Gone to the Dogs 12/2020

GONE TO THE DOGS 1220

What a long, strange year this has been…even Jim thinks so. Yes, that’s him up there, and I know many of you think I write these stories, but actually Jim does. I just write what he tells me, so don’t blame me if they don’t make sense. I’m assuming they do…to him, anyway.

Like last weekend. He was browsing through the news and got all excited when he found an article about an Israeli general who admitted that aliens are very real indeed, only they have decided – since we appear to be so royally screwed-up emotionally – to not initiate contact with us. Sounds far-fetched, right? Well, read the MsNBC article for yourself.

 https://apple.news/AOuqOee7DSha66btrBwAP3g

Here in the States we’re still dealing with the aftermath of one of the most contentious elections in our history. I was reading a post over at the Daily Beast whereby journalists and politicians in Moscow are begging Prince Vlad (aka some guy named Putin) to grant Mr Trump political asylum. Oddly enough, these petitioners refer to the current resident of the White House as Comrade Donald. Can you imagine such a thing…? I mean…the nerve of some people’s children.

Populism seems to be all the rage these days. A hundred years ago Populism meant something quite different than it does today, but that’s a topic for another day. The brand preached by Trump, aka Trumpism, seems to be a frothy brew of economic nationalism married to white nationalism, which seems to be a combination of overt racism and a more insidious, covert style of authoritarianism. Those of you reading my posts four – five years ago will recall I was concerned about the direction the Republican Party was headed and even made the suggestion then that the current iteration of the Party was more like a criminal organization than a political party. I think I mentioned invoking the RICO statutes at the time, so was completely interested to hear that a number of ex-Justice Department lawyers now feel exactly the same way…that it’s time to invoke the RICO statutes to deal with what’s been going on.

On another front, perhaps a more deadly topic, I read a few months back that police forces here in the States have been infiltrated by white nationalist/neo-Nazi organizations (you can find the post here: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/27/white-supremacists-militias-infiltrate-us-police-report?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other ), and note this link came from an iOS app so you may need to search via Google to locate this one. Anyway, Trump seems to have engineered the response to violence in Portland, Maine for the purposes of tarring Democrats with a soft on crime paintbrush, and it worked.

Since the French Revolution (the one in the 1790s) liberal political parties have tended to shoot themselves in the foot (well, in the ass, really) in much the same way the current Democratic Party is. They splinter into distinct sub-groups, like the save the whales group over here, the tree huggers over there, etc. etc. ad nauseam, and each sub-group goes about demanding to be heard while the group as a whole falls down around their ears. Conservative Republicans are not afflicted with this malady; they unify and stick together until the opposition is pummeled into the ground, then they get to work.

I’m most fearful that the malady is about to bloom again and take down the Democrats one more time. And one more time is all it’s going to take. The Republicans are more unified than ever and stand ready to bury the United States of America in an avalanche of malice and greed (Greed, as in the predatory capitalism that became fashionable under Reagan, as opposed to stewardship capitalism of the FDR through Carter period) as soon as they take complete power again. The current Party seems to not understand the basic tenets of democracy, and have instead come to believe that only white votes count. Why do so many people fall for this one time and time again? It’s simply a foolproof ploy to get the less educated among us angry enough to back an authoritarian takeover, and it works like a charm every time. Just ask Hitler.

For a new take on the Republican v Democrat thing, take a look at this. It’s a succinct analysis of the current moment.

My solution? Or…my advice to those of you in your 30s or 40s? Buy a boat. Get out and see the world. It really is a fascinating place. Strange, yes, but that’s a good thing, because if you find yourself getting too comfortable…you really are doing something wrong.

Anyway…Jim’s calling so it’s time to get back to it. Have fun out there, and Happy Holidays.

Come Alive (19)

Come alive image twilight lg

Chapter 19

His head in a plastic cradle, an IV of contrast solution pumping incrementally into a vein deep within his neck, and with his body covered by a warm blanket, Taggart listened to the incessant whir-clik-bang-bang of the MRI as it ingested his body millimeter by millimeter into a tight, narrow tube. A red laser centered his approach and the table he was lying on twitched in millimeter jerks, taking him deeper and deeper into this gaping maw of medical insight.

‘Just close your eyes and pretend not to care,’ echoed in his mind, Dina’s words of wisdom every time he’d had an MRI, and yet those helpful words still didn’t help. ‘Claustrophobia is a completely rational response to this,’ he thought – again – as he lost sight of the room outside of the tube. ‘Well, now I know what it feels like to be a meatball…’

Then the thought hit him: if I fart in here I’ll die from the fumes.

So…Don’t fart.

Whatever you do, don’t fart. Taggart…? Don’t you do it!

“Oh, no,” he moaned.

“What is wrong?” the technician running the exam said over the intercom.

“I’m gonna float an air muffin.”

“You are what?”

“Fart. I’m gonna fart.”

He heard laughter coming from the little office off the main equipment room.

“Yup. Here it comes.”

“Do not hold it!”

“No choice now,” he cried. “Sorry!”

The rumbling sound started in the lower ranges, drowning out the whirring sound of the sliding table, then grew louder and louder as the gas gained real speed, sounding a little like ripping cardboard before slipping into high gear, suddenly sounding more like a wounded duck than escaping methane.

“Sorry about that!” Taggart said.

“At least we don’t have to breathe it,” the tech said – just before the stench crept under the door, gaining entry to their little office.

Taggart smiled when he heard them coughing and retching: ‘You know, it’s the simple pleasures in life…’ he thought as he heard one of them slapping a desktop, then aa door slapping open, followed by footsteps running for open air.

A few minutes later, when things had settled down again, the tech came on again. “Sorry, but we must restart the test…”

“Fine by me. Plenty more where that came from.”

“We will try to hurry.”

“A fine idea.”

+++++

Dina was waiting for him in the lounge; everyone was watching the latest news from Poland and the Czech Republic, where NATO forces were struggling to reach the front amidst waves of fleeing urban residents. There was only silence coming from Finland and Ukraine now, and Dina looked at Taggart then at her watch as the orderly wheeled him into the room.

“That took much longer than expected,” she said. “Was there a problem?”

“Yup. Major gas leak. Let’s get out of here and find Rolf. I could sure use some Indian food right about now.”

A lingering waft of fumes trailing his wheelchair hit about that time. “Oh, Henry! You didn’t!”

“I did. More than once, as a matter of fact.”

“You are eating too much salmon again. Your gas is beginning to smell just like Clyde’s…”

“Thank you very much,” he said in his best Elvis voice. “Now…Rolf, then Indian. I feel like I could eat a horse.”

“You smell like you have been eating horse,” the orderly said, causing Dina to cringe in horror.

Taggart shook his head. “You’re just jealous, both of you.”

“Of course I am,” the boy said, “as it has been my life’s ambition to fart just like this. By the way, do you think you could walk from here?”

+++++

As they walked up to Time Bandits, Taggart saw Rolf and Mike sitting in the cockpit and he smiled – because he could just make out Dinky hovering at the masthead.

“You know, I think I’d better put on a fresh pair of underwear before we go anywhere.”

Dina scowled. “On behalf of the people of Amsterdam, I thank you.”

“How you doing, Henry?” Mike asked as Taggart climbed on board.

“Splendid, as a matter of fact. A bag of platelets and some of Dina’s magic elixir and I feel like a new man again!”

“Sounds like the plot of a new Dracula movie, if you ask me…” Mike said as he watched Henry disappear down the companionway. 

Taggart rummaged through a drawer and found a new, tighter pair of undies and slipped into the head; a moment later Dinky appeared and hovered in front of his face, almost in contact with his forehead. A minute later he knew everything that Mike had done so far that day, and he shook his head – though he smiled at the predictability of Mike’s actions. After he changed clothes he walked back up to the cockpit…

“Anyone care for Indian food today?”

“Me!” shouted Rolf.

“Has Clyde been out recently?”

“Yes, but Henry,” Rolf said, “his gas smells very bad.”

Dina turned away, trying not to laugh. “Well,” Taggart said, “I know just how he feels. So, we’re off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Ah-hs.” He leaned over and whispered in Dina’s ear that he needed to talk with Mike while they walked, so she went to her grandson and walked along with Rolf.

“So, you really feel that much better?” Mike said as he slowed to wait for Taggart.

“I do, actually. So, how did your errands go?”

“I went out to the new embassy, had a talk with the CIA’s new head of station. She wants to take you out, now. I think I’ve convinced her that we need to let things rest for now, let things play out in the east.”

“I take it they’re not burning papers at the embassy yet?”

“No, but people are nervous.”

“They should be, Mike. The world they’ve known is coming to an end, and now everyone knows it. The deck is being reshuffled – with all the uncertainty that implies – but this time it’s not on television – it’s going down right in front of their faces.”

“I take it your not worried about…”

“Que Sera, Sera. Nothing I can do about those yahoos.”

“I guess.”

“I take it you still have a weapon with you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“If it comes down to it, Mike, protect Dina and the boy.”

Mike nodded and looked around, trying to spot a tail. “Have you seen the news?”

“Finland and Ukraine have fallen. Poland will go next. NATO appears stronger in the middle right now, the old Fulda Gap strategy I assume.”

“People on the train were talking about getting out. Not many flights left to South America, if their gossip is reality based. Very few incoming flights now.”

“So the airlines will run out of airplanes here, then they’ll be commandeered to fly troops to France.”

They found an open restaurant and the nervous owners seated them and took their order.

“Why is everyone so nervous, Henry?” Rolf asked.

“Because they smelled us coming,” Mike said…but Rolf wasn’t going to play that game today.

“Henry? What is going on?”

“The Russians, Rolf.”

“What about my mother, and Eva?”

“I’ll talk to her this evening, after we find out what the air travel situation looks like.”

“Henry, I am worried.”

“I know.”

“You are not worried?”

“No, I am not.”

“Should I be worried?”

“You should think about the things you need to do, Rolf, and not the things you can do little about. Such worry does nothing but hold you back.”

“Okay.”

Taggart’s phone chimed – in an unfamiliar alarm – and he took the phone from his pocket and held it up to his face to unlock it. Holding it so Mike could see, a live video feed from the boat appeared on screen, and two men were walking on deck – one of them carry a small black duffel.

“Hold this, would you?” he said to Mike as he handed over his phone. He then leaned back and closed his eyes, taking a few deep breaths as he established contact with Winky. A few seconds later he opened his eyes and smiled. “I wonder what’s taking so long with our food?” he asked no one in particular, but when Mike returned the phone he saw the two men were gone, and Mike was scowling. Putting his phone in a pocket he smiled at their waiter as lunch arrived.

+++++

“Britt? It’s Henry? How are you?”

“It is a little scary here. Is my son…”

“He’s right here. Is there anything I need to know?”

“Eva. Henry? There’s something not right with Eva?”

“Describe to me what she’s been doing.”

“She does strange things, Henry. First, I hear she goes outside of town, and people have seen her standing by the sea as if she is waiting for someone. I have tried to tell her you won’t be returning but she remains there most of the day.”

“You should go with her when you can, Britt. It’s not me she’s waiting for.”

“Who then?”

“She’ll know. Anything else?”

“No, the war so far is still very far away.”

“There are no airlines operating to Norway now, Britt. I am looking at other options, but those are dwindling fast.”

“I see.”

“If the phones go down please remain in the city – unless or until trouble approaches. I should be able to get you out within a few days, perhaps a week.”

“Alright, Henry.”

“And I need you to tell Eva one thing. Tell her to Reach Out. Got that? Reach Out.”

“I don’t understand?”

“Just tell her, Britt. Now, here’s your boy…”

He went topsides and sat with Mike, looking at the nearly deserted streets and sidewalks. “Feels strange, doesn’t it? One day there are too many people and the next day almost everyone is gone.”

“What did you do to those two…”

“Who…me?” Taggart said, grinning madly.

“Jesus, Henry…”

“They’re fine…though they’re probably in the brig on the Cape St George.”

“Crap. I should’ve known. The spooks at the embassy are probably going apeshit right about now.”

“They have more important things to worry about right now, Mike.”

“Such as?”

“Oh, I don’t know. What the Russians will do next, maybe?”

“I’m more concerned about what we do next.”

“Well, the first bridge opens in an hour, so we probably better get ready to go.”

“Just something to think about, Henry, but we’ll be like ducks on a pond if we take the canal.”

“So, you think we should go outside and make for the Seine?”

“Safer that way.”

“Sounds boring.”

“Sounds safer for Dina and Rolf, Henry. I know the people you’re screwing around with, Henry – and I’d just as soon not have to deal with them any more than I have to.”

“Did she tell you she’d be sending people out to the boat?”

“No…wait a minute. I didn’t tell you I was dealing with a…”

“That’s right. You didn’t.”

Mike blinked several times as implications pulled him to several conclusions at once. “Winky?” he asked.

Taggart shrugged.

“Okay…so we’re taking the Staandemast route?”

“I think so. Besides, it goes within a few clicks of the embassy, so it ought to be more fun.” Taggart then called out to Rolf: “You off the phone yet?”

“Yessir. Do you need me now?”

“Yup, time to leave.” Taggart stood and stretched, then disconnected the shore power cord while he let the diesel warm up; Mike and Rolf handled the lines as they left the marina and started for the first bridge, right in the center of the city. Dina brought up hot tea for everyone and sat beside Rolf as they motored along.

“I’ve never seen this city so quiet,” she said. “It does not feel right.”

“The warning wind,” Mike said, shaking his head. “The calm before the storm.”

Rolf’s head swiveled like an owl’s, taking in their surreal surroundings with an apparent mixture of awe and fear – and reluctant curiosity.

“Probably instinct for these people now,” Mike sighed. “Seems like every European war leads right through Holland.”

“I don’t understand why there has to be war,” Rolf said.

“Someone always wants what you’ve got,” Mike said. “And sometimes those people are willing to take what you think is yours. That’s how we stumbled upon the idea of laws and religion, to try and control that impulse.”

“But what do they want?”

“Oil…and to not live in fear of the next German invasion.”

“But the Germans do not want to invade Russia…”

“Instincts, Rolf. Russians are basically a paranoid people, but it didn’t just happen. Mongols overran those people for hundreds of years and then, just about the time things started to settle down a little, the Germans came rolling along – and twice within just a few decades. Russians don’t trust outsiders, Rolf. At least that’s the way it was put to me.”

“Keeping in mind, Rolf, that Mike went to a military academy,” Taggart added.

“It’s true, Taggart, and you know it.”

“How many Russians do you know, Mike?”

“None, and I’m proud of it, too.”

“And that proves my point, Rolf. And, I guess you could say that’s the answer to your question, too. War comes down to human instinct.”

“How so?”

“If you build weapons of war sooner or later you’ll use them, and if you train people to fight, sooner or later they’ll fight. Think of it this way: once you give someone a purpose, they opt to pursue that purpose.”

“So, why not train people for peace?”

“Because,” Mike sighed, “there’s no money in it.” He looked down, shaking his head as he realized the truth of his existence, then he looked forward. “Is that the first bridge, Taggart?” he added, looking through the binoculars.

“It is, according to the chart.”

“There’s no bridge tender,” Mike said as he passed the binoculars to Henry.

Henry set the VHF to 12 and called the bridge; when there was no reply he switched to 16 and tried again – and there was still no reply.

“Okay,” Henry said as he swung the wheel, “I was afraid of this. Looks like we backtrack and head back to the main ship canal.”

“The way we came in?” Dina asked, and Taggart nodded. “What if the locks are closed?”

“Then we’re a day late and a dollar short, I’m afraid,” Henry sighed. “Time to beat feet – while we still can.”

“You know, with the city empty like this,” Mike added as he looked around, “it feels like maybe they know something we don’t.”

They heard the new sound immediately…low flying jets – followed by turboprops – and Henry swung the binoculars to the closest transport. “Red stars. Russian. Looks like paratroopers getting ready to make their jump…”

“They’re jumping over by the airport,” Mike said. “Doesn’t this canal go right by the airport?”

Taggart pushed the throttle to the stops. “Ballsy move on their part, if they can pull it off.”

And a wave of fighters coming in low from across the English Channel jumped the transports, shooting many of them down – but only after their troops had jumped. Taggart watched as hundreds of green parachutes opened and drifted down towards Schiphol International – just as a wave Dutch helicopters roared in low over the city…

“Tanks won’t be far behind,” Mike said. “Those paratroopers are meant to take the airport and hold it until major reinforcements can land, and those ought to be about a half hour out…”

“And so,” Henry said, shaking his head, “here starts World War Three. And naturally, we’re going to be right in the middle of it…” He saw four freighters up ahead, all heading for the locks that led out into the Channel, and he smiled a little at the sight – just as a wave of Dutch F-16s with wing pylons loaded with ordnance – dove on the airport, dropping their bombs on the runways before screaming off to reload and refuel. More helicopters approached, flying just above the water, and Dutch troops waved at them as they passed.

“I’ve never seen so many fuel tanks in my life,” Taggart said, looking off to the left. “No wonder they’re trying to take the city on their opening move.”

“Split Nato forces in Germany. Fortune favors the bold.”

“And no one will use nukes here,” Henry added. “What about Rotterdam?”

“More fuel farms there. You can bet they’re going for them, too. Can you pull up the BBC?”

Taggart winced as he leaned over to turn on the radio, and Dina caught his reaction.

“Are you in pain?”

He nodded.

“Where?”

He looked her in the eye. “Everywhere.”

“I see. Are you ready for some pain medicine?”

He shook his head. “Going to need a clear head for a while, you know? And…where’s Clyde?”

“Asleep, on your bed. What about your other meds? Have you taken them?”

“Fine until midnight,” he said as he punched the BBC pre-set.

“…repeating news from the top of the hour, Russian paratroops and air forces have launched major assaults on Copenhagen and Amsterdam, and a three pronged armored operation is underway, currently aimed at Germany’s Baltic coastline. Analysts believe Russian aims include securing Baltic sea-lanes…”

“Norway will be next,” Mike said. “And now we know why all those naval assets were headed north.”

“What about my mother!?” Rolf asked, now almost beside himself.

“Don’t worry, Rolf – they’re going to be just fine.”

+++++

Britt’s apartment was located on the Måseskjæret, a small street that jutted out into the bay just north of the city center in Bergen. Though small, her home had a decent view of the fjord and was conveniently close to work; it also had three bedrooms, leaving one room for Rolf and a spare to use as a kind of office. Eva was living in Rolf’s room now – when she managed to stay in the apartment, that is. Recently, when Britt came in from her clinic Eva was simply not there; more troubling still –there was scant evidence of Eva eating or drinking anything at all. More recently, Britt would sit up watching the news on television while waiting for Eva to return, and she usually did about an hour after sunset. Eva would then drink a few sips of water and take a few strips of raw salmon for her supper, then shuffle off to bed with little more than a “Hello” or “Good night” passing between them.

On her best days, those just after Taggart left with Dina and Rolf, Eva remained sullen and barely communicative, and she had remained in her room most of the time. After Britt talked with him in Amsterdam, and after Britt relayed his message to “Reach Out,” Eva had nodded once before taking a sip of water and retiring for the evening – completely oblivious to the outbreak of war, or pretty much anything else going on in the world.

After Taggart’s “Reach Out” dictum, Eva seemed to drift about this world for a while, then she would seem to dissolve and flow into another state of being: Here in this life, perhaps – but not really. Her longest walks started then, and she usually disappeared for the day – again, coming home only after dark. Britt grew quite concerned – for Eva, and for Eva’s twins – and resolved to follow Eva on her next day off.

But the night before she had resolved to follow Eva, soon after she went to bed, she felt memories flashing through her mind’s eye. And she soon felt that something, or someone, was sifting through her mind…looking for…what?

She tossed and turned after that, concern for her own twins growing by the minute. Was it the war, she wondered? Had concern for Rolf and Henry fouled her sleep…?

And as she was dressing the next morning Eva came into her room and stood there, simply looking at her as she put on her hiking boots. 

“I’m sorry you had such a bad night,” Eva said.

Britt felt a sudden shifting underfoot. “What do you mean?” – lurching as her frame of reference began shifting…with each beat of the hearts in her womb.

“If you’re ready, we can go now.”

“Go? Go where?”

“You’re wasting time, Britt. We need to go – now.”

“Alright,” Britt said, suddenly realizing there was no need for continued subterfuge.

The walked north along the shore road until they came to a little spit of rocks that reached out into the water – large rocks, beige granite with greenish stains marking the highest reach of the tides – and she followed Eva now, who hopped from boulder to boulder with practiced ease – until, at last, they both stood beside a small tidal pool contained with a single large boulder, the pool worn smooth by the ages.

Eva took off her clothing and stepped into the water, her arms spread wide, her head tilted back and her eyes closed, then she moved to step into the sea.

“Come here,” Eva said gently, “and stand beside me.”

Britt hesitated, but then she too took off her clothes and stepped into the icy water. “What are we doing?” Britt asked, nervously looking around for unwanted onlookers.

But Eva was gone now, absorbed in some kind of ritual. At least, that’s what Britt thought was going on: Eva’s arms were spread wide, her head tilted back and her eyes closed – and she was beginning to sway from side to side, like something in the water was pushing her to-and-fro. 

Movement caught her eye and she looked out over the water. There! A dorsal fin…no…more than one…

And then Eva reached over and took her by the hand, then she pulled them both into deeper water…

“Are you crazy!” Britt shouted, trying to pull away. “We need to get out of here!”

“You need to be still,” a voice said…a man’s voice…

…Henry’s voice!

“Henry?”

“I’m here,” she heard his voice say, a reassuring little sprinkle of laughter somewhere in the notes…

“Where? Where are you?”

“I’m with you, Britt. Go now, go out into the water…”

“Wonderful! Now I am hallucinating…”

“Just move easily, slowly. You’ll be alright.”

“Henry? Where are you?”

“Where I’ve always been, Britt.”

“I don’t understand…”

“Close your eyes, try to clear your mind…then reach out…”

“Reach out? What am I reaching for…?”

“Britt? You need to let go now. Close your eyes, swim with Eva and take her hand…and trust us…”

Her eyes closed and moving into very deep water now, she felt something impossibly warm move around her womb, and then the warmth spread throughout her body – and against all odds she felt herself relaxing. 

“That’s it, my love, reach out now…just as if you were reaching out with your hands, reach out with your mind, reach out for the warmth, then beyond…

Everything seemed to fall into place in the next few moments.

She spread her wings and let her head fall back and rest in the water, then she felt more warmth as other bodies came to her, listening to the new life in her belly…

Then she saw Henry…standing on a sandy white road with Clyde by his side…and she wanted to cry out for him but couldn’t form the words…

“That’s right,” he whispered as she tried to reach out to him, “I’m right here, but you need to go back to them now. In the water, they’re waiting for you…”

She felt an insistent pull now, like someone had her by the hand and she could somehow feel their confusion, almost as if they were trying to regain control of her, pull her back from…

She opened her eyes, saw a pale yellow orb spinning right in front of her face and a moment later she screamed – when she realized she was adrift in a sea of stars…

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

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 55

88Key pt7 image 1

A short chapter today, perhaps in need of a cup of Earl Grey by your favorite chair.

Part VII

Chapter 55

Pony rides and face painting, smiling clowns and magic acts. 

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone…

Birthday cake and Frank looking at his little girl, so in love with life now – when it was slipping away so fast now. 

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore waiting to take you away…

Harry had his Nikon out that day, determined to capture as many moments as he could. And maybe because he understood the meaning of this day better than most, and that memories of these last fleeting moments would take on a magic all their own. Sam and Dell and Al, all the old crew, sat off to the side in the shade of a few pines, keeping an eye on their friend as the day unfolded around them. Becky and DD, now suddenly best friends, scooped massive balls of ice cream into freshly made waffle cones, while Cathy moved among the little chicks in the protective mother-hen role she liked least about her new life, all too aware of the road that waited on the far side of the night.

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies…

And when the day was done, when all Elizabeth’s mates and chums had disappeared, she was tucked into bed by her father. Then Harry went to say good-night to Elizabeth, and after everyone walked to the patio above the cliffs while the girls sorted through the aftermath of the day, the night called out to them. So, as all the old crew gathered behind Harry’s place they watched the setting sun before the ancient rituals of fire led them deeper into the night – charcoal burning to glowing coals, steaks searing on grills and artichokes put to the boil as one last hollandaise was made, and too soon another dinner above the surf passed into memory. 

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes…

Frank went to the sofa in the living room by Harry’s Bösendorfer and his hospice nurse was summoned. Frank lay there with his head resting on Cathy’s legs as his friends gathered by his side, and a few hours later Frank’s pain was at an end. Harry and Cathy held him as he passed, all his friends sat with him when his last breath was finished, and as their final tears withered away.

Climb in the back with your head in the clouds and you’re gone…

And in Frank’s everlasting silence the nurse and Becky signed the Death Certificate – and that was it, all that was left was the sound of his silence. But the way ahead would only be found by picking up the pieces and reaching for the Will to move on. 

Yet Harry made his way through the rocks down to the surf, and he walked under cellophane skies of diamond-soaked tears, giving no heed to the ebb and flow of the day. He turned up at the house later that day and found Becky at the keyboard, Doc Watson and DD with her as she played show tunes she had committed to memory in another life. Cathy – and of course Frank – were gone now…though a memory or two lingered beside the sofa for a few hours more.

And a few days later he and Cathy stood at the edge of the cliff and scattered Frank’s ashes to the wind. Cathy held onto Callahan for an hour, both as rigid and quiet as cold stone, then she turned and walked to her house. Callahan drove into the city and picked up Becky after her shift ended and they drove over to The Shadows, because, he said, he needed to talk to her.

“Are you alright?” she asked as they sat by a window overlooking the city by the bay…

…and he nodded absent-mindedly, as was his way, before he looked away. “No, not really. I wasn’t ready for his music to end so soon.”

“He was in so much pain, Harry. At least, that is, at an end.”

“Oh, I think I understand all that, but it doesn’t change the emptiness.”

She nodded. “How else do you feel?”

“Like something…like a vital part of me has been ripped away. And Becky, sometimes it feels like I’ve forgotten how to breathe…”

“DD was trying to tell me about you two, but I don’t think I really understood, not really. There’s something about two cops like you and Frank, and I was struck by the thought that it’s a kind of pure, almost holy thing. Maybe a more intense kind of brotherhood, not of the flesh but something borne out of trust and need.”

He was looking down as she spoke, and though he heard her words his mind was fighting the impulsive desire to get up and run far, far away.

She looked at his silence, trying to read him. “So, where are you headed?” she asked as she watched his evasive posturing.

“Hmm? What?”

“Where are you running to now?”

He looked away. “I don’t know.”

“I know you don’t want company, but I’ll ask anyway. Mind if I tag along?”

He looked at her for just a moment, but then looked away. “You wouldn’t like – where I’m going.”

She shrugged. “How do you know what I’d like?”

He sighed, then a tremor passed through the moment as he tried to focus. “I told DD about your proposal for the medevac helicopters. She’ll want to get together with you and a couple of the hospital’s administrators and go over the details, and she has a contract ready for you to sign. You’ll be CATs medical director, not to interfere with your hospital duties, and your rent is now part of your salary so you’ll have a little extra spending money.”

“Thanks. Thoughtful of you.”

He looked down at his hands, stretched his fingers for a moment. “I should be back in a while. Assuming I…”

“Assuming you what, Harry?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t know…”

“Well Harry, here’s the deal. Maybe you thought you could run away when it was just you, but it’s not – not now. You’ve got Elizabeth to think about now, and God knows but Cathy might not make it without you, too. Got that? You hearin’ me, Slick?”

“Listen, I don’t need you to lecture…”

“Yeah? Well listen up, Callahan, ‘cause I grew up in a house full of brothers. And you know what that makes me?”

“No, not really…”

“Well, it means I know where to kick, and I got a lot of practice so I don’t miss. You hearin’ me, Callahan? You maybe feelin’ a little twinge down there…?”

“Yeah, I…”

“Good. ‘Cause…you ain’t going nowhere. You’re gonna haul your fat ass back to that house and you be there for those two gals, ‘cause they need you right now more than you know. Fact of the matter is, Callahan, I’m beginning to need you just a little bit, too, but not half as much as you need me, so get your act together! Grow the fuck up! Life hurts – I get that – but you can’t turn and run away every time something doesn’t go your way!”

“Jesus, just who do you…”

“I’m the little red-head that kinda like, ya know, loves you, okay? So – get over it. And stop letting DD take care of you, willya? She’s not your wife, and she sure as hell ain’t your momma, so let her do her thing at work and then let her take care of her own family. She’s makin’ it too goddamn easy for you to just walk away whenever you want, but Harry, that ain’t the way the world works. Understand? That just ain’t right. Real men don’t turn and run. Real men buckle down and get to work, and they quit when the job’s done.”

“Just how many brothers do you have?”

“Enough, Callahan. Enough to know the difference between a man and a pretender. And as far as I can tell you ain’t no pretender, so I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let you act like one.”

Their waiter was standing by the table in slack-jawed awe, watching wordlessly as she took Callahan down, and when Harry looked up at him he just shrugged. “Don’t look at me. We’re having whatever the hell she says we’re gonna have.”

And for a while, that was the way of it all.

________________________________

So…Callahan started flying again, at least he did a couple of times a week, usually on weekends so more pilots could have time off with their families. He still worked a weekend a month downtown – working homicide cases. He spent four afternoons a week with Elizabeth, in his quiet alcove over the rocks and the breaking surf – playing the piano. She was an apt pupil and learned quickly, and she had Cathy’s hands, long-fingered and strong. She also had her mother’s artistic temperament and sensibilities, and before many months passed she came to think of Callahan as more than a friend, even more than an uncle-figure. He took on the stature of a father to her, and that came naturally enough because Callahan soon regarded her as something like a daughter of his own. He grew fiercely possessive of their time together, of their time at the piano together. And for some strange reason, DD came to play less of an overt role in his life.

And anyway, she and the doc had twins and that pretty much changed her life. For the better, Becky might have said.

But then, yes, there was Becky Sawyer.

She put up with Callahan’s fear of getting married again for as long as she could, then one day she knocked him up side the head and threw his ass on an airplane. She took him to Vegas and she rented a car, then drove him down to one of those shotgun-wedding chapels and then and there she made him do the deed. She’d never been to Switzerland so off they went. An exhausted and saddle sore Callahan turned up at the Cathouse a few weeks later, finally ready to get down to some real work.

And about nine months later Becky gave Harry Callahan a son.

________________________________

And life on the cliff gave way to a brief interlude of enchanted time in Harry Callahan’s life.

