We were a million miles from home and it was raining purple.
"Dad!" screamed my baby. A bolt of lightning had just smacked a palm sending her into near shock. Grabbing her, we ended our nightly stroll through the park and fled toward our condo. Now, the Gulf Stream seemed no longer my quiet old friend. Just south was the Palm Beach inlet and fifty miles east lay hundreds of small islands, the Bahamas. Some said they were South Americas main dumping grounds for illicit drugs.
Out of the darkness, as we were running and after another bolt had sent us into high gear, something hit me on the head;
What was it?
A pigeon had collapsed from the dark heavens; it was stunned and I took it with us.
As my wife and daughter were drying off in our room I began a thorough inspection of the pigeon. It was a racing homer; sleek, black velvet and owning the most brilliant, almost florescent orange eyes that I had ever seen; a plastic tube extending along its back was attached to it by way of a harness. The racer had one gold band on its right leg that read: "LULU."
She's carrying medicine, I thought.
I had read about doctors and hospitals using homing pigeons to transport emergency medicine. The pigeons could fly and cut across dense cities much quicker than any ambulance.
I'll bet she was flying to some place in Miami. She must have gotten caught in that storm.
"Daddy, what are you going to do with her?"
"Well, I can't do much. She's like a lost soul. I don't know where she came from or where she was going. I believe she's carrying medicine that could be important to someone. Tonight, I'll give her a drink and let her rest. Come morning, I'll let her go. Hopefully, the medicine can still be used."
My daughter, Nancy, smiled, bent over and wrapped her arms around my neck. Giving me a kiss she said, "Good night, daddy. I love you."
Such innocence from big blue eyes and red hair.
A daughter can do anything to a father's heart.
"Night, doll," I responded. "Don't forget to say your prayers, especially for me."
The next morning at 6:13 AM, just as a pink sun snuck above the ocean, I released Lulu. Before the release I had attached a note to her leg with the help of a rubber band.
The pigeon flew but a hundred or so yards north, disappearing on the roof of a magnificent condo.
That's not much of a homing pigeon, I thought.
I was then glad that I had penned the rather boastful note to her leg.
On the note I had left my Florida phone number and Kentucky address.
That evening I was surprised to receive a certain phone call:
"Is this THE great pigeon author and pigeon whisperer, 'NO SWEAT?' The man that found my racer, Lulu, and now brags, that in fact, he can breed the best racers in the world."
"Well," I answered rather sheepishly, "I suppose all that could easily be true. I am rather gifted. Yes, you have the humble master, No Sweat."
A hearty laugh responded back over the phone; one of those that continued for some time. Finally, the voice spoke again, "No Sweat, if you are as you proclaim, then you may be of use to me. Tonight, at exactly ten o'clock, I would like to meet with you at THE DAVENPORT. Do you know where it is at?"
"Of course I do," I answered. Everyone on Singer Island knew where THE DAVENPORT was located. It only happened to take up some quarter mile of the finest real estate in the world; the most magnificent condo in all of Florida.
Then I remembered, that's where Lulu had disappeared.
"Good, good," spoke the voice with a lot of Kentucky strangely wrapped up in it. "Now remember this, as it is vitally important, when you meet my door man, wink with your left eye and say, 'ONE THOUSAND.' Have you got that?"
"Yes," I responded. "ONE THOUSAND."
"Correct. And when you come to my elevator operator you are to repeat this. And when you step out of the elevator you will meet my man in the hallway. Again, you are to wink and say, 'ONE THOUSAND.' He will then bring you to me. Is all this perfectly clear?"
"Yes," I said. "Wink. Left eye. ONE THOUSAND. ONE THOUSAND. ONE THOUSAND. Ten o'clock. The Davenport."
"Correct. I'll see you soon."
The phone clicked and I quit talking.
Such a strange call.
TI had lied big time. Nothing was perfectly clear. I didn't know why but for some mysterious reason I had agreed to meet a total stranger. About what, I wasn't sure. But I sensed that it had to do with pigeons.
Two hours later, I was being escorted down a plush, cool hallway. Stopping at an ornate door the gold pigeon head knocker was lightly tapped one time.
The door opened and there before me stood a small man, neatly attired with apparel reflective of the jazz era when Billie Holiday sang.
I at once recognized him.
I had been a writer for the pigeon journals all over the world and this man's face was as legendary as any on Mt. Rushmore's.In his day he had been the undisputed greatest racing pigeon flier ever in the history of the sport, having dominated it for over forty years.
For a moment I was stunned.
Not because I was meeting the true master but because the pigeon world had been saddened some ten years ago to learn of this man's death; he had drowned at sea in a fishing accident and his body had never been found.
His hand quivered as he extended it to me. "No Sweat," he said, smiling, "do you know why I use the words, ONE THOUSAND?"
"No," I responded, taking his hand and stepping into his domain.
His smile lowered. "I keep one thousand racers at one thousand feet high," he announced.
It dawned on me that I was in some great penthouse on the 100th floor.
"Anyone who betrays my trust," informed the staunch figure, holding onto my hand and staring into me with his ice-blue eyes, "finds ot what it is to fall one thousand feet."
I began to follow the man as he took me to his inner glass living quarters. Surrounding his glass walls was another large dome of special glass; the most palatal pigeon paradise ever dreamed. The entire set up was immaculately clean with two loft men clad in white busily attending to their duties. About every fifty feet there was a fountain and along the walls grew morning glories, bird of paradise and other plants of colorful nature.
Above me, the stars were brilliant. The Milky Way was alive. And the moon's glow over the Gulf Stream, well, owned my soul.
Surely, there had been a time millions of years ago when I lived in the sea.
Stepping over to a huge screen he pressed a button. "That's the islands," he explained, pointing at the top, and here we are," he continued, showing me a steady light at the bottom. "This radar program is better than what the military has. I always know the weather and where any planes might be. Last evening was a freak storm. That's the only reason you intercepted Lulu. Do you see that light blinking there?"
"Yes," I responded in awe; the blinking light was moving downward on the screen.
"Well," he noted, looking at his watch on his wrist, "that's my first team. They will be here in exactly thirteen minutes and forty seven seconds."
At exactly ten thirty, he opened a window, lowered a board and switched on a purple outside light. Seconds later, I remained quiet, observing 100 black velvet hens, all owning bright orange eyes enter through the window and go to their respective nests. Each hen was caught as each of them was carrying a plastic tube filled with white powder.
Something inside of me said that white stuff wasn't pigeon bloom.
"One hundred times two ounces is twelve and one half pounds per team," stated THE MASTER as he smiled. An hour later, another team returned. And on the hour each hour for three more hours another team returned. In all, five hundred black velvet hens had brought him sixty two and one half pounds. It had all gone off with precision clockwork.
Before I was permitted to leave I had to take a vow, never to brag again about my abilities with racing pigeons or what I had seen. It wasn't a hard matter. A thousand feet is a long way to fall.
After that night, I decided to get rid of all my racing pigeons when I got back to Kentucky and raise nothing but the fattest fan tails on earth.
Get back to innocence and a big slice of humble pie.