The Eighty-eighth key, Chapter 64.4



[Hearts and Bones \\ Paul Simon]

Chapter 64.4

Henry Taggart now faced an interesting choice, an unusual set of problems, and solely from the perspective of piloting the Swan back to the West Coast of North America there were few good options left to him now. They’d left Los Angeles in early December and now here they were – tied off in Hilo the day before Christmas Eve. The usual route back to Seattle, or to Vancouver, involved placing the North Pacific High on a routing chart and then looking at the most recent weather datums of the isobars surrounding the High. If you were foolish enough to try and skirt around the southern reaches of the high, the impudent voyager would beat into the wind for weeks – all while detouring as far south as the southern tip of Baja California – and then having to slam north against wind and current for as long as the boat, or the sailors on board, could take it. Sailing the rhumb line from Hilo to Ketchikan, Alaska would take you right into the center of the massive high pressure system that lurks around out there – and where little to no wind for weeks on end is a real possibility. Yet riding the wind around the high pressure system would carry the Swan north towards the Aleutian Island chain, necessitating a potentially life-threatening passage across the Gulf of Alaska – in January – to reach the West Coast. The best option, given current circumstances, boiled down to how far north the high pressure system would be pushed by the faltering hurricane, and for how long they could ride the low.

If — and Taggart had to assume this was a really big if — he could push the Swan along in the lee of the hurricane – for as long as it held up, anyway – he might be able to surf along in relatively warm weather more than half the way to Ketchikan. It was a ballsy move, and if the high filled-in too fast behind the hurricane they could be caught out in the middle of the North Pacific with no wind and with dwindling stocks of food and fuel. Still, again, given current circumstances — which included trying to avoid contact with Ted Sorensen while at the same time keeping little Dana in safe hands — he decided it was safer to top off the fuel and water tanks and make a quick grocery run at first light before setting out behind the hurricane.

And the odd thing? Tracy Abernathy stayed up with him as he downloaded the needed weather files and plotted the centers of both the North Pacific High and the eye of the hurricane on the huge, paper routing chart on the chart table, asking him questions as if she really wanted to understand what he was up to, and why he had come to the decision he had. And the thing is…she seemed to be putting some kind of move on him. Like she had been, well, locked up with the old man and she had found him…uninteresting, in that certain kind of way. She put her hand on the chart once and she made a little joke about something trivial then put her hand on his, and yet the thing was, to Henry, those fingers lingered a little too long to be just another innocuously incidental contact. So he had looked up and looked into her eyes and looked at his internal barometer for a second or so, and then, when she made eye contact too, something indefinable passed between them and everything that happened between them over the next three weeks was just a footnote to that moment.

She sealed the deal when she went to the fridge and produced a mastodon-sized rib-eye steak that she’d ordered for him at the steakhouse and then had wrapped up in a to-go package for him. She’d then put the foil-wrapped steak in a low oven with some butter and lime on top and then had warmed up the meat slowly. 

When she finished with his meat they were both more than a little satisfied with the results…


Debra Sorensen docked aquaTarkus at the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor – just a stone’s throw from Wairkiki Beach in Honolulu. Ralph Richardson managed not to fall overboard when she pulled into the slip indicated by the Harbor Master, and yet as soon as the Vindo was tied-off, Ralph and his daughter Dana ran to grab a taxi to the airport. Now she was alone – and for the first time in weeks – with only Daisy-Jane by her side. And when she realized she would probably never see him again, she finally understood how much she was going to miss Henry Taggart, and what he’d come to mean to her. And to Daisy-Jane, who looked despondent now.

She sat in the cockpit, oblivious to the light rain still falling over the harbor, her head askew, her mouth loose while she settled into this new place, and yet she wondered how long it would take.

For her father, or some of his men, to come for her. Where would they take her? Or…would they?

A thick, billowy cloud of burning pot wafted over the boat, and she had to smile. This was, after all, Hawaii, and what did they call it? Maui-wowee? Someone nearby had to be smoking a kilo of the stuff right now, if the size of the smoke trail was any indication, and she grinned at the thought of the absurdity of her position. Alone, vulnerable and exposed, and about to suffocate in a cloud of burning weed… 

‘Well, there are probably worse ways to go,’ she sighed.

