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Dick Winchester in… The Cliffhanger, The Prequel

An Almost Complete Dick Winchester Adventure

By Stephen A. RoddewigPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 16 min read
4
Dick Winchester in… The Cliffhanger, The Prequel
Photo by Ali Arjmandi on Unsplash

Book 1, Chapter 10

The story you are about to read is based on a real missing pet poster and a real building. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and/or protect the author from a defamation suit.

Part 1:

Narrator: Last week’s episode found our indomitable deliveryman Dick Winchester dangling off a balcony while two members of Leedos upper-middle management threatened Winchester for his most valuable asset. That asset? A rose-ringed parakeet named Jordan. But how did fate cause the paths of deliveryman and red-beaked avian to cross? And why does Leedos upper-middle management want that green-feathered fiend so badly that they are willing to risk the wrath of Arlington, Virginia’s most ruthless small-business owner?

Those answers and more in this week’s episode! But first, stay tuned for a word from Camel Cigarettes, producer of the only hand-wrapped tobacco products clinically proven to satisfy your D-Zone. Four in five doctors agree, Camel—

►► symbol appears on screen. Sound increases in pitch. Picture distorts as tape whirs. ► symbol appears on screen. Video resumes normal play.

I’m a man who likes to walk the streets. It’s one thing to drive through this town, Sublime blasting from your open windows as you race to the next address. It’s another to put feet to pavement and really feel the pulse of this city thrumming beneath you.

As I crested my favorite walking hill, taking in the 2-bed, 1-bath homes from the 1920’s currently retailing around $2.3 million (actually a bit below market rate for this section of North Arlington), I was reminded of another reason I like to walk the streets: they were a bottomless wellspring of quick and easy pay days.

Specifically, wanted posters.

MISSING

Rose-ringed parakeet named Jordan

If seen, please contact (703) 555-555. She responds to lesser-known-but-worthy-of-appreciation tracks from the band Steppenwolf’s post-1974 reunion. IMPORTANT: If you sing anything from the band’s reformation as John Kay & Steppenwolf, she will fly away. It must be tracks released from 1974-1976, and they must be good tracks.

Also, if you spot a green-feathered parakeet with red beak flying above eight feet, that is not Jordan. We think she may be afraid of heights.

It was the last line that truly peaked my interest.

$1,000 reward for her safe return.

I peeled the poster off the telephone pole. Nobody else would need it now that Dick Winchester was on the case.

As I studied the picture included at the bottom of the poster, the late-afternoon heat faded into the first cool breath of the approaching evening. In that momentary calm, even the drone of traffic and inevitable horns as the latest BMW merged without signaling seemed to recede. In that quiet, I heard an unmistakable flutter.

Wings.

I lowered the poster, finding the picture come to life in front of me: green feathers, red beak, twinkle of mischief in left eye. The emerald plumage clashed with the crimson Stop sign she perched on even while her beak complemented it.

Matching description, all right.

Closing one eye, I held my thumb beside the signpost, trying to eyeball the height of the sign from where I stood twenty feet back.

I make seven feet.

Strike two. Still, I couldn’t be 100% sure on that alone. Any bird could fly under eight feet, and I didn’t want to spook her into flying to check how high she went and risk her fleeing entirely. There was one more tool left in the old toolbox.

She responds to lesser-known-but-worthy-of-appreciation tracks from the band Steppenwolf’s post-1974 reunion.

An average man might not have the appreciation for the later work of a Canadian-American rock band that had been founded nearly 60 years ago. But that’s what separated those men from a man like Dick Winchester, and I already had a track in the chamber.

She wants a bad boy

A twisted new playtoy

Laid out an oath:

“I’m going to sing you the blues”

Bought a maraca

And now he’s just a black-and-blue fool

Get down, fool

**Disclaimer: Stephen (the author) here 👋. I was quite surprised to discover that this song that I’ve known and enjoyed for a few years may indeed be an undiscovered gem because no one has bothered to ever write down the lyrics. I did my best to transcribe one verse here, but they may be different than presented. Someone should call up John Kay and see if we can get this straightened out.**

The bird across from me shifted a bit to one side atop the red octagon but did not respond to my singing otherwise. Apparently “Two for the Love of One” didn’t meet this bird’s definition of an underappreciated work of rock-and-roll mastery.

Well, agree to disagree on that count. Maybe something from Slow Flux instead.

