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Authors: Andy Straka

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

The Night Falconer (4 page)

BOOK: The Night Falconer
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Behind me, Nicole and Darla thumped down the steps, Nicole hauling both our bags, Darla with her gun drawn again.

“You see anybody?” Darla asked.

“Not really. Just a glimpse,” I said.

“Is this the kind of creepy stuff you were talking about?” Nicole asked.

Darla nodded, looking at me. “Welcome to the big apple again, Franco,” she said.

Back beside the van, I moved carefully around the side to have a better look at the damage with Nicole looking over my shoulder. Darla positioned herself in front of the vehicle, her phone welded to her ear and cursing under her breath, talking to someone from the airport police.

The entire glass panel from the Dodge’s rear sliding door had been shattered. This was no routine smash and grab, where thieves went after the stereo or anything else of value. Even though there was no security on the private lot, someone had gone to great lengths to pull this off in broad daylight, not to mention the strength required to drive the blade so deeply into the seat.

Darla finished talking on the phone and stepped around to join us. I stared with her into the back seat at the image of the blade buried in the Graco Turbobooster.

“Looks like you’ve got yourself some nasty new friends, Darla.”

“Shoot. More like the Terminator on speed, you ask me. Cops’ll be down here in a minute.”

“They catch anything on their surveillance system?”

“There’s no camera on these parking spaces.”

“Figures. Our Terminator must have known that too.”

“Yup. My guess is, it was someone posing as a baggage handler or a maintenance worker.”

“Remind me not to hang with you next time I fly.”

“I guess I should’ve said something to you folks earlier about the threat.” Darla shielded her eyes and looked past me into the glare of the early morning sun as a LaGuardia patrol car, its beacons spinning, whipped into the lot.

“Threat?” I said. “What threat?”


Half an hour later, after working through the intricacies of dealing with the airport cops and Darla’s insurance company, Nicole and I were standing by a rental car counter with Darla, waiting for the agent to process the paperwork on the new van Darla had rented.

The knife was being checked for prints and any other trace evidence, and so was the Dodge, before they towed it to a body shop. The cops were treating the incident as a routine B&E, figuring we’d been lucky to scare away the person responsible. The knife was simply the idiot’s twisted calling card, left when he realized he’d have to bolt empty handed. If Darla weren’t ex NYPD and who she was, they would simply have written up their report and wouldn’t even have messed with the van any further.

“I’m sorry you two had to walk right into this mess,” Darla said.

“No apology needed,” I said.


I was beginning to wonder what else she might not be telling us as she took the keys and the paperwork from the agent. I knew I could trust her with my back, but not if we were only dealing in partial truths. There was a bench outside on the curb where the three of us sat down to wait for the rental car shuttle.

“You said something earlier about a threat,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “It’s like this. Yesterday, I got a message on my service. A voice says to stay away from the cat thing with Dr. Lonigan or there might be consequences. That was the word they used—consequences.”

“All right. So?”

She reached inside her jacket pocket and pulled out a folded slip of white paper. “So—when I was pulling my stuff out of the van before leaving the lot with you all, I found this under the front seat. Perp you chased must have dropped it. Probably got wind of us coming and had to bug out in a hurry.”

She handed the paper to me and I unfolded it. In bold black magic marker someone had written out the word CONSAQUENSES. I showed it to Nicole.

“Butchered the spelling,” Nicole said. “Your caller specifically named Lonigan?”

“Uh-huh,” Darla said.

“Was the voice male or female?” I asked.

“Male—definitely male. Had some kind of accent too, but I couldn’t really tell what kind.”

I looked across at Nicole then back at Darla. “Is there some reason you didn’t tell me about this before offering me the job?”

“No. I should have.”

“You try to trace the call?”

“Tried to, but it turns out they were using a stolen wireless phone from an international carrier.”


“Africa. The Sudan.”

“Pretty volatile place.”

“I didn’t even know they had cell phone service in places like Sudan.” Nicole said.

Darla turned toward my daughter. “Learn something every day. There ain’t many countries left on this planet don’t have some kind of cellular.”