Daisy came up the companionway just then, the fur around her stitched-up wounds had still not completely covered her scars, and they looked at one another for a while, both wondering what was coming next. Then Debra remembered Daisy hadn’t eaten all day so she went below to fix her dinner, grabbing a small bottle of Ensure for herself – before shaking her head and putting that little bottle of despair back in the ‘fridge. 

‘I can’t go down that road again,’ she told herself, remembering her mind-numbing battles with Xanax her first autumn in Aspen, when Daisy had been a tiny little thing. ‘Maybe it’s time to try Prozac,’ she mumbled, trying to keep out of the way of all Henry Taggart’s aching echoes as she stumbled around the galley in the leftover darkness of his sudden departure…

Then Daisy Jane growled, a deep, low, mean kind of growl. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end. 

And that was that, she knew. “Well, that didn’t take long,” she sighed, never feeling more alone in her life. She went to her stateroom and grabbed the Sig P220 Henry had picked out for her and then she slowly made her way to the companionway steps, waiting in the gathering darkness that just had to be the end of the line. Daisy came and sat by her feet, hoping it wouldn’t hurt so much this time.


DD and Doc Watson had everything ready to go. Steaks were in the ‘fridge, her Caesar salad was in a bowl and all set for a quick toss, and The Doc had frozen margaritas ready to roll in the blender. Harry had to smile at the love that had sprung up around this little seaside haven, the love he felt a lingering echo of the brightest passion that had flared here, once upon a time. Of all the women he’d known or thought he had loved, Cathy was the one he missed the most now, and, in a way, how could he not. This house had, if anything, sprung from her mind. It was, in a very real sense, an expression of everything she thought she’d come to know about him, and yet she’d turned that knowledge into a gift. An even more special gift that they’d been able to experience together – if only for a few years.

So…what was that old saying? About the love that burns the brightest…?

Yes. Yes it had.

And yet, he still had Liz. Elizabeth. And yet he missed her, like any father misses a child that has flown the nest. Only…she wasn’t his daughter. She was his best friend’s daughter, the dead best friend. And Cathy’s daughter. So…where was his son? Why had that relationship gone so badly astray? Were all the usual suspects to blame? Pride and anger? Or jealousy, perhaps? What he wouldn’t do now to understand.

Deborah showed Brendan to his room and helped him get settled, and Harry asked DD if Didi could stay with them for a while…

…until DD reminded Harry that the small studio up the hill had a small flat attached — and that it was currently not in use.

“Well, Hell, that ought to work out just fine,” he grumbled, still not sure he wanted Didi anywhere close to him just yet…

And DD took a measure of the moment and backtracked: “But maybe she’d better stay with us until she learns her way around…?”

“Good thinking,” Harry sighed.

“Riesling or a Cabernet tonight, Harry?” she added hastily, covering her tracks.

“Could we start with apples and cheese and a Riesling?”

“We sure can,” she smiled — as the boy came back to the living room with Deborah.

Brendan looked around the room, remembering the last time he’d been here — ‘but wasn’t that just a few days ago? And what happened to my father…?’ — then he walked over to Harry’s Bösendorfer, the piano in the mitered glass projection that seemed almost like a gull perched on one of the rocks hovering over the sea, waiting to take flight again… Yet the boy hardly seemed aware of his surroundings…

And so Harry walked over and joined Brendan.

“How are you feeling?” Callahan asked, worried by the vacant stare he watched evolving.

“What happened to my father?”

“I’m not sure, Brendan. I think he’s grown scared of…”

“Of me. Yes, I think I could feel that. But maybe this has always been inevitable, Mr. Callahan.”

“You can call me Harry, okay?”

“Harry? Yes. Okay. I will try, if I can remember.”

“Do you play the piano?” Callahan asked.

“The guitar. I have a nice guitar at school, or maybe it’s at home. But…I…”

“But what, Brendan?”

“But I don’t have a home anymore, do I, Harry?”

“Sure you do, Brendan. This is your home now, and for as long as you want to stay and call it home.”

