The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 45

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 45

‘I need time to think, Harry.’

‘To think. Time to think.’ Her words kept echoing inside his mind as she left the boarding area and walked down the Jetway, getting on a Japan Air Lines 747 bound for Tokyo.

He still didn’t know what to say, what ‘to think.’ He didn’t even know if he’d lost her or not.

The ending she’d crafted was so ambiguous, and so…unfair. To both of them. Couldn’t she see that? Or…was that part of the plan?

When the big Boeing left the gate he went to the end of the concourse and watched it lumber out to the runway, then he just stood there and watched as she disappeared into the early morning sky. With his hands in his pockets and his head hanging down, there was nothing left to say, nothing to do, really, but to get on with getting on.

There was one dangling thread that needed his immediate attention, however, so he left SFO and drove over to the old house in Potrero Hills. Lloyd Callahan was in the front yard, on his knees by the flower bed picking weeds, when Harry drove up in his freshly repaired Range Rover. The old man looked up when he heard the door slam, and then he stood and walked up to the porch and sat in the shade, waiting for had to be the inevitable showdown.

“Well, well, the prodigal son returns. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Harry sat beside his father, his steepled fingers bundled on his lap. “I just dropped Fujiko at the airport. I think she’d had enough of me after a few days.”

“Different life, different expectations. Their culture is based on an enforced harmony; ours on pure, unmitigated chaos. What did you expect?”

“She was always telling me to be patient, to be open minded and willing to accept change.”

“Some changes are simply too much to accept, Harry. How did she leave it? Did she break it off?”

“No,” Harry sighed, “she wants some time to think.”

“And she’s left you dangling. How nice of her.”

Harry shrugged, his shoulders sagging in defeat. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Stand up and dust off your britches, Harry!” Lloyd yelled. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You’ve lived the life you wanted, the life you chose, and if she can’t or won’t accept who you really are, then fuck it and get on with your life!”

Harry nodded. “So, how do you like retirement?”

“I fucking hate it. The company called me a few days ago, told me they’d take me back on a part time basis if I’d just take one or two trips a year.”

“You gonna do it?”

“Hell, yes, I’m gonna do it.”

“What about the model trains?”

“Oh, I’ll have plenty of time for all that. What about you? You’re officially retired now?”

“Yeah, but one of the assistant chiefs called Frank a couple of days ago. The department wants us to stay active through the reserves. Minimal pay, but we’d keep our badges, all that jazz.”

“Of course you’ll do it, right?”

“With Fujiko gone, I reckon so.”

“Gone? That’s pretty final, Harry. What if she changes her mind, comes back?”

“Well, we’ll just have to see what happens, I guess. How’s the house doing?”

“Oh, fine, fine. Your contractor took care of everything, though I found some paint splatters on the dining room windows. I was thinking about gutting the kitchen next. New cabinets, appliances, all that crap. Keep it up so after I’m gone you won’t have any problem unloading it.”

“I doubt I could sell it, Dad.”

“Well, whatever you do, don’t rent it out. Renters will just trash it up, ruin it.”

“Okay.”

“How’s Frank?” 

“Starting his second round of chemo today. I’m picking him up at noon, running him back out to the ranch.”

“Your new place finished yet?”

“Yup. Moved in while Fujiko was here.”

“I’d like to see it someday. So, how do you like that Rover?”

“It’s a tank.”

“Great gas mileage, I bet?”

Harry snickered. “Nine in the city, twelve on the highway.”

“Ouch. I’m gonna need to get something pretty soon, myself.”

“What? After twenty years, you’re going to ditch the Ford? That’s a travesty, Dad. A few more years and she’ll be an antique!”

“Oh, I’ll keep her, but I want a pickup now. Something big.” 

“Another Ford?”

“Nothing but, far as I’m concerned.”

An uncomfortable silence followed, then Lloyd stood. “Well, you better go get Frank. Good to see you,” he said, holding out his right hand.

Harry took it, though in a way it hurt to do so. “Yeah Pops. You take care.”

He drove to the hospital in silence, and Frank was waiting curbside, looking a little irritated.

“I’ve been out here a half hour, Harry.”

“It’s not even noon yet, Frank.”

“Can we go down to the department, look over those reserve contracts?”

“You feel up to that?”

“No, not really, but if I’m gonna be puking my guts out for the next couple of days I’d like to have something funny to read between heaves.”

“Funny, huh?”

“Yeah, same job – for a tenth the pay. Funny, Harry. As hell.”

“Yeah. Well, I meet with a bunch of lawyers tomorrow morning about the helicopter thing.”

“Really? Can I come along?”

“If you promise not to barf all over the place, sure.”

“Cool. I hate kicking around that house all day by myself.”

“If you’re throwing up, you won’t…”

“I gotta question.”

“Shoot.”

“The girl. In the alley. Dell hasn’t get any leads, no witnesses.”

“I was wondering when you were gonna ask.”

“Well? Should we?”

Callahan took a deep breath, looked at his hands as if they were the guilty ones – because in a way, they were. “What do you think?”

“I’m not sure…that’s why I’m asking you.”

“I don’t know, Frank. At some point a judge is going to ask us under oath how we came up with the evidence, and we may get away with ‘an anonymous source’ one time…”

“We can swear not to do it again after this one.”

“I think we’ve already used that line once,” Callahan smirked. 

“Yeah. I hate to see the pricks get away with it, though.”

“You think I don’t?” Callahan said as he pulled into the department’s visitor parking lot. “Man, this really chaps my ass.”

“What?”

“Visitor’s lot. Man, twenty years and bam! Nothing! It’s like we never worked here, ya know?”

“Well, once we’re in the reserves…” Frank said as they walked into the main building.

“Yeah,” Harry growled, “I know. We’ll at least have our feet halfway back in the door.”

“I feel fuckin’ naked without my 45.”

“Tell me about it. What’s with Delgetti? I thought he was gonna retire too.”

“Couldn’t make the numbers work. Five more years and he thinks he’ll have enough to live on.”

“What about another job. Did he try that?”

“He’s like all the other cops I know, Harry. He’s blue, through and through, can’t see himself doing anything else.”

“Hell, he could teach at the Academy, couldn’t he?”

“I don’t know. I’ll mention it, though.”

“He’s patient, would probably be good at it.”

They went into the main personnel office; their papers were ready and just like that they were back on the payroll. As detectives they had to remain available for calls on weekends and two nights a week, and they had to be available for emergency call-outs, but they were legal again. Their old badge numbers reactivated, their firearms permits renewed, they were real cops again.

“Sorry, Harry, but I’m going to need to stop at the head.”

“Gonna puke?”

“Yeah, think so.”

They ducked into the patrol division locker room and Bullitt lost a few pounds, then Callahan helped him out to the Rover.

“Man, I’m glad the suspension on this thing is so soft,” Frank said as he settled back in the right seat. “Can you give me some A/C?”

Callahan looked at his friend…pale, sweating, his hands trembling a little. “Wish it wasn’t so far. Would you rather go to the apartment? I had it cleaned, stem to stern. New sheets on the bed, too.”

“No, no way. Let’s head to your house, see what we can see. Just drive slow, would you?”

“I may faint.”

“What? Why?”

“Frank Bullitt…telling me to drive slow. This has to be a first.”

“I’m gonna beat this shit, Callahan. You watch and see. I’m flat-out gonna beat this shit.”

“You know, I think you will too. Attitude is everything, right?”

“Damn straight. Callahan, back off…you’re following too close…”

Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Hell,’ he thought, ‘who needs a wife…when I got Frank…’

Even driving slow, Callahan made it back to the ranch by half past three, but Cathy wasn’t home yet so they went to his house instead. And the piano was sitting there, waiting, crying out to them like a naked accusation.

“Well,” Frank said, “what’s the verdict.”

Callahan went to the piano, and he stared at the keys for the longest time. 

But…it didn’t take long for them to have all they needed to take care of the situation.

________________________________

It proved easiest to have Don McCall move into Callahan’s old apartment until the service’s new helicopters started arriving, while ‘Mickey’ Rooney and three other ex-military Huey drivers went off to Connecticut to go through a two-month Sikorsky S-76 school. Everyone, including Callahan and Pattison, would have to get current on helicopter IFR operations, as well as upgrade their ‘tickets’ to FAR airline transport ratings.

The new company’s name was Callahan Air Transport, or CAT, and Harry applied for and received an appropriate toll-free 800 number: CAT-CALL. It was easy to remember and made people smile, so a win-win situation as far as Callahan was concerned. Cathy designed the company logo and Harry was surprised at the results: a standing tiger…flashing a huge grin and sporting two fingers held up – making a ‘peace sign.’ She said it would be perfect for the San Francisco market, and it was.

The Presidio was slated to close soon, so Rooney and Pattison arranged for CAT to take over three helicopter maintenance hangers, as well as an operations building that, as luck would have it, had all the necessary radio antennas they’d ever need. Frank had to take a courses to become an FAA certified flight dispatcher, as well as a licensed radio operator, and those two courses occupied almost all his free time for the first two months – at least when he wasn’t taking chemo or puking his guts out.

Bell Helicopter offered a great deal on four new 212s if CAT would also buy two low hour Hueys they’d recently taken in on trade, and those six ships were the first to arrive at the CAT House, Frank’s chosen name for the Presidio base. One hanger was sealed off and the old helicopters repainted to match the new 212s: silver with deep maroon lowers topped with five pencil thin stripes in navy blue. Flashy Tiger decals were applied to the undersides and tails, and everyone agreed the Hueys looked pretty good decked out like this.

Callahan arranged to take over a large hanger at Mariposa-Yosemite airport (KMPI), and Cathy designed a small bunkhouse – operations center to house air crews during the long California fire season. By the time Pattison brought the first S-76 back to San Francisco, Callahan was looking at facilities in South Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes. Cathy thought Silicon Valley would be a prime market and convinced Callahan to look at a small operations center at Palo Alto’s small general aviation airport, and that turned out to be the third base in the network.

It was, Callahan thought when he looked back on this period of his life, the busiest and most fulfilling time of his life, and by far the most successful from a financial point of view. 

It was also, when he cared to think about such things, the loneliest time of his entire life.

_________________________________

The first letter from Fujiko began with the news that she had decided to go back to school. She wanted, she wrote, to become a certified translator, perhaps work at the United Nations or at an embassy abroad. She made no mention of a future together, and Callahan accepted that at face value; from that point on he assumed the relationship was over.

He heard from Didi every month or so, primarily regarding the state of his investments but he also received a summary of Evelyn’s progress at the psychiatric clinic in Davos. What he heard about Evelyn was routinely negative; she had become progressively more disorganized mentally and was exhibiting increasingly violent tendencies. Didi had visited her at the clinic just once; she came away shaken by what she’d seen. Callahan never told Bullitt about this, fearing it might interfere with his treatment and recovery.

Frank did give Delgetti all the information they uncovered about the murder in the alley, but Dell simply would not move on the information without knowing the source. That left Callahan and Bullitt in a quandary; they could tell Delgetti the truth behind the information and risk humiliation, or worse, or he and Frank could simply take care of the matter themselves.

“Yeah, I know,” Harry said. “And if we do, what’s the difference between us…”

“And the vigilantes. I know, and we’ve had this conversation before,” Frank replied. “But here me out. If we know this is the type of offense that might warrant the death penalty…”

“Don’t even go there, Frank. Our system is built on a foundation of due process, and you know that. We circumvent that and what are we left with? We’re right back at Lake Shasta, aren’t we? It’s murder, pure and simple.”

“Yeah? Well the death penalty is murder too, isn’t it? I mean, once you brush aside all the niceties like ‘due process’ and ‘mandatory appeals’ what are you left with? A dead body on a gurney, that’s what. You can dress it up any way you want, but the end results are just the same.”

“Assuming guilt, yeah, that’s right. And – assuming all the appeals go against the perp.”

“And how many guilty mobsters have we dealt with who ‘got off on a technicality,’ Harry? Can you see taking this to court and the defense getting to Delgetti? Asking him about his probable cause for arrest? And he tells the court that Inspectors Callahan and Bullitt have some kind of magic piano that allows them to see into the past. Right! You know what happens then, Harry? They wrap us up in straight jackets and file us away in a little room with no windows and padded walls…!” 

“So…the choice is…either we do it – or we let the goons walk.”

“Unless you can think of a third option, then yeah.”

“We could plant some bogus info with someone inside the Threlkis mob, insinuate…”

“Same outcome, Harry, only our hands would be a little less bloody. Because it would still be murder, pure and simple. Remember the statute? To intentionally or knowing deprive a person or persons of their life… And we got four people in that car that knew what was going down, right? You want to fade the heat for that if we get some kind of screwball mistrial?”

Callahan sighed.

“And let’s not forget, Harry, according to the girl these clowns are gunning for you. Maybe they crawl out of the woodwork when you head into work one morning – and they pick you off on the PCH. You wanna wait around for something like that to happen?”

“Sounds like you’ve made up my mind, Frank. I still don’t like all the moral ambiguity.”

“Jesus, Callahan, since when did you grow a fuckin’ conscience?”

“After Shasta. That’s been burning a hole in my gut ever since.”

“Really? I thought that was kind of clear cut to you?”

“It was until I read about the kid finding her dad’s body on the porch. That kid is never going to know the reason why her father was killed. She’s never going to know about all the bad shit he did. All she’s going to remember is seeing her father’s shattered face sprayed all over a patio floor. So…what did we do to her, Frank? She’s blameless, yet she’s going to pay a helluva price for the rest of her life.”

“How many murder victims leave behind family in similar circumstances…?”

“You nailed it, Frank, right there. How many murder victims? Murder, Frank. Pure and simple.”

“And what did that fucker do to his daughter, Harry? To his own flesh and blood? Murder. Pure and simple. And if he nails you tomorrow? And gets away with it?”

Callahan looked down, shook his head.

“How do you think I’ll feel, Harry? Knowing we could have prevented your murder?”

Harry looked up, looked Bullitt in the eye. “Okay,” he said. “I don’t like it, but okay.”

________________________________

Bullitt did what he did best: with the information on hand he located the suspect’s vehicle. He photographed all the people coming and going from the suspect’s house. Then he tapped the phones and planted bugs in the house. He listened to the phone calls and developed a good idea what the people there were up to, and then…one evening just before an Oakland A’s game got underway he picked up a new recording from one of his bugs:

“We located Callahan’s place. Up north of here, place called Sea Ranch.”

“I heard of that. Bunch of pinko artists live up there.”

“When can we hit him?”

“After the next delivery. Benavides don’t want nothing to interfere with that, so nothing happens ’til that’s out of the way.”

“I heard this is gonna be a big one.”

“Yeah, it’s big alright. No helicopters this time. Morales is gonna use the big boat.”

“Sheesh, what are they bringing in? Ten tons again?”

“Bigger, or so I hear. And get this…the stuff is coming up by submarine!”

“No way!”

“Yeah, way. Them fuckin’ Colombians think of everything, man.”

“So…when’s this going down?”

“Next Tuesday, man. We meet up at the place in Sausalito. The boat will pick us up there…”

Bullitt made copies of the tape and then went to meet Callahan at the CatHouse. Rooney was there too when he played the tape.

“So who is this shithead?” Rooney asked.

“The guy gunning for Harry? Name is Raymond Salmi, until recently a resident of San Quentin. He killed his daughter a while back, because she put him in Quentin after he beat the living shit out of her. Harry here then proceeded to beat the shit out of Salmi, sending him to Quentin with about seventy stitches on his face.”

“Good job, Harry! You say he killed his daughter?”

“Yeah. He’s a real model citizen, now into drug running.”

“A submarine?” Rooney said. “Man, you guys need to tell the Navy.”

“Nope,” Callahan said. “This one is strictly off the books.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

Bullitt spoke up next. “I say we wait for them to board the boat and hit ‘em with some kind of bomb once they get out past the Golden Gate.”

Rooney frowned. “No way, Frank. Coast Guard would be all over you in thirty seconds flat.”

“So, you got any ideas?” Callahan asked.

“Yeah. Follow me.”

Rooney led them across the grounds to a hanger; he took out a key and unlocked a side entry and took them inside.

“What the fuck is that?” Callahan asked, his eyes registering both fear and lust.

“The Agusta-Bell AB-212-ASW variant.”

“The what?” Frank asked.

“An Italian built 212 Huey, specifically modified for anti-submarine operations, as well as over-the-water search and rescue ops. The Navy was conducting trials with this one off the coast for a few months. We’re keeping it here until reps from Italy come and pick it up.”

“What are those?” Callahan asked as he walked up to the port-side weapons pylon.

“ASROC, SUBROC, something like that. Apparently you launch the thing and it drops a homing torpedo onto the target. The thing is, you got to drop sonobuoys in a pattern around the target for the thing to work.”

Callahan stood on the skid and peered into the cockpit. “Looks like any other 212. What gives?”

“Check the back. There’s a dual sonar rig where we’d put a flight engineer, and a sonobuoy tech handles the drops. There’s also a dipping sonar.”

“Man, you’re speaking Greek now,” Frank said.

Callahan turned to Rooney: “Did you say there’s a dipping sonar installed?”

“Yup. And something called MAD gear.”

“Then we wouldn’t need a sonar operator,” Harry said.

“What’s MAD gear?” Frank asked.

“Magnetic Anomaly Detector,” Harry replied. “Depending on the set, you can pick up a sub several hundred feet beneath the surface.”

“How do you know about this crap?” Bullitt asked.

“I read a lot,” Callahan replied, smiling. “What about the torpedos? Those are green-heads, right?”

“Yup.”

“Where could we find a couple of war-shots?”

“In those crates,” Rooney said, pointing. “They sent those along just in case world war three broke out.”

“And the mini-guns?”

“Thousand rounds per minute, two thousand rounds per gun. Ammunition is right over there…”

“In those crates, huh?”

“Yup.”

“Harry?” Frank said. “What are you thinking?”

“Well, Frank. There are a lot of Great Whites around the Farallons. I think it would be too bad if those hoods had engine trouble while they’re out there, don’t you?”

“I’m more worried about the sharks, Harry.”

“Oh. Why?”

“Well, think about it…with twenty tons of cocaine in the water, those are gonna be some seriously fucked-up fish, Harry…”

As the three walked backed to the Cathouse they saw Delgetti waiting for them in the parking lot, and he walked up to Harry when they got close.

“Harry, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it appears your father had a stroke earlier today, at least that’s what they think…”

“Where is he? How is he doing?”

“I’m sorry, Harry. He’s gone.”

Frank helped him inside and sat while his friend came to terms with the moment, but it was only the second time he’d seen Harry cry and the sight shook him up. It wasn’t too hard to think what was going through his mind, too. This last stretch of their life together fouled by the Fujiko thing, their last precious stretch of time together ripped away – not by circumstance, but by choice. And now, here he sat with no one to hold, no one to understand or share the moment with, no sheltering love to call his own. Just an empty house on a cliff overlooking the cold heart of the sea.

________________________________

They used encrypted handsets that night. 

Bullitt followed the Threlkis crew to Sausalito, his only real concern that he had been made, that they were springing a trap. But no, the crew met up at an Italian restaurant overlooking the bay and a little after ten that night a Zodiac motored up to the docks below and they hopped in. Frank called it in to the Cathouse.

“Cat Baker to Able. Mice are on the loose, as planned.”

“Able copies.”

Callahan and Rooney were both up front that night, Harry on the stick and Mickey handling the weapons systems. Rooney had dug up the Navy sonar operator used during the evaluation flights of this helicopter, and the kid was sitting just behind them – currently with nothing to do. The plan was to hang back and get a rough heading on the boat, then head north a little before turning out to sea. They’d circle around, come in from the west, and that way avoid detection until the last possible moment.

The bird was an Italian made twin-engined Huey, but all the instrumentation was pure American made stuff on this bird, because she was meant for export. And this was the first time Callahan would get his hands on the newest night vision gear, too.

They headed out over the Golden Gate with all their anti-collision lights going, not making any effort to hide, and they watched the boat as it cleared land and hit the open sea – on a heading of 240 magnetic – a course that would take them just south of the Farallons. Callahan turned to the northwest and flew up the coast about ten miles, then all the Huey’s lights went dark and he put the helicopter about a hundred feet above the water as he turned to the west. Ten minutes later the jagged rocks of the Farallons came into view…

“Those rocks are going to make a lot of noise,” the sonar operator said over the intercom. “Head a couple of miles south and we’ll dip there.”

“Got it,” Callahan replied.

“It’ll take that boat about five hours to get all the way out here, Harry. We ain’t got the gas for that.”

“Anyone on the south island?”

“A caretaker, maybe. It’s not shark season so all the researchers should be on shore.”

“Okay, let’s take a couple of readings, see if we can pick something up.”

The dipping sonar sensor was on a reel, the idea being to work along an imaginary ‘picket line’ then to ‘stop and drop’ the sensor along this line and – hopefully – pick up a target and triangulate its position, in the process working up a course and speed on the sub as it moved through the water.

On the second dip the operator spoke up…

“Okay, I’m picking up engine plant noise. A diesel boat, pretty small too. Really noisy, like a Chinese boat. Man, I wonder how they got by San Diego? Okay, pull her up and let’s move…”

Callahan moved the ship a mile to the south and they dipped again…

“Shit! We’re right on top of her! Pull it up!”

So, another mile to the south and Rooney dipped the sonar again…

“Okay, same boat, got a turn count, making five knots, no, slowing now, some hull noises now, a little popping, she’s coming up to about fifty feet, no, wait…she’s surfacing…”

Callahan hovered while Rooney reeled in the sonar, but as soon as the sensor was out of the water he turned south and slipped even closer to the surface of the the water, putting some real distance between the sub and the Huey.

He turned back towards the sub and, using the night vision goggles, saw a few people walking along the curved surface of the gleaming black hull, then he saw someone pointing in their direction, then men scrambling for the conning tower…

“Okay,” Callahan said, “they’ve made us. Looks like they’re gonna dive.”

“You gonna take it out?” the sonar operator asked. “Man, the Navy will hear that shit from SanDiego to Puget Sound…”

Rooney looked at the operator. “Arm ASROC One.”

“Arming One,” the kid said, and Callahan appreciated his professionalism. “They’re blowing tanks, turn count increasing rapidly now.”

“How close do we need to get?” Callahan asked.

“We can fire anytime you want, range is good.”

“Fire ASROC One,” Rooney said, and the rocket leapt from the rail, went up to 500 feet AGL, and thirty seconds later a torpedo, dangling from three small parachutes, slipped into the sea.

“Torpedo in acquisition mode, no countermeasures, call it ten seconds to impact…”

Callahan looked at the surface of the sea, saw a momentary bubbling on the surface then a vast column of water erupted.

“Target is destroyed,” the operator whispered. “Dude, whoa, that was my first hard kill.”

“Yeah,” Rooney added, “mine, too.”

But Callahan was all business now. “Mickey, work up an intercept heading for the boat.”

“Call it 7-5 degrees magnetic, say about 10 to 12 miles to PCA.”

Callahan swung to the new heading and accelerated to 140 knots. “How’s our fuel?”

“Two hours if you throttle back a little. About an hour fifteen at present speed.”

“Okay, I think I see ‘em,” he said five minutes later. He flew right down the port side of the boat and several men started shooting at the Huey as it passed. “Will that torpedo work on a surface contact?”

“Sure. Just set the target depth for zero. Want me to light it up?”

“Go ahead,” Callahan snarled.

“Arm ASROC Two,” Rooney said.

“Arming Two. Two is ready, programmed to zero depth. We are in range, come to best heading of 2-5-0 magnetic.”

Callahan swung around, and he could see frantic action on deck through his night vision goggles, then someone with what looked like a small missile launcher stood on the fore-deck…

“Missile launcher,” Callahan yelled.

“Countermeasures to pulse and active,” the operator said calmly. 

“Fire ASROC Two,” Rooney said.

“Firing Two.”

Everyone on the boat stood transfixed as the rocket leapt from the rail, and the guy with the missile on the foredeck wasted his shot firing at the torpedo. Twenty seconds later the boat erupted in a huge fireball…and a minute later there was nothing left but an oil-slick on the waves.

“I’m picking up a narrow band search radar,” the operator said. “Probably a P-3 coming to identify the explosions.”

“Gimme a course for the Bridge,” Callahan said.

“Eight-five magnetic, eighteen miles.”

“Fuel?”

“We’re good. Pour it on.”

________________________________

When representatives from Agusta-Bell arrived to pick up their 212ASW they were surprised to find small red submarine icons painted on both sides of the hull…indicating the craft had made a hard kill. More troubling were the four bullet holes just aft of the rear door…

_________________________________

After the services for his father were over, he went to the house in Potrero Hills and walked through the old place. A couple of neighbors dropped by and offered condolences, then a real estate agent dropped by, asking when the house was going on the market. She fled the house in terror when she saw the look in Callahan’s eyes.

He found the stash of model trains, as well as rough plans for a layout, in the basement, and he shook his head. “Hell, I really didn’t know the guy, did I,” he said as he made a quick inventory of the contents of the house. He had his contractor coming at noon to go over a few ideas, so while he was waiting he mowed the lawn for the millionth time, then watered the flower beds.

He was waiting on the porch for the contractor when an old man walked up the steps and joined him. Callahan barely recognized him, a captain at the same company his father worked for, one who had trained his father right after the war.

“You’re Harry, right?”

“Yessir. And I’m sorry, I recognize you but I can’t remember your name.”

“You’d probably know me as Captain Leighton. Ben to my friends.”

“Yes, I remember now. Nice to see you again, Captain.”

“I wish it was under better circumstances. Your father wanted me to give this to you. I have no idea what it is, but he entrusted me with it a few years ago. I thought I’d better get it over here before age catches up with me, too.”

“Thanks. Could I get you something to drink. Some water, or maybe some iced tea?”

“No thanks. My wife is waiting in the car. Sorry about your loss,” he said as he walked back down the stairs.

Callahan sat and opened the envelope. Inside was a smaller manilla envelope, sealed, and with a bank’s address and a safety deposit box access code printed in his father’s neat script on the flap.

His contractor arrived and he slipped the envelope into his coat pocket, then took the contractor inside.

“We’ve got four bedrooms in here, three up and one down. I want to update the bathrooms and kitchen, refinish the floors, and turn the basement into a sort of den. I’ve also got plans for a model railroad that I’d like you to rough in down there, too.”

“What are your plans for the house?”

“Kind of a dormitory, really. I’ve got a small helicopter taxi operation starting up and a bunch of pilots that may need short term accommodations, and this old place will do for now.”

“The basement?”

“Just a place to unwind. A TV room, maybe a pool table…”

“And a model railroad layout?”

“You got it. Why don’t you take a look around and work up some plans and an estimate for me.”

“Will do, Mr. Callahan.”

He hopped into the Rover and drove across town to the bank listed on the envelope, then went to the safety deposit desk. After he finally got to the box he found an insurance policy and a couple of passbooks to linked savings accounts – and a letter.

He sat and read through the letter once, then a second time before he folded the paper and put it in his coat pocket. He wiped away a tear then closed the safety deposit account. He cashed-out the savings accounts into one cashiers cheque, then went to the insurance company and filed the necessary paperwork to cash-in the policy. With that done he went to his own bank and deposited the cheques.

And that was that. One man’s life condensed into three pieces of paper and then – poof! Almost all trace of his existence was wiped from the ledger.

And now, sitting in the Rover in a parking lot jammed full of empty cars, he felt just as empty inside, like the last of the lines that had tethered him to the past – his past – had just now been unceremoniously cut – and now, all that was in the past was simply gone, like a chalkboard wiped clean. And now, only faint traces of chalk remained on a vanishing board, echoes of what was fading from view, vague traceries of lives that only he could see and feel now.

The house? Well, Saul Rosenthal had bought that, hadn’t he? Or, in other words, his real father had bought his stand-in father the house he had grown up in, and the sensation he felt was more like being unmoored from existence than anything else he could think of. Everything he had taken for granted as a kid was an illusion, wasn’t it?

…but then another thought crept in…

‘And just how many people did I kill three nights ago? I’ll never really know, will I? How many people were inside that black metal tube now resting on the bottom of the sea? And on that boat? Twenty? Thirty? Fifty? So, how many ledgers did I close that night? How many hopes and dreams did I wipe away, consign to oblivion?”

Then another thought hit him, a thought that left him breathless and confused…

‘How many people have I killed, really? Vietnam? Call it a hundred? On the streets here in the city? Call it twenty, maybe twenty five over the years. And three nights ago? Let’s split the difference and call it forty. That’s a hundred and sixty five people. That I’ve killed. Me. A hundred and sixty five slates wiped clean. And how many people go through life without ever hurting anyone, let alone killing someone? What does that make me? A serial killer? A mass murderer? But…I never wanted to hurt anyone. I never set out to kill anyone – at least not until this year. Has death become too easy for me to justify, and to accept?’

He just sat there in the Rover for a while, but in the end he drove back to the Cathouse. All the pilots would arrive next week; the last Sikorsky would arrive this weekend. Frank was finalizing the radio installation. The Agusta-Bell people wanted to talk to him. The Navy, too. 

“We’re going to need a receptionist here,” Frank said as Harry walked in. “And some kind of reservation system.”

“Can we tie into one of the major airline reservation systems? Seems like more than half of our projected calls are going to be for flights to-and-from SFO. Maybe we can tie into American or United’s system in some way?”

“I’ll get to work on that,” Frank sighed. “What about a receptionist, and someone for reservations?”

“Any ideas?”

“I do,” Rooney said, walking out of his office. “I have two people in mind. Just give me the go ahead.”

“Do it.”

“Pay? Minimum wage ain’t gonna cut it, ya know.”

“Ask ‘em what the want. If it sounds reasonable go with it.”

Rooney nodded. “Any ideas on housing? Rents are too steep here in the city.”

“Yeah. My dad’s house, over in Potrero Hills. Rooms for four, being rehabbed right now. Get em rooms in a hotel around here for now, until the house is finished. That’ll be rent free, give ‘em time to save up and find a place of their own.”

“Sounds fair. What about Mariposa?”

“No way do I want someone full time out there. One week rotations during fire season. Same with Tahoe and Mammoth. We’ll rotate crew…”

“What if someone wants to be stationed out there?”

Callahan shook his head. “Not yet. Let’s focus on Bay Area operations first. If the Sierra operations suddenly look that intense we can work something else out then.”

“You want me to deal with the Navy and the manufacturers reps?” Rooney continued.

“Set up a time when we can both be there. No lies, just the truth, and see if the DEA can send someone, too.”

“No shit? You gonna own up to that?”

“Outside the line so no one has jurisdiction, right? And I’ll fill them in on the rest. Beyond that, fuck ‘em.”

Frank looked at Rooney; both shook their head in despair.

After Rooney left the room Frank went into Callahan’s little office. “You feeling okay, man?”

“No, not really. Thinking about Dad all day, wrapping up some of his affairs. I guess I’m feeling down about all that family crap.”

“I’m gonna meet Cathy at The Shadows. Want to come along?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind the intrusion. Sounds good.”