Now, if my hands stop movin’

And my cash don’t come

If I lost my power

I would sell my soul and start again

And if my demon left me

I would chase him down from where he came

Lime-green wings unfolded, and I waited for her to race off into the trees. Instead, she dove from the stop sign, skimmed the pavement, and alighted on my shoulder.

That was a point in her favor. “Fishin’ in the Dark” served as the capstone to an excellent addition to the Steppenwolf discography. Had she disagreed, I might have left her, Jordan or not. Then again, $1,000 could buy almost a whole belt of ammo for the DsHKs I had ringed around Winchester Delivery Services world headquarters.

Note to self: check ammunition prices before next heavy machine gun purchase. It’s the hidden costs that get you.

Marveling at my new friend who seemed perfectly content to sit on the shoulder of a man she had never met but shared music taste with, I almost didn’t catch the sound of tires rolling across the pavement. Not tearing at the asphalt like they were in a hurry to get somewhere. Quiet, like a sigh after reaching their destination at the end of a long journey.

I turned, finding a non-descript gray Honda Civic parked on the shoulder beside me. The window rolled down, revealing a skinny driver and a hulking gorilla of a man whose shoulders nearly stretched to the driver’s headrest.

This near encroachment of personal space appeared to annoy the driver as he called out to me, “Nice looking bird.”

“Thanks,” I responded coolly. I gestured to the wanted poster. “She’s not mine, though. About to return this little one to her owners.”

“What a coincidence,” the big man replied. “We’re looking for the same bird.”

“Rose-ringed parakeet,” I corrected.

“Sure. Anyway, we’ll give you $500 for your trouble.”

I laughed at that. “Get lost. I’m getting an even G from her owners.”

“No, no.” The driver waved his hand out the window. “$500 if you let us borrow her. Temporarily, of course. Then you can take her back and claim the original reward.”

“I don’t know. Think I might stick with the guaranteed payout versus trusting you two. A bird in the hand, as they like to say. Or on the shoulder.” I nodded to my new companion, who seemed to be leaning away from the two characters in front of us. Only then did I belatedly add, “Besides, it would be unethical for me to surrender someone else’s pet to complete strangers.”

Jordan winked, as if she could understand and was congratulating me on playing the role of upstanding member of the community so well.

What happened next surprised both me, gorilla man, and, most of all, Jordan. The skinny man in the driver’s seat groaned and slammed his forehead into the top of the wheel. “I knew this wouldn’t work. Upper management is going to kill us. We’re going to be stuck in upper-middle management forever.” He started sobbing quietly.

Upper management? These guys are simple corporate stiffs? Only then did I notice the rumpled ties and collared shirts.

With that new frame of reference and desperate to get this guy to quit crying, I held up my hands. “All right, all right. I’ll come with you. You get the bird, I get to know she’s safe, and we all win. How about that?”

The driver looked up with a new light in his eyes, wiping his nose on his shirt sleeve. “You… you will?”

“Yes.” I walked up to the backdoor and swung it open. “But let’s get a move on, please.”

Though she shifted her feet a bit, Jordan stayed on my shoulder as I settled in the backseat. A slight flicker of warmth grew in my chest at the thought that I made this bird feel safe enough to go along with these clowns. Whatever it was they wanted with her.

They never did specify that, did they…

I cleared my throat as the Civic pulled away from the curb. “So, what’s your business with little Jordan here?”

Ape man pivoted in his seat to make eye contact, nearly beaning the still-sniffling driver as he swung his cantaloupe-sized shoulder muscles around. “Let’s just say the bird and our employer have some unfinished business.”

The guy sounded like a bad impression of a mobster from the movies, but the tone in his voice made Jordan’s plumage shrink just the same.

Wrong answer.

“Let’s just say I like my business dealings a bit less vague and a whole lot more benign when it comes to my new-found friend here,” I replied, drawing my old-and-never-lost friend Smith & Wesson from my jacket pocket and laying it flat on my hip. Not pointed at either of these jokers, but ready to go in the blink of an eye.

Skinny man and gorilla man were clearly both a bit new at this back-door dealings business as I found wide eyes staring back at me through the rear-view mirror and in the suddenly sweat-filled face of the supposed muscle of this operation. The gasps of “oh, shit” certainly did not dispel my conclusion I was thirty minutes into amateur hour.

Though I had to at least give them points for having the foresight to not attempt to draw their own weapons now. Only the smoothest talent around could manage that before I caught on and put a round through them, and neither of these “goons” struck me as smooth or talented.

