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 bookpeople.com. Our next Noir at the Bar won’t be till Texas Book Fest weekend – keep an eye on our blog for more details!
The Black Bird Heist
by Jesse Sublett
Three birds on a wire
Middle bird says
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
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,
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
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
We shouted, WE’RE THE GRACKLE GANG
YOU KNOW THE DRILL!
IF NOBODY MOVE
NOBODY GET KILLED.
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
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
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.
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