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Friday, December 29, 2023

F³ Bureaucracy to The Rescue 45

             I drove us back to the dockmaster’s office. Before going in, I pulled out to figures from the crate, wrapped them in a blanket I kept in the car, and stashed the bundle under my seat. To help sell things, I put on a pair of nitrile gloves. Nikki held out her hands for a pair as well.

Why not? If it works for me, then both of us will be twice as convincing.

Then I pulled the crate out and took it into the dockmaster’s office with us. Parker was still there; Belport, like a lot of ports, operate 24/7. His shift wouldn’t end for a couple of more hours, which was probably perfect for what I wanted to do.

            His head swiveled towards us before going back to his computer screen. “Oh, it’s you two again. Did you find what you were looking for?”

            “No,” I said. “We found much more, and much worse.” I carefully set the crate on his desk, pushing his coffee mug precariously close to the edge of the desk.

            “What’s that?”

            I reached in and pulled out another figure, putting it in front of his mouse. “A problem. These are almost certainly smuggled, and I’ve got a hunch they’re antiques. Container’s full of these crates.”

            “What?” Parker’s eyes came off the screen and looked at the figure, then the crate. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

            “Does it look like we’re in a jesting mood, Parker?” Nikki deadpanned.

            Way to sell bad cop. She’s almost too good.

            “Listen, Parker. I don’t think you knew.”

            “I didn’t know! Do you know how much comes through here? Sure, we’re not Portland or L.A., but we get—”

            I raised my hands. “Easy. Easy. Like I said, I don’t think you knew. But this is some grade A serious guano. It’s gotta go up the chain. If we do that, eyes are going to fall on you and this office. Big time.”

            “I’m not convinced it shouldn’t,” Nikki glared.

            “No, he was straight with us, pointed us right to them. He didn’t know, and I’d hate for his job and pension to be at risk for something like this.”

            Parker’s eyes darted from Nikki to me, and he began to look horrified. “I didn’t know!” he yelled.

            “Right. That’s what I’m saying,” I tried to reassure him. “So you’re going to be the one to run this up the chain.”

            “What?” he seemed genuinely confused. I guessed Nikki was doing more than just pulling off bad copy, but adding her mojo to the mix.

            “Here,” I handed him a card for US Customs and Border Protection. “You call it in. Ask for her. And just do what you would do if you found something suspicious. In fact, you did. You found this,” I pointed to the crate, “and that,” I pointed to the figure, “outside the container number you gave us. Tell it like it is. These look like smuggled artifacts.”

            “I call it in, and I’m the hero?”

            “Well, it might get a little uncomfortable, but it goes a long way in your favor if you do. If we call it in, well, they’re going to look at you for a long time. Because they’re going to ask, ‘Why didn’t Parker call us?’ Better this way.”

            “Better this way. Okay. Okay.”

            I pointed to the number on the card.

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