Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 9

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.

Greta Morgan’s office was nearly as barren as the grounds around Martin Gardens. A metal desk, two folding chairs, and a cheap office chair on rollers shared space with a flimsy metal file cabinet. I could tell the cabinet was inexpensive by the type of handles on the drawers.

The blinds were pulled behind Greta’s seat, and an inexpensive desk lamp provided illumination directly to her desktop. “Please, make yourselves comfortable.” She picked up the phone and dialed a number. “Lacey? Could you bring me a pot of Constant Comment? Three cups please. Cookies, too. Thanks so much.”

I sat there seething with anger. But I was also feeling a little ashamed by my earlier outburst. Skye wore a pleasant but amused smile. Kookie’s eyes took in our surroundings. He seemed considerably perked up since our arrival. The bobbing up and down was less apparent, but his keen interest was still obvious.

“Tell me how you know Helen, please. I don’t know much at all about her background, and I’d really like to know more,” said Greta.

Bit by bit, I explained how Honora had asked me for a favor for her friend. Skye chipped in, talking about how she’d always wanted a big bird. I picked up the narrative, by detailing how Kookie had gone downhill fast. Then Skye volunteered what we’d recently learned from Pete, the vet. She finished with, “We couldn’t think of anything else to do, but to bring Kookie here for a visit.”

“I see,” said Greta, as she gestured to a young woman pushing a metal food cart in the hallway. The server set a silver tray on the desk and, after checking to see that we had everything we needed, promptly departed.

“What are these?” Skye bit into one of the chocolate-covered cookies.

“McVities. They’re from England. Aren’t they wonderful?” Greta poured tea for all of us.

Yes, they were wonderful, but I wasn’t about to give the woman the satisfaction of knowing I liked her treats. To me, this was an elaborate bribe, and nothing more. Even as I pouted, I could sense Greta was sizing me up–and thinking hard. Kookie wanted a nibble of the cookies. Skye offered him a piece, after scraping off the chocolate.

“As you are aware, Helen’s condition is terminal. Since coming here, she’s shown very little interest in life or her surroundings. And that’s a shame. I believe we should live every moment we’re given until we draw our last breath.”

I started to protest. I wanted to point out that anyone, under any circumstances, would be depressed living here. But Greta waved me into silence. “Please? Just let me speak for a minute, so you’ve got the background. Then you can share your thoughts. You see, this building was designed and constructed by a company that went out of business just as they were finishing up. The furniture had been ordered. The wall coverings and lights and appliances installed. But then they went belly up. Mr. James Boehner bought the place, but that purchase hadn’t been planned for. Wasn’t in the budget. He had to cannibalize several other planned expenditures to cover the cost of the structure.”

My father was an entrepreneur. I consider myself one, too. As I listened, I started to see exactly where Greta was going. “They didn’t have enough money for the landscaping. That’s what you’re telling us. They got to the plants and ran out of dough.”

“You’ve got it. Exactly. Mr. Boehner has gone back to his funding sources in an attempt to raise more money. I think he’ll get it, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through. What you’re seeing right now is a partially finished project. And I regret that. We all do. Here…” She stood up. “Let me show you the original plans.”

A cardboard tube had been stuffed behind the file cabinet. Pulling it out, she popped off the top and unrolled three sheets of paper, stapled together at one corner. The top page showed an artist’s rendering of the landscaping, complete with colors and drawings of plants. I had to admit, the rendition took my breath away. The second page showed the courtyard and surrounds. Although the work seemed a tad ambitious, it was also stunning. Mentally, I tried to put a price to what all this would cost. Thinking back to what I’d paid to landscape around my house in St. Louis, I came up with a figure. It was hefty. Very hefty indeed.

“Now,” said Greta, putting her empty cup back on the tray. “As soon as you finish your tea, let’s go say hi to Helen.”

