Bird Of Prey
by Ken Goldman



“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil -
prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us-

by that God we both adore –

Tell this soul with sorrow laden . . .”

- Edgar Allan Poe (1845)


The WCBD cameraman spent over three minutes spraying along the arm rests of Paul Avery's wheelchair so the chrome would not strobe under the umbrella-like bounce lights overhead. Without the wash of the artificial lamps the guy might just as well have tried shooting Jane Friedman’s segment inside a subway tunnel, which probably would have proven a whole lot cheerier than Avery’s small apartment. Paul joked that he would ordinarily lend a hand but that waxing the van all morning had tuckered him out. The cameraman holding the spray can exchanged a nervous smile with the woman reporter at the door.

"You have a wonderful sense of humor, Mr. Avery," she said through a painted smile as she entered the apartment holding a small note pad, her laughter faltering a moment too soon to appear completely genuine. She stopped to introduce herself to Mrs. Eloise Dunbar, a shriveled prune of a woman from the Tyler's Park Bird Association, who stood by the single window with a large covered wire cage at her feet. The moment the reporter stepped before Paul's wheelchair he recognized her from the ‘Eye On New Jersey’ segment of the 11: 00 o'clock News.

"I'm Jane Friedman," she said, extending her hand. When Paul's arm remained at his side she suddenly caught her mistake and her cheeks went flush. Her eyes darted from his while she reprimanded herself for the error. Slowly, ridiculously, her arm dropped.

"That happens a lot, Miss Friedman. Once at the Meadowlands some guy spilled his beer in my lap when I didn't stand for the National Anthem. Sees me sitting in the aisle in this wheel squatter and just douses me with his Bud Light. My impairment doesn't always register with people until they see this." Paul fingered the long grabber that fit into the pouch alongside his wheelchair, an odd looking tweezers-on a-pole contraption that looked like the gadget a stockboy might use to reach boxes on a high shelf.

“Sometimes a man’s reach exceeds his grasp, Miss Friedman.”

The reporter nodded like an idiot but managed to recapture her smile. "Call me Jane," she answered, her eyes not leaving the grabber. She regained her composure so quickly that Paul felt uncertain she had really lost it. He wondered if he should risk asking the newswoman to bend toward him as she spoke. Few people thought of doing that, but it was difficult to look up while speaking to someone hovering over him.  "Paul, I'd like to go over what we'll be doing here for the ‘Eye-On’ segment, okay?" She did not bend closer to him, but Paul said nothing. "We shoot this on videotape, so we can edit mistakes out. First we'll get a few shots of you alone, then we'll have Mrs. Dunbar present Solomon to you. Just be comfortable and try to have a good time with this. All right?" She motioned to her cameraman. "Let's get a few shots of what you normally do around the apartment. I'll add a voice-over later. Try not to look at Harry once his red light goes on. Okay?"

Paul nodded, watching the camera until he saw the red light. Pushing the button that moved his chair to the pantry and extending the grabber, he opened wide the two long prongs at its tip, using them to pull open the pantry door. Taking down a can of Campbell's Chunky Chicken soup he placed it into the automatic can opener, then took the soup can to the stove and used the grabber to pour its contents into a chipped porcelain pot on the front burner. Protracting the grabber, he twisted the knob that turned on the stove. His fingers moved almost imperceptibly while his arm remained motionless on the wheelchair's armrest. Paul turned the stove to ‘OFF’ to give himself something else to do, then wondered if maybe he had been showboating a bit too much for the camera.

When he looked back toward the red light he could see that the three people who stood behind the Sony had been watching his every move, and that the cameraman's mouth hung open. Silence filled the room.

"Sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to look into the red--"

"--That's fine, Paul," Jane interrupted, her voice revealing the impact of what she had seen. "Thank you. We'll be back with you in a moment." She placed an arm on his shoulder, then walked over to the frail woman who stood near the door. The reporter seemed uncomfortable with Paul’s looking at her, as if any display of her emotion were inappropriate.

His eyes followed Jane Friedman across the room to where Mrs. Dunbar of the bird club stood awaiting instructions from the newswoman. Eloise Dunbar was frail and bird-like herself, and Paul watched the old woman's face become a succession of twitches as she spoke. Friedman opened her note pad to go over the questions she planned to ask while Dunbar nodded and smiled between the facial tics that punctuated her answers. A brightly flowered bed sheet covered the large box-like bird cage at her feet. Paul could hear an unpleasant grating as Solomon climbed inside testing the cage’s limits, his talons scraping against the metal bars like chalk scraping a blackboard. Avery knew how it felt being locked inside a cage.
He could not see the parrot inside, his gift from the women of Tyler’s Park. But he knew Solomon was an exotic young blue and red macaw because Dunbar had told him that much the previous week. She had read an article in the Hammington Weekly about Paul’s disability, and the more philanthropic ladies of the club had decided on a collection that same night.

