Seamus walks quickly toward the doors of the SkyDome. The crowd pushes and jostles him, everyone trying to get to their seats before the game starts. He gets to the ticket-taker and says to his father, “Tickets, Charlie.” Looking over his shoulder he sees a fat woman in a neon pink t-shirt. Panicking, he shouts, “Charlie?”
He faces the oncoming crowd. Runt-like and bony, he is easily over-looked by the masses streaming inside to see the fifth game of the World Series. Toronto Blue Jays versus Baltimore Orioles. Seamus scans the crowd and sees him, crouched down.
Seamus runs over, only to find Charlie offering seeds to a pair of pigeons. Please, Lord, no, he thinks.
“Look at this,” Charlie says excitedly. “Banded. Lost racers, must be.” He extends his hand toward the birds and remains very still. “That’s it,” he says to the more adventurous of the pair. “You come to Daddy.” The pigeon, a robust red and white bird, pecks tentatively at the seeds. With amazing dexterity, Charlie reaches out with his other hand and grabs the bird.
From the small crowd of on-lookers that’s gathered, a woman gasps. Quickly taking the bird’s feet in one hand and supporting its chest with the other Charlie turns to her and says, “Don’t worry, I’m a professional.”
Seamus pulls his Blue Jays cap down, to avoid detection.
Charlie manages to extract a business card from his breast pocket while pressing the captured pigeon to his chest. “Here,” he says offering the card to the woman. “Charlie Carbunckle. Pigeon fancier.”
The woman backs away.
“Don’t be alarmed. This is a lost racing pigeon. I’ve got this under control.”
Seamus watches his father coo to the bird and wonders if he’s noticed that his son isn’t with him. He watches the people passing his father, and adds their reactions to his on-going catalogue: most people appear to think Charlie’s crazy – the normal assumption - five seem to think he’s mildly retarded and he counts eleven who point openly.
“Ah, Seamus. Get my phone from my pocket and call this number.” He holds the bird’s leg out and squints at the number printed on it. “416,” he pauses. “Get the phone.”
Seamus closes his eyes. He imagines pretending he doesn’t know Charlie, pretending he doesn’t speak English, or just running away. With his bus pass he could go anywhere inside city limits. Greektown might be nice, get some sweets, or maybe the Beach, get an ice cream.
Charlie walks up to the boy and says into his ear, “Dial this number.” He juts his hip out, indicating which pocket his mobile phone is in.
“Why?” Seamus asks. “Why do you always have to do this?”
“Seamus, have a little compassion. This bird is lost. He obviously belongs to someone who’s gone to great lengths to take care of him. It’s our duty as pigeon fanciers to help.”
“I’m not a pigeon fancier,” Seamus asserts. “I’m a baseball fan.”
Seamus stares at his father. Charlie, clutching what appears to all the world to be a feral pigeon, in a tweed suit, in the middle of a late autumn heatwave, in front of the SkyDome where the first pitch in the fifth game of a nail-biting World Series is about to be thrown – where are the men with nets when you need them, Seamus wonders.
“The phone, Seamus,” Charlie repeats. Seamus takes the phone from the pocket and offers it to him. Exasperated, Charlie says, “My hands are full.”
Seamus looks at the doors to the stadium. “You know if the Jays win this game, that’s it. They’ve won the World Series.”
“What if the bird is on its way home? What if it’s in the middle of a race and you’re about to ruin it?”
Charlie pauses to consider it. “Couldn’t be. I don’t know of any races today.”
“And there’s no possibility whatsoever of there being a race held today that you don’t know about? What if it’s just two friends having a race?”
“Then it doesn’t matter. The bird needs to be returned.”
“You only have one of them,” Seamus points out. “And I think the other pigeon flew off. So now you’ve either totally ruined a race and kidnapped a pigeon or you’ve saved one pigeon and let another one die a slow and terrible death of starvation on the streets. Or maybe he’ll eat a piece of gum that’s been left on the ground. Ever think about that?”
“Seamus, I realize you lack compassion. I’m not sure how it managed to elude you, given the ample opportunities you had to see it in action, first hand, and I’m thinking here of the fact that we have always raised and raced pigeons, that you have seen them from birth to death, and at least have a basic appreciation of their contribution to humankind.”
“What does that have to do with compassion?”
“Seamus!” Charlie stamps his feet. “Dial the phone!”
Rolling his eyes, Seamus does as he’s told. It rings once and then the voice mail picks up. When the machine beeps, Seamus leaves his message, “Charlie has your pigeon. I hope you really want it back because we’re missing the fifth game in the World Series. If you want it back, it’s a red chequer with a green band, then call this number.” He hangs up and looks to Charlie who is horrified.
