The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 61.2

88th key cover image

Back to Harry. Again. Sorry about The Otter and The Fox, but sometimes stories just come and they beg to be put to the page and who am I to resist? So…I spent a day putting pen to paper (well, you know what I mean, right?) while tinkering with this next segment of 88.

So, a little music to go along with your tea? Aber natürlich, meine Damen und Herren! Vielleicht ein bisschen Nachtmusik?

(Where Do The Children Play \\ Cat Stevens)

Chapter 62.2

Callahan had approved of Cathy Bullitt’s final architectural renderings for Harry’s rambling Sea Ranch Studios well before her passing, though construction had been delayed pending final approval by the dreaded and reviled California Coastal Commission. Harry’s property holdings at Sea Ranch included four residential lots; the original lot he purchased overlooking the sea at the end of a cul-de-sac, where the main house was built, and this was the house conceived to take in sweeping views of the sea and the rocks below. Because Sea Ranch was a residential community, turning the main house into a large recording studio had proven a legal impossibility, yet Cathy’s work-around was simplicity itself. She designed three new residences, each with a dedicated recording studio attached, and each new residence was only casually linked to the others by discreet walkways that wound around and through the rocks and scrubby pines on the sloping site. 

Her original plans for the Callahan House looked, in plan view, or from overhead, like a series of irregularly sized hexagons, each drifting down the gently sloping hill towards the cliffs overlooking the sea. She chose her building materials with great care, executing the design with extensive use western red cedar and redwood inside and out. Each hexagonal roof gently sloped seaward, and each roof was clad in standing seamed copper. Walkways and patios around the main house were originally fashioned from flagstone and discrete exterior moonlighting bathed the walks and patios and even the surrounding trees with a cool blue-green ambiance at night. 

And the new residence-studios followed these simple motifs. Copper roofs, redwood and cedar construction mimicking the hexagonal original, sweeping walls of glass to absorb the views and to bring a sense of their surroundings inside each structure. And the same lighted flagstone walkways linked each studio into a semi-inclusive whole, with the routes of their meandering ways dictated by existing trees and rock outcroppings. The residences varied in size, ranging from a single very simple two bedroom affair to an extremely large six bedroom residence with a music studio large enough to handle large ensemble groups, including a small orchestra, in the same session.

Harry had been using the first studio, the one built into his original residence, for years. Lloyd and Tod Bright had both used this studio, so had the grunge rock band Bright, and this before Harry was shot and lost his leg. Cathy had designed this original studio with modest additional accommodations, enough to handle a small entourage, but this soon proved a hindrance. Construction had already begun on the first residence/studio before Harry fled to Switzerland, and DD had seen this project through to completion. She’d put work off work on the remaining residence/studios until uncertainty surrounding Harry’s future began to resolve, but one of her first actions after Harry returned was to get these additional projects moving again. Harry wanted his Sea Ranch Studios to fully come alive, and he envisioned summer music camps taking shape and somehow turning the area into a haven for artists, but particularly for young musicians. DD had her marching orders and construction was soon in full swing.

The final paperwork consummating Callahan’s retirement from the Police Department was officially tendered after his departure for Davos, and with that accomplished Callahan officially consigned that part of his life to the past. Captain Sam Bennett was still living in Santa Cruz and Callahan had long made it a point to visit with his oldest friend at least a couple of times a year, but after his return DD informed Harry that Bennett was residing in an assisted living facility after his wife passed. Harry called Delgetti and Carl Stanton when he learned of that, and they vowed to get together with their captain soon.

Liz temporarily opened her house after she returned from Boston; this was Frank and Cathy’s original place located next door to Harry’s. Curiously, Deborah Eisenstadt stayed in Lloyd’s old bedroom for the rest of her week there – while the three of them gathered around Harry – and his ornate Bösendorfer – in the piano room that was perched above the rocks and the breaking surf below. She was entranced by the sea everywhere she looked and made it clear she never wanted to leave. And it was around Harry’s piano that they gathered and began to play with time, and while blissfully unaware of the consequences, they began playing with the very fabric of the universe, with the music of the spheres that Imogen Schwarzwald had only glimpsed within her Fourth Piano Concerto. 


