Inside the container, we used flashlights to look around. Instead of an open container with crates shoved in, they were all stored very neatly on racks with cargo nets preventing them from slipping off. What surprised me was that the crates were all very small. I expected a smuggling operation to be for a wide range of things, but these were no bigger than a large milk crate.
I undid the net and slid one of the crates out. It was heavy. I used a prying tool on my Leatherman to inch the nails and boards up. Nikki, out of patience, simply ripped the board away. Inside was shredded packing material. It took a little rummaging, and I came up with a small, carved figurine. In the light, it looked like jade. A woman carved in jade, maybe six inches tall. I passed it over to Nikki.
“Mean something to you?”
She inspected it, turning it over slowly in her hands. “No, nothing in my recollection.”
I kept rummaging, and pulled out another figurine. Another woman, but not a copy. They were clearly different. The pose, hair length, and clothing were unique. I set it aside, and rummaged down in the bottom.
Nikki set her figure down with the one I had placed, and then walked deeper into the container. “The crates are identical. Are they all jade figures?”
“Beats me. That’s an awful lot of jade. Be worth a lot, especially if they are antiques.” I felt around for something different, but instead my fingers brushed up against more smooth, polished stone.
Nikki ripped open another crate, and began rummaging herself. “Figures in this one as well. This doesn’t make sense, Matthew. Money is not the object, here. Power.”
“Money can get a lot of power, these days,” I said. I went ahead and pulled out each figure and set it aside.
“To a limit,” she said, and ripped open another crate. “Still more figures. This is most puzzling.”
After ten figures, my crate was nothing but the shredded material. “There’s no false bottom, nothing else stashed in them besides the packing material. Unless they’re hiding one crate in particular with something special, this is what they’re bringing in.”
“It is possible, but to tear open all of the crates to find the one important one, and what if it was already delivered, previously? Yet this seems to be a lot of effort to smuggle in something alongside other contraband.”
She had a point. The cost to bring all of this over, the bribes to keep it all hidden, couldn’t be more than the value of what was smuggled.
It’s not adding up. Which means we’re missing something.