“Hey, Dad. Sudan’s next to Egypt, isn’t it? Isn’t Dominick Watisi Egyptian?”

“Egyptian-American,” I corrected. The info Nicole had dug up online the night before about the prolific developer showed that he’d actually been an American citizen for most of his life. He’d emigrated from Egypt with his parents when he was eight years old.

“Yeah, but he could still have some ties there. Maybe he even does business over there.”

I glanced hopefully at Darla.

The big woman shrugged. “He could be doing business overseas. Watisi’s about as red-blooded American as they come. Man keeps a giant American flag in the corner of his office. Got a framed picture on the wall of himself shaking hands with President Bush.”

“Sounds like a politician,” Nicole said.

“No, just a businessman.”

“One who’s not very cooperative when it comes to talking to private investigators,” I added.

“There is that.”

“Okay, he’s visit numero uno after we meet and greet with the good doctor. How are we going to get around, by the way, if you’re not with us all the time?”

“Oh, I almost forgot. Dr. Lonigan said you can use her car. She keeps it garaged and hardly ever drives it. A Porsche, I think.”

“Cool,” Nicole muttered under her breath.

“So we can be inconspicuous,” I said.

“What, you’d rather take the subway?”

“Depending on where we’re going, yes. But we’re not looking a gift horse in the mouth.”

“That would be my advice,” Darla said.

“Hey, I know. We can make what just happened work in our favor, let whoever did the knife work think they’ve scared you off the case,” Nicole suggested.

“Not a bad idea,” Darla said. “But you’re forgetting one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“You don’t make threats against me or my kids and expect me to just go away and stop paying attention.”

“And if they—whoever
is—are paying any attention at all, they’re going to figure out we’re working with you,” I said. “Which means the threat will be coming down on us next.”

Verbalizing it made me second guess my insisting that Nicole accompany me on the trip. I glanced at her, but not too long for fear that Darla might pick up my apprehension.

“You two didn’t bring any personal firearms, I take it,” Darla said.

I shook my head. “Didn’t think we’d have the need.”

“Have to see about remedying that.”

“What’s the word on Watisi? He been known to use strong-arm tactics before?”

“Not for public consumption at least. But like almost any big developer in this town, I’ve heard some rumblings. Maybe it’s part of the cost of doing business.”

The rental car shuttle arrived. We climbed aboard and took seats in the back. Fortunately, we were the only riders at the moment. I looked at Darla, whose expression carried a weary glaze. Neither one of us was the eager beaver cop we once were.

“You must have rattled Watisi’s cage when you tried to talk with him yesterday,” I said.

“I suppose.”

“Anything else about him suspicious?”

“Just that he’s a big game hunter. You should see the trophies mounted on his wall.”

“May not be anything wrong with that.”

“Maybe not. But what if the man hates cats?”

“The man hates cats?”

“That’s what his wife let slip—she’s his secretary—when I asked about the stuffed lion and tiger heads he’s got in his office.”

“Maybe we should check his taxidermist for Groucho.”

“Somehow I don’t think it’s going to be so easy to pin this rap on him.”

“So I take it your stakeout in the park last night was a waste of time.”

“Pretty much. I sat watching both the building and the park across the street for more than five hours. Seen the usual—homeless types, teenaged hookers, young folks sneaking off together into the woods to do whatever. Bunches of bats. Even a few pigeons.”

“But no owls. And no mysterious man wearing a big glove around either.”

“Right. But don’t forget. We’ve got people saying they’ve seen this dude with the bird. I figured it was worth a shot.”

“Did you call and talk to Dr. Lonigan while we standing around dealing with the cops?”


“You tell her why we were running late?”

“I just said there’d been some complications and I’d explain when we got there. She said she’d wait for us. Already did her weekend rounds at the hospital.”

“Early riser.”

“I don’t know if the woman ever sleeps.”

“Tell me some more about your kids.”

“Sweetness is five and in kindergarten. Cute as a button. That’s her booster seat in the van. My middle boy Marco is nine. The quiet type, but sharp. Doesn’t miss a trick.

