The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 52

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Part VI

Chapter 52

“Intel reports Saddam is deploying his Scuds in the west,” the Air Force major told the assembled pilots, “but nothing is showing up in any of our most recent satellite imagery…”

Callahan looked at the current photograph on the screen and held up his hand.

“Go ahead,” the major said. “It’s Callahan, right?”

“Yessir. Are the launchers small enough to fit under a highway overpass?”

“Yes, and that’s going to be your biggest concern. These missiles aren’t heavy, relatively speaking, and so the damn things are really easy to move around. There are literally hundreds of small metal buildings along highways 1, 10, and 22, and these routes place Scuds close enough to targets in both Saudi Arabia and Israel, and to put both coalition troops and large civilian population center in harm’s way, particularly in Israel. Word is Patriot batteries will be deployed around major air bases in Saudi Arabia well before the outbreak of hostilities. I don’t have word on placement of batteries in Israel at this time, but we have to assume that Saddam is going to go after Israel from Day One…”

“Why?” Rooney asked.

“To rupture the integrity of the coalition,” the major replied. “If Israel is pulled into the conflict our Arab partners will likely either refuse to participate in the liberation of Kuwait or, worst case, they may use that as a pretext to move against Israel. At that point we’d have…”

“A clusterfuck,” Callahan sighed.

“Exactly. Now, Captain Callahan has trained his team to go after possible nuclear warheads, and as I understand the way he’s structured you guys, we’ll have two specially modified Hueys as the basic maneuvering unit, followed by four Blackhawks carrying elements of Army Rangers and British SAS, and six Hellfire armed Apache helicopters riding the perimeter. So, two eleven unit teams – is that about right, Captain?”

“Yessir.”

“What’s the outline of your plan? The basic plan, anyway?”

“We operate at night, first of all. We assume they’re going to hide out in the shadows during daylight, which means they move at night – especially if they plan to launch. Basic operational characteristics of these mobile launchers is to fire one missile and move to a new, pre-arranged hiding place, and one usually not too far away. That way they keep their exposure to a minimum, and avoid discovery by back-tracing trajectories.”

“So, how do you go about detection?”

“First assumption we’re making is that there are Scuds with nuclear warheads out there. Even shielded warheads emit particle trails, both alpha particles and gamma particles, but we won’t run into alpha particles unless we happen to fly right over a warhead at very low altitude. Gamma ray particles are another matter, as you know. Still, we can’t detect by long range observation. We have to fly through a trail of particles left by a warhead, presumably as it’s being moved from place to place…”

“Or, as you said, if you accidentally fly over a launcher, correct?”

“Correct. And then we have to hope their escorts maintain discipline and don’t open up on us.”

“So,” the major asked, “what’s the best case scenario?”

“Best case?” Callahan mused. “We run across a trail and follow it, and we run up on them from the rear before they plan to launch. Other than that, it’s going to come down to simple luck, preferably finding a mobile unit moving between locations – and before a launch. I’d assume if they go nuclear all bets are off and Israel will hit back with a nukes?”

“If Saddam decides to go nuclear, Captain, you’d better pray you get to that launcher before anything heads out. Saddam can hit Istanbul from these locations, not just Tel Aviv or Riyadh. And once that genie is out of the bottle there’ll be no easy way to wind things down again.” 

“Major,” Rooney asked, “is it confirmed Saddam has nukes?”

“Look, you guys have all seen the same shit on CNN that I have. Cheney and Powell are convinced, so POTUS is on board. That makes this operation a policy level decision, so that means you guys are going to be the tip of the spear. The number one operational priority right now – before hostilities commence, it to track down any nuclear tipped Scuds and take ‘em out. That means if you run across any, I repeat any Scuds without nuclear warheads you get the word back to SoComm and let them deal with it. We can’t lose these two Hueys in some sort of spurious, feather-legged fire-fight. Got it? Everyone clear on that? If someone starts shooting at you your response is simple. Call the CAP, let the Strike Eagles handle the threat. Cover the Hueys and get out of the line of fire, then start hunting again.”

Everyone nodded.

“Again, men, your mission is simple. Find any nukes – on launchers or otherwise – and let either the Rangers or the Apaches take ‘em out. We’re looking at three to four weeks before hostilities commence, but you guys go to work tonight. If you succeed, the war will be over in a matter of weeks, not months, and the world stays a little safer for the time being. Now, we’ll have a briefing by the lead Eagle driver on your CAP, and he’ll go over frequencies and call-outs for the night’s hop…”

_______________________________

“Jesus, Callahan, what the hell did you get me mixed up in?” Rooney said, grinning as they left the tent.

“Shit, this is gonna be a turkey shoot,” Callahan said. “Line ‘em up and knock ‘em down.”

“Yeah? And what if we screw the pooch? Then what, Smart Guy?”

“World War Three,” Deke Slater, the lead Blackhawk pilot said. “And we’ll be right in the bulls-eye when the word goes out to turn western Iraq into a glassed-over parking lot.”

“Thanks, Harry,” Rooney sighed.

“Stop worrying about it,” Callahan grinned. “This Saddam character doesn’t have any nukes. If he did we wouldn’t be over here right now.”

“How do you figure that?” Slater said.

“Seriously? Well, we got half the air force holed up on a couple of air bases in Saudi Arabia, and the other half on Diego Garcia. Two or three well aimed missiles and there goes the United States Air Force. So…no way do we take that kind of risk…”

“So then Cheney and Powell are…”

“Garden variety politicians, Deke. Doing what they do best. We had to act when this jack-ass moved on Kuwait, and we had to intervene with some kind of global coalition or public opinion in Ames, Iowa would have skewed negative. Without public support, no war. If no war, then Raytheon and all the other toy-makers don’t get in on another half trillion in procurements…”

“I keep forgetting you’re one of those ‘peace-love-dope smokers’ from San Francisco,” Slater added. “That’s the same shit y’all were spouting back in ’68.”

“Slater,” Callahan quipped, “you were still in diapers back in ’68.”

“True. But the premise stands.”

“Fuck, it’s gonna be Christmas in like a week,” Rooney snarled, “and here we are stuck in some desert that thinks it’s an ice box. I don’t know about you guys, but I miss San Fran. Shit, there aren’t even any trees out here…”

The two specially equipped Hueys were in their makeshift hangers, both fueled and ready to go. Their special antennas and probes were deployed and looked like the skeletal structure of a bat’s wing, and they’d both been repainted from flat black to a kind of putrid looking gray-green that was supposed to be harder to see at night. Both were very lightly armed with just two HVAR pods with Willy-Pete loadouts, and they weren’t carrying door guns – or gunners – so both were, for all practical purposes, unarmed.

Located northeast of Turaif, Saudi Arabia, this special facility had been carved out of thin air in a matter of days, and sat on the map where Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq came to a point. The main highway from Baghdad to Jordan, Highway 10, lay just across the Iraqi border, but several Iraqi air bases lined that highway, as well. Smaller highways and roads crossed over Highway 10, and these overpasses provided endless opportunities for cover that mobile Scud launchers could utilize anytime reconnaissance satellites flew overhead. There was an almost endless supply of small buildings, too – most belonging to national mining concerns – where these launchers could hide.

Tonight’s mission – the group’s first – would take them between two small Iraqi air bases to the paved highway, and Callahan’s Huey would fly along just above the highway for about 20 miles – his team’s Blackhawks and Apaches flying on either side of the main roadway. F-15 Strike Eagle fighter bombers would fly overhead in the “No Fly  Zone” established during the initial phases of Operation Desert Shield, waiting for any signs of response from the poorly organized Iraqi Air Force. Rooney and his team would wait, then fly along the same route twenty minutes later, hoping to catch anyone that decided to break cover and run once Callahan’s team passed.

Callahan had trained for just this scenario, only in Germany – in the sixties, in what would have been the opening phases of the Third World War. Still, the mission in Iraq was the same: find nuclear warheads typically used in tactical operations, those used on either short range missiles or in artillery shells.

Callahan’s team took off at zero-dark-thirty and crossed into Iraq; almost instantly radar alarms sounded so he dropped lower and assumed a hover, then he crept along at about thirty knots until they came to the highway. There was hardly any traffic on any roads these days, so what traffic there was had to be considered hostile…

“Cat 1 this is Eagle 3, looks like a Mig taking off from H3, cold and dark, turning north in your direction. Suggest you go quiet.”

“Cat 1 roger.” Callahan simply flared and landed in the middle of the highway about twenty meters from an overpass and waited for the Mig to vacate the area…

“Cat 1 Eagle 3, I think they must have painted you, he’s coming in low to make a run down the highway.”

“Eagle 3, you’d better engage.”

“Already on him.”

Callahan saw the Eagle maybe ten miles ahead and coming down fast from forty thousand feet, and a second later he saw an air-to-air missile leap from the Eagle and streak down towards the Mig. Another Eagle fired an anti-radiation missile at an unseen Iraqi radar installation, and literally within seconds all known threats had been eliminated.

Callahan got his Huey back in the air and proceeded east down the motorway – but when it was time to turn south and bug out he couldn’t – because the downed Mig was a flaming wreck lighting up the entire area. He decided to turn north and then backtrack about ten miles before turning back to Turaif. He called Rooney and told him what had happened, then gave him the abort code. An hour later he was back at the base.

“What happened?” Rooney asked as Callahan climbed out of his Huey.

“That downed Mig must’ve been loaded with external fuel tanks. It was burning like a sum-bitch; even the snakes were casting shadows out there. When we backtracked we made your mission redundant, so why take the chance?”

“You want to go out again?”

“Tonight?”

“Sure, why not?”

Callahan looked at his watch. “Sure, let’s refuel and go west this time. You call the CAP and let ‘em know.”

“Right. One thing’s for sure. I bet the Migs stay in their hangers from now on.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Callahan said.

“Anything on your readouts?” Rooney asked, meaning the particle monitors.

“Nothing. Just cold air.”

_________________________________

And night after night it was the same. Fly down low and scope out the main highways. Then the secondary highways. Then roads that seemed just large enough to handle a jeep.

And always, nothing. No radiation signatures – or anything at all, for that matter.

Night after night, flight after flight. Nothing. Not even conventionally armed Scuds.

The Air Force major returned for their next briefing.

“We think all the Scuds are simply warehoused right now. We’ve identified a command and control radio net and all the chatter indicates they aren’t about to expose them until they absolutely need to.”

“So, what do you want us to do?”

“You won’t have long to wait now, Captain. Take a few days off; be ready to roll on Wednesday.”

He and Rooney flew down to one of the big US facilities in S.A. and Harry waited until evening then called the Cathouse.

“Callahan Air,” the receptionist said, “how may I direct your call?”

“DD, please.”

“Yes, who’s calling?”

“Uh, Callahan.”

“Excuse me?”

“This is Harry Callahan, now please connect me with DD!”

“Yessir…!”

“Harry? Where are you?”

“The dark side of the moon.”

“Oh. Looks like all the diplomatic initiatives have fizzled out. What are you up to?”

“Oh, I got a hot date with a camel in about a half hour. What’s going on there?”

“Nothing much to report. We just took delivery of our first D-model 1900. It starts on the Santa Barbara to Mammoth run next week, and the flights are booked solid through March. Same with the Eureka to SFO run, beating all our projections right now.”

“Well, that sounds like good news. How’s the doc?”

“Real good. Taking piano lessons from Nils. He’s the one that comes out to the house to tune yours, and he comes by for dinner out here after he finishes up. Nice kid.”

“Seemed that way to me, too.”

“I’m not sure how well those guys are running the shop though, Harry.”

“Oh?”

“Seems pretty fast and loose to me.”

“Got time to take it on? See what’s what?”

“Maybe. Frank was telling us about your assistant over in Switzerland. Think she could come over and give us a hand?”

“I don’t see why not.” He gave her Didi’s direct line and told DD to give her a call. “Anything else I need to know?”

“I don’t think so?”

“Okay. My camel is waiting for me. Wish me luck…”

He went back to the bar in the O-club and found Rooney nursing a rum and Coke, looking glum.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked.

“CNN. Looks like war after all.”

“Yeah. Seems unavoidable at this point.”

“You have any property in Israel?”

“Me? Nope. All that stuff wound up in either Denmark or Switzerland.”

“Where in Switzerland?”

“Davos. Heard of it?”

“Any skiing there?”

“Yes, decent too.”

“Man, I wanted to spend time at Tahoe this winter, maybe even Mammoth. I started learning two winters ago and now I can’t get enough of it.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling. I’d like to hit Davos again, so maybe we could stop by on the way home?”

“Man, that would be the best. I mean it, Harry. That would be the bee’s knees.”

“Yeah? Well then, let’s count on it. A week or two in the mountains will probably take care of whatever ails us by that point.”

“Did you get through to DD?”

“Yeah. Nothing major going on. Starting the Santa Barbara to Mammoth run soon.”

“Maybe I should go for a fixed wing, ya know?”

“You’re young enough. No reason not to, and you’ll have increased benefits when you get back.”

“When we get back. Man, does that sound good right now.”

“I bet this thing is over before it starts. Worst case, we’re out of here by the end of February.”

“I sure hope you’re right, Harry.”

“Relax, Mickey. Too many negative vibes and you’ll kill the buzz.”

“The buzz? What the hell are you talkin’ about, Harry?”

“Rum and Coke, Amigo. Settle in and mellow out, think about something else. Bottom line, Ace, is that sitting around worrying about getting killed ain’t gonna to change a damn thing. If it happens it happens, so you might as well enjoy yourself while you’re still around and the rum is reasonably priced.”

“That’s right. I keep forgetting you did a year in ‘Nam.”

“That was mean bush, Mickey. This ain’t gonna be like ‘Nam, though, so just take it easy – everything is gonna work out just fine.”

“Man, you say so, but I sure wouldn’t mind some tail tonight.”

“Not here, Mick. This ain’t the place, and don’t you forget it. You don’t want to buy into this kind of pain, believe me.”

“Well, the least the Army could do is bring some hookers over here, ya know?”

“Last time I looked, Ace, Pimp wasn’t a recognized operational specialty…but I could be wrong about that.”

“Man, I know you’ve been through the ringer and all, but you’ve become like, I don’t know, some kind of monk. Don’t you ever, like, you know, ever get horny?”

“About 23 hours a day.”

“What? You? Saint Harry?”

“I ain’t a saint, Mickey. Never was, never will be.”

“Bullshit. What you’re doing with CAT…that alone ought to qualify.”

“CAT…that wasn’t for me, Mickey. It was for y’all.”

“That’s my point, man. You get all this money and you coulda just disappeared to Switzerland. But no, what do you do?”

“You know, when all that happened we were balls deep in the Escobar-mercenary cop shit, then Sara happened and it was like some sort of cosmic tumblers rolled and rolled and then slipped into place. I went on this, well, kind of walk. Ran into this girl in New Orleans. One wrong step away from bein’ homeless, ya know? Nothing going her way but she had a good hearted soul, and then it clicked. Mickey, this is for real – something just clicked in my head. When I started walking I kind of had it my mind that I’d just give it all away. Just hand it out, dollar by dollar.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard about this girl before. What happened?”

“Coffee, donuts, a scholarship at Tulane she was about to lose, nothing happened – and then everything did. I got her settled in school and put money aside for her in case she made it into medical school.”

“What happened to her?”

“She settled down, got her feet under her, graduated top of her class – pre-med – and she got into a med school in Chicago. In her second year now, and every time I get a letter from her it’s like getting a letter from a daughter, ya know? I love her like that, Mickey.”

“Whoa…”

“Once upon a time I saw girls like her as victims. Never strong enough to make their way in the world, ya know? So I had to take care of them. My mission, ya know? Then a little truth hit me. Sometimes what those folks needed was kind of like a father, some guy in their life who was interested in more than just their vagina. This girl’s father had roughed her up then basically abandoned her, and by that point she saw men as nothing more than predatory creatures – to be avoided at all cost. A real father wouldn’t have done that, Mickey. A real father wouldn’t have taken his daughter’s life and snapped it in two. What she needed was a real father, and to me it looked like I had been nominated. And the thing is, Mickey, I had the means to make it work – so I did. And I’ll get down off my soapbox in a minute, but hear me out, okay?”

“Yeah? I’m listening…”

“So, the cosmic tumblers, right? Call it destiny, call it fate – but what I think really guided me to that moment was my mother. My mother’s last composition, to be more specific.”

“Composition? Your mother was a musician?”

“Yeah. You could call it that.”

“And so, you’re saying that…”

“Her last piece was…is…laid out kind of like a roadmap. It took me a while to find the bread-crumbs, for the path through the history she was building…or telling me.”

“Where does it lead?”

“I haven’t found that out yet. There’s a problem, too. A big one. From what I’ve been able to piece together she was working on the closing movements when she passed away. Now, the thing is I can tell that she didn’t write the last notes. They don’t follow the sequence. The passage kind of dissolves in a way it, well, it couldn’t have – not following the same structure she’d been using up to that point. So someone changed it, someone has the notes she wrote, and inside those notes – and I mean buried within the structure of the movement’s conclusion – everything she laid out comes to a conclusion. A logically derived structural conclusion within the music itself. And I have to assume the secret she’d discovered was in those notes. The secret she was trying to get to me.”

“Man, I’m sorry, but Jerry Lee Lewis is about as far as I got in the whole piano thing. You know, like Good Golly Miss Molly?”

“Yeah? You ever get into Live at the Star Club?”

“What’s that?”

Callahan smiled. “Oh, nothin’ much, Amigo. Nothin’ much at all, but I do see you need another rum and Coke…”

_________________________________

When they got back to the base his Huey was just coming out of an overdue maintenance check, and he had been scheduled to take it up for a pre-mission check-out that afternoon – just to certify that the aircraft was indeed airworthy. Back in his flight suit and after donning his helmet, he made his walk around with this particular Huey’s crew chief. With nothing amiss, he climbed behind the right stick and started her up, then took off for a fifteen minute circuit to the south – away from Iraq.

Alone with his thoughts he thought again about his monologue with Rooney, and the things he’d consciously tried to push out of mind for the last few years, then – 

“Yes, I was wondering when you were going to make the connection.”

Startled, Callahan turned and saw The Old Man in the Cape sitting in the left seat…

“What the Hell are you doing here!” Callahan snarled.

“Oh, I was just curious. You know, what it was like to fly one of these things. Noisier than I thought, that much I can tell you…”

Callahan pushed the stick hard over – and the view ahead shifted from blue sky to rocks and sand. Callahan looked at the Old Man and saw abject terror in his eyes – so he let up and resumed flying straight and normal.

“What did you do that for!?” the Old Man cried – before he disappeared. Then, a moment later he reappeared: “That really wasn’t a nice thing to do, you know?” And with that he was gone, again.

“Interesting,” Callahan sighed as he reefed the Huey into a tight, high-g turn to the left. He flared at the base about ten minutes later, then signed-off on the crew-chief’s chit. With that done he grabbed Rooney and went to their pre-mission briefing.

“Okay,” the Major began, “tonight is kick-off time, and we have new intel we have to run down before the first air assaults hit this region.”

“Like, uh, what are we expecting out here?” Rooney asked. “I mean, we’re about as far from Kuwait as possible, right?”

“The chatter we’re picking up leads us to believe that as soon as the invasion begins Scuds will launch at targets in S.A. and Israel. We’re assuming that any launchers this far west will be targeting Israel. Our worst case is a nuke hitting a population center like Tel Aviv, and with that in mind this mission is targeting a large mining operation with an unusual amount of tire tracks around two buildings…”

“Tire tracks?” Callahan asked.

“The mine has been closed for months. The tracks weren’t there three days ago. Any more questions?”

“You got overheads?” Callahan asked.

The screen filled with satellite imagery of the mining complex.

“What are they mining out there?” someone asked.

“An odd coincidence here. Bauxite and, well, Uranium. A B-1 out of Diego Garcia is slated to hit the facility at 0200, so we’ll want to be on site at 1130 hours, a half hour before hostilities commence. If there are launchers in the buildings we need to hit them before they can move into position.”

An Army colonel was sitting in on this briefing, and he spoke up now.

“Callahan’s and Rooney’s ships will be carrying mini-guns on this hop, but we want these two assets to make an initial sweep – then back off. These two ships will be carrying medical teams and a radiologic assessment officer for after action analysis, so keep these two covered at all cost. And remember, you’ve got to be out of the area before the B-1 drops. Any questions?”

There were none.

Callahan went back to his Huey as techs finished removing the rocket pods, replacing these with two small Gatling-style electrically operated mini-guns.

“How many rounds?” he asked.

“1500 each side. Here’s the weight and balance sheet for your workup.”

“Anyone got a weight on this medical team?”

“On the sheet, Captain, other side.”

Callahan read through the weights and entered the units – in pounds – on the graph, and any way he tried it he came up heavy. “Rooney?” he called out.

“Yo?”

“You worked the numbers yet?”

“Yup. Too goddamn heavy is what I get!”

Callahan turned to the techs. “Find me 600 pounds and dump it.”

“Captain, this load out comes from the Colonel. We can’t…”

“As far as I can tell, the Colonel ain’t flying this crate. Now, get rid of 600 pounds cause these things ain’t gonna get off the ground at this weight. We clear?”

“What’s the problem?” Callahan heard the Colonel asking as he walked into the hanger.

“We’re too heavy is the problem,” Callahan snarled.

“At night, with these temps and density altitudes? You sure?”

Callahan walked the colonel through the numbers and the graph, and the old man grumbled but nodded in agreement. 

“I don’t want to send you boys in without weps, but that’s the only thing I see you can get rid of. That’ll give you about 200 pounds to spare at take off.”

“Well,” Callahan added, “it’s that or dump the medical team.”

“Captain, some of my boys are gonna get killed out there tonight…”

“Okay, will one med team do the job?”

“Not if it gets shot down,” the colonel countered. “I want two teams out there, period.”

“Then we go in clean. Only way the numbers work.”

“Okay. Sidearms and rifles all around then.”

Callahan shrugged. “We can do that, no problem.”

“I wonder where the hell my people screwed up this calculation?”

“This is an early 60s model, sir. Optimally, you should have this equipment on a 412.”

“Callahan?” the colonel mused. “You the character running the air taxi thing in California?”

“Yessir.”

“And you’ve got 412s?”

“Yessir, for running fire fighters at altitude. Nothing better, in my opinion.”

“Oh? I didn’t know you guys were doing that. Interesting. How about we send you back to Germany and we refit some new 412s with this stuff. Think you could train replacements?”

“Take about a month, sir, from start to finish.”

“Well, good. This whole nuclear thing is a crock; Hussein shot off his mouth one time too many, far as I’m concerned anyway, so this is nothing but a waste of time, if you ask me.”

Callahan shrugged. Because he really didn’t know what to say now.

“Well, Ivan won’t stay quiet for long. We need to upgrade our equipment in Germany and Korea, and you’d be doing me a favor if you could take this on and see it through. This Rooney work for you?”

Callahan nodded. “Yessir.”

“Okay. He goes with you when you head out. We’ll let you make a few sweeps out here, as long as you’re here, anyway, then send you both back to Frankfurt. Train your replacements then you can go home.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The colonel nodded. “Should’ve had you do this ten years ago, but hell, the program should have never been axed in the first place. Well, y’all be safe out there…”

Rooney walked over. “Did I hear that right? Out of here soon?”

“Let’s just stay safe, Mick. I see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I see snow, Harry. Swiss snow.”

“I hear that, Amigo. Well, let’s saddle up and head out.”

Take off, head north along the Jordanian border, avoiding the two main highway border stations by cutting inside Jordan, then east – into the desert. 2315 hours, the target mining facility just beyond a low ridge-line dead ahead – and Rooney falls back, letting Callahan’s Huey take the lead. Over the ridge and just ahead everything snaps into focus: three Scud launchers and truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns. Then – literally dozens of anti-aircraft batteries open up on Callahan’s Huey…tracer rounds leading right to the windshield…Callahan reflexively jinking hard left as hundreds of rounds hit home, the Huey disintegrating before his eyes, the searing pain of dozens of heavy caliber rounds tearing through flesh – 

– and an instant later his untouched Huey is miles away in a hover five thousand feet above the desert –

Men in the back are screaming in pain at one point in one reality, and inside the next second they are sitting in puddles of confusion and doubt – their eyes telling one story, memory still trying to comprehend impending death in another, the dissonance creating a rebellion of the senses.

“What the fuck just happened!” a medic screamed as he clawed at his helmet.

Callahan knows what has happened and his mind instinctively tries to reach for the ‘why’ – then he catches himself before he falls into that trap…

“That’s the Callahan maneuver,” he said over the intercom. “Nothin’ to it, so y’all just sit back  and relax…”

But his mind is trying to reorient to set-point-zero once again, his body rebelling as the effects of the discontinuity grab him by the throat.

“Cat 2, Cat 1, you still with us?” Rooney said on the net. “Cat 1, come in!”

“What do you mean am I still with you?” Callahan said, perhaps a little too meekly.

“You just cleared that ridge and the sky lit up – then you were fucking gone!”

“Cat 1 to all units, two, maybe three Scuds getting ready to launch. Heavy AA units in place. MOVE IN NOW!”

“That weren’t no fuckin’ maneuver,” one of the medics in back cried. “We be dead, we be in heaven right now…”

“Get your head out of your ass!” Callahan snarled. “And stand by to pick up wounded!” The scene below erupted in pure chaos as Hellfires and mini-guns raked the makeshift launch area, then one of the Scuds cooked off, the shock wave from the blast ripping up the night. Cries for help started coming in and Callahan reefed his Huey into a tight turn and came down near a green smoke flare. Men were loaded and he took off, heading straight for base ten meters above the sand.

Rooney arrived about ten minutes after Callahan’s Huey, and even before the rotors had spun down Rooney went off in search of Callahan…

“What the fuck happened out there, Harry?” he said when he found Callahan walking with the crew chief. 

“What do you mean – what happened?”

“Your ship…man…it disappeared into a wall of tracers – I saw it coming apart in mid air – and then…just fucking gone, man. And then – a few seconds later you’re miles away and nowhere near the LZ!”

“I kicked the rudder and started a roll left, and hit the collective pretty hard, slipped sideways then up. Learned that trick in ‘Nam…”

“Yeah? Well, man, you gotta show me that one sometime, ‘cause I ain’t never seen no shit like that before.”

Callahan turned to the crew chief. “Better check the Jesus nut when you look over the rotor head. I must’ve stressed the whole rig pretty good.”

But by then a seriously pissed off Rooney had disappeared.

And by then the talk had started. The medics in Rooney’s Huey started sharing accounts of what they’d seen and that got everyone wound up again. Then the medics in Callahan’s Huey started recounting what it felt like while they were getting shot – and then nothing – just orbiting the scene a couple of miles away from the scene without a scratch on anyone. Rumors spread after that, insane stuff about time travel and ruptures in the space-time continuum, officers got involved and a minor uproar developed. Within hours Callahan and Rooney were sent to Frankfurt, their Hueys following on a re-tasked C-5A; Callahan started developing a curriculum to train a new generation of ‘Sniffers’ after they settled into their new quarters. Rooney continued to question Callahan for a few days then finally just dropped it. A general came by and asked if Callahan could put together a course stateside and then simply discharged them, then and there. Freshly minted colonels now, Callahan and Rooney put on their civilian clothes and grabbed a train to Munich, then another to Zurich. 

Callahan called Didi before they caught the afternoon express to Davos, and she met them at the station in time to take them to dinner. After they settled in at the restaurant she started right in:

“Your CFO at the helicopter company called, wanted to know if I could come and help out with some of your business interests there…”

“Yes?”

She shook her head. “That’s not going to happen. I am fully engaged here…”

“I take it you are still working for…”

“Exactly,” she said, stopping Callahan as she smiled at Rooney. “I’d love nothing more, but under current circumstances it’s simply not possible.”

Callahan shrugged. “Medellin again?”

“And Moscow. Even as they seem to be coming undone they continue to stir up trouble in Syria.”

“And now Scuds,” but Callahan regretted saying that as soon as the words left his lips. Yet Rooney was keeping quiet now, his eyes locked on Didi’s.

“Yes,” she said. “But the skiing is good here now. I’ve called my favorite shop; they’re expecting you first thing in the morning. You should be up on the slopes by noon.”

“Any chance you could come with us?” Rooney asked, and Didi seemed taken aback.

“Me? Really? Actually, I’d love to! I haven’t been up once so far this year.”

“Great!” Rooney said. “It’s a date!”

Callahan watched this exchange silently grinning, knowing it had been at least a year since Rooney had been with anyone – and Didi was anyone’s guess. ‘Well, this could be interesting after all…’ he said as he watched the two of them schmoozing away during dinner.

She had her gear loaded on Avi’s Range Rover by the time breakfast was finished the next morning, and she took them into town with one eye on the road – and one eye on Rooney. Two hours later, with new clothes and skis, they rode up the funicular to the summit and Callahan watched Rooney fumble with his skis, not quite knowing what to expect as Didi helped Mickey with his bindings.

“I’ve never seen anything like these,” he confessed. “Marker? What’s with the rotating heel?”

“Supposed to release easier, more controlled,” Didi said. “Just slide this clip to center the turntable and step down as you normally would.”

Callahan hung back and watched Didi flirting with Rooney, utterly amazed she’d apparently fallen for him so quickly. The two of them laughed when they fell, laughed when one tried to help the other back up – only to be pulled down again, and he found watching the two of them more fun than the skiing. By the time they stopped for lunch they couldn’t keep their hands off one another.

Then he looked around the room.

It was the same as the last time he’d been here – with Avi and Sara – and that hit him like a gut punch. He excused himself and walked out onto the snowpack and he saw the Old Man in the Cape standing on the main observation deck – looking out over the valley.

“I didn’t expect to see you up here today,” Callahan said as he approached.

“Indeed? I do hope you’re not still angry at me.”

“Why would I be angry?”

“You should have been more careful, you know?”

“So? Why intervene again?”

“The general and his little pre-flight pep talk? It didn’t happen that way. He delayed you by twenty minutes.”

Callahan sighed. “So, what you’re telling me is that it had already happened once before. Why don’t I remember that one, too?”

“Other interventions. Think of several pebbles hitting a pond at the same time. Ripples interact in unpredictable ways.”

“You care to tell me what’s really going on?”

“You haven’t figured it out yet?”

“No, not really.”

“You know, I do miss snow. And this view! I could never tire of it.”

“Uh-huh. You were saying?”

“At least two groups of people are trying to alter the timeline of your existence, for their own ends.”

“And you? Who are you? And why do you care one way or another?”

“I can’t tell you that. Not without throwing another pebble into the pond.”

“I think I’m beginning to lose touch with reality.”

“Understandable, I think. I might if I was in your place, as well.”

“Am I caught up in – well, something like a war?”

“More like a dominance dance between rival factions.”

“Factions?”

“It’s complicated.”

“You’re joking, right? That thing in Iraq left about twelve witnesses…”

“None having the slightest idea what happened.”

“Getting me summarily tossed out…”

“As happened before, Harald. You have a way of doing that, if you’ll recall.”

“What has all this got to do with my mother and her music?”

The Old Man turned to Callahan, compassion in his eyes. “You are on the right path now, so try to stay on it. She left all you need to find your way.”

And then the Old Man was gone, and as no one else on the deck noticed anything out of the ordinary Callahan turned and walked back to the restaurant.

Where Rooney and Didi were making goo-goo eyes at each other. And watching Rooney holding hands was almost too much…!

“Anyone still feel like skiing today?” he asked, looking at Mickey.

“Maybe one more run?”

“Sounds great!” Didi said, giggling like a thirteen year old.

Callahan rolled his eyes as he settled up and led them back out to the snow. 

They stayed for a week, Rooney and Didi keeping at it all night, every night.

His mother’s piano, still in the living room, was in tune. On their third night at the house, Callahan sat at the keys and played segments from his mother’s Second Concerto, going back to the assault on the Scuds – wondering what version of events he’d find. 

Only now he found he could play events almost like he was controlling a VCR, switching angles, fast forwarding, going back to look at something from another point of view, and he could see almost the exact moment of the intervention. Anti-aircraft rounds slamming into the Huey, glass shattering, bullets hitting him – and several medics in the rear of the aircraft, too – just before an invisible hand reached out and yanked them backwards in time, repositioning the Huey miles away in the process. Still, even after looking at this event over and over again, Callahan was no closer to understanding why it had happened. ‘Dominance dance’ just didn’t mean that much to him, because too many pieces of the puzzle were still missing.

He called DD back at the Cathouse, advised he would be returning in less than a week, and that he’d appreciate someone tidying up the house before his arrival. “And ask someone from the shop to get the piano in tune.”

“Oh? Are you going to be playing more?”

“Probably,” he told her, trying to keep his voice free of emotion.

“I’m sure you’ll have company.”

“Oh? How’s the doc doing with his lessons?”

“Pretty good, I think. He’s still trying to play Debussy the way you did.”

“Well, good to hear. And Didi is stuck here; other commitments, I guess you could say.”

“I figured as much. You might want to spend some time at the shop when you get back. They’re burning a lot of incense over there these days…”

“Really? Well, that sounds encouraging…”

“Encouraging?”

“DD, that’s called sarcasm. I know that must be a concept wildly unfamiliar to you, but truth be told there are some people who resort to using it from time to time.”

“Hah! Anything else I can do before you get back?”

“Well, Mickey seems to have fallen in love with Didi, so you might want to sign him up for Swissair’s frequent flier program.”

“Sarcasm, again?”

“No, actually not.”

“Wow. I am impressed. Well Harry, see you soon.”

He stayed at the house the next several days, let Didi and Rooney figure out if this thing they’d found had legs or not, then Didi called out and announced she’d made their flight reservations for the trip back to California.

“I thought the Army was going to fly us back?” Rooney asked. “What gives?”

“We were discharged, Mickey. No paperwork to tend to ’til we get home. And – do you really want to ride home in another C141?”

“Not really, no.”

“Okay, so you two go ski your asses off tomorrow…”

“You’re not coming?”

“I might,” Harry said. “We’ll see.”

“I kinda wish you would,” Rooney whispered. “I have something special in mind.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Concerning Didi.”

“I see. When and where shall I meet you two? At the top – by the funicular station?”

“Just come with us in the morning, Harry. I hope that’s not too much to ask.”

“Okay. Will do.”

Callahan agreed – not because he was curious, but he thought this might not go as Rooney hoped and he wanted to be around to pick up the pieces if things went tits up. He left them to cook dinner at home and went into town, more to walk the streets and take in the vibe than anything else, but he had his Nikon with him and he wandered the street looking at the world through the viewfinder. After the sun dipped behind the mountains he went to his favorite place for fondue and had a quiet meal to himself.

Off just after breakfast the next morning, the three of them rode the funicular with their ski boots not buckled all the way, then they collected their skis at the top and went out onto the snow to get sorted out. Boots buckled, snow gators arranged just so, gloves on and goggles cleared, Callahan stomped down on his Markers, then looked down, looked everything over. Rooney was helping Didi this morning, all gallant chivalry now – his insecurities checked at the door, then he buckled up and signaled he was ready to go, too. 

