Come Alive (21.6)

Chapter 21.6

Henry Taggart had been the first human to reach out so far.

And ‘Pinky’ had been the first to feel Henry’s tentative probes. The first to feel a human’s thoughts, the first to – in a very real sense – make contact.

His thoughts were anything but focused, but they were sentient so she took note and followed protocol. Within hours her team was preparing to respond and evaluate this new contact.

Pinky’s people were children of the mind and as such they relied less on physical instrumentalities than their most distant ancestors ever had, and while not strictly speaking immortal their lifespans were by human standards ridiculously long. There had been no discussions of this between humans and Andromedans because there had been no common frame of reference, and for a time Pinky had simply felt the matter irrelevant.

Until now.

Now – after her fusion with Henry Taggart – death was everywhere: an omnipresent awareness locked-up in a tight, hot place somewhere between cold dread and pounding fear. When she felt Taggart’s compounding diseases the first thing she wanted to to do was run – anywhere – to get away from this hostile, unfamiliar feeling.

But as suddenly she had wanted to know how he coexisted with such an intimate cascade of negative emotions, and, because she had been studying humans for several years now, she wanted to reconcile her understanding of human support systems – like religion and medicine – with what she was now experiencing for herself – through Henry.

‘This is terrifying,’ she said to Henry as she settled in next to him.

‘You’re telling me. Now I know what schizophrenia feels like.’

‘Death is everywhere. How do you not think about it all the time?’

‘Oh, I think we do, especially as we get older. Probably ninety percent of the time, anyway. But whenever we’re not thinking about death we’re thinking about getting laid.’

‘So…you think of death – or procreation?’

‘Yup, pretty much. So, how long do y’all live?’

‘That is a question, Henry Taggart, for which I have no easy answers.’

‘Okay, but I’m curious. Why now?’

‘Do you mean why have I come to you now – in this way?’

‘Yeah, I think that about sums it up.’

‘Your systems are failing rapidly. We need to know more about this process.’

‘You asking about me, or about civilization in general?”

‘You.’

‘So, you’re asking me about death and dying? Why?’

‘Because we do not understand how this process affects you.’

‘Most directly, I think I can safely say.’

‘But…where do you go?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Where do your thoughts go – after?’

‘I don’t understand. Our thoughts don’t go anywhere, because when we die we stop thinking.’

He could feel her puzzlement, an almost paralyzed sense of incomprehension as she stumbled in the dark for the truth of the matter: ‘What do you mean…you stop?’

‘I mean when our bodies stop functioning everything ceases. Including thoughts and feelings.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘No, of course not. As far as I know, no one really understands what happens after we die – beyond the very certain biological processes of decay which begin at that time.’

‘So much uncertainty. It is no wonder your kind is consumed with matters concerning spirituality and an afterlife.’

‘Your kind is not, I take it?’

‘No, we are focused on other things.’

‘What about getting…uh, procreation?’

‘The process is known to us.’

‘You are evasive, I’ll give you that much. But why? Why conceal so much from us?’

‘I think it is simply a question of frames of reference.’

‘So, you think I can’t understand. Is that your frame of reference?’

‘In a way, yes. What is that noise you have been making today?’

‘Noise?’

‘Yes, almost melodic, but it almost seems to come from deep inside your body.’

‘Ah. Humming. As in humming a musical tune.’

‘How does this differ from singing?’

‘Humming is more of an approximation of the original…’

‘Is this approximation subliminal?’

‘I suppose it could be. What are you getting at?’

‘Is it possible the source could be external?’

‘External? You mean like sent from someone else?’

‘Yes. Is that possible?’

‘I don’t think so. At least, not in any way I know of.’

‘This is strange. When humans gather and listen to music many tend to become one with the structures within the music, and it is here that we have experienced many encounters recently.’

‘Encounters? You mean, as in reaching out?’

‘Yes.’

‘So, you think it is people changing, or something within the structure of the music?’

‘We are uncertain.”

“I see,’ Taggart said knowingly. ‘And so you think you have discovered something…’

‘Yes, Henry. Something new, but also something quite unexpected.’

+++++

He saw the women one morning while out walking his two pups; he watched them walk to the water’s edge and disrobe, then most surprisingly, the two women stepped into the icy water and disappeared. Not at all sure what to do, he grew concerned when they did not reappear after several minutes, so he pulled out his phone and called the rescue services.

Within minutes divers and helicopters were scouring the waters north of Bergen.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop as and when circumstances allow.

Come Alive (21.5)

Chapter 21.5

The sky was red – blood red – everywhere he looked.

Red satanic mills lighting the way ahead, roiling black spires of writhing cloud overhead, and trees on both sides of a blood-soaked canal reduced to glowing embers as, not so far away now, walls of orange flame moved through a row of medieval buildings – those ancient timbers adding their cry to the night.

And then there was the music. 

A dark lament, yet he heard sublime chords weaving new tapestries into and out of the licking flames. Timbers consumed by the roving fires split and burst howling into the night, coming together in the music before lifting away into the night – embers to stars – pitiless onlookers all as they rose from the earth.

First there was the fire and the music – coming together as yellow lightning moved across the charred prairie beyond the canal – then the smoke. Suffocating smoke and gritty remains started falling from the clouds, the soot smothering flames as the tarry remnants of human agony covered the earth and finally lay still…

He was coughing now, coughing and hardly able to breathe, Clyde’s eyes were full of panic as he too coughed and gasped. Then a voice, faraway and cool:

“Take a deep breath…

“That’s it, take another…”

He felt cool plastic around his mouth and nose, could just hear the hiss of oxygen beneath her voice as he opened his eyes…

Two IV bags were hanging from one of the hand-holds on the ceiling and he knew they were connected to the port in his chest. Some sort of glucose solution in one; the other a vampire’s brew of platelets and plasma, and he reached out – feeling his body in this world once again, wondering how much more he could take.

A pulse oximeter on his index finger, a BP cuff on his right arm, and there was Rolf pumping up the cuff as Dina passed along another of the dark arts; she was even now teaching him, training him, and he could see budding interest everywhere the boy’s eyes scanned.

He took a deep breath and the cool oxygen felt good inside his nose – but – ‘What is that I smell? Honeysuckle?’

He looked up through the overhead hatch and could see a Linden tree wrapped in autumnal reds and golds, a coppery-blue sky beyond, and there was a gentle weight on his chest: Clyde – his muzzle resting lightly in the last fading shade of the dream.

The dream?

‘Not Rotterdam. Not even earth – I feel sure of that. But…where were we this time…?”

“Ah, Henry! You are awake!” 

“I’ll have to take your word for it, Dina. And is that a tree I see up there?” Taggart asked, pointing at the Linden. “Because, and this is important, I don’t remember trees growing in the ocean.”

“We are moored outside of Bruges, warped off to several stout trees.”

“The storm. Epsilon, right? Rolf, where is it now?”

“The eye is between Brest and Exeter, almost exactly in the middle of the Channel, but Henry, the surrounding weather is beginning to behave in a most peculiar manner.” 

“Define peculiar?”

“Water temps now over a hundred, winds in the outer bands now in excess of 250 knots…”

Taggart sat up, rubbed his eyes while he tried to get those numbers to make some sort of sense. “Did you say 250 – as in knots?”

“Yes, and the northeast quadrant of the eye wall is over 320 knots.”

“That’s not possible.”

“That’s exactly what Anton said,” Dina added, scowling.

“Anton? Who the hell is Anton?”

“The Russian pilot. Do you not remember all that?”

“Vaguely. Something to do with World War Three, right?”

Dina shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“How are our supplies holding out?” Taggart asked.

“Fine now. We went into town and bought enough to stock a small hospital…”

“And I have more rope, too,” Rolf added. “Right now the storm is tracking a little to the north…”

“What? You mean north, as in towards London?”

“Maybe, yes.”

“So, assuming it…”

“Precisely,” Rolf added. “If it tracks just a little south landfall could occur somewhere along this coast tomorrow morning.”

“Dina, you were saying? What about supplies for Mike’s burns?”

She nodded, smiling a little once again, if only because even after fifty years she still had to hold her tongue when men, and even boys, talked over her. “We are good now, and we were lucky with food supplies here. Apparently many stores in Brussels are quite bare.”

“Salmon for Clyde?”

“Yes, and very fresh, too.”

“So, how bad is it out there?”

She nodded. “Better that expected. People still using cash and electronic money equally well. ATMs seemed to have enough cash on hand, too.”

“How’s our fuel, Rolf?”

“We beat the rush into Zeebrugge last night and we have full tanks now, plus the four five-gallon jugs still in the garage.”

“What do you need help with?”

“Nothing, really. Like I said, I have extra rope ready to deploy if needed.”

Henry smiled and nodded, then Clyde looked at him and sighed. “And what do you need, Amigo? Besides some fresh salmon?”

“Woof-woof!”

“Any good bushes around here?” he asked, looking to Dina.

“He just went, Henry,” Dina sighed.

“And how are you doing?” he asked – finally engaging her eyes.

“I’m scared – and a little lonely.”

“Understandable. Not many people had a ringside seat at armageddon and managed to survive the night to talk about it.”

She slipped onto the berth and under his arm, pushing Clyde out of the way as she rested the side of her face on Henry’s chest, listening to his breathing and his beating heart in a decidedly non-clinical way, and feeling now more than anything just happy that he was still here. And Rolf had the good sense to get up and leave them alone, too.