“Can you drive?”

“Yeah. You ready now?”

“Yup.”

“K. Let’s go.”

Callahan made his way to the Coit Tower neighborhood and parked, and they walked down to the restaurant and got a table. Cathy got there a few minutes later, and she looked totally beat. At seven months pregnant she was showing all the signs now: her face and ankles were swollen, her eyes puffy, even her fingers looked different, but because he knew she was self-conscious about her appearance Callahan tried not to show undue concern.

“What’s up with you, Harry?” she asked.

“You know my apartment building?”

She nodded.

“Well, the building is going up for sale. What do you think about picking it up, tearing it down and putting up some condos. Kind of up-market, maybe ten stories, something like that.”

“I don’t remember what the height restriction is down there that close to the water, maybe six stories. That’s why so many of those places haven’t been torn down. Too hard to cram enough units into six stories to make a new project viable.”

“Why?”

“Units would have to price out at close to a million a pop, that’s why.”

“Five blocks from the water? What would it take?”

“Probably four units per floor, one point five million per unit. You could make a nice profit at those prices.”

“Got a realtor who can make some inquiries?”

“Yes, if you really want to try it. You’ll tie up some serious assets for two or three years. You okay with that?”

“Yeah. Just make sure the damn thing is earthquake proof!”

She nodded. “Everything is nowadays. We’re overdue for a big one, too. And Harry, I have to ask, but do you want me to design it?”

“Hell yes! Why do you think I’m asking you?”

She smiled. “I didn’t want to make any assumptions.”

“You think about it. We’ve got time to spare, and you’ve got more important things to take care of right now,” he said as he looked at her belly.

“Okay, but I’ll get someone from the office on it right away.”

“Good. Now Frank, I feel like some wine tonight. Think you can manage the drive back to the ranch?”

_________________________________

The next year was a blur, a constant exasperating blur.

CAT took off, literally, and demand exceeded supply by a factor of two. Rooney recommended they order at least two more Sikorsky S-76s; Callahan ordered four. Demand at SFO was about as expected, but San Jose International was an unexpected bonus that made expansion of the Palo Alto base an immediate priority. Two big fires between Mammoth and Yosemite meant that three Hueys were in constant demand moving fire crews, still, Rooney realized they needed bigger helicopters so he began by asking the Air Force if they had any big Sikorsky S-64 Skycranes they wanted to unload. CAT purchased two and sent them into action hauling water and chemical retardants into terrain too remote for large ground teams to reach. The Forest Service contracts were beyond lucrative.

CAT then had to bring on two accountants to handle cash-flow and taxes. Both American and United allowed CAT to codeshare, so more people were brought onboard to facilitate that process. Then they needed ticket counters at SFO; San Jose and Oakland soon followed. When CAT’s payroll approached one hundred people Callahan realized he was getting in over his head; he approached a headhunting firm to recruit a CFO and they found one at Southwest who liked what she saw and wanted in on the action. Callahan liked her resume and flew her out.

Frank took her around the Cathouse, then Rooney flew her to Palo Alto and Mariposa before returning to the Presidio. She was impressed.

“I’ll go talk to Harry,” Rooney advised when they returned to the Cathouse. “Do you have a hotel booked?”

“Yes, at the Stanford Court,” Linton Tomlinson said.

“Well, just so you know, the tradition here is new-hires go to Trader Vics…”

“Let me guess. Suffering Bastards, right?”

“Ah. So you’re familiar?”

“We have one in Dallas.”

Rooney nodded then went to see Callahan.

“I think she’s a keeper, Harry. You should go meet her.”

“Yeah? Well, see if any pilots are free for Vics. I’d like some reaction-input.”

“That’s a no-go, boss. We’re still two down. Coburn with appendicitis and Tompkins has a busted collarbone.”

“How’d he do that?”

“Playing basketball at the Y.”

“Fuck. We need to put a gym in one of the hangers. We’ve lost two pilots to these bullshit injuries so far this year.”

“Daniels over at TWA told me they’re going to sub-lease one of their hangers out at SFO. Are we interested?”

“Fuck yes.”

“Roger that. If we’re gonna do Vics with this girl it’s gonna be just you and me.”

“Alright. I’ll be out in a minute. Let me put on a fresh shirt.”

“Try some deodorant too, Callahan. You’re drawing flies again.”

“Screw you, Rooney.”

“And guess what? It’s your week to stay at Mariposa, starting Friday.”

Callahan sighed. “Already? Feels like I was up there just last week…”

“Yeah? Well, that was two months ago, Ace.”

“Any fires up there now?”

“Two, both almost contained, but conditions are ripe for an outbreak.”

“What do we have up there right now?”

“One Skycrane, one Huey.”

Callahan shook his head. “Better find me another Huey, Mickey…”

“Navy has some of those 212s they want to offload, but the hours are up there…”

Callahan shook his head again. “Too much corrosion on those birds. See if you can drive the price down. Way-fucking-down. Now, get out of here, willya?”

When he walked into the waiting room and took one look at Tomlinson his heart skipped a beat. He looked at her left hand – ‘no ring…’ – then he remembered ‘single’ listed on her resumé. Not too tall, maybe 5’8” and a little stocky, she looked kind of like a college athlete. Blond, green eyes, great legs…oh, yes…

Then he realized she realized he was staring at her.

“Mickey tells me good things about you,” he said, trying to get back in the game.

“I’m impressed,” she said. “Y’all have done a lot in one year, come a long way for a start up.”

“Well, I sure hope you’re hungry…because I haven’t eaten all day…”

“Let’s do it,” she said. 

He’d made the drive up the hill to Vics so many times this past year he could do it in his sleep, and tonight was no exception. He handed the keys to Rover over to the valet attendant and they went inside. CAT had an account here and they bypassed the line, went right to a prime table. Rooney had to fly in the morning so he had an iced tea; Callahan asked Linton if a Suffering Bastard would suffice…

“I hope you’re not limiting me to just one,” she cracked, smiling a little.

They talked business for an hour and Callahan made up his mind. She’d do.

Then she asked a question he wasn’t expecting. “The scuttlebutt on you guys is that you took out some kind of submarine last year. What’s that all about?”

Callahan shook his head. “What did you hear?”

“Just that. You guys went out one night and took out some kind of sub.”

“I love rumors,” he said to Rooney, “don’t you?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that one too,” Rooney added.

“So, it didn’t happen?”

Callahan shrugged. 

“So, that’s it? You ain’t tellin’?”

“Ma’am, I never kiss and tell,” Callahan said. “Need another Bastard?”

“Yup.”

“Garcon!” Callahan called out, holding up two fingers and pointing at their drinks. “So, where you staying?”

“The Court.”

“Ah.”

“Ah?” she asked. “Is that Ah, good, or Ah, bad?”

“It’s ah, I may need a room there myself, because I sure ain’t driving back to the ranch tonight.”

“The ranch?”

“Sea Ranch. It’s a development about an hour or so north of here, on the coast.”

“Yeah, I think I saw something about it once. Nice place.”

“What about you? You live in Dallas, right?”

“Yeah, grew up there so Southwest was right for me.”

“So, why San Francisco?”

“You ever get tired of looking out over the bay?”

“No. Never.”

“Well, I’m tired of Dallas, and I’m tired of Texas.”

“No entangling relationships?”

“No. I was engaged two years ago. That didn’t work out too well.”

“Sorry.”

“I’m not. What about you?”

“No one.”

“Never been married?”

“No one,” he repeated.

“Well guys,” Rooney said. “I’m signing off. Gotta be on the ramp at seven.”

Harry stood and shook Rooney’s hand. “Be safe.”

“Yeah, you too.” A knowing glance and a little smirk said it all.

“One more for the road?” he asked after he sat down again.

“One more and I’ll be sleeping in the road. And you don’t need a room there,” she said, grinning. “My room has a king.”

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (Covid-19) waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. To begin, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. 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. 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 (7)

Come Alive 1

Chapter 7

Taggart winced when the IV was mated to the port in his chest; the snapping sound it made unnerved him, the sharp sting on insertion was just icing on the cake.

He was sitting in a large room with what he guessed was a dozen or so other patients – people of all ages – all getting one kind of chemotherapy or another. Each and every one of them was laid out on brightly colored overstuffed recliners, and Taggart looked at all the others in the room feeling an underwhelming mixture of revulsion and self-pity. Their feet up, their eyes closed, he felt a passing wave of nausea as he imagined embalming fluid passing into all those veins.

‘We’re dead, all of us in this goddam room. We just don’t know it yet…’

The nurse hovering over him adjusted the drip on his IV and disappeared. There were a couple of cheerful magazines on a cheerful little table by his cheerful recliner but one quick glance confirmed his first impression: nothing in English so nothing cheerful to read. He pushed a button and laid back, closed his eyes…

‘Just like falling off a log,’ he remembered thinking…

Then he was walking down a dirt road. In a forest. Light snow falling. Wispy tendrils of snow on gray-brown leaves. Footsteps and the sounds of his breath the only music in this air. This air…? So far away, so long ago.

He searched memory, looking for this passage of time, this slice of life.

Yosemite. He was seven years old, his first trip to the park. Thanksgiving vacation. Walking through the woods with he father, only now he was alone. 

He turned, looked around, realized he was alone in the forest and he felt that same sudden panic every child experiences when ‘alone’ and ‘lost’ become the first words that come to mind.

Should I run? But where to? Where would I run? There’s no one here…

No, I’ll just keep walking. Got to keep moving. Forward. Always forward.

He heard a snapping twig, turned to face the noise. A fawn was circling aimlessly, the falling snow blending with the spots on his back. 

Then he saw a rattlesnake. Huge. Preposterously so.

And another careless fawn, wandering in circles with not a care in the world, comes face to face with death. In an instant the snake is coiling around the fawn, then squeezing tighter and tighter until life leaves the eyes of both predator and prey. The snake takes the fawn by the head and slowly begins to devour him.

He wants to run now but can’t, because he has to stop and watch this, look at one more pointless death. But no, is that right? If death is pointless, isn’t life pointless too? Aimless, wandering circles we must call our own?

He felt a presence by his side and opened an eye, watched as Dina Bauer talked to his nurse while a new bag of poison was fitted to the pump that was squeezing pure unmitigated shit into his veins. He turned away, closed his eyes – welcoming the looming darkness once again.

Then he felt the chair lurch, his feet lowering, his head coming up.

And Dina was beside him now, looking into his eyes. “How do you feel?”

“Like I just swallowed a squirrel.” Pointless. Another pointless joke. But that’s who I am…the Joker.

She smiled. “This dose was a little different than the first. You will feel some nausea this time.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Oh?”

“It just wouldn’t be chemo without vomiting and losing all my hair, ya know? Like my very own red badge of courage.”

She shook her head, smiled at his irreverence. “I wish you could experience saving just one life, Henry Taggart.”

“You mean…the people in the water don’t count?”

She hesitated, looked away. “No, I meant from a medical perspective. That you could experience saving a life through medicine. Then you might understand what it is I feel.”

“What makes you think I haven’t, Dina.”

She tossed a smug, sidelong glance his way. “Oh, truly? Well, this I’ve got to hear…”

“You want me to tell you? Here, now?”

“Of course. Please.”

He closed his eyes, found the memory…

“I was in graduate school. Working a couple of nights a week over at Hewlett-Packard, spending time with Steve Jobs on the weekends. I was living in a dorm that year. We were having a party, in the dorm. I’d brought some silicon blanks and a small laser…”

“What is this silicon blank?”

“Almost pure silicon, very thin and formed into a circle, three inch diameter. More reflective than a mirror.”

“Okay.”

“Anyway, we took the covers off a set of hi-fi speakers and I glued a blank on the dome of a woofer…”

“A what?”

“Woofer. It’s the speaker that reproduces all the bass notes in music.”

“Yes, okay. The big one, correct?”

“Yes. So, once the glue set we tilted the speaker and fired the laser into the blank, then we put on some Iron Butterfly. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The drum solo…”

She shrugged.

“Yeah? Okay, no biggie. So, anyway, the laser is bouncing along to the music and making all kinds of cool looking patterns on the ceiling…”

“This is going somewhere, I trust?”

“Yeah, it is. So, then we’re listening to Dark Side of the Moon and the first song, Speak to Me, starts out with this long recording of a heartbeat. So bingo, I’m gluing a blank on my roommate’s chest and I bounce the laser off that – and what’s on the ceiling? Well, it ain’t random, Dina. It looked almost exactly like an EKG tracing. Anyway, the idea hit me…let’s bounce the laser off a bunch of hearts, see if we could reproduce the results.”

“Did it work?”

“Yup. So, yeah, one of the people we did this to was a girl, and yes, we glued a blank on her chest, right between two of the most glorious, uh, well, you know…”

“Indeed I do. So, what happened next?”

“Well, we get a tracing but it looked different. Really different. Like one trace on top of another. So, it hits me, right? This is a girl and girls can have, well, you know, two hearts beating in there…”

“What?”

“You know, a fetus?”

“Ah.”

“So I put a blank on her belly and bounce the beam and pick up a fetal heart beat…which was really kind of cool because she didn’t even know she was preggers.”

“Preggers?”

“Pregnant.”

“Ah.”

“Still, we kept picking up subtle traces of the mother’s heartbeat, even on the belly. That was a problem, I guess, that I wanted to solve. I talked with some of the guys over in the medical electronics division about what I’d found and they were all stoked because at that time you couldn’t pick up a good fetal rhythm with a standard EKG. We started doing these laser bounce sessions over in the OB clinic at Stanford, and to make a long story a little less long I developed the very first working fetal ballistocardiograph. I hold the patent, too, though H-P made the rig. You guys could, with my little setup, diagnose major heart valve problems in-utero for the first time, and all because of Pink Floyd and little old me.”

“Pink who?”

Taggart shook his head. “Damn, Dina! And I take it you’ve never heard In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida before, right?”

She shook her head.

“That figures.”

“Well, I see you aren’t feeling too bad. If there are no…”

“Wait a minute, doc. You mean to tell me I just told you this whole tale about how I…”

“Oh, I’m very impressed, Henry. You amaze me, really.”

“Yeah. Right. So, you were saying?”

“You can make the afternoon shuttle down to Stavanger. I won’t need to see you here until next week.”

“So, I can make it to Oslo in a week, right?”

She seemed shocked. “You surely are not going to keep going, Henry.”

“Places to go, Dina. People to see. Paris by Christmas, remember?”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot go with you now.”

“I understand.”

“Is Eva going to stay with you?”

“I think so, for another week or so, then she’s going to stay with her parents.”

“How is the Parkinson’s?”

“Still manageable.”

“Is she a sailor?”

“No, not really.”

“You’re putting both Eva and the baby at risk, you understand?”

He sighed. “She doesn’t want to leave.”

“She doesn’t know you are ill, does she?”

“I told her a couple of days ago. She seemed overjoyed.”

“I’m certainly glad you didn’t knock up that reporter, too.”

“Don’t think she can doc, but would you like me to try?”

“Frankly, Henry, I’m not sure Britt could take the heartache.”

“Heartache? You’re kidding, right?”

Dina shook her head. “I do not know what she sees in you.”

“You mean, besides my dashing good looks and boundless charm?”

“Precisely.” She smiled, then turned suddenly and walked back into the hospital.

“Well, what a charming conversation that was, Henry. So glad you could join us today.” He looked down at his hands, saw the faint tremors and knew it was time for his other meds. 

+++++

Eva was below in his cabin when he got back to the Bandit; Clyde was snuggled up under her chin and didn’t even look up when Taggart stuck his head in the cabin and took a quick inventory of the state of the union onboard. With that score settled, he stepped down to the galley and put on some water and got his tea ready, then put a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster…

The flight to Stavanger on that hideous Dash-8 Q400 turboprop had, he felt, just about finished him off. The pencil shaped behemoth twitched and bounced on every little air current, and their final approach into the little coastal airport had felt like a ride on NASAs famed vomit comet. The flight was so nauseating that as soon as the wheels were firmly on the runway everyone onboard had burst out yelling and clapping, and for the first time ever he’d joined in.

Still, by the time his taxi had made it back to Egersund his legs had begun the violent jerking twitch that signaled medication time, and as soon as he got some toast down he took his evening dose. And almost immediately he regretted it.

This latest round of chemo had barely begun playing with him these last three or four hours, just hinting at the nausea to come; now, with his Parkinson’s med stuck about halfway down his throat the real fun seemed about to begin. He put on a heavy coat and a wool watch-cap and crawled up into the cockpit, settled in behind the wheel with his tea and looked at the docks.

His phone chirped and he saw it was Sigrid the Lawyer. “Hello…?”

“Are you at the boat? Still in Egersund, I hope?”

“Yup, still tied up – same place as last week.”

“Good. I’ll see you in a half hour.”

“Now…what’s this all about? Dropping off her bill, perhaps?” He heard the tikki-tik of Clyde’s nails on the companionway steps and a moment later his graying snout slid into view. “I bet you’re ready to go take a crap, right, Amigo?”

“Bark, bark…”

“Understood. Let’s get your leash on.”

They walked to the end of the marina grounds and Clyde circled twice then dumped a city-sized load on the grass. “Geeze, Clyde, you been eatin’ road kill? Man, that shit stinks…” He’d picked up the mastodon turds with a poop-sack and dumped them in the appropriate litter barrel – just in time to see the Lawyer-mobile skid to a stop in the parking lot. As before, her driver got out a wheelchair and she’d just motored down to Bandit’s stern as he walked up.

“Hello, Clyde,” she said, then she looked at Taggart. “Excuse me, but you do not look well.”

“I do not feel well. I feel like green eggs and ham, as a matter of fact.”

“Chemo today?”

He nodded.

“So, what are your plans now?”

“I’m going to head for Oslo in the morning.”

“Is that the best course of action?”

“I want to make it to Oslo in a week, so yes.”

“You will continue with the therapy there?”

“Sort of. I’ll keep moving – to Gothenburg the week after, maybe Copenhagen the next, then we’ll have to see how much of the candle I’ve burned.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, the plan is Paris for Christmas so I’ll be counting back from there. I’d like to go to Stockholm, take the Gotä Canal back to Gothenburg, then it’s the Kiel Canal to the German North Sea coast with a stop in Norderney, then the inland waterways in the Netherlands and Belgium, if time permits, on my way to the Seine.”

“That’s a lot of water under the keel, Henry. For anyone.”

“I hear you.”

“Do you? Anyway, I understand this other girl, Eva, will be staying with you until Oslo?”

“So, Dina is keeping you advised of my progress, I take it?”

“Yes. She is quite concerned.”

“Yes, well, that’s the plan.”

“I would advise against such a voyage. That is needless endangerment, and that violates the agreement you made with the Coast Guard.”

“Assuming they know, you mean?”

“You may assume they do know.”

“Ah, the lovely Dina strikes again.”

“Yes. That is why I rushed down here this evening. They have been advised. Given Eva’s lack of skill and the nature of the body of water you plan to traverse, you really should reconsider this – even without the agreement.”

“It’s that bad?”

“You know, Henry, just the fact you have to ask me that is a good indicator you have no idea what you are up against. But yes, it is that bad. And single handing around the cape is simple negligence…”

“So was single handing across the Atlantic.”

Sigrid nodded. “Point taken, however very few laws pertain to Atlantic crossings, while there are volumes of law concerning passages between countries in Scandinavian waters. Laws that date back more than 500 years, as a matter of record – just so we are clear. If you undertake such a voyage I will not be able to represent you.”

“So, what you are saying is…”

“In your current condition, you will need competent crew to undertake this voyage.”

“Uh-huh. And who do you recommend I call? Crews-R-Us?”

“No. Dina and Rolf.”

“But she told me…”

“She is waiting for your call, Henry. But she will not come with Eva onboard.”

“Oh, I see.”

“You are inside the eye of a hurricane, Henry. A very dangerous hurricane.”

“You know something, Sigrid. That woman keeps telling me she loves me, but she’s more like a Praying Mantis. She bites off her mate’s head after doing the deed…”

She shook her head. “Henry, there are three women in your little hurricane, and the hopes and dreams of a fifteen year old boy are bound up in all this, too. In some respects I do not envy you, yet from another perspective I find your situation most enviable.”

“You want to trade?”

She smiled, then shrugged. “Call me when you get to Oslo. I’d like to visit with you one more time before you leave Norway.”

“I will.” He took her hand and watched as she motored up to her Sprinter and disappeared inside, then he took out his phone and called Dina.

+++++

Taggart opened the Logbook to the last entry and read through it, then turned to a new page and began writing:

“Noon. Position N 57 46 by E 7 31, SOG 7 knots last two hours, COG 90 degrees mag., OAT 68F, Sea temp 55F Wind out of the west at 12 knots. Running with spinnaker on calm seas. Know I’m tempting Poseidon but you couldn’t ask for more benign weather to make this ‘dangerous’ trip. Rolf is beside himself flying the spinnaker for the first time, and Dina is doing a good job on the helm. I’ve been relegated to sitting in the shade as too much UV exposure is apparently not a great thing for chemo patients. Typical. Shipping traffic is heavy as we are in the shipping lanes so on constant watch, both visual and radar.”

He looked up from the chart table, first ahead then off to port – where he could just make out Ryvingen Lighthouse, now about ten miles away. He went down to the galley and grabbed a Dr. Pepper, then made his way up to the cockpit.

“Did you take your noon dose, Henry?” Dina said, smiling.

He shook his head. “I’ll get it next time I go below.”

She scowled and put Bandit on autopilot, then went below and got all his noon medications and brought them up. She handed them over and went back to the wheel, resumed scanning the horizon.

“You must’ve been a ship’s captain in your last life, Bauer.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah. The HMS Bounty.”

Rolf laughed as he eyed the spinnaker sheets. “Why is it so hot, Henry?”

“Well, think about it. The wind is coming directly from behind at about 10 knots, and we’re moving along about 7 knots. That means the wind over the deck is really only 3 knots, and the sun is directly overhead. So…if you don’t put some sunscreen on, you are going to look just like a boiled lobster tonight. Worse still, you are going to feel exactly like a boiled lobster.”

“Okay, okay. Can you watch the lines, please?”

“Sheets, Rolf. They’re called sheets.”

He grinned and ducked below.

“So, no submarines yet?” he asked Dina.

“And no whales. Very boring for you, I should imagine. No damsels in distress to rescue, or…”

“Yes, I think I see where you’re going with this.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what? Being angry and bitter, maybe even a little vindictive?”

“And what do you expect? In the course of one week you impregnate my daughter – and then, another woman…”

“Too bad you’re in menopause, eh? Could have had a trifecta.”

“You are incorrigible, Henry Taggart.”

“I do try.”

“Anyone want something to eat?” Rolf called from the galley.

“No thanks,” they both replied.

“God, to be fifteen again,” he sighed. “To sit in the sun and eat three cheeseburgers – guilt free. Those were the days.”

“I was never so lucky. Things were very difficult here after the war, until the oil boom, anyway.”

“It’s going to be very difficult for you this evening if you don’t put on some lotion.”

“I need some sun.”

“Dina, you’re past well done right now.”

“Okay, take the helm.” He flipped on the autopilot and scanned the horizon, saw a blip on the screen and pulled out the binoculars. A huge container ship, light blue hull and white superstructure, was on their reciprocal heading, heading right for them, so he adjusted their course a little to the right and adjusted the spinnaker sheets, then he tagged the ship on radar and set an variable bearing line alarm. A minute later the ship altered course to its right and he relaxed a little. A few minutes later they passed port-to-port, and then that target was gone, probably headed for Baltimore.

Dina came up a minute later with a bottle of sunscreen. “Would you do my back, please?”

“Sure. Did you check on Clyde?”

“Sound asleep, snoring a little.”

“That dog could sleep through the Second Coming of Elvis.”

“I could sleep through the Second Coming of Elvis,” she sneered.

“You don’t like Elvis?”

“No, not at all.”

“Figures. And yeah, I liked the movies, too.”

“I can see why. ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ What an imaginative title for a movie.”

“Succinct, to the point…what’s not to like?”

“I will never understand this male fascination with breasts. They are just udders, for crying out loud.”

“Well, I’ve seen a few that remind me of udders, but by and large…”

At that point Dina untied her bikini top and flung it into the sea. “There! See? What is the big deal?”

Taggart was mesmerized, entranced. 

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked.

“Because they’re perfect. In fact, I’ve never seen better.”

“Really? You like them?”

“Like them? Hell, I could get lost playing around right there,” he said, pointing at a nipple.

“Could I tell you something? A little secret?”

“Sure.”

“I’ve never had an orgasm,” she said.

“What? Never?”

“No, not once.”

“When’s the last time you had sex?”

“When Britt was conceived.”

“You never, uh, played a solo on the bone-a-phone?”

“What?”

“You know, like, uh, did the deed by yourself?”

“Good God No!”

“It’s not a mortal sin, you know?”

“It’s disgusting!”

“Disgusting? Really?”

“Yes. Completely.”

“Wow. I thought all you people died off in the sixties.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Prudes. I thought the sexual revolution took care of all you people.”

“I am not a prude!”

“Yes, you are.”

“I am not!”

“Are too.”

She put on a t-shirt and stormed off to the bow pulpit; a minute later Rolf came up carrying a huge sandwich. Taggart took one look at the thing and felt nauseated. 

“What is grandma-ma doing up there?”

“Looking for prudes.”

“Prudes? What is this?”

“Rare deep sea creatures, related to mermaids, I think – only with better knockers.”

“Knockers?”

“Tits, Rolf.”

“Ah. You know, I’ve never understood why some people are so fascinated with what is, really, just a milk gland?”

“Really, you don’t say? Well, tell Princess Leia up there I’m feeling a little under the weather, and I’m going below to take a nap.”

“Princess Leia…I like that!”

“I’m sure she will too.”

+++++

When his head hit the pillow he felt sleep racing inward, and he could just feel Clyde laying along his back, then Clyde’s face draped over his neck, and Taggart fell asleep with the pup’s nostrils beside his ears, the sounds of the dog’s breath filling his mind as sleep came to him. He was only vaguely aware of the spinnaker coming down, and within seconds he fell back into a deep sleep once again.

He felt a hand slipping inside his shorts a while later, and when he felt the quiet motions of a cool fondling hand his eyes jerked open. His cabin was in dim light, and then he felt his shorts sliding down his legs, a mouth drawing him inside that nether warmth. He looked down, saw Dina between his legs, and he watched her mouth bringing him close to the edge. She sensed the moment and he just knew she would pull away, but no, she took him all the way home, taking all he had to give, holding him inside her swirling ecstasy as he fell away.

She looked up, looked into his eyes.

“I was about to start dinner,” she smiled, “and I wondered if you might enjoy something to eat.”

He nodded, helped her straddle his face, and he took her all the way there. He felt the first tremor begin in the thighs, then as a fluttering in her belly. She was still shaking when she imploded and the remnants of her moment fell on him like a cool rain on hot pavement.

She was beside him in the next moment, her hands cupping his face while she said the most amazing things, words like rain to a soul as parched as Taggart’s, and when she left to make their dinner he knew something profound had passed between them. Something elemental, some kind of awakening he had never experienced before and, he knew, something that would never happen again.

He lay there listening to the sounds of the sea on the other side of the hull, to the gentle gurgling of water passing as Time Bandit made her way into the night.

‘What the hell just happened?’ he thought as he stepped into the shower and soaped away the evidence. He brushed his teeth then looked at himself in the mirror, all the while wondering who and what he was looking at. Then he brushed his hair and clumps came loose, clinging to the bristles as if they were clinging to life. He ran his fingers through his hair and more broke free…

“I am not going to cry,” he said as the shedded evidence of his death drifted free and settled on the floor.

He saw Clyde out of the corner of his eye and turned to face his newest friend. “Don’t worry, boy. I’m not going anywhere.”

But Clyde wasn’t buying it. He looked at Taggart for a while longer, then curled up on the bed and closed his eyes.

+++++

 The channel that led to Oslo was, essentially, a very long fjord. An almost sixty mile long fjord. 

Yet the city was surrounded by low, rolling hills, and not the jagged spires he’d found north of Bergen. The city itself seemed spread out along the shores of its massive harbor, yet, as Time Bandit approached the port Taggart could not see any of the industrial blight that surrounded most ports he had seen or been to before. Instead he saw the ramparts of old forts, ornate copper spires of church steeples, and an incredible array of sailboat marinas almost everywhere he looked.

“Man…this is a big city,” he sighed as they sailed past a cruise ship terminal in the city center. “I wasn’t expecting cruise ships…”

“A sign of the times, I suppose. I went to medical school here,” Dina added. “Oslo is a great city, but there have been growing pains. Still, I feel reborn just being here again.”

“I can see why,” Taggart said, eyeing the row of cruise ships with misgiving.

“Mom hardly ever brings us here,” Rolf added, looking at Henry. “There’s a great Indian place, though.”

“When is my appointment?” Henry asked, checking the boy’s expression.

“The day after tomorrow, at 0900.”

“Okay, Rolf, Indian it is, but – you’re buyin’!”

At the west end of the cruise ship terminal, Bandit approached the Kongen Marina and tied up outside the office. They were two days early for their reservation; Taggart hoped they’d have space available because the location looked decent for easily getting around the city. They were in luck, and Taggart arranged for an engine inspection and oil change while they were here. Bandit ended up tied off near a restaurant, a rowdy waterfront party-hearty place with loud music and tourists in Hawaiian shirts. Rolf and Dina worked on hosing down the deck and rinsing the sails with fresh water while Henry got shore power running, but he went below when his right arm twitched violently. When he came topsides again a genuinely huge motor yacht, complete with helicopter and two Donzi ski boats, pulled into the space located at the end of the T-shaped pier; several uniformed deck hands jumped onto the dock and began tying off the monster, while an engineer hooked up their own version of a shore power cord – which was about as big around as a sumo wrestlers thigh.

Taggart looked at the ship and shook his head. The thing had almost completely obscured the sun and now, instead of a nice harbor view, he now had a great view of the ship’s side mounted exhaust ports. And, as the engines were still running, he suddenly realized he was being gassed by the mega-tons of diesel exhaust spewing from those very same ports. He dove below and closed all the hatches and port lights, then the companionway hatch after he got back into the cockpit. He turned to Dina and Rolf, motioned to them to get clear of the fumes and they jumped to the dock, coughing all the way, while he carried Clyde. It took a half hour for the ship’s captain to turn off the engines, but by then the entire marina was awash in diesel fumes, and Rolf had to wash the decks again as diesel soot now covered everything.

“Let’s change and get out of here,” Taggart said, and they all went below to wash off the grime and change clothes, then they took a taxi into the city.

“You know,” Dina opined, “there are better restaurants here than Indian…”

“Probably so,” Henry tossed back. “And you get to choose tomorrow.”

Mollified, she sat back and looked at the city as they made their way to dinner.

“Do all big yachts stink so much?” Rolf asked.