“You say you have von Karajan’s notes?” Eisenstadt said after Harry finished playing the first movement. 

“I do, yes,” Callahan said – reluctantly.

“What do they…?” she started to ask, but then she stopped and collected her thoughts for a moment. “You mentioned you received these notes, and the score, directly from von Karajan, did you not?”

“Yes. I visited him in Salzburg not long before he passed. That was several years ago, but I still remember the afternoon quite well.”

“And you spoke of the Fourth Concerto with him?”

“Yes, of course.”

“You said your mother had just finished playing this piece when she passed. Did he tell you about the circumstances surrounding her passing?”

Harry thought back to the afternoon and sighed. “You know, I’m not sure whether he did, or if it was Avi who told me about that.”

“Did von Karajan seem evasive at all? When he talked to you about the Fourth?”

“Hard to say. He was in a lot of pain, but yes, he seemed, well, it felt like he was leaving something out, something like a painful memory.”

“I am not so sure I would trust what he said, Harry,” Eisenstadt sighed. “Many accused him of being active in party politics during the war…”

“Party? What, uh, and which war?”

 “You don’t know?” Eisenstadt replied. “Harry, von Karajan registered as a Nazi, though he was declared a mitläufer during the denazification hearings after the war.”


“A mitläufer, a fellow traveler, or perhaps simply an opportunist; yes, that is the better choice here. He chose not simply to stay in Germany during the war, but to actively work there. He conducted the official state orchestra and at all manner of state functions. He profited from the Nazi regime, Harry.”

“Okay. So he was declared an opportunist. Does that disqualify the importance of his work on the Fourth?”

“No, of course not. I am, however saying we might take his recollections as a place to start our investigations, and that we need to look into this matter further.”

“What…matter?” Harry asked, now feeling a little uncomfortable about where this talk was headed. 

Liz Bullitt, just then sitting beside Deborah, wanted to warn the Old Owl to go easy on Callahan, that any talk of his mother was to go down a trail fraught with all manner of hidden dangers.

“Your mother’s death, Harry,” Eisenstadt continued, looking him hard in the eye. “We must consider this an open question.”

“What do you mean?” Harry said.

“Right now? Only that we, the three of us, need to go back and examine this moment.”

“You mean…?”

“I do. And I think I understand how difficult this will be for you, but Harry – I have a feeling. What do you call the word? A hunch? Isn’t that what you Americans say? A nagging suspicion – that all is not as it should be.”

“With what?” Harry growled.

“With the very last movement of her Fourth, with the last moments of her life. What if your mother stumbled upon something, something dangerous, and what if van Karajan saw and understood that? Perhaps he changed something before the work was performed? To protect her, perhaps…”

“Or to protect all of us,” Liz whispered.

“Just so,” Eisenstadt sighed. “That is what I am most afraid of, Harry. I think that there is a harmonic structure within everything, and quite possibly your mother came upon a key to our understanding of this structure.”

“There’s only one way we can find out, Harry,” Liz added. “You know where all this happened, who was there and even when. You’re the only person who can take us back to the moment – to the moment she originally played those final parts of her original score.”

Harry was sitting quietly behind the Bösendorfer’s keyboard, and now he looked down and took a deep breath, but his hands remained crossed on his lap. Lost in thought, he knew what was being asked of him, and even knew how to get there, but there was something else bothering him.

“Have you ever considered,” he mumbled, “that if playing that music killed her, that it might, no…that’s not quite right, is it? If we find our way into that music, and if we play that music as you suggest, that it will – not might, but will – kill us all?”

“If she played the music and it killed her,” Eisenstadt thought out loud, “why wasn’t von Karajan also killed?”

“Maybe proximity?” Liz said. “Proximity to the vibrations of the chord? When it was played?”

“If that’s true,” Callahan sighed, “then won’t whoever plays the music, well, you know, die?”

Eisenstadt shrugged. “We have too many questions as it is, Harry. Now we must have answers. Answers that only your mother can provide.”

The doorbell rang and Harry heard a key in the door…

“That’s got to be DD,” he said. “Liz, can you give me a hand here?” he said as pulled himself closer to his wheelchair. 

“Yeah, got it,” she said, and she helped Harry get settled in his chair just as DD and the Doc came in.

