by Matt Slick
Bernard P. Rumpford slowly drifted awake, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, stretched, and after a few minutes of contemplating staying in bed all day, decided to drop his feet to the cold floor. His nerves jumped to life.
He answered the morning with a shower, a shave, some coffee in a sunlight-flooded kitchen, and the paper. Saturday was starting out great, or so he thought.
He was half way through the editorials and on his second cup of java when the urge to take a drive through the neighborhood struck him like a slap in the face. He crumpled the paper in his lap, pondered the sudden curious urge for a moment, and tried to dismiss it.
"I'm not going to drive around for no good reason," he said aloud and jerked the paper back up. "There's no sense in it. Not this early anyway."
He fought the urge for ten more minutes and attempted to sidetrack it with a some cereal and toast. It persisted. He tossed the paper onto the kitchen table. He calmly said, "No. I'm not going."
He stared out the window.
"Forget it. Why should I go for a ride? I don't have any reason to go for a drive." He realized he was fighting with himself and new it was odd. "No need to get groceries...no dry cleaning to get...no one to visit...no, I can't think of any reason to go...except that I have an unusual urge...to...take a drive."
The urge grew stronger and then it was accompanied by curiosity.
"Darn," he said as he stared out the window, "I guess I won't get any peace until I get back." He stared out the window again.
Suddenly Barney was aware of something in a tree just outside the kitchen window. "What the..." He moved closer and examined the unusual sight. Just outside the window, in a nearby tree, a sparrow had what looked like a gym sock. The little bird in was vigorously pecking the heck out of it. Barney frowned in bewilderment.
"You don't see that everyday. Why would a bird be pecking at a sock in a tree?" The bird looked at Barney, raised the tattered sock in its beak, and took to labored flight dangling the item in the wind.
"Today's going to be interesting," he said to himself with a chuckle.
How little he knew.
Eight minutes later Barney sat in his car. He turned the ignition. "Rrrerrrrerer." The car wouldn't start. He tried again.
"Rrreerreereerreere." Nothing. "Rreererrreeerrrerere."
He slapped the steering wheel with both hands. "I don't get it! This car has been running perfectly. Why won't it..."
A sock fell on his hood.
Barney sat there and stared at it for a bit.
"That bird dropped the sock on my hood," he said calmly. Suddenly he had an idea and said it out loud just to let chance know he was on to the charade. "I bet the car starts now."
He turned the key and the engine started right up. "Okay," he said nervously. "I can handle this. This kind of thing happens to me all the time. I get urges all the time and see birds and have my car start after a sock falls on it. Yep, just another typical day." He let out a sigh and ran his fingers through his hair.
That's when that same sparrow swooped, picked the sock off the hood, stared at Barney a moment, and was gone.
"No problem," said Barney nodding his head slowly. "No problem. I think I'll just drive now."
Needless to say, Barney was a little weary as he headed down the road. He didn't know what was in store for him and he wasn't sure he wanted to find out. That is, if there was anything in store at all. But what else was there to think. The day was sure different and he was ready for anything.
After about a half hour of driving in circles and right when boredom was setting in, suddenly in front of him flying low to the ground was that dang bird with the tattered sock.
Barney hit the accelerator chasing the little bird down the road.
It flew into an alley.
Barney followed...and stopped the car. Right there in broad daylight was a gift wrapped box. It was in silver wrapping paper with a blue bow on top. The bird was gone.
He looked around. No one. He looked around some more. Still no one.
"Should I or shouldn't I?" he said as he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. Another useless look around. "Oh for crying out loud! This is all so weird."
He yanked the door open and walked straight for the box all the while glancing every which way. He looked for any clue that might reveal anything at all about the box, its owner, how it got there. But nothing. Nothing at all.
He reached down to pick it up and lifted; it barely moved. He hefted harder, raised it up, and slowly staggered back to the car around to the passenger's side and dropped it onto the seat. The car bounced a bit.
He looked around some more. Still no one. He headed towards home. He looked at the bright wrappings as he drove. There was, of course, no note, no clue on the outside as to where it came from or for whom it was intended.
He couldn't' help it. He pulled the car over and turned off the engine. He tore the wrappings every which way, demolished the cardboard housing and found...a metal box with a lock on it.
"Oh great!" he shouted in frustrated excitement. "That's great!"
He started the car and hurriedly drove straight home. Once in the garage he tackled the lock with a crowbar, a hack saw, and a hammer. After about 45 minutes of frustrated work the lock finally snapped open. The moment of discovery had arrived.
He lugged the metal box into the house and gently set it down on the coffee table. With a flex of the arms and a twiddle of the fingers, he gently, ceremoniously lifted the lid. He pulled off a layer of paper, then another, then another, and there it was, something electronic.
He frowned. He took it out of the box put it on the coffee table. It was about 8 inches high, 14 inches wide, and 18 inches long. There were numerous dials, meters, and switches. "Doesn't look like any radio I've seen before. Maybe its a VCR. No. Umm, maybe its a..." He pondered thoughtfully and then noticed that there wasn't any writing on it at all.
