“Rrrring, rrring, rrring” Seven’s phone wobbles on the table next to his futon, sofa/sleeper. He hears it, but not as a phone. It rings again, and Seven looks down to the ground to his right.
Alarm? I am on the wing with a murder of crows and I zoom in on a single tall redwood directly ahead. It is situated the backyard of neighbor. My three jackdaws do not react the bell. It’s a dreary summer morning in San Francisco. The fog is more wet than usual, adding a lot of weight to any changes in flight. I flutter my wings and tail in flight to shake off the drizzle. I am cold.
Seven takes a deep breath and squawks as he changes direction at the last minute, missing the top. His feathers are too heavy, and he is flying too fast at the target. Several other small murders of crows attempt to land on the tree at different heights. A cacophony of whistles, squawks, and clicks trumpet outward from the redwood, but the thick air limits their range. The tumult of hundreds of crows reverberates through the branches and off plaster walls of the surrounding homes like a syncopated dirge. Seven drops his left wing and veers more severely to the left, then pushes his tail down and flaps his wings more quickly to hover and slowly circle the redwood. He looks over his shoulder as his swags alight on the top vertical branch, but can’t hold the position. They hop back up into the air and join the holding pattern. There must be 50 crows in the air at the same time, and Seven thinks, it’s been awhile since he seen so many. Today, something is different. One flock is colored as harlequins and another as clouds on blue sky. I can’t remember ever seeing crows so green as to be invisible whenever the tree is in the background. What kind of crows are these? Where are they from?
“Ring, ring, and ring.” He phone jitters close to the edge of the table.
A droplet of water forms at the tip of Seven’s upper mandible. He blinks his eyes and shakes his head, as he rejoins his friends in the air and sights a lower branch. His flight mates land first. As Seven circles again, he looks back and his friends make room on their branch. He pushes his tail down and opens his wings full, pushing his beak up. Seven stalls and lands hard on to the branch between the two His talons grip with all their might and he pitches forward. “Caw, click,” he snaps his large black beak, flutters for balance, and then turns about facing out from the tree. He ruffles his feathers to shake off more water as he rests his weight squarely on the branch. “Caw, caw, click, click,” he squawks. The few still in flight, turn to look in his direction.
“Caw, eh-aw, caw,” is the answer from higher in the tree. All on the wing dive for perches anywhere and everywhere in the redwood. One knocks another bird upside down, but it doesn’t submit its spot and rights itself forcing the new arrival to trample a smaller bird closer to the trunk. The entire murder quickly becomes quiet, and as if by some internal unseen, unheard communication, they all look down to the bottom of the tree. In unison, they raise their heads and close their eyes.
The redwood is silent again except of the sound of droplets falling from branch to branch to ground, and the periodic questions from a foghorn on the bay. “Where, where? Here, here,” over and over.
A single female lies on the ground on its side with one wing up, occasionally fluttering in an indeterminate breeze. Its talons are splayed out in opposite directions, one facing up, and her eyes open as dark tunnels to unknown history and territory. Ants are crawling all over her torso, but she does not mind. The breeze picks up, breaking the silence with creaking branches under the weight of so many black beak mourners. She was a fine hen. She hatched five clutches, two females and one male to maturity. Seven had eyes and wind dances for her once, but an early spring fog, put him too far a field.
Although black fades with time, she was inquisitive and figured out when to raid one of the neighborhood recycle bins. A local resident kept a fancy green bird in their dwelling and it had the habit of half-eaten peanuts, uneaten oats, and leftover safflower seeds. She would use a stick to prop open the lid and ruffle through the parrot food remnants. She was an acrobat and taught the flock an evasion trick. Running from the smartest raptor, she would fan out her tail at full speed to stall, roll, and out turn a pursuer. She was unique; she had a single red feather on her abdomen, and where other crows may think it a weakness, a peculiarity, she could flash it in a roll to impress the most stalwart cock. Her claws were large and heart larger then most. She could carry three whole peanuts at once, two in her beak and one in a claw, and still land against the wind without a struggle. She was one of the few who would share her bounty, not just hide it away. She was truly a supreme Corvus Corvidae, a crow-ess among crows.
