“Hey, buddy,” Inglorion mutters to the bird. It’s dusty up there, but not filthy — the pigeons must think it’s a real owl.
After a moment, he examines statue’s base, and sees that it’s held in place by four bolts and nuts. They’re coated with rust, of course. He has a saw and chisel, but would have to live here for a week to chip through them. If the owl can’t be liberated by wrench, then it will have to remain in captivity.
He shrugs, sprays each nut with WD-40, and scrubs them with a little wire brush he brought for this purpose. The rust is a light surface layer, so he continues to spray and scrub, giving the liquid time to make its way down the thread pattern by capillary action.
He whistles and hums as he fiddles with the wrenches. He has the right size, but the handles are short, and give shit for leverage. Even so, he breaks torque on the first two after a few tries. The back two are awkwardly placed — the wrench keeps slipping. After he’s whacked his knuckles against the stone wall a few times and cursed viciously, he gets the angle and loosens the last two.
The owl is theoretically free now, but its base and the plate beneath have been wedded by a century of accumulated grime and rust. It takes a series of hard, awkward palm strikes to loosen it. When it finally breaks free, it lurches over and threatens to roll out of the cubby and smash to the walkway below. Inglorion throws himself on it, and eases it back to a standing position on its base. He gives it a reassuring pat. “Easy there, buddy.” He whispers in its ear, “You’re not a real owl. You can’t fly.”
He looks at it for a moment, calculating how to rig a sling for it, but also appreciating its curmudgeonly frown. It ignores Inglorion entirely, instead bending its angry, disapproving gaze on the silent street below.
It takes just a few moments to rig the sling. It’s imperfect, but he doesn’t have enough nylon straps to make it entirely secure. He unties the rope from his harness — a distinctly shitty feeling — and ties it to the owl’s sling.
“OK, buddy,” he says softly, then shouts down to Lucius, “I’m off rope and the owl’s roped in. Are you ready to lower it?”
“Hang on,” says Lucius. He takes all the slack out, and steps back from the wall. “Ready.”
Inglorion walks the owl to the edge and eases it off. It plunges and spins as the rope takes its full weight, and Lucius lowers it to the balcony below. Inglorion scrambles out of the cubby and lowers himself so that he’s gripping just with his hands, and his torso and legs are dangling below the arch. He lets go and hits hard and awkwardly, writhing to avoid falling on the owl and suffering a quick and partial castration on its sharp ear-feathers.
He hefts the owl and tips it over the balcony rail. It’s dismayingly heavy, not an item a 125-pound man would be eager to lift repeatedly. Lucius lowers it to the ground without incident, and unfastens the rope. Inglorion draws the end back up, and reattaches it to his harness.
Now, as always, he regrets the tedious necessity of repeating the climb and retrieving all the gear: Up the pilaster, across the roofline to the bulb and chains, then down to the nuts, which are doggedly jammed in, and can only be removed with a burst of obscenities. Down the pilaster to the drainpipe, through the most precarious part of the climb, made worse by the fact that he’s descending, and therefore blind. From the stone balcony to the iron railing, where he unclips and stows the last quick-draw.
Rather than return to the pilasters on the south wall, he lowers himself off the balcony, dangles for a moment, and takes a second long drop. The ground is soft, and he contrives not to land on any of the ornamental cacti. As he hits the dirt uncomfortably hard, he laughs with pure joy, and looks up at Lucius, who is dutifully gathering the rope into tidy coils.
“Who’s a motherfucking rock star?” he crows.
“You are, mon pére.”
“Damn straight. And we are the proud owners of a cast-iron owl, circa 1905.” He eyes it with satisfaction, and savors the mingled sensations of exertion and triumph.
“Were you planning on taking it over to Brutus tonight?”
“To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have any plan beyond getting it on the ground. But I suppose we should run it over. We’re already halfway there.” They eye it thoughtfully. It glares back. “I’ll take the base and you take the head,” he says.
They struggle along for several blocks, awkwardly matching their steps. Inglorion sighs. Climbing is one thing — it involves manipulating his own weight, which is no great thing. Neither he nor Lucius is suited to lugging an awkwardly shaped hunk of iron over long distances. They didn’t think to bring gloves, so there’s some grumbling and cursing, and after a half-mile Inglorion loses his grip, and the owl hits the ground, forcing them both to jump back sharply to avoid getting their toes crushed. It hits hard enough that it partially buries itself in the dirt.
Inglorion glares at the owl. It glares back with enviable vigor and persistence.
“I’ll tell you what, Lucius,” he says. “It’s at least another half-mile. I’ll be fucked if I’ll haul this thing the whole way. I’ll stay here with the owl. You go find Brutus and tell him that his owl is at the corner of Main and Fourth, and that he should bring a cart to fetch it. Or perhaps he’ll simply carry it. He’s a burly fellow. That kind of thing is right up his alley.”
“Father, I hardly know Brutus.”
“We’re offering him an owl he’s wanted since he got here. He should be delighted.”
For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.