The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 38

Part IV

Chapter 38

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When Callahan returned from ‘sighting’ Stacy and Escobar he dropped to the floor, hitting his head on the side of the piano as he fell. Bullitt stumbled free of the effect and made it to his friend’s side, found a thready pulse, and went to the kitchen. He found a clean glass and filled it with tap water, then rushed back to Callahan’s side.

He was white as a ghost again, but this time Harry’s lips and fingernails were deep blue, almost obsidian, and his skin was very cold to the touch. Bullitt held him, coaxed him back and then helped him sit up. “You’re going to have a bruise on your forehead,” Frank said as Harry felt around his face for the source of the sudden pain he felt. “I think you hit the piano pretty hard when you fell.”

“I’ve never felt like this before,” Callahan grumbled as he took the glass of water from Frank. He drank and immediately regretted it; the water tasted foul, almost evil, and he put the glass down after the one sip.

“You’ve got to drink more than that, Harry. Your skin is hard, dried out. If you don’t get some water down you’re going to get sick. Real sick.”

“Tastes bad,” Callahan said, his voice almost a whisper now, “almost like something’s wrong with it.”

Frank smelled the water, shook his head then took a sip. “Nothing wrong with it. Now, drink it or we’re heading over to General for an IV.”

Callahan drank the water but he almost retched as he finished it. “Tastes bitter,” he groaned, “like bitter copper.”

“I hate to say this, but we have a problem.”

“No kidding.”

“What do we do with what we know?”

“Call the Colonel, tell him we overheard the information while we were tracking a suspect. He’ll know who to call, what to do with the information.”

“You don’t think we should…?”

“What? Set a trap for dozens of armed mercenaries trying to kill Reagan? You honestly think we’re prepared for that? Two of us against four teams of…?”

“I see your point.”

“This ain’t the movies, Frank. No sheriff in a white hat is coming to the rescue.”

“You want me to call him?”

“Go ahead. I can’t see straight yet.”

“See if you can stand up. Let’s get you to the sack.”

Bullitt helped Callahan slide under the covers, then turned out the lights and went back to the living room, but he didn’t call Goodman, at least not right away. He called his sister, told her that Callahan was feeling under the weather and that, maybe, what Callahan really needed was someone to take care of him for a few days. “Think you can handle that?” he asked her.

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She was sitting in the lone chair in his apartment, looking out the window down at a moving mass of people cruising between bars when she heard the door rattle. Someone was turning the doorknob, pushing on the door, and she sat bolt upright in the chair, suddenly frozen in fear. The door slid open slowly, she saw the barrel of a gun move into view, then a masked gunman was taking aim…at her…

Callahan jumped up, wiped icy sweat from his face, then swung his legs out of bed and went to the living room. Evelyn was asleep on the sofa, the front door was closed, the chain on, both locks engaged. He went to the kitchen and got a glass of water, forced himself to drink it, then he went to the chair and sat, watched her sleep.

A moment later he felt her gently shake his shoulder and his head popped up.

“You were snoring,” she said softly when he looked up at her. “Why’d you get out of bed?”

“Bad dream,” he said, shaking the cobwebs loose. “Wanted a glass of water.”

“You? Water? I’m stunned!” she said, grinning.

“It was so real…”

“What? Your dream?”

“Uh-huh. Someone coming in the front door, with a shotgun…”

“Here? In the apartment?”

“Yeah.” He got out of his chair and walked over to the closet, got the Smith and Wesson out of his shoulder-holster and checked the cylinder, made sure it was loaded, then he carried it back to his chair.

“What’s that for?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. Just a feeling.”

“A feeling? Do you get feelings like this often?”

Again, he shook his head – this time more slowly – but he canted his head just so, turned his good ear towards the door. “Go to the bedroom,” he whispered, “now!”

She looked at him, wondered if he was indeed some kind of schizophrenic but thought better of arguing with a man holding a 44 Magnum in his lap, so she stood and moved quietly into the bedroom, almost closing the door as she disappeared inside.

He sat in the darkness, his ears following stealthy movement up the stairs, then he heard the scratching of metal on metal…someone picking his lock…first the knob, then the deadbolt – which slid open with a little thud – then the door began opening…bolt cutters cut the flimsy little chain and he saw the barrel of an 870 pump glide through the slit…

She heard it happening, of course. First the locks failing, then the little chain falling, and she remembered thinking this had to be some kind of nightmare – just as Callahan’s 44 barked once, then a second and a third time. She heard running and one more explosion, this time a different kind of gun firing, then Harry’s 44 barking two more times…only this time farther away, like down the stairs or out in the street. She realized she was holding her breath, that her eyes were tightly shut when she heard a last shot fired from Harry’s 44…

Then she heard sirens, heavy footsteps coming up the stairs, Harry cursing as he turned on a light and she burst from the room and ran into his arms, holding him close and kissing his face a thousand times.

Then she felt his trembling, his icy skin, and she pulled back, saw he was bleeding from a wound on his face, two more on his chest and she helped him into the chair…

“Don’t touch anything,” he said calmly. “And call Frank, tell him what happened.”

“Can I touch the phone?”

“Yeah. Call him right now.”

She heard cop cars screeching to a stop outside, then men running up the stairs and pushing into the room, angry cops with their revolvers drawn, flashlights scanning…

“Inspector Callahan?” one of them said. “Is that you?”

“Collins? Yeah, it’s me. Get an ambulance, would you? I think I’ve been shot…”

The room was spinning now, everything was turning white, a bright, shimmering white, and he felt the world falling away…like he was soaring free, breaking away and flying high above all the worldly cares he was so very tired of…

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Then he was falling, flames everywhere, his world filled with the sounds of metal hitting the earth in a glancing blow, sliding limbs and burning brush crushed underneath his wrecked Huey, then wet mud giving way as his ship slid into the swamp a few hundred yards from C-Meds’ broken perimeter walls. The smell of jet fuel everywhere, coating everything, and he saw huge white snakes sliding through the grass, their red eyes looking into his, and he pushed his way up through the wreckage, up onto the right side of the burning Huey. McCall? Where is McCall? He looked down, down into the grass and now the snakes were coming for him, their mouths up and open, white fangs glistening in the moonlight, pink forked tongues probing ahead, seeking release in his flesh…

“I’ve got a pulse,” he heard someone saying very far away.

“Got to get a line in, fast…”

An Linh was below him now, pulling burning babies from the wreckage, passing them up to him through the flames. McCall was forward on the stick, and he was handing charred lumps of flesh to Jim Parish, who placed the broken bodies in little caskets, thousands and thousands of little caskets, every one of them open, and then all of the burned children began singing…singing You Can’t Always Get What You Want while pyres for the dead lit the night for as far as his eyes could see…

“Harry? Can you hear me? Harry? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me…”

The white snakes are at his feet now, the first one is coiling up his leg, probing, always probing…

“You are playing with fire, my boy.”

“What?”

“You are playing at things you don’t understand. Are you sure you really want to do this?”

He looked down and the white snake was gone. He saw the Old Man in his Cape standing with his Cane on a field of virgin snow, but music still filled this place, a choir of the damned still sung their lament…you can’t always get what you want…you can’t always get what you want…there’s no place like home…you can’t always get what you want…

“Harry?”

His throat burned…there’s no place like home…

“Harry? Open your eyes!”

‘Whose voice is that?’ You can’t always get what you want…

“Come on, shipmate, you can do it…”

“Jim? Parish, is that you?”

“Yeah, come on, buddy. Open up ‘dem baby-blues…”

“Where?”

“In the recovery room, at San Fran General, shipmate.”

“What are you…”

“Shit man, they invited me to teach some kind of gun-shot wound surgery and post-op management course to a bunch of second-year residents. I got in from San Antonio on the red-eye and decided to come down for a look-see, and next thing I know they’re wheeling your fat-smelly ass in the back door…”

“Yeah? The nerve of some people’s children.”

“Anyway, you got a couple of new scars to go along with the old ones, and don’t worry about that funky new one on your face. One of the OR nurses said it looks sexy as hell.”

“Swell.”

“What the fuck’s going on, man? People busting into your apartment at four in the morning, and then there you go, shootin’ up the neighborhood again. Same old bullshit…same old Harry.”

“Some things never change, Jim.”

“I know this much is true, Amigo. You sure as hell never will.”

“Amen, brother.”

Parish swooned. “Oh, Lord, say it ain’t so! Callahan! You’ve found religion!”

“Screw you, asshole.”

“Nope, nope, there he is, ladies and germs. The Callahan we all know and love.”

“What happened? Why the operation?”

“Some asshole took a pot-shot at you with double-ought-buck. One of the pellets hit your collarbone, a fragment nicked your brachial artery. Touch and go for a while. Y’all got good paramedics here. That’s who saved your ass, anyway. I just cleaned up the mess.”

“How long have I been here?”

“Probably four hours or so, why?”

“Has Frank been around? Or his sister?”

“Evelyn? She’s a peach, Amigo. And I hate to say it, but that girl is hearing wedding bells, so watch your ass.” 

Callahan nodded. “Is she here?”

“Uh-oh. You got it too?”

“Got what?”

“You’re getting all goo-goo-eyed on me, Callahan. Could this be love?” Callahan’s eyes filled with tears and Parish wiped away one falling down his cheek. “Well hell, that answers that question!”

“I was dreaming. About that crash outside of C-Med…”

“Yeah, I remember that night. That was some serious shit…Charlie inside the perimeter…”

“Something about that night, Jim, was a turning point.”

“Maybe a Foucault pendulum. The world just keeps turning and yearning, and there’s no way off.”

“I think I was close, Jim.”

Parish nodded. “You were, Amigo, but you’re back.”

“How long do I need to stay here?”

“Long enough to see if the patch holds.”

“Patch?”

“We had to repair the artery. Maybe a week. Surgically, it was no big deal, a three inch incision. That will hurt for a few days, then it’ll just itch like shit for a while.”

Callahan looked at Parish. “Thanks for being here, man.”

“Kinda weird, ain’t it? The way these things happen? Almost like things happen for a reason, ya know?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I got some snot-nosed greenhorns to go teach. I’ll drop by after they get you up to a room. Can I bring you anything?”

“I’d like to go back to the Caravelle, sit back and watch the world go by…”

“Harry?”

“Yeah…?”

“You can’t beat the world into submission. Sometimes you got to just go with the flow.”

“You can’t always get what you want, right?”

“I fuckin’ loved that song, shipmate. Seeya in a little bit.”

A minute later he looked up, saw Bullitt walking towards his cubby.

“Well hell, there he is?” Frank said. “How’s it hanging?”

“Down to my knees.”

“You wish, Callahan. You fuckin’ wish.”

“Frank? I was playing the piano, in a dream. And I saw it coming down, in my dream.”

Bullitt shook his head. “Yeah, Evie told me. I kinda figured as much, that something like that was starting to happen.”

“I don’t know what the fuck’s going on, man…”

“Did you see any faces?”

“No.”

“None?”

“Nobody. What is it? What are you not telling me?”

“One of ‘em was Briggs. Found him at the bottom of the stairs. The guy at the door was from Oakland PD and a close friend of Crawford’s…”

“So, motive.”

“Bingo. And this is the screwy part, Harry. The guy you nailed in the street was one of Threlkis’ lieutenants, and the car you nailed – nice shot, by the way – is registered to that shithead.”

Harry nodded. “That fits. The vigilantes have linked up with the crew taking over the Threlkis family.”

“Why do you think that fits? It doesn’t make sense to me…”

“It does if you remember that the Cartel was linking up to the Threlkis mob, while at the same time they’ve been financing the vigilantes.”

“Shit, you’re right. Why didn’t I see that?”

“I’m not right, Frank. Let’s call it a working hypothesis and try to figure it out from there, see if I’m right.”

“Yeah. By the way, a patrolman named Collins…”

“Steve, right?”

Bullitt looked at his notes. “Yeah? How’d you know?”

“He helped me with some stuff on the Spencer case.”

“Well, he ID’ed the Threlkis stiff, got all the info on the vehicle registration. Said he knew you.”

“Yeah, you need to take a look at him, Frank. Says he’s interested in CID, maybe homicide.”

“You think he’s got it?”

“Yeah, I do. I wanted to take him out for a ride along, see how he does, what kind of instincts he has.”

“Okay. I’ll put him with Carl tonight, maybe the next couple of nights. With you out we’re super short right now.”

“What about Internal Affairs?”

“They won’t be bothering you, Harry. This was open and shut, case closed, and embarrassing as hell for them. They were penetrated and now they know just how bad. All their cases since Briggs came on board will have to be reviewed now.”

“Ouch. That’s gonna hurt. Who recommended Briggs for IAD,” Harry asked.

“The Chief.”

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

“Man, their’s no way out, is there? If the department is infiltrated from the top down?”

“It’s early retirement time, bucko.”

Callahan nodded. “Yup.”

“Hey, anyway, Evie is waiting to come in, think she bit every one of her fingernails off.”

“Frank?”

“Yeah, Harry.”

“I got it bad, Frank. I love her, big time.”

“She’ll be single in about six months, but the ink on her divorce papers will still be pretty goddam wet.”

“You think we’re moving too fast?”

“No, not really. Matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen two people more in love. Just try not to get yourself killed again, okay?”

She ran into the recovery room seconds after Frank disappeared, and she was carrying a little stuffed dog as she came to his bedside…

“Well, look at this!” he said, smiling. “It’s Dorothy and her little friend Toto…”

“That’s right,” she cooed as she leaned over and kissed him. “There’s no place like home, right?”

He closed his eyes, blinked back an icy wave of fear as the music swept over him once again…you can’t always get what you want…you can’t always get what you want…oh, no…but if you try sometimes, well you might find you get what you need…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last 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 until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. 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. Lyrics from the Rolling Stones You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, 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 a 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: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though 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…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 37

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 37

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When Callahan went into CID two days later, Frank was waiting for him. He did not look pleased.

“Come in. Shut the door behind you.”

Callahan sensed something was up, but Bullitt looked strange. Very unsettled, really, and almost sick.

“What’s up?” Callahan said as he sat in Frank’s tiny office.

“Evelyn. She told me something. Something about you, and the piano. It didn’t make sense until I thought about Crawford.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Is that how you…?”

“Yes.”

“Goddamit, Harry. What the hell is going on with you?”

“I have no idea.”

“You did something with Evelyn? The same kind of bullshit?”

“Yup. She didn’t tell you?”

“Not the details, but what she did say scared the crap out of me.”

“You should feel it from this end, Frank.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Twice. I’ve done it twice. The first time, well, it was just an accident.”

Bullitt shook his head. “Well, whatever the hell it is, you just stop it. I mean right now. Just stop doing it. Am I clear?”

“Yeah.”

“Goddamn, Harry, if you put that in an affidavit for an arrest warrant the judge would haul your ass straight to the psych ward. They wouldn’t let you out for years.”

“Yeah. So…?”

“So? Fuck, Callahan, I’m not sure what I should do with this. It’s fucking outrageous!”

“Yeah, it is. It’s also true. Frank, you may not like hearing this, but I was in Briggs’ office. I saw that address by reading a post it note attached to a…”

“Goddamn, Callahan! I don’t want to hear it! Understand?”

“Frank? Did we, or did we not go to Crawford’s house?”

“You must be deaf.”

Callahan backed off, didn’t press the issue further. “Okay. Got it.”

“I couldn’t sleep last night, Callahan. My stomach is all tied up in knots…”

“Sorry.”

“And now my kid sister is telling me that she’s all wound up about you. That you two are long-lost soulmates. Is that about the size of it?”

Callahan shrugged. “There’s something between us, Frank.”

“And every girl you get close to gets killed, one way or another. You have any idea how that makes me feel?”

“You should feel it from this end sometime, Frank.”

Bullitt looked down, shook his head. “I know,” he said gently. “It must feel like shit.”

“I picked up more information from Records on the Spencer thing.”

“San Paulo get back to you yet?”

“Not yet. I think I’ll give ‘em another day, then I’ll call.”

“Oh, speaking of calling, Cathy is at the office already. She wanted to talk to you about a painting?”

“Okay. Same number?”

“Yup. And, oh, if you don’t mind I’d like Evelyn to stay out with us for a few days.”

“She’s a big girl, Frank. Let her do what she wants.”

“Just what the hell did you do to her?”

Callahan hesitated. “You sure you want to hear this?”

“No, but go ahead anyway.”

“I saw inside her apartment. I saw her husband attack her, beat her up. All of it, Frank. Everything about it.”

Bullitt looked down again, then he put his face in his upturned hands and shook his head. “I knew it. I knew he was hurting her and I didn’t do anything to stop it.” He looked up, his eyes red now. “You can really do this? See things like this?”

“Twice. And I don’t understand it, Frank.”

“Alright. Call Cathy, then we’re going to your place.”

“What?”

“You’re going to show me. Show me exactly what this shit is. How it works. Everything.”

“Frank, I don’t know ‘everything’ about this shit, okay? I don’t know how it works…”

“Then you’re gonna show me what you do know.”

“Frank, I don’t know…”

“Call Cathy, then let’s get breakfast.”

“At the diner again?”

“You know it, man. I’ve been dreaming about those pancakes for a week.”

Callahan went to his desk and called Cathy’s work number; a secretary answered and told him she was tied up in a meeting, and would be for the next hour.

He hung up and saw Frank standing beside his desk. “She’s in a meeting.”

“Okay, let’s go. I haven’t eaten since noon yesterday.”

They took two cars, and Bullitt ordered a double stack of chocolate chip pecan pancakes, and a large glass of whole milk.

“I hate to ask,” Harry asked, “but is there any chance you’re pregnant?”

“Man, I’ve been like this for a couple of weeks.”

“Do you feel cold, too?”

“Yeah? Why?”

“You need to go to a doc, get some labs done. You gaining weight?”

“No, more like I’m losing weight.”

“Call your doc, get a physical.”

Their breakfasts came and Bullitt finished his double order of pancakes in half the time it took Callahan to eat two eggs and a slice of toast, and Bullitt tossed down two large glasses of milk for good measure. Callahan looked on, clearly concerned – because if Frank was indeed losing weight it had to be because he wasn’t absorbing nutrients, and that couldn’t be a good thing.

They drove to Harry’s apartment, and once there he called Cathy’s office again.

“Harry? Sorry I missed your call.”

“No problem. Did you see the painting?”

“I did.”

“And?” 

“Are you really sure you want to hang something like that in your house?”

“It’s pretty stark, isn’t it?”

“It’s a waking nightmare, Harry. I looked at it once and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since.”

“I understand.”

“Well, anyway, I took the dimensions and I have a place in mind for it, if you really think you want to go with it.”

“You know, as far as I’m concerned that image pretty much sums up everything that’s happened to me on the streets of this city.”

“Jesus, Harry, I had no idea.”

“Nor did I.”

“I can see how…well, no, I’m not sure I’d want to be reminded.”

“Nor am I.”

“Do you want me to go ahead with designing the lighting for it?”

“Yes, please. And maybe you should go shopping, find me a few other paintings that you think might go better with the house.”

“Really? You don’t have anything in mind?”

“Nope.”

“Okay, I’ll work on it.”

“Thanks, Cathy.”

“For what, Harry?”

“Keeping an open mind, I guess,”

“Okay. Got it.”

She rang off, and he turned, found Bullitt staring out the window that looked down on the crowds roaming the bars along both sides of the street below.

“See something?”

“Huh? Oh, no, I was just thinking…you sure live in the thick of things down here.”

“Friday nights are kinda fun.”

“I can only imagine. See a lot of hookers?”

“No, they keep to the shadows, with the other sharks.”

Bullitt nodded. “So, how does this work?”

“Hard to explain, but the first time I played notes and thought about Briggs. Things started popping after that, and when I played another note another field of view popped into being.”

“You do know how fucking weird this sounds, right? I mean, this is like Planet Crazy kind of shit, ya know?”

Callahan nodded and shrugged his shoulders at the same time. “Hey, you asked.”

“Okay, show me.”

Callahan went to his Bösendorfer and retracted the keyboard cover while he sat at his bench. “You want me to look for something you thought of?”

“I don’t know, man. What do you think works best?”

“Well, chances are you’ll understand better if it’s something you thought of. Sit beside me, put your hand on my shoulder.”

Bullitt slid in close to Callahan and gently put his right hand on Harry’s back.

“Okay, try to clear your mind. Think about something, let that kind of dominate all your thinking.”

“Should I close my eyes?”

“Beats the hell out of me, Paco.”

“Okay, here goes.”

Callahan played a note, then another and another, and nothing happened.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Going to the doctor, and, like, what he might find.”

Callahan thought a moment. “Maybe it doesn’t work that way. Try thinking about something that’s already happened.” 

“Got it.”

Callahan played a note and something seemed to shimmer in his mind’s eye, and when he played another note he saw Walter Chalmers talking to Bullitt out at the airport, something to do with Johnny Ross, and Harry started to describe what he was seeing. “You’re at a gate, watching a Pan Am jet taxi. Towards the gate. Delgetti is with you. Chalmers is walking up to you, he’s speaking now. “He’s still my witness. I’ll be happy to turn him over to you after he testifies tomorrow…”

Frank jumped off the bench. “You got to be mother-fuckin’ kidding me!”

Callahan shrugged again, held up his hands.

“No, no, no, no. No fuckin’ way, Callahan. No way, man…” Bullitt started pacing in nervous circles, his arms flailing in mad arcs, his head shaking all over the place as he spoke.

“Frank, I don’t know what to say…?”

“Fuck! This is righteous! Totally bitchin’, man! Like, is there any way I could, like, tune in to what you’re seeing?”

“Uh, Frank? You do remember saying I shouldn’t do this. Like ever again, I think you said?”

“Well fuck that, man! You do, like, realize what we can do with shit like this?”

“Yeah.”

“So, what do you think. Can I tune in?”

“I have no idea. But…are you sure you want to?”

“Are you fuckin’ kidding me?”

“Okay, let’s try something,” Callahan said, sitting at the bench. “Sit next to me, one hand on my shoulder, just like last time, but this time put a hand out and touch the piano.”

“Just asking, but why?”

“I think maybe it has something to do with the vibrations, some kind of energy…”

“Okay, it doesn’t matter. Who the hell knows, right?”

“I sure don’t.”

“Okay, whatever,” Bullitt began, “I think it’s your turn now. You think of something…”

Harry began playing and Bullitt instantly recognized a very familiar melody. “That’s Rhapsody in Blue, right?” he said aloud.

“Yup, that’s right. Lay your hand flat on the piano so you can feel…”

But by that point Bullitt was mesmerized by the appearance of a silver sphere floating in the room, hovering just inches above the piano, and he saw the entire room within a kind of shimmering fisheye reflection, but then the sphere started to grow…

“Uh, Harry…?”

“I know, I know…just go with it, Frank.”

It felt like the sphere was coming closer and closer, then it seemed to vibrate intensely for a second – before it popped – and in the next instant he saw the distortion had inverted and he was looking at the inside of a room through what looked like a fisheye lens…

…only it wasn’t the same room he was sitting in…

…he was in some sort of concert hall…

…and a long-faced man was playing the piano, other musicians were still warming up, then came a long pause, the room in total silence…

…and then a clarinetist began playing the opening notes…

“Listen here, to the glissando,” Callahan said, his voice full of wonder.

“What are we seeing, Frank?”

“Gershwin and Ferde Grofé at final rehearsals for Rhapsody…it was a really famous moment…”

Bullitt stood and broke the connection. “Harry, I hate to say this, but we’ve got to focus on, well, you know…Stacy…”

Harry drifted back, but Frank immediately noticed that something was very wrong with Callahan. He was ‘spaced-out’ and drenched in sweat, his skin was pale – his face white as a sheet – and his hands were trembling….

“Harry, man, you alright?”

Callahan shook his head. “I don’t know, Frank.”

“Has this happened the other two times you did this?”

Callahan nodded. “Not this bad, though. I think it’s getting worse each time I try it.”

“I feel it too, just a little. What do you think would happen if I tried it?”

“Tried what?”

“If I played something. You could show me how, right?”

“I don’t know. We can try…” Frank sat and Callahan stood, but he kept close to the keyboard. “Put these fingers here,” he said, using his right hand on the keys to show Frank. “And your left fingers here. Now, just press them.”

Frank pressed them gently, too gently for effective hammer strikes.

“More like this,” Callahan said, demonstrating by hitting the keys up an octave from Frank’s hands.

“Got it.” Bullitt hit the keys, this time striking a perfect chord.

“Okay, just close your eyes and hit it, keep your fingers on the keys and when one chord is finished I’m going to move your fingers a little, make a new chord, and once that’s done hit it again.”

“Cool. I’m ready.”

“Okay, think of Stacy and hit it.”

Frank hit the first chord then Harry rearranged his fingers. A second chord followed, then a third, and a fourth…

“I got nothing, Harry. Nada!”

“Okay, I was afraid of that, but at least we know two things we didn’t know before.”

“Which is?”

“We can’t see forward in time – only back, and I may be the only real conduit that can reach these places.”

Bullitt looked at Callahan again. “Man, your face is still white as a ghost, Harry. Sit down, let me get you something to drink…”

Callahan turned and immediately dropped to the floor; Bullitt jumped over and knelt beside him, felt for a pulse but could hardly fine one.

“This ain’t good,” he said to the room. “Not good at all…”

It took a minute but Callahan’s eyes fluttered once then opened, then he looked around the room. “What happened?”

“You passed out, Amigo.”

“The room started spinning, then it was like I was standing in a room full of stars…”

“Hypoxia, man. Could you be, like, dehydrated?”

“Yeah, maybe so. Can’t remember the last time I had a glass of water.”

“Harry? You got to take better care of yourself…”

“Coming from someone who just ate four tons of pancakes, I find that kind of funny.”

Frank seemed to drift off for a moment, too, then he spoke: “I’m not sure you should do this again, Harry. Not if it’s going to hit you like this.”

Callahan nodded. “Maybe, but you’re right about one thing. We’ve got to find out what we can about Stacy, while there’s still time…”

________________________________

Didi Goodman had been rocked by Sara Callahan’s murder; perhaps more than anyone other than Harry. When Stacy Bennett arrived, her ‘legend’ was still intact and she, like everyone else on the team, never suspected Stacy might be working for any other group. Yet one thing had troubled her about the whole affair, ever since Sara’s body was discovered and the escape helicopter was halfway to Venice. Someone, either working at the clinic or planted in the village, knew enough about the clinic’s routine to know the best time to carry out both the hit, and the escape. This person had to understand local weather conditions, not to mention helicopter operations and limitations. They probably had a VHF radio installed at their location, one with an antennae tall enough to facilitate medium range communications. And, more than likely, they had remained in Davos after the event to maintain the integrity of their cover.

Davos had a long history welcoming foreigners, and people from all around the world could come to and leave the area without arousing the least bit of suspicion. These people, among the wealthiest in the world, regularly built large, well equipped residences all around the valley, and as a result the many businesses in town jealously guarded their relationships with these patrons. So, rather like the fabled ‘numbered’ bank accounts commonly opened at the largest Swiss banks, secrecy was assured, even when unusual installations might have raised eyebrows elsewhere.

VHF antennae, on the other hand, were hard to camouflage. While they could be hidden on an elaborate HF/UHF rig, such as might be found on the grounds of a serious Ham radio operator, VHF transmitter antennae looked different. If you knew what to look for, they could be easily identified, too. Given that there were few private helipads in the valley, very few people had reason to install this type of antenna, which further eased the task of finding and eliminating possible suspect facilities.

The first houses she found with such equipment were easily traced back to government entities. The United States maintained a small diplomatic compound in the village which, she knew, housed several CIA assets whose job it was to keep track of Soviet agents working in the area. They had a veritable antenna farm on their roof, too. The Soviet’s house was similarly equipped, Japan’s was too.

A house she identified as belonging to a Japanese industrialist was found, and she found this man’s principle businesses included manufacturing all kinds of radio equipment, so this house was scratched from the list of possible suspect facilities. Another house, quite small by local standards, was built across the valley from the main ski area, and this house had a modest installation. She had difficulty finding out who owned the house, which immediately increased her level of suspicion. It took a few days digging in the library and in the building permits office to locate even a sliver of information, and this indicated that a lawyer in Berne owned the house. Colonel Goodman set up surveillance on this firm and soon found that about a quarter of their income derived from unspecified business and legal consulting fees, and these fees were paid from an account that seemed to be in Panama City. More research revealed that these Panamanian accounts were fed by banks in Medellin, Colombia.

The colonel then sent two teams back to Davos; one to monitor all COMMS into and out of the suspect house, and the other to break-in and plant monitoring devices within this home and around the grounds. Within a month Goodman’s assets figured out that the Medellin Cartel was coordinating drug deliveries all over western Europe through this house and, as well, when ‘wet work’ was ordered by Escobar or his lieutenants, assassins were dispatched and their actions coordinated by the people stationed there.

Goodman then did something very uncharacteristic at this point; he ordered that the house be destroyed, and in such a way that maximum loss of personnel would be guaranteed. In fact, he wanted a display of force so large that it would send a crystal clear message to Escobar: we know who you are, what you’re up to, and if you don’t knock it off – you’ll be next.

The nearest house was a hundred and thirty meters away, so ancillary damage would be limited to broken glass and, hopefully, little more than that. Teams were moved into place, equipment and explosives delivered. Personnel movements inside the house were recorded and tallied, patterns analyzed, and then…decisions made.

 A few weeks later the Swiss night was split open when a blast, estimated to have been caused by a ton and a half of C4, rocked the valley. After the smoke cleared and as investigators moved-in to sift through the rubble, telltale signs emerged that drugs were being processed on site and reporters soon lost interest in the story. Images taken by a reporter in a helicopter revealed a blast crater fifty meters in diameter and ten meters deep, yet no one thought this unusual.

Yet in the aftermath, the volume of radiotelephone traffic in and around Medellin, Colombia, picked up dramatically. The colonel’s radio intercept teams were in place and ready for the deluge, yet it turned out that no one was ready or even in a position to counter what Pablo Escobar had in mind…

_________________________________

“So, tell me what actions we have taken so far?” Pablo Escobar said to the group assembled in the large living room of his estancia’s main house.

“We are sending coded messages to our partners indicating that we believe this action was undertaken by criminal elements in Italy,” a former KGB officer said, looking directly at Escobar. “We know the Americans and Germans have intercepted these messages…”

“And how do we know this?” Escobar asked quietly, looking at the lone female in the room.

“Our listening station in Arlington, Virginia picked up calls between FBI headquarters and CIA Langley,” Stacy Bennett said. “These messages repeated the Mafia connection we planted.”

“So,” Escobar continued, “they don’t know that we know the Americans did this to us? Is that correct?”

Stacy nodded. “That would appear to be the case, yes.”

“Appear to be?” Escobar chided. “You mean you are not sure.”

“The intercepts back up this assertion,” the ex-KGB field officer said. “Even intercepts in Naples back this up.”

“So why are you still unsure?” Escobar, looking pointedly at Bennett.

“Because I can’t believe Reagan would order such a strike on Swiss soil.”

“So,” the ex-KGB officer sneered, “who do you think did this?”

“The Israelis,” she replied, matter-of-factly.

The Russian smirked, shook his head. “They have nothing to gain. Why would they do this?”

“Revenge is,” Bennett said. “the oldest motive in the world.”

“For killing a crazy woman, the wife of a lowly cop?” the Russian added, his voice incredulous. “You can’t be serious.”

Escobar looked at her, nodding: “What about Reagan? Do we have a schedule of his movements?”

“He’s flying out to Santa Barbara in two weeks, going to spend time at his ranch.” Bennett replied.

“And we have the Stingers in California, correct?”

“We have three in place, but that won’t be enough.”

“Why not?” Escobar demanded angrily.

“Air Force One carries enough electronic and physical countermeasures to deal with six incoming missiles, both heat-seeking and radar guided. Again, and I’ve mentioned this before, you’ll need a swarm of Stingers, at least eight, preferably ten to twelve, to engage this aircraft while on final approach. And don’t forget, there will be F-15s right off each wingtip…”

“And you think these pilots would intercept incoming missiles with their own aircraft?”

“Yes, I do,” Bennett said. “As I mentioned in my plan, it would be best to have three to four teams in a staggered array around the approach to the runway, with each team carrying at least four Stingers. F-15 escorts will move to block one team’s launch, then the others will fire from their positions of concealment. So, the attack comes from multiple directions, and from staggered distances. Such an attack cannot be defeated.”

“So,” Escobar added, “We need ten more missiles in California within the week?”

“The more teams we have in place, each with four missiles, the more likely we are to achieve surprise and take out the target.”

“And Yuri, you are sure you can make the effort look like it was a Russian operation?”

“That is not a problem.”

“Harry? Can you get us in close. I need to see that guy’s face.”

A chord swirled through the fisheye distortion, and there he was.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last 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 until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, 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 a 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: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though 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…]

Come Alive (1)

Come Alive, Part I

(While working on 88 I started thinking about things, and this story began taking shape in my mind. Rather than put it off I started work on what you see here. I’ll work on both stories this week, and I may revise some of the things you read here. Anyway, I hope you enjoy…A)

Henry Taggart wasn’t exactly what you’d consider a sympathetic character, at least you might not think so until somewhere near the end of his story. Most people he worked with, and certainly almost everyone he knew, understood that he was a bright man, even a very talented man. At times he attracted a certain following, those hangers-on and serial pretenders who gravitate, like moths to a flame, to other people’s money. And, years later, and quite predictably, when Taggart dropped out and disappeared from the cocktail circuit, very few noticed or commented on his departure. It might also be fair to say that he was soon forgotten, but perhaps that’s the type of decision we should put off…for now…at least until we know him better.

Taggart grew up in Newport Beach, California, his father was a lawyer, his mother a physician. By the time he was in junior high school his parents had stepped up to a waterfront house on Lido Isle; the Balboa Bay Club was just across the water and Doris Day lived, literally, next door. His father had a Swan 41 tied up at the dock just outside their living room, and Taggart learned to sail on her when he was of an impressionable age. His father campaigned the boat a few times, usually in local yacht club races but twice in PORC series races, aka the Pacific Ocean Racing Conference, which included races to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. After he graduated from high school, in Newport Beach, he was the assigned navigator on his second Transpac Race, from LA to Honolulu, and his father’s boat placed third in class.