The fog accumulates in droplets at the bottom of my beak and tip of my tail. I don’t know why, an unseen communiqué or silent call, but I am open my eyes, jump up into the sky, and fly away at the same time as all the Jackdaws in the redwood. There are birds above me, below me, and my mates are on either side. I caw out; I am here and all the others in the murder squawk, whistle, click individual unique sounds to alert others of their location and direction. I flutter my feathers again to shed water wait. It’s a grey day, no shadows of memory, and I am a black crow with joyful being. To be on the wing in the world, to return to normal haunts, to the sounds of traffic, to the aroma of sea salt and fresh sourdough bread–the wild strawberries of the northern California coastal marsh are abundant this season. I am no longer cold.
“Ring, ring, clunk,” Seven’s phone hits the floor. He opens his eyes and looks to the dingy white ceiling of his efficiency apartment. I should paint the ceiling blue, San Francisco blue, he thinks to himself and shutters, remembering the grey sky on the wing and all those black feathers.
“Wake up Seven,” Emily Cochran says as she emerges from his bathroom adjusting her blouse. It is wrinkled from sleeping in her clothes and in his arms. “I just got a call from the Chief. He wants us at the Powell St, BART platform ASAP.”
“What?” Seven shudders again.
“Get up.” She reaches down and picks up his smart phone and turns to its face. “Really PI, a security code?”
Seven sits up on his futon and a smile comes to his face, “you stayed the whole night?”
“Come on,” she hands him his phone. “We don’t have time for this. And by the way, you snored all last night.”
“The whole night,” he rubs his neck as the fleeting memory of a single red feather passes into and out of consciousness. He smiles again.
He stands up and Emily heads to the kitchenette “got any coffee for your machine?” She asks.
“It’s above the counter on the right, mugs on the left.” He raises his arms above his head and jolts to the bathroom.
The sink is full of unwashed dishes and the smell of something unpleasant emanates from it. She gasps, clothes her eyes, reaches up left to open the smudged white cabinet, and says in her normal voice, “you should get a service.” She grabs a half-pound of Café Roma drip, opens, and smells it.
“WHAT?” The toilet flushes and the shower comes on, but cold water is all he can get.
I forgot. With those big ears, no wonder he is such a good sleuth, Emily thinks. “GET A CLEANING SERVICE.” She shouts to the right cabinet as she searches for a mug. She pulls out a white beaker with a gold and black owl on its face.
“Whooo,” Seven says in her ear as he reaches over for another mug. He grabs a black one from the Modern Museum of San Francisco.
“SEVEN,” she screams, “how the hell do you move around so quietly.
“Sit, I’ll make the coffee,” he reaches around her to his drip machine and grabs its carafe. He flips the lid and empties it’s contents into the sink over the dirty dishes. He turns the tap on full and grabs the hose accessory to fill it.
“Don’t you have a maid service?”
“I wasn’t expecting anyone.” He answers.
“You’re obviously not dating anyone either.” She smirks.
“No. Not since we were…”
She interrupts him, “don’t get any ideas. We both needed therapy last night.”
Seven sighs and smiles as he fills a filter with the Italian roast and sets a fresh pot to drip. “Yah, I guess your right.” He sighs again and turns towards her. “Want some eggs, bacon? I’ve got some Pandoro in the bread box?”
“No. We don’t have time. One cup of coffee and off to the Powell Station.”
“Both of us?”
“Yes. The chief was very specific about you. “Fetch that private-dick-head friend of yours too.”” She answers.
“Well. I guess he needs a terrific independent point of view,” Seven smiles and smugly shakes his head up and down, “hum.”
“I don’t know, but he did seem to emphasize, DICK,” She chuckles.