“That sounds like a ransom letter!”
“I didn’t ask for any money. Minor oversight on my part.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “Now what are we going to do?” He gazes longingly at the doors to the stadium. “We can’t take that pigeon in with us.”
“We’ll wait here until the owner calls back. It won’t be too long.”
“We’ve already missed the opening pitch.”
“It’s so good to know you’re a friend to all God’s creatures Seamus.”
“I’m not the one kidnapping birds here.” He cups the peak of his Blue Jays cap. “Call one of your pigeon racing friends. What about Stevie? Can’t you just call him and get him to come and pick the bird up?”
“Everyone from my club is in Niagara Falls today. How can you forget what a sacrifice I made taking you to this game?”
Right, that’s how you got the tickets. Because Mom won’t let you go to any auctions to buy more birds. So because you had to stay here, the guy from your pigeon club with season tickets just gave them to you. Big sacrifice.
“Come with me,” Charlie says.
“What?” Seamus says, watching his father walk off.
“Come on,” Charlie hisses.
Seamus follows because Charlie has the tickets.
They walk around the corner and Charlie crouches down behind the concrete foundation of a weird rusted piece of public art. “Give me your backpack,” he demands.
Seamus hands it over and Charlie unzips it using his teeth. He dumps the contents out on the ground and while cooing to the bird, gently eases the pigeon into the bag.
“Perfect!” he says, pleased with his own ingenuity.
“Not perfect,” Seamus says scrambling to collect his camera, notepad and packed lunch.
“Do you want to see the baseball match or not?”
“Game, Charlie, it’s a game. Not a match.”
Son follows father who clutches the backpack to his chest. At the entrance, Charlie hands over their tickets, and they’re shown to their seats, which, contrary to what Seamus had imagined, are halfway decent.
They sit down and Seamus smiles. The field looks much greener in real life than on TV. The lighting is a bit weird, and makes it hard to see some parts of the field, but he doesn’t care. There’s a group of men three rows in front of them with painted blue chests and big foam fingers. It smells like the circus and beer. And the girl two rows down and five seats to his right wears an incredibly thin white t-shirt.
This is a great day, Seamus thinks.
Charlie carefully sets the backpack at his feet and waves the concessions guy over. He orders a beer and a bottle of water, with an extra plastic cup. The beer he asks Seamus to hold and whips out a Swiss Army knife from his pocket.
“Always be prepared,” he tells Seamus. He slices the top three quarters off the cup and then fills the remainder with water. He unzips the bag, folding it down so the pigeon can get some air. Holding the cup so the bird can drink, he coos encouragement.
The man sitting next to Seamus looks over. “What’s he got in there?” he asks. Seamus shrugs and fights back the urge to say he doesn’t know Charlie. “Has he got an animal in there or something?” The man leans closer. “Hey buddy, you can’t have animals in here.”
“It’s not an animal, sir, I think you will find it’s a red chequer racing pigeon,” Charlie says proudly.
Seamus looks at the beer and wonders how much he’d have to drink to black out.
“Rats with wings if you ask me.”
Seamus closes his eyes and wills both his father and this man sitting next to him to be struck mute.
“I can see why you’d think that of your average feral pigeon, but this bird,” Charlie lifts it out of the backpack, “Is obviously a fine racer.” Charlie fans out the bird’s wing and looks at the flight feathers – the ones at the tip of each wing. “You can see right here by the quality of the feathers that this bird is well cared for. The feral pigeons, they’re undernourished. They’ll have what’s known as —”
“Listen buddy, I don’t care what kind of pigeon that is, you can’t be bringing it in here.”
“There is no rule that states pigeons are not allowed in this stadium. In fact, did you know that the Blue Jay is part of the Family Corvidae while the pigeon is part of the Columbidae?”
“Charlie,” Seamus cautions. “Drop it. Just take the bird outside.”
“I most certainly will not. What if it gets eaten by a hawk or a falcon? I’m not having blood on my hands.”
“Then zip up the bag,” Seamus hisses. “It’s not normal to have a pigeon hidden in your backpack at the ballgame.”
“I’d listen to the kid if you know what’s good for you,” the man next to Seamus says as he crams half a hotdog into his mouth.
The backpack tilts to one side and the pigeon’s head appears. The bag lurches from one side to the other, and both Charlie and Seamus know instinctively what’s happening. Both grab for the bag, but not quickly enough. The pigeon hops out and lands on the man’s head, whereupon the bird promptly releases its bowels.
The man waves his hands, trying to scare the pigeon off. “Security!” he shouts. “This guy’s bird just took a dump on my head!”
Charlie jumps up, knocking into Seamus who spills the beer on the man’s lap. The man lunges at Charlie who lunges at the pigeon.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” the man yells.