It is, perhaps, relevant to mention these things if only because they have a certain bearing on the events in question, those which we’ll come to in short order, but the one thing that you should keep in mind as we move along is that Henry Taggart grew up without a care in the world. His parents were good people, and the Taggart’s lived within the blessings of what most would certainly call the very best of the American Dream. And, perhaps, then some.

If Henry’s father had one flaw it was that he was a pure self-starter, an ambitious man who simply could not relate to anyone not similarly self-reliant. Which was a problem, as it turned out because Henry was not so inclined. Instead, Henry became the joker, the class clown.

He drifted through school, bored to tears, but was never far from a self-deprecating joke. He played football, and did well, too, ending up an all-conference middle linebacker in his senior year, yet his grades were, at best, mediocre. His father had gone to USC and had wanted his son to attend the same school, but that simply wasn’t going to happen. Even UCLA said no, despite his football coach’s intervention on his behalf. 

So Henry ended up going to a small college up north, a little college in Menlo Park, California, that existed only to help bring up the grades of scholastic underachievers so that they could transfer to colleges like Stanford or USC. Henry was unimpressed, though at least the little college had a football team, and the small classes would provide a good venue for his practical jokes.

This little school, called Menlo College, also had a four-year business school that was held in high regard around the state, and oddly enough, by the Saudi royal family, who sent their princes to Menlo Park with nauseating regularity. These young men drove Ferraris and Maseratis, while the rest of the mere mortals in the student body was consigned to second-hand Buicks and Datsuns. The less than obvious end result of this dichotomy was that all the good looking girls at the college tended to drape themselves over the arms of Saudi princes. This became a source of dismay for some, but not Henry. He simply looked at these girls as transactional beings, trading their bodies for an otherwise unattainable lifestyle.

Because, for whatever reason, Henry just wasn’t into dating. He liked girls, enjoyed looking at them, and even, occasionally, talking to them, yet he never put two and two together. In case you’re disposed to think that Henry was ‘in the closet,’ no, that simply wasn’t the case. He had a few friends on the football team and made a few in class during his two years there, but nothing ever came from his associations with the girls there.

He transferred to Claremont College, and by then he’d decided he wanted to go into computer science. Keep in mind that this was at a time when Microsoft and Apple Computer did not yet exist, and when computers stored information on huge reel-to-reel tapes. Coincidentally, he met a girl in his first year at Claremont, and he finally did the deed, lost his virginity. It’s also fair to say that Henry was completely unimpressed by the whole thing, but perhaps that’s because he found he’d picked up a raging case of the clap in the aftermath. He decided to focus on his studies after that and found that he enjoyed hard work.

He went to Palo Alto next, to Stanford, still studying computer science. He met two rag-tag developers working nearby and soon hooked up with them; a few years later he was in on the ground floor at Apple. Still, he was bored, if unfulfilled, and an unrealized need to move on grew incessantly. 

He moved to Seattle, started working for a company that was creating a page layout program for newspapers and magazines, but he struck out on a new path, went to work on a new product line developing a so-called digital darkroom that could be used on personal computers, and there he met with his first real financial success. Even so, after a few years in Seattle, he found he was bored and felt compelled to move again.

So he joined a special effects company. Special effects for movies, that is, after someone from Stanford recommended him to people at MGM. He moved to Hollywood, which meant he could go home to Newport Beach, but he soon discovered that his father was not immortal, that his father had, in truth, grown old, and was now very frail. This dawning awareness stunned Henry Taggart because, indeed, the sight alone scared him to the point that, for the first time in his life, he became aware of death. How, he wondered, could you run away from that?

So he worked on code most days, compiling and troubleshooting, for the most part, coming up with new ways to create realistic effects, yet he wasn’t in on the artistic side of the business because, really, he had no interest in art…or even the movies that his company brought to life.

His father called him one Friday and asked that he come down to Newport, and he did as soon as he finished up a minor project, which meant sometime Saturday morning.

His mother was sick, as it turned out. Very sick. Breast cancer. Actually, her second bout with the disease, which surprised Henry because he’d never heard she had it the first time around. The idea that death stalked everyone began to consume his waking thoughts, then his dreams – and, eventually, his nightmares.

His mother was an internist and so knew the score. When her cancer was staged at level four she simply discontinued treatment and retired from her practice, then went home to spend what was left of her time with the only people who mattered, her family. It was, unfortunately, simply too much to expect Henry to spend much time with her.

Which turned out to be the case, though he dutifully went home when his father called and asked him to come down for the weekend. If Henry had been in a position to talk about his feelings he might have said that he was most afraid of his father’s manifest deterioration, and not long after his mother passed he learned that his father had inoperable prostate cancer, and that it had spread into the spine before it was detected.

So, within the space of a year, Henry Taggert lost his mother and his father. He had no other family. None. Anywhere. And for the first few months that one simple fact didn’t concern him the least.

But, for the first time in his life, Henry Taggart came to understand that he was utterly alone, and in time he found the sensation annoying, though perhaps just mildly so, then, over time, somewhat more bothersome. First, he’d had to decide what to do with his parent’s house, which after some hand-wringing he sold, and then what to do with the rest of the holdings, which were, as you might expect, substantial. Oddly enough, working through all these duties only increased his sense of isolation.

Another odd thing about Henry? He was frugal, always had been. He lived in modest apartments everywhere he ventured. He drove simple cars, like beige Chevy sedans with vinyl bench seats, front and rear. His clothes were off the rack, and usually from a cheap department store in a mall; same with his shoes. His one extravagance was running shoes because every evening he ran at least five miles. Until his knees began to fail, as these things surely do.

He noticed one morning that his hands were trembling. A week later other people noticed they were shaking, sometimes jerking violently. One of the co-founders of the company he worked for drove him to UCLA; within an hour a team of neurologists was testing him for Parkinson’s. The results were positive. He was told his symptoms would, more than likely, remain mild, and therefore controllable, for several years. As long as he took his medications.

Suddenly he wanted to go home, to Newport Beach, to talk with his father. But his father was gone now, wasn’t he? Instead, his friend drove him home; someone from the office drove his car to the apartment complex where he lived now, and he went into his apartment and for the first time in his life he really looked around, really took stock of his situation.

There were no paintings on the wall. There was a record player sitting on a shelf on a mail-order bookcase, and the thing had been state-of-the-art…twenty-five years ago…but that hardly mattered because he’d not bought a record in at least a decade, maybe two. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out some kind of soda and found stuff to make another kind of sandwich, then he went to his bedroom, sat on the edge of the bed and picked up the TVs remote and turned it on. Some kind of game show. He turned to another channel and saw Captain James T Kirk dressed like an Indian, holding a dying squaw as she lay dying, and that was just too much to bear. He flipped to another channel, and another – then turned the TV off, frustrated.

He went to the living room and ate his sandwich, then went to the bookcase. He’d picked up a few books from his father’s shelves before the estate movers cleaned out the old house, and he looked at a few of them now.

They were all about sailing. And not just sailing in general, but about cruising. Taking a long trip to nowhere. Maybe a years-long trip. And they all seemed to be about cruising in Scandinavia…Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. He picked one and pulled it from the shelf, popped the top on his soda, and went to the sofa. He sat and started to read, and he found that if he put the book on a pillow instead of holding it in his hand the trembling wasn’t nearly so annoying.

He read and read, and at one point he looked up and it was four in the morning. When the sun came up a few hours later he closed the book and thought about what he’d just read. He opened the next book and found a piece of neatly folded stationery from his father’s office; on this paper, he found a proposed itinerary for sailing around the Baltic; when he looked at his father’s precise handwriting he felt an overwhelming sadness, and more than just a little regret. He’d always worshipped his father but, he realized in that moment, he’d never really known the man. Let alone understood what made him tick.

He opened the next book in his little stack and found another piece of precisely folded paper, and here he found more notes. What items to take on the trip. What charts he’d need. Things he’d need to learn before he could go.

In the next book, he found an analysis of the ideal boat for a trip like this, premised on starting from New England so that a trans-Atlantic crossing could be included in the itinerary.

He sat back, lost inside a passing thought…‘What would it have been like to actually do that with dad?’ Then he found himself thinking about such a trip and, logically, he asked himself why his father hadn’t tried.

And the answer he came up with was simple enough.

Because he’d disappeared from his father’s life, and when the time came to make such a trip his father was all alone, and such a trip was beyond the scale of his failing health.

And Henry Taggart had a hard time digesting that shard of glass.

He went online and found that there was a boat show in Newport, Rhode Island going on for the next two weeks, so he booked a flight to Boston and packed a bag, then made a hotel reservation. He called an airport shuttle and made it out to LAX with a few hours to spare, so he had some coffee and a bowl of chili. Which sent his stomach into convulsions. He drank a bottle of pink stuff and walked onto the airplane trailing a noxious plume of methane-like gases, plopped-down in seat 2A and promptly fell asleep.

“Are you alright, sir?”

“What?” He opened his eyes, looked up, saw a flight attendant looking at him, and she appeared concerned. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“You’re shaking a lot. Are you cold?”

“No, I just need to take some medicine. May I have some water, please?”

He turned, looked around the cabin and saw several people looking his way. Some were shaking their head, others looked at him with something akin to sympathy in their eyes.

‘I guess I’d better get used to that…’ he thought. ‘Because I’m the proverbial stranger in a strange land now.’

He picked up his bags at the carousel and found a shuttle to Newport; by the time he arrived at his hotel it was dark – and he was exhausted. His hands were shaking and he read the directions on the bottle of pills again; time to dose-up, he saw. He went out on the terrace and looked at the waterfront below, saw hundreds of sailboats festooned with flags and posters filled with feature after feature.

How many years had it been? Since he’d been sailing? Twenty-five? Thirty?

“This is insane,” he said to the night. “But why does this feel so right?”

+++++

After two days of solid looking, he settled on one boat, a thirty seven foot Nauticat. She was made in Finland, built like a tank and had both an exterior cockpit as well as an inside steering station. There were two heads, three sleeping cabins – though one was ridiculously small – and the workmanship on display, especially the interior woodwork, was beyond stunning.

The dealer had seen him crawling through the boat more than once, but he’d also seen the shaking hands – and so dismissed the man as a wannabe, and long past his prime.

“Is this your best price?” Henry asked. 

“Yessir.” the salesman replied.

“I’ve seen other reps here with boat show pricing. You have anything like that?”

“You know, if you were a serious buyer perhaps we could talk about that…”

“What makes you think I’m not?”

“Your hands. You have Parkinson’s, right?”

“Right.”

“So, you won’t be sailing much.”

“And why not?”

“Have you done much sailing, sir?”

“Two Transpacs and a bunch of ocean racing on a Swan 41. Does that count?”

“I see. What are your plans?”

“Cross to the Baltic, take the canals through Sweden, then hit the fjords in Norway, back to Denmark, then through canals to Amsterdam, then Paris, then the canals to the Med.”

“Well, with the shallow keep option on this one, this is the boat you’d want for that trip.”

“I came to that conclusion about an hour ago.”

“When would you be leaving?”

“Probably late April, early May, next year. That would give me a few months to get to know her, get her fitted out.”

“So, you’re telling me you’re actually going to do this?”

“I am.”

The dealer shook his head. “Ya know, I think I’ll have to check with my lawyer, see if I’d have any liability for selling a boat to someone like you.”

“Fine. Do it. In the meantime, what’s your best price for this thing?”

The dealer shook his head again. “If I knock fifty off, can you do four hundred?”

Henry pulled out his checkbook and wrote the check, handed it over to the dealer…

…who bunched his lips and nodded. He slipped the check into his wallet and looked at the lunatic standing there – shaking like a leaf. “We have some paperwork to do…”

“Ya know what? I’ve talked to a lawyer here, put him on retainer. Here’s his card. You get your stuff together and get it to him. He’s going to handle documentation and registration.”

“The electronics on this boat are decent, but there are some upgrades you might want to consider.”

Taggart opened a file folder and handed the man a list of items he wanted installed. “Think you can handle this stuff?”

The dealer looked over the list. “No problem. I can have everything installed in a week, maybe ten days. Everything but that Icom SSB. Not sure about inventory on those.”

“I’ll just go over to the Icom booth and buy one. Mind if I do it that way?”

“No sir.”

“I’ll pick up a life raft, too. Can you handle installing a hydrostatic release cradle?”

“For a Winslow?”

“Yup.”

“Sure, not a problem.”

“Okay. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Henry came back an hour later, and he noted the red “sold” sticker on the boat…his boat, now…and he smiled at that. He thought his dad would like his choice, too.

After the show began closing down for the night he stepped aboard and sat behind the wheel. He sighted up the mast, visually checked the tension of her stays and shrouds. The electronics would all have to go, better displays would need to be fitted, more capable radios too. He walked to the bow, looked down into the water and imagined his little ship cutting a fine wake through a boisterous sea, then he turned and looked up into the night sky, spotting the primary navigations stars with ease. 

“Alright, Dad. You’d better get ready, because we’re really going to do this.”

“Oh,” he heard the dealer say, “is your father coming with you?”

“Damn right he is,” Henry Taggart said, grabbing the forestay with his shaking hand.  

“What are you going to name her?”

He looked up at the stars and wanted to ask his dad, but then he thought of his father’s Swan. Her name was Bandit, but that wasn’t quite the right name for this new girl. 

“Time Bandit,” he said – finally. “I think that fits, don’t you?”

+++++

He opened his logbook to the next page and grabbed a pencil as it rolled by, then he looked at the GPS…

“Let’s see. Position North 59 degrees, 57’, 15.9. West 16 degrees, 20’ 08.18. Outside air temp 28 Fahrenheit, Barometer 29.6 and falling.” He looked at his watch and duly noted the time, 0830 hrs GMT, then noted the sea temp at the top of the page. “Still 34 degrees Fahrenheit.” He went to the wheel and looked off to the north, saw the line of icebergs still about four miles away and he nodded. He’d programmed the radar to make a scan every five minutes and sound an alarm if any bergs slipped inside a two mile guard zone, and so far everything had worked perfectly.

He went to the companionway hatch and slid it back, then he went up into the cockpit. “Sails drawing well,” he said to the wind, then he clipped his harness onto the jack-lines and made a quick survey of the shrouds and stays before he made his way aft to the Hydrovane self-steering rig. He checked tension and confirmed their heading was still accurate relative to the apparent wind angle, then he went below again and poured another cup of hot water. He picked a breakfast tea and tossed the bag into the water, then stepped down into the galley, opened the oven door, checked his banana bread and figured it was done. He took it out and set it in the sink to let it cool – just as the radar alarm went off…!

He stepped up to the inside steering station and looked at the display, then peered out into the fog…

“Yes, there you are,” he said as he looked at the aircraft carrier emerging from the fog about 2 miles ahead. He’d have to alter course hard to the right, so he went topside and disconnected the wind-vane self-steering rig, and then, once back at the wheel, he turned on the autopilot and changed course to 90 degrees magnetic. She was falling off the wind now so he let out the sails a little, adjusting them both with the push of a button, then he hardened up a little, to about 85 degrees and a few minutes later the ship passed about a mile to port…

…then came all her escorts…

…cruisers, frigates, a couple of supply ships…and then a submarine surfaced a few hundred yards ahead and a little to port and he watched the sub’s captain appear on the conning tower and he waved as they passed. Then he saw the captain speaking into a microphone…

“You need anything?” he heard through some sort of speaker on the sub.

As he’d had a loud-hailer installed he replied: “Got any dancin’ girls handy?”

“Sorry, we ran out last night.”

“The story of my life.”

Then he watched the captain wave once again and a moment later the sub disappeared beneath the waves. Five minutes later he was alone again; only the slowest support vessels remained on his radar screen…and a few minutes later even they were gone.

And these were the first signs of life he’d seen in 2,300 miles, after not quite three weeks at sea.

“Ya know, a dancing girl would feel pretty good right about now,” he said to no one in particular, then he walked down below and sliced some bread to go with his tea.

+++++

Not quite a week later he made his approach to Bergen, Norway, and he called customs on the VHF; they sent out a boat to guide him to the customs dock. An hour later he was checked into Norway and cleared to make his way into the center of town. A few minutes later he was tied off a few hundred feet from the old fish market, surrounded by what looked like thousands of people.

He was docked stern to the quay so the American flag flying off his stern was now visible to everyone passing by, and this soon caused quite a stir.

“Did you come all the way from America?” one little boy asked, holding his mother’s hand as they gawked at Time Bandit.

“Sure did,” Taggart said, grinning.

“He must be cold, Mama. Look! See how his hands shake?”

He turned away, set about washing the deck with fresh water, then he pulled the sails down from their furlers and bagged them. He wanted to take them up to the sailmakers, have them inspected and cleaned, but it was too late to do that today. He pulled out a chamois and rinsed the windows around the wheelhouse, then he dried them, doing his best to remove any spots that formed. When he’d finished topsides he went below and put on some real clothes and gathered two huge bags of laundry and hauled them topsides, then he looked at his watch. “Too late,” he sighed. “Add that to the list.”

He hopped ashore and walked over to an ATM and grabbed some cash, then made his way to the fish market and had a plate a smoked salmon and grilled shrimp before he set out walking.

A few minutes into his walk he saw a physicians office, noted they were open and went inside.

“Can I help you?” a young woman said in clear English.

“Do I really look like an American?”

“Yes, you do.”

“What is it? How can you tell?”

“The New York Yankees baseball cap. Dead giveaway.”

“Ah.”

“So, what can I do for you?”

“I just have some medications I need to get refilled.”

“I hate to ask, but do you have insurance?”

“Not anything beyond my US policy.”

She handed him a brochure. “This is information on a medical insurance policy good throughout  the EU, Norway, Sweden, all of Scandinavia, really. If you try to fill these the cost will be exorbitant, but with this policy they’ll cost almost nothing.”

“It’s medical insurance, too? Is it any good?”

“Yes, very. You can sign up online, make your payment, and it will be good within a matter of hours. If you’ll give me your prescriptions I’ll get the forms ready for you to take to the pharmacy, and you can pick them up in the morning?”

He smiled. “Sounds good. Do you know where I could find a laundry? I’ve got two huge bags to get done.”

“Are you wanting to do it yourself, or have someone do it for you?”

“It’s too much for me to handle, I’m afraid.”

“In that case, there’s a laundry that will do it for you up that alley, and they are open all night. They do hotel laundry, that sort of thing, but all the fishing boats that come in use them too.”

“You, Madam, are a lifesaver. Many thanks.”

“Would you mind if I take your blood pressure?”

“No?”

“Good. Please, be seated. I’ll be right back.”

She came back with a little rolling cart loaded with everything she needed, then she took his BP, temperature, and counted out his pulse. He also noted she was a physician, and not the receptionist or a nurse.

“Your pressure is a little low. Are you taking medications for your Parkinson’s?”

Of course, he’d not mentioned he had Parkinson’s. Was it really so fucking obvious all the fucking time?

“Yes, here they are,” he said, handing over all his bottles.

She wrote everything down, scribbled his name down too. “What’s your date of birth?”

He told her. 

“So, you’re – what – fifty eight?”

“That’s right.”

“And did you just come across from America?”

“Yes.”

“How many in your crew?”

“Just me.”

She put her pencil down and looked up at him. “Excuse me? Did you say you’re alone?”

“I think so. In fact, I’m pretty damn certain I was alone the whole way.”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but did anyone advise against your doing this?”

“The list is long, Doc. Too long to recite right now, anyway.”

“I see. So you are, like, a crazy person?”

“Probably so. But I won’t tell if you won’t.”

She smiled. “If you don’t mind, I’m closing up now but I’d like to see your boat. Would that be alright?”

“She’s not the cleanest thing right now, but if you don’t mind, I don’t mind.”

The physician went back into the office and turned off all the lights, then she led him to the front door and locked it behind them. 

“I’m down by the fish market,” he said.

“Lucky you. You’re early in the season. Two weeks from now you won’t be able to moor this close to the city.”

“I may gain ten pounds eating smoked salmon, too.”

“You could stand to gain ten pounds, Mr Taggart. Twenty pounds would be even better.”

“Music to my ears. I saw a five pound lobster up there with my name all over it. Well, here we are.”

“Time Bandit? So, are you stealing time?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Every chance I get.”

She nodded, then with the grace of a gazelle she leapt over to the swim platform and stepped up to the aft deck.

He did so rather less gracefully.

“Well, follow me,” he said as he led her down the companionway and into Bandit’s cocoon-like interior. 

“You need to get some padding on these corners,” she said, pointing at the dining table. “Where’s the galley?”

“Down there,” he said, pointing. “Mind me asking, but is this some kind of official inspection?”

“Sort of. As a physician, I’m required to report any vessels with potentially unsafe operators. It is a coast guard requirement.”

“Well, please take into consideration I just sailed three thousand miles across the Atlantic, without any trouble I might add.”

“Frankly, Mr. Taggart, I am amazed. Anyway, you needn’t worry. I’m not going to write you up for any violations…if that’s why you’re frowning.”

“Well, I feel like you kinda tricked me…into coming down here.”

“Ah. I see. Well, it seems it falls to me, but we have an old custom here. Any sailor crossing the Atlantic, well, the first person you meet has to buy your first dinner here. Lucky me.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“No. Sorry.”

“Well then, let’s go eat some lobster.”

“I hate to say it, Mr Taggart, but I can probably afford a hot dog. We don’t get paid as much as your American doctors.”

“Nobody gets paid as much as our doctors. Not even our doctors.”

“What does that mean?”

“The insurance companies make all the money in America. Lawyers suing doctors come in second.”

“And you know this how?”

“My mother. She was an internist. My father was, of course, a lawyer.”

“Ah, so you would know.”

He led her back up to the aft deck, hopped down to the swim platform then across to the pier. She followed but missed a step on landing and started to fall over backward…

…and he reached out, grabbed her hand, kept her from taking a swim in the icy water.

“Thanks!” she managed to say as she grimaced.

“Are you okay?”

“I think I twisted my ankle. Could you give me a hand?”

He helped her up to the fish market and she took a seat at a table close to an outdoor heater. “What would you like?” he asked.

“You decide. Just tell me the price before you buy anything!”

He went back to the same vendor and picked out a nice three pound lobster and an assortment of smoked fish. He pointed to their table and paid the bill. “Could you bring it over, please? She’s twisted an ankle.”

“Is that Dr. Bauer with you?”

“I think so, yes. And – maybe a couple of beers? And keep the change.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“So, I see you paid. You have broken a tradition thousands of years old!”

“You pull my leg any harder and you’re going to break it.”

“Excuse me?”

“Pulling my leg? Joking with me?”

“Oh, yes, I see. Tell me, are you married?”

“No. You?”

“No, not now.”

“Ah. Divorced?”

“Not really. So, you are divorced as well?”

“No. I never married.”

She looked puzzled. “Are you gay?” she asked flatly.

“No, but I do tend to be on the happy side.”

“What? Oh, yes…happy, gay…I get it. You don’t take many things seriously, do you?”

“As infrequently as I can,” he smiled. “And it drives people mad.”

“And you enjoy doing that? Driving people mad, that is?”

“Immensely.”

“I think I am going to need to ice this ankle,” she said, frowning.

“Painful?”

“Yes, and getting worse.”

“Where can we get an x-ray?”

“You have other things to do. I can manage.”

“We have an old custom where I come from. When we cross the Atlantic and then break a lady’s leg, we help them to the hospital.”

“I see. I had no idea Americans were so, what is the word…?”

“Gallant?”

“Yes, maybe so. We can at least finish dinner, can we not?”

“If you can manage, sure. I’d hate for this lobster to have died in vain.”

“You are a comedian, no? A stand-up? Is that what they call it? Like Robin Williams?”

“My hero. Don’t take his name in vain.”

She shook her head, ate some smoked whitefish. “Where to from here?”

“Reine, up in the…”

“Yes, a beautiful spot. Then north?”

“No, back around to Stockholm, then into the canals.”

“You are mad. You need at least two other people on board to help with the lines, if not they won’t let you transit.”

“I’m sure I’ll be able to find some adventurous hippies in backpacks and Birkenstocks.”

She shook her head. “Nice to have a plan, I guess. So, then to Gothenburg. Where to from there?”

“Copenhagen. Then inland, to Amsterdam. I want to be in Paris for Christmas.”

“That’s going to be quite a trip. I would have thought sharing such an experience would have made it even more meaningful.”

“Well, no one signed up, despite offers of hard cash…” he said, grinning again.

“You are very good at what you do, Mr. Taggart.”

“And what’s that?”

“Pushing people away. I wonder, are you aware you are doing so?”

“Completely.”

“So, you don’t like people very much?”

“I liked my father. No one else has ever measured up, so I figured, ya know, why bother?”

“Indeed.” 

“Well, I’m done. You?”

“Yes, I’ve had enough.” She pulled out a cell phone and made a call to what sounded like a baby sitter, then she called for a taxi – which pulled up within moments. He helped her to the door and she quickly pulled it to. “I’ll not need anymore assistance, please. I’ll see you in the morning, or when you get your insurance matters settled.”

“Are you sure I can’t help?”

She shook her head and the taxi drove off into the new city, and he stood there for a while, feeling kind of lost. It had felt good to talk to another human being, he thought for a moment. ‘But not that good…’

He went back to the Bandit and got his laundry, then trundled back into the old town and dropped it off – with a promise to pick it up first thing in the morning. Suddenly quite tired, he walked back to his little cocoon and dropped into bed, falling into a deep sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Sun slanting through an overhead hatch woke him, and he looked at his watch, saw it was almost noon and then realized his bladder was urgently calling for attention. Standing there, he realized he hadn’t even taken his shoes off, and looking in the mirror he saw a frightful thing staring back; the creature standing there with curly white hair standing at odd angles, and with more white stubble on its face than was considered polite. He went to the chart table and made sure the water pump was on and fired up the water heater, then he made coffee and opened his laptop. He connected to the recommended wifi channel and went to the URL on the insurance brochure, read over the terms and conditions and signed up for an annual policy, paid for it then printed out all the necessary policy information.

He drank his coffee in the shower and just managed to shave without slicing his neck open. His hands were shaking badly, he saw, then he realized he’d missed his late night and early morning doses and cursed at the world. Once dressed and medicated he went topsides and grabbed the sail bags and hauled them shoreside; he hailed a taxi and, after giving the driver an address for the sail loft, he sat back and took a deep breath. He saw the clinic he’d gone to yesterday, even thought he saw the physician inside, but he almost didn’t want to return. Almost didn’t want to see her again. Almost.

He had the taxi wait while he dropped off the sails, then he returned to the laundry and picked up bags and bags of clean clothes. It was after three in the afternoon by the time he finished putting his things away, time for his next dose and long past time to return to the little clinic. The idea of eating fish again made his stomach queasy so he made his way topsides and walked up into the old town. He found a Thai place and had a curry, then – with a sigh – set off for the clinic.

She was just finishing up with a patient when he came in, so he sat and waited. She was walking alright, then he noticed a little walking cast.

“You’re running a little late today, I see,” she said with a pleasant enough smile. “Did you find sleep last night?”

“It found me, and it didn’t leave until noon.”

She laughed a little. “You looked exhausted; I’m glad you rested. How do you feel today?”

He shrugged. “Still tired. How’s the ankle?”

“Not too bad. Come on in,” she said, leading him to an exam room. 

“You don’t have a nurse?”

“Not yet. There is a shortage of nurses here. Actually, a shortage of help, period.”

“How nice.”

“Nice?”

“That everyone is employed?”

“That tends to not be a problem here,” she said as she picked up a stethoscope. “Shirt off, please.” She listened to his heart and lungs, then palpated his neck and under his arms. She found a lump and felt around the area a few times…

“That hurts,” he said, and she nodded.

“Have you noticed anything different lately? More tired than usual, any odd pains or numbness?”

He pointed to his left breast. “Yeah. A little numb, right under the nipple.”

She palpated his breast, pausing a couple of times to feel his left armpit again, then she stepped back. “Pants and underwear down, then turn around and face the table, bend over…”

“Oh, Hell, you’re not gonna…”

“I’m afraid so, yes.”

“Payback time, I see. Please, be gentle. It’s my first time…”

Her greasy finger slipped in and she felt his prostate. “Feels okay,” was all she said, then: “Go ahead and get your clothes on.”

While he dressed she wrote on his chart, then she filled out more forms before she went out front and got on the telephone. He heard her chattering away and decided to come out to the reception area.

“We are going to take a little ride, Mr Taggart. Up to the hospital.”

“Right now?”

“Yes. Now.”

A taxi pulled up and she got him in the back, then walked around and got in beside him.

“I’m not even going to ask,” he managed to say.

“Good.”

She checked him in, walked with him to the lab where they drew vials and vials of blood, then she walked him to radiology.

“You’re going to have a mammogram,” she told him, “then an ultrasound. I’ll meet you right here when you are complete.”

“Finished,” he said, correcting her. 

“Ah. Yes, just so.”

“Did you say mammogram?”

“I did.”

“You do, uh, realize that I don’t have, you know, breasts?”

“Sorry, that is not exactly the case. You may find the procedure a little uncomfortable, but it doesn’t take long.”

“You’re, like, kidding…right?”

She smiled and walked off, back towards the lab, then a tech walked him back to a complex, dimly lit room filled with strange looking contraptions. 

In heavily accented English, the girl told him to stand “Right here!” and to lift his left arm “Just so!” She positioned what felt like a cold plastic clamp of some sort over his left breast and shoved as much tissue into the device as she could, then she closed the clamp…

“Goddam!” he yelled. “Could you POSSIBLY make this goddam thing any more painful?”

“Hold your breath, and don’t move, please.”

The machine whirred and clacked, and he broke out in a little sweat.

She came back and released the clamp, repositioned him and re-engaged the device.

“Do you enjoy doing this?” he snarled. “Is this, like, payback for every bad date you’ve ever been on?”

Without saying a word, she repositioned him once again and he began sweating profusely, and then, when he thought she couldn’t possibly be enjoying the experience more, she came in and told him they were going to do the other breast now.

Bug-eyed, he thought frantically how he wanted to protest that decision, but now the girl had an assistant on hand and he realized further commentary on his part simply wasn’t going to help.

He howled when they first clamped his right breast; the third time he felt like he was going to pass out, then, with his shirt still off, one of the girls led him to another dimly lit room, this one with a table for him to lie down on. Then…goo on the chest, the ultrasound wand pressed into his breasts, then along a line to his armpits. A half hour later, with his shirt on and his pride hanging somewhere south of his knees, he walked out to the waiting room.

“How do you feel?”

“Like I could tear your head off and toss your body to a pack of wild dogs.”

She smiled. “Let’s go get some coffee.”

“I haven’t eaten today. Think we could get something other than fish around here?”

“Probably best not to eat right now.”

“Oh? Why?”

“Let’s wait to hear what the radiologist has to say, hmm?”

“You do know that you are scaring the ever-lovin’ crap out of me, don’t you?”

Again, the noncommittal smile as she led him to what had to be the hospital cafeteria. “Have a seat,” she told him. “I’ll get you something.”

She came back a few minutes later with some sort of hydrating solution and told him to drink it, then her name was paged and she went to a phone on the wall by the attendant and spoke for a minute or so, nodding once, then shaking her head.

“Okay, come with me please.”

“Where to?”

“We need to discuss your results.”

“We do? Well, how nice of you to include me in the discussion.”

“Please, Mr. Taggart. This is going to be difficult enough as is. Stop with the levity, okay?”

“Hey, you handle your world your way. Let me handle mine the way I want, yes?”

“I’m sorry. You are correct.”

Even in Norwegian, the words Surgery and Oncology looked vaguely familiar, and even the surgeon looked the part: fair-skinned and blond, his modestly cultivated face full of freckles, and, of course, he possessed a very calm demeanor.

“We are going to need to go into your left breast, perhaps also through the lymph nodes to your left arm,” the surgeon said. “Normally we’d do this in the early morning, but I understand you’ve not eaten today?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well then, perhaps we should think of moving you to surgery right now.”

“Excuse me, but that won’t work. I’ve got to secure my boat, take care of things there before I can do anything like that. Anyway, would someone please tell me what the devil is going on?”

The surgeon looked at the radiologist’s report. “It would appear you have a malignancy in your left breast, and probably a few lymph nodes are already involved. Waiting is not something you want to do, Mr. Taggart. Am I making myself clear? How long would it take you to secure your boat?”

“I don’t know. An hour?”

“Dr. Bauer? Can you accompany him, see that he finds his way around town without difficulty?”

“Yes, of course. Come on, Henry.”

Sitting in the back of another taxi he felt detached from his body as they bounced along the cobblestone streets. “Is this really happening?” he sighed, and he didn’t resist when she took his hand, then he realized he was crying and looked away, wiped his face as he looked at his reflection in the window. ‘I don’t know you, do I?’ he thought, then he realized that no, he really didn’t know the person in the glass anymore. He was a stranger now. Sick, and, apparently, getting sicker. He shook his head, realized she was still holding his hand and he liked the way she felt. Her skin on his. Simple.

He took her back to the Bandit, this time after walking down a long ramp – forgoing the obligatory hop across the water from the wharf – and he talked her through the ship’s systems in case he needed to be away for more than a day or two. He packed a little overnight bag, underwear, toothbrush, those things he might need for an overnight stay, then they walked the long way up to the street. Yet another taxi back to the hospital, and she walked him to admitting and he passed over his new insurance papers, his passport, his US medical insurance papers just for good measure, and after the clerk finished with them Bauer led him to the waiting room outside of surgery.

“I’ll see you in the recovery room,” Bauer said, smiling just a little.

“Why are you doing this?” Taggart asked.

“Nobody should be alone at a time like this. It has fallen on me to be here for you.”

He nodded. “It was the least you could do, right? After making me pay for dinner last night?”

She smiled, squeezed his hand, then watched him disappear into the pre-op area before she took a taxi back to her clinic.

+++++

He woke in a haze, an opiate fueled haze of blissful comfort. It was, he realized, a little like sitting in an inner-tube and floating down a river on a sunny day. Pleasant, care free, a lazy day.

Then he saw Bauer and it all came back in a rush.

His throat was sore, his chest felt heavy, and his left arm wouldn’t move. This last realization bothered him most of all, because he’d need that arm to steer…

She saw he was awake and stood, came to his bedside and took his hand again.

