Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
And so, here we go again, back into the labyrinth of The Eighty-eighth Key, and yes, I know it’s been a while. Even longer since stories like Nightside and Asynchronous Mud were posted, but there you go. I’ve always said those two much older stories would lead into a new, much more varied landscape, and, well, here we are. Confused? You should be, but fear not. Clarity looms. I think.
Music matters? Indeed so, but don’t wait on me.
He’d never particularly liked Frank Sinatra or that peculiar brand of glitzy, Las Vegas-driven cabaret music Sinatra had perfected, but there was something to at least one of those songs that had just recently captured Harry Callahan’s imagination. Ever since Ida and Didi had started their tag-team assault on his senses, plying him with all his favorite foods throughout each and every day, and often into all his endless, pain saturated nights. Soon enough he’d instinctively known something wasn’t right, that he was really, in effect, nothing more or less than their prisoner. Or…a hostage.
But whose was he, really? Who was behind this charade, because surely these two girls weren’t capable of all this. No, it reeked of the colonel, but Harry felt lost when he thought about that.
Yet the notes of that music kept repeating in his mind like an echo fading in the distance, like words just out of reach and always beyond his grasp, perpetually shrouded in a fog that never lifted. He watched Ida in the kitchen, cheerfully whipping up a fresh hollandaise for his Eggs Benedict while she tended to her carefully poaching eggs, or while Didi was on her so-called cell-phone to the team working on his prosthesis, perhaps confirming another appointment for later that afternoon. Did it really matter anymore? Any of this?
Because they had him, he realized, right where they wanted him.
Only now, locked away up here in this ritzy high rise just off the beach in Tel Aviv, he’d lost all touch with his life back in San Francisco and Davos – indeed, with life everywhere. He had no phone of his own, no access to a computer, and, apparently, no passport. No wallet so no money, not even a credit card. And every time he asked about getting in touch with DD back at the Cat House his query was met with polite evasions about his health, or the state of his leg, or any one of an endless number of seemingly petty, even trivial excuses.
Yet still the music kept playing, the fading echoes tearing away at the air like windmills…until…
You see a pair of laughing eyes
And suddenly your sighing sighs
You’re thinking nothing’s wrong
You string along, boy, then snap!
Those eyes, those sighs, they’re part of the tender trap.
The words came to him – all of them – in a wild rush! He’d known he had those words locked away somewhere, but what had unlocked the door that had kept them away…?
He closed his eyes and started playing through the song on the keyboard in his mind, the words coming back to him in a sudden, furious wave now…and then he started humming.
“I haven’t heard you do that in ages,” Ida said as she came to the table, bringing over his eggs as well as a fresh half of grapefruit. “What are you so chipper about this morning?”
“Me?” Callahan sighed. “Chipper?”
“Yes, that sounds very bright and gay! What is it?”
“Oh, nothing much, really. An old Sinatra tune, The Tender Trap, and I’ve decided it’s going to be my declaration of independence.”
“Independence?” Didi said, joining them at the table. “Whatever do you need something like that for?”
“Well, because,” Harry sighed, looking first at Ida, then at Didi, “because if I don’t get a telephone up here, and I mean today, and by that I also mean a telephone that I can use to call the States, then I’m going to throw both of your stupid, skinny asses through that window right over there, and I’m going to laugh while they scrape up your guts off the sidewalk.”
Didi smiled and chuckled condescendingly. “But Harry…you can’t even walk to the bathroom…”
“And why is that, my friend? My dear, very good friend,” he added, his voice now dripping in hot, bloody sarcasm. “Why, after how many weeks, or is it months now, of being locked away in this little gilded prison you’ve whipped up for me, can I not even wipe my own ass, let alone walk across this room? Hm-m-m? Can you think of a reason, my closest, dearest friend?”
Didi looked away for a moment, her lips quivering, then – quite angrily – she threw back her chair and stood before she stomped over to Callahan’s. “Go ahead, Harry. Pick me up, right now. Pick me up and carry me over to that fucking window, Harry Callahan, then hold me up and throw me out that window! Go ahead, Harry. Try it, now. I beg you, please, try – now!” she screamed – then she pushed Harry’s chair back from the table. “You were a man once, weren’t you? What’s the matter with you, Harry? Cat got your balls and won’t give ‘em back? Oh, poor Harry! Poor little Harry!”
His eyes bulging, blood vessels in his temples throbbing, he put his hands out on the table and – he tried – to push himself up. His arms trembling, his remaining leg almost buckling under the pressure, he stood – on his own, finally using just the tips of his fingers on the tabletop to steady himself as he fought to remain upright.
“God damn!” Didi cried. “It’s about fucking time, Callahan! Is this what it’s gonna take to get you up off your ass and moving? Finally?”
