The Eighty-eighth Key (58.5)

88th key cover image

Can quiet be consequential? Of course it can, when the music matters.

Chapter 58.5

Ida watched Todd and Lloyd while they worked together – side by side, you might say – and she saw the contours of a real working relationship developing. Lloyd, because he was still genuinely impressed by Todd Bright and all his billowing fame; and Todd, because Lloyd was a better musician than anyone he’d ever known, and he knew the kid had an immense future waiting just ahead. A future he wanted to be a part of, to watch unfold.

But something else was going on, too, she saw. Something Ida was powerless to stop.

Since the incident at the bridge Todd had stepped up and taken on a more positive role when he was around Lloyd, and the boy was soaking up all the attention. DD had even mentioned it to Ida, and while she readily acknowledged what was happening she had no workable solution to offer – other than to separate the two and hope for the best…

Yet Ida saw something else in this budding relationship, one that troubled her even more. 

When Todd spoke about Harry it was almost always a glowing diatribe of some sort or another, a reflection, Ida thought, of Todd’s growing infatuation with Harry Callahan. And yet when Todd first learned that Callahan was still, nominally, at least, a detective with the San Francisco PD, he’d been impressed and depressed at the same time. He grew deeply paranoid for a while, until he remembered that Harry was basically a cool cat, but then came the news of the ambush at the Golden Gate Bridge and Harry’s tenuous hold on life. And in that cascade of troubling events something changed within the musician.

He’d always been a polyamorous sort, though all his relationships had been, generally speaking, of the heterosexual variety. And while he’d never had homosexual, or even bisexual affairs, he’d found himself attracted to Callahan. Now, on finding that Callahan was some kind of legendary homicide cop and that he’d flown helicopters over in ‘Nam, he found his feelings for Harry intensifying. And these new feelings were as confusing as they were troublesome.

Because he’d never thought of himself as gay. He’d never been attracted to men, not in a physical sense, anyway. But there was a very real connection now, something he felt on a visceral level, and the feeling was as uncomfortable as it was undeniable. Maybe, Todd thought, I need a father, or a brother in my life now. Maybe this is what I’m feeling?

And now Lloyd was foundering. His real mother long dead, his de facto mother gone for just weeks now, and suddenly his father’s life was almost at an end. Todd had Ida drive them into the city, to the hospital, so Lloyd could see his dad – but that hadn’t gone as expected.

Lloyd had grown pale and started shaking violently when he first saw his father in that bed; hooked up to a ventilator as row upon row of blinking monitors kept track of Harry’s faltering grip on life, the boy had fallen to his knees and begun crying, until nurses were called and a physician summoned. Ida called DD and a few hours later she and the doc arrived, and everyone gathered around the boy and buoyed him up before the drive back out to the cliffs, yet Lloyd had sat and stared off into nothingness through the entire drive.

And then he didn’t speak for days.

But then he walked over to the studio one afternoon and, finding it empty, he began working on a song about what felt like the meaninglessness of life – his life. About despair and letting go. About falling and falling until there was nothing left beyond the emptiness he felt. No words. Just music in the darkness.

He started on an acoustic guitar, a Martin D-45S his father had locked away in a climate controlled storeroom, but he found the experience limiting. He went to the Yamaha and stared at the keys before he started, then he easily found only the most melancholy chords, and he began piecing together the chapters of the song he had found in his mind.

He looked up once and saw Todd sitting in shadows well away from the piano, staring at him.

“What are you doing here?” Lloyd asked. “I though you were headed back to Seattle.”

“Thought I’d stay here for a while. Do you mind? I mean, will it bother you if I do?”

Lloyd shook his head. “Do what you want, man. I don’t care.”

“What are you working on?”

“I have no idea,” the boy said.

“It’s powerful. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

Lloyd shrugged.

“It kind of feels like grief. Is that where you’re going with it?”

Again, Lloyd shrugged – but Todd came over and sat beside the boy. “Play that last section again, would you?”

And Lloyd did.

“Are you thinking instrumental, or could I work up some lyrics?”

“I haven’t thought this through that much, Todd. I got sick of staring at the ceiling, ya know? I’m just searching for phrases inside tones, trying to work out the puzzle.”

“We need to get this down on paper, Lloyd. We can’t lose this, whatever we do.”

And so they worked. For days. Then a week passed, and then another.

So when the foundering boy reached out for a life preserver his hands found a willing substitute for his father. And yet this substitute was dealing with unwanted feelings of his own, for the boy’s father, feelings that were certain to impact the boy when and if they became known.

Everything was inevitable now, every moment ahead scripted by actions unseen and unheard.

Until, it seemed, this new little world was destined to fall away in clouds of dust.

