Very difficult writing. Uncertain terrain in these shadows. One more piece of the puzzle.
[Bread \\ Guitar Man]
The Eighty Eighth Key
Intermezzo – Madness and the Desperate Flight of aquaTarkus
Part I: Synchronicities
Harry Callahan walked from his living room to the kitchen, trying out his new leg. His latest new leg.
“What a fucking pain in the ass,” he growled as he stopped and leaned against a column, turning the cup ever so slightly, seating the soft deerskin to his stump.
“Is it better than the chair?” Deborah Eisenstadt asked his back, warily watching his flaring moods. “If not, I can bring it up from the garage if you like?”
Callahan grumbled and walked into the kitchen, headed for the coffee maker. He poured a large cup and added a strong hit of Baileys Irish Cream – just because – then he walked back through the living room to the piano. He pulled out his “Works in Progress” file from the desk and looked at the sheet music on top – and then he sighed.
“Some days this feels too much like work,” he said, his voice a coarse whisper.
“Why don’t we drive down to the city? Maybe go to the Cathouse for a visit?”
He nodded but turned and sat at the keyboard, then tentatively played a few disjointed notes – until he felt Eisenstadt walk up from behind.
“What’s troubling you, Harry? Is it the dream – again?”
He hesitated, but then he nodded. “Yes. It felt even more real last night.”
“It was very hot but it was dark out – and the ground was dry – almost dusty, but even the dust was white – almost like flour – in a way,” Callahan said, his words coming in short bursts followed by long, drawn out pauses, as if he was sifting through debris left by a passing storm.
“It was night, like the last one?”
“Moonlight. Bright moonlight – like under a full moon. Cactus shadows – and even the rocks cast shadows.”
“What did you hear?” she asked…carefully…placing her hand on his shoulder as his hands levitated, fingers spreading like talons in search of prey. She heard the chord form and closed her eyes and in the next instant they were both standing inside a high desert landscape, the moon like the beam of a searchlight high overhead. ‘Blue,’ she thought aloud, ‘everything is blue…’
She looked down and gently kicked a stone…and the stone tumbled away. Again. Just like last time. They were no longer passive observers, not in this landscape, and she knew now that they had to proceed with the utmost caution…because one falling rock could soon turn into a landslide.
“Is that a trail?” Harry asked as he pointed at the rough outlines of a path ahead.
“I think so, but Harry…?”
“If this is a dream why are we here?”
“Dreams are constructs of the unconscious mind. They are not real places.”
He nodded. “Ah, I see. And this is, or at least it appears to be, a real place.”
“Or…we can now access the real through the unconscious mind.”
An aircraft of some kind crossed the night sky high overhead, its white strobes pulsing across the inky blackness as it flew from northeast to southwest, and Callahan had no trouble identifying it. “Looks like a trip-7 headed to LAX,” he sighed.
“How can you tell?”
“Find Polaris, check the angle against Arcturus and Spica. He’s headed west-southwest and powering down for his descent. So, we’re in Nevada – or maybe even western Utah.”
“So, this isn’t a dream?”
Callahan shrugged. “I don’t know. Is it a dream within a dream, or was I dreaming of a real place?”
“What happened next? In your dream, I mean?”
“Well, I…” Callahan began saying – just as a low humming sound filled the night.
“What is that?” Eisenstadt cried – as the humming quickly built in intensity…
Callahan turned and pointed: “There it is,” he said, his voice barely audible now.
Eisenstadt turned and she saw a triangular shaped hole in the sky. “What is that?” she whispered.
“That,” Callahan sighed, “is a ship.”
“You mean…like an UFO?”
“Not like. Is,” Callahan said, nodding at the ship as it descended towards the valley floor.
“And this is what you dreamt about?”
“Yeah, and it usually ends about now.”
“What…with the ship just up there?”
She broke contact and they were in the living room again, yet when she looked at her shoes they were almost completely covered with the fine white powdery sand of the desert trail, and Callahan’s were, too. “Harry, we were there.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m still cold.”
And then Eisenstadt realized she was, as well. She touched Callahan’s arm and his skin was almost ice cold, yet he was warming up nicely in the piano room as it was close to the fireplace. Then, almost on a hunch she turned and looked at the ceiling in the living room – and yes, one of the tiny blue spheres was hovering silently inside a shadowy corner. “Harry,” she whispered.