“You must be proud.”

“I am.”

“They well protected?”

“They will be now. First thing when I get home, I’m shipping them out to stay with my sister in Pennsylvania.”

“Depending on how our meeting goes with Watisi, I’d like to start looking more deeply into his affairs.”

“Go for it. One thing I haven’t had time to do yet is follow the money trail,” Darla said. “Could be some kind of connection between Watisi’s dispute with Dr. Lonigan and some of his other developments.”

“I thought we already knew that,” Nicole said. “Isn’t there a public referendum or something coming up?”

Darla said, “There is, but developers like Watisi get into disputes all the time with their tenants. That wouldn’t be enough for Watisi to risk causing a stir by killing a bunch of pets.”

“Maybe,” I said. “Unless you’re trying to keep a really low profile because you’ve got something to hide and you don’t like all the publicity the dispute with Lonigan and the other tenants is raising …”

“But you start killing people’s pets, that sends a very personal message.”

“Bodies of other pets have been found?” I asked.

“No. None.”

“Seems to me if you want to send a message, you make sure the bodies are found.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

Our shuttle had arrived at the lot where rows of shiny new cars sat parked in the sun, somewhere among them our new ride.

“Hey,” I said to Darla. “You never did get that coffee you wanted.”

“Don’t matter,” she said, rising to depart as the van pulled to a stop and the driver swished open the doors. “I’m awake enough now.”


The ride in from the airport to Manhattan with Darla and Nicole was a silent affair, each of us lost in our own thoughts.

Through the rental van window I watched a teenager jog along Frederick Douglas Avenue. His spotless Air Nikes contradicted the rest of his outfit—greasy blue jean cutoffs, cheap yellow T-shirt, and a red and blue mesh baseball cap advertising some sort of lobster house over on Broadway. His hollow cheekbones and purposeful eyes made him look much older than he probably was. A couple of blocks from Morningside Park, he turned into an alleyway between 115
and 116
Streets, disappearing from view. Just another kid on a city street.

By now, the sun had risen high overhead. In the heat the city moved with an urgent cadence. Air conditioners roared, tempers flared, and cab drivers swerved across lanes. Darla calmly steered the van through traffic, as if she barely noticed. We had to leave the van in a garage a few blocks from Doctor Lonigan’s building. Except for the Porsche Darla had mentioned earlier, apparently working for Dr. Lonigan as an investigator didn’t come with parking privileges.

Grayland Tower blended snugly into the star-studded array of apartment buildings running along Central Park West. These places are the jewels in the crown, architecturally speaking, of Manhattan’s upper West side. Unless there is real trouble or they’re moonlighting as security guards, cops rarely, if ever, make it inside.

Dominick Watisi, whatever his predilection to intimidation, petnapping, and other threats might be, had built a first-class, swank-looking edifice to the good life. Having hoofed it with our bags, however, the ambiance was lost. The collared shirt I wore under my sport coat was ringed with sweat.

At least inside the air was cool and dry. Behind the security desk the aforementioned guards, one a Latino male and the other an African-American female, were decked out in expensive dark suits and sported little black ear buds. If things ever failed to be challenging enough at Grayland Tower, they looked capable of securing whole nations. They probably made three times what I did. I bet none of them drove old Ford pickups either.

“Morning, folks,” Darla said.

They nodded, nearly in unison.

“These are two private investigators from Virginia who are going to be working with me. We have an appointment with Dr. Lonigan.”

“Yes, she called and gave us the word,” The female guard said. “May we see ID please?”

Barnes showed hers, and Nicole and I produced our Virginia PI cards. The guard, whose name badge read simply MILLER, took our identification and examined it and us carefully. “Okay,” she finally said.

“Jayani,” Barnes said to her. “Mr. Pavlicek and his daughter, in addition to being private investigators, are also licensed falconers.”

“Is that right?” Jayani Miller, whose light brown eyes and sculpted hair served to accent her chiseled face, gave little indication of interest.

“Frank, Jayani is one of the witnesses I was telling you about who saw the person with the owl.”

BOOK: The Night Falconer
8.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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