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Science Fiction Crime Historical Fiction

“Sure, Cathy, I’ll keep it while you’re gone,” Kevin said without thinking. 

“Thanks, he’s easy. I’ll bring him by this weekend.” 

What was he thinking? He had never had a bird before, much less a parrot. He had seen macaws performing in shows. Cathy said hers was a conure, which is much smaller. She said some conures could talk, but hers didn't. 

There was so much that Kevin had not even considered before deciding to keep a bird. First, Harborside Village Apartments in Joppa, Maryland, must have a pet policy. He was pretty sure you couldn’t just bring in a pet without telling them. He would deal with that if there was a problem. 

Second, he had a roommate. Joe was also a new second lieutenant. They were both Chemical Engineers and Medical Service Corps Officers assigned to the US Army Environmental Hygiene Agency at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The Agency was a consulting group that helped other army bases with environmental equipment and compliance issues. 

Sharing an apartment made sense since they would both be traveling a lot. It was a nicer apartment than either of them could have afforded by themselves. 

“My sister had a parakeet. It was horrible. Noisy, smelly, and would bite anyone that tried to hold it. Good luck.”

Not the response Kevin expected, but on the bright side, Kevin thought, he didn’t say ‘no.’

How loud could it be anyway? Joe always belted out the Notre Dame fight song in the shower at the top of his lungs for the entire apartment complex to hear. There were no complaints about that, so a few parrot chirps should be no problem. 

He was only keeping it for a week. Cathy was a civilian and at least five years older than him. Kevin was not interested in her but just wanted to be nice. 

Like most weekends, Sunday afternoon came quickly. Kevin met Cathy and helped bring in the covered cage and the bird supplies. 

“Hey, I was meaning to ask you, if you could keep him through the next week also. My folks will be visiting through New Years.”

“Did you hear that, Joe? She wants me to keep it for two weeks now.”

“I don’t care,” Joe said, “I’m out for two weeks doing water quality testing at Fort Gordon.

Just don’t get us kicked out of here.” 

“Sounds like I have someone to keep me company, but I’m on travel the week after that,” Kevin said, “so you’ll have him back.” 

She removed the covering to reveal a cherry-headed conure. Kevin felt like it was looking at him as he set up the cage in his room. Cathy went over the feeding and care and said to make sure not to let him out because he won’t go back into his cage. 

“By the way, his name is Grigori; not that he cares. The guy who gave him to me said he was named after Gregori Rasputin.”

“No, that’s not creepy at all,” Joe said leaving the room. 

“Gregori, it is?” Kevin said to the bird. “Don’t you listen to Joe. You wouldn’t put me under any spells.” 

“I have an early flight tomorrow,” Cathy said waving at the bird. “Thanks again. Call me if there is any trouble, or if anything weird happens.” 

“It’s just a bird, what could happen?”

Kevin and Joe watched the news and split a meal of Hamburger Helper.

Joe packed for his trip to Georgia and Kevin got his uniform ready. Every time Kevin looked at Gregori, the bird cocked his head and seemed to be looking back at him. 

“You don’t make much noise, bird,” Kevin said hopefully.

He made sure Gregori had enough food and put some fresh paper in his cage. He changed for bed and began reading himself to sleep. 

“Hey, you forgot to cover my cage.” 

“What?” Kevin said sitting up with the lamp on his nightstand still on. 

The bird was asleep in its cage. Kevin got up and covered the cage with the sheet, turned off the lamp on his nightstand, and settled back into bed. It seemed so real to Kevin, but he shrugged it off and fell asleep. 

“Don’t freak out again. Just hear me out,” Gregori said. 

Kevin continued to sleep, thinking that he was having a strange dream. 

“Good. Hey, thanks for the fresh paper. And by fresh I mean today’s news. Oh, Joe, needs to pack his long underwear. It’s going to be cold down in Georgia.

Kevin wanted to respond but it felt like a dream, so he just listened. 

“Just to let you know I don’t always talk to people, but I can tell I’m safe with you.”

“Why, you ask?” Gregori said in Kevin’s dream. “Because I can tell that you know better than to tell anyone that a bird is talking to you in your dreams. They’d kick you out of the Army. I think they call it a section eight discharge, right? 

“It’s easier to talk with you humans when you’re asleep. If you try to talk, you’ll wake up. You can just think of your questions. 

“No, Joe can’t hear me. If he walked in, it would look like we were both asleep. 

“Don’t worry; you’ll get plenty of rest. It’s like you’re dreaming. 

“Yea, I have talked with other people before. Cathy keeps me in another room. I’m too polite to shout from room to room. I tried once when she was napping on the couch, but I could tell it scared her, so I don’t do that anymore.” 

“Yes, I used to talk with my previous owners. The guy who gave me to Cathy liked to talk with me a lot, but things got weird, so I stopped talking to him. 

“I’m just a little bird, what do I know about football, anyway? He got upset with me so I bit him. I’m glad he decided to get rid of me. 

