It wasn't the utility man plummeting past her window that Mercy found strange. Nor was it the fact that trailing in his wake, a can of black paint smacked against the window and spilled its contents, blotting out the sun. What Mercy found strange was that it happened at the same instant the office door swung open, as if part of some grand entrance.
A gust of icy air buffeted the legal secretary. Papers scattered. The lights went dark, then returned triple strength, X-ray strength, before cooling back down to normal. Mercy crammed a finger between the N and the O in the filing cabinet and turned to see who was at the door.
It was him all right. Who else could it possibly be? It was Death himself, the Grim Reaper, cloaked all in black. He stood larger than life.
Darn it, she thought, here he is scheduled for a two o'clock appointment showing up a full forty minutes early. But she should have known, she should have been prepared — Death always comes too soon.
Death paused, gravestone still in the doorway, unable — perhaps unwilling — to move, as if the very act of stepping into an attorney's office caused him unspeakable pain.
She had been told what to expect: the improbable blackness; the hood that enveloped his face like the rim of a grave; the tormented murmurs (as if his very ligaments were dying souls) that bellowed from him whenever he scratched himself. Mercy was certainly dressed for the occasion: her dress, her shoes, even her nails were painted black. But while the black of Mercy's trim, boxy dress seemed to avoid light, Death's grim garment seemed to snatch a hold of light and imprison it deep within its folds.
With a clatter, Death jabbed his scythe into the umbrella rack and lurched toward her. As he reached her desk his shadow fell over her like a mound of dirt. Mercy noticed variations in the fabric of Death's cloak. The cloth hitched over his body seemed coarse and unrefined, like peasant's cloth. There hardly seemed enough material to cover all the tangled knots and harsh right angles that jutted out from his bone-pile torso.
The hood was of a different material altogether. It looked impossibly rich and lush, like some otherworldly velvet. It shone like black silk. The hood encircled his face and folded back like a curtain, folds that resembled the intricate loops and swirls of a black rose.
Mercy pulled her smile tight and raised her eyes to meet his. She searched the sewer hole of Death's hood but could find nothing resembling eyes. She saw a faint outline, a nose perhaps, and stared at that. The nose moved, skittering across the black expanse and burrowing out of sight like a sand crab.
Mercy struggled with a mad rush of hysteria. She burped out a giggle, which percolated into a barking laugh. Tears squirted from her eyes as she gulped down her delirium. Madness gripped her like gravity.
Death shot her a look. She could see some red swirly stuff happening inside his hood, but couldn't be sure — Death tripped on the hem of his cloak and teetered left, spun right, and nearly fell on his ass. Watching this, Mercy could imagine a helpless little man under all that black fabric. The idea soothed her.
"Take me to Jerry Grimes," Death commanded.
Staring up into Death's hood, Mercy suddenly felt like she'd caught a glimpse up a woman's skirt and glanced away.
Death repeated his demand.
"Sorry," Mercy replied, "but Jerry's in with his one o'clock. Now if you would be so kind as to take a seat and — "
"Death waits for no defense attorney," his voice thundered.
"Now I'm not sure how things work in the netherworld but — "
Death flashed out a skeleton hand — bones with bits of decayed flesh — and opened it like a bat's wing. With great emphasis, he lowered his hand down on the Boston Fern on her desk. Nothing happened.
Death tried his other hand. Still nothing.
"It's fake," Mercy said.
"The plant is plastic. It just looks real."
Death scanned the office. "Is there anything in this office that is not dead?" he asked.
Mercy studied him. Strange, but as he talked, the folds in his hood gathered and shifted, forming crude expressions. "Me," she blurted out.
Death craned forward and his hood rounded into a fierce oval. Mercy felt like she was being stared at by an angry periscope.
"If you would like to remain that way," Death said, "tell Jerry Grimes that Death has come."
Mercy frowned. "Oh, he knows you're coming," she said, under strict orders not to interrupt Jerry's one o'clock Dylan Peele, "he just expects you at two o'clock, which is when you made the appointment. Now, if you please, you're just going to have to find some way to kill the time until Jerry's ready to-"
"Do you have any idea what I do for a living?"
"Sheesh. I wouldn't exactly call it a living."
"Do not trifle with my time."
