Beyond the Western
Captain Heinz Noonan, the "Bearded Holmes" of the Sandersonville Police Department, was plowing through a mountain of paperwork searching for a case file he could have sworn he had seen less than an hour earlier but was proving to be as elusive as the Bandersnatch Burglar – so-called because he, or she, left snatches of Lewis Carroll poetry on swatches in burgled homes – as the telephone in his secretary's office kept up such a persistent ring that he had no choice but to abandon his administrative archaeological expedition forthwith and proceed with a frustrated air to the adjacent office to terminate the incessant jangle of the machine.
"Harriet?" It was a deep male voice, the kind that could be used as a foghorn if the Coast Guard ever abandoned LORAN.
"I don't think so but I'll check." He looked down at his trousers. "No, this isn't Harriet."
"Is Harriet there?"
"Not if I answered the phone."
"Where can I reach Harriet?"
"Since she's on vacation, I'd say Denver or Miami depending on what day it is."
"It's today," the voice boomed with a tint of annoyance. "What kind of a joker are you?"
"I thought I was a pretty good one. I'll transfer you back to the front desk and you can leave a message for Harriet."
"Don't you want to hear what I have to say?"
"I don't know. Do I?"
"This is Chief of Detectives Heinz Noonan, isn't it?"
"Yeah, who's this?"
"The Bandersnatch Burglar. At least that's what they've been calling me in the newspapers."
It was hard to catch Chief of Detectives Heinz Noonan by surprise but the call from the Bandersnatch Burglar had done exactly that.
"You're the Bandersnatch Burglar?"
"No, I'm the tooth fairy."
"Why are you calling me?" Noonan looked around for someone to signal so that the call could be traced – until he realized that Harriet had one of those call coding devices on her phone. Noonan looked down the phone number as he spoke, his face registering consternation as he looked at the number, clearly trying to place it in his mind.
"To let you know that you've got it all wrong."
"Wrong? I've got what wrong?" Now Noonan was searching for a pen or pencil in Harriet's desk, which did no good, first, because her desk was locked and second, because Harriet was a computer, FAX and email freak and treated hand-held writing implements as if they were tools of the devil. He finally dug a pencil out of his own trouser pocket and used the back of a day-by-day calendar to take notes.
There was a deep breath on the other end of the line. "The burglaries. I am not a burglar."
Now it was Noonan's turn to hold his breath. "You're the Bandersnatch Burglar and you aren't a burglar? Then what have you been doing burgling homes?"
"That's what I'm on the phone to talk to you about, Chief. It's OK if call you Chief, Chief?"
"Yeah, it'll do. I'm sorry but I must have missed something, Bandersnatch. I guess if you can call me Chief I can call you Bandersnatch, right?"
"Sounds fair to me. Look, Chief, I am not a burglar. I'm a filcher. I only steal things of no value."
"No value!? You've been doing pretty well lately. Pretty nifty stuff for not having any value. Like that Picasso and the Dali. Both originals."
"That's why I'm calling you, Chief. I'm just a scofflaw. Those jobs aren't mine."
Noonan registered surprise. He leaned back in Harriet's chair, the high top of the backrest catching his shoulder blades oddly. "What do you mean they're 'not your jobs?'" You're the one who has been leaving enough Lewis Carroll swatches to make a quilt."
"Yeah, guess so. By the way, don't bother to trace this call. As I'm sure you know by now, I've got a scrambler that alters numbers on those call coding devices. You recognize that phone number, eh?"
Noonan stared at the number and a thought line furrowed his brow. Clearly he couldn’t place it. "What makes you think I have a call coding device on this phone?"
"Please, Chief. If you had a call coding device on your office phone, I would have called you there. But I had to settle for your secretary. Are you sure the number doesn't mean anything?"
"I'm not sure."
There was a silence for a moment. "Think, Chief, think."
Suddenly Noonan's face lit up. "That's my old phone number in Sandersonville! Why, that's twenty years old! How'd you get that number?"
"I'm a clever little person, Captain Noonan. Much too clever to be out burglarizing homes. Just to show you I know what I'm doing, do you recognize this number?"
As Captain Noonan watched, the numbers on Harriet's call coding device changed, the lights flashing as the call coding bars changed from his old home to his own office phone, the other instrument barely ten feet away. Noonan momentarily looked over his shoulder at his office as though he expected to see someone sitting there. "How did you do that?"
"Electronics, Chief, the magic of electronics. I do all kind of things. Like, I'll bet you think I'm a man, right?"