“You lead the way, Mickey!” Callahan called out over the wind, and they skated along to reach the first real drop off under blue skies and really cold temperatures. Mickey reached the beginning of the trail first and disappeared over the edge, then Didi slipped from view. Callahan got to the edge and stopped, watched them make a few turns before he poled over the lip of this first little cornice. 

It was a groomed intermediate run, an ego building rollercoaster made out of soft white corduroy, and Callahan caught up with them in short order, then fell in behind Didi as she cruised along. About halfway down Rooney skied into a little alcove of pines, the trees acting as a sort of windbreak here, and he pulled his goggles up and slipped his gloves off. Harry followed suit, then Didi did as well.

“You know,” Mickey began, “this has been a really odd few months, but when I was at my lowest Harry held out the idea of coming up here to the mountains after our time in Iraq was up, and for some reason that kept me going. I’ve never hated anyplace as much as I hated Iraq, and I’ve never been as depressed as when we got there. The idea of dying there filled me with despair, and Harry, without you, without this,” he said, holding his arms out wide, “I don’t think I’d have made it out of that hellhole.

“Still, as much as this place has come to mean to me, nothing could have prepared me for meeting you,” he continued, looking at Didi as he pulled out a little ring box. “Fact of the matter is, Didi, I’ve fallen in love with you, and I wanted to ask if you’d consider marrying me?” 

Callahan, expecting this, and expecting the worst, was completely blown away when she flew into Rooney’s arms and smothered him with kisses – both of them falling down into a snow-covered heap. Callahan retrieved the ring after it disappeared into a wall of white spray, then he helped Didi up before he helped Mickey.

“I think you’d better give her this before you lose it for good,” he said, handing over the ring.

“Well,” Didi said to Harry – still in the clutches of a massive hug, “maybe I will be coming to San Francisco after all!”

“If you two are getting married you will be, ‘cause you ain’t stealing my best pilot! Now, you’d best come here and give me a hug, too!”

They skied down to the village and Harry took them to one of those ‘special places’ with lots of cozy Swiss atmosphere and devastatingly good food, and he left them to it after a few hours – to talk through the details – while he went out to the house to call DD and key her in. He went out and looked up at the mountain again, wondered how many people had fallen in love on her slopes. He could just see the rooftop of the clinic from where he stood, and his mind went back to Sara and their time on the mountain before he thought about Didi and the changes coming her way. How would her father – Colonel Goodman – take the news? 

And how would all their lives change now, he wondered. 

Assuming these events were on the correct timeline, that is…

_______________________________ 

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a 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 (i.e., Covid-19) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive (13)

Come Alive image 3

Chapter 13

Taggart docked adjacent to a supermarket that for all intents and purposes fronted the canal, and he spent an hour in the store with Eva stocking up on things she could eat and hold down. He helped her below and asked her to sort through and stow what she could, and he asked ‘Mike’ to give her a hand.

“Where are you going?” the captain asked as Taggart and Clyde headed up the companionway. 

“A walk, and then a visit with a veterinarian.”

They found the requisite number of appropriate bushes and then Taggart called a taxi. A half hour later Clyde was having his blood drawn, then getting a CT-scan. With this worst fears confirmed, Taggart and Clyde sat in the back of another taxi looking at one another, headed for the river again. Who knows, he thought, maybe Clyde was apologizing for his own mortality. Whatever…now Taggart was genuinely depressed – and more determined than ever.

They got back to Bandits and Taggart cast off her lines and powered into the heavy commercial traffic headed west for the Elbe and the North Sea beyond. No one was headed to the Baltic now, not even commercial traffic, and Taggart feared the exit locks would turn out to be a giant bottleneck. Being trapped on the canal if war broke out was not a particularly good outcome, and he grew anxious as larger boats broke the speed limit, passing them in their mad dash to the open sea.

Every now and then fighters roared by overhead – usually headed east – and each time that happened everyone on the river looked up with fear and dread in their eyes. ‘Mike’ called in on his sat-phone from time to time and got official updates, but he never passed these along to Taggart. He turned out to be a good cook and helped take care of Eva, and an Annapolis trained naval captain was about as good on the helm as anyone could possibly be.

They arrived at the exit lock and motored right into the chamber, proving Taggart’s fears of a bottleneck unfounded. The channel that led to the North Sea was rimmed with shallow sandbars so he couldn’t cut corners, and so the forty mile distance to Wilhelmshaven turned to eighty miles, or a solid day’s journey away. And traffic remained heavy as ships exiting the canal were joined by even larger commercial ships exiting the Elbe River – fleeing Hamburg for the possible safety of the Americas.

Time Bandits’ engine was broken-in now so he pushed it hard, and a steady 90% RPM saw them cutting through the water at nine knots. Still, freighters were passing at twice that speed so he had to keep an eye out for traffic ahead – and to the rear – at least until they made the turn south for Wilhelmshaven. And then…after the turn there was no traffic at all…and all the way into the port area. The docks there were empty, and even the city streets seemed almost completely deserted. 

One hotel was still open, and it was right on the strand. Complete with a marina as it happened, so he pulled in and took Eva ashore. He told her that she’d be alone here for about a week, maybe a few days more, and that it was because he had something important to take care of and he didn’t want to endanger her or the babies.

She nodded, said she understood, and she looked him in the eyes when she asked if he would be coming back for her.

“I’ll be back as soon as I’m finished. Don’t worry.”

“Then I will not,” she said, kissing him once.

He went back to the boat and found ‘Mike’ sitting in the cockpit waiting for him.

“Well, Mike, as much as I’ve enjoyed your company it’s time for you to leave,” Taggart said, pulling the Sig from a coat pocket.

Mike smiled, started to stand.

“Oh, Mike, this is not the Sig you gave me. You know, the one with the firing pin removed. Would you like me to demonstrate? Perhaps on your right knee?”

Mike was not smiling now. “Who are you working for, Henry?”

“As far as I know, just you guys. But I am not going to go out there and get this done – only to have you relieve me of my life. Understood? Now, get the fuck off my boat.”

Mike stood resolutely still, his decision made.

“Okay, I’ll give you a choice. Right knee, or left.”

“Fuck you.”

“Last warning. Get off my boat.” Taggart growled as he squeezed off a round – down into the water; Mike hopped off and Taggart left him on the pier, reversed out of the marina to a chorus of ‘Fuck-you!’ and ‘You’re done!’ – then he accelerated to top speed and left the port.

He looked at his watch and figured he had about three hours until they came for him – probably in helicopters, he thought, and there was no telling how many tracking devices Mike had planted during his time onboard.

“Oh well,” he sighed as he looked at the plotter. “Off to Helgoland,” he said as he engaged the autopilot. Not quite forty miles away, so by the time they came looking for him, he’d be close enough to the island to be visible to residents there – so hopefully no men in black trying to take him out. Assuming he made it there intact, he’d settle into a little marina there, get his gear up and running, and still have plenty of time left to rewrite a little code…

He dashed below and took the battery out of the sat-phone and powered down his iPhone before he foil-pouched it and put it in the oven. He took his noon meds with a Coke and then went topsides, noting that there were now literally dozens of big ships ahead, apparently still exiting the canal in a steady stream and making a break for the open sea.

He continued looking aft, expecting to see helicopters headed his way, but four hours later he pulled into the smaller of the two marinas on the northeast corner of the island of Helgoland and tied off. He located the ‘harbormaster’ and paid the fee to remain tied up for a month, getting a pass to use the local swimming pool and gym – ‘should you so desire.’

He found the local hospital and sought out the islands internist and explained his condition and his need for lab tests, and an hour later – with fresh results in hand – he went to an internet café and emailed the results to Dina. He did not wait for a reply. 

A light Cessna landed at the airport across the narrow channel from the marina, but only two people got off and he watched their reunion through binoculars, breathing another sigh of relief as he popped open another Coke, adding a small measure of rum to this glass. Then his ‘secret’ phone chirped and he reached for it, saw it was Rolf and took the call.

“Hey shipmate. How goes?”

“Good. Grandma-ma got your lab results. She says things look as good as can be expected right now.”

“Okay. Well, tell her I’m feeling okay, and thank her for the help.”

“I will. Is Eva still with you?”

“Not right now.”

“Should I come and get her?”

“No, I don’t think so.” ‘Probably not a good idea to become a hostage, ya know?’ he didn’t say. “Just hang where you are for another two weeks; I’ll call you around that time. And if you have to call me again, use the green phone number.”

He hung up, removed the battery from that phone and tossed the remains into the water, then he went below and started setting up the radio. He now had, by Mike’s estimate, less than ten days to go until the fly-by, so he fell into a new routine: wake and take Clyde for a walk to the fish market, get fresh salmon for their breakfast, then walk back to Bandits. Scrambled eggs and salmon, and whatever fresh fruit he could scrounge up on the island, started their day. He purchased a bread maker and started making whole wheat loaves, and while not as good as Dina’s he was content with the purchase. He found a little diner and usually had lunch there – with Clyde at his feet – then they walked to the high red cliffs and gazed at the sea before walking back to the marina.

On the 15th he powered up the sat phone Mike had given him and seconds later an incoming call chirped.

“Taggart here.”

“How you liking island life, buddy?”

“It’s peaceful. How is Eva?”

“She’s just fine. I think she misses you, but that goes without saying.”

“I’d feel better knowing you’re not going to hurt her.”

“Well, that kind of depends on you, doesn’t it?”

“I’d like to pick her up at Norderney about a day after, if that works for you.”

“I think we can manage that. You remember the instructions?”

“Phone in the charger, wait for your call.”

“Henry, was the gun really necessary?”

“Apparently, or you wouldn’t have jimmied the firing pin.”

“We underestimated you, Pal. My bad.”

“You’re not the first, Mike.”

“Well, at least now I know why you came so highly recommended.”

“Anything else I can help you with right now, Mike?”

“Do you want to talk to Eva?”

“I’ve got enough on my mind right now. Tell her I said hello, would you?”

He disconnected and removed the battery, slipped it in the charger while he inserted the spare, then he took Clyde for a long walk, ending at the fish market again. The owner was just pulling a freshly smoked salmon out of his smoker and Taggart took half of it back to the boat, feeding Clyde more raw salmon he’d picked up earlier that day, then they went topsides to watch the sunset.

There was a little girl walking along the pier and she stopped and said hello.

“I see you walking your dog all the time, and I wanted to ask if I could maybe walk him for you?”

“I see,” Taggart replied in German, “and how much does a walk with my dog cost?”

“Two euros? Is that too much?”

He smiled. “No, that’s fine, but tell me something. Do your parents know you are here asking me this?”

She shook her head.

“Well, we can do this as long as we have your parent’s permission, okay?”

She nodded then scampered off to her house. A half hour later a rather nice looking woman came back with the little girl.

“I am so sorry,” the woman said. “Erika had no business asking you such a thing. I feel I must apologize for her intrusion.”

“No apologies needed. Would you two like to come up and join me? I just made fresh limeade.”

“Oh, no, no, we would be an intru…”

“It’s no intrusion. Please, come on up and join us?”

“Oh, I did not think there were two of you onboard?”

Bingo. So, she’d been watching.

“No, just me and Clyde here.”

“Everyone on the island is talking about you and the dog. We rarely have visitors stay for more than a few days.”

“I see. Well, I have some work to do and needed a little peace and quiet. This seemed like a good place.”

“You are from America? Where is this accent from?”

“Yes, California. I learned to speak when I was in university.”

“So, this is the famous Clyde?” the woman said, reaching down to rub his head.

“Yes, this is Clyde, and my name is Henry.”

“Well, I am Erika’s mother, Rosa. Nice to meet you,” she said, taking Henry’s offered hand.

“Your accent is Bavarian, is it not?” he asked.

“Yes, I am from Munich, but I work here every summer.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, in the hospital.”

“I see. So you are a physician?”

“No, no. A nurse, but there is a shortage and this makes a nice holiday for me and my daughter.”

“And your husband, too, I assume?”

“No husband,” she said, smiling affectionately. “You will excuse me asking, but you look a little pale.”

“I’ve not been feeling well lately. I saw a doctor in the hospital here a few days ago.”

“Ah, well hopefully it is nothing too bad.”

He smiled. “I picked up some fresh smoked salmon at the market today, and I’ve made a little salad. Would you care to join me?”

“It would not be an intrusion?”

“No, I’d love the company.”

“Well, everyone on the island is already watching us, so we might as well give them something to gossip about.”

“I like the way you think, Rosa!” Henry said. “Here, you two stay where you are; I’ll fix some plates and hand them up.”

“It is a little cool out, don’t you think?” she added.

“Oh…sorry. Yes, please, come on down; I’ll turn up the heat a little. Clyde, you’d better lead the way.”

Once below, Rosa’s eyes seemed to register a little surprise while she took in her new surroundings, though Erika found her own way to Clyde and started rubbing his head – just like her mother had. Clyde, for his part, simply moaned a little as he got into all the new attention, leaving Henry to serve up plates of smoked salmon and a lightly curried cucumber-orzo salad. He uncorked a Riesling and poured her a glass, then everyone sat and grazed for a while.

“I have never seen anything like this boat,” Rosa said. “It is like a home down here, and not at all what I was expecting.”

“Well, it is my home, but it is also a kind of magic carpet, as it takes me wherever I want to go.”

“I would hope to go someplace far from here,” she said cautiously. “Are you not worried about these things that are happening in the east?”

“No, not at all. Saner minds will prevail. They always do, you know?”

“I am no longer so certain.”

“Oh, well, I understand. But truly, war is an archaic institution – simply because war has become pointless. What can you gain by destroying all life on earth? War has become the province of the madman, and such personalities can be coddled in other, much more effective ways.”

“Oh, if it was only so simple,” she said. 

“Well, one can hope.”

“Do you have a television here?”

“Yes, but I don’t think I’ve ever used it. I have little need for the things people try to peddle there.”

“This is nice,” she said, indicating her glass – which was nearing empty. He poured her another glass and stood to take care of the mess in the galley.

“May I help?” she asked.

“Not at all necessary,” he told her as he rinsed off their plates and stuck them in the dishwasher.

“So, you really are not worried?”

“No, and you shouldn’t be, either. Like I said, saner minds, cooler, more collected minds will carry the day. Right now, the people who bottle water and make toilet paper are making money like never before, but a few months from now the people who bought all those things will look at all that stuff as nothing more than evidence of their own foolishness. One day, perhaps, they will realize they have been duped…once again.”

“I was thinking of staying here on the island, you see. In case war breaks out, perhaps it would be safer here.”

“Rosa, if war breaks out, no place is safe, and that’s my point.”

“But it is an island…”

“There will be no safe islands, Rosa. And now, I think we should talk about…? What would Erika like to watch on television?”

“But you said you haven’t used it?”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t know how to…”

“She wanted to see a new Marvel superhero movie. I think it is called Doctor Strange?”

He powered up his phone and pulled up the film, then linked it to his laptop, which was linked to his TV and one more button push later the TV rose from inside a cabinet and there it was. Erika sat up, her attention focused on the screen as if magnets had been attached to her eyes, and the music began…

Clyde, for his part, did not like the sudden loss of attention, so of course he barked twice then cut a nice, juicy, salmon fueled fart.

“Dear God in Heaven!” Rosa cried. “What is that smell?”

“Well, it’s either my dog wanting to go for a little walk, or it’s me – wishing I’d picked up a stray cat along the way.”

“I will help you,” Rosa said, leaving Erika’s magnetic eyes embedded deep inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Fine by me.”

They walked along the seawall to the northern point and the beach beyond, Clyde enjoying the fresh air almost as much as the two humans now did. “I have never smelled such gas before,” she sighed. “What do you feed that dog?”

“A lot of salmon this week. Maybe I should add some fiber.”

“You should try something different.”

“Clyde, don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

That was good for one bark.

“So, he talks to you?”

“Oh yes, all the time.”

“He looks very old. Have you had him since he was a puppy?”

“Actually, no. He found me in Bergen, oh…I guess it was about two months ago.”

“He found you?”

“Yes, he was homeless, living on the streets.”

“He looks very healthy.”

“It’s the salmon. The oils are great for the skin.”

“But not so much for the gas?”

“You hardly notice after a few days.”

“Maybe you don’t, but…”

“Yes, I know. So, tell me about you. You are a nurse from Munich. What else should I know?”

She walked along quietly for a moment, as if deciding on an answer: “What would you like to know?”

“Erika’s father. Where is he?”

She shrugged. “With his new wife, I suppose.”

“And you are still angry at him?”

“I am still very much angry at him.”

“And Erika? Is she angry at her father also?”

“Erika is old enough to understand what happened…”

“So she was old enough to be hurt?”

“Yes, badly.”

“How old is she?”

“Twelve. Thirteen next month.”

“And now all this worry about war,” Henry sighed.

“It has taken my mind off Kurt.”

“So, a mixed blessing…”

“No, I think not. War feels like the end of everything we know, and that could never be a blessing.”

“How does Erika feel about it?”

“She is not sleeping well. There is the fear, and when that goes away the thoughts of her father reappear. Then she saw your dog.”

“Clyde?”

“Yes, she has been wanting a dog of her own but the apartment where we live in Munich does not allow them. And here on the island, too. Dogs are very rare on the island, as life can be very difficult out here.”

“I like it,” Taggart said. “The rocks and the cliffs and the sea? It is nature at her easy going best.”

“Not when storms arrive, and not so much so in winter.”

“There is a season for everything,” he said.

“So, truthfully, you do not look so well. You won’t tell me what is wrong so I think it must be bad.”

He smiled. “It must be, then.”

“Okay, I understand.”

“Oh? You do?”

“You are an island. You want to be alone.”

“You think so, do you?”

“Why else would you push me away?”

“I am not pushing you away…”

“You have a wall around your heart, Henry. Very strong, because you have built it that way. When I look at you, at your clothing, I can see you have lost a lot of weight. You are pale. And now you are evasive, because you are afraid you will confide in someone like me and that will push me away.”

“It won’t?”

“No, and as for why, let me tell you a little secret.”

“If you’d like.”

“I am in need of a friend.”

“That is a dangerous secret indeed,” he said, smiling.

And she reached out and took his hand. “Now it is not a secret.”

Clyde turned and looked at Taggart just then, then he shook his head – flapping this ears wildly – before he sat and watched the show unfold… ‘Is this human really going to mate again?’ he thought. ‘Christ…what is it with this dude?’

By the time the three of them made it back to the boat Doctor Strange, had saved the Marvel Cinematic Universe one more time and Erika was watching the end credits, waiting for the secret reveal at the end.

“Man, it’s like magic,” Taggart sighed. “There’s nothing else in the world that can turn a kid into a quiet receptacle of junk quite like one of these movies.”

“Is that why you like them, too?”

“Yes, precisely so.”

“So, I should take my little Erika home now.”

“Well, feel free to drop by any time.”

She smiled and kissed him – on the cheek – and then tried to get her little girl’s attention.

“Not now, it hasn’t come to the end yet!” the girl cried.

“I’m sure there’s another movie in the series…” Taggart said, teasing Rosa.

“Don’t you dare!”

“Are you working tomorrow?” he asked.

“Yes, why?”

“What does she do during the day?”

“Oh, she has books to read, a journal to write in, all kinds of things…”

“And there’s no television on the island?”

“Not in my building.”

“She can stay down here with me if you like.”

“And she would do nothing but watch movies all day! No thank you!”

“Just one, and anyway, I spend most of the day walking. Maybe she could use the exercise.”

“We will see,” Rosa said. “Erika? We must go now.”

German children were not so different from American kids, Taggart noticed – if that pouting lower lip was any kind of measure at all. 

Taggart shut down most of the ship’s systems overnight, then he went topsides and checked Bandits’ lines. He took a quick shower and slipped under the covers, and then Clyde came up and assumed the position: snuggled in close with his chin on Taggart’s incision. Within seconds both were snoring – and when he woke the next morning he realized the dream hadn’t returned for the first time in weeks.

When he came in from his walk with Clyde that morning he had several texts from Rolf waiting.

‘Get in touch with Dina!’ they advised, and just then he heard a knocking on the side of Bandit’s hull. He went up the companionway to see who it was and found Rosa and Erika standing there.

“Good morning,” Rosa said – but from the look in her eyes it had been anything but…

“And to you. What’s going on?” he replied.

“I need to talk to you. May we come aboard?”

“Of course. Please,” he said, going to the rail and taking Erika’s hand and helping her up, then Rosa’s. “Here, or should we go below?”

“It is a private matter,” Rosa sighed.

He led them below and put on a movie for Erika, then led Rosa to the aft cabin.

“Alright, I’m all ears.” he said.

Rosa seemed hesitant, yet he saw she was on the verge of a massive breakdown – so he went to her and gave her a gentle hug.

“I am very afraid this morning,” she began. “I found a lump in my breast when I showered before work, so I went to one of the internists at the hospital, then I had a mammogram.”

“And the news is not so good, I take it?”

She shook her head. “I am afraid not.”

“May I show you something?” he asked.

“Of course?”

He pulled up his polo shirt and revealed his incision and her eyes went wide. “We found my breast cancer in May.”

“And this is why you are so pale?”

He nodded. “Stage four. I may make it to the New Year, or…”

“I understand. I should not be placing this burden on your shoulders…”

“On the contrary. There is probably no one here in a better place emotionally to help you than I am. Now, what do you need?”

“They are going to do a biopsy first thing in the morning, and if the pathology warrants I have asked that they perform a full radical mastectomy.”

“Okay.”

“I would like you to watch Erika for me while I am in the hospital. Is this okay with you?”

“Of course. Is there anything else I can do?”

“I cannot think of anything.”

“What about your family?”

She shook her head. “No, we are alone now.”

He smiled. “No, you’re not. I’m here now, and everything is going to be just fine. Don’t worry about anything now but getting ready for the fight of your life, but just remember, Erika will be here with you, and if you need me I will be too.” He kissed her forehead and held her close for a long while, then he leaned back a little. “What have you two had to eat today?”

“Not much, I’m afraid.”

“Well, ‘not much’ is not the best way to take care of yourself, so let’s see what we can do about that…”

He whipped up a spaghetti carbonara and a small salad while Rosa and Erika watched Doctor Strange – again – then he and Clyde walked them back to her apartment. 

“I’ll walk Erika by in the morning. Thank you for everything,” she said.

He nodded and waved goodbye to Erika, then he took Clyde for a short walk – both reveling in the sun and sea breeze before heading back to the boat.

He didn’t like the idea of using a VPN but logged in and texted Rolf: “What’s up?”

“She needs to talk to you. Very important.”

“On it.”

He opened Messages and shot off a quick “How are you?” text. Her reply was instantaneous.

“I feel terrible for misleading you. Will you ever be able to forgive me?”

“You are forgiven.”

“Just like that?”

“No time to waste with nonsense.”

“Okay.”

“Rolf needs to come back to you. I need to know if I am welcome.”

“You are my wife. How could you not be welcome?”

“When may we come?”

“After the 21st. I will be busy until then.”

“Busy?”

“Yes. Busy.”

“Where should we come to?”

“Not sure yet. Depends on the state of the world, I think.”

“If it depends on that we may never see you again.”

“I live on a magic carpet, remember? It is not so far to Bergen. Two, maybe three days.”

“So, I am not to worry?”

“Other more important things to worry about now. Just be safe and take care of our family.”

“Our family. You have never said that before.”

“A simple truth best remembered always, Dina.”

“I love you.”

“Thanks. I needed to hear that from you. I love you too.”

“When will I hear from you next?”

“Just keep your phone with you. I may have to move quickly, depending on possible outcomes.” 

He signed off then gathered all the ship’s laundry and got to work. “I feel like a hotel maid,” he snarled as he remade both bunks in the two forward staterooms…then he heard the knock-knock on the hull that he had been waiting for. Just as he thought, it was Rosa and Erika again and he smiled at them as he helped them aboard – with their suitcases.

“I am almost ready for you,” he said.

“What? Ready for what?” Rosa said.

“I just changed the sheets in your staterooms.”

“You knew…?”

“Of course. It makes perfect sense to have Erika stay here, and you too after you are discharged. We both know I can take better care of you both from here.”

“I was so worried that we would be imposing…”

“Please, welcome aboard. Now, you should rest.”

He helped the girls figure out how to use the head, then let them have the forward berth – for now; after Rosa closed her eyes Erika came looking for Clyde and they settled in with one of the Thor movies. Henry returned to writing code at the chart table, smiling all the while.

Because every now and then he’d look back at all the fantastic events of the last year. First, finding the original Time Bandit, then sailing up and down the east coast. The friends he’d made in the Florida Keys, and in Maine – before his Atlantic crossing. And everything since arriving in Bergen…where he had gone from a life alone to a life full of love and friendship…and when at times like this he bathed in the cool waters of his new family he finally felt the fullness of life.

And maybe that was what his father had really wanted for him. What his father had wanted to show him – if only they had…

…then, another knock on the hull…

He went up the companionway and there was Mike, sitting in the cockpit with a pistol visibly tucked in his waistband.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 51

88Kvenom image SMALL

Part VI

Chapter 51

There came a time, and maybe it was about six months after the Jeanie Post thing, when Frank decided Harry Callahan had simply had enough – of women, of dating – all of it. He’d turned into a helicopter flying monk and if it didn’t have to do with flying – and CAT, it seemed that Harry Callahan just wasn’t interested. 

Cathy had asked him once if he wanted to proceed with the little teahouse and Callahan had thought for a moment, then told her yes.

“I’m just curious, but why?”

“I think,” Harry told her, “it might just be a fitting monument to the futility of love.”

And it wasn’t what he’d said that rattled Cathy, it was the way he said it. Maybe a little self-deprecating – and why not? – yet it was the certainty, the finality she felt in him that shook her up. And it dovetailed so nicely with what Frank had described. Callahan didn’t look at anyone with any interest at all – unless, he’d told her, they were wearing a flight suit.

When DD announced that she and Doc Watson were engaged, Callahan took them to dinner and couldn’t have been happier for them, but Cathy’s keen enough eye saw right through the searing irony within his spontaneous gaiety – and seeing him so – well, she just didn’t buy into the whole macho bravado thing anymore.

“It’ll happen, Harry. Your one true love. She’s out there, just you wait and see.”

“She might be, Cathy, but right now I could give a rat’s ass. I’d walk right on by and never know, because I just don’t care anymore.”

“Kind of a self-fulfilling deal, don’t you think?”

“No, not really,” he’d said as he watched DD and the Doc dancing. “I’m comfortable with who I am right now, Cathy. Just me. But I know what you mean. When I think of either you or Frank I think of you two as a matched pair, as two people who belong together. Indistinguishable one from the other, ya know?”

“That’s what I want for you,” Cathy said. “If anyone ever deserved that kind of happiness, it’s you.”

“You know, of all the things I picked up in Japan I think Karma hit me hardest – and deepest. There’s a real basic truth in that one, Cathy. Maybe ‘what goes around comes around’ comes close, or even ‘you reap what you sow,’ but something about Karma seems so resonant to me now.”

“You loved Fujiko, didn’t you? I mean, you really, really loved her, right?”

“I thought so – at mean I did…once-upon-a-time, but I’ll tell you something weird. You know how people say that the opposite of Love is Hate?”

“Yes, sure I do.”

“I never felt Hate for her, Cathy. Never once. Doesn’t that mean something, like I never really loved her?”

‘Or maybe it means you still love her, you dumb-ass!’ she thought about saying to him – but she pulled back from that precipice and simply smiled at him.

The Doc had grown close to Frank and Cathy after that party, and even a little to Harry, so when he learned of Frank’s cancer and remission he took a serious interest in Frank – from a professional point of view, that is. Not long after their marriage, at a dinner party Cathy put on for the newlyweds, Frank got a little toasted and mentioned the whole ‘piano and Callahan‘ thing, and the Doc had, at the time, filed that one away deep inside the Drunken Innuendo filing cabinet.

Then one day the Doc mentioned it in passing to Cathy – and she had instantly grown cold and distant – and her frigid denial meant something as far as the doc was concerned.

“Let me try again, Cathy?” the doc asked. “Is it true…what Frank said?”

But Cathy had offered only a cold, blank stare, and he’d opted not to press the matter further.

Then one Saturday afternoon he’d been running on the beach and he looked up at one point and saw Callahan on his back porch. What was he up to? Lighting a fire, getting ready to grill some steaks? He found the cut in the rocks that led up to Callahan’s house and he ambled over to the grill as Callahan was adding more wood to the fire.

“Getting the fire ready, I see.” 

“Oh, hey Doc. Out for another run?”

“Yeah, but it’s beginning to take a toll on my knees.”

“Time to get a bicycle, I reckon.”

“Probably true. Say, Cathy tells me you’re a helluva pianist. That true?”

“I can make it through chopsticks okay, if that’s what you mean. Why?”

“Oh, nothing. Just curious, as I’d never heard anyone mention that before. Do you still play much?”

And Callahan had simply shaken his head. “Oh, not that much these days; what about you?”

“I used to play a little, but for some reason I quit after med school. Didn’t have the time for it anymore, I guess. Now I kind of regret that decision.”

“So,” Callahan sighed, “why don’t you go pick up a new one. I can get you a good deal if you’re serious.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. For some reason I ended up sole owner of the Rosenthal Music Company…”

“That Danish outfit? You? That must be quite a tale. What kind of piano is that up in the house?”

“Oh, it’s a Bösendorfer.”

“Are you fucking serious? Man, I’ve never even laid eyes on one of those.”

“Cathy designed that one for the house,” Harry said – with some pride in evidence.

“She what?”

“Yeah. Part of a custom program they have. She did the design, and she even shipped some rock and slate they were using inside the house to them. They incorporated everything. Really a work of art.”

“Alright, Callahan…you’ve got to show me this thing!”

They walked up and Watson was impressed enough with the house, then he saw the piano and how Cathy’s design for the house had started at the piano and worked out from there.

“Dear God, Harry. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life,” Watson said as he walked over to instrument. He stood behind the bench and assayed the surroundings, taking in the view of the sea ahead and the rocky cliffs almost directly below and to the right. “This view is simply staggering! You can see the surf hit the rocks…everything…!”

“Go head, take a seat and let me know what you think of her.”

“How do you keep her in tune…with all this humidity?”

“Ducted central dehumidifiers throughout the house. And I have a tuner from the shop come out once a month.”

“You really don’t mind if I play a little?”

“No, no – fire away.”

Watson sat and positioned himself, then uncovered the keys and began butchering Clair de lune for a few minutes, then he quit, shaking his head as he stood. “Like I said, it’s been a few years. How often do you play these days…?”

Callahan shrugged. “When I come out here to the house I try to spend some time with her.”

“Oh, I’m sorry…you were about to light a fire. So you’re cooking out tonight?”

“Thinking about it, yeah,” Callahan replied, wondering where this was going.

“You know, I’m sorry. I feel like I’ve bulled my way in here…”

“Not at all. How’s married life treating you?”

Watson shook his head. “She’s clairvoyant, you know? Either that or she’s the smartest woman alive.”

“I figured that one out a few years ago, Doc. She’s both.”

“She really loves working for you guys, you know?”

“I doubt we’d survive long without her. She’s the brains behind the outfit, that’s for sure.”

“Say, we’ve got some steaks at the house. Why don’t you come down and grab some chow with us?”

Callahan looked out back. “I’ve already got the fire going. Why don’t you go grab DD and come down here? We can make a night of it if you like?”

“Sounds like a plan. Be back in a flash.”

Callahan went to the ‘fridge and pulled out some steaks and some foil-wrapped veggies and carried them down to the grill, then he stoked the charcoal and brushed off the steel cooking grates. He bent down, took a Coke from the little built-in fridge and popped the top, and then he heard DD and the Doc coming through the yard a few minutes later. And she was carrying bowls of – he assumed – salads and fruit, because, of course, she’d already figured out what was going down before either he or the doc had settled on the night.

And, of course, DD already knew where everything was in Harry’s house so she was off like a herd of turtles grabbing plates and silverware and a bottle of sangria she’d placed there for just such an emergency – et voilà, instant party – DD style.

And, Watson noticed, Callahan was in desperate need of blowing off steam. He’d been working fires in the wilderness area east of Yosemite for two week with hardly any time off, and he was a ragged mess emotionally. And starving, too, judging by the time it took Callahan to wolf down a sixteen ounce ribeye. Even so, Callahan stuck to Coke and managed to eat just about half the salad DD had prepared.

“You know, Harry showed me that piano of his and it got me thinking,” the Doc said to Mrs. Doc. “I used to play and I think I want to get back into it. What do you think?”

“Really? Well sure, why not? Harry, what do you think?”

“I told him no problem getting a good price at the shop, so just let me know when you two are going shopping…”

“Oh, well,” DD said, “I’d want you there for that, Harry.”

“Oh?” the Doc said. “Why’s that?”

“Have you heard him play?”

“No? What has that got to do with…?”

“When you hear him you’ll know why.”

“Okay, Callahan,” the Doc snarled, “what’s the deal here? You gonna show me, or do I have to be content with all these rumors…?”

“Well,” Harry sighed, “if I play, you get to do the dishes.”

“You’re on!” the Doc smiled. “Now, would either of you two mind if I finish this sangria?”

They all pitched-in and carried the dishes up to the kitchen, leaving Callahan to settle in behind his Bösendorfer. He looked at the keys for a while then went into Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn, then, without pause he took them into Clair de lune, drawing out the key passages in shades of exquisite longing, in effect – taking the room to the moonlight…

And when he looked up, when he was finished, both DD and the Doc were in tears.

“Sorry,” Harry said, “but that’s all you get for doing the dishes.”

“I’d simply forgotten music has such power over the imagination,” Watson said. “For a moment I felt like I was sitting beside a fawn in the sun with not a care in the world, but Harry, I’ve never, ever heard the Clair de lune played so…evocatively. Why in God’s name aren’t you playing professionally?”

“You can’t love two women at the same time, Doc. And it just so happens that I love flying more than playing.”

“Sorry, but I can’t buy that,” Watson said. “You have a gift, and maybe you should consider that the returns on investment are skewing all wrong.” 

“I don’t get you.”

“How many lifetimes have you practiced to get where you are, to get where fewer than an infinitesimally small number of pianists ever get. People practice like that, Harry, for a reason. To share not just their talent and devotion, but to share their vision of the music. Debussy never wrote Clair de lune the way you just interpreted it, and as many times as I’ve heard that piece I’ve never heard it finessed like this. You turned it into something new, something, well, that needs to be shared, to be experienced, and I hate to say this, but I think your expression of Debussy’s music is transformative.”

“Yeah? Too bad I like helicopters so much.”

Watson nodded. “Yes. It is.”

“You know what, Doc. I’ve said this a thousand times if I’ve ever said it once, but piano players are a dime a dozen. I can’t tell you how many brilliant pianists I’ve run across who were literally starving to death, barely earning enough to put a roof over their head…”

“Don’t you think I know that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. But I think I’m contributing more doing what I do than sitting in some smoke-filled bar banging away night after night, waiting for the last call…”

“Have you ever thought of composing?”

“No.”

Watson saw the glacial expression set in and retreated a little. “Am I missing something, Harry?”