Harry was, by then, in a better place to stay at home with Lloyd, so he did – at least on weekdays. And that first year was consumed with the intricacies of breast pumps and bottle warmers, for as soon as she was able Becky returned to the ER. She was, in fact, soon the head of the largest Level 1 Trauma Center in Northern California, which made her a kind of Very Big Deal in the eyes of the local medical community. Her association with CAT Medevac Services grew, too, and soon she was the de-facto CEO of this branch of Harry’s growing empire. 

Harry, on the other hand, moved off in new, uncharted directions. 

After Nils, the flamboyant merchant of all things electronica at the Rosenthal Music Company, moved to Tokyo, the company’s presence in the music world began a period of exponential growth. First in Tokyo, then in Osaka, Nils opened new branches in Beijing and Seoul and Hanoi. Up next, Sydney and Melbourne, then Rio and Capetown. 

And at the same time, Cathy’s expansion of Harry’s original house onto the adjacent property was completed, and now Harry had a complete recording studio at his disposal. Timely, for it turned out that among all his life’s unanswered ambitions, Harry Callahan now wanted to write and produce music most of all. And soon, perhaps because Nils by that time knew the community as well as anyone, many well established artists came up to Sea Ranch to compose and perform with Harry.

And some might think it impossible to overstate the significance of this turn of events, because both Elizabeth and his son Lloyd grew up within a very supportive – indeed, a very nurturing cocoon of tolerant artistic exploration – all taking place within the sheltering ambivalence and heady acceptance of the already very famous.

And though Cathy pushed Elizabeth to master the piano, Harry recognized something in his son that led him to believe Lloyd was a budding polymath. Lloyd started on the piano but soon drifted to strings; the viola when he was still in kindergarten, then, as he grew he naturally gravitated to the larger stringed instruments – the cello, then the upright bass come easily to mind, but then he took up world instruments like the koto and sitar. Finally, he followed the path of least resistance and fell into the world of the acoustic guitar, then the more easily misunderstood electric versions.

Lloyd was playing as a session guitarist while in middle school, though he was soon asked to tour with one very well known band. Elizabeth watched this transformation with more concern than either her mother or Harry, because she was seemingly more able to resist the uncertain gravities these influences imposed. Most notably…heroin and the other psychedelics.

Maybe Lloyd took this path out of an unspoken need to rebel. Or perhaps his nascent addiction was the simple by-product of being in such close contact to older, more well-established musicians, many being rebellious free-spirited suburban-anarchists who saw nothing at all wrong about helping a fourteen year old boy explore the more esoteric realms of psychedelia. As quietly as she could, Elizabeth let her mother know what was happening.

Harry’s reaction was somewhat less than quiet, and Lloyd’s first enforced stay in a drug rehab program led to a series of escapes and flights that, in the end, led to an inevitable period of decline punctuated by mental illness and several unsuccessful suicide attempts. It might not be too unhelpful to consider that the moral arc of Lloyd Callahan’s life in many ways mirrored the culture he grew up in: sheer genius giving way to the relativistic impulses of artists marching in lockstep down a road too easily traveled.

Elizabeth, who many might consider the other side of this equation, easily balanced and canceled-out Lloyd’s eccentricities; in word and deed, as Lloyd’s life spun out of control her’s seemed to maintain a perfect, arrow straight trajectory. Her grasp of the emotional lexicon of music soon exceeded Harry’s, and her technical abilities were never diluted by peripheral interests in other instruments. When a group asked her to contribute to a new recording she helped when and where should could – without ever turning her back on the course she’d settled on years before. After she graduated from high school she went to NYU where she majored in comparative literature, then on to the Juilliard School. By her twenty-third birthday she was a celebrated pianist in demand by symphony orchestras around the world.

But this isn’t Lloyd’s story, nor even Elizabeth’s. And yes, while this is indeed an account of Harry Callahan’s life and times, the first few years of that life after Frank’s passing were consumed not by Elizabeth or Cathy, and not even directly by his son, Lloyd. No, the next, and the most destructive period of Harry Callahan’s life came to him as a result of his marriage to Becky Sawyer, because she wasn’t always what she appeared to be, and because there are times when running away is the right thing to do.

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

Come Alive (18)

come alive amsterdam overhead

Chapter 18

The storm behind them now, Taggart watched shadows on the deck as the rising sun wiped away the last gauzy remnants of night. He stood and walked the deck again, the pain in his back much worse if he sat still for any length of time, his mind still full of unanswered questions. He walked aft, dropped the swim platform and stepped down just inches from their streaming wake, then, as if on cue the big male’s dorsal fin broke the surface about ten yards away, his immense body surfing along on Bandits’ foaming wake.

Eva? Had he done the right thing? Could she have made this leg of the trip?

Looking at their progress so far he knew the answer to that question already. Time Bandits was brutally efficient in a heavy seaway, and even ten foot breaking seas hadn’t bothered her in the least. Instead of slamming into waves she seemed to knife through them, cut them away and slip through unscathed, and he’d carried more sail through the night than he would have ever thought safe on the old Nauticat.

Dina and Rolf had had no problem sleeping, either. So, yes, Eva would have done just fine. Now the question came down to logistics, and to the female orcas.

With twenty hours elapsed since leaving Bergen’s inner harbor they’d made 160 miles, hideously fast given the rowdy state of the sea, and sitting at the wheel overnight he’d positioned Bandits on a broad reach and surfed her off a wave, grinning as she hit 12 knots before rounding up a little. She was a fine boat indeed, one his father would have enjoyed.

The two smaller males swam close and just then one of them came very close, swimming on his side with one eye planted on Taggart, and for a moment he’d wanted to lean over and rub the guy. Then the big male swam in close, in effect running the smaller males away, and Taggart did lean over and hold his hand out…but then the large male swam away too, leaving Taggart to wonder why.

He went back to the helm and pulled up the latest weather overlay, then zoomed out, pulling in information from all over the North Atlantic basin. Two more hurricanes had formed, one with probability cones leading to Florida, the other looking to turn northwest towards Bermuda again, and he’d have to keep an eye out for that one. Beyond that? A big, fat blob of high pressure was filling-in behind the storm, centered over the Irish Sea this morning, so he expected falling winds during the day – today, and possibly zero wind early tomorrow – just as they approached the Dutch coast.

The next waypoint was set a few miles miles off the entrance channel to Den Helder, and they’d avoid the treacherous low tides in the Waddenzee by entering the Dutch canal system there, taking a deep commercial barge canal directly to the center of Amsterdam. From there, the plan was to take the StaandeMast Route, so called because there would be no need to remove the mast for the trip through the heart of the city – and, indeed, all the way to Rotterdam. Looking at the drafts needed to transit these routes, he was glad this particular vessel had the shoal-draft option – because without this shallower depth the canal systems of Holland, Belgium, and France would have become out of reach, the water not deep enough to handle a boat so deep. As it was, Time Bandits was right at the limit…

He reached to move the radar’s range out to 72 miles, wincing as his body shifted and immediately regretting it. He took a deep breath and felt odd shooting pains in his chest and sighed, wondering where the crud was spreading next, and how fast. He’d learned enough to know that if it spread up to the cervical vertebrae it would be ‘game over,’ just as soon as the vagus nerve was compromised. He shook his head as he took another deep breath, not taking anything for granted now.

Only one target popped on the radar, and that was strange. They were about to transit the main shipping lane from the Kiel/Elbe waterway to the English Channel, and if this route was empty that meant most all the ships in the Baltic had successfully left that possible conflict zone. It was either that or the Kiel Canal had been closed to traffic…

He turned on the new Fusion radio and selected the transceiver, then hit the BBC’s World News broadcast and set the cockpit speakers to active.

“…repeating, at least four Russian mechanized groups have entered Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have asked that American forces attempt to form a new coalition to halt this latest advance. This comes two hours after Russian paratroopers landed around strategic routes connecting Helsinki to Sweden. A government spokesperson still trapped in Finland stated that the central government had relocated to Stockholm, and that almost all elements of the Finnish Navy and Air Force had relocated to pre-determined redoubts throughout the region…”

“Well, Hell,” he sighed, “so war it is. And Middle East oil is the objective. Again.”

He changed the frequency to Radio Deutsche Welle and listened as the reporter described a tense standoff in central Ukraine as Russian forces had violated the cease-fire and started a new push for Kiev. Warsaw had canceled all military leave and activated reserves, while Hungary had reportedly approached Moscow, declaring neutrality in any conflict. So Moscow now had a safe corridor to approach Austria and Bavaria…

France Radio reported that the French president had put all nuclear forces at the equivalent of DefCon 2, and that the Secretary General of the UN was imploring all sides to step back from the brink…

“Sounds bad,” Mike said, coming up the companionway with two cups of coffee. “Any news from Washington?”

Taggart leaned forward to change presets and winced again, then hit the button.

“You okay?”

Taggart shook his head. “Something under the right ribcage. Sharp pain, probably in the liver now.”

“Damn…” Mike said as the radio came to life again.

“Reports from the White House would seem to confirm that the president has left for Joint Base Andrews, but we are getting some reports of heavy traffic on the roads leading to Mount Weather…”

“So,” Mike said, “the president is going airborne and key government officials are headed to the underground C&C center.”

“Sounds like someone is trying to push NATO into thinking an attack is imminent.”

“Yup.”

“Which sounds like,” Taggart sighed, “the Russians are trying to get a response from whoever hacked their systems three weeks ago.”

“Okay…I’ll bite. Can you?”

“Me? Not without another back door, like another Mainstay flight – that also just happened to go active over the North Sea.”

“Talk about a stroke of luck…”

“Depends on your point of view, Mike. A Russian might disagree with you.”

“Well, yeah, but the action you took, that unilateral take-down, was a stroke of genius. With everybody offline, nobody appeared guilty. I take it the fuel thing wasn’t your doing?”

“No way.”

“So, what is their interest in all this?”

“I get the impression they’re kind of like a bunch of high school students, and we’re their science project.”

Mike grinned at that. “Now that’s a confidence inspiring idea. What about the one mind thing? What has that got to do with all this?”

“Ya know, a bunch of people a lot smarter than I am haven’t been able to figure this one out, but let’s go back to Schrödinger for a second.”

“Okay…”

“So, Schrödinger was thinking that the universe looks less like a big machine than it does One Big Thought, and that this One Big Thought exists, in effect, in a unique quantum state. Schrödinger’s next postulate was the idea that consciousness, in the form of a quantum singularity, is out there, and I mean literally everywhere, phasing in and out within all sentient beings. So, what we were trying to wrap our heads around back in Seattle – especially after the whole 9/11 random number thing hit home – was that the speed of thought within a single quantum singularity is literally instantaneous…”

“You mean, like everywhere in the universe?”

“Yup. And I know, the idea seems preposterous, until Winky and his pals showed up just before 9/11…”

“Coming from Andromeda, you said. So, what you’re saying is that they’ve somehow been able to physically move around the universe at the speed of thought?”

Taggart nodded. “If we’d only had another couple hundred thousand years to evolve, we might have made it there, too.”

“You’re speaking of us in the past tense.”

“That’s right. They’ve pretty much written us off as a species, yet for some reason a few of them are still hanging around, like they’re waiting for the final results to come in. As I said, it feels like a high school science project, that was supposed to be turned in yesterday.”

“Only we’re the ones being put to the test.”

“Exactly, so as far as Russia goes, if this next little war proves be our extinction level event, you’d think they would just pack up their bags and go on to their next project, but no, that’s not quite the case, and personally, I think it has something to do with our friends over there,” Taggart said, pointing at the orcas. 

“The Cape St George…”

“Right. I grew concerned that the ship might try to take us out, but they’d have had to use explosives and that would have injured, or perhaps even killed, one or more of the whales. So, I let Winky know.”

“And a guided missile cruiser became a lighter than air cruiser.”

“Elegant solution, I thought,” Taggart said, smiling at the memory. “Still, there’s one new wrinkle in all this. Those female orcas and Eva, and whatever they were doing out there, matters, because Winky was taking an intense interest in the process.”

“You think he was watching, or maybe even directing the process.”

“Watching. If he’d been involved there would have been physical contact.”

“You assume so, that is?”

“True. That’s my assumption. But I’ve never seen him act like that before.”

“How do you know it’s the same…what? – person? – being?”

“You get where you can recognize colors and patterns within the spheres…”

“Just how many do you know?”

“Me, directly? Four of them. Winky, Dinky, Pinky, and Finky. And no, I didn’t name them.”

“Finky?”

“Is a major league asshole. Dark green sphere with purple polar areas. When he’s around clear your mind, fast. Zero sense of humor.”

“Sense of humor?”

“Yeah, that’s Dinky. He’s a stitch, and probably the smartest of the lot, too. I think this is his project, as in We are his project, and he isn’t prepared to write us off just yet.”

“And let me guess…Finky is ready to pull the plug?”

“See? This is easy, right?”

“You say so. What about Dinky?”

“Yellow-orange, red equatorial bulge. Usually very small, very dim and really hard to spot.”

“So Pinky is pink?”

“Yup, and definitely female. She’s their resident empath, and she doesn’t respect your personal space, at all. When she wants to know what you’re feeling she’ll find out any way she can.”

“So, that leaves Winky. What’s his role in all this?”

“I think of him as being like a mechanic, or maybe an engineer. He studies things, and when needed he manipulates what needs to be manipulated.”

“Hence the Cape St George. Can you call them individually?”

“I can’t, at least not all of them. I’ve had some luck with Winky and Dinky, none at all with the other two.”

“Where are they?”

“No idea.”

“The spheres? What are they?”

“I think they’re more like a monitoring device, but in a way also like a drone – in that those things can take action when directed to.”

“So, the hologram is a projection of what ‘they’ look like?”

“Well, yes, but you actually met Winky, and I mean in the flesh, before you back-flipped over the rail.”

“I don’t remember that. But…you’ve seen him before…like in that form?”

Taggart nodded. “When the Seattle group was trying to reconstruct their first ARV. Yes.”

“And those ships work?”

“In a limited capacity. Most of them crash, as we just don’t have the means to reproduce the flight control systems.”

“What does that mean?”

“The controls seem to react to direct neural commands, and our brains aren’t structurally all that similar.”

“What are their power sources like?”

“Advanced.”

“Hah-hah.”

“Think of a fusion reactor with a power output sufficient to power California in a package about the size of a briefcase.”

“No kidding? And the Seattle group reproduced that?”

“Yes. So did the Black Widow team.”

“So, theoretically we could…”

“Yes, we could. But end poverty, hunger, or inequality? Doubtful. Groups are already in open conflict about who gets the technology and at what price. And that’s why the U.S. probably won’t go to war to protect the Middle East this time around.”

“Jesus…”

“Oh, from what I’ve heard, Jesus approved of the technology.”

“What?”

“Mike, you need to wrap your head around the idea that their project has been going on for a long, long time. They’ve made a bunch of friends, too, but apparently our team in Seattle was the first to actually initiate contact. That marked a big moment of success for them, and that was the only reason why Finky didn’t terminate the project after the 9/11 thing.”

“That’s the random number thing, right?”

“Yeah, a group working out of Princeton and Yale. Computational Psychobiology, if you can get into that. Working on AI and their system accidentally picked up the 9/11 data, which led to contact after we got our ARV online.”

“But you’re not using any equipment to make contact…”

“Because none is needed, Mike. Remember, one mind, one conscious mind, so think of it as one part of the mind talking to another part.”

“Damn, Taggart, even my hemorrhoids are starting to hurt just thinking about all this…”

“Yeah? Well, wrap your head around this. Orcas have been in contact with them a lot longer than we have.”

“So, Eva and those females? They were…”

“Yup. And I don’t have a clue how or why Eva was able to do that.”

“You know, man, I think I’m gonna go clean my ears – with some Preparation H.”

Taggart nodded, then looked aft. “I just hope I haven’t fucked up the works by not bringing Eva along this time. If the Russians make a big move into central Europe then any ability to get to her will very likely be cut-off, and I’m thinking that her part in this equation may hold the key to their success.”

“So…we turn around and go back.”

“No,” Taggart said, shaking his head slowly, “I can’t take a chance on not getting where I want to be, and anyway, my guess is if they need her they’ll know where to find her.”

“Okay, so you’re willing to take that chance. Decision made. Let’s move on.”

Henry smiled. “Is that the naval mindset?”

“Damn straight it is. You can’t properly execute any plan if you’re always second guessing yourself. Get all that baggage out of the way before you decide.”

“Well, we’re into September now and according to Dina I’m officially running out of time.”

“And Russia is fucking up the works.”

“Aren’t they always?”

“You’re asking the wrong person,” Mike said, gnashing his teeth. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve been programmed to fight Russians.”

“So isn’t it just as likely that a bunch of Russians feel the same way, like they have been programmed to fight us?” Henry added, smiling.

“Sure it is.”

“So, consider this. It’s this tendency we have, to look for differences and then demonize those differences, which – in their eyes,” Taggart said, pointing up at the sky, “makes us a doomed species. That, and I think the whole religion thing really messes with their frame of reference.”

“How so?”

“Well, the one mind thing infers we’d be on the same wavelength as God. Dinky laughed his ass off when we mulled over some possibilities.”

“So, where are we headed now?”

“Den Helder. We cut in and try to find the right canal to take us to Amsterdam.”

“Why not just go to IJmuiden. Plenty of draft and no bridges to worry about. Only about twenty, maybe thirty miles further.”

“You’ve been there?”

“Yeah, on a port visit once, but I guess it begs the issue…why not just sail straight for the Seine?”

“I know,” Henry sighed. “I wanted to stop and smell the roses, I guess.”

“Tulips, Henry. Lots of tulips.”

“Oh…yeah. Well, the Russians may have made all that a moot point.”

“No, no, I say stick to the plan. If they’re keeping an eye on you, maybe they’re trying to gauge how you respond to all these changes.”

Taggart scowled. “Maybe.”

“So, maybe heading inland at IJmuiden is the safer option right now.”

“Okay, I’ll add it as a second route and we can decide when we get to the next waypoint.”

“If we stayed outside, out of the canals, how far is it from IJmuiden to the Seine?”

“Just under 300 miles,” Taggart said, looking at the chart plotter, “but remember, I’ve got a big medical work-up in Amsterdam.”

“Options and outcomes, Henry…just thinking about the available options.”

“Well, I’m going to go take a nap. Call me before we get close to Den Helder.”

“Right.” Lacy watched and waited until Taggart was below, then pulled a new sat-phone from his jacket and checked-in. It was a brief call.

________________________________

Eva slept terribly the night after Taggart left.

She’d watched the storm’s approach, her mood as dark as the underbelly of the scudding clouds, a helpless onlooker now supposedly out of harm’s way – warehoused, put on a shelf to be watched-over like the incubator she’d been repurposed to be. It wasn’t that she was merely angry now; no, she felt disused. No longer loved or needed.

When Time Bandits disappeared inside the shredding white line of the squall, she had turned away and walked to the same bench Taggart and Clyde always went to when he had fresh salmon for the old boy. She sat in the same spot Henry sat and closed her eyes – soaking up memories like a thirsty sponge. In her mind’s eye she saw not Taggart’s eyes, but Clyde’s; deep, dark, full of purpose, the unknowable mysteries that spoke of love and devotion – and she felt at home for a moment, in those eyes.

Until her clouds began clearing the way forward, until other eyes became manifest.

Just as deep, just as purposeful. The big male and his scything dorsal full of latent purpose…

He was reaching out to her…she could feel him probing her thoughts, reassuring her. Telling her she would not be alone, that she would never be alone ever again and to trust him. Her mind reeled under the assault, under the weight of the utter unfamiliarity of something so invasively foreign, yet as her mind reacted she also began reaching out, probing the unfamiliar, feeling her way out of this inner storm under the sheer strength of her empathic abilities…

She went into the male orcas mind, felt the weight if his responsibilities, of his hopes and dreams, then she saw the world through his eyes…watching her that first time as she fell overboard and as Henry came for her…then she felt the love and wonder in his eyes…not just for his family but for her as well.

“Why?” she asked. “Why do you feel this way?”

And she experienced a rush of impressions that left her breathless. Impossible things, unreal places, and she basked under the full glory of his hopes and dreams – even as other minds began probing, seeking out the source of this new strength…

“After all this time, could she be the one?” the green sphere wondered.

_____________________________

Lacy hopped off Bandits’ bow and secured the forward spring-line to the pier while Rolf pulled in on the stern-line, making the boat fast to her new spot in central Amsterdam. Dina had bundled Taggart in a heavy coat – because he said he was freezing – even though it was almost 70 degrees F outside, and they set out for the hospital as soon as the power was hooked-up. Rolf took over the care and feeding of Clyde when Mike advised he had a few errands to run, and so Rolf took Clyde to a nearby park for a long-needed sniff of grass.

Lacy hailed a taxi and proceeded southwest out of the city to the sprawling US Embassy complex in Wassenaar, and from there he made his way to the second floor office of the local CIA resident director of field operations. She was waiting for him, and she was furious.

“So, you’re telling me the woman is still in Bergen?”

Lacy nodded. “He wouldn’t let her come. I tried, but if I’d pushed more than I already had I think I’d have blown my cover.”

The woman shook her head, looked out the window. “You know, we don’t have anyone near Bergen right now. Everyone is up north, at the border. Do you have any idea how many troops they have massed up there right now? Today? This morning…?”

“No. I’d assume…”

“Yeah? Well, double whatever you were going to guess and you’d still be off by a factor of two. And now I’ve got to find a warm body to hustle their ass to fuckin’ Bergen and get eyes on this woman. Goddamn! I just wish you’d have stayed on her…”

Lacy just stared at the spook, knowing things must have gotten out of hand for her to be this rattled. “Well, the good news is he says he can’t pull off a repeat of the Helgoland broadcast, so at least we don’t have to worry about that right now.”

“You mean he says he can’t. So far Taggart has been as slippery as eel snot.”

“I haven’t seen him working on anything and besides, he’s sicker than shit.”

“And you’re sure that isn’t an act?”

Lacy pulled out his phone and showed her a picture of Taggart he’d taken the day before and her eyes went wide.

“Okay,” she said softly, “how long does he have?”

“The oncologist traveling with us says she doubts he’ll make it to Paris. So…call it, well, maybe a month.”

“I don’t know why we can’t just kill him now, put him out of our misery…”

“I think that would be premature, and probably not in the best interests of the project.”

“Getting that goddamn woman back under surveillance is in our best interest right now,” the Chief of Station snarled. “Taggart was a dead end and now we know it!”

“I disagree, and don’t know that’s the case – not at all, as a matter of fact. We need to stay with the original plan, just detail someone from the CERN group to Bergen and let me see where Taggart takes us. I still think he’s the key player.”

“Assuming we can move people freely across Europe, you mean? No, we should kill him before he pulls off another Helgoland!”

“That’s not their objective now – and you know it. We need to stick to the plan, let it work. You know and I know the stakes are just too high.”

“You keep assuming we know what their ultimate objective is. Need I remind you…we don’t!”

“We’ll know…assuming we can keep him alive all the way to Paris…”

“Yes, yes…I know. Now get out of here, and let me have that sat-phone. We have new bugs planted, so we’ll know what’s going on before you do.”

Lacy nodded and left her office; he took a taxi to the nearby rail line that led back into the city and waited for the next train with a handful of commuters. He never noticed the small, yellow-orange sphere hovering almost inside a nearby hedgerow, nor did he spot the tiny orbs that raced out of the embassy to rejoin the larger orb. 

As the train rolled to a stop beside the platform, Lacy stepped on board just before the doors closed. He sat beside a window and watched the countryside drift by, never aware of the tiny spheres that landed on his jacket and in his hair.

Dinky’s sphere resumed its station a few hundred miles overhead, joined for a moment by an angry red sphere – which left a few minutes later, streaking back down to the heart of the city far, far below.

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

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 54

Part VII

Chapter 54

Callahan pushed the button on the bed-rail and raised his head, then he looked at the EKG beeping merrily along; it looked normal – at least to his untrained eye it did – and no one had been in to see him in the past half hour…so what the devil was going. He looked at the two IV bags running fluids into his arm and shook his head, then leaned back and closed his eyes.

The curtain flew open and a woman that looked – in her scrubs and lab coat – somewhat like a white fire hydrant as she walked in while reading his chart. Then without skipping a beat she stopped reading and looked up at him.

“Well, a few more tests we need to run, Mr. Callahan, but it looks like you’ve had a classic SIPA?”

“Seepa? What the hell is that?”

“Stress-Induced Panic Attack.”

Harry shook his head and rolled his eyes: “You’ve got to be fuckin’ kidding me!?”

“Well, you’re dehydrated and, apparently, had just sat down in a car, and let’s not even talk about the showdown with the ex-girlfriend in the parking lot. So, I want to rule out reflex syncopes…and let’s see, no diabetes – but I see an elevated white count. Been out of the country recently?”

“Iraq. Five months.”

She looked over the rim of her glasses when she heard that and started writing furiously on her chart. “Lean forward, please.” She listened to his lungs for a long time, tapping away like a woodpecker a couple dozen times before writing more notes. “Okay, I think we have enough blood drawn already, so I want to run another test or two. Anyway, just sit back and get some rest. You up for a visitor?”

“Depends. No ex-girlfriends, please.”

She snort-laughed at that then disappeared to parts unknown.

DD popped her head through the curtain a moment later. “Well, I hear you’re going to survive,” she said as she walked up to the bed-rail. “How’re you feeling?”

“Like an idiot.”

“Well, you’re not, but no more Fujiko for you!” she said sternly.

“That woman is infuriating.”

“You know, as soon as you said that your face started turning red. Harry, I think this is a much more dire situation than you realize. I think…you really need to get laid.”

Callahan brought a hand up to his face and rubbed his eyes while he slowly shook his head. “I’m sure glad to hear that, doc. By the way, where’d you go to medical school?”

“The University of Lonely Hearts, Harry, and I know all there is to know about the condition.”

“Well, the doc must be keeping you in fine shape. I’ve never seen you happier.”

“You know what? I am happy, Harry. And you aren’t. And that bothers me, a lot.”

A nurse walked in. “Callahan, Harry L.?”

“That’s me.”

“We’re going down to x-ray. Think you can walk?” she said as she removed the lines from his IV, then lowered the rail on his gurney after she put some grippy socks on his feet.

“Yup.”

“Okay, let’s go…”

As he walked from the room DD whistled: “Nice ass, Callahan!” – so of course every nurse on the floor lined up to take a look.

An hour later the fire hydrant came back to his room – still writing furiously as she came up to the bed – then, looking over her glasses she looked Callahan in the eye. “You’ve picked up an interesting fungal infection somewhere in your recent travels, Mr. Callahan. There’s already some anecdotal information circulating about patients presenting with a similar bug who have recently been in Iraq, and, well, I’d like to get a handle on this and see if this is what’s really going on. I’m going to admit you, send you up to the infectious diseases ward…”

“Wait a minute,” DD interjected, “isn’t that where all the Aids patients are? I don’t want Harry…”

“No, it’s not. And we’re capable of maintaining sterile conditions on our floors,” the physician snarled.

“Will he be in isolation?”

“Yes, full quarantine measures. Masks, gloves, gowns, the whole nine yards…”

Callahan watched this give and take like he was at a tennis match, his head bouncing from side to side as each new volley raced over the net, then he decided he’d had enough. “Okay, doc. But the real issue here is that my friend has advised that what I really need is to get laid. I have to assume I can’t get laid here, right?”

The eyes looking over the rim of the glasses is what got Callahan.

“Uh, no, I, well, no…”

“Well said, Doc. Well said.” 

DD – now turning beet red – disappeared down a corridor, beating a hasty retreat.

“Is she your…”

“No, she works for me.”

“What do you do?”

“Heard of Callahan Air Transport?”

“The helicopter thing?”

“Yes, that thing.”

“I’m sorry. But yes, I’ve even used it a couple of times. So, you’re the Callahan in Callahan?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“Were you flying in Iraq?”

He nodded.

“See any action?”

“A little.”

“Any other combat?”

“Vietnam.”

“Really. What about other stressful environments?”

“SFPD Homicide Division. Does that count?”

“Any drinking or recreational drug use?”

“No.”

“What about sex? Heterosexual?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“But none lately?”

“Correct.”

“Want to have dinner sometime?”

He paused and thought about that for a moment. “Assuming you can get me out of this place, sure.”

“I think I can manage that.”

“It might help if I knew your name.”

She looked at her lab coat – “Perfect! No name tag again. I always forget. Becky Sawyer,” she said, holding out her hand. “But I’m still going to keep you overnight. I hope you understand.”

He took her hand and shook his head. “Fungus, did you say? Like…mushrooms?”

She snort-laughed at that: “Just need to rule out a few things. If I’m right and we catch it early it ought to be easy to treat. I’m also going to put you on something for your blood pressure; it’s a little high. For now though, I kind of want to take the edge off, so I have a little diazepam ordered.”

“Diazepam?”

“Valium.”

“No thanks.”

“Look, Callahan, you’re wound up tighter than a drum, and one way or another I need you to relax…so, sorry, but doctors orders this time.”

“So, I take it getting laid is out of the question?”

She laughed. “Not on the first date, Callahan,” she said as she walked out of the little room.

“Now that was interesting,” Callahan sighed as he watched her leave, talking to himself. “Not like any doc I’ve ever seen before, ya know?”

_________________________________

He was sitting in the bar at Trader Vic’s that next Friday, nursing a Suffering Bastard – with rum, no less – while he waited for Becky Sawyer, and he looked at his watch again – for the tenth time in as many minutes. Already a half hour late, but she’d said she would have trouble getting away before seven, so here he sat, feeling more than a little insecure.

Then – she was there. Walking right up to his little corner booth looking incandescent, almost a little too cute, and as he stood, a little “Wow…” slipped out.

And that caused her to smile. “Wow? Did you just say wow?”

“I did. Sorry…”

“Don’t apologize…please. In my book ‘wow’ is as good as it gets!”

She had kind of a Holly Hunter vibe going on, too. Short, yes, but a real firecracker. “I hate to say it,” he said, “but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen cute like you do cute.”

“Well Hot-Damn, Harry! Comin’ out of chute number one, and ain’t you sweet?!” 

“Wow…!”

“I guess scrubs and a lab coat don’t make the best first impression, huh?”

“Hell, I guess not.”

“Well Harry, you better buy me a strong drink ‘cause I’m horny as hell and Tag! – you’re it!”

He gulped – hard. “What?”

“Hard of hearing, too? Ain’t that the shits.” she said as she sat next to him – sliding in close. “So, whatcha drinkin’?”

“Suffering Bastard.”

“Ooh…sounds like a meanie. Order me two.”

He signaled their waiter and ordered two more – for the table.

“So? You horny?” she purred.

“Yeah, after one look at you I think that’s a fair assumption.”

“When’s the last time you popped your cork?”

“It’s been a while?” he said, a little confused by this direct line of attack…

“What? You mean…like a week or so?”

“I mean like probably more than five years.”

