Come Alive, Ch. 09

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Before we start the story, a few housekeeping items first.

Back in March, when I started on The Eighty-eighth Key, the thinking went something like this: let’s write a short story and wrap it up in about 10 to 15 chapters. Then a funny thing happened (well, actually, not funny at all): the virus hit and like many of you I went into hibernation mode. What’s relevant here and now about that? Well, I now had a lot of time on my hands and what better way to occupy said hands than by writing. Ten chapters turned to twenty, then thirty, and now 88 is headed for fifty. C’est la vie, I guess. Same with this story; the original outline I came up with looked like a simple three to four chapter story in the making, but here we are, lost in Pandemicland, so why not stretch it out a little? I’d like to wrap up 88 in the next month or so, so maybe up to fifty chapters, but keep in mind that little short story is now over 400 pages long! Come Alive won’t be that long, I promise. I’m thinking somewhere between 15 and 20 chapters. Hopefully.

Anyway, a few divergent thoughts. Movies and music…the two most potent elixirs we turn to most often here in Pandemicland.

Seen any good movies lately? If not, consider a few classics to get you through these long winter nights. Try The Barefoot Contessa, the original with Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. This film came out during the height of 1950s censorship, and keep that in mind when you look at the subtexts in this one: a beautiful woman with what we might call ‘animal passions’ goes from Spanish dance floor to Hollywood, then from the French Riviera to the Amalfi coast – where she meets the man of her dreams. Finally. The end of this film ought to leave you breathless – if you get into the storyline, anyway.

Another classic to see you through a winter’s eve: The Petrified Forest, with Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Bogart again. Nothing hotter than the desert southwest in the depths of the Great Depression, the action in this one takes place inside a gas station/diner, and Howard’s performance is one for the ages. Possibly the greatest romance story ever put to celluloid.

The last classic I’ll mention this time out is Dodsworth, a classic in every sense of the word. With John Huston, William Wyler directed this adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ novel. This is a gut-punch to watch, a slow motion train wreck if ever there was one, but it has a happy ending (hey, this is Hollywood, right?) worth wrapping your heart around. If you’ve never seen this one you have missed the boat, literally.

Got Netflix? Check out Our Souls at Night, with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda together again (go back to Barefoot in the Park to see their first effort together). This latest effort finds a soft spot in us older folks, but what starts out as a simple dilemma turns into a complex symphony of choices and consequences. Powerful stuff.

Also on Netflix, The Highwaymen. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson chasing Bonnie and Clyde, and while we all know how this one ends, the sparkling thrust and parry between the two leads in reason enough to catch this one.

Got Amazon Prime? Here are a couple of sci-fi flicks you might have missed that provide a good reason to reignite your passion for popcorn. The first is titled, simply, Cosmos, and it revolves around three amateur astronomers out in the woods with their telescopes who run across something strange. This one is the complete opposite of what you’re thinking right now, too. More cerebral than anything else, it’s worth a watch.

Also on Prime, The Vast of Night. Weird from start to finish, this movie breaks a lot of new ground from a cinematographers standpoint, and took home more than a few honors from indie film festivals last year. Set in the 50s, this film latches onto the vibe created by many classic sci-fi films from that era and doesn’t let go – til the very end. Interesting and fun at the same time.

Music matters, right? You’ll find a brief mention of this piece in the beginning of this chapter of Come Alive, and if you’re into the group Genesis you’ll be familiar with the work of Tony Banks, the long time keyboardist in the group. Well, Mr Banks also writes classical music, and two years ago he released an album called Five (and its on iTunes). The first track is called Prelude to a Million years (and you can give it a listen on YouTube). Talk about soft. Talk about chords I haven’t seen or used in decades. Sumptuous, sensuous, airy, breathtaking…or all of the above. The introductory chords leave me reeling in the years.

Now, on to the story. This is a long chapter so get a cup of tea, pull up the ottoman and settle in for a while. Hope you enjoy.

Chapter 9

At five the next morning Taggart slipped the dock lines from their cleats; he hopped back onboard and into the cockpit, and there he put the transmission into reverse. Using the bow thruster, he kept Time Bandit centered in the slip as he backed-down into the marina’s entrance channel, then he pointed the bow upriver and motored towards Gothenburg’s city center, running at 1900RPM and making almost seven knots through the water. Running with the tide and an hour before slack water, he hoped to be free of the city and its heavy shipping traffic before the morning crush.

And once again he didn’t wake Dina or Rolf. Truth be told, he admitted to himself while standing up at the wheel as he motored through the city, he liked being out here alone in the early morning. He usually sailed while listening to Gregorian chant, but he’d picked up a new album by Tony Banks and listened to a new track – Prelude to a Million Years – as he looked at the old town and its ancient church spires as they drifted by.

A few minutes later Dina came up the companionway steps carrying two cups of cinnamon tea and a few orange/walnut scones she’d baked late the night before.

“You are a miracle and I love you,” he said as she handed him a cup.

“I should take this as a compliment, no?”

“Yeah, but don’t let it go to your head.”

“I’ll do my best,” she sighed. “It seems very quiet out this morning.”

“Yes, it’s lovely out.”

“What is this music?”

“Tony Banks. Keyboardist for Genesis. He seems to be writing classical music these days.”

“It’s peaceful…” but she stopped speaking when she saw the look on his face.

He was scanning the river ahead, watching a small freighter backing into the main channel. “Damn, I forgot to set the radar to stand-by,” he said, shaking his head and flipping a switch, then pinching off a bit of scone and sipping some tea. “I heard a weather forecast an hour ago; it’s going to be very hot as we move inland, but it should be cooler on the lakes.”

“After the last few days of this cool weather I think hot would be most welcome. Their is a chill when the air is damp that makes me feel wretched.”

He nodded. “I feel it here,” he said, pointing to the incision on his breast, and his left armpit. 

“Have you taken your medications yet?”

“Not supposed to until six.”

“I’ll go get them…”

“No…sit with me, please. It’s gorgeous, you know…” but he choked up, looked away.

“What is it?”

“The city…you…all of it. Just the moment, I guess.”

“I love you too,” she said, rubbing the top of his hand before she turned to look over the world beyond the confines of Time Bandit’s little cocoon.

There was enough wind to dapple the surface of the water, and even a few gulls were flying along above their wake, crying for fish, he assumed as he gauged the conditions around him. He turned the radar on and checked the way ahead for unseen traffic; the freighter was turning into the river but keeping to the correct side of the channel, and that was it…

“How far to the first lock?” she asked.

“About 50 kilometers, at a small town called Lilla Edet.”

“Do you plan to go all the way there today?”

“Not if I can help it. The first cute village we come to I’m shutting down the engine and tying off to a tree…”

She smiled, shook her head. “Stop and smell the roses, I think. Isn’t that the expression?”

“It is, indeed.”

They approached a massive bridge and Taggart eyed it nervously – as his mast height was almost 17 meters – but as the bridge was 22 meters he motored on. Still, both he and Dina stared at Time Bandit’s masthead as she went under the bridge, and he felt a moment of stark terror that passed as soon as they cleared the span.

“It always looks so close, closer than it really is,” he said.

“I guess you learn to trust the charts,” she added.

“There’s another big one just ahead, supposedly lots of cruise ships dock there.”

“Yes, the Götaälvbron. The bridge over the Göta älv river. Many tourists visit here in the summer.”

Rolf’s head popped up in the companionway; he was yawning and still wiping away the night from his eyes. “Where are we?” he asked.

“Coming up to the center of the city,” Dina said. “Get some clothes on and come rejoin the human race!”

He nodded and disappeared below.

“God,” she moaned, “they were at it all night again.”

“You should get some headphones for your phone. Music blocks it out nicely.”

“I swear that girl is insatiable, Henry.”

“Good for him. Valuable training for all life’s adventures.”

She shook her head. “Incorrigible. He will be ruined for life.”

“I think I need more coffee.”

“I have cherry scones in the oven,” she said, smiling.

“You’re assuming Rolf hasn’t already eaten them all.”

Her eyes went wide and she scurried down the companionway steps.

The Götaälvbron’s height was 18.3 meters so even lower than the first bridge, and this time he was sure the Vhf radio antenna scraped along the underside of the steel latticework. He visibly shuddered just as Dina came up the steps…

“Do you need your medicine?” she asked – then she saw the bridge and how close it was and her eyes went wide again. “That was much closer, wasn’t it?”

He nodded. “Close enough to just about make me shit my britches…”

She passed his cup to him, then she came up with a platter loaded with hot scones and put them on the cockpit table. “Well, I am happy you did not do this. Very messy.”

“Me too. No better way to ruin the day.”

“Are there many more such bridges?”

He shook his head. “Most are so low we have to radio ahead so they can be raised, even a few railway bridges. The next one is a railway bridge, the Marieholmsbron; I have to call them now.”

They had to wait for several trains to pass, then the bridges swung on a center-pivot to let them pass, and then the way ahead was clear.

“Is there a speed limit?” she asked.

“Ten knots here. Which is a lot faster than we can go. A few miles on it drops to five knots.”

“How fast will we go?”

“Five. No reason to go fast, is there?”

“I saw a control below for air conditioning. Does this boat have that?”

“Sorry, but yes, it does. I used it in Florida a lot.”

“How hot is it supposed to get today?”

“High 80s, Fahrenheit. The next several days could see days in the low 90s.”

She scowled. “This is unheard of so close to the sea.”

“The shape of things to come, I’m afraid.” He picked up a scone and held it under his nose. “Smells a little like heaven, ya know?”

“How warm is it now?” she asked.

“78F. Why?”

“It is stuffy down below.”

“Well, we can open some hatches or I can fire up the a/c.”

“I will try hatches first.”

Clyde stepped into the cockpit then and barked twice. “Sorry, boy…you gotta use the Astro-turf this morning…Dina, can you take the wheel?”

He led the pup forward and pulled out an Astro-turf door-mat and tossed it down in the deck. Clyde looked up at him with disgust in his eyes, but he dutifully circled twice and dumped a load on the ‘grass’, then peed for good measure before he walked back to the cockpit. Taggart cleaned up the mess, scooping up the brown and washing away the yellow, then he went back to the cockpit. Clyde was eating his breakfast by that point, then he jumped up onto the seat next to Taggart and fell asleep.

They were just passing through the outskirts of Gothenburg – with industrial warehouses on one side of the river and parklands on the other – when Astrid and Rolf came topsides. Astrid said hello before moving up to the bow pulpit – her favorite place on the Bandit – while Rolf sat down and munched on a scone. He yawned and stretched, revealing a huge purple hickey on the side of his neck.

“Looks like you saw some real combat last night,” Henry said, pointing to his own neck.

“Oh, I got her back, inside her thighs.”

“Good man. Give as good as you get, I always say.”

Rolf leaned close, spoke with his voice just above a whisper: “She is not a so very interesting person, Henry. She is very, how do I say this, interested too much in music and sex.”

“I’m curious; did she bring any drugs on board, Rolf?” he asked, though he was suddenly quite serious. 

“Yes, some pills, and I think some sort of stuff she injects.”

“What…like heroin?”

“I think maybe, yes, but I don’t know.”

“Okay, that’s a problem, Amigo. Police or the Coast Guard can confiscate this boat if illegal drugs are found onboard. And I am the one responsible, understand?”

“Yes.”

“So my rule about illegal drugs is a simple one; either the drugs go, and I mean all of them, or she goes.”

“Understood. I’ll take care of it right now.”

“And Rolf, if you think she is dishonest, that she is lying about where she is keeping her drugs, she has to get off. I will pay for her to get home, but she has to leave.”

“Henry, I would think she should leave too, if that were the case.”

“Why do you say that, Rolf?”

“I think she is addicted. She has to go below and inject this stuff several times a day…”

“Where, Rolf?”

“What?” 

“Where does she inject herself?”

“In the stomach.”

Taggart relaxed. “Can you bring her back here for a little talk?”

“Of course?”

She came back and sat next to Clyde and scratched behind the pups ears. Clyde, of course, moaned before rolled onto his back – inviting her to scratch his belly.

“Rolf, why don’t you go below and help Dina for a moment.”

When Rolf was out of range he turned to Astrid. “I’m just curious, but are you a diabetic?”

She looked down and seemed quite embarrassed, but she nodded. “I didn’t tell Rolf – how did you know?”

“He told me he saw you injecting yourself in the stomach. He doesn’t know what that means, and he thought maybe it might be heroin.”

“Oh-my-God, no!” she whispered. “No, it’s not like that at all…”

“Type one or type two?”

“Type one, for almost fifteen years now.”

“The pills? For diabetes, too?”

She nodded.

“The Coast Guard has a rule…”

“Oh, Henry, I know all these rules. I have a letter from my physician authorizing me to have these things with me…”

“Okay, so you brought nothing illegal on board, right?”

“Yes, I promise this is true. We get checked at the hospital all the time…”

He nodded. “Ya know, I think Clyde loves you just a little.”

“He is so sweet.”

“Astrid, kids Rolf’s age are a little like pups. They are curious and can be empathetic, but they thrive on the truth.”

“I know, but many of the boys I have known have been turned off by me giving myself shots, even if it is just insulin…”

“Rolf isn’t like most boys, Astrid. You might keep that in mind before you think about moving on. And if you need to keep your supply in the fridge, go right ahead.”

“He’s a very special person, Henry. I could feel that right away.”

“Yeah, well, so are you. And I could feel that right away, too.”

“I keep wanting to tell you how much I appreciate being here, for you thinking about me enough to do this for me.”

“I’d say you’re welcome but the pleasure has been all mine. I thought you and Rolf might become  friends, good friends, and maybe because I hoped something nice would work out between you.”

She nodded. “I think maybe I should go and have a talk with Rolf, don’t you?”

“I think so, but you should always do what you think is the right thing to do, Astrid. Follow your head and your heart, because that usually leads to the best outcome.”

As she went below Dina came up the companionway. “What was that all about?”

“Oh, nothing much. She’s type one and has some insulin with her, probably needs to put some stuff in the fridge.”

“Oh.”

“What are you cooking down there? It smells outrageous!”

She smiled. “You’ll see, however I think we will be having an amazing lunch,” she said as she handed him his medications.

“Thanks. About five miles to a place called Agnesberg. That’ll be the last of the big city scenery for a while. Hopefully!”

“You know, in a way this is exciting. Settled and peaceful, yes, but what is around the next bend? You never really know, do you?”

He nodded. “In a car zipping along you’d never give this landscape a passing thought, but out here…? Nature feels invitingly raw when you drift along like this. How is it down below? Still stuffy?”

“There is a nice breeze coming through now. It is worse up here in the sun.”

“I’ll rig the bimini when we stop for the evening.”

“Is it this thing?” she asked, pointing at a large canvas rolled-up on some aluminum struts.

“Yup.”

“Can I do it now?”

“Sure,” he said. “Might be better to sit in the shade, I reckon…”

“I think so too,” she said, grinning. He put on the autopilot and helped her set it up. “This is very, what? Formidable? Like it was made for heavy storms?”

“Yes, but it’s a little too short for me to stand up all the way. I need to get longer struts measured.”

“Ah yes, I see. How tall are you?”

“Six-three. Short by American standards these days.”

“Well, at least everything is in proportion,” she said, smiling at him – in reality, now trying just about anything to get him to laugh. He was becoming so serious now, so unlike himself…

He smiled a little, then looked up at her. “Tonight, maybe?”

“Yes, we must compete with the olympic screwing team up front!”

“Maybe I should get a testosterone shot and some Viagra. That would put us back in the running, wouldn’t it?”

And that made her laugh. “I think maybe my labia are not so tough as hers. Now, I must go tend to my lunch…”

He switched off the autopilot just as Rolf came up into the cockpit. 

“Well, did you straighten her out?”

“I am so embarrassed,” he said. “And a little ashamed.”

“Why? What happened, Rolf?”

“Her shots are for diabetes, even all her pills. I should have known.”

“Oh? Why?”

“Because I assumed she was hiding things from me.”

“Oh, well, that happens. Ya know, I learned an old saying when I was about your age. ‘Smart people get their exercise at the gym; not so smart people get their exercise by jumping to conclusions.’”

“I was not so smart, Henry.”

“Did you apologize?”

“Yes.”

“Then you move on from here. You accept her – even if she has diabetes. Love is just love, after all; love isn’t magic, but it is real or it is nothing at all.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you can’t be just a little in love, or even too much in love. Love is just love. You either feel that way or you don’t. There’s nothing else like it, maybe not even anywhere else in the universe.”

“I think,” Rolf added, “it might be the scariest thing in the universe.”

“Love can be very powerful, but I’ve found that hate and anger can be as powerful, too. And all three seem to be related, somehow.”

“How so?”

“Well, love can turn to hate or anger in a heartbeat, and once it does something very strange and powerful happens. People lose the ability to think rationally.”

“Maybe it is better to never fall in love, Henry.”

“Maybe so, but then you’d miss out on one of the big things that makes us human.”

“Do you think only humans can love?”

“No, I didn’t say that. Remember those Orcas? I think they love one another, and dolphins do too. Lots of birds mate for life – so why can’t we call that love? What makes us different, Rolf, is that we write poetry and music about love, we build monuments to love, and we have created elaborate ceremonies all around the very idea of love, so obviously we think love is a very big deal. It’s a feeling, true, but it is so much more than that. When you get right down to it, we’ve organized our societies around a stable precondition of love…”

“Maybe that’s why we’re getting so fucked up, Henry.”

He smiled. “You know, maybe you’re right. What would you organize a new society around?”

“Money, I think.”

“Okay. So…what happens to poor people in that society?”

“No, no, there would be no poor people. Everyone would make the same, no matter what they did.”

“I think that’s been tried before.”

“Oh? Where?”

“The Soviet Union, for one, but pretty soon little breakdowns began to occur. Like everyone was equal, right? – but even so pretty soon some people were more equal than others. These people starting making new rules to benefit people just like them, and pretty soon you were right back to square one and the Soviet Union fell apart. So…love might actually be a pretty good organizing principle…if we can ever figure out how to really make it work for everyone, that is.”

“I think I will have a hard enough time making it work for just me, Henry.”

Taggart nodded. “Truer words were never spoken, Rolf. Love is a mystery, and one with no easy solution, no real answer. My God but that smells good. What is she making down there?”

Rolf grinned, but he shrugged at the same time.

“Ah, yes…love loves a good secret,” Henry said, smirking.

“Well, one thing is certain…she loves you, I think…but…”

“But what, Rolf?”

“I think she is not the only one,” the boy said, perhaps a little defiantly.

“What’s on your mind, son.”

“I think there are two other women who love you…did you call me son?”

“I did, yes.”

“I don’t know, but I think I like that.”

“Okay. Now, what about your mother?”

“And that girl Eva; my mother thinks she loves you most of all.”

“Most of all? Rolf, remember something important. There is no most of all, there is only love.”

“But cannot some people hurt more than others? If this is so, aren’t you saying that all pain is alike, or that none is worse than another?”

“I don’t know, Rolf. I really don’t know the answer to that one.”

“I talked to my mother last night. She wants to spend time with you. But my mother says that Eva appears lost without you. She says Eva must come soon, and she asks that you consider this.”

“Have you told your grandmother any of this, Rolf?”

“No, I haven’t, but I asked her to call my mother.”

“When?”

“Just before I came up now.”

“Well, fuck.”

“Henry?”

“Yup?”

“What shall we do?”

“We? Rolf, this is my problem, not yours…”

“No, not so. You have already told me that these will be my brothers or sisters, and that I will be the one taking care of them one day, so is this not my problem too, Henry?”

“I’m not sure I’d be in such a hurry if I were you, Rolf, but that was spoken like a man, not a boy.”

“But I can help. At least I can if you will let me.”

“You know, I really wish you were my son.”

“Henry, you are the only father I have now. Please remember that.”

Taggart sighed, nodded in understanding. “Okay. But I know at least one thing now, Rolf.”

“What is that?”

“We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

+++++

They tied up just north of Agnesberg and had lunch in the cockpit, a fantastic spread of salads and soups and freshly baked bread, and though Dina tried her best not to appear confused Henry could tell that she was. But not angry, he told himself, and that was a good thing, right?

Rolf, on the other hand, seemed nervous, constantly looking between Astrid and his grandmother, then looking to Henry for reassurance – like ‘our little world isn’t about to come crashing down on our heads, is it?’