The article, one of those ‘you-can-make-it-if-you-try’ human interest pieces, had been about Myocystis Osrefacans, a rare and debilitating disease with which Paul had struggled since birth. The young journalist who had interviewed him had actually titled the Hammington story “Physically Challenged and Up For It” even though Avery’s joints and muscles had progressively hardened practically into bone and would no longer bend. As a child movement had been painful, as an adolescent difficult, as an adult damned near impossible. The story showed a man coping with the disease as if all Paul Avery needed to get on with his life was a long metal two-pronged pole.

The truth was another matter entirely. Since his mother had died Paul's world consisted of a tinny stereo and nineteen inch television which he operated with the remotes kept constantly in the pouch of the wheelchair, and that world extended nowhere beyond the reach of the pronged grabber also at his side. At twenty-six Paul knew even his limited movement would eventually become impossible. Once that happened the grabber would be as useful to him as a set of golf clubs.

Paul understood that within a week the name of his disease would fade from the collective memories of the women who made up the Tyler's Park Association. It would fade even more quickly from the memories of the ‘Eye-On New Jersey’ News Team and from the memories of everyone who watched his segment on the 11:00 o'clock Late News. The thought occurred that if he really wanted to be remembered he could always submit the ‘Eye-On’ segment to America's Funniest Home Videos.

None of this mattered because Paul felt no anger. These people could have turned their backs easily, but they hadn't. Besides, Solomon would remain with him long after the others had gone.

But not in a cage . . .

"It's a congenital disability, Jane," he told the reporter and the rest of Southern New Jersey watching behind the Sony Beta's red eye. "Some doctors think it’s a blood disorder and have considered blood plasma transplants, but that's just a shot in the dark. A compatible donor has been impossible to locate. Even if we find one the success rate for the procedure is about 30 percent, so there’s a pretty big risk. The bottom line is, I'm learning to cope with it until . . . until the doctors tell me that coping is no longer an option."

The moment's drama had not been lost on the reporter who stood to the side as the camera's eye remained fixed on the man confined to his wheelchair. "Paul, the women of the Tyler's Park Association might help you to cope just a little bit better. This is Eloise Dunbar, Tyler’s Park president."

It was a tacky moment at best, and Paul wondered if the reporter in post-production might add a soundtrack to the videotape, something appropriately melodramatic, perhaps with strings. “Hearts and Flowers” came to mind, a light ditty meant to dignify the physically challenged everywhere in the Garden State, although if asked he would have suggested “I Want to Dance With Somebody.” The thought almost made him smile.

The cameraman swung the Sony Beta on its tripod toward the thin woman in the proper tweed suit as she lifted the sheet from the cage alongside the wheelchair.

"Mr. Avery, the Tyler's Park women and I would like to introduce you to Solomon, a lovely macaw parrot which we feel pleased to present to you today." Although her voice cracked old Mrs. Dunbar delivered her well-rehearsed lines with the efficiency of a pro, if you overlooked the nervous tics that went off in various corners of her face like tiny mine explosions.

She reached into the cage and Solomon obediently hopped upon her hand as if the parrot had also rehearsed for the moment. The bird was huge, larger and more beautiful than Paul had imagined, with plumage a swirl of deep blues and reds that shone like a tiny rainbow under the umbrella lights. Its tail feathers were almost twice the length of the bird's body and nearly reached the floor as the macaw perched upon Dunbar's forearm. The wingspan made the macaw appear even larger, and while it flapped for balance the woman placed the parrot on Paul's shoulder.

With its curved beak extended the bird gave a shrill shriek of confusion directly into the eye of the camera.

"We call him Solomon because, like the Biblical King, the genus Ara macao, or macaw parrot, is exceptionally wise. Some say a mature macaw has the equivalent intelligence of a three year old child. And Solomon is completely tame, a very loving and reliable-"

For one awful moment as Paul leaned toward the parrot it seemed as if the club's very loving and reliable macaw might take a hearty chunk out of Paul's ear. But instead, the bird gently chewed at it with affectionate nibbles. Both the reporter and Mrs. Dunbar laughed.

“Solomon is an especially responsive bird, Jane. He's a little over three months old, but he has been hand fed since he was born and is completely comfortable with most people."   As she spoke, the old woman stroked the back of the parrot's head. The macaw leaned in the direction of the small withered hand as if to encourage further stroking, gurgling softly as she worked her fingers through the thick plume of head feathers.

“Birds instinctively take to certain people, and with their owners they can be especially loving. It's because they're territorial creatures and they tend to bond with only one person. We're lucky we have a good match here. An angry macaw can exert the equivalent of two hundred pounds of pressure with his beak if…" The woman caught her blunder, and looked directly at the camera. "Of course, I'm not suggesting any danger exists with --"

"Well, there doesn't seem to be much to worry about between these two, Eloise," the reporter interrupted. Without losing her sixty-watt smile, she turned toward Avery, leaning forward as the camera shot over her shoulder. "What's the first trick you're going to teach Solomon, Paul?"

