Volume 33, Number 4

The Pigeon Man

Matthew T Cartledge

The morning rain showered over the city streets as a tall thin man dressed in grey workout sweats continued to jog through a local park at a quick pace. He had been on the road jogging for close to an hour when his legs began to hurt. Up ahead was a woman walking with a baby in a stroller. The man slowed down before running past the lady on the other side of the path. Out of breath, the man slowly came to a stop. He took a seat on a nearby park bench waiting for his heart rate to slow down. After catching his breath, he pushed his arms forward, placing them on his knees. With every breath his body hurt. Looking side to side he eventually leaned back letting his arms hang off the back of the bench. The man’s name was Luke Wilkins. He was twenty-eight years old with pale skin and a large red mop of curly hair. He was training for the fight of his life. Luke was a journeyman boxer looking to be a contender. There was no turning back. If he failed to win, he would lose everything he had worked so hard for. He would be just another bum. Another nobody.

With his arms draped over the back of the park bench, Luke began to think back to his childhood. There was an old man who had dominated his thoughts on and off for years. He lived just blocks away from his shell of a home in the east end of Vancouver. On the top floor of his home the old man had several dovecotes full of pigeons, which he raised with pride. Luke would often visit the old man with his sister Julie on weekends when she was staying at Luke’s home. Sometimes at night when Luke and Julie slept in the same room, they would talk about The Pigeon Man and the various birds he had raised. There were rollers, fantails, homing pigeons and doves with pure white plumage. Luke liked the doves the most but his sister preferred the rollers that flew above the coup rolling downwards in the air before landing inside the coup. Luke thought back to his childhood recollecting his love for birds and the man who took care of them.

Eventually, Luke regained his composure from his long jog. He could feel a little burn in his legs. He got up slowly before making his way outside the park.

After passing through a gate, Luke began to walk down a street aimlessly before a thought struck him. He would go to a nearby cathedral. He wasn’t Catholic, but he knew he had to go. After walking in circles, Luke finally found a church that looked appealing. It was a large cathedral style church done in traditional brickwork and mortar. Stained glass surrounded the complex. As Luke entered through a side door for reasons unknown to him, he made a sign of the cross while looking at a large crucifix hanging over the dais at the front of the church. A few old ladies stood near the hanging cross lighting candles and placing coins in a tin box. As they retreated from the building Luke moved out of their way, sliding into a pew before knocking the prayer bench down. The old ladies turned and made a sign of the cross after placing their fingers in a bowl of holy water.

Luke turned from the old ladies while resting his knees on the prayer bench. Alone and looking mystified, he pressed his forehead on the back of the church pew in front of him before closing his eyes. He began to speak softly: “Dear God, I don’t know why you’ve stricken me with such a trial. I don’t think I’m crazy. I just get scared. I box to get rid of the fear. I fight to make a living and tonight I fight for my life. I need to win God; I need to win!” Luke wasn’t surprised by the shortness of his prayer since he wasn’t much of a believer or so he thought. He was troubled by a past he didn’t fully understand. He kept getting glimpses here and there on and off for years. He always came back to The Pigeon Man and his lovely assortment of birds. When his parents would fight, Luke would go see The Pigeon Man and learn about his many birds and their various habits. It was his refuge. He felt safe until the bad memories started. Luke leaned back in the pew and looked up at the large crucifix facing both rows of pews in the church. He considered his prayer as he gazed at the God that seemed to choose him even if it were only for a few minutes in time. Luke got up and made a slow exit from the building. He turned and made a sign of the cross to the crucifix before opening the side door. Tired from his long run in the park, he decided he needed to see his trainer and manager at the Fortress Arms Boxing Club before the big fight that night.

Once there he entered an old concrete building. It housed a large ring, speed bags, heavy bags, jump rope and a collection of free-weights next to a mirrored wall. Various men were working out at different stations including two men in the ring. Luke headed for a frosted glass door. Without knocking he entered. Once inside he saw his trainer and manager, Bob Whitman, sitting at a desk. The man was old and grey and looked like a well-worn leather glove. He looked up at Luke before putting the phone down. “How’s my prized fighter?”