Yet try as he might, Taggart just couldn’t get the food down. It was delicious, it smelled like heaven, but after getting a bite or two down he completely lost his appetite, and within a few minutes Dina was focused on Henry – like she was gauging his reaction to the food as if she alone knew what was happening.

And perhaps that was because she alone knew what was happening. Worse still, she alone knew what lay just ahead.

She went below and poured him a nutritional shake, then she prepared an injection. She went up and asked him to roll up his sleeve, and when that was done she had him sip on the shake while they ate. A half hour later Henry ate a slice of bread, then he finished his soup and announced that the world was still a very splendid place indeed! There was a main railway line just along the right side of the river here, and passenger trains whooshed by every ten minutes…but other than that the river seemed peaceful enough…

“You know, we could almost tie up here – but I think the trains would keep us up all night.”

“We’ll find something up ahead,” Dina said, glad the medication had kicked-in so efficiently. “Besides, it is too early to quit for the day.”

“Okay. Rolf, let me get the engine going then you can cast off the lines.”

And a minute later they were underway. They slowed when they met a small freighter coming downriver, and everyone whooped when Time Bandit bounced on the passing ship’s large wake, then they came to a small marina near the village of Nödinge and tied up for the night. But as soon as Bandit was secure, Taggart went down to his bunk and fell into a deep sleep.

Rolf, Astrid, and Dina sat in the cockpit and snacked, though Dina seemed intent on not talking about her conversation with Britt earlier in the day. Astrid carried dishes down to the galley, leaving Rolf to find out what had happened.

“I will talk to Henry when he awakens. This is very complicated, Rolf. More so than anything I might have imagined.”

“This Eva…she sounds…”

“Like a lunatic! I’m having a hard time believing the girl could put on such a show!”

“What did she do, Grandma-ma?”

“Rolf? It is time you stopped calling me that. You are too old for such things, and it is making me feel older than I already am.”

“Yes, Grandma-ma.”

She smiled. “I am sorry. I should not have said that.”

“What did this Eva do?”

Dina turned away, looked at the river. “She is acting like a child, Rolf. Terrible, really, but it is better not to talk about such things now, as she might be joining us soon.”

“Alright. What about mother?”

“She has the morning sickness now. It is better that she not travel for the time being. Then…we shall see.”

“How do you feel about all this, Grandma-ma.”

“Oh, a little sad. Sad for Henry most of all, but sad for these girls, and for all these new children.”

“Henry has talked to me about that. He says it might fall to me one day to take care of these children.”

“True. It may. What do you think of that?”

“It is strange to think about such things. Being a brother is one thing, but to take on the role of parent is quite another. I can hope to be good at both…”

“Be a good brother, Rolf. Doing that will take care of all the rest.”

“It is a good thing you are not pregnant, isn’t it?”

“Why do you say that?” she said, a little too defensively.

“Three children? What would Henry think about that?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed.

“Can you still have children, Grandma-ma?”

“I thought not, but…”

“Oh my God, no. You too?”

She nodded. “Yes. Me too.”

“Oh, no. Three babies…all at once.”

“It is not three, Rolf. Your mother has twins, Eva too.”

“What?”

“That is four. Then, heaven forbid, perhaps I will have two as well.”

“Fuck!”

“Yes, fuck indeed. Please, tell me that Astrid is on birth control?”

Rolf shrugged.

“Oh dear God. We will need an entire maternity ward before this winter is over.”

“Six brothers and sisters,” Rolf said, his eyes lost in contemplation. “It boggles the mind.”

“I wonder,” Dina sighed, “if he would object to a vasectomy while he is asleep.”

“A what?”

“Never mind. I was saying silly things.”

“Six, Grandma-ma. Six! Think of that!”

“And he will not live to see even one of them born. Think about that, Rolf. Not one of them.”

“I think he would find that almost funny, Grandma-ma.”

She smiled. “Yes, perhaps that is true, yet I think he will be happy, even so. I hope so.”

“I hope so, too. Do you know, he called me ‘son’ today.”

“Does that surprise you?”

“I think it did, yes.”

“When he looks at you I see pride in his eyes, Rolf. Sometimes we come to our place in life from very different stations. His road to you, perhaps, was like this. When he first arrived in Bergen, what if he had walked in another direction? Away from your mother’s clinic. What then? We, you and I and your mother might not have ever seen him. We wouldn’t be here right now. All because he went to the left instead of the right.”

“So, it was all a happy accident?”

“Ah…that is a very big question, Rolf. A happy accident? Or…the road he chose was destiny, part of a plan.”

“You mean God, religion, all that?”

She nodded her head.

“What do you believe, Grandma-ma?”

“Me? Well, if there is a God, Rolf, I think He believes very much in happy accidents. The world and our lives can unfold in many different ways, ways no one can foretell, perhaps not even God.”

“But don’t people believe God has a plan…?”

“And what would be the fun in that, Rolf. Perhaps even God enjoys watching the decisions we make, or perhaps He despairs when He sees us making regrettable decisions.”

“Or perhaps there is no God?”

“Perhaps. But it is unimportant what I think, or Henry thinks. What is important is what you think. The choice is yours.”

“What about medicine? Can medicine coexist with God?”

“Why not? I doubt God would mind one way or another. What might matter to God is that we are true to ourselves, and to our own beliefs. As a physician I believe in a set of paradigms, but it would presumptuous for me to say that the structure of medicine, or of science, precludes a belief in God. Again, it is more likely that God watches how we treat one another, that we love and respect each other, that we cherish life in all forms, even the earth.”

“Is it wrong for me to feel love for Henry?”

“No. How could that be?”

“Well, because he is not my real father.”

“Your father is no longer here, so you do not forsake the memory of him by embracing the present. Henry is an important part of your life now, and I suspect he always will be. Love, respect, even duty…those are the things you embrace now.”

“But…”

“Rolf…think of it this way. If your father could in some way be looking down on you right now, do you think he would be disappointed?”

“I wish that was possible, Grandma-ma.”

“Yes…but perhaps it is possible, Rolf.”

He nodded, then turned to face the heavens. “I think it is getting cool out now. Could I make you some coffee, Grandma-ma?”

“Yes, please. I am going to check on Henry, then I will see you here. And please, might not Astrid join is?”

+++++

He woke up early the next morning and made coffee, then he went up to the cockpit with his iPad and started planning their day. He woke up the chartplotter and looked at potential stops along the way, then he thought about the conversation he’d had with Dina sometime in the night. About Britt and Eva needing time with him, about the twins…and then the real news…that she too was pregnant.

“How is that even possible?” he remembered asking.

“I thought these things were over, but apparently they were not. Anyway, that doesn’t matter now. I am and that is that.”

He had kissed her, asked her how she felt, but she had answered with oblique references to her age, and of trying to be a good mother again, but all in all what he witnessed was a very profound insecurity taking flight.

How could he help her manage that, he wondered?

Eliminate known sources of insecurity. Let her focus on the child or, heaven forbid, the children. Yet the first thing he knew he had to do was open up all lines of communication. He was beginning to feel that she was already sheltering him, keeping things that might upset him out of sight, and so out of mind. She was, in other words, protecting him – and he loved her that much more for it – yet he also knew he had to have her understanding. He had to be kept in the loop if he was going to be effective at helping everyone navigate the rough waters ahead.

He nursed his coffee for a while, lost in thoughts about the future when out of the blue he thought about Doris Day. Growing up with her in the house next door had always been kind of surreal – going to see Pillow Talk at the movie theatre then coming home and seeing her on the  porch overlooking Newport harbor, every now and then waving at her and seeing her smile… Coming in from a long trip on Bandit with his father and her calling out “How’d y’all do?” in that magic voice of hers. Her smile…oh! the memory!

Clyde came up the steps and barked twice, indicating his need was getting extreme, and Henry grabbed the leash and took him ashore. Clyde took his time finding just the right bush to hose down, then circled twice and dropped a dump truck load on an ant hill. Taggart groaned. “Damn, boy, they’re getting stinkier!” That was worth a wag or two of the tail, then they made their way back to the Bandit. Taggart settled behind the wheel, so Clyde sat next to him and waited for his head rub, which was none too soon in coming.

Then he heard Dina down in the shower so he finished his coffee – and without warning he vomited – and he saw streaks of blood in clear fluid that almost looked like mucous…

Dina heard the noise and was on deck before he finished cleaning up the mess.

He told her what had happened, then…

“What did it look like?”

“Blood streaks, thick clear mucous looking stuff, no food in it.”

She shook her head. “If you can’t get more food down this will get worse. Understood? You have to eat more!”

“But I’m not hungry, Dina?”

“It does not matter. Three times a day, even a little. You have to keep your body nourished or it will not be able to fight. Clear?” She sighed. “Next town we come to we will need to get a blood count. Did you drink coffee, too?”

“Yes.”

“No, Henry. Not without food. You’d do better with herbal teas, too. Now, let me get you a scone, then I’m going to fix you some eggs. Will you eat some ham or bacon?”

“You’re the doctor. You put it down in front of me and I’ll eat it. Promise, okay?

He ate her breakfast and a half hour later it came back up; he bent over the rail and let go right into the river.

“Henry, next time that happens I need to examine the contents for blood, okay? This is important, alright?”

He nodded. “What about that shake you gave me yesterday? I held that down okay.”

“You should not be vomiting so soon…”

“Let me try the shake again, and I have some antacid tabs in the medicine cabinet above our sink.”

She disappeared down the companionway and he disconnected the shore power cord, then started the diesel. He pulled in their dock lines and backed out of the slip, then turned into the river – still heading generally north. Dina came up and handed him the canned shake and he tossed it down, then shivered just a little.

“That is a taste I don’t think I will ever get used to,” he grimaced.

“Do you like salmon?”

“Yup, in all its forms, but not in a milkshake.”

She grinned. “What about sushi?”

“Especially sushi.”

She nodded. “Do we have to transit a lock today?”

“Yeah, assuming we make it there in time; it’s only about 20 miles.”

She sighed: “I wish you would speak in kilometers…”

“Yeah, okay, call it 32 clicks. What do you think about maybe getting a bigger boat?”

“What? Are you serious?”

“Yeah. The way things are shaping up, if you guys had a boat big enough to handle all of you, well, it might help to, you know, bring all of you together on a regular basis.”

“I’m not sure I can talk about the future right now, Henry. Not that future, anyway.”

“Sorry, and yeah, I understand. Probably better if I just handle things while I can.”

She turned and looked at the passing landscape – pastures off to the right, some rugged low hills to port, the rail line still there, trains whizzing by now and then. “Are you thinking about such things often?”

“Yeah, more or less. I have ideas, some I pass them along to Sigrid.”

“The lawyer?”

“Yup. When I’m, well, you know, just get in touch with her.”

“What about your holdings in the States?”

“Everything has been transferred into a trust. In Bergen. She’ll lay it all out for you.”

“What about the boat?”

“It’ll belong to the trust for the time being.”

“I like this boat. If you got something new that would mean getting rid of this one, no?”

“No, not at all. I can put the new boat into the trust and leave Time Bandit to you. Would you prefer that?” She nodded her head but looked away, he could tell she was crying and trying to hide it from him. “I suppose you’ll take care of her, right?”

“Of course. I may even take her on a long trip. Would that be okay?”

“Of course? Where would you go?”

“Wherever you tell me to go.”

“Ah, so you intend to keep talking to me even after, eh?”

“Of course. Every night before bed.”

“I feel like such a flake. Bugging out without changing even one diaper. Sheesh, the nerve of some people’s children…”

“I hope we have a bunch of boys – and that they have your humor.”

“Dearie me. You do have a pretty wide masochistic streak, don’t you?”

“A little, maybe yes.”

“Well, enough of this crap. Get out the guidebook and lets figure out the day…

+++++

Dina and Astrid whipped up a salmon bisque to go with fresh bread and Taggart enjoyed the soup, and when he kept it down Dina relaxed a little. ‘I just have to find things he can tolerate,’ she said to herself. ‘And fill him with nutrients when I can…’

They approached their first lock, right inside the village of Lilla Edet, and it was a big one; the guidebook said it was often full of commercial freighters and small passenger boats, as well as small pleasure craft. Today was, unfortunately, no exception. A big, red-hulled freighter had already pulled into the cavernous lock, and a white passenger boat came in right behind them…so their first attempt at trying a lock would be a trying affair. And one with an audience.

“Let’s get Clyde down below,” Henry said as they approached the entry. “Rolf, you stand by with the bow line; I’ll handle the stern from here,” he added as he maneuvered Time Bandit into a space indicated by the lock-keeper. The red bricked wall looked to be about thirty feet tall, and bronze bollards were recessed in the wall at regular intervals; the trick would be to secure the Bandit to one bollard, and, as it started to rise, to get another line rigged on the next bollard – that was now too high to reach.

The white passenger ship came up behind them and then the lock’s gate closed behind them. When it was secure water began filling the lock chamber, and the water rushed in with incredible velocity, creating a turbulent wash that made holding onto the lines a real chore. The commercial ships had heavy lines and specialized equipment to handle the load, while Time Bandit had Rolf and Henry…

“Okay Rolf, get your line on the next bollard!” he called out when they’d risen about eight feet, and then he scrambled to get his line secure on his next bollard. But…in the end it proved an easier than expected transit, and when the gate opened they motored out of the lock behind the red freighter, then the little cruise ship motored out. Then, all three of boats motored along in a spontaneous parade, with the passengers on the liner behind standing on the bow taking pictures of Taggart & Company. 

The landscape was more rugged now, hills flanked both sides of the river here, and the river itself bent more frequently to accommodate the hilly terrain. And with each new bend little villages popped up unexpectedly, each sporting at least one church steeple, many with bakeries and markets near the water, so stopping was always a temptation – and a handy option if supplies ran low.

“This is so different from an ocean passage,” Henry said…to no one in particular. “All we need is a chocolate factory…”

“And a golden ticket!” Astrid added – making Rolf smile.

Clyde chose that moment to jump into Taggart’s lap, and sitting there with his front paws draped over Taggart’s shoulders, and with his snout resting beside Taggart’s neck he promptly fell asleep – and started snoring. Taggart wrapped his arms around the pup and scratched his back, and he soon felt a moan of contentment come from deep inside. Of course, Rolf took another picture with his iPhone…

After a brief snooze Clyde jumped down and went off in search of a water bowl, and Henry turned the wheel over to Rolf. He walked forward and pulled out his own phone, then he called Hallberg-Rassy, a boat builder on the Swedish coast just north of Gothenburg. He explained what he needed and his time constraints; they advised they usually built on a semi-custom basis but had had a recent order cancellation just before delivery was to be made. It was a new 57 footer, and the rep went over the details; Taggart was intrigued enough to want to see it.

“We’re on the Trollhätten Canal, actually approaching the town of Trollhätten,” he advised.

“Ah, that is very close to here. We could send a car for you in the morning, if you like. Would that work out for you?”

“Yes, I think so. I’ll let you know where we moor for the night.”

The rep made a few recommendations for places to tie-up overnight and then rang off.

“Who did you call,” Dina asked, standing behind him at the mast.

“Feel like looking at a boat tomorrow?”

“You are serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, of course.”

She shrugged. “Okay. Is it far from here?”

“No, I don’t think so. Maybe an hour away.”

She sighed. “Are you always so – decisive?”

“Well, circumstances have changed, haven’t they? I want to get it right, and I don’t want to waste time, so I have to move fast. How far are we from Trollhätten?”

“About seven miles…”

“Miles! You used miles, and after telling me to…”

“I know, I know,” she grinned, “but that silly machine only gives a readout in miles.”

“Nautical miles, Dina. The same unit of measurement on all my nautical charts. Look, just multiple miles by 1.6 and you have clicks…”

“Clicks? what is it with this clicks-thing!”

“Just a bad habit I picked up when I was an American…”

“Bosh! You are an American through and through…”

“Look! A Burger King!” he shouted, pointing at a little castle on a hilltop. “Let’s go!”

She shook her head as she muttered her way back to the cockpit.

“And the crowd goes wild, Ladies and Germs! Team Taggart scores again!”

+++++

The Hallberg-Rassy yard was immaculate, and the 57 was tied up just below their main offices. Taggart looked at her as he walked up, admiring not only her lines but the apparent simplicity of the rig. The cockpit was amazing, with literally everything electrically coupled to the helm. You could, the rep explained, adjust everything from the wheels: furl the sails, adjust the sheets, raise or lower the anchor, or operate the thrusters…

“Did you say thrusters, as in more than one?”

“Yes, bow and stern.”

“Hell, even I could pass the parallel parking test with this rig.”

Dina had already gone below and she was calling for him now – almost urgently.

“What’s wrong?” he asked after he’d made his way down the companionway steps. 

“There’s a dishwasher in the galley!” she cried.

“And a washing machine in the owner’s head,” the rep advised.

“On a sailboat?” she said, wide-eyed, then she turned to Henry. “Have you ever!?”

“I think she likes this boat,” the rep said, smiling now.

He showed them around for two hours, going over literally every system onboard at least twice. Then: “Shall we go for a sail?”

“No thanks,” Taggart said, and the rep looked crestfallen, so did Dina. “I think I’ve already made up my mind.”

“Oh?” the rep and Dina said in unison.

“Let me get you my attorney’s number. You can call her in an hour to arrange for transfer of funds and registration information. We’ll swing by here in about three weeks to pick up the 57. At that time I’d like to drop off my current boat and leave her in dry storage here in your yard. We’ll arrange for pickup next Spring. During that time could you winterize the boat’s systems and perform whatever maintenance you think necessary?”

“Of course,” the rep said. “Shall we paint a new ship’s name and port on the stern?”

“Yes, please. Time Bandits, plural, out of Bergen, Norway.”

“I’ll see to it personally, sir.”

+++++

They made it back to Time Bandit in time for a late lunch, then they transited the Trollhätten locks – as in more than one. These were once again huge commercial affairs, sized to accommodate smaller ocean going freighters and, once again, they transited with large ships. After the second lock they motored through the city center, waiting for two bridges to be raised, before they stopped for the day at a purpose built lagoon off the Spiköstigen. It was early enough that Dina wanted to get Henry to the local hospital’s lab for a round of bloodwork, so a taxi was called and off they went.

“Nice having my own personal doc, ya know?”

“Don’t let it go to your head,” she said as she filled out the paperwork the oncologist in Gothenburg had provided. “Now go! The vampires await!”

“Did I mention I hate needles?”

“Only ten times on the taxi ride here.”

“Oh. Well…I hate needles.”

“Go!”

He went to lab then ambled back to her ten minutes later. “They got it on the first try this time.”

“Lucky you. They will call me with the results this evening, so let’s go.”

“Yeah, hospitals give you the willies, huh?”

“The what?”

“The willies. You know, like a shiver that runs up your spine when you watch a horror flick?”

“You watch horror films?”

“No.”

“You confuse me too much, Henry Taggart.”

“Excellent!”

“How would you like a nice proctologist’s exam?”

“I don’t know. Hum a few bars and maybe I’ll recognize it.”

“You are going to drive me mad!”

“And the crowd goes wild!” 

+++++

And so it went. A seemingly endless idyll motoring across Sweden by river – interspersed with two long days sailing across lakes Vänern and Vättern, two huge lakes in Sweden’s interior. More villages, bakeries and ice cream shops, summer crowds – with many gathered along the edges of the various locks watching the action.

Astrid began to emotionally separate from Rolf the closer Bandit got to Stockholm, intuitively knowing their journey of the heart was coming to an end. Rolf did his best to show a stiff upper lip, but he too began to withdraw. Sensing that something was wrong, Clyde stayed with them the night before she was scheduled to fly back to Oslo. Taggart sent the two of them by taxi to the airport, and when Rolf returned a few hours later he clambered back onboard and disappeared into his cabin. Taggart decided to let him be. Clyde did not; he went forward and stayed with Rolf…

He spent a day at yet another hospital and yet another oncologist ‘gave him the bad news’ – and Taggart began to suspect that some physicians actually got into the role of telling some people they were going to die, rather like medieval priests relished their role as gatekeepers to the afterlife. Maybe it was a power dynamic, he thought, though he dared not bring up the subject with Dina.

