Another NYCMidnight contest is in the books. This prompted contest is a lot of fun every year. It’s time and word-count constrained, and the prompts always leave me scratching my head… this time did not disappoint. I had 8 days to write 2,500 words or less using the prompt:
Genre: Crime Caper / Subject: Pretending to be someone else / Character: Egg donor.
I spent the first evening trying to think of a different type of story beyond the obvious… my first thought was twins. Then a jealous ex. And then I decided the entire prompt was for the birds.
You could say my muse gave me wings.
It was egg-celent.
(My readers are gonna fry me for these bad puns!)
Enough yolks… I mean jokes…
Enjoy…. (drumroll)…. Condor Club.
Nigel has an obsession that’s for the birds, but his wife Genna has the perfect solution for saving her mind, her finances and maybe even her marriage. However, turnabout is foul play.
The smooth shell of yet another egg peeked out from its nest of socks. Genna slammed the drawer. “Dammit, Nigel. My sock drawer is not a goddamned hatchery!”
“Hey! Be careful! That’s a California Condor egg.” Nigel looked back to the computer screen, waving off Genna’s complaint. “I needed somewhere warm to keep it. Can you believe this? People are paying to eat rare bird eggs!”
“Maybe I’ll sell them yours.”
Nigel spun on the desk chair to face Genna. His ears flushed redder than the crop of hair that stuck out at odd angles from his head. “That’s not funny. Don’t you dare talk about my babies like that.”
Genna yanked her phone from her back pocket, holding it so Nigel could see the screen. “How many eggs are in this house?” She swiped through picture after picture. “A thousand? Two? I can’t take this!”
“You knew who I was when you married me, love. My dad taught me how to find the rarest and best eggs. He learned from my grandpa. I’m Nigel Edwards the Third for a reason. It’s a family tradition!”
Genna pressed her balled fists against her hips. “Collecting is one thing. Stashing them in my socks; the laundry bin; the goddamned silverware drawer? The pantry smells like something died in there!” She glanced down at his feet. “And why can’t you remember to take your damned shoes off when you come in the house? Speaking of things that smell like death…”
“Hey, these are new!” His grin stretched from ear to ear for a flash, then his face fell serious. “Really, though, look at this—“
“Okay, Nigel the Third.” She air-quoted his name. If he’d taken note of her sarcasm, he didn’t show it. She shook her head and leaned over her husband’s shoulder.
“A club that prides itself on eating species to extinction.” Nigel ran his finger across the screen. “They paid up to ten grand for a single egg! Sick, perverted assholes.”
“And robbing a bird’s nest isn’t sick or perverted?”
“What I’m doing is preservation.”
“What you’re doing is lunacy!”
“Just wait. Someday, I’m going to open an aviary. It’ll be fantastic.” Nigel grabbed his hiking boots and shook them at Genna. “This research will pay off. You’ll see. I’ve got three more condor nests to go check. I’ll be back.”
He pulled off his shoes before he jogged down the hall.
Genna plopped into the desk chair.
Marc Denehue, local billionaire and heir to a media fortune, was implicated by alleged endangered species hunter Ellison Hopper, who currently awaits trial. Denehue was questioned by police but released due to lack of evidence.
She sat back in the chair, her eyes darting to the drawer that held the condor egg.
“Ten grand,” she whispered.
She scanned through the photos on her phone. The divorce paperwork was with the lawyer. The pictures were all she needed to convince any judge that her husband had serious problems. She’d been snapping them for months.
“Ten. Grand.” She looked at the stack of unpaid bills on the desk. “Per egg!”
Her eyes grew wide and her pulse quickened. The idea pulled together in her mind.
She opened a new browser window.
Marc Denehue stood before Genna in a suit that was probably worth more than her Buick. A tie the color of robin eggs stood out against his starched shirt. His two goons had taken her purse that contained a dozen eggs wrapped in layers of toilet paper. They set it next to her phone on a round banquet table.
“So, Miss Edwards, you say you’ve brought me San Clemente Sage Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike… and a California Condor egg?” His left eyebrow arched and his lips twitched.
“Please, call me Genna.”
“And you can call me Mr. Denehue.”
Genna covered a reflexive gulp with a fake cough.
“And yes, I’ve collected these in just the last two days. They’re fresh, and they’re genuine.”
Denehue studied his well-manicured fingernails. “How long have you been collecting endangered eggs, Miss… Genna?”
“It’s a family tradition.” Nigel’s words slipped from her mouth like an oil slick over water. “I learned how to find the best eggs from my father, and he learned from my grandfather.”
Denehue watched closely as Goon One rubbed up Genna’s legs and fondled her waistline, his thick fingers digging under the lip of her jeans. His hands lingered on her midriff and he took his sweet time fondling her bra line, but she held still.
“No wires, no weapons,” Goon One grunted.
“You can see for yourself what I’m offering.” She nodded toward her phone. “Look at the photos.”
Denehue’s expression remained steady as he flicked his thumb across the screen. “This is quite the collection you have here. Buy why…” his eyes rose from the phone to make solid contact with Genna’s, “…would you donate such a rare and exotic egg. Surely you must want some form compensation.”
