The year was 1935 and Hubert Rockingford was employed by J.K. Atlas Insurance Company. He was a former cop, former private investigator, and was now an insurance investigator. He liked his job, if he couldn’t be a cop anymore and private investigator was getting too dangerous, then this was the best of both worlds. Every now and then he investigated the odd fraudulent broken arm or leg, but mainly he investigated stolen property. This wasn’t ‘someone stole my bike’ or anything like that, he had performed well in this position, saved the company countless thousands of dollars, earned the trust of the head man himself and was now the lead investigator for all the high-end merchandise that appeared to go missing.
Bert, as he was known to his friends, had had enough of Los Angeles. The City of Angels wasn’t living up to its name. Between the corrupt officials, the entitled stars of new Hollywood, and just the general criminal element of the city, there was never any rest in the battle of good versus evil and he had been on the wrong side. The insurance gig had come at just the right time, he hadn’t liked the idea of Laredo, Texas at first, but the smaller city had grown on him. Life was a little more relaxed in Texas and hobnobbing with the upper class was a mite bit better the than usual element he was surrounded by in L.A. It was hot and the humidity was something else, his shirt was sticking to him as he sat on the front porch of his little, single bedroom house drinking lemonade and watching the neighborhood kids run in the streets. The phone rang inside, and he peeled himself out of his chair to go in and answer it.
“Rockingford. Hey Boss, what’s up? The Graveman Collection? Never heard of it. I see, collection of rare jewels and antiques, uh huh. Being shown in Belize City. Right. Statuette has gone missing, uh huh, jewel encrusted macaw. What the hell’s a macaw? Ok, alright, like a parrot, got it. Collection of sapphires and rubies with emeralds for eyes set in gold. Worth about two million dollars.”, he let out a little whistle. “Alright, got it. Sounds like the usual. Locate the bird thing or figure out if it was an actual theft or not. I won’t let you down.”
He hung up the phone and started packing for Belize. He was wondering if it was just as humid there. After he finished packing, he made a phone call and got himself a plane for Belize. He arrived at the airfield and was greeted by a mechanic doing a last-minute check on a two seat, open canopy, bi-wing that he recognized right away. This was his ride.
“Hey Bert, how ya been?”
“I’m doing alright Joe. Seen Sam around?”
“In the hangar.”, he pointed to the building on his right. “Been waiting for you.”
“Thanks Joe.”, he headed for the hangar. Once inside he walked into the office on his left. There a figure stood before him wearing a jumpsuit with their back to him. Long, blonde hair hung down the back of the jumpsuit for a second before it was pulled up and tucked under the headgear being put on.
“Hey Sam, you ready to go?”
Samantha Cartwright spun around, freckles dotted her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. Her eyes were the bluest Bert had ever seen and seemed to pierce his soul every time she looked at him. She looked like a model, but Sam was one of the best pilots, not only in Texas, but the western United States. “Just waiting on you Bert, hurry up and get dressed. What’s so important that you’ve got to go right now, and to Belize of all places?”
“Oh, you know, the usual, somebody lost something, I’ve got to get it back.”
Sam had known Bert for a few years now and knew what he did but really had no idea exactly what that entailed. He always kept the details close to his vest, but he paid well and sometimes they went to exotic places like Belize. He was a good client, frumpy dresser and a little disheveled, but tough and she liked him. Bert threw on his jumpsuit and they headed out to the plane. “Damn hot in these suits.”
“Don’t worry about that, a few more minutes and you’ll be glad you have it on.”
Bert took his seat behind Sam, and she climbed into the pilot’s chair. She pushed some buttons and Joe gave the propeller a spin. The engine fired up, smoke filled the air, and the plane roared to life. Joe pulled the chocks, Sam moved the plane forward, gave a salute to Joe, and headed to the runway. The plane roared louder as they sped down the runway and just when Bert thought his ears couldn’t take anymore, they were airborne, and the sound died down some. Sam pulled the stick, and the plane went up, almost vertical. Bert grabbed at the sides of the plane, he hated this part, takeoffs were the worst.
They had been in the air for about an hour and Bert was admiring the view of the Gulf of Mexico below them when suddenly the peace was interrupted by a flock of birds enveloping the plane. “Birds!”, yelled Sam. There was a loud thud as one of the birds struck the left wing of the plane. As fast as they had appeared they were gone and the peace was restored, but not for long. Sam was pushing buttons and moving levers, something wasn’t right. She looked out where the bird had hit them and saw one of her flaps had slightly dislodged.