After transiting almost sixty locks many of Bandits lines and fenders were worn out, so Taggart took Rolf shopping at a marine supply store; afterwards, they spent the rest of the day organizing the new goodies while discarding the old. Bandit spent another day getting her engine serviced, and the three of them played the tourist game and wandered around Stockholm for a day. After that, all that remained was a daunting 400 mile run down the Baltic Sea to Copenhagen, then a sedate passage through the Kattegat – passing Gothenburg on the way to Ellös, where the new boat waited. Of course, a stop in Copenhagen was mandatory – at least according to Dina it was – because ‘the best oncologists in the world’ could be found there.

Stockholm was, Taggart soon discovered, called the Venice of the North for a reason. Almost every neighborhood in the city was located on an island, and there were marinas everywhere. And…people everywhere, too…

“Everyone in this city must own a goddam boat!” he growled as they waited for yet another bridge to open. “It’s like Los Angeles at rush hour…only on the water!” It took a day and half just to wind there way through the maze to the open sea, but by then he’d decided the rocky coast was the most enticing sailing grounds he’d ever seen. “You could sail here and never see the same island twice!” The charts for the area were a condensed blur of astonishing detail, as even what appeared to be large rocks had anchorages listed.

Still, while open water beckoned they ran into the same intemperate weather they had experienced in Gothenburg: a huge high pressure system had parked itself over Northern Europe and the region was baking under temperatures reaching the high 90sF. Sailors had to deal with winds most charitably called ‘light and variable’ – which meant breezes so light and capricious that sailing became pointless. Which meant the engine was doomed to power most of Bandit’s trip to Copenhagen. The air conditioner would work overtime too, and when they’d first gotten underway in Stockholm, Dina had ordained that no one spend more than an hour at the wheel while temps remained so extreme.

Taggart detested running the engine – Bandit was a sailboat, after all – but making two knots over the bottom was simply not feasible now. He found that now he was constantly modifying his itinerary to squeeze in new routes that would take them by ‘something they just had to see’ – at least according to this or that guidebook, or according to fellow sailors they met at locks or when berthed at marinas. But August was looming now, which left two – or possibly three months to get to Paris, given his oncologists prevailing timeline, anyway.

But, he reasoned, the bad weather couldn’t last all summer, could it? Whatever, the new boat would be fast, potentially much faster than Time Bandit. With those factors working in his favor, the plan was to pick up Time Bandits and leave Ellös – only heading back towards Copenhagen. Then they’d cut south, making for the eastern entrance to the Kiel Canal, a shortcut that could save a potentially punishing first crossing of the North Sea in an untested boat. The plan from there was, so far at least, unchanged. Duck into the Dutch canal system and head south to Belgium and France. Somewhere along the French coast he’d unship the mast and proceed down the Seine to Paris, then put his feet up and bask in the glow of a handful of memories until…yeah, well…until Shit Happened.

So…leaving the Stockholm Archipelago in their wake, and as the Bandit found the open sea again, Taggart turned to the south and set the autopilot. With that out of the way, Clyde jumped into Henry’s lap and assumed the position, and the pup was soon snoring away. Dina was down in the galley preparing some sort of soup and Rolf was sitting on the bow, lost in wonder no doubt, pondering the meaning of existence without his one true love sitting there by his side…

…when he heard a thunderous roar…just after a concussive blast knocked him to the cockpit floor…

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

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 47

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 47

It is early autumn on the Izu peninsula, and summer’s leaves are in a desperate, if futile, rush to soak up the last warming light of the year. Those usually first to let go and fall to the ground, the red leafed maples, have turned a deeper red, and some limbs have already been stripped bare by cold gales coming in off the nearby sea. Still, many trees along the forest trail still cling to the sun’s light, and summer’s greens and golds stand in stark contrast to the reds and deep orange notes of the changing seasons.

Callahan followed Fujiko along the path to the Inn of the Enchanted Spires one autumn day – as Frank had taken to calling the place – though Frank had remained in Ajiro, the village where he’d experienced his first living epiphany from Clavell’s Shōgun

Callahan had his Nikon out as he walked, and he had been shooting leaves and rocks as he walked along in the silence, though every now and then he had taken a shot or two of Fujiko. She stopped just ahead now and waited for him to catch up, and he found her standing on a tall granite outcropping with her arms outstretched to the sun – as if she too wanted to soak up the last warmth of summer.

Her long black hair was pulled up in a tight bun this morning, and now, instead of the more traditional clothing she had worn on their first trip here, she was wearing hiking shorts and low-cut boots, as well as a light fleece jacket over a gray turtleneck. She looked, in other words, like any other Californian – and Callahan had noticed the same divergence of character ever since he and Bullitt had arrived four days ago.

She had begun to set herself apart from Japan, he thought at first, because – perhaps – she had decided she was leaving Japan for good, but on their second day she had taken Frank and Harry to meet her older brother at his house outside of Osaka – and she had presented herself as the epitome of traditional Japanese culture when in his presence.

So, he assumed she was as yet undecided, still caught up in the vacuum of ‘finding herself’ – whatever the hell that meant. Yet she was different now, inescapably so. She had been taking language classes, and not English – but French. She had hinted in her letters about wanting to find work as a translator, and possibly in the diplomatic arena, and yet now that he was with her she didn’t want to talk about any of that.

At one point he had become convinced that she was trying to let him down gently, but then she told him she had made reservations at the spires – and for several nights. One room, not two. He teetered on the edge of confusion, until Frank said that by putting him a confused state she was only strengthening her negotiating position.

“Negotiating position?” Callahan barked. “What the hell…”

“Yeah, Harry, everything in life is a negotiation, from deciding where two people go for dinner to even to what color socks you alone decide to wear. My guess is she’s reserved a room out there for several nights to feel you out, then present her terms. The problem right now is she has no idea what kind of life you’re leading right now. You’ve gone from being a relatively easy to understand ‘cop’ to being the owner of two successful corporations, and the problem as I see it is she probably thinks she’s still going to be negotiating with the easy to understand cop she met last time. In other words, she has no idea of the changes you’ve undergone over the last year and a half.”

“Okay, I can buy that…”

“Yeah? Well, there are two parts to this equation, Callahan. You have changed. You deal with people from a position of real strength now, and that position can come through as decidedly and uncompromisingly direct. So in other words, you don’t suffer fools very well, not anymore. You had to when you were a cop because that was part of the game. You know – ‘to protect and serve.’ Well, you serve customers now, and your approach has changed. You’re much more concerned with the well being of your companies now and you tend to act decisively as a result. Just try to remember she has no idea of how you’ve changed, let alone the why of things.”

“So, how should I proceed?”

“Let her lay it out there. Don’t try to react until you’ve had a chance to think about things, especially if what she has to say seems to force a lot of compromises on you – but not on her. Step back from yourself if you can, and try to think one or two moves ahead. And don’t get boxed in by emotionally overreacting.”

He looked at her now, standing on the rock with her arms outstretched as if she was expecting to fly, and he brought the Nikon up to his eyes. He studied her for a moment – as objectively as he could – and he tried to think of her as a stranger might…walking down this trail and running into this scene. She was – objectively – beautiful. She looked almost like a statue standing there, a monument to man’s idea of irrational beauty – outstretched arms turned into the sun and the seaborne wind, muscles quivering as she teetered on the edge of the outcropping. It was, he thought, impossible not to overreact to her symmetry and beauty.

Then she turned and looked down at him, and he thought her eyes looked different now. No longer soft and inviting, they looked feral, almost predatory in this setting…then she jumped and landed at his feet.

“I love this place,” she whispered. “The wind through the trees and the sea in the distance, each competing for dominance, each beautiful in their own way. But here, right here, you don’t have to choose. Both can reside inside you – just here!”

She took a step closer and paused, looked into his eyes and he saw the soft, inviting warmth he was used to…

“Just outside your house on the cliffs there is a tree,” she said, “and one morning I sat there listening to the sea and the tree and I could see my life unfolding there – with you. But now I can see that you have grown old in the last year. You are now consumed with the twin ideas of money and power, and I must admit, Harry, that I did not see this happening to you. Even Frank has changed, but not as much as you.”

“I thought we, you and I, were over. I had nowhere else to turn.”

“Yes, I see that. Now the question is an even simpler one: do you have room for me in the life you have chosen?”

“You know, I could say ‘of course I do,’ but that would be presumptuous. People work for me now. A lot of people, people who depend on me every day to make good decisions – decisions that impact their lives. And the really unexpected thing, Fujiko, is how much I enjoy this new life. It turns out I’m actually pretty good at this stuff, but more than that…I have been able to create something that lets a lot of very talented people do a job that makes them happy. What could possibly be better than that?”

“You see?”

“I do. But there is still one thing missing, one very important element that would make my life complete.”

“Yes? And that is?”

“You.”

“I see.”

“Do you? I’m not sure that’s even possible, Fujiko. Once you said we should be patient, that we should take the time to get to know one another before we took our first steps together…”

“I remember.”

“Well, that didn’t work. It didn’t because it couldn’t. There was nothing to lose, nothing on the line. It was too easy for you to walk away, and too easy for me to let you.”

“So, what do you propose?”

“That’s a loaded word, Fujiko, isn’t it. Standing out here in the wind by the sea.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Is that what you want now?”

“It is an interesting possibility.”

“I see,” he said, smiling even in defeat. “Are you sure you want to go to the inn?”

“Yes, of course,” she answered, puzzled. “I just watched a very serious change come over you, and now I do not recognize this person.”

“I’ve grown used to negotiating with people…”

“Is that what this is? A negotiation? Am I a commodity now…”

“What I saw was a continuation. You left California telling me you needed time, and when you say something like marriage is an interesting possibility you are negotiating for more time. Isn’t that true?”

“I would not call something so…”

“I would, and I would do so because it feels that way to me.”

She reached out, took his hand and pulled him towards the inn – but he did not budge an inch. She looked at him again, even more puzzled now. “I do not recognize this new man, Harry-san. There are great changes people face, true enough, but something deeper has changed within you.”

“I want you, Fujiko. And I want you because I love you. But in my three days here you have not mentioned those words once. Why?”

“Because I am afraid.”

“Are you afraid of me?”

“Yes. A little. These things in your eyes, they are so very different now.”

“Some things change, Fujiko. Some things never do. Are you saying your love for me has changed?”

“No, I am not. I am saying that we have three days ahead of us to find the answer to these questions.”

“Alright. Then please, lead the way.”

And that, Callahan said to himself, is what you call negotiating from a position of strength.

________________________________

“So, how is he doing?” Cathy asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Frank said over the long distance connection. “He seems unsure of himself one minute, then overconfident the next.”

“How did Fujiko look?”

“Look? She looks the same. I think she’s really unsure of herself now that she’s seen Harry.”

“Frank, I don’t know how to say this but I’m unsure of myself around Harry these days. And maybe because everything he touches turns to gold. Three high-rise apartment towers under construction in a year and a half. Five small apartment buildings knocked down for new condo projects, and now he’s got both CAT and the new airline. He’s going to be on the cover of next month’s California Magazine, too…”

“Really? I hadn’t heard that.”

“Yeah, well, it’s happening. And what I said when I saw him last still bugs me. He doesn’t look well. More than that, he looks, uh – I guess the word I keep thinking about is ‘wrong’ – he looks all wrong to me right now…”

“Sometimes I think money does that to people. Money imparts a visible confidence, Cathy. I’ve seen it on the streets for decades, too. When you’re poor it’s something you can see in people’s eyes. Call it insecurity, call it fear, but the opposite holds true for really wealthy people. You can see wealth in their eyes, even in the way they smile…”

“Frank?”

“Yes?”

“What have you been smoking over there?”

“Cathy, I’m being serious.”

“I know you are, and that’s what bothers me. And I’m saying that Harry doesn’t just look different, he looks all wrong, too, like this isn’t the way he’s supposed to be…that something very fundamental within him has been altered.”

“Cathy? What have you been smoking?”

“Okay Frank, okay. But I need to ask you something, and please don’t take it the wrong way.”

“Okay.”

“That thing he does with the piano…”

“Nope, doesn’t work that way, Cathy. We’ve only been able to see into the past.”

“Yeah, but…what if that’s not all he can do?”

“Cathy? You’re barking up the wrong tree, and besides, even if he could, Harry wouldn’t do it. And anyway, he can’t – so whatever it is you think you’re seeing, put it down to stress and working too much, okay?”

“Oh, speaking of…I finally met that new CFO…”

“DD?”

“Yeah. She’s a hoot, too. Pure brainiac. Man, did he luck out with that one.”

“I told you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did. Oh, and that reminds me. The other Didi called. Evelyn checked herself out of the clinic in Davos and apparently she’s flown back to Boston.”

“What?”

“You heard me, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I heard you, but what’s her status? You said she checked herself out. What exactly does that mean?”

“There wasn’t a lot more than that she could tell me, Frank.”

“Boston, you said?”

“Yup.”

“That doesn’t make sense. She doesn’t know anyone there, not anymore. Or does she?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Well, hell,” Bullitt said. “That’s a fly in the ointment.”

“Why?”

“Well, the last reports we had stated she was becoming increasingly more violent. Now she’s flown the coop and we have no idea what her mental state is. That could be a real problem.”

“You think too much like a cop, Frank.”

“Yeah? Well, I find I live longer that way.”

“Well then, maybe you should call Didi, or even the clinic, ya know?”

“You have the numbers handy?”

“No, but I bet Harry does.”

“I have a bad feeling about this, Cathy. She’s never really been all that stable, but she was never violent before.”

“Aside from trying to hurt herself, you mean.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, maybe she’s externalized all that anger now.”

“What does that mean?”

“Maybe she, oh hell, Frank, I don’t know. Maybe she just got homesick and wanted to come back to the states.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“So, what’s next for you two?”

“I guess that depends on Fujiko,” Frank sighed. “Anyway, we should be back in Osaka tomorrow night. I’ll call you when we get to the hotel. How’s the spud?”

“She’s good, but I have no idea how you manage changing diapers without…”

“I do. Every time.”

“I’ve never smelled anything like it,” she added. 

“The joys of parenthood never end, I guess.”

She laughed at that. “Okay. Well, I’ll talk to you tomorrow sometime.”

“Yup. You two sleep tight. Talk to you tomorrow, babe…”

__________________________________

She seemed happier now, more at ease than she had been since their reunion in Osaka, and perhaps because Callahan had decided to let Fujiko set the tone and pace of their time at the inn. He was struck most by the gradual transformation that occurred the longer they stayed in this soothingly atmospheric enclave, too: she reverted to her more formal self, to the much more traditional Japanese mannerisms he had seen on their first visit here, discarding her more western approach like she was shedding a layer of  skin. They spent most of their time in the hot springs, occasionally diving into the sea to cool down, but on the last afternoon she decided she wanted to do some rock climbing and off they went…

…To a cliff-lined stretch of coast close to the inn. She chose an easy hundred meter climb for their first ascent – easy because there were solid crags all the way up the face so an enormous variety of abundant hand and footholds. Still, a hundred meters without ropes was something Callahan had never tried before, so he was a little uneasy as he stood at the base of the cliff, looking up the sheer face at blue sky and scudding clouds.

She led the way but he picked his own route up, and he soon found the challenge, and the inherent danger, fundamentally exhilarating. At one point as he neared the summit he paused and looked down – and he felt a sudden tightening in his groin…as if his testicles had decided they’d had enough and were opting to sit this one out. He shifted his focus to the way ahead and finished his climb moments after she did.

They walked down a narrow trail littered with rocky scree back to the sea, then she made her way to a more difficult ascent. This face was smooth in places, though long, vertical cracks slashed deep channels in the rock near the top. Callahan looked at the cliff and shook his head.

“You sure you want to try this one?” he asked.

“Oh yes, very much so,” she said as she grabbed a handhold, beginning her ascent.

Callahan studied the rock face, saw Fujiko was headed up a dead end route, that she needed to be about ten feet to the right to gain the cracks that were the key to this face, so he started up this way…soon overtaking her as she ran out of easy hand holds.

“You need to get over here,” he said, “or you’ll run out of maneuvering room.”

“I will manage,” she said through gritted teeth, but he could tell her arms were stressed now, and that she was more worried than she put on.

He gained the first crack and began his final ascent, reaching the top in a few more minutes. He looked down, saw she was still fixed to the rock – in the same place – so he found the trail and ran down to the sea then out to the cliffs.

When he found her he climbed as quickly as he could to reach her, and when he got to her he could see that she was clearly terrified now.

“I’m here,” he said gently.

“I am tired. Not sure I can climb anymore.”

“We’re going to go down now, and I’m going to guide your feet, put them onto footholds. Fujiko, look at me. You can do this…”

“I am not so sure.”

“I am. Now, listen to my voice.”

“I will.”

He took her right foot and moved it down several inches.

“Okay, ease your weight off your left foot and onto your right foot, and do the same with your hands.”

“Alright.”

“Remember…try to keep weight on three points at all times. Two hands and one foot – three points. We’ll take weight off the descending foot first, the other three will support you.”

“Got it.”

“Then get your weight on the new foot and move the other down. Okay?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, move down to the new foot, but keep your hands secure on their holds.”

“Yes, please. Stay with me.”

“I’m right here…”

It took a half hour to reach the rocks below, and Fujiko was a trembling, nervous wreck by then. When her feet hit solid ground she flew into his arms and held him close; he could feel her arms trembling, her legs too, so he carried her to a large rock and helped her sit…

“Why did you want to climb today?” he asked.

“I wanted to feel close to the edge.”

“The edge…of what?”

“Of existence, perhaps even to death. I wanted to tempt death, and to cheat death.”

“Well, I guess we did.”

She nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, very much so. I feel wonderful, don’t you?”

“I’m not sure wonderful is the word…”

“You must let go, Harry. You must feel the limits of your existence…”

“You clearly have never been a cop before…”

She smiled. “Yes. So sorry, I forget this part of you. To have lived so close to death for so long. I could manage one afternoon only. You must please forgive me for bringing you to this place.”

“I enjoyed…”

“What did you enjoy? Saving my life?”

“Not exactly. I enjoyed helping you find the strength to find a way out of the dilemma you were in.”

“You told me I was not taking the correct way, and I willfully chose not to listen to you.”

“You live and learn.”

“If you are lucky,” she sighed.

“I’m not sure there is such a thing, Fujiko. I think people make choices, some good, some bad.”

“Perhaps so. Harry?”

“Yes?”

“I am ready to go now.”

“To the inn? Okay…”

“No, so sorry. I was not clear. I am ready to go to California with you. To be with you always. You have proven to me that you are a trustworthy partner, that you will be trustworthy always. I am ready now.”

“We have the tea ceremony tonight, correct?”

“Yes. a master will provide for us tonight, and after this night we will be together until time itself unties the cords of our existence.”

“I see.”

“Is this what you wish, Harry? Truly?”

“It is, yes.”

“Then this shall be. We shall become as one tonight.”

He followed her back to the inn and they soaked in hot spring water, then played in the sea. They had a small dinner, then they went to the outermost spire for the tea ceremony. This ceremony was different from the first, however; very stylized and rigid. Very little was said; the ceremony was more a ritual of movement, graceful movement, but there was a solemnity to the words and movements that entranced Callahan, and there was a marked difference in the way she made love to him after they returned to their spire. She was submissive one moment, then utterly possessive the next, and when they were ready for sleep she lay next to him with a contentedness he’d never felt before.

They picked up Frank in Ajiro the next morning then drove to Osaka. They dropped fujiko at her brother’s house and drove into the city, to their hotel. There was a message from DD waiting for Callahan, and as soon as he was in his room he called her.

“DD? Harry. How are…”

“Harry, there’s been some trouble here.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. Apparently Frank’s sister left Switzerland. She went to Boston, then made her way here. Is Frank with you now?”

“No. He’s going to his room now.”

“Well, Cathy’s gone.”

“Gone? What do you mean, gone?”

“Murdered, Harry. The baby’s not at the house, either; she was taken, and apparently by Frank’s sister…”

Callahan sat in rigid silence, his eyes wide open, and it felt as though the world had simply stopped moving.

“I have you on a flight out of Osaka at eleven tonight. One stop in Honolulu, then direct to SFO. A Captain Delgetti will meet you at the gate on arrival; Mickey will fly you up to the ranch.”

He tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come. Then he just managed to say “Three of us coming.”

