The bird cocked its head, fixing the two curious men with a black beady eye. The fair head got closer and the beak opened in a curious attempt to take the one of the curls in the thick black beak.
Heyes turned to Lom. “I thought you said this was a guard job.”
“It is. I need one of you to be with this bird at all times and write down anything it says. It could be vital to getting a conviction.”
“Huh?” The Kid bobbed back and forth, smiling at the bird imitating his movements with outspread wings. “A conviction?”
“The bird talks,” Lom scowled at the bird. “In fact, the damn thing never shuts up.”
“It talks? I’ve heard about that but I’ve never seen one. What does it say,” Heyes let out a wolf whistle which was immediately returned much to the boys’ delight.
“Yeah, yeah. That gets old real fast. He’s got a whole act full of clicks, whistles and songs and he likes to go through them one after the other,” Lom indicated the blanket on the chair. “I’ve had to cover him up to get some peace.”
The Kid perched on the side of the desk. “What’s his name?”
The bird reacted to his name and opened his beak. “Hello, Echo. F*&%!!”
“I forgot to mention. He’s got quite a mouth on him. I wouldn’t have him around ladies.”
“Good name for a parrot,” Heyes agreed, “but are you serious? Guard a bird?”
“Deadly serious. The Governor wants to know if the bird says any names, so he can find out who the owner met with. He was a recluse who was found with his head bashed in. The only person he ever saw regularly was his housekeeper, but she didn’t live in. The murder happened at night.”
“So she’s not a suspect?” asked Heyes.
Lom shook his head. “It was a messy one and a hard fight. A woman would never have had the strength, besides, she’s got an alibi. With no clues to go on all we’ve got is that bird might repeat something it heard.”
“Sounds like an easy enough job,” the Kid smiled at Heyes. “How do you want to do this? Shifts?” He arched a brow at Heyes who went for his pocket. “You can put away that coin. We both know I’ll end up with the night shift usin’ yours. Lom, do you want to call it?”
“Happy to,” Lom turned a beaming smile on Heyes. “You got the nightshift.”
“F*&%!” replied Echo.
Heyes handed the Kid a mug of coffee. “So have you heard Echo say any names yet?” He pulled over the ledger they were using to track the bird’s output. His finger followed down the line. “Jees, he sure likes Christmas. Merry Christmas over and over and over again.”
“Tell me about it. I stopped writing it down and just started ticking it off in batches of five.” The gunman stretched out his weary frame. “He likes whistlin’ too. I’ve been teachin’ him to sing ’I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.’ He’s gettin’ quite good at it.”
“You aren’t teaching him the words are you? We’re supposed to be getting stuff out of him, not putting more in.”
“Yeah? Well, let’s see how you get on with nuthin’ but a feathered friend for company. He keeps rattlin’ on about Christmas and it’s only July.”
“I’ll read,” Heyes tossed a book on the desk. “I won’t be bored.”
A smile twitched at the Kid’s lips. “You can’t. He’ll be talkin’ and you have to listen. You can’t get lost in a book. He never shuts up and you’ve got to record what he says in the ledger so the Governor knows we’ve been workin’. I’m pretty relieved my shift’s over.”
“He’ll have to sleep sometime. It’s night,” the dark eyes sparkled triumphantly. “That’s why I wanted the night shift.”
The Kid’s face fell. “You did?”
The annoying grin widened. “I sure did. You didn’t think it through, did you? It’s a parrot, not a bat. It sleeps at night.”
“F*&%!” Echo croaked.
A series of clicks and whistles drifted over from the domed cage. Heyes smiled. “What is it, Echo?”
The creature ruffled its feathers, puffing out those on its head and neck until they stood upright. His head twitched to the side and he made a series of kissing noises which made the man’s cheeks dimple in delight. “Aw, you like me, boy? Do you miss your old friend? Did you see it happen?” He reached out a finger and tentatively scratched his head. The bird gave a fluff of appreciation and moved nearer to the bars on two scaly claws which shuffled sideways along the wooden perch. “Is that good? You like that?” He reached in a bit further and tickled a bit more.
“Merry Chisma. F*&%!”
“There you go with all the Christmas stuff.” He ticked one off in the ledger. “Can’t you say anything else? Who’s a pretty boy?”
“Who’s a pretty boy,” the bird repeated. “Hello, Echo. F*&%!”
“Hello, Echo,” Heyes repeated.
