she took his hand in hers and turned to look in his eyes.

“I want you to bring me here next year, okay Hank?”

“Yeah, sure,” he’d said then – not knowing what was going down and what the next year was going to bring to all their lives. 

“No, I mean it, Hank. You’ve got to promise me.”

“Okay Claire, I promise.”

She’d stood then, but before they left she’d walked up to a wooden sculpture of the crucifixion behind the little alter and there she’d simply looked up at the man there and stared into the gaping maw of his sacrifice. He’d stood behind her a little and it hit him then…the meaning of his promise to her…and then he felt his world bending and twisting out of shape for the last time in his life…

+++++

But the year passed.

And the next thing he knew he was in the very same chapel, only this time with a small urn in his hands – instead of Claire’s hand. She’d told him what to do, what she wanted, and all he could do was agree with her because she’d become a pure force of nature the last few months of her life.

She’d written to the parish priest about her wishes and he was ready for her, and for him, and after their traditional Christmas Eve service Henry had waited for the chapel to clear, then the priest had joined him.

“Are you ready?” the priest said as their families gathered ’round Henry.

“I think so, yes.”

+++++

“Hank, I want you to take me down to the point, to the Jardin des Personnalités. Take me to the sea by the point and spread my ashes out there.”

“Okay.”

“Not on the rocks. I want you to take me out into the sea…”

“But, Claire…why?”

She’d looked at him for the longest time, then put her hand on the side of his face. “Because if I’m in the sea then I’ll always be close to you.”

+++++

It was December and the water was ice-cold, so of course he’d brought along a shorty wet-suit and had changed in a public restroom near the park, and only then did he and the priest and both his families walk out to the point.

The priest said a few things then took out a piece of paper and when he spoke now he addressed all of them in turn…

“Claire sent me a letter before she left us,” the priest began, “and though addressed to me there are things said that need to be shared, so if you will excuse me I will try to convey to you what she passed along to me…”

Henry hadn’t known this was coming and suddenly felt very unsure of himself, and he felt his eyes filling with tears…

“She told me that Henry will be an explorer, a very lonely explorer, and that all of you must accept that about him…

“Edith, she wanted me to tell you that you should try to respect what Henry meant to your sister…

“And Henry, while you should be prepared for anything, please remember that her love for you will always by with you, and that she will be there to protect you when you need her most…”

“What?”

“That is what she told me, Henry. You should go now, take her now and let her rest…”

+++++

He carried her – and the little urn that held her now – out into the sea, and as water filled the space between his skin and the neoprene it warmed a little, at least enough to make this whole thing a little less jarring, or so he thought. Stones underfoot fell away sharply and a gentle current tugged at him, pulling him away from land, but he had always been a good swimmer so he didn’t think too much about it. Holding the urn just out of the water he side-stroked away from the rocks, keeping his eyes fixed on the lights of Le Havre a couple of miles across the river, until a few minutes later he was well away from shore.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what to say right now, Claire,” he said after he stopped swimming and began treading along with the current. “I feel empty inside, like my life without you has no meaning anymore. Is that wrong of me?”

He struggled to remove the top from the urn and then held it high over his head, then he began shaking her ashes into the sea. He could hardly see now, his eyes filling with tears too long repressed, but then he saw her remains floating on the inky surface and he moved his hands through the chalky stillness until she finally began to drift away from him. 

He held his hand up in the moonlight and saw remnants of her on his skin and overcome by the sight of her like this he spread her ashes across his forehead and then through his hair, all the while crying and wanting nothing more than to just let go and drift out to sea with her…

+++++

“Can you see him? I’ve lost sight of him,” his mother said to Claire’s father.

“I think I see him, but I’m not sure anymore. He’s got to be a half mile out there now, maybe more.”

Edith was standing there, close to the edge of the water, and she understood exactly what was going on. “He wants to stay with her,” she whispered.

“What?”Henry’s mother said. “What did you say, Edith?”

“He wants to stay with her. He’s not coming back…” Edith said, but right then she threw off her coat and dove into the river, and she began swimming in the direction she’d last seen Henry…

“Claire!” Edith’s father called out, then he realized his mistake and called out Edith’s name, but that mistake had played out hundreds of times before and it was a part of who the little girl was. “Come back here!”

