The Frequent Flier From Rio

     “ANACONDA SKINS!” Thomas P. Stanwick stared blankly at his plate of veal and eggplant parmigiana.

     “It’s an unusual smuggling case, yes,” replied FBI special agent Ryan Cooper across the table from him. “Some Asian immigrants grind the skins up and use them as medicine. They’re very valuable.”

     “Not to mention very illegal,” added Inspector Walker. The three of them were having dinner at the Casa Italia in Royston.

     “Jaime Gandolfo is a Brazilian suspected by the Rio police of smuggling anaconda skins into the U.S.,” Cooper said. “He uses the fortnightly Amazonian Air nonstop flight from Rio to Royston. That’s how Customs, the FBI, and Royston’s finest got involved.”

     “And together you want to put the squeeze on Gandolfo,” remarked Stanwick dryly.

     “You could put it that way, although I wish you wouldn’t.” Cooper grimaced.

     “Each time Gandolfo arrives here,” he continued, “Customs thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, examines him, his briefcase, and his suitcase, hut never finds anything incriminating to deny him entry. Lately the other passengers have been getting the same treatment, just in case. Gandolfo checks into the-Palisade Hotel, insisting on the same room every time, and stays for three days. Within a day of his arrival, we get word through our contacts here that skins are being sold in Asian immigrant neighborhoods.”

     “Has he been tailed?” asked Stanwick.

     “Of course. He always slips away for a time though, and has never been caught making the sale. There’s no doubt he’s moving the skins. Its just a matter of finding out how and catching him.”

     “He would have to get the skins onto the plane somehow.” Stanwick carefully twirled his linguini. “Is he searched at the Rio end before boarding?”

     “Only perfunctorily,” frowned Cooper. “The Rio police think he bribes airport security there.”

     “How large would the package of skins have to be?” asked Walker.

     “Only about the size of a large book. A little anaconda skin goes a long way.”

     “Sounds like a slimy, but enterprising fellow,” said Stanwick. “Does he treat himself to first class?”

     “No, he flies coach. He’s very fat, though, so he buys all three seats on a side row to accommodate himself.”

     “Is he really fat, “Walker asked, grinning, “or might he have a package under his shirt?”

     “No chance. As I said, Customs is thorough.”

     “Perhaps he has an accomplice on the flight crew,” suggested Stanwick.

     “Nice try, but the crew is changed for every flight. Besides, they have to pass through Customs too. The Rio police have watched several crew members on the off chance, but have seen nothing suspicious.” Walker leaned back and scratched his chin.

     “These flights,” he said. “Do they go on from here?”

     “No,” replied Cooper. “The plane stays here overnight and then returns to Rio the next day. The airport authority keeps it under tight overnight security. So how do we get Gandolfo? So far we have nothing.”

     “Instead of nothing, we have the answer;” said Stanwick. He smiled over a forkful of eggplant. “I can suggest how Gandolfo is smuggling the skins off the plane. Knowing that should enable you to unravel the whole setup.”

     How is Gandolfo smuggling the skins?

Scroll down for the answer.



Based on the assumptions that a) Gandolfo gets the skins onto the plane at Rio, b) he does not bring the skins off the plane himself, but c) regains possession of the skins quickly once he is in the city, Stanwick hypothesized that Gandolfo paid a confederate to take the skins off the plane for him. Who could it be? Not one of the other passengers, who are also thoroughly searched. Nor could it be one of the flight crew, for the reasons Cooper gave. Stanwick realized, however, that the airport authority had to employ a local crew to clean and tidy up the interior of the plane between its arrival at Royston and its departure for Rio the next day. It would be fairly simple for Gandolfo to bring the package aboard in his briefcase, hide it under his seat or in the magazine pocket (especially since he had no seating companion) and have an accomplice on the cleaning crew retrieve the package for him. The accomplice could conceal the package in his cleaning cart and not have to go through Customs. He could then meet Gandolfo in the city, hand over the package, and get paid. This proved to be so.

Stan Smith was the author of three books of Stanwick mini-mysteries that have been published in nine languages and sold over 120,000 copies.

By Stan Smith