"Tony! It's good to see you."
"Lotta and Andy, as usual you have rearranged my life for me. Come in and let me introduce you to everyone."
"First, this is Ben, Tony."
"Hey, nice to meet you. It's about time Andy put more than frogs into her life." Tony was blunt as ever.
The introductions went on for awhile as they settled into an afternoon and evening at Tony and Ken's.
Danny, Jamie, and Jin, who they had picked up in El Cajon on the way in from the mountains, went right to the computers with Ken.
"This is my friend Jin," Danny said to Ken.
"Nice to meet you," Jin mumbled chomping down on yet another piece of gum that he pulled from his pocket.
It was a big house. "Tony are you two planning on a big family or something with this giant house?" Lotta could not resist kidding her ex roommate.
"Not really. We want just one or two but with the size of our families there are always people who need a place to crash for awhile. Kenny needs lots of space for his computers and sound system, too."
Andy was calling in an order for pizza and everyone wanted to tell her a different kind to get. It was pure bedlam! Just as she was telling the pizza guy on the phone the last weird pizza combination the doorbell rang and Tony's mom arrived with her aunt and a couple of cousins. The pizza order got bigger and the noise went up another ten decibels.
"Hey! Look at this site. Exotic birds from around the world. Papers handled by importer. Lowest Prices! Must liquidate stock." Jin said. "They don't give an address but they do list their zip code and it's the same as mine."
"That means they are selling them from El Cajon!" Jamie exclaimed.
"If these are the right guys." Jin said. "It could just be a pet shop."
"Let's call it right now," Danny suggested.
"I'll do it." Andy punched in the numbers on her phone and put it on speaker so everyone could listen in.
"Yeah?" Someone finally answered on the fourth ring in a low gravelly voice.
"Hi. I'm interested in getting a parrot. I saw your site on the net. What kind do you have?"
"Many. Where can I meet you to show them to you?"
"I could just come to your store."
There was a pause on the other end. Who ever had answered the phone was talking with someone else in the background.
"The shop is being repaired. I'll meet you in the parking lot at the corner of Main and Second Street in El Cajon at 10 tonight, over by the hardware store. Come alone and bring cash."
"Should we do it?" Danny was ready for adventure.
"We better tell the police." Andy suggested.
"Yeah. They sound pretty sleazy to me," Ken spoke up.
"They'll just drive off if they see the police," Jin objected.
"Let's call that guy that my dad told us to contact if we found out anything. Maybe he'll figure out a way to trap them." Jamie suggested.
"Andy and I met him Sheriff Sadler, out in the desert when we found Richard. Since they talked to Andy it'll have to be a woman that meets them," Danny added.
They made the call to the sheriff. Sheriff Sadler said he would put together a team and get back to them.
When he called back a short while later he said, "We'll meet Andy and Danny at the smuggler's location. Even if it isn't the same guys there has to be something wrong going on. We would like both Andy and Danny to come as they have probably had a good look at these guys a few times. They might be able to tell if it is the same ones. We'll have you covered the whole time so don't worry. Mostly they'll just try to run if they see us. If he looks armed turn on your inside light to signal us and then drive away."
They had fun at Tony and Ken's until they had to leave for the stakeout. Tony's mom laid out her plans for the wedding and Lotta suggested they have the reception in her backyard in Point Loma overlooking the ocean.
"Tony I could combine this with the Bar-B-Q I have with the biology faculty and students. You know a lot of the teachers." Lotta suggested to Tony when they had a minute alone together.
"That would be good. It would keep my mom from inviting every friend and family member within flying distance." Tony said relieved.
At nine Ben said he would drive the two fake parrot buyers. They decided he could lay down behind the seat covered with a blanket just before they got to the parking lot. Jaime and Jin felt left out but Ken said they could stay at Tony's until Andy, Danny and Ben returned. Trevor and Jason took off for home.
It was dark as they sat in the deserted parking lot facing the corner of Second and Main, waiting for the parrot sellers to appear. The stores had been closed for hours. The Sheriff had a team positioned across the street in unmarked cars. They felt chilled even though it was warm out and wondered if the parrot men were going to show at all as the minutes ticked by past ten.
