DiscoverMystery & Crime

BIRD IN HAND

By

Loved it! 😍

Bird in Hand was nothing short of an intricately spun spider's web. Awesome writing!

Synopsis

In the sequel to the award-winning THE WEDDING CRASHER, Sam Tate faces off against a vengeful killer, a mistrustful boss, a shadowy nemesis, and a 300-year-old pirate.

When Arley Fitchett's body washes up onto Maryland's Eastern Shore, Lieutenant Sam Tate, just two months into her new job, is charged with finding out who murdered the popular guide and treasure hunter. Fitchett, she discovers, was hunting a rare carving he believed had been stolen by Chesapeake Bay pirates in 1718 and hidden nearby. No one knows if the story is true, but several locals seem to share Fitchett's interest in the wooden bird with the sapphire eye. Any one of them could be the next victim. One of them is definitely the killer.

There are many hidden treasures under the sea - more than will ever be found - because of the multitude of shipwrecks which have occurred throughout the years. Of course, not all ships which have sunk have belonged to pirates - but there are some real pirates' ships which have made their homes at the bottom of an ocean, including Blackbeard's, Queen Anne Revenge.


I must admit to not giving much thought to pirates and buried treasure throughout my life but, within the pages of Bird in Hand, I met a die-hard treasure hunter, Arley, and let my mind become swept away. Before long, I believed (as he did) that a valuable treasure existed and I was going to witness its discovery.


What an adventure I embarked upon - definitely more than I expected - but it was awesome! Just when I thought I had something figured out, I would realize I was wrong, or not entirely correct. It definitely kept me guessing.


I enjoyed the way the characters were written, too; they were true to themselves and were believable. I learned about a character's weakness at the right time, with the right amount of information provided. As such, I didn't feel I was bogged down by the details.


Bird in Hand is a book I thoroughly enjoyed and was my introduction to Nikki Stern's writing; I shall be reading other works of hers in the not so distant future. I definitely lost far too much sleep because Stern drew me completely into the web she had spun - and what a magnificent, stunning web that turned out to be.







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I enjoy reading and find immense pleasure in sharing the books I enjoy most with others. Sometimes I talk to people about certain books but, most times, I promote the titles through social media and through reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and on my personal book review site.

Synopsis

In the sequel to the award-winning THE WEDDING CRASHER, Sam Tate faces off against a vengeful killer, a mistrustful boss, a shadowy nemesis, and a 300-year-old pirate.

When Arley Fitchett's body washes up onto Maryland's Eastern Shore, Lieutenant Sam Tate, just two months into her new job, is charged with finding out who murdered the popular guide and treasure hunter. Fitchett, she discovers, was hunting a rare carving he believed had been stolen by Chesapeake Bay pirates in 1718 and hidden nearby. No one knows if the story is true, but several locals seem to share Fitchett's interest in the wooden bird with the sapphire eye. Any one of them could be the next victim. One of them is definitely the killer.

Prologue

The weak light of the moon glinted off the padlock on Arley Fitchett’s customized outbuilding.

He saw no one, felt no presence, yet he hesitated. Years of habit informed his caution, along with the conviction he had something to protect. Satisfied no one lingered, he unlocked the door with a key he’d hidden in the small garden and made his way to the back of the structure.

Some physical effort was required to clear a path through the clutter. Arley had deliberately overloaded the place with boxes and old furniture, tools and cumbersome machinery, some of it outdated. He wanted the space to seem unused, a place where excess or unnecessary items were stored away and forgotten. A space not worth searching.

Though not a large man, Arley’s lean frame was hardened by years of outdoor work. He moved according to plan and practice. He located a small passageway and threaded himself through the makeshift piles until he arrived at the back wall. With a soft grunt, he slid it sideways, revealing a second space, little larger than a closet. He tugged on a string attached to a tin lamp overhead, and the area lit up.

Arley stood with his elbows out, his hands shoved in the rear pockets of his well-worn jeans. He was a weathered forty-three, with deep lines around his mouth and eyes. A weak chin was offset by an engaging smile and eyes like an ocean before a storm. Women liked him well enough. He liked them back, always without entanglement.

