the eighty-eighth key, chapter 10

88keykobenhaben

the eighty-eighth key

part 2

chapter 10

She was sitting on the sand enjoying a perfect afternoon at the beach with her father, sifting fine white sand between her toes, watching the way the grains fell and wondering why. Why one grain fell this way and another that way – and what might cause such disparity in action and reaction? Was it gravity, or was there an unseen coefficient of friction at play? Then she looked up as a small breaking wave rippled and came to the beach – and the same question darted through her mind…if each wave is essentially the same, why does each individual wave look and, sometimes, behave differently too?

‘There’s something happening here, something happening beyond…’ she said to herself – but she stopped, lost in a sudden thought, lost in ‘the beyond…’ of the moment.

“But how can things happen in such chaos,” she said next, and so loudly it startled her father.

“What things, daughter?”

“I was looking at the waves, father. Each one is different, though often only in very subtle ways, yet the conditions here are almost uniform. So, why aren’t they identically shaped?”

“Well, are the conditions really identical – even ‘almost’ so? No, really, think about it. Are there sudden shifts in wind direction or strength, even very small shifts, or are there even harder to detect shifts in air pressure? And let’s not even mention the same possible variables happening underwater.” He looked at his daughter, at this little human being by his side, and while he felt a not so modest pride at the workings of her mind, he often observed a strange duality at play.

One moment, just like this one, where Imogen was caught up in the physical world all around them, – engaged with deciphering the inner-workings of nature – he felt little intermezzos within these inner passages…a sudden stillness, then an equally sudden irrational outburst of energy. What was happening, he wondered, within these thoughts?

He felt one coming-on again, right now, and he watched her face, saw manifest curiosity give way to startled fear, and he held out his hand in front of her face and waved it up and down, watching the pupils of her eyes for signs of constriction – but he saw nothing. Inexplicably – nothing. ‘How is this even possible?’ he asked himself as she twitched just then, and suddenly it was as if she was warding off blows from an unseen assailant. 

He grabbed her and held her close, now very much afraid he just might understand what was happening…

“What is it, Imogen? What is happening to you right now?”

She moaned as he hid her face in her father’s robe, then she pushed herself closer – into the scent of the clean fabric and the faraway places she went when she could smell his skin. Her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, pulling herself closer and closer, still trying to escape the grasping fingers of the man in the black cape…

But his cane was out now, and the caped man was conducting a symphony…a symphony in the clouds…as if the storms he summoned were orchestras in and of themselves.

But then she was trying to feel for little variations in wind speed and direction, even the smallest changes in air pressure, yet as the raging storm gathered around her she felt herself smile at the power he summoned…

+++++

Parish was standing at attention, his eyes level and focused dead-ahead, trying not to move a muscle as the colonel read through his personnel file.

“I don’t get it, captain,” the colonel said. He was reputed to be a fine general surgeon – and a career military officer – but suddenly Parish was aware he respected this physician for the choice he’d made. “You’re due to head home in less than a month…and you want to re-enlist?”

“Yessir.”

The old man read a few notes from the file, shook his head more than once, then looked up at Parish again. “I said ‘at-ease,’ doctor. Now, would you sit your ass down and tell me what’s really going on here? Is it a girl?”

Parish sat, tried to gather his well-rehearsed thoughts once again before he began…

“No, sir. I’m not needed at home, Colonel. I don’t need to join a country club and I don’t need the big house. I do need to get back out to the men. I am needed out there…and it’s where I belong…”

“So, you got yourself wounded and now – all-of-a-sudden – you’ve had your ‘Come to Jesus moment’ and want to get back to the trenches. Is that it? Because looking over this file I see a fine surgeon masking as a world-class fuck-up. What happens when this little epiphany of yours fades away? You think the Medical Corps needs a screw-up in the ranks?”

Parish looked down, studied his hands before he spoke again: “I think it’s something more than that, Colonel, but I’m not sure I could even get it into words right now. Anyway, I want to make this official. I want to make this my home, and I want to make taking care of these guys my life’s work. Maybe I don’t really understand where all this is coming from, but I do understand the choice I’ve got to make is right here staring me in the face. And I feel comfortable about it, about the choice I’ve made.”

The colonel nodded, then pulled out a sheaf of carbon-copied papers and handed them over to Parish. “Read ‘em over, Captain. Take your own sweet time about it, too. Maybe a week…or hell, I dunno, a month…then sign ‘em if that’s what you really want to do. But this is a big decision, son, maybe the biggest you’ll ever make. So…you be sure you know what you’re doing before you sign. Okay?”

Parish read through the pack of documents right then and there, then he took one of the black ball-point-pens from the colonel’s desk and began signing his name…in triplicate, and on all the forms. When he was finished he looked up, looked into the colonel’s eyes and he thought he saw recognition in the old surgeon’s eyes. He saw the ribbons on his chest then, too, at least a dozen Korean campaign ribbons, and in that moment Parish felt the old man knew the score. He’d been there once himself, hadn’t he?

When he walked out of the building and into the heavy Hawaiian air he looked up at the flag and felt a gut-punch of pride, because now he knew exactly where he belonged. And why.

But first, he had to scoot over to personnel and see about getting back to C-Med.

+++++

“So, tell me about your mother. What’s going on with her?”

Callahan looked at Stacy Bennett, then down at her plate. “I see you liked the abalone. It’s supposed to be the best in the city.”

She smiled her approval but he could see by the look in her eyes the deflection wasn’t going to work.

He sighed while he rolled some linguini on his fork, but then put it down and looked her in the eye.  “It’s kinda hard to tell from one report to the next. Not being there, not seeing what she’s working on, well…it’s like flying blind…”

“Is she still working on the nuclear stuff?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know…she’s not really stable enough right now – but who knows? I think she works on her music, but I’m not really sure.”

“Works? You mean, she writes music?”

“Yeah, and she’s actually really good, or so I’ve heard. Her first piece was well received, and she was seven years old!” He shook his head as he thought about what he really knew about her, then he sighed. “She wrote at least two more works in the 40s, during the German occupation of Denmark. Very political stuff, supposedly got her in a lot of trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“The concentration camp kind. After they took her to work on some kind of weapons project, and she refused to cooperate. But a lot of people worked behind the scenes to keep her safe.”

Stacy shivered. “How could you ever be safe in a concentration camp.”

Callahan shook his head. “I don’t know. And it’s like a forbidden topic. Avi…he’s kinda like my step-dad…he doesn’t even want me to bring it up. He’s terrified, as a matter of fact, but I think I understand why.”

“You’ve never heard any of her music?”

“No, I haven’t. No recordings were made, and I’ve never heard of printed scores being available commercially, so they’re probably lost works.”

“Have you ever checked? Isn’t there a good dealer here in the city you could check with?”

Harry thought for a moment, then his eyes brightened: “Yeah, there’s Rosenthal’s, an old place over by the park. They have a reputation, I guess, for more popular works, but their staff knows just about everything there is to know about composers.”

“Funny you’ve never asked, don’t you think?”

“Funny? No, not really. I grew up with her stuff, she played all the time when I was growing up, and, well, she was my teacher. I think I’ve already heard all her compositions, just fragments though, one at a time.”

“You want to go? See if they have any information?”

“Where? To Rosenthal’s?”

Stacy nodded and smiled. “It might be fun. Besides, I love watching you play. You have sexy fingers.”

Callahan looked at her, then down at his fingers. “Sexy – fingers?”

“Um-hmm. And I do know from where I speak, Inspector Callahan.”

They hailed a taxi and rode from Fisherman’s Wharf up to the park; they got out by the aquarium, walked on wooded trails between museums and among all the sun-seekers across to the ancient music store and stepped inside.

“It looks like a record store,” Stacy said as she took in the rows and rows of scores. “I never knew such a place exists!”

“It’s more like a museum than a music store, I think. Scores are arranged by genre, and then alphabetically within each genre, but once you get into it you’ll see that genres are almost always a chronological listing. You can just about place each of the genre in here alongside a particular period in history, so once you know someone’s…”

“And where would your mother be? What genre, I mean?”

“That’s the question, I guess. I have no idea.”

“Then we ask,” Stacy said, making her way to a counter.

There was a wizened old man standing there, very short and straight and ancient looking – with a plain black yarmulke covering the back part of his head – and he looked up at Stacy as she approached.

“How may I help you, young lady?”

She smiled, took a deep breath: “A Danish composer from the pre-war era. Imogen…”

“Imogen Schwarzwald?”

“Yes. My friend here, that’s his mother…”

The old man’s head turned slowly, his owlish eyes now fixed on Harry Callahan, his demeanor suddenly steely cold. “Ah, and you are Imogen’s son?”

“Yes, I am,” Callahan said as he got to the counter, “but I thought you knew that. We used to come here a lot, the two of us.”

“I remember.” His eyes narrowed, his face flushed.

“Were any of her works published,” Stacy asked, now looking at the exchange between Harry and the old man with some concern of her own.

The old man turned to Stacy and smiled. “The First and Third concertos we have from time to time, the Second is almost never available.”

“Do you currently have any in stock?” she asked, now clearly perplexed at the interplay going on.

The old man looked at her then shrugged, turned and walked back to a musty office near the rear of the store.

“What is it with that guy,” she whispered. “He looks like some kind of wizard…”

Callahan crossed his arms over his chest and sighed as he watched the old man rummaging around in the office, then he rumbled: “I have no idea. We used to get along, at least we did when my mom was with me. A friend, a girlfriend and I used to come up here almost every weekend…”

And then it hit…and Harry wondered if that was it. If word about June’s death had reached even this quiet little enclave, and if the stain would follow him around forever. Then he saw the old man returning, and he was carrying a very large manilla envelope with him.

When the old man got to the counter he handed the envelope over to Harry, then gave Harry a dismissive flip of the hand. “That’s all I got for you, Mister Harry Callahan. Go now, and please, you don’t come back no time.”

Harry took the envelope but stood his ground, opened the flap and pulled out the contents…

…and Stacy watched the old man. His lips began to tremble, his eyes watered, then he turned away…as if he couldn’t stand to watch what was unfolding any longer…

Callahan looked at the six bound scores with something akin to awe in his eyes, then he noticed an envelope tucked inside the last bound volume and slid it free. He opened this one and pulled out a typed letter, and he slowly began to read through the first page.

By the time he was into the second page his hands were shaking, and by the fourth he was openly weeping – his breath coming in gaping sobs as his mind tried to grasp the meaning behind the images the words conjured. Stacy took the pages and began reading – but she stopped somewhere on the second page and put the letter down on the counter.

The old man looked at them then put the pages back into the envelope, and he did so almost reverentially, Stacy thought, before he gently taped it shut. Before he looked up at Harry.

“You want I should keep this Harry,” the old man asked softly, his voice now a kindly visitor from the past, “or you think maybe I should just throw it away?”

“I’d better take it,” Stacy said as she gently took the envelope from the old man, “until Harry’s calmed down.” 

The old man looked down, though he shuddered once as the envelope left his hand: “What happened in all that,” he whispered to Stacy as he trembled, “shouldn’t have ever happened to another human being. Your mother is a strong soul, Harry, and don’t you never forget it.”

Then the old man came out from behind the counter and walked up to Harry Callahan, and without words coming between the two men they hugged for the longest time, both of them crying again, then the old man pushed away, wiping away his eyes. 

“A lot of us didn’t make it, Harry. They almost got me too but she saved me, Harry, just like she saved so many of us, and she sacrificed herself to do it. When you play the Sonata, the unpublished one, you read this again and you think about what she did. As God is my witness, Harry, I beg you to think about the price she paid every time you even look at this music. Now please, leave an old man in peace, would you?”

+++++

They walked side-by-side through the park, both her arms wrapped tightly around his right, yet they both tried to ignore the weight of history hovering in the air just overhead – and somehow just out of reach. Harry thought about the old man sitting in the Jetstar, thinking about the destruction of his home once again, and the impossible, suffocating reality both Imogen and Avi had endured just to get where they were today. Just to have a little peace before their time on earth was up…

The choices that had been forced on them…the lasting and almost unendurable suffering she had visited on herself…

He hailed a taxi and they rode in silence to his apartment, and once upstairs he took the smaller envelope and placed it in a dresser drawer, then he took the music out and sifted through the bound volumes until he came to the unpublished sonata, and he opened the cover…

The pages had yellowed a little, and the ink had faded some as well, but here it was – exactly as it had been on a very dark night more than thirty years before.

He looked at the notes on page and played them in his mind.

Startling simplicity, yet fresh chords he had never seen spiraled into view and suddenly all he wanted to do was get his fingers to the keyboard…

…but then…there it was again…

He looked towards the Golden Gate and saw a storm rolling in.

The city grew dark as clouds rolled in from the sea, and time itself seemed to dissolve as lightning pierced the sky, followed by thunder that rumbled across the bay, and Stacy joined him by the window.

She winced involuntarily. “That sounds awfully close. And powerful.”

He nodded, if only because the power seemed so familiar.

“It is powerful, Stacy.”

“It’s like a huge hammer – striking an anvil.”

“Maybe.”

She looked at Harry, and the faraway stare in his eyes, but she’d never seen anything like this look before. “Harry? What is it? Is something wrong?”

He turned and looked at the piano, then walked over and sifted through the music once again until he found the unpublished sonata. He opened to the lead and formed the chords in his mind…

“The hammer of God,” he whispered.

“What,” Stacy said as she joined him by the piano. “What did you say?”

“It is a hammer. The hammer of God.” He sat, then pulled himself up to the keyboard and placed the music on the stand, staring at that first chord and wondering where it came from. He thought of her forming such power out of nothingness, her music like the splitting of an atom…but no, that wasn’t quite right, was it?

“No, Stacy,” he said as he moved his hands to form a hammer in the air above the keys, “it’s the hammer of an angry God.”

Across the city thunder rolled and rain fell from a very dark sky, and in a small music shop near the Golden Gate Park an old man fell to his knees and cried, before he leaned back and gazed into the abyss one last time. He raised his hand and made a fist, then he shook with all the fury of an angry God. “I’m coming now, you bastard!” Saul Rosenthal cried. “I’m coming for you now!”

He clutched his chest and settled on his heels, only to smile when he heard the chord – as he heard her infinite music at play amongst the clouds once again. He smiled as the pain grew – until at last the white light came – then he stood strong and pure, ready for the eternal fight to begin again.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and thanks for reading…

[note: I typically don’t put all a story’s acknowledgements until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until the work is finalized. Yet with the current circumstances that might not be the best way to proceed, and I’d hate to have this story stop ‘unexpectedly’ without some mention of these sources. Of course, the source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two Hollywood 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 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 screenplay.]

the eighty-eighth key, chapter 9

88keykobenhaben

the eighty-eighth key

part 2

chapter 9

 

James Parish, MD hardly ever made it to Saigon anymore, not since his little epiphany, anyway.

Which came one night a few months after Tet, and not long after Callahan was sent packing. 

It had been a rough night, with non-stop casualties arriving every fifteen minutes from C-Med’s three forward aid stations. They’d been taking sustained fire all afternoon and into the evening, and yet the operational tempo just kept getting faster and faster. He’d been on his feet in the OR for so many hours he’d lost count, and he knew he had it bad when he went out expecting to find the noonday sun only to find it was well past midnight.

Then real fighting flared-up around Hué City, and soon all the helicopters headed to Phu Bai began diverting to C-Med; before long the parade of Hueys became a nonstop torrent as word of a new offensive reached Parish and the other surgeons huddled in the OR.

Then C-Med began taking fire.

Mortar rounds at first, then a first human wave going for the wire.

More mortar rounds, one just outside the main OR tent, hit inside the perimeter – then something larger than a Huey came in low overhead and the tent started to come apart at the seams – just as more rounds hit and the dirt from each new explosion began raining down on both the surgeons and their patients. Generators went offline and medics were holding flashlights over open chests, and Parish – then desperately trying to resection a perforated bowel – just felt the concussive heat of an explosion milliseconds before the blast-wave hit.

He was thrown across the OR and landed in a heap of something wet, but it was pitch black now – whenever now was – and then he realized he had absolutely no idea when or where ‘now’ was…

Someone tripped and fell on top of him – which is probably what saved his life. Several Viet Cong stormed inside the tent just then and lay down a continuous barrage of fire, killing most of the doctors and all of the wounded inside…just before the noise level went up even more as several jets arced in, dropping napalm just outside the perimeter…providing cover for dozens of helicopters arriving to offload reinforcements.

When help finally got to what was left of the OR, Parish was found face down in an open belly, pinned under an overturned operating table, yet he was alive. Barely, he thought, because his ears were ringing and that had to be a good thing.

He’d been hit in both thighs and lost a lot of blood, but all he was aware of was someone swabbing his arm then starting an IV – before he realized he was in a Huey, before he faded away inside an impossible new world.

When he opened his eyes, he saw the Constellation out an open door and watched the Huey flare over the stern of the carrier – then he winced after the helicopter came down hard. More hands lifted his gurney and he could feel the heavy sea air washing over his soul – and just as suddenly he knew he was going to die…

‘What a waste,’ he thought. ‘All the things I could’ve done, the people I could’ve helped…’

He squinted as corpsmen muscled him through a hatch and then around densely-arrayed medical equipment, and he swallowed hard when he saw the huge domed surgical lights suspended from the ceiling. 