There was some traffic along Second Street but it seemed like a light colored van had passed by a couple of times. It maneuvered slowly into the lot and crept up next to the truck on the left side. They could only see one guy inside and he just sat there looking at them for a bit before lowering the electric window.
"You the one who wants a parrot? I told you to come alone!"
"I know but it's Danny who wants the bird. He wanted to pick it out." Andy sounded a little frantic and made an effort to calm down before saying more. "I can't afford anything expensive and you said they were cheap."
"Get out slowly and come around back. You have cash?"
The back of the van had three cages in it. Somehow they had expected many more.
"You pick one but make it fast."
The police had told them not to drag things out so Danny quickly pointed to a green and yellow one with a nasty looking beak. "That one," he whispered, trying to keep his teeth from chattering.
Just as Andy had the cage in hand and the man took the money they were surrounded by six uniformed police. They seemed to come out of nowhere. Suddenly, another van pulled up with a huge TV camera sticking out of the window trained on Andy!
"Grab him!" Sheriff Sadler took charge as the smuggler tried to get away. There was a scuffle on the other side of the van. Something slammed hard against the van and made it rock back and forth. Crash!
"Keep your hands on the van where I can see them."
"You can't do that! You can't do that!" Came a scratchy high pitched voice. "Squawk! Squawk!"
The cage of the bird that Danny was supposed to buy was turned over in the melee. As Danny looked into the van the parrot in the fallen cage was doing some complaining of its own, flapping its wings and sending green feathers flying everywhere.
"Chester wants out! Squawk! Squawk!"
"Not so fast! Not so fast! Squawk! Squawk!"
Andy was so relieved she just sat down in the driver's seat and laughed. Chester the parrot was comic relief on a scary night. Ben sat next to her as the police read the outlaw his rights and confiscated the birds and cash.
They searched the van and discovered a second layer of cages and frightened birds in a hidden insulated compartment where the seats would have been.
"What are we going to do with all of these birds tonight, Sheriff?" One of the deputies asked.
"Customs will come and get the wild ones but that guy has been trained." He pointed at Chester. "He might be someone's stollen pet. We'll have to keep it at Headquarters until it is identified."
"Squawk! Squawk! Shut up Chester! Shut! Shut! Shut!"
"That's going to drive everyone crazy!"
"Thanks for the help, Andy." Sheriff Sadler said later. "I don't think that this was one of the big guys but at least we interrupted their plans some." He was holding Chester's cage very carefully keeping his fingers away from that large yellow beak.
"Where are you going? Squawk! Squawk!"
"If you need to find a home for Chester I think I know of someone that might want him." Sophie Kassas had recently lost her pet parakeet.
"I'll definitely keep it in mind," He replied looking down at the cage in his hand.
"Help! Help! Squawk! Squawk!"
"I wonder what this guy could tell us if he could actually communicate?"
"Good night, Chester."
"G'night! G'night! Squawk! Squawk!"
Ben dropped Andy and Danny at Tony's and said he would come out to the cabin in the early afternoon the next day. "Andy, could we have a nice quiet day tomorrow? I've had enough excitement for now," Ben said laughing.
"Thanks, Ben. The rest will be left to the police. We've caught all the bad-guys that we can."
"I'll believe that if it actually happens! Good night, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Good night, Ben."
Andy was tired and staying in town would have been nice but they needed to feed Fina and check on the puppies. The parrot man was not Juan but he identified Juan as their ring leader and the license was the same as the partial one they got in the desert. Apparently, Juan stayed in the background and let others do his dirty work – and get caught. He was running out of lackeys though. With two of his men caught he would probably make a run for the border. And, where was the Larry connection? And, more importantly, where was Jorgé!
At Tony's they had to tell everyone several times what had happened at the parrot bust.
An hour later everything was quiet at the cabin when they all arrived. Jin had called his parents while they were buying illegal parrots to ask if he could go to the cabin and there was no turning him down.
"You need me. I'm the one who found the website for you!" Jin had begged plaintively before they had left Tony's place.
"You mean you need us," Danny shot back. "Your computer is down and you just want to use Andy's."
But in the end they were happy to have him along.
