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Fly cherokee fly, p.1
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       Fly, Cherokee, Fly, p.1

           Chris D'Lacey
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Fly, Cherokee, Fly


  338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH

  Orchard Books Australia

  Level 17/207 Kent Street, Sydney NSW 2000

  First published in the UK in 1998

  This ebook edition first published in 2011

  ISBN 978 1 40831 444 9

  Copyright © Chris d'Lacey, 1998

  The right of Chris d'Lacey to be identified as the author of this work has been

  asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

  A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

  Orchard Books is a division of Hachette Children’s Books,

  an Hachette UK company.

  for Greg & Gigi and all they raised, and Megan, who hatched the egg

  Chapter One

  I found Cherokee Wonder on Great Elms Park. It was the day before Mum’s birthday, which means it’s six months, two weeks and three days ago now. Ages, I suppose. But loads of people still ask me about her. We ought to have a sign up outside our house saying: ‘Darryl Otterwell, youngest pigeon fancier in Aylestone lives here’. I bet if we did, people would be knocking on the door all day. And then Mum would have to make endless cups of tea and I’d have to tell the story all over again. Mr Tompkins, my teacher, said I should write the story down because that way I wouldn’t get fed up telling it. I must have told it a million times already, but a million and one won’t hurt, I suppose.

  It started like this: me and Garry Taylor were playing football in the park. I was in goal. I’m always in goal. Garry thinks he’s going to be a striker for England. He likes to prove it by blasting in his ‘break the net’ shots, which means I have to run miles to fetch the ball. On the night I found Cherokee, the ball had rolled right up to the hedgerows near the bowling greens. And there she was, my special pigeon, hiding in the leaf mould under a hedge.

  ‘What you looking at, Dazza?’ Garry shouted, practising his goal-scoring celebration wiggle.

  I waved him to be quiet, which brought him pounding up beside me, of course. I pointed to the huddled shape among the leaves. He went white with fear and grabbed the ball off me. ‘Is it a rat?’ he hissed, backing off.

  ‘A rat with feathers?’ I tutted at him.

  Garry let out a defensive sniff. He turned his collar up just in case.

  I crouched down slowly. Cherokee was sitting like a nesting bird, but I couldn’t see any sign of eggs. She didn’t look well. Her breast was puffed out as if she was cold and her feathers looked dull and broken in places. I pushed my hands forward to pick her up. She made a wooing noise and cocked her head. Her copper eye blinked and she tried to stand. ‘I won’t hurt you,’ I whispered, and closed my hands around her. She stretched a pink foot out, but she didn’t struggle.

  ‘If you get bitten and die,’ said Garry, ‘can I have those trainers with the ticks on the ankles?’

  ‘Quiet,’ I shushed him, easing Cherokee out into the open. She blinked again as the light fell on her.

  ‘I’ve got a joke,’ said Garry, raising his hand like I was Mr Tompkins, our English teacher at school. ‘What’s black and white and green all over?’

  ‘Ha, ha,’ I replied. I knew he meant the pigeon. She wasn’t like the normal grey ones you see. Her wings were a shiny blue-black colour. But her head and breast and tail were white. What you could see of them was white, anyway. Her undersides were covered in a gooey green slime. It was trickling through my fingers like an ice-cream topping. I found out later it was pigeon diarrhoea.

  ‘What you gonna do with it, then?’ asked Garry. He was juggling the football and didn’t look up.

  I ran my thumb down the side of her neck. Her feathers felt soft and warm and waxy. I’d never really held a bird before. She weighed about as much as a tennis ball. There was only one thing I could do, really.

  ‘Fly!’ I breathed, and threw her up into the pale-blue sky. I knew it was wrong as soon as I’d done it. Cherokee hadn’t got the strength to fly. She flapped like mad and nose-dived to earth. Groggily, she picked herself up off the ground, limped across a short stretch of grass to a rose-bed, fell off the verge and settled in the dirt in a miserable huddle.

  ‘Rubbish,’ sniffed Gazza.

  But I didn’t really hear him. I was back at Cherokee’s side again. When I picked her up this time I didn’t let her go. ‘I’m taking you home,’ I told her quietly. She shivered and squashed her head into her breast.

  ‘He’s gonna put you on a stick and roast you,’ said Garry.

  I gave him a glare that could wipe the smirk off a waxwork dummy and started down the path towards Great Elms Road.

