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Authors: Norah McClintock

Nothing to Lose

BOOK: Nothing to Lose
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First U.S. edition published in 2012 by Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.

 

Text copyright © 2007 by Norah McClintock. All rights reserved. Published by arrangement with Scholastic Canada Ltd.

 

All U.S. rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., except for the inclusion of brief quotations in an acknowledged review.

 

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The image in this book is used with the permission of: Front and Back Cover: © Mangojuicy/Dreamstime.com.

 

Main body text set in Janson Text Lt Std 11.5/15.
Typeface provided by Linotype AG.

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

McClintock, Norah.

Nothing to lose / by Norah McClintock.

p. cm. — (Robyn Hunter mysteries ; #3)

ISBN: 978–0–7613–8313–0 (lib. bdg. : alk. paper)

[1. Mystery and detective stories. 2. Illegal aliens—Fiction.

3. Human smuggling—Fiction. 4. Smuggling—Fiction.]

I. Title.

PZ7.M478414184No 2012

[Fic]—dc23

2011018834

 

Manufactured in the United States of America

1 – SB – 12/31/11

eISBN: 978-0-7613-9073-2 (pdf)

eISBN: 978-1-4677-3039-6 (ePub)

eISBN: 978-1-4677-3040-2 (mobi)

 

 

 

 

T
O THE BIRD RESCUERS
.

“T
his is stupid,” Morgan said. She had said the same thing when we first found ourselves in this situation two days earlier. “It was your idea,” I pointed out. “Actually, it was
Billy's
idea.”

“But you agreed to it.”

No one had been more surprised than me—well, except maybe Billy—when Morgan had said, “Sure. Let's do it.”

At the time I'd said, “You
do
realize that it means you'll have to get up at four in the morning?” She had given me a withering look—how dare I question her enthusiasm for all things Billy? But that was then.

“You should have stopped me,” she said.“It's Saturday morning—barely. I should be in bed.”

“Right,” I said. I couldn't have stopped Morgan any more than I could have stopped a hurricane.

“Billy's a sweet guy,” she said, “but this is crazy.”

“You just figured that out?” I said.

“I'm freezing, Robyn. My fingers are numb. I'm shivering all over. I can't believe I let Billy talk me into this.”

Morgan had spent a lifetime teasing Billy—for being sensitive, for being a vegan, for being an animal rights activist, for being just about everything that made Billy Billy. She had also spent the better part of a month telling me that there was no way she could ever go out with him. There was no chemistry, she said. No sparks. And then something had happened. Something that made her dewy-eyed every time Billy slipped an arm around her. Something that made her
let
Billy slip his arm around her without her threatening to send him straight to the emergency room. Something that had also made her agree to this. I still didn't understand how it had happened.

“You notice
I'm
not complaining,” I said. “You notice that I didn't complain when we came down here two days ago, either.” I hoped she would take the hint. I should have known better.

“I wouldn't complain, either, if I were you,” she said. “By six thirty
you'll
be on your way home. You can crawl into bed and sleep until noon.” Actually, she was wrong about that. But I couldn't get a word in. “
I
have to head all the way across town with Billy to band and release these things,” she said. “Did I tell you that he lets me put the bands on?
Lets
. It's his idea of a treat. But guess what? It's not. You know what I've learned in the past couple of days, Robyn?” I didn't, but I was confident she was going to tell me anyway. “I've learned I don't like birds. They have beady, black, evil little eyes. And when you try to put bands on them, most of them freak out. And their toenails, or whatever you call them, can be as sharp as razors. Same goes for their beaks. I can't stand them.”

A happy thought occurred to her.

“Maybe we'll get lucky today,” she said. “Maybe Billy won't find any live ones.”

“That's what I like about you, Morgan,” I said. “You're so compassionate.”

We left the shelter of the building we had been walking along and stepped out into the street, where we were hit by a gust of wind. A
north
wind. Morgan shivered and cursed.

“I need coffee
right now
,” she said. “Latte. Extra large.” She looked up at the black sky. “I hate this.”

“Look on the bright side,” I said. “You agreed to do this right at the end of fall migration season. Maybe by the time
spring
migration rolls around, you and Billy will no longer be an item.”

