"Wow, Danny that is so cool!" Jamie and Danny were down by the stream using his telescope. They were watching a pretty blue bird, called a Lazuli bunting, flit around in the bright sunshine in the upper branches of the cottonwood and sycamore trees along the stream.
Jamie and Danny seemed to be enjoying each other's company more than the birds they were watching. "What's that in the grass on top of those rocks way over there?"
"Whatever it is it's big and nearly blends in."
"I want to put on the camera adapter because if it's what I think it is this is going to be a good shot." Danny exchanged the eyepiece on the scope for a camera. "Oh, wow! It just stood up and it is a Bobcat, Jamie!"
"Let me look!" Jaime insisted.
It is easy to live around these beautiful tawny cats for years on the desert edge and in the mountains and still rarely get a glimpse of them because their camouflage is so complete. The rocks and dirt in this country are cat colored.
"It's hard to get a good picture because the bobcat is inside those tall grasses."
"Bobcats and sometimes Mountain Lions leave their tracks in the soft dirt around the cabin when no one has visited for awhile. A female may have a den up there in the rocks."
Bobcat kittens are big-footed, spotted miniatures of their parents tumbling in the grass in juvenile play adventures when the mother cat is around. She stashes them safely away when she is on the hunt. The male parent is no candidate for Father's Day cards. In fact, he is a danger to his own offspring. But the female is a danger to everyone else when she has kittens.
"Don't try to get any closer. That mamma cat is nothing to play with. It's better that she's on the other side of the stream and a long ways away," Danny cautioned.
The next morning Jamie decided she hadn't been to the Ruben H. Fleet Space Theater in awhile and would be happy to stay longer so she could go along. It sure seemed like Danny and Jamie had planned that one in advance.
"Let's go see if the Bobcat is out again," Jamie suggested grabbing Danny's camera and heading toward the door. With a quick, "Bye, Mom," she went off to the stream. Anna Vargas just shook her head with a grin and packed up the van.
"Maybe she'll do something more this time than snooze in the grass." Danny responded taking out the telescope and following Jamie out of the door.
Sharon Blake, the backcountry reporter friend of Lotta's, was home when Lotta phoned that morning after Anna and Brandon left.
"Well, Carlotta Montrose. What little jam have you got yourselves into now?" The only times Sharon and Lotta saw each other it seemed was when Andy and Lotta got involved with kidnappers or other low-lifes and that had not really been all that often, at least until now. Lotta filled her in on some of the details and then handed the phone to Andy.
Sharon had read the papers. As any good reporter on the scent of something juicy to fill column space she peppered Andy with questions.
"We're going to go out to the Grandmother's place, Sharon, and just look around some. It should be safe enough if they have already removed the contraband. We'll stay out of trouble," Andy tried to sound convincing, at least to herself.
"That would be the day! Remember the kidnapping? That was when you told me about how scientists are always on the scent of a mystery and how they naturally take to criminal investigations. You even tried to get me to take some science classes to improve my observation and interpretation skills, as I recall. Once out there, with your little froggies was enough for me!"
Nothing gets by Sharon. She's not what you would call a hard-bitten reporter but she's always ready to see through smoke screens and she'd been around newspapers for quite a few years.
They arranged to meet at the local cafe near her on Saturday. Writers are interesting to be around. They can be artistic, certainly Sharon was. Andy was always amazed at how the inside of her house was beautifully decorated. Lotta and Andy mostly used field collections as decorations. But Sharon also has a very good mind for investigations.
"I think there have been some weird activities going on out here. People who tend to be involved in the shady side of things have not been seen in their usual haunts." Sharon observed. "Maybe while we're at it we can drop in on a few people who tend to know what's happening out here."
"Good idea and in the meantime if you hear anything specific let me know. I'll see you Saturday."
After they hung up it was time to run into town to meet Ben. So much for lots of time to hang out at the cabin, hopefully, there would be time for that later. They fed the animals and put Fina in the dog run.
"It looks like Fina could have her puppies any time,' Danny observed. Fina looked lethargic, just lying around in sunny spots. When the puppies finally came they were going to be huge because she was certainly not her usual slim self.