“Yes, I made reservations for three.”

“I-uh-okay. I’ll call before we leave for the airport.”

“Yessir. If there’s anything new I’ll update you then.”

He hung up the phone gently and went to the sink and washed his face, tried to clear away the tears and the agony of the moment, then he heard a knock on the door.

It was Frank.

He let his best friend into room – then told him their world had just stopped and come undone.

_________________________________

Fujiko sat with Frank on the airplane until he fell asleep, then she joined Callahan.

“I have never felt such anger,” she said. “His heart has turned to cold stone.”

“Can you imagine being betrayed by your sister, by your own flesh and blood?”

“No, in truth I cannot, but his spirit is far from broken. He has become death – cold, vengeful death.”

“Have you ever seen a murder scene?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“There’s an ugliness, a brutal sense of violation when you look at someone who has been murdered. Like the time you spoke of after the tea ceremony, only time has been purposefully violated there. Worse then that, the violence of the scene is usually indescribably grotesque. Blood belongs in the body, not splattered indiscriminately over floors and walls and ceilings. When you look at a bullet wound or a knife wound you are looking into the eyes of madness, and that’s something most people never have to contend with.”

“What you are describing is horrible.”

Callahan nodded. “Then consider that Frank has investigated over two hundred murders. Think of how many times he has looked into those eyes, all the madness he’s seen. To solve a murder you first have to understand the madness behind the crime, so that’s several hundred varieties of madness Frank has had to come to terms with. And do you know – Frank has solved every case he’s been assigned.”

“He is a good police officer, is that what you are telling me?”

“Not good, Fujiko. Frank is the best of the best.”

“Yes?”

“But now he will have to sit back and watch other people try to find his sister, and his daughter.”

She shook her head. “This he will not do.”

Callahan smiled. “No, this we will not do.”

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

The Eighty-eighth Key Ch.46

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 46

The valet at Trader Vics pulled up in the Rover and Callahan helped Linton Tomlinson into the passenger seat.

“Are you sure you’re okay to drive?” she asked.

“Yes. I’m good..”

“I don’t understand. How could you drink so much and…?”

“Because I was drinking pineapple juice, on the rocks.”

“I, well, I don’t understand…”

“Then let me explain it for you. We bring all potential new-hires here, and we let ‘em do what they want, no restrictions. We get to see a live demonstration of their sense of responsibility, their ability to handle themselves – and we also get a little peek inside with all your defenses down. The waiters know me, and they know Rooney, so they bring us juice or tea. And that’s the plan, each time we do this.”

“So, what you’re saying is this was a test, right?”

“Right.”

“And I failed, right?”

“That’s right. And just for your information, the alcohol was bad enough, but trying to hit the sheets with a potential CEO was a really bad call on your part. As my CFO, I’d rely on you for objective information and advice, and after sex that would go out the window, wouldn’t it?”

“You’re not going to mention this to anyone, are you?”

“God knows I should, but no. You’re somebody else’s problem, not mine.”

She got out of the Rover when she hearing that, then she flipped him off after she slammed the door shut.

He rolled down the window: “Ya know? I think I will call Herb. You have a nice night,” he added as he drove off. Then he got on the two-meter rig and called Mickey.

“Did you tell her, or do you want me to in the morning?” Rooney asked.

“No, I think she got the picture.”

“Did she come on to you, too? I didn’t want to see that…”

“Yeah.”

“Goddam! I had hopes for this one.”

“Maybe we ought to focus on old guys from now on, ya know?”

“Well, you ain’t gonna like it, but I got a gal from San Diego coming up first thing in the morning.”

“Really? What time?”

“Eight-thirty, and she’s the one from PSA – remember – you liked her resumé. Said she’d take a cab in from the airport, so call it nine or a little after.”

“Mickey, any more pineapple juice and I’m going to turn into a fuckin’ diabetic.”

Rooney chuckled. “You have time to fly her around in the morning?”

“Yeah. I need the hours, and Pattison says that new 412 will be ready to go in the morning, so I’ll take it up for the final acceptance flight. Uh, I forgot…what’s the girl’s name?”

“Deborah something. Starts with a D, anyway. Sorry, that’s all I remember right now.”

“Yeah, well, get some sleep. See you when you finish up tomorrow.”

He went to the old apartment for the night – and noticed the For Sale sign was now marked Sold – and he smiled. He really noticed how run down the place was that he didn’t call it home anymore. Funny…how perceptions change.

_______________________________________

Her name was Debra Dorsken, and she said she liked to be called DD.

“Oh, swell,” Callahan moaned.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“I have a PA in Switzerland that goes by that handle.”

“Oh, well, then I guess Debra works.”

“No, no…DD it is. And I’m Callahan.”

“Are you, like, THE Callahan?”

“Yup. You ever been in a flutterbug?”

“A what?”

“A helicopter.”

“Good God no!”

Harry looked at her, his eyes almost crossed now. “You do know this is a helicopter service, right?”

“Yes, of course. Do I need to fly in order to be your CFO?”

“Well, we only have a handful of people around here who can’t fly, and most of those are taking classes now. Still, it’s not a requirement.”

“Look, I hate flying and the idea of riding in a helicopter scares the fucking shit out of me…” She looked at Harry and realized what she’d just said. “Oops, sorry, but I grew up with five brothers and I can guarantee you I know more four letter words than you do.”

He took a good look at her then: about five feet tall, weight just shy of an NFL linebacker’s, no ankles and short, stubby fingers with nicely manicured nails. Glasses that went out of style in the 50s. A red plaid skirt and saddle oxfords, red sweater with white blouse under. She did, however, have an MBA from Stanford and five years under her belt working for PSA. And…she was a Californian, from Santa Cruz.

“Well, bad news, DD. We’re taking a brand new flutterbug from here to Palo Alto, then up to Yosemite and then back here. You still interested, or do you wanna bail out now?”

“Is this, like, part of the job interview?”

“It is, yes.”

“Then…let’s do it.”

The new bird was a Bell 412SP, basically a 212 but with four rotor blades instead of two; this model could also carry more people, and carry them further, and had been a recent success story for Bell, especially with military operators. Callahan wanted to put this new model to work carrying fire fighters in the coming fire season, then they’d see about passenger operations in the Bay Area – if the bird proved economically viable. He laid all this out to DD as he helped her into the left seat and got her buckled-in, then he and Pattison did the final walk around. 

With that out of the way he climbed into the right seat, leaving Pattison to sit behind the girl – though he did the call-outs for the checklist from back there. Once the 412 was ready to take off Callahan looked at her once again, noticed the white-knuckled death grip she had on her armrests. He grinned at the possibilities.

They flew out to the Golden Gate then turned south, taking vectors from ATC all the way to Palo Alto. “If I had to make this drive, from the Presidio to Palo Alto, it would take at least an hour – and in good traffic,” he said. “It just took us a little over ten minutes.”

“Wow! This is a lot smoother that I expected, too. You could actually get some work done in here.”

“That’s the four blades,” Pattison said. “Smoother, and quieter, too. Harry, take care on your approach…this thing reacts faster to pitch commands than the 212.”

“I love the way this thing handles!” Callahan said. “More like the -76 than the old Hueys. Maybe we ought to think about replacing our older Hueys with this model?”

“I agree,” Pattison added. “I think passengers will appreciate the extra comfort.”

“Don’t do anything until I work the numbers,” DD added. “Uh…assuming I get the position, that is.”

They walked her around the Palo Alto operation and let her soak in the atmosphere, then she looked at them. “Do you have any air ambulance units?”

“No?”

“Why not?”

“Well, cities and counties handle those,” Pattison said.

“Oh yeah? Well, only a couple can afford it, and you guys are surrounded by counties that are just crying out for some kind of air ambulance service. With a couple of strategically located bases, you could cover almost all of northern California, the Sierras, and probably most of the Valley, too. Those contracts are pretty lucrative, too…”

Callahan looked at Pattison – who nodded. Both smiled.

“You think you could handle that?” Callahan asked her.

“As soon as you give me the go-ahead.”

“What are you handling at PSA?”

“Equipment purchasing and leasing. I mainly work with Boeing, spend a lot of time up in Renton.”

“You okay with living in the city?”

“Yessir.”

“I read you’re still working on your CPA. How’s that coming along?”

“Two years if I keep going part time.”

“What kind of money are you looking for?”

“Fifty if you can help with moving and school. A bonus would be nice when I get my CPA.”

Callahan got airborne and headed to Mariposa-Yosemite. “Our next base is near Yosemite National Park, our primary fire fighting base in the region right now…”

“Perfect place to start ambulance operations,” she said. “You could transition to year round ops, too. Probably all kinds of tax credits and write-offs as well. Are you looking at any other places?”

“Mammoth and South Lake Tahoe,” Pattison said, smiling at Callahan.

“Just be careful to keep everything in California. Once you move to an interstate operation the red tape is gonna get out of hand.”

“What do you think about profit-sharing?”

“Tricky. It can bite into your overhead and acquisition models if you miss forecasts. If you’re thinking about it, I’d wait until you have a solid five years of operations under your belt. And five years of rock-solid profits, too.”

“You married? Got a boyfriend?”

“Not yet, but I’m still looking!”

“Smoke or drink?”

“No to both, sir.”

“Which sounds better? Turtle soup or a cheeseburger?”

She laughed at that one. “No contest, sir. I’m a burger addict.”

“From now on, call me Harry – okay…?”

“Yessir!”

________________________________

Frank, now solidly in remission and enjoying fatherhood, had taken several months leave from both CAT and the police department, and while he detested changing diapers as much as the next rational human being, he positively enjoyed playing with the baby – and all the time, too. Cathy, on the other hand, had tried working from home – unsuccessfully – and soon needed to go back to work – part time. She had been juggling several pressing projects before she gave birth – Callahan’s apartment-to-condo project being just one among many – but now her partners were suddenly growing impatient. “I have to get back to work, Frank,” she told him. “Full time. Maybe more than full time.”

“The department needs me on Saturdays, probably nights,” he advised, meaning deep nights, or midnight to eight in the morning, “and starting this coming weekend.”

“What about Harry? Can’t he take it?”

“He already is, Cathy.”

“You’re kidding, right? You two will be working the same shift again?”

“Looks that way, yeah.”

“Dear God. Look out citizens of San Francisco…the two amigos ride again! Yeh-hah!”

“Stop it…we’re weren’t that bad…”

“No, you were worse.”

“Balls! Anyway, you just need to be here Saturday.”

“What about CAT? You going back?”

“Yeah. Harry’s not pushing, though.”

“He’s your friend, Frank. He wouldn’t push and you can’t take advantage of that, ya know?”

Bullitt looked down, nodded. “Yeah. You’re right.”

“On the bright side, when I saw Harry last week and I mentioned employers needing to get child care facilities into the workplace and, well, you should have one at the Cathouse in another month or so…”

“You know, Cathy, for some reason having a childcare facility in a Cathouse sounds a little weird.”

“No kidding. But you know what gets me?”

“Hmm?”

“Harry. I always looked at him kinda like I looked at you back in the day. You know, a neanderthal cop, misogynist from the get-go. A real redneck, I guess.”

“Me? You thought I was like that?”

“No, not really…but the point I’m making is that Harry isn’t like that, either. You know, maybe when we first knew him he was, but not now. He’s changed. A lot, I think…but I’d have never pinned him as a guy who would get behind putting a childcare facility in the workplace. I mean, think about it, Frank.”

“It’s that new CFO. Have you met her yet?”

She shook her head. “No. What’s she like? Besides drop dead gorgeous…”

Frank laughed. “Cathy, the last thing that girl is – is gorgeous. Homely would be a compliment.”

“No kidding?”

“Rooney told me she’s become something like his conscience, though. Apparently he runs everything by her, too. And I mean everything.”

“Wow. I’ve got to swing by and meet this one. I take it there’s nothing going on between them?”

“Nothing, at least as far as I know.”

“Do you really think you’re ready to hit the streets again?”

“Well, I have to go to the range Saturday and re-qualify. Beyond that? I guess so.”

“You still look thin to me, Frank. You’re just not eating enough.”

“Now…that’s a first.”

“Boy, don’t I know it. I’m up to a size ten now.”

“You’ve never looked better, Cathy.”

“Sweet of you to say so, but I feel like a blimp…!”

The front doorbell chimed.

“You expecting anyone?” Frank asked.

Cathy shook her head.

“Okay…I’ll go…oh, it’s Harry!”

Frank went to the door and let Callahan in, then they went back to the kitchen.

“Hey, Harry. Long time no see,” Cathy said. “You staying in the city all the time now?”

“Pretty much, unfortunately. I don’t think I’ve been out here in three weeks.”

“Where are you staying?”

“Dad’s. In his old bedroom.”

“So, Sam finished the remodel?”

“Yeah. I wanted to thank you, too. Great idea for the kitchen. It looks stunning!”

“You are so welcome! I understand the old apartment building is coming down on Monday.”

“Yup, and that’s what I wanted to talk about, in a roundabout way.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I heard a prime lot up on Cathedral Hill became available last week, zoned multi-family thirty stories plus. Anyway, as of yesterday I’m under contract. You interested?”

“Am I interested? Are you kidding! Am I interested? Jesus, Harry, I can’t believe it!”

“I take it that means yes?”

“YES! That means a very big yes!”

“Great. Well, I’m going to let my new CFO handle the details this time around. Start a property management company, lot of stuff I don’t understand yet, so she’ll be handling the day to day details until I can get up to speed.”

“Oh? What’s her name?”

“Debra. She goes by DD, but she’s not related.”

“So, I just call the main number and ask for DD?”

“Yup. And thanks for the heads up on the child care thing. And, oh, that reminds me. We’re looking at the possibility of opening up a large base in Redding, mainly air ambulance services with both fixed wing and rotors.”

“You mean, like with real airplanes, Harry?” Frank said, surprised.

“Yeah.”

“That’s quite a change in operations, isn’t it?”

“Well, we’re already chartered by the state to do it, and the need is there. DD wants to take it a step further and up our certificate to scheduled passenger operations. Hit the small towns up the northern coast, link ‘em to SFO. We’ll be using the right equipment to do both, so might as well look into it. Anyway, Cathy, it’s more work for you – if you want it.”

“What about you, Harry,” Cathy said, now suddenly very concerned by what she saw on Callahan’s face, “what are you doing to take care of yourself?”

“Me? Hell, I don’t know, and I don’t really care. What I do know is…I’ve got about fifty ex-Army pilots on the payroll, and that up until a year ago they were stuck selling cars and working at car washes. I’m taking care of those guys first; I come next.”

“Yeah, okay, I get that, but think about something for me, will you? If you don’t take care of yourself this whole thing falls apart. Then what?”

“What are you getting at, Cathy?”

She hesitated, then went ahead on a hunch. “Do you still hear from Fujiko?”

He nodded. “About once a month.”

“And?”

“And…what?” 

“What do you think is going on with her?”

“I have no idea, Cathy. She’s vague about the things happening in her life.”

“Do you think she might be waiting for you to come for her? To prove your love for her?”

Callahan blinked rapidly. “No. Not really. Do you?”

“Harry, I think it’s time you found out one way or another what’s going on with her. Because ever since she left you haven’t been the same. Something inside of you went out, a spark, something like that. You need to go to her, talk to her, and figure this out.”

Callahan went to a window and looked out at the sea. He stood there for minutes, working things out in his head, then he turned to Frank. “If I go, Frank, you’re coming with me.”

“Why?”

“To keep me from doing anything stupid. Besides, you got me into this mess.”

“Who? Me?”

“Yeah, and don’t give me that ‘who-me’ crap. It was you – and that goddam book.”

“Yeah,” Bullitt nodded, “okay, Harry. Just let me know when and where.” 

________________________________

The 747 lined up on the runway, then the pilot ran up power to 40% and paused. The jet began to lumber down the runway, then power jumped to nearly 100%. He was in seat 1a and so could see right down the runway; Bullitt was across the aisle and he too was peering down the runway – then the nose rose and suddenly there was nothing but water below. One gentle turn to the north and Callahan looked at the city as it glided by, then the jet was following Interstate 5 north towards Oregon.

He could see three big fires burning from up here, and he knew his guys were down there in the thick of things, carrying fire fighters and supplies to camps all around the Trinity Alps, and for a moment he felt guilty…

‘I should be down there with them…’ he thought, but then his mind drifted to Fujiko and the way she sounded when he called her. Excited. Happy. 

‘So, Cathy was right after all. She was waiting for me the whole time. Damn!’

The stewardess was dressed in traditional Japanese attire, and Callahan realized how much he missed Japan – everything about it, as a matter of fact – and when she brought charcoal broiled vegetables and raw fish his mind went back to the spires of Izu…to the very moment he had fallen in love with Fujiko.

The sun was setting when the jet cruised past Mount Rainier and Seattle off the left wingtip, and just then he looked across to Frank – just finishing his dinner. According to his doctors just last year, he should have been dead – four months ago…and yet now, here he was. He looked at his friend and more than anything else he felt glad they were doing this together. At almost every turn, Frank had been there for him over the last fifteen years, and he was really more like a brother than he was ‘just a friend’…

And right now, Harry realized, he needed Frank more than ever. 

So much loss. After Sara he’d lost his dad, and then, in a way, he’d lost Fujiko too. But now that Frank was still alive? That was a blessing, wasn’t it? That had turned things around for him. Frank’s life was a gift, because he couldn’t really imagine what life would be like without Frank ‘just next door…’ And within the past week, after talking with Cathy, and then with Fujiko, he understood now that he felt the same way about Fujiko. He didn’t want to go through life alone, but more than that, he didn’t want to go through life without her.

Everything else had fallen into place this year, he thought as he watched the setting sun? He was successful now beyond his wildest dreams, doing everything he’d ever wanted to do. Yet something was always missing. Her soft eyes, the gentleness in her voice, the ever-patient harmony she seemed to exude.

But now that he knew what that something was, he wasn’t sure that he could live without it. That’s what this trip was all about. Coming full circle once again, and this time it would last.

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

Come Alive (8)

Come Alive 1

Chapter 8

With Astrid now onboard, Taggart’s sense of humor slipped into overdrive. And now, when he was alone with Dina he referred to the boy as ‘the tripod’ – yet these little references were innocent enough. Astrid was ten years older than Rolf, so this was going to amount to an innocent ‘crush’ – and nothing more – yet even so, the whole thing interested Taggart. Maybe because he could see echoes and elements of his own misspent youth in Rolf’s reactions to the girl, or maybe what he was watching was more like a universal construct: young man sees attractive girl; young man talks constantly about his life and accomplishments; young man walks around with a banana in his shorts…

So, the Astrid situation was a net plus, at least as far as he was concerned. Only good things could come of shaking things up a little…

For Dina, however, Astrid was another matter entirely.

She was convinced the girl had decided to come in order to bag Taggart, to wrap him around her little finger and string him along – or worse, a Gold Digger. She was, in other words, cynical about the girl’s motives. Taggart saw this as the inevitable ‘female bullshit’ that accompanied any territorial challenge like this, and so he ignored it.

Rolf moved his gear from the forepeak to the tiny, coffin-like cabin on the port side opposite the galley, and he seemed happy as a clam in his new digs. What mattered now, as far as Taggart was concerned, was that Astrid was onboard. And he hoped that as far as Rolf was concerned, that would be all that mattered, too. Such is the addled mind of a teenager whose brain is basking in a sea of testosterone, Taggart thought, Rolf’s focus would shift from his own medical condition to Astrid’s more than ample charms. 

True to her word, Astrid brought along several bikinis in her duffel bag, and as the summer had been, so far at least, exceptionally warm, a bikini was on full display from the very beginning of the next leg of Time Bandit’s journey.

So, with Taggart’s nausea now under medicinal control and his next appointment already scheduled in Gothenburg, the Bandit left Oslo on a sunny July morning with the brightest prospects percolating away in Taggart’s mind. It was time, he thought, to have some fun, and Astrid might just be the key ingredient… Even Clyde seemed amused by her presence.

Oslo proper was at the end of a long fjord so it was a fifty mile journey just to get back to the open sea, a trip best made under power unless the winds were ‘just so’ – and of course they weren’t. Taggart laid out a course on the chart plotter that would keep them on the periphery of the main shipping channel as they departed the city; with that done he engaged the autopilot and sat back, content to watch the coming fireworks with a knowing grin plastered all over his face – because after watching Rolf’s reaction to Astrid, Taggart’s goal for this leg of Time Bandit’s voyage was changing. Now his objective was to get the kid well and truly laid.

