Bob crawled, with his belly to the ground, and drug his legs through the tall wild grass. He reached Woodruff’s position on the backside of a long berm. Sliding in beside his friend, Bob peeked over the grassy berm. The moonlight shone down on a quartet of strangers loading cages into the back of a tiny pickup truck. Woodruff sank back down and rolled onto his back, out of sight of the men on the other side of the berm.
“Jose was right,” Woodruff whispered.
Bob dipped back beneath the cover of the berm and looked over at Woodruff was a quizzical expression on his face.
“I don’t see any eggs,” Bob said.
Woodruff rolled up onto his side and stared back at Bob, awaiting an explanation.
“Well what else do you poach?” Bob asked.
Woodruff sat up fully, with his mouth agape, and considered the statement.
“Jose said there were poachers,” Bob said. “He said they were good at what they do, and really hard to find.”
“Are you telling me that you think we trekked out into the middle of the jungle in the dead of night to eat poached eggs?” Woodruff asked.
“Well maybe not eat poached eggs, but at least see how they do it,” Bob asked.
“Bob, poachers illegally hunt and capture wildlife,” Woodruff said. “Those men are trying to take animals from a preserve that is dedicated to protecting them.”
“That’s awful. We should stop them.”
“That’s why we’re here.”
“That makes way more sense,” Bob said. “I was thinking you and Jose were being way too serious about your eggs.”
“What did you think all this equipment was for?” Woodruff asked, shaking his backpack.
“I thought we might have to rig up a monkey bridge, for after.”
“Why would we need to build a monkey bridge after eating poached eggs?”
“So we weren’t walking on eggshells.”
Woodruff rolled his eyes and turned back to the criminals on the other side of the berm.
“Okay, they are almost finished loading the cages,” Woodruff said. “We have to be quick.”
Bob peeked over the grassy barrier and surveyed the situation. The sputtering engine was the only sound in the calm of the dark night. A small plume of gray smoke wafted out of the exhaust pipe and turned to vapor near the top of the cages.
With a determined look on his face, Bob turned back to Woodruff and signaled with two fingers to his eyes and back to Woodruff’s. Then he made a series of hand gestures, pointing, striking, waving, twirling, chopping, and finger walking across an invisible plain.
“What are you doing?” Woodruff asked.
“Tactical strike plan,” Bob replied.
“Why are you flailing your fingers around?” Woodruff asked.
“So I don’t make any noise,” Bob said.
“But we’ve been talking for the last five minutes,” Woodruff said.
“Not about tactical plans,” Bob replied.
Woodruff shook his head.
“Just tell me what the plan is.”
“Fine,” Bob said. “I’m going to climb up the tree over there and tie a rope to that large branch. You sneak around to the side of the truck and wait for my signal. At the signal I’m going to swing down from the tree and knock the big guy off his feet. You take out the other three and we’ll free all the animals in those cages.”
“So, in your plan, you are going to surprise attack one guy and I’m supposed to subdue three?” Woodruff asked.
“You can surprise them too if you like,” Bob said.
Woodruff pursed his lips and shook his head.
“What else you got?”
“Well, I could climb up into that big tree and tie a rope around the big branch, then you could jump out and distract them while I swing down and take them all out.”
“You really want to swing down from that tree, don’t you?”
“I really do.”
Woodruff looked over at the men standing at the back of the truck and then up at the large tree. He pulled the rope from his backpack and held it out to Bob.
“Okay, fine,” Woodruff began. “Climb up in that tree and tie the rope around the big branch. When I’m in position, you holler like Tarzan. When they all look up at you, I’ll jump in the truck. You swing down from the tree into the back of the truck and we’ll drive those animals out of here.”
“The old Tarzan, tree, truck, trick,” Bob said. “I like it.”
Bob took the rope and threw it over his shoulder. With a wink, he rose to his knees and rapidly crawled down the berm toward the tree. Woodruff snuck around by the front of the truck as the men finished fastening the cages to the bed of the truck with large straps. From over the top of the rattling hood, Woodruff saw Bob stand up tall on top of the large tree branch. He held a rope in one hand and puffed up his chest.
“AAAAAaAaAaAAAaAaAA!” Bob bellowed.
The startled men near the back of the truck spun around and looked up into the tree. Quickly, Woodruff ran to the driver’s side door, pulled it open and slipped behind the wheel. From the sideview mirror, he saw Bob fall from the tree and strike the ground hard, holding fast to the rope with both hands.
Without hesitation, the poachers hurried to the spot to help the fallen. They lifted the would-be ape man to his feet. Bob shook his head from side to side and stood for a moment on unsteady legs while the men backed away. All of a sudden, Bob spun around and pointed wildly back into the trees.
“Look over there!” Bob yelled.
Woodruff watched Bob rapidly approaching through the mirrored reflection above the words ‘Los objetos pueden estar más cerca de lo que parecen’ inscribed in the glass.
“Come on!” Woodruff shouted, putting the truck into gear.
By the time the men turned back from searching the empty trees, Bob had pulled open the side door and jumped inside. Woodruff jammed on the gas and they sped away from the pursuing poachers.
“Ha ha!” Bob cried. “We did it!”
“Are you okay?”
“Your chin is bleeding.”
Bob reached up and touched the red liquid oozing from his chin.
“Yeah, I hit the ground pretty hard.”
“What happened?” Woodruff asked.
“There was more rope than I thought,” Bob said. “Or less tree, depending on how you look at it.”
A sack on the seat between them began to move and wiggle. Woodruff took his eyes off the bumpy backroad for a moment, as Bob took up the sack. He loosened the twine tied around the top and pulled it open. A tiny fuzzy head poked out of the burlap. Bob pulled back the bag to reveal a spotted jaguar cub with golden eyes.
“Would you look at that,” Woodruff said. “A little jaguar.”
Bob held up the cub and stared into its little face.
“Hey Woodruff,” Bob said. “We let the cat out of the bag.”
“Can we keep her?”
“No, we can’t keep her,” Woodruff replied. “How do you know it’s a her?”
“She’s got long eyelashes,” Bob said.
Woodruff shrugged his shoulders.
“We’ve got to return her to the rangers along with the rest of the wildlife.”
“Can we at least name her?”
“I’ll call her Aesop.”
“Aesop it is.”
A pungent aroma wafted up from the floorboards. Woodruff pulled the collar of his shirt over his nose and Bob plugged his nose and Aesop’s with his fingers.
“Ew, what is that?” Bob asked.
“Check under the seat,” Woodruff said, as he rolled down the window, gasping for fresh air.
Bob pulled a soggy paper sack from under the seat and opened it. Inside were a half dozen moist eggs.
“I knew it!” Bob said.