“Yeah, I know. I can feel them now.”
“Wait…you can feel them?”
He nodded. “Its almost like a fullness in my neck, at least it feels that way when one of them is around…”
“It’s up there,” she added, nodding her head in the direction of the fireplace.
“What color is this one?”
“What color? But…they’re always blue…” but her words were full of doubt, like the memory wasn’t quite trustworthy.
“No, they’re not,” he said, his words steely calm.
“They aren’t? Are you sure?”
He nodded. “Yup. Blues most of the time, but I’ve seen green and red ones. And a pink.”
“Are you sure it’s not the scotch?”
He chuckled at that. “Yeah, I’m sure.” He paused then, and she thought he might have been lost in thought – until a tremor crossed his frame. “The blues aren’t friendly, Deborah. None of them are, not really, but I’m not sure about the pink one. For some reason…” he started to say, but then he stopped again, like maybe he was looking for just the right memory. Then his head canted a little. “The pink one is a friend. She’s very curious…about…”
“The piano,” she sighed.
“Yes, the piano.” He squinted once then felt his neck. “How many are up there now?” he asked.
When she looked now she saw several were up there, and suddenly she felt sleepy and wanted to tell Harry. When she turned and looked at him he was already asleep, and for the briefest moment she thought she was floating through vast fields of stars.
Jeff Woodson drove up Central Avenue and, as he approached the crash site he pulled off the road and parked the van on the grass, then set the stabilizers, leveling the van for the remote feed antenna. His crew jumped out and sprang into action, setting up tripods and mounting their heavy video cameras, then hooking the output lines directly to the satellite transmitter. Woodson got the dish aligned just as Sandy Mullins and her team drove up; this second van parked beside Woodson’s and now, in effect, the Eagle Network had an on-site studio set up less than a hundred yards from where the stricken airliner had fallen.
Henry Taggart got out of the van and watched the blue sphere settle and rise just inside the dense black smoke – and unless you knew exactly what you were looking at you’d have never realized anything was there, and he had to smile at that, at their ability to hide undetected right above the scene of such an immense disaster. He also realized there was nothing he could do here except get in the way so he called for a taxi then walked over to Woodson.
“I’m going back to the boat,” he told the team leader. “When you guys wrap here you’d better come…”
“Man, we won’t be done here for days,” Woodson said, and Mullins nodded.
“The network has on air reporters headed this way right now,” Mullins said. “This is a great spot to shoot from.”
Taggart nodded. “When you two knock off why don’t you come back down to the boat.”
“That cop?” Mullins said, the situation dawning on her.
“Yeah. Strength in numbers, or something like that,” Taggart said. “I called a cab so I’m headed back that way now.”
“Okay,” Woodson added, “we’ll try. My best guess is we might get off around seven.”
Taggart nodded, then he saw a taxi pull up and he waved to the driver. “Okay. See you tonight.”
Henry walked over to the taxi, and as he stepped inside he felt as if he was being watched.
“Did you see that mess?” the cabbie asked, pointing at the flaming airliner.
“It’s all over the news right now. Some are saying it was a helicopter that hit the jet.”
“You saw it?”
“Jesus. So, where can I take you?”
“The Marina. A restaurant down there called The Warehouse.”
“Okay.” The cabbie pulled out into traffic and Taggart leaned back on the slimy old vinyl seat, beyond caring as the old Chevy made its way towards the water. At one point he felt a wave of nausea wash over him and he asked the cabbie to turn up the air conditioner – but it didn’t help. Nothing, he knew, would ever wipe the sight of that helicopter vaulting up and hitting the airliner’s engine. He could still see the helicopter’s rotors splintering, then the huge engine tearing away from the wing, before the worst part unfolded. It was the way the jet wallowed for a moment, then it just seemed to roll to the right as it started to fall out of the sky, and he couldn’t help but think of the sheer terror all the people on board must have experienced. Those last few seconds – knowing these were your last heartbeats, the last breaths you’d take. The last things you’d see and try to file away as a memory before the world around you dissolved into fire and chaos. Would you, he wondered, feel pain? Or would death come on so hard and fast that even pain would fail to register?
The thought made his skin crawl.
