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Authors: Casey McQuiston

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I will not.

 

FOUR

“It’s public knowledge. It’s not my problem you just found out,” his mother is saying, pacing double-time down a West Wing corridor.

“You mean to tell me,” Alex half shouts, jogging to keep up, “every Thanksgiving, those stupid turkeys have been staying in a luxury suite at the Willard on the taxpayers’ dime?”

“Yes, Alex, they do—”

“Gross government waste!”

“—and there are two forty-pound turkeys named Cornbread and Stuffing in a motorcade on Pennsylvania Avenue right now. There is no time to reallocate the turkeys.”

Without missing a beat, he blurts out, “Bring them to the house.”

“Where? Are you hiding a turkey habitat up your ass, son? Where, in our historically protected house, am I going to put a couple of turkeys until I pardon them tomorrow?”

“Put them in my room. I don’t care.”

She outright laughs. “No.”

“How is it different from a hotel room? Put the turkeys in my room, Mom.”

“I’m not putting the turkeys in your room.”

“Put the turkeys in my room.”

“No.”

“Put them in my room, put them in my room, put them in my room—”

That night, as Alex stares into the cold, pitiless eyes of a prehistoric beast of prey, he has a few regrets.

THEY KNOW,
he texts Henry.
THEY KNOW I HAVE ROBBED THEM OF FIVE-STAR ACCOMMODATIONS TO SIT IN A CAGE IN MY ROOM, AND THE MINUTE I TURN MY BACK THEY ARE GOING TO FEAST ON MY FLESH.

Cornbread stares emptily back at him from inside a huge crate next to Alex’s couch. A farm vet comes by once every few hours to check on them. Alex keeps asking if she can detect a lust for blood.

From the en suite, Stuffing releases another ominous gobble.

Alex was going to get things accomplished tonight. He really was. Before he learned of exorbitant turkey expenditures from CNN, he was watching the highlights of last night’s Republican primary debate. He was going to finish an outline for an exam, then study the demographic engagement binder he convinced his mother to give him for the campaign job.

Instead, he is in a prison of his own creation, sworn to babysit these turkeys until the pardoning ceremony, and is just now realizing his deep-seated fear of large birds. He considers finding a couch to sleep on, but what if these demons from
hell break out of their cages and murder each other during the night when he’s supposed to be watching them?
BREAKING: BOTH TURKEYS FOUND DEAD IN BEDROOM OF FSOTUS, TURKEY PARDON CANCELED IN DISGRACE, FSOTUS A SATANIC TURKEY RITUAL KILLER.

Please send photos,
is Henry’s idea of a comforting response.

He drops onto the edge of his bed. He’s grown accustomed to texting with Henry almost every day; the time difference doesn’t matter, since they’re both awake at all ungodly hours of the day and night. Henry will send a snap from a seven a.m. polo practice and promptly receive one of Alex at two a.m., glasses on and coffee in hand, in bed with a pile of notes. Alex doesn’t know why Henry never responds to his selfies from bed. His selfies from bed are always hilarious.

He snaps a shot of Cornbread and presses send, flinching when the bird flaps at him threateningly.

I think he’s cute,
Henry responds.

that’s because you can’t hear all the menacing gobbling

Yes, famously the most sinister of all animal sounds, the gobble.

“You know what, you little shit,” Alex says the second the call connects, “you can hear it for yourself and then tell me how you would handle this—”

“Alex?” Henry’s voice sounds scratchy and bewildered across the line. “Have you really rung me at three o’clock in the morning to make me listen to a turkey?”

“Yes, obviously,” Alex says. He glances at Cornbread and cringes. “Jesus Christ, it’s like they can see into your
soul.
Cornbread knows my sins, Henry. Cornbread knows what I have done, and he is here to make me atone.”

He hears a rustling over the phone, and he pictures Henry in his heather-gray pajama shirt, rolling over in bed and maybe switching on a lamp. “Let’s hear the cursed gobble, then.”

“Okay, brace yourself,” he says, and he switches to speaker and gravely holds out the phone.

Nothing. Ten long seconds of nothing.

“Truly harrowing,” Henry’s voice says tinnily over the speaker.

“It—okay, this is not representative,” Alex says hotly. “They’ve been gobbling all fucking night, I swear.”