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” he croaked, his mouth dry, his voice ragged.

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”

He smiled. “Ah, at last. A kindred spirit.”

And she smiled too. “I’ve been to the boat. All is well down there.”

“Good. Do you know how long I’ll be tied up in here?”

“I should let your oncologist talk about your options before you consider that.”

“You’re a physician, no? You can’t tell me?”

“I could, but I’d rather not.”

“Humor me. Go ahead, I can take it,” he said, grinning.

“Jokes might not help today, Henry. You might not want to push aside the feelings you’ll have so easily.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Not good.”

“Chemo? Radiation? All those delightful things?”

She nodded. “At the very least.”

“Prognosis?”

She smiled, shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“Well, Hell. ‘I don’t know’ sounds very bad indeed.”

Again she just smiled, though she squeezed his hand again.

“Suppose I just check out of this hotel and take off. How long would I have? Enough to make it to Paris for Christmas?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Yeow! Well, now you’ve got my complete attention.”

“This is not my area of specialization, Henry. You really should talk with your oncologist about your options.”

He yawned, his eyes watered and she wiped them dry. “Would you like some ice to chew on?”

“All things considered, I’d rather have a beer.”

She smiled, shook her head and nodded at an unseen nurse; a minute later she used a spoon to feed him a few pieces of crushed ice, then wiped his forehead with a damp washcloth. The nurse came in a few minutes later and injected morphine into his IV, and within seconds he was adrift on the river again, marveling at how good the sun felt beating down on his shoulders.

+++++

Two days later he – finally – crawled out of bed, and he stood before a mirror when his nurse changed the bandages covering his surgical wound. He looked at the broad, circular cut under his left breast with a curious mixture of dread and outright horror, but the hideously long incision from there to his armpit looked more like something from a slasher flick. When he saw the drain dangling there he started to feel light-headed and asked to sit down.

A little later another nurse came in and wrapped his upper body in a clear plastic wrap, then she helped him walk to the shower. He sat in there and let the water beat down on his head for what felt like hours, but nothing seemed to wash away the sight of those incisions. 

His oncologist wanted to start chemotherapy immediately, but he had put her off. When he explained why she shook her head…

“There is a chance we can help you beat this, you know?” she said.

“It’s not much of a chance,” he countered. “And I’m not sure I want to spend the time I have left vomiting and watching my hair fall out.”

“We have new medicines that keep most of these things from happening…”

“And I have places to go, things I want to do.”

The oncologist knew she wasn’t going to change his mind, and at last she let her guard down. “You know, I think if I was in your position I might do the same thing.”

“But?”

“No buts, Mr. Taggart. In a way, your position makes perfect sense to me, and I’ll not stand in your way. It is, after all is said and done, your life. So it is your choice to make.”

“Okay. Can you give me an idea how long I might have, and how active I can be?”

“I could, but you won’t like what I have to say.”

He shrugged, then winced as lightning bolts of hot pain tore through his upper chest.

“You’ll want to heal before you try to sail again. Maybe a month, perhaps six weeks, but you’ll need to take things carefully, slowly.”

“Look, all I really want to know is this. Will I make it to Christmas?”

She shrugged. “That’s about six months away. You might, but by then you’ll be in a very precarious state.”

“Define precarious, please.”

“Very close to death.”

He nodded, felt a cold vice gripping his soul. “Well, that’s clear enough.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Hey. I asked, didn’t I?”

“Dr. Bauer tells me you plan on sailing up to the Lofotens. Reine, I think she said?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“It’s a beautiful trip. I envy you. But, why Paris?”

“Oh, when I was a kid my parents took me there for Christmas. I was seven years old the first time we went.”

“You went more than once?”

“Every year, all the way through high school.”

“I see. Yes, I think I can understand that.”

“Paris feels like going home to me, I think. Anyway, maybe completing the circle is a better way of looking at it.”

“You know, for an American that seems pretty unusual.”

“I had unusual parents.”

She nodded. “Well, I guess that’s that. There’s nothing more I can say, really.”

“Did I buy some time, doc? Doing this surgery?”

“A little, yes. Will it be enough? I honestly don’t know the answer to that, Mr. Taggart.”

He took a deep breath, winced at the pain and cursed when he saw his hands shaking. “Time for my meds,” he said.

“I’ll get your nurse.”

“Doc?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks. Thanks for everything.” She nodded and walked from his room, and he did not see her stop and lean against the wall, gasping for breath or see her crying. 

Dr. Bauer came by before lunch, just in time to see his latest reaction to Norwegian hospital food.

“It must be a universal law. All hospital food must, by law, suck.”

“Yes, it’s our secret weapon. How else could we get patients to leave so quickly?”

He nodded as he looked at the stuff on his tray, in the end pushing it away. “They tell me I can leave in the morning. How’s the Bandit?”

“Oh, just fine. My son is onboard, cleaning up a little.”

“Your son? I didn’t know…”

“He loves boats,” she said quickly. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. How old is he?”

“Fourteen, going on forty.”

He grinned. “Ah yes, I know the type well. Tell me, is he as sarcastic as I am?”

“Not yet, but give him time. Anyway, I will come for you in the morning around ten. Sorry, but I must get to the clinic now.”

And then she was gone.

+++++

His dreams were terrible that night. Nightmares punctuated by flailing interludes of restless turning, and it didn’t help that ‘night’ seemed to last a little less than two hours. By four in the morning he was sitting up on the side of the bed, doing the prescribed exercises that would, hopefully, help get his left arm back into the game. Ever since high school he’d lifted weights, and running every day had kept his legs brutally strong, and he felt like he the reserves of strength necessary to recuperate while sailing Bandit…but time would tell. Thoughts like these played with him, toyed with his sense of himself until he began to question everything he’d ever done.

Nurses came in and drew blood, then one stayed behind and wrapped him in plastic again, this time showing him how he would need to do it by himself once he was back on board, and once again he sat under the hot water, lost in thought.

‘I can do this.’

‘I can’t handle wiping my own ass right now. How on earth can I take the Bandit back out to sea?’

‘Maybe I should just put her on the market, go back to California…’

But making it to Paris for Christmas, one more Christmas, still seemed the best thing to do, and sitting there under that endless stream of hot water, he just knew he could handle his little ship and get her there.

A heap of gelatinous yellow muck, something that was supposed to approximate scrambled eggs, arrived after his shower, then that pretty oncologist dropped by once again.

She pointed at his tray: “What in God’s name is that?”

“Scrambled eggs. Want some?”

She leaned over, looked at the pile of yellow goo, almost studying it before she backed away in disgust. “Well, no surprises in your lab work, no new infection, anyway, so I’ll sign your discharge orders. Do you have any questions for me while you’re here?”

“Not unless you can transplant my brain into a new body.”

“Sorry. We’re all out of fresh bodies this week.”

“Ain’t it the truth.”

“So. It is off to the Lofoten Islands for you? When will you leave?”

“I’d imagine a week or so.”

“That is much to soon. Don’t do it.”

“Okay.”

“Where is your boat moored?”

“Tied up almost right in front of the fish market, down in the old town.”

“Nice. Would you mind if I dropped by sometime? See how you’re doing?”

“No, not at all – I’ll look forward to it.”

She smiled. “Ah, well, then I’ll see you soon. Good morning to you.”

“Yes, bye…” he said quickly to her retreating lab coat.

He stood up – too quickly – and the room began to spin…so he sat down and held on to the bed rails until the feeling passed, taking deep breaths all the while, then he tried again…this time more slowly.

“That’s better,” he said as he shuffled across the cold floor to the little dresser where his clothes had been stashed. He slipped out of his gown and pulled on clean underwear, troubled by how difficult even this menial chore seemed now, then he tried to pull his shirt on…and that proved to be simply impossible. He couldn’t raise his left arm high enough to get his arm in the sleeve, so he pulled the shirt off in disgust and threw it on the floor, walked back to the bed.

One of the dayshift nurses came in, saw his shirt on the floor and picked it up. “Having trouble?”

He grumbled, shook his head.

“Ah, I think perhaps you are.”

More grumbling, dark clouds forming over his head.

“Try to gather it up and work the shirt up your bad arm, like this,” she said, holding the shirt up and gently sliding the sleeve up his left arm. “Now, over your head, then get the other arm through, like this.”

“Okay,” he snarled. “Now, what about socks, and tying my shoes?”

“One thing at a time.”

By the time Bauer arrived, he was covered in sweat and his mood had darkened considerably. And he had still not managed to get his shoes on. She saw his frustration, then all his sweat-soaked clothing, and bent down, put on his shoes without saying a word. An orderly helped him into a wheelchair and got him to the street; Bauer helped him into a small van she’d hired to pick him up.

Getting onto Bandit proved even more problematic, and by the time he made it up into the cockpit he was almost in tears. Doing even the smallest things required two hands, and that meant two working arms, yet his left was still strapped to his torso, and now totally useless. Sensing his mood, Bauer left him on deck and returned to her clinic.

After school let out, Rolf Bauer met his mother there, and they went down to Bandit together. She’d thought about postponing this meeting but Henry had insisted, wanting to thank the boy for his hard work.

“So, this is your boy?”

“Yes. Rolf, say hello to Mr. Taggart.”

“It’s Henry, Rolf. Okay?”

“Okay. Nice to meet you, Henry.”

“Well, you did a bang-up job up here, really great. Many thanks!”

“You are welcome. Mother tells me you are sailing up to the Lofotens?”

“Yes. Yes, indeed.”

“I’ve never been.”

“Ah. Well, what did you have in mind?”

“I could act as crew, maybe?”

“Rolf!” his mother cried. “You cannot ask such a thing, it’s simply not polite to make such a request.”

Taggert watched the interplay between mother and son, all his pent up hope and her surprised reprisal, with a sense of brooding déjà vu streaming through his mind’s eye. Rolf, he saw, was a budding Henry! A real ‘smart ass’ in the making! A true kindred spirit! His mother? Overbearing, a little too controlling, kind of like someone he remembered…

“Excellent!” Henry said. “I could use an extra pair of hands!”

Which stopped mother and son dead in their tracks.

“What did you say?” mother and son said in the same breath.

“Sounds good to me?” Henry said, now grinning sheepishly. “And now, I need some food. Some real food. Anyone care to join me for dinner?”

“I would!” Rolf said, holding up his hand like he was still in school.

Henry looked at Bauer. “You too? Or are you going to stand there and pout all night?”

“Yes, of course I’ll join you,” she said.

“Do you know,” he chimed in, “that I have no idea what your name is?”

“Britt,” Dr. Bauer said. “I’m sorry, I just thought…”

“Britt? Britt Bauer? Okay, so BB it is…”

“BB?”

Rolf burst out laughing. “I love it! BB! Ha-ha-ha…”

“Oh, this is going to be a fun evening,” he said as he passed Britt on his way to the swim platform. 

She rolled her eyes.

When they’d made it up to the street he looked around, shook his head.

“No seafood for me tonight,” he snarled.

“I want Indian!” Rolf blurted out, and as his mother was about to correct him he cut in.

“My favorite! I didn’t know y’all had Indian food up here?”

“Really?” Britt said. “You really like it?”

“Hell yes, the hotter the better.”

“Me too!” Rolf cried.

“I feel a contest of wills building here, boy. You better not be foolin’ around, ‘cause I’m a pro from way back.”

She walked behind them, watched this frightful old American and her equally frightful son getting along like best friends who hadn’t seen each other in years and she couldn’t help but wonder…could this work? Could her son help this comedic lost soul? Could this lost soul fill in the gaps, help her son grow out of his years long depression? Was it worth the risk? 

“Damn, it’s getting cool out,” he said after a few minutes walking.

“You’re anemic, cold will effect you a little more now.”

“Of course it will. Why not?”

“I will put you on an iron supplement tomorrow.”

“Maybe I could just buy a sweater, like that one!”

There was a shop full of sweaters in a window display but she held out her hand. “Those are very expensive, you might want to try another shop…”

“Nonsense, these look fantastic. Dale of Norway. How about that…”

“It is pronounced like the word doll.”

“Of course it is,” he said as he stepped into the shop. He walked right up to one he liked and held it up to himself, checking for size. “Think this one is too big?”

“It might be a little difficult to put on,” she said, trying to be helpful.

“True. A cardigan it is, then.” He found one and she helped him with it. “Now this is comfy. Warm, too.”

“They are the best sweaters in the world,” Rolf said. 

“And I’ll bet you have two of them.”

“No,” he said, frowning.

“Well, pick one out.”

“Really?”

“Rolf,” his mother said, “no!”

“Rolf, ignore your mother.”

“You have no right to do this!” Britt cried.

“I have every right. Your son worked for hours on my boat. I need to do something for him, don’t I?”

She looked crestfallen and turned away.

“And you might as well pick one out, too.”

They walked out of the shop ten minutes later in black sweaters. There were lots of smiles all around.

Rolf ordered a beef vindaloo at the Indian place, and asked for it ‘extra hot’…

Mom order chicken tikka masala, mild.

“Lamb masala. Napalm.”

“I beg your pardon, sahib?” their perplexed waiter said.

“So hot it’ll melt my fork?”

“You are sure, sahib?”

“Oh yeah, baby. Bring it on.”

“I beg your pardon, sahib?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Very good, sahib.”

He sat back and looked at BB, really for the first time since they’d met. She looked to be 35, maybe 40 years old, and she looked like a mother. He didn’t know why, but she did. Maybe a little too stressed out when Rolf was around? Like she was in over her head? Beyond that, she looked like almost every other Norwegian girl he’d seen since he got here: tall, skinny, big tits, blond hair and a huge, toothy smile. In short, they looked like every other girl in Southern California, and probably ninety nine percent of the girls in Newport Beach.

The major difference, as far as he could tell, was that BB spoke better English than the girls in Southern California, and he’d long ago given up trying to understand girls from the San Fernando Valley…the so-called Valley Girls. They were an alien species.

Even so, he didn’t find her all that attractive, and sitting there beside her he wondered why. She was, really, objectively pretty. She was obviously intelligent, too. ‘So, why don’t I find her cute?’ he asked himself.

‘Maybe because you’re too fucking old, you asshole?’ he said, grinning.

“What are you smelling about?” she asked.

“I can’t wait to taste my masala. I bet it’s going to burn my lips off.”

Rolf laughed, she smiled…a little, too.

Then their plates came.

“You know,” he said, looking directly at Britt, “over in the States when we order like this, we share. We each take a little bit from each dish, so that way we get to sample them all.”

And she looked right back at him: “No way. I am not so stupid.”

“Rolf? You think you’re up to the challenge?”

“What did you say? Bring it on, Baby?”

“That’s my man. Pass me your plate!”

He split his serving into two portions and put half on Rolf’s plate, then he did the same with Rolf’s vindaloo. Staring at this culinary armageddon, he ripped off a piece of naan and pushed some vindaloo onto his fork and ate it.

The heat built slowly, and it was noticeably warm but not overwhelmingly hot, so he took a deep breath and loaded his fork with his weapons-grade masala. One look at the fumes rising from his fork should have been ample warning, but he sighed then put the fork in his mouth.

He chewed twice and swallowed, then downed a glass of water – which only made it worse.

“Mother of God…” he whispered, “this shit is hot.” He saw his waiter talking to one of the cooks, both were laughing and high-fiving…which, under the circumstances, was not a particularly good sign.

“My turn,” Rolf said, scooping up a mega-forkful of the masala and stuffing it unceremoniously into his mouth. His eyes popped wide open, he began sweating, then he swallowed and reached for his water.

“Hey, Buddy, it don’t help…” 

The kid let loose a string of Norse profanity which, of course, prompted a blistering counterattack by his mother. And while she was so engaged, Henry took a prodigious scoop of his masala and placed it on her fork.

Rolf saw the move and apologized to his mother, who then sat back and picked up her fork. Seconds later the deed was done.

She brought her napkin to her mouth and he heard her mutter something that sounded suspiciously like a Viking war-cry, a new version of “Die, Motherfuckers!” – then she too picked up her glass of water and downed it in one gulp. 

All three were now beet red and sweating like hogs, the cooks and waiters were laughing so hard that one had fallen on the floor, but still the other patrons had no idea what was going on…until Henry stood up and announced to one and all that – “Goddamn! My asshole is on fire! Somebody! Quick, give me some ice!” 

A waiter brought a scoop full of the stuff, and Taggart took the ice and shoved it down the back of his pants as he hopped towards the bathroom.

Now everyone in the restaurant was howling; Rolf’s crimson face was tear-streaked and Britt was laughing so hard she felt light-headed…

Henry Taggart calmed down as soon as he made it to the restroom, then he washed his hands and wiped his face with a paper towel. “You still got it, Champ.” With the ice thoroughly broken now, he thought it was time to get to the bottom of this little Britt-Rolf war-thing, and figure out a way to put an end to it…

+++++

They made it back to the Bandit way past Rolf’s bedtime, so Britt decided to tuck him in up in the foreword berth, then she rejoined Henry up in the cockpit.

“I don’t know how you get used to it?”

“What?” she asked.

“It’s a quarter past ten and it looks like three in the afternoon…”

She smiled. “Thank you for the sweaters. That was very sweet.”

“I saw the look in his eyes after he put it on. That was worth a million bucks.”

“Why didn’t you get married? You seem like you’d make a good father.”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

“Yes, but what I saw tonight wasn’t deception.”

He leaned back, crossed his arms. “What about you? Divorced? From what I can see, a man would have to be crazy to divorce you.”

She seemed to hesitate, thinking about how to say what she needed to say. “Rolf’s father was in the air force. He died in a training accident.”

“I’m sorry. You said…were you, uh, not married?”

“That’s right. Everything happened a few months before we were supposed to get married.”

“So, you’ve raised him on your own?”

“Yes.”

“Had you finished medical school?”

“I was an intern when he died, yes.”

“Sounds like a difficult time.”

“You know, I look back on it now and it was the best time of my life. I loved every minute of his childhood.”

“You’re a good mom.”

“You think so?”

“Seems like you care enough for two mothers, so yes, I think so.”

“My mother helped.”

“Oh? What is she like?”

“You know her. Haven’t you made an opinion yet?”

“Excuse me? I know your mother?”

“Yes, she’s your Oncologist.”

His eyes opened a bit more on hearing that. “Really? I had no idea.”

“Yes, I called her as soon as I suspected something. She got you right in.”

“She did seem to take a personal interest.”

“Yes, because I had taken a personal interest. She still looks after me, you see.”

“I think I understand. Has she made your life difficult?”

Britt shook her head. “No, not really. She has controlled my life, but she…”

“I guess some parents do that. Maybe out of instinct, or perhaps because that’s the way they were raised.”

She shrugged. “Maybe.”

“So, about Rolf. Does he have any experience sailing?”

“A little.”

“Enough?”

“I don’t think so. Conditions off this coast can turn very harsh in a matter of minutes.”

“You’d rather he didn’t go?”

“I’m not sure, Henry. It could be a marvelous experience for him, and I say that because I think you might be a very good teacher. He is also at an age where he will remember something like this, and for the rest of his life. It could be a very good thing.”

“So, maybe a good thing? What are the negatives you see?”

“That you have Parkinson’s, and a very serious cancer.”

“Oh. That.”

“If something happened to you, would he know what to do? Could he take care of the ship and you? And if the weather turned violent, then what?”

“Sounds we need another adult to come.”

“I know nothing about sailing, and anyway, I could not take so much time off. This is the clinic’s busiest time of the year, and we are state supported so very rigidly controlled.”

“Oh well, something else to think about.”

“Unfortunately, I know someone perfect. A physician and a more than competent sailor.”

“And?”

“My mother.”

“I see.”

“No, Henry. I don’t think you do. But I can promise you one thing. She sees. She sees everything before it happens. She knows everything…before it happens.”

“Speaking sarcastically, of course.”

“Oh no, not in the least. Those who believe in mysticism, such people call it clairvoyance, others who know her well dismiss her ability as the expression of a profound empathy. But whatever it might be, when you’ve spent enough time around her, as I have, like Rolf has, you understand that one thing is true. You disregard her at your peril. You listen to her and, well Henry, you learn to have an open mind.”

“Empathy. Yes, I saw something like that in her eyes.”

“Yes, but it is much more than that. Still, I can tell you little else.”

“Should I ask her if she has any interest in coming?”

“You could ask, yes. But she already knows. And she has already made her mind up.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“She is a force of nature, Mr. Taggart. Please try to understand that much before you dismiss her out of hand.”

“She is my oncologist. Believe me, I take what she has to say most seriously.”

“Your hands are shaking, Henry. Is it time for your medication?”

He looked at his watch. “Damn. Fifteen minutes late.”

“You need a better system. Perhaps an alarm clock?”

He reached inside a pocket and pulled out a bottle, then slipped a pill under his tongue. “You know, it’s amazing how pleasant it is, even in the middle of the night.”

“It’s the Gulf Stream. Even this far north it moderates the climate, and in winter most of the coast remains ice free.” She yawned, and her eyes watered a little in the breeze.

“Ready for bed? There’s room up forward, with Rolf, and there’s a tiny stateroom just across from the Galley if you’d prefer.”

“Would you make love to me?”

He blinked several times in rapid succession, shook his head a couple of times. “You know, I didn’t see that coming.”

“A few hours ago, neither did I. Would you?”

“You know, Britt, I think the operant question right now is can I? The thing is, I can’t remember the last time…”

“Maybe we should go find out,” she said, holding out her hand.

And he took it, led her to his cabin under the aft deck.

It took a few minutes to coax ‘things’ back to life, but in the end ‘things’ worked just fine after all.

+++++

There was work to do, of course. Any trans-oceanic crossing exacts a heavy toll on almost every system on a sailing vessel, no matter the size. Rigging had to be inspected, the sails re-installed on their furlers, too. Engine oil had to be drawn and analyzed, the shaft stuffing box repacked. The water-makers membranes had to be flushed, the propane lines checked, and the propane tanks refilled. The main water tanks had to be emptied, flushed, emptied and refreshed until the lines ran clear. Diesel tanks emptied, the contents spun through a series of filters to removed any algae, then the tanks polished and refilled. All thru-hull fittings checked and rechecked…the list was almost endless and, even with professional help, took Taggart ten days to complete. Rolf was still in school, but the boy came down every afternoon and helped out for several hours, retiring to the saloon table down below to finish his homework and study for final exams. After a few days of this, his mother agreed to let him sleep on board; a few days later she started sleeping over, enjoying Henry’s company more and more.

On his first Saturday morning onboard, Henry sent the boy up the mast in a bosun’s chair; his mission – un-do all electronic fittings and spray with Boe-Shield, let dry and re-attach. Then spray all shrouds and stays with WD-40, then more Boe-Shield. He donned a wetsuit and grabbed a tank out of his locker, then slipped under the water and replaced all the anodes, finishing off the underwater work with a light scrub-down of the anti-fouling paint, clearing the ship’s bottom of speed-robbing plant-life.

All of it was a new routine, completely different than the time he’d spent with Time Bandit before he started the crossing. After taking delivery in Connecticut, he taken her up through the Cape Cod Canal to Boston, then up to Northeast Harbor, in Acadia National Park. He spent a few days anchored out in Somes Sound, then refueled before setting out for Norfolk, Virginia. He transited the Great Dismal Swamp Canal, first laid out by George Washington, then worked his way down to Charleston using the Intra-Coastal Waterway. As winter was settling-in up north, he had continued south to Key West, stopping in Miami for meds and a check-up.

It was true, he discovered. The sun was a restorative. He soaked it up for hours on end, and he was amazed at how good it felt after two months on the water. Even more amazing was Key West, and how he fell into the whole Conch-Republic vibe. He rediscovered drinking, then found that his medications and alcohol didn’t mix well. He ate foods he’d never tried before, weird stuff like deep-fried alligator tail and chicken wings so hot he cried, and in a way, he felt like he was beginning to shed old layers of skin, ridding himself of old, comfortable ways of being, in the process becoming something new and different…and as he grew more aware of these changes he found he was as confused as he was exhilarated. 

The boat scene in Florida was radically different than what he was used to, as well. Many more people were full-time liveaboards down here, and like any alternative community these people gathered and shared experiences and advice; in the Keys they came together around campfires on the beach or at bars in town, and he found himself falling into that vibe, too. He’d never done these kinds of things before, and he found himself pushing out of his comfort zone, sometimes being pushed, because these people had been there, done that, and recognized the symptoms of Henry’s long-constricted way of seeing the world.

Though he thought he was an experienced sailor, he soon learned the ins-and-outs of the live-aboard life, and he began to think that – assuming he could manage his Parkinson’s – he really could see living this way for the rest of his life. Yet he felt a hollow emptiness more acutely now, too, because most every “liveaboard” he ran across was part of a couple. He felt different, more like he was on the outside looking in. Different, and not just because of his medical condition.

Yet he still found that he had little interest in hooking up, and in a way he understood that his experience in college, watching those blond things latched onto the arms of Saudi princes, had really colored his take on relationships. He questioned the sincerity of things like love and fidelity, reduced them to equations of fiduciary responsibility that he could, in his mind, anyway, reduce to simple lines of code.

One night at a bar a girl came on hard and he’d almost been tempted, then she told him her price, what a few hours in the sack would cost, and with all his prejudices confirmed he washed his hands of the idea for good, prepared to enjoy the rest of his life as a singleton. He pulled away from the boaties after that, began to insulate himself from the world again, relying, as he had since he first started school, on sarcasm to maintain a certain kind of safe distance from people.

As winter washed away he sailed north, followed the Gulf Stream between Bermuda and the mainland as Spring came on, and he stopped off in Connecticut at the dealer, made sure Time Bandit was indeed sound enough for the crossing that lay just ahead. Two weeks later, in late April, he departed US waters on a great circle course that would take him just south of Greenland and Iceland, past the Faroes and Shetlands to Bergen. And in a way, he set his new life’s course in motion, too. What Henry Taggart did not, indeed, could not fathom was the depth of uncertainty that lay ahead.

Every journey is fraught with unknown hazards and frequent moments of incredible beauty, even joy, yet here was a man almost completely unprepared to join with others of his own kind. He had insulated himself from the vagaries of human companionship for so long that he simply had no idea what could happen when life caught him unprepared for the obvious, and because words like friendship and love had become ossified abstractions, he was equally unprepared to face the consequences of his previous existence.

Because the human soul craves companionship, and Henry Taggart was a starving man, wandering through a desert of his own creation, living a life tinted through the warped lens of a stunted imagination. Because he could not even imagine what might come next, he was completely unprepared when nature decided to reset his course.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | here ends part one; look for the conclusion in a week or so.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 36

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 36

____________________________________

He walked towards Cathy’s kitchen, his eyes downcast, his mood bleak, yet when he opened the door all kinds of aromas rushed through the air…with all the scents of ‘home’ and ‘breakfast’ making a ruthless assault on his senses. In a way, they tried to push aside Callahan’s sudden depression and, in a way, they did indeed work a little of their magic. He looked up and tried to smile, saw Frank and Evelyn looking at him, while Cathy seemed to reserve her examination to Evelyn, and, perhaps, how she was reacting to Harry. 

“You passed-out on me,” Frank said as Callahan stepped inside, “and I thought I’d better just let sleeping dogs do what they do, ya know?”

“Thanks. It kind of feels like I passed out,” Callahan said as he carried his coffee cup over to the sink. He rinsed it out and left it in the sink. “Man, it sure smells good in here.”

Cathy chimed in then: “I’m doing the eggs and bacon; Evelyn is making pancakes. And Harry, she makes good pancakes, so beware…”

“Yeah. Harry, come on over and meet my sister,” Frank said. “Evelyn? Meet my partner in crime, Harry Callahan.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Evelyn said, and Callahan found he simply couldn’t take his eyes off hers. They were kind of silver blue, like Franks, but there all similarities ended. Her eyes were soft, almost liquid, whereas Frank’s were peregrine. Frank was, generally speaking, compact, almost brutally so, while Evelyn seemed almost the exact opposite…fluid and almost lanky while not really tall. She was soft and polished where Frank was hard as nails.

“Yeah,” Harry said, holding out his right hand, “me too. I’ve heard a lot about you.” She grinned, and Callahan noted an uncanny similarity to Franks.

“All bad, I’m sure.”

Harry smiled. “All of it. Every word.”

She feigned anger and turned on her big brother. “Oh…you!” she said as pretended to sock her brother’s arm – in slow motion.

“Well,” Frank continued, “she really does make the best pancakes, and she brought some real maple syrup with her.”

“Oh?” Callahan said. “Where from?”

“Vermont. We, I mean, well, I have been teaching there for a couple of years. It’s more addicting than heroin, or so I’m told.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

She smiled, but it was kind of a pouty-frown kind of smile, though her eyes still sparkled. “Okay, I need to get in there and wash my hands. Why don’t you guys get lost for a little bit – while Cathy and I get to work?”

“Got it,” Bullitt said, turning to Harry. “Let’s go over and take a look at your house.”

Harry nodded when he saw the look in Frank’s eyes, and he followed Frank out the front door.

“A-Chief called me first thing this morning. Threlkis’ lawyers plan to file a wrongful death action first thing tomorrow morning.”

“So the old fart croaked?”

“Big time. Right there at the table, in front of God and about two hundred hoods. My guess is those hoods now have a lottery going, to see who can nail you first.”

“Good. Sounds fun.”

“Damnit, Harry, don’t you get it? Every goon in California just pasted a target on your back.”

“Yeah? So what’s new?”

“What do you have on that homicide out at Sutro?”

“The vic lives in San Paulo. I have a possible suspect, she lives in the city, but grew up there.”

“Next step?”

“Going to send a request to the San Paulo PD CID for more information on the vic and his ties to a couple of gangs operating in the area…”

“What was his CCH?”

“Robberies, drugs, dealing, a couple of DUIs, and he was recently found not guilty on a homicide case up in Oregon.”

“Prison?”

“Yup. A couple of long stretches.”

“Ballistics?”

“A thirty-eight plus P; Remington, semi-jacketed hollow point. Fired into the area above the penis with the muzzle less than an inch off the skin. The bullet – was lodged in the tailbone.”

“Ouch.”

“Bad way to end the day, that’s for sure. Second tap was to the forehead, same thing, about an inch from the skin.”

“So, she knew enough not to put the barrel directly on the skin. Interesting.”

“Firearms training, according to a recent arrest report, as well as a White Warrant application.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, Frank. She was on a mission.”

“Next step?”

“Going to look around the city for her, tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got court first thing in the morning.”

“Anything I was in on?”

“No, just a petty thug, evidence is pretty thin though. DA thinks he’ll walk.”

“Figures.”

“Same song, different day.”

“Okay, boys,” Evelyn said through a barely cracked front door, “y’all come on in now!”

“Coming,” Frank said, then he turned to Harry. “So, what do you think?”

“About?”

“Evelyn, you moron!”

“She’s cute.”

“And?”

“Frank?”

“Yeah, Harry.”

“Don’t set a wedding date just yet.”

“Already have. Christmas Day.”

Callahan shook his head as he followed Frank back into the house. 

“Swell,” he whispered as he walked into the kitchen…where he was confronted by a plate groaning under the strain of a mountain sized portion of pancakes. “Is this for the table?” he asked.

“Nope,” Evelyn said. “Those are all for you!”

There were five pancakes on the plate, each one not quite an inch thick and about a foot in diameter. He groaned as he guessed that about one stick of butter had been slathered on top of and between the cakes…

“You’re over here,” Cathy said, pointing to the place next to her’s.

And he saw another plate was already there, this one containing three eggs, a pile of bacon and some honeydew melon.

“Damn, Cathy, I’ve got enough right on this plate to feed a family…!”

“Frank has this every morning,” she said, grinning. “Don’t you, honey?”

Frank was bug-eyed as he carried his platter to the table. “Oh, sure. You bet,” he just managed to say before he burst out laughing.

Evelyn came over and sat on Callahan’s other side, and her plate had one small pancake and a single over easy egg.

Callahan frowned. “I sense a plot at work here, Frank. Don’t you?” And then Harry used a knife and fork to lift two pancakes, and these he placed on Evelyn’s plate. “There. An equitable arrangement, I think.”

And he was surprised by the look on her face when she heard that word: “equitable…” – because, he sensed, her life had been anything but, at least so far.

When they finished breakfast Frank and Cathy insisted they would handle clean up duties, and Cathy practically begged Harry to take Evelyn for a walk. And when Frank herded them to the front door and pushed them out into the sunshine, Harry understood. Frank and Cathy had been apart for a couple of weeks, and Frank was chomping at the bits…

“Cathy told me that’s your house,” Evelyn said as they made their way to the street. “Could you show me around?”

“Sure. At least, I’ll try.”

“What?”

“This morning was…the first time I’ve seen it. Not even the plans.”

“Are you serious?”

Harry nodded. “Frank and Cathy were having trouble, most of it my fault, so I asked her to build this for me. I looked at it as equal parts couple’s therapy and retirement planning.”

He looked at her when she didn’t say anything, and he found she was staring at him.

“Did I say something wrong?” he asked.

“No. Pretty much the opposite of wrong. I can’t imagine someone doing that.”

“Frank and Cathy are my best friends. I’d do anything for them.”

She chuckled at that. “I’d say you already have.”

He shrugged. “I guess I’ve discovered that real friends are hard to come by. And friendship is worth preserving. Whatever the cost.”

“Your house looks so different from Cathy’s, at least from here.”

“Yeah. It blends into the site, doesn’t it? Like it was designed to almost disappear.”

He led her to what would one day be the front door and helped her step up into the entry, then they walked to the huge expanse of windows that overlooked the cliffs, and the sea beyond.

“What a view,” she said as she reached the wall, then she turned and looked around. “Now…that’s odd…”

“What?”

“There’s not a single ninety degree angle.”

“What? Really?” he said as he too turned and looked around. Then he walked over to the roughed-in walls of his bedroom and looked closer. “I’ll be damned. You’re right.”

Everywhere he looked he saw rooms shaped like flattened and stretched hexagons, and she was correct…he found not a single right angle, and many exterior ‘corners’ were framed to utilize mitered glass windows so that, in effect, corners were wrapped in uninterrupted glass. The view wasn’t compartmentalized, and the result seemed to bring the outside world into these bare interior spaces.

“I told her I think she’s a genius. That may be an understatement.”

