The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 36

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 36

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He walked towards Cathy’s kitchen, his eyes downcast, his mood bleak, yet when he opened the door all kinds of aromas rushed through the air…with all the scents of ‘home’ and ‘breakfast’ making a ruthless assault on his senses. In a way, they tried to push aside Callahan’s sudden depression and, in a way, they did indeed work a little of their magic. He looked up and tried to smile, saw Frank and Evelyn looking at him, while Cathy seemed to reserve her examination to Evelyn, and, perhaps, how she was reacting to Harry. 

“You passed-out on me,” Frank said as Callahan stepped inside, “and I thought I’d better just let sleeping dogs do what they do, ya know?”

“Thanks. It kind of feels like I passed out,” Callahan said as he carried his coffee cup over to the sink. He rinsed it out and left it in the sink. “Man, it sure smells good in here.”

Cathy chimed in then: “I’m doing the eggs and bacon; Evelyn is making pancakes. And Harry, she makes good pancakes, so beware…”

“Yeah. Harry, come on over and meet my sister,” Frank said. “Evelyn? Meet my partner in crime, Harry Callahan.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Evelyn said, and Callahan found he simply couldn’t take his eyes off hers. They were kind of silver blue, like Franks, but there all similarities ended. Her eyes were soft, almost liquid, whereas Frank’s were peregrine. Frank was, generally speaking, compact, almost brutally so, while Evelyn seemed almost the exact opposite…fluid and almost lanky while not really tall. She was soft and polished where Frank was hard as nails.

“Yeah,” Harry said, holding out his right hand, “me too. I’ve heard a lot about you.” She grinned, and Callahan noted an uncanny similarity to Franks.

“All bad, I’m sure.”

Harry smiled. “All of it. Every word.”

She feigned anger and turned on her big brother. “Oh…you!” she said as pretended to sock her brother’s arm – in slow motion.

“Well,” Frank continued, “she really does make the best pancakes, and she brought some real maple syrup with her.”

“Oh?” Callahan said. “Where from?”

“Vermont. We, I mean, well, I have been teaching there for a couple of years. It’s more addicting than heroin, or so I’m told.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

She smiled, but it was kind of a pouty-frown kind of smile, though her eyes still sparkled. “Okay, I need to get in there and wash my hands. Why don’t you guys get lost for a little bit – while Cathy and I get to work?”

“Got it,” Bullitt said, turning to Harry. “Let’s go over and take a look at your house.”

Harry nodded when he saw the look in Frank’s eyes, and he followed Frank out the front door.

“A-Chief called me first thing this morning. Threlkis’ lawyers plan to file a wrongful death action first thing tomorrow morning.”

“So the old fart croaked?”

“Big time. Right there at the table, in front of God and about two hundred hoods. My guess is those hoods now have a lottery going, to see who can nail you first.”

“Good. Sounds fun.”

“Damnit, Harry, don’t you get it? Every goon in California just pasted a target on your back.”

“Yeah? So what’s new?”

“What do you have on that homicide out at Sutro?”

“The vic lives in San Paulo. I have a possible suspect, she lives in the city, but grew up there.”

“Next step?”

“Going to send a request to the San Paulo PD CID for more information on the vic and his ties to a couple of gangs operating in the area…”

“What was his CCH?”

“Robberies, drugs, dealing, a couple of DUIs, and he was recently found not guilty on a homicide case up in Oregon.”

“Prison?”

“Yup. A couple of long stretches.”

“Ballistics?”

“A thirty-eight plus P; Remington, semi-jacketed hollow point. Fired into the area above the penis with the muzzle less than an inch off the skin. The bullet – was lodged in the tailbone.”

“Ouch.”

“Bad way to end the day, that’s for sure. Second tap was to the forehead, same thing, about an inch from the skin.”

“So, she knew enough not to put the barrel directly on the skin. Interesting.”

“Firearms training, according to a recent arrest report, as well as a White Warrant application.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, Frank. She was on a mission.”

“Next step?”

“Going to look around the city for her, tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got court first thing in the morning.”

“Anything I was in on?”

“No, just a petty thug, evidence is pretty thin though. DA thinks he’ll walk.”

“Figures.”

“Same song, different day.”

“Okay, boys,” Evelyn said through a barely cracked front door, “y’all come on in now!”

“Coming,” Frank said, then he turned to Harry. “So, what do you think?”

“About?”

“Evelyn, you moron!”

“She’s cute.”

“And?”

“Frank?”

“Yeah, Harry.”

“Don’t set a wedding date just yet.”

“Already have. Christmas Day.”

Callahan shook his head as he followed Frank back into the house. 

“Swell,” he whispered as he walked into the kitchen…where he was confronted by a plate groaning under the strain of a mountain sized portion of pancakes. “Is this for the table?” he asked.

“Nope,” Evelyn said. “Those are all for you!”

There were five pancakes on the plate, each one not quite an inch thick and about a foot in diameter. He groaned as he guessed that about one stick of butter had been slathered on top of and between the cakes…

“You’re over here,” Cathy said, pointing to the place next to her’s.

And he saw another plate was already there, this one containing three eggs, a pile of bacon and some honeydew melon.

“Damn, Cathy, I’ve got enough right on this plate to feed a family…!”

“Frank has this every morning,” she said, grinning. “Don’t you, honey?”

Frank was bug-eyed as he carried his platter to the table. “Oh, sure. You bet,” he just managed to say before he burst out laughing.

Evelyn came over and sat on Callahan’s other side, and her plate had one small pancake and a single over easy egg.

Callahan frowned. “I sense a plot at work here, Frank. Don’t you?” And then Harry used a knife and fork to lift two pancakes, and these he placed on Evelyn’s plate. “There. An equitable arrangement, I think.”

And he was surprised by the look on her face when she heard that word: “equitable…” – because, he sensed, her life had been anything but, at least so far.

When they finished breakfast Frank and Cathy insisted they would handle clean up duties, and Cathy practically begged Harry to take Evelyn for a walk. And when Frank herded them to the front door and pushed them out into the sunshine, Harry understood. Frank and Cathy had been apart for a couple of weeks, and Frank was chomping at the bits…

“Cathy told me that’s your house,” Evelyn said as they made their way to the street. “Could you show me around?”

“Sure. At least, I’ll try.”

“What?”

“This morning was…the first time I’ve seen it. Not even the plans.”

“Are you serious?”

Harry nodded. “Frank and Cathy were having trouble, most of it my fault, so I asked her to build this for me. I looked at it as equal parts couple’s therapy and retirement planning.”

He looked at her when she didn’t say anything, and he found she was staring at him.

“Did I say something wrong?” he asked.

“No. Pretty much the opposite of wrong. I can’t imagine someone doing that.”

“Frank and Cathy are my best friends. I’d do anything for them.”

She chuckled at that. “I’d say you already have.”

He shrugged. “I guess I’ve discovered that real friends are hard to come by. And friendship is worth preserving. Whatever the cost.”

“Your house looks so different from Cathy’s, at least from here.”

“Yeah. It blends into the site, doesn’t it? Like it was designed to almost disappear.”

He led her to what would one day be the front door and helped her step up into the entry, then they walked to the huge expanse of windows that overlooked the cliffs, and the sea beyond.

“What a view,” she said as she reached the wall, then she turned and looked around. “Now…that’s odd…”

“What?”

“There’s not a single ninety degree angle.”

“What? Really?” he said as he too turned and looked around. Then he walked over to the roughed-in walls of his bedroom and looked closer. “I’ll be damned. You’re right.”

Everywhere he looked he saw rooms shaped like flattened and stretched hexagons, and she was correct…he found not a single right angle, and many exterior ‘corners’ were framed to utilize mitered glass windows so that, in effect, corners were wrapped in uninterrupted glass. The view wasn’t compartmentalized, and the result seemed to bring the outside world into these bare interior spaces.

“I told her I think she’s a genius. That may be an understatement.”

“I wonder how many clients turn her loose, let her follow her instincts. Sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime, to me, anyway. So, why’d you become a cop?”

“Wow. Now that was a change of subject…”

“Sorry.”

“If I could put it down to one reason…I guess it was because I rode around with a cop after witnessing a robbery. There’s a lot of crime that boils along just under the surface, that most people, thankfully, never see and so don’t have to deal with. But when bad stuff happens, I think it helps keep society together when there’s a group of people actively helping to keep some semblance of order. For us, it’s cops; other people use the military, while some can do without much of anything to maintain cohesion.”

She shook her head. “That sounds like the kind of answer you’d give to a reporter.”

“Sorry.”

“What did you learn on that first ride-along?”

“That there are a lot of very bad people out on the street. Predators, really, and most people simply have no idea how vulnerable they are. Until something goes down, anyway. I think I fell in love with the idea of figuring out how to help people get through those moments.”

She nodded. “That I can buy, Harry Callahan.”

“So, what do you do?”

“Frank hasn’t told you?”

“Nope. He’s never even mentioned you, or anything about your family, until he picked you up at the airport last week.”

“My, my,” she said – a little too wistfully, “how he’s changed.”

“I guess.”

“Well, back to me. I teach biochemistry; both at graduate and medical schools.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I thought I wanted to be a physician until I realized how much I loved chemistry. Do you, uh, think that maybe we could go out, maybe have some dinner?”

“Man, you really can change gears!”

“Sorry, but I always say what I think, what I’m feeling.”

“That’s cool. Kind of refreshing. So, what did you have in mind?”

“What?”

“What kind of grub?”

She shrugged. “Seafood, I guess. You know, every time I’ve visited Frank he promises to take me to Fisherman’s Wharf, and somehow we’ve never made it…”

“Okay, that sounds like a challenge I can handle, but the next couple of weeks might be kind of dicey…”

“The Threlkis stuff?”

“Yeah. Did Cathy tell you about that?”

She nodded. “Sounds awful, all this stuff with vigilante cops, the mob.”

“What else did Cathy tell you?”

“About your wife, you mean?”

“Yeah. Well, I guess you just answered that one.”

“Don’t be angry,” she said. “Please?”

He turned and looked at her, saw that she seemed to have turned inward on herself, almost reflexively. “I’m not angry, Evelyn. Like I said, Cathy and Frank are my friends, and I trust them. Whatever she tells you, I know she’ll tell you the truth.”

“And you’re not afraid of the truth?”

And in that instant he saw Crawford’s face lined up in the PSGs scope, then he relived the moment as he increased the pressure on his trigger finger. He shivered, and then saw…

“What are you thinking about right now?” she asked, concern evident in her voice.

“The truth.”

“You look sad and angry, at the same time, and maybe a little scared, too.”

He nodded.

“You want to talk about it?”

He shook his head. “Maybe someday. Not yet.”

“I guess you have to carry around a lot of bad stuff…”

“Yeah. Sometimes.”

“Well, if you ever do want to talk?”

“Yeah. I hear you.”

“Cathy says you play the piano. Like really, really play the piano.”

He nodded. “Sometimes more than others.”

“Now that’s an odd thing to say?”

“Is it?”

“Yeah. Like…why are some times better?”

He sighed. “There are times when music helps…”

“And others when it’s too painful?”

“Yeah.”

“Cathy bought a recording of the concert in Israel…”

Harry held up a hand and shook his head: “Please, Evelyn. No. That’s one of the things, one of the places I just can’t go yet.”

“Okay.” She seemed to deflate, and then she turned and walked away, looking at the framed walls as she made her way to the front door. “Could we walk down to the rocks?”

“Yes, sure, but the best way is from over here.”

She came back to him. “Oh?”

“Would you mind if we just hugged for a minute?”

And she stepped into his arms, wrapped her arms around him. Both seemed to relax, neither wanted to let go. 

‘I want to fall in love,’ he thought – in the heat of the moment. ‘I’m tired of being alone. I’m scared of living my life alone.’

“This feels so good,” she said, her voice almost muffled.

“It’s almost like we fit together.”

She nodded. “I was thinking that. Like two pieces of a puzzle.”

“So, let me show you the way down.”

“Down?”

“To the water.”

She shook her head. “I’m fine right here.”

“Has it been a while?”

“A while?”

“Since you could just let go, feel safe like this?”

“I’ve never felt like this,” she said. “I’ve never felt safe.”

He struggled with that for a while, then: “So, why? Why’d you get married?”

She shrugged. “I think I just wanted to strike out on my own, but that meant getting married, didn’t it? Like in that Carly Simon song, That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. That’s what it was like…living life in the shadow of other people’s expectations. The only problem with that,” she said, now with a tremor in her voice, “is that you can drown in other people’s expectations.”

“Is that why you didn’t feel safe?”

She shook all over now, buried her face in his chest and he felt her grabbing the back of his windbreaker, her fists balling-up defensively – like she was preparing to ward off blows…

And all he could do was pull her close, run his fingers through her hair, then he smelled her hair and seemed to drift away, wanted to fall away inside this moment. Hold time back…

She pulled away some time later, and he looked into her eyes, melted at the sight of tears on her cheeks. He cupped her face in his hands, wiped away her tears with his thumbs and lifted her lips to his.

Theirs was a gentle first kiss, as unexpected as it was an expression of tremendous need, then they fell back into this new embrace they’d discovered, each unwilling to be the first to let it go…

“Knock-knock,” Cathy said from some place outside this new little universe. “Mind if we come in?”

But they were already inside. Indeed, they had been watching for some time, holding hands like a couple of mad alchemists in love with their latest creation, smiling at the simplicity this life presented – even in the quietest moments.

“Harry?”

“Yes?”

“The A-Chief called. He wants to see us, ASAP. You ready to roll?”

She felt him tense, felt their moment wither and fall away.

“Yeah. Might as well face the music,” she heard him say, yet she wanted to stop him, wanted to protect him, wanted to keep him from hurting himself because, she suddenly realized, that’s what he had been doing all his life.

“Harry,” she whispered, “we can do this. We can make this happen, let it happen…”

But by then he had pulled away, their timeless connection broken. She watched him walk away and she felt so alone, just the way she’d always heard it should be.

_________________________________

“Goddammit, Callahan, what is it with you? Everywhere you go, people end up dead. It ain’t right, and the Chief has had it. He wants your badge…”

Frank cleared his throat: “Uh, Chief,” Bullitt began, “this op was my idea. Bullitt went in because Threlkis doesn’t know me from Adam. I figured that was the best way to…”

“To what? Give the fucker a goddamn mother-fucking heart attack?”

“No, sir…”

“Then, please, tell me. Tell me what the point of this goddamn clusterfuck was. Because I’d really like to know…”

“The case against him was at a standstill…”

“So? You decided to terrorize the man at his daughter’s wedding? Have you, like, forgotten those words we print up and put on the sides of our patrol cars? To Protect and Serve? Does that compute, or are you two operating on some other principle I’m not aware of?”

“No,” Callahan said.

“No, what, Callahan?”

“No, sir.”

“Alright, so hear this, you two. The Threlkis family is going to sue the city for something like ten million, and you know what? We will lose. We’ll probably settle on a lower figure, but so what? Because of your chickenshit bullshit, we’re going to end paying a crime family millions of bucks. Does that sound like effective policing to you clowns?”

“Look, Chief,” Callahan said, “no one knew he had a defective ticker…”

“Goddamnit to Hell, Callahan! Are you deaf as well as mentally retarded! Did you not hear one mother-fucking word I just said…?”

“We hear you, Chief,” Bullitt said.

“And now I hear about some retired cop from Oakland PD, living up by Lake Shasta. Shot in the fucking face, dead as a fucking door-nail. The poor SOBs fucking eight year old daughter found him, too. And the word is he’s the cop that took a couple of shots at you a few months ago. And now, guess what, Callahan? Investigators up there want to question you about this shit, too.”

“What?” Bullitt said. “When did this happen?”

“Saturday night, Sunday morning. That timeframe.”

“Callahan was with us, Chief. Up at Sea Ranch.”

The Assistant Chief looked from Callahan to Bullitt. “Is that right? Well, I hope so. I sure fucking hope so. Because you two wouldn’t last a goddam week inside fuckin’ San Quentin. I mean, I hope that’s fuckin’ clear as glass. Now, get the fuck out of my sight – both of you!”

“Well, that was fun,” Frank said when they were clear of the office.

They walked to the parking garage and got in Frank’s Mustang, then drove to where Callahan had parked the rental car. 

“I’ll follow you to the drop off, give you a ride back into the city.”

Callahan nodded and they drove out to SFO. Callahan fumed the entire way, tried to think of one good reason to stay with the department – and couldn’t. On the drive back to the city with Bullitt, that was about all Callahan could think of to talk about.

“You can’t quit now,” Frank said. “That would be tantamount to an admission of guilt.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m getting tired of all this bullshit, Frank. I’m doing the job I was supposed to, you know. And yeah, I know, our operations are compartmentalized. No one in the department knows what we’re up to, and yeah, sure, I know I’ve got a ‘get out of jail card’ stashed away and I’m not worried about it, but really? We got hoods pushing on us from one side, the courts pushing on us from another, and then, just for the joy of it all, we got our own supervisors pushing us from yet another side. Who pushes back for us, Frank? Who takes our side, when we’re in the right, or even when we’re wrong? No one. No one, Frank. And do you really think that’s right?”

“No, not really.”

“Come on, is that all you can say? Look, most of us come to this job thinking we’re going to do some good, maybe get to help people every now and then, and how do we get paid back for that? We’re a bunch of kids trying to do the right thing and nothing less than a herd of legal eagles line up and pick apart every decision we make. And they get to do that from the comfort of their swivel chairs in their padded offices, while we get to make the decisions in the rain, in the middle of the night, when we’ve had to pull a double shift or right after after wives die, or, more likely, file for divorce. Come on, do you really think this is fair? Or is this stacked deck really nothing more than a sideshow a bunch of lawyers cooked up on a slow Saturday night – you know, for their amusement?”

“I don’t think it much matters, Harry. It is what it is. We do the best we can with what we’ve got to work with.”

“Yeah, I know,” Callahan muttered. “That’s what you always say.”

“Because that’s how I feel, Harry.”

“So, what next?”

“I’m going up to Tahoe.”

“You’re going to take out Briggs?”

Bullitt shook his head. “No. I’m going to get him to the Colonel, send him to that little house of horrors. Let them figure out what he knows, and where we go from there.”

“Okay, Frank. You do that, but you tell Goodman I’m done. I’m through being a pawn on this board.”

“So. You’re going to turn in your paperwork?”

Callahan sighed. “No, at least not yet, but I’ve got to find some good reason to wake up in the morning, ya know? ‘Cause this ain’t doing it for me anymore. It might. It might if we were supported, if everyone wasn’t picking our motives apart, turning mistakes into a legal lottery where everyone stands to make a buck – everyone but us, that is.”

“What happened this morning? With Evelyn?”

“Two lost souls, Frank. Drowning, trying to hang on to the same life preserver.”

“Oh? Sounds fun.”

“Does it? Well then, this has been a real fun day.”

Bullitt pulled up to the curb in front of Harry’s apartment building, and both were surprised to see Evelyn sitting on the steps, apparently waiting for Harry.

“You going to be okay, Harry?”

Callahan shook his head. “You know, Frank. I’m not so sure right now.”

“You want me to take her back with me?”

He looked at her sitting there, then turned to Frank. “No, I’ll be okay.”

“What about her, Harry. Will she be okay, too?”

“I hear you.”

“She’s my sister, Harry. All that’s left of my family.”

“And you’re my friend, Frank. Maybe the only friend I have left in the world.”

“Alright. Just be good to one another. She’s had a bad couple of years, and my sense is she’s very fragile right now.”

“Yeah? Well, that makes two of us.”

Bullitt sat there for a while, watched his sister and his friend disappear inside the old walk-up apartment building, and he tried to get a read on what Harry had just said.

Was he still fit to be out on the street? Had he lost his edge?

He sighed, dropped the car into gear and headed out into traffic, not at all sure where these questions were taking him – and not at all happy he felt he needed to ask them – but all the warning signs were flashing red now. Callahan had come back too soon. He had been a flaming wreck before Crawford; now he was way beyond that. 

When he got back to Sea Ranch he called the colonel, told him what had happened, and what Callahan had told him.

“I expected as much,” Goodman said. “Should I come get him?”

“Not yet. I think we should give him some room, let him try to figure this out for himself.”

“Is he a danger to himself?”

“Harry? God, no.”

“Okay. Keep me advised.”

“I will.”

All in all, Bullitt thought, this was the best he could do, the best thing he could do for his friend.

Cathy was waiting for him out on the patio, and she’d made guacamole and fresh margaritas.

She held out her glass as Frank sat: “Well, what shall we drink to?”

Bullitt clinked glasses while he thought. “To new beginnings, I think.”

“To new beginnings,” she added. “And to those we met on all the old roads we traveled, once upon a time.”

_____________________________

She walked into his apartment and looked around, shocked by what she found. Walls the color of a smoggy day, beige carpeting threadbare in places, and a kitchen that defied easy description. Rudimentary, perhaps, best described the tiny space, and as her eyes roamed she tried to reconcile what she was looking at with the house he was building. After a moment she gave up and went to the tiny sofa and sat down, then she watched him as he took off his jacket and hung it in a tiny closet just off the entry.

“Could I get you something to drink?” he asked. “I have Coke and O.J.”

“Coke works for me,” she said, her eyes falling on the piano – which even though it was an upright seemed to be of exquisite quality. “What kind of piano is that?”

“What kind?”

“Who made it, I mean.”

“Bösendorfer. They’re made in Vienna, and in a roundabout way I distribute them here in California.”

“You what? Did you say…”

“Yup.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t get it…”

“It’s complicated.”

“Cathy described the piano she heard you playing on, and this isn’t it.”

“Oh. That was my mother’s. It’s…”

“Don’t tell me, you have another house.”

“Yeah, I do.”

She grinned, shook her head. “And where is this one? Colorado? Aspen, maybe?”

“Switzerland.”

“Of course it is. Why not?”

“Like I said, it’s complicated.”

“Are you serious? You have a house in Switzerland?”

“Yeah. Davos.”

“I hate to seem rude, but just how much money do you have?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea, really.”

“Of course you don’t. That makes perfect sense, too. So, do you really know how to play this thing?”

He brought her Coke and a glass full of ice; she looked at it closely and thought ‘at least it looks clean,’ before she popped the top and poured.

He walked over to the Bösendorfer and retracted the keyboard cover, began playing Carly Simon’s That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. He even tried to sing here and there – but his voice was too gravelly, more like a hoarse whisper, yet nevertheless she was impressed.

“Do you know any Bill Evans?”

He drifted into Peace Piece, then wandered back to Gershwin, as he always did – then he stopped and asked her to come and sit by him on the bench.

“Closer, please, and put a hand on me.”

“What? Why?”

“I want to try something.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere.”

She put her hand on the top of his thigh and he returned to That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. A few bars in, his playing slowed and his head seemed to relax, to fall away…

And he could see a living room – inside another apartment, and that snow was falling outside. Endless pines, their limbs falling under the weight of a massive snowfall. With another passage he saw Evelyn and a man, and then he saw the man was beating her, first with his fist, then with a heavy belt, screaming at her as he towered over her.

“Move your hand to my face, please.”

She moved her hand.

“Higher, just by my left eye.”

She adjusted her hand.

“He hit you here. That’s when you fell. When things fell apart…”

She jumped up and moved away from Callahan, now clearly terrified of him. “What the Hell are you doing?” she screamed, and she watched him, almost mesmerized, as he broke free of the piano and seemed to drift back into the present.

He turned and looked at her, clearly shaken by what he’d just seen. “It’s okay,” he began, gently. “I think I understand now.”

She backed away again, until her back was up against a wall. “What do you mean, ‘you understand.’ Just what do you think you understand?”

“What happened, to you. Why you left him.”

“How could you possibly know that. I mean, that’s simply preposterous!”

“It is, isn’t it? Would you listen if I described to you what I just experienced?”

She nodded. “Yes-s-s-s…but I don’t understand…”

“Neither do I, really. This is only the second time I’ve tried to do this.”

“Do…what, exactly?”

“Well, Evelyn, I’m not sure how, but some music, some chords within music, seems to connect me to…well, I’m not exactly sure, but it feels like I can slip through time, even to different places, and I can see things there.”

“Pardon me for asking, but are you, by any chance, like schizophrenic?”

“I don’t think so. But bear with me here, okay?”

“Alright?”

“The first thing I saw was a living room in an apartment. White walls, gray trim. Wood floor, like a mahogany color. Green leather sofa, matching wingback chairs. An oval shaped coffee table, very old…an antique…”

“Dear God…”

“You are wearing jeans and a red plaid flannel shirt, you are wearing socks, white socks, but no shoes. He is wearing jeans and has on a down parka, dark red, and those funky boots, the ones with the rubber lowers and the leather uppers…”

“How are you doing this…”

“He’s screaming at you. Telling you it’s none of your business who he talks to on the telephone. You’re holding up a statement, from the phone company, pointing at a number. New Haven. The phone number is in New Haven. You’re telling him he’s been having an affair with a woman there. There…at Yale…a philosopher. Last name Shaw, and that’s when he hit you, when you fell to the floor. Then he kicked you, more than once…before he used his belt…”

Callahan broke free of the vision, saw her curled up on the floor in what almost looked like a fetal position, only she had pulled her knees up to her chest and she was trying to rock herself, almost like she wanted to be held…

He fell to her, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. “It’s alright, Evelyn. I understand now…”

Her head came up, her face was tear-streaked and red, snot running out her nose and her teeth chattering. “This isn’t right,” she whispered. “What you’re describing…”

“That’s the way it happened, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but this isn’t normal. People can’t do this…”

“Yeah, I guess so, but nevertheless I think that’s exactly what I just did.”

“Oh, God…no…”

“It’s okay. It’s still me…”

“How did you do it?”

“Actually, I have no idea, but it’s something my mother told me about. She could do it, and I don’t think she was the only one.”

“You mean, the music…”

“Playing the music, not simply the music in and of itself.”

“So, playing the music lets you see things…”

“I’m not quite sure it’s that simple. It helped to have you touch me, at least it did this time. The first time it happened, well, I was just playing when what I thought were visions came to me. Only they weren’t simple visions. It was more like I was transported to another time and place. In a way, I could move around there, look at things, even move stuff around…”

“Harry, that’s just not possible. I’m sorry, but what you’re describing seems like…”

“What? A delusion?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“Okay. Wanna try a little experiment?”

“I’m not sure.”

“That’s not fair. You’re a scientist, right?”

“I think you could say that, yes.”

“So, we come up with a hypothesis then generate experiments to prove or disprove the hypothesis.”

“Well, kind of. It’s not really that simple.”

“Okay, but what’s a simple hypothesis? That some musicians can manipulate time and space, and while doing so they can observe past events? Does that sound about right?”

She shrugged.

“Okay, well, let’s go back to the piano. You think of some past event, you tell me what music to play, and then let’s see what happens. I report what I end up seeing, if anything, and you record the results. Do we account for source bias that way?”

“This is crazy. You know that, right?”

He nodded. “It’s crazy as Hell.”

She stood and held out her hand, and they went to the piano. He sat, then patted the bench on his left side. “Sit here.”

“Hand on your leg again?”

“For now.”

“Okay, I’m thinking about something.”

“Music?”

“Elvis. Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

He thought for a moment, then began playing. Slowly, then slower still, until he was in a room. A child’s room, and it felt like he was a wraith looking down, like the room was in the near distance and sheathed in an ion mist…

Chord by chord time advanced, until he saw a man enter the girl’s room. He came to her bed and leaned over, kissed the girl once on the forehead…and as the music moved so did his understanding of the scene below…the man…dressed in a uniform…military…Navy…a pilot…he’s telling his little girl goodbye, that he’s going to Vietnam…no, to Korea…and that he loves his little girl…

He felt her jump up and fall away, but he kept playing, saw the man leave the little girl’s room…then everything receded from view and he stopped playing, turned to see Evelyn on the sofa, balled up with her knees pulled up to her face, rocking back and forth, crying again, then sobbing hysterically…

“What is it?” he whispered as he came to her. “What happened?”

“I…I don’t know. The more I pressed my hand into you, the more I saw…”

“You saw…what did you see?” 

“You first. You tell me what you saw.”

“A bedroom. A little girl, asleep. A man, a naval aviator, telling her goodbye, then leaving her room…”

“That’s right,” she whispered, “yes, that’s right, but you missed the most important part…”

“What? What did I miss…?”

“That I wasn’t really asleep. I was mad at him for leaving me so I pretended to be asleep. I didn’t get to tell him that I loved him, and that I really wasn’t mad at him…”

“And he didn’t come home again?”

“Yes, that’s right. Did Frank tell you?”

“No. We’ve never talked about things like this.”

“Frank stayed up with dad that night. They talked and talked about his going to war, what it meant – to him – to serve. What country really means. But, I pretended to sleep, and I never got to say goodbye…”

“You were a little girl, you couldn’t possibly have known…”

“I was a selfish brat…”

“And you’ve been punishing yourself ever since.”

She looked up at him. “Yes. That’s right.” She stood and then flew into his arms, held him so fiercely it took his breath away.

“You don’t have to do that anymore, Evelyn. You don’t have to bear that cross alone.”

“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I just don’t know anymore…”

“What don’t you know?”

“How I can go on.”

“You don’t want to?”

“I really don’t know anymore, Harry. I think I ruined my life, like I’ve ruined everything ever since that night. I see a fault and I pick at it, pick at it like a scab. I pick and pick until I’ve infected everything around me…”

“So, what are you most afraid of?”

“Right now? That I’ll pick on you until we’re infected, that we’ll wither and die…”

“What if…I stop you. What if I won’t let you destroy us? Then what would you be afraid of?” She buried her face in his neck, and as he felt her tears he pulled her closer still… “Why don’t you just let go of all that for now. Just let it go, push it all away, think about how you want to be without all that crap cluttering-up your life.”

“Harry?”

“Yes?”

“I’m hungry.”

“I know.”

“How could you possibly know that…”

“Because…I can hear your stomach growling.”

She pulled away just a little, shook her head as she grinned at him. “All you cops…you’re all the same, you know? Nothing gets by you…”

“Hey, just the facts, M’am…just the facts.”

“Uh, I didn’t bring my wallet…? And that’s a fact.”

“I think I can handle dinner. Once, anyway.”

“Good.”

“So, wanna walk down to the wharf?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

He went to the closet, put on his shoulder holster then his windbreaker while she looked on.

“Do you always wear that thing?”

“Yes. Always.”

She shook her head but took his hand…

As they left the building Callahan scanned the street – as he always did – before he started walking down to the Wharf, and within a few blocks he spotted the tail. A black Sedan de Ville, four men inside. They would have to be Threlkis’ men, he told himself even as he smiled inwardly. ‘Now, how to get Evelyn out of the line of fire…’

He cut down Jones Street and made the jog onto Pier 47, and here he started to walk faster.

