Writer’s Throwdown: Two Birds, One Stone

This Writer’s Throwdown Challenge was to take a strange old photograph, and write a story about it. I give you:

 

Two Birds, One Stone

By DeAnne D.

 

Antique photo, unknown providence, era 1890s, two children and a birdcage, boy on left holding toy gun pointed at laughing girl on right.

This bird ain’t singing sister, so you better start.

 

It was raining; the kind of rain that you’d hope would just clean the filth right off the streets. I stopped off at Charlie’s and ordered a double Shirley Temple. “Keep ‘em coming,” I growled at Charlie as I polished off my drink and slid the glass across the plank back towards him.

“Gee, Steele,” he said “Isn’t a little early for you to hit the seltzer this hard?”

“Nobody asked you,” I replied. “And don’t be so stingy with the cherries.”

Charlie sighed as he dropped a handful of crimson sweet jewels into my drink. “You wanna tell me about her?” he asked.

“What makes you think it’s about a her?” I replied without looking up from my glass.

“I’ve been around enough to tell when you’ve had your heart broken by another dame.” Charlie shook his head as he slid a fresh glass across the bar. “I keep telling you, you want companionship, get a dog. Girls are nothing but trouble.”

I nodded. I couldn’t argue with truth like that. Dames were my downfall. Always had been. “I thought this one was different, Charlie. She seemed so innocent.”

Charlie nodded and wiped the bar with his cloth, the universal bartender signal that they’re waiting for you to say something else.

“Lovey L’Amour,” I muttered. I stared down into my drink, my thoughts forming a deep cloud of silence around me. Charlie clucked sympathetically, topped off my drink, threw in a handful of cherries, and retreated to a happier end of the bar.

#####

It had started like any other day. I was in my office; temporary digs behind the monkey bars, when in sidled a big kid. He looked familiar, but I didn’t know why. This wasn’t his turf, and he was obviously nervous, looking around like he wasn’t sure he should be there.

“What’s up, bub?” I asked him. He jumped like a frog on a griddle.

“Are you Steele Stone?” he asked.

“Depends on who wants to know,” I replied, putting down the case file I was reviewing.

“I’m Cody,” he said, “Cody Cottee.”

Now I knew why his mug looked familiar, it was on posters all over the junior high. He was running for eight grade class president.

“What can I do for you, Mr. President?” I asked. “If it’s about your name, I can’t help you. I got a mouthpiece that works pretty cheap though.”

“What?” he asked, baffled. I decided that he might not be the brightest candle in the box.

“Why are you here, Cody?” I asked slowly, in case he was as dumb as advertised.

“I’ve got a missing bird, and you’ve just got to find her!” he said. “My entire political career hangs in the balance.”

“Ah,” I said, “A dame had you hitting on all eight, and now she’s missing, eh?”

“Do you speak English?” he asked. “I’ve got no idea what you’re saying. There is a parrot that’s gone missing, and I’m being blamed. I need you to find the bird, and find out who took it.”

“Yeah, mac,” I said, “I can look around, see who’s making you the fall guy. But I don’t work cheap. Three dollars a day, plus expenses.”

“Expenses? What expenses?” Cody asked.

“You know. Expenses. Sometimes you gotta slide a little cabbage to the hall monitor, if you get my drift,” I said.

“I have no idea.” Cody responded. “But here’s ten dollars, see what you can find, and make it quick. The election is next Tuesday.”

I picked up the sawbuck. “Ok,” I said, picking up a notebook and a pencil, “start from the top. Who’s bird is it?”

“Lacy L’Amour” he said. He handed me a folded up campaign poster. Smoothing it open, I saw a gorgeous blonde dish. The kind of girl who could kill you with a smile, and you’d be happy to be the target. She had a parrot on her shoulder, and the text “Poughkeepsie wants a vote for Lacy.”

“She carried that stuffed parrot around everywhere. It had a recorded message that would say ‘Poughkeepsie wants a vote for Lacy’. I thought it would be funny to change the recording. She always left the bird in the homeroom during recess, so I figured I could do it then. But when I got to the room, I saw Lacy in there. She was by the teacher’s desk. So, I didn’t go in.”

“Did she have the parrot when you saw her by the desk?” I asked.

“Yeah, she did. It was laying on top of the desk. Anyway, I was on the way to social studies when I was called to the principal’s office. He told me that Poughkeepsie and the field trip money from Mrs. Sassenheimer’s desk had been stolen, and that witnesses said they’d seen me near the classroom at recess.” Cody took a deep breath. “I told him that I had seen Lacy actually in the room, by the teacher’s desk, but I don’t think he believed me. Now, if we can’t find the money, our field trip will be canceled, and everyone will think I’m a thief.”

I scratched my head while I was thinking. “So, you think the doll stuffed the dough in the bird, and then took it on the lam?”  I asked.

He looked as puzzled as a dog staring at a phonograph before he said “What?”

“You think Lacy stole the field trip money, stuffed it in the parrot, and then hid the parrot?” I said, speaking slowly again.

“I think it’s a distinct possibility, yes.” Cody replied. “I want you to find that parrot.”

                #####

I started the investigation that afternoon by paying a social call to the L’Amour household. That’s where I met her. Lacy’s younger sister. Lovey L’Amour. She answered the door and took my card. Then she looked me up and down and said “What have we here? A private dick? What can I do for you, snooper?” It was love at first sight.

