The Case of the Dirty Bird

BOOK: The Case of the Dirty Bird
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YEARLING BOOKS/YOUNG YEARLINGS/YEARLING CLASSICS
are designed especially to entertain and enlighten young people. Patricia Reilly Giff, consultant to this series, received her bachelor’s degree from Marymount College and a master’s degree in history from St. John’s University. She holds a Professional Diploma in Reading and a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Hofstra University. She was a teacher and reading consultant for many years, and is the author of numerous books for young readers.

For a complete listing of all Yearling titles, write to Dell Readers Service, P.O. Box 1045, South Holland, IL 60473.

Published by
Dell Publishing
a division of
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
666 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10103

Copyright © 1992 by Gary Paulsen

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.

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eISBN: 978-0-307-80369-6

v3.1

Contents

Duncan—Dunc—Culpepper sat on the corner of the window and looked at the parrot in the cage hanging from the ceiling on a rusty chain.

“It smells like my uncle Alfred’s feet when he takes his shoes off to pick his toes,” Amos Binder said. He was Dunc’s best friend, had been forever, and was staying well back from the parrot. “I wish he didn’t do that.”

“What?” Dunc thought he was talking about the parrot. Which wasn’t doing anything. He wondered if it was dead. No. There, the eye moved. It was alive. Just.

“Pick his feet. He comes over for dinner whenever he gets hungry, and after he eats he sits with my father in the living room and watches football and takes his shoes off and picks his feet through the socks. You know. I wish he didn’t do that. It makes dinner hard to hold down.”

“Tell him next time that his feet smell like a parrot.”

“Right. I tell him anything, and he’ll knuckle my forehead like he did last time he thought I smarted off. I couldn’t focus my right eye for half a day.” Amos looked at the rest of the pet store. “Why are we here, anyway? Melissa Hansen is due to walk past my place on her way home from her dance lessons. I was thinking that if I stood just right, she would notice me. I’m pretty sure she called me last week—”

“We’re here because of the contest.”

“—at least I think it was her. The phone rang and I ran for it, but I stepped on the cat, which shouldn’t have been sleeping in the doorway, and that made me trip over the coffee table and jam my head under the end table with my mouth around the electrical
outlet. I think I would have made it if I hadn’t gotten that shock. I’m pretty sure it was her, even though I only heard a click. It sounded like her click. What contest?”

Dunc was used to Amos talking about his problems getting to the phone. Amos could not get across a room without wrecking it if he thought Melissa Hansen was part of it.

“I told you about it,” Dunc said. “I’m entering an essay contest in that wildlife magazine.
National Wildlife.
It’s for people under eighteen, and I figure I’ve got a chance.”

“And you’re going to write about parrots?”

Dunc nodded.

“Oh, man, why didn’t you pick a bird that doesn’t stink? What about eagles or hawks or buzzards? I mean, parrots aren’t even wild.”

“Yes, they are. There are tons of them living in the wild in the jungles. I just can’t get to them. So here we are.”

He turned back to the parrot. It was green and scruffy, seemed to be missing about half its feathers, and really
did
smell bad.

“Can I help you boys?” The owner of the pet store, a tall man who had glasses with a chain around the back of his neck and a pocket full of pens in a plastic case, came over to them.

“I just wondered,” Dunc said, “how old this parrot is.”

“The provenance does not go back to his birth,” the man said. His voice was high and birdlike. Like his nose, Duncan thought. “But we do know he is at least one hundred and four years old. He might be as much as one hundred and fifty.”

Amos stared at the parrot. “A hundred and fifty years old?”

“Yes. He’s very old—parrots are thought to live a very long time—up to two hundred years. This parrot has belonged to at least ten people and outlived them all.”

“Does he talk?” Dunc hadn’t heard the parrot make a sound.

“Oh, my, yes. In four languages. Sometimes he mixes them up, and he can swear in all four as well. Some words I’m not sure you should hear.”

“It can’t be worse than my uncle Alfred,” Amos said. “He picks his feet.”

