I cut through the park south of the courthouse on the way to an early morning settlement negotiation, past a little pile of black cannonballs memorializing some pointless pioneer battle. Dark shapes occupied the surrounding benches in the predawn half-light. I tried not to look at them, or judge them, or wonder if they judged me.
A rabble of pigeons rose into flight, sucking fallen leaves into little vortexes, changing their tiny minds to return to where they started. I froze and considered turning back myself, dressed in a black Armani coat that wouldn’t look presentable bemedaled with guano.
A man with grey unwashed hair sat on a bench alone wrapped in the kind of coarse wool blanket given out by shelters. His red-rimmed eyes focused on me, a slight smile on his lips. He appeared entertained by the way I held my briefcase across my groin.
“Mornin,” he said.
I inspected my Italian loafers, embarrassed, but not sure why. A pair of disembodied wings, still joined together across the scapulae, rested on the pavers. “Looks like the work of a peregrine falcon,” I declared.
I could have gone on. Peregrines hunt from above, stooping like drone-launched missiles to rip the wings off prey in midair, fast as arbitrage. A pair of them nested on the shoulder of an office tower ten blocks north, a building previously owned by a bank that fell in the downturn. Did they notice the new owner’s signage when they returned to their northern home from winter in South America? I think not. I managed to profit from that misfortune myself. Even the bald eagle is a carrion bird when opportunity arises.
“Shush,” the man on the bench said. “You’ll scare ‘em.”
He scattered a handful of crumbs from a large plastic bag to the scrum of pigeons. A single bird hopped up onto the bench, greedy for the main stash. The man snaked a hand from the folds of the blanket to pin the squawking mass of feathers, break its neck and retract all evidence of the crime beneath the teepee of his covering. An instant later, none of the other birds seemed to recall the fuss. Nor did the other occupants of the pews take much notice. The man looked up.
For a moment I thought: he knows how I can afford bespoke suits. He sees the luxury car emblem on the key fob right through the fabric of my trousers. He smells what I’ve done in the name of family, career and the long-term health of the global economy.
“You have a good morning.” The man grinned with perfect teeth.
“You too,” I said.
I did not begrudge him a supply of sky rats, nor the pigeons their chance at Wonderbread heaven. Whether he committed avicide in preparation for a meal or at the instruction of some terrible mental illness was none of my concern. We had negotiated an understanding.
Late for my meeting, I waded through strutting birds scrabbling for crumbs, oblivious to their missing friend. I kept moving, eager to rejoin my flock, but wary of the shadow cast from above.
Robert P. Kaye is a writer who lives in Seattle, specializing in fiction from flash to novel. He hosts the Works In Progress open mic series at Hugo House in Seattle and is the co-founder of the Seattle Fiction Federation reading series.