This airport was really damn big, almost a city on its own. Worse, a city with a dizzying multitude of people and vehicles milling about between concrete-and-glass buildings that all looked disturbingly alike. Or perhaps it was just me, walking in circles and passing the same building again for the nth time. As I stood to take a look around, searching for a landmark, someone immediately bumped into me from behind. My falcon shifted and shook her feathering. Cursing softly under my breath, I straightened Iman’s jesses through my gauntlet as I felt her growing uneasiness through the scrabbling of her talons on my wrist.
This was all Greg’s fault. As usual, he had forgotten about the appointment with the DES scheduled for this afternoon. Since his last four peregrines had also arrived today, Greg didn’t have time to wait for me until I had retrieved Iman from Customs where the Animal Import Center had kindly delivered her after her quarantine.
„Meet me at the Air Cargo Terminal,“ Greg had said when he’d dropped me off at Customs. „You’ll find your way there, won’t you?“ - and I had foolishly agreed. And now here I was, utterly lost, with people on all sides jostling the falcon on my wrist. I needed space and quiet, badly, and Iman even more so. Whether Greg might or might not still be waiting for us, I had to find that damn building - if he wasn’t there now, he’d certainly pick me up at some time or another. Taking a breath, I dodged a woman who was heading straight at me without looking as she was ranting at the wailing brat she dragged along, and made for the nearest set of sliding doors. They had to have something like a helpdesk in there.
Bad choice. The hall was jam-packed with people, with human voices, the rattle of baggage carts and loudspeaker announcements reverberating everywhere. I was so busy keeping Iman still and out of people’s way that I only noticed some guy calling out for me when his voice sounded right behind me. Shielding my bird with my free arm, I turned to find myself face to face with a blue uniformed hunk of a man who had “What the fuck?” written all over his face
“What do you think you’re doing here with that beast?” the official barked, and my hackles, which hadn’t been undisturbed to begin with, immediately stood on end. For one, I don’t like being barked at. Who does? And then, I had plenty enough on my plate as it was without some cockalorum getting in my way.
“Who’s asking?” I snapped back. Iman’s claws dug into my wrist, and I quickly tucked her closer to my body, gripping the dangling ends of the jesses with my free hand, just in case.
Visibly reining himself in, the guy tapped the brass badge on his uniform blouse with his forefinger. “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.”
I took a look, and then another one for good measure as I found my irritation easing up, replaced with a twinge of interest. His nameplate read “Bowman”, but that wasn’t what held my gaze now, rather the chest it was attached to. It was a nice one, broad and hinting at powerful muscles even in the concealing uniform. The rest of the man wasn’t bad, either – small waist, long legs, big feet. He had big hands, too – I like big hands on a man. My eyes swept back up to the impatient pinch of his lips, and further up to his glaring brown eyes, and that was when I remembered I was supposed to react to his words.
“We’re not passengers. This particular animal is working here. Haven’t you been told, Mr. Bowman?”
He had his features well under control, but his eyebrows gave him away. I watched the right one twitch upward before he regained composure.
“Working as what?” he asked, disbelief and curiosity warring in his tone of voice. As I explained Iman and the Falconry Against Birdstrike trial program to him, it occured to me that it could save me a lot of time and trouble having a local at hand who could direct me to my destination.
Should’ve known better. Even though I asked nicely, my request for guidance inevitably woke the policeman’s suspicion, or perhaps his determination to make head or tail of me—which he seemed unable to as it was. At any rate, he led me politely but firmly to a quiet nook, demanded my ID and started inquiring about me over his radio.
While we waited for Mr.—no, Officer, as he had insisted I address him—Bowman’s Central Police Desk to get back at him, I found myself enjoying this encounter a lot more than I’d have thought possible. Although he was apparently aiming at disinterested, Officer Bowman kept throwing surreptitious glances my way. Or rather at Iman, I supposed. Now that I had calmed down some, I realized I’d been quite delusional carrying Iman around a busy public space like John F. Kennedy Airport. This wasn’t the Middle East, after all; hunting birds were far from a common sight here. I realized also that I’d lucked out coming across an official who took me and my falcon with Officer Bowman’s equanimity. This man impressed me despite myself. It took a lot of cool to react as he had done.
Didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eyes, either. He wasn’t the only one casting sideglances; our gazes met briefly when I pushed my hair out of my face. Now that he wasn’t glaring, his eyes were warm and, though he still appeared guarded, shone with what stroke me as spirit and a silent kind of humor. I smoothed down Iman’s breast feathers.
“She’s growing impatient,” I said, partly to break the silence and partly because it was true. I could feel her feathers ruffle back up under my fingers. While I hummed to her and caressed her some more, I let my hair fall forward again, creating a welcome disguise as I watched the policeman out of the corner of my eye. With this air of attentive patience around him, he reminded me a little of Hamid, my Bedouin friend I’d left behind in Dubai. Thinking of Hamid made me smile, and I bowed my head deeper as I whispered an Arabic blessing to Iman in his memory. Hamid and I had been far more than friends, and Iman was his parting gift to me. As if I could ever forget about the man who’d saved my life and helped me stay sane when I thought I’d lose my mind from grief and loneliness.
“What did you mean to achieve walking your—what? Saker falcon? —through Departure hall anyway, Mr. Devereaux? That bird’s not exactly a plushy, after all,” Officer Bowman said, startling me out of my nostalgia. His voice sounded slightly strained, belying his calm demeanor.
“She won’t harm anyone,” I assured him.
He made a small noise, half huff, half snort, that sounded clearly exasperated. “Not my point,” he said.
Not that patient, after all, are you? I thought, but I still complied with him. “Well, she just spent thirty days in a quarantine cage. 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.”
There was this noise again, but now it sounded amused rather than annoyed. “With Emil Eagle?“ he asked. His tone of voice gave me pause as it made me reconsider the similarities between Officer Bowman and my occasional lover Hamid. Could he possibly be...?
With a little smile, I said, deliberately haughty, “Her name is Iman. That’s Arabic for faith.”
The chuckle in his voice was impossible to mistake this time. “Uh-huh. You don’t say.”
I couldn’t help it, my gaze dropped to his crotch for a moment as this deep rumble sent a hot twinge through my gut. It had been so damn long... There was nothing for me to see down there, of course, with his loosely cut uniform pants and that belt and all those things dangling from it. But when I looked back up, our gazes met and held, a slow smile spreading across his face.
No time like the present. I smiled back, allowed my lips to part, put a little lewdness in it. He braved the spectacle until I turned the heat up a few notches with biting and licking my lower lip.
Bingo – he stared. And then I had the pleasure of seeing him jump when his radio came alive with a crackle. Blushing, he almost fumbled it.
I stood patiently by as I listened to Officer Bowman being assigned chauffeur duty to get me and Iman to where Greg and Mr. Johnson from the DES were already waiting for us.
He’d been blushing. I’d made him blush.
Being back home had just gained a whole lot of appeal.