When the fundraiser was over they stored the flamingos in a closet at the church. At least they thought they stored them but the birds kept sneaking out. Some got jobs during the day and some hit the night spots after hours. Frank and Farfel went to work at Home Depot but Fern was happy to stay inside the closet at the church. I think she was still recovering from her night in the rain. Fred asked me if he could invite some friends over to my house to watch the Super Bowl with him. I had no idea he would invite a whole flock of grackles. I also never dreamed grackles were such slobs. There were empty beer cans, feathers and cigar butts all over my den when they left. Francine tried to make Fred clean up but then remembered the time he stuffed her leg down her throat and chose to just let it go.
Fannie found a job working at Sam’s Wholesale Club passing out free samples of food. She was a great draw because it was so easy to spot her bright pink feathers. She's also tall for a flamingo. After a couple of weeks she started inviting her friends at the homeless shelters to come by for samples. It turned out to be quite a crowd and on Christmas Eve they created such a scene that Fannie was fired. She didn’t go hungry, though, because she had become such a celebrity with the homeless that she was welcomed at any food line in town. She had access to an unlimited supply of ham and turkey for Christmas, although Fannie doesn't eat fowl for obvious reasons.
In January I was packing for my first mission trip to Guatemala with Helps International. I had never been to a country like Guatemala before. I had heard there were a lot of poor people there. Fannie started pestering me to let her go with me. She told me she had always had a passion for helping others. When my friend Linda who was encouraging my entry to the world of mission found out that I planned to take Fannie with me, she worried I might actually be taking the pink plastic lawn ornament in my suitcase. Even then (pre-9/11) airport security was strict, especially crossing international borders. So Linda gave me a beanie baby flamingo that fit perfectly into my suitcase. It was small enough to calm Linda’s fear of customs and real enough to maintain my Imaginary Realities. Yes, I do have imaginary realities. I think I may have just invented that word, in fact. But I also think that phrase fits Fannie perfectly.
Fannie had become so real to my by this time that my daughters had even developed a sibling rivalry of sorts and complained whenever I mentioned her.
Contrary to those who expected me to go with this team as a brain surgeon , I went as a cook. Sorry to disappoint, I know you have faith in my abilities as a fast learner. My job was be to cut up mounds and buckets of fruit and vegetables as well as make Jello for 60 people at a meal. But since the whole purpose of our trip was medical I was encouraged to watch cleft lip surgery whenever I had time or visit the recovery room where the children slept off their anesthesia before they went home.
The medical teams always take toys to give to the children when they reach the recovery room. Once Fannie found this out she perched herself on the shelf where they kept the medical supplies and took charge of the stuffed animals, mostly beanie babies. They all sat in a box below Fannie. She would counsel each toy on how to best relate to their new owner, “He’s very scared so you will need to be gentle.” Or “She will have many sisters at home. You need to prepare yourself for being passed around.” But mostly her advice was simply “Go for it! This child has a lot of love to give you.”
After a few days of being on the support crew for this team of doctors and nurses they came to understand my imaginary reality and were great friends of Fannie. Fannie is like that; she makes friends easily. But the day before we left to return home one of the nurses came to me in a panic saying Fannie was gone. I figured they just gave her away to one of the children. But the nursing staff told me they didn’t do that because they had one little girl picked out for Fannie, one very special little girl they wanted to give her to. But when that little girl was ready for a toy Fannie was nowhere to be found.
We polled everyone on the medical staff, including the doctors. Everyone on the medical staff knew who Fannie was and had fallen in love with her. But no one had touched Fannie. She wasn’t sitting on her perch above the toy box. She hadn’t gone home with a child. And she was nowhere to be found. I could only come to one conclusion. She had been kidnapped.
I returned home to find a ransom note. A very real not-imaginary email.
From: "FLAMINGO FREEDOM FIGHTERS"
Subject: FANNIE FLAMINGO
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 18:13:29 PST
WE HAVE FANNIE. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CONTACT THE POLICE. THIS IS NOT A JOKE.
YOU WILL SOON RECEIVE PROOF. HERE ARE THE RULES OF THE GAME. iF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THE RULES FANNIE WILL PAY THE PRICE.
YOU WILL BE ASKED A SERIES OF QUESTIONS THAT MUST BE ANSWERED WITHIN THE ALLOTED TIME VIA E-MAIL TO THIS ADDRESS. YOU MUST ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS CORRECTLY. IF YOU FAIL TO ANSWER THE QUESTIONS IN THE ALLOTED TIME, THE BIRD GETS IT.
LIST THE INGREDIENTS FOR A BAKED ALASKA.
YOU HAVE 48 HOURS TO RESPOND. FANNIE IS COUNTING ON YOU. HAVE YOU EVER HEARD A FLAMINGO CRY?
I was flabbergasted. I had no idea who sent the email. It came from a generic address and anyone anywhere on the planet could have sent it. We had people on the Helps medical team from Japan and India as well as about five different states.
But I didn't have time to worry about that when Fannie's life was in danger. I flew into action and immediately thought of Francine. I knew that she probably could give me the recipe from memory. Then I alerted Fred and he went to round up the other flamingos. Everyone thinks Fred is just a boozy slouch but I knew he had a soft spot in his heart for Fannie. They all do. Fern was even standing watch outside--in the rain!! Then I thought I might try to intimidate the kidnappers by mentioning the Flamingo Bureau of Investigation. That turned out to be the wrong move.
I came home from the store the next day to find a plastic sandwich bag of pink feathers tied to my front door. Emails started flying back and forth over the internet. The kidnappers kept quizzing me with trivial questions to taunt me. Once I found a photo of flamingos in my mailbox. Several of Fannie's cousins flew in including Clarice her cousin who is a private duty nurse and Harold, a beautiful Toucan. Harold perched on the window ledge to keep watch for Fannie's return. Fred even talked the grackles into massing in our front yard as lookouts. I wasn't really sure I wanted their mess but I was scared enough that I didn't turn down anyone's help.
I sent an angry email to the birdnappers demanding her release. I had a sneaky suspicion the emails were coming from Patty Bechtol. She was one of the RNs who went on the trip with Linda and me. She knew how involved I was with my new imaginary friend. Patty worked near my house and I figured it was easy enough for her to drop the feathers and some of the other ransom notes as she drove to work.
Finally, I got an email from the criminals saying they would return Fannie in exchange for dinner. I ordered take out and called my kids. I had been keeping them up to date on all Fannie's adventures and wanted them to meet Patty. I left to pick up dinner and when I got home I found both daughters and their husbands ready for anything that involved free food even if it did involve their unfavored step-sister Fannie. Still waiting for Patty, I set dinner on the table and then, out of the corner of my eye, caught a touch of pink in our backyard. It was Fannie. And Patty was nowhere in sight. I realized it had been my kids all along.
We had a great dinner with lots of laughter over Fannie's exploits. But that still didn't solve the riddle of the kidnapping in Guatemala. But I didn't have long to wait for an answer. I would hear from Fannie the following week.
Next installment: Fannie surfaces.