“Okay, okay,” Knuckles, as I had decided to name him, said, placing his hands together. “Clearly we’re getting off on the wrong foot here. We need the bird there—”

“Rose-ringed parakeet.”

“—right. We need it to help recover some critical data.”

Jordan and I cocked our heads in unison. “What are you talking about?”

“Leedos has been going through some fiscal cutbacks recently,” Deviated Septum explained behind the wheel. “Currently, they’re only willing to pay for AC every other day. So, it was a hot day, and we had the windows open while reviewing some of the specs around the point-defense system we’re building for the Navy’s next-generation destroyer program.”

Knuckles picked up the story. “Then this dunce next to me spills his water on the laptop. The laptop with the file containing all the specs.”

“Hey, I needed to hydrate for how much I was sweating!”

“Okay, so just get the backup file off your cloud storage.” I glanced over to my feathered friend. “You still haven’t explained how a parakeet is involved in any of this.”

Knuckles nodded. “While everyone’s panicking, suddenly we hear the specs just erased being recited from the windowsill. One after the other. We all turn our heads slowly to find your friend there listing out ranges and ordnance. The key to all our problems is this lost pet. We just need her to recover our work.”

I looked at Jordan. On cue, her beak opened.

“Phalanx CIWS, 20-millimeter Vulcan cannon, 2-9 kilometers based on atmospheric conditions,” she chirped out.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” I said, leaning back in my seat. “So, no cloud backup.”

Knuckles shook his head. “Navy doesn’t want their weapons data stored on an external system.”

I narrowed one eye. “If Leedos is cutting budgets, then where is this $500 coming from?”

“All the boys on the project scraped it together out of own pockets. It could mean our jobs if we don’t get it back. Besides,” Knuckles nudged Deviated Septum in the ribs, “he’s up for promotion this year. The boss said this was the perfect exercise in creative problem solving to demonstrate his worth to the company.”

“No further questions, Your Honor.” I slid down in my seat, content to imagine the feel of another five-hundred greenbacks gracing my palms.

After another few minutes of driving, we arrived at Leedos’s Arlington office. Of course, as a premier Department of Defense contractor, Leedos had offices all over the DMV. Even so, I was excited to finally see the inside and admire all that selling weapons could get you.

In the front lobby, a man from Leedos Insider Threat Protection took my name to create a visitor badge. Seeing no reason to lie, I gave him the real thing.

“Occupation?”

“Independent contractor.” I winked at the upper-middle management representatives beside me. Deviated Septum looked distinctly uncomfortable, which only made me enjoy this process even more.

“Any weapons?”

“One.” I laid the revolver on the desk. Now both the corporate stooges looked uneasy.

“Licensed and registered?”

“Of course.” I pulled the cards from my wallet.

“Guess I can clock out early tonight,” the security man said, smiling at me for the first time. “Since we have a certified Good Guy with a Gun on site now.”

“Can we please hurry this up, Jalil?” Knuckles asked. “They’re not paying overtime these days.”

“Just a moment while I print his badge out,” Jalil said, shrugging. As he handed me the laminated card, his eyes narrowed. “Sorry, your friend there is going to need a badge, too.”

“My friend…” I followed his eyes to Jordan, and a wide grin formed across my face. “What do you want to know?”

I heard two sighs in exasperation.

Another two minutes, and Deviated Septum scanned us through a series of security doors before we reached the elevators. None of the security personnel gave me or the guest identified as Jordan McStyle, Fashion model, more than a cursory glance.

As we rode to the top floor, I reflected on how well this job had worked out for me. $1,500 in the bank. And the old man had always claimed that I acted too impulsively.

You never look before you leap, Richard. His words echoed through my head. You just jump in headfirst.

Yeah? I retorted to his ghost. Well jumping in netted me a 50% profit increase. What do you say to that?

As if my father’s spirit had heard my taunt and responded in his own spooky way, the words of the two corporate clowns broke through my triumphant haze and became sharp in my mind as they huddled to discuss next steps outside a conference room.

“…and once we’ve recorded all the data from the bird, we take care of the loose end,” Deviated Septum concluded.

Knuckles glanced over at me and Jordan, noticing my new-found alertness. “Uh, I think we can table that for now.”

“What, why?” Deviated Septum pushed back, not realizing I had tuned in. “That’s not a SMART goal. Besides, I’m big on planning ahead. Helps preempt any unforeseen roadblocks.”