Avery expected her question and had prepared the appropriate “Aw, shucks” response he knew the Jersey audience anticipated. "Jane, it'll be wonderful to have someone to talk to around here. I guess I'll teach Solomon to say 'Hello'. Right now a friendly voice is all I really need to hear."

Yes, and let’s keep those cards and letters comin’ in, folks. Shucks, m’am . . .

The newswoman recognized the dramatic high point of her story and wrapped up her segment as the camera remained on Paul with the macaw nuzzling against his cheek.

"From where I stand, Paul, this friendship definitely goes two ways . . . This is Jane Friedman, and this has been your ‘Eye On New Jersey.’"

The closing shot showed the bird warbling and clucking contentedly into Paul's ear as if confiding a secret to him. No one present could have asked for a more perfect fade-out to the piece. The red light blinked off and the cameraman applauded.

"One take, Harry. Not bad. Not bad at all," the reporter said.

Five minutes later Jane Friedman and her WCBD one-man crew packed up. When the bounce lights snapped off Avery’s small apartment seemed even darker than before. Along with Mrs. Eloise Dunbar the three said their goodbyes and departed. Solomon stood on Paul's shoulder, cocking his head as he watched them go out the door.

The macaw remained there without moving for the rest of the day.


Paul had misjudged the president of the Tyler's Park Bird Association. Eloise Dunbar phoned regularly every Sunday morning to check on Solomon's progress, and several times the old woman dropped by the apartment with a special treat for the parrot while holding another issue of Bird Talk Magazine for Paul. He did not mind if at first her visits seemed more to the macaw than to him. He looked forward to seeing her.

During an early visit Paul watched Mrs. Dunbar clap her hands in delight when Solomon greeted her with an enthusiastic "Hello, Eloise! Hello, Paul!" But the woman probably had expected that parlor trick.

During a later visit the woman laughed out loud when Solomon screeched two tuneless verses of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," complete with squawking cow moos and duck quacks. Impressive, but not an accomplishment unusual for a clever macaw. Still, Mrs. Dunbar did not hide the admiration she felt for Paul and the gentle patience he demonstrated with his new pet.

Eventually Dunbar’s concern for the macaw expanded to include Paul. Her closeness with him had encouraged a sudden directness from the woman that surprised him. Several visits later while sipping her tea she turned serious.

"Will you listen to an old woman if she speaks frankly?” she asked following a decidedly bland discourse on the merits of cuttlebone.

Paul nodded, more amused than curious.

“I realize that Solomon is a good companion, Paul, but a parrot is not a watchdog. You’re alone in this fire trap you call home, and I've read about the drug raids and the robberies in this neighborhood. Last week a woman got shot through the brain right in her bed. Police found this kid an hour later with forty dollars in his pocket. Some sixteen year old hoodlum waltzed right into her bedroom and shot that poor woman for forty dollars! And you've got a lock on your front door that a healthy parakeet could pick."

"My mother's insurance money won't stretch past Hammington Heights," Paul answered with the macaw perched on his shoulder tugging at a loose thread in his sweat shirt. "Eloise, I barely keep Solomon in bird seed with the magazine solicitations I do over my phone here to make ends meet. I haven't been an easy guy to place in the work force. Most employers prefer the hired help to at least have the ability to move.”

Avery realized this discussion had become heavier than he intended and he forced himself to smile.

“Maybe those PBS telethons should push the slogan, 'Hire the physically challenged. They're fun to watch.' It might get me more work."

"I'm concerned about you, Paul. All the association women are. Hell, they worry about my becoming a statistic too whenever I visit here. Last time four kids ran off after scaring the bejeezus out of me when they set off fire crackers on your corner. First thing I thought was someone’s taking a shot at me , and let me tell you I was damned glad I was wearing my Depends. Taxi drivers don't even carry fares here. Today I had to call three times before I --"
The woman’s words trailed off, and she turned from him embarrassed that her facial tics had become so furious. When she grasped Paul’s hand he wanted more than anything to grasp hers right back. He could see the old woman's concern. This had been the first time Eloise Dunbar had touched him, and he was not sure but she seemed on the verge of tears.

"Eloise," he said, attempting a segueway to an easier topic. He found one with the large diamond she wore on her finger. "Flagging a cab should be easy for a society lady like yourself. Just flash some of that expensive jewelry you've always got on. You want to talk about what's safe? Walking the streets here with a rock like that sure isn't what the other ladies of your association would recom…"

"--Permit an old woman her eccentric indulgences, will you?" she interrupted. "And just for the record, smarty pants, we're not all old ladies who’re tracking down yellow breasted sap suckers. We've got a member in our group who’s about your age, and Darryl wouldn't mind pulling you out of that wheelchair for implying we old women are the only bird lovers around here. Can't you see when someone's worried about you? Or would you prefer I add ‘Dag nab it’ to the conversation to get your attention?"