“Are we in some sort of hurry?” Evelyn asked.

“Kind of, yeah.”

“Okay.”

They made it out to Scoma’s and ducked inside, and while they waited for a table he saw the black Cadillac driving slowly out the pier, and, predictably, it stopped about where he had expected…effectively sealing them off from any escape, or at least he hoped that’s what they’d think.

Once at their table Callahan ordered wine and recommended she try the Dungeness crab appetizer and the abalone for her entree, and he chose the same. They took their time with dinner, though from time to time he got up and walked to a spot where he could see the Cadillac…

“You want to tell me what’s going on?” she said after his last excursion.

He shrugged. “Some of Threlkis’ goons followed us. They’re waiting for us, well, I should say me, to leave. My guess is they don’t think I spotted them, or they would have found a better place to hide.”

“You don’t seem very concerned.”

“I’m not.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Well, I don’t know who’s running the family right now, but I need to send them a message.”

“Really? Like what?”

“Basically, back off and don’t fuck with me.”

“I suppose this is something you feel you really need to do right now?”

“Well, if I don’t they’ll probably come in here and kill a bunch of people. All things being equal, I think it makes more sense for me to go out and kill them first.”

“Just like that, huh?”

“Yeah, pretty much. How’s your dessert?”

“Fine.”

“Well, I’ll be back in about a half hour,” he said, looking at his watch, “maybe an hour, tops.”

“And if you’re not?”

He shrugged. “Call Frank, I guess.”

She looked around, saw the restaurant was still full and ordered some coffee, and from time to time she too looked at her watch.

About fifteen minutes later everyone in the restaurant flinched as machine gun fire erupted a few blocks away, followed by six sonic concussions from a large caliber handgun, then the sound of sirens filled the night.

Not quite forty five minutes later Callahan rejoined her at the table.

“So, that took a little longer than expected?” she said matter-of-factly. 

He looked at his watch again: “Damn. Sure did. Sorry about that?”

“What went wrong?”

“Oh, not much. They were a little more stupid than expected, but hey, c’est la vie.”

“Well, is it at least safe to walk back to your place?”

“Oh, sure.”

“Good.”

“Good?”

“Yeah. Frankly, Callahan, I wasn’t sure about you. But now I am.”

“You are?”

“Yeah. I sure the hell hope you’re horny, because I’m going to fuck your brains out.”

Callahan turned, found their waiter and made eye contact. “Check, please.”

Turned out there was a taxi out front, which didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, not even a little bit.

© 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 (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 35

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 35

____________________________________

After consultations with the colonel and, presumably, whoever he was speaking to in Washington, D.C., the team’s first target was agreed upon…and the “green light” given to ‘set up’ the target. Actually taking out the target would be authorized only after the target was acquired.

The first target, William Crawford, was a recently – and a medically – retired patrolman from Oakland, and he had been identified as the man who tried to take out Callahan in the firefight near Hayward Executive Airport. His right hand had been shattered during that exchange of fire, and the injury had taken care of his active duty career; in the immediate aftermath he had assumed a leadership role in the Bay Area’s vigilante group, coordinating the group’s recent efforts to attack the team by helicopter assault. As members of the group had liitle to no military training their effort had rapidly fallen apart. Furthermore, the three man team that had penetrated the house and very nearly killed Delgetti had been identified as on duty officers from two East Bay agencies, and these three were a part of Crawford’s group, or cell.

Crawford’s house was located on a hillside near Hayward Executive, and the downed DC-3 had impacted houses not far from Crawford’s. When the FBI determined that Crawford had given the Go signal to take out the aircraft, the federal government had signed off on the operation. Still, the overall plan of action was to take out all members of the four known East Bay cells, and this totaled 23 men, not including Crawford.

“How do we do this without calling attention to our involvement?” Callahan had wanted to know, and even over the encrypted circuit he could tell that Goodman didn’t care if the team’s involvement was discovered or not. He and Bullitt had looked knowingly at each other when they heard that inflection point form in the air, and Callahan assumed Goodman’s intent was deliberate.

“We’re either expendable or the feds will disavow our actions,” Frank said after the call concluded, “put it down to rival factions fighting it out for supremacy.” 

“I can’t believe Goodman would hang us out to dry.”

“Well, Harry, I suggest you do. You’ll live longer.”

Callahan shook his head. “Think this through, Frank. If you think that’s a real possibility, then these kinds of actions simply aren’t right. Got that; simple as that. And if they ain’t right, why the hell do we want to be involved?”

Bullitt shook his head. “We are involved, Harry?”

“Let me remind you, Frank; you said the gloves are coming off. I may be guessing here, but I kind of think this is exactly what you had in mind.”

“I just can’t help feeling that we’re being played. And…if we hit one of their guys they’ll turn right around and kill one of ours… So, where does it all end?”

“Frank…they damn near killed ten of our people up at the safe house…”

“Okay, so we take out an equal number. We send ‘em a message.”

“Ya know…that feels more and more like the Old West, like frontier justice. What did you say they call this sort of stuff?”

“Extrajudicial executions.”

“Yeah. Still, any action like this would be state sanctioned, right?”

“Yeah,” Bullitt said. “At least I think so.”

“Well then, all we really need to do is record these communications with the colonel. We’re golden after all that is covered, right?”

Frank sighed, then crossed his arms over his chest: “I already have.”

Callahan did a double take: “You what? You have all of the stuff where executions have been mentioned, or ordered?”

Bullitt nodded his head. “Actually, one of the Israeli kids helped me set it up.”

Callahan brightened. “So, Goodman has to know about it, right?”

“I would assume so, yeah. Still, I made copies of them, and have the copies in three different locations.”

Harry shook his head, wrung his hands. “These guys took out a U.S. senator, Frank. I doubt the feds will disavow us.”

Bullitt shrugged. “Sometimes it kind of feels like we’ve been put out here for a reason. That this assignment has fallen to us, to you and me, like we’re supposed to do it. Even if we’re sacrificed, I guess to me it feels kind of like we’re being sacrificed for some kind of greater good.”

“I’m not going to be sacrificed, Frank. Not for anyone. We take out these characters and then we either retire – or fuckin’ get back to work.”

“I hope they let us, Harry.”

“Well, I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but I’ll tell you what – I’m not going to sit around worrying about it.”

Frank looked at his hands for a moment, then shook his head. “You know, I’ve had to put people down before, but not like this. This feels premeditated to me, Harry. And it doesn’t feel right.”

“Don’t think that it’s not, Frank. It is premeditated murder, just like when Stacy planned to get herself into the clinic in Davos, and then murdered my wife. And you know what, for some reason I don’t think Stacy has lost any sleep over it.”

Bullitt nodded. “So. You and me. We track this Crawford guy down. We find him. We call it in, and then we take the shot.”

“Yeah?”

“Which one of us, Harry? Who takes the shot?”

“I don’t know. Wanna flip for it?”

Bullitt shook his head. “I don’t want this on you, man. You’re carrying around enough shit already…you don’t need this.”

Callahan shook his head as he reached into a pocket, pulling out a quarter. “I appreciate that, Amigo, but no way. You call it…” he said, flipping the coin…

“Heads,” Bullitt said – pensively.

Callahan caught the coin and took a look. “How appropriate,” Harry sighed as he slipped the coin back into his pocket. “Let’s go.”

______________________________

Crawford had gone underground after the botched Safe House ambush, but Captain Briggs had called in sick three days in a row – and on the third day either the Israelis or some spook at the NSA managed to pull a trace. Briggs was holed up at a casino-hotel just outside South Lake Tahoe – which made tracing outgoing calls difficult…but not impossible. It would just take more time, they heard over and over again.

So, after several days and with no new leads on Crawford, Bullitt made the call: “Let’s get back to work.”

“What?” Carl Stanton said. “Dell isn’t even out of the hospital yet, Frank!”

“Yeah, well, we’ve got work to do. And we have evasion plans. And I don’t want anyone to think they’ve scared us off…”

But Callahan was already back on the job, finding out all he could about security arrangement for Threlkis’ daughter’s wedding and reception, still planned for next weekend at the Mark Hopkins. And he’d picked up all the paperwork Records could dig up on Jennifer Spencer, too.

She was a nut job alright, Callahan thought after he read through the application for a White Warrant. Raped, obsessed with the idea of vengeance, the girl seemed to be a serial killer in the making, and he’d walked by her apartment a couple of times the past couple of days, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Kind of funny, too, because she lived about three blocks from his place.

Still, he really was more focused on the Threlkis reception, and Bullitt’s plan made perfect sense. Punch all the old fart’s buttons, provoke a hasty reaction and see what kind of response they generated from Escobar.

Clever, but dangerous.

And Callahan didn’t bother driving too much now, so he kept to cable cars and buses, occasionally a taxi, as he did his legwork around town.

He visited the cop who had sworn out the White Warrant, talked to him, got his impressions…

“She’s a fucking time bomb, Inspector. And when she goes off, man…it’s gonna be a big body count.”

“What else did you find out about her?”

“She’s got a sister somewhere, but I couldn’t locate her. And she had a membership at one of those gun clubs…you know…where you can take classes for a concealed permit, practice at their range, that kind of stuff.”

“Really? Know where that’s located?”

“Not offhand, but I bet I have it in my notes…”

“Think you could take a look around, let me know what you find out?”

“Sure, you bet…”

“How long have you been out of academy?”

“Me? Oh, almost five years.”

“What are your plans?”

“Plans? Oh, I don’t know. I kind of wanted to try for detective, but who doesn’t…ya know?”

Callahan nodded. “So, I got your last name – Collins, right? What’s your first name?”

“Steven. What do you need that for, Inspector?”

“Would you like to come down some weekend and ride with one of us, see if you like it?”

“No kidding? Sure…I mean…Hell-yes!”

Still nodding, Callahan continued: “Do you think Spencer would recognize you?”

“Yessir,” Collins said. “We got into it real good, a real knock-down drag-out kind of thing. Took three of us to get her under control, too. She bites and has vicious fingernails,” he said, rolling up his sleeve and showing off several lacerations on his left arm that had required stitches to close. “The only thing that kept her from doing hard time was the mental evaluation. Reactive schizophrenia, the shrinks called it.”

“So, you think she’s dangerous?”

“She’s a chameleon, Inspector. She blends in. My guess is she kind of lives in hiding, and she probably moves around a lot.”

“Paranoid?”

“Big time.”

“But…is she dangerous?”

“She had a little Beretta in her purse, Inspector. But she had a permit, ya know? So, yeah. Dangerous is an understatement.”

“For concealed carry? Wonder how she got that…?”

Collins shrugged. “The system is pretty fucked up, sir.”

Callahan nodded. “Yup, sure is. Well, I’ll be in touch.”

When he made it back to his apartment that night he pulled out Spencer’s paperwork and looked at her mug shot again: the black and white polaroid was still attached to the arrest report and he studied it for a long time, wanting to commit key features to memory. Her skin was pale, the word ghostly came to mind, and her eyes must have been light blue, or maybe light gray, yet the arrest report only showed ‘blue.’ She was about five-six, one hundred pounds, and had no tattoos or surgical scars. Beyond that, there was little about her appearance that suggested ‘dangerous mental patient’…but there rarely was – until you could put the person in better context.

No one looked good in a mug shot, period, but people’s eyes weren’t haunted with regret when they were out on the street, either. Her eyes were a mask in that one image, but then that kind of figured. What did Collins call her? A chameleon? That made perfect sense, he thought, and it also made her perfectly dangerous. He’d have to come at her sideways, hit her where and when she wasn’t expecting a take down.

He shook his head then stood and walked over to the window, looked down at the street below…just the usual Tuesday night crowd, husbands and wives out for a walk, hand in hand and stopping to look at storefront displays, or the usual afterwork type – a middle aged man out on the prowl, maybe looking for a quick pick up. Kids having fun, probably from one of the local colleges and away from home for the first time…

“Funny thing,” he said to the window. “I don’t see so much hate down there.”

The tides were off so very little fog tonight, he thought. Just a street scene. Nothing out of the ordinary…

He went and sat at his piano, then slid the keyboard cover into the body…thinking about nothing…other than the utter normalcy below…

And he played a chord, closed his eyes and drifted for a while.

Then another, still drifting.

And on the third chord he played, still with his eyes closed, he began to feel the scene below…but even ‘feeling’ was an inadequate description of the sensation that filled his mind…because in an instant he was outside his apartment, almost hovering above the street, drifting like fog between people, touching them, feeling their feelings…

And with the next chord he went spiraling into one of the bars, and he was looking down on…what…was that him? And the Threlkis kid, butchering every note he tried to play on that wretched old Baldwin?

He played another chord, a darker, more somber tone, and in an instant he was across the bay, still undercover and just when everything started to fall apart…but there was the Threlkis kid again…then gunfire and in the next moment he was soaring over the bay in the middle of the night…

He was only vaguely aware that he was playing now, that his fingers had entered into some kind of unholy communion with the keys on his piano…then he was in Briggs’ office, his office in Internal Affairs, and Briggs was in a panic now, flipping through files in a filing cabinet…

Callahan felt his fingers forming the next chord, then he zoomed in close, so close he could read read the file as Briggs read through the pages. It was Crawford’s file, but Callahan could see post-it notes stuck here and there…

An address near Lake Shasta…and a phone number, too…

“I’ve got to write this down,” he said, and he stood to go for his note pad…

And in the next shattering instant he was back in his living room, standing over his piano – and everything he had just experienced felt like a faraway dream, a dream like a puzzle, quickly fading away to a place beyond memory…

He ran to his closet, found his jacket and pulled out a notepad and he wrote down the address even as he felt the numbers and words slipping away…and then he ran for the phone and called Bullitt.

______________________________

Bullitt walked into Callahan’s apartment and made his way to the kitchen, grabbed a Coke from the ‘fridge then went to the sofa. “Okay, Harry. What’s so important that I had to…”

“I think I found Crawford’s 20,” Callahan said, with ’20’ indicating a suspects location.

Bullitt sat up, began paying attention. “Oh, where is he?”

“Up by Lake Shasta, right off the 5…”

“I know where Shasta is. Where’d you get the tip-off?”

Callahan shook his head. “I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Just that. I saw Briggs looking at a file folder…”

“You what?”

“Look, Frank, I know this sounds fucking strange, but just go with it. I can’t tell you any more than that.”

Bullitt looked dubious, but nodded. “Okay, what’ve you got?”

“Just an address. And what I’d like to do is…”

______________________________________

That Saturday night, Callahan went to the Top of the Mark and crashed the Threlkis wedding reception, confronted the old mobster with a bogus confession and looked on as he “vapor-locked” – or went into cardiac arrest – then he walked out. Frank was waiting on the street, parked in a beige Plymouth that Harry had rented the day before; when Harry reached the curb in front of the hotel Bullitt drove up and Harry jumped in. Once over the Bay Bridge, they made their way to the 5 northbound for Redding, then just beyond to the little village of Shasta Lake, California.

“Take this exit,” Callahan said at once.

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

Bullitt shook his head, grumbled under his breath.

“Right at the end of the ramp, then about a mile and a half, maybe two miles east.”

“Got it.”

“Okay. The road up here should be Old Oregon Trail. Turn right.”

It was now a little after two in the morning, and a light drizzle was falling, the windshield wipers making a smeary mess of the glass…

“There it is,” Callahan said. “Right…turn here. Then maybe a third of a mile. Spyglass Lane, turn left, go up about a hundred yards and stop.”

After they stopped on Spyglass, Bullitt turned to Callahan: “What now?”

“The house is at the end of the cul-de-sac, there’s a hill covered with scrub and pines beyond…”

“You’ve been here before?”

Callahan shook his head.

“Then how the hell do you know all this, Harry?”

And once again Callahan simply said “Don’t ask, Frank.”

Bullitt looked down, now shaking his head. “So, how do we get up above this house…carrying a sniper rifle through a residential neighborhood?”

“There’re only a couple of houses up here, a few hundred yards apart.” Then he pointed ahead and a little to the right: “There’s a little trail up this hill, through the trees. I’ll be able to circle around the house…”

“Hey, I hate to remind you, but it was heads. It’s my shot, Harry; not yours.”

“Sorry, Frank. Not this one.”

Bullitt nodded. “You using a suppressor?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s the effective range with that thing on?”

“No more than fifty yards, seventy tops, with the wind at my back,” Callahan said as he opened the door and walked to the back of the car.

Bullitt took the keys from the ignition and walked back to open the trunk; Callahan grabbed the black nylon bag and swung it over his shoulder and without another word took off up the hill. Frank quietly closed the lid and looked the car’s doors, then followed Harry into the trees. A hundred yards on they came to a street and crossed it, and Harry continued to move quietly through the scrub, circling around to the back of a beige one story house.

The drizzle had picked up a little, so the hillside was a muddy mess and Frank noted they were leaving perfect footprints in the soil as he made it to Harry’s perch. Callahan was setting up his rifle, getting ready to lie down on a bed of pine needles…

“You’d better grab a branch, try to obscure our footprints.”

“Yeah,” Bullitt said. “I’m on it.”

When Frank returned to the same spot he couldn’t see Harry until he was almost right on top of him, and the rifle was not visible at all. 

“Why don’t you go back to the car?” Harry said.

“No thanks.”

“Suit yourself.”

A little after four in the morning a dog inside the house barked once and a light came on in what looked like might be a bedroom, and Callahan swung the rifle towards the nearest door. A moment later the door opened and a black dog came out to do his business, then a man stepped out onto the back porch.

And even from this distance, Bullitt could tell it was Crawford…

And a half second later the man’s head simply disappeared, then the lifeless body tumbled to the concrete. The dog went over and curled up next to the dead man while Callahan disassembled his rifle and put it in its case. Bullitt swept their footprints as they made it back to the car, and ten minutes after the man fell they were back on the road, heading south for San Francisco.

Harry wadded up his sweater, turning it into a pillow of sorts, and then he leaned against the foggy window and promptly fell asleep.

When he woke up he noticed the sun was up and that the car was parked in front of Cathy’s house at Sea Ranch, but Bullitt was gone. At least he’d cracked open a window before he split, Callahan thought.

He went down to the construction site and walked around what would soon be his new house, then he went inside. All the walls were up, the roof as well, but it was ‘bare studs’ inside. Many of the windows had been installed, probably to keep the sea breeze from inundating the electrical and plumbing materials with salt laden moisture.

He walked around, guessing which spaces might be a living room or a kitchen, and he thought it funny as he’d never seen Cathy’s plans; he’d simply told her that he trusted her to come up with something that fit into the surroundings, and added he wanted lots of overhanging terraces and only two bedrooms. Well, now he could see, in bare skeletal form, Cathy’s interpretation of his personality come to life…

“Uh, can I help you?”

Startled, Callahan turned and saw what had to be a construction foreman standing about twenty feet away – with a roll of blueprints in one hand and a tape measure in the other.

“You work here?” Harry asked.

“I do. Brett Newman. And you are?”

“Callahan.”

“Oh. This is your place, right?”

“Yup.”

“Well, take a look around, but watch your step. Any questions, I’ll be up on the roof.”

“Right.”

A few minutes passed then he could see Cathy stepping out her house, carry two cups of coffee and headed his way…so he walked over to what had to be the living room and waited for her.

“You went right to the heart of the house, Harry,” she said as she came up to him. “Why am I not surprised?”

“I have no idea what part of the house I’m in, but I love it already.”

Cathy smiled. “Thanks. Frank Lloyd Wright did a house down in Carmel, the Della Walker house, and I wanted to borrow some of the major design elements from that house. Glass, stone, and copper. Low, strong horizontal lines. You’re standing in the living room. Your bedroom is just over here, same view, but the view will be framed by that tree,” she said, pointing to a scruffy pine that leaned out over the cliffs. “There will be a stone walk down to the rocks, right above the surf.”

“I’m really stunned, Cathy. I had no idea…”

“Really? Why?”

“It’s magic. Like it was designed by God or something…”

She laughed at that. “Nope, just little old me.”

“You’re a genius.”

“Well, I brought you some coffee. Frank said you had a rough night, something about Threlkis and the Mark Hopkins.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you meet Brett?”

“I did. What’s he do here? Construction?”

“Actually, he’s from our firm. He comes out twice a week and goes over the materials and workmanship, makes sure everything is up to my specifications, and that all the work is up to code.”

“I bought a painting a few days ago, pretty shattering stuff, really. A portrait, but a portrait of madness.” He handed over the gallery’s business card before he continued. “If you get a chance, drop by and see if there’s a place for it here in the house, and maybe where it’d fit in.”

“Okay. Sounds intense.”

“It is. Well, maybe it’s more than intense. Maybe it sums up my career, maybe better than I’d like to admit…” ‘And maybe it sums up the women in my life,’ he thought, but he left that unsaid. “It’s big, too.”

“Alright,” Cathy said, now more than a little curious, “I’ll swing by tomorrow when I go into the city.”

“Thanks. Great coffee, by the way.”

“From Kenya. Very smooth.”

“My coffee comes from May’s Diner, and it ain’t – smooth…at all.”

She laughed.

“How long ’til I can move in?”

She shrugged. “Depends on the temperatures. If it stays warm enough to lay stone through October, maybe around Christmas. If not, we’re looking at April or May. Any rush?”

“No, not really. Curious more than anything else.”

She walked over to a corner spanned by mitered glass; the main view here was of the sea. “Your piano will go here, in this space. Would you rather face the sea, or be broadside to it?”

He came and stood by her side, looked around the space, then at the views from different spots. “Amazing how different each is. I think here, facing the sea.”

She nodded. “That’s the way I drew it, but I wanted to make sure.”

“See. I told you I trusted you.”

She looked down, and Harry could tell she was blushing.

“Harry? Why this?” she asked, spreading her arms wide to indicate this house. “I mean, why me?”

Callahan stuck his hands in his back pockets then stood up on his toes, flexing up and down. “You know, I’ve known you and Frank for years, and just being around you, a lot of what you know about design has rubbed off on me. I listen, I guess I’m trying to say. Anyway, I think I’ve grown to trust how you look at the world…”

“Me? A Jimmy Carter Democrat?”

“Yeah, Cathy. You. And I appreciate your political points of view, too. I listen, and I learn.”

“Maybe if we took time to listen to one another more there wouldn’t be so much trouble brewing.”

“Yeah,” Callahan sighed. “Maybe.”

“I never got to tell you, but I was devastated by Sara…what happened and all…”

Harry nodded. “I know. We all were.”

“I don’t know how you handle it, Harry.”

He looked away. “Habit,” he ended up saying. “Like breathing, I guess. It’s hard to stop.”

“This Threlkis stuff last night? Will there be more trouble?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah.”

“Well, stay safe. I’m going to go put on breakfast if you want to come over?”

“Sure. Thanks. Did they do a good job on the house?”

“Good as new,” she said, smiling, then she turned and walked back to her house.

He walked around for a while, then ambled down to the cliffs that looked out over the surf-line, and even with just a gentle breeze blowing in from the sea the noise was spectacular. ‘What will it be like in a storm?’ he wondered.

Because a big storm is coming. He could feel it in his bones.

Threlkis. Escobar. The vigilantes. 

After taking out Crawford…who would come at them first? And how hard would they come at the team?

He walked along the edge of the cliff, always looking down at the surf, until he came to Cathy’s house…

He looked in, saw Frank and Cathy hugging in the kitchen, then he saw Cathy’s sister come in and pour a cup of coffee, and the sight of her took his breath away. Blond, shoulder length hair, gorgeous eyes…

Then she turned and looked directly at him, and a second later Frank and Cathy waved at him, beckoning him to come inside and say hello to his future…

He waved back and smiled, but for the past several hours the only thing he could truly see was Crawford’s face in the PSG’s scope, then, with just the slightest pressure on one finger, how a life had been so casually snuffed out.

Had Frank been, in the end, right? Was Crawford’s death really so different? Was his death really cold blooded murder? No more, no less? 

“And what if it was?”

He started for the house, but then he stopped. Shivering inside, he turned and looked out to sea.

“Oh, God…what have I done…?”

© 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 (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 34

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 34

____________________________________

With three chocolate chip and banana pancakes onboard, not to mention two glasses of whole milk, Callahan felt like a beached whale as he and Bullitt walked out of the diner. Satisfied with Frank’s plan to wreck the Threlkis wedding reception, Harry now felt more upbeat about his return to the street – certainly more than he had felt at four this morning…

“So,” Frank said as they walked up to his Mustang, “you think you could come up to Sea Ranch this weekend. Cathy would appreciate it…”

“I don’t know, Frank. This feels a little bit like a blind date, ya know? And I’m not sure I’m ready for that shit yet…”

“Look, Harry, I understand…but Evelyn is seriously easy on the eyes and a real sweetheart…”

Callahan nodded and held up his hand, but he stepped back a little, too, distancing himself from both Frank and his own thoughts. “Frank, I don’t know how good your math is, but let me remind you that basically I’m three for three. That’s three serious relationships in my life, Frank, and three dead women. Maybe you ought to mention that to Cathy before she gets her hopes up…”

“I’m sorry, Harry. I’d never put two and two together before…”

“I do. Every night.”

Bullitt shook his head. “Maybe all of us should head out for choir practice, like maybe tonight?”

Harry smiled. “Sounds good to me, Frank. Really good.”

Leaving Bullitt, Callahan drove across town and made his way to a row of art galleries the Wharf, and he wondered what he might find waiting there. How did a gallery’s business card find its way to the floor under the passenger’s seat inside the victim’s car? Lots of conjecture, Callahan thought initially – until he stopped dead in his tracks in front of one gallery.

Looking through the glass he found himself mesmerized by a series of what looked like self-portraits, all of them painted in shades of black and blood, and inside each of the works on display he found an unnerving howl of sexually-charged anger. They were, he thought, the works of a victim of sexual assault, a heavily traumatized victim that had, from what he could tell, internalized her anger until it spilled out on canvas.

He looked at his notepad, confirmed these images were in fact at the gallery in question, so he went inside to find out more. When he opened the door a bell rang out in an unseen office, and sure enough a husky-voiced middle-aged women came out to greet him…and in an instant Callahan found the woman’s penetrating eyes more than a little unnerving.

“So,” the woman said as she walked up to him, “what do you think?”

“Excuse me?”

“I saw you looking at Jennifer’s self portraits. What do you think of them?”

“They’re startling…and that one stopped me in my tracks. It’s very unsettling.”

“It’s the eyes that get me,” the woman said. “I try to look at them, but after a moment I find I have to look away.”

“Jennifer, you say? Can you tell me about her?”

“We’re going to have an opening and showing here in two weeks, if you’d like to meet her.”

“No, no, I’m just curious where all this comes from. I’ve, frankly, never seen anything quite like these.”

“May I ask what kind of space you might have to display works such as these?”

“Well, I’m building a new place up at Sea Ranch. It’s right on the water, and I think the majority of the space will be stone and glass, with redwood accents…”

“So, the space will be relatively dark?”

Callahan seemed to think about that for a moment. “No sheetrock, no painted walls, so yes, I guess you could call it dark.”

“Come take a look at this one over here.”

Callahan followed the woman to a secluded alcove, and yes, this space was dark compared to the rest of the gallery…and on the wall was another painting by the same artist. This one was different, however. 

First of all, this one was huge, easily six feet tall and, he guessed, about five feet wide – but the image itself was savage, almost primordially so. The woman’s face was contorted in rage, but her eyes were a hollow black…black and predatory, like a shark’s. Even her mouth looked feral, the teeth almost sharpened to points, and when he leaned in close he could just make out little drops of what looked like coagulated red blood on her teeth and around her mouth. Not obvious, but readily apparent to anyone willing to be drawn into such a work of madness.

“What’s her story?”

“What do you mean?” the woman said.

“Where did all this anger come from?”

The woman shrugged. “You’d have to ask her. Do you like this one?”

“No, not really. The one in front, that really caught my attention.”

“It does do that. It hasn’t sold yet, if you’re seriously interested.”

Callahan walked back to the front of the gallery and looked at that first painting again. “What’s the price?”

“Fifteen.”

“Thousand?”

The woman nodded, grinning while she sized him up. “I can hold it for you with a deposit of one thousand, if that’ll help,” she sneered, her voice almost condescending now.

Callahan pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check for the full amount and handed it over to the woman, who suddenly seemed completely flustered. “I won’t need to pick this up for a few months,” Callahan said. “Is it a problem to keep it here?”

“No, not at all, uh,” she said, looking down at the check, “Mr. Callahan. I was going to ask if we could keep it through the main showing, but this will work out magnificently!”

“So, what’s the artist’s name?”

“Spencer. Jennifer Spencer, and I do believe she currently lives here in the city.”

Callahan nodded. “And when was the opening, this showing?”

“A week from this coming Friday.”

“And pardon me for asking, but what was your name?”

“Leah. Leah Franklin,” the woman said, holding out her right hand. “So nice to meet you, Mr. Callahan. Could I get you a receipt?”

“Yes, please, and just use the address on the check.”

The woman looked at the check again and did a double take. “Davos, Switzerland?”

“That’s correct.”

“You are a U.S. citizen, aren’t you? If not, I’ll have to fill out some additional paperwork.”

“No, I was born right here in the city,” he said, grinning boyishly.

“I see. Well, if you’ll just let me know when you’d like to pick it up, please, just call me.”

“I will, Leah,” Harry said as he made his way to the door. “And, thanks.”

He walked to his car and drove downtown, parked in the detectives lot and went upstairs to the computer center by the main dispatcher’s room. “I want to see what you can find on a Jennifer Spencer, female, white, probably in her thirties, maybe late twenties. Last known address here in the city,” he told one of the Public Safety Officers working in the center.

“You want to wait, or will you be upstairs?” the woman asked.

“How long will it take?”

“Maybe ten minutes. I’ll need your badge number and the incident report number.”

Callahan nodded as he handed over his note pad. “I’ll wait, but I need to hit the head.”

“Got it,” the PSO said as she turned and got to work.

As he was walking up to the bank of urinals he heard the bathroom door swing open and looked over to see Captain Lionel Briggs walk in, and – inwardly – he groaned. Briggs was a carbon copy of Captain McKay; a paper-pushing bureaucrat-cop who had a well deserved reputation for being a bigot as well as a total prude. What Callahan didn’t know, however, was that after McKay’s disappearance Briggs had been transferred to Internal Affairs.

“Callahan! Just the turd I wanted to see. Zip up and report to my office – on the double!”