“I hear your sister has a missing bird.” I said.

“I heard that too.” Lovey replied. “It was a nice bird. Shame that something happened to it.”

“You mind if I talk to your sister?” I asked.

“I don’t mind.” Lovey said. “But she’s not here.”

“When is she gonna be back?” I asked.

“You’re tooting the wrong ringer, mister.” she purred. “She doesn’t clear her plans with me.”

“I don’t suppose you know anything about the missing parrot?” I asked.

“She probably left it on the desk, and it got thrown away by the cleaning crew. But other than that guess, I got nothing for you. Not a thing. You made this trip for biscuits, flatfoot.” She replied.

This dame was cool as a cucumber, I had to give her that.

“Thanks for your time, sister. It’s been swell.” I said, tipping my hat.

“Back atcha, you big palooka.” She smiled and batted those big baby blues, and I was zotzed. Head over heels, dizzy with the dame.

As she closed the door, I turned slowly and started walking down the street. I’d only gotten as far as Old Man Johnson’s house, when I felt a sharp poke in my rib, and a voice behind me said “Come on. Big Mike wants to see you.”

I went quietly, following the lug back to a clubhouse beside an alley. There Big Mike waited.

“Ah, Mr. Stone. So nice of you to come by.” he said. “I hope you weren’t too inconvenienced?”

“Na, Bruno here made a convincing argument.” I said.

“Ha. I do like a man with a sense of humor.” Big Mike said. “I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Word on the street is that you’re looking for a bird. The Pooghkeepsie Parrot, to be exact.”

“There’s a lot of words on the street.” I replied.

“Again with the humor. Very amusing. What if I were to tell you that the bird is more valuable to me than to your client?” he said.

“I’m listening.” I replied.

“Bring me the bird, and I’ll give you forty, no, fifty dollars.” Big Mike said.

“That’s a lot of scratch for a stuffed parrot.” I said. “You could buy a new one for that price.”

“Ah, true. But I don’t want a new one. I want Poughkeepsie. As a reminder of the girl I once loved. I’m a bit of a sentimentalist.”

“Mmmhmmm.” I replied. “I’d love to help you out, Big Mike, but I don’t have a bead on the bird. First I heard of it was this afternoon. I was just leaving the L’Amour house when your goon here extended your invitation.”

“What did Lacy have to say?” Big Mike inquired.

“She wasn’t there. I talked to her little sister.”

“Ah,” Big Mike said. “Lovey L’Amour. Mean as a viper, that one. Not to be trusted.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I said. “Are we done here?”

“Of course, of course.” Big Mike said expansively. “Just remember my offer.”

I found my own way back to the street, leaving Big Mike and his goon behind. This case was starting to get complicated. I decided I’d pay Cody a visit to find out how much money this bird was supposedly holding. As I turned the corner, I saw a flash of white crinoline under a camel coat. I knew what I’d find when I reached Cody’s porch, and I was right. There was Poughkeepsie, pretty as a picture, all tied up in a gilded cage.

“Alright sister, come on out of there.” I said to the quivering bush beside the porch.

Lovey stepped out of the foliage. “Hello, snooper.” she said with a smile. “I see you found what you were looking for.”

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.” I replied

“My, I am impressed. Now if you’ll excuse me…”

“You’re not going anywhere, dollface. That bird ain’t gonna sing, so you better start.”

“It’s a funny story Steele. See, Cody played mean politics. He spread rumors about Lacy that made her cry. I don’t like it when people make my sister cry.”

“I’m with you so far. Go on.” I said.

“So, he told his little brother that he was going to change Poughkeepsie to say something really rude, and his little brother told me. So, I was going to fill the bird with the field trip money, and then call the principal while Cody was changing the recording. He’d get caught with the evidence, and teach him a lesson.”

“Go on.” I said.

“Except, while I was stuffing the envelope in the bird, I saw his reflection in the mirror on Mrs. Sassenheimer’s desk. He ran off, and I panicked. I stuffed the bird in my backpack, and ran.”

“What made you bring the bird back here?” I asked.

“I figured if you found the bird, it would all go away. You can make it all go away, can’t you Steele?” She looked up at me with pleading blue eyes, her voice quavering, her eyes brimming with tears. “I did it so you wouldn’t fall for a jailbird.”

“Oh, you’re good. I’ll give you that.” I said. “We’re two of a kind, you and I. You should look me up when you get out of Sing-Sing.”

“But Steele, you can’t send me to the big house! I’ll never survive it.” she cried.

“I’m afraid I have no choice, baby. I’m afraid I have no choice.”

                #####

That was two long days ago. Lovey had been sent to the slammer for 3 days. Two if she behaved.  Still, detention changed a person. Would she forgive me? Did I want to be forgiven?  Charlie had just returned to freshen up my drink when the door opened, splashing light into the gloomy clubhouse. A silhouette stood there, framed in the doorway. A silhouette I’d know anywhere, from the uncontrollable hair to the droopy socks. Lovey.

The clubhouse grew silent; the sign said No Girls, but nobody seemed to eager to try and enforce it. I stood.

“Hello, Snoop.” her voice rolled across the room like wind through wheat.

“Hello, baby.” I said. “Buy you a drink?”

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