+++++

Deep in the coldest part of the morning paramedics came into Harry Callahan’s room and loaded him onto a gurney. Everything hurt as they lifted his sheets and moved him across, his right arm most of all, yet most concerning to Callahan – suddenly his legs felt like they were on fire. Even so, Callahan felt real concern…for another, less apparent reason. The department was paying the bills, he had just been told, and someone downtown had decided it was time to move Callahan to a rehab hospital, one supposedly dedicated to advanced orthopedic care and better able to handle Callahan’s more problematic injuries. The trouble, Callahan knew, was that not one of his physicians or nurses had been advised of the move until a few hours before these paramedics arrived, and while it appeared that department bean counters had taken over his care, the first thing that popped into Callahan’s mind was more paranoid.

No…this smacked of a hastily planned attempt to take him out, to finish the job the snipers at the bridge had started. And he had no way of communicating with anyone…not a soul…and that was the most nerve-wracking realization of the whole thing.

Rolling down the long corridor to the elevator, the jerking ride down to the ground level, then being pushed through the emergency room to a waiting ambulance. A private ambulance, he saw, not a fire department ambulance – and that was odd.

His gurney was lifted into the box, then the rear doors slammed shut and were locked – and a moment later he felt the truck ease out into traffic, probably making for the Bayshore…

But from there?

Where?

+++++

DD and the doc put Lloyd to bed, then Ida and Didi began packing Lloyd’s clothing, then they moved to Harry’s room and did the same, while the doc went to the piano and looked out over the patio where they’d all spent so many evenings together. He looked down on the stone terrace and wanted to weep, if only because Callahan had done nothing to deserve losing all he’d built.

“Never again,” he sighed. “This is the end of an era. A changing of the guard. What comes next for him – and that poor kid?”

Three sedans arrived a little before midnight and Lloyd was carried out to one of the cars, his head resting on Ida’s lap during the drive back into the city.

+++++

Callahan relaxed when he saw the ambulance turning into the air cargo facilities at SFO, but no Jetstar waited on the ramps this time. A mechanized cargo loader lifted Callahan’s gurney into what looked like an old El Al 707-320c, only this particular unit had the QC mod, the so-called Quick Change modification that allowed for rapid conversion between passenger and freighter configurations. Once aboard, Callahan was transferred to a more substantial gurney and strapped down for the flight, but at least his head was level with the windows so he could see outside…

And a few minutes later the rest of his so-called family arrived…

A sleepy-eyed Lloyd came up the air stairs and did a double take when he saw his father already there, and Ida followed a moment later, carrying a couple of small, but apparently very heavy bags as she huffed up the stairs and into the cabin. DD and the doc followed, and then Callahan saw another series of cars pull up on the ramp below, followed by a half dozen FBI agents, each with a gun drawn, that came running up the stairs.

+++++

Yet the agents turned and watched traffic down on the ramp, their pistols fanning outward.

Until another sedan approached.

Didi and Colonel Goodman got out of this car and walked up the air stairs, and the aircraft’s flight engineer closed the door and armed the escape slide before he went into the cockpit. The engines began spooling up and the Mossad agents stripped off their FBI windbreakers and walked aft to take their seats. A minute later the 707 taxied to the runway and took off, heading for Toronto.

+++++

“Dad? What’s going on?” Lloyd asked his father about an hour later.

Harry was in extreme pain and the morphine was barely cutting it now; his skin was waxy and pale and the nausea was coming back again. A medic of some kind was standing over him again, injecting something into his IV, then wiping his forehead with a cool washcloth.

Then Didi was standing by Lloyd and Harry looked at her. “Maybe you’d better have a little talk with my boy now. I’m not sure I can just yet.”

+++++

“What do you mean I’m not going to be an American anymore?” Lloyd cried. “What if I don’t want to live in Switzerland?”

“In that case,” Colonel Goodman sighed, “you’d be most welcome in Israel.”

“Israel?” the boy muttered, his eyes full of questions.

“Yes,” the colonel added, “but tonight is not a good night to think of such things. First we get you back to the house in Davos, and do you know what? I hear there is still snow on the mountains there, so perhaps we can go skiing once we get you settled? How would you like that?”

“My music!” Lloyd shouted angrily. “What about my music?”

Didi fielded this question: “We are building a new studio at the house, but this one will be even better. And guess who’s coming in two weeks?”

“Todd? Is Todd coming?”

And when Didi nodded the boy flew into her arms.

The colonel watched the story in her eyes unfold, and then and there he knew any sort of happy ending would prove elusive. ‘The boy has asked not a single question about his father. Not one,’ he thought as he scowled at the reflections he saw in the aircraft’s window. ‘What would I do with such a creature? Spare the rod and spoil the child?’

Harry woke briefly when the old Boeing touched down in Toronto to refuel, but by the time they took off for Zurich he was already asleep again.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

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