On the transatlantic flight, the valuable cargo was in a briefcase in a sealed blue bag, wedged between two security guards. Sleep and toilet breaks were taken in turns, so the precious cargo was not left alone for a second. Well, that was the theory ….
“I’m heading for the bathroom,” said George Holland.
“Huh?” said Alfred Marwood.
“The little boy’s room, y’know.”
Marwood laughed, “Oh, you mean the bog!”
“You Brits!” Holland said as he got off his seat in a hurry and disappeared.
What the hell was in this briefcase? wondered Marwood. All he knew was that it had been a big … well, huge operation. Whatever this thing was had been protected by gun-toting security men on its way to JFK airport. They’d been told to guard it with their lives until they landed at Heathrow airport, England, where they would be met by armed guards.
Alfred Marwood looked around. Nothing unusual, passengers snoozing, or eyes glued to some crummy movie. He examined the seal on the bag. A simple heat seal. He took out a small device and ran it along the seal, opening it with ease. It would be child’s play to reseal it. Nothing to worry about.
Next, he tested the buttons on the briefcase. No movement. He felt in his pocket for something no one knew he possessed, a kind of skeleton key, privy only to the higher echelon of security guards. He tried it and, to his surprise, the lid sprang open.
“Excuse me, sir, would you like anything to drink?”
Holland’s heart skipped a beat as he looked up into the eyes of a blue-eyed, blond-haired, low-cleavaged air hostess. “No, no, I’m fine, thank you.”
The young woman shrugged, disinterested, as she moved to the next row.
Holland lifted the forbidden lid and saw a black plastic bag with a zipper. He recognized the tag on the zipper, a radio tag, a tag that would send an alarm to … someone … if pulled. Hmm. Better forget about it. He closed the briefcase and was just ready to click the locks back into position when he remembered something. He opened the lid again.
“Find anything interesting?” It was Holland, back from emptying his bladder, however you wanted to express it.
Marwood jumped. “Hi, George, look, just wondering what the hell it is we’re guarding.”
“None of our business,” said Holland.
“But, like, wouldn’t you be interested, seeing as there was all that commotion, armed guards and all the rest of it?”
Holland sighed. “Well, I guess it’s a diamond or something. They wouldn’t tell me, just said it was worth millions, and to keep schtum about it.”
“Millions!” said Marwood. “Well, wouldn’t you be interested to just take a peek?” He opened the briefcase again and held a squat black device against the black plastic bag. “EMF shield,” he said cryptically, then he drew the zipper back to reveal a red box. Once more the skeleton key proved it was worth every penny of its hefty price tag.
“The moment of truth,” said Holland as Alfred Marwood lifted the lid of the red box to gaze at the treasure.
“Blimey,” exclaimed Marwood, “I’m well underwhelmed!”
In the box was what appeared to be two pieces of glass, with a tiny piece of pink paper with ink marks on it sandwiched between them.
“What is that. It looks a bit like a stamp. Is this some kind of piss-take?” asked Marwood
“Look,” said Holland, “no crummy little bit of paper is worth an armed guard, there’s got to be something else in there, hidden somewhere.” He looked around the plane. Everyone was engrossed with the movie where a woman was taking her clothes off. He began to rifle through the briefcase, box, and bag.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats,” came an announcement, “we will shortly be landing at Heathrow airport.”
“Look out,” said Marwood, “you’ve put greasy fingerprints all over that glass. Didn’t you wash your hands?”
Holland looked embarrassed, “Look, I’ll just give it a quick rinse in the bathroom.”
Moments later a breathless Holland came back from the toilet to his seat. “Phew. Nice and clean. Let’s seal everything up.”
Marwood stared in disbelief. “Where’s that little piece of pink paper?”
The blonde stewardess was coming out of the toilet. “Did someone leave this in the sink?” she announced, holding up a tiny soggy pink thing.
Sheepishly, Holland went to retrieve it.
The plane engines began to roar as they hit the runway and the plane began to slow down. Holland was feeling some concern. The small piece of pink paper hadn’t looked so good when they’d put it back between the glass and back in the red box, black liner, briefcase, and blue bag and sealed them all up again. Though the glass was nice and clean.
“Oh … my …god,” said Marwood, noticing a huge poster behind an armed escort waiting outside the terminal as the plane finished taxiing.
Holland craned his neck, reading out loud. “Never has so much been spent on so little. London welcomes the one-cent British Guiana Crimson stamp. At seven million dollars per square inch, the most valuable man-made product ever made!”
“Bog, restroom, khazi, shithouse, I don’t care what you call it,” exclaimed Marwood, “I need it and I need it now!”
Taken from the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth, 146 pp. Dec 2021
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