“He’s one of the docs from C-Med,” he heard someone say. “A surgeon, I think. Heard he was in the main tent.”

“Jesus…” another disembodied voice said: “He’s lucky to be with us tonight.”

Then he saw a masked man leaning over, shining a light in his eyes. “Got a bleeder in your thigh, doc. We’ll patch you up and get you on your way…”

“So…this is it,” Jim Parish thought. “This is what it feels like to die.”

His eyes closed and that was that.

+++++

“So, you’re Callahan,” the woman stated matter-of-factly. “Heard you had a pretty fucked-up afternoon.”

Harry, trailing Frank and Cathy, had just walked up to Captain Bennett to stand behind the coals – and to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible – when Stacy Bennett sidled over to the brick grill.

“Yup,” Harry said as leaned over and plucked an ice-cold Oly from the open tub of ice. “And who might you be?”

“Harry, say hello to Stacy. She’s visiting for a few weeks, so try not to scare her too much, okay?”

Callahan blinked twice and scrunched-up his nose while he held out his right hand. “Howdy,” he managed to say, but he was still scoping her out, trying to get a bead on her…and trying not to let his first impressions run away screaming into the night…

“So,” she began – apparently wanting to dive right into the deep-end, “Sam tells me you nailed that Scorpio fucker today?”

Callahan nodded before he took a long pull from the beer, and then he tried – unsuccessfully – to stifle a huge burp.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at Callahan, who turned away – red-faced.

“Hey, bring it up again and we’ll vote on it…” Stacy said, grinning. “That was really impressive. Do that on all your first dates?”

The word ‘date’ registered and Harry turned – wide-eyed – and looked at Captain Bennett.

Who grinned and shrugged, kind of all at the same time, before looking away and turning a steak on the grill.

Harry was beginning to think this girl was into sports, like maybe she played linebacker for the Bears or the Packers, but he still hadn’t figured her out yet – and that bothered him. Too many mixed signals, he thought, so he reached into the tub of ice and plucked out a longneck and handed it to her.

“Your turn,” Callahan said, inexplicably throwing down a gauntlet.

She popped the cap with practiced ease and took the entire contents down in one go, then she leaned back a little and shook her head before letting it rip…

The Bennett’s dog stopped dead in its tracks – the hair on the back of its neck standing on end – then the pup inched away from the eruption before finally turning and running into the house.

“Holy shit, Stacy,” a stunned Captain Bennett muttered under his breath, “they heard that one over in Oakland…”

Callahan nodded in approval, then watched as she reached into the tub and handed him another bottle. He looked at Bennett – who was shaking his head and trying not to smile – then noticed Frank had just walked over with one of Bennett’s boys in-tow.

He popped the top and guzzled it down, then pinched off his nose and hopped up and down a few times before letting his chin drop low, then…

…he opened his mouth just a little and let it begin…

It started as kind of a high-pitched tearing sound before Callahan formed a wider ‘O’ shape with his mouth, and this modulated the magmatic rumble somewhat – before the main thrust burst across the back yard.

Neighbors stopped what they were doing in their backyards and looked up at the sky.

“Way to go, Callahan,” Frank beamed. “That sounded just like a sewer main breaking in half.”

“Smells like it, too,” Captain Bennett growled, still shaking his head.

“So?” Callahan said, looking Stacy Bennett right in the eye. “You concede, or do we continue?”

“Uh, Harry,” Frank said, coming to his side and taking him in-tow by the elbow, frog-marching him to the sidelines. “Look man, you gotta watch what you’re doin’ here. You get three or four beers in that broad and you ain’t gonna know what hit you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look, man, just don’t do it… You’re playin’ with fire…know what I mean?”

“Uh, no…I don’t.”

Bullitt shook his head. “Okay man, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

When they got back to the grill Stacy was downing number three – and Bullitt looked-on in wide-eyed alarm as she started hopping across the yard on one leg…then she leaned back to prime the pump…

…and fell backwards onto the lawn, laughing all the way down – with a stream of beer flying out her nose…

+++++

Dinner was more of the same, if a little more sedate, until Bennett’s son asked if anyone had seen the new Mel Brooks movie that had been out a few weeks. “It’s called Blazing Saddles, and it’s got the funniest scene ever,” he said.

“Oh?” Captain Bennett looked up, wondering what the punch-line was.

“Yeah, a bunch of cowboys sitting around a campfire eating beans, then one by one they all start farting. It’s like the biggest, loudest farting contest of all time…”

Captain Bennett’s face turned ice white, then he saw Stacy scorching around in her chair, getting ready to lift a cheek…

“Stacy!” Bennett roared. “Don’t you do it! Not in my house…”

But of course, he spoke too late.

+++++

He woke some time later in a sun-bathed, wind-swept room, tall palms swaying in a gentle breeze just beyond a wall of tall windows. He looked around the large room, trying to make sense of his surroundings – until he figured it all out and a stream of unwanted memory came crashing down, swamping his soul.

‘This is a post-op floor,’ he said under his breath as his eyes swept the familiar contours of a military hospital ward, then he remembered someone on the Constellation saying he’d be moved to Hawaii…

“So here I am.”

“No shit, Sherlock.”

He turned to the unseen voice, saw half a man propped-up on a hospital bed, the not-yet-healed stumps where both his legs had been amputated in full view – and in a flash of dread he reached down and felt for his own…

‘Still there,’ he sighed as he turned to his roommate. “How long have I been here?”

“They brought you in last night, from Subic…I think.”

He felt for the catheter he knew must be there and just as quickly he wanted to talk to somebody, anybody, about his wounds and the proposed treatment plan…but most everyone in the ward was asleep and he couldn’t see a nurse or any other attendant on duty. “Anyone working the floor?” he asked his neighbor.

He saw the scorn behind the man’s derisive laugh and knew the score. After Tet, and especially after Mÿ Lai, recruitment had fallen off a cliff – and now almost all medical staff had to be drafted – or otherwise induced to serve. He shook his head, because all he could think about was getting back to C-Med, to his responsibilities and duties there.

An orderly walked by a few minutes later and Parish asked the kid to stop – but he walked on by without even looking his way. A few minutes later the kid returned and a seething Parish barked a command to the kid…who skidded to a stop this time.

“Private, I’m Captain James Parish,” he yelled, “United States Army Medical Corp, and I need to see the physician in charge of this ward –– and right this fucking minute. Do I make myself clear?”

The kid scoffed as he shook his head on the way off the floor, and Parish’s neighbor leaned-back and sighed. “Man, you better just sit back and enjoy the ride ‘cause your regular army rules don’t work in this place. B’sides, you a short timer, so might as well just lay back and chill.”

“What do you mean, ‘short-timer?’”

“This a Navy hospital, Cap. They sending you someplace stateside.”

A minute or so later a Navy ensign walked onto the floor and over to Parish, looking over a chart as he came. The ensign looked up as he stopped by Parish’s side, but the man looked more than a little angry. “What’s on your mind, Captain?”

“I’d like to know my condition and, if you don’t mind, anything else you can tell me about what’s going on would be appreciated.”

By this point all eyes in the ward were on Parish, even the kids on morphine had propped themselves up to take a look at this new floor-show…

“So, you want me to read out your labs, maybe? Like you’d know what the fuck I’m talking about…”

“Try me.”

The ensign laughed at that. “Yeah? And where’d you get your fuckin’ MD?”

“Stanford.”

The ensign stiffened a little: “Excuse me?”

“You asked where I got my MD. Stanford University. I did my internship at Mass General and had just finished the second year of my residency in thoracic surgery when I got my invitation to this little party.”

“You’re a physician,” the ensign said.

“Oh, you’re a smart one,” Parish barked. “You’ll go far in this world. Now, would you let me have a look at my chart, or do I need to call my father? Oh, by the way, he’s chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, if that helps.”

The ensign blanched as he handed the clipboard over, and he watched as Parish flipped through the surgical notes and his post-op records.

“Let me take a look at the wound,” he said when he’d finished reading and had just looked up at the ensign.

As the ensign bent over and pulled away the gauze the smell hit them both; Parish already knew what he’d find but the red streaks running up his thigh and into his groin startled him nonetheless.

“Could I use your pen, please,” Parish asked, then he started by writing down the names of all the soil microbes he’d been exposed to at C-Med – and how to treat them. “I’d recommend you start treating by…”

And by the time the ensign left the floor Parish felt like he’d just taught a quick course in tropical medicine – but suddenly he noticed all the kids on the floor were looking at him. A few were smiling, but for the most part the rest looked scared as hell – because the doc taking care of them apparently didn’t know jack – and just as suddenly Parish knew he was responsible for their fear.

The ensign returned with a couple of nurses a few minutes later and began hanging bags on his IV tree, then the ensign surprised the hell out of him – and everyone else in the room:

“If we can get you into a chair, could you help me with rounds?”

Parish crawled back into his bed ten hours later.

+++++

Callahan sat up in bed and yawned, then he stood and made his way to the can…

His eyes were lost somewhere between dead and half-shut, so he thought about making coffee – until he heard someone snoring…

…and all in a rush he remembered taking shots of tequila – an impossible number of them – with Frank and Cathy. 

And – Stacy Bennett?

He spun around and looked at the inert mass in his bed, then down at his dick…

“How could you do this to me, you asshole?” he said to his now flaccid member.

“Hey man,” his dick replied, “I just go where the driver points the car, ya know?”

“But…but…how COULD you?”

“Look Dude, I got some hot 4-1-1 for you, but they all feel alike to me. You got that?”

Callahan shook his head and jumped into the shower, wondering what the etiquette was in a situation like this…as the scalding hot water beat down on his traitorous…

But then he heard someone sitting on the pot, a tequila-soaked stream blasting the bowl before the inevitable flush. Then the curtain parted ways and Stacy Bennett stepped into the shower with him…and his first instinct was to run. To run like hell.

She was almost his height and he guessed she had ten pounds on him, then he remembered her sitting on his face and he wanted to recalibrate this thinking, maybe work on that number a little…

Then, with a bar of soap in hand, she began washing his sodden dick – and against his wishes he felt the thing stiffening in the breeze…

“What are you doing, Peckerhead!” he screamed at his dick.

“Hey Amigo, mi casa es su casa…know what I mean?”

Callahan closed his eyes, tried to remember Mr Kohl’s Algebra II class and how to work through quadratic equations – backwards – but it was no use…

“You worthless prick!” Callahan screamed at his dick. “What the fuck…?!”

Then she was on her knees, taking him in her mouth; violent swirls led to buckling knees and just as surely as one thing leads to another and faster than you can say ‘Jimmie-crack-corn…’ she was hitting the short-strokes and Callahan was clawing at the shower walls…

She stood a moment later and smiled at him, her mouth a spume-filled chasm that defied further description, and then he realized she was moving-in to kiss him…

The shower curtain-rod exploded into a million pieces as he fell out of the bathroom, but then he realized he was naked and didn’t even know where to run…

+++++

“I come across like that,” Stacy said, her eyes still red from crying, “and I guess because I grew up in a house full of cops.”

“Look, I’m sorry about…”

“Harry, you don’t have to apologize. I know I’m not Twiggy, but dammit-all, I like men. I like being with men, spending time like we did last night…”

“Look, about last night…”

“Harry, stop it. It’s not like I expect you to propose, so just calm down…would you?”

He nodded, but even so he was finding it hard to look her in the eye.

“Anyway, I liked last night. Not the sex – which was great, by the way – but just shootin’ the shit with you guys. Even Cathy was fun to be with…”

“She’s having a hard time with Frank and the whole police thing,” Harry added.

“Not as hard as you might think, Harry. Besides, she loves Frank about as much as one person can love another, so I wouldn’t worry too much about them.”

“You’ve known them for a while, haven’t you?”

She nodded. “Yeah. He was one of Sam’s first recruits to work homicide. He rebuilt the whole division around Frank after the whole Fanducci and Dietrich thing…”

Callahan looked down at his hands and shook his head…

“No one blames you, Harry. Especially not Sam. But ya know, he’s got a lot riding on you guys. Dell and Carl, Early and even some of the old hands like Frank DiGiorgio. He’s building a team around you guys.”

“Pardon me for saying so, but you seem to know an awful lot about the department. How so?”

She looked away for a while, then turned and looked Callahan in the eye. “I help Sam with stuff.”

“Stuff?”

“Look Harry, I really like you, ya know? I don’t want anything to get between us, if you know what I mean.”

Callahan shrugged. “No, I’m not sure I do.”

“I come to the City a couple of times a year to see the boys, usually Christmas and Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t mind seeing you too, ya know?”

He was studying her as she spoke, her eyes for the most part. Deep brown with little green flecks here and there; she had strong eyes, a strong face. Character, he thought. Even her hair – deep brown with a few silver streaks just showing up – somehow seemed intrinsically honest…then it hit him…

“Are you a cop?” he asked, and he watched her turn away again. ‘Bingo,’ he said to himself.

Then she turned to face him again, but now she looked defeated.

“So? What department do you work for?”

“I work in Boston.”

“Boston PD? That’s cool…” But he stopped talking when she shook her head.

“I work for the FBI, Harry. I’m the assistant SAC – in Boston.”

Callahan nodded.

“So that’s it, huh? No more Harry Callahan, I guess,” she said as she reached for her purse…

But Callahan put his hand out and covered hers. “I didn’t say that.”

“No, you didn’t.”

They looked at one another, each afraid to break the spell, each afraid of their past, afraid for all the right reasons, but Harry kept looking into her eyes, and the more he looked the more he liked what he felt.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and thanks for reading…

[note: I typically don’t put all a story’s acknowledgements until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until the work is finalized. Yet with the current circumstances that might not be the best way to proceed, and I’d hate to have this story stop ‘unexpectedly’ without some mention of these folks. Of course, the source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two Hollywood 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 Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well as Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s screenplay.]

the eighty-eighth key, chapter 8

88keykobenhaben

the eighty-eighth key

part II

chapter eight

Imogen Schwarzwald grew up in a room filled with the sunny warmth of late spring mornings, even though the world she looked over was decidedly mercantilist. When she was just old enough to take a peek and see this world for herself, she would push a little step-stool to the window and climb-up onto the ornate sill and look out the room’s large window – over a sea of red tile rooftops to one of Copenhagen’s commercial waterfronts. The masts of a few large sailing vessels were still visible in those days, though steamships had by the early 1920s replaced most of them, yet these wharves in the 1920s were nevertheless hives of bustling activity. Of more import to Imogen’s story, a music conservatory was located just behind the Schwarzwald residence. So, consider her mercantilist view of the world was often framed by mesmerizing orchestral works, and as such her worldview developed within this contrapuntal sonata.

And it did not hinder matters that her mother was a pianist, not to mention a composer of some modest repute, so Imogen’s early weltanschauung was well-informed by an atmosphere of early musical training, not to mention broad musical accomplishment. Perhaps this never-ending cascade of sight and sound contributed too much to her development, but that’s something we’d hardly be in a position to know from our vantage point, but consider how the frenetic music of commercial activity stood beside the measured cadence of Bach day in and day out before you draw your own conclusions.

Yet of equal, and perhaps of even greater importance, Imogen’s earliest artistic nature stood in stark relief to her father’s. 

Aaron Schwarzwald had been a physician all his working life, and though originally trained as a surgeon, an accident and brutal injury left him little recourse but to pursue a career in psychiatry in later life. Confined to a wheelchair and always in great pain, he’d spent a good deal of time with Imogen when she was a child, and had taught her all that he could – which was indeed a magnificent bestowal by any measure.

So imagine if you will a seven year old girl who by that tender age was very nearly fluent in the languages of Beethoven and Einstein and who, on the occasion of her seventh birthday presented her first composition, a modest piano concerto, at the music conservatory behind her father’s house. Her work was at the time hailed as the product of an uncompromising genius, and she remembered an old man in a cape that night – and for many years thereafter – who told her that she was destined to enjoy a glorious career in music.

Which, curiously enough, impressed Imogen Schwarzwald not at all.

Because already her life was caught between two opposing tides – the artist’s more decadent world of light and shadow and, because of her father’s tireless influence, the unyielding precision of scientific hypothesis and experimentation – yet in the end she was her father’s daughter most of all. His settled view of the world, patient and methodical in the extreme, proved a more comfortable fit to the young girl…much more so than the often dilettantish phantasmagoria of Copenhagen’s fin-de-siècle haute bourgeoisie. 

But there is an uneasy cohesion between the water’s ebb and flow, isn’t there; surely one cannot have one influence without the other?

Imogen was born the year after the first Great War began to slowly fade from view, and so it came to pass that she developed within one of the most potent eras of intellectual achievement the world has ever known. And though you may not know this, Copenhagen was one of the most important – no, vital centers of academic free-expression in the world – and further, consider that by the 20s Copenhagen was a city in very good company indeed. London and Berlin, perhaps, were more advanced centers of scientific investigation at the beginning of this period, Vienna and Paris perhaps so as well, and of course those in America would be nominating Boston’s inclusion on such a list, yet the point to be made here is a far simpler one: Copenhagen was a center of academic research second to none and, during the first thirty-three years of the new century, research into the nature of the subatomic world blossomed here.

And it was to this other world that Imogen Schwarzwald belonged most of all.