She was on the swim team and the water didn’t bother her in the least, at least not for a few minutes, but when she felt the first ragged waves of hypothermia settling in the muscles of her thighs she stopped swimming and turned around, looking at her parents waving at her from the shore.

She pushed up, tried to see any sign of Henry on the sparkling, moon-dappled water, but when she saw nothing out there she turned back to the comfort of all the knowns in her life…

+++++

The wetsuit provided all the buoyancy he needed, so the only real danger now was hypothermia, yet laying out there in the sea his core still felt reasonably warm. With his head half submerged the cool water was lapping against his eardrums, but his eyes were commanding all his attention now.

Almost due south and now quite high in the sky, Orion was hanging around up there, drawing his bow and getting ready to let slip his arrow once again. He forgot who or what the archer was aiming at, then realized even that really didn’t matter anymore…

He had to be three miles out now and the current was pushing him with real force – and still he just didn’t care anymore. He watched as a freighter, surrounded by a covey of tugs, began pushing back from a wharf and turned for the breakwater, and while he – on one level, at least – knew what was going on, all that now felt like it belonged to another life, one he’d abandoned…

Then the water suddenly grew warm, startlingly warm, and he reached down with his feet half expecting to feel a sandbar or some other shallow formation – and then a shiny black face slipped from beneath the surface of the sea. It was an orca, he saw. A very young male – and they were looking at one another, each taking a measure of the other.

But when water splashed into his eyes just then, Henry saw Claire in the darkness and tears came to him once again.

Then the young male came close and brushed against him and instinct took hold.

Henry hugged the orca, his face against the side of the orca’s face, and then he cried and cried –

– until he heard a gentle clicking coming from the sea –

– then a moaning sound from deep within the orca –

– and he felt the protective embrace of the orca’s pectoral, almost as if the young male was shielding him from something…

“Thanks, buddy,” Henry said, pushing back a little so he could look into the orca’s eye, but now the clicking sound was a fierce presence now, coming from everywhere – and he turned and was stunned to see several orcas staring at him, all of them very quiet as he floated there in the young male’s embrace.

Then Claire’s words from the priest came to him. “‘My love will be there to protect you…’” he said to the young male, then he pointed to Honfleur. “Would you mind taking me over there?”

The male seemed to nod once and gently presented his dorsal fin, and when the two of them took off for the shoreline the rest of the pod followed…

+++++

March. Spring break. High school graduation less than three months off.

Friends from the football team are heading up to Mammoth for a week. Hotel rooms reserved, hot tubs and Boone’s Farm Apple Wine all lined up, and they want me to go up with them. Two station wagons all lined up and packed, ready to go. Skis waxed, new boots fitted because, ‘Hey mom, my feet are still growing, ya know?’

Through the smog to Claremont then up to the high desert before getting on 395, then the long slog to Lone Pone and Bishop before the final sprint into Mammoth Lakes and then to find the hotel. And while he’s unpacking the Ford another wagon pulls into the lot and there are a bunch of girls from Newport Beach inside. And when he realizes one of them is Edith he feels betrayed, then like running into the forest behind the hotel…

His friends get him up early because there’s been a dump overnight and everyone wants to make first tracks on the Cornice Run off the upper gondola. They dash to the base lodge and grab something hot for breakfast then pick up their lift tickets and head for the gondola. Edith gets into the gondola just ahead of his and he wonders how she’s been managing to hide herself so well…

She is waiting for him in the midway station and gets into the next gondola with him.

He turns away from her when she sits next to him.

“You can’t hide from me forever, Hank.”

“I can try,” he snarled. “What are you doing here, Pest?”

“I just wanted to talk, you know?”

“Talk? About what?”

“Claire.”

“What? Why me?”

“Mom and dad won’t talk about her anymore, not even a little bit, but there are so many things I want to talk about, to know about, and so many things about her I feel are already slipping away, but Hank, you know all the answers. You’re carrying all that stuff around inside your head and I need to talk with you about all those things…”

She didn’t leave his side after that, and one day he saw a picture someone had taken of the two of them over at the Bay Club and he’d had a hard time understanding the picture was taken with Edith, not Claire. Even some of his best friends told him it was hard to tell the sisters apart now, and though it was a little spooky everyone seemed to understand. Maybe, they said, this was the way things were supposed to be now, ya know?