“I have never been so frightened in my life,” she sighed, suddenly trembling as memories of their night came back to her. “The wind has been out of the west ever since, so fallout is spreading inland; there are reports it is very bad near Hamburg and Berlin, Copenhagen also.”

“What about us?”

“I suspect low level radiation exposure for all of us, but I have no idea how much that Russian was exposed to.”

He heard the venom in her voice and tried to ignore it – for now. “You think there are food shortages?”

“Yes, but this is to be expected. Aid convoys from the United States are being loaded now and should be here early next week, and the Chinese have been flying in field hospitals and medical supplies.”

“How did the boy take it?”

“Better than I expected, Henry. In fact, he seemed most concerned that he get things done in a way that you would approve. Dedicated, I think, is the word that comes to mind…”

“For a teenager that’s kind of a miracle, don’t you think?”

She shrugged. “Perhaps, but he has seen what the Time Bandits are capable of, and I think he appreciates what they mean to our future.”

“I wonder how much damage radiation did to her hull?”

“The stern took the worst of it, but the mast, too…”

“Yup, probably a new mast and, well, a couple of new sails are a given, but stripping off the gelcoat to see how deep the damage goes inside the hull…you’ll need to do that next spring, by the way…so that will be your number one priority. I’m in the process of writing it all out, by the way.”

“Good. Have you been getting hungry at all?”

“No, not really.”

“How about some soup?”

“Maybe.”

“I have bread in the oven now, too.”

“I know – I think that’s what woke me up. Best smell in the world, isn’t it?”

She smiled. “That…and a strong brew of coffee. Together those create a magic all their own.”

“Yeah. We have our flaws, but we manage to pull a few rabbits out of our hats every now and then, too.”

“Are you worried about…them?”

“Them? No, not really. What’s done is done, at least as far as they are concerned.”

“And what about Eva, and Britt? What is happening to them?”

“You probably shouldn’t worry too much about them, Dina…”

She seemed taken aback by that, and sat up – her eyes flaring in anger; “That is the most terrifying thing you have ever said to me, Henry. Just what am I supposed to make of a statement like that.”

“I understand.”

“Indeed? Do you really?”

“Of course, but the truth of the matter is I trust – them – a lot more than you do.”

“They could be…”

“Not harmed. Not ever. In fact, they are safer now than they’ve ever been.”

“I see. Will I see my daughter again?”

He nodded. “As soon as we get to Paris you will go pick her up.”

“What?! You mean, I will be leaving you again?”

“Just for a few hours – and because you are the only one here who knows where to look.”

“Look? Look…where?”

He sat up, coughing now as fluids pushed against his lungs – then an arrhythmia shook his heart and he closed his eyes until it too passed – then he took a couple of deep breaths and tried to concentrate.

“I must find an aircraft, one that the Russian knows how to fly, and you must go to Bergen. I will write down what you need to do, who you need to see once you get there…”

“The Russian? You trust this man?”

Henry shrugged: “Everything seems to be happening for a reason right now, Dina. Please try to remember that every time you find yourself confronting the new and the unknown.”

Yet even as he spoke those words he could feel Eva probing his thoughts, then Britt was there too. He closed his eyes and felt them coiling around his thoughts, smiling as he basked in their warmth. Reaching out now, he could feel the warm water, almost feel the rough skin as orcas slid alongside the girls…

Then a gust of hot wind slammed into Time Bandits, knocking her into the muddy banks of the canal. He heard Rolf running up the companionway, then he was talking to Mike, deciding what needed to be done as Epsilon’s steamy tendrils started to reach out for them.

‘Was that a dream?’ he wondered. Or would this storm bring red skies and burning timbers to the coming night?

He tried to sit up – but couldn’t – and the feeling of helplessness that came next only made him angrier.

He took several deep breaths and willed himself to stand – and Dina was right there with him, removing the IVs from the port and swabbing his chest with alcohol.

“Do you want to go topsides?” she asked.

He nodded and held onto her as she led him up the companionway steps into the cockpit – and the change was so startling it left him feeling even more breathless.

Time Bandits was no longer a creature of the open sea; here she was, now – bound to the earth in places, to trees in others, and in a canal perhaps 20 meters wide – surrounded by trees and medieval buildings…in short, all the ingredients to make his last dream come true.

He turned and looked up at the sky and the old Russian was by his side in an instant.

“Sky not look right,” the old bear grumbled. “Too hot. No clouds.”

Taggart nodded. “Do you know how to fly any business jets?”

“737 smallest thing I fly long time.”

“I need you to go up to Bergen, get some people and bring them to France.”

“Okay, can do.”

“Rolf? Pull up the Metars page, would you?”

The weather page filled the plotter’s display and Henry bent over and scanned the isobars over the Channel. “Okay, hit the 24 hour forecast.”

The page froze and an error message popped up.

“Try backing out to the main page again…”

Dina saw it first, and she gasped before she jumped back and away.

A swirling pink sphere not a half-meter in diameter was up by the masthead, and when Henry stopped talking and looked up Pinky fell quickly and stopped right in front of his face. This was of course Anton’s first meeting and he back-peddled with flailing arms until he launched into a sputtering back-flip, landing in the canal like a small whale…

But then Pinky did something she had never done before.

She slipped inside Henry Taggart – until her soul rested beside his.

+++++

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop as and when circumstances allow.

[a wee update: words like pulmonary thrombosis and pericardial effusion entered my lexicon this past week, two liters of fluid around the left lung that had to be drained (very un-fun) in the process with more coming up next week; I am ‘out of the woods’ once again and sitting at the iMac, catching up with emails as best I can. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all the love and support.]

Come Alive (21.4)

Sorry for the small bits and pieces, but I would like to keep posting whatever progress I make when and as time permits.

Chapter 21.4

“What this is?” Anton Peskov asked, pointing at the weather display on the chart-plotter.

“Weather, from a satellite over the Atlantic,” Rolf said, clearly proud of Time Bandits – and in his growing understanding of her systems.

But one of the colonel’s bushy gray eyebrows arched up on hearing that. “This is live, not recorded?”

“Yes, live. Actually, it’s a service of the SiriusXM radio network, it just feeds into the chart and radar networks as an overlay.”

“Very cool,” Peskov growled. “And this?” he asked, pointing at the hurricane still growing in the eastern Atlantic.

“That’s Epsilon, the hurricane,” Rolf said, centering the display over the eye and calling up the Overlays panel. “We can display the current wind speeds, like this,” Rolf said, toggling the layer, “and we can add even more information, too, like sea surface temperatures” – click – “and barometric pressures…” – click – “like this.”

“Very, very cool. And you knows how to use dees system?”

The display blinked and an alert popped in the center of the screen; Rolf silenced the alarm and pulled up the linked data-feed and quickly read through alert, shaking his head as the enormity of the information sank in. “Mike? Is Henry still up?”

Mike shook his head. “No way, man. Dina popped him with a syringe full of instant sleep. He won’t wake up ’til sometime tomorrow.”

“Well, you better come and take a look at this, because I think we’ve got trouble.”

Mike stood – and cried out in pain as his back arched in an involuntary stretch – then he walked over to the helm and took a look at the display: “What’s up? Epsilon again?”

“Yeah, but take a look…”

Mike looked at the display and scowled. “That can’t be right. 280 knots in the eye-wall?”

“I double checked the feed. It’s a valid alert, and for all shipping heading into or out of the Channel.”

“What are the surface temps now?”

Rolf went back to the main display window and zoomed out to show the entire storm. “Look up there, just to the north of the eye…”

Mike bent over and peered into the image, then he shook his head and scoffed. “No way, man. No way it’s a hundred and five up there!” – yet while he was watching all the temperatures updated, most increasing by a degree or two as he stood there, and two more alerts popped. “Open ‘em up, man…” Mike sighed.

Rolf hit the appropriate buttons and the display shifted to grayscale and a long text message filled the screen.

“Notice to Mariners,” the text read, “Imminent danger to life at sea northeast Atlantic basin from the Azores to the Irish Sea and points east. Hurricane Epsilon continues to intensify as conditions deteriorate further…”

“Well, fuck-a-doodle-do,” Mike whispered as he read. “What are the temps up here, in the Channel?”

Rolf flipped through the pages of data and pulled up the central region of the English Channel and hit enter, then he overlaid all the data he could find for their current position. “Okay, here it is.”

Mike sat next to Rolf and peered into the image again. “That Multi-display can pull up a real time sea-temp, right? Can we cross check these numbers with real time data?”

“Sure…easy… So, Sirius is showing 84 degrees F right here, and…” Rolf said, leaning over to pull up the real time data on one of the smaller secondary displays, “our sensor is showing…uh, that can’t be right…” he said as 91 degrees registered.

“One good way to find out,” Mike said as he walked back to the swim platform, where he stepped down and stuck his hand into the sea. “Well, Hell, I wouldn’t want to take a bath in it, but it feels pretty damn warm to me.”

Anton had followed him down to the water and stuck his own hand in the water. “Da, is not good.”

“Okay, so it looks like some kind of super-tropical cyclone is coming up the Channel. The question for us,” Mike posed, “is what do we do about it today – right now, while Henry is down and out…?”

“How far we go in Channel? And how big is storm? Do these two areas, how do you say? Overlap?”