The man-child nodded his head slowly, looking at all the permutations this new equation afforded, then – ignoring Harry’s sidelong glance – he went and sat at the piano. “Which keys are what notes?” he asked, and so Harry sat beside him and slowly played the scale, announcing each note as he played. Then Brendan asked Harry to play a few major chords, and the man-child watched, memorizing, remembering, visualizing — and then, finally, playing several chords on his own.

Next, Callahan laid out the opening moves to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, note by note, chord by chord, but after a few minutes Brendan stopped Harry. 

“What is the name of this piece?” he asked.

“It’s called the Rhapsody in Blue. Have you ever heard of George Gershwin?”

“I remember it from somewhere. No, some time else.”

“Some time? What do you mean by that, Brendan?”

But the boy stopped what he was doing and began drawing problems in the air above the piano.

“What are you doing, Brendan? Can you tell me what you see?”

“I am looking for Mister Gershwin, Harry. I want to see how he came up with the numbers for this music.”

“How do you do that, Brendan?”

“Lean closer, Harry. Put your head next to mine and look…”

And so Callahan did.

And in the next instant Callahan began to follow Brendan’s fingers as they swished through the air — and it was as if the molecules pushed aside by the passage of the boy’s fingers began to vibrate, and Callahan realized he was now holding his breath, astonished as an amber-orange mist formed in the wake, and then, as numbers coalesced…

…Callahan heard something… 

…like the muffled clickety-clack clickety-clack sounds from inside a distant railway passenger car… 

…and then he saw Gershwin, sitting inside a railway car’s drawing room, scoring music as his body swayed to the beat of the clickety-clack clickety-clack sounds… 

And then Brendan began to wilt, as if the strain of producing this series of images had physically drained his being, so Harry now had to make a decision.

And so he did.

“Brendan? Put your hand on my shoulder…I want to show you something.”

A pink mote of dust in the air above them began to vibrate wildly, while out on the rocks the Old Man watched Harry and the boy, and he too held his breath — because so much was riding on the outcome of what happened next.


Nothing moved. Not even the air around her.

She watched her human walk out into the night, so she followed.

And there was another human out there. Tall. Dressed in the same color as the night, and she recognized the thing in the other human’s hand. The metal thing that made so much noise it hurt.


Debra saw the man and froze. The gun in his hand was already up and ready. There was nothing in his eyes. No fear. No anger. No regret.

‘So, this is it?’ Debra sighed inwardly. Now she knew. Her father had abandoned her. Completely. And she would die here on this boat so far away from everything she had ever known, and now without the one person who might’ve helped her. She watched as the man screwed a silencer onto the end of his pistol’s barrel…

“Don’t hurt the dog, okay?” she asked.

But the man just brought a single finger up to his lips and gently shushed her, nodding his head as he did, then he brought the pistol up and put it right up against her forehead.

And just then Daisy Jane began to growl. Again.


She was sure now. The other human was going to hurt her human.

Now there was only one thing to do.


The man was distracted by the sound and he looked down, saw the dog’s mouth opening and he almost began to feel the crushing pressure around his scrotum as the dog made contact – but just then he felt an explosive pain in the middle of his back…

He saw the woman jump back as searingly impossible pain enveloped him, pushing everything else from his mind, but through it all he remembered the pistol in his hand. He was dying now and he knew it, yet the last instinct in this final moment of his life was to finish the job. He struggled to focus, to bring his hand up again, then he felt teeth encircle his head and the bones in his face began to… 


Debra recoiled away from an explosive wound that emerged from the man’s gut – just as she felt Daisy-Jane at her knees – now lunging for the man’s groin. Then she realized that something huge, something like the spear from a Scuba diver’s speargun, had just blown through the man’s midsection, and now he was falling…overboard. So…she gave him a push, and she saw that last startled expression on his face, and in his eyes…as he fell…

…into the gaping mouth of the orca, waiting there just under the stern. The big male caught the assassin’s head in his mouth and slowly rolled away and under the water, disappearing in an instant…


“Whoa! What the fuck!” the hairy, big-footed Southern California surfer-dude said as he watched the orca pull the assassin under the inky water.