Of course, human nature takes cues from mother nature, so more often than not the best laid plans do oft go astray. What could go wrong?

+++++

Leaving the fjord and turning southeast in the Skagerrak, Taggart had been expecting more in the way of weather – but that was not to be, at least not today. Sitting at the chart table down below, he began his latest midday log entry:

‘Oslofjord to Kattegat, about one hundred miles to make the entry channel at Gothenburg. Noon readings: OAT: 89 degrees F, sea temp 67F, winds calm, sea state calm, mirror-like. COG 165 degrees magnetic, SOG 5.7 knots, apparent speed 6 kts. Under power, all sails furled. Yanmar now has 400 hours total time. Making approx 6 kts at 1800rpm. Water and fuel tanks on departure: full. Skagerrak is THE main shipping channel for heavy traffic into and out off the Baltic. Radar on, guard zones set at 10, 5, and 1.5 miles, alarms active. Right now we are tracking more than 20 targets on radar, plotting sheets at the wheel, DB making entries and working plots.”

He went down to the galley and poured some mango juice, then went to his cabin and took his noon medications. He looked at his hands, satisfied, because he hadn’t had a jerking twitch in over 24 hours. No nausea, too – and that was a welcome relief…

He found his Tilley Hat and slipped it on, then made his way topsides. Rolf was on the wheel, Dina was working a potentially troublesome radar plot, and Astrid was…? 

“Where’s the girl?” Taggart said as he slid onto the cockpit seat next to Dina.

“Forward,” Rolf said, grinning.

Taggart stood and took a look. She was standing inside the bow pulpit, one hand on the rail, the other on the forestay, and he thought she looked rather like Ursula Andress coming out of the sea in Dr. No. The bright yellow bikini she had on was barely covering anything – and Rolf was totally mesmerized at the sight of her perfect…well, everything looked perfect, Taggart had to admit.

‘Excellent!’ Taggart thought. ‘Everything going to plan.’

He moved over to the wheel. “Rolf, you better go up there and make sure she doesn’t slip and fall, I’ll take the wheel for a while.”

“Sure thing!”

And he was off like a heat seeking missile. Just like any raging tripod could or would.

Dina scowled as she watched Rolf’s launch. “I have never seen a bathing suit quite like that one,” she whispered, her voice barely audible over the engine noise. “There’s almost nothing covering her pubic hair, and those little wisps of fabric over her breasts!? One could hardly call that a bathing suit!”

Taggart looked from Astrid to Dina and back to Astrid again: “Doesn’t leave much to the imagination, that’s for sure. From what I can see though, you’ve got better tits.”

“Henry! Don’t speak in such vulgar terms!”

He looked at her, then looked to the bow again. “Still, her ass may be a little tighter than yours.”

Dina slammed the plotting board down and stomped down the companionway.

“And the crowd goes wild!” Taggart said, holding up his hands in an imaginary ‘high five.’

Rolf was pointing out ships up ahead and land features off to the left – in Norway – and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely – when Dina came back up the companionway…

…wearing her idea of a bikini…

It was shiny black and didn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination, either.

Taggart stared at her, then shook his head.

“What’s wrong, Henry?”

“The kid takes one look at you and he’s gonna pop wood. Sure you want to do this?”

“His mind is elsewhere right now.”

“Mine sure isn’t.”

“Good.”

“You know, women your age aren’t supposed to look like you. You’re like, I don’t know, perverting the laws of nature or something.”

She smiled, drinking his words up like a peach daiquiri.

“Turn around, would you? I wanna check out your ass.”

Her expression turned to cold stone.

“No? Well, I guess you have to know your limitations…”

That did it. She whirled around.

“Well? What do you think?” she sneered.

“Looks good enough to eat.”

She shook her head and sat down, picked up the plotting board and reviewed her work, then looked at the radar. “I’ve been plotting this target for a half hour. It’s going to come close, maybe in about ten minutes.”

Taggart looked at the plot, then at the horizon. “Still too much haze to make anything out.” He ran a VBL, or variable bearing line, to the target and locked onto the blip; the computer in the set painted the target and displayed its course and speed, as well as its point of closest approach and time to closest approach. “Too close for comfort, Dina. Let’s raise the main and sheet it in, and pull the traveller to starboard. I want to increase our visibility a little…”

She went to the winch and pulled the main out, then sheeted the sail flat. Once positioned where Taggart wanted it, she walked up to the bow and spoke to Rolf, then came back to the cockpit.

“What did you tell him?” he asked.

“Just that we might be making a few turns.”

“Okay.”

The radar alarm went off; the target was now on a collision course with them.

“Okay, that’s it.” He cupped his hands and called out to the two up on the bow: “Rolf! Hang on, we’re turning now!” He pointed to the left then he turned hard to port, turning directly towards the shoreline, now only two miles away. When the conflict alarm turned off he turned back to their original course. “Now…let’s see what they do…”

“Looks like they’re altering to port, as well. Moving away from us a little now.”

He relaxed. “So, wanna make a bet?”

“A bet? What about?”

“That Rolf nails her today?”

“Henry! Is that all you ever have on your mind?!”

“Pretty much. Yeah.”

“You’re acting like a teenager!”

“Thank you. Very much, as a matter of fact.”

“Are you still horny?” she whispered.

“Yes, of course. You’ve awakened some dark, hidden beast in me. What about you?”

She nodded. “Yes. So sorry, but I am too.”

He shook his head. “We’ll have to do something about that,” he sighed. “But we won’t get into Gothenburg until midnight or so. Can you wait that long?”

She shook her head. “What about right now?”

“Now? You mean…right here?”

“Yes…stand up…”

He stood and she stood in front of him, then she pulled him free and backed down gently.

“Houston…I do believe we have contact,” he whispered.

She started moving around, doing her thing, and he held on to her hips.

Rolf turned around and looked their way – and his eyes popped wide open. Henry waved and the kid waved back; then he whispered something in Astrid’s ear. She turned around and looked, then she grinned and shot Henry a thumb’s up!

“Houston, I do believe we have a fully engaged tripod on the bow…” Henry said, trying not to laugh.

“I feel pretty full too, Henry,” Dina said as she began shuddering.

“Uh-oh,” Taggart said.

“What?”

“She getting on her knees.”

“Who? Astrid?” Dina looked up but the wheelhouse blocked her line of sight now…

“Yup. Shorts are coming down…and yes, bingo…Houston, the docking probe is in full contact with the tripod!”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Be still, would you? You’re messing up my rhythm.”

“Sorry…”

“Whoops, I do believe we’re witnessing a case of premature…whoa…Houston, looks like we have spontaneous eruption! Repeat, the tripod is erupting!”

“Are you out of your mind!?”

“Just hang on, would you? I’m hitting the short strokes now.”

“Sorry…”

“I think we’re gonna have a daily double, ladies and gentlemen. Yup, thar she blows!”

And that was when a Danish fishing boat, the potential conflict Dina had been tracking on her plotting board, went by – about a hundred meters off their port side. And in an instant her entire crew was at the rail, shouting and waving and whistling at the floor show presented by a bunch of sun-drenched Time Bandits…running from time as if their lives depended on it.

+++++

The last mile of this leg was tough.

One in the morning and Gothenburg’s harbor was wrapped in heavy fog: Taggart could just make out the glow from his red and green bow lights in the mist, and now he was grateful the water was still a sedate mirror-like calm. Under engine-power alone, he was relying solely on electronic sources of information to work his way in; even so, he was cross checking depths as he passed numbered buoys, confirming his position indirectly as Bandit crept into the harbor, and then towards the marina where he’d reserved space for a week.

The state of the art of Bandit’s electronics allowed Taggart to lay out a route that would take him directly to the slip in the marina, and though he hated to do so, that’s exactly what he planned to do. Rolf and Astrid were below, hopefully sound asleep by now, and Dina’s eyes had shut an hour ago – so he decided to let her sleep. He slipped the transmission into neutral and rigged his docking lines, then he set out his fenders, the big rubber bumpers that would cushion the hull from any unexpected blows if he messed up his approach. With all that done, he kept his speed close to one knot and crept ever-so-slowly into the marina. He followed the chartplotter’s course-line through two turns – and still he couldn’t see beyond the bow of the boat – and then he was where the slip was supposed to be…

He made a wide, gentle turn, then he saw pilings ahead, maybe five feet beyond the bow, and yes, he was relieved to find an empty slip right where it was supposed to be. He sighed, let Bandit’s momentum carry them forward, then he slipped the transmission into neutral and let her drift into the slip. At the last moment, he slipped into reverse to slow their forward progress to a stop, then back to neutral – and then he stepped off the starboard rail onto the pier and tied off the bow and stern. Once his spring-lines were set he went back to the cockpit and got the shore power lines connected, then he shut down the engine.

He ran his fingers through Dina’s hair, tilted her head back and kissed her forehead.

“Hmm?” she moaned. “Need me to do something?”

“We’re here. Go below and get some sleep.”

Her eyes popped open. “What do you mean, we’re here?”

“We’re at the dock, already tied off…”

She stood and looked around. “How did you…? What…?”

“I’ve been doing this for a while. I’m actually pretty good at it, too.”

“You let me sleep? Why?”

He kissed her on the forehead again. “You looked comfortable. I didn’t want to disturb you.”

She wrapped her arms around him. “You do love me, I think…maybe just a little?”

“Maybe just a little,” he said before he kissed her again, this time not on the forehead.

They both heard it then. A gentle slapping sound, very rhythmic, the Bandit moving from the motion just a little…

“You know,” Taggart said, “either she’s a nymphomaniac or he’s got the biggest nuts in Europe. How many times can one guy get off in a day?”

“You’re just jealous…”

“You’re goddam right I’m jealous!”

“You do pretty well for…”

“Yeah, I know. Don’t say it.”

“Say what?”

“For someone my age. If I hear that one more time I’m gonna go postal on somebody…”

“Go postal?”

“Yeah. I’m gonna mail ‘em a letter.”

She shook her head. “I’ll never understand you, Henry Taggart.”

“By golly…I sure hope you don’t.”

“Would you mind if I loved you? Maybe just a little?”

“Right now? Up here? Again?”

“Why not?”

He looked around and now the fog only seemed thicker. “Why not, indeed…”

+++++

Dina woke him two hours before his appointment: “You’d better shower. And…put on some clean clothes this time.”

He sat up, yawned, then stretched. “God-dam that hurts! What’s with the whole burning leg thing?”

“It’s the Avastin. Circulation in your legs is being compromised.”

“Oh, man, does that sound not fun. What happens if it reaches my…you know…my tripod?”

She shook her head. “We’ll deal with that when and if…”

“Right.”

“Now…get in the shower.”

“Right. Where’s Rolf?”

“I stuck my head in the cabin. They’re still going at it, as you call it.”

“Goddam…I want a testicle transplant. Two of ‘em, as a matter of fact.”

“Henry! Shower!”

He went to the head and turned on the water. “Dina, if she keeps doing him so often his pecker is just gonna fall off…”

“All I can say…she must have the labia of a rhinoceros. Is the water warm enough?”

“Yeah, fine. You wanna join me?”

“I wish we had time.”

“Well,” he said, looking down at his crotch, “that sure spoiled the mood.”

“Aw, did Captain Woody lose his…”

“Captain Woody? Where the hell did that come from?”

“Get dressed! Clean clothes! I’ll see you up on deck…”

+++++

The Sahlgrenska University Hospital was on the east side of the city and not at all far from the marina; it was so close it was hardly worth the ride in the taxi. Red brick, copper roofs green from standing up to the moist sea air, Henry took one look at the sprawling complex and decided he didn’t like the place. More to the point, he had a bad feeling about the day ahead and had already decided he was going to hate everything about this hospital. By this point, however, Dina could see the flashing red warning signs in his eyes, but she was getting used to his moods. Like all men – she told herself again as they walked up to the main entrance – Henry Taggart was reasonably predictable. And like most of us, she sighed, he was afraid of death.

They made it to oncology with little time to spare and she went in with him to meet his latest oncologist. She went over his charts and orders – his most recent had already been faxed over – and Taggart was sent off to the lab for bloodwork. When that was over and done with he went to get an MRI. An hour later he met with the oncologist again. This time without Dina.

The physician looked grim.

“Mr. Taggart, the radiologist reports metastasis to the lungs and lymph nodes. I’m not sure what you expect right now…”

“To make it to Christmas.”

The oncologist sighed. “Yes, your friend told me as much. Well, in the most aggressive case we could go in and remove the affected lobe, perhaps dissect the impacted nodes away from healthy tissue…it would be heroic but in the end the outcome would be unchanged. I’m afraid at this point that even chemotherapy will be ineffective. As for December? It is still possible, but I wouldn’t count on much more than that.”

He nodded. “I think I was expecting this,” he said. “Still, the finality is unsettling.”

“I’ve read about a few of the things you have done in Norway. You are living a big life right now, a life that only a few ever get to experience. I hope you cherish each moment. And frankly, I’m quite jealous. I would love to break away and do these things myself.”

“So…why don’t you?”

“Perhaps, in a few years.”

Taggart nodded. “In my experience people keep saying that to themselves until it’s about half-past too late, then they sit down in an easy chair and dream about all the things they never got to do.”

“Yes. Sounds perverse, doesn’t it?”

“It is perverse. Regardless, I’m grateful for your honesty.”

The physician nodded. “If I were to move on from here, I would try to be finished with this journey by October. Beyond that, I think the discomfort will become too much for even you.”

“By October?”

The physician shrugged. “Maybe sooner, maybe not. Where are you headed now?”

“Through the canals to Stockholm.”

“A wonderful trip, though crowded this time of year. You will enjoy every minute, I feel sure.” Then the man stood, held out his hand. “It was a great pleasure to meet you, Mr. Taggart.”

“Yes, and again, I appreciate your honesty. In this day and age it’s a rare thing.”

Dina met him in the waiting room, and he could tell she had been crying – though she had put on her bravest face for him now. She came and fell into his arms, and he kissed her forehead again and again. 

“What is to become of us, Henry Taggart?”

“I think we should go find a preacher and get married,” he said gently.

She pulled back, looked into his eyes. “Would this make you happy?”

“I think I’d be the happiest man alive.”

“Then we should go do this, but could we do so in Bergen.”

“Alright. Fine by me.” He called Sigrid the Lawyer and asked if she could facilitate things, and she said she’d be happy to, as long as she was invited to the ceremony. 

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said before she rang off.

“What do you want me to tell Rolf?” she asked. 

“We’ll focus on the happy things right now. Let’s leave all that other stuff alone for a while.”

“I need to call Britt,” she sighed, a tear rolling down her face.

“And I need to call SAS. I hope there’s a direct flight from here…”

+++++

There were no printed invitations, just a few phone calls made to friends and associates. 

The dress code for the ceremony would, however, be rigidly enforced: sailing shorts, polo shirts, boat shoes with no socks, though baseball caps were considered optional. 

Sigrid the Lawyer secured a civil magistrate to officiate the game, and Rolf stood as Henry’s Best Man, while Britt and Eva stood beside Dina. The ceremony lasted ten minutes, the reception was held down at the open air fish market; it went on until long past midnight. The local lobster population was seriously depleted, aquavit was rumored to be in short supply for days after the event.

It was decided that Rolf would take the semester off from in-person classwork, that his teachers would provide learning materials and that Dina would help with instruction. It appeared by then that Astrid would remain with him for the time being – to help with his continuing education, she said. 

Britt and Eva were perplexed by the whole affair, though Britt was happy for Dina – to a degree. But, Taggart remembered, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Before the little group returned to Gothenburg, Taggart met with Sigrid the Lawyer in her Bergen office. They talked for a few hours, as a matter of fact.

+++++

Their first order of business, on the group’s return to Sweden, was to pick up Clyde at the veterinarian’s boarding kennel, and he seemed none the worse for his break from shipboard routines. By the time they made it back to Time Bandit Henry was breathless, pale, and his hands were rattling; even Clyde sat up and noticed in the taxi. After Henry made it to the cockpit Clyde came up and started sniffing him, starting at the ankles and working his way up one appendage at a time. When his nose hit Taggart’s chest he stopped what he was doing and started whimpering, then his tail slipped between his legs…

“I know, good boy, I know. The news wasn’t all that good, I’m afraid.”

That warranted a lick on the face, and Taggart leaned into the unsolicited affection, grinned at the purity of his friend’s love, and then he scooped up the pup and held him close. Clyde usually moaned at the close exchanges, but when he draped his front paws over Henry’s shoulders in a kind of canine hug, an astonished Dina stopped and looked at this overt display; Rolf had his phone out and snapped a few pictures of the moment – because Clyde’s feelings seemed to perfectly sum up the flavor of this afternoon. In fact, Dina thought Clyde and Henry seemed to be joining symbiotically, like they had some kind of spiritual connection with each other.

But Henry felt different now. ‘Maybe,’ he thought, ‘because everything feels like it’s changed after getting married. Like…a couple of days ago I was still like Rolf…I was still just a big kid. No real responsibilities, no binding ties to another person. But now? I’m not so sure what I am, or even who I am now…but I am no longer alone.’

No longer alone…

Dina helped him below to his cabin, got him under a blanket and his head propped up on a pillow, then Clyde hopped up and cuddled-in beside him. Yet Henry was asleep in an instant, and Clyde didn’t no what to make of this sudden change.

“How bad is it, Grandma-ma,” Rolf asked her while they washed down the Bandit’s deck and hardware, clearing away several days worth of grime and soot.

She looked at him and shook her head. “Henry will tell you. For now, just spend as much time with him as you can.”

Rolf nodded, but his shoulders sagged, his frown deepened. “I can’t imagine what he must be feeling.”

“Well, I do know that he loves you, and perhaps now nothing is more important to him.”

“Why did you marry him, Grandma-ma?”

She stopped what she was doing and looked up. “It’s funny, but the moment I saw him I knew this moment was coming. You and I, sitting out here just like we are now and you asking me this question…”

“Mother says you see the future.”

She shook her head. “No, that’s not true.”

“Then why do think you felt what you did.”

“I saw heartbreak, Rolf, when I first looked into his eyes. Mine, and yours – not his. Even your mothers, I think. And all of it…bound up in Henry’s eyes, and in his smile. I knew what was coming…”

“Then…why?”

“Because sometimes life just comes at you, Rolf. And you either come alive to the possibilities, or you just whither away inside the rot of lingering fear…and then you make for yourself a life not quite lived, if that makes any sense. Henry ran from that rot, Rolf, and I think that is what he hopes for you.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Don’t be. That is not what he wants, and it is not what you want. Not really, Rolf. Still, the choice is yours now, today, as it will be for the rest of your life. You can choose to live, or you can choose to embrace fear.”

“So, when you decided to marry him, you chose…”

“Yes, exactly. And the choice was a simple one.”

“I understand.”

“Good, now we must get all this grime off the deck.”

“It’s funny to think of Time Bandit in a river, crossing a meadow…”

“Well, that is the beauty of a boat like this. It is a magic carpet that can take you almost anywhere you’d wish to go. Now, I haven’t had a chance to ask you about Astrid. What is going on with you two, Rolf?”

“I think it is just as you say, Grandma-ma. It was a simple choice.”

“I see. But Rolf, please consider this: you are young, and this is your first experience with love. Do not rush things. Take your time, get to know this girl.”

“She says many of the same things to me.”

“She is a good soul, I think.”

Rolf nodded. “I think so too.” 

Astrid came up, back in her bikini again but now with a t-shirt on, and she watched Rolf at work, a gentle kind of smile warming her face.

“I think Henry just got in the shower,” she said, and startled, Dina looked her way.

“Oh? He was sound asleep a few minutes ago?” She moved to go down the companionway steps and check on him, and found he was indeed in the shower. “How are you feeling?” she asked.

“My mouth tastes like roadkill, but maybe that’s because Clyde’s ass was about two inches from my nose.”

“You were snoring a little. Is your mouth dry?”

“Yeah. Big time.”

“You are dehydrated, probably from the airplane. Are you hungry yet?”

“Not really, but I know I need to eat something today.”