Luke sat down across from him. “I went for an early morning jog. I needed to clear my head for tonight’s big fight.”

Bob smiled. “If you win, we go to Pay Per View. You know what this means right?”

Luke nodded his head. “You’ve been telling me for years… Pay Per View is the big time. That’s where the money is.”

Bob leaned back in his swivel chair rubbing his hands. “I don’t want you taking those pills for your head… They take your edge away. You don’t need them. Do you hear me?”

Luke looked up, a little sheepish and embarrassed. “The doctors says I need them. They say I’ve got a problem. It’s just pills.”

Bob leaned forward in his chair placing his hands-on top of the table. “I’ve invested too much in you to take a chance. I’ve seen you without your pills. You’re an animal. You’re unstoppable. That’s the fighter I need to fight tonight. No exceptions. OK?”

Luke leaned back in his chair nodding slowly. “You’re right, they slow me down. It just that I get strange memories when I go off my pills. I start to change. It’s hard to explain.”

Bob snapped back. “It’s that damn Pigeon Man again, isn’t it?”

Luke tried to smile. “So, you know?”

Bob looked serious as he eased in his chair. “You’ve mentioned him on and off since your teens. You told me he was like a second father to you when times were tough. Just let it go for now. You hear me?”

Luke leaned forward looking grim. “Yes, sir.”

Getting up Bob stepped towards a hat rack grabbing a scarf, coat and fedora before bundling up. “We pick you up tonight at nine. Be ready, and remember don’t take those pills!”

Luke got up from his chair and followed his mentor outside the office and into the gym before heading for the streets. The two men looked at each other. Bob smiled. “You’re still my prized fighter, Luke. I need you at your best.”

Luke smiled. “I’m with you, a hundred percent.” Bob turned his back as Luke headed home.


Luke’s one-room apartment was small. There was a kitchen and living area. Across from the living room was a small bathroom. On a table near the kitchen was an old land line telephone. Luke picked it up. It said: “Message remaining.” He pressed the button to play the message. It was from his sister Julie. The message said: “Hello, Luke, It’s Julie. I need to talk to you about your new doctor. Please give me a call.”

Looking forlorn, Luke reluctantly dialed his sister. The phone rang a few times before it clicked. “Hello?” “Hi Julie, It’s me. How are you?”

“I’m busy with my social work degree… It’s hard work but I am enjoying it.”

Luke pressed the phone to his ear. “I got your message. You know tonight is my big fight, right? Tonight’s fight is the most important event of my life. I need you to know something. I can’t keep taking those pills the doctors keep giving me. They get in the way of everything.”

Julia said nothing for a long time before speaking. “You have to, Luke; if not you’ll get sick. I don’t want you in hospital. You hear me!”

Luke paced about with phone in hand. “If I win tonight’s fight, I move to Pay Per View. I could make enough money to take care of us for the rest of our lives.”

Another long pause separated the two as Julie cleared her throat.

“I need you to come tonight. You’re my lucky charm. I’ve got you a ringside seat. You have to be there. Do you remember The Pigeon Man? Do you remember when we were kids? The Pigeon Man kept us safe from mom and dad.”

Julie paused, looking for the right words. “You spent more time with him than I did. I know you two were close.”

Luke took a seat on a chair across from the kitchen. “When I go off my pills, I get strange feelings and see images of an old man in shadow. I start to feel scared then I black out before waking up again. Do you hear me?”

Julie took a deep breath. “You need to talk to a doctor about this shadowy figure that haunts your memories. I’ve got a new doctor lined up to see you a week from today. You can explain everything then. Just hang on, Luke, and take your pills. You need to stay well!”

Luke got off his chair and paced around his small abode. “I have to do what I have to do… I love you, Julie, but I have to make my own decisions. OK?”

Julie sighed.

“You’re coming tonight, right?”

“Yes, Luke I can be there for you.”

“That’s great, Julie; you can request your ticket at the door. It’s waiting for you. Got it?”

“Yes Luke.”

Luke smiled at the prospect of seeing his sister at ringside. “I’ve got to get my rest. See you tonight.”

