Well, believe it or not, Forgotten Songs is almost at all end. The last bit ought to appear this weekend (and that will be 14.7 for those of you either keeping track or into numerology), and then (insert drum roll here) we will be transition back into The Eighty-eighth Key. As we begin to wrap up Harry Callahan’s story the way ahead ought to become a little more clear, because (and I really hate to break it to you this way) the end of The Eighty-eighth Key will take us straight into the, well, you know, the heart of the matter. TimeShadow. And, oh yes, if you’ve not read Nightside/Asynchronous Mud yet, stop and do so now.
So. Music Matters.
I have a thing for Pat Metheny and his music, but I reckon you know that by now. Writing these last few sketches I’ve drifted back into one of this earlier works, a brilliant album titled As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls, and it is an old favorite for a lot of Metheny fans. You’ll no doubt be tired of all the Prog Rock classics I reference here, but that’s where my own music took me…way back when. Metheny came to me when I first heard The First Circle (the eponymous track from that album), and I think because that song really epitomized the fusion of orchestral rock and jazz that Metheny ushered into the mainstream. Once I found that album it didn’t take long to fall in As Falls Wichita, and two tracks from that album still resonate today as sharply as they did forty years ago. The first is It’s For You with it’s brilliant fandango which heralds the second half of the song. The second track just might be one of the most gorgeous songs of the 20th century, an Adagio dedicated to the jazz pianist Bill Evans titled September Fifteenth, the date Evans had passed the year before. Metheny’s friend and pianist Lyle Mays did the heavy lifting on this piece…so I was a little surprised there wasn’t a similar goodbye from Metheny when Mays passed a year ago. C’est la vie, I suppose. ECM owns the rights to all these old Metheny songs and they don’t make there way to YouTube so no video links to share with you today, but if you can find them they will point the way to my frame of mind this week.
So, without any further blather on my part, it’s time to put on a kettle and settle in for another trip, this time down a darker hole than we’ve visited in the recent past. Sorry about that.
Part IV: The Music of the Spheres
Basin F, Marina del Rey, Los Angeles, California 28 November 2008
Debra Sorensen parked her Land Rover and set the brake, but before she shut down the engine she checked her email inbox on the iPhone and answered a quick text from Henry.
“I’m home for the weekend,” she replied.
“You doing okay?” he wrote.
“Yeah. Think so, but I hear William won’t walk for a while. Other news on that front, but it can wait.”
“You still working on that sports medicine story?”
“Yeah. Intense. Big money involved.”
“Trying to be.”
“Where are you?”
“Parking lot, marina.”
“Call me when you get tucked in?”
She shut down the car and locked the door behind her before she started on the short trek out the pier to the boat, but a thick fog was rolling in and the night air was uncomfortably chilly. She zipped-up her parka and felt for the reassuring comfort of the little Kimber in her messenger bag, and presence of that icy cold steel was now suddenly more than a passing comfort. Today, she knew, more than ever.
One of her teams had been tailed yesterday after they’d asked some uncomfortable questions at the so-called pain clinic in Thousand Oaks, and if whoever was behind the clinic had been trying to send them a message…well…it had been received loud and clear. So today she’d set up her teams to covertly surveil the facility, watching who came and went while looking for anything out of the ordinary. They had to resort to this because they’d come up empty so far, yet the word on the street they’d heard so far was that the clinic was nothing less than a regional hub for illegal narcotics distribution, and that the Sinaloa Cartel was fronting the operation. And what if it was true, that a cartel operation was somehow tied to professional football in some way…? Well, that was very big money and such powerful people would protect their interests.
She entered her code and entered the security gate and walked down the metal ramp to the concrete pier, her boat shoes making a little thump-thumping sound as she descended, then she started the two hundred foot walk out to aquaTarkus. There were only a handful of liveaboards allowed in the marina nowadays, and there was only one other liveaboard on this pier – and that old Cal 46 was dark inside so she checked her watch. Ten fifteen. That fit, so no big deal…
She made it out to the boat but stopped dead in her tracks because…
…the companionway door had been kicked in.