“You can’t take those medicines on an empty stomach, Henry. You will get sick to your stomach if you do.” She could hear his sigh, deep and full of frustration. ‘I have to back-off,’ she told herself. ‘How would I feel if he admonished me all the time…?’ “Does anything sound good to you, at all?”

“Maybe some soup.”

“What if I bake some fresh bread?”

He stepped out of the shower and began drying-off. “We should go out tonight; who knows where we’ll end up tomorrow.”

“We should go slow,” she said. “Stop when we find a village that looks interesting.”

“You got my vote on that one.”

“Does Thai sound good tonight?”

“Sure. Good soup. How’s Rolf doing?”

“Worried about you. We talked a little. Let him think about things for a while.”

“Okay. Is it cold in here, or is it just me?”

“It’s cool out this evening. You might bring a coat.”

“You know, I don’t think I have any long pants onboard.”

“Really?”

“Just my offshore overalls and some kind of fleece under-layer.”

“Maybe we should shop in Stockholm, get some woolen slacks?”

“Well, we better get going. I can hear his stomach growling form here…”

They rode into the old city center to a highly recommended Thai place, then after dinner they walked a long shopping boulevard before riding back to the marina. Taggart’s hands were shaking badly by the time he walked onto the aft deck; still, he sat at the wheel and looked around the deck.

“Rolf, you did a great job today. Bandit looks great.”

“I had a good teacher,” he said, grinning. “Feel like some company?”

“Sure, sure. Have a seat.”

“Henry? How about some tea?” Dina asked.

He nodded. “Sounds about right.” After the girls went below he turned to Rolf. “You ready for the canal?”

“I think so. I was reading more about it today. Some of the locks sound challenging.”

“With four of us it ought to be okay.”

“Grandma-ma said something interesting this afternoon. She called Time Bandit a kind of magic carpet machine, a companion to take you anywhere you want to go.”

“I never thought of her life that, but in a way I guess she is. So, if you could go anywhere on her, where would that be?”

“Tahiti, I think. There seems to be something magical about those islands.”

Taggart nodded. “Good choice. This would be a good boat for that trip, too.”

“Why did you decide to come to Norway, to Scandinavia?”

“After my dad died I found a bunch of books about sailing around here. He’d even made a few notes on things he’d like to do once he got here, and the things he’d need on a trip like this.”

“So, in a way you made this trip for him?”

Taggart sighed. “Maybe. Maybe not for him, but to be with him – in spirit. For many years we didn’t talk much, I kinda lost track, dropped the ball. My life became one long pursuit – chasing money, making as much as I could.”

“Did you make a lot?”

Taggart nodded. “Too much. But the price I paid was too high. If I would have kept my head out of my ass I’d have known what my dad wanted to do…that he needed me.”

“So, you think he wanted to make the trip with you?”

Taggart nodded. “Yeah. I know he did, and I think that’s why he taught me to sail. Hell, he taught me about life while he taught me to sail. And he knew everything, too. About the oceans, sharks, whales, you name it. And navigation. My God…he knew absolutely everything about navigation!”

“Where did you sail with him?”

“Oh, up and down the Pacific coast. Washington and Oregon on one trip, and south to Mexico several times. Places like Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Acapulco. We raced to Hawaii twice, did pretty well, too. There used to be a race to Tahiti, but it took too long so we never did it.”

“What’s your best memory?”

“From sailing with him?”

“Yes, please.”

“When I was a kid, I mean really little, I used to watch his hands – on the wheel. Unless it was really rough out he usually steered with just a finger or two on the wheel. He said he could feel the water better that way. I thought it was magic at first, because, well I was pretty small at the time and I could barely turn the wheel. Not him. He made everything look almost effortless.”

“You still miss him, don’t you?”

“Every day. Some people define who we want to be in life, Rolf. They point the way. For me, that person was my dad.”

Dina and Astrid came topsides with tea and cookies, and Taggart put his arms around Dina’s shoulders. “So, do you feel married yet?” he asked.

She nodded and smiled. “Very much so,” she added, kissing his forehead. 

A group of kids was gathered on the grass, a couple of guys were playing guitar and singing – and they sounded pretty good. Henry looked at Rolf and Astrid; both were looking that way.

“Why don’t you two go check it out,” he said. “Might be fun, and look! No old farts!”

They laughed, then they skipped off the stern like a couple of rocks across a pond.

“Fun to be that age again,” he sighed.

“I’m enjoying this one right now.”

“Yeah? Well, me too, as a matter of fact.”

“What time do you want to leave in the morning?”

“Oh,” he said, “the tides look good around six, six thirty. If not, we’ll burn a ton of fuel getting through the city.”

“Well, the slower the better, as far as I’m concerned,” Dina said, a slight tinge of sadness in her voice.

“Oh?”

“I don’t think I want this to ever end.”

He nodded. He understood. Time was the real enemy now, a predator – closing in for the kill.

© 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. 45

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 45

‘I need time to think, Harry.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You gonna do it?”

“Hell, yes, I’m gonna do it.”

“What about the model trains?”

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

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

“Of course you’ll do it, right?”

“With Fujiko gone, I reckon so.”

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

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

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

“I doubt I could sell it, Dad.”

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

“Okay.”

“How’s Frank?” 

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

“Your new place finished yet?”

“Yup. Moved in while Fujiko was here.”

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

“It’s a tank.”

“Great gas mileage, I bet?”

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

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

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

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

“Another Ford?”

“Nothing but, far as I’m concerned.”

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

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

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

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

“It’s not even noon yet, Frank.”

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

“You feel up to that?”

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

“Funny, huh?”

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

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

“Really? Can I come along?”

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

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

“If you’re throwing up, you won’t…”

“I gotta question.”

“Shoot.”

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

“I was wondering when you were gonna ask.”

“Well? Should we?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

“I feel fuckin’ naked without my 45.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gonna puke?”

“Yeah, think so.”

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

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

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

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

“I may faint.”

“What? Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Callahan sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Callahan looked down, shook his head.

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

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

________________________________

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

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

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

“When can we hit him?”

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

“I heard this is gonna be a big one.”

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

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

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

“No way!”

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

“So…when’s this going down?”

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

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

“So who is this shithead?” Rooney asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“So, what are you going to do?”

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

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

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

“Yeah. Follow me.”

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

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

“The Agusta-Bell AB-212-ASW variant.”

“The what?” Frank asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yup. And something called MAD gear.”

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

“What’s MAD gear?” Frank asked.

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

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

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

“Yup.”

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

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

“And the mini-guns?”

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

“In those crates, huh?”

“Yup.”

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

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

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

“Oh. Why?”

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

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

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

“Where is he? How is he doing?”

“I’m sorry, Harry. He’s gone.”

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

________________________________

They used encrypted handsets that night. 

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

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

“Able copies.”

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

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

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

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

“Got it,” Callahan replied.

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

“Anyone on the south island?”

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

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

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

On the second dip the operator spoke up…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” Rooney added, “mine, too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go ahead,” Callahan snarled.

“Arm ASROC Two,” Rooney said.

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

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

“Missile launcher,” Callahan yelled.

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

“Fire ASROC Two,” Rooney said.

“Firing Two.”

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

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

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

“Eight-five magnetic, eighteen miles.”

“Fuel?”

“We’re good. Pour it on.”

________________________________

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

_________________________________

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

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

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

“You’re Harry, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are your plans for the house?”

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

“The basement?”

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

“And a model railroad layout?”

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

“Will do, Mr. Callahan.”

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

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

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

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

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

…but then another thought crept in…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Any ideas?”

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

“Do it.”

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

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

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

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

“Sounds fair. What about Mariposa?”

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

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

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

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

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

“No shit? You gonna own up to that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you drive?”

“Yeah. You ready now?”

“Yup.”

“K. Let’s go.”

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

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

“You know my apartment building?”

She nodded.

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

“Got a realtor who can make some inquiries?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let me guess. Suffering Bastards, right?”

“Ah. So you’re familiar?”

“We have one in Dallas.”

Rooney nodded then went to see Callahan.

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

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

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

“How’d he do that?”

“Playing basketball at the Y.”

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

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

“Fuck yes.”

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

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

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

“Screw you, Rooney.”

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

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

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

“Any fires up there now?”

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

“What do we have up there right now?”

“One Skycrane, one Huey.”

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

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

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

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

Then he realized she realized he was staring at her.

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

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

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

“Let’s do it,” she said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, it didn’t happen?”

Callahan shrugged. 

“So, that’s it? You ain’t tellin’?”

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

“Yup.”

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

“The Court.”

“Ah.”

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

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

“The ranch?”

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

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

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

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

“So, why San Francisco?”

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

“No. Never.”

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

“No entangling relationships?”

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

“Sorry.”

“I’m not. What about you?”

“No one.”

“Never been married?”

“No one,” he repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come Alive (7)

Come Alive 1

Chapter 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he saw a rattlesnake. Huge. Preposterously so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Oh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You want me to tell you? Here, now?”

“Of course. Please.”

He closed his eyes, found the memory…

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

“What is this silicon blank?”

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

“Okay.”

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

“A what?”

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

“Yes, okay. The big one, correct?”

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

She shrugged.

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

“This is going somewhere, I trust?”

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

“Did it work?”

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

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

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

“What?”

“You know, a fetus?”

“Ah.”

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

“Preggers?”

“Pregnant.”

“Ah.”

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

“Pink who?”

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

She shook her head.

“That figures.”

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

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

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

“Yeah. Right. So, you were saying?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I understand.”

“Is Eva going to stay with you?”

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

“How is the Parkinson’s?”

“Still manageable.”

“Is she a sailor?”

“No, not really.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Heartache? You’re kidding, right?”

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good. I’ll see you in a half hour.”

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

“Bark, bark…”

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

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

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

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

“Chemo today?”

He nodded.

“So, what are your plans now?”

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

“Is that the best course of action?”

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

“You will continue with the therapy there?”

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

“Excuse me?”

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

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

“I hear you.”

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

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

“Yes. She is quite concerned.”

“Yes, well, that’s the plan.”

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

“Assuming they know, you mean?”

“You may assume they do know.”

“Ah, the lovely Dina strikes again.”

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

“It’s that bad?”

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

“So was single handing across the Atlantic.”

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

“So, what you are saying is…”

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

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

“No. Dina and Rolf.”

“But she told me…”

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

“Oh, I see.”

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

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

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

“You want to trade?”

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You think so?”

“Yeah. The HMS Bounty.”

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

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

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

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

He grinned and ducked below.

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

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

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

“I’m sorry.”

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

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

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

“You are incorrigible, Henry Taggart.”

“I do try.”

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

“No thanks,” they both replied.

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

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

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

“I need some sun.”

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

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

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

“Sure. Did you check on Clyde?”

“Sound asleep, snoring a little.”

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

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

“You don’t like Elvis?”

“No, not at all.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taggart was mesmerized, entranced. 

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

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

“Really? You like them?”

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

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

“Sure.”

“I’ve never had an orgasm,” she said.

“What? Never?”

“No, not once.”

“When’s the last time you had sex?”

“When Britt was conceived.”

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

“What?”

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

“Good God No!”

“It’s not a mortal sin, you know?”

“It’s disgusting!”

“Disgusting? Really?”

“Yes. Completely.”

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

“What do you mean by that?”

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

“I am not a prude!”

“Yes, you are.”

“I am not!”

“Are too.”

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

“What is grandma-ma doing up there?”

“Looking for prudes.”

“Prudes? What is this?”

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

“Knockers?”

“Tits, Rolf.”

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

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

“Princess Leia…I like that!”

“I’m sure she will too.”

+++++

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

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

She looked up, looked into his eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The day after tomorrow, at 0900.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dina shook her head at that one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rolf nodded and grinned salaciously.

“You done the deed yet?”

“What?” 

“You know…the hunka-chunka…?”

“What is that?” the boy asked.

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

“You mean, sex?”

“I mean sex.”

“No, no, not yet.”

“Not interested?”

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

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

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

“Ah. Well then.”

“What?”

“Oh, I was just thinking.”

+++++

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

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

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

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

…but she was ripping his shorts off by then… 

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

…and then she got to work…

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

+++++

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

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

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

“Jesus…how come so many?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Briefly, yes.”

“Then you know what to expect, no?”

“Nothing good.”

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

“I am.”

“Why here, and not at home?”

“My sailboat is my home.”

“Really? How amazing. You sailed here?”

“I did.”

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

“Yup, that was me.”

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

“That, on the other, is not me.”

“What?”

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

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

“Yup. Kind of like The Flying Dutchman.”

“I do not know about this.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Are you depressed?”

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

“You are joking, yes?”

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

“But…”

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

“Obtuse?”

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

“But, the treatments…”

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

“Like me? Really?”

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

“No, no…I can come.”

“Excellent. What time can you come?”

“After work…maybe around 1800?”

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

“You know, Indian is my favorite.”

“Really? How ‘bout that.”

“Excuse me?”

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

“Yes, there are several in the city.”

“Well, I can’t wait.”

+++++

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

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

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

“But…you do, do you not?”

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

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

“That new drug seems to be helping.”

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

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

“What? Why…?”

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

“You are terrible…”

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

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

“Did you bake these?”

“Yes, of course. Blueberry and walnut.”

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

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

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

“Okay, got it…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When are you leaving Oslo?” Astrid asked.

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

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

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

“You wouldn’t mind if I came?”

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

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

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

Rolf’s eyes rolled and disappeared from view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A bikini. Does that count?”

“Excellent! That’s just – perfect!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fire away.”

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

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

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

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

“What was yours like?”

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

“Do you regret that now?”

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

“Your dad was a lawyer, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What did your mother do?”

“She was a doctor, a physician.”

“So, like my mom, right?”

Taggart nodded. “Yeah.”

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

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

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

“Really? I never got that impression.”

“Henry?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you going to die soon?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As a firecracker, Amigo.”

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

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

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

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

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

Come Alive (6)

Come Alive 1

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

“No. He found me in Bergen.”

“He found you?”

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

“I see.”

“Do you? Excellent!”

“I keep forgetting…you are the comedian.”

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

She nodded. “You are right. I could.”

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

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

“That’s amazing,”Taggart said. 

“What is?”

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

“I could use a new friend, Henry.”

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

“Peter has left me.”

“What? Why?”

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

“But how could he possibly know that?”

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

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

“Yes.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Anything positive would be greatly appreciated.”

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

“You are not angry?”

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

And she did, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You do know that I am ill, right?”

“No? You are with illness?”

“Yes, very much. Cancer.”

“You are being treated, correct?”

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

“A little? what does that mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

“Dindi, I think.”

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

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

“Am I?”

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

“Do what?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it really so simple?”

“Clyde? What do you think?”

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

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

That got two barks.

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

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

Right behind Time Bandit.

Britt behind the wheel.

Alone.

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

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

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

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

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

“Her situation?”

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

“And…that is?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Henry. This is the truth.”

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

He was sitting in the Oncology waiting room, waiting.

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

Once there, he waited some more.

And then Dina came. Lovely, furious Dina.

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

“Oh, are you?”

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

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“So, what can I do for you today?”

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

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

“Something like that, yes.”

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

“Can you help me, Dina?”

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

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

She came to him, kissed away his tears.

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

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

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 44

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 44

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

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

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

“Harry? What is it?”

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

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

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

“How do you get out to your house?”

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

“Next door? Really?”

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

“So, you need a car.”

“Well, do you drive?”

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

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

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

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

“So, what would be best for you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So?”

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

“Could we go now please?”

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

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

“I feel like I am starving!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It looks like a truck.”

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

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

Callahan shrugged. 

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

“Ah, I see.”

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

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

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

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

“Do you sell extended warranties?” Harry asked.

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

“Both.”

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

“Yes,” Harry said, instantly on guard.

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

“Yes, I did.”

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

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

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

Fujiko bowed. “I understand.”

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

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

“Let’s try this one first.”

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

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

“Okay. Gimme a couple of minutes.”

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

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

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

“Harry?”

“Yes?”

“I am hungry again.”

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

Pattison was waiting for him with a price.

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

“Maybe I can get a little more…?”

“Try about two more and we’re good.”

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

“Okay.”

“Should I be concerned?”

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

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

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

“What about financing?”

“Nope. Not necessary.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Never been. Is it any good?”

“Food is good. Booze is even better.”

“Okay, sounds fun. See you there.”

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

“What?” they both said.

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

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

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

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

“It’s not that big…!?”

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

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

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

“No-o-o? Howzdat?”

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

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

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

“Helicopters.”

“Helicopters?”

“You done any flying since the war?”

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

“So, you’re still current?”

“Yeah? Why?”

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

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

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

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

“I am.”

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

“But the need is there, right?”

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

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

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

“You know Rooney, over at the Presidio?”

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

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

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

“Think he’d be up for this?”

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

“Fujiko? Do you mind?”

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

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

“Much better, thank you.”

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

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

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

_________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello there!”

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

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

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

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

Everyone laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank rolled his eyes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure.” 

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

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

“Oh?”

“Thyroid was the first guess.”

“So, nothing major?”

Callahan shrugged. 

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

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

“Okay, talk to you Monday.”

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

“No, I don’t think so.”

“So, what are you going to do now?”

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

“No kidding?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks, Harry. I mean it, thanks.”

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

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

“I know I will…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay, consider the word given.”

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

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

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

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

“No. You feelin’ okay?”

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

“Got it.”

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

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

“Really?”

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

“You wanna do it too?”

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

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

“Can’t see any reason why not.”

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

“Far out, man! I’m on it!”

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

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

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

“Don? Harry. How’s it going?”

“Alright, I guess.”

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

“Doing what? A shuttle, you say?”

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

“Sounds interesting.”

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

“This week too soon?”

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

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

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

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

“Sounds good.”

“Harry? Thanks for thinking of me.”

“Not a problem, Amigo.”

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

“Yeah, Fujiko wasn’t real impressed with this place, either.”

“Your damn lucky she didn’t ask you to take her straight to the airport!”

“You wanna drop by your radio place on the way out of the city?”

“Yeah, I’d change the subject real fast, too.”

“So?”

“Yeah, let’s do it. I’m on the clock, remember?”

Then the telephone rang.

Callahan: Yo?

Carl Stanton: Harry? I got a little issue down here.

Callahan: Carl? What’s up?

Stanton: I don’t know if you remember this one, but I got something that concerns a family disturbance you worked when you were on patrol, right after you got your stripes. Little girl, about five years old then, she was beat up pretty bad by her old man. You found her in an alley across the street from her home…

Callahan: I remember.

Stanton: Well, she’s here and she’s been looking for you. She says it’s important, that her life is on the line.

Callahan: And what are you not telling me, Carl?

Stanton: Well…she won’t tell us a damn thing. Says she’ll only talk to you face to face, not on the phone.

Callahan: I’m with Frank. Is it safe for us to come down there?

Stanton: “I don’t know. The vibe I’m picking up is now that you’re retired, so you’re both little people again. No threat, so no big deal.

Callahan: Is she alone?

Stanton: Yeah.

Callahan: Take her to the Park Radio, the parking lot in back. We’ll be there in half an hour.

Callahan hung up the phone, saw Bullitt looking at him. “Sounds like fun,” Frank said.

“Sounds like the ghost of calls long past,” Callahan sighed. “A disturbance I worked, girl beat up and I worked her old man over pretty bad. Carl was there…

“Yeah. I remember that one. Sam had me doing background checks on you around that time.”

“Well, the girl’s back and she says she needs to talk to me, and me only.”

“You got everything you need from this dump?”

“Dump? You callin’ my place a dump?”

“Yeah, I am. And if I was moving into your place out there I wouldn’t bring a damn thing from here. Start out new, throw all this shit away.”

“I’m gonna keep the apartment, Frank.”

“What? Why?”

“A., it’s cheap. and If we’re doin’ a lotta stuff here in the city we’re gonna need a place to crash. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the idea of making that drive two times a day, five days a week.”

“Yeah, I can see that, but you need to get like some kind of professional cleaner in here, have them scrub this place down…”

“It’s not that bad…”

“Harry, look! There’s mold growing on the ceiling trim! This place is a fucking rat-hole!”

“Geez, don’t hold back, Frank…tell me what you really think…”

“Come on. It’ll take us a half hour to get to the radio place.”

“Not if you drive it won’t.”