“We can’t land with that flap like that.”, she said to Bert. “We’re going to have to fix it.”
“How the hell are we gonna do that? I don’t exactly see a one-hour repair shop up here.”
“Not a problem, I’ve done some wing walking before.”
“You’ve done what? Wait, maybe we…”
“No time, grab the stick and just hold it straight.”, and with that she was out of her seat and slowly working her way out to the dislodged flap. In an amazing feat of balance and skill she walked along the wing of the moving plane like a gymnast on a balance beam. There was a slight moment of concern when Bert panicked and nudged the stick to left. Sam slipped but caught herself and she was able to fix the distressed flap and get back in the pilot’s seat.
“That was amazing.”, Bert was flabbergasted.
“You think that was special, you should see me on a dance floor honey.”
The rest of the flight was stress free and they landed safely in Belize City. Bert thanked Sam, told her again how amazing that was, and headed for the museum where he was supposed to meet with Alexander Graveman, owner of the Graveman Collection. Bert entered the museum and was met by a tall, pencil thin, man with a narrow mustache wearing a sharp, white shirt and tailored black pants. The guy just screamed money. Bert guessed this was Graveman.
“Ah, you must be Mr. Rockingford. Thank goodness you are here; this is a travesty.” Bert shook the man’s extended hand. It was as dry as a bone which was weird as Bert had only been in the city for a half hour and he was already sweating through his clothes. Maybe the rich even sweat differently.
“Mr. Graveman. I’ll do my best to figure out what happened here. Can I see where the bird was displayed?”
Mr. Graveman bristled at the casualness of Bert’s comment. “Mr. Rockingford, it was hardly a ‘bird’. The Mayan Macaw was an exquisite example of ancient Mayan artwork, crafted around the year 200 A.D., encrusted with some of the most beautiful stones you will ever lay eyes on. Some patrons have openly wept at it’s sight.”
“Yeah, that thing. Where was it?”
“Humpf. Right this way.”
They entered a grand room with display cases set up all around and Bert could see precious stones and artifacts on exhibit in each of them. He was led to the case in the center of the room, which remained empty. “It was shown here.”
Bert investigated the empty case. “Tell me exactly what happened.”, he continued to examine the case as Mr. Graveman relayed the details.
“We were having a fundraiser here in the museum with the collection being the centerpiece of the night. Guests were milling around the room, viewing the pieces, and chatting amongst themselves. The night was a rousing success to that point, people were enthralled by the art, and the chequebooks were open and that’s when it happened.”
Bert was looking at the screws on the base of the case. “When what happened?”
“The lights went out, the whole place went dark. It was only for thirty seconds, but when it came back on the Mayan Macaw was gone!”
Bert ran his finger along where the base met the floor. He pulled it back and examined the end. There were tiny silver flecks on his finger. His mind started working. He slowly walked around the rest of the room, making mental notes. “Any idea who might want to take such a piece? I mean, it’s not something you can just sell anywhere, not a lot of people walking around with two million dollars in their pockets.”
“Honestly, I don’t know. There is a vicious gang in these parts, they aren’t above thievery, especially of something that valuable. Oh, Mr. Rockingford, I just don’t care what it costs, I would have paid any amount to get it back, the Macaw was special to me. It was the first piece of my collection. All of this…”, he extended his arms and spun in a slow circle, “is because of that piece. I am simply beside myself that it’s gone.”
“Do we have any idea as to where I might talk to this gang? Where I can get in touch with one of them?”
“No, no, no. No idea. Not my kind of people. There is rumour that they have a hideaway out by the temples, the ruins just outside of the city. I can have my assistant give you a ride out there if you would like. Come to my office and we’ll get you set.”
The office of Mr. Graveman was just as ornate as the showroom. There was a fancy oak desk with ornamental trim, two chairs that looked like they cost more than Bert’s car, and statuettes and artwork everywhere. In one corner of the room was a large, antique bird cage with a brilliantly colored blue macaw inside. The cage also had a fancy, ornate base. Graveman sure liked his pomp and pageantry. Sitting in one of the chairs was a gentleman that looked out of place. While Mr. Graveman had screamed money, this guy screamed ‘shakedown in a back alley’. He was a large man with bald head, a large, flat nose, and what looked like a permanent sneer on his face. He reminded Bert of his L.A. days.