Mike nodded and looked ahead, then up at the sky. Strange, mottled-coppery cirrus clouds were already streaming in, and he wondered if global background radiation figures were changing already… He watched Rolf pull up more charts and data and walked back to the helm.

“Okay,” Rolf said, “we are almost to Bruges so call it 170 n-m-i to LeHavre, while the center of Epsilon is still about 360 miles out from LeHavre. What about London? Could we put in there?”

“I was just thinking about that,” Mike sighed, “but I keep thinking of the Thames Barrier.”

“Da, is not good,” Anton said in his deep baritone voice.

“What’s that?” Rolf asked. 

“A tidal flood control barrier. If it gets taken out everything in London could be wiped out by storm surge.”

“What about the Seine? Couldn’t the same thing happen to Paris?”

Mike shrugged. “Southern shores should see less surge, but wind damage could be savage along rivers and coastlines, yet it looks like if we proceed direct to LeHavre from here we’ll get there about the same time the storm does.”

“What about Bruges?” Anton asked. “We here now, we need medic supplies for you and Mr. Genry, no? And it give us time to get ready, which we need. Correct?”

“Impeccable logic, my friend. Rolf, pull up the harbor chart and let’s make for the entrance…”

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next installment will drop when and as circumstances allow.

Come Alive (21.3)

Chapter 21.3

The seas were strangely quiet as dawn came. Amber-gray with an oily sheen that spoke of endless terrors in the night that had just been.

Dina had wrapped the colonel’s right arm and given him one of Henry’s precious opiates, then fixed the old aviator a cup of sweet tea on the propane stove. “How long will food keep with no power?” she asked Henry – who was then on his way to the engine room. 

“Don’t open the doors unless you have to. Keeps the cold inside,” he said as he worked his way into the confined space under the cockpit and got to work. Rolf joined him under there, and they emerged two hours later and went straight to the cockpit. One punch of the starter and the pristine diesel rumbled back to life, the batteries began charging and the refrigerator cooling again. Rolf and Henry ‘high-fived’ and Clyde barked twice…

Next, Henry rigged up his old bosun’s chair and went over safety procedures with both Rolf and the aviator, who both helped run Henry up the mast. After a few premature triumphs, Henry felt satisfied with the repairs and they rolled out the main and set the large staysail, everyone smiling as Bandits’ speed jumped from six knots under power alone to almost nine knots with the added lift from the sails.

Then Henry went to work on the radios.

And when the BBC World Service came on at the top of the hour he smiled inside. Because listening to the BBC does that to old people.

“The world seems to have stepped back from the brink,” a heartened voice began, “yet with reports of five cities now silent it is time for us all to step back from the abyss and conduct a reckoning…”

Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Gone.

Moscow and St Petersburg. Gone.

And north of Miami, where a single very small warhead detonated over a former president’s residence – and which had already begun reconstituting a freshly energized conspiracy theory machine to rise to its former glory.

Word was slipping out that China had threatened Russia after Moscow went dark, that the Chinese leader had stated quite clearly that as they, the Russians, had started this madness, China would not sit idly by and let the Russians take down the species.

There had been a hideous price paid during these hours of madness, the commentator said, yet now it was time to move on. To reconstruct. To heal.

And Time Bandits left the afterglow in her wake, sailing now for Le Havre – just as the strangest hurricane in human history took aim at the northwest coast of France.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop as circumstances allow.

Come Alive (21.2)

Chapter 21.2

Still standing at the aft rail, Henry Taggart watched the coiling toroidal clouds as they climbed through the stratosphere, the haunting cacophony of perishing souls trapped within now crystallized within his reeling mind. He looked up and saw the B-21s launch a second strike just as the third Russian strike hit, this second wave of hypersonic lances slanting-in to take out Amsterdam – and Taggart groaned as the implications became clear in his mind.

In order to prevent the massive supplies of oil cached in these two ports from falling into Russian hands, in a now all too familiar calculus the two cities surrounding these ports were being sacrificed. As in: blood for oil. As in: for the last one hundred years, the brutal efficiency of this formula had guided human history like nothing ever had before – because as Everett DeGolyer had so cogently explained, oil was power and global dominance of geo-petrochemical production would lead to world dominance. Roosevelt understood the implications all too well; so had Joseph Stalin. The game was afoot, and no points for coming in second place!

Now, even as hydrocarbon emissions were choking off their future, humans were once again willing to go to the mats to control supplies of the stuff – even if this would quite necessarily be the last time humans fought any kind of war at all. If the whole thing wasn’t so sickening, Taggart thought, it might have even been kind of funny. Like the same kind of fun if John Galt was to be suddenly brought to life and Rand’s archetypal Übermench then decided to take out the human race rather than watch it be subsumed in some sort of neo-Marxist non-conforming conformism. Humanity was, after all, a particularly fragile construct – one particularly ill-suited to comprehensive introspective analysis – the sort where deontologists go off on a march to kill millions in the service of an idea, if only because they are so much more efficient at it.

“How wrong we were,” he said to the cobalt-encased, thorium-enriched clouds settling into their familiar mushroom formations over the burning city. He tried to think of the most heart-wrenching example you could find of humanity – say, for instance, a club-footed Sudanese boy of perhaps two years, born with a cleft-palette and no arms, the sort frequently used to attract donors to any of the dozens of charitable organizations founded to help such ‘wastrels.’ Legions of oil companies directing battalions of marching soldiers had ground an endless number of such children into the sand, and all in an endlessly mad search for more and more energy – 

But when Taggart joined the Seattle Group he had quickly learned that there was more energy locked inside a single thought than there was in the most devastating hydrogen bomb ever built. He’d laughed at the simple-minded lunacy of the very idea, too – until a freak named Winky had taken him and a gastrointestinally challenged male orca for a five minute spin around Vancouver Island…at speeds in excess of Mach 50. He’d shut the fuck up after that – and started listening…big time. Even as the stomping legions in their Brooks Brothers’ suits lined-up to do battle with the idea. One more time. Because this one was for all the marbles, wasn’t it?

They’d talked about war once, too. He and Winky, that is. And Winky had listened patiently, even tactfully given the circumstances, then he’d turned to Taggart and asked one simple question. “How many wars have been fought since the end of your Revolutionary War – where oil was the principle organizing objective of your intervention?” 

Taggart had thought long and hard about that one, then threw the answer “Ten!” out there to hang around in the air apparent, yet Winky had only smiled that patient smile of his before he’d turned and walked off.

“That’s not fair!” Taggart yelled – causing men all around the ‘Special’ hanger at Boeing’s Everett Field to turn and see what this latest commotion was all about –

But by then he and Winky were standing in the History section at the Harvard Coop Bookstore across from Harvard Yard, and Winky had simply pulled a book from the shelf titled A Country Made by War and handed it to him – before stating: “More than 1400 – by Perret’s count, anyway – though my own was a little more aggressive.”

“What? Are you serious?”

“Read it and then go find out for yourself, Hank.”

“But…I…”

“Forgot your wallet again, I see? Well then – let me, please.”

Those had been the days, Taggart mused. Winky could appear as anyone, of course, though he usually walked and talked like Cary Grant or Bela Lugosi, depending on his mood and the state of his humor, which, in those days, had been generally playful.

But today?

He heard someone in the cockpit and turned to see Mike standing there, looking aft at what was left of Rotterdam, and Taggart saw that the naval officer was finally at a loss for words.

“This is what happens when your best laid plans fall on their ass,” Mike croaked, his voice a parched mirror of his facial burns. “What about Amsterdam?”

Taggart shook his head. “It’s gone, too. B-21s hit it about a half hour ago.”

Mike flipped a few switches but nothing worked now, not even the diesel, so he walked back to the rail and stood there beside Henry. “Looks like EMP took out everything,” he said softly. 

Taggart shrugged. “I’ve got a few spares.”

“That figures. What about the sails?”

“Standing rigging is toast, though if I can get up the mast I can rig the main and staysail, enough to get us down the road a little, anyway.”

“I take it you weren’t expecting this?” Mike asked as he took it all in, his voice suddenly full of real sorrow.

But Taggart turned and faced Mike, the anger behind his eyes manifest: “No, I’ve been expecting this my whole life, Mike. In fact, I’m surprised we made it this far.”

Mike nodded. “What’s that old saying? Kill someone in an alley and you go to jail, but kill thousands to the beat of marching bands and get medals. I guess that makes us…what?”

“Irredeemable is, Mike, the word you’re looking for. An evolutionary dead end, and it is time to put an end to this…”

But a series of far away explosions ripped through the air and the two of them turned to watch a number of fighters whirling around tens of thousands of feet above the sea, shooting missiles and firing machine guns at one another in a last ballet of death. Too far away to make out any detail, Taggart turned away from it all and walked back to the cockpit, helped Dina and Rolf get to their feet. Rolf seemed almost in a state of shock as Dina took him down the companionway.

– then he felt Eva in his mind…

+++++

‘There is a great evil coming for you now,’ she told him. ‘Get everyone below and prepare yourself.’

‘Alright.’

‘You are injured. I will help you if I can.’

‘Thanks. I get by with a little help from my friends.’

‘I love you.’

‘I love you too.’ He felt the lightness in her thoughts, the noble purity, and he smiled – as if he was a flower turning to face the sun.

