by John Delach
Drinks in hand, Billy Mize and Leo Whalen stood together at the bar in the hospitality lounge of the Arrowwood Conference Center in Rye Brook, NY. As I entered the premises. Leo waved his green bottle of Heineken in my direction signaling me to join them. “Jonnie, let me buy you a drink.” Leo thundered as he looked to the bartender.
“Thanks, Leo,” I replied and asked the bartender for a Jameson on the rocks in a short glass. Billy was already enjoying his vodka on the rocks, and we toasted each other once my Irish whiskey arrived. “So, Billy, how was your flight from Mexico City?”
“Not bad, John. It seems it was only two or three months ago since we saw each other at last year’s managers meeting at the Breakers down in Boca Raton This place is a dump in comparison!”
“Damn right, brother Billy,” I replied, “But then again times were considerably better for us and our company last year. That damn bond scandal combined with the melt down in the casualty insurance market has put us on our back foot. But, hell, we’ve survived and here we are. I am glad you had a good flight.”
We talked about Billy’s transfer from our Dallas office and how easily he and his wife assimilated Mexican culture and lifestyle. Billy’s wife is Puerto Rican, and he is a gregarious Texan who is fluent in Spanish. He then returned to the subject of his flight and said, “I did have a bit of problem getting through Customs at JFK.”
Seeing this look on my face, a look Billy understood about US citizens doing business in Mexico, he continued, “No, John, I did not carry drugs or more than $10,000 in cash. My problem was hauling the extraordinary and, in a way, the most ridiculous item I ever tried to check into the baggage compartment on an airplane.”
Leo chuckled, “I bet you did feel a bit foolish.”
I couldn’t ignore the tone of guilt in Leo’s throw out line.
I’ll admit, they had my attention as I had no idea where this story was going. Billy explained, “You see, John, the last time Leo visited our office in Mexico City, he remarked on how much he wanted a Mexican saddle for his wife.“
“Yes, ” Leo interrupted, “She was impressed by their craftsmanship and has always wanted one for her horses.”
Continuing, Billy added, “Knowing that Leo lives less than an hour from here, I promised to bring a saddle with me. What I forgot was that I had to claim all my baggage before clearing Customs.
“That meant I had to remove all my stuff from the cart I was using and drag my bags, golf clubs and the saddle through the Customs area. Only when I cleared could I recruit a skycap help me carry them to the limo.”
With that, Jack Shea joined us, and Billy and Leo related the story a second time. Jack was skeptical and wanted to know where the saddle was. Billy replied: “Why, Jack, it’s in Leo’s room where I delivered it.”
“Let’s go see it then,” Jack insisted.
With that, we left the bar, crossed the lobby and walked across a glass-enclosed bridge that connected the hotel’s rooms with the conference center. Leo opened the door and led us into his room. Sure enough, on a chair sat the biggest saddle I have ever seen. Jet-black with silver studs, the seat had a shine that reflected the room. Everything about it was big from the horn to the stirrups. No wonder Billy had such a tough time hauling it through customs!
However, even a big Mexican saddle is only a saddle and not exactly an object that requires lengthy analysis. As for me, my interest wandered back to getting another drink and I wasn’t alone.
We were just about to leave when a young man opened the door. Startled to see us, he said, “Excuse me, I am here to turn down the bed.”
Leo asked him to come in and as he entered, I noticed that the bathroom door, directly across from the saddle, was closed. As this innocent steward came up to me, I stopped him.
“Do you see that saddle?” He nodded, yes. “Good. Whatever you do, don’t open that door!”
The steward’s eyes popped out and he did a double take, his eyes traveling from me to the saddle to the bathroom door several times.
We left the room closing the door behind us starting to roll with laughter. Leo said, “John, you have one sick sense of humor.”
Perhaps, but one of my best capers of all times!
Note: No horses or stewards were hurt during this caper.