Callahan stood at the urinal, pissing away a quart of milk and two cups of coffee, as his stomach knotted. After he finished up he washed his hands and then splashed some water on his face, then he dried his hands and returned to the PSO’s desk and picked up a hard copy of Spencer’s driver’s license information, as well as a brief CCH, or Complete Criminal History, which listed an assault on a peace officer and a white warrant application. This last application really didn’t surprise Callahan; a white warrant was, generally speaking, what an officer filled out to have a suspected mental patient committed to a psychiatric facility for a 72-hour period of observation, and he looked at the dates of offenses and found the application and the assault happened on the same day.

The net takeaway after his morning’s work? Spencer probably had extreme issues with authority figures, and little ability to control her emotions when confronted by an authority figure – especially by a male. He walked down to records and gave the clerk what little information he had and asked if he could get a copy of Spencer’s arrest report and, if at all possible, a copy of the white warrant application and any evaluations made during her confinement.

“Callahan!” he heard Briggs yelling, “I said now, and I meant now!”

“If it’s okay with you,” Harry said to the clerk, “I’ll pick these up later this afternoon.”

“Okay,” the girl said, winking once and grinning as Harry rolled his eyes.

“Coming, Captain,” Callahan said as he walked down the hall to Briggs.

“Follow me.”

And Callahan followed Briggs downstairs to Internal Affairs, where his stomach instantly knotted into a burning mass of acid-drenched anxiety, and from there to an office with Briggs’ name on the door…which Callahan found utterly confusing…

“Are you working IAD now, sir?”

Briggs turned around and pointed to a chair. “Have a seat, inspector.”

Callahan sat.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while, but – apparently – you’ve been on extended leave to some sort of U.S.–Israeli counter-terrorism task force.”

Callahan didn’t say a word.

“And, apparently, you’ve been involved in undercover operations around the Bay Area.”

Again, Callahan made no effort to speak.

“Look, Inspector,” Briggs snarled, highlighting the obvious disparity in rank between them, “it’s this department’s policy that all, and I mean all undercover operations will be reported to this office, and a monthly summary of operations will be submitted to me directly. Now, why haven’t I received any such paperwork from you?”

Callahan stood and took out his wallet, then he removed a business card and handed it over to Briggs. “Call this guy. He’ll let you know what you need to know.”

Briggs took the card and looked at it briefly, then did a double take and read it closely: there was a name and phone number for the deputy director of the National Security Agency listed, and Briggs gasped as the implications became instantly clear. He handed the card back and took a seat.

“Jee-zus H Christ, Callahan, just what the devil have you gotten yourself mixed up in?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not allowed to…”

“Oh, yeah, I get that. Can you at least tell me if you’re still attached to this operation?”

Callahan was instantly on-guard, and looked directly into Briggs’ eyes, saw a flicker of evasive nervousness that was all the confirmation he needed to know that Briggs had been turned, but all Callahan did was shake his head and walk out of the office.

Predictably, Briggs did not follow, and he could just imagine that Briggs was on the phone now, calling someone in his network to let them know: “Callahan is back, working inside the department again.”

Once clear of IAD he started to do the math…

If Stacy had flown to Mexico City and on to Colombia, and that had taken the better part of a day, he could expect her back in the city sometime tomorrow. If, on the other hand, the Escobar cartel wanted to farm out a hit to the Threlkis organization? Well, if that was the case he and Frank could expect a reaction any time now.

He sighed and took the elevator upstairs and went directly to CID; Bullitt was in Bennett’s old office sorting through stacks of long-neglected paperwork.

“Harry! What’s up…I didn’t expect you up here so soon…”

Callahan walked in and closed the door behind him, then sat across from Bullitt. “Briggs is in IAD now, and he just pumped me. He’s in the network, Frank. I could see it in his eyes.”

Bullitt handed over a note from one of Goodman’s assets in the city; the gist of the memo was that, yes, Briggs had been identified in several calls to a known vigilante handler.

“So, what do you think?” Frank asked quietly.

“How sure are you that this office is secure?”

Bullitt shook his head and stood, and Harry followed him out of the building and to the parking garage; they drove over to Nob Hill and parked under Coit Tower, then walked down to The Shadows, Frank and Cathy’s favorite restaurant, and they ducked inside.

“Dell and Carl will be coming at four, and I got word to Al to come ASAP,” Bullitt said after they were seated in a dark corner with a good view of the main entrance. “Can you get word to Rooney, put him on stand-by?”

“No problem,” Callahan said as he stood and went to a payphone outside the restrooms. When he got back to the table Bressler was sliding into a seat next to Frank, and he looked very agitated.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked.

“I was followed,” Bressler said, “most of the way here. I lost one tail by the marina, but…”

“But, if they were pros they had you covered by multiple units…”

“I parked down by the docks and when it looked clear I took a cab up to the tower. Didn’t see anyone, but…”

“But you never can tell,” Frank whispered. “Man, I’m sure glad we made it through Goodman’s little spy-school…”

“What about Dell and Carl?” Al asked. “Think they know how to spot a tail?”

Harry looked at Frank and they both shook their heads.

Frank dropped a twenty on the table and the three of them stood and went to the back door; Callahan stopped and called Rooney, confirmed the extraction point and left the phone dangling. They left and made their way up Nob Hill by circling their way between houses all the way to Coit Tower, occasionally doubling back on their route to check for a tail, and they reached the parking lot at the tower just as a Huey’s rotors began beating the air overhead.

Rooney didn’t even bother setting the skids down, but dozens of gawking tourists stood by, fascinated, as three men in sports-coats hopped into a green US Army helicopter and disappeared into the usual late-afternoon fog just now flooding through the Golden Gate…

__________________________________

Once airborne, Frank put on his headset and switched to Comms, then he dialed in the CID tactical frequency and sent a prearranged signal to Delgetti and Stanton: “Inspectors 66 and 78, head to the stables,”  which would, hopefully, send them to the Presidio.

Rooney climbed out of the fog and turned south, made for Goodman’s safe house above Palo Alto; Dell and Carl would wait at the fort until Rooney came for them, because Frank had already decided enough was enough. But, in a flash his mind turned to Sam Bennett, and then to his two surviving kids. Things were about to get ugly…and he wanted to keep collateral damage to a minimum.

First things first, he thought. Briggs. Who had he called? What was the size and strength of the network Briggs had activated with a single phone call…?

“Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“I think we’re going to have to take Briggs, get him to Goodman, see if we can find out what he knows.”

Callahan nodded. “What about Sam?”

“I was just thinking about that.”

“We need to get them out of harm’s way.”

“Agreed.”

As the Huey passed Menlo Park the fog dissipated, and a few minutes later they were at the safe house. Two Israeli agents were there, and all their communications equipment was set up on the third floor of the massive house, so Frank told them what he thought the team needed.

“We picked up Captain Bennett,” one of the agents said, “when we heard the stable message. He and his wife are on their way to the Presidio.”

“He’s got two kids…”

“Already picked up and on their way.”

“Do you have direct comms to Goodman?”

The agent nodded: “Follow me.”

Frank told the colonel about Briggs and what had happened following Callahan’s encounter in IAD, then he asked the big question: “What if we bag him? Do you think he’s worth interrogating?”

Frank heard Goodman chuckle over the encrypted circuit, then: “We have to cut off the head of the snake, Frank. However we can.”

“Do you think Briggs is the control nexus?”

“No,” Goodman replied.

“Are you telling me to bag him, or take him out?”

“I think we’re at the point where we have to go on the offensive, Frank. I think it’s time to take out as many bad apples as we can.”

“Why now?”

“Because every time we cut off a head it just grows right back. We need to send these clowns underground.”

“How many?”

“We have more than twenty identified right now.”

“Any idea how we might proceed?”

Frank heard Goodman sigh: “If you could get them to gather in one spot…”

Bullitt could just see the newspaper headlines: Twenty cops murdered… and wondered why Goodman would want to call that much attention to the team’s efforts.

“Alright,” Frank said, “we’ll work on it.”

Once he’d signed off he went to find Callahan…

“What if Goodman is using us?” Bullitt asked after he recounted the conversation with the colonel.

“Well, the question becomes ‘who is using who,’ doesn’t it? And only then, why?”

“We’re too low on the totem pole to get anywhere near an answer to either one of those questions,” Frank said as he looked down, “but all I really do know is we simply can’t take out twenty law enforcement officers without bringing down the wrath of God. And I can’t see how Israel might stand to benefit if we did.”

“I say we take Briggs, tonight if we can, and that we find out what we can, directly from him.”

Frank seemed dismayed at the idea: “Are you really prepared to torture someone we know, even if Briggs is in it up to his neck?”

Callahan shrugged.

“Yeah, I thought so. Tell you what, Harry…I know I couldn’t do it, and I’d be really concerned if you thought you could. It’s one thing to talk about torturing someone, but something else entirely to actually get your hands dirty doing something like that.”

“So, what do you want to do? We can’t just hole up here…”

“First thing I want to do is get Briggs. Where we go from there is anybody’s guess.”

Bressler walked in: “Helicopter is about five out.”

Bullitt nodded. “Al? You have anything on Briggs?”

Bressler shook his head. “Nothing concrete, just a few rumors.”

“Such as?”

“His wife. The word is she’s addicted to a prescription anti-anxiety drug, and Briggs has been writing scrips using a hot pad and a borrowed DEA number.”

“No fucking shit?” Frank said, really shocked by that information. 

“They’re just people, Frank,” Bressler said. “Cops fuck-up just like everyone else.”

“Do we know what pharmacy he uses?” Callahan said, interrupting Al…

…who only shook his head…

“Is there a working file on him, Al, maybe in Vice?” Frank asked…

…and Bressler nodded slowly before he spoke: “Yeah.”

“So, we go in and get it tonight, see what we can figure out from there, then I recommend we all go back in to work tomorrow and act just like nothing happened.”

Callahan nodded. “I’ve got a couple of good leads off that homicide out at the cliffs this morning.”

“Good. Just try to stay around the station as much as possible for the next few days. Let’s let everyone know where we are for now, try to draw them out, identify who we can.”

“Then what?” Bressler asked. “Take them out?”

“Not unless we have to…”

“Oh, we’ll have to,” Callahan sighed. “This is simply coming down to kill or be killed, Frank. I doubt those were Mormons following Al this afternoon.”

“Okay, Harry, but think about this, would you? If we kill even one of these vigilantes, what makes us any different than them?”

“That’s a Boy Scout’s question, Frank,” Harry said. “Are we standing up for the integrity of the system, trying to keep it from collapsing, or are we…?”

“And what do you think those guys would say, you know, if you asked them? Maybe that they’re just trying to keep the system from collapsing? That and – what do we call it? Immigrants, or blacks, or Jews…or whatever…are causing the imminent collapse of the country. And that only they represent the best hope of preventing that collapse…”

Callahan held up his hand and shook his head: “No Frank, I think they’re trying to tear the country apart from the inside, because they think the system isn’t worth saving. Their political needs, the needs of this moment, can’t be accommodated by our system of laws, of checks and balances. The system as it stands right now is their enemy, it’s standing in their way and, as far as they are concerned, it needs to be pushed aside, burned to the ground.”

Bullitt seemed taken aback by the idea, but then he rose to the challenge: “Okay, if all that’s true, what does killing them accomplish – except possibly starting an all out war, another civil war?”

Callahan sighed. “Oh, that’s coming Frank. Sooner or later it will all boil down to just that…because I think that’s exactly what they want. They can’t tear the system down on their own, so they’ll get us to help them by corrupting the system from within, getting the people to lose faith in the system, and then getting the people to actively work to burn it down.”

“Man, Harry, I had no idea you were such a fucking cynic.”

“It’s not cynicism, Frank. It’s opening your eyes to what’s going on all around us right now. It’s keeping in mind that history really does repeat itself, and that people really, really don’t take that idea seriously enough, if they do at all. And, you know, that’s why Hitler chose the same path, Frank. Why his shock troops infiltrated German law enforcement. Why his ‘brown-shirts’ infiltrated peace movements, and then sabotaged their demonstrations, making peaceful protestors look like willful destroyers of the republic, and then branding them as the anarchists. And the funny thing about it, Frank? He laid it all out in that little red book of his, that Mein Kampf thing he wrote when he was in jail. It was all right there, and the Germans ignored it. And do you know why they did that, Frank?”

Bullitt just shook his head.

“Because they wanted to. They hated their country enough to want to burn it all down, from the inside. And look around, Frank. Look at the freaks and hippies who want to burn it all down, then look at the guys in button down shirts and three piece suits, and listen to the anger in their voices.”

“So, what are you saying, Callahan? That there’s no hope, that there’s nothing we can do to stop all this from going down?”

“Politicians sell hope, Frank, every four years…just like clockwork.”

“Sounds like you’ve given up on things, Harry…”

“I don’t know anymore, Frank. There’s just too much hate. Everywhere you look it’s Us and Them. Battle lines being drawn, my side is better than your side. And who knows, maybe that’s just a part of the human condition, how we’re wired. Maybe ‘peace’ is really the opposite of the way people are put together…”

Bullitt continued to shake his head. “Man, I don’t know. If that’s true, then, well, there’s no hope, is there? No way out of this mess.”

Harry looked up when he heard a Huey in the distance, but then he heard another helicopter, and another…

“What is it?” Bullitt asked when he saw the look in Callahan’s eyes.

“We’ve got company coming.”

“Yeah, Rooney is coming up with…”

“At least three helicopters coming, maybe four…”

They looked at one another, then stood…

“Are the PSGs here?” Frank yelled.

But the Israelis were already coming for them, bounding down the hallway at a dead sprint…

“Rooney reports he’s taking fire from…” one of them said.

Machine gun fire tore through the house, then several small objects landed on the roof and everyone froze…

A moment later Harry was flying sideways through the imploding remains of the house, and then he was dimly aware of being picked up and hauled into what he thought was a bunker of some sort. He recognized Al through the smoke, realized Bressler had just saved his life – but then Al ran back into the smoke and was gone…

The Israeli’s came in carrying several Uzis and MP-5s, and a minute or so later Al returned, this time carry Frank over his shoulder. “Just like the PT course at the academy,” he said through his infectious grin, and as he set Bullitt down Harry could see little cuts all over Franks face and arms…

He stood, felt light-headed and reached out to steady himself, then he took an MP-5 from the pile on a table and racked a round into the chamber…

Then he heard men running overhead – followed by more machine gun fire – and then the pathetic return fire of snub-nose 38s.

“Fuck this,” Callahan snarled – as he made his way through the rubble for the wrecked staircase. With his back up against the wall he made his way towards the machine gun fire up the stairs until he saw three men – strangers all – firing at unseen targets.

He flipped the selector to full auto and the safety to off and raised the weapon to his eye and squeezed off three bursts – and saw three men go down.

“Frank? Are you there?” he heard Carl Stanton yell.

“Callahan here. Can you make it to the stairwell?” He heard running, then saw Carl at the top of the stairs. “You alone?”

“I know Dell went down upstairs, the Captain, too…?”

“Bennett?”

“Yeah. Pretty sure they’re dead,” Stanton said as he joined Harry. “What about Frank?”

“He’s down here. Okay, as far as I could tell. What’s going on out there?”

“Two choppers followed us, jumped us when we cleared the fog. Our pilot called for backup but they shot out the engine, we went down a few hundred yards up the hill from here.”

Now it was eerily quiet, except that sirens could be heard in the distance.

“What about Rooney? The pilot?”

“I don’t know.”

“Anyone else in the Huey?”

“Mrs. Bennett was with the kids,” Carl said, shaking his head and holding back tears.

“Okay, you go find Frank – and anyone else down there. I’m going to find out what’s going on outside,” Harry said as he ran up the stairs. He saw Delgetti slumped in a corner and ran over, felt for a pulse – and found one, strong and steady – so he laid him out on the floor before he ran outside.

It only took a second to see where the downed Huey was; a steady flow of black smoke was rising through the evergreens up the hill so he took off in that direction…

…and stopped when he came on Sam Bennett. He was sitting up and looked confused, but the skin on the left side of his face was badly burned and Harry could see blood under his shirt…

…so he took off for the helicopter.

And found Rooney standing by the downed bird, shaking his head.

“Harry? You have any idea how much paperwork it’s gonna take to cover this shit?”

Callahan looked over the scene; Elaine Bennett was sitting in the shade of a redwood with her kids – and all were just fine – while Rooney’s co-pilot was busy dousing the remains of a small engine fire with an extinguisher.

“Did you get any registration numbers on the other birds?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Rooney said as he pulled out a tiny spiral notepad. “Ready to copy?”

“Shoot.”

Harry wrote the numbers down but he instantly recognized one of them, the LongRanger he had piloted with Escobar in the rear seat – and he was amazed at how reckless these people were, and how lucky they’d been to catch on to the teams’ use of Army helicopters.

The wailing sirens stopped on the hill beneath the house so Harry started to make his way back – just as the sound of several approaching Army Hueys drowned out everything else. He watched them circle overhead, saw Rooney wave at an officer leaning out and surveying the scene, so he jogged back down to the house. He saw firemen and paramedics standing around and called out for the medics, told them there were casualties in the house…

“Who are you?” one of the firemen called out.

“Callahan. San Francisco PD Homicide.”

“We heard heavy gun fire. Is it safe?”

“Yeah. Come on up.” He heard footsteps behind and turned, saw Bullitt walking out of the house, his shirt a tattered mess of glass fragments and pooling blood.

“Harry? I think I’ve had about enough of this bullshit. It’s time. The gloves come off, and they come off right fucking now.”

Their eyes met, and Callahan nodded. 

© 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 (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 33

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 33

____________________________________

“But I don’t want to go back!” Lloyd Callahan bellowed. “Not to Israel, not to fuckin’ Switzerland…not even across the goddam Golden Gate Bridge!”

“I understand, Dad, but that bullet was meant for you. Like – for the back of your head. Does that compute?”

“I don’t give a damn, Harry! I’ve got work to do – right here, right now – and I’m gonna do it.”

“I’ve already hired a painter to come out and finish the house…”

“Well, you can goddamn-well-un-hire his fuckin’ ass, too!” Lloyd screamed. “And right fuckin’ now!”

“Pack a bag, Dad. We’re leaving.”

The two Callahans were still out on the front porch, still locked in a classic stare-down, when Frank Bullitt pulled up out front, and after he got out of his old green Mustang he just stood there watching as two lions circled one another, working out their dominance hierarchy up there in the shade of the porch…and when he’d had enough he decided to walk up and get into the thick of things…

“Hey Lloyd,” Frank said as he started up the steps, “need any help today?”

Harry wheeled around, red-faced and boiling under the collar: “I’m tryin’ to get his stubborn ass out to the airport.”

“And quite successfully too, I think.”

“Now Frank, don’t you come up here and stick your nose…”

“Oh, Harry,” Bullitt said matter-of-factly, “he’s goin’ to the airport alright, but we gotta talk first.” Frank looked from Harry to Lloyd, then back to Harry, his eyes magmatic. Then: “Harry, go get us something to drink.”

“Right.”

“Lloyd? Sit down.”

The elder Callahan took one look at the subterranean menace in Bullitt’s eyes and instantly decided that sitting suddenly made perfect sense, but now Frank paced back and forth, from one end of the porch to the other, apparently waiting for Harry’s return…

…and he appeared moments later, carry three Cokes over to the table by his father’s rocking chair…

“Sit down, Harry,” Frank added.

Harry sat, his ashen mood now almost pyroclastic.

“We got things to cover, Lloyd,” Frank began gently. “Too many. First off, Harry’s right. You were the target last night. Second question? Was it a Threlkis hit? I’m not so sure, at least right now. Two witnesses saw a middle-aged woman with a sniper rifle, and one of them picked Stacy Bennett from a photo-lineup this morning.”

“Shit,” Harry sighed.

Lloyd simply shook his head. “So, if it is Stacy…she knows just about anyplace Harry might take me.”

Bullitt nodded. “I called your office this morning. Y’all have a freighter headed out this afternoon. San Fran to Valparaiso to Cape Town to Niarobi and back. Five weeks. You need to pack up your stuff right now. Harry is going to run you out to SFO; you’ll get into my car out there and I’ll run you down to the wharf. You’ll be one less thing Harry and I have to worry about right now, okay?”

Lloyd looked down then slowly nodded his head. “Alright. You win.”

“Your ship leaves at 1630,” Bullitt said gently. “Need any help packing? Anything from the store?”

“No.” Lloyd stood, dejected, and left the porch, but the screen door slammed on his way inside.

“Damn,” Harry said, his voice suddenly beyond tired. “Stacy? Here already?”

Bullitt nodded. “Delgetti is running with this one; he already has a warrant registered on Interpol, and we have an image of her out at SFO last night, getting onto a plane bound for Mexico City.”

“That Interpol shit won’t matter.”

“Well, it’ll tell the Colombians that we know what they’re up to…”

“Is that a good thing?” Harry sighed. “Won’t she just go deeper underground?”

“Doubtful. They want to hurt us, but it feels like they want to do it slowly – so we have time to suffer…”

“Okay. But the best defense is a strong offense, right…?”

Bullitt shrugged. “Yup, I guess, but we can’t just sit around and wait for them to make the next move.”

“Hurt ‘em? Take out some of their product in the pipeline?”

“Bressler is working that angle now that he’s back at Vice…”

Harry shuddered. “Have you heard from Goodman?”

“They’re going over their phone intercepts, looking for signs of a new intermediary.”

“So…we…you and I…we take out whatever Goodman comes up with?”

“Maybe. But what if we back off? Get them to feel more comfortable, get them out of their hideouts a little at a time. Identify Stacy’s handlers, then let them lead us to her.”

“That’s not a strong offense, Frank.”

“The colonel thinks that’s the best way to…”

“And he’s been wrong the last two times, hasn’t he…?”

Bullitt looked down, lost in thought, then he looked directly at Callahan: “Well, what if he wasn’t wrong?”

“You mean, what if Goodman’s organization has been penetrated?”

“We’d be in a world of hurt, wouldn’t we?”

“Well,” Callahan sighed, “after Sara I began to think as much.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“I thought I was being paranoid.”

Bullitt smiled. “Yeah, but were you being paranoid enough?”

Callahan grinned too, but Frank could tell his friend was lost in thought.

“So,” Harry said, almost to himself, “what do we know? First, when did things start to go sour?”

“Well,” Frank muttered, “I’d say it all started after you took out those two over in Oakland.”

“And that was right after I ran into Escobar, on that helicopter flight moving product…”

“…so he’s taken all that’s happened since as a personal affront…like a loyalty challenge…”

“And so he decided to find a weak link and exploit it?” Callahan asked. “But why Stacy?” Callahan drifted for a moment, thinking…

“That friend of yours,” Bullitt said, “the doc from ‘Nam… What’s happened to him?”

“Came back here after she went to Davos. I guess he’s still up at…”

“We can’t afford to guess, Harry. We need to get our hands on him, fast.”

Lloyd came back out on the porch, carrying two small canvas duffels in one hand, his house keys in the other. 

“Ready to go, Dad?”

“No, but I gather that doesn’t really make a shitload of difference…”

“Anything I need to do while you’re gone, Mr Callahan?”

“No, Frank. Well, y’all just…well…just watch your backs, okay?”

“Will do,” Bullitt said. “Harry, drive up the Departures ramp, right up to the TWA sky-caps. Lloyd, get out and go inside and wait by the door; I’ll be a few minutes behind so get in my car as soon as I pull up to the curb.”

“Got it.”

Bullitt looked at his watch. “Harry, time to roll.”

“Okay, Frank. Seeya at the fort.”

“Yeah.”

The two Callahans drove out to SFO in silence, Lloyd still angry and Harry mad at himself for letting his dad get that way, until Harry turned into the airport and headed for the departures ramp.

“Well, son, this is it. You take care of yourself.”

“I will, Dad. Look, I know we don’t talk much about things, but I wanted to…”

“Don’t worry about it, Harry. We’ll talk it over when I get back.”

They looked at one another as Harry pulled up to the curbside baggage check-in area and stopped. His father held out his right hand and Harry took it.

“You’ve always been a good son, Harry. Both to your mother and to me. And I’m proud of you, in case I haven’t told you recently.”

“I love you, Dad.”

Lloyd nodded then hopped out of the car – and in an instant he disappeared into the milling crowd; Harry shook his head then drove off to get on the 101.

__________________________________

As planned, Bullitt met up with Harry at the Presidio; the old fort was one of the few places in the city where they could shake a tail, and where they could leave a car without fear of it being messed with.

“Rooney’s here,” Harry said as soon as Frank got out of his Mustang, “and he was able to locate Jim for me. He’s up at Travis right now, headed for San Antonio tomorrow.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“No, he was in surgery.”

“Well, we better get going. Traffic across the bridge will be a bitch.”

Callahan smiled: “Rooney’s waiting; he’ll run us up.”

Bullitt grinned at that. “Think I could sit up front today?”

Harry feigned surprise. “You ain’t ever growin’ up, are you?”

“Not if I can help it, Harry.”

__________________________________

“I noticed a real change in her the day before the blast,” Jim Parish said, speaking more to Frank than Harry. “She was tense, on edge.”

“Anything else?”

“I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help here, Frank. When Goodman got word they were going to try to take her out he set up that ruse…well, you know what happened. She had on a vest with a ceramic trauma plate covering her torso, but something’s bothered me about that night ever since it went down? I never saw a bullet impact…”

“What?” Frank said, surprised.

“Well, think about it. If they’d shot her, hit her in the vest, she’d have been knocked back by the impact, right? Well, when the blast took out Chip I looked in that direction for a split second, but when I looked back at her she was on the ground, and just like we’d planned she was holding her neck. I put on the gauze pad – that had been soaked in red dye – and tried to make he look dead…but I remember looking around for a bullet strike…”

“Where?” Harry asked.

“Well, first on her body, but she wasn’t behaving like she’d been hit anywhere…”

Bullitt snarled: “We missed the goddam most important thing. In all of the confusion, we missed the one bit of evidence that would have keyed-us in…”

“Exactly,” Parish sighed. “She knew when to fall…”

“When Chip triggered the bomb?” Harry said, crumbling. “That means she knew Chip…”

“Not necessarily Chip,” Parish added. “It could have been Frank, but she still could have stopped Chip from going up to the Porsche…”

“Man, that’s fucked up,” Harry sighed. “Bad enough to conspire to take out a cop, and a friend at that, but how fucked up do you have to be to sacrifice a nephew.”

“Escobar must have something on her…” Frank added.

“Or he had been using her for a while,” Parish said, thinking out loud. “She told me once that someone in the Boston field office had been investigating someone close to her, but when she told me that, I remembered thinking that that someone was really her…”

“What if that’s the agent she took out?” Frank said. “She’d have had to set him up big-time. Talk about pre-meditated…”

“That would make sense,” Harry replied. “Kill two birds with one stone.”

“Jim?” Frank began. “Any chance she’s been around here, that she might be scoping you out?”

Parish shook his head. “If she has I’ve missed it, and in case you missed it, this is a SAC base and it’s not exactly easy to sneak through the wire.”

“What about her mental collapse?” Harry asked. “Think she faked it?”

“No, I don’t. You can’t fake sudden spikes in blood pressure like that. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it, thinking about the guilt she would have been feeling. Mainly over Chip’s murder, how that death affected her brother, Sam. A real psychopath might be able to get away with that guilt-free, but my sense of her was that she isn’t now, or wasn’t then a psychopath.”

“Do you think money alone could be an inducement?” Harry asked.

“I wouldn’t have thought that possible,” Parish sighed, “with a senior FBI agent, but maybe I’m just being naive.”

“Naive?” Frank smirked. “Only if it was contagious, Jim.”

“Harry? What are you going to do to her?”

“Don’t ask.”

Parish nodded. “I kinda thought so.”

“So, you’re off to Texas?” Frank asked.

“Yeah. We’re developing a combined services teaching facility, and I want to be in on it at the beginning.”

“So, you’re staying in?” Harry asked, incredulous.

“Yup, and I know, Harry, but somewhere along the way the whole Duty, Honor, Country thing began to make real sense to me. Like maybe it’s the only thing left in the world that does. Anyway, I’m comfortable here. Where I’m headed…”

“Well, it’s a long way from the bar at the Caravelle, Jim.”

Parish nodded, seemed to accept the moment for what it really was: “I’m glad our paths crossed, Harry. I wouldn’t have gotten involved with the orphan airlift without An Linh, and, in a way, your coming into my life made all that happen. That was a real slice of life, maybe a once in a lifetime thing…”

Harry closed his eyes and shook his head, tried not to think about An Linh. “I hear you, Jim. Keep in touch, okay.”

“You know it.”

_________________________________

“So,” Frank said as the Huey lifted off from the pad at Travis, “you think he was telling the truth?”

“Jim? Hell, Frank, that guy doesn’t know how to lie, let alone…”

“Hey, just asking.”

“Well, the problem as I see it right now is we’re right back to square one. We’re stuck in the position of having to wait for Stacy to make the next move…”

“Unless, like you said, we can force the issue…”

“Okay, Frank, how? What are you thinking?”

“What if Sam got sick. You know, really sick? Think that might lure her in?”

Callahan shook his head. “No. She burned that bridge. In fact, I think she’s burned all her bridges.”

“Okay. Do you think we should go down to Colombia?”

“Why? Where we don’t know anyone, where we have no support, and where we don’t even know the language?”

Frank sighed. “Then yeah…I’m stuck.”

“We don’t have much choice, Frank. We get back to work, let her make the next move.”

“And what? When she takes the next shot we sit back and hope she misses?”

‘Mickey’ Rooney chimed-in at that point, over the intercom: “Why don’t you go after Escobar’s operations in the East Bay. If you become a big enough pain in his ass that ought to provoke a response.”

“Maybe,” Frank said. “Good idea.”

“What would happen,” Callahan added, “if the Threlkis mob really has linked-up with the Colombians?”

“If that happened,” Frank said, now thinking out loud more than anything else, “kicking that hornet’s nest might stir up some real trouble.”

“I hear one of his girls is getting married soon. We could fuck with his head, hit him where it hurts the most…”

“At a wedding?” Frank said, grinning again. “Come on, Harry, is nothing sacred?”

“Not with that scumbag, Frank. And I hate to change subjects, but what’s going on with you and Cathy?”

But Frank just shook his head, pointed at his headphones – and Harry nodded, looked out the window as Alcatraz slid by off their starboard side…

“Fog coming in the Gate,” Rooney said. “Gonna be close.”

Harry leaned forward and looked out the windshield; he could just barely see the Presidio as the afternoon flood carried cooler water into the bay, and he guessed they’d just make it back to the helipad – with perhaps only seconds to spare – before it, too, disappeared in the gloom.