+++++

“You’d better get below, Mike. Now.”

“What? Why? What’s happening…?”

Two of the fighters were locked in a struggle to the death, one diving now, the second turning to pursue…

“I think they’re out of missiles,” Mike sighed. “They’ve been going at one another like this for a few minutes now.”

“Too stupid to know they’re already dead.”

“Anger…and adrenaline.”

“Homo sapiens…to the very end.” Taggart held onto the backstay, his head turned up to watch this all too familiar scene play out to it’s inevitable conclusion…

An American F15 was trying to turn inside of the pursuing Russian Su-35 when it went inverted in a sudden wingover and pulled-back hard at the apex…but this Russian wasn’t buying the dodge. The Russian committed now and drove his fighter right into the wings of the Eagle, the pilot ejecting at the last possible moment – just before their machines burst into flames and tumbled like falling leaves down to there sunless sea of gritty molten amber.

But Taggart watched the ejection carefully.

The canopy broke away smoothly, the rocket under the seat fired and then the seat fell away from the pilot as the drogue opened. Perhaps a second later the main chute opened and then the man hung there, suspended by his harness…

Until the pilot realized he was falling towards an American yacht.

Which was when he reached for the pistol strapped to his thigh.

And yet Taggart just watched this fall from grace knowing full well what he had to do now.

“Mike? I put a spare sat-phone in the oven. Could you go get that for me, please?”

“In the oven?”

“Faraday cage, Mike. Don’t leave home without one.”

“Yeah…okay.”

“Power it up, would you?”

“Sure.”

He could see the pilot clearly now, see that he was watching everything Taggart and Mike did even as he fell through the gritty amber sky. And he could feel the malice in the man’s livid eyes as the water reached up and plucked him from the sky.

The swim platform worked well enough, and it still supported his weight as he stepped out on it. He flipped the swim steps out and watched them fall into the water – just as the pilot swam up to the stern, an ancient Makarov clenched in one hand.

“Stand back!” the Russian ordered as he reached out for the steps – speaking in Russian, of course.

“Would you care for a towel?” Taggart answered – in Russian.

“Stand back, now! Or I will shoot her!”

Taggart turned and saw Eva standing on the aft deck – but he saw the shimmering pink glow around her feet and knew it was Pinky. 

“Oh…feel free,” Henry said, smiling genially at the aviator.

“What? Are you an imbecile? Did you not hear me? Stand back!”

Taggart leaned over and extended his hand. “Perhaps you didn’t know, but your left arm is fractured. Now, take my hand and I will help you up.”

“Stand back! Now!”

Taggart sighed and took a step back, then he watched the old Russian Colonel struggle up the steps while trying his best not to show overt disgust. “Would you like a towel now?” he just managed to ask.

The Russian, speaking through clenched teeth and with sweat running down his forehead into his eyes, snarled now. “No! Get back or I will kill all of you, now!”

“Not to put too fine a point on things, Colonel Peskov, but this is my vessel and you are my guest while here.”

“No! You are MY prisoners! Now, step back, but…say? How do you know my name?”

“Your gun, please. Give it to me.”

Furious now, Peskov took the pistol and placed it about a foot in front of Taggart’s face and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

Except Taggart reached out and twisted the pistol free of Peskov’s hand, then tossed it into the sea. “We have a physician onboard if you’d care to have that arm looked at.”

“You are my prisoner! You do as I say!” Peskov commanded, now in rough, heavily accented English.

“Or, would you please just shut the fuck up?”

“We win, see?” Peskov shouted, pointing at Rotterdam’s feraly glowing remnants. “You understand? Russians wins again!”

“Okay, Anton, you asked for this, so hang onto your britches…”

They were in a woman’s mind now, seeing the world through her eyes. Running along the Martynova Boulevard in St Petersburg, the river off to her right, her two small boys running just ahead…

“Those are my grandchildren!” Anton cried. “How can this be?”

Only Peskov could hear the air raid sirens wailing all around them now, then the fear in all their voices as they ran for the shelter near to subway entrance – then the hideous, shrieking howl of a million souls perishing as a small sun erupted a mile above the city center…

Only Anton Peskov could see and feel the primordial fear in the wildly beating heart of his youngest daughter, then – through her eyes – he watched the all-enveloping fusion blast that came calling for the only three people left in the world he could honestly say he still loved…

…and in the time it took to sigh they were gone, and in the next instant they had been reduced to black grit that had somehow been fused to the pavement – like shadows painted on concrete…

And Anton Peskov fell to his knees, his bunched fists pounding Time Bandits’ deck, murderous rage welling in his heart. “I will kill you all with my bare fists,” he howled, the burning pyre of St Petersburg flickering in his eyes –

Yet in the next instant his eyes were focused like laser beams – attached to the re-entry cone of a MIRV boring through the atmosphere just above Moscow –

“No, this can not be! This must not be!”

As the MIRV mechanism deployed, all 28 warheads blossomed from behind the cone, each independently programmed warhead streaking down to impact on a prominent cultural landmark in the heart of the city…

Only now he had a God’s eye view of the moment, looking down on the city of his youth as the first 28 warheads hit, then another and another 28, until all that remained of the city was a seventy mile wide slag-heap filled with a seething lava-like substance that bubbled away in the night. Nothing at all remained of the city and the culture that had defined his people for hundreds, if not thousands of years…

Consumed with fiery rage, Anton pulled himself erect and beat his chest with his good hand. His eyes full of grief for the dead, he turned on Taggart: “Think of all the children! The grandchildren – that you have just murdered!”

Taggart walked over and stood by Peskov’s trembling body, then he pointed at Rotterdam’s amber-glowing grit. “See the children over there, Anton? Can you feel them now? The grandchildren and grandparents and all their history – gone now, because of what you did here today? Can you feel them now? Here? Right here?” Taggart said as he ran his fingers through his hair and pulled it down for Anton to see, the sweat on his fingers speckled with little obsidian flecks of grit. “See them, Anton? This is all that’s left of them now. All their hopes and dreams, all that they were or might ever be…here they are…one last time and just for you!?”

“What are you talking about, you fool?”

“Here they are, Anton. Their remains, falling from the sky – right now. On you. Right on your head, Anton, and there, right on your face and in your eyes. Can you not feel them, Anton? Can you not hear their screams?”

As the realization began crowding out every other thought Taggart watched the man go mad right in front of him. Peskov ran his hand through his own hair and he felt the grit on his fingers,  under his fingernails, then he heard the millions of screams as the warheads blossomed overhead. And each little fleck of grit became a life’s blood on his hands until the man’s soul literally withered and burned out there on the aft deck, then the shell of the man stood there in mute grief as the ironies of his inherent contradictions consumed him.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop as circumstances permit.

Come Alive (21.1)

Come alive image twilight lg

So, a couple of nights ago I was watching a new film on Netflix. On the laptop, in the CICU. Big mistake. The film in question? A new one by George Clooney, called The Midnight Sky. And I did just fine, really I did. Almost, anyway. Around the time the Kyle Chandler character decides to return home I began to kind of crack around the edges and the ICU nurse said something that sounded very much to me like “Oh Hell No!” That was also about the time she also put out a Code Blue CICU Stat! call, too.

Those of you who’ve used fisheye camera lenses may relate to this, but that dance started again. Let’s call it the ICU MI Ballet. Only this time in pure fisheye senso-rama – whereby yours truly is stuck in the center of this very weird universe as some “really very serious shit” starts to go pear-shaped. All I remember hearing is someone calling out “we’re loosing him” – and I’m sitting there inside this fuzzy warm vortex at the center of the universe wondering who the hell they’re talking about…?

So, two days (daze?) later and I be feeling’ alright. Actually better than, because I have decided that I love, and I mean really, really love – morphine. You hurt, they shoot some of that goop into your IV and then you don’t hurt. Rather unlike Preparation H suppositories, which don’t work, never have and never will.

So, I talked someone into letting me write a little today and as a result this may take the record of world’s shortest chapter – and it gets a little dark, too. Recommended music: Steven Wilson’s Grace for Drowning, including the eponymous track, Deform to Form a Star, and most importantly Belle du jour.

The next few chapters of Come Alive will come next, all quite short, leading us only then to spend more time with Harry while he figures out what the 88th Key is really all about. I wonder, have you?

So, on to the brief white flash…

Chapter 21

Dina came topsides and she looked exhausted, yet when she came and sat between Henry and Clyde, he folded his arms around her shoulders and held her close. Clyde farted, his enjoyment of the moment now refreshingly complete, his sense of accomplishment furiously unbridled after Rolf ran to the rail and dry-heaved.

So of course Henry scratched the old boy’s ears. “That was a good one, Clyde. High five!”

Dina shook her head while the two scoundrels nurtured each others wounded souls. “You two were made for one another,” she sighed. “Can you hear a little better now?”

He nodded, shot her a thumb’s up.

There came a deep rumbling roar a moment later, and they turned as one to look in the direction of Rotterdam and grimaced when a towering fireball rose up where one of the huge tank farms had been, and Henry moved behind the wheel.

“Is that new?” she asked.

“No,” Rolf replied. “A third wave of bombers broke through a half hour ago and hit the Belgian tanks we saw, then Nato aircraft starting hitting the fuel storage facilities.”

“How’s Mike?” Taggart asked, rubbing his eyes.

She shook her head. “He needs a burn ward, but at least we have antibiotics and morphine on board.”

