Thomas Agent was flagged again, this time for trying to reenter the country.
Joanne didn’t know if it was a random flag, or whether the official had detected suspicious behaviour. The form had no information. It was better if she didn’t know. She had no preconceptions– except that she had interviewed him when he was detained on his outward journey.
She glanced at him through the blinds, as he sat in the small waiting area. He wore a tailored business suit, very flattering; he sat upright in his chair, mostly unmoving, with his briefcase in his lap. Except for the quality and fit of his suit, he could be mistaken for a down-on-his-luck salesperson, eagerly and nervously making a cold call.
After watching him for a few moments, Joanne sat at her desk and made a list in her hardback notebook. She then went to the door, called Thomas’ name, and invited him into her office for a little chat.
It was a warm day and a portable fan oscillated in the corner, ruffling Thomas’ hair every twenty seconds or so. He paid it no mind and concentrated on Joanne.
“Do you remember we spoke when you exited the country?” Joanne asked.
“Yes, a technical problem with my passport, all sorted out,” said Mr Agent.
“And this time?”
“I have no idea.”
“What was the purpose of your visit abroad?”
“Business,” said Thomas.
“Are you bringing back any cash, food stuffs, tobacco, alcohol, or firearms?” she asked.
Thomas shook his head. “No.” He had decided, Joanne saw, to keep this interview strictly formal. No banter. Sometimes banter was the unconscious protective behaviour of a smuggler or dealer. Sometimes they knew to be silent and business-like. In other words, she was no wiser by this approach– yet. But there was something about him, something about the way he held the case, something about the way he avoided looking at it.
“Did they inspect your luggage and briefcase?” she asked.
“Yes they did.”
Joanne opened her notebook to the list she had made earlier.
“Do you have any over-the-counter drugs in your possession?”
Thomas hesitated. “Some aspirin, and some Melatonin.”
“For jet lag?” He seemed slightly impatient, as if she should know what the product was; which she did.
“No, no food.”
“Goods above the duty-free limit?”
“No,” said Thomas.
“I took the suit with me,” said Thomas.
“You have a receipt?”
“Yes, in my phone.”
Joanne made a note. She continued to question him from the list in front of her.
Slight hesitation on that one.
Pencils, pens, or stylus?
Another hesitation before the “no”.
That last one stopped him cold. “Children?” he stared at Joanne. “What do you mean?”
“Human trafficking is a serious problem,” Joanne said cooly.
The tiniest beads of sweat formed on Thomas’ forehead, right at the hairline. She could almost see the wheels turning inside his brain. He was not going to respond naturally; he was planning how he wanted to appear.
“No.” He had decided to suppress any annoyance or anger. He rubbed his hands, as if they were cold. Perhaps a nervous gesture.
“You seem unsure,” said Joanne.
“This is crazy,” he said. “My luggage was examined. I had no humans in my suitcase.” He looked down at his watch, then back up where he met Joanne’s gaze. The fan ruffled his hair.
“And your briefcase?”
“No! I’ve had enough. I would like to speak to your supervisor.”
Joanne got that a lot. She left him in the office with the door open and went out to the reception area. She called Angus, who had sent him through.
“You examined his briefcase?” she asked Angus.
“Just open, fluff, and close,” Angus said. “No secondary.”
“Call Martin.” She ended the call and turned to go back to her office, when there was a loud pop. Smoke curled out of her office, drawn upward by the slow, steady pull of the ceiling fan. Protocol stated she should wait until help arrived. People had been fired for not following protocol.
An ambulance was called for Thomas. Joanne didn’t hear it arrive, even though the siren was blaring, because of the airport alarms, which, for some reason, still sounded.
“I don’t know what happened,” Thomas Agent said as they belted him to the stretcher. He had no eyebrows. It was interesting how much eyebrows actually reveal about a person, Joanne thought.
The briefcase was a pile of ashes and charred metal.