Nina sat on an uncomfortable wooden chair, staring out the window of her hotel at a large garbage pile, three stories below. Bird calls filled the narrow alley, ricocheting off brick walls, up towards her. Pigeons strutted, one gull cawed and swooped, magpies scoured the trash for bits of bread or orange peels while the solitary raven stood on a window ledge, biding his time.
“A true scavenger,” she said to the empty room. “He sees everything.”
It was near time. She looked over at the phone, the usual too dirty, cream colored, corded model sitting in nearly every hotel room in the world. They even had them in Tokyo. Maria had pointed it out, laughing while the two of them ate over easy eggs, brought up by a less than happy room service employee, and drank bitter coffee. Maria wore the bath robe she pulled off the hook in the bathroom, her slightly thick thigh showing through the fold. She had tasted like toffee. Even now, the thought of that weekend made Nina sigh.
A second raven arrived, crowing loudly at the gaggle of birds and landed heavy next to the other. One looked at the other, then up at the sky. The second stared down at the garbage then back to the sky as well.
Nina pulled a slip of paper from her pocket. A pencil drawing of the devil looked back at her. She ran her thumb over the image, stroking it lovingly. Closing her eyes , she turned the paper over. She knew the number, had no need to look but she did anyway. Ten digits, as random as any other ten, some repeating, some in descending order. They made her shake a bit. Ten numbers that when dialed would set in motion events that would cascade recklessly, one after the other, regardless of her wishing them to, or wanting to control them. Already she had pushed the first domino. So easy, like pushing a doorbell. Now here she sat, time almost upon her.
Three more ravens now stood on the window ledge. All five ruffled their wings and screamed at each other. A conspiracy of ravens. They had plotted and schemed and they knew what to do. Down below, the seagull ruled the pile. It dove and drove the other birds from the choice pieces. It stooped to pick up some rotten fruit when two of the ravens came down upon the gull, their black bodies blurring, blending with the asphalt of the alley floor. Startled, the gull stumbled backwards on its webbed feet, then pushed itself into the air, still clinging to the fruit. Another raven darted in, brushing past the head of the gull knocking the fruit from its beak. As quickly as it could, the gull flew towards the fallen item but the three airborne ravens drove it away. The last two ravens dropped casually to the garbage pile and began leisurely pecking and eating at the pile.
The pigeons and magpies knew the game was over and flew away, seeking other places but the gull was determined and tried to return to the pile. The three raven sentries would have none of it. After the third failed attempt, the gull tried to land on the road just beyond the garbage but the ravens would not let it. They hounded the gull, nipping at it, clawing at it whenever it tried to rest. The ravens took turns harassing the gull and eating from the pile. The gull was near exhaustion, its mouth hanging wide, its light pink tongue poking out in frustration. The ravens were relentless.
Nina stood. It was time. She went to the phone without hesitation and dialed. Her breathing, her chest, her hands were calm.
“Code in,” the voice on the line said.
A heavy click
She walked slowly back to the window. The gull was gone. On the garbage pile the ravens continued to peck and pick, looking for anything edible. One raven had found the carcass of a rat.
Another click. A secure line.
A different voice.
“Is it done? ”
She thought of Maria, her lips, the color of her hair, her heavy night breathing, the scent of her skin after a workout. She wold miss these things.
“Very well. You know where to go. We’ll be ready.”
She hung up the phone, looked around the room one more time then quietly left. It wouldn’t be long now. They knew who she was, knew she was out there. She had made her choices and they would be swarming, like ravens, waiting to pick her corpse clean.