LIFE GOES ON
Meanwhile, Back in New York
Part 7: One Flew East, One Flew West…
By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow at yahoo dot com)
Usual disclaimers and acknowledgments apply. I'm not making a dime off this, so please don't sue.
(Author's note: This story takes place approximately twelve days after the Manhattan Clan left for their 'vacation' in New Orleans. And this one is for Storyseeker and Denis 'Malkavien' de Plaen, who used to ask me all the time what I had planned for those critters.)
Life isn't necessarily easy when you're a pigeon...
Humans over there. Many big, some little, inside metal things.
Food! Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie!
More humans. Some big, some little.
Human chatter. "That one!" "Are you sure, Bethany?" "Uh-huh. That one!" "Well, then…" "Lemme do it, lemme, lemme!" "Bethany, let Mr.--" "It is quite all right, Anne. Here, Bethany; you may toss the bread crusts."
Food! Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie!
"Oh no, there are more pigeons coming!" "Let them come; we have more than enough." "But…" "It will do them no harm." "But what if a cat or dog comes along?" "Ah… we shall make arrangements for them."
Humans chatter all time. But good food! Full at last…
Owen Burnett, Anne Marsden, and their two charges Bethany Marsden and Alexander Xanatos looked upon a Central Park sidewalk scattered with pigeons; most of them either staggering drunkenly about or already unconscious. Owen gestured to Alexander's assigned bodyguards that had been standing nearby, and told them as he pointed to one pigeon in particular, "Put that one in the cage we brought. As for the others…"
Stevens the bodyguard pointed to a statue nearby; one that depicted characters from the classic book Alice in Wonderland. "If we put them up in the center of the mushroom, sir, they should be out of sight and reach from most cats and dogs until they come around."
"Good idea," Owen said with a short nod, as the bodyguards donned latex gloves and began picking up pigeons. "No, Bethany, you may not help pick them up. Pigeons are not the most sanitary of creatures, and your mother would not appreciate it if you came down with any of the diseases they spread." He reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone and called his employer's office. "Burnett here, sir. We have the last one now."
"Excellent," Xanatos said into his phone, with a smile on his face. They'd been chasing that third pigeon all over Central Park for weeks, trying to find and catch it before it got itself killed.
The first two had been caught within 72 hours of Xanatos beginning the search for the missing three pigeons. One had been found literally on their doorstep, with a damaged wing and half-starved, and had almost gratefully surrendered to their hands. The other had been found a full mile to the east, perched on the windowbox of an elderly woman's apartment. That one had obviously figured out how to fly pretty well, and retained his intelligence for some time before losing it; according to the information Owen had compiled, the woman was likely a personal relation. But he'd eaten the drug-soaked bread crusts as readily as any pigeon would.
But the third one had eluded detection for weeks, and Xanatos had just about called off the search when Anne had come back from a walk in the park, saying her daughter's True Sight had spotted something special about one of the birds there. Two weeks and many walks in the park later, the third missing bird was finally in custody… Which meant it was time for Phase Two.
"Didn't we just put them in here, last month?" security guard Zowalski asked his buddy Noble as they unlocked the gate in a chicken-wire enclosure, in a corner of Xanatos' private Arboretum.
"Yep; a month and ten days ago, if I remember right," Noble replied as he stepped in, carefully avoiding the pigeon bodies scattered everywhere; the birds had been fed bread crusts soaked with some kind of drug fifteen minutes ago, and now all but one of them were out cold. Naturally there'd be at least one that they'd have to chase around and catch, after putting the rest in the carriers; God didn't want these oddball jobs to be too easy for them. "Guess he got tired of them already… Frankly, I never understood why they were kept here at all. If he wanted to make his private park more 'authentic' or whatever, then he would have let them run loose, not stay cooped up."
"Yeah, but then they'd be crapping in the pool and on people's heads and stuff," Zowalski pointed out as he stuffed a bird in a carrier. "The guy may be nuts, but he's not that nuts."
"No, no; only poor people are nuts. Rich people are eccentric."
Five hours later, Xanatos' limousine turned off a paved road, pulled over and came to a stop in a heavily wooded area. Xanatos got out, tramped through the brush for a short distance and looked down a hill at the institution below: Willard Psychiatric Center. He walked back to the car and told Owen, "That clearing over there should do just fine."
"Very well, sir," as Owen began unloading pigeon carriers. "Anne, if you would be so kind as to bring the bread crusts?"
"What did you soak this new batch in?" Anne asked curiously as she hefted a plastic bag filled with bread crusts.