Taggart shrugged. “I’ve heard the quality of the engine installation makes a big difference, also the quality of fuel, too, but I’ve never been docked next to one like that before. If we were asleep down below I’m not sure we’d survive without those carbon monoxide monitors. Which reminds me, I need to replace those back-up batteries tonight.”

After dinner, Dina took them to the old town and they walked the tourist trail for a while – until she looked at Henry and decided it was time to get him back to the Bandit and medicated. At one point his left leg jerked and he almost lost his footing, though Rolf caught him that time, and by the time they made it back to the marina his hands and head were jerking badly.

“I feel like one of those plastic dog statues with the bobbing heads people put on their dashboards,” he sighed. “Bet that makes a pretty sight.”

“I could hardly notice it,” Rolf said, now concerned.

“Nicely put, Amigo. I’ll make a liar out of you yet.”

Dina shook her head at that one.

He put his arms around Dina as they walked out the pier to Bandit, and the decks were once again coated in thick, oily soot. “Must be the cruise ships,” Taggart said, looking at the now empty terminal. “Four of those foul things leaving at one time must really crucify the air quality around here.”

By the time they were halfway out to Bandit he could see the Russian flag flying off the mega-yacht’s stern, and the interior of the upper saloon was pulsing with strobes and grinding heavy metal.

“Oh, this is just priceless,” he sighed as they stepped onto Bandit’s deck. “Anyone wanna dance?”

The music was blaring out here, next to the yacht, and there looked to be about two dozen people up there dancing – and snorting cocaine – but then Rolf laughed and pointed…

Taggart followed the finger to the ship’s flying bridge…

A guy and two girls were up there screwing, and another girl was filming the action. Dina stared wide-eyed at the display for a moment, then she told Rolf to go below…

“Bullshit,” Henry cried. “You’re depriving the boy of a decent, well rounded education. C’mon, Amigo. Find a good seat and I’ll give you the play-by-play. Dina? You wanna grab a couple of beers and join us?”

Scowling, she ducked below – but a minute later she came topsides carrying three bottles of non-alcoholic beer – and two bottles of medicine.

One of the girls was on her knees working the guy over pretty good; he was holding the second girl inverted so he could ‘eat at the Y,’ and the girls were yowling like alley cats in heat as they passed the guy’s tool between their waiting mouths. Then the girl on her knees hit the short strokes, commanding the guys full attention, and he returned the favor to the inverted girl – which produced a series of screams that sounded like a wailing air-raid siren…

Rolf was bug-eyed by that point, though he’d crossed his legs after a minute or so of the performance.

He whispered to Dina: “We need to get that boy laid. He looks like a tripod…”

Dina, taking a sip from her beer at the time, snorted and coughed – spraying the cockpit with beer before she ran below. He heard her down there: ‘is that laughter?’ he said to himself, grinning.

“That’s quite a show they’re putting on, ain’t it?”

Rolf nodded and grinned salaciously.

“You done the deed yet?”

“What?” 

“You know…the hunka-chunka…?”

“What is that?” the boy asked.

“Well, not to put too fine a point on things, but that…” Taggart said, pointing to the triptych on the boat next door, “is the hunka-chunka.”

“You mean, sex?”

“I mean sex.”

“No, no, not yet.”

“Not interested?”

“What? No…uh, I mean yes,” Rolf said, now completely flustered. “Excuse me? What was the question?”

“The hunka-chunka. You not interested in that stuff?”

“I’m interested,” he said, now looking at the world through very uncertain eyes.

“Ah. Well then.”

“What?”

“Oh, I was just thinking.”

+++++

They found out where to do laundry early the next morning and hauled a weeks worth of stuff up to the machines. They took Clyde to a park across the street and let him get reacquainted with all things leafy and green, and when that deed was finished Dina took them out to lunch at a place near the medical school. They gorged on smoked fish, cold salads and warm bread, all finished off with a beer for Dina and Coke for those either too young or medically disqualified. She led them on a short tour of her old stomping grounds, and Rolf seemed to get a little more than interested in all things ‘medicine’ after that. Taggart wanted to get a new sailing jacket and overalls – because his old set was gradually getting a little too large…

So, they found a Helly-Hansen store and he picked up a new set – that made him look just like a giant Norwegian flag, though maybe not quite flapping in the breeze. Then he found a knitted wool ski hat that actually looked just like a Norwegian flag flapping in a breeze, so the look was now complete. After a brief stop at a nautical chart store they made their way back to the Bandit – and just in time for the afternoon edition of ‘Let’s Go Screw on the Flying Bridge’ – Russian language edition. This broadcast included three men and at least a half dozen naked women – and one guest participant whose gender neither he nor Dina could readily identify. Rolf stared – really bug-eyed this time – as the show got underway, but Dina grabbed Taggart by the belt and hauled him below…

“Watching all that stuff is making me so horny,” she whispered in his ear.

“Well, okay, but do you wanna do it down here, or go up top and really get into the spirit of things?”

…but she was ripping his shorts off by then… 

“Right,” he said. “I keep forgetting you’re the shy, retiring type…”

…and then she got to work…

“And into sword-swallowing too, I see…”

+++++

The IV snapped into his port with a startling crack, then the gorgeous nurse set flow rates and helped him lay back in the recliner. Here – as in Bergen – the infusion room was packed with patients getting chemotherapy, only there must’ve been fifty chairs in this one. And almost every chair was occupied.

“What’s going on here?” he asked the nurse. “Some kind of cancer epidemic?”

She turned and looked around the room. “It’s not so bad today. Most mornings every chair is taken. All of these will have someone in them by ten. Then the afternoon appointments start at 1300.”

“Jesus…how come so many?”

She shrugged. “Maybe because there are so many cancers – different kinds, I mean. And now so many people are exposed to things they weren’t a hundred years ago.”

“What’s the cancer you treat the most here?”

“Oh, breast cancer, by a large number. This is what you have, no?”

“Yes, I drew the lucky number and got it too.”

“Not so lucky, I think. You look pale, but your numbers do not look so bad. They added Avastin to your series today. Did they discuss side effects?”

“Briefly, yes.”

“Then you know what to expect, no?”

“Nothing good.”

“You won’t feel bad today, maybe tomorrow, as well. You are American, are you not?”

“I am.”

“Why here, and not at home?”

“My sailboat is my home.”

“Really? How amazing. You sailed here?”

“I did.”

“I was watching on television about an American who rescued a member of parliament near Bodø…”

“Yup, that was me.”

“Really? You are a great celebrity, then!”

“That, on the other, is not me.”

“What?”

“I am not a celebrity, great or otherwise.”

“Ah, yes. I see. But, you keep on sailing?”

“Yup. Kind of like The Flying Dutchman.”

“I do not know about this.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Are you depressed?”

“Depressed? No, not at all. In fact, I’m having the time of my life.”

“You are joking, yes?”

“No, I am serious. I am having a great time.”

“But…”

“No buts. I just am. Sorry if that sounds obtuse…”

“Obtuse?”

“Insensitive. Nobody lives forever, darlin’. Might as well go out with a bang, ya know?”

“But, the treatments…”

“Yeah, I got the gist of all that. Say, why don’t you come down to the boat tonight. There’s someone down there just dying to meet someone like you?”

“Like me? Really?”

“Yeah. Let’s call it a blind date…if you’re not doing anything, I mean.”

“No, no…I can come.”

“Excellent. What time can you come?”

“After work…maybe around 1800?”

“Perfect. What kind of food do you like?”

“You know, Indian is my favorite.”

“Really? How ‘bout that.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh…nothing. I was just thinking…it’s been a while since I had decent Indian. Do you know a good place?”

“Yes, there are several in the city.”

“Well, I can’t wait.”

+++++

He felt like Hell warmed over, and for some reason his calves and ankles hurt most of all.

“It’s the Avastin,” Dina told him. “It cuts off vascularization around tumors, so with no blood supply they can’t grow. The down side is that it seems to effect healthy veins too, especially in the peripheral vascular network…”

“I think it’s charming that you assume I know exactly what you just said.”

“But…you do, do you not?”

“Yeah, I mean in a general sense. The mechanisms behind all that…? I doubt I’d understand that.”

“And I won’t bore you with the details. How is the nausea this time?”

“That new drug seems to be helping.”

“Good. Are you sure you want Indian food again?”

“Yup. The truth of the matter is, well, my chemo nurse is coming down to join us?”

“What? Why…?”

He pulled her close and whispered in her ear. “I just thought Rolf could use the distraction, ya know? After the performance our Russian acrobatic team put on last night…”

“You are terrible…”

“Thank you very much,” he said, grinning. “Besides, if Rolf strikes out, well, I’ve always wanted to try a three-way.”

She shook her head, then ducked below to put on some tea. She came back up to the cockpit a few minutes later with two cups and a plate of scones.

“Did you bake these?”

“Yes, of course. Blueberry and walnut.”

He broke off a corner and halfway expected a wave of nausea to hit – but no, nothing. He ate an entire scone and had two cups of tea, and still with no reaction, so he felt hopeful the night would go as planned.

Her name was Astrid and from first contact Taggart could tell that Rolf was smitten. Meaning: Rolf turned into a typical fifteen year old, which is to say he turned into a tongue-tied clumsy oaf. He tried to impress the girl with stories of his exploits on the sea – showing off, in other words – and Taggart could tell Astrid was amused but not impressed – and for all the wrong reasons. At one point she got up to go to the WC and Taggart went to work.

“Rolf, you got to ease off, man. Be yourself but don’t lay everything out there. Ask her about the things she likes, because girls get really bored listening to guys talk about how great they are.”

“Okay, got it…”

Taggart had to give the kid credit. Rolf listened. He asked questions. He found common ground, and as a result the second half of their evening turned kind of fun.

“So, where are you going next?” Astrid asked Rolf.

“I’ve got three more weeks of vacation, then it’s back to school time. Henry, are we headed to Gothenburg next?”

“Yup. Round three of chemo there, then we are going to transit the Trollhätte Canal, then the Göta Canal on our way to Stockholm.”

“That sounds amazing,” she said. “I wish I could go on a trip like that.”

“Me too,” said the fifteen year old – now experiencing a flooding tide of testosterone.

Taggart bit his lip, Dina put her hand on his thigh and squeezed.

“When are you leaving Oslo?” Astrid asked.

“The day after tomorrow,” the suddenly hopeful fifteen year old said, testosterone now oozing out of his eyes and ears.

“I’d have to call and ask my supervisor.”

“Perhaps you could call her now?” Taggart asked; he felt Dina’s fingernails digging into his flesh.

“You wouldn’t mind if I came?”

Rolf was now sitting in a spreading puddle of the stuff, his eyes spinning like saucers, drool forming at the corners of his mouth…

“No, of course not,” Henry added. “We’d love you to come.” Dina’s fingernails were now drawing blood.

Astrid pulled out her phone and called into work. “I know it’s short notice, but it is such a wonderful opportunity…”

Rolf’s eyes rolled and disappeared from view.

“I can! Really! Ooh, thanks very much…”

Taggart looked at Rolf, wondered if his Parkinson’s meds would help control the kid’s sudden tremors…

Astrid put away her phone. “Well, I can come!”

“Excellent!” Taggart cried. “What do you say to that, Rolf?”

“Uh, may I be excused, please?” the kid said as he bolted for the head.

“Oh…this is just excellent!” Taggart added. “And Rolf is such a good teacher, too. You’ll be a great sailor in just a few days!” He turned to Dina and leaned close, whispered in her ear: “Any harder and you’ll hit an artery.”

She smiled, batted her eyes a few time while she nodded. “You are a devil, Henry Taggart,” she whispered – in Latin.

“Be careful what you ask for,” he replied in kind – and in Latin, as luck would have it. Then he turned to Astrid: “Do you have any sailing gear?” he asked.

“A bikini. Does that count?”

“Excellent! That’s just – perfect!”

Leaving Dina to smile before she spoke up: “Perhaps you could swing by tomorrow. We’ll need to pick up a few things for you before we leave.”

Rolf returned to the table, his face red, his palms sweaty.

“You feeling okay there, Sport?” Henry asked.

“Yes, very much so. Thank you for asking.”

“Excellent!” Taggart said to the world, smiling once again – just for the hell of it.

They dropped Astrid off at her home and made it back to the Bandit in time, hopefully, for one last performance by the Russian acrobats – but the yacht was gone and Rolf was devastated.

“This has been a real educational trip for you, hasn’t it?” Taggart asked.

“I suppose so, but could I ask you a question?”

“Fire away.”

“How old were you when you did it the first time?”

“Oh, geez, I think I was in college…or maybe I was still in high school. That’s funny…I really don’t remember.”

“If it was a big deal you’d remember, right?”

“Well, it can be a big deal, Rolf, and in a good way, or you can take a devastating emotional hit and that’s a lot harder to get over.”

“What was yours like?”

Taggart shook his head. “Like I said, I really can’t remember, so it must not have made much of an impression on me. The truth of the matter is, Rolf, I never really did it all that much. I think I convinced myself that I was just too busy to be bothered…”

“Do you regret that now?”

Taggart thought for a moment then nodded. “Yeah. You know, I think I do. I missed out on a lot by keeping to myself, but on the other hand I was able to stay focused on my work. Maybe that was a trade off I was willing to make, and maybe because it just never seemed fair to me to have a parent who was focused on work all the time. The kid takes second place, and that’s not right.”

“Your dad was a lawyer, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What did your mother do?”

“She was a doctor, a physician.”

“So, like my mom, right?”

Taggart nodded. “Yeah.”

“She works all the time, hardly ever gets home while I’m still up.”

“It’s gotta be hard being a single mom.”

“I guess. Still, I sometimes feel like she’d be better off if I wasn’t around.”

“Really? I never got that impression.”

“Henry?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you going to die soon?”

“Well, not tomorrow, but yeah, pretty soon.”

“I’d like to stay with you. Until, you know…”

Taggart looked down, shook his head. “Yeah. I know what you mean. Still, you’ve got a responsibility to yourself now, Amigo, and not just to your family…”

“But you’re a part of my family now too, Henry. I mean, think about it. My mother is going to have your baby, and that baby is going to be my brother or sister. See what I mean?”

“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about that a lot myself.”

“My father is gone, Henry. Now, you’re the closest thing I’ve got to having a father in my life.”

Taggart nodded. “Here’s something to think about, Rolf. After I’m gone, you are going to be the strongest link your little brother – or sister – has to me.”

“Then that’s another good reason why I should stay here with you.”

“Maybe. So, tell me…what did you think of Astrid?”

“She’s hot, man. I mean, really-really hot.”

“As a firecracker, Amigo.”

Then the boy was in his arms, holding on for dear life, deep sobs muffled through layers of clothing…

Then his words hit, like a body blow: “Don’t die, Henry. Please don’t die…”

He felt himself choking up, and through tear-rippled eyes he saw Dina in the shadows of the companionway, maybe halfway up the steps – but she stopped just then, and suddenly she was staring at Henry. He held the boy to his chest, felt the hot anguish in the boy’s tears and he closed his eyes.

When he opened them a moment later Dina was gone. He heard her down below, talking on the telephone, and he could only guess what was coming next. 

© 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 (6)

Come Alive 1

Chapter 6

Sigrid Grieg was a whirlwind, a real force of nature. She arranged for a hearing with Coast Guard officials and the matter was settled in a couple of hours. Still, the whole affair left Taggart with a sour feeling in the pit of his stomach. Even so, the entire incident was, oddly enough, hardly the most hard-to-swallow event of his week in Egersund. No, that honor belonged to Eva Forsgård, the woman who had fallen off Time Bandit and who he had rescued – after their little swim with Killer Whales.

He was a little curious when Dina Bauer handed Eva’s contact information over to him, but had thought little about it until Sigrid left in the wee hours after their first meeting. He looked at the number, then at his watch, and decided he’d call her in the morning. And he did call, just before noon the next day. She asked how he was doing, then she wanted to know if she could visit with him on the boat. She had, she said, something she needed to talk to him about.

As it happened Eva Forsgård arrived a few hours after the Norwegian Coast Guard rendered their verdict and freed Time Bandit from her shackles. Henry had felt like celebrating until he saw the woman walking down to the marina; Eva seemed careworn and vaguely depressed – and she was alone. He stepped off the Bandit and helped her up the swim steps, and she accepted his offer of tea. When he came back up to the cockpit he found that she had discovered Clyde, or maybe it was the other way around. She had bent over to say hello and Clyde had promptly sat in front of her and started licking her face.

“Well, that’s a first,” he said as he passed a cup of tea over the pup’s head. “I’ve never seen him take to someone like this before.”

“He wasn’t here when I was aboard last month, was he?”

“No. He found me in Bergen.”

“He found you?”

“Yes. He was alone, wandering the streets. That’s how he found me.”

“I see.”

“Do you? Excellent!”

“I keep forgetting…you are the comedian.”

“I hope you’ll pardon me saying so, but it sure looks like you could use a comedian right about now.”

She nodded. “You are right. I could.”

“Okay, look. I’m not a mind reader. Please come right out and tell what’s the matter.”

She looked away for a moment, at least until Clyde licked her on the chin again, then she smiled and rubbed the pup’s neck for a moment. “You are a good boy, I can tell already,” she said, and Clyde promptly laid down and rolled over, presenting his belly.

“That’s amazing,”Taggart said. 

“What is?”

“When they lay down in front of you like that they want their belly rubbed. It’s like the ultimate sign of acceptance.” Eva began rubbing Clyde’s belly and the old boy groaned, and this caused taggart to smile. “Man, have you made a friend today,” he added.

“I could use a new friend, Henry.”

He heard the words, felt the pain behind them. “What’s happened?”

“Peter has left me.”

“What? Why?”

“I think because we, you and I, made love after the encounter.”

“But how could he possibly know that?”

“Because I am pregnant, and it turns out that Peter cannot have babies.”

Taggart scratched the tip of his nose and blinked a few times as he reacted to the news. “And you’re saying that I’m, like, the father, right?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Anything positive would be greatly appreciated.”

“Well hell, better late than never, darlin’!” he said, standing up and grinning like a madman. “Goddam!” he screamed at the top of his voice. “I’m gonna be a dad! Fuckin’-A! Alright!”

“You are not angry?”

“Angry? Are you kidding me? Damn, woman, stand up and hug me! Fast!”

And she did, too.

The three of them walked up to the Thai restaurant for some soup (and sliced steak) and he let her talk and talk. Peter had been grievously offended by the whole affair, she told him, then he had asked that she make arrangements to live someplace else. The problem was therefore quite simple. She wanted to see how Henry felt about the baby before she decided what to do about it.

“What do you mean, what to do about it?”

“It is still time. I could terminate this now with little risk of harm to myself.”

“Well, yeah, but the kid might not like it so much.”

She nodded. “True, but I am not so sure I want to raise a child by myself. I know that may be considered selfish, but…”

“But it is your decision. And I understand.”

She nodded. “What was most important to me was your reaction. What you want. Because I have always thought that the father should help choose in a situation like this.”

“You do know that I am ill, right?”

“No? You are with illness?”

“Yes, very much. Cancer.”

“You are being treated, correct?”

He shrugged. “A little, but mainly to prolong my life a little.”

“A little? what does that mean?”

“It means I hope to make it to Christmas.”

He could see it in her eyes, on her face. As in: Balloon, meet Hatpin. 

Her eyes turned red first, then the skin over her nose went through the visible spectrum to crimson. Her left eye began twitching, then the left margins of her lips. Tears repressed gave way to a sudden, deep gulping-sob, and he realized that not once since his diagnosis had anyone reacted quite like this, but the other patrons in the restaurant looked at him like he was Satan incarnate, which somehow only made the moment that much more confusing. Then Clyde got in on the act and stood with his front paws on her lap – and the real slobber-fest got underway.

There was nothing he could do now so he sat back and waited for Clyde to finish, then he paid the bill and helped her out of her seat. Once she was out in the fresh air she calmed a little and Clyde walked along pressed into her thigh – as if he alone was capable of holding her up, of helping her face the gales of human folly.

Once back onboard Taggart ran below and put on his favorite Sinatra-Jobim CD, then he dashed topsides and held her up – until she felt him dancing. She put one hand around his waist, the other on his shoulder, then she leaned into him, her face on his chest…and there they danced around the deck under their very own dome of starlight, just a little bit of stardust ready to fuse in the night.

Clyde looked at them and smiled at the unavoidable consequences of being human. Oh, how he loved life that night.

+++++

“What was that song you sang to last night?” she asked as they lay together the next morning.

“Dindi, I think.”

“I could have danced all night,” she sang, smiling to a tune all her own.

“Ah. My Fair Lady. And yes, you are indeed.”

“Am I?”

He rolled over and kissed her again. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” he whispered.

“Do what?”

“A little moonlight serenade all my own. To dance the night away on the foredeck with the most beautiful woman in the universe right there in my arms.”

“I wish you weren’t joking with me now,” she sighed, still smiling.

“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he whispered in her ear. “I’m not.”

She kissed him. Again and again and in all the right places. “What will become of us, I wonder?” she asked.

He waved his hand over the bed and laid back, content. “Stardust, darlin’. We go on to infinity through the night.”

“Is it really so simple?”

“Clyde? What do you think?”

The pup jumped up on the berth, his tail wagging.

“I know that look, Clyde. You ready to go for a walk?”

That got two barks.

“Yup. Better get your clothes on, darlin’. Nature’s calling in the worst way imaginable.”

He snapped the lead onto Clyde’s collar and led him up the companionway steps, then across the aft deck to the steps, and he saw the little VW sedan just then.

Right behind Time Bandit.

Britt behind the wheel.

Alone.

And then Eva came up the steps and into the full light of day.

He stood, transfixed. Suddenly unsure of himself and of his place in this muddy little corner of the universe. But there was nothing to do now: he let Clyde follow the path of least resistance and simply went along for the ride. He heard a car door open and close and watched Clyde as he went from tree to tree, spreading his scent as he made his way along his anointed rounds. Clyde circled once and squatted and Taggart looked up at the sky, watched clouds racing along and that was where he wanted to be in that moment. Free as a bird to dance among the clouds…

They were waiting for him when he and Clyde returned. He walked right past them, took Clyde below and put kibble in his bowl, then he turned to face the music.

“So, what brings you here today?” he said to Britt.

“Henry, Eva and I have already spoken about her situation…”

“Her situation?”

“Her pregnancy, Henry. There is, however, one thing we did not get a chance to talk about.”

“And…that is?”

“I too am pregnant, Henry. And you, too, are the father.”

Taggart tried to smile. He tried to think of some kind of pithy comment that would help him evade the essence of the moment, but for once he came up dry.

“You didn’t, by any chance,” Britt continued, “screw my mother, too? Please, Henry, tell me that you did not do this, because I’m not sure I would know how to understand this.”

He stood there – mute and motionless – trying to understand the hostility in her voice. “You’re going to have my baby?” he just managed to say before his eyes began filling with tears. “Really?”

She nodded. “Yes, I am having your baby, my poor, dear Henry.”

“And you,” he said, now looking directly at Eva, “you’re going to have my baby, too?”

“Yes, Henry. This is the truth.”

“Well, well, well…don’t that beat all. I go sixty some-odd years firing blanks and then all of a sudden I’m shootin’ bullseyes.” He looked up at the sky and grinned. “Hey, Dad! Grandkids! You got that? Two of ‘em coming right down the chute!”

He walked over and scooped them up, held them both as close as could be, under the circumstances, anyway.

Clyde chose that moment to amble up the companionway steps, and the first thing he saw was an additional woman wrapped around Henry and that probably confused the old boy. In any event, Clyde walked up to Henry and lifted a leg. 

Taggart had heard the tikki-tik of Clyde’s claws on the steps so knew he was standing there. He did not, however, expect the stream of hot piss running down his legs and into his shoes.

“Thank you, Clyde. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.”

+++++

He was sitting in the Oncology waiting room, waiting.

A nurse called his name and took him back to Dr. Bauers office.

Once there, he waited some more.

And then Dina came. Lovely, furious Dina.

“I’m surprised to see you, Mr. Taggart.”

“Oh, are you?”

“I am. I thought you might have fled directly to Paris.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“So, what can I do for you today?”

“Well, it appears that I’m going to be a father. So, I’d like a little more life, please.”

“I see. Just like that. Please, Doctor Bauer, I want to live.”

“Something like that, yes.”

She laughed, turned away from him as she shook her head. “How very small you are, Henry Taggart. And here I thought you were content to joke your way through the few remaining breaths of your life, but no! Life has finally come to you, hasn’t it, Henry Taggart? And only now do you want to live? When before…?”

“Can you help me, Dina?”

“Of course I can help you, Henry. I’m hopelessly and helplessly in love with you, you stupid fool, but I’ve told you that a hundred times already. And I can’t do anything now but help you. I’ve been away from you for a week and I feel myself dying a little more with each passing moment. So yes, Henry Taggart, I will do everything I can to help you live. To help you see your children, to hold them and love them.”

He was too stunned to breathe, to even blink an eye, though he did start crying.

She came to him, kissed away his tears.

“There’s just one little problem, my dearest Henry. In order to buy you a little more life, I am going to have to kill you just a little…”

© 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. 44

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 44

As he knew it would, Fujiko was underwhelmed by his old apartment near Fisherman’s Wharf. It was dowdy even on the best days; now, after being empty for months on end – and with just a few days spent there during that period – the place was a petri dish of dust and mold. The toilet in particular looked like some kind of science experiment gone bad, yet the refrigerator took top honors. It smelled like Callahan had been keeping dead bodies stashed inside, and the look of horror he saw in her eyes told the story.

“Do we have to stay here?” she asked, a sugar-coated note of exasperated dread in her voice.

“No, of course not. I just need to get a few things, then. Uh…wait a minute.”

“Harry? What is it?”

“I just remembered. I don’t own a car.”

She laughed. “You do not remember such things?”

“I’ve always had a take-home car from the department when I needed it. I just, well, I’ve never really needed one, and when I do need to get around the city I usually take the cable car, or in an emergency call a taxi.”

“How do you get out to your house?”

“I usually ride with Frank. They live right next door.”

“Next door? Really?”

“Well, it’s a couple hundred yards between houses, but yes, next door.”

“So, you need a car.”

“Well, do you drive?”

“Yes. I still have my California drivers license, though it expires soon.”

“Well, then we’ll need two cars. Anything float your boat?”

“Float my boat. I have not heard that in years. Isn’t Frank knowledgeable about such things? He could help you pick out a car, couldn’t he?”

“If I wanted to buy a Porsche or a Ferrari, yeah, he’s exactly the person I’d talk to.”

“So, what would be best for you?”

Callahan shrugged. “You know, I’ve never really been into that scene, so I never really cared. I think all I do care about is safety. You know, how a car holds up in an collision, that sorta thing.”

“I always thought Mercedes and Volvo had the best reputations for safety. Are there dealers around the city?”

“There are probably more MB dealers in San Francisco than there are hamburger joints.”

“So, they will be easy to get repaired if needed. What about Volvo?”

“I don’t know. Probably about the same.” He stopped and thought for a moment, to Davos and the car Avi kept at the house. “I wonder if there’s a Land Rover dealer here…?”

“Pardon me asking, but where can we get a cheeseburger, please?”

“You really love those things, don’t you?”

She nodded a really big yes to that question. “Very much so. It is not possible to get a good cheeseburger in Japan. I have missed them terribly, and the ones on the ship were not so good.”

“It’s not possible to have a good burger on a cold bun. Got to be toasted on the griddle.”

“So?”

“Yeah. Joe’s Cable Car. Best burgers in the city.”

“Could we go now please?”

“Yup. Let’s do it!” He looked at her kind of cross-eyed, wondered where this craving had come from. “Joe’s was real close to home when I was growing up,” he said as they walked down the stairs to the street, “so it’s like comfort food whenever I go back. Brings back a lot of memories.”

They took a taxi and as soon as they were seated she ordered an eight ounce burger ‘all the way,’ while Callahan got his usual four ounce with avocado and jalapeños. When she said she wanted a second burger Callahan did a double-take: “You sure about that?”

“I feel like I am starving!”

Once that was ordered he went to the payphone out back and flipped through the Yellow Pages. He located a Land Rover dealer up on Van Ness and went back to the table, where he watched her wolf down the second burger faster than the first. He shook his head, wondered what was going on, then they took a taxi for the short drive to the dealer.

He saw a Range Rover on the floor, kind of a dark slate blue color and they walked over to it. He sat behind the wheel and saw it was a manual transmission and shrugged. Still, the seats felt decent enough and there was tons of room for stuff in the back.

“Wanna take one for a spin?” a grinning salesman asked.

“Might as well,” Harry said. “That why we came here.”

“We’ll have to take a demo if that’s okay with you.”

Callahan shrugged. Fujiko scowled at the interior. “What do you think?” Callahan asked her.

“It looks like a truck.”

The salesman smiled. “It is, in a way. Not the most comfortable thing on the road, but good enough on the highway. Let me get a key and we’ll take one for a ride.”

“Harry, do they use these in Africa, on those trips to see animals?”

Callahan shrugged. 

“Toughest things on the road, Ma’am,” the salesman said. “All the big safari outfits use ‘em, too.”

“Ah, I see.”

“By the way, may name is Bill Pattison.”

“Harry Callahan, and this is Fujiko. She’s visiting from Japan.”

“Now, y’all follow me. The one we’ll drive is a different color but otherwise it’s the same.”

‘This one’ was fire engine red, and the salesman started it up and opened the hood. “This one has the V-8 gas engine, a short block Buick, and so does the one on the floor. Both have a 5-speed, but we have that blue one with an automatic if you’d rather. That one has an ivory interior.” He shut the hood and took them around to the back. “Good cargo space, if that’s a big deal to you.”

“Do you sell extended warranties?” Harry asked.

“Yes, of course. Would you like to take this one out on city streets or out on the highway?”

“Both.”

“You know, pardon me for asking, but you look familiar to me; were you over in ‘Nam?”

“Yes,” Harry said, instantly on guard.

“You flew Chickenhawks out of C-Med, around Hue City, that kinda stuff, right?”

“Yes, I did.”

“I was on a mission with you once, on that radiologic thing up in the mountains.”

Callahan turned and looked at the guy, but then shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t remember much about that day.”

Pattison nodded knowingly; you never talked about Black Ops, not ever. “No reason you should. I just vaguely remember waiting for you and some kind of specialized bird. I was one of your escorts that day. That was some weird stuff, ya know? Hated that TS shit. Ooh, pardon me, Ma’am.”

Fujiko bowed. “I understand.”

“Glad I’m not doing that anymore,” Callahan said.

“So, how are you on a stick? Or should I get the automatic and pull it around.”

“Let’s try this one first.”

They drove both cars and Callahan settled on the blue with the ivory interior, the one with the automatic transmission. “Would you like to talk with the sales manager about financing?”

“I’d just like your best price, including the longest warranty you sell in the numbers.”

“Okay. Gimme a couple of minutes.”

“So,” he said to Fujiko, “what do you think?”

“It’s comfortable but loud. Other than that, I love it.”

Harry laughed. “Yeah. You need a Mercedes alright.”

“Harry?”