Suddenly, a vision struck her. Her Uncle Charlie — her favorite Uncle Charlie who had passed three years ago — cubed and diced and arranged on a spit like a shish kebab. She recognized his feet with those stupid furry slippers he always wore threaded through the spike one on top of the other; she saw his hairy forearm with the washed-out anchor tattoo. And jabbed up top was his neatly severed head. As the spit rotated over the crackling flames, his hair, a comb-over gobbed thick with gel, flipped to and fro, off his head, on his head, like a dandy tipping his hat.
On the third turn Uncle Charlie's eyes popped open and his pupils fixed on his niece. His eyes pleaded with her, begging for her to put a stop to this. Mercy jabbed a finger down on the intercom button.
"Jerry. Sorry to bother you. But you're two o'clock is here and — "
"What did I tell you about interrupting me, Mercy?" His voice carried that tone, that high-pitched tone that could make a dog's ears perk up.
"I know, it's just, he's here...standing right in front of my desk."
"I'm busy, Mercy. Just tell him to sit tight until I'm through with Dylan."
Mercy offered Death her oh-well, what-can-you-do shrug, but Death wouldn't leave her be. He loomed over her desk. And that smell: nobody had warned her about the smell. It smelled like rotten hamburger.
She checked her watch. Thirty minutes to the hour. "If you're looking for something to do, there's a cemetery two blocks down on Waverly," she offered.
"What would I want with a cemetery?"
"I don't know, Death. What do you like?"
No response. Mercy was about to repeat the question when she saw Death with his head bowed forward and his hands pressed together, as if in prayer.
A thud reverberated through the floor. Jerry's voice squawked over the intercom.
"Scratch that, Mercy. Send Death on in. And be a doll and phone the morgue. Dylan just dropped dead."
Death glided past Mercy's desk and into the office.
Jerry Grimes was one of the top defense attorneys in the country and had the massive corner office with river view to prove it. Outside, on the oily industrial river, white caps boiled on the jagged stubble of the waves.
Jerry's office was a blatant study in intimidation: one entire wall shimmered with the mottled sheen of medieval broadswords, the stuccoed ceiling looked deep enough to impale a man, and the wood grain on his mahogany desk looked as sharp as barbed wire.
Heaped in front of Jerry's desk, bunched forward on his knees, was the body of Dylan Peele. His open mouth was crammed so forcefully into the floor that his teeth had gouged crop lines into the gray carpet. With his arm frozen in mid-gesture, Dylan seemed to have suffered an acute case of dropping dead.
Jerry rose out of his chair with his arm cocked. "If it ain't the Big D himself. So, tell me, how's death treating you?" he asked. Death shrugged his mighty shoulders and entombed Jerry's hand in his own.
Jerry was used to firm grips — hell, he had one of the firmest — but as his hand dipped into the pit of Death's sleeve everything came alive. Fingers without beginning or end slithering and coiling around his arm like a fistful of snakes. One found the groove inside Jerry's forearm and slithered up his arm. Jerry ripped his hand free.
"Damn it, Death, are you always this much of a pain in the ass?"
"Sorry. I don't have much practice saying hello."
"I suppose your specialty is saying goodbye." Jerry pointed at the corpse on the floor. "Death, I want you to meet Dylan Peele. Now whatever you just did to him, please undo."
Death stood there, lifeless.
"Hurry it up. That's my number one client right there. Now bring him back alive before it's too late."
"Can't do that."
"Can't or won't?" Jerry said.
"Resurrection is not my department."
"Well Jesus H. Christ, whose department is it?"
"What's done is done."
Jerry shook his head. "Have you forgotten how the world works, old boy? I scratch your back, you don't kill my top client."
The lawyer was seething. He balled up his fists and pressed them tightly against his side. He wondered if anyone ever dared sucker punch the ominous freak. Just throw a fist inside that dark cave of a hood and see what you hit.
Ever so tempted, Jerry locked his arms in front of him. Calm down, he thought, treat Death just like you would any temperamental judge. Still, Jerry's nerves were running high-tension and his jaw clenched tight enough to crack nuts. Jerry marched around his desk, wrapped Dylan in a bear-hug, and dragged him over by the window. He dumped the body in front of the window and yanked the curtain over him. His feet still poked out, but that was better than staring into his horrible death mask.