“Sure, but—”

“Anyways, I’m not going to be able to concentrate if all I’m thinking of is what happens next. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I can follow through with it. Are you sure this is the most humane option?”

Loose end. Humane. Jordan carrying classified information in her pretty little head. Birds being unable to sign, understand, or follow a non-disclosure agreement. All the pieces were falling together in my brain to point toward one grisly conclusion: these two didn’t want to simply record what Jordan had memorized.

They wanted to ensure she never repeated it to anyone else.

This revelation also led me to one conclusion nearly as horrific: Dad may have actually had a point.

But Deviated Septum and Knuckles had made a critical mistake: they hadn’t removed Jordan from my protection yet. She still had the data they needed so badly. And with so many security doors between us and the front door, I cast my eyes around for an alternative.

Behind us was a door that led to an outdoor balcony. I reached up and gingerly wrapped my fingers around Jordan’s body. To her credit, she did not resist or even squirm the slightest bit. This rose-ringed parakeet trusted me, and I owed it to her to get her out of danger.

Never mind if I was the one who had placed her in that danger in the first place.

The words of another Steppenwolf song followed me as I bolted through the door, ignoring the cries to stop behind me.

Be not selfish in your doings:

Pass it on.

Help your brother in his need:

Pass it on.

In the spirit of selflessness, I hurtled over the railing, intent on taking the expressway to freedom.

Only then did I remember my father’s maxim and look down.

In a fraction of a second, I recalled the fact that we had gotten off on the 8th floor—and that Jordan was afraid of heights.

The arm previously used to vault the railing turned from pole to lifeline as my hand gripped for all it was worth. I swung on the new axis and slammed hard into the bricks beneath the railing, but all the Pilates classes paid off as my hand stayed locked in place.

Yep, I thought as I dangled by one arm, the other cradling a rose-ringed parakeet in my jacket so she would not catch sight of the sixty-foot drop beneath us, Dad’s probably laughing his head off at me right about now.

Narrator: How will Dick escape his precarious situation? Will Jordan ever be reunited with her owners? Will national security be compromised in the progress? And will the author ever wrap this story up? Tune in next week to find out in the thrilling conclusion of Dick Winchester in… The Cliffhanger, The Finale

###

Just for the hell of it, I added the three songs referenced to the start of my dedicated Dick Winchester playlist if you were curious where I was pulling lyrics from (yes, those are all real songs):

More Dick Winchester in...

The Opening Salvo (Book 1)

  1. The Box with No Name
  2. The Last Word
  3. The Hat Trick
  4. Dick Winchester Episode 1: Gratuity Not Included
  5. The Terminus — print exclusive*
  6. The Fairy Tale
  7. The Cop Out — print exclusive*
  8. The Enlistment
  9. The Cliffhanger
  10. The Cliffhanger, The Prequel — you are here
  11. The Cliffhanger, The Finale

*When the book is released in September 2024

The Counterattack (Book 2)

ThrillerPrequelAdventure
4

About the Creator

Stephen A. Roddewig

A Bloody Business is now live! More details.

Writing the adventures of Dick Winchester, a modern gangland comedy set just across the river from Washington, D.C.

Proud member of the Horror Writers Association 🐦‍⬛

StephenARoddewig.com

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Comments (4)

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  • Mackenzie Davisabout a month ago

    This needs to revamp the top stories page. I swear, it's the most fun, well-written, and consistently interesting series I've found on Vocal. I'm totally buying this book when it comes out, btw. This bit got me laughing aloud: "An average man might not have the appreciation for the later work of a Canadian-American rock band that had been founded nearly 60 years ago. But that’s what separated those men from a man like Dick Winchester, and I already had a track in the chamber." I love how well the lyrics fit in with the story, too. Very effective narrative technique. Onto the next!!

  • Lamar Wiggins2 months ago

    LOL... There is so many things to love about this episode and Jordan is one of them. I was immediately drawn in after reading the unique 'Missing' poster. Good times, my friend. Thankfully the next chapter is already waiting for me.

  • Donna Fox (HKB)2 months ago

    Stephen I don't know how you do it!! There is never a dull moment in this series! I love the comedic touches you add in like "those pilates classes paid off" or how you personified the bird with expression it made as though it understood humans! So great!! I'll have to make time to check out more of these adventures!! Great work as always!!

  • Another fantastic chapter, Stephen! (And no, I don't want this ever to end, lol!)

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