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Who doesn’t like a good short story? Me too! I grew up reading the short stories of Mark Twain, Hemingway, O. Henry, Jack London, Chekov, and Jesus. May I send you a few of mine? They’re pretty good IMHO!

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The Traveler
By D.H. Weinberg

He thought he was smarter than everyone else. Mr. Andrew J. Hanson had found a way, had created a system to get things through U.S. Customs–undetected. He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and a darn smart wolf at that.

His appearance belied his cunning. He was six-foot-two, 190 pounds, and sixty-eight years old, with wavy black hair just graying at the temples. His hazel eyes exuded warmth and his smile announced he could be devilish–but also your favorite next-door neighbor. He was a close knockoff of the late actor Christopher Plummer (Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music), and many remarked fondly at the resemblance.

Andy always dressed in black Armani suits, wore a conservative maroon tie, and chose white, shirts with cuffs–displaying monogrammed gold cuff links. He carried nothing in his right hand, but in his left hand a black leather brief case accompanied him everywhere.  

His accent was English. Not something overt, like Cockney or Brummie, but one that was subtle and distinguished. If asked where he was from, he’d say London. The accent embellished his image.

To the customs agents (officially US Customs and Border Patrol Officers), he presented himself as an international financier. Someone who worked for J.P. Morgan Chase–occasionally in their London branch. He traveled for business, and that’s why his stays were just a couple of days at most. It was also why he traveled light–just his briefcase and a twenty-four inch rollaboard.

Despite his English accent, Andy carried an American passport. He explained he was born in Chicago but grew up in London. Of course, when asked if he had anything to declare, he’d say no. Then, sometimes with a wink and a smile, he’d add that he’d wished he had more time on these business trips. Maybe then, he’d have time to bring some contraband home.  

The agents at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) usually laughed at that one. He didn’t look like a con or a criminal. His appearance and dialect were distinguished. He also flew Business Class. Best of all, Andy had all the right answers to the agents’ typical questions.  

However, Hugh Montgomery–a man born in London, but now a U.S. citizen and customs agent–had a nose for misdirection. After 40 years screening passengers, he was like a trained dog catching a whiff of something foul. Hugh frequently detected a con in progress.

For Hugh, the whiff was perhaps Andy’s accent. It was British, but maybe not quite British enough. Or perhaps it was the joke that Andy was using–about wishing he had more time to bring back some contraband.  

Hugh reasoned, “If someone who didn’t look as rich and distinguished as Andy had made the same joke, would that have raised any red flags? Of course, it would have. It was like hinting to a agent you were doing something illegal, then daring them to catch you in the act.”

Hugh stamped Andy’s passport on his return to LAX that August, and ushered him right through. He didn’t want to pursue a search without probable cause. He also wanted to do some research on Andy. The next time he came through his gate, Hugh would be ready.

A search of the Customs database showed that Andrew J. Hanson lived at 28601 Vista Loma in Laguna Beach, California. Interestingly, Andy had traveled to London ten times the last year. Ten times. All the trips were short, and all were taken at the end of ten different months. 

Andy always flew Business Class. Most outbound trips from Los Angeles were on Wednesday nights–usually on the 9:25 pm British Airways flight that arrived at Heathrow at 3:55 pm the following day. Flying back to Los Angeles, Andew almost always took an American Airlines flight that arrived at LAX on a Sunday night at 7:30 pm.

“That’s odd,” Hugh thought. “I can understand the desire for frequent flyer miles and familiar flights, but trips at the end of every month? Who does that? Hmm. Mainly couriers,” he reasoned. Which led him to his next thought, “What if Hanson was smuggling something illegal into the U.S.?”

Though suspicious by nature, Hugh was a bloodhound when he smelled something off. The other agents often had to steer Hugh away from a “conspiracy behind every suitcase.” They reminded Hugh that the vast majority of travelers, especially those traveling in business class, were just successful businessmen and women. And yet…

Hugh loved the old saying, “If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”  

But what could Andy possibly be smuggling? The agents had never found anything in his luggage or his briefcase to implicate him. No drugs, weapons, or anything illegal. It was quite the puzzle. Still, Hugh just had a “feeling.” However, having a suspicion and proving a suspicion are two very different things.

So you know, Mr. Andrew J. Hanson was indeed a business financier! Or perhaps the term “money launderer” would be more appropriate. For every month, Hanson would go to London and bring back gobs of money from arms sales and drug deals in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. He was, as Hugh suspected, a very successful courier.

Over the next three months, other agents had drug sniffing dogs surround Andy when he arrived in Los Angeles. They found nothing. They conducted a random search, going through Andy’s carry-on with a fine-tooth comb and an X-ray looking for false bottoms or hidden compartments. Again, nothing.  

Andy just smiled as the frustrated agents did their search. Hugh was literally pulling out his beard as he watched Andy’s last arrival behind a one-way mirror. He was sure Andy was hiding something!