“Shut that door. Hello, Echo. Merry Chisma. Merry Chisma. F*&%! Merry Chisma.”
Heyes sat back listening to the series of clicks, whistles, and kissing noises coming from the little animal as it danced from foot to foot. “What else do you say?”
“Put the kettle on. Merry Chisma, Merry Chisma. F*&%!”
“Yeah, yeah. When do you sleep?”
More kissing noises were quickly followed up by another tirade of ‘Merry Chisma’ and many ‘F*&%!s’.
“I guess I’m not getting much reading done for a while. Frankenstein will have to wait, huh?”
His reply was a loud wolf whistle and a series of loud kisses. Echo then started to dong like a chiming clock as he pranced about with widespread wings. “F*&%!”
“Hey, that’s real clever, Echo. It sounds just like a clock.”
“Merry Chisma, Merry Chisma, Merry Chisma. F*&%! Dong, dong, dong...” He climbed up the bars and hung upside down. “Put the kettle on. Hello. Merry Chisma. F*&%!”
“You’re a real good talker, aren’t you, boy?”
“Hello, Echo. F*&%,” the bird agreed. “Ding dong.”
“ You’re very clear with some words, and you do a great impression of that clock. Who’s a clever boy?”
“Clever boy, clever boy. Hello, Echo. Merry Chisma.”
Heyes glanced down at his book and frowned. “Say that again.”
Echo dangled on one leg and chimed midnight once more. “F*&%! Put the kettle on. Merry Chisma. Merry Chisma.”
Heyes removed his pocket watch and noted the time. “Should I get someone to fetch Lom, or wait until morning. It’s not midnight yet. What do you think, Echo?”
“Merry Chisma, Merry Chisma. Put the kettle on.” He gave a great cackling laugh. “Hello Echo. F*&%!”
Lom followed the Kid into his office. “Did you get a name?”
“Heyes, it’s after twelve. What do you mean by ‘kinda’?” sighed the Kid.
“You were in the saloon,” Lom frowned. “It ain’t like I dragged from your bed, Kid. Why are you complaining?”
“Let’s just say I had better entertainment planned.”
“Merry Chisma, Merry Chisma. Put the kettle on. Hello, Echo. F*&%! F*&%! F*&%!”
“Did you hear that?” Heyes demanded.
”Yeah,” the Kid wandered over to the pot bellied stove. “We ain’t got a kettle, but coffee should do.”
“Not that. Did you notice anything?” Heyes leaned closer to the bars.
“Nope. It’s the same jabbering I’ve listened to for the last three days,” shrugged Lom. “Maybe more swearing. I’m not sure you too have been a good influence.”
“Didn’t you notice that some words are really clear and others aren’t?”
“No, Heyes. I didn’t. It’s a parrot, not Sarah Bernhardt.” Lom rolled his eyes. “Just get to the point. I’ve had a long day.”
“What if he’s not saying ‘merry Christmas’?” Heyes glanced between both men. “What if he’s saying something else?”
“Like what?” the Kid demanded.
“What’s the housekeeper’s name, Lom? Is it Mary?”
“Yeah,” Lom’s mouth dropped open. “How’d you know?”
Heyes tapped the cover of his book. “The clue’s right here.”
“Frankenstein? Heyes, if you’re sayin’ a monster did it I’m gonna go get the doc to take you to the asylum.”
He shook his head irritably. “Mary Shelley. Mary. He isn’t saying merry, he’s saying ‘Mary.’ ” The brown eyes pushed home his point. “Mary. Don’t you see? Everything the bird says is clear as a bell until we get to that phrase. Why would that be?”
“Maybe those words weren’t clear when the bird heard them,” the Kid suggested. “Everythin’ else is perfect. Did the old fella have an accent?”
“Nope.” Lom thought hard. “His folks came from down south but he sounded pretty much like everyone else about here.” He paused. “Apart from his teeth.”
“His teeth?” both partners asked at once.
“He never had any. Well, he had one kinda gnarly one,” Lom pointed at one of his incisors. “Right there.”
“So he mumbled a bit?” asked Heyes.
“I suppose. I never really thought about it,” shrugged Lom. “I guess he did.”
“So what could the bird be sayin’ instead?” asked the Kid.
“How about, ‘Mary, kiss me’?” Heyes paused for words to sink in. “How about you, Echo? Is it Mary? Tell us about Mary, boy.”