Now he reviewed the display before him. He reached up, made an adjustment, stepped back, nodded with satisfaction. Then he removed several items from carefully labeled boxes he’d stored beneath the display.

The exhibit suggested a presentation that might accompany a history lecture, or the project of a slightly deranged mind. Arley wasn’t crazy, though. He was methodical and focused. He had to be in his line of work. Especially now, especially given the stakes.

Wealthy hobbyists often employed him to look for artifacts at flea markets or estate sales. Arley had traveled around the world in search of a particular relic coveted by a rich investor. On several occasions, he succeeded in locating a piece only to be thwarted by bureaucracy. True, a palm could be greased, an inspector paid to look the other way. Arley tried to avoid those situations. The laws governing antiques in most countries were understandably strict. Smuggling was a multi-billion-dollar business that local authorities believed drained their coffers and robbed them of their culture. He had no intention of ending up in a foreign prison.

Since coming to the Eastern Shore, Arley had carved out a living taking visitors on so-called “pirate” tours. He was popular and as successful as he needed to be. He was always careful to let his customers know that stories about eighteenth- century pirates on the Chesapeake Bay were just that, stories no one really believed.

Arley did, though. He had proof.

Ahead of him lay a future in which he might conceivably be able to retire. Arley doubted he ever would. He thirsted for the chase, lived to hunt what the rest of the world refused to acknowledge. His latest discovery would upend history and rattle the art world. So said one of his contacts, a would-be partner with the requisite scholarly credentials and an appetite for fame within certain rarified circles. Arley’s name might find its way into the public record, the man intimated.

The notion pleased Arley, he had to admit. More than that, though, he looked forward to proving the self-satisfied naysayers wrong, those know-it-all academics with their unimaginative approach to human nature. Arley had never lacked for imagination.

His phone dinged. Just a single note, nothing fancy. A text requesting a meeting, though it was clearly a demand. Fifteen minutes from now, which put it close to midnight. The location came next. Nothing else.

He could ask why so late and why in person, but what was the point? He would comply. For all his exploits on and off the water over the course of his life, Arley rarely took chances. He’d made a single exception in order to finance this particular venture. In doing so, he risked quite a bit. If the legitimate relationships he’d carefully cultivated ever learned the source of his initial credit, he might well frighten them away. The people to whom he owed money were not known for their patience.

On the other hand, he viewed this particular cash advance as more of an investment. He suspected the financial backers found his project amusing and fascinating, what little they knew of it. Perhaps his discovery might add to their legitimacy as well as their cash reserves. Surely everyone had an interest in an enhanced reputation, even those whose business normally occurred in the shadows.

Arley shook himself like a wet dog. He yanked the string that shut off the single light and pulled the door to seal his handiwork from prying eyes. Then he jumped into his 2008 Honda Civic Hatchback and headed to the boat launch at Claiborne Landing.

He made good time and twenty minutes later, he parked the car in the small launch area. The site was technically closed from 11pm to 4am. Such mundane regulations didn’t seem to affect the people he was meeting.

At least it was easy to spot the black Escalade. Just the one car and a single boat moored haphazardly, as if its owners weren’t planning to stay.

Are we going for a boat ride? he wondered. His stomach clenched.

The peremptory call, the isolated location, the late hour, even the car, all fit with what he’d heard about his lenders. As did the cadaverous-looking driver and the burly guy in the leather jacket who emerged from the front seat and opened the back door as if for royalty.

He squinted in the dim light at the embarking passenger. Was that—? It couldn’t be. He stared, tried to get his bearings, tried to keep the shock off his face.

 “Hello, Arley. It’s been awhile. You’re remarkably unchanged. Worn out, but that’s to be expected.”

The voice was unmistakable even across the years. “You look different,” Arley replied. “Better. Guess you did well for yourself.”

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Arley’s brain scrambled for purchase. “What are you doing here?

“I get the impression you’re not happy to see me.”

“No love lost between us,” Arley replied. “Let’s leave it at that. What’s with the entourage?”

“I find a little protection goes a long way. Given the chilly reception, I think I made the smart choice.”

Arley shoved his hands in his pockets, then realized he ought to keep them visible, in case the big man was trigger-happy. He stood, legs apart, weight forward, balanced on his toes. Not that he could outrun a bullet.