+++++

Berkeley. He was in the jocks dorm because he was on a half ride scholarship, playing middle linebacker his freshman year, and even though he was just a freshman he was varsity so the older guys left him pretty much alone and didn’t beat him up too much.

His dad called, wanted to know about Christmas that year.

“I don’t think I can do it, Dad.”

“I understand, but I had to ask.”

“You and mom should go. Don’t let me stop you guys having fun.”

“You going to do something with Edith?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I was thinking about Park City.”

“Yeah? Look, I’ve done some work for the Bass brothers, so why don’t you let me see if I can swing a deal up at Snowbird…”

+++++

She flew up to SFO and they drove across to Salt Lake City together – and just like that a family tradition disappeared, never to be rekindled. But the Cliff Lodge was something else…a modest skyscraper hewn of concrete, glass, and steel perched on a small rise at the bottom of the mountain. And everything about the place was magnificent.

She was a good skier, too. Better than Claire, not quite as good as he was but good enough to be fun. She loved him and reminded him of that several times a day, and while nights together had been tough at first they were really great now.

And then…Christmas Eve.

His first ever away from his parents. His first with Edith, with Claire’s shadow never really far away.

Sitting in the elegant dining room at the Cliff Lodge, the fireplace roaring and a heavy snow falling beyond curtains of tinted glass. A roast goose with all the trimmings, holding hands and all kinds of talk about the life they planned to share in some kind of golden future stretching out ahead. All of a sudden everything was serious and yet she felt so right. Echoes are like that, right?

Yet when they made love now they were creating something all their own. Claire wasn’t a part of this new thing.

Was she? Or would she really never leave him?

+++++

He flew down for a weekend a few weeks later, in late January. Something was different. She was distant. Aloof. He took her to The Crab Cooker for lunch on Saturday and she wouldn’t even look him in the eye. Walking back to her car after lunch he reached for her hand and she pulled away.

He didn’t push. He didn’t even ask any questions. And when she stopped calling he stopped too because it hurt too much when he thought about it. The funny thing about it? He was losing Claire all over again and he didn’t even know what the fuck was going down.

He dated a few girls later that year but when those fizzled his studies seemed to take precedence and that was that. He began to hate Berkeley, thought about transferring to SC or Stanford then spring training came around and some kid put a helmet to his knee and then football became a sore sort of memory, too.

His knee was still in a brace when the Mazatlan race started, but his dad surrendered the wheel and let him take it. He steered almost the whole trip and Bandit did pretty good, taking third in class – which wasn’t bad for a heavy boat like a Swan. The crew, a bunch of his father’s friends who made-up the same ragtag crew every summer, went out busting down bottles of tequila their first night down there and it was the first time he’d ever seen his father get seriously drunk. Then his father got even more drunk the next night and fucked some kind of Mexican hooker, and Henry looked away and looked away until he couldn’t even look at his father anymore…

+++++

He’d been working for a startup that was developing a so-called digital darkroom, mainly taking slides and negatives and scanning them so deeper manipulations could take place in their software. The owner of the company had just bought a sailboat he planned to keep on Lake Union and he wanted to know if Henry could help bring the boat from Vancouver, BC back down to the lake.

“I hear you’ve done some real sailing,” Dean Collins said.

“Real sailing? What’s that?”

“Overnight, stuff like that. You know, real stuff.”

Henry had scowled at that bit of obtuse circumlocution and hoped Dean was kidding.

“Thing is, I got this new boat but I think it’s too big for me.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. You ever heard of Swans?”

Henry had nodded, curious now because if there was one thing he knew it was that newbies shouldn’t try to cut their teeth on boats like Swans. “Yeah, I’ve heard of ‘em. What did you pick up?”

“A sixty-five footer,” Collins said, now intently watching Henry for some kind of reaction.

“You bought a Swan 65? And you don’t know how to sail?”

“Oh, I can sail. Lasers, Hobie Cats, that stuff. I mean…I did once at summer camp…”

“Uh-huh.”

“So, you think you can handle a Swan?”

“Let’s see, is this an S&S version, or Frers, new or used?”

