The Last Guy She Should Call

By: Joss Wood

ONE

Rowan Dunn sat in the hard chair on one side of the white table in an interrogation room at Sydney International Airport and reminded herself to be polite. There was no point in tangling with this little troll of an Immigration Officer; she looked as if she wanted a fight.

‘Why have you come to Australia, Miss Dunn?’

As if she hadn’t explained her reasons to the Immigration Officer before her—and the one before him. Patience, Rowan. ‘I bought these netsukes in Bali...’

‘These what?’

‘A netsuke is a type of miniature carving that originated in the seventeenth century.’ She tapped one of the fifteen ivory, wood and bone mini-sculptures that had been stripped of their protective layers of bubble wrap and now stood on the desk between them. Lord, they were beautiful: animals, figures, mythical creatures. All tiny, all perfectly carved and full of movement and character. ‘These are uncommon and the owner knew they had value.’

‘You bought these little carvings and yet you have no money and no means of income while you are in Australia?’

‘That’s because I drained my bank account and maxed out my credit cards to buy them. Some of them, I think, are rare. Seventeenth, eighteenth-century. I suspect one may be by Tamakada, circa 1775. I need to get into Sydney to get Grayson Darling, an expert on netsuke, to authenticate them and hopefully buy them from me. Then I’ll have plenty of money to stay in your precious, I mean, lovely country.’

‘What are they worth?’

Rowan tipped her head. ‘Fifteen at an average of two thousand pounds each. So, between twenty and thirty thousand, maybe more.’

The troll’s jaw dropped open. ‘You’ve got to be...joking!’ She leaned across the table and her face radiated doubt. ‘I think you’re spinning me a story; you look like every other free-spirited backpacker I’ve seen.’

Rowan, not for the first time, cursed her long, curly, wild hair and her pretty face, her battered jeans, cropped shirt and well-used backpack. ‘I’m a traveller but I am also a trader. It’s how I—mostly—make my living. I can show you the deed of sale for the netsuke...’

Officer troll flipped through her passport. ‘What else do you sell, Miss Dunn?’

‘You’ve gone through my rucksack with a fine-tooth comb and I’ve had a body search. You know that I’m clean,’ Rowan said wearily. She’d been here for more than six hours—could they move on, please? Pretty please?

‘What else do you sell, Miss Dunn?’

God! Just answer the question, Rowan, and get this over with. ‘Anything I can make a profit on that’s legal. Art, furniture, antiques. I’ve flipped statues in Buenos Aires, art in Belize, jewellery in Vancouver. I’ve worked in construction when times have been lean. Worked as a bar tender when times were leaner. But mostly I buy low and sell high.’

‘Then why don’t you have a slush fund? A back-up plan? Where is the profit on those deals?’

Fair question.

‘A large amount is tied up in a rickety house I’ve just co-bought with a friend in London. We’re in the process of having it renovated so that we can sell it,’ Rowan admitted.

And the rest was sitting in those little statues. She knew that at least one, maybe two, were very valuable. Her gut was screaming that the laughing Buddha statue was a quality item, that it was by a famed Japanese artist. She hadn’t planned to wipe out her accounts but the shopkeeper had had a figure fixed in his head and wouldn’t be budged. Since she knew that she could flip the netsukes for two or three times the amount she’d paid for them, it had seemed like a short, acceptable risk. Especially since she knew Grayson—knew that he wouldn’t quibble over the price. He was the best type of collector: one with deep and heavy pockets. Pockets she couldn’t help lighten unless she got into the blinking country!

‘The reality is that you do not have enough money on your person to last you two days in Australia.’

‘I explained that I have friends...’

The troll held up her hand. ‘Your not having enough funds has made us dig a little deeper and we’ve found out that you overstayed the visa—by six months—on your South African passport.’

Crrr-aa-aa-p!

Rowan felt her stomach sink like concrete shoes. That had happened over eight years ago, which was why she always used her UK passport to get into Oz. She’d been into the country four times since then, but they had finally picked up on her youthful transgression.

Bye-bye to any chance of getting into Oz any time in the next three years. Hello to a very sick bank account for the foreseeable future, to doing the deal with Grayson over the phone—a situation neither of them liked—or to finding another netsuke-mad collector who would pay her well for her gems. There weren’t, as she knew, many of them around.

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