The Eighty-eighth Key (60.1)

88th key cover image

So, today marks a shift in the narrative arc. While Come Alive is not yet at an end, developments in both stories will start to come to light here, as we approach the 88th key. And a short snippet today, perhaps just enough for half a cup of cardamom tea.

So, ready for some music? Well, I am if you are, so let us begin again.

Chapter 60.1

Elizabeth Bullitt walked across Harvard Yard to the T Station, to the main entry just across from the Coop. She hopped on the Red Line towards Mass Gen, but got off at MIT; there she walked to the Physics Department in Maclaurin 4 and found the office she wanted, then she looked at her wristwatch and sighed. She stepped inside and found a few students already there, waiting – she assumed – for faculty office hours to begin, so she found an empty chair in the small anteroom and sat.

Almost two hours later the last legitimate student walked out of Dr. Deborah Eisenstadt’s office; when she heard the professor call out “Next!” she stood and walked inside, then stood before a completely disheveled desk, waiting to be acknowledged. 

The woman sitting there was tiny and seemed almost owl-like, with hot, inquisitive eyes magnified by eyeglasses as thick as a Coke bottle’s under a shock of unruly chestnut colored hair. Her lab coat was coated in chalk dust and her stockings were bunched in wrinkle lines around her ankles. The poor woman was, Liz could readily see, a total dweeb – and had no idea.

“You aren’t in my seminar,” the owl said. “Who are you, and what do you want?”

“My name is Elizabeth, and I’m an undergrad at Harvard studying music theory, and I wanted to speak with you about harmonics and quantum wave theory.”

The owl’s eyes blinked rapidly now. “Oh? And tell me, just how do such things apply to music theory?”

“They don’t, at least not directly.”

The owl shrugged. “Okay?”

“I’m more interested in harmonically induced states that might enable, well, ones ability to perceive time differently.”

The owl smiled dismissively. “Indeed. How so?”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you.”

“Well, such a thing is not possible…unless of course you are talking about the sort of metabolic dyschronia that accompanies drinking too much alcohol too quickly. As you go to Harvard, I am sure you are more than qualified to discuss such states of mind…”

Liz smiled back as dismissively. “Well, what if that’s not exactly the case. I mean, what if you could literally slip back in time, as an observer only, and that you could passively observe events in the past.”

“Again, not possible. If, and I mean if such travel was possible we could only journey to the future.”

Liz nodded. “Okay…but what if I told you that you could slip back in time, and do so with almost no expenditure of energy?”

“Then I would say you are wasting my time. You might also try reaching out to the psychiatric counseling available to you through your student health services…”

“Would you like me to show you how?”

The owl’s eyes began blinking rapidly again, but now she uttered not a word.

“All I need is a piano,” Liz added. “I can prove it to you.”

Eisenstadt stood and took off her lab coat, revealing an ancient cardigan coated with even more layers of chalk dust. “Come with me,” the Nobel Laureate in Physics sighed, as she took off for the Security office.

“I’d rather you not take me to the security guard, if you don’t mind,” Liz said.

“What makes you think I am doing that?”

“Call it a hunch, Dr. Eisenstadt. Look, I need you to trust me…because I need your help, and so do a couple of friends of mine.”

“Help? What do you mean by help?”

“Trust me, okay? Now, maybe you’d better come with me…”

+++++

The leather cup on Harry’s latest prosthesis chafed against the folds of skin on the stump of his thigh, and after only ten minutes of exercise the pain was so intense he needed to stop and pull the thing off. The technician examined Harry’s skin and made notes, then he and Ida helped Callahan back into bed. She wiped sweat from his forehead and got him a glass of ice water as he cried in frustration.

“What about my piano?” Harry asked her – again – a while later. “Any word from the moving company yet?”

“We have no room for such a thing here, Harry, and until we know how well you will be able to move around it is pointless to consider buying a house just yet.”

“It’s not pointless to me, Ida.”

“It is too soon, Harry,” she said, but she could see the pain in his eyes, almost like the pain of withdrawing from a powerful narcotic, and yet she’d never once considered that music could act like that on the brain.

“Well then, I’d like to return to California, back out to the house at Sea Ranch.”

“But I’ve already told you…”

“I know what you told me, but I’d like to speak to someone from the embassy about my passport. Now, Ida! Today!”

Ida stood, her anger on full display now, and walked out of Harry’s room.

She walked to a locked door, opened the lock to her “secret office” and went inside. She dialed Colonel Goodman’s number from memory.

+++++

They took a taxi to Kirkland House, her dorm, but once there she walked with Professor Eisenstadt to the music building. One of the piano rooms was vacant and they went inside.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Eisenstadt said. “I mean, you really think you can do this?”

“Why don’t you wait and tell me what you think after I show you,” Liz said as she sat at an old Steinway grand. She warmed up playing a few scales, then she turned to Eisenstadt. “Sit here beside me if you like, then I need you to clear your mind, so do whatever you need to do to get that done…”

“What do you recommend?”

“Deep breathing works for me,” Liz replied. “Then I’ll need you to think about someplace in the past you’d like to see. I’ll start playing a random piece of music, and when you’re really concentrating on that place I want you to place a hand on my shoulder – then relax.”

“That’s it? We’re going to think our way back to the past? No DeLorean required? No 88 miles per hour?”

“I’m not sure what does it, professor, but I am pretty sure the music has something to do with what happens next.”

“The music? Is there a certain piece you play?”

“Clear your mind, professor. Clear your mind, then think of a place, a time…while I start to play…”

Liz began a Chopin nocturne – until she felt Eisenstadt’s hand on her shoulder – then she drifted into Schwarzwald’s Fourth, into the critical Third Movement, and inside a shimmering instant they found they were hovering above a desk in a small office, looking down at a man as he worked in fading light on a series of equations…

“Dear God-in-heaven,” Eisenstadt whispered, “is it him? Is that really Einstein?”

“You don’t have to whisper, Professor. He can’t hear us.”

“Get me out of here, immediately!” Eisenstadt cried, so Elizabeth simply stopped playing – and in the next instant they were back inside the music room in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eisenstadt backed away from Liz like she was a leper, blinking wildly now like some kind of trapped animal looking to escape a sudden trap.

“It’s alright,” Liz reassured the woman, “just breathe easy…”

“That was Imogen Schwarzwald, was it not? Her Fourth Piano Concerto?”

“Yes.”

“How did you come to know such an obscure piece of music?”

“My Godfather – is her son.”

“What?!”

“I grew up with him, professor. After my father passed away he taught me how to play, and you could say he shaped and guided me as a musician…”

“My grandfather,” Eisenstadt sighed, now more than mystified, “worked with Imogen when she was teaching in Copenhagen…”

“I know, Professor. And I think it was Schwarzwald who discovered this doorway, when she lived and studied in Denmark.”

Eisenstadt began pacing the small room, her eyes flashing like a semaphore beating out an SOS as she circled the floor in a manic frenzy. “This friend of yours, your godfather? Is it he who is in trouble?”

Elizabeth nodded. 

“Well then, I owe it to my grandfather to help Imogen’s boy. Tell me what has happened…and leave nothing out…”

© 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.]

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