She pulled out her phone and texted Henry, told him what she’d just found.
“Call 911 and wait for them,” he replied.
Then she saw Daisy Jane. She was on her side on the cockpit sole, and she lay there in fog-borne stillness, motionless.
She climbed aboard and ran to check on her…
And someone reached up from the companionway and pulled her down the steps. She just caught a glimpse of two men dressed all in black before one of them knocked her to the floor. She felt dizziness then a white fog fall over the world…
Then pain. She was laid out on the cabin sole and someone was inside her, and she realized someone was sodomizing her, and viciously, violently so. The unseen man had forced her down, and he was raping her with practiced ease. With one arm twisted and pinned just above the small of her back, he was like a pile driver now because this was an animal act, meant to intimidate. To make a point…
She heard a siren in the distance and the second man said something to her rapist, but she didn’t recognize the language. Eastern European, maybe Russian, but she couldn’t concentrate because of the pain. The second man cursed the rapist and took off up the companionway steps, then the rapist stood to leave…
…and that was when Daisy Jane chose her moment to strike.
She vaulted across the pilot house and caught the attacker by the neck and the man screamed and whirled around, trying to fight off the dog’s furious assault. He succeeded in prying her loose but the damage to his neck was massive and as he tried to staunch the flow of pulsing blood from his neck Debra pulled the Kimber from her purse and activated the laser sight, illuminating her attacker’s crotch and firing once before she aimed at the center of his chest and fired again.
The other man leaned in the companionway and fired at Debra and she felt the impact as she wheeled around and lit up the gunman’s face with her laser. She fired again and he went down in a crashing thud, sliding down the companionway steps and coming to rest in a bloody heap by her side. Daisy came to her and licked her face, and Deb could feel matted blood on her left side.
“Sit down, girl. We’ll get help soon. The police are almost here.”
She found her phone and punched Henry’s icon.
“They were waiting for me,” she gasped. “They got us, Henry. Both of us,” she gasped, but it was hard to breathe now, and suddenly she felt very cold. She never knew she’d dropped the phone, nor was she aware of the even more horrible things lurking in the shadows…
Los Angeles, California 9 December 2008
Henry Taggart helped Debra out of her hospital robe and into her clothes, mindful of the healing wound near her right clavicle. The wound was still very sore, and would be for months, but Deb was emotionally intact and, really, that was perhaps the most important thing going forward. And oddly enough, she was more angry than he’d expected her to be. She’d failed to arm the alarm system – “because it’s such a hassle!” – and she should have never boarded until the police came.
The second assailant, the shooter in her case, had used an unregistered .22 caliber revolver, and if the little bullet had been just a half inch higher it would have hit her subclavian artery – and that would have been the end, period. As it happened, as the bullet expanded and tore through the apical segment of her right lung, lead fragments tore through nerves and severed more than a few minor blood vessels, but the absence of severe damage to the major vessels prevented her from bleeding out. Responding officers had summoned paramedics and units from the nearby station had arrived in time to administer blood expanders and stabilize her for transport. The dying dog had been taken by one of the officers to a nearby veterinary emergency facility.
The first officer on the scene had picked up the iPhone on the cabin sole and discovered someone was still on the line. The officer filled that person in on what he’d found and took down the subjects name and other personal information before he powered off the device. Detectives arrived. Someone recognized her name and called the studio. The studio’s head of security, a soft-spoken type named John Luders, came out to the scene, then he called Ted Sorensen, who – at the time – was in Argentina, supposedly looking at properties with an estate agent.
“What’s her condition?” Ted asked.
“Unknown at this time, sir,” Luders replied.
“Find out and get back to me as soon as you hear anything.”
Detectives were still on the scene when Henry Taggart arrived, and he learned where Debra and Daisy-Jane had been taken. A detective handed Henry his card and got his contact information while he filled him in on what he knew – so far. And, oddly enough, because Henry knew Debra was in good hands he went straight to the veterinary hospital.