“Hope we didn’t interrupt anything important,” DD said, now carrying bags of groceries into the kitchen. “And Harry, I’ve got a list of people that are coming tomorrow. Just a few old hands from the Cathouse and a few cops you might remember.”

“You have friends…from a cathouse?” Eisenstadt asked with an arched eyebrow. “Really?”

“Oh yeah,” Callahan grinned, “we go way back. Free mustache rides guaranteed, too.”

Liz shook her head. “Oh, Harry…really?” she said as she pushed him into the living room.

“Oh,” DD added, “I’ve got one of those motorized wheelchairs coming first thing in the morning, so be here. They’ll go over charging the batteries and all that while they set it up.”

“Any word from the prosthetics lab?”

“Appointment on Monday, in Palo Alto,” the Doc said. “First I could get, and I had to pull some strings, too.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Harry nodded.

“You been watching that shit in Sagittarius?” Doc asked.

“Yeah. Same thing four nights running.”

“Spooky, man. Heard some talking heads last night yakking on and on about it. Calling it some kind of periodic pulsar. Some astronomer in Japan is calling it a magneto-star.” The Doc put his bags of groceries in the kitchen then came out to the living room. “Oh, excuse me. I didn’t know you two were over here,” he said to Liz and the Owl. “Sorry for the expletives.”

“You must be kidding,” the Owl hooted. “After an a few hours with Harry my vocabulary is wilting under the load.”

The Doc chuckled at that. “You should hear us in the OR. The scrub nurses tell the smuttiest jokes…”

“Oh sure they do, Doc,” Harry sighed. “Like the one about…”

“No, Harry, not here!” Doc cried.

Everyone laughed.

“So,” Harry asked DD as she came into the living room with a bowl of freshly peeled shrimp, “who on earth did you find from the department to come out here?”

“Oh, that’s a surprise,” she shot back. “So, Professor Eisenstadt, are you still returning Sunday?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. I must earn a living, one way or another.”

“Well, unless you’ve made other plans, we’ll get you down to the airport,” DD added.

“Oh, I can not ask you to do that. There must be…”

“No, there’s not,” the Doc countered. “It’s either us or you’ll have to use your thumb.”

“I see. Well, in that case, I’m most grateful.”

“What time’s your flight?”

“Noon, I think.”

“Okay, we’ll pick you up at 0630. Harry? Wanna ride in with us?”

“Sure, Doc.”

DD then came back with plates for everyone and bowls full of cocktail and remoulade sauces. “Okay everyone…dig in. Harry? Want an Oly?”

“No, I want you to sit down and relax. You’re making me tired just watching you run around!”

“I’ve got to go fix a Diet Coke. You wanna beer or not?”

“Diet Coke for me too, then.”

A hush fell over the house.

“Did you say Diet Coke, Harry?” the Doc asked.

“I did. Yes.”

The Doc then came over and felt Callahan’s forehead. “You feeling okay, Harry?”

“And the horse you rode in on, Doc,” Callahan muttered. “DD…this is a good remoulade. How’d you make it?”

“Oh, you like it?”

“Yeah, better than the cocktail sauce.”

“Cup of mayonnaise, two tablespoons of coarse French mustard, equal parts finely diced celery and onion. Oh, and a dash of Tabasco, too.”

“Damn, Harry,” the Doc groaned, “and now you’re asking for recipes? And drinking Diet Coke? We better check your testosterone levels, and pretty fucking soon…”

Liz laughed at that. “Yeah, Doc, you fuckin’ tell ‘em!”

“Oh, shit. There I go with the expletives again.”

“I hate to ask,” the Owl said, “but could one of you start a fire? I’m getting chilly now…”

“I’ll get it,” Liz said. “What was that you used to say, Harry? The coldest winter I ever endured was the summer I spent in San Francisco?”

“Ain’t that the truth?” DD sighed. “Beginning to feel like we’re gonna have another foggy night.”

“I hope not,” Eisenstadt said. “I’d finally like to see that pulsing star.”

“You haven’t seen it yet?” the Doc asked.

“I have great difficulty staying up so late these days, and when I get back to Boston I will have to contend with light pollution as well.”