________________________________

It was almost funny, Callahan thought, how fast Bullitt got into his car and drove off. No way would he stay and talk about Cathy, about the things tearing them apart. No fucking way. That guy held everything close, his feelings most of all.

He drove to his old apartment and found a parking place on the street about a block away, and he walked home in the same enveloping fog. He couldn’t even see across the street as he made his way to the entry, though he could tell someone new had taken up residence in Avi’s original hide under the fire escape.

It wasn’t just his imagination, he knew. The statistics were grim, and getting worse by the month: homelessness wasn’t quite pervasive yet, but the way the numbers kept increasing it wouldn’t be long before there was a real crisis in the city.

He put his key in the door and walked into the foyer, checked his mailbox to see if the post office had restarted service – they hadn’t – so he walked up to the third floor and went into his apartment.

And there, right in the middle of the floor, was a large manila envelope.

He walked over and picked it up, then went to his chair and sat. He flipped on a lamp and opened the envelope, took out several pages of information from Colonel Goodman, and a few more from Didi that included a small summary accounting of the money he’d spent on his brief journey across the South – which he found oddly depressing.

Goodman had nothing new to add. McKay had spilled all he knew and the Israelis were at odds trying to figure out what to do with him. There were rumors, nothing more substantial than rumors, that Stacy Bennett had been seen in Cartagena and Bogota. Which didn’t add up, Goodman added, because Escobar was based in Medellin. And none of that stuff mattered very much to Callahan because, he knew, he’d have been hard pressed to find Medellin on a map. About the only thing that mattered was she hadn’t been spotted in California…until yesterday.

He went to ‘fridge and opened the door – and instantly regretted the choice. The contents looked like some sort of evil experiment in bioterrorism, with glowing green orange juice the highlight. He looked under the kitchen sink and found some plastic trash bags and cleaned out the contents of the fridge and the small freezer, and these he carried these downstairs to dumpsters in the alley. He was still dressed in a windbreaker so he walked down towards the wharf in search of dinner. He was about to go inside his old stand-by, a Chinese place with excellent egg-foo-young, when he saw Bullitt’s Mustang drive-by…with a blond in the passenger’s seat…so he ducked into a shadow and watched Frank park down the street.

He watched as Bullitt ran around and opened the passenger door, peered through the fog trying to see if he recognized the woman, then in a huff he just shrugged it off and ducked inside his favorite little Chinese restaurant. Still, even after he finished his meal the idea that Bullitt might cheat on Cathy bothered him…yet, with all the stories of her horrid behavior in Israel – and the simple, irrefutable fact that they still weren’t married – left him feeling off balance…like a truth he’d long taken for granted had turned to dust right before his eyes.

He walked home, now in a kind of deep funk, and walked upstairs with his head hunched over. He went to his chair and slipped off his shoes, then he dozed for a while before he went to bed –

Then the telephone rang, its harsh metallic shards pushing aside the dream…

He picked up the phone: “Callahan.”

“Inspector Callahan, I have you on the duty roster…”

“That’s right. Go ahead.”

“Signal One out near the Cliff House, officers on scene.”

“Show me en route.”

He slammed the phone down and went to the living room, slipped on his shoes and then trudged over to the hall closet. He opened the little wall safe and took out his Smith and his badge, put on an old sport coat over his shoulder holster and grabbed his windbreaker, then made his way down to the street…all while trying to remember where he’d parked the goddam car.

And only then did he look at his watch: three-forty-five! He looked up, could just make out the moon above the fog and groaned. “Why am I still doing this?” he asked no one in particular.

He drove across town completely unfettered by early morning traffic and his mind lost inside an absolutely black hole, but as the Cliff House drew near he saw the red and blue lights atop several patrol cars pulsing in the black fog, bathing the scene in alternating washes of crimson and cobalt…

He parked by the patrol cars and walked through the parking lot to a covey of patrolmen huddled behind some sort of gray coupe…a Ford, maybe.

“Hey, Harry,” one of the patrolmen said as he approached, “haven’t seenya in a while. Whereya been?”

Callahan ignored the question as he stifled a deep yawn. “Whaddaya got.”

“One stiff. Took one to the forehead, and one down around the main vein. Pants down around his ankles, looks like plenty of saliva on the guy’s pecker, couldn’t tell if he’d popped his wad yet.”

“Swell…”

He walked over to the driver’s door and looked inside, saw the wound on the vic’s forehead and bent over to look more closely while he pulled a penlight from his coat pocket. Powder burns on the skin, some reddish gray – indicating the muzzle had been placed right against the skin.

“So…this was the second shot,” he sighed as he pulled on latex gloves before he moved any further along. Next, he felt the back of the skull – “clean…no exit wound…small caliber hollow-point, maybe a 38, probably a 32…”

He looked around the guy’s neck, saw some smeared lipstick and nodded unconsciously: “Uh-huh.” He pulled back before he took a deep breath, then he went to look at the lower wound.

Same thing. Powder burns on the flesh just above the guy’s dick, so the bullet went through the bladder on the way to the large intestine…which accounted for the absolutely disgusting smell…because when the guy passed he lost sphincter control and everything came rushing out…into the seat…

So, our suspect was female and she was giving the guy head. When she got to the short-strokes, and when he was thoroughly distracted, she pulled out her pistol and put one in his groin, then sat up and put another into the vic’s forehead.

Very professionally done, all in all. Forethought, set the trap and spring it, all without giving herself away.

He heard a crime scene van pull up, and probably the coroner’s wagon too.

Sure enough, the technicians and a photographer were waiting behind the victim’s car and he turned them loose after he told the photographer what he wanted. He watched as fingerprints were lifted from the passenger door and off the passenger’s seat belt, then one of the techs barked “Got something!” and he walked over to the passenger’s door.

“What is it?” Callahan asked.

“Business card,” the tech said, slipping the card into a transparent evidence baggie and handing it to Callahan. He noted the name and address of an art gallery near Ghirardelli Square and handed the card back to the tech, then he walked over to the trail that led down to the old baths and the Seal Rocks overlook.

Because he had suddenly wanted to get away from all this death more than anything in the world, and now he felt sick to his stomach…just like some rookie at his first homicide. He shook it off and walked around for a few minutes, then walked back to the crime scene, then over to his car. He got a fresh note pad and walked back to the scene, got the incident service number and the responding officer’s name and badge number before he walked back to his car…

And Bullitt was there, waiting.

“What have you got?”

“Pissed off woman. Double tapped her vic, first in the groin, second in the forehead.”

“No leads?”

“One. An art gallery. I’ll check it out later in the morning.”

“Sorry I ran out on you last night. Had to go out to the airport. We drove by your place, wanted to take you out to dinner…”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“Evelyn. My sister. She came in last night, going to stay out at the place with Cathy and I for a while. Going through a shitty divorce, really down in the dumps.”

Harry felt a palpable release when the words hit, then a passing wave of guilt. “So, what’s with Cathy? I heard some unusual stuff…”

“Yeah, she’s been a little unhinged lately. Look, whatever you say, never, and I mean never, ever, say the word menopause around her, alright?”

Harry chuckled at the thought, then shook his head. “So, you guys are okay?”

“Yeah. See, the thing is, she says I’ve got commitment issues, and well, the thing is, well, I think she’s right.”

“Uh-huh. And what does that mean?”

“Well, see, the thing about it is, well, I think it’s time we got married.”

“Frank? You feeling alright? You look a little green…”

“I feel a little green.”

“You had breakfast yet?”

“No. You?”

Callahan sighed, tried to put his newfound anguish away. “I feel like I got about two hours of sleep,” he said, yawning again. “Maybe some coffee…”

“I need some fuckin’ pancakes or something. The Diner sound okay to you?”

“Lead on, sire, and I shall follow.”

When they were finally sitting at a corner table and breakfast was ordered, Frank leaned in close. 

“The Threlkis reception is going to be at The Top of the Mark…”

“No shit?”

“Yeah. You sure you want to go through with this?”

Callahan leaned back in the booth, then grinned. “Yeah…”

“Good. Because I have a plan…”

© 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 (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

Saturday in the Park

(The final chapters of the 88th key are in the works, but as mentioned previously, here’s a short, short story that came to me during a restless night. I attribute this to too much hot sauce and not nearly enough guacamole, but high-ho, that’s the way things go from time to time.)

Saturday in the Park

Friday morning

“I talked to your mom last night,” she said to her husband as he stepped out of the shower, “and she mentioned tomorrow is your father’s birthday. Do you want to call him?”

“No.”

“You know, it’s none of my business, but…”

“That’s right, Abby. It’s none of your business, so drop it.”

“Does he even know about Micah?”

“I have no idea. And I don’t care.”

“Perry? He’s your dad…”

Her husband shrugged as he began toweling himself. “I don’t give a shit.”

“You mom thinks it would be a good idea.”

“They’ve been divorced for something like fifty years. Do you honestly think she knows what the hell she’s talking about?”

“Perry? I’ve never even met him, and your mom either can’t or won’t tell me anything about him. And he’s Micah’s grandfather, for God’s sake. Don’t you think your son has a right to at least meet him, to know he simply exists…!”

“Abby? Drop it, okay?”

She shook her head. “He won’t be around forever, Perry. Maybe one day you’ll want to reconcile…”

“No, I won’t.”

“Would you mind if I call him?”

She saw the expression on her husband’s face in the foggy bathroom mirror and quickly walked from their bathroom to finish getting dressed; when he came out a few minutes later his face was still beet-red, and she could almost feel his clinched jaw as it worked overtime.

“I’ve got two surgeries this morning, and rounds after lunch. I’m meeting Jack at the country club at three, and I want to squeeze in at least nine holes…”

“Don’t forget…we’re supposed to meet the Andersons at seven.”

“Yeah. I talked to Dennis yesterday. We’re going to meet them at the club after Jack and I finish up. We’ll go from there.”

“I thought you were going to play tomorrow?”

“I am, but that’s more like a business meeting. Jack and I need to talk to some potential investors about the new clinic.”

“What’s your tee-time?”

“A little before noon, so we should finish up by five or so. Why don’t you meet me in the Nineteenth Hole around six?”

“If I can get a sitter…”

She watched him slip into his sage green scrubs and Adidas sneakers, not really knowing what to think about him anymore. He had become a total money-making machine – yet somewhere along the way he’d simply lost his sense of humanity…but this thing with his father was too much.

She walked with him out to the kitchen and pulled his plate from the ‘fridge. Three ounces of smoked salmon and half an avocado, seven days a week. Slam down two glasses of Evian – at room temperature, no less – and grab a bottle to-go for the drive to the hospital. 

He sat and quickly dispatched his breakfast, then without a word walked from the kitchen to the garage.

She watched his little black Mercedes back down the driveway and out into the street, and she looked at her wristwatch as the roadster bolted down the street towards the gatehouse. 

‘Five-fifteen on the nose, like clockwork,’ she said to herself.

She walked over to Micah’s room and peered into the darkness, heard his quiet breathing and almost smiled, then she made her way back to the kitchen to put on her coffee. 

She went out to the backyard with her coffee and sat by the pool, waiting for the sunrise – and for her favorite time of day.

‘It’s not just Perry,’ she told herself for the umpteenth time. ‘It’s this life. The pointlessness of it all. But what about Micah? What’s all this secrecy and deceit going to do to him?’

On the rare occasion Perry made it home in the evening, he locked himself away in his study and in a heartbeat was online. Usually ordering sweaters. Bright, gaudy sweaters, or talking with his partners at the clinic about this or that new plan for expansion. Always making more money, and – usually – spending it on himself, yet if Micah dared ask to see his father in his study the boy felt like  he’d committed some sort of mortal transgression. And…did his father ever drop by to say goodnight to the boy?

That had stopped years ago, hadn’t it?

And in fourteen years Perry had never once bought Micah a birthday present, nor even a Christmas present. Not once. He always left that to her, or to his mother, and now she thought she could see how all this was going to end: Micah would end up feeling about his father exactly the way Perry felt about his own.

Blown apart, empty. A big hole where something important used to be.

Or, in a word, dysfunctional. 

So – she wanted to know – who was Perry’s father? Her son’s grandfather? She had a right to know, didn’t she? And she had an obligation to secure that knowledge for her son. He was old enough to understand and appreciate what a grandfather might mean at this stage of his life and, who knows, maybe this stranger might appreciate the chance to know his grandson.

Stranger things happened, after all?

______________________________

Saturday, in the park

She drove through Golden Gate Park on JFK, the car’s top down and with a mild November sun beating down on their shoulders and arms. She and Micah were looking for the turn-off to the old boathouse on the west side of Spreckels Lake.

“There it is,” Micah said – with not a trace of excitement in his voice.

“There are supposed to be some parking places on the street, and a few benches by a little beach. He said he’d meet us there.”

Micah peered ahead, always studiously observant, always oriented to his surroundings whenever he ventured outside.

“I see some benches,” he said a moment later. “Vacant, too.”

“Does this look like a good place to park?” she asked, and he shrugged as she slipped into one of the many open spaces. She flipped a switch and the BMWs clamshell top extracted itself from the boot and whirred into place, then she got out of the coupe and grabbed the picnic basket she’d prepared. “Would you grab the blanket, honey?”

“Sure.”

They walked over to the bench he’d said he would meet them at, and she looked at her Rolex. “We’re ten minutes early,” she said to Micah – as if to reassure him – but he had already walked ahead and stopped at the water’s edge.

When she got to him he was standing there – hands in his pockets – face cast down, looking at shadows and reflections on the surface.

“Want some tea?” she asked.

He shrugged. “No thanks.”

“Interesting place. I didn’t even know anything like this was still in the park.”

Nothing. Not even the glimmer of a response.

“Are those geese?” she asked. “Too big to be ducks, right?”

“I think so.”

“Would you help me spread the blanket?”

“Sure.”

She looked at the blanket and felt guilty about putting something so beautiful on the ground, but, after all, the Polo site had described it was a picnic blanket. She spread it out and Micah put the picnic basket on the windward edge to anchor it in place, then she sat and took a deep breath.

“Hard to imagine we’re in the center of the city,” she sighed.

“What kind of car does he have?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, here comes a Q-tip.”

“A what?”

“An old guy with white hair.”

She laughed at that. “Where’d you learn that one?”

He shrugged, but at least he had smiled a little – though his eyes never left the approaching car.

It was, she saw, and ancient Porsche. A 911 Targa, and though she was no expert she guessed it was a late-60s model, kind of a tangerine color with black seats, and she just knew that would be the kind of car he’d drive.

And then the driver pulled in behind her car – and looked their way.

And then the old man waved.

Seeing that, Micah stood and walked over to the Porsche, watching and waiting as the old man opened the door and slowly unfolded himself. 

And by the time the old man was standing Micah was right there by his side, and after a word or two she couldn’t make out she gasped when her son hugged the old man.

And when he returned the hug she smiled too, then she stood and watched them as they walked to her.

“You must be Abby?” the old man said as he reached out with his right hand. “I’m David.”

She took his hand in her’s, felt the galvanic reaction of his cool, dry skin on her own. “And I see you’ve met Micah,” she added – a little unnecessarily. “Could I get you some tea, or a sandwich?”

He looked at the blanket, then at the nearby bench and sighed before he lowered himself gently to the ground. “Hot tea if you have it.”

“I do. I brought pastrami sandwiches, if that’s alright?”

“Perfect.”

“Micah,” she started, “may I have the thermos and a cup.”

“Could I have some too?” her son added.

“Three cups it is,” she said as she poured and passed the brew…and the three of them sat in silence and took a few sips.

“So, happy birthday, David!” she resumed. “What number is it?”

“Seventy-eight, I think, but a few years ago I decided I’d rather not keep counting.”

“You think?” Micah snorted. 

“Well, I have to check my driver’s license from time to time, just to remind myself.”

Everyone laughed at that.

“And how old are you now, Micah?”

“I’ll be fifteen in January.”

“Ah. The best years are just ahead.”

“Yeah? They feel pretty crummy from here,” Micah sighed.

“Yup. You can count on that.”

“So,” Micah added, “what made fifteen special for you?”

David leaned back and looked at the sky, and for a moment she felt like he was communing with something up there.

“Fifteen,” the old man began, “was a big one, Micah. About eight in the morning on my fifteenth birthday my dad took me out to the airport and I flew alone for the first time.”

“What? Like on an airliner?”

He chuckled. “No, no, I soloed that morning.”

“Soloed?”

David seemed puzzled at that, then he looked from Micah to Abby. “I hate to ask this, but what exactly do you know about me?”

“Nada,” Micah said. “As in zip-a-dee-doo-dah.”

And she nodded in affirmation. “There’s been a kind of embargo in our house, David. Perry won’t talk about you, and neither will Denise. I hate to say it, but I have no idea who you are or what you’ve done.”

“And the same applies to you, I assume?” David said to Micah.

“Yes sir.”

And those two words hit Abby hardest of all. She’d never heard Micah voluntarily address anyone as ‘sir’ in all his life. 

“I see. Embargo, you say?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so, David.”

“Well, I guess I’m not all that surprised,” the old man said, shaking his head pensively. “Lot of burning bridges back that way.”

“So,” Micah said, now almost agitated, “your fifteenth birthday?”

And David turned to face this ‘grandson’: “That’s the day I became a pilot. The first time I piloted an airplane on my own.”

“You mean, by yourself?” Micah scoffed. “Flying an airplane, by yourself? And you were fifteen? Bullshit.”

“Micah!” Abby blurted. “Watch yourself, young man!”

But David was fishing around in his back pocket, and a moment later he pulled out his wallet and then produced a few pieces of paper. “Come here, Micah.”

And the boy sidled over to the old man.

“I still carry this around with me, but heaven only knows why,” he said as he unfolded an ancient piece of paper. “See the date and time?”

“Yessir?”

“The signature by those figures was my flight instructors. Next is the aircraft type, a Cessna 150 in this case.”

“What’s this one?”

“That’s my current rating.”

“Can I see?”

He handed the papers over and watched the boy read.

“Airline Transport and Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument? What’s that mean?”

“It means I was an airline pilot, Micah. And that I taught a bunch of airline pilots how to fly.”

She could see her boy’s hands were trembling a little now, but she was more interested in how David would handle this situation. She wouldn’t have blamed him if he got up and left, but he seemed more confident than that – almost too confident.

“No shit?”

“Yeah, kid. No shit.”

And Micah recoiled a little on hearing ‘kid’ – but then she saw his reaction soften. “So, you were an airline pilot?”

“Yup.”

“Which one?”

“Which one what?”

“What airline?”

“TWA.”

“Never heard of it.”

And David laughed at that, gently but knowingly. “Ain’t it the truth,” he sighed.

“Micah,” Abby said, “TWA was one of the biggest airlines in the world.”

“And it just disappeared?” the boy said, not quite believing what he was hearing. 

“It became a part of American, probably before you were born.”

“Oh. What kind of plane did you fly?”

“Me? Oh, I started in 707s, then in the 70s I moved over to 747s.”

“Whoa! You flew those things?”

David reached out and flipped over his main license, pointed to a list of aircraft types he’d held current type ratings for when he’d retired. “703 was the 707-320c; 742 was the 747-200, and 743 was the 300 version.”

“What’s this one? AFONE?”

“Air Force One.”

“The president’s plane? You flew that one too?”

“Well, not really, but our flight academy trained all first time Air Force One pilots, and for a while I trained those guys. In order to do that I was checked out in the aircraft.”

“Whoa, that’s pretty rad.”

“Yeah, I guess it was.”

“So, you’re a teacher? Could you, like, teach me?”

He stifled a laugh – because it felt like he’d just recognized something important. “Well, I’m a little old for that now, Micah.”

“Oh.” Crestfallen, almost a frown, yet she continued to study both their eyes.

“I didn’t know you were interested in flying,” Abby said.

Micah shrugged. “When I have study hall, I read flying magazines in the library.”

“Yeah,” David sighed, “been there, done that.”

Connection. Bond formed. She watched, amazed, because with his body language David seemed to have led the way to that little bit of hidden information. “Is he old enough to learn?” she asked.

“He will be in January, as long as a parent signs for him.”

“Why does my dad hate you?” Micah blurted, and David looked down into his cup of tea.

“Think I could get some more tea, Micah?”

“Sure,” her boy said, leaning over to take the cup. “Ready for a sandwich?”

“Pastrami, you said?”

“I did,” she replied as she opened the picnic basket. “Half, or a whole one?”

“Better make mine a half,” David said, then his eyes went wide when she pulled out the sandwiches. “Dear God…those are huge!”

“About a pound per sandwich,” she said, grinning madly. “They’re the best thing this side of New York City.”

“Assuming I don’t stroke out after the third bite,” he grumbled under his breath.

“Just rye bread and Russian dressing,” she said. “Want a pickle?” she added, pulling out an eight inch long thing that seemed to have the girth of an elephant’s snout.

“Let me guess…that’s the family sized pickle?”

Everyone laughed, but she looked at him expectantly as he bit into the sandwich.

“Like it?” she asked.

“Man, that’s better than the Carnegie Deli.”

“Where’s that?” Micah asked.

“New Jack City, man.”

“New Jack?”

“New York, kiddo. You got to remember this, too. Everything evil in the world can be found in New Jack City, starting with death bombs like this beast.”

“Dad won’t touch these things.”

“Can’t say I blame him, but he’s missing out, isn’t he?”

“Yup,” Micah said, and it was the first time she’d ever heard him use that word, too. 

“Goddamn! That’s a huge pickle!” David said after he took out a pocket knife and sliced off a chunk, then he plopped it in his mouth – and then his eyes crossed: “Garlic and…peppers?”

“Yup,” Micah said again, grinning now.

“Son of a bitch, that’s good!”

“You cuss a lot,” Micah said, grinning too. “Dad never does.”

“Now that surprises me,” David sighed. “I wouldn’t have expected that…not in a million years.”

“Oh?” Abby said.

“He always had a way with words when I was around,” David said, rolling his eyes.

“So, why does he hate you?”

David shrugged. “He did a few things when he was younger that, well, he did things he knew would hurt me, and they did. Then one night he went too far, but that was long after his mother and I divorced. Anyway, he went too far then I said a few things I probably shouldn’t have. Bottom line, Micah, is after Denise, uh, his mother and I got divorced, he started taking sides, and usually against me. That’s when things got out of hand, and everything kind of spiraled down the drain after that.”

“Like what?” Micah asked, and she saw David’s glance just then…

“Micah,” she said gently, “these are the types of questions we can’t ask, okay. We talked about this, remember?”

“I guess.”

“Listen Micah, and this is important,” David said quietly. “The problem with questions like this is you’ll only hear one side of the story. The answers won’t be what you need to get at the truth, so the problem is a simple one: if you really want to know, when you’re a little older you can come talk to me about these things, but do so only after you’ve talked to your dad. Get both sides…”

“But,” Abby blurted, “Perry won’t talk about you, and I think Micah needs to know what happened. And the truth of the matter is, David, that I think I need to know what this is all about, too.”

David shook his head. “I’m sorry, Abby…Micah…but when it comes to Perry I’d have a hard time not telling you some pretty rough things…”

“Rough?” Micah asked, clearly perplexed.

“Things that might be real hard to hear, Micah. And your dad wouldn’t be here to defend himself. That’s not fair, and it sure isn’t the right thing to do.”

Micah looked unconvinced.

“I’ll put it to you this way, okay? If people were talking about you behind your back, telling your friends about things that – maybe – you’d done, things that you wouldn’t want them to know, well then, you wouldn’t like that, would you?”

“I might not like it, but as long as people were listening to the truth I’m not sure it matters. Still, I get what you’re saying.”

“Okay, good enough. Now Abby, mind if I tackle the other half of that sandwich?”

She reached to pull out the other half just as her phone chimed at an incoming text message:

Perry: I’m home. Where are you?

Abby: What happened to your game?

Perry: Called off. Jack had an emergency on-call.

Abby: Sorry.

Perry: Where are you?

Abby: Out with Micah, eating pastrami.

Perry: Oh. When will you be home?

Abby: Not too much longer.

Perry: You didn’t tell me where you are???

Abby: In the park.

Perry: Golden Gate? Where?

Abby: Yes, Golden Gate.

Perry: By the boathouse?

Abby: Yes.

Perry: So, you’re with dad???

Abby: Yes.

She watched the phone for a while but there were no more messages. 

“Micah, ready for round two?” she asked.

“Was that Dad?” 

She nodded.

“Is he coming?” her son asked nervously.

And she shrugged. “He knows you’re here,” she said – to David – but to her son as well.

“So, he didn’t know the plan today?” David said, almost defeated by the lie.

“No,” she said, and her shoulders hunched inwardly now, almost protectively so.

“Are you afraid of him?” David asked, and he was startled by how quickly she nodded her head.

“Mom?” Micah said, his voice full of sudden, unexpected concern. “Why?”

But she just shook her head as she handed David the rest of his sandwich, then Micah’s second half – before she continued: “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lied to you about that.”

David took in a deep breath and held it, then shook it loose in a long sigh. “He’s always had a bad temper, so I guess I should have expected reluctance on your part.”

“Don’t make excuses for her, man!” the boy said. “That’s all she does, every day of my life. He’s not at my game because of this. He didn’t come to my recital because of that. And she’s always right there, covering for him…”

“Because I don’t know what else to do, Micah!” she said as she withered before their very eyes, before the dam broke and she lost it.

David watched her closely, and then all of a sudden he wasn’t buying it – and when he looked at Micah he could tell the kid wasn’t either. Like he’d been down this road one too many times before, and this act had worn a little too thin. 

She looked up and in an instant stopped.

And, still looking at Micah, he watched as the boy went to her and how he hugged her tight.

“It’s okay Mom. Really, everything will be okay.”

And all of a sudden he knew he was watching the same show all over again. The cast of characters had changed…a little…but this die had been cast a long time ago.

So, he wondered, how do you break the cycle? How do you fix what, really, can’t be fixed? Or do you just give up and walk away – again? Pretend you didn’t see what you’d just seen?

He drifted back to other days, to that other life. The life that came with Denise, then with Perry and all the chaos he’d thought he’d never have to deal with again. 

Until the phone rang last night, that is, interrupting his reveries and bringing all that forgotten life back into into the present. 

And now, here he was was, in the flash of another lie back in the middle of it all. Denise. Married for just a few months when he discovered she’d cheated on him. And how, when he found the hastily concealed evidence, she’d blamed him for everything. He was gone too much of the time, she said; never home when she needed him, and the first time had been easy enough because, of course, in her mind he was to blame. The second and third times were harder to justify, but by then she’d ratified everything in her own mind – and he’d begun to see the light.

Because there were patterns buried within her all her little deceits. As familiar as an averted gaze, or subterfuges concealed within misplaced words, repeated again and again until everything became clear…

Then out of the blue she was pregnant, and after that everything started to fall apart. The numbers didn’t add up, and yet, for Denise a sudden reexamination of her life’s recent choices brought him back into the picture.

She wanted the baby and began talking to him as if she wanted him around as a father, and really, that too made perfect sense. If she was going to have a baby that meant she needed his steady income, and, in the end, he realized that was really all that mattered. Like a chameleon, she turned into the loving wife he’d hoped she might be and once again he allowed himself to fall into her tender trap.

He wasn’t the first man to fall into those grasping claws, he told himself, and he surely wouldn’t be the last. Because we never learn.

But in the end, he understood that if she was going to have a child it was better for all concerned if the child grew up with both a father and a mother under one roof.

But, of course, none of that mattered. Denise was what she was, trying to undo all the broken dreams she carried around by fucking the next man, and the next, and the next. To him, the only real surprise was that she had really expected he would just sit there and take all her endless humiliations…

So when he was served with papers he wasn’t surprised. He was surprised when she alleged he had been an abusive husband, but then again in short order he learned that almost every divorce attorney sprinkled that allegation into the filings as a kind of ritual guarantee of success. Yet when he produced endless documentation of her almost ritual infidelities he was astonished at how quickly the allegations of abuse were taken off the table. 

Just sign over custody and all that will disappear.

“I’ll sign when the alimony figure gets reasonable.”

And in an instant the allegations resurfaced.

“It’s nothing personal,” his own lawyer told him. “Just one of the tools of the trade.”

And he had never been more glad he’d decided against law school.

When a figure acceptable to both parties was hammered out he was, in an instant, free of her and, as part of this hastily arrived at package deal, free of his son – except for one weekend a month.

And in a way he felt lucky. Not to be free of Denise, but to be free of a system that seemed contrived to inflict as much emotional damage as possible on the combatants. As if a terminal marriage wasn’t brutal enough…

But…the numbers just didn’t add up. They never had. And that still remained the first big lie, intact to this day. To this very day.

And so here he was, looking at this manipulatively sobbing woman and her manipulated son out here in the park, and she was deceiving her husband – not for attention, but for some kind of truth. She had no way of knowing her life was already broken beyond repair, and that her son would harbor feelings of guilt and despair that would shape rest of his life, perpetuating cycles upon cycles of an unwillingness to face even the most simple truth.

‘My marriage is a farce. It is a farce because I never really had any idea what love truly means. What commitment really means. What taking an oath before God requires – namely endless compromise in the name of this thing lawyers and judges have come to define as love – no matter the toll.’

He took a sip of tea then slowly stood and walked down to the water’s edge. He bent down, took a pebble and threw it as far out over the water as he could, then he turned his back to the ripples and walked away from their endless implications.

And he saw them again, still sitting on their thousand dollar blanket lost in the clutches of their despair, and all he could do was shake his head…

“Because nothing ever really added up, did it? Never.”

Fog started to form over by the bridge and he nodded. “Why not?”

Clouds formed and blotted out the sun. “You too? You want to get in on the fun?”

He heard a growling motor and squealing tires, saw the rakish Mercedes convertible turning off JFK, headed straight for his Porsche. “Yes, this is just perfect. I am Gary Cooper in High Noon. But…where is my Grace Kelly?”

Screeching brakes, a slamming door, he looks and sees the gun in the hand, the anger in those eyes.

“I told you!” screamed the little boy who grew up without that one crucial piece of information, “I told you and I told you! I want nothing to do with you, ever again…”

“Perry,” she screamed, “I called him. I told him you said it was okay…!”

And then, the not-so-little boy running for his father, his outstretched arms now capped by balled-fists, his hatred manifest, the circle now almost complete.

David tried to step between Perry and Micah as the gun came up.

“I made a mistake once,” David shouted. “I never told you the truth about something important.”

Was it too late? Too late for the words to reach him?

He felt his body as it was pushed aside, heard the muffled pistol as it fired into soft flesh at close range. He stumbled, caught himself and turned in time to see Micah falling to the ground, a spreading crimson stain on the back of his sweater – now just covered by his father’s hand.

