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.

He’d 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 looking.

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 his multi-tool.

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.

Who’s 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.

Too 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, 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 screamed.

Let 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 soil.

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 it.

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.”

That’s right up the street,” J.W. said.

I’ll 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.

We 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.”

Did you see anybody?” J.W. asked.

No 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 locked. Looks 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.

No one in there,” Theresa said.

Let’s 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
originally published April 16, 2008



Michael D. Turner is a writer from Colorado Springs, Colorado. His writing has appeared multiple times in Big Pulp, and in Aberrant Dreams, AlienSkin, Between Kisses, Flashing Swords, Every Day Fiction, and Tales of the Talisman.

For more of Michael's work,
visit his Big Pulp author page


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