“Yes?”

“I am hungry again.”

He looked at his watch; it hadn’t been an hour since they’d left Joe’s. “Okay.” He went to an office and called his physician’s office, asked if he could bring a new patient by that afternoon. They told him to come on and they’d squeeze him in, then went back to the showroom floor. 

Pattison was waiting for him with a price.

“Is that the best you can do?” Harry asked.

“Maybe I can get a little more…?”

“Try about two more and we’re good.”

Pattison walked off and Fujiko came to him. “My mouth is very dry,” she said..

“Okay.”

“Should I be concerned?”

“I’ve called my doctor’s office. We’re headed there next.”

“Okay,” she said as she took his hand; and he noticed her skin felt like ice now.

Pattison came back and the price was right. “How long to get her ready, do the paperwork and all that jazz?”

“What about financing?”

“Nope. Not necessary.”

“Oh, well in that case about an hour or so. Feel free to wait…”

“We’ll be back in a couple of hours,” he said as he handed over a check. “And Bill, there’s something I want to talk with you about. Are you free for dinner?”

“Yeah, sure. I’d like that,” Pattison said, looking at Fujiko and getting the picture.

“Okay, see you in a bit.” Once outside Callahan hailed a taxi and they were at the doctor’s office ten minutes later. He filled out all the paperwork for her and went to the exam room with Fujiko. His physician asked to look her over without him in the room and he returned to the waiting room; a nurse came for him a few minutes later and he rejoined Fujiko and his physician.

“I don’t think it’s a big problem, Inspector. Probably thyroid, maybe a benign pituitary issue. We’ve drawn some blood and I’ll have a better idea tomorrow morning. I’ll send you along with a couple of pills to take tonight – with food! – and you call me mid-morning – I should have the results by then. That sound alright?”

“Thanks, Doc. And I retired from the force last month, so no more of that Inspector Callahan stuff, okay?”

“Well, congratulations are in order, I hope.”

It hit Callahan on the cab ride back to the dealership…he wasn’t a cop anymore. He couldn’t ‘carry’ with impunity anymore. He couldn’t do a lot of things he was used to doing, and that thought echoed in his mind as the taxi made its way through the heavy afternoon traffic.

The Rover was washed and waxed and ready to go when they returned, and Pattison was waiting with some paperwork to be signed as well as the car keys. Harry signed everything, arranged to have the plates sent to his apartment and turned to Pattison. “How about Trader Vics at seven?”

“Never been. Is it any good?”

“Food is good. Booze is even better.”

“Okay, sounds fun. See you there.”

“You know what?” Harry said to Fujiko and Pattison. “I think this is my first car?”

“What?” they both said.

“I’ve never had to buy one before – just for me, anyway. Isn’t that weird?”

“Well, then I guess congratulations really are in order,” Pattison said. “I’ll buy the first round!”

They shook hands and Callahan drove unsteadily through the city. “It feels different,” he said, “from what I’m used to.”

“Perhaps that is because this is the same size as that cement truck,” Fujiko said, pointing at a construction site.

“It’s not that big…!?”

“Oh, I think maybe you need to think carefully before making statements like that. This truck weighs more than two Hondas.”

“Fujiko…I weigh more than two Hondas.” He drove to his insurance agent and signed up for insurance, “another first,” he said to his agents surprise, then they drove up to Trader Vics. Pattison was waiting for them at the bar, nursing his “second or third” Samoan Fog-cutter and already slurring a few words…

“Sounds like your third,” Callahan said, grinning. “Have you had a Suffering Bastard yet?”

“No-o-o? Howzdat?”

“Man, it’s just the thing you need. C’mon, let’s get you to a table while you can still stand.”

He ordered Cosmos Tidbits and turtle soup all around, a Bastard for Pattison, a green tea for Fujiko, and a Mai-tai for himself. “Be careful when you drink that thing, Bill. And whatever you do, don’t slam it down.”

“Right. So, I’m curious. What did you want to talk about?”

“Helicopters.”

“Helicopters?”

“You done any flying since the war?”

“Yeah. I’m still in the reserves, though most of the stuff I’ve done recently has been with firefighters up in Idaho and Montana. Forest Service stuff, I guess…”

“So, you’re still current?”

“Yeah? Why?”

“What do you think about the idea of starting up an air taxi service here in the city?”

“It’s been tried. Undercapitalized, lasted a few months.”

“Okay, so how would you make it work?”

Pattison realized this was not the evening to get drunk as soon as he realized Callahan was serious. “First off, the real need around here is for firefighting birds up around Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes. In the winter you could use the birds to shuttle skiers around the backcountry or shift them to work tourist operations around Big Sur or Napa. Man, you serious about this?”

“I am.”

“Well, most of the other operators failed because they just didn’t have enough equipment. Maintenance as well as aircraft. Paying outside FBOs to work on their JetRangers ate their breakfast. What you’d need is a fixed base and a maintenance facility, and you’d need enough aircraft to justify the scale of such an operation.”

“But the need is there, right?”

“Oh, yeah. Not to mention you got pilots crying for work, same with all the hanger apes you’d ever need. If I was gonna do it, I’d start up here in the city, but I’d also look at Mariposa and Mammoth, maybe even South Lake Tahoe. And I wouldn’t buy new JetRangers, either. I’d get a bunch of low hour Hueys to work the mountains, and I’d put my money into that new Sikorsky, the S-76. Maybe a couple of them.”

“You’ve thought a lot about this, haven’t you?”

“Man, you can daydream a lot sitting behind a desk in a car dealership.”

“You know Rooney, over at the Presidio?”

“Mickey? Hell-yeah. We’ve flown a lot together. You know him?”

Callahan nodded. “I heard through the grapevine his injury…”

“Yeah, they aren’t offering a re-up this year. He’s in the dumps about it, too. Big time.”

“Think he’d be up for this?”

“Man, if you’re really serious I’ll call him right now. He could be here in fifteen minutes.”

“Fujiko? Do you mind?”

She smiled. “I am most interested in what is happening tonight, so please, go ahead. I am not offended.”

He leaned over and kissed her cheek, then asked how she was feeling with the new medicine.

“Much better, thank you.”

An hour later Callahan had decided on both the framework and scale of the proposed operation. Next, he’d need to look for a potential operating base, but Rooney already had several good ideas on that score so Harry decided to let him run with it. Pattison knew pilots and maintenance types all around the western United States, so that end was covered, too. And Callahan had already decided to check and see if Don McCall down in Alpine was interested. So…

With all that water under the bridge, Callahan toasted the new venture with several rounds of Suffering Bastards. Fujiko drove back to the apartment and helped him up the stairs, and so ended Day One of her trip to the States. She looked around his rat’s nest of an apartment and wondered who she had gotten herself involved with. But he was so unsure of himself, she thought. Just retired, having been away from everything he had known all his life, then the fight with his father…no, she realized she wasn’t seeing him at his best.

And he had cared for her during the day. He had been considerate when many other men she’d known would have failed to take her wants and needs into account. No, she would give this relationship time to mature, and try not judge him so harshly, or quickly. Patience, she reminded herself, was the only way to proceed right now.

_________________________________

They drove up the coast early the next morning and he enjoyed the Rover, even the subdued blue color suited him. When he pulled up in front of his house he noted there were still several workers there and he felt frustrated.

“They were supposed to finish by Christmas but storms hit the coast. I think most of the work remaining is landscaping and rock work out back…

“This is a truly wondrous house, Harry,” Fujiko said as he helped her out of the car. 

“I think we’re going to need to get steps or a running board installed…”

“Oh? I much prefer your help than some idle piece of steel,” she said, grinning.

“Hello there!”

They turned and saw Cathy and Frank walking down the street, headed their way.

“Is this thing yours?” Frank asked as he walked up to the Rover. “My God, Harry! This thing is huge!”

“I hope it fits in the garage,” Cathy said, eyeing the roofline.

“Geesh, it’s unanimous. Nobody likes my car.”

Everyone laughed.

“How about the house? How long until I can move in?”

“You can move in tonight,” Cathy said. “The house itself has been finished for a couple of weeks, and I have your keys so let’s go take a peek.”

Fujiko kept staring at the house as the walked to the door, but Callahan couldn’t tell if she approved or not. Stepping inside it was the same: appraising eyes but not a hint of her reaction. Cathy had designed all of the furniture and had it crafted locally so everything was as it should be, yet still Fujiko walked around calmly, now always by Cathy’s side, listening as Cathy described why she had designed things the way she had.

“All you really need are sheets and pillows, maybe some stuff for the kitchen, but I picked up traditional plates and bowls over in Osaka. They’re in the kitchen,” Cathy said, smiling.

But Callahan’s eyes had settled on the piano, a new Bösendorfer fresh off the line from Vienna and courtesy of the store in the city. It was beyond gorgeous and the space surrounding the instrument unlike anything he’d seen before. Polished gray slate floor under the piano – and the little room virtually surrounded by glass, stone, and redwood.

He moved almost involuntarily to the piano and sat there, first staring at the rocks and surf immediately below, then taking in the other sweeping views. “This is incredible, Cathy. Is this what you imagined when you started this?”

“Yes, the piano is the center of the house, as it should be.”

“Actually, I was thinking of taking up the ukulele. You know, like Tiny Tim. Tiptoe Through the Tulips, anyone?”

Frank rolled his eyes…

“I have never heard you play,” Fujiko said. “Will you now, please?”

He sighed, settled into the keys and began a slow, drifting meander between Saint-Saëns’ Aquarium and Respighi’s Medici Fountains, his eyes closed off from that other world as he fell into the rhythm created by these oldest of friends. He remembered his mother and the Aquarium, how she had struggled to get his fingering just so, and then how one evening everything had simply fallen into place. Time dissolved in her memory and he fell back to a favorite Gershwin tune, this time taking everyone for a walk along Catfish Row, and when he opened his eyes again Frank and Cathy looked almost spellbound, while Fujiko was wiping away tears.

“What…how…” was all she managed to say.

“That was surreal,” Cathy said. “I hate to say it, Harry, but you are wasting a great talent. You should have never…”

Callahan held up his hands. “Pianists are a dime a dozen…”

“No one should squander such a gift,” Fujiko whispered. “So sorry, but this must be said.”

“Come off it, you two,” Frank said. “Harry did what he wanted, and that’s the best thing that can happen to anyone. Besides, he’s not an old man – yet.”

“Balls!” Callahan said. “Is there a phone in here yet?”

Cathy shook her head. “If you need to make a call you’ll need to go down to our house. Frank? Can you take him? I think Fujiko needs to see the house from the patio.”

“Sure.” 

As they walked over, Frank commented that Fujiko looked a little pale.

“That’s why I’m calling. Took her to the doc yesterday.”

“Oh?”

“Thyroid was the first guess.”

“So, nothing major?”

Callahan shrugged. 

He called the docs office number, and he waited to be connected.

Then: “Harry? I’ve called in a couple of scrips. Looks like my first hunch about hypothyroidism was a good one. Pituitary tests won’t be back ’til Monday, so let’s get her on these new meds and we’ll touch base next week. Sound good?”

“Okay, talk to you Monday.”

“Anything to worry about?” Frank asked as they made their way back to the new house.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“So, what are you going to do now?”

“I talked with a couple of people last night about starting up a helicopter service, maybe even a helicopter fire fighting company up in the Sierras.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah, looks like it could be a good opportunity to get a bunch of ex-army types back up in the air, maybe make a few extra bucks here and there.”

“Anything I could get in on? You know, like a couple of days a week?”

Callahan stopped in the middle of the street. “What? I thought you wanted to take it easy for a while, at least until you finish with radiation.”

“You know, Harry, sitting on my ass on that goddam ship was about all the time off I want or will ever need. I feel like I gotta to be doing something productive or I’m gonna go right out of my fucking mind.”

“Well, there’s nothing set in stone yet, Frank, but why don’t you start coming into town with me while we set this thing up. You ought to be able to see if you can fit in or not.”

“Thanks, Harry. I mean it, thanks.”

“No problemo, man. Whatever keeps us from playin’ on the freeway.”

“I think the girls are around back. And I think you’re gonna like it, Harry.”

“I know I will…”

For some reason all the stonework reminded Callahan of the inn at the tip of the Izu peninsula, the one with the spires. The stonework here under his house was filled with amber tones, just like Izu spires, and the way this series of patios seemed to cascade down to the cliffs overlooking the surf only reinforced the special feel.

And once again, Harry could tell that Fujiko was entranced.

“Cathy, I think you’ve outdone yourself once again,” Harry said as he and Frank met them down on the stone patio. 

“I added a few things since the last time you were here. There’s a built in grill over by the house, and we managed to just squeeze in a small pool down below. I think you’ll like it…”

Callahan was flabbergasted. The ‘little’ pool was only about ten feet wide, but it was at least fifty feet long, so perfect for swimming laps, but the really interesting thing about it was the way it was sandwiched between two ten foot tall cliffs – one above, the other just below. The interior of the pool was finished in a deep slate gray color, which Cathy said would help heat the water without burning too much energy.

“And I want to show you the site for the tea house and garden while you’re out here,” she added, and for some reason both Fujiko and Cathy seemed most excited about this new development.

Cathy had already staked out the outlines of the tea house, and she talked about how the entries and shojis would take advantage of two unobstructed views of the sea. The garden, she said, would have to be more like bonsai garden. There was simply too much wind here, not to mention a lot of salt spray in the air. She had located suitable trees both here and in Japan, and the rest of the space could be a mix of rock garden and native species. The stone-masons were ready to get started as soon as Callahan gave the go-ahead.

“Okay, consider the word given.”

Fujiko ran to Cathy at that point and they hugged one another happily, like some secret project of theirs had just been approved. Harry smiled, and Frank seemed genuinely happy too. 

“I need to run back into the city to pick up a few things,” Harry added. “Fujiko? Would you like to stay out here or ride in with me?”

“Why don’t you and Frank go,” Cathy said. “There are a few things I need to show Fujiko around the neighborhood. We’ll get stuff to cook for dinner, too.”

The boys walked back to the Rover and Callahan went to the passenger door. “You mind driving?” he asked Frank.

“No. You feelin’ okay?”

“Yeah, fine. I’ve just been thinking about this helicopter stuff all day. I won’t be able to concentrate.”

“Got it.”

“Man, I wish someone would come up with a reliable way to make phone calls from a car.”

“Get your Ham radio license. Those guys do it all the time.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Probably take you two weekends to take the course, then you can radio in to what those guys call a cell, once you do that some gizmo hooks you into the landline network and there you go. Instant car-phone.”

“You wanna do it too?”

“Sure. I was reading about it on the ship. Sounds like a blast.”

“We could equip helicopters with that stuff too, right? Make phone calls from the air?”

“Can’t see any reason why not.”

“Good. You just got yourself a job. Figure out what we’ll need to do to get our birds equipped and what licenses we’ll need, base stations, all that crap.”

“Far out, man! I’m on it!”

“And let’s get our cars equipped as soon as we can. Need to be able to keep in touch, like at all times, ya know?”

“Got it. I know who to talk to in the city.”

After they picked up Fujiko’s meds they went to Callahan’s apartment and he got on the phone to Alpine Texas.

“Don? Harry. How’s it going?”

“Alright, I guess.”

“Look, I’m working on something out here. Kind of a helicopter shuttle type thing. I’ve got a couple of Army guys interested in flying but I wondered if you might want to get in on this too.”

“Doing what? A shuttle, you say?”

“Call it an air taxi for starters, but also some contract work for fire fighting operations out west. Based in San Fran but probably with a few outlying bases, too.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“You got some free time you could come out and talk?”

“This week too soon?”

“No, just let me know when and where to pick you up.”

“Ya know, I picked up a Cessna Skyhawk for dirt cheap. What airport can I use that’s close to you?”

“Small private strip at Sea Ranch. North of the city, about ten miles south of Anchor Bay.”

“Okay, I’ll be out there day after tomorrow, probably mid-afternoon.”

“Sounds good.”

“Harry? Thanks for thinking of me.”

“Not a problem, Amigo.”

“Jesus Christ, Callahan, what is this shit growing in your fridge?”

“Yeah, Fujiko wasn’t real impressed with this place, either.”

“Your damn lucky she didn’t ask you to take her straight to the airport!”

“You wanna drop by your radio place on the way out of the city?”

“Yeah, I’d change the subject real fast, too.”

“So?”

“Yeah, let’s do it. I’m on the clock, remember?”

Then the telephone rang.

Callahan: Yo?

Carl Stanton: Harry? I got a little issue down here.

Callahan: Carl? What’s up?

Stanton: I don’t know if you remember this one, but I got something that concerns a family disturbance you worked when you were on patrol, right after you got your stripes. Little girl, about five years old then, she was beat up pretty bad by her old man. You found her in an alley across the street from her home…

Callahan: I remember.

Stanton: Well, she’s here and she’s been looking for you. She says it’s important, that her life is on the line.

Callahan: And what are you not telling me, Carl?

Stanton: Well…she won’t tell us a damn thing. Says she’ll only talk to you face to face, not on the phone.

Callahan: I’m with Frank. Is it safe for us to come down there?

Stanton: “I don’t know. The vibe I’m picking up is now that you’re retired, so you’re both little people again. No threat, so no big deal.

Callahan: Is she alone?

Stanton: Yeah.

Callahan: Take her to the Park Radio, the parking lot in back. We’ll be there in half an hour.

Callahan hung up the phone, saw Bullitt looking at him. “Sounds like fun,” Frank said.

“Sounds like the ghost of calls long past,” Callahan sighed. “A disturbance I worked, girl beat up and I worked her old man over pretty bad. Carl was there…

“Yeah. I remember that one. Sam had me doing background checks on you around that time.”

“Well, the girl’s back and she says she needs to talk to me, and me only.”

“You got everything you need from this dump?”

“Dump? You callin’ my place a dump?”

“Yeah, I am. And if I was moving into your place out there I wouldn’t bring a damn thing from here. Start out new, throw all this shit away.”

“I’m gonna keep the apartment, Frank.”

“What? Why?”

“A., it’s cheap. and If we’re doin’ a lotta stuff here in the city we’re gonna need a place to crash. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the idea of making that drive two times a day, five days a week.”

“Yeah, I can see that, but you need to get like some kind of professional cleaner in here, have them scrub this place down…”

“It’s not that bad…”

“Harry, look! There’s mold growing on the ceiling trim! This place is a fucking rat-hole!”

“Geez, don’t hold back, Frank…tell me what you really think…”

“Come on. It’ll take us a half hour to get to the radio place.”

“Not if you drive it won’t.”

Bullitt grinned. “True. Very true.”

_______________________________

He didn’t recognize the girl, but the last time he’d seen her was something like eighteen years ago. Now she looked like many victims of child abuse he’d seen over the years: overweight, bad hygiene, poor appearance…low self esteem, the shrinks called it. Callahan smiled, held out his hand but the girl ran into his arms and hugged him.

“You saved my life,” she whispered over and over again, and when he pulled away he saw that she’d been crying.

“You okay? Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“Who’s he?”

“This is Captain Bullitt, my boss. Anything you can say to me you can say to him, too. I trust him with my life everyday, and you can too.”

She nodded. “It’s my dad. He just got out of San Quentin. He found me, told us he’s going to take care of me real good. His words, not mine. And he also said he’s going to take care of you, too.”

Frank stepped closer. “You said that he told ‘us’ he’s going to take care of you. Who’s us?”

“My roommates.”

“So, he knows where you live. What else does he know?”

“I’m not sure, but I’ve heard there’s a real network on the inside. Information is like life in San Quentin, I mean it’s the currency that keeps them alive. When you know someone is looking for information about somebody you get your outside network to get it for you. They trade information all the time in there…”

“I know,” Frank said. “What about your roommates? Did he say all this in front of them?”

She nodded. “Yeah. They’re scared, too.”

“Anything else you can tell me about him?” Callahan said, writing down everything the girl said for next half hour. 

“We’ve got to get a few things in here before we leave. Can I drop you someplace?”

“I don’t know what to do, Officer Callahan. I don’t even think I should go home anymore.”

“Is there anyplace else you can stay?”

“No, not really, but the thing is I know he’s looking for you, too. He used to work with a gang so I know he can get information about…”

“A gang?” Bullitt said. “Do you which one?”

“Kinda, I heard him mention the name Threlkis a couple of times when we was out on the front porch.”

Frank looked at Callahan.

“You mind if we drop you off at a shelter tonight,” Harry asked. “That way I’ll know where to find you. Are you working now?”

The girl shook her head.

“You have any money?”

Again, she shook her head so Callahan gave her some.

“Okay, listen up. First thing, we’re going to get you through this. Next, once in the shelter you don’t leave for any reason. Got that? No reason, for no one.”

She nodded, wiped away a tear.

“Next, we find you a place to live after we take care of business, then we get your life back on track. Can you handle that? Now…what’s the most important thing?”

“I don’t leave until you come get me.”

“Okay, you get in the back seat and hang tight. We’ll be back in a minute.”

He got her in the Rover and locked the doors with the key fob and followed Bullitt into the radio store. Bullitt needed information more than anything, so he picked up brochures and looked over the available classes for Ham radio certification.

When they went back out to the Rover there was shattered glass all over the parking lot, the rear passenger door was standing wide open, and the girl was slumped over on the rear seat, a single bullet hole in the middle of her forehead.

Harry and Frank looked at one another. “The girls,” Bullitt said as he ran for the phone in the store…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (Covid-19) waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. To begin, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. 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. 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 (5)

Come Alive 1

Chapter 5

Taggart was enjoying the sun. The heat felt great, especially around his neck and on his chest, at least where his polo shirt was unbuttoned. At one point in his life he’d routinely walked around on deck, even in marinas, with no shirt on at all. Now now. That hideous scar where his left breast used to be nauseated him, and he couldn’t imagine walking around in public with that thing showing.

Clyde seemed to be enjoying the sun, but more to the point the old boy seemed to enjoy having Taggart back onboard. He was on his side now, his back pressed into Taggart’s thigh, and he moaned from time to time, especially when Taggart rubbed behind his ears. His head popped up when something ‘thumped’ down below, but when Taggart didn’t move Clyde remained fixed in place.

“Just a fish, boy,” Taggart said to sooth the savage beast. 

“Hello-o-o,” someone down on the dock said, and the woman’s voice sounded vaguely familiar so he turned around and looked. It was that reporter…the one from Bodø…the one with the bodacious legs…

“Hi there,” he said. “You sure are a long way from home!”

“Would it be alright if I came on?”

“Darlin’, you can come anywhere you want.”

She looked at him and grinned. “Thanks,” she said before she hopped across to the swim platform on the stern. She had no trouble climbing onto the aft deck either, despite the provocative heels she was wearing.

“Goddam it all to hell, woman, but I do believe you have the greatest legs I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Oddly enough, she beamed on hearing that. “Thanks,” she said. “I used to dance, and I still run a lot.”

“Well, whatever the hell you’re doing, please don’t stop. The world needs more legs like yours.”

“I heard you were in the hospital again, and that there is some trouble with your continuing the trip?”

“Yup, I heard that too.”

“Is it true?”

“True? Hell, I don’t know. You’d have to ask Dina Bauer about all that stuff.”

“What happened out there? You have heard, of course, that now the Navy and the Coast Guard regard you as some kind of a hero too?”

“Really? No, I hadn’t heard that. More like being in the wrong place at the right time.”

“Who is your new friend?” she said, reaching down to rub the dog. “He wasn’t here last time I saw you, was he?”

“Clyde? No, he found me in Bergen after we got back. Made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so now…here he is.”

“He looks very old.”

“Yes. Actually, he’s my twin brother.”

“Ah, yes, I see the resemblance. He is very handsome indeed. Would you mind if I asked what was your illness?”

“No, I don’t mind your asking, but I hope you don’t expect an answer.”

“Oh, no, Mr. Taggart…this is, how do you say it, off the record.”

“Ah. Well, that makes all the difference.”

“So?”

“I have breast cancer.”

She grinned. “Do you always joke about everything?”

“Always. And I have breast cancer.”

Her eyes changed in a heartbeat. “You do? Really?”

“You wanna see the scar?”

When she nodded he lifted his shirt – and he watched, fascinated, as her eyes went as wide as saucers. “Is it on just the one side?”

“So far.”

“Did they grade it?”

“Yup. And you don’t want to know.”

“I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

“Neither did I.”

“And you still want to continue your voyage?”

“Yes, of course. After a transfusion and a little of Dr. Bauers Magic Elixir I feel great. Well, I feel great when I’m not puking my guts out, but you know how that goes. Don’t you?”

“Excuse me?”

“What kind did you have?”

He eyes blinked rapidly and she looked away. “How did you know?”

“I told you. Clyde is my twin brother, and because of that we can both smell things others can’t.”

“Uterine. Four years ago. I got it after picking up an STD.”

Taggart nodded. “I got mine after modeling for a Victoria’s Secret catalogue shoot.”

She smiled but she knew his humor was a wall, a wall to keep her out. “Where is Doctor Bauer?”

“Bergen. She took the boy back home.”

“So, you are alone?”

“I am alone. At least until the Gestapo decides whether or not I can leave.”

“Doctor Bauer? She is not coming back?”

He shrugged. “That remains to be seen.”

“I thought you looked a little depressed. Now I know why.”

He shrugged at that. “Not sure I know what ‘depressed’ means.”

“I’ve never been here before. Is there a good place to eat nearby?”

“As long as you like Indian or Thai food.”

“Which do you prefer?”

He shrugged. “Both, I suppose.”

“Could I take you to dinner?”

He looked away. “I don’t know how to say this politely, but I have not had much of an appetite the last couple of days.”

“You still need to eat. How about Thai? Some soup?”

“Yeah, we can do that.”

She looked at the dog.

“Yes,” he sighed, “my brother goes with me wherever I go.”

She bit her lip and tried not to laugh. “Wonderful,” she managed to say.

“Come on, Clyde. Time to get some sirloin steak!” The ears perked up but Clyde groaned, yet he managed to stand without help – then he stretched for a while, long enough to make all the arthritis settle down for a little bit. Taggart grabbed his iPhone and his sailing hat, then clipped the lead onto Clyde’s collar: “Come on, boy. Off the steps we go.” They made the short walk across the main square without issue and, as the Thai place had just opened, there were no customers inside yet. Taggart put his phone and hat on the table and helped Clyde drape himself over his feet; a minute later Clyde was snoring.

They ordered – and Taggart ordered a plain steak, sliced thin, for Clyde – then he asked the obvious question: “You do understand that I have no idea who you are. Like, even your name.”

She smiled. “I’m sorry. I just assumed.”

“You’re probably a famous reporter on the national news, right?”

She smiled. “Something like that. You can call me Brigit, if you like.”

“Okay, Brigit. So, why are you here? Smell a good story?”

“I was working on a story, yes. There’s a lot of information on you, as it turns out. You hold several patents, worked for very well known companies. I was impressed. Then I heard you were ill and I decided not to pursue the story any longer.”

“That was decent of you, but that doesn’t answer the big question.”

“Why am I here?”

“That’s the one.”

“I don’t know, Mr. Taggart…”

“Henry, please.”

“Alright, Henry. Thank you.” She paused then looked away. “I suppose this is silly, but the things you said, the way that you talk to the world, all of it. I wanted to know more about you, but then I had to admit to myself that I was attracted to you.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“That’s odd. Most of the women I’ve known over the years tend to run as soon as they see me.”

She smiled. “I think you make jokes a lot.”

He grinned. “Yeah, maybe so. The truth is probably a lot less interesting, though. One day I got serious about work and then about a week later I looked up…but thirty years had passed.”

“You were consumed by your work, then?”

He nodded. “Consumed is an understatement. I literally didn’t go out on a date until a couple of years ago.”

“The famous movie star? I saw a post about that. You took her to the Academy Awards?”

“Oh, that. Well, no, the company I worked for arranged that one. We were up for an Oscar, some special effects award…”

“And you won, too!”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t win the thing.”

“Still, what an experience!”

“It was pretty interesting.”

“The actress? Was she a friend?”

“Never saw her again. At least, not that I recall,” he added, grinning.

Their meals came and Taggart cut up the meat into smaller pieces and then called Clyde. “Come on, boy. Time for the good stuff.” He fed the pup piece by piece, and when Clyde had finished off his dinner Taggart started on his soup. “I love this stuff. The coconut makes all the difference, I think.”

“So, Henry. If someone is attracted to you, what do you usually do?”

“Me? I usually run screaming from the room.”

“Why?”

“Oh, it’s just a basic assumption I make, really. If someone thinks I’m attractive something is either really very wrong upstairs or they need new glasses.”

“You are an attractive man. It is a shame you cannot see that.”

“Yup. You need new glasses.”

“I don’t wear glasses, Henry.”

“Well, there you have it.”

“Would you feel better if I got us a hotel room?”

“What? No! What are you talking about?”

“You and I, together.”

“Look, Brigit, you’re an attractive girl, but I’m old enough to be your father. Hell, maybe your grandfather. I just finished a round of chemo four days ago and I feel like fucking hell. Even so, I think what you’re asking is really very sweet and I’d love to but I’m simply not up to it right now. And I hope I’ve not hurt your feelings…”

“Well,” she said, “there’s a first time for everything.”

“Yeah? Well, I have no idea what that means and I’m not sure I want to know…”

“It’s not important.”

“You’re angry, aren’t you?”

“A little, yes.”

“I’m sorry. Really, I am. I can offer you a brandy down on the boat, if that would do the trick.”

“Oh, I think not. I can make a flight in Stavanger, get back to Oslo tonight…”

“Excuse me. You came all the way down here, just to see me?”

“Didn’t I mention that?”

“No. no, you didn’t.”

“I thought I had.”

“When did you decide you wanted to, well, to do it with me?”

“When I decided to write my story about you.”

“Ah.”

“Yes. Ah, indeed,” she said, more seriously now.

“And so now the story will get written.”

“Of course.”

“Well, I wish you all the best, Brigit. I enjoyed our little talk and I hope you have a pleasant journey back to, uh, where did you say? Oslo?”

“Yes, Oslo.”

“I do hope I’ll see you again sometime. It was certainly a pleasure meeting you. If you don’t mind, I’ll pay the bill this evening. Perhaps, if we meet again, you can pay? Goodnight.”

She was a little wide-eyed now, not quite understanding what she’d done to spook her prey so badly, but she simply waved as Taggart walked to the counter and paid. 

‘And,’ she thought, ‘even that stupid dog failed to look at me as it followed Taggart from the restaurant!’

+++++

When he got back down to the little marina he wasn’t too surprised to see Dina Bauer waiting in the parking lot, standing by her little sedan and looking out at the harbor.

“Well, hello there,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“What did that bitch want?”

“Excuse me?”

“What did she want?”

“She’s a reporter, I met her in…”

“I know who she is and her name is Trouble. Now, what did she want?”

“She said she was doing a story on me and that she stopped when she heard I was ill.”

“And?”

Taggart looked away.

“So, she propositioned you?”

He nodded. “I basically told her there was no way.”

“And she got angry?”