“Mind?” he asked as he withdrew a pack of cigarettes and a Bic from his jacket pocket. Without waiting for an answer, he lit the smoke, working hard to steady his trembling hands. He inhaled and began to feel calm. “I’d offer you one,” he said, “but I don’t think it would be safe.”

“I’m surprised you can joke about it.” His companion indicated the bench. “Shall we sit?”

“I’ll stand, thanks. Don’t want the smoke to get in your eyes.” Arley moved closer to study the face of someone he once thought he knew. Someone who didn’t deserve his trust, let alone his affection, as he’d learned the hard way. He didn’t intend to make the same mistake twice. “Let’s cut to the chase,” he continued. “I don’t know what your angle is. I don’t care. I have an important meeting. This is my deal, and I don’t want any interference.”

“Interesting place to discuss financing for your latest venture. Do your lenders want to renegotiate terms? Do you suppose they’re going to tighten the strings, move up your deadline? That won’t be good for you.”

Arley stared. “What do you know about that?”

“I know you’ve borrowed money from some nasty people in order to pay for a group of letters that point you to a prize. Expensive proposition, isn’t it? Oh, did you think you were meeting with your lenders tonight to justify your need for more money? No, that isn’t what’s going on here.”

Arley pretended a nonchalance he didn’t feel. “Wanna fill me in?”

“I’m not here about any loans you took out, although I’m in a position to buy them up or call them in.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You should. People with money always control the narrative. We giveth, we taketh away. Mostly the latter.”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“You’re not a very good liar, Arley. It’s not helpful in these situations. Especially when I’m here to help you out. We have a history, which is why I’m trying to stay above-board, give you the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I have a proposal to present to you.”

Despite himself, Arley was curious. “What is it?”

“I’m here in person to ask you to reconsider your latest project.”

Arley’s brain scrambled to find an explanation. Stall, he ordered himself.

“Reconsider my project?”

“You’re a treasure hunter with his eye on a particular treasure. I doubt you’ll stop with a few letters you think prove its existence. No, you want to be the first one at the finish line. Not for money, although clearly money is a factor.”

“Look, I don’t know why you’re—”

“I understand those feelings, Arley. Sometimes, though, you need to let sleeping dogs lie. Let buried treasure stay buried. So, here’s what you need to do: Stop the hunt. Stop the research. Stop bidding on items or tracking down leads. Your debts will be paid. You’ll be compensated for your time as well as any expenses. Use the money to start a new life somewhere else.”

Arley was stunned. “You’re kidding, right?” he said. “I expect to have the rest of the original letters in my possession next week.”

“What does that prove? If they can be authenticated, they may explain what happened to one of literally hundreds of ships that sailed from Europe and fell prey to bad weather or bad people. More for the historians to chew on. If they’re fake, someone might still make a movie or a mini-series on Netflix or the History Channel. Or not. I’ll match whatever money you think you might make.”

“But the letters provide clues to the real prize,” Arley protested.

“A prize that may or may not exist. Why not cut your losses?”

Arley exploded. “Are you crazy? What am I supposed to tell my partners?”

“You don’t have partners, Arley. I doubt even the criminal lenders you tied yourself to will mind if you end your search as long as they’re compensated. As I said, I’ll make sure that happens. I don’t think they’ll kill you. It’s not in their best business interests to do so. Be done with it, Arley. Take the offer.”

“What do you really want?”

“I thought I made myself clear. A way forward. An unobstructed path. Less attention on your current venture. You gone. All of which I’m willing to pay to get.”

In that moment, Arley became convinced the treasure was not only real, it had attracted the attention of some very powerful and dangerous people. Despite his precarious position, he felt almost giddy. Time to negotiate.

“I’m certainly open to terminating other relationships, if that’s what you’re after. We can discuss terms for an exclusive arrangement.”

“You’re not listening. I’m not interested in an arrangement. I’m asking you to find something else to occupy your otherwise dreary life. You’ll get enough money to set yourself up nicely.”

Arley willed himself to look his adversary in the eye. “You’re the one who isn’t listening,” he said. “I’m close, so close. I can’t quit now. I won’t. We’re talking about my life.”