Luke hung up before taking a seat on the edge of his bed. Then he got up and put the phone on the kitchen table before opening the fridge door. Inside were a half dozen eggs and a jug of milk. Grabbing a glass from the cupboard, Luke cracked the eggs into the glass before adding some milk. In one gulp, he downed the whole thing.

Shaking his head, Luke moved to the bathroom adjacent to the small kitchen area. He opened the medicine chest and pulled out a bottle of medication. He began to read the label. It read: Valproic acid. After pulling the top off, he took a sniff. The pills had a strong smell. He held the bottle up to the light. “I don’t need you, and I don’t want you. After tonight’s fight I become a winner! That’s me: Luke Wilkins, winner in and out of the ring!”

Luke took the bottle of medication and poured it down the toilet. The pills dissolved in the water as Luke flushed everything down. He waved goodbye as the tank refilled with fresh water. Looking at the empty bottle in his hand he walked to the kitchen and put the bottle on the counter then lay down in bed. Looking at the clock on the kitchen stove, Luke slowly closed his eyes. It was 4 p.m. He began to dream.

In Luke’s dream he saw himself as a boy on the top floor of The Pigeon Man’s home where a number of dovecotes full of pigeons would fly about as others rested inside the various pigeon holes. A large pair of hands comes into view. Within the palm and fingers of the hand sat a white dove and the sound of an old man’s voice. “This is how you hold a pigeon, son… here, take him.”

As young Luke took hold of the bird he began to smile as he moved the bird in the air while holding it between his fingers. He felt the soft plumage as he continued to hold it. “It’s soft, it feels nice!”

The old man smiled. “Let him go, boy… Birds got to be free to live. Don’t ever forget that. Let it go boy!”

Luke followed the old man’s instructions. Letting go of the beautiful young dove, the bird flew around the coop before flying through a hole in the chicken wire that led outside. Luke looked up as the bird flew higher and higher into the sky above.

“Now boy I need to show you something… but you can’t tell anyone…”

Luke woke up startled. He looked around the room. The walls were bare except for a small picture of a homing pigeon hanging on the wall. He shook his head. The room was dark as he dragged himself off the bed. He moved to the kitchen and opened the fridge and took a big swig of milk, then sat down on his bed. He let his hands run through his big mop of red hair hanging down.

Luke had a memory from his youth while training in the ring under his mentor and friend Bob Whitman. It was a piece of advice he thought he had forgotten. Bob once told Luke while sparing: “If you hit a man with eight pounds of force in the throat you can kill him instantly.” Luke leaned back with a smile on his face. He wondered why he had the memory. It was an old memory from when he was a teenager several years after the death of The Pigeon Man and the destruction of the dovecotes. When Luke went off his pills the deep and darker his inner visions started to happen. The old anger would come back. The kind of anger that needed to destroy someone in the ring. His trainer was right. Luke just wasn’t the same on medication. His senses were blunted and dull. His breathing was lighter. Then the shadowy figures would come. Images from his past he didn’t want to see. Luke was slowly coming alive as he recalled dumping his meds in the toilet. He saw himself in the ring making the right combination of moves needed to disarm and destroy his opponent. Luke figured he could take the fight to the finish by the third round.

Luke’s phone rang. The ring would stop then start again. The process repeated itself several times before Luke got out of bed grabbing the phone off of the kitchen table. “Hello?”

“Hi Luke, It’s Bob. You ready?”

Luke smiled. “I am starting to feel the fight in me, Bob. I’m ready to win!”

“That’s what I like to hear Luke. Your ride arrives in a half hour. Keep your game face on.”

Luke smiled before hanging up the phone.

Within a half hour, Luke put on a pair of freshly cleaned grey workout sweats. He stuffed a bag full of items: socks, footwear, underwear, black and white striped trunks, fight tape and a set of 8-ounce black boxing gloves. He had everything needed for the big night. Luke sat on the edge of his bed with his bag of items resting near the front door. His mind raced to the past. He remembered the prayer he had made in the Catholic church earlier that day.

In a daydream state, he remembered The Pigeon Man and the many birds he had under his care. Luke began to see the face of the old man who had been a refuge from Luke’s troubled homelife.

