The traffic light up ahead changes from green to yellow, then to red. A cascading series of brake lights light up in front of us. Maggie lands on the passenger side mirror as we pull to a stop. He appears to be out of breath.
Well I said come on over baby, we got chicken in the barn
“Gee I never saw a bird pant before,” Slotti remarks.
“Yeah, it’s hard work for him to keep up with the cruiser, at least the traffic today is giving him a few breathers,” I reply.
“Why doesn’t he just ride in here with us?”
“I’ve tried that, he prefers to fly, he’s a bird, y’know? The one time I got him in the cabin and rolled the windows up he caused such a ruckus I nearly had an accident.”
Maggie is my “pet,” although I consider him my sidekick. When the bureau told me I needed to get a partner I told them I already had one, never takes his uniform off. They said I needed a human partner and assigned me Slotti here. He’s not a bad guy; he just doesn’t have Maggie’s instincts for crime fighting. Maggie is a magpie and he came to be my friend after his parents ejected him from their nest. He didn’t learn to fly quick enough I guess and I found him crying out in my backyard. I knew his parents wouldn’t take him back so I set up a little cage for him and fed him until he got the hang of flying on his own. I figured he’d take off but he just kinda stuck around, and now he flies all over town following me around. A much bigger range than his parents would have had.
“I still think it’s pretty weird you got this bird following you around all the time, don’t you ever worry he’ll interfere with a crime scene?”
“Not at all, in fact he’s found clues for me before.”
“Fuck off, that’s bullshit if I ever heard it.”
“You’ll see soon enough how invaluable Maggie is, it’s you that I’m still not sure about.”
Slotti crosses his arms and looks jealously at his rival. The light has turned green and traffic has started moving again. The cruiser gets to about 25 kms/h and Maggie opens his wings, letting the warm exhaust currents lift him up above the traffic.
“You know the guys at the station make fun of you? Laugh behind your back and call you Birdman?”
“I’ve been called worse. Who calls me that?”
“You know, Collo and Mickey and those guys.”
“Mickey fucks dogs.”
“That’s just a rumor.”
“Yeah, well, I’d prefer to be a confirmed bird man than a rumored dog fucker.”
Just then a call comes over the radio.
“Robbery in progress on Chapel and Goodman. Suspect is believed to be armed.”
I grab the radio.
“This is car 35, we’re only 2 minutes away from Chapel and Goodman, will respond.”
I flip the siren on, blast the horn at the dumb fuck in front looking at his phone and not getting out of the way fast enough and punch my foot down on the accelerator as soon as he does. I love when I get to actually use the siren. Technically, Chapel and Goodman is about five minutes away but I know I can get there in two.
“You better hope that bird can keep up.”
“He’ll catch up, he always does, he follows the siren.”
One and a half minutes later I screech around the corner onto Chapel St and see the intersection up ahead; alarm sounding and people out gawking. As the cruiser pulls up a man runs out of the liquor store on the corner wearing a balaclava and a backpack.
Come on over baby, really got the bull by the horn
No time for me and Slotti to come up with a plan. We both hit the sidewalk running after the guy. He bolts for a few blocks and ducks down an alley. This guy doesn’t have a getaway driver? What a dumb fuck. Slotti and I round the corner into the alley. It’s a long alley with no dead end. I gain on the guy and grab his shirt but it rips in half as I lose my balance and fall into some trash cans. I see a huge piece sticking out above his waistband. Slotti yells “Stop! Police!” and fumbles for his pistol as the guy starts pulling his own gun out. I see Slotti freeze and I assume his life is flashing before his eyes. I reach for my sidearm but my actual arm is inside a trash bag and I can’t figure what’s what. The guy points his gun at Slotti and click-clacks a bullet into the chamber. Oh fuck he’s really gonna do it. Just then Maggie swoops down, headed directly toward the window of the perp’s balaclava, his sharp beak piercing straight into the guy’s left retina. Bullseye. Blood and ocular fluid squirts in an arc. The gun goes off and he drops it as he tries to pull the angry bird off his face. I jump to my feet and tackle the guy, sticking his hands in bracelets.
“Stay still unless you want the other eye poked out.”
He just screams “ahhhh” and kicks his feet like a kid having a tantrum.
Maggie flies up onto a fire escape as I pick the sack of shit up, making sure not to be too gentle with him, even though his eye socket is leaking red.
I look over to Slotti, still frozen in place, his face full of disbelief. Maggie lands on my shoulder and I feed him a dehydrated cricket, saying, “good birdie.”
“You alright Slotti? You’re not hit are you?”
Still trembling, he pats himself down.
“N-n-nah, I’m fine. Holy shit the fucking bird saved us! I never saw an eyeball pop like that! Maggie! You’re a hero!”
“You wanna feed him a cricket?”