“I wonder how many clients turn her loose, let her follow her instincts. Sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime, to me, anyway. So, why’d you become a cop?”

“Wow. Now that was a change of subject…”

“Sorry.”

“If I could put it down to one reason…I guess it was because I rode around with a cop after witnessing a robbery. There’s a lot of crime that boils along just under the surface, that most people, thankfully, never see and so don’t have to deal with. But when bad stuff happens, I think it helps keep society together when there’s a group of people actively helping to keep some semblance of order. For us, it’s cops; other people use the military, while some can do without much of anything to maintain cohesion.”

She shook her head. “That sounds like the kind of answer you’d give to a reporter.”

“Sorry.”

“What did you learn on that first ride-along?”

“That there are a lot of very bad people out on the street. Predators, really, and most people simply have no idea how vulnerable they are. Until something goes down, anyway. I think I fell in love with the idea of figuring out how to help people get through those moments.”

She nodded. “That I can buy, Harry Callahan.”

“So, what do you do?”

“Frank hasn’t told you?”

“Nope. He’s never even mentioned you, or anything about your family, until he picked you up at the airport last week.”

“My, my,” she said – a little too wistfully, “how he’s changed.”

“I guess.”

“Well, back to me. I teach biochemistry; both at graduate and medical schools.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I thought I wanted to be a physician until I realized how much I loved chemistry. Do you, uh, think that maybe we could go out, maybe have some dinner?”

“Man, you really can change gears!”

“Sorry, but I always say what I think, what I’m feeling.”

“That’s cool. Kind of refreshing. So, what did you have in mind?”

“What?”

“What kind of grub?”

She shrugged. “Seafood, I guess. You know, every time I’ve visited Frank he promises to take me to Fisherman’s Wharf, and somehow we’ve never made it…”

“Okay, that sounds like a challenge I can handle, but the next couple of weeks might be kind of dicey…”

“The Threlkis stuff?”

“Yeah. Did Cathy tell you about that?”

She nodded. “Sounds awful, all this stuff with vigilante cops, the mob.”

“What else did Cathy tell you?”

“About your wife, you mean?”

“Yeah. Well, I guess you just answered that one.”

“Don’t be angry,” she said. “Please?”

He turned and looked at her, saw that she seemed to have turned inward on herself, almost reflexively. “I’m not angry, Evelyn. Like I said, Cathy and Frank are my friends, and I trust them. Whatever she tells you, I know she’ll tell you the truth.”

“And you’re not afraid of the truth?”

And in that instant he saw Crawford’s face lined up in the PSGs scope, then he relived the moment as he increased the pressure on his trigger finger. He shivered, and then saw…

“What are you thinking about right now?” she asked, concern evident in her voice.

“The truth.”

“You look sad and angry, at the same time, and maybe a little scared, too.”

He nodded.

“You want to talk about it?”

He shook his head. “Maybe someday. Not yet.”

“I guess you have to carry around a lot of bad stuff…”

“Yeah. Sometimes.”

“Well, if you ever do want to talk?”

“Yeah. I hear you.”

“Cathy says you play the piano. Like really, really play the piano.”

He nodded. “Sometimes more than others.”

“Now that’s an odd thing to say?”

“Is it?”

“Yeah. Like…why are some times better?”

He sighed. “There are times when music helps…”

“And others when it’s too painful?”

“Yeah.”

“Cathy bought a recording of the concert in Israel…”

Harry held up a hand and shook his head: “Please, Evelyn. No. That’s one of the things, one of the places I just can’t go yet.”

“Okay.” She seemed to deflate, and then she turned and walked away, looking at the framed walls as she made her way to the front door. “Could we walk down to the rocks?”

“Yes, sure, but the best way is from over here.”

She came back to him. “Oh?”

“Would you mind if we just hugged for a minute?”

And she stepped into his arms, wrapped her arms around him. Both seemed to relax, neither wanted to let go. 

‘I want to fall in love,’ he thought – in the heat of the moment. ‘I’m tired of being alone. I’m scared of living my life alone.’

“This feels so good,” she said, her voice almost muffled.

“It’s almost like we fit together.”

She nodded. “I was thinking that. Like two pieces of a puzzle.”

“So, let me show you the way down.”

“Down?”

“To the water.”

She shook her head. “I’m fine right here.”

“Has it been a while?”

“A while?”

“Since you could just let go, feel safe like this?”

“I’ve never felt like this,” she said. “I’ve never felt safe.”

He struggled with that for a while, then: “So, why? Why’d you get married?”

She shrugged. “I think I just wanted to strike out on my own, but that meant getting married, didn’t it? Like in that Carly Simon song, That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. That’s what it was like…living life in the shadow of other people’s expectations. The only problem with that,” she said, now with a tremor in her voice, “is that you can drown in other people’s expectations.”

“Is that why you didn’t feel safe?”

She shook all over now, buried her face in his chest and he felt her grabbing the back of his windbreaker, her fists balling-up defensively – like she was preparing to ward off blows…

And all he could do was pull her close, run his fingers through her hair, then he smelled her hair and seemed to drift away, wanted to fall away inside this moment. Hold time back…

She pulled away some time later, and he looked into her eyes, melted at the sight of tears on her cheeks. He cupped her face in his hands, wiped away her tears with his thumbs and lifted her lips to his.

Theirs was a gentle first kiss, as unexpected as it was an expression of tremendous need, then they fell back into this new embrace they’d discovered, each unwilling to be the first to let it go…

“Knock-knock,” Cathy said from some place outside this new little universe. “Mind if we come in?”

But they were already inside. Indeed, they had been watching for some time, holding hands like a couple of mad alchemists in love with their latest creation, smiling at the simplicity this life presented – even in the quietest moments.

“Harry?”

“Yes?”

“The A-Chief called. He wants to see us, ASAP. You ready to roll?”

She felt him tense, felt their moment wither and fall away.

“Yeah. Might as well face the music,” she heard him say, yet she wanted to stop him, wanted to protect him, wanted to keep him from hurting himself because, she suddenly realized, that’s what he had been doing all his life.

“Harry,” she whispered, “we can do this. We can make this happen, let it happen…”

But by then he had pulled away, their timeless connection broken. She watched him walk away and she felt so alone, just the way she’d always heard it should be.

_________________________________

“Goddammit, Callahan, what is it with you? Everywhere you go, people end up dead. It ain’t right, and the Chief has had it. He wants your badge…”

Frank cleared his throat: “Uh, Chief,” Bullitt began, “this op was my idea. Bullitt went in because Threlkis doesn’t know me from Adam. I figured that was the best way to…”

“To what? Give the fucker a goddamn mother-fucking heart attack?”

“No, sir…”

“Then, please, tell me. Tell me what the point of this goddamn clusterfuck was. Because I’d really like to know…”

“The case against him was at a standstill…”

“So? You decided to terrorize the man at his daughter’s wedding? Have you, like, forgotten those words we print up and put on the sides of our patrol cars? To Protect and Serve? Does that compute, or are you two operating on some other principle I’m not aware of?”

“No,” Callahan said.

“No, what, Callahan?”

“No, sir.”

“Alright, so hear this, you two. The Threlkis family is going to sue the city for something like ten million, and you know what? We will lose. We’ll probably settle on a lower figure, but so what? Because of your chickenshit bullshit, we’re going to end paying a crime family millions of bucks. Does that sound like effective policing to you clowns?”

“Look, Chief,” Callahan said, “no one knew he had a defective ticker…”

“Goddamnit to Hell, Callahan! Are you deaf as well as mentally retarded! Did you not hear one mother-fucking word I just said…?”

“We hear you, Chief,” Bullitt said.

“And now I hear about some retired cop from Oakland PD, living up by Lake Shasta. Shot in the fucking face, dead as a fucking door-nail. The poor SOBs fucking eight year old daughter found him, too. And the word is he’s the cop that took a couple of shots at you a few months ago. And now, guess what, Callahan? Investigators up there want to question you about this shit, too.”

“What?” Bullitt said. “When did this happen?”

“Saturday night, Sunday morning. That timeframe.”

“Callahan was with us, Chief. Up at Sea Ranch.”

The Assistant Chief looked from Callahan to Bullitt. “Is that right? Well, I hope so. I sure fucking hope so. Because you two wouldn’t last a goddam week inside fuckin’ San Quentin. I mean, I hope that’s fuckin’ clear as glass. Now, get the fuck out of my sight – both of you!”

“Well, that was fun,” Frank said when they were clear of the office.

They walked to the parking garage and got in Frank’s Mustang, then drove to where Callahan had parked the rental car. 

“I’ll follow you to the drop off, give you a ride back into the city.”

Callahan nodded and they drove out to SFO. Callahan fumed the entire way, tried to think of one good reason to stay with the department – and couldn’t. On the drive back to the city with Bullitt, that was about all Callahan could think of to talk about.

“You can’t quit now,” Frank said. “That would be tantamount to an admission of guilt.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m getting tired of all this bullshit, Frank. I’m doing the job I was supposed to, you know. And yeah, I know, our operations are compartmentalized. No one in the department knows what we’re up to, and yeah, sure, I know I’ve got a ‘get out of jail card’ stashed away and I’m not worried about it, but really? We got hoods pushing on us from one side, the courts pushing on us from another, and then, just for the joy of it all, we got our own supervisors pushing us from yet another side. Who pushes back for us, Frank? Who takes our side, when we’re in the right, or even when we’re wrong? No one. No one, Frank. And do you really think that’s right?”

“No, not really.”

“Come on, is that all you can say? Look, most of us come to this job thinking we’re going to do some good, maybe get to help people every now and then, and how do we get paid back for that? We’re a bunch of kids trying to do the right thing and nothing less than a herd of legal eagles line up and pick apart every decision we make. And they get to do that from the comfort of their swivel chairs in their padded offices, while we get to make the decisions in the rain, in the middle of the night, when we’ve had to pull a double shift or right after after wives die, or, more likely, file for divorce. Come on, do you really think this is fair? Or is this stacked deck really nothing more than a sideshow a bunch of lawyers cooked up on a slow Saturday night – you know, for their amusement?”

“I don’t think it much matters, Harry. It is what it is. We do the best we can with what we’ve got to work with.”

“Yeah, I know,” Callahan muttered. “That’s what you always say.”

“Because that’s how I feel, Harry.”

“So, what next?”

“I’m going up to Tahoe.”

“You’re going to take out Briggs?”

Bullitt shook his head. “No. I’m going to get him to the Colonel, send him to that little house of horrors. Let them figure out what he knows, and where we go from there.”

“Okay, Frank. You do that, but you tell Goodman I’m done. I’m through being a pawn on this board.”

“So. You’re going to turn in your paperwork?”

Callahan sighed. “No, at least not yet, but I’ve got to find some good reason to wake up in the morning, ya know? ‘Cause this ain’t doing it for me anymore. It might. It might if we were supported, if everyone wasn’t picking our motives apart, turning mistakes into a legal lottery where everyone stands to make a buck – everyone but us, that is.”

“What happened this morning? With Evelyn?”

“Two lost souls, Frank. Drowning, trying to hang on to the same life preserver.”

“Oh? Sounds fun.”

“Does it? Well then, this has been a real fun day.”

Bullitt pulled up to the curb in front of Harry’s apartment building, and both were surprised to see Evelyn sitting on the steps, apparently waiting for Harry.

“You going to be okay, Harry?”

Callahan shook his head. “You know, Frank. I’m not so sure right now.”

“You want me to take her back with me?”

He looked at her sitting there, then turned to Frank. “No, I’ll be okay.”

“What about her, Harry. Will she be okay, too?”

“I hear you.”

“She’s my sister, Harry. All that’s left of my family.”

“And you’re my friend, Frank. Maybe the only friend I have left in the world.”

“Alright. Just be good to one another. She’s had a bad couple of years, and my sense is she’s very fragile right now.”

“Yeah? Well, that makes two of us.”

Bullitt sat there for a while, watched his sister and his friend disappear inside the old walk-up apartment building, and he tried to get a read on what Harry had just said.

Was he still fit to be out on the street? Had he lost his edge?

He sighed, dropped the car into gear and headed out into traffic, not at all sure where these questions were taking him – and not at all happy he felt he needed to ask them – but all the warning signs were flashing red now. Callahan had come back too soon. He had been a flaming wreck before Crawford; now he was way beyond that. 

When he got back to Sea Ranch he called the colonel, told him what had happened, and what Callahan had told him.

“I expected as much,” Goodman said. “Should I come get him?”

“Not yet. I think we should give him some room, let him try to figure this out for himself.”

“Is he a danger to himself?”

“Harry? God, no.”

“Okay. Keep me advised.”

“I will.”

All in all, Bullitt thought, this was the best he could do, the best thing he could do for his friend.

Cathy was waiting for him out on the patio, and she’d made guacamole and fresh margaritas.

She held out her glass as Frank sat: “Well, what shall we drink to?”

Bullitt clinked glasses while he thought. “To new beginnings, I think.”

“To new beginnings,” she added. “And to those we met on all the old roads we traveled, once upon a time.”

_____________________________

She walked into his apartment and looked around, shocked by what she found. Walls the color of a smoggy day, beige carpeting threadbare in places, and a kitchen that defied easy description. Rudimentary, perhaps, best described the tiny space, and as her eyes roamed she tried to reconcile what she was looking at with the house he was building. After a moment she gave up and went to the tiny sofa and sat down, then she watched him as he took off his jacket and hung it in a tiny closet just off the entry.

“Could I get you something to drink?” he asked. “I have Coke and O.J.”

“Coke works for me,” she said, her eyes falling on the piano – which even though it was an upright seemed to be of exquisite quality. “What kind of piano is that?”

“What kind?”

“Who made it, I mean.”

“Bösendorfer. They’re made in Vienna, and in a roundabout way I distribute them here in California.”

“You what? Did you say…”

“Yup.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t get it…”

“It’s complicated.”

“Cathy described the piano she heard you playing on, and this isn’t it.”

“Oh. That was my mother’s. It’s…”

“Don’t tell me, you have another house.”

“Yeah, I do.”

She grinned, shook her head. “And where is this one? Colorado? Aspen, maybe?”

“Switzerland.”

“Of course it is. Why not?”

“Like I said, it’s complicated.”

“Are you serious? You have a house in Switzerland?”

“Yeah. Davos.”

“I hate to seem rude, but just how much money do you have?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea, really.”

“Of course you don’t. That makes perfect sense, too. So, do you really know how to play this thing?”

He brought her Coke and a glass full of ice; she looked at it closely and thought ‘at least it looks clean,’ before she popped the top and poured.

He walked over to the Bösendorfer and retracted the keyboard cover, began playing Carly Simon’s That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. He even tried to sing here and there – but his voice was too gravelly, more like a hoarse whisper, yet nevertheless she was impressed.

“Do you know any Bill Evans?”

He drifted into Peace Piece, then wandered back to Gershwin, as he always did – then he stopped and asked her to come and sit by him on the bench.

“Closer, please, and put a hand on me.”

“What? Why?”

“I want to try something.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere.”

She put her hand on the top of his thigh and he returned to That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. A few bars in, his playing slowed and his head seemed to relax, to fall away…

And he could see a living room – inside another apartment, and that snow was falling outside. Endless pines, their limbs falling under the weight of a massive snowfall. With another passage he saw Evelyn and a man, and then he saw the man was beating her, first with his fist, then with a heavy belt, screaming at her as he towered over her.

“Move your hand to my face, please.”

She moved her hand.

“Higher, just by my left eye.”

She adjusted her hand.

“He hit you here. That’s when you fell. When things fell apart…”

She jumped up and moved away from Callahan, now clearly terrified of him. “What the Hell are you doing?” she screamed, and she watched him, almost mesmerized, as he broke free of the piano and seemed to drift back into the present.

He turned and looked at her, clearly shaken by what he’d just seen. “It’s okay,” he began, gently. “I think I understand now.”

She backed away again, until her back was up against a wall. “What do you mean, ‘you understand.’ Just what do you think you understand?”

“What happened, to you. Why you left him.”

“How could you possibly know that. I mean, that’s simply preposterous!”

“It is, isn’t it? Would you listen if I described to you what I just experienced?”

She nodded. “Yes-s-s-s…but I don’t understand…”

“Neither do I, really. This is only the second time I’ve tried to do this.”

“Do…what, exactly?”

“Well, Evelyn, I’m not sure how, but some music, some chords within music, seems to connect me to…well, I’m not exactly sure, but it feels like I can slip through time, even to different places, and I can see things there.”

“Pardon me for asking, but are you, by any chance, like schizophrenic?”

“I don’t think so. But bear with me here, okay?”

“Alright?”

“The first thing I saw was a living room in an apartment. White walls, gray trim. Wood floor, like a mahogany color. Green leather sofa, matching wingback chairs. An oval shaped coffee table, very old…an antique…”

“Dear God…”

“You are wearing jeans and a red plaid flannel shirt, you are wearing socks, white socks, but no shoes. He is wearing jeans and has on a down parka, dark red, and those funky boots, the ones with the rubber lowers and the leather uppers…”

“How are you doing this…”

“He’s screaming at you. Telling you it’s none of your business who he talks to on the telephone. You’re holding up a statement, from the phone company, pointing at a number. New Haven. The phone number is in New Haven. You’re telling him he’s been having an affair with a woman there. There…at Yale…a philosopher. Last name Shaw, and that’s when he hit you, when you fell to the floor. Then he kicked you, more than once…before he used his belt…”

Callahan broke free of the vision, saw her curled up on the floor in what almost looked like a fetal position, only she had pulled her knees up to her chest and she was trying to rock herself, almost like she wanted to be held…

He fell to her, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. “It’s alright, Evelyn. I understand now…”

Her head came up, her face was tear-streaked and red, snot running out her nose and her teeth chattering. “This isn’t right,” she whispered. “What you’re describing…”

“That’s the way it happened, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but this isn’t normal. People can’t do this…”

“Yeah, I guess so, but nevertheless I think that’s exactly what I just did.”

“Oh, God…no…”

“It’s okay. It’s still me…”

“How did you do it?”

“Actually, I have no idea, but it’s something my mother told me about. She could do it, and I don’t think she was the only one.”

“You mean, the music…”

“Playing the music, not simply the music in and of itself.”

“So, playing the music lets you see things…”

“I’m not quite sure it’s that simple. It helped to have you touch me, at least it did this time. The first time it happened, well, I was just playing when what I thought were visions came to me. Only they weren’t simple visions. It was more like I was transported to another time and place. In a way, I could move around there, look at things, even move stuff around…”

“Harry, that’s just not possible. I’m sorry, but what you’re describing seems like…”

“What? A delusion?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“Okay. Wanna try a little experiment?”

“I’m not sure.”

“That’s not fair. You’re a scientist, right?”

“I think you could say that, yes.”

“So, we come up with a hypothesis then generate experiments to prove or disprove the hypothesis.”

“Well, kind of. It’s not really that simple.”

“Okay, but what’s a simple hypothesis? That some musicians can manipulate time and space, and while doing so they can observe past events? Does that sound about right?”

She shrugged.

“Okay, well, let’s go back to the piano. You think of some past event, you tell me what music to play, and then let’s see what happens. I report what I end up seeing, if anything, and you record the results. Do we account for source bias that way?”

“This is crazy. You know that, right?”

He nodded. “It’s crazy as Hell.”

She stood and held out her hand, and they went to the piano. He sat, then patted the bench on his left side. “Sit here.”

“Hand on your leg again?”

“For now.”

“Okay, I’m thinking about something.”

“Music?”

“Elvis. Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

He thought for a moment, then began playing. Slowly, then slower still, until he was in a room. A child’s room, and it felt like he was a wraith looking down, like the room was in the near distance and sheathed in an ion mist…

Chord by chord time advanced, until he saw a man enter the girl’s room. He came to her bed and leaned over, kissed the girl once on the forehead…and as the music moved so did his understanding of the scene below…the man…dressed in a uniform…military…Navy…a pilot…he’s telling his little girl goodbye, that he’s going to Vietnam…no, to Korea…and that he loves his little girl…

He felt her jump up and fall away, but he kept playing, saw the man leave the little girl’s room…then everything receded from view and he stopped playing, turned to see Evelyn on the sofa, balled up with her knees pulled up to her face, rocking back and forth, crying again, then sobbing hysterically…

“What is it?” he whispered as he came to her. “What happened?”

“I…I don’t know. The more I pressed my hand into you, the more I saw…”

“You saw…what did you see?” 

“You first. You tell me what you saw.”

“A bedroom. A little girl, asleep. A man, a naval aviator, telling her goodbye, then leaving her room…”

“That’s right,” she whispered, “yes, that’s right, but you missed the most important part…”

“What? What did I miss…?”

“That I wasn’t really asleep. I was mad at him for leaving me so I pretended to be asleep. I didn’t get to tell him that I loved him, and that I really wasn’t mad at him…”

“And he didn’t come home again?”

“Yes, that’s right. Did Frank tell you?”

“No. We’ve never talked about things like this.”

“Frank stayed up with dad that night. They talked and talked about his going to war, what it meant – to him – to serve. What country really means. But, I pretended to sleep, and I never got to say goodbye…”

“You were a little girl, you couldn’t possibly have known…”

“I was a selfish brat…”

“And you’ve been punishing yourself ever since.”

She looked up at him. “Yes. That’s right.” She stood and then flew into his arms, held him so fiercely it took his breath away.

“You don’t have to do that anymore, Evelyn. You don’t have to bear that cross alone.”

“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I just don’t know anymore…”

“What don’t you know?”

“How I can go on.”

“You don’t want to?”

“I really don’t know anymore, Harry. I think I ruined my life, like I’ve ruined everything ever since that night. I see a fault and I pick at it, pick at it like a scab. I pick and pick until I’ve infected everything around me…”

“So, what are you most afraid of?”

“Right now? That I’ll pick on you until we’re infected, that we’ll wither and die…”

“What if…I stop you. What if I won’t let you destroy us? Then what would you be afraid of?” She buried her face in his neck, and as he felt her tears he pulled her closer still… “Why don’t you just let go of all that for now. Just let it go, push it all away, think about how you want to be without all that crap cluttering-up your life.”

“Harry?”

“Yes?”

“I’m hungry.”

“I know.”

“How could you possibly know that…”

“Because…I can hear your stomach growling.”

She pulled away just a little, shook her head as she grinned at him. “All you cops…you’re all the same, you know? Nothing gets by you…”

“Hey, just the facts, M’am…just the facts.”

“Uh, I didn’t bring my wallet…? And that’s a fact.”

“I think I can handle dinner. Once, anyway.”

“Good.”

“So, wanna walk down to the wharf?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

He went to the closet, put on his shoulder holster then his windbreaker while she looked on.

“Do you always wear that thing?”

“Yes. Always.”

She shook her head but took his hand…

As they left the building Callahan scanned the street – as he always did – before he started walking down to the Wharf, and within a few blocks he spotted the tail. A black Sedan de Ville, four men inside. They would have to be Threlkis’ men, he told himself even as he smiled inwardly. ‘Now, how to get Evelyn out of the line of fire…’

He cut down Jones Street and made the jog onto Pier 47, and here he started to walk faster.

“Are we in some sort of hurry?” Evelyn asked.

“Kind of, yeah.”

“Okay.”

They made it out to Scoma’s and ducked inside, and while they waited for a table he saw the black Cadillac driving slowly out the pier, and, predictably, it stopped about where he had expected…effectively sealing them off from any escape, or at least he hoped that’s what they’d think.

Once at their table Callahan ordered wine and recommended she try the Dungeness crab appetizer and the abalone for her entree, and he chose the same. They took their time with dinner, though from time to time he got up and walked to a spot where he could see the Cadillac…

“You want to tell me what’s going on?” she said after his last excursion.

He shrugged. “Some of Threlkis’ goons followed us. They’re waiting for us, well, I should say me, to leave. My guess is they don’t think I spotted them, or they would have found a better place to hide.”

“You don’t seem very concerned.”

“I’m not.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Well, I don’t know who’s running the family right now, but I need to send them a message.”

“Really? Like what?”

“Basically, back off and don’t fuck with me.”

“I suppose this is something you feel you really need to do right now?”

“Well, if I don’t they’ll probably come in here and kill a bunch of people. All things being equal, I think it makes more sense for me to go out and kill them first.”

“Just like that, huh?”

“Yeah, pretty much. How’s your dessert?”

“Fine.”

“Well, I’ll be back in about a half hour,” he said, looking at his watch, “maybe an hour, tops.”

“And if you’re not?”

He shrugged. “Call Frank, I guess.”

She looked around, saw the restaurant was still full and ordered some coffee, and from time to time she too looked at her watch.

About fifteen minutes later everyone in the restaurant flinched as machine gun fire erupted a few blocks away, followed by six sonic concussions from a large caliber handgun, then the sound of sirens filled the night.

Not quite forty five minutes later Callahan rejoined her at the table.

“So, that took a little longer than expected?” she said matter-of-factly. 

He looked at his watch again: “Damn. Sure did. Sorry about that?”

“What went wrong?”

“Oh, not much. They were a little more stupid than expected, but hey, c’est la vie.”

“Well, is it at least safe to walk back to your place?”

“Oh, sure.”

“Good.”

“Good?”

“Yeah. Frankly, Callahan, I wasn’t sure about you. But now I am.”

“You are?”

“Yeah. I sure the hell hope you’re horny, because I’m going to fuck your brains out.”

Callahan turned, found their waiter and made eye contact. “Check, please.”

Turned out there was a taxi out front, which didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, not even a little bit.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last 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 until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a 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? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though 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…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 35

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 35

____________________________________

After consultations with the colonel and, presumably, whoever he was speaking to in Washington, D.C., the team’s first target was agreed upon…and the “green light” given to ‘set up’ the target. Actually taking out the target would be authorized only after the target was acquired.

The first target, William Crawford, was a recently – and a medically – retired patrolman from Oakland, and he had been identified as the man who tried to take out Callahan in the firefight near Hayward Executive Airport. His right hand had been shattered during that exchange of fire, and the injury had taken care of his active duty career; in the immediate aftermath he had assumed a leadership role in the Bay Area’s vigilante group, coordinating the group’s recent efforts to attack the team by helicopter assault. As members of the group had liitle to no military training their effort had rapidly fallen apart. Furthermore, the three man team that had penetrated the house and very nearly killed Delgetti had been identified as on duty officers from two East Bay agencies, and these three were a part of Crawford’s group, or cell.

Crawford’s house was located on a hillside near Hayward Executive, and the downed DC-3 had impacted houses not far from Crawford’s. When the FBI determined that Crawford had given the Go signal to take out the aircraft, the federal government had signed off on the operation. Still, the overall plan of action was to take out all members of the four known East Bay cells, and this totaled 23 men, not including Crawford.

“How do we do this without calling attention to our involvement?” Callahan had wanted to know, and even over the encrypted circuit he could tell that Goodman didn’t care if the team’s involvement was discovered or not. He and Bullitt had looked knowingly at each other when they heard that inflection point form in the air, and Callahan assumed Goodman’s intent was deliberate.

“We’re either expendable or the feds will disavow our actions,” Frank said after the call concluded, “put it down to rival factions fighting it out for supremacy.” 

“I can’t believe Goodman would hang us out to dry.”

“Well, Harry, I suggest you do. You’ll live longer.”

Callahan shook his head. “Think this through, Frank. If you think that’s a real possibility, then these kinds of actions simply aren’t right. Got that; simple as that. And if they ain’t right, why the hell do we want to be involved?”

Bullitt shook his head. “We are involved, Harry?”

“Let me remind you, Frank; you said the gloves are coming off. I may be guessing here, but I kind of think this is exactly what you had in mind.”

“I just can’t help feeling that we’re being played. And…if we hit one of their guys they’ll turn right around and kill one of ours… So, where does it all end?”

“Frank…they damn near killed ten of our people up at the safe house…”

“Okay, so we take out an equal number. We send ‘em a message.”

“Ya know…that feels more and more like the Old West, like frontier justice. What did you say they call this sort of stuff?”

“Extrajudicial executions.”

“Yeah. Still, any action like this would be state sanctioned, right?”

“Yeah,” Bullitt said. “At least I think so.”

“Well then, all we really need to do is record these communications with the colonel. We’re golden after all that is covered, right?”

Frank sighed, then crossed his arms over his chest: “I already have.”

Callahan did a double take: “You what? You have all of the stuff where executions have been mentioned, or ordered?”

Bullitt nodded his head. “Actually, one of the Israeli kids helped me set it up.”

Callahan brightened. “So, Goodman has to know about it, right?”

“I would assume so, yeah. Still, I made copies of them, and have the copies in three different locations.”

Harry shook his head, wrung his hands. “These guys took out a U.S. senator, Frank. I doubt the feds will disavow us.”

Bullitt shrugged. “Sometimes it kind of feels like we’ve been put out here for a reason. That this assignment has fallen to us, to you and me, like we’re supposed to do it. Even if we’re sacrificed, I guess to me it feels kind of like we’re being sacrificed for some kind of greater good.”

“I’m not going to be sacrificed, Frank. Not for anyone. We take out these characters and then we either retire – or fuckin’ get back to work.”

“I hope they let us, Harry.”

“Well, I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but I’ll tell you what – I’m not going to sit around worrying about it.”

Frank looked at his hands for a moment, then shook his head. “You know, I’ve had to put people down before, but not like this. This feels premeditated to me, Harry. And it doesn’t feel right.”

“Don’t think that it’s not, Frank. It is premeditated murder, just like when Stacy planned to get herself into the clinic in Davos, and then murdered my wife. And you know what, for some reason I don’t think Stacy has lost any sleep over it.”

Bullitt nodded. “So. You and me. We track this Crawford guy down. We find him. We call it in, and then we take the shot.”

“Yeah?”

“Which one of us, Harry? Who takes the shot?”

“I don’t know. Wanna flip for it?”

Bullitt shook his head. “I don’t want this on you, man. You’re carrying around enough shit already…you don’t need this.”

Callahan shook his head as he reached into a pocket, pulling out a quarter. “I appreciate that, Amigo, but no way. You call it…” he said, flipping the coin…

“Heads,” Bullitt said – pensively.

Callahan caught the coin and took a look. “How appropriate,” Harry sighed as he slipped the coin back into his pocket. “Let’s go.”

______________________________

Crawford had gone underground after the botched Safe House ambush, but Captain Briggs had called in sick three days in a row – and on the third day either the Israelis or some spook at the NSA managed to pull a trace. Briggs was holed up at a casino-hotel just outside South Lake Tahoe – which made tracing outgoing calls difficult…but not impossible. It would just take more time, they heard over and over again.

So, after several days and with no new leads on Crawford, Bullitt made the call: “Let’s get back to work.”

“What?” Carl Stanton said. “Dell isn’t even out of the hospital yet, Frank!”

“Yeah, well, we’ve got work to do. And we have evasion plans. And I don’t want anyone to think they’ve scared us off…”

But Callahan was already back on the job, finding out all he could about security arrangement for Threlkis’ daughter’s wedding and reception, still planned for next weekend at the Mark Hopkins. And he’d picked up all the paperwork Records could dig up on Jennifer Spencer, too.

She was a nut job alright, Callahan thought after he read through the application for a White Warrant. Raped, obsessed with the idea of vengeance, the girl seemed to be a serial killer in the making, and he’d walked by her apartment a couple of times the past couple of days, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Kind of funny, too, because she lived about three blocks from his place.

Still, he really was more focused on the Threlkis reception, and Bullitt’s plan made perfect sense. Punch all the old fart’s buttons, provoke a hasty reaction and see what kind of response they generated from Escobar.

Clever, but dangerous.

And Callahan didn’t bother driving too much now, so he kept to cable cars and buses, occasionally a taxi, as he did his legwork around town.

He visited the cop who had sworn out the White Warrant, talked to him, got his impressions…

“She’s a fucking time bomb, Inspector. And when she goes off, man…it’s gonna be a big body count.”

“What else did you find out about her?”

“She’s got a sister somewhere, but I couldn’t locate her. And she had a membership at one of those gun clubs…you know…where you can take classes for a concealed permit, practice at their range, that kind of stuff.”

“Really? Know where that’s located?”

“Not offhand, but I bet I have it in my notes…”

“Think you could take a look around, let me know what you find out?”

“Sure, you bet…”

“How long have you been out of academy?”

“Me? Oh, almost five years.”

“What are your plans?”

“Plans? Oh, I don’t know. I kind of wanted to try for detective, but who doesn’t…ya know?”

Callahan nodded. “So, I got your last name – Collins, right? What’s your first name?”

“Steven. What do you need that for, Inspector?”

“Would you like to come down some weekend and ride with one of us, see if you like it?”

“No kidding? Sure…I mean…Hell-yes!”

Still nodding, Callahan continued: “Do you think Spencer would recognize you?”

“Yessir,” Collins said. “We got into it real good, a real knock-down drag-out kind of thing. Took three of us to get her under control, too. She bites and has vicious fingernails,” he said, rolling up his sleeve and showing off several lacerations on his left arm that had required stitches to close. “The only thing that kept her from doing hard time was the mental evaluation. Reactive schizophrenia, the shrinks called it.”

“So, you think she’s dangerous?”

“She’s a chameleon, Inspector. She blends in. My guess is she kind of lives in hiding, and she probably moves around a lot.”

“Paranoid?”

“Big time.”

“But…is she dangerous?”

“She had a little Beretta in her purse, Inspector. But she had a permit, ya know? So, yeah. Dangerous is an understatement.”

“For concealed carry? Wonder how she got that…?”

Collins shrugged. “The system is pretty fucked up, sir.”

Callahan nodded. “Yup, sure is. Well, I’ll be in touch.”

When he made it back to his apartment that night he pulled out Spencer’s paperwork and looked at her mug shot again: the black and white polaroid was still attached to the arrest report and he studied it for a long time, wanting to commit key features to memory. Her skin was pale, the word ghostly came to mind, and her eyes must have been light blue, or maybe light gray, yet the arrest report only showed ‘blue.’ She was about five-six, one hundred pounds, and had no tattoos or surgical scars. Beyond that, there was little about her appearance that suggested ‘dangerous mental patient’…but there rarely was – until you could put the person in better context.

No one looked good in a mug shot, period, but people’s eyes weren’t haunted with regret when they were out on the street, either. Her eyes were a mask in that one image, but then that kind of figured. What did Collins call her? A chameleon? That made perfect sense, he thought, and it also made her perfectly dangerous. He’d have to come at her sideways, hit her where and when she wasn’t expecting a take down.

