Caged Birds


McGee knew instinctively as a migrating goose headed south for the winter that he didn’t have long.  Johnny would send Frankie, he knew him best.  They’d come up together twenty years ago; punk kids who knew how to use their fists and worked for Johnny Prezatori in the nose candy racket; they thought they could fly all the way to Saturn if they snorted enough blow.  Snow came down heavy and wet as pigeon shit onto the windshield as he plowed down the winding country lane. He cranked the wipers another notch to high and hoped the neighbor kid he’d given his parakeets to would remember to talk to them, then he glanced over at the leather bag and dreamed of beach umbrellas, Cuba Libres poolside and bikinis tilted toward the sun; he’d finally be able to watch the toucans roosting in the palms.

But before he could feel the water splash his toes, he eyeballed the rearview and spotted Frankie’s Lincoln pushing toward him through the slush.  He gunned the Olds and it lurched forward but the Lincoln gained hard until it was right behind him.  He goosed the gas but it was no use, the Lincoln rammed him. He lost control and spun off the road.  Small trees snapped like bones as the Olds skidded, until there was a large thud as the car flipped over followed by a sharp burst of pain that closed around him and forced shut his eyes.

He woke upside down and he felt adrenaline surge with effort but his body remained still.   He barely managed to turn his head and as he did Frankie’s crow black eyes met his.

“Well, well, welcome back, little birdie.  You’re twisted up pretty bad.  What the hell were you thinking?” asked Frankie.

“I found a dead robin the other day on the ground in front of the big picture window at the cabin.”

“You and your goddamn birds, McGee. I bet you still go to the park and watch for ‘em every spring too, don’t ya?”

“Why don’t they see the glass?  Every year they just fly right into it like it was air.”

“We’re all caged birds.  You can flap your wings as hard as you want but you can only ever stick your beak out,” added Frankie.

“How long?” croaked McGee.

“I watched you for months.  I followed you up here six months ago.  Ever since the drop came back too light last March.  That’s like taking food right off the table.  Where’s the money?”

“I don’t know,” croaked McGee.

“What do ya mean, you took it, where did it go?” asked Frankie, pulling a knife out and slicing off McGee’ left ear.

McGee wet his pants but didn’t know it until warmth trickled to his neck.  He screamed and closed his eyes as the blood stung his eyes.

“It was on the front seat in a black bag.”

Frankie circled around the car until he found it.

“There’s a lot of dough here.”

“How do you think it starts?”

“What starts?”

“Thinking there doesn’t have to be any bars.”

“Here, have a pull of whiskey.”

“Where do they think they’re going?” coughed McGee.

“Not that again.”

“It’s like stealing food right off the table” said Frankie.  “You should of told me, you should have cut me in.”

“Won’t ya turn the radio on?”

“What for?”

“Just find something that sounds like someone caught the wind by the tail for minute; something loose and fast.”

“Sleep, little bird, sleep,” whispered Frankie as he pressed the blade against McGee’s throat, glancing down at the bag full of non-sequential bills.  “I think I’ll take Johnny up to rooftop tonight for a chat, see if he can flap his wings and fly.”

McGee thought he heard magpies in the trees as he pictured Johnny Prezatori, so fat he couldn’t see his own cock, plunging through the night.  Then he felt the knife point dig into him and the stars opened like bright hungry mouths and hatched light across the raven colored sky.

~ fin ~

Jeffrey Kuczmarski's little black heart beats in Chicago where he carves wood with steel.  Jeffrey's visual stuff has been displayed at the DIY Trunk Show and is available on Etsy under Perpetual Relief.  Jeffrey's stories have appeared in Danger City, Danger City 2, Hardcore Hardboiled and Out of the Gutter.  And there's the tongue in cheek novel, Unnatural Trouble, on Amazon.  Jeffrey thanks everyone at OOTG, Shotgun Honey and Thuglit for the wood chipper, the ice pick and the unmarked bills.