"Listen, I appreciate--"

"All right, end of discussion," she conceded. "That’s the remnants of whatever's left of my maternal instinct talking. My late husband and I never had children, you know. I just wanted my concern to go on record. I mean, just in case you thought I'm only here to play Mother Teresa."

The woman's admission embarrassed her and she refocused her attention on Solomon as she reached into her purse for a peanut.

"So, what carnival act are you and the bird showing me today?"

Solomon reached out his beak to receive his treat. Paul felt glad to change the subject. He wanted Eloise to ask about the macaw's latest trick and a Cheshire Cat grin appeared on his face when she did. The woman looked at the pouch where Paul usually kept his grabber. He was hoping she would.

. . . Because the pouch was empty.

"Watch this," Paul said. "Solly! Pretty bird, go to the table. Go on, that's a good boy!" The bird obediently hopped from his shoulder, flapped across the room and landed with a skid upon the coffee table.

"Get me the magazine, Solly! The magazine!"

The bird fidgeted for a moment with a tail feather, then clamped its beak around the T.V. Guide near the ash tray. With some difficulty he lifted the booklet and paraded across the coffee table with it. Pausing at the edge, he flew to Paul's shoulder and dropped the magazine into his lap.

"Moo moo here, moo moo there. . ." the bird gurgled.

Paul turned to Eloise.

“The wisdom of Solomon, eh?” he said just in time to see her gasp. Solomon's performance clearly had startled her, but he tried not to sound smug. "Solly can't do any heavy duty stuff, so I still need the grabber for that. But he'll even bring me the grabber when I need it. Lately I've been letting it lie around just to see if he'll find it for me, and he does. Eloise, the bird's good enough to go on Letterman."

Dunbar sat on the couch and took out a Marlboro pack from her purse. One hand steadied the other as she held the match to the cigarette.

"Been carrying these for weeks and I haven't felt the need to smoke one 'til now." She took a long inhale, and looking directly at Paul she chewed on her lip as if rehearsing her next lines. She blew the smoke out in a thick spurt.

"Parrots don't understand the words they hear, Paul. They mimic. When a bird talks it's just imitation, that's all. Solomon doesn't understand your words. He couldn't. You know that, don't you?"

Her eyes darted to the bird perched on his shoulder. Paul wondered if she had directed the remark more to the macaw than to him just to confirm it to herself.

"Solly understands, Eloise. He knows. An issue of that bird magazine you gave me said some parrots can differentiate between colors and textures, can verbally identify them along with sizes and shapes. Some even intuit meanings of unfamiliar words. Watch . . ."

He turned to the parrot and pointed his nose toward the Marlboro pack on the table and spoke softly - almost secretly - to the macaw. "Cigarette, Solly. On the table. Bring me a cigarette."

The macaw gazed at the Marlboro in Mrs. Dunbar's hand as if evaluating his command. The woman quickly dropped her cigarette in the seashell ash tray. Solomon's wings snapped in the air and the bird lifted off. With a movement that was more of a hop than flight, the parrot landed with a dull thump in front of her on the coffee table, causing the cigarette to bounce in the sea shell. He waddled past the Marlboro soft pack and stood before Dunbar, studying the cigarette in the ash tray, cocking his head to the side as he looked up at her.

"He likes to play dumb sometimes," Paul said. "Go to the pack , Solly, not the one in the ash tray."

Solomon returned to the cigarette pack and nudged it across the table with his beak. The woman watched the parrot push it to the table's edge.

"Maybe he's read the surgeon general's warning and has decided you've got enough troubles?"   As she spoke the bird yanked a single cigarette from the pack, and with a thick flap in mid-air returned to Paul's shoulder, extending the Marlboro toward him.

"Thanks, pal," he said, taking the cigarette into his mouth while nudging the parrot's underbelly with his nose. Looking back at Eloise, the Cheshire Cat grin returned. "Got a match?"

Dunbar took her cigarette from the sea shell tray, where it had gone almost completely to ash. She inhaled the remainder of it deep into her lungs. "Maybe you should just ask the bird."

"Don't want to get him used to playing with fire," Paul answered.



Eloise Dunbar had not been an easy convert, but three and a half hours later she admitted that she might rethink her previous beliefs concerning the potential intelligence of the genus Ara macao. She added that she would have been significantly more impressed had Solomon informed her that it was past seven o'clock. Once night fell, no cab driver would pick up a fare in the northern section of Hammington Heights. She would have to catch the K bus on the corner.

Buttoning her coat the old woman bent down and spoke to the parrot, eliminating the usual baby-talk as she stroked his head. "So long, Solomon. Give me a ring during the week if you feel like sharing your feelings on the O.J. verdict."

Paul could not see Eloise beyond the front door of the brownstone apartment. Doing so would require assistance with the six stairs of the stoop that led to the street, and the woman was a few years past the point where she might offer him that assistance. Instead Paul sat by the window to watch as she disappeared into the shadows.

