Beyond the Western
Captain Noonan, the "Bearded Holmes" of the Sandersonville
Police Department, was in a dodging conversation with his
Administrative Assistant, Harriett. She was trying to convince him to
take a call from the Sandersonville Commissioner for Homeland
Security on Line 3 while Noonan was swearing he was not even in the
office. He was, he declared, somewhere unreachable even by the
electronic tool of Satan which he was required to carry with him at
all times by the two people who could make such a demand, the
Commissioner and a higher authority: his own wife.
He was knee-deep in the conversation swamp and losing when a blessed interlude was offered. Lt. Weasel. The officer blundered into the discussion by announcing “someone on Line 1 is looking for the ‘Bearded Holmes.’ He’s missing some flying horses.”
SAVED was the look on Noonan’s face.
Harriett just rolled her eyes.
Before she was out of the room, Noonan was on Line 1. “Horses? Flying horses? That’s rather odd. I didn’t know horses could fly. There are horseflies of course, but they are not really horses.”
“I’ve heard that before,” the voice boomed over the phone line. “But I’m serious. I’m missing two flying horses.”
“Really? And to whom am I speaking?”
“Jerome Jameson. Just like the liquor but I’m a teetotaler. I run the Sandersonville Carousel Company. Two night ago someone broke into the carousel warehouse and stole two of our flying horses. Why the horses?”
Noonan dug through is desk to find his notebook. “Just the horses?”
“Flying horses.” Jameson emphasized the word flying. “We’ve got lots of regular horses. On the carousel and in the warehouse. But what got stolen were the flying horses. The pterippus.”
“I didn’t catch that term,” Noonan said as he struggled to write what he heard. “I thought flying horses were called Pegasus.”
“A common mistake,” Jamison said. “Pegasus is the name of one horse. The breed of horses, so to speak, who fly are pterippus. Its from the Greek: pteros meaning winged and hippos for horse.”
“I can live with that. Now, back to the stolen horses. You saw they were stolen off the carousel?”
“One was. The other was out of the warehouse.”
“I am assuming there is a value to each of the pterippus?”
“I’m glad you used the correct term. Yes, but not a number you can put on a spread sheet. Our carousel is from the 1890s so the pterippus are priceless. We cannot replace them. We can buy replicas, of course, but that would sully our reputation. We pride ourselves as being unchanged over more than a century.”
“Could the thief have stolen other figures from the carousel?”
“Of course. But there was something odd about the theft. The pterippus are unique. There are not many of them. We can find other animals figures from the 1890s. They are not exactly a dime a dozen but they are available on the market. They are just expensive. But the pterippus are unique so there are none on the market. So we want the pterippus back.”
* * *
Horses, flying or otherwise, were new to Noonan. Never a horse man himself, his entire experience with horses – all three of them – were three rides on the same horse in summer camp in the last century. And that horse had been alive. Wooden horses who flew was a different breed of cat, so to speak.
But a crime was involved so to the computer he went. Had any other flying wooden horses been stolen? If so, when? Where? Was there a connection?
He got zip.
Then he tried carousels, merry-go-rounds and amusement park entries. Now he was overwhelmed. Every manner of crime associated with a circus, hippodrome, festival and fair – local, county, state and industrial – popped up. From failure to pay for popcorn to animal kidnapping was included. Animal kidnapping? It turned out to be a PETA ‘attempt’ to draw attention the inhumanity of cage animals. Inhumanity of caged animals? Noonan found that odd. He was in favor of caged felons so he didn’t consider the caging of animals as being inhumane.
Only one crime seemed to be relevant to the theft of the two pterippus. “That was the way to pronounce it, right?” he mumbled to himself as he checked his notes. Then he made the call to a number in a strange area code: 775. It was Reno, but with cell phones there was no way of knowing where the recipient of the phone call might actually be.
He was correct.
Sandra Wisconsin answered the call on her Beelzebubian electronic tool.
She was in Phoenix.
“A Wisconsin in Arizona,” Noonan said after he identified himself. “How unusual.”
“Could be.” Wisconsin responded. “Did you find my carousel horses?”
A distant bell clanged in the recess of Noonan’s brain.
“No. That’s why I’m calling you.”
“You’re not with the Reno Police?”
“No. I’m calling from North Carolina. The Outer Banks. Do you know where they are?”
“Yeah. You’ve got the Spanish horses. The small ones. Shipwreck survivors. I know my animal history. Why are you calling me?”
“There was a theft of pterippus here . . .”
She cut him off. “Congratulations! Someone in law enforcement who knows the correct term! I’m impressed.”
“Thanks. About your theft, what was stolen?”
“The whole kit and caboodle. While we were on hiatus, someone broke into our warehouse and stole all the animals. We got them all back. If you read the police report you’d know that.”
“Actually, I haven’t read the report. You got all your animals back?”
“Yeah. They were found in a vacant lot about ten miles from the warehouse. They were all wet from the rain but we got them all back.”
“Did you have any pterippus?”
“Two. The usual for replica carousel.”
“Replica? So your carousel is not an antique?”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t afford that. Besides, carousels take a beating. You wouldn’t want to put something valuable like an antique figure out for the public to kick around.”
“Your theft. Any idea why someone would steal the animals?”
“No. Like I said, I have replicas not original. I’m assuming the thieves thought our figures were antiques. Valuable. They are not.”