Jerry figured that once you died, you were supposed to find peace. Not Dylan. A man who spent every day of his past sixty-seven years obsessed with death and what did it get him? He looked about as ready to die as a teenager struck dead on prom night.
Jerry guided Death to the chair by his desk. "Please, have a seat."
Death lowered himself in the leather chair. Settling in, Death seemed to fold up like a rickety wooden lawn chair.
At long last, Jerry held the higher ground. He could finally look down on Death. The attorney looked the old boy over. Just as he had suspected, Death was dressed no better than a pauper.
"You got anything in your closet a little less dour?" the attorney asked. "Something in pastel, perhaps. I mean, come on, you look like you're on lunch break from the black plague."
Jerry circled Death's chair, trying to force him to move his head to maintain eye contact. Didn't work. Death remained as motionless as a corpse. Jerry angled his chin to give Death a full view of his eyebrows, his best feature. They were eyebrows that angled down over his eyes like a twin-prow snowplow, eyebrows that looked like they'd never experienced anything more than a light dusting of doubt.
"So what do you want me to call you? Big D, Mr. Reaper, what?"
"Death is fine."
"No, Death is not fine. Do you have any idea what twelve jurors would do to me if I have to keep saying Death this and Death that? You think that's gonna win us any sympathy? Face it, Death, everyone despises you."
"The whole world seems to have forgotten that I'm a necessary part of life."
"Hey, you won't get an argument out of me. Without death, we wouldn't have any wrongful death lawsuits."
Jerry darted behind Death and edged close, trying to crowd him and make him uncomfortable. The tip of his black wing-tip shoe slightly brushed Death's cloak. Suddenly, Jerry felt a slight tug on his ankle. Then a distinct pull. Good god, he was being sucked in.
Jerry tried to back peddle but his foot was stuck. As if pulling his leg from quicksand, Jerry ripped his leg free. His leg tingled. No, it was more than a tingle, his leg felt like it was swarming with fire ants. Jerry slapped his ankle, then started messaging his foot, trying to restore the blood flow. He hoped his leg was only asleep. Hobbling over to his side of the desk, Jerry dropped down into his leather chair with a whoosh of air.
Safely behind his desk, Jerry tried to exude calm. But he was hyperventilating and couldn't pull it off. Across from him, Death remained silent and still. Jerry gave him a look of grave concern. More silence. Fine, Jerry thought, he'll just fight silence with silence. Make Death speak first.
Two minutes passed. Dead silence.
"You got anything to smoke?" Death finally asked.
"I most certainly do. Or didn't you think I'd figure Death to enjoy a vice or two?" Jerry offered a pack of cigarettes — hi tar, no filter — and handed them over. Jerry produced a light, and Death was soon puffing away like a crematorium.
"About my situation," Death said.
"Let me be straight with you, D, we're in uncharted waters here. From what I can tell, you screwed up big time. But you did the right thing coming to me. If anybody can get you out of this mess, I can. I've got a few ideas."
"Whoa! Hold your four horses, Big D. We got some things to hash out, some things to discuss, before we can even get to your case. I mean, I usually bill out at six hundred an hour. But for you, my friend...chk...chk."
The knot on Jerry's tie jumped tight against his throat, strangling him. His face purpling, his eyes bulging, Jerry steeled his gaze, conceding nothing to the black bastard. Jerry figured it didn't matter who you were, you still didn't kill your defense attorney.
The knot burst loose. Jerry didn't care what you were supposed to do in the face of death, he leaned forward and shook his finger right inside his open grave of his hood.
"You be careful, Death," Jerry rasped, "you harm this attorney, you're going to have a hell of a lot more than a restraining order on your hands. Now, if you'd let me finish, I bill out at six hundred an hour. Obviously, Death, you are not a man of means. Matter of fact, you're probably the poorest client I've ever taken on. So, as a favor to you, I'm charging nothing. Gratis. But that don't mean it's free."
"Let me guess. You'd like eternal life."
"That's not what I had in mind, but if you're offering."
"We tried it once. Doesn't work."
"Not enough TV programs."
"Let's discuss my mortality another time. Right now, I'd like you to take a look at something."
Jerry brought a rag doll out from a desk drawer and passed it to Death. "Look the doll over carefully. Her name is Hope."
