Parasitic Souls Chapter Six
Lenny flew over the wall of Lupe’s courtyard and settled into one of the branches of the mesquite tree, just in case there were dogs around. Cats he could handle, but dogs liked to kill anything they could get their jaws around, and he still wasn’t perfect at flying yet.
He also wasn’t too good at eating yet. He tried to eat some fries and burgers that got left out at a fast food joint, but they just made him sick. He didn’t know what his body was supposed to eat, and there weren’t any other scarlet macaws around to ask. He’d spent the afternoon flying around, looking for bird feeders, and when he found one, he pretty much emptied it. Now he felt heavy and bloated, and a little thirsty as well. More people put out food for birds than water for birds.
No one was around, so he flew to the windowsill and whistled through the screen. Lupe stood at the sink with her back to him, washing dishes and watching television. She half-turned over her shoulder but didn’t move closer to the window.
“Hey, you did a real great job with that girl yesterday. Great job.”
Lupe turned back to the sink.
“I was wondering if maybe you could help me out.” He thought about what story he was going to tell her. He wanted his body back, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to tell her the entire truth of what happened. “See, I’m not really a parrot. It’s a funny story, actually.”
“You’re Lenny Boscoe,” she said. “You and Walter and Guy were messing around with something you didn’t understand, and you got turned into a parrot.”
“Well, kinda. See what happened is—”
She grunted, and put another dish in the drainer without turning around. “You mess with magic, you pay the consequences. I’m done cleaning up your messes.”
“Hey, it’s not really an ‘us’ thing. You can’t lump me with them. I’m through with those guys. They screwed me over when they did this to me. I need someone to turn me back.”
She pulled out the sink stopper, and it made a hungry gurgle as it sucked the water away. “I don’t know how you three managed to transform you into a parrot, but even if I could undo it, I wouldn’t. It’s about time you paid the price for your sloppiness.”
Lenny ruffled his feathers. He knew she didn’t like them, but he hadn’t realized she hated them quite that much. Stupid bitch thought she owned the trademark on magic, just because she was doing it since before it was cool.
“Fine, if that’s the way you’re gonna be about it,” he said, as if he didn’t care. He did care though, and he was angry enough to deliberately poo on the little metal bistro table before he flew over the courtyard wall.
He flew to Guy’s house. He hadn’t been there since he escaped. After he’d been shoved into this parrot’s body, he’d been trapped in the house for days and days. He wasn’t sure how long, exactly. He wouldn’t have been able to escape at all if it hadn’t been for that little dark warder girl leaving the back door unlatched. He kind of owed her for that, though now that he saved her life by taking her to Lupe’s they were even.
He’d thought about warning her even then. He’d seen Guy and Walter in action, and knew that Carlotta and the little dark girl were in trouble the moment she walked in the door. He thought about warning them, telling them to leave, but they didn’t mean nothing to him, and anyway, that darkie girl was kind of rude to him. Girl didn’t know how lucky she’d been that Guy and Carlotta had shooed her off.
At first he’d assumed that Carlotta had been working with them, and that the little girl was going to be the host. Carlotta and Guy used to have a thing going, back before they got into magic, and the two of them were drinking wine and chatting like foreplay while that little dark girl prepped the house for the ward.
Soon after that, Carlotta accidentally tipped the glass onto the carpet. As she swore and tried to help him mop the stain out of the white carpet, Guy had poured her another glass and dropped a small pill into it. Lenny thought maybe Carlotta had seen him slip a mickey into her glass the first time, and that’s why she knocked it over, but the second time it was Guy himself who knocked the glass onto the floor.
“I thought she warded this place against bad luck,” Guy complained, as a tipsy Carlotta laughed and drank the last half-glass straight from the neck of the bottle.
“You trying to get lucky?” she asked, making it a double entendre.
“Hey, put on a show!” Lenny said.
Guy shot him a look.
“That parrot says the weirdest things,” Carlotta said.
“Let’s go out. I know this bar near here,” Guy said, and escorted Carlotta off the bar stool, still glaring at Lenny.
When they left, Lenny flew off his perch and smacked straight into the back door, which opened enough to let him fly out. He’d hurt himself flying into it, so he gimped up to a branch of a ficus tree next to the house to rest and recuperate.
