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The Plights of the Agriculture Integrity Department

Secrets and scales

By Alina ZPublished 17 days ago Updated 15 days ago 5 min read
The Plights of the Agriculture Integrity Department
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Bluebell trots between two waves of travelers who roll like caterpillars toward customs check. Our vests are green with black, but she wears a blue one, with Agriculture Integrity Dept stitched in gold. I grab her by the collar. Bluebell is petite, with short hair colored in tranquil shades of chocolat noir and cafe latte, but now she pulls with the force of a small tractor at harvest time. It’s noon, and I haven’t fed her yet. Who’s better at sniffing artisan blood sausage than a trained beagle? A hungry trained beagle.

I tend to not indulge in confiscated stuff. Well, I never did before the divorce. Last week I scavenged a bundle of Blue Meanies from the crocheting kit of a hippy grandma. I handed them over to Substances and Narcotics, all except one, a tall, promising cap. My ex-wife is right, I’m old-fashioned. Shrooms are a rarity nowadays, with the deluge of synthetics out there.

With her senses sharpened by hunger, Bluebell circles a cheap rattan bag. She picks up on something. She sniffs at a black suitcase, but that signal is just a decoy for would-be smugglers.

“All halt!” I holler with my authoritative work voice. The undulations of travelers stop. People drop luggage, step on each other’s feet, mishandle handbags. Not knowing we’re just Agriculture Dept, they anticipate we’ll deliver some spectacular reveal–a backpack dripping with meth, a capsule of mercury hidden in an ostrich satchel. What travelers don’t know is that drugs are not society’s biggest threat compared to engineered fruit flies which can decimate millions of acres of crops.

I casually walk toward the owner of the cheap rattan bag, a woman who argues with someone on the phone in a rare Indian dialect. She wears an ample, pleated skirt in bright primary colors - a Romani ethnic. I don’t usually put people in boxes, but I’ve never seen a Romani successfully pass an airport check.

“Agent Andy Cortes with the Agriculture Integrity Department. My partner from the Beagle Brigade indicates you’re carrying some illegal produce.”


“Country of departure?”

“San Salvador,” hisses the woman, too young for hair braids tied with red ribbons.

“Purpose of travel?”

“Study. A new semester at the College of London. I’ll miss my connection flight if you don’t stop this nonsense, Agent Cortes from Agriculture Integrity Department,” she says, shattering my preconceptions about Romani in one second.

I excavate odd bits of clothing from the rattan bag. White socks, size XL, with blue tennis rackets printed on them. A pair of green scaly lizard hindlegs dangle out of one sock, flaccid like two deflated balloons. Carefully, I extract a small reptile. Gray skin with ochre spots, an undeveloped dorsal crest, and the women’s country of departure—all add up. I hold a young exemplar of Cyclura Rileyi, the presumably extinct San Salvador rock iguana, the rarest lizard on Earth. It’s a very beautiful specimen. Also, very dead. Asphyxiated.

“Show me all you’ve got, or I call FBI Wildlife Enforcement,” I threaten.

When she hears “FBI”, the woman frantically scavenges her purse and comes up with socks, scarves, and hankies all brimming with lizards. Only two are alive, another rock iguana and a tiny, plump chameleon which I, the holder of a Ph.D. in Biology, can’t identify. A new species!

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Bluebell gnawing at a lizard's tail. My ex used to watch movies with her pet iguana on her shoulder. We did not share a love for reptiles.

By Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

“I don’t understand,” I tell the young woman, ”with your education? This rock iguana might be the last of its kind!”

“How do you think I pay for my education, if I don’t sell these?” she says, pointing to the dead reptiles. ”Do you think it’s easy for a Romani to get accepted into higher ed? Even you zeroed in on me, Agent Andy Cortes, when you saw my clothes!”

I tacitly approve of every word.

“I care about Latin America’s biome integrity,” continues the girl. “But I care more about finishing school. If more of us were educated, we might get rid of the Romani stigma one day. I’ll pay for my genomics degree, lizard by lizard.”

I give the two surviving reptiles some water. The chameleon winks at me. It must be that Blue Meanie. I ate it yesterday, on my day off, but Meanies have been known to trigger hallucinations randomly, even weeks after ingestion. The lizard winks again.

“Agent Cortes, here!” it says, with a child's voice.

“It’s my overstimulated visual cortex,” I say to myself, “it’s a long-chained acid flooding my GABA receptors in the brain. It’s going away, going away…gone!”

“I’m not going anywhere,” declares the chameleon. “Listen, buddy, you need to set her free,” he says, pointing his toothpick-thin leg at the Romani girl, who seems oblivious to talking chameleons.

Bluebell coils at my feet after feasting on who-knows-how-many endangered lizards.

“Who are you?” I ask.

“The last pygmy chameleon alive. Rhampholeon chapmanorum, at your service.”

I’m always stunned by the realism embedded in shroom visions.

“Set her free? She almost killed you,” I say.

He rolls his tiny eyes. Is it irony, or just pure chameleonic physiology?

“You must let her go. People like her, who fight for a change in the status quo, are the kind that could bring us back to life. And you, Agent Cortes, the great animal savior and all, just feed your dog, for Chrissake.”

The Romani girl wakes me up gently. The tiny chameleon has died, which makes the rock iguana the only survivor of the smuggling operation. I let her board the flight to her college.

Driving home, with Bluebell sleeping in the backseat, I constantly check if the iguana, which sits on a bed of lettuce in my bento box, has enough air. It would have died overnight, at the animal shelter at Terminal 4.

“I’m thinking Clippers against Warriors tonight?”

“Cervezas are on you,” she demands.

Short Story

About the Creator

Alina Z

Alina likes psychological thrillers that happen up there, on the orbit. She lives in South California, loves to read and prefers writing in third limited.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

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    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (5)

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  • Heather Hubler14 days ago

    I was invested right from the beginning! I enjoyed the storyline, the bit if it was from drugs or was it really talking mystery and the unique animals. This was a joy to read. Congratulations on Top Story!

  • Naomi16 days ago

    I never heard of blue meanies before. This is a unique story, I was hooked from start to finish.

  • Rasheek Rasool16 days ago

    Woww This Story Makes Me Read again and again

  • Donna Renee16 days ago

    This was so good!! I really loved your description of her pulling like a tractor lol. This was so fun to read! 😁

  • Max Russell17 days ago

    Great story, Alina! I was fascinated by the customs agent's relation with contraband and animals. Her perspective, and the psychedelic twist, revealed a lot about the agent, traveler, and the animals between them. The story was engaging from beginning to end! 😁

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