Read The Night Falconer Online

Authors: Andy Straka

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #General, #Mystery & Detective

The Night Falconer (2 page)

BOOK: The Night Falconer
11.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“No, of course not. It’s a newly renovated historic property, by the way. Grayland Tower. Did you see the pictures last month in the New York Times Magazine?”

“Sorry, no.”

“Anyway, that’s not the point. The issue here is the developer of the building. His name is Dominick Watisi.”

“What about him?”

“Dr. Lonigan and some of the other apartment owners have been complaining for months about cost overruns with the construction and some other issues. Watisi refuses to even discuss the matter. The dispute escalated a few weeks ago when the tenants filed a lawsuit.”


“Now it’s made the tabloids, and Watisi isn’t happy, you see? His company has another project on hold pending an upcoming bond referendum. There have been a couple of nasty public exchanges between Watisi and the tenants.”

“You’re saying Dr. Lonigan thinks this Watisi character had her Groucho whacked?”

“Looks that way. She’s convinced he’s hired a hit man who somehow got hold of an owl. They think this guy gets the pets out of the building, either at night or while people are away at work during the day, has the owl dismember them under the cover of darkness, and attempts to make the killings look like natural occurrences.”

“Sounds pretty far-fetched if you ask me.”

“C’mon, Frank. You’ve been around long enough to know that stranger things have happened.”

“Maybe. But not very often. Big birds of prey have been known to kill cats once in a while. But it happens pretty rarely, and do you know how difficult it would be for even an experienced falconer, assuming he or she did have an owl, to purposely hunt with that bird in the middle of a city?”

“What about in Central Park in the middle of the night?”

“Anywhere, especially after dark. The whole thing sounds like the figment of someone’s overworked imagination, if you ask me.”

“Overworked or not, we’re talking about burglary, murder, and cruelty to animals here.”

“Does this Dr. Lonigan know I used to work in New York?”

“Yes, and she knows a little bit of your history.”

“Then she must know some people up there may still think I’m damaged goods.”

“She says she doesn’t care about any of that.”

“I assume someone’s already tried contacting Humane Law Enforcement at the ASPCA?”

“Of course. They came out and investigated. Lonigan says they’re concerned about the missing pets, naturally, but they refuse to take the idea about Watisi seriously. She even claims it wouldn’t surprise her if Watisi’s got some of the officials in his pocket.”

“I doubt that. All these missing pets belong to people who are party to the lawsuit?”

“Almost. Four out of the five.”

“Where did she come up with the falconry angle on the owl? I mean, besides there being the feathers and all.”

“This is where it gets really interesting.”

“I can hardly wait.”

“They’ve had at least two confirmed sightings so far.”


“One of the tenants in the building says he saw someone across the street in the park late at night from his balcony. Claims it looked like a small man swinging a rope over his head and a large shape swooping down at him from the shadows. Doesn’t that sound like a falconer to you, Franco?”

“With a lure … maybe. Not exactly a prime witness though. In the dark, from that distance. He credible?”

“He swears that’s what he saw … not only that, a security guard from the building now says she saw something too. She can’t say whether it was a man or a woman, but the person was running away, wearing a long glove and carrying something big and gray and brown like an owl on it.”

“Might just be some yahoo who happened to get hold of a bird.”

“I need to let Dr. Lonigan know. Are you interested in consulting on this case, or not?”

“Maybe. Who’ll be doing most of the legwork?”

“You, I’m afraid. It’s still my case, but I’ve got a few other things on my plate at the moment.”

“So you’re turfing this one to me, huh?”

“If it helps, think of yourself as the outside expert.”


“So should I tell Dr. Lonigan you’re good to go then?”

I’d done worse to pay the rent. From the information given, I didn’t believe the theory about the owl; but the sightings of what looked like a falconer, if credible, sounded intriguing. Some kind of nut case maybe, one who’d gotten a little training in how to handle a raptor, a licensed rehabber or falconer or someone who had worked with one.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll do it.”

“Righteous … .” I could almost hear Darla beaming through the phone.

“But you’ll need to throw in an extra set of plane tickets.”

“What for?”

“For Nicky. She’s a falconer herself and she may actually have a better feel for dealing with this type of situation than I do. It won’t increase the fee.”