He shook his head then stood and walked over to the window, looked down at the street below…just the usual Tuesday night crowd, husbands and wives out for a walk, hand in hand and stopping to look at storefront displays, or the usual afterwork type – a middle aged man out on the prowl, maybe looking for a quick pick up. Kids having fun, probably from one of the local colleges and away from home for the first time…

“Funny thing,” he said to the window. “I don’t see so much hate down there.”

The tides were off so very little fog tonight, he thought. Just a street scene. Nothing out of the ordinary…

He went and sat at his piano, then slid the keyboard cover into the body…thinking about nothing…other than the utter normalcy below…

And he played a chord, closed his eyes and drifted for a while.

Then another, still drifting.

And on the third chord he played, still with his eyes closed, he began to feel the scene below…but even ‘feeling’ was an inadequate description of the sensation that filled his mind…because in an instant he was outside his apartment, almost hovering above the street, drifting like fog between people, touching them, feeling their feelings…

And with the next chord he went spiraling into one of the bars, and he was looking down on…what…was that him? And the Threlkis kid, butchering every note he tried to play on that wretched old Baldwin?

He played another chord, a darker, more somber tone, and in an instant he was across the bay, still undercover and just when everything started to fall apart…but there was the Threlkis kid again…then gunfire and in the next moment he was soaring over the bay in the middle of the night…

He was only vaguely aware that he was playing now, that his fingers had entered into some kind of unholy communion with the keys on his piano…then he was in Briggs’ office, his office in Internal Affairs, and Briggs was in a panic now, flipping through files in a filing cabinet…

Callahan felt his fingers forming the next chord, then he zoomed in close, so close he could read read the file as Briggs read through the pages. It was Crawford’s file, but Callahan could see post-it notes stuck here and there…

An address near Lake Shasta…and a phone number, too…

“I’ve got to write this down,” he said, and he stood to go for his note pad…

And in the next shattering instant he was back in his living room, standing over his piano – and everything he had just experienced felt like a faraway dream, a dream like a puzzle, quickly fading away to a place beyond memory…

He ran to his closet, found his jacket and pulled out a notepad and he wrote down the address even as he felt the numbers and words slipping away…and then he ran for the phone and called Bullitt.

______________________________

Bullitt walked into Callahan’s apartment and made his way to the kitchen, grabbed a Coke from the ‘fridge then went to the sofa. “Okay, Harry. What’s so important that I had to…”

“I think I found Crawford’s 20,” Callahan said, with ’20’ indicating a suspects location.

Bullitt sat up, began paying attention. “Oh, where is he?”

“Up by Lake Shasta, right off the 5…”

“I know where Shasta is. Where’d you get the tip-off?”

Callahan shook his head. “I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Just that. I saw Briggs looking at a file folder…”

“You what?”

“Look, Frank, I know this sounds fucking strange, but just go with it. I can’t tell you any more than that.”

Bullitt looked dubious, but nodded. “Okay, what’ve you got?”

“Just an address. And what I’d like to do is…”

______________________________________

That Saturday night, Callahan went to the Top of the Mark and crashed the Threlkis wedding reception, confronted the old mobster with a bogus confession and looked on as he “vapor-locked” – or went into cardiac arrest – then he walked out. Frank was waiting on the street, parked in a beige Plymouth that Harry had rented the day before; when Harry reached the curb in front of the hotel Bullitt drove up and Harry jumped in. Once over the Bay Bridge, they made their way to the 5 northbound for Redding, then just beyond to the little village of Shasta Lake, California.

“Take this exit,” Callahan said at once.

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

Bullitt shook his head, grumbled under his breath.

“Right at the end of the ramp, then about a mile and a half, maybe two miles east.”

“Got it.”

“Okay. The road up here should be Old Oregon Trail. Turn right.”

It was now a little after two in the morning, and a light drizzle was falling, the windshield wipers making a smeary mess of the glass…

“There it is,” Callahan said. “Right…turn here. Then maybe a third of a mile. Spyglass Lane, turn left, go up about a hundred yards and stop.”

After they stopped on Spyglass, Bullitt turned to Callahan: “What now?”

“The house is at the end of the cul-de-sac, there’s a hill covered with scrub and pines beyond…”

“You’ve been here before?”

Callahan shook his head.

“Then how the hell do you know all this, Harry?”

And once again Callahan simply said “Don’t ask, Frank.”

Bullitt looked down, now shaking his head. “So, how do we get up above this house…carrying a sniper rifle through a residential neighborhood?”

“There’re only a couple of houses up here, a few hundred yards apart.” Then he pointed ahead and a little to the right: “There’s a little trail up this hill, through the trees. I’ll be able to circle around the house…”

“Hey, I hate to remind you, but it was heads. It’s my shot, Harry; not yours.”

“Sorry, Frank. Not this one.”

Bullitt nodded. “You using a suppressor?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s the effective range with that thing on?”

“No more than fifty yards, seventy tops, with the wind at my back,” Callahan said as he opened the door and walked to the back of the car.

Bullitt took the keys from the ignition and walked back to open the trunk; Callahan grabbed the black nylon bag and swung it over his shoulder and without another word took off up the hill. Frank quietly closed the lid and looked the car’s doors, then followed Harry into the trees. A hundred yards on they came to a street and crossed it, and Harry continued to move quietly through the scrub, circling around to the back of a beige one story house.

The drizzle had picked up a little, so the hillside was a muddy mess and Frank noted they were leaving perfect footprints in the soil as he made it to Harry’s perch. Callahan was setting up his rifle, getting ready to lie down on a bed of pine needles…

“You’d better grab a branch, try to obscure our footprints.”

“Yeah,” Bullitt said. “I’m on it.”

When Frank returned to the same spot he couldn’t see Harry until he was almost right on top of him, and the rifle was not visible at all. 

“Why don’t you go back to the car?” Harry said.

“No thanks.”

“Suit yourself.”

A little after four in the morning a dog inside the house barked once and a light came on in what looked like might be a bedroom, and Callahan swung the rifle towards the nearest door. A moment later the door opened and a black dog came out to do his business, then a man stepped out onto the back porch.

And even from this distance, Bullitt could tell it was Crawford…

And a half second later the man’s head simply disappeared, then the lifeless body tumbled to the concrete. The dog went over and curled up next to the dead man while Callahan disassembled his rifle and put it in its case. Bullitt swept their footprints as they made it back to the car, and ten minutes after the man fell they were back on the road, heading south for San Francisco.

Harry wadded up his sweater, turning it into a pillow of sorts, and then he leaned against the foggy window and promptly fell asleep.

When he woke up he noticed the sun was up and that the car was parked in front of Cathy’s house at Sea Ranch, but Bullitt was gone. At least he’d cracked open a window before he split, Callahan thought.

He went down to the construction site and walked around what would soon be his new house, then he went inside. All the walls were up, the roof as well, but it was ‘bare studs’ inside. Many of the windows had been installed, probably to keep the sea breeze from inundating the electrical and plumbing materials with salt laden moisture.

He walked around, guessing which spaces might be a living room or a kitchen, and he thought it funny as he’d never seen Cathy’s plans; he’d simply told her that he trusted her to come up with something that fit into the surroundings, and added he wanted lots of overhanging terraces and only two bedrooms. Well, now he could see, in bare skeletal form, Cathy’s interpretation of his personality come to life…

“Uh, can I help you?”

Startled, Callahan turned and saw what had to be a construction foreman standing about twenty feet away – with a roll of blueprints in one hand and a tape measure in the other.

“You work here?” Harry asked.

“I do. Brett Newman. And you are?”

“Callahan.”

“Oh. This is your place, right?”

“Yup.”

“Well, take a look around, but watch your step. Any questions, I’ll be up on the roof.”

“Right.”

A few minutes passed then he could see Cathy stepping out her house, carry two cups of coffee and headed his way…so he walked over to what had to be the living room and waited for her.

“You went right to the heart of the house, Harry,” she said as she came up to him. “Why am I not surprised?”

“I have no idea what part of the house I’m in, but I love it already.”

Cathy smiled. “Thanks. Frank Lloyd Wright did a house down in Carmel, the Della Walker house, and I wanted to borrow some of the major design elements from that house. Glass, stone, and copper. Low, strong horizontal lines. You’re standing in the living room. Your bedroom is just over here, same view, but the view will be framed by that tree,” she said, pointing to a scruffy pine that leaned out over the cliffs. “There will be a stone walk down to the rocks, right above the surf.”

“I’m really stunned, Cathy. I had no idea…”

“Really? Why?”

“It’s magic. Like it was designed by God or something…”

She laughed at that. “Nope, just little old me.”

“You’re a genius.”

“Well, I brought you some coffee. Frank said you had a rough night, something about Threlkis and the Mark Hopkins.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you meet Brett?”

“I did. What’s he do here? Construction?”

“Actually, he’s from our firm. He comes out twice a week and goes over the materials and workmanship, makes sure everything is up to my specifications, and that all the work is up to code.”

“I bought a painting a few days ago, pretty shattering stuff, really. A portrait, but a portrait of madness.” He handed over the gallery’s business card before he continued. “If you get a chance, drop by and see if there’s a place for it here in the house, and maybe where it’d fit in.”

“Okay. Sounds intense.”

“It is. Well, maybe it’s more than intense. Maybe it sums up my career, maybe better than I’d like to admit…” ‘And maybe it sums up the women in my life,’ he thought, but he left that unsaid. “It’s big, too.”

“Alright,” Cathy said, now more than a little curious, “I’ll swing by tomorrow when I go into the city.”

“Thanks. Great coffee, by the way.”

“From Kenya. Very smooth.”

“My coffee comes from May’s Diner, and it ain’t – smooth…at all.”

She laughed.

“How long ’til I can move in?”

She shrugged. “Depends on the temperatures. If it stays warm enough to lay stone through October, maybe around Christmas. If not, we’re looking at April or May. Any rush?”

“No, not really. Curious more than anything else.”

She walked over to a corner spanned by mitered glass; the main view here was of the sea. “Your piano will go here, in this space. Would you rather face the sea, or be broadside to it?”

He came and stood by her side, looked around the space, then at the views from different spots. “Amazing how different each is. I think here, facing the sea.”

She nodded. “That’s the way I drew it, but I wanted to make sure.”

“See. I told you I trusted you.”

She looked down, and Harry could tell she was blushing.

“Harry? Why this?” she asked, spreading her arms wide to indicate this house. “I mean, why me?”

Callahan stuck his hands in his back pockets then stood up on his toes, flexing up and down. “You know, I’ve known you and Frank for years, and just being around you, a lot of what you know about design has rubbed off on me. I listen, I guess I’m trying to say. Anyway, I think I’ve grown to trust how you look at the world…”

“Me? A Jimmy Carter Democrat?”

“Yeah, Cathy. You. And I appreciate your political points of view, too. I listen, and I learn.”

“Maybe if we took time to listen to one another more there wouldn’t be so much trouble brewing.”

“Yeah,” Callahan sighed. “Maybe.”

“I never got to tell you, but I was devastated by Sara…what happened and all…”

Harry nodded. “I know. We all were.”

“I don’t know how you handle it, Harry.”

He looked away. “Habit,” he ended up saying. “Like breathing, I guess. It’s hard to stop.”

“This Threlkis stuff last night? Will there be more trouble?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah.”

“Well, stay safe. I’m going to go put on breakfast if you want to come over?”

“Sure. Thanks. Did they do a good job on the house?”

“Good as new,” she said, smiling, then she turned and walked back to her house.

He walked around for a while, then ambled down to the cliffs that looked out over the surf-line, and even with just a gentle breeze blowing in from the sea the noise was spectacular. ‘What will it be like in a storm?’ he wondered.

Because a big storm is coming. He could feel it in his bones.

Threlkis. Escobar. The vigilantes. 

After taking out Crawford…who would come at them first? And how hard would they come at the team?

He walked along the edge of the cliff, always looking down at the surf, until he came to Cathy’s house…

He looked in, saw Frank and Cathy hugging in the kitchen, then he saw Cathy’s sister come in and pour a cup of coffee, and the sight of her took his breath away. Blond, shoulder length hair, gorgeous eyes…

Then she turned and looked directly at him, and a second later Frank and Cathy waved at him, beckoning him to come inside and say hello to his future…

He waved back and smiled, but for the past several hours the only thing he could truly see was Crawford’s face in the PSG’s scope, then, with just the slightest pressure on one finger, how a life had been so casually snuffed out.

Had Frank been, in the end, right? Was Crawford’s death really so different? Was his death really cold blooded murder? No more, no less? 

“And what if it was?”

He started for the house, but then he stopped. Shivering inside, he turned and looked out to sea.

“Oh, God…what have I done…?”

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last 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 until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a 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? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though 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…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 34

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 34

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With three chocolate chip and banana pancakes onboard, not to mention two glasses of whole milk, Callahan felt like a beached whale as he and Bullitt walked out of the diner. Satisfied with Frank’s plan to wreck the Threlkis wedding reception, Harry now felt more upbeat about his return to the street – certainly more than he had felt at four this morning…

“So,” Frank said as they walked up to his Mustang, “you think you could come up to Sea Ranch this weekend. Cathy would appreciate it…”

“I don’t know, Frank. This feels a little bit like a blind date, ya know? And I’m not sure I’m ready for that shit yet…”

“Look, Harry, I understand…but Evelyn is seriously easy on the eyes and a real sweetheart…”

Callahan nodded and held up his hand, but he stepped back a little, too, distancing himself from both Frank and his own thoughts. “Frank, I don’t know how good your math is, but let me remind you that basically I’m three for three. That’s three serious relationships in my life, Frank, and three dead women. Maybe you ought to mention that to Cathy before she gets her hopes up…”

“I’m sorry, Harry. I’d never put two and two together before…”

“I do. Every night.”

Bullitt shook his head. “Maybe all of us should head out for choir practice, like maybe tonight?”

Harry smiled. “Sounds good to me, Frank. Really good.”

Leaving Bullitt, Callahan drove across town and made his way to a row of art galleries the Wharf, and he wondered what he might find waiting there. How did a gallery’s business card find its way to the floor under the passenger’s seat inside the victim’s car? Lots of conjecture, Callahan thought initially – until he stopped dead in his tracks in front of one gallery.

Looking through the glass he found himself mesmerized by a series of what looked like self-portraits, all of them painted in shades of black and blood, and inside each of the works on display he found an unnerving howl of sexually-charged anger. They were, he thought, the works of a victim of sexual assault, a heavily traumatized victim that had, from what he could tell, internalized her anger until it spilled out on canvas.

He looked at his notepad, confirmed these images were in fact at the gallery in question, so he went inside to find out more. When he opened the door a bell rang out in an unseen office, and sure enough a husky-voiced middle-aged women came out to greet him…and in an instant Callahan found the woman’s penetrating eyes more than a little unnerving.

“So,” the woman said as she walked up to him, “what do you think?”

“Excuse me?”

“I saw you looking at Jennifer’s self portraits. What do you think of them?”

“They’re startling…and that one stopped me in my tracks. It’s very unsettling.”

“It’s the eyes that get me,” the woman said. “I try to look at them, but after a moment I find I have to look away.”

“Jennifer, you say? Can you tell me about her?”

“We’re going to have an opening and showing here in two weeks, if you’d like to meet her.”

“No, no, I’m just curious where all this comes from. I’ve, frankly, never seen anything quite like these.”

“May I ask what kind of space you might have to display works such as these?”

“Well, I’m building a new place up at Sea Ranch. It’s right on the water, and I think the majority of the space will be stone and glass, with redwood accents…”

“So, the space will be relatively dark?”

Callahan seemed to think about that for a moment. “No sheetrock, no painted walls, so yes, I guess you could call it dark.”

“Come take a look at this one over here.”

Callahan followed the woman to a secluded alcove, and yes, this space was dark compared to the rest of the gallery…and on the wall was another painting by the same artist. This one was different, however. 

First of all, this one was huge, easily six feet tall and, he guessed, about five feet wide – but the image itself was savage, almost primordially so. The woman’s face was contorted in rage, but her eyes were a hollow black…black and predatory, like a shark’s. Even her mouth looked feral, the teeth almost sharpened to points, and when he leaned in close he could just make out little drops of what looked like coagulated red blood on her teeth and around her mouth. Not obvious, but readily apparent to anyone willing to be drawn into such a work of madness.

“What’s her story?”

“What do you mean?” the woman said.

“Where did all this anger come from?”

The woman shrugged. “You’d have to ask her. Do you like this one?”

“No, not really. The one in front, that really caught my attention.”

“It does do that. It hasn’t sold yet, if you’re seriously interested.”

Callahan walked back to the front of the gallery and looked at that first painting again. “What’s the price?”

“Fifteen.”

“Thousand?”

The woman nodded, grinning while she sized him up. “I can hold it for you with a deposit of one thousand, if that’ll help,” she sneered, her voice almost condescending now.

Callahan pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check for the full amount and handed it over to the woman, who suddenly seemed completely flustered. “I won’t need to pick this up for a few months,” Callahan said. “Is it a problem to keep it here?”

“No, not at all, uh,” she said, looking down at the check, “Mr. Callahan. I was going to ask if we could keep it through the main showing, but this will work out magnificently!”

“So, what’s the artist’s name?”

“Spencer. Jennifer Spencer, and I do believe she currently lives here in the city.”

Callahan nodded. “And when was the opening, this showing?”

“A week from this coming Friday.”

“And pardon me for asking, but what was your name?”

“Leah. Leah Franklin,” the woman said, holding out her right hand. “So nice to meet you, Mr. Callahan. Could I get you a receipt?”

“Yes, please, and just use the address on the check.”

The woman looked at the check again and did a double take. “Davos, Switzerland?”

“That’s correct.”

“You are a U.S. citizen, aren’t you? If not, I’ll have to fill out some additional paperwork.”

“No, I was born right here in the city,” he said, grinning boyishly.

“I see. Well, if you’ll just let me know when you’d like to pick it up, please, just call me.”

“I will, Leah,” Harry said as he made his way to the door. “And, thanks.”

He walked to his car and drove downtown, parked in the detectives lot and went upstairs to the computer center by the main dispatcher’s room. “I want to see what you can find on a Jennifer Spencer, female, white, probably in her thirties, maybe late twenties. Last known address here in the city,” he told one of the Public Safety Officers working in the center.

“You want to wait, or will you be upstairs?” the woman asked.

“How long will it take?”

“Maybe ten minutes. I’ll need your badge number and the incident report number.”

Callahan nodded as he handed over his note pad. “I’ll wait, but I need to hit the head.”

“Got it,” the PSO said as she turned and got to work.

As he was walking up to the bank of urinals he heard the bathroom door swing open and looked over to see Captain Lionel Briggs walk in, and – inwardly – he groaned. Briggs was a carbon copy of Captain McKay; a paper-pushing bureaucrat-cop who had a well deserved reputation for being a bigot as well as a total prude. What Callahan didn’t know, however, was that after McKay’s disappearance Briggs had been transferred to Internal Affairs.

“Callahan! Just the turd I wanted to see. Zip up and report to my office – on the double!”

Callahan stood at the urinal, pissing away a quart of milk and two cups of coffee, as his stomach knotted. After he finished up he washed his hands and then splashed some water on his face, then he dried his hands and returned to the PSO’s desk and picked up a hard copy of Spencer’s driver’s license information, as well as a brief CCH, or Complete Criminal History, which listed an assault on a peace officer and a white warrant application. This last application really didn’t surprise Callahan; a white warrant was, generally speaking, what an officer filled out to have a suspected mental patient committed to a psychiatric facility for a 72-hour period of observation, and he looked at the dates of offenses and found the application and the assault happened on the same day.

The net takeaway after his morning’s work? Spencer probably had extreme issues with authority figures, and little ability to control her emotions when confronted by an authority figure – especially by a male. He walked down to records and gave the clerk what little information he had and asked if he could get a copy of Spencer’s arrest report and, if at all possible, a copy of the white warrant application and any evaluations made during her confinement.

“Callahan!” he heard Briggs yelling, “I said now, and I meant now!”

“If it’s okay with you,” Harry said to the clerk, “I’ll pick these up later this afternoon.”

“Okay,” the girl said, winking once and grinning as Harry rolled his eyes.

“Coming, Captain,” Callahan said as he walked down the hall to Briggs.

“Follow me.”

And Callahan followed Briggs downstairs to Internal Affairs, where his stomach instantly knotted into a burning mass of acid-drenched anxiety, and from there to an office with Briggs’ name on the door…which Callahan found utterly confusing…

“Are you working IAD now, sir?”

Briggs turned around and pointed to a chair. “Have a seat, inspector.”

Callahan sat.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while, but – apparently – you’ve been on extended leave to some sort of U.S.–Israeli counter-terrorism task force.”

Callahan didn’t say a word.

“And, apparently, you’ve been involved in undercover operations around the Bay Area.”

Again, Callahan made no effort to speak.

“Look, Inspector,” Briggs snarled, highlighting the obvious disparity in rank between them, “it’s this department’s policy that all, and I mean all undercover operations will be reported to this office, and a monthly summary of operations will be submitted to me directly. Now, why haven’t I received any such paperwork from you?”

Callahan stood and took out his wallet, then he removed a business card and handed it over to Briggs. “Call this guy. He’ll let you know what you need to know.”

Briggs took the card and looked at it briefly, then did a double take and read it closely: there was a name and phone number for the deputy director of the National Security Agency listed, and Briggs gasped as the implications became instantly clear. He handed the card back and took a seat.

“Jee-zus H Christ, Callahan, just what the devil have you gotten yourself mixed up in?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not allowed to…”

“Oh, yeah, I get that. Can you at least tell me if you’re still attached to this operation?”

Callahan was instantly on-guard, and looked directly into Briggs’ eyes, saw a flicker of evasive nervousness that was all the confirmation he needed to know that Briggs had been turned, but all Callahan did was shake his head and walk out of the office.

Predictably, Briggs did not follow, and he could just imagine that Briggs was on the phone now, calling someone in his network to let them know: “Callahan is back, working inside the department again.”

Once clear of IAD he started to do the math…

If Stacy had flown to Mexico City and on to Colombia, and that had taken the better part of a day, he could expect her back in the city sometime tomorrow. If, on the other hand, the Escobar cartel wanted to farm out a hit to the Threlkis organization? Well, if that was the case he and Frank could expect a reaction any time now.

He sighed and took the elevator upstairs and went directly to CID; Bullitt was in Bennett’s old office sorting through stacks of long-neglected paperwork.

“Harry! What’s up…I didn’t expect you up here so soon…”

Callahan walked in and closed the door behind him, then sat across from Bullitt. “Briggs is in IAD now, and he just pumped me. He’s in the network, Frank. I could see it in his eyes.”

Bullitt handed over a note from one of Goodman’s assets in the city; the gist of the memo was that, yes, Briggs had been identified in several calls to a known vigilante handler.

“So, what do you think?” Frank asked quietly.

“How sure are you that this office is secure?”

Bullitt shook his head and stood, and Harry followed him out of the building and to the parking garage; they drove over to Nob Hill and parked under Coit Tower, then walked down to The Shadows, Frank and Cathy’s favorite restaurant, and they ducked inside.

“Dell and Carl will be coming at four, and I got word to Al to come ASAP,” Bullitt said after they were seated in a dark corner with a good view of the main entrance. “Can you get word to Rooney, put him on stand-by?”

“No problem,” Callahan said as he stood and went to a payphone outside the restrooms. When he got back to the table Bressler was sliding into a seat next to Frank, and he looked very agitated.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked.

“I was followed,” Bressler said, “most of the way here. I lost one tail by the marina, but…”

“But, if they were pros they had you covered by multiple units…”

“I parked down by the docks and when it looked clear I took a cab up to the tower. Didn’t see anyone, but…”

“But you never can tell,” Frank whispered. “Man, I’m sure glad we made it through Goodman’s little spy-school…”

“What about Dell and Carl?” Al asked. “Think they know how to spot a tail?”

Harry looked at Frank and they both shook their heads.

Frank dropped a twenty on the table and the three of them stood and went to the back door; Callahan stopped and called Rooney, confirmed the extraction point and left the phone dangling. They left and made their way up Nob Hill by circling their way between houses all the way to Coit Tower, occasionally doubling back on their route to check for a tail, and they reached the parking lot at the tower just as a Huey’s rotors began beating the air overhead.

Rooney didn’t even bother setting the skids down, but dozens of gawking tourists stood by, fascinated, as three men in sports-coats hopped into a green US Army helicopter and disappeared into the usual late-afternoon fog just now flooding through the Golden Gate…

__________________________________

Once airborne, Frank put on his headset and switched to Comms, then he dialed in the CID tactical frequency and sent a prearranged signal to Delgetti and Stanton: “Inspectors 66 and 78, head to the stables,”  which would, hopefully, send them to the Presidio.

Rooney climbed out of the fog and turned south, made for Goodman’s safe house above Palo Alto; Dell and Carl would wait at the fort until Rooney came for them, because Frank had already decided enough was enough. But, in a flash his mind turned to Sam Bennett, and then to his two surviving kids. Things were about to get ugly…and he wanted to keep collateral damage to a minimum.

First things first, he thought. Briggs. Who had he called? What was the size and strength of the network Briggs had activated with a single phone call…?

“Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“I think we’re going to have to take Briggs, get him to Goodman, see if we can find out what he knows.”

Callahan nodded. “What about Sam?”

“I was just thinking about that.”

“We need to get them out of harm’s way.”

“Agreed.”

As the Huey passed Menlo Park the fog dissipated, and a few minutes later they were at the safe house. Two Israeli agents were there, and all their communications equipment was set up on the third floor of the massive house, so Frank told them what he thought the team needed.

“We picked up Captain Bennett,” one of the agents said, “when we heard the stable message. He and his wife are on their way to the Presidio.”

“He’s got two kids…”

“Already picked up and on their way.”

“Do you have direct comms to Goodman?”

The agent nodded: “Follow me.”

Frank told the colonel about Briggs and what had happened following Callahan’s encounter in IAD, then he asked the big question: “What if we bag him? Do you think he’s worth interrogating?”

Frank heard Goodman chuckle over the encrypted circuit, then: “We have to cut off the head of the snake, Frank. However we can.”

“Do you think Briggs is the control nexus?”

“No,” Goodman replied.

“Are you telling me to bag him, or take him out?”

“I think we’re at the point where we have to go on the offensive, Frank. I think it’s time to take out as many bad apples as we can.”

“Why now?”

“Because every time we cut off a head it just grows right back. We need to send these clowns underground.”

“How many?”

“We have more than twenty identified right now.”

“Any idea how we might proceed?”

Frank heard Goodman sigh: “If you could get them to gather in one spot…”

Bullitt could just see the newspaper headlines: Twenty cops murdered… and wondered why Goodman would want to call that much attention to the team’s efforts.

“Alright,” Frank said, “we’ll work on it.”

Once he’d signed off he went to find Callahan…

“What if Goodman is using us?” Bullitt asked after he recounted the conversation with the colonel.

“Well, the question becomes ‘who is using who,’ doesn’t it? And only then, why?”

“We’re too low on the totem pole to get anywhere near an answer to either one of those questions,” Frank said as he looked down, “but all I really do know is we simply can’t take out twenty law enforcement officers without bringing down the wrath of God. And I can’t see how Israel might stand to benefit if we did.”

“I say we take Briggs, tonight if we can, and that we find out what we can, directly from him.”

Frank seemed dismayed at the idea: “Are you really prepared to torture someone we know, even if Briggs is in it up to his neck?”

Callahan shrugged.

“Yeah, I thought so. Tell you what, Harry…I know I couldn’t do it, and I’d be really concerned if you thought you could. It’s one thing to talk about torturing someone, but something else entirely to actually get your hands dirty doing something like that.”

“So, what do you want to do? We can’t just hole up here…”

“First thing I want to do is get Briggs. Where we go from there is anybody’s guess.”

Bressler walked in: “Helicopter is about five out.”

Bullitt nodded. “Al? You have anything on Briggs?”

Bressler shook his head. “Nothing concrete, just a few rumors.”

“Such as?”

“His wife. The word is she’s addicted to a prescription anti-anxiety drug, and Briggs has been writing scrips using a hot pad and a borrowed DEA number.”

“No fucking shit?” Frank said, really shocked by that information. 

“They’re just people, Frank,” Bressler said. “Cops fuck-up just like everyone else.”

“Do we know what pharmacy he uses?” Callahan said, interrupting Al…

…who only shook his head…

“Is there a working file on him, Al, maybe in Vice?” Frank asked…

…and Bressler nodded slowly before he spoke: “Yeah.”

“So, we go in and get it tonight, see what we can figure out from there, then I recommend we all go back in to work tomorrow and act just like nothing happened.”

Callahan nodded. “I’ve got a couple of good leads off that homicide out at the cliffs this morning.”

“Good. Just try to stay around the station as much as possible for the next few days. Let’s let everyone know where we are for now, try to draw them out, identify who we can.”

“Then what?” Bressler asked. “Take them out?”

“Not unless we have to…”

“Oh, we’ll have to,” Callahan sighed. “This is simply coming down to kill or be killed, Frank. I doubt those were Mormons following Al this afternoon.”

“Okay, Harry, but think about this, would you? If we kill even one of these vigilantes, what makes us any different than them?”

“That’s a Boy Scout’s question, Frank,” Harry said. “Are we standing up for the integrity of the system, trying to keep it from collapsing, or are we…?”

“And what do you think those guys would say, you know, if you asked them? Maybe that they’re just trying to keep the system from collapsing? That and – what do we call it? Immigrants, or blacks, or Jews…or whatever…are causing the imminent collapse of the country. And that only they represent the best hope of preventing that collapse…”

Callahan held up his hand and shook his head: “No Frank, I think they’re trying to tear the country apart from the inside, because they think the system isn’t worth saving. Their political needs, the needs of this moment, can’t be accommodated by our system of laws, of checks and balances. The system as it stands right now is their enemy, it’s standing in their way and, as far as they are concerned, it needs to be pushed aside, burned to the ground.”

Bullitt seemed taken aback by the idea, but then he rose to the challenge: “Okay, if all that’s true, what does killing them accomplish – except possibly starting an all out war, another civil war?”

Callahan sighed. “Oh, that’s coming Frank. Sooner or later it will all boil down to just that…because I think that’s exactly what they want. They can’t tear the system down on their own, so they’ll get us to help them by corrupting the system from within, getting the people to lose faith in the system, and then getting the people to actively work to burn it down.”

“Man, Harry, I had no idea you were such a fucking cynic.”

“It’s not cynicism, Frank. It’s opening your eyes to what’s going on all around us right now. It’s keeping in mind that history really does repeat itself, and that people really, really don’t take that idea seriously enough, if they do at all. And, you know, that’s why Hitler chose the same path, Frank. Why his shock troops infiltrated German law enforcement. Why his ‘brown-shirts’ infiltrated peace movements, and then sabotaged their demonstrations, making peaceful protestors look like willful destroyers of the republic, and then branding them as the anarchists. And the funny thing about it, Frank? He laid it all out in that little red book of his, that Mein Kampf thing he wrote when he was in jail. It was all right there, and the Germans ignored it. And do you know why they did that, Frank?”

Bullitt just shook his head.

“Because they wanted to. They hated their country enough to want to burn it all down, from the inside. And look around, Frank. Look at the freaks and hippies who want to burn it all down, then look at the guys in button down shirts and three piece suits, and listen to the anger in their voices.”

“So, what are you saying, Callahan? That there’s no hope, that there’s nothing we can do to stop all this from going down?”

“Politicians sell hope, Frank, every four years…just like clockwork.”

“Sounds like you’ve given up on things, Harry…”

“I don’t know anymore, Frank. There’s just too much hate. Everywhere you look it’s Us and Them. Battle lines being drawn, my side is better than your side. And who knows, maybe that’s just a part of the human condition, how we’re wired. Maybe ‘peace’ is really the opposite of the way people are put together…”

Bullitt continued to shake his head. “Man, I don’t know. If that’s true, then, well, there’s no hope, is there? No way out of this mess.”

Harry looked up when he heard a Huey in the distance, but then he heard another helicopter, and another…

“What is it?” Bullitt asked when he saw the look in Callahan’s eyes.

“We’ve got company coming.”

“Yeah, Rooney is coming up with…”

“At least three helicopters coming, maybe four…”

They looked at one another, then stood…

“Are the PSGs here?” Frank yelled.

But the Israelis were already coming for them, bounding down the hallway at a dead sprint…

“Rooney reports he’s taking fire from…” one of them said.

Machine gun fire tore through the house, then several small objects landed on the roof and everyone froze…

A moment later Harry was flying sideways through the imploding remains of the house, and then he was dimly aware of being picked up and hauled into what he thought was a bunker of some sort. He recognized Al through the smoke, realized Bressler had just saved his life – but then Al ran back into the smoke and was gone…

The Israeli’s came in carrying several Uzis and MP-5s, and a minute or so later Al returned, this time carry Frank over his shoulder. “Just like the PT course at the academy,” he said through his infectious grin, and as he set Bullitt down Harry could see little cuts all over Franks face and arms…

He stood, felt light-headed and reached out to steady himself, then he took an MP-5 from the pile on a table and racked a round into the chamber…

Then he heard men running overhead – followed by more machine gun fire – and then the pathetic return fire of snub-nose 38s.

“Fuck this,” Callahan snarled – as he made his way through the rubble for the wrecked staircase. With his back up against the wall he made his way towards the machine gun fire up the stairs until he saw three men – strangers all – firing at unseen targets.

He flipped the selector to full auto and the safety to off and raised the weapon to his eye and squeezed off three bursts – and saw three men go down.

“Frank? Are you there?” he heard Carl Stanton yell.

“Callahan here. Can you make it to the stairwell?” He heard running, then saw Carl at the top of the stairs. “You alone?”

“I know Dell went down upstairs, the Captain, too…?”

“Bennett?”

“Yeah. Pretty sure they’re dead,” Stanton said as he joined Harry. “What about Frank?”

“He’s down here. Okay, as far as I could tell. What’s going on out there?”

“Two choppers followed us, jumped us when we cleared the fog. Our pilot called for backup but they shot out the engine, we went down a few hundred yards up the hill from here.”

