This is story is part of Loren and B.’s Shared Storytelling: Six Birds.
Stokes awoke that morning, which meant he was alive—as far as he could tell. He still suspected the Cubans at Poco Burrito of being a front for Castro’s international revolutionary army, but now he knew they didn’t poison his bean dip last night. Perhaps they don’t suspect him, or perhaps they made a mistake and poisoned someone else. He could check the files for everyone he photographed using the micro-cameras in his ear studs.
“But there are bigger fish to batter,” he muttered.
“Water. Hot,” he said as he stepped into the shower. No water came until he turned the knobs by hand. One day, he thought, the bathroom will be fully automated.
Over his coffee and freezer waffles, the news feeds screamed of possible threats and leads. Spring break threatened by vigilante wildlife in Bull Moose, Maine. Japanese crime boss eludes Iraqi police by wearing a burka. Apple’s new iPork could inspire a wave of high tech breakfast food designed to spy on us.
While pulling out of his drive, his phone rang. “Pigeon. Rook.” His boss always used their handles over the phone. “I’d like you to take flight today, if you aren’t too busy.”
Take flight could mean anything from posing as a street clown to get a DNA sample from a U.N. ambassador to picking up Rook’s dry cleaning.
“Is Condor molting today?”
“He’s roosting. I’ll tell you about it. Would you pick up some sticks for Mama’s nest on your way in?”
Sure. He would buy biscuits at Shooty’s Waffle Huddle. It was on the way.
A few minutes later, Stokes drove down a tree-lined block to the entrance. The popular family restaurant stood on the edge of a city park which seemed to sprout children. Even now in the early morning, three or four kids were skipping through the trees. He picked up a dozen biscuits with extra packets of Shooty’s Sugar Glaze and hot mustard. He didn’t see the message until he was leaving.
Six birds on the concrete a few feet from the door. Dead. Their tail feathers touched with yellow.
“What kind of twisted monster . . .” he said aloud. “Birds don’t line up to die, and they wouldn’t be fighting to get through the window, not even for the Wonderful Waffle Waste Xpander with Whipped Cream. I might fight for that, but not birds.”
No, the birds delivered a clear message. He was part of a six-man team—Rook, Eagle, Condor, Sparrow, Waxwing, and Pigeon. Someone planned to kill them–using yellow dyed tail feathers?
“Does the yellow mean something? Hydrogen sulfide? Golden poison frogs? A dart in the neck while I stand here talking. . .?”
He trotted back to his car. He frisked the back seat while climbing inside. With all of the mind-games they’ve played and plots they’ve worked to uncover, who could be turning the tables on them with intent to kill? The Manx couldn’t know about that submarine base yet.
A school bus passed. “Yellow,” he mouthed. He had to get to the office.
When he cranked the engine, the radio started playing, “ . . . I wrote a tune for you, and all of the junk you do, and I called it yellow.” He switched stations. “They say that the grass is greener on the other side, but when I look at your yellowed lawn, I have to . . .” Switch. “Fire! Higher and Higher! Red and yellow, melting below.” Off.
He hadn’t moved his car yet, and now his phone rang. Rook began, “Pigeon, where’s the file on . . .”
“Did we get any yellow things delivered today?!” His voiced cracked.
“Uh, did you get a worm, early bird?”
“Yes! A fat, yellow worm. Juicy!” He was starting to sweat. “Yellow could be . . . um, it could be like . . . a cat for us today, Rook.” How could he say this in code? On a cell, someone could be listening.
“Yellow. Sparrow did receive flowers. It’s her birthday.”
“What color are they?”
“I didn’t notice. I’ll ask her.” Click.
He tried to think of other possibilities. Ukrainian spy agents had trademark yellow raincoats and bullet-proof blue fedoras. Maybe the clue pointed to them. Were they still angry his work in the Orange Revolution hadn’t worked out? Maybe he should apologize again.
Still sitting in the parking lot, Stokes noticed a boy meander out of the park, leading his mother and beaming with satisfaction. He walked straight to the birds and pointed at them. Stokes leaped from the car.
“Don’t tell me you touched all those birds?” he heard the woman ask.
“I found them!” the boy boasted. “Two—two were here already. I found four more, and-and I’m six!”
“Gag! I’ve got to wash your hands!” She grabbed his wrists.
“But they want Shooty Sugar, Mama! The birds . . .”
“Stop it! We’re going to the bathroom,” she said as she dragged him through the door.
Stokes stood between two cars, feeling a little cold. Ants stormed two of the corpses and poked around a third. He hadn’t noticed them before.
His phone rang again. He could hear Sparrow yelling behind Rook as he spoke. “The flowers are in the toilet. Can you tell me more about the worm? Pigeon, are you there?”
He plodded back to his car and sat down before answering. “Yeah, I think I ate it.”