I watched him as I drank, warning myself to be careful.
"And you are...?"
I didn't answer. He laughed and ran his fingers through his ever-oily hair.
"Okay. You're Birdman. You're the Bird."
"Larry or Charlie? I don't play basketball or sax."
"Where the hell are you from, anyway?"
"Here," I shrugged.
"You mean here, Boston?"
"More or less," I answered, sucking down more of the coffee. I needed food to go with it. My body was reacting violently; hunger pangs bit into my stomach. I wondered if this was anything like the feeling a vegetarian might experience after eating a chunk of beef.
Vince rocked on his heels, looking around at the tops of the buildings. The nannies walked by and he stepped back in mock gallantry to let them pass. "Good day, ladies," he said. The girls giggled and walked on. Then Vince turned back to me.
"So, how long you been catching pigeons?"
"Like...a coupla years? Or longer?"
"A little longer," I said, sucking up the last drop of coffee. When I put the empty cup in my sack, Vince gazed at me questioningly.
"You never know when it might come in handy," I answered.
"What would you use it for?"
"Lots of things. If I get thirsty, there're plenty of places to get a drink of water. The duck pond, a puddle in the street, a gutter. But I don't always have a cup. Now I do."
His brow furrowed in a slight wince.
"It's part of making my own way," I reminded him, and got up to collect my few belongings.
"What say we go get a bite to eat? We can go to Downtown Crossing. Grab a sandwich."
It had been a long time since anyone invited me to "grab a sandwich," and temptation dueled with hesitancy. As a rule, I tried to avoid downtown during the day because I don't like the crowds. But, more importantly, I didn't want Vince to see how vulnerable I could be. I didn't know what he wanted, but he didn't strike me as a philanthropist.
"Well...," I said, affecting reluctance.
"If you got other dining plans ?"
"No," I said, as my body betrayed me. "Let's go. Thanks."
We walked through the Public Garden and the Common. As we wended our way along the tar-black pathways, I avoided conversation by surveying the day's activities around me. In the distance, I saw the State House on Beacon Hill. A few dark-blue State Police cruisers were parked in front and the crew from a television news van was readying for a broadcast. Their satellite dish was raised and a guy was setting up a camera tripod. In front of us, the path darkened under the canopy of the drowsing oak branches. Sparrows pecked along in the dirt under the trees, unconcerned as they looked for worms. Up ahead, a little boy cried as he watched a flock of pigeons maniacally devouring the popcorn he'd just spilled.
You're not the first," Vince mused.
"The first what?"
We walked through the flock, sending them flying in a haphazard beating of reluctant wings.
"There goes what - twenty, thirty bucks?"
"You can't catch them in daytime. I mean, not when everyone's around."
"What then? You just chalk it up as a loss and don't think about them?"
"You can't lose pigeons," I replied. "Eventually they'll land again."
Copyright 2001 Andrew K. Stone. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be printed in any form without permission. For permission to reprint this excerpt, please contact www.sotherebooks.com.
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