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Authors: Andy Straka

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The Night Falconer

BOOK: The Night Falconer
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The Night Falconer (Frank Pavlicek Mystery Series, Book 4)
Straka, Andy
(2011)

The Night Falconer

A Frank Pavlicek Novel

By Andy Straka

Copyright © 2010 by Andy Straka

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-0-9848438-4-8

Print version originally published in hardback by Five Star/Gale, Cengage Learning

Ebook cover by Bookwrights

ALSO BY ANDY STRAKA

A Witness Above

A Killing Sky

Cold Quarry

Record Of Wrongs

Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

1

The war between birds and cats began when Dr. Korva Lonigan, a respected physician and animal rights activist, discovered a feather from a great horned owl with what she took to be the remains of her missing tabby Groucho along the curb in front of her apartment building on Central Park West.

I’m not making this up.

I never expected to become involved in a war between species. Or between their human campaign managers, at any rate. I never expected to return to New York City either, except as a tourist. And if I had known that steamy Virginia afternoon about the depths of survival and the spun-off fragments of a real war we would end up unearthing, I might never have answered the cell phone I’d stupidly left tucked in my shorts pocket while balancing two pounds of fidgety Harris’ hawk on the back of my left hand.

I fished out the offending instrument with my free, ungloved mitt. New York City area code on the display. Maybe it was Pale Male, the famous red-tailed hawk, calling to be rescued from his unwanted celebrity status in Central Park. No such luck.

“Guess who,” a female voice said.

My brain shifted into high speed reverse, flashing back nearly a decade and a half to a New York courtroom and a dark blue transit cop’s uniform. The composed, coffee colored face of a character witness standing in for Jake Toronto and me, her arms crossed as she stared down the plaintiff’s attorney in the thousand dollar suit who had helped engineer the wrongful death lawsuit against us.

“Darla Barnes,” I said.

“Very good, Franco. I see you haven’t lost your edge.”

“I also have caller ID.”

“Strange world these days, isn’t it?” she said. “No such thing as privacy anymore. Just bought a new cell phone. Gotta remember to get this number blocked.”

Darla Barnes was the only person in the world who had ever and would ever call me Franco. She’d earned that right one misty spring night in the Bronx when I was a newly minted NYPD detective and she, a mere transit rookie, had been instrumental in preventing me from being put under the knife by an over-zealous group of bikers at a dumpy watering hole near Yankee Stadium. For reasons different than my own, she’d been working the PI beat almost as long I had.

“It’s been a while,” I said.

“Yes it has. How’s that little girl of yours?”

“Not so little anymore. She graduated from college a couple of months ago and is in the process of making the biggest mistake of her life.”

“What’s that?”

“Working for her old man.”

Darla chuckled. “Pee-eyeing with you, you mean.”

“You got it. How’s your family doing?”

“Not as aged as yours of course, on account of my youthful grace and vigor. But my youngest, Sweetness, is the cutest little thing you could imagine and my ten year old, Marcos, is at the top his class in school.”

“Great to hear it.”

“Am I catching you at a bad time? You busy?”

“Not really. Nicky’s got some programmer running a security audit on our network, so we’re out of business for the afternoon. I’m just out here messing around with one of my birds.”

It was late on a Friday, Fourth of July weekend. For the third day in a row, the mercury in Charlottesville had topped ninety-five degrees. We already seemed to be stuck in that interminable summer pattern of heat building through the day, followed by the break, somewhere in the afternoon, of a thunder-clapping downpour. Today’s edition of cloudburst was running a little on the late side, however. The sun still did its thing. Inside my hawk’s enclosure the air was as thick as oatmeal. My T-shirt felt like it had been super-glued to my back. Bits of fluffy down, cream and black, drifted through the chain link fence while Torch’s talons danced nervously around my gloved fist.

“You mean to tell me you’re flying one of your falcons right this second?”

“Not exactly. But I am holding onto a hawk in my other hand as we speak.”

“Perfect.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see … Got a job for you, Franco, if you’re interested.”

“Okay,” I said.

In fact, it was very okay. Eagle Eye Investigations was sometimes flush with cash, sometimes not. Since our contract with a Northern Virginia security firm for post 9/11 background checks on federal hires had expired a couple of months before, ‘not’ was beginning to creep more into the equation.

“The client’s name is Dr. Korva Lonigan. I’m calling you from her apartment in Manhattan.”

“All right.” The doctor was most likely having a problem with a piece of property or something she owned down here in central Virginia. Or maybe the issue involved a relative or an ex-husband, or an accident that had occurred in the area.

“I should warn you, though, Frank. This deal’s probably a little different from the kind of work you’re used to.”

“How so?”

The last time I’d had work like that, six months before, I’d almost drowned at the bottom of a river while trying to figure out how to avoid getting blown to bits.

Darla was silent on the other end of the line for a moment. I adjusted my grip on the jesses and eyed Torch, who was now staring at me warily. Harris’ hawks are native to the Southwest. Unlike me, my bird seemed to be doing just fine with the heat. He probably wouldn’t even have minded had God decided to crank up the temperature another twenty degrees. There was no hunting for him this time of year, at least while he was in my care. He was too busy molting. All he basically had to do right now was sail around inside his enclosure to keep himself in some semblance of flying condition, eat, defecate, and make new feathers. Call it a wild hawk day spa. With the exception of deigning to interact with me for regular feeding and the occasional weigh-in, of course.