“His scalp looks really bad,” Rolf added. “Like burned on a charcoal grill.”

“Third-degree,” Dina nodded. “And do you remember why?”

“Yes, the germinal layer is compromised.”

“And?”

“Normal cell replacement is inhibited.”

“Good.”

“Jesus F-ing Christ,” Taggart said, grinning. “World War Three breaks out and you two are already working on histology lessons between air raids…”

“The world is going to need many new physicians, Henry,” she chided.

A WRTHRFX alert chimed on the plotter and Taggart hit the accept button, and NOAAs latest weather-fax downloaded, appearing on screen in batches as the computer processed the huge proprietary files. Henry leaned forward, wincing as the same sharp, incisor-like pain bit into his side once again – but he fought his way through it with a deep cough and another wince.

“Oh dearie-me,” he sighed as he zoomed in, then he went to the satellite weather system and pulled that information out of the air. “Well, well, aren’t you something?” he said as he zoomed in once again.

“What is it?” Dina asked.

“Another hurricane, but this one just about scraped the Azores off the map, and she’s just now turning to the northeast, yet…” He punched a button on the display and sea surface temps appeared, then another and wind vectors were overlaid – and Taggart whistled when he watched this newest data filling the screen – before he muttered “Holy guacamole…” as implications and outcomes washed over and across his thoughts.

Only now, even Rolf seemed intrigued. “Henry? What is it?”

“Sea surface temps 100 miles northeast of Horta are 91 degrees, winds northeast of the eye wall are at 220 knots sustained…”

“Where is it headed?” Rolf whispered, wide-eyed now.

“The projection cone is centered on Brest, so even money this thing is gonna blast right up the Channel,” he said, pausing to work the numbers, “say in about four, maybe five days.”

“We will be out of the Channel by then, yes?” Dina said, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Yes, but only just, and that’s assuming the Russians don’t pull something really sneaky by then. Yet…” He ducked almost instinctively as a squadron of fighters darted by just overhead, followed – seconds later – by a terrifyingly loud boom and spreading curtains of sea spray, yet he caught Dina as she screamed and fell to the cockpit sole…

“F-15s,” he said as he turned and watched five of them disappear into the maelstrom surrounding Rotterdam – then three more groups of five slip-boomed overhead –

“Look!” Rolf said, pointing at faraway specs in the sky; Henry turned and looked at four B-21 Raiders and an even dozen F-35s spaced out around the formation, all headed for Rotterdam.

“Looks we got out of there just in time,” Dina said –

And before their eyes two missiles dropped from each Raider and lit-off, then falling to slam into earth at hypersonic speeds…

Taggart pulled up the chart-plotter and looked at their current position – 35 miles from the channel entrance and about 500 yards off the coast – when Taggart’s hands came up involuntarily, shielding his eyes from a wall of blinding light.

“Jesus…” Dina screamed…now cowering at his feet.

He pulled Clyde and Rolf down to the sole and covered them all with his body, and when he looked up he saw roaring torrents of debris being pulled – into – the blast – until the first wave of the thermal blast came for them – as it surely would. There wasn’t a damn thing he could do now, and he knew it, yet even so he couldn’t resist the almost primeval urge to watch this happen…

He’d seen a painting once, a meticulous visualization of a scene from Revelations as events unfolded under an imploding sky – over the upturned faces of an unbelieving people, and the feeling of déjà vu was suddenly overwhelming. The sky had turned a pewter-bronze color, and towering lead-gray clouds were spitting out blueish-white gouts of cloud-to-cloud lightning. The northeast horizon was an ashen line of sparkling black mist backlit by spreading lines of – something – the color of molten lava…

…then concussive waves of sound bit into Time Bandits, sending her 28 tons skittering across the surface of the sea like a flat rock skipping merrily along from wave to wave, her keel finally biting into the lead gray water and with the mast still pointing – more or less – in the right direction. As the autopilot woke it sent an error message and then their course – more or less – resumed southwestward.

Taggart stood and walked to the aft rail, and there he turned and looked up the mast. It was still standing, but only just. Several intermediate stays had let go and he could see at least two ruptured tangs hanging near the masthead, then he leaned out over the hull and saw that the pure white gelcoat hull material was scorched and bubbled in places, while the underside of the retractable swim platform had taken the brunt of the radiative energy: the fiberglass here was crazed and hanging in tatters around the two hinge points, and he shook his head as this gnawing new importance registered.

Only the sound coming from the inferno was now utterly ethereal, almost otherworldly. Like all the glass in the world had just fallen to earth and shattered in one collective release of surface tension, and all that was left of the world were the tinkling screams that seemed to embody the cries of sundered angels crying as they fell open-armed into the waiting fires. Taggart closed his eyes and he could just see glimmering bodies writhing within the swirling currents and licking tongues of fires that seemed poised to reach up and pluck their scorched souls from the falling sky…but he had to ask…’just what am I seeing…?’

And two hundred miles overhead two orbs coalesced inside the moment, disbelief that the fabric of the universe could be so carelessly and completely undone.

Their cries for help were completely unnecessary. 

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

A little update

Well, I woke up at four in the morning on Monday with an elephant standing right in the middle of my chest. A quick trip to the ER confirmed my own brilliantly off-the-cuff diagnosis: I was having a heart attack. I few hours later I was watching (in disbelief, believe me) a ballet of trauma nurses and heart surgeons getting me ready for…something really painful.

So, my writing output will pickup once again now that I’m reasonably conscious and sitting up again. And in case any of you think this was an awful experience…? Nope, not at all. All six of the nurses were seriously gorgeous and one of them had some sort of weed-whacker and she was trimming the hair on the insides of my thighs. Then my bush. Now, seriously, you know you’d have enjoyed it too. Go ahead, admit it. Hell, even she was grinning. Perhaps it was something I said…?

So…Merry Christmas, y’all! Hopefully I can organize my thoughts and get some words down on paper in a day or three. If not, y’all get out there and cook a turkey or a goose, do something Christmasy. Maybe one day we can all get together over cold glasses of something fun and tell dirty jokes while the sun goes down.

’til then…

A

Come Alive (20)

Come alive image twilight lg

Chapter 20

Ship traffic in the English Channel was now almost overwhelming; it seemed to both Taggart and Mike that every ship left in northwest Europe was now trying to flee the region by taking this more southerly route, and as there was no northbound traffic Taggart moved in as close to the surf as he safely could. Larger ships would keep well away from them – as they had to travel in deep water far off the beach – but that also meant he and Mike would have to keep a close eye on the sonar to spot any uncharted shoals in constantly shifting sand. If they missed just one their trip would be cut permanently short.

When they’d exited the locks at the opening of the Amsterdam Canal they were within a few yards of the Channel and so right in the thick of the so-called Channel Traffic Separation Scheme governing all commercial and military traffic in this normally very congested waterway. All transiting commercial traffic was usually under positive radar control so it was just about impossible for large ships to dodge small recreational craft – unless authorized to do so by the controllers – but now there was the very real possibility of submarine attacks on ship traffic to add to the confusion. Reports of periscopes were being taken seriously now, and several P-3 Orion ASW aircraft were orbiting the Channel to ensure rapid response times.

As Time Bandits approached Rotterdam and the Eurozone channel entrance, Mike kept binoculars trained on the breakwater jutting out from the Hook of Holland, staring in awe at the number of ships leaving the port.

“You do know,” Mike said, “that we’re going to have to cross that traffic lane…which means we’re going to have to shoot the gap between ships.”

“Okay? What am I missing?”

“Well, there are at least three traffic lanes working now, so after we cross one we’ll be seconds away from entering the next lane, and from what I can see none of the ships are maintaining anything like a constant speed.”

“Sounds like fun,” Taggart sighed as he looked at the plotter. “Okay…looks like about five miles to go to the breakwater…”

…then, somewhere behind them a huge fireball erupted, and seconds later the sound reached them, a deafening crumbling roar that caused Henry to flinch; Clyde turned from the sound and hurried down the companionway, and seconds later both Dina and Rolf came charging up the steps…

“What was…” Dina tried to say…just as the shockwave hit…

Time Bandits’ stern was shoved hard to the left and her bow dug into the water; Henry countered with full left rudder and she pulled out of the broach just as a wave of putrid LNG pushed through the air…

“Goddamn!” Mike shouted. “Someone just got a bulk liquified natural gas ship…”

Henry flipped the radar to full-screen and he could see remnants of the blast on radar; “Can you see anything out there?” he said to Mike.

Mike lifted the binoculars to his eyes: “Two, no…make that three smaller ships on fire, and it looks like one of the P-3s is dropping on a contact…”

A cruise missile burst through the water’s surface about a mile away and after it got airborne the missile turned for England and disappeared…a second later another missile launched, this one headed to a target in the channel to the southwest…

“Gimme the radio,” Mike said as he sat down next to the plotter. “Pan…pan…pan…two cruise missiles just launched, probable submarine location six miles north of the Hook of Holland…”

“Tiger 758 to unidentified vessel reporting launch. State your vessel type and exact location.”

“Sailing vessel Time Bandits reporting from 52 07 06 North 04 01 05 East. Two cruise missiles at low altitude, one leading east possibly London, one headed southwest down the channel.”

“Bandits, are you US flagged?”

“Affirmative. I’m retired fleet intel out of Norfolk.”

