My cousin Jason worked for a heating and air conditioning company when he was in high school. They took care of the huge air conditioning units that sat atop the local mall. The mall had pigeons. Looking up through the skylights, a shopper could see them bobbing and strutting on the roof. They were picturesque, but when they took up residence in the air conditioning units, they played havoc with the interior climate of the mall.
Jason, the youngest (and, presumably, the least skilled) of the company’s employees, was assigned the task of discouraging the pigeons. So one summer morning he carried a BB gun to the mall and climbed through the roof hatch with it.
Jason was popping away on the roof of the mall when a shopper looked up and screamed at the sight of a young man aiming and shooting a gun.
It hadn’t been two weeks earlier that a man in Florida—Jacksonville, I think it was—had climbed on top of a building and started shooting people. That episode weighed on the woman’s mind as she looked for the security guard. Once he was good and awake, he seemed to agree that a copycat crime could be in the works.
Over the next few minutes, the mall was encircled by every police car in town, news trucks from all three Macon TV stations, photographers from both the Daily Sun and the Telegraph, a SWAT team, and agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Jason, for his part, heard the sirens and wondered what was afoot, but he soon turned back to the matter at hand. Pigeons were flapping and feathers were flying, and there was a flurry of activity on Jason’s side of the AC units, which blocked his view of the SWAT team positioning themselves around the parking lot. He blithely went about his business while Middle Georgia’s media and law enforcement personnel went about theirs.
It being a hot day, Jason put down his BB gun and headed down the roof hatch to get a drink of water and cool off in the mall. As he came down the ladder, he was met by a surge of policemen coming up. A red-faced lieutenant grabbed him by the back of the shirt and pulled him down. “Boy, are you crazy?” he shouted. “Get down here! There’s a sniper on the roof!”
Jason’s heart jumped into his throat. “A sniper?” he gasped. He felt weak through the knees. “I didn’t see any sniper.”
“There’s a man with a gun,” the police officer said. “You’re lucky you didn’t get hurt—or worse.”
“The only person up there with a gun was me,” Jason said, and he immediately realized he had said the wrong thing.
The policemen frog-marched Jason to the mall management office, where they asked him some pointed questions. It didn’t take too long for them to sort everything out. The mall manager had known that somebody was coming to service the AC units; he just didn’t realize that the service call would involve the shooting of pigeons. Jason’s boss came to the mall and corroborated his story.
The SWAT team packed their gear and climbed back into their van. The news reporters went away sad. And life in Warner Robins, Georgia mostly returned to normal.
Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we’ve ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.