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 8

 

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.
“Notice that it says ENTRANCE rather than WELCOME,” Skye snarled.  “Jail was nicer than this. I mean it. We kept the grounds tended and had a garden. This is a crime.
Kookie had started bobbing and ducking his head, while making little clicking noises with his beak. At least he was showing signs of life. I found that mildly comforting. The sliding doors opened with a wheezy hiss, revealing an industrial strength floor mat designed to keep you from slipping and sliding even in rainy weather.
The inside was actually…nice. The colors were a blue-gray, teal, and bright green. Soothing music played over a sound system. A low nap carpet with a pebble design led us in various directions. Dead ahead sat a white-washed gray reclaimed wood desk attended by a woman dressed in a long skirt with a vivid floral pattern, white blouse, and glasses. Her hair had been pulled back neatly into a cap, a sure sign she belonged to one of the more strict Fundamental Christian sects that make their home in Stuart and Hobe Sound.
“Hello. What a lovely bird! May I help you?” Getting gracefully to her feet, the woman extended a hand. “I’m Alyssa Cartwright, the receptionist. Do you have a family member here? Or are you inquiring about availability? How might I be of assistance?”
“Um,” I intended to answer quickly, but my eyes were drawn to the marvelous shape of the place. It was as if the architect had envisioned a hug, an embrace, because the wings of the building formed a large half-circle around a central courtyard. Broad expanses of glass windows overlooked the outdoors. Those expensive window shades, the kind that allow you to see out but can be darkened, covered the windows, blocking the glare. Rather than respond directly to Alyssa’s greeting, I hurried past her, through the clusters of furniture, and right up to the windows. There I pressed my face against the cool glass.
A sea of brown mud, decayed palm fronds, and torn up weeds provided the landscaping. Before I could open my mouth to protest, Skye had moved closer to the desk. Once there, she reached for Alyssa’s hand and gave it a friendly shake. “We’re here to see a friend, Helen Berger. This is her pet, Kookie.”
“Helen?” Kookie’s crest of feathers stood straight up. “Helen? Kookie loves you! Helen? Where is Helen? Hello???”
“My!” Alyssa’s hand flew to her mouth. “We don’t allow pets, but I can certainly see that this is an unusual situation.”
I hustled back to the desk. “This is NOT an unusual situation. This is a crime! How can you plonk people down in a setting like this? This is ugly. Horrible! If I had to look out on this mud puddle all day long, I’d curl up in a ball and cry. To think that people are paying good money for this…this warehouse! It’s a scam and you should be ashamed of yourself!”
I was so angry, so filled with indignation that I didn’t hear the clip-clap of high heels behind me. A gentle hand touched my elbow. I whirled around and faced a woman wearing an inexpensive but elegant navy suit and a pastel blue button-up blouse. “I’ll take it from here, Alyssa. I’m Greta Morgan, the administrator. And you are?”
“Cara Mia Delgatto and my friend Skye Blue. That’s Kookie. Helen Berger’s bird. We came to visit Helen.” I stuck my jaw out, hoping to look as determined as I felt. “And I won’t leave until we do.”
Greta Morgan nodded. Her eyes were brown with amber flecks and her hair a dishwater blonde. The laugh lines around her mouth suggested she was well into her fifties, but her classic features would allow her to age gracefully. She studied me as I gave her the once over. As I did, she softened her stance, whether instinctively or to put me at ease, I couldn’t tell.
“Of course, and so you shall. But first, could I get both of you a cup of tea? In my office? We can chat there. I’d love to hear more about Kookie, and about your involvement with Helen. I was under the impression she has no family.”
“That doesn’t mean no one cares about her,” I snapped.
Skye nudged me forward. “Sounds wonderful. Lead the way.”
I was still grumbling, but Alyssa leaned in and whispered, “Greta is wonderful. She’ll listen. Honest she will. That woman has the patience of a saint.”
~ To Be Continued ~
Remember, I’m adding new installments every day.
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Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 6

 