“The deep sigh conveyed regret, even sorrow. “Poor Arley. So stubborn, he won’t budge an inch. So certain he can beat the odds, he doesn’t make contingency plans. So self-absorbed, he can’t consider anything but his own desires. Never satisfied, always with an eye to the unattainable. Your entitlement feeds your obsession. Full steam ahead and damn the consequences. That’s your life, Arley.”

“I have to see this through.” He was pleading and he hated himself for it.

“Did you ever read Moby-Dick, Arley? Maybe during those long days and nights at sea? No? Too bad. You’d understand that your treasure hunt has become your white whale. Sadly, as in the book, it will also become your end.”

The big man moved quickly and silently. Arley barely had time to process the thin but lethal wire around his neck before it cut into his throat, cut off circulation, cut off any hopes of making the discovery of a lifetime. He bucked and stomped like a corralled pony. He tried to grab at his neck, but his hands were suddenly aflame. He tried to scream, but he had no air.

“Goodbye present, Arley. Enjoy.”

Arley felt his eyes bulge and go out of focus. He saw white, then red and, just before the predictable blackness from which there was no coming back, a flash of deep blue, like the rarest of sapphires.The weak light of the moon glinted off the padlock on Arley Fitchett’s customized outbuilding.

He saw no one, felt no presence, yet he hesitated. Years of habit informed his caution, along with the conviction he had something to protect. Satisfied no one lingered, he unlocked the door with a key he’d hidden in the small garden and made his way to the back of the structure.

Some physical effort was required to clear a path through the clutter. Arley had deliberately overloaded the place with boxes and old furniture, tools and cumbersome machinery, some of it outdated. He wanted the space to seem unused, a place where excess or unnecessary items were stored away and forgotten. A space not worth searching.

Though not a large man, Arley’s lean frame was hardened by years of outdoor work. He moved according to plan and practice. He located a small passageway and threaded himself through the makeshift piles until he arrived at the back wall. With a soft grunt, he slid it sideways, revealing a second space, little larger than a closet. He tugged on a string attached to a tin lamp overhead, and the area lit up.

Arley stood with his elbows out, his hands shoved in the rear pockets of his well-worn jeans. He was a weathered forty-three, with deep lines around his mouth and eyes. A weak chin was offset by an engaging smile and eyes like an ocean before a storm. Women liked him well enough. He liked them back, always without entanglement.

Now he reviewed the display before him. He reached up, made an adjustment, stepped back, nodded with satisfaction. Then he removed several items from carefully labeled boxes he’d stored beneath the display.

The exhibit suggested a presentation that might accompany a history lecture, or the project of a slightly deranged mind. Arley wasn’t crazy, though. He was methodical and focused. He had to be in his line of work. Especially now, especially given the stakes.

Wealthy hobbyists often employed him to look for artifacts at flea markets or estate sales. Arley had traveled around the world in search of a particular relic coveted by a rich investor. On several occasions, he succeeded in locating a piece only to be thwarted by bureaucracy. True, a palm could be greased, an inspector paid to look the other way. Arley tried to avoid those situations. The laws governing antiques in most countries were understandably strict. Smuggling was a multi-billion-dollar business that local authorities believed drained their coffers and robbed them of their culture. He had no intention of ending up in a foreign prison.

Since coming to the Eastern Shore, Arley had carved out a living taking visitors on so-called “pirate” tours. He was popular and as successful as he needed to be. He was always careful to let his customers know that stories about eighteenth- century pirates on the Chesapeake Bay were just that, stories no one really believed.

Arley did, though. He had proof.

Ahead of him lay a future in which he might conceivably be able to retire. Arley doubted he ever would. He thirsted for the chase, lived to hunt what the rest of the world refused to acknowledge. His latest discovery would upend history and rattle the art world. So said one of his contacts, a would-be partner with the requisite scholarly credentials and an appetite for fame within certain rarified circles. Arley’s name might find its way into the public record, the man intimated.

The notion pleased Arley, he had to admit. More than that, though, he looked forward to proving the self-satisfied naysayers wrong, those know-it-all academics with their unimaginative approach to human nature. Arley had never lacked for imagination.