“Ah, Mr. DiBiasi, I had forgotten about our appointment today. You’ll have to excuse me while I help Mr. Rockingford here, he’s going to locate my missing Macaw.”
Mr. DiBiasi grunted but never moved from the chair. Bert had drifted over to the bird cage and was checking out the bird while Alex Graveman had spoken. The bird opened its beak and said “Hello.” Bert was taken aback a little.
“That’s Alonso. He’s my second favorite macaw. The macaw has a high intelligence and, while they don’t speak the same as you or I, they can learn many human words. Alonso is very intelligent. Alonso, say hello to Mr. Rockingford.”
The bird said hello again, but nothing even close to Rockingford followed. Bert looked at the creature and said, “That’s ok Alonso, my friends call me Bert.”
“Oh, I wasn’t aware we were on a first name basis Mr. Rockingford.”
“Right.”, said Bert. Now it was Mr. Graveman’s turn to be taken aback.
“Your assistant? I’d like to get going if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, of course.”, Mr. Graveman went to his desk and picked up the phone. “Penelope? Can you please come in here? I have an assignment for you. Thank you.” A few seconds later a young brunette appeared in the doorway.
“What can I do for you Mr. Graveman?”
“Hello Penny”, Alonso spoke.
Penny chuckled a little. “Good morning, Alonso. You look very pretty this morning.”
Mr. Graveman interrupted. “Penelope, this is Mr. Rockingford. Can you please give him an escort to the temple ruins outside of town? He thinks he has a hunch about my Macaw.”
“No hunch, just checking things out.”, Bert set him straight. He was trying to teach Alonso his name, barely paying attention to the other people in the room.
“Of course, Mr. Graveman. Right this way Mr. Rockingford.”
“Do you mind if I use your phone before we go?”
“Of course not, Mr. Rockingford. There’s one on your way out, Penelope can show you where it is.”
“See you later Alonso.”, Bert said as he was exiting the room.
“Bye Bert.”, Alonso answered. Bert stopped in his tracks and a little smile came across his face.
“Amazing.”, he said as the two of them walked to the car belonging to Penelope.
“Here’s the phone you asked for Mr. Rockingford.”, Penelope pointed to a small office. Bert made a quick call and then they left.
“Alonso is an incredible bird.”, Penny said in the car. “He’s so smart and well-mannered, it makes me happy just to talk to him. What are you hoping to find at the temples Mr. Rockingford?”
“Nothing of value. I’m guessing someone wants me out there for some reason so I’m obliging, and call me Bert.”
“I’m Penelope, Penelope Drake. We’re driving out there and you don’t think there’s anything there?”
“Oh, I’m sure there’s something there, but not what we’re looking for. I heard Alonso call you Penny?”
“A nickname. Not many people use it, but I figured it was easier for him than Penelope. Funny, but that bird is one of my closer friends. Sad isn’t it.”
“Not at all. I prefer animals to people too.”
The rest of the drive was done in silence. Bert looked out the window, it really was a beautiful country. There was lush green jungle as far as the eye could see. They were travelling down a narrow, dirt road while overhead Bert could see some macaws flying between the trees. There was nothing like this in Laredo and damn sure not in Los Angeles either. The birds were of all colors, like a moving rainbow above their heads. They topped a hill and Bert could see the temple in the distance. It was impressive to see up close. Bert asked Penny to pull the car over and they walked up to the ruins. As they entered, they paused for a few minutes to let their eyes adjust to the darkness. Penny pulled out a flashlight and turned it on. Bert was asking questions as they made their way through the temple.
“What can you tell me about Alex Graveman?”
“At one point he was a very successful man, dealt in antiquities, made his fortune. He’s a bit hard to work with or get along with. He’s got a prickly personality.”
“At one point?”
“Well, he’s fallen on some hard times lately. This fundraiser was going to help him out, put him in the black again, the Graveman Collection has almost bankrupted him.”
“So having the Macaw stolen might be the windfall he was looking for?”
“You mean, he might have had someone steal it? Oh no, not him, that piece is the world to him.”
“What do you know about that Mr. DiBiasi?”, he was investigating while they walked and talked.
“Not much. He’s an acquaintance of Mr. Graveman, I think he said he was a business colleague. “
“What business do those two have in common I wonder?”, Bert queried out loud.
“What do you mean?”
“Does Mr. DiBiasi strike you as an art lover?”