Daisy had been stabilized but nothing much had been done for her since…because no one knew who would be paying for treatment! Taggart very nearly killed the attending vet, and within minutes a vast team of veterinarians went to work, but the prognosis was not good. Henry hated to leave her in the hands of such callous assholes.
Then Henry drove Deb’s Defender up to the UCLA Medical Center where he learned she was still in surgery, and while her condition was listed as ‘Critical’ he was soon advised she was out of surgery and on her way up to the ICU. He had just gone to find coffee when a stranger came up to him.
“You Taggart?” a beefy looking thick-necked man snarled.
“Yes or no will do for now, jackass.”
“And who are you?” Henry said, grinning now.
“Sam Fucking Spade, asshole. I’m Mr. Sorensen’s head of security.”
“Is that a fact…?”
“Yeah, that’s a fact.”
“Got a card? Any I.D. that says something to that effect?”
“Listen, butthead, you need to stay away. Got it? Stay the fuck away from here.”
And with that Taggart threw his coffee in the thug’s face, then dropped him with a savage punch to the larynx; people scattered and security was summoned. Taggart knelt and fished through the man’s pockets but found no wallet, no I.D., just a wad of cash in a money clip and some car keys. He pulled out his iPhone and called the detective just as a gaggle of hospital security types lumbered onto the scene, panting hard after a vigorous hundred step dash, and with dull pencils drawn they demanded that Taggart put his hands over his head…
And Henry Taggart laughed.
“The Studio head of security is a man named Luders. I have his card,” the detective still on the boat said.
“Male, white, about fifty. Six feet, one fifty max. Think he had hazel eyes, but don’t quote me on that.”
“Okay, this guy looks like the Michelin Tire Man, about forty, five eight and I’ll be nice and just say he has a weight problem,” Taggart said. “And he I.D.ed himself as Sorensen’s head of security, not the studio’s…”
“Got it. Good call. Can you hang there. I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”
“Will do. And bring handcuffs,” Henry said, looking at the security team and rolling his eyes. “I don’t think these pud-knockers could screw in a lightbulb without looking at the instruction manual.”
“Okay. I’ll bring donuts.”
“Ah. Good thinking.”
“We’ll take his prints downtown. If he has a record we’ll know who he is by morning,” Detective Gilbert Gonzales said.
“So, how long have you known Miss Sorensen?”
“Twelve years, more or less.”
“And you live in Seattle.”
Henry chuckled. “More or less. I seem to get calls to work everywhere these days.”
“So, what do you know about all this?”
“Only that she’s been working on a story about some kind of narcotics operation out in the Valley. Thousand Oaks, maybe? Distribution, cartels, the usual suspects.”
When Gonzales heard the word ‘cartels’ his ears perked up a little. “The guys on the boat, both of them have pretty crude looking tattoos. I’m not sure, but the text looks like Russian, something like that.”
“Russians? So mafia types? I thought they mainly worked the New York area…”
Gonzales shook his head. “I wish. Lots of former commando types work as mercenary enforcers for the cartels. You know, guns for hire, that kind of thing. The cartels pay well and there’s a steady source of work out here.”
“Deb just started on this project last Monday. Seems like a pretty fast response.”
“Henry, I’m homicide, you know what I mean? This case is going to go to the FBI and probably Interpol, but from what you’re telling me the DEA will get in on the action, too. As for our guys? Man, we could have an undercover op in place and we’d never hear about it until after the dust settles.”
“What about a protective detail for her while she’s here?”
“No problem. What about you? You gonna stick around?”
“Yeah. I gotta get the boat cleaned up, fix some woodwork.”
“Maybe I’ll drop by? See how you’re holding up?”
“Yeah? Bring sandpaper.”
“No problemo, pachuco!”
One of the floor CNAs wheeled Deb out to the main portico and helped Henry get her buckled in, and then he made it over to the 405 and headed south.
“It’s nice out,” she sighed. “Mind of we turn off the A/C? I want to smell real air for a change.”
