“There is a problem.”
No, no there couldn’t be a problem. Danny had fixed everything. He and his wife Claire and new baby Zoe were about to start a new life, a new adventure.
The border guard stared at the computer screen, his face passive and blank, a clear message that none of this was personal and that he was interested in nothing but the characters on the screen, and not in Claire who had dark circles under her eyes from lack of sleep, or the baby who was finally sleeping soundly. Snoring a bit, in fact, in the carrier strapped around Danny’s torso. The computer screen said that Danny Jespers had a problem.
“You did not mention your criminal record on the entry card,” said the border guard.
“There is no criminal record,” said Danny, not too loudly as he did not want to wake the baby. Claire was across the room, slumped in one of a row of attached fibreglass chairs in front of a floor to ceiling window, looking out onto a cargo loading bay. Danny glanced at her and she smiled. I know, her eyes said, but we’re almost there.
The job was waiting. It wasn’t much of a job but it was a start, and it was on a farm which was how Clair and Danny wanted to live, once they got settled. Farming and livestock were all they knew. He’d shown the papers from Dr Deepak, the farm owner, stating that he had a legal job with accommodation waiting for Danny. It was all official, and all had been done by the book; or more accurately, according to the detailed and somewhat confusing rules on the provincial website. Danny had even talked to Dr Deepak on the phone. He was an actual doctor. And a farmer. And he needed experienced people to manage and maintain his vineyards and orchards.
“Armed robbery,” said the border guard. He looked up from the screen and gazed at Danny. “A serious offence, Mr Jespers.”
“No,” said Danny, “this is all a mistake.”
“You did not commit an armed robbery… five years ago?”
“No, well, I—“ Danny waved to Claire to come over. Claire brought over the old leather briefcase containing the battered laptop and all their important documents: birth certificates, copies of drivers’ licenses, wills, and bank statements. And a notarized document from Aaron and Sons, Attorneys at Law.
He hadn’t really been armed. His weapon was a toy gun he’d got from Walgreens. He’d covered it in a nylon stocking to hide its obvious lack of authenticity, and asked the clerk politely to empty the till. The till was rigged so that a certain number sequence silently alerted the police.
He wasn’t going to hurt anyone. He needed just a few dollars. He didn’t want much. He was young, stupid, and desperate. All that came out in court, his pro bono lawyer was actually extremely competent, and his sentence was light, only twenty-four months, of which he served half.
“Do you want me to take the baby?” asked Claire, as she handed him the briefcase.
“No, honey, don’t want to wake her.”
“No, we don’t,” Claire said. “I’m just going to find some water, be right back.” The border guard nodded, and turned to Danny.
Danny suddenly had a moment of realization. He froze, thinking of the dead eyes of the border guard, the folded document in his hand, the baby now heavy on his chest, Claire looking for water, an unanswered phone ringing somewhere, a memory of an icy cold morning and a breached calf, the face of Cyrus Aaron, a “son” of Aaron and Sons, his broad face and thick glasses, his reassuring manner.
There would be no new job, no new farm, no new life. Danny decided to show the guard the document anyway. It stated that his criminal record had been expunged. It had a seal on it, and signatures. He had paid 1600 US dollars to have his record legally erased so that he could move to Canada with his then-pregnant wife. They still owed money to her mother for the loan of the 1600 dollars.
Zoe sputtered awake and pooped in her diaper.