The doll wore baggy blue overalls and on her feet were patent-leather shoes tied with pink-ribbon bows. Two huggy arms, two stubby legs, a standard-issue rag doll except for the face. Somehow, in the eyes, they captured something: eyes that understood, eyes that loved but never judged. And her smile, so sincere and kind, the smile of your best friend on a lazy summer day — it was a smile that stole a million kids' hearts.
"Hope was the number one selling doll this past Christmas. And as you can see, there's nothing to pop off, nothing to lodge in a kid's throat. Not one lawsuit has been substantiated against this annoying pest. As you can understand, for lawyers, for the whole legal profession in general, this doll has been a total catastrophe."
Death passed the doll back to Jerry but, instead of putting it away, he set it on top of his desk.
"Take it with you. Inside Hope's right pocket are the names of five families. Real all-American types. Cute kids. And you know what? Each one of those kids is the proud owner of a Hope doll. You're creative, right? I'm sure you can figure out a way for those kids to harm themselves. Just make sure the doll is the cause of it. Know what I mean?"
Death looked like he'd been struck. "No, Jerry Grimes, I don't know what you mean."
"Look, I'm not some heartless son of a bitch. I don't want you to kill the kids or anything. Just some mild disfigurement, you know, something around the face. I don't know, poke out an eye or something."
Death twisted his body sideways and his foot started drumming away on the carpet. If Jerry was reading things correctly, he had just found Death's weak spot. His Achilles heel. And like any attorney worth his hourly, once you found it, you dug in.
"Look here Death. I don't like this any more than you. But before you even stepped into my office today you'd already taken away my primary source of income. So either you do this for me, Death, or you can find yourself another attorney."
Death kept silent.
"I mean," Jerry continued, "it's not like I'm asking you to kill the kids. I have children of my own, you know. So what do you say? We got a deal?"
"I don't take requests, Mr. Grimes."
"And I don't work for free. Look, Death, just do this for me, this one thing, and I won't ask for anything else. Do we have ourselves a deal?"
"I don't do injuries."
"I only do death."
"So let me get this straight. You'd have to kill these kids?"
Death offered a solemn nod.
"Well that changes everything. Courts award a hell of a lot more money for a dead kid. So let's say we pop for only four of the kids. Four out of five. We'll save one. And I don't even care which one it is. Matter of fact, I'll let you choose. See that, Death, now you're a real lifesaver."
It hardly seemed possible, but the hole in death's hood had grown two shades darker. Jerry's eyes burned staring into the brilliant blackness.
Death turned and studied the wall of broadswords.
Jerry waited. With each tick of the wall clock the attorney's smile grew. Once ten seconds had passed the attorney knew he had the deal in the bag.
Death turned back and his head moved with the slow grace of an ocean liner. "Fine. I'll do it," he answered in a soft, resigned voice.
Overjoyed, Jerry jumped up and spun around. He threw open the cabinet doors behind him to reveal his prize possession: a humidor, humming like a glass womb. Inside, mounted like guns on a gun rack, were his babies, fifty golden brown Cubans. Jerry slid two from the case and snapped the glass doors shut.
"Screw the cigarettes. Let's smoke some Cubans."
Jerry guillotined the tips off the cigars and passed one across. Death brought it to his hood, turning it over slowly.
"Ever smoke one of these?"
Death nodded. "I've done a lot of work in Cuba."
Jerry palmed an Ohio Blue Tip, tensed it against his thumbnail, and snapped. The tip of the match cracked off and shot straight inside Death's hood, right between the uprights, trailing a thin ribbon of smoke.
Jerry stared after it, a ghost of flame still dancing in front of his eyes. He studied Death, waiting for him to flinch, or at least bring a hand up to his face. Nothing. And the match tip never even seemed to hit anything, it just floated in and down. Christ, Jerry thought, maybe this is one big joke. Maybe there's nobody even in there. Jerry fought the urge to wrench open the hood, stick his head inside and shout, "Is anybody home?"
"A light," Death said, breaking Jerry's trance.
Jerry sparked another match and applied it to Death's cigar. The flame took and Jerry lit his own. He drew in and let the smoke linger in his mouth. Nice. He could feel the traffic in his veins speeding up. He enjoyed the smell of cigar smoke, and it sure beat the stench coming off Death. To Jerry, cigars smelled like money. Not Death. Death smelled like raw sewage.
"You know, Death. This is big. This is more than big." Jerry expounded. "Do you have any idea what this means?"
