The Buzz continues. Available next week!
A dead squirrel, unmarked by obvious injury, lies in the street. I pull up to the curb. A turkey vulture, shy and dark, looks up at me. It had been gauging the edibility of the squirrel. It preferred to dine unobserved. I gave it a moment or two to collect itself.
It retreated to my neighbor’s roof.
The vet had asked me to call in 45 minutes. It had taken me 40 minutes to drive home. The rabbit stopped eating again this morning. He was shivering and pallid, and bore an expression that unnerved me — as though he was contemplating a nearby entrance to a warren in the Elysian Fields. “And then I saw this long, dark tunnel, and a soothing rabbity voice saying ‘come away from the light, little one!’”
I took him and his thousand-yard stare to the hospital, dropped him off so the vets could puzzle over him.
The vulture was unsettled. My exiting the truck prompted a skittering across the roof. I ran inside, grabbed the camera and the long lens. I managed just three shots, then the bird got skittish and flew to the eucalyptus down the street.
They are such shy beasts, for all their morbid associations, their cadaverous affect. People call them scavengers with lip curled in disdain, disgust. A truly noble carnivore kills its meals, they imply, and then having dismissed the vulture they wander off to the supermarket, to bring home slabs of flesh that have been dead for weeks.
I find them appealing, skilled practitioners of an estimable trade. They bear the proud lines of their cousins the condors, the teratorns, though on a much smaller scale: the ponies of the buzzard world.
The squirrel fell from the overhead wires, I decide. Only twenty feet up, but the pavement is hard. I wonder if it was one I’ve been feeding. I cannot tell the locals apart by sight. I look up at a passing shadow. The vulture makes lazy arcs on a thermal, gaining altitude without apparent effort.
Springs come up in the middle of our street, buckled pavement and puddles where the rest of the asphalt is dry. They streams flow beneath the surface, carve out channels in our soft bedrock. A month ago one of them undercut the water main at the corner, and when the pipe burst the pavement rose eight inches from the pressure.
That soft bedrock is laced with limestone, and the plants in the garden are rich in calcium. That’s the theory. The rabbit has been slowly filling his bladder with stucco. It showed on the x-ray as though he had swallowed a river rock. Subcutaneous lactated Ringers, one tenth liter a day for the next few days, may well flush out that rabbit limestone. It will at the very least give him all the more reason to hate us. It is another variable in the decision looming as to his eventual home. I had wondered if parting from the garden might sadden him more than parting from me. Turns out that may be beside the point. He sloshes in his cage, isotonic solution in a reservoir beneath his skin, and he is eating again.
My office buzzer hurt my ears. It always hurts my ears. With these ears, that’s saying something. Today it hurt more than most days. I’d been working all night and conked out under my desk. I don’t like sleeping under my desk. It puts me in a bad mood. My tongue felt like it was covered in fur.
I grunted and took a swig from the bottle there next to my head. Turned out my tongue was covered in fur. A long night licking myself will do that. Hey, someone’s got to. I crawled out from under my desk.
The buzzer went off again, tearing off the scab in my brain from the gunshot wound it had felt like the first time. A strange clicking sound came from behind the door.
They call me Thistle. I find things. Sometimes the things I find are worth something. On a good day I get a percentage. This wasn’t shaping up to be one of those days. I’d almost made it to the door when the buzzer went off for the third damn time.
She’d been pacing in the hallway. The clicking was her feet on the hardwood. Those feet were at the ends of the longest, tannest gams I’d ever seen. She was taller than me. I had a pretty good view. Especially since I was lying on the floor. Like I said. It’d been a rough night.
I must have been staring: she let out one of those little, polite, deadly pointed coughs. So I pried my gaze off her gams and let it hop leisurely northward. Eventually I got to her face, and flinched. She looked familiar. I was pretty sure I’d seen her at the racetrack a few times. Running. Now I’m not one to judge. I’m no pinup model myself. But this dame was a dog.
She sighed. She’d been through this before. “Are you quite finished leering, Mr.…?”
“They call me Thistle.”
“Is it your habit to transact business in the hallway, Mr. Thistle, or do you actually have some sort of accomodations for your prospective clients?”
I didn’t need the attitude.
“Let me just save you some time, lady. I don’t work with greyhounds anymore.” That was bitter experience talking. Once bitten, twice shy. The thrill of the chase wears off real quick when you’re staring down the barrel of the fuzzy end of the lollipop.
She sighed again, and flounced on past me into my office. This day was not starting well. I followed her.
In the two seconds it took for me to walk in, shut the door and turn to look at her, she’d gotten pretty damned comfortable, curled up on my divan with those long legs tucked beneath her.
“I’ve been retired for years, Mr. Thistle. I haven’t chased in nearly as long. I’m as trustworthy a soul as you, given the life you lead, are likely to meet.” She bared a set of sharp white teeth at me. I eventually realized she was smiling. “And besides, if you look at the… advance I’ve placed on your desk, I think you’ll see I can make it worth your while.”
On my desk was the biggest pile of lettuce I’d ever seen.
I tried not to react. Things had been tight since my partner died. He was better at keeping clients. The landlady was on my case and my bills all had big red print on them. If she could pay like that, I needed this job. But I couldn’t seem too eager.