Luke moved to the kitchen table and picked up the phone. He dialed Julie. It rang several times.


“Hi Julie, It’s Luke…”

“I am on my way to see your fight. You need to know I’m really concerned about you. Are you taking your pills?”

Luke paused, not wanting to upset his sister. “I just need to know something.”

“What’s that?”

“The Pigeon Man was a good man, right?”

There was a long pause that divided the two. “I think he was, Luke.”

Luke pressed the phone to his ear. “I thought we saw him together many times. Am I wrong?”

“You’re not wrong, Luke, I just didn’t see him that much… Are you getting bad memories again?”

Luke said nothing for a long time. “I got to go Julie. I’ll see you at ringside, OK?”

Julie took a deep breath. “You’re still my baby brother, got it?”

Luke grinned. “I got it!” He hung up. Looking outside a window across from the bed, Luke pushed a curtain aside before pressing his nose into the glass. A black Lincoln town car parked on the street.

As Luke approached the town car, the trunk popped open. He placed his gear inside before opening the passenger-side rear door. He slipped inside, then closed the door.

Next to him was Bob. “How’s my prized fighter doing? Ready to win?”

Luke smiled. “The closer I get to the fight the more unstoppable I feel.”

The car took off as Bob took a swig of booze from a flash. “That’s what I like to hear!”

Bob and Luke entered a locker room within the venue. Inside was a Black cut man named Roy and two assistants, a bench and a few rows of lockers. Luke stripped down and took his gear from his bag before getting dressed. As his hands were being wrapped by one of Bob’s men, one of the assistants gave Luke a big rubdown covering his back and shoulders.

Luke looked at Bob and began to talk. “You remember what you told me about how you can kill a man with one punch if you hit him in the throat with eight pounds of force?”

Bob took a hit of alcohol shaking his head slightly. “I think so, I mean I may have said it. My trainer told it to me when I was young.”

With a cigar in his hand, Bob looked at Luke as he continued to be rubbed down all over his backside. “If all goes well you should take this guy in the third round. He’s used to fighting at a lower weight class. It’s strength over speed… I need you to be strong. Work his midsection before delivering a knockout punch to the head.”

Luke looked around the room towards Bob. “Did I ever tell you about a man I used to visit when I was a boy? He raised pigeons. I used to call him The Pigeon Man.”

Bob cut him off. “Yes, you have. Save your childhood stories for after the fight, got it?”

Luke said nothing for a while before speaking up. “Sometimes I still see him—The Pigeon Man gave me my love of birds.”

Bob got angry the more he paced. “Do you get like this when you go off your pills?”

Luke looked up not knowing what to say. Bob had a firm grip on his cigar. “Are you going nuts?”

Luke got up and started throwing punches in the air. “When I go off my pills. I start to feel an anger that’s unstoppable. It’s what gives me my edge. I’m ready to kill—are you with me?”

Bob smiled. “That’s the Luke I know and love… now let’s go!”

Loud rock music began to play as Luke and his team walked towards the ring. Fans surrounded the venue with smiles, shouts and boos for Luke and his opponent. On the opposite side of the ring was Big Smokey Joe Baldwin, a large heavy-set Irish boxer with years of experience. He was a tall man with a big reach and crooked eyes. In the other corner was Luke with Bob and his team.

After a quick rubdown, Luke headed to the center of the ring. On his way he turned his head and saw a face at ringside. It was Julie. He waved as she called out: “Good luck, Luke! I’m rooting for you…” Luke waved at her with an open glove. He smiled at her before heading back into the center of the ring facing Big Smokey Joe. Both men stood eye to eye with a referee standing between them.

The first round went quickly as both boxers faced each other with a variety of punches. Luke got backed into a corner avoiding a flurry of hits before stepping forward with a big body blow to the mid-section. Big Smokey Joe covered up avoiding a knockout punch from Luke as he began to stumble. Both men moved back and forth trading blows in the middle of the ring with the occasional jab or upper cut coming from Joe. Luke stepped back and avoided a cross punch to the face. The bell rang just as Luke was warming up with another body blow directed at his opponent.