+++++

The birth of the scientific worldview that came to dominate the twentieth-century coincided with a brief, last flourishing of Jewish culture in Europe, and more than a few historians have gone so far as to claim that, rather like the tides, one simply could not have existed without the other. Steeped as it was in the religious constructs of the Old Testament, this community had long valued the cohesive spiritual needs of family and community like few before and, perhaps, this cohesiveness grew into, over time, a fount of virulent resentment – but such statements are rife with stupefying, even offensive oversimplification. And let us just add that by the 1920s anti-semitism was, and not for the first time, growing into a divisive populist force within European culture and politics, so let us resolve here and now to accept European anti-semitism as fact and simply leave it at that. What good does it do to dwell too long in the darkness?

+++++

If your eyes are not yet accustomed to such darkness, perhaps you might understand that this anti-semitism was hardly a salient part of young Imogen Schwarzwald’s life, because in Denmark such hateful things tended to happen elsewhere, in cities such as London and Berlin, Vienna and Paris, and yes, even in such egalitarian ‘cities on a hill’ as Boston. Even so, by the time Imogen was thirteen years old, the darker undercurrents of this resurgent illiberal virus were once again surging into view. Standing around the precipitous well of the past as we are now in the early years of the twenty-first century, peering yet again into such darkness is not so easily imagined, yet it was certainly even less so for a young girl who had grown up assiduously protected from such things.

But please, do keep in mind that as you fall into the well, as your mind struggles to adapt to the darkness as you fall, you may very well see flickers of light as time passes, yet it is best to understand that people see what they want to see even as they fall, and that there is no light at the bottom of the well save what you carried with you on your way through the depths.

+++++

The Arts, or more broadly speaking painting, music and, perhaps not so sadly, literature, have come to represent to many people a peculiar form of decadence commonly associated with a pervasive loosening of social mores. Think Caligula and pre-Christian pole-dancing during the waning days of the Roman Empire and you’d not be too far off the mark, but recall that the Arts have been well represented through time by people of all creeds and ‘races,’ and that ultra-conservative fascists of the 1920s and 30s, in Russia, Germany and elsewhere, tended to view most artists with more than a little suspicion. And consider this as well: for these leaders Art was either something that could be harnessed and used to advance the objectives of the state…or it was problematically much more subversive to the aims of the state and had to be pushed aside.

And you might ask why? Why…the need to be crush Art? What is it about a painting or a piece of music that can be so overwhelmingly subversive that the full power of the state is required to weaken its influence…?

Why, indeed…?

+++++

Perhaps in different times and space other little girls have experienced the same forces, if only from slightly different perspectives.

Take, for instance, a little girl in South Vietnam. A girl we’ve come to know as An Linh, and to most who’d known her she was indeed a Peaceful Soul – though to many men, to the soldiers and reporters who frequented the Caravelle Hotel’s bar, she was and always would be known simply as Cat. An Linh, like all the others in her family, lived in the shadow of her father’s career working for the French legation in Saigon, so when the war for reunification began in the early 1950s, such ‘collaborators’ were among the first targeted. An Linh, if nothing but a Peaceful Soul, soon found herself all alone in the world and growing up in a series of Catholic ‘homes for unwanted children.’ Turned-out on the street just after her fourteenth birthday, An Linh possessed a basic education – she could read and write French and, to a degree, Vietnamese. Yet there had always been those around her, even in those impressionable days before the Americans came, who had convinced An Linh that her greatest attribute was her astonishing physical beauty. Any number of men, mainly older men from France but other round eyes from Europe too, engaged An Linh’s services as a model when an agency signed her, and for a few years she made enough to get by, though nothing more. Yet consider this: for a teenager this degree of self-sufficiency was intoxicating, and it forever colored An Linh’s worldview.

Even so, An Linh remained a curious creature of South Vietnam’s hazy gray shadowlands. Many orphans were branded – some with justification, depending on your point of view – as the children of collaborators. Not a daft girl, she remained an elusive, fearful soul, never living in one place for long and growing justifiably suspicious when strangers asked about her whereabouts. Her modeling assignments became less frequent as a result, her economic self sufficiency much less resilient – yet what she still possessed she could deploy with great skill.

So, An Linh became, for a time, the type of model most often seen in less reputable magazines – if that turn of phrase suits your world view more comfortably. At first, and for much less money, she appeared in glossy pictorials that featured lots of slinky underwear, and little else. Soon enough, though for more money, such clothing disappeared. Within a few months she found her prospects taking off, literally, when she agreed to take off all her clothing in front of a motion picture camera. Then, inevitably, she was asked to ‘perform’ with another man, and it all came so easily after that. One man, then two or three, then a man and a woman…until the only thing left was two women, or sometimes more.

And she became self-sufficient once again, and for a time, even prosperous. But this is an old story, isn’t it? Just one more torch-lit mirrored-hall we see in the darkness as we fall, because you’ll always find such places in the well of the past.

+++++

Imogen Schwarzwald began university soon after her fifteenth birthday. She was, as we’ve mentioned, already considered a prodigy in music, but we should mention also in mathematics, though by the time she entered university, music had all but disappeared from her life – yet this drift away from music might be seen as, perhaps, the oddest part of her story.

She was ten when this change came about. An age when life still presents little mysteries from time-to-time, before we finally grow jaded and unimpressed by such things as ghosts and goblins and circus clowns. She was with her father for two weeks that summer, down at their little seaside cottage on the island of Ærø. There were vast strands of white, sandy beaches on the island, and cool ocean breezes blew in off the sea almost every afternoon, yet what most impressed ten-year-old Imogen was the variety of clouds that formed in the noonday sky – and how they morphed during the afternoon into shapes both benign and, well, sinister.

Her father’s cottage was a pastel melange of creams and pale yellows, though topped with the obligatory red tile roof, and there were still gaslights along the boardwalk that led into town, and to the railway station. She loved to watch the lamplighter as he came along in the evening, setting all the little globes ablaze as he passed. And after all the late afternoon insects disappeared in the darkness, men and women could soon be seen strolling down the boardwalk, a few hand-in-hand but most just swept up in the moment…

One evening, just as the lamplighter passed, she watched a spry old man walking along with a bird perched on his shoulder, and she immediately assumed he was a sea captain. She was sitting on the cottage’s front porch at the time, watching the clouds in their sky as night came and stole away all the day’s best colors, but the sight of this unexpected old man was something new and utterly strange.

As he drew near she saw he was dressed all in black, even the short cape he wore was the shade of deepest night, and she shivered when she saw the bird on his shoulder – for it too was the very same black. Who, she wondered, walked with a raven on their shoulder…?

He stopped once and looked out to sea, and then the strangest thing happened.

The old man walked with the help of a cane, and just then he tapped the cane on the boardwalk twice – and Imogen jumped when two bolts of lightning flickered somewhere along the far horizon.

Then the old man smiled at the sky – as if he alone had commanded the lightning.

She watched as the old man resumed his walk a moment later, but when the hair on the back of her neck tingled she felt like running away and hiding under her bed. Still, she remained frozen in place as he came along the boardwalk, coming ever closer to her father’s cottage in the night.

“Well, hello there,” the old man said as he came to the little white picket fence guarding the house. He studied her for a moment – almost quizzically, with a wry twinkle in his eye and a sly grin forming in the shadows. “I think I know you.”

She was too afraid to speak, too fearful of the immense power she felt radiating from inside the man’s eyes, but she managed to shake her head.

He brought a manicured hand to his face and stroked his chin for a moment, as if the act of divining would somehow spur forth the memory. “Let me see,” he sighed. “Ah yes, the conservatory! Imogen Schwarzwald! I was at the very first performance of your concerto! What a brilliant piece, so many cunning transitions!”

His words seemed to draw her out, as if his awareness of her abilities made him somehow less threatening. She smiled at him, seemed to curtsy in the smallest measure possible.

“And where is your father? Isn’t he with you this evening?”

She nodded. “He’s getting tobacco for his pipe.”

“Ah. A fine evening it is, then. Very fine indeed. Were you watching the clouds just now?”

She nodded again, looked away to the horizon – but all was quiet now. “How did you do that?” she whispered, then she turned to look the old man in the eye.

“How did I do what?”

“With your cane. Did you summon the lightning?”

He laughed at that. “Oh, indeed. Yes, of course I did. Would you like to see me do so again?”

She nodded her head, wanting to believe such things were possible – yet at the same time hoping it could never be – then she saw him studying the sky, as if waiting for just the right moment…

With his cane in hand he gently tapped the boardwalk once and then pointed to his left with the brass handle, and lightning barely flickered far out to sea – exactly where he had pointed – then he turned to her: “Is that what you wanted to see?”

She nodded again. “Yes. How do you know when to tap the cane?”

“How do I…” he said, genuine disappointment on his face. “But…I don’t – know. I command, and the sky obeys!”

And then she shook her head. “That’s not true. Nobody can do that.”

“Ah…is that so?”

“Yes.”

“And how do you know that? Have you not seen someone do that before?”

“No one can do that…”

And on hearing those words the suddenly angry old man swung his cane in a violent arc across the sky, then hammered the brass tip into the boardwalk…

…and an enormous bolt of ragged light arced from the tip of the cane into the heavens above…

The effects were cataclysmic, knocking Imogen off her feet, scorching flowers in the garden by her side, and she lay there – in shock – blinded by the light and struggling to breathe…

And then she saw him standing overhead, looking down on her as if he was studying an insect on a leaf. “And tell me, Imogen, what have you just seen? Do you not believe what you have seen with your eyes, or perhaps this has this been nothing but a child’s dream…?”

She found herself sitting up in bed, sweat rolling down her face. A violent storm was raging outside, her wide-open window letting gales of wind pour into her room, the little lace curtains fluttering to a ragged cadence called down from above. She ran to the window to pull it tight, then staggered back as soon as she saw the old man down there on the boardwalk…walking away into the night – waving his cane at the sky as bolt after bolt of lightning cracked across the darkness…

+++++

He was out of his jurisdiction now, truly well and gone and almost completely out of his mind, too. Standing on a Southern Pacific railroad trestle, watching the yellow school bus as it exited the 101…

He timed his jump perfectly, dodged bullets through the roof as the bus careened to a stop near the gravel pit…

He chased Scorpio through the works – then out to a pond beyond the slag-heaps, confronting him when he took a little boy hostage, shooting him in the shoulder once – then once again – center mass.

When all was said and done he threw his shield into the water, watched it sink as small fish gathered near the corpse’s eyes and began their unexpected feast.

What a waste… what a waste… what a waste…

The words kept tumbling out of his mind as he ran through the calculus again and again…

In a world full of lawyers, and worse still, in a world of, by and for the lawyers, what chance did civilization have? Yeah, sure, in the abstract man had rights, had to have rights, but Scorpio wasn’t a man – any more than Hitler or Stalin were men. They were monsters, ego-driven soul-crushers who had forfeited all such rights in their mad quests to control – everything. Once you’ve identified a monster, law enforcement has been civilization’s first line of defense, and it was up to the cops to either take them out or let the monsters loose to roam free and untouched through the criminal justice system…

But the system was imploding, self-destructing under the weight of too many internal contradictions, this withering away of safeguards orchestrated by all those deranged men and women in their black robes…

He sat there, the sun beating down on his neck, listening to the sirens and waiting for the inevitable questioning by internal affairs, then the guessing and second guessing by rooms full of lawyers who weren’t there on the scene and who could never really understand what was really at stake out here.

“What a waste…” he said to Scorpio, the man’s silent eyes a muted accusation. Then he felt footsteps coming out the little jetty…

“Harry? You alright?”

It was Frank. The only friend he had in this world. “Yeah. I’m tactical.”

He felt Bullitt sit down by his side, heard him take-in a deep breath. “Nice shot, Harry. And I really like the expression on his face. Did you go in and fix it like that?”

“What?”

“He looks like a fuckin’ frog, man. You do that?”

Harry laughed, started to come back to the world, then he thought about the kid…

Callahan stood and jogged over to the boy, held him tight while he cried it out, then he helped the kid gather his fishing gear and walked him over to Delgetti and Stanton. “Better get his statement,” Harry said before walking back to the pond.

Marin County deputies were pulling up on-scene now, even a local from Sausalito appeared, and Callahan gave them statements before driving back to the city with Frank.

“Bunch of people saw it go down, Harry. No doubt what happened, so I doubt this will go to IAD or the grand jury.”

Callahan shook his head. “I threw away my shield, Frank. I’ve had enough.”

“Gonna call it quits, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“So, what are you gonna do. Get a job playing in a cocktail bar? A tip jar, maybe, to call your own?”

“I dunno.”

“Well, you might give it some thought before we get to Bennett’s office, but personally I don’t think that’s such a hot career move.”

“There’s no way we can win this war, Frank. There are too many lawyers out here, to many rules, and none of them are working out in our favor.”

“Yeah? So fucking what? If you’re thinking we’re never gonna win this ‘war’ – if that’s what you really think this is – let me just tell you right now you’re one hundred percent right. We’re not supposed to win or, for that matter, lose. If anything we’re stuck in the outfield playing defense; it’s the umpires calling the plays, Harry. You got to wrap your head around that, and in a hurry, or you’ll go out of your fucking mind.

They were southbound on the Golden Gate and the afternoon fog was just forming a few miles out, the falling sun shining on the bay and the skyline beyond. “It’s a beautiful city, ya know,” Harry said.

“Yeah, and it’s worth fighting for, too. Worth saving, don’t you think?”

“Yeah.”

“We didn’t make the system, Harry, but I guess we play by the rules – until we can’t. Then we have to bend them a little. Know what I mean?”

Harry looked at that face-splitting grin and nodded. “Yeah, Frank. Thanks.”

They pulled into Division a half hour later and Bennett debriefed Callahan, took a few notes then called the mayor’s office. When he was done he turned to Frank: “Hot dogs at seven-thirty sharp. Bring Cathy if you want,” Bennett said before turning his attention to Callahan. “You got a girl yet, or have you decided to join an order?”

Harry shrugged, tried to deflect the tone in Bennett’s voice by turning away – but Bennett wasn’t having any today.

“Well, my kid sister’s in town and will be with us tonight. Would you mind keeping her company while I handle the coals?”

Harry gave a brief, noncommittal nod – though he caught the look in Bullitt’s eye too late to help, then wondered if the girl looked like a water buffalo – or worse, like Captain Bennett…

Frank and Harry walked out of Bennett’s office to the elevators and it was all Callahan could do to keep a lid on it; when the doors slid shut he turned to Bullitt…

“Okay, what gives?”

But Bullitt just flashed his grin. “You’ll find out. Want us to pick you up on the way out, or have you finally decided to buy a car?”

“I told you, I’ll buy a car when I can find a place to park it.”

“Okay, so you’re never going to buy a car.”

Callahan grinned. “So, you’ve seen this sister of his before?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“And…?”

Bullitt shrugged. “We’ll pick you up out front at seven,” he said as the elevator doors opened – then he disappeared towards the garage…before Callahan could get another word out…

“Swell,” Callahan muttered, wondering just what the hell he’d gotten himself into this time.

+++++

She saw the old man in the cape two nights after their first encounter, but this time she was sitting on the front porch with her father.

The old man stopped and leaned on his cane from time to time, and as he appeared to be having trouble breathing her father had taken note and begun to follow his progress along the boardwalk…

“What’s wrong with him,” she asked when she noticed her father’s attention now focused on the old man.

“Looks like heart failure. Can you see his lips, how blue they are?”

“Yes? What does that mean?”

“Oxygenated blood isn’t getting to more distant parts of his body…”

“Like his hands and feet?” she added.

“That’s right,” her father said as he looked from the old man to his little girl. “You’ve been listening to my little lectures after all, haven’t you?”

“I always listen to you, Papa. To everything you say.”

“I know you do, Imogen. No man could ask for a more perfect daughter.”

The old man continued his halting way along the boardwalk until he was just about at her father’s house, then he stopped again to catch his breath…

“Do you see his nail-beds?” her father asked.

“His what?”

“The tissue under his fingernails. See how blue it is? That’s oxygen deprivation, caused by blood leaving via the pulmonary artery without enough oxygen in it. The poor sod won’t last much longer in this state…”

The old man resumed his walk until he came to their gate – then he paused yet again – only this time he turned to face her…

…and now he didn’t look in the least bit ill. No, far from it. His eyes were drenched in cold fury and wings of rancid anger suddenly beat the air over their little front yard; she turned to look at her father but he was very still now and she grew very afraid.

“It was him, wasn’t it?” the old man said.

“What have you done to my father!”

“He’s the one.”

“The one – what?”

“You stopped playing the piano because of him.”

“That’s not tr…”

“Do not lie to me, child,” the old man thundered, suddenly swinging the cane overhead and summoning a wall of boiling thunderstorms out of the clear blue sky. He slammed the cane onto the walk and a hideous wail seemed to peal from the air itself, then jagged bolts erupted from the earth and leapt to the sky.

His furies spent a moment later, the old man’s eyes locked on hers once again.

“He didn’t do it!” she screamed. “It was my choice! Mine!”

“Liar!” came the old man’s deafening reply, and this time great gouts of blue-white power radiated from his eyes – as if some sort of cruel power was building up within the earth itself.

“No! Please, no!” she cried. “What can I say? What can I do to convince you?”

And at once everything was as it had been, only now the old man was bent over from his disease, blue-lipped and desecrated, a line of sweat forming over his ragged breath…

…then her father stepped from the porch and went to the old man…

“May I help you, sir?” Aaron Schwarzwald said as he stood beside the old man, taking his wrist in hand and feeling for a distal pulse.

