Monday, November 16, 2009

The Eagle Conversation


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The interpreter dropped the red six onto the black seven. Darn, another red six. He was hoping for the ace of clubs. This game had started well, but the large pile on the right end seemed to be holding several key cards, and its top card, the queen of hearts, was going nowhere fast. He had worked his win ratio up past 33 percent. He didn’t want it to back-slide.
Eventually the options evaporated and the source deck cycled uselessly. He ended the game. The interpreter wondered, at any given time how many people all over the world, supposedly being productive at their jobs, were instead playing solitaire?
It was a cold and rainy day and there had not been a visitor to the nature house in hours. The downside was that this made staying awake a challenge. The upside was that for several hours there had not been a visitor to the nature house.
He started another game. The cards fluttered into place. Hah, two aces. As he clicked through the game he heard the door open, but looked up too late and got only a fleeting glimpse of who had come in, some guy. Whoever it was made a beeline for the washroom.
Even in the worst weather there were always a few visitors. The park was just off a freeway exit and had a public washroom. Without the washroom, recorded attendance would drop by at least a half. He had worked in another nature house where the washrooms were at the back of the building with doors opening directly to the outside. You could hear the doors open and shut, but those sounds could not be counted as attendance.
He won this game, but then lost the next two. It occurred to him that the person in the washroom had been in there a long time, which was strange, bordering on gross. The interpreter would go into the nature house public washroom only when requested, say, to replace a paper towel roll or soap cartridge, simple tasks that could be carried out on a single lungful of air. Were the situation more dire, such as a clogged toilet, he would turn off the lights and put a sign on the door.
Out of Order
Who had gone in there? A brown coat. That’s what he remembered. Could the guy have left without the interpreter noticing?
And just then the door creaked and out walked a young man in a leather coat. He had jelled black hair and pale brown skin. He was young, maybe 10 years younger than the interpreter. He saw the interpreter and gave a hey-man wave. Then he stopped. He had spied the eagle
Oh hell. Not the eagle conversation, thought the interpreter. There was a taxidermied eagle on a half-wall next to the front counter. The big bird had glass eyeballs and an open bill that attracted cobwebs. Its wings were three-quarters spread. It was perched on a polished tree burl. The interpreter didn’t like it. He didn’t like that he had to dust it and clear away the silk strands of spider mites that wandered through the feathers. On the whole, he didn’t like taxidermy.
It was always young men that wanted to have the eagle conversation, never women of any age, or anyone else. The eagle conversation was about how big and powerful and potentially dangerous the eagle was. Why? This was the only way young men could give a damn? It had to be badass, as badass as possible.
The young man walked up. There was something peculiar about him. The irises of his eyes were the same colour as his skin. Like Kraft caramel cubes.
“What is that, an eagle?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the interpreter. “It’s a Golden Eagle.”
“Wicked,” said the young man.
“Yup.” What would come next? Would he hazard a guess on what it could kill?
The young man asked, “How much would it go for?”
This was a new one, and the interpreter was stumped. He had never thought of the eagle as a marketable item. Why would anyone want it? He said, “I have no idea. Hundreds?” What he knew of taxidermy was that it was a complex and difficult craft, and hazardous because of the toxicity of the preservatives. Stuffed animals were but in a state of suspended decay. He said, “But I doubt it’s legal for it to be bought or sold, or even owned unless you’re a museum. It has no commercial value.”
“How about a thousand?”
“Yeah, maybe, but as I said, stuffed birds of prey have no commercial value.”
“I’m not talking in general. I’m talking that bird.”
“That one? It’s not for sale. It’s part of the display.”
“I’ll give you a thousand dollars American.”
This was followed by a confused, uncomfortable silence. The interpreter was trying to read this young man, with his freakish caramel eyes. They were dog eyes. They were staring right at him, not blinking. Something was wrong here.
The interpreter said, “You want to buy this bird.”
“I’ll give you a thousand, cash.” He reached into his breast pocket, pulled out a shiny billfold, and started counting out American hundred dollar bills. He placed ten on the counter in front of the interpreter, as neatly overlapping as the playing cards on the computer screen.
The interpreter backed his chair away. He was shocked. He was insulted. He said, “It’s definitely not for sale, not just like that. There would have to be permits and other paperwork. You would have to negotiate with the park. I don’t know how it would work.”
The young man smiled as though he knew he could get anything he wanted through the power of his looks and his wallet, and said, “You help me take it down and put it on the counter here. Then you take this money and walk into that back room for a few minutes. That’s how it would work.”
The interpreter could not have felt more threatened had the young man pulled a gun. One minute you’re bored out your skull, playing solitaire. The next, Satan comes out of the washroom.
A family with two young children tumbled through the front door in a chaos of unbridled excitement and folding umbrellas. “Excuse me,” said the interpreter. He stood, and walked around the counter to meet and greet them. He was far more engaging than usual, probably the most engaging he had ever been. He welcomed them. He offered to hang up their coats. He opened the door to the indoor beehive, revealing stacked honeycombs pinned between sheets of Plexiglas. He would help them find the queen. His fingers trembled across the hive. Even in the depleted and sleepy winter colony he couldn’t find her. It normally took him seconds.
The young man repocketed his money. On his way to the door he breezed past the interpreter. He leaned to say, “Think about it. I might even sweeten the offer. I’ll see you later.” He smiled as he pushed on the bar. There were gold things around his wrists.
The mother pointed, “Is that the queen?”
“No, that’s not it,” said the interpreter. He walked away from the family and looked out the window. A black Hummer with chrome wheels was pulling out of the parking lot. He went back to the family and found the queen.
“But that’s the same one I showed you before and you said it wasn’t,” said the mother.