He turned his wheelchair to retrieve his grabber from under the coffee table and reached out with it to snap off the table lamp. With the macaw still upon his shoulder he sat by the window in the darkened apartment looking down at the shadowy figures as they moved along Bristol Street.

Hitting the button he wheeled himself to the small cot where Solomon hopped upon the bar of the t-stand to perch alongside it. Paul decided against getting undressed. There was no real need for it anyway. The sweat suit would serve as adequate night clothing in keeping him warm.

Pushing hard to move out of his wheelchair and onto the small cot he lay down, frozen in a grotesque fetal position while struggling to cover himself with the thick blanket. Through the window the moonlight cast the macaw's large shadow upon the wall, and Paul studied it as he lay on his side. Motionless upon its perch and silhouetted in the grey light the parrot seemed vulture-like, an ominous bird of prey silently awaiting its quarry.

At 11:00 p.m. the television timer set itself off and the nineteen inch Zenith snapped to life in the dark room. Solomon had grown used to the nightly ritual of reawakening upon the t-stand, and with the grabber Paul extended a peanut to the macaw in the flickering light of the small t.v. screen. He struggled to prop himself against the backrest to watch The Late News with Bill O'Brien on channel 3. Although the day of his interview had been the last time he had spoken to Jane Friedman, he regularly watched her nightly ‘Eye-On’ segment.

The lead story featured the woman reporter televised live from Hammington Heights, about four blocks from Paul's apartment. Anchorman O'Brien's late-breaking story concerned an elderly woman's body found stuffed inside a dumpster just off Bristol Street. Jane Friedman's face seemed ashen as she spoke from under a street lamp to the anchor at his studio desk. Paul watched the set with a dull sense that something was very wrong.

"Bill, we don't know many details at this time. Apparently, an unidentified woman was killed - shot - three to four hours ago, in what looks like a robbery attempt. Here's what we do know. At about 10:00 tonight Mrs. Melba Morrison’s dog sniffed something inside the dumpster at 7th and Bristol and began barking. Morrison discovered the body and called Hammington police. The victim appears in her late sixties or early seventies. Sergeant Calvin Moyers of the 16th Police District told me a few minutes before we aired that police counted three gunshot wounds, two to the elderly woman’s head and one to the chest. Earlier this evening a neighbor reported hearing what sounded like shots in the vicinity of 7th and Bristol, about a block from here. But local children setting off firecrackers caused residents to assume that was the noise they heard. Hammington police speculate that whoever committed the murder might have taken a ring from the dead woman's finger, because Sergeant Moyers told me . . .. that one of the woman's fingers, presumably a finger that had contained a ring, had been severed."

Permit an old woman her eccentric indulgences , will you?

Eloise Dunbar's words exploded inside Paul's head as if he had stumbled over a trip wire.

"Jesus! Oh, Jesus!”

"Turn off the t.v., Mr. Avery," a voice from behind his bed said, nearly whispering in the darkness within the small apartment. "Your fucking set almost gave me a coronary when it came on, but I did want you to catch that lead story."

Paul's mind told his body to turn around to see who stood behind him. But his body refused, and instead he sat propped upon his tiny cot like a useless cadaver, his heart racing inside his chest as Jane Friedman's voice continued to drone from the television.

"Who--Who are--?"

"Oh, that's right, you can't do that very easily, can you? Then permit me." The voice had spoken in such a calm manner that Solomon had not ruffled a feather as he remained perched on the t-stand by Paul's cot.

Avery saw only the darkened outline of a man and the shadow he cast on the far wall as he moved toward the foot of the bed to turn off the television. The figure became almost completely swallowed by the darkness once the t.v. screen snapped to black. The dark stranger again stepped behind the cot as if aware of Paul's inability to turn toward him.

"Pretty ironic, isn't it? Here's this dumb bitch reporting on some old bat the cops find belly-up in a dumpster, and she doesn't even know that it's the same biddy she shook hands with when she interviewed you a few months back. Kind of a small world, eh?"

He pulled down the window shade and stepped to the foot of the bed, but Paul could see nothing more than his outline in the darkened room.

"I'm guessing you figured out the old broad in the trash bin is the bird club lady, right?" The man moved to the side of the cot, and Paul felt the coldness of a metal object dig into his left temple. "Have you thought about how this felt when I blew her fucking brains all over her pocket book?"

Paul saw the hand that held the gun, but he could not clearly see the face of the man who spoke of Eloise Dunbar's murder as calmly as if he were discussing the weather.

"Listen, if it's money you want I'll give you what I have, but I don't have very-"

"Keep your mouth shut, unless you want me to use it for target practice. I don't want your fucking money. You live in a place like this with a lock you have to blow on to get open, I know you haven't got any."

"Then what--?" Paul stopped himself.

"--but the old broad, she had this."

The man pushed something into Paul's hand that the darkness did not permit him to see. Paul was unable to close his hand to grasp hold of it, but he felt the cold wetness of the long and bony object wedged between his fingers.