Darla cleared her throat. “I’ll check with Dr. Lonigan. I don’t think that will be any problem. But I also need to warn you about a couple of other things. First, in addition to being a physician, Dr. Lonigan has been a longtime animal rights activist.”

“Oookay … You might have sprung that little ditty on me sooner.”

“I know, I know. But listen, the other thing she wants me to tell you … you’re probably aware of the friction between some bird watchers and cat owners over cats running loose killing songbirds?”

“Some. I suppose.”

“Well, a group of birdwatchers up here in the city read about the story and Dr. Lonigan’s accusations in the paper. And they’ve apparently taken an interest in the matter, along with Lonigan’s animal rights group. There has already been a small protest, some picketing and counter-picketing, that sort of thing.”

Oh, boy. “No going to sea in a pea-green boat then either, I suppose.”


“Owl and the pussy cat,” I said.


“Say hi to Darla for me, but you better watch your step,” Jake Toronto said.

He hovered over my kitchen table, poring through plans and sketches for a new barn he was planning to build at his place in the mountains. He’d been staying with me for a week or so, since returning from an overseas assignment, somewhere in the Middle East, that had left him gaunt and drained. He never talked much about what he called his “occasional government contract gigs” and I never pushed him to tell me more. Judging from the gear he’d packed with him, this particular trip appeared to have been even more stressful than usual. His first two days back in the states he’d barely uttered a word. Four hour daily workouts at the gym were gradually bringing him back to his old self, however.

“I’ll do that,” I told him.

“I thought you were planning to make the big approach to Marcia tonight.”

“Still am.”

“When it rains …” He rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry about the birds though. I’ll be here.”

In addition to Torch, there was Mariah, the red-tailed hawk Nicole had trapped the winter before, and India, Toronto’s beautiful gyr-saker falcon we had babysat while he was out of the country.

“I appreciate it,” I said.

“Least I can do.”

“What’s your take on Darla’s story?”

“Pretty weird about the owl in the park. Someone ought to be after whoever’s fooling with it. My old gos took a cat once. Wasn’t pretty.”

“The hawk get hurt?”

“No. Blind luck.”

“Ever hear of this character Watisi?”

He shook his head.

“Could put a new wrinkle on contract killing.”

“Sure.” He chuckled to himself. “Like I said. Watch yourself.”

* * * * *

The idea of going back to New York City to chase around after somebody’s missing feline couldn’t have come at a more tenuous time for me.

Lately, I’d taken to driving around the countryside to watch the summer sunsets, listening to country music on the radio and feeling sorry for myself. There is an art, I’d come to realize, in juxtaposing sweet mournful songs with the rhythms of one’s own life. I was approaching the big five-o and wondering just how much I had to show for it when it came to the most important relationships in my life.

Nicole said she was beginning to worry about me. The pastor at the small Baptist church west of Charlottesville where I’d been attending services must have noticed it too. He had pulled me aside one Sunday morning, asked if there was anything he could do.

Later that night, I waited in my truck on the street in front of Marcia D’Angelo’s house, rehearsing the lines in my head.

“You’re back,” she might say.

“I missed you,” I would reply. But somehow that sounded all wrong.

Why I would choose this night and this occasion to try to resurrect what had almost eroded into painful apathy I couldn’t say. Marcia wasn’t the only woman to have ever meant something to me.

On the other hand, there comes an age in almost every person’s life where you begin to appreciate the fragilely fleeting nature of genuine love, the point of new beginnings and the point of nearly no return.

I suppose I had just about used up the last of my excuses with Marcia. Hurt was beginning to form where it shouldn’t have to be. A holiday weekend, and I was headed out of town on some new kind of craziness. It was time for me to push the envelope one way or the other.

The tree limbs around University Circle hung motionless, their dark leaves rich with moisture in the humid air. The smell of fresh-cut grass and dew moss rose from the lawns and sidewalks, puddled shadows of rain faintly appearing on the street in the glow from the streetlights.

Marcia’s lawn glistened in the hollow light like all the others. Only the otherworldly thump of rap music from a teenager’s stereo next door disturbed the broken space between houses.