Now it was eerily quiet, except that sirens could be heard in the distance.

“What about Rooney? The pilot?”

“I don’t know.”

“Anyone else in the Huey?”

“Mrs. Bennett was with the kids,” Carl said, shaking his head and holding back tears.

“Okay, you go find Frank – and anyone else down there. I’m going to find out what’s going on outside,” Harry said as he ran up the stairs. He saw Delgetti slumped in a corner and ran over, felt for a pulse – and found one, strong and steady – so he laid him out on the floor before he ran outside.

It only took a second to see where the downed Huey was; a steady flow of black smoke was rising through the evergreens up the hill so he took off in that direction…

…and stopped when he came on Sam Bennett. He was sitting up and looked confused, but the skin on the left side of his face was badly burned and Harry could see blood under his shirt…

…so he took off for the helicopter.

And found Rooney standing by the downed bird, shaking his head.

“Harry? You have any idea how much paperwork it’s gonna take to cover this shit?”

Callahan looked over the scene; Elaine Bennett was sitting in the shade of a redwood with her kids – and all were just fine – while Rooney’s co-pilot was busy dousing the remains of a small engine fire with an extinguisher.

“Did you get any registration numbers on the other birds?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Rooney said as he pulled out a tiny spiral notepad. “Ready to copy?”

“Shoot.”

Harry wrote the numbers down but he instantly recognized one of them, the LongRanger he had piloted with Escobar in the rear seat – and he was amazed at how reckless these people were, and how lucky they’d been to catch on to the teams’ use of Army helicopters.

The wailing sirens stopped on the hill beneath the house so Harry started to make his way back – just as the sound of several approaching Army Hueys drowned out everything else. He watched them circle overhead, saw Rooney wave at an officer leaning out and surveying the scene, so he jogged back down to the house. He saw firemen and paramedics standing around and called out for the medics, told them there were casualties in the house…

“Who are you?” one of the firemen called out.

“Callahan. San Francisco PD Homicide.”

“We heard heavy gun fire. Is it safe?”

“Yeah. Come on up.” He heard footsteps behind and turned, saw Bullitt walking out of the house, his shirt a tattered mess of glass fragments and pooling blood.

“Harry? I think I’ve had about enough of this bullshit. It’s time. The gloves come off, and they come off right fucking now.”

Their eyes met, and Callahan nodded. 

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last 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 until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a 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? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though 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…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 33

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 33

____________________________________

“But I don’t want to go back!” Lloyd Callahan bellowed. “Not to Israel, not to fuckin’ Switzerland…not even across the goddam Golden Gate Bridge!”

“I understand, Dad, but that bullet was meant for you. Like – for the back of your head. Does that compute?”

“I don’t give a damn, Harry! I’ve got work to do – right here, right now – and I’m gonna do it.”

“I’ve already hired a painter to come out and finish the house…”

“Well, you can goddamn-well-un-hire his fuckin’ ass, too!” Lloyd screamed. “And right fuckin’ now!”

“Pack a bag, Dad. We’re leaving.”

The two Callahans were still out on the front porch, still locked in a classic stare-down, when Frank Bullitt pulled up out front, and after he got out of his old green Mustang he just stood there watching as two lions circled one another, working out their dominance hierarchy up there in the shade of the porch…and when he’d had enough he decided to walk up and get into the thick of things…

“Hey Lloyd,” Frank said as he started up the steps, “need any help today?”

Harry wheeled around, red-faced and boiling under the collar: “I’m tryin’ to get his stubborn ass out to the airport.”

“And quite successfully too, I think.”

“Now Frank, don’t you come up here and stick your nose…”

“Oh, Harry,” Bullitt said matter-of-factly, “he’s goin’ to the airport alright, but we gotta talk first.” Frank looked from Harry to Lloyd, then back to Harry, his eyes magmatic. Then: “Harry, go get us something to drink.”

“Right.”

“Lloyd? Sit down.”

The elder Callahan took one look at the subterranean menace in Bullitt’s eyes and instantly decided that sitting suddenly made perfect sense, but now Frank paced back and forth, from one end of the porch to the other, apparently waiting for Harry’s return…

…and he appeared moments later, carry three Cokes over to the table by his father’s rocking chair…

“Sit down, Harry,” Frank added.

Harry sat, his ashen mood now almost pyroclastic.

“We got things to cover, Lloyd,” Frank began gently. “Too many. First off, Harry’s right. You were the target last night. Second question? Was it a Threlkis hit? I’m not so sure, at least right now. Two witnesses saw a middle-aged woman with a sniper rifle, and one of them picked Stacy Bennett from a photo-lineup this morning.”

“Shit,” Harry sighed.

Lloyd simply shook his head. “So, if it is Stacy…she knows just about anyplace Harry might take me.”

Bullitt nodded. “I called your office this morning. Y’all have a freighter headed out this afternoon. San Fran to Valparaiso to Cape Town to Niarobi and back. Five weeks. You need to pack up your stuff right now. Harry is going to run you out to SFO; you’ll get into my car out there and I’ll run you down to the wharf. You’ll be one less thing Harry and I have to worry about right now, okay?”

Lloyd looked down then slowly nodded his head. “Alright. You win.”

“Your ship leaves at 1630,” Bullitt said gently. “Need any help packing? Anything from the store?”

“No.” Lloyd stood, dejected, and left the porch, but the screen door slammed on his way inside.

“Damn,” Harry said, his voice suddenly beyond tired. “Stacy? Here already?”

Bullitt nodded. “Delgetti is running with this one; he already has a warrant registered on Interpol, and we have an image of her out at SFO last night, getting onto a plane bound for Mexico City.”

“That Interpol shit won’t matter.”

“Well, it’ll tell the Colombians that we know what they’re up to…”

“Is that a good thing?” Harry sighed. “Won’t she just go deeper underground?”

“Doubtful. They want to hurt us, but it feels like they want to do it slowly – so we have time to suffer…”

“Okay. But the best defense is a strong offense, right…?”

Bullitt shrugged. “Yup, I guess, but we can’t just sit around and wait for them to make the next move.”

“Hurt ‘em? Take out some of their product in the pipeline?”

“Bressler is working that angle now that he’s back at Vice…”

Harry shuddered. “Have you heard from Goodman?”

“They’re going over their phone intercepts, looking for signs of a new intermediary.”

“So…we…you and I…we take out whatever Goodman comes up with?”

“Maybe. But what if we back off? Get them to feel more comfortable, get them out of their hideouts a little at a time. Identify Stacy’s handlers, then let them lead us to her.”

“That’s not a strong offense, Frank.”

“The colonel thinks that’s the best way to…”

“And he’s been wrong the last two times, hasn’t he…?”

Bullitt looked down, lost in thought, then he looked directly at Callahan: “Well, what if he wasn’t wrong?”

“You mean, what if Goodman’s organization has been penetrated?”

“We’d be in a world of hurt, wouldn’t we?”

“Well,” Callahan sighed, “after Sara I began to think as much.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“I thought I was being paranoid.”

Bullitt smiled. “Yeah, but were you being paranoid enough?”

Callahan grinned too, but Frank could tell his friend was lost in thought.

“So,” Harry said, almost to himself, “what do we know? First, when did things start to go sour?”

“Well,” Frank muttered, “I’d say it all started after you took out those two over in Oakland.”

“And that was right after I ran into Escobar, on that helicopter flight moving product…”

“…so he’s taken all that’s happened since as a personal affront…like a loyalty challenge…”

“And so he decided to find a weak link and exploit it?” Callahan asked. “But why Stacy?” Callahan drifted for a moment, thinking…

“That friend of yours,” Bullitt said, “the doc from ‘Nam… What’s happened to him?”

“Came back here after she went to Davos. I guess he’s still up at…”

“We can’t afford to guess, Harry. We need to get our hands on him, fast.”

Lloyd came back out on the porch, carrying two small canvas duffels in one hand, his house keys in the other. 

“Ready to go, Dad?”

“No, but I gather that doesn’t really make a shitload of difference…”

“Anything I need to do while you’re gone, Mr Callahan?”

“No, Frank. Well, y’all just…well…just watch your backs, okay?”

“Will do,” Bullitt said. “Harry, drive up the Departures ramp, right up to the TWA sky-caps. Lloyd, get out and go inside and wait by the door; I’ll be a few minutes behind so get in my car as soon as I pull up to the curb.”

“Got it.”

Bullitt looked at his watch. “Harry, time to roll.”

“Okay, Frank. Seeya at the fort.”

“Yeah.”

The two Callahans drove out to SFO in silence, Lloyd still angry and Harry mad at himself for letting his dad get that way, until Harry turned into the airport and headed for the departures ramp.

“Well, son, this is it. You take care of yourself.”

“I will, Dad. Look, I know we don’t talk much about things, but I wanted to…”

“Don’t worry about it, Harry. We’ll talk it over when I get back.”

They looked at one another as Harry pulled up to the curbside baggage check-in area and stopped. His father held out his right hand and Harry took it.

“You’ve always been a good son, Harry. Both to your mother and to me. And I’m proud of you, in case I haven’t told you recently.”

“I love you, Dad.”

Lloyd nodded then hopped out of the car – and in an instant he disappeared into the milling crowd; Harry shook his head then drove off to get on the 101.

__________________________________

As planned, Bullitt met up with Harry at the Presidio; the old fort was one of the few places in the city where they could shake a tail, and where they could leave a car without fear of it being messed with.

“Rooney’s here,” Harry said as soon as Frank got out of his Mustang, “and he was able to locate Jim for me. He’s up at Travis right now, headed for San Antonio tomorrow.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“No, he was in surgery.”

“Well, we better get going. Traffic across the bridge will be a bitch.”

Callahan smiled: “Rooney’s waiting; he’ll run us up.”

Bullitt grinned at that. “Think I could sit up front today?”

Harry feigned surprise. “You ain’t ever growin’ up, are you?”

“Not if I can help it, Harry.”

__________________________________

“I noticed a real change in her the day before the blast,” Jim Parish said, speaking more to Frank than Harry. “She was tense, on edge.”

“Anything else?”

“I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help here, Frank. When Goodman got word they were going to try to take her out he set up that ruse…well, you know what happened. She had on a vest with a ceramic trauma plate covering her torso, but something’s bothered me about that night ever since it went down? I never saw a bullet impact…”

“What?” Frank said, surprised.

“Well, think about it. If they’d shot her, hit her in the vest, she’d have been knocked back by the impact, right? Well, when the blast took out Chip I looked in that direction for a split second, but when I looked back at her she was on the ground, and just like we’d planned she was holding her neck. I put on the gauze pad – that had been soaked in red dye – and tried to make he look dead…but I remember looking around for a bullet strike…”

“Where?” Harry asked.

“Well, first on her body, but she wasn’t behaving like she’d been hit anywhere…”

Bullitt snarled: “We missed the goddam most important thing. In all of the confusion, we missed the one bit of evidence that would have keyed-us in…”

“Exactly,” Parish sighed. “She knew when to fall…”

“When Chip triggered the bomb?” Harry said, crumbling. “That means she knew Chip…”

“Not necessarily Chip,” Parish added. “It could have been Frank, but she still could have stopped Chip from going up to the Porsche…”

“Man, that’s fucked up,” Harry sighed. “Bad enough to conspire to take out a cop, and a friend at that, but how fucked up do you have to be to sacrifice a nephew.”

“Escobar must have something on her…” Frank added.

“Or he had been using her for a while,” Parish said, thinking out loud. “She told me once that someone in the Boston field office had been investigating someone close to her, but when she told me that, I remembered thinking that that someone was really her…”

“What if that’s the agent she took out?” Frank said. “She’d have had to set him up big-time. Talk about pre-meditated…”

“That would make sense,” Harry replied. “Kill two birds with one stone.”

“Jim?” Frank began. “Any chance she’s been around here, that she might be scoping you out?”

Parish shook his head. “If she has I’ve missed it, and in case you missed it, this is a SAC base and it’s not exactly easy to sneak through the wire.”

“What about her mental collapse?” Harry asked. “Think she faked it?”

“No, I don’t. You can’t fake sudden spikes in blood pressure like that. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it, thinking about the guilt she would have been feeling. Mainly over Chip’s murder, how that death affected her brother, Sam. A real psychopath might be able to get away with that guilt-free, but my sense of her was that she isn’t now, or wasn’t then a psychopath.”

“Do you think money alone could be an inducement?” Harry asked.

“I wouldn’t have thought that possible,” Parish sighed, “with a senior FBI agent, but maybe I’m just being naive.”

“Naive?” Frank smirked. “Only if it was contagious, Jim.”

“Harry? What are you going to do to her?”

“Don’t ask.”

Parish nodded. “I kinda thought so.”

“So, you’re off to Texas?” Frank asked.

“Yeah. We’re developing a combined services teaching facility, and I want to be in on it at the beginning.”

“So, you’re staying in?” Harry asked, incredulous.

“Yup, and I know, Harry, but somewhere along the way the whole Duty, Honor, Country thing began to make real sense to me. Like maybe it’s the only thing left in the world that does. Anyway, I’m comfortable here. Where I’m headed…”

“Well, it’s a long way from the bar at the Caravelle, Jim.”

Parish nodded, seemed to accept the moment for what it really was: “I’m glad our paths crossed, Harry. I wouldn’t have gotten involved with the orphan airlift without An Linh, and, in a way, your coming into my life made all that happen. That was a real slice of life, maybe a once in a lifetime thing…”

Harry closed his eyes and shook his head, tried not to think about An Linh. “I hear you, Jim. Keep in touch, okay.”

“You know it.”

_________________________________

“So,” Frank said as the Huey lifted off from the pad at Travis, “you think he was telling the truth?”

“Jim? Hell, Frank, that guy doesn’t know how to lie, let alone…”

“Hey, just asking.”

“Well, the problem as I see it right now is we’re right back to square one. We’re stuck in the position of having to wait for Stacy to make the next move…”

“Unless, like you said, we can force the issue…”

“Okay, Frank, how? What are you thinking?”

“What if Sam got sick. You know, really sick? Think that might lure her in?”

Callahan shook his head. “No. She burned that bridge. In fact, I think she’s burned all her bridges.”

“Okay. Do you think we should go down to Colombia?”

“Why? Where we don’t know anyone, where we have no support, and where we don’t even know the language?”

Frank sighed. “Then yeah…I’m stuck.”

“We don’t have much choice, Frank. We get back to work, let her make the next move.”

“And what? When she takes the next shot we sit back and hope she misses?”

‘Mickey’ Rooney chimed-in at that point, over the intercom: “Why don’t you go after Escobar’s operations in the East Bay. If you become a big enough pain in his ass that ought to provoke a response.”

“Maybe,” Frank said. “Good idea.”

“What would happen,” Callahan added, “if the Threlkis mob really has linked-up with the Colombians?”

“If that happened,” Frank said, now thinking out loud more than anything else, “kicking that hornet’s nest might stir up some real trouble.”

“I hear one of his girls is getting married soon. We could fuck with his head, hit him where it hurts the most…”

“At a wedding?” Frank said, grinning again. “Come on, Harry, is nothing sacred?”

“Not with that scumbag, Frank. And I hate to change subjects, but what’s going on with you and Cathy?”

But Frank just shook his head, pointed at his headphones – and Harry nodded, looked out the window as Alcatraz slid by off their starboard side…

“Fog coming in the Gate,” Rooney said. “Gonna be close.”

Harry leaned forward and looked out the windshield; he could just barely see the Presidio as the afternoon flood carried cooler water into the bay, and he guessed they’d just make it back to the helipad – with perhaps only seconds to spare – before it, too, disappeared in the gloom.

________________________________

It was almost funny, Callahan thought, how fast Bullitt got into his car and drove off. No way would he stay and talk about Cathy, about the things tearing them apart. No fucking way. That guy held everything close, his feelings most of all.

He drove to his old apartment and found a parking place on the street about a block away, and he walked home in the same enveloping fog. He couldn’t even see across the street as he made his way to the entry, though he could tell someone new had taken up residence in Avi’s original hide under the fire escape.

It wasn’t just his imagination, he knew. The statistics were grim, and getting worse by the month: homelessness wasn’t quite pervasive yet, but the way the numbers kept increasing it wouldn’t be long before there was a real crisis in the city.

He put his key in the door and walked into the foyer, checked his mailbox to see if the post office had restarted service – they hadn’t – so he walked up to the third floor and went into his apartment.

And there, right in the middle of the floor, was a large manila envelope.

He walked over and picked it up, then went to his chair and sat. He flipped on a lamp and opened the envelope, took out several pages of information from Colonel Goodman, and a few more from Didi that included a small summary accounting of the money he’d spent on his brief journey across the South – which he found oddly depressing.

Goodman had nothing new to add. McKay had spilled all he knew and the Israelis were at odds trying to figure out what to do with him. There were rumors, nothing more substantial than rumors, that Stacy Bennett had been seen in Cartagena and Bogota. Which didn’t add up, Goodman added, because Escobar was based in Medellin. And none of that stuff mattered very much to Callahan because, he knew, he’d have been hard pressed to find Medellin on a map. About the only thing that mattered was she hadn’t been spotted in California…until yesterday.

He went to ‘fridge and opened the door – and instantly regretted the choice. The contents looked like some sort of evil experiment in bioterrorism, with glowing green orange juice the highlight. He looked under the kitchen sink and found some plastic trash bags and cleaned out the contents of the fridge and the small freezer, and these he carried these downstairs to dumpsters in the alley. He was still dressed in a windbreaker so he walked down towards the wharf in search of dinner. He was about to go inside his old stand-by, a Chinese place with excellent egg-foo-young, when he saw Bullitt’s Mustang drive-by…with a blond in the passenger’s seat…so he ducked into a shadow and watched Frank park down the street.

He watched as Bullitt ran around and opened the passenger door, peered through the fog trying to see if he recognized the woman, then in a huff he just shrugged it off and ducked inside his favorite little Chinese restaurant. Still, even after he finished his meal the idea that Bullitt might cheat on Cathy bothered him…yet, with all the stories of her horrid behavior in Israel – and the simple, irrefutable fact that they still weren’t married – left him feeling off balance…like a truth he’d long taken for granted had turned to dust right before his eyes.

He walked home, now in a kind of deep funk, and walked upstairs with his head hunched over. He went to his chair and slipped off his shoes, then he dozed for a while before he went to bed –

Then the telephone rang, its harsh metallic shards pushing aside the dream…

He picked up the phone: “Callahan.”

“Inspector Callahan, I have you on the duty roster…”

“That’s right. Go ahead.”

“Signal One out near the Cliff House, officers on scene.”

“Show me en route.”

He slammed the phone down and went to the living room, slipped on his shoes and then trudged over to the hall closet. He opened the little wall safe and took out his Smith and his badge, put on an old sport coat over his shoulder holster and grabbed his windbreaker, then made his way down to the street…all while trying to remember where he’d parked the goddam car.

And only then did he look at his watch: three-forty-five! He looked up, could just make out the moon above the fog and groaned. “Why am I still doing this?” he asked no one in particular.

He drove across town completely unfettered by early morning traffic and his mind lost inside an absolutely black hole, but as the Cliff House drew near he saw the red and blue lights atop several patrol cars pulsing in the black fog, bathing the scene in alternating washes of crimson and cobalt…

He parked by the patrol cars and walked through the parking lot to a covey of patrolmen huddled behind some sort of gray coupe…a Ford, maybe.

“Hey, Harry,” one of the patrolmen said as he approached, “haven’t seenya in a while. Whereya been?”

Callahan ignored the question as he stifled a deep yawn. “Whaddaya got.”

“One stiff. Took one to the forehead, and one down around the main vein. Pants down around his ankles, looks like plenty of saliva on the guy’s pecker, couldn’t tell if he’d popped his wad yet.”

“Swell…”

He walked over to the driver’s door and looked inside, saw the wound on the vic’s forehead and bent over to look more closely while he pulled a penlight from his coat pocket. Powder burns on the skin, some reddish gray – indicating the muzzle had been placed right against the skin.

“So…this was the second shot,” he sighed as he pulled on latex gloves before he moved any further along. Next, he felt the back of the skull – “clean…no exit wound…small caliber hollow-point, maybe a 38, probably a 32…”

He looked around the guy’s neck, saw some smeared lipstick and nodded unconsciously: “Uh-huh.” He pulled back before he took a deep breath, then he went to look at the lower wound.

Same thing. Powder burns on the flesh just above the guy’s dick, so the bullet went through the bladder on the way to the large intestine…which accounted for the absolutely disgusting smell…because when the guy passed he lost sphincter control and everything came rushing out…into the seat…

So, our suspect was female and she was giving the guy head. When she got to the short-strokes, and when he was thoroughly distracted, she pulled out her pistol and put one in his groin, then sat up and put another into the vic’s forehead.

Very professionally done, all in all. Forethought, set the trap and spring it, all without giving herself away.

He heard a crime scene van pull up, and probably the coroner’s wagon too.

Sure enough, the technicians and a photographer were waiting behind the victim’s car and he turned them loose after he told the photographer what he wanted. He watched as fingerprints were lifted from the passenger door and off the passenger’s seat belt, then one of the techs barked “Got something!” and he walked over to the passenger’s door.

“What is it?” Callahan asked.

“Business card,” the tech said, slipping the card into a transparent evidence baggie and handing it to Callahan. He noted the name and address of an art gallery near Ghirardelli Square and handed the card back to the tech, then he walked over to the trail that led down to the old baths and the Seal Rocks overlook.

Because he had suddenly wanted to get away from all this death more than anything in the world, and now he felt sick to his stomach…just like some rookie at his first homicide. He shook it off and walked around for a few minutes, then walked back to the crime scene, then over to his car. He got a fresh note pad and walked back to the scene, got the incident service number and the responding officer’s name and badge number before he walked back to his car…

And Bullitt was there, waiting.

“What have you got?”

“Pissed off woman. Double tapped her vic, first in the groin, second in the forehead.”

“No leads?”

“One. An art gallery. I’ll check it out later in the morning.”

“Sorry I ran out on you last night. Had to go out to the airport. We drove by your place, wanted to take you out to dinner…”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“Evelyn. My sister. She came in last night, going to stay out at the place with Cathy and I for a while. Going through a shitty divorce, really down in the dumps.”

Harry felt a palpable release when the words hit, then a passing wave of guilt. “So, what’s with Cathy? I heard some unusual stuff…”

“Yeah, she’s been a little unhinged lately. Look, whatever you say, never, and I mean never, ever, say the word menopause around her, alright?”

Harry chuckled at the thought, then shook his head. “So, you guys are okay?”

“Yeah. See, the thing is, she says I’ve got commitment issues, and well, the thing is, well, I think she’s right.”

“Uh-huh. And what does that mean?”

“Well, see, the thing about it is, well, I think it’s time we got married.”

“Frank? You feeling alright? You look a little green…”

“I feel a little green.”

“You had breakfast yet?”

“No. You?”

Callahan sighed, tried to put his newfound anguish away. “I feel like I got about two hours of sleep,” he said, yawning again. “Maybe some coffee…”

“I need some fuckin’ pancakes or something. The Diner sound okay to you?”

“Lead on, sire, and I shall follow.”

When they were finally sitting at a corner table and breakfast was ordered, Frank leaned in close. 

“The Threlkis reception is going to be at The Top of the Mark…”

“No shit?”

“Yeah. You sure you want to go through with this?”

Callahan leaned back in the booth, then grinned. “Yeah…”

“Good. Because I have a plan…”

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last 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 until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a 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? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though 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…]

Saturday in the Park

(The final chapters of the 88th key are in the works, but as mentioned previously, here’s a short, short story that came to me during a restless night. I attribute this to too much hot sauce and not nearly enough guacamole, but high-ho, that’s the way things go from time to time.)

Saturday in the Park

Friday morning

“I talked to your mom last night,” she said to her husband as he stepped out of the shower, “and she mentioned tomorrow is your father’s birthday. Do you want to call him?”

“No.”

“You know, it’s none of my business, but…”

“That’s right, Abby. It’s none of your business, so drop it.”

“Does he even know about Micah?”

“I have no idea. And I don’t care.”

“Perry? He’s your dad…”

Her husband shrugged as he began toweling himself. “I don’t give a shit.”

“You mom thinks it would be a good idea.”

“They’ve been divorced for something like fifty years. Do you honestly think she knows what the hell she’s talking about?”

“Perry? I’ve never even met him, and your mom either can’t or won’t tell me anything about him. And he’s Micah’s grandfather, for God’s sake. Don’t you think your son has a right to at least meet him, to know he simply exists…!”

“Abby? Drop it, okay?”

She shook her head. “He won’t be around forever, Perry. Maybe one day you’ll want to reconcile…”

“No, I won’t.”

“Would you mind if I call him?”

She saw the expression on her husband’s face in the foggy bathroom mirror and quickly walked from their bathroom to finish getting dressed; when he came out a few minutes later his face was still beet-red, and she could almost feel his clinched jaw as it worked overtime.

“I’ve got two surgeries this morning, and rounds after lunch. I’m meeting Jack at the country club at three, and I want to squeeze in at least nine holes…”

“Don’t forget…we’re supposed to meet the Andersons at seven.”

“Yeah. I talked to Dennis yesterday. We’re going to meet them at the club after Jack and I finish up. We’ll go from there.”

“I thought you were going to play tomorrow?”

“I am, but that’s more like a business meeting. Jack and I need to talk to some potential investors about the new clinic.”

“What’s your tee-time?”

“A little before noon, so we should finish up by five or so. Why don’t you meet me in the Nineteenth Hole around six?”

“If I can get a sitter…”

She watched him slip into his sage green scrubs and Adidas sneakers, not really knowing what to think about him anymore. He had become a total money-making machine – yet somewhere along the way he’d simply lost his sense of humanity…but this thing with his father was too much.

She walked with him out to the kitchen and pulled his plate from the ‘fridge. Three ounces of smoked salmon and half an avocado, seven days a week. Slam down two glasses of Evian – at room temperature, no less – and grab a bottle to-go for the drive to the hospital. 

He sat and quickly dispatched his breakfast, then without a word walked from the kitchen to the garage.

She watched his little black Mercedes back down the driveway and out into the street, and she looked at her wristwatch as the roadster bolted down the street towards the gatehouse. 

‘Five-fifteen on the nose, like clockwork,’ she said to herself.

She walked over to Micah’s room and peered into the darkness, heard his quiet breathing and almost smiled, then she made her way back to the kitchen to put on her coffee. 

She went out to the backyard with her coffee and sat by the pool, waiting for the sunrise – and for her favorite time of day.

‘It’s not just Perry,’ she told herself for the umpteenth time. ‘It’s this life. The pointlessness of it all. But what about Micah? What’s all this secrecy and deceit going to do to him?’

On the rare occasion Perry made it home in the evening, he locked himself away in his study and in a heartbeat was online. Usually ordering sweaters. Bright, gaudy sweaters, or talking with his partners at the clinic about this or that new plan for expansion. Always making more money, and – usually – spending it on himself, yet if Micah dared ask to see his father in his study the boy felt like  he’d committed some sort of mortal transgression. And…did his father ever drop by to say goodnight to the boy?

That had stopped years ago, hadn’t it?

And in fourteen years Perry had never once bought Micah a birthday present, nor even a Christmas present. Not once. He always left that to her, or to his mother, and now she thought she could see how all this was going to end: Micah would end up feeling about his father exactly the way Perry felt about his own.

Blown apart, empty. A big hole where something important used to be.

Or, in a word, dysfunctional. 

So – she wanted to know – who was Perry’s father? Her son’s grandfather? She had a right to know, didn’t she? And she had an obligation to secure that knowledge for her son. He was old enough to understand and appreciate what a grandfather might mean at this stage of his life and, who knows, maybe this stranger might appreciate the chance to know his grandson.

Stranger things happened, after all?

______________________________

Saturday, in the park

She drove through Golden Gate Park on JFK, the car’s top down and with a mild November sun beating down on their shoulders and arms. She and Micah were looking for the turn-off to the old boathouse on the west side of Spreckels Lake.

“There it is,” Micah said – with not a trace of excitement in his voice.

“There are supposed to be some parking places on the street, and a few benches by a little beach. He said he’d meet us there.”

Micah peered ahead, always studiously observant, always oriented to his surroundings whenever he ventured outside.

“I see some benches,” he said a moment later. “Vacant, too.”

“Does this look like a good place to park?” she asked, and he shrugged as she slipped into one of the many open spaces. She flipped a switch and the BMWs clamshell top extracted itself from the boot and whirred into place, then she got out of the coupe and grabbed the picnic basket she’d prepared. “Would you grab the blanket, honey?”

“Sure.”

They walked over to the bench he’d said he would meet them at, and she looked at her Rolex. “We’re ten minutes early,” she said to Micah – as if to reassure him – but he had already walked ahead and stopped at the water’s edge.

When she got to him he was standing there – hands in his pockets – face cast down, looking at shadows and reflections on the surface.

“Want some tea?” she asked.

He shrugged. “No thanks.”

“Interesting place. I didn’t even know anything like this was still in the park.”

Nothing. Not even the glimmer of a response.

“Are those geese?” she asked. “Too big to be ducks, right?”

“I think so.”

“Would you help me spread the blanket?”

“Sure.”

She looked at the blanket and felt guilty about putting something so beautiful on the ground, but, after all, the Polo site had described it was a picnic blanket. She spread it out and Micah put the picnic basket on the windward edge to anchor it in place, then she sat and took a deep breath.

“Hard to imagine we’re in the center of the city,” she sighed.

“What kind of car does he have?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, here comes a Q-tip.”

“A what?”

“An old guy with white hair.”

She laughed at that. “Where’d you learn that one?”

He shrugged, but at least he had smiled a little – though his eyes never left the approaching car.

It was, she saw, and ancient Porsche. A 911 Targa, and though she was no expert she guessed it was a late-60s model, kind of a tangerine color with black seats, and she just knew that would be the kind of car he’d drive.

And then the driver pulled in behind her car – and looked their way.

And then the old man waved.

Seeing that, Micah stood and walked over to the Porsche, watching and waiting as the old man opened the door and slowly unfolded himself. 

And by the time the old man was standing Micah was right there by his side, and after a word or two she couldn’t make out she gasped when her son hugged the old man.

And when he returned the hug she smiled too, then she stood and watched them as they walked to her.

“You must be Abby?” the old man said as he reached out with his right hand. “I’m David.”

She took his hand in her’s, felt the galvanic reaction of his cool, dry skin on her own. “And I see you’ve met Micah,” she added – a little unnecessarily. “Could I get you some tea, or a sandwich?”

He looked at the blanket, then at the nearby bench and sighed before he lowered himself gently to the ground. “Hot tea if you have it.”

“I do. I brought pastrami sandwiches, if that’s alright?”

“Perfect.”

“Micah,” she started, “may I have the thermos and a cup.”

“Could I have some too?” her son added.

“Three cups it is,” she said as she poured and passed the brew…and the three of them sat in silence and took a few sips.

“So, happy birthday, David!” she resumed. “What number is it?”

“Seventy-eight, I think, but a few years ago I decided I’d rather not keep counting.”

“You think?” Micah snorted. 

“Well, I have to check my driver’s license from time to time, just to remind myself.”

Everyone laughed at that.

“And how old are you now, Micah?”

“I’ll be fifteen in January.”

“Ah. The best years are just ahead.”

“Yeah? They feel pretty crummy from here,” Micah sighed.

“Yup. You can count on that.”

“So,” Micah added, “what made fifteen special for you?”

David leaned back and looked at the sky, and for a moment she felt like he was communing with something up there.

“Fifteen,” the old man began, “was a big one, Micah. About eight in the morning on my fifteenth birthday my dad took me out to the airport and I flew alone for the first time.”

“What? Like on an airliner?”

He chuckled. “No, no, I soloed that morning.”

“Soloed?”

David seemed puzzled at that, then he looked from Micah to Abby. “I hate to ask this, but what exactly do you know about me?”

“Nada,” Micah said. “As in zip-a-dee-doo-dah.”

And she nodded in affirmation. “There’s been a kind of embargo in our house, David. Perry won’t talk about you, and neither will Denise. I hate to say it, but I have no idea who you are or what you’ve done.”

“And the same applies to you, I assume?” David said to Micah.

“Yes sir.”

And those two words hit Abby hardest of all. She’d never heard Micah voluntarily address anyone as ‘sir’ in all his life. 

“I see. Embargo, you say?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so, David.”

“Well, I guess I’m not all that surprised,” the old man said, shaking his head pensively. “Lot of burning bridges back that way.”

“So,” Micah said, now almost agitated, “your fifteenth birthday?”

And David turned to face this ‘grandson’: “That’s the day I became a pilot. The first time I piloted an airplane on my own.”

“You mean, by yourself?” Micah scoffed. “Flying an airplane, by yourself? And you were fifteen? Bullshit.”

“Micah!” Abby blurted. “Watch yourself, young man!”

But David was fishing around in his back pocket, and a moment later he pulled out his wallet and then produced a few pieces of paper. “Come here, Micah.”

And the boy sidled over to the old man.

“I still carry this around with me, but heaven only knows why,” he said as he unfolded an ancient piece of paper. “See the date and time?”

“Yessir?”

“The signature by those figures was my flight instructors. Next is the aircraft type, a Cessna 150 in this case.”

“What’s this one?”

“That’s my current rating.”

“Can I see?”

He handed the papers over and watched the boy read.

“Airline Transport and Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument? What’s that mean?”

“It means I was an airline pilot, Micah. And that I taught a bunch of airline pilots how to fly.”

She could see her boy’s hands were trembling a little now, but she was more interested in how David would handle this situation. She wouldn’t have blamed him if he got up and left, but he seemed more confident than that – almost too confident.

“No shit?”

“Yeah, kid. No shit.”

And Micah recoiled a little on hearing ‘kid’ – but then she saw his reaction soften. “So, you were an airline pilot?”

“Yup.”

“Which one?”

“Which one what?”

“What airline?”

“TWA.”

“Never heard of it.”

And David laughed at that, gently but knowingly. “Ain’t it the truth,” he sighed.

“Micah,” Abby said, “TWA was one of the biggest airlines in the world.”

“And it just disappeared?” the boy said, not quite believing what he was hearing. 

“It became a part of American, probably before you were born.”