A security guard - dressed completely in black, complete with mirrored sunglasses - runs up the stairs.
Seamus stares at his father who is now scrambling over the back of a seat, trying to catch up with the lost pigeon. The frightened bird flaps his wings, eluding capture.
“Catch that bird!” Charlie pleads with anyone who might be able to hear him over the roar of the crowd. The Blue Jays have just scored a run.
Seamus pulls the peak of his ball cap down as low as it can possibly go.
The security guard listens to the man who’s been subjected to the avian-assault as he explains the situation. Seamus tries not to listen but can’t help over hearing the words crazy and idiot.
My thoughts exactly, he thinks.
Focus on the game, and pretend you don’t know him, Seamus thinks. It was not your idea to poach a pigeon. He stares at the field and watches the home team loll around outfield.
The security guard motions for Seamus to follow him. His father is escorted by two men - one on each arm - away from the seats.
“Let go of me!” Charlie screams. “This is animal abuse!”
Fifteen minutes later, and Charlie and Seamus are sitting in a white room with no windows, while Charlie attempts to explain the situation to the Head of Security.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t understand why you felt it necessary to capture a pigeon and bring it into the game.”
Exasperated, Charlie bangs his forehead on the table. “I was rescuing it.”
Seamus sits silent and motionless.
“Tell them,” Charlie implores his son. “Tell them it’s a racing pigeon.”
“Why should I? You got us into this; you’re getting us out.”
“What’s a racing pigeon?” the guard asks. “I mean, a pigeon’s a pigeon if you ask me. Filthy, probably carrying the plague.”
Charlie slams his palms on the desk. “They are not filthy! They are victims of very bad and inaccurate publicity!” He takes a deep breath. “If it weren’t for pigeons, we would’ve lost both world wars!”
“Son, is your father a vet?” the guard asks in a way that makes clear he means medicated and not vet.
Seamus shakes his head.
The head guard clears his throat. “Okay, listen, is there someone we should call? I can’t let you back in the stadium, but if there’s someone who can come and pick you up…”
“My mom’s at work,” Seamus says. “We’ll take the bus.”
“We’re not going anywhere without that pigeon. Seamus, I wouldn’t leave you here and we’re not leaving that bird. He’s helpless. He can’t find his way home. He’s a clever, strong, beautiful specimen, and I demand that you close the roof, so we can search the entire stadium. If you have some small towels we can use those to catch him.”
“He’s not clever,” Seamus shouts. “He’s stupid! He can’t find his own way home. Obviously he must not be that good a racer if he can’t find his way back, so just leave him. Darwinism. Survival of the fittest. He’s not fit.” “And,” he adds “You would to leave me here. You’ve left me tons of places before: the mall, the park, the pigeon club, Grandma’s house. Why do you think Mom gave me a phone?” He turns his back to his father and breaths deeply, not wanting to burst into tears in front of the security guards.
Charlie is shocked. He sputters, trying to come up with something to say, but the head guard intervenes.
“So what I’m gonna do, is have you two escorted out and nobody will be pressing any charges.”
“Charges?” Charlie asks.
“You assaulted the guy sitting next to me as you leaped over him to rescue your precious pigeon,” Seamus says flatly.
“I did not assault him. And what’s going to happen to that bird now? There’s probably a teenage boy hopped up on violent video games and sugary drinks beating it to death in a corner.”
The head guard forces a smile. “If you’ll just come with us.” He holds the door open and Charlie is escorted out. He puts his hand on Seamus’ shoulder. “Hang on a sec, kid,” he says softly.
Seamus is certain he’s either about to get scolded for not keeping Charlie under control, or given the number for Child Services.
“My old man wasn’t the greatest either, so I know where you’re coming from.” He reaches into his breast pocket. “But if you and your Mom or another friend of yours want to come back, give me a call. I’ll see what I can do.” He hands Seamus his card. James Dove. “Don’t tell your father, okay?”
Seamus nods. “I didn’t have anything to do with this. Can’t I stay until the end of the game?”
As they walk to the bus stop, Charlie’s phone rings. “Absolutely. A red chequer! But I’m afraid to say there’s been a tragedy. He’s loose in the SkyDome, we were, my son and I, were trying to protect him from hawks, falcons, that sort of thing, and we were at the baseball game… ”
He pauses to listen to the man on the other end of the line. “You know she’s missing?” He stops walking. “What do you mean, don’t want her back?” Charlie listens a few moments more and then abruptly ends the call. “Can you believe that? Her last three chicks haven’t been good racers so…
Seamus blocks out the sound of his father’s voice. In his head he pictures sitting at the game with James Dove, passing a bag of popcorn back and forth.