Bullitt grinned. “True. Very true.”

_______________________________

He didn’t recognize the girl, but the last time he’d seen her was something like eighteen years ago. Now she looked like many victims of child abuse he’d seen over the years: overweight, bad hygiene, poor appearance…low self esteem, the shrinks called it. Callahan smiled, held out his hand but the girl ran into his arms and hugged him.

“You saved my life,” she whispered over and over again, and when he pulled away he saw that she’d been crying.

“You okay? Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“Who’s he?”

“This is Captain Bullitt, my boss. Anything you can say to me you can say to him, too. I trust him with my life everyday, and you can too.”

She nodded. “It’s my dad. He just got out of San Quentin. He found me, told us he’s going to take care of me real good. His words, not mine. And he also said he’s going to take care of you, too.”

Frank stepped closer. “You said that he told ‘us’ he’s going to take care of you. Who’s us?”

“My roommates.”

“So, he knows where you live. What else does he know?”

“I’m not sure, but I’ve heard there’s a real network on the inside. Information is like life in San Quentin, I mean it’s the currency that keeps them alive. When you know someone is looking for information about somebody you get your outside network to get it for you. They trade information all the time in there…”

“I know,” Frank said. “What about your roommates? Did he say all this in front of them?”

She nodded. “Yeah. They’re scared, too.”

“Anything else you can tell me about him?” Callahan said, writing down everything the girl said for next half hour. 

“We’ve got to get a few things in here before we leave. Can I drop you someplace?”

“I don’t know what to do, Officer Callahan. I don’t even think I should go home anymore.”

“Is there anyplace else you can stay?”

“No, not really, but the thing is I know he’s looking for you, too. He used to work with a gang so I know he can get information about…”

“A gang?” Bullitt said. “Do you which one?”

“Kinda, I heard him mention the name Threlkis a couple of times when we was out on the front porch.”

Frank looked at Callahan.

“You mind if we drop you off at a shelter tonight,” Harry asked. “That way I’ll know where to find you. Are you working now?”

The girl shook her head.

“You have any money?”

Again, she shook her head so Callahan gave her some.

“Okay, listen up. First thing, we’re going to get you through this. Next, once in the shelter you don’t leave for any reason. Got that? No reason, for no one.”

She nodded, wiped away a tear.

“Next, we find you a place to live after we take care of business, then we get your life back on track. Can you handle that? Now…what’s the most important thing?”

“I don’t leave until you come get me.”

“Okay, you get in the back seat and hang tight. We’ll be back in a minute.”

He got her in the Rover and locked the doors with the key fob and followed Bullitt into the radio store. Bullitt needed information more than anything, so he picked up brochures and looked over the available classes for Ham radio certification.

When they went back out to the Rover there was shattered glass all over the parking lot, the rear passenger door was standing wide open, and the girl was slumped over on the rear seat, a single bullet hole in the middle of her forehead.

Harry and Frank looked at one another. “The girls,” Bullitt said as he ran for the phone in the store…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (Covid-19) waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. To begin, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive (5)

Come Alive 1

Chapter 5

Taggart was enjoying the sun. The heat felt great, especially around his neck and on his chest, at least where his polo shirt was unbuttoned. At one point in his life he’d routinely walked around on deck, even in marinas, with no shirt on at all. Now now. That hideous scar where his left breast used to be nauseated him, and he couldn’t imagine walking around in public with that thing showing.

Clyde seemed to be enjoying the sun, but more to the point the old boy seemed to enjoy having Taggart back onboard. He was on his side now, his back pressed into Taggart’s thigh, and he moaned from time to time, especially when Taggart rubbed behind his ears. His head popped up when something ‘thumped’ down below, but when Taggart didn’t move Clyde remained fixed in place.

“Just a fish, boy,” Taggart said to sooth the savage beast. 

“Hello-o-o,” someone down on the dock said, and the woman’s voice sounded vaguely familiar so he turned around and looked. It was that reporter…the one from Bodø…the one with the bodacious legs…

“Hi there,” he said. “You sure are a long way from home!”

“Would it be alright if I came on?”

“Darlin’, you can come anywhere you want.”

She looked at him and grinned. “Thanks,” she said before she hopped across to the swim platform on the stern. She had no trouble climbing onto the aft deck either, despite the provocative heels she was wearing.

“Goddam it all to hell, woman, but I do believe you have the greatest legs I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Oddly enough, she beamed on hearing that. “Thanks,” she said. “I used to dance, and I still run a lot.”

“Well, whatever the hell you’re doing, please don’t stop. The world needs more legs like yours.”

“I heard you were in the hospital again, and that there is some trouble with your continuing the trip?”

“Yup, I heard that too.”

“Is it true?”

“True? Hell, I don’t know. You’d have to ask Dina Bauer about all that stuff.”

“What happened out there? You have heard, of course, that now the Navy and the Coast Guard regard you as some kind of a hero too?”

“Really? No, I hadn’t heard that. More like being in the wrong place at the right time.”

“Who is your new friend?” she said, reaching down to rub the dog. “He wasn’t here last time I saw you, was he?”

“Clyde? No, he found me in Bergen after we got back. Made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so now…here he is.”

“He looks very old.”

“Yes. Actually, he’s my twin brother.”

“Ah, yes, I see the resemblance. He is very handsome indeed. Would you mind if I asked what was your illness?”

“No, I don’t mind your asking, but I hope you don’t expect an answer.”

“Oh, no, Mr. Taggart…this is, how do you say it, off the record.”

“Ah. Well, that makes all the difference.”

“So?”

“I have breast cancer.”

She grinned. “Do you always joke about everything?”

“Always. And I have breast cancer.”

Her eyes changed in a heartbeat. “You do? Really?”

“You wanna see the scar?”

When she nodded he lifted his shirt – and he watched, fascinated, as her eyes went as wide as saucers. “Is it on just the one side?”

“So far.”

“Did they grade it?”

“Yup. And you don’t want to know.”

“I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

“Neither did I.”

“And you still want to continue your voyage?”

“Yes, of course. After a transfusion and a little of Dr. Bauers Magic Elixir I feel great. Well, I feel great when I’m not puking my guts out, but you know how that goes. Don’t you?”

“Excuse me?”

“What kind did you have?”

He eyes blinked rapidly and she looked away. “How did you know?”

“I told you. Clyde is my twin brother, and because of that we can both smell things others can’t.”

“Uterine. Four years ago. I got it after picking up an STD.”

Taggart nodded. “I got mine after modeling for a Victoria’s Secret catalogue shoot.”

She smiled but she knew his humor was a wall, a wall to keep her out. “Where is Doctor Bauer?”

“Bergen. She took the boy back home.”

“So, you are alone?”

“I am alone. At least until the Gestapo decides whether or not I can leave.”

“Doctor Bauer? She is not coming back?”

He shrugged. “That remains to be seen.”

“I thought you looked a little depressed. Now I know why.”

He shrugged at that. “Not sure I know what ‘depressed’ means.”

“I’ve never been here before. Is there a good place to eat nearby?”

“As long as you like Indian or Thai food.”

“Which do you prefer?”

He shrugged. “Both, I suppose.”

“Could I take you to dinner?”

He looked away. “I don’t know how to say this politely, but I have not had much of an appetite the last couple of days.”

“You still need to eat. How about Thai? Some soup?”

“Yeah, we can do that.”

She looked at the dog.

“Yes,” he sighed, “my brother goes with me wherever I go.”

She bit her lip and tried not to laugh. “Wonderful,” she managed to say.

“Come on, Clyde. Time to get some sirloin steak!” The ears perked up but Clyde groaned, yet he managed to stand without help – then he stretched for a while, long enough to make all the arthritis settle down for a little bit. Taggart grabbed his iPhone and his sailing hat, then clipped the lead onto Clyde’s collar: “Come on, boy. Off the steps we go.” They made the short walk across the main square without issue and, as the Thai place had just opened, there were no customers inside yet. Taggart put his phone and hat on the table and helped Clyde drape himself over his feet; a minute later Clyde was snoring.

They ordered – and Taggart ordered a plain steak, sliced thin, for Clyde – then he asked the obvious question: “You do understand that I have no idea who you are. Like, even your name.”

She smiled. “I’m sorry. I just assumed.”

“You’re probably a famous reporter on the national news, right?”

She smiled. “Something like that. You can call me Brigit, if you like.”

“Okay, Brigit. So, why are you here? Smell a good story?”

“I was working on a story, yes. There’s a lot of information on you, as it turns out. You hold several patents, worked for very well known companies. I was impressed. Then I heard you were ill and I decided not to pursue the story any longer.”

“That was decent of you, but that doesn’t answer the big question.”

“Why am I here?”

“That’s the one.”

“I don’t know, Mr. Taggart…”

“Henry, please.”

“Alright, Henry. Thank you.” She paused then looked away. “I suppose this is silly, but the things you said, the way that you talk to the world, all of it. I wanted to know more about you, but then I had to admit to myself that I was attracted to you.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“That’s odd. Most of the women I’ve known over the years tend to run as soon as they see me.”

She smiled. “I think you make jokes a lot.”

He grinned. “Yeah, maybe so. The truth is probably a lot less interesting, though. One day I got serious about work and then about a week later I looked up…but thirty years had passed.”

“You were consumed by your work, then?”

He nodded. “Consumed is an understatement. I literally didn’t go out on a date until a couple of years ago.”

“The famous movie star? I saw a post about that. You took her to the Academy Awards?”

“Oh, that. Well, no, the company I worked for arranged that one. We were up for an Oscar, some special effects award…”

“And you won, too!”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t win the thing.”

“Still, what an experience!”

“It was pretty interesting.”

“The actress? Was she a friend?”

“Never saw her again. At least, not that I recall,” he added, grinning.

Their meals came and Taggart cut up the meat into smaller pieces and then called Clyde. “Come on, boy. Time for the good stuff.” He fed the pup piece by piece, and when Clyde had finished off his dinner Taggart started on his soup. “I love this stuff. The coconut makes all the difference, I think.”

“So, Henry. If someone is attracted to you, what do you usually do?”

“Me? I usually run screaming from the room.”

“Why?”

“Oh, it’s just a basic assumption I make, really. If someone thinks I’m attractive something is either really very wrong upstairs or they need new glasses.”

“You are an attractive man. It is a shame you cannot see that.”

“Yup. You need new glasses.”

“I don’t wear glasses, Henry.”

“Well, there you have it.”

“Would you feel better if I got us a hotel room?”

“What? No! What are you talking about?”

“You and I, together.”

“Look, Brigit, you’re an attractive girl, but I’m old enough to be your father. Hell, maybe your grandfather. I just finished a round of chemo four days ago and I feel like fucking hell. Even so, I think what you’re asking is really very sweet and I’d love to but I’m simply not up to it right now. And I hope I’ve not hurt your feelings…”

“Well,” she said, “there’s a first time for everything.”

“Yeah? Well, I have no idea what that means and I’m not sure I want to know…”

“It’s not important.”

“You’re angry, aren’t you?”

“A little, yes.”

“I’m sorry. Really, I am. I can offer you a brandy down on the boat, if that would do the trick.”

“Oh, I think not. I can make a flight in Stavanger, get back to Oslo tonight…”

“Excuse me. You came all the way down here, just to see me?”

“Didn’t I mention that?”

“No. no, you didn’t.”

“I thought I had.”

“When did you decide you wanted to, well, to do it with me?”

“When I decided to write my story about you.”

“Ah.”

“Yes. Ah, indeed,” she said, more seriously now.

“And so now the story will get written.”

“Of course.”

“Well, I wish you all the best, Brigit. I enjoyed our little talk and I hope you have a pleasant journey back to, uh, where did you say? Oslo?”

“Yes, Oslo.”

“I do hope I’ll see you again sometime. It was certainly a pleasure meeting you. If you don’t mind, I’ll pay the bill this evening. Perhaps, if we meet again, you can pay? Goodnight.”

She was a little wide-eyed now, not quite understanding what she’d done to spook her prey so badly, but she simply waved as Taggart walked to the counter and paid. 

‘And,’ she thought, ‘even that stupid dog failed to look at me as it followed Taggart from the restaurant!’

+++++

When he got back down to the little marina he wasn’t too surprised to see Dina Bauer waiting in the parking lot, standing by her little sedan and looking out at the harbor.

“Well, hello there,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“What did that bitch want?”

“Excuse me?”

“What did she want?”

“She’s a reporter, I met her in…”

“I know who she is and her name is Trouble. Now, what did she want?”

“She said she was doing a story on me and that she stopped when she heard I was ill.”

“And?”

Taggart looked away.

“So, she propositioned you?”

He nodded. “I basically told her there was no way.”

“And she got angry?”

“A little, yes. Why?”

“That’s her usual pitch.”

“Well, for whatever it’s worth, I recorded the whole thing.”

“You did what?”

He pulled out his iPhone and hit the stop button. “I recorded the conversation.”

“Why?”

“I detest reporters.”

“You cannot claim you have deliberately made this recording, okay? It is against privacy laws. You understand?”

“I do. I think it’s a design flaw, actually. I hit the record button all the time. By accident, you see.”

“Well, perhaps you will not need to use it, but keep it close. The government has given you a week to remove your boat from Norwegian waters; after that she will be impounded to prevent you from sailing on her and endangering others.”

“Well, she’s loaded with food, fuel, and water. Did you bring your gear?”

“You will have to sail outside the 12 mile limit. You understand?”

“You aren’t coming?”

“I cannot. Neither can Rolf. The transfusion and chemotherapy ought to see you all the way to Sweden. If I can, I will meet you in Gothenburg. There is an excellent hospital there.”

“Excuse me for asking, but you seem a little angry with me. Could you tell me why?”

“I have my reasons, but I will not talk about them at this time.”

“Okay.”

“Also, here is the telephone number for the woman you took out on the boat, with the whales, if you recall. You will want to talk with her soon.”

“And you won’t tell me why?”

“That is correct. Now, you should get underway as soon as possible, and get outside the 12 mile line directly. The Coast Guard has limited jurisdiction beyond that line.”

“You said I have permission to…”

“A member of the government has given me permission to pass that information on, but…”

“But you have nothing in writing.”

“That is correct.”

“What’s his name?”

“Who?”

“The government representative. His name.

“Bauer. Markus Bauer. He is well known. If you need to use his name, people will know who you are talking about.”

“Is he, uh…”

“Yes, he is.”

“Is this a set up, Dina?”

“I don’t think so, but I do find it curious that a most dangerous reporter showed up today.”

“Curious? That’s an understatement.”

Dina held out her hand and he took it. “Good luck, Henry, and in case I don’t see you again, I wish you all the best. And I do hope you make it to Paris for Christmas.”

“Ten days, you say. After that?”

“You will need to find a hospital, quickly. The new Parkinson’s medications will help a lot, but try to stay warm. Do you need help with the lines?”

“No, I can manage.” He looked at her. He could tell she was holding back tears. “Too many questions, Dina. Not enough time.”

She nodded. “Good luck,” then she ran into his arms, hugged him once then she walked quickly to her car. He watched her drive off, not sure whether to feel sad or scared to death.

He got Clyde onboard and down below, then started the diesel and let it warm up. He turned on the thrusters then pulled up fenders and all but two dock lines. Next he turned on the chart plotter and set the radar to standby, pulled up a chart on the display and began looking over his options.

“What are my options?” he said to the wind. “I feel like I’m running into a really big trap. If I’m running and I’m caught fleeing, then basically I lose everything. If I stay here a week they take the Bandit. Well, they try to take her.”

He watched a fishing boat come in and dock about a hundred meters down the quay, and he nodded his head slowly. “Okay. Someone wants to play hardball. So…let’s play.”

He shut down the engine and hopped off the stern, then he walked down to the fishing boat. Her skipper was on the stern making arrangements for a fuel delivery, but then he saw Taggart and walked over.

“Can help you?” the skipper asked in halting English.

“Do you know a maritime lawyer?”

“Yes. Many here in town, more in Stavanger. Thick as fleas in Bergen.”

“Who is the meanest sea lawyer in Norway?”

“Meanest? Only one. You wait here.”

The skipper walked to the wheelhouse and disappeared inside; he came out a minute later, carrying some papers. He handed a business card to Taggart, and a piece of paper with a name and phone number on it.

“This bitch,” he said, pointing at the card. “She meanest of all mean. Real cunt. If asks where got name, give my name, here,” he said, pointing at the paper. “Any problem you come see me. If not here, you call me.”

Taggart shook his head in wonder. “Thank you. I mean it, thanks a lot.”

“You Saint Henry. All talk about you. You need friends around here, you got it.”

Taggart held out his hand and the fisherman took it, then he walked back down to Time Bandit. He set all the fenders and reset his spring-lines; he powered down the electronics then sat by the chart table down below and dialed the number on the card.

“Hallo?”

“I’m looking for Sigrid Grieg.”

“Speaking.”

“Uh, Ms Grieg, my name is Henry Taggart…”

“Saint Henry?”

“Yes m’am. Look, I think I’m about to be in a world of trouble…”

He described everything that had happened tonight, including the phone recording and Dina’s warning, and he could tell she was taking notes. Then she began asking questions, mainly related to his health.

“How late will you be up?” she asked. 

“How late do I need to stay up?”

“I will be there in an hour. Where are you, exactly?”

He told her and she was gone, just like that. He shook his head, and a minute later the fisherman came down.

“You call?”

“Yes. She come now. One hour.”

“She good. She take care you. You want fish?” The fisherman was holding up what looked like a twenty pound salmon. “You cook. She come, I come. We eat.”

“Okay!” Taggart said, smiling. “One hour, fish ready.”

He set about prepping the fish then got his bar-b-q set up on the stern rail. He cut up some veggies and put them on skewers then lit the fire. With ten minutes to go he put mayonnaise on the grill to keep the fish from sticking, then he put the fish on, slapping a little butter and lime on the fleshy side, then some salt and pepper. At the one hour mark a glossy black Mercedes Sprinter van pulled into the lot and a driver got out and set up a wheelchair, then helped an absolutely rotund woman into the chair.

“You Taggart?” the woman asked. Her accent seemed stuck about halfway between Oslo and Brooklyn.

“Yup. Come on down. Salmon is on the grill, your friend Peter is on the way.”

“Can you bring me a plate down here? I don’t feel like climbing tonight. My knees have about had it.”

“I sure can.”

“Got any beer?”

“I do.”

“Better bring a bunch.”

“I will.”

She wheeled up to a picnic table while Taggart carried mounds of food over, then he ferried over a bunch of beer. The fisherman built a fire in a pit and everyone sat around eating and drinking and Taggart was impressed. Lawyers in Norway were actually kinda fun – and in the end they talked about his situation ’til four in the morning. When she listened to his recording of the reporter in the restaurant her eyes brightened, and before she left she told Taggart he had nothing to worry about. She would take care of everything.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 43

88th key cover image

Part V

Chapter 43

Lloyd Callahan walked out onto bridge-wing and looked at the tug on the bow pushing his ship away from the dock, worried about what he saw below; he got on his radio and called the tug’s skipper: “Number two, slow it down or you’ll push our stern into the dock!” – with that done he turned to his First Officer: “Rudder amidships, now.”

“Rudder amidships, aye Captain.”

Callahan watched, satisfied now, as his ship drifted from the docks and towards the main entrance channel, then the Harbor Pilot pointed to the buoys he wanted Valley Forge to use when entering the main channel…

“Make your course 2-6-5 degrees,” Callahan said, then, “all ahead slow.”

“265, ahead slow, aye…”

“Damn crowded out here today,” Callahan said to no-one in particular, but his mind was still struggling with the morning’s surprises. ‘Harry – and a fucking Jap? Why, for God’s sake?’ He was getting angrier as the idea wore away at him, yet he really didn’t understand why he was so mad, not after all these years. He’d made sure he buried all his prejudices when he moved to America, but because of his experiences in the war he still hated everything about both Germany and Japan. He couldn’t help it and now he realized his hatred was finally going to have real consequences.

‘She saw the venom right away,’ he said to himself. He was transparent and she was probably used to seeing his kind of hate smoldering away behind the eyes, yet after just a few minutes of watching her move around his in-port cabin he’d not even bothered trying to hide his feelings anymore. He’d grown coldly dismissive and callous, and though he could see Harry’s growing disappointment he’d simply been unable to stop himself.