  ‘Well you can’t look after it, can you?’ he said, bouncing the ball on the path behind me. ‘Who wants a useless pigeon, anyway?’

  ‘Mum’ll know what to do,’ I sniffed.

  Garry made a sort of humming noise.

  I brought Cherokee up dead close to my face. ‘My mum’ll know what to do,’ I whispered.

  Chapter Two


  ‘But Mu-um?’

  ‘No buts. Out. And don’t you “Mum” me, Darryl Otterwell. Get that filthy thing out of my kitchen before it does something nasty on my worktop. Look at it, it’s covered. And look at your sweater! How, pray, am I supposed to clean that? You put that bird back EXACTLY where you found it, then get undressed and straight into the bath!’

  ‘You mean he has to get undressed in the park?’ asked Garry. I rolled my eyes skywards and gave him a kick.

  Mum gave Garry a frosty glare. ‘Haven’t you got a home to go to, Garry Taylor?’

  ‘Darryl said I could stay for tea.’

  ‘Darryl isn’t having any TEA!’ Mum bellowed.

  ‘I wonder what pigeons have for their tea,’ said a voice. It was my little sister, Natalie. She was sitting at the table with her colouring books. ‘I wonder if they like baked beans,’ she mused.

  Mum heaved a sigh and shook her head. For a moment, I thought she was going to soften. Then Garry sniffed and she turned on us again. ‘Well? What are you pair waiting for – Christmas?’

  ‘But it can’t fly, Mum.’

  ‘It crashes,’ Garry added.

  ‘It’s a wild bird,’ Mum said sternly. ‘Wild things belong out there, in the wild.’ She uncrossed her arms and pointed to the door. As if by magic, it rattled open.

  ‘Evening all!’ Dad’s voice came booming down the hall.

  Natalie ran to meet him. ‘Daddy! Daddy! Darryl’s got a pigeon!’

  ‘Ooh, I hope it’s a fat one,’ said Dad. ‘I just fancy some pigeon pie for tea.’

  ‘Yurrgghh,’ went Garry, aiming a finger down his throat.

  ‘Where is it, then?’ said Dad, holding Natalie by the wrists and swinging her to and fro down the hall.

  ‘It’s here, Dad,’ I blurted, before Mum could cut in. ‘I only want to help it. I don’t want to keep it. It’s hurt. I think it’s broken its wing.’ I held Cherokee up for Dad to see.

  ‘Pretty,’ he said. ‘Where’d you find it? The park?’

  ‘Don’t encourage him,’ Mum said quietly. But I was winning the battle. I told Dad everything.

  ‘Hmm,’ he hummed. ‘Well, strictly speaking your mum’s right, Darryl. You really ought to put it back in the park. Pigeons are officially classed as vermin. Not many people like them, you know.’

  ‘That bag lady from number nineteen does,’ said Garry. ‘She’s always feeding the birds in town.’

  ‘I wonder what a bag lady keeps in her bag,’ said Natalie.

  ‘Natalie, go and wash your hands,’ said Mum. ‘Darryl, you heard what your father said.
Take the bird away and don’t be long about it.’

  My shoulders dropped. Dad tousled my hair. ‘It’s for the best,’ he said, and stroked the bird’s back. The contact made Cherokee shuffle a little. She thrust a clawed foot between my fingers.

  ‘Hang on,’ said Dad. ‘What’s that by her foot?’ He pointed to something on Cherokee’s leg: a blue plastic ring. It was the first time I’d noticed it.

  ‘What’s that for?’ I asked, wiping dirt off the ring. Underneath the dirt was some tiny writing.

  Dad frowned in thought. ‘Well, this changes everything.’

  ‘Pardon?’ said Mum.

  ‘It’s got a ring on,’ said Dad.

  ‘Is it married?’ Garry asked.

  Dad laughed and shook his head. ‘Not married, Garry, but it’s certainly kept. This is a racing pigeon you’ve found. It could be valuable. We ought to try and find out who it belongs to.’

  ‘Yes!’ I exclaimed. I looked at Mum.

  ‘It’s a conspiracy,’ she sighed. ‘I don’t know why I bother.’

  ‘Put the bird in the shed for now,’ said Dad. ‘After tea, I’ll tell you where to take it.’

  Chapter Three

  ‘This is it,’ said Garry. ‘Forty-seven St Wilfred’s Road. There it is, look! There’s the yellow star!’

  I’d already seen it – and the drive that looked like a patchwork quilt, all red and blue and yellow pavers. It was just the way that Dad had described it: an old stone cottage with a star on the roof.

