“Caucasian male, twenties, six foot, short dark hair, looks foreign, approaching carousel nine.” My earpiece crackled with information as I related it to my young trainee.
“What exactly are we looking for, Mr Rodgers?”
“Andrew’s had him on his screen for a while. Says he’s acting suspiciously - fidgeting, picking his nails, restless.”
We hurried towards the arrival hall where three hundred people had just disembarked from an overseas flight. Announcements droned in the background and carousels clunked in endless loops.
“What do we do when we get to him?”
“The sniffer dog’s on his way with his handler and we’ll test his bags for explosives.”
Kenny was a quick learner and repeated the facts back to me. “So the security guys upstairs watch the surveillance screens and look out for characters with suspicious body language.”
If only it were that simple.
“Yes, that’s pretty much how it works.”
The arrivals hall was a massive cavern with vaulted ceilings and navy carpet interspersed with carousels and chairs.
“There he is, Mr Rodgers.”
I nodded, my eyes taking in the overall picture. People clustered in groups, waiting for bags to appear. Some draped themselves over chairs, exhaustion etched deep after the sixteen hour flight. A young couple entwined themselves around each other, sharing a passionate kiss, displaying their love for all to see. A young woman walked on the fringe of the crowd, her hair a mass of long toffee-coloured curls. A toddler balanced on her hip and as he reached out to grab her hair, she slapped him, the sound echoing sharply.
Foreigners, I thought. She’d better not do that again or she’ll end up in trouble.
Our suspect was pacing up and down in front of carousel nine, staring up at the surveillance cameras every so often, thrusting his hands in and out of his pockets.
“He looks on edge,” Kenny remarked.
“I’m going to watch from here,” I told Kenny as the dog handler approached. “You check his bags for traces of explosives and the dog will sniff out any drugs.”
As I suspected, the young man resorted to dramatics: arms flailing, feet stumbling, lips animated, he argued and backed away, suitcase in front of him like a shield.
Gut instinct prickled as I observed the scene. I’d seen thousands of criminals pass through this airport; drug couriers, food smugglers, liars, thieves, conmen, but this guy was different. His body language was forced, contrived. I lingered long enough to confirm the tests were negative.
“He’s a decoy,” I muttered as I turned in slow circles, encompassing the hall around me. “He’s trying to pull our attention away from someone else.” I scanned the crowd. The young lovers were still embracing, the exhausted ones had hauled themselves up and were pushing trolleys loaded with bags, and the young woman was passing through customs. She was tall but hunched her shoulders like she was trying to make herself smaller.
As I looked at her, I realised what had been chewing my gut. Her hair. No woman with a toddler in tow would emerge from a long overseas flight with hair that immaculate. “Rob!” I shouted to the dog handler to follow me and we sprinted after her as she emerged into the terminal building.
Kenny was suitably impressed as we finalised our notes on the case a week later. “$400,000 of heroin concealed under her wig.” He closed the file. “I still don’t know how you picked that one up, Mr Rodgers.”
I smiled. “Years of experience, Kenny. People’s body language reveals their deepest secrets. You just have to learn to interpret it correctly!”
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