Heart Of The Eagle. Lindsay McKenna
Dal felt her stomach knotting. “I’ll be going to the high country in another month to check on all the predator sites, plus log in the new nests,” she said.
Jim turned, pinning her with his now umber-colored eyes. “I don’t think so, Dal. It could be dangerous at that time.”
She lifted her chin, eyes flaring wide. At first she started to smile and then she saw he was serious. “What do you mean, dangerous?”
“The FBI has been working closely with the government of Canada on a group of poachers who have been stealing goshawk, peregrine, red-tail and golden eagle eggs from northern Canada.”
“All right, go on.”
“These poachers are a multinational band of men and women who know predatory birds well. Not only that, but they’ve got outlets for the stolen eggs, or eyesses, over in the Middle East. As you know, falconry is a major way of life for the sheikhs and princes of those kingdoms. And now, they have a penchant for the types of birds I just mentioned, to train them into falconry.”
Dal nodded grimly. “Falconry is popular in Europe, also.”
Jim halted. She looked vulnerable to the point of fragility. What would she do when she found out the rest of the problem? “The demand is on an upswing. You know there’s a black market for exotic or imported hawks and falcons. Some people will stop at nothing to acquire a unique specimen—much like the first kid on the block with a new car. The Middle Eastern clients are willing to spend any amount of money to get these eggs or the resulting hatched eyesses. If a prince is seen with a golden eagle, then every one of his noblemen wants one, also. The demand becomes astronomical and creates lucrative blackmarket rings that operate against the law to acquire the birds.
“Basically what’s been happening is that such a group is active in North America and has been supplying falcons and eagles to these countries. Like jewel thieves, they’re professionals. Many times they’ll send in a team of three people: two who are mountain climbing experts to scale the cliffs to get the eggs or nestlings, and a third member who’s an expert on spotting nests, or is familiar with the nesting habitat of a given area. They fly in by helicopter and ferry out their stolen goods. Or, they may go into an area posing as hikers on a pack trip. They’re ingenious and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been close to capturing them, but they’ve always eluded them at the last moment.”
“And they’re operating in the States, too?” Dal asked.
“Yes. Five months ago, information pinpointing certain predator nesting areas was found to be missing in Washington,” he said, watching her closely. “Information that was in a computer to which only a few knew the access code. The maps showing locations of these birds, their nesting habitat and exact location were taken, Dal.”
Her brows drew down. “That means the locations on the Triple K are open for poaching?”
“Those and several other key areas in Wyoming and Montana.”
She pushed her fingers through her hair in an aggravated motion. “Damn these people! If it isn’t the ranchers shooting these poor birds, or sheepmen poisoning them with meat, we have poachers to contend with!” Her voice took on an anguished edge. “Where is it all going to end? My God!”
Jim put his hands flat on the surface of the desk, holding her gaze. “There’s more, Dal.”
“How can there be?”
“Your ex-husband, Jack Gordon, is suspected of paying the government employee who took the information from the computer. Not only that, but evidence leads us to suspect he will mastermind the U.S. connection to the international poaching ring this year. The FBI has been following this case closely, and photos of Jack Gordon with key members of this ring were taken down in the Virgin Islands early this year. With Gordon’s knowledge and skill as a trapper of exotic birds, the poaching would be a piece of cake if he chooses to get involved in it.”
Dal blinked once, a gasp escaping as she stared at him. She felt as if someone had hit her in the chest, leaving her heart aching with a blinding jolt of pain. Pain that she was trying to get some distance on and forget. And then Jim Tremain blurred before her eyes as tears silently ran down her drawn cheeks.
“Here,” Jim said, placing a linen handkerchief in her hands. He rose, unable to stay that close to her and not reach out and touch those tears that were falling.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered and then turned away, unable to absorb the pain so apparent on her suddenly waxen features. He walked toward the door and opened it. He felt stifled and helpless to do anything for Dal. As he turned back toward her, he saw her wiping the last of the tears from her cheeks. She looked like hell.
Dal controlled her breathing, willing back the rest of the tears that wanted to fall. She was vaguely aware of Jim moving toward the liquor cabinet. An avalanche of conflicting emotions ripped through her: anger over what Jack had done and then anger at Jim Tremain for dredging up a part of her life that she wanted to forget.
“Drink this,” Jim offered quietly, putting a shot glass filled with apricot brandy in front of her. “Go on….”
Wordlessly, Dal took a hefty gulp, the brandy burning all the way down. But it staunched her tears and steadied her roiling emotions. “Thanks,” she murmured, setting the glass down.
“I’m sorry. I know you were recently divorced.” Jim’s mouth worked into a grim line as she lifted her head and looked at him. “I had a choice: come to you for help or let the FBI start crawling all over the place trying to capture Gordon and his counterpart. I came to you for help because you know the location of all these nesting areas. No one knows predators like you do.”
Dal gave him a mirthless smile. “Certain two-legged predators, Mr. Tremain. The feathered variety, not the human ones.”
Jim steeled himself. Now it was Mr. Tremain and not Jim. She was on the defensive again, but he couldn’t blame her. He kept his husky voice low and steady, as if calming a frantic horse. “My men and I will take care of the other two-legged predators. If you can act as guide, we’ll set up a trap that will capture Gordon and his people.”
“Am I a suspect, Mr. Tremain?”
Jim steadily met her blue eyes. “Given your record of conservation of predators, doctor, I felt you were innocent.”
“So someone didn’t think I was?”
He met her cool smile. “The FBI considers you questionable. If you want to know.”
“And you don’t?”
She gave him a flat glare of disgust. “I’m surprised I’m not an accessory to the fact, Mr. Tremain.” Dal rose and paced the study for a minute before meeting his gaze. “Let me get this straight. You want me for a guide in late May to find the location of the eggs or nestlings?”
“And then what?”
“I’ll have the men who are at my disposal close in on the ring once we know they’re in the area. The eggs of most predators will be hatched by early June, making them prime for poaching. The eyesses are best caught just before they learn to fly. I think Gordon will start with the nests in the southern regions and work his way north with the warmer weather. And the Triple K is the farthest south of all the areas.”
Dal paced some more, explosive anger building within her. “I came to the Triple K for a long rest, Mr. Tremain. I don’t want to play tour guide. I don’t want to even think about that ex-husband of mine!” She halted, drawing herself up, her face mirroring her feelings. “Jack wouldn’t step on Triple K land. Rafe would kill him and he knows that.”
Jim spread his hands in a gesture of peace. “Look, I know this comes as a shock but—”
“I won’t do it, Mr. Tremain.”