Beyond the Western
Captain Heinz Noonan, the "Bearded Holmes" of the Sandersonville Police Department, was twiddling with a thick Manila hemp rope under a branch of the massive oak tree in his backyard when his wife yelled he had a call. Since he didn't want to yell back – (‘Not in this neighborhood!’ his wife would say) – he held up the end of the rope and waved it at her. Apparently she understood his signal because she didn't yell again.
"Just what I need on a Saturday," he muttered as he pulled the old tire to chest level and looped the rope around it. "I've got Otto and Fritz screaming for a swing, the in-laws coming over for a barbecue, a reception at 8:00 and I've still got heartburn from last night's cabbage." He was still struggling with the tire when the twins, Fritz and Otto, came out to the oak tree with the cellular phone.
"Mom said you should take this call," said Fritz as he handed Noonan the phone.
"When are we going to have our swing finished?" asked Otto.
Noonan glared at both of them and they had the good sense to leave him alone with the phone.
"Yeah!" snapped Noonan.
"Captain Noonan?" It was a young man's voice. "Is this Captain Noonan?"
"Hope so," Noonan replied. "But it'll be mud if I don't get this swing built."
"Well, I can't help you with that. At least not from here. This is Sgt. Billingslee. We had an unusual burglary last night. Actually we just thought it was vandalism until we ran a check on the perp. It wasn't so much what was taken as who was doing the taking."
"Keep me guessing."
"Sorry about that. We picked up a known felon burgling hair from a barbershop."
"He were stealing hair?"
"Who was the perp?"
"Pearson. Pearson. I remember him. He's the one who got upset when we spelled his name with a v instead of a ph. Kicked out a desk panel and we had a heck of time convincing accounting that it was job-related damage."
"Yes, Sir. He's usually a safe-cracker, second-story man. Works alone. What's he doing breaking into a barber shop and taking hair?"
"Did you ask him what a bright guy like him was doing knocking down a barbershop for hair?"
"Oh, yeah. And you can guess what he said."
"Yeah, I can."
"What tipped you off?"
"Just happened to see a light flashing in a dark building. There wasn't any burglar alarm. It was a random snatch."
"I'll bet he's not happy."
"You can say that again. But what can we do? Nothing was broken. The building owner is laughing his head off, the barber isn't pressing charges and I had to let Pearson go. I asked the barber about returning the property and he said Pearson could have it."
"So Pearson walks out free with the hair?"
"And you're calling me to find out why a safe cracker would want someone else's hair."
"Yes, sir. Do you have any idea?"
"Not a one. Look, since you are on duty, run down some facts for me. Who did the hair belong to? Was anything else missing from the barber shop? Have there been any more strange break-ins in barber shops anywhere else in the city? Pull up Pearson's file and see if there anything relating to hair in any of his convictions. I'll talk to the lab people and find out if there's anything about hair we should know."
"Right. I'll call you back . . ."
"On Monday, Billingslee, Monday. That's the day after Sunday, two days from now. A workday, right. Monday!"
"I read you loud and clear, sir."
* * *
Captain Noonan was seated at his desk behind a mountain of paperwork when Sgt. Billingslee knocked on his office door.
"Go away! I'm not here! I've died!"
"Not yet, sir," Billingslee said as he maneuvered his way around the piles of boxes in Noonan's office. "I've already read the obituaries and your name is not there."
"Who are you?"
"Ah, yes, the hair man."
"So to speak. I checked on what you wanted, Captain. Are you busy?"
"Yes! Go away!"
"I can't do that yet. The hair didn't come from any one person that the barber can remember. It was just hair on the floor that was swept up from time to time during the day. The perp got there before the janitor. The perp just dug into the trash. There were three other break-ins at barbershops over the last three months that appear close to ours but nothing of value was taken in each case. Pearson's file really doesn't tell us anything about hair. He's had three arrests that took. The first he was caught red-handed, plead down. The second time he was nabbed when a pawn broker turned and . . . "
Billingslee flipped through Pearson's file, jerked out a yellow piece of paper and handed it to the Captain. ". . . the third time he was caught he was trying to recruit an informant that turned out to be an undercover cop."
"We are talking about a real intelligent crook here."
"Yeah. He's only been out two months."
"Two months?" Captain Noonan suddenly stopped digging through his piles of paperwork. "Just got out? Of course! He's been watching a lot of TV lately."
"Could have been."
"Of course, he has. Those forensic shows. This bozo's been watching those hair and fiber people. He's planning on pulling a big job and then dropping all different kinds of hair around. He thinks that this is going to make it harder for us to find him."
"Maybe. But what he doesn't know is that we only use hair and fiber when we don't have anything else. Hair and fiber, yeah, we use it on a big case when we've got the money. But you can't get a solid match from hair."
"So he's really not helping himself by scattering hair around?"
"No. He's probably helping us. We find a lot of strange hair around, it's his calling card."
"So the good guys win again?"
"Not unless I can figure out a way to keep a knot on a tire swing."
"Try a bowline. Every good boy scout knows how to tie one."
Noonan handed the yellow sheet back to Billingslee who slipped it into Pearson's file. "Well, that ties things up nicely."