Joanne was transfixed. There she sat, in the middle of the sidewalk, rooted to her spot and eyes wide as saucers - but it wasn't the shock of having nearly been killed, nor her inherent fear of all birds that held her there, staring at the gull.
No, this bird had just saved her life!
Had it not knocked her down, the 9-inch steel plate that was now so firmly embedded in the alley wall behind would surely have hit her. And there was something else... if she didn't know better, Joanne could swear this gull was trying to tell her something. Seeming to sense her unease, the gull took a few small, tentative steps towards her, it's calm, assured gaze unwavering. Did it need her help?
"Go on and git, y' no-good bully!" The old man's cane caught the bird by surprise, flush on it's side and launched it skyward with an indignant squak, "And you stay gone!"
This man's eyes were alive with mischief but quite as keen as the seagull's, thought Joanne.
"I hope that old bird didn't hurt you none, little missy? My name's Elwood... but you can call me Beanpole," and with that word an infectious smile bloomed across the old man's face.
* * *
"Can I help?", asked a soft voice.
Nancy stopped mopping and turned to see Joel holding one of her tea towels, several of which were now scattered around the booth. She smiled warmly.
"Lucky you were out here serving, I guess..."
"Blowed if I know. It was the strangest thing - old Foamy here starts rattlin' all of a sudden so I turns 'round and there's these two weird red lights on him like I never seen before and I thinks 'well that's odd' and then before I can think to switch him off, KA-BLAM! - outta business".
Foaminator 2.0 let out a plaintive gurgle.
"He seems okay now though - I dunno what went wrong. Still it'll take the best part of the afternoon to clean all this mess up and I've no idea where his lid's got to and... thanks for helping"
Joel placed a neatly folded pile of tea towels on the counter, "It's my pleasure".
* * *
Seba was trying to remain inconspicuous... but he was trying too hard. He was rattled. That last guy had nearly caught him, he'd felt his hand coming back out and Seba had had to run for it. No-one knew the hiding places of the park like him though, no-one. He was pretty sure he was safe now. Checking quickly behind himself, he ducked off the path into the thicker foliage.
Within the hidden den Seba sat down to arrange the morning's haul in the single patch of sunlight allowed to penetrate his fortress.
'No wonder the guy had been keen to give chase - seventy-four dollars! Only an idiot comes into my park with that kind of dough in his wallet', Seba grinned silently to himself, 'Two cellphones - not too old, not bad... A sweet pair of Ray-Bans - maybe keep those... a small plastic bag with what turned out to be underwear inside - not bad if they're my size, I guess... and some kid's purse - not sure why I took that one, couldn't resist - it was practically falling out her bag for Chrissakes!'
Suddenly Seba stopped dead still. He had become aware of a commotion in the park nearby. But there was something else too... something a lot closer, a presence... around him... nearer... almost inside him...
And then Seba didn't feel himself at all. He picked up the Ray-Bans and put them on, got up, and headed purposefully out into the park.