NOT AN ORDINARY EASTER, THIS
Andrew opened his rucksack and took out a medium-sized toolkit. Several small syringes were arranged neatly inside. He picked up one and felt the tip with his index finger. A tiny speck of blood oozed out, which he wiped off with a clean handkerchief. Convinced of its sharpness, he placed the syringe carefully on a tray. Stretching his legs like a lazy cat, he then got up and ambled towards the kitchen counter.
I still have it in me!
Two minutes later, he returned with a round red container. Intricate designs of birds displaying their brilliant plumage adorned the lid. He sat down on the cane chair and opened the box. His lips curved into a smile and a glint of lust lit his gaze, as though a naked woman lay on the centre table, legs spread, inviting him to take her.
Stacked inside, fat end up, were five eggs with irregular red spots on them. He took out one with utmost care and caressed it for a second. His hands shook for a teeny weeny second, but he gathered himself. Oh, I love these chicks! Picking up the syringe, he punctured a hole on the small end of the egg. And then, the contents roiled down slowly onto a bowl.
How dare these morons label me as a criminal?
As Andrew wiped the egg clean, he hummed in a low voice, “I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away, I don’t know where my soul is, I don’t know where my home is, Baby all I need for you to know is…”
He paused his singing and whispered hoarsely, “Babies! You belong here! This is your home.” He threw back his head and guffawed. Kissing the egg gently, he picked up a grey square box on the table. Letters in bold and italics proclaimed – RED BACKED SHRIKE. A 3D cutout of a small bird with cream and brown feathers had been pasted next to it, as if confirming the obvious. He opened the lid and placed the egg delicately next to its aborted siblings from other mothers.
Four more to go!
Andrew Goode, the notorious egg thief of Devon, was back. Impenitent as before.
A TOUGH SHELL TO CRACK
The feeble rays of the English sun kissed the green grass, as trees on either side swayed in the light breeze. A single-story structure in white and green with the signboard ‘Teignmouth Police Office’ stood inconspicuously by the side.
Inspector Jessica Goldsmith’s eyes widened in disbelief when the downloaded media finally announced its presence in her laptop. A police constable was holding a tray full of what looked like rare eggs. Behind him was a blue SUV. Its door was slightly ajar, but by now the policewoman was equipped with enough knowledge to guess the contents inside.
She let out a whistle and looked at the bespectacled man sitting in front of her. “How many did you say?”
The man smiled, “We confiscated around two thousand eggs.”
Jessica leaned forward and looked into his eyes. “Rare birds?”
The man nodded. Taking a swig of sparkling water from the bottle on the table, he proceeded, “Some are on the verge of extinction. It’s heart wrenching – to see these birds disappear.”
“Why do these people do it?”
“It’s an addiction. Like drugs. The adrenaline rush, the young people call it. It’s not just about the eggs. It’s about the pursuit. The thrill – of putting their lives in danger.”
Jessica pursed her lips. She peered into the photo again. “Andrew Goode has already served two years in prison, as per the records. And so far there has been no suspicious activities which have been brought to my notice. Of course, he’s new here. But I think you are reading too much into it, Dr. Saunders. We cannot just stalk a person based on conjectures. I do hope you realise that.”
Damien Saunders leaned back in his chair. “Yes, of course, Inspector Goldsmith. I am aware of the law. It’s just that I do not trust this guy. Anyway, I just walked in to appraise you of what had happened before.” He took a pause and continued, “And if that happens, I would be needing your assistance.”
“You can count on us, Dr. Saunders.”
With that, the senior most official of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) got up, adjusted his glasses, muttered a goodbye, and exited the police office.
OF SOULS, BATTERED AND BEATEN
The clock chimed eight. Jessica Goldsmith plonked herself on the sofa and switched on the television. The same old mindless debates! She rolled her eyes and stifled a yawn! She fiddled with her mobile while the idiot box churned out decibels in varying frequencies. Unable to bear the cacophony, Jessica switched it off. At that precise moment, her mobile buzzed. This guy has gone bonkers! Damien Saunders had sent her a couple of photos. With an eye-catching title, no less! Third trimester abortion! Huh! What in the effing world is that? Intrigued, she clicked on the photo.
Five agonizing moment went by. Jessica flung the phone on the sofa and made a dash towards the bathroom, her right palm covering the mouth. The bile which had risen to her throat found its way outside and settled down on the sink. She opened the tap and let the water flow for some time. She then splashed her face, took out a tissue from her pocket and wiped her face with it. Closing the tap, she staggered towards her living room.
Do such people exist?
Dr. Saunders had sent her a photo of an Osprey’s egg. Quite innocuous looking. It was the message that had prompted Jessica to retch. The egg was in its final stage of incubation, and Andrew Goode had not just stolen it, but had blown its ‘contents’ out – including the fully formed chick.
How vile he must be, if he can do this to mute species? To unborn babies?
Jessica went to the terrace. She knew the pain too well – of abortions. She sat down on the swing.
MEMORIES OF AN EGG-HUNT
Saunders lay on his hotel bed. How long had it been? More than two years already?
His team had been tipped off by an elderly neighbour. With the local police in tow, they had marched into the egg-thief’s house in Cullompton. Yes! Cullompton. It was his mother’s house he had inherited. Andrew Goode had simply arched his eyebrows when the constable showed him the search warrant.
Cool as a cucumber, always has been – this Goode bloke!
They had combed the entire stretch – under the bed, behind the books, inside refrigerators, even knocking at the walls to check for hollow spaces. All this time, Andrew remained unperturbed, his eyes never leaving the edition of The Sun.
“I am afraid this has been a wild goose chase, Dr. Saunders.”