“My mother…she was a composer.”

“Oh? What’s her name?”

“Imogen Schwarzwald.”

Watson was genuinely shocked. “Your mother,” he stammered, “was Imogen Schwarzwald?”

Callahan nodded.

“Then your not playing is a crime against humanity,” Watson said, but now even DD seemed shocked at the benevolent vehemence in her husband’s voice. “I mean it, Harry. I really do.”

Callahan simply shrugged. “I’m sorry you feel that way, Doc. But something’s troubling me right now.”

“Oh?”

“There’s a big pile of dishes in the sink, yet so far I ain’t seen one of ‘em get up and wash itself off.”

Watson held up his hands. “Okay, you win. The world loses, but never let it be said that I…”

“Y’all take off. Go home and make babies, look at piano catalogues…doin’ dishes comes second nature to me…”

“Nope, a deal is a deal…”

“Alright, but I’m not sure there’s room at the sink for the three of us.”

_________________________________

But Watson’s words had an effect. 

Callahan started spending more time at the house, more time on the piano. Then he started going by the shop – as he called the Rosenthal Music Company – on his days off, spending time with ‘his’ other employees. Most were Danes from Copenhagen, coming over to spend a few months immersed in the California vibe, and all were very serious musicians.

“You know,” Nils Andersen said on a Saturday afternoon, “we should expand the store. There are really exciting things happening with synths and electronic keyboards, and we should hop on that bandwagon.”

“Synths?” Callahan wondered. “You mean like the Moog, stuff like that.”

“Yes, very much like that. Have you ever heard Switched On Bach?”

“That the album by Walter Carlos?”

“Yes, but it’s Wendy Carlos now.”

“What? You mean…?”

“Yes, but that is unimportant. How about Gershon Kingsley?” 

“Nope, never heard of – a him, I take it?”

“Yes, a him. We have the LP here; you should take it home and listen. Switched On Gershwin. No, I kid you not. He gave that name satirically I think, or maybe an homage to Carlos, but it too is quite interesting music. Weird, but interesting. His Porgy and Bess is really demonstrative of what the Moog can do.”

“You know, I don’t think I even have a stereo at the house.”

“You what?” Andersen cried.

Callahan shrugged sheepishly. “What do you recommend?”

“It depends on the room, I guess.”

“I’ll have to talk to my architect before I do anything weird to the house.”

“Really? What about your unit in the condo?”

“Full of pilots right now.”

“So you’re commuting to Sea Ranch?”

“As of last week I am, yeah.”

“Well, I can come up tonight and take a look around, but you’d have to give me a ride. No way can we afford cars over here. The insurance rates are impossible.”

“Don’t I know it. Yeah. Let me call Cathy, see if she can meet us at the house, and if I can’t get you back into the city I’ll have one of the guys drop by and pick you up at the airport.”

“Really! Well, what fun. I have of course heard a lot about this house of yours, and I would love to see it. And this friend of yours, the doctor?”

“Watson? Yes?”

“Yes, that’s the one. He is looking at a Yamaha, one of the new Clavinova series.”

Callahan shrugged. 

“He mentioned you told him you could get him a special price?”

“Yeah, and please make it good.”

“Like what? Ten percent over cost? That’s a steal, by the way.”

“Make sure he leaves feeling happy about the price, okay?”

“Sure. Could we start stocking synthesizers? Please?”

“Why are you asking me? If the things sell, then by all means, stock them!”

“Really?”

“Yes, but keep in mind the origins and roots of the company. Still, it seems to me we have to evolve with the times, and I’d like us to be taken seriously by serious performers.”

Nils grew quiet, suddenly serious. “You knew Saul, didn’t you?”

“Yes. Why?”

“He is kind of a legend around here.”

“For me, too. He holds a very special place in my heart.”

“I understand he used to speak about focusing on performers, too. San Francisco is home to so many great bands – wouldn’t it be great if we had a few of them as customers.”

“I agree, that’s something worth going after. If you think you can get the job done, why not go for it. Now, show me this thing that Doc Watson is looking at…”

___________________________________

Callahan was sitting in his cubicle in the Cathouse, reading some promotional material on a new “glass” instrument panel Sikorsky would soon offer as an option on the S-76, when his desk phone rang.

“Yo. Callahan here.”

“Harry,” one of their new receptionists said, “there are two men from the Army here to talk to you, and they look like serious types.”

“Take ‘em to the large conference room and get ‘em something to drink. I’ll be there in a little bit.”

He’d been dreading this because he knew it was coming – and now it was here…time to face the music. He went to the WC and washed up, then went to CATs main conference room.

There they were in full dress uniform, one sergeant and one captain, both with 101st Airborne insignia on their sleeves. They stood when he came into the room, and waited for him to take a seat before they did.

“Okay, gentlemen. The floor is yours,” Callahan told them.

“Mr. Callahan, we’re sure you’re aware of the situation in Kuwait,” the sergeant began. “The President has decided to form a coalition, and we’re planning a major action in the region this winter.”

“Yes, I’d assumed as much. How many of my pilots are you going to take?”

“We’re not here to talk about that, Mr. Callahan. We’re here to talk about you.”

“Me? I’m forty four years old? You can’t be serious?”

Then the captain stood and began pacing the room. “I understand this is a bit of a shock, but actually, you are the only rated pilot left who has the relevant training.”

“Relevant? To what?”

“As you may have heard, this Hussein character has stashed weapons of mass destruction all around Iraq, and our intel assessment is that he may well have nuclear capability right now, or will very soon. He also has hundreds of Scud missiles capable of hitting targets anywhere in the Middle East – and as luck would have it they are capable of carrying a small warhead. We’d like to send in radiologic assessment teams ahead of the initial assault, but we only have two Hueys with the necessary equipment right now, and no rated pilots. Worse, we’re short on instructors.”

“Uh, guys, maybe it escaped your notice, but I opted out of the reserves when I came back in sixty nine.”

“Mr. Callahan,” the captain said, taking great care with each word he uttered now, “your work in Israel for Colonel Goodman didn’t escape our notice, and not to make too fine a point about the matter, but you did so without the permission of either the United States Army or the federal government.”

“Okay,” Callahan said, smiling now, “so what’s your offer?”

“Return to active duty for a period to last no longer than 12 months, but which may be curtailed to coincide with the cessation of in-theater combat operations.”

“Keep talking,” Callahan said, now waiting for the real bait and switch.

“You’ll move from NCO status to commissioned officer, with the rank of Captain. And at the end of your tour you will be commissioned Full Colonel, retired.”

“With no further call ups?” Callahan asked.

“That’s right, Mr. Callahan. No more active duty, the slate wiped clean. And Israel never happened – in writing.”

“Well then, I reckon you better start calling me Captain Callahan. “Who else are you taking from my outfit?”

“We’d like Rooney and Pattison.”

“Choose one, and I’d prefer Pattison stayed here.”

“Done,” the captain said. “We’d like you to train Lieutenant Rooney to use the second Huey.”

“Captain Rooney,” Callahan added, “until discharge, then a Full Bird on retirement.”

“Agreed,” the captain sighed. 

“When and where do we report?”

“We’ll take you to Travis in the morning. Report here at 0600. You can fly us up, and you’ll be off to Frankfurt from there. Both of the Hueys are there now.”

After the two Army types left he had Rooney and Pattison called in, and he asked Frank and DD to drop by as well. When everyone was in the conference room Callahan began.

“Mickey, it seems the United States Army would like the pleasure of our company beginning tomorrow morning at 0600. You’re no longer an NCO, you’ll no doubt enjoy learning that…”

“Second Looey?”

“Nope, Captain. Same with me, by the way. Frank, you and Pattison will be nominally in charge of day-to-day operations. Pattison? You’ll take helo operations. Frank, day to day operation of the airline. DD? I’ll remain CEO in name only until my return; effective tomorrow you are CATs de facto CEO. You and I can talk about pay before I leave.”

She seemed shocked. “The will I drafted?”

“Print it up and let me sign it. Mickey? Have a will ready for a notary?”

“No sir.”

“I’ll take care of it,” DD said. “Will there be anything else, sir?”

“No, thanks. Frank, could you stick around for a minute?”

“Sure.”

When everyone else was gone Frank closed the door and sat. “Jesus, Harry…this sure came out of the blue.”

Callahan shrugged. “I was halfway expecting it, Frank. Now, do you need anything before I go? I mean anything?”

“I don’t think so. What about the house? Do you want me to take care of it while you’re gone?”

“Sure. That would nice. You’ll need to get with DD on the work that gets done on a month to month basis, but other than that it’s really easy. How’s Cathy?”

“Good.”

“You two are solid now?”

“I think so. Yes.”

“Elizabeth?”

“She’ll miss you, Harry.”

“Yeah, and I’ll miss the hell out of her, too.”

“Damn, Harry. This wasn’t exactly the best time for something like this to happen.”

“Never be a good time for something like this, Frank. Now, let’s get down to specifics.”

“Okay. Shoot.”

“You do what you can do until it gets to be too much, then ask DD for help. Stress is your number one enemy, but I know how important this whole airline thing has become to you. Still, your remission is important to all of us, Frank, so don’t push too hard. Got it?”

“How long are you going to be away?”

“Up to a year, but probably less.”

“You’re going to miss Elizabeth’s birthday, you know…?”

Callahan nodded. “I’ll try to make it up to her next year.”

Frank nodded, and Harry noticed it looked a little like Frank was tearing up. That was unexpected.

“You take care of yourself,” Frank said, then he left. 

DD came in as soon as the coast was clear.

“Here’s the updated Will. Sign here and here,” she said, pointing at the required lines, and when he was done she signed then applied her notary seal. “Okay, that’s legal. Now, what did you want to do about pay?”

“Bump Bullitt and Pattison up to eighty k, you up to one-twenty. Talk with Pattison about pilot raises. We’re due, long overdue on a significant raise, and if the numbers work let’s see if we can’t have a few extra-merry Christmases around here this year.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Well, we managed five percent last year, but the cost of living ate that up – and then some. Let’s shoot for the anticipated inflation rate plus five percent, and let’s see if we can get a more generous medical plan this year, too.”

“It may be time to look at Kaiser.”

“That HMO thing? Are you sure?”

“They’re good, Harry. Between them and Cigna, they provide pretty comprehensive coverage.”

“Well, you make the best deal you can, but let’s see a noticeable improvement.”

“And smiles, right?”

“Smiles are a good thing, DD.”

“You might be the only CEO in California that thinks so.”

“Uh, yeah, well…if I don’t make it back for some reason, you know what to do, right?”

“Yessir. Don’t worry about that.”

“Well, you better head on out. I think I’m going to stay here tonight.”

“You don’t need anything from the house?”

“No. I’d just have to put the stuff in a footlocker and they’d store it ’til I got back. My choice of attire is gonna be made for me, ya know?”

“I can’t believe they’re taking you. Haven’t you done enough?”

He shrugged. “How’s the piano thing coming with the doc?”

“He loves playing again, but I think he wants to take lessons from you.”

“Me? One hour with me and he’d quit for good.”

She nodded, then stepped close and hugged him. “Be safe,” she said before she turned and ran from the room.

Rooney came by a half hour later and ducked his head into the conference room.

“You still here?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna bunk-out here tonight. What about you?”

“Yup, me too. Say, why don’t we head up to Trader Vic’s. A Sufferin’ Bastard might be just the thing tonight.”

“You know…that might just be the smartest goddam thing I’ve heard today. Let’s go.”

As it happened, their waiter did not bring simple glasses of fruit punch that night, and Pattison was called to come pick them up and get them back to the Cathouse.

“You know,” Pattison sighed, “I hope you two got it out of your system tonight. Where you’re going they’ll chop your fuckin’ head off if you get this drunk in a restaurant.”

“If I ever get this fuckin’ drunk again,” Rooney said, “you can chop my head right off.”

“I think,” Callahan added, “that I might not ever be sober ever again. Now, who’s spinning the room? You can stop it now. Really.”

Pattison got Callahan to the WC just in time, but he still had to call the janitorial service. Callahan’s aim was, it turned out, a little off that night.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a 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 (i.e., Covid-19) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive (12)

come alive im2 HR57 small

Chapter 12

Again he heard his watch chirping: ‘low oxygen sat levels!’ – ‘abnormal heart rhythm!’ – ‘call to emergency services imminent!’ Taggart sat up on his berth with nausea clawing up his throat, a headache spitting daylight into sodden pulses of bile screaming for release. He grabbed at the watch on his wrist, found the face and killed the alarm, then stumbled into the head, reaching for the tap of last resort. He splashed water on his face, found his toothbrush and toothpaste and tried to brush away the remnants of the dream – still lingering like a bad taste in his mouth.

Clyde was looking at him when he came out of the head, then he barked twice – letting Taggart in on a little secret: ‘You slept for ten hours, asshole. Get me to a bush before I spray down your bed…’

“Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Come on, shipmate. Let’s go and do the deed.”

They clambered up the companionway and the first thing Taggart saw was lightning painting the night in shades of gray. “Fuck. Why didn’t I get a god damn cat?”

He left Clyde in the cockpit while he ducked below for his foul weather jacket, then they hopped ashore and made for the bushes. Then he noticed that almost all the lights were out everywhere he looked, even across the river in Kiel.

Then he saw black shadows sliding across the water, like echoes of that dream playing out before his eyes…only these shadows were huge.

Clyde looked up and saw them too, then he growled and backed away from the sight.

“Guided missile frigates, Clyde. Locking up into the canal.”

He looked east and saw several more warships strung out in spectral lines, their silent moves just enough to maintain steerageway as they waited to enter the lock – one by one by one…

“Well, that explains why the lights are out. This move ain’t for public consumption, is it?” He knelt beside Clyde and rubbed his neck. “Nothing to worry about, Clyde…just a bunch of boys and their toys out to rehearse the end of the world.”

Clyde looked at him – not at all convinced those shadows were friendly – then he circled twice and dumped a load. Taggart reached into a pocket and pulled out a plastic poop-bag and picked up the steaming turds, a shiver running up his spine as he did, then he tied the pouch and carried it over to a trash can. “Man, I can’t tell you how much I love doing that, dude. You think you could, like, learn how to use the head?”

“Whoof!”

“Yeah, I know…I know. Not in your contract, blah-blah-blah.” He looked at his watch – 0345 –  and shook his head. Three hours and change until the radio installers were slated to arrive, an hour and a half until the diner opened for breakfast. “Assuming I can hold it down, you mean?” He looked at his hands – not shaking yet – and decided a longish walk might feel good, so off they went through the wet grass. 

But even out here in the rain and the shadows Taggart was having a hard time casting away from the dream. The grass, the spectral shadows, the menacing lightning out here, now…something just didn’t feel right. Like the world inside his dream was the real one, and he was walking along inside a dream right now – and that feeling shook him up, big time. He looked to the left and saw a line of trees and he sighed, then shook his head. Even the trees were an echo…too…

Then he decided he’d had enough. “Sorry Clyde, I’m not buyin’ it. Let’s go take a shower, okay?”

They made it below just before a heavy rain came for them, and he slipped a pod into the coffee maker as he peeled off his wet foulies. He put them away in the heated closet under the companionway steps – which he thought was the greatest invention since sliced bread – before he walked aft to the head compartment. Wet clothes off and into the washing machine, and he threw all his other dirties in too and started the wash cycle. Robe on and back to the coffee maker, add some cream and sugar then back to the head – Clyde dutifully standing in the shower looking just like…a wet dog.

Water on, rinse the old boy down and what the fuck is that on your back? It wasn’t there yesterday? It felt like a cyst, only about two inches in diameter, and when he touched it Clyde flinched. He sat on the toilet while he soaped-up the pup, then he rinsed and dried Clyde before he got back under the warm water and let it beat down on his neck.

Once out he felt a chill run down his spine and shook his head. “Time for a sweater,” he said to himself, then he put a bowl of puppy-kibble on the galley floor, and once his jacket was on again he went topsides to check all Bandits lines. With everything secure he walked up to the diner just as the Open sign started blinking at the fading night. 

Eggs and ham, some modest variation of potatoes and a cup of tea later, he settled up and walked back to the marina; he saw a woman standing by Time Bandits as he approached his slip so he pretended not to notice and walked right on by. She stood there, motionless as he passed – so he walked to the end of the pier and back onto land. He went to a bench and sat, never taking his eyes off the woman. He looked at his watch; a half hour until the installers were due – and he asked himself why he hadn’t taken the goddam Sig out from under the pillow and brought it along?

And the rain hadn’t let up even a little – and yet, there she stood, inert, almost like some kind of talismanic statue – beyond here there be dragons! – but all he could think to do was just keep watching her, maybe try to find out what she was up to at this time of the morning.

“Fuck it,” he said as he stood and walked back down to his pier. Suddenly angry at the intrusion he walked right up to her and stopped with his face just inches from hers. “Can I help you?” he barked.

And beneath the hooded raincoat and wide-brimmed hat he found Eva’s shivering face, tear-streaked and lonely.

He grabbed her and pulled her close, held onto her like he was clinging to life itself, then he helped her aboard and down below. She was cold, real cold, so he took her aft, got her out of her wet things and into the shower, then he joined her and held her close as she clung to him.

“Feeling better now?” he whispered, and he felt her nod. He ran his fingers through her hair then kissed her, held her closer still.  

“Right, I’ve got people coming round soon. Let’s get you dried off and into bed; you look exhausted.”

She looked up at him and began talking: “As soon as I could break away from her I returned to the airport. It was almost impossible but here I am.”

“Here you are. Yes, and we need to get you off your feet, too.”

He toweled her dry and helped her under the covers – and Clyde hopped up on the bed and slipped under the covers too – then Taggart went topsides and helped the installers get their gear aboard and down below. The old man came down and looked around the fuse panels and circuit breakers, then at the electrical runs he’d need to make.

“I must get longer runs of optical cable,” he told Henry. “Tell me, is that the only music system you have on board?” he asked, pointing to the radio mounted next to the chart table, shaking his head.

“Yeah?”

The old man, still shaking his head, climbed up into the morning and left.

Taggart worked with the installers throughout the morning, helping them place items where he needed them to go, running cables from the chart table to the engine room, and testing voltages before each new head unit was installed. The old man came back just before noon and ripped out the factory installed radio, installing a Fusion unit at the chart table and a remote head in the cockpit, by the wheel. Then he changed out all the speakers. The results were spectacular, and the installers left before mid-afternoon; Taggart handed the old man his gold bar, and they both smiled at the results, then shook hands.

Taggart then went aft to check on Eva and Clyde, also finding he’d left his phone by the bed – muted – and now in desperate need of a charge. It turned out that Clyde needed a walk too, and Eva needed more sleep, so he leashed Clyde and they went topsides for a strafing run at the bushes, then a bombing run near the line of trees. That done, they made it back to Bandits before another wave of really heavy rain hit.

Taggart got his phone plugged in and several calls and voice mails from Dina popped-up on the main display; listening to them he heard a frantic litany of cries for help because, apparently, Eva had disappeared and Dina wanted to know what to do. He growled, slipped another pod in the coffee maker, then called her.

“Where have you been?” she shrieked. “Why haven’t you returned my calls?”

“It turns out, Dina dearest, that Eva found her way back here.”

“She…what?!”

“I’m sorry, is there a bad connection on your end?”

“No dammit, I heard what you said. Why didn’t you let me know?”

“I didn’t have my phone with me, and I’ve been busy with other matters.”

“I see. Well, so Henry isn’t alone after all. I suppose you are most happy with the way this has turned out?”

“The work we accomplished today turned out nicely, yes. Thanks for asking…”

But by then she’d cut off the call.

Ten minutes later the phone chirped and this call was coming from a throwaway phone he’d bought Rolf before he left.

“Hey, Buddy, what’s up?”

“Henry, it is Dina. She is being very ugly, saying very mean things about you. What has happened?”

“Eva came here.”

“Oh, thank goodness she is safe. Did she have trouble getting there?”

“Yes, I think so. What about you? How are you doing?”

“Me? I am okay. But I am very much worried about Grandma-ma. She is saying hurtful things…”

“Like what?”

“That it was a mistake to marry you, that she really never loved you, those kinds of things.”

“Oh, don’t worry about all that. I’ve known that pretty much all along.”

“What? How do you think this is so?”

“She was trying to protect your mother, Rolf. I think she was afraid your mother would fall in love with me and try to leave Bergen, so she intervened.”

“My God, Henry…if you knew this how come you went along with it?”

“Because Dina is basically a good person and I like her. But the main reason was I knew she’d feel more comfortable – and more in control – if she thought she had me under her control.”

“Henry, this is most devious, is it not?”

“Well, Rolf, sometimes you have to be a little devious in order to keep the peace.”

Rolf laughed. “Oh, if Grandma-ma only knew of this…”

“Probably better not to tell her, Rolf. I’d guess the results would be less than pleasant.”

“I want to come back too, Henry. What should I do?”

“You have the credit card I gave you, right?”

“Yes, and the cash.”

“Don’t use the cash unless you have too. Wait until there appears to be peace between NATO and Russia, then see about getting a flight. But, and this is important, you must tell your mother what you are doing.”

“She will never let me leave, Henry.”

“You weren’t listening to me, Rolf. I said you must tell your mother what you are going to do.”

“Okay. I understand.”

“Rolf, your mother will want to come with you.”

“You think so, really?”

“She will. Trust me.”

“And if she does?”

“Not if, Rolf – when. She will want to come with you. But…and this is important, Rolf; bring her along only if it is safe for her. She must not endanger the babies. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Text me at the Norwegian number, okay. Only call this number in an emergency. Got it?”

“Yessir.”

“And no emails. Not now.”

“Okay.”

“Do not come back here, now. I’ll be leaving tonight.”

“Where will you go?”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll let you know when I am someplace safe. Probably a week from now, okay?”

“Okay. Bye for now.”

Taggart turned on the Single Side Band radio and dialed in the BBC world service, then he turned on the VHF and went about setting up the AIS system with a ghost identity while he listened to reports coming from Moscow and Washington. ‘What a fucking con-game,’ he thought as he listened to the talking heads. ‘Get everyone scared to death, then use that as a cover to do something really hideous somewhere unexpected. Same game, new actors.’

Next he hooked up the transceiver to his laptop and inserted the NSA’s flash drive. He went through the code line by line again – smiling all the while – then he wrote a small sub-routine and executed a simple command through the radio – and, theoretically, he turned all the power off in Washington, D.C. for ten seconds – then he grinned.

“Oh, this is going to be so much fun…”

“What is?” Eva said, walking unsteadily into the galley.

“Oh, I had some new radios installed?”

“So, there is music now?”

“Oh, mama, do we have music now. You like Tears for Fears?” She shrugged and he put on Everybody Wants to Rule the World. Then: “Wanna dance, baby?”

He held her gently and ran his fingers through her hair as the music rumbled along, but he could tell she wasn’t feeling as maniacally manic as he was just then, so he walked her over to one of the chairs and helped her sit, then he turned down the volume.

“That is a very much more loud radio!” she said. “I think even the babies hear the music because now they are dancing a little.”

“Atta girl. How are you feeling?”

“I am a little hungry. Actually, more than a little hungry.”

“What sounds good?”

“Anything you cook for me will be most good.”

“Okay, Oklahoma smash-burgers it is.”

“A what?”

“A real old fashioned hamburger.”

“Perhaps you know someplace that has good soup?”

“I do indeed. I had lunch with old friends just yesterday at such a place. How are you set for clothes?”

“I have what I wore on the airplane. Nothing more.”

“Okay, so…tonight’s episode of Mission Impossible will begin after a brief word from our sponsor. Let’s get your shoes on, then we can beat feet to a store in time to get you all fixed up in time for dinner…”

He took Clyde for a quickie, then called for a taxi; the two of them rode over to Kiel and did some shopping, then they walked slowly to the Gaststätte Ratskeller for soup and schnitzel, and she perked up as she ate and was soon herself again. He had silenced his phone but felt it buzzing away in his coat pocket, and when Eva slipped away to the head he pulled it out and looked at the call log.

Dina had called – more than ten times in the last two hours – and she called again while he was looking at the display. He sent the call to voicemail and pocketed his phone, then stood when Eva returned and helped her into her chair.

“They make a decent strudel here. Would you like some?”

“Perhaps I might have a little of yours?”

He ordered one strudel and two forks and their waiter smiled.

“I did not know you spoke German so well,” she said.

“Occupational hazard,” he said, smiling. “When I was developing software, well, we had offices over here and I had to come often. It was easier to learn the language than to rely on translators.”

She found that hard to swallow. “You learn languages so easily? Truly?”

“Programming is a language too, so yes, I guess I do.”

“What other languages do you know?”

He shrugged. “A few.”

“I hope our boys are just like you,” she said, leaning over to kiss him once.

“With any luck at all, they’ll be the exact opposite of me.”

She leaned against him and sighed. “I could not stand to be away from you another day,” she whispered. “Please don’t send me away again.”

“I wanted you someplace safe, Eva. That’s all I wanted, because that’s what is most important to me right now.”

“I cannot breathe without you, Henry. Please, don’t ever leave me…”

The utter impossibility of and within her words hit him, left him bereft of reason – yet silence could be his only reply. He took her hand and held it, not knowing how precarious this girl’s grasp of the moment really was, but he held her tight – afraid to let go in case she might drift away on a stray current of hope. And then his mind flashed to the dream…to the white glow in the forest and the fleeting shadows reaching out for him; the sandy track across the grassy meadow, the sea and the mountains – all of it suddenly filling his mind with impossible possibilities…

After their strudel he took her for a short walk, then they rode in silence back to Time Bandits, echoes of the dream chasing him, pushing in against his every breath. He struggled with stray fragments of the dream even as he helped her down the companionway steps, and after he got her to bed he felt the dream drifting alongside as he took Clyde for his last walk of the day.

The phone chirped again – but this time it was Rolf’s ring-tone so he fished his phone out of his coat pocket…

“Rolf? What’s wrong?”

“Grandma-ma. She has gone to the airport, wait, mother – please don’t…”

“Henry?”

“Yes, Britt.”

“You have given this phone to my son?”

“I have. It is for emergencies, like this one.”

“I see. Your hold on him is complete, you know? I cannot reason with him…”

“Britt?”

“Yes, Henry?”

“You wanted to tell me something. Something about your mother.”

“How do you know that?”

“Simple probability, Britt. Now, what is the problem?”

“She told me she is not pregnant, Henry.”

He nodded. “That’s why she had to leave, Britt. She should have been showing by now, but she wasn’t…and she was never going to.”

“You knew?”

“Of course.”

“Henry? What is this game you are playing at with us?”

He chuckled. “No games, Britt. Games have rules, but I’m not sure your mother understands that.”

“What should I do?”

“About?”

“My mother, of course.”

“Keep out of her way, don’t contradict her. Let her feel like she is the one in control, because that is what is most important to her.”

“How could…how could you possibly know that, Henry?”

“When you told me your mother knows the future, Britt. Do you remember that?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Wanting to know the future, to control the future is a defining characteristic of people such as your mother, but I do have to say her choice of oncology baffles me.”

“Unless that was the road she took to come to you.”

He wanted to laugh – but couldn’t. “All she wanted was to come between you and me. Don’t you see that?”

“No, I don’t. She was raving around the house all afternoon, almost screaming at the top of her voice how much she despises you, and a moment later she was on the floor in tears, telling us how much she loved you and how afraid she was of losing you so soon.”

“Step back for a moment, Britt, step away from all your connections to her. If she was in your office presenting with these symptoms, what would you think? How would you render a diagnosis?”

“Schizo-affective disorder, or possibly an acute bi-polar psychotic break.”

“And what would you do next?”

“Get her to the hospital before she did something to harm herself.”

“Britt?”

“Yes, Henry?”

“What happens to your mother if she is at the airport and the police are called? What if she breaks down there? What happens to her?”

“Oh, no…”

“Britt?”

“Yes?”

“Take Rolf with you.”

“Yes. I will.”

“And may I speak to him now?”

“Henry?”

“Yes, shipmate, I’m  here. Now, listen carefully. Help your mother out to the airport, and you’ve got to get to Dina, then help get both of them back to your house. By the time they could get here I will be gone. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I do. Will Eva be with you?”

“For a day or two, but then I have to do something important and I will be out of touch for a while. I will get her to a hotel for that time. You help your mother and your grandmother now, and remember, you are the man in their life, so act like it.”

“But Henry, you are…”

“No Rolf, I’m not. I am nothing but a ghost now, a ghost waiting for the night. I’m sorry to do this to you, I really am, but you need to step up and get ready to carry some of the load.”

“Henry? Are you going from us now?”

“No, no, not yet. We will be together for Christmas, but we’ll be together much sooner than that, so don’t you worry. Now, go help your mother…”

He went topsides and noted nothing but civilian ship traffic lining up for the canal now, but from what he could tell from here, there was a lot more traffic – and he thought: ‘so the word is out.’ NATO navies were getting out of the Baltic, so commercial dispatchers took note and started moving their vessels out, too. The only thing keeping him here was a need to replenish food stocks, but he decided right then and there that he was going to queue up for the canal, grab supplies along the way, probably in Rendsburg, but above all else to keep moving west for the time being. Once he made Brunsbüttel he’d be clear of the canal and his options would increase – but now he had a hard 50 miles to make with an untested Eva as his only deckhand.

He pulled-in the shore power cord and got the engine going, then he took in his dock lines and backed out of the slip. Once clear of the marina he called into the canal and got permission to pull into the first lock immediately – the lock-keeper noting that he’d be sharing the lock chamber with a large ocean going containership. He set the autopilot and rigged his lines for a port-side locking, knowing he would have a real struggle on his hands to keep Bandits under control inside the turbulent lock chamber.

He pulled in with the containership and ran his line to the forward bollard then back to the cockpit, then the same with his aft lines. Next, he ran both lines to the pair of electric winches on the port-side cockpit coaming and felt he was as ready as he was ever going to be – just as water started pouring into the chamber.

Using his electric winches, the whole process turned out to be an easy ‘no-brainer’ and he exited the lock behind the containership, noting that it was now a little after one on the morning. He noted his hands were shaking a little so set the autopilot and dashed below, taking care not to disturb Eva as he found his meds and washed them down with a Coke, then he made his way back to the cockpit – just as a small patrol boat came alongside. He went to the port-side boarding gate and helped ‘Mike’ step across, realizing his attempt to prevent their following him had failed.

“Welcome aboard,” he said to the captain. “What’s the occasion?”

Mike held up the locator beacon he’d removed from the keel the night before. “Sorry, but we need to keep tabs on you. It’s been decided that I’ll remain with you until the intercept is over.”

“You don’t say? My, my. Well, truth be told, I really should have a deckhand along for the transit.”

“Oh, from my position it looked like you handled things pretty well.”

“I take it you’ve done some sailing?”

“Annapolis, class of ’80.”

“Ah.”

“Not as much as you have, but I won’t get in your way.”

“Well, I’ve got to stop and get some supplies…”

“Got a list?”

“No, not really. I’ll run ashore in Rendsburg and pick up what we need. There’s a market next to the river there.”

“Suits me. Then where to?”

“The Südstrand, Wilhelmshaven. Drop the girl in a hotel there, then on out to Norderney.”

Mike nodded. “A shame the girl had to show up.”

“She’s basically clueless. She won’t be a problem.”

“Okay. Where can I stow my gear?”

“All the way forward. Clean sheets on the bed, clean towels in the head.”

“All the comforts of home. Oh, and thanks for not making a stink about this.”

Taggart shook his head. “I just roll with the punches, man. No sweat off my back.”

He watched the captain head below before he let slip a string of four-letter-words under his breath, then he simply kept an eye on shipping traffic as they continued westward. ‘Nothing I can do about it right now,’ he thought, ‘so just accept the situation – until I can.’

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 50

88Kvenom image SMALL

A longish chapter today, so fix some tea and find a comfy chair to settle down in. Before, if you’re able to download videos off YouTube I would highly recommend you watch this video, as I feel most certain it contains the answers to a question nagging us all, namely: Why are we here, and why are we the way we are? Do turn up the volume a bit, and see it through. You won’t regret it. Then again, you might.

Now, on to the next chapter.

Part VI

Chapter 50

Callahan’s flight suit was soaked through, sweat was running down his face and neck then down into his t-shirt, and the sandwiches he’d eaten five hours ago were long gone. His hands were soaked, too, and his grip on the stick was at best tenuous now; Chapman was in back helping wrap steri-pads on another badly burned firefighter, leaving him alone up front. He checked VOR 1 and re-checked his intercept angle, heading for the Coffee Creek Volunteer Fire Department landing pad for the fifth time in as many hours.

And still he couldn’t get C-Med out of his mind. The white snake seemed to be with him constantly now, coiling like a feeling he just couldn’t shake. 

He double checked his altitude as the 412 flew through another wall of bright orange smoke filled with drifting embers, and he looked at the clock on the panel before he shook his head. ‘Almost midnight,’ he said to himself, ‘and these clouds almost look like high noon…”

The Huey flew out of the smoke and Callahan could just see Coffee Creek ahead when Chapman crawled back into the left seat. Callahan looked at the kid and shook his head; Chapman’s face and hands were covered in blood and soot and now he had the same hollow look in his eyes he’d seen in the eyes of his fellow pilots in ‘Nam.

“How ya doing, Ace?” he said after the kid got his helmet back on.

“Man, I didn’t know anything could be this fucking intense.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation, this is the worst flying I’ve been through since ’68.”

“Man, this is some mean shit.”

“Yeah, like I said, how are you doing?”

Chapman looked at Callahan, then at the mess in back. “I don’t know, man. I just don’t know.”

“Well, eight hours in the rack and you’ll know what to do.”

“What to do, sir?”

“You’re thinking about calling it quits, right?”

“Uh, Hell no, sir. I’m just tired, that’s all.”

Callahan tried not to smile. “Well, we’re both over the limit, so let’s grab some rack time once we get back to Center.”

“Is there anyone there to help clean out the rear, sir?”

“How bad is it?”

“Blood is two inches deep in places.”

Callahan nodded then switched to COMM 2: “Cat 1 to Cat 3 on 2.”

“Cat 3, go.”

“20?”

“Landing at Center in five.”

“Got it. We’re both going to need a clean up crew, and we’ve got a lot of blood on board.”

“We do too. I’ll see what we can muster-up. Our staff is still pretty thin up here, so don’t expect much. How far out are you?”

“Going to drop ten at the Creek, then come on down for some rack time.”

“Okay. We’ll be waiting for you here.”

“Cat 1 out.” That done, he turned to Chapman. “Take the stick for a second, would you?” He pulled out a hand towel from a pouch on his leg and wiped his hands, then he handed the cloth to Chapman. “My helicopter,” he added.

“You got it. Thanks.” Chapman tried to clean his hands but there was too much dried blood on them and he tightened-up when he realized what it was. “Was it like this over there?”

“Yeah, for ten months straight. I got there just before Tet cooked off.”

“That was the thing in ’68?”

“It was indeed,” Callahan sighed, stunned but not really surprised that one of the defining times of his life had become so casually – what? – forgotten?