"What the heck is this thing." He turned it around and upside down, but nothing gave any clue. There wasn't an antennae, a plug, or anything. Just knobs, dials, meters, switches, a couple lights, and several very small grouped holes on the shiny top. So he did what anyone would do in a situation like this. He started flipping switches.
He tried different combinations and just when he was ready to give up he heard something. At first it was faint, but it grew louder.
"...the system will falter," said a heavily foreign accented voice. "First we steal the floor plan to the headquarters and after locating the files, we blow up the safe, and get out. It will be easy. By the time your government figures out what happened I will be long gone to my country."
Barney couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Right," said another but unaccented voice, "and I want my cut fast, got it?"
"Look, you do your job and everything will be paid. It is easy job. Two men. Do not panic."
"Look," said the second voice angrily. "It wasn't my fault that the thing fell out of the car. You're the one who was..."
Next Barney heard two men busily packing, moving, and making all sorts of noises he couldn't interpret. He was amazed. "This is incredible," he said aloud. "I can't believe what I'm hearing. This radio must be what they're talking about. I'll have to call the..."
"Who is that?" said one of the voices. "Who are you?"
"Who said that? Who are you?"
Barney stayed frozen.
The second voice said, "Great! How long has this guy been listening? Turn it off! Turn it off!" Suddenly, there was static.
Barney was worried. He ran his fingers through his hair and stared out the kitchen window. Much to his surprise, there was that same bird again, sitting in a tree by the window, pecking at that same sock. It looked at him and then flew off.
"What the heck is going on around here?" He said aloud. This is insane. First that stupid bird, then the car, the radio, and that stupid bird again. This is too weird. I gotta do something."
He got up and frantically paced mindlessly around the living room thinking about what to do. These guys are dangerous, he thought. They are going to rob some government office and I'm the only one who knows about it. I've got to do something. "I could call the police," he said as he snapped his fingers. Yeah, the police."
He hurried to the phone and started dialing. "Wait a minute. That one guy was from another country. He's got to be a spy. Both of them are spies. If they're spies then I need to call the FBI."
He called information, got the local FBI number and dialed."
"FBI," said an official sounding voice.
"Hello, my name is Bernard P. Rumpford, and I found a radio in an alley. When I turned it on I overheard some spies talking about robbing a government..."
"I will connect you. Please hold."
A few seconds passed.
"Investigations, agent Stone speaking."
"Yes, my name is Bernard P. Rumpford and this morning I was taking a drive and I was following a bird..." he knew as soon as he mentioned the bird it was a mistake, but he went on anyway. "...and found this present. Only it wasn't a present. It only looked like a present. Inside was a metal box with a lock on it that I opened and there was a radio. I turned it on and I overheard some spies talking about robbing some government building. So I knew I better call you guys and let you know."
Barney heard a muffled voice, as if Stone were speaking with a hand over the phone. Then, "What is your address Mr. Bumpford?"
"Its Rumpford, and its 1425 Clenmore in Oakridge."
"Thank you. So you heard some spies did you?"
"Did you get their names."
"Names? Well, no."
"Did they say what building they were going to rob?"
"Did they say when they were going to rob this building?"
More muffled speaking. "Did the bird give you any information?" Then what sounded like muffled laughter."
That was it! Barney realized he wasn't being taken seriously. "I'm not crazy! I have the radio right here in my living room to prove it. If you don't believe me then fine. But I've got the dang thing right here in front of me."
"Is the radio a foreign make, sir?" Then clear distinct laughter.
Barney slammed the phone down...on his finger. What followed was a flowery description of the meager mental abilities of Agent Stone and the entire FBI department. He used words he didn't even know he knew.
After about ten minutes when his tirade had subsided, Barney threw himself onto the couch and punched a cushion. Stupid FBI, he thought. They'll be sorry. When that building gets robbed, they'll come to me saying they should have believed me. Yeah, and wait until they find out I tried to tell them, but Stone would believe me. He'll get it then.
Barney steamed a bit longer. He didn't know what to do so he flipped on the TV. A couple hours later, after his initial excitement subsided, he drifted off to sleep. On the radio a little red light began to blink.
Barney was startled awake. He thought he heard the tinkling of broken glass on a floor. It was night time. He sat up and listened. Over in the kitchen a dark shadow moved slowly, hunched low. Barney's heart instantly started pumping hard. Adrenaline flooded his system and in a moment he was on the floor, crawling. Barney noticed that the radio had a blinking light. They traced the signal, he thought. They're here to rub me out. He noticed the electric wall clock had stopped. "They cut the power," he whispered to himself as he began crawling out of the living room and into the garage. He stood up and moved quietly but fast. He noticed the musty smell and could feel the dusty in his sinuses. He was instantly aware of how his senses were heightened.
I'll just slip out the garage door, he thought. But when he tried to lift it he noticed it was locked from the outside. He knew the spies meant business. He began to look for a weapon.
