bag of birdseed from one of the hawkers that stood around everywhere. He filled his pockets with seeds and scattered them with both his hands across the piazza.
"Putt, puttputtputt!" he cooed, putting on his most harmless smile. "Come here, you winged rats, and don't you dare poop on my sleeves."
And they came. A whole flock of pigeons rose, in a cloud of gray feathers and yellow beaks, fluttered toward Victor, and settled on his shoulders, arms, and even on his head, where they pecked inquisitively at his cap. This wasn't pleasant at all. Victor had to admit that he was afraid of anything that flapped with a sharp beak. But how else could he attract the attention of the little boy? So Victor smiled and cooed and puttputted -- and watched the children by the fountain.
The hedgehog was now sitting quite a ways from the others, staring at the crowds with a face like thunder. The girl had her head in a book. And Bo was bored.
"Look over here, boy!" Victor whispered while pigeons tripped all over his head. "Go on now, look at this silly man who's playing scarecrow just for you."
Bo pulled at his dyed hair, rubbed his nose, yawned -- and then, suddenly, he discovered Victor. Victor, the pigeon roost. He cast a quick glance at the girl and checked that she was absorbed in her book. And then he slipped off the fountain.
At last! Victor sighed with relief and filled his hands with more seed. Bo strolled hesitantly toward him. He kept looking back toward the others as he pushed his way past three screaming girls who were trying to remove a couple of pigeons from their hair. Then he stood in front of Victor with his head cocked to one side.
When the pigeon on Victor's head leaned forward and pecked at the glass of his fake glasses, Bo giggled.
"Buongiorno," Victor said, chasing the cheeky bird from his head. Another pigeon immediately settled down on it.
Bo screwed his eyes together and tilted his head the other way. "Does that hurt?"
"Those claws, of course. And when they peck at your glasses." The little boy's Italian sounded nearly as good as Victor's, maybe even better.
Victor shrugged, and the pigeons fluttered into the air only to settle down again immediately. "Ah," he replied. "It's not so bad. And I like it when they fly around me." What a big fat lie! But then Victor had always been good at lying, even when he was little. "You know," Victor said while Bo watched him intently, "when the birds flutter around me I always imagine that I might take off at any moment and soar right up to those golden horses there."
Bo turned around and looked at the stamping hooves above the entrance to the Basilica. "Yes, they're awesome! I want to sit on one of them. Hornet says they had to cut off their heads when they brought them here. I mean, when they stole them. And then they stuck them back on the wrong way around."
"Really?" Victor had to sneeze because one of the feathers had flown up his nose. "They look all right to me. But those are copies anyway. The real ones have been in a museum for a while now, so that the salty air doesn't eat them up. Do you like pigeons?"
"Not really," Bo answered. "They flap around too much. And my brother says you can get worms from touching them." He giggled. "Now one of them has pooed on your shoulder."
"Vermin!" Victor threw his arms in the air so that all the pigeons scattered. "Your brother said that? He seems to take care of you really well."
"Yes, sometimes he looks after me a bit too much." Bo looked up at the circling pigeons. Then he glanced back toward the lion fountain where the girl was still reading her book and the hedgehog was stirring the filthy water with his hands. Satisfied that he hadn't been missed, he looked back at Victor. "Can I have some of those seeds?"
"Sure." Victor put his hand in his pocket and poured some of the seeds into the little hand.
Carefully, Bo stretched out his arm -- and when a pigeon settled on it immediately, he started to laugh and