“Understood.”

“Okay Tiger 758, a third cruise missile is in the air now, heading due south.”

“Bandits, give me a relative bearing to target.”

“Three one zero relative, range still about a mile.”

“Bandits, are you the southbound sailboat off the beach?”

“Affirmative.”

“Recommend you take cover now.”

“Rolf, get Dina below, and don’t come up until I give you the all clear,” Mike said.

“Right, come on, Grandma-ma…”

“Here they come!” Mike yelled, pointing at two orange torpedos hanging from parachutes. “Get down, Henry! Now!”

A second later the first torpedo hit the surface and disappeared, the second torpedo moments later; about ten seconds passed before the surface of the sea erupted – then billowing gouts of black smoke and red flame seemed to ignite on the surface as a fountain of white water rushed skyward.

“Tiger 758, that’s a hard kill, repeat hard kill,” Mike said over the VHF radio.

“Okay Bandits…thanks!”

Taggart stood and called out to Rolf. “Clear up here…come on up if you want.”

Rolf came up and looked at the still bubbling sea. “Was that a submarine?”

“Yup,” Mike replied. “They got off three cruise missiles…”

“You mean…nuclear…?”

“No, probably not. Henry, do you have traffic on radar yet…behind the breakwater?”

“Yes…I can make out all three traffic lanes, I think.”

“Good. Look for big gaps.”

“Yeah, got it.”

Dina came up with cups of tea, but she looked shaken this time around.

“We should be okay once we get past all this traffic coming out of Rotterdam,” Taggart said, noting her shaking hands.

“That was frightening,” she sighed. “And unexpected.”

Mike shook his head. “With all this noise,” he said, pointing at the ships exiting the port, “it will be impossible to pick them up on sonar. My guess? This is how they picked off that LNG carrier.”

“So, you think more of this will happen?” Dina asked.

Mike nodded. “Look at what happened in Amsterdam, Dina. The Russians moved on the city to capture the fuel stored there, so it makes sense that they’ll go after fuel shipments leaving the continent, too.”

“And that’s why they’re moving on the Persian Gulf,” Henry added. “One more war over oil.”

“When will we get to France?” she asked, wanting to change the subject quickly, for Rolf’s sake as much as her own.

“It’s about 250 miles now, so we make it to LeHavre tomorrow evening,” Henry said.

“I am very concerned about my mother,” Rolf sighed, turning and looking at the large male orca swimming behind them.

Henry smiled. “She’s okay, Rolf. She’s with friends now, but I think she wants to talk to you.”

+++++

Britt was on her back in the water; two female orcas were beside her now, their body heat keeping her warm. When they had first approached her, and just as Henry’s voice came to her within roiled waves of insight, she hadn’t known what to think or do as the whales brushed against her. Yet she had followed his voice, grabbed hold of something in his words – when he’d told her to reach out with her mind –

And it wasn’t like she hallucinated what happened in the moments that followed. What she saw, what she felt and heard and smelled was as real as yesterday. The white, sandy road, the greenish sky dominated by the huge ringed planet overhead, the sea ahead – with a fresh breeze coming off the water scented with eucalyptus and strange, unseen flowers…then the terrifying jump to deep space before, literally just seconds later, she was back here in the water. 

She was beyond relaxed now, the warm water lapping against her eardrums, the sky overhead a cerulean curtain dappled with drifting balls of shredded cotton coming apart before her eyes. She turned her head just a little and she was eye to eye with one of the females and it felt like the orca was examining her, literally looking into her soul, but it was her own reaction that startled her most now.

She wanted, somehow, someway, to hold onto the huge creature and drift away, to let go of everything. To reach out…

+++++

“Close your eyes, Rolf. Just take a few deep breaths and concentrate on the darkness. Feel it all around you, feel it like warm water surrounding you…”

Henry kept talking to the boy, instructing him, moving him closer to the moment.

“Reach out with your hands, out into the darkness. Now…reach out with your mind…”

Dina and Mike were staring at Rolf – laying on the deck beside Henry – as something seemed to happen…

“…reach out now…can you see her yet?”

Taggart’s body lifted from the deck and seemed to hover, then Rolf’s began to lift…

“Mother? I can see you…”

“Rolf? Is that you?” Britt said. “I’ve been so worried…”

Taggart wanted to hold his breath…he’d never been this far in before, and he’d never successfully taken anyone else this far into the zone. He knew he was levitating now but he was trying to keep Rolf’s first journey to his mother as simple as he could. Let them both discover how to reach out when their need was greatest, but when he pulled back he saw that Eva was with Britt and the females now. And he could tell Eva was very strong now, that she’d already been reaching out to places he’d never been before, and that Eva was helping him make this connection. He could feel her probing him, reaching into his mind, making a second connection even as he struggled with this one to Rolf.

“It’s alright, Henry,” he felt her say, “I’m here with you now. I’ll always be with you.”

He felt water, icy cold at first then spreading warmth all around and he knew the big male was with them now, then he felt Rolf’s hand reaching out for his and he took it – and in an instant the connection whirled away, leaving them in the water with three orcas.

The large male rolled on his side presenting a pectoral, and when Henry took it they moved slowly through the water to Bandits’ swim platform, where Mike helped them up and handed them towels. Dina was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Dina?” Henry asked, and Mike shook his head.

“I think that was just a little too much for her, Henry. Matter of fact, it was just a little bit too much for me, too…”

Henry nodded. “How’re you feeling, Rolf?”

But the boy was smiling now, and staring at the large male just off the stern. “Thank you,” he said as he turned to Henry. “I’m alright now, Henry. I don’t understand, but I’m good.”

“You’re not the only one, kid,” Mike sighed as he walked back to the cockpit. “Henry, about a mile to go to the departure lanes.”

“C’mon, buddy,” he said to Rolf. “Go get into some dry clothes. We have some work to do.”

“Right.”

Taggart went to the helm and looked at the radar display, then at Mike…

…who was staring at him. “I’m just curious, Henry. Are you even human anymore?”

Henry tried not to laugh – but failed and looked away. “Klaatu-barada-nicto, eh Mike?”

“Yeah, whatever. You really are one strange mother-fucker, Taggart. I mean, like, you do know that, right?”

“Me? Strange? Hell, Mike, I just go where the road takes me.”

“Remind me not to get in any more cars with you – like ever again, okay?”

Henry smiled and looked at a gap in the traffic and measured their distance to the breakwater. “Call it twelve minutes at current speed. Looks like a gap forming…” He stopped and turned around, looking at a wave of turboprop troop transports southbound just over the beach. Moments later they moved inland in climbing left turns – and paratroopers started their jumps – again. “Russians?” he asked Mike, now looking at them through the binoculars.

“Yup. Going for the airport and the oil storage tanks…looks like Frogfoots are coming down from Schiphol, too.”

“So…Amsterdam has fallen. Sheesh…looks like they caught Nato asleep at the switch this time.”

“Well, Henry, time to think the unthinkable. If the fuel reserves here are at risk someone is going to put two and two together…”

“You mean tactical nukes, right?”

Mike nodded. “We need to get the fuck outta Dodge, Taggart. Time to start pushing that diesel – hard – and I mean rig…” – but his voice was cut off as a wave of fighters – apparently coming from England – passed just overhead on their way to cut off the Sukhoi-25s.

Henry pushed the throttle up a notch and watched the head temp and water temp gauges inch up a bit, then he nudged the throttle up a little more, shaking his head as he did. Rolf came up the companionway and looked at the clusters of green parachutes falling to the earth, then at several dogfights that seemed to erupt in flash fire and smoke that dissipated just as quickly.

“What are we doing now?” Rolf asked.

“Let’s get ready to roll up the sails,” Henry said. “We’ll be heading right into the wind for about a half hour or so.” As Rolf and Mike started to roll up the sails two large explosions rippled through the air, and Taggart could see tanks moving across a bridge, then aircraft diving on the tanks. Several large explosions – less than a mile away – rocked the boat, and he watched as a missile hit one of the Russian jets, just one more explosion in what was turning into an almost continuous concussive roar.

Then he saw two Frogfoots – that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere – in a mad dive to attack traffic in the shipping channel leading out of the port, firing missiles as they came down and setting ships on fire as they passed low overhead, but then a huge tanker erupted in flames as small explosions peppered it’s deck, and a second later the ship disappeared from view in a blinding white explosion that knocked Mike and Rolf off their feet and laid Time Bandits on her beam. Taggart, holding onto the wheel, screamed out in pain as his body whipsawed around the cockpit – and as a wall of flame and soot engulfed them…

Bandits’ keel pulled them upright, tossing Taggart across the cockpit again, this time into the port-side coaming as the boat righted, and he felt his ribs giving way then cracking under the force of the impact. He turned, saw Rolf holding Mike’s hand, but he couldn’t see Mike? Was he…overboard? Rolf was pulling now, calling for help and he saw Dina coming up the companionway, a small laceration on her forehead bleeding profusely.

By the time he realized he couldn’t hear he was standing behind the wheel again – the engine seemed to be pulling okay but when he looked at the plotter he found the radar was down. He looked towards the ship channel and saw several ships totally engulfed in flames, then people jumping from listing decks and swimming away as ships turned-turtle in the middle of the channel. Choking black smoke filled the air as Taggart tried to pick his best route through the remaining ships that were now making mad dashes for the open sea as fast as they could – then he saw dozens of Nato helicopters approaching from the south. And then he knew that, just like Amsterdam, they were soon going to be right in the middle of another strategic land battle.