_______________________________

Saturday evening

The police had long-since finished taking their photographs, making measurements for their diagrams that one day they would show to a jury. He gave a statement to an earnest-faced young cop who dutifully took down everything he said, and he looked on with a knot in his stomach as firemen helped load Micah’s body in the Coroner’s wagon.

Abby looked like a dried-out husk sitting on her blanket, their half-eaten sandwiches strewn across navy fields of prancing polo ponies, her tears cold and blown away, like grains of sand on a windswept dune.

A wrecker backed up to Perry’s Mercedes, and he shook his head before he walked over to one of the cops standing by the patrol car where Perry still sat.

“Mind if I ask him something?” he said to the nearest cop.

“No, go ahead.”

He walked over to the back right door, saw the window was about half-way down so he leaned close: “There’s something I need to tell you. I don’t know if you can hear me, but I need you to listen.”

“What is it, Dad?”

“Well, just that, Perry. I’m not your father.”

There eyes met. “What did you say?”

“I’m not your father. I’m sorry…”

The boy seemed to turn inward for a while, buried under the weight of so many lies, then he spoke one more time: “Did you know who he was?”

“No, I never knew their names. Any of them. I’m sorry.”

The boy struggled to nod but turned away, and just then a cop got behind the wheel and they drove off into the evening fog.

He turned and looked at Abby, still sitting on the blanket down on the sand, and he walked over to her. He knelt and took her hand, squeezed it gently until she blinked once, then again.

“It’s getting cold,” she whispered, and he nodded.

“Is there somewhere I can take you?”

“My parents. They live just outside of Boston.”

He nodded as he helped her stand, and he caught her when her knees gave way. She leaned into him for a moment, until she opened her eyes to the reality of her need.

“Could you take me to the house, please?”

“Sure.” He helped her to the little car and put her trembling body in the passenger’s seat, then he got behind the wheel and turned on the heat, closed the convertible top and latched it shut. “Where do you live?”

She told him and he turned into traffic and drove away.

And as he looked at the receding scene in the rearview mirror he couldn’t help but ask himself one more time, that all those things had never really added up. Not even once.

But why, now, did those things seem so far away, yet so very important?

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | as always, this short story is a work of fiction, and a continuation – of sorts – of an earlier story – but as always, thanks for reading.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 32

Featured

Part IV

Chapter 32

____________________________________

Lloyd Callahan wasn’t quite frantic, yet, but it had been five months since he’d last seen his son, and that had been just after the premiere of Imogen’s concerto.

Harry had changed. Sara’s murder had done something he’d never expected would happen to his boy: Harry appeared to have simply given up. Like a party balloon that had slowly deflated, by the time Harry and the team made it back to Israel – after the brief stop in Davos – his son looked like a different human being.

He’d stopped eating and his eyes seemed to have sunken deep within their sockets, and around his eyes Lloyd had noted splotchy dark circles. When offered food Harry pushed it away, though from time to time he drank coffee…black coffee.

Then he’d done something Lloyd never expected: Harry had gone out to his mother’s crypt. He’d been followed, of course, but even his followers had little to report. Harry had reportedly sat in some modest shade and had talked – quietly – for an hour or so…to at least two people who remained invisible. When Colonel Goodman relayed that information, Lloyd felt sick to his stomach. 

Was Harry coming undone? Would the affliction that had plagued Imogen all her life now come for their son? Would Harry fall under the dark spell of that voice?

That Goodman girl wouldn’t let him to see his son, and he’d immediately resented her for that unwarranted bit of sanctimoniousness. And though he’d sat next to his boy at the premiere, Harry had sat there quietly, almost stoically, through the entire performance, the only emotion on display coming as the final crescendo approached. Lloyd had seen his son’s hands grip the armrests, could feel the tension rise in his boy’s quivering arms and legs, but then there had come un unexpected release, like the explosion Harry had been expecting didn’t come. And at first Harry had seemed confused, then relieved when the expected calamity didn’t materialize…

But then…nothing.

Harry had returned to the compound and disappeared into his room – what had once been his mother’s and Avi’s room – and the next morning he was gone.

And now, after one round trip to Hong Kong just completed, Lloyd was home for a scheduled rest-leave and not due to captain another sailing until early December. With almost a month on his hands, he had wanted to tackle some long overdue home maintenance – but had halfway been expecting his boy to come around to lend him a hand.

He was sitting on the covered front porch sipping his favorite Good Earth tea, watching homes come alive as his neighbors got home from work. Dogs were leashed and taken for walks, backyard grills lit-off and grilling burgers filled the air with their own uniquely familiar aroma, and, yes, he could hear a loud argument over mismanaged money already underway just across the street.

Life on the street was as boringly predictable now as it had been almost forty years ago, but even so he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about Harry’s girlfriend, June. He looked to the right, looked where their old house had been before some yuppies came in and built a multi-unit condo. In another world, another life, maybe she would be sitting out here with him, both of them waiting for Harry to get in from work. Or better still, Lloyd Callahan thought, Imogen would be in the kitchen…making dinner for the four of them.

Nothing had turned out the way he’d expected, he thought. Or wanted.

And now…all this bullshit with vigilantes and Columbian drug-lords, the police department in tatters and his son’s career up in the air.

It felt like the entire world was coming undone.

The Iranians taking the embassy almost four hundred days ago, all those people still hostages, Ronald Reagan looking like he might actually run that that peanut farmer out of the White House. The commies in Cuba lending a hand in Nicaragua, exporting their revolution to Central America, while the U.S. still seemed to be lost inside some kind of narcissistic coma after the Fall of Saigon.

Yeah…what had happened?

It wasn’t all that long ago, he thought as he sipped his tea, that Kennedy had challenged the nation to land men on the moon. And these crazy Americans had pulled it off, too. They’d fought a war in Southeast Asia and done it all at the same time, hadn’t they?

Then Oswald and the Grassy Knoll became a part of the lexicon, just before John, Paul, George and Ringo came along and She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah was all the rage.

Was that all a happenstance, he wondered? Could we have had the Beatles without Kennedy falling by the wayside? Would they have made sense to us without all that despair? Could everything that happened after – the free-speech thing over in Berkeley, all those wild groups up at the Fillmore giving birth to the next ‘real’ counter-culture – have happened without Kennedy’s murder? And all the murders that followed?

He looked down into his tea, swirled the cup and looked at the scattering leaves, wondering what might come next…

“Hey Dad.”

He looked up, saw what looked like just another long-haired freak standing on the steps to his house, but no…there was something in the eyes…

“Harry?”

“Yeah Dad, it’s me.”

He stood, almost stumbled to the floor but his son caught him; they stood staring at one another for a moment…then Lloyd Callahan grabbed his son and pulled him close, wrapped his arms around this cool echo of himself and held on tight.

_______________________________________

They walked down to the waterfront, down to their favorite clam-shack for a basket and a schooner of beer, and Harry talked to his father about where he’d been, and a few of the things he’d done. About the girl in New Orleans and a friend of his from ‘Nam out in West Texas. About his bus ride from there up through New Mexico, where things had gotten dicey…

“Dicey? What do you mean by dicey…?”

“Oh, the bus stopped in the town out in the middle of nowhere, Farmington…something like that. Time enough to go into this little diner for a burger. Some redneck started to beat up on his girl and she was like nine months pregnant. She went down hard and, well, so I intervened…”

“Which means what? You beat the ever-lovin’ crap out of the guy?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

“And…?”

“He was the mayor’s kid.”

“Hoo-boy. Have your badge with you?”

“No. I called Didi from their little jail.”

“Jail? No shit?”

“No charges filed. Turns out the kid’s father went and beat him up even worse.”

“What did Didi do?”

“Shit, I don’t know. About a half hour later they let me out and the mayor put me up in a hotel.”

“What happened to the girl?”

“Baby boy, healthy.”

“Uh-huh. What are you not telling me?”

“She wanted out. Out of that town, out of that relationship…”

“So you made that happen too, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What? Did you buy her a house?”

“Something like that?”

Lloyd shook his head. “Harry, man, I don’t know what’s eating you, but I’m not sure buying-up other people’s troubles and making them disappear is going to make all yours go away…”

“Yeah? Maybe not, but let me tell you something, Dad. If you’ve ever looked into someone’s eyes and seen despair, and I mean real despair, and you had the capability to snap your fingers and make it all go away, are you telling me you wouldn’t? Because the look in peoples eyes when you do that is something you wouldn’t believe…”

“I don’t know, son. Is it really your place?”

“Who’s place is it, Dad? I mean, really, and I hate to get all holy-roller on you, but didn’t someone say we should strive to be our brother’s keeper? Ya know, like once upon a time? To treat others as you’d treat yourself?”

“I know, but…”

“There aren’t any buts about it, Dad. No man is an island, right? We either look after one another or we don’t. Only thing I can tell, really, is that helping people when they’re down makes a difference. It changes things. Like a domino falling, maybe. You never know what the end results might be, but that doesn’t matter. If you see someone down on their luck and simply ignore them, think of it as a missed chance, or a missed opportunity to change the flow of all our falling dominoes.”

“Okay. So that’s what you’ve been up to?”

“I wasn’t up to anything, Dad, at least not anything I can make sense of yet, but all of a sudden I felt like I was drowning in history. My history. June, An Linh, then Stacy and Sara, all of it. I kept falling – back – into that stuff and as I was listening to mother’s composition I heard something different. Like a voice within the music telling me that it was time to, well, fall…forward? Does that make any sense?”

“Fall forward? I don’t know. Not really…”

“I know. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but it was there, in the music. As clear as any voice I’ve ever heard. Stop looking to the past. Move on to the future. And moving on, to me, meant finding a way to change the course of some of those falling dominoes.”

“Son? Don’t all dominoes, sooner or later, end up falling?” 

“Maybe so, Dad. But there’s something else going on here too, something I really don’t understand. And I’ve kept thinking about it, too… Take that girl in New Orleans. What drew her to me? Why did she follow me? Why didn’t I push her away, let her domino fall. Now, suppose she actually does become a physician, and suppose she ends up saving a bunch of lives? I mean, think about it, Dad. Is it all simple coincidence, or is their something else at work here…?”

“I don’t know, Harry. You’d have to go to seminary to find answers to questions like that…”

“Seminary? Oh no, Dad…you’re not going to put all this on God, are you?”

“What else?”

“Seems unfair. Everything we don’t understand gets dumped on Him. Kind of lazy.”

“Lazy?”

“Yeah, Dad. Like we really don’t take the time to look at things like this. The things that are hard to explain. We don’t even take the time to acknowledge them, let alone the why of it all.”

Lloyd looked at his son then shook his head. “You seem…different. What are you going to do now?”

“Get back to work.”

“At the department? Really?”

“Yeah, sure…why not? Got eight more years, ya know, ‘til I can draw retirement…”

They both laughed at the absurdity of that idea.

“What about you, Dad? What are you up to?”

“I’ve got four weeks off. Gonna get new shingles on the roof and paint on the gables.”

“Want some help?”

“I don’t know. You up to it?”

“Hey, Dad. I just put up three miles of barbed-wire fence in Alpine Texas. You got no idea what that means…”

“Fence is fence, Harry. What was so…”

“Rattlesnakes. I’ve never seen so many fucking snakes in my life…”

“I hate snakes,” Lloyd whispered.

“Who doesn’t?”

“Did you kill any?”

Harry looked away, and Lloyd could feel the change that came over his son in that seismic moment. 

“Only one more snake to kill, Dad.”

Lloyd nodded even as a chill ran down his spine. “So, you’re gonna go through with it?”

“She killed my wife, Dad. She made it personal.”

“Did you ever stop to think…”

“It doesn’t matter what she thought, Dad. She did what she did. Her choice. Now I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.”

Lloyd looked at his son and could only shake his head. “You know, Stacy was a little girl too, once upon a time. Maybe she just made a mistake, Harry. Maybe there was nobody around to keep her domino from falling.”

“Yeah. Ain’t life a bitch.”

____________________________________

“I’m glad the pitch is what it is!” Harry called down to his father. “Not sure I could handle it if this was any steeper.”

“We’re makin’ good progress, son. At this rate, we may finish by sundown.”

“What do you make it? Two more squares?”

“‘Bout that. Maybe a tad more.”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Why red?”

“What?”

“Why red shingles. Don’t you think that’s carrying the whole red thing a little too far?”

“They’re not red, Harry. The color is called Redwood Breeze.”

“Looks fuckin’ red to me, Dad.”

“I just couldn’t see doing gray again. She needs something new.”

“She?”

“This old house. She’s carried us through some times, ya know?”

“Reckon so.”

“Besides, after I’m gone you can change the color to whatever you want.”

“Dad? Would you stop with the ‘after I’m gone’ bullshit? It’s creepy.”

“Creepy?”

“Yeah, creepy.”

“I haven’t heard that one since you and Junie watched those horror movies…”

“Horror movies?”

“Oh, you know, like that Beast from 20,000 Fathoms thing. Crap like that.”

“That wasn’t crap, Dad. That was Art.”

“You say so.”

“Gonna need some more nails up here soon.”

“I’ll go get some. Why don’t you knock off for a minute? Go get us a couple of Cokes?”

“Will do.” Harry put his roofing hammer down and walked over to the ladder, then made his way down to the yard. Everything about this old place still felt like home, like a pair of old shoes…comfortable old shoes. He took a deep breath and turned to face the sun, held his arms out to soak up all the sun’s warmth, then he looked away, shook his head and went inside to the kitchen. 

It was the same refrigerator that had been in the same spot from when he was a spud, the same faucet at the sink, too…everything was the same, like his dad was afraid to change anything, afraid he might lose all his associations that had formed between Imogen and the things in this space.

He pulled a couple of glasses down and filled them with ice cubes, and he heard his dad sitting on the front porch as he poured the drinks. 

“Want anything to eat?” he called out.

“No, I’m good.”

He carried the drinks out, sat down beside his father as he passed over a glass.

“Feels good to do this together again, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. It almost feels like we’re connected to the earth through this place. When I think of home, this is it. I really used to like it when we put up the tree, had all those Christmas decorations and lights up.”

Lloyd nodded. “Took me a while to get used to all that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I grew up in Scotland, son. Christmastime in the 1930s wasn’t exactly like California in the 50s. If I got a new sweater for Christmas that represented a real financial burden for my parents. Things got different after the war, after the depression ended.”

Harry shook his head. “Hard to imagine.”

“People have gotten used to this life. Not sure they could go back to the way it was.”

“Maybe we won’t have to.”

“Things change, son. And if it’s predictable, it ain’t change. Remember that, okay?”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s okay. We’re gonna be alright.”

Lloyd took a deep breath, held it a second then let the air slip away. “Yeah, I hear you.”

“What did you think of Mom’s concerto?”

“Over my head. A couple of parts seemed unfinished, the ending most of all.”

“Yeah, I felt that too.”

“It felt like, to me, that the last few minutes of the thing were written by somebody else.”

“Yeah. Like somebody was trying to hide something,” Harry added.

Lloyd nodded. “Yeah. I was just going to say that.”

They both sat there for a moment, then Lloyd spoke again. “You think she was trying to tell us something?”

The thought hit Harry, and he leaned forward, took a sip of Coke from his glass. “Not sure, Dad. I thought it was more like that conductor had, maybe, changed something.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Again, I’m not sure, Dad, but something felt wrong.”

“Anyway you could check?”

“Well, I’d have to compare her original composition against what’s published, but the only person who was there was that Karajan fella, so he’s the only one who truly knows what she meant to say.”

“Who has the original?”

“I’m not sure. Technically, it belongs to me.”

“Who can you call to find out?”

“Didi.”

“Does that girl know everything?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“She’s cute, don’t you think?”

“I don’t want to think about her like that. I can’t. She’s holding things together for me right now.”

“Well, if you can ever get your head out of your butt take a good look at her. She’s cute as hell, son.”

“Why don’t you go after her, Dad?”

“No way. That goddamn psychiatrist squeezed the bejesus out of my nuts. I’m done with all that for a while.”

“What? No more Caverject?”

“Well now, I didn’t exactly say that…”

“Man, I don’t know how you do it…”

“Do what?”

“Give yourself a shot, in the willie…”

“You think about something else. Notably, about how good it’s gonna feel to pop your nut…”

“The doc? How was she?”

“Kinky as shit.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah. They do things differently in Switzerland.”

“Really? Not just tab A into slot B?”

“No way. She was a fuckin’ trip, son. Leather, whips, chains…”

“Whoa, Dad! Too much information!”

Both of them laughed, nervously, like fathers and sons often do.

“Anyway, I couldn’t handle her kind of medicine.”

“Jeez. I had no idea.”

“You know who’s weird? That Frank Bullitt character.”

“Frank? Really? How do you mean?”

“The whole time back at the compound, that woman never let up on him. Screaming at him all the time, and he just takes it.”

“He loves her, Dad.”

“Yeah? I’d sure like to know why, because I couldn’t live with anyone who went after me the way that woman went after him.”

“I must’ve missed something…”

“She was hitting on him, Harry, biting, you name it…”

“Maybe it’s menopause?”

“Yeah? Maybe. Anyway, I doubt those two will last much longer.”

“Too bad. I’ve always liked Cathy – kind of classy, ya know. Too bad.”

“Well, maybe they’ll get it together,” Lloyd added.

“You get those roofing nails?”

“Yeah, I put ‘em down by the ladder.”

“Oh well,” Harry moaned, “we better get back at it. We’re burnin’ daylight.”

“You gettin’ tired?”

“No. You?”

“I got a little bit left in me.”

“Well, let me buy the clams tonight, old man.”

“You ain’t exactly a spring chicken, ya know?”

Harry finished up the shingles, even running the ridge-line, then he went down and helped his dad get paintbrushes into thinner. After a quick shower, they met out front and were about to walk down to the waterfront when an old green Ford Mustang pulled up out front. Frank Bullitt jumped out of the car and ambled over.

“Lloyd,” Bullitt began, “good to see you again.”

“You too.”

“Harry? Long time no see. You get it all figured out?”

“Think so. What brings you out here?”

“Just thought I’d drop by. Y’all headed out?”

“Just down to the clam-shack. Wanna join us?”

“Sounds great. Wanna drive down?”

“Nah,” Lloyd said. “I need to work the kinks out. Legs’ll cramp up if I don’t.”

Bullitt nodded as they began the short walk down to the waterfront. “So, Harry. Where-ya been?”

“All over. New Orleans, Texas, New Mexico. Just looking around.”

“Oh? So…What are you going to do now?”

“What’s going on at the department?”

“Same ole same ole, but it doesn’t feel the same with Sam gone.”

“Nothin’ feels the same, Frank.”

“I know,” Bullitt sighed. “Anyway, Dell made lieutenant, so I just lost him.”

“When’s the next captains’ test?”

“December,” Bullitt replied, matter-of-factly.

“You going for it?”

“Yeah. Sam thinks I should.”

“I do too. It’s time. The division needs someone like you.”

“We could use you too, Harry.”

Callahan looked down, then nodded. “I kind of figured I’d put in my time, put in my twenty, anyway.”

Frank looked at Lloyd. “What are you going to do, sir?”

“I was eligible for retirement last year, Frank. I’m just not sure I’m ready to retire to my back yard yet.”

“Uh, Dad…we don’t have a back yard.”

“Goddammit, Harry, you know what I mean.”

Frank shook his head. “So, you going to keep at it a few more years?”

“Ya know, I’ve been wanting to go back to Scotland, visit relatives while I can still get around easily…”

“You’ve never mentioned that before, Dad…”

“And I’ve never told you I have hemorrhoids, either. So what?”

“I’d like to go with you, that’s all. That’s a part of me I know nothing about.”

“Are your folks still alive, Lloyd?” Frank asked.

“Goodness, no. They both passed during the war. I’ve got a sister in Glascow, though. I’d love to see her again.”

“I have an aunt? And I know nothing about her?”

“Aye, that you do, laddie,” Lloyd said…only now speaking in a thick brogue. “You’ll no doubt be awantin’ to meet her too, I reckon.”

“So, when are we goin’, Dad?”

“Well, she wants to come visit here. That may happen first.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway, I’m shipping out in a month. I’ll be gone through the new year, but we can talk about it when I get back.”

They arrived at the clam-shack and grabbed a table out on the wood deck overlooking the water; the tide was out and the briny shore was strong-smelling after a few hours in the sun. The last of the afternoon sun was slanting through houses and trees across the street, and a waitress clicked on patio heaters as the deck fell into shadow.

“Almost too cold for a beer,” Lloyd said.

“Never thought I’d hear you say that, Dad,” Harry said as their waitress walked up to the table.

“What’ll it be tonight, fellas?”

“I’m starting with an Irish coffee, Stella. The boys will be taking a pitcher of Anchor Steam, if I’m not mistaken. Then let’s have some fried clams. Any scallops tonight?”

“Yup, and fresh, too.”

“I’ll have a plate of broiled scallops then, Stella.”

“Me too,” Bullitt said.

“Better make it three,” Harry added.

“Slaw and fries?”

“Yup,” Lloyd said, just as Stella dropped her pencil. He bent to pick it up just before she did, and the sniper’s round slammed into her left shoulder before the sound hit the patio, spraying Frank and Harry with blood and bits of flying bone fragments. Everyone on the patio dove for cover…

…Everyone but Bullitt…

…who sprinted from the deck, his 45 drawn…

“You carrying, son?” Lloyd asked as he cradled Stella in his arms.

“Nope. I’ll get an ambulance headed this way…”

“You do that, boy,” Lloyd whispered, then he turned his attention to the wounded girl. “You hang on now, you hear? Help’s on the way, so you just hang on…”

He looked into her eyes, saw the stark terror lurking in her eyes, then came the fast, ragged breaths, the bloody foam from her mouth and nose…

“It’s alright now, lassie,” he whispered as he took the girl’s hands  in his own. “That warmth you’re feelin’? That’s God’s open arms cradlin’ you, cradlin’ you in his love. There’s nothin’ to be afraid of now, lassie. You’re going home now…”

She squeezed his hands once, tried to speak one more time – then she was gone.

Lloyd Callahan held her until the paramedics arrived, and when Harry found his father he was still sitting on the patio deck, his face awash in tears, his bloody hands shaking uncontrollably…

Frank had a patrolman drive them up to the house, and the two of them wrestled Lloyd into a hot shower before they got him into bed. Harry poured his old man a Scotch and made him drink a few sips, then he went out to the front porch.

Frank was waiting for him.

“Witnesses say it was a black Sedan de Ville, only plate information is the last three: 274.”

“It’s Threlkis,” Harry snarled.

“This isn’t over yet, Harry. Not by a long shot.”

“You got my paperwork ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I’ll be in first thing in the morning.”

“Could I make a suggestion?”

“Sure.”

“Get your dad outta here. Ireland might be far enough away, but I doubt it.”

Harry nodded, and after Bullitt left he went inside and called Didi…

© 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 (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 31

88th key cover image

(quick note: still in hospital though sitting up to write less burdensome, hopefully home later this week…)

Part IV

Chapter 31

____________________________________

Callahan came-to in a field of flowers, and he lay easily on a bed of tufted grass – watching bright puffy clouds drift by overhead on the cool breezes gently caressing his brow.

He heard music, familiar music, adrift on one passing current; he sat up at once, rubbing his eyes, looking for the music’s source…but he only grew more confused. Across one of the fields beyond the softest breeze he saw a house, and while he knew the music had to be coming from there, this place he now found himself in felt utterly unreal…like music didn’t belong here.

He stood, still confused, and he continued to feel that nothing about this place was real. First of all, the clouds overhead were white, true enough, but the color of the sky itself was pale yellow, and though the view was in a way calming, so too was it unsettling. And the clouds? He felt as if he could almost reach up and touch them. He looked down, saw the grass in the fields was pure white, the leafy trees surrounding the house the color of fresh cream…almost like an infrared photograph, he thought.

“What is this place?” Callahan whispered. “It’s not real, whatever it is.”

Yet even as he expressed skepticism the music on the breeze grew even more insistent.

Chords he’d never heard before took root inside the house across the field and blossomed into the sky, leaving traceries of gossamer cloud well beyond the moment their creation, weaving crystalline kaleidoscopes across the sky that seemed to coalesce around a certain feeling.

He stood and took a deep breath, feeling most-of-all that the air in this place was of shattering purity, and that sounds traveled with equal precision. He looked at these new, swirling clouds and felt the music, really felt emotive expressions within each new shimmer…

“How can this be?” he said to this surreal landscape.

“How could it possibly be otherwise?”

Callahan jumped at the sound of this new voice, yet in an instant he knew exactly who was speaking. 

He turned and saw the Old Man in the Cape standing by his side.

“What are you doing here?” Callahan whispered.

“I thought that, perhaps, you could use a hand this evening.”

“What do you mean? Why would I need your help?”

“First June, then An-Linh. Your mother, so suddenly? And now Sara? So much loss, so much pain. I really don’t know how you’ve endured all of it. Or…have you?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Have you endured? Any of it?”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not so sure,” the old man began, “that you’ve ever felt anything at all, not really. Maybe pain is just an abstract something you simply brush aside, like lint off your sleeve.”

“Maybe you should get the fuck away from me while you still can.”

And that made the old man laugh for a moment, yet then he produced his ornate cane and pointed to an emerging cloud. “Listen to it, Harry. I mean, really listen.”

Callahan looked at the old man for a moment, then did as he asked. 

And yes, there was something strange about the swirling chord. Standing here next to the old man the impression it left was fleeting – but hardly unambiguous.

“Loss,” Callahan whispered. “Like a dirge.”

The old man simply nodded as he flicked his cane, shifting to a minor key. “And now?”

Callahan’s head tilted and his eyes closed. “Something deeper than loss. Something beyond.”

The old man flicked his cane and a new stream of consciousness emerged within the music coming from the house.

“And now?”

Callahan tried in vain to feel the music within but the struggle left him desperate, winded. “I’m not sure,” was all he managed to say.

“Try not to think of a specific feeling, Harald. Think more of a time you felt this structure.”

“A time? What do you mean?”

“You do know that other senses evoke memory? Scent, for example, can revive a childhood memory?”

“Yes.”

“Well…that’s what I mean. Reach into the chord, Harald. Let the music carry you to the memory, to the moment of the memory’s creation in your mind.”

“The pines outside my window. The way they brushed the glass when a storm approached…”

“What else?”

“Mother. Downstairs, playing the piano.”

“And what was she playing? Can you feel it?”

“It was almost always the same thing. She seemed to be playing to the approaching storm, like she was…”

“What, Harald? What was she trying to do?”

“It was like she was waiting for the storm to tell her something.”

“What else?”

“Well, it was like she was summoning something from within…”

“From within…what, Harald? The storm?”

“I’m not sure.”

The old man bent low over his cane and with sudden fury he flung another chord into the sky, and this time, when the full impact of the music hit, Callahan doubled over in crushing pain.

“Stand up, Harald.”

“I can’t,” Callahan whispered. “What is that?” he added, grasping at the stars that filled his sight.

“What is – what?”

“So many stars…”

“Yes. Find the one calling to you now…”

“What?”

“Reach out, Harald. Reach out…”

He felt hands reaching up, reaching for something far, far away, then he felt other hands on his own, clasping and pulling, pulling him back into the light…

And when he opened his eyes he saw Colonel Goodman standing overhead, then Frank and Al by his side, helping him stand.

“Sara?” he asked. “Where is she?”

But all he could hear now was that last shattering chord, fading away slowly on a dying breeze, and beyond those last fleeting tendrils only the Old Man’s voice remained…

“Find the star calling to you, Harald. Find her voice, now…while there is still time.”

____________________________________

Didi Goodman was the first to reach Sara Callahan. She had seen the helicopter flying up the valley, flying far too low for a commercial transport, and training and instincts had kicked-in at that point. By the time she reached the clinic the helicopter was already departing the area, and when she ran inside only a few sleepy nurses were looking around, trying to figure out what had just happened…

But by then word was spreading fast: the big American girl had been seen running through the wards with a pistol raised by her face, and she hadn’t been acting unbalanced – not at all.

Yet not one nurse thought to look-in or check-on Sara, even as Stacy Bennett made her way to the rooftop heliport…

…so it was Didi Goodman who found Sara. She found the body contorted on a blood-soaked hospital bed, the explosive head wound a massive wreck of shattered bone and brain; the immediate conclusion Didi reached was presumptive, but accurate, in its finality. Though Didi found a thready pulse, she took Sara’s hand in her own, held her while she slipped away, held her until nurses and doctors arrived, then she called her contact in Tel Aviv and passed along all she knew.

___________________________________

In the aftermath, Callahan and the rest of the team had to admit that all their efforts had been compromised, and the conclusion reached was obvious: Stacy Bennett had been on the inside all along. Who had turned her, they wondered. Escobar? Someone in the Bureau? Even personnel within the San Francisco Police Department were considered, but in the end none of that mattered.

Captain Sam Bennett receded from view after this last betrayal, the verdict more than he could stand. Frank Bullitt returned to Israel to join Cathy, who seemed particularly wrung-out by the news of Sara’s murder, and when she demanded that Frank quit the department he didn’t argue. Al Bressler stuck close to Harry after the funeral in Davos, and rarely left his friend’s side afterwards. Captain Jerome McKay disappeared soon after word of Stacy Bennett’s betrayal reached the group, and though Goodman wouldn’t say exactly where to, everyone assumed McKay made the trip east on the Israeli Jetstar – to a professional interrogation facility.

And this last effort turned the tide. Dozens of Escobar’s deepest assets were uncovered and arrested, the Chalmers’ dealer network was similarly laid bare and dismantled. Escobar reportedly gave up his ambitions on the west coast, concentrating on his operations in Florida, Louisiana, and New York, and though it was now assumed Stacy Bennett had been Escobar’s asset from the beginning, she had completely disappeared from view. Neither the Mossad nor Interpol had the slightest bit of luck finding here, and within weeks all leads dried up.

_________________________________________

The team gathered at Avi’s house in the compound after the funeral, but Goodman didn’t bother with his usual debrief this time. The group was simply too disoriented now, too incapable of further introspection, too upset by Stacy Bennett’s betrayal. And most of all, too rattled by the changes they had noted in Harry’s behavior in Davos. 

On their way to Davos the team had gathered protectively around Callahan – not simply to console him but to keep the outside world away – yet despite all that by the time they reached Davos, Callahan was little more than a trembling wreck.

When he slept, which he did too frequently now, he talked incessantly to someone on the far side of his dreams. Violent spasms followed, like he was wrestling demons in the night. 

When he met Sara’s parents at the funeral home he was tearfully guilt-ridden and unnervingly apologetic. When Callahan saw Sara’s closed casket he fell to the floor, completely undone.