“Now that you mention it, not really. He kind of gives me the creeps.” They turned a corner into another room and the flashlight beam glimmered off something on the floor. The closer they got Bert could see it was a few precious jewels scattered on the floor. They appeared to be rubies and sapphires, there was a piece of gold on the floor as well.
“Was Mr. DiBiasi at the fundraiser?”
“Yes, he was. Why? You think he took the Mayan Macaw?”, she finally noticed what Bert was looking at. “Oh no, Mr. Graveman is going to be distraught. The Macaw’s been destroyed.”
“It appears that way.”, Bert said. “It’s about what I was expecting.” They gathered the jewels and headed back towards the car. As they were about to exit the next room there was a rumble and Bert pushed Penny out of the way as a rockslide barricaded the exit.
“How did that happen? These ruins have been here and been solid for thousands of years.”, Penny’s voice was a little shaky.
“I’m thinking it had some help.”
“What are we going to do now? How do we get out? Are we going to die here?”, she was panicking now.
Bert lit a cigarette and took a long drag. He sat down and rested his head against the wall. “Now we wait.”
“Wait for what?”
“For rescue of course.”, he offered her his cigarette.
“No thank you.”, she said as she sat down beside him. “What rescue? Only Mr. Graveman knows we’re here, that could take hours.” As she said it, she could hear the slow drone of an airplane overhead.
“I suspect Mr. DiBiasi knows exactly where we are, but cheer up, I think that’s our ride.”
The drone continued for a few minutes and then it was silent. It was probably ten minutes after that that they finally heard the muffled voice on the other side of the barricade. “You in there, Bert?” It was Sam.
“We’re in here Sam. How about getting us out?”
“Alright, but you better find a place to hide, I don’t know exactly how big this boom is going to be.”
Bert and Penny made their way around a corner while Sam planted a stick of dynamite in the barricade, lit the fuse, and ran for shelter herself. It was a few seconds and then there was a loud boom and both rooms filled with smoke. Once the smoke had cleared, Bert and Penny could see the doorway open again and Sam standing on the other side. “Sorry I took so long Bert, there’s really no place to land around here. I took a chance on a little meadow just over the hill there.”
“Thanks, Sam.” They exited the temple and looked at Penelope’s car, all four tires had been slashed.
“Need a lift?”, Sam laughed a little. “Is it like this on all your assignments? It’s quite exciting.”, she chuckled some more.
“How did you know we were here?”, Penny asked as they walked to the plane.
“I had a hunch we were being set up so, before we left, I called Sam and asked her to meet us at the temple and make sure she brought anything she might need to help us out.”
“Set up? But we found the jewels in the temple, the Macaw has been destroyed.”
“That’s what we’re supposed to think, but that’s not what happened. I don’t think the Macaw ever left the museum.” They arrived at the plane and Penny balked a little when she saw it was a two-seater.
“How are we getting out in that? There’s only room for two.”
“You and I are going to have to get a little closer, that’s all.”, Bert smiled at her. “Unless you want to stay out here with the macaws and the monkeys.”
Bert spun the propeller while Sam tried to start the plane. It was a cramped flight back; thank goodness it was short. Bert and Penny caught a ride back to the museum and stormed into Mr. Graveman’s office. Alex Graveman had a look of surprise on his face. Mr. DiBiasi looked even more surprised as he sat in one of the chairs.
“Mr. Rockingford, Penelope, you’re back. Thank goodness, I was getting worried.”
“Hello, Bert.”, Alonso spoke
“Worried you might get caught?”, Bert asked. “Hey Alonso.”, he threw a look in the bird’s direction.
“Whatever do you mean Mr. Rockingford?”
“Do you mind if I have another look around the showroom? Do one last investigation before I give you my findings?”
“Of course, whatever you need, I want you to get this right. I only get paid if you agree the Mayan Macaw has been stolen.”
Bert headed back into the showroom and asked Penny to bring him a screwdriver, and a few other hand tools. While she went for the tools, he toured the room one more time and noticed a few new scratch marks on the floor by one of the display cases. These weren’t here on his earlier trip around the room. He bent down to inspect closer and noticed there was an older set of scratch marks there as well. Once she had arrived with the tools Bert checked on the case where the Macaw had been displayed. He used the screwdriver to undo the base of the case. He had a bit of trouble with one screw as it appeared that the screw head had been stripped a little, like someone had hurriedly tried to remove it.
He removed the panel from the base and peered inside, there was nothing there, it was empty. He was slightly baffled; he was sure he was right. He went to the case with the scratch marks on the floor, and slid it forward, away from the wall, making another set of scratches on the floor. He repeated the steps he had with the last case and peered inside the base as well. Again, it was empty. There was nothing there.