He looked over to the right, saw Dina helping Mike and when he looked close he could see that the skin on Mike’s face was charred, with little black flakes of scorched flesh falling from his head and neck as he sat up and coughed. Dina looked at Taggart and shook her head; he wondered what that meant as the boat crossed over into the departure lane…

Only there was little traffic to be seen, the entry channel now full of flaming wreckage and floating debris. Looking at the carnage, the first thing Henry noticed was that there were no emergency services responding to the scene – and he said to himself that in one more bold stroke one of the largest ports in Europe had just been neutralized. Then, after Time Bandits exited the shipping channel and as they motored south along the coast, he felt another concussive blast and he turned, looking to the north this time, and he saw another wave of turboprops bearing down on Rotterdam, then another blossoming of dark green parachutes.

As Dina and Rolf helped get Mike down the companionway, Henry watched as another rushing wave of Belgian helicopters approached Rotterdam – and then the plotter beeped and restarted. A moment later Dina came up the steps and started talking, but Henry pointed at his ears and said “I can’t hear!” She nodded and went below, came back up with her little black bag and a note pad.

‘I had to give Mike some of your pain medication,’ she wrote on the pad, then she pulled out a penlight and looked in his ears. She pulled out a pre-filled syringe full of saline and washed his ear canals, then he pointed at his rib cage. “I think I busted a few ribs,” he said. She pulled up his shirt and lightly palpated the area he’d pointed out and he flinched when she hit the spot.

‘Does it feel difficult to breathe?’ she wrote.

“No, just a sharp pain if I take a deep breath.”

‘At least three broken, maybe more. I need to tape you up but we don’t have enough tape here.’

“We can try somewhere around Bruges, maybe Ostend.”

She nodded and gave him his evening meds and half a Vicodin, then went below. Rolf came up a minute later and took the wheel, so Henry leaned back and tried to collect his thoughts…

+++++

Two hundred miles overhead four spinning orbs came together. Two disappeared and one remained where she was, while the pale yellow orb returned – slowly – to the planet’s surface, this time heading for the remnants of a very strange hurricane.

© 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. 56

88Key pt7 image 1

Part VII

Chapter 56

The right thing to do…

The right thing to do…

Callahan sat at the Bösendorfer working through the song, Carly Simon’s ode to the hopeful and the broken hearted, trying to shake the feeling that somehow Carly had been writing that music with him in mind. ‘But music has always been like that,’ he thought. ‘We relate. We let uncertain music define certain distinct periods of our lives. So why does this song speak to me so…?’

‘What is the right thing to do…?’

It wasn’t just that Becky had grown abusive, and not simply abusive to him. He’d heard Lloyd’s screams and come running, only to find Becky savagely pinching him, and he found deep reddish-blue bruises all over his arms and legs, too. He jumped into the fray when he saw those fresh welts, pulled her away from Lloyd’s crib and pushed her out of the room, and he never forgot the absent, wide-eyed stare he encountered once he had her out by the kitchen. 

“What are you doing!?” he remembered shouting. “For God’s sake – what are you doing!”

But he knew he had lost when he realized there was nothing behind those eyes, not even pity. Simply no remorse at all. There were demons behind and within her eyes, memories he knew nothing about, a family history she’d managed to keep tucked away in the dark. He’d watched her after that first night at Trader Vic’s, not really sure what he’d seen in the heat of that night. Where was the line between passionate intensity and barely contained depravity? Unfortunately for her, they both soon realized, her need to control was no match for his ability to resist almost all forms of external restraint, most especially from anyone masquerading as an authority figure. Callahan’s career at the department was a living testament to that…

But this latest episode was too much. Lloyd was screaming hysterically now, trapped in an endless loop of need and fear as he reached out for her again and again, only to fall into each new trap she set for him. He’d never had a chance, and for Harry everything snapped into focus…

He looked at her in the kitchen that morning and knew things had fallen apart; he called Doc Watson, asked him to come down immediately, and a few minutes later they had Becky well and truly sedated. DD carried Lloyd down to Cathy’s house and Elizabeth played with him, and as was fast becoming the norm, the patient old soul within Elizabeth helped Lloyd to calm down. Watson and Callahan loaded Becky in the old blue Range Rover and together they drove her down to Stanford and admitted her for psychiatric observation. Callahan, awash in feelings ‘that he’d been down this road once before,’ had been in a state of barely controlled rage…

Yet soon he was in a state of shock, and Callahan let the doc drive back up the coast while he struggled with demons he’d thought vanquished long ago; but when he got back to his little house on the cliffs he found Elizabeth and Lloyd asleep on the sofa – lying exactly where her father had passed – and he knew right then and there other forces were at work inside Becky. Maybe it was fate, he suggested to himself, still struggling with the singular fear that the Old Man might show up at any moment and rain on that parade one more time. No, he told himself again, my life is unfolding like I’ve been forced to ride a giant roller-coaster – and there’s a sharp bend just ahead – only the tracks are coming undone, shaking loose as I approach the next glittering curve…

So he’d sat down next to the kids, watched them sleep – at least until DD and Cathy came by a few hours later. Yet DD didn’t say a word, she just collected the doc and left. Cathy came and sat by him, put her head on his shoulder – and she sat with him while their children slept. When he woke up a few hours later Lloyd was curled up on his lap, still sound asleep; Cathy was asleep too, with her head still on his shoulder.

Elizabeth was, on the other hand, sitting in a chair directly across from Harry – staring at him – and he was struck that, to him, it looked like she was lost, but also like she was trying to come to an understanding of something far away and still very obscure.

A few minutes later she came and sat by his side, the side opposite her mother’s, and she took his hand and held it while she fell asleep again.

_________________________________

Becky spent a month in rehab then came back out to the house on the cliffs – but everything was very different in the aftermath of her awakening.

Lloyd no longer reached out for her. For that matter, neither did Harry.

A few months passed like that until one day Becky called from work; she told Harry that her brother was in town and that he’d be staying with her at her apartment in the city for a while – yet she soon grew consumed by the only two passions she’d ever really known: medicine, and running away. She worked thirty hour days, collapsed, then returned for more of the same – until her family’s history began catching up to the moment.

And so it was in this way that for Becky Callahan the idea of motherhood slipped from her grasp. It was as if, when she realized what she had done to their son, that she either could not or would not trust herself to be around him again. There was too much hidden history behind her actions, too many repressed memories. Motherhood had been a hopeful thing, but she soon realized that older forces were pushing her into an abyss that had owned her from the beginning, and this was a gravity she simply could not control.

Yet once again, Harry Callahan did nothing to disabuse her of the idea. She had, in his eyes, failed them both – and he did not want her around Lloyd. 

Because, in truth, he no longer trusted her.

Because twenty years on the street had imbued in his outlook a profound distrust of abuse, and even in the very idea that someone could physically abuse a child. To Harry Callahan, the abuser was consumed by a morally repugnant personality flaw, a profound weakness of character. And so it was, apparently, an unforgivably deadly sin.

And as quickly as he’d fallen in love with Becky Sawyer – those feelings left, they disappeared. He soon felt embarrassed that he’d allowed himself to feel love once again. Because love had become a game of charades, a game with no resolution, little more than tales told in shadowy pantomimes on a sidewalk he no longer wanted to walk along.

Even so, the curious might ask – if it wasn’t love he felt for his son, what was it?

Because those who spent time at the house on the cliffs saw a father who loved his son, who doted on him to the point that many thought Harry was “spoiling” the boy. Even so, Lloyd still seemed a happy enough little boy, to most people, anyway.

Perhaps because Becky quite literally stayed away from him for several years, seeing her son on his birthday and at Christmas, though even on those days she came out to the house and stayed but a few hours. Lloyd, as a result, grew up thinking of Cathy when he thought of a mother in his life, because Cathy took over that role on as soon as Becky ran away from the consequences she knew would come if she remained out there. Another less apparent consequence was that Elizabeth became a sort of big sister to the boy, a role that would assume increasing significance in coming years.

And as Lloyd grew he came naturally to music, and music came naturally to him. Like Imogen, he was a prodigy. He composed elegant works – by the time he was five. Yet no matter how much he loved music, no matter how much attention he garnered from his accomplishments, he always felt as if something was missing. Missing…from his life.

His mother, perhaps? 

Doubtful.

On the few days a year she came out to the house, when Becky came near him he grew visibly distrustful and distant. Lloyd simply did not trust her, and she knew he never would. Yet the feeling would return – of something missing from his life.

Harry was the first to detect this hole in his son’s life, but curiously enough Lloyd had no interest in talking about it with his father, or even with Cathy. He did, however, begin to talk about this emptiness with Elizabeth – for a while, anyway.

And during the latter years of this period, several years after his mother walked away, Lloyd came to know and understand the other half of his family. And actually, it was the first time Harry Callahan came to know them, too. Though not under the best of circumstances.

________________________________

The Sawyer clan was an outgrowth of central Texas, and Becky’s parents raised their kids on a sprawling ranch just outside of San Saba, Texas. Their father, Clem, was the ranch foreman and was, generally speaking, considered a well-respected man in the community. The ranch itself was owned by an amiable enough sort, the wealthy owner of a Cadillac dealership in Fort Worth, yet even so it would be on-the-mark to say that the Sawyer clan really had very little money. As in – never did and probably never would. And in America, where wealth is so often equated with righteousness, being poor was often considered the opposite of righteous.