“I know you,” the old man said. “Schwarzwald, isn’t it? You’re a surgeon at the Rigshospitalet, are you not?”

“Yes, that’s correct. Do I know you, sir?”

“Oh, we met once upon a time. Years and years ago I think it was, when you were still quite young, but I last saw you when your daughter played her new piece, the piano concerto.”

“At the conservatory?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Ah, yes. I think I recall seeing you there. What a strange…”

“Coincidence?” the old man said, smiling. “Perhaps so. Do you think I could hear Imogen play this evening? It would mean so much to me,” he said, his voice now almost ingratiating – even if disingenuously so.

Aaron wanted to protest but the look in the old man’s eyes stayed the looming objection. “Certainly, sir. Please, lean on me. Imogen? Could you put the water on for some tea, please?”

She felt light-headed, like the ground she was walking on was about to give way underfoot as she led the way into her father’s house. She watched them climb the steps, watched as they stepped inside and as the old man took a seat in her father’s favorite chair, the smile on his face distorted with cruel purpose.

She held her hands to her face and looked at her fingers, not yet fully understanding the power she beheld, not yet sure why the old man was here now, sitting and waiting for what she knew could never be.

No, she could never let it be that way again.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and thanks for reading…

the eighty-eighth key, ch. 07

88th key cover image

the eighty-eighth key

part one

chapter seven

Harry Callahan’s return from Southeast Asia marked the beginning of a cold, dark and bitter period in his life, a time marked most of all by very personal loneliness. His mother was gone and his father slipped in and out of anger and depression; worst of all his father rarely visited these days, not even when he’d just returned from sea. Harry went by the house from time to time and every time he found the yard an overgrown mess. It still hurt to see the Everson house next door, too, and he dreaded making the trip out to his old home for that reason more than any other. He would fight past the memories, past the tattered For Sale sign to the front porch and peer in the glass, not quite knowing what he’d find inside beyond heartache and broken dreams. Some trips his father was home and he must have seen Harry over there and he’d come out and meet him in the yard and they’d be angry and depressed together before heading to a seafood shack down on the wharf. They’d drown all their misgivings in schooners of cold beer while talking about how there was nothing better in life than fresh, hot onion rings and a fresh bottle of ketchup. Nothing much mattered at that point; life seemed over and done with, just one more thing that had passed them by on the way to nowhere.

Harry slipped into all the routines on the street like he had never left the city. All the same problems were still out there, waiting, only now Callahan had a little less patience for what felt like petty bullshit calls at four in the morning. A few weeks after his return to the street he responded to yet another family disturbance, and when he went up to the door he was met at the door by a belligerent, knife wielding drunk. The man started cursing Callahan, and Harry simply tossed the man aside and walked into the apartment, found the man’s wife crumpled on the floor, her face a pulpy mass of bleeding contusions. Then the drunk was in the doorway, yelling at Callahan about his rights as a citizen and how he was ‘gonna sue your ass into the ground’ when Callahan turned around and looked at the man.

Who saw the look in Callahan’s eyes and stopped talking.

The drunk still had the same knife in hand when Callahan walked up to him, and Callahan unholstered his Smith & Wesson and beat the man’s face until it looked something like his wife’s, then he dragged the man out into the street and kicked him in the groin once before dragging the writhing form over to a huge commercial trash dumpster. Callahan picked up the man and tossed him inside, then went back and picked the woman off the floor and carried her to San Francisco General, leaving the three other responding officer slack-jawed by their patrol cars. 

He’d never said a word. Not one.

And pretty soon word got out, went around precinct houses and neighborhoods like a wild fire. 

Don’t fuck with Callahan.

When Harry worked a beat the word quickly got out: neighborhoods suddenly grew quiet. Anyone dumb enough to create a disturbance soon went to the School of Callahan; and so-called men stupid enough to beat-up on their wives or girlfriends soon met with the same fate as that first drunk.

And soon enough word spread throughout the detective division, too.

Deep Night shifts, the overnight shift that typically stretches from midnight to eight in the morning, tend to operate under rules all their own, at least they did out in the real world beyond the courts, judges and lawyers that defined the other side of the criminal justice equation in the 60s and 70s, and San Francisco tended to operate somewhere way beyond ‘nice and proper’ those days. And that was not taking into account cops like Callahan, who seemed to operate with huge chips on their shoulders – on their good days. 

Then one night while Callahan was out patrolling a residential neighborhood around four in the morning he passed a streetlight and saw a blanket in the shadows. He stopped and looked at it – until it moved, anyway – then he radioed in and stopped to check it out.

He found a little girl maybe five years old wrapped-up in a tattered, flea-infested blanket and he parted the rancid fabric, found the girl was naked, her body covered with bruises and what looked like little burn marks. Callahan had seen these burns before, and too many times to count by then; they were made by someone holding a burning cigarette up to the skin and pressing in just hard enough to broil the tissue underneath, but this little girl’s body was literally covered with them – even her eyelids.

Callahan picked-up the little girl, heedless of the fleas and other crawling things all over the blanket, then he cupped the girls face and whispered to her: “Can you hear me? Just move your eyes if you can.”

“It hurts,” the girl said, her voice a faint trembling remnant of someone long past gone.

“My name is Harry, and I’m a police officer. What’s your name?”

“Susan,” came the withered, brittle reply.

“Well Susan, you’re going to be okay now. We’re going to take care of you, but first I need you to show me where you live. Can you do that for me?”

She pointed to a house across the street.

“The one with the blue roof?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Who did this to you? Do you know?”

She nodded her head. “Todd did it. He’s my mommy’s boyfriend.” She seemed to tremble a little more, then she held up her head. “Are you Officer Callahan?” she asked.

“I sure am, Honey.”

She smiled as she drifted off, as back-up units pulled up behind his patrol car.

“Get an ambulance,” Callahan growled, handing off the little girl to another officer as he started across the street…

…right about the time a new homicide detective named Carl Stanton pulled up on the scene. He had heard all the stories about Callahan and knew the score, so when he’d heard the call come out he knew Callahan had found something, so he raced to the scene. Still, he kept to the shadows and watched…

…as Callahan crossed the street, walked up the stoop and politely knocked on the door.

Stanton saw the shotgun barrel, but not before Callahan – who grabbed the end of the barrel as he kicked the door in, and in one continuous motion slammed the butt of the shotgun into his would-be-assailants face. Stanton ran up to the porch and got there just in time to see Callahan stick the end of the barrel in a man’s mouth – then pull the trigger.

There was a muffled ‘woompf’, and about all Carl Stanton saw was a pink mist in the air, then a scorched piece of carpet where the man’s head had been. Stanton walked into the house, then went room-to-room until he found a woman’s body in the little bathroom, her battered body a bloody mess, curled up and lifeless in the dingy bathtub.

As a detective who had ‘on-viewed’ the incident, Stanton was the senior officer on-scene so it was his call now, his report to make, so he walked over to Callahan and took the Winchester pump from him and laid it across a chair…then he looked into Callahan’s eyes…

…and saw tears behind a veil of rage…

A sergeant walked in, saw Harry then the detective. “You got this, Carl?”

Stanton nodded. “Call Dell, would you. And get a CSU headed this way.”

“Right.”

But then Callahan turned and walked from the little house, then across the street to the little girl. He took her and held her close until the ambulance came, then he got in back with her and rode with her to the hospital, holding her close all the way. Only after she’d been checked-in and turned over to the docs did he return to the scene, but by that point Dell Delgetti and Frank Bullitt had already come and gone.

Stanton turned his report over to Bullitt, who read it over then carried it upstairs to the captain in command, Sam Bennett.

Bennett read the report, then looked up at Bullitt. “So, he’s the real deal?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“Well, keep an eye on him. He’s supposed to take the sergeant’s exam next month, so if he does good on that you go ahead and start the background check. Keep me posted, Frank.”

+++++

Callahan aced the exam and reported to Academy for another round of classwork, then was back out on the street a month later. Still, he soon found that supervisory work left him feeling cold and more than a little useless. He started jumping calls, backing up rookies on hot disturbances whenever he could, but by then Bullitt had picked up all the signs. Callahan had probably seen too much in ‘Nam, and probably done too much over there to ever fully recover, and he told Captain Bennett as much after he reached that conclusion.

“Have you read his jacket, Frank? Because I don’t think it’s that simple. Yeah, there’s something burning the kid up inside, but I’m not sure it happened over there.”

Bullitt nodded. “So, you want me to sit down with him?”

Bennett thought for a minute, then shook his head. “Pick him up and bring him over for hot dogs. This Saturday, after the game.”

“Got it.”

+++++

When Callahan got up that morning he knew something deep inside had changed; sometime in the night – with Cat snuggled-in tight – before the tears came – when he’d been awash in the ebb and flow of hot-fingered guilt. Smokey bile from the Caravelle crept into his consciousness when echoes of his Looney-Junes tried to push everything else away, leaving the present on very uncertain ground. He listened to her breathing not really sure whose breath he heard – until memory returned as vast and clear as the green sheet pulled over June’s face.

He tried to fight it…that feeling of anomie he felt when thoughts of seeing her in the hospital basement that last time. That always pushed everything else aside. Standing their between the only two fathers he’d ever really known, his and June’s, he’d felt like an intruder, someone who’d stolen away the best years of all their lives and tried to keep everything for himself…

…and that hadn’t worked out so well, had it?

Their last summer together had grown in his mind ever since into something beyond the mythical, into something more like an Arcadian landscape by one of the Hudson River painters that June gravitated to when they went to museums. But by then everything had been twisted and turned in on itself, blasted into something beyond the merely symbolic a year later, but maybe that was because everything seemed to fall apart on a crisp November morning when three bullets rang out from a school book depository in Dallas, just as the president’s motorcade passed alongside Dealey Plaza. They heard about it in the library and June fell into his arms, sobbing along with a few others who suddenly felt adrift in a world they no longer recognized.

But all that mythical stuff was a world away now, one that this Cat knew nothing about, and despite his sudden reawakening he sat in the darkness coming to the realization that he knew less than nothing about this girl. How could you love someone you didn’t even know? What alien substance had invaded his mind and turned off his ability to think? Was that, in the end, what love was? Hormonally induced moral incapacitation?

And just then he’d looked at little sandalwood-scented candles scattered around her tiny room, at all the amber shadows moving to a stilled heartbeat far, far away from this time and space. She would never leave, he knew then; she would follow him wherever he went…no matter how far away he tried to run. There would be no coming to terms with June’s past. She wouldn’t let that happen now.

When Cat woke she lay in bed looking at this stranger, and her feelings could not have been more different. She saw a kind-hearted man, strong enough to carry her into a lifetime of happiness, and she loved the feeling inside when she looked at him. It was a soft thing that glowed, something at once new and familiar, like this round-eye had discovered the secret way to her happy place, and that was enough for her. 

So when he talked of things like love and marriage she knew what he said was true because, she told him, she felt those things too.

So he told her he would come visit her soon, as soon as he could, and she believed him.

And two weeks later he came back to her, though he seemed to possess a very different soul that time. He seemed tired, maybe even more than tired. Like he had seen things no human being should ever see, and when he went away that time he promised to come back and she was happy he said the words but still not quite so sure what those words really meant.

Yet when he came back a month later his spirit was bright and full of laughter, maybe because that other round-eye, the crazy doctor, was with him. They all went out to dinner together and she helped them see some of the things around her city that were still beautiful and clean. They spent a day walking through markets and eating local treats from open stall vendors, and Harry took pictures of her…dozens of pictures, which somehow made her happier than she had ever felt before. No one had ever shown such interest or thought her important enough to photograph, and suddenly being regarded as such left her feeling dizzily exotic, beyond the merely special she had felt before.

Before Harry left that time he said he might be coming back very soon, that he might be returning home to America much sooner than expected, and that there were things he needed to tell her. How he planned to take her to America, how they would make a life together in San Francisco, and what mattered  was how his words shattered her expectations of the future, left her feeling once again more than merely special. She felt like she was the center of someone’s universe again, like there was a molten mass of hot stars gathering in her breast, and after he left that time wild dreams filled her sleep. Dreams of an unknown land, dreams of an impossible future. He wrote down things he said she should have, gave her papers she could show people, and then he was gone.

Gone.

Only this time he did not come back.

+++++

Harry sat for the detectives exam after his return from Israel and, not unexpectedly, he scored top marks once again. He would once again return to the Academy and begin coursework in Methods and Procedure if, that is, he decided to take the position offered.

He wasn’t so sure he would.

He liked working patrol, and in a way it was all he’d ever aspired to. Captain Briggs had tried to recruit him to join Traffic Division, but that meant working on motorcycles and writing tickets all day, and the idea bored him just thinking about it. What, he wondered, was so bad about wanting to stay in patrol?

Maybe Bullitt had some idea of the doubts nipping at Callahan’s heels, because he dropped by more than once – with Cathy – and she asked him to play the piano before they asked him out to dinner. Frank hoped it was a soft-sell, too; he didn’t want to come across as desperate but Homicide had recently experienced a lot of  trouble getting quality personnel into the division. For whatever reason, Captain Bennett seemed to think Callahan would be a good fit, but after going over Stanton’s report, Bullitt now had serious misgivings.

A few weeks after the exam Callahan responded to a medical welfare concern down in the warehouse district adjacent to the waterfront east of Fisherman’s Wharf. A group of dockworkers arriving for their morning shift had heard screaming in the roach-motel next door and called it in; Callahan was first on scene and he talked to the men and soon had an idea where to look. He called-in the information and ran into the hotel next door…

There was no one behind the filthy desk, nothing visible at all except some rancid smelling fried chicken on a desk behind the counter, then he heard another scream, a woman’s scream, and he bolted up the stairs two at a time. He heard an old man telling the girl to not move, and to ‘shut up or else’ – then Callahan kicked-in the door and burst inside what looked like a makeshift hospital room.

The girl on the bed had her feet up in makeshift stirrups and the old man looked up, surprise on his face, as the blood drained from Callahan’s face. 

He saw a young girl in the process of having an abortion, some sort of squalid looking instrument inserted in her vagina, and in a small bedroom off this sitting room Callahan saw two more girls curled up in fetal positions, moaning in fever-soaked agony.

“Get out of here, you fucking moron,” the abortionist cried, “before I call your supervisor!”

“Whatever you’re doing,” Callahan sighed, his voice now a deadly coiling hiss, “stop it right now. Clean her up, and do it quickly.”

“Fuck off, you imbecile!”

Callahan unholstered his Smith & Wesson and walked up to the man, shoving the end of the barrel into his right ear so forcefully it began to bleed. “Do it now, while you still can.”

“Go to hell!”

Moving with a preternatural calm, Callahan holstered his weapon and the man smiled, then Callahan asked the man his name.

“Barton, and the chief is a friend of mine, so you’d better watch your ass.”

Callahan’s eyes flickered when he heard the name, then he grabbed the man by the nape of the neck and by the waistband of his trousers, lifted him from the floor and ran with him towards the room’s only window, an ancient, double hung wooden unit that had seen better days fifty years earlier.

Then he tossed the man through the glass, head first.

People down at street level looked up at the sound of shattering glass and saw a middle-aged man crashing through a shattered fifth-floor window and screaming as he tumbled through the air, landing in a pulpy heap atop an old green VW Beetle. Callahan came out of the hotel a minute or so later and walked over to his patrol car and talked on the radio, then he walked over to the bleeding ruins to feel for a pulse. A moment later he stood, satisfied, and did his best to make sure no one saw his grin.

Delgetti and Bullitt were the first detectives on scene, and by then Frank knew the score, knew about Callahan’s girlfriend’s abortion during their senior year of high school. He could guess how Callahan felt generally, and what must’ve coursed through his mind’s eye when he opened the door and found that butcher at work.

He took Callahan to his car and they sat inside. Bullitt saw Harry’s hands up close then, the bruised finger-tips, the ragged tremble of shock setting in.

“So Harry, the way I see it you might get a clever defense attorney to get you to plead temporary insanity, and who knows…that might work…”

Harry’s eyes flickered as he came back to reality.

“The other option is simpler. Are you listening?”

Callahan nodded. “Yeah.”

“So, you heard a woman scream and kicked in the door. Right?”

“Yup.”

“And that’s when the man ran and jumped out the window, right?”

“What?”

“Listen to me Callahan. That’s when the bastard made a run for it. He must’ve forgotten he was up on a high floor. Got it?”

Harry turned and looked at Frank, only now Delgetti and Stanton were huddled there in the doorway, listening.

“Actually, Frank,” Delgetti chirped, “I was about five feet behind Callahan, and that’s exactly what happened. Right Harry? About five steps behind you, all the way up the stairs.”

“You got that, Callahan?” Bullitt added. “Five steps, all the way up.”

Callahan looked at Bullitt, then at Dell and Carl. “He’s the one, Frank. He’s the one who did it.”

“Did what, Harry?” Callahan’s face was ghostly now, his eyes a blank canvas.

“He’s the one who killed June.”

Bullitt turned to Delgetti when he heard that. “Bring his car in; I’m taking him to Bennett’s office for now. We’ll let internal affairs have at him when he’s settled down.”

“They’re not gonna like it, Frank.”

“Fuck ‘em.”

Callahan finished his stint at the Academy three months later. As usual, top in his class.

