'Poor thing!' Binkie said 'Imagine being out in weather like this!'

I didn't need to imagine; we were out in it.

'Oh, there's another tern at three o'clock!'

Dozens of binoculars swerved with the uncanny accuracy of a precision drill team. Binkie redirected my binoculars to another, closer buoy. This one definitely had a morose bird perched on top. I deduced that terns must be closely related to seagulls; this looked like just another seagull to me. The buoy gave a lurch, and the tern had to flap its wings and scramble to keep its footing before hunching down again. It cocked its head and looked at the boat. In the binoculars, it seemed to stare directly at me. It shook its head, pulled it farther back between its shoulders, and looked so miserable and grumpy that I identified with it immediately.

'Poor thing,' I said.

'Oh, they're fine,' Winnie said. 'Coming back very well.'

'Coming back from where?'

'Extinction, dear,' Binkie said. 'Things looked very bad for them at the beginning of the century, poor things, but we've managed to turn that around.'

'We have several hundred nests on Egg Island, and, of course, nearly a dozen pair of puffins,' Winnie said. 'If you get a chance, you should take the tour. The boat leaves from Monhegan and anchors off the island for several hours.'

'In the spring, love,' Binkie said. 'I imagine they stop running after Labor Day. The puffins would be mostly gone by now.'

'True,' Winnie said. 'But if there are still a few puffins there, perhaps we could arrange a special tour for Meg. If the weather lets up a bit,' he added, glancing up.

I forced a smile and handed Binkie her binoculars. The weather would have to let up more than a bit before I'd set out from Monhegan again in a boat. But if by some misfortune Winnie and Binkie succeeded in convincing a suicidal boat captain to take them out puffin-watching, I'd find some excuse.

'Just what is a puffin anyway?' Michael asked.

I winced. Dangerous question. The Burnhams and several nearby birders pulled out their field guides and began imparting puffin lore.

If I'd been explaining, I'd have said to keep his eye out for a black-and-white bird about a foot high that looked like a small penguin wearing an enormous clown nose over his beak and bright orange stockings on his feet. The birders did a good job of describing the beak--a gray-and-yellow triangle with a wide red tip--but they went into too much detail on the chunky body, the stubby wings, the distinctive, clumsy flight, and the precise patterning of the black-and-white feathers. I doubt if Michael needed to know quite so much detail on how to tell immature puffins from other birds he'd never heard of, or if he cared in the slightest about puffins' breeding and nesting habits. When Winnie and another birder began competing to see who could more accurately imitate the low, growling an! that the usually silent puffins make when their nests are disturbed, I groaned in exasperation.

'Don't worry, dear,' Binkie said, patting me on the shoulder. 'It always gets a little rough when we're this close to the harbor.'

'Close to the harbor?' I said. 'You mean we'll be landing soon?'

'Thank God,' Michael muttered. I wasn't sure whether the ocean or the bird lore made his exclamation so fervent.

And sure enough, within minutes we saw the ferry dock. Quite a crowd of people stood on it with great mounds of luggage. More birders, I supposed, since at least half of them peered through the rain with binoculars. Like the birders on the boat, they scrutinized the gulls that wheeled overhead--hoping, I suppose, to spot a rare species of seagull. The two sets of birders also scanned one another. As we approached the dock, they began pointing, waving, and calling greetings.

'Good Lord, Binkie, look who's on the dock,' Winnie said. 'Just beside the gift shop.'

'Oh no, not Victor!' Binkie exclaimed. 'How awful! I did so hope we'd seen the last of him.'

'No such luck,' Winnie growled. 'Turns up like a bad penny every few years. Wonder what the old ba-- scoundrel's up to this time.'

'Never borrow trouble,' Binkie said. 'We don't know for sure that he's up to anything.'

'Like hell we don't.'

I peered at the dock, wondering who Victor was and how he could possibly have aroused this much animosity in the normally mild-mannered Burnhams. But without binoculars, I couldn't see many details; if the docks held a sinister villain twirling his mustache or sporting cloven hooves, I couldn't spot him.

'Oh, look, Dr. and Mrs. Peabody,' Binkie said--no doubt to distract Winnie from his irritation with the nefarious Victor. 'What rotten luck; they're leaving just when we're getting here.'

'I wouldn't count on it,' Winnie replied, inspecting the Peabodys through his binoculars. 'I overheard the captain speaking rather sharply to someone over the radio. Said he'd never have set out if they'd accurately predicted the size of the swells.'

I was glad Winnie hadn't mentioned this until after we could see the dock.

'You think he'll ride out the storm here, then?' Binkie asked.

'If he has any sense,' Winnie replied.

'Luck was certainly with you two,' Binkie said, turning to Michael and me. 'You very nearly missed the boat!'

The boat picked that moment to make a sudden free-fall drop into the trough of a wave.

'Lucky us,' Michael muttered.

Chapter 2

The Puffin Has Landed

'So this is Monhegan,' Michael said as he stood in the middle of the dock, inspecting the landscape.

I was relieved to see that he looked better already. Entirely due to being back on dry land, I was sure. Certainly nothing about our surroundings would cheer anyone up. Did the Monhegan dock always look this seedy and rundown, I wondered? Or were the weather and my queasy stomach still coloring my view of things?

After the boat docked, we had the usual mad scramble to sort out the enormous piles of luggage. Michael and I were luckier than most; the birders tended to favor battered rucksacks and ancient suitcases covered with peeling travel stickers from unpronounceable foreign birding meccas. Our more sedate urban luggage was comparatively easy to spot.

'What next?' Michael asked when we had all our gear.

'Next, we negotiate for someone to take our luggage to the cottage.'

I pointed to the island's half a dozen pickup trucks lined up, fender-to-fender, on the dock, with their tailgates open toward the arriving crowds. Beyond the trucks, a steep gravel road, already swarming with birders, led up toward the village proper.

'The two hotels each have a pickup truck to take their guests' baggage,' I said. 'If you're staying at a bed- and-breakfast or a cottage, you hire one of the freelance pickups to haul your stuff.'

'Just our stuff?' Michael said. 'What about us?'

'We walk,' I said. 'Unless you want us to get a reputation as lazy city folks.'

Michael and I stood back, though, until the logjam of birders cleared. Which didn't take long: As soon as the birders realized the ferry wasn't going anywhere, they all panicked and scurried up the hill. Birders who had planned to leave set out to reclaim the rooms they had recently vacated before the newly arrived birders checked in. The new arrivals hurried after them to wave their confirmation letters and credit cards before their stranded colleagues established squatters' rights.

Within minutes, the dock lay deserted. The few travelers, like Winnie and Binkie, who owned cottages and didn't have to worry about someone else displacing them had gone into the small shop at the foot of the hill to drink hot tea and catch up on the local gossip. Lucky that Michael and I weren't staying in a hotel; I didn't think I could

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