He lined up on the pasture behind the fire department’s station, then made his flare – as close to the row of waiting ambulances as he dared – then he looked over to the Reed Cross canteen and saw that it had closed down for the night. He sighed again, then waited for the signal that the pad was clear and that they could take off. A few minutes later they were airborne and headed for the fuel depot at Trinity Center, Chapman so tired he was about to doze-off, and that too made him think about ’68.

Don McCall was finishing up his training to move over to the S-76, but Callahan regretted that move now. McCall would be perfect to head up operations in Redding, so he’d have to have a talk with him…soon.

Next his thought’s drifted to Fujiko, then to a new project under development near Fisherman’s Wharf – then he looked out the windshield and saw a wall of trees ahead…

…too late…?

He chopped the throttle and pulled up on the collective – effectively stopping in mid-air – and Chapman woke in a start, reached for the stick…

“I’ve got it,” Callahan said as he recovered and began climbing again.

“What happened?”

“I started daydreaming, stopped scanning, and I very nearly screwed the pooch. That’s what happened.”

“Man, I know the feeling. I don’t know how you’re keeping your eyes open.”

“By daydreaming, Ace. That’s the first stop on the way to falling asleep at the stick.”

“Yessir.”

He landed ten minutes later, and a ground crew was waiting for them – then he saw Frank standing by a Ford pickup waving at them. He waved back, then shot him a thumb’s up.

He left the kid to supervise the clean up and walked over to Bullitt and the Ford. “So, you were listening in again?”

“No, not really. I figured it out a while ago; we’re sub-contracting to the Forest Service, right? So DD and I got with them and worked something out. This group is from a local 4-H club, all of ‘em want to be pilots too, so they want in on the action.”

“They’re high school kids?”

“Every swingin’ dick out there, Harry.” 

“Hmm…”

“Uh-oh…I know that look. What are you thinking?”

“They want experience and we need people in back to help load and take care of the wounded. Sounds like a match made in heaven to me.”

Bullitt shook his head. “Let me check with their supervisor first, okay?”

“Sure. Just see if you can find me three with first aid training to ride in with us in the morning. Maybe we could rotate them during the day, get all of them some air time…”

“Okay. From the look of things, I’d say you guys need a cot before you do anything else. We have those tents over there for now.”

“Anything to eat or drink around here?”

“I picked up burgers at Carl’s Jr. Some Cokes, too. Two sacks in each tent, ready to go.”

“You’re a life saver, Frank.”

“Just trying to help – wish I knew how to fly; I’d be up there with you guys if I could.”

+++++

Callahan stayed up north for a week, and he got to know Jeanie Post well enough to ask her out on a date.

“You mean, like a real date?” she asked, blushing intensely.

“Yeah, the real deal,” Callahan said. “Dinner and a movie, the whole nine yards.”

“Well, sure, why not? Any idea when?”

“Saturday okay? I can pick you up here.”

“Here? You mean, here, as in this landing pad?”

“Yeah. Unless you’re afraid of flying.”

“No, not really, but my boy will be so disappointed…”

“Why?”

“He’s always wanted to fly, ever since he was old enough to read.”

“So, bring him along. There’s an air show over in Alameda this weekend and we’re going to have an exhibit set up there. I need to be there at noon, but I can pick you guys up at nine and we’ll play it by ear after that. Sound doable?”

“Yes, sure, sounds fun. We’ll be here at nine.”

“Okay. Well, I gotta head back to the city today. I’ll see you Saturday.” He found Chapman and their 4-H volunteer – and then they headed for Trinity Center to drop off the volunteer before they flew on to San Francisco. While they were there Bullitt hopped on board at the last moment…

“Mind if I bum a ride off you guys?”

“No, hop on and get a helmet. We need to talk, and this is as good a time as any.”

Frank got his helmet on after he’d settled into the jump-seat behind Chapman’s. “Okay, I’m on.”

Callahan took off then turned the controls over to Chapman before he turned to Frank. “So, how much work is needed in Redding to go operational?”

“Sam has a punch list to work through, but it’s short. We’re waiting on some kind of special fire resistant carpet, and that’s about it – as far as I know.”

“Okay. And, good work on the 4-H thing. That’s working out pretty good.”

“Right. Some of the parents are really grateful.”

“I heard from Beechcraft this morning. We need to send someone to Kansas to pick up the first 1900.”

“Are they painting them?”

“No. They’re doing carpet and seats, that’s it. We have to get them painted and registered. After we settle on a paint scheme they can do it.”

“Who’s designing it…as if I didn’t know?”

“Yeah. Cathy.”

“So, she’s still talking to you?”

“About business stuff, yeah. Just about every day.”

“And?”

“Not a whole lot else to say, Frank. She did mention that Fujiko is dating now, but I think she was just twisting the knife a little.”

“She can be that way, Harry. Sorry.”

“Nothing for you to be sorry about. And, oh, before I forget: I have to go to Switzerland in two weeks. Want to tag along?”

“How long are you going to be away?”

“Two, maybe three days, tops.”

“I’ll have to check with DD. You know, there are sure a lot of DDs in your life…”

“Don’t I know it. There are some guys from PHI coming in to talk with me this afternoon. Could you hang around for that?”

“Who or what is PHI?”

“Big helicopter outfit down south. They service oilfields, stuff like that.”

“What do they want?”

“No one knows, but DD thinks they’re going to try and buy us out.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, apparently there are a few people not real happy we’re doing so well.”

“That figures.”

“Oh, before I forget, I met a gal up in Coffee Creek. I’ll be bringing her and her son to the thing in Alameda on Saturday.”

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

“So, you are moving on, I take it?”

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I ain’t goin’ down that road again, Frank. Casual dates for me from now on. No commitments, no hassles. No more bullshit serious relationships.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Frank said.

“What? About Cathy?”

“Yeah.”

“No way, Frank. You two have been together for what? – almost twenty five years? And you have a kid too, for cryin’ out loud. Why would you do that?”

“Because I’m alone, Harry, and I’m not enjoying it even a little bit.”

“I hear that,” Chapman said.

“What? You’re not hitched up?” Harry asked. “I thought on your resumé it said…”

“It did, because I was. She ditched me as soon as I decided to move out here.”

“How long were you together?” Frank asked.

“Too fuckin’ long, apparently,” Chapman sighed. 

“What about that nurse I saw you hangin’ around with at the Red Cross tent?” Harry asked. “She looked pretty damn cute, from what I could see.”

“I’m still workin’ on that one.”

“Why did your, what, was she girlfriend or wife?”

“Wife.”

“Why didn’t she want to move out here?”

“She doesn’t like big cities.”

“So? We post you to Redding, end of problem.”

The kid shrugged. 

“Okay, so there’s more to it than just big cities.”

“A whole lot more. I think her lawyer called it irreconcilable differences.”

Callahan and Bullitt both nodded.

“You’re probably better off with the nurse,” Callahan said, trying not to smile.

“A lot better off,” Frank added. 

“Did you get her number, at least?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, but she’s from Redding, and I’m…uh…did you say I could base at Redding?”

Harry looked at the kid, then at Frank: “Ya know, I think he’s just had a sudden flash of insight, Frank. What do you think?”

“A stiff prick has no conscience, that’s what I think,” Bullitt sighed.

“That goes without saying,” Callahan said. “What do you think, kid?”

“I think I’m going to call a nurse.”

“Bingo!” Frank cried. “And another one bites the dust.”

____________________________________

Frank and DD sat beside Callahan on one side of the conference table, the three reps from PHI on the other. The reps were identically dressed in black suits, with white button down shirts and red ties. They even had little American flags on their lapels, so Callahan thought they looked like Jehovah’s Witnesses and he tried not to laugh.

“Okay,” DD began, “this is your meeting. Fire away.”

One of them spoke: “We’re here to buy you out. All we need is the right number, then we can leave.”

“I see,” Callahan said. “And why do you want to buy us out? We don’t compete with you, at least not as far as I can tell.”

“We don’t want any competitors should we decide to move into this market.”

Callahan shrugged. “Okay. Two billion and it’s all yours.”

They laughed. “Let’s get serious, Mr. Callahan. You market value is…”

“I know what our value is, and I don’t give a flying fuck about your offer, or your money. We’re not a threat to you, not now, anyway, so you must be here because you think there’s going to be a market for your services in California. but let’s see, you service offshore oil rigs, and there aren’t exactly too many of those around, are there? So, you think something’s about to change, right?”

No one answered.

“Okay. so here’s my deal. You leave us alone, and in return we give you what amounts to a written non-compete contract. And that contract stipulates that you won’t compete in the air taxi and fire fighting business in Northern California.”

“Define Northern California,” one of the reps said.

“Draw a line from Santa Barbara to Bishop, and we have exclusive rights to Yosemite and Sequoia. PHI can have everything south of that line.”

“And Santa Barbara?”

“Our southern hub for fixed wing ops. Again, we will not service offshore oil platforms, period.”

“And how much do you want for this?”

“How much are you offering?”

The rep wrote out a figure and passed it over to Callahan. Who looked at the number and smiled.

____________________________________

He met Don McCall at the Cathouse early on Saturday morning, and they walked around CATs newest S-76. With the same silver and deep red paint on the outside, this latest delivery had a more upscale interior. Off white leather everywhere but the carpet, which was navy blue, and the passenger windows were polarized so light could be controlled with a simple dial.

“Good idea basing this one in Palo Alto,” McCall said. “Right market there.”

“Yeah, I think Pattison called this one right.”

“Is he taking Palo Alto?” Don asked – nervously.

“Yup. He found a little house in Menlo Park.”

“No room for two down there, right?”

“I don’t see why not. We’ll all still be on rotation.”

“Just curious, but ideally, where would you like me?”

“Redding during fire season. The rest is up to you.”

“Redding? What’s it like up there?”

“We’re gonna stop there on the way up to Coffee Creek. Frank’s riding up with us to look over a few things, then we’ll make our pickup before we head to Alameda. You can look it over while we’re up there.”

“I thought Redding was going to be fixed wing only?”

“Except during fire season.”

“Ah.”

“And, keep in mind Pattison has asked about fixed wing training.”

“Oh? I hadn’t heard that one.”

“Nothing’s definite yet, but you’d be next in line for Palo Alto if he leaves helicopters.”

“Interesting.”

“Yeah. So take a look around Redding a little, tell me what you think this afternoon.”

“Will do.”

Frank came out of the Cathouse carrying a briefcase and Callahan almost lost it. “Next thing you know, Frank, you’ll be wearing a three piece suit.”

Bullitt grinned. “I should be so lucky. Just how much money did you make yesterday? DD won’t say, not for love or money.”

“Enough to give you a raise.”

“Good. Maybe we could stop at Brooks Brothers on the way up.”

“If they got a pad, why not?” McCall said, grinning. “Besides, I could use some new wingtips,” he added, holding up his leg – revealing an ancient, saddle-worn cowboy boot.

 Bullitt climbed into the passenger cabin and whistled. “Wow, this is a little upscale, even for us,” he said.

“Yeah, kind of a modern take on the Parisian bordello look,” McCall said, scowling. “Cathouse, my ass,” he grumbled.

McCall checked in with ATC after their engine warm-up, then they took off due north over the bay; they arrived in Redding about an hour later and Frank took McCall around the operation, showing him a local map where all the potential fire areas were located. Callahan walked around the new terminal and felt an odd little stirring of pride as he looked around. ‘This is mine,’ he said to himself, ‘I built this.’ There were a couple of people working behind the counter, setting up for the grand opening – now just two weeks away – so he walked over to meet them.

They recognized him for some reason, and thanked him for the opportunity to get in on the ground floor, and he talked with them for quite a while, listened to their hopes and dreams. Both were local Gold Star wives, women who’d lost husbands in combat, both supporting families in a small community where good paying jobs were hard to come by. They wanted medical benefits most of all, but they hoped for a good retirement plan too, and maybe a way to save for college tuition for their kids. They seemed impressed that Callahan took out a notebook and wrote down these things as they talked.

Because they’d heard Callahan was like this. For some reason he cared, and to them that made him different from the other employers they’d worked for over the years. And because he cared, they cared too. They were determined to do the best job possible to help this new venture grow, because they felt vested in the outcome now.

Callahan met Bullitt and McCall out on the ramp after the S-76 refueled; a few minutes later they flew west to Coffee Creek and touched down behind the fire station. Jeanie and her son were waiting beside the Red Cross tent with Mickey Rooney, and Callahan watched as Rooney walked them out to the helicopter. 

“Mind if I come long?” Rooney said. “I’ve got three days off and…”

“As long as you don’t mind going to Alameda,” McCall said, mentally recalculating his weights and balances as Rooney climbed in and sat down.

“Mr. Callahan?” Jeanie said. “This is my son Don. Don, this is Mr. Callahan.”

They shook hands and Callahan could tell that he’d need to break the ice. “Don, my name is Harry, and the fella sitting beside me over here? Well, his name is Don too, so I’ll try not to get too screwed up with the name thing today.” But Callahan could see that the boy was very nervous and probably tongue tied – and that his mother a little in awe of the helicopter, too – which was, he had to admit, more than a little opulent. “I tell you what? Why don’t you come sit up here, that way I can sit with your mother and tell her all kinds of lies. That okay with you?”

That did it. Ice. Broken.

And an hour later they touched down at Naval Air Station Alameda-Nimitz Field in the area set aside for civilian vendors, and Callahan led the little group to CATs display booth. DD had a team on hand to provide an overview of their helicopter services around the Bay Area, and two new pilots would provide an rundown of the new air links up Northern California’s I-5 corridor and along the coast. 

“Harry?” DD said as he walked up to the booth, “I thought you were going to wear your flight suit today?”

“Not back from the cleaners,” he shrugged. 

“Well, we’ve got two meetings set up this afternoon. Mayors from Stockton and Sacramento want to talk about links to their municipal airports.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, both mentioned tax breaks and other incentives. Stockton has done a marketing analysis, too.”

“Interesting. You need me, or do you want to handle it?”

“Harry, you’re the CEO…you have to be here. I mean it. You really have to be here,” she said, noticing Jeanie for the first time and backing off a little. “Okay?”

“What time do you need me?” 

“Two o’clock sharp.”

Callahan looked at the show schedule and saw that the Blue Angels were set to start at 3:00 so he demurred. “Okay, two it is.”

“Here’s your vendor’s badge. Pin it to your jacket, please?”

“Here, let me,” Jeanie said – stepping close to Harry and pinning him. Callahan seemed surprised by this unexpected move; DD just smiled patiently as she handed the badge to this latest interlocutor. Then – after Harry introduced Jeanie’s son, she watched them walk off together – and for a moment she imagined them as a happy couple with a grown-up son. Would he have been happier, she wondered. 

She had taken to pretending she had a new boyfriend – because she was almost afraid someone would see the truth in her eyes one day. She had become Callahan’s right hand, so-to-speak, because from their very first meeting she fallen into a kind of teenaged infatuation with him. She hadn’t been surprised when Fujiko moved on, and when Harry asked her to help get Fujiko settled in the city she had done so with ease. Her reasons for her doing so, in retrospect, were easy enough to understand.

Still, DD held no unreal expectations about Callahan. She knew her best-case scenario was to simply stay close to him, protect him and – over time – become indispensable to him, and over the years earn the kind of trust men usually reserve for a spouse or best friend. When Harry expressed that kind of trust in her he only validated these modest aspirations, and yet she grew closer to him with each new expression of trust. To her, these moments were as complete as simple assignations – that only she knew about – so, in a way, she felt she had assumed the role of mistress – but a mistress who remained constantly out of sight.

Callahan came back to the booth just in time to meet with the mayoral delegations, and he listened to their pitch patiently then thanked them for their time. He told the assembled teams to give all their documentation to DD, and to call her with any further ideas – and once again Harry missed the tell-tale look in her eyes.

But Jeanie Post didn’t.

____________________________________

After the airshow, Callahan and his group flew over the bay to the Cathouse, and from there he took Jeanie and her son up to The Shadows for dinner. The boy still seemed reluctant to talk – and more than simply shy, Callahan thought. It was resentment, he decided as he watched the two of them. He was someone new, a usurper to the throne, and the boy had grown up at the center of his mother’s universe. And, as no one had ever competed with him for her attention, the boy was on unfamiliar ground. The way around that, Callahan thought, was to put him back on center stage.

“So, you graduate this year? What then?”

“I haven’t decided on anything yet.”

“What are your options?”

“What do you mean?”

“More school? Get a job maybe, or try the military?”

“School would be my first choice.”

“To study what?”

“I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian.”

Callahan nodded. “Noble profession. I take it your grades in science are good?”

Don nodded. 

“So, what’s the holdup?”

“Depends on scholarship money.”

“I haven’t been able to save enough to keep up with tuition increases,” Jeanie said.

“Play any sports?”

“Not good enough for a scholarship,” the kid said.

“What? Football?”

“Yeah, and baseball in the spring. I’m not really big enough for college football and anyway, I’m not sure I’d even want to play at that level. What did you do after high school?”

“Army. That’s where I learned to fly, then I went to Germany. Came back, got on with the police department…”

“Oh, you were a cop?” Don asked.

“Well, I still am. But anyway, about a year or so after I started work, the Army sent me to Vietnam, and I flew there for a year.”

The boy looked away for a moment, then came back to the present: “What was that like?”

“It was a nonstop shit-show, Don. The hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

“Like…what did you do over there?”

“Most days we flew missions up to forward aid stations, kind of like the MASH units you see on television. Transport the wounded back to big hospitals, that was the main deal, but we also hauled troops up to landing zones when they made assaults on enemy positions. Don McCall was with me for most of that year.”

“That was the guy flying this morning?”

“Yup.”

“So he’s like your friend?”

“Yup, one of the best.”

“So, where were you a cop?”

“Here in the city.”

“Were you like a patrolman or something?”

“After you get out of academy, everyone goes to patrol for a few years. Some people like it and decide to stay there.”

“What did you do?”

“Homicide Detective.”

“That’s like investigating murders, stuff like that?”

“Uh-huh.”

“See a lot of gross stuff?”

“Yup.”

“What’s the grossest thing you ever saw?”

“You, eating that spaghetti. Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to twirl your pasta?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Take you spoon like this…”

And Callahan taught him how to twirl spaghetti on a fork, before he realized the boy’s mother didn’t know how to either, and he decided right then and there not to take things like this for granted with these two. They had both grown up in Coffee Creek, California – which was, he had to admit, pretty far off the beaten path.

“So,” Callahan said, changing gears once again, “what’s one thing that doesn’t have anything to do with school that you’d like to learn how to do this year?”

“What do you mean, like sports or hobby type things?”

“Sure, either one.”

“The school took a ski trip up to Tahoe last year, just for a day, but I really enjoyed that. Only had that one day, but I’d sure like to learn how.”

“Yeah? When I was in high school we did the same thing every February. My girlfriend and I really liked it, too.”

“Did you ever go after that?”

He nodded.

“Well, that’s something I’d like to do.”

“Okay. Well, I can drive you back up to Coffee Creek now, or we could drive up to my house. I’ve got a guest bedroom you two can use, then I could drive you over in the morning.”

“I have to open the diner in the morning,” Jeanie said. “Sorry?”

“So, no helicopter ride?” Don asked.

“I don’t know. Would you rather do that?”

The kid nodded and smiled – until Callahan unholstered his radio and called the Cathouse. 

“Cat 1 to Cat base, anything headed north tonight?”

“Cat 1, 20?”

Callahan recognized Frank’s voice, and he also recognized the tone. “Cat 1 in The Shadows.”

“Cat 1, RTB code 3.”

“Cat 1 code 5.” He turned to Jeanie. “Sorry, we might have to move fast now. Come with me, please.”

He made the drive down the hill to the Cathouse with practiced ease, and he was greeted by a huddle of pilots and civilian officials – with DD standing off to the side…waiting for him. “Wait here,” he told them, “and let me find out what’s going on.”

“Well,” Jeanie said to her son, “what do you think of him?”

The boy shrugged. “I don’t know. What does it matter what I think, anyway?”

“You know why.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Because the few times I’ve tried to start seeing someone new you pitch a fit and run them off, that’s why!”

Again, the boy just shrugged. “Alright, I don’t like him!”

“Why? What could possibly be wrong with him?”

He turned away and looked out the Rover’s window. “I just don’t like him, that’s all.”

“That’s not fair and you know it!” 

“I don’t like you seeing other people, okay?”

The argument continued for some time, and no one noticed – except DD.

____________________________________

“So, what was all that about?” Jeanie asked Callahan as he helped her into the front right seat.

“Another fire has broken out, east of Eureka this time,” he said as he buckled her in. He helped Don into the rear seat of the Huey and got him buckled in, then he put a headset on the boy’s head – set to receive an FM radio station – then he finished his pre-flight walk around and started the Huey.

He made sure Don’s headset was off the circuit then switched Jeanies headset to intercom 2.

“Can you hear me?”

“Yes? Why’d you put Don in back?”

“Because I want to talk to you, if that’s okay.”

“Sure.”

Callahan called in and wrote down ATCs clearance instructions, then took off – heading due north again.

“What’s going on between you two?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Seems to me like that kid is running your life. It’s obvious to me, but some other people noticed today. What gives?”

She nodded. “Yes, I suppose he does.”

“Well,” he chuckled, “that explains a lot.”

“Such as?”

“Well, you’ve hardly spoken all day. You defer to him, you don’t challenge him when he breaks boundaries, so I guess, in short, you let him walk all over you. Is that about right?”

She looked away. 

“Look,” he continued, “I’m not going to stick my nose in your business, but there’s no way there can be anything between us with this going on in the background.”

She nodded. “No way,” she whispered.

“So, what’s going on?”

“I really can’t talk about it, Mr. Callahan.”

“Mr. Callahan? Really? Did he push me out that fast?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Just a little truth.”

“Look, it’s worse than that. It’s worse than anything you can imagine.”

He turned and looked at her. She was crying softly.

“I don’t know about that, Jeanie. I can imagine quite a lot.”

“Not this you can’t!”

He sat and digested these comments, not at all liking where they were leading him. “Okay, can I ask you a hypothetical?”

“He’s acting more like my husband now, Harry! Okay? Can you understand that?”

Callahan swallowed hard and looked away, his grip on the stick so fierce now he had to let go for a moment. 

“Are you saying he forces his way on you?”

She nodded.

“And you do understand that I am a Peace Officer?”

Again, she nodded.

He called ATC and requested vectors back to the city, then he turned back towards the Cathouse. When he was in range he called dispatch and asked to talk to Frank.

“Base to Cat 1, go ahead.”

“Cat 1, would you call Al Bressler and have him meet us down here on the ramp. Will have a 10-95 for Signal 53.”

“Base to 1, received. ETA?”

“About a half hour.”

“We’ll be standing by.”

“Cat 1 out.”

_____________________________________

Three hours later he put Jeanie Post in the blue Rover’s front seat and buckled her in; she was listless, almost catatonic, her spirit shattered, her will to carry-on at a low ebb. DD and Frank sat in back, and they sat quietly while Callahan navigated through the city to the Golden Gate Bridge. Soon they were headed north on the PCH, the Pacific Coast Highway, towards Sea Ranch. Callahan drove slowly, cautiously, wanting above all else to let the woman rest after the stress of her son’s interrogation and arrest.

Callahan’s first impulse had been to follow Bressler’s advice and get the woman to a rape crisis center, but Frank and DD had talked him out of it; Frank’s reasoning being that this wasn’t really a typical rape case. Better, he said, to seek out treatment options closer to her home. But now, after watching her sitting there for three hours, Callahan wasn’t sure Jeanie was going to make it without drastic, almost forceful intervention.

He pulled up to his house and hit the garage door opener, then pulled inside. Frank helped him carry Jeanie to his room, and DD went to the kitchen and put on water for tea. Not a minute later there came a knock on the front door, and DD found Cathy waiting out front, demanding to know what was happening.

“I saw Harry and Frank carrying a woman into the house,” she began, but DD stopped her until she could get outside and close the door. When she told her what had happened, Cathy seemed to deflate before her eyes.

“Poor Harry. He’s never going to catch a break where women are concerned.”

“I don’t know,” DD replied. “He’s got you and me to take care of him, doesn’t he?”

“Me?” Cathy cried, taking a step back. “What the devil makes you say that?”

“Oh, come off it, you idiot. He talks to you more than any other female in history. He’s on the phone with you almost every day, right? And who’s giving him advice on those telephone calls, hmm? You do, Cathy, and he listens to you because he knows you, but more than that – he trusts you. And do you have any idea how many people he actually trusts? Not many, that’s about all I can say. So yeah, you, and guess what Cathy? He needs you right now.”

Cathy recoiled from DD’s words, eyes blinking and face twitching, then something deep inside seemed register. ‘Harry was the one who pulled me back from the brink in Switzerland. He’s the one that keeps throwing me the most plum assignments I’ve ever had, and he’s helped put my name on the architectural map. Yeah, she’s right…right as rain…’

“What can I do to help?”

“Really? You wanna know?”

“Yes, I really do.”

“The first thing Harry asks Frank, and I mean every day, is ‘Have you heard from Cathy yet?’ He worries about Frank all the time, Cathy, because he knows that without you Frank is lost. You really wanna help then put your house in order and knock off all this crap. Frank loves you, and you love him, so put an end to this, would you? For Harry’s sake, if not your own!”

Cathy warded off the words like they were physical blows, then she succumbed – and gave up. She turned and started to walk away – but she paused. “Send Harry down to the house, would you?”

DD watched the woman walk away and she smiled. “Well, one more cog fixed. Now, let’s go take a look at this woman and see if we can’t get that ball rolling…”

_________________________________

It seemed that Cathy knew a couple of physicians in Sea Ranch and she called one after DD’s prompt, and she asked for some advice. Frank Watson was a neurologist so he was an almost perfect choice for the moment, and he came down to Harry’s house with his little black bag and examined Jeanie. He shook his head while Frank passed along her known background, then he took out a syringe and a vial. After swabbing her arm he injected some sort of magic elixir and a moment later she simply fell away from them, into a very deep sleep.

Frank took Frank Watson to the back deck and passed him off to Cathy and Harry and, thinking he wasn’t welcome he started to retreat – then Cathy asked him to come out and sit with them. He sat next to her after she patted the place next to her own, and she took his hand after he settled in. DD and Harry went inside and fixed several strong rum drinks; they passed them around and joined in the conversation.

“Holy mother of god,” Watson gasped. “Damn, that’s a mean drink. What the hell is it?”

“DDs rendition of a Suffering Bastard. Perfect for occasions like this,” Harry said, grinning just a little. “Do you think she’ll snap out of this, doc?”

“We’ll know in the morning, I think. If she’s the same we’ll need to take her to Palo Alto. If not, let’s get her a support group ready to step in when she gets home.”

Callahan grimaced. “That could be a problem. We don’t really know her that well.”

“We can figure that out when and if. For now, let’s just see how she does. The mind can be fairly resilient, even after a shock like this, but my guess is she’ll need someone to care for her.”

DD looked at the physician’s drink and smiled. “Ready for another,” she asked, standing and taking his glass.

“Only if you plan on carrying me home?” he smiled.

“I think we can handle that,” she replied.

When DD was out of earshot the physician turned to Cathy. “Who the Dickens is that?”

“Harry’s girl Friday. Name is DD. There’s nothing she can’t handle.”

“Cute little thing,” Watson said, already slurring his vowels, “isn’t she?”

“Best thing that ever happened to Harry,” Frank added.

“Oh, are you two a thing?” Watson said, scowling.

“No, no,” Callahan said. “She’s my CFO. Quite a head for business and just a real peach.”

“Really? Is she single?”

“Yup. She sure is, doc, and you know, if I’m not mistaken I think she likes you.”

“Hmm. Well now, this could be an interesting night.”

DD came back and handed over Watson’s second Bastard, and everyone looked up expectantly when Bullitt stood and raised his glass in a toast.

“Here’s to interesting nights!”

“To interesting nights!” everyone smiled, casting brief sidelong glances at DD before they slammed down their drinks.

“Did I miss something?” DD asked – which produced a minor gale of laughter.

“Darlin’?” Bullitt replied. “That just ain’t possible.”

Even Callahan lost it when he heard that, leaving DD to wonder what the hell was going on.

__________________________________

Jeanie woke a little before noon, and she just made it to the bathroom before her bladder let go, then she wandered out into the house – completely dazed and confused. 

“Hello!” she shouted. “Anyone here?”

“Out on the porch,” she heard Harry Callahan say, so she followed the voice to the living room and from there she saw four people sitting around a table. Only Callahan seemed familiar, and that bothered her.

She stepped out into the light and held her hand up to shade her eyes while she tried to marshal her thoughts. “Where am I?” she asked.

“My place,” Callahan said. “How are you feeling?”

She shook her head. “I’m not sure.”

“Come over here and let me take a look at you,” one of the strangers said.

“Excuse me, but are you a doctor?”

“Yup. Now please, I just need to check a few things.”

Jeanie walked over and sat next to Watson and he took her wrist and counted off a pulse, then he reached into his little bag of tricks and pulled out a light and shined it in her eyes. “Well, I think you’ll survive. Now tell me, what do you remember about yesterday?”

“Everything, I think.”

“Do you know where your son is?”

She nodded, looked away.

“Have any family or close friends we could call?”

“No, not really. A few sort-of-friends, but no one close. What day is it, anyway?”

“Sunday,” Callahan said.

“Oh, no. There was no one to open the diner this morning…”

DD held up her hand – as if asking for permission to speak: “I called someone at the Red Cross up there. They’re handling the restaurant for you this morning.”

“Now,” Watson said, “how about some breakfast? Some fresh fruit maybe?”

“Coffee,” she said. “Black.”

“Some real food, too,” Watson added. “It’ll help clear up those stomach issues.”

“How did you know my…?” she started to ask.

But Watson just smiled and held up his hands. Then DD handed her a plate loaded with fresh papaya and a bran muffin.

“I’m too nauseated to eat,” Jeanie said, which caused Watson to reach into his magic bag and pull out a syringe: “I’ve got something for that,” he said, holding it so the needle caught some daylight – just so. “You know, on second thought…” she added – which caused the needle to magically disappear.

“You might take a walk after you finish,” Watson told her, smiling. “And I’m sure we can find someone to walk with you.”

The tide was out so Callahan took her down to the beach through his recently finished stone walkway, and he let her set the pace. She walked in silence, but after a few steps she reached out and took Callahan’s hand in her own. “Thank you,” she said, her voice just loud enough to hear over the surf.

DD and Watson watched from the patio, and when he saw that one simple gesture he relaxed. “She’s intact, by golly. I do believe she’ll be okay now. It’ll take time, but yes, she’ll pull through.”

“I can’t thank you enough, doctor. Really.”

“Well, let’s talk about that, shall we?”

__________________________________

Frank was just waking up when he heard Cathy and Elizabeth playing in the kitchen. He sat up in bed and listened for a while – for to his ears, these were the most beautiful sounds in all creation…and he was home – again.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a 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 (i.e., Covid-19) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive (11)

come alive im2 HR57 small

Chapter 11

The new chart table was palatial, yet even so Taggart missed being able to see the view ahead while sitting below. He shrugged it off – ‘Just one of those things’ – he told himself, then he pulled his logbook from the shelf and found his place. He’d decided the day before to keep just this one log for his journey to Paris, though technically he should have started a new log when he took delivery of a new vessel. That didn’t suit his purposes, and now he needed to make his third entry for his ‘first full day’ onboard Time Bandits…

His satellite phone chirped and he switched the unit from Stand-by to On, then with increasing anger read through the entire pages long message. After meeting the Navy captain in Sweden he’d almost been expecting this, but now…here it was, and there was nothing left to do but follow the enclosed instructions or risk alienating people he dared not mess about with. He added the items to his to-do list, then turned to his logbook:

“Log entry: SV Time Bandits, 7 August, local time 0330 hrs, position North 54 22 50  East 10 10 06, OAT 49 degrees F, sea temp 55F, now tied up in the large marina in Altenholz, just NE of the Kiel Canal East Entrance. Arrived about five hours ahead of plotted time; the new ‘Bandits’ sails like a gazelle, truly magic and very fast on a beam-reach. Several encounters with military aircraft throughout the day; on two occasions what I assume were maritime patrol aircraft came down for a visit, but they lost interest when we hoisted the Stars and Stripes. One encounter with a Russian Sukhoi was less friendly; they buzzed us repeatedly, and once I thought they were lining up to attack. We heard on the VHF that some kind of large convoy is coming from the Baltic east of here and that it is going to transit as a group, and now there are rumors that Russian submarines are converging on the area. We may not be able to transit tomorrow as I’d hoped, as the canal does not accept reservations for time slots and we have no idea how big this convoy is. Still, we’ve heard that wait times are still minimal, transit times are still in the 8-10 hour range, and so with luck we’ll be in the North Sea later today, hopefully by late evening. If not, we may be stuck here a while.”

He looked at his sat-phone display and decided to keep the contents of the message out of the log – for now. He looked at the encrypted text message and double-checked the details copied in his to-do list were correct, then shut down the phone.

He sighed, shook his head then closed the leg book and looked at the cover – before Dina stepped over from the galley…

“You look like you are lost in thought,” she said. “Is something wrong?”

“No, just thinking about how many miles are recorded in here,” he lied, patting the cover. “It might make for interesting reading material a few years down the road.”

“What do you include in these entries; you seem to write sometimes very much?”

“Oh, you know, the basics, like speed over ground, wind speed, but I try to include a short narrative of important things that happened during the leg. Even maintenance chores…and sometimes I just wax poetic…”

“You mean you include bullshit?”

“Oh, Hell yes. Some days you need hip-waders to get through all the crap. What are you making over there?”

“Oh, I was just trying to figure out where I put everything. If I am lucky, we will have fresh bread in time for lunch.”

“Did you get a chance to spend some time with Britt?”

“Yes, a little. The flight is still scheduled at 0930 tomorrow, but the airline is not optimistic. I’d like her to take Eva when she leaves.”

Taggart didn’t say anything, decided to just let her ramble on.

“Well? Do you agree with that?” she added.

“I am uneasy with anyone pregnant and on a sailboat,” he said.

“So, I make you uneasy, too?”

“I think you should go home until we make it to the Dutch canal system. That way, we won’t have to worry about ocean crossings and rough weather – because, frankly, the North Sea has a bad reputation for a reason. Besides, I don’t want to see anything happen to the spud,” he said, rubbing her belly.”

“We will have to see what the wether forecast looks like,” she said.

He knew enough to let that one slide, but he opened his phone to check. “Okay.”

“So, you are fine with Eva going tomorrow?”

“I’ll leave that up to you and Britt, if you don’t mind. This is a medical decision, after all is said and done. At least, to me it seems like it should be.”

She seemed satisfied with that and let the matter rest. Then the bombshell: “I think Britt misses her boy?”

“Understandable.” He could tell this conversation was turning into a chess match.

“She wants him to come home for a short visit.”

“Probably a good idea.” Okay, your move.

“Really? That surprises me?”

“Oh? Why?”

“I thought you wanted him here, with us…that’s all.”

