Mullally was in uniform, his preferred uniform of blue jeans and Rutgers sweatshirt — a shirt loose enough to drape over his 9 mm Glock. He could almost smell the object of his search, the inspiring and unique Grecian statue. For something 12 inches high, it packed a million dollars per inch, according to the Newark Museum story in the Star-Ledger.
When the Captain flashed the photo during formation his heart began fibrillating like a violin string. It was as if his fiancée were standing in her nightie, but the artwork was 2,500 years old and Gerda had been buried just two weeks ago. He had taken compassionate leave from the Newark PD, then had sobered up and returned to work.
The Captain had called him in first day back. “Mike, you’re a good cop, but you shouldn’t have broken the arms of the man who ran over your woman. You get something in your head and run crazy with it. The city is still rankled over paying out for your false arrest of that priest from Chicago.
Mullally didn’t say anything, just nodded and hit the street. It had been his luck immediately running into Sammie the Junkie. The knucklehead heroin addict had always proved informative.
“Whattya got to say, Sammie?” Mullally backed him over to a storefront on Bloomfield Avenue.
“I ain’t done nothing,” the kid bleated.
“I know what you did. All I want to do is hear it in your own words. You know there’s an outstanding warrant on you.” A lie, but for junkies there’s always an outstanding.
“Okay, okay. Jeez, man. Don’t collar me. I got a girlfriend and baby to take care of.”
“Okay. The museum job. I heard it on the street. It was a bunch of guys from one of those Russian kind of countries, one of them islands over in Europe.
“What museum job?” Mullally knew when to simply ask dumb questions.
“They stole this little effing statue or something. Some retired grandpa kind of people. Russian geezers you’d never suspect. They’re smuggling it out today. Outta Newark Airport. One of ‘em called it a piece of ass.”
“You mean piece of cake. An easy job.”
“Naw, I think he said ass.”
* * *
Walking into Terminal C of Newark Liberty, he headed for the gates, flashed his badge to the TSA guy counting ceiling tiles and hiked down to the passenger lobby at Gate 35. There was only one international flight for the next six hours. Canada was the nearest logical getaway destination
Twenty minutes until boarding for the flight to Toronto. Half the passengers sitting in the lobby were scanning cell phones. It was characteristic now. Fear of Missing Out. Missing out on anything. Mullally’s eyes swept the crowd again, just so he wouldn’t miss out on anything.
He saw a gimp get out of the wheelchair the red cap had brought him in on. Gray jacket, brown pants, white socks. Somebody dressed that badly could only be Russian. “Security,” he said into his phone and identified himself. “Gate 35. Contraband with a guy ready to board the Toronto flight. Get down here fast.”
He approached the passenger, now standing unsteadily and gripping a cane. “Excuse me, sir. May I see some identification?”
The man seemed surprised and his eyes rolled around in his head like pinballs. “Why you ask me?”
“What you want, sir?” Another man in an “I Love NY” T-shirt came up to the Russky’s side. “We have ticket. Security say everything okay.”
“Everything not okay. Identification!”
Airport Security strode up to the trio. “You Detective Mullally? What’s up?”
“Check this guy out. Has to do with that statue stolen from the Newark Art Museum.”
“No, we did not take statue!” the I-Love-NY guy shouted, stepping back. “Is not us.” Immediately, the disabled man began hobbling back to the slide walk.
Mullally pirouetted his 200-pound body and stuck his foot out. The guy fell forward.
“Officer,” Mullally said, “check the guy’s leg, that prosthetic leg.” He pointed to a bulging leg tightly wrapped in an elastic bandage.”
With less courtesy than Mullally might have used, remembering the captain’s warning, the agent unwrapped the bandage revealing rolls of toilet paper where a leg should have been.
“I’ll be damned,” the agent muttered. “Guess TSA passed him through without a total X-ray.”
“Toilet paper?” Mullally had seen strange things, but….
“Russians. Go figure. Guess there’s a shortage of ass wipe in Moscow.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Mullally saw the flight crew stroll through the waiting area, trundling luggage. One of the attendants passed him close enough that he smelled something hormonal, a Gerda-type of scent. The stewardess could have passed for a runway model.
The agent glanced at Mullally and whispered, “A real piece of ass, huh?”
“The real thing,” Mullally grunted, grabbing the stew’s arm. “Miss Stankewicz?” He pointed at her luggage tag. “We got the same name.”
“Really?” Instead of being annoyed, she smiled and crinkled her blue eyes at him. “That’s unusual. A coincidence.”
“Could be.” Mullally gave her his best 100-watt smile. “A junkie named Sammy told me to be on the lookout. Now, would you open that bag in your hand?”
* * *
Half an hour later, the security agent handed Mullally a cup of coffee. “So, tell me how you knew she had the real art and the Russky was carrying bungwad?”
“The guy in the bad T shirt knew he was busted, which made his pal try to take off. It was too easy. And a street kid overheard something that could only describe a flight attendant. You know, those crew members who never really get checked by gate security. I think we can put the Russkies down as accomplices of the beauty queen.”
“Your logic is, I don’t know, amazing.:
“Nope. It’s intuition. And maybe a keen sense of smelling something fishy.”
# # #
I've always enjoyed Short-Story.Me, have had 17 stories published here since 2013, and am happy to have seen two in my writing group recently accepted.