“I’m not sure I’d call the air around here ‘real’ – but I get your drift.” He rolled her window down as he merged into traffic, then he looked at the time. “Should I take Washington this time of day?”
“Probably. Is there stuff to eat on board?”
“I bet it’s a mess.”
“What about Daisy? You haven’t said anything, so…”
“Can we talk about that some other time?”
She swallowed hard and looked away. “She was such a good girl.”
They didn’t speak the rest of the way to the marina, and he helped get her unbuckled and out of her seat, and she kind of slid down and into his arms. “Hold me, Henry, would you?”
“You bet.” He ran his fingers through her hair, rubbed the side of her forehead with his thumbs and she melted into him.
“I love you so much,” she whispered, and she felt him nod his head.
“It’s mutual, Kiddo.”
“Well, let’s go check out the damage,” she sighed.
“Okay,” he said as he took her hand, holding her upright as they thump-thumped down the metal ramp.
She looked around and a cascade of bad memories rolled across her mind’s eye: first calling Henry in the fog, then the shattered companionway…and seeing Daisy-Jane. “I think I’m going to be sick,” she whispered.
“No. No you’re not. We’ve got too much to do right now and nobody wants to sit around cleaning up puke, especially me. Got that, Chica?”
“Chica? Since when did you…”
“Oh, man, I’ve been on this mad taco-truck-quest for the past week, binge eating carne asada tacos loaded with cilantro and guacamole…”
“Now why does that sound good?”
“You’d have to be nuts for that not to sound good.”
As they walked up to the boat, Debra hesitated – and even though Henry knew a million bad vibes had to waiting for her there, he also understood she’d have to take this first step on her own. She’d have to come to terms with that past to make her own way through and beyond the pain, and when her hand reached for his he took it gently, then he stopped and softly pulled her close before he whispered in her ear: “You can do it,” he sighed, and she wrapped her arms around him, leaned into him.
“I feel like I can do anything when you’re with me,” she sighed.
He nodded, lifted her face to his and kissed her once. “Okay, let’s do this,” he said, his voice probably sounding a little more optimistic that he felt.
“Yeah, let’s do this.” He helped her up on deck and they walked back to the cockpit, but when she saw that the companionway hatch was open she froze. “Henry,” she whispered, “there are people down there.”
“Yup, I thought we could use a few friends,” he added, then a symphony of mariachi smells hit her: cilantro and fresh limes, chilis and spiced meats. Flour tortillas and guacamole. Flowers and tequila. “Come one, let’s go.”
She stepped below and saw the saloon and galley seemed to be overflowing with cops, and one of them had apparently brought his family, and everyone was waiting for her, watching and waiting to see her reaction…
“What on earth?” Deb sighed as she walked gingerly down the steps.
“Deb, this is Gilbert, one of the LAPDs finest. And that nasty piece of work over there is Jesus Watanabe. He hasn’t made detective yet but we’re working on it. And that’s Graciela, his wife, and Lupita, his daughter.”
Everyone smiled and said hello, but just then the little girl ran up and took Deb by the hand and led her aft to her stateroom. And Daisy-Jane was asleep but woke up when Deb came in; her tail started thump-thumping as she lifted her head but Deb could tell her best friend was still recovering from major surgery. Lots of shaved skin and two long rows of sutures attested to that, but she couldn’t help herself. She slid down onto the bed next to Daisy and face to face she rubbed her forehead against the pup’s.
“Thank you for saving me,” she said. “Thank you for my life.”
Deb could see that Daisy was studying her aura, then the pup licked her forehead before she put her head back down…
She rubbed Daisy for a few minutes more then went back out to the saloon, almost in a state of shock.
“Gilbert and Jesus just happen to be excellent carpenters,” Henry explained when Deb appeared, “and besides, Gilbert is the lead detective on your case. Anyway, the three of us rebuilt the companionway and patched up some other odds and ends and everything is as good as new…”
“Screw you, pachuco!” Gilbert barked. “It is a lot better than new!”