"I hope she waits until we get home." Andy was concerned because this was to be Fina's first and last litter and Andy wanted to be there when it happened. She's an Australian Cow Dog and loves to go in the field. She knows just how to lay far enough away that her presence does not inhibit the frogs but close enough to keep an eye everything.
Fina is not the kind of dog that tolerates strangers well. Once someone passes her initial inspection they are ok forever but until then its tricky. She bit once when the kidnapping investigation was going on. It was an undercover cop who was detailed to watch Lotta's house but Fina didn't know him. He was nice about it but kept his distance afterward and let Fina cover the back yard.
The tourist swarm at Balboa Park was surprisingly light. The June-gloom had burnt off early and the normally constant offshore breezes that keep San Diego mostly in the 70's and low 80's even in the summer had shut down for a few hours. The hands-on science center at the Space Theater captivates kids of all ages. They all found the mostly wonders-of-physics demonstrations fun.
After awhile Ben said, "Ok, let's go get something to drink. I've been on my feet all morning at the hospital and it's going to be a long night. Tourists are filling up the emergency room with over-indulgence fractures."
Right then Andy realized that she had forgotten to pick up the sandwiches at the deli in Alpine on the way in like she said she would. "Don't worry about it. I'm happy with a burger and fries." Ben was being his usual accommodating self as he took her hand and Andy began to wonder if he ever got mad or if he would be able to understand it when she did.
Andy was normally even tempered until she got tired from trying to follow the schedules set up by morning loving people. When Andy kidded him on his easy going nature he replied, "You would not recognize me when I'm studying for finals or at the hospital long hours." He laughed.
They spent the afternoon walking around the park with a number of stops at the well-supplied food vendors that dot the Prado, the main street through the park. The hotdogs went over well and so did ice cream. It always feels like a holiday in Balboa Park especially on sunny weekends. There are jugglers and fortune tellers and face painters with people playing music everywhere - with a hat out for donations of course.
They all had a nice day. As they were going their separate ways in the parking lot Andy mentioned her conversation with Sharon Blake and the Saturday meeting they had arranged.
"Andy, I don't like the idea of you digging around near those smugglers. I don't want to sound like I'm butting in or trying to run your life but I would feel better if you let me go with you."
Of course she didn't mind having him along so she readily agreed. "We won't be doing anything particularly dangerous. If it looks like the smugglers are still around we'll give the house a pass. Aunt Lotta and I have been through this stuff before. But you're welcome to come."
Fina was agitated when they got back to the cabin that night. At first they were afraid someone had been prowling around or the mountain lion had put in an appearance close to the cabin.
"It looks like she wants in the house," Jamie suggested.
"Usually the only time Fina wants to stay in is either when we're having steak or it's really hot. Even when there is snow all over the place she's happy on the screened porch or the fenced yard. She puts on an extra fur layer in the winter and even loves to roll in the snow." Andy said watching Fina scratch at the door.
"I caught her napping on a snow bank last winter!" Danny remembered. "When I walked over to pet her she rolled around in the snow like it was her favorite place to be."
They let Fina into the cabin from the run that she stayed in when they were gone. Andy thought they should put her in the screened porch but it looked like she might tear up the screen. She ran into the bedroom Danny was using, jumped onto the bed, which she never does and proceeded to make herself right at home. Andy was just about to order her to the floor when Danny noticed she was breathing hard.
"Looks like this might be it! We may have a few extra dogs by tomorrow."
Danny went to the dog run for the old quilt they had planned for her to have her pups on and Jamie dragged over the empty stove box they had carefully arranged to get from the appliance store in Alpine. They got her into her box just in time.
For the next few hours Danny, Jamie and Andy sat spellbound by the little wet creatures emerging at regular intervals from a straining but calm Fina.
"Andy, it looks like she was just waiting for us to get home."
They were all nearly asleep in their chairs before the eighth one arrived and Fina had them all licked dry and full of milk before they were awake the next morning. The pups were sleeping and unbelievably cute.
