I’d heard it before ? clink, clunk, clink, clunk ? like some nervous junior exec sifting pocket change in his chinos. Everyone on the Backlot claimed to have heard it at least once and reported, variously, that it was “like an alarm clock being wound,” or “thimbles on a washboard,” and perhaps most lyrically, from a ladle-wielding commissary frau, “a gliss upon a clarinet played without wind.” For lot-rat scribes like Cary Carpe and myself (“we put the ha! in hack”), it was a resounding ca-ching! Just setting there, blithely, near a flower pot on the brownstone street set.
Instinctively, I tore off the coat I’d pilfered from wardrobe, lunged to the ground and bagged the bounty! It was a bird, rather, the Bird ? a bundle of animatronic whiz-bang made for the movies by kraut engineer Karl Durhing and slated for a cameo in an ode to ornithological horror not dissimilar to Hitch’s own. Rumor was that on set its auto-pilot button jammed and the Bird flapped off into the wild blue yonder of a scrim, out the other side and through an open stage door — effectively sending the flick’s budget soaring ? as it flew headlong into studio lore.
“Got it! Carpe! Pack your rucksack, we’re strolling out that gate today!” I hollered gleefully to my cohort, who came trundling over with a biscuit palmed from craft service lodged in his faux-fashion beard. “We’re rich!”
Rich indeed. The mechanical bird had eluded capture for years and the studio head had long ago posted an ungodly cash reward for its capture.
“The Dingus,” I harrumphed like Bogart as I showed Carpe the squirming prop clutched within my coat. The stale biscuit dropped from his matted gob and shattered on the street.
The winged machine glistened in the noonday sun, its feathers long worn away by weather and its own peculiar migratory pattern ? a flight path that frustrated studio personnel who, atop many a ladder, grasped desperately into the same mocking skies that hired marksmen shook their fists at when they dodged the downpour of their own wasted pelletal
The Bird nipped me with its metal beak. I recoiled and it tried to take flight, but Carpe grappled it back to the ground.
“So, Bird lives,” cackled Carpe as he examined the clacking contraption. Its steely talons twitched and fussed. Its wings strained against Carpe’s covetous mits.
After a moment, my partner’s greedy smile disappeared behind the tangled rug strapped to his timid face. It was if he were counting to himself, perhaps tallying his split of the reward, nearly a dollar for every anecdote the Bird had spawned, tales that all but told themselves over three martini lunches and those eternal drives home on the 405:
Did you hear how the Bird rained lug nuts on the director who had made that actress cry? How it saved the child star from an OD when it absconded with the needle? How it can predict box office numbers? Spot trends? How it tore the last page from a shooting script resulting in the best cliff-hanger in cinema history?
None of it was true.
The bird’s beak snapped at the air as Carpe studied it. He took a breath and let his weary eyes drift toward the sham sidewalk of the Lot, to the Los Angeles skies, empty and vast, and finally to me, his haggard echo.
He let the Bird go.
It’s wings clamored like cymbals until it caught the current and soared high above the Lot. The Bird briefly eclipsed our view of the sun as Carpe and I squinted at its fading silhouette.
“Why? For the love of god, man, why? That was our freedom!” I screeched and wrenched my fingers into Carpe’s collar. “You just threw it all to the wind!”
My partner pried himself from my grip, brushed off his tattered coat and asked gamely, “Have you no sense of story, Mr. Howell?”
Clink, clunk, clink, clunk, clink, clunk.