As I left the local gym, a rat scampered towards me waving a crumpled envelope.
“You’re Bertha East, right?” he squeaked. I started to explain I was Bertha West but he let the envelope flutter to the footpath and raced off. I scooped it up and saw on the back that it was from Duck No. 4938, a nodding acquaintance at the gym. The letter had been scribbled with a quill and Duck No. 4938 explained that she was currently behind bars at Critters Incarcerated. According to her letter, she was blameless of the charges levelled against her, while remaining tight-billed about her true intentions.
I was puzzled until next day the story became public knowledge. This had prompted her lawyer Henny McCluck to state that her client Duck No. 4938 was nowhere near The Duck Pond on the afternoon in question.
Apprehended with a plastic bag of crumbs under her wing, proceedings are currently underway to determine if Duck No. 4938 gobbled all the dry bread crusts before other ducks had a chance to exit the water. The Duck Pond is a popular picnic spot, a prominent sign warns Do Not Feed The Birds, and investigators are urging the child who dropped the bread crusts to come forward.
“My client pleads not guilty and hopes for early release,” said McCluck. She added that the Duckolympic champion held the coveted title of Paddling Fury and should be respected for her sporting prowess. I realised that this would not help her cause. In a photograph released today, Duck No. 4938 appeared rather haunted, her feathers askew. Lawyer McCluck can be seen loitering in the background.
Meanwhile, the letter I received from Duck No. 4938 hinted that she believes lawyer McCluck is pecking through what little grain savings she has left and asks for my support. I decided against sending a 2kg bag of cracked corn to the address she nominated and considered the letter to be some sort of scam.
The arrest had caused a flurry in the catering industry and representatives were standing in readiness to take stomach content samples.
By now social media tweets were going viral, ruffling large flocks of the feathered fraternity with #stuffedduck #duckdiving and #whatsitallaboutduckie. Television news coverage focused on the issue of slim pickings for underprivileged water birds. Dramatic press headlines read “Feathered Fraudster” and “Dead in the Water” with an inflammatory byline from an angry drake.
“She snatched it right out from under my webbed feet!”
A shiver ran up my spine. The drake has engaged the services of Paulo Dingo, known in legal circles as ‘Hungry’.
Undisclosed sources close to The Duck Pond were striving to gain access to security camera videos which could prove Duck No. 4938 was not in the vicinity of the water’s edge at the time of the incident.
“Video footage won’t prove a thing,” said ‘Hungry’ Dingo in his scathing report on the inadequacy of the wildlife penal system. “Judge Cassowary wouldn’t know one duck from another,” he howled.
My after-lunch doze was unsettled by thoughts that blackmail and swamp weed may be at the root of the allegations. At the very least Duck No. 4938 may have been duped and become ensnared in a network of fowl crime. But why come to me? Why doesn’t she tell the truth?
The phone rang and I discovered that local Constable Steve Brolga was conducting enquiries. He said he would be undertaking a nest-to-nest search and interviewing anyone who may have seen or heard Duck No. 4938 acting suspiciously in the surrounding area.
“Keep your ears tuned for me, Bertha,” he said.
My ears twitched and I pondered the fact that Duck No. 4938 may have a secret hiding place. Unexpectedly I had the answer. A clutch of ducklings, safely hidden from the likes of ‘Hungry’ Dingo.
A guilty verdict would certainly hinder her parental responsibilities. She had to plan, she needed someone on the outside, someone who lived nearby and could go to the address in the letter. Someone she could trust to protect her family.
I confided my swirling thoughts to young Joey.
“I guess I can help,” I mused, “What’s 2kg of cracked corn anyway?”
He was dubious and thought it may have been a trap. “Or we might be followed.”
But the more we talked, the more I thought about food relief. “Maybe we could scrounge some stale bread rolls from the back of the supermarket?”
This proved to be a difficult task and I scrambled over enough plastic bags and wasted food to last me a lifetime. A couple of crows helped by flicking slices of bread out of a half-opened skip but maintained their image by cawing loudly every time one hit me on the head. Joey laughed until a mouldy slice hit him.
Next day I alerted Constable Brolga and planned to meet him at the location specified by Duck No. 4938. Joey and I set off mid-morning and arrived earlier than intended. I stopped at a rusty wire gate to confirm the address.
“This is it.” The only noise was the rustling of eucalyptus leaves.
Before I could stop him, Joey bounced out with the bulky package and pushed through the gate.
“Let’s blow this case wide open!”
I sighed and shoved the letter back in my pouch.
We hopped up a set of shallow steps to the wooden door of an old shed. Heat radiated from the corrugated iron cladding and we strained to hear any sound of ducklings from within. Flies buzzed around us, the smell was overpowering and Joey wrinkled his nose. I knocked forcefully, rattling the door.
There was scuffling and very slowly and carefully the door slid open. Suddenly we were engulfed in a tide of fluffy yellow pinfeathers and eagerly quacking bills. Joey moved forward as bright little eyes scanned our food parcel.
He held up his paw. “Who wants to be first in line?”
I felt comfortable with our decision. Whatever truths the trial may reveal, the innocent must not suffer.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward