This is a look at our heroine, Marian Doyle, doing what she does for the family firm. She enjoys using her ability but not this part of it.
The wheels of the plane touched down on the runway at LaGuardia. A day in the air after taking off from Athens, and now it was almost done, almost time to deliver the item. Deliver. That’s what her grandfather called it. Everyone else, including the legal authorities, called it smuggling.
Marian preferred smuggling. Call it what it was instead of pretending.
When Marian had first started working for the family firm, she’d stupidly thought it was fun. The adventure of evading authorities, the rush when she used her phantom ability, and the praise of her grandfather and father made it all worthwhile.
But in the last few years, there had been too many close calls, too many hours of uncertainty that set her nerves on edge. Now, all she wanted was for the jobs to be over.
The best part was coming home, like now.
The plane taxied to the gate. Most of those around her pulled out their phones to contact those waiting at the other end of this flight. For her, that had to wait. Only after she successfully snuck the little ivory elephant carving past customs could she consider her work over.
All she had to do was duck into a bathroom before customs, go phantom, phase through the walls and hand off Tantor—it was too cute to not give a nickname—to whomever her grandfather sent to wait on the other side of the customs gate.
She hoped it would be Dad. That would be perfect. He’d pamper her with dinner, and pampering was desperately needed after this marathon trip. She’d spent weeks looking for Tantor for their client, traipsing around the hills and dirt-encrusted ruins of Greece.
Worth it, however. Little Tantor would bring in a cool million. Grandfather was probably salivating over the money already.
Once Tantor was delivered to the other side, she’d phase back through the walls to the bathroom before anyone knew she was even gone and navigate customs perfectly legally, like any other passenger. Aside from the over-long and complicated forms and the risk of death by boredom, that was the easy part.
Marian waited over fifteen minutes for the plane to clear out enough to grab her carry- on from the overhead bin. Grandfather was a damn cheapskate. She smuggled for him, and he made her fly coach back to New York every time. She could have used the extra pillows.
Marian tapped her front pocket to reassure herself Tantor was still there. She hoped most people would assume she was checking for her phone. She shuffled behind the other passengers disembarking and wiped moisture from her palm on her jacket sleeve. Sweat already drenched her back.
I hate this.
But she couldn’t quit. It was the family business. Everyone, extended cousins and all, depended on her to keep the family firm flush with money. She was the only one in the current generation of Doyles to have the phantom ability that had supported the family for over two centuries.
Quit and she’d let everyone down. Maybe she’d even be exiled or shunned. It might be worth it. They took no risks. She was the one who sweated out all the trips through customs, terrified that this would be the time she would be caught, or worse, have her phantom ability exposed.
She blinked and raised her head. Damn, she’d spent too much time staring at the floor, or she would have noticed people in front of her before this. She focused on the person wearing a uniform, calling her name. Flight crew? No, it was a TSA agent.
“Yes?” Swallow the fear, swallow the panic. She could do this. There had to be a way out.
“Please follow me, ma’am. The customs officers need to speak to you.”
“I don’t understand. Speak to me about what?” Maybe if she stared at him long enough, he would vanish as if he were a figment of her imagination. Two other uniformed officers came up to her from behind. Not figments.
“Follow us, ma’am,” said the first one.
She did, wishing she could go phantom and disappear through the floor. Better yet, float up and out through the ceiling and ride the air until she landed near the cabs that would take her home.
And then what? They knew her name, probably her address and her place of work. Unless she wanted to be a fugitive, she had no choice but to go with them. To say nothing of what would happen if she went ghost on them. Never let anyone see her do it, that was the family rule, and the airport had to be full of cameras.
It was Tantor that needed to disappear, not her, and before they searched her. “Just what is the problem?” she asked again. “Do you need to see my papers? I know there are some items in my luggage that need documentation. I have everything in order.”
“That will be up to customs, ma’am,” the officer said. “We are ordered to deliver you to
them.” “I don’t understand.” “I’m sure they’ll explain it, ma’am.” Somehow all the ma’ams made it much worse. “Can I use the bathroom first? It was along flight and I really need to stop there.”
“Orders are to take you directly to their office,” he said. “Sorry.”
They kept hustling her along, one person ahead and one person behind her. Customs knew something. Someone must have tipped them off about what she was carrying. It was the only explanation that made sense. Maybe the tip came from someone who also wanted the carving? No, they would want it to get through customs, not to be confiscated. Unless someone paid off one of the agents. Bribing agents was the usual way to smuggle antiquities into the States. Doyle Antiquities never did that.
They had her.