Death shook his head no.
"Ambulances are going to have to start chasing lawyers."
Jerry grabbed a file behind him and snapped it open on his desk. "Now, about your case, Luke Jennings versus Death. Let me know if I'm missing anything. At twenty-nine years old, Luke Jennings was diagnosed with leukemia. At that time, the doctors gave him less than six months to live. But it didn't end there, did it? Luke decided to have his DNA tested. And what did they find? That Luke had none of the genetic markers for leukemia. That there was no possible way Luke could even have leukemia. Ergo, he is charging you, Death, with reckless endangerment."
"That was five years ago," Jerry continued, "and pending a retrial, the leukemia was ordered in remission and you, Death, were issued with a restraining order. And now, because of that, Luke Jennings is as healthy as a horse."
"Luke should have accepted his fate," Death growled.
"Why should he? You know what this looks like, Death? Like you got lazy. Like you didn't do your homework. Answer me, Big D, and I want the truth. How could you let this happen?"
"Clerical error," Death offered.
"Great. I'll just tell the jury, 'Sorry, but Death made a mistake. You see, it's all very simple, he had the right disease, he just had the wrong person.'"
"Luke Jennings was scheduled to die."
"The first trial, the one you didn't even bother to attend — at least not until the very end — ended in a hung jury. How you managed to fit all twelve jurors' necks into one big noose is beyond me. Bad move, Death. From now on, I don't want you to even swat a fly unless you've first cleared it with me."
"Death goes on."
"Not until we're through with this case it doesn't. If you lose this case, D, then you'll know what grim is."
"Death is what I do," Death said in a tone so low and rumbling that it sounded like the articulations of a freight train.
"What you need is a hobby. Why don't you go knit yourself a casket? Because you can't afford another screw-up like Luke Jennings."
Death slumped forward and the folds in his hood drooped into a crude frown.
"Look. I don't like this any more than you. You got any idea what this has done to the legal profession? You should have been here this morning. There was a line of people twenty deep in front of my office. These people didn't want justice. They weren't looking to sue somebody. Most of them were sick. Some of them were dying. Word has gotten out, Death. Folks are starting to stay that while doctors can hold death at bay, lawyers can tie him up in appeals court. I did not become a lawyer to cure the sick or heal the lame."
"I suppose not."
"I guess science has finally caught up with you, old boy. You can't just go around anymore dropping people with the flick of your finger. From now on, you're going to be held accountable for your actions."
"What do they want? For death just to go away. They seem to forget that without death, there can be no birth."
"Tell me, Big D, have you ever heard of the Nuremberg defense?"
"The way I see it, it's chain of command. I mean, it's not like you create the rules, you just follow them. Am I right?"
"No, it does not depend. If that's the argument, then we both have to stick with it."
"You read the bible?" Jerry asked.
"Well you're in it. You're not a major player, but you do play a pretty big role. Now the bible might tell one hell of a morality tale, but as a legal document, the thing's a mess. I mean, I read somewhere that a rich man has as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel does passing through the eye of a needle. But think about it. If you're rich, you can obviously afford to build a needle as big as you damn well please. Build a needle big enough to stuff forty camels through."
"What's your point?"
"We say God is your boss. I mean he is, isn't he?"
"I refuse to answer that question."
"What will you say if they ask you in court?"
Death started rocking back and forth in his chair in silence. He looked like an old grandmother.
"Please sit still and answer the question. What will you say if they ask you that question in court?" Jerry pressed in his cross-examination voice.
"I won't answer."
"Perfect. Then they'll think it's true."
Death jumped up so fast his cigar left a trail of sparks. His tall thin body quaked with indignation. The folds in his hood looked sharp enough to cut rock.
Jerry, calm and cool, threw his feet up on the desk and offered him a shit-eating grin.
"Save the theatrics for the courtroom, Death. You know I've got the winning argument."
"No what?" Jerry asked.
"I will not," Death said.
"Well if you're calling the legal shots, tell me how you want me to defend you."
"Our time is up," Death started towards the door.
"So that's it? You're running away."
Death did not turn, did not alter his plodding, funereal strides.
"Don't worry, old boy, you'll be back. I bet you're back in this office tomorrow morning."
Death's hand was reaching for the door when Jerry noticed the doll, Hope, still on his desk. He jumped up.