"From your voice, I'd say that's a good bet."
"Well, then listen to this. See what happens as I talk." Sure enough, as the Bandersnatch Burglar was speaking, the pitch of the voice raised until it became a tinny female voice, ragged on the edges as if the woman had just finished a long, hard day and was about to explode because the kids has spread a sheet of toys across the living room floor just before company arrived for dinner.
"That's amazing, Bandersnatch, but we're still back to the basic reason you called me."
"Like I said, Chief," the tinny woman's voice continued. "I'm not the burglar you are really seeking. In fact, I'm not a burglar at all. See, you've been following the wrong clues. Now, if you look at your case files for my jobs very carefully you will see all of the burglaries were different and the loot varied from cash to silver to paintings. But I'll bet you missed something that is similar with all of them – other than the swatches, of course."
"Oh, something seemingly insignificant. I'll bet when you look at those police reports, you are going to see big, expensive items missing, and highly insured items. But you are not going to find something small, valueless that was stolen from each residence and not even listed as stolen."
"Why would anyone list anything that lacks a value as missing?" Noonan shook his head in confusion. "If it lacks value, it makes no difference if it gets stolen."
"Ex-actly, Captain Noonan. If you go back and re-interview the owners of the 15 burglaries you have been accusing me of perpetrating . . ."
"Fifteen? At last count there were only . . ."
"The day is young, Chief, the day is still young. There are two more thefts outstanding. One that won't be reported for a day or two and the other until the middle of next week when the couple returns from Hawaii."
"But you just said that you weren't a burglar."
"That's right. If the pattern holds, those two homes will be burgled as well, with me getting the blame for the jobs."
"Wait a minute." Noonan shook his head. "What you are telling me is that someone has figured out your pattern and is burglarizing homes that you have already, already, . . . what do you do if you don't burglarize the homes?"
"As I was about to say earlier, Chief, I'm a scofflaw. I steal things of no value. I don't need any money so I do the B&E, as you call it, for a thrill. I snag things of no value and then leave."
"Well, as I was saying before, if you re-check the residents of all of the burgled homes, you will find that the victims probably didn't tell you everything that was missing. In fact, I'll bet quite a few of them don't even know that one particular item was missing. You see, the reason I left the swatches was so that the residents would know someone had been in their homes even though it may take them a while to figure out what was stolen."
"Now this is a bit hard for me to believe," Noonan said as he put his pencil away. "What you are basically saying is that you break and enter homes and steal something of so little value that no one will even know it's missing so you have to leave the swatches to let them know that you've been there."
"Right on, Chief."
"Not only that, you're also telling me that someone knows which homes you are entering and burgling them after you leave. How would anyone know what homes you were going to break and enter unless you told them?"
"Now that's a good question, Chief. It's such a good question that I don't have an answer for you. I think I know why though. See, to get into these homes, I have to cut through burglar alarm systems, get around dogs, short circuit security systems and things like that. Once I'm in, it's a cakewalk for whomever is doing the follow-up jobs. I've done all the brain work. All they have to do is follow in my footsteps, so to speak."
"Well that certainly follows. But that really has nothing to do with me."
"Oh, but yes it does. It's just your focus of attention has to change. You've been chasing the wrong guy for the right reason. You are assuming that I am pulling off the burglaries and leaving the swatches as a signature. That's a reasonable assumption. What I'm telling you is you've following the wrong scent. You want to catch the real burglars, not me. I want to help you do that."
Noonan laughed. "You want me to believe that you want to help me catch someone to give you an alibi for all your B&E? How am I supposed to know you aren't really doing the burglaries yourself and just using me as a way to get a competitor out of the business?"
"Good question, Chief. My answer is in three parts. First, if I'm not who I say I am, why am I calling you?"
"Like you said earlier, that's such a good question I don't have an answer for it."
"Good. Second, if you check with the 13 home owners again, you will find that there was a single, identical item that was stolen from all of them they did not report. How would I know what that one item was?"
"Good point. But then again, you haven’t told me what that one item is."
"You should have no trouble getting verification after the first two or three people fess up. Finally, in answer to your last question, why do you care if I'm pulling your leg or not? If you catch the real burglars what do you care if you get some help from the underbelly of society? Once they're out of our hair, you can go on to other important cases and I can continue to be the scofflaw that I am."
"You know I don't believe you."