Henry held up his hand. “Okay, okay, better than new. Got it. And Graciela makes the best carne asada in LA, so…”
“You did all this…for me?” Deb sighed, starting to cry a little.
“Hell yes,” Henry snarled, “how else could I get you to drink tequila? Wanna do shots? Do something nasty?”
Deb smiled as she looked at her new friends. “Maybe, but this food sure smells wonderful.”
“Hell,” Gilbert said, “after living on hospital food for a week, a used maxi-pad would probably taste good! Let’s get you up in the sun and get some real food into you, girl! The tequila can wait!”
The two teams of reporters Deb usually worked with came by early the next morning, and they were all in an unusually somber mood. Sandy Mullins and her team usually worked ‘metro’ cases in and around downtown, while Jeff Woodson’s team worked law enforcement’s response to major calls, and his team usually had easy access to one of the network’s helicopters; both teams had been working the Thousand Oaks case when the assault on Deb took place, and both had been threatened before…and since.
They gathered on Deb’s boat for breakfast, and Gilbert Gonzales had come down with a member of the department’s narcotics unit, and the two cops listened intently, taking notes from time to time but Henry could tell they didn’t like what they were hearing…
“Miss Sorensen,” Gilbert said at one point, “where is your father?”
“All I’ve heard is that he’s supposed to be somewhere in Argentina.”
“And you’ve not heard from him? Not since the attack?”
“No, no I haven’t.” Deb looked down, not sure how she felt about that, but she had talked with the security people from the studio and the network and they were in touch with her father.
“Does that sound right to anyone?” Gilbert sighed, pausing as he measured his next words carefully. “I want to tell you all something and it would be best if this information didn’t leave the boat, but Miss Sorensen’s attackers were Russian mafia with ties to the Sinaloa cartel, and they arrived the day before the attack on a flight from San Fernando International Airport. That’s the main international airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in case you’re unfamiliar.”
Taggart stood and walked up the companionway without saying a word, while Deb looked down and shook her head. “His right hand man, Delbert Moloch, gave me the assignment personally,” Deb said, her voice softly reflecting the utter confusion she now felt. “Why would he…they…do this…to me?”
Gilbert shook his head. “There are probably only a couple of people who know the answer to that one, Ma’am. But…you might be one of the people that knows the answer.”
The narcotics cop spoke up now: “And that means you might be in a world of hurt if you remain around here, Miss Sorensen. Personally I’d doubt your father ordered this, but the people he’s working with might have. Maybe to keep him in line, or to keep him from talking…”
She looked at Gilbert: “But that would mean that Moloch…”
“Isn’t exactly what he appears to be, and that he might not have your father’s back.”
She looked at the narcotics cop then: “Just who is Delbert Moloch? Do you guys know anything about him?”
Gilbert shook his head. “The FBI isn’t sharing their files on anything about this case with us. Neither is Interpol. And that’s pretty fucking weird, if you get my drift.”
“No, I’m not sure that I do?” Deb replied.
“Someone is protecting him, Miss Sorensen,” the narcotics cop said. “And that someone is in a position to protect a scrote like Moloch…and, well…you don’t want to take on people like that unless you have to.”
“What are you saying?” Deb asked the cop.
He shrugged. “I think the real question is ‘Why you?’ Ya know? Why are they afraid…of you?”
Henry was now sitting on the top rung of the companionway steps. “Because she can see things other people can’t,” he said, “and that makes her dangerous. You can’t hide things from her, and that means that her father can’t afford to let her see him.”
“What do you mean?” the cop said to Deb. “What do you see?”
“She can see your feelings,” Henry sighed. “You’re like an open book and there’s no place you can hide.”
Deb turned and looked at Henry and in a heartbeat everything became clear. This was why he wouldn’t commit to her, and why he never would, and now she could see it. His aura was full of resentment and fear, and now even her co-workers faces seemed unsure of what they’d just heard, like they were reevaluating their existence in the light of this new information…
…but Gilbert wasn’t. He was studying her. Unsure what to say.
“Is this true?” Gilbert asked.
