The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 61.1

88th key cover image

So…welcome back my friends – to the show that never ends! Looking back from the here and now, this part of the arc began more than two years ago, so how did time fly by so fast? So many twists and turns along the way, too, both within this evolving set of interlinking tales and within this passing little thing called life. How is one life bent inside the other? Or…is it the other way around? Is there really any way to see the difference, or is this all just a dream within a dream?

(Dream of the Return \\ Pat Metheny Group)

We’ll dive back into the 88th Key slowly for the time being, so no big chapters for a while, and this next bit takes off where we last left off, just after Harry returned from Israel and his rough nite at Trader Vic’s.

Oh, a little sidebar here, but do please check out this link to read a heartfelt poem about the situation in Ukraine. And I send my appreciation to Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm for her work. So many thanks your way.

Chapter 62.1

Callahan sat up in bed and looked at the wheelchair parked next to the bedside, then he looked across the room to the bathroom. With no prosthesis yet and only a pair of wooden crutches on hand, his choice was a simple one. Shoulder his way into the chair or somehow get to his crutches and stump across to the bathroom. It was that – or crawl across the floor. Or just let go and piss the bed. 

So, he swung his good leg free of the sheets and got his foot to the floor as he squared his shoulders and pushed his way over to the wheelchair. He made the rapid swing to get aligned in the chair and sighed, for the first time realizing just how much of the real work Ida had been doing for him. But…she was gone now. Both she and Didi, now gone. And with all that accomplished he still had no idea where that left him.

“Getting to the goddamn toilet would help, Callahan!” he muttered to himself. “Unless you really want to take another shower.”

He pushed himself into the bathroom and thanked God Above that DD had the foresight to get handicapped railings installed in here, and he made the transition to the commode and finally let go, the feeling of relief almost overwhelming. A moment later he passed gas – but that was all. Three days and not a single bowel movement; the doc had laid down the law, too…no poop today and it was off to the ER to check for a bowel obstruction.

After he made it back into his chair he rolled over to the sink and somehow washed his hands, then he looked at his bed and sighed. He wasn’t really sleepy and yet he wasn’t awake, either. He was somewhere in between, caught like a fly on fly-paper…alive…but stuck in one place, and he realized now he had been, for months. First in Davos and then in Tel Aviv, and now, again, back inside the old house at Sea Ranch. And, he admitted right then and there, he now felt like he was just waiting to die. A lump of flesh occupying space and time with no purpose left.

He rolled out through the kitchen and into the living room, and then he rolled over to the broad wall of glass that looked out over the Pacific – yet all he saw out there was endless sea. Another sort of nothingness, he realized.

So many ghosts here, he thought as he watched lines of surf break onto the rocks below. He looked around the house and he felt Cathy and Frank all around him, the doc and DD too, and even Lloyd, in a curious way. Yet somehow he felt Fujiko’s presence most of all, Fujiko at the Inn of the Rock Spires. Fujiko dancing in the moonlight as she straddled him, their last union above the surf he now understood was the best, most sublime moment of his life. Love comes to you, and you follow? Wasn’t that from a song?

How odd, how strange it was to sit in the present thinking about the past when all that was left was the future. Would there be no more moments of equal importance? No sublime surrenders in the moonlight? If that was so, what then, really, was the purpose of the time remaining. To simply exist? To breathe in life and then to exhale the growing ambivalence of despair? Over and over, as if nothing else mattered?

“I guess I could just get it over with now,” he said to the darkness, but then he realized all his weapons were gone. Stolen, by his son. Even his Model 29…gone. “Isn’t that just a little too ironic,” he chuckled.

“Oh, I think careless is a better choice of words, Amigo,” he heard Frank say, and he turned to the voice. And there he was, as he once was. Still the same sandy hair, and the same face-splitting grin. Khakis and a gray turtleneck sweater, shoulder holster and his ever-present Colt 1911 snapped in place.

“Hi, Frank. I hate to mention this, but you do know you’re dead, right?”

Bullitt shrugged. “And I hate to break it to you, Amigo, but death is just a state of mind.”

“I see. Good to know. I’ll keep that in mind…”

“You enjoying this?” Frank sighed.

“Enjoying what?”

“Four Suffering Bastards then sitting here in your living room feeling sorry for yourself.”

“Look at me, Frank. Will you? I mean, really…”

“Yeah. You’re half the man you used to be. So what?”

“So what?”

“You’re still a man, ya know? You’re still alive, right? Still breathing in the here and now? What else have you got to complain about?”

“Purpose, Frank. I have no purpose.”

“So? Find one.”

“What? Like maybe run the hurdles in the next Olympics?”

“Don’t be such a fucking asshole, Harry.”

Harry shook his head. “I can’t see…”

“Harry, you never could see the forest because of the trees, because you always let the little shit get in the way. You got to move on now. This is the final sprint to the finish line, Amigo. This is when you got to make it count.”

“What? Make what count?”

Frank sighed and shook his head. “Goddamn, Harry, but you really are one stupid son of a bitch.”

“Now wait just one fucking minute!” Harry cried, but then he turned and looked at Bullitt. Who was just standing there looking down at him, that grin still splitting his face. “But you can’t really be here, can you, Frank?”

“We’re running out of time, Harry.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Come on. I’ve got to show you something.”

Frank got behind Harry’s wheelchair and pushed him over to one of the sliding glass doors that led out to the huge flying deck that wrapped around the rear of the sprawling house, and then he pushed Harry out to the extreme edge, to the railing that looked down on the crashing waves just below.

“Okay, let’s see,” Bullitt said as he looked around the night sky. “Yeah, there it is,” he said, pointing to the south. “See the Milky Way, there? That cloudy line of misty stars?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, follow the stars down until you see a teapot…”

“You mean Sagittarius, right?”

“Right. Exactly. Find the spout then work your way up to the top of the kettle’s lid. That bright star is Kaus Borealis, and just above that star is a large globular cluster…”

“A what?”

“A big ball of stars, literally hundreds of thousands of stars…”

“And you know this how, Frank?”

Bullitt shrugged. “Doesn’t matter, Amigo. It’s called M28 and I want you to just keep looking at it…”

“Looking at it?”

“Yeah. Until the sun comes up.”

“The sun?”

“Yeah, then I want you to call Liz.”

“Call Liz?”

“Frank?”

“Frank?”

He wheeled around and looked back into the house, but Frank was gone. Again…

“Because he wasn’t ever here, you fucking idiot!” he cried into the darkness.

His despair was total now as meaninglessness piled on like the pounding surf just beneath his chair, and he pulled himself out of the chair, ready to fling himself down onto the rocks below.

Then the night sky lit up and he turned his face to Sagittarius.

Seven quick bright pulses, then a pause. Seven more came to the night, then another pause. 

And in all he counted seven such pulses, each followed by a pause, but then the star cluster disappeared inside a staccato series of bursts that lasted for seven minutes and, as it happened, repeating at the same time again and again over the next seven nights.

But by then Liz was back at his house in Sea Ranch, and this time Liz had brought an owl with her.

And now a piano beckoned, her siren’s song undeniable now. Just like the gravity inside a massive globular cluster in Sagittarius, Harry Callahan was now ready to play the music of the spheres.

© 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.]

(This Morning \\ Blue Jays: Hayward & Lodge)

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