Her eyes went wide. “Man, no wonder your BP is off the fuckin’ charts…” she said as her hand slipped under the table and her fingers to the zipper on his trousers. She had him free in seconds and started in on him, working him over with practiced ease.

He started to grin, then his lower lip started to tremble a bit…

“Oh-h-h dear. I do believe you are close, Harry Callahan, and do you know what? I just dropped my napkin on the floor. Would you excuse me while I go down get it?”

She took him in her mouth and he grabbed the edge of the table as he erupted, their waiter grinning like mad as he walked up, delivering the two drinks.

“Would you care for an, uh, an appetizer?” the waiter asked –

– just as Sawyer emerged, her face a gooey wreck. “No thanks,” she smiled. “I’m good.”

Callahan cleared his throat. “Uh, you know, maybe we’ll just order dinner in the main dining room?”

“Hell no,  Callahan, I like this booth just fine. Order something for us while I go fix my face.”

They watched her walk off, Callahan almost in a state of shock, the waiter grinning toothily.

“Oh Hell, Rick, just bring us some food. I don’t care what…”

“Very good, sir…!”

She came back a few minutes later, fresh lipstick flawlessly applied, and she sat and downed half her Bastard in one long pull.

“You from Texas or somethin’,” he asked as she toyed suggestively with the cucumber slice in her glass.

“What was your first clue, Callahan?”

“You know, that’s the first time anything like that has ever happened to me.”

“Oh yeah? Well, odds are lookin’ pretty good it won’t be the last.”

By the time they left Vic’s, Callahan was toasted and Sawyer’s motor was running hard, so he opted for a cab ride to the condo down by the wharf.

He tried to come up for air about four hours later, but she wasn’t having any of it.

_________________________________

But then the phone started ringing – a little after seven.

He ignored it one time, but picked up on the second try.

“Harry? It’s Cathy,” and she sounded frantic. “Frank’s not doing well. I think he needs to go down to Palo Alto.”

“Alright, I’ll head down to the Cathouse. Has the doc been by yet?”

“He’s on his way now.”

“Okay. I’m gonna hop in the shower. Have the doc call me as soon as he knows what we need to bring.”

Sawyer was sitting up – and she was all business now. “What’s going on?”

“Friend of mine, up by the house. He’s end-stage pancreatic cancer. That was Cathy, his, well, his significant other, and she thinks something is wrong.”

“This isn’t where you live?”

“No. Listen, I’ve got to jump in the shower…”

“Yeah, let’s do it to it…”

They showered together – “It saves water, ya know?” she said – and he dressed in running pants and an SFPD sweatshirt, and he took the next call on the first ring.

“What’s up, Doc?”

“Can you fly up?”

“Assuming the weather is good, yeah.”

“Okay. We’ll get him ready.”

“Right,” he said as he rang off, then he turned to Sawyer. “Look, I’m sorry, but could I call you…”

“Sure, I’d love to come along,” she said, grinning. “Two docs are better than one, right?”

He called the Cathouse, had them get the 412 medevac ship ready. “I’ll be there in about ten minutes,” he told the dispatcher. When he turned to Sawyer she was dressed like a firecracker again, and he shook his head. “Wow,” he sighed.

“Sorry, I didn’t exactly bring a change of clothes…”

“Oh, it’s not that. Fact is, there’s nothing I’d rather do right now than get you out of those clothes and back in the sack. I’ve never had so much fun in my life…”

“Yeah? You seemed a little rusty to me, but I think with a little work I can whip you back into shape.”

He nodded. “Let’s go.”

“What’s the Cathouse?”

“It’s the call-sign for our main base.”

“Right, I like it. Kinda fits, ya know?”

His Rover was still at Vic’s so he called a taxi and they made the short drive to the valet lot to pick it up, then he drove down to the Presidio. Pattison was waiting for him when he pulled into the lot.

“What’s up?” Pattison asked.

“It’s Frank,” Harry said. “You free this morning?”

“I can be. Just came in to catch up on some paperwork.”

“Okay. You take the left seat.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I’m done with flying, Pat. I’d like you to take on the Chief Pilot thing starting today.”

“What? Is it a medical thing?”

“No, it’s a totally burned out thing, Pat. I’m done, at least for a while,” he said as he helped Sawyer get situated in the jump seat. They did a quick walk around and took off for the Golden Gate. With Sawyer on the intercom, Callahan narrated what was going on as they flew north just off the beach.

“Harry, there’s enough stuff back here to do minor surgery!” she said.

“Yeah, we had the doc kind of help us design and stock this thing.”

“It’s about ten times better than what the Fire Department has. Man, you guys ought to advertise this some.”

“We mainly use it for fire fighting situations.”

“Well, you guys could staff this thing with a doc and a nurse and basically offer an in-flight minor trauma bird. Y’all have some seriously cool shit back here!”

Pattison put the 412 down on the street just outside Cathy’s house, and as everyone was already out front waiting Harry just helped get people loaded. He groaned when he saw Bullitt – who looked half-past dead in the golden morning light.

And it turned out that Sawyer and Doc Watson knew one another, barely, and after they laid Frank down she started an IV and worked up his vitals.

“Did you say we’re going to Stanford?” she asked Callahan – quietly – over the intercom.

“Yeah. Why?”

“If you can radio ahead it would be a good idea to have an oncologist and a hematologist standing by.”

“Okay. Can do. How far out are we, Pat?”

“Call it twenty minutes.”

“Right.” Callahan looked up the frequency for Stanford, forgetting it was listed as SUMC, then he found the numbers quickly after that; with that done he patched Sawyer’s intercom into the COMMs net. “Becky? Push the white button here,” he said indicating the side of her headset, “to talk on the radio. I’ll call Stanford now, and you tell ‘em what you need, okay?”

“Right.”

“Pat? Need help with ATC?”

“If you can, sure.”

Harry called the flight in as a medevac and got a direct clearance to Palo Alto, and they were on the ground five minutes later. Physicians and orderlies took Frank into the ER; Harry told Cathy he’d go back to the Presidio, pick up his Rover and head back as soon as he could.

She hugged him, tears in her eyes, then he noticed DD wasn’t with them.

“Is DD with Elizabeth?” he asked, and Cathy nodded before she turned and ran into the hospital. He looked at her as she ran, a million conflicting emotions pulling at him…

“Okay, let’s go,” he said to Pattison.

“Man, he looks grim.”

Callahan turned and looked out at the Stanford campus as they climbed and turned west. ATC routed them back to the beach and north to the Gate, and they landed at the Presidio ten minutes later.

Pattison told them to leave, that he’d take care of the aircraft, so Harry and Sawyer walked to his Rover. “Where can I take you?” he asked. 

“Could we stop by my apartment, let me change real fast?”

“Uh, sure, but I don’t want to drag you away…”

“Nope, Callahan, you’re stuck with me this weekend. Ain’t no better way to learn about someone than watching them do their thing. And besides, I’m starting to have warm fuzzies about you.”

He looked at her and smiled. “Where to, Doc?”

She gave him the address and he smiled, shook his head. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Oh, nothing. But you should know I’m your landlord, just in case you fall behind on your rent.”

“What?”

Harry grinned as he talked – almost all the way to his first high-rise apartment tower, and he waited for her while she ran upstairs and changed; they drove down the 280 to Page Mill Road after that – breaking a few speed limits on the way. Cathy and Doc Watson were still in the ER waiting room, Cathy doing her best to hold it together but not coming close, and she ran into Harry’s arms as soon as he walked into the room.

He held her while she cried it out, leaving the two docs to sit and talk shop for a while, then a nurse came and told Cathy it would be okay for her to go back for a brief visit. Harry went and sat with Becky and Watson, and in this sudden, desperate calm now all too aware of the day’s spiraling cascade of events.

“I need to call Sam,” he sighed. “And Dell…”

“Harry? It’s going to be okay. My guess is he’ll be good to go home later this afternoon. We’ll probably just need to get a few things for the house.”

“A few things, Doc?”

“Hospice things, Harry. They’ll know what he needs, what we’ll need.”

The word slammed into Callahan like a blow to the head and he found it hard to breathe again; Becky scooted close then and started to talk him down…

“Lean back, Harry. Take a deep breath. Just close your eyes and try to let go for a while…”

“Ya know, my arms feel funny.”

“Oh?” Doc Watson said. “How so?”

“A burning sensation, especially around the joints.”

Watson looked at Sawyer and nodded. “Anything else? You been sleeping okay?”

“No. Not really.”

“Okay, just close your eyes, try to rest…” 

They got up and walked over to a vending machine. “You know,” Watson said, “I’m reading about this same shit more and more, kids coming back from the Gulf…”

“Yeah, I know. Me too. Harry’s not the first one we’ve run across, either…”

“You still at USF?”

“Yeah.”

“You and Harry? How’d it go last night?”

“I like him. A lot.”

“He’s good people. Been through a lot the last ten years, stuff you wouldn’t believe. What he’s doing with these helicopters…well, it’s something special.”

“He said he’s my landlord? What do you know about that?”

“Hell, he owns about ten huge apartment and condo complexes now, mainly in the city but he’s starting one down here now.”

“Are you serious?”

“My wife is his CFO. Not a lot about his affairs I don’t know, but the guy has the touch. Everything he does makes money. A lot of money.”

“What’s a lot?”

Watson shook his head. “I’m not sure what it is now, but last year his net worth was over three hundred.”

“Thousand?”

“No…million.”

Her eyes went wide. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Watson just shook his head. “Once he told DD, that’s my wife, he was going out with you she ran your name, found out everything there is to know about you…”

“Did he…”

“No. He doesn’t know she does that crap, but she protects him like a lioness protects her cubs. And look, I’m just telling you so you go into this with open eyes, okay?” 

“He said he’s a cop, too. I don’t get it…”

“Retired after putting in his twenty but kept at it in the reserves. He’s still a homicide detective, still carries the gun and the badge. Man, if I had that kind of money I wouldn’t…”

But she wasn’t really listening anymore. She was, in fact, now almost completely mortified. She’d come off as some kind of horny nymphomaniacal slutzilla because she thought he might be a fun diversion for a few days…but then the warm fuzzies – as she liked to call them – had hit, and hit hard. Now she felt like she was in way too deep, and that was not someplace familiar to her. Not at all.

“Who’s Frank?” she asked.

“Frank Bullitt. His partner and best friend. Let’s just say that close is an understatement and leave it at that.”

“Got it. And Cathy?” 

“Not married but been together for more than twenty years. One kid, a little girl. Cathy’s an architect and does all Harry’s design work.”

“So, they’re all real close? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Closer than close, Becky. Again, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.”

“You mean, like some kind of triangle deal?”

“No, not at all, and Harry is just not wired that way. Conservative when it comes to things like that, sometimes he’s almost shy. Maybe old-fashioned is the best way to describe him.”

“Oh…”

“You haven’t fallen for him, have you?”

She turned and looked at Callahan, then at Watson – and she nodded. “Maybe, just a little.”

“Well, let me cue you in right now. If you’re looking for some quick fun, Harry is not the one for you. He’s complicated, yet I think you’ll find he’s worth the effort. But…if you hurt him, you’ll have to answer to my wife. And Becky…you do not want to do that.”

“I think I need a drink. A real strong drink.”

“Had a Suffering Bastard yet?”

“Oh. My. God. Never again…”

“Jesus…how many did you have?”

“I stopped counting at five…”

“Five? Shit…I’ve had three and thought my head was going to come off the next morning…”

“Doc…you obviously didn’t belong to the same sorority I did…”

“Oh…on that, I feel most certain you’re correct…”

________________________________

“I’m getting tired of that drive,” Callahan said as he backed the Rover into the garage at his Sea Ranch house.

“I think he slept the whole way. I was impressed, really, by how smoothly you drove.”

“Hah! Frank says I drive like an old lady.”

“You drive deliberately, Harry. I found it reassuring.”

He nodded. “Well, welcome to my home…be it ever so humble.”

“I wish the sun was out. I couldn’t really see it all that well.”

“Well, come on. I’ll give you the nickel tour.”

He took her around to the front door and took her in that way. “Cathy says the house has more ‘wow’ factor if you come in through here,” he added as he turned on some lights.

“Fuck!” Sawyer sighed before she covered her mouth with both hands.

“See. I told ya.”

“Shit, Harry…this is like something out of a magazine!”

“Oh, it’s been in Architectural Digest twice.”

“Crap! What’s out those windows…?”

They walked over and he turned on the outside floodlights, illuminating the layers of patios that led down to the cliffs, and then to the sea beyond…

“Fucking Hell!”

Callahan cleared his throat. “Why don’t you tell me how you really feel?”

“Jesus, Harry, I’m sorry, but I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” she said as she turned around and faced…

…the piano.

“What is that?” she moaned as she started for the glass alcove suspended over the rocks.

Harry watched, interested now because she seemed to regard the piano with something approaching awe…

“Is that a Steinway?” she asked.

“No.”

She walked closer, saw all the slate and stone accents woven into the design of the instrument…

“No way,” she sighed. “A Bösendorfer? I’ve never even seen one of these before…”

“Do you play?”

“Hell yes, I play!”

“Go ahead. Knock your socks off.”

“No way. I ain’t touching that thing, Callahan.”

“Why not?”

“That’s not a piano, Harry. That’s an act of faith, a living testament to man’s quest for perfection. But that thing? Harry, that fucker belongs in a goddamn museum.”

“It’s not worth a penny if it’s not played, Becky.”

“Shit, Callahan, don’t call me Becky around this thing. Rebecca. Shit,” she said as she walked around it, “this is unreal. I had no idea something like this could make me horny. I take it you play?”

“A little,” he smiled. “Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving and there are no restaurants around here. Either I cook or you cook, but one of us better get to it.”

“Where’s the kitchen?”

“Follow me…” he said as he led her across the living room to the kitchen, flipping on lights as he went…

Then the doorbell chimed.

He walked down and opened the door. DD and the Doc were standing there, scowling.

“What’s wrong?”

“Cathy threw us out. Said she didn’t need our help, and I’m pissed,” DD snarled.

“And I can just about guarantee she has no idea what she’s saying right now,” Becky said as she came down to the door. “You must be DD,” she said, extending her hand.

“Ah, the famous Dr. Sawyer,” DD said, sizing up this latest prize.

“Come on in,” Harry said. “We were just headed to the kitchen.”

“I went by the store with Liz and picked up some steaks and artichokes,” DD said.

“Perfect,” Becky said. “Got a cast iron skillet?”

“For what?” DD asked.

“The steaks! Best way to cook ‘em…”

DD just shook her head. “The boys do those down on the patio. I have a salad ready to go, but if you’d like to help with the artichokes…?”

Becky put her hands up. “No, no, I don’t want to get in anybody’s way.” She turned to Harry and the doc: “Boys? Need help with the grill?”

Callahan tried not to watch what was happening, but that only made his reaction more intense. Becky and DD were squaring off, evidently competing…but for what? Did Becky feel – in some way – that DD was his protector? 

With that question lingering in his mind he watched the performance unfold while he and the doc lit the fire and seared the steaks. DD, for her part of the performance, made a point of stamping the evening with her very own seal of approval – in effect, controlling everything that happened, right down to who ate what. ‘Funny,’ Callahan thought, ‘that I’ve never seen her in that light…’

Sawyer, however, did not find the evening funny, or even fun, and Callahan watched her anger build and build, and almost to a breaking point when DD insisted that margarine was a healthier product than butter. How could, he wondered, two otherwise sane women almost come to blows over the efficacy of melted margarine as a condiment for artichokes?

But what does it say that I’ve let DD take almost total control of my life?

She does a good job, doesn’t she? I mean, the results are evident everywhere I look?

So, does that mean she wants to exert control over my personal and social life, as well?

DD even directed traffic after dinner, sending “her boys” up to the kitchen to tackle the dishes whilst she and Becky – the girls – sat and talked a bit. Callahan had wanted to be the fly on the wall for that one, but it only took a few minutes to get things into the dishwasher and clean up the countertops. Still, when – the girls – came into the house they seemed to retire to their own respective corners, waiting for the bell so the next round could commence.

And of course the doc had wanted Callahan to play for them, so DD gave her blessing.

But Callahan turned the tables. “Doc? You’ve been taking lessons for months now. Let’s see what you’ve learned…”

“No, no…please, I’d only embarrass myself…”

“Come on, Doc. The Clair de lune, please.”

So Doc Watson made his way through the piece, and much better than the last time – when he had butchered the music almost beyond recognition. Still, Becky nodded her approval and even clapped a little when he wrapped it up, and DD even smiled at that acknowledgment.

“Alright, Harry,” Doc Watson snarled. “Your turn!”

“Me? You know, I think Becky plays. You up for it tonight?”

“No, not tonight,” Sawyer said, looking at DD. “Maybe some other time.”

“Okay, Harry,” the doc sighed, “it looks like it’s up to you. How about a Gershwin tune?”

Callahan looked at DD, then at Becky Sawyer. And he smiled.

Then he went to the piano, pulled out the bench and sat. Retracting the keyboard cover, he worked through some scales, checking that everything was in tune as he stretched his fingers, loosening them up. “Well,” he said, “let’s see if I even remember how to play this thing…”

He started by one-fingering his way through Chopsticks – which garnered smiles from DD and the Doc, then he blasted into Schumann’s Toccata in C, a short, breathless interlude before his planned finale. He asked everyone to step close, to put their hand on his shoulder, and though Doc Watson slowly put his hand there, he did so with trepidation. 

Callahan then drifted into Prokofiev’s Death of Juliet, improvising as he went, but after a moment he paused: “Everyone? Please take a deep breath, try to clear your mind of everything, imagine drifting on water at night with nothing but stars overhead. Slowly drifting, you’re drifting…”

As he’d intended, DD felt it first. She began reliving the last two hours – only now she was seeing the world, experiencing the emotional intensities of the evening – through Becky Sawyer’s eyes. She felt the sense of isolation, the gnawing frustration, the almost utter despair of watching Callahan being torn and pulled by competing loyalties, then the anger she felt when this complete stranger began to take control of everything going on around them all…

Doc Watson saw it too, and what he watched was a savage performance, though one he’d seen repeated time and time again but never from the vantage of an intended victim, and he began to feel anxious, almost physically ill as he felt what Becky Sawyer had just experienced…

Then Callahan drifted into Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, playing the Autrefois, un roi de Thulé almost as an adagio, carrying Becky Sawyer into DDs mind, letting her experience the insecurities of a lonely woman who had always thought of herself as a failure, of a little girl always humiliated for her academic prowess and homely appearance. Even the doc watched these insights play out as an overwhelming feeling of pity washed over them all…

Before Callahan finished he wandered back into a very gentle Clair de lune, and this time he took them to Vietnam, to 1968, and to a night filled with automatic weapons fire and overrun positions, of men screaming for help on the command net, of mortar rounds landing inside the perimeter, of his shattered Huey spinning out of control and falling into a kerosene-soaked swamp – and then to the final, remorseless advance of the huge white snake, it’s red eyes and searching tongue reaching out for him…then…

He stood from the piano and walked out to the patio, leaving three human statues to claw their way back to the warmth of life, to see the world as it could be with only a little care and feeding of the human soul. He made his way to the little slot in the cliffs that led down to the sandy beach and, taking a deep breath, he began walking north…

He heard Becky calling his name, then, as she drew near, he heard her pleading with him to stop, to wait for her, so he stopped and turned to face the damage he’d done.

She ran into his arms, clung to his back, laughing and crying hysterically, caught on and within a Möbius loop of understanding and misunderstanding, trying to come to terms with everything she’d just learned and fought to forget…then she was screaming at him, screaming mercilessly, pitilessly – 

“Goddamn you, Harry, I love you I can’t live without you I can’t even breathe now just hold me please hold me and don’t you ever let me go please don’t let go…”

He felt water at his feet, the sand under his shoes sliding away on the ebb and he felt her sliding away, too. 

‘Can I hang on…? Can I hold on to love. Will she let me this time, or will she come again and again and tear this one from my grasp again and again…’

Then he felt DD and the Doc with them, all then standing in the surf, all feeling conjoined, all in sudden interwoven understanding, a new fabric created of and from the images of the night.

_________________________________

When he woke the next morning she was still clinging to him, fiercely clinging with his arm pulled tight to her breast, as if she had sought fusion with some fleeting essence.

Then he heard a knock on the door. His bedroom door…

Were they still here, he thought? The doc and DD?

As he disentangled himself from Becky she moaned, then he went to the door and opened it.

“Sorry for bothering you,” Frank said, standing there with Cathy and both still in their pajamas and robes, “but this couldn’t wait.”

“Yes?”

“The doc and DD came to the house last night, apparently after one of your, uh, excursions, and both were having some kind of meltdown.”

“Okay.”

“This wasn’t like the things we’ve done before, right?”

“No, not really.”

“What did you do to them?”

“I’m not sure I understand, not yet anyway. It was an improvisation, I think.”

“Well,” Cathy said, “DD has been up all night, and I’d say she’s almost in a state of shock, Harry. She can hardly talk right now, and I mean this morning, right now…”

“Frank?” Callahan said, “why don’t you go sit in the living room while I get some coffee on, but if I don’t tap a kidney first, things are gonna get ugly.”

He came out a few minutes later and Cathy met him in the kitchen, hugging him before he was even aware she was in the room. “What was that for,” he sighed.

She shrugged; “Do you have any eggs? I’ll whip up breakfast if you do, but I think you need to sit with Frank…

He nodded and went to the sofa and sat beside his friend.

“I never get tired of this view,” Bullitt said as he looked over the cliffs to the surf beyond.

“She created something timeless here,” Callahan replied. 

“I can’t help but think of all the nights we shared here, but at the same time I feel almost jealous, Harry. Of all the nights yet to be born here, of all the memories you’ll get to make – without me…”

“You’ll be with us, Frank. Always. When Cathy and Elizabeth and I are together here, you won’t be far away.”

“You believe in all that stuff, or are you just trying to make me feel good…”

“What difference does it make, Frank. I think what you believe is what counts right now.”

“I’ve always had a hard time with all that ‘die and go to heaven’ nonsense, Harry. It’s hard to believe in something you can’t see.”

“Hard? For me it’s been impossible. Sometimes I think it’s a struggle even for people who believe.”

“So, you were just trying to make me feel good…”

“Always the detective, always interrogating, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, well, if the gumshoe fits…”

“Right. The thing is, Frank, you’ll be with us, in our hearts and minds, wherever we are. Always. You can count on that.”

“It’s not the same, is it?”

“Meaning?”

“Not being here anymore…it’s not really the same, is it?”

“On one level, sure. But Frank, who knows what’s on the other side?”

“Well, take my word for it, Harry. When it starts to get close – the whole thing gets kinda personal – and a lot less abstract.”

“Isn’t it a trip we all get to make?”

“A trip… Harry, you’re a trip…! So…what the hell did you do to DD and the doc?”

“DD and Becky were locked in a dominance dance last night. I just let them experience things from another point of view.”

“Another…?”

“DD got to experience things from Becky’s perspective.”

“Jesus, Harry… When did you figure this one out?”

“It just happened, Frank. I didn’t plan it out or anything like that…”

“So…just what else can you do…?”

Callahan shrugged. “I don’t know. What’d you have in mind?”

“Just a thought.”

“Like…?”

“What if, while I’m dying, I was touching you – while you played? Do you think I could, maybe, go back…”

And in the next instant the Old Man in The Cape was sitting on the sofa, now directly between Harry and Frank; both jumped away from his sudden reappearance – but Frank flinched – as if he’d been shocked, or stunned.

“And this,” the Old Man said, “you will not do. You must not. You talk of crossing a threshold, a threshold beyond which no mortal being may cross. You would tempt more than just fate, Harald; such an action would negate all that you know, or have known. You, and everything you see here, would simply cease to be. Do you hear me, Harald?”

“I hear you,” Callahan said, leaning forward to look at Frank…

But Bullitt was frozen in time, mute and unmoving.

“I must have your word on this, Harald. While I can tell you little more than this, if you do such a thing Elizabeth will never come to be, and that must never be allowed to happen. So…your word, Harald, give it to me now!”

“Alright, you have my word, but is there anything I can do for Frank?”

The Old Man shook his head. “He seeks immortality, Harald, and you are but mortal, as is Frank.”

“And you? What are you, Old Man?”

“Me? I am but a humble traveler, a servant – if you will – seeking to atone for the sins of my father.”

“Your father? Who is your father?”

The Old Man looked at Callahan almost fondly for a moment, but then he looked away and shook his head. “That, my friend, is the question.”

And with that he was gone. In the next instant Frank blinked and resumed speaking…

“…in time? What do you think of that?”

Harry shrugged noncommittally: “That’s an interesting idea. I’ll think about it…”

Thunder erupted from a nearby storm cloud, and lightning slashed down to the sea.

Becky walked into the living room wearing one of Callahan’s t-shirts – and nothing else; when she saw Frank she turned and dashed back to the bedroom.

“Was that Becky?” Bullitt asked, and Callahan nodded. “Yowza, that’s a hot little number, Harry. Sure you’re – UP – to the challenge?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes, several times, as a matter of fact.”

“Uh, and Harry,” Bullitt said, wiping his cheek, “looks like you got a few pubes stuck in the stubble, if you know what I mean.”

Callahan brushed them away with a grin.

And then Frank smiled. “Well, I reckon there are plenty more where those came from. Don’t eat too much, Harry. Stains the teeth, don’t you know…”

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

Come Alive (17)

Come alive image twilight lg

Chapter 17

Flashes – like lightning – only anything but.

Grasping hands. A fireman? Pulling me from the darkness?

An ambulance, bright lights dance on a Formica ceiling, Britt – saying she can’t find my pulse – 

Then surreal warmth – a warmth without and within an absent sensation of warmth –

Light within light, a siren wailing, a siren’s song from beyond, calling my name. 

A light? Isn’t that a light? Shining in my eye?

Why can’t I talk? Why can’t I get up? I want to get up…

+++++

Then I’m is on the same sandy stretch of road again, Clyde still by my side. I look to my left and can see the same impenetrable forest, the same searing white light within, the same screaming shadows coming out of the shadows. Ahead? I see houses on that beach, a still sea beyond. Above? A greenish sky, a vast ringed Jovian orb blotting out an otherwise dark night. Behind me, the same snow-capped mountains I saw last time I was here.

Something with the three shadows. Clyde is reacting to them again, then he looks up at me, the hair on the back of his neck on end and yes, that bothers me. Like he knows something I don’t. They come for me, for us again, yet like last time at the last moment they veer off and take to the sky. But, how can shadows fly? That doesn’t make any sense?

I can feel sand between my toes. The road? The road is made of white sand? Maybe I should go and see if anyone is in those houses? They can’t be that far away, can they? A mile, maybe?

Ouch! Something bit my arm. I can feel the sting, but something is pulling on me now, pulling me back to the light. Warmth? Is that warmth? No…I’m freezing now…so cold…so cold…

+++++

Taggart opened his eyes, he could feel them open, but no…there was something over his eyes – a mask? Tape? Gauze? This place is full of unseen people; he hears them, he can almost feel them so he tries to sit up…

Voices, sudden alarms and hurried expressions and then the warmth returns.

+++++

The houses? How did I get here? So close now, but I don’t remember walking here.

The fields? The fields – are planted with grapes? This must be a vineyard. I can smell them from here. That sweet, ripe smell? Where have I smelled that? From somewhere far away, but I can’t remember – everything seems so far away now. It feels like I can’t even remember yesterday.

No people. I don’t see any people. Does no one live here? Who tends the vines?

I feel Clyde, feel his confusion. He’s whimpering now. Why? Has he not been here before?

Someone is grabbing me, pulling me – from this place –

Leave me alone…

“Leave me alone!”

“Mr. Taggart? Can you hear me?”

Can’t they just leave me here? I feel so comfortable here…

Fingers open an eye, another light shines and he tries to turn and look away.

“Mr. Taggart? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me? That’s right! There’s a tube down your throat to help you breathe; we’ll take that out in a minute so it will feel strange until then…”

He looked down towards his feet, saw Dina’s eyes above a surgical mask and he could see she’d been crying. 

“Eyes red, too red,” he tried to say, but the hard plastic in his mouth warped the sounds that formed on his distorted tongue. He closed his eyes, tried to swallow but couldn’t and that really didn’t feel right at all. Then another wave of warmth, some pressure in his throat, and an oxygen cannula begins feeding gentle life to his lungs.

After that he moved from room to room as his condition improved, and at one point he looked over and saw Eva asleep in a recliner. He woke one morning to find Eva trying to feed him something that felt like lukewarm oatmeal. When he needed to go to the restroom Eva was there to help him walk.

Then Mike came.

“I’ve been reading the systems manuals that came with the boat, as well as your log entries. I think everything is running fine…”

“How long have I been here?”

“Not quite a week. You had us kind of scared there for a while, Henry.”

“I’ve got to get out of here. Gonna run out of time if we’re not careful.”

“Well, fuel and water tanks are full and Rolf has helped me restock the galley.”

“Rolf? He’s helping?”

“Yeah. Dina and Rolf moved on board four days ago. As soon as you get your fat ass discharged I take it we’ll just slip the lines and head south.”

“Weather?”

“Not good. That hurricane? It brushed Bermuda before turning towards Ireland. It’s been downgraded to tropical storm force winds but we’d have fifty knot gusts if we left right now. Stuff will hang around for another two or so days after that.”

“Do you know what happened to me?”

Mike shook his head. “Better let Dina go over all that stuff.”

“So? What did you decide to do?”

“I turned in my papers, Henry. You know, I’ve been an explorer all my life…that’s why I went to Annapolis. Anyway, its begun to feel more and more like I’ve become some kind of cop on a beat, enforcing rules and laws that have begun to make less and less sense to me. Then I met you, and, well, I think it’s time to be an explorer again. Right now, I think being around you will be the most interesting place in the world to be, so…if you don’t mind…”

“I don’t mind, Mike. Grateful for the help, really.”

Mike sighed. “Glad you said that, Henry. It’s been weighing on my mind, like I didn’t want to invite myself to your party, you know?”

Henry held out his hand. “Welcome aboard, Shipmate.”

And when Mike took it, Taggart saw there was no need for words between them now. 

“See if you can find Dina, or someone that can cut me loose. I’d like to get going as soon as possible…”

“What about the storm?”

“We’ll work our way south hugging the coast, get in out of it if we need to, but I want to keep heading south for now.”

“Okay. What about Eva?”

“What about her?”

“Man, she’s been in here by your side since day one. As soon as you were out of surgery, anyway.”

“She can’t come with us, Mike. It’s just too dangerous for her…”

“I don’t think she’s gonna want to hear that, Henry. And I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. There’s something weird going on with her…”

“And that’s why we have to protect her…”

Mike nodded. “I know, but I don’t think anything can hurt her right now, Henry. I can’t explain that, but it’s a feeling I can’t shake…”

“What’s going on with the Russians?”