I turned to face her. She was watching me coolly. It made me nervous. I swallowed it. “Okay, lady, I’m all ears.”
She was quiet for a second, deciding whether or not to laugh.
“A valued possession of mine has been taken. I would very much like it returned.”
She nodded at the desk again. I walked over. She’d put a folder next to the pile of green. I opened it. There was a photo inside. I looked at it. I looked back at her. She looked at me.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Couldn’t you just get another cheeseburger?”
“If you’re not interested in the job, Mr. Thistle, I understand. Though I am disappointed. Is it the money? I can offer more.”
“The money is fine.” It was the first time I’d ever said anything like that. I figured I’d run downstairs to MacGuffin’s, buy her another cheeseburger, keep the change and everyone’s happy, including a few collection agents who’d been trying to get to know me better. “I just don’t understand why this one burger is so important.”
“Do you have to? Honestly, Mr. Thistle, I really can make it worth your while.” She stretched those long legs, a sweet little groan escaping her lips, got up off the couch and walked over to me. “I really have heard nothing but good things about your… your work.”
It doesn’t matter if she’s a dog. When a dame starts licking me behind the ears, there’s not much I can do but roll over.
Night fell like a dead cat out of a tree. I was cursing myself for a sucker. By the time Lady had told me there was a falcon involved, I’d agreed to take the job. I don’t like falcons. They bother me. This usually isn’t a problem. I leave them alone if they leave me alone. But she’d seen a falcon flying off with the goods. Oh well. Work is work.
There was a place by the docks where falcons roosted. I figured I’d go there and sniff around, do a little digging. I got as far as the produce terminal on Water Street before it started, that feeling I get sometimes, like there’s a conga line of fleas marching up and down my spine. It always means trouble.
Then came the shout. I started running. At least it wasn’t a cat. I hate cats. Cats are trouble. This was just a human, slow and dim, a big monkey angry at the rabbit in his produce. No gun. Just a mop. A sorry specimen.
It’d been years since I’d loitered in the produce terminal. You can’t stay a delinquent forever. Or that’s what they keep telling me. But I guess it’s like using a liberty ball. You just remember how.
My old moves came back. I played with him a little, ran just out of his reach a ways, let him think he was gonna catch me. At the end of the terminal was a huge pile of carrots, and behind the carrots were two shipping containers a foot apart. A refuge. I sprinted. They were some damn good carrots: old-fashioned Danvers, Kyoto Reds, some purple ones from the Middle East somewhere. I had enough of a lead to get a few bites of each. Damn, it was good to taste something besides corner store Chantenays. “Why did I stop hanging out here again?” I asked myself. “Oh, right. The goons,” I answered. He caught up to me, a stupid, evil smirk on his puss. Just as he swung I ducked between the containers. His killing blow with the mop landed on cement. Splat.
I chuckled. I still had it.
I hopped over a pile of trash between the containers and my back suddenly felt like an entire flea nightclub. Something was very wrong. I went back. There was something about that trash pile, something underneath that crumpled, oily newspaper, that set me on edge.
A falcon! I screamed. I jumped. Forgetting where I was I turned sideways in mid-air, hit the side of the container hard, fell, and slammed into the pavement next to the falcon.
The falcon wasn’t moving. Neither was I. That damn prey reflex kicks in at the worst of times. After a minute I realized I wasn’t dead. After another I realized the falcon was. I pulled the newspaper off his corpse and took a look. No exit wounds, no obvious broken bones, not so much as a bent feather. Odd. He’d had an alarmed expression when he kicked it, but when don’t they? I couldn’t tell what had killed him.
And then I smelled it.
I took a closer look at his beak.
He had a mouth full of cheeseburger.
I don’t like it when jobs get this complicated, I thought to myself.
This is one of those diary blog posts.
I didn’t exactly expect to have a good day, given what it commemorates. It started off worse than I’d expected. I was awakened by a rabbit asking for a ride to the emergency vet. Breathing hard, shaking, refusing to eat, ears cold to the touch, and that was just me. Thistle was even worse. We’d been through this before, so the sock full of rice as a bunny hot water bottle was constructed and microwaved in an efficient hurry and it was off to the vet.
Rabbits drop dead astonishingly quickly from not eating and having low temperatures. Today of all days. I steeled myself to kick Coyote’s ass for perpetrating the Meanest Joke Ever.
But the crisis proved elusive. The vet sent us back with bunny medicine to be placed in a bunny eyedropper and squirted into the bunny mouth. There were, typically, no supplies provided to treat the inevitable bunny lacerations and bunny gougings.
I had exactly enough time to sit out back for a few minutes at noon, and then it was off again to accept an astonishingly generous contribution by the Harrington family toward the completion of the Joshua tree book.* There’s a word for a mixture of humility and elation, but damned if I can remember what it is.
Thistle seems better, having weathered two hours of solitude without permanent results, but I spent the rest of the evening about to jump out of my skin with fretting nonetheless.
You know? I hate pets.
But I’m counting his recovery in the “win” column, so it was a good day.
* (Additional generosity was provided by Becky, who drove 100 miles round trip to deliver me to the donation, despite driving being her least favorite thing to do. Thank you, Becky.)