10-16-2011, 06:36 PM
Back at the demonstration site, Criss carried the shirtful of eggs to his Range Rover and set them on the front passenger seat. "There you go, little guys," he said softly. "You'll be safe in here."
"You gotta keep 'em warm," a voice spoke behind him.
Criss turned and saw Dean Waring, the newest member of the camera crew, standing there. "Come again?" Criss asked.
"Eggs need to be kept warm if they're gonna hatch," Dean repeated.
"Since when are you an expert on eggs?"
"Since I was in 4-H when I was a kid," Dean replied. "I hatched baby chicks using a sixty-watt bulb and a shoebox back in Nebraska. If the eggs aren't kept warm, the chicks inside the eggs'll die."
"Well, okay," Criss said, conceding to Dean's experience, "but I don't have any light bulbs or anything--just my shirt."
"Well, you'd better find something soon," Dean warned him, "or else."
Criss motioned Dean to follow him. "C'mon, let's see what we can use in the supply van."
They trotted over to the boxy white van and pulled open the rear doors. Inside was a jumble of cables, lights, tripods, camera equipment and other technical supplies needed for taping the show. Criss climbed inside the van and began to search for anything warm enough to incubate the eggs. "Hey, these overhead lights get pretty hot," he said. "Maybe we can hook up one of them and set the eggs on it."
Dean opened up a large first aid kit. "Here's something better," he said. "Thermal packs."
Criss picked his way over the coils of cable back to Dean. "Yeah! There you go!" he cheered. "Those'll work."
The two men raced back to the Rover. Dean broke open the thermal packs to activate the heating elements inside and laid them over the bundle of eggs. "That'll hold 'em for a while," he said.
Criss clapped Dean on the shoulder. "Good job, Dean," he said. "Couldn't have done it without you. Now I got to call the cops and tell 'em about what happened to their mother."
"You'd be better off calling Animal Control," Dean told him. "They handle stuff like that."
"You know the number?"
"Not offhand, but I know they can help you with your egg problem better than the cops."
Criss pulled out his cell phone and dialed nine-one-one. It was easier than trying to locate the animal shelter, he figured. They would direct him to the proper authorities pertaining to this matter.
"Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?" the operator asked.
"Uh, hi," Criss began. "Uh, I want to report a poaching incident here at Lake Meade. Somebody shot a mother duck all to hell and left six orphaned eggs. Can you send someone from Animal Control or something?"
"Did you see anyone shoot the duck in question?"
"No, I didn't, but I did hear a shot from about a quarter of a mile from where I'm standing. There's not much left of that poor mama duck, by the way. It was blown all to hell."
"All right, sir, we'll send out ASPCA officials to investigate the poaching incident. Can you give me your location?"
Criss gave the operator the location of the demonstration site. "Thank you, sir," the operator said. "They're on their way."
He flipped off his phone and stuffed it in his pocket. "They're sending out the Animal Cops," he said to Dean. "Everything's cool. Now, let's get back to work."
The afternoon ran its course. The demonstration rehersal went well with no accidents or mistakes. All the safety procedures performed to peak capacity. Criss was confident that the taping tomorrow would be smooth sailing. The crew was busy taking down the equipment and packing it into the van when a large SUV with the Nevada state ASPCA logo rolled down toward the site. Criss had all but forgotten he had called them, so busy he had been with the demonstration practice. He ran toward the SUV, waving and calling out "Hi!"
The truck stopped midway, and two uniformed police officers, a tall man with a fashionable goatee and a slim blonde woman, climbed out. "You called about a poaching incident?" the man asked.
"Uh, yeah, I did," Criss replied, a bit embarrassed about having forgotten about it. "It happened down that way." He pointed in the direction where he and his brothers had taken the boat. "When we heard the shot, me and my brothers took the boat over there to investigate."
"Can you take us there?" the officer asked.
"Uh, yeah, sure."
Criss took the officers to the boat and untied it. The two officers climbed into the boat and sat down on the narrow benches while Criss shoved it into the water, hopping in at the last minute. He pulled the starter on the outboard motor, and they were off to the scene of the crime.
The little boat glided along the shoreline to the grassy knoll. "There it is!" Criss cried out. "That's where the nest was!"
He turned the boat toward the knoll and killed the motor. "See?" he said, pointing to the remains of the mother duck. "Son of a (bleep) blew her all to hell."
The female officer picked up the blasted carcass and set it gently onto the floor of the boat. "This wasn't poaching," she said. "This was just killing for its own sake. Someone was just using it for target practice."
"You mean like a drive-by shooting?" Criss asked.
"Drive-bys are more gang-related," the female officer said. "Whoever killed this duck was just plain trigger-happy." She scanned the knoll. "The father duck can't be too far off," she said. "I'm no duck expert, but I heard they mate for life. He's gotta be here somewhere." She turned to Criss. "Did you see a male duck around when you found the female?"
Criss shook his head. "Nope," he replied. "She was alone with her eggs."
The female officer looked into the nest. "I don't see any eggs."