“Couldn’t they tell the figures were not antiques just by looking at them? I’m guessing your figures are made of plastic as opposed to wood.”
“Right. You’d think so. But they stole the figures anyway.”
“No damage of any of the figures?”
“A lot of scuffs and scrapes but I don’t know if they were from the theft or the kids who ride the figures. The only damage I could not attribute to the kids was on the pterippus. There was some scarring on the bellies. Kids don’t kick there.”
“What kind of scars?”
“Like someone was trying to split them open. My guess: they thought the pterippus were wood and would crack open like an egg. When they discovered the pterippus were plastic, they stopped.”
“Any idea why?”
“No. But if it’s important why don’t you talk to Dave Gray at the Nevada Carousel Museum in Antioch. He’s a storehouse of carousel trivia and history.”
“You have a number for him?”
Dave Gray was more than pleased to hear from Noonan. Particularly after he used the term pterippus.
“I am so pleased when anyone uses that term,” Gray told Noonan. “Did you know most cultures have flying horses?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Different names, of course. There’s Pegasus from the Greeks, Al-Buraq carried the prophet Muhammad, the Chinese have Tianma and Chollima. The Turks have Tulpar and in India, Ucchisravas is created from the churning of oceans of milk.”
“Interesting,” Noonan said. “But I’m interested in antique wooden pterippus.”
“Historically, there are only two of the antique flying horse carousels still in existence. As far as I know. They are both called ‘flying horse’ carousels and both were constructed by Charles Dare. In 1876. One is in Oak Bluff, Massachusetts. It was originally at Coney Island but was moved to Oak Bluff to keep it from being sold piece-by-piece. It’s owned by Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. The other one is in Watch Hill, Westerly, Rhode Island. Both of them have the flying horses. They fly because the winged horses are on cables rather than attached to the flooring of the carousel. So, when the carousel rotates, the horses go up and down. Flying so to speak.”
“Interesting,” Noonan said. “Is there anything particularly valuable about the antique flying horses other than being antiques?”
There was a long moment of silence. Finally Gray said, “Not again! I thought we solved that problem?”
“What problem is that?” Noonan asked.
“It’s an odd story. You said you were with the police?”
“In Sandersonville, North Carolina. We’ve had a theft of two winged horses. I take it this has happened before?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Gray tiredly. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Every dozen years or so. I call it the ‘Search for Petroni’s Millions.’”
“I’m all ears.”
“You and Perot. Let’s see. I’d say back in the late 1920s, just before the Great Depression, Charles ‘Carousel Charlie’ Petroni started this rumor he had secreted a million dollars in gold in one of the two winged horses he had. It was a publicity gimmick. You know, ‘ride the million-dollar horse.’”
“Did the publicity work?”
“Who knows? It was in the 1920s and everyone had money.”
“What happened to his winged horses?”
“Long gone. But over the years there have been thefts of winged horses with people looking for the gold. Every decade or so, winged horses get stolen and opened up. There never was any gold and most of the horses are just belly-damaged once the thieves realize the pterippus are solid wood.”
“But the thefts continue.”
“Yeah. But only idiots think there’s gold in the winged horses. Think about. A million dollars in gold in the 1920s – or today – is on the order of 100 pounds. The minute anyone picks up a winged horse they have to know there is no gold inside.”
“But the thefts keep coming?”
“You got it. What’s the latest?”
“Two horses in Sandersonville.”
“North Carolina, right?”
“Sorry. Apparently you have some idiots out there.”
“’Fraid so. Does the carousel industry have any kind of a publication?”
“You mean like a magazine? Yes. I edit it.”
“I have an idea. Will you save me some space in your next issue?”
“If it will stop idiots from stealing winged horse, of course.”
* * *
Six weeks later Noonan was sitting in his office when his Administrative Assistant, Harriet, came in with a brick. It was covered with gold paint but there was clearly a brick beneath the paint.
“Ah,” Noonan said when he saw the brick, “’Petroni’s millions!’ From Antioch, Nevada, no doubt.”
‘”Looks like a brick to me,” sniped Harriet. “And I am a gal who knows gold when she sees it.” She gave the brick a heft. “And this weighs like a brick, not gold.”
“It’s all in your mind, Harriett. To some this is a brick,” he pointed to her with his coffee cup. “But to others, it is what dreams are made of,” he said in a low growl.
“That’s from the MALTESE FALCON. Even I know that.”
“That,” Noonan said continuing to point at the brick with his coffee cup, “is a crime solver. The thieves who stole those winged horses were looking for it.”
“This?” Harriet looked at the brick with disdain. “Why?”
“They thought there was a 100 pounds of gold in the winged horses they stole. Sorry. No gold. So when they knew that gold,” he pointed to the brick, “had been discovered in another winged horse, there was no reason to keep the horses they had.”
“Ah,” said Harriet. “Those were the two wooded horses we picked up at the beach last week?”
“Yes sire e bobcat. When the Nevada Carousel Magazine announced the finding of ‘Petroni’s millions,’” he pointed at the brick, “that made the stolen horses worthless. So they were dumped.”
“But aren’t you clever. You salted a story and solved the crime. C-l-e-v-e-r.” She hugged the brick to her chest. “So this is ‘Petroni’s millions.’ My, my. You cannot accept gratuities so I will take these millions off your hands.” She turned to go.
“Don’t spend it all in the same place,” Noonan said to her back as she left his office.
“I’ve got the perfect place for it.” She replied over her shoulder.