"Oh, I'm sure you have your doubts," the voice said but it began to change again, modulating in pitch until the voice became a neutral, neither male nor female, with a slight reverberation as if it was coming from a sound chamber. "But you really don't have much choice, do you? Besides, Captain Noonan, Chief of Detectives, you like the challenge. After you check with the 13 home owners, pay a visit to 1898 Clara Nevada Street and 1979 John Hale Plaza. You'll need a locksmith to get into both of those locations because the owners are away on holiday. Then we'll be in touch."
"How will I know how to get in touch with you?"
"Silly boy, I'll be in touch with you."
True to his word, the Bandersnatch Burglar had been correct when he fingered two more burglaries. At 1898 Clara Nevada Street, the police arrived just as the aged couple who owned the home arrived, fresh from three days of vacation in the Napa Valley and concerned about the call they had received in the middle of the night for permission to enter their house. With a carload of fine wines, they were humored to find a contingent of detectives on their doorstep with a locksmith trying to get inside.
However, their humor turned quickly to grief when they discovered that their home had been stripped of every item of high value despite the fact they had the most sophisticated burglar alarm system on the market – as well as a private security monitoring system and a rapid response hookup to the Sandersonville Police Department which appeared to be operational. Only after everyone got inside the house did they discover why the system had failed to alert the authorities: the interior monitoring had been cross-wired to a video tape machine that played a recording of the empty room for hours. Then, at the end of the tape, a switch transferred control of the security cameras back to the room scene. It was as if nothing had ever happened. The ultimate take-a-bite-out-of-crime equipment, a pair of Dobermans, were sound asleep in the living room courtesy, as it was later discovered, of a powerful sleeping potion which they had somehow taken internally. Probably in the form of a steak.
The booty was spectacular. In addition to a Modigliani original and a handful of late Dali prints, there was also a collection of rare historical documents including letters signed by George Washington, an IOU for Daniel Webster and other assorted documents signed by John Jay, John Adams, Elvis Presley, Harry Truman, Warren Sitka, and Julia Ward Howe. The usual collections of jewelry and silverware were also missing as was an antique desk chair and a collection of valuable porcelain plates. Whoever had taken the plates had known they were in the home as there were indications that a box and packing material had been brought into the house. A swatch with a stanza from Lewis' Carroll's "Jabberwocky" was laid out in the center of the dining room table with a brandy snifter on top with some hardened, golden residue but no fingerprints. The couple was too distraught to think about small, valueless items that might be missing as well.
The scene at 1979 John Hale Plaza was much the same. The Clark family was located in Hawaii and gave the police permission to enter the estate. Once again, the home's security system had been adjusted to give the thief’s time to make away with a fine collection of Ming dynasty vases, some Assyrian amphorae and an exquisite elephant tusk carving that exceeded six feet and was a complete scene of a procession in a marketplace in India. The bedrooms had been ransacked so it was assumed that jewelry had been stolen and an empty space on a kitchen shelf indicated the probable theft of a silver set. A rug had been taken from a hallway, that clue provided by a faint square of double-sided tape that had held the material in place, and one of the walls had a large, discolored square indicating that something that had been hanging had been stolen, like a tapestry.
Once again, a Lewis Carroll swatch was prominent. This time it was on the seat of massive black oak office chair that had been swiveled out to block the entrance to the den. This swatch had a clip from "Phantasmagoria."
Back in his office, Noonan began the painstaking job of going over the police reports for the other 13 burglaries. Without the call from the Bandersnatch Burglar, it appeared that all jobs were pulled by the same perpetrators. The entrance was clever and showed signs of superior knowledge of electronics. There was no damage to the premises and only the most valuable items were carted away. The thieves had had as much as four hours to as little as 75 minutes to pull off their capers and in most cases they were well away from the home by the time the residents returned. The closest call they had was the 75 minute robbery in which the owners returned from a party early and nearly caught the thieves red-handed. But the house was empty and all that there was to indicate someone had been there recently was that one of the owner's Cuban cigars was smoldering in the ashtray and had no ash column.
All homes had swatches of Lewis Carroll poetry, none of them repeats. The swatches were on black and green cotton, the kind of fabric that could be bought in any retail outlet, and the thread was generic as well. The print pattern clearly indicated a sophisticated embroidery system, but there were easily 30 such commercial establishments on the Outer Banks alone, many of them employing sweat shop operators who were reluctant to discuss anything with the police but the time of day, weather or how the red drum were running.