He told Stacey about the eagle man that night.
At first she didn’t believe him. “Like, he just pulled out all this money?”
“Yes.”
“What was he, a drug dealer?”
“Something evil,” said the interpreter. “Flat-out. He had evil eyes.” The interpreter went into a rant. He was distressed that he had a hard time recognizing evil people until it was too late. He was glad Stacey wasn’t an interpreter anymore, because now she no longer was exposed to such people. He needed to climb out of the hole that was having to deal with whoever walked through the door. He wanted to remain an interpreter, but was sick of having to be in contact with the general public.
“Well, therein lies a problem,” Stacey said.
He mused about quitting, again.
Stacey said, “You could have taken the money, and then quit. But since you didn’t, now you would be quitting for nothing. See? You failed to think ahead.”
“That’s very funny,” said the interpreter. He had been pacing back and forth. He stopped. “What if maybe he also had a gun? Instead of attacking me with money, he could have used bullets to get that bird. That family could have saved my life.”

As with all odd but ultimately non-damaging encounters, this one slipped into the background of day to day life until about a month later, when the interpreter returned home in the dark and rain. His daily commute was now a long drive that included the entire east-west span of Vancouver. He no longer lived alone at the apartment where he and Stacey had first kissed. They now lived together, minus most of his book collection, in a larger apartment in a condominium tower on land within the bounds of the University of British Columbia. They had rented a two-bedroom suite on the 10th floor. It had a view of ocean and forest. This was nice, the trade-off being that now every day he had to drive much farther, and his car was showing its age. That’s what happened when you bought a twice-used car. You bought its senescence and degenerative ailments. A mechanic had told him it needed a new timing belt, and soon.
The interpreter dropped his keys into a basket. “Hi, I’m home!” he called. He went into the kitchen and opened the fridge.
“There’s soup, I made some chowder,” Stacey called back. She was in the living room, watching the news.
He rummaged around, taking a bowl from the dishwasher and spoon from a drawer. Words from the television drifted by, “Targeted shooting, known to police, gang connections.” He scooped a bowl, and strolled into the living room.
Stacey was cross-legged on the floor, eating at the coffee table. A man’s face was on the TV, a mug shot.
The interpreter froze. “That’s the guy!”
She said, “What guy?”
“The creepy guy who offered me a thousand dollars for the eagle.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“That’s him, definitely. Look at those eyes.” He waggled his spoon at the spooky stare.
The footage changed to a crime scene, shot from a helicopter.
“What’s this about?” the interpreter asked.
The camera zoomed tighter to the small area delineated by yellow police tape. Within the tape was a chunky black SUV. Also yellow and next to the SUV was a tarpaulin on the road. Shoes stuck out from beneath, pointing in almost completely opposite directions.
Stacey said, “That there lump with the shoes is Mr. Eagle-buyer.”
“No way,” said the interpreter.
“Shot about 12 times.”
“Whoa,” said the interpreter.
Stacey said, “So you don’t have to worry about him anymore, although if you want to be retroactively even more freaked out, it does seem plausible that when you met him he was carrying a gun.”
The interpreter thought for a bit, then said, “I could have used that thousand dollars to fix my car.”
Stacey tugged his pant leg and said, “You’re an idiot. Sit down and eat your soup.” 

5 comments:

Karen said...

Eek! Shouldn't have read this one right before bedtime, now I'm going to have nightmares about evil dudes with dog eyes. My daughter is fascinated by the taxidermied birds the nature center she recently went to on a field trip had. They creep me out, I'm not a big fan of taxidermy either.

Dave Ingram said...

Brings back memories of those quiet times behind a visitor center desk. Thank goodness for Scrabble on Facebook!

clogged toilet said...

great post ! and of course LOL on the clogged toilet :-D

Garden Lily said...

Creepy. Sometimes we don't know how close we are to danger or death - probably a good thing.

I grew up walking distance from an amazing taxidermy shop, and so have always been fascinated by this interesting combination of art & science. But I guess I was not a stereotypical girl, by any means.

Seabrooke said...

Another great installment. It's getting to be quite the collection of short stories now.

My appreciation of taxidermy depends largely on how well it's done. The ones that look like they're having a serious bad-hair day, or a terrible case of the mumps, really put me off, but the ones that make you look twice could almost be considered an art form. Especially when said animal started out as roadkill. I always liked the well-done museum exhibits that told a story.