It wasn't like she made a habit of stealing. She only did it when she had to... when she really needed the money.
In three years working as a baggage handler, Sarah had stolen only twice, both times out of desperation. The first, paid a long overdue credit card bill. The second time was when her twelve-year-old clunker broke down in the middle of the highway. Sarah was sure that she needed her car repaired far more than some woman needed a diamond tennis bracelet.
Sarah looked at the pendant cradled in her hand. A large sapphire-blue stone sat amidst a network of gold filigree. A gold chain was threaded through a shank covered in small diamonds, each intricately set. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, far less held.
How foolish for someone to pack such a valuable piece of jewelry in an unlocked suitcase. Didn't people realise that all baggage was x-rayed prior to being stowed aboard the plane? And something so lovely... such a temptation.
Sarah glanced over at Ivan. Now, there was a man who should have a guilty conscious. His name tag might say "airport security" but truth be told, it was because of people like Ivan that airports needed security.
To Ivan, the baggage that crossed his path each day was a supplemental source of income. To hear him talk. "I got eight hundred when I pawned that 18K gold chain." Or, "once I found a ruby and diamond ring valued at well over ten thousand. Biggest ruby I'd ever seen!"
People do stupid things. When flying, all jewelry not worn should be carried on board in a handbag, where one can keep an eye on it. Not packed in checked baggage.
Again, she looked down at the pendant. Unlike the other times, Sarah wasn't desperate for money. She didn't need the necklace. She wanted it.
Sarah reminded herself of something her mother used to say - when opportunity knocks on your door, open it - and slipped the pendant into her pocket.
The next few days proved uneventful. Boring, in fact. Work at the airport often was.
"Hey Sarah! Got a minute?"
It was Ivan.
"The girlfriend's got a big New Year's Eve do at work. It's going to be in the banquet room at the Regency Carlton."
Ivan's girlfriend, Merrill, was a partner at the largest law firm in the city. She and Sarah had met only once which, in Sarah's opinion, was once too often. The girlfriend was a snob. Merrill had taken one look at Sarah's clothes and car and immediately stuck her nose up in the air.
"So, do you want to come or not? Merrill promised she'd find him a date."
Date? What was Ivan talking about? Her mind had been too preoccupied thinking about the girlfriend to listen to what Ivan had been saying. Sarah must have looked confused because Ivan began to elaborate.
"Okay, I admit it. It was my idea. When Merrill said her new assistant didn't want to go alone, I suggested you might be persuaded to go as his date. It's not like you've got any other plans, right?"
Sarah felt her face getting hotter by the minute.
"I don't think so Ivan. Big parties like that aren't really my style."
"Come on Sarah," Ivan crooned. He whispered in her ear, "it would be the perfect opportunity to wear that new necklace of yours."
Sarah hadn't realised that Ivan had seen her pocketing the pendant, the other day. An uneasy feeling began to form in the pit of her stomach. But why should she feel scared just because Ivan saw her take it? Sarah had lost track of the number of things she had seen Ivan steal.
Besides, it would be the perfect opportunity to wear the necklace. And what a great chance to show up that girlfriend of his. Even Merrill would have to be impressed by the sapphire. Again, Sarah reminded herself of her mother's words - when opportunity knocks on your door, open it - and accepted the invitation.
It turned out that Merrill's assistant was drop dead gorgeous. Tall, dark and handsome didn't do him credit. Why Merrill would set Sarah up with someone so wonderful was baffling.
For the occasion, Sarah bought a new dress; black velvet, tight-fitting and very flattering. Between the dress and the sapphire, she felt like a new woman, filled with newly found confidence.
Ivan introduced her to one of Merrill's partners. The man actually wanted her opinion. They discussed airport security and privacy issues as equals.
Sarah was so pleased she had accepted Ivan's invitation. She was having a great time.
"Darling, aren't you going to introduce us?" A woman whom Sarah had not yet met had joined them.
"Of course, dear. This is Sarah. She's here with Merrill's assistant. Sarah, this is my wife, Constance."
"How very nice to meet you," she purred. "My," Constance reached over and touched the sapphire pendant hanging from Sarah's neck, "what a beautiful piece." Turning it over, a strange look crossed her face. "Tell me, where did you get this?"
"Ugghhh..." sputtered Sarah. "Family... my mother's side."
Constance gave her a cold, hard stare. "That's interesting because I had a pendant exactly like this until a few weeks ago. Identical, in fact, right down to the engraving on the back. It was stolen from my suitcase the last time I flew. I know it was foolish to pack it in with the checked baggage but I did it at the last minute, without thinking."
The husband's eyes narrowed. "Very interesting, indeed. Sarah works at the airport as a baggage handler."
By the time the police arrived, Sarah had figured it all out. Constance's husband had told his partners at the law firm about the stolen necklace. Merrill, in turn, had told Ivan. Ivan had set her up.
Sarah guessed that Ivan saw the opportunity to rid himself of the one person who knew about his thievery. the one person who could seriously damage his relationship with Merrill. If Sarah accused Ivan now, who would believe her? She was the one caught with stolen property.
"But that's okay," Sarah muttered to herself. when the opportunity arose, she would tell the police all about the large ruby and diamond engagement ring Merrill was sporting. It had to be the biggest ruby she had ever seen.