As there were also no indications of valueless objects being missing, Noonan made some phone calls. Each was a disappointment. First, no one believed he was calling about an object that had no value. Second, no one was interested in searching through their homes again for an object that had no value. Third, everyone wanted to know when the police were going to find their treasured items. Fourth and finally, if the police were so damn good, why didn't he know what he was looking for and if he didn't know, how were they supposed to? It was not a productive afternoon and evening.
The next morning proved no better. The couple from 1898 Clara Nevada filed their final report and were still too upset to talk about much. The family from 1979 John Hale Plaza arrived by noon and were doing inventory when Noonan walked through their front door for the second time in two days.
"You found our belongings?" the wife said in hopeful surprise.
"I'm afraid not," signed Noonan. "We're still working on it. But I do have a question or two if you have a moment."
"Well, we've already told your people everything we know. Can't you just read the reports?"
"Not for what I'm looking for. Can we sit down for a moment?"
The wife led Noonan to the dining room table where she served him a cup of coffee.
"Now, what can I do for you?"
"You seem to be taking this well."
"Am I?" The wife pushed a wayward hair back from her forehead. "I guess from the outside it must appear that way. Inside, well, we lost a lot of our life in that robbery, things we’ve been collecting for years. Valuable collectables. A lot of money went right out the front door."
"I'm sorry about that." Noonan coughed nervously for a moment. "I have a rather strange question for you and you might not be able to answer it today, maybe never. But I thought I'd try."
"That's an odd lead-up."
"Yes, it is, but it could be very important. Now, when you did an inventory of everything that was stolen did you leave anything off the list? Maybe there was something you didn't report because it was so small you didn't think it was worth your while to report or had so little value that you thought you might have misplaced it rather than it was stolen."
"Why would anyone want to steal something that had no value?"
"I don't have an answer for that. But it could be an important clue."
"No, I can't really think of anything that fits that bill. Everything that was stolen had a value. Will the answer help me get our property back?"
"There's a good chance it will."
"In that case I'll do another search. Do you have a card?" Noonan handed her a card and as he rose to leave, the wife was calling her kids. "The best person to look for something that has no value is someone who doesn't know the value of anything." She smiled as her two children, 5 and 9 years old, came into the room. "That describes my children perfectly,” she said.
An hour later he was smiling still for he had a list of ten objects of no value that had disappeared or been lost recently from 1979 Warren Sitka Plaza. Three phone calls later he had narrowed the list to a single object: a faux alabaster canopic.
At first he didn’t know what a canopic was. It was one of those familiar terms, possibly Egyptian, but it was only after he looked it up on the internet that he remembered what it was. Yes, it had been Egyptian but its use has long since been abandoned. For about 3,000 years. A canopic was the jar into which the viscera of the deceased were placed before the embalming process began. The heart, lungs, intestines along with the various and sundry other internal organs were extracted from the cadaver and placed in the canopic so that when the deceased was revivified – if that was the correct theological physiological term for the ancient Egyptians – the blessed individual would be able to breath, digest, pass gas and urinate in the next life.
The most common form of canopic, as Noonan discovered, was a set of four. Often they appeared as busts of the individual, four of them, two sets of two facing each other nose-to-nose, in a stone chest. (Noonan enjoyed that pun.) Made out of calcite, which was better known as Egyptian alabaster, the jars could hold about 10 gallons of innards.
Of interest to both Noonan and clearly the scofflaw, the style of canopic changed over the years. By the Eighteenth Dynasty, the canopics no longer appeared as elaborate vessels topped with human heads. Sometimes there were heads of gods – baboon, hawk and falcon – as well as a human head. The composition of the canopics changed as well. While calcite was still being used, so was wood, pottery, limestone and even a more common stone. Eventually they became solid, symbolic of their previous function.
The canopics that were missing were of a latter vintage, from the 25th Dynasty. This canopics were basically solid weights. They were all about the same size, between two and three feet high. Some were made of wood while others were made of calcite. Of particular interest to Noonan, all of the canopics that were stolen had been snatched from the traditional group of four. In only three of the burglaries were the faux canopics in the same locations. In the balance of the burglaries, the four figures were scattered around the house. One had been used as a bedroom doorstop while another was used to fill an odd corner in an otherwise cluttered office. But only one of the figures was missing from each home: the falcon.
