“I have to get out of here,” whispered Victor to himself.
He edged his way around the table, his gaze darting back and forth between the branches near the ceiling. Six nests. Six magpies. Six points from which death might plummet upon him at any moment. Two doors offered escape: the door back to the hall and another door, almost opposite, leading to God knows where, and hiding God knows what. Victor positioned himself at the table corner closest to the door leading to the hall.
“How far is that? Five metres? Hmm. It’s risky. I’ll be too exposed.”
He leaned on the pool table and stared into its emerald overlay. After a few seconds his eyes lost their spacey look and narrowed. His head cocked to one side and an eyebrow raised. He looked from one end of the table to the other, and then took a step back and checked beneath it.
“Hmm. Worth a shot,” he said. “Even a giant magpie couldn’t penetrate this shield. Just have to drag it with me.”
He looked up; the magpies were silent, seated in their nests.
Victor stood in front of the centre pocket, spreading his feet to a shoulder-width stance. He set his hands on the rail and wrapped his fingers around the underside of the cushion like an Olympic weightlifter gripping the bar. He stretched himself at arm’s length from the table and bent his knees, shifted his feet and set them in place. Bringing himself forward again so that his chest touched the rail, he inhaled deeply and closed his eyes.
His eyes opened, full of fire and focus, and he heaved back with all his might.
“Nope,” he said, immediately standing up and releasing his grip. “That’s not going anywhere. But I’m going to need some kind of cover if I’m going to make it past six magpies.” He scratched the stubble on his chin. “Maybe a weapon will do.”
He reached out and grabbed the pool cue lying in the middle of the table. As he dragged it near, the cue knocked against two of the balls; the magpies began whistling again; two of them leapt to the edge of their nests. Victor, cue in hand, ducked beneath the table and waited. After poking his head out on each side and seeing the birds, while noisy, had remained in the branches above, he crept out from his shelter and stood up. He gripped the pool cue at one end with both hands and weighed it up.
Setting its tip on the floor, he leaned the cue at a forty-five degree angle against the table, raised his right knee, and brought his right foot crashing down on the slender pole. The cue cracked and fractured about a foot from the tip. Victor rolled it and stomped again; this time it snapped in two. Kicking aside the shorter piece of wood, he wrapped his hands around the thinner end of the modified cue.
“That’s better,” he said.
He swung the makeshift bludgeoning implement back and forth a few times in the manner of a mob enforcer about to silence an informant. A eager grin spread across his face. He looked up at the branches by the ceiling.
“All right you demon birds, who wants to try it?”
He stepped away from the pool table, holding the cue like a baseball bat, and backed toward the door. The magpies watched with soulless eyes. As Victor made it halfway to escape, the two birds that were perched ready for flight retreated into their nests. Victor stopped.
“Well, come on then!”
He swung the cue; the magpies were unmoved. Victor observed the nests, one by one, with their nonchalant occupants.
“Hey! Stupid birds!”
The birds greeted his taunt with complete indifference. He stood straight and lowered the pool cue. After a long look toward the door, he sighed, and then returned to the pool table. He scratched the back of his head.
“What the hell is going on?”
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