Debra turned and looked at the immense, bearded-hairy monster standing there – inside a billowing rainbow haze of ascending pot smoke. The dude’s aura was all over the place, too… Shock, surprise, a little fear too — but no malice towards…anyone. She thought the guy looked kind of like Jeff Bridges, too – and he certainly sounded just like the actor. But then again, everyone from Orange County who hung at the beach sounded just like Jeff Bridges.

And then she saw the speargun – in the dude’s hands.

“Man, are you like alright,” the dude asked, hopping off his old trimaran onto the dock. “What was up with that fucker? Did you, like, forget to pay your Exxon bill, or what?”

And Debra could see that the dude was beyond stoned. He was, she guess, already in low earth orbit and headed for Venus, but he’d just saved her life and killed a man in the process. “I’m fine, and thanks for the help,” she replied.

“Did you know that guy?”


“Well, shit, we sure fucked up his night,” the dude said, laughing a little while he bent over and looked into the water. He began to sway and looked ready to topple and fall into the water, and not knowing what else was lurking down there Debra hopped off aquaTarkus and reached out for the dude – just as he was about to crash and burn right out there on the pier – and after she steadied him up she helped him across and onto her boat. He plopped down onto a cockpit seat and when he began to lean over she propped him up against the cockpit’s hard dodger. 

Debra turned on the cockpit lights and saw blood everywhere, even around Daisy-Jane’s mouth, so she put down her Sig and pulled out the wash-down hose and sprayed off all the cockpit’s many faceted nooks and crannies. Then she sprayed down Daisy and toweled her off.

The dude’s eyes were now almost completely rolled back in his head when he started singing…

“If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck, I’d swim to the bottom and drink it all up…”

“You know, I don’t think you need any whiskey right now,” she sighed as she sprayed off her own legs and feet, then she saw little bits of blood and guts all over the front of her t-shirt – so right there she peeled her shirt off and the dude approved of that, and wholeheartedly too.

“Man, you got some gorgeous knockers, you like know that, right?”

“Thanks. You do to,” she said, marveling at the size of the beer belly under the dude’s filthy polo shirt.

“Yeah? Ya think so?”

She smiled and cast a wary eye at her erstwhile savior.

“That your pistol, man?” he said, picking up the Sig. 

“Yes, it sure is.”

“You a cop or something?”

“Why do you want to know that?”

“Man, the only people I know that carry Sigs are cops.”

“You know many cops?”

“Used to be one, once upon a time, anyway.”

“Really? Here in Hawaii?”

His eyes rolled again and he shook his head violently, trying to come back to the moment. “No, man, Washington, D.C. Los Federales, ya know. G-Man. Federal Bureau of Butt Fuckers,” he snarled  — before he started giggling and slapping a knee.

“You retire, or get your ass fired?”

“Reeee-tired, Ma’am, with full fucking benefits, too.”

“And don’t tell me, let me guess…you’re from Newport Beach, right?”

“Balboa Island,” he giggled. “Born and bred. Say, how’d you know that?”

“Lucky guess,” Debra sighed. She looked at the dude’s boat and it was beyond help: faded fibreglass everywhere and the sails were in tatters. He’d gone out in search of the dream and landed here, smack dab in the middle of pot central, and here he was gonna stay. 

Except he’d just killed a man. Someone who was going to be missed. And there were probably a half dozen security cameras around here that had recorded the whole thing, too.

“You got a passport?” she asked.

“Why? We going somewhere?” he replied.

“Yeah. We better get you away from here for a while, if you know what I mean, jelly bean.”

“Jelly bean? Hey, I like that.”

“Passport? Wallet, money? Go get ‘em. Now.”

She started the diesel and waited for him to stumble over to his boat and back, and when he came out of the clouds of smoke he was carrying a small duffel stuffed with t-shirts and underwear.

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” she muttered under her breath. “Think you can cast off the dock lines?” she asked hopefully.

“Yeah, man. Where we headed?”

“Out there,” Debra Sorensen said, pointing to a horizon suddenly very far away.

© 2016-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…

[Rhapsody in Blue \\ Kingsley & Hambro]

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