“He has a life in Bergen, Dina, and believe me, I don’t ever take that for granted. His mother needs him, but also his friends and teachers, too. I was just thinking that maybe it’s a good idea that he stays grounded in that world, too, because all this,” he added, his arms arcing to embrace Dina and their immediate surroundings – including Time Bandits, “may begin to feel like normal, and it just isn’t. Nothing lasts forever, you know?”

She sighed. “I suppose you are correct, but…”

“You suppose?” he sighed. “Hell, every kid in school has just one objective in life – to not be in school. Rolf can’t appreciate that yet, few kids ever do – at least not until it’s too late – but to be away from all that crap, spirited away on a boat bound for the far horizon…?”

“He won’t be away, Henry. Not completely. Remember, I’ll be helping him with his assignments when he is here?”

He held up his hands. “Okay. I surrender.”

“I see the point you are trying to make. You agree he should go home for a few days. Shall I try to get him on the same flight with his mother?”

“No, I’d like him here when we transit the canal.”

“Okay. Just an idea, but we could stay here in this marina for a few days. It is pleasant enough here, no?”

He thought about her next move as he looked over the weather forecasts on his phone – which showed heavy rain for the next several days – and with that piece of the puzzle filled-in he sighed. “Crappy weather next week. So, do you want to sail in crappy weather or be tied up here – in crappy weather?”

She shrugged. “I am ready to walk around some, no matter the weather.”

“Okay, get him on the flight if you can, let Britt and Rolf decide on a return date.”

“You are certainly decisive, aren’t you?”

“Well, I’m with you on this one. I could use a walk or two, and I know Clyde would love it.”

“That dog…I swear I think the two of you are growing closer with each new day. Soon you will be of one mind.”

“Hey, great minds think alike.”

“What, like bark twice when it’s time to find a bush?”

“Precisely,” Taggart said, his hands spread wide. “Who can argue with such superior logic?”

“If you start barking, Henry, I will…”

“You will what? Go get my collar and leash?”

She sighed, then turned serious – and he could tell she had been saving this move for last. “I think I should go home with them, Henry. I have paperwork at the hospital that I need to attend to, as well as a few personal matters that have come up.”

“I see.”

“It should only be for a day or two. I hate to leave you alone…”

“I won’t be alone,” Taggart said, scratching Clyde’s chin. Check and mate, wot?

“I see.” 

Taggart stood and grabbed Clyde’s leash. “Ready for a perambulation of significant magnitude, old top?” Taggart bellowed in his best Henry Higgins.

Clyde looked at Taggart, then at Dina – then he sneezed once before he cut a nice long fart on his way up the companionway steps.

“Man, he’s a class act. How do you top an exit like that?”

She shook her head as she pinched off her nose: “And just think…the two of you are growing more and more alike with each new day.”

“Yeah. Ain’t life grand?” he said as he got up from the cart table – and not accidentally floating an air-muffin as he stood. “You know what?” he said, grinning, “I couldn’t have timed that one better if I tried.”

“Are you saying…?”

“Exactly, yes, I am indeed.”

He stepped off Bandits and turned to Clyde. “You really are a good boy, but if I were you I’d be careful.”

“Whoof!”

“Well boy, for some reason that woman really don’t like the way our farts smell.”

“Whoof!”

“Yeah, I know, and I’m not sure why, but I’ve always thought it must be a character defect of some sort.”

“Whoof! – Whoof!”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. Don’t get your panties in a wad,” Taggart said as he picked up Clyde and helped him to the pier. “That’s a good looking bush over there, fella… No? Well, that’s okay, I have a feeling we shouldn’t go back there for a while…”

+++++

It took two taxis to haul everyone to the airport shuttle, though Taggart and Clyde said their goodbyes on the street just outside the marina. Henry smiled as he looked at this most unlikely family as they drove off, then he looked down at Clyde. 

Clyde stood staring at the beige taxis until they disappeared, and even then his will to remain in this spot seemed resolute. 

Then he looked up at Henry and sighed.

“Yeah, I know. Gonna be a rough couple of days.”

Clyde turned and began walking back out the pier to the boat, but he stopped once and sniffed the air. “Whoof-whoof!”

Taggart followed him to a favored clump of bushes, then picked up after him before resuming their walk out to the boat. 

There were times, he admitted as he climbed into the cockpit, when the first Time Bandit had felt too big for one person – but this new boat was preposterously large by any standard, and here he was, all alone. Still, there were things he needed to work on today, some hastily added new additions down at the chart table to be made as per the encrypted text. Also, he’d left the original Zodiac on Bandit because it was just too small, so today’s other errand was to head out and find a newer, bigger inflatable – which meant a new, bigger outboard motor too. And folding bicycles! He’d need three of those, for now – too. He found a dealer for inflatables not too far away and tried to muster the will to move – but now, alone for the first time in months – he found himself almost paralyzed with indecision…like he suddenly had no idea how to go about the least little thing without Dina there by his side…

“So, this is what marriage leads to, eh Clyde? Emotional Alzheimer’s? I feel like I’m in kindergarten again – like I’ve gone and lost my mommy and don’t know where to turn.”

Clyde walked to the aft cabin and barked.

“Yeah, I hear you. When the going gets rough, the tough go to sleep.”

He laid down and Clyde came in and laid along his left side, his front paws draped over Henry’s left arm and his chin resting on Henry’s incision. Their eyes met and Taggart scratched the top of the pup’s head – at least he did until he felt his eyelids growing heavy… 

And when his eyes opened he was standing in a field. 

Green grass, maybe ankle high, stretched all around, almost as far as he could see. Not far to his left and up a shallow incline he saw that this side of the field was lined by trees; to his right and straight ahead he saw water beyond the far reaches of the field. He turned around and discovered he was on a road – of sorts – but really the road was a little more than two white sandy ruts that cut across the field. Beyond the field, foothills – then mountains. Huge, jagged snow covered mountains.

He heard a low, guttural growl and looked down. Clyde was sitting there, the pup’s limpid brown eyes fixed on his own, but Taggart could tell that Clyde was not at all happy. The hair on the back of his neck was on end and his tail was tucked-in tight, and Taggart could see his nostrils flaring – a sure sign that something – or someone – was nearby.

“What is it, boy? What do you smell?”

A shadow passed in front of them, then another and another, but when he looked up there was nothing to see – just a pure greenish-blue sky…yet…

“That’s not the moon,” Taggart said as his eyes took in the sight overhead. “It looks like a greenish Jupiter, only with Saturn’s rings.”

Clyde’s eyes followed Taggart’s, and when he saw the planet he howled and began circling Taggart’s legs…until Henry knelt beside the pup and held out his hand. “That’s nothing to worry about, old boy – just a very weird planet in a very weird dream…”

Then it hit him…it was light out but there was no sun in this sky…just this one huge planet overhead. He held out his hand and looked for a shadow – but saw nothing even remotely resembling anything like a shadow.

Then the three shadows raced across the field again and he looked up and around and Clyde was really howling now – and running in circles again, but the circle was growing tighter and tighter before him as he watched…

Then…a gust of wind. Cold, icy cold. Cold like fingers in the dead of winter, cold gripping his heart. Clyde stopped now and stood locked in a point.

Taggart followed the point with his eyes until they came to rest on a hazy white light coming from deep within the forest off to their left.

Clyde growled. A deep growl that came from a faraway place like fear, or maybe anger.

“Yes, I see it boy.”

The glow came from some place as yet unseen, but it had to be at least hundreds of yards in from the edge of the field because the pulsing glow was massive – yet the source of the light remained invisible. Then…the three shadows raced to edge of the field and disappeared into the forest. Seconds later the glow disappeared.

“I’m not sure I like this dream, boy. Maybe we should wake up now?”

His wrist buzzed, and then he heard a chirping sound…

“Oxygen saturation low!” a voice in the darkness said.

“Unstable heart rhythm detected,” the voice continued.

“Seek medical attention! Repeat, seek medical attention! If you do not respond to this alarm I will call emergency services!”

He opened an eye and raised his wrist and looked at his watch.

“Siri, would you shut the fuck up and please go straight to Hell?”

“I’m sorry, but that is an unknown response. I will call emergency services in 15 seconds if the alarm is not canceled.”

He scrolled down the message on the watch-face and hit the ‘Dismiss’ button, then sat up.

Clyde jumped off the berth and began growling just as he had in the dream, only now he was pointing at something unseen in the front of the boat.

“Clyde?”

Growl.

“Clyde, you want to go outside?”

Growl.

“Clyde, how about some nice salmon, and maybe a t-bone steak, too?”

The pup turned at that, then his tail started thumping on the cabin walls.

“I thought that would get your attention,” Taggart said. “But…wait a minute…” Taggart said as he realized that Clyde had been pointing in the same direction now as he had been in the field. 

“Something ain’t right.”

He looked at his watch again, figured he’d been asleep for about two hours. 

He looked up, saw the overhead hatch was dappled with spreading rain drops…

Then his phone rang.

“Henry?”

“No, this is Henry.”

“Henry, stop it.”

“Must I? You know how much I like pushing buttons.”

“Henry, we’ve had some trouble.”

He shifted gears, decided it was time for a new game. “Okay, what’s happened?”

“Well, it seems like air travel is disrupted today, all over Europe. Our flight to Oslo is canceled, but we are on stand-by for a flight to Stavanger, then on to Bergen.”

“Is anyone talking about why…”

“Yes, the Russia stuff again. There was an incident last night, somewhere over the Black Sea. Apparently all air travel was stopped around 0400, but some flights are resuming. All flights to America are booked solid, but the planes to Europe are empty.”

“Ah. This might be a good time to invest in property over here.”

“Henry, please?”

“Yeah, sorry. Clyde made me say that. So, when is this new flight scheduled?”

“Ten thirty.”

“And if it doesn’t go, then what?”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you. What should we do?”

“Come back here. You can’t sit around an airport with no place to stay.”

“Henry, this feels a little strange to me. Well, to all of us here. The news is not normal, but everyone is very restrained.”

“Probably a very good time to be careful what you say, for everyone. Just remember, Dina, you can’t think clearly if you panic. Keep focused on short term goals.”

“Do I sound panicked?”

“A little. How’s Rolf handling things?”

“Fine so far.”

“Okay, let him handle getting a ride back here if the flight doesn’t go, but stick to him like glue.”

“Okay. How are you doing?”

“Got down here and fell asleep.”

“I thought you might. You got about thirty minutes sleep last night.”

“Ah, that explains it.”

“And Henry? There is another problem.”

“Yes?”

“Eva is beside herself. She did not want to leave you; she is very afraid of never seeing you again.”

“Understood.”

“Is that all you have to say about the matter?”

“No, but I told you this was more a matter for the two of you, for you and Britt, to figure out.”

“But we are not psychiatrists, Henry!”

“Well, I’m not exactly Sigmund Fucking Freud, Dina, at least I wasn’t the last time I looked. What do you want me to say to her, anyway? Grow up?”

“That might help, yes.”

“No, Dina, that wouldn’t and you know it. The only thing to tell her is the truth, and that has to be the only reason. It’s safer there in Bergen, medically speaking, for both her and the babies.”

“I’m looking at her now, Henry. She’s hysterical, really, and acting quite beside herself, making a scene, really.”

“Could I speak to Rolf, please?”

“Yes, of course.” He heard her call for him, her the phone bouncing around, then he was on.

“Rolf? How’s it hangin’?”

“Down past my knees.”

“Right. What’s up with Eva?”

“She feels like my mother and Dina are ganging up on her, that they are ignoring her feelings?”

“And how do you feel about that?”

“I think she is a little correct, Henry, but I am not sure why this is so.”

“Yeah? Well, I am. I tell you what, Rolf. I want you to go over to her right now and kiss her – hard – on the lips. Maybe slip her a little tongue, too. And before she slaps you, tell her I told you to do it, and for her to listen to you from now on. If she gives you any trouble, hand her the phone and let he speak to me.”

“Henry, no, this is crazy!”

“Yes, of course it is! Life is completely crazy, Rolf! Now…do it!”

“But…”

“No buts, Rolf. Just do it, right now.”

He heard the commotion that followed, the kiss, Dina’s outraged shriek, Britt’s flummoxed outrage – but not one peep from Eva as Rolf told her to listen to him from now on.

“Rolf?” 

“Yes, Henry?”

“Everything’s cool now, right?”

“Yes, I think this is so. How did you know?”

“Doesn’t matter. Remember, when I’m not around you’re going to have to take charge. But try to do things the way I would, okay?”

“Yes, Henry. Would you like to speak to Dina again?”

“Not really, but I don’t think I can avoid it this time, do you?”

“No sir.”

“Okay, shipmate. I’ll talk to you later.”

“I love you, Henry.”

“I love you too, kid.”

Then: “Henry! What on earth did you tell Rolf to do!?”

“Dina? Call me if there’s trouble with the flight, okay. Otherwise, call me when you get in tonight.”

“Well, okay, but…”

“Adios, and take care,” he said before he cut the connection. Then he turned to Clyde. “Geesh, Dude. What is it about marriage that turns some peoples’ minds to mush?”

“Whoof!”

“You got that right, Amigo. Truer words were never spoken.”

+++++

Taggart found the recommended ICOM radio dealer nearby and looked over their inventory; when he talked to the owner the man seemed less than enthusiastic until Taggart voiced what he had in mind and who had sent him, and then the necessary time frame. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak German,” he added with a shrug. “I hope I’m being clear?”

“So, you know how to re-program the 7100 to pick-up military transmissions?” the man asked.

Taggart shrugged.

“But these are encrypted channels, are they not?”

“Most of ‘em, yes.”

“And you know the encryption protocols?”

Again, Taggart just shrugged – which spoke volumes as far as the dealer was concerned.

“Why do you want such equipment on your vessel?”

“Because I like to know what’s going on, and where. What I need to know is do you have the units in stock, and can you help me install them tomorrow.”

“Do you plan on using the backstay as your antenna?”

“Yes, the necessary connections were installed at the factory, including a copper foil ground plane.”

“Ah, so all we need is an antenna tuner, correct.”

“Yes. So, to be clear, I need the 803 SSB, the 605 VHF, and the 7100 transceiver. Tomorrow works for you?”

“What time would you like my crew to arrive?”

“0700 works for me. And could you supervise the installation?”

The man sighed. “If you wish. And how will you be paying?”

Taggart reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a Credit Suisse 10 ounce gold bar. “When the units are installed and tested, this is yours.”

“And the name for the warranty registration, and for the AIS system?”

“No names. And I’ll handle the AIS.”

The man nodded. “0700 then.”

“Thanks.”

Next he took a taxi to an inflatable boat dealer, and there he picked up an 11 foot Zodiac Cadet and a 10 HP Yamaha outboard, as well as an electric inflator to go with the included manual foot-pump. After a short stop at the marina to take Clyde for a walk, he went into central Kiel, to the restaurant named in the text, the Gaststätte Ratskeller. He gave his name for a table, in fluent German this time, and he ordered a beer and soup to have while he waited.

Five minutes later two men walked in and sat at the table next to Taggart; one was the US Navy captain he’d met in Lervassa, Sweden; the other Taggart didn’t know.

“You’re a hard man to find, Mr. Taggart,” the stranger said to Henry.

“Why the meeting, Mike?” Taggart ignored the stranger and replied directly to the naval officer.

“Any problem finding the radios?” 

“No, they should be up and running by the day after tomorrow.”

“Here are the frequencies you’ll need, and the codes,” the stranger said, handing Taggart a flash drive.

“So, what’s good here?” Henry asked, looking at the menu.

“They do a very good Hunter’s Schnitzel,” Mike advised. “I see you already found the soup menu. Is that a fish chowder?”

“Yup. So, why me?”

“There are probably three people in the world that can do what you do, and when we learned you just happened to be over here – in the wrong place and at the wrong time…”

“You mean just as world war three is about to kick off…?”

“Something like that, yeah. And frankly, you’re untraceable on that fucking boat. If anyone else tried what we need you to try and, well, it’d be easy to trace the work back to Fort Meade.”

“Uh-huh. And when is this supposed to go down?”

“Best guess right now is around the 20th, but probably the 21st.”

“Of August?”

“Right,” the stranger said. “It would be better if you’re not in a crowded urban port, you know, like not a containership loading area, but also not too far away from a large city. To make this  work, you’ll just need an unobstructed view of the sky to the north and east.”

“And once I’m in?”

“Here’s the latest copy of their codec,” the stranger said, handing him a three ring binder. “Once you get in you’ll just need to run the install program, then shut down your link. That’s it.”

“Right, and how many incoming missiles will be targeting my ass?”

Mike laughed, shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way, Henry, and you know it.”

“Background RFI is your friend here” the stranger added. “That’s why…?”

“I know why. I’m just not convinced that an off the shelf transceiver will have the punch…”

“As long as you’re on the coast between the Elbe and Norderney your range should be optimal,” the stranger said. “Once the aircraft appears over the Baltic we’ll signal you; once it’s over the North Sea you’ll get the execute command. That’s it. It should take ten minutes, tops.”

“And there isn’t anyone else who can do this? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“There are potentially two other people, but none are in the position you are to do this as seamlessly. Their aircraft will only be vulnerable for a brief period of time…”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because we’ve observed it, Mr Taggart,” the stranger said. “Now, can we count on your help?”

“Henry, we need to know right now. If we have to move other assets into place it will take time – and time is running out. We need you to commit, and right now.”

His waitress came and he ordered, then he sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. He looked around the restaurant, almost like he was embarrassed to be here in this position, then he nodded. “Okay. I’ll take care of it.”

Mike smiled. “Alright. Thanks. I know you didn’t ask for anything, but we’d like to thank you. The contents of this briefcase are yours, the combination is your birthdate.”

Taggart knew the silver Zero-Halliburton case was on the floor between their tables, but now he did his best to ignore the thing, though he nodded understanding. “I understand some sort of convoy is coming through the canal. Anything I need to know about?”

“Not really, and it’s not a convoy, per se. We’re just moving some ships out of the Baltic for now.”

“Who’s we?”

“NATO, for the most part. Ivan has moved too many submarines into the region, which meant we had to as well. Conditions are getting a little squirrelly for surface combatants so we’re moving assets to Iceland and the UK.”

“Can subs transit the canal?”

“You mean covertly?” Mike replied.

“No, just generally speaking.”

“If they don’t draw to much, sure, but moving a sub through such a restricted body of water defeats their purpose.”

Taggart nodded. “What about mini-subs? Little two-man affairs?”

“Have you seen anything like that?” Mike asked, suddenly all business again.

“No, but that’s exactly what the Japanese used around Pearl Harbor. Makes sense to try something like that again.”

“Well, they have them, so be on the lookout and let us know,” Mike added.

“You have the frequencies on the flash drive,” the stranger added. “But if you have any other questions for me, use the sat-phone in the case. Speed dial three for me. Mike is one. Keep the battery fully charged starting on the 15th, and keep it with you at all times until the operation is complete. I’d recommend you throw the phone into the drink just after you shut down, by the way.”

“You going to notify me using this new phone?”

“That’s correct,” Mike said, but he stopped talking when Taggart’s meal arrived. “Damn, that sure looks good today.”

“It’s a good bet they haven’t run out. Stay and keep me company?”

“It’s okay with us if it’s okay with you? We were sort of figuring you’d be a little too angry…”

“Not at all. It’s nice to be useful once in a while,” Taggart said. “Glad I could help.”

“So, how’s the new boat going?”

“Like anything else new. Bugs to work out, new systems to learn. Good sailboat, though. Fast.”

“So, where to from here?”

His phone rang. “Excuse me,” he said to Mike. Then: “Hello?”

“We made it to Bergen, and luckily enough on a nonstop flight.”

“Ah, well then, good news. How did Eva manage the flight?” 

“She is clinging to Rolf like a magnet is attached.”

“And you? Feeling a little better now?”

“Yes, thank you. Rolf stepping in made a big difference.”

“Well, I’m having some new equipment installed tomorrow and the next day, so there’s no rush to get back. Take your time and you should both bring all you need for cooler temperatures when you return.”

“Henry, I’m not sure you are following events, but air travel is growing quite unpredictable.”

“I see.”

“Perhaps we should stay here until things resolve more clearly?”

“I’ll leave that to you, Dina. I’m sure you’ll take everything into consideration and make the best possible choice.”

“God-dammit, Henry! Can’t you at least once tell me that you need me and to hurry back as soon as possible!?”

“Dina, I need you. Please, hurry back as soon as possible.”

“Henry…I didn’t mean…?”

“Oh? What didn’t you mean?”

“I know you love us, me, and that you need…”

“Alright. So what’s the problem?”

“Sometimes this cool logic that pervades you…it is, well, difficult for me to understand.”

“Perhaps you’d rather I turn into an hysterical wreck. Would that help?”

“Now you are just being difficult.”

“Only for you, my love. Because I know how much you these things.”

“So, what new toys did you buy?”

“A stainless steel pole – for the salon. You know, so you could do some pole dancing?”

“Perhaps I should call tomorrow. You don’t seem to want to talk right now.”

“You know my number. If I don’t answer it’ll be because I’m in the shower.”

She hung up, and he put his phone in his jacket.

Mike and the stranger were looking at him.

“I take it you two had a disagreement?” Mike asked.

“No, that’s just usually the way I am.”

“You mean you like being an asshole?”

“Oh, yes, very much.”

“I see,” Mike added. “Well, good luck with that.”

Taggart nodded. “Indeed – so, apple strudel, anyone?”

+++++

When he made it back to Bandits he took Clyde for a long walk in a light drizzle, yet the old boy was damp and chilled by the time they made it back, so Taggart took him below and gave him a warm shower. After a thorough scrubbing with baby shampoo he pulled out Dina’s hair dryer and Clyde’s brush and got to work. When he finished, Clyde looked like a brand new dog again.

“I stopped by the fish market and got some salmon. Feel like sushi tonight?”

That was good for three barks, so Taggart got out his sushi knife and went to work.

“No wasabi for you tonight,” he said as he fed Clyde by hand, piece by piece. He cleaned up the galley then went to the silver case ‘Mike’ had given him and opened it. Twenty more ten ounce gold bars, a sat-phone complete with charger and quick reference card, and a Sig-Sauer P220 complete with three magazines and two boxes of 45 ACP. He shut the case and went to the engine room.

Once inside he went to one of the wall mounted inverters and removed its outer case, revealing a robust wall mounted safe. He entered the digital combination and the door popped open, revealing his vital papers and three more boxes of 10 ounce gold bars, each box holding 10 bars. He pulled his old P220 from the safe and replaced it with the new one, the same thing with his old magazines and ammunition, then he closed the safe and reseated the inverter cover. He walked to his berth in the aft cabin and put his old pistol under the pillow and the rest of the stuff in a bedside drawer, then he made his way to the chart table and opened his laptop.

He inserted the flash drive and reviewed the files and was surprised when he didn’t find any malware on the first pass. “So, they’ve learned a few new tricks, have they?” he muttered. But even after a deeper examination he came up empty, so he opened the main file and went through the program line by line. It was ingenious, he decided after a few minutes, and represented what had to be, quite possibly, the most dangerous undertaking on earth. 

In a separate file he went over the instructions again, reviewed the suspect aircraft’s flight profile on its last two missions, and then he noted all the radio frequencies he’d need, committing them to memory after just one reading. With that done he slipped on a Lycra bodysuit and went to the aft deck and lowered the swim platform. He went into his little ‘garage’ and grabbed his dive-light and -knife, his mask and fins, and the little 20 pound SCUBA tank he carried to look over the bottom of the boat after a mishap, then he slipped into the inky black water and swam down to the keel.

And there, on the bottom of the keel, was the suspected transmitter-beacon – fixed in place with underwater-setting epoxy. He pulled out his dive-knife and pried it loose, then swam over and stuck the beacon behind one of the piers. When he left it would appear as if he was still berthed in the same spot, and it might give him enough time to break free if he needed to, and the beacon explained why he hadn’t found any malware on the flash drive. He looked at his hands just then and saw the usual telltale shaking and shook his head. After getting back onboard and stowing his gear he took his meds then made for the shower and stood under the hot water until he felt somewhat warm again, then he dressed and took Clyde out for one more walk before calling it a day.

Laying down hard, he suddenly grew afraid of sleep – ‘of those little snippets of death’ – if only because he was afraid of finding himself inside that last dream again. Clyde crawled up next to him, and he lay his head on Taggart’s chest, his eyes already at half-mast. Taggart started rubbing the top of the old boy’s head until he too felt the heavy hands of sleep coming for him…

…and in an instant he was on the same sandy white road that crossed the verdant field.

He looked to the left and found the pulsing white glow once again, then he heard a terrible shrieking cry – just before the three shadows emerged from the forest.

They were coming for him this time, and he knew there was no place to run.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 49

88Kvenom image SMALL

Part VI

Chapter 49

Callahan was sitting in the front office of a new Beechcraft 1900c turboprop, listening to another salesman’s pitch – after Pattison advised that this might be the perfect choice to start a new fixed-wing airline service with.

“We’ve gone over your load factor analysis,” the salesman added as he would up his pitch, “and feel that, frankly, you might have underestimated demand once you guys are up and running. We’d recommend you consider starting off with two units the first month of operations, with one in service and the second as a back up. Still, our biggest concern is the mail service you guys have committed to.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Well, it’s just a simple question of customer demand versus available payload. If a sack of mail weights a hundred pounds and you end up with two or three, well, you can handle that with the 1800c. But what happens if you get 15, or even 20 sacks? You’ll have to drop payload somewhere, but if you’re under contract to the Post Office you’ll be obligated to haul the mail. So you drop passengers, but as a result you piss off customers.”

“So, what you’re saying is we need bigger aircraft…”

“Well, yes, but wait before you jump on that bandwagon. You guys will be operating under SFAR 41C, so not the same standards as, say, United or American. Once you move up to bigger aircraft you’ll move up the FAR ladder to big-boy standards, and pretty soon you’ll look at capitalization requirements that’ll make your head spin. A logical aircraft would be the Avroliner, but to start off with even two or three you’d be looking at an initial outlay of at least a hundred million…and yeah, the Fed Regs will overwhelm you.”

“What about a lease arrangement?”

“Possible, but almost as costly – and if you need to get rid of a jet and the market’s soft, well, the penalties can really add up fast. For a new start-up, the 1900 is hard to beat, and we have a new model coming out next year with standing headroom. Could be a real game changer for you, too. And the thing is, if you decide you want to convert future deliveries from the -C model to the newer -D, well, no penalty so no big deal.”

“Well,” Callahan said, “I’ve been over the numbers with my CFO and I talked to Pattison last night. Both seem to think the 1900 is the way to go for now.”

“So, you’re thinking two to start off with?”

“No, more like six, and the -D model is definitely on our radar. We want to start off with the coastal route, a central valley route, and alternating flights to Santa Barbara in the fall and spring, and South Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes in the winter.”

“Good plan. Keep everything in-state. I’ve got two spots on the line reserved for you so you’ll get those aircraft next month; the next four will take another six weeks after that. How are you set for pilots?”

“We’ve got some Navy C-2 drivers getting their tickets in order.”

“That’s right…I heard you guys are hiring ex-military only. Good for you, man. I mean it, way to go!”

“Too many vets lost in the stateside shuffle. Those C-2 drivers can rarely get on with a major until they build a bunch of hours, so that’s our plan. Get ‘em up and running, then help them get a type rating on the 732 at Southwest. That’s the plan, anyway.”

“You’ll help them get a type rating…so they can move on? Why?”

“We can hire more pilots that way; getting new hire pilots into higher paying jobs at the majors is a core part of our mission statement.”

“Holy shit, Callahan, that’s just un-fucking-believable. Well, you need anything you let us know. Uh, I hear you’re flying line, too. How do you find the time?”

Harry shrugged. “Being single helps.”

The salesman laughed at that, but only because he wasn’t looking at Callahan. “You heading to Redding later today?” the salesman asked.

“Yeah. Big fires up in the alps.”

“I’d be happy to fly you up?”

“Thanks, but I’ve got to shuttle one of our Hueys up there. Maybe next time, though,” Callahan said, holding out his right hand.

He walked back to his office in the Cathouse and found Frank sitting in is office.

“Hey, what’s up with you?” he asked Bullitt. “Haven’t seen you around here in a while?”

“Oh, you know, got a couple of cases at the department, that kinda thing.”

“Hear anything from Cathy lately?”

“No, not a peep. What about Fujiko? Heard anything?”

Callahan shook his head. “No, not since she moved into her apartment.”

“She’s still planning on going back to school?”

“As far as I know,” Harry added. “So, what brings you ‘round today?”

“Oh, I need to go up north, up to Redding first, then over to Eureka.”

“The new terminal?”

“Yup. The new radios.”

“So, how do you like living in Potrero Hills?” Harry asked.

“Close to work, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah, I know. Just give her time, Frank. She’ll come around. That was a heavy load, ya know?”

“I don’t know, Harry. I think she became genuinely afraid of us after all that crap came out.”

“It wasn’t us, Frank.”

“Oh yeah? Well, you try telling that to her…”

“I did, remember. And you do recall how well that turned out…?”

Bullitt looked away, remembering Fujiko’s violent reaction. “Yeah, Harry. I do. I sure the fuck do.”

“So, I’ve got to go up and relieve a crew in Redding. Wanna hitch a ride with me?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Got your bag packed?” 

“Yup, everything’s in the Mustang.”

“Well, go get it and let’s roll.”

____________________________________

There were two large fires running in the Trinity Alps region in Northern California when Callahan arrived in Redding; the Coffee Creek fire was largely contained, while the Holland Lake fire was just ramping up – so not even one fire line was fully manned and active yet. He checked in at CATs temporary line shack at Redding, got his fuel load-out and manifest from their new dispatcher and made sure Bullitt had a place to stay, then supervised fueling before talking to the pilots heading back to the Cathouse from the fires.

“It’s hot up there, Skipper,” Mickey Rooney said as he walked up. “Be careful, willya?”

“How bad is it?” Callahan answered.

“Ninety-plus degrees at 9000 M-S-L, so watch your density altitude calculations.”

Callahan shook his head. “Yikes. Where’s the fuel depot located?”

“South ramp, Trinity Center airport. You’ll pick up your firefighters there, too. There’s a PBY dipping from the lake, so keep an eye out for him on final.”

“Got it,” Callahan replied. “You headed to the barn now?”

“Yeah, I’m two hours past legal right now, and I’m working Palo Alto this weekend.”

“We’re going to need to pick up a couple of new pilots if this keeps up.”

“Yeah? Well, I got a couple in mind if you do.”

“Let DD know when you get in.”

“Will do. Say, I hear she’s got a new boyfriend. That true?”

Callahan shrugged. “If she does it’s news to me. Who’s riding shotgun with me today?”

“One of the new guys. Richard Chapman, the guy we picked up from Fort Benning.”

“The kid with the leg?”

“Yeah.”

“How’s he holding up?”

“Better than expected. Good attitude, too. Guys on the line love him, he lays it out there to get ‘em out.”

“That him?” Callahan asked, pointing to a pilot walking out of the line shack.

“Yup.” Rooney picked up his duffel. “Any word on the Beechcraft deal?”

“Yeah, we’ll start with six, two will get here in a month.”

“You mind if I start working on my fixed wing ticket?”

Callahan seemed surprised. “You? What’s the deal?”

“Change of scenery, I guess.”

“Well, go for it, Mickey. Put in the paperwork with DD, let me know the upfront costs.”

“Thanks, Harry. Appreciate it, man.” 

Callahan turned to Chapman, now listening to the last part of his conversation with Rooney. “Richard?” Callahan asked, extending his right hand.

“Yessir,” Chapman replied. “Nice to finally meet you, Skipper.”

“Thanks. Feel like handling the right seat today?” Callahan asked, handing over the dispatch papers.

“Really? Hell yes, sir!”

“Yeah, I hear you’re doing real good, so log this one as PIC.”

“Thank you, sir!”

“Mickey? Seeya in the city on Friday, and let’s talk, cue me in on what you dig up about flight school.”

“Right. Seeya, Skip.”

Callahan turned to the new guy. “I’m gonna follow your walk-around, so try to impress me.”

Airborne ten minutes later, the smoke plume from the Holland Lake fire was visible for most of the flight into Trinity Center; once back on the ground at the little airport there, Chapman supervised topping off the tanks while Callahan got the fire-fighters situated in back. Minutes later they climbed to the west and headed towards the thickening plume – and the first cries for help came in over the radio net. They dropped off the relief crew and turned towards the fire-line, the air already full of sparking embers and ash falling like snow. Callahan called into the fire commander to update their position:

“Cat-3 to line-able. Clear drop at Sawyer’s Creek Campground.”

“Able to Cat-3, can you divert to the south fork of the Salmon about 500 yards down from timberline. Got a crew trapped there, they’ve cleared a pad for you and they got green smoke going. Call sign Baker 21.”

“Cat-3 heading for the green, Baker 21.”

“So, you were in ‘Nam?” Chapman asked.

“Yeah, I seem to remember a place called Vietnam. I did one tour in Germany before that.”

“Oh, where were you in Germany?”

“An FOB near Bamburg.”

“Yeah? I did time there too. Weird duty.”

“Yeah…okay, I see their smoke,” Callahan said, getting on the radio. “Cat-3 to Baker 21, you guys ready to bug out?”

“Cat-3, expedite expedite expedite!”

Chapman dropped the nose and added throttle, Callahan automatically began calling out torque and pressures. 

“Okay, I got the clearing,” Chapman said, then: “Shit…they’re surrounded!”

“Baker 21, get ready!”

“Ready!” they heard over swelling cries for help.

“I’m going back to secure the doors,” Callahan said.

“Hook up your line.”

The air was roiling this close to the main fire line, and Chapman was having trouble holding his line; the Huey bounced and yawed but Callahan managed to get both doors locked into the open position and back to his seat in less than a minute.

Ten men were huddled in the small clearing, the surrounding flames were now less than 10 yards from them as Chapman began his hover. Callahan couldn’t see anything but flames everywhere he looked, and smoke was pouring into the open cabin, then the Huey began rolling from side to side as men jumped onto the skids. He looked at Chapman then: the kid was struggling but holding it together so he turned and counted bodies as the team slid and clambered onto the floor.

“Okay,” Callahan shouted, “that’s ten – let’s beat feet!” 

Chapman eased the collective up and added more throttle, and when they were clear of the flames he nosed over and turned north, then east.

“Line able, Cat-3,” Callahan called in, “where are the nearest paramedics?”

“Cat-3, Coffee Creek is back online.”

“Cat-3, got it!” Callahan replied. “You need a heading?” he said to Chapman.

“No,” Chapman said. “Got it.”

Less than ten minutes later Cat-3 flared over the little pasture behind the volunteer fire department building and seconds later paramedics took the wounded on stretchers to waiting ambulances… just as new cries for help started pouring in over the radio net…

__________________________________

Frank was inside the new CAThouse in Redding, working with techs from Motorola and ICOM to get the new communications console ready to go, when he heard the radio net at the Holland Lake fire come alive.

“Is that the Fire-Net?” Bullitt asked.

“Should be,” one of the techs replied.