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 scroll to the bottom of the blog post and click on OLDER POSTS.
By the end of the week, Kookie had plucked most of the feathers from his breast. He hadn’t eaten any birdseed. He refused the grapes and pieces of fruit that Skye offered him. He rarely spoke except to wail, “Helen? Helen! Kookie loves you!”
“I can’t stand this.” I stared at the perch and the listless creature. “That bird is dying before our eyes. It’s tearing my heart out. I feel like I’m letting Helen down and killing her best friend.”
Skye wiped her eyes. “I know. Getting him was so exciting for me, but now I’m thinking, ‘Be careful what you wish for,’ because I sure didn’t wish to see an animal suffer.”
The front door opened and Pete Harris stuck his head in. His right hand carried a black leather bag like old-time doctors owned in Westerns.  “Uh, MJ called. Said I needed to make a house call.”
From the back of the store MJ sashayed out, wearing a seductive grin that made both Skye and me blush. Behind her came Honora, wearing a look of anxious curiosity.
“Thanks for dropping by.” MJ planted a peck on the man’s cheek. “Here’s your patient.”
Pete turned in the direction of her finger. “Wow. That is…was…a magnificent blue-eyed cockatoo. What on earth have you done to it?”
Everyone started talking at once, explaining how Kookie came to be a feathered fixture in our store. While we jabbered like fools, Pete walked over to examine the bird more carefully. “This is Helen Berger’s bird, isn’t it? Gosh. What a mess.”
After that we shut up. Pete pulled a few wicked looking instruments out of his black bag.  Peering at Kookie from all angles, he asked, “Is the bird eating? Drinking water?”
“N-no,” sniffled Skye. “What am I doing wrong?”
Pete’s smile was kind, as he tucked a stethoscope into the bag. Even though he was balding, he was a nice looking man with soft gray eyes. His clothes looked as if war had been declared in his closet, but that was easily forgiven when you watched how gentle he was with animals. He’d set Jack’s leg for me, after the dog’s previous owner had chucked him out of a moving truck. Now my pup came and sat down beside Pete’s loafers. Jack knew there was a problem. He raised a tiny white paw to tap Pete’s ankle as though he were begging the vet to help the bird.
“You aren’t doing anything wrong. Kookie is mourning. To put it bluntly, this bird has a death wish. He’s been separated from the one creature he’s loved most in his life.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do?” I felt sick.
“No. Oh, I suppose you could take him down to the zoo in West Palm and see if they have a sick room where they can hook him up to liquids. But that’s a temporary fix. Kookie would rather be dead. So the minute you brought him back here, he’d do this all over again.”
That made me angry. I was NOT going to let that bird die. Not on my watch. “Then we have to find a way to reunite Kookie and Helen. That’s all there is to it.”
~ To Be Continued ~

Okay, kids! Show me some love! If you are liking this serialized short story, go to my Facebook page and hit “Like” the little blue thumb in a tiny white box under the big picture of me. (My toes point to the right. There are three boxes. “Like” is the second box.) Or tell a friend about the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series. Here are the links:  Tear Down and Die  http://tinyurl.com/TearDD and Kicked to the Curb http://tinyurl.com/KickedTTCurb

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 5

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 scroll to the bottom of the blog post and click on OLDER POST.

Skye was thrilled with Kookie. The minute she came through the front door, she raced over to see the bird, even though she was still wearing her server’s uniform from Pumpernickel’s. Usually Skye can’t wait to get out of the black slacks and white blouse. They are totally not her style.

“Isn’t he beautiful?” she gushed. “I didn’t realize he’d be a blue-eyed cockatoo. These are really, really rare. An endangered species or close to it.”

In response, Kookie eyed her warily. With a bit of coaxing, Skye was able to get the big white bird to step onto her outstretched finger. He stared at her, fluffed his feathers and wailed, “Helen? Kookie loves you!”

“Poor baby.” Skye brought him closer for a cuddle, and Kookie allowed her to rub her face against his chest. But he didn’t give her a kiss like he’d given Helen.

This love fest went on for half an hour. Finally, Skye let Kookie take his place back on his perch. “I’m going to run upstairs and get him grapes and carrots. He’ll love those.”

As she raced away, MJ shook her head at me. “I was wrong about what a cockatoo is worth. At least, I was wrong about what this one is worth.”

“Not as valuable as you thought, eh?” I chuckled.

“On the contrary. Much more valuable. A bird like Kookie would go for ten grand at least.”