Didi Goodman, not surprisingly, moved in and assumed the role of protective Mother Superior at that point, taking Callahan to the house and virtually isolating him there. Only Al Bressler penetrated her sudden impenetrable veil, though Frank and Cathy tried to break-through – and more than once. Still, Didi asserted an unusually deep hold on Harry now, and Frank began to grow concerned.

After the funeral, the team, and Didi, returned to the compound, waiting for the premiere performance of Schwarzwald’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Harry Callahan left the compound only once during those two weeks, to visit the Rosenthal Crypt – to talk with his mother, he said.

_______________________________________________

And the premiere turned out to be quite an event.

Because Imogen was still regarded as a native daughter, it seemed half of Denmark turned out for her last piece. Because of Saul and Avi Rosenthal’s deep roots in Copenhagen, their memory, too, played a modest role in the huge Danish presence. Avi’s stature in the Labor Party assured a huge Israeli contingent, and the simple fact that Herbert von Karajan was conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Tel Aviv implied a sort of German apologia, which demanded an international presence of politicians and diplomats from Europe and the Americas.

The performance was startling.

The music seemed to carry the performers into deep emotional states, to possess the audience inside an almost otherworldly, trancelike state, and in the end all who came to the premiere agreed the concerto was one of the most significant works of the twentieth century. Deutsche Grammophon and TelArc had both recorded the performance and post-premiere sales were colossal; the Rosenthal Music Company of course had the publishing rights and sales were brisk. Symphony orchestras in San Francisco, New York, and Paris soon advertised their own performances.

And so, in the end, one Harry Francis Lloyd Callahan went from being a modestly wealthy young man to being positively filthy rich. 

So, of course, he disappeared completely from view.

___________________________________________________

For the first few months of this second act in the Life and Times of Harry Callahan, he turned up in New Orleans. He played piano in a bar that catered to people who had chosen to live on the other side of  life. He played Cole Porter songs for the most part, but Gershwin too from time to time. Men dressed like little girls nursed fruity five-o’clocktails while they watched Callahan play, while butched-up girls dressed like Bogart or Grant cruised the perimeters, looking for fresh meat hiding in the shadows.

There was a special kind of Hate for sale in the little bar just off Bourbon Street, too. Self-loathing cloaked behind veils of inward leaning pity, hiding in plain sight all the while, yet just beneath all those juxtaposed veneers a new currency emerged: patrons willing to sell their souls to whatever devil happened to be on hand. Anything to debase the moment, anyplace to explore the hidden depths of despair, yet no time for the moment.

Callahan watched new symphonies take shape around his piano night after night, and at one point he began to conjure new chords to paint the scenes around him. He began setting the scenes to music in the early morning, just after the bar closed, after he walked down to the Morning Call for thick chicory coffee and plates of powdered-sugar-covered beignets, where he put notes to paper for the first time in his life.

He’d rented a room off a splashy courtyard in Jackson Square, and most mornings, while he scribbled on his score, hookers came down for coffee before knocking off for the night. He was soon a part of their landscape and, without knowing the how or the why of such things, he wasn’t too surprised when a couple of girls started sitting next to him. One of the girls stopped by one night and started their first conversation:

“What are you writing? A book?” she asked that morning.

“Music,” Callahan sighed.

“What kind?”

He shrugged: “A symphony, I guess.”

“You mean, like with strings and all that stuff?”

“Yup, all that stuff.”

“You sure are writing a lot.”

Callahan nodded before he picked up another beignet, the slightest breath from his nostrils causing a blizzard of powdery-sugared chaos to drift across the pages on the table.

“You got to be careful with those things,” she said, grinning.

“Want one?” he asked as he picked up his cup of coffee.

“Sure.”

“Help yourself.” And he watched her as she ate. A farm girl, he guessed, mean father, rebellious spirit, run off from her home by a vindictive mother…he could see it all as he watched the girl. She wasn’t ugly – far from it – but she was damaged goods. Broken. A broken girl living a broken life.

“You live around here?” she asked.

“Renting a room,” Callahan said, pointing to the square, “over there.”

“Got anyone?”

“Anyone?”

“You married, someone like that?”

He looked away. “Not anymore.”

“Oh? Divorced?”

He looked up, looked at the ceiling fans turning lazily overhead. “No, not divorced.”

“Oh,” the girl said, “I’m sorry. Ya know, I was tellin’ my friend you look kinda sad. Like somethin’ real bad just happened to ya.”

He looked at her, but didn’t say a word.”

“Look, I didn’t mean to bother you…”

“You’re not bothering me.”

“Well,” she said, standing up abruptly, “thanks for the donut. Maybe, uh, I’ll see you around.”

Callahan nodded. “Yeah. Maybe.” He watched her go, not at all sure what he felt, not at all sure what Sara’s passing had done to him. Or…what it was doing to him…

He walked across the square to his room, passing a little fountain just outside his door, and he stopped now and looked down into the black water, watching his reflection as it morphed and rejoined over and over again.

He swallowed hard and blinked back a tear, walked to his door and opened it.

It was a glorified hotel room, nothing more, nothing less, but the quality of the decor was, maybe, just a little upscale for a hotel. He went to a cupboard and found a bottle of bourbon and poured two fingers, then loosened his tie and slipped out of his shoes. He sat on the sofa and looked through the thick plantation shutters as light came back to the city, and a few minutes later he was asleep…

…and back on the mountain in Davos, waiting for the Old Man in the Cape…

_______________________________________

The same girl was walking with her friends when she saw him walking on Bourbon Street the next night, and she followed him until he disappeared into one of those seedy underground places the real weirdos hung out in. She couldn’t decide what to do, either. Follow him, or just blow it off…this feeling she’d had all day.

The bar was in an obscure little alley off St Anne Street, between Bourbon and Royal, and the peeling front looked like it had been painted with old mustard. The entry was cleverly disguised as a ‘front porch’, the door suffused with the putrid glow of black lights mounted somewhere within the warped ceiling. There was only a small sign denoting the place, a large, rusted piece of flat iron that had had the word Dungeon cut into it with a welding torch.

“I don’t think this place is safe,” the girl’s friend said. 

“How do you know?”

“My parents told me. This place has a bad reputation.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know.”

Yes, the Dungeon had an unearned reputation, but mainly because all the local “pervs” came to the place. The social outcasts and the druggies with the ‘golden arms’ hung out in the shadows here, the latter dealing horse and hash in equal measure, while trannies and burnt-out socialites huddled by the bar and, as soon as Callahan arrived, the little tables clustered around the piano. The air seemed purple to the girl as she made her way in, and her nose wrinkled as scents ranging from patchouli and sandalwood, and the less noticeable shades of heroin melted in spoons, wafted by.

She went to the bar and ordered a Coke, then she settled-in and watched this bizarre parade of humanity roll by. The first thing she noticed was that life inside this haven had split into the times before and after this strange musician started playing, because as he approached the piano a gentle hush fell over the room; after he began playing she felt a sigh of relief roll around the room like a purple haze.

And she knew that first song, too. He played Cole Porter’s, surely the patron saint of decadent parties, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin,’ which must’ve made the heroin dealers smile. But now she watched him, watched the way he played, and she felt mesmerized as she watched the interplay of his music within the room. His eyes closed some of the time and never on the keyboard, he was a virtuoso, some kind of savant, the music drifting seamlessly between jazz classics for one set, then hitting such Beatles standards as Lady Madonna and Yellow Submarine. If a regular asked him to play something he did so with a nod and a smile, and the huge brandy snifter on top of the piano filled with dollar bills as the night went on.

Every now and then he took a break, went up to the bar and picked up a club soda with a slice of lime, and she hid from him the first time he did so, watched how people came up and thanked him. Then she picked up an errant thread of conversation; this guy had just showed up one night and started playing. No one paid him, no one knew his name. Business picked up, regulars started coming by almost every night instead of once a week or so, and the owners even asked the stranger if they could pay him. The rumor was, or so she heard, was that he’d declined. More interesting still, she heard his tips on the piano were split between the cocktail waitresses.

Which, for some reason, she didn’t find all that strange. Not for this guy, anyway.

Some time after midnight a glamorously attired platinum blond materialized, a semi-retired movie star now living in the quarter, accompanied by a few too-masculine hangers-on in her large retinue, and she moved through the bar like an ice-breaker, pushing aside the riff-raff on her way to a table by the stranger on the piano.

He looked up once and finished what he was playing, then got up and walked out of the bar.

She dashed out of the confusion and followed him, keeping to the shadows as he made his way to the Morning Call. He was early and the place was crowded with late-night revelers and that seemed to put him off, and she watched as he got his order ‘to-go’ before he walked across the street to the square, pushing aside a few seagulls and sitting on a vacant bench.

And she walked right up and sat beside him.

“That was quite a show,” she said as she smiled at the surprise in his eyes.

“What was?”

“The way you walked out on that Hollywood bitch.”

He grunted, then held up the paper-plate loaded with warm beignets.

She took one. 

“Thanks,” she said, not in the least surprised by his easy-going generosity.

“What are you doing tonight?” he asked.

“Watching you.”

“I see.”

“I heard someone say that you just showed up and started playing. No pay.”

“Yup.”

“So, why’d you walk out on her…?”

Callahan seemed startled by the question. “What? Walk out on who?”

“On Miss Hollywood.”

“Oh. I don’t know. Just the whole ‘look at me’ thing. They way she pushed her way in.”

“Okay. What are you running from?”

Callahan grimaced, then shrugged…but still he didn’t answer the question.

“It’s not fair if you get to choose which questions you’ll answer.”

“What makes you think I want to answer your questions.”

She bunched up her fist and gently placed it on his chest. “Because there’s a great big hole right there, and all I can see is pain inside.”

Callahan put his coffee down on the bench and started to leave…

“Please don’t go,” the girl said.

Callahan took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose, then he looked down and slowly shook his head. “What do you want?” he asked. “Money? If I give you some money will you go away?”

“I’m not after anything.”

“What about money? Can I pay you to…”

“No, sorry. That won’t work, either.”

He sat up and looked across the square to the Morning Call, saw that the late night crowd had thinned out a bit. “Well, I’m gonna go get my table. If you’re coming, come on.” He got up and walked across the street to the café, found his usual table and sat.

“You must be hungry,” she said as she sat beside him.

He spotted his waiter and held up two fingers, then turned to face her. “What’s your name?”

“Deni.”

“Let’s see. The other night I had you pegged for a farmer’s kid, mean daddy, and you ran away from home.”

She grinned as she shook her head. “Nope, not even close.”

“Okay. Tell me your story.”

“I will, if you’ll tell me yours.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty something. You?”

“Thirty something.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’ve been trying to figure that one out,” he said.

“Okay, where were you born?”

“San Francisco.”

“No way! I’ve always wanted to go there…”

“City of Broken Dreams, kid. Not for the faint of heart.”

“What’s your name?”

Callahan took a deep breath, let it slip out slowly. “Harry.”

“So, Harry the piano player. From San Francisco, no less.”

“No less.” His waiter arrived with two coffees and two plates of fresh beignets; he took one and his fingers reveled in the warmth.

“They sure are good when they’re hot,” Deni said, taking one and popping it into her mouth.

“What do you do around here, Deni?”

“I go to Tulane,” she began, but she stopped when she saw the look of disappointment on his face. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t handle liars very well.”

She deflated as his words bit. “Sorry. Can I try again?”

“No lies this time.”

“No lies.”

He nodded, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair.

“I’m from Houston, and…”

“And how old are you? Really?”

“Eighteen.”

“And you ran away from home?”

“My dad kicked me out.”

“Why? Drugs?”

She shook her head. “My step-mother. We didn’t get along.”

“So he kicked you out for that? Come on, tell me the truth?”

“You know what? You sound just like a cop.”

“That’s because I’m a cop.”

“What? For real?”

“For real.”

“So, I asked you before…what are you running from? Did you kill someone?”

“No – not yet, anyway.”

“You’re gonna kill someone? Who? A friend?”

“I used to think so, once upon a time.”

“What happened?”

But Callahan simply shook his head.

“Okay, why are you here, playing the piano night after night, and for free?”

“Why not?”

“That’s not an answer.”

“So, why are you here?”

“My best friend from school lives here. It was the only place I could think of to come to. I got accepted to Tulane, and I’m trying to find a way to get a scholarship or something.”

“You’re not a hooker…?”

ME? GOD no!” she cried. “Jesus…do I look like a – a fucking prostitute?”

“I don’t know what you look like.” But no, he thought, that wasn’t quite true. You remind me of my Looney Junes…the same legs, a little too much hair on the forearms, and almost the same eyes behind those thick glasses. But he could see now that she was genuinely upset. “So, tell me about Tulane,” he continued. “I heard its a tough school to get into.”

“It is.”

“What about scholarships? Hard to get?”

She nodded, looked away.”

“What do you want to study?”

“Pre-med. But I want to get into English literature, too.”

“What, like Milton and all that jazz?”

“Yup.”

“So, you wanna be a doc?”

“Yes. I think it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. Pediatrician.”

“And your dad just dumped you?”

“Yup.”

“What about your mother?”

And the girl turned away from the idea. “She’s engaged to Prince Valium, not really part of life anymore, ya know?”

“You said you’re staying with a friend? I don’t get it…you’re from Houston, but she’s…”

“I went to a boarding school, in San Antonio. My Grandmother paid for it.”

“But she can’t pay for…?”

“She died. Two years ago.”

“How long have you been staying with your friend?”

“Too long, I think. Her parents are getting a little wigged-out about it…”

Callahan nodded, and seeing the depth of her predicament he knew what he had to do now. He finished his coffee and stood, yet she just sat at the table, not knowing what to do. As he looked down at her he could sense her anxiety, but above all else he could plainly see her need.

“You’re coming with me,” he said, and he watched as she stood.

“Where?”

“Off the street, for now. You got any clothes or stuff?”

“Not really.”

He nodded. “Okay.”

They walked over to the Royal Orleans and he got her a room, and he made sure she had access to room service before he took her up to the room.

“I’ll be by at nine o’clock sharp. Take a shower and be ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“Ready to get to work.” He turned to leave…

“You’re not staying?”

“What?”

She looked at the bed. “You don’t want anything?”

His growl startled her, and she stepped back from the horror in his eyes.

“Nine o’clock,” he repeated. “Be ready.”

_____________________________________________

He took her to breakfast at Brennan’s, then on a long walk down Royal Street for new clothes. Back to the hotel, and he waited downstairs while she showered and put on clean clothes, then they took a taxi out to Tulane, to the admissions office. She stood there by his side in mute awe as he whipped out a checkbook and paid for her tuition, room and board – for four years – and secured rooming for her at the school for the rest of the summer by enrolling her in summer classes.

The sun was setting by the time they finished getting her set-up in the dormitory, and they rode back to the Royal Orleans in another taxi. He fed her and sent her up to her room, told her to be ready to go at nine the next morning and left.

He walked down to the Dungeon and slipped behind the piano. It was as if nothing had happened the night before, and the usual lonely hearts gathered around and listened as their stranger played the music of the dying and the damned.

The next morning he took Deni to a bank by the campus and set up accounts for her, then took her to lunch at the Court of the Two Sisters.

“I think you’re good to go now, kid.”

She just stared at him, not knowing what to say.

A waitress came by and dropped off menus, and Callahan ordered minted iced tea for two.

“Are you gonna talk to me?” Callahan asked as he tried to ignore her stare.

“I wouldn’t know what to say.”

“Okay.”

“I love you. I know that much.”

“You’re confusing love with gratitude, Deni.”

“I don’t think so, Harry. I think you’re afraid of love. Maybe even running from love. But what you just did for me was an expression of pure love. Love like I’ve never experienced before. And I really don’t know what to say.”

“How about ‘Thanks?’”

“Okay. Thanks, Harry-whatever-your-name-is. Thanks for making my life complete. Thanks for being there for me. Thanks for letting me love you.”

He nodded as he took out an envelope and handed it to her. “This is my contact information, Deni. If you need anything call the number in there. I’ll drop by from time to time, see how you’re doing. Let me know if you make it into medical school, and if you need help paying for it let me know.”

“One question, Harry. Just one, okay?”

“Sure. Fire away.”

“Why? Why me? Why are you doing this for me?”

“I’m paying off a debt, Deni. To a little girl I used to know, a girl just like you.”

“You loved her, didn’t you?”

“Very much. More than I thought possible.”

She nodded, took his hand in her’s and kissed it.

“Now, about your father. I’d like to pay him a visit.”

She shook her head. “No, Harry. Not necessary. You’re my father now.”

The words startled Callahan, set him back in his chair. “I am not…”

“Well, you won’t let me in like a girlfriend…”

“Because I’m old enough to be…”

“My father. Right, I get that, and I love you for the respect you’ve shown me. You just need to accept what I’ve given you.”

“I’ll have to think about it, Deni.”

________________________________________________

He turned up next in Alpine, Texas.

He rented a small room in an old boarding house, one that had seen better days when cattle drives were still a big part of local life.

There was a saloon of sorts down on Main Street, but these days about the only things you could find behind the bar were Lone Star longnecks and a couple of decks of worn-out cards. An old gal named Millie held court behind the bar, and locals liked to say that Millie had been “rode hard and put away wet” more than once, but the truth was far simpler than that. Millie’s one true love had blown through town one weekend something short of thirty years ago, and when this tumbleweed decided to keep on rolling her roots held fast. She had turned into something inert after that, like a gas in the bottom of a beaker, and she had been changing dollar bills for cold bottles of beer ever since. 

Callahan walked into the bar in the middle of the afternoon and looked around. The old pine paneling the covered the walls had turned orange decades ago; now the wood look depleted, completely worn out. He saw an old upright piano against a far wall and walked over to it. Standing there, he reached for a memory and played it, found the tones the old girl made kind of pleasing, until he heard from Millie:

“Get the fuck away from my goddam piano!” the woman screamed. “And get the fuck outta here!”

Callahan turned to face the voice, then he walked up to the bar, put his hands out and caressed the old wood. “How old is this place,” he asked as he looked at the old wood.

“Older than you, asshole.”

He looked around, took in the posters for rodeos stapled to the wall by the door, flyers for bands that had played here years ago, but everything he saw was in the past. A dead space, he thought. Waiting for something, anything to happen.

“Do I need to call the sheriff on you? I told you to git!”

He turned and looked at the woman – instant ferocity clear in his eyes: “I’m looking for Don McCall. Know where I can find him?”

He watched the change come over her, a softening inside her glaring eyes.

“You know Donnie?”

“We flew together in ‘Nam. He saved my life.”

She nodded. “That’s our Donnie. Sooner or later he saves everyone, but no-one is ever there for him.” 

He heard the bitterness in her voice and the grating sound bothered him. “Why do you say that?”

She shrugged. “That’s just the way it is, mister.”

“Harry Callahan,” he said, holding out his hand.

She took it. “Millie. You really a friend, or you from the bank?”

“Friend. What’s with the bank?”

“His dad. Took out a big loan when the drought hit. Drought didn’t end, lost their herd. You do the math.”

Callahan nodded. “Got any cold beer?”

“Do bears shit in the woods?”

“Better give me one.”

“I ain’t givin’ you shit, Callahan…”

He pulled out his wallet and passed her a hundred. “Open up a tab for me, wouldya?”

“Sure thing,” she said as she passed over a Lone Star longneck.

“And call Donnie for me, please. Tell him I’m here and that I’d like to buy him a beer.”

“Okay.” Millie disappeared into her office and Callahan turned around and leaned against the bar. He could just about imagine Judge Roy Bean walking in the door, calling out for Lillie Langtry or brandishing a hangman’s noose…

Alpine, Texas, he thought as he walked over to one of the large windows that looked out on Main Street. Hot as hell out, and dry too, but at 4500 feet above sea level the nights were supposed to be cool. The town was surrounded by low, wind-sculpted mountains – more like hills, really – rising from a flat prairie that seemed, to Callahan, like a good place to raise rattlesnakes.

His thoughts drifted back to Hue City and those mad-flights out to C-Med to pick up the dead and the dying, and McCall sitting beside him in their Huey night after night. Quiet and even tempered, Callahan looked at this landscape and nodded.

This land looked like Don McCall – quiet, purpose built, solid and steady. 

“He’ll be here in about twenty minutes,” Millie said. “And he said I should treat you right, so you go ahead and play that piano if you want.”

“You serve dinner here?”

“Yessir, come about four-thirty or so. Tonight we’re servin’ t-bones and enchiladas, side salad if you want it.”

Callahan looked at his watch. “Better get a couple ready. I’ll be hungry as hell by then.”

“Alrighty.”

He moved over to the piano and sat, began a ragtime that sounded a little like The Yellow Rose of Texas, and Millie came over and sat behind Callahan, watched him play and felt the change that came over her old saloon.

“That was wonderful,” she whispered when Harry finished. “Reminds me of the times we used to have here.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I think most of us forgot what it’s like to live as a group of people, to look after one another, especially when times are tough. It feels like it’s everyone is out for his or her self these days, like…”

She stopped when a battered Chevy pickup pulled into a space out front, and she smiled when she saw Don McCall bounding into the saloon…

And Callahan met McCall as he crashed into the saloon.

“Dear God in Heaven!” Don cried. “It is you! Well, Harry Callahan, as I live and breathe, what the hell are you doing out here?”

Callahan turned to Millie. “Waitin’ for this lady to make me an honest-to-Pete West Texas t-bone steak, for one. She needs to get you one of these Lone Stars, too. Pretty good beer, I reckon, even if it is from Texas…”

McCall made to roll up his sleeves. “Them’s is fightin’ words, mister,” he said, grinning. “No one, and I mean no one makes fun of the National Beer of Texas…”

Callahan sidled up to the bar, McCall in tow, while Millie popped the tops on two more Lone Stars; McCall downed his in one long pull so Callahan followed suit.

“Millie,” Don barked, “keep ‘em comin’ ’til our toes are point’n at the ceilin’!”

“Better get those steaks going,” Harry whispered. “Maybe some bread, too?”

“Well Harry, sit you down and tell me a story…”

They moved to a table in back by the kitchen, Callahan beginning to think that this might be the best beer he’d ever had – at about the same time enchiladas baking in the kitchen began to fill the air with a magic all their own.

“Damn, Donnie, it’s good to see you. You’re looking good, life must agree with you…”

“It sure is good to see you too, hooch-mate. It’s a long way from Hue, ain’t it?”

Harry shook his head. “Man, that feels like a million lifetimes ago, ya know?”

“Don’t it? And every day over there felt like a lifetime.”

“Because it was.”

Millie brought out a basket of peanuts and plopped them down, with two more beers coming a moment later.

“So, what are you doing out here, Harry? Really…?”

“Just followin’ the wind, Amigo. Keepin’ my nose clean as best I can.”

“Give up on the cop thing?”

“Leave of absence. Taking some time off.” He slammed down half of the latest bottle and tried to stifle a burp, but it slid out through his nose and he grinned. “This stuff is really good.”

“Yeah, it is,” McCall said, his voice sliding down an octave.

“Millie mentioned problems with a bank?”

“Millie talks to much.”

“Maybe she just cares.”

“Maybe. So, yeah, bad drought out here the past few years, we lost the herd and dad decided to put up half the ranch as collateral so we could buy more cattle. Then the drought got worse.”

“How much is he in for, Don?”

“More than we’ve got. Damn, those steaks smell good. You know, Millie’s a damn fine cook.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

McCall looked down and grinned. “Sure Harry. You got an extra sixty large lyin’ around you could spare?”

“Sixty? Is that what you need? Anything else?”

“Harry, I got a list about as long as my arm. Things we got to repair or replace, including about ten miles of fence that needs some real work, and real soon, too.”

“How hard is that?”

“What?”

“Working fences.”

“Why? You volunteering?”

“Sure, why not…?”

“Yeah, right.”

“Would two hundred get your head out from under the water?”

“Two hundred what, Harry?”

“Thousand.”

“You got two hundred grand lyin’ around you just want to give me? Is that what you’re sayin’ Callahan?”

“Just tell me what you need, Don. I want to get this done before Millie gets back out here.”

“Are you fuckin’ serious, Callahan?”

Harry took out his checkbook and took a pen out of his coat pocket. The pen hovered over a check. “What do you need, Don?”

McCall shook his head. “Man, you’ve always been fuckin’ nuts, Callahan, but okay, let’s see. Dad needs a hundred to wipe out the loan. We need about fifty to get deferred maintenance out of the way, another fifty, maybe seventy to get the fence line, and we could use another hundred to get an up to date house on the property.”

“So, three, three-twenty gets you going, but what about cattle?”

“Call it another hundred.”

Callahan started writing. “No, let’s call it an even five hundred,” he said as he filled in the numbers, then he signed the check and peeled it out of his checkbook. “You wanna deposit it now, or wait til morning?”

“Are you shittin’ me, Callahan?”

“Nope.”

“I’ll be right back,” McCall said as he took the check and ran for his pickup; a few seconds later the Chevy was fishtailing out Main Street, headed for the bank.

“That was pretty cool,” Millie said from behind the swinging doors that led to the kitchen. “Is that why you came?”

“No, I just wanted to see an old friend.”

“The world needs more friends like you, Callahan,” she said as she disappeared back into her kitchen.

“Maybe so,” he muttered, taking a peanut and breaking the shell on the table then eating the nuts. Millie brought out a salad and promptly disappeared again, so Callahan went back to the piano, began playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, only very slowly.

McCall returned a while later, and as soon as he took his seat Millie brought out her steaks and enchiladas, and she joined them, taking her own dinner at the table.

“So,” Callahan said as he finished, “how hard is it to set fence posts?”

“You wanna set some?”

“Yeah, as long as you’re out there with me, I’ll give you a couple of days.”

“And the steaks are on me, gentlemen,” Millie added, “when you knock off for the day.”

“It don’t get much better than that, Harry.”

“I reckon I’m in.”

“What are you going to do, Harry? What’s next?”

“I miss the street. The work. I think I’m going home. I’ve got a few things I need to finish up there…”

© 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 (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 30

88th key cover image

[a little note: surgery as expected a week ago, an unexpected post-op infection intervened and I’m in a new hospital, trying to beat that back. Well enough today to write, so finished this chapter. Not on email (Sorry, Christian). More as I know it…A]

Part IV

Chapter 30

____________________________________

Callahan and  his spotter were standing in a field just north of the little airport in Hayward – and they were kitted-out as surveyors, complete with blueprints for a golf course that was slated to be built on the property – and they were indeed surveying, in a way…

“The prevailing wind is generally from the north on this side of the bay, isn’t it?” his spotter asked.

“Yeah,” Callahan said, “but more often than not a little west of north, coming right out of the Gate. If the plane comes in at night they’ll likely land on 2-8, and if it’s a twin it’ll be on 2-8 Left.”

“Can you target an engine from head-on?”

“I can hit it, sure. The real question is what happens if the bullet hits the prop instead of the cylinder head. Nothing would happen, for all intents and purposes, except maybe a badly deformed bullet.”

“Could you hit a tire?”

Callahan shrugged. “I dunno – that might be more a matter of luck than skill, especially at night.” Callahan kept talking as a patrol car motored by, and when the cop inside waved at them Callahan waved back. “That’s the second time that patrol car has been by.”

“Okay, car number 245,” his spotter said. “We’d better pack up and get some lunch, do what a survey crew would do around noon.”

“Ever been to a Del Taco?” Harry asked.

“No…? What’s a del taco?”

Callahan grinned. “Take my word for it…you’re gonna love it.”

“Right. Let’s go…”

_________________________________

Al Bressler was spotting for Frank Bullitt near the SFPDs headquarters building, tracking down a rumor that McKay had been seen going into the building just after midnight. They’d been staking out the secured personnel entry ever since, but they hadn’t seen a thing.

“Maybe he left something in his office, ya know?” Bressler said. “Decided to sneak in and get it and leave without being spotted.”

“Maybe,” Bullitt grunted. “Whatever. Either he ain’t here or he’s already blown us off. You got his home address?”

“On Bismarck Street in Daly City.”

“Anyone watching it?”

“Yeah. One of the Israeli kids.”

“What about his wife? Anyone seen her?”

“No, and there’s been no movement inside that house, either.”

“Any intel on him would be more than useful right now, know what I mean?”

“Well…” Bressler said, his voice growing conspiratorially low…

“Well, what?”

“This is off the books, okay Frank? But he’s a weenie-wagger.”

“What?”

“He’s been spotted at those weenie-wagger arcades.”

“Speak English, would you?”

“Adult bookstores, ya know? The video booths? He’s got a habit, Frank?”

“A habit? What kind of fucking habit, Bressler? Heroin?”

“The man’s got to pull it off about every three or so hours…”

“Goddamnit, do you not fuckin’ know how to speak English?”

“He jacks-off a lot, Frank. Two, three, sometimes four times a day, usually at adult bookstores, usually out near the airport.”

“There. Was that so hard?”

“Sorry, Frank…”

“Man, you guys in Vice need to get out more…try walking around in daylight once in a while…”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So, are there any bookstores he hits frequently?”

“Yeah. All of them.”

“No shit? Pencil-Dick?”

“That ain’t the worst of it, Frank.”

“What?”

“He, uh, spends a lot of time on his knees.”

“Pencil-dick? No shit?” Bullitt chuckled, now shaking his head. “How did you find that out?”

“We run CCTV surveillance up in the ceilings in almost all of them. Besides guys sucking other guys, a shitload of drugs run through those places.”

Bullitt nodded. “Okay, we’re wasting time here; let’s head south, see if we can pick up a trail.”

Bressler got on the radio and called in their change of plans. Goodman replied and approved the move; Frank headed for the One-oh-one, still shaking his head. “So, Pencil-dick is in the closet, eh…? Well, that’s just too-fuckin’-rich. So, Al, you wanna rain on his parade a little?”

“He might be more valuable as a hostage that as a target…”

“Yeah,” Bullitt sighed, still thinking, “it’s the holy rollers who are wound the tightest.”

“McKay has always been wound pretty tight…”

Which only cause Frank to smile.

________________________________

Callahan loaded his spotter down with a couple of tacos and three bean burritos; the results after two hours had been, so far, predictably spectacular. The poor guy squirmed in his seat before quietly lifting a cheek and letting another SBD loose…

“Nice one,” Callahan grumbled before leaning over and letting another one rip.

“How do you do that?” the kid asked.

“Do what?”

“Make them so loud?”

“Practice, man.”

“So, you eat a lot of tacos?”

“Only when I need to clear the air.”

They both laughed…until the radio chattered and came alive.

“X-ray One, go ahead,” his spotter said

“Possible target information,” Goodman said from the safe house. “DC-3 inbound from KSAN.”

“Got it,” the kid said.