“Cat-3 to Line-Baker, we have two code-60s onboard and are almost outta gas, we are RTB, repeat, we are RTB.”

“That’s Harry…” Bullitt said, more to himself…

“Baker received, you better call in reinforcements. Looks like a bad night headed our way. Forecast is 45 knots out of the east, gusts to 60, repeat 6-0.”

“We got an active phone here yet?” Frank asked the techs.

“Yeah, the red one on your desk should be active now.”

Bullitt went to his desk in the little dispatch office and called the Cathouse at the Presidio. “This is Frank,” he said to the receptionist there. “Are any pilots still there?”

“Rooney and Pattison are still in the hanger, I think,” the girl said.

“Call ‘em and tell ‘em Callahan has run into a shit-storm, get ready to round up some air-crews.”

“Will do. Hang on, I’ll get them.” 

Bullitt waited, knowing Harry would call as soon as they got back to Trinity Center, and that Callahan would update him on the status of the fire mission.

“Pattison here. What’s going on, Frank?”

“This new Holland Creek fire is growing fast; Harry’s inbound with two dead onboard and it looks like a call for reinforcements is going out. I wanted to give you a heads-up in case you need to start rounding up folks.”

“Got it. I’ll get one bird up from base right now, and I think I can get one from Yosemite that way too. So yeah, tell Harry we got two inbound, willya? That’s all we can do tonight.”

“Okay, got it. Thanks, Pat!”

“Roger, I’m headed your way now.”

Bullitt hung up and seconds later the line buzzed: “Harry? That you?”

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“We’ve got some radios active here now, and the phone from the temporary line shack is active in the main building now.”

“So you heard?”

“Yeah. Pattison is on his way up now. Another crew from Yosemite will start your way as soon as they’re notified.”

“Damn, Frank…this is outstanding! Way to go – your system works! Alert the line shack and get the fuel truck ready for them. I want them both up here as soon as they can.”

“Is it a bad one?”

“Worst I’ve ever seen, Frank. We’ve had five -60s today, and I think that’s a record. Really rough terrain and the wind is outrageous, fire is at twenty thousand acres and building fast. I think they’re calling the Governor for a disaster declaration.”

“Five dead already? All firefighters?”

“Yup. There are a couple of little towns in danger of being overrun, too, but no word on casualties yet.”

“How’s the new kid? Chapman, is it?”

“Great instincts on the stick. We might want to keep this kid around a while.”

“Good news there at least.”

“So, Frank, does it look like we’ll have that terminal up and running within the month?”

“Yeah, looks that way. Lots of progress since my last trip up here.”

“Okay, call DD, let’s think about hiring staff for the ticket counter and ramp duty.”

“On it. And – Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“Be careful, willya? I got a bad feeling about this one?”

“Yeah, me too. Never even heard of a fire this big before. It’s just so hot for this time of year, ya know?”

“Yeah, okay – just be careful. Later…”

“Later…”

Callahan hung up the phone and walked over to the Red Cross food tent; he picked up a sandwich and some bug juice and saw Chapman talking to a nurse and grinned. ‘Some things never change,’ he sighed.

“How do you like the sandwich?” he heard a voice say, so he turned to find it.

His eyes found a woman about his age smiling at him. “You know, this is actually really good…I just wish I wasn’t so hungry. I’m not sure I bothered to taste it!”

“Could I get you another?”

“If you wouldn’t mind, that’d be great.”

She came back a moment later carrying another sandwich on a paper plate with some potato chips. “Here you go. This one just came out of the oven, so it might be better…”

Callahan took a bite and smiled. “This tastes just like New Orleans,” he said between bites.

“Yes, it’s our muffuletta. Homemade sourdough, and the olive tamponade is ours, too. Are you one of the pilots?”

Callahan’s mouth was full so he nodded.

“My husband was a pilot in Vietnam,” she said, and Callahan could see from the expression on her face that this story didn’t have a happy ending.

“He didn’t make it back?” he asked, and she shook her head. “Sorry to hear that,” he added.

“What’s your name, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Harry Callahan. And yours?”

“Jeanie Post. Say, you related to this Callahan Air Service thing?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“So, everyone flies, is that it?”

Callahan nodded. “No favorites. Everyone shares the load.”

“Yes, that’s the word around you guys. Hiring ex-military, helping lift up more than a couple of broken souls, that kinda thing.”

“That was the plan from the beginning. You live around here?”

“Yes, I came back up after the war. My family was from here, but my dad spent most of his career in the Navy so we moved around a lot. Still, this was home, so…”

“Did you remarry?”

“No. We had a little boy just before he deployed, and he’s kept me busy ever since.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, that’s him helping out behind the counter over there,” she said, pointing.

“He doesn’t look that little to me,” Harry said, grinning.

“That’s my Tim; he’ll graduate from high school this year.”

Chapman walked up then. “Skipper, we’re gassed up and we have a new crew to drop. I hate to ask, but could you take the right seat for a while?”

“I was going to ask,” Harry said. “You’ve done enough heavy lifting for one day, and we have two birds inbound. Why don’t you go find a tent and crash for a while.”

Chapman shook his head. “I’m not that tired, Skip. Come on, let’s go.”

Callahan turned to this new Jeanie and held out his hand. “Hope our paths cross again,” he said.

“Yes. That would be nice.”

They walked out to the 412 and Chapman got the new fire-team seated while Callahan completed his walk-around, yet as they lifted off a few minutes later he looked down and saw her standing just outside of the food tent, waving at him before they disappeared into the fire, and into the fight. He waved back, not sure she could even see him…but it felt like the right thing to do.

Working the stick hard in the strong wing Callahan looked at the line of peaks dead ahead – and the fire now just beyond these jagged spires – and he thought that in this fading late evening light, the sky already bathed in bloody reds and purples, it looked like they were flying into the Gates of Hell.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait…how about 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 (i.e., Covid-19) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive (10)

Chapter 10

The first blast slammed Time Bandit so badly that Dina lost her footing and fell to the galley floor; she pulled herself up and the first thing that registered was the smell – ‘what is that…kerosene?’ She had dropped a mixing bowl full of dry ingredients to make bread and now the entire galley looked like a winter landscape…but her medical training kicked in. ‘Assess yourself,’ she reminded herself as she felt her joints, then her head. Her left hand came down covered in blood.

She dashed into the forward head and found a minor laceration on top of her head, so she sprayed some hydrogen peroxide on the cut and tried not to scream when the burn hit. She daubed some Neosporin on a gauze pad and smeared the ointment into the wound – when the realization hit her…

‘Where is Henry…?’

…then…

‘…and Rolf?…Where is he?’

She made her way to the companionway steps and saw Rolf bent over Henry’s unconscious body before she started up the stairs…

…when another colossal roar hit…

…followed by another blast…

This time she just managed to hang onto a rail, then she pulled herself up the steps into the cockpit…

…just as the roaring began again…followed by three or four more blasts…

Yet these didn’t seem as intense, like they were further away.

Then a four engined turboprop flew by, but this aircraft was flying low, very low, like maybe twenty feet above the surface, and it wasn’t close at all.

Then the roar again, only this time off to the left – and she turned in time to see two small jets – were they fighters? – ripping through the sky as they headed south.

“Henry!” she heard Rolf say, “can you hear me?”

She made it to Henry’s side, saw blood coming out of Rolf’s right ear, then…out of Henry’s right ear, too. Clyde was on his side too, inert – but breathing.

‘Sonic booms,’ she told herself, but the aircraft had to be very, very close overhead to do this kind of damage. She looked up the mast and saw that the mainsail was scorched near the masthead, and the instruments clustered up there were simply – gone.

She turned her attention to Henry just in time to see his eyes fluttering, then opening a little. 

“Help me get him up,” she said – before she realized that Rolf couldn’t hear. She tapped him on the shoulder and got his attention: “Can you hear me?”

He shrugged. “I can’t hear! What happened?”

She started pulling Henry up to a sitting position and Rolf pitched-in.

“Henry?” she said, “Henry, can you hear me?”

“A little…it sounds like you’re miles away…what happened?”

“Aircraft,” she said loudly, “sonic booms…knocked us down…you hit your head.”

Taggart pushed himself up onto the seat behind the wheel and began taking a mental inventory of things he had to do quickly, then he manually scanned through several VHF frequencies looking for an explanation…Then, on channel 16 they heard: “All civilian vessels head to the nearest port, repeat, all civilian vessels head for the nearest port immediately…”

“What the fuck?” Taggart said as he moved over to look at the chart plotter. “Warning, loss of signal…” was prominently displayed in the middle of the screen so he instinctively looked up at the masthead. “Okay,” he sighed as he took in the damage, “off we go into the menu system, now where was that page…there it is: go to secondary GPS antenna…”

The display fluttered for a second or two, then came alive…the signal appeared good and he could navigate with confidence until he updated his paper plot down below at the chart table.

“Rolf?” he asked, but the boy pointed at his ears and Taggart nodded. “Dina, go down and check the bilge for any running water.”

“Alright, I’m on it.”

Taggart patted the seat next to him when Clyde lifted his head and looked around, but the old boy wasn’t having anymore of this bullshit – and with his tail planted firmly between his legs he ambled down the companionway steps and disappeared into the aft cabin. Dina came up and flashed him a ‘thumbs up’ and he nodded as he picked up the radio’s mic.

“Pan-pan-pan, this is Sailing Vessel Time Bandit, position North 58 53 22 East 18 37 22. We have been overflown by supersonic aircraft at extremely low altitude, two injuries onboard as a result. Pan-pan-pan-any station-out.”

“Time Bandit, make for safe harbor at Lervassa, be advised medical personnel will meet you that location. Stay off the air and do not proceed any further south from your current location. This is HMS Helsingborg, please acknowledge.”

“Helsingborg, Time Bandit is en-route Lervassa, received advisory to proceed no further south. Over.”

“Helsingborg receives, out.”

Taggart tried to shake the cobwebs out of his mind, tried to think what could be going on…

Then he saw Dina had the binocular out, and that she was looking intently at something to their south…

“What do you see?”

She turned and handed him the binoculars, her expression grim. “Look around 170 magnetic,” she advised.

He adjusted focus, then looked at the compass readout and swung it to 170 degrees, and what he saw left him breathless…

“Are those depth charges?” he whispered.

“Look up a little, in the sky.”

There was some kind of dogfight going on thousands of feet above the sea, only with missiles being fired instead of machine guns, and as he watched he saw one aircraft simply explode and cartwheel into the sea.

“What the Hell,” he whispered, “is going on down there?”

“There have been many reports of Russian submarines trying to penetrate this area, many in 2014…” Dina said.

“Yeah, I remember something about that.”

“Well, Sweden has been making more noise about joining NATO ever since, and the Russians have said they would retaliate…”

“But Russian fighters overhead? I thought I read those Russian sub reports were bogus?”

“Well, those on the left thought they were. It seems they might have been wrong.”

“See if you can pull up the BBC World Service down below…”

“You’ll have to show me how.”

“Never mind. You better get Rolf below and look him over, and see if Clyde will stay with him.”

“Okay.”

Taggart stood and grabbed Rolf by the arms and pulled him into a hug, then he tussled the boy’s hair before Dina led him below. He turned his attention to the chart plotter and began laying out a course through the maze of rocky islets, then turned on the autopilot. With that done he went to the chart table below and pulled up the plot on the duplicate display, then he flipped on his SSB radio and hit preset 2 – and the voice of the BBC came in loud and clear.

“The Russian advance into Ukraine appears to be just a first move, Brett. We now have reports that Russian troops have been massing on the arctic borders of Norway and Sweden. Estonian troops have reported at least one Russian incursion…”

Taggart turned off the radio and shook his head as he made his way back to the cockpit; once back behind the wheel he picked up the binoculars and scoped out the scene. One surface ship was on fire, two other ships were dropping depth charges, and he guessed the action was taking place less than ten miles away…

Dina came up, still looking upset. “The cellular phones are down; no signal.”

“I managed to get the BBC…”

“Yes, I heard. Someone has apparently called the Russian’s bluff – and now they have responded.”

“You seem unusually well-informed.”

“My ex-husband works in the Ministry of Defense.”

“Oh?”

“This kind of thing. This kept him up all night. I thought it was just paranoia.”

Taggart sighed. “It is – until it isn’t. Then everyone goes around pointing fingers…”

“I hate politicians,” she said.

“How’s Rolf?”

“I suspect both his ear drums are perforated. You? Just the right ear. Rolf must have turned and been facing the sonic wave as it hit.”

“Can it be fixed?”

She nodded. “With ease, assuming we can get you both to a competent medical facility.”

“Okay, so we go to this port, Lervassa, then we…”

“I looked at the chart,” she said, “there are no facilities there. This is okay, but I suppose they just want us out of the way for now.”

“Yeah, well, I want out of the way too.”

“We could go back to Stockholm, get across to the new boat by car…?”

“We’d lose a lot of gear from this boar if we do,” he advised.

“Okay, we go to this Lervassa and if medical people meet us then we see what they can offer. If nothing effective we continue south, but we stay very close to coastline. There are bigger cities, better hospitals further south.”

“Okay. We should be there in less than five hours…depending on what speed we can make through all these rocks.”

“I need to go below. Very big mess in the galley.”

“Are you okay? I see you have a scrape on your head.”

“It is alright, but we have no fresh bread tonight.”

Bathed in a sudden blinding flash, they both flinched then turned towards the sound of several large explosions – they saw the sea erupt behind one of the Swedish destroyers, then two missiles streaking along just over the sea…headed for the two Swedish ships. One missile missed and continued towards the coast, the second exploded in the air just above the destroyer closest to the Bandit; when it emerged from behind a curtain of swirling black smoke half the ship seemed to be on fire.

“Turn off the radar when you go below, would you?”

“Yes, but why?”

“Some missiles seek out radar signals.”

Her eyes went wide as she disappeared below; he confirmed the radar on his console was set to off then relaxed. He scanned the way ahead – first on the plotter then through his binoculars – until he noticed his hands were beginning to shake. He looked at his watch and dashed below, grabbed his meds and a Coke and slammed them down, then got back to the wheel just in time to watch the autopilot signal ‘Approaching Waypoint’ – before it settled in on the new course.

Three hours later he turned into the inlet where the chart indicated Lervassa should be, and moments later the situation came into sharp relief. A field hospital had been set up and helicopters were bringing in sailors plucked from the sea; he approached the long finger pier in the middle of the inlet and several sailors grabbed their dock lines and helped get Rolf up to the nearest medical tent; Dina left with him as a naval officer approached Bandit…

“Excuse me,” the man said to Taggart. “You are the captain of this boat?”

“Yes,” Taggart replied.

“Could you come with me, please?”

“Uh, look, I don’t want to leave the boat alone…”

“These men will guard your property. Now, please, this is most important…”

Taggart followed the officer to some sort of hastily set up operations center, and all conversation stopped when Taggart walked in. One of the men, an older sort with the insignia of the United States Navy on his jacket, walked over to him:

“You Taggart?”

“Yes indeed. And you are?”

“Not here.”

“Okay, Mr. Not Here, what can I do today to make you angry?”

“Just tell us what you saw out there.”

“At least one aircraft downed by a missile, and a ship hit by another missile.”

“The missile that hit the ship? Could you see it?”

“Of course…”

“What I’m looking for here, specifically, was the missile subsonic?”

“Definitely. I looked like some sort of cruise missile.”

“What did the impact look like?”

“In the terminal phase, the missile went from sea-skimming to about a hundred feet above the ship, then it detonated.”

“Terminal phase…sea skimming…you seem to know a little about these things.”

“I write code, sir.”

“Oh, I see. You’re not in the reserves or anything like that, are you?”

“No sir. Actually, I’m ill…”

“Yes, yes, I know all about that stuff. What are your plans now…?”

“I want to get around to the coast just north of Gothenburg, pick up some property there, then we’re…”

“Yeah, I read about that in my briefing paper on you.”

“On me?”

“Just routine, once we knew you were a U.S. registered vessel we pulled up your information.”

“Ah, yes. Total Information Awareness, wasn’t that the name of the program? Know everything about everyone? Wherever they may be?”

“Yup, that’s the one. Your tax dollars at work, Mr. Taggart.”

“Well, I seem to have a blown-out ear drum. If you don’t need me anymore, my I leave now?”

“In a minute. What are your plans now…?”

“Head south as soon as possible. I have a medical check-up scheduled in Copenhagen next week.”

The man shook his head. “I wouldn’t go there right now. As a matter of fact, I’d keep away from the Baltic generally now…”

“What about the Kiel Canal?”

The man shrugged. “You know, if Ivan decides he wants to roll into Poland or Finland, this thing is gonna turn real ugly, real fast. I’d suggest, strongly, that you head back to the states. Failing that, get as far west as you can, maybe think about the Caribbean, someplace like that.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“That if the Russians won’t stop this bullshit and come to the negotiating table, things might get seriously fucked up. We’re already flying re-supply missions into Germany and the UK, the Germans are invoking Article 25 and mobilizing their reserves…well, you get the picture, right? All things being possible at this point, Europe may not be the best place to hang up your spurs, Mr. Taggart.”

“I see.”

“Well, my aide will see to it that your ears are taken care of. After that, if you decide to head south just keep as close as you can to the beach, and report anything that looks, well, funky.”

“Funky?”

“Like it doesn’t belong there?”

“Ah, that kind of funky. Got it.”

Two hours later he walked out the pier to Time Bandit, and he found Dina setting up plates on the cockpit table, Rolf sitting there with his ears packed in gauze.

“How’s the spud?” he asked as he came up the stern steps.

“His ears will heal in a week or so, but I am not so sure about his mind.”

Taggart nodded. “It’s a lot to take in.”

“What about you?”

“Same. Doc said to give it a few days, no rupture.”

“And…what about you?” she repeated, trying to get him to open up.

“Me? I’m copacetic. What’s for dinner?”

“Are you hungry?”

“Sure, why not? Nothing like a little world war to whip up an appetite.”

She stopped what she was doing and looked at him. “Do you think there will be war?”

“Seriously?”

“Yes, of course seriously.”

“No chance. Why? Because there’s just no money in it – for anyone. The Russians will thump on their chests for a few days, demand relief from sanctions, then – when that doesn’t work – they’ll figure out that sanctions are infinitely preferable to nuclear winter and then everyone can get back to swindling one another for fun and profit.”

“I don’t know why I even bothered to ask.”

“So…dinner?”

“Salmon bisque and a salad. Do you feel like eating tonight?”

“A half a bowl of soup sounds good. Any bread left?”

“A few pieces from yesterday.”

“Sold! – to the bald, skinny guy in row one!”

She sighed, then shrugged her shoulders: “All life is a joke to you, isn’t it?”

“No, just everything that happens outside our little world here.”

“So, we are not a joke?”

“You and I? We are most definitely not a joke. Neither is my little spud,” he said, looking at Rolf – who looked decidedly depressed. “Man, I wish Astrid was still here right now.”

“I think he’s happy she’s gone,” Dina said.

“Give his nuts a few weeks to recover…he’ll be good to go after that.”

“No, that isn’t it…”

“I know. He wanted things to get serious, but she wasn’t having any of it, was she?”

“How did you know that?”

“Because I was sixteen once.”

“You? Sixteen?”

“I know. Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

“Yes. I could’ve sworn you were twelve.”

“Ouch.”

“Anything to drink?”

“Maybe a Coke, and my eight o’clock meds if you can get to them.”

Rolf slid close and put an arm around Taggart’s waist, so he wrapped an arm around the boy and held him close – until Dina came back carrying a tray loaded with soup and salad…as well as a few slices of bread. Taggart felt hungry so after Rolf sat up and moved away, he took a spoonful…

“Man, what did you do to the soup tonight?”

“You like it?”

“Yup, it’s great.”

“A pinch of curry and ginger, and a few cardamom pods,” she said, grinning. “I know how you two love Indian food, so I thought why not give it a try.”

Rolf shot her a thumb’s up after he tried to soup, so she was happy.

“We will have a little darkness tonight, not much, but a little,” she said.

Taggart flipped on the plotter and pulled up the tide chart, saw the high was at 0400. “Well, we’ll pull out of here around four, head southwest – towards the coast – then go straight to Ellös.”

“We are not stopping in Copenhagen?”

“We’ll have to see what’s happening. Maybe after we pick up Bandits.”

“The right side of your face…it is burned.”

“Yeah, it feels like it’s a little burned. Tight, kind of.”

“I wonder how close that airplane was?” she asked.

“To fry the masthead like that? Man, I’d say he had to pull up to avoid hitting us. A few of those other jets were almost touching the water when they passed.”

“I want to get out of here,” Rolf said.

“Hey – it speaks! Can it hear?”

“A little,” Rolf said. “It is hollow, you sound far away.”

“You’ll be good by morning.”

“It is grandma-ma’s soup – it will cure anything. So good tonight,” the boy added before he yawned and went below.

“They gave him something to help him sleep,” she whispered.

“Better get him another bowl. We’ll need him ready to roll in the morning. Well, looky here. I do believe that’s Captain Ahab, coming in search of the great white whale.”

“What?”

“US Navy captain, headed this way. Better get the boy below before they conscript him to a life of servitude.”

“Should I?”

Taggart shook his head, then turned to the captain. “You’re welcome to come aboard, Captain.”

“Thanks,” the man said as he hopped up through the mid-ships boarding gate. “Uh, you’re Doctor Taggart, right?” he said to Dina.

“Yes?”

“We got word through to your daughter in Bergen that everyone is okay here. She asked that if there was any danger to her son that he come on home. I can get him over to Stockholm tonight if you’d like.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Dina said, “but I think he should stay here for the time being. Is there any further news about our Russian friends?”

“No. They seemed to have underestimated NATOs response to the incident here in Sweden; their forces are pulling back right now, though not in Ukraine – but that was to be expected, I guess.”

“So, history will record this one as the One Day War?” Taggart said, smirking.

“More like the Fifteen Minute War, if anyone still cares a year from now.”

“How many lost their lives today, Captain?” Dina asked.

“I don’t know,” the officer sighed, looking away. “Maybe a hundred, maybe…if we’re lucky. Ma’am, I hate to ask, but that soup smells bodacious…”

“Would you like some, Captain?”

“If it’s not too much trouble, yes Ma’am, that would be great.”

She smiled and disappeared below.

“Have a seat, Captain. Need anything to drink?”

“You have Coke onboard?”

“Coke and Dr. Pepper.”

“DP! Now you’re talkin’!”

Taggart smiled. “Yeah, I loaded about three cases in Connecticut; down to the last case now so I ration my intake.”

“Hard to beat an ice cold Dr. Pepper,” the captain said as he took the bowl from Dina.

“Uh,” Taggart said to her, “looks like we need a DP up here, too.”

She nodded, then brought two up and put one in front of Taggart, as well as one for the captain. She sat and finished her salad, then helped Rolf to his bunk when it looked like he was going to nod off. A minute later Clyde came up the steps and barked – twice – and Henry stood and got the leash.

“Sorry. Duty calls,” he said as he hooked up the leash.

“I’ll walk with you,” the captain said.

“Sure appreciate you getting word through like that,” Henry said. 

“Figured it might help.”

“So, you think this thing is going to cool down?”

“About a fifty-fifty chance right now. I still can’t recommend a stop in Copenhagen until things clear up a little. Other than that you should be good once you get out of the Baltic. Oh, and just so you know the score, the reason that jet got so close was that an inbound missile had targeted your radar signal. They had to get that close in order to fuck up the missile’s track.”

Taggart blinked several times as the information registered. “Could you thank the pilot for me, for us, I mean.”

“I think I can handle that, Mr. Taggart.”

“Henry, please.”

“Okay, Hank. We’ll see you around the neighborhood. Y’all be safe out there.” He started to turn but stopped and sniffed the air. “Goddam Hank! That dog’s shit stinks – bad!”

“His farts ain’t much better.”

“I can only imagine. Later, muchachos!”

“Yeah. Adios, amigo.”

Taggart watched Clyde as he walked along on his appointed rounds, as always – still circling and sniffing from bush to bush – only now he couldn’t get the idea of an inbound missile tracking Time Bandit out of his mind. Just how close had the damn thing come? How close, really, were they to death? Would anyone have ever known – if war had started, for real – about their demise?

But Clyde had been there with him, he thought, so he wouldn’t have died alone – and for some reason he knew that was important.

He bent down and scratched behind the pup’s ears, and then Clyde’s eyes turned to meet his. Deep brown, full of understanding, yet he wouldn’t have known what happened, either. “Yeah, Bud, I know. Your shit stinks, but I still love you.”

And that was worth a couple wags of the tail.

“And I think someone saved you some salmon, too!”

And that was all Clyde needed to know. What was unconditional love compared to a bowl full of salmon scraps!

+++++

On the seventh morning after leaving Lervassa, Time Bandit passed the island village of Gullholmen; Ellös – and the Hallberg-Rassy yard – lay waiting just three miles ahead…and Taggart felt a keen parting of the ways coming-on. Saying goodbye to Time Bandit would, almost certainly, be a final affair. There would be no coming back, no return just for old time’s sake. He looked around at everything on deck and memories flashed by in his mind’s eye, and soon an inevitable sadness colored the day. He’d been in touch with the salesman, updating their progress as they bypassed Copenhagen, then Gothenburg, and all the modifications and additions he’d requested had been carried out. Now he called the salesman one last time – to let the yard know that the Bandit was just about there.

It had been a nervous week for the world, as well. It had seemed for almost 48 hours that the world was racing towards the precipice once again, but Swiss diplomats brokered a peace conference in Geneva and hostilities as quickly seemed to be at an end. And just then word broke that the People’s Republic of China launched what at first appeared to be an all out assault on Taiwan; these reports were soon discredited and great confusion followed after China announced the so-called invasion had merely been a long announced series of exercises. 

Russia had promised to move back to pre-outbreak lines but their forces in Ukraine continued their advance on Kiev, sparking a renunciation of the Geneva Accords by EU members of NATO. Diplomats shuttled back and forth between Geneva, Moscow, and Brussels while the world looked on nervously.

In Ellös, Taggart and Rolf moved gear from the old to the new, leaving Dina to sort through the gear and place it in new storage lockers. At the end of their second day at the yard they formally moved aboard Time Bandits. On the third day, Taggart and Dina went grocery shopping, and it took hours to get all the new provisions stowed. A new life raft was fitted and stowed in the cavernous stern locker; new EPIRBs – or emergency locator beacons – were installed next to the life raft, and individual EPIRBs were mated to foul weather gear after the beacons were registered.

And then the inevitable happened.

Britt and Eva arrived, both now showing modest growth from their pregnancies. Dina was experiencing morning sickness now, though she was just barely showing. Rolf helped Eva and his mother stow their gear, keeping a watchful eye on Eva in particular, as to his unpracticed eye she seemed the most fragile.

Taggart gave the yard a list of things to repair on Bandit, as well as instructions on who to contact for financial arrangements. On their last full day in Ellös he and Dina went back to the oncology clinic in Gothenburg for lab work; based on these results he was transfused, given a bag of white cells to bolster a low white count, and new medication to counter a worrisome new anemia. His Parkinson’s medications were strengthened. On the drive back to the Bandits he tried to put a light spin on things – but failed.

“How bad is it?” he asked Dina.

“More or less within the predicted range.”

“So, Christmas is still doable – more or less?”

She nodded. “Yes. We’ll have a wonderful Christmas together, just you wait and see.”

“Yeah, assuming the world doesn’t go crazy and jump off a cliff in the meantime.”

“What is it you said about the noisy tire?”

He smiled. “Ah yes. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

“That is what this is all about, no? Russians want sanctions relief and China wants to be taken seriously as world power, no?”

“Oh, Hell, who knows,” Henry said. “We could put an end to all this bullshit in a half hour – just require that all male leaders submit to castration. Get rid of all the testosterone and within a week the world would turn into an instant paradise.”

“Hah! What about Mrs. Thatcher? She was a warmonger too, correct?”

“And her testosterone levels were probably higher than either Reagan’s or Gorbachev’s.”

“That would be an interesting journalistic assignment, I think. To compare testosterone levels of world leaders.”

“It would make for good reading,” he sighed. “File it away in the humor section…”

“So, with the new transfusion you will feel better in the morning. You still want to depart for the Kiel Canal?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I really don’t want to tackle the North Sea, not with three pregnant mothers onboard.”

“So,” she added, “tomorrow morning – we depart early?”

“Yup. No reason to linger here any longer than we need to. Besides, the sooner we make Holland the better I’ll feel. I want to get as far away from this madness as we can.”

“It really does feel like madness, you know?” she said, a note of faraway sadness in her voice. “With so many other problems facing the world, now we have to deal with crazy men and their atom bombs, too. It hardly seems fair.”

“It probably never felt fair to the people of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and my guess is it didn’t feel right or fair in 1939, or even 1914. War seems to be a human constant, yet just like a bunch of lemmings off we go, racing for the cliffs time after time.”

“What if we get to Paris early,” she said, looking away. “Do you think we could return and pick up the old Bandit?”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Move her south to Paris or to London, then, when the weather is warm again, take off for Tahiti…someplace like that.”

“If that’s something you want to do, why not take the new boat?”

“Oh, I don’t know – I was just thinking out loud. Perhaps I am just attracted to the idea to maybe just see the world while there is still a world to see.”

“Dina, the squeaky wheel…”

“Yes, yes, I know. It gets all the grease. You have an unshakable faith that the human race will just go on and on, don’t you?”

He shrugged. “Maybe…I guess I do because the alternative is so hard to accept.”

“Henry, what happens when the world runs out of grease?”

He sighed, held up his hands as he looked out the window. “You know…just two weeks ago we were in these canals. Nothing but us and the Swedish countryside and the rest of the world seemed so far away.”

“Yes, but these canals feel so far away now, almost like it happened in another lifetime.”

“Maybe it was, Dina. Maybe it was…”

+++++

After an hour at the wheel, Taggart announced that Time Bandits was a completely different experience… “Rolf, come and take the wheel! Now, pinch up a bit, take her into the wind…”

Bandits heeled a bit, but the speed jumped from eight to almost ten knots, and the feeling of controlled exhilaration was impossible to deny – and Rolf smiled. “Yes, I feel it. It is almost the sensation of big mass, yet the sense of control is, well, it is exciting!”

Taggart nodded. “I think…potential is the word I’m looking for. To me it feels like a racing horse in the starting blocks – and the gate has just been flung open! I love it!”

The wind was right out of the west and blowing a steady ten knots; Bandits’ course was 180 degrees magnetic and would take them just off the east side of Læsø Island en route to the so-called Great Belt, the strait between the Danish islands of Sjælland and Fyn. The entrance to the Kiel Canal lay about fifty miles further on, and Taggart had figured on an early the next morning arrival at the canal. Now, watching Time Bandits’ speed inch up to ten knots, he knew he’d have to revise that estimate.

The radar screen turned to a haze of black snow and he shook his head.

“Why is it doing that, Henry? Is it broken?”

“No, some asshole is jamming all radar frequencies.”

“Jamming? What does that mean?”

Taggart smiled. “There’s this game navies play, Rolf. Kind of like ‘Hide and Seek,’ they try to hide their ships and aircraft from each other while one side tries to sneak around and surprise the other side by showing up where they weren’t expected.”

“You mean…this is going on right now?”

“Yeah,” he said, pointing at the display. “See how the snow looks darker over here? That’s where the jammer is.”

“So, down by Oslo?”

“That’s right. And that means the other side is either up here, by Copenhagen, or somewhere out in the North Sea.”

Three jets appeared a few moments before their sound caught up with them, and they passed Time Bandits off their left, or port side, headed towards Oslo while almost skimming the waves.

“Whose are those!” Rolf said, pointing at the jets.

“Russian. Sukhoi-34s.”

“What do they do?”

“Strike fighter. Go after things like ships, I think.”

Rolf looked at him and gulped. “What do you think it means, Henry?”

“That things aren’t going too well in Geneva, for one. Probably a bunch of Russian ships coming out of the Baltic now, too.”

“What should we do?”

“Let me take the wheel now,” he said, then he pinched up a little, brought his course up to 200 degrees. “Bring in the sails a bit, Rolf.”

 Bandit’s speed jumped to eleven knots and Taggart grinned… “Oh, Dad, I wish you were here, because I would love to see the expression on your face right now. Remember Merlin and Kialoa – on our second Transpac…?”

Five Euro-fighters appeared off their starboard bow, heading for the Russian Sukhois, and Taggart instinctively pinched up a little more, driving Time Bandits for all she was worth now. He looked at his instruments and grinned…11.2 then 11.4… ‘Oh damn, but this is getting fun…’ he thought as he looked at the blackening radar display.

“What is that island, Henry?”

“Læsø,” he said – pointing at the chart plotter. “About twenty five miles to go…”

But just then the radar screen cleared up, and soon surface contacts appeared on the display.

“Okay,” he said to Rolf, “it looks like cooler heads prevailed this morning.”

Eva came up the companionway steps and sat down beside Clyde.

“Sorry, I need some fresh air.”

He smiled at her. “How did you sleep?”

“Very well, thank you. Did I hear jets fly by?”

“Yeah, but nothing to worry about. Have you had breakfast yet?”

“No, not yet, but Dina is making pancakes, with lingonberries I think.”

Rolf started drooling. “My favorites!”

“I got it here, Rolf. Why don’t you go down and see if you can give her a hand?”

Once Rolf was below he turned to Eva. “So, what’s on your mind?”

“Dina. Why did you marry her?”

“And not you? Isn’t that what you mean?”

She nodded, looked away.

“It was more a matter of legal practicalities than anything else, so don’t try to pull me into a drama we really have no time for, okay?”

“Okay, but…”

“No buts, Eva. We have a lot of people crammed on this boat right now, and we’re in a little bit of a hurry, in case you haven’t noticed. Everyone has to get along right now, and I want you to do this for me.”

“Dina told me…is it really this bad, Henry? This sickness?”

“Not my department, Eva. I just drive the boat, okay? Get us where we need to get. Your job is to take care of those babies, and to get along with Britt and Dina. Understood?”

She nodded. “All I’ve ever wanted was to be with you.”

“Well, I am happy you are here.”

“You are? Really?”

“Yes, I need you here, just like I need Dina and Britt, and even Rolf. You are all my family now.”

She looked at him and smiled, then she nodded. “I understand.”

But he knew she didn’t, not really. Not yet, anyway.

He looked at the chart plotter and fell off the wind a little, then – with the push of a button he let out the sails – and Bandits slowed a bit, but her motion eased more than a little, too.

“Ooh, this feels so soothing,” Eva sighed. “To sail like this, forever and ever…that would be something.”

“Wouldn’t it, though?”

“Is that why you bought this boat? For all of us?”

He nodded. “Something like that. Something for the kids to grow up with, I think.”

“Is this important to you?” she asked. “This connection you have with the sea?”

He looked at her and smiled. “Yes.”

“I felt this when we were in the water together, with the whale.”

“You did?”

“Yes, and I think he did, too. I think that is why he came to you, why he helped you get us back to the boat.”

He looked at her but kept quiet, wanting her to work it out for herself.