“Complicated. That code you slipped into their systems? Well, furious is an understatement, yet half their ground forces were immobilized by some sort of general malfunction…”

“I know.”

“Well, yeah, let’s just say they’re pissed off and leave it at that. They’ve mobilized their reserves, been flying aggressive overflights around Estonia and Finland, their Black Sea fleet is busting out into the Med…they’re just up to a whole bunch of no good, if you ask me.”

“Too bad. Would’ve been nice if they’d just taken the hint.”

“Well, they’ve been acting predictably, from my point of view, anyway.”

Dina knocked on the door and stepped into the room. “Ah, he’s up!”

“He is indeed,” Mike replied. “I’ll leave you to it, Henry. Seeya later, Dina.”

She came and sat on the edge of the bed, leaned over and kissed Henry on the lips. “Sorry I was such a bitch,” she whispered as he sat up, taking his hand at the same time. “So, we have bad news, and then the really bad news. Which would you like first?”

“Just lay it out in terms of getting to Paris.”

“Tumors have grown near your spine. These were removed with some difficulty…”

“Is that what caused…”

“Yes. If you really want to make a push for France we should do so soon. That window may close unexpectedly, and without much warning.”

“Understood. So, as far as Christmas is concerned…?”

“We get to France and begin an aggressive intervention. We buy time.”

“When will it be safe for me to leave and get back to the boat…?”

“So, you wish to proceed?”

“I do.”

“You’ve healed enough to move back to the boat. We should consider another day getting back into the routine before departure, and there is the storm to consider as well.”

“And Rosa? How is she doing?”

“Fine. She will respond well to chemo, no surprises. The little girl is brave, is she not?”

“I think so.”

“Rolf has taken a liking to her, but I would assume you knew that would happen.”

“I had hopes, yes.”

“You seem to see the future more clearly than I.”

“Your daughter? How is she?”

“One more time…she saved your life.”

“I see.”

“I have failed miserably in that regard. She loves you terribly.”

“And I love her.”

“You love everything, Henry. You are overflowing with love, so how could you not love her.”

“Clyde?”

“Has been to the vet. I assume you know of his condition?”

“Yes, for a few weeks now. Could they remove any…”

“No, I’m afraid not. Too dangerous, they say. Still, I think he misses you most of all.”

Taggart nodded. “You’re still feeding him salmon?”

“Of course. And scrambled eggs in the morning, with wheat germ and yogurt on the side, just as you wrote down in the log.”

He smiled. “So, I’ve heard you’ve moved your gear back on board?”

“I have. And I promise to be a good girl.”

“You’re my wife, Dina. Believe it or not, it’s where you should be now.”

She nodded. “I will not leave you again, Henry.”

“I’m curious. Is Clyde staying with you?”

“Some of the time, yes. He goes forward and stays with Rolf for a while, then with Mike, then sometime in the night he comes back to me.”

“We’re his family now, I guess.”

“Oh, there is no guessing required. He watches over us all, Henry. But you most of all. I think he almost came undone when you collapsed and went into the water.”

Taggart nodded. “Must’ve hurt him to watch and not be able to help.”

“He was barking a good deal. But – about this Mike, this naval officer. Do you trust him?”

“There are times, Dina, when trust has to be earned. This is one of those times.”

“But you will let him remain aboard, even so?”

“Yes. Even so.”

“Okay. I will not ask why. Have you decided when you wish to leave?”

“The day after tomorrow, in the last stages of the storm.”

She sighed. “Alright. I will tell Rolf. Where will be the next big city we go to?”

“Amsterdam.”

“I will make arrangements for you there. I know a professor, so there will be no problem with treatments.”

“Treatments?”

“Platelets – or whatever may be needed.”

“I see. I’m curious…who pulled me out of the water.”

“Mike, of course.”

“Of course.”

+++++

Eva was beside herself, now beyond depressed. “You will leave me here – again? But – why?”

Henry nodded. “I’ve told you my greatest concern. The next several weeks will be very difficult, and no place for a woman carrying twins.”

“And once you arrive, when may I come?”

“As soon as possible.”

“And if I cannot?”

“Then know that I love you, and take care of our children?”

“I cannot believe this is happening – again. Henry – no?!”

He looked to Britt, exasperated now, but she had tried already and now turned away and walked over to Rolf. Henry took Eva in his arms and held her, but as her arms encircled him he felt her fists bunch up in despair.

“Don’t make this any harder than it already is,” he whispered. “We will be together soon.”

There would be no quiet acceptance this time, no grudging acquiescence would be forthcoming. Her arms collapsed and fell to her side, then she turned and walked away. He watched her as she walked  away – willowy, almost regal, the cares of an unjust world heavy on her shoulders – and he knew he would never see her again.

Britt came back to him and kissed him once, gently, on the lips, then she too drifted away. 

He nodded to Rolf and Mike – who released their dock lines and hopped aboard. Taggart kept Time Bandits centered in the fairway and motored out of the inner harbor, his eyes dancing from the swirling clouds to the radar display. He took the range guides out to sixteen miles and saw a deep red blotch on the display; there would be heavy rain in that one, he knew, and winds strong enough to knock them down, too. He cycled the display over to satellite view and saw what he’d hoped for: a big, wide gap between incoming rain-bands that he’d use to their advantage. Get into the gap and push out to sea, then turn south after the band passed. Hopefully they’d be under fair skies early tomorrow morning…

For now, he set their course for the Askøybrua, the huge suspension bridge just outside of the main harbor, then they’d turn south, make for the Sotrabrua, the last major bridge before they’d turn west and make for the open sea.

“Dark clouds, Henry,” Mike said, pointing towards the Askøy Bridge and the writhing slate gray wall beyond. “You got it on radar?”

Taggart nodded. “The center of the low just passed. That’s the root of a major band.”

“It’s gonna be nasty, whatever the hell it is.”

“We have about ten minutes. Clear the deck of anything and everything loose, tie down whatever’s left.”

Rolf nodded and turned to it; Mike went aft and opened the garage, then started stowing fenders and dock-lines as Rolf brought them to him. 

“You aren’t going to raise sail, are you?” Mike asked – and Henry shook his head.

“Dina, better run below and double check that all the hatches are dogged tight.”

She started down the companionway but stopped halfway down; “Have you had your medications this morning?”

He nodded. “Yes, I’m good ’til noon-thirty.”

He looked at the plotter with both the radar and weather overlaid, aiming for the center of the span ahead, noting there was no traffic out now…commercial or otherwise. “Smart,” he sighed.

“Less than five minutes to impact!” he called-out, causing Mike to look at the wall and shake his head in readily apparent dismay. “Safety harnesses on now, please!” Henry added unnecessarily.

He looked up at the masthead, then down at the display…

“White-line-squall,” Mike said, and Henry looked at the base of the wall just ahead; the wind was so intense there that spray was being blown off the wave tops – causing what appeared to be a white base marking the leading edge of the line-squall.

“What is this?” Rolf asked.

“Violent wind along that line,” Mike said. “Henry, you need help on the wheel?”

“You’d better take it, Mike. Not sure I’m strong enough right now.”

“Rolf? Help him forward, hang onto him if we get knocked-down.”

“Okay,” Rolf sighed, now clearly rattled.

“Rolf, let’s get the companionway boards in and dog the hatch.”

“Yes, okay…”

Taggart looked ahead through the glass cockpit dodger, and he could see a light drizzle had just started so he turned on the wipers, revealing the wall was now less than a quarter mile ahead and bearing down fast.

Mike throttled down a little and turned to meet the wall at a ninety degree angle just as the first gust hit…

The wind display moved to zero degrees apparent angle, average wind speed forty knots, then sixty three knots, then eighty knots – all in a matter of seconds…

“Jesus Fucking Christ!” Mike yelled, fighting to keep Bandits’ bow right into the wind; if he lost it and the bow drifted the wind would catch hold and push the boat onto her beam, meaning the boat could soon be halfway to capsized.

“Rolf?” Henry said calmly. “Give him a hand on the wheel.”

“Yes, yes…”

Henry looked at Dina, holding onto handrails with grim determination in her eyes, and he nodded at her when she turned and looked at him.

“We’re okay,” he shouted, trying to make his voice heard over the howling wind.

And she nodded, smiling a little. “She is a fierce boat, Henry. A real fighter.”

“Just like you.”

Mike went to full power as Bandits broke out into clear air, the seas behind the line blown flat, and almost as fast as it had come on the squall was past, now heading for the mainland. “Radar clear ahead,” Mike called out. 

“I’ll go below and check for damage,” Dina said.

“Rolf? Check the anchor pins, would you?” Henry asked. “Mike? You good?”

Mike nodded. “Helluva little ship, Henry. I’m impressed.”

“Good builder, and Frers is a great designer. Rolf, let’s raise sail just before we make the turn; call it a mile.”

“Right.”

“Okay,” Mike added. “You got the wheel?”

“I got it, and thanks. Again.”

“No problemo,” Mike grinned. 

Dina stood. “Anyone ready for some hot tea?”

Everyone was, it turned out.

+++++

Four hours later and with Klokkarvik now in their wake, Henry turned to the south-southwest and Rolf trimmed the sails again. Mike, sitting on the aft rail, seemed mesmerized by the pod of orcas that had magically resumed their station just off the port-quarter two hours earlier. Then Dina had joined him and listened to his recounting of all that had happened on Helgoland – and on their voyage north.

“What are you talking about?” she asked. “What red orb?”

“You mean you haven’t met Winky yet?”

“Winky? No? Who is this?”

Mike shrugged. “I reckon you’ll find out soon enough,” he said, yet at the same time he was thinking ‘oh boy, is this going to be more fun than a paper sack full of squirrels…’

The female orcas came alongside several times that afternoon; Taggart guessed they were hoping to find Eva, so he was not surprised when they fell away as the sun fell into the sea once again. 

“Where do you think they’re headed?” Mike asked Taggart as they disappeared to the northeast.

“Back to Bergen. That’s where Eva is, and I guess now they know for sure.” Taggart looked at the big male still off their stern, and it looked like he had two other smaller males with him now and he shook his head. “I sure would like to know what they’re up to.”

“You ain’t the only one,” Mike sighed. 

Dina listened to all these ruminations completely mystified. “You mean, they have been with us all along?”

Taggart shrugged her question away. “I don’t know,” was all he said as he turned back to the plotter, tracking the last bands of rain. “We may get some rain later tonight, but nothing major.” He looked at Mike then: “Why don’t you get some sleep now. You and Rolf can handle the night watch.”

“Midnight?” he asked, setting an alarm on his watch.

Taggart nodded – and Clyde came up the steps and barked twice.

“Astroturf, here we come!” Henry sighed. He cinched Clyde’s harness – then led him forward to the sacred spot and turned away as the pup dropped a bomb.

“Damn!” Mike screamed from the cockpit, fanning his face, “What the Hell do you feed that dog!?”

“Rats – fresh from the bilge, mee hearties!”

“Smells like road-kill, if you ask me.”

Clyde looked up at him and “Woofed!” once.

“Don’t pay attention to any of that bullshit. It ain’t like his shit don’t stink, ya know?”

“Woof!”

“I know. I’ve got a nice filet ready to go. Sashimi tonight?”

“Woof!”

“Okay, let’s do it…”

After dinner Dina came up and sat with them – Henry and Clyde – but she yawned a couple of time and he smiled. “You better go down and get some sleep, kiddo. You look about half past beat.”

“Maybe in a little while. I love this time of the evening, when the sun is just below the horizon.”

“The blue hour?”

“The what?”

“The blue hour. Photographers call it that because of the color of light. In medieval times it was the last part of the day you could safely travel before evil spirits came out to harvest new souls.”

“Now there’s a lovely thought. Thanks so much for that delightful imagery – and just before bed, too.”

He smiled. “Actually, I’d like to think we’ve progressed a little beyond such thinking.”

“I doubt we ever will, Henry. Such thinking is hard-wired into our brains. It is how we’ve survived, you know?”

“Clyde? What do you think? See any evil spirits out there?”

Clyde shook his head, flapping his ears in a ragged patter.

“See? Even dogs have gotten over all that.”

“You and that dog…you were cut from the same cloth…”

“The cloths of heaven, no doubt.”

“What?”

“Yeats, his ‘Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.’”

“What is that? A poem?

“Yes,” he sighed, “and it goes something like this:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, 

Enwrought with golden and silver light, 

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths 

Of night and light and the half light, 

I would spread the cloths under your feet: 

But I, being poor, have only my dreams; 

I have spread my dreams under your feet; 

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

“Ah, so I must tread softly? Is that what you are telling me, dear Henry?”

“How else could you treat another’s dreams, dear wife?”

She shook her head. “I wish I understood you?”

He smiled. “And as I’ve told you before, be glad that you don’t.”

“Why? Why do you say such things to me?”

“Because I’m sure you’d not find what you’re looking for.”

“Looking for? What do you mean by that?”

“Dina, please, try to get some rest. We have three hard days ahead of us.”

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, tried to calm the magmatic anger coming to the surface, then she stood and hurried below before she said something she knew she would only regret tomorrow.

He pulled up the long term weather page, then the latest satellite overheads before he adjusted their next waypoint a little more to the south and east. “Looks like we’ll have great weather tomorrow, old boy.”

He looked down at the ancient wisdom in Clyde’s eyes and tried to smile, but it was getting harder to do now. The tumors along Clyde’s spine had mirrored his own, and in ways Dina would never understand.

He crossed his legs and patted his leg, and Clyde jumped up and sat on his lap. They looked at one another for the longest time, then the pup put his hands on either side of Henry’s neck and went to sleep.

He switched screens, set a radar alarm for twenty-five miles and then leaned back – watching the stars overhead as the miles slipped by under their keel. Dorsal fins broke water on their flanks, while hundreds of miles overhead a silent red orb trailed through yet another long, silent night.

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

Come Alive (16)

Come alive image twilight lg

Chapter 16

If anything, the seas had become even more calm. As the sun lifted above the indistinct horizon, Taggart looked out over a vast silvery pool, a celestial mirror with no reflections to concern itself with, then he turned and looked at Time Bandits’ wake – like an arrow in flight as straight as could be. He checked their surroundings and noted the pod was still aft, now not more than a hundred yards off their port quarter, and that the Cape St George was visible again, perhaps two miles astern but simply holding position – neither gaining nor receding.

He went below and popped a pod in the coffee-maker, then went back to the cockpit.

A warning dialogue popped on the plotter: “Weather Data Now Available” – so he hit the enter key and layers of meteorological data overlaid the nautical chart – so he sifted through the information, noting a mid-Atlantic hurricane had turned north and would skirt Jamaica before turning northeast. A huge high-pressure system was sitting off the Norwegian coast and temperatures inland were breaking records from Bergen to Helsinki. The forecast out to ten days showed little possibility of change, and that was bothersome. 

“Since when have high pressure systems stalled out over near arctic latitudes?” he asked the mirror-sea. “They usually don’t do that…”

Heard footsteps on the companionway and turned to face the music.

Eva. His moody blue, dancing barefoot to ancient rhythms, her syncopated soul moving to the alternating currents between the here and now and the dissonant chords of yesterday and tomorrow. Eva – the empath. His Eva, mother of the new.

She swung her hips suggestively – her arms held in loose stasis above her head – as she danced past the cockpit and out onto the aft deck, and once there she held onto the backstay still moving to an unseen beat. He heard a whisper of the music, saw her lips moving…I know you’re out there somewhere…and the strength of the emotion is like thunder in the air

But now he saw the pod arcing in – all excited atoms in a vibrating universe, and Eva was calling out to them – her entrancing movements an ancient music all her own.

And Taggart simply didn’t exist now, not in her new world order. They were responding to her now, all of them. Eva pirouetted on the deck and one of the females leapt into the sky in a pirouetting arc of her own, coming down in a massive splash that soaked half the boat.

He knew the moment was coming. She would dive-in and rejoin her first circle…but no. Not today, at least not now. They came close and moved with her, conjoined inside the symphonic swirls of their beating hearts. Close, but not touching.

And it was then that he noticed she was not really conscious. Her eyes closed, her breathing deep within the cocoon of sleep she had created for them all. Her hands high, her body a perfect arc suspended from the stay, her breasts full, her womb sanctified now by the presence of her guardians.

And even Taggart knew not to interfere.

This is something beyond the New, he told the mirror in the sea. And I love her.

“What is she doing?” he heard little Erika ask.

“I don’t know…dancing to the music of the spheres, I think.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. Maybe she dances to a music we can’t see or hear…?”

“Is she asleep?”

“I think so. How’s your mother?”

“Sore. Is it time for her medicine?”

Taggart looked at his watch and nodded. “Better make her some tea and I’ll fetch the pills.”

“Can we leave her up here like this?”

“Well, if she falls over she’ll be in good hands.”

“If you say so…”

He led Erika below and took his own meds, then got Rosa’s opiates and antibiotics and went forward to the galley. Rosa was sitting at the table, her face an ashen gray this morning, so he helped Erika make a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and French toast before he retreated to the cockpit. Eva lay in a crumped heap on the aft deck and he ran to her, helped her sit up and get oriented, then he helped her to the slanted shade of the early morning cockpit.

“What happened?” she asked. “Why am I up here?”

“I have no idea; in fact, I was kind of hoping you’d tell me…”

“What was I doing?”

He pointed to the aft deck: “You danced up the companionway and out to the deck. You seemed quite into it…whatever you were doing.”

“I was dreaming, at least I think I was dreaming…”

“You had an audience,” he added, now pointing at the pod swimming just off their stern.

“Oh yes, I remember now. One of them was calling to me. One of the females.”

“And you understood her?”

Eva nodded. “Yes, I think so…”

Henry nodded. “Okay. Let’s get you below, have some breakfast and take a rest?”

She shook her head. “No, I want to be with you now.”

“Okay, breakfast then sit with me up here. Now…scoot! You need to eat every now and then, you know?”

“I don’t want to leave them,” she said, now looking at the pod.

“Alright. I’ll fix you a plate and bring it up.”

“No! You must not leave me!”

It wasn’t just what she said that startled him, it was the frantic desperation he heard within that left him unsure of the moment. “What is it, Eva? Can you tell what’s going on?”

She slid down to the cockpit sole and grabbed his legs – as if to physically restrain him from leaving, or even moving – and now she seemed afraid, very afraid, yet she remained silent and said not a word…

…until…

“You can’t leave us, Henry. You can’t…”

“Leave? What do you mean?”

“You can’t die, Henry! You just can’t leave us…”

He grabbed her and held her close, then whispered in her ear: “There’s nothing anyone can do to stop it, Eva, and you have to accept that. I’m trusting you to take care of yourself, and the children, after I’m gone. Do you understand?”

“Of course I understand…but can’t they do something?” she said, jabbing a finger angrily at the sky.

“No, they can’t. And beyond that, Eva, you have to understand that I’m not afraid – about what happens to me, anyway. But I am terribly concerned about you and Britt, and the children, and what happens to you all after I’m gone.”

“Don’t be…we’ll get by…”

“Getting by isn’t enough, Eva. People living in mud huts and scrounging for scraps get by, but that won’t be enough – not for the demands raising two kids will place on you.”

“What are you saying, Henry.”

“I’m saying that your life is tied to Rolf’s now. He will be taking care of you – after. You’ll be with him. Do you understand?”

“You mean, he will be my my husband?”

“No, not at all. I’ve charged him with the responsibility of taking care of you and all the children, and you’ll have two boats available to you when you need them…”

“When?”

“Yes, when. When things get bad. Rolf will know what to do, but he won’t be able to help you if you move beyond his reach.”

“I don’t understand…”

“You don’t have to understand, Eva. You simply have to trust me and do what I ask. I hate to put it so bluntly, but you will be a vital part of this family going forward, so please, try to honor what I’ve built for you.”

“Alright, Henry. I will. But what about them,” she said, pointing to the pod swimming off the stern.

“I’m not sure yet. I want them to stay with you and Britt, but I don’t know if they will or not.”

“And when we get to Bergen? What happens there?”

“You keep asking me that. Why?”

“Because I know if you leave without me I will never see you again.”

He looked away, now lost for words. “What will be, will be, Eva.”

She moved away from him then – as if his words held the pain of physical blows, then she walked down the companionway.

“Nicely done, Henry,” he said to the mirror in the sea. “How ‘bout an encore? Anyone else you want to push away today?”

He looked down at his hands, at the flesh and bones of his existence, and he felt a kind of disgust. “Why do I say the things we do,” he asked the face in the mirror, “when you know, on some level, our words are bound to hurt the ones we love?”

He walked over to the rail and looked down into the big male’s eye, and now he could see his reflection in the deep brown orb – almost like Nietzsche’s Abyss, he thought. “I didn’t mean to hurt her, my friend,” he said to the face in the orb. He leaned over but grabbed the lifeline at the last moment and fought the urge to just let go and fall…

“No, not yet, not yet…I’ve got to hang on…”

When he looked up a few minutes later the pod was gone – and the Cape St George was gaining on them, now less than a half mile away. “Oh, great. Just what we needed.” He went below to the chart table and got out his passport, then went topsides and waited for the next inevitable piece of the wall to crack and fall away. 

And there he cleared his mind and held out his arms…

+++++

They came in three large inflatable boats, complete with machine guns on their bows, and he saw what had to be the captain standing in one of them. His arms crossed over his chest, the man had adopted a kind of imperious pose, kind of a ‘Napoleon in a Zodiac’ look that Taggart found transparently funny. Two of the boats sheered off and took up stations along either side of Time Bandits, while the Captain’s boat came to the port-side boarding gate. Taggart dropped the gate and held out a hand as the captain leapt across, helping him aboard then leading the way to the cockpit.

“What can I do for you this morning, Captain?” Taggart asked as he took a seat behind the wheel. “And would you care for some coffee?”

“Nothing, thanks. Mind if I sit?”

“Please,” Henry said, indicating the seat closest to the wheel.

“I won’t take up too much of your time this morning, Mr. Taggart,” the captain said, emphasizing the name to indicate computer checks were now up and running. “It appears the NSA thinks you had something to do with the current, uh, difficulties. That true?”

“It certainly is, Captain.”

The man seemed taken aback by forthright honesty and tried to rethink his strategy…

“But Captain,” Taggart continued, “certainly that’s not why you’re here. Why don’t you tell me what’s really on your mind?”

“We had several cameras trained on your vessel during the incident with the Akula. I’ve watched and rewatched that event a dozen times and I’ll be damned if I can make heads of tails of what was going on out there, but I can make out a red ball in this cockpit, then I can see it streak down into the water and take out that sub. You wanna tell me who or what that thing is?”

Taggart shook his head. “I haven’t the slightest idea what it is, Captain.”

“But you control it, don’t you?”

“No sir, I don’t.”

“Then you can summon it?”

Taggart nodded. “I can.”

“And it does what you tell it?”

“No, not at all. The entity becomes aware of my situation and acts to protect me.”

“Protect you? Why?”

“I don’t know. You’d have to ask.”

The captain smiled. “Okay. Summon it, let me ask.”

“Are you a threat, Captain?”

“You’re goddamn right I’m a threat,” he said as he brought a walkie-talkie to his lips. “Open fire NOW!” he ordered, and the men on the boats opened fire with their machine gun, bullets streaming in towards Time Bandits’ hull.

Taggart smiled.

The captain went to the rail and looked at the undamaged hull, then turned to look at the Cape St George…

…but it was gone.

“What have you done!” the captain screamed. “Where’s my ship!”

Taggart walked over to the rail and looked up, then he turned to the captain. “Come here.”

The man walked over and looked where Taggart was pointing…

The cruiser was perhaps a thousand feet above the sea, torrents of cascading water falling from her hull, but they could see men up there at the rails, leaning out and peering down at the scene playing out far below.

Taggart went back to the cockpit and sat – just as Mike came up the companionway steps, carrying three cups of coffee. Erika followed with a plate loaded with fresh bran muffins and Taggart smiled, asked her to sit by his side.

“What was that noise?” she asked – and on hearing a child’s voice the captain turned around, wide-eyed and apologetic…

“Dear God, man! Why didn’t you tell me you had children aboard?”

“What? Cancer patients not enough for you?”

“Frankly, I didn’t believe you, Taggart. Now, would you tell me what the devil is going on here?”

“I’m sorry, but the answer is no.”

Then Mike spoke up: “Commander, I’ve asked, I’ve tried to trick him into talking about it, everything I can think of, really…”

“And who are you?”

“Captain Michael J Lacy, UN Naval Fleet Intelligence – out of Norfolk.”

“Lacy? I have orders to take you into custody…”

“I’m sorry,” Taggart said, “but you won’t be doing that today.”

“What?! Get my ship back down here immediately!”

“What’d you do to his ship, Henry?” Mike asked – a little too sarcastically.

“It’s up there!” the captain of the Cape St George screamed, pointing at the sky. “And I want it back! Now!”

Mike and Erika walked over to the rail and looked up. “Sheesh, now that’s what I call an airship…” Mike sighed.

Erika giggled.

“Have a seat, Captain, and let’s talk about that.”

The captain drew his sidearm and shoved it into Taggart’s forehead: “Now, goddammit! I want my ship back now!”

Mike watched, shaking his head knowingly as the pistol simply slipped from the captain’s grasp and floated out over the sea, then dropped into the water.

“Care to sit now, Captain?” Taggart repeated patiently.

Looking up again, the captain shook his head: “It’s gone? My ship is gone…”

“What did you expect?” Mike snarled. “Just do what the man asks, for Christ’s sake!”

“Where is it?” the captain asked as he sat down across from Taggart.

Taggart shrugged. “You want things back, I suspect the best way to go about that is stop acting in a threatening manner. I could be wrong about that, but I’d give it a try if I was in your position.”

“Where are my inflatables? Where’d you…”

“He doesn’t get it, Henry,” Mike said. “Commander, Mr. Taggart is not doing this. He has no control over any of this. Stop asking him to…”

“Bullshit! He does too…”

Taggart leaned back and closed his eyes and the captain of the Cape St George simply vanished. “Some people,” he sighed after he opened his eyes again, “just don’t know how to act in unusual situations. Poor choice to command a ship like that.”

“Where are they?” Mike asked. “Any idea?”

“No, but they’ll be okay, wherever they are. Damn. Coffee’s cold now. And, did you bake these muffins, Erika?”

+++++

They motored into Bergen ten hours later, and the harbormaster had them tie-off by the fish market. No one seemed happier than Clyde, who barked twice and circled by the boarding gate while Henry hooked up the shore power cord and got the ship’s systems going on AC again. He grabbed Clyde’s leash and made it topsides just in time; Taggart walked him over to the nearby park and stood like an innocent bystander as the pup dropped a house sized load on a bush, then they walked back to the wharf. 

“Uh-oh,” he groaned, “looks like trouble.”

Dina and Britt were already standing by the boarding gate, talking to Eva and Mike, and from this distance they didn’t look happy.

“What do you say, boy? Time to face the music?”

“Woof!”

“That’s what I thought, too. Let’s go get some fresh salmon!”

“Woof-woof!”

“Yeah, their panties are all in a wad. Better give ‘em a minute.”

They walked to their favorite stall at the market and bought the freshest fillets they could find, and Henry asked if there were any fresh scraps for Clyde. Suitably stocked, they walked over to one of the benches that overlooked the waterfront and sat, watching the gulls wheeling overhead as fishing boats came up to the fuel dock. Henry pulled out a strip of salmon skin and Clyde took it gently and seemed to relish the taste.

“You’ll have to try it with wasabi sometime. Nice flavors.”

He looked up and saw Dina marching their way, her arms pumping like pistons on an old steam locomotive. “Looks like her panties are still in a wad, old boy. Wanna make a run for it?”

“Woof!” 

“Okay. Well, let’s see what happens…”

Dina’s vicious scowl gave way to a grudging grin as she thundered to a stop, steam pouring out her ears as her piston-like arms grew silent. “Well, well. Look what Clyde has! A nice treat, and for such a good boy,” she beamed. 

Taggart was amazed at this chameleon-like performance, so he took out a fresh sliver of salmon and gave it to Clyde.

“And look here! It’s Henry Taggart! My wayward husband!”

Henry looked up, grinning noncommittally: “Hello, wife.”

“Nice of you to let us know you were coming!”

“Things have been kind of dicey the past few days, in case you haven’t been following world events.”

“So, what brings you here – of all places?”

“Ran into a nurse, she’s status post-mastectomy three days ago, no treatment options where she was located, and she has a daughter with her.”

“And what do you want me to do about it?”

“You are still a physician, I take it? Or has something changed on that front, too?”

“No. I am still working at the hospital,” she said soberly, calmly. “Of course we will take care of her.”

“Eva is with us,” he added. “I’d like to get her settled here for the time being.”

“Here? With whom?”

“Rolf will handle that.” The imperious glare he received bothered him not in the least, so he continued: “I also wanted to know if you’d like to come with me to Paris.”

She shook her head. “I can’t imagine being of any further use to you, Mr. Henry Taggart.”

“Indeed. Well, aren’t you just full of surprises today.”

“And I will not let Rolf depart with you, either.”

“I hadn’t planned on taking him, Ms. Bauer.”

“I’ve not filed for divorce,” she fumed, “so you will please not address me as such.”

“Well then, my lying wife. What are we to do?”

Clinched jaw, gnashing teeth, crimson flushed face.

“If you keep that up,” he sighed, “you may have a stroke.”

“No doubt that would solve all your troubles, Mr. Taggart.”

“You’re the least of my concerns now, Ms. Bauer. I need to speak with Britt and then Rolf; after that, we’ll be off.”

“And I refuse to let you see my grandson. You have become an insidious presence in his life.”

“Oh, Dina… When did you start hating me? And hating the life we created?”

She looked away, almost evasively. “As soon as I started to love you, Henry,” she said gently. “But that was a foregone conclusion.”

“I see. But then again, I keep forgetting your motivation was to keep Britt from…”

“From you, Henry Taggart. From you and all your mad contradictions. From your pathetic innuendos, your forced levities. It is a mother’s duty to protect her children from scoundrels like you!”

Taggart looked up at her, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “Dina, you are a poster child for menopause. I’d appreciate it if you’d bring Rolf down to the boat after I talk to Britt.”

Steam was pouring out her pantyhose by the time she stomped back to the pier, leaving Henry and Clyde sitting beside puddles of her lingering anger.

“Woof!” Clyde said.

“Yes, I know. She’ll have her bags packed and be down at the boat with Rolf within two hours – guaranteed.”

“Woof-woof!!”

“Alright, but this is the last of the skin. Could you at least save some fish for me?” He took out his pocket knife and then pulled out a small filet from his shopping bag, then cut a few sashimi sized slices of salmon, feeding them to the pup one slice eat a time…

…while he watched the predictable argument unfold as Dina lit into Britt – loud enough to cause a flock of onlookers to gather on the wharf and watch the festivities – then she stormed off, leaving Britt on deck, alone in a steam-driven flurry of doubt and self-recrimination.