“If I don't get some caffeine into my system, Billy and I will no longer be an item by the time sunrise rolls around.”

“Hey, guys,” someone called. I nudged Morgan. She turned, and we both watched as Billy's beanpole figure rounded a corner. He had a bird net tucked under one arm, a big basket slung over the other, and was carrying something in his hands.

“Is that what I think it is?” Morgan said. I wasn't sure—it was still pretty dark—but I thought I saw a tiny smile on her face.

“There's this all-night place just around the corner,” Billy said. He handed Morgan a beaker-sized travel mug. “Latte,” he said. “With a vanilla flavor shot.”

Morgan's eyes got all big and dewy. She took the mug from Billy and went up on tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek.

“You're the best,” she said, sounding sweet and girly—in other words, not at all like her normal self. But that's what love does to people, right?

Billy's grin was goofy and blissful. He handed me a smaller mug.

“Hot chocolate,” he said.

“Thanks, Billy,” I said. “What about you? Do you want something?” Billy won't touch any food that contains animal products. He always travels with plenty of vegan snacks because he's hungry all the time. This morning he had put his snacks in my backpack so that he could fill his backpack with the dead birds he picked up and sealed in plastic freezer bags.

“Do I have any muffins left?” he said.

“I think you ate them all on the bus,” I said. I turned around so that he could unzip my backpack. “There are a couple of—”

“I see 'em,” Billy said. He inspected the items in my backpack one by one and finally pulled out what he wanted—a nutrient bar that looked like shoe leather and smelled like the inside of a barn. Billy took a big bite. As he chewed, I heard a loud rustling sound. Morgan and I peeked into the basket that Billy had set down. There were three brown paper bags in it—two small, one very large. Each bag was folded over at the top and held shut with a couple of paper clips. Whatever was in the largest of the bags seemed to be trying to claw its way out. It was making a lot of noise.

“What's in there?” Morgan said. “A condor?”

“A woodcock,” Billy said. Woodcocks were big birds. Some of them were even bigger than pigeons.“It was unconscious when I found it, but it sounds like it's bounced back. I think I'm going to be able to release it later.” His face suddenly went slack. He started patting his pockets.

“What's the matter?” Morgan said.

“Bands,” Billy said. “I think I forgot to bring the bands.”

“No, you didn't,” I said. “You gave them to me when you gave me your snacks. And your bird book. And the tagging kit. And all the rest of your supplies.” Billy's stuff was really weighing me down.

Billy calmed down and continued to munch on his nutrient bar.

“I also found a couple of hermit thrushes,” he said between bites. “I'm not sure if they're going to make it, though. One of them looks like it's in bad shape. I'm gonna have to take it in and have it checked over.”

Good old Billy. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do to help the creatures of the earth, even if it meant getting up in the middle of the night to rescue birds in the office-tower jungle of the financial district. And recruiting volunteers, like us, to help him. Last year Billy and a university professor he had met at an animal rights get-together had founded DARC—the Downtown Avian Rescue Club.

DARC is the medical corps in the war between migrating birds and downtown office buildings. Migration season runs from mid-March to early June and again from mid-August to mid-November. I learned from Billy that most small birds migrate at night. These birds are attracted to lights—lights left on in office towers, lights on high monuments, lights in lighthouses, and lights on bridges. Sometimes when migrating birds crash into these brightly lit office towers or bridges, they die on impact. Billy calls these primary kills.

But sometimes they survive. Sometimes when they hit a building or a monument or a bridge, they're only dazed. Then they fall—ten stories, twenty stories, more—down to the concrete below. Sometimes it's the fall that kills them. Sometimes it's the shock or trauma or exposure after they hit the ground that kills them. Or sometimes predators—cats, rats, raccoons—find them dazed or hurt, and they pounce. Billy calls these secondary kills.

That's why we were downtown in the extremely early hours of the morning. We were trying to prevent secondary kills by picking up as many live birds as we could find. If they were hurt, we took them to an animal shelter for medical attention. If they were just dazed, we tucked them into brown paper bags and gave them time to recover before releasing them in a nearby park. We also picked up all the dead birds we found—well, Billy picked them up.

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