Everybody loves secrets and surprises. Nothing in the world is better than waiting around for a mean and costly secret surprise to be foisted on someone you truly hate.

Akerman and I did not always hate the guys across the creek, although we had been warned about them. "They shoot geese on the water," our hosts had said. "They are not sportsmen. They tried to steal a goose we shot and we had to chase them off with our boat. They shoot after hours and they leave their decoys out all season and they run around making noise when they should be quiet."

But you don't hate people for something someone else tells you about them. You have to see for yourself.

It would take a lot to make us mad anyway, because we were enjoying the most wonderful goose-hunt in our humble lives.

The blind was on a farm on the Corsica River that Dave Henderson and Steve Boynton and some partners lease hunting rights on. They had invited us for the day and Akerman and I were on our best behavior because we knew Henderson was the Washington lobbyist and Boynton the chief counsel for an outfit called the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America. Not that we made a practice of sidestepping the law, but this would be a very bad place to start, for sure.

It was foggy and the birds didn't move all morning long, so we talked about the guys across the creek, ate all our sandwiches and blew our goose calls until we were blue in the face, practicing.

About 2 p.m. the fog lifted and the geese started coming from every direction. Some of them came in to the decoys and we got some wonderful shooting.

The guys across the creek didn't get any. They were on the wrong side for the way the wind was blowing. "That's okay," said Boynton, "Tuesday I was here and it was exactly the other way around. With a northeast wind they were all going to those guys. They got six that I could count, and they should have had a lot more. We didn't get a thing."

Boynton and Henderson have two water blinds, and we were in the one getting all the action. About 4 o'clock Henderson and Boynton went by the other blind to invite Jack and Diana Jagoda to switch with them, joining Akerman and me in the hot blind.

Henderson came back to tell us the Jagodas would be along presently. "By the way," he said, "the law is here. I hope you're legal."

He'd run into the game wardens on his way up the bank. "They're not watching us," he said. "They're watching those guys across the creek. They've had reports about shooting after quitting time and they're going to try to catch 'em tonight. Just the same, we've got to watch our step. Legal quitting time tonight is 4:45, and we'll stick to it."

After he left and before the Jagodas arrived Akerman and I were enjoying the spacious quiet of the big blind when a huge flock of geese hove over the horizon. I started tooting outrageously on my caller and before long about 15 geese broke off the flock and headed our way in two bunches.

One bunch was coming from the right and another from the left at slightly different altitudes. There was no question about where they were heading -- right to us.

We ducked down when they were several hundred yards out and watched in awe as one bunch swung over the blind and made ready to pitch in, and the other came around from the other side and set their wings. It was a wonderful holocaust about to happen.

When the first bunch was 50 yards from the decoys we both grabbed our guns, but before we could stand up there came a rousing "booom!"

"Dirty Ratzafratz," said Akerman.

The guys across the creek had decided if they couldn't get geese, nobody would.

We toyed briefly with notions of childish revenge but decided just to wait and enjoy it doubly when the law swept down. The Jagodas arrived and we discussed various techniques for dismemberment, water tortures and other pranks.

There were a few more flights but nothing came near and before long it was 4:44. "Quitting time," Jack said, unloading his gun and climbing out of the blind to fetch the skiff. Akerman and Diana and I unloaded, too. The second hand on my watch was sweeping up the last half-minute to 4:45 when the geese suddenly appeared down the creek.

There were four heading directly at us.

"Down," I said.

"What are we going to do?" said Diana Jagoda.

Her watch said 4:46. Mine said 4:45 1/4; Akerman's digital said 4:45:45. The game wardens were on the hill, staring down through binoculars and checking their watches, too. Our hosts, the chief counsel and chief lobbyist of the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, were stepping out of their blind, guns unloaded. The day was officially over.

"You take the one on the left, I'll take one of the middle ones and Akerman'll take the one on the right," I said, jamming three shells into the shotgun.

It never works the way you plan it. Everybody shot at the same goose, which fell, and we looked at each other in astonishment. Then we sent the dog after the downed goose and went to work gathering decoys, waiting nervously for the wardens to descend.

Evidently their watches were a little slower than ours. They didn't come. Twenty minutes later, when it was about pitch dark, a lone goose came in over the blind across the creek and it seemed like everybody over there took a shot at it.

Henderson by that time was up the bank again. "The warden just grabbed his walkie-talkie and told his boys to move in," he said when he came down the hill. Moments later we could see the lawmen's cars moving down the drive to the blind across the creek.

"Did he say anything about us?" I asked Henderson.

"Not a word."