And she nodded her head.
“What am I feeling now. Right now,” Gilbert demanded.
“You’re confused. You aren’t sure how Henry fits into this but you’re attracted to me. You want to ask me out.” She stared at him like she was reciting items off a grocery list, like the implications of her words had no further meaning or import, but Henry watched as Gilbert’s face turned deep crimson.
“No shit?” Henry grinned. “You got the hots for Deb?”
Gilbert nodded. “Yeah, pachuco, I got the hots for her. But I don’t get it, man. This is for real? You can see all that?”
“Yes. And so can Daisy.”
The narcotics cop scoffed at all this. “Okay, whatever, but enough with all the New Age hooey…”
Deb turned to him and let go with both barrels: “You’re worried about something. Something at home. Something to do with your wife and…and, no, she’s having an affair…”
“Okay goddamnit, you can stop this shit right now!” the cop said.
“But…you know…you know what’s…what’s going on in Thousand Oaks, and you know who…”
The cop stormed up the companionway steps and jumped off the boat then ran up to his department car, and Gilbert just whistled once before he looked from Deb up to Henry. “Pachuco? You shouldn’t have kept this from me. Now I think we have another problem. A real big problem.”
Gilbert had a hand unit with him and it crackled to life.
“2114, are you clear for a call?”
“2114, 2-11 in progress at the bank, 12746 W Jefferson, a Wells Fargo branch with two down.”
“2114, 10-7,” he replied, then he turned to Henry. “Robbery over in Culver City. I’ll be back in a couple of hours, and be here because we gotta talk, pachuco.”
“Can I come with you?”
“No way, man. With you dressed like a fuckin’ beach bum?”
“I’ll be back soon.”
“Okay. Take care.”
“Right.” Gilbert took off up the steps and Henry turned to the reporters. “Okay, who do I have to pay to get one of you guys to follow him?”
Woodson pulled a police scanner out of his vest pocket and flipped it on.
“Three Charlie Fourteen, suspects headed for Vermont…”
“Two Baker Seven, joining the pursuit.”
“Shit,” Woodson said to Mullins, “this sounds big.”
“Let’s go!” Mullins said.
“Who am I riding with?” Taggart snarled as he followed the news crews out to their vans.
And suddenly Debra was all alone down below, alone except for Daisy Jane, so she went aft to her stateroom and laid down next to her pup…but not before she armed the alarm.
Daisy looked at her sighed.
The chase was winding it’s way into South Central, first down Vermont then onto West Century…
“Turning onto Central,” one of the pursuing cops said, and Taggart could see at least one police helicopter in the air up ahead, and maybe a couple of TV station helicopters were up there, too…
Woodson was driving but just then he started muttering as he peered up through the windshield, then…
“Oh no, don’t do it, oh no…” he muttered.
“What? What is it…?” Taggart said, but then he saw the helicopter vaulting up right into the flight path of a large airliner on final for LAX. “Oh, fuck no…”
Now everyone watched wordlessly as the helicopter slammed into the right engine nacelle of an American 777, and as the engine fell away the airliner rolled hard to the right and began falling like a leaf…
“Oh, sweet Jesus…” Henry heard someone say just before a bright orange fireball appeared just ahead, followed by a column of curling black smoke rising out of a residential neighborhood…
The police frequencies lit up with calls to send fire and paramedics to a little park on Central and Taggart listened in utter disbelief as Woodson drove to the scene of the crash. The heat from the fire felt like a blast furnace as the TV crew set about documenting the scene, and as Henry surveyed the scene he saw a landscape filled with strewn wreckage, but then – out of the corner of his eye, he saw a pale blue sphere drifting up through the roiling black smoke, disappearing in the smog-filled sky.
“Oh…no,” he sighed as unknown implications dawned on him, but then he realized he’d left Deb alone on the boat. And now that the corrupt narcotics cop knew he’d been blown, what kinds of chances would he be willing to take to clean up all these new loose ends?
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.
(Al Stewart \\ End Of The Day)