The bird watched with unblinking black eyes, effortlessly husking sunflower seeds in his curved beak. “Dong, dong, dong. F*&%!”
Three faces leaned in eagerly causing the parrot to back up and ruffle his feathers until it looked like a shocked duster on a perch. “F*&%!”
“I don’t think he likes the attention,” the Kid observed. “Maybe we should ignore him?”
“Good idea,” Lom agreed as all three men turned their backs on the little creature and stared at the coffee pot simmering on the stove.
“Ignore him,” Heyes cautioned.
A series of wolf whistles flowed into kissy-kissy noises before Echo demanded more attention. “Dong! Dong, dong, dong, dong, dong. Put the kettle on. F*&%! Hello, Echo. Merry Chisma.” All the turned backs stiffened. “Merry Chisma. F*&%!”
“You’re right", hissed the Kid. “Everything else is real clear. It’s like the parrot talks without teeth when he says that, or we overthinkin’ it?”
“It sounds like ‘Mary, kiss me,’ to me,” Lom mused. He turned as the bird launched into a spirited verse of ‘I’ll Take You Home Again, Eileen.’ “Where did that come from? I never heard him sing that before.”
A pair of admonishing brown eyes darted a warning to the gunman who thought it best to come clean. “I taught him, Lom. Sylvia’s been singin’ it every night at the saloon. I was bored.”
Lom rounded on him. “For cryin’ out loud, Kid. What if the killer’s called Kathleen?”
“You said it couldn’t be a woman. I didn’t think there was any harm.” He looked into Lom’s angry eyes. “I was bored.”
“I could skin you alive,” Lom retorted.
“Skin you alive, skin you alive,” Echo repeated. “Bong. F*&%!”
“Did you just teach him that, Lom?” grinned the Kid.
“Why don’t you all shut and give the parrot a chance?” sniped Heyes.
They all fell silent, looking down at their feet so as not to intimidate the feathered witness who was dangling upside down from the top of his cage wolf whistling, chiming the time away, and throwing kisses at his audience. “Put the kettle on. Merry Chisma. F*&%! Merry Chisma. Merry Chisma.”
All three froze before they turned slowly. Lom approached the cage speaking slowly and deliberately. “Mary, kiss me.”
Echo swung back onto his perch and started to dance. “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me.”
“Mary?” Heyes ventured.
“Merry Chisma. Merry Chisma. F*&%! Merry Chisma.”
“It is,” Lom frowned. “Or at least it could be. Mary, kiss me.”
“And I take it she’s married,” Heyes queried.
“Yup, and her husband’s her alibi.”
“If the fight was as hard as you say it was he’ll have injuries,” the Kid added. “You didn’t see any?”
“He’s a miner and was covered in dirt. I guess I gotta pay him another visit.”
“Skipped town?” Heyes’ brows arched.
“Yup,” Lom wandered over to the stove to pour himself some coffee. “She went to the pharmacist and bought Vaseline and iodine, saying she’d run out. That’s wound treatment right there. He said Mary looked like she’s been beat up a bit too. I’ve got to send out notices to neighboring towns to look out for them. They’re the only suspects I got.”
“So, what are you going to do with Echo?” asked the Kid.
“Dunno. I might keep him here. He’s company on long shifts and he’ll see more folks here than he would if I took him home. His language is too salty for anyone but prisoners anyway.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Heyes agreed. “Maybe he’ll overhear some confessions in the cells for you?”
Lom’s eyes brightened. “Yeah. Maybe he will? Ya never know.”
“Your very own feathered snitch, huh?” The Kid held a peanut through bars. “Could be handy. He’ll just sit in the office, listen, repeat what he hears, and eat. I give him three months before he gets promoted.”
“F*&%!” Echo replied.
Robert Augustus Chesebrough, a 22 year-old British chemist, travelled to Titusville, small Pennsylvania town where petroleum had recently been discovered. He noted that workers would smear their skin with the residue from the drill to help heal their cuts and burns. He patented Vaseline in 1865 under the name of Petroleum Jelly. It was marketed all over the USA from 1870 as ‘Wonder Jelly’. Chesebrough travelled around the state of New York in a horse and cart, spreading the word about his "miracle" product by demonstrating on himself – burning his skin with acid or an open flame and then spreading the clear petroleum jelly on his injury, showing at the same time past injuries that had healed with the aid of his protective petroleum jelly.
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb