As I headed down the hallway to the office, I could hear Claire talking to a client. I glanced at my watch and realized it was our two o’clock appointment. I gave the client a brief nod but didn’t interrupt. When I reached my desk, Hero came over to greet me, and Jerrie raised her head. Once she realized I wasn’t doing anything interesting, she went back to sleep. Both cats were curled up on the love seat that was directly in the path of sunlight streaming through the front windows. It is one of their favorite spots.
I played with Hero for a moment and gave him a treat as I absently listened to Claire try to talk our client out of requesting the advanced search. The woman was elderly, and it was apparent that she didn’t have much money. Even worse, her missing pet was a bird. Hero could search by air scent, but it was very difficult to track something that flew.
“Mrs. Kearns,” Claire said in a soft, caring voice, “it is very hard to find birds. We will be happy to call all the shelters and some local aviaries. Maybe someone found her and turned her in.”
“No, no she won’t go to anyone else. Please, dear, please help me. I’ve had Molly for almost thirty years. I just don’t know what I’d do without her.”
The woman’s voice broke on the end. Claire looked at me. I closed my eyes briefly and nodded. Claire quickly rounded the desk and sat in the chair next to Mrs. Kearns. As she spoke softly with the woman, I gathered Hero’s leash and my backpack. Hero followed me over to them.
“Mrs. Kearns,” I said. “I’m Alex, and this is Hero. Let’s go see if we can find Molly.”
I spent the next two hours searching Mrs. Kearns’ neighborhood for her parrot. In the end, it wasn’t Hero that found the bird but one of the neighborhood kids. They had been out playing in the yard a few houses down, and one of them spotted the brightly colored Macaw in a tree. It took Mrs. Kearns coaxing and a special treat of a juicy apple before the bird consented to fly down, but both the client and the bird were finally corralled.
Once Molly had been returned to her cage, I took her picture for my wall. As Mrs. Kearns thanked me for what seemed like the hundredth time, I gathered my things and prepared to leave.
“Wait, dear.” Mrs. Kearns hurried over to the table and began digging through her purse. For an older woman, she moved fast. She had told me she just turned eighty. I thought about introducing her to Harvey. I had a feeling the two of them might get along.
“Just a moment, dear,” she said. She found her wallet and pulled out some bills. She tapped them together and turned back to me. Head high, she held them out to me. “I know your fee is two hundred dollars. This is $172. It’s all I have at the moment, but I will get you the rest. You have my word.”
My heart broke a little at those words. I could tell Mrs. Kearns lived on a fixed income. Her house was clean and orderly, but the furniture was old and the outside could use a paint job. There was no doubt in my mind that money was all she had. I had a feeling it was all she had left for the entire month, and it was only the eighth.
My first instinct was to refuse, but I changed my mind when I looked in her eyes. She was both terrified that I would accept the money and terrified that I wouldn’t. I took the money from her hand, plucked a twenty from the stack, and shoved the rest back to her.
“We have an installment plan, Mrs. Kearns. Ten percent down,” I said, holding up the twenty, “and equal monthly payments until the balance is cleared.”
Relief flooded her face for just a moment. I quickly looked away, called for Hero, and headed for the door. Too many bad memories came back to me when I thought about worrying if I had enough money to eat. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
“You take care of Molly, Mrs. Kearns.”
“Thank you, dear.” I heard her whisper as I closed the door behind us.