SI Vault
Clive Gammon
January 17, 1972
Brimstone, an evil-looking hawk eagle with blazing eyes, turned out to be a feathered joke compared to a feisty six-ounce kestrel that drew lots of blood—all of it the author's
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January 17, 1972

Fly Me-if You Dare

Brimstone, an evil-looking hawk eagle with blazing eyes, turned out to be a feathered joke compared to a feisty six-ounce kestrel that drew lots of blood—all of it the author's

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This appeal was spurned. Short of immediately dropping out of the class, I had no alternative but to go ahead in. Slowly, holding my wrist as steady as if I were balancing a bottle of nitroglycerine on it, I opened the door, backed in, shot the bolt and took a full half minute to cover the 10 feet to the weighing machine. Slower still, I lowered my fist in the approved style so that this neurotic beetle-eater would think it logical to hoist itself onto the bar. Then I released the leash. All this I did properly and correctly.

What I didn't think about, though, was steadying the pan on which you put the little brass weights. As soon as the kestrel hit the bar, it dropped six inches with a violent clang. The bird took off in a tawny blur and settled high in the room on what looked like an old paint pot. "Good boy," I said to it wildly, "nice fella. Come down to me." I made clucking noises, just like Roger. It just sat up there motionless but with that deeply insulted look that women can switch on so easily. Perhaps it was female. "Come down, dear," I said in the purring tone of a wicked landlord in a melodrama.

That didn't work either, so I carved off a chunk of the dark red horsemeat that had been left out for us and offered it mutely. The foolish bird didn't even turn its head. Impasse, and I knew exactly what I couldn't do, and what I wanted to do very much indeed. Open the door and yell for help. The creature would be up and away before I could even open my mouth. Glasier claimed that kestrels cost about $75 apiece. Well, something whispered to me, it could be cheap at the price. Instant expulsion from the course, naturally, dismissal with ignominy, but maybe I could take that. It wasn't as ignominious as losing a battle of wills with something that at a rough calculation I outweighed by about 500 to one.

I went over to the door. The glass was frosted, and there were interior bars. It was impossible to tell if there was anyone within earshot of a whispered appeal. I bent down to the keyhole, but there was a cover over it. I turned back to see if there was a chair or something I could stand on. If I could get in a quick grab, then it was never going to get off that leash again.

There was no chair. I looked up despairingly to the paint pot again. The kestrel had vanished. For a bleak moment I wondered if the thing could actually burrow. But no. A calmer look around and there it was, impassively sitting on the weighing bar again. Suddenly something clicked. Glasier wasn't going to bring in fresh kestrels for every course that went through his hands. This one was experienced. It knew all about weighing machines and was just indulging its evil sense of humor. Steadying the scale carefully this time, I put on the weights: 6� ounces. I wrote the statistic up carefully on the blackboard, as Glasier had instructed us to do, then got the leash on again. All I had to do now was transfer him to my wrist. I gave him a quick, mean, flip-up from the weighing bar. He was going to have to learn that I was not above indulging in a sharp reprisal when necessary.

Soon back with the others, the next bit was getting him to take food from my glove, but this side of our relationship was doomed from the start. I went through the motions, emulating the silly, cooing noises the others were making, but not the little crow of triumph that came from Betty when her kestrel, a fat overblown thing about eight ounces, ducked its head sharply and hacked a stringy bit of protein off the disgusting lump of horseflesh she was offering it. The others all looked at her enviously. This crowd, I could see, was going to be as competitive as a bunch of mothers with new babies. As far as I was concerned, I couldn't have cared less, after the sort of betrayal I had been subjected to, whether my little beast ate or not. But in the interest of maintaining a public front, I shoved the meat in its face a few times, and once as I attempted to stroke its breast feathers, it drew more blood. We all stood around at this absurd birds' cocktail party for another half hour or so until Glasier said that it was time to reweigh them and return them to their perches for the night.

I managed well enough this time, and wrote the new weight up on the board: 7� ounces. Not until I was going through the door did it strike me that there was something incongruous about this. How had it managed a weight increase of 1� ounces when it hadn't eaten anything at all? I went back and did the job again, checking the counters carefully. It was 7� all right, so I thought I should report this interesting fact to Glasier. This time he made no objection to coming back into the hawk room with me. "Do it again," he said. I did: 7� ounces. I gave him a quizzical, intelligent smile. Figure this one out, it said.

He had it figured, all right. "You forgot," he said, "to take off the leash." Humbly I followed him out into the damp evening. "If I were you," he said, "I'd pack up now for today." It was a relief to say goodby for a while to the small flesh-eater that was still on my wrist looking bored out of its mind. I took it back to the shed and let it hop on its perch. Then I remembered I still couldn't do the falconer's knot. I waited, crouching, for reinforcements. After a while, Roger arrived, murmuring dreamily to his little assassin.

"When you've done yours," I said to him, "do you think you could come over and tie up mine?" Roger said, "I don't think Mr. Glasier would like it."

It is not pleasant to find oneself pleading with someone who only needs a lace ruffle and a velvet suit to get straight into the Royal Shakespeare Company, but I had to. "Ah, come on," I said.

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