Ronnie Cole eyed the little
white house on the other side of Twentieth Street in quiet
appraisal. It looked like a lot of the houses up here on
the big hill between Gaffey Street and Western Avenue. A
small white stucco building with maybe two bedrooms and a
bath, an older house probably built in the late thirties
that backed onto a narrow alley. It stood out from its neighbors
only by being both better kept and more quaintly decorated.
It was better kept up, Ronnie
knew, because it was occupied by the owner and not rented
out like so many places around this area. And it was somewhat
old fashioned because the owner was a sweet little old lady
who hadn’t changed the way the garden was decorated
since the start of the Vietnam War. He’d seen her bundled
into a mini-van with disabled veterans plates by an old man
who was probably her son, not half an hour ago.
Ronnie walked to the corner
and crossed the street, heading for the alley behind the
house. He didn’t bother to count how many houses it
was from the cross street, there was no way he could mistake
it. Second house down from one of those cheesy tenement apartments.
Surrounded by flower beds full of pink plastic flamingo statues.
Ronnie couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen any
other flamingos in San Pedro. Maybe one or two. This lady
had over a dozen, easy. He was amazed no one had stolen them.
been at this trade for more than a year now. B-n-E
he thought of it. The trick was to do your homework,
and blend in. Ronnie knew that he had and he did. He
was perfect for the work, neither tall nor short, looking
either Caucasian or Hispanic depending on the witnesses
prejudice. His clothes were unremarkable, jeans sagging
enough to suggest youth but not so much as to impede
climbing or running, with pockets made deep so he didn’t
have to leave the job site with his hands full. A plain
white t-shirt and a thin flannel work shirt many sizes
too big that he’d bought for a buck at a Goodwill
sale and could drop in a chase to change his appearance
at no loss. He looked like a local high school kid,
though he was nearly twenty.
That was on
purpose, and Ronnie had gone to high school not eight blocks
from here with a couple of hundred guys who looked just like
him. This time of day he didn’t worry about being chased,
the only people around were kids and old folk, everyone who
had a job was at it and everyone who didn’t was out
Purposefully he walked
up the middle of the alley. Look like you have
business and belong somewhere, he reflected, and
no one really sees you anyway. He drew up behind
the house. It was perfect.
Though it had no trees
of its own to obscure a neighbors view, there was
no view because both neighbors did. Two big avocado
trees stood between its yard and the tenement two
doors down, plus a tall cinderblock wall. The other
neighbor had low fruit trees as well. The back of
the house was guarded by a white wooden fence with
a padlocked gate. It was taller than him, but he
vaulted it easily.
Past a metal storage
shed stood lawn, flower beds with their flamingos,
and house. Ronnie first checked the tool shed. It
was unlocked, but all it had was garden shit, mower,
a bag of fertilizer, and tools. Inside the house
he’d find better.
Old people’s houses
were different. Ronnie had noticed it right at his start
in this work. They didn’t always have a lot of
cool electronics, no DVD players or X-boxes in most of
them. Sometimes they didn’t even have a TV. That
was OK, Ronnie didn’t fancy walking off down the
street with a hot DVD player under his arm, and getting
money out of that sort of stuff was risky.
What you did find in their houses
was cash. They’d put ten, twenty, fifty dollars in a
sugar bowl to pay the bakery truck, the milk man, the paperboy.
Lots would have a drawer with two, three hundred or more somewhere
in the house. In a house with five rooms or less it didn’t
take long to find it.
Ronnie own grandmother, who’d
lived not far from here, had had a drawer in her dresser where
she’d put all her and grandpa’s change every night.
When her grandchildren would visit she’d have them roll
it up. But she almost never took it in to her bank. When she
died there had been hundreds of dollars in that drawer, in
dimes and quarters. Some of it silver.
Ronnie had found more than one
other grandmother who did the same thing. If he was careful
and not rushed, a lot of them didn’t realize he’d
been there, not for days or weeks at least. And cash didn’t
connect him to a place once he got clear of it.
He checked the back door. Even
with all the warnings on TV these days, at least a third of
the time he just walked right in. But not today. He slipped
on a pair of latex surgical gloves from his pants pockets.
Thanks to the AIDS scare you could pick them up almost anywhere.
They came in handy, though Ronnie had never been finger printed.
But if he ever were he didn’t plan on getting popped
for two dozen or more burglaries.
From his other pocket Ronnie
took the only other thing he needed for the job, a cheap pocket
multi-tool. With screwdriver, pliers, and three inch knife
blade there weren’t many windows in these old houses
he couldn’t open in a few seconds. He’d started
out using a lock blade knife, but that was a weapon and would
add at least half a year if he was ever caught.
Ronnie didn’t plan to
ever get caught, but why take a chance? The multi-tool did
a better job anyway. He carefully stepped around the flowers
as he approached the window. Lots of these old ladies would
notice damaged flowers much sooner than missing cash. Something
caught his eye from the backyard. He turned around and looked.
That’s weird; I thought
those bird things were more spread out. The pink statues
in the flower bed by the wooden fence were clustered by the
gate. Ronnie could have sworn they had been spread out across
the bed, each several feet from the others.
As he turned back to the window
he noticed the birds in this flower bed were all facing him.
Ronnie knew they’d all been facing the yard when he’d
come in past the shed. What the hell, they were just plastic.
He turned back to the window and opened the knife blade of
A reflection in the glass shown
in his eyes. A pink reflection. Ronnie turned around, his back
pressed to the wall beside the window. A dozen pink flamingos
surrounded him in the flower bed. A soft scrapping sound came
from the roof, and instinctively Ronnie stepped to the side.
