Detective Lissetta Muldoon gazed through the windshield at the restless nighttime crowd loitering on the sidewalk. A scruffy drunk leaning against the pole of a broken streetlight interrupted her thoughts. “I need a half pint and some smokes,” he howled at the moonless sky. “You can’t close a liquor store this early. I got rights!”
Muldoon parked the car and she and her young partner, Detective Benito Dalpaz, stepped into the night. They strode through the crowd, badged the patrol cops who’d responded to the 911 call, crossed a line of yellow crime scene tape, and entered Hi-Top Liquor, a dingy store on a dim corner in a rough neighborhood. Inside, the store was dank and gloomy and smelled like stale sweat and whisky breath. The clerk who’d called 911, Herman Lugnar, waited near the customer service counter. Business was slow, so he’d worked alone tonight.
“The robber took all the money in the till,” Lugnar said. “Just fifteen minutes ago. A tall guy with a dark, scraggly beard. He pulled a gun and said ‘Gimme the money!’”
Muldoon nodded. “That’s all he said?” she asked. “Gimme the money?”
“Gimme the money!” squawked an enormous green parrot perched in a birdcage above the cash register.
“The owner’s pet,” Lugnar explained. “Repeats everything.”
Muldoon eyed the parrot a moment and the clerk continued. “After the robber said ‘Gimme the money’ he hollered ‘Or else you’re dead!’” Lugnar formed a pistol with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand.
“He was a lefty?” Muldoon asked.
“No, a righty. I’m left-handed.”
“Security camera?” Muldoon probed.
“Busted. We don’t even plug it in.”
Muldoon motioned to Dalpaz, who climbed a stepladder stored behind the counter and checked the camera. “Busted,” he said.
“Busted!” the parrot screeched. “Gimme the money!”
“I’ll check with the responding officers outside to make sure they called in the suspect’s description and the dispatcher aired an alert,” Dalpaz said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
“Good idea,” Muldoon said.
Muldoon watched Dalpaz leave the store and then stared hard at the parrot. “Where’s Captain Hook?” she asked it.
The parrot gave a quizzical look.
“He needs to hear it twice,” Lugnar said. “But anything he hears twice he memorizes and repeats for hours. And he’s always there in the cage. Worst part of my job.”
“Where’s Captain Hook?” Muldoon said to the parrot again.
“Where’s Captain Hook?” the parrot shrieked.
Dalpaz stepped back inside. “Patrol cars were already looking,” he said. “They picked up three good suspects.”
“Bring them in,” Muldoon said. “One at a time.”
Dalpaz spoke into his cell phone and two uniformed cops escorted a tall man with a dark scraggly beard into the store.
“Where’s Captain Hook?” the parrot cackled.
“Could be him,” Lugnar said. “But I’m not positive.”
The two uniformed cops took the man back outside and brought in a second suspect. Also tall, with a dark scraggly beard and a tiny mole on his forehead.
“Gimme the money!” the parrot shrieked.
“Maybe,” Lugnar said. “Hard to tell.”
“Busted!” the parrot whooped. “Where’s Captain Hook?”
The cops took the second man outside and brought in the third suspect. Another tall man with a dark scraggly beard.
“This one’s left-handed,” Dalpaz whispered to Muldoon.
“Could be him,” Lugnar said again. “I’m not sure.”
“Could be him!” the parrot screeched. “Gimme the money!”
The cops took the third man back outside.
“We’ve got nothing,” Dalpaz told Muldoon.
“Not exactly,” Muldoon said. “I’ll bet we make an arrest within ten minutes.”
“Please tell me it’s not something the parrot said,” Dalpaz pleaded.
Muldoon smiled and chuckled. “It wasn’t what the parrot said.”
She confronted the man she suspected. Eight minutes later, he confessed and the detectives arrested him.
Afterward, Dalpaz was puzzled. “How’d you know Lugnar lied about being robbed and stole the money himself?” he asked.
“His story didn’t fly,” she said.
“Sounded okay by me.”
“But not okay by the parrot.”
“The parrot memorized anything it heard twice and would repeat phrases for hours. But it didn’t repeat ‘Gimme the money’ the first time Lugnar said it to us, and never repeated ‘Or else you’re dead.’ So a robber never spoke those words.”
“The parrot heard those phrases for the first time when Lugnar told us his robbery story.”
“Exactly. The telltale clue wasn’t what the parrot said, but what it didn’t say.”
“Case closed,” Dalpaz said. “Now I’ve heard it all.”
Peter DiChellis concocts sinister tales for anthologies, ezines, and magazines. He is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society and an Active (published author) member of the Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. For more, visit his site Murder and Fries: http://murderandfries.wordpress.com/
Copyright © 2018 Peter DiChellis. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.