Saunders looked at the policeman with a wry expression on his face. Shrugging his shoulders, he had been about to give up, when he accidently knocked off a bottle of sleeping pills which had been kept near the large aquarium. Excusing himself, he bent down and replaced it, when something caught his attention. He waved at the inspector. The colour drained from Andrew Goode’s face.
Six pairs of Roseline sharks swam merrily, oblivious to the chaos unfolding in the room. A miniature castle had been placed inside the tank, enabling their finny inhabitants to play hide and seek. Its beige colour reflected on the water. However it was the dark dot underneath it which had caught Saunders’s attention. There was not a speck of dust or even a spot on the castle.
Within minutes, a couple of burly policemen had moved the aquarium to a side, revealing a black switch. With bated breath, Saunders pressed it. A creaky noise made him turn towards its source. It came from the LED TV above the aquarium. The police dislodged it from the wall. Saunders gasped. He had seen these only in Bond movies.
There was a gaping hole on the wall, and it was filled with trays. Eggs in different hues and sizes emerged from them. Saunders looked at Andrew Goode, his face red with fury. The latter gulped. His game was up.
The buzz on his iPhone interrupted his flashback. It was a message from Jessica Goldsmith. I will be keeping an eye on him.
<Six months later>
Andrew got out from his hatchback. The cool breeze from the sea hit his face. He locked the car and strode towards the edge of the cliff. Due to the constant erosion, the rocks had been chiseled off and what remained were narrow slabs. As if nature had carved out steps to welcome her prodigal child! A slight misstep, and Andrew would fall hundred feet into the rocky terrains of the Culm coast. But then, when had be bothered with these aberrations?
In a matter of a few minutes, I will bag my reward!
He rubbed his hands in glee. Soon it would be his- the eggs of the white-tailed eagle.
Andrew wound a thick rope around his body and tied the other end round a tree. Then facing his parked car, he moved backwards. Carefully! When he reached the edge, dropped his right foot slightly down. It made its timely contact with the slab. Assured of its solidity, he raised his other foot backwards, whilst his hands held on to the rope tightly.
The abseiling had begun.
Andrew paused midway. The nest looked eerily inviting. Three beautiful white eggs – the momma was probably out fishing. His mouth drooled at the sight. With one hand gripping a slab, he made a grab for one egg with his other hand. How smooth! He carefully opened the zipper of his pouch and placed it between swabs of cotton. After having emptied the nest, he started his ascent.
<A month later>
The telephone rang. “Teignmouth Police Station. Inspector Goldsmith here.”
Jessica waited till the caller finished her speech.
“Thank you, Miss Boon. We will be right there.”
She replaced the receiver in its cradle and picked up her mobile, and dialed Damien Saunders. “It’s me. Get ready. We are driving to Dartmoor.”
Within thirty minutes, Jessica had picked up Saunders from his hotel room.
“So.. Inspector Goldsmith. My second trip to Teignmouth hasn’t been a waste!”
“You are lucky, Dr. Saunders. I had planted an informer in Goode’s neighbourhood. It seems a month ago he had driven to the coast. I checked up with your colleagues from the RSPB. Some eagles are known to build their nests around the cliffs. I thought I had let go of an opportunity. But then, another door opened. Apparently this guy is eyeing a catch today. He was dressed in camouflage pants, and he had a huge white tray with him which he shoved inside the car. As he boarded the car, a newspaper cutting fell off from his pocket. It’s with me now. I guessed he was going to the moorlands. He is going to do some climbing.”
“How do you know that?”
“Ropes… and stuff like that.”
THE END; AND YET NOT
Jessica stepped on the brake pedal as soon as she saw Andrew’s car parked near a shrub. Nodding at Saunders, she got out of the car. Footprints!
They moved cautiously. “We are walking on eggshells”, Jessica whispered, trying to stifle a giggle. “Sorry for the bad pun, Dr. Saunders.”
They started walking around, looking for telltale signs and sounds.
Saunders took the lead. His eyes scanned the trees. Some of them were so tall, Andrew Goode would have been salivating at the prospect of climbing them.
I wish you don’t serve a term in prison again.
Jessica whispered, “I should have asked for a team to accompany us.”
“Hush. I see something over there.”
They tiptoed slowly towards what looked like a human figure on the ground. Was it a man? Goode?
Saunders stopped in his tracks and winced.
“What happened, Dr. Saunders?” asked Jessica. “Oh shit!”
A ghastly sight awaited them. A pool of blood had formed around Andrew Goode. His skull had been cracked. But it was his right eye – or rather, what remained of it.
“It looks like a claw”, whispered Jessica in a hoarse voice.
Saunders bent down. He shook his head. “A beak.”
Jessica looked up instinctively. It was a hundred feet tree. A majestic eagle sat on its nest, and judging by its fidgeting, the eggs were ready to be hatched.
“Never mess with a momma”, sighed Jessica.
“Mother Nature is bountiful, but also knows how to get back at her vandalizers.”
“You can now sleep tight, Dr. Saunders. He is gone – the vile one.”
The man sighed. “It’s not the end of the hunt.”
Jessica patted his shoulder. “One thing at a time, Dr. Saunders.” She then fished out her mobile from her pocket.
Oviraptor is a type of dinosaur, but for this story I have taken the literal meaning, which is ‘egg seizer’ or ‘egg thief’.
Illegal collection of eggs of rare birds is a punishable offense in Britain. However that hasn’t deterred ‘egg thieves’. There are various articles on it on the internet, including a film titled ‘Poached’, which interviews former and present ‘egg hoarders’, as they recollect their cat-and-mouse games with the police and conservation experts, in pursuit of their weird addiction, more often than leading to endangering the lives of the feathered beauties they claim to love unflinchingly.
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