“Oh. What kind of plane did you fly?”

“Me? Oh, I started in 707s, then in the 70s I moved over to 747s.”

“Whoa! You flew those things?”

David reached out and flipped over his main license, pointed to a list of aircraft types he’d held current type ratings for when he’d retired. “703 was the 707-320c; 742 was the 747-200, and 743 was the 300 version.”

“What’s this one? AFONE?”

“Air Force One.”

“The president’s plane? You flew that one too?”

“Well, not really, but our flight academy trained all first time Air Force One pilots, and for a while I trained those guys. In order to do that I was checked out in the aircraft.”

“Whoa, that’s pretty rad.”

“Yeah, I guess it was.”

“So, you’re a teacher? Could you, like, teach me?”

He stifled a laugh – because it felt like he’d just recognized something important. “Well, I’m a little old for that now, Micah.”

“Oh.” Crestfallen, almost a frown, yet she continued to study both their eyes.

“I didn’t know you were interested in flying,” Abby said.

Micah shrugged. “When I have study hall, I read flying magazines in the library.”

“Yeah,” David sighed, “been there, done that.”

Connection. Bond formed. She watched, amazed, because with his body language David seemed to have led the way to that little bit of hidden information. “Is he old enough to learn?” she asked.

“He will be in January, as long as a parent signs for him.”

“Why does my dad hate you?” Micah blurted, and David looked down into his cup of tea.

“Think I could get some more tea, Micah?”

“Sure,” her boy said, leaning over to take the cup. “Ready for a sandwich?”

“Pastrami, you said?”

“I did,” she replied as she opened the picnic basket. “Half, or a whole one?”

“Better make mine a half,” David said, then his eyes went wide when she pulled out the sandwiches. “Dear God…those are huge!”

“About a pound per sandwich,” she said, grinning madly. “They’re the best thing this side of New York City.”

“Assuming I don’t stroke out after the third bite,” he grumbled under his breath.

“Just rye bread and Russian dressing,” she said. “Want a pickle?” she added, pulling out an eight inch long thing that seemed to have the girth of an elephant’s snout.

“Let me guess…that’s the family sized pickle?”

Everyone laughed, but she looked at him expectantly as he bit into the sandwich.

“Like it?” she asked.

“Man, that’s better than the Carnegie Deli.”

“Where’s that?” Micah asked.

“New Jack City, man.”

“New Jack?”

“New York, kiddo. You got to remember this, too. Everything evil in the world can be found in New Jack City, starting with death bombs like this beast.”

“Dad won’t touch these things.”

“Can’t say I blame him, but he’s missing out, isn’t he?”

“Yup,” Micah said, and it was the first time she’d ever heard him use that word, too. 

“Goddamn! That’s a huge pickle!” David said after he took out a pocket knife and sliced off a chunk, then he plopped it in his mouth – and then his eyes crossed: “Garlic and…peppers?”

“Yup,” Micah said again, grinning now.

“Son of a bitch, that’s good!”

“You cuss a lot,” Micah said, grinning too. “Dad never does.”

“Now that surprises me,” David sighed. “I wouldn’t have expected that…not in a million years.”

“Oh?” Abby said.

“He always had a way with words when I was around,” David said, rolling his eyes.

“So, why does he hate you?”

David shrugged. “He did a few things when he was younger that, well, he did things he knew would hurt me, and they did. Then one night he went too far, but that was long after his mother and I divorced. Anyway, he went too far then I said a few things I probably shouldn’t have. Bottom line, Micah, is after Denise, uh, his mother and I got divorced, he started taking sides, and usually against me. That’s when things got out of hand, and everything kind of spiraled down the drain after that.”

“Like what?” Micah asked, and she saw David’s glance just then…

“Micah,” she said gently, “these are the types of questions we can’t ask, okay. We talked about this, remember?”

“I guess.”

“Listen Micah, and this is important,” David said quietly. “The problem with questions like this is you’ll only hear one side of the story. The answers won’t be what you need to get at the truth, so the problem is a simple one: if you really want to know, when you’re a little older you can come talk to me about these things, but do so only after you’ve talked to your dad. Get both sides…”

“But,” Abby blurted, “Perry won’t talk about you, and I think Micah needs to know what happened. And the truth of the matter is, David, that I think I need to know what this is all about, too.”

David shook his head. “I’m sorry, Abby…Micah…but when it comes to Perry I’d have a hard time not telling you some pretty rough things…”

“Rough?” Micah asked, clearly perplexed.

“Things that might be real hard to hear, Micah. And your dad wouldn’t be here to defend himself. That’s not fair, and it sure isn’t the right thing to do.”

Micah looked unconvinced.

“I’ll put it to you this way, okay? If people were talking about you behind your back, telling your friends about things that – maybe – you’d done, things that you wouldn’t want them to know, well then, you wouldn’t like that, would you?”

“I might not like it, but as long as people were listening to the truth I’m not sure it matters. Still, I get what you’re saying.”

“Okay, good enough. Now Abby, mind if I tackle the other half of that sandwich?”

She reached to pull out the other half just as her phone chimed at an incoming text message:

Perry: I’m home. Where are you?

Abby: What happened to your game?

Perry: Called off. Jack had an emergency on-call.

Abby: Sorry.

Perry: Where are you?

Abby: Out with Micah, eating pastrami.

Perry: Oh. When will you be home?

Abby: Not too much longer.

Perry: You didn’t tell me where you are???

Abby: In the park.

Perry: Golden Gate? Where?

Abby: Yes, Golden Gate.

Perry: By the boathouse?

Abby: Yes.

Perry: So, you’re with dad???

Abby: Yes.

She watched the phone for a while but there were no more messages. 

“Micah, ready for round two?” she asked.

“Was that Dad?” 

She nodded.

“Is he coming?” her son asked nervously.

And she shrugged. “He knows you’re here,” she said – to David – but to her son as well.

“So, he didn’t know the plan today?” David said, almost defeated by the lie.

“No,” she said, and her shoulders hunched inwardly now, almost protectively so.

“Are you afraid of him?” David asked, and he was startled by how quickly she nodded her head.

“Mom?” Micah said, his voice full of sudden, unexpected concern. “Why?”

But she just shook her head as she handed David the rest of his sandwich, then Micah’s second half – before she continued: “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lied to you about that.”

David took in a deep breath and held it, then shook it loose in a long sigh. “He’s always had a bad temper, so I guess I should have expected reluctance on your part.”

“Don’t make excuses for her, man!” the boy said. “That’s all she does, every day of my life. He’s not at my game because of this. He didn’t come to my recital because of that. And she’s always right there, covering for him…”

“Because I don’t know what else to do, Micah!” she said as she withered before their very eyes, before the dam broke and she lost it.

David watched her closely, and then all of a sudden he wasn’t buying it – and when he looked at Micah he could tell the kid wasn’t either. Like he’d been down this road one too many times before, and this act had worn a little too thin. 

She looked up and in an instant stopped.

And, still looking at Micah, he watched as the boy went to her and how he hugged her tight.

“It’s okay Mom. Really, everything will be okay.”

And all of a sudden he knew he was watching the same show all over again. The cast of characters had changed…a little…but this die had been cast a long time ago.

So, he wondered, how do you break the cycle? How do you fix what, really, can’t be fixed? Or do you just give up and walk away – again? Pretend you didn’t see what you’d just seen?

He drifted back to other days, to that other life. The life that came with Denise, then with Perry and all the chaos he’d thought he’d never have to deal with again. 

Until the phone rang last night, that is, interrupting his reveries and bringing all that forgotten life back into into the present. 

And now, here he was was, in the flash of another lie back in the middle of it all. Denise. Married for just a few months when he discovered she’d cheated on him. And how, when he found the hastily concealed evidence, she’d blamed him for everything. He was gone too much of the time, she said; never home when she needed him, and the first time had been easy enough because, of course, in her mind he was to blame. The second and third times were harder to justify, but by then she’d ratified everything in her own mind – and he’d begun to see the light.

Because there were patterns buried within her all her little deceits. As familiar as an averted gaze, or subterfuges concealed within misplaced words, repeated again and again until everything became clear…

Then out of the blue she was pregnant, and after that everything started to fall apart. The numbers didn’t add up, and yet, for Denise a sudden reexamination of her life’s recent choices brought him back into the picture.

She wanted the baby and began talking to him as if she wanted him around as a father, and really, that too made perfect sense. If she was going to have a baby that meant she needed his steady income, and, in the end, he realized that was really all that mattered. Like a chameleon, she turned into the loving wife he’d hoped she might be and once again he allowed himself to fall into her tender trap.

He wasn’t the first man to fall into those grasping claws, he told himself, and he surely wouldn’t be the last. Because we never learn.

But in the end, he understood that if she was going to have a child it was better for all concerned if the child grew up with both a father and a mother under one roof.

But, of course, none of that mattered. Denise was what she was, trying to undo all the broken dreams she carried around by fucking the next man, and the next, and the next. To him, the only real surprise was that she had really expected he would just sit there and take all her endless humiliations…

So when he was served with papers he wasn’t surprised. He was surprised when she alleged he had been an abusive husband, but then again in short order he learned that almost every divorce attorney sprinkled that allegation into the filings as a kind of ritual guarantee of success. Yet when he produced endless documentation of her almost ritual infidelities he was astonished at how quickly the allegations of abuse were taken off the table. 

Just sign over custody and all that will disappear.

“I’ll sign when the alimony figure gets reasonable.”

And in an instant the allegations resurfaced.

“It’s nothing personal,” his own lawyer told him. “Just one of the tools of the trade.”

And he had never been more glad he’d decided against law school.

When a figure acceptable to both parties was hammered out he was, in an instant, free of her and, as part of this hastily arrived at package deal, free of his son – except for one weekend a month.

And in a way he felt lucky. Not to be free of Denise, but to be free of a system that seemed contrived to inflict as much emotional damage as possible on the combatants. As if a terminal marriage wasn’t brutal enough…

But…the numbers just didn’t add up. They never had. And that still remained the first big lie, intact to this day. To this very day.

And so here he was, looking at this manipulatively sobbing woman and her manipulated son out here in the park, and she was deceiving her husband – not for attention, but for some kind of truth. She had no way of knowing her life was already broken beyond repair, and that her son would harbor feelings of guilt and despair that would shape rest of his life, perpetuating cycles upon cycles of an unwillingness to face even the most simple truth.

‘My marriage is a farce. It is a farce because I never really had any idea what love truly means. What commitment really means. What taking an oath before God requires – namely endless compromise in the name of this thing lawyers and judges have come to define as love – no matter the toll.’

He took a sip of tea then slowly stood and walked down to the water’s edge. He bent down, took a pebble and threw it as far out over the water as he could, then he turned his back to the ripples and walked away from their endless implications.

And he saw them again, still sitting on their thousand dollar blanket lost in the clutches of their despair, and all he could do was shake his head…

“Because nothing ever really added up, did it? Never.”

Fog started to form over by the bridge and he nodded. “Why not?”

Clouds formed and blotted out the sun. “You too? You want to get in on the fun?”

He heard a growling motor and squealing tires, saw the rakish Mercedes convertible turning off JFK, headed straight for his Porsche. “Yes, this is just perfect. I am Gary Cooper in High Noon. But…where is my Grace Kelly?”

Screeching brakes, a slamming door, he looks and sees the gun in the hand, the anger in those eyes.

“I told you!” screamed the little boy who grew up without that one crucial piece of information, “I told you and I told you! I want nothing to do with you, ever again…”

“Perry,” she screamed, “I called him. I told him you said it was okay…!”

And then, the not-so-little boy running for his father, his outstretched arms now capped by balled-fists, his hatred manifest, the circle now almost complete.

David tried to step between Perry and Micah as the gun came up.

“I made a mistake once,” David shouted. “I never told you the truth about something important.”

Was it too late? Too late for the words to reach him?

He felt his body as it was pushed aside, heard the muffled pistol as it fired into soft flesh at close range. He stumbled, caught himself and turned in time to see Micah falling to the ground, a spreading crimson stain on the back of his sweater – now just covered by his father’s hand.

_______________________________

Saturday evening

The police had long-since finished taking their photographs, making measurements for their diagrams that one day they would show to a jury. He gave a statement to an earnest-faced young cop who dutifully took down everything he said, and he looked on with a knot in his stomach as firemen helped load Micah’s body in the Coroner’s wagon.

Abby looked like a dried-out husk sitting on her blanket, their half-eaten sandwiches strewn across navy fields of prancing polo ponies, her tears cold and blown away, like grains of sand on a windswept dune.

A wrecker backed up to Perry’s Mercedes, and he shook his head before he walked over to one of the cops standing by the patrol car where Perry still sat.

“Mind if I ask him something?” he said to the nearest cop.

“No, go ahead.”

He walked over to the back right door, saw the window was about half-way down so he leaned close: “There’s something I need to tell you. I don’t know if you can hear me, but I need you to listen.”

“What is it, Dad?”

“Well, just that, Perry. I’m not your father.”

There eyes met. “What did you say?”

“I’m not your father. I’m sorry…”

The boy seemed to turn inward for a while, buried under the weight of so many lies, then he spoke one more time: “Did you know who he was?”

“No, I never knew their names. Any of them. I’m sorry.”

The boy struggled to nod but turned away, and just then a cop got behind the wheel and they drove off into the evening fog.

He turned and looked at Abby, still sitting on the blanket down on the sand, and he walked over to her. He knelt and took her hand, squeezed it gently until she blinked once, then again.

“It’s getting cold,” she whispered, and he nodded.

“Is there somewhere I can take you?”

“My parents. They live just outside of Boston.”

He nodded as he helped her stand, and he caught her when her knees gave way. She leaned into him for a moment, until she opened her eyes to the reality of her need.

“Could you take me to the house, please?”

“Sure.” He helped her to the little car and put her trembling body in the passenger’s seat, then he got behind the wheel and turned on the heat, closed the convertible top and latched it shut. “Where do you live?”

She told him and he turned into traffic and drove away.

And as he looked at the receding scene in the rearview mirror he couldn’t help but ask himself one more time, that all those things had never really added up. Not even once.

But why, now, did those things seem so far away, yet so very important?

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | as always, this short story is a work of fiction, and a continuation – of sorts – of an earlier story – but as always, thanks for reading.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 32

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Part IV

Chapter 32

____________________________________

Lloyd Callahan wasn’t quite frantic, yet, but it had been five months since he’d last seen his son, and that had been just after the premiere of Imogen’s concerto.

Harry had changed. Sara’s murder had done something he’d never expected would happen to his boy: Harry appeared to have simply given up. Like a party balloon that had slowly deflated, by the time Harry and the team made it back to Israel – after the brief stop in Davos – his son looked like a different human being.

He’d stopped eating and his eyes seemed to have sunken deep within their sockets, and around his eyes Lloyd had noted splotchy dark circles. When offered food Harry pushed it away, though from time to time he drank coffee…black coffee.

Then he’d done something Lloyd never expected: Harry had gone out to his mother’s crypt. He’d been followed, of course, but even his followers had little to report. Harry had reportedly sat in some modest shade and had talked – quietly – for an hour or so…to at least two people who remained invisible. When Colonel Goodman relayed that information, Lloyd felt sick to his stomach. 

Was Harry coming undone? Would the affliction that had plagued Imogen all her life now come for their son? Would Harry fall under the dark spell of that voice?

That Goodman girl wouldn’t let him to see his son, and he’d immediately resented her for that unwarranted bit of sanctimoniousness. And though he’d sat next to his boy at the premiere, Harry had sat there quietly, almost stoically, through the entire performance, the only emotion on display coming as the final crescendo approached. Lloyd had seen his son’s hands grip the armrests, could feel the tension rise in his boy’s quivering arms and legs, but then there had come un unexpected release, like the explosion Harry had been expecting didn’t come. And at first Harry had seemed confused, then relieved when the expected calamity didn’t materialize…

But then…nothing.

Harry had returned to the compound and disappeared into his room – what had once been his mother’s and Avi’s room – and the next morning he was gone.

And now, after one round trip to Hong Kong just completed, Lloyd was home for a scheduled rest-leave and not due to captain another sailing until early December. With almost a month on his hands, he had wanted to tackle some long overdue home maintenance – but had halfway been expecting his boy to come around to lend him a hand.

He was sitting on the covered front porch sipping his favorite Good Earth tea, watching homes come alive as his neighbors got home from work. Dogs were leashed and taken for walks, backyard grills lit-off and grilling burgers filled the air with their own uniquely familiar aroma, and, yes, he could hear a loud argument over mismanaged money already underway just across the street.

Life on the street was as boringly predictable now as it had been almost forty years ago, but even so he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about Harry’s girlfriend, June. He looked to the right, looked where their old house had been before some yuppies came in and built a multi-unit condo. In another world, another life, maybe she would be sitting out here with him, both of them waiting for Harry to get in from work. Or better still, Lloyd Callahan thought, Imogen would be in the kitchen…making dinner for the four of them.

Nothing had turned out the way he’d expected, he thought. Or wanted.

And now…all this bullshit with vigilantes and Columbian drug-lords, the police department in tatters and his son’s career up in the air.

It felt like the entire world was coming undone.

The Iranians taking the embassy almost four hundred days ago, all those people still hostages, Ronald Reagan looking like he might actually run that that peanut farmer out of the White House. The commies in Cuba lending a hand in Nicaragua, exporting their revolution to Central America, while the U.S. still seemed to be lost inside some kind of narcissistic coma after the Fall of Saigon.

Yeah…what had happened?

It wasn’t all that long ago, he thought as he sipped his tea, that Kennedy had challenged the nation to land men on the moon. And these crazy Americans had pulled it off, too. They’d fought a war in Southeast Asia and done it all at the same time, hadn’t they?

Then Oswald and the Grassy Knoll became a part of the lexicon, just before John, Paul, George and Ringo came along and She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah was all the rage.

Was that all a happenstance, he wondered? Could we have had the Beatles without Kennedy falling by the wayside? Would they have made sense to us without all that despair? Could everything that happened after – the free-speech thing over in Berkeley, all those wild groups up at the Fillmore giving birth to the next ‘real’ counter-culture – have happened without Kennedy’s murder? And all the murders that followed?

He looked down into his tea, swirled the cup and looked at the scattering leaves, wondering what might come next…

“Hey Dad.”

He looked up, saw what looked like just another long-haired freak standing on the steps to his house, but no…there was something in the eyes…

“Harry?”

“Yeah Dad, it’s me.”

He stood, almost stumbled to the floor but his son caught him; they stood staring at one another for a moment…then Lloyd Callahan grabbed his son and pulled him close, wrapped his arms around this cool echo of himself and held on tight.

_______________________________________

They walked down to the waterfront, down to their favorite clam-shack for a basket and a schooner of beer, and Harry talked to his father about where he’d been, and a few of the things he’d done. About the girl in New Orleans and a friend of his from ‘Nam out in West Texas. About his bus ride from there up through New Mexico, where things had gotten dicey…

“Dicey? What do you mean by dicey…?”

“Oh, the bus stopped in the town out in the middle of nowhere, Farmington…something like that. Time enough to go into this little diner for a burger. Some redneck started to beat up on his girl and she was like nine months pregnant. She went down hard and, well, so I intervened…”

“Which means what? You beat the ever-lovin’ crap out of the guy?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

“And…?”

“He was the mayor’s kid.”

“Hoo-boy. Have your badge with you?”

“No. I called Didi from their little jail.”

“Jail? No shit?”

“No charges filed. Turns out the kid’s father went and beat him up even worse.”

“What did Didi do?”

“Shit, I don’t know. About a half hour later they let me out and the mayor put me up in a hotel.”

“What happened to the girl?”

“Baby boy, healthy.”

“Uh-huh. What are you not telling me?”

“She wanted out. Out of that town, out of that relationship…”

“So you made that happen too, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What? Did you buy her a house?”

“Something like that?”

Lloyd shook his head. “Harry, man, I don’t know what’s eating you, but I’m not sure buying-up other people’s troubles and making them disappear is going to make all yours go away…”

“Yeah? Maybe not, but let me tell you something, Dad. If you’ve ever looked into someone’s eyes and seen despair, and I mean real despair, and you had the capability to snap your fingers and make it all go away, are you telling me you wouldn’t? Because the look in peoples eyes when you do that is something you wouldn’t believe…”

“I don’t know, son. Is it really your place?”

“Who’s place is it, Dad? I mean, really, and I hate to get all holy-roller on you, but didn’t someone say we should strive to be our brother’s keeper? Ya know, like once upon a time? To treat others as you’d treat yourself?”

“I know, but…”

“There aren’t any buts about it, Dad. No man is an island, right? We either look after one another or we don’t. Only thing I can tell, really, is that helping people when they’re down makes a difference. It changes things. Like a domino falling, maybe. You never know what the end results might be, but that doesn’t matter. If you see someone down on their luck and simply ignore them, think of it as a missed chance, or a missed opportunity to change the flow of all our falling dominoes.”

“Okay. So that’s what you’ve been up to?”

“I wasn’t up to anything, Dad, at least not anything I can make sense of yet, but all of a sudden I felt like I was drowning in history. My history. June, An Linh, then Stacy and Sara, all of it. I kept falling – back – into that stuff and as I was listening to mother’s composition I heard something different. Like a voice within the music telling me that it was time to, well, fall…forward? Does that make any sense?”

“Fall forward? I don’t know. Not really…”

“I know. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but it was there, in the music. As clear as any voice I’ve ever heard. Stop looking to the past. Move on to the future. And moving on, to me, meant finding a way to change the course of some of those falling dominoes.”

“Son? Don’t all dominoes, sooner or later, end up falling?” 

“Maybe so, Dad. But there’s something else going on here too, something I really don’t understand. And I’ve kept thinking about it, too… Take that girl in New Orleans. What drew her to me? Why did she follow me? Why didn’t I push her away, let her domino fall. Now, suppose she actually does become a physician, and suppose she ends up saving a bunch of lives? I mean, think about it, Dad. Is it all simple coincidence, or is their something else at work here…?”

“I don’t know, Harry. You’d have to go to seminary to find answers to questions like that…”

“Seminary? Oh no, Dad…you’re not going to put all this on God, are you?”

“What else?”

“Seems unfair. Everything we don’t understand gets dumped on Him. Kind of lazy.”

“Lazy?”

“Yeah, Dad. Like we really don’t take the time to look at things like this. The things that are hard to explain. We don’t even take the time to acknowledge them, let alone the why of it all.”

Lloyd looked at his son then shook his head. “You seem…different. What are you going to do now?”

“Get back to work.”

“At the department? Really?”

“Yeah, sure…why not? Got eight more years, ya know, ‘til I can draw retirement…”

They both laughed at the absurdity of that idea.

“What about you, Dad? What are you up to?”

“I’ve got four weeks off. Gonna get new shingles on the roof and paint on the gables.”

“Want some help?”

“I don’t know. You up to it?”

“Hey, Dad. I just put up three miles of barbed-wire fence in Alpine Texas. You got no idea what that means…”

“Fence is fence, Harry. What was so…”

“Rattlesnakes. I’ve never seen so many fucking snakes in my life…”

“I hate snakes,” Lloyd whispered.

“Who doesn’t?”

“Did you kill any?”

Harry looked away, and Lloyd could feel the change that came over his son in that seismic moment. 

“Only one more snake to kill, Dad.”

Lloyd nodded even as a chill ran down his spine. “So, you’re gonna go through with it?”

“She killed my wife, Dad. She made it personal.”

“Did you ever stop to think…”

“It doesn’t matter what she thought, Dad. She did what she did. Her choice. Now I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.”

Lloyd looked at his son and could only shake his head. “You know, Stacy was a little girl too, once upon a time. Maybe she just made a mistake, Harry. Maybe there was nobody around to keep her domino from falling.”

“Yeah. Ain’t life a bitch.”

____________________________________

“I’m glad the pitch is what it is!” Harry called down to his father. “Not sure I could handle it if this was any steeper.”

“We’re makin’ good progress, son. At this rate, we may finish by sundown.”

“What do you make it? Two more squares?”

“‘Bout that. Maybe a tad more.”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Why red?”

“What?”

“Why red shingles. Don’t you think that’s carrying the whole red thing a little too far?”

“They’re not red, Harry. The color is called Redwood Breeze.”

“Looks fuckin’ red to me, Dad.”

“I just couldn’t see doing gray again. She needs something new.”

“She?”

“This old house. She’s carried us through some times, ya know?”

“Reckon so.”

“Besides, after I’m gone you can change the color to whatever you want.”

“Dad? Would you stop with the ‘after I’m gone’ bullshit? It’s creepy.”

“Creepy?”

“Yeah, creepy.”

“I haven’t heard that one since you and Junie watched those horror movies…”

“Horror movies?”

“Oh, you know, like that Beast from 20,000 Fathoms thing. Crap like that.”

“That wasn’t crap, Dad. That was Art.”

“You say so.”

“Gonna need some more nails up here soon.”

“I’ll go get some. Why don’t you knock off for a minute? Go get us a couple of Cokes?”

“Will do.” Harry put his roofing hammer down and walked over to the ladder, then made his way down to the yard. Everything about this old place still felt like home, like a pair of old shoes…comfortable old shoes. He took a deep breath and turned to face the sun, held his arms out to soak up all the sun’s warmth, then he looked away, shook his head and went inside to the kitchen. 

It was the same refrigerator that had been in the same spot from when he was a spud, the same faucet at the sink, too…everything was the same, like his dad was afraid to change anything, afraid he might lose all his associations that had formed between Imogen and the things in this space.

He pulled a couple of glasses down and filled them with ice cubes, and he heard his dad sitting on the front porch as he poured the drinks. 

“Want anything to eat?” he called out.

“No, I’m good.”

He carried the drinks out, sat down beside his father as he passed over a glass.

“Feels good to do this together again, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. It almost feels like we’re connected to the earth through this place. When I think of home, this is it. I really used to like it when we put up the tree, had all those Christmas decorations and lights up.”

Lloyd nodded. “Took me a while to get used to all that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I grew up in Scotland, son. Christmastime in the 1930s wasn’t exactly like California in the 50s. If I got a new sweater for Christmas that represented a real financial burden for my parents. Things got different after the war, after the depression ended.”

Harry shook his head. “Hard to imagine.”

“People have gotten used to this life. Not sure they could go back to the way it was.”

“Maybe we won’t have to.”

“Things change, son. And if it’s predictable, it ain’t change. Remember that, okay?”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s okay. We’re gonna be alright.”

Lloyd took a deep breath, held it a second then let the air slip away. “Yeah, I hear you.”

“What did you think of Mom’s concerto?”

“Over my head. A couple of parts seemed unfinished, the ending most of all.”

“Yeah, I felt that too.”

“It felt like, to me, that the last few minutes of the thing were written by somebody else.”

“Yeah. Like somebody was trying to hide something,” Harry added.

Lloyd nodded. “Yeah. I was just going to say that.”

They both sat there for a moment, then Lloyd spoke again. “You think she was trying to tell us something?”

The thought hit Harry, and he leaned forward, took a sip of Coke from his glass. “Not sure, Dad. I thought it was more like that conductor had, maybe, changed something.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Again, I’m not sure, Dad, but something felt wrong.”

“Anyway you could check?”

“Well, I’d have to compare her original composition against what’s published, but the only person who was there was that Karajan fella, so he’s the only one who truly knows what she meant to say.”

“Who has the original?”

“I’m not sure. Technically, it belongs to me.”

“Who can you call to find out?”

“Didi.”

“Does that girl know everything?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“She’s cute, don’t you think?”

“I don’t want to think about her like that. I can’t. She’s holding things together for me right now.”

“Well, if you can ever get your head out of your butt take a good look at her. She’s cute as hell, son.”

“Why don’t you go after her, Dad?”

“No way. That goddamn psychiatrist squeezed the bejesus out of my nuts. I’m done with all that for a while.”

“What? No more Caverject?”

“Well now, I didn’t exactly say that…”

“Man, I don’t know how you do it…”

“Do what?”

“Give yourself a shot, in the willie…”

“You think about something else. Notably, about how good it’s gonna feel to pop your nut…”

“The doc? How was she?”

“Kinky as shit.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah. They do things differently in Switzerland.”

“Really? Not just tab A into slot B?”

“No way. She was a fuckin’ trip, son. Leather, whips, chains…”

“Whoa, Dad! Too much information!”

Both of them laughed, nervously, like fathers and sons often do.

“Anyway, I couldn’t handle her kind of medicine.”

“Jeez. I had no idea.”

“You know who’s weird? That Frank Bullitt character.”

“Frank? Really? How do you mean?”

“The whole time back at the compound, that woman never let up on him. Screaming at him all the time, and he just takes it.”

“He loves her, Dad.”

“Yeah? I’d sure like to know why, because I couldn’t live with anyone who went after me the way that woman went after him.”

“I must’ve missed something…”

“She was hitting on him, Harry, biting, you name it…”

“Maybe it’s menopause?”

“Yeah? Maybe. Anyway, I doubt those two will last much longer.”

“Too bad. I’ve always liked Cathy – kind of classy, ya know. Too bad.”

“Well, maybe they’ll get it together,” Lloyd added.

“You get those roofing nails?”

“Yeah, I put ‘em down by the ladder.”

“Oh well,” Harry moaned, “we better get back at it. We’re burnin’ daylight.”

“You gettin’ tired?”

“No. You?”

“I got a little bit left in me.”

“Well, let me buy the clams tonight, old man.”

“You ain’t exactly a spring chicken, ya know?”

Harry finished up the shingles, even running the ridge-line, then he went down and helped his dad get paintbrushes into thinner. After a quick shower, they met out front and were about to walk down to the waterfront when an old green Ford Mustang pulled up out front. Frank Bullitt jumped out of the car and ambled over.

“Lloyd,” Bullitt began, “good to see you again.”

“You too.”

“Harry? Long time no see. You get it all figured out?”

“Think so. What brings you out here?”

“Just thought I’d drop by. Y’all headed out?”

“Just down to the clam-shack. Wanna join us?”

“Sounds great. Wanna drive down?”

“Nah,” Lloyd said. “I need to work the kinks out. Legs’ll cramp up if I don’t.”

Bullitt nodded as they began the short walk down to the waterfront. “So, Harry. Where-ya been?”

“All over. New Orleans, Texas, New Mexico. Just looking around.”

“Oh? So…What are you going to do now?”

“What’s going on at the department?”

“Same ole same ole, but it doesn’t feel the same with Sam gone.”

“Nothin’ feels the same, Frank.”

“I know,” Bullitt sighed. “Anyway, Dell made lieutenant, so I just lost him.”

“When’s the next captains’ test?”

“December,” Bullitt replied, matter-of-factly.

“You going for it?”

“Yeah. Sam thinks I should.”

“I do too. It’s time. The division needs someone like you.”

“We could use you too, Harry.”

Callahan looked down, then nodded. “I kind of figured I’d put in my time, put in my twenty, anyway.”

Frank looked at Lloyd. “What are you going to do, sir?”

“I was eligible for retirement last year, Frank. I’m just not sure I’m ready to retire to my back yard yet.”

“Uh, Dad…we don’t have a back yard.”

“Goddammit, Harry, you know what I mean.”

Frank shook his head. “So, you going to keep at it a few more years?”

“Ya know, I’ve been wanting to go back to Scotland, visit relatives while I can still get around easily…”

“You’ve never mentioned that before, Dad…”

“And I’ve never told you I have hemorrhoids, either. So what?”

“I’d like to go with you, that’s all. That’s a part of me I know nothing about.”

“Are your folks still alive, Lloyd?” Frank asked.

“Goodness, no. They both passed during the war. I’ve got a sister in Glascow, though. I’d love to see her again.”

“I have an aunt? And I know nothing about her?”

“Aye, that you do, laddie,” Lloyd said…only now speaking in a thick brogue. “You’ll no doubt be awantin’ to meet her too, I reckon.”

“So, when are we goin’, Dad?”

“Well, she wants to come visit here. That may happen first.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway, I’m shipping out in a month. I’ll be gone through the new year, but we can talk about it when I get back.”

They arrived at the clam-shack and grabbed a table out on the wood deck overlooking the water; the tide was out and the briny shore was strong-smelling after a few hours in the sun. The last of the afternoon sun was slanting through houses and trees across the street, and a waitress clicked on patio heaters as the deck fell into shadow.

“Almost too cold for a beer,” Lloyd said.

“Never thought I’d hear you say that, Dad,” Harry said as their waitress walked up to the table.

“What’ll it be tonight, fellas?”

“I’m starting with an Irish coffee, Stella. The boys will be taking a pitcher of Anchor Steam, if I’m not mistaken. Then let’s have some fried clams. Any scallops tonight?”

“Yup, and fresh, too.”

“I’ll have a plate of broiled scallops then, Stella.”

“Me too,” Bullitt said.

“Better make it three,” Harry added.

“Slaw and fries?”

“Yup,” Lloyd said, just as Stella dropped her pencil. He bent to pick it up just before she did, and the sniper’s round slammed into her left shoulder before the sound hit the patio, spraying Frank and Harry with blood and bits of flying bone fragments. Everyone on the patio dove for cover…

…Everyone but Bullitt…

…who sprinted from the deck, his 45 drawn…

“You carrying, son?” Lloyd asked as he cradled Stella in his arms.

“Nope. I’ll get an ambulance headed this way…”

“You do that, boy,” Lloyd whispered, then he turned his attention to the wounded girl. “You hang on now, you hear? Help’s on the way, so you just hang on…”

He looked into her eyes, saw the stark terror lurking in her eyes, then came the fast, ragged breaths, the bloody foam from her mouth and nose…

“It’s alright now, lassie,” he whispered as he took the girl’s hands  in his own. “That warmth you’re feelin’? That’s God’s open arms cradlin’ you, cradlin’ you in his love. There’s nothin’ to be afraid of now, lassie. You’re going home now…”

She squeezed his hands once, tried to speak one more time – then she was gone.

Lloyd Callahan held her until the paramedics arrived, and when Harry found his father he was still sitting on the patio deck, his face awash in tears, his bloody hands shaking uncontrollably…

Frank had a patrolman drive them up to the house, and the two of them wrestled Lloyd into a hot shower before they got him into bed. Harry poured his old man a Scotch and made him drink a few sips, then he went out to the front porch.

Frank was waiting for him.

