Beyond the Western
Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was having a difficult day. More precisely, he was in agony. Writhing, as a matter of fact, as opposed to wrestling with an immutable difficulty. It was not a physical ailment or, for that matter, a psychological one. It was a one of personnel. In this case, himself. He and his staff had just been assigned to look into the nefarious activities of a Muslim cabal in Avon which was plotting to destroy the economy of the Outer Banks of North Carolina by infiltrating the food chain with poisonous substances. The order had come down from on high, in this case, only as high as the third floor of the Sandersonville Municipal Building where the office of the Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security, Edward Paul Lizzard III, was located.
There were at least a half-dozen blatant errors in the assignment. First, it was a one-person infiltration operation, so the "staff of one" was Heinz Noonan. Second, the “Muslim cabal” was a newly-opened restaurant in Avon, the Queen of Sheba, which advertised its fare as “the best Ethiopian food west of Addis Ababa.” The “destruction of the economy of the Outer Banks of North Carolina” was the rising popularity of the restaurant primarily because it had just opened and it was tourist season. Any and every restaurant on the Outer Banks during tourist season was popular. The alleged to be “poisonous substances” were specifically listed on the menu, standard fare with Ethiopian titles, like daro for chicken, siga for beef, and injera as a sourdough flatbread. Most suspicious in the Commissioner's eyes was the berbere, as printed in the menu, “dry chili pepper, imported blend of spices, stone ground with ginger, garlic, onion, turmeric and fenugreek.” [“What the blue blazes is fenugreek?” the Commissioner had snapped. “It’s not American food!”]
Noonan, inured to the wild rantings of the Commissioner, had simply listened to the diatribe without saying a word. There was no reason to interject logic into the conversation as it had no place. Worse, it would simply prolong the harangue. So Noonan bit his tongue, literally, and did not mention to the Commissioner that Ethiopia was a Christian nation with the oldest Holy Book on earth, 800 years older than the King James Version of the Bible. Further, anyone could buy fenugreek in Walmart and the “dry chili pepper, imported blend of spices, stone ground with ginger, garlic, onion” along with turmeric sounded more like a blend of Italian and Mexican than an African import.
Noonan, a seasoned veteran of the Commissioner’s rants, also knew there was something beneath the surface. The Commissioner was only interested in three things: increased funding for his office from the Office of Homeland Security, increased funding for his office from the Office of Homeland Security, and increased funding for his office from the Office of Homeland Security. So, somehow, in some bizarre twist of reality, the Queen of Sheba was tied into something that would increase the funding for his office from the Office of Homeland Security.
This was actually a two-person job. One individual would have to infiltrate the innermost sanctum of the Muslim cabal – i.e., have a meal in the restaurant – while someone else – i.e. Noonan – would search Heaven and Earth to discover why the Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security was as mad as a mule chewing bumble bees.
And he had the perfect secret agent for undercover work in a restaurant.
Noonan did not believe in buzzing, chirping, or beeping for assistance. He had a voice; so he used it. Since Harriet, the office manager and Il Duce of common sense always responded, he had no need of buzzing, chirping, or beeping.
Harriet sauntered into his office with a smirk on her face. She could read the Commissioner like a book even if she were not in the room where he proposed his insanities.
Noonan was proactive. “No.”
“Yes. At least one.”
“No. You cannot have a drink with dinner.”
“Now, Captain,” Harriet now said with a whine. "You know, if I really have to go undercover in a restaurant, I have to act like a patron, not a spy."
“No. The budget cannot take you drinking wildly.”
“Wildly?! Not I. I’m a sedate drinker. Now, if I can’t drink there is no sense in going undercover. Afterall, his Majesty,” she said looking up through the ceiling tiles to the third floor throne room, “assigned you to go to the Queen of Sheba. Far be it for me to . . .”
Noonan cut her off. “OK, OK. One drink. With dinner. One, unos, uno, ein. And pay for it out of petty cash. I don’t want that drink showing up on our expense report.”
Harriet batted her eyes. “But everyone in accounting knows you cannot have a dinner in a restaurant undercover without a bottle of wine.”
“One drink does not mean a bottle of wine! That’s five glasses.”
“It’s still only one drink. One bottle. Unos, uno ein. And between two of us it’s below the DUI limit.”
“Well, you cannot expect a single woman like me to go without an escort to a seedy, vermin, Muslin-infested restaurant in a dangerous town without an escort. But then again, if you want to go . . .” She let the sentence hang.
Noonan knew when he was defeated. “OK. One bottle. Again, Unos, uno ein. Figure a way to keep it off the books.”
“I,” Harriet said as she stood up plopped her right hand over her heart, “am an excellent bookkeeper and you will never, ever see any alcohol listed as an expense.”
“Keep it that way,” growled Noonan. Then he added, “And file a report.”
* * *
Whenever Noonan was confronted with a loo-loo assignment, he turned to his two, tried-and true source of information: history and local newspapers. Frankly, Noonan had never heard of the Queen of Sheba. The restaurant, that is. As to the fabled Queen herself, Noonan was quite familiar but from a non-biblical perspective. He knew