The first bird appeared on the fence of a house at 1802 Courtland. The wooden fence with the flat top rail the grandfather always painted deep gray. The generic bird was of no particular species or family and made of clear crystal. No faults. But buried deep in the chest was a vivid red heart.
The second bird was a black-cloaked toucan with a sparkling beak of many colors. The find was in a stairwell of a building at 317 Mason. The third was an owl. Observers noted the bevels in its cowl were such that when the light hit, it sparkled from a distance. This one was at 1271 Burrville. A fourth was in a mailbox at 3332 111th. That’s when the detectives thought they were on to something.
When they added the street numbers of each address where they found the birds, the sum was always eleven. They released this finding to the papers. For weeks after there were no birds found anywhere. Most thought the plague was over.
They were mistaken.
The birds returned at addresses that did not total eleven. Now they arrived at addresses of streets that began with the letter “J.”
The authorities announced they were aware of “J” streets pattern. Again the birds stopped for a while. Then they began appearing only in houses on dead end streets. It was obvious the maker of the glass birds was a close reader of the newspapers.
Whoever was behind this wanted the attention and the mystery, but did not want the police to find him. The problem for the glass bird maker was that, by then, it had gone beyond fanciful mystery. It was not an engaging game. In the higher circles of government, this became a question of security. Power. Control.
The city’s Attorney General made the case to the State Court. They agreed that this was dangerous. It would only become more dangerous if left unsolved. It must not be tolerated. Extra police patrols canvased the city with the sole purpose of catching the maker of the glass birds.
There was a penguin found in a branch of the library. A little brown barn swallow in the restroom of a gas station. Hummingbirds on small wire perches. Barn Swallows. Hawks. Finches. All made of fine, solid crystal with never a crack or fault or inclusion. Each one no more than three inches high. Every one made with great care and detail. And the longer their maker went undiscovered, the more anxious the authorities became.
After a time the government put severe controls on sand, soda ash, and limestone. The basic materials needed to produce hard crystal. Any sale of these items could not occur in the city without the name and address of the purchaser recorded.
They found a blue jay with an almost human grin in a locker at the bus terminal. There was a canary colored with so bright a yellow it brought tears to the eyes of some. This was in a grocery store somewhere near the potatoes. A new urgency came with a white crowned sparrow on a sink in the bathroom of a downtown police station.
Now the monitoring of sand, soda ash, and limestone became a national requirement. Agents followed certain glassblowers wherever they went. Officers conducted raids when a black market for soda ash developed.
There were seizures. Arrests. Trials. Prison sentences. Agents went undercover. Patrols increased throughout the city.
None of this stopped the birds.
There was a male cardinal in the font of holy water at a Catholic church. And then a female cardinal in a Quaker meetinghouse. A baby goose in a grade school. An archaeopteryx in the paw of a reconstructed dinosaur at the Museum of Natural History.
As is often the case with such things, points of view developed. Some held that the perpetrator should get the greatest possible sentence allowed by law. Whatever that law was. And no chance of parole. This miscreant, they said, has cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. And for this he should pay. But there was an equal, albeit more subterranean, movement in support of the glass bird maker. The authorities viewed these pro-glass bird groups with suspicion. Soon enough they were riddled with informants and government operatives bent on dismantling them. Sowing mistrust. Spreading rumors and false information. Fostering destruction from within.
The plague of glass birds went on for three years. It was part of the daily fabric of life in the city. Though it didn’t stop, it was more or less ignored as old news for a time. At least until what many considered the glassmaker’s ultimate coup.
A clerk in one of the finest jewelry stores discovered an item not on her inventory list during a routine check. An egret, long and elegant and colored so near to nature it took people’s breath away. Set on one leg amid a display of diamond rings and bracelets in the storefront window. No one saw who did it. The workers in the store were questioned but released. Security cameras inside the store did not cover the areas behind the window. The authorities had enough of this.
It was at this point the government approved a plan they’d hoped to avoid. A massive expenditure needed to install observation cameras on every street in the city. The hiring of four hundred new officers and arrangements for their training. These officers would man the monitors the cameras fed. And a new building to house the apparatus required to run the entire process.
During these preparations there was an almost fluorescent parakeet found inside a box of popcorn. There was a brazen cockatoo on a seat at the back of a city bus. And a magnificent ebony crow arrived in an unmarked box at the office of the mayor.
It went on without pause. Unrelenting.
The installation of the cameras finished, the day of the great ceremony set to flick the switch arrived. The greatest surveillance scheme in the history of the world was ready to go. City officials, even a representative of the President, stood together as one. The mayor pressed a symbolic button and the red lights of over 2000 cameras went on across the city. Screens inside the brand new, space-age building tuned in. It covered every street. Every movement in every public space was available to the eyes of the authorities. Alleys. Gangways. Parks. Boulevards. Avenues. Not an inch of the city went unwatched. The arc and span of the surveillance was total.
That same day a generic bird, of no particular species or family, made of clear crystal sat on a fence. They found it at 1802 Courtland. It was perfect. No faults. Facetted and buffed to a high degree of reflection.
But buried deep in the chest was a perfect black heart. So dark that, to some, the depth of it seemed endless. The detectives determined that it was set in place mere seconds before the cameras went live. It would be the last bird ever found in the city.
Two years later the birds began to appear in the capital.