Read The Night Falconer Online
Authors: Andy Straka
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #General, #Mystery & Detective
What had the young Christian Sammy, veteran of a real war with real weapons fought by children, seen in the slight Muslim girl and her band of fellow orphans? What had he seen in the book of the Mews and their captured wild owl? Visions of chivalry? Arthurian or Al-Furusiyya knights in full armor, astride their mounts with banners waving, riding down Fifth Avenue? We would never know. What we did know was that Barry LaGrange’s feature article in the
two days before had forced the venue for Sammy Yel Bak’s memorial service to be moved twice and brought out hordes of everyday New Yorkers to stand quietly behind the police lines in front of the big church on Malcolm X Boulevard. The lines of African-American, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and even some Sudanese cab drivers in their cars backed up traffic for nearly an hour.
The cops were busy closing the rest of the matter too. Cato Raines’ ex-wife claimed his body and had him cremated without any kind of memorial. Jayani Miller, two other Grayland Tower guards, and a half dozen members of Los Miembros were all in custody facing numerous counts of abduction, rape, and murder. Mitchell Collins had been arrested at JFK while trying to flee the country. Dominic Watisi was not under arrest for anything yet. He was apparently coming clean with authorities and in true semi-celebrity fashion both his legal and propaganda teams were working full time both to try to keep him out of jail and to shore up any damage to his reputation.
We hadn’t heard any more from Dr. Lonigan, but that changed when we pulled into the turnoff for Deebee’s farm.
“Almost forgot,” Darla said. She pulled a plain sealed envelope from her pocket and handed it to me.
“A check for all the hours you put in plus expenses.”
“Dr. Lonigan said you more than earned it.”
“Amen to that.”
“You know what else she said?”
“I can hardly wait.”
“You remember Mitch Collins?”
“Yeah, they caught him.”
“Right, and the cops are still trying to sort out his arrangement with Jayani and involvement with Los Miembros. But Lonigan says she was worried about him all along; she just didn’t want to say anything. Guess he gave some big checks to her animal rights league or whatever.”
Deebee was waiting for us as the van pulled into his driveway. We climbed out and he said he had a mews all prepared for the owl. The interpreter spoke with the ASPCA agent, and out of respect for Faridah, we all waited to allow her to don her glove and retrieve the owl from in back.
A few moments later, the young woman appeared from around the side of the van, walking calmly, the owl almost an extension of her arm.
“Nice to see a bird so relaxed around her falconer,” Deebee said. He nodded with admiration and directed Faridah and the rest of us toward the barn and the mews.
The air was warm but much less humid this morning. A pair of butterflies played with another over a sunflower in Deebee’s garden. Even the dogs were relatively still and well behaved.
No one spoke as we entered the cool of the barn. We had reached the entrance to the stall prepared for the owl when the big bird riding on the girl’s mangalah did something unexpected.
Tilting its head, the owl seemed to bow toward her handler. Faridah lowered her head and the bird gently grazed her hair with its beak.
“Hardly ever see that. Especially with an owl. This bird an imprint?” Deebee asked, a note of concern in his voice.
Proudly aloof, even trained birds of prey hardly ever offer such displays of attachment for their handlers. Imprinted birds, on the other hand, those raised and hand fed from birth by humans, develop such intense attachment to humans it would be tantamount to a death sentence to release one back to the wild.
“Oh, no,” Nicole said. “We’re sure of that. Sammy told me how they trapped her in the park and Faridah confirmed all the details. It wasn’t too long ago, in fact. I thought they were very lucky to find her.”
“They hunted with her?”
“Absolutely. Several times, in fact.
The interpreter was translating softly for Faridah. The girl nodded to confirm Nicole’s account and in her face I read the deepest sadness, reaching back beyond her years to a slave on the underground railroad, to the protection she’d found in a young soldier, to ancestral nomads she had never known.
“One thing’s for sure,” Deebee said, looking at Faridah with a twinkle in his eye.
The girl looked up at the older man.
“You’ve gained yourself some kind of connection with this old owl, haven’t you, little lady?”
Faridah smiled. We watched as she gently released the big bird’s jesses and skillfully transferred the owl to its new perch.
“I guess you could call it an instinct for survival,” Deebee said.
Wars may never end, I thought. Children may always die. But through it all, or in spite of it all, the city looms bright and never silent, its mist-laden spans made as if for hunting, its shadowed heights beckoning like baited lures, twirling in the darkness.
“I guess you could,” I said.
Andy Straka is a native of upstate New York and a licensed falconer. Featured by Publisher’s Weekly as one of “ten rising stars” in crime fiction, he is the author of four previous novels. His debut Frank Pavlicek mystery, A WITNESS ABOVE, garnered Shamus, Anthony, and Agatha Award nominations for Best First Novel in 2002. A KILLING SKY received an Anthony Award nomination in 2003. COLD QUARRY won the 2004 Shamus Award for best paperback original private eye novel.
Andy’s inaugural non-series novel, RECORD OF WRONGS, was labeled “a first-rate thriller” by Mystery Scene magazine in 2008. He lives with his family in Virginia.
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