Yet it wasn’t so much that her parents were strict – in a biblical sense, anyway; rather they were simply mean people, and often violently so. Ranch hands didn’t stay long, friends never came out for dinner, and her parents never socialized in town – though they managed to go to church a few times a year.

But Becky’s mother and father were hard drinking Texans, and her six brothers were as well, so the only thing that saved Becky from rapid-onset ruination was an aunt who lived in town. Dorothy Richardson was a teacher at the local high school; algebra and calculus were the subjects she taught, though occasionally she taught physics, too; Becky tended to stay at her Auntie Dots’ house after school, and she usually did her homework there, too. Life was safer that way.

With an unstable home life to deal with, both Dot and Becky adhered to an unwritten code: Becky could escape this purgatory only by doing well in school. As her brothers were seriously below average students – with one exception – Becky caught hell from them, and the better she did in school the worse things got at home. Her oldest brother – the smart one – made it into Baylor University on a football scholarship and then went to the veterinarian school at the University of California Davis; he had vowed when he left San Saba to never return – for any reason. And he kept to his word.

The remaining brothers were so off the mark genetically that even the Army wouldn’t take them; their lives were somewhat unremarkable – at least until two of them held up a gas station, shooting the owner and killing her after they raped her. Both made it into the Huntsville Country Club after that, which to this day is considered the roughest prison in Texas, if not the United States. Becky rarely talked about those two for obvious reasons, yet the most embarrassing aspect to her, and for the family, was the court’s ruling that both were considered too feeble-minded to execute.

Becky was a brilliant student, socially more than motivated to get out into that other world and grab her slice of the American Pie. She breezed through her undergraduate requirements in three years and went on to do impressively well in medical school, ending up in San Francisco for both her internship and residency. San Francisco was her first choice as Davis was only about an hour away by car, and she reasoned that having a semi-sane brother nearby was better than having no family at all – and that was that. She chose emergency medicine as her specialty and within a few years was considered one of the best trauma docs in California. Her star was rising, you might say, and she successfully kept everything about Texas firmly out of her mind.

And it was about that time that she met Harry Callahan.

Tom, her oldest brother and by then a veterinarian in Davis, was a fairly stable compound at room temperature, but like everyone else in the Sawyer family he had an addictive personality and was a full-blown alcoholic by the time Becky made it out to San Francisco. And after Becky left her apartment for Harry’s house on the cliff, Tom decided he would do better for himself opening a practice in the Bay Area; and so, with Becky’s blessing, he moved into her apartment.

So when Becky fled the house on the cliff she had an instant roommate, a genetic time-bomb then rapidly ticking away, mutating hourly into a genuinely unstable compound within San Francisco’s effervescent, if rather debauched, underground sex scene. By the time she arrived back at her apartment, Tom was having sex with anything that had a willing spirit – male, female, or anything in between. Unprepared for this turn of the screw, Becky began to stress out when her brother brought seriously immune compromised gay boys into his bedroom, and it didn’t take her too long to figure out that Tom had simply replaced one addiction with another. And it was around that time that her increased stress led to serious migraines.

And then one night Tom came into Becky’s emergency room – as a patient – his face having been seriously rearranged by some biker-types who’d not appreciated his advances. As a precaution she had him sign a few extra consent forms and she found out that her brother was well on his way to having full blown AIDS – because it turned out that Tom had been into all kinds of people for quite a while. And so, without much warning she found herself caring for someone well on his way to being dead. Her migraines grew worse. Pharmaceutical reps began stocking her ER with samples of fentanyl patches, and these treated her migraines rather well. Rather too well, some might say.

And soon enough Becky Callahan was taking a one-way ride on the Sawyer family roller coaster, though she – just – managed to maintain her cool at work by tightly managing her addiction. Her work for Callahan Air Transport – Medevac Division, simply made her a more visible presence in the local medical community, expanding her credentials – and credibility – just as her addiction began to peak.

Then Tom died – a slow, gruesomely gradual death – and one she was forced to watch while looking on helplessly. She grew careless at work after that, often wearing fentanyl patches when still working the floor. Then she was caught stealing fentanyl from an ER stockroom, and Al Bressler worked the case. Harry became involved, her family background came into the open and in his feelings of betrayal he filed for divorce. She was fired subsequent to her arrest, and her fall from grace was as swift as it was final. Her case went to trial and she was convicted, but due to the circumstances she was given probation; she was told than that she would lose her license to practice medicine. Beyond depressed that day, she went home and took her remaining supply of fentanyl patches and applied everyone of them inside her arms and thighs. When she felt them taking hold once again she went to her balcony and jumped from the 27th floor, perhaps hoping to fly away – one more time.

By that time Lloyd Callahan was not quite eight years old and in the aftermath of his mother’s suicide his life went seriously off the rails – and a genetic time bomb began slowly ticking away as the roller coaster beckoned – one last time.

________________________________

For Harry Callahan’s fifty-fifth birthday he took Lloyd, Elizabeth, and Cathy to Davos, to go skiing, and the occasion marked a major turning point in Harry’s life, perhaps the last of its kind, too. The kids knew how to ski by then; Elizabeth was going to college the next year and Lloyd had just turned ten, and Cathy had been taking them up to Tahoe to ski for years. But Davos was different, because Switzerland was not California, and as stupidly simpleminded as this seems, it is a distinction too often lost on many people. 

For, as Harry had learned decades ago, there were villages in Switzerland that were already thousands of years old – before the Americas were even ‘discovered.’ Switzerland was, unlike the United States, a land governed by Tradition, ancient ways of being that made little sense to the freeway loving, suburban living people living of North America, and this was a distinction not lost on Harry. Yet for years he had wanted Elizabeth and Lloyd to come to terms with those differences, to understand them and, hopefully, come to appreciate them, as well.

And Didi Rooney was soon instrumental in this other part of their education. She still managed Callahan’s financial affairs, those not linked directly to CAT, anyway, and so she was still in charge of Harry’s Swiss holdings, which included the house in Davos. Every summer she took the kids – her own as well as Lloyd and Elizabeth – to Davos, and as Cathy and Harry usually came for the music festival in Montreux, they also spent time with the kids there. So the kids, Lloyd and Elizabeth, grew up with another world of generally happy memories rooted in the mountains of Switzerland, yet for some reason the kids had never come over in the winter.

Skiing is Switzerland is different from what most skiers in the Americas are used to. Cog-railways haul skiers to the summits of famous peaks in Switzerland, and Swiss skiers had for a hundred years dined in fine restaurants sprinkled all over these mountains. Meanwhile, in the America that came of age the 1960s and 70s, bulk-made cheeseburgers were on hand, served in cafeteria style lodges designed to hold thousands of skiers. The distinction here is a simple one: neither is fundamentally better than the other, they are simply different, as different as the cultures that spawned them, and it was precisely this difference Harry Callahan wanted ‘his kids’ to understand and appreciate.

As he had when he first met Sara, he took Cathy and the kids up the funicular railway to the mountaintop station; they skied several runs together, then Harry begged off another run just before lunch. He took Cathy to the restaurant and they had a fondue and salad while they looked out over the alps, and an hour later the kids arrived, tired and finally ready to eat something. They all made a few more runs after lunch, then skied back through the village and all the way out to the house. It was a day full of magic.

They followed much the same routine for several days and Lloyd seemed quite happy with his surroundings; indeed, to his father, the boy seemed happier than he had in months. And not to stretch the point too far, Harry felt happier than he had in years. and he put it down to Cathy being with him. 

There was an easygoing intimacy between these two old friends now, an intimacy borne of time and shared memory. Harry knew it was love, a loose varietal of love, anyway, and certainly not the frenzied passionatas he’d played years before. Harry wore tweed jackets those days and occasionally smoked a pipe, too, and though he needed glasses to read he rarely used them, hating the very idea of the blasted things. And in a funny, almost an odd way, Cathy fit into this category as well. They had ended up together almost by default, like time had worn away all the extraneous things in their lives and ‘each other’ was all that remained.

Yet a seismic shift was underway, a kind of tectonic moving of plates happening right before all their eyes. One evening while walking back from a fondue palace, Cathy reached out and took Harry’s hand. An easy motion, unremarkable to most anyone who happened to see this simple gesture of affection, yet this was something new. Like the grinding of plates over eons of time creates something new.

Lloyd, walking beside Elizabeth noticed it first, and he poked Elizabeth with an elbow and sort of giggled as the event registered in her eyes, then they looked at one another with ‘is this really happening’ plain to see in each others eyes.

But, and this is kind of important so pay attention, when he felt her skin on his Harry Callahan smiled, then he simply relaxed inside for the first time in a long time, and in his mind’s eye it was as if all the cosmic tumblers had finally aligned and settled into their rightful place. Cathy had been sleeping in a bedroom by herself until that night, but after the plates realigned in their new orientation she woke up in his arms, and there she would remain – forever more.

(next chapter will drop in a few days)

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

Gone to the Dogs 12/2020

GONE TO THE DOGS 1220

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

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

 https://apple.news/AOuqOee7DSha66btrBwAP3g

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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