“New, the latest and greatest, the 651.”

“You gonna campaign it, or what?” Henry asked, now seriously entertaining the idea that his friend and the owner of this company was a total idiot.

“No, no. I just wanted something to watch fireworks from. You know, something that grabs peoples’ attention and keeps it.”

“Oh? Well, I reckon a 651 ought to do that reasonably well. I guess you’re talking about the fireworks on Lake Union, right?”

“Yeah, right.”

“So…you’re probably not thinking about taking it out on the Sound very much?”

“Man, I don’t know about that. Not yet, anyway. Say, have you done any racing?”

“A little.”

“Like what?”

“Five PORCs and three transpacs.”

“PORCs? What’s that?”

“Pacific Ocean Racing Conference. Races down the Pacific coast, like LA down to Mexico, things like that.”

“No shit? How many of those have you done?”

Taggart shrugged. “I don’t know. Thirty I guess, maybe a few more than that.”

“And three transpacs?”

“Yup.”

“So…you’re coming with me, right?”

“Yeah, I reckon I probably better, because if I don’t you’ll probably sink a reef or something. Anyone else coming?”

“Yeah, my dad.”

“Oh, I take it he’s a sailor?”

“Nope. Never been.”

“Uh-huh. What’s he do?”

“Retired air force, but he works for Boeing these days, in some kind of special projects division.”

+++++

The Swan was tied off at a broker’s dock near the airport, and Dean introduced Henry to General Rupert Collins in the broker’s office, before they went down to check out the boat. The Swan had been ordered by a banker from Hong Kong who wanted to keep it here in Vancouver, but the banker had vapor locked and dropped dead a month before delivery. The Swan had just been delivered, riding on the deck of a large ocean going freighter all the way from Finland, and Dean had negotiated a better than good price and now owned one of the best ocean racing sailboats in the world. That he wanted to use for watching fireworks on a lake in the middle of downtown Seattle, presumably so he could impress a few girls, or boys, or whatever it was that floated his boat. So to speak.

Henry and the General walked down to the dock admiring the gleaming navy blue hull as they approached her.

“Dean tells me you’ve done some sailing?”

“A little, yes. Mainly racing.”

“Didn’t that broker say this is a racing boat. Is that about the size of things?”

“Yessir. These are among the best, and by that I mean the toughest long distance racing boats in the world. Two of ‘em have won the Whitbread.”

“Whitbread? What’s that?”

“A round the world race. Lots of national teams with crews drawn from special forces.”

“You mean, like Rangers and SEALs?”

“British SAS is more to the point, but yeah. The race is grueling, and people die.”

“And these boats win?”

“Yessir.”

“And my boy wants to use this thing as a goddam party barge?”

“Yessir.”

“Isn’t there a race from around here to Hawaii?”

“Yessir, the Vic-Maui, and then there’s the Swiftsure Series.”

“What’s that, the Vic-Maui?”

“Victoria, BC to Lahaina, Maui. It’s a little longer than the LA-Diamond Head transpac and the routing is notoriously fickle because of shifting weather patterns, but I hear it’s a fun race.”

“Okay. What about this boat? Would it be competitive?”

“Uh, if you don’t mind me asking, sir, what are you driving at?”

“Well, to my mind this is kind of like buying a Kentucky Derby race horse and then using it to plow fields, and that ain’t gonna happen on my watch, Mr. Taggart. So my question to you is this? You want to help me campaign this tub, or do I go back up to that office and tell that suede-shoe hot-shot ‘no deal.’

“Sir? I thought this was supposed to be Dean’s boat.”

“Piffle. That boy ain’t earned a dime in his life. And by the way, this will end up being my purchase, just like that company you’re working for was my purchase. I’m just hoping that jackass doesn’t fuck things up again, and that maybe, just maybe he makes some money this time.”

“I see.”

“So? What’ll it be?”

+++++

Two days later. Tied off along the outer mole at the port in Friday Harbor, a de Havilland Beaver on floats idling nearby, probably getting ready to leave for Seattle, but who knew, right?

Dean shut-in down below in his ‘owners cabin’ – lost inside a never-ending pout. And because daddy had taken over everything to do with his new toy he’d decided the first thing he was going to do when he got back to Seattle was fire Taggart. 