"That moth-eaten bitch had a lot of these, I would guess."

The stranger spun Paul's empty wheelchair around and pulling him from the cot practically dropped him into it. A tidal wave of pain roared through Avery’s body. The man pushed the chair away from the window and snapped on the table lamp causing Paul to squint in its sudden glare.

Avery looked down at what the man had placed into his hand. In his palm he held Eloise Dunbar's finger. The large diamond ring remained on it.

His mouth formed a silent scream.

Solomon shifted upon the t-stand uttering a low groaning sound. Paul wondered if the macaw had recognized the smell of Eloise's blood.

The stranger grabbed the old woman’s severed limb and offered it to the parrot. "Here, you dumb buzzard! Solomon want a finger?" He whirled Paul's wheelchair around, this time bringing them face to face.

Paul hadn't expected what he saw in the dim light. The man was well dressed in a corduroy sports jacket and crisp denims. He was clean cut and looked like he could have been a college student. A regular All-American guy who had just shoved an old woman's finger into his pocket.

"You .. . . you called him Solomon. How did you know his--?"

The stranger bent down close enough so that their faces almost touched.

"Well, I guess there's no fooling a quadriplegic, no sir. Maybe I shouldn't try to diddle you by keeping this gun trained on your head, either. Not much you can do anyway, is there, gimpy?" He grabbed Paul's hand in a grotesque parody of introducing himself. "So glad to meet you. I'm Darryl Grover, member in good standing of the Tyler's Park Bird Association. The only male member, as the late Eloise Dunbar may have told you."

He shook Paul's hand violently. A thousand needles shot up his arm as bone crunched against bone inside him. He clenched his teeth against the pain.

"Pretty funny, too, considering I really hate birds," Darryl Grover added. His breath felt hot on Paul's cheek.

"I don't -- I don't understand," Paul said. "Why are you here? I can't give you anything-"

"Oh, but you can, you can! You’re going to give me one hell of an alibi. Not to mention money. You see, Mrs. Eloise Dunbar was worth quite a bit of cash, cash she'd planned to surprise you with. I'll bet you didn't know that, did you, gimpy?"

Paul didn't know that. He felt like throwing up.

"See, she told me you needed this operation, this blood plasma thing, but she figured you would never take money from her. At first she had intended to leave it to those fucking crows in the association, and I was all for that, 'cause you see I do the books for the ladies. A kind of creative accountant. The old bat was the fucking goose who laid the golden eggs until you came into the picture. You're the reason I had to kill the goose."

"I don't understand." Paul’s eyes fixed on the gun that Darryl Grover waved as he spoke. "How am I an alibi? What possible good will killing me - ?"

"--Are you stupid as well as a gimp? You live in a high crime area, my friend. Kids on crack, speed, you name the poison. In the Heights people like you get blown away all the time just for a little snort. Life is cheap in these parts, and you can't get the old bitch's money if the same crazed space cadet that did the bird lady ventilates your skull too for a few coins."

Grover placed the gun on the dresser and overturned its drawers.

"See? Just another drug-related homicide for Hammington Heights' boys in blue. Me? Hell, I'm not even from the neighborhood. I'm just a fuckin' yuppie bird watcher!"

Darryl Grover could easily have shot him without the explanation, but the man enjoyed this moment. Had he felt the same pleasure when he tossed Eloise Dunbar into a dumpster?

Grover picked up the gun from the dresser and snapped the t.v. back on, turning up the volume. Gene Sheller was doing the weather. "This gun makes just a little pop, really. It's only a .22 Beretta Short, a little bulky given the cut of this particular sports jacket but pretty good for short range. Sheller's five-day forecast ought to cover it up just fine. But a man’s got to be sure. . .."

He pulled out a baby-bottle nipple and slipped it over the nose of the barrel.

"A little trick I learned because I suspect the walls here are thin. Sort of my do-it-yourself silencer. Don't want to wake the neighbors, do we?" He pointed the gun directly into Paul’s face.

In the corner of the room the parrot suddenly ruffled his feathers, shaking the t-stand.

Grover turned his attention quickly to the parrot behind him. "Hope you left your feathered pal enough birdseed for a few days. He's going to get real hungry." He held the muzzle of the .22 in front of Paul's mouth and showed teeth as he smiled. "Of course, old Eloise used to tell me how genus Ara macao here is also a meat eater, so with you lying around the apartment these next few days ol' Solomon may have himself a regular meat and potatoes feast. And speaking of eating . . ."

He grabbed a fistful of Paul’s hair pushing his mouth close to the nipple attached to the .22.

"Suck on this."

Paul knew the price resistance might cost and he took the nipple full into his mouth. He saw Solomon lean forward on his perch behind Grover.

The bird cocked his head toward the gun Grover held in Paul's mouth, extending his beak toward the hand that held the weapon. Slowly he opened his beak, opened it wide.