“Witnesses say it was a black Sedan de Ville, only plate information is the last three: 274.”

“It’s Threlkis,” Harry snarled.

“This isn’t over yet, Harry. Not by a long shot.”

“You got my paperwork ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I’ll be in first thing in the morning.”

“Could I make a suggestion?”

“Sure.”

“Get your dad outta here. Ireland might be far enough away, but I doubt it.”

Harry nodded, and after Bullitt left he went inside and called Didi…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last 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 until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a 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? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though 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…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 31

88th key cover image

(quick note: still in hospital though sitting up to write less burdensome, hopefully home later this week…)

Part IV

Chapter 31

____________________________________

Callahan came-to in a field of flowers, and he lay easily on a bed of tufted grass – watching bright puffy clouds drift by overhead on the cool breezes gently caressing his brow.

He heard music, familiar music, adrift on one passing current; he sat up at once, rubbing his eyes, looking for the music’s source…but he only grew more confused. Across one of the fields beyond the softest breeze he saw a house, and while he knew the music had to be coming from there, this place he now found himself in felt utterly unreal…like music didn’t belong here.

He stood, still confused, and he continued to feel that nothing about this place was real. First of all, the clouds overhead were white, true enough, but the color of the sky itself was pale yellow, and though the view was in a way calming, so too was it unsettling. And the clouds? He felt as if he could almost reach up and touch them. He looked down, saw the grass in the fields was pure white, the leafy trees surrounding the house the color of fresh cream…almost like an infrared photograph, he thought.

“What is this place?” Callahan whispered. “It’s not real, whatever it is.”

Yet even as he expressed skepticism the music on the breeze grew even more insistent.

Chords he’d never heard before took root inside the house across the field and blossomed into the sky, leaving traceries of gossamer cloud well beyond the moment their creation, weaving crystalline kaleidoscopes across the sky that seemed to coalesce around a certain feeling.

He stood and took a deep breath, feeling most-of-all that the air in this place was of shattering purity, and that sounds traveled with equal precision. He looked at these new, swirling clouds and felt the music, really felt emotive expressions within each new shimmer…

“How can this be?” he said to this surreal landscape.

“How could it possibly be otherwise?”

Callahan jumped at the sound of this new voice, yet in an instant he knew exactly who was speaking. 

He turned and saw the Old Man in the Cape standing by his side.

“What are you doing here?” Callahan whispered.

“I thought that, perhaps, you could use a hand this evening.”

“What do you mean? Why would I need your help?”

“First June, then An-Linh. Your mother, so suddenly? And now Sara? So much loss, so much pain. I really don’t know how you’ve endured all of it. Or…have you?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Have you endured? Any of it?”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not so sure,” the old man began, “that you’ve ever felt anything at all, not really. Maybe pain is just an abstract something you simply brush aside, like lint off your sleeve.”

“Maybe you should get the fuck away from me while you still can.”

And that made the old man laugh for a moment, yet then he produced his ornate cane and pointed to an emerging cloud. “Listen to it, Harry. I mean, really listen.”

Callahan looked at the old man for a moment, then did as he asked. 

And yes, there was something strange about the swirling chord. Standing here next to the old man the impression it left was fleeting – but hardly unambiguous.

“Loss,” Callahan whispered. “Like a dirge.”

The old man simply nodded as he flicked his cane, shifting to a minor key. “And now?”

Callahan’s head tilted and his eyes closed. “Something deeper than loss. Something beyond.”

The old man flicked his cane and a new stream of consciousness emerged within the music coming from the house.

“And now?”

Callahan tried in vain to feel the music within but the struggle left him desperate, winded. “I’m not sure,” was all he managed to say.

“Try not to think of a specific feeling, Harald. Think more of a time you felt this structure.”

“A time? What do you mean?”

“You do know that other senses evoke memory? Scent, for example, can revive a childhood memory?”

“Yes.”

“Well…that’s what I mean. Reach into the chord, Harald. Let the music carry you to the memory, to the moment of the memory’s creation in your mind.”

“The pines outside my window. The way they brushed the glass when a storm approached…”

“What else?”

“Mother. Downstairs, playing the piano.”

“And what was she playing? Can you feel it?”

“It was almost always the same thing. She seemed to be playing to the approaching storm, like she was…”

“What, Harald? What was she trying to do?”

“It was like she was waiting for the storm to tell her something.”

“What else?”

“Well, it was like she was summoning something from within…”

“From within…what, Harald? The storm?”

“I’m not sure.”

The old man bent low over his cane and with sudden fury he flung another chord into the sky, and this time, when the full impact of the music hit, Callahan doubled over in crushing pain.

“Stand up, Harald.”

“I can’t,” Callahan whispered. “What is that?” he added, grasping at the stars that filled his sight.

“What is – what?”

“So many stars…”

“Yes. Find the one calling to you now…”

“What?”

“Reach out, Harald. Reach out…”

He felt hands reaching up, reaching for something far, far away, then he felt other hands on his own, clasping and pulling, pulling him back into the light…

And when he opened his eyes he saw Colonel Goodman standing overhead, then Frank and Al by his side, helping him stand.

“Sara?” he asked. “Where is she?”

But all he could hear now was that last shattering chord, fading away slowly on a dying breeze, and beyond those last fleeting tendrils only the Old Man’s voice remained…

“Find the star calling to you, Harald. Find her voice, now…while there is still time.”

____________________________________

Didi Goodman was the first to reach Sara Callahan. She had seen the helicopter flying up the valley, flying far too low for a commercial transport, and training and instincts had kicked-in at that point. By the time she reached the clinic the helicopter was already departing the area, and when she ran inside only a few sleepy nurses were looking around, trying to figure out what had just happened…

But by then word was spreading fast: the big American girl had been seen running through the wards with a pistol raised by her face, and she hadn’t been acting unbalanced – not at all.

Yet not one nurse thought to look-in or check-on Sara, even as Stacy Bennett made her way to the rooftop heliport…

…so it was Didi Goodman who found Sara. She found the body contorted on a blood-soaked hospital bed, the explosive head wound a massive wreck of shattered bone and brain; the immediate conclusion Didi reached was presumptive, but accurate, in its finality. Though Didi found a thready pulse, she took Sara’s hand in her own, held her while she slipped away, held her until nurses and doctors arrived, then she called her contact in Tel Aviv and passed along all she knew.

___________________________________

In the aftermath, Callahan and the rest of the team had to admit that all their efforts had been compromised, and the conclusion reached was obvious: Stacy Bennett had been on the inside all along. Who had turned her, they wondered. Escobar? Someone in the Bureau? Even personnel within the San Francisco Police Department were considered, but in the end none of that mattered.

Captain Sam Bennett receded from view after this last betrayal, the verdict more than he could stand. Frank Bullitt returned to Israel to join Cathy, who seemed particularly wrung-out by the news of Sara’s murder, and when she demanded that Frank quit the department he didn’t argue. Al Bressler stuck close to Harry after the funeral in Davos, and rarely left his friend’s side afterwards. Captain Jerome McKay disappeared soon after word of Stacy Bennett’s betrayal reached the group, and though Goodman wouldn’t say exactly where to, everyone assumed McKay made the trip east on the Israeli Jetstar – to a professional interrogation facility.

And this last effort turned the tide. Dozens of Escobar’s deepest assets were uncovered and arrested, the Chalmers’ dealer network was similarly laid bare and dismantled. Escobar reportedly gave up his ambitions on the west coast, concentrating on his operations in Florida, Louisiana, and New York, and though it was now assumed Stacy Bennett had been Escobar’s asset from the beginning, she had completely disappeared from view. Neither the Mossad nor Interpol had the slightest bit of luck finding here, and within weeks all leads dried up.

_________________________________________

The team gathered at Avi’s house in the compound after the funeral, but Goodman didn’t bother with his usual debrief this time. The group was simply too disoriented now, too incapable of further introspection, too upset by Stacy Bennett’s betrayal. And most of all, too rattled by the changes they had noted in Harry’s behavior in Davos. 

On their way to Davos the team had gathered protectively around Callahan – not simply to console him but to keep the outside world away – yet despite all that by the time they reached Davos, Callahan was little more than a trembling wreck.

When he slept, which he did too frequently now, he talked incessantly to someone on the far side of his dreams. Violent spasms followed, like he was wrestling demons in the night. 

When he met Sara’s parents at the funeral home he was tearfully guilt-ridden and unnervingly apologetic. When Callahan saw Sara’s closed casket he fell to the floor, completely undone.

Didi Goodman, not surprisingly, moved in and assumed the role of protective Mother Superior at that point, taking Callahan to the house and virtually isolating him there. Only Al Bressler penetrated her sudden impenetrable veil, though Frank and Cathy tried to break-through – and more than once. Still, Didi asserted an unusually deep hold on Harry now, and Frank began to grow concerned.

After the funeral, the team, and Didi, returned to the compound, waiting for the premiere performance of Schwarzwald’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Harry Callahan left the compound only once during those two weeks, to visit the Rosenthal Crypt – to talk with his mother, he said.

_______________________________________________

And the premiere turned out to be quite an event.

Because Imogen was still regarded as a native daughter, it seemed half of Denmark turned out for her last piece. Because of Saul and Avi Rosenthal’s deep roots in Copenhagen, their memory, too, played a modest role in the huge Danish presence. Avi’s stature in the Labor Party assured a huge Israeli contingent, and the simple fact that Herbert von Karajan was conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Tel Aviv implied a sort of German apologia, which demanded an international presence of politicians and diplomats from Europe and the Americas.

The performance was startling.

The music seemed to carry the performers into deep emotional states, to possess the audience inside an almost otherworldly, trancelike state, and in the end all who came to the premiere agreed the concerto was one of the most significant works of the twentieth century. Deutsche Grammophon and TelArc had both recorded the performance and post-premiere sales were colossal; the Rosenthal Music Company of course had the publishing rights and sales were brisk. Symphony orchestras in San Francisco, New York, and Paris soon advertised their own performances.

And so, in the end, one Harry Francis Lloyd Callahan went from being a modestly wealthy young man to being positively filthy rich. 

So, of course, he disappeared completely from view.

___________________________________________________

For the first few months of this second act in the Life and Times of Harry Callahan, he turned up in New Orleans. He played piano in a bar that catered to people who had chosen to live on the other side of  life. He played Cole Porter songs for the most part, but Gershwin too from time to time. Men dressed like little girls nursed fruity five-o’clocktails while they watched Callahan play, while butched-up girls dressed like Bogart or Grant cruised the perimeters, looking for fresh meat hiding in the shadows.

There was a special kind of Hate for sale in the little bar just off Bourbon Street, too. Self-loathing cloaked behind veils of inward leaning pity, hiding in plain sight all the while, yet just beneath all those juxtaposed veneers a new currency emerged: patrons willing to sell their souls to whatever devil happened to be on hand. Anything to debase the moment, anyplace to explore the hidden depths of despair, yet no time for the moment.

Callahan watched new symphonies take shape around his piano night after night, and at one point he began to conjure new chords to paint the scenes around him. He began setting the scenes to music in the early morning, just after the bar closed, after he walked down to the Morning Call for thick chicory coffee and plates of powdered-sugar-covered beignets, where he put notes to paper for the first time in his life.

He’d rented a room off a splashy courtyard in Jackson Square, and most mornings, while he scribbled on his score, hookers came down for coffee before knocking off for the night. He was soon a part of their landscape and, without knowing the how or the why of such things, he wasn’t too surprised when a couple of girls started sitting next to him. One of the girls stopped by one night and started their first conversation:

“What are you writing? A book?” she asked that morning.

“Music,” Callahan sighed.

“What kind?”

He shrugged: “A symphony, I guess.”

“You mean, like with strings and all that stuff?”

“Yup, all that stuff.”

“You sure are writing a lot.”

Callahan nodded before he picked up another beignet, the slightest breath from his nostrils causing a blizzard of powdery-sugared chaos to drift across the pages on the table.

“You got to be careful with those things,” she said, grinning.

“Want one?” he asked as he picked up his cup of coffee.

“Sure.”

“Help yourself.” And he watched her as she ate. A farm girl, he guessed, mean father, rebellious spirit, run off from her home by a vindictive mother…he could see it all as he watched the girl. She wasn’t ugly – far from it – but she was damaged goods. Broken. A broken girl living a broken life.

“You live around here?” she asked.

“Renting a room,” Callahan said, pointing to the square, “over there.”

“Got anyone?”

“Anyone?”

“You married, someone like that?”

He looked away. “Not anymore.”

“Oh? Divorced?”

He looked up, looked at the ceiling fans turning lazily overhead. “No, not divorced.”

“Oh,” the girl said, “I’m sorry. Ya know, I was tellin’ my friend you look kinda sad. Like somethin’ real bad just happened to ya.”

He looked at her, but didn’t say a word.”

“Look, I didn’t mean to bother you…”

“You’re not bothering me.”

“Well,” she said, standing up abruptly, “thanks for the donut. Maybe, uh, I’ll see you around.”

Callahan nodded. “Yeah. Maybe.” He watched her go, not at all sure what he felt, not at all sure what Sara’s passing had done to him. Or…what it was doing to him…

He walked across the square to his room, passing a little fountain just outside his door, and he stopped now and looked down into the black water, watching his reflection as it morphed and rejoined over and over again.

He swallowed hard and blinked back a tear, walked to his door and opened it.

It was a glorified hotel room, nothing more, nothing less, but the quality of the decor was, maybe, just a little upscale for a hotel. He went to a cupboard and found a bottle of bourbon and poured two fingers, then loosened his tie and slipped out of his shoes. He sat on the sofa and looked through the thick plantation shutters as light came back to the city, and a few minutes later he was asleep…

…and back on the mountain in Davos, waiting for the Old Man in the Cape…

_______________________________________

The same girl was walking with her friends when she saw him walking on Bourbon Street the next night, and she followed him until he disappeared into one of those seedy underground places the real weirdos hung out in. She couldn’t decide what to do, either. Follow him, or just blow it off…this feeling she’d had all day.

The bar was in an obscure little alley off St Anne Street, between Bourbon and Royal, and the peeling front looked like it had been painted with old mustard. The entry was cleverly disguised as a ‘front porch’, the door suffused with the putrid glow of black lights mounted somewhere within the warped ceiling. There was only a small sign denoting the place, a large, rusted piece of flat iron that had had the word Dungeon cut into it with a welding torch.

“I don’t think this place is safe,” the girl’s friend said. 

“How do you know?”

“My parents told me. This place has a bad reputation.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know.”

Yes, the Dungeon had an unearned reputation, but mainly because all the local “pervs” came to the place. The social outcasts and the druggies with the ‘golden arms’ hung out in the shadows here, the latter dealing horse and hash in equal measure, while trannies and burnt-out socialites huddled by the bar and, as soon as Callahan arrived, the little tables clustered around the piano. The air seemed purple to the girl as she made her way in, and her nose wrinkled as scents ranging from patchouli and sandalwood, and the less noticeable shades of heroin melted in spoons, wafted by.

She went to the bar and ordered a Coke, then she settled-in and watched this bizarre parade of humanity roll by. The first thing she noticed was that life inside this haven had split into the times before and after this strange musician started playing, because as he approached the piano a gentle hush fell over the room; after he began playing she felt a sigh of relief roll around the room like a purple haze.

And she knew that first song, too. He played Cole Porter’s, surely the patron saint of decadent parties, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin,’ which must’ve made the heroin dealers smile. But now she watched him, watched the way he played, and she felt mesmerized as she watched the interplay of his music within the room. His eyes closed some of the time and never on the keyboard, he was a virtuoso, some kind of savant, the music drifting seamlessly between jazz classics for one set, then hitting such Beatles standards as Lady Madonna and Yellow Submarine. If a regular asked him to play something he did so with a nod and a smile, and the huge brandy snifter on top of the piano filled with dollar bills as the night went on.

Every now and then he took a break, went up to the bar and picked up a club soda with a slice of lime, and she hid from him the first time he did so, watched how people came up and thanked him. Then she picked up an errant thread of conversation; this guy had just showed up one night and started playing. No one paid him, no one knew his name. Business picked up, regulars started coming by almost every night instead of once a week or so, and the owners even asked the stranger if they could pay him. The rumor was, or so she heard, was that he’d declined. More interesting still, she heard his tips on the piano were split between the cocktail waitresses.

Which, for some reason, she didn’t find all that strange. Not for this guy, anyway.

Some time after midnight a glamorously attired platinum blond materialized, a semi-retired movie star now living in the quarter, accompanied by a few too-masculine hangers-on in her large retinue, and she moved through the bar like an ice-breaker, pushing aside the riff-raff on her way to a table by the stranger on the piano.

He looked up once and finished what he was playing, then got up and walked out of the bar.

She dashed out of the confusion and followed him, keeping to the shadows as he made his way to the Morning Call. He was early and the place was crowded with late-night revelers and that seemed to put him off, and she watched as he got his order ‘to-go’ before he walked across the street to the square, pushing aside a few seagulls and sitting on a vacant bench.

And she walked right up and sat beside him.

“That was quite a show,” she said as she smiled at the surprise in his eyes.

“What was?”

“The way you walked out on that Hollywood bitch.”

He grunted, then held up the paper-plate loaded with warm beignets.

She took one. 

“Thanks,” she said, not in the least surprised by his easy-going generosity.

“What are you doing tonight?” he asked.

“Watching you.”

“I see.”

“I heard someone say that you just showed up and started playing. No pay.”

“Yup.”

“So, why’d you walk out on her…?”

Callahan seemed startled by the question. “What? Walk out on who?”

“On Miss Hollywood.”

“Oh. I don’t know. Just the whole ‘look at me’ thing. They way she pushed her way in.”

“Okay. What are you running from?”

Callahan grimaced, then shrugged…but still he didn’t answer the question.

“It’s not fair if you get to choose which questions you’ll answer.”

“What makes you think I want to answer your questions.”

She bunched up her fist and gently placed it on his chest. “Because there’s a great big hole right there, and all I can see is pain inside.”

Callahan put his coffee down on the bench and started to leave…

“Please don’t go,” the girl said.

Callahan took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose, then he looked down and slowly shook his head. “What do you want?” he asked. “Money? If I give you some money will you go away?”

“I’m not after anything.”

“What about money? Can I pay you to…”

“No, sorry. That won’t work, either.”

He sat up and looked across the square to the Morning Call, saw that the late night crowd had thinned out a bit. “Well, I’m gonna go get my table. If you’re coming, come on.” He got up and walked across the street to the café, found his usual table and sat.

“You must be hungry,” she said as she sat beside him.

He spotted his waiter and held up two fingers, then turned to face her. “What’s your name?”

“Deni.”

“Let’s see. The other night I had you pegged for a farmer’s kid, mean daddy, and you ran away from home.”

She grinned as she shook her head. “Nope, not even close.”

“Okay. Tell me your story.”

“I will, if you’ll tell me yours.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty something. You?”

“Thirty something.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’ve been trying to figure that one out,” he said.

“Okay, where were you born?”

“San Francisco.”

“No way! I’ve always wanted to go there…”

“City of Broken Dreams, kid. Not for the faint of heart.”

“What’s your name?”

Callahan took a deep breath, let it slip out slowly. “Harry.”

“So, Harry the piano player. From San Francisco, no less.”

“No less.” His waiter arrived with two coffees and two plates of fresh beignets; he took one and his fingers reveled in the warmth.

“They sure are good when they’re hot,” Deni said, taking one and popping it into her mouth.

“What do you do around here, Deni?”

“I go to Tulane,” she began, but she stopped when she saw the look of disappointment on his face. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t handle liars very well.”

She deflated as his words bit. “Sorry. Can I try again?”

“No lies this time.”

“No lies.”

He nodded, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair.

“I’m from Houston, and…”

“And how old are you? Really?”

“Eighteen.”

“And you ran away from home?”

“My dad kicked me out.”

“Why? Drugs?”

She shook her head. “My step-mother. We didn’t get along.”

“So he kicked you out for that? Come on, tell me the truth?”

“You know what? You sound just like a cop.”

“That’s because I’m a cop.”

“What? For real?”

“For real.”

“So, I asked you before…what are you running from? Did you kill someone?”

“No – not yet, anyway.”

“You’re gonna kill someone? Who? A friend?”

“I used to think so, once upon a time.”

“What happened?”

But Callahan simply shook his head.

“Okay, why are you here, playing the piano night after night, and for free?”

“Why not?”

“That’s not an answer.”

“So, why are you here?”

“My best friend from school lives here. It was the only place I could think of to come to. I got accepted to Tulane, and I’m trying to find a way to get a scholarship or something.”

“You’re not a hooker…?”

ME? GOD no!” she cried. “Jesus…do I look like a – a fucking prostitute?”

“I don’t know what you look like.” But no, he thought, that wasn’t quite true. You remind me of my Looney Junes…the same legs, a little too much hair on the forearms, and almost the same eyes behind those thick glasses. But he could see now that she was genuinely upset. “So, tell me about Tulane,” he continued. “I heard its a tough school to get into.”

“It is.”

“What about scholarships? Hard to get?”

She nodded, looked away.”

“What do you want to study?”

“Pre-med. But I want to get into English literature, too.”

“What, like Milton and all that jazz?”

“Yup.”

“So, you wanna be a doc?”

“Yes. I think it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. Pediatrician.”

“And your dad just dumped you?”

“Yup.”

“What about your mother?”

And the girl turned away from the idea. “She’s engaged to Prince Valium, not really part of life anymore, ya know?”

“You said you’re staying with a friend? I don’t get it…you’re from Houston, but she’s…”

“I went to a boarding school, in San Antonio. My Grandmother paid for it.”

“But she can’t pay for…?”

“She died. Two years ago.”

“How long have you been staying with your friend?”

“Too long, I think. Her parents are getting a little wigged-out about it…”

Callahan nodded, and seeing the depth of her predicament he knew what he had to do now. He finished his coffee and stood, yet she just sat at the table, not knowing what to do. As he looked down at her he could sense her anxiety, but above all else he could plainly see her need.

“You’re coming with me,” he said, and he watched as she stood.

“Where?”

“Off the street, for now. You got any clothes or stuff?”

“Not really.”

He nodded. “Okay.”

They walked over to the Royal Orleans and he got her a room, and he made sure she had access to room service before he took her up to the room.

“I’ll be by at nine o’clock sharp. Take a shower and be ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“Ready to get to work.” He turned to leave…

“You’re not staying?”

“What?”

She looked at the bed. “You don’t want anything?”

His growl startled her, and she stepped back from the horror in his eyes.

“Nine o’clock,” he repeated. “Be ready.”

_____________________________________________

He took her to breakfast at Brennan’s, then on a long walk down Royal Street for new clothes. Back to the hotel, and he waited downstairs while she showered and put on clean clothes, then they took a taxi out to Tulane, to the admissions office. She stood there by his side in mute awe as he whipped out a checkbook and paid for her tuition, room and board – for four years – and secured rooming for her at the school for the rest of the summer by enrolling her in summer classes.

The sun was setting by the time they finished getting her set-up in the dormitory, and they rode back to the Royal Orleans in another taxi. He fed her and sent her up to her room, told her to be ready to go at nine the next morning and left.

He walked down to the Dungeon and slipped behind the piano. It was as if nothing had happened the night before, and the usual lonely hearts gathered around and listened as their stranger played the music of the dying and the damned.

The next morning he took Deni to a bank by the campus and set up accounts for her, then took her to lunch at the Court of the Two Sisters.

“I think you’re good to go now, kid.”

She just stared at him, not knowing what to say.

A waitress came by and dropped off menus, and Callahan ordered minted iced tea for two.

“Are you gonna talk to me?” Callahan asked as he tried to ignore her stare.

“I wouldn’t know what to say.”

“Okay.”

“I love you. I know that much.”

“You’re confusing love with gratitude, Deni.”

“I don’t think so, Harry. I think you’re afraid of love. Maybe even running from love. But what you just did for me was an expression of pure love. Love like I’ve never experienced before. And I really don’t know what to say.”

“How about ‘Thanks?’”

“Okay. Thanks, Harry-whatever-your-name-is. Thanks for making my life complete. Thanks for being there for me. Thanks for letting me love you.”

He nodded as he took out an envelope and handed it to her. “This is my contact information, Deni. If you need anything call the number in there. I’ll drop by from time to time, see how you’re doing. Let me know if you make it into medical school, and if you need help paying for it let me know.”

“One question, Harry. Just one, okay?”

“Sure. Fire away.”

“Why? Why me? Why are you doing this for me?”

“I’m paying off a debt, Deni. To a little girl I used to know, a girl just like you.”

“You loved her, didn’t you?”

“Very much. More than I thought possible.”

She nodded, took his hand in her’s and kissed it.

“Now, about your father. I’d like to pay him a visit.”

She shook her head. “No, Harry. Not necessary. You’re my father now.”

The words startled Callahan, set him back in his chair. “I am not…”

“Well, you won’t let me in like a girlfriend…”

“Because I’m old enough to be…”

“My father. Right, I get that, and I love you for the respect you’ve shown me. You just need to accept what I’ve given you.”

“I’ll have to think about it, Deni.”

________________________________________________

He turned up next in Alpine, Texas.

He rented a small room in an old boarding house, one that had seen better days when cattle drives were still a big part of local life.

There was a saloon of sorts down on Main Street, but these days about the only things you could find behind the bar were Lone Star longnecks and a couple of decks of worn-out cards. An old gal named Millie held court behind the bar, and locals liked to say that Millie had been “rode hard and put away wet” more than once, but the truth was far simpler than that. Millie’s one true love had blown through town one weekend something short of thirty years ago, and when this tumbleweed decided to keep on rolling her roots held fast. She had turned into something inert after that, like a gas in the bottom of a beaker, and she had been changing dollar bills for cold bottles of beer ever since. 

Callahan walked into the bar in the middle of the afternoon and looked around. The old pine paneling the covered the walls had turned orange decades ago; now the wood look depleted, completely worn out. He saw an old upright piano against a far wall and walked over to it. Standing there, he reached for a memory and played it, found the tones the old girl made kind of pleasing, until he heard from Millie:

“Get the fuck away from my goddam piano!” the woman screamed. “And get the fuck outta here!”

Callahan turned to face the voice, then he walked up to the bar, put his hands out and caressed the old wood. “How old is this place,” he asked as he looked at the old wood.

“Older than you, asshole.”

He looked around, took in the posters for rodeos stapled to the wall by the door, flyers for bands that had played here years ago, but everything he saw was in the past. A dead space, he thought. Waiting for something, anything to happen.

“Do I need to call the sheriff on you? I told you to git!”

He turned and looked at the woman – instant ferocity clear in his eyes: “I’m looking for Don McCall. Know where I can find him?”

He watched the change come over her, a softening inside her glaring eyes.

“You know Donnie?”

“We flew together in ‘Nam. He saved my life.”

She nodded. “That’s our Donnie. Sooner or later he saves everyone, but no-one is ever there for him.” 

He heard the bitterness in her voice and the grating sound bothered him. “Why do you say that?”

She shrugged. “That’s just the way it is, mister.”

“Harry Callahan,” he said, holding out his hand.

She took it. “Millie. You really a friend, or you from the bank?”

“Friend. What’s with the bank?”

“His dad. Took out a big loan when the drought hit. Drought didn’t end, lost their herd. You do the math.”

Callahan nodded. “Got any cold beer?”

“Do bears shit in the woods?”

“Better give me one.”

“I ain’t givin’ you shit, Callahan…”

He pulled out his wallet and passed her a hundred. “Open up a tab for me, wouldya?”

“Sure thing,” she said as she passed over a Lone Star longneck.

“And call Donnie for me, please. Tell him I’m here and that I’d like to buy him a beer.”

“Okay.” Millie disappeared into her office and Callahan turned around and leaned against the bar. He could just about imagine Judge Roy Bean walking in the door, calling out for Lillie Langtry or brandishing a hangman’s noose…

Alpine, Texas, he thought as he walked over to one of the large windows that looked out on Main Street. Hot as hell out, and dry too, but at 4500 feet above sea level the nights were supposed to be cool. The town was surrounded by low, wind-sculpted mountains – more like hills, really – rising from a flat prairie that seemed, to Callahan, like a good place to raise rattlesnakes.

His thoughts drifted back to Hue City and those mad-flights out to C-Med to pick up the dead and the dying, and McCall sitting beside him in their Huey night after night. Quiet and even tempered, Callahan looked at this landscape and nodded.

This land looked like Don McCall – quiet, purpose built, solid and steady. 

“He’ll be here in about twenty minutes,” Millie said. “And he said I should treat you right, so you go ahead and play that piano if you want.”

“You serve dinner here?”

“Yessir, come about four-thirty or so. Tonight we’re servin’ t-bones and enchiladas, side salad if you want it.”

Callahan looked at his watch. “Better get a couple ready. I’ll be hungry as hell by then.”

“Alrighty.”

He moved over to the piano and sat, began a ragtime that sounded a little like The Yellow Rose of Texas, and Millie came over and sat behind Callahan, watched him play and felt the change that came over her old saloon.

“That was wonderful,” she whispered when Harry finished. “Reminds me of the times we used to have here.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I think most of us forgot what it’s like to live as a group of people, to look after one another, especially when times are tough. It feels like it’s everyone is out for his or her self these days, like…”

She stopped when a battered Chevy pickup pulled into a space out front, and she smiled when she saw Don McCall bounding into the saloon…

And Callahan met McCall as he crashed into the saloon.

“Dear God in Heaven!” Don cried. “It is you! Well, Harry Callahan, as I live and breathe, what the hell are you doing out here?”

Callahan turned to Millie. “Waitin’ for this lady to make me an honest-to-Pete West Texas t-bone steak, for one. She needs to get you one of these Lone Stars, too. Pretty good beer, I reckon, even if it is from Texas…”

McCall made to roll up his sleeves. “Them’s is fightin’ words, mister,” he said, grinning. “No one, and I mean no one makes fun of the National Beer of Texas…”

Callahan sidled up to the bar, McCall in tow, while Millie popped the tops on two more Lone Stars; McCall downed his in one long pull so Callahan followed suit.

“Millie,” Don barked, “keep ‘em comin’ ’til our toes are point’n at the ceilin’!”

“Better get those steaks going,” Harry whispered. “Maybe some bread, too?”

“Well Harry, sit you down and tell me a story…”

They moved to a table in back by the kitchen, Callahan beginning to think that this might be the best beer he’d ever had – at about the same time enchiladas baking in the kitchen began to fill the air with a magic all their own.

“Damn, Donnie, it’s good to see you. You’re looking good, life must agree with you…”

“It sure is good to see you too, hooch-mate. It’s a long way from Hue, ain’t it?”

Harry shook his head. “Man, that feels like a million lifetimes ago, ya know?”

“Don’t it? And every day over there felt like a lifetime.”

“Because it was.”

Millie brought out a basket of peanuts and plopped them down, with two more beers coming a moment later.

“So, what are you doing out here, Harry? Really…?”

“Just followin’ the wind, Amigo. Keepin’ my nose clean as best I can.”

“Give up on the cop thing?”

“Leave of absence. Taking some time off.” He slammed down half of the latest bottle and tried to stifle a burp, but it slid out through his nose and he grinned. “This stuff is really good.”

“Yeah, it is,” McCall said, his voice sliding down an octave.

“Millie mentioned problems with a bank?”

“Millie talks to much.”

“Maybe she just cares.”

“Maybe. So, yeah, bad drought out here the past few years, we lost the herd and dad decided to put up half the ranch as collateral so we could buy more cattle. Then the drought got worse.”

“How much is he in for, Don?”

“More than we’ve got. Damn, those steaks smell good. You know, Millie’s a damn fine cook.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

McCall looked down and grinned. “Sure Harry. You got an extra sixty large lyin’ around you could spare?”

“Sixty? Is that what you need? Anything else?”

“Harry, I got a list about as long as my arm. Things we got to repair or replace, including about ten miles of fence that needs some real work, and real soon, too.”

“How hard is that?”

“What?”

“Working fences.”

“Why? You volunteering?”

“Sure, why not…?”

“Yeah, right.”

“Would two hundred get your head out from under the water?”

“Two hundred what, Harry?”

“Thousand.”

“You got two hundred grand lyin’ around you just want to give me? Is that what you’re sayin’ Callahan?”

“Just tell me what you need, Don. I want to get this done before Millie gets back out here.”

“Are you fuckin’ serious, Callahan?”

Harry took out his checkbook and took a pen out of his coat pocket. The pen hovered over a check. “What do you need, Don?”

McCall shook his head. “Man, you’ve always been fuckin’ nuts, Callahan, but okay, let’s see. Dad needs a hundred to wipe out the loan. We need about fifty to get deferred maintenance out of the way, another fifty, maybe seventy to get the fence line, and we could use another hundred to get an up to date house on the property.”

“So, three, three-twenty gets you going, but what about cattle?”

“Call it another hundred.”

Callahan started writing. “No, let’s call it an even five hundred,” he said as he filled in the numbers, then he signed the check and peeled it out of his checkbook. “You wanna deposit it now, or wait til morning?”

“Are you shittin’ me, Callahan?”

“Nope.”

“I’ll be right back,” McCall said as he took the check and ran for his pickup; a few seconds later the Chevy was fishtailing out Main Street, headed for the bank.

“That was pretty cool,” Millie said from behind the swinging doors that led to the kitchen. “Is that why you came?”

“No, I just wanted to see an old friend.”

“The world needs more friends like you, Callahan,” she said as she disappeared back into her kitchen.

“Maybe so,” he muttered, taking a peanut and breaking the shell on the table then eating the nuts. Millie brought out a salad and promptly disappeared again, so Callahan went back to the piano, began playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, only very slowly.

McCall returned a while later, and as soon as he took his seat Millie brought out her steaks and enchiladas, and she joined them, taking her own dinner at the table.

“So,” Callahan said as he finished, “how hard is it to set fence posts?”

“You wanna set some?”

“Yeah, as long as you’re out there with me, I’ll give you a couple of days.”

“And the steaks are on me, gentlemen,” Millie added, “when you knock off for the day.”

“It don’t get much better than that, Harry.”

“I reckon I’m in.”

“What are you going to do, Harry? What’s next?”

“I miss the street. The work. I think I’m going home. I’ve got a few things I need to finish up there…”

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last 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 until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a 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? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though 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…]