Ray paced outside the Field Unit, speaking on his cell phone.
"You drowned Jim's eagle?" Byron said. "That's like, treason, bro."
"Bald eagles can swim," Ray said.
"You lasted what, ten minutes before telling him everything?" Byron said.
"He gave me a load of crap about sacrifice, okay?" Ray said. "I'm not a good liar."
"That's funny," Byron said. "Because you said you wouldn't tell him anything, and I believed you."
"I had to push him to get information," Ray said.
"Fair enough," Byron said. "What did you get out of him?"
"He's working for some people," Ray said.
"Who?" Byron said.
"People that we don't want to mess with, apparently," Ray said. "Jim sounded afraid of them. Other than that, I don't know."
"Hold on, putting you on speaker," Byron said.
"Um, ok," Ray said. He heard a thunk as Byron set his phone down, followed by a slow clap.
"Fine intelligence work, Special Agent Lumley!" Byron said, in a vaguely British accent. "The Queen wants to give you a sloppy beej for saving England."
"At least we know he set the fires," Ray said, in a wounded tone.
"And he knows that we know," Byron said. "Which means we are screwed. Did you at least keep his glass so we can compare fingerprints?"
"I should have thought of that," Ray said. Byron's reply was a loud, mechanical whirring.
"What? I can't hear you." Ray said.
"I'm making a shake," Byron said. "You pissed me off so bad that I'm catabolic."
"I screwed up," Ray said. "But I swear I'll figure out a way to get this guy."
A breeze rustled the trees in the Field Unit's parking lot. Out of sight, a dog barked.
"I'm just messing with you," Byron said. "We'll figure it out. You need a ride?"
Ray looked down the road. "I'm good. Let me call you back."
He hung up the phone. "Hey."
"Hey, yourself," Trivia said.
Jim's speakerphone was on. His hands were busy, one with an upside-down bald eagle bust and the other with crumpled, soggy paper towels. He shook the bust like a cocktail mixer, loosening a few more droplets of bourbon. The phone line clicked as someone picked up Jim's call. Jim dropped the paper towels and pressed the red button on the bust. Nothing happened.
"Come on, you bastard." Jim pressed the red button again.
"Pardon?" said the voice on the phone. The speaker's accent was American, but not Southern, and inhabited with an Old World superiority that made the speaker sound at least a generation older than Jim.
"That wasn't directed at you," Jim said. "Who is this?"
"Who do you think, Jim?" the voice said. "You called us. Now take us off speaker."
With trembling hand, Jim picked up the phone. "I don't recognize your voice."
"You may not recognize it next time," the voice said. "Now ask for our help."
"How do you know I need help?" Jim said.
"Knowing is our business." The voice was still and cool and dark as an underground sea. Jim peeked out his windows and closed the blinds.
YOU ARE READING
King of the Woods, or Trivial PursuitFantasy
Florida Forest Service duty officer Ray Lumley is in love with a white fringetree. Not an I-read-Walden-in-high-school love; a sweaty, sappy, I-want-to-rub-against-you-'til-I-get-splinters love. It's awkward. So, he's relieved to learn that he's rea...