Now, something slightly different from Debbie Flint to round off our series of birthday short stories – birthday pork pie rather than birthday cake anyone?
‘I’m sorry ma’am but I’m going to have to confiscate these.’
‘But they’re not meat. They’re pork pies,’ I whined.
The customs official held one side of my little package, my precious little package, and I held vainly onto the other. It didn’t work. He was shaking his head at me, and with a jerk, took my booty away. My heart always pounded as I strolled nonchalantly through the airport arrivals. But this time it was pounding for a different reason. He was handsome too. Annoyingly so. It would have been easier if he was overweight and ugly, and he should have been sweating in the warm Florida customs department interview room with its dodgy air conditioning and wilting yucca, but he wasn’t. I was, though – or was it my first hot flush? Or rather, a ‘glowing moment’ as my 75 year old mother called them when she was having hers.
‘They’re for my mum’s birthday. Can’t I keep just one, to take her? She loves them and can’t get them here – not the crunchy crust, Marks and Spencer’s kind anyway. It’d be a lovely surprise for her.’ He didn’t respond, just examined my passport and made some notes, poised and calm.
‘Sorry Ma’am,’ he said. Then he handed it back to me, one eyebrow raised. I took it from him, or tried to, but he held the other side of it till I looked him in the face. What? said my expression, as I tried to act affronted. He wasn’t moved.
‘You know, sometimes I wonder if you people have a heart,’ I said. He narrowed his eyes at me, but I couldn’t help it. ‘Just one little gesture of goodwill – you can see they are packaged up, you surely know I will be eating them, not using them to infect your precious crops.’ Still no sign of compassion. ‘She’ll be heartbroken. Can’t you make them magically vanish into my case again?’
He chewed his lip and took a breath, then spoke. Still the level, calmness, totally at odds to the turmoil I was feeling – for more reasons than one.
‘No. Ma’am.’ And he glanced up into the corner of the room. ‘Now I hope the next time I see you,’ he said, leaning towards me and lowering his voice, ‘Draco here won’t be alerting me that your suitcase holds contraband.’ He had a stern expression, but one eyebrow was quivering slightly. The yellow Labrador on the floor wagged its tail upon hearing its name.
Now it was my turn to look quizzical. ‘Draco?’
‘It was either that or Weasley,’ he explained. ‘J.K. Rowling fan.’
‘So it seems,’ I said with a sniff. ‘I prefer Robert Galbraith myself.’ I waited, and the corner of his mouth quirked right on cue. Then he snapped my passport together.
‘Now I ought to file a report, but you say it’s your first offence so …’ he said. I batted my eyelashes very slightly at him, waiting expectantly. And hopefully. He paused a moment, then handed me back my passport. ‘I’ll “magically” let it go. Don’t do it again.’
I breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Thank you,’ I said, and smiled at him. ‘I won’t.’
He beamed back at me. ‘Now, you may go on your way. Have a safe journey home and I hope your mother has a wonderful birthday. Are you celebrating somewhere special?’
So he was being conversational now? I tucked the passport into my bag and took one last lingering look at the package on the table, being investigated by that damned efficient black nose. I bet I knew exactly what he’d be doing with my mother’s ‘gift’ as soon as I walked out the door. ‘A party at her house – with jelly and ice cream … and no pork pies,’ I said.
He smiled. ‘Well jelly and pork pies never went well together,’ he replied. ‘Goodbye ma’am.’
‘Goodbye, Mister …’ I looked at the name badge on his jacket, ‘… Christoff.’ And with that he led Draco out the door to pick on the next poor victim of over-zealous sniffing, leaving me to repack my suitcase in front of his disinterested colleagues excavating someone else’s suitcase on the other side of the room. Then I made the walk of shame back out of the exit door.
‘What a lovely thought,’ my mum said the next night as she caught her breath. ‘When you said you were bringing a surprise I thought it would have been pork pies again, not a big cake like this! It’s far too much for just us. I’ll have to go cut it up to share it with the neighbours,’ she said, removing the candles she’d just blown out. I felt a pang of regret that her so called creative daughter hadn’t come up with the customary cunning gift. She hadn’t said anything, but I knew she was disappointed. Oh well, maybe next year. Mum headed off to the kitchen with the cake just as the door bell rang and mum’s little spaniel started yapping loudly. ‘Get that would you? If it’s Albie next door, tell him he’s twenty minutes early,’ she called over her shoulder. ‘Hermione, shut up,’ she shouted at the dog, who paid no notice and as soon as I opened the door to the hall, the bundle of black fluff sped past me towards the dark figure just visible through the opaque glass in the front door.
‘Hang on!’ I called, picking Hermione up. Suddenly in a break in her yapping I heard an answering deep ‘woof’ outside the door and my heart skipped a beat. I released the catch on the door and the little dog practically jumped out of my arms trying to get to whoever was on the other side. I struggled to get the spaniel back under my arm. ‘Quiet Hermione!’ I hissed. Only then did I see the owner, and the yellow Labrador wagging its tail energetically on the doorstep.
‘Quiet, Draco,’ the dog’s owner said, and the Labrador shut up. Suddenly all the stress in my body was replaced with a different kind of tension. I opened my mouth but no sound came out so I shut it again. ‘Hi,’ he said, somewhat sheepishly. The authoritarian tone was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Mister Harry Christoff stood there in a leather jacket looking every inch the biker type. With the dog. Oh my god, had he discovered I’d lied about it being my first time? I could see the headlines now – ‘Serial Pork Pie Smuggler gets Deported to the UK.’ My mother would be mortified. Then I saw something familiar in his hand. ‘This is for your next of kin. Well, your mother.’ He presented the pork pies towards me, still cold – he’d even put them in a fridge or something. Then he produced a bunch of flowers from behind his back. ‘These are for the birthday girl,’ he added.
‘How?’ I asked. It seemed I was only capable of uttering one word replies – it was like he’d bewitched me or something.
‘Turns out a sniffer dog will sometimes rescue a package from the trash can at the end of a shift. Completely unbeknown to me,’ he said and the tell-tale eyebrow-flickering flashed across his tanned face, and his blue eyes glinting at me. ‘And I thought I’d help rescue a birthday party. Bit like a magic trick,’ he said. ‘See, turns out we do have a heart.’ Then hesitating, he added. ‘I hear this is the place to get jelly and ice cream?’
‘And pork pies, as it happens. Thank you.’ I said, a big beam spreading across my face. ‘Magic.’
Thank you to everyone who has helped share our birthday news and who has entered our competitions. You’ve all been incredible and we feel lucky to have such lovely readers and bloggers supporting us Remember, you can continue entering all the competitions on the blog until Friday 17th June for the chance to win some book goodies :)
If you enjoyed Debbie’s story and would like to read more of her writing, then you’ll love this competition. For a chance to win a copy of Take a Chance on Me and some goodies, simply tell us what you think of the story, either in the comments below or on the relevant Twitter/Facebook post. We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts
You have until Friday 17th June to enter.