Flash #020 – Bad Timing by Paul Wesson


“VERY UNUSUAL,” said the supervisor. “Where is the man now?”

“He must have slipped away while my back was turned.”

“Was this the only luggage with him? Nothing else to be checked? No others around him?”

“No. Nothing or no one.”

Svetlana had been working for customs in Sheremyetevo Airport in Moscow for a decade. As a result, she was familiar with unusual packages presented by would-be smugglers. But this package puzzled her.

Apart from its acquisition, the only thing that made it unique was its contents. The case was filled with a number of religious icons; several large ones and a greater number of small ones. Adding to the confusion, they seemed worthless. They were all made from plastic and had been mass produced in Asia. They appeared to have no historical value, limited monetary worth, and little significance to anyone except those who find gaudiness tasteful.

Svetlana sighed and said, “O.K. Please inventory the contents. As they are not dangerous and it’s no obvious smuggling attempt, we must leave it with unclaimed baggage. If the man returns, we can do nothing. It’s lost luggage and nothing more.”

Several weeks later, Svetlana was in her office when she overheard a conversation coming from the lost luggage counter.

“…there were pictures in my case,” said a voice. “Inexpensive, but dear to me.”

“I’ll just check the…” the clerk began when Svetlana interrupted.

“Pardon, but did you say you’re looking for a case full of pictures?”

“That’s right. Being in a hurry the last time I was here I accidentally misplaced it and left it behind.”

“What were its contents?”

“Well, a number of religious pictures….”

“A collection of large and small ones?”

“Well, yes, mostly. But there were also company documents, some clothes, toiletries…”

“Oh, my apologies. We have a case that contains six large religious icons and eighteen smaller ones, but nothing that matches your description.”

The man shrugged, thanked them for their help, and walked away. Still Svetlana was perplexed.

Summer was peaking when she arrived at work one month later. Before her shift began, Svetlana purchased a coffee and a newspaper in the canteen. Settling into a chair, she scrutinized the main story of the paper.

It read:


‘A meeting between a National Security team and the Russian Artistic Heritage Committee was called off due to an explosion at their meeting point yesterday. The meeting was to discuss the implementation of measures aimed at stopping the theft of art work from national museums. Each year, thieves earn millions of dollars from corrupt art-dealers and the new alliance hopes to minimize this looting.

‘The meeting place and date was a closely guarded secret. However, information, albeit inaccurate information, reached terrorists. They found the proper location, but fortunately, the attack was carried out one day too soon. The meeting had been planned for today, June 19.’

Svetlana put down her paper. “Come to think of it, there might have been NINETEEN small icons.”


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