Trip, Tryptych, Pick, Tropic
Jim was not sure why his mysterious employer had sprung for the private Leer jet. This trip did not seem anything more unusual than most of his journeys overseas seeking ancient relics and icons. There was a time constraint though. He had to locate and return the 8x4 foot triptych in less than two weeks. It would have been a two day trip on commercial carriers. The private jet made sense.
Jim smiled at the thought of sneaking such a large work of art through the various borders he would have to cross to see it safely ensconced in the gallery basement in So Ho. But that was his shtick, his claim to fame. He had never once failed. If the pockets were deep enough, he always found a way out and then in before anyone noticed.
As he twirled the swizzle stick in his third scotch on the rocks, he ran through his transport options. None of his go to schemes would fit. The time line was too narrow, the object apparently too big. He considered the method he had used on a recent trip to the tropics. That early Mayan statue had been a monster. But he worked it out and 2 months after he was back in the States, a barge off-loaded 300 tons of bauxite. All he had to do was cut open the hull with a torch and there it was.
Jim buried his concerns and ordered another scotch. He knew a solution would come to him. Worrying about it before he had a chance to see the triple panel of golden figures was wasted effort. “And Lord knows,” he thought, “I never waste effort when I can get wasted on good scotch.”
Sally was on the phone. She had no clue why Jim wanted to know where he could find two new chalk boards in southern Kazakhstan, but assured him she would. Jim was always requesting the oddest things. She had become used to it. And since he paid her way more than she thought she was worth, she did not ask questions, she found answers to his. But chalkboards in Kazakhstan? She knew it was not going to be easy.
It was not easy. There were no suppliers she could locate. So she searched for schools that might have what he needed. She called him back several hours later and directed him to the International School in Almaty about 200 clicks from where he was. They would not be new chalk boards and he would have grease the right hands, but for a price, they were available. Meet a man name of Sergei Nimogushij at 4:00 PM local time tomorrow. He will take care of you. Says he has several to pick from.
“Perfect Sally. Have I told you recently how much I love you?” Jim rung off shaking his head. Having her at his back had made all the difference for his operation. Her ability to find the tools he needed was almost magical. Wasting only enough time to check out his load on the thrashed Maz flatbed he had rented, he slapped the driver awake and they beat it for Almaty.
“Uh Mr. Jim?”
Jim opened one eye and looked at Viktor serenely threading his way through the insanity of downtown Almaty. “What is it Viktor? And for the last time I told you it is Jim not Mr. Jim.”
“Mr. Jim we are almost to the International School. You wake up now okay?”
Viktor pulled up in front of the school and Jim hopped out. “Wait here Viktor, I need to find a man.”
At 3:15 AM three days later the same Leer jet that had dropped Jim in the middle of central Asia taxied into a hangar at an airfield in New Jersey. Waiting for them was a rather large group of police - state, feds, US Customs and international. Jim stepped off the plane and acted mildly surprised.
“What the Hell fellas? What is going on?”
Jim just smiled.
“Are you Jim McDermott?”
“Why yes sir I am. And who might you be?”
“Inspector Vladmir Puchennik of the antiquities division of the Kazakhstan National Police. We have been notified of a possible illegal transfer of a national treasure. May we search your plane?”
“Not my plane Vlad. But be my guest.”
The crowd of cops descended on the plane. Two hours later, they gave up their search and left frustrated. Vladamir walked into the customs office and sat down next to Jim. Leaning over he whispered in his ear. “Okay Mr smart guy. I know you have smuggled the tryptych into this country. That we have not found it does not mean we won’t. How is it you Americans say ?.............One day your ass, it will be mine.”
“Whatever you say Vlad. One day could be a long time away.” Jim got up and left.
“Well Mr. McDermott, I am impressed. I had my doubts given the time frame constraints, but you came through. My client is pleased to no end. You will find your fee in your bank account by end of business day tomorrow.”
Jim looked up from his scotch and soda. “Well it was a tough one. I hate being rushed. I didn’t have a solution until the fifth or maybe it was the sixth scotch on the plane. Then I noticed the undersized pool table. The rest of the scheme just fell into place. I had a tougher time finding chalkboards in that damn country than finding someone who could re-felt a pool table.”
About 900 words. I would say it was a tough one, but I guess it was not. Once I got rolling, the story such as it is, wrote itself.