Inside his corner, Luke took a seat as a bag of ice was placed on the side of his head. He took a swig of water from a bottle as Roy gave him a rubdown all over his back and shoulders. After taking another sip of water, Luke looked up to Bob hovering above him with cigar in hand. “Keep going for the midsection. It’s his weakness. Eventually he will lower his guard. Once that happens finish him with a blow to the head. Got it?” Luke nodded as he got off his stool before heading to the center of the ring.

Joe started strong, hitting Luke with jabs to the face. As Luke covered up, he backed into the corner. The two men clenched briefly before the ref broke them apart. Joe stepped back and went for another head shot as Luke bobbed and weaved a number of times before giving his opponent a strong blow to the midsection. Luke punched so hard that Joe went down on one knee before the ref intervened. Big Smokey Joe got up quickly and charged ahead, throwing a few wild blows as Luke continued to move into the center of the ring, setting up a series of body hits that would force the big man back into a corner. Joe covered his face with his gloves as Luke continued to follow Bob’s advice, hitting him with one body blow after another. Joe began to lower his guard, getting Luke ready to take out the Irish fighter with one finishing blow. Just as Luke was ready to finish the match, Joe crouched onto his knees before delivering a surprise blow to Luke’s head. Luke stepped back grabbing the ropes just as Joe came in with both hands raised, and was just about to deliver a crushing blow when the bell rang ending the round.

Luke took a chair looking up at Bob. “He hit me hard. I mean he really got me… He hit me right in the left temple…” As Luke was given water and a rubdown, a block of ice was placed on the side of Luke’s temple. Something began to change. For Luke time began to slow down. The second round was harder than the first. But something changed in Luke’s mind after the hard blow to his head. Memories began to come. Memories of The Pigeon Man and Luke as a boy started to occupy Luke’s mind. Luke felt the meds were out of his system as the bell rang signaling round three.

As Luke rushed towards his opponent, he started seeing a faint image of a dove on the shoulder of Big Smokey Joe. Luke let his guard down briefly looking at the beautiful bird that hovered over the ring. Just as Luke was just about to step forward, he received another headshot from Joe. Luke hit the mat going down on both knees as the ref began a standing eight count. Something changed inside Luke. A rage came over him as he saw more pigeons floating around the head of his opponent. Luke started to see The Pigeon Man standing behind Big Smokey Joe as a few more doves continued to appear. Luke started to pant before he started to talk aloud. “I know what you did to me, Pigeon Man… I remember now. You hurt me really bad!”

Luke got on his feet and saw the image of The Pigeon Man standing in front of Big Smokey Joe. “I was just a boy, Pigeon Man, when you hurt me… just a boy!” He stood toe to toe with Big Smokey Joe as the image of The Pigeon Man stood right in front of him. Luke looked over his shoulder and caught a clear glimpse of his sister sitting at ringside. He raised his glove and smiled in her direction. While facing Joe, Luke would have a memory that would change his outlook forever. The Pigeon Man did more than teach Luke everything he knew about the splendor of pigeons. He dehumanized him. Luke was a scared little boy from a broken home with fighting parents. The Pigeon Man was his sole refuge. He had trusted in The Pigeon Man… Until the day it happened.

Luke recovered the final memory that would turn him into a killer. The molestation of a ten-year-old boy at the hands of a depraved old man who kept pigeons. The Pigeon Man stood in front of Luke as Luke sat on a wooden workhorse with a dove in hand. He let the bird go as its feathers blew everywhere. The Pigeon Man leaned towards Luke with two open hands. He slid his fingers down the front side of Luke’s pants pocket grabbing him with both hands giving a hard squeeze on his tender young private parts. Luke remembered a scream before coming back to his senses. With his eyes opened, Luke would see The Pigeon Man one more time before he would disappear. The Pigeon Man had awakened a memory in Luke’s mind buried for years that would unleash a fury of destruction ending in death. For Luke, Big Smokey Joe was The Pigeon Man and his anger was enough to destroy him.