“How singular.” The pet-store owner looked down his nose at Amos. “In public?”

“No. Just in our living room. I wish he’d stop.”

“I can imagine.”

“How do you get him to talk?” Duncan asked.

“You must talk to him—and he must be in the mood.”

“Polly want a cracker?” Amos asked the bird. The parrot looked at him, belched, and went to the bathroom all over the bottom of the cage.

“Oh, man, that’s gross.” Amos turned away. “What do you feed him?”

“Special seeds and shells and a wheat paste that he favors. Now, don’t you two bother him. He’s a very valuable bird, and we don’t want to upset him.”

“How much is he worth?” Dunc asked.

“He’s for sale for eleven thousand dollars.”

“Eleven thousand dollars?” Amos turned back. “For something that smells that bad?
I’ll bet you could buy my uncle Alfred for that—and he knows more words than the parrot. Well, maybe.”

The pet-store owner had turned away, and Amos pulled at Dunc’s sleeve. “Come on.”

“Just a minute.” Dunc held back. “I want to hear him talk.”

“He’s not going to talk.”

The parrot belched again—opened its beak wide—almost a yawn and said a word that Dunc had heard in the bus depot when two old winos were arguing over a bottle in a paper sack.

“See?” Dunc said. “He talks.”

“Right—just like Uncle Alfred.” Amos pulled on Dunc. “Let’s leave.”

“All right, but we have to come back tomorrow.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know—there’s just something about the bird.” Dunc studied the parrot. “Something weird.”

“Oh, man, don’t do this—the last time you looked like that I had to dress up like a
puppet and hide in a toy store until somebody tried to steal me.”

“What’s the matter?” Dunc followed him toward the door. “Didn’t you like it?”

“Treasure.”

“What?” Duncan tapped Amos on the arm. “What did you say?”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You said ‘treasure.’ ”

“Not me.”

“Well, somebody did—wait a minute.” Dunc turned back into the store and stopped by the parrot’s cage again.

“Oh, come on,” Amos said. “We’re going to be late, and I won’t get the chance for Melissa to notice me.”

“He said it.” Dunc studied the parrot. “I heard him say ‘treasure.’ ”

“You’re nuts—I’m going whether you come or not.” Amos turned, and as he turned his crazy bone hit the edge of a counter full of pet supplies. He said a word that Dunc had seen written on the side of a rail car.

“Treasure map.”

“There!” Dunc said. “He said it again. I
heard him. When you swore, he said ‘treasure map.’ ”

Amos was doubled over holding his elbow. “So what?”

But Dunc wasn’t listening to him. He was watching the parrot intently.

And he definitely had that look.

“It’s like this,” Dunc said.

“Don’t say that.”

“Don’t say what?”

“Don’t say, ‘It’s like this.’ ” Amos was sitting on their front porch. It was a warm summer afternoon and they were wearing shorts, and he was wondering if he should pick the scab off his knee. He’d gotten it two weeks before trying to get to the phone. He’d been in the bathroom and the phone rang, and he was sure it was Melissa and went for it and would have made it except that his mother had the oven door open and he took a shortcut through the kitchen. He
stepped in a cake, broke the oven door off, and buried his head in the cat box in the corner of the kitchen and scraped his knees on the oven door going down. “It’s never like ‘this’ when you say ‘it’s like this.’ It’s always like something else.”

“About the business with the parrot. I’ve been thinking.”

“You mean the one at the pet store, or Mrs. Burdgett’s parakeets?”

“The one at the store. I don’t want to think about Mrs. Burdgett’s parakeets.”

“Right. I don’t blame you.” Amos nodded. Dunc had found that a neighborhood woman had a dozen or so parakeets, and he thought she could help with his essay so they’d gone to visit. The problem was, she let all the parakeets out of their cages to show how smart they were and the front door had been slightly open. A loose cat had come to the door, seen the crack, and sneaked in. “How do you figure a cat could miss all those parakeets?”

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