Callahan shook his head. “What the hell are we supposed to do with a ‘possible’ target? Shoot them down and hope they turn out to be the right target…?”

“Maybe wait ’til they come to a stop, shoot out the tires and nail anyone who comes out the door.”

“I don’t like it,” Harry snarled, now looking at the fence line along the west side of the airport. “There’s cover over there…”

“What’s the range from there to those hangers?” the kid asked, pointing at a row of hangers on the east side of the airport.

“Looks like six, maybe seven hundred yards.”

“How long does it take you to set-up that scope?”

“A minute or so. Maybe a little less.”

“Let’s move over there.”

The radio crackled to life once again and the kid answered: “X-ray One, go head.”

“Suspect DC-3 approaching San Jose. Get in position.”

“Roger.”

“Okay, that does it,” Callahan whispered as he started the Chevy Blazer. He looked at the fence line, and the glassy-smooth bay beyond, then shook his head. “We’ll be too exposed over there, and it’s the middle of the afternoon. This is nuts…”

“We can set out the surveying gear, hide by that pile of rocks and debris.”

Callahan drove slowly, carefully, not wanting to attract attention, until he found an old dirt track that led alongside the airport fence and took it. Once by the pile of rocks they set out all their surveying equipment, and Callahan took his H&K PSG-1 out of it’s case and began to enter all the physical parameters he’d need for the shot.

The kid tuned the radio to the SF approach control and they listened as the DC-3 reported leaving San Jose airspace, making for the East Bay and Hayward Municipal…

“Tuning in the control tower now,” the kid said.

Callahan took out a pair of binoculars and scanned the area: men in the control tower were looking to the south; ramp activity across the airport by the fueling stands looked normal; traffic on nearby roads moving slowly as the evening commute began…and a patrol car parked in deep shade by a building, almost out of sight – but…not quite…

“Pack up. Let’s go,” Callahan snarled.

“What is it?” the kid asked.

“We’re being watched. This is a set-up.”

“What?”

The radio crackled to life again, and this time the DC-3 checked in with the tower at Hayward Municipal, which cleared the aircraft for a straight-in approach to Runway 28, then cleared them to land.

The kid packed up the equipment while Harry slipped the rifle back in it’s case, then Callahan heard the DC-3 out over the bay. He turned and watched as it came in south of the San Mateo Bridge, heading for Union City…

“That’s not a straight in approach…?” he said. “Get in, let’s move…”

As Callahan moved to get in the Blazer he stopped and watched the DC-3 as it turned on final. He could just see the flaps lower, then the landing gears as they extended – when he saw a puff of smoke emerge from an industrial area underneath the aircraft, then a streak of flame as some kind of missile leapt into the sky, streaking for the DC-3…

…and the missile struck the DC-3’s left engine, severing the entire wing from the fuselage. The aircraft wallowed sideways once then fell straight down into a cluster of mobile homes. The explosion was devastating, and Callahan could see wildfires erupting all over the hillside beyond the homes.

And then five patrol cars emerged from their hiding places and streaked across the airport towards their Blazer.

Callahan slammed the transmission into Drive and turned towards the bay, driving across the rough landfill towards the water’s edge. He could see the kid on the radio, telling Goodman the situation as Callahan maneuvered the truck between piles of rock and construction debris…

‘Got to get that rifle,’ he said to himself, ‘secure it or swim out and dump it where no one can find it. Incriminating…’

Then, just ahead, a group of men stood and began firing at the Blazer…

“Get down!” he yelled as he spun the wheel…

Glass shattered and rained down on them as he made his way to a huge pile of rock.

They slid to a stop; Callahan grabbed the H&K from behind his seat and ran for cover, the kid not far behind – carrying an MP-5 of his own. Bullets slammed into the rocks and wet sand as they slid into positions of cover.

“You get the radio, kid?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell the Colonel we need some sort of diversion.”

“He’s working on it.”

“Good.” Callahan could make out at least five men working their way inland – towards their position – from the bay, and the patrol cars had stopped on their inland side – so they were effectively trapped between two lines of opposing forces. ‘Do I want to take them out?’ he asked himself. ‘If they’re cops, some might belong to the group, but, then again, some might not. Do I take a chance I might take out an innocent cop?’

He took out the PSG-1 and brought the scope up to his eye. Swinging it left, then right, he found the first cop, the one that had driven by that morning, and he studied his face. Not scared, he saw. Acting more like he was enjoying himself, this cop had his Smith & Wesson drawn and was holding it up beside his face.

‘200 yards, no wind, no elevation change,’ he thought as he dialed in the parameters, then he sighted in on the cop’s revolver and fired once.

The cop jumped back, holding his hand and screaming bloody murder as he hopped in a circle, but Harry could see the man wasn’t injured, just shaken-up a little…

Bullets slammed-in to the debris just overhead and rock fragments rained down on his head.

The kid let loose with his MP-5, spraying 30 rounds in the direction of the men coming in from the water. “That ought to make ‘em think twice,” the kid snarled.

Then dozens of rounds slammed into rocks overhead.

“Or maybe not,” the kid added as he slammed another magazine into his MP-5.

“You been in combat before?” Harry asked.

“Once or twice. I forget.”

“Right. Conserve your ammunition…” Callahan said, but the kid was already on the radio again.

“About five minutes out,” the kid said, hunching down as more bullets hit – and another shower of rock fragments rained down.

“Who is?”

“Air support.”

“Really?” Callahan looked out over the bay and yes, there were several helicopters up over the city. But…why so many?

More bullets slammed into the rocks, these coming from the police by the fence line, and Callahan rolled to a new position and sighted-in on a cop with a Remington 870 pump shotgun in hand. Callahan moved the reticle to the 870’s receiver and fired one round; the shotgun literally flew out of the officer’s hand and all of the others by his side ducked behind their squad cars – again.

But by then the sound of several inbound Hueys filled the air, soon pushing aside all other sound, and Callahan raised his head enough to see three Army Hueys flaring over the landfill – and dozens of troops repelling down to the mud. The men by the water stood up, looking confused now as their plans fell apart, as a fourth Huey, this one painted in civilian colors, flew directly to the kid and settled on the mud.

“Mickey” Rooney waved at Harry, then thumb-gestured that he and the kid needed to hop on the skids and get settled in. Callahan picked up the H&K and made for the sliding door, just as a round slammed into the Huey’s windshield.

Harry spun around and saw the first cop, the one he suspected was a bad apple, getting ready to shoot at Rooney; he sighted-in and fired one round – taking out the cop’s left hand – before he climbed in the back. A second later they were airborne, headed across the bay towards the north side of San Francisco International.

Callahan scooted forward until he was right behind Rooney.

“What’s going on?”

“Frank just got McKay. We’re gonna pick ‘em up.”

“No shit?”

“Hey, I just move the pointy end and go where they tell me. Better put on a headset, listen in on COMMs 2 and get up to speed.” 

Callahan put on a spare headset hanging behind Rooney’s head and flipped the rotary selector to COMMs 2; he listened as Bullitt told Rooney where they were, exactly, and where Rooney might be able to land.

“Roger,” Rooney replied, “ETA about five minutes.”

Then ‘Mickey’ turned to Harry. “You know the area?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, come up and take the left seat.” The Army co-pilot got out and climbed aft, leaving Callahan to crawl forward and slip into the seat. “What kind of hazards around the area?” Rooney added.

“Intersection: Linden and Airport Drive, a few open lots and what looks like a lot of open grass on a hill, but power lines run through the area…”

Bullitt came in on the channel again: “Okay Air 1, there’s a big vacant lot just north of the intersection, no power lines there.”

“Got it. We’ll be coming in from your northeast, from Brisbane.”

“Understood. We’re in the clear, no contacts.”

“You know the area, Harry?”

“Affirmative.”

Rooney was skimming the waves just then, keeping out of SFOs traffic pattern, and he came in over the One-oh-one freeway about fifty feet over the concrete…

“Okay Harry, your airplane…”

Callahan slid his feet on the pedals, his left hand on the collective, his right on the stick…

“My airplane.” 

He followed the freeway ’til they crossed Oyster Point, then he began flaring, bleeding speed and angling right so he’d get a better view ahead for his final approach…

Then he could see the intersection – and a Japan Air Lines 747 turning onto final for Runway 10 Left – before he saw Frank in a low crouch, his Sig 220 drawn, and someone face down on the ground at his feet.

“He’s taking fire!” Rooney called out.

The aft doors slid open and two Army gunners leaned out as Callahan put the 212 into a deep flare; they covered the last few hundred feet to Bullitt’s position at a twenty-degrees nose up AOA…

When the tail skid hit he brought the nose down, just as…

…the gunner in the left door fired a short burst. Then Callahan felt the Huey shift a little as men jumped on board, followed by the adrenalin-amped  shouts of: “GO!-GO!-GO!” as he pulled up on the collective and he twisted the throttle, adding power to his climb…

“Where’s that fucking 747!”he yelled.

“At your ten-o’clock, about five hundred AGL,” Rooney replied.

“Got him…! Bet that poor sum-bitch just shit his britches…”

Callahan cleared the power lines and flew due west for a minute, then…

“Your airplane, Mickey,”

“My airplane.”

Callahan undid his harness and climbed aft, went to check on a surprised Frank.

“What are you doing here?” Bullitt asked when Harry slid onto the mesh bench on the aft-most wall. “Thought you were in Oakland?”

“We were set-up, ambushed. That McKay?”

“Yup.”

Captain Jerome McKay was still face down – with a black nylon sack over his head, only now on the Huey’s floor, and he wasn’t wearing any pants.

“I’d like to ask,” Callahan said, grinning, “but, ya know, now just doesn’t feel like the right time.”

Bullitt grinned. “Yeah. This was one for the books. Did you say ambushed?”

“Yeah.”

“So, they know we’re here. That’s just great.”

“Yeah.”

“You have no idea what’s comin’ your way, you fuckin’ assholes,” McKay growled.

“Neither do you, Pencil-dick.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Well,” Frank said, “from what – little – I saw, Jerry, Pencil-dick just might be a little on the generous side.”

“Frank? Fuck you…”

“No thanks, Jerry; I’m tryin’ to quit.” 

____________________________________

The Huey landed near the cliffs just north of the little airport at Half Moon Bay; Frank tossed McKay into the back of a van and drove off towards an address in Santa Cruz; Callahan followed with everyone else in another van. When they arrived at this new house, Callahan found Sam Bennett was already there; so he concluded this initial foray had been almost a complete bust – except that Bullitt had nabbed McKay.

Goodman took McKay and, in heavy restraints, put him in a small concrete tomb in the basement, then he returned to the team – still waiting for him in the living room.

“Harry, what happened?”

“As soon as we started to set up a patrol car started cruising the area, scoping us out. He was just waiting to get us in place and they shot down that DC-3. My guess is they planned to put the blame on us.”

Goodman nodded. “It was a church trip, kids returning from a trip to the San Diego Zoo.”

“They’re playing hardball, aren’t they?” Sam Bennett growled.

“They caught us in a pincer,” Harry added. “Without extraction, they had us. By the way, who got the Army involved?”

“That was Rooney’s idea,” the Colonel said. “He figured we’d need a massive show of force to pull you guys out of there.”

“Well, that was a good call. Definitely saved our ass.”

“Now Frank, tell us about McKay?”

“I’d better let Al take this one, Colonel.”

“Okay. Al? What’s the score?”

“Well, you all know I was working Vice before this other stuff happened. We started picking up on McKay’s movements after we started watching peep-shows down around SFO. McKay turned out to be a regular.”

Bennett seemed shocked. “Jerry? Peep-shows?”

“Well, Captain,” Bressler continued, “yes, and no. Most of these places have video arcades, they’re kind of notorious. Limp-wrists hang out there, cruise the cabins, looking to…”

“You talkin’ faggots, Bressler?”

“Yessir.”

“Well, just come out and say so, would you? Now, you’re telling us that Captain McKay was hanging out in these places?”

“Yessir.”

“And?”

“And, well sir, he’s been, uh, servicing other men…”

“WHAT!” Sam Bennett cried. “You’re talking about a captain in the San Francisco Police Department, Inspector. Are you certain? You have proof?”

“We have closed-circuit video recordings, Captain.”

“Of McKay? Having sex – with men?

“Yessir.”

Bennett turned and stormed from the room; Callahan looked at Bullitt – who simply shrugged before he spoke: “They were in Academy together,” was all he said.

“Middle-age-crazy,” Callahan sighed, shaking his head.

“It happens,” Bressler added, “more often that you think.”

“Well,” Goodman said to the group, “we’ll have to break him, find out what he knows. In the end, his capture could really turn things to our advantage.”

“Break him?” Bressler asked. “What does that mean?”

“Torture, smart guy,” Frank snarled.

“Oh.”

“Well,” Callahan interrupted, “they were waiting for us, so we’re compromised.”

Goodman nodded. “From the beginning, but it’s interesting they were expecting us…or you, I should say. On the other hand, they weren’t in place to intercept Frank or Sam.”

“Which means what, exactly?” Bressler asked.

“Perhaps someone spotted Harry by chance. Right now, the prudent thing to do is pack up and leave. Maybe sit it out in Switzerland, at least until things settle down.”

Bullitt stood and began to pace the room. “Look, I left Cathy in Tel Aviv and she’s just about had it. She needs to get back to work, and, well, I need to start figuring out what comes next.”

Harry heard the pain in Frank’s voice and wondered how he could help. “Her house ought to be ready to go within a month. She can start on my house as soon as she gets back…but what about you?”

“Well, it kind of depends on what happens with Sam. My retirement, or whatever you want to call it, was a ruse coordinated with Sam. On the other hand, the paperwork was officially submitted, so only Bennett has the capability to reinstate me. I can return, or I can remain retired, ya know what I mean? I’m trying to figure that out.”

“Cathy’s the problem, right?” Harry asked, and Frank nodded.

“Yeah.”

“Why haven’t you two gotten married?”

“I don’t know. I guess because on one level I always felt like she already had one foot out the door.”

“Why’s that?”

Bullitt looked down. “She’s an architect. I’m a cop, ya know? The other side of the tracks.”

“So?”

“Sometimes it feels like we don’t go out with her friends…because she’s, well, we don’t because I’m a cop.”

Al looked thoughtful: “Do you get along okay with her friends?”

Bullitt shook his head. “Not really. They’re artists, ya know? Into pot, doing mushrooms, LSD…all that psychedelic shit, so…”

“Does Cathy do that stuff?”

“Not really. Yet…sometimes I get the feeling she’d like to be able to cut loose. It’s like I’m holding her back.”

Harry shook his head: “This story usually doesn’t have a happy ending, Amigo. Y’all need to talk this through, see where she wants to go from here. And where you want to be.”

“The only thing I know, Harry, is this job. When I think about what I want to do, it’s the job. I’m a cop, ya know? Retirement is not something that feels comfortable to me. It feels like a dead end.”

“What are you gonna do, Harry?” Bressler asked.

“I’m going to get to know Sara, spend a lot of time with her. Then I’ll see. A lot will depend on her, and how comfortable she is. Maybe how confident she feels.”

“Harry, I don’t want to bring this up too often, but the premiere of your mother’s last piece is coming up next month.”

“I know.”

“I don’t mean to be pushy here, Harry,” Al said, “but I’d really like to be there for that.”

“Me too,” Frank said.

“Okay,” Harry said. “I’d love to have you all there. With Sara.”

A messenger came in and handed a note to Colonel Goodman, and everyone watched him as he read the contents, his face turning brilliant red, then a ghostly white.

“Harry? It seems we may have made an unforgivable error. Stacy Bennett was picked up at the clinic in Davos by helicopter.”

“What?” Harry said, the room suddenly spinning underfoot.

“But not before she made an attempt on Sara’s life.”

Callahan closed his eyes as he fell to his knees, and nothing lay ahead but a vast field of stars.

© 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 (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 29

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 29

____________________________________

Harry watched Stacy Bennett, now sitting beside the pool behind Avi’s house at the Tel Aviv compound, as she took her morning coffee and, like Jim Parish, he was getting increasingly worried about her fragile – and rapidly deteriorating – emotional state. Since returning from her ‘assignment’ in Boston, and with so much fresh blood on her hands, she had at first reflected a stoic acceptance of the ‘work’ she’d done, but soon she bounced between deepening bouts of depression and raging fits of aggressive mania. When Stacy and Jim arrived in Davos for Harry’s wedding – and, as it happened, after a particularly violent outburst on the flight from Tel Aviv to Zurich – Parish asked Harry to keep an eye on her between dances at the impromptu wedding reception. After Sara Callahan returned to the clinic to wrap-up treatment, both Harry and Jim continued to watch Stacy when the team left for Zurich, first by train, and then on the flight back to Israel. 

And Harry was upset by what he saw on the train, enough so that he decided to bring up the matter with the Colonel after they boarded the El Al 707 for the return flight to Tel Aviv.

“Yes,” Goodman said, almost matter-of-factly – like he was remarking on the weather, “I’ve noticed, but Harry, I’ve often seen this happen after a first kill. Odds are she’ll get over it…”

But now, after a few days at the compound, he looked at Stacy by the pool and he could see other changes.

She was biting her nails, her fingers never stopped moving, and her left leg twitched every few seconds. Worse still, she refused to talk to anyone about what was obviously bothering her, and Parish was growing more concerned by the hour. She was, he told Callahan, an obvious candidate for suicide.

He watched her for a while that morning then decided to act; he returned to the house and called Dr. Adler, Sara’s attending psychiatrist at the clinic. After a few minutes wait for her to come to the phone, Callahan told Adler about his concerns, as well as Parish’s. 

Adler replied thoughtfully, and directly: “I noticed something odd about her at the reception. Not knowing the circumstances I felt it best to ignore the situation, but with what I know now I would concur. Suicide is a real possibility.”

“Do you know what’s going on? What we should do to help?”

“What you are describing, these suddenly emerging extreme manic-depressive swings, the tremors, the nail-biting…all may well be manifestations of an impending psychotic break.”

“What can we do?”

“Can you get her to me?”

“Of course.”

“And, uh, do you suppose your father could come along, too?” 

______________________________________

Goodman and the team had other concerns now. Growing concerns.

Walter Chalmers woke up one morning and simply left the compound; without a word said he took a taxi to the American Embassy in Tel Aviv; the team learned the next day Chalmers had returned to his Senate office in Washington, D.C. and was, apparently, hard at work. Then, two days later, he was gunned down outside of a restaurant in Georgetown, the apparent victim of a random robbery – at least according to breathless reports on NBC News, anyway.

The murder of a U.S. Senator stirred up a hornet’s nest of activity inside the FBI, and at Treasury – who controlled the Secret Service, because the move was seen by some as an open declaration of war between the government and a hidden, but growing, movement that few really understood. Regardless, the growing affiliation between the various vigilante groups on the east and west coasts with a new network of criminal enterprises was trouble enough, because this link-up was now seen as yielding ominous results. Chalmers’ open assassination was therefore regarded by insiders at the Bureau for what it really was.

War, pure and simple.

Yet, this was to be a war that played-out far from public view, and both sides knew it had to be that way. If the vigilantes moved to directly confront American political sovereignty they wouldn’t stand a chance, so the Bureau’s upper echelons remained uncertain what the group’s ultimate aims were. 

While a decades-long war of attrition was the furthest thing from their minds, few had come to terms with the Escobar dilemma that Harry Callahan had uncovered. Was this somehow linked to the drug trade? No, it couldn’t be, the old hands at the FBI said. The Columbians surely weren’t that sophisticated.

Goodman’s team, however, was not laboring under any such uncertainty. Goodman knew the assassination was Pablo Escobar’s opening move, and it was also Goodman’s opinion that Escobar wanted to – initially – destabilize the federal law enforcement community, and then force their hand, lead them to move on these various vigilante groups – one by one. So engaged, and once so distracted, Goodman assumed the Medellin Cartel would begin to pour product into the U.S. through their underground network of associated criminal enterprises, like the Danson chop-shop Callahan had worked at; from this modest start, the Cartel could then expand their initial dealer network to major cities coast to coast.

“With so much cocaine and heroin hitting the streets all at once your government will never know what hit them,” the Colonel mused, “at least not until long after the dust settles. And by then it will be too late, won’t it? It will take decades to repair the damage, if it ever can be.”

“And you still think this is all the work on one Columbian drug dealer?” Sam Bennett said.

But then Goodman shook his head. “No, I don’t think so, Captain. I think this operation has KGB written all over it; we just can’t prove it yet. Personally, I doubt this Escobar even knows the difference between a State and a U.S. Senator, because if he did he certainly wouldn’t have gone after Chalmers for his first move. That hit signaled the opening move of a decades-long campaign to destabilize the United States from within.”

“So,” Bullitt sighed, “this isn’t just about drugs?”

“I doubt it,” Goodman replied. “I’d say this is a political operation first, one that will utilize criminal enterprises to undermine social cohesion while at the same time these ethnic infiltrations of police departments will ultimately undermine the credibility of law enforcement. Once that happens whoever is pulling the strings will move to destabilize the federal political system.”

“So,” Sam Bennett grumbled, “after that comes revolution?”

“If I were setting this up,” Goodman said, “I’d foment civil war. If that happens the United States drops off the world stage, the dollar plummets and what’s left of the country is left to pick up the pieces. It’s asymmetric warfare, gentlemen, and no one does that better than the KGB.”

“Do we know what’s going on in San Francisco?” Bullitt asked, clearly shaken by this talk.

“More or less. There’s been a lot of confusion since Harry took out that Danson character. The Threlkis gang has a big reward out for you, by the way,” Goodman said, nodding at Callahan. “Paddy Chalmers is gone; they took him out while he was still in the hospital three nights ago. A couple of salesmen at one of the Chalmers’ dealerships have gone missing, too. We’ve found just one of the bodies. Some good news, though; we are establishing new phone traces one-by-one as we locate the crew that went underground, as some of them start moving around again. All-in-all, we’re getting back up to speed, but slowly.”

Bullitt looked angry now. “What about McKay? What’s he up to?”

“Playing it straight as an arrow, Frank. Back at work like nothing happened.”

“Maybe he had a ‘Come to Jesus Moment,’” Callahan said, grinning at Frank.

“I doubt it. Maybe we ought to put Delgetti and Stanton on him,” Bullitt said, now sounding frustrated.

Sam Bennett growled at that suggestion: “No way, Frank. We don’t want to tip our hand or expose those two at the same time…”

“I agree, Captain,” Goodman added. “Our problem now, at least as far as this team is concerned, is that you have all been, in a word, compromised. When you return it will be to make a little statement of our own.”

“Meaning?” Callahan asked.

“We will assign each of you a group of targets. Your assignment will be to get into place and take out as many of these characters as you can.”

With that, Goodman let his words settle over the team while he looked at them one by one.

“Like the Munich squads…” Sam Bennett said quietly…

Goodman simply shrugged.

And Stacy Bennett stood abruptly and ran from the room, her brother getting up and going after her.

“What’s that all about?” Goodman asked, his furrowed brow deepening.

“We gotta talk,” Callahan said. “Now.”

________________________________

This time Callahan asked Didi to have a JetRanger standing by for them at the airport in Zurich, and both he and his father helped a heavily sedated Stacy Bennett through the terminal and onto a shuttle to the little heliport off the threshold of runway 28. The flight to Davos lasted not quite two hours, but they were able to save time by landing on the clinic’s rooftop pad. Dr. Adler met them out there with a small army of attendants on hand, and Stacy disappeared into the clinic – leaving the two Callahans alone on the roof…

At least until Didi Goodman showed up, a deep frown on her face.

“Come with me,” she said, trying to get them inside and out of the weather. “Things are happening. Apparently, your President Carter launched some sort of an attempt to rescue the hostages in Tehran, and word is there’s been an accident of some sort in the desert.”

“What’s that got to do with us?” Harry said, his hands stuck in his pockets to ward off an icy wind coming off the mountain.

“First things first. The helicopter takes you back first thing in the morning; your seats are booked on Swissair. Next, McKay has disappeared again. No trace of him and even your police department is looking for him this time.”

“Swell. What else?”

“The British spotted Escobar in Panama two days ago, and they think he’s been talking with the head of their military intelligence unit, and this is one more particularly nasty character. Name is Noriega, and he’s protected, supposedly a CIA asset.”

“Wait one,” Harry said. “We have a reported CIA asset selling arms to a Columbian cartel leader…?”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Didi nodded.

“And let me guess,” Lloyd added. “Those arms will be used against targets in the U.S.?”

“We must assume so at this point.”

“And what, supposedly, is Escobar buying?” Harry asked.

“Light arms, but several anti-tank weapons just left Panama for points unknown. We assume Los Angeles or San Diego.”

“No shit?” Lloyd said. “Hell, Harry, this could get kinda interesting…”

“And one last thing,” Didi said as a grin spread across her face. “Al Bressler has the clap.”

And Harry grinned at that bit of information, too. “No shit? You mean, he finally got laid?”

Didi didn’t know that was an old inside joke and looked confused.

“I suppose he’s seen a doctor?” Harry asked after he saw the look on her face.

“Your friend Parish is treating him. And, apparently, your doctor has been detached from his duties in California and has been assigned to the team, so he’ll be with you on your return to the states.”

“I hope he leaves me a few of those hypos,” Lloyd said under his breath as Harry walked back over to the helipad, where he helped the pilot tie-down the JetRanger. Harry also helped him tie-down the main rotor and cover the pitots and engine inlets; after that he rejoined Didi and his father and they went downstairs to find Adler and, Harry hoped, Sara.

As it happened, the five of them went off to dinner together, and a few hours later they dropped Adler and Sara back at the clinic before heading back out to the house. Exhausted, Harry went straight to bed while Didi got on the phone to talk with her father.

Taking the last Caverject syringe from his carry-on bag, Lloyd walked out front and waited curbside – until Dr. Adler pulled-up in a little white BMW. He grinned as they drove back into town together, not at all worried about Pablo Escobar or his fucking anti-tank weapons.

___________________________________

Harry and Didi drove into town very early the next morning and picked-up Lloyd at Adler’s chalet, then they drove to the clinic and took the stairs to the rooftop pad. Harry helped the pilot run through his pre-flight checklist then stepped outside to remove all the pitot covers and rotor tie-downs, and with that done they took off a few minutes later, the night sky finally giving way to the first shards of morning light as the helicopter climbed high enough to clear the mountains between Zurich and Davos.

They landed at Zurich-Kloten hard by the threshold to Runway 28; a shuttle met them and carried them directly to the customs gate. Once formalities were completed they made their way to the gate, but already Harry could tell something was very different today.

Heavily armed soldiers were patrolling the terminal, and anyone looking even remotely suspicious was being stopped and frisked. They watched as one detainee objected; several troops swooped down and literally carried the man kicking and screaming into an unmarked office.

“What the hell is going on?” Lloyd whispered.

“Gotta have something to do with the situation in Iran,” Harry said.

“Makes sense.”

When they got to the Swissair gate they were greeted by a phalanx of Swiss troops – flanked by two Israeli security officers; one of the troops walked up to Lloyd and challenged them both.

“Passports, please.”

They handed over their passports and tickets.

“You,” the soldier said, pointing to Lloyd, “into that room. Now!”

Another trooper escorted Lloyd to the indicated office, and they disappeared from view.

“Now, you! To the office over there,” the soldier said, pointing. “Now!”

Callahan followed a trooper to the office and stepped inside.

“Belt off, and take off your pants!”

“Excuse the fuck out of me?”

“Your pants off now, or we will take them off for you!”

Harry growled but removed his trousers.

“Underwear, down! Then turn around and face that wall, and grab your ankles!”

Clinching his teeth, Harry complied…then he felt someone pulling his cheeks apart. 

“You are clear. You may get dressed now.”

What a perfect time to cut a fart, Callahan thought. Where was Bressler when he really needed him…

He met his father by the gate, and the two Israeli agents were waiting for them by the jetway when their flight was called. “Follow me, please,” one of the agents said as he led them on board the 707. Once Harry and Lloyd took a seat the main door closed immediately and the engines started.

They were the only passengers on the airplane.

“What the hell is going on?” Harry asked the agent.

“The mess in Iran. Israel is now on full alert and air-space all over the Middle East has been heavily restricted.”

“What was with that stuff at the gate,” Lloyd asked, apparently still quite offended.

“Terrorists made attempts at both Rome and Madrid overnight, taking advantage of the chaos in Tehran. They were making attempts to get at flights bound for Israel.”

“Jesus.”

The Israels simply shrugged. “That’s just the way it is. You get used to these things after a while.”

“What do you mean by that?” Lloyd asked.

And the Israeli simply smiled and looked away for a moment; when he spoke it was with a feeling of deep sorrow in his voice: “We are surrounded by people who want nothing more than to drive us into the sea, to kill every last Jew left on the earth. We are, Mr. Callahan, a people adrift on a sea of hate.”

“I understand that. But you said you get used to it, and I asked how? How do you get used to something like that?”

“What is the option? This world seems consumed by a madness that refuses to die, that somehow Jews are the cause of all the world’s problems. When you are born into this madness, when you wake up everyday, day after day, surrounded by evidence of such malignant purpose, what are you to do? Well, you grow to accept that the madness is real and that it will kill you if you stop believing in it. So, you get used to it, because if you don’t you will die of despair.”

“Sounds to me,” Lloyd sighed, “that one way or another you die.”

The agent shrugged. “Maybe, but for now I choose to live.”

The jet began its hurtling roar down the runway and after it climbed from the earth they turned to the southeast, towards the eye of that very same malignancy, and Lloyd Callahan shivered a little while he turned the agent’s words over and over in his mind.

The 707 turned into a consumptive wall of cloud and the jet’s pulsing strobes lit passing waves of snow, and all the while Lloyd looked into this blinding dawn, wondering what was hiding in the storm just ahead.

‘Life is so simple at sea,’ he reminded himself. ‘Maybe it’s time to get back to the city…’

_______________________________

Colonel Goodman met their flight at the gate in Tel Aviv and escorted Harry and Lloyd through security and back out onto the tarmac. They boarded a waiting Huey and left Tel Aviv at very low altitude, still heading southeast.

“Back to the camp, I take it?” Harry asked.

Goodman nodded. “Things are heating up in California – and falling apart in Iran.”

“Swell.”

Goodman held up a hand, asking for silence as something came through his headset, then he shook his head while he turned to speak to Harry again. “It may be safer for you elsewhere, Harry. Khomeini has complete control of the military now, and we’ve just learned that the Russians recently supplied a new group called the Revolutionary Guards with medium-range surface-to-surface missiles.”

“What’s the range?” Lloyd asked.

“Enough.”

“Shit. So, is that why we’re moving back out to the camp?”

