Nighthawk - such an evocative name, implying mystery, romance maybe, and with a hint of danger. Could be a superhero, or supervillain. Wrong on all counts. Nighthawks are the scavengers of the metal detectorists' community. While their ethical cousins perform useful work in tandem with archaeologists on regulated sites, or browse paths and shorelines, or certain fields with legitimate arrangements with landowners, nighthawks pillage sites, ripping out the marketable goodies without any regard to the irreplaceable information they destroy in the process.
Okay, I'll climb off my soapbox now...
The idea for the crime arc of this story happened a long time ago, when a beautiful medieval reliquary pendant was discovered by a metal detectorist right on the doorstep of Middleham Castle up in Yorkshire. This was the favoured home of Richard III, and to find such a rich jewel so close to one of the country's most famous castles led to all kinds of speculation in the press and certain historical societies. Was this lost by Richard himself? By his wife, Ann?
It would be nice to imagine it was, but that wasn't what sparked my imagination.
Now, I'm not saying for a moment that there was anything at all hinky about that find. Luck and local knowledge plays a huge part in the metal detectoring/treasure hunting circles. Yet that, and other amazing discoveries by detectorists since then, set my writerly [and I'll admit, cynical] brain cell working.
You know, the usual author's trigger of "What if..." has a lot to answer for. When I first had the idea about an on-the-edge-of-burn-out retrieval agent having to seduce a man so he could be undercover at a crime scene, a detectorists' scam immediately jumped up and waved flags...
Finders, Keepers Blurb
Coming off a high-pressure undercover job for his company's covert Retrievals Department, and despite being on the edge of burnout, Jeff is thrown straight into another mission: set a trap for illegal metal detectorists who'll be planting a priceless reliquary in a field.
To be in the right place at the right time, Jeff seduces Alan, son of the farmer who may or may not be in on the million-dollar scam. The job should be straightforward, easy, and it is—except that Jeff’s usual guard is down, and he finds himself falling for Alan. Still trying to shake off an obsessive ex-lover Alan doesn't want commitment, just a no-strings, friends with benefits relationship. But events have a way of changing minds.
Luck was on Jeff's side. He located his target at the Boat House, the first midtown coffee house and bar he checked at the end of his first day in the office. Despite its name, the place had no connection to the riverside wharfs downtown other than the pictures on its walls. Jeff paused just inside the door to remove his dark blue tie and undo the top two buttons of his cream shirt, and have a surreptitious look around as he did so. Alan Fletcher was sitting at the bar. The series of photos in the man's dossier made him impossible to miss, even when seen from behind. So did his height and untidy mess of copper-red hair badly in need of restyling. All Jeff had to do now was engineer a successful hookup.
The Boat House, conveniently situated five minutes’ walk away from the office and his apartment, hadn't changed much in eight years. The decor was still Victorian municipal green and cream tiles, gleaming brass fittings, and sepia-tinted pictures of wharfs, locks, and canal boats decorated the walls. The clientele remained the upwardly mobile types out to unwind and socialize after a hard day. Singles, too, discreetly looking to connect with the opposite sex. Or the same sex, Jeff observed. By the look of it, the House was an equal opportunities kind of place these days. He threaded his way between the crowded tables and fake-leather easy chairs to the bar, and eased himself into the narrow gap between a tall girl having an intense conversation with a bemused-looking man in a green polo shirt, and his target.
Alan had his back to Jeff and was chatting to an older couple. The woman was African-American, of average height, plump, her strong features good-natured and pleasing rather than pretty, and framed by neat black cornrows. The man was solid with muscle and built foursquare like a brick outhouse, his brown hair thinning and shot with gray. The three of them were comfortable together, in the way of friends and/or work colleagues.
Jeff leaned both elbows on the mahogany surface and relaxed with a long sigh of relief. It was genuine. He felt tired, jaded, and some of it showed.
"Hard day?" the bartender asked with a sympathetic smile.
"Yeah. Just got transferred in from the Manhattan branch. New office, new regime. You know how it goes." He ordered a beer then picked idly at the pretzels in the dish off to his left and just within his reach. He didn't move it closer.
The first swallow of beer slid down Jeff's throat like a cold blessing, and he sighed again. The woman on his right was becoming indignant, the pitch of her voice enough to engrave designs on glass, and he tuned her out with difficulty. To his left, the discussion was a lot more good-natured: an obviously long-standing friendly feud over the merits of football, soccer, and rugby. Alan had an unmistakable English accent and a pleasant, easy on the ear baritone. His laughter, when it came, was the contagious kind that brought a smile to the faces of anyone within hearing. Jeff schooled his expression to a staring-into-space vagueness and did not react.
The argumentative woman finally stormed off, followed more sedately by Alan's friends. Jeff had purposely sat close to him, and when the Englishman shifted to face the bar, he jostled Jeff's elbow. Jeff, who had timed his moment to take a handful of pretzels, let them spill.
"Damn, I'm sorry!" Alan exclaimed, turning quickly.
"It's okay." Jeff brushed a few straying crumbs from his pants. "It is kind of crowded in here." He looked up to meet Alan's hazel eyes and saw the pupils expand in the so-useful giveaway. He knew what the man saw: sable hair, deep-set blue eyes in the hawk-like Italian features he inherited from Grandma Lucreza. A young but dangerous face now he wasn't being Borya: a Mafia hitman masquerading as a male model, back in the day when male models didn't look like they'd blow away in a high wind. "Hey, you're a long way from home. British, right?"
"Yes and no." Alan's smile was engaging. "Mum was American, but I grew up in the UK. Alan Fletcher."
"Jeff," he replied with a full wattage answering smile that was all his own and had nothing to do with his last persona. Alan blinked. Target acquired, Jeff thought.
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