Now that she had her name, Molly concentrated on finding Kestrel. The address listed on her driver’s license was vacant. Kestrel’s school records included a mother, but no father. The mother didn’t have a current address.
Molly decided to focus on the foster homes where Kestrel lived after she was released from juvenile hall. Picking up her pen, she jotted down the names and addresses she found. Quite a few homes in just a few year, Molly thought. Kestrel must have been a handful.
Molly’s first stop was in Fairfield to talk with Bob and Annie Black. They fostered Kestrel for nearly a year after she was taken from her mother. After the incident in the trees. “Kestrel was defiant and sullen. She thought she knew everything and refused to follow our house rules. We finally had to ask Family Protective Services to find her another home after she stole money and my wife’s jewelry,” Bob told Molly.
“I felt bad for her,” Annie added. “We hated to ask her to leave, but we just couldn’t reach her. I hope someone did, but I suspect you wouldn’t be here asking questions if she turned her life around.”
Molly just smiled and thanked the Blacks for their time.
After spending a day interviewing foster parents, Molly had learned that Kestrel was rebellious, disrespectful, secretive, and frightening to any other children in the homes. Kestrel could also be charming when she wanted. None of the foster parents knew where Kestrel was now. Molly got the impression that they were glad she was gone and didn’t want to know where she was.
But Kestrel wasn’t gone. She was nearby, sitting at her kitchen table planning how and when to kill Maggie. She knew the police would figure out who she was soon if they hadn’t already. She was ready. The cat and mouse game was on.
Poe is a blind common raven who lives at a bird rescue center. He has a secret life as a writer.
They can take my eyesight but not my memories and not my stories
As soon as he was sure all the handlers had left for the day, Poe got busy. He mentally thanked whoever designed the mews with gravel floors 4 feet deep. He unearthed his typewriter and dug a little deeper for the stub of his cigar. He’d have to ask the free birds who brought him scraps of paper and smuggled out his manuscripts to bring him another stogie soon.
Jazz and Vihar were arguing, as usual. The great horned owls were sisters, but they couldn’t agree on anything. “I was out of the nest first,” Jazz claimed. “That’s because you fell,” Vihar countered. The same argument, every night. Hoot, hoot, hoot, was all he heard as they bickered back and forth. But, they were paying him in mice to write their story, so he would put up with them.
Jumping up on his typewriter, his stogie in his beak, he swiped the cigar back and forth against the side of his mews until it lit. He took a deep breath and got ready to type
“Stop arguing, you two,” Poe croaked around the cigar in his beak. “Jazz tell me how you came here to the rescue center. Vihar, you can add your details after Jazz is finished. I can’t understand you when you both hoot at once.”
Vihar clicked her beak. She was annoyed, but she let Jazz speak first.
“We were living in a nest in a tall tree. Our parents were away a lot, hunting. Vihar and I were trying out our wings, seeing if we could fly. I jumped up and flapped my wings, then a gust of wind caught me, and I couldn’t get back to the nest. I kept flapping my wings, but I ended up on the ground. Some humans saw me and bought me food. I decided I had a good thing going,” Jazz went on. “Humans brought me food. Why should I learn to hunt when I had a ready supply of food delivered at my feet? But after a few days another human came and put me in a box and brought me here.”
Vihar hooted, “I landed on the ground a couple of days after Jazz did. “But I knew what I was doing!” It’s not my fault the wind gusted again.”
“I sat at the base of the tree waiting for our parents. Then some humans walked by and saw me. They brought me food, too. It was much easier to eat the food they brought than to try to fly back up to the nest,” Vihar explained.
“Our parents flew back and saw me sitting on the ground. They waited for a few days for me to fly back up to the next, but those other humans came and took me away in a box, too.” Vihar added.
“Now we live at the bird rescue center. We lived together in the same mews for a long time,” said Jazz. “Then, we started arguing and the humans separated us. Now, Vihar lives next door. That’s fine with me,” she said, clicking her beak.
“If I were living in the wild, I’d stay up in my favorite tree all day. I’d hunt at dawn and dusk. When I got hungry, I’d use my big asymmetrical ears to hear a squirrel skittering through the leaves on its way to its nest. I can see really well, too, so I’d know exactly where to swoop down to catch that squirrel for dinner, grasping it and killing it with my strong talons. They’re much stronger than any human’s. I eat just about anything I can catch.” Vihar added. “So does Jazz. She caught and ate a skunk once.”
“Hey, look what I can do,” Jazz piped in. She turned her head three quarters of the way around her body. “I bet you can’t do that,” she told Poe.
“I can’t see what you just did,” said Poe. “I’m blind, remember?”
“Oh, sorry,” Jazz said. “I just turned my head 270 degrees. I can’t move my eyes, so I move my head instead when I want to see to the side or behind me.”
“Cool,” Poe answered, dancing on his typewriter keys. “I think I’ve got this. I’ll finish typing it and push it through the slit in my wall to my friends on the outside. They’ll take it to my publisher.”
“Pipe down!” Star, a red-tailed hawk, called. “Some of us sleep at night.”
“We’re done for the night,” Poe replied. “You’ll get your turn to tell your story.”
Maggie couldn’t get the night when she and her friends snuck away from their beds out of her head while she drove home. They were sleeping over at Maggie’s family’s house. She lived close to a tight grove of trees and the girls decided to sneak out to try to see one of the great horned owls who lived there. They had heard the owls hooting while they were getting ready for bed. It must have been a full moon, Maggie thought, because the ground was bathed in a white light.
As she turned into the parking garage below her building, her headlights shone on a woman with short black hair standing in the corner. Maggie didn’t think anything of it. Just another person waiting for the valet to bring her car.
Kestrel smiled as Maggie drove by. She didn’t even recognize me, she thought. Perfect. She watched as Maggie parked and walked to the elevator. Kestrel thought about how easy it would be to catch Maggie in the elevator, then shook her head. Too easy, she thought.
Maggie was still thinking about that long-ago night as she rode the elevator to her floor. The five of them had held hands as they walked through the trees. Then they saw strange lights in a clearing. Stormi had stopped and held her hand up to shush them. They looked at each other and nodded, holding back their giggles as they crept towards the strange lights in single file. Black candles set in a circle. A stone in the middle of a small clearing. A woman and a girl dressed in black cloaks. The girl held a knife dripping with blood. Lots of blood. They knew the girl. She was in their class at school. Her name was Kestrel.
Maggie didn’t remember screaming or running back through the trees. Or slamming her back door shut and locking it. Or calling the police. She remembered sitting on her bed next to her friends, all of them shaking and sobbing as their words tumbled over each other, telling her parents and the police what they had seen. She didn’t want to remember it all now, but that night came back in heart pounding detail. Maggie shuddered and checked the locks on her door.