“What are you looking for?”, Penny asked.
“I was sure it would be here, it had to be.”, Bert was frustrated.
He made his way back to Graveman’s office and did his best to bluff while he held ten high and Graveman had a full house.
“Mr. Rockingford, are you satisfied? I trust you’ll tell your superiors the Mayan Macaw has indeed been stolen?”
“I don’t believe it has Mr. Graveman. I believe you still have the Macaw in your possession.” As they spoke Alonso was becoming agitated.
“What? I don’t understand. Did you not find evidence of a theft?”
“I found exactly what you wanted me to find.”
“Oh, come now Mr. Rockingford. I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Let me lay out what I think happened for you and you tell me if I’m close. I think the night of the fundraiser you made sure you were positioned somewhere close to the Macaw when the lights went out. I’m sure Mr. DiBiasi probably helped with turning those out. In the darkness you removed the Mayan Macaw and tried to hide it in the base of the case. You had limited time and you don’t strike me as a handy guy so in your haste you stripped the screw head, leaving behind the shavings I found on the floor.”
“Very creative Mr. Rockingford.”, Graveman said deliberately. Alonso was squawking and flapping his wings, he was getting louder.
“Once the museum was empty you then moved the Macaw from its hiding place to the other case on the floor, hence the scratch marks, the same marks I made when I moved it just now. I hadn’t noticed the marks earlier, but there were some fresh ones out there now which means you probably moved the statue again after you sent us on that wild goose chase out to the temple.”
“Wild goose chase? You didn’t find anything there then?”
“You know I did. A few scattered jewels and some gold. Just enough there to make someone think the Mayan Macaw had been destroyed. I’m sure Mr. DiBiasi planted those there while you were planting the seed with me and that story about the gang. You tried to have us stopped at the temple and failed there. You should hire better help, you can afford it, or maybe you can’t which is why you need the insurance from the Macaw.”
“Mr. Rockingford, I assure you that I’m doing just fine.”
“I don’t think you are. I think you concocted this crazy plan because you were desperate, but a guy like you, that bird was just too important to you, you couldn’t really let it go. That’s why I’m sure it’s still here somewhere. Somewhere close.”
“And of course, you have proof of all of this?”, Mr. Graveman smirked a little.
“Not yet. But I’ll report to my boss what I found and it’s more than enough to tie things up for a spell. You won’t see a penny for good long while.”
“Mr. Rockingford, you do have an imagination, but if you have no actual proof and you don’t have my Macaw, I’m going to ask you to leave.”
“My pleasure Mr. Graveman, but we’ll be back, I’m sure it’s here.”
Just as Bert was leaving the room Alonso spoke again. “DiBiasi, move the bird, in the cage.”
Bert came back in, and it was his turn to smile. “What was that Alonso?”
The bird repeated “DiBiasi, move the bird, in the cage.”
Bert bent down and checked the base of Alonso’s cage, there was a little door that Bert opened. Alex Graveman lost all color from his face, and he fell into his chair as Bert reached in and pulled back his hand with the Mayan Macaw in his grip.
“Penny, call the police please. So close Graveman, it was a solid plan, but apparently you and DiBiasi underestimated one thing.”
“What was that?”, Graveman moaned as he held his head in his hands.
“You didn’t take into account how much Alonso would hate having a roommate.”, he laughed as he said it.
“When did you suspect me?”
“To be honest, it was pretty early on. You kept saying things like the Macaw ‘was’ important and that it was gone. You talked like a guy that knew what happened and was comfortable with the ending, not a nervous man that still had hope his fortune might be found. You were just too calm Graveman.”
Bert wrapped things up in Belize, caught a ride back home with Sam, and was looking forward to some rest. Sam grabbed his arm as he was walking away and spun him around. “Where you going mister?”
“I’m going home Sam, I’m beat.”
“Not so fast. I fixed a wing on a plane in mid-air and blew up a thousand-year-old temple for you, I think you owe me one.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“I want to show you just how amazing I am, how about we find a dance floor somewhere?”
“Ok. Deal.” Rest was going to have to wait.
About the Creator
I'm a 48 year old aspiring writer who has finally taken the time and put in effort to make the dream come true instead of just keep wishing it. I currently have 2 books available on Amazon, 'Amazing Grace' & 'The Brand of Brotherhood.'