Genna smiled, hoping she was pulling off the carefree-and-relaxed attitude she wanted to convey. “What I want is to create a long and mutually beneficial relationship. Your last collector was quick to name you.” Denehue’s mouth turned down like he’d bit into an under-ripe lemon. “I want you to know I’m on your side,” she continued. “I think once you see what I bring to the table, you’ll be hooked.”
Denehue laughed. “Why, my dear, you’re taking a page out of every drug dealer’s handbook. Give ‘em one on the house.” He held up a single finger. “Just know, I don’t take kindly to fakes or double-crosses. You obviously know some about my last collector?”
“What you know is what I allowed the press to print. Just keep in mind: I got off with no charges. My collector… did not. Do you understand?”
Genna shifted her stance. The guards took half a step forward. “I understand completely. That’s why I’m here to establish good faith.”
“You’ll have to excuse my hesitance. However, because you’ve brought me a condor…”
Genna motioned toward her purse. “It’s right in there, and it’s all for you.”
Denehue pulled the large egg from her purse, eyeing it like a lion might a rabbit trapped between its paws. He licked his lips.
Genna bit back her revulsion. She forced calm into her voice. “There’s lots more where that came from. I know where there’s at least three more nests. They’ll be yours, as long as we can work out a reasonable deal. I do ‘free and easy’ one time only.” She winced at her own display of bravado, hoping she wasn’t overdoing the act.
“Of course.” Denehue still had his eyes on the egg as a kitchen staff member took it from his hand. The man collected the smaller eggs from Genna’s handbag before he hurried back through the kitchen door.
Only after the eggs were fully out of sight did Denehue look back at Genna. “Yes, I think this will be a very beneficial relationship, indeed. I accept your generosity, for now. Won’t you join us for the feast?”
“Hey love, I’m home,” Nigel called down the hall. “It was a bust. They hadn’t laid yet. I’m gonna have to go back out tomor—“
Nigel’s pushed through the bedroom door.
“Genna? You home?”
He pulled open the sock drawer. Panic rose like fire through his veins at the sight of the empty nest.
“No. No, no, no!” He ripped through the socks, but the egg was gone. Clutching a pair of stockings, he glanced around the room, zeroing in on the computer. He pulled up the browser and checked the history. A Google Maps screen popped open with a location entered.
“Coventry Banquet Hall?” His eyes flashed back to the open drawer. The stockings fell through his fingers. “She’s going to feed my babies to those monsters!”
Nigel punched the address of the banquet hall into his phone before he dashed down the hall.
The chef’s outfit and apron fit loose over Nigel’s lithe frame, but it would have to do. He hoped it wouldn’t be too late once he found the kitchen.
Barked orders carried on the scent of roasting meat down a long corridor, leading Nigel to a set of metal doors. He ducked inside, unnoticed in the ensuing commotion of meal preparation. One man commanded the others like a ringmaster, and ten others obeyed like circus seals jumping through their hoops. Nigel stood next to a large soup pot. He stirred the liquid with a ladle, scanning the stations for his baby.
He spotted it on the head chef’s station, flanked by almost a dozen smaller eggs. “Sparrow. Shrike,” Nigel whispered. His mouth went dry.
The chef grabbed a handful of the sparrow eggs and a bowl. The eggs cracked one by one and their contents drained. Nigel nearly dove on the man who was destroying his eggs without thought, but he held back. The sparrow and shrike were a loss, to be sure, but nothing compared to the gleaming condor egg that sat proudly in a towel nest on the cutting board.
Nigel patted the goose egg he’d stashed in his apron. He yanked the ladle. The soup kettle crashed to the ground, splattering its contents across the floor and coating his white shoes.
The head chef spun on his heel. His eyes widened as he surveyed the mess. “What the hell is wrong with you?” The chef’s thin moustache curled into a sneer. “Clean this up!”
“Sorry!” Nigel backed in a semi-circle around the chef. “I’m such a klutz. I’ll take care of this.”
“Forget it! You’re fired! Just go!” The chef turned his attention to the mess.
Nigel seized the opportunity. He dashed by the chef’s station, switched the egg on the cutting board for the one in his smock, and ran out the kitchen doors.
“Nigel? I’m home!” Genna’s voice carried down the hall.
“I’m in here,” Nigel called from the bedroom.
“You wouldn’t believe the day I had,” Genna said as she pulled off her shoes. “My car broke down. I had to wait forever for triple-A…”
Genna pushed open the bedroom door. Bile rose in her throat. A condor egg sat nested in her open sock drawer.
“You find anything today?” Her voice cracked.
“No luck with the birds,” Nigel answered. He crossed his legs. His new Converse were covered with an oily stain. He flicked his thumb at the open Google Map. “Did find an egg, though.”
“Oh.” Genna sat on the bed.
Her phone buzzed.
She looked from the phone, to the egg, to Nigel, and back to the phone.
The text from Denehue contained a picture of Nigel, condor egg in hand, leaving the kitchen.