Paul leaned forward in his wheelchair. He seemed to lean right into the pistol.

“Hey! What the fuck are you-?"

Avery pulled his head back and grabbed the nipple with his teeth yanking it off the nose of the .22. Pain raced up his neck while he spit the nipple and tiny chips of his front teeth into Grover's face. He leaned toward the parrot.

"The gun! The gun, Solly! Get the gun!"

As if awaiting Avery’s command the bird immediately fluttered toward the ceiling, casting flapping shadows that seemed to cover the walls of the apartment. The macaw's wings snapped in the air and the bird plummeted like a stone.

The parrot fell upon Darryl Grover at the same moment the man looked away from Paul, sinking its sharp curved talons into his throat. Grover dropped to one knee as Solomon's beak tore into his right eye, the bird's wings completely covering his face and thrashing like ferocious whips. Grover went down and writhed screaming on the floor as the bird tugged meaty pulp from his eye socket.

He swung his free arm at the bird, striking the parrot square in the chest, and the macaw thumped backwards along the hard wood floor until it struck the wall. The bird lay there motionless and dazed.

Thick gouts of blood oozed from Grover's eye and veined down his cheek. He had not stopped screaming, but still he held the pistol as he pulled himself to one knee. He wiped at the blood from the empty socket where his eye had been, his knees thumping against the floor as he slogged backwards toward the far wall. His hand shook as he pointed the gun toward the bird that lay stunned and barely moving near the cot with one wing extended and torn.

The parrot flapped along the floor like an over-wound toy. Grover pushed himself toward the door waving the revolver at the bird in sweeping arcs.

"No! You bastard!" Paul shouted as he hit the button on his wheelchair. He leaned forward and tumbled between Grover and the bird while electric jolts of pain coursed throughout his body.

Grover fell flat on his stomach and pulled the trigger.

The bullet tore deep into Paul's chest, at first causing only a sharp stinging sensation. The small circle of blood become a spreading smear on Avery’s sweat shirt. Suddenly he felt like an anvil had smashed against his ribs and he curled upon the floor in a thickening agony. The room became a madly swirling carousel as Paul watched the twirling nightmare before him.

Solomon hobbled across the floor on Grover's blind side. The bird catapulted himself into his face, its talons shredding his flesh. The thick beak opened wide and bore into the man's remaining eye. Wings clapped at the air and talons bore into the flesh of the man's cheeks, shredding skin. The eye dangled alongside Grover's nose held by bloodied threads of skin, making his face appear like that of a ruined puppet.

The man screamed a shrill, piercing scream, reaching with his free hand to stop the blood bubbling from the thick flaps of raw flesh that hung from his face. He fumbled with the gun as if he had forgotten that he still held it. Blinded, he waved the .22 grotesquely at what he could not see.

"You fucking cock sucking crow-!"

Solomon lunged for the hand that held the pistol, locking his thick black beak on the three fingers around the gun's handle. The beak closed hard and Paul heard the crunch of bone as the three fingers snapped like broken twigs and thumped dully on the hard wood floor. The revolver dangled from the remaining finger like a ridiculous toy, then dropped.

Grover opened his mouth to scream, but the bird rammed his head into it, stuffing it full before he could utter a syllable. Paul watched as the macaw's head disappeared inside the man's mouth. The macaw shook its long neck violently, and Grover's head shook idiotically with the motion of the parrot. Grover could manage only a muffled gargle. His legs kicked at the floor as he rolled over on his back gagging and thrashing, tearing at the bird's spine with his remaining fingers as the parrot's wings slapped against his face like leather straps.

With a fierce tug the macaw yanked its head free, leaving a sticky streak of fleshy gore dribbling down Grover's chin. From his mouth he pulled a dripping meaty gobbet.

The parrot stood on Grover's chest holding the man's tongue in his beak. With a loud shriek, the bird hurled it back into his face. The tongue covered the empty eye socket like an absurd eye patch.

Darryl Grover lay on his back while the macaw poked at his face with quick angry stabs. Pulpous red gore foamed from his mouth and eyes.

In one swift motion the bird tore into the soft flesh of the man's throat. Grover kicked grotesquely at the air, but his reaction now had become a weak and ridiculous charade that only simulated a struggle. The macaw pulled apart his throat, hurling bits of bloody debris and boring in again at the raw flesh until the kicking stopped.

Solomon stood silently upon the unmoving body of his prey. He turned slowly to Paul, awaiting his next command.

Paul lay twisted upon the floor. Even slight movement now created great thunderbolts of pain. Blood sopped over most of his chest and his sweatshirt dripped with it. Agony silenced any attempt to scream. Paul looked at the macaw as he lay completely still.

"Quack quack here, quack quack there . . ." Solomon sang softly to him.

Paul closed his eyes hoping the end might come quickly . . .


"I've just come from Room 111," began chief resident surgeon Dr. Ronald Brock, as he addressed Dr. Curtis Heywood's surgical team seated at the long table in the conference room of New Jersey State Medical Hospital. "I've spent the last hour speaking with Paul Avery. His surgery was done three days ago, you say?"

For a moment no one responded. Not one of the five even looked up.

"He was admitted into Trauma about 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, yes," Dr.
Heywood finally replied. "We did the surgery then for the gunshot wound to his chest. Paul Avery had lost a great deal of blood, but the bullet hadn't struck any major organs or arteries, and we were able to remove it. Fortunately a neighbor had heard Avery's pet - his parrot - shrieking late Monday night several hours after--"

"--Several hours?" Brock interrupted. "With a gunshot wound in the chest cavity? Unconscious and without any way to stop the flow of blood? The man should have bled to death."

Dr. Heywood exchanged a worried glance with Dr. Sharpe and Shapiro, the young resident who had assisted the surgeon with the operation. Kevin, the anesthesiologist, studied his hands. The police told Heywood they had asked that same question of Mrs. Grossman, the neighbor who had found Paul Avery on the floor of his apartment lying unconscious in a pool of blood while a large blood-soaked macaw parrot sat perched upon his chest, unmoving as a stone sculpture.

A perplexed Hammington Heights officer later suggested to Heywood that the bird's thick plume of feathers had acted as a huge cotton swab that absorbed the blood from Paul Avery's gunshot wound. More incredible, the weight of the large parrot on Avery's chest had apparently applied exactly the correct amount of pressure to the festering bullet hole. An amazing story, certainly one for the books, but the officer added that he had often seen faithful pets come to the aid of their beloved owners.

But Dr. Heywood knew that had not been the entire story.

"Dr. Brock, the point is he did survive. As you know, Mr. Avery suffers from myosin ossification, a rare globular--" He paused to select his words carefully. "Doctor, Paul Avery has spent his entire life as a quadriplegic, and because of the globulin irregularity in his muscle plasma, movement of the muscles and joints has always been damned near impossible."  The chief surgeon leaned toward him with a slight hint of a smile that clearly saw no humor in the man’s explanation.

"Dr. Heywood, I saw Paul Avery not ten minutes ago, and the man was sitting up and feeding himself. He even asked me if I wanted to watch him stand up! Admittedly, he was pretty unsteady , but I wouldn't expect a quadriplegic to jog down the corridor. Would you?"

Brock’s smile disappeared as if it had been erased. "Now do you want to tell me what in Christ is going on here?"

Suddenly all eyes fixed on Heywood.

"Doctor, I can tell you only what I know. Paul Avery came to us with a bullet wound in his chest and a small venipuncture in his neck. Sergeant Moyers told me that Mr. Avery's assailant's body had been drained of--"

Heywood paused as if he had trouble believing his own words, and he searched the eyes of his surgical team as if seeking their approval to speak further. ". . . His body had been drained of blood, and somehow Darryl Grover's blood had been found in . . . had been deposited          into . . . Mr. Avery's system through the venipuncture. Some sort of transfusion had begun right there in Mr. Avery’s apartment before our ambulance had arrived."

Brock removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "And you're telling me that the blood plasma taken from Darryl Grover just happened to be the perfect match, the very donor that Paul Avery had been searching for? And just how in hell do you explain--?"

He shook his head with disgust and pulled a pipe from his pocket. Lighting it he leaned forward on his elbows, speaking more slowly. "I suppose you asked Paul Avery about his thoughts concerning what might have caused his miraculous cure?"

"Yes. We asked him the day following the surgery, but he was pretty fuzzy from the operation, you know, and--"

Heywood looked toward his staff as if seeking confirmation that his words were not the ravings of a lunatic. Each nodded for him to continue.

"Well, what did he say, Doctor?" the chief surgeon asked.

Heywood looked at him, and for a brief moment he almost smiled.

"He sang to us, Doctor Brock. A verse of 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm' . . ."


The End



© 1991, 2003 by Ken Goldman.  Ken Goldman, a former high school English and Film Studies teacher lives in Bucks County Pennsylvania and at the Jersey shore, as suits his mood. He has published stories in over 315 publications. In 1992 he placed second in the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation Writing Contest and has received honorable mention in Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 7th and 9th Annual Collections.** In 1997 he won Preditors & Editors Best Poem On The Internet Contest, and in 1999 won second place ‘silver’ in the Salivan Short Story Contest (Horror Division). His work appears in such anthologies as New Traditions in Terror, The MOTA : Truth 2002 Anthology, Freaks, Geeks, & Sideshow Floozies, The Witching Hour First and Second Editions,  Darkness Rising 5 : Black Shroud of Fear, The Fear Within, and Justus Roux's Erotic Tales Anthology. Coming soon and featuring more of his work are the anthologies *Vicious Shivers The Blackest Death Anthology, and Underworlds. More than 20 other publications containing his tales are due in 2003-2004. Ken is a current member of the Horror Writers Association.