+++++

By the time school resumed their senior year, Harry and June had entered a strange, twilit place of cascading emotion, at times more a kaleidoscopic swirl than the steady monotone of drumbeats on the sidelines that mark most last years at school. Maybe because they had never really tried to fit in, they were comfortable being just two more outsiders looking in, and who knows, maybe they got a little lost in that crowd, too.

So, yeah, they kept to themselves, and that really wasn’t too big a deal because, by then, most of their classmates thought of them like they were already an old married couple. There was no “Harry,” nor was there a “June,” there was “Harry and June,” a singular noun. They didn’t show up at school dances because there was no such thing as flirting around the edges of the heart of the matter in their little corner of the universe; they were already far, far away from that pulsing pool of frantic teenaged hormones.

No, Harry and June were on most Friday nights – together – grabbing a slice at Bruno’s before stalking the night with their Nikons, or heading into the city to go to the library if there was an assignment due at school. Whatever it was, it was a couple’e exercise.

But the images they made?

If you’d been there, been able to watch the progression from noble beginner to advanced amateur over the preceding decade you might have seen the changes for yourself, but the term avant-guard comes to mind. Surreal juxtapositions of still life and vibrant decay, or even the dead and the dying. Sometimes very morbid things found their way into the images they made, and who knows why? Like, yeah, some things happen for a reason.

Don’t they, Harry?

Like when June noticed her period was late. But her mother was gone so who could she talk to?

To Imogen Callahan?

For most people, being on the outside looking in is a very lonely place. For June Everson, being on the outside meant being chained to Harry Callahan night and day, locked inside the ebb and flow of his own tortured struggle with his mother, and to their own god-forsaken music.

+++++

Funny how little things like music bind people to time and a word.

The word in the Caravelle Bar after Tet began the slow burn into memory was, however, clear enough. Cat had been on her own slow burn too, until one day a familiar face walked in…the crazy round-eye doctor who always had blood on his hands.

Except this time his hands were clean. So was his uniform. Cat was seeing the writing on the wall all over again, even before he made it to his usual table, before he ordered his Canadian Club on the rocks and began that slow fade into the zone. 

He saw her and smiled, and she saw it was real, something she could hold onto.

“I’ve got a note from Harry,” he said as she sat down beside him, ignoring looks from the bartender and her manager.

She nodded once, her eyes glazed in fear. “So?”

“It’s not what you think, Cat,” he said as he handed the paper to her; he watched her while she turned the paper over and over in her hand, then it hit him: She Couldn’t Read. So she hadn’t read one thing Harry had sent. But…how could she? How arrogant to assume… 

“His handwriting is tough. Could I read it for you?”

She shrugged, then passed the pages back to Parish.

“Something bad happened up here and I’ve been sent home,” the crucial part began, “and they didn’t give me time to come to Saigon…” Parish stopped reading, because Cat had stopped him right there and asked ‘what did Harry do?’

Parish grimaced, tried to look away.

“What did he do!?” she insisted, her voice frantic and stern at the same time.

“Harry was sent to pick up a platoon that was taking fire, or maybe they were. Nobody knows, really.When he got there he saw a bunch of women and children lined up against a wall, and he watched as they were gunned-down. He saw the kids that did it, then he set his helicopter down and went to them. He shot one of them, a lieutenant. They would’ve killed him but he was their ride home, ya know? Anyway, when he got back to Phu Bai he reported the whole thing, and pretty soon some of the troops decided they wanted to kill him. They sent him home instead.”

Cat nodded. It sounded just like something he’d do.

“Anyway, he wanted me to get this to you, tell you to go to the embassy and give them the papers he left with you.”

“I have tried this already, with the papers and without, it does not matter. They will not let me go to America.”

Parish shook his head. “I was afraid of that.”

“Why? It is not your affair; do not be so concerned with me. I always survive.”

Parish rolled the ice around in his empty glass, watched as patterns formed and broke apart and wondered if life was as simple as that. Random molecules coming together in a sea of like-minded molecules giving rise to more and more patterns in the chaos. Nothing more than that. No meaning, no purpose, just fragments of ice in the bottom of a glass…meeting in the night until the motion pushed them on their way again.

+++++

“I talked to someone over at student health services,” Mrs Callahan said. “Call this number if you decide you want to go that way.”

That way.

That way?

If you were rich, she’d heard, you could go to Sweden. They did it in a hospital and there was no one waiting to tell you that you were going to Hell. You flew home in a couple of days and no one would be the wiser.

But not here. Not even here.

She had saved-up enough to get it done. She made the call, got the address and when Harry came by the next morning she told him she didn’t feel well and wasn’t going to school. She rode across the Bay Bridge in silence, in a dirty old Metro bus, and she found the address without too much trouble…a run-down looking hotel not far from the Western Pacific train station.

There were four other girls upstairs already, and the old man took her money and stuffed it in a bag, then told her to undress and put on a bathrobe. She watched him do one girl, then another. He came to her and she lay back, her head on a rumpled pillow, while he put her feet up in makeshift stirrups.

She felt something cold and hard slip inside, then a pinching sensation – and that was it. He was done and he moved on to the next girl. Not a half-hour later he was finished and he told the girls to lay there until they felt better, and by then it would be okay to go home.

But the pinching sensation never really went away.

The pinch turned into a slow burn, then the burn felt like it was spreading. First down her legs, then throughout her pelvic region before it began to arc up her spine. Maybe five hours later she felt like she was burning up inside so she turned on her side – but that hurt even more.

It was dark when she woke up and she had to pee, and when she stood she took one step and passed out.

She woke up on the floor sometime in the very early morning and made it to the bathroom; one of the other girls was passed out on the floor, her skin now blotchy and red, her body rolling in sweat. When June looked in the mirror she saw her face looked the same, red and blotchy, and saw the sweat on her brow.

“You’ll know when to go home,” she remembered the man saying, so she ran cool water from the tap and wiped her face, then helped the girl on the floor to one of the beds before she passed out again.

The sun was up but most of the other girls were gone now, only the girl from the floor remained. She went to her and tried to wake her, but the girl didn’t move now, and her body was cold. Ice cold.

Because she was dead.

There was a phone in the room and she called her house but no one answered, so she called Harry.

She told him where she was and what had happened, then she passed out again.

She knew she was being moved but that was all. She opened her eyes a while later and saw she was in Harry’s father’s station wagon and they were crossing the Bay Bridge now and headed into the city. She tried to talk, tried to tell Harry why she’d done what she’d done, and he whispered how much he loved her.

“I feel so cold,” she said, and those were the last words she spoke.

+++++

Callahan was standing on top of the Bank of America building looking down at a dead woman floating in the Holiday Inn swimming pool a few blocks away, when he felt the spent cartridge underfoot. He bent down and, using a ball point pen, picked it up and looked it over. A 30-06, and he could smell it had only recently been fired, even the extractor marks looked fresh, maybe not even an hour old, then he looked up and saw a note attached to an aerial.

“Jesus,” he said as he read Scorpio’s ransom note.

He called for a crime scene unit to work the top of the building, then waited for their arrival before he went downtown to finish his reports. An hour later he was on the cable car lost in thought.

He stopped off at the corner market and picked up some eggs and English muffins for the morning, as well as a copy of the late afternoon edition of the Chronicle and a few other things, then he walked to his building. The air was heavy, and he guessed more storms were brewing out past the gate, then he saw the homeless lady that had moved into Avi’s little shack under the fire escape and he shook his head. He knocked on the ‘roof’ of the shelter and the old woman poked her head out.

“Yes? Oh. Hi, Harry.”

He smiled, then handed her a couple of candles and a couple of cans of chicken-noodle soup – her favorite… “Smells like rain. Sure you’re okay out here?”

“Where else can I go?”

“I can get you to a shelter tonight.”

“No thanks, Harry. Too dangerous.”

“Well, okay. I’ll check with you in the morning.”

She nodded as he walked off, then disappeared into her own little piece of the world.

Callahan walked upstairs and put his groceries away, then he went over to the little grand and began playing…a ragtime improv that soon drifted through layers of Bach and Bacharach, then the flicker of lightning and the rumble of closing thunder brought him back.

He walked to the window, saw the Golden Gate had already disappeared behind the storm and he looked down at the street and thought about the woman sheltered under the fire escape.

“Maybe I should cook her some dinner,” he said to the walls as he walked over to the TV and switched it on. Walter Cronkite was talking in hurried tones about a new war just breaking out and Harry sat and looked at the screen. There was a map behind ‘the most trusted man in America,’ a map of Israel, and the anchor was talking about a two-pronged attack that had been launched against Israel earlier that day. Egyptians had crossed the Suez in force and armored columns were advancing across the Sinai virtually unopposed, while Syrian forces had swept down from the Golan and were marching towards Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv.

He thought about Avi and his mother, both probably sitting in the living room and listening as Phantoms scrambled overhead and raced to meet the threat, and he wondered how many more wars that piano would bare silent witness to. 

Another hammer of lightning and thunder ripped through the evening, and he walked to the kitchen.

He made a big salad, big enough for two, and he thought about the woman huddled down there in the darkness, alone and probably scared, as he put on two steaks.

+

And so, here ends part one of our little story about the life and times of Harry Callahan. Part two waits just ahead, just coming into view. Just beyond those storms on the horizon. Yeah, and somewhere out there maybe you’ll find the eighty-eighth key, too…

88keykobenhaben

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and thanks for reading…

the eighty-eighth key, ch 06

88th key cover image

the eighty-eighth key

part one

chapter six

Life was like riding his bike home from school, even in high school. Or running home, because running always felt good. Getting home felt good, most of the time, anyway. At least after all the chores were done there was an hour on the piano, because that always felt best.

Beyond that, even.

There was color in music, explosions in new chords that felt like silvery shivers when he found them. Like shining a flashlight in a dark corner and finding a shiny new puppy, something alive and bright with sudden possibilities. His mother had shown him Chopin and Debussy, but then he had found Gershwin on his own. 

So many explosions, so much color!

And ever since fourth grade, when the Eversons moved in next door, there was June. The other constant in his life.

She was an odd flower, too; from those first moments steeped in light and color. Not music. No, the first time he saw her she was on the front porch of her father’s house, standing behind an easel, lost in the moment with a paint brush in her hand. She was looking at a hummingbird, fascinated by the bird’s motionless grace as it supped from flowers growing up one of the columns supporting the front of the house, her huge blue eyes visible from across the yard.

It was the middle of summer, deep within all those other middle-moments before school started, when the sun was high in the sky, the breeze coming in from the bay fresh and cool, the memories still so sharp now that they hurt.

He stood inside that moment lost in her eyes, lost in time even then, watching her. That first moment together never went away.

Sun-glints in her red hair, a wave of freckles on her nose and just under her eyes; but those eyes! He stepped into the light, stepped closer to the moment and he saw her look his way…

“What are you looking at?” she always asked, even now.

“The hummingbird,” he lied.

“It’s amazing,” she said, suddenly her voice a faint whisper. “I’ve never seen green like this…it shimmers in the light…”

He walked ever so slowly to the porch and came up to her, and even then the movement felt so natural. He was drawn to her like a tidal surge, and it was as simple as that; what was so strange was her tacit acceptance of him even then, but how can you deny the tides?

They belonged together, and everyone could see that, even from the beginning. Even her father knew that, despite his misgivings.

Soon enough she heard his playing in the afternoon and came to the door, peeked inside – looking for the source of all this new color, color she couldn’t quite see yet. Within days she was on the inside looking out for the first time in her life, standing behind him lost in an otherworldly trance as she watched his fingers dance in all these strange new colors.

From the first she was fascinated by his hands, by his fingers, and soon enough she would stand there, sketchbook in hand as she studied his every sinew. When school started that autumn they walked there and back home together, even had the same teacher so they were hardly ever apart, and even there she would watch his hands as he doodled on paper; there were even times when she drew those errant currents, too, recording those moves for some hidden future purpose.

But she loved birds and flowers most of all, then Harry’s hands, and in time she loved to sit and listen as he played – then she would disappear for hours, usually for the rest of the day, and what she did in those hidden moments was a mystery.

Harry’s feelings for June went through diurnal phases that seemed keyed to the way his mother reacted to June’s presence; on some days his mother doted over June and so Harry almost detested the sight of her, while on others his mother seemed loath at the sight of June. Of course, on those days Harry doted over June.

Still, over the years these diurnal swings took a toll, on Harry certainly, but also on both June and his mother, yet no one seemed to understand where and when these deeper fault lines within the triptych emerged. Perhaps it was in Harry’s music or something within June’s painting, but no one, absolutely no one seemed to understand the true nature of the music Imogen Callahan created when storms approached, when lightning danced overhead and as thunder rolled across the bay. When the music that filled the Callahan house danced and rolled into the deeper registers, as memory and experience carried them all towards the eighty-eighth key…

+++++

Callahan was bunked-out in the bowels of the ship, waiting for the Huey to be rearmed and refueled so they could make the flight back to – somewhere? Phu Bai was still closed, though Danang was reportedly open now, though word had filtered-down overnight that C-Med had been overrun at one point and the facility retaken at great cost after an intense firefight that had lasted hours. Parish was beside himself too, seemingly desperate to get back to his work, and Callahan was surprised by this obtuse transformation.

But by early morning it was time to round up anyone headed back to the beach, so Callahan made his way to the hanger deck and did his walk-around in very strange company indeed. Down below the flight deck now, his Huey was surrounded by Phantoms and Corsairs, and crews were loading huge bombs on ordnance racks on a line of A-6 Intruders. Then his Huey was hauled to one of the massive elevators for the ride up to the flight deck, then to a spot just aft of the island – the tail rotor hanging out over the churning sea maybe forty feet below.

Parish was up there already, so were the medics and Don McCall – though he wouldn’t be flying today – as well as a bunch of Army types that needed to be repatriated to their units ashore. Everyone clambered in and a crew chief came out and gave Callahan the hand signals he’d need to get off the ship, then signaled engine start as he walked off. A few minutes later Kilo Bravo -6 was headed for the beach and deep into the heart of the Tet Offensive…

+++++

The Jetstar taxied to a secure spot on a ramp dedicated to small jet parking and after the engines spooled-down Avi led Harry down to a waiting staff car; they left the airport and drove into the sleeping city, the streets now almost devoid of traffic. A few minutes later they came to a small cluster of new houses located behind a formidable stone wall, and a soldier opened the iron gate guarding a vast interior courtyard. Callahan looked at the security detail surrounding the homes and shook his head, then remembered this was Israel, not Miami Beach – though the climate was similar enough.

Avi led him to a house deep within the cluster and up to a brightly lighted entry courtyard almost overgrown with miniature palm trees, and another sentry opened the door – from the inside! – greeting Avi deferentially before eyeing Callahan with frank suspicion.

“Is she up,” Avi whispered to the sentry.

“Yessir, and she seems quite agitated.” 

Avi nodded then turned to Callahan: “Follow me.”

And Avi turned, led him back out to the main courtyard and across a walkway to another, smaller bungalow. Again, a sentry opened the door from inside and Avi led the way into the living room. And Frank Bullitt and his girlfriend Cathy were sitting there, looking more than a little put out…so Avi and the guard quietly retreated.

Bullitt stood when Harry walked into the room, then walked over to him: “You okay?”

“Yeah. Have a nice flight?”

“You mean aside from worrying about you? Were you on that little jet?”

Callahan nodded. “Saw yours being pushed back as we took off. How long have you been here?”

“‘Bout an hour. Called Bennett when we got here and he’s frantic, already lodged some kind of complaint with the Israeli embassy in D.C. Someone from our embassy is on the way out here right now, but as far as anyone knows you were abducted by persons unknown.”

Callahan shook his head. “Swell,” he said, settling into one of the comfortable room’s overstuffed aqua-colored leather chairs.

“Someone told us Nixon stayed in this place when he visited last year,” Cathy said from the sofa. “Harry, what did you get mixed-up in?”

“My mom,” Callahan sighed. “My mom leads another life, or something like that.”

“Like what?” Bullitt asked.

“Well, she’s married to something like the minister for scientific security, and I guess when she’s not busy having psychotic breaks she designs hydrogen bombs.”

Bullitt looked at him now, his lips bunched-up in a deep scowl and his brow deeply furrowed, then his face split into that wide grin of his. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yup.”

“Minister of Scientific Security?”

“He thinks Egypt and Syria are planning an attack. He’s trying to convince their government to get ready.”

“And what about you? Why do they want you here right now?”

“Well, that’s the fun part, Frank. Seems they lost a bomb, and they want me to find it.”

“A bomb?” Cathy asked, her eyes wide. “You mean…”

“Yeah,” Bullitt smirked, “our Harry is full of all kinds of interesting surprises these days.”

Callahan shook his head then stood and walked over to a vast wall of sliding glass doors; he looked to the southwest, to Orion settling over the western horizon, then to the east – where rosy fingered Dawn was just beginning to show-off her handiwork.

The morning calm was shattered as a flight of Phantoms took off from a nearby air base, and he watched them climb almost vertically before all four turned to the northeast, their dual afterburners trailing in the night sky like the eyes of angry dragons. He felt Bullitt by his side a moment later, then Cathy joined them as they all looked up into the fading night.

“When’s this war of theirs supposed to start?” she asked.

“Soon,” Harry said with a sigh.