His phone dinged. Just a single note, nothing fancy. A text requesting a meeting, though it was clearly a demand. Fifteen minutes from now, which put it close to midnight. The location came next. Nothing else.

He could ask why so late and why in person, but what was the point? He would comply. For all his exploits on and off the water over the course of his life, Arley rarely took chances. He’d made a single exception in order to finance this particular venture. In doing so, he risked quite a bit. If the legitimate relationships he’d carefully cultivated ever learned the source of his initial credit, he might well frighten them away. The people to whom he owed money were not known for their patience.

On the other hand, he viewed this particular cash advance as more of an investment. He suspected the financial backers found his project amusing and fascinating, what little they knew of it. Perhaps his discovery might add to their legitimacy as well as their cash reserves. Surely everyone had an interest in an enhanced reputation, even those whose business normally occurred in the shadows.

Arley shook himself like a wet dog. He yanked the string that shut off the single light and pulled the door to seal his handiwork from prying eyes. Then he jumped into his 2008 Honda Civic Hatchback and headed to the boat launch at Claiborne Landing.

He made good time and twenty minutes later, he parked the car in the small launch area. The site was technically closed from 11pm to 4am. Such mundane regulations didn’t seem to affect the people he was meeting.

At least it was easy to spot the black Escalade. Just the one car and a single boat moored haphazardly, as if its owners weren’t planning to stay.

Are we going for a boat ride? he wondered. His stomach clenched.

The peremptory call, the isolated location, the late hour, even the car, all fit with what he’d heard about his lenders. As did the cadaverous-looking driver and the burly guy in the leather jacket who emerged from the front seat and opened the back door as if for royalty.

He squinted in the dim light at the embarking passenger. Was that—? It couldn’t be. He stared, tried to get his bearings, tried to keep the shock off his face.

 “Hello, Arley. It’s been awhile. You’re remarkably unchanged. Worn out, but that’s to be expected.”

The voice was unmistakable even across the years. “You look different,” Arley replied. “Better. Guess you did well for yourself.”

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Arley’s brain scrambled for purchase. “What are you doing here?

“I get the impression you’re not happy to see me.”

“No love lost between us,” Arley replied. “Let’s leave it at that. What’s with the entourage?”

“I find a little protection goes a long way. Given the chilly reception, I think I made the smart choice.”

Arley shoved his hands in his pockets, then realized he ought to keep them visible, in case the big man was trigger-happy. He stood, legs apart, weight forward, balanced on his toes. Not that he could outrun a bullet.

“Mind?” he asked as he withdrew a pack of cigarettes and a Bic from his jacket pocket. Without waiting for an answer, he lit the smoke, working hard to steady his trembling hands. He inhaled and began to feel calm. “I’d offer you one,” he said, “but I don’t think it would be safe.”

“I’m surprised you can joke about it.” His companion indicated the bench. “Shall we sit?”

“I’ll stand, thanks. Don’t want the smoke to get in your eyes.” Arley moved closer to study the face of someone he once thought he knew. Someone who didn’t deserve his trust, let alone his affection, as he’d learned the hard way. He didn’t intend to make the same mistake twice. “Let’s cut to the chase,” he continued. “I don’t know what your angle is. I don’t care. I have an important meeting. This is my deal, and I don’t want any interference.”

“Interesting place to discuss financing for your latest venture. Do your lenders want to renegotiate terms? Do you suppose they’re going to tighten the strings, move up your deadline? That won’t be good for you.”

Arley stared. “What do you know about that?”

“I know you’ve borrowed money from some nasty people in order to pay for a group of letters that point you to a prize. Expensive proposition, isn’t it? Oh, did you think you were meeting with your lenders tonight to justify your need for more money? No, that isn’t what’s going on here.”

Arley pretended a nonchalance he didn’t feel. “Wanna fill me in?”

“I’m not here about any loans you took out, although I’m in a position to buy them up or call them in.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You should. People with money always control the narrative. We giveth, we taketh away. Mostly the latter.”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“You’re not a very good liar, Arley. It’s not helpful in these situations. Especially when I’m here to help you out. We have a history, which is why I’m trying to stay above-board, give you the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I have a proposal to present to you.”