“Perfect night for tomato bisque and grilled cheese sammies,” Liz said.

“Yeah,” Harry added. “Sounds good.”

“So,” the Doc asked Harry, “you working on a new piece?” 

“Who…me? No, no, I was just trying to play Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag.”

“No shit? Man, I haven’t heard that one in ages. Can you play it?”

“No, no…I couldn’t remember the words, so really, what’s the point?”

“True. So, what do you make of this pulsing star theory, Harry?”

“Me? Hell, I got no idea, Doc. It seems pretty regular, ya know? Like you could almost set your watch by it, and that’s the weird thing, at least to me.”

“Yeah,” the Doc sighed. “One of the gas-passers I work with in the OR is an amateur astronomer. He thinks it’s a signal of some sort.”

Eisenstadt looked up at that. “Possible, but not likely, though that would depend on the possible trajectory of the light path.”

“What do you mean?” the Doc asked.

“If it is indeed a natural phenomenon associated, say with a pulsar or other magneto-star, the light would be omnidirectional. If, on the other hand, it is a signal of one kind or another that would assume a more focused beam of light directed along a path with a known recipient, or recipients. The implications of this, needless to say, would be staggering.”

“Oh, I agree. It would be staggering, alright…but that alone doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”

“Of course not. The problem,” Eisenstadt added, “will be trying to figure out if the light is omnidirectional or a more focused beam…”

“What about the type of light, say try a spectroscopic analysis? What that prove or disprove one hypothesis or the other?”

“If it was coherent light, possibly, yes,” she replied. “And by that I mean a singular correlation between packets of energy.”

The Doc shrugged. “You lost me, Dr. Eisenstadt.”

“The light would need to come from a non-variable light source, such as you might find emitted by laser, or possibly even a phased maser. But the energy required to emit such a signal over astronomical distances is not insignificant, Doctor. As a frame of reference, I doubt if all the power generated on this planet would be sufficient.”

“Shit,” the Doc sighed.

“Just so. Shit,” Eisenstadt smiled. “You might tap into or somehow focus the light of a star, but the resources involved to construct such a device again implies energy technologies several orders of magnitude greater than what we have envisioned here. Of more immediate and practical interest is how far away this light source is from our solar system; only then should we consider the type of light.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“If the source is local, say within 100 parsecs, that might be grounds for further inquiry. If, on the other hand, the light comes from a globular cluster in the Sagittarius Group that implies the light is ancient, say eight to fifteen thousand years old. For an artificial light source to be focused on our planet, and to arrive just now…well, the odds defy the need for further comment or investigation.” 

“If it was somehow, what would that imply?”

“That this alleged civilization knew enough about the complex gravitational and tidal interactions within planetary groups in the entire galaxy to make precise predictions of stellar drift. In other words, their scientists would have had to take into account not only where we were thousands of years ago, but where we would be when the signal arrived. Such computational power in inconceivable, Doctor.”

Callahan had been listening to this exchange but just then something occurred to him: “Unless of course they were time travelers,” he said.

And Eisenstadt turned her owl’s eyes to Callahan and they blinked rapidly as another set of confounding thoughts cascaded through her mind. “If so, why not just come and tell us? Why bother with signaling us?”

“I can think of at least two reasons,” the Doc sighed. “The first is the simplest. We’d need to be technologically advanced enough to give a damn, to act on what we found.”

“And the second?” Eisenstadt said, her eyes narrowing a bit.

“That there’s an internal conflict within that civilization.”

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“Well, that perhaps there are factional differences. One group wants to send the signal and the other doesn’t…”

“Or,” Callahan said, “that this civilization wants to signal us but they don’t want another group to know that they’ve done so.”

“Another group?” the Doc posited. “Or another civilization?”

“And if that was the case,” Callahan said as he looked down and studied his hands, “then the signal is a warning.”

Eisenstadt smiled – yet inside she was torn. “All of this is of course assuming that your little green men are behind sending such a telegram to us in the first place.”

But Callahan looked at Liz, and both nodded.

Because the means to get to an answer might be waiting for them just a few feet away, in notes on sheets of music penned by his mother thirty years ago.

© 2021-22 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.]

(Learn to Fly \\ Foo Fighters \\  RIP Taylor)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s