If the scofflaw was telling the truth and all he was really taking was the faux falcon canopic, there really wasn’t any way to prosecute him. The canopics had no value and even if a search found all of them in a single place in his residence, there was no way to prove that any one of them, or for the matter, all of them, came from burgled homes. Even fingerprints of the owners on the canopics were not enough. They could have handled the canopics anywhere because they could have been purchased anywhere.
Could the Bandersnatch Burglar be telling the truth?
"You found the items, didn't you?" It was a strange voice on Noonan's line, electronically male with a pronounced brogue.
"You found out about the items, right? The ones I stole?"
"Ah, Bandersnatch. Maybe."
"Don't lie to me, Chief. I have my sources. You did pop open two more burglaries and that must have made you look good at headquarters."
"No, actually it made me look very bad. You don't get credit for reporting burglaries; you get credit for solving them. Now I'm being harassed for not solving the burglaries I'm reporting."
"Well, work with me and we'll solve these crimes together."
"That's the rub here, as you know. I can't very well work with someone who's doing B&E to catch a burglar."
"Takes a thief to catch a thief. Besides, why should you care? You've got snitches. I'm just another one."
"It doesn't work like that, Bandersnatch. You see, if I catch the perps who are doing the jobs, then I've got to sit on the witness stand and say where I got the lead to snag them. What am I supposed to say, that I just pulled their name out of thin air?"
"You just say you got lucky."
"Judges don't like it when you lie."
"You're not lying, you're just saying that you got an anonymous tip. Or do some prelim groundwork to cover your tracks. Come on, Captain. You've been in the law enforcement business for more than three decades. You're telling me that you don't know how to develop leads that are fruitful for court appearances? You probably won't have to worry about it anyway because if you catch them red-handed, they'll cope a plea so you won't ever see the inside of a courtroom on this matter."
"So you say. A lot could go wrong. What about you? You know the moment they get fingered, they'll know you did it. That's bad news for your health."
"Maybe, but they're putting me at risk now."
Noonan was silent for a long moment, so long that Bandersnatch coughed nervously on the other end of the line. That might have been a mistake because the cough was definitely masculine, which Noonan dutifully recorded in a notebook he had open on his desk.
"Now, I'm afraid to ask this, but how do you suggest we work together?"
"Well, I've been pretty careful lately. I've got a choice of targets and I haven't decided which one to hit. When I do, I'll let you know after I'm inside. I won't be in very long so you won't catch me. But, with any luck, you'll catch the other perps on the inside after I leave."
"Why should I believe you?"
"Why should you care?" came the response. "You're going to get the real perps and get lots and lots of credit. I'll be on my way."
"That really doesn't solve anything," Noonan retorted. "As soon as another swatch shows up, the press will be on me like white on rice."
"Captain, pl-ease. If you have to use a simile, at least use a good one. Why not 'a cheap suit in the rain,' or ‘dimples on a golf ball.’”
“That still leaves us facing the same bear in the trail. If you are telling the truth and I do capture these perps, the minute you leave the next swatch the bad guys are going to say that they were not responsible for the all the other burglaries, only the one where they were caught. If you do pull off another burglary and snatch a falcon canopic, everyone is going to know that I didn’t get the real Bandersnatch Bandit at all. I’ll be the laughing stock of the city even though I caught the burglars. Even if you tell me you’re going to stop pulling off scofflaw burglaries, how am I to know you’re not going to go on vacation and come back in a year and start all over again?”
“That’s all very true,” Bandersnatch said. “All of it. Yes, you do have a problem because I am not planning on stopping snatching the falcon canopics or leaving the swatches. But you’re very clever guy, Chief of Detectives Heinz Noonan. That’s why I’m calling you.”
“So you want me to solve your public relations problems?”
“In a word, yes. I want to get the credit I deserve as a yegg of falcon canopics of no value, a scofflaw, and a second story man who leaves Lewis Carroll swatches.”
“Well, you can’t be a second story man because half the homes you’ve burgled don’t have second stories.”
“Good point. Then just call me a cat burglar of falcon canopics. I don’t care. Just get the professionals off my amateur back.”
With that the Bandersnatch Burglar hung up the phone.
The problem facing Noonan was most perplexing. There was, unfortunately, some merit to the Bandersnatch Burglar’s claim. It did appear as if there were two sets of thieves at work; or at least one scofflaw and a band of clever professionals. The fact that a falcon canopic had been stolen from every location clearly indicated a pattern. That the canopics were virtually worthless indicated that a scofflaw was probably involved. The balance of the loot from the homes was varied and there did not seem to be any significant pattern of thievery. Just that it was carefully chosen and high end.
