Here's a teaser:
Mark Bowman blinked twice when he spotted the bird of prey in the middle of the crowded International Terminal Departure hall. It hovered over the sea of human heads, leaving small waves of commotion in its wake.
“Hey there,” Mark called out after the bird. People readily gave way as he wound his blue
-uniformed six feet three through them, finally catching up with the ominous animal.
It didn’t fly. Well, how could it? It perched on the gloved hand of a tall, slender figure that glided smoothly through the crowds, heedless of turned heads and startled murmurs. All Mark could see was a mass of brown curls cascading down a slender back and long jeans-clad legs ending in oxblood-red Doc Martens.
“Hey there,” he called out again. “You with the bird, wait!”
The bird carrier stopped and turned to face him. Cool, light eyes scrutinized Mark from beneath raised eyebrows. “Yes?”
Full baritone voice. Two or three days worth of beard on narrow cheeks. The most beautiful face Mark had ever seen on a man.
Mark stopped dead in his tracks in front of him. The flood of passengers parted around them like the Red Sea before Moses, creating an island of solitude.
“What do you think you’re doing here with that beast?” Mark asked, his voice sharper than he’d intended.
“Who’s asking?” the man snapped back. The bird sat on his fist like a stuffed animal, not a single feather moving. A leather hood covered its head. It reminded Mark of a deep sea diver’s helmet, with bulging eyes and a tuft of hair like a long-bristled paintbrush sticking out on top.
Struggling to regain his composure, Mark pointed at his badge. “Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police. I’m afraid you can’t bring that animal with you on board a plane. Please take it out immediately.”
Instead of doing what he was told, or at least arguing, the man slowly sized Mark up.
Mark felt irritation rise inside him at the blatant insolence. Right before he would have lent a bit more weight to his request, the man spoke again. “We’re not passengers. This particular animal is working here. Haven’t you been told, Mr…,” he read the badge, “Bowman?”
What the… working here? Mark felt his right eyebrow threaten to lift and remembered just in time to keep a professionally blank expression. The man stood tall, only a few inches shorter than Mark himself, holding Mark’s gaze with calm confidence. He had the strangest eyes, so light gray they appeared almost colorless in his deeply tanned face, and he spoke with an accent Mark wasn’t quite able to place, something European, maybe? At any rate, it made him appear all the more exotic.
This is so odd it could be true, Mark thought. His curiosity taking over, he decided to play along for the moment. “Working as what?”
“We’re part of the Falconry Against Birdstrike project. This is a field trial on the use of falcons to keep the runways free of nuisance birds,” the stranger said, an edge of impatience to his voice as if he’d given the same explanation several times before.
“Falconry against bird strike,” Mark echoed. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
The birdman took a deep breath. “I assure you, it’s for real.” Regardless of his awe-inspiring companion, he managed to look unthreatening, even a little forlorn as he spoke on. “Actually, since you’re police, I’d appreciate your help, Mr. Bowman. We were supposed to meet with a Mr. Johnson at the air cargo terminal, but I seem to have lost my way. Can you tell me how to get there?”
For a moment, Mark wondered why it irked him so that this man kept calling him mister instead of officer. Then his professional mind kicked in, and he realized he was still standing in the middle of a very busy airport building next to a very large bird of prey, held on its master’s hand only by a thin leather strip.
Strangely, the passersby didn’t seem to be bothered much. Although some people gawked at them, most didn’t deign them more than a fleeting glance. This was New York, after all. The natives met weirder things on a daily basis, or so it seemed.
“I’ll have to inquire about you first,” Mark said with restrained politeness. “Do you have identification?”
The other man wordlessly produced a New York driver’s license from the back pocket of his jeans. Mark took it from him, noting in passing that it was brand new. He headed for a quiet nook, gesturing at the man to follow him.
“Would you come with me over there? Less traffic.” Reaching for his radio, Mark couldn’t resist tacking on, “Oh, and it’s officer, by the way.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Officer Bowman. Not mister.”