A pink plastic flamingo landed
upright in the spot he’d been standing in, its heavy
wire base sliding into the moist, turned earth of the garden
with a wet squinching sound, like a spear.
up there?” Ronnie’s voice cracked. Someone had
to be up on the roof dropping these things at him. He dashed
through the plastic flock and out on the lawn, knocking into
several of the bright birds. They were hard and unyielding
and he felt as if he’d run through a stand of trees.
Ronnie looked up, the roof was
clear. No one, no plastic bird statues. Back in the flower
bed a dozen pink plastic flamingos stood close together, facing
him. Stood? Didn’t I just knock some down? There
were no birds on the ground, all were standing. He started
to back toward the gate. Turning to run Ronnie found himself
facing another dozen of the grotesque pink statues clustered
around the gate.
weird! You leave me alone you stupid damn birds! Your just
plastic and wire. You’re not real.” You’re
not real! Squinch! A flamingo landed in the grass next
to him, barely missing his foot. Ronnie turned around. The
flock was larger still, silent and swaying as if in a breeze.
Except there was no breeze.
ok, I get it! I’ll leave. It’s your turf. My bad.” Ronnie’s
knees started to shake, “You’re
just FREAKING PLASTIC!” he screamed. Two more of the
birds slid into the ground with force, right in front of him.
Ronnie turned and dashed for
the shed, arms around his head, expecting a barrage of wire
based birds to bombard him any second.
He made it into the shed, pulling
the thin metal doors closed behind him. Thwap! He knew
the sound was a plastic bird beak hammering on the doors. Thwap!
Thwap! He could feel the shock of them pounding on it as
he held the cheap steel bars that slid into the slots that
held the door closed. Ronnie pushed up on the bar and felt
it catch. The din of the plastic birds pounding on the shed
sounded like a hailstorm.
Chung! His head felt
like it’d been stabbed. A wire base stuck through the
low shed roof. His head had been stabbed! He crouched low on
the floor of the shed and clutched his hands to his scalp and
me go! Leave me alone! Go away! Go away!”
The shed rang with the sounds
of heavy wire bases poking through its thin aluminum walls.
Ronnie cowered in the center of the little space left between
bags of fertilizer and the lawn mower, right in the center
of the shed, where the birds couldn’t get him. The shed
was warm inside, filled with the sent of humus and potting
The tapping grew quieter, less
frequent. Almost it seemed distant. Ronnie lay curled on the
floor of the shed where it was safe. Safe and warm. He huddled
into the soft bags of fertilizer crying softly. The shed seemed
to understand, to comfort him. He was safe here. He could hide
here and be safe.
Patrol sergeant Theresa Dixon
sighed as she settled into the passenger side of her patrol
cruiser. Her partner, Officer John Wood, Jr. was adjusting
the seat and steering wheel for his turn to drive. They always
split the driving duties as evenly as they could on patrol
and it always took them a couple of minutes to get everything
adjusted when they did it. J.W., as she called him, was nearly
a foot taller and more than a hundred pounds heavier than she
was and they just couldn’t drive a car set for the other.
J.W. couldn’t even get in the drivers side as she set
In another four days her transfer
to the crimes against children unit would go into effect, and
J.W. wouldn’t have to worry about adjusting his seat
again for months while waiting for patrol to get another partner
for him. Theresa envied that partner.
J.W. was just buckling in when
the call came. ”Squawk; all units in the vicinity
415, possible 459, in the alley between eighteenth and nineteenth
south of Alma Street.”
right up the street,” J.W. said.
call it in,” Theresa reached for the radio as J.W. put
the car in gear. They climbed the nineteenth street hill with
lights but no siren and turned into the alley in less than
two minutes. A boy and girl, maybe thirteen years old, waved
at them from halfway down the alley.
The girl was the talker.
heard a lot of noise from Mrs. Castro’s backyard,” she
explained. ”I know Mrs. Castro’s not home; she
went to the hospital today. She paid me to water the flowers
and take care of the garden while she was gone.”
you see anybody?” J.W. asked.
sir, but there was a lot of banging in the shed. We heard it
inside my apartment.” The girl pointed to the next door
building, which was obscured by a giant avocado tree. ”We
called right away.”
Theresa tried the gate. It was
like we go over it.”
J.W. turned toward
the kids. “You
stay over there,” he pointed to the back of the apartment
building with the trees. “While
we check this out.”
J.W. check the yard, it was
clear. He boosted his partner over the gate then drew his Glock
to cover her while she fumbled with the latch. The gate swung
open. The shed near by was punctured and battered, as if with
a hammer or something. The lawn was springy crabgrass of some
sort, it didn’t show much of any prints, even when he
walked on it.
Theresa pointed to the shed
and he nodded. He stood well off to the side to manipulate
the handle, Theresa stood back with her Glock covering the
entrance. He turned the lever and swung the door open. His
partner tensed . . . then relaxed.
As the shed doors swung open
Theresa thought she saw someone, lying on the floor. Then the
light shown better as the door fully opened and she saw it
was just old clothes sprawled across an open bin of fertilizer.
one in there,” Theresa said.
check the rest of the yard,” JW holstered his weapon, “see
if he got into the house.”
The two officers found only
a pocket multi-tool, a cheap one, lying in the flower bed.
# # #
Pink Plastic Flamingos by
Michael D. Turner
published April 16, 2008