Crime Fiction Friday:”The Black Bird Heist” by Jesse Sublett

Thanks to everyone who came out to Noir at the Bar on Tuesday night and helped make the night something truly special. The following piece, read by Jesse Sublett as the last reading of the night, is a good example of the astounding creativity that has an opportunity to make its way into the world through our MysteryPeople programming. Thanks to Jesse for sharing this original short piece, “The Black Bird Heist,” with us for this week’s Crime Fiction Friday. It stars Austin’s favorite bird – the grackle.

You can find signed copies of Jesse’s latest on our shelves and via Our next Noir at the Bar won’t be till Texas Book Fest weekend – keep an eye on our blog for more details!

Photo shared from KUT Website, Photographer: Nathan Bernier

The Black Bird Heist

by Jesse Sublett

Three birds on a wire

Middle bird says

I’m nervous.


He’s the New Bird.


Bird on the Right says

It’s simple. Stick to the plan

We rush the bank & say

We’re grackles! Nobody move!


Bird on the Left says

Two minutes to go

everybody set?

Right: Locked & loaded.


Middle: I’m still nervous

Left: What’s your problem?

Middle: It’s my first time

I’ve never shat anybody before.


Time to get serious

No more clowning around

The birds in black are all business

Brass balls clank

30 seconds to show time

On the street in front of the bank.

The getaway car: A two-door ’72 Buick Skylark Sun Coupe

Peeling vinyl top, behind the wheel

The Driver has wraparound shades,

dagger beak

the dull aluminum tan

of a jailbird on parole

Even worse, Left pegs him for a Mockingbird


This is wrong, says Right  

A Mockingbird for a wheel man?

Never trust a Mockingbird

If he gets collared he’ll sing

You can’t trust a Mockingbird.


Where’s our Grackle driver? Left wants to know.


He took a powder, says M-Bird.

I saw him go

he was like


Leaving… on a jet plane,

Don’t know when I’ll be back again…


Cut the crap, says Right

giving him a wing slap.


But the feathered jukebox twangs:


On the road again…

The life I love is making music with my friends…


Real cute, says New Bird. But not as cute as

a two-door getaway car

On a four-man heist.

How does that add up? It ain’t smart.


Here’s how, says Mockingbird.

We got two Starlings

on the inside, Sam and Bob Chu

Out of Chinatown

This car is their ride

You guys slide out back

A ’78 Thunderbird in the alley is your hack

Frenchie the Grackle, your driver

Ride with him, no jive

Midnight we all meet up

at the Birdhouse for the cuts.


I still say it ain’t right, says Left

Three extra birds makes a seven-way split

And that’s chicken shit


M-Bird says, Between you and me

Blue Heron is calling the shots.

This is his territory, in case you forgot.


The Tall Bird? says Left. Who clued him?


The Heron knows everything,

says Mockingbird. This is his roost

This whole town is blue.

You want to play, you pay the Tall Bird

and abide his rules.



Capiche, the Grackles clack

The Godfeather is a movie they’ve seen

I, II, and III. Everybody knows

You never speak out against the flock.


Buck up, G-men, blurts M-Bird

There’s five million bucks in this cracker box

and that ain’t sunflower seed.


Copy that, says Right.

Chit-chat time is over

The three black birds go inside.


Flash forward: Seven hours after the robbery

The Birdhouse, a seedy dive bar near the airport

unknown to all the tourists from flyover country.


The meet-up is grim

Right, Left, and the Tall Bird

That’s all. Frenchie, the Grackles wheel man

Agreed to a flat fee, two grand

Scooped his loot and flew to Port Aransas

So the Grackles wait.



Gives them one eye, then the other

Each one is cold

as the porthole on a walk-in freezer.


Grackle feathers gleam in the dim light

shine like sharkskin suits

Left turns red, Right goes blue

A purple sheen between them.



four feet from crest to toes, still as a statue

legs like a basketball player’s

Tall Bird, impeccably outfitted

mating colors, ruffled collar

regal plume

his beak as

long and sharp as a Civil War saber.


Tough luck, the gig went sour, the Heron says

But you came back to roost with the score

and it’s a fat one. Congrats.


Right and Left relax and nod

Each one knows

the feeling of a last minute reprieve

from the firing squad.


Thank you, Godfeather, says Right.


We’re stand-up birds, says Left.


Bad call on my part, says the Tall Bird

Bringing a Mocker in on it

I feel like a sapsucker now, trusting him

I told him he could use one of my Buicks

For the getaway car.

I can’t believe it

When the rumpus started

He took the flit.


True, said Right. Sam Chu and Bob Chu

perched atop the teller cage






Left: We pull our roscoes

Stash the cash in a trash bag

Three Penguins and the Egret hat, out they spring

each with an M-15 under wing

Bullets flow from barking gats

tires squeal

as the feathered jukebox

peels out, that damned Mock

Like he’s being chased by a cat.


The tuxes flummoxed us, says Left

Should’ve been smarter

But when we eyeballed Snowy Egret in the teller line

We pegged it for a wedding party.


The old wedding party gag, Heron says

His long, sexy neck bent

These government geeks and Antarctic narcs

always sticking their beak in

Way I figure it, those Penguins must have been with

Department of Birdland Security.


Left says, Makes sense.


Right: They winged the New Bird

He got pinched, but a Grackle don’t snitch.

He’d sooner be in a bucket of KFC

Than sing to a human being.


Left says, Those Chinatown mugs

are tough birds, too, Blue.


Tall Bird says, That I know

But this was their last rodeo?


Left says, The Chus were throwing lead

You shoulda seen those tuxedo shirts turn red

A couple of lucky shots

put the kiboosh on the brothers Chu.

Rat-tat-tat, off goes Bob’s head

He’s so tough, his toes won’t let go

stuck to his post on the teller’s cage

Even as his brother Sam explodes

a spray of feathers and guts on the wall


So here’s Bob, dead as a stuffed turkey

still standing tall, says Right

and then there’s New Bird, talk about guts

The alarm bell is clanging but he stays put

Staring up at the starlings

Harness bulls come in, clip his wings with the cuffs.


Tall Bird says, Why didn’t he scat?


Left answers that:

He was waiting

for the other Chu to drop.


The Heron says, I’ll be fair

You tough motherflockers

worked hard for your splits

Let’s take the air.


Off like sparks into the night

Drunk and high in the sky

The only thing they can’t steal

Because it already belongs to them.


But down at Lady Bird Lake

the Heron

poses on one leg, the other

cocked like a figure 4

neck drawn into an S, for snake

This unnerves the Grackles

Left and Right get the shakes.


Heron says

You boys say the Mock drove a Skylark

And I’ve got three:

a ’68 convertible, a ’67 four-door sedan

and a hard-to-find ’72 Sun Coupe.


Here’s the thing: For a getaway car

Only the sedan makes sense

But if it was the rare ’72, damn that bird

I’ll wring his stupid neck.


Right looks Left, Left looks right

Nowhere else to park their yellow eyes

Sorry, Boss, says Right,


But the damn Mockingbird flew the coupe.


9.9.16  Jesse Sublett


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