There were some unusual angles to the burglaries. First, they were all in what could reasonably be called ‘high security’ residences. These were not middle class B&Es. That meant someone had to really know what he – or she – was doing to get into the homes. Second, the spread of loot of was so wide that it was hard to see how it could be fenced. Many of the items were one-of-a-kind: a personal letter signed by George Washington, a Modigliani original, an antique pinky ring, an antique jade writing desk and other items like that. These items could only be sold to a collector. But when it comes to a unique item, in most cases it is the buyer that contacts the thief not the other way around. If the burglaries were truly targets of opportunity, the thieves were ending up with a lot of high end goodies with no place to sell them. This meant they were not making a lot of money. They had lots of assets they could not sell and no cash to pay the bills.
Third, and most perplexing, it was hard to believe that the Bandersnatch Burglar did not know who the perps were. This burglar had pulled off more than a dozen jobs and every one of them had been followed by a real burglary.
Every one of them.
Even if he acted alone he had to know he was leaking information somewhere. Anyone who was smart enough to play electronic games with the telephone system was smart enough to figure out who was raining on his parade.
Assuming he did know, why did he care? The scofflaw was getting what he wanted – though God knew why he wanted to collect falcon canopics – so why should he care if he was being followed about by capitalists? This was all quite baffling to Noonan and made no sense whatsoever. Making even less sense is what he was supposed to do about it. He couldn’t realistically arrest the perps and let the scofflaw go even if the scofflaw was only stealing valueless items. But he couldn’t ignore the robberies either.
The next time the scofflaw called, Noonan was prepared.
“Well,” said the voice, a high pitched teenager this time, “have you decided to help me?”
“I don’t see that I’ve got too much choice.”
“I’m happy you see it that way.”
“But you do know I’m going to have to arrest you too.”
“You’ve got to catch me first. Just because I’m helping you catch the real bad boys and girls doesn’t mean I’m giving myself up.”
“Right. All right. Humor me. How can you have pulled over 15 spectacular robberies and have someone follow in your footsteps every time. You’ve got to know you have a leak somewhere in your organization.”
“Good point, Captain. I thought about that as well. But, first, I’m the only one in my organization. Second, as I’m sure you have checked, there are seven major security firms in Sandersonville and I’ve hit residences monitored by all of them. So that ends any chance of an inside leak. Third, I don’t talk in my sleep. Even if I did, I live alone. Fourth, I sweep my home and office regularly for bugs and I have yet to find one. I’m not sure how they know what I’m going to do. But they do.”
“Could they be following you, waiting for you to make a move and then following up after you leave a residence?”
“Let’s take this from the top, shall we. How do you choose which residence to hit?”
“That’s a little personal, isn’t it?”
“Not if I’m going to help you.”
“Fair enough. I hack into the sales records of companies that would most likely sell canopics. That gives me the names and addresses of people who have bought the item. Sales records are not secured or encrypted because they have no value. I have a long list and I choose my targets at random.”
“How do you know that the canopics are actually there?”
“I don’t. I just assume they are. So far I’ve been lucky.”
“Well, they are too big to hide.”
“Why would anyone want to hide a three-foot tall, fake canopic?” the voice of the Bandersnatch Burglar changed pitch to that of an old man. “That’s what makes them so easy to steal. There is no reason to hide them. They cost a few hundred dollars so no one’s going to get rid of them but they are still not worth very much.”
“So,” Noonan said as he wrote on his notepad, “you don’t case a residence before you burgle it. You just know which home you want to enter, steal the electronic information for the security system and enter the house.”
“Weeeelll, you’re making it sound easier that it is. But, yeah, that’s about right.”
“How do you know that the people will be out?”
“Oh, I put a small camera focused on the house for a few days. You know, hidden in a tree or shrub. Then I just watch and see what happens. It doesn’t take long to figure out how the family’s schedule. Then I’m in and out.”
“Are you in and out fairly quickly?”
“No longer than ten minutes. Sometimes on the range of three or four minutes.”
“When you leave, do your re-set the alarm?”
“Not the way you think. I don’t turn off the alarm to enter so it isn’t necessary to turn it back on when I leave. Basically I create an electronic time gap in the system and use the time gap to enter and leave. That way, when the tape is reviewed, there is no indication that the alarm system has been breached. There is just an electronic jumble on the screen that appears to last a few seconds when, in fact, it has lasted 20 minutes.”