The General and Henry were in town picking up an inflatable boat and an outboard, because it would be a pain to have to rely on marinas for overnight stops and inflatables were like station wagons for boats. You couldn’t have one without the other, Henry said – and by this point, after two days of Dean’s nonstop bullshit, when Henry spoke the General listened.

They picked up an Avon and a British Seagull motor and the store told them they’d deliver it dockside later that afternoon, so Henry and Rupert went off in search of breakfast because, naturally enough, there still wasn’t any real food on board. After Dean went off in search of groceries in Vancouver he returned with a few bags of potato chips and a case of Coke, so their trip south had been a quest to find restaurants with docks – and enough draft to accommodate the Swan’s deep racing keel. Hence…the inflatable boat had become an overnight priority.

“Henry, I don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy of mine…”

“He seems like a challenge.”

“You shoulda gone to work for State. Don’t you ever say what you feel?”

Henry shook his head. “It’s a nasty habit I’m trying to quit, sir.”

That was good for a chuckle. “So, this whole digital darkroom shit? Is there anything to it, or am I sinking his mother’s money in another bottomless pit?”

So Taggart had given the General a rundown on the transformation about to transform the photographic industry, and the role software would play in the shift. Henry had to backtrack more than once, too, and get Rupert up to speed on the whole special effects revolution shaking up the motion picture biz down in LA, but by the time he’d wrapped up his lecture the General was a fascinated convert.

“I’ve read your CV, by the way. What are you doing working for someone like my son?”

“He’s actually kind of a good kid, sir, he just never grew up and now he’s paying the price. People like him because he’s been easy to take advantage of, at least so far he has been…”

“And then you came along. Yeah, I saw that too.”

“Yeah? Well, when we were at Stanford I got to know him, and probably better than most people ever will. He’s actually kind of brilliant, but he’s a misfit too. Anyway, when I heard what he was running up against up here I wanted to get involved before he lost his shirt.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, the reason was simple enough really. Greed. There’s going to be a shitload of money made in this area and I wouldn’t mind being in on the haul. The best way for me to do that right now is to see to it that Dean gets this thing off the ground and then running at full speed…”

“And then what, Henry?”

“In this biz the best thing that can happen to someone in Dean’s position is to build up your company and make the operation so attractive that one of the big fish just has to swim by and snap you up, buy you out…”

“And that’s your aim with Dean?”

“Kind of, sir. Like I said, I really don’t want to see him get hurt, but at the same time it’s a good opportunity for me. This is my area, and I have some ideas I want to work with. I have the freedom to do that where I am right now…then…who knows. I’d like to move back to LA at some point, but I’m not in a rush.”

They made it back to the Swan in time to meet the delivery crew, and after they got the Avon inflated and the motor mounted Henry took Dean and the General out for a spin around the little harbor. Dean was still pouting but the fresh air appeared to help some…

The next night they anchored out not far from Oak Harbor, and now fully provisioned Henry whipped up a spicy clam chowder and served it up in little bowls made from sourdough bread. After that Dean and the General retired for the evening, leaving Henry to clean up his mess and generally tidy up the deck before hitting the sack himself…

And a few hours later the General sat up in bed, confused. He’d heard splashing nearby and some other noises that just made no sense to him, so he got up and walked forward to fetch Henry…

…but Henry wasn’t in his cabin, so he went aft to his son’s…

…but no, Dean was asleep…then he heard more splashing…but coming from outside…

He went back to his cabin and dressed then went topsides, but Henry wasn’t out here either.

Then he heard more splashing, and laughter too. 

He turned and looked behind the boat and finally saw that Henry was out there – but he was surrounded by several killer whales – and when he realized that they all appeared to be playing with each other he stiffened a little, until he noticed the gathering of little gold spheres hovering about a hundred feet above the water…then he dashed below to grab his Nikon…where he ran into something even more outrageous.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates. Or…you can click here.

Sorry, I just had to…

Come Alive (27.5)

Come alive image twilight lg

Chapter 27.5

((Maybe listen while you read?))