Fina gulped her food and jumped back into the box with her pups. If the lion paid them another visit that night they slept through it. Thankfully no one even called until late the next morning.
Ben called at eleven to find out the latest news. "You're getting a reputation for excitement, Andy."
"But, today we're just going to relax. Too bad you can't come out," Andy said.
"I did my volunteer hours at the hospital and am off for the rest of the day." He added. "At some point I'm going to catch a nap."
"It's pretty quiet out here and nice. You could nap out under the pines if you want. It's warmer today and it looks like we might be in for some cloud build up and maybe a thunder storm later. The only things that might bother you are the Steller's Jays.
"They've been getting into the porch and carrying off spilled dog food all morning. When the screen was repaired the repairman left a small slot open up near the top because he ran out of the right size of boards. He has to come back and fix it but while it's open the jays are having a great time." Andy said sweeping up the stray food.
"We could pick up a Julian apple pie at the market." Andy replied.
"Ok. You convinced me. I'll be there about one or so."
"Hey everybody! I found something!" Jin yelled from the cabin office.
"What's up?" Danny called to Jin as he played with the soft squirming puppies.
"I've been messing around on the Net, even though this connection is ultra slow, and I think I found something really important." Jin was excited and chomping gum so fast Danny could hardly understand him.
"Ok, slow down and tell me what you have." Danny put a puppy back into the box and walked into the office.
"There is this site that's really weird! It's just one line after the next that looks like map coordinates or something, alternating with numbers and dates like: 0900 (6-8) and 2315 (6-15), etc."
"Those numbers sound like military time, you know, 24 hour clocks. I have my computer set that way. 2300 means eleven o'clock at night." Danny proposed. "But why do you think this has anything to do with the parrot smugglers?"
"Well, I went to a parrot site and it had a link that went to this site. The link wasn't very obvious. Kind of buried in stuff at the very bottom of the site. Also, there are sets of numbers in a side column associated with each date and one of them is:
3 W 9 7 5 2 3
"So I got suspicious and..."
"Wow! That's the license plate number from that van!" Danny interrupted.
"Let's see... I think that one date is right around when Danny and I went to the desert the night we saw the two vans. What license numbers are at that 6-8 date?" Andy asked.
"Well, that van we know is there and another one:
2 T 8 8 0 5 9
"That must be the other van! I couldn't get the number that night because it was the van that came from Brawley so it was facing the other way." Danny said.
"Hey! Today is 6-15! We better call Sheriff Sadler right away." Jin said.
"I'll call him to tell him what you found, Jin, and you can email him the web site address. He gave me his email that last time I talked to him." Danny said digging around in his wallet for Sheriff Sadler's card. "Here it is: sadler@SDsheriff.gov. Send it to him right away."
"They'll probably have a stake out and you'll get to go. You have all the fun!" Jin complained.
"Your mom said you could stay at the cabin for a few days." Danny suggested. "Maybe they'll decide it's important and have a stake out tonight and you'll be able to go.
"Maybe. Give me Sheriff Sadler's email."
"Be sure to give him the license numbers next to today's date." Danny instructed.
"If this is right, that other van should be coming out from somewhere near Brawley again tonight!"
After Danny phoned Sheriff Sadler, Andy called Tom Douglass to let him know. He already knew about the cabin intruder because Sheriff Lopez had called him earlier and the report about the El Cajon bust was in the paper.
"It seems like they may try to get their shipment out anyway." Tom said. "The bust interrupted their plans for getting rid of some of the birds but I'll bet they are still going to try to ship out what they can."
"Now that you know it might be tonight are you going to plan a roadblock?" Andy was talking on the portable phone while watching a jay edge closer to Ben's pie plate.
Ben was peacefully asleep in the hammock and had not eaten all of the crust. The plate was under the hammock. The jay grabbed a large chunk and flitted off probably to bury it in the loose soil under the oaks.
"We could set up a stake out on the desert roads tonight but since they lost the one van at the bust we won't know what their van will look like. Half the people who come out to the desert these days are driving minivans. It's going to be hard to check every license unless we have a road block but that would probably scare them away."
"Maybe that license number will help, though. Well, let me know if there is anything else we can do to help." Andy offered.
