Coos erupt. A pfft from the air pistol reverbs in the sniper's ear. The flight of birds smears the dawn, a darker grey. The sun starts to peak over the tree tops as if to show there had been no birds, no movement, no sound. Yet one piece of evidence remains. By the dirty lake runs a drab, concrete path peppered with bread. Among the crumbs is one dead pigeon.
Shrimpy scans the horizon through the slit in his balaclava. Nobody nearby. No far-off silhouette.
A lone pigeon stands on a mound, wide-eyed.
Shocked? Disgusted? Angered?
The silent bird stares back.
Wings snap, crack, like a bullwhip and drum a warpath to the sky. The breeze blows harder at Shrimpy, stood up on the quad bike's footrest. He hops to the grass and strolls toward the dead pigeon. The pistol dangles by his side, tapping every other step like the weird long finger of an Aye-Aye drumming for its prey.
Muted birdsong, a distant hiss of motorway traffic, the slap of a wind change.
Back at the quad, Shrimpy slings the dead pigeon on to the seat next to a loaf of sliced white.
A tinny Grime beat blasts from his phone. The lad recognises the number, hitches up the balaclava to the bridge of his nose and swipes the screen,
While Shrimpy listens, he glances in each direction. Stray dog eyes.
"No problem - about an hour 'cause we're really busy."
A buzzer sounds, a light flicks on an off, and the door to B Wing opens. Dean steps through a full-size airport style scanner. Silence. An unknown colleague gives him a cursory frisk while Dean spies a large seat that appears to be wired up.
"Looks like an electric chair."
"Ha, you're not far off mate. Anal cavity scanner."
Dean offers an awkward nod half smiling, half sneering.
"State of the art."
Dean nods back.
"I was moving a prisoner to B Wing. Weirdo. Keeps smiling at me. Winks. Strolls through the full-length scanner. Bleeps. Frisk top-to-toe. Nothing. So, he takes the seat. Bleep."
"Oh yes. Without instruction, he just stands up, drops his trousers, stoops and pulls out a bottle. Half litre. Geezer holds it up and says: Just so you know I can…"
Shrimpy sits in his flat and rolls up a spliff. Bangs at the door nudge Shrimpy -he calmly opens the back of a TV remote controller. The space is free of batteries, the spliff is a snug fit.
The visitor looks top heavy through the spy hole. A muffled voice.
The door is open ajar.
"What? I don't know what you're babbling about, son. But we need a quick word…"
The door shuts and chains clink, bolts clank.
"Hello to you too. So, have you got anything in here that you shouldn't?"
"See for yourself."
The lead officer is followed by two younger policemen who search the premises. One man returns with a frost-covered bag.
"This was in the freezer, sir."
"I can see that. What is it?"
"It appears to be a pigeon."
"Right Shrimpy, you a pigeon fancier now?"
"What, like sex?"
"No, son. Look. Why is a pigeon in your freezer?"
"I found it, dead, so I took it for biology class. Teacher tells us: look at nature."
"You're attending school then?"
"100%. Call 'em up now."
"I doubt anyone will answer, not at this time of night."
Dean slowly eases out a breath from puffed cheeks as he stares at a half litre bottle of water on the table. The Governor's briefing begins.
"Right gents, let's get through this pronto. First off I want to welcome Dean - first day so let's all look out for him, eh?"
Dean's glances are met by murmurs and stares and nods -he half raises his hand in acknowledgement.
"Right, let me explain, pronto, why I've gathered the senior team. I thought we'd seen it all but overnight we've had a drone crash inside the fence."
"Any casualties, Dave?"
A ripple of titters is cut short by the Governor holding his forefinger aloft.
The hasty hush provides an unintended perfect beat for comic timing.
"One dead pigeon."
Dean smiles and looks around at his colleagues grimacing with laughter. A voice rises above,
"Hey, Dave, you don't want this getting out -we'll have the bloody RSPCA and the vegans onto us."
"Right, right, settle down. I'm going to personally look into the drone. And the pigeon. Just leave it with me."
Dean mimics the nods rippling around the room yet his mind wanders: How could a drone get near, let alone bring down, a pigeon?
Chairs squeak on the floor and bodies file toward the door. Dean feels a tap on the knee.
"Let's walk B Wing."
The hum of pipe works and shouts of in-mates jar with the sound clash of different musical tastes. A lull in the mayhem conjures up another noise -shaken off -heard again. Persistent splashing.
A wash in the sink?
"You hear that?"
Dean faces his colleague.
"Yeah -some of the prisoners clean out the water from their bog at night. They use the basin and pipework as a phone system. Chat all night long. Or until they need a leak."
Shrimpy scrunches up the warm paper of his take-away and bins it. He reaches inside the freezer and pulls out the pigeon. He takes a Stanley knife and slices down the freezer bag.
The pigeon slips off from the board. Shrimpy's hand shoots out, knee-jerk. He feels the frost crunch under his grip and the coldness cut to his bone. He steadies the bird on a breadboard. His thumb grip clears a hole in the frost. The pigeon's eyeball.
Dean's ear is caught by birdsong. He scans the trees beyond the prison car park. Stillness. Darkness. Birdsong.
A firefly in the dark.
Dean follows the light as it flits, vanishes, flashes, and reveals a silhouette. The figure is back lit by the screen glow of a mobile phone. Dean considers watching some more, or shouting over to the figure, or driving out of the prison car park. The final thought sparks action and he turns the key.
The headlights blast the dusk and, slap bang in the middle of view: a balaclava. The figure swings his arm and an object flies toward the fence. Dean looks back at the figure but finds only green bush and dark matter. He hops out of his car and jogs to the fence. He treads along and soon finds the object. One dead pigeon.
A phone ringtone startles Dean. No movement. Nothing. He carefully treads toward the tinny drum beat until he spies the glow. He reaches to the ground. The ringtone ends.
Dean feels the heart beat in his chest. He hears the wind, punctuated by the birdsong.
An owl's toot? No, there’s no sing-song -it's more repetitive, and strung out.
Dean swipes the screen and holds the phone up to his ear.
"You have one new message-"
"Shrimpy? It's Dave. I can’t see your signal, mate. Have you tossed it over? Call me -pronto."
Dean holds his breath and scans the prison, the Governor's window, the fence.
A pigeon alights from the evening sky, lands on the fence and coos.
© Copyright L Sandoz, 2017. All rights reserved.