“Thanks, but I’m fine. It was a little scary. Do other birds talk with humans? I guess not or you would have heard about it. The last time I was with other birds, I was young. 

“Don’t be sad about it. Birds that come to the window seem so dumb. They just want to find food and are worried about being attacked. I’ve got it easy. 

“Me, I like to learn things. Leave the TV on for me. I like financial news. Eli Lilly, now that’s a hot stock tip for you. They're near a break-through on some diabetes equipment. 

By the way, I heard on the news about those robberies over in White Marsh. Last night was the second place robbed without any clue; first a fast-food place then a convenience store. 

“Cathy’s only had me for a few months. In my defense, it was her idea to let me out of the cage. I wanted to get back in to get some water, but she was so crazy that it scared me. 

“That reminds me. I’d appreciate it if you could pick up some name-brand food. This stuff says ‘Great Value.’ Translation: bad tasting. Maybe some apples slices.  

“It’s not rude to ask me about my age. I was born in 1910. We’re only supposed to live about twenty-five years. 

“When I was three Rasputin brought me to Prince Alexei to cheer him up because his bleeding wouldn’t stop. Amazingly, the kid got better. Alexei named me Gregori. The family kept me for five years until the Bolshevik revolution.

“Oh. You’re worried about what a girlfriend would think about having a bird that lives a long time. You're not worried that I’m an ancient mystic bird. You should worry about getting a girlfriend first. Besides, you’re giving me back to Cathy in two weeks, right? Right?

“Darn alarm clock.

Kevin hit the off button on his alarm clock. Joe’s clock did the same in the next room. Kevin peeked at the bird. Still asleep. He quietly got ready for work. 

While Kevin fixed a pot of coffee, poured a bowl of cereal, and watched the news. He could hear Joe singing in his shower, not quite full strength, but plenty loud. 

“What happened last night?” he asked himself repeatedly. “Was it a dream?” The weatherman showed a cold front sweeping down from Arkansas toward the south. There was another robbery; this time a pet store near their apartment. 

“The bird was quiet last night,” Joe said settling down to eat his cereal and watch the news. 

“He woke me up once,” Kevin said between bites. “There’s a big cold front coming down in the south this week. I hope you packed a good coat.” 

“Hey, I’m from Connecticut. I’m always prepared for the cold,” Joe said laughing. “I was hoping to see the stocks, but we’re loading the equipment and carpooling from there. I gotta hit the road.”

“I heard Eli-Lilly might have a break-through.” Kevin was relieved that Joe didn’t ask him where he heard that.  

Kevin had several minutes before he needed to leave, so he checked on Gregori. 

“Are you going to talk with me this morning? 

“Okay, be that way,” he said laughing at himself. 

He moved the bird to the living room making sure that Gregori wouldn’t get overheated from the sliding glass door or that nosy neighbors wouldn’t see him. 

“I don’t know if any of this was real, but just in case here you go.” Kevin turned the TV to the business channel. 

On his way home from work, Kevin stopped by the pet store. 

The salesman scanned the bird food. “Thank you for your service.” 

Kevin forgot he was still in uniform. “Oh, my pleasure.”

“Sorry, we don’t have a military discount,” he said running Kevin’s credit card."

“No problem.”

“What kind of bird you got?”

“I’m watching a conure for a friend. It doesn’t seem to like its food.”

“This is the best food we have. You know you’re supposed to empty the old food and refill it every day. Don’t just top it off.”

Kevin raised eyebrows at his receipt.

“Pricey, huh? I’m not just saying that to sell more food. It can get moldy and make them sick. Make sure you seal the bag well between uses. Press out the excess air.” 

Kevin thanked him and turned to go. He felt a chill when the man asked, “Does your bird talk?”

Turning slowly Kevin said, “What do you mean?” 

“You know, like, ‘Polly want a cracker?”

“Nah. Haven’t heard anything like that.”

“Too bad. Some conures do, but most are, just squawkers.”

“Too bad.” Kevin frowned. 

“If it’s older it’s not likely to learn. But you might be able to train it to sit on your finger. We have some books,” the salesman said held his hand to his mouth and whispered, “or you could go to the library.” 

“Or I could take my chances on the internet,” he said grinning. 

“We had two conures stolen last night.” 

“I heard about the robbery. Is that how your window got broken?” Kevin glanced at the plywood. 

“Yea. When I got in this morning the birds were flying around the store. Except those two,” he said pointing at a macaw and a cockatoo. “Those cages have beefy padlocks. The little birds had cheap little padlocks screwed into the plastic doors; you could pry them off with a screwdriver. But I guess they couldn’t catch them. Took me a while to lure them back in. 

“We did an inventory for the police report. The conures had clipped wings. If they weren’t stolen, they’d be walking around in the store.”

“So just the two conures?”

“Just the two? That's over three hundred dollars worth of inventory.”

“Is there a black market?” 