“Swell,” Frank Bullitt growled. “That’s just fucking swell.”

+++++

“Kilo Bravo -6, Phu Bai reports now open. Expedite return and pick up supplies for C-Med.”

“-6 received.”

“What’s up?” Parish asked.

“Gotta pick up supplies before we head up-valley. Doubt we’ll be on the ground five minutes.” Parish nodded his head but he seemed agitated. Real agitated. “What’s wrong?” Callahan asked.

Parish turned away, the looked back. “I gotta girl up there. Lives in a village maybe a mile away. She came round, asked if she could do little things, ya know? Like our laundry, shit like that. Would’ve been fine but she’s a looker and, ya know, I was horny and one thing led to another.”

“Don’t tell me. You asked her to marry you.”

Parish looked way, shook his head.

“You’re a fuckin’ hypocrite, you fucking asshole.”

“Yup.”

“But, why?”

“Misery loves company, I guess.”

“Misery?”

“Yeah, man. I love the hell out of her but that’s just it. Can’t take her stateside, ya know? So this can only end one way, and I don’t like the way it’s gonna play out, ya know? I just don’t dig unhappy endings, ya know?”

“What do you mean you can’t take her home? Why not?”

“Against the rules, man. No fuckin’ way the Man would let something good come out of this fucked up war, ya know?”

“There’s gotta be a way. You’ll find it, so don’t sweat it. Besides…”

“Besides what, man?”

“If it’s meant to be, it will be.”

“Ya know, Callahan, I didn’t take you for a religious nut-job.”

And years later it hit Callahan exactly what he’d said, and he’d wondered at the time and ever since if he’d really meant it. He’d dreamt of his Looney-Junes the night before, and it had felt in his sleep as if she’d never passed on, that they’d had the baby and settled down in their own house overlooking the bay and life had played out the way he’d always hoped it would…the way he’d thought it was meant to…

And so, the logical conclusion was that had never really been meant to be, right? That she’d gone to that fucking butcher over in Oakland and he’d simply killed her out of neglect, so that was meant to be, too. Meant to be? How could something so right be so swiftly snuffed out, erased from life’s ledger so completely? That just didn’t make sense, and the whole notion that her death was a part of somebody’s plan left him cold, left him not wanting to know a god like that.

But now he understood what was eating Parish.

They were on the ground at Phu Bai for maybe a half hour, on a hold while the Air Force pounded the area between C-Med and Hué City, mainly because Callahan didn’t feel like flying around the area looking for a safe route. Better to wait it out and fly there direct and, besides, the longer wait gave them more time to load supplies.

When they did get off the ground they did so in a flight of six Hueys, and they flew direct in line-formation, and with a dozen Cobra gunships escorting. Callahan’s was the last Huey to land and unload on the little pad and Parish said his goodbyes this time, shaking Harry’s hand before he jumped out and ran towards surgery.

“Kilo Bravo -6, RTB and expedite.”

“-6, RTB.”

Most Return To Base calls were rare, and in the middle of a resupply even more so, and so inwardly Callahan just knew he’d done something wrong.

Though of course he couldn’t have been more wrong.

+++++

By the time junior high rolled around everyone knew Callahan and that weird red-haired girl had done it. They had to have, right? Because they were together all the time, sometimes night and day. Her old man was a freak, too, playing with doves all the time, or pigeons, or whatever…! And all she did was paint stuff. Too weird…

But everyone couldn’t have been more wrong.

By the time Callahan was fourteen the whole contrapuntal thing with June and his mom had gotten a little out of hand. When Mrs C said she liked June Harry hated suddenly still the girl next door and he stopped seeing her after school, and when Mrs C told Harry the girl was trouble all of sudden he couldn’t get enough of her. The really odd thing was his music, because it seemed to ebb and flow on these tides, with Harry boldly experimenting when his mother castigated him for associating with the girl and his expressing complete disinterest in music when his mother seemed to adore her. Perhaps the greater point lost here is the net effect this evolving tug-of-war had on the little red-haired girl next door, because she never knew from one day to the next what Harry’s feeling for her really were.

But sometime in high school her father gave her a Nikon, a real honest to god Nikon F, the real pro model with the brick-like Photomic finder, and June’s artistic interests turned on a dime as she flew off on this new tangent with unbelievable passion. JFK had barely been in office a year but all of a sudden photography was the new thing, and magazines like Life and National Geographic became the new focus of her artistic interests. Even so, she still loved to watch Harry’s hands on the keyboard, and she would fire off a roll then disappear, dash to her basement and develop her latest studies. Harry grew fascinated with this stuff too and asked his dad to check on Nikon prices during his next trip to Japan; he came back a few months later with an identical Nikon, and several new lenses as well.

And these new pieces of glass fascinated June, expanded her view of the world like nothing Harry could imagine. They walked the waterfront taking pictures of mollusks when the tides were out, and on Saturday nights they took the streetcar into the city and went to coffeeshops, photographing folk singers into the wee hours. She wanted to go to an airshow over in Oakland once, and Harry saw a helicopter in action for the first time, even talked to an Army recruiter about it, then they stood in open-mouthed wonder when the Blue Angels performed overhead. They walked past the train station and up to Jack London Square, and they’d called her dad that day because the finally realized how far away from home they’d roamed.

And they learned about life that way, through the lens, one picture at a time. They’d walk up to strangers and ask to take their picture. They went to art galleries and museums, taking pictures of everything then rushing home to develop what they’d found – and then they’d relive the day while they reviewed each other’s work. 

And this idyllic bliss would go on until Harry’s mom experienced another psychotic break and Harry ricocheted off her emotional walls again.

After a really bad one June sat on her front porch crying like a broken angel, and when Harry saw her sitting there, all of a sudden he figured everything out and he ran over to her, held her and promised he’d never let her go and that nothing like this would ever happen again.

But the damage was by then real and lasting; June knew the only way she could break free of the cycle was to break free of Harry, and she tried more than once to follow through with her decision and make a break for it. Yet somehow she never could.

She thought about her dad mostly, during those times when she questioned her resolve, thought about him sitting in the backyard with his doves all alone.

Ever since her mother passed, since his wife died, she couldn’t help thinking that the worst thing you could do was walk away from your destiny, and if she knew one thing at all in this world it was that Harry Callahan was her’s.

+++++

“You Callahan?” the three-star general stated more than asked.

“Yessir.”

“Assigned to a RAM team out of Bamburg in ’65?” using the common abbreviation for the Radiation Assessment and Monitoring squadron he’d been assigned to when he was stationed in Germany.

“Yessir.”

“Well Callahan, we’ve got a Broken Arrow over in Laos or Cambodia and we’ve got to get it out. There are only two Wizard-equipped Hueys over here, and only one qualified pilot. You. When can you be ready to go?”

“As soon as you show me the bird, sir, and any reconnaissance there is.”

“It’s on the ramp at Danang,” a full-bird colonel said as he handed over an envelope full of the latest recon imagery. “An EH-1H prototype, we were using it for a project we’re working on and it happens to be Wizard-equipped. You ever flown the -H?”

“No sir, but if it’s a Huey I can fly it.”

“We know you can, son,” the general said. “I know you’re reserves, so I tell you what. If you do this for us how’d you like to go home early?”

“Not very much, sir. The fight’s here. I’m needed here.”

The officers in the room looked at one another, then nodded. He had passed their last test, the most important test of all.

The general stood and held out his right hand and Callahan took it. “Good luck, son.”

“Yessir.” Callahan saluted and executed a crisp ‘about-face,’ then stepped out of the room and waited in the ante-room at ‘parade-rest,’ as he’d been forewarned. The colonel came out a moment later, said “Follow me” to Callahan as he strode from the room. They rode out to the flight line and the colonel passed Callahan off to a  Air Force captain in a light gray flight-suit; the captain looked at Callahan’s blood-splattered helmet and gear and shook his head before walking over to an OV-10, pointing to the back seat. “Been in one of these before?” the captain asked.

“No sir.”

“Ever trained in an ejection seat before?”

“No sir.”

“See that yellow thing over your head? If I say ‘eject-eject’ you pull that fucker hard and keep your arms and legs in tight. Got it?”

“Yessir.” Callahan said as he topped the little ladder and climbed into the aft cockpit; a chief helped him strap in and got his intercom plugged into the system, then pointed out the ejection seat strap again.

After the side-opening canopy slammed shut the turbines started spooling-up, then he heard the captain through the intercom: “If it gets busy I’d appreciate a little help on the radios.”

“Got it.”

The OV-10 felt like sitting in a fish bowl, the tips of the propellors a spinning blur about a foot away on the other side of the canopy. The whole thing felt exposed and unsafe, and Callahan felt himself tensing up as the captain taxied out to the active. He’d seen these aircraft before, the huge flaps providing incredible lift and an absurdly short take-off roll, but he’d never expected to fly in one…

“Ya know,” the captain began, “the prototype for this thing was put together in a guy’s garage. Homebuilt. Kinda weird, ya know?” the captain added as he turned onto the runway.

“Weird?”

“Yeah, get a load of this…” The captain held the brakes and ran up the engines to full take off power, then…

…Callahan felt the brakes release and about a second later they were nose up, climbing at 80 knots…

“Holy shit!” screamed Callahan, laughing in spite of himself. “I got to get me one of these!”

The captain grinned. “You shoulda joined the air farce, man. Most people I do that to puke their guts out.”

“Damn, that’s better than sex…”

“Now, you wanna see what this thing can really do…?”

“Fuck yeah!”

+++++

The -H model looked like any other Huey, only this one was painted black – flat black, and all the glass looked pinkish-amber; some kind of material to keep radiation or EMP from getting to the electronics onboard, or so another Air Force captain said. This captain would be pilot in command, while Callahan would fly left seat and work the Wizard. “We’re going to head over to Phu Bai and refuel there, pick up the insertion team. When we find the thing we’ll drop them off and wait for the Jolly Greens, and we’ll have OV-10s overhead to call in air-support. Any questions?”

“No sir.”

“You trained on this in Germany?”

“Yessir.”

“Okay man, enough with the yessir no sir crap. Let’s go.”

While they were at Phu Bai, Parish walked by just as all the team gathered for pictures, and with another general and his colonels front and center he slipped into the photograph, stood next to Callahan – flashing a ‘peace sign’ with two upraised fingers just for good measure – before he skipped off to the flight line. Callahan saw Don McCall walk by and flashed him a thumbs-up; McCall grinned and walked out to a Huey and flew off towards C-Med.

‘Life goes on…’ he thought, with or without you…and all of a sudden he was in the back of his dad’s station wagon, holding his Looney-Junes as they sped across the Bay Bridge on their way to the hospital.

+++++

He couldn’t sleep with the sun coming up so he sat and watched the day unfold, listened as more Israeli jets took off and flew to the north, but there was nothing out of the ordinary on the television or radio so he relaxed. Bullitt and Cathy had trudged off to their bedroom in a deep funk, leaving Harry to deal with the flaks from the State Department and to figure out what they were supposed to do today.

Then the front door opened and Avi walked in. He looked exasperated.

“She has not slept in days so I had a doctor come, and he’s given her something to help her sleep. If you wouldn’t mind, we’d like you to take a look at one of our helicopters today.”

Harry nodded, and he now had a clear understanding of why he’d really been brought here. As he got out of the chair and slipped on his jacket, he glared at Avi as he walked to the entry. There were a couple of official looking Chevrolets out front, engines running and with soldiers behind the wheels, and Avi led them to one and motioned Harry to get in.

“You coming with me?” Harry asked.

“Of course.”

The base was, strangely enough, only a few miles away, and he saw a long line of ten Hueys baking under the fierce morning sun – yet they drove past these and on towards a small hanger attached to the base security facility. The cars pulled up there and police-types opened Harry’s door and escorted him into the security building. He was finger-printed and given an ID badge, then escorted into the hanger.

And there it was, a pristine -H model sitting under blazing overhead lights, the very same pinkish-amber glass – and the specialized antenna farm just above the cockpit. This one was painted a dark slate gray, though Israeli Air Force markings were conspicuously absent from her. Harry was introduced to the ship’s crew and got up to speed on what they did – and did not – know about the Wizard and it’s operation, then they gathered round and asked questions for an hour or so…and that was it for the day.

“Keep the badge for next time,” Avi said as they walked out to the cars.

“Whose helicopter is that?” he asked.

Avi shrugged. “We got it used. I’m not sure from who.”

“Looks brand new,” Callahan added. “Did the Air Force give it to you?”

Avi shrugged, grinning from ear to ear.

“Swell.”

“Your mother is up. We should go have dinner now.”

Callahan looked at his wrist, saw the day had slipped away as their little convoy pulled into the compound and stopped in front of Avi’s house. They walked to the door but Avi stopped short. “Are you ready for this, Harald?”

“I wish I knew.”

Avi nodded. Well Daniel, into the lion’s den we go.”

“Right.” Harry took a deep breath and followed Avi into the house and there she was, sitting on a sofa, watching and waiting. She too seemed nervous, uncomfortably so, then Harry noticed a piano located off the main room and he froze. It was a Bösendorfer Grand, deepest ebony and lit from above, and he felt her eyes on him and knew she was watching his reaction. He looked at her and she pointed to the piano.

“Go to her, Harald.”

And so he did. 

For as long as he could remember he had wanted to see one of these legendary instruments, yet he had always understood playing one, let alone owning one, would be forever out of reach.

And now?

He went to the bench and pulled it out just so, then gently moved to the keys. He looked at the shine, felt the cool smoothness and shook his head, then he felt her coming up from behind, then putting her hands on his shoulders.

“She has been silent too long, you must bring her back to life for us.” Avi said as he walked up to them, and for a moment Harry didn’t know if Avi was talking about the piano or his mother. “I found her after the war, in the basement of our old home. I bought her and had her taken to Vienna where they resurrected her, and now she is home again.”

He felt her fingers running through his hair and closed his eyes, thought of the times she had done just this very thing when his legs were not yet long enough for his feet to reach the pedals. She had sat beside him all those years ago and played with him as she passed on all that she knew, and now she sat beside him – again – and looked expectantly at him.

“What would you like to hear, Mom?”

She leaned her head on his shoulder and whispered “Gershwin, The Second Prelude. Slowly, please.”

He closed his eyes and tried to remember all the times he’d played this for June, and for his mother, then he nodded and resumed this ever so personal journey through time and memory.

When he was finished, and when he had come back to them, he looked up and saw Bullitt and Cathy were there now and he seemed surprised…

“When did you get here?” he asked them.

“About an hour ago,” Bullitt said. “That was incredible, Harry. I had no idea.”

“How long have I been playing?”

Bullitt looked at his watch. “We came in when you were starting Rhapsody in Blue…”

“Then you ran through West Side Story,” Cathy added, “nonstop. I’ve never heard anything so beautiful in my life, Harry.” Her eyes were glistening….

“My Harald always had the gift, more than I ever hoped.”

Avi beamed, glad the reunion he’d orchestrated was going so well. “Should we have some dinner? Harald, you must be exhausted now?”

He ran his fingers over the keys gently and shook his head. “I felt like I was a million miles away, Mom, like I was in another time, another place…”

“I know, my son, my love. I know.”

And indeed he did know, because when Cathy mentioned West Side Story it all came back to him. The suite, Bernstein’s retelling of Romeo and Juliet, had been June’s favorite and she’d begged him – begged him! – to play it on her birthdays and now all he could think about was the road that had taken him to their music tonight, of all nights. 

He looked at his mother and knew she understood, knew that was why she had wiped away tears when he finished the piece.

He stood and helped her up, then they walked together and she led him to the dining room.

+++++

The OV-10s took off first and criss-crossed the way ahead; unbeknownst to Callahan several B-52s loitered near the Cambodia/Laos border – waiting for the call to pulverize anyone attempting to interfere with the operation, yet because almost all hostile forces were supposedly engaged in the south the odds were considered good they wouldn’t be needed. Leaving the Hué area on a heading of 300 degrees, the estimated area they were looking for was between 190 and 210 miles distant.

Assuming the warhead’s casing had been breeched Callahan figured particulate signatures would begin to register in about an hour; if the warhead was intact they might fly right over the thing and not get a significant reading, so someone’s very bad luck was going to play a big role in this outcome.

“Flight, CAP, we’re picking up fire control radars and some airborne signatures now.”

Callahan groaned. “Migs?” he asked the captain. Everyone was chewing gum by that point, and the rate of lip-smacking suddenly picking up speed.

“Yup. It would be too good to be true if Charlie was clueless about this, but if they do know anything, and I do mean anything about this it could get real hot, real fast. How long until that thing picks up something?”

“Best case…twenty minutes.”

“We havin’ fun yet, Harry?”

Callahan turned, saw Parish sitting behind the captain’s seat and just about swallowed his gum. “What are you doing here, meathead?”

“Heard y’all was goin’ to a dance and, well, ya know, I don’t want to miss out on the fun.”

“Who the hell are you?” the captain said, clearly pissed off now.

“General Eisenhower asked me to tag along,” Parish said, now grinning like a madman. “He thought you could use a proctologist along for the ride today.”

“He’s a doc,” Callahan interjected. “Works out at C-Med, and there’s a rumor he actually knows what he’s doing.”

“Well doc,” the captain hissed, “guess what? You ain’t supposed to be here and odds are when we get back you’ll be headed to straight to Leavenworth Kansas for a little proctological exam of your own, so sit down, keep your eyes closed and your fuckin’ mouth shut. Got it?”