“A little, yes. Why?”

“That’s her usual pitch.”

“Well, for whatever it’s worth, I recorded the whole thing.”

“You did what?”

He pulled out his iPhone and hit the stop button. “I recorded the conversation.”

“Why?”

“I detest reporters.”

“You cannot claim you have deliberately made this recording, okay? It is against privacy laws. You understand?”

“I do. I think it’s a design flaw, actually. I hit the record button all the time. By accident, you see.”

“Well, perhaps you will not need to use it, but keep it close. The government has given you a week to remove your boat from Norwegian waters; after that she will be impounded to prevent you from sailing on her and endangering others.”

“Well, she’s loaded with food, fuel, and water. Did you bring your gear?”

“You will have to sail outside the 12 mile limit. You understand?”

“You aren’t coming?”

“I cannot. Neither can Rolf. The transfusion and chemotherapy ought to see you all the way to Sweden. If I can, I will meet you in Gothenburg. There is an excellent hospital there.”

“Excuse me for asking, but you seem a little angry with me. Could you tell me why?”

“I have my reasons, but I will not talk about them at this time.”

“Okay.”

“Also, here is the telephone number for the woman you took out on the boat, with the whales, if you recall. You will want to talk with her soon.”

“And you won’t tell me why?”

“That is correct. Now, you should get underway as soon as possible, and get outside the 12 mile line directly. The Coast Guard has limited jurisdiction beyond that line.”

“You said I have permission to…”

“A member of the government has given me permission to pass that information on, but…”

“But you have nothing in writing.”

“That is correct.”

“What’s his name?”

“Who?”

“The government representative. His name.

“Bauer. Markus Bauer. He is well known. If you need to use his name, people will know who you are talking about.”

“Is he, uh…”

“Yes, he is.”

“Is this a set up, Dina?”

“I don’t think so, but I do find it curious that a most dangerous reporter showed up today.”

“Curious? That’s an understatement.”

Dina held out her hand and he took it. “Good luck, Henry, and in case I don’t see you again, I wish you all the best. And I do hope you make it to Paris for Christmas.”

“Ten days, you say. After that?”

“You will need to find a hospital, quickly. The new Parkinson’s medications will help a lot, but try to stay warm. Do you need help with the lines?”

“No, I can manage.” He looked at her. He could tell she was holding back tears. “Too many questions, Dina. Not enough time.”

She nodded. “Good luck,” then she ran into his arms, hugged him once then she walked quickly to her car. He watched her drive off, not sure whether to feel sad or scared to death.

He got Clyde onboard and down below, then started the diesel and let it warm up. He turned on the thrusters then pulled up fenders and all but two dock lines. Next he turned on the chart plotter and set the radar to standby, pulled up a chart on the display and began looking over his options.

“What are my options?” he said to the wind. “I feel like I’m running into a really big trap. If I’m running and I’m caught fleeing, then basically I lose everything. If I stay here a week they take the Bandit. Well, they try to take her.”

He watched a fishing boat come in and dock about a hundred meters down the quay, and he nodded his head slowly. “Okay. Someone wants to play hardball. So…let’s play.”

He shut down the engine and hopped off the stern, then he walked down to the fishing boat. Her skipper was on the stern making arrangements for a fuel delivery, but then he saw Taggart and walked over.

“Can help you?” the skipper asked in halting English.

“Do you know a maritime lawyer?”

“Yes. Many here in town, more in Stavanger. Thick as fleas in Bergen.”

“Who is the meanest sea lawyer in Norway?”

“Meanest? Only one. You wait here.”

The skipper walked to the wheelhouse and disappeared inside; he came out a minute later, carrying some papers. He handed a business card to Taggart, and a piece of paper with a name and phone number on it.

“This bitch,” he said, pointing at the card. “She meanest of all mean. Real cunt. If asks where got name, give my name, here,” he said, pointing at the paper. “Any problem you come see me. If not here, you call me.”

Taggart shook his head in wonder. “Thank you. I mean it, thanks a lot.”

“You Saint Henry. All talk about you. You need friends around here, you got it.”

Taggart held out his hand and the fisherman took it, then he walked back down to Time Bandit. He set all the fenders and reset his spring-lines; he powered down the electronics then sat by the chart table down below and dialed the number on the card.

“Hallo?”

“I’m looking for Sigrid Grieg.”

“Speaking.”

“Uh, Ms Grieg, my name is Henry Taggart…”

“Saint Henry?”

“Yes m’am. Look, I think I’m about to be in a world of trouble…”

He described everything that had happened tonight, including the phone recording and Dina’s warning, and he could tell she was taking notes. Then she began asking questions, mainly related to his health.

“How late will you be up?” she asked. 

“How late do I need to stay up?”

“I will be there in an hour. Where are you, exactly?”

He told her and she was gone, just like that. He shook his head, and a minute later the fisherman came down.

“You call?”

“Yes. She come now. One hour.”

“She good. She take care you. You want fish?” The fisherman was holding up what looked like a twenty pound salmon. “You cook. She come, I come. We eat.”

“Okay!” Taggart said, smiling. “One hour, fish ready.”

He set about prepping the fish then got his bar-b-q set up on the stern rail. He cut up some veggies and put them on skewers then lit the fire. With ten minutes to go he put mayonnaise on the grill to keep the fish from sticking, then he put the fish on, slapping a little butter and lime on the fleshy side, then some salt and pepper. At the one hour mark a glossy black Mercedes Sprinter van pulled into the lot and a driver got out and set up a wheelchair, then helped an absolutely rotund woman into the chair.

“You Taggart?” the woman asked. Her accent seemed stuck about halfway between Oslo and Brooklyn.

“Yup. Come on down. Salmon is on the grill, your friend Peter is on the way.”

“Can you bring me a plate down here? I don’t feel like climbing tonight. My knees have about had it.”

“I sure can.”

“Got any beer?”

“I do.”

“Better bring a bunch.”

“I will.”

She wheeled up to a picnic table while Taggart carried mounds of food over, then he ferried over a bunch of beer. The fisherman built a fire in a pit and everyone sat around eating and drinking and Taggart was impressed. Lawyers in Norway were actually kinda fun – and in the end they talked about his situation ’til four in the morning. When she listened to his recording of the reporter in the restaurant her eyes brightened, and before she left she told Taggart he had nothing to worry about. She would take care of everything.

© 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. 43

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 43

Lloyd Callahan walked out onto bridge-wing and looked at the tug on the bow pushing his ship away from the dock, worried about what he saw below; he got on his radio and called the tug’s skipper: “Number two, slow it down or you’ll push our stern into the dock!” – with that done he turned to his First Officer: “Rudder amidships, now.”

“Rudder amidships, aye Captain.”

Callahan watched, satisfied now, as his ship drifted from the docks and towards the main entrance channel, then the Harbor Pilot pointed to the buoys he wanted Valley Forge to use when entering the main channel…

“Make your course 2-6-5 degrees,” Callahan said, then, “all ahead slow.”

“265, ahead slow, aye…”

“Damn crowded out here today,” Callahan said to no-one in particular, but his mind was still struggling with the morning’s surprises. ‘Harry – and a fucking Jap? Why, for God’s sake?’ He was getting angrier as the idea wore away at him, yet he really didn’t understand why he was so mad, not after all these years. He’d made sure he buried all his prejudices when he moved to America, but because of his experiences in the war he still hated everything about both Germany and Japan. He couldn’t help it and now he realized his hatred was finally going to have real consequences.

‘She saw the venom right away,’ he said to himself. He was transparent and she was probably used to seeing his kind of hate smoldering away behind the eyes, yet after just a few minutes of watching her move around his in-port cabin he’d not even bothered trying to hide his feelings anymore. He’d grown coldly dismissive and callous, and though he could see Harry’s growing disappointment he’d simply been unable to stop himself.

‘There’s going to be a reckoning,’ he said as he looked at Osaka for the last time. ‘Man, I’m glad I never have to come to this fucking hell-hole ever again…’

__________________________________

If anything, Fujiko had thought herself impervious to such things, yet the sudden fury she’d seen in Lloyd Callahan’s eyes had surprised her. As soon as the old man had understood the implications of the visit, he had flown through the scales – from casually dismissive to increasingly abrasive – in record time, and not just to her. By the time Harry led her away from the captain’s in-port cabin his hands were shaking and for a moment she thought she saw tears in his eyes. By the time they had made it back to their cabin Harry had reasserted control over his emotions, and within minutes he was talking like nothing had happened.

“Let’s go up top, maybe get out into the wind,” he said, and though a little surprised at the sudden change she had agreed. He held her hand as they walked up two flights of stairs and then out onto the topmost deck – high above the sea now. They were still in the inner harbor, the docks not a half mile in their wake, but already the ship was picking up speed. They walked to the forward rail and looked at the way ahead…

“I’m so sorry, Fujiko,” Harry said, pulling her close. “I had no idea.” He felt her face through his jacket, felt her nod her head. “I thought I knew him…”

“Our parents often hide their most bitter selves from us, Harry. Perhaps to save us from their experience, the things that turned them to hate in the first place. One thing I do not understand? You do not look like him, at all.”

“Really? That’s what you noticed?”

“Yes. Perhaps because it was a first meeting?”

“Well, that’s because it turns out he really wasn’t my father.”

“What? When did you learn this?”

“Just within the last few months. It came as quite a shock.”

“Are you not cold?”

He felt a shiver run through her and took off his jacket, draped it over her shoulders. “Is that better?”

“A little. I suppose I should have brought warmer clothes.”

“There’s a good Ship’s Store onboard. Let’s go find you a coat?”

“Not yet, please. I would like to remain up here a while longer.”

He pulled her close again, the wind picking up as the ship’s speed increased, her obsidian hair beginning to stream behind them. The pilot boat came alongside, then pulled away after the pilot jumped across, and after that the ship’s speed began to rapidly increase.

“Would it be possible to tell me the story of your mother and father?” she asked.

“Yes, I think it’s time for that conversation.”

“Then, just one more thing.”

“Yes?”

“You must tell me what happened with that shark.”

He chuckled a little. “I wish I knew what happened, Fujiko-san. When it turned on me I just knew my life was over and I saw things, well, actually, I heard music, music my mother wrote…”

“Your mother wrote music? She was a composer?”

He nodded. “Yes, and it turns out quite an important one, too.”

“And you? Do you play an instrument?”

He hesitated, wondered what he could tell her without coming off like a barking lunatic: “I play the piano a little…”

“Oh, come off it Harry,” the Old Man in the Cape said, now standing next to Fujiko, “you can tell her. In fact, you must tell her.”

“Tell me what?” Fujiko said, turning in surprise, looking with surprise at the Old Man who had just appeared next to her. “Who are you?”

“You can see him?” Callahan asked.

“What do you mean, can I see him? He is standing right next to me!”

“Well, it’s just that, well…”

The Old Man smiled. “Harry, no more secrets. It’s time to come clean…” 

And with that said, the Old Man twirled his cane once and slammed it down on the deck, and then rolling thunder filled the air. “You’ll excuse me,” the Old Man said, “but I have to go now. I get seasick, you see.” He winked at Fujiko and with that the Old Man simply disappeared.

Fujiko flinched, rubbed her eyes. “What…where did he go?”

“Ignore him. He’s just a cranky old asshole with a really bad sense of humor…”

Lightning split the sky, thunder crashed and echoed across the harbor.

“Sorry,” Callahan said. “You’re really a very nice ghost, or whatever, and I’m sorry I said that.”

Fujiko turned and looked at him, a million questions in her eyes.

“Look,” he said, shrugging, “I’m sorry, but it’s complicated.”

“That man is a ghost?” she replied, trembling.

“You know, I’m still not sure what he is.”

“What did he mean? No more secrets?”

Callahan scowled. “We have a lot to talk about, I guess.”

“Well, we have fourteen days. Is that enough?”

“That might get us through the first part of the story, assuming I even know what it is. Now, could we go get you a coat, please?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m freezing my ass off…”

_______________________________

The first line squall hit before the ship made it out of the inner harbor; by nightfall and while still within sight of the coastline, 90 knot gusts rocked the ship and sixty foot waves slammed into the bow. Very few passengers ventured to the dining room that night, preferring instead to vomit in the comfort of their own staterooms.

Nothing, however, could keep Sam and Frank from those Alaskan King Crab legs, and they convinced Harry and Fujiko to join them. Bouncing off the walls as they made their way down the endless corridor to the dining room, Sam said he enjoyed acting like a pinball while Frank stopped at a bowl and popped two more of the free Dramamine tabs. The ship seemed to hesitate before climbing a really big wave, then everyone held on as she took off down the backside.

“What a storm! Feels just like Space Mountain at Disneyland!” Sam said, rubbing his hands together gleefully as he looked over the endless piles of crab legs on the buffet. “Worked up quite an appetite just getting here!”

“I don’t know how you can eat right now,” Callahan whispered, burping.

“Really? Well, just you watch and I’ll show you how.”

Fujiko came to the table carrying what she claimed was her favorite food of all time: a cheeseburger and french fries, and a waiter got her a Coke and that was that – she was happy.

“Harry? Could I get you something?” Frank asked. “Some Limburger cheese, perhaps, or maybe some fresh octopus?”

“Keep it up, Frank.”

“Harry, there’s some really good looking monk-fish liver sushi up there. Sure I can’t get you some?”

Callahan burped again and disappeared in the general direction of what he hoped was the nearest bathroom. Fujiko grinned and Bullitt decided she was alright, then she left the table for a moment and returned with a plate for Frank; it was loaded with Limburger cheese and several pieces of monk-fish liver.

Frank took off for the bathroom. He was at a dead run when he disappeared from view.

“Frank’s always had a lousy sense of humor,” Sam said. “He sure can dish it out, but he never could take it. You want some crab legs, Fujiko-san?”

“Yes, please. Perhaps you could go with me and help me pick out a few good pieces?”

“I’d love to, little lady.”

By the time they’d made it back to their table Frank and Harry were sitting there and both looked a sheepish shade of green. The offending plate had been removed just in time, too. They both stared in awe as Fujiko polished off a heaping pile of crab, while Sam finished a second pile. Callahan had some chicken broth; Bullitt had just pushed down a couple of saltine crackers when he looked up, stood up and sprinted for the bathroom – again.

Sam laughed a little while they watched Frank make this last mad dash, then he went up to the buffet for his third pile of crab. He smiled at the janitors who’d just been called to take care of a mess in the starboard head on deck five.

_______________________________

Harry went up to see Lloyd very early the next morning, and though he had been dreading the coming encounter all night long he knew what he had to do, what had to be said. Lloyd, on the other hand, had been up all night – dealing with the storm and it’s after effects – and his mood was already dark when Harry knocked on the door to his sea-cabin.

“Look, Harry,” Lloyd said as Harry walked in, “I’ve had a bad night. Could we do this later?”

“I don’t think so. I need to know what that was all about, and I’m not sure putting it off is the right thing to do.”

Lloyd sat at his desk and sighed, held his hands up. “Fine. If that’s what you want, Harry, that’s what we’ll do.”

“Do you treat all Japanese and Germans that way, or did you serve up your best shot for Fujiko?”

Lloyd shrugged. “You know what, Harry? As far as I’m concerned they can all go straight to Hell. I don’t really care about ‘em beyond that.”

“Why, why her? What did she ever do to you?”

“She was born.”

Harry blinked, shook off the words like he’d been slapped. “What?”

“Tell you what, son, you look in the eyes of your friends while they drown after a U-boat drops a couple of fish into the side of your ship. You do that, boy, alright? Then you come and stand up here on your soapbox and lecture me about hate. You got that?”

“Let’s not talk about hate right now, Lloyd. Let’s talk about civility and maybe even common decency…”

“Those went out the door when I saw her holding onto your arm.”

Harry nodded. “I see. Tell me one more thing, Lloyd. It’s probably the last thing I’ll ever ask you, so think before you answer, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Did my mother know you were a bigoted racist, or did you keep that from her, too?”

“You can leave now, Harry. I mean it, just leave.”

“Oh, I’m leaving alright. You can count on that – Dad. I’m gone.”

He closed the door gently as he left the cabin then walked up to the sundeck and stepped into the wind. The sky was crystal clear but the sea was an unbroken plain of spume-streaked whitecaps, and Fujiko was at the forward rail, leaning into the wind. Cathy and Frank were sitting nearby, huddled up against this new and unforeseen breaking wave of emotion and looking at Fujiko like they were standing by for moral support.

He walked over to the railing and put his arm around her again, and she took a deep breath, then looked up at him.

“You weren’t gone very long.”

He felt Frank and Cathy come up from behind and he nodded. “Turns out there wasn’t a whole lot to say.”

“It is the war, is it not?” she said. “Too many bad memories?”

“Maybe it’s as simple as that, but I doubt it.”

“Where’d you leave it?” Frank asked…and when Harry shook his head Frank knew there was no need for words right now…it was a done deal.

“Harry? If it’s okay with you, I’d like to show Fujiko some of my sketches, see if she has any new ideas before I start on my drawings.”

“What is this?” Fujiko asked.

“I’ve asked Cathy to design a teahouse, and hopefully a garden,” Harry said, still doing his best not to think about Lloyd. “Maybe you two could come up with some good ideas.”

Fujiko nodded; she understood – Harry needed to talk with Frank, and maybe just to clear his head, but she’d seen the pulsing vessels in his temple and the clinched jaw and she knew how some people seethed until they boiled over. “That sounds very interesting. I would love to.”

Which left Harry and Frank standing in the wind.

“How’d you guys know?” Harry asked. 

“She called us while you were in the shower, and again when you went to his cabin.”

Harry nodded. “I’ve never known anyone like her, Frank. She’s so – dialed in, ya know?”

“I know. Everyone fell in love with her about an hour after we arrived ay Osaka Castle.”

“That first day?”

“Yeah. She like a cross between something out of Shōgun and Gidget Goes to Rome. Infectiously elegant. That’s how Delgetti described her. It’s like you want to talk to her about something, then you realize she already knows what you want to say – but she makes you feel good about it even so.”

“She’s smart, that’s for sure.”

Frank shook his head. “There’s book smarts, Harry, then there’s people smarts. Fujiko is what happens when you take the best of both and put all that into one person.”

“I wonder what she sees in a mug like me?”

“Good question. Must be a mental defect.”

“Gee. Thanks.”

“What about your dad?”

Harry shrugged. “It’s bad, Frank. He said some awful things yesterday, and I just hammered him. A real low blow. The thing is, I think I really wanted to hurt him like that.”

“Listen up, Amigo. You probably don’t need to hear this right now, but that’s why people have been calling you Dirty Harry for the last twenty years. Sometimes you like to cut people off at the knees, ya know. You’re good at it, too, which is one thing, but sometimes you seem to enjoy it a little too much.”

“Jesus, Frank…”

“You should listen, Harry,” the Old Man in the Cape said, popping into the present and causing both Frank and Harry to jump back. “He’s telling the truth.”

“Jesus H Fucking Christ on a motorbike…what you please stop doing that?” Frank said to the Old Man. “I can’t handle this shit, okay?”

“Frank?” the Old Man said. “You are a good friend. Harry needs you right now, now more than ever!”

“Yeah, okay, I got that.”

“And Harry?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t be an asshole. And please, don’t push any more friends away, especially not today.”

“What’s wrong with today?”

The Old Man grew serious, then smiled: “Oh, Ishmael, it’s that whale I see, that great white whale…”

“What?” Frank cried – but by then the Old Man had slammed down his cane and was gone.

“Goddam, I hate it when he does that.”

“You hate it? You hate it, Harry?” Frank was white hot mad now. “Well, listen up, Bucko, cause I just shit my goddam pants and I gotta walk down two flights of stairs to get to the cleanest pair of underwear I have left!” he yelled as he turned and slinked off. “And you fuckin’ hate it! Hah! Well, guess what? You’re not the one that’s gonna be droppin’ meatballs all the way down the fuckin’ stairs, oh no, not Harry Callahan…”

Harry returned to his stateroom, and he was sitting on the balcony watching ragged waves slam into the ship when he heard the door open and close; Fujiko stepped outside into the wind and sat next to him.

“Frank said The Old Man came back?”

“He did. Yes…he did.”

“He said something about Ishmael? Ishmael and the white whale?”

“Yup.”

“I wonder what Moby Dick has to do with all this?”

Callahan shrugged. “Never read it. Don’t even think I saw the movie.”

“Oh, the book is full of allegory, many allusions to things in the Christian Bible…”

“What did you think of Cathy’s drawings?”

Fujiko blinked twice, tried to change gears. “She is very talented, and she learned much on your trip.”

Harry nodded, but his mind remained far away.

“She also told me a little about the house you are building.”

“Yes? And?”

“It sounds like a very special place.”

“Special? What does that mean?”

“I have not seen it, of course, but what she describes sounds almost Japanese.”

“Oh? How so?”

“A site such as the one this house if built on requires a subtle hand. The building must appear to spring forth naturally from the earth.”

“Well, she sure did that, alright.”

“You are still angry?”

He nodded his head. “I am, yes. Still angry.”

“May I sit with you?”

“Of course. I’m not angry at you, Fujiko-san?”

“You are not?”

“No, of course not?”

“Not even a little?”

“Why would…how could I be angry at you?”

“Because I have come between you and your father,” she whispered.

“It wasn’t your fault, Fujiko.”

“Nevertheless, I have come between the two of you.”

“Something would have, sooner or later.”

“You can not know that, Harry-san.”

“Will you marry me?” He turned and looked at her, watched her reaction…

Her head seemed to tilt to the right just a little, and she also seemed to smile a little before she pulled that back, too: “And I thought we were going to take our time, let us explore the past and our future before we came to such a decision.”

“Maybe I changed my mind.”

“You are pushing me away, Harry. Why?”

“Because that’s what I do.”

“Not this time.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Only that I will not be pushed away. I may walk away, but you will not push me to do that which I do not want to do.”

“Well, lucky me.”

“So, what of the shark? Frank tells me you see things through music. Tell me about that, and about what I saw in the sea.”

“Frank talks too much.”

“He is a good friend.”

“Yes he is.”

“I could be such a friend, if you let me in.”

“Let you in?”

“Yes. It seems to me that when some people get too close, people push them away. The alternative, I think, is to let people in. In other words, Harry Callahan, you need to let me get close to you. I think that is what we set out to do when we started this journey, is it not?”

“It is.”

“You have been through much today. Too much, I think. As your friend I know this, and I accept the reasons for your anger. But as your lover it is my duty to protect you, yet even as such I can not do this so easily if you push me away, keep things from me. Accept me, Harry. Let me in, please. Our journey will be a short one without trust.” 

He nodded, but then he looked down, appeared a little chastened. “Okay,” he whispered.

She took his hand and held it – but she looked out to sea, deciding to let him come when he was ready.

“As far as I know, the Old Man began visiting my mother when she was very young. He came to her throughout her life, but almost always when she was composing.”

“The music called him?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. When he comes to me I’m usually nowhere near a piano.”

“The shark?”

“He came to me in the shrine, after I cut my leg. He warned me.”

“About the shark?”

He nodded.

“So, the Old Man is your protector. Perhaps he was her protector, as well. Did he come to you before she passed away?”

He shook his head. “You know, I don’t think he did…”

“So, he has been charged with protecting your lineage through time.”

“You don’t sound surprised.”

“I suppose I am not. There have always been spirits reputed to act this way, but until now I have never met one. Now that I have, I wonder what he is protecting. Tell me now about the shark.”

“Like I said, I put my hands on him…”

“Him? You know it was a him?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, go on.”

“I put my hands around his eye and in my mind I began playing a short passage from my mother’s third concerto, a passage that concerns the murders she witnessed in the concentration camp.”

“I saw the animal then,” she whispered. “It was as if he had begun to turn black, but from the inside out. Then it shriveled before our eyes and sank to the rocks, and when you were no longer touching him he seemed to regain himself. He began to swim away but ran into rocks. Then he disappeared.”

“I don’t remember any of that.”

“But what has the Old Man to do with all that,” she sighed, “unless he was there to protect you.”

“But why me?”

She shook her head. “Unless it remains to you to fulfill the nature of your lineage, or to pass it along.”

“I don’t understand?”

“Either you will compose something of utmost importance, or your descendants will. Ishmael. The white whale. What else did he say?”

“Not to be an asshole,” he said sheepishly. “To not push away any friends.”

“Yes, he is your protector. That is why he has shown himself to Frank, and to me. Is there a piano on this ship?”

“Why?”

“I would like to hear this passage.”

Callahan shook his head. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“Neither do I, Harry-san. Neither do I, but even so…”

+++++

Harry had regained a sense of himself by the time they left for lunch; Sam Bennett was already at the buffet hitting the crab legs when he and Fujiko walked in, so they walked over and sat down with Elaine.

“Frank was doing laundry an hour ago,” Elaine said, smiling at Fujiko. “I’m worried about Sam, too. If he keeps eating those crab-thingies he’s going to turn into one…”

“The hell I am,” Sam bellowed, setting his plate down on the table. “I’m just taking advantage of all this stuff while we’re on this tub, that’s all.”

“You do know,” Fujiko said, grinning coyly, “that crab are part of the spider family?”

Bennett looked at his plate and scowled. “Well, fuck it,” he sighed. “It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.”

Cathy arrived and sat, clearly exasperated. “Never, ever let a man fold your laundry!” she snarled at the world in general, clearly flustered after a morning with Bullitt. “I swear, that man doesn’t care if his clothes are wrinkled or not!”

“That explains a lot,” Harry said, his voice just above a whisper.

“See! See!” Cathy cried. “Your clothes are always neat and pressed! See!”

“Central Laundry, over off Geary.”

“What?” Cathy said, startled.

“That’s who does mine. I wouldn’t know how to fold a shirt if you held a gun to my head.”

“Elaine does mine,” Sam sighed between bites of crab. “Best in the world.”

Frank slunk up to the table and sat down, trying his best to avoid the fireballs Cathy was lobbing his way. “Harry? Thanks. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy doing laundry, bit I think today I hit a new low.”

“Hell, Frank, even toddlers can hold it longer than you did.”

Bullitt shook his head. “I’m beginning to hate that prick.”

“Who’s that?” Sam asked, puzzled.

“Harry’s ghost.”

“Oh. Him.” Sam cracked open another leg and began digging the white meat out. “So what happened this time?”

“The bastard just popped up right beside me. Scared the shit out of me.”

“Boy, did he,” Callahan muttered.

“Shove it, Callahan. Sideways, maybe with a little twist.”

Fujiko’s eyes were wide open. “I have been away too long. I do not recognize half of what you are saying.”

“Not important,” Sam said between bites. “What did that fucker have to say this morning?”

“Sam? Eat your spiders,” Harry said.

“Spiders?” Frank cried. “Sam’s eating spiders?”

Callahan shook his head. “Sheesh. This is fun.”

Fujiko shook her head: “Harry is going to play some of his mother’s music. Would anyone like to come and listen?”

Frank looked up, alarmed. “Oh, no,” he groaned.

Sam paused, his crab-laden fork hovering in midair: “You sure you wanna do that again, Harry?”

“Do what?” Elaine asked, now confused.

Callahan looked at Sam, then Frank: “We gotta get to the bottom of this, and soon. Something ain’t right.”

“What do you mean – ‘ain’t right’ – Callahan?”

Callahan put his hands on the table. “Anyone ever think we kind of gave up too soon? Like we’re turning over the city to a bunch of fascist goons and just turning our backs on all of it?”

“There’re just too many of ‘em, Harry,” Frank sighed, “but we’ve been over all that. Why the sudden change of heart?”

“Because what if that was the wrong decision. If so, then somehow we’ve got to fix it.”

Franks eyes narrowed. “What the hell are you talking about, Harry?”

“Look, Frank, I have an idea, but I want to run it by you first…”

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (Covid-19) waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. To begin, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. 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. 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.]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 42

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 42

“It’s almost possible to see Omi stalking the beach, hear the crew suffering in the pit,” Bullitt said, his voice a bare whisper in the twilight. He turned to Fujiko-san, wonder in his eyes: “I have you to thank for this. This is exactly what I wanted to experience. This moment. To feel time as it might have been four hundred years ago, what it might have been like to walk this beach…”

Fujiko bowed. “Thank you. I do not deserve such praise.”

They were seated on the sand at a small beach south of Ajiro; the beach was aglow in torchlight, a small dinner of fire roasted vegetables and seafood was cooking on a nearby fire pit, the hissing red embers lending another layer to the colorful sunset.

Evelyn was sitting beside Callahan; she had not smiled all day, had barely said a word – even when asked. If she had expressed any emotion at all, it might have been found in the many covetous sidelong glances she cast – like a fisherman’s net – between Harry and Fujiko-san. Now, she was snuggling up to Callahan in an almost brazen attempt to stake a territorial claim, as if she was daring Fujiko-san to repeat last night’s waterborne drama.

Callahan, for his part, seemed annoyed by Evelyn’s overt manipulations, but he had been growing tired of her all day. This evenings antics had become the last straw on a day filled with childish pouts and churlish moodiness. 

So when Evelyn chided Frank for his overt thankfulness, Harry got up from the sand and walked away, down to the gently ebbing surf. Evelyn got up and ran after him.

“I’m sorry,” she said as she came up behind him. “I can’t help it…”

“It was a mistake to bring you on this trip – you’re like a black hole that sucks all the emotion out of the air. You leave stale misery behind, don’t you? I mean, you do it deliberately, right?”

She stepped back, sucked in a deep breath like she’d been gut-punched, and then she started to cry…

“Oh, stop it, would you?” he hissed. “Tears are for children who don’t know any other way to get what they want.”

Her eyes blinked rapidly, her arms crossed reflexively – as if she was preparing to ward off blows…

But they never came.

“Is that what you do?” he continued. “Push and push and push until the people close to you lash out in self-defense? And then you blame them? Why don’t you grow up and take responsibility for your actions.”

She turned wordlessly and walked into the night; a moment later he felt more than heard Frank walking after her, then he heard Cathy by his side.

“She put on quite a show today, didn’t she,” Cathy sighed. “Frank is beside himself right now.”

“It was that obvious, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. He said he wanted to send her home, but then he realized she has no home to go to. She’s pushed everyone out of her life, and now she’s working on Frank.”

“I think all she wants is some kind of sympathy-banquet.”

Cathy laughed a little at that. “Well put,” she whispered, “but I wonder…”

“How are you feeling?” Callahan asked, changing the subject. 

“My feet are killing me. Some kind of circulatory problem.”

“Your ankles looked a little puffy this afternoon. Maybe you shouldn’t go on so many walks?”

“I’m too old for this, but…”

“But it’s the most important thing you and Frank have ever done.”

She stepped closer, took his arm and leaned her head on his shoulder. “Life is easier with friends, isn’t it?”

“I’m not sure about easier, but it’s not much worth living without them.”

“I hope he’ll be around when she’s born.”

“He will be.”

“What?”

“Just a feeling, Cathy. I just know he’ll be here.”

She squeezed his arm. “Come on. Let’s eat some of those goodies.”