"Sadler will no doubt plan something to keep most of the rangers out tonight."
When Tom hung up Andy noticed that Ben's plate was completely clean and the jays were up in the trees doing that call that sounds a lot like laughter echoing from branch to branch. They are the thieves of the bird world in the Lagunas.
"Andy, I need an extra pair of eyes." Tim Blain the Coyote Canyon ranger called later.
"Sure Tim. What do you want us to do?" Andy asked helpfully taking the call as Lotta was talking to the screen repairman.
"The Sheriff is certain they will be on Highway 78 and has a huge stakeout going on over there on either end of Sentenac Canyon. Tom Douglass called me and said he is not so sure that those guys will do it the same way again." Tim gave Andy the details.
"Sheriff Sadler could be right, though, because those guys still don't know that we saw them in Sentenac Canyon that night." Andy said.
"Sure. But they've lost people and a couple of vehicles so they're probably getting jumpy. They may try one of the other desolate roads out here for their little meeting."
"We could keep an eye on Henderson. That road is about as desolate as they come." Andy offered.
"I agree. That's just what I've been thinking and if you could hang out at the west end of Henderson I would take the east end. You could let me know if you see a van at your end and I could move in." Tim suggested. "You would need to find a place well enough away to be out of danger."
"I know just the spot. There's a little hill just a short distance along that dirt road that heads off the west end of Henderson. It's a really sandy stretch of road, lots of desert wildflowers in the early spring if there is enough rain, but we shouldn't have any trouble in the truck."
"Speaking of rain, on top of everything else it looks like it's going to be one of those rare nights when it actually rains out here on the desert in June. It must be the tail end of the El Niño we've had the past few months. The rain started up in the Santa Rosa Mountains just north of Coyote Canyon about an hour ago and a ranger I know up there said it was coming down in sheets.
We're dry here at this point, but you never know. There is a flash flood warning out on the desert washes." Tim was concerned. "Don't take any chances, Andy."
"Don't worry. With Danny's telescope we can be a long way away. What is your cell phone number and when do you want us in place?"
"Bring a tent and act like you are camping. Get here as soon as you can. Who knows when they'll show up or if."
Danny, Jin and Jamie packed up the camper with tents and other gear and put Fina in the house. She gets along fine with cats usually but they put her in the bedroom with the puppies and closed the door just to be on the safe side. It was only going to be a few hours. They woke up Ben and he wanted to come too.
Trevor and Jason arrived just as they were leaving and wanted to go with them.
"Lets stop at the market on the way down for some snacks." Lotta suggested.
"Good idea. Every time we're out with you guys we get hungry from the workout." Trevor grinned.
"Well, tonight there won't be any workout." Andy insisted. We are just going to stay out of the way and watch from a distance." She really wanted to believe that!
"What are the chances that these guys will actually show up in Henderson Canyon?" Jamie asked.
"They better." Jin said. "I spent a long time on the Net looking for that site. I deserve to see the action."
"I think they will definitely show up somewhere tonight." Andy said getting out of the truck at the market and strolling over to a parked van.
It was getting to the point that whenever any of them saw a van they automatically checked the license plate and looked inside. This time a big dog leaped up from the floor of the van and snarled at Andy when she looked inside. It made her jump but there were no birds inside and the van was red.
From the top of Banner Grade near Julian they could see the billowing thunderheads to the northeast over the Santa Rosa Mountains – gray and black clouds surrounded white swirling cotton balls and all of it was pushing up to extreme altitudes.
There is a lot of moisture in thunderheads. Sometimes they turn dangerously dark and drop several inches of rain in an hour. That is when major floods swamp the normally dry washes out in the desert. It was sunny over most of the desert park and the heat hit hard as they headed down to the desert floor.
They filled up the gas tanks at the Texaco Station in Borrego Springs and drove to Henderson Canyon Road. The little dirt road off the west end was in good shape, sandy in spots where it crossed the wash but nothing that the trucks couldn't handle. Even so, Trevor decided to park his truck on the shoulder of the road away from the wash. There was no water in the sandy channels and dry sand and dust lifted into the air during a strong gust of hot wind.