“Can’t the security people tell that from the time code?”
“Not really. The electronic gap also distorts the time sequence. After the apparent few seconds of distortion, the clock automatically restarts at midnight. There’s no way to know that anyone has been in the residence.”
“So the perps use your entrance through the electronic shield. But they have to take longer than 20 minutes.”
“They just shut off the system. Then they turn it on after they leave. The clock resets itself and the security companies are not the wiser. That’s why the perps have not been caught on tape.”
“Have you ever seen anyone after you’ve burgled a residence?”
“Nope. I’m in and out.”
“This is a most perplexing case.”
“Oh, I figured you would appreciate it. Now, I am going to be in and out of a residence next Tuesday night. What I am going to do is tell you the minute I am out and gone. If you are clever you should be able to catch the thieves in the act.”
“What makes you think they don’t know you are dealing with us?”
“I don’t. But if I make it into and out of the house quickly and you get there right away, the perps are going to be caught in the act. If they do not turn up, I’ll leave a swatch and then the story will get out that a scofflaw is loose in the city. As the story of the missing canopics spreads, the public will understand that there are two sets of burglars out there – and I’m not the bad guy.”
“I see. So, I should be here, at this number, for your call Tuesday evening.”
“That’s right. You should be able to make it to the burgled residence in about six minutes.”
“I’ll wait for your call.”
True to his word, on Tuesday night, the Bandersnatch Burglar gave a call to Noonan’s office. He gave an address on Wilford Circle and was off the phone. Ten minutes later the Sandersonville Police Department was arresting a gang of five men and four women who were looting the residence of a dot.com mogul who was skin diving off the coast of Mexico. They were caught red-handed, loading expensive antique furniture and Persian rugs into a battered moving van. The seven were moving quickly but methodically, like the professional movers they were. From the size of the loot and how they were packing the van Noonan figured they could have been in and out in less than an hour. They even brought drop clothes for the furniture. Noonan found three of the set of four canopics in the entryway, the falcon missing. The swatch, this time with a stanza from “The Hunting of the Snark,” was on the kitchen table with a note that read “Thanks!”
As the Bandersnatch Burglar had stated, the electronic gurus at the Police Department did find the source of the glitch in the program.
“This was one very clever guy,” said Lt. Samuelson as he looked through the programming spread sheet. “If he hadn’t told you what he was doing, heck, we might never have found it.”
“That was the plan, Samuelson. That was the plan.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on. We’ve got one more arrest to make.”
* * *
To say that the Bandersnatch Burglar was surprised when Noonan showed up at his doorstep was an understatement.
“I presume you are here to thank me for my help?”
“Yes, and to arrest you for burglary.”
“Oh, that’s rich. Don’t you mean petty theft? Those canopics aren’t worth much – even if you can find them on my residence.”
“That’s what confused me at first,” Noonan replied. “Your story had more holes than a wall of chicken wire. It only made sense if I believed what you said. You were counting on your personality to fool me.”
“Well, what did I get out of the robberies?”
“Cash,” replied Noonan. “Lots of cash. The one sticking point in this entire case is what happened to the loot. Everything that was stolen was very high end, not the kind of things you would find in a pawn shop. Since the robberies were supposedly at random, the thieves could not have been stealing for a specific buyer. So where was the loot going? The answer, of course, is that it wasn’t going anywhere. The robberies were being done for the insurance money.”
“But no one’s property has been returned.”
“How would you know that unless you were involved? And that, my dear Bandersnatch Burglar, is enough cause to have you arrested.” Noonan turned to Lt. Samuelson, “cuff him and read him his rights.”
“You can’t do this!” shrieked the burglar in his normal voice, that of a 50-year old man who appeared more as an outraged accountant than a criminal mastermind.
Samuelson droned through the Miranda rights and then nodded for a sergeant to take charge of the prisoner.
“You can’t do this,” the burglar shrieked. “I’m a scofflaw!”
“No,” said Noonan, “you are not. How did you know that no one’s property had been returned? Because you work for the insurance industry. You didn’t hack into any one’s sales records to see who bought canopics, you knew what was being insured because you had the paperwork on your desk. You also knew where everything was in the homes that were burgled because you had seen pictures of the valuables, a requirement for the special kinds of insurance that would be needed for exquisite antiques and one-of-a-kind collectables. You didn’t have to hack into any electronics either. You just installed the glitch while you were examining the security systems at the security companies. What did you do, convince them that you had to look over the system before you would insure the homes they were watching? Why I’ll bet those minimum wage guards could have cared less as you pawed through the system.”