“Okay boy, that’s our cue. Time to face the real music.” Henry gathered up his shopping bag and with leash in hand began the million mile journey to the boat.

Clyde was not amused.

+++++

“That looked fun,” Henry said to a clearly rattled Britt. “Anything said I should know about?”

Britt’s grin was a bit sardonic: “Oh, she mentioned guns, knives, and you – all in the same context.”

“Ah, well then, in other words – nothing new.”

“Eva’s down below, as is a nurse and her daughter from Germany. She’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer and needs to begin treatment. Post mastectomy, by the way.”

“Alright.”

“I’d assume at this point your mother is headed home to pack her bags. I’d like Rolf to come with us this time, as well.”

“Us?”

“There’s an American naval officer onboard.”

“You know, it is a testament to your life that not even this information surprises me, because your life is a three-ring circus, Henry Taggart.”

Henry shrugged. “Truth of the matter is, Britt, all life is a carnival. Thrill rides and hucksters, and we guarantee a new freak show around every unexplored corner along the way.”

“That’s my Henry.”

“You’re my Britt, too, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“I haven’t,” she said as she teared up a little. “I will come as soon as you arrive in Paris.”

“I’d like Eva to stay with you, if you can manage it.”

“Of course. Must Rolf stay with you through Christmas?”

“Not necessary. He will be free to come home as soon as we reach the city.”

“Free?”

“To choose. He must become the man I hope he will by then.”

“You are not placing too large a burden on his shoulders?”

“It would be for some. It won’t be for him.”

“Why are you so sure of him?”

Taggart shrugged. “No coincidences, remember? I can only hope our courses intersected for a reason…”

“Just as ours did, you think?”

“I do.”

“I was embarrassed for my mother, Henry. That she lied to you about something so important.”

“She couldn’t help herself, Britt. Just don’t ever let her stand in your way ever again. She’s not worthy of that.”

“That’s rather brutal, don’t you think?”

He shook his head. “Not brutal enough. There’s a dangerous difference between a mother’s  protective instincts and a presumptive will to control lives. Don’t make the mistake of confusing one for the other.”

“Speaking from experience, I assume?”

He smiled. “I’ve seen a few things in my life.”

“Of that I have no doubt.”

“You know, this new journey began in the shadow of decisions you made, Britt. I’m here right now because of you, so remember this was our journey before anyone else came along.”

“I don’t forget that, Henry. But there are times I think you must.”

He met her gaze directly: “Confusing summer, wasn’t it? So many unexpected – people.”

“You could say that, I suppose. But sticking to just one of us might have been…”

“Unnecessary at this point in my life, Britt. You know and I know nothing between any of us was going to be a long term affair, so really, what did it matter?”

“Your love mattered to me, Henry. At least until I understood that my love, in the end, meant nothing to you.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry that you feel that way.”

“There’s no other way to feel, Henry. All I need do is point to Eva or my mother. And heaven knows what this new girl has been through because of you…”

“Well, when I’ve left feel free to talk to her. You might find her feelings illuminating.”

“Yes. We will see. Now, if you would collect Eva so that I may take her home?”

He lifted Clyde and put him on deck then started to climb on board, but his shoulders were burning and his hands started shaking uncontrollably. He looked up at Britt with uncomprehending panic in his eyes just before he collapsed, landing on the pier then rolling into the sea.

+++++

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

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 53

88Kvenom image SMALL

Chapter 53

Harry sat in silent appraisal of the moment, Mickey and Didi sitting in the seat just ahead as the train pulled out of the Station in Davos – headed for Zurich.

And a song intruded on the moment, a song that played in his mind as the train lurched and glided away from the platform: Alone Again, Naturally

And it hit him then, and hit him hard. He’d never felt so alone. Even watching Mickey and Didi had left him feeling ripped from the womb of human emotion – until that song hit him in the gut, at least. When that song found him, he had felt like disappearing from civilization for a while…hiding from loneliness – as if that was possible.

Yet, he was scared, too.

It had been more than six years since the Old Man in the Cape had told him that Frank would live to see Elizabeth’s seventh birthday, and now that day was fast approaching. Sitting there in the train, he wondered just what the Old Man had meant – as in, had he pronounced sentence that day, or were things still not written in stone? If not, would Frank leave soon – pass into the night? The words had burrowed away into nothingness almost as soon as he’d heard them, yet it had remained just beneath the surface ever since, a pustulant reminder that time was indeed still stalking them all, but Frank most of all.

But Frank most of all…

Yet now he watched Didi and Mickey laughing through the space between their seats. And for a moment the sight bothered him.

Well, he said to himself a moment later, this was their time now. He’d had his fair share of moments like this, hadn’t he? but now he’d seen it happen to people he knew. Mickey, like he’d been struck by lightning? Didi suddenly receptive – like the petals of a flower opening to the sunshine. Their time…their time…

But then his mind wandered to Iraq. Would the Army finally follow through and get him to train replacements? Or…maybe he could send Rooney instead, now that he too knew the system…but then he stepped back from the idea. Why? Why would I want to send Mickey…

Because, he had to admit now, he’d simply lost interest in flying – after his time in Iraq. He tried to imagine flying firefighters up into the mountains and his mind closed down like it had been caught in the grips of a tightening vice – and all he could think about was breaking free and somehow disappearing – again.

By the time their train pulled into Zurich’s Hauptbahnhof he was hard-pressed to think of anything he still wanted to do – except sit at his piano. Because there was a puzzle to solve, wasn’t there? And the puzzle was not something he could turn his back on any longer. He had to find the missing pieces, the lost chords – now, before they were lost forever.

‘Should I stay in the reserves?’ he wondered. After all, even now when people asked him what he did he usually replied he was a cop. Because he was and always would be simply that, but also because there was something in his identification of being a cop. It wasn’t something you could put on or take off like a jacket, it was a state of mind. ‘And it’s my state of mind,” he had to admit, and with that said his mind was made up.

They caught the local out to the airport and Didi went with them to the Swissair counter and helped get them checked in, then they walked with her to the El Al counter and did the same. But Didi was different; she wasn’t just another passenger – she was Mossad – so she had been flagged for special screening by the omnipresent Israeli airline security personnel.

“I’ll have to leave you now,” Didi said to Harry and Mickey. “But I should be free to come to San Francisco within a week or two.”

“I hate this,” Mickey replied. “I should go with you, ask him to his face.”

“You will have that opportunity, my love,” she gently told him before she kissed him for the billionth time. “Now…go! Do not make me stand here and cry!”

Harry led Rooney through the small main terminal to the TWA Ambassador’s Club lounge and, as they were flying to JFK on Swissair before switching to TWA for the flight to SFO, he decided to take advantage of his membership and use the lounge. Callahan grabbed a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, while Rooney asked for a scotch on the rocks. It was that kind of day…

“Man alive, Harry…what a week this has been!”

“No kidding. So, what’s next for you two?”

But Rooney just shrugged the question away. “I think I’ve got to get back into work, figure that out before anything else.”

“And Didi is coming in a couple of weeks? What do you do once she arrives?”

“I don’t know, Harry. I’ve been in the Army almost my whole life, ya know? No wife, no kids…Hell, not even a dog. I haven’t got the slightest idea what to do?”

“Okay. Well, if you need someone to talk to about it, let me know.”

“Yeah, well, what do you think I need to do?”

“Okay, she’s moving to a new country and at the same time she’s leaving everything she’s known behind. What do you think she needs?”

Rooney shook his head. “Man, I don’t know…”

“Well, put yourself in her shoes. How would you feel?”

“I don’t know, man. I’d want to go to a few bars, check out…”

“Hold it right there, okay?”

“What?”

“You’re thinking like a twelve year old, Mickey. In other words, you’re thinking about yourself, putting your wants ahead of her needs.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m asking you, Harry. I’m clueless about anything that doesn’t relate to helicopters, ya know?”

“Yeah, Mick. Sorry. Here’s the scoop. She’s going to feel stressed as hell if she thinks you haven’t been doing things to get ready for her. That means finding a place to live that’s safe and clean. That means finding out what kind of paperwork she’s going to need, also why she needs it, then helping her get it filled out and delivered to the correct office. How is she going to get around, how is she going to know where to shop for food or even a new pair of underwear? See what I mean?”

“Is she still going to be working for you?”

“Yup, but she’ll probably start working for Cat, too…but I’m not sure about that yet. But even so, it’ll be real easy for her if you two live real close to the Cathouse, like within walking distance, at least for the first year or so. Let her figure a lot of the little things out for herself, but help out with the big things, especially when she first gets there.”

“Man, Harry…you know, I’ve been bunking out at the condo, at your old man’s place, and I’ve even stayed at Pattison’s when he’s rotated up to the mountains…”

“You don’t have your own place yet?”

The intercom clicked, then: “Passengers Callahan and Rooney, please report to the front desk.”

“Okay,” Harry said, “got your carry-on?”

“Yessir!”

“Okay, let’s go.”

They followed a lounge attendant to their gate and boarded early, then went up to the upper deck on an almost brand new 747-300.

“Geesh, Harry, remind me to fly with you more often…did you see the legs on the stewardess?”

“You know, this might not be the best time to bring it up, but you just asked a girl to marry you. That means forsaking all others, in case the meaning ain’t clear…”

“I know, I know…”

“And it would probably be a very good idea to remember that her father is a colonel in the Mossad, and that he trains hit teams for a living.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah, I kinda think that’s the right word for the occasion, Mick. Fuck works real good. And keep in mind she’s also my good friend and business manager too, while you’re at it.”

“Harry, did you see that stew? What a dog!”

“Yeah, well, that’s Swissair for you.”

_________________________________

DD met them at the gate and walked with them to the baggage claim, and when she saw the look in Harry’s eyes she backed away from the idea she might talk to him before he went up to Sea Ranch. He looked positively livid, she saw, and she found the idea somehow incongruous to the time and place.

“Have a nice flight?” she asked Mickey.

“Yeah, man, you wouldn’t believe the service on Swissair! They came by with a cart at dinner and carved roast beef right there in the aisle. All the champagne you could ever want, too!”

DD smiled as she looked at Harry, who seemed to have borne Rooney’s presence for about as long as he could stand it, then – as they waited for their luggage to get to the carousel, she pulled him out of earshot and asked him what was up.

“Well, we’ve got a few months of catch-up to get through,” he snarled, “and a few things regarding Mickey we’ll need to clear up before Didi gets here. Other than that? Hell, what do I need to know right now?”

“Frank is no longer in remission, Harry. He didn’t want me to tell you but I think you need to know before you see him.”

“How bad is it?”

“No too bad – yet.”

“Prognosis? What does the doc think?”

“Two, maybe three months.”

Callahan turned and walked away, and she could see the weight of the world on his shoulders just then and she sighed. Rooney had a cart and had already loaded Harry’s bag on it, so he was just waiting for his own now.

“What’s with Harry?”

“Frank’s cancer has come back. It’s bad this time.”

Rooney turned and looked at Callahan and shook his head. “You know, those two are like night and day but I’ve never seen two closer friends. Man, this bites the big one.”

DD then understood what Harry had been dealing with all day and she nodded. “Yes, I’d have to say I agree.”

“He’s been acting kind of funny the last couple of days. Like he’s preoccupied with something, ya know?”

“Like what?”

“No clue, man.”

“So, when is Didi coming?”

“Maybe a couple of weeks.”

“Ooh-boy, you are going to need to get ready, you know?”

“Yeah, so Harry told me.”

“Well, let me know if I can help.”

“Well, I got a whole list here of things Harry gave me. Like a to-do list, ya know?”

“Let me have it,” she said, opening her purse and putting the list inside.

“Thanks, man. You’re a life saver!”

“Yeah,” she said under her breath, “that’s what they tell me.”

They dropped Rooney off at the condo and she drove Harry to the Cathouse. “You going to fly up now or stay here in the city?” she asked.

“Is there a spare Huey around? I wouldn’t mind flying up tonight.”

“A brand new 412, just out of the paint shop. Could we bum a ride off you?”

“Is the doc here?”

“Should be soon.”

“Well, yeah, of course. Let me go to the dispatch desk and get the paperwork.”

“Harry? Frank’s there, okay? He won’t quit. Says he can’t let you down.”

He sighed, looked down at his hands and felt like running away again, but something held him back. “Did you stock up the fridge at the house?”

“Yes, of course. Steaks and veggies are ready to go.”

He went and gave her a hug. “You know, you are the glue that holds all of us together. And in case you don’t know already, me most of all…”

She hugged him back, then wiped away a tear as he walked off to Frank’s cubby.

_________________________________

His pre-flight complete, Callahan started the new helicopter and watched the engine instruments wind-up and settle into the groove, then he reached over and yanked on Franks harness, making sure he’d strapped himself in correctly. He turned and DD gave him the ‘thumb’s up,’ and he nodded then turned to the radio and checked-in with ATC; a minute later they were airborne and westbound out the Golden Gate. Instead of the torturous three hour drive up the Coast Highway, they were at his house on the cliffs less than forty minutes later, and he saw that Cathy and Elizabeth were waiting for them in the street, waving at them as the helicopter approached.

After the main rotors spooled down, Callahan signaled DD that they could get out, then he leaned over and helped Frank out of his harness. “I’ll come around and help you down,” he added, and Frank just nodded.

Callahan had wanted to cry when he saw his friend at the Cathouse; the changes were that significant, and that obvious. And Frank had seemed aware of Callahan’s reaction, though he had simply grinned that grin of his and gotten on with the paperwork. Now, Harry opened the left front door and helped Frank down to the grass, then he walked with him over to Elizabeth – who flew into Frank’s outstretched arms.

The doc helped him secure the rotors and slip the intake covers into place, then they all walked down to Harry’s house. When he found the fridge stocked with everything needed for a banquet he smiled inside, and it hit him then: this is my family now. These friends are my family, and I can’t imagine life without them. By this point everyone knew where everything was, from glasses to silverware to where Harry kept the booze, and the rule enforced here was a simple one: mi casa es su casa…my house is your house, so come in and make yourself at home.

The doc got the fire going while DD prepped her salads, Frank sat be the patio fireplace with Elizabeth on his lap while she told him what she’d done at school that day, and Harry stood in the living room looking over the scene, realizing there wasn’t one soul down there he didn’t love.

“How could anyone be luckier?” he asked his reflection in the glass, rubbing away a cramp in his arm.

Then Cathy came in and walked over to him, put an arm around his waist and snuggled in.

“Was it bad over there?” she asked.

“Could’ve been worse. All in all, it was odd, like a bunch of cops called in to deal with a schoolyard bully. We were, how do I put this politely, overkill. Like maybe we could’ve just let the Saudis handle it, but nothing over there is ever as simple as it seems.”

“Well, you’re home and safe now. Hopefully they’ll leave you alone now.”

“Oh, I may have to lend them a hand on a few projects, but I doubt I’ll ever see combat again. Now, tell me about Frank?”

“What can I say? It’s back with a vengeance now, like one of those fires burning out of control.”

“How’s Elizabeth dealing with it?”

“She’s aware of the changes but what little girl her age understands death?”

“Cathy, I’m not sure I understand death.” He sighed, then looked down through the glass at Frank and Elizabeth. “And I’m not sure I ever want to.”

“I’d like him to stay home now, but Harry? He just won’t do it…he can’t let go…”

“So I’ve heard. Well, that’s simple enough to deal with. I’ll just spend more time out here with him, only go in when I absolutely need to.”

“Could you? I really think he might stay out here if you were around.”

“Then we’ll make it happen. I’ve been wanting to spend some time at the piano, so that will be a good excuse.”

“Speaking of, is Elizabeth too old to start taking lessons?”

“No, of course not. Have you found a teacher in the area?”

“One of the guys who works at Rosenthal. He’s been teaching the doc, and he thinks he can start with her, too – depending on his work visa and how long he can stay here.”

“Nils, isn’t it? He seems like a good kid.”

“Yes, and Elizabeth likes him too.”

“Well then, we’ll just have to make that happen.”

Cathy sighed, looked away: “Frank is still working homicide, Harry. He won’t quit that, either. Every other weekend – off he goes. Only now I’m really afraid he’s going to get hurt.”

“So, when he goes in, I go with him. We keep our hours current, and he gets to keep that part of his pride intact.”

“You can’t get him to stop?”

“I’ll have to see how he does out there. When’s his next ‘on call’ weekend?”

“Ten days from now.”

“Okay, so I get on the same rotation and I talk to whoever is in charge now and we work as a pair. If he can’t carry his own weight I’ll have to talk with him about it.”

She nodded. “I know how much it means to him, Harry, but even so…”

“Yes, even so. Holding on to something like that for as long as he can might help more than it hurts, Cathy. Let’s just see what happens, okay? You and me? – we’re on the same page here.”

“We’d better join the crowd now, Harry, or people will start to talk!”

“Yeah, we can’t let that happen, can we?”

_______________________________

His hands felt swollen and stiff from too much booze, but after dinner – and after everyone had gone – Callahan went to his Bösendorfer and pulled out the bench and sat. Moments later – as expected – the Old Man winked into existence by his side.

“You wear the weight of the world on your shoulders tonight, Harry. What’s bothering you?”

“Frank is bothering me.”

“He hasn’t long, you know? Are you ready for his passing?”

Callahan shook his head. “No,” he just barely managed to say.

“You’ve been a good friend, Harald. No one could ask for more.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“About what, my friend?”

“I’ve never…”

“What? Been with someone as they pass?”

Callahan nodded. “I can’t imagine that moment.”

“Because that moment is beyond our understanding, Harald. What lies beyond? That has always been the question, hasn’t it?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t.”

“Gershwin’s lullaby. Play it for me, would you?”

“Lullaby?”

“The Second Prelude.”

“Why did you call it a lullaby?”

“Because that’s what George called it, Harald! Now play, but go inside the music this time and tell me what you find there…”

He tried, but found his way to Alone Again, Naturally – as he had on the journey home. He began a slow walk down that road, coming to an end hours later only to find the Old Man had gone, yet even so, now he felt weak, and suddenly very tired. He made his way through the living room, his footsteps echoing off the slate floor only increasing his sense of isolation, and he sat on the sofa, slipped off his shoes and lay down…

Then DD was pushing her way inside a dream.

He opened his eyes and shielded them from the early morning light streaming in a window.

“Harry? You’d better shower and get ready…”

“What?”

“We’re all out here without our cars. You need to fly us in…”

He sat up, nodding simple understanding, pushing the last fragments of sleep from his mind as he made his way to the shower. ‘Now…where did I leave the Rover?’ he wondered. ‘At the Cathouse?’

“Oh well, I’ll ask DD…she’ll know…”

The doc was waiting outside the new 412, though everyone else was already onboard and seated. They removed the covers and untethered the main rotors, and the doc boarded while Harry woke up the bird. He looked at battery levels and grimaced. “DD,” he said on intercom 1, “remind me to get a battery cart up here for days like this. We barely have enough power for a cold start.”

“Right.”

He watched the engine start carefully, watched the power levels dive as the turbines caught and began spooling up, knowing that he’d just stressed the hell out of these brand new batteries, then he dialed in ATC and began monitoring San Francisco Approach Control. He took off and ran south just above the beach, and, as they closed on the Golden Gate he went lower still – just as he’d done so many times in Iraq – soon flying with the skids almost touching the wave tops.

“You okay, Harry?” Frank asked.

“Yeah, I’m tactical.”

“Tactical?”

“Ready to rock and roll, Frank.”

“Okay, you say so.”

Harry climbed just a little as the Huey approached the Presidio, then he kicked the rudder over and came down in a reverse flare, landing in the middle of the H and killing the engine in one smooth motion.

“Jesus, Harry, what’s gotten into you this morning?” the doc asked after he’d climbed out of his harness.

“I don’t know, Doc. Just wanted to see what this thing could really do, I guess.”

“Yeah? Well, better check those skids for fish guts…”

Harry went around and helped Frank down, then he looked around the parking lot. “Anyone know where my car is?”

“Inside hanger three,” Frank said quietly. “I have chemo at 11:30. Could you run me over there?”

“Of course. Where’s there, by the way?”

“Stanford.”

Harry nodded as he started for the hanger.

“Where are you going?” DD asked.

“Over to Rosenthal. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”

“But…”

“I’ll be back, okay?”

She knew better than to argue with him, and she looked on as Frank followed Harry to the hanger – utterly amazed how tight the bond was between them.

“What is it with those two,” the doc asked. “They’re like brothers, ya know?”

“That’s exactly what they are, only they bleed blue,” Pattison said as he came out of the Cathouse. “By the way. He called in last night and told the dispatcher to take him off the flight rotation schedule. And get this…that he won’t be flying again.”

DD nodded. “So, that was his last hurrah…” she said, the memory of the nerve shattering last few miles still fresh in her mind.

“I wonder what the hell happened to him over there?” the doc muttered.

“Where?” DD replied. “Iraq? Or Vietnam? Maybe Germany – or perhaps something up at Coffee Creek?”

“Damn…I keep forgetting all those other tours.”

“He doesn’t, apparently. I’m worried about him. He’s wound up too tight.”

“Yeah?” the doc said. “He’s got a lot on his plate.”

“Well,” Pattison snarled, “give him a week and he’ll be itching to fly again.”

_________________________________

“Nils! Just the person I wanted to see.”

“Hey, Mr Callahan! You’re back!”

“I am indeed, and I need your help today.”

“Oh?”

“Those Yamaha Clavinova pianos, the ones with the screen and the teaching modes. What’s the best one?”

“Let me show you…”

After an hour, and with his decision made, Harry bought two and arranged for one to be delivered to Frank’s house, the other to his own. “Now, I hear some funny things are going on around here. What’s with that?”

Nils took Harry and Frank to a previously unused part of the store that had been used for storage, and Callahan was stunned with the change he saw on display. 

“This is our new electronic music room, and we have electric pianos, organs, and synthesizers, all the latest from Moog, Korg, and Yamaha.”

“Response from the community?”

“Very good so far. Sales are running about 70% of traditional pianos right now, after just six months…”

“So, overall sales are up seventy, too?”

“Not quite. Overall sales are up about one hundred and ten percent from last year, because we’re pulling in a lot more traffic.”

“How so?”

“We’re having a few very talented local musicians put on free concerts across the street in the park, first Sunday of the summer, spring, and autumn months. The results have been way beyond expectations.”

“For instance?”

“For instance, we’ve sold more uprights than we ever have at any location, more Yamaha grands, and we’ve even sold seven more Bösendorfers than last year, and that year was a record.”

“So, you were right.”

“I think so, sir.”

“Okay, so what’s this I hear about visa troubles?”

“My one year work permit expires in six weeks, so…”

“Do you want to stay?”

Nils shook his head. “I don’t want to become a citizen, but this appears to be the only way to stay.”

“What about Copenhagen? Do you want to return there?”

“Eventually, but I was thinking we should expand to new markets first.”

“And…where do you have in mind?”

“Sydney and Tokyo, to start, then Barcelona.”

“If you had to pick just one to start, which would you…”

“Tokyo. The market there is huge, and underserved.”

“Okay, so in six weeks get ready to leave for Tokyo.”

“Sir?”

“Nils, you’re simply too smart to leave shackled to a cash register. If this company is going to grow, I need people like you to help push the boundaries of tradition just a little, and what you’re showing me is you have the formula down. So, we need to talk about your future, don’t we?”

“Yes sir, if we could, I’d like that very much.”

“Frank? How are you feeling?”

“I need to sit for a minute.”

“Here,” Nils said, “come with me, please.”

Callahan went to the office and called Cathy. 

“Hello…” she said.

“Cathy? I’m having a new piano sent up to the house. Will you be able to take delivery Friday?”

“Yes, of course! Harry, thanks so much!”

“Welcome. Now, what’s up with the plans for the teahouse?”

“I’ve put that on hold, at least until you returned.”

“Okay. I want to look at tying my house to the teahouse, but also constructing a medium sized recording studio…”

“So, tying all three together into one?”

“Yup. Work something up so we can get together with Sam and come up with a start date.”

“Okay…and Harry, I’ve just heard about a large plot coming up in Palo Alto, suitable for a large condo or apartment project. Interested in something outside of the city?”

“If you think I should be, then yes. Put something together for tonight if you can. And, oh, Nils will only be here for about six weeks. You still want him to start teaching Elizabeth?”

“No, probably not. Can you think of anyone else who could teach her?”

“Yes. Me.”

“What?”

“I’ll teach her.”

“Well Harry, you know I’d love that, but do you have the time to take on something like this?”

“I do; we’ll start this week.”

He rang off then called DD:

“Harry? Are you watching the time? You’ll need to start for Palo Alto soon.”

“We’ll leave from here.”

“Okay, what can I do for you?”

“See if you can get Fujiko to drop by the Cathouse late this afternoon. Tell her we have an idea for a new business and that we need to talk with her about it.”

“Okay. I’ll try.”

“And Cathy has a new property in Palo Alto she thinks we should look at.”

“Okay, I can call her where? At the office?”

“I got her at home. She’s working out there this week. Spring break, I think.”

“That’s right. I forgot she mentioned that last night.”

“Okay. I’ll be in after Frank finishes up.”

Nils was waiting for him outside the office.

“Your friend is very ill, I think.”

Harry just shrugged. “Come down to the Cathouse around four, would you? I want to talk some more about Japan. Where’s Frank?”

“Waiting in the car, I believe.”

“Okay. See you at four.”

They took the 280 and got off on Page Mill Road, and Frank guided him through the hospital grounds to the cancer center.

“You want to come in and sit with me?”

“If you’d like me to, then sure.”

“Takes about two hours, but I could use the company.”

They went in, and they took Bullitt to the lab to draw blood, and once the results were ready his dose was computed. Harry followed him to the Chemo Lounge, a cavernous room with, literally, hundreds of recliners set up with IV pump stations, and almost every chair was occupied.

“Jesus…” Callahan sighed, “There are so many!”

“Cancer is at epidemic levels,” the ward nurse said. “Especially breast and prostate cancers. Now Frank, let’s get you hooked up.”

Callahan detested needles so looked up at the ceiling, but after the nurse walked away he looked at Frank and thought he looked doped up. “She give you something to make you sleep?”

“Some kind of relaxant, I think,” Bullitt said as his eyes simply closed. Seconds later he was snoring.

Callahan picked up a car magazine and flipped through it when he could, then he too fell asleep – and into a restless dream. Something shook his chair and he woke up, saw the nurse disconnecting the IV from Frank’s port so he wiped away the sleep and sat up; Frank looked awful now, tired and sallow. They sat for a few more minutes then made their way out to the Rover; once he had Frank belted in he turned on the air conditioner and turned the ducts to face his friend, then drove slowly back to the city. Frank dozed, leaving Harry in a funk.

When they arrived, DD helped get Frank to a cot in one of the smaller crew rest areas, then Harry went to his office, where he found Nils and Fujiko waiting. He ignored Fujiko as best he could, but he realized he still felt a mix of dread and anger over this first meeting since her last departure. Once DD arrived he launched right into what he had in mind.

“Fujiko, I’ve asked you here today in a business capacity, and nothing more. As you may recall, I have an interest in a music company. It is based in Copenhagen and has a well established store here in the city, and currently Nils,” he said, pointing to the long-haired Dane, “is the resident manager of this store. Recently, Nils has been opening up the store to carry new types of instruments, mainly electronic synthesizers, and he’s asked about the possibility of opening new stores around the world. The first store we’d like to think about would be in Japan, and since you’ve gone back to school and received your MBA, I thought you might be the perfect person to help spearhead this effort.”

“I see,” she said. “Thank you so much for thinking of me.”

Harry nodded, suddenly unsure of himself on hearing her voice once again. “If you agree, we’d like to hire you, bring you onto the Rosenthal Music Company payroll, and with your help explore the possibilities of opening new stores in Asia and Europe. Is this something you’d like to consider?”

“Who would I be working for?”

“The Music Company.”

“And who owns this company?”

“I do?”

“So, I’d be working for you?”

“In a way, but actually the company’s operations are quite independent of me.”

“I see. I would only be interested in working for a company not directly under your control.”

“What is your primary concern here, Fujiko?” DD asked – opening up a new line of attack.

“That Harry not be in a position to manipulate me or my business decisions.”

“I see,” DD said. “Well, not that it makes any difference now, but I see over the day-to-day financials for the company now, and I manage personnel matters, as well. That said, with your feelings about Harry I couldn’t agree to taking you on. I’m sorry, as I think it would’ve been a fantastic opportunity for you…”

“I did not mean to say I could not work for the company,” Fujiko blurted out. “Only that I could not…”

“I understand your position,” DD added. “I’m sorry we took up your time. Good day.”

Harry watched impassively, and chose his moment with care. “Excuse me, but before you leave, could you tell me a few of the ideas you might have to go about opening a facility in Tokyo?” 

“If I am no longer under consideration for the position, then no, I cannot.”

“Your consideration hangs in the balance, Fujiko-san,” DD replied. “Do you have any ideas for helping this project move forward.”

It turned out she did.

Harry left midway through her interview, leaving DD to finish up the application process. He went to the rest area and found Frank fast asleep, so he went to his office and called Cathy.

“He doesn’t look good, Cathy. I mean, he’s really weak.”

“I think the treatments are having no effect, Harry. My biggest concern is that they’re weakening him prematurely.”

“Have you talked to his oncologist?”

“I have. She told me about the only thing we can do is play for more time.”

“Uh…what does Frank want to do?”

“Well, we’ve talked about it a little, and it all comes down to quality of life versus quantity.”

“And…how does he feel about that?”

She chuckled. “I think he’s just like the rest of us, Harry. He wants both.”

“I hear that.”

“Yes, exactly. Who wouldn’t, but that’s just not the case now.”

“Well,” Harry sighed, “maybe it’s time to have a talk with his doctors. Maybe the doc could set it up?”

“Frank would have to ask, ethically. But I think it’s time we start looking at new options.”

Harry swallowed hard, tried to clear his mind of the enveloping fear that had suddenly clutched his throat. “What’s left?”

“End of life care, when the time comes. Pain management until then.”

“Oh God, Cathy…I’m not ready for this…”

“Nobody is, Harry. And I have no idea how to talk to Elizabeth about all this.”

He found tears falling on his desktop and realized they were his own. “What can I do to help you now?”

“I don’t know, Harry. Maybe spend more time with Frank and Elizabeth. Let her build up a storehouse full of memories that she can share with you as she gets older. I’m going to try and do the same thing.”

He could hear her tears over the connection. “We’ll get through this, Cathy, but we have to make the time special for Frank, too.”

“Okay, you’re right…bye…I’ve got to go…”

He found some tissues and wiped his eyes just as DD walked in.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

Callahan shrugged.