Despite himself, Arley was curious. “What is it?”

“I’m here in person to ask you to reconsider your latest project.”

Arley’s brain scrambled to find an explanation. Stall, he ordered himself.

“Reconsider my project?”

“You’re a treasure hunter with his eye on a particular treasure. I doubt you’ll stop with a few letters you think prove its existence. No, you want to be the first one at the finish line. Not for money, although clearly money is a factor.”

“Look, I don’t know why you’re—”

“I understand those feelings, Arley. Sometimes, though, you need to let sleeping dogs lie. Let buried treasure stay buried. So, here’s what you need to do: Stop the hunt. Stop the research. Stop bidding on items or tracking down leads. Your debts will be paid. You’ll be compensated for your time as well as any expenses. Use the money to start a new life somewhere else.”

Arley was stunned. “You’re kidding, right?” he said. “I expect to have the rest of the original letters in my possession next week.”

“What does that prove? If they can be authenticated, they may explain what happened to one of literally hundreds of ships that sailed from Europe and fell prey to bad weather or bad people. More for the historians to chew on. If they’re fake, someone might still make a movie or a mini-series on Netflix or the History Channel. Or not. I’ll match whatever money you think you might make.”

“But the letters provide clues to the real prize,” Arley protested.

“A prize that may or may not exist. Why not cut your losses?”

Arley exploded. “Are you crazy? What am I supposed to tell my partners?”

“You don’t have partners, Arley. I doubt even the criminal lenders you tied yourself to will mind if you end your search as long as they’re compensated. As I said, I’ll make sure that happens. I don’t think they’ll kill you. It’s not in their best business interests to do so. Be done with it, Arley. Take the offer.”

“What do you really want?”

“I thought I made myself clear. A way forward. An unobstructed path. Less attention on your current venture. You gone. All of which I’m willing to pay to get.”

In that moment, Arley became convinced the treasure was not only real, it had attracted the attention of some very powerful and dangerous people. Despite his precarious position, he felt almost giddy. Time to negotiate.

“I’m certainly open to terminating other relationships, if that’s what you’re after. We can discuss terms for an exclusive arrangement.”

“You’re not listening. I’m not interested in an arrangement. I’m asking you to find something else to occupy your otherwise dreary life. You’ll get enough money to set yourself up nicely.”

Arley willed himself to look his adversary in the eye. “You’re the one who isn’t listening,” he said. “I’m close, so close. I can’t quit now. I won’t. We’re talking about my life.”

“The deep sigh conveyed regret, even sorrow. “Poor Arley. So stubborn, he won’t budge an inch. So certain he can beat the odds, he doesn’t make contingency plans. So self-absorbed, he can’t consider anything but his own desires. Never satisfied, always with an eye to the unattainable. Your entitlement feeds your obsession. Full steam ahead and damn the consequences. That’s your life, Arley.”

“I have to see this through.” He was pleading and he hated himself for it.

“Did you ever read Moby-Dick, Arley? Maybe during those long days and nights at sea? No? Too bad. You’d understand that your treasure hunt has become your white whale. Sadly, as in the book, it will also become your end.”

The big man moved quickly and silently. Arley barely had time to process the thin but lethal wire around his neck before it cut into his throat, cut off circulation, cut off any hopes of making the discovery of a lifetime. He bucked and stomped like a corralled pony. He tried to grab at his neck, but his hands were suddenly aflame. He tried to scream, but he had no air.

“Goodbye present, Arley. Enjoy.”

Arley felt his eyes bulge and go out of focus. He saw white, then red and, just before the predictable blackness from which there was no coming back, a flash of deep blue, like the rarest of sapphires.

About the author

Author, HOPE IN SMALL DOSES, THE FORMER ASSASSIN, THE WEDDING CRASHER (a Sam Tate mystery) and 2019 Kindle Book Review mystery/thriller WINNER. Co-author, Café Noir murder mystery series. Member, Independent Book Publishers Association. Latest Sam Tate mystery is BIRD IN HAND, out Sept 2020. view profile

Published on September 19, 2020

Published by Ruthenia Press

80000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Mystery & Crime

Reviewed by

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