“Sure they were,” Henry says, mock-gently.

“No, hang on,” Alex says. “I’m gonna … I’m gonna get one to gobble.”

He hops off the bed and edges up to Cornbread’s cage, feeling very much like he is taking his life into his own hands and also very much like he has a point to prove, which is an intersection at which he finds himself often.

“Um,” he says. “How do you get a turkey to gobble?”

“Try gobbling,” Henry says, “and see if he gobbles back.”

Alex blinks. “Are you serious?”

“We hunt loads of wild turkeys in the spring,” Henry says sagely. “The trick is to get into the mind of the turkey.”

“How the hell do I do that?”

“So,” Henry instructs. “Do as I say. You have to get quite close to the turkey, like, physically.”

Carefully, still cradling the phone close, Alex leans toward the wire bars. “Okay.”

“Make eye contact with the turkey. Do you have it?”

Alex follows Henry’s instructions in his ear, planting his feet and bending his knees so he’s at Cornbread’s eye level,
a chill running down his spine when his own eyes lock on the beady, black little murder eyes. “Yeah.”

“Right, now hold it,” Henry says. “Connect with the turkey, earn the turkey’s trust … befriend the turkey…”

“Okay…”

“Buy a summer home in Majorca with the turkey…”

“Oh, I
fucking
hate you!” Alex shouts as Henry laughs at his own idiotic prank, and his indignant flailing startles a loud gobble out of Cornbread, which in turn startles a very unmanly scream out of Alex. “
Goddammit!
Did you hear that?”

“Sorry, what?” Henry says. “I’ve been stricken deaf.”

“You’re such a
dick,
” Alex says. “Have you ever even
been
turkey hunting?”

“Alex, you can’t even hunt them in Britain.”

Alex returns to his bed and face-plants into a pillow. “I hope Cornbread does kill me.”

“No, all right, I did hear it, and it was … proper frightening,” Henry says. “So, I understand. Where’s June for all this?”

“She’s having some kind of girls’ night with Nora, and when I texted them for backup, they sent back,” he reads out in a monotone, “‘hahahahahahahaha good luck with that,’ and then a turkey emoji and a poop emoji.”

“That’s fair,” Henry says. Alex can picture him nodding solemnly. “So what are you going to do now? Are you going to stay up all night with them?”

“I don’t know! I guess! I don’t know what else to do!”

“You couldn’t just go sleep somewhere else? Aren’t there a thousand rooms in that house?”

“Okay, but, uh, what if they escape? I’ve seen
Jurassic Park.
Did you know birds are directly descended from raptors? That’s a scientific fact. Raptors in my bedroom, Henry. And
you want me to go to sleep like they’re not gonna bust out of their enclosures and take over the island the minute I close my eyes? Okay. Maybe your white ass.”

“I’m really going to have you offed,” Henry tells him. “You’ll never see it coming. Our assassins are trained in discretion. They will come in the night, and it will look like a humiliating accident.”

“Autoerotic asphyxiation?”

“Toilet heart attack.”

“Jesus.”

“You’ve been warned.”

“I thought you’d kill me in a more personal way. Silk pillow over my face, slow and gentle suffocation. Just you and me. Sensual.”

“Ha. Well.” Henry coughs.

“Anyway,” Alex says, climbing fully up onto the bed now. “It doesn’t matter because one of these goddamn turkeys is gonna kill me first.”

“I really don’t think—
Oh, hello there.
” There’s rustling over the phone, the crinkling of a wrapper, and some heavy snuffling that sounds distinctly doglike. “
Who’za good lad, then?
David says hello.”

“Hi, David.”

“He— Oi!
Not
for you, Mr. Wobbles! Those are
mine
!” More rustling, a distant, offended meow. “
No,
Mr. Wobbles, you bastard!”

“What in the fuck is a Mr. Wobbles?”

“My sister’s idiot cat,” Henry tells him. “The thing weighs a ton and is still trying to steal my Jaffa Cakes. He and David are mates.”

“What are you even doing right now?”

“What am
I
doing? I was trying to
sleep.

“Okay, but you’re eating Jabba Cakes, so.”