“You need to Google the myth of the talking red-headed conure." 

Kevin looked at the man suspiciously then said, “You mean like it can do math?”

“It talks with people; as in conversations.” 

Kevin laughed nervously as an old woman set several cans of cat food on the conveyor.

“Thanks for all the advice. I hope your birds turn up.” 

In his apartment, Gregori was still in his cage watching TV. 

“Hey, what’s new? Let me know if you want a different channel.

“I got some new bird food. I got good advice from the salesman."

Kevin talked about his day while he changed the food, freshened his water, and changed his paper.

He packed his lunch for the next day while he heated some leftovers. Then he ate while he and Gregori watched the first half of a Monday night football game.

“Looks like the Falcons are blowing it again.” He turned off the TV after the weekend highlights. 

He carried the birdcage back to his bedroom and changed the paper.

“So do you really need this blanket?” Kevin said putting it over the cage. 

Kevin talked for a while about his day, and he suddenly stopped. “I still can’t believe I’m talking to a bird.”

Kevin wanted to go to sleep, but he knew reading helped him doze off. 

“I like the blanket. You know birds can actually get scared to death? The blanket keeps me from waking up for every car that drives by.”

Kevin struggled to stay asleep, but he felt his heart beating faster.

“Good boy. I need to talk with you. First, I tried that new bird food. Much better. The guy’s right. Dump the old stuff. Throw it out for my outside friends. I’ll pick out what I like. Also, thanks for the water, but it’s a little soapy. I have sensitive taste buds. Rinse the soap off next time, or better yet, don’t even use soap. 

“Second, the business channel is fine. I wish I could change channels now and then, though. 

“Third, in what world would a cardinal ever beat an falcon? The Romanovs had thousands of falcons. Mean birds. I still don’t get it with the football team names. 

“By the way, Tesla is still a good bet. Electric cars are here to stay. 

“You know, the guy who gave me to Cathy. His name was Steve Mitchell. A loser. Drank a lot. In debt to a bookie. They found his body. Gunshot. He worked at the Seven-Eleven that was robbed. They thought he was in on the robbery. 

“Steve also used to work at the Burger King that was robbed. I tell you, something is fishy.

“I don’t want to sound self-centered, but I think someone is looking for me? Frankly, I’m a little worried.”

Gregori continued to tell Kevin what he thought they should do.

“Hey, you know how dreams always seem really short? Have a great day!” 

And with that, Kevin woke up to his alarm. 

He sat up and looked at the cage. He felt rested, but his mind was working overtime. Could this be true? Could someone want this bird enough to kill for it?

Work was tedious, but went by fast. He wrote and re-wrote a report about ventilation measurements and air sampling. He checked the airflow rate on sampling pumps.

At lunch, he ran about six miles to clear his head. On his run, he thought more about Gregori's plan. It didn't seem so far-fetched. 

“Sorry I’m late,” Kevin said going straight to the bathroom. He kept reminding himself there would be no response. "I bought a book on conures."

Kevin threw out the uneaten food and replaced it. He changed his water. No soap. After reading the newspaper he picked out a good article and put it under Gregori’s cage. 

Kevin ate a drive-thru burger and had some more polite, one-sided conversation with Gregori. 

While asleep, Gregori reviewed his plan with Kevin. 

His alarm went off too early and Kevin felt rested, but also felt the effects of his run the day before. He put the conure in the living room near the sliding glass door the same as before and went to work. 

“Have a good day,” he said as the bird looked out the window. 

After editing his report and making arrangements for his next trip in a few weeks, he headed home. 

As he walked in, he knew something was different. The bird and its cage were gone and the screen door was open a few inches.

The police found no forced entry and unsuccessfully dusted the glass door for fingerprints. Kevin confirmed that nothing else was taken.  None of Kevin’s neighbors had seen anything unusual.  

“That makes six of these red-headed birds that have been stolen from people’s homes in the last few weeks,” the officer said. “It’s amazing how an urban legend can cause so much trouble.” 

“We will talk to the pet shop salesman about this. Sounds like he’s the only guy who knew you had it.”

For what good it would do, Kevin promised that in the future he would make sure the sliding door was locked and that the security bar was in place. 

“Short of breaking the glass, these doors are pretty secure” the officer said giving him a copy of the report.

Kevin thanked them. “I guess I owe my friend another bird and cage.”

After the police left, Kevin unlocked Joe’s bedroom door then his bathroom door. 

“Good job keeping quiet,” he said turning off the small TV. “I’m not sure how you knew, but it worked.

“We were lucky the pet store over in Towson had one of your cousins. I’m going to put you and this little TV in my room for a while.

“By the way, those stock tips need to be worth two hundred dollars.” 

The bird cocked its head and looked at him. 

December 25, 2020 20:57

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
22:39 Mar 04, 2023

Just awed at the imagination other authors have! Think your profession is somewhat like my husband's if you are adding some truths in the story line.


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