I hand him a couple of crickets and Maggie flies over to a windowsill near Slotti and sharpens his beak on the edge. Slotti holds out his palm with the crickets and strokes Maggie’s neck with his finger.
I go back to the station and fill out the required paperwork, receive the expected jibes from the other guys, Collo and Mickey etc. about having my life saved by a bird. I laugh and take it in good humor and resist all urges to say things like “if only those dogs had someone like Maggie watching over them” and other such comebacks. Slotti gets into full on arguments defending Maggie and starts yelling about how Maggie should receive some sort of commendation, or an honorary officership. I go home and find Maggie waiting in the attic for me. I reach into my pocket for the worms I’d just dug out of the garden as an extra special treat for his fine police work today.
I walk outside a few days later and see Maggie dead on my doorstep. My heart sinks, my knees buckle and I nearly shed my first tear in over ten years. I notice a small bullet hole in his chest surrounded by dried blood. My grief immediately turns to anger. My head races for possible suspects. Other cops? McWillow has always been salty because he thinks I started that rumor about him occasionally skimming a gram of coke here and then during busts. I don’t think he did this though. Criminals I’ve arrested? Well now that doesn’t narrow it down too much. That shitbag from the other day whose eye got exploded? He wasn’t even organized enough to have a getaway car; I don’t think he’s even capable of coming up with this sort of thing. This is some kind of message, from someone who knows how to get to me and wants me to know that they can get to me. My phone rings; it’s Slotti.
“Hey Birdman, you coming in today? It’s 8:43.”
“Oh yeah, sorry, I must have lost track of time. Listen, uh, Maggie’s dead.”
Silence for a few seconds, I’m pretty sure he is crying.
“W-what? How? He get into a fight with another bird?”
“No. Someone killed him. He was shot through the chest. I can’t think of who would have done it.”
A little more silence; his sorrow must be also turning to anger.
“We’ll get the fucker.”
“We will. Tell the chief I’m leaving now and will be there in 10.”
Driving to the station is brutal. I keep instinctually checking the side mirror for Maggie. Heart breaking again every time he isn’t there.
We ain’t fakin’, whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on
As I walk into the station I get some sympathetic looks from a few of the guys; looking down and mouthing “sorry.” I see Mickey and he flaps his arms, bobs his head and exclaims in a squawk voice,
“Shots fired! Officer down! All units- “
I grab him by the scruff of the neck, pin him against the wall and yell in face,
“Did you kill my bird, Dogfucker!?”
“N-no, no! I swear I didn’t, I was just joking around, Birdman! A-and I didn’t fuck those dogs!”
I loosen my grip and he slides down the wall a little and ducks away. He didn’t kill Maggie. And he probably didn’t fuck any dogs.
The chief calls me into his office.
“Now, I’ve heard that your, uh, magpie has died, I’m really sorry to hear that. He was a good asset to the force. Now look, with that said, we can’t go allocating any resources to investigating his death- “
“His murder.” I cut in.
“Yes, well, whatever the case you understand that I can’t have one of my best officers distracted and wasting time and resources tracking down a bird-killer. I get that you want to use your police skills to look into this, but I need you to put that energy into the ongoing cases you’re already working. Understood?”
“Yes chief, I won’t investigate Maggie’s murder at work.”
“I don’t want you staying up all night and doing stakeouts when you’re off the clock either, like I said, I need you to give all your effort to solving crimes against humans that we are tasked with solving. And I don’t want you dragging Slotti into this, he’s more broken up about this than you are and is highly suggestible.”
“I understand, chief”
Slotti and I obviously did start trying to solve Maggie’s murder, not just on our own time, but during police hours and using police resources. After a few more warnings from the chief we eventually gave up. We never did find out who killed him.
One morning several weeks later, hungover, I bring my coffee with me and sit on the back steps as I stare into the middle distance for a while before lighting my cigarette. I inhale. Drink a gulp of coffee. Inhale. Gulp. Much better. My eyes and ears start to come into focus and I properly take in my backyard. I hear a faint crying noise coming from the side bushes. Large gulp. Inhale as I walk over and find an adolescent magpie with a broken wing. I look around for parent magpies but can’t see any. I scoop him up and he struggles a little but I know how to hold him. I put him in Maggie’s old cage which I never took off my front porch. I fill up the water dish and go check the cupboard for any bags of crickets. I still have a few. I hand feed him a couple crickets and leave the rest in the food dish. I close the cage door and put a peg on it. I look down at him and say,
“It’s alright buddy. You’ll be good as new in a week or two.”
The one thing I always regretted about Maggie was not giving him a better name; I didn’t think he was actually gonna hang around.
“Welcome to the force, Killer.”
— Matt Fresta is the head writer and editor in chief of Rango Tango zine and runs a hobby record label called Coward Punch Records