Jaffa
Cakes, my
God,
” Henry says. “I’m having my entire life haunted by a deranged American Neanderthal and a pair of turkeys, apparently.”

“And?”

Henry heaves another almighty sigh. He’s always sighing when Alex is involved. It’s amazing he has any air left. “And … don’t laugh.”

“Oh, yay,” Alex says readily.

“I was watching
Great British Bake Off.

“Cute. Not embarrassing, though. What else?”

“I, er, might be … wearing one of those peely face masks,” he says in a rush.

“Oh my God, I knew it!”


Instant
regret.”

“I knew you had one of those crazy expensive Scandinavian skin care regimens. Do you have that, like, eye cream with diamonds in it?”

“No!” Henry pouts, and Alex has to press the back of his hand against his lips to stifle his laugh. “Look, I have an appearance tomorrow, all right? I didn’t know I’d be
scrutinized.

“I’m not scrutinizing. We all gotta keep those pores in check,” Alex says. “So you like
Bake Off,
huh?”

“It’s just so soothing,” Henry says. “Everything’s all pastel-colored and the music is so relaxing and everyone’s so lovely to one another. And you learn so much about different types of biscuits, Alex. So much. When the world seems awful, such as when you’re trapped in a Great Turkey Calamity, you can put it on and vanish into biscuit land.”

“American cooking competition shows are nothing like that. They’re all sweaty and, like, dramatic death music and intense camera cuts,” Alex says. “
Bake Off
makes
Chopped
look like the fucking Manson tapes.”

“I feel like this explains loads about our differences,” Henry says, and Alex gives a small laugh.

“You know,” Alex says. “You’re kind of surprising.”

Henry pauses. “In what way?”

“In that you’re not a totally boring asshole.”

“Wow,” Henry says with a laugh. “I’m honored.”

“I guess you have your depths.”

“You thought I was a dumb blond, didn’t you?”

“Not exactly, just,
boring,
” Alex says. “I mean, your dog is named David, which is pretty boring.”

“After Bowie.”

“I—” Alex’s head spins, recalibrating. “Are you serious? What the hell? Why not call him Bowie, then?”

“Bit on the nose, isn’t it?” Henry says. “A man should have some element of mystery.”

“I guess,” Alex says. Then, because he can’t stop it in time, lets out a tremendous yawn. He’s been up since seven for a run before class. If these turkeys don’t end him, exhaustion will.

“Alex,” Henry says firmly.

“What?”

“The turkeys are not going to
Jurassic Park
you,” he says. “You’re not the bloke from
Seinfeld.
You’re Jeff Goldblum. Go to sleep.”

Alex bites down a smile that feels bigger than the sentence has truly earned. “You go to sleep.”

“I will,” Henry says, and Alex thinks he hears the weird
smile returned in Henry’s voice, and honestly, this whole night is really, really weird, “as soon as you get off the phone, won’t I?”

“Okay,” Alex says, “but, like, what if they gobble again?”

“Go sleep in June’s room, you numpty.”

“Okay,” Alex says.

“Okay,” Henry agrees.

“Okay,” Alex says again. He’s suddenly very aware they’ve never spoken on the phone before, and so he’s never had to figure out how to hang up the phone with Henry before. He’s at a loss. But he’s still smiling. Cornbread is staring at him like he doesn’t get it.
Me fuckin’ too, buddy.

“Okay,” Henry repeats. “So. Good night.”

“Cool,” Alex says lamely. “Good night.”

He hangs up and stares at the phone in his hand, as if it should explain the static electricity in the air around him.

He shakes it off, gathers up his pillow and a bundle of clothes, and crosses the hall to June’s room, climbing up into her tall bed. But he can’t stop thinking there’s some end left loose.

He takes his phone back out.
i sent pics of turkeys so i deserve pics of your animals too.

A minute and a half later: Henry, in a massive, palatial, hideous bed of white and gold linens, his face looking slightly pink and recently scrubbed, with a beagle’s head on one side of his pillow and an obese Siamese cat curled up on the other around a Jaffa Cake wrapper. He’s got faint circles under his eyes, but his face is soft and amused, one hand resting above his head on the pillow while the other holds up the phone for the selfie.

This is what I must endure,
he says, followed by,
Good night, honestly.

HRH Prince Dickhead

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