They set up their fake camp and Jin and Danny took turns keeping and eye on the road activity with the telescope. Trevor and Jason pitched the tents and made some sandwiches. Jamie practiced with the camera learning to focus the lens. Andy and Ben walked up the dry streambed to watch the storm coming in. Lotta took a nap in the shade.
By 9:30 PM it was really dark but the crescent moon was just coming up over Font's Point, a prominent place in the Borrego Badlands to the east of their position. Cloud cover was beginning to move in dimming the bright moon.
Mostly the thunderstorms break up and evaporate as the sun sets and the extreme temperature driving the clouds upward begins to decrease. Tonight it looked like the clouds were going to last awhile into the night.
At 10 o'clock it began to sprinkle lightly, mostly a warm mist. They had brought along the tent and a few camp chairs. They had the telescope set up inside the screen door of the tent with the tip poking out through the zippered door. They were putting on a good show of lounging campers caught in an unexpected rain and making the best of it.
About that time Sharon called on Andy's cell phone. It was a surprise and what she had to say was even more interesting.
"Andy, I've been watching Larry and Lynn's place since I heard about your little adventure on the streets of El Cajon on the news." Sharon sounded excited. "You'll never guess what just happened!
" Larry has been climbing up and down a small ravine behind his house half of the day today. I couldn't see what he was doing but about an hour ago he drove a van from behind his house to the front. He got something from the house, slammed the screen door, and then drove away. I didn't see any sign of Lynn or the kids.
My cell doesn't transmit from where I was watching so I had to drive home to call you. The thunderstorm is raging here and my home phone was out again so I had to drive until the cell phone would transmit or I would have called sooner."
"Sharon, he may be part of this smuggling gang." Andy explained what they were up to that night. "Did you happen to get the license plate number of the van?" Andy asked.
"No, it never was in a position that I could see it with my binoculars. Sorry, but it's a tan full-sized van, different from the other two. It seemed to be filled up with stuff."
"Now, which way would he come into Borrego," Andy asked thoughtfully.
"If he has any idea that they are onto him he might go the really long way through Ramona on Highway 67 and out Hwy. 79. Then come down S22 into Borrego Springs to avoid Sentenac. From there, who knows?" Sharon offered.
"Thanks Sharon, I better tell Tim Blain your idea right away."
"Let me know what happens tonight. I don't care how late you have to call." Sharon was another night owl especially when she was onto a story. "For once I'd like to scoop the city reporters. I have this story all written up. All I need is a good juicy ending."
"Andy called Tim and explained what Sharon had seen and how they thought it might tie into the smugglers.
"How long would it take him to drive here from Potrero?" Tim wanted to know.
"Probably about two and a half hours," Andy guessed. "It's been over an hour since he left." Andy explained about Sharon's phone problem.
"Ok, so he could arrive here about 11:30. That gives us just over an hour to get some people onto the other roads out of town. I'll call you back when I know what's happening."
"It was nearly eleven when Tim called back. "Andy, just stay where you are. The Sheriff had a vehicle on Highway S2 near the S22 Montezuma Grade turnoff. A big light colored van packed to the roof went by him about ten minutes ago." Tim reported.
"If we don't get flooded out he may still come this way. I'll be patrolling the roads near here so call if you see anything. We have a radio black out in case he has the equipment to monitor us but you can get me on my cell phone. They brought in a few units closer to Borrego and Tom Douglass is on Borrego Springs Road out by the airport. He can be here in a few minutes if we see anything. You ok over there?"
"We're fine, Tim. We've moved into the tent since the rain seems to be hanging around but we'll stay right here. There is a trickle in the wash but it isn't anywhere near flooding, yet. We have a perfect view of this end of Henderson and we are high above the wash just in case it floods. Bye."
"For the next hour they watched the empty road as the lightening and deafening thunder crashed above them. The lightening flashes lit up the desert night like searchlights. During the flash they could see water running off the road and the wash beginning to run with a fairly decent stream of water washing over the street in a low place.
"It probably rained a whole lot more on this side of the Santa Rosa Mountains and is just now reaching us." Trevor commented. Everything was quiet again except for the distant thunder and the stream of water that was rising faster by the minute.
©Copyright - Ann Wellhouse 2015