“This is why I wanted to make love with you. This feeling, this connection, was so strong; I felt pulled to you, like there was a force inside you I could not resist.”

“Actually, I think that was my cologne you were experiencing. I call it Eau d’ WD-40.”

“You make people want to laugh, Henry Taggart, yet you hide behind the laughter. Why? Why do you do this – when everyone understands you do this to hide?”

“Everyone? Really? You mean, this has all been in vain?”

“Even now you try.”

“Old habits die hard, I guess.”

“What are you hiding from, Henry?”

“Girls like you asking me questions like this.”

“So…you are afraid of girls? Were you always shy?”

He looked away, then nodded. “I think so, yes.”

“But no longer?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I still am.”

“I think not…not with all these babies coming so soon.”

“No, I think maybe I still am. Even with all the babies.”

“Please don’t be shy with me, Henry Taggart. Please do not waste our time together with that extra distance.”

“Do you think you will be a good mother?”

She nodded and grinned. “Yes, I do. I want little Henrys to take care of, to share the sea with. So yes, very much!”

Britt came up the steps just then, carry several plates of food – and she just managed to get them onto the cockpit table without a major spill. “I could not eat below,” she sighed. “I need air, I think.”

“Feeling seasick?” Henry asked.

“Maybe it is just the babies,” she said, patting her distended belly. “Anyway, I am hungry, so that is good I think.”

Rolf came up the steps similarly loaded, then Dina came out into the sunlight carrying the rest of her huge breakfast, and soon everyone was seated around the cockpit table.

Taggart looked at the scene and smiled. This was what he had wanted to see…everyone gathered around a table – at sea – while they enjoyed the day. It was as simple as that. He watched their smiles most of all.

He heard jets flying high overhead from time to time but these he tried his best to ignore. If they proved to be a constant during the remainder of his time here, well then, he’d just do his best to ignore them until that proved impossible. All he knew that morning was that happiness was an ethereal creature, but you could hold her for a moment or two – if you kept your heart open to the possibility.

After breakfast was cleared away, the two girls went below – leaving Rolf and Dina alone with Taggart. She nuzzled in close until he wrapped an arm around her, then she pulled herself closer still.

“That was wonderful,” he whispered. “Thank you for all you do.”

“I’m glad you had some time with her this morning,” Dina said, meaning – he assumed – Eva. “She has been very, oh, what is the word…clingy, I think?”

He smiled. “I think she must still be fairly young. Either that or she loves the feeling of being dependent on someone.”

Dina nodded. “Yes, exactly. She will never stand on her own, only with someone close by her side.”

“I think she’s cute,” Rolf said.

“Heard from Astrid?” Taggart asked, grinning to no one in particular.

“Yesterday, she texted me. She wanted to know how you were doing.”

“I see.”

“Oh, she said she is pregnant, too.”

“What?” Dina cried.

“Why…you sly guy,” Henry added.

“Oh, no, I am not the father. It is, she thinks, someone she was with before she met you.”

“Ah.” So that explains the long face this morning, Taggart said to himself. “Did you check the bunks down there? Is there anyway Eva could roll out of her berth?”

“No, there is a lee-board already installed, and I have shown her how to use it. But – do you think I should go and see if she needs help?”

“Good idea.”

“You are a devil,” Dina whispered after Rolf disappeared below.

He shrugged. “I want him to get used to the idea of taking care of her,” he said – matter-of-factly. “Of you all, if he needs to.”

“That’s a lot to put on shoulders so young, isn’t it?”

“We shall see,” Taggart sighed.

“You are like an architect, aren’t you? Putting together your creation – piece by piece?”

“Hardly. I’m not half as devious as you think I am.”

“So, what island is this?”

“Læsø Island. We’ve traveled almost fifty miles already.”

“So fast?”

Taggart nodded. “This would be a decent boat in a race.”

“Rolf said he heard you talking to your father earlier.”

He nodded. “I do – from time to time. I think he misses my dirty jokes.”

“No doubt.”

“Anyway, I like to keep him up to date on things.”

“I’m sure he appreciates your doing so.”

He turned and looked at her. “I hope you will too.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, then she took a deep breath. “What kind of bread shall I make for us today?”

“Something nutty,” he said, then he started laughing.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.

the eighty-eighth key (48)

88Kvenom image SMALL

Part VI

Chapter 48

Delgetti was, as promised, waiting for them at the gate; Carl Stanton drove them around the airport to the general aviation ramp – where a CAT Huey – piloted by ‘Mickey’ Rooney – waited. Everyone boarded the Huey; Callahan went to the front left seat, while Fujiko sat in a jump-seat behind Rooney. After taking off, the helicopter made for the coastal range and crossed over the Pacific Coast Highway on its way to the beach. From there, the Huey turned north and flew directly to Sea Ranch; Rooney landed in the street in front of Callahan’s house. Dozens of CHP officers and the county sheriff were waiting for them, and they walked up to the Huey as its rotors spun down. Bullitt was the first to emerge from the Huey…

“Okay, what do we know?” Frank asked the gathered law enforcement officers, apparently led by a captain from the California Highway Patrol.

The CHP captain spoke first, and because of this, Bullitt assumed the captain was in charge: “First thing, the suspect is either not real smart or she wants to be caught.”

“How so,” Frank said.

“Well, she’s using charge cards, usually the same Visa card, for one thing. And she’s driving north on I-5 and not making any effort to hide.”

“Is anyone following her?” Callahan asked.

“Yeah, a guy from your outfit, Pattison I think is his name. He has her, and he’s following in some new kind of helicopter. Lots of range. Someone from the San Francisco PD is with him.”

“Who?”

“Al something, starts with a V; anyway, the suspect is in Portland right now. Been there two hours, just checked into a hotel south of the city.”

Callahan turned to Rooney: “Okay, the three of us will head north now…”

The CHP captain interrupted: “Uh, not so fast. This case involves a kidnapping across state lines, so the FBI is in charge, gentlemen. You’ll need to clear any-and-every-thing with them before you take any action, and I repeat – any action at all, including a move north on your part.”

Callahan looked at the captain: “Gotcha,” he said, smiling, then he turned back to Rooney: “We can gas up in Redding, then head north from there. We’ll contact Pattison when we cross into Oregon.”

“Here’s the agent in charge’s information,” the captain said, shaking his head. “You need to call him, really, I mean it…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Bullitt said with brooding malice in his eyes – a menacing enough display to make the captain take a few steps back. “Harry, would you go and take a look at the house? I’m not sure I want to go in right now.”

Callahan nodded, then walked over to someone in a dark suit. “You the CSI?”

“Yeah. Who are you?”

“Callahan, SFPD Homicide. I need to go look at the house.”

“Okay, come with me.”

There hadn’t been much of a struggle, but it had all gone down in the living room. Cathy had eventually gone down on the hardwood floor by the sofa and bled out there; there were other tell-tale signs, too…end tables knocked askew, and books knocked from a bookcase were on the floor…

“Did you find a murder weapon?”

“Large kitchen knife. Some defensive wounds on the hands and arms, five wounds on the torso, two were most likely fatal, unrecoverable.”

“What, do you mean the aorta?”

The Investigator nodded. “I don’t think she suffered too long, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

Callahan nodded. “Anything else I need to know?”

“Suspects fingerprints are all over the place, and, well, she tried to get into the house at the end of the street.”

Callahan turned and looked at the investigator. “Show me.”

They walked past Frank and Fujiko, still standing beside the Huey, on their way to his house, and the investigator showed him three places where someone had tried to force their way in. “She used a mason’s trowel to try and defeat the locks; apparently she gave up. Do you know who’s house this is?”

“Mine.”

“Oh, really? They must pay you guys pretty good.”

Callahan took out his key and they walked inside; everything looked in order – or did it? “Could you sweep the place for prints?”

“You sure? Doesn’t look like she gained entry…”

“Something doesn’t feel right. Like…”

“Yeah? Like what?”

Callahan went to the piano and looked around; everything looked okay, nothing appeared disturbed – but he could feel that something was wrong. He pulled out the music to his mother’s Second Concerto and sat at the piano…then he took a deep breath.

“Come here, would you?” he said to the investigator. When the man was beside Callahan he took another deep breath. “Put your hand on my shoulder and close your eyes.”

“What?”

“Just do it.”

He felt the man’s hand resting on his upper arm and took one more deep breath. “I’m going to play a few chords on this piano, and I want you to think of the crime scene in the other house while I do. Then I want you to imagine, in your mind, that you can somehow follow the suspect…while I’m playing the piano. Understand?”

“No, not really…”

“Okay, here we go. Clear your mind, then think of the murder scene…and no matter what you think you see, don’t panic, and don’t say a word…”

Callahan closed his eyes too, then played the first chord…

Evelyn, at the front door, ringing the doorbell. Cathy coming to the door, not wanting to let her in. A man is with Evelyn, army field jacket, rough looking, maybe in his forties, hispanic. He pushes the door open. Cathy tries to flee, the man chases her into the kitchen. Evelyn goes towards Elizabeth’s bedroom. The man takes a knife from a block on the countertop. Cathy runs. He catches her in the living room. They struggle. Cathy is wounded but she has a gun now. She shoots the man once in the abdomen. Evelyn returns, still alone. She takes the knife from the man and attacks Cathy. Cathy falls to the ground. Evelyn stabs Cathy two more times, in the upper abdomen. The man staggers outside to a van. Evelyn takes something from the man, then she runs down the street. She tries every door, then looks under the front door mat and finds a key. She opens the front door and comes into the house. She and another man put a black box under the bed in Callahan’s bedroom, then the man runs a wire between the mattress and the box springs…

Callahan stopped playing, then he slumped over the keyboard.

“What the fuck!” the investigator cried. “What the fuck did you just do to me?”

Callahan shook his head, tried to clear away the lingering fog…

“Goddam! What just…” the investigator shouted.

“Get a hold of yourself, man,” Callahan said, standing. “Let’s go check the bedroom.”

Callahan grabbed a flashlight as they walked back to the bedroom; there was a bomb under the bed, and a sophisticated looking wiring harness from the device disappeared under the mattress.

“You mean to tell me we just watched the murder?” the man said. “Like…in real time?”

“Yup. And this is what you call proof, isn’t it?” Callahan said, pointing at the device. “Now, I suggest you go and call the bomb squad before this thing goes off in our face.”

“Jesus…I can’t use any of this shit in my report, can I?”

“Not unless you want to get locked up inside a rubber room. But now that you know what happened, you know what to look for, don’t you?”

“How’d you do that? I mean…”

“Yeah, I know what you mean, and I have no idea how I do it. All I can tell you is what you just experienced stays between you and me. Got it?”

“Fuck. Yeah, man. You and me, got it.”

“Bomb squad. Go.”

“Yessir!”

“And send Captain Bullitt in here, would you. Alone.”

“Captain Bullitt. Yessir.”

Callahan walked through the house, retracing her steps – and – he could still feel her presence in the house, an impossible feeling he’d never experienced before. She lingered in the air just like the pure, concentrated evil he’d felt so many times on the street, only this time it was coming from Evelyn…

“What the hell did you do to that tech, Harry? He looks as white as a sheet!”

“Because he’s just seen a ghost, Frank. Come along, follow me.” They went back to the bedroom and Harry showed him the device under his bed.

“Looks like C4 hooked up to a pressure switch. Sit on the bed and boom. Lift the mattress to get at the switch – and boom again. How’d you…oh no, let me guess. You gave that poor bastard a piano lesson, didn’t you?”

Callahan nodded. “Evelyn. She had at least two men with her. Cathy shot one of them in the gut, and Evelyn – well, she committed the actual murder. They were in a navy blue panel van, no markings, a rental plate.”

“Where’s the wounded man?”

Callahan shook his head. “I’ll have to go back in. Deep, this time.”

Frank shook his head. “No way, man. You’re going to do this one time too many, Callahan, and you ain’t gonna be able to get your ass back out of there.”

“Yeah? So? We gotta find out who was behind this, Frank. The men were hispanic, so what if Escobar got Evelyn out? What if the men with her were Escobar’s people? What then, wise guy?”

“Jesus.”

“Leave him out of this, would you?”

“You don’t have any time to waste,” a familiar voice said, and…

…Callahan wheeled around, and there he was – with his cane in hand. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t worry about Escobar right now. Focus! What’s the most important thing – right now?!”

Frank stepped closer to the Old Man: “Elizabeth. She’s the most important thing.”

“They’re not going to ask for a  ransom,” the Old Man in the Cape said. “They want you, Harry.”

“How do you know that?” Frank asked.

“You’re wasting time, Frank. And – oh, before I forget. That California Highway Patrol captain? You can’t trust him, so tell him nothing. Same with the FBI.”

“Why? Are they connected to…”

But the Old Man disappeared…

“Damn, I hate it when he does that.”

“He only shows up during, well, in a crisis,” Frank said. “At a point, like maybe a fulcrum. Why?”

“Frank? I hope you’re not asking me?”

“He’s guiding us, Harry. Keeping us on a certain path. But…why?”

“Well, Elizabeth seems to be the important thing to him right now…”

“So…he came here to protect her?”

“He said ‘they want you, Harry,’ didn’t he?” Callahan asked.

“Yeah. So, they’re using Elizabeth to get to you. Which means they’re using Evelyn.”

“Which means, Frank, that somehow they found out we took out their boats. Yeah, we took out the boats, and then we killed their men. This has revenge written all over it.”

“Okay,” Bullitt sighed, “and now we assume the CHP and FBI are both penetrated…?”

“Well, we know the department is…”

“Which leaves us…alone,” Frank said.

“Not quite. We’ve got assets in CAT, and right now we have Al with us.”

“You’re leaving out one critical thing,” Frank added. “Fujiko is here now, and once they figure out who she is, and what she means to you – then what? Tell me, what’s going to keep them from going after her too. And guess what? She’s out there with that CHP captain, isn’t she?”

Harry sighed. “Okay, so we take her back to SFO and put her on the plane home – until this is over…”

“Harry, you do that now and you’ll never see her – or hear from her again – and rightfully so.”

“Okay, what are you thinking?”

“Let Dell take her to the city, move her around. If they find her and close in, get her to the Presidio and onto a flutterbug.”

“Okay, go talk to Dell and Carl. I’ve got to wait here for the bomb squad.”

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

“Lock the front door behind you as you leave, just ring the bell…”

Harry walked back to his bedroom, and the Old Man in the Cape was just standing there, like he’d been waiting impatiently for Callahan’s return.

“What’s on your mind,” Harry asked as he walked into the room.

“This didn’t have to happen, not this way. In fact, it shouldn’t have happened at all.”

“What do you mean…it shouldn’t have?”

“There’s not much I can tell you in this time, but you need to get Frank, and the girl.”

“Who? Fujiko?”

“Yes, go get them – then…bring them both in here.”

“Alright.”

“And find me some paper, and perhaps something to write with.”

Everyone was gathered in the room five minutes later; Frank wasn’t too surprised to find the Old Man in the house again, but Fujiko looked at the Old Man like he was some kind of mad sorcerer.

“Harry? You and the girl – Fujiko, is it? – you go over there. Frank, I’ll be back for you in a moment. Stay right here and don’t leave.”

And as Frank started to protest, Harry and Fujiko – and the Old Man – simply vanished…yet before he could even register surprise the Old Man was back in the room.

“Where are they!” Bullitt shouted.

“You’ll be with them presently, but first – I need you to write something for me…”

________________________________

Fujiko literally slammed into him, wrapped her arms around his waist; they were both shivering now, and Callahan could feel ice melting and running from his scalp down his neck. He felt her hair just to make sure, and ran his fingers through more fine ice on her scalp. He looked around, and he thought he recognized the room – but no! How could it be?

“Where are we?” Fujiko asked, her voice a scratchy, injured whisper. “Have we been here before?”

Callahan nodded. “The hotel room, in Osaka,” he said. “Yesterday, I think. Before we left for the airport…”

And in the next instant Frank was standing next to them. “Harry! Call DD, NOW!” he cried.

He knew that voice, knew the urgency it implied, so without question he moved to the phone and dialed DD’s number at the Cathouse.

“DD? It’s Harry…”

“Harry! Good – it’s you! Look, we got Frank’s note; Cathy’s with us here at the Cathouse. Dell and Carl staked out the house with some deputies from the Sheriff’s office…they have Evelyn in custody, they’re bringing her to the city for evaluation. There were two men with her, one was killed while trying to flee, the other is behind bars at the county jail…”

“Frank and I will need to interview him as soon as we return. Do you have our flight information?”

Harry wrote everything down, then rang off.

Frank was standing right beside him, his head and face awash with melting ice…

“Well, did it work?” Bullitt asked.

Callahan nodded. “Yeah. It worked.”

Bullitt grinned, then walked to the window. He leaned a little, put his outstretched hands on the glass and looked down at the world on the other side of the window. 

Harry and Fujiko walked over to him: “What on earth did you do, Frank?”

“He had me write out a note. Basically, I told her what was going to happen, where to go and who to call.”

“You mean,” Fujiko asked, “that you went to Cathy before she was murdered? That you have stopped the murder from happening?”

Frank turned and looked at her. “I have no idea what happened. And neither do you, Fujiko,” he said, looking directly into her eyes. “What happened before? Well, it never happened, so if you speak about it no one is going to know what you’re talking about. Do you understand?”

“So,” she added, “Cathy is alive? Is that what you are saying?”

Bullitt nodded. “And please, don’t ask me to explain anything, because I don’t understand what happened either, let alone how or why. Okay?”

Fujiko turned and looked at Callahan. “Do you know what happened?”

Callahan shook his head, then he went to the bed and sat on the edge. He put his face in his hands, then lay on his side. A moment later he felt Fujiko come onto the bed and lay next to him, and a moment later he felt himself sliding towards sleep – then it hit him…

“We have an airplane to catch in a few hours,” he said.

“God damn!” Bullitt growled. “I’m jet-lagged from the last flight – and my butt’s still sore, too – and you’re telling me we’ve got to go and get on the same goddam airplane and do it all over again?”

“So it seems.” Callahan sighed. “But I don’t think I’m going to have any trouble falling asleep this time.”

“I am not so sure,” Fujiko whispered, “that the old man is not a sorcerer.”

Callahan nodded. “I wish I knew the answer to that one…”

_________________________________

Callahan walked through his house – and this time nothing was wrong. There were no trip-wires, no C4  – though he did remove the key he’d hidden under the front door mat. Everything now was – like nothing had ever happened – because…it hadn’t. 

Time’s script had been erased, and then re-written – and the Old Man in the Cape had done it.

But Fujiko had walked right through the house and gone to her tree, the tree that looked bent by the wind coming in off the sea. She didn’t stop to speak to Callahan. She didn’t want to visit Cathy, or Frank. She seemed – to Callahan, anyway – to have been shattered by the actions and reactions she had seen in the past several hours, and when Harry went to her he found her sitting under the tree, her knees pulled up to her chest, her arms around her knees – and she was slowly rocking back and forth, almost like she was soothing an unseen infant.

He sat beside her, studied her face. Angled down, yet her eyes were focused on the horizon – as if she was looking for Japan somewhere across the wide Pacific. He did not speak, because he had no idea what to say, so he sat and watched her, waiting for her to come back to him.

“Nothing is real,” she whispered at last.

“What?”

“If this moment can be undone, if everything you and I see and do in this moment can be rewritten on a whim, what is real? Can you not see that?”

“I can.”

“I do not understand this world, Harry Callahan. I do not understand your world.”

“This wasn’t my doing, Fujiko. Not at all.”

“Oh, really?”

“No, it isn’t.”

“You could have stopped it…”

“I didn’t know what was happening. No one told me what was happening. The Old Man has never done anything like this before…”

“I am afraid, Harry Callahan.”

Callahan nodded. “I understand, but I don’t think it will happen again.”

“How could you possibly know? And if it does, again, please, how will you know? It is like we are trying to swim in quicksand, Harry. The more we struggle with the truth of this existence, the deeper we sink, and reality slips from our reach. I can run and dive off this cliff onto the rocks below, and what will happen? Will I suddenly reappear here, sitting as I am now, yet at the same time will I relive the onrushing rocks in my mind, in memory, and if so, will I feel my body hitting the rocks, feel my death again and again?”

“I don’t know.”

“I feel my mind slipping away, Harry. What will I see next? Will I see fish swimming by in the air? Can reality be so easily reshaped? And…what about love? Can love be reshaped?”

“Again, I don’t know. All I can tell you is that right now, right here, I love you. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I do you – right now.”

She turned and looked at him, and he saw the smile.

“Even if everything else is – conditional – my love for you isn’t,” he added.

She nodded. “I know. This I feel, too.”

“Is anything else as important?”

“Truly? No, I think not.”

“We have a life to live together, Fujiko. You and I. Should we not at least try to do that now?”

“Yes,” she said, “but first, I want to go see Cathy. I want to feel her and hear her now. I want to know that she is real – again – and that this is not some kind of dream.”

He stood, then he helped her to her feet. “You like this tree, don’t you? I remember you said something about it…”

“Yes, before all this happened. How strange. It is like things that happened before a certain point remain unchanged.”

“But, it’s almost like the layers of an onion. Memories of two different chains of events, from two different timelines – superimposed one over the other.”

“Yes. Just so,” she sighed. “But which is real?”

“Both. They are both equally real, just different.”

She shook her head. “Logically, this cannot be true.”

“Tell me, please, what the hell is logical about any of this?”

“Well, because existence, at some level, must abide by the rules of logic – unless all existence is mere delusion. But Harry – if this experience was not a delusion then it follows it must be real. Also, I am not so sure a delusion like this one could be – ‘shared’ – by more than one person, but it is here that my logic falls apart. Temporal existence becomes, as I said, almost meaningless when you think of existence as having more than one layer – yet this is exactly what we have just experienced.”

It was almost dark by the time they decided to walk up the street to Cathy’s house, but already Callahan was growing hungry. 

“You know, I can’t remember the last time I had something to eat.”

“It was on the airplane,” Fujiko said.

“Yes, but we ate on the first flight we took, not the one we just got off of. So, the food we ate…”

“Probably does not exist, at least not as far as our bodies are concerned.”

“Now I’m confused,” Callahan sighed. “If we ate food, it should still be there. Shouldn’t it?”

“So, you understand the dilemma better?”

He nodded. “Yeah, but I’m still hungry.”

“Of course you are. You are a man, after all – so you think with your stomach.”

“Look, I’m not the one who ate three cheeseburgers – in under an hour.”

“Oh, yes. I forgot…”

“Yup. Thought you might…women have a way of forgetting inconvenient facts like that.”

“We do not!”

“Of course you don’t.”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

Frank seemed lost inside a stoic’s funk. He looked at Cathy from time to time like she was some kind of spectral apparition – not the flesh and bones Cathy he had known almost all his adult life. She walked around the house, putzed around in the kitchen none the wiser, too, and yet he was simply terrified to bring it up. When the doorbell rang and he saw it was Harry and Fujiko he let them in and hugged Fujiko before he turned to Harry…

“You hug me, Frank, and we’re gonna have a serious talk out back.”

“Man, Harry, I need a serious talk out back.”

“Yeah, I know. How’s Cathy?”

“She’s…Cathy. No differences, period. Memories intact, too.”

Callahan shook his head. “This is fucked up, Frank.”

“Granted, but she’s alive.”

“And Evelyn is in custody. Have you checked on Elizabeth?”

“Big turd in her diaper. In other words, situation normal.”

“You have an interesting conception of normal,” Fujiko said as she walked off to the kitchen.

“It’s amazing what you can get used to,” he replied to her departing backsides. 

“Something’s been bothering me,” Callahan said, his voice not quite a whisper. “When the Old Man found out that Cathy was dead, he said something like ‘This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, if her death was, let’s just call it incorrect, doesn’t that imply there was a correct way?”

Frank looked away, and Harry could tell he was lost in thought. “Yeah, and it also implies time has been tampered with…”

“Which also implies that the Old Man knows how things are supposed to turn out, right?”

“That follows, yeah.”

“But the only way he can know one way or another is if he has access to knowledge that’s…well…beyond anything we could understand…”

Frank scowled. “Every time we’ve seen him he appears to be about the same age, no?”

Harry thought for a moment: “Yeah, now that you mention it, I think you’re right.”

“So, while our lives have played out, and even your mother’s life as well, he might have been intervening over the course of just one night – one night wherever he’s from, I mean.”

Then Callahan looked at Frank. “I think you mean whenever he’s from, Frank.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“The only way he could know most of these things…”

“Yeah, okay, I see where you’re going with this. And…so, yes, that’s the only way he could know whether or not something is – wrong.”

Callahan nodded his head. “The only thing we don’t know is why.”

“Ya know, Harry…I don’t think I want to know why. We’ve been opening doors we have no business going through with that piano trick you do, but so far we haven’t been able to do anything like what the Old Man just did.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we’re observing things that have already happened, right. Yet we’re gaining access to knowledge that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Now the tricky part: we’re manipulating outcomes, changing the future in some way…”

Callahan sighed. “But that’s exactly what the Old Man is doing too.”

“Assuming we’re in – ‘his’ – past, yes, that’s true,” Frank added. “But…wait…that means…”

“Exactly! If Cathy’s death was wrong that means someone else is playing this game, too…!”

“Someone who wants to change outcomes…” Frank said, suddenly lost inside a thought. “So, someone in the future who is or might be related to someone now, in the present?”

“Or a chain of events that leads to…I don’t know, a certain outcome.”

“Or,” Frank whispered, “a certain link in the chain. Why Cathy? Could it be because of Elizabeth? Is Elizabeth the link? Is she the key?”

“We have no way of knowing, Frank. None. And if I could ask him, I’d want to know why he was constantly intervening in my mother’s life.”

“That’s just what I’m getting at, Harry. What if someone, or some other group – in the future – wanted to stop an outcome, and they’ve traced it back to a couple of people…in your case, a mother and her son. So they go back and break the chain of events, but they have to do it subtly, draw no attention to their actions.”

“Frank? We can sit around and think about this shit until the cows come home, but we’re just going to drive ourselves crazy. At this point I say we just get on with what we were doing, forget about all this – stuff.”

Bullitt sighed. “Because I can’t get what happened to Cathy out of my mind, Harry. I think it’s gonna be a real problem, too.”

“Okay, so what do we do about it?”

Bullitt shook his head. “I’m not sure there is anything we can do Harry, because – well, think about it. What we’ve lost is a sense of finality, that when something happens the result just ‘is’. Now, if something happens to one of us, who’s to say the Old Man won’t somehow just come along and undo it?”

Harry heard something and turned – and he saw Cathy and Fujiko staring at them. Then Frank followed Harry’s gaze – and he found Cathy’s eyes locked onto his.

© 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 (i.e., Covid-19) waiting to list sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive, Ch. 09

come alive im2 HR57 small

Before we start the story, a few housekeeping items first.

Back in March, when I started on The Eighty-eighth Key, the thinking went something like this: let’s write a short story and wrap it up in about 10 to 15 chapters. Then a funny thing happened (well, actually, not funny at all): the virus hit and like many of you I went into hibernation mode. What’s relevant here and now about that? Well, I now had a lot of time on my hands and what better way to occupy said hands than by writing. Ten chapters turned to twenty, then thirty, and now 88 is headed for fifty. C’est la vie, I guess. Same with this story; the original outline I came up with looked like a simple three to four chapter story in the making, but here we are, lost in Pandemicland, so why not stretch it out a little? I’d like to wrap up 88 in the next month or so, so maybe up to fifty chapters, but keep in mind that little short story is now over 400 pages long! Come Alive won’t be that long, I promise. I’m thinking somewhere between 15 and 20 chapters. Hopefully.

Anyway, a few divergent thoughts. Movies and music…the two most potent elixirs we turn to most often here in Pandemicland.

Seen any good movies lately? If not, consider a few classics to get you through these long winter nights. Try The Barefoot Contessa, the original with Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. This film came out during the height of 1950s censorship, and keep that in mind when you look at the subtexts in this one: a beautiful woman with what we might call ‘animal passions’ goes from Spanish dance floor to Hollywood, then from the French Riviera to the Amalfi coast – where she meets the man of her dreams. Finally. The end of this film ought to leave you breathless – if you get into the storyline, anyway.

Another classic to see you through a winter’s eve: The Petrified Forest, with Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Bogart again. Nothing hotter than the desert southwest in the depths of the Great Depression, the action in this one takes place inside a gas station/diner, and Howard’s performance is one for the ages. Possibly the greatest romance story ever put to celluloid.

The last classic I’ll mention this time out is Dodsworth, a classic in every sense of the word. With John Huston, William Wyler directed this adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ novel. This is a gut-punch to watch, a slow motion train wreck if ever there was one, but it has a happy ending (hey, this is Hollywood, right?) worth wrapping your heart around. If you’ve never seen this one you have missed the boat, literally.

Got Netflix? Check out Our Souls at Night, with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda together again (go back to Barefoot in the Park to see their first effort together). This latest effort finds a soft spot in us older folks, but what starts out as a simple dilemma turns into a complex symphony of choices and consequences. Powerful stuff.

Also on Netflix, The Highwaymen. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson chasing Bonnie and Clyde, and while we all know how this one ends, the sparkling thrust and parry between the two leads in reason enough to catch this one.

Got Amazon Prime? Here are a couple of sci-fi flicks you might have missed that provide a good reason to reignite your passion for popcorn. The first is titled, simply, Cosmos, and it revolves around three amateur astronomers out in the woods with their telescopes who run across something strange. This one is the complete opposite of what you’re thinking right now, too. More cerebral than anything else, it’s worth a watch.

Also on Prime, The Vast of Night. Weird from start to finish, this movie breaks a lot of new ground from a cinematographers standpoint, and took home more than a few honors from indie film festivals last year. Set in the 50s, this film latches onto the vibe created by many classic sci-fi films from that era and doesn’t let go – til the very end. Interesting and fun at the same time.

Music matters, right? You’ll find a brief mention of this piece in the beginning of this chapter of Come Alive, and if you’re into the group Genesis you’ll be familiar with the work of Tony Banks, the long time keyboardist in the group. Well, Mr Banks also writes classical music, and two years ago he released an album called Five (and its on iTunes). The first track is called Prelude to a Million years (and you can give it a listen on YouTube). Talk about soft. Talk about chords I haven’t seen or used in decades. Sumptuous, sensuous, airy, breathtaking…or all of the above. The introductory chords leave me reeling in the years.

Now, on to the story. This is a long chapter so get a cup of tea, pull up the ottoman and settle in for a while. Hope you enjoy.

Chapter 9

At five the next morning Taggart slipped the dock lines from their cleats; he hopped back onboard and into the cockpit, and there he put the transmission into reverse. Using the bow thruster, he kept Time Bandit centered in the slip as he backed-down into the marina’s entrance channel, then he pointed the bow upriver and motored towards Gothenburg’s city center, running at 1900RPM and making almost seven knots through the water. Running with the tide and an hour before slack water, he hoped to be free of the city and its heavy shipping traffic before the morning crush.

And once again he didn’t wake Dina or Rolf. Truth be told, he admitted to himself while standing up at the wheel as he motored through the city, he liked being out here alone in the early morning. He usually sailed while listening to Gregorian chant, but he’d picked up a new album by Tony Banks and listened to a new track – Prelude to a Million Years – as he looked at the old town and its ancient church spires as they drifted by.

A few minutes later Dina came up the companionway steps carrying two cups of cinnamon tea and a few orange/walnut scones she’d baked late the night before.

“You are a miracle and I love you,” he said as she handed him a cup.

“I should take this as a compliment, no?”

“Yeah, but don’t let it go to your head.”

“I’ll do my best,” she sighed. “It seems very quiet out this morning.”

“Yes, it’s lovely out.”

“What is this music?”

“Tony Banks. Keyboardist for Genesis. He seems to be writing classical music these days.”

“It’s peaceful…” but she stopped speaking when she saw the look on his face.

He was scanning the river ahead, watching a small freighter backing into the main channel. “Damn, I forgot to set the radar to stand-by,” he said, shaking his head and flipping a switch, then pinching off a bit of scone and sipping some tea. “I heard a weather forecast an hour ago; it’s going to be very hot as we move inland, but it should be cooler on the lakes.”

“After the last few days of this cool weather I think hot would be most welcome. Their is a chill when the air is damp that makes me feel wretched.”

He nodded. “I feel it here,” he said, pointing to the incision on his breast, and his left armpit. 

“Have you taken your medications yet?”

“Not supposed to until six.”

“I’ll go get them…”

“No…sit with me, please. It’s gorgeous, you know…” but he choked up, looked away.

“What is it?”

“The city…you…all of it. Just the moment, I guess.”

“I love you too,” she said, rubbing the top of his hand before she turned to look over the world beyond the confines of Time Bandit’s little cocoon.

There was enough wind to dapple the surface of the water, and even a few gulls were flying along above their wake, crying for fish, he assumed as he gauged the conditions around him. He turned the radar on and checked the way ahead for unseen traffic; the freighter was turning into the river but keeping to the correct side of the channel, and that was it…

“How far to the first lock?” she asked.

“About 50 kilometers, at a small town called Lilla Edet.”

“Do you plan to go all the way there today?”

“Not if I can help it. The first cute village we come to I’m shutting down the engine and tying off to a tree…”

She smiled, shook her head. “Stop and smell the roses, I think. Isn’t that the expression?”

“It is, indeed.”

They approached a massive bridge and Taggart eyed it nervously – as his mast height was almost 17 meters – but as the bridge was 22 meters he motored on. Still, both he and Dina stared at Time Bandit’s masthead as she went under the bridge, and he felt a moment of stark terror that passed as soon as they cleared the span.

“It always looks so close, closer than it really is,” he said.

“I guess you learn to trust the charts,” she added.

“There’s another big one just ahead, supposedly lots of cruise ships dock there.”

“Yes, the Götaälvbron. The bridge over the Göta älv river. Many tourists visit here in the summer.”

Rolf’s head popped up in the companionway; he was yawning and still wiping away the night from his eyes. “Where are we?” he asked.

“Coming up to the center of the city,” Dina said. “Get some clothes on and come rejoin the human race!”

He nodded and disappeared below.

“God,” she moaned, “they were at it all night again.”

“You should get some headphones for your phone. Music blocks it out nicely.”

“I swear that girl is insatiable, Henry.”

“Good for him. Valuable training for all life’s adventures.”

She shook her head. “Incorrigible. He will be ruined for life.”

“I think I need more coffee.”

“I have cherry scones in the oven,” she said, smiling.

“You’re assuming Rolf hasn’t already eaten them all.”

Her eyes went wide and she scurried down the companionway steps.

The Götaälvbron’s height was 18.3 meters so even lower than the first bridge, and this time he was sure the Vhf radio antenna scraped along the underside of the steel latticework. He visibly shuddered just as Dina came up the steps…

“Do you need your medicine?” she asked – then she saw the bridge and how close it was and her eyes went wide again. “That was much closer, wasn’t it?”

He nodded. “Close enough to just about make me shit my britches…”

She passed his cup to him, then she came up with a platter loaded with hot scones and put them on the cockpit table. “Well, I am happy you did not do this. Very messy.”