Less than an hour later, he saw Guy return, carrying Carlotta bonelessly draped over his arms. He’d stuck around long enough to see Walter bring in the passenger. The passenger was a frail, sickly woman who looked as though sitting up in her wheelchair would drain her entire week’s worth of energy. That was when he figured out that they were gonna do to her the same thing they’d done to him and the parrot, except that now Carlotta was the parrot. Part of him wanted to see how it was done. The last time he’d been involved, he’d been the passenger, drugged comatose with no memory of how he’d been shoved into a parrot’s body.
The other part of him just wanted to get out of there, and that part was stronger, so he flew away as soon as the door shut and Walter wasn’t looking anymore. He didn’t think he’d be coming back, ever. But then, he didn’t know he’d be this desperate either. He was sick of being in a parrot’s body.
When he got to Guy’s house, Guy’s yellow jeep was in the drive, but Walter’s Lexus wasn’t. Better and better. Walter had always been the brains of the unit. That guy had a knack for money; he could find a way to make anything turn a buck. He was as dangerous as he was greedy. Anyone who stood between that asshole and a pile of greenbacks learned the hard way not to do it again.
He flew into the back yard and perched in one of the ficus trees ringing his property. The grackles were singing to each other so loud he could barely hear, their whoops and tweets and whistles not even dimming when he shouted at them to knock it off. His shouting caused Guy to slide open his kitchen window and call out to him.
“Lenny?” Guy opened the back door and motioned for him to fly in. “You’re back! About time! I was worried about you.”
“You were worried about Pierre, you mean.”
“He’s a valuable bird,” Guy said, still standing with the door half open. “Are you taking care of his body?”
“We need to talk.”
“So come inside.”
“No dice.” And he wasn’t about to land on the lawn either. He didn’t like the ants, and he didn’t like the idea of not having a head start in case Guy made a grab for him. “Bring out a perch or something.”
Guy went back inside the house and returned carrying Pierre’s perch, a metal stand wrapped with jute rope. It had a piece of cuttlebone fastened to one end, which Pierre must have desperately wanted, because Lenny found his vision and his consciousness growing dim for a second, as if he were on the underside of a roller coaster loop-de-loop. He pushed the parrot back down.
“Step away from it now. Back. Farther,” He told Guy. When Guy complied, Lenny flew down from the tree and landed on the perch, first try. He sidestepped to the cuttlebone and started chewing on it just to keep Pierre quiet. The host body stopped trying to take over if you let it have what it wanted. “I want my body back.”
“I don’t know about that,” Guy said.
“You guys promised this was temporary.”
“Walter says there are complications.”
“Fuck complications. You owe me. You lied to me. You screwed me over, and you need to make it right.”
“You call that fucker right now and tell him he’s giving me my body back, or I’m going to the cops and I’m going to blow the lid off his little scheme.”
Guy set his mouth, like he didn’t want to be bossed around, which was pretty rich considering how often he took orders from Walter. Finally he pulled his phone out of his pocket and called Walter up. He held the phone close to his ear and plugged the other ear with his finger, probably trying to drown out the cacophony of grackles from the ficus tree. Between the whistling and screeching of the birds in the tree and the grinding as he chewed on the cuttlebone, Lenny couldn’t quite hear what they were saying.
When Guy came back, he had that hesitant weaselly look like a guy trying to tell you the used car lot manager won’t meet your price. “Okay, I talked to Walter, and he says that he can get your body back.”
“Great, let’s get him over and we’ll do it.”
“He wants you to do something for him though.”
“Walter can fuc—”
Guy held his hands up. “Now hold on, hold on, just listen. He knows this woman who wants a swap. Rich lady, has terminal cancer, wants a way out. We talked to her about our procedure, and she’s interested. Very interested. Seven figures interested. Only trouble is, we need a body for her. She wants someone young, pretty. You get us a likely candidate, we’ll get your body back.”
“Seven figures? I want a cut.”
“Walter’s not going to go for that.”
“Walter doesn’t have a choice. I’m doing the risk, I want a cut. Fifty percent.”
“I’ll talk to Walter,” Guy said. “I think he might be able to do ten.”
“Fifteen,” Lenny said. He knew that fifteen percent of the cost was less than he deserved but far more than he was likely to get. When you had feathers instead of hands, you lost a lot of your bargaining power. “Fifteen percent, and my body back, or I ain’t doing shit for you.”
“Right. Fifteen percent, and your body back.”