"Fina needed to go out but she was back in less than a minute. She was being the perfect mom. This was an unplanned pregnancy that Lotta was embarrassed about. They had always managed to keep Fina in the backyard during her heats and had delayed having her fixed because of an aversion Andy had to operations. Unfortunately, the last time Mrs. Kassas took care of her Fina went into season and jumped the fence, something Australian cow dogs are good at.
They had all been in the mood for some long leisurely days under the pines and Wednesday and Thursday provided plenty of down time. There was even time for Lotta to organize some of her field data. They all hovered around Fina and her pups and pampered her with chicken and hard-boiled eggs. After all, she was eating for nine now.
Sam called Thursday night. "Dad! Fina had her puppies. Can I have one?"
Andy could imagine what her uncle's response would be to that. He didn't exactly share Danny's love of animals. Law was his first choice in college and he had the perfect disposition for it.
"Lotta, what would we do with a dog in a condo?" His attitude told Lotta that Danny was in for a let down. "Seriously, we need to stay on longer here," Sam was never one to beat around the bush. "How's it going there? Is Danny ok? Are you having a good time? Do you need some money?"
Sam made Lotta feel like she was being cross-examined and better give the right answers or else but she was used to it coming from Lawyer Sam. He had his good points, though. He had helped out when Andy lost her parents and he had always made sure Andy had what she needed.
"Sam, Danny can stay here all summer as far as we're concerned. We're having a great time and there seems to be a young lady he has his eye on who I'm not sure he wants to be too far from right now.
"Thanks for having him, Lotta."
"No problem. Say, how much do you know about immigration laws?"
"Why? Has your sleuthing got you into a jam and the authorities have decided to deport you back to Jamaica?"
"Very funny. Seriously, Can a kid whose here on a student visa be deported for the illegal activities of a parent?" Lotta asked and briefly explained the circumstances.
"What I know is very limited. Is there another relative who could gain custody? A friend of mine, Justin Hollister, specializes in this area. You might want to give him a call. I have to go now so let me say bye to Danny. Thanks again."
Lotta called Justin Hollister but he was in court so the receptionist took her name and number and promised to have him call her.
Friday was more of the same until Tom Douglass called. Andy took the call. He was going to do a stake out in a few hours near where Danny and Andy had seen the vans in Sentenac the week before.
"What I'd really like to do is have Jack Levine up in the mouth of Coyote Canyon on Henderson Canyon Road do the same so we could talk to each other if we see anything going on," Tom explained.
"Why don't you?" Andy suggested.
"He's in Sacramento for some training and the guy they've got replacing him is a seasonal with not much police experience. Just out of officer's school, you know. He's feeling overwhelmed already just getting used to patrolling."
"We could do it. Aunt Lotta used to help with stake outs for snake poachers when she worked summers in Borrego during college." The animals are protected in Anza-Borrego but snake poachers take hundreds every year. They can sell them on the East Coast and in Europe for big money so it's hard to stop them.
"We could all go and park far enough away from the mouth of the canyon so they couldn't see us, and use Danny's telescope to see them."
"I don't know, Andy. If I could be sure you wouldn't do something rash, maybe."
"We'll be careful. The problem is we don't have a radio only a cell phone."
"That might be better. I'll take my car. It would be a good idea anyway since I'll be off duty and it's less conspicuous. We can communicate by phone. How do I get talked into these things?" Tom lamented. They agreed to meet at 8 PM in Sentenac.
They were all in position by nine. They decided to check in with each other every half-hour unless something happened in between. It was fun. They had taken along a white sheet and set it up outside the truck with a blacklight to attract the insects. They were going to use that activity as their cover if anyone got nosey.
Jamie had fun trying to identify the bugs that flew into the sheet and then slid to the bottom. "Another Katydid, Lotta."
"Good. Maybe we'll get an idea of what the frogs are eating this time of year."
"Andy! Look! A scorpion just ran up on the sheet and grabbed a moth for dinner."
"Be careful! Our scorpions here in San Diego are not so poisonous. Arizona is the place that has those really nasty ones, over across the Colorado River but ours can give you a painful sting. Arizona rattlesnakes are much worse than ours too and ours are nothing to play around with." Lotta said.
