"Well, I'm controversial, which is the next best thing. My first lecture is 'The Taxidermist as Hero.' I always enjoy that one."
At that moment Anderson was diverted by the waiter, and Gabby caught my eye.
"I'm glad you could come, Fitz," she said, and she sounded as if she meant it. Personally, I was withholding judgment. It wasn't until the third drink was beginning to have an effect that Anderson turned to the subject we'd all been waiting for.
"You must be wondering why I'm here, Mr. Fitzgerald, intruding on this meeting of old friends."
I raised an eyebrow to acknowledge the question but didn't reply, so he carried on.
"I was lucky enough to hear Gabriella speak in Prague a couple of years ago, and we have been friends ever since. She mentioned you to me as a man with a great deal of knowledge in one of the areas I am interested in. I am also, of course, aware of your grandfather's work."
He paused to put his glass down neatly on its paper coaster. I waited for the commonplace compliment that usually came with any mention of my grandfather, but none followed. Instead Anderson leaned forward and lowered his voice.
"I am a collector, Mr. Fitzgerald. I am here because I am looking for something incredibly rare. Something that may not even exist anymore. Gabriella thinks you may be able to help me. It is well known you are an authority on extinct birds." His eyes lingered on my face for a moment. "What do you know of the bird from the Society Islands, the one they call the Mysterious Bird of Ulieta?"
"Not much," I told him calmly, truthfully. "Rather a fanciful piece of naming, I've always thought."
Again his intent, searching gaze.
"Not perhaps so fanciful." He leaned back and rubbed the back of his neck with his fingertips. "Let us talk about it a little."
He finished rubbing and placed his fingertips softly on the edge of the table in front of him. His eyes met mine again.
"The rarest bird ever recorded, Mr. Fitzgerald. Seen only once, in 1774, by Captain Cook's second expedition. A routine collecting party on a South Sea island known then as Ulieta. A single specimen captured, of a species never seen before. Preserved by Johann Forster and brought back to England. No bird like it ever found again, on Ulieta or anywhere else. Extinct before it was ever really discovered."
He paused and his eyes dropped to the tabletop, where he ran one fingertip across a drop of liquid, shaping it thoughtfully into an 2.
"I'm sure none of that is new to you, Mr. Fitzgerald. On his return, Johann Forster gave away the preserved specimen. The only specimen. The only specimen ever found. Of course he had no way of knowing its rarity then. Nor did the young man he gave it to, the naturalist Joseph Banks."
He looked up at me again, and now there was an excitement in his eye that had not been there before.
Excerpted from The Conjurer's Bird by Martin Davies Copyright © 2005 by Martin Davies. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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