“No, we’re just going out to do some target practice before we leave,” Goodman said, suddenly grinning at Harry. “Besides, we have a few new toys for you to play with.”

___________________________________

The new ‘toys’ were H&K PSG-1 rifles and SIG Sauer P220 pistols.

A new range had been set up with targets at 100, 500, and 1,000 meters, while a close-combat pistol range had been set up as well; several Israeli instructors were on hand to lead the festivities. Lloyd Callahan was not initially invited to participate, though he watched from a distance for a while. Then Harry asked Goodman to let his father work with a pistol… 

“Just in case…” Harry said.

The HKs were bizarre. The pistol grip, the cheek pad, even the shoulder stock were all adjustable to fit each shooter, so each member of the team was assigned a unique rifle. Then each rifle was fitted to each shooter by a factory trained armorer. The Zeiss-Hensoldt ZF-PSG telescopic sights were similarly custom-tuned with diopter lenses – and all this took most of the day to accomplish.

Early the next morning the team assembled at the makeshift rifle range and spent an hour going over their rifles, then bi-pods were fitted and an instructor asked them to gather around while he went over the loading and unloading process.

Next, the instructor slipped down into a prone position and fired one round at each of the three targets. When he finished the targets were pulled down then carried in by Jeep.

Sam Bennett looked at the three ‘bullseye’ hits and whistled.

“Not bad,” Callahan said. “Mind if I try?”

“No, please do,” the instructor said, stepping aside so Harry could take his place.

Callahan inserted a five-round magazine, insured the weapon was ‘safe,’ then assumed the same position. Once his HK settled on the bi-pod he sighted-in then fired at the 100-meter target.

“Three inches left,” the instructor said. “Now, perhaps we need to make a few entries and corrections before you shoot again?”

“Why not just adjust the windage knob?” Callahan asked…yet the instructor simply ignored him.

“First we need to know the temperature and barometric pressure and get these values entered. Next, the apparent wind angle and speed need to be entered. Any height difference between you and the target must also be accounted for. And all these values must be entered on the scope with absolutely no error.”

“Shit…why?”

“Because the reticle is computerized, Inspector Callahan. Once these values are entered the reticle compensates for all those variables. So, you can reliably drive tacks at a thousand meters.”

“Show me,” Callahan said, and only then did the team retire to a tent to begin the real learning process. By afternoon the team returned to the range and began again, this time in earnest.

“All your weapons have been bore-sighted by the armorer, but a few minor adjustments may still need to be made. Everyone deploy your bipod and assume the position…”

And at the end of two weeks, the team was ready for their final briefing.

The next day they boarded the little JetStar for what the team hoped would be the final act of this play, yet at this point, not even Colonel Goodman felt confident in the outcome.

The JetStar landed at Frankfurt and the team transferred to a U.S. Air Force C-141 for the flight to Travis Air Force Base in California, and no-one managed to sleep on this leg, not even Harry Callahan. 

At Travis, the team broke-up into two-man units, with each SFPD officer assigned an Israeli liaison officer to handle communications and target acquisition. Jim Parish and Lloyd Callahan went with the Colonel to a new safe-house off Skyline Drive in the hills above Palo Alto. The house, deep in an ancient redwood forest, was equipped for a minor siege and even had a small pad to handle a Huey-sized helo. Medical supplies were airlifted in when Chief Warrant Officer “Mickey” Rooney landed a new, civilian painted and registered 212 on the pad; ‘lent’ to the team by the Army, Rooney was on hand to provide air support once the operation began – supposedly in three days time.

Harry Callahan and his spotter slipped into the East Bay and set up a watch zone around the municipal airport in Hayward; the word was that Escobar, or one of his lieutenants, would be bringing in a very large shipment of ‘product’ later in the week. Callahan would take out the aircraft once it was on the ground by hitting the engine, or engines, with armor-piercing rounds; anyone foolish enough to leave the aircraft would regret the decision. The operational plan included letting the DEA claim credit for the bust – after the dust settled.

Frank Bullitt was given the unenviable task of tracking down Captain Jerry McKay after new communications intercepts confirmed McKay’s participation in Escobar’s operation. These phone taps also revealed a more extensive group of police officers involved in operations centered around Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose, and Sam Bennett went to the South Bay to tackle a small group of vigilante operatives working out of the San Jose PD. Callahan and Bullitt would ‘mop-up’ the remainder of known targets in San Francisco and Oakland after their primary targets were dispatched.

After the team moved into place it all came down to watching and waiting, everyone ready to make the opening moves in what would surely become a very long counter-offensive.

No one anticipated that other teams were working the very same targets, or that these other teams had set out the very same targets like tethered goats used to draw-in a predator.

The hunters, in other words, had just become the hunted.

/////

© 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 (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 28

88th key cover image

Part IV

Chapter 28

____________________________________

Callahan woke early the next morning and walked to the kitchen, only to find Didi Goodman had already prepared coffee…and as soon as she heard Harry was up and moving around the stove was prepared and breakfast was waiting on the table – hot and fresh.

“I’m not used to this, you know?” Callahan said as he sat at the same table he’d sat at with Avi barely two months before. 

“I thought,” Didi began, “that with the hard day you have ahead that a good breakfast might help.”

“So, this was your father’s idea? You coming here?”

“In a way. There are papers and other matters I had to account for before anyone else could be allowed access to the house.”

“You work for the government, then?”

“Of course. You didn’t know that?”

“No. Your father just mentioned you’d be a good choice to manage all this. I assumed you came here for that reason.”

“Odd. He didn’t mention that to me.”

“Do you have some sort of accounting experience? I mean, why would he recommend you for that?”

She chuckled on hearing that. “No, but he accuses me of having OCD…”

“OCD?”

“Obsessive-compulsive. Everyone calls me the ‘clean freak.’ I assume they mean when I’m given an assignment I get it done right the first time.”

Callahan looked at the girl anew: she looked to be mid-twenties, black hair, and fierce blue-gray eyes. Skin deeply freckled, feminine build but on the muscular side, strong legs…a runner’s legs. Eyeglasses on the countertop, so probably for reading. An NYU t-shirt so schooled in the US, or wanted to be…

He ran down his usual checklist, watching the way she moved when he wasn’t eating.

“So, I’m not sure exactly what would be involved, but would you be interested?”

“What? Working for you?”

“Yeah.”

“In San Francisco?”

“I don’t know. Whatever works, I reckon.”

“I’d do it if I could live in San Francisco part-time. That would be the boss.”

“The boss?”

“Cool.”

“Ah. Any other relevant experience I need to know about?”

“No, not really. I just kinda go where they need me.” Of course, she omitted her six years service in the Mossad, and that she had been assigned to one of the teams tracking down the Munich terrorists. And, oh yes, that she had been assigned to Avi’s protective detail when he had traveled inside Israel…

“Well, it suits me. I’ll let the lawyers in Tel Aviv know and you can start to get a handle on things as soon as we get back.”

“Okay, so just to be clear…I’m working for you now?”

“I think that’s what your father wants, and I’m at a place right now where his voice is one of the few I trust in the world.”

When he said that she looked at Callahan with something akin to empathy, then she came over to the table and sat next to him.

“I think he’d appreciate knowing that, sir.”

“No sir to me, okay. I’m Harry or the deal’s off.”

“Okay, Harry,” she said, holding out her right hand, “you got a deal.”

He took her hand and smiled. ‘Smooth skin, but very strong grip. Index finger heavily calloused so she spends a lot of time at the range. Interesting.’ 

“Visiting hours at the clinic begin at 0900 hours. It’s not an easy walk, so you’d better let me drive you.”

“I’ve made the walk before. Besides, I think I’ll need it after that breakfast.”

“Okay. Also today, your mother’s piano has been moved from the compound; it’s arriving here this afternoon.”

“Oh…?”

“Avi’s residence in the compound belongs to the government, so of course…”

“I understand. Good thing this house belonged to him.”

She nodded. “More than anything else, he wanted to retire here with your mother.”

“Yeah, he told me more than once this is his favorite place in the world.”

“Did he ever tell you he regarded you as his son, or at least the son he should have had?”

Callahan shook his head. “No.”

“I hesitate to say this, but he told me as much more than once,” she added. “He was a very complicated man, Harry. Honorable, but complicated.”

“So is your father.”

“Benny? Well, really he is a very simple man. He exists to serve Israel.”

“And you call that simple?” Harry said, grinning.

“Ah yes. I get your point?”

“So, do I call you Didi?”

“Works for me.”

“And is there a Mister Didi?”

She laughed at that. “No, most men grow bored with my OCD. They can’t stand to be around me once it kicks in.”

“Well, I’m kind of a neat freak myself. And speaking of, I need to get ready to go.”

She went to the kitchen and returned with an envelope. “Here are all the local telephone numbers you’ll need, as well as some currency and a credit card. I took the liberty of activating the card, by the way. It’s linked to one of your Swiss accounts so your credit limit is rather high. Be careful, in other words, to keep it secure.”

“Not much crime around here, or at least I assumed as much?”

“More than you’d think. But it tends to be centered on diplomatic matters. There are many spies at work around here, if that matters to you.”

“Oh? American?”

“Mainly Russian, more than a few Brits. Several politburo members have chalets here, including Brezhnev, so electronic eavesdropping facilities are also a feature of life around here.”

“Shit.”

“I think Avi once said the exact same thing.”

“Do they cause any problems?”

“The Russians? No, more the exact opposite, I think. I think they prefer to keep a very low profile, as it wouldn’t sit well in the Soviet Union if word of these properties ever leaked out. Radio Free Europe manages to get the word out one way or another, and because of that the Swiss actually work with the Russians to keep these properties off the books.”

“Well…”

“Yessir. I’ll be standing by here at the house in case you need me.”

“Harry, not sir.”

“Got it.”

____________________________________

The air was crisp, not quite cold, and rain was in the forecast – which meant more snow on the mountain – yet Callahan was enjoying his walk into town. He only had a light windbreaker with him so he stopped and picked up a new jacket in town, then he hailed a taxi for the final stretch up the mountain to the clinic.

There was a depressing sort of alternate reality hanging around the main clinic building as he approached – like it had been constructed to contain the patients inside, and to somehow keep them well insolated from the outside world…like the two were somehow mutually exclusive. Hulking gray stone, white windows and a copper roof that had turned green a hundred years before – the building had been on this spot for as long as anyone could remember, and Europe’s nobility had sent their ailing children here for ‘the cure’ as far back as the French Revolution. The poor were, needless to say, not in attendance.

He went to the reception and asked to speak with Sara’s physician, and he was guided to a conference room, provided with hot tea, and was asked to wait. A few minutes later Sara’s psychiatrist came in, and she looked glum.

“Ah, Herr Callahan, so nice to see you again.”

“You too. How is Sara?”

“Deteriorating, I’m afraid. Once you left her depression worsened, but more troubling still is a repetitive hallucination she’s experienced.”

“May I see her?”

“Maybe later this week. We have asked her parents for permission to begin an alternative therapy, one that is still a little bit controversial.”

“And that is?”

“Well, Herr Callahan, there are matters of privacy at work here, and I’m sure you understand that.”

“I understand I have few rights to information, if that’s what you mean. Yet Sara is an adult, is she not? Can she not give you permission…?”

“She has done so, but her parents objected to that.”

“And what does that tell you.”

“People often do not accept such change, Herr Callahan, most especially where their children are concerned.”

“I see.”

“More to the point, the continuing expense of Sara’s treatment here has become a matter of great concern for her father; they intend to take her back to Vienna, where she can be treated at a state hospital.”

“And tell me, doctor, about this hospital.”

“It is, how should I put this, a rat’s nest. A place where people are warehoused until death comes for them.”

“I see. And, what if I were to take over the cost of treatment here?”

“It is very expensive, Herr Callahan.”

“That was not my question. Do you have a telephone I could use?”

“Of course. Over here, please.”

Callahan called Didi and asked her to provide the clinic with new payment instructions, and that he would be taking over Sara’s care.

“Of course, sir,” Didi said.

“Didi?”

“Yessir?”

“It’s Harry, not sir.”

“Ooh, yes, so sorry. I’ll take care of this right now.”

“Thanks, Didi.” He hung up the telephone and turned to the doctor. “Please notify Sara’s parents that I have taken over her care, and please thank them for me. Now, please take me to her room.”

“Yessir.”

_________________________________

She was in her ward’s dayroom, a pleasant enough space with several attendants helping lucid patients with various hobbies and crafts, but Sara was almost slumped over in a wheelchair, a long line of drool flowing from her mouth to her robe. Callahan looked at her for a few minutes then turned to the psychiatrist.

“I need to talk with her,” he said, “and in a private room if you please.”

“Let me arrange that. Please wait for me here.”

He continued to look at Sara, absolutely shocked by what he saw…and now more than a little angry. A few minutes later he was taken to a small family conference room and Sara came along a moment later, wheeled into the room by one of her attendants. The doctor closed the door as she left the room, but added: “I’ll be out here when you’re finished.”

After the door closed Harry took Sara’s right hand and simply held it, stroking her smooth skin with his eyes closed, remembering that precious time on the mountain they called their own. In fact, he was cherishing that time.

A moment later her hands moved, and he felt her struggling to reach his hands with her left.

“Can you hear me, my love?”

“Harry?”

“Yes, it’s me. I’m here now.”

“Oh, my Harry.”

“Don’t worry now.”

“The old man, the one you spoke about?”

“Yes?”

“He’s coming to me now.”

“The old man with the cape? And the cane?”

“Yes.”

“And they think this is a hallucination…?”

“Yes.”

“What is he telling you?”

“About you. And your mother.”

“What about my mother?”

“That he has seen her.”

“He has? Where?”

“I don’t know. That’s all he said.”

And Harry noted the more she spoke the more lucid she became, yet that Sara was struggling even so.

“Is it the medication?” he whispered.

“Yes. Awful. Like a haze, a thick haze that envelopes you. I hate this.”

“I understand.”

“How long will you be here?”

“A few days, maybe a week. Long enough to take care of you while I make arrangements for us.”

“What are you planning?”

“When you are well enough to travel you’ll be coming home with me, to California.”

She squeezed his hands, looked into his eyes and he could see tears there. “Oh,” she whispered, “this is what I have dreamed about…”

“Me too. There are so many things I want to share with you…”

Again, she squeezed his hand – yet she began to fade away before his eyes as the medication reasserted control. He pulled her blanket up, covered her knees as well, then went to the door and called her psychiatrist; a moment later the attendant appeared and wheeled Sara back to the dayroom, leaving Callahan alone with the physician and dozens of unanswered questions.

“What are you using to treat these hallucinations?”

“Haldol.”

“That’s an anti-psychotic, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“And what about these hallucinations? Describe them to me?”

“Apparently an old man, dressed in a loden cape and brandishing an ornate cane or some sort, a magical cane if I understand her description well enough, appears in her room at night…”

“And, let me guess, only when storms approach?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“Because my mother was visited by the very same man, I’ve seen him, and, in fact, he has treated me for an injury to my hand…”

The psychiatrist was staring at Callahan in almost open-mouthed horror.

“…and not to put to fine a point on things, at least two members of the Israeli intelligence services have had recent conversations with this same apparition. Now please, tell me if you still consider this a hallucination…?”

“I don’t know what to say?”

“Good. That’s quite possibly the sanest thing I’ve heard about this thing.”

The woman shook her head. “If I take this as so, then the Haldol must be stopped.”

“I wish you would. What was this other therapy you were talking about…?”

“I’m not sure this is relevant now.”

“Okay. I’d like to take her home with me for a few hours a day this week. Do you see any issues with that?”

“Only that it will take about two days for the effects of the medication to dissipate.”

“Okay, so on Tuesday she can come home with me, for the afternoon?”

“You mean here in Davos?”

“Yes, I have a home here.”

“Indeed? Then of course.”

“I’m informing you that it is my objective to take her to my home in California sometime this summer, probably late summer. I’m instructing you to prepare her for that transition as best you can and within that time frame. If you think you’ll need to see her intermittently after that we can discuss the logistics when she’s discharged. In the meantime, here is my telephone number in town. Call me with any questions you may have.”

He stood up, his right hand extended.

The psychiatrist took it. “It will be as you say, Herr Callahan.”

“Thanks mucho,” Harry said, grinning. 

_______________________________

‘Goddamn,’ he said as he walked away from the clinic, ‘but having a shitload of money is so fuckin’ liberating.’

He felt almost buoyant as he walked down the steep, wooded drive that led into town. Walking down the main shopping boulevard he stopped at a clothing store and bought some slacks and a sports-coat, then he stopped at a jeweler and picked out a new wristwatch, an Omega he’d wanted for years but could never afford. At a climbing shop he stocked up on socks and a pair of hiking boots that seemed to fit his surroundings better than his old loafers, then he hailed another taxi and went to the house.

“Ah,  you went shopping, I see?” Didi said as he walked into the living room.

“A little. What have you been up to?”

“The payments to the clinic have been arranged, but I have a question?”

“Yes?”

“Sara’s father is apparently in some difficulty and he has accumulated quite an outstanding balance. The clinic is about to pursue a legal remedy and I wondered what you might want to do?”

“How much is the balance?”

She handed him a slip of paper with the figure written down.

“Pay it. Call her father and tell him, ask him what his difficulties are, and see if I can help.”

Didi seemed surprised by this but held her concern in-check. “Alright.”

“And find out what kind of paperwork we’d need to get married. Here, in Switzerland.”

“Yessir.”

“Didi?”

“Sorry, Harry.”

He grumbled all the way to his bedroom…then grinned as he set about putting his new things away. When he walked back to the kitchen she was on the telephone, so he sat and waited until she was free to talk again.

“Yes…Harry?” she said after she hung up the phone.

“Lunch. Let’s go into town and grab a bite.”

“Alright. What would you like?”

“No idea. You know any place interesting?”

Didi smiled. “Follow me, sir…!”

“Didi…?”

___________________________________-

After Goodman and Lloyd Callahan returned to the compound, they noticed that something strange had come over the house, and it didn’t take long before they knew what everyone else had already come to terms with. Frank Bullitt and Cathy were on the outs. After a brutal argument involving the near destruction of her new house in Sea Ranch, Frank’s relative lack of income compared to hers, and then being pulled into this nonsensical cycle of violence and retribution…she declared that she wanted out! And NOW!

And then, after one of Colonel Goodman’s lieutenants informed her “it just wouldn’t be possible right now” – she came undone and went ballistic on everyone and anything unfortunate enough to be caught within earshot. She began throwing things and in the process learned that you can’t break paper plates, but when she made a move on Imogen’s piano Avi’s security detail, still detailed to watch over the house, moved in and restrained her until a physician could be summoned. She slept for a day after that but woke up in fine fighting form.

And then, after her first encounter with secobarbital, she launched into a particularly nasty take-down involving the income of police detectives generally and Frank’s specifically, but then Frank made the mistake of calling her a “walking peri-menopausal shit-show” and living proof “that women over forty are completely off their fucking rockers,” which produced a rather spectacular display feminine hand-to-hand combat skills, or, actually, a relative lack thereof.

She was moved to alternative quarters after that, leaving Frank to mope around the house with nothing to do but talk to Sam.

“I don’t know what to do anymore,” Frank sighed. “I love her, but…”

“You love her butt?” Sam said.

“I didn’t say that.”

“Yes, you did.”

Bullitt shook his head. “You’re getting worse than Chalmers.”

“What do you expect, Frank. This is like being on vacation somewhere really exotic, then being locked in your room. Everything is ‘out there’ and we’re stuck in here…”

“How’s Fran holding up?”

“Actually, Frank, not to be weird or anything, but she’s been horny as hell ever since we got here.”

“Cathy sure isn’t.”

“Cathy just had her world taken from her…”

“Yeah,” Frank said with a grouchy sigh. “Ya know, I think I know what it is, at least for Fran.”

“Okay, I’ll bite. What is it?”

“You two are together twenty-four hours a day and for the first time in ages, right?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“So she’s the center of your attention again, right?”

“Maybe so, but that doesn’t explain the horniness, Frank…”

“She’s out of menopause, isn’t she?”

“I guess so. Why?”

“Well, I’ve heard that many older chicks, once they’ve been through the change, well, they get horny. And I mean really, really horny.”

“Wonderful,” Sam said, feeling almost dejected.

“What is it, Sam?”

“Well, Frank, I’m fifty-five-fuckin’ years old and my pecker doesn’t work like it did when I was twenty. It takes a half-hour to get it up and if you look at the damn thing wrong it wilts away to nothing in half a second. It’s embarrassing, Frank.”

And on hearing that, Jim Parish walked over to Sam and Frank.

“Have you heard of Caverject, Captain Bennett?”

“Caver-who?”

“Alprostadil, aka Caverject. You inject it in your penis and…”

Bullitt and Bennett shuddered and made faces on hearing that…

“You can stop right there, doc,” Bennett growled. “Ain’t no-one, no-how gonna stick a fuckin’ needle in my goddamn muther-fuckin’ pecker…”

“You’ll have a two hour woodie, Sam,” Parish said, grinning. “The pain lasts about ten seconds. Balance those ten seconds against a two-hour hard-on.” 

“Two hours, huh? Shit, I wish someone would make a pill…”

“Think about it, Sam. Let me know if you want to try it…?”

“Shit, Jim,” Bullitt whispered, “can you fix me up with some of that shit?”

“Really? How old are you?”

“Forty?”

“Having problems down there?”

Frank looked away, but he nodded – just a little.

“Well, what the hell,” Parish said, looking at Bennett. “Sam, should I get two?”

“Why the hell not?” Sam said, sighing. “It’s worth a shot…er…well, no pun intended.”

So when Goodman and the elder Callahan returned they had no idea of the hornet’s nest they were walking into…or the size of the hurricane about to be unleashed.

_______________________________

Harry was comfortable walking around town now, so much so that more than a few merchants greeted him warmly when he happened by on his morning stroll through the central shopping district. Didi was similarly a gifted guide to the local restaurant scene, taking him on a world tour of exotic cuisines amply represented in town: she took him out for his very first curry and laughed at his red-faced response to lamb vindaloo. He was dumbstruck that people ate raw fish, but after trying salmon and tuna nigiri he was a convert. She took him to a Moroccan place and he was dumbfounded that people ate with their hands, no utensils allowed, yet he enjoyed that experience, too.

Harry’s eyes were being opened under her patient tutelage, just as her father had instructed. Just as Avi had wanted his friend to see to. “His is a parochial worldview, Ben,” Avi had told his friend months before he passed. “He must become a citizen of the world before he can truly understand our place in it. Or even his place in our world.”

And the Colonel had agreed. He, or his daughter, would see to it. Because he had promised to make it so.

So when Tuesday Afternoon came along, when Harry walked up to the clinic he did so nattily attired and full of the newfound confidence that only sudden wealth can impart. And yet, all that his new ‘station’ in life implied wasn’t lost on Callahan. If you’re poor, he said to himself, people generally ignore you, or worse, but if you are rich people will fall all over themselves to ingratiate themselves to you. This in and of itself wasn’t news to him; what startled Callahan was the experience of it all, the novelty of being treated in that way, and of how different this was to being a simple cop on the beat, or, as the case may be, to being a police detective. 

This was different, and, after a few days, he grew mindful of the change.

When he entered the clinic the smiling receptionist greeted him by name, Sara’s psychiatrist met him with a warm hug, while a cup of hot tea was waiting for him in the family conference room. Attendants smiled at him when passing in corridors, while before he had been almost a non-entity.

And it was all very troubling after just a few days, even as he sat in the little conference room waiting for Sara…

“How has she been doing off the medication?” he asked while they waited for Sara.

“About as expected, Herr Callahan…”

“Please, call me Harald,” Harry said, rather surprised he had adopted his Danish moniker.

“As you wish, Harald. I would ask that you walk with her, and I mean close to her, these first few times out of the clinic. Her gait may be off, she may be prone to sudden falls, but this should dissipate after about a week…”

“Good lord…” he sighed. “Must be a powerful drug…”

“It is, but it has shown remarkable effectiveness calming the mind.”

“Calming the mind? What do you mean?”

“Well, psychotic hallucinations might be considered errors in recalling a memory. The conscious mind may or may not be aware of the error, but even so, it struggles to produce the memory. The brain, in this instance, has real trouble doing so, and, in effect, it overheats…but I mean this in almost allegorical terms. The drug acts to calm this process…”

“How are hallucinations related to this?”

“Some researchers hold that hallucinations originate from fragments of memory that have somehow become scrambled. I’m working with Professor Pauling at Stanford on research along these lines, and the role of…oh, well, excuse me, I should not be boring you with such details.”

“Stanford? That’s my neck of the woods.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I live in San Francisco.”

“Well, how wonderful. I visit the Institute three or four times a year. so perhaps we could arrange for me to see Sara on these visits?”

“Yes, that should be no problem, at least not on my end.”

“You know, as many times as I’ve been, I’ve yet to spend time in the city. I hear there are so many things to see and do…”

“We’d be glad to show you around…” he said, and he was instantly struck by all the casual inferences attached to the word ‘we.’ As in: Sara and I; as in: we are a couple; as in: we are husband and wife…and he found that the word produced a curiously indefinable feeling – until it hit him: ‘I used to feel the same way about June. June and I were a ‘we,’ and that always felt right, didn’t it? Do I feel the same way about Sara? Did that kind of Love hit me so hard, so fast?’

And just then Sara walked into the room, a smiling attendant steadying her as she shuffled along, and when Harry stood she fairly jumped into his arms, holding onto him with fierce possessiveness. 

Her eyes were clear now, and he dove into her glowing depths, swimming in the vast currents of her soul, holding her close, loving her again with surprising intensity. He felt a pull coming from within those eyes, an insistent pull – a pull like gravity – and he yearned to float free from anything that might keep them apart…

Yet when at last he pulled free from her he found they were alone in the room.

“Do you think maybe we embarrassed them?” she said.

“I could care less.”

“I know. It’s a marvelous feeling, isn’t it?”

“I just want to hold you,” he whispered in her ear.

“I love you,” she echoed.

“Would you like to get married? Like the day after tomorrow?”

“If you do, then yes.”

“I do. More than anything in the world.”

She smiled. “Then we shall.”

“Now, do you feel like walking, or would it be easier to…”

“No, I must walk,” she said, and she spoke now with a studied seriousness that belied hours of practice to reach this point.

“Then walk we will.”

She made it one shuffling step at a time, first to a waiting taxi then into the house. Didi had put on a minor feast of Norwegian salads, most featuring smoked salmon or whitefish, before she disappeared for the afternoon.

And when they finished eating he walked with her to the living room, and to his mother’s Bösendorfer – now safely anchored in this new safe harbor…

And she went to it now, admiring the smooth glowing arcs even as she approached. 

“You know, I’ve never seen one like this. It must be very old.”

“It was my mother’s, and maybe my grandmother’s as well. I’m not sure how old it is.”

“The older ones are regarded almost as a Stradivarius, you know? Some have names, and a few are even regarded as having magical powers.”

“I see. And you learned this where?”

“These are Viennese, Harry, just like me,” she said, smiling.

He had to smile at the way she spoke now, almost tauntingly. “Do you play?” he asked.

“Oh, I play a little, if you can stroke the right…key.”

“Would you like to play now?”

“Ooh, now there’s a thought,” she purred. “But, I had another instrument in mind…”

“Ah. Well then, you’d better come with me…”

“Oh, I intend to do just that, and more than once…”

______________________________________

“We’ll go look for a dress when I pick you up tomorrow,” he said when he dropped her off at the clinic.

“I can’t wait. When will you come?”

“The same time.”

Attendants were waiting for her, and Callahan thought the whole place had a kind of prison vibe going on, and it unsettled him as she disappeared down the long corridor that led to her room. He turned and walked down the hill, and found Didi waiting in the Range Rover.

“Something’s come up,” she said. “My father needs to speak with you about Frank.”

“Swell,” Harry sighed. “Do you have notes on the Sea Ranch project?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Okay,” he said as he got in and buckled-up, “let’s go.”

When they were settled in the living room she dialed the compound and her father answered.

“Harry? What is your status there?”

“I’m getting married on Thursday. I’ll be headed your way a day or so after that. Now, what’s up with Frank?”

“Well, it’s really Cathy that we’re worried about.”

“Oh?”

“I think the main problem concerns her house. She really seems to think its all Frank’s fault.”

“Can you put her on the line, please?”

“You want to speak to her?”

“Yes.”

“I must warn you, Harry, she’s really quite volatile right now.”

“Okay, I’ll consider myself warned.”

“Stand by one.”

He heard shouting in the background, and more than one hysterical screech that just had to be Cathy, or perhaps a goat being decapitated.

Then…

“What is it, Harry?!”

“Well, hello Cathy. How are you?”

“Swell. Isn’t that what you always say? And really, Harry, people stopped saying that back in the fifties.”

“Well, I’m fine, Cathy. Thanks for asking.”

– silence –

“So, Cathy, the reason I’m calling is to tell you that I’ve engaged your firm to supervise the reconstruction of your house at the ranch. They’ve arranged for the original builder to do the work, and it should be finished in six weeks.”

“What?”

“Cathy? Do I need to repeat what I just said.”

“No. Harry, I’m just speechless.”

“Also, I purchase the lot at the end of the street, the big one that overlooks the sea, out there on the cliff. I want you to think about the house I want you to design for me, maybe work up some plans while we’re waiting down there at the compound. Think you could do that for me?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good. I’ve already retained your services with the firm, so keep track of your hours, okay?”

“Alright.”

“I hear you and Frank are having issues. Is there anything I can help with?”

“No, we’re doing just fine, Harry. Just fine. When will you be coming back?”

“I’m getting married on Thursday…”

“What?”

“Don’t worry. We’ll do it up big when we get back to the city. This one is just a formality.”

“I’d still like…no, Frank and I would like to be there.”

“Let me speak to the colonel. I’ll see what we can do,” Harry said, and, at the same time, he gestured to Didi. “Better see about Sara’s parents. See if they want to come, too.”

“Yessir.”

“Didi?”

“Yes, Harry.”

_____________________________________

And so, two days later Harry Francis Lloyd Callahan and Sara Rosenkranz were married. In attendance were her parents and Harry’s father, as well as a bunch of cops, some Israeli commandos, an Army physician as well as a local shrink. As it happened, Lloyd Callahan hit it off with Sara’s psychiatrist, and Harry wasn’t too surprised to learn that Frank and Cathy were mending their fences. And so, after the simple ceremony, the group retired to Harry’s favorite Pub for libations.

Fortunately, the pub had plenty of spare bedrooms ready to go.

The resulting party lasted well into the night, and Parish used up his entire supply of Caverject.

/////

© 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 (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so 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 Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter 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. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]