The Old Man cradled Clyde’s head in his hands and then looked into the old pup’s eyes. “Your pain will be at an end soon enough, old friend.” He put a finger on the forehead right between Clyde’s eyes, then he rubbed in small concentric circles… “Why don’t you take a rest now,” he added, as he gently rubbed the spot. Clyde put his head down and was soon snoring away.

“Who are you?” Henry asked, feeling a little paranoid.

“Oh, probably not who you think I am, Henry.”

“Well then, it’s certainly reassuring to know that you know what I’m thinking.”

Which made the Old Man laugh, but now he didn’t take his eyes off Taggart. “I have been watching you for a few months now, trying to come to an understanding of the relationship you have with the Others. Tell me about the one you call Pinky?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

And this only made the Old Man laugh harder, and this time he laughed so hard his eyes began to water, then he coughed a few times before he settled down again. 

“Are you human?” Taggart asked. “Because, frankly, I’ve never seen one of the Others laugh so hard they pissed their pants.”

The Old Man stopped laughing and looked down…

“Gotcha,” Taggart said, grinning.

And this time the Old Man did piss his pants.

+++++

“Yes, of course I’m human,” the Old Man said.

“But…”

“I know what Pinky told you, but I am not from another world…”

“Well hell, Paco, you sure ain’t from this one, so just what the hell you are?”

“You could think of me as a time traveler, sort of, but that wouldn’t really be accurate, either. But Henry…”

“…is not really interested, Old Man. So why don’t you just tell me where you’re from?”

“Originally?”

“Yes dammit, originally.”

“Oh, I grew up on a small farm. At least what you would have called a farm, but all that is unimportant now.”

“A farmer, huh? So, let me guess…you know your way around with a tractor, right?”

“A tractor?” the Old Man asked, clearly confused.

“So, you’re full of shit…and that’s okay, I get it. Yeah, well, so tell me, what do you want with me?”

“When the time comes I need you to trust me. I’ll need you to come with me, and to not ask any questions.”

“Man-oh-man, but you really are full of it…”

“Henry, it’s important or I wouldn’t ask, so until then you’ll just have to trust me.”

“Okay…but…tell me just one thing,” Henry sighed, grinning. “Why should I?”

The Old Man smiled. “Well, Clyde trusts me. Will that do?”

Henry shook his head. “No, sorry…but I don’t think that’s gonna cut it, Slick.”

The Old Man nodded and reached into an interior pocket and produced a leather wallet, then he pulled what looked like a hollow glass container – not quite the size and shape of a deck of cards – from inside the wallet, and this he handed to Taggart.

“What’s this?”

“A photograph. Hold it by the sides, and place your right thumb here,” the Old Man said, pointing to a spot on the side of the container.

Henry took the glass and held it as indicated; he felt the gentlest electric shock – more like a static discharge – when he placed his thumb on the side of the container, then a dazzling high resolution image appeared on the glass surface. He saw an older woman, a middle aged woman, and a young boy standing on a beach. “Okay. Nice family photo. What about it…?”

“Look close, Henry.”

Taggart looked at the old woman and his heart froze. She was in her late sixties, maybe even a little older, but it was Britt. He could see the nervous kindness in her eyes and she still had the same smile, and now he looked up at the Old Man with wonder in his eyes. “Is it…Britt?”

The Old Man nodded. “It is indeed, and the other woman is Britt’s daughter, the firstborn twin.”

Henry fought back an urge to cry. “And who’s the boy?”

“That would be Britt’s grandson, who just so happens to be, well, me.”

“What?” Henry said, though he’d heard everything his great-grandson just said.

“You can pinch to zoom in or out if you like, kind of like the original phones did.”

Henry pinched the image and he examined Britt’s face, then he zoomed in closer – until her eyes took up the entire display. It was her…no doubt about it…and now he didn’t know what to say.

“Zoom out if you want to see the farm.”

Henry zoomed out and wanted to scream when he saw the image. There was the sandy road, the white house in the distance – and overhead…the ringed blue planet – and then Henry’s hand began to shake.

The Old Man reached out and took the glass container and slipped it back in its protective wallet, then he put it back inside his loden cape.

Henry’s hands began twitching, then shaking violently, and the Old Man took Henry’s hand and examined the skin where he’d felt the static discharge – then it seemed to Henry that the Old Man smiled for a moment…just before he disappeared again…

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