I decided I better tie him back on his ring leash. Torch squawked while I secured the line with a one hand knot and cast him off to fly up the wire onto his perch again.

“You still there, Frank?” Darla must have wondered if I was experiencing a medical emergency.

“Yeah, sorry, I’m listening.” I backed away to lean against the fence, turning my head again into the phone.

“You want to know how this is different so let me ask you a question. Since you’re so into birds and everything, people ever come to you with other animal issues?”

“I’ve dealt with a few animals who call themselves humans, if that’s what you mean.”

“I know that. But I’m talking about real live animals here. Criminal actions involving pets. Neglect, abuse, mutilation, killings—that sort of thing.”

“Oh, no, can’t say that I have. If I ever did, I’d refer it out to the SPCA, or if it were a wild animal, to Virginia DGIF or the feds at Fish and Wildlife.”

“I see.”

“Unless there was something more than just an animal problem going on of course.”

“Of course.”

“What, does this Dr. Lonigan have some kind of problem like that?”

“Possibly,” she said. “Not exactly … .”

I waited, but she said nothing more, so I added: “A lot of times, you know, when you see animal abuse, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Intentionally inflicting harm on a domestic creature can be indicative of a whole host of issues.”

“You mean like serial killers.”

“That’s one possibility.”

“Okay, but look, hey, I don’t think we’re dealing with that kind of an issue here.”

“Good. Because I’m out of the serial killer business.”

She lowered her voice a little as if she were cupping her hand around the receiver. “This Dr. Lonigan comes from some very serious money. Prestigious job at Columbia. Hoity new place on Central Park West. You get the picture?”

“What kind of doctor is she?”

“Pediatric oncologist.”

“Must not be easy work,” I said.

“I’m sure it isn’t.”

“She married?”

“No.”

“Children?”

“No.”

“You said she’s having some kind of problem with an animal though.”

“Yeah. Hear me out, Franco. I don’t want you to think I’m wasting your time here.”

“It’s all right,” I said. “Spill it.”

She breathed out a sigh, every bit as audible through our digital connection as if she’d been standing on the other side of the chain link across from me. “Dr. Lonigan wants … well. She wants me to hire you to help me find out what’s happened to her missing cat.”

Neither one of us spoke while I considered the possibility that a minor earthquake had just struck central Virginia, rendering some kind of momentary breach in the space-time continuum.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you say find her missing cat?”

“Yup.”

“As in feline, alley cat, pet god or goddess?”

“You got it.”

This was not exactly what I’d envisioned when Darla had mentioned a job. But presuming the missing kitty was still somewhere in New York State, at least I had an easy out.

Darla and I may both have been former NYPD and known New York, but in my case that had been so long ago Rudy Giuliani was still working as a U.S. Attorney. And as Darla must have very well known, I was only licensed to take on cases that initiated in the veritable Commonwealth of Virginia, or in neighboring states maintaining a reciprocal agreement with the Department of Criminal Justice Services in Richmond. New York was most definitely not on the list. Heck, for that matter, neither was Washington, D.C.

“Darla, you know I just can’t?”

“Hang on a minute. This is my case. You’ll be working with me as a consultant.”

I thought about that for a moment. Consultant did have a nice ring to it.

“And the client’s authorized me to offer you double your usual rate, plus expenses,” she said. “She’s even got a vacant furnished apartment in her building for you to stay in and I can have a plane ticket waiting for at the airport first thing in the morning.”

“What, no corporate jet?”

“Hey, I’ve seen people do a lot worse with their money, haven’t you? And besides, there’s a lot more to this than just a missing cat.”

“Such as?”

“This woman is no flake. She thinks someone may have purposely killed her cat.”

“Well, I’m … I’m sorry to hear that.”

There is something particularly tragic about a dead domesticated animal. Death in the wild happens every second of every day—just look at my buddy Torch here, who knew without question what it was to have to kill in order to survive. But death actively brought inside the protective bubble of your home was another matter altogether. Still, I was having a hard time seeing myself as the next Ace Ventura.

Darla said nothing.

“I agree it’s tragic, Darla. I just don’t know if it’s my kind of case.”

“You said yourself if someone did this kind of thing to an animal it could be indicative of much bigger problems.”

“Yes, I know, but—”

“It’s the only pet the woman has ever owned.”

“What kind of cat are we talking about?”

“Angora. Named Groucho.”

Cute.

“But she’s already hired you. Why does she need me?”

“Okay, here’s what’s been going on … At least two cats, one hamster, one guinea pig, and one puppy are now missing from her apartment building on Central Park West. The tenants have discovered what they think are fur remains for two of them, both of which were accompanied by the feathers.”

“Feathers? What feathers?”

“Feathers from the tail of a great horned owl. Dr. Lonigan’s had it verified by an ornithologist.”

I was beginning to see where this was going. “Are you trying to tell me this group of people believes a wild great horned owl has somehow managed to take their pets from their building in the middle of New York City?”

BOOK: The Night Falconer
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