Just as Big Smokey Joe tried to land a knockout blow, Luke bobbed and weaved before yelling at the top of his lungs: “YOU ARE THE PIGEON MAN! AND YOU MUST DIE!”

Everyone at ringside was taken aback by Luke’s proclamation. He looked over his shoulder once more, catching a quick glimpse of his sister before facing Joe one last time. Luke moved in on the big man with a raised left hand. He remembered what his trainer, Bob Whitman, had said about killing a man: “If you hit someone in the throat with eight pounds of force you can kill them with one blow.”

Luke moved in with a hard left that would land on Big Smokey Joe’s Adam’s apple with more than eight pounds of force. Enough force to knock out Big Smokey Joe forever. After the knockout blow, Big Smokey Joe lay flat on his face with his legs and arms askew. Blood trickled out of his nose and mouth as the ref tried in vain to end the fight, hoping to revive the dying man.

Without warning the tone of the fight had changed completely. People in the stands began to rush the ring. Big Smokey Joe was slowly dragged off the mat covered in blood as Luke’s fight team rushed to the middle of the ring trying to restrain Luke from his carnal rage. Looking at Bob, Luke had a smile. “I told you I’d get him in the third.”

Bob looked over at Luke with sheer terror and shock as Ray and his assistants tried to block the onslaught of fans trying to get inside the ring. “He’s gone, Luke. Big Smokey Joe is no more.” Luke looked stunned before he had a smile. “He’s The Pigeon Man, right Bob? The Pigeon Man hurt me when I was a boy. I hurt him back.” Bob looked stunned and horrified as fans started to fight with other fans. Luke turned from Bob and scanned the area for any signs of Julie. Close to a dozen cops had rushed into the arena as things in the stands continued to unwind. As Luke surveyed the area looking for Julie, police officers began to break up the brawling fans.

The cops entered the ring heading for Luke with pepper spray and nightsticks as the whole arena fell into chaos. Luke covered up before knocking out the oncoming cop with one blow. Bob, Ray and his helpers tried to flee the scene as more cops pinned Luke down choking him with a nightstick. Luke began to scream: “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Bob tried to reach out towards Luke before being pushed out of the ring by another police officer. As Luke was dragged outside the building, Julie stood at the entrance pushing her way past the police. “I called for an ambulance Luke. It’s the best I could do…” Luke looked up at his sister. “I told the police to take you to the hospital.”

Luke looked up with a frown as he tried to talk to his sister. Once the ambulance arrived the backdoor was opened by two paramedics from within. They pulled out a stretcher with the help of the police and placed Luke inside the ambulance as the police subdued him one more time with pepper spray. Luke was handcuffed to the side of the stretcher. One of the cops looked up at the ambulance driver. “This nut just killed someone. He belongs to you now. We will be by later.”

Just as the door to the ambulance was about to be closed, Julie approached one of the paramedics. “That man is my brother. He needs serious medical care. I would like to ride with you to the hospital if possible.” The driver looked at his partner with a shrug of the shoulders. Both men seemed to think it was OK. “Sure lady, get inside.”

As the ambulance arrived at the emergency entrance, Luke began to shake his head as he looked at his wrist handcuffed to the stretcher. He choked a couple of times before looking up at his sister. Julie looked down at her brother with tears in her eyes as the doors to the ambulance opened up. Luke was pulled out by the two paramedics with Julie following at the rear. Luke shook his fists as he looked down at his handcuffed hand. Luke, Julie and the paramedics had made it to the ninth floor before turning into a large empty room with a mat on the floor and a large barred window. One of two doctors approached Luke with a large hypodermic needle, injecting it into the left arm of his handcuffed hand. After the injection both doctors stood at the threshold with Julie hovering above her brother. As Luke looked up at his sister, he saw two doves floating in the air. He began to talk as he gasped for air. “The Pigeon Man can’t hurt me anymore. I’m safe now… It’s OK, Julie. I’m free!”

After a long period of treatment and care Luke would find atonement and peace for what he had done. With the help of his older sister and the medical profession Luke would come to terms with the events of that horrible night in the ring and the man behind Luke’s abuse that triggered him to commit such a savage act of brutality against Big Smokey Joe and the community at large…