"An infusion of moley in water," Owen replied as he and Xanatos hauled carriers over to the clearing and lined them up along the edge. "Moley is an exceedingly rare herb, with rather unique properties; it negates most Fey transforming spells. Millennia ago, the warrior-king Odysseus used moley to protect himself from Circe's enchantments." When Anne tried to hand the bag to him, he shied away hurriedly. "Ah, no; you or Mr. Xanatos will have to administer it to the birds. Remember that as Owen Burnett, I am also in a transforming guise..."
Anne apologized for the unwitting blunder, then began laying the bread crusts out in front of the pigeon carriers. "I sure hope they stop to eat before flying away."
"One: we haven't fed them since they were loaded in the car, and most birds generally have nonstop appetites," Xanatos said as he crouched down by the first carrier in the line. "Flying is pretty hard work, so their bodies need a lot of fuel. A human who actually 'ate like a bird' would start putting on pounds pretty fast. Two: these are pigeons we're talking about…" as Xanatos was speaking, he undid the latch and opened the wire door of the carrier. The first pigeon inside came out, hopped a foot or so away and immediately began pecking at the bread crust that had been laid out for it. And two seconds later
A Quarryman lay sprawled on the grass.
"…Or rather, they were." Xanatos reached down, hoisted the man up by the collar of his Quarryman uniform and by the belt of his pants, and hauled him a few feet further away from the carrier. "Oof! C'mon, pal, make room for the next one…"
Fifteen minutes later, twelve men in Quarrymen uniforms were scattered here and there in the clearing. Most of them were trying to get to their feet, but they were walking oddly and frequently falling over, waving their arms in the air. And none of them were speaking English… though several of them were making unintelligible cries of dismay and fear.
"How long did you say it would take for them to regain their human minds?" Xanatos asked Owen, as he nimbly stepped back from a Quarryman wandering past.
"I would estimate two to three days, sir," Owen said as he began picking up cages. "The more time spent in a transformed guise, the slower the recovery, and it has been nearly six weeks since Puck transformed these Quarrymen in order to protect the castle and Alexander."
"And in the meantime, the nice people at Willard will take care of them. Though they might have a difficult time getting discharged afterwards, all things considered…"
The castle residents gathered up the pigeon cages, quickly and quietly left the clearing and got back into the limousine. "And now, back to that pay phone," Xanatos directed as Owen put the car into gear. "Anne, do you know your lines?"
"I'm supposed to have seen a UFO, right?" Anne said as she looked at the notes she'd written.
"A UFO shining with a bright green light; it could be just a ball of light, in fact. A giant light bubble that burst when it touched the ground, and a dozen men wearing dark blue uniforms tumbled out."
"I would suggest that you stress the part about there being a full dozen men," Owen interjected from the driver's seat. "That way, the authorities are more apt to look for all the Quarrymen, once the first one stumbles down the slope to within view of the psychiatric hospital. While they may be expected to regain their human intelligence and sanity within a few days, it would not do if they died of exposure in the meantime."
"Actually, let's make it a full twenty men," Xanatos said as he rubbed his chin. "That way, folks will assume that the eight men who went missing in New York last week are up here somewhere, too, communing with nature or aliens or whatever."
Anne was silent for a minute, before saying softly, "Please, sir… don't ask me to do that."
"What? Why not?" as Xanatos gave her an honestly puzzled look.
"Because I know what it's like, sir. I know what it's like to be wondering for days, weeks, months and even years what happened to your loved ones. As hard as it was to find out Phillip had been killed on the same night he'd disappeared, that he'd been dead all that time… it was also a relief to finally know. I don't want those other families to start coming up to the hills here, looking for men who aren't there, and keep wondering forever."
Xanatos nodded slowly. "All right. Twelve men only. And in another week or so, if none of the bodies have been found yet, I'll put in an anonymous tip to dredge the river near where they were most likely dumped."
"Thank you, sir."
"And since from what the Labyrinth folks said, most of the men were shot to death by Delilah and the last one done in by an exploding Quarryhammer, by the time they're found there won't be any other evidence to point specifically at gargoyles having done the deed. Their deaths could end up being blamed on organized crime, too," Xanatos said cheerfully. "It would be handy if we could sic the one group on the other; have the Quarrymen shift their focus to fighting gangs instead of gargoyles. One of the best ways to neutralize an enemy is to get him to play 'Let's you and him fight'."
"Do you really believe that will happen, sir?" Owen asked from the driver's seat.
"…No. But it's nice to think about…"
Author's note: Yes, the title of this one is an oblique reference to the classic movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." I never saw the movie, but I once read the book, and the script for the play. Powerful stuff.