"Well, I took 'em with me," Criss explained sheepishly. "I mean, I didn't want them to get eaten by snakes or nothing. I mean, there are snakes in this area, I heard."
"Where are the eggs now?"
"In my Rover. Dean and I put some thermal packs on them to keep them warm. He's a 4-H expert on baby chicks, you know."
The female officer didn't know, but she nodded anyway. Meanwhile, the tall male officer was scanning the area around the knoll. "Hey, over there," he said, pointing to a spot not too far from the nest.
He climbed out of the boat and onto the knoll, then stepped carefully along the shoreline to a scrubby area about two feet away from the knoll. He reached down and picked up the limp form of a dead mallard, its hunter-green neck swaying like a rope from a tree. "I think we just found Papa Duck," he shouted.
Criss watched mournfully as the duck carcasses were crated, labeled as evidence and stored in the SUV. Memories of his father's body taken away to the morgue on the day he died of stomach cancer replayed in his mind. He had yearned for one last look upon his father's face as the gurney bearing the body was wheeled by two attendants in starched white shirts into the cororner's ambulance, covered head to toe in a blinding white sheet as if to conceal the horror of death from the world of the living. He would not see it again until the funeral, and even then only for a brief time before the casket in which his father lay would be interred into the cold, dark earth.
But this wasn't the same, he reminded himself. Those ducks didn't die of a lingering illness as his father did; this was senseless, cold-blooded murder. Someone took a couple of potshots at a pair of innocent ducks who simply wanted to create what they hoped was a safe place to raise their young. Now the poor little ducklings would never know their parents, thanks to whomever was too callous or too drunk or just too stupid to care. At least he had rescued them in time, thank God.
I'm gonna make sure those little ducklings are cared for, he vowed. I don't know how or where I'm gonna do it, but I'm gonna make sure those little guys live somewhere safe from (bleep)holes like whoever shot their parents! And if I ever find out who did it, I am so gonna kick his ass all the way to (bleeping) Mexico!
Criss turned to the female ASPCA officer approaching him. "Thank you for reporting this incident," she said, shaking his hand. "We'll take the ducks to HQ for a post-mortem. As for the eggs, well, we don't have the facilities to care for them. You can call Wildlife Rescue of Nevada in Valgado, however. It's about twenty miles south of Reno if you care to make the trip."
Criss smiled politely. "Thanks," he said. "I'll give them a call."
They shook hands again, and the ASPCA truck sped off. Criss walked toward his Rover and opened the passenger door. "How're you doing, little guys?" he said cheerfully. "You keeping warm under there?"
He picked up one of the thermal packs to readjust it. It was cold. "Oh, no!" he said fearfully. "Oh, no! Oh, God, please!"
He punched the packs to try to reactivate them. "Come on! Come on!" he muttered through gritted teeth. It was no good. The packs had expended their heat supply; they were just lumps of cold silicone gel. In desperation, Criss called out, "Dean! Dean, I need you here! The packs are cold!"
Dean ran toward the Rover. "What's up?" he asked.
"The packs are cold!" Criss cried. "We gotta save the eggs!"
Dean thought fast. "Does your heater work?"
"Of course it works! Why?"
"Does it blow onto the floor?"
"Well, uh, I-I think so."
Dean stuck his head into the Rover and examined the control panel. "Okay," he said. "Put the eggs on the floor and make a tent around them."
Criss did as Dean instructed. He laid the bundle of eggs onto the floor under the dash, then curtained them with the parka coat he had left in the Rover last winter. "Now, turn on the heater and direct it onto the floor," Dean told him.
Criss climbed into the driver's seat, adjusted the controls, started up the engine, and turned on the heater. Hot air blasted his feet, nearly toasting them, but the eggs were once again safe from cold. "God, I hope we're not too late," he murmured.
Dean closed the passenger door. "You think you got it under control?" he asked.
"I think I'm good," Criss replied, still hoping the eggs had not suffered any damage.
"Okay, then, gimme a call if you have any trouble."
"Right. See you tomorrow."
Dean walked away. JD and Costa walked up to the Rover and climbed in. "My God!" JD exclaimed. "It's like a friggin' oven in here! You got the heater on or what?"
"Sorry, guys," Criss said, "but Dean says I gotta keep the eggs warm or they'll die."
"Well, you don't have to roast them!" JD retorted. "Can't you turn down the heat a little?"
Criss shook his head. "Can't. You guys are just gonna have to grin and bear it until we get home."
So JD and Costa were forced to endure a sweltering ninety-minute ride back to Criss' estate, Serenity. They kept the windows rolled down to cool off while wishing they had some bottled water to rehydrate themselves. "First thing I'm gonna do when we get home," Costa muttered, "I'm gonna throw myself into the pool!"
"First thing I'm going to do," JD said, "I'm gonna throw Criss into the pool! And I'm gonna hold him down until he comes to his senses!"
"Yeah, like that's gonna happen," Costa said, wiping his sweating brow. "You'll drown him first."