I coughed. “Pardon? Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. He’s a blue-eyed cockatoo. That ring of bright blue around his eyes? It’s a telltale marker. That’s the clue I didn’t have.”

“Wow,” I said, channeling my friend Kiki Lowenstein.

“Should I start writing an ad for Kookie? Sid can put him up on Craigslist and some of the other sales sites.”

I thought about Skye’s reaction. She never asked me for anything. Lately she’d been kind of down because her relationship with Lou, a local detective, had hit a rough patch. “Not right now,” I said. Once the excitement of owning a big bird wore off, perhaps she’d be willing to trade the cockatoo for cash.

“Have it your way,” said MJ, with a shrug that told me she thought I was absolutely nuts.

A few days went by, and I came to agree with her. Although Skye was totally smitten with the bird, the cockatoo had not settled in. Hour after hour, he cried, “Helen? Kookie loves you!” He fixated on the front door, growing excited each time it opened and despondent when Helen did not magically appear. Worse yet, he had started to pluck out his own feathers. Each morning, I swept up a small pile from the floor around the cage.

“I’m really, really worried about him.” Skye started chewing a fingernail.

“I’ll call my friend Pete, the vet,” said MJ. “But you’re going to owe me, Skye, because Pete only wants to be re-paid by going on a date together. If I do this for you, you better come up with something really, really great to make it up to me.”

Skye nodded. “I will.”

~To Be Continued~

Okay, kids! Show me some love! If you are liking this serialized short story, go to my Facebook page and hit “Like” the little blue thumb in a tiny white box under the big picture of me. (My toes point to the right. There are three boxes. “Like” is the second box.) Or tell a friend about the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series. Here are the links:  Tear Down and Die  http://tinyurl.com/TearDD and Kicked to the Curb http://tinyurl.com/KickedTTCurb

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 4

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, and 3 scroll to the bottom of the blog post and click on OLDER POST.

Carrying the cage was awkward, but MJ and I managed. By the time we got it situated in the store, near the big display window, Honora had discovered her friend. She and Helen chatted amiably while Kookie looked on.

Next we hauled in the large perch. It looked like wrought iron and felt just as heavy. Admittedly, it was beautiful with a sculpted border on the stand and rich wooden arms. While MJ positioned it, I went back to the Cadillac and grabbed a large bag filled with bird food, treats, and vitamins. After carrying all those accoutrements in, I watched as Helen walked over and encouraged Kookie to step onto one of the arms of the perch. For the first time, I could see that Kookie was actually wearing a harness that clipped to a leash. Since the bird was snowy white, and the harness was too, you really couldn’t tell that Kookie was restrained. Helen snapped the leash to the perch.

“Now, dear friend, it’s time for us to part,” said Helen, stroking the bird’s breast. “I love you. I will love you until I go to my grave, and we’ll never be parted in spirit. If I could take you with me to the assisted living facility, I would, dear Kookie. Give me one last kiss.”

The bird had been watching her curiously, his head tilted as he regarded Helen. At the word “kiss,” he leaned toward her and extended his beak to touch her lips lightly. With an almost human sigh, he said, “Helen, Kookie loves you.”

A tear dribbled down Helen’s face, leaving a wet mark where it journeyed over her skin. “And I love you, Kookie.”

Without another word, she turned quickly, in an about-face movement, and walked out of the store.

Despite how I feel about birds, a lump had formed in my throat. Grabbing a tissue from the cash station, I dabbed my eyes. Honora followed suite. MJ swallowed repeatedly.

“I feel so bad for Helen,” I managed.

Honora nodded. “She lost Jeb twenty years ago. That’s when she adopted Kookie. I thought I’d never see her smile again after her husband died. They were devoted to each other. But she and Kookie formed a bond that’s obviously kept Helen going.”

Pausing to wipe her eyes, Honora added, “She’s been hoping not to go to the assisted living facility, but she needs more and more skilled nursing care, and they have a room that’s open. It’s that new place not far from Cove Road. If Helen takes residence now, she won’t have to move when the…when she…when hospice is called in. She has no family, so it’s for the best, really.”

Since my own mother died of cancer, I understood what Honora meant. Most likely Helen’s last weeks would be grueling. She would need heavy-duty painkillers and around the clock care.

“Is it nice?” asked MJ in a quiet voice. “That facility?”

“I drove past it,” said Honora. “I would describe it as bleak. The original developers went bankrupt halfway through the building process. A new company bought it, finished the work, and opened it, but the takeover was costly. There’s no landscaping.”

“I remember.” MJ sighed. “It was supposed to be a state-of-the-art building. A real showplace.”

“Yes. Now it’s functional, or so I’ve been told.” Honora’s hand trembled as she wadded up the tissue. “Growing old in America is a real nightmare.”

~ To Be Continued ~

Okay, kids! Show me some love! If you are liking this serialized short story, go to my Facebook page and hit “Like” the little blue thumb in a tiny white box under the big picture of me. (My toes point to the right. There are three boxes. “Like” is the second box.) Or tell a friend about the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series. Here are the links:  Tear Down and Die  http://tinyurl.com/TearDD and Kicked to the Curb http://tinyurl.com/KickedTTCurb

 

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 3

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1 and 2, scroll to the bottom of the blog post and click on OLDER POSTS.

A few days later, I was arranging a group of tin cans that Skye had turned into beautiful lanterns when a loud squawk scared the dickens out of me. My first thought was that a bird had somehow found its way into the store. But as I turned around, and as another squawk followed the first, I realized this must be a monster-sized avian to make such a loud racket.

Putting down my inventory clipboard, I scurried to the front of the store. There stood a small woman, caving in on herself, barely strong enough to support the magnificent white bird perched on her shoulder. Her skin was that ashy-gray color so common to people suffering from cancer, a symptom I knew all too well.

“Helen? Kookie loves you!” screamed the bird, leaning in to nuzzle the sagging skin on my guest’s face.

“And I love you, too, Kookie.” The woman lifted a knotted hand to stroke the bird’s belly.

This pleased the animal. He ruffled up his feathers, so that he was fully twice his size. Even from a distance, I could see his pupils dilate and contract with interest as he took in his new surroundings. A thin ring of bright blue was around each of his eyes, a lovely contrast to the stark white of his feathers.

“You must be Honora’s friend Helen,” I said. Usually I would extend my hand for a greeting, but my fear of birds made me jam all my digits into a pocket of my Lilly Pulitzer vintage skirt.

“Yes, dear, I am. Honora told me you agreed to give Kookie a home. His cage and his stand are in my car. Unfortunately, I had to have help loading them up. They’re rather heavy. I’m wondering if you’d be so good as to get them out for me?” The voice quivered with sadness, and correspondingly, a lump formed in my throat.

“One second.” I turned and walked to the back. “MJ? Could you come out here a minute? I need help.”

“What do you need?” MJ seemed a tad bit peeved to be taken away from her work. She’d been busy calling around trying to find a piece of wicker for a customer. But the irked expression softened when she caught sight of Helen and Kookie.

“We need to grab some things from Helen’s car.”

Although she’s shaped like a pinup girl, MJ is pretty strong. After taking the keys from Helen and assuring her that we’d be right back, my friend and I walked outside to where a long, white Cadillac sat pulled up at the curb. The car must have been fifteen years old. Maybe twenty. The inside was pristine, although it smelled a little like funky bird seed. Together MJ and I tackled moving the bird equipment. As we grunted, she said, “That’s one beautiful bird. You realize, don’t you, that birds like that sell for at least a grand. Maybe even two.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“No. I never joke about money. You should know that by now.”

That was true. I cleared my throat as we managed to extricate the cage from the back seat. “So, are you suggesting we sell the bird? After all, Helen told Honora that Kookie needs a new home. That doesn’t preclude us from finding him one with a loving family.”

“Actually, I think you’d get a lot more mileage out of displaying the bird,” said MJ as she started walking backwards with both hands on the bottom of the cage. “Think of it as a living display piece.”

“Right,” I groused. “One that poops all over my floor.”

~To Be Continued~