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those Wicked Talons – an Average Foot –

Those wicked talons blackly shining relax their hold, lift, stretch, and he leans back, hands up in abeyance, as they resettle about the wooden dowel, rasp and clack, two curled about the front of it, and two behind. The insistent buzz of the electric lantern by his knee. He leans in close again. Wrapped about the knobbled yellow-grey leg above those talons a bit of olive canvas, and with great care he pinches it, the gleam of a brass snap winking in the shadow of his thumb. His other hand up to gently steady the feathered bulk looming above. Somewhere up there a shining eye, blinking, unconcerned, and the black curl of a wicked beak.

Setting the buzzing lantern on a rickety table of old grey boards, a crumpled leather notebook there beside it. That olive strap in his rough-edged palm, and pinned to it a dented metal capsule of that same olive color, absurdly small against his fingertips. Head tipped back and a breath sucked through his teeth, he sets to carefully unscrewing the wee top of it.

A bit of yellow ribbon just a couple inches long, unrolled, weighted down at either end with pennies, and tiny symbols scratched in brown ink down the length of it. He’s squinting at them, writing pairs of characters on a leaf of the notebook, IS, LK, CI, GF, FO. Off in the shadows back behind him cages creak, a rattle of chains, claw-clacks and the fluffs of settling wings. He’s circling letters, sketching arrows and lines from this one to that, then lifts the pen, looks up, peers down at the floor there by his booted foot. He’s returning to the page when it happens again, the faint knock somewhere below, but then there’s the crash of breaking glass.

“Come on, Moody,” says the man in the chocolate-chip camouflage anorak. “You honestly telling me you can’t pick that rinky-dink thing?”

“I can open any damn lock made by man,” says the man in his worn surplus jacket, kneeling there in the doorway, and “Shyeah,” snorts the old man wrapped in a filthy thermal blanket, leaning back against the storefront’s unlit window. Moody spares him a glance from under the brim of his black leather hat, and then looking up, over his shoulder, to the man in the anorak, “So maybe this one wasn’t made by man,” he says.

A scuff as the man in the anorak steps in, swings a hand, knocking that black hat off Moody’s head. Moody surges to his feet, but then the fourth of them, the kid leaned up against the fender of the old pickup truck, says “Maybe there’s a doorbell,” a bit loud, and then, when they’re all looking at him, “since we’re being so polite.”

“Kid’s got a point,” says Moody, with a chuckle. “Told you he was sharp.” He scoops up his hat from the sidewalk. “Jasper, if you would?” to the old man, who pulls a crowbar out from under his blanket and slaps it in Moody’s hand, and then quickly steps away from the window.

“Oh hell no,” says the man in the anorak, and Moody favors him with a sharp smile, “No?” he says, an elaborate shrug, crowbar a-dangle. “You are the Executive Officer.”

“Just get us inside,” mutters the man in the anorak.

That first shivering crack hits under the arcing painted letters that say George’s, just above where it says Shoes Repaired. Crouching Moody slings the crowbar back for another blow, crash right through a broken ringing jagged guillotine blades of it dropping smash, whooping, “Hah!” belts Moody, jabbing with the crowbar to knock out this dangling shard or that.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” says the XO, waving them on.

The dark front room within, glass crunching underfoot, Jasper’s blanket snagging on the window frame, “Shit,” he’s saying, yanking, more glass crashing. Moody’s stepped right up to the counter, dropping the crowbar, clang, he’s hauling himself up and over. The XO, over by the front door, squinting at the lock, and the fourth of them, the kid in his grimy sweatshirt, hood of it up about his head, he’s just standing there, in the middle of it all. “The fuck,” says Moody, picking something up, dropping it in the shadows. “Shoes.”

“It’s a shoe shop,” says the XO, his hand held over the knob of that door.

Jasper’s picked up the crowbar, he’s leaning over the counter, trying to jam an end of it into the drawer of the cash register, blanket slipping from a shoulder. “And none of ’em pairs,” Moody’s saying, “buncha goddamn orphan garbage shoes,” hurling off another, and another, shoving a pile of them all at thunderous once. “Hey,” says Jasper, looking up, “there’s maybe five bucks in here.”

“So take it!” snaps the XO. “Nobody ever said he was any good at this shit. Fuck it up! Break shit! Come on!”

The kid’s squatting over a battered, lop-tongued work boot, that’s landed on the broken glass before him. The toe of it scuffed and sharply creased, drily flakes of pale brown leather, emptied eyelets, the heel of it almost pulled away entirely, there, where brightly worn nail-tips glint in the streetlight. It jumps as the cash register topples to the floor, a ringing, jangling crump, and the kid tugs the hood of his grimy sweatshirt down about and over his face. One dark hand comes down, reaching out, has almost taken hold of the boot, when the lights come on.

“Shit!” yelps the XO. Jasper’s already legging it, crunch of glass and his blanket lofting as he leaps out the broken window. At the back of the store a dark hand flat against the wall by the light switch, a beaded curtain parting about the bulk of him in a T-shirt yellowed with old sweat, bare head darkly bald above a circle of crisp white curls, and a dark electric lantern in his other hand, and he’s glaring, ferociously, at the kid, who’s jerked to his feet, whose hood’s fallen away, who’s staring, wide-eyed, back.

“Moody, dammit!” the XO’s yelling.

Moody kicking shoes away’s swooped right up next to the bald man and a gleaming silver length of knife held right up under the bald man’s chin. “Moody,” the XO’s saying, “come on, man, this is outside the scope,” but Moody’s shaking his head, “No,” he’s saying, “no, he knows just what the hell this is, and what happens if I,” and then a lurch, as the bald man steps close, as Moody jerks back, that knife-tip pressed again against the loose skin of his throat. The beaded curtain clattering to a close. “I wonder,” says Moody, low and quick, “do you know, already, which bone it’d be? Something from the foot, I bet. All those metatarsals and cuneiformes, seven thousand fucking bones in the average foot, and does it ever bother you? Walking around on a goddamn shattered Ming vase, sewn up in a leather sack?” But the bald man steps up again, and stepping back Moody stumbles over the tumbled shoes and falls back thump to his butt on the floor. Shaking out his arm the bald man lets something drop through his fingers, a flare of light a rod of metal whump the head of it hitting the floor, a crown of flanges nicked and gleaming hefted looping tightly swung about and up to catch Moody right in the grunting belly doubled bang back against the counter and down, coughing, groaning, the knife still in his useless hand.

“Oh, hell,” says the XO.

“Get,” says the bald man, lifting his mace, “out,” pointing it at them all, “of my. House!”

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