Turning, Mark met a flicker of amusement before the other man’s face turned serious again. “All right, Officer Bowman. I’ll try to keep that in mind.”
“Ten-sixty-two for CPD,” Mark said, into his two-way radio. “Come in. Over.”
“CPD,” the dispatcher’s voice crackled from the radio. “Come in, please.”
“I need identity verification. It’s one…,” Mark read the card, “Mr. Hunter Devereaux. D-E-V-E-R-E-A-U-X. He’s got a raptor that he says is working here at the airport. Can you confirm that? Over.”
“He’s got a what?” the Central Police Desk operator squawked, for once forgetting about formal radio talk.
“Bird of prey. Big bird with talons and hooked beak. Over.”
“Saker falcon,” prompted the bird’s master.
“Saker falcon,” Mark repeated. “Over.”
“Hold on. Over,” the dispatcher said. Seemed she had already regained her equanimity.
Side by side, they stood waiting. Mark drummed his fingers in a silent tattoo on his belt and watched the man out of the corner of his eye, trying to be unobtrusive. Devereaux had his head bowed over his bird, caressing its feathers with slow, regular strokes of his free hand. He hummed under his breath, the soft sound occasionally stopping for a few whispered words in a foreign language. His long hair, barely restrained by a black bandana, fell over his face like a veil. He threw it back with a short jerk of his head, eyes flickering sideways to meet Mark’s for a second. Caught staring, Mark focused on the falcon instead.
The bird opened and closed its talons on the thick leather glove, jingling little bells which were attached to its feet by small leather straps.
“She’s growing impatient,” Devereaux remarked casually. Mark took his words as leave to look openly. The bird didn’t strike him as particularly impatient. It continued to imitate a Zen statue.
All by themselves, Mark’s eyes wandered back to Devereaux’s face, those clean-cut lines of high cheekbones and a fine, straight nose. His beard, a shade darker than his hair, was just long enough to accentuate thin lips which curled slightly at the corners in an unconsciously sensual not-quite smile as the man resumed humming to his bird.
Out of dire need for distraction, Mark asked, “What did you mean to achieve, walking your—what? Saker falcon?—through Departure Hall, anyway? That bird’s not exactly a plushy, after all.”
Devereaux tugged at the leather strips which dangled from his glove.
“She won’t harm anyone,” he said.
“That’s not my point,” Mark replied, exasperated.
The other man shrugged. “Well, she just spent thirty days in a quarantine cage, so I wanted to give her a breather. I thought I’d make it to the air cargo terminal on my own, but I was wrong, obviously.” Now he looked rueful. “Actually, I was looking for the helpdesk.”
Mark had to bite his tongue in order to stifle a laugh. “With Emil Eagle?” he couldn’t help asking.
Devereaux’s lips twitched. “Her name’s Iman. That’s Arabic for faith.”
Mark couldn’t hold back the chuckle this time. “Uh-huh. You don’t say.”
Devereaux raised an eyebrow and gave Mark another slow, thoughtful once-over. Their gazes met and held once more, way longer than necessary. Intellectually, Mark knew it was stupid to let his self-control slip like this, but he found himself unable to break eye contact, unable to keep his lips from curling up into a broad, genuine smile. Suddenly Devereaux’s eyes widened. Holding Mark’s gaze, he slowly, very deliberately, sucked his lower lip in and let it slide out again, flashing white front teeth and, for a split second, the tip of a pink tongue in a wide answering smile. Jesus, was the man flirting with him? Mark felt his cheeks heat up and quickly turned away.
CPD chose just that moment to call him back. Mark almost jumped at the crackle of his radio. Hastily, he grabbed the device.
“Confirm on the ID,” the operator said. “Johnson from the DES is already waiting for him out at the southern runways intersection. Must’ve got lost. DES asks you to get Mr. Devereaux and his bird there. Over.”
DES, the Department of Environmental Services. That made sense.
“Roger. Eight-forty-one for southern intersection. Over and out .”