Bird Brain

Bruce Harris

“All those business trips to Brazil,” Les Wright said, “are finally paying off. I mean, we had a great time, right?” The question was rhetorical. “After being here so many times and not being able to be with you, enjoying the food, the sights, the culture…everything. I had to put up with a lot of boring meetings to get to this day. But baby, this is it!”

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Shelly said.

Wright’s shoulder dropped. “Seriously? What could go wrong?”

Shelly Wright stood soldier-like, debating her response. “Plenty. It’s not like you have a stellar record bringing things into the US that the authorities feel are best left outside its borders.”

He waved a hand. “Name one instance.”

There was no thinking this time. “Let’s start with the Cuban cigars you paid top dollar for in Toronto and then flaunted them in your shirt pocket while going through Customs. The cigars, remember? According to you, they should be lit only with superior quality wood matches. Never paper matches you said, or heaven forbid a lighter.”

“That? That was –”

“Idiotic and a waste of money,” Shelly said. “If I remember correctly, and I do, your foolproof plan was to offer the Customs Agent a couple of the cigars as an incentive for him to look the other way. Does any of this ring a bell?”

Les grimaced at the thought. “That guy was a sonofabitch. One in a million. It was just a lousy break getting stuck with him. Oscar. That was his name. What a jerk. I could picture him and his cronies smoking my Cuban cigars with big smiles on their ugly faces. That still pisses me off.”

“He was doing his job, Les. I warned you about trying to bring those damned things across the border. You knew it wasn’t permitted.”

Again, Les waved a disgusted hand. “Big deal. One instance. This time –”

“Whoa,” Shelly interrupted. “Have you already forgotten about the lemons you tried bringing from Italy? That was embarrassing. You should have seen the look on your face when that dog went berserk after sniffing your suitcase.”

Les’ skin reddened. “Everyone looked at me like I was some kind of a drug smuggler. Where did that mutt from hell come from? I thought they were trained to sniff out explosives and heroin and God knows what else. Fruit? Go figure. That was absurd.”

“Absurd or not, you knew the rules, and you tried to get around them. Oh, and it wasn’t a mutt. She was a beautiful Labrador.”

“Thank you, Miss Westminster Kennel Club.”

 Shelly looked at the two jewelry pieces on the table. “What are you planning to do with those,” she pointed at the diamond bracelets, “that will land both of us in jail?”

“O ye of little faith.”

“I won’t be a part of it,” Shelly said.

“Hear me out,” Les said. “All those other times were nothing more than practice runs. You know, trial and error.”

“You got the error part down pat,” Shelly said.

Les ignored her. “On all those business trips…I wasn’t just wasting my time, you know. I was cultivating a very important relationship.” Les paused. To his surprise, Shelly said nothing. He continued. “Luna. She’s my main man…um…person at Customs. I’ve been purposefully getting into her line. I can BS with the best of ‘em.”

“That’s the first thing you’ve said that I agree with.”

Again, Les ignored his wife. “Luna and I are cool with each other. For lack of a better term, I’ve been turning on the charm.” Shelly’s eyebrows rose. He continued, “Well, actually, I’ve been tipping her, under the table. We see eye to eye. I told her about my cigar and fruit mishaps, and she laughed. She showed me a drawer with several full boxes of confiscated Cuban cigars.” Les hesitated, then, “I never told you this, but Luna’s already let me bring in marijuana on a couple of occasions. She –”

“You what? Are you crazy?” Shelly asked.

“Like a fox,” Les said. “I kept it to myself because I knew you’d be upset. Luna’s proven herself. Thanks to your sewing ability, this’ll be easy.”

“What are you getting at?” Shelly asked.

Les walked over to the hotel room’s desk and lifted a bag. He pulled out his and her stuffed toucans. “I’m getting at this,” he said.

“What in the world –”

“Relax,” Les said. “What better way to commemorate our little Brazilian sojourn than with a couple of toy stuffed toucans? Look at ‘em, Shell. Aren’t they cute?” Shelly didn’t respond. “You’ll just use your sewing skills to perform a little surgery on these two.” He could see his wife was losing her patience. Before she could speak, he continued. “All you have to do is open them up, slip a bracelet into each one, and then sew them back up. No one will be the wiser.”

Shelly could take no more. “And why would I want to do that?” she asked.

Les looked around for a bottle. He needed a drink. “Do I have to spell it out for you?”

“Start spelling,” she said.

“A. This jewelry is worth a lot of money. B. We don’t have to pay for goods we don’t declare. C –”

“Enough! You’re planning on smuggling the bracelets into the US to avoid paying customs duties on them? Are you out of your—”

“We’re talking about a lot of money here. Besides, I already told you, it’ll be easy. Luna won’t search these things. Paying duties is for suckers, and Lester Wright ain’t no sucker. Once we land, we’ll go out to dinner and celebrate before heading home. What do you say, Shell?”

***

The flight from Brazil to New York went smoothly. However, while at Customs, an emergency evacuation forced everyone out of the airport. Les and Shelly had to leave without their luggage. Travelers were assured all baggage could be picked up later that evening or delivered. The Wrights chose the latter. Les felt good.

“That was a great trip, sweetheart. We’re almost home free.”

“I don’t like it,” Shelly said. “I’m still nervous.”

Les smiled, cutting into his filet mignon. “Will you please relax? Nothing has gone wrong. It’s working out just as we planned it.”

“You planned it,” she said. “I don’t know. I’ll feel a lot better when we have the jewelry in hand. I wish now I had never agreed to this.”

Les put down his knife and fork and wiped his mouth with the linen napkin. “For the last time, there’s nothing to worry about. I gave Luna a little bonus. We can trust her.”

“Trust a crooked official?” Shelly questioned.

“I’m telling you, by the time we finish and get home, the suitcase will have been delivered. I have an idea. Why don’t you unpack the goods and remove our little bounty. I’d love to see you take a nice bath wearing your new diamonds. That sound good?”

“I wish I was as positive about this as you,” Shelly said.

“I have to admit, placing the gems into the beaks of those two stuffed toucans was a nice touch, Shell.”

Sure enough, the Wright’s baggage was waiting for them at their front door when they arrived home.

“I’m going to make myself a drink,” Les said, tossing his suit jacket on the couch. “Why don’t you take the suitcase into the bathroom and retrieve our little toys.” Les dropped a couple of olives into a glass, added ice, and poured his favorite vodka. “I can’t wait to see you sitting in that tub with –” He stopped. “What the hell is that?”

“What does it look like?” Shelly asked.

Les watched as a lemon rolled out from the bathroom toward his chair.

“Where did that come from?” Les stopped the fruit with his shoe.

“Beak number one,” she said. “Let’s see now. I just opened the second toucan. I hope you have wooden matches.”


About the Author

Bruce Harris writes crime and mystery stories.