Then he let his head fall away and he looked up into the sky and yes, there it was. Following him, still up there in the clouds.
‘So,’ he mumbled to the cresting realization, ‘it’s following me?’
He got out at the restaurant and walked over to a park bench and began watching Deb’s boat, and when he was sure no one else had her under surveillance he made his way out the pier and quietly slipped onboard, disarming the alarm as he entered the cockpit.
“Deb?” he called out, and he heard Daisy Jane bark once so he went and looked in the hatch over her berth and saw she was sound asleep. He unlocked the companionway, found Daisy’s leash and took her for a quick walk, then went below to wake Deb, maybe take her out to lunch. And afraid of upsetting her he decided to not talk about the crash…
“Could you take the Rover, go get some Thai?” she asked after she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
“I reckon so? You want the usual?”
“Seafood Tom Yum and a fresh spring roll.”
“Okay. I’ll be back in a half hour or so.”
“Should I set the alarm?”
“Hell-yes!” Taggart said through his habitual grin.
By the time he made it back she was setting out places on the cockpit table and Daisy was curled up in the sun, her long line of sutured skin healing well. He sat beside the pup and began rubbing the top of her head and she moaned.
“What did you get?” Deb asked as she studied the lingering uncertainties within his aura.
“Tom Ka Gai and a green curry.”
“Just veggies. Extra mushrooms, though. And two orders of spring rolls.”
“Good. I was hoping you might.”
Daisy rolled over and put her head on his lap and he knew what she wanted now. “Time for an ear rub?” he whispered – and then he smiled when her tail swished back and forth across the teak cockpit seat.
“She loves you so,” Debra sighed.
“And…?” he replied as he looked up at Deb.
“And I wish you would have been able to love me half as much.”
“If only your ears were furry.”
She laughed a little, but not enough to hide the pain she felt. “I also wish I’d gotten to know you sooner.”
“Que sera, sera,” he said, his mind drifting away to sunnier times.
“And what does that mean, exactly? That we were never meant to be?”
“If I remember things correctly, I seem to recall you had a thing for The Kid.”
“Ah. You mean Mr. William Taylor, the William Taylor currently residing on the orthopedics floor at UT Southwestern in Dallas?”
Taggart shook his head. “You know, I’m pretty sure I heard bones snapping, on the TV, I mean.”
Debra shook away the memory of her father and Moloch as they smiled triumphantly after Will went down. “I think my father arranged that, Henry.”
He seemed taken aback by that, but then he thought about her words for a moment. “You know, I guess nothing surprises me about him. Just moving another pawn on the board, I guess.”
“Is that how you see him?”
But Taggart simply shrugged the question away. “When I think about your dad I see danger, pure and simple. He’s always pushing his little pieces all over the board, but he’s playing a game I really don’t understand.” He put some rice in his bowl and spooned curry over it, then he picked out a golden shiitake with his chopsticks and regarded it for a moment, turning it over in the sun while he admired all the hidden details. “So, you seemed intrigued by Gilbert’s longing for you. Tell me about that?”
“Nothing to tell, Henry. And I’m not in the market for entanglements right now.”
“Well, there’s always lust…”
“Not my type.”
“Cops don’t interest me. People who see the world in blacks and whites don’t interest me.”
“And so what am I? Shades of grey?”
“Cool blue…until you look at me.”
“And then what do you see?”
“Three women and a dog. And while the three of you are running, the dog knows everything.”
He sat back and regarded her cooly for a moment. “Oh? And when does this happen?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe fifteen years from now.”
“And so you’re seeing into the future now? Any other startling new developments you’re keeping from me, Kiddo?”
“I wish you wouldn’t call me that, Henry. It’s always bothered me.”
“Sorry. Now, care to answer the question, or do you want to thrust and parry some more?”
“I saw the airplane last night.”
“The one you just saw. I saw it happen last night. A helicopter hit it.”
“We have to be in San Pedro tonight. Late, I think. There’ll be fog, and…”
She just shrugged, but then she looked away.
“Okay. So…who dies?”
“I couldn’t see that, but many more people will die.”
“Okay. Anything else?”
She nodded then, a quick yet discursive nod, like a playful child’s. “I heard music, Henry. And it was leading the way.”
© 2016-22 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 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 to us all.]
[Glen Campbell \\ Ghost on the Canvas]