“Is it Fujiko?”

He shook his head. “Frank.”

“Oh, no. Should I talk to…”

“Yes please. Go ahead. It’s time to start looking down the next road.”

“About Fujiko? Want my take on things?”

He shrugged again. “Do you think she has anything to help this happen?”

“I do. I do not, however, like her attitude toward you.”

“She’ll get over it once she sees a healthy paycheck.”

“Is that your game plan? Make her dependent on you so you can win her back?”

He shook his head. “You know, after seeing her today…well…I could care less if I see her again or not. If she’s the right person for the job let her have a crack at it. If she’s not, tell her to take a hike.”

“You’re upset…”

“You’re damn right I’m upset, DD!” he screamed. “My best friend is dying right in front of all of us. I’m beyond upset…”

She came to his chair and pulled him up into her arms and held him fiercely. “We all love Frank, Harry. All of us. So don’t think for a minute you have to go through this by yourself…”

“I’m sorry I yelled…” Callahan whispered, crying harder now.

“No apologies necessary.”

“I know, I know…”

“And you need to remember something else, Harry Callahan; there are a bunch of people here who love you, too…”

He nodded and she let go of him. He turned and went to a window and looked out over the ramp and at all the maroon and silver helicopters gleaming in the sun. “I can build companies and erect skyscrapers, but I can’t save my best friends life. Isn’t that strange? The more things change the more they stay the same… Isn’t that the old saying?”

“It is. But think about it, Harry. These things you’ve built gave him purpose these past few years, and that’s no small thing. And that’s not an old saying, Harry. That was you. All you.”

He nodded as he watched the sun drifting down to the Golden Gate, realizing inside of the moment that the one person he’d really needed had been sitting in a little conference just a few minutes ago, and now she had slipped from his grasp once again.

_________________________________

Or had she?

He walked out of the Cathouse, now on his way to one of the hangers to talk with Pattison, and there she was. 

Waiting for him.

“Harry? Can we talk?”

He stopped, looked down, then away – and he took a deep breath, steeling himself for the encounter he had been dreading for years. “Sure,” he said, putting his hands in his pockets. 

“Why did you think of me for this position?”

The first thing he noticed was that almost all traces of her accent were gone. She sounded pure Californian now, and even the way she dressed seemed like pure Berkeley – almost Bohemian-chic, a studied, expensive variant of the sixties radical. He turned and faced her then: “Nils mentioned Tokyo. You were the first person that came to mind.”

“Why haven’t you called me?”

Incredulous. That was the word that entered his mind. “You were pretty clear last time, Fujiko.”

“Clear about what?”

“You not wanting to be a part of my life.”

“I see. So why did you call me now? Do you think things have changed?”

“No, I thought you just might possibly be the perfect choice for the job. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t really thinking about you and I anymore, just you as a human resource.”

“A human resource? Really?”

“Really.”

“I had no idea you were so full of shit,” she said as she turned and walked to her car.

He turned and walked off towards the hanger and talked with Pattison for a while, then back to the Cathouse – and she was still there, in her little 3-series BMW, looking at him as he walked towards the door.

He stopped when he saw her sitting there.

And waited for her to make the next move.

While she waited for him to make the next move.

He shook his head and walked inside, went to the rest lounge to get Frank.

“How you doin’, Amigo?” he said when he saw Frank sitting up, nursing a cup of hot tea.

“You know the Road Runner cartoons? I feel like that Acme Anvil has just landed on my head…”

“Well, the good news is you don’t look quite that bad…no stars and sparrows circling your head…yet…”

“Elizabeth loves those, laughs every time the coyote gets flattened.”

“He’s an abject lesson in the problem that arises from being stupid.”

“Or not fast enough on the draw,” Frank sighed.

“You ready for the drive?”

“Not if you’re going to drive like a fuckin’ old lady.”

“Would you stop raggin’ me about my driving.”

“I will when you stop drivin’ like a fuckin’ old lady.”

“Well, hell…I can drop your fat ass by the side of the road and let you hitch a ride.”

“And we’d beat you home by an hour. What’s your point?”

“Come on, lard ass. Let’s go…DDs waiting on us.”

“Lard ass? Lard ass? Who you callin’ lard ass?”

Callahan grumbled all the way out to the parking lot – and Fujiko was still there…waiting for the showdown. He handed DD the keys and growled: “Go ahead and get the engine started. I’ll be there in a minute… Oh, where’d you leave it with her?”

“About the position? That you and I would talk about it and let her know.”

“What’s your gut say about her?”

“Good for the job but a pain in the ass.”

“Yes or no? Hire or not hire?”

“She won’t be around here much so why not?”

“So that’s a qualified yes?”

“I think so.”

“Okay,” he said as he walked over to Fujiko’s Beemer. He went to the passenger door and stepped inside.

“Your turn, Fujiko. What’s on your mind?”

“Is that Frank?”

“Yes.”

“He looks very ill.”

“He is. Maybe two or three months left, I think.”

“Oh, no…”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t sit out here all night.”

“I couldn’t leave you like this, Harry. I’m sorry for the way we left, but I was very much afraid of you, of what you’re capable of doing.”

“Okay.”

“But what you said, about it not being your doing? I simply could not believe that, and I still have trouble understanding…”

“So you left. It’s okay, Fujiko. I understand. If you’d really loved me you would have tried to understand the situation before you walked out – again. But the second time was the deal breaker. It took a while for me to get there, but that’s the way it is. I would have loved someone like you in my life, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”

“And that’s it? There will be no more between us?”

“You’re too dangerous, Fujiko. Too volatile. You project calm, yet you are anything but.”

“I see. So the position with your music company is…”

“Is out of the question. I’m sorry for taking up your time.”

“You know what the tragedy of your life is, Harry? You know just how to destroy the love all around you. And yet you are convinced you have had nothing to do with the sour state in your life. I think I feel sorry for you, Harry Callahan.”

“Thanks.”

“Think of everything you’ve built the last few years. Why is it that you couldn’t build love?”

He looked down and shook his head. “I don’t know, but when I find out I’ll let you know.”

“Ha-ha,” she said, the words dripping with blood-soaked sarcasm. “I never took you for the type to wallow in self-pity.”

He opened the door and started to step out. “Are you done now? Anything else you want to get off your chest?”

“No,” she said as she started the car, “I can’t think of a thing to say now.”

“Well then, let’s try ‘Good-bye’ and leave it at that,” he said as he gently closed the door.

He watched her drive off as he got to the Rover’s door, an overwhelming sadness crushing his chest. He got in and sat there…

“Harry?” Frank said as he looked at his friend, “you don’t look so hot.”

But the pressure in his chest was building now, and spreading. Out to his left arm and up to his jaw.

“DD?”

“Yes?”

“Call 911, would you. I think I’m having a heart attack…”

She leaned up to see if he was kidding – just as he slumped over, now clutching his chest.

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

Come Alive (15)

Come alive nav stat im small

Chapter 15

Taggart pulled out the log and scanned the instruments at the chart table – everything was pulling information except the GPS, and the position display on all the chartplotters read the same: Danger/No Signal/Do Not Use For Navigation. The satellites would come back online in a few days, so in the meantime he was running a dead-reckoning plot on a paper chart– which on these mirror calm seas was a cinch.

He’d looked aft about an hour after picking up Mike and seen the pod following along about a quarter mile behind, and Rosa had come up looking for them. He noticed that, too. She had started walking around by midday, pushing herself more than he thought necessary or safe, but he soon realized she had come up looking for them – because the connection she’d made was strong, atypically strong, and even Erika noticed the change in her mother.

He tried to condense all this ‘stuff’ in his noon log entry, but something was gnawing away in a dark corner of his mind – then it hit him: even at 55 degrees north latitude it was hot outside. Not warm…hot. Really hot. He pulled up the sea temp and found it near normal, 48 degrees F, but the OAT, or Outside Air Temp was 95F, and even running with all the hatches open was leaving the interior stiflingly warm. With Eva’s pregnancy and Rosa’s current state wearing on his mind, he went below and shut all the hatches and fired up the air conditioner – something he’d never even imagined needing to do before. He looked at the Amp draw and seemed satisfied, but the idea of a sailboat equipped with an air conditioner running at sea bothered him. It just wasn’t right…but what if they were right and this was the new normal?

He finished his log entry and went topsides for a moment, checked on Mike at the wheel.

“How you doing?” he asked.

“I can’t get over this heat,” Mike sighed. “Something ain’t right.”

“Super high pressure system, I reckon.”

Mike scanned the horizon then shook his head. “Not one goddamn cloud. We getting any kind of weather information yet?”

Taggart shook his head.

“Well, I got to hand it to you, Taggart. If your intent was to take civilization back to the Stone Age, you’ve succeeded admirably.”

“The intent was to get you boys to sit back and take stock of the situation before you flipped the switch and sent all your missiles off with a one way ticket to hell.”

“Interesting.”

“What’s interesting?”

“You said ‘the intent,’ not ‘my intent.’”

“Stop digging, would you? You’re like a fugitive now, so just chill out.”

“Sorry…you’re right. Diesel is getting decent mileage, by the way. You could run under power almost all the way to Iceland if you needed, so why Bergen?”

“Rosa. Chemotherapy.”

Mike nodded. “Then back south to the Seine? By the way, your hands are shaking pretty good. What’s up with that?”

“Parkinson’s.”

“Jesus H Christ, Taggart…what were you thinking – doing this alone, out here by yourself?”

“Hey, just livin’ the dream, Amigo…”

“The dream? Sounds kind of like a death wish, if you ask me…”

“That’s funny, because – you know what? – I can’t remember asking you.”

“You do like putting me in my place, don’t you?”

“No, not really. And I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I could really do without a lot of this bullshit – if you don’t mind.”

“Just comes naturally, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I get that.”

Mike peered at the chartplotter for a moment… “The radar just turned off.”

“Probably drawing too much power,” Taggart said as he slipped down the companionway to the electrics panel. “You running the autopilot, too?” he called out.

“No, not for a while…!”

Taggart cycled the breaker, but nothing changed on the display down below, so he turned off the chartplotter and watched the ammeter dip and re-stabilize. “Power down your plotter!” The ammeter dipped and re-stabilized again, so he went back to the cockpit. “We’ve got plenty of power, so I’m not sure what’s going on.”

“Some jammers intentionally overload radar displays,” Mike said, looking aft again. “You don’t want to be a bird and fly through that crud, either.”

“So, you think…”

“It’s possible. Yeah.”

“Shipborne or airborne?”

“Usually big ship mounted things, but Growlers use ’em too.”

“So…someone out here could be jamming us as they…”

“As they make their approach,” Mike said, looking at Taggart. “Probably not a good idea to run the radar now, know what I mean?”

“Maybe cycle at irregular intervals?”

Mike shook his head. “Ineffective, and besides, we won’t be able to outrun anything in this boat.”

“So…we sit back and see what happens. Ready for lunch?”

“Sure.”

“Some salads and a little wine?”

“No alcohol for me…not in this sun. I’d pass out in ten minutes flat.”

“Okay. Water it is.”

They were eating in the cockpit ten minutes later when a low flying jet came up from the rear; it passed along their port side just short of supersonic and in just a few seconds disappeared beyond the northern horizon.

“What the hell was that?” Taggart said.

“A Growler; EA-18G, airborne ECM platform. That’s what was burning our radar…and I wonder where he’s headed?”

“Probably a carrier, right?”

Mike nodded. “Pretty good assumption, and at his speed and altitude – it better not be too far away.” He paused, seemed to think for a moment. “Any reason why big ships shouldn’t be operating?”

Taggart shook his head. “Just no nukes.”

“Russian too?”

“Mike, yes – just no nukes.”

“If command and control nets are down, ground forces might assume the worst and…”

“Yes,”Taggart said, “they will.”

“You don’t know what I’m going to say…why do you…”

“You were going to say ‘lash  out,’ right?”

“Yeah…but how’d you know that…and don’t give me that ‘you’re so predictable’ bullshit, ‘cause I ain’t buyin’ that one again.”

“Okay. Let’s see here: you’re not predictable and I guessed you’d say that. Sound about right to you now?”

Mike looked away. “Why’d you help me get off that island?”

“Oh, you know…something about ‘keep your friends close, and your enemies closer still’ crossed my mind.”

“I’m not your enemy, Taggart. I’m just not real sure who, or even what you really are.”

Henry sighed, got up and picked up their dishes and disappeared down the companionway. He cleaned up the galley and went forward, found Rosa and Erika deep in conversation so he dropped into Eva’s stateroom. She was knitting baby socks and listening to the Moody Blues on her headphones – but she looked up and smiled when she saw him.

“Henry! You have gotten too much sun! You are as red as a plum!”

“I feel like I burned the top of my head.”

“Do you have any aloe? You should let me rub it in before the skin is too damaged.”

“I’ll get it, but just in case you need it, I keep it in the back ‘fridge.”

He came back with the gel and sat beside Eva.

“Take off your shirt…your neck and shoulders are a mess!”

He pulled his shirt off and she poured some of the goop into her hand and she gently massaged it in…

“Crap…that stuff is really cold as hell…”

“Just wait, the cool will feel soothing in a moment.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong…it already feels good.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then spoke again, only more softly this time. “Maybe it feels good because of who is rubbing it in, you know?”

“Do you know how often I dream of you?” she sighed. “Even when I am not asleep, Henry, I still dream of you.”

“I know. I love the way I feel when you are near me. It feels like some kind of shared polarity, almost like there is an attraction that pulls us together.”

“We vibrate at the same frequency, Henry.”

He smiled. “Maybe that’s it.”

“Can you not see that?”

“No, so sorry. I doubt I’m as far along the evolutionary ladder as you, Eva.”

“Now there you go again, making fun of me…” she said as she kissed the top of his head. “There…I think you will survive.”

“You know, I’d love you even if you weren’t so cute.”

“Oh, I know.”

“Nothing like self-confidence…” he grinned as he looked her in the eye.

“It is not that, Henry Taggart. It is the story in your eyes.”

“And I’m just a singer in a rock-n-roll band…”

“No, you are a moody blue.”

They laughed at these little inside jokes – because as she listened to The Moody Blues – literally almost all the time – he had started to play their music when she was aboard.

“Are you eating enough?” he asked. “Doesn’t look like you’re gaining much weight?”

“I could eat more but I am nauseated nearly all the time now.”

“Still?”

She nodded. “I think because there are two boys in the oven, you know? Perhaps they are already playing football.”

“More than likely.”

“Before you met me, who did you dream about?”

He smiled. “Doris Day.”

“The actress? Really?”

“Yes, but probably not for the reason you think.”

“Oh? Well then, tell me why?”

“When I was a little boy…”

“I know, you watched her movies and fell in love with her!”

“Almost. She lived in the house next door…”

“Truly?”

He nodded. “Truly. A place called Lido Isle, in Newport Beach. That’s in California, by the way. John Wayne lived near my house too, but Doris Day lived, literally, right next door to our house. Anyway, when my dad and I would come in from races…”

“Races? What, you went to car races?”

“No, my dad and I, usually with some of his friends, raced his sailboat – called Bandit. That’s how I learned to sail, but anyway, when we came in from those races she would often be on her patio – and she was always playing with one of her pups – and she always asked me how we did. The first few times I was so nervous I could hardly even make eye contact with her, but pretty soon I looked forward to seeing her and talking with her.”

“Wow, that is pretty cool…”

“Yeah. Well, considering she was always considered the perfect ‘girl next door’ it was a riot to really have her as the girl next door. Anyway, ever since I was a kid she’s always been in my dreams, and I hate to break your bubble but she still is…”

“Really? After so long?”

“Yup. Old habits die hard I guess.”

“What do you remember most about her, besides these conversations?”

He closed his eyes and thought for a moment, then he smiled: “She had this kind of trademark song – Que Sera, Sera – from an Alfred Hitchcock movie, of all things – and she would sing back there on her patio while she planted flowers in her little garden. My bedroom window overlooked her backyard so of course I always heard her sing whenever she was out there, and when I was still pretty young I would just kind of sit there and listen…”

“That sounds almost magical…”

“Maybe that’s why I still dream of her.”

“I think maybe she was your first true love,” Eva said, smiling at his opening up to her.

He nodded. “I think maybe you’re right. When she passed I cried for quite a while; no one would have understood why, and I guess maybe because it must seem so silly.”

She sighed. “The first love is the deepest, Henry. You are lucky to have had such an unreal passion.”

“You know, I think you’re the first person I’ve ever talked to about her. Maybe that means something, too…?”

“As I said, Henry, I’ve seen these feelings in your eyes. You can’t conceal things like this, you know?”

“I wouldn’t want to conceal that from you.”

She smiled. “So, we will be in Bergen again and this thing with Dina will come between us once again. Oh, Henry…what will become of us?”

“I’ve created a very complicated universe, I’m afraid.”

“Please…do not apologize. I am happy to be a part of our little constellation…to have your sons and carry them forward into life…but I dislike being away from you so much…”

“This will be a difficult time, Eva, with our children coming…”

“I know. I will do what I must. What of this other woman. Rosa?”

“I must help her…”

“This I understand. What can I do to help?”

“You’ll always know what is best, Eva. Just see that she finds help when she needs it.”

She nodded. “And if something should happen to her?”

“Take care of the girl, please.”

“Okay.”

“Taggart!” they heard Mike calling out. “Better get up here!”

He kissed her and made his way up the companionway; he found Mike looking to the northwest through the binoculars.

“What’s up?”

Mike handed him the binoculars and said “Take a look,” as he pointed to a spot on the horizon.

Taggart swung the binoculars and spotted the naval vessel headed their way. “Well, well, well,” he said, “look who’s coming to dinner…”

“Look at the bow wave. Flank speed, and if you look hard you can see an ASW helo working a pattern ahead of it.”

“So, working a submarine contact while beating up the water at flank speed sounds a little unusual, doesn’t it?”

“How the fuck do you know that?”

Taggart shrugged. “So, we assume he’s prosecuting a contact that’s closing on a carrier battle group, right?”

Mike shook his head. “I wish I knew who the fuck you really are.”

Taggart turned and looked at him, then he shook his head. “No, you don’t.”

“Just tell me you’re not some kind of Russian spook…”

Taggart laughed at that. “Isn’t that exactly what you’d expect a Russian spy to say?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Actually, I’m from The People’s Republic of California.”

“That explains everything.”

“I knew you’d understand. What’s he making…40 knots?”

“About.”

“Try the radar.”

“Are you kidding me?! That’s the last thing we should do…”

“You’ll let him know we’re here.”

“You think he doesn’t?”

“Turn it to Standby, at least. I’m curious if it’s even working or not now.”

“Are those cylindrical things up by the spreaders radar reflectors?” Mike asked.

“Yup.”

“Okay, then he’s seen us…”

Taggart turned to hand Mike the binoculars and froze. “Uh, take the binos and put them away.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Just do it. At your five o’clock, maybe fifty feet away, there’s a periscope. My guess is he’s matching speed with us, hiding behind our radar shadow…”

“And our engine is messing up any sonar readings in this area, too. You got a VHF at the chart table, right?”

“Right. I’ve also got the transceiver.”

“Just go to 16 and see if you can contact the bridge. Do you think they saw you looking their way?”

“I doubt it.”

“Okay, give it a try.”

Taggart went to the chart table and picked up the mic. “Sailing Vessel Time Bandits at 57 22 19 North, 5 34 20 East, to navy vessel northwest of our position.”

“CG71 Cape St George, go ahead Time Bandits.”

“Ivan is about fifty feet off our starboard quarter, glass up and hiding in in our shadow.”

Pause.

“Time Bandits, this is the CO. Can you advise type?”

“Possible Akula, repeat, Akula.”

“Understood, Time Bandits. Please maintain your current coarse and speed, advise if and when he dives.”

“Wilco, out.” Taggart put on his sunglasses then went to the fridge and grabbed two Cokes; he went topsides, handed a Coke to Taggart while he looked at the periscope.

“Make contact?”

“Yup. Maintain current coarse and speed.”

“Okay.”

Taggart looked aft and saw his friend’s dorsal fin cutting through the water, then he sighed as he looked down. “Are we at war, Mike?”

“You’re asking me?”

“I’ve got some friends in the water near here. I don’t want them to get hurt.”

“You – what?”

“That pod of orcas, they’re now about four hundred yards astern.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Taggart…”

Henry shook his head. “Nope.”

“Well, if you can tell ‘em to get the hell out of here, right now would be the perfect time to do it…!”

Taggart took a deep breath, tried to think of another way but couldn’t…

“If I told you to go below, you wouldn’t, right?”

“What? Hell no I wouldn’t…”

“I thought you’d say that.” He took another deep breath then sat down, his knees crossed, his arms out, his head tilted back…

“Taggart…? What the fuck…”

But Taggart’s mind was someplace else now…though his body was still on Time Bandits, and when Mike turned and looked at the Cape St George for a moment the same spinning red orb appeared in front of Taggart’s face again. When Mike saw it now he flinched, then turned away from the brilliant light, then the light divided into two equally sized spheres and one streaked down into the water. To Mike it seemed like the light disappeared inside the submarine, then…

…a deep rumble…

…and then the submarine was surfacing, hatches soon bursting open and men running out on deck, coughing as smoke poured out behind them…

“Call the St George, Mike. Tell them the sub has a reactor fire and has surfaced. Now…!”

“Cape St George, Russian submarine surfacing our location, possible reactor fire, repeat, possible reactor fire. Men on deck…wait one…men in the water…need a helo this location now!”

Taggart was still sitting, and the other sphere was still pulsing right in front of his face. 

And right then Mike wanted to destroy Taggart – and whatever that thing was. ‘If he can do that to a submarine, what can’t he do…?”

Then Mike heard emergency klaxons wailing inside the sub’s hull…

…and the original sphere streaked away – disappearing down Time Bandit’s trailing wake.

And a moment later Taggart stood and took the mic. “Cape St George, the Akula is taking on water, going down fast by the stern. Forty plus men currently in the water.”

“Uh, Time Bandits, we’re picking up some unusual radar activity in your vicinity…”

“Cycle your SPY-1A from active to passive and back to active. That should resolve the issue.”

“Stand by one.”

“Standing by.”

“Bandits, St George, thanks, all clear now.”

“Okay St George, sub is going under now, we have men swimming our way. ETA helos?”

“About a minute.”

Taggart flipped the mic to PA mode and began speaking to the men in the water – in perfect Russian: “Attention, crew of the Russian submarine Gepard. Rescue helicopters will be on site within one minute. Form rescue circles as per your training and standby. Do not approach the sailing vessel at this time, repeat, do not approach the sailing vessel.”

The men in the water formed circles of ten men each and began treading water; seconds later the first American helicopter arrived and dropped several large MOB canisters into the water. Seconds later huge life rafts deployed and the men began swimming to the boarding webbing.

When Taggart looked at Mike he saw death in the man’s eyes – as if he wanted to commit murder – and Taggart smiled.

“What in God’s name did you just do?” the navy captain asked.

“I didn’t do anything, Mike.”

“The Hell you didn’t.”

“No, seriously, I did nothing.”

“Fuck you.”

“Alter course a little to the left, would you? I want to put some distance between us and those men.”

“Are you even a human being?”

Taggart laughed again. “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

“So, you know some Shakespeare. Who the fuck are you?”

“I told you. A Californian.”

“Sorry, but Californians can’t do what you just did…”

“Wanna bet?”

“What?”

“Anyone can do what I just did, even you. You just don’t know how.”

“You just took out a nuclear submarine, you mother-fucker…”

“Again, Mike – no – I did not.”

“Wait a minute…you had a run-in with another Russian sub back in June, didn’t you?”

Taggart nodded, willing him to make the connection.

“And did you…?”

“Yes, the same thing – I guess you could say – happened. And again, I was not responsible for what happened that day.”

“Just like you are not the one…”

“That’s right.”

“What’s your game, Taggart? What are you up to?”

“My game is to make it to Paris for Christmas, Mike, so I can die in the company of my fondest memories.”

“Bullshit!”

“No, Mike, it’s not – and please, don’t piss me off right now.”

“Why not, Taggart? Will you do to me what you just did to those men?”

“No, but he might not be too happy about it?” Taggart said, pointing at the male orca – now swimming just off the stern.

Mike turned and looked at the orca: “So…are you telling me that whale is responsible for all this?”

“Nope. He’s just my friend.”

“Mine, too,” Rosa said as she came up the companionway steps. She stopped and stared at Mike for a moment, then walked back to the aft rail and sat with her feet dangling over the water.

Eva came up and gasped when she saw the orca…

“That looks like the same one that…”

“Because he is, Eva,” Taggart said as she came up and stood beside him.

“How is that possible?” she asked.

“Yes, that was my question, too. How is this possible, Henry?”

Taggart turned and looked at the orca, then at Mike. “How many conscious minds are there in the universe, Mike? Have any idea?”

Mike looked confused now. “What are you getting at, Taggart?”

“Just answer the question.”

“How the hell would I know?”

“Oh, go ahead…pick a number, Mike – any number at all.”

“I don’t know – a billion trillion?” Mike said, smirking. “I mean really, c’mon Taggart, this has got to be the most stupid question I’ve ever heard in my life.”

So Taggart relented. “Okay,” he sighed. “You think about it for a while…and when you think you’ve got the answer you come and tell me.”

“You mean…like an exact number?”

“Yup.”

“You’re out of your fucking mind.”

And just then both Eva and Rosa gasped, but Henry just smiled – while looking right into Mike’s eyes.

“What’s going on…and why are they staring at me?”

“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?”

“What? Who?”

“Him. The guy standing right next to you,” Taggert said, pointing to Mike’s right side.

Mike turned and saw what looked like a shimmering hologram – of a small humanoid looking creature about a meter tall – at which point Mike screamed and backpedaled towards the aft rail, slamming into it before flailing into a backwards somersault…landing in the sea with a resounding, bellyflopping splash.

Taggart shook his head and chopped the throttle, then walked aft, Eva and Rosa following him; they found Mike clinging to the orca’s pectoral fin and by that point almost in a state of shock.

Taggart turned and looked at the shimmering hologram-creature and grinned. “I think you’ve had enough fun for today. Think you could bring him back up here?”

The shimmering form reformed, coalesced into the same spinning red orb once again – and then split into three much smaller orbs; two disappeared and the remaining orb lifted Mike from the whale’s grasp and deposited him on deck – yet Mike was, by that point, nodding in and out of consciousness. The last orb wobbled a little, then disappeared.

“What was that?” Eva asked, somewhat amused as she watched Mike and the orca.

“I don’t really know. He calls himself Winky.”

“Winky?” Mike groaned. “You got to be fuckin’ kidding me…? Winky? – you mean, as in rhymes with…pinky? Why?”

“You know, when you get to know him better maybe you can ask him yourself.”

Mike turned and looked at the orca, and Henry could tell that the whale was looking right back at Mike… “You know, I feel like I should thank him for catching me,” Mike said, his gaze never leaving the orca.

“Then thank him.”

“You mean…are you saying he understands?”

“Hell if I know, Mike.”

And at that point, a totally confused Mike dove back into the water. He came to the surface and swam over to the orca – and just as the whale had once reached out to shelter him, Mike now reached out and placed his hand on the whale’s face – right beside an eye – and he seemed to drift off in a kind of trance, almost a communion.

“Is he alright?” Eva asked.

“Oh, yes,” Rosa said, her own recent experience still fresh in mind, “he’s good now. In able hands, I think you could even say…”

Taggart took another deep breath and then exhaled slowly, looking closely at the expression on Mike’s face as this first encounter played out…then he looked down into the sea. ‘Of course,’ he thought, ‘I’ve got to get the platform down, help him back aboard…’ He flipped the switch, dropped the platform and went down to wait for the moment to end…

Then Rosa was beside him. “I wish I could go back in again,” she said, rubbing her incision – and Taggart put his arm around her.

“Eva?” Henry said, looking up at her on the aft deck. “Are you ready?”

She nodded and came down to them. “Should I wait for Mike?”

Taggart shook his head, then pointed at a female and the new calf before deploying the ladder. “Just go down slowly, hang onto the ladder until they come to you.”

She took his hand and lowered herself into the cool water. “It is warmer than I thought it would be,” she said as the water lapped at her belly.

“A warm eddy from the Gulf Stream today. You lucked out.”

Eva turned and looked at the female and her calf; they were now just a few meters away – the mother a little wary as her playfully careless daughter swam alongside Eva’s belly…

…then the mother came directly to Eva, placing the side of her face on Eva’s protruding twins – and her reaction was swift…

Clicking and high-pitched whistles, her tail slapping the water in high agitation.

Three more females appeared and one by one they swam up to Eva’s twins and listened, each growing more excited than the one before.

Then the first female was beside Eva once again, this time offering a pectoral – and Eva swam into the females grasp. Together they swam off and they were soon far from Time Bandits – Eva alone in the sea with four female orcas…

Taggart climbed up on deck, then – holding onto the backstay, he stood on the aft rail so he could see better.

Eva was floating on her back, her arms spread wide, and by then the females had surrounded her.

“What are they doing to her, Henry?” Rosa said, and now Erika was on deck looking at all the whales in wide-eyed wonder.

“I have no idea.” Then the calf swam by the swim platform and Erika ran and dove into the sea. Rosa started to say something but Taggart stopped her. “Just be patient, Rosa. Something’s happening…”

“What? Henry! That’s my daughter!”

“And that’s his daughter, Rosa!” Henry said, pointing at Mike and the male orca…but then he looked at the expression on Mike’s face now and moaned. His eyes had rolled back and now only the whites of Mike’s eyes were showing, but by then Henry had had enough: he dove in and swam over to his friend, put his hand beside the orca’s eye and closed his own. Moments later Mike’s eyes fluttered and he drifted back into the present, then saw Taggart by his side in the water.

“Where am I?” Mike sighed.

“I don’t know, Paco. You tell me.”

“Man, it’s good to see you,” Mike said, drifting free of the orca; Taggart steadied him then helped him swim back to Bandits and get up on the platform. “Do you know what happened to me, Henry?” he asked as he took a towel and began drying himself off.

“I think you and Winky had a meeting of the mind.”

“What does that mean?”

“What’s the last thing you remember before you saw me in the water?”

“Stars. Stars everywhere. And something like a huge galaxy not far away.”

Taggart nodded. “Rosa? Would you take Mike below and get him something warm to drink, maybe help him to bed?”

“Okay.”

When they were gone he turned to Erika – who was now holding onto the calf’s dorsal fin, laughing hysterically as they blasted through waves.

He turned and looked at Eva, still quite far away from the boat – only now Winky was out there, hovering over the gathering. Then he felt another presence and turned…

…only to find the Cape St George was there and at a dead stop about a hundred yards away, now with – literally – all hands on deck, and everyone staring slack jawed at the spectacle in the water.