When he woke up the next morning Callahan called Didi; an hour later and with fax in hand he took Evelyn to Tokyo and put her on a Swissair flight to Zurich. Didi planned to meet the plane and take Evelyn to the clinic in Davos. It was, in the end, the only thing he could think to do and he hoped Frank wouldn’t be too upset. Dell and Carl and their broods left for California too, their vacation times at an end – leaving Frank and Cathy, Sam and Elaine, as well as Harry the remaining members of the group, and today they were off to the mountains above Ajiro. They were headed to a small inn; after a night there the group would walk along a trail – from inn to inn – for five days and nights, stopping at small shrines each afternoon. The last night would see them visit a small hotel and teahouse, one reputed to be located in the most gorgeous setting in all Japan. Fujiko-san had prepared reading materials and these were needed to cover the importance of the tea ceremony in Japanese life, and to prepare each of them for their own ceremony.

They walked along a ridge-line from north to south, following a sort of spine that divided the Izu Peninsula into wet and dry regions. The path they walked was, Fujiko-san told them, ancient, and had been in use for at least a thousand years, and during the summer it was always quite crowded…

“Why?” Sam Bennett asked.

“You must see for yourself,” Fujiko-san said. “Only in that way can you truly learn.” 

But it didn’t take long for the little group to understand why. The trail meandered through dark forests and airy glades, then crossed rocky streams that seemed to be meticulously planned settings for secluded gardens. Every so often they rounded a bend and found the way ahead chiseled into the sides of sheer granite cliffs, and hundreds of feet below the sea crashed into a rocky shore. Just when muscles began to ache and their feet to tire another inn suddenly appeared, and soon rocky baths fed by hot springs soothed away all their aches and pains. Their evening meal was in a forest glade one night, then on a rocky outcrop perched high above the sea the next, and every night Fujiko-san instructed them on the importance of tea – and the tea ceremony – before heading off to bed.

In the middle of the second night Callahan woke after a particularly unsettling dream. Evelyn was lost in a blinding snowstorm one moment, and the next he was staring down into a grave. Worms were writhing all over a partially decomposed body before unseen men began filling the grave, and when he woke in a sweat he went outside into the cool air and sat on a rock overlooking the sea.

A few minutes later he heard another shōji screen open and close, then he felt Fujiko-san kneeling by his side. She remained there, not saying a word – barely breathing – until he stood, then she took his hand and led him to the hot springs. In the bathhouse she took off all his night-clothes and rinsed him off, then he followed her to one of the rocky pools. They sat in the water; she kissed him once then she very slowly mounted him, and they remained fused in that position for what felt like an eternity, until the moment of the clouds and the rain came for them.

When he woke up he wondered if any of it had really happened, if their joining had been a part of his fevered dreams, but those doubts vanished when he saw the look in her eyes later than morning.

‘I cannot fall in love again…not so easily, never so carelessly again…’ that cautiously hidden voice said again and again – and just as the trail began descending through a series of narrow, rocky canyons, he began to see the final truth of this walk among the pines. In the distance he could see mist-shrouded spires rising from the sea, and now the air smelled of rocks and pine and sea-blown spray, while a freshening breeze began to chill the sweat on his body. The trail narrowed deeper still, until on the last stretch they were stepping from boulder to boulder, but by then the air around the rocky spires had cleared a little and atop each rocky needle he could just make out a series of cascading wooden structures…

“Is that the inn?” Frank asked, his voice full of wonder.

“Yes,” Fujiko-san said, “and on the farthest rock, just there,” she said, pointing, “is the Teahouse of Autumn Storms.”

The song of wind through pine gave way to mellow notes of rock and sea, and Fujiko-san led them across a narrow bridge, the yawning chasm below a reminder of just how isolated this place really was.

“There is no electricity here, no running water, so be spare with consumption here.”

“There’s no bath?” Elaine Bennett asked.

“Over here,” Fujiko-san said as she led them to an overlook, and everyone in the little group gasped as they looked at several pools set among the rocks, each overlooking the sea. Callahan could just see steam rising from the pools; one just above the crashing surf caught his eye and he thought of Fujiko in the night, and when he looked at her he thought he could see the faintest outlines of a smile within the delicate hint of her lips.

“There are just a few rooms here, so the inn belongs to us for three nights. We will take our meals in the building just there,” she said, pointing at a craggy spire on the far side of a fifty meter gap.

“There’s no bridge,” Sam said. “How do we…”

Fujiko-san turned and smiled. “Be patient. Time will reveal all you need.”

Sam bowed and Fujiko-san returned the gesture, smiling slightly.

A very correct, very traditionally dressed innkeeper appeared and turned to Fujiko; he spoke once and she reminded them to take off their shoes before they entered their rooms, then she turned to Frank and Cathy. “If you will follow this man he will take you to your room. A maid will help you with your clothing and show you to the steps that lead to the baths.”

As Frank and Cathy were led off Fujiko turned to Sam; she asked them to follow the innkeeper’s wife to their room, then she turned to Harry.

“Follow me,” she whispered.

She led him to another narrow bridge and he followed her across the span to what almost looked like an elaborate umbrella shaped structure, but one that seemed hewn into the rock itself. He had to duck low to enter through the low-slung shōji screen but once inside he found the room simply awe-inspiring. The floor was laid out to perfectly accommodate four tatami mats, but it was the view that staggered Callahan. The seaward-facing walls were open to the sea just now, the screen walls open to the sights and sounds of the sea below. He walked around the space, saw that every joint in the wood was a mitered puzzle of impossible cuts, and just outside the formal space of the room was a cantilevered ledge that served as a terrace. He stepped out carefully, mindful that there was not a railing in sight, and then he looked down to the surf a hundred feet below.

“It’s perfect,” he said as she stepped out and joined him. He turned and faced her, looked into her eyes. “Is it possible that you might stay here with me?”

“Just here inside this moment, anything is possible.”

“I would like this moment to last forever,” he said, bowing low.

She most formally returned his bow, then turned to the room. “Your maid is here. She will help you change and lead you to the walkway. I will join you below.”

He stepped inside and the maid helped him out of his walking clothes and into a bathing kimono, then she led him, barefoot, to a hidden shōji screen. Sliding it aside she pointed to a narrow stairway cut into the amber stone; candles in little alcoves lit the way down and Callahan could just see that a rope handrail of sorts was there if he needed it. Concerned that the stone would tear up his feet gave way to wonder when he realized the stone had been worn smooth by hundreds of years of use, and he had made his way down several steps before he realized this stairway was quite literally inside the spire. The only hint he was near the end came when he heard surf crashing into rock, then a gentle increase on light.

He stepped out into a crimson sunset, the sky now gently streaked with wispy yellow-orange clouds, and he spied another maid waiting by the nearest pool; she was standing beside a small stone table laden with things to make tea, as well as a few plates of grilled vegetables and raw fish.

A few minutes later Frank and Cathy appeared, and Sam a few minutes later.

“Elaine is terrified of those steps, and I’m afraid I didn’t do much better…”

“Is she still up there?” Harry asked, pointing.

“Yup. And still clinging to that goddam rope, I do believe.”

Harry dashed to the opening Sam had emerged from and found Elaine still near the top; he had her put a hand out on his shoulder and gently led her out into the sunset.

“My God,” Elaine sighed as she looked around in wonder, “but this was worth the walk.”

Sam was already in a pool nursing a cup of something and Elaine went to her husband and slipped into the water by his side. Harry joined Frank and Cathy as everyone sat in silence, each watching the setting sun as if inside a deep trance.

Harry felt Fujiko slip into the water but she remained a polite distance away, but then she handed him a cup of what he assumed was tea…yet though it was a tea of some kind it was thicker and seemed infused with the flavor of flowers and berries. She passed cups to Frank and Cathy as torches came to life one by one, filling the rocks with dancing shadows and shimmering amber rock.

The maid handed Fujiko a plate of vegetables and fish, and this she passed to Frank and Cathy. The next plate went to Sam and Elaine; when the last was handed to Fujiko she held out this plate, without a word asking Harry to make his choice.

Dinner was elegant but quite spartan; grilled vegetables and more seafood, some cooked over charcoal, some raw. A woman played the koto and sang mournful songs as the moon came out of the sea; soon after everyone returned to their room, if they could be called that, by walking down the dining rooms spire – and then back to the spires that led to each of the four rooms.

The maid was waiting for Callahan and she helped him into a light sleeping kimono, pointing out where he could relieve himself in the night then leaving him to the silence of the moment. A half hour later the shōji slid open and Fujiko came to him; they made love through the night then stepped out onto the terrace, waiting for the sunrise. She leaned against him and he held her close, lost in the quiet timelessness of this first real moment together.

She disappeared a few minutes before his maid returned, and once again the maid helped him into the same bathing kimono he’d worn the night before. He walked down the rock stairway to the pools and there was a light breakfast waiting for him; after everyone had eaten Fujiko appeared – in a swimsuit – and she led them to a shallow entry well away from the breaking surf.

“We will swim out to that rock,” she said, pointing to a tall spire Callahan guessed was at least a hundred meters offshore. “There is a shrine inside the rock; it is a very ancient place, very magical.”

“How cold is that water?” Sam asked.

“It is cool, but not cold. You should be fine as long as you can make reasonable speed through the water.”

Sam shook his head. “Not me. Elaine, feel free.”

“I’m a good swimmer,” Elaine said to Fujiko. “I’m in.”

“Not me,” Cathy said, pointing to her belly. “Frank?”

“Would you mind if I went,” he asked Cathy, who simply shook her head.

“No, go ahead.”

Fujiko led the way down to the water’s edge and Callahan gaped at the clarity of the sea here: “It looks like a swimming pool,” he said as he looked down into the sea, and at the pebbles below the surface.

Fujiko and Elaine took off first, but Frank held Harry back a moment, let the women get ahead a little before he walked into the water.

“Damn,” Harry said as the water hit his groin, “if this isn’t cold I wonder what is?”

“Come on,” Frank said as he dove into the sea. When they were well away from the shore Frank turned to Harry. “Are you making it with her?”

“Fujiko?”

“Goddam, Harry. Who’d you think I was asking about?”

“Yes. We’re  making it, Frank.”

“Damn. I knew it.”

“What does it matter to you?”

“I don’t know, Harry,” Frank said, exasperated. “So, you’re done with Evelyn?”

“Completely.”

“Why’d you send her to Switzerland?”

“She’s sick, Frank. She needs help, but you know what? It’s not my job to rescue people all the time, Frank. I want a life, a real life this time.”

“And you think this girl is going to offer you that? A real life? She’s a walking, talking medieval fantasy, Callahan, not a wife. Hell, she’s like a walking wet-dream right out of that book!”

“She was born in San Francisco, Frank. She went to fucking Stanford.”

“What?”

“Yeah, Frank. Cut me a little slack, would you?”

“Okay Harry. Sorry. I’m just worried…”

“Yeah? Well, I’m worried about you too, Frank. And I’m worried about Cathy. Hell, I’m even worrying about Sam right now. Like…why the fuck is he not out here, not getting in the water? He’s a great swimmer, so what the fuck was that all about?”

“Harry, you need to get laid more often.”

“I’m working on it, Frank. Jesus Fucking Christ, my nuts are about to freeze off!”

“We better pick it up a little. The girls are already out on the rocks.”

Callahan was shivering by the time he crawled out of the water, but Fujiko magically handed him a sun-warmed towel…

“You think of everything, don’t you?”

She smiled as she handed Frank a towel. “We are going up inside this rock to a very special shrine. It dates back more than a thousand years, but be careful. The path is narrow, the steps uncomfortable in places, so we will go slow. Now, follow me, please.”

The entry to the ‘stairway’ was, Callahan saw, almost impossible to pick out from the other cracks and crevices on the wall’s face, but then Fujiko slipped sideways through a narrow slit and disappeared. 

“Shit,” Bullitt whispered as he stepped up to the opening. “Harry, I’m not sure you’ll make it through this thing” – but then Frank stepped through and was gone.

Elaine had no difficulty at all, but when Callahan stepped up to the opening he tried to make sense of the math. ‘I’m six-four and this slit looks just about right for someone five feet tall…’ He stepped in with one leg then contorted here and there until he was through, but then he saw he’d picked up a good scrape on his right knee, too. A steady stream of blood was running down his leg as he started up the narrow path. The height stepped down to around four feet in places, and Callahan had to turn sideways to get through other, narrower parts of the passageway, then he stepped out into a vast room…

The floor had been chiseled smooth but the rest of the space was a natural cavern, with one narrow slit in the rock letting sunlight and fresh air into the shrine.

“On the equinox, sunlight enters and shines on this formation,” Fujiko-san said as she pointed at swirling striations in an area of smooth rock wall. Harry struggled to make sense of it then his mind recognized a stork or crane, a vast bird of some sort, anyway, and while the rock surrounding the bird was gray and amber-brown, the ‘bird’ was blue and, in places, almost white.

“I’ll be damned,” Bullitt whispered, shaking his head in disbelief.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like that,” the Old Man in the Cape said, suddenly standing right beside Callahan. “Fascinating, isn’t it?”

Harry ignored the Old Man and shook his head.

“Oh, and if I were you I’d keep an eye out for sharks.” He grinned at Harry and an instant later the Old Man vanished.

“You said this is a shrine,” Elaine said. “What kind? And is this shrine unlike any other?”

“Very much so,” Fujiko said. “A priest does come here, but only on the two days of equal duration, the equinox in autumn and in spring. There is a small service – well, what most would call a service – and an offering to the kami that resides in this rock. On those rare days when the sun shines and the crane is illuminated, good fortune is foretold for those few who have made the journey.”

Callahan stepped into the narrow beam of sunlight and Fujiko looked at the blood running down his leg. “When did this happen?” she asked, pointing at the wound.

“At the entry – when I stepped through the gap.”

“We must wrap this quickly,” she said urgently, “and get the blood off your leg. Follow me.”

She led the group back down the treacherous steps and met Harry on the rocky shelf above the surf; she washed his leg with sea water and then, using a sliver of fabric from one of the dry towels, she tied a sort of tourniquet around Callahan’s knee, hopefully sealing the wound from the sea. “Swim quickly,” she said directly to the group, “and Mr. Callahan, try not to lose the wrap; there are more than a few sharks in these waters.”

Callahan nodded. “Swell,” he said, grinning at Frank. “Care to see who can swim faster? Me, or a shark?” Elaine dove from the rocks and began swimming like a real pro, then Fujiko dove in, making good time, too. “Frank? Go ahead.”

“No, I’ll bring up the rear, Amigo. Go for it.”

“You know, this feel like that last swim after the final run at the academy. Kind of momentous, ya know?”

Bullitt was looking at the water, but he turned to Harry and nodded. “Sharks are probably a little less careful than academy instructors, Harry. You ready to do this?”

“No.” And then Harry turned to the little cliff and dove into the water; when he surfaced he turned to see Frank still on the rocks, still staring at the sea. “Frank! Come on!”

Then Frank was pointing at something in the water, shouting “Move your ass, Callahan!” before he too dove into the sea.

He dove under and looked where Frank had been pointing, and the outlines of the shark were unmistakable, like a dark blue shadow within a lighter blue shadow. He began swimming slowly towards the shore, stopping once to tighten the sliver of towel around his knee, and when he looked up he saw the shark was now about ten yards away and staring intently at him. In the next instant Frank was beside him…

“It’s a Tiger shark, Harry. They don’t mess around,” Bullitt said anxiously.

“No, he looks like he means business. You go on; I’m gonna swim along facing him.”

“No way, Callahan. He won’t go after you if there are two of us. Now, let’s move it.”

“How far away are we?”

“I don’t know,” Bullitt said, spitting out sea water as he spoke, “call it fifty yards?” 

Callahan stuck his head back under the water and his heart shuddered; the shark was now almost close enough to reach out and touch, it’s cold, black eye now about five feet from his bleeding knee. He was lost and he knew it, yet he was almost mesmerized by the animals sheer beauty – the subtle striated markings along its side, the broad snout, the white underbody…all of it, simply gorgeous.

‘So, this is what death looks like,’ he heard an inner voice say…

Then he swam for the shark, his arms out ahead now, reaching out to touch death.

The shark rolled a little and turned abruptly, circling Callahan once while avoiding his hands, but Harry turned, his hands still out, still reaching, still trying to touch the darkness.

Then the shark turned on Callahan, its mouth open now and coming on with cold hard rage.

Still reaching out, he placed his hands on the shark’s snout and closed his eyes; then, visualizing a keyboard he played a chord in his mind and the shark seemed to give way, rolling on its side again, but in the next instant Harry was eye-to-eye with the animal. He placed his hands on the shark and filled his mind with his mother’s music and time seemed to stop, to spiral inward on itself…

Then he felt hands on his arms and a sour burning in his lungs; he opened his eyes and understood he was still far beneath the surface. He kicked and pulled against the weight with all his might, then he burst free of the water and into the air of the living…

Frank and Fujiko surfaced beside him and soon they were pulling him through the surf up to the rocks; Sam and Elaine were waiting at the water’s edge and they helped pull him free of the water and onto the rocks.

Then Fujiko was staring at Harry, the stone-cold astonishment she felt now clear to see in her eyes.

Frank was shaking his head, looking at Callahan but still not understanding him at all.

“What happened?” Cathy asked, now a part of Callahans ever-growing circle of confusion.

“I would like to know the answer to that, as well,” Fujiko-san added with her hands on her hips, almost smiling as she took-in deep breaths. “Yes, I would very much like to understand what I just witnessed.”

“Wouldn’t we all,” Bullitt said, turning to the sea once again, looking at the wave tops and lost in the memory of the impossible things he had just witnessed.

And then Fujiko bent to look at the wound on Callahan’s knee – and she found that the skin had closed completely, that there was no evidence of any injury at all. She stared at Callahan, lost in confusion, then she stood and helped him walk to the rock staircase the led to his room.

______________________________

The hotel’s fabled chashitsu, or tea room, was constructed completely of cedar, yet seemed to have grown out of the amber rock spire atop a soaring ledge. In many ways a traditional four and a half mat Sukiya-zukuri design, the room was nevertheless unique. Entry here was from below, access was through yet another narrow, winding staircase within the supporting spire, so there was – obviously – no space for a garden outside the main room. Instead of a meditative space outside the tea room there was only the cliff-lined shore, a few rocks far below and then the sea beyond. Here it was most common to lose oneself to the all-embracing winds that rushed in from the sea.

Typhoons had of course destroyed the tea room many times over the centuries, yet each time the cherished space was rebuilt exactly as before. As such, masters of the tea ceremony regarded this chashitsu as the very best in Japan – because the space adhered to tradition just as it seemed to cling resolutely to the rock itself.

Masters of the ceremony had already taken Frank and Cathy, then Sam and Elaine through the intricacies of an informal ceremony earlier in the evening; now in near darkness Fujiko-san lit candles and was soon leading Harry through the more rigid pageantry of a formal ceremony. And by now, even Callahan understood that the ritual cadences of the formal ceremony were reserved for only the most special occasions.

She presented the implements she would use that night, telling Callahan the history of each piece and then, as proscribed, allowing Callahan to pick up and admire them. She then made tea, and she poured with a grace that left Callahan feeling lost, like he was wandering through time.

When the ceremony was complete she led Callahan to the surrounding terrace and they sat inside a preternatural stillness…even the sea was a mirror that night…

The moon had not yet come for them and vagrant stars cast glancing reflections off the water – and to Callahan the shimmering echoes almost seemed like an illusion. Though he looked and looked it was almost impossible to find the line between the sea and the heavens, and perched up here on this lonely spire he felt immersed in vertiginous weightlessness.

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” he whispered.

“I have heard this could happen here but never imagined it might happen to me. This is very auspicious, Harry Callahan.”

“Auspicious?”

“That you and I would be here tonight, of all nights. Do you not feel the stars?”

“I feel love, if that’s what you mean.”

“Yes, exactly so. That is what I mean. But who do you love, Harry Callahan? Really?”

“You. There is only you now.”

“So, will you move to Japan – or shall I move to California?”

He smiled. “You should come to California and see the house that I have built, then I will let you decide.”

“Do you truly understand what I am talking about, Harry Callahan?”

“I understand that I will never see this opportunity again, that I will never meet another soul like yours. I understand that I am at a crossroads, that I am ready to embrace the change I think you will bring to my life. I do not understand you yet, but I think that will change one day, and I will try to make you happy until that day comes. So yes, I think I understand what I need to understand. I have seen you; now you should come and see what I am, what I was and what I hope to be, then we can decide what to do and how we want to go about making a little piece of the future our own. Does that sound fair – to you?”

“I think I would be happy wherever you are, Harry Callahan.”

“Then you will be happy, Fujiko-sama. We will be happy together.”

“I will be leaving tomorrow. Another guide will be taking my place.”

“What? Why?”

“I can no longer serve the rest of the group adequately. I can hardly breathe when I see you but cannot touch you… The owner of the company has been told; she wonders if she should terminate my employment but I have told her I do not care.”

“Fujiko…I am so sorry…”

“What? How could you be sorry? For bringing love to me, to us? I was lost here, Harry Callahan. Born overseas, destined to always be on the outside, forever looking inside on a world that barely accepts who I am. No, things will unfold as they must, and whether I am here or not. Like you, I have found my crossroads, because you were here to help me find it. Like you, it is time to find my way home, because I too believe in a future we can make together.”

There was a pale lightening along the eastern horizon and Callahan held Fujiko as both watched in awestruck silence while the faintest sliver of moon peeked over the edge of the universe, though in truth two moons came that night. One rose into the sky while the other fell towards a wall of rocky cliffs, down into the arms of two souls adrift on a windless sea and who had just happened along, waiting to dance within the shimmering echoes of a million stars.

________________________________

Callahan stood on a small balcony off his hotel room, watching the Valley Forge enter Osaka Harbor, making for the docks. His bags were packed, and even all his gifts and souvenirs were ready to go, too. He’d picked up a small camera bag and now kept that with him wherever he went, so his last chore before going to the ship was to drop by his favorite camera shop and pick up his developed rolls of film. All seventy-three of them.

Once Fujiko left the group he’d spent most of his time photographing the things that most called out to him, though he still managed a few snapshots from time to time. He found he enjoyed taking black and white photographs most of all, though the colors he discovered within Fuji slide film enticed him, too. A few cherry blossoms appeared their last few days on the road, and the delicate pinks pulled him in new directions; as a result of all this he and Cathy had become almost constant companions, their Nikons blazing away as they worked to capture every emotion each new excursion presented.

Yet Cathy was an architect, and as she roamed temples, shrines and castles she did so with sketchbooks never far from hand. She moved to photograph buildings everywhere they went, and if something really interested her, pencil and paper soon appeared. Little houses and tea rooms captivated her interest most of all, and she worked on these sketches whenever she could.

“I’d love to buy the lot next-door to the house and have you design a tea house, maybe create a real Japanese garden,” he mentioned one afternoon, and she began presenting him with an evolving series of sketches for the remainder of the trip. Frank let on that she had grown consumed with the idea, and Callahan was fascinated with the ideas she came up with.

The group boarded the Valley Forge at noon, though Harry had moved to a larger suite for the return voyage. Carrying but a single, small suitcase, Fujiko-san arrived an hour later, and Harry helped her settle-in before taking her to meet his father.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (Covid-19) waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. To begin, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. 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. 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 (4)

Come Alive 1

Chapter 4

Up on the foredeck, the seas kicking up and the wind blowing like cold snot, Taggart held onto the forestay as the Bandit worked up the face of another eight-footer – then he cried out in joy as she surfed down the face, slamming into another trough, sending blue water up to his knees again.

Rolf, behind the wheel and enjoying this new little storm, smiled at Henry as he yelled at another breaking wave, this time shaking a fist at the sky and laughing like a madman.

“He really enjoys this almost like a little boy,” Rolf said, shaking his head.

“Yes,” Dina added, “or maybe more like a child.”

“I did not mean that, Grandma-ma. It is more like an innocent pleasure, I think.”

She nodded. “The innocent pleasure of a lunatic.”

“You really do not like him, do you?”

“On the contrary,” Dina said, “I think I am beginning to love him very much.”

Rolf seemed shocked at that: “Seriously? No way!”

When she turned and looked at her grandson he saw that she was very serious indeed, then she he looked down at the chartplotter, noting their position about a mile west of Herdla, their course set for Vatnet and the entrance to the Bergen-Stavanger Channel. Almost home, he thought sadly, already at the end of their special journey…and he still couldn’t put into words his feelings for Henry.

‘He is almost like my father sometimes, then a minute later he acts like an old friend from school. He is my teacher, too…’

Most of all, Rolf seemed in awe of Taggart’s ability to attract attention, and he’d watched several women fall under some kind of spell after they had been around Henry for just a few minutes…

…but now…Grandma-ma? What was this?

There were rocks in the channel around Bekken, but Henry had already plotted these, placed guard zones around every one of them, and Rolf admired Henry’s dogged thoroughness…

Then in an instant the wind fell away and just minutes later the inside passage turned smooth, almost mirror-like, yet Taggart remained glued to the foredeck, his eyes apparently locked onto something that had interested him…

And then Taggart was down on the deck, one arm reaching down to sea, banging on the side of Bandit’s hull. Rolf scanned the water and soon he too smiled…

“Look! Grandma-ma! The whales are back!”

The black dorsal fins were hard to see against the almost black water, but yes, there they were, and Dina already had the binoculars in hand, scanning the markings she could see.

“Yes, they are the same ones,” she said a moment later. “This seems very unusual to me…”

“Oh really? You mean you are just realizing that?”

“What do you mean, Rolf?”

“He is like the sun, Grandma-ma. Everything is attracted to him…even these whales…”

One of the smaller calves surfaced just off Time Bandit’s starboard bow wave and as the little fella started surfing along Taggart laid on his side with his head propped up on one hand, watching – and waiting…

…until the big male surfaced alongside, his soulful eye looking into Taggart’s…

Taggart held onto a lifeline and leaned out, still waiting.

The male came close, close enough to touch, then the old male sounded and was as quickly gone.

More calves came alongside and surfed for a while, then the pod moved off towards a rock loaded with sea lions. With that, Taggart stood and came back to the cockpit…

Dina saw that he was freezing, probably hypothermic, but he waved her off. “I feel fine,” he said to the look in her eyes.

“Your hands, Henry. It is past time for your medication.”

He nodded and ducked below, and when he came back a while later he was wearing dry clothes, including that new black sweater. ‘Funny,’ he thought. ‘I always put that one on when I’m about to see Britt.’

“Feel like some Indian food tonight?” he said, looking at Rolf.

“Yes!”

“Alright! You want to take her into the dock?”

Rolf shook his head. “No way!”

“You’re ready. Dina and I will handle the lines, but why don’t you go get something warm to drink while you can?”

“Okay.”

“He’s a great kid,” Taggart said to Dina after Rolf was out of earshot. 

“You are a good teacher.”

“It’s the only thing I really know, I guess. It’s what I remember most when I think about my dad.”

“You would’ve been a good father.”

“Me? You gotta be kidding. Once I’m on land I don’t know up from down.”

She smiled but was generally intolerant of self-deprecating humor, even from Taggart. “So, I have called Britt and she has secured a place for Bandit very close to the clinic.”

“Excellent. Better call her back and tell her about dinner.”

“I think tonight should just be between you and Rolf.”

“Nonsense. We’ll have plenty of time for that.”

“How long do you want to stay in Bergen?”

“A few days. I’ll be ready to go in a few days.”

“I’ll just need to fill out some paperwork…” Dina said…

“No, you don’t. There’s no need for you to do this.”

“I told you I want to. In fact, I think I need to.”

“I set out to do this alone.”

“And you did not set out with cancer.”

“I’ll be fine.”

She did not want to argue with him, especially during these next few hours, as that would only upset Rolf, but she could see the stubborn set of his jaw and knew him well enough to know what that meant. She took out her phone and checked signal strength, then dialed Britt at the clinic. She left a message to expect dinner at the Indian place and rang off, then looked at the sun trying to break through the low scudding clouds. “It will be a lovely evening,” she said gently. “Let’s not spoil it for anyone.”

“Right,” he said, visibly relaxing. “Right you are, as always.”

+++++

“Okay…slip her into neutral and let the wind take her a little…”

Rolf was backing Time Bandit up slowly to the quay; Britt was waiting there, ready to take a line.

“A little right rudder…now a little left on the thruster…that’s it, let her drift…okay – Now! – into forward and a little throttle to stop momentum, then back into neutral…”

Taggart tossed one line to Britt and he jumped ashore and tied off the other. Dina tied-off between pilings off both sides of the bow…and that was it. Rolf ran the power cord ashore and made the connection while Taggart shut down the diesel and set the ship’s systems to run off shore power. Everything else had already been secured so The Bandit’s crew jumped ashore and in stony silence they made their way to the restaurant.

Once seated, Rolf was the first to speak. “I do not want this to be over. It has been the best month of my life.”

Henry nodded. “I don’t know how to say this, but if I’d had a son I’d have wanted him to be just like you. I think even my dad would approve of the job you did out there today.”

Britt smiled, Dina turned away.

“Mom, I have four more weeks of vacation. Could I not go on to Oslo with Henry?”

Britt shook her head. “We have much to do around the house, and summer will be over soon enough.”

Dejected, the boy looked down.

“And mother?” Britt said, looking at Dina. “What are your plans now?”

“She’s staying here,” Taggart said – and Dina glared.

“I will go with Mr. Taggart, at least as far as Oslo. Then, we’ll see how he’s doing after our visit to the University Hospital.”

“I think I should go with you, Henry,” Rolf said.

Henry nodded. “I understand, but that is entirely up to your mother.”

“And Henry,” Dina injected, “there is the matter of placing the port.”

“What’s involved with that?”

She shook her head, meaning it was not fit dinnertime discussion material. “It will take a day.”

“You want to do it here, not Oslo?”

She nodded.

“Can we do it…”

“It is scheduled for the day after tomorrow at six in the morning. You will then need to take it easy for a few days.”

“Uh-huh. I see.”

Rolf knew exactly what that meant and suppressed a knowing grin. But then again, he’d already decided what he was going to do, his mother’s feelings not withstanding.

There were no theatrics at dinner that night, no capsaicin overdoses and no dances to the bathroom, because everyone seemed to be hovering along the edges of a vast, unknowable decision…a razor’s edge, if you will.

Henry had made up his mind…he would slip away from the dock in the middle of the night – such as it was at this latitude – and make good his escape.

Rolf would sneak aboard, because he’d already figured that out.

While Dina sat there feverishly trying to figure out how to stop Henry from leaving in the night.

Leaving Britt, who was trying to figure out the best way to tell Henry that she was pregnant, and not coincidentally that he just happened to be the father.

+++++

They left him to pay the bill and when he left the restaurant he felt a little disoriented, then a little light-headed. He sat on a bench near the fish market and held on until he felt better – then he saw a dog wandering along the waterfront begging for food. He, or maybe it was a she, looked like a Golden Retriever, but this thing was, Taggart saw, emaciated. Beyond emaciated, really. It looked sick, on its last legs.