“But, but, but . . .”
Samuelson watched the burglar struggle as he was loaded into the back of a patrol car.
“That was most impressive, Chief,” he said. “But how did you know where to find him?”
“It wasn’t that hard,” Noonan replied. “Everything depended on me believing that the scofflaw was stealing canopics. It was a tempting thought because it was so unusual. But there wasn’t a dime in it. So I followed the money. There was only one entity that could profit from robberies of this kind: insurance companies. If they could get back the purloined merchandise at less than the cost of the claim, they’d jump at the deal.”
“But we checked out the insurance companies for the 13 robberies. They were all different!”
“Yes. But not the appraisers. There are not that many appraisers for this kind of high-end merchandise in Sandersonville. Noonan wagged his head knowingly. “Eighteen of them, as a matter of fact.”
“Eighteen? How did you know which one was the bad apple?’
“I didn’t,” replied Noonan with a wicked smile. “But right now twelve of them and their families are having a free dinner at my favorite restaurant, Lorenzo’s.” Noonan leaned forward and smiled conspiratorially. “You see, they all think they’ve won the meal through some kind of a lottery. Three are out of town, one is sick and one is at a pornographic theater as we speak. The eighteenth left his home and went to Wilfred Circle.” He smiled stoically, “You see, I’ve been keeping track of them all.”
“So the swatches were all a sham, a red herring.”
“That’s right,” sighed Noonan. “Everything was made to make it appear that there were two different robberies happening at the same time. I’m sure that was the plan all along.”
“I don’t understand,” Samuelson was shaking his head.
“The original plan was to plant the swatches at each burglary and steal a falcon canopic. The appraiser would arrive when the thieves entered the premises, take the canopic and leave. He was never involved in the actual burglary so he could never be caught. But he provided the thieves with a list of valuables to steal, just different enough to keep him from becoming a suspect. But the thieves always made sure to steal a falcon canopic and leave a swatch. If they ever got caught, the stolen canopics and swatches were going to be their ticket to a short prison sentence. If they got arrested, the next time a canopic was stolen and a swatch was discovered, the perps could claim they were being charged with someone else’s crime.”
“I see,” replied Samuelson. “Reasonable doubt.”
“Correct! But our perps were too subtle for their own good. No one noticed that the canopics were missing. So someone had to call the police. That’s why I got the call.”
“Well, that explains everything but where the loot is.”
“That will be the easiest to find. We’ll have it all before dawn. As soon as our gang of movers finds out that they were being double-crossed, they’ll spill every bean in the pot.”
“What if they don’t talk?”
“Then we’ll just check warehouse space rented by our friend the appraiser over the last year. It shouldn’t be that hard. The rental has to be large and indoor. It was probably safest to rent it in his name. That way if he was caught he could say he was dealing with the thieves on behalf of the insurance companies and arranging a quiet settlement. I’ll bet he’s already been accepting cash from the insurance companies to recover the stolen property quickly and quietly.”
“Is there any way to get him?”
“I hope so. The record of vehicles into and out of the storage yard should convict him. I’ll bet the drop-offs were made late at night, after the robberies. I’ll bet we’ll even find that the van was in long term storage near the rental room. That way the thieves could hide the van and the loot at the same location.”
Samuelson shook his head. “They almost got away with all of it. If the burglar hadn’t of been so greedy, they would all have gotten away with it. I mean, who was going to stop them?”
“Greed, my dear Samuelson,” replied Noonan. “The Bandersnatch Burglar never intended to share. This was to be the last burglary. He was using the master plan to have his gang arrested. They’d be sitting in jail cells while he was flying the coop. When we search his home I’ll bet we find a stash of traveler’s checks and a ticket to some location where the United States has no extradition treaty. If we hadn’t nabbed him tonight, he’d have been in Rio by the time we connected the dots.”
“Well, we certainly are lucky you were on the job. Was there any one thing that tipped you off?”
“I don’t know if it was tip off or not. When I found out that the falcon canopic was the one that was being stolen, I mused that if I couldn’t solve the case, people were going to be laughing at me for years. That got me to thinking about the old expression that he who laughs last laughs best. That was when I figured out that there was less to this story that I was being told.”
With that Noonan started walking toward his car. “If I’m really lucky,” he said over his shoulder, “I can make it to Lorenzo’s before my children finish off all the fettucini Alfredo.”