  ‘Why?’ we’d asked. ‘What’s the star for?’

  But Dad had just smiled the way he does, scribbled a name on a scrap of paper and pushed it across the table towards us.

  ‘Alf Duckins?’ I’d said.

  Dad gave me a wink. ‘He’ll know what to do with your bird.’

  ‘P’r’aps he’s a pilot,’ Garry suggested, as we stood at the gate to Alf Duckins’ drive. ‘They put stars on their planes, don’t they?’

  ‘Umm,’ I grunted, but I wasn’t really listening. I was gazing up at the dusky sky. Ten or twelve large birds were gliding around. They fluttered in to land on the roof of the garage, then took off and disappeared over the back.

  ‘Pigeons!’ shouted Garry, like a sailor spotting land.

  I touched the shoe-box under my arm. ‘Come on,’ I said, unlatching the gate, ‘and don’t do anything stupid, Gazza.’

  ‘As if,’ he said with an indignant sniff, playing hopscotch all the way up the drive. He reached the door first. I made him knock.

  ‘It’s creepy is this,’ he said, not meaning it. ‘What if he’s really old and grumpy? What if he’s a filthy, smelly tramp? What if—’

  Suddenly we knew. The door burst open and a man wearing baggy grey tracksuit bottoms and a holey jumper appeared on the step. He was as old and shaggy as my grandad’s dog and he smelled a bit like rotting straw. Garry stepped back and held his nose. ‘What do you pair want?’ the old man snapped. ‘I saw you jigging around on my drive. Go on, shove it. Or I’ll get the law.’

  ‘Are you Mr Duckins?’ I asked with a gulp.

  ‘Who wants to know?’

  ‘We do,’ said Garry, ‘or we wouldn’t be asking.’

  The old man gave us a beady stare. He pushed up his sleeves and looked as if he might clip Garry round the ear. I glanced at his jumper. There were feathers sticking to it. ‘Please, Mr Duckins. We’ve brought you a bird.’

  ‘I’ve got plenty,’ he said. ‘Now hoppit – or else.’ He pointed a leathery finger down the path.

  ‘It’s got a ring on,’ I blurted. ‘My dad says it’s a racer.’

  ‘It’s worth TONS of money,’ Garry chipped in.

  Alf Duckins twitched. His eyes fell on the shoe-box.

  I bit my lip and opened the box. Cherokee looked up. She was shaking slightly. Alf Duckins muttered something mean about ‘kids’, then lifted her gently out of the box. He held her tightly in one rough hand, locking his fingers around her back so she couldn’t spread her wings and try to fly off.

  ‘Hmm,’ he mumbled, lifting her beak. ‘Not a bad looking hen is that.’

  ‘Hen?’ hissed Garry. ‘It’s not a hen.’

  ‘How would you know?’ Alf Duckins sneered.

  Garry lifted his shoulders. ‘It doesn’t go cluck.’

  ‘Not a farm hen, you Charlie!’ The blast was so loud it nearly knocked Garry over.

  ‘You mean it’s a female?’ I said, surprised. Up until then, I’d thought Cherokee was a male.

  ‘Aye,’ said Mr Duckins, ‘like I said, a hen. Cocks have a larger, rougher wattle.’

  ‘A what-ul?’ asked Garry.

  ‘The white bit at the top of her beak,’ Alf grunted.

  Before I had the chance to examine her wattle, Mr Duckins took hold of Cherokee’s wing and stretched it, fan-like, as far as it would go. ‘I s’pose you know this wing’s no good?’ He felt her shoulder. ‘Bust and reset. Awkward by the look of it. She’s not in any pain. Exhausted, more like.’ He turned her over and a look of surprise spread across his wrinkles. ‘Hello,’ he said, ‘it’s one of Spigott’s.’

  I looked at Garry. He looked back and shrugged.

  Mr Duckins showed us the underside of the wing. Some sort of code had been stamped on the feathers. ‘That’s Spigott’s, that is. No doubt about it. He’s the biggest flying man for miles around. Lives in Barrowmoor, just up the road. You’re right, this hen could be worth a few quid. I s’pose you’ll be wanting me to ring Spigott for you?’

  ‘Yes, please,’ I said. I was almost breathless. Cherokee was saved. She was going home.

  ‘Do we get a reward?’ Garry piped up.

  ‘From Lenny Spigott?’ Mr Duckins snorted. ‘He might be good with birds, but he doesn’t like kids.’

  ‘We just want to help her,’ I said importantly.

  Mr Duckins gave me a careful look. ‘Aye, well,’ he mumbled, ‘we’ll see about that.’ He laid Cherokee gently back into the box. ‘Come on, then. Be sharp. You’d better come through.’

  ‘You mean—?’

  ‘Aye, get a move on. The light’s fading and my birds want a feed.’

  ‘Ace!’ said Garry. ‘Have you got some bread?’

  Alf Duckins grimaced. I could tell he was thinking it might be a mistake letting a boy like Garry Taylor near his pigeons. But I got the feeling he liked me a bit. As we walked through the house towards a sliding glass door that led out into the garden he said, ‘In a corner of the loft you’ll find a bin of grain. You can feed them some of that. But not too much. I don’t want them looking like Christmas puddings. They’ve a big race, Saturday. Cross Channel, from France.’

  ‘Brilliant,’ said Garry, already through the door and out on to the patio.


  Garry winced and turned around. Mr Duckins jabbed a finger in my direction. ‘I said he could feed them.’

  Garry shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans. ‘What can I do, then?’

  ‘Keep a look-out for Carrots.’

  ‘What?’ said Garry. He stared at me.

  I didn’t know what Mr Duckins meant either. But there wasn’t any time to ask. The sun was dipping behind the trees. I pushed past Garry and headed for the pigeon loft at the top end of the garden.

  Behind us, Alf Duckins picked up the phone.

  Chapter Four

  ‘He’s got a bag on with me,’ Garry grumbled to himself as we strolled across the patio and climbed three crumbling steps to the lawn. He flicked a blade of grass off the end of his thumb. ‘Who wants to feed his stupid pigeons anyway? Pigeons are rubbish. Just like OLD people. Except they’re worse. They’re double rubbish.’

  ‘Shut up,’ I hissed. ‘What if he hears you?’ I cast a worried look back over my shoulder. Mr Duckins was sitting in a cane armchair, just inside the patio door. He was nodding, but not saying much into the phone.

  ‘How can he hear me?’ Garry scoffed. ‘Everybody knows old people are deaf.’ To prove it, he loosed off three wolf yel
ls. A few pigeons that were pecking at the edge of the lawn took off with a frightened clattering of wings. They wheeled through the sky towards the roof of the house and settled with a scrimmage of claws on the slates. As they landed, another lot fluttered to the chimney-stack. Everywhere, pigeons cooed their annoyance. I couldn’t blame them. I knew how they felt. But I could do more than coo at Garry Taylor.

  ‘Pack it in,’ I growled, and aimed a punch at his shoulder. He saw me coming and swerved away fast.

  ‘How many do you think he’s got?’ he said, skipping backwards, eyes on the roof.

  ‘How should I know? Hundreds. What does it matter?’

  I could sense Garry’s mind beginning to tick. ‘If you get pecked to death when you’re feeding them, can I have your T-shirt with SPLAT! written on it?’

  ‘No,’ I said firmly and slowed to a halt as…SPLAT! Garry backed into the wall of the loft. A few noisy protests rose from inside. Two birds whooshed through the open door.

  ‘Thanks for the warning,’ Garry moaned, rubbing a hand against the back of his head. He turned and examined what he’d hit. ‘Wow, do you think he supports Newcastle United or something?’

  ‘As if,’ I scoffed. But I could see what he meant. The pigeon loft was painted in black and white stripes, the same as Newcastle United’s strip. I made a note to ask Mr Duckins about it. He didn’t look the type who followed football to me.

  I’d never been this close to a pigeon loft before. It was a bit like investigating an alien spaceship: I wasn’t quite sure what waited through the door. From the outside, the loft was like a great long potting shed. It was raised off the ground on pillars of bricks with a little flight of steps leading up to the door. On either side of the door was a sort of window – except there wasn’t any glass, just lots of wooden slats. Near the windows, quite high, was a set of arched holes, each with a little landing board. I reached up and poked my hand through a hole. Dangling behind it was a row of wires.

  ‘It’s a prison,’ said Garry, spotting the wires too.

  ‘Don’t be stupid,’ I said, but he was almost right. While we stood there, arguing, a big brown bird with white tail-feathers landed on a board by my hand. It dipped its head and waddled through the hole. The wires jangled. The sound of flight echoed deep within the loft, followed by a rasping, cooing sound. I reached up and felt the wires again.

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