“Come here, fella,” Taggart said, and the dog looked his way, wagged its tail once and, with its head and tail down walked almost sideways to Taggart’s bench.

“Don’t feed it,” a passerby warned. “He’s a pest.”

“Does the pest have a name?” Taggart asked, but his question was met with a vacant shrug. “You hungry, boy?”

The tail wagged a little, so he walked over to one of the open fish stalls and bought some salmon scraps, then went back to the bench. He fed the old boy and then noticed the cataracts and the almost solid white muzzle, and he saw what had to be a pretty hefty tumor on the dog’s back, right by one of the shoulder blades, and he shook his head.

“You’re having a rough time, aren’t you, old boy?”

Who looked up at the strange new voice, waiting for the next bite of fish, but he was smiling a little now.

When he had run out of fish Taggart stood and began making his way to the Bandit – only he noticed he had company now. The old boy was hanging back, pretending he wasn’t following Taggart, but Henry wasn’t fooled…

He patted his leg. “Well, come on if you’re coming.”

They made their way down the long ramp to the water and walked along to Time Bandit’s stern, and Henry stepped across, patted his leg once again.

The dog appeared terrified – until Henry stepped back across and lifted the dog into his arms, then carrying the old boy across the gap. Once on the aft deck the dog circled once and crapped, leaving Henry feeling a little abused.

A half hour later Dina arrived, flashlight in hand.

“What’s this?” she said when she saw the animal.

“I believe it’s called a dog.”

“I can see that…”

“So why did you ask?”

Exasperated and with her hands on her hips, Dina scowled as she spoke: “Where did it come from?”

Taggart pointed to the dock. “Right about there, I think.”

She came over and looked at the creature and her scowl deepened. “He’s very sick.”

“That makes two of us.”

“He has a tumor…”

“Yup. Me too.”

“And fleas.”

Taggart scratched behind an ear. “Yup. I got some of those too.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Take him to see a doctor in the morning.”

“Indeed.” And suddenly, Dina saw this wasted mongrel as a key ally in this part of her campaign. “I know a very good animal clinic here in town.”

“I thought you might.” He looked up, saw Rolf hiding in the shadows and waved him off. “Well, I’ve got to gather laundry and get it up to them. Want to help?”

“Certainly.”

“Okay, you gather the bedding up front and I’ll…” Taggart stumbled backwards and fell onto a cockpit seat; Dina rushed to his side and began feeling for a pulse. Seconds later Rolf was jumping onboard, already lending a hand. “Somebody stay with the dog,” Henry managed to say before he lost consciousness.

+++++

He opened his eyes expecting to see his cabin, and instead saw he was back in the hospital. Alone. No nurse, too.

Then, with a building sense of panic he remembered the dog. He found the Call Button and hit it; a moment later the Ugliest Woman in Norway walked into his room. She looked, Taggart decided, like some kind of stunted troll from a Norwegian horror flick and recoiled from the thought.

“Ah, so you are awake now?”

“I don’t know. Am I?”

“Of course.”

“For a moment I thought I was inside a film called The Night of the Living Dead.”

“No, you are very much alive now.”

“How long have I been out?”

“It is just now noon, so a little more than twelve hours. You had dangerously low blood pressure and your white count was very low as well, so you are being transfused.”

He looked at his arms and didn’t see a line, then he felt an odd pressure just beneath his left collar bone. “Is this the port?”

“Yes.”

“Where’s Dina…uh, Dr. Bauer?”

“She has been notified.”

“What does that mean?”

“She will be here shortly.”

Which turned out to be a few hours later. She walked in looking harried and worn out.

“You don’t look so hot, doc.”

“Neither do you.”

“Where’s the dog?”

“At the clinic. I assumed you wanted to take care of him.”

“Thank you.” He visibly relaxed on hearing that.

“After you fell he curled up on your legs. It seems you have a new admirer to go with your collection.”

He noted the bitter sarcasm in her voice and filed it away for later. “I like admirers. There’s something admirable about having so many, don’t you think?”

“You are a nut case, Henry Taggart.”

“Thank you very much.”

“Well, I see you are feeling better…”

“Are they going to bathe the dog?”

“Of course. And we treated you for fleas, as well.”

“Wonderful, but I still have an urge to scratch behind my ears with my feet. Do you think that’ll go away on its own?”

“I have my doubts.”

“So, how long to sail between here and Oslo?”

“A week if you push hard.”

“Did you change your mind? You’re not coming?”

“I got the distinct impression my company was not wanted.”

“Okay, Doc. You win. Move your stuff onboard, see if mamma-san will let Rolf come along.”

“You are sure?”

“It was the dog that did it, Doc. Your heart is in the right place after all.”

“I will never understand you Americans and your infatuation with dogs.”

“Good. A little mystery never hurt anyone.”

She shook her head. “I will come for you in the morning, probably before eight. You may shower as long as your port is covered; ask the nurse and she will show you how. Have you named your dog yet?”

“How ‘bout Clyde?”

She shrugged. 

“You know, the boat? Bandit? Clyde sort of fits, right?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You know, bandits, Bonnie and Clyde?”

“Who were they?”

He shrugged. “Oh, just a couple of North Dallas socialites who were into animal rights.”

“Oh, well, good name, then.”

“Yeah, I thought so too.”

“So, I am going to go pick up…Clyde now. I will take care of him tonight.”

“Thanks, Dina.”

She nodded, managed a faint smile before she left him there, sitting alone again in spreading puddles of guilt and doubt.

+++++

Clyde seemed to take to life on Time Bandit about as well as any half-blind, tumor-ridden dog could, but it was a whole other story once the seas picked up. He howled at first, and not out of joy, when Bandit hit a good, solid eight footer, washing the cockpit with walls of spray and sending him into a urine-spraying frenzy.

“I wonder if he could make it to shore?” Taggart mused after a rolling ten-footer resulted in a fresh pile of salmon scented crap landing on the companionway steps. “It can’t be more than, what, two miles away?”

“Henry, you just spent three thousand dollars on that animal,” Dina said, grinning but hardly amused.

“Fucking ingrate.”

“That probably depends on your point of view, Henry. He seems very grateful to me.”

“He pissed on my bed last night, Dina. Trust me, that isn’t gratitude.” Clyde skulked over and crawled onto Taggart’s lap, then the pup licked his chin. “Alright, good boy. All is forgiven.” Henry set the autopilot and held onto the pup for a half hour, letting the sun soak in while he rubbed Clyde’s ears. “What time is Rolf waking up?”

“His watch starts at 1800 hours, yours starts at midnight.”

“Seems like a lot of traffic out here. Is it usually like this?”

“Yes. Lots of traffic to the oil fields, freighters in and out of the Baltic make up the rest.”

“Geez. I’m going to slip in closer to the shoreline, try to stay out of the shipping lanes.”

She shook her head. “Too many rocks, and if the wind backs on us we’ll be clawing off a lee shore.”

“Forecast is still for winds out of the northwest through tomorrow afternoon.”

“But Henry, these forecasts are considered notoriously unreliable for good reason. These waters change with perilous unpredictability.”

“Okay, so I set a twenty five mile guard on the radar, and I’ll stay up here tonight and keep him company.”

“Henry, you need rest. I know you can’t see it, but your arms and legs are involved now. I’m not sure how much longer your Parkinson’s symptoms will remain under control.”

He shrugged. “Someone will come up with a new medication. Someone always does.”

She shook her head. “You really are unbelievable, Henry. You do know that, don’t you?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Clyde rambled up the companionway steps, stood on his hind legs and looked at the waves – then he sneezed once, shook his ears in the wind before he went back below to hide on Henry’s bunk. “He’s wising up fast.”

“At least one of us is,” she sighed.

He heard a Mayday on the radio and turned up the volume. “Sounds like a cruise ship,” he said. “Behind us, maybe thirty miles. Stavanger Coast Guard has ‘em.”

“There have been several today, all close to shore.”

He nodded as he fiddled with the radar, tuning out the rough seas and bringing the range down to 16 miles. Three new targets popped and new alarms sounded.

“Where did those come from?” Dina said, looking at the display with anger.

“Lost in sea-clutter,” highlighting a target and letting the computer work out its speed and course. “Okay, this guy will be coming close, looks like in about a half hour.”

She peered ahead, saw nothing but gray mist suspended in the wind-whipped air. “You know what I’m thinking?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, really? What?”

“You’re looking at the chart, wondering if we shouldn’t bail out and duck into a nearby port, maybe let this storm blow out.”

“Am I that obvious,” she said, throwing up her hands.

“It’s the obvious call, Dina. What about Flekkefjord? Is there a good clinic there?”

“Yes,” she said, surprised Henry would even suggest such a thing. “You are not feeling well?”

“No, I am not feeling well.”

“Will you consider letting me start chemo now?”

“We will consider it.”

He looked at her, saw the shock and concern in her eyes and he shrugged.

“Henry, you do know that I love you just a little, right?”

“The feeling’s mutual, Doc.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, but don’t tell anyone.”

“If I could have one wish it would be for you to stay with me for a while. I would love to spend much more time with you.”

He nodded. “Time is a funny thing, isn’t it?”

“I suppose, but what do you mean?”

“Oh, the whole linear nature of time. You know, like an arrow, only moving in one direction.”

“How could it be any other way?”

“Yeah. How could it…uh, would you hand me the binoculars?”

She heard the concern in his voice and handed them over, then looked at the radar screen. There was a new target less than a mile ahead and it winked off then returned…

“I’ll be damned,” he whispered, then: “Here, take a look.”

She took the binos and looked where he had just been looking: “What is that?”

“Submarine. See the red star?”

“Are we within 12 miles of the coast?” she asked nervously.

“Seven point five. Should I call it in?”

She nodded her head vigorously, handing the mic to him.

“Pan-pan-pan, Sailing Vessel Time Bandit to Coast Guard Stavanger.”

“Stavanger, Bandit, go ahead.”

“Stavanger, be advised we have a Russian submarine on the surface venting steam and smoke, location about seven miles off the coast, standby to copy lat/lon.”

“Standing by.”

“Bandit, our location North 58-20-04 East 5-49-19. Seven miles off Egersund channel entrance.”

“Received, stand-by one.”

“Stavanger, Bandit, people coming on deck now, waving at us.”

“Bandit, Stavanger received. Be advised, stay upwind of any steam or smoke.”

“Bandit copies.”

Rolf came up into the cockpit and Dina handed him the binoculars; she pointed the sub out and the boy started reporting what he was seeing. “Two people just jumped into the water. I see flames coming out of a hatch. Okay, more people jumping into the water…Henry, I think she is sinking!”

“Stavanger, Bandit, we have people in the water and it appears the vessel is in danger of sinking.”

“Stavanger received. Bandit, be advised helicopters are en route and do not approach the vessel for any reason, repeat any reason. Life rafts will be dropped, surface units are on the way.”  

“Okay Stavanger, got it. Be advised twenty plus in the water, no rafts deployed, vessel settling by the stern quickly now…”

A shattering boom washed across Bandit’s deck and Taggart looked up in time to see two Norwegian F-16s skimming along a hundred feet over the waves, followed by what looked like a dark gray 737 bristling with antennas.

“Ah, Bandit here, we’ve got multiple aircraft overhead now.”

“Stavanger received. Can you report local wind speed and direction, please…?”

“Bandit reporting average wind speed 32 knots, gusts to 44 knots, wind now directly from the east to east-southeast, call it 110 degrees average. We now have forty people in the water, vessel now about one half submerged. A C-130 is now on low approach…now dropping life rafts and smoke markers…”

“Bandit, request you break off now and divert to CG Stavanger for radiologic assessment and monitoring.”

Taggart looked at Dina and when their eyes met he could see the fear in both her eyes and Rolf’s.

“Bandit en route Stavanger, our ETA about ten to twelve hours.”

“Bandit, can you make Egersund sooner?”

“Roger, we’re about an hour out of Egersund.”

“Okay Bandit, divert Egersund; report on arrival and you will be directed to quarantine facilities once in the channel.”

“Bandit understood.”

He looked at the scene before he turned into the wind: now four F-16s overhead and that weird looking 737 circling the scene, while at least four helicopters hovered over the stricken sub. He could see converging tracks of several more vessels responding to the scene, and Rolf spotted two frigates coming from the north, crashing through the waves as they raced to the area, their bows sending huge plumes of spray into the air.

“Rolf, would you take the helm, please?”

His hands shaking badly now, Henry went below and dropped onto the bed. Clyde came over and licked his forehead before settling in close to Henry, then he felt Dina rolling up his sleeve, giving him a shot. He pulled the pup close before his world began spinning violently; even his face felt like it was twitching now and his right leg flailed uncontrollably. A minute later he felt the assault easing, then he saw Dina sitting by his side and he smiled. She ran her fingers through his hair for a while, at least until this latest crisis passed.

“I’m not sure I can go on like this,” he said, his voice coarse and brittle now.

She shrugged. “We just need to find the best balance of medications, then you’ll do better.”

He nodded.

“Anyway,” she continued, “you need to feel better by the time the authorities get here, or they may put an end to this voyage whether you agree or not.”

“Okay, Doc.”

“You rest a few more minutes. I’ll come for you when I see the channel buoy.”

He woke up in a hospital room, another IV hooked up to his port, and he felt more nauseous than he ever had in his life. He looked at the evil looking bag hanging beside his bed and started to cry.

(c) 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | more in a week or so…

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 41

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 41

“Harry, I don’t know how you feel about me now, but I feel like we’ve got to clear the air.”

His stateroom was tiny, had but a single chair to go with the tiny sofa that seemed designed to hold two small children, and as she had taken the sofa he opted to sit on the edge of the bed. 

“Clear the air?” he asked. “What isn’t clear?”

“Why you’re so angry with me.”

“Really? Well, I thought we had something good going, but I was wrong. Seems to me that was the end of the story.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“Oh? Do I?”

“You knew the situation, you understood the position I was in. What would you have done?”

“Are you saying you think trying to reconcile with a known abuser is somehow justified?”

“No. But I took an oath, Harry, I made a promise, and I felt obligated to…”

“Evelyn, let’s be clear; when you attempted to reconcile what you expressed was your love for your husband, despite everything that had happened. I get the oath thing, the desire to uphold a promise you made, but in light of your actions with me you violated everything to do with that oath. You walked away from one promise, but you did so for a very good reason, then you made another you chose not to keep. You know, I’ve been to more family disturbances than you could imagine, and I’ve talked to literally hundreds of women who’ve been battered by really awful human beings, yet there’s one big thing that’s always bothered me about those conversations.”

“What’s that?”

“Many, if not most of those women, the women who chose to stay in those relationships, did so not because of some obscure obligation to a promise made, but because they thought, on some level, that they deserved the abuse. Maybe they…”

“Oh, come off it, Harry…”

“No, really. I think many of these women stay because they are conditioned as children to think that way. I think these women, maybe on some kind of subconscious level, end up choosing men that are like their fathers. Being abused reinforces some kind of terrible need for validation of the idea that they need to be punished by their fathers…”

“And you think that’s what this was all about? That I was affirming a need to be abused when I tried to reconcile my differences with him… Really? Do you have any idea how monstrous that sounds, Harry?”

“I’m telling you what I’ve experienced…”

“But that pseudo-Freudian psychobabble? Where the hell did you pick that up?”

“In academy. We had a week long module on…”

“Jesus, Harry. What you’re saying is you got a day or two of instruction on the psychology of abuse victims, and that’s what formed your understanding of domestic abuse? Do you really not see how dangerous that is?”

“No. Cops aren’t social workers. And the reasons why women are abused isn’t really why we’re there. Domestic physical violence is against the law, and if a woman is battered that is a clear violation of that law. As cops, that’s all we’re there for. We’re not there to act as marriage counselors or group therapists; we’re there simply to observe the situation, report on what we find, and arrest anyone that has broken that law. Period. And Evelyn, I can’t tell you how many of these women refuse to press charges…”

“The reasons can be complicated, Harry. My guess is the most obvious reason comes down to money. What woman wants to end up pushed out onto the street in the middle of the night, and maybe bringing along two or three kids in the process. What kind of choice is that? Are you putting the blame on that woman because she doesn’t want to…”

“False choice. In those situations the guy gets hauled off to jail…”

“Really? From what I hear, the good ole boy network usually kicks in and the guy blames everything on the woman, and the cop buys into that because, well, you guys have to stand together, right?”

“Maybe it was like that twenty years ago, but there’ve been major changes to domestic violence laws. That stuff doesn’t happen anymore…”

“Right. Because now your mind has been pumped full of Freudian nonsense. Now you can blame it all on some unconscious need to…”

Callahan held up his hands, shook his head. “You know what? I’m not sure I want to continue this conversation, because I really don’t see any purpose. Do you?”

She shook her head. “No, I don’t.” And she quietly left Callahan’s little stateroom, leaving him to pick up his book and sit down in a little pool of light.

He was upset, of course, without really knowing the reason why. Maybe because, he thought, on some level he’d still wanted to get back together with her. ‘So maybe,’ he thought, ‘on some level I spewed out all that psychobabble to push her away, to keep that from happening.’

But why?

‘Do I really just want to be alone? Is that it? Have I become so set in my ways, my thinking so fixed and rigid that I don’t want to be with someone who can get really close, someone who is going to challenge me all the time? Someone who will look down on my experiences as a cop, who will question what I did out there all the time?’

He picked up Shōgun and resumed reading, but his mind kept drifting back to Evelyn and he found he missed the idea of her being a part of his life.

But maybe, he thought, he just missed the idea of being with her. 

‘Reality is a little messier, isn’t it?’

He drifted between the experiences of the characters in the novel and his own, those times with June and An Linh and Sara, even that high maintenance reporter, and the sensation was strange. Maybe because the pain of their memory blotted out the all the good times they’d shared.

‘No,’ he mumbled, ‘all in all, I think I’d really rather be alone. I don’t need any more pain.’

He read through the night again, finishing the book just as the sun came up.

________________________________

The ship docked in Honolulu for an overnight stay, and while almost everyone jumped at the chance to spend a few hours ashore, Harry decided to spend some time with his father.

Lloyd had seemed a little distant since their ‘big’ conversation, yet Harry wanted there to be no ambiguity between them from now on. With that decided, spending all the free time he could with Lloyd became his shipboard goal, calling him ‘Dad’ and ‘father’ whether alone or with his friends was the best affirmation he could think of – but today, Lloyd had several hours in the middle of the day to himself, so Harry had asked if they could spent that time together.

“Why don’t you spend time with that young filly.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work out, Dad.”

“Really? The way she was looking at you the other night, I’d have thought that was a slam-dunk.”

“Doesn’t matter. Besides, I’d rather spend the time with you.”

“Well Harry, that’s just plain nuts. Girl like that? Hell son, if I was your age I’d be on her like stink on shit.”

Harry shook his head. “The buffet is open. Why don’t we get up there before the crowd hits?”

“Won’t be any crowds today, Harry. Tell you what? Let’s go over to the Royal Hawaiian. Best lunch in town, and I’m buyin’!”

They ran into Frank and Cathy at the gangplank; it was decided they’d all go to the famed hotel together. They had a big lunch – the boys got sloshed on mai-tais – then Frank and Cathy took off in search of souvenirs…leaving the Callahans to talk.

“You won’t remember it, but we came here when you were four years old.”

“The three of us?”

Lloyd pointed at the beach beyond the swimming pool. “I’ve got pictures of you and your mother standing knee deep in the water, just there. What a fantastic day! Building sand castles and going for a ride in one of those outrigger canoes.”

“I think I remember the picture. Never knew it came from here.”

“Spent a week here. Kind of a big deal those days. I’d just been promoted and I thought your mother could use a change of scenery. Teaching was difficult for her then; she was still having trouble with English…and I think some of the kids made fun of her.”

“You were doing the San Francisco to Honolulu run, weren’t you?”

“Yes. We didn’t start passenger service to Hong Kong and Japan until the late fifties.”

“I remember that. You were on the first trip to Hong Kong.”

Lloyd nodded. “So many firsts. Things were so bad back in ’39 some of us were sent from school on the first convoy to the U.S. Made one round trip then back to school. I was assigned to my first ship after school and we were on the initial Lend-Lease convoy, then the first Murmansk run. After I made First Officer our ship was the first into Copenhagen. That’s when I met your mother, by the way.”

“Oh?”

“Saul. He spotted me, said he wanted me to get her to Canada. Vancouver, he said. He’d meet us there with further instructions, he told me.” Lloyd seemed to grow distant as the memory returned; soon his eyes were glossy with moisture. “I fell in love with her, of course, but there was nothing I could do, physically anyway, about that. By the time Saul made it to Vancouver he’d decided America was the best place for her; he’d buy us a house in San Francisco if I’d take her there. I told him about the maritime school there and he offered to pay for that, too.”

“Did he?”

Lloyd nodded. “With the war over I had no prospects for work in the UK, and I think I had a few hundred pounds in my wallet. There was no way I could’ve afforded that house, or even that school, without his help. I was an immigrant, ineligible for GI Bill benefits, but I was skilled and that made all the difference. Saul knew what he was doing. He was one smart son of a bitch, I’ll tell you that.”

“So, how’d it work with mom? You know…?”

“That’s why he opened the store in the city. Funny, because that store made ten times more money than the original store in Copenhagen ever did. He built it up into something special. Anyway, I’d told him about me, about the injury, and that made me safe, I think. He wanted a son, he told me once. She gave him one. They gave me you. The rest is unimportant, I guess.”

“I can’t imagine a better father than you.”

Lloyd nodded, turned away and asked for the check.

“Let’s go down to the beach,” Lloyd said after he settled the bill. 

They walked down to the beach and out onto the sand and Lloyd turned once, looked around for a moment. “Yup, right about here. You and I built a really colossal castle right about…here,” he said, pointing to a spot on the sand. “Goddam, son, but time does really move fast. Feels like yesterday.”

Lloyd turned away just then, and Harry could tell his father was crying as he walked down to the water’s edge. The sun was headed fast for the horizon now, and when Harry reached his old man he was staring into the sea.

“I took that picture from here. The two of you were right out there.”

“You miss her, don’t you?”

“There’s not an hour goes by when I don’t think of her. And not a minute I don’t curse Avi Rosenthal.”

“Why Avi?”

“He betrayed your mother and the people she worked with. They escaped to Sweden, she didn’t. No, your mother ended up in a concentration camp – because of him.”

“What?”

“I guess he never told you that part?”

“He did not.” Callahan felt his heart hammering in his forehead.

“Believe it or not, Avi married your mother before all that happened. I don’t think he knew what was going to happen, but it was Saul who followed your mother into Germany, then to the camp. Not Avi. It was Saul who broke her out and got her back to Copenhagen. Of course, Saul was the one who loved your mother, but Avi couldn’t stand the idea. He hated Saul, because Saul was the smart one. A diplomat in the foreign service, very gifted in languages. Saul used to refer to Avi as ‘that grifter.’ Anyway, Avi married her but Saul did his best to keep her away from him after the war.”

“Did Mom know all this?”

“Oh, heavens no. Saul didn’t have the heart to tell her, but when Avi found her in that temple it was all over. Avi had, you see, a prior claim, so she went with him.”

“But she left us!”

“I know, son. I know. Perhaps if I could see inside her music I might understand, but I am so glad I can’t. The truth, I fear, might kill me.”

“Well Dad, it’s just the two of us now, and I’m glad we’re here together.”

“Me too, son.”

“We’d better get back. You have a ship to take care of.”

Lloyd nodded. “Let’s stay and watch the sunset, Harry. If you’re not in a hurry?”

“Sounds like a plan, Dad.”

Evelyn was on the patio by the pool, and she was looking at the two of them standing out there on the sand, wondering what had just passed between them. She’d been following them all day by keeping just out of sight, and as she stood there, watching them talk, she felt herself getting sadder and sadder. She knew that soon she’d be falling into that dark place she feared most of all, but she also knew she had enough pills with her this time, enough to get the job done, anyway.

_________________________________

His father disappeared into the bowels of the ship as soon as the Callahans were back onboard, but Harry was, oddly enough, very hungry so he went up to the poolside buffet. Frank was sitting on the edge of the pool, his legs dangling in the water, and he was by himself. Harry walked over and pulled up a chair.

“What’s up?” Bullitt said as Harry sat.

“I think I’ve got a little problem.”

“Yeah? Such as?”

“Evelyn. She followed us all afternoon.”

Bullitt nodded. “Yeah, I saw her.”

“Anything I need to know about?”

Frank took a long, deep breath and held it, shaking his head slowly as he exhaled. “Yeah. She has a tendency to get a little depressed. Tony, that’s her ex, pushed her over the edge a couple of times and things got a little rough, but that was a couple of years ago. I thought we were past all that.”

“What do you mean by a little rough?”

“Valium. Overdosing on valium.”

“Jesus, Frank! Why didn’t you tell me…?”

Bullitt grimaced. “I’d really hoped all that was in the past, Harry. I wouldn’t have tried to get you two together if I’d thought…”

“I know, I know,” Harry said as gently as he could, “I can understand that. But following people? Has that been a problem too?”

Frank nodded. “Yeah. Once that I know of, anyway, but that was back in high school.”

“Any history of violence towards others?”

“Nope.”

“Anything you think we need to do?”

Frank looked up at Harry. “What do you think brought this on?”

“She came by my room last night. It didn’t go well.”

Bullitt nodded. “Okay.”

“Do you think she’ll try something?”

“I don’t know; depends on how invested she is in the idea of you two being together.”

“She seemed pretty bent out of shape, Frank.”

“Then if she has pills she might try something.”

“Should we toss her room, take what we find?”

Frank thought about that, but then shook his head. “If you were on a boat at sea and wanted to kill yourself, what would you do?”

“Jesus, Frank…you don’t really think…?”

“I don’t want to take a chance, Harry. Do you?”

Callahan looked around, thought he saw her in the shadows…”Frank…?”

“Yeah, I know,” Frank sighed. “I’ve been watching her in a reflection. She’s been there a couple of minutes.”

“Where’s Cathy?”

“Down for the count. Said her feet were killing her.”

“Well, I think I’m going to go take care of this right now.”

Bullitt nodded. “Okay. Let me know how it turns out.”

“You okay, Frank?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s on your mind?”

“Being a father, and not being around.”

Harry looked at his friend and wondered how much he could tell him about the things the Old Man in the Cape had said. “You know what, Frank? Things have a way of working out.”

Bullitt looked up, the question clear in his eyes. “What are you not telling me, Amigo?”

“Just that, Frank. Stop worrying. Okay? You read me?”

“Just like that, huh? Stop worrying?”

“Things have a way of working out, Frank. The next five months are the five most important months in Cathy’s life, and yours too. Don’t waste a minute of it staring into a swimming pool.”

“Harry? Go easy on her. She’s had a rough time.”

“I will.”

He walked away from where he’d seen Evelyn, make a few unpredictable turns then doubled back to her room, then he sat and leaned against her door. He only had to wait a few minutes…

“Well, well, as I live and breathe,” she said as she walked up to him, “it’s Archie Bunker.”

He stood, got out of the way so she could open the door to her cabin. “I’d like to talk to you, if you have some time.”

“In here, or have you had dinner?”

“Evelyn, I’d say you already know the answer to that.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re not very good at following people.”

“Oh,” she said, her voice suddenly flat, now kind of frail.

“Let’s talk in your room for a little bit, then go get some chow.”

“Okay.” She opened the door and he followed her inside, but her steps were tentative, almost unsteady. “So, what do you want to talk about.”

“You.”

She looked away, resigned, but he tracked her eyes in a mirror atop one of the cabinets in the little room. “Well, go ahead. Let the inquisition begin.”

He looked at her, not quite sure how he felt about what she’d done today but acutely aware that for the past hour or so he’d felt an overwhelming need to protect her. To be there for her. What, he wondered, was the best way to accomplish that right now? 

“We seem to be having a hard time talking to one another,” he started. “Do you have any idea why?”

“Probably because you don’t trust me anymore.”

He shrugged. “What about you? Do you trust me?”

She turned and looked at him. “Yes.”

“Good,” he said as he held out his hand. “Let’s take a walk.”

She took his hand, let him guide her out of the room and then out onto the promenade. 

“Your skin feels good to me,” he said, gently squeezing her hand.

“This feels right to me, Harry. You feel so right.”

“We can’t get anywhere tearing each other apart,” he said, thinking of John Blackthorne and Mariko-San in Shōgun, trying to see his way through the maze ahead, “but what I want to know is where you’d like this to go.”

“You and me?”

“Yup. You and me.”

“I’d like us to start again – from where we left off.”

“So, what do we do about the whole trust thing?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You said you think I don’t trust you anymore. Where does that leave us? Where do we go from here?”

“There’s got to be some way for you to trust me again.”

He nodded. “Its been my experience that trust is earned over time. What about you? Does that sound right?”

She nodded.

“Okay, so we start over from right here. We start by earning each other’s trust – one day at a time. And we take the pressure off, okay? We decide to go where this takes us, with no pressure. Sound okay to you?”

She nodded, but he felt some kind of hesitation holding her back. “Why are you doing this, Harry?”

“Oh, it’s simple, really, but ask me after you finish reading Shōgun.”

“How’d you know I was reading that?”

“I was passing the store the other day and saw you in there buying it.”

“You cops notice everything, don’t you?”

“Absolutely everything. It annoys the hell out of people, too.”

“So, you’ve got to be hungry by now,” she said. “Buffet or sit-down?”

“You know, I saw some of those big king crab legs on the buffet. Wanna give those a try?”

He turned, saw his father in the distance looking their way – and then his old man shot him a ‘thumb’s up’ and smiled. Harry smiled and waved, then she took his hand and pulled him back into the present.

_________________________________

He continued to visit his father every day, usually after lunch when Captain Callahan spent a few hours away from the bridge. They talked about the house in Potrero more than anything else, about what needed to be done to keep it in tip-top shape, and Lloyd spoke wistfully about retirement and soon having the time to keep up with all the work the old place needed.

“My too,” Harry said.

“You’re too young for this bullshit, Harry. You’ll need to find something else to do or you’ll go nuts.”

“I figured as much. You ever see that film The New Centurions?”

“That the one with George C Scott?”

“Yup.”

“Case in point, Harry. Cops have so much of their emotional lives invested in their work that when retirement comes there’s nothing left…just this huge void. There’s no purpose left in a life that’s been completely focused on such a clear mission. Retirement becomes a vacuum that sucks whatever life is left…”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you sure you’re talking about cops?”

“What do you mean?”

“Sounds kind of like you’re talking about sea-captains, too.”

Lloyd laughed a little. “I guess it does, but you know what? I’ve been collecting these kits, big ship models. Old sailing ships, mostly, all wood, right down to the planking on the hulls. I’ve been thinking about it for years…”

“Building models? What brought that on?”

“Odd thing, that. You just finished that Clavell book, didn’t you? Shōgun, right?”

