Friday, February 29, 2008


As the plane taxis toward the runway for the flight back to Miami, I reflect on our mission.

While I learned a lot about the illicit trade from legitimate manufacturers, I didn’t manage to talk my way into a Paraguayan cigarette factory supplying the black market.

That means I cannot report on the types of cigarette making and packing machines these manufacturers use, or where they obtain their tobacco, spares and other materials—let alone share the serial numbers of the installed equipment, as a reader from Philip Morris USA requested.

Next time, I should schedule more time and fix fewer “official” appointments in advance, creating the flexibility to pursue leads as they arise. An interpreter too would come in handy.

Unfortunately, open-ended trips are harder to justify financially. Before signing off on our travel budgets, Tobacco Reporter’s accounting department wants to have a rough idea of who we plan to see where, when and why.

Needless to say, it would be difficult to submit such details when chasing representatives of an industry that prefers to operate out of the limelight.

But while I failed to achieve my main objective, readers will be satisfied to know that at least some blood flowed during this trip.

The men’s room’s door at Ciudad del Este airport sticks. Slamming it shut, I am a split second too late withdrawing my fingers from the gap between the wall and the door. I curse and shake my hand ferociously to dispel the pain. As I do so, blood flings through the bathroom stall in all directions.

By the time I’ve wrapped my hand in toilet paper, there are bloodstains on the floor, the toilet seat and even on walls. The door is now stuck at a crooked angle, opened in the opposite direction of which it was designed to, and I can barely squeeze out.

Assessing the damage, it looks like a little person has been assassinated in the airport bathroom.

If I were a more creative writer, this would be the perfect opening scene for my first tobacco crime novel.

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