"Do you see a lot of snakes when you are out studying frogs?"
"Some. If they hear you coming they would rather get out of your way. You can actually inflict worse damage on them and they know it. Their venom is mostly useful against little deermice and kangaroo rats."
"One time when I hiked up Borrego Palm Canyon during the day" Lotta continued, "I stepped over a fallen palm log that had washed down during a big flood. It had a bump on the edge turned toward the top. I looked down and the bump was a little coiled rattlesnake.
"I sort of froze in sheer terror and it seemed like I leaped straight up and over the log. I didn't scream but my heart sure beat fast for awhile. I like snakes but those kind can really give you a fright up that close!"
They used the telescope to search the hillsides for night creatures. About 11 PM a small group of hikers passed within Danny's viewing range. People often hike at night to avoid the heat.
And that was all that ever happened, other than the bugs plopping onto the sheet. Tom checked in at midnight and said they might as well call it a night but while he was on the phone a van pulled into a turnout about half a mile from him.
"It isn't green and I wish I had your scope Danny because it is just too far in the dark for me to get the plate number," Tom lamented.
He called back about 15 minutes later. "The guy got out of the van for awhile. Then he received a call and he jumped back in the van fast and drove off the way he had come."
"Well, It's late. I guess we better call it a night." Lotta said.
"If we do it again in a few days I'll bring Ben if he can come." Andy said.
"Who's Ben?" Tom sounded like he was grinning.
"Wouldn't you like to know," Andy said slyly.
"Ok, the more the merrier, I guess. Good night everyone and thanks."
They picked up the sheet and noticed something slither silently into the creosote and cheesebush with a hiss like steam shooting out of an overheated teapot! Everyone jumped as the sidewinder sidestepped them!
They turned on the flashlights and carefully inched through the sand to the truck relieved not to find any of his side-winding friends. Back at the cabin they slipped into bed after checking on Fina and the fidgety puppies and were asleep practically before their heads hit the pillows.
Danny had decided to keep the dogs company and had bedded down on a cot next to the puppy box, which had been moved to the screen porch.
"Around 4 AM, I smelled a strong animal smell and Fina sat absolutely still just outside of the box, " Danny related over blueberry muffins the next morning.
"Your Bobcat must have come to check out the puppies." Andy suggested, giving the screen around the patio a push here and there to see how strong it was. "I doubt that a Bobcat would come through it even for fat little puppy morsels but you never can tell. It might be a good idea to move them inside," Andy said.
"We'll have to be careful with them when they get old enough to be outside but Fina looks like she could protect them." Danny said.
"Even Fina would be no match for a mountain lion. They are definitely the top predator out here." Andy said feeding another treat to Fina.
"Between Fina and the lions you don't have to worry about burglars much." Danny observed moving a little furry ball that had rolled away from the group when Fina changed positions.
"No. I would be sorry for anyone if Fina took a dislike to them but the lion would probably slink into the dark underbrush unseen."
Events would later drastically change her mind!
"Get that dog out of here!" The man got out of the vehicle and walked directly to the house and slammed the screen door as he went in.
The children caught the dog and ran off to the stream and the sheltering cottonwood trees to hide. It was not the first time they had to do that so they knew just where to go.
"You are not going to bring any of the stuff you have with you into this house!" The woman stood her ground but appeared very frightened.
"I'll do what ever I please so get out of my way!" The man was determined.
"If you try to unload that stuff I am calling the cops!" The woman yelled.
"Ok. Ok. I just need to make a call and then I'll be out of here - for good!" The man walked to the phone, dialed a number and when it was answered said only five words, "Put a lock on it!" and hung up. He yanked the phone cord out of the wall and stomped out slamming the door again.
The woman sat down on the sagging couch and began to cry.
As soon as the kids saw the vehicle drive away down the dirt road they ran back to the house.
"Don't cry Mom."
"It's ok, now." The woman smiled and hugged each of the kids and the dog. "He's gone for good. Maybe now we can have a better life."
©Copyright - Ann Wellhouse 2015