A Short Story: An Unexpected Delivery - Part Three
“I’ll worry about it later.” A little voice in the back of my mind pointed out I’d thought that a lot in the past few minutes. I told the little voice to shut up and I'd worry about that later too. I needed a legitimate reason to not open that hatch. Now I had it. “Go check on Ellie and Jake. If they’re getting wiggly, give them cookies.”
Sam’s face brightened. “Can I have one too?”
Jem’s voice emerged from the comm speaker next to the airlock door as Sam’s footsteps pounded off across the deck. “You sure we can’t just hand over the paperwork?”
“Positive. Where’s my schematic?”
Her approximated sigh was even buzzier than usual. “On your datapad.”
I pulled it from my pocket and took a quick look. The list of parts seemed endless. “I need an engineering degree to read this.”
“Hey, you asked.”
“Nobody likes a smug computer. Any response to our error report?”
“Inspection’s still scheduled in thirty seconds,” she answered.
I closed my eyes and rested my forehead against the bulkhead with the same kind of helpless sick-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach sensation I’d felt the day the police met David at the landing pad and took him away. A mistake on a tax form and my husband was in jail. Officialdom didn’t have our best interests at heart. And now I might even have something to hide.
At least the hatch was actually broken.
Funny, the things a desperate woman could console herself with.
The overhead comm buzzed it’s obnoxious announcement. Someone was at the outer airlock hatch. I swallowed a few times before answering. “Yes?”
“Inspector,” a heavily accented voice responded. I activated the visual control and squinted at the man who thought he’d just pay a friendly little visit the instant we touched ground. Not much to look at: a squat, bald, middle-aged government official like hundreds more I’d met over the years.
“Did you see my error report?” It was never good to antagonize inspectors, but I was beyond small talk. “I can’t get the hatch open. I was counting on at least an hour.”
“Listen, lady, that’s not my problem. You get me in or you’ll have to wait until next month.”
Great. He sounded like his day had been worse than mine. “Is there any way to delay the inspection for just a little while?”
“Sure, you can deny inspection. ‘Course if you do you go to the back of the line. Can’t guarantee where that’ll be.”
Some people delivering that kind of line just looked bored and indifferent. Gordon Abdullah Jr. looked genuinely annoyed. I opened my mouth to respond, but something stopped me from sealing our sit-in-berth-with-cargo-getting-rotten doom.
Someone really wants those bananas.
Jem’s snide little comment about the speed of the inspection took on new life, echoing in a short loop around my brain. What if…
What if it wasn't the bananas someone wanted?
“I’m sorry, Inspector,” I said much more politely. “Sometimes the hatch controls just act up and I can fix it fast. I really don’t want to deny inspection.”
He made a show of looking at his watch. He must’ve guessed I had the entrance cam online. “Well, hurry it up. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”
“Thank you so much,” I said, keeping all sarcasm at bay. I released the comm and opened David’s toolbox for the all-purpose repair tape. “New idea, Jem: we’re going to let him in.”
“So I gathered.” Her voice was ironic. Amazing how Human she could sound. “You got a reason or just changed your mind?”
“Yes,” I said, beginning to wrap the damaged hydraulics. “Do you still have the video cache of the cargo loading?”
“For ninety days after delivery notification,” she said. “Why?”
“Find the position of the last crate,” I said, eyeing my patch job dubiously. Jake might’ve done a better job, but it could probably repressurize. “Sam and I are going on a little hunt.”
Mr. Gordon Abdullah Jr.’s mood had not been sweetened by being kept waiting. “Amazing how fast your repairs went.”
Little discoveries could really do wonders for one’s patience, I decided. “I had incentive,” I said. I handed him the cargo docs and headed aft. “By the way, I met an Abdullah in Ecuador loading this cargo. Guy named George. Relative of yours?”
“It’s a common name,” he said, right on my heels. Obviously not too interested in his inspectorly duties when it came to reading our official paper trail.
Nope. He was probably a lot more interested in what was tagging along. Something I was willing to bet was all Cousin George’s doing. Or maybe it was Uncle George.
I’d always been a little obsessive about keeping the hold neat, even down to sweeping the deck. Everything was in order, which made the one exception stand out like a sore thumb. Abdullah was a little slow. It took him at least thirty seconds to notice it.
He marched down the military-straight row to the crate Sam and I had left artistically askew and stabbed a stubby forefinger at the iridescent band circling the dull gray metal. “Seal’s broken,” he announced ominously. “This one’s confiscated. Everything else has to be verified before offloading.”
No surprise there. “We haven’t stopped since Earth,” I countered, pointing at the pad in his hand. “My buyer’s already planning to sign the waiver for it.”
“Buyer?” Abdullah’s left eye definitely twitched. Buyers had the right to be present when confiscated crates were unloaded at customs. It kept inspectors a little less likely to walk off with expensive goodies like Earth-raised bananas. Or exotic pets. “Who’s your buyer?”
I almost grinned. Abdullah was as guilty as sin. Government jobs must not be paying too well on Kendahal these days. “Pete Graham. Ivory Coast Imports.” My comm buzzed right on cue. “And that’s probably him.”
“You’re never going to get away with this,” Jem said in my ear.
“Yep, inspector’s here,” I said into the comm. “He’s taking the unsealed crate.”
“You’re a terrible actor,” Jem said. “Don’t ever take up a second career.”
“He just started. If you’re almost here you can talk to him,” I said to Nonexistent Pete. “Five minutes? Great.”
Abdullah had his comm out now and was speaking rapid-fire-something-that-wasn’t-English into it. “This crate is impounded,” he took a brief break to say. “You’ll have to send your buyer to the main office if he wants to witness.”
This time I couldn’t quite stop a small grin. “Yes sir. I’ll let him know.”
It only took two hours to be released from customs. A world record for any world.
I leaned against the conversation pit doorframe, watching Sam contemplate our newest acquisition. The big blond tarantula didn’t look quite as thrilled, but this high-tech containment bubble was still working and the spider was rendered harmless in spite of it’s threatening posture. I wondered what Mr. Gordon Abdullah Jr. was going to do with his two squashed tarantulas in their deactivated bubbles. Whoever he'd lined up to receive some nice little (expensive) contraband pets was going to be a little unhappy.
I also wondered what caused the two cages to fail. Maybe Sam really was going to be keeping his temporary new pet in a bucket until we could unload it for a good profit.
Taking the datapad from my pocket, I finally hit ‘send’ on the message I had written to David as Pete Graham was signing precious credits into our account.
Cargo delivered safely, Dearest. Coming to bail you out.
Photo Credit: http://lifecycle.onenessbecomesus.com/more.html
Howdy lturner! This was great writing, you and sir ironshield are both such good writers!
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I do hope there will be more forthcoming. I like the way you think @lturner.