One of the Phantoms overhead chimed-in: “Flight, looks like four Mig-17s inbound at low level, maybe two more groups forming up north of here.”

“We’re blown,” the captain said as he pushed the Huey down to the treetops.

“Trace reading,” Callahan whispered.

“What?”

“Okay, good trace, come left to 2-9-4 degrees then swing your heading plus or minus ten degrees.”

“Got it.”

“Good trace, more to the right. Make your course 290. Wind carries the particles and they cling to the trees. I think we’re getting a better ratio down here in the weeds.”

“You say so.”

“Bingo, detection levels now! We should be within five miles.”

The captain got on the radio: “All units, this is Achilles. We are a go, standby insertion. Keep the Migs out of here and Baker element, go ahead and put the Jolly Greens on alert status.”

“Strong signal now,” Callahan stated. “Go into a hover and swing plus or minus twenty degrees.”

“Got it.”

“Again.”

“Okay.”

“Migs!” one of the door gunners screamed before he let loose an extended volley. Callahan turned and saw Parish with an M-16 firing at something out the door – down in the trees? – just before their Huey took fire from the ground.

“Flight, Achilles, we got Charlie on the ground, in-force. Call in the BUFFs.” He turned to Callahan. “Got anything?”

“Straight ahead. Go!” He looked up from the Wizard and saw two Migs and a Phantom in a wide turn, the Migs turning back to line up on the Huey. Something leapt from the Phantom’s wings and one of the Migs disappeared in a fireball, but the second one was lining up to make its run on them. He turned to see what was going on in back and saw Parish tending to a wounded door gunner, then their Huey leapt up abruptly, then nosed down to the weeds – building speed and darting through the treetops – and the Mig disappeared.

“Charlie’s fucking everywhere,” the captain said.

“We’re almost on top of the signal,” Callahan said, then: “There it is!” he said, pointing through the windshield. He saw a semi-intact B-57, the fuselage recognizable but the wings a tangled mess, and the whole area was crawling with troops.

The captain reefed the Huey into a tight climbing turn and made the call: “Flight, Achilles, we’re blown. Case Red, I repeat, Case Red. RTB expedite, repeat RTB expedite.”

Callahan watched as the OV-10s circling overhead lined up and began firing white phosphorous marker rounds on the downed aircraft, and moments later the jungle erupted in flames, an area of several square miles literally covered in napalm as 24 B-52s dropped their loads on the wrecked B-57.

“Well, that’s that,” the captain sighed.

“What, we’re just going to leave it there?”

The captain shook his head. “No, but our part of the OP is over now. An assessment team will go in and check it out, but that’s not your job. Let’s get you back to work.”

Callahan saw Parish in back sewing up a gunner’s leg – tough work in a helicopter – and he motioned to the captain, had him take a look. “Get him out of here as soon as we land, and tell him to keep his mouth shut…” 

+++++

Callahan shook his head, pushed his Ray-Bans up then pinched the bridge of his nose, rubbed his eyes then looked out at the desert as the gray Israeli -H model swept to the northeast until it had reached the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee; they were now hugging the eastern shoreline about fifty feet above the water. He was flying the Huey and scanning the Wizard while the Israeli captain watched and asked questions; a radio operator in back was in contact with their base…

“So, what kind aircraft was involved,” Callahan asked.

“An A-4H, fairly new airframe, no combat so no major repairs.”

“The pilot?”

The captain took a deep breath. “Experienced,” was all he said.

“Any chance he’d defect?”

“None.”

“So, we’re on his last track now? Where’d you lose contact?”

“About two more miles.”

“Altitude?”

“Low. Very low. What you may not realize is how close we are to both Jordan and to Syria. We are also flying alongside the Golan Heights. Operations in this area are severely restricted, essentially to wartime.”

“So, your pilot was getting very close to that area?”

The captain nodded. “Too close.”

The Wizard chirped and Callahan looked at the trace, then he throttled back and put the nose up, let the collective slip a little and the Huey softened into a hover. He leveled off then yawed left and right a few times, watching the Wizard react, then he put the nose down and added power, followed the trace again – this time a little more to the north. “How far to the border?” he asked.

“Which one?”

Callahan shook his head again. “On this heading.”

“Syria is ahead, about 31 miles. Lebanon that way,” he added, pointing to their ten o’clock, “maybe 20 miles. If you fail to stay out over the water here we will be violating the DMZ.”

Callahan looked at the shoreline now perhaps 200 yards away and he sighed. “Complicated,” was all he said.

“Even more so at 500 knots. No room to fuck-up.”

The Wizard chirped twice then an amber light flickered and Callahan dropped into another Hover, swung the compass and watched the array of flickering lights, then he lowered the nose and turned hard to the left.

“What are you doing!?” the captain cried, clearly alarmed.

“Following the trace.”

The captain pulled out his aeronautical chart and studied it a moment, then spoke: “We’ll be okay as long as you keep south of 320 degrees.”

“320,” Harry repeated, then the Wizard lit up like a Christmas tree and he pulled back hard and climbed into a steep banking turn, then he slowly leveled off, settling into a hover just above the water’s surface. “How deep is it here?”

“Here? I don’t know, why?”

Callahan flew along at a sedate walking speed while he fiddled with his Ray-Bans, then he looked at the captain. “Because, there’s your missing Skyhawk,” Harry said, pointing to an area of lighter color in the lake. “Take some bearings, then let’s get out of here before we stir up trouble.”

+++++

Avi was waiting for them as Harry brought the Huey into the pattern at the air base, and he followed the captains directions and settled down near the security-hanger and shut the engine down. Ground crews rushed up and security personnel weren’t far behind, and everyone seemed to hover around Harry like he was a long lost friend, shaking his hand and slapping him on the back as he climbed down from the right seat and onto the tarmac. Avi was in that group and he came up to Harry and hugged him…

“I knew you could do it! I just knew it!” the old man said, beaming from ear to ear, and Harry felt the warmth of the moment, the genuine emotional acceptance of these people gathered all around, and he smiled and shrugged his shoulders in a modest kind of “Aw, shucks” gesture before the old man led him off to a waiting sedan.

“Really remarkable, Harry. I’m speechless. We’ve been looking for five weeks, and it took you, what? An hour? Maybe two? Just remarkable.”

“I don’t get it, Avi. You had the Wizard…?”

“Well, no, we didn’t. We had to, well, we had to borrow this aircraft, and we could only do that under the strictest conditions. One was that we could only use an America trained pilot, and the other is that we return the aircraft as soon as we are done with it. Well, we are…”

“Ah, and now you are done with me too, is that about right?”

“Yes and no, Harald. Militarily your work is done here, but you are free to stay as long as you like.”

“What do you mean, free to stay?”

“Your mother needs you, and obviously Israel needs you too. You have a home here, waiting. Always.”

“I see.”

Avi sat in silence the rest of the drive, and they all went out to dinner that night, down to a waterfront restaurant in Tel Aviv, but nothing was said about the days operation, nothing at all. After the group returned to the compound Harry sat up with his mother and they talked through the night, about music in the main, but about his father and life in California and his work for the department…

“You love it, then? This work?”

“I do, yes, but I miss… Well, I miss flying too. After Vietnam I never thought I’d say that, but Mom, I’m a cop. I know that must sound strange to you…”

“No, not at all, Harald. I can see it in your eyes. You seem very comfortable in your skin, like you are doing what you should be doing with your life. I only wish…”

Then her voice trailed off, her eyes glazed and her body tensed…

“Mom? What is it?”

“I keep thinking about our little June and what might have been. I would like to know that you are not the last of me, Harald. I would like to know that we will carry on. I would like to know that one day you will fall in love with your music again. You create such magic when you play. You must know that?”

“That piano in there,” he said, pointing to the Bösendorfer, “is magic, Mom.”

“Then take it!”

“What? No way, Mom. That’s yours…”

“I can no longer play, Harald. When I left, well, everything left me. I cannot even remember the notes now, and even the simplest chords are beyond me…”

Harry laughed a little, then shook his head. “I can’t begin to imagine that that is even remotely true. Come on, let’s go…”

“No, Harald, I can’t.”

“Mom, when you sat with me the night before I could feel it in you. The music is still all there, just waiting to come out again, right where you left it…”

“No…”

But Harry stood and held out his hand, and she took it, and in that moment one of the greatest transformations in the history of music took place…

…but let’s not get ahead of our little story, okay?

 

(c) 2020 | adrian leverkühn | abw

 

[oh, just an aside, but sprinkled through this story you might run across little traces of song lyrics here and there; for instance a sentence a few chapters ago about Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the moon mentioned a bright spot in the nighttime, a line from Three Dog Night’s Out in the Country. This piece was from 1970, so contemporaneous to the story, though not all are. Good luck finding them…!]

p.s. check out this video of Bernstein’s West Side Story, and check out the shoes! What a riot!

the eighty-eighth key, chapter 5

88th key cover image

the eighty-eighth key

part one

chapter five

The various outcomes of the so-called Tet Offensive of January 1968 will be debated by historians for as long as students gather to talk about that pivotal year in America. What had been an at-best tepid anti-war movement in America blossomed after Tet into the raging inferno of anti-establishment riots that soon shredded American society – and lasted over three years. North Vietnam’s coordinated assaults on more than one hundred US bases, as well as command and control facilities throughout Vietnam, terrified the military and galvanized the anti-war movement into taking increasingly bold acts of civil-disobedience, and in the aftermath LBJ decided not to seek reelection. Like the forks on a bolt of lightning, repercussions spread throughout American society after that and, indeed, around the world. You can think of RFKs assassination as just one of those forks, and the gunning down of protestors at Kent State University another, but it takes very careful study indeed to follow all the trails to their unhappy conclusions. Looking back on those times now, most people still around might see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s walk on the moon as the only bright spot in the night worth remembering.

On the third day of the Tet Offensive military planners gathered at the Pentagon gave the go ahead to activate a desperate plan to decapitate the North’s leadership with a very limited strike on a small enclave northwest of Hanoi. Operation Headless Horseman would be carried out by a very specially modified Martin B-57G, one that had been modified to fly in the so-called ‘night intruder’ role, and it would carry a very small, very low-yield tactical nuclear device to it’s intended target: a leadership compound about fifty miles from Hanoi. Reconnaissance aircraft and radio intercepts were being used to closely monitor political movements, and the mission’s timing was considered crucial to it’s success.

The aircraft took off from Danang and turned to the west and then, once out of Vietnamese airspace, to the north. The intended track would see the aircraft make it’s attack run from the northwest and hopefully surprise the North’s formidable air defenses, but before that could happen LBJ recalled the flight. While en route back to Danang the aircraft encountered a SAM battery and sustained heavy damage, and before the aircraft could make it back to Vietnamese airspace it went down.

+++++

Picture if you will a shallow valley, tree-lined for the most part, and along the valley floor a a small river running through swampy low brush. To the west a more rugged landscape of foothills giving way to serious coastal mountains, while to the southeast lay the city of Hué. Located in a clearing on the valley floor was a small facility that looked somewhat like an old fort from the days of Cowboys and Indians, and in this fort were stationed several US Army Green Berets and a few hundred infantrymen from the South Vietnamese Army. These troops were positioned to guard a forward medical facility operated by the US Army, and this little fortification went by the name of C-Med. C-Med was one of the facilities targeted during the Tet Offensive because the doctors and medics stationed there were located very close to North Vietnam, and as a result serious casualties from the DMZ were often carried to C-Med to be stabilized. Many of the wounded had to be treated on the spot and then transported, usually to Danang but sometimes to an aircraft carrier offshore, though many never left C-Med alive. Surgeons plucked out of their residencies landed at C-Med if they were considered troublemakers or rebels, because C-Med was routinely attacked by Charlie – as the Viet Cong operating in the region were derisively called, though the origins of the name remain obscure. As a result many physicians based at C-Med were either killed or went out of their minds due to the unrelenting workload.

And this unrelenting workload was the norm before the Tet Offensive began, and long after.

+++++

Harry Callahan’s first operational assignment after arriving at Phu Bai on 28 January 1968, was to fly a Medevac up to C-Med. Onboard with the medics was Robert Parish, MD, a talented young surgeon from Coos Bay, Oregon who literally despised anything in green, most notably army green. And most especially army officers wearing their peculiar varieties of green, and whom he variously regarded as festering turds or rattlesnakes, depending on the current state of his inebriation – to which he dated to his arrival in Vietnam. Parish had quickly been, as you might expect, posted to C-Med.

And as luck would have it he just managed to hop a ride with Callahan – after failing to get arrested for calling a colonel a douche-bag, well, a fucking douche-bug, to the man’s face. He had called the colonel such things, and more, because the colonel had had the temerity to relieve Parish of a just-opened bottle of Johnny Walker Red – at eight in the morning.

And “Fingers still smell like Cat?” was the first thing Parish said to Callahan; Harry replied by dropping the collective and plastering Parish to the Huey’s ceiling. “I take that to be a resounding yes,” Parish sighed as he pulled a flask of Bacardi 151 from his flak jacket and took a long pull. “Want some more, Callahan? Or is that best you got?”

Callahan dropped the collective and Parish barely grabbed a seatback in time to avoid the worst impact as he slammed into the floor. Parish decided to drink in silence after that, though he looked past the door gunners at the passing treetops now just a few meters away. C-Med came into view above the trees a few minutes later, and Callahan circled the base once before coming in for a hard touchdown. The medics pushed Parish out the door and ran with him to one of the bunkers by the pad; the medics returned with several kids on stretchers and hung IV bottles on overhead trees while the door gunners lashed the stretchers down, then one of the medics told Harry to get airborne as quickly as possible – or words to that effect – but by then Harry Callahan had completely forgotten about Doug Parish, MD.

He made three more flights to C-Med that first day on the flight line, and one more around midnight. Parish had his fingers in some kid’s neck almost the entire trip to Danang, and he disappeared into an ambulance without saying so much as one ‘fuck you’ the entire trip.

And yet, when Callahan woke up and made his first flight back out to C-Med the next morning, there was Parish waiting on the flight line, waiting to catch a ride back out to the trenches.

“Hey Callahan,” Parish called out as Harry walked out to his Huey, “eaten any good Cats lately?”

Harry stopped and felt for the 45 strapped to his hip; he pulled it out and walked over to Parish – whose eyes went wide when Callahan unholstered the Colt. “You know what punk? How’d you like to eat some of this?”

“You headed up the valley?” Parish said, quickly changing the subject as he sized up Callahan once again.

“Yeah, Meathead, I am.”

“Mind if I grab a ride with you?”

“Well yes, Meathead, as a matter of fact I do.”

“Okay, Callahan, you win. No more jokes.”

“Get in,” Harry said before he turned and walked out to his flutterbug, though Callahan ignored him as he and his co-pilot went through the pre-start checklist.

After they lifted-off Parish slid up close to the ‘pit, his eyes scanning the countryside beyond the Huey, looking at all the foot traffic as the passed Hué City. “Never seen so many people out here, Callahan. You hear anything this morning?”

“No? Why?”

“I dunno, man. My nut sack is itching, and it usually only does that when Charlie is up to no fuckin’ good…”

“Your nut sack…?” Callahan had just started to say when a volley of small arms fire slammed into the left side of the Huey, raking it from the cockpit to the tail. He heard one of the medics scream and his co-pilot slumped over the controls. Parish got the pilot out of his harness and dragged him back onto the floor while the other medic helped; the door gunners leaned out and began shooting at anything that moved. Callahan put the Huey down in the weeds, racing between trees for C-Med. He knew the approach well enough now to slide in hard on his first attempt, which just happened to be when mortar rounds began landing inside the perimeter. A small herd of ambulatory wounded jumped in the back of the Huey and the gunners screamed “Go-go-go!” in unison; Harry lifted off and decided to head back to Phu Bai by another route – but it was the same everywhere he tried. Streams of ‘farmers’ carrying AK-47s and RPGs lined all the roads and trails leading to Hué City, and many took potshots at the Huey so Callahan had his hands full all the way back to base.

Parish went with the wounded medic while orderlies carried away the dead co-pilot; another hosed blood from the interior of the Huey while Callahan looked over the damage to the ‘bug with his crew chief. No engine damage, no rotor damage, so Callahan was good to go as soon as he could round up another co-pilot.

Parish got back to the flight line just as Callahan and a new pilot, a green kid from West Texas named Don McCall, walked out to the messed-up Huey.

“That don’t look too swift,” McCall sighed – bug-eyed – after looking at the fifty or so bullet holes sprayed down the left side of the aircraft – many through the co-pilot’s door. 

“Pretty fucked-up morning all around,” Parish said as he walked up to Callahan. “Can you get me up to C-Med without all the bullshit this time?”

“How’s the kid,” Harry asked, referring to the medic wounded earlier.

“Well, he won’t be beatin’ off with his right hand for a while,” Parish said, jerking the air with his right hand, “but other than that he’ll be fine.”

“Jesus H Christ, Parish. Where’d you grow up? In a goddamn whorehouse?”

Parish grinned as he climbed back into the Huey, and he sat and watched as Callahan and the new kid worked the checklist and got the ‘bug back in the air – only now he observed there was literally almost no one out on the trails leading into Hué City. Even the normal ebb and flow of farmers was nowhere to be seen, and Parish started scratching between his legs the closer they got to C-Med.