Unfortunately for Barney, he was a very clean and organized individual. Only one week earlier he had cleaned the entire garage. There was nothing available except a sack of laundry, a bucket, and a junk drawer.
"This all started because of that stupid bird," mumbled Barney to himself. That stupid bird and its sock.
Suddenly Barney had an idea. "That's it! The marbles." He hurried over to a shelf and pulled down a sock and shook it. It was full of glass marbles. They were his prize clearies he had won in countless marble battles with the neighborhood kids of his youth. He could never bring himself to part with them.
He wielded the hefty sock of glass marbles and swung it in the air a few times to get the feel. They squeaked and vibrated against each other and childhood memories forced themselves into his mind. He shook them out. His mind began to race. If I could only get close enough to whap them over the head, he thought. Then I could tie them up. That's when he realized how stupid his plan really was. But they've probably got guns. I'm going to die, he thought.
Barney began to look around for a more substantial weapon, but the vacant garage offered nothing except a plastic rake and a lawnmower. He couldn't escape out the garage door because it was locked from the outside. There was a window. He might be able to make it out if he was quiet and quick. Should he risk it? His mind raced. I've got to think of something before one of them, he thought frantically....
Then, the door started to open slowly.
Barney's heart exploded in a pounding fury. He got behind the door and carefully lifted the sock up behind his head. His heart beat like a canon. The door kept opening. Barney focused intensely, waiting, waiting. Then, a ski-masked head peered around the edge and "shunk!", Barney swung the sock down hard. The masked man fell into the garage, motionless on the cold cement floor. Barney lifted the sock again and waited, but the spy was still.
It didn't take long for Barney to tie the intruder up and gag him with some old oily rags.
A quick search and no gun. The spy wasn't armed. Maybe the other isn't either.
"I've got to do something. The other guy will be in here soon. I've got to get out of here."
Barney opened the door a crack and listened. Nothing. He stuck his head through. No sign of life. He tip-toed out into the living room and slowly, quietly headed for the front door. There was a noise from the kitchen. He couldn't make it to the door without being spotted, so he bolted for the stairs and headed up.
"Is that you, Frank?" asked an accented voice in a whisper.
Barney climbed the stairs in record time. He was breathing hard and sweat began to bead on his forehead. He carefully moved backwards around a wall. Suddenly he got an idea. He reached into the sock and pulled out several marbles. Then he went down to his belly and crawled over to the stairs and strategically placed the marbles on the top two steps. Then he scuttled backwards and ducked behind the wall again. "I'm up here," he shouted. "If you want me you'll have to come up and get me."
A few seconds passed and then Barney heard the creaking of a loose stair. It was the third one from the bottom. He tensed up. Another step, and another, one, two, three... He peered around the corner. A masked man with gloves was slowly climbing. In his hand was a small cylinder with two prongs. A stun gun! Another step. One more to go. The spy raised a leg and began to set it down on the marbles. Barney calculated and at the right moment he jumped from behind the corner and screamed, "Yaahahaahaahahaaa!"
All Barney saw was a tumble of black falling down the stairs. He hurried to follow the intruder hoping the fall had knocked him out. But as he approached the bottom of the stairs the masked man suddenly sprang to his feet and aimed the stun gun at Barney. "You have managed only to delay the inevitable. We will take you with us and you will tell us what you know." He made the stun gun snap. "You will be sorry for this."
Barney was terrified. There he was in the middle of the night, face to face with a spy holding a stun gun. All he had was a sock of marbles. The situation was grim. But suddenly, out of nowhere a sock dropped on the spy's shoulder. The spy turned around furiously and that is when Barney swung the marbles and let the bad guy have it, "Shunk!" The intruder fell to the floor, motionless as the first.
Then unexpectedly a bird swooped down, picked up the sock and flew into the kitchen and out, apparently, through the broken window.
Barney stared unbelievingly as he watched the bird, mouth agape. He checked the spy. Out cold. He got some more rope from the garage and tied this guy up too.
"Ding dong." It was the doorbell.
Barney walked over to it and opened. "Hello. Are you Mr. Rumpford?"
"Yes, I am."
"I am agent Stone of the FBI. This is agent Walker. I need to apologize about earlier sir, but my partner and I were..."
"They're right inside."
"They're inside. The spies. I caught them and tied them up."
The agents stared blankly.
The headlines said, MAN CATCHES SPIES IN HOME. Barney was interviewed by the news, two papers, and a radio personality. Stone and Walker were promoted.
Within a few days the commotion died down and Barney was back to his normal routine. He woke one morning, got dressed, made some coffee, and began reading the paper. Everything was fine. That is, until he looked out the window and saw a bird with some string in its beak.
"Oh no you don't," said Barney. He got up and pulled the curtain closed. "No more drives chasing whims. I am not going anywhere. No where and that's final."
.....but the urge to look outside persisted.
Copyright, Matthew J. Slick 1996.