The room was dark, damp, cold, and smelled of peanut butter. Mark came awake on a thin mattress on a stone floor in an instant but had no idea how he had ended up in the room. He tried to sit up but discovered he couldn’t. His wrists and ankles were fettered and he had a splitting headache. Confused and scared, he struggled against his confinement and only succeeded in abrading his wrists and discovering that a thick, oily, substance was spread over much of his naked body.
Fully awake, he realized that the last thing he remembered was stalking down a path at his local patch trying to get a decent look at a skulking sparrow that had refused to give a clean look. Then, nothing. What happened?
A single bare light bulb burst into light over his head. Squinting against the sudden brightness Mark could now see that he was in a small room, and that his wrists and ankles were chained to the walls leaving him spread-eagle. The substance on his body was brown and he was caked in it.
“Hello?” he said, not sure if he was hoping for a reply or not.
There was no reply. Mark continued to look around the room, noticing a solid metal door set in the wall by his feet. It had what looked like a small hatch in it, now shut. A black cube-shaped object hung in one corner of the room with what looked like the unblinking eye of a video camera sticking out of it. “Hello?” he tried again.
“Hello, Mark,” came a whispered voice, “I hope you are ready to talk now.”
Mark looked around the room trying to find the person speaking. He couldn’t see anyone and finally decided that the black cube with the camera must also be a speaker. He looked directly at the camera and demanded to be let go.
“Oh, you won’t be going anywhere,” said the voice again, “Not now that I am close. So close.”
“Close to what? What are you talking about? Let me out of here!”
“You really don’t know, do you, Mark? I have grown tired of year after year seeing your name just above mine. No matter how much I get out, no matter how many rarities I find, you are always just ahead of me. Then you found that flycatcher and suppressed that roosting owl and I decided that it was time. I have lived here my whole life and I will have the best list in Johnson County!”
“What? Joe? Joe Talon? This is about county listing? You kidnapped me about county listing? What is wrong with you? Let me go! This has to violate the ABA code of ethics!”
“Yes, it does. Section two. But no one will ever find out. No one knows where you are. And once we are done here I will be the number one birder in Johnson County and you will be forgotten. You see, yesterday I found a Red Phalarope. That put me within one of you. Now tell me where the owl is!”
“What? No! I won’t tell you where the owl is. Not unless you let me go. And I can’t believe you found a Red Phalarope. You wouldn’t know a phalarope from a storm-petrel. How could you do this? What kind of sick…”
“I was hoping it would come to this. Mark, have you figured out what the peanut butter smell is? You’re smeared with Zick Dough. You are covered in the food that most feeder birds can’t resist. And I have nuthatches. Two dozen very hungry Red-breasted Nuthatches. Now tell me where the owl is or you will regret it!”
“You’ll never get away with this, Joe. And I won’t tell you where the owl is. You might be willing to go against the birding code but I never will! That bird is in a sensitive location and is a very rare species. You obvio…” Mark’s voice broke off as he heard and saw the hatch in the door opening.
“Yank-yank-yank” said the nuthatch as it hopped into the room. More nuthatches followed. Their querulous calls drowned out Mark’s screams and Joe’s hysterical laughter.
When it was all over, Joe Talon walked into the room. He made sure that Mark would never twitch again and then he turned and walked out of the room. He was no longer Joe Talon. He was the birding super-villian, The Lister!