“I got just the girl in mind for you. I’ll bring her here tomorrow.”
Fiona was having trouble sleeping, because she was still worried about Carlotta. Since she was already kind of awake, she decided to open the window for the parrot instead of doing her first impulse, which was to throw a shoe at him for making noise.
“Hey. Where’s the darkie?”
“If you mean Sophie, she’s not here, and I’d appreciate you not being such a racist dick.” She buttoned the top button of her pajamas. Something about the way that parrot looked at her didn’t seem quite savory.
“What? I didn’t mean it in a racist way. Hey, I’m not racist—”
“—some of your best friends are darkies, yeah, I get it. Now why the hell are you bothering me at …” she squinted at the clock. “At five forty am?”
“Hey, I saved your girlfriend’s life.”
“You saved Sophie’s life. Bully for you. You’re the best. It’s still too early for chitchat. Now say what it is you want or let me go back to sleep.”
“You got anything to eat?” he asked, sounding small. “I’ve been hitting all the birdfeeders I can find, but I’m still hungry.”
She sighed and swung her legs onto the floor. She fumbled for her slippers, but just ended up kicking them back under the bed, so she walked barefooted to the window and popped the screen out again.
Despite stepping carefully through the window, Lenny managed to knock a potted succulent aside with his long tail. He shook his feathers, then hopped to the near side of the sink and pooped. Fiona handed him an orange.
“You said you were hungry.”
“Can parrots eat oranges?” he asked.
She shrugged. “If it tastes good, it’s probably good for you.”
Lenny took a bite of the orange and chewed it down, dripping juice and bits of peel over the front edge of the sink and the counter below it. He ate it like he was starving. “I need your help.”
“Why should I help you?”
“Because I know stuff about what happened to your aunt Carlotta.”
“Step-mom,” Fiona said. “She’s Sophie’s aunt.”
“Whatever. The point is, I know who did this to her. I know, because they did it to me too.”
“Why did they do it? Why you? And why Carlotta?”
“The guys who did this? They’re kinda rivals of hers.” Lenny had bits of orange rind staining his feathers, but his lower eyelids half-closed in pleasure. “God, that was good. Gimme another one.”
Fiona carefully selected the smallest, greenest-looking orange from the pile and handed it to him. “How do I know you’re not on their side?”
Lenny held the fruit with his claw and dug into it, biting so fiercely juice dripped on the floor. “I was, but that was before they screwed me over.”
“Oh, they screwed you over, did they?”
“Hello! Are you or are you not talking to a parrot?”
“How does that follow?”
“They put me into this parrot.”
“Why would anyone put someone else’s soul into a parrot?”
“We were trying to figure out a way to take the souls of the dead and put them into the bodies of talking birds.”
“So, are you dead?”
“No. Dead souls didn’t work. That’s when they asked me. They needed someone to volunteer to go into a parrot’s body. Well, they said it was only temporary, that they just needed to test it out. I was down on my luck, and really needed the money, and I’d known these guys from way back so I said okay.
“Next thing I know, I’m a passenger here in Pierre. Guy stuck me in with the rest of his birds like I was some kind of pet. I only escaped when your friend, the little dar—the other girl came in to do the ward.”
“You said he has other birds. Has he done this to other people?”
“I dunno. I mean, they obviously wanted to do it in people. They just tested it out with a bird because Guy has a lot of them.”
“So what does that have to do with me?”
“This magic stuff, it’s a young person’s game, right? And that other girl seemed pretty good about it. I mean, she warded Guy’s house all by herself. Anyway, I figure if you and that other girl can get my body back, you can put my soul back into it. Once you do that, I can help you find out who’s in Carlotta’s body, so you can do the same to her.” Lenny finished chewing the orange and licked the bits of rind off his lips. He glanced hopefully at the rest of the fruit in the bowl. “I think I know where my body is, but I need a human to open the doors.”
“All right. Fine.” She handed him a strawberry. “But I’m not going anywhere without coffee.”
Fiona took a quick shower and got dressed, then ground some fresh beans and turned the espresso machine on. Lenny shifted from foot to foot on the edge of the sink, periodically asking if she was done yet, but Fiona knew you couldn’t rush good espresso, and she wasn’t about to go anywhere without a couple of shots in her.
Despite being a parrot, Lenny was a better navigator than Sophie had been. He took her to a neighborhood which had been considered respectable back when she was in high school, before gentrification knocked it down the trendy rung into unfashionably dated. Trim mid-century bungalows sat on too-large lots which had rough lawns in the front, surrounded by chain link or picket fences. The pavement undulated down the street, cracked and heaved by trees whose stumps still filled the empty dirt beds next to the street. A pair of palm trees, growing in a V, dominated the front yard of Guy’s house. Pigeons rustling in the palm fronds dropped seeds on Fiona’s head as she walked to the front door.
Lenny perched on Fiona’s shoulder. Halfway up the drive, he dug his claws into her shoulder and started to flap his wings. “Hey, what are you doing?”
“I’m gonna knock on the door and ask that asshole what he did with my step-mom.”
“No, we’re gonna go around back. He’s not here, so we’ll just go in the back.”
“I think the back door might be unlocked. He leaves it unlocked sometimes. We’ll go back there and see if we can get in.”
“I don’t like that idea. There’s something you’re not telling me.” She reached in her pocket for her phone and texted Sophie.
Did u c anything weird when you did that house with Carlotta?
“What? Don’t be so paranoid. Trust me.”
“You sure the door will be unlocked?” Fiona asked. Her phone beeped, and she glanced at it.
Lenny and lots of other birds, Sophie texted.
“Yeah, it will be unlocked,” he said. “He always leaves it unlocked.”
No body? Fiona texted back.
A moment later she got her answer from Sophie. No.
What did u ward it 4? Fiona texted.
Mosquitos and bad luck.
Fiona unlatched the gate and went through to the back yard. A cracked concrete path curved through the lawn to the kitchen door. She stopped to admire some camellias growing on a bush next to the house, and Lenny responded by shuffling his feet. She didn’t know if he was good at hiding his emotions when he was a man, but as a bird perched on her shoulder, he had lousy poker feet. He kept glancing around, and whistling under his breath.
Fiona slid the door just enough to realize that it was unlocked, but she couldn’t step inside. It was like touching a cockroach—she knew it wouldn’t hurt her, but she simply couldn’t bring herself to do it.
“I can’t get in.”
“Really? But he … he usually leaves it unlocked.” Shuffle, shuffle. “I mean, this guy is a friend of mine, and he won’t mind if we look around for a key.”
“If a guy has your body in his house, he’s not your friend.” She slid it all the way shut again.
“You just shut it. It’s not locked.”
“Well, I can’t go inside,” Fiona said. “There’s something keeping me from going inside.”
Lenny was silent for a moment, and she wasn’t sure if he was buying her story or not. He must have decided it was plausible, because he lowered his head and made a noise like a click. “The place must be warded against you. We’ll have to get the dark girl here to let us in. She made the ward, she should be able to slip in past it.”
Warded against bad luck? Was that why she couldn’t get inside? Was she the bad luck, or would bad luck happen to her if she was inside? “Don’t call her that. Her name is Sophie.”
“Well, Sophie’s gonna have to let us in when she gets back.”
Fiona’s phone beeped. She checked it. Sophie had texted her again. Parents are driving me crazy. Am coming back soon to help you as soon as I can get free.
“If she comes back,” Fiona said. U sure no body in the house?
Warders have to see everything. Closets, cabinets, everything. I would have remembered a body.
Which meant that Lenny’s body wasn’t here. Did he know that? Maybe. Either he did, and there was some other reason why he’d made Fiona come here, or he didn’t. Either way, she had no reason to stick around. Fiona put her phone back in her pocket and walked back towards the side gate.
“Okay, how about we just wait around until Guy comes back, and then you come up with an excuse to come inside. Say—where are you going?” Lenny flapped his wings, as if trying to pull her back towards the house.
“I have stuff to do today.”
“But you really need to look inside! My body is in there! I need it back.”
“Sorry. Can’t help you.” Fiona reached up to her shoulder and grabbed Lenny’s legs, setting him on the top of the gate after she went through. “I gotta go look for a job today. You’re on your own.”
Lenny began to swear at her, which did nothing to make her change her mind. She brushed the parrot dander off her shoulder and plucked a red feather off her lapel. Then she flipped open her compact to check her make up, double checked the resumes in her folder, and drove to the first address on her job hunt search. A restaurant. She may have been only a ward setter for one day, and she never got her hairdressing license or her massage therapy license, but she still knew how to chop vegetables.