“Well, shit…” Taggart sighed. He closed his eyes and reached out to Winky, who slowly disappeared beneath the surface of the water – then the male swam to his pod and in a flash they all sounded, even the calf, which left Erika stranded about fifty yards away and suddenly not very happy. He dove in and swam to her, and by that time Eva had made it to her, so the three of them swam in together. He helped the girls to towels, then took one and went to the helm and pulled the mic from its cradle.

“St George, this is Bandits. Go ahead.” He pulled out his binoculars and watched the commanding officer put a walkie talkie up to his face.

“That’s quite a show you guys put on. Mind telling me what that red thing is?”

“I have no idea, Captain, but it seems intelligent.”

“I see. And just who am I talking to?”

“Me? I’m just the man behind the curtain, Captain.”

“Yeah, well, we ain’t in Kansas anymore Mr. Wizard, so I’m going to need a real name. You know, like the one on your passport?”

“Which one?”

“Which one what?”

“Which passport, Captain. You want the one the NSA gave me, or perhaps one from the CIA?”

“How many do you have?”

“How many do you want? Oh, by the way, did you see the guy out there with the male?”

“Kinda hard to miss.”

“Annapolis, I think he said class of 80, or maybe 81. He’s an active duty captain, assigned as liaison between you guys and Sleepy Hollow.”

“You know what…this is getting a little over my pay grade. Where you headed?”

“Bergen, transporting a female cancer patient from Helgoland for treatment up there.”

“Alrighty. Get under way…and if I have any further questions I guess I know where to find you. By the way, thanks for the sub report.”

“You’re welcome. Hope everyone was okay by the time you got them out of the water, and I’ll stay on 16 if you need me.”

“71, out.”

Henry put the mic back in its cradle – only to find Mike standing there with two cups of cocoa.

“Here you go. Thought you could use this,” he said.

Taggart started the engine and re-engaged the autopilot, then took the cup and quickly put it down, his hands suddenly starting to twitch – and violently.

“Where are your meds?” Mike asked gently.

“Pill-minder” – spasm – “by the sink in my head. Just bring it up, please.”

By the time Mike came back his hands were shaking so violently he couldn’t hold a thing, let alone dig pills out of their cubbies…

“Which ones do you need?”

“Two from” – spasm – “uh, two from A, one from” – spasm – “one from D.”

Mike dug them out and got them in Henry’s mouth, then opened a fresh bottle of water and held it up to his mouth. “Take it down slowly. That’s right, try to relax…”

Taggart’s breath came in short, ragged gasps now, and he started to slump over as he lost muscle control; Mike came and sat by his side, held him up until the meds began to kick in, telling Henry to hang on, and that it would be okay in a minute – in effect, trying to prop up his spirits along with his body.

“You sh – should’ve been a doc, Mike. Tha – thanks.” 

“My grandfather had Parkinson’s. I still know the drill.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me too, Henry.”

“I think our plot is kind of screwed up now,” Taggart said as he unrolled their plotting sheet a few minutes later. “Any guesses?”

“Yeah, let’s call it an hour at two knots. I think we’re still getting a little ride on the Gulf Stream.”

Taggart found his pencil and willed his hands to obey, to stop their insane trembling, then he stopped and handed it over to Mike. “Maybe you better do it,” he sighed.

Mike advanced the plot and guessed their current speed was still around nine knots, then extended the run to Bergen and worked the math. “We should get in late afternoon tomorrow.”

Taggart nodded.

“Man, I hate to say it but you look like you could use some rack time…”

“Takes a while,” Taggart whispered, “to come back sometimes.”

“You keep burning the candle at both ends and this ain’t gonna end well, Hank.”

“You know what? I don’t even know your name…is it really Mike?”

“Yeah, matter of fact it is. Mike Lacy, late of Lubbock, Texas – by way of Annapolis and Norfolk.”

“Thought I heard some Texas in that thar twang. Grow up on a ranch?”

“Yup. Angus and oil wells, except the wells really weren’t worth a shit. Dad says they found some gas, so who knows…?”

“Gotta girl back there?”

“I did, yeah. I think she got tired of waitin’ for me to pop the question so she went ahead and married some football player.”

“Occupational hazard, I guess.”

Eva came up the companionway with some fresh hummus and pita chips, some olives and sliced salami too, and a few minutes later Erika helped her mother up the steps, then carried up some fresh gravlax and freshly baked rye toast.

“Man, this was one helluva day,” Mike sighed. “Has anyone got this figured out yet?”

“I sure haven’t,” Taggart sighed, the circles under his eyes noticeably darker now.

“Try to eat something, okay?” Eva said, leaning close.

“Could you fix me a few pieces of salmon on that toast? That looks great.”

She bent to it and tried to help him eat, but Henry was on the ragged edge so she didn’t push him; a few minutes later she helped him down to his cabin and got him undressed and into bed. She lay with him then, holding him close from behind, gently scratching his head until she felt him relax and fall away – and still she held him, until she felt Clyde hopping up and the bed, draping his head over Henry’s legs.

At some point he heard Doris Day singing Que Sera, Sera in the far corners of the night, and he smiled through the memory. Then he woke up needing to pee in the worst way, so he made his way up to the cockpit and stumbled aft to the rail. He looked around, didn’t see any whales nearby so he let fly.

“See the bio-luminescence in our wake?” Mike asked.

“Yeah. Water must be fairly cool here.”

“Dropped back down into the fifties about three hours ago.”

Henry looked at his watch and freaked out. “0330? How long have I been out?”

“Not quite twelve hours. Feeling better, I hope?”

“Jesus…you better get some shut-eye, Mike. Eva’s in my bunk right now, so take her’s.”

“That girl’s something else, Henry.”

“She is that. She’s also fragile right now.”

“You love her, I take it?”

“Madly-deeply, as a matter of fact.”

“I don’t get it, Henry. What gives?”

“Life, I guess. Things just started happening a few months ago, and I’ve been hanging on ever since. Funny thing, too. Sixty some-odd years nothing like this ever happened to me – then…boom! It’s been nonstop ever since.”

“I feel different, Henry.”

“I know. They do something to us, I think.”

“They? You mean that red thing?”

“Yeah, that red thing.”

“What is it?”

“If I had to guess I’d say it’s some kind of projection.”

“Of what, for pity’s sake?”

“I don’t know, Mike. I really don’t. My guess is it’s either someone out on Long Island or something from out there,” Taggart said, pointing at the sky.

“Long Island?”

“The Black Widow Works.”

“Never heard of that one.”

“Think Grumman’s version of the Skunk Works. Word is they’ve got several working ARVs out there.”

“ARVs?”

“Man, you really are not dialed in, Mike. Alien Reproduction Vehicle.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

A reverse engineered spacecraft, only not of this earth.”

Mike laughed. “Okay, sure, whatever you say.”

Taggart shrugged. “Like the man said, it is what it is.”

“You buy into that shit?”

Taggart looked at Mike, tried not to show any emotion. “You asked, Mike. Even your naval aviators are running into them these days, so why do you continue to wear the blinders?”

“I’m sorry, man, but I just don’t believe that stuff is real.”

“Understandable. Even the possibility it might be true can be a shock to the system.”

“And you’re telling me it’s true?”

Henry shrugged: “I’m telling you there are things I’ve seen that I can’t explain.”

“Things? This stuff is always laid out in terms like ‘things’ and ‘unexplained.’ To me this is nothing more than the bleating of sick sheep – or worse still, people without the courage of their own convictions.”

“You ever hear about the random number generator experiments going on at Yale and Princeton?”

“Oh boy, here we go…”

“With what?”

“This shit takes on all kinds of special significance when Ivy League schools get tossed in the mix.”

“Yeah,” Henry sighed, “a closed mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

“Okay, Henry, I’ll bite. Gee, no, I haven’t heard about the whatever they discovered at Yale…”

Henry shrugged and chuckled at the same time. “Never mind,” he said. “Have you tried cycling the radar from standby to on yet?”

“No…I didn’t want to rock any boats tonight…not up here by myself.”

“Go ahead and flip it on.”

Mike leaned forward and turned the rotary knob. “Nothing. I think there’s no power on the circuit.”

“Really? Let me go below and cycle the breakers.” Taggart climbed down and he felt light-headed when he reached the bottom of the companionway steps, so he went to the head and took all his evening meds then went to the electrical panel in the passageway by the engine compartment. He cycled the mains, then the circuits that fed all the ship’s instruments.

He heard the tell-tale ‘beep-beep-beeps’ as all the instruments powered up, so he went back up to the cockpit. “Anything?”

“Yeah. Looks like the GPS is trying to acquire satellites?”

“Cycle the radar.”

“Okay, cycling now.”

The display flickered then powered up. “Okay, we got radar!”

“Any neighbors?”

“Looks like St George is still behind us, and a shitload of targets now to the northwest…oops, their they go…yeah, they’re jamming us now.”

“Back to standby, quick!”

Mike turned the knob again and looked at Taggart. “What’s up?”

“I don’t want to draw too much attention right now. Did you get any course or speed vectors for them?”

“No, why?”

“I have a sneaking suspicion they’re going to try and get between us and Bergen.”

“Why would they…oh, yeah, the passport thing?”

“Yeah. They can pull registration off the vessel’s name if they can make it into their main computer right now. If they do that they may want to ask us some questions, if you know what I mean.”

Mike nodded. “That might not be a good thing.”

“Was that an attempt at humor, Mike?”

Mike snorted a little. “Okay, what’s with the random number generator thing?”

“The work started decades ago, trying to figure out if people had psychic abilities…”

“Oh, no…not that bullshit…”

“Yes and no. They started looking for people who could identify random numbers on a computer screen, binary ones and zeroes, by the way, and while they observed some positive results it didn’t look promising. Then one of the researchers ran across a puzzling permutation; using something akin to EEG leads he wanted to see if participants could make either a one or zero appear. Now the odd part. By focusing on positive imagery almost all participants could make the number one appear, while negative imagery made a zero appear.”

“This is going somewhere, right?”

“Kind of. Because the researchers’ next leap of faith was even more interesting. They began to notice that the computer they were using began to pick up energy from somewhere in the spectrum, and that huge aggregates of ‘zero events’ began popping at the same time fairly negative news stories aired. Then one day the computer began registering a huge zero event spike, and they presumed this spike might be a precursor to a negative energy event – something like a big news event. Except the spike kept growing and growing over two days, to an unprecedented level, as a matter of fact.”

“And?”

“And, on the morning of September 11, 2001, the spike went off the chart about a half hour before the first airliner slammed into the World Trade Center…”

“What?”

“Yeah. Precisely. So some form of energy was reacting to an event before it happened, so the energy event was predictive. After that information began seeping out this same team of researchers was approached by the NSA, then the CIA got involved. And not long after, aerospace companies were called in…”

“Aerospace? Why those guys?”

“Because they were already involved in ARV technology, Mike, and sensors in these vehicles were registering and displaying the same energy events.”

“What the fuck!”

“Yup. So, consider this: these so-called alien reproduction vehicles had sensors in them that allowed the occupants to monitor psychic energy levels within the human population. Basic stuff like emotional events. So, the immediate question became ‘why?’ Why did these occupants want to receive information about human emotional states?”

“Henry? Are you pulling my leg?”

“Nope. Anyway, that’s when I got involved, and that takes us to a part of the story I simply can’t talk about. Not to you, not to anyone.”

“Yup, I knew that had to come along sooner or later.”

Henry nodded. “Okay, what I will tell you is this. What these researchers discovered was – quite literally – a type of communications system.”

“But you said they were picking up ones and zeroes with no hardware connection, right? So how is that even possible?”

“The only answer I can relate is that the Black Widow Group built the system with available materials, copying everything they could down to the types of metal employed, and their machine was reacting to these same positive and negative energy events. I was pulled into Boeing’s program as a programmer, because the ship Boeing had did in fact have some kind of computer system onboard.”

“Wait…Boeing built one of these reproduction ships, too?”

“I assume they did eventually, but the ship I’m talking about wasn’t a reproduction.”

“What? So you mean…”

“Precisely. Not of this world.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you? I mean, if this is your idea of a fucking joke I’m gonna…”

But Taggart held up his hand and stopped him from finishing the thought. “No jokes, Mike. And I’m only telling you because at some point, if we have contact, I don’t want you to do anything stupid.”

“Contact? You mean, with them?”

“I mean Winky is a projection, he’s not really here, but…”

“But what?”

“He’s close. I have no idea where but he’s close. And at some point it may become necessary for one of them to come here – materially.”

“You know, I think you think you’re onto something, but have you considered that you just might be barking up the wrong tree?”

“Yes,” Taggart replied, nodding as he did, “for about the first two years. Then we were given the 9/11 dataset, and several additional events that registered over the following nine years. Call these events predictive perturbations within an energy field, and the correlation between system registration and negative event formation was better than 95 percent on our reproduction. At which point we licensed the code to people who went on to introduce the algorithms to companies like Google and Facebook, and you can see where that led.” 

“Energy. You keep mentioning energy. You talking about crystals and all that other New Age hooey?”

“No, not really, but then again I really don’t know enough about that stuff to comment on it.”

“I hate to change the subject, but have you noticed the seas are still mirror smooth after almost 24 hours? That just doesn’t happen in these latitudes, Taggart.”

Who shrugged. “I was hoping we’d have calm weather. A rough passage would have been difficult on Rosa and Eva.”

“So, you think your little green men flattened the seas?”

“Doubtful, but you never know.”

“And let me get this straight…you think this Winky is some kind of projection?”

“Next time you see him put your finger into the field – all you’ll feel is electric current passing through you to ground. It’s not pleasant, but there are no lasting effects.”

“Think I should cycle the radar again?”

“Go ahead…but try to get the VBL on a target and let’s see if we can pick up a course and speed.”

“I’ll do the power, you work the Bearing Line.”

“Okay…scoot over.” Henry went and sat next to Mike and they powered up the radar and used the Variable Bearing Line to mark one of the ships so the computer could determine course and speed – before jamming filled their screen again.

“Looks like that one is headed for Bergen too,” Henry sighed. “Took them about ten seconds to respond and jam our signal, and that seems too long. Is the GPS still online?”

Mike toggled from radar to plotter and instantly the display showed their position; both noticed it corresponded perfectly to their deduced reckoning plot. 

“Well, that’s a minor sigh of relief,” Mike mused.

“Yup, but those ships are converging on our destination, aren’t they? Any bets they’ll try to board us before we get into Norwegian waters?”

“I wouldn’t bet against that happening, no.”

“So…?”

“We could alter course now and try to get within the 12 mile line?”

“Why bother?”

“Because they’ll take me.”

“Well, let’s see here. I seem to recall you are on officer in the US Navy, so is that a bad thing?”

“If they’ve talked to the Seals on the island it is. I evaded them, remember?”

“I doubt they’ve been able to send a signal – without access to a sat-phone, anyway.”

“They have one.”

“Okay, then we might not want to press that issue.” Taggart added.

“What about you? Do you really have different passports?”

Taggart nodded.

“Well then, you’ve probably already been flagged by the NSA. Once the number is called in they’ll want to talk to you.”

“Alright, we change course slowly and make our way carefully into Norwegian waters. We try not to act like we’re evading.”

“And, hey…you can always call Winky and have him intervene, right?”

Taggart nodded, though he looked away.

“Hey, man, I was just kidding…”

“I wouldn’t, not about that.”

“Why? It was just a joke.”

“Yeah? Well, they don’t process jokes the same way you and I do. Understand?”

Mike stopped to think before he spoke next – mulling through the implications. “You’re saying they can read our thoughts?”

“Not thoughts, but strong emotional impulses register once they’ve, well, once they’ve tuned into us. If one of them picks-up what they interpret as a strong negative energy event you can almost bet one of them will appear and start scoping out the situation. You might not be aware of anything, never even see a thing, but even so, they might be around.”

“So, you’ve been calling them? Like with those two subs?”

“All I can say, Mike, is that they’re keeping close tabs on me. For reasons unknown, at least to me.”

“So, you think they’re, ultimately, hostile?”

“No, not at all. Sometimes I get the impression they’re almost like academics; others have struck me as being little more than curious tourists. I’ve met one that was either a congenital idiot or a total prankster. And nothing I’ve seen, or even heard about from others on my team, is anything resembling hostile intent.”

“Your team? You mean at Boeing?”

“Not Boeing, per se. The Seattle area group may be a better descriptor, but things started just outside of Everett, at one of Boeing’s smaller, less well known R&D facilities.”

“You’re talking about a black site, correct?”

“Yup.”

“And they’ve built ARVs at this facility?”

Taggart nodded. “Several.”

“Have you been in one?”

“Several.”

“I mean – up – in one.”

“Several.”

“Just curious, but who was at the controls?”

“Regular Boeing test pilots. Occasionally with one of them along for the ride.”

“You mean…they don’t mind?”

“Not in the least, at least as far as I could tell.”

“Think you could fly one?”

“Me? Hell, Mike, I couldn’t fly a roll of boom-wad across this cockpit…”

“Boom-wad?”

“Toilet paper, Mike…”

“Where the hell did you pick up that one?”

“From sailing ships in old Royal Navy times. Buckets used for pooping in bad weather were called thunder-mugs, and you wiped up after with cannon wadding, which was called boom-wad.”

Mike shook his head. “Man, the things you learn on deep night watches. I learned about America listening to sailors shooting the shit on the bridge in the middle of the night. Anything goes, too. Anything and everything.”

“What about now, with women up there?”

“You’d think…but no, I think it just got worse. Thing is, some of the girls are raunchier than even the worst guys.”

“Yeah, the whole world has kind of turned on a dime, hasn’t it?”

“Sure has,” Mike said. “Lots of tradition thrown away…”

“Every dog has its day. Maybe it was just time to turn to a new page.”

“Looks like the sun is coming up now.”

“What time is it, anyway?” Henry sighed.

“Coming up on 0400. So, what happens after Bergen?”

“I reload supplies and see who’s coming south with me, then I’ll head straight for the west entrance to the Waddensee, then on to the east end of Amsterdam. I’m probably going to need a real tune-up by then.”

“You, or do you mean the boat?”

Henry laughed. “Probably both, Mike. Depends on what Dina has to say about things.”

“Do you mind if I stay aboard…for the time being?”

“When are you going to be considered AWOL, Mike?”

“I don’t know, but I’m eligible for retirement right now. I may put in my papers from Bergen.”

“Depending on?”

“What you say, really.”

“About staying onboard? Hell, Mike…have you considered what happens after I’m…well, after Christmas?”

“Henry, I haven’t thought anything through, and I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants right now.”

“Then don’t make any decisions you’ll regret in a week or two. Go slow, figure it out – then make your decision.”

Mike nodded. “I used to think that way, but things have been changing lately. Or maybe I’ve been changing.”

“Do you feel, I don’t know…maybe a little unhinged?”

“Yeah, sometimes. Or maybe impulsive is a better word.”

“Had a physical lately?”

“Not recently, no. It’s been a few years, I guess.”

“Something to think of, then. When folks make sudden revisions to a life plan, especially without thinking through the consequences, sometimes there’s an undiagnosed medical issue behind the move. And once again, think about it in terms of an energy flow state. A negative medical state that begins to bleed over into increasingly negative psychological states of mind, especially if it’s an undiagnosed condition.”

“This is leading back to that random number generator stuff, right?”

Taggart nodded. “And to the question I asked earlier, about how many conscious minds there are in the universe. Ever here of Erwin Schrödinger?”

“The Schrödinger’s cat guy, quantum superposition and all that stuff?”

“Exactly. Getting back to the question, Schrödinger said the total number of minds in the universe is one. One conscious mind. Now this guy wasn’t a random nutcase, right? I take it you studied physics, so you know he was a physicist working through problems in quantum mechanics with Einstein. Even so, maybe we should take his ‘one mind’ assertion with a grain of salt, yet we can’t just toss it aside like it was the pronouncement of a homeless schizophrenic living in a box under a freeway overpass.”

“I hear you.”

“So, how fast does a thought move?”

“Is this another one of those trick questions?”

“Maybe?”

“I don’t know…maybe as fast as the speed of light?”

“Okay. Now let’s talk about 9/11 again, and that huge spike in so-called negative energy, but let’s also toss in the idea that there is indeed just one conscious mind in the universe. Got that?”

“Yup.”

“Okay, so let’s also consider that Winky, or one of his team, registered the 9/11 spike on the same kind of instrument I had been working on. What would it mean if Winky saw that spike happen in real time?”

“You mean when it spiked here it also spiked on his instrument – at the exact same time?”

“Yeah.”

“It would mean he was probably in earth orbit at the time.”

“That makes perfect sense, though even at the speed of light there would be a measurable time lag at that distance.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Do you have any idea how far away the Andromeda galaxy is?”

“No idea.”

“2.5 million light years, give or take.”

“Are you saying this character received the spike in real time – from Andromeda?”

“Yup. And that holographic projection of him observed both impacts, in real time. So, what does that tell you?”

“Other than I don’t believe where this is going?”

“Right. Other than that.”

“That the speed of conscious thought is infinite?”

“But that’s not possible in a Newtonian framework, is it?”

“No.”

“Okay, so…how do we measure a thought? I mean…in a Newtonian sense.”

“You can’t.”

“So within a material universe with laws governed by what we hubristically call Newtonian laws, if you can’t measure something it basically doesn’t exist – in the physical world. And let’s just ignore the Uncertainty Principle for the time being.”

Mike shrugged. “I’m not sure about that one.”

“Yes, that’s a big unanswered question right now, but even so, assume for a moment that the proposition, that there is just one mind, one conscious mind in existence, is true. It follows that a conscious thought at one point in the universe is almost instantly conveyed everywhere in the universe.”

Mike shook his head: “No…I’m still not buying it, Henry.”

“Yeah, I know. The hardest part is getting over this conceptual hurdle. Been there, done that. Still, the thing I want you to take away from this is that Winky appeared yesterday in transmitted form, not his material self…”

“You mean he was still somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy when he…”

“Logical, but no, he’s usually somewhere around here, frequently on Earth.”

“Wait a minute. 2.5 million light years away and he’s here? At the speed of light it would’ve taken him 2.5 million years to make the trip…”

“Okay. So let’s introduce a new concept. Let’s call it the speed of thought, for want of a better framework…”

“Hang on there, Captain Kirk…I think I’ve had enough for tonight…”

“Fine by me, but first, there’s one more thing I’d like you to think about – if you don’t mind. When you came to yesterday you said you were surrounded by stars. Where do you think you were?”

“Then, as now, I was in need of a bed.”

“Hasta later, Amigo.” Taggart watched Mike disappear down the companionway steps before he slid over and sat behind the wheel. He took in their position on the GPS and wondered how service had been restored so quickly, and a millisecond later Winky was there. First in the red sphere, then in the form of a holographic projection, and finally – Winky…in the flesh, so to speak.

A thought formed in Taggart’s mind, then he could see a team at Northrup-Grumman working to solve a problem. The problem, Henry saw. Other computer scientists working to find the code he’d sent around the earth, rooting it out, rebooting systems one by one…

Then another thought. A question. “Do you want me to do something about it?”

“No, there’s little need at this point. I think everyone is on the same page now.”

“This feels archaic,” Winky said. “We have made an error, and should not have been drawn in.”

“We are still here, still alive, and that was considered most important.”

“But now there are three factions fighting. Before, you acted as one. This is our fault.”

“No, it’s not your fault. This is just what humans do when suspicion becomes unreasonable.”

“Death wish. Your species is consumed with death.”

“But we learn fast.”

“Not fast enough.”

“Don’t give up on us yet.”

“No, not yet.” And with that the creature disappeared – first into holographic form, then into the red sphere – and finally just a small flash and an echo of something present in the mind. Something like a lingering memory.

Taggart worked the image on the chartplotter, figured out the quickest course to the 12-mile line and set that as their new heading. The Swedish oncologist’s admonishment crowded out all other thoughts for a moment – be in Paris by the end of October – and he took a deep breath, trying once again to weigh the tone behind Winky’s thoughts. Had he lost hope in the project? What if all of them had?

And then the words came out of nowhere…

Que sera, sera…will we have rainbows, day after day…

He closed his eyes as he sang, and he thought of Eva in the water with the female orcas…

Did the moment make any sense to her?

Would the twins understand? 

Was Winky right? Was this the only way left?

“I’ll never know, will I? I’ll be gone by the time Eva knows.”

The thought hit him like the hammer of God.

‘I’ll be gone…’

‘I will no longer exist…’

“Oh well, what will be, will be, the future’s not ours, to see…”

+++++

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

Come Alive (14)

Come alive c14 image small

A few words before you wade into this latest chapter. If you feel lost in the absurd as you read along, just step out of yourself for a moment and read between the lines. Was it really so long ago, so far away…?

So, perhaps some music to lead the way out of the fog?

Now, Happy Thanksgiving, and please…read on…and perhaps before too long things will begin to make sense once again…

Chapter 14

Taggart glanced at the pistol in the Navy captain’s hand just once then sat behind the port-side wheel. “Frankly, I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow. Change of heart, perhaps?”

‘Mike’ seemed a little confused by that reaction. “You told me you were headed to Norderney and yet here you are. And you’re asking me?”

“My fault. This boat draws to much, so I’d have never been able to get into the marina there, and I want to pull shore power during the transmission.”

“Yeah? Well, Henry – sorry, but I’m not buyin’ it. We’ve been watching you long enough to know you’re a more careful navigator than that.”

“How’s Eva?” Taggart replied – ignoring the question while looking to the south.

“She’s fine, Taggart. Now, what are you up to?”

Taggart swung around and he set his left arm in motion, making an arcing sweep of the northern sky. “See that, Mike? Pure, unobstructed sky, and zero RFI. Any more questions?”

“Who’s the woman?” Mike asked, pointing down below.

“Local nurse. She’s going in for a possible mastectomy in the morning. I’ll be watching her daughter while she recuperates.”

Mike shook his head. “Sorry. We have nothing on her, so I can’t let you do that.”

“And you plan on stopping me how?”

“With this, if I have to,” Mike said, pulling the Sig out into the open.

“I see. Frankly Mike, you didn’t strike me as such a stupid person.” Taggart then sat cross-legged – Indian style – and closed his eyes. 

“Now what the fuck are you doing…?”

“Sh-h-h-h…now pay attention, Mikey.” Taggart spread his arms wide and tilted his head back, and Mike’s face expressed a total ‘what the fuck’ reaction as he watched…

…as the pistol slipped from Mike’s grasp and drifted slowly away from the boat, then, when it was about ten feet away and hovering over the water, gravity to over and it fell into the water – making a simple little plonk sound before it disappeared.

Mike was more than a little interested now, but when he turned back to Taggart his eyes went wide. Because Taggart looked like he was hovering about five inches above the deck – still sitting Indian-style, still with his arms out and head tilted back, only now there was a reddish-gold orb about the size of a golf ball just above Taggart’s left hand.

Mike took a deep breath, then smiled. “That’s right. You worked in Seattle, didn’t you? So, you were working with the Phantom Works group when they…?”

But Taggart was engrossed with the red orb now, because now the plasma-like material had almost encased his left arm. Moments later Mike lifted from the deck and drifted out over the water – but Taggart – or the red plasma – simply left the captain suspended there, about ten feet above the water.

“Are you having fun now?” Mike snarled.

Taggart moved his arm up and Mike began slowly rising into the sky.

“Whoa…alright, alright…you win…”

The red plasma separated and drifted over to Mike – then hovered in front of his face, now about the size of a tennis ball…then it began rotating faster and faster…until it simply winked out of sight.

And then Mike fell straight into the water…from fifty feet up. By the time he surfaced Taggart was standing at the aft rail, lowering the swim platform and boarding ladder for the sputtering, cursing Navy captain. Taggart smiled as he handed Mike a towel as he climbed back up on deck.

“Don’t you dare ever do that to me again,” Mike said as he toweled off, obviously furious.

“Don’t make me do it again,” Taggart replied, “or next time you’ll fall from a few miles up.”

“I’ve heard about you guys. What, you started calling yourself the Jedi Order?”

Taggart laughed. “I’ve heard that one too, but no, nothing quite so, what is the word – prosaic? And I think you’re going to need some dry clothes, Mike. Bring any?”

“Well, not with me, asshole.”

“I’m sorry,” Taggart said, trying to stifle a laugh, “but you really should’ve seen the expression on your face…”

“I’d like to see yours under similar circumstances.”

“Oh, been there, done that. Up in the San Juans, near Friday Harbor.”

“Oh? Really?”

“One of ‘em took me and a Killer Whale for a spin around Vancouver Island one night about five years ago. Took maybe a minute. You ain’t seen scared, Amigo, until you’ve been in close quarters a freaked out Killer Whale – shitting all over himself.”

“That the whale you ran into in Norway?”

“Yup,” Taggart said, nodding. “I don’t know the how or the why of things like this, but ever since I got the boat last year he and his family have always been nearby.”

“That’s gotta be kind of weird.”

“You know, not really. Nothing seems weird anymore, as a matter of fact. About the only difference it’s made is I rarely pee over the rail these days. Somehow doing that just seems disrespectful.”

“You do know that this is kinda off the rails, right? I mean, what if people were watching while you did that shit?”

Taggart shrugged. “It won’t matter soon.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing, really. That cat’s been out of the bag for a while now. Just a matter of time.” Taggart looked at his watch, then back at Mike. “You got some place to stay, or do you want to bunk-out here tonight?”

“Here, if that’s okay with you.”

“The woman and her daughter are up front. You can stay in the bunk just aft of that tonight. Eva will use that one when I’m done here, so stay here ’til then if you like.”

“You know, I was really expecting more anger, or maybe something more like suspicion from you.”

“I don’t have time for that anymore, Mike, so please, please, don’t make me waste what time I do have, okay? I mean it. I just don’t need your kind of shit in my life right now.”

“Yeah, okay. Got it.”

“You remember how to use the shower?”

Mike nodded. 

“Fresh towels on the rod.”

“Thanks, Henry.”

After Mike disappeared down below Taggart went down to the swim platform and dove into the icy water. He returned an hour later, still quite warm.

+++++

He showered and went to the chart table, opened his laptop and checked Messages first, then Mail. He opened the latest from Dina and read through her apologia and smiled. “She’s nothing if not predictable,” he muttered, then he opened the latest from Britt.

“I don’t know what is going on with you,” he read. “Rolf told me that Eva is with you, and I do not know how to process that. It feels like you love her most of all? Am I wrong? Please, tell me I’m wrong?”

He hit the reply button and watched the window open. Such a simple, direct thing. Nonstop, instant communication. What a gift. “Britt, there is no ‘most of all’ – there is only love. I am as bound to you as I am bound to Dina or Eva. Maybe you don’t want to hear that, but I will not deceive you, especially when feelings are so easily lost in questions of the heart. When you need my love I will be there to give you all I have.”

