Working on a hot tip, she investigates the compound of an alleged smuggler of exotic cackatoos and parrots. But once inside, Rachel finds her prey laying in a pool of his own blood-and all of his winged bounty has flown the coop. Though her ornery Cuban boss tells her that birds are her business, not killers, the indomitable Rachel sets out to find both. With a list of suspects that includes a sleazy snake dealer, Cuban cigar smugglers, airboat cowboys, and exiled anti-Castro terrorists, Rachel finds the field spread as wide as a peacock's tail-and just as colorful. And if this dedicated wildlife chick isn't careful...she might end up a sitting duck.
About the Author
Jessica Speart writes about environmental and wildlife issues. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, OMNI, Travel & Leisure, Audubon, National Wildlife, Mother Jones, Delta's Sky Magazine, and many other publications. Unsafe Harbor is her tenth Rachel Porter mystery. Jessica lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two dogs, Max and Tallulah.
Read an Excerpt
The shine that emanated from Tony Carrera's white patent leather shoes ricocheted off the walls of the dingy warehouse. I hadn't planned on being at the cargo area of Miami International Airport on a Sunday night. Obviously Tony hadn't counted on my presence, either.
But I'd received a hot tip about a flight coming in from Brazil, and found myself with some time to kill. Besides, weekends at MIA are notorious. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife office is closed, so it's the perfect occasion to smuggle unlucky members of the animal kingdom in and out of Miami.
"For chrissakes, Porter! The shipment's already, been cleared. What the hell else do you want?" Carrera fumed.
An exotic-animal dealer famous for trying to beat the system, Carrera had somehow finagled clearance on the paperwork for his reptile shipment sight unseen, days before it even arrived. His plan had been to sneak out of the warehouse after collecting his cargo, My surprise appearance had effectively screwed up his scheme.
"What I want is to open the boxes so that I can check what's inside," I calmly informed him.
"I don't got time for this crap," Carrera grumbled, chewing on the soggy remnants of a stogie. "Take a look at me, will ya?" He pushed out his chest as he gestured toward his apparel. "I'm not all dressed up for my health, ya know. I got a hot date right after I drop off these goods. Nice, huh?"
Carrera was the proud owner of a bad toupee which clung to his head like a poodle trying to keep its balance atop a bowling ball. Tonight he was decked out to kill in a pair of white polyester pants that highighted his huge belly. Ashortsleeved paisley shirt of 100 percent nylon lay wide open, revealing a heavy gold chain nestled against a dark mat of fur, with additional chunks of jewelry adorning his wrists and his fingers. It was apparent that Tom Jones had little to worry about.
"After she catches a glimpse of you, I'm sure your date won't mind waiting the few extra minutes," I assured him.
Tony threw up his hands in frustration as I studied the documentation on the box before me. The paperwork listed its contents as "venomous snakes." Great-now I understood why it had been given clearance-. Nobody liked to risk life and limb to examine a bunch of writhing, poisonous reptiles. Least of all, me. But I also knew that was exactly what dealers like Carrera counted on, which made it the perfect scam for sneaking wildlife and even drugs into the country. It's also one of the reasons why fewer than 10 percent of smuggled critters are ever caught. I was looking to up the ante.
I pried a crowbar under the wooden lip of the first crate, and the -lid gave way with a creak. Then I picked up a snake hook and gloves. But Tony beat me to the punch, pulling a short-handled pair of tongs from inside his case.
"Oh, for chrissakes, Porter. These things are in bags. What the hell are you afraid of?" He pushed open the top and shoved his hand deep inside the crate, where he grabbed hold of a blue cloth bag.
A movement beneath the fabric caught my eye. "Tony, watch out! I think there's something loose on the bottom!"
Carrera twisted his head up toward me with a lewd grin. "All you chicks have the same problem with snakes-and I've finally figured out what it is. They're long and they're hard ... but they won't buy you dinner."
As Tony broke into raucous laughter, I saw a pair of lidless eyes that gazed coldly up toward the light from deep within the dark wooden confines. A shiver sped through me, but faster than I could speak, a king cobra sprang up, revitalized by the rush of fresh air, the skin on its neck flaring. out in a regal hood. Carrera's laugh abruptly caught in his throat as he zoomed in on my expression, his brain already guessing what had risen behind him. The snake's bronze eyes focused on its prey as a thin layer of sweat broke out on Carrera's skin.
"Oh, God," he whispered, his eyes beseechingly locked onto mine.
"Listen to me, Tony. I'll angle around and grab the snake with the hook. Just don't turn and look," I cautioned in a soft, even tone.
"No! Don't go anywhere. It'll strike!" Tony's voice was high and tight and his face was paler than his pants.
"Okay, Tony," I tried to calm him. "I'm going to very
slowly get my gun. This will all be over in less than a minute. "
"Don't you dare!" Carrera hissed, a drop of sweat slipping between his lips. "This thing cost me big time. Besides, I already got it sold. Shoot it and I'll sue you."
I stared at the man, wondering what other deadly goodies
he had hidden in his crates and what he felt they were worth. "All right," I said, working to keep my cool. "Then just move away slowly. Don't jerk and you'll be fine."
But Carrera could no longer restrain himself and swiveled around to confront the snake, which swayed in mesmerizing fashion.
"Oh, shit!" he shrieked.
My hand raced for my gun, but the cobra was faster. Lunging forward, it. sank its fangs into Tony's forearm as he screamed. Just as quickly, the snake relinquished its hold with a quiver of victory. Tony jerked away and I slammed down the lid, locking the cobra back in its lair.
The critter must have packed quite a wallop. Within sixty seconds Carrera was down on the floor, jerking like a fish pulled out of water.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I understand why this book was named bird brain. Rachel has no sense and in real life there is no way she would have survived this story.
Once again Rachel Porter, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Agent, has been relocated. She's always getting into situations that her superiors do not approve of and in the end she receives a new assignment. This time she's in southern Florida. Rachel follows a hot tip and goes to the compound of Alberto Dominguez, alleged smuggler of exotic cockatoos and parrots. She finds him dead and all of his birds gone. She discovers he was also smuggling Cuban cigars. Her Cuban boss, Carlos Cardenas, almost gives the case to her co-worker, Phil, but she does some fancy footwork so that she can continue investigating. He makes it clear that the birds are her business, not the killers. Willy Weed worked for Dominguez smuggling birds and eggs into the U.S. Unfortunately Willy owns quite an extensive collection of snakes and is very sleazy. His ex-wife Bambi keeps telling Rachel information in the hopes of getting Willy in trouble and thus to leave her alone. Rachel finds herself getting deeper and deeper into a smuggling ring that appears to have ties to anti-Castro terrorists. Her friend Terri comes to visit and ends up helping her get to know the right people. Terri also helps Rachel keep her mind off breaking up with Jake Santou, her lover. There are many dangers involved in her uncovering the many players in this smuggling ring. Rachel finds herself face to face with snakes and wild cats. I always enjoy reading books in this series. Rachel is a great character. She's very strong, but yet a woman. I must say that some of the situations she gets into make my skin crawl, but that just makes me want to keep reading to find out how she gets out of the situation! I also like the different locations as I feel as if I have traveled there with her. This is a terrific book. I highly recommend it.