I was still sitting there trying to decide what to do when Marcia’s front door opened. She stepped out into the night with a mug of steaming liquid in her hand, her eyes on me. She was still clad in her summer gardening clothes—matching turquoise shorts and blouse with white trim. She came down the steps to the curb and I rolled down my window.

“I thought if you’re going to sit out here in front of my house all night you might like some tea,” she said.

“You go ahead and drink it.” I shook my head and smiled. “I’ll be up all night if I do.”

“You know they say that can be one of the first signs of aging.”

“Oh, they do, do they?”

“How have you been, Frank?”

“Getting by. And you?”

“Getting by.”

“What’s that mean, anyway, ‘getting by’?”

“It means you’re depressed but you’re too proud to admit it.”

“Oh, so that’s what you call it.”

“You want to come in?”

“Yes. I’d like that.”

She took a sip from the mug. “Maybe I can find some a caffeine-free Pepsi in my refrigerator or something.”

I rolled my window up, pushed open the door, and climbed out to join her on the sidewalk. We didn’t touch, quite.

“You’ve lost a little weight,” she said.

“Counting carbs.”

“Good for you.”

“I’m inconsistent, but you keep at it long enough, something happens.”

“How’s Nicky?”

“Keeping me on my toes, as always. She’s been bugging me for weeks to stop by and see you.”

She nodded. “I bumped into her on the downtown mall last month. She tell you?”

“She told me. I should’ve come over to see you then.”

“Better late than never.”

“I suppose. Are you seeing anybody?”

She laughed. “You always get right to the bottom line, don’t you?”

I shrugged. “Guess it’s in my nature.”

“What were you thinking about while sitting out here in the truck for the past twenty minutes?”

“How to tell you how much I missed you.”

She smiled again. “Okay, come on. Let’s go inside and talk.”


“Yeah. You know, it’s what two good friends do when they haven’t seen each other for awhile.”

“Is that all we are now, Marcia—good friends?”

“Why don’t we have a talk about that.”

I followed her up the steps and into the house. The front hall smelled like ginger. We headed toward the kitchen where the aroma grew even stronger. Miles Davis was playing from the stereo in another room.

“I’ve been baking all day,” she explained. “The PTA is having a summer rummage sale this weekend to raise money for the music department, and they’re planning to raffle off some pies and bags of cookies.”

“Get thee behind me, Satan.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she laughed. “All the fattening product is sealed up and packed into containers for delivery tomorrow.” She set her mug on the counter, opened the refrigerator and leaned inside to have a look. “You know what? I’ve got a nice chilled bottle of wine in here. You want some? I might even join you.”

“No beer?”

She shook her head.

“Wine it is then.”

She pulled out a bottle from a local vineyard and handed it to me. “I’ll get the glasses. Still remember where the corkscrew is?”

“Unless you’ve redecorated.”

I found the screw tucked neatly beside some cooking utensils in one of her kitchen drawers and worked open the cork. The wine’s aroma was earthy and not too sweet. The Charlottesville region was beginning to gain something of a reputation for winemaking, from what I’d read, which would have pleased old Tom Jeff no doubt were he still holding forth from his mountaintop mansion Monticello. I’m no expert on wines, mind you, even the local vintages, but this one tasted okay. We sat down next to each other at the kitchen table and toasted ourselves.

“Are you working much this summer?” she asked.

“Some,” I said. “Nicky and I are flying up to New York City in the morning.”


“Got a call from an old friend up there who used to be on the force. She works as a PI too and needs some help with a client, a doctor at Columbia.”

“What’s it about?”

“Her cat is missing.”


“Her cat is missing and she thinks someone’s had it killed.”

“Not your usual sort of case.”

“Nope.” I filled her in on the details of the case.

“Sounds like that story I was reading in a magazine last year when Paris Hilton was offering a $5,000 reward for her lost Chihuahua.”

BOOK: The Night Falconer
11.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Grand Slam by Kathryn Ledson
Rousseau's Dog by David Edmonds
Half Share by Nathan Lowell
Take Two by Whitney Gracia Williams
Split Second by Alex Kava
I'm Still Here (Je Suis Là) by Clelie Avit, Lucy Foster
Legacy of the Claw by C. R. Grey