He hit the send button and went to his inbox again, saw Rolf’s latest and opened it.

“Henry, mother is depressed again. What should I tell her when she asks to see you?”

“Tell her to be patient.”

He hit send and felt someone looking at him. Looking up, he saw Rosa staring at him, and she was crying. He stood and went to her, held her in his arms.

“I’m sorry, but I am so afraid…”

“What are you most afraid of – right now?”

“Of not being here for Erika. That scares me most of all…”

“You’re not alone, Rosa, and neither is Erika. Not now, not tomorrow. We’ll be here, waiting for you.”

“I know, and I thank you for opening your home to us…”

“Come with me now. There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

“What? No, not now…I’m wearing just a robe, Henry, with nothing under…”

“Come, please,” he said, and holding out his hand he led her up the companionway steps then to the aft deck. He let go of her hand long enough to walk down to the swim platform then held out his hand again. “Do you trust me?” he asked.

She nodded. “I think so, yes.” She took his hand and stepped down onto the platform, then she watched as he climbed down the swim steps into the water. “Please, what are you doing, Henry?”

But he was facing the opening that led from the little sheltered marina to the open sea, and she gasped when she saw a huge black dorsal fin cutting through the water – coming right at him…

But he simply swam out to meet the animal –

Then they were together. His hand on the side of the whale’s face.

“Come here now,” he said gently.

“No…”

“Now please, Rosa. Just relax and slip off your robe, then come out to us .”

And just then she felt her resistance to the moment simply drift away – almost like the robe slipping from her shoulders…and then she stepped down into the water – expecting ice cold pinpricks – only to feel briny warmth enveloping her as she swam out to Taggart. The whale was waiting out there, his head completely out of the water as she approached…

…and without any hesitation she went close, close enough to feel the warmth coming from his massive body, to feel the whale’s exhaled air as his blow-hole snapped open, then she felt another body sliding by just behind her and she turned to see a tiny orca turning around and coming back to her.

“That’s his daughter, Rosa. Say hello if you want…”

“Henry…she’s so small! How old is she?”

“I’m not really sure, Rosa, perhaps just a few days, maybe a week.”

She swam with the little one for a long time, then she turned and swam back to the large male and rubbed the side of his face again. “Thank you for this,” she whispered as they made eye contact – and then she watched, a little disappointed, maybe, as he slipped under the water and disappeared, his little girl following along on the surface.

“That’s the first time I’ve met her,” Henry said quietly. “She seemed unafraid, didn’t she?”

“You know these whales?”

“I know this family, yes.”

“How is this possible?”

Taggart shrugged. “I don’t know, but I guess you’ve seen it now – so maybe you can believe what you’ve seen with your own eyes.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Him? Oh, about five years.”

“What? Are you serious?”

Taggart chuckled. “About as serious as two naked people swimming in the ocean at three in the morning can be, I guess.”

his words seem to startle her and she looked down at her nakedness, then swam back to the swim platform and climbed up and into her robe. She turned and looked out over the water where she’d just been then scurried belowdecks, leaving Taggart alone with his thoughts again.

“That went well, I guess,” he sighed as he swam back to Time Bandits.

The damp night air was chilly now, so he ducked below and showered before changing, and then he waited for Rosa again. He walked her over to the hospital and she signed in, noting Henry as her emergency contact on the hospital’s paperwork, then they found the pre-op waiting room and sat in a nervous heap.

“I am not so sure what to think of what happened in the sea tonight,” she began, “yet I feel at peace with myself now. Do you understand?”

“I’m glad. I was hoping you’d feel this way.”

“I cannot tell, but I almost feel like he was trying to talk to me. Is that possible?”

Taggart shrugged. “Really, I have no idea. There have been a few times when I’ve looked in his eye and I seem to feel something like a connection, but the more probable answer to that question is that I’m reading something into such encounters that’s more a human reaction than what he has. Still, all I can really say is that I don’t know, yet at the same time I think I understand what you’re feeling, because I’ve experienced something just like that with him as well.”

“Henry? I feel different now. Is that wrong?”

“Wrong? How can a feeling like that be wrong?”

“I don’t know; but right now all the fear is gone, and I think he had something to do with that happening.”

“Well, the next time you see him, why don’t you thank him?”

“Now you are making fun of me…”

“No, I’m not.”

“You will take care of Erika for me?”

“Of course.”

“I mean – if something bad happens?”

“I know what you mean – but nothing bad is going to happen.”

A nurse, another friend of hers as it turned out, came and took her to get ready for the biopsy, and Taggart made sure the nurse had his number before he walked back to through town to the boat. He leashed up Clyde and took him the long way around the island, and an hour later the nurse called and told him the results were not promising and that Rosa would be having a full mastectomy while she was still under.

He sighed as he looked out at the sea, then he felt an odd presence in the air, something like an urgent cry for help – and even Clyde felt it because he started barking and the hair on the back of his neck stood straight up. Then Clyde started walking towards the boat, pulling on his leash – which was something he rarely did. 

“Alright, boy, let’s go…”

They walked through an apartment complex on the way to the boat and he could see TV sets on and people staring intently at their screens – and right away he knew what it was…

Mike was sitting up in the cockpit talking urgently on his sat-phone by the time they made it back…

“Okay, he’s back now. I’ll tell him,” Henry heard Mike say as he stepped up on deck.

“So, what’s Ivan up to this morning?” Henry asked.

“Mechanized units just crossed into Finland and northern Norway. Tallinn and Riga went dark about a half hour ago.”

“So, what about the aircraft we’re waiting for?”

“Over the Baltic, headed this way. Should he here in about an hour.”

“What kind is it?”

“The AWACs variant of the IL-76. You know it?”

Taggart nodded. “So, the best laid plans, eh. Seems like he’s about a week early, right?”

“And he’s coming in broad daylight, too,” Mike grumbled. “Using a new playbook this time around.”

“Well, two can play at that game, Mike. Still, for every action there’s usually an…”

“Yes, I understand Newtonian physics…”

“Do you? Excellent! I’m glad somebody still does… Now, I’ve got to feed Clyde and get breakfast ready for Erika…”

Mike blanched: “Are you out of your fucking mind!”

“Probably, yes, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it right now.”

“You’ve got to get ready, Taggart! We only have about an hour!”

“Which gives me plenty of time to whip up some waffles. Sound good?”

“Did you hear me!” Mike screamed. “Are you ready?”

“Of course I’m ready. You paid me to be ready, remember? So…I’m ready. Tell me when your spook calls again, because I’d really hate to burn the waffles.” Taggart disconnected the shore power cord and coiled it neatly, then dropped down the companionway hatch and powered up the generator; when he saw that power was running smoothly and that everything necessary was indeed still ready to go, he powered up his laptop and the Icom transceiver before he walked across to the galley and found what he needed to start making his batter.

Mike came down the steps – now quite literally almost out of his mind, then he looked at the chart table and saw everything humming along…

“Is your sat-phone ready to go, too?” Mike asked.

“Of course, but I thought yours…”

“Just in case something goes wrong with mine, okay?!”

“The waffle maker is down in that drawer; could you dig it out for me?”

“What!?” Mike screamed.

“Mike, the girl is still sleeping, so keep a lid on it, okay?”

“I’m going to fucking shoot you, Taggart!”

“With what? Your fucking finger?”

Mike, his face crimson bordering on purple, went to the drawer and found the waffle maker. He put it on the counter beside Taggart then went to the closest chair and sat, steam now pouring out his ears.

Taggart measured the batter mix and poured it in a mixing bowl, then he added the required amount of oil and cracked two eggs –

Mike’s sat-phone chirped and he answered in a voice bordering on pure, adrenaline soaked hysteria: “Where is it!” he cried. “What?! Ten minutes to optimal angle? Already?”

“Have him stay on the line, Mike. You know, like do a little countdown for us, maybe?”

Mike nodded as he listened. “Sweden too? All from the north?” More nodding, purple faced exasperation followed by intense hand-wringing. “Taggart!? Five minutes now!”

“Do you like honey, or maple syrup?”

“What the fucking hell…!”

“Okay, maple syrup it is.”

“Four minutes, Taggart!”

Who at the moment was heads down in the ‘fridge looking for butter.

“Three minutes!”

“Found it! Can’t have waffles without butter.”

“Two minutes, Goddamnit!”

Taggart pulled three plates from the cupboard, then got out three glasses for orange juice. “Now where did I put the OJ?” he muttered as he turned back to the ‘fridge one more time – just as Erika walked into the saloon.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“I’m making waffles, then what do you say we watch some cartoons. Have a seat at the table, okay.”

“Okay. Have you heard anything about my mom?”

He nodded. “Yes, we should know soon – maybe in about an hour, I think.”

“Thirty seconds now, Taggart,” Mike said, his tight-lipped voice now registering somewhere between simple menace and murderous rage.

“Ah, well then,” Taggart said as he walked over to the chart table, “time to see if my little recipe works or not.”

“NOW!” Mike thundered, scaring Erika and sending Clyde up the companionway – cutting a nice series of farts as he scooted up the steps.

Taggart, his fingers hovering over his MacBook, pressed the return key – then, just for fun, he said “Oops!”

“Oops!? Oops!? What the fucking Hell does Oops mean?”

“Michael, please, not in front of the children…” Taggart bent over the laptop and read off the progress message, then he clicked Okay and closed the display. “Well, that cake is baked. Tell your pit bulls on the line Mission Accomplished, or whatever the current catch-phrase is.”

“What?”

“You’ve got about thirty seconds, Mike. Tell them the cake is baked. Got it, the cake is baked.”

“Taggart says to tell you the cake is baked.”

Then Mike’s sat-phone went off-line.

“What just happened?” he asked, looking at Taggart.

“Oh, not much. All satellite, cell and land lines just went off-line. Power plants too, for that matter.”

“WHAT!?”

“Launch codes were decoded, recoded, then encrypted, by the way.”

“What? Where?”

“Oh…everywhere.”

“What the fuck do you mean, Everywhere…?”

“You want the complete list?”

“WHAT?”

“Well, go ahead, be that way. How about Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, South Africa, Brazil, France, the U.K., and, oh yes, the United States. All launch systems, including submarine launch systems, just went offline. In fact, the only operable encrypted radio circuit still operating right now is NASA’s link to the space station.”

“You did WHAT?”

“And in about five minutes, Looney Tunes cartoons are going to start playing on all the world’s military launch consoles. Yosemite Sam versus Bugs Bunny, 24/7 for the next week. Oh, and all those mechanized units crossing into wherever? I understand all the fuel in their tanks is turning to water as we speak.”

“Are you fucking INSANE…!?”

“Really? I’m insane? Because I don’t want to watch you blow up the world? Are you, by any chance, even halfway aware of what you’re saying?”

Mike put down his phone and walked topsides. “Erika? I could use a hand pouring batter into the waffle-maker.”

“Sure. Okay…”

+++++

With cell phones down, Taggart, Mike, and Erika walked to the hospital once Henry’s breakfast was finished and cleared-away. Main power to the island usually came by way of a submarine cable from the mainland, but now the island’s original diesel plant was online, providing just enough power to run the hospital and the island’s grocery store while the authorities tried to figure out what had gone wrong. 

The same nurse came out of the operating room a few minutes after Taggart’s arrival, and she came up to him, clearly confused and wanting to know what was going on with the power.

“Something with the cable,” Taggart said, adding that the old power plant was online and that there was plenty of fuel on hand. “Now, how is Rosa?”

“Stage two, but she’s triple negative so the surgeon went ahead with a full mastectomy.”

“I see. Is she in recovery yet?”

“Not yet. I’ll come get you after they move her. She did just fine, no other problems…”

“Thanks,” he said, then he walked over to Erika.

“Well, your mother’s operation went well…”

“Was it cancer?”

He nodded and took her hand before he continued. “It’s not as bad as it could have been, but they decided to remove her breasts – just to be safe. We’ll be able to see her in just a few minutes, but it’s going to be very important to let your mother know that you love her and that everything is going to be okay. Got that?”

“Yes.”

“Erika, there may be some changes around the house for a while, which means you may have to help with more things around the kitchen than before, but that’s just a part of this whole cancer thing. The important thing to remember is that your mother will get better with each passing day, and your job is to make it easier for her to work on getting better. So everything you do to help around the house is actually helping your mother get better faster, okay? That’s the way this works.”

“Got it.”

“The other important thing to remember right now is that you’re not alone in this. You’ll have lots of help when you need it, and if you ever start to feel down about things, well, you can’t hold that in. You have to talk about your feelings, and there will be people around you can talk with…”

“What about you? Won’t I be able to talk to you?”

“Well of course you can, but we can talk about all that later, when we know what your mother wants to do…”

“I want to stay with you and Clyde!”

He smiled and gave her a hug. “Well, let’s see what your mother wants to do first, but we better not ask her things like that today. Do you remember why?”

“Because it might upset her?”

“That’s right, and we don’t want to do that because – why?”

“Because she won’t get better as fast.”

“That’s right.”

A nurse came out and called Erika’s name and they went in…

+++++

The three of them walked by her apartment and picked up a few things Erika wanted before bed, then they walked back to Bandits. Taggart checked the state of the ships batteries then fixed Erika a sandwich; when she finished he leashed up Clyde and everybody went topsides, then they walked out to the beach on the north shore.

“Beautiful spot,” Mike said as Taggart threw a stick and turned Clyde loose.

“Pretty good spot to sit out World War Three, you mean?”

“I’m sorry about all that back there. I lost it, man.”

“Understandable, Mike, and predictable too. I’m sorry I was so rough on you.”

“Rough on me? That’s a laugh. So, did you write all the code to do this?”

“Some of it, yes. I didn’t have the technology to pull off some of the other aspects, as you might imagine.”

“Who does?”

Taggart just shrugged. 

“Something to do with Phantom Works, right?

Again, Taggart just shrugged.

“Will you ever tell anyone?”

“You’ll know, Mike, and there won’t be any need to ask me, or anyone else for that matter.”

“Little green men, huh?”

Taggart laughed. “Not quite, but keep on guessing if it makes you happy.”

“The boat thing. Is this why you chose the boat?”

“My dad chose the boat thing, Mike. I’m just following the path we set out on together once upon a time.” Clyde handed him the stick and he threw it again.

“That’s not what I mean…”

“I know what you meant, Mike. And yes, if you want to watch the end of the world from the sidelines, a boat is a pretty good way to go about doing that.”

“But that’s not why you…”

“No, it wasn’t. I was just starting to deal with Parkinson’s when I made the decision, and I did so because I wanted to follow my dad’s dreams while I still could.”

“Then all that other stuff hit, in Bergen? The cancer…?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Man, you’ve had it rough.”

“Oh? Actually, I’ve never been happier, but the simple truth of the matter is that I plan on getting along quite nicely. Almost all the pieces are in place now.”

“What are you talking about, Henry?”

“You know, Mike, what we’re missing is a common frame of reference.”

“What?”

“Exactly.” Taggart sighed as he bent over and took the stick from Clyde. “Here…why don’t you throw it this time.”

Mike took the stick and threw it about seventy yards – Clyde took off like a mad banshee.

“You must’ve been a quarterback. At Annapolis?”

“Yup.”

“Well then, we do have a common frame of reference.”

“Oh? We do?”

“Sure. Quarterbacks can’t do squat without a solid front line, good running backs and talented receivers, right?”

“Sure, of course.”

“Well then, think of that old Beatles song. You know…I get by with a little help from my friends? That’s all I’m doing right now.”

“Yeah, but who are your friends?”

“You’ve met most of them, Mike. Dina and Eva, Rolf and his mother…”

“They helped you pull this off, huh?”

“No, they most certainly did not. God damn! How far did you throw that thing? Clyde, let’s walk and catch some breath, okay?”

“So…who did?”

“Mike, you’re barking up the wrong tree…”

“And you’re not going to talk about it. Okay, I get it, I get it.”

Taggart bent down and rubbed Clyde’s head for a while, then he looked up at Mike. “So, what are your plans now?”

“I have no idea – assuming I still have a job. What about you?”

“See how Rosa is, get them settled then head in to pick up Eva and whoever makes it down from Norway. After that, west to Holland, then the inland waterways to the Seine.”

“Who taught you that stuff?”

“What stuff?”

“Levitation, that Jedi crap.”

Taggart chuckled again. “Man, you just aren’t going to let up, are you?”

“Probably not. That may be the only thing that saves my ass, Henry.”

“Yeah? Well then, tell the fuckers that a bunch of Jedi Knights taught us that crap. That ought to give them something to chew on for a while.”

“That red thing?” 

“Magnetized plasma, from the upper atmosphere.”

“So, who pulled this off?”

“Jedi Knights, Mike. Ain’t you been listenin’? And try to remember this, boyo: the geeks shall inherit the earth.”

It was a long, quiet walk back to Bandits after that; Mike still curious, Erika lost in all the uncertainties pushing in from every direction, and Clyde definitely walking more slowly than he should have – leaving Taggart to sort through the permutations of near-term future events as they seemed to be currently evolving. Who would be able to make it back to the boat? Would this fragile peace last, or would the perception of outside interference only exacerbate tensions? Eva, stuck in a barren hotel room with unknown watchers all around her? And the route ahead to the Seine: what unforeseen trouble lay in wait for Time Bandits and his fledgling crew?

On the home stretch one possible permutation seemed to resolve itself – Eva was sitting in the cockpit with a couple of crew cut navy types, looking ragged, disheveled, and bewildered all at once…until she saw Taggart and Clyde. The look on her face was like looking at a light bulb as it turned on – something like going from cool gray to bright white in a heartbeat, and when Clyde saw her he perked-up and trotted to the boat…barking once when she clapped her hands for him.

“How’d you get her here, Mike?”

“She came with me…so yes, she’s been here for a few days.”

Taggart glowered, then turned away – shaking his head.

“I’m sorry, Henry. Orders.”

“I seem to recall that was the lowest common denominator employed by defendants at the Nuremberg Trials.”

Mike nodded, then looked away.

Taggart sighed. “Comforting to know some things never change.”

“Who is that?” Erika said as they came to the boat.

“A friend. And Mike, I think you just lost your bunk.”

“I figured that one out already…”

“All by yourself? Excellent! So, got some place to stay?”

Mike shrugged. “I have no idea, Henry.”

“Who are those two?” Taggart said, looking at the two navy dobermans

“Guards, Seals. I need to have a word with them.”

“Oh, by all means,” Taggart said as he climbed into the cockpit, steadying himself for Eva’s octopus-like assault.

When he finally came up for air he unlocked the companionway and helped her down the steps, then told her he had to go to the hospital for a while.

“Are you alright?” she asked, clearly concerned.

“Yes, I am; the girl up there is staying with us while her mother is in the hospital. She had a mastectomy this morning.”

Eva’s eyes went wide with understanding, reminding Henry that of all the women in his life now, Eva was the real empath. The ability had, in a way, proven to be a real handicap – because people often seemed to confuse this trait with weakness, when the exact opposite was true. Eva’s empathic leanings, when aroused, seemed to release a latent, but very real strength of character, and he saw that in her response now.

“We’ll be back in a while. There’s juice in the fridge if you need something to drink.”

+++++

Rosa seemed weaker than he’d expected, though before they saw her, the nurse advised she seemed confused.

“Oh?” Taggart asked.

“She keeps talking about a whale, about a whale talking to her. Very lucid descriptions, too…like it’s happening as she speaks.”

Taggart smiled and shrugged. “When I dream like that I usually end up walking on a beach with Doris Day,” he grinned. “I like those kinds of dreams, don’t you?”

The nurse smiled, then walked with them to Rosa’s recovery room. “Here she is…”

Her skin was much paler now and almost seemed yellowish in places, while gray shadows circled her eyes; Taggart watched Erika’s reaction and he put his hand on her shoulder – kind of a warning to take great care with her words right now.

But Rosa seemed to be elsewhere. Her eyes were focused on the ceiling and moving about – as if they were tracking something, yet at the same time her eyes were full of wonder…

He leaned over her, placed his thumb on her forehead and began rubbing just above her eyes in a small circle – until their eyes met…

“Henry, you’re here!?”

“I am. Is he still with you?”

“Yes, and the little girl, too.”

“Tell them I am here with you, and that you have to leave now.”

“I don’t want to leave this place, Henry…”

“You can’t stay there now, Rosa. It isn’t time yet.”

“Alright.” She came back to them quickly after that, and her color returned as well – though more slowly. “Erika? You’re here too?”

“Yes, mother,” the little girl said, her voice suddenly strained, almost stilted. “How are you feeling?”

“Very tired, yet I feel as if I’m floating…”

Henry watched, and soon he felt like this encounter was doing more harm to the little girl than good to Rosa. He made their goodbyes and held Erika’s hand as they left the hospital…

And predictably – Erika seemed very confused in the aftermath.

“Floating? Why did she say that? She wasn’t floating…”

“I suspect they were controlling your mother’s pain with a drug called morphine. It feels like a warm hand when it’s first used, and you feel cradled in warmth, but at the same time you feel almost comforted. It is very powerful, Erika, and she will need such medicine to help control her pain for several days. She may not seem like herself, and she may even say strange things that make no sense to you.”

“It sounded like you knew who she was with, Henry?”

“Because I’ve recently had a very similar surgery, and they used morphine afterwards. So, you know what? I think I know how she felt, but again, try not to worry about this right now. In a week or so she will be back to her old self.”

Eva was waiting for them in the cockpit when they got back to the boat, and she had made hot chocolate for them. Henry introduced Eva to Erika and they started talking, so he went below and found Mike at the chart table, reading through the ship’s log.

“You write a lot, more than I would if I was keeping a log like this.”

Taggart nodded. “Yeah, I kind of see it as recounting my experiences during this trip for an audience I won’t be around to talk to, so sometimes I go to extremes. Feelings and impressions of a place, that sort of thing…”

“I know; I’m up to beginning the Atlantic crossing, encountering the same whale you’d met previously. How’d you know it was the same one?”

“Dorsal fin markings, by and large.”

Odd that a territorial animal like an orca would journey from Puget Sound to Nova Scotia, don’t you think?”

Taggart shrugged. “Some of those pods normally range north into the Gulf of Alaska, yet now the Northwest Passage is open for three to four months during the summer. I can see them migrating from the Atlantic to the Pacific more often in the years ahead. Those northern waters are virtually untouched, you know? Fish stocks ought to be plentiful. So, any idea what’s up next for you?”

“No. We’re cut off, apparently.”

“Things ought to be back to normal in a week or so.”

“I take it you’re kicking me off now?”

Taggart nodded. “I could be wrong, but I’m not sure Eva would appreciate sharing that bunk with you. And you most definitely won’t be sharing mine. Clyde wouldn’t take to that too well.”

“What about in here. That dining table makes into a bed, doesn’t it?”

Taggart shook his head. “I’m not sure this will work out, Mike.”

“Could you get us to the mainland?”

“What? All three of you?”

The captain nodded. “If you don’t mind.”

“You know, you’re a cheeky bastard. You pull a gun on me, you take Eva hostage, you continue to pump me for information you know I’m not willing to talk about – and this is just in the last couple of hours. What is it with you? An inability to see through the veil, to understand the basic consequences of unacceptable actions?”

“Yup, you pretty much nailed that one on the head. Then again, that’s how I made Captain by the age of forty.”

“Ah yes, the Nuremberg denominator.”

“I guess.”

“May I have my pistol now, please?”

“What?”

“My Sig; you know, the one you took from under my pillow?”

Mike reached into his jacket and pulled it out, then took it by the barrel and handed it over to Taggart. “How’d you know?”

“Lowest common denominator, Mike. That makes you predictable in my book.”

Mike picked up the log and examined it for a moment. “You know what, Henry…I’ve read your book, and frankly – you scare the crap out of me.” He stood and stepped over to the companionway and was gone, his fellow sailors too.

Taggart looked around the boat and wondered where all the tracking devices had been hidden this time, then he sighed. He went topsides, then opened the swim platform and went into the garage. He stripped down and slipped into a lycra bodysuit, grabbed his mask and fins and the small tank and jumped in the water. Looking back at the boat, he swam out until was about the right distance away, then slipped beneath the surface. The bottom was only about fifteen feet deep here and he found Mike’s Sig without much trouble, then he swam back and pried loose two new tracking discs fixed to the bottom of the keel. When he climbed back up onto the platform both Eva and Erika were standing there, gawking at him.

“Just checking the bottom out,” he muttered.

“With a pistol?”

“Yes. Handy – you know…for scaring off sea monsters.”

Eva shook her head and turned to walk back to the cockpit…

“Did you happen to save any hot chocolate for me?” Taggart asked.

“Of course we did,” Erika said, smiling.

Taggart smiled back, then bent over to take off his fins. “Good girl,” he whispered.

“Of course I am!” she said – in English.

“You heard that?”

She nodded.

“I see, said the blind man,” now knowing she must’ve assumed he was German until today. “Did you learn English in school?”

“Yes, of course!”

“You don’t speak Norwegian, do you? There’s someone I think you need to meet.”

“Only a little, and who?”

‘Interesting,’ he thought. “Oh…a friend of mine, a boy about your age.”

“Who was that man walking with us?”

“Him? Well, he was helping take care of Eva – or at least I think he was.”

“Oh.”

Taggart slipped into a terrycloth robe and made it to the hot cocoa in time to ward off a chill, and he sat beside Eva as Erika came and joined them. “How are you doing now?” he asked Eva.

“Okay, I think.”

“Did those men give you any trouble?”

“No, they were very correct…is that the right word?”

Taggart nodded.

“What will we do now?” Eva asked. “I know we need to wait for Erika’s mother, but do you think we should take her with us?”

“Doubtful, Eva. She’ll need to start chemotherapy soon, I think…”

“I saw the size of that hospital, Henry. I wouldn’t expect much from it.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Perhaps we should sail to Bergen. That would solve many problems, no?”

“It might,” he sighed, then nodding his head slowly. And it might throw off Mike and his bloodhounds, too, he thought.

“Dina could take over care for her there, couldn’t she?” Eva added.

“Yes, I expect so.”

“How far away is it?”

“What? Bergen? Oh, about 450 miles…call it two days with fair weather.” – and sailing a 57 foot sailboat essentially singlehanded, he scowled – cringing at the thought. But now he knew what he had to do, for everyone’s sake. “Erika, could you take Eva to your apartment and pack up what you need for a very long trip? Eva? Try to pack things for Rosa, anything valuable too.”

“Alright.”

Taggart hopped below and got into some sweats and put on his old tennis shoes, then took his evening meds before ehe made his way back to the hospital…

Rosa was sitting up, spooning some sort of vile smelling fish broth as he walked into her hospital room.

“Feeling better now?”

“Yes, very much so. How is Erika?”

He nodded and smiled. “She’s a tough kid. Big heart, too.”

“I knew it. You love her already!”

“Look, I’ve just talked to your surgeon. There’s no oncologist here, not even the appropriate chemotherapy agents…”

“So? The boat from Wilhelmshaven can bring it over?”

“The boats aren’t running right now, Rosa. There’s been some trouble.”

“Oh? You mean…?”

“Yes, but there’s no war right now. Maybe the opposite, as a matter of fact.”

“So, that’s good news, right?”

“Yes, but I want to move you to someplace where you can begin treatment.”

“Where?”

“Norway. Bergen, to be more precise.”

“You have people there that can help?”

“I do, yes. We’re going to leave first thing in the morning, and I have Erika and a friend getting some things together for the trip. Is there anything you want from the apartment?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “Most everything of consequence is still in Munich.”

“Alright. The pharmacy is putting together some things for you to take on the trip, and I’ll be over to pick you up first thing in the morning.”

“Henry?”

“Yes?”

“Why are you doing this for us?”

“Because you two are all alone in the world right now, and I am probably the one person who understands what you are going to be put through, too. That makes you my responsibility, Rosa, and I will not turn my back on a soul in need.”

“You know, I don’t think there are many people like you left in the world.”

He shrugged. “Oh, I think there are more good people out there than you could ever possibly imagine, Rosa. Maybe one or two have lost their way the last couple of years, but that’s not your problem right now.”

“Oh? What is my problem?”

“Erika.”

“Really?”

“Yes. She’s going to meet someone later this week, and you and I are really going to have our hands full after that.”

“So, you see the future, too,” she smirked. “How nice that must be for you?”

He grinned. “No, I can just see a few moves ahead on the board, that’s all. Now, finish that dreadful smelling soup, or whatever that stuff is, then try to get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a big day.”

After he picked up Rosa’s prescriptions he left the little hospital – only to find Mike waiting for him on the walkway just outside.

“Ah, and here you are again,” Henry sighed. “What can I do for you now?”

“Take me with you,” he said more than a little nervously.

“In trouble, are you?”

Mike nodded. “I think so, yes.”

“Someone is blaming you for the things I did, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, you’ll have to sing for your supper, I’m afraid. Think you can manage sailing for a couple of days?”

“No sweat,” Mike said – noncommittally. “You set the course and I’ll steer.”

“Who put the beacons on the boat?”

“What?”

“So, you didn’t, eh? Those two Dobermans must be the real deal. Seals, you said?”

Mike nodded. 

“Well, maybe we can slip the noose and get out of here without too much trouble.”

“You have something in mind, I take it?”

“Come on. Let’s take a walk…there’s something I want to go over with you.”

+++++

After Taggart collected Rosa from the hospital he got her aboard and settled down below; the diesel was already idly smoothly, the shore power cord now stowed in the garage, too. Taggart cast off Bandits’ lines and with a nudge from the bow thruster she drifted out into the fairway and executed a smart 180, exiting the little marina and turning due south.

At the same time, Mike put on his running shoes and gym shorts and was about to take off on his daily early morning run – just as one of the Seals came back, informing the other that Time Bandits had just departed the marina and was headed south towards Norderney. Mike left and began his run, heading for the seawall on the northeast side of the island. He smiled when he noted the Seals weren’t following…yet.

He jogged up the road by the football pitch then on to the beach, and he noted the seals were still several hundred yards behind when he made it to the seawall. He turned and jogged out to the end – and found Bandits’ Zodiac tied off to a post there and he jumped in. Taggart had left the key where he said and Mike started the outboard and pushed away from the rocks before slipping the motor to ‘Forward’ – then he gunned it and took off due east – the Seals sprinting now, trying to get out to the end of the seawall in time to…

…but they were too late and they knew it.

Still, where was he going? And why to the east…?

+++++

Taggart found the Zodiac in his binoculars and changed course a little; a few minutes later he and Mike stowed the inflatable in the garage, then made their way up to the cockpit. The diesel was puttering away, the seas glassy-calm – with Bandits make a solid eight knots over the bottom.

Then Eva’s head popped up in the companionway. “Waffles or pancakes?” she asked.

And for some reason Mike found that hilarious.

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