The assault there had suddenly stopped too, just like somebody had decided to turn off a spigot and stop the flow of water. Parish hopped out of the flutterbug and ran off to surgery while Callahan help unload dozens of crates of supplies for the hospital, then the medics loaded several more body bags into the main cabin. Harry looked at the black bags like they were an accusation, but of what, and against who? Only a week in-country and he’d picked up on enough talk to have his doubts about what was going on over here.

He turned around and looked at this buzzing hive of activity, Vietnamese and Americans working side-by-side, but what were they fighting for? To keep the South free? If that was so, why did the northerners fight with such passion to unify their country? Why did the locals around the base look at all the round eyes with so much suspicion in their own? No, things just weren’t adding up.

But in truth, about all Harry thought about was a girl down in Saigon, and now, after just a few days away he positively ached to see her, and to hold her again.

But like walking inside a giant trap, the coiled spring of the Tet Offensive had gathered around Harry Callahan and his little Cat, and was now just a few hours from slamming shut.

+++++

The Jetstar came in from the northwest and flew parallel to the coast for a few minutes and Harry saw the lights of a large city about ten miles away, the low skyline reflecting off still water. “That’s Tel Aviv,” Avi proclaimed – and somewhat proudly, Callahan thought. “Your mother is down there in that sea of light.”

Harry turned and looked out the little square window, if only because for the past ten hours he had thought of little else. 

The jet had left San Francisco and flown to Toronto, then Iceland and on to Zurich, refueling at each stop while Avi and Harry stepped outside to briefly stretch their legs before the final leg to Israel. Callahan’s interrogation had abruptly ended as quickly as it began and the old man had turned to focus on his pile of papers, first studying one then annotating others, and the little he said to Harry revealed just how serious the information was. Avi was preparing the country, his country, for war, because all the numbers and information inside these reports concerned troop readiness levels in Egypt and Syria, and seeing the concrete reality of those preparation had focused all Callahan’s attention on his mother.

Because suddenly another Arab-Israeli war wasn’t just a distant hypothetical exercise; his mother was down there somewhere in those lights, and now the idea was more than troubling. Harry found himself looking at the old man from time to time, studying his attentiveness and the way his hands moved as he wrote, and he realized quite without understanding the how or the why of it that he was beginning to respect Avi. He was, after all, his mother’s husband. Her first husband.

And she had chosen this man over his father. “And me,” he added.

“And you, what?” the old man asked, looking up quietly.

“Sorry. I was just thinking about something.”

“And what were you thinking?”

Harry turned from the window and looked at Avi. “That she chose you over my father. And me.”

Avi nodded and looked Harry in the eye. “Perhaps it feels that way to you now, but you haven’t seen how much she thinks of you both. I have. Every day. Never question her love for you, Harry, or for your father. Her love is bigger than that, more encompassing, so please do not diminish what you find here.”

“What does she do with her days?”

“She is back in the lab many days, and she still teaches when she can.”

“When she can? Is she ill?”

Avi looked away, took off his reading glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, then he rubbed the corners of his eyes. Harry saw they were rimmed with scarlet now, and that the old man was indeed very tired. “Your mother’s illness is complicated, Harald. It is emotional, an emotional calamity, and I feel it has grown worse since she arrived.”

“Worse?”

“Yes. She stopped playing the piano after she left California, and with the outlet no longer available she has internalized all her anguish. All her suffering. Her demons, if you will, only now her demons come out at night, and they come for her.”

“Why, Avi?” Harry asked. “Why did she stop?”

“Because, Harry, without you she can not see beyond the demons. She can no longer see the notes or the music.”

“Without me?” Harry said, surprised. “I don’t understand, Avi.”

“Neither do I, my friend. Neither do I, but you’ll see soon enough.”

+++++

Everything happened after darkness fell, and after midnight further south, around Saigon.

Callahan was in his hooch trying to sleep but the incessant song of Hueys coming and going made it almost impossible. Someone was just outside the tent smoking manure, or something that smelled pretty much like burning manure, when he thought he heard thunder off over the mountains to the west – and he turned inward on himself and groaned. He hated flying instruments at low level, really hated it, but the wounded never stopped coming into C-Med, and those needs were real, not to say extreme. When the Hueys stopped flying people died – it was as simple as that – and thunder meant rain, didn’t it…? 

Simple as that.

“That ain’t thunder,” someone outside the tent said – and then it was suddenly noon. 

“Fuck!” someone screamed, and the sound of that man’s fear struck Callahan as the most agonizingly real thing he’d ever heard in his life. Harry was lacing up his boots before he was upright, checking to see if a round was chambered in his 45 while he stood and reached for his flak jacket – then…

Gunfire. Close. A few shots from a 45, a longer burst from a couple of -16s, then the whomping of AK rounds whiffling through the canvas just overhead. He knelt and ran outside to see dozens of flares overhead and someone was shouting “we got Charlie in the wire!” – which meant Viet Cong were inside the base perimeter – and just then mortar rounds started falling near the parked helicopters. And the fuel bowsers…

He ran for his ship, saw McCall just ahead running in his underwear and unlaced boots…

“Get a ship up now,” Callahan said as he sprinted by. “Don’t wait…just do it…!”

Callahan got to the first Huey on the line and pulled the battery umbilical free on his way to the cockpit, and he started waking the beast up by feel until he got the overhead lights on. Engine start, wake up the radios, check frequencies, call in to the tower, chaos everywhere and he sees three guys up ahead firing into the darkness then dozens of return muzzle flashes off in some trees only a hundred yards away. Power good now, torque in the green so add collective and counter with rudder. Keep the nose down, down you stupid fucker, no lights, no lights, a little more power…watch the fucking torque…push it over some more…that’s it…that’s it…watch your airspeed…pull up…keep it just above the tents…better call in…

“Kilo Bravo Six, airborne,” Callahan said on guard.

“-Six, C-Med calling in with major casualties.”

“-Six is buster,” Callahan replied, telling the tower he was en route.

“-Six, this is McCall, I’m on your six with two gunners.”

“Good news, kid, you take lead and lay down some fire when I go for the pad.”

“Roger,” McCall said, and already Callahan was starting to like this kid.

They flew on in the dark, no anti-collision lights on – but there was so much fire in the sky none were needed…

He saw McCall’s Huey slip ahead by passing right and even though they were just over the treetops he could see several more explosions and heavy fires raging at C-Med – and they were still more than five miles out. Small arms fire peppered the Huey as they got close, and he made out a few trees he had used for landmarks earlier in the day as he lined up for the medical pad, then he heard McCall on the radio talking to controllers on the ground and requesting vectors…

Too fucking hot…too hot…nose up Meathead, get your goddamn nose up…c’mon man, gotta bleed some speed…

He was about twenty feet off the ground when an RPG slammed into the Huey somewhere aft and the flutterbug lurched sideways, yawed hard right and he countered with the pedals – but nothing happened. ‘Tail gone,’ he muttered as he rolled hard left stick.

The Huey hit hard and skidded through some thick brush; he saw a fat white snake roll up the windshield and disappear aft, then heard McCall on the radio. “-Six, off to your right! Beat feet!”

Callahan saw McCall about fifty feet away, the right-side door standing wide open, so he pushed his way out of the wrecked Huey and through the brush, diving into McCall’s ‘bug and hanging on tight as they climbed out of the swampy undergrowth by the river. He kept seeing that fat snake every time he closed his eyes…

“Thanks,” Callahan said.

“Roger that,” McCall said, now pointing to the center of the camp. “Pad right there.”

But Callahan wasn’t plugged into the intercom and couldn’t hear over the symphony the door gunners were playing right then. He fumbled on the floor in the dark, felt another helmet and pulled it on, checked the circuit and spoke. “You got it?” Callahan asked.

“Man, I’d rather you take it. I’m seeing spots.”

“Spots? You hit?”

“Not sure. Maybe…” and with that McCall slumped into the left side door.

Callahan got his hands and feet on the controls as he felt his way towards the pad; the door gunners were firing almost straight down into the weeds as he flared and he watched an Arvin with an M-16 bayonetting someone about ten feet away. He felt bodies being tossed in back then heard the gunners yelling “Go-go-go!” even as he throttled up and hit the collective. 

Okay…nose down and let’s not get our ass shot off this time…torque in the green…

He screamed: “Gunners, dead ahead!” as he pulled up hard on the collective, running the torque deep into the red, and he knew the gunners were leaning out and shooting down into the weeds again as he slammed the nose down and eased back on the throttle. “Any medics onboard?!” he yelled.

“I don’t know,” Doug Parish said, his grinning face about a foot from Callahan’s. “Do I count.”

“Co-pilot’s hit,” he managed to say as he turned and looked for Hué City on the horizon.

It wasn’t hard to find. Fire covered about half the horizon from down in the treetops and amber coils of smoke drifted skyward, framed by massive new explosions every few minutes. Chatter on guard was non-stop now, forward controllers vectoring in some A-6 Intruders inbound from Dixie Station and the tower at Phu Bai telling anyone still on the frequency that the base was closed until further notice.

“Better head for Danang,” Parish said. “We got some bad stuff back here.”

“McCall?” Harry asked.

“Got some plasma running; he’ll be okay.”

“What the fuck is going on down there?” Callahan said as he scanned the panel.

“You been asleep or somethin’? This shit’s been goin’ on for a few hours.”

“Where?”

“Far as we could tell just about everywhere. Danang, Saigon, you name it.”

Callahan hoped he remembered Danang’s guard and dialed it in, made the call. “This is Kilo Bravo Six, Dan Guard over?”

“-Six, go ahead.”

“Inbound from C-Med, base closed, we’ve got three, three, and four.”

“Roger -Six, we’re closed, standby for vectors to Dixie Station, and can you copy TACAN?”

“-Six go ahead.”

“Okay -Six. One-zero-five degrees, TACAN channel two-four.”

“Got it. Thanks.”

“We’ll let ‘em know you’re inbound, -Six.”

“Understood, out.” He dialed in the frequency and looked as the DME came to life, then checked their fuel state, doing the math in his head and shaking his head.

“You know something, Callahan? I don’t like it when pilots start shaking their head, if you know what I mean?”

“We’re gonna be sucking fumes about the time we got there.”

“Where’s there?”

“Dixie Station? Been there?”

“The fuckin’ carrier! No fuckin’ way, man. There ain’t no chicas out there. What’s wrong with Danang?”

“Closed.”

“Fuck. This ain’t lookin’ good, amigo. I hear there are sharks out there, ya know?”

“Yeah, well, there’s a shitload of goddamn snakes down there too, doc. You got a preference?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact I do. A warm hooch and no one shooting at me – for at least 12 hours…”

“Amen to that, brother,” Callahan heard someone say, but all Harry could think about in that crystalline moment was his Looney-Junes – dying in his arms.

(c) 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw

a little addition here

the eighty-eighth key

part one

a minor addition to chapter four

 

(note: when chapter four posts at Lit it will include this extended passage, and rather than call it chapter five here just read it as if it was attached to the last post. I hope you are all doing well under the current trying circumstances; I’m beyond paranoid at this point and am in almost total isolation as I wait for surgery in mid-April. Anyway, please take care of yourself, and as always, thanks for dropping by.)

+++++

He turned in the light, reached out and touched her skin once again. Something about her felt utterly impossible to describe, like a sunrise too beautiful for words. He ran his finger down her spine and he felt her tremble as his fingers paused in the small of her back. He played a delicate sonata there, felt the coiled spring inside her winding tight – once again – and he leaned close to whisper all that he felt in her ear.

“I love you, Looney-Junes.”

“And I love you too, my dirty little Harry. Oh, I love you too.”

They came together in the moonlight, holding tight on the a little beach just north of Half Moon Bay, and they did so a million times that impossible summer. After their junior year, before what would be their last year together. Forever, as it turned out. Before their senior year.

They talked and dreamed on that beach all through that improbably probable night, talk just before and forever after, yet Harry always knew something magical happened in that dancing moonlight. He felt it deep inside, like whatever happened had been orchestrated by something as mysterious as the tide, like the moon’s constant tugging on the earth had pulled their bodies into the same orbit.

Yes, Harry remembered thinking, she was what love was supposed to feel like. Something like closer than forever, closer even to believing, something leftover from the beginning, a feeling like starlight – remnants of their coming together, their union, an explosion that would carry them beyond the light.

His Looney-Junes, his little red-headed soul-mate. Eyes so green and freckles all the hell over the place, breasts a little on the small side but he didn’t care because she was his playmate of the mouth. And oh how they played along the frontiers of the things they knew before they crossed over into the promised land, playing in a forbidden field of dreams – while all their explorations carried an ever so slightly real risk that something – well, you know – biological might happen.

And just before Christmas of their senior year it did. 

When his Looney-Junes announced her period was a little late.

“How late?” Harry asked and her answer of two to three months didn’t sound like too much to be worried about, or was it? The thing was, neither Harry nor June had the slightest idea. “Maybe you should talk to your mom?”

“Are you crazy!”

“Okay, what about your doctor?”

“Yeah, maybe…”

And she did. And time was running out because Looney-Junes was beginning to show. And Harry was beginning to think about doing what all little boys think about when shit like this goes down, namely buying a ring and asking the love of his life to join him on the journey of a lifetime.

But the thing is, Looney-Junes wasn’t having any of it. Not the ring thing, not the whole having a baby thing, not one fucking little bit of it.

Because, you see, Looney-Junes decided that the best way out involved going over to Oakland and letting an old man with a coat-hanger do his thing, and this was the best way out of their little inconvenience. So one January day that’s exactly what she did, and presto! Faster than you can say septic shock she got sicker than a dog and a week later passed from this life onto the next.

And now Harry Callahan was sitting in the candlelight, looking at an angel’s skin and trying with all his might not to think about those moon-dappled nights on their little beach just north of Half Moon Bay. Playing little sonatas on the small of this strangers back, wanting with all the fiber of his being for everything to be just like it was almost ten years before and knowing that everything right and good with life had simply washed away on an errant tide and nothing would ever be right again.

Her name was An Linh – though everyone called her Cat.

As in Catherine, because her father had worked deep inside the French bureaucratic machinery in Saigon. And though he had been killed years and years before, she still liked the Cat affectation. Men looked at her a little differently, and sometimes men paid her a little more, too. Her other name meant something like peaceful soul, yet Cat’s was anything but. Some of the other girls working the Caravelle considered Cat’s a little too mercenary, perhaps a little too cold and dark, but maybe that was because not very many knew her well enough to make that kind of subtle distinction.

Cat liked men and she genuinely liked to fuck, but she had grown tired of the usual John Wayne macho types that came into the bar looking for a fight night after night.

But this Harry Callahan was different. Really very different.

He made love to her tenderly, too tenderly, she knew, but all-in-all the experience had been, even from her perspective, something special. But perhaps ‘peaceful’ was the word she found herself rolling around in her mind. Yes, peaceful, like the ceiling fan overhead…like a quiet, soothing breeze.

And she found herself amused and aroused by the way he touched her after. Again, everything was so gentle, so out of character with this man-child. She tried to get him to talk but met with a wall that left her high and dry and nowhere to go, so she retreated a bit, coaxed him in ways she knew best and took him again.

Yet now there were tears?

“What is it?” she asked. “Have I done something wrong?”

And so her words broke through and all Callahan’s emotional reserves gave out, and with that collapse everything came out in a rush. All of it. Ten years of anguish, a lifetime of confusion, the burdens of unacknowledged guilt. He buried his face in her hair and cried for hours, told her all about his Looney-Junes, and by the time morning came two things were more than clear: a little Vietnamese prostitute named An Lihn was deeply in love with Harry Callahan, and Harry Callahan – still with no sense of irony in his heart – knew he had finally found his real, lasting, once in a lifetime soul mate.

He left the next morning on a wave of promises to come back as soon as possible. He declared his love, the love he had held onto so tightly for close to ten years, love for his little Cat, to this peaceful spirit, and he cried as he told her he wanted to make this woman his wife. And oddly enough this jaded woman believed what she saw in this ‘round-eyes’ heart and soul, and she took him at his word. She believed in what she saw, and in what she too felt inside.

Yet neither knew of the forces gathering around Saigon, or around DaNang or Hué City. It was just days before the Army of North Vietnam would begin their Tet Offensive. Just days before the fulcrum of History would begin to push such things beyond the reach of mortal hands.

Callahan made it to the transfer to the airport for the flight up to Hué, or more properly to Phu Bai, and as he stumbled down the crowded aisle to find an open seat in the C-47 as his thoughts ranged over the past twelve hours, hours each as long as a lifetime, hours deep inside the impossible warmth of ‘peaceful spirit,’ until he sat on a canvas mesh bench not far from the cockpit.

And then he saw Parish across the center aisle – staring at him, trying to make out the contours of Callahan’s night – then Parish leaned back and grinned. What Callahan knew was a knowing grin, a true ‘shit-eating’ grin, because he knew what was on his own face. 

Callahan posted a ‘thumbs-up’ for all to see, and Parish nodded, smiled for all the world to see.

“Hot-damn!” Parish added. “‘Bout time, mother-fucker. Hope you didn’t act like a stupid hick and ask her to get married…”

Callahan leaned back and smiled as the Dakota rumbled down the runway, still awash in the warmth of the night just passed, and dreaming of all the nights yet to come.

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