‘There’s going to be a reckoning,’ he said as he looked at Osaka for the last time. ‘Man, I’m glad I never have to come to this fucking hell-hole ever again…’

__________________________________

If anything, Fujiko had thought herself impervious to such things, yet the sudden fury she’d seen in Lloyd Callahan’s eyes had surprised her. As soon as the old man had understood the implications of the visit, he had flown through the scales – from casually dismissive to increasingly abrasive – in record time, and not just to her. By the time Harry led her away from the captain’s in-port cabin his hands were shaking and for a moment she thought she saw tears in his eyes. By the time they had made it back to their cabin Harry had reasserted control over his emotions, and within minutes he was talking like nothing had happened.

“Let’s go up top, maybe get out into the wind,” he said, and though a little surprised at the sudden change she had agreed. He held her hand as they walked up two flights of stairs and then out onto the topmost deck – high above the sea now. They were still in the inner harbor, the docks not a half mile in their wake, but already the ship was picking up speed. They walked to the forward rail and looked at the way ahead…

“I’m so sorry, Fujiko,” Harry said, pulling her close. “I had no idea.” He felt her face through his jacket, felt her nod her head. “I thought I knew him…”

“Our parents often hide their most bitter selves from us, Harry. Perhaps to save us from their experience, the things that turned them to hate in the first place. One thing I do not understand? You do not look like him, at all.”

“Really? That’s what you noticed?”

“Yes. Perhaps because it was a first meeting?”

“Well, that’s because it turns out he really wasn’t my father.”

“What? When did you learn this?”

“Just within the last few months. It came as quite a shock.”

“Are you not cold?”

He felt a shiver run through her and took off his jacket, draped it over her shoulders. “Is that better?”

“A little. I suppose I should have brought warmer clothes.”

“There’s a good Ship’s Store onboard. Let’s go find you a coat?”

“Not yet, please. I would like to remain up here a while longer.”

He pulled her close again, the wind picking up as the ship’s speed increased, her obsidian hair beginning to stream behind them. The pilot boat came alongside, then pulled away after the pilot jumped across, and after that the ship’s speed began to rapidly increase.

“Would it be possible to tell me the story of your mother and father?” she asked.

“Yes, I think it’s time for that conversation.”

“Then, just one more thing.”

“Yes?”

“You must tell me what happened with that shark.”

He chuckled a little. “I wish I knew what happened, Fujiko-san. When it turned on me I just knew my life was over and I saw things, well, actually, I heard music, music my mother wrote…”

“Your mother wrote music? She was a composer?”

He nodded. “Yes, and it turns out quite an important one, too.”

“And you? Do you play an instrument?”

He hesitated, wondered what he could tell her without coming off like a barking lunatic: “I play the piano a little…”

“Oh, come off it Harry,” the Old Man in the Cape said, now standing next to Fujiko, “you can tell her. In fact, you must tell her.”

“Tell me what?” Fujiko said, turning in surprise, looking with surprise at the Old Man who had just appeared next to her. “Who are you?”

“You can see him?” Callahan asked.

“What do you mean, can I see him? He is standing right next to me!”

“Well, it’s just that, well…”

The Old Man smiled. “Harry, no more secrets. It’s time to come clean…” 

And with that said, the Old Man twirled his cane once and slammed it down on the deck, and then rolling thunder filled the air. “You’ll excuse me,” the Old Man said, “but I have to go now. I get seasick, you see.” He winked at Fujiko and with that the Old Man simply disappeared.

Fujiko flinched, rubbed her eyes. “What…where did he go?”

“Ignore him. He’s just a cranky old asshole with a really bad sense of humor…”

Lightning split the sky, thunder crashed and echoed across the harbor.

“Sorry,” Callahan said. “You’re really a very nice ghost, or whatever, and I’m sorry I said that.”

Fujiko turned and looked at him, a million questions in her eyes.

“Look,” he said, shrugging, “I’m sorry, but it’s complicated.”

“That man is a ghost?” she replied, trembling.

“You know, I’m still not sure what he is.”

“What did he mean? No more secrets?”

Callahan scowled. “We have a lot to talk about, I guess.”

“Well, we have fourteen days. Is that enough?”

“That might get us through the first part of the story, assuming I even know what it is. Now, could we go get you a coat, please?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m freezing my ass off…”

_______________________________

The first line squall hit before the ship made it out of the inner harbor; by nightfall and while still within sight of the coastline, 90 knot gusts rocked the ship and sixty foot waves slammed into the bow. Very few passengers ventured to the dining room that night, preferring instead to vomit in the comfort of their own staterooms.

Nothing, however, could keep Sam and Frank from those Alaskan King Crab legs, and they convinced Harry and Fujiko to join them. Bouncing off the walls as they made their way down the endless corridor to the dining room, Sam said he enjoyed acting like a pinball while Frank stopped at a bowl and popped two more of the free Dramamine tabs. The ship seemed to hesitate before climbing a really big wave, then everyone held on as she took off down the backside.

“What a storm! Feels just like Space Mountain at Disneyland!” Sam said, rubbing his hands together gleefully as he looked over the endless piles of crab legs on the buffet. “Worked up quite an appetite just getting here!”

“I don’t know how you can eat right now,” Callahan whispered, burping.

“Really? Well, just you watch and I’ll show you how.”

Fujiko came to the table carrying what she claimed was her favorite food of all time: a cheeseburger and french fries, and a waiter got her a Coke and that was that – she was happy.

“Harry? Could I get you something?” Frank asked. “Some Limburger cheese, perhaps, or maybe some fresh octopus?”

“Keep it up, Frank.”

“Harry, there’s some really good looking monk-fish liver sushi up there. Sure I can’t get you some?”

Callahan burped again and disappeared in the general direction of what he hoped was the nearest bathroom. Fujiko grinned and Bullitt decided she was alright, then she left the table for a moment and returned with a plate for Frank; it was loaded with Limburger cheese and several pieces of monk-fish liver.

Frank took off for the bathroom. He was at a dead run when he disappeared from view.

“Frank’s always had a lousy sense of humor,” Sam said. “He sure can dish it out, but he never could take it. You want some crab legs, Fujiko-san?”

“Yes, please. Perhaps you could go with me and help me pick out a few good pieces?”

“I’d love to, little lady.”

By the time they’d made it back to their table Frank and Harry were sitting there and both looked a sheepish shade of green. The offending plate had been removed just in time, too. They both stared in awe as Fujiko polished off a heaping pile of crab, while Sam finished a second pile. Callahan had some chicken broth; Bullitt had just pushed down a couple of saltine crackers when he looked up, stood up and sprinted for the bathroom – again.

Sam laughed a little while they watched Frank make this last mad dash, then he went up to the buffet for his third pile of crab. He smiled at the janitors who’d just been called to take care of a mess in the starboard head on deck five.

_______________________________

Harry went up to see Lloyd very early the next morning, and though he had been dreading the coming encounter all night long he knew what he had to do, what had to be said. Lloyd, on the other hand, had been up all night – dealing with the storm and it’s after effects – and his mood was already dark when Harry knocked on the door to his sea-cabin.

“Look, Harry,” Lloyd said as Harry walked in, “I’ve had a bad night. Could we do this later?”

“I don’t think so. I need to know what that was all about, and I’m not sure putting it off is the right thing to do.”

Lloyd sat at his desk and sighed, held his hands up. “Fine. If that’s what you want, Harry, that’s what we’ll do.”

“Do you treat all Japanese and Germans that way, or did you serve up your best shot for Fujiko?”

Lloyd shrugged. “You know what, Harry? As far as I’m concerned they can all go straight to Hell. I don’t really care about ‘em beyond that.”

“Why, why her? What did she ever do to you?”

“She was born.”

Harry blinked, shook off the words like he’d been slapped. “What?”

“Tell you what, son, you look in the eyes of your friends while they drown after a U-boat drops a couple of fish into the side of your ship. You do that, boy, alright? Then you come and stand up here on your soapbox and lecture me about hate. You got that?”

“Let’s not talk about hate right now, Lloyd. Let’s talk about civility and maybe even common decency…”

“Those went out the door when I saw her holding onto your arm.”

Harry nodded. “I see. Tell me one more thing, Lloyd. It’s probably the last thing I’ll ever ask you, so think before you answer, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Did my mother know you were a bigoted racist, or did you keep that from her, too?”

“You can leave now, Harry. I mean it, just leave.”

“Oh, I’m leaving alright. You can count on that – Dad. I’m gone.”

He closed the door gently as he left the cabin then walked up to the sundeck and stepped into the wind. The sky was crystal clear but the sea was an unbroken plain of spume-streaked whitecaps, and Fujiko was at the forward rail, leaning into the wind. Cathy and Frank were sitting nearby, huddled up against this new and unforeseen breaking wave of emotion and looking at Fujiko like they were standing by for moral support.

He walked over to the railing and put his arm around her again, and she took a deep breath, then looked up at him.

“You weren’t gone very long.”

He felt Frank and Cathy come up from behind and he nodded. “Turns out there wasn’t a whole lot to say.”

“It is the war, is it not?” she said. “Too many bad memories?”

“Maybe it’s as simple as that, but I doubt it.”

“Where’d you leave it?” Frank asked…and when Harry shook his head Frank knew there was no need for words right now…it was a done deal.

“Harry? If it’s okay with you, I’d like to show Fujiko some of my sketches, see if she has any new ideas before I start on my drawings.”

“What is this?” Fujiko asked.

“I’ve asked Cathy to design a teahouse, and hopefully a garden,” Harry said, still doing his best not to think about Lloyd. “Maybe you two could come up with some good ideas.”

Fujiko nodded; she understood – Harry needed to talk with Frank, and maybe just to clear his head, but she’d seen the pulsing vessels in his temple and the clinched jaw and she knew how some people seethed until they boiled over. “That sounds very interesting. I would love to.”

Which left Harry and Frank standing in the wind.

“How’d you guys know?” Harry asked. 

“She called us while you were in the shower, and again when you went to his cabin.”

Harry nodded. “I’ve never known anyone like her, Frank. She’s so – dialed in, ya know?”

“I know. Everyone fell in love with her about an hour after we arrived ay Osaka Castle.”

“That first day?”

“Yeah. She like a cross between something out of Shōgun and Gidget Goes to Rome. Infectiously elegant. That’s how Delgetti described her. It’s like you want to talk to her about something, then you realize she already knows what you want to say – but she makes you feel good about it even so.”

“She’s smart, that’s for sure.”

Frank shook his head. “There’s book smarts, Harry, then there’s people smarts. Fujiko is what happens when you take the best of both and put all that into one person.”

“I wonder what she sees in a mug like me?”

“Good question. Must be a mental defect.”

“Gee. Thanks.”

“What about your dad?”

Harry shrugged. “It’s bad, Frank. He said some awful things yesterday, and I just hammered him. A real low blow. The thing is, I think I really wanted to hurt him like that.”

“Listen up, Amigo. You probably don’t need to hear this right now, but that’s why people have been calling you Dirty Harry for the last twenty years. Sometimes you like to cut people off at the knees, ya know. You’re good at it, too, which is one thing, but sometimes you seem to enjoy it a little too much.”

“Jesus, Frank…”

“You should listen, Harry,” the Old Man in the Cape said, popping into the present and causing both Frank and Harry to jump back. “He’s telling the truth.”

“Jesus H Fucking Christ on a motorbike…what you please stop doing that?” Frank said to the Old Man. “I can’t handle this shit, okay?”

“Frank?” the Old Man said. “You are a good friend. Harry needs you right now, now more than ever!”

“Yeah, okay, I got that.”

“And Harry?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t be an asshole. And please, don’t push any more friends away, especially not today.”

“What’s wrong with today?”

The Old Man grew serious, then smiled: “Oh, Ishmael, it’s that whale I see, that great white whale…”

“What?” Frank cried – but by then the Old Man had slammed down his cane and was gone.

“Goddam, I hate it when he does that.”

“You hate it? You hate it, Harry?” Frank was white hot mad now. “Well, listen up, Bucko, cause I just shit my goddam pants and I gotta walk down two flights of stairs to get to the cleanest pair of underwear I have left!” he yelled as he turned and slinked off. “And you fuckin’ hate it! Hah! Well, guess what? You’re not the one that’s gonna be droppin’ meatballs all the way down the fuckin’ stairs, oh no, not Harry Callahan…”

Harry returned to his stateroom, and he was sitting on the balcony watching ragged waves slam into the ship when he heard the door open and close; Fujiko stepped outside into the wind and sat next to him.

“Frank said The Old Man came back?”

“He did. Yes…he did.”

“He said something about Ishmael? Ishmael and the white whale?”

“Yup.”

“I wonder what Moby Dick has to do with all this?”

Callahan shrugged. “Never read it. Don’t even think I saw the movie.”

“Oh, the book is full of allegory, many allusions to things in the Christian Bible…”

“What did you think of Cathy’s drawings?”

Fujiko blinked twice, tried to change gears. “She is very talented, and she learned much on your trip.”

Harry nodded, but his mind remained far away.

“She also told me a little about the house you are building.”

“Yes? And?”

“It sounds like a very special place.”

“Special? What does that mean?”

“I have not seen it, of course, but what she describes sounds almost Japanese.”

“Oh? How so?”

“A site such as the one this house if built on requires a subtle hand. The building must appear to spring forth naturally from the earth.”

“Well, she sure did that, alright.”

“You are still angry?”

He nodded his head. “I am, yes. Still angry.”

“May I sit with you?”

“Of course. I’m not angry at you, Fujiko-san?”

“You are not?”

“No, of course not?”

“Not even a little?”

“Why would…how could I be angry at you?”

“Because I have come between you and your father,” she whispered.

“It wasn’t your fault, Fujiko.”

“Nevertheless, I have come between the two of you.”

“Something would have, sooner or later.”

“You can not know that, Harry-san.”

“Will you marry me?” He turned and looked at her, watched her reaction…

Her head seemed to tilt to the right just a little, and she also seemed to smile a little before she pulled that back, too: “And I thought we were going to take our time, let us explore the past and our future before we came to such a decision.”

“Maybe I changed my mind.”

“You are pushing me away, Harry. Why?”

“Because that’s what I do.”

“Not this time.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Only that I will not be pushed away. I may walk away, but you will not push me to do that which I do not want to do.”

“Well, lucky me.”

“So, what of the shark? Frank tells me you see things through music. Tell me about that, and about what I saw in the sea.”

“Frank talks too much.”

“He is a good friend.”

“Yes he is.”

“I could be such a friend, if you let me in.”

“Let you in?”

“Yes. It seems to me that when some people get too close, people push them away. The alternative, I think, is to let people in. In other words, Harry Callahan, you need to let me get close to you. I think that is what we set out to do when we started this journey, is it not?”

“It is.”

“You have been through much today. Too much, I think. As your friend I know this, and I accept the reasons for your anger. But as your lover it is my duty to protect you, yet even as such I can not do this so easily if you push me away, keep things from me. Accept me, Harry. Let me in, please. Our journey will be a short one without trust.” 

He nodded, but then he looked down, appeared a little chastened. “Okay,” he whispered.

She took his hand and held it – but she looked out to sea, deciding to let him come when he was ready.

“As far as I know, the Old Man began visiting my mother when she was very young. He came to her throughout her life, but almost always when she was composing.”

“The music called him?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. When he comes to me I’m usually nowhere near a piano.”

“The shark?”

“He came to me in the shrine, after I cut my leg. He warned me.”

“About the shark?”

He nodded.

“So, the Old Man is your protector. Perhaps he was her protector, as well. Did he come to you before she passed away?”

He shook his head. “You know, I don’t think he did…”

“So, he has been charged with protecting your lineage through time.”

“You don’t sound surprised.”

“I suppose I am not. There have always been spirits reputed to act this way, but until now I have never met one. Now that I have, I wonder what he is protecting. Tell me now about the shark.”

“Like I said, I put my hands on him…”

“Him? You know it was a him?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, go on.”

“I put my hands around his eye and in my mind I began playing a short passage from my mother’s third concerto, a passage that concerns the murders she witnessed in the concentration camp.”

“I saw the animal then,” she whispered. “It was as if he had begun to turn black, but from the inside out. Then it shriveled before our eyes and sank to the rocks, and when you were no longer touching him he seemed to regain himself. He began to swim away but ran into rocks. Then he disappeared.”

“I don’t remember any of that.”

“But what has the Old Man to do with all that,” she sighed, “unless he was there to protect you.”

“But why me?”

She shook her head. “Unless it remains to you to fulfill the nature of your lineage, or to pass it along.”

“I don’t understand?”

“Either you will compose something of utmost importance, or your descendants will. Ishmael. The white whale. What else did he say?”

“Not to be an asshole,” he said sheepishly. “To not push away any friends.”

“Yes, he is your protector. That is why he has shown himself to Frank, and to me. Is there a piano on this ship?”

“Why?”

“I would like to hear this passage.”

Callahan shook his head. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“Neither do I, Harry-san. Neither do I, but even so…”

+++++

Harry had regained a sense of himself by the time they left for lunch; Sam Bennett was already at the buffet hitting the crab legs when he and Fujiko walked in, so they walked over and sat down with Elaine.

“Frank was doing laundry an hour ago,” Elaine said, smiling at Fujiko. “I’m worried about Sam, too. If he keeps eating those crab-thingies he’s going to turn into one…”

“The hell I am,” Sam bellowed, setting his plate down on the table. “I’m just taking advantage of all this stuff while we’re on this tub, that’s all.”

“You do know,” Fujiko said, grinning coyly, “that crab are part of the spider family?”

Bennett looked at his plate and scowled. “Well, fuck it,” he sighed. “It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.”

Cathy arrived and sat, clearly exasperated. “Never, ever let a man fold your laundry!” she snarled at the world in general, clearly flustered after a morning with Bullitt. “I swear, that man doesn’t care if his clothes are wrinkled or not!”

“That explains a lot,” Harry said, his voice just above a whisper.

“See! See!” Cathy cried. “Your clothes are always neat and pressed! See!”

“Central Laundry, over off Geary.”

“What?” Cathy said, startled.

“That’s who does mine. I wouldn’t know how to fold a shirt if you held a gun to my head.”

“Elaine does mine,” Sam sighed between bites of crab. “Best in the world.”

Frank slunk up to the table and sat down, trying his best to avoid the fireballs Cathy was lobbing his way. “Harry? Thanks. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy doing laundry, bit I think today I hit a new low.”

“Hell, Frank, even toddlers can hold it longer than you did.”

Bullitt shook his head. “I’m beginning to hate that prick.”

“Who’s that?” Sam asked, puzzled.

“Harry’s ghost.”

“Oh. Him.” Sam cracked open another leg and began digging the white meat out. “So what happened this time?”

“The bastard just popped up right beside me. Scared the shit out of me.”

“Boy, did he,” Callahan muttered.

“Shove it, Callahan. Sideways, maybe with a little twist.”

Fujiko’s eyes were wide open. “I have been away too long. I do not recognize half of what you are saying.”

“Not important,” Sam said between bites. “What did that fucker have to say this morning?”

“Sam? Eat your spiders,” Harry said.

“Spiders?” Frank cried. “Sam’s eating spiders?”

Callahan shook his head. “Sheesh. This is fun.”

Fujiko shook her head: “Harry is going to play some of his mother’s music. Would anyone like to come and listen?”

Frank looked up, alarmed. “Oh, no,” he groaned.

Sam paused, his crab-laden fork hovering in midair: “You sure you wanna do that again, Harry?”

“Do what?” Elaine asked, now confused.

Callahan looked at Sam, then Frank: “We gotta get to the bottom of this, and soon. Something ain’t right.”

“What do you mean – ‘ain’t right’ – Callahan?”

Callahan put his hands on the table. “Anyone ever think we kind of gave up too soon? Like we’re turning over the city to a bunch of fascist goons and just turning our backs on all of it?”

“There’re just too many of ‘em, Harry,” Frank sighed, “but we’ve been over all that. Why the sudden change of heart?”

“Because what if that was the wrong decision. If so, then somehow we’ve got to fix it.”

Franks eyes narrowed. “What the hell are you talking about, Harry?”

“Look, Frank, I have an idea, but I want to run it by you first…”

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (Covid-19) waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. To begin, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]