“Yeah. Really fascinating stuff…”

“Well, what got me on to the modeling thing was a book. Well, ten so far. Have you heard of Patrick O’Brian?”

Harry shook his head. 

“Pity. You should give them a look.”

“Did you say ten? As in ten books?”

“Yes, So far. The series takes place in the late Napoleonic era, the Royal Navy versus French naval forces, very detailed, quite fascinating. I just finished the tenth one, The Far Side of the World; the eleventh book is out but I haven’t got ‘round to it just yet.”

“Worth reading, then?”

“I’d say if you have any interest in the period, or the subject matter, you’ll find them brilliant…yet I’ve heard that literature professors are taking them up for use in class. Very highly regarded, son. Anyway, they’re on the bookshelf in the living room, so help yourself next time you drop by.”

“Funny. Shōgun is, in a roundabout way, about sailing as well.”

“Really?”

“Yup. I’ll drop off my copy tomorrow.”

“Better not, son. I never read on a passage, want to keep my mind clear, and I’d be tempted.”

“Okay, when we get home then. I’ll get started on your series then.”

“Oh, they have the whole series in the library up on Deck Seven. Usually have a few copies in the store, as well. The first book is Master and Commander. Give it a go and tell me what you think.”

“Okay, will do.”

“Now, tell me about Evelyn. What brought on the sudden change of heart…?”

Harry told him everything, including the things Frank had told him.

Lloyd’s eyes narrowed the more Harry spoke. “You do know what you’re doing, son?”

“I hope so. She’s a decent person, Dad; she’s just made a few mistakes.”

“And I suppose she says she’s in love with you?”

“Yes.”

“You’re not leading her on, are you?”

“No, sir. One step at a time.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’ve always moved fast, Dad. Even with June. I just knew we’d be together forever, and probably five minutes after I met her. That’s just the way I’m wired, I guess.”

“I’d say so, but most of us are.”

“Well, I told her all that, and I also told her I wanted to go slow. Real slow.”

“Real slow? Now, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that, Dad. No impulsive moves this time.”

“Pills, you said. Is that something I should know about? I mean in a professional capacity?”

“We dumped them overboard. All of them.”

“Did you now? Surprising, that.”

“Well, like I said: one step at a time. If it’s real we’ll find out together, and if it’s just some kind of rebound thing we’ll find that out, too.”

“Sounds like you’ve thought this through.”

Harry nodded. “Funny, but I think it all comes down to that book, Dad. Frank thinks it’s the Buddhism in the story. Maybe. I don’t know enough about it to say one way or another, but having patience, letting things unfold…that seems to be the point of the book.”

“Those are good things though, right?”

Harry shrugged. “Like I said, Dad, I just don’t know, but sometimes it feels like we bounce from one fad to the next, especially in California. Maybe this too shall pass.”

“Well, in two more days you’re going to be in the perfect place to find out.”

“Don’t I know it. Frank’s got this huge itinerary laid out for us. Temples, shrines, gardens…even restaurants that specialize in foods from that period. We’re going to a kimono maker, a sword maker, all of it. Shoji screens, tatami mats, tool makers…everything mentioned in the book.”

“Can you squeeze all that in? I mean, we get back to Osaka in seventeen days…?”

“He’s got two weeks of non-stop tours lined up, Dad, including an overnight at a temple with a bunch of monks. I think we’ll all be Buddhists by the time we re-board the ship.”

“Man, he really got into this thing, didn’t he? You worried about him?”

“No, not yet anyway. He’s got a lot on his mind and not all of it good, so maybe this is kind of a good thing. Something outside of himself to focus on, I guess.”

“And what about you? What do you think of all this Japan stuff?”

“If I hadn’t read the book? Man, I don’t know. I’d think he was off his rocker.”

“But you have read it, haven’t you?”

“Well yeah, and I’d like to see some of the places that are mentioned in the book, but it’s not like I’ve attached some kind of divine significance to them.”

“And Frank has?”

Harry shrugged. “Hard to say, Dad. What do you feel after reading those O’Brian books?”

Lloyd thought for a moment, a distant look in his eyes. “Maybe it’s simple curiosity, Harry, but sometimes I think it’s more than that. When I read something like those books, something that takes places in the past and that experience, in a way, takes me there, it feels kind of like being a voyeur of sorts, or maybe even a time traveler. I think for a little while we can shed our daily existence and drift back to another time, another way of life, and maybe that’s what is so attractive about it. Or maybe seductive is a better word.”

“Well, I can see Frank needing a different world he can slide into from time to time.”

Lloyd nodded. “Yes, maybe so – unless he can’t find his way back out, but that’s a danger in any really absorbing pursuit. Still, maybe he sees something of the principal character’s life in his own. A character’s life changes over the course of the story, so is it too much to hope that our understanding of life changes as a result of what we read…”

___________________________________

It had seemed for days that the closer to Japan he got Frank Bullitt grew increasingly agitated, almost like a horse in the starting gate just before the most important race of its life. He had been drinking green tea for weeks, and once Bullitt found out that they were making sushi onboard he simply couldn’t get enough. He’d packed a dozen books on Japanese history in his suitcases and Harry had seen him sitting in the ship’s library at all hours, yellow highlighter poised over a page while frantically taking notes…just like he was studying for final exams.

Then one night at dinner Harry had watched Frank taking some sort of mucky green paste and spreading it on a sliver of raw fish, then swabbing the fish in a little soy sauce before tossing it down – and the first time he watched he’d turned away in disgust. Then Frank convinced Cathy and Evelyn to try a few pieces and they were instant converts. When Sam Bennett tried some – and survived – Callahan knew his number was up, that he couldn’t put it off forever, and the next time Frank ‘insisted’ he gave in.

“Don’t worry about using chopsticks,” Frank said as he passed over a plate loaded with several pieces of raw salmon. “Just take a little wasabi…”

“What is this stuff? It looks like radioactive snot.”

“It’s the root of a Japanese horseradish, ground up into a paste.”

“Horseradish? So it’s hot?”

“If you use too much it is. The soy is a good complement, though. Here. I’ll do the first one. A little dab of wasabi, then a little splash of soy, pick it up and eat it.”

Callahan used about three times the wasabi that Frank had, and dunked his piece in soy and tossed the salmon into his mouth. He chewed a couple of times then his eyes popped open and he began to sweat profusely; he swallowed and reached for a glass of iced tea. “Goddam! My nose is on fire…!”

“Use less wasabi next time.”

And a half hour later Callahan too was a convert.

_____________________________

A cold front had blown through the night before, leaving the air clear and crisp, almost a little cold, but wandering through the grounds of Osaka Castle that morning Callahan simply hadn’t noticed. Walking through the Western Gate had been awe-inspiring enough; the huge granite blocks chiseled to fit in intricate forms, leading to narrow pathways between buildings lined with just-budding cherry trees, then to the central tower, the Tenshu. When the group came to the Tenshu everyone stopped and looked up in awe, if only because – for them – all the characters in the novel began to come alive…

…and it wasn’t hard to imagine the scene in torchlight, Mariko-san leading the procession and her confrontation with Ichido’s samurai, Toranaga hidden in his desperate escape, Blackthorne looking on until…all of it…so suddenly real…

“All of it,” Frank whispered, “it’s all right here, isn’t it?”

And the funny thing, Callahan thought as he looked around, was that the story did indeed begin to take shape in his mind. “I can almost see Clavell walking along, working his way through the possibilities of his story…and right here,” Harry said, adding, “almost piecing the story together as he walked.”

There were already food sellers setting up stands, cooking traditional skewers of meat and vegetables, and a few stands were even offering fresh fish – raw, of course. Harry looked at everything and wanted pictures and then realized no one had brought a camera! His own interest in photography had been limited to, at best, crime scene photography, but suddenly he wanted to get all this recorded.

He and Frank had engaged the services of a guide for the entire two weeks so Callahan asked her about cameras. “I know a very good place to shop. We will stop after we leave here,” Fujiko-san advised, but in the meantime she pulled out an old Pentax and took pictures of the group while they walked around the castle.

When Harry contacted the shipping line they had recommended a concierge service that put together custom tours, guided or unguided, but when Callahan mentioned Shōgun to the representative they had offered all kinds of options that were already available.

“Is the book that popular?” Callahan had asked.

“You have no idea.”

When Callahan said he wanted something comprehensive the guide service recommended a two week long excursion, fully escorted and with all hotels and meals included. Upgrades included academic-level guides and stays in small inns that offered an authentic experience, so Harry had sprung for it.

He’d met Fujiko-san for the first time when they boarded their mini-bus earlier that morning; she was beyond gorgeous and had quite simply taken his breath away. Of course, Evelyn noticed and was instantly on-guard, but Fujiko-san had instantly proven to be a professional and kept a polite distance, yet was always on hand to answer questions.

After leaving the castle she took them to a huge camera store; prices were very good compared to the States and Harry bought a Nikon F-3HP and a couple of lenses; Cathy already had the camera bug but she picked up a new F-3 and several lenses, then the group resumed their journey, heading across the city to the Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine.

A graduate student was on hand and launched into a prepared lecture on the Shinto belief system alluded to in the novel – which frequently, if indirectly, focused on the nature of ‘kami’ in the day to day lives of feudal Japanese society. John Blackthorne’s experiences in the book framed a beginner’s appreciation of the concept, so the grad student went a little deeper, discussing Clavell’s Mariko-san and the narratives she employed to teach Blackthorne basic Shinto concepts, most notably the ‘watching a rock grow’ motif she employed to pass-on the key ideas of patience and harmony. The group was encouraged to break up and find a niche in the surrounding gardens and play with the idea, but Harry used the time to play with his new camera instead.

Fujiko-san followed and watched him, then went over to him as he started to take a picture of an ancient stone lantern in a garden of raked pebbles.

“If you want to take a photograph of a lantern, first study the lantern. Look at the key elements of its construction, look at the way light plays with the different surface textures. Move around, change angles, think about looking at the finished photograph hanging on a wall. What do you want people to understand about why you chose to photograph this lantern, what impressions do you want to convey to them?”

“Seems like an awful lot of trouble just to take a picture.”

“That depends on what you expect of a photograph, Mr. Callahan.”

“Harry, please. Call me Harry. And what do you mean, what do you expect of a photograph?”

“Ah, consider one difference…between a snapshot and a photograph. A snapshot records a moment in time, while a good photograph exists outside of time, almost beyond time. Do you want to take a snapshot of a lantern, or do you want to make a photograph of this lantern that, perhaps, tells a story.”

“Tells a story?”

“Yes, an image that invites the viewer inside. A new space that creates the beginnings of a journey into the imagination, a place where the mind can wander. For example, how many nights has the lantern seen. What stories could this lantern tell if he could speak.”

“If I saw a lantern speak I think I’d need to go to a hospital.”

“Really? Then the idea of kami has eluded you, Mr. Callahan.”

“You mean, a spirit could live inside this lantern?”

She smiled. “Almost. Not quite. First you must listen, Mr. Callahan. Listen first, then understand. But I suggest you respectfully look at the lantern again, because this kami is quite powerful.”

______________________________

They drove into the foothills as their first afternoon waned, to an ancient inn cradled in a narrow, tree and cliff-lined valley. The rooms seemed arranged like stones in a river, following the contours of the stream that ran through the tiny valley, and just as in the novel the rooms were simplicity in the extreme – tatami mats and shoji screens and little else. A spare, elegant meal was served, then Fujiko-san led the group to a bath house, where everyone rinsed before heading outside to a series of hot springs that lined the rocks above the creek.

Evelyn seemed put-off by the public nature of the exercise and disappeared, and it seemed like everyone looked at her as she left. Frank and Cathy discovered a little waterfall and sat in a stone pool shaped and smoothed by eons of clear water, while Sam and Elaine sat and watched Dell and Carl play with their hyperactive kids.

Harry found a deep pool and slipped into the water, at first surprised by how hot the water was then, as the night soon grew quite cold, more than happy to stay in up to his neck.

“This is a most special spot,” Fujiko-san said as she came over to Callahan’s pool. “Over there, along that edge you can find a ledge that is most comfortable to rest on.”

“Where?”

“Here. Let me show you.” She let her robe drop to the ground and Callahan was tempted to look away – but simply couldn’t – and he held out a hand to help her as she stepped into the pool. “It is over here,” she said, gliding across the water, leading him on. He followed her and found the spot…a smooth ledge that had, over time, formed into a perfectly smooth bench.

He slipped down until his chin was just touching the water and sighed and he felt her come close.

“Thank you for today,” he said.

“Oh? What did I do?”

“For the advice.”

“It takes time to learn to see the way a camera does, but that is the first step to becoming a photographer. More than anything else, it takes time.”

“It helps to be aware of the difference, too.”

“For many, such differences are unimportant. There is something in the way you look at things, however. I sensed that perhaps you might enjoy the journey.”

“You are very perceptive.”

“I hardly think so.”

“So, what are we doing tomorrow?”

“In the morning we drive to Ajiro, which in the novel was the setting for Omi’s village, Anjiro. We will, as best we can, follow in Clavell’s footsteps. Let us say from the sea into the mountains, slowly, and this will be the Izu Peninsula, home of Lord Yabu and his lands.”

“Ah, yes. The opportunist.”

“Yes, but his sort is always with us. In life, as in the story, you can count on treachery to move the action, to change the direction of the hero’s journey, and this Yabu does from beginning to end.”

“What did you think of the novel?”

“I still am not sure. In some ways the story is like a comic book, and I do not mean that derogatorily; rather some important parts of Japanese culture are presented accurately while other, less important elements are given an equal place. Still, this is not the novel’s real importance.”

“And what is that?”

“An opportunity, Mr. Callahan. For many people and for far too long, their understanding of Japan was defined by the hardships imposed by world war. The novel presented an opportunity to reveal other parts of the Japanese story, and all the more interesting as Mr. Clavell was a prisoner of war and suffered greatly.”

“Perhaps he saw something worth exploring.”

“As, perhaps, you did?”

“I decided to do this in order to help my friend.”

“Ah, Mr. Bullitt?”

“Yes. He read the book and wanted to come here, to explore and discover what he experienced in the book?”

“He is not well, your friend?”

“No, he is not well.”

“It is important to have friends.”

“Yes. Very important.”

“The woman who left?”

“Evelyn. Yes?”

“I should not say this, but she is very dangerous.”

“I know.”

“Yet you choose to keep her near you? Why so?”

“She is Frank’s sister.”

“Ah, that explains much.”

“Does it? Well then, perhaps you could explain it to me.”

“You don’t want to hurt your friend. Still, you should be very careful. I sense that she often tries to hurt herself, yet often brings worse pain to those around her.”

“How do you know that?”

“The kami, Mr. Callahan. At the temple. They reacted to her presence.”

“And what? They told you?”

She laughed a little. “Hardly. But even so an avenue presents itself.”

“I don’t understand.”

She nodded. “You are only at the beginning of one possible journey, Mr. Callahan. Be patient. Life is full of old mysteries – around each new bend in the road. Like a photograph just waiting to be discovered, such things come from a hidden place.”

“Your English is very good. Have you been to America?”

“Oh, yes. Actually, I was born in California, but more by accident than choice. My father was a diplomat serving at the consulate in San Francisco, and though they wanted my mother to return home for my birth she was unable to do so. I spent several years there before I was able to come home, and I came back for university.”

“What did you study?”

“Literature. Which is of course why I am a tour guide.”

They laughed at that, she more than Callahan. “So, where’d you go to school?”

“Stanford for two years, then UC Santa Cruz. And yes, I know. Santa Cruz was a better fit for me. Where did you go to school?”

Callahan thought about that for a minute, not really sure how to answer that one anymore. “Probably the Tenderloin District,” he said at last.

“Excuse me?”

“After I graduated from Police Academy, that was my first real assigned beat.”

“You are a police officer?”

“I was. Frank and I retired about a month ago. Almost everyone in this little group was there, as a matter of fact.”

“How strange. I did not expect that.”

“Oh? What did you expect?”

“Businessmen, usually, request such in-depth tours.”

“Well, like I said, this is for Frank.”

“He saved your life, perhaps?”

He looked at Bullitt and Cathy in their little pool and nodded. “Yeah. Every day.”

“What about his sister?”

“She’s getting a divorce. We had a brief fling.”

“But it is awkward now?”

He nodded.

She closed her eyes, leaned back on the smooth rock and took a deep breath. “What would you have done if you had been shipwrecked here four hundred years ago?”

He smiled. “Hard to say, isn’t it?”

“Is there a part of the story you relate to more than any other?”

He nodded. “Mariko and Buntaro, when he attempted seppuku and was reborn. The arrows. All of it…that scene is burned into my memory.”

“I would not have thought that.”

“Oh?”

“You yearn to be someone else? Something more than you were?”

“There are a few things I wish had turned out differently.” He tensed, waited for the next question…but it never came. When he turned and looked at her he found she was staring intently into his eyes…

She was searching for the reasons behind the pain that was so obvious, but what she found was at once hollow and terrifying – like standing on a bald mountain and watching an approaching storm.

“What will you do now?” she asked, her eyes following the movement of his lips as he spoke.

“I want to fly again.”

“You are a pilot?”

“Helicopters.”

“Vietnam?”

“Yes.”

“You saw many bad things?”

“Yes.”

“And yet you want to return to that world?”

Yes, he thought, that is what I want. I belong in that world. But all he could do was nod his head, yet he did not look away from her eyes.

“We must get up early in the morning, Mr. Callahan. Perhaps we should…”

“There’s something about you, Fujiko-san. Something I can’t see yet.”

She shook her head. “I am a very simple person, Mr. Callahan.”

“And you won’t call me Harry?”

She shook her head. “So disrespectful. I could never so that.”

“Okay. But you’ll excuse me if I disagree with you, because I think you’re anything but simple.” He climbed from the pool and held out his hand – and she took it. He held out her robe and watched as she walked back to the inn, lost in the echoes of her words.

And deep in shadow Evelyn watched too, her eyes twitching in anger.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (Covid-19) waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. To begin, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned.Characters from James Clavell’s Shogun are mentioned. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

Come Alive (3)

Come Alive 1

Come Alive

Chapter 3

Sailing into Reine proved to be a turning point in Henry Taggart’s life. He had, he thought later that evening, never seen anything like this place. Towering, diamond-shaped spires rising up from the sea, and an isolated, rockbound series of little harbors and anchorages, most with red and white fisherman’s cottages perched on rock ledges jutting out over the water. Even from afar, the Lofotens seemed otherworldly, almost Tolkienesque, but sailing into the outer harbor at Reine left him feeling breathless and humbled.

Filling up the diesel tanks left him feeling breathless, too. One hundred gallons at the equivalent of fourteen dollars a gallon also left him feeling more than a little violated, sort of like a day at Disneyland, and the experience soured his mood for a few hours. At least until they tied up at a little fisherman’s marina and he hopped off the Bandit and went for a short walk. By the time he returned he’d put it all into perspective. Sort of, anyway.

Dina had already been to the local market and picked up freshly made gravlax; she was baking bread now and Taggart thought she looked like the most contented person on earth. She was hard to reconcile, too, he thought as he sat at the chart table updating the logbook. Prickly and overly sensitive, she almost seemed bi-polar…without actually being bi-polar. No, he thought, she was more like a mother bear protecting her cubs: protective, almost viciously so. Yet if he met her on her terms she was as superficially charming as any woman he had ever known. Perplexing, he thought. Dangerously so.

And yet this woman held the keys to his very survival in her hands. She possessed the knowledge that might keep him alive, literally so, long enough to meet his final objectives, and in Bodø she had as much as stated she would stay with him for the duration in exchange for allowing her supervision of Rolf’s sojourn onboard Time Bandit. So, in exchange for having his very own personal oncologist onboard, he would have to accept a superficially charming, hyper-protective man-eating bitch in his life – all without really understanding why she wanted to be here.

‘What was that song? You know, the one Sinatra did…The Tender Trap? Those eyes, those sighs…’

He leaned over and watched her working below in the galley. 

‘She’s humming a show tune…is that Hello Young Lovers from The King and I? Jesus Fucking Christ…!’

And the hell of it all? 

‘She’s cute, that’s for sure. Perfectly, totally cute. The kind of woman any man in his right mind would fall head over heels in love with, in a heartbeat. So…why is she still single? Yeah, c’mon Taggart, you know the score. A man-eating bitch by any other name is still…’

The bread smelled wondrous.

‘And of course she’s a perfect mother-fucking chef, too. Hell, she probably designs goddam rockets for NASA in her spare time…’

One of his cutting boards was filling up and taking shape on the countertop down in the galley. Slices of smoked salmon and gravlax, diced hard boiled eggs, chopped onion, and what was that? Pickled herring in sour cream? A bottle of Riesling, too?

‘Man, is this woman is out for the kill tonight, or what? You’d better watch your ass, Taggart…’

He completed his observations about the passage from Bodø, going the extra mile to write up his impressions of fuel prices in Norway, then he put the logbook away and slipped into his cabin to shower and change for dinner. He tried to shave but gave up when his arm twitched and the razor flew out of the head and onto his berth, then remembered he had an electric razor in a cabinet somewhere and started digging through boxes until he found it. Cleaned up and with fresh clothes on he felt somewhat human again, so he popped up to the cockpit in order to check all Bandit’s lines again. A couple was standing on the pier just aft of the boat, pointing at the American flag when he came topsides, and they seemed excited to see him.

“Hi there,” the man said. “You are the ones who saved our friend, no?”

“I guess so.”

“Is it true you sailed all the way from America?”

“Actually no, I rowed most of the way.”

“Ah, we have heard about your humor. It is now a legend throughout Norway.”

“A legend? Really? I am honored.”

“Yes, news reporters refer to you as a world class smart ass.”

“Yes, that’s accurate.”

“So, what was it like, sailing alone across the Atlantic?”

He looked away, wondered how to answer that question…because he really didn’t know the answer yet. “You know, I’m not sure I can answer that one. It was easier than expected.”

“Did you get lonely?” the woman asked, breaking her silence with an odd look in her eyes.

He shook his head. “No, not really. I was usually too busy to get bored.”

“Where to next?” the man asked.

“Sail around here for a while. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

They nodded and smiled. “Well, see you later,” the man said as they started to walk off.

“Yeah, drop on by anytime.”

But the woman stopped. “Will you be going out tomorrow?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Why?”

“I wondered, would it be possible to go out with you, maybe for just an hour or so?”

He looked at them. Young, friendly to the point of outgoing, probably interested in learning to sail… “Sure, why not. Come by around noon.”

“Really?” she said. “Well, should we bring anything?”

“Well, it’s colder out on the water, so dress in layers if you can.”

“Okay,” they said, then the two of them talked excitedly as they walked away.

“That was very sweet of you,” the Fire Breathing Sea Bitch said from the companionway steps.

“Really? I thought I was being rather mean, all things considered.”

She shook her head. “Come on down while the bread is still warm. Rolf is ready to eat.”

He nodded, then double checked the shore power connection before he made his way down to the table. The cutting board was set up and looked like something ready for a cover shot, but there in the middle of the table – a bubbling pot of cheese fondue stood at the ready.

“Dear God in Heaven,” he mumbled – now wide-eyed in disbelief as he slipped into his usual place at the table. “I didn’t think I had a fondue pot onboard?”

“The store had one. I think someone ordered it twenty years ago and never picked it up; it had layers and layers of dust on it.”

“I’ve never had fondue,” Rolf said, though right now his eyes looked like spinning saucers.

She’d cubed a baguette and demonstrated the proper procedure for Rolf; spearing the bread and dipping it, then sliding the morsel on your plate and letting it cool while you speared another piece, but Taggart looked at all that fresh salmon and could barely contain himself. He began loading his plate…

“Henry? Please wait; that is the second course.”

“Indeed it is. Excuse me.” He speared some bread, chastened, and had some fondue.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for Rolf for some time now,” she added. “Sorry for imposing on you like this.”

“It’s not an imposition. Is this a local custom?”

“Yes, of sorts, only we use local cheeses.”

“Mom never has time for this,” Rolf added.

“Your mother leads a very complicated life,” Dina said, not quite reproaching the boy. “She does the best she can.”

Taggart watched the sudden interplay, not quite sure who was playing who – yet, but Britt was definitely the subject of some very repressed feelings around this table.

“Rolf, what do you think of the island?” he asked.

He shrugged. “You know, many of the fjords around Bergen are equally interesting, but this harbor is something else. I look around and it feels like something out of The Lord of the Rings.”

“Yeah, exactly what I felt. I expect Frodo and Bilbo to come skipping along at any moment.”

“Who?” Dina asked.

“You never read Tolkien, did you?” Taggart asked.

“Who?”

“Grandma-ma? Really?”

She burst out laughing. “Of course I have read him!” she said, smiling gayly. “I started with The Hobbit when I was your age, Rolf…”

“I have seen the films, but I haven’t read the books yet,” Rolf said.

“Lord Foul’s Bane,” Taggart said, stopping conversation around the table.

“What?” Dina said, a little flustered.

“The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Every time I think of Tolkien I go right back to this series. I think there are more than ten books so far.”

“I have never heard of it,” she said. 

“It’s darker than the Hobbit, but the first book in the series, Lord Foul’s Bane, is fascinating. A very personal confrontation between evil and ambivalence, and probably a little ahead of its time. I have it in my room if either of you are interested.”

“It’s a shame you don’t have the Tolkien books,” she added, and he thought a little too condescendingly. 

“Oh, I have those too,” he said, grinning.

“Really?” Rolf said. “May I?”

“Of course.”

“And this Lord Foul book. I’d like to see it, if I may.”

“Certainly. Now…may I have some salmon, please?”

+++++

He had just finished topping off the water tanks when he saw the young couple from the evening before…and they were both carrying huge canvas totes, smiling and waving as they approached. Dina and Rolf were in the cockpit, totally engrossed in their books, when the couple stopped at the stern.

“Ready or not, here we come!” the girl shouted as she hopped across. “We brought some things for lunch, just in case,” she added.

“Welcome aboard,” Henry said, taking her hand and helping the gorgeous girl up to the aft deck. When she was secure he helped her partner-in-crime up, then told them to get settled in the cockpit. “So, do we want to eat first, then head out?”

When everyones hand popped-up the girl started unpacking her tote, producing sandwiches and salads and breads, while her friend’s tote was packed with bottled beer on ice. Henry raised the cockpit table and after introductions were made everyone piled-in and ate.

Fish salads were, Taggart thought, the big deal around these parts. Salmon, shrimp, whitefish…even lobster salads, and Eva Forsgård had brought two of each. Then whole wheat breads of infinite variety and complexity appeared, followed by cheese spreads and fish spreads and some spreads Taggart could neither identify nor summon the nerve to try.

Eva helped Rolf clean up while Taggart let the diesel warm up, then Peter and Dina untied the lines and helped guide Henry to the main channel. Ten minutes later they were sailing off the beach, Peter enraptured by all the electronics. Eva was sitting on the lee rail, her feet dangling over the waves when she started clapping and pointing…

Henry saw a pod of Orca on an intercepting course, just then about a hundred yards away and converging rapidly, so he let out the sails and fell off the wind a little, easing Bandit’s motion but building a little speed…

…seconds later they were in the middle of the pod, who seemed to have gathered around the Bandit to take a look-see…

…then a big male came in close, then very close to Eva, then swimming on his side – his eye about even with hers, then the big guy slowed and fell away a little…

…before he moved in close again, then closer still, and this time Taggart could feel the Killer Whale’s eye on him…not just looking, but probing, like the whale was seeking connection…

Taggart turned and faced the whale, staring at him for the longest time, then the Bandit smacked into a large wave – and Eva slipped off the rail and into the water…

Henry ran for the aft rail and dove in after her, hitting the water in a flailing belly-flop. The impact was so cold it felt like a million white hot pinpricks on his face and arms, but when his face cleared the surface he swam for her, reaching her literally in seconds…

…and at about the same time that the huge male reached her…

Taggart began treading water, holding Eva’s hand while they rose on one swell and slid down the back of another, but the male was still there – only rising vertically in the water, presenting his pectorals. Taggart grabbed the leading edge of one fin and the whale slid to one side, then began swimming for the Bandit. Peter and Rolf were already on the lower step of the swim platform, their hands reaching out for them…

The whale accelerated, lifting just enough out of the water to put Taggart’s ass on the platform, leaving Peter and Rolf to grab Eva and haul her onboard. They helped her up the steps, leaving Taggart on the stern, still staring into the whale’s eye.

This time the orca came closer, and once again he presented a pectoral to Taggart – who jumped into the water again, holding tight to the fin as the whale accelerated alongside the Bandit until they were even with the bow wave. Wide-eyed now, Taggart saw the rest of the pod on both sides of the bow, taking turns to line up and surf the waves coming off Time Bandit. The huge male went first, then a few of the smaller cows gave it a try. Finally, the calves lined up and seemed to have the most fun…but minutes had passed…

Shivering wildly now, Taggart felt his grip loosening until he slid free, and Bandit started pulling away rapidly. His right arm twitched wildly, then both his legs went into spasm as a wave broke over his head. When his face cleared, when he had blinked the stinging water away, he saw Rolf turning the Bandit, trimming her sails for the new heading, and he saw Peter with an iPhone out, apparently filming everything.

Then the male broached beside him, presenting his fin once again, but Taggart simply couldn’t take it now…he was too cold and his Parkinson’s was out of control.

But the whale was right there with him – connected, and suddenly they were eye to eye, Taggart now sitting on the edge of the fin. The orca rolled a little, got Taggart’s body out of the water and he was surprised how warm the whale’s body felt. He closed his eyes and a billion pinpoints of light resolved into dancing kaleidoscopes, then he felt hands lifting him free of the water…

“No, let me stay…”

Frantic hands pulled off his clothing, and he was only just dimly aware he was in bed, that Dina was beside him now, warming him with her body, skin on skin…

‘Skin on skin?’

One eye opened. He looked down. Then he grinned.

“You feel pretty damn good,” he whispered.

“What were you thinking? You could have been killed?”

“You want to make whoopee?”

“What?”

“I said, would you like to do the deed?”

And he kissed her. Moments later he felt her mounting him, the fire growing between them very real and very, very intense.

And that was when he looked up and saw Eva looking down at him, intense longing in her eyes as they crested yet another wave together.

+++++

Of course, two days later Peter’s footage was all over the news, then a viral sensation on the internet. One all-news-network started calling him Saint Henry – apparently for his divinely ordained life-saving abilities – and somehow the name stuck. Rolf laughed his ass off and Dina rolled her eyes at that one, but when Britt saw the news reports she almost fainted. Eva was thunderstruck by their intense coupling and could hardly speak to the reporters who came seeking interviews. 

Henry Taggart remembered very little of that day, but what he did recall sounded more like the ramblings of a mystic than the ravings of a cynic. He spoke of a deep connection between the whale and himself, something totally unexpected to the reporters who filmed the interview, but he also spoke of a light. A deep, warm light that felt more than a little orgasmic – which left all of the reporters scratching their heads.

© 2020 adrian leverkuhn | abw | thanks for dropping by…next chapter in a week or so…