Callahan turned and put his fingers around her neck, pure malice in his eyes. “The phone,” he gasped, his face red and his lips turning blue. “Today.”
“Sure, Harry,” she sighed, her victory over him now complete. She’d need to call her father – immediately! They’d finally had the breakthrough they’d been waiting, and hoping for.
Dr. Deborah Eisenstadt was a quick study, and she understood all too quickly the implications of this window in time that Imogen Schwarzwald had discovered. Implications this girl from Harvard had yet to even think of. Dangerous implications. Paradoxes in time, certainly, but other potential mishaps awaited the unwary traveler, events which, Eisenstadt feared, could simply undo the fabric of reality itself. Opening a new, unknown – let alone unknowable – dimension was a distinct possibility with such displacements of time, a possibility that included ending human existence as it was currently understood.
And the more she listened to the girl the more afraid she became.
Because of some wild-ass cop out in San Francisco, and to make matters worse, this Neanderthal idiot was some sort of detective, and he had, apparently, stumbled onto, or into, this portal, yet – so far, at least – he’d done no real, lasting harm. But, Eisenstadt wondered, how long could this happy state of affairs continue?
Again, because if this detective was in fact being held against his will in Israel, why? Did the people holding him know what he was capable of? Were they planning on exploiting his knowledge? If so, could she and this almost illiterate musician from Harvard – or was she really a ‘cliffie? – do anything to stop these plans from reaching an unwanted conclusion?
Yet the more she listened to Elizabeth the more troubled she became.
Because, so far at least, all Liz could do was travel back in time and observe, yet Liz had told her about an Old Man who was not bound by such limitations. No, this Old Man was interacting with people in the past, his past, and if he was interacting then it was more than likely he was trying to shape, or reshape events within his timeline. And if this was the case, not knowing this Old Man’s motives might quickly become the most important consideration in all human history.
Or at least History – as Eisenstadt understood their current reality.
Yet…if this Old Man could physically slip through time why couldn’t she, too, or why couldn’t this Elizabeth Bullitt do so, as well? What was his secret?
Instinctively, Eisenstadt understood this Old Man might very well be their ultimate adversary, and if this was true she tried to think ahead a move or two. ‘If the Old Man knows Elizabeth is talking to me,’ she thought, ‘and assuming he understands my background, it’s more than likely he’ll soon make a move against us, or perhaps just me. So…how do I prepare?’
‘By staying one jump ahead of the bastard,’ the little voice in her head told her, though perhaps with a bit more certainty than she truly felt.
She stepped – quietly – into her father’s office, taking care not to disturb his train of thought. He was reading through a bound report just now, looking up from time to time at screens full of projections – and lists of looming cost overruns – all while, apparently, trying not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Wasn’t that the saying he always used when she was just a little girl?
‘Keep your eyes on the prize, but don’t forget about the bastard sneaking up on you from behind.’
She knew he was aware of her presence in the room, yet even so his continuing to ignore her was now almost unnerving – and growing more so with each passing minute. She looked up at the clock on the wall by the door from time to time, her anxiety percolating away now on a slow rolling boil.
“So? What brings you here today?” Colonel Goodman, her father, eventually said.
“A breakthrough, perhaps. Callahan stood today, in anger.”
The colonel shrugged. “So? What of it?”
“He is thinking of California again. Of his friends there, of the life he had…”
“We are not ready, Leibchen. And neither is he.”
“I know that, Father, yet this was an unexpected progress.”
He sighed as he turned and looked out the glass curtain wall over the Tel Aviv skyline in the near distance. “Perhaps this matters. Or perhaps we have been fooling ourselves.”
“Father? What has happened?”
“Oh, something. Or…perhaps nothing.”
She stared at him now, afraid. It wasn’t like him to express befuddlement, not in the least. “Can you tell me anything?”
“Elizabeth Bullitt. She has made contact with a physicist at MIT, no doubt with the idea of trying to get to Harry.”
“I doubt so – very much, as a matter of fact. Yet…the possibility still exists.”
“What about Richardson, in Palo Alto? Has he made any progress?”
“If he has, we have been unable to learn anything of value. Nothing, really, since events surrounding the crash in Los Angeles.”
“Any success on our human trials?”
The colonel shook his head and inhaled sharply through his nose. “No. Richardson’s route may turn out to present the only workable solution…”
“And we are too far behind to catch up, are we not?”
Colonel Goodman nodded. “Possibly.”
“Then Harry Callahan may be the only means we have to intercede.”
The colonel leaned back in his chair and steepled fingers over his chest. Then, looking over his reading glasses, he smiled at his daughter. “Perhaps,” he managed to say. “We will see.”
© 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.]