“Me too. No better way to ruin the day.”

“Are there many more such bridges?”

He shook his head. “Most are so low we have to radio ahead so they can be raised, even a few railway bridges. The next one is a railway bridge, the Marieholmsbron; I have to call them now.”

They had to wait for several trains to pass, then the bridges swung on a center-pivot to let them pass, and then the way ahead was clear.

“Is there a speed limit?” she asked.

“Ten knots here. Which is a lot faster than we can go. A few miles on it drops to five knots.”

“How fast will we go?”

“Five. No reason to go fast, is there?”

“I saw a control below for air conditioning. Does this boat have that?”

“Sorry, but yes, it does. I used it in Florida a lot.”

“How hot is it supposed to get today?”

“High 80s, Fahrenheit. The next several days could see days in the low 90s.”

She scowled. “This is unheard of so close to the sea.”

“The shape of things to come, I’m afraid.” He picked up a scone and held it under his nose. “Smells a little like heaven, ya know?”

“How warm is it now?” she asked.

“78F. Why?”

“It is stuffy down below.”

“Well, we can open some hatches or I can fire up the a/c.”

“I will try hatches first.”

Clyde stepped into the cockpit then and barked twice. “Sorry, boy…you gotta use the Astro-turf this morning…Dina, can you take the wheel?”

He led the pup forward and pulled out an Astro-turf door-mat and tossed it down in the deck. Clyde looked up at him with disgust in his eyes, but he dutifully circled twice and dumped a load on the ‘grass’, then peed for good measure before he walked back to the cockpit. Taggart cleaned up the mess, scooping up the brown and washing away the yellow, then he went back to the cockpit. Clyde was eating his breakfast by that point, then he jumped up onto the seat next to Taggart and fell asleep.

They were just passing through the outskirts of Gothenburg – with industrial warehouses on one side of the river and parklands on the other – when Astrid and Rolf came topsides. Astrid said hello before moving up to the bow pulpit – her favorite place on the Bandit – while Rolf sat down and munched on a scone. He yawned and stretched, revealing a huge purple hickey on the side of his neck.

“Looks like you saw some real combat last night,” Henry said, pointing to his own neck.

“Oh, I got her back, inside her thighs.”

“Good man. Give as good as you get, I always say.”

Rolf leaned close, spoke with his voice just above a whisper: “She is not a so very interesting person, Henry. She is very, how do I say this, interested too much in music and sex.”

“I’m curious; did she bring any drugs on board, Rolf?” he asked, though he was suddenly quite serious. 

“Yes, some pills, and I think some sort of stuff she injects.”

“What…like heroin?”

“I think maybe, yes, but I don’t know.”

“Okay, that’s a problem, Amigo. Police or the Coast Guard can confiscate this boat if illegal drugs are found onboard. And I am the one responsible, understand?”

“Yes.”

“So my rule about illegal drugs is a simple one; either the drugs go, and I mean all of them, or she goes.”

“Understood. I’ll take care of it right now.”

“And Rolf, if you think she is dishonest, that she is lying about where she is keeping her drugs, she has to get off. I will pay for her to get home, but she has to leave.”

“Henry, I would think she should leave too, if that were the case.”

“Why do you say that, Rolf?”

“I think she is addicted. She has to go below and inject this stuff several times a day…”

“Where, Rolf?”

“What?” 

“Where does she inject herself?”

“In the stomach.”

Taggart relaxed. “Can you bring her back here for a little talk?”

“Of course?”

She came back and sat next to Clyde and scratched behind the pups ears. Clyde, of course, moaned before rolled onto his back – inviting her to scratch his belly.

“Rolf, why don’t you go below and help Dina for a moment.”

When Rolf was out of range he turned to Astrid. “I’m just curious, but are you a diabetic?”

She looked down and seemed quite embarrassed, but she nodded. “I didn’t tell Rolf – how did you know?”

“He told me he saw you injecting yourself in the stomach. He doesn’t know what that means, and he thought maybe it might be heroin.”

“Oh-my-God, no!” she whispered. “No, it’s not like that at all…”

“Type one or type two?”

“Type one, for almost fifteen years now.”

“The pills? For diabetes, too?”

She nodded.

“The Coast Guard has a rule…”

“Oh, Henry, I know all these rules. I have a letter from my physician authorizing me to have these things with me…”

“Okay, so you brought nothing illegal on board, right?”

“Yes, I promise this is true. We get checked at the hospital all the time…”

He nodded. “Ya know, I think Clyde loves you just a little.”

“He is so sweet.”

“Astrid, kids Rolf’s age are a little like pups. They are curious and can be empathetic, but they thrive on the truth.”

“I know, but many of the boys I have known have been turned off by me giving myself shots, even if it is just insulin…”

“Rolf isn’t like most boys, Astrid. You might keep that in mind before you think about moving on. And if you need to keep your supply in the fridge, go right ahead.”

“He’s a very special person, Henry. I could feel that right away.”

“Yeah, well, so are you. And I could feel that right away, too.”

“I keep wanting to tell you how much I appreciate being here, for you thinking about me enough to do this for me.”

“I’d say you’re welcome but the pleasure has been all mine. I thought you and Rolf might become  friends, good friends, and maybe because I hoped something nice would work out between you.”

She nodded. “I think maybe I should go and have a talk with Rolf, don’t you?”

“I think so, but you should always do what you think is the right thing to do, Astrid. Follow your head and your heart, because that usually leads to the best outcome.”

As she went below Dina came up the companionway. “What was that all about?”

“Oh, nothing much. She’s type one and has some insulin with her, probably needs to put some stuff in the fridge.”

“Oh.”

“What are you cooking down there? It smells outrageous!”

She smiled. “You’ll see, however I think we will be having an amazing lunch,” she said as she handed him his medications.

“Thanks. About five miles to a place called Agnesberg. That’ll be the last of the big city scenery for a while. Hopefully!”

“You know, in a way this is exciting. Settled and peaceful, yes, but what is around the next bend? You never really know, do you?”

He nodded. “In a car zipping along you’d never give this landscape a passing thought, but out here…? Nature feels invitingly raw when you drift along like this. How is it down below? Still stuffy?”

“There is a nice breeze coming through now. It is worse up here in the sun.”

“I’ll rig the bimini when we stop for the evening.”

“Is it this thing?” she asked, pointing at a large canvas rolled-up on some aluminum struts.

“Yup.”

“Can I do it now?”

“Sure,” he said. “Might be better to sit in the shade, I reckon…”

“I think so too,” she said, grinning. He put on the autopilot and helped her set it up. “This is very, what? Formidable? Like it was made for heavy storms?”

“Yes, but it’s a little too short for me to stand up all the way. I need to get longer struts measured.”

“Ah yes, I see. How tall are you?”

“Six-three. Short by American standards these days.”

“Well, at least everything is in proportion,” she said, smiling at him – in reality, now trying just about anything to get him to laugh. He was becoming so serious now, so unlike himself…

He smiled a little, then looked up at her. “Tonight, maybe?”

“Yes, we must compete with the olympic screwing team up front!”

“Maybe I should get a testosterone shot and some Viagra. That would put us back in the running, wouldn’t it?”

And that made her laugh. “I think maybe my labia are not so tough as hers. Now, I must go tend to my lunch…”

He switched off the autopilot just as Rolf came up into the cockpit. 

“Well, did you straighten her out?”

“I am so embarrassed,” he said. “And a little ashamed.”

“Why? What happened, Rolf?”

“Her shots are for diabetes, even all her pills. I should have known.”

“Oh? Why?”

“Because I assumed she was hiding things from me.”

“Oh, well, that happens. Ya know, I learned an old saying when I was about your age. ‘Smart people get their exercise at the gym; not so smart people get their exercise by jumping to conclusions.’”

“I was not so smart, Henry.”

“Did you apologize?”

“Yes.”

“Then you move on from here. You accept her – even if she has diabetes. Love is just love, after all; love isn’t magic, but it is real or it is nothing at all.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you can’t be just a little in love, or even too much in love. Love is just love. You either feel that way or you don’t. There’s nothing else like it, maybe not even anywhere else in the universe.”

“I think,” Rolf added, “it might be the scariest thing in the universe.”

“Love can be very powerful, but I’ve found that hate and anger can be as powerful, too. And all three seem to be related, somehow.”

“How so?”

“Well, love can turn to hate or anger in a heartbeat, and once it does something very strange and powerful happens. People lose the ability to think rationally.”

“Maybe it is better to never fall in love, Henry.”

“Maybe so, but then you’d miss out on one of the big things that makes us human.”

“Do you think only humans can love?”

“No, I didn’t say that. Remember those Orcas? I think they love one another, and dolphins do too. Lots of birds mate for life – so why can’t we call that love? What makes us different, Rolf, is that we write poetry and music about love, we build monuments to love, and we have created elaborate ceremonies all around the very idea of love, so obviously we think love is a very big deal. It’s a feeling, true, but it is so much more than that. When you get right down to it, we’ve organized our societies around a stable precondition of love…”

“Maybe that’s why we’re getting so fucked up, Henry.”

He smiled. “You know, maybe you’re right. What would you organize a new society around?”

“Money, I think.”

“Okay. So…what happens to poor people in that society?”

“No, no, there would be no poor people. Everyone would make the same, no matter what they did.”

“I think that’s been tried before.”

“Oh? Where?”

“The Soviet Union, for one, but pretty soon little breakdowns began to occur. Like everyone was equal, right? – but even so pretty soon some people were more equal than others. These people starting making new rules to benefit people just like them, and pretty soon you were right back to square one and the Soviet Union fell apart. So…love might actually be a pretty good organizing principle…if we can ever figure out how to really make it work for everyone, that is.”

“I think I will have a hard enough time making it work for just me, Henry.”

Taggart nodded. “Truer words were never spoken, Rolf. Love is a mystery, and one with no easy solution, no real answer. My God but that smells good. What is she making down there?”

Rolf grinned, but he shrugged at the same time.

“Ah, yes…love loves a good secret,” Henry said, smirking.

“Well, one thing is certain…she loves you, I think…but…”

“But what, Rolf?”

“I think she is not the only one,” the boy said, perhaps a little defiantly.

“What’s on your mind, son.”

“I think there are two other women who love you…did you call me son?”

“I did, yes.”

“I don’t know, but I think I like that.”

“Okay. Now, what about your mother?”

“And that girl Eva; my mother thinks she loves you most of all.”

“Most of all? Rolf, remember something important. There is no most of all, there is only love.”

“But cannot some people hurt more than others? If this is so, aren’t you saying that all pain is alike, or that none is worse than another?”

“I don’t know, Rolf. I really don’t know the answer to that one.”

“I talked to my mother last night. She wants to spend time with you. But my mother says that Eva appears lost without you. She says Eva must come soon, and she asks that you consider this.”

“Have you told your grandmother any of this, Rolf?”

“No, I haven’t, but I asked her to call my mother.”

“When?”

“Just before I came up now.”

“Well, fuck.”

“Henry?”

“Yup?”

“What shall we do?”

“We? Rolf, this is my problem, not yours…”

“No, not so. You have already told me that these will be my brothers or sisters, and that I will be the one taking care of them one day, so is this not my problem too, Henry?”

“I’m not sure I’d be in such a hurry if I were you, Rolf, but that was spoken like a man, not a boy.”

“But I can help. At least I can if you will let me.”

“You know, I really wish you were my son.”

“Henry, you are the only father I have now. Please remember that.”

Taggart sighed, nodded in understanding. “Okay. But I know at least one thing now, Rolf.”

“What is that?”

“We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

+++++

They tied up just north of Agnesberg and had lunch in the cockpit, a fantastic spread of salads and soups and freshly baked bread, and though Dina tried her best not to appear confused Henry could tell that she was. But not angry, he told himself, and that was a good thing, right?

Rolf, on the other hand, seemed nervous, constantly looking between Astrid and his grandmother, then looking to Henry for reassurance – like ‘our little world isn’t about to come crashing down on our heads, is it?’

Yet try as he might, Taggart just couldn’t get the food down. It was delicious, it smelled like heaven, but after getting a bite or two down he completely lost his appetite, and within a few minutes Dina was focused on Henry – like she was gauging his reaction to the food as if she alone knew what was happening.

And perhaps that was because she alone knew what was happening. Worse still, she alone knew what lay just ahead.

She went below and poured him a nutritional shake, then she prepared an injection. She went up and asked him to roll up his sleeve, and when that was done she had him sip on the shake while they ate. A half hour later Henry ate a slice of bread, then he finished his soup and announced that the world was still a very splendid place indeed! There was a main railway line just along the right side of the river here, and passenger trains whooshed by every ten minutes…but other than that the river seemed peaceful enough…

“You know, we could almost tie up here – but I think the trains would keep us up all night.”

“We’ll find something up ahead,” Dina said, glad the medication had kicked-in so efficiently. “Besides, it is too early to quit for the day.”

“Okay. Rolf, let me get the engine going then you can cast off the lines.”

And a minute later they were underway. They slowed when they met a small freighter coming downriver, and everyone whooped when Time Bandit bounced on the passing ship’s large wake, then they came to a small marina near the village of Nödinge and tied up for the night. But as soon as Bandit was secure, Taggart went down to his bunk and fell into a deep sleep.

Rolf, Astrid, and Dina sat in the cockpit and snacked, though Dina seemed intent on not talking about her conversation with Britt earlier in the day. Astrid carried dishes down to the galley, leaving Rolf to find out what had happened.

“I will talk to Henry when he awakens. This is very complicated, Rolf. More so than anything I might have imagined.”

“This Eva…she sounds…”

“Like a lunatic! I’m having a hard time believing the girl could put on such a show!”

“What did she do, Grandma-ma?”

“Rolf? It is time you stopped calling me that. You are too old for such things, and it is making me feel older than I already am.”

“Yes, Grandma-ma.”

She smiled. “I am sorry. I should not have said that.”

“What did this Eva do?”

Dina turned away, looked at the river. “She is acting like a child, Rolf. Terrible, really, but it is better not to talk about such things now, as she might be joining us soon.”

“Alright. What about mother?”

“She has the morning sickness now. It is better that she not travel for the time being. Then…we shall see.”

“How do you feel about all this, Grandma-ma.”

“Oh, a little sad. Sad for Henry most of all, but sad for these girls, and for all these new children.”

“Henry has talked to me about that. He says it might fall to me one day to take care of these children.”

“True. It may. What do you think of that?”

“It is strange to think about such things. Being a brother is one thing, but to take on the role of parent is quite another. I can hope to be good at both…”

“Be a good brother, Rolf. Doing that will take care of all the rest.”

“It is a good thing you are not pregnant, isn’t it?”

“Why do you say that?” she said, a little too defensively.

“Three children? What would Henry think about that?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed.

“Can you still have children, Grandma-ma?”

“I thought not, but…”

“Oh my God, no. You too?”

She nodded. “Yes. Me too.”

“Oh, no. Three babies…all at once.”

“It is not three, Rolf. Your mother has twins, Eva too.”

“What?”

“That is four. Then, heaven forbid, perhaps I will have two as well.”

“Fuck!”

“Yes, fuck indeed. Please, tell me that Astrid is on birth control?”

Rolf shrugged.

“Oh dear God. We will need an entire maternity ward before this winter is over.”

“Six brothers and sisters,” Rolf said, his eyes lost in contemplation. “It boggles the mind.”

“I wonder,” Dina sighed, “if he would object to a vasectomy while he is asleep.”

“A what?”

“Never mind. I was saying silly things.”

“Six, Grandma-ma. Six! Think of that!”

“And he will not live to see even one of them born. Think about that, Rolf. Not one of them.”

“I think he would find that almost funny, Grandma-ma.”

She smiled. “Yes, perhaps that is true, yet I think he will be happy, even so. I hope so.”

“I hope so, too. Do you know, he called me ‘son’ today.”

“Does that surprise you?”

“I think it did, yes.”

“When he looks at you I see pride in his eyes, Rolf. Sometimes we come to our place in life from very different stations. His road to you, perhaps, was like this. When he first arrived in Bergen, what if he had walked in another direction? Away from your mother’s clinic. What then? We, you and I and your mother might not have ever seen him. We wouldn’t be here right now. All because he went to the left instead of the right.”

“So, it was all a happy accident?”

“Ah…that is a very big question, Rolf. A happy accident? Or…the road he chose was destiny, part of a plan.”

“You mean God, religion, all that?”

She nodded her head.

“What do you believe, Grandma-ma?”

“Me? Well, if there is a God, Rolf, I think He believes very much in happy accidents. The world and our lives can unfold in many different ways, ways no one can foretell, perhaps not even God.”

“But don’t people believe God has a plan…?”

“And what would be the fun in that, Rolf. Perhaps even God enjoys watching the decisions we make, or perhaps He despairs when He sees us making regrettable decisions.”

“Or perhaps there is no God?”

“Perhaps. But it is unimportant what I think, or Henry thinks. What is important is what you think. The choice is yours.”

“What about medicine? Can medicine coexist with God?”

“Why not? I doubt God would mind one way or another. What might matter to God is that we are true to ourselves, and to our own beliefs. As a physician I believe in a set of paradigms, but it would presumptuous for me to say that the structure of medicine, or of science, precludes a belief in God. Again, it is more likely that God watches how we treat one another, that we love and respect each other, that we cherish life in all forms, even the earth.”

“Is it wrong for me to feel love for Henry?”

“No. How could that be?”

“Well, because he is not my real father.”

“Your father is no longer here, so you do not forsake the memory of him by embracing the present. Henry is an important part of your life now, and I suspect he always will be. Love, respect, even duty…those are the things you embrace now.”

“But…”

“Rolf…think of it this way. If your father could in some way be looking down on you right now, do you think he would be disappointed?”

“I wish that was possible, Grandma-ma.”

“Yes…but perhaps it is possible, Rolf.”

He nodded, then turned to face the heavens. “I think it is getting cool out now. Could I make you some coffee, Grandma-ma?”

“Yes, please. I am going to check on Henry, then I will see you here. And please, might not Astrid join is?”

+++++

He woke up early the next morning and made coffee, then he went up to the cockpit with his iPad and started planning their day. He woke up the chartplotter and looked at potential stops along the way, then he thought about the conversation he’d had with Dina sometime in the night. About Britt and Eva needing time with him, about the twins…and then the real news…that she too was pregnant.

“How is that even possible?” he remembered asking.

“I thought these things were over, but apparently they were not. Anyway, that doesn’t matter now. I am and that is that.”

He had kissed her, asked her how she felt, but she had answered with oblique references to her age, and of trying to be a good mother again, but all in all what he witnessed was a very profound insecurity taking flight.

How could he help her manage that, he wondered?

Eliminate known sources of insecurity. Let her focus on the child or, heaven forbid, the children. Yet the first thing he knew he had to do was open up all lines of communication. He was beginning to feel that she was already sheltering him, keeping things that might upset him out of sight, and so out of mind. She was, in other words, protecting him – and he loved her that much more for it – yet he also knew he had to have her understanding. He had to be kept in the loop if he was going to be effective at helping everyone navigate the rough waters ahead.

He nursed his coffee for a while, lost in thoughts about the future when out of the blue he thought about Doris Day. Growing up with her in the house next door had always been kind of surreal – going to see Pillow Talk at the movie theatre then coming home and seeing her on the  porch overlooking Newport harbor, every now and then waving at her and seeing her smile… Coming in from a long trip on Bandit with his father and her calling out “How’d y’all do?” in that magic voice of hers. Her smile…oh! the memory!

Clyde came up the steps and barked twice, indicating his need was getting extreme, and Henry grabbed the leash and took him ashore. Clyde took his time finding just the right bush to hose down, then circled twice and dropped a dump truck load on an ant hill. Taggart groaned. “Damn, boy, they’re getting stinkier!” That was worth a wag or two of the tail, then they made their way back to the Bandit. Taggart settled behind the wheel, so Clyde sat next to him and waited for his head rub, which was none too soon in coming.

Then he heard Dina down in the shower so he finished his coffee – and without warning he vomited – and he saw streaks of blood in clear fluid that almost looked like mucous…

Dina heard the noise and was on deck before he finished cleaning up the mess.

He told her what had happened, then…

“What did it look like?”

“Blood streaks, thick clear mucous looking stuff, no food in it.”

She shook her head. “If you can’t get more food down this will get worse. Understood? You have to eat more!”

“But I’m not hungry, Dina?”

“It does not matter. Three times a day, even a little. You have to keep your body nourished or it will not be able to fight. Clear?” She sighed. “Next town we come to we will need to get a blood count. Did you drink coffee, too?”

“Yes.”

“No, Henry. Not without food. You’d do better with herbal teas, too. Now, let me get you a scone, then I’m going to fix you some eggs. Will you eat some ham or bacon?”

“You’re the doctor. You put it down in front of me and I’ll eat it. Promise, okay?

He ate her breakfast and a half hour later it came back up; he bent over the rail and let go right into the river.

“Henry, next time that happens I need to examine the contents for blood, okay? This is important, alright?”

He nodded. “What about that shake you gave me yesterday? I held that down okay.”

“You should not be vomiting so soon…”

“Let me try the shake again, and I have some antacid tabs in the medicine cabinet above our sink.”

She disappeared down the companionway and he disconnected the shore power cord, then started the diesel. He pulled in their dock lines and backed out of the slip, then turned into the river – still heading generally north. Dina came up and handed him the canned shake and he tossed it down, then shivered just a little.

“That is a taste I don’t think I will ever get used to,” he grimaced.

“Do you like salmon?”

“Yup, in all its forms, but not in a milkshake.”

She grinned. “What about sushi?”

“Especially sushi.”

She nodded. “Do we have to transit a lock today?”

“Yeah, assuming we make it there in time; it’s only about 20 miles.”

She sighed: “I wish you would speak in kilometers…”

“Yeah, okay, call it 32 clicks. What do you think about maybe getting a bigger boat?”

“What? Are you serious?”

“Yeah. The way things are shaping up, if you guys had a boat big enough to handle all of you, well, it might help to, you know, bring all of you together on a regular basis.”

“I’m not sure I can talk about the future right now, Henry. Not that future, anyway.”

“Sorry, and yeah, I understand. Probably better if I just handle things while I can.”

She turned and looked at the passing landscape – pastures off to the right, some rugged low hills to port, the rail line still there, trains whizzing by now and then. “Are you thinking about such things often?”

“Yeah, more or less. I have ideas, some I pass them along to Sigrid.”

“The lawyer?”

“Yup. When I’m, well, you know, just get in touch with her.”

“What about your holdings in the States?”

“Everything has been transferred into a trust. In Bergen. She’ll lay it all out for you.”

“What about the boat?”

“It’ll belong to the trust for the time being.”

“I like this boat. If you got something new that would mean getting rid of this one, no?”

“No, not at all. I can put the new boat into the trust and leave Time Bandit to you. Would you prefer that?” She nodded her head but looked away, he could tell she was crying and trying to hide it from him. “I suppose you’ll take care of her, right?”

“Of course. I may even take her on a long trip. Would that be okay?”

“Of course? Where would you go?”

“Wherever you tell me to go.”

“Ah, so you intend to keep talking to me even after, eh?”

“Of course. Every night before bed.”

“I feel like such a flake. Bugging out without changing even one diaper. Sheesh, the nerve of some people’s children…”

“I hope we have a bunch of boys – and that they have your humor.”

“Dearie me. You do have a pretty wide masochistic streak, don’t you?”

“A little, maybe yes.”

“Well, enough of this crap. Get out the guidebook and lets figure out the day…

+++++

Dina and Astrid whipped up a salmon bisque to go with fresh bread and Taggart enjoyed the soup, and when he kept it down Dina relaxed a little. ‘I just have to find things he can tolerate,’ she said to herself. ‘And fill him with nutrients when I can…’

They approached their first lock, right inside the village of Lilla Edet, and it was a big one; the guidebook said it was often full of commercial freighters and small passenger boats, as well as small pleasure craft. Today was, unfortunately, no exception. A big, red-hulled freighter had already pulled into the cavernous lock, and a white passenger boat came in right behind them…so their first attempt at trying a lock would be a trying affair. And one with an audience.

“Let’s get Clyde down below,” Henry said as they approached the entry. “Rolf, you stand by with the bow line; I’ll handle the stern from here,” he added as he maneuvered Time Bandit into a space indicated by the lock-keeper. The red bricked wall looked to be about thirty feet tall, and bronze bollards were recessed in the wall at regular intervals; the trick would be to secure the Bandit to one bollard, and, as it started to rise, to get another line rigged on the next bollard – that was now too high to reach.

The white passenger ship came up behind them and then the lock’s gate closed behind them. When it was secure water began filling the lock chamber, and the water rushed in with incredible velocity, creating a turbulent wash that made holding onto the lines a real chore. The commercial ships had heavy lines and specialized equipment to handle the load, while Time Bandit had Rolf and Henry…

“Okay Rolf, get your line on the next bollard!” he called out when they’d risen about eight feet, and then he scrambled to get his line secure on his next bollard. But…in the end it proved an easier than expected transit, and when the gate opened they motored out of the lock behind the red freighter, then the little cruise ship motored out. Then, all three of boats motored along in a spontaneous parade, with the passengers on the liner behind standing on the bow taking pictures of Taggart & Company. 

The landscape was more rugged now, hills flanked both sides of the river here, and the river itself bent more frequently to accommodate the hilly terrain. And with each new bend little villages popped up unexpectedly, each sporting at least one church steeple, many with bakeries and markets near the water, so stopping was always a temptation – and a handy option if supplies ran low.

“This is so different from an ocean passage,” Henry said…to no one in particular. “All we need is a chocolate factory…”

“And a golden ticket!” Astrid added – making Rolf smile.

Clyde chose that moment to jump into Taggart’s lap, and sitting there with his front paws draped over Taggart’s shoulders, and with his snout resting beside Taggart’s neck he promptly fell asleep – and started snoring. Taggart wrapped his arms around the pup and scratched his back, and he soon felt a moan of contentment come from deep inside. Of course, Rolf took another picture with his iPhone…

After a brief snooze Clyde jumped down and went off in search of a water bowl, and Henry turned the wheel over to Rolf. He walked forward and pulled out his own phone, then he called Hallberg-Rassy, a boat builder on the Swedish coast just north of Gothenburg. He explained what he needed and his time constraints; they advised they usually built on a semi-custom basis but had had a recent order cancellation just before delivery was to be made. It was a new 57 footer, and the rep went over the details; Taggart was intrigued enough to want to see it.

“We’re on the Trollhätten Canal, actually approaching the town of Trollhätten,” he advised.

“Ah, that is very close to here. We could send a car for you in the morning, if you like. Would that work out for you?”

“Yes, I think so. I’ll let you know where we moor for the night.”

The rep made a few recommendations for places to tie-up overnight and then rang off.

“Who did you call,” Dina asked, standing behind him at the mast.

“Feel like looking at a boat tomorrow?”

“You are serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, of course.”

She shrugged. “Okay. Is it far from here?”

“No, I don’t think so. Maybe an hour away.”

She sighed. “Are you always so – decisive?”

“Well, circumstances have changed, haven’t they? I want to get it right, and I don’t want to waste time, so I have to move fast. How far are we from Trollhätten?”

“About seven miles…”

“Miles! You used miles, and after telling me to…”

“I know, I know,” she grinned, “but that silly machine only gives a readout in miles.”

“Nautical miles, Dina. The same unit of measurement on all my nautical charts. Look, just multiple miles by 1.6 and you have clicks…”

“Clicks? what is it with this clicks-thing!”

“Just a bad habit I picked up when I was an American…”

“Bosh! You are an American through and through…”

“Look! A Burger King!” he shouted, pointing at a little castle on a hilltop. “Let’s go!”

She shook her head as she muttered her way back to the cockpit.

“And the crowd goes wild, Ladies and Germs! Team Taggart scores again!”

+++++

The Hallberg-Rassy yard was immaculate, and the 57 was tied up just below their main offices. Taggart looked at her as he walked up, admiring not only her lines but the apparent simplicity of the rig. The cockpit was amazing, with literally everything electrically coupled to the helm. You could, the rep explained, adjust everything from the wheels: furl the sails, adjust the sheets, raise or lower the anchor, or operate the thrusters…

“Did you say thrusters, as in more than one?”

“Yes, bow and stern.”

“Hell, even I could pass the parallel parking test with this rig.”

Dina had already gone below and she was calling for him now – almost urgently.

“What’s wrong?” he asked after he’d made his way down the companionway steps. 

“There’s a dishwasher in the galley!” she cried.

“And a washing machine in the owner’s head,” the rep advised.

“On a sailboat?” she said, wide-eyed, then she turned to Henry. “Have you ever!?”

“I think she likes this boat,” the rep said, smiling now.

He showed them around for two hours, going over literally every system onboard at least twice. Then: “Shall we go for a sail?”

“No thanks,” Taggart said, and the rep looked crestfallen, so did Dina. “I think I’ve already made up my mind.”

“Oh?” the rep and Dina said in unison.

“Let me get you my attorney’s number. You can call her in an hour to arrange for transfer of funds and registration information. We’ll swing by here in about three weeks to pick up the 57. At that time I’d like to drop off my current boat and leave her in dry storage here in your yard. We’ll arrange for pickup next Spring. During that time could you winterize the boat’s systems and perform whatever maintenance you think necessary?”

“Of course,” the rep said. “Shall we paint a new ship’s name and port on the stern?”

“Yes, please. Time Bandits, plural, out of Bergen, Norway.”

“I’ll see to it personally, sir.”

+++++

They made it back to Time Bandit in time for a late lunch, then they transited the Trollhätten locks – as in more than one. These were once again huge commercial affairs, sized to accommodate smaller ocean going freighters and, once again, they transited with large ships. After the second lock they motored through the city center, waiting for two bridges to be raised, before they stopped for the day at a purpose built lagoon off the Spiköstigen. It was early enough that Dina wanted to get Henry to the local hospital’s lab for a round of bloodwork, so a taxi was called and off they went.

“Nice having my own personal doc, ya know?”

“Don’t let it go to your head,” she said as she filled out the paperwork the oncologist in Gothenburg had provided. “Now go! The vampires await!”

“Did I mention I hate needles?”

“Only ten times on the taxi ride here.”

“Oh. Well…I hate needles.”

“Go!”

He went to lab then ambled back to her ten minutes later. “They got it on the first try this time.”

“Lucky you. They will call me with the results this evening, so let’s go.”

“Yeah, hospitals give you the willies, huh?”

“The what?”

“The willies. You know, like a shiver that runs up your spine when you watch a horror flick?”

“You watch horror films?”

“No.”

“You confuse me too much, Henry Taggart.”

“Excellent!”

“How would you like a nice proctologist’s exam?”

“I don’t know. Hum a few bars and maybe I’ll recognize it.”

“You are going to drive me mad!”

“And the crowd goes wild!” 

+++++

And so it went. A seemingly endless idyll motoring across Sweden by river – interspersed with two long days sailing across lakes Vänern and Vättern, two huge lakes in Sweden’s interior. More villages, bakeries and ice cream shops, summer crowds – with many gathered along the edges of the various locks watching the action.

Astrid began to emotionally separate from Rolf the closer Bandit got to Stockholm, intuitively knowing their journey of the heart was coming to an end. Rolf did his best to show a stiff upper lip, but he too began to withdraw. Sensing that something was wrong, Clyde stayed with them the night before she was scheduled to fly back to Oslo. Taggart sent the two of them by taxi to the airport, and when Rolf returned a few hours later he clambered back onboard and disappeared into his cabin. Taggart decided to let him be. Clyde did not; he went forward and stayed with Rolf…

He spent a day at yet another hospital and yet another oncologist ‘gave him the bad news’ – and Taggart began to suspect that some physicians actually got into the role of telling some people they were going to die, rather like medieval priests relished their role as gatekeepers to the afterlife. Maybe it was a power dynamic, he thought, though he dared not bring up the subject with Dina.

After transiting almost sixty locks many of Bandits lines and fenders were worn out, so Taggart took Rolf shopping at a marine supply store; afterwards, they spent the rest of the day organizing the new goodies while discarding the old. Bandit spent another day getting her engine serviced, and the three of them played the tourist game and wandered around Stockholm for a day. After that, all that remained was a daunting 400 mile run down the Baltic Sea to Copenhagen, then a sedate passage through the Kattegat – passing Gothenburg on the way to Ellös, where the new boat waited. Of course, a stop in Copenhagen was mandatory – at least according to Dina it was – because ‘the best oncologists in the world’ could be found there.

Stockholm was, Taggart soon discovered, called the Venice of the North for a reason. Almost every neighborhood in the city was located on an island, and there were marinas everywhere. And…people everywhere, too…

“Everyone in this city must own a goddam boat!” he growled as they waited for yet another bridge to open. “It’s like Los Angeles at rush hour…only on the water!” It took a day and half just to wind there way through the maze to the open sea, but by then he’d decided the rocky coast was the most enticing sailing grounds he’d ever seen. “You could sail here and never see the same island twice!” The charts for the area were a condensed blur of astonishing detail, as even what appeared to be large rocks had anchorages listed.

Still, while open water beckoned they ran into the same intemperate weather they had experienced in Gothenburg: a huge high pressure system had parked itself over Northern Europe and the region was baking under temperatures reaching the high 90sF. Sailors had to deal with winds most charitably called ‘light and variable’ – which meant breezes so light and capricious that sailing became pointless. Which meant the engine was doomed to power most of Bandit’s trip to Copenhagen. The air conditioner would work overtime too, and when they’d first gotten underway in Stockholm, Dina had ordained that no one spend more than an hour at the wheel while temps remained so extreme.

Taggart detested running the engine – Bandit was a sailboat, after all – but making two knots over the bottom was simply not feasible now. He found that now he was constantly modifying his itinerary to squeeze in new routes that would take them by ‘something they just had to see’ – at least according to this or that guidebook, or according to fellow sailors they met at locks or when berthed at marinas. But August was looming now, which left two – or possibly three months to get to Paris, given his oncologists prevailing timeline, anyway.

But, he reasoned, the bad weather couldn’t last all summer, could it? Whatever, the new boat would be fast, potentially much faster than Time Bandit. With those factors working in his favor, the plan was to pick up Time Bandits and leave Ellös – only heading back towards Copenhagen. Then they’d cut south, making for the eastern entrance to the Kiel Canal, a shortcut that could save a potentially punishing first crossing of the North Sea in an untested boat. The plan from there was, so far at least, unchanged. Duck into the Dutch canal system and head south to Belgium and France. Somewhere along the French coast he’d unship the mast and proceed down the Seine to Paris, then put his feet up and bask in the glow of a handful of memories until…yeah, well…until Shit Happened.

So…leaving the Stockholm Archipelago in their wake, and as the Bandit found the open sea again, Taggart turned to the south and set the autopilot. With that out of the way, Clyde jumped into Henry’s lap and assumed the position, and the pup was soon snoring away. Dina was down in the galley preparing some sort of soup and Rolf was sitting on the bow, lost in wonder no doubt, pondering the meaning of existence without his one true love sitting there by his side…

…when he heard a thunderous roar…just after a concussive blast knocked him to the cockpit floor…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.