"You forgot something, D."
Jerry flung the doll at Death. He was trying to catch him flush in the face, knock back the hood and finally get a glimpse at what was behind it. At least that was his intention.
As Jerry flung the doll, as he threw Hope, her pink shoelace hooked over his thumb and snatched him up off his feet, taking him along with her. The two, Hope and Jerry, looked like they were taking flight as the two soared up and over his big desk.
Perched on top of his desk was a sterling silver commemorative pen, standing erect in its brass-plaque stand like a jungle spear. Jerry had gotten the pen as a gift after his first successful courtroom defense, and although he never used it, he always kept it there, thinking that one day, when he wanted to write something significant, he'd use that pen.
The two, Hope and Jerry, fell together, face to face. The instant before Jerry hit the desk — before the fountain pen pierced the soft spot between his ribs — Jerry could swear he saw Hope wink at him.
Jerry crashed to the table and recoiled as the pen-tip pierced his heart. He tried lifting himself, pushing himself upright, but he only managed to free the pen from the stand. Perched heavily on the tip, right on the ball-point, Jerry lunged for the intercom button. Reaching, stretching, his innards unspooling, the intercom proved too far.
Jerry gasped, crying out for Mercy. A wave of blood crested over his bottom lip and dribbled down his chin. Then, as if his final support string had been cut, Jerry drifted backward off his desk and flopped onto his back, dead. The pen was still clutched in his rib cage. Left behind on the desk, amidst the blood and guts and post-its, signed in cursive, was a big, black D.
Death burst out the door and was headed for the exit when Mercy's voice sang out.
"I have a child, you know?"
It stopped Death cold, as she knew it would. Death jackknifed around.
"Boy or girl?" Death asked.
"A baby girl."
"What? Are you bored with her? Would you like me to dispose of her?" Death said.
"Heaven's no. She's an absolute angel."
"What do you want from me?"
"I was thinking that, you know, now that I no longer have a job, maybe I could give you some assistance."
"You have no future with Death, Mercy. No one does."
"Please, just think about it. I could keep your appointments, make sure you don't mix up the cause of death, you know, that sort of stuff."
"And you want nothing in return?"
"I wouldn't say that."
"What do you want from me, Mercy?"
"My baby girl just turned three. I want you to stay away from her. I don't want her to know anything about you until she's well into old age."
"What's her name?" he asked.
"And what will you do for me?" Death propped his hands on the desk and leaned forward. For the first time, Death seemed relaxed. The folds in his hood loosened, and Mercy could see forms emerging in the darkness. She saw an emerald flash of green, a tiny leaf pushing out towards the light.
"Come here. You've got something."
Death craned forward and his hood slung open further. Two more leaves popped out.
Cautiously, as if expecting a shock, Mercy dipped her hand into Death's dark recesses. She pinched the leaves at their root and plucked it out. It was your basic garden weed, and she tossed it in the garbage can.
"What was it?"
"Just a weed. You need to start taking better care of yourself."
Death sighed. It sounded like a distant breeze. "This has already felt like a long century."
"All the more reason you need an assistant. Somebody to keep you organized and up-to-date."
"And you think you could be this person?"
"Why not. We could even use this office."
"What about Luke Jennings?" Death asked.
"Leave him be. He'll tire."
"They always do," Death answered. He spun on his heels and was gone.
Mercy's felt sick with anxiety, as if her stomach was coming down off a spin cycle. But still, she had an inkling of hope — the same hope she had felt when she first came to law, when she thought she alone could right the wrongs in the world. Mercy considered her new job — for she was certain Death would return. In her mind, she composed her first memo from the offices of Death:
To Whom It Most Gravely Concerns:
I regret to inform you that on Tuesday, the 24th, you are scheduled to die in a traffic accident. I know this must come as quite a surprise to you but...but...
But what? How do you tell someone to stop wasting their precious days? What words do you use? And would that person go anywhere near traffic on that fateful Tuesday?
There must be a way, Mercy thought. Some way to ease the transition, to give people a chance to stop fearing death and start living life. Oh well, she never thought it was going to be easy.
Outside, it was a beautiful fall day with just the chill promise of winter. Death loved this time of year. About the future, Death didn't have the slightest idea. He was simply going where he always went when he needed to clear his head: to a nearby park, to feed arsenic to the pigeons.