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REAL MASCOT SECRETS: IN THE AIR TONIGHT

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THE MOST PLAUSIBLE ONE YET

It’s not uncommon to hear of a bird that’s been trained by humans to do their bidding. Carrier pigeons have helped win wars. Falconers have found birds useful for hunting, or defending against hunters. Cormorants have been known to help fishermen.

It’s much rarer to hear of a bird that’s trained humans. That’s what I did, though, even if it might not seem that way to an outsider. You have to look closely, though.

It was early ‘80s. A wild, lawless time around here. Drugs were pouring in to the state, and the money that followed built empires. The major cartels had their methods - stealthy speedboats, cleverly concealed airline luggage, rigged cargo shipments. But for every new method that was developed, the feds weren’t far behind. You had to get creative if you were going to stay in business.

They’d never think to look in the belly of a marsh bird, and even if they did, they’d never capture me. I could disappear into the glades and hide out for weeks, living off crayfish and insects. As soon as the law enforcement pressure died down, I could be back on the streets, delivering the purest stuff in town for sale at a huge profit.

“Wow, a cartel trained a bird to run drugs? That’s wild!”, you say.

You haven’t been listening. I wasn’t trained by anybody. I was my own empire. I’d set up a network of buyers and sellers up and down the coasts. Bogota, Medellin, Havana. They thought I was working for one of the big kingpins, Escobar or the like. It worked to my advantage - they assumed I was just a carrier bird trained by someone with real resources, and they feared the muscle behind that.

Meanwhile, if I ever needed to throw the law off my scent, I’d turn one of them in. Anyone else doing that was likely to find themselves dead in a gutter, their tongue pulled out through their neck. But who’s going to suspect the bird was the rat? And how are you going to even get to my tongue, past my beak? Do birds have tongues? I’m not researching that.

Point is, it was a boom time for me. I made money, and lots of it. By the late ‘80s, I could spend $100K at a club in one night and not even feel it.

Then the hard times came in.

The authorities started catching up. Not to me, but to my suppliers, my sellers, my clients. Cracks started to show in the ‘90s, and despite some major success around the turn of the millennium, by the mid-aughts my whole world was broken. The walls were closing in.

I considered going legit. Getting out of the whole sordid business. The world had changed, and maybe it was time for me to change, too. I could cash out, fly south. Find a nice marsh in the islands, live out my days in peace. I had a few debts left with the cartels, but nothing I didn’t have the money to settle up on.

I’d made millions in the drug trade over the years, and most of it was still left. I’d converted it into gold, buried it somewhere safe.

Somewhere that would always be protected.

Somewhere it’d never be in danger.

Somewhere revered.

I was wrong.

They tell me that if I don’t pay up, they’re going to kill me, but it won’t stop there. They’re going to come for the wetlands. For my family. For everything I’ve ever believed in.

If I don’t get that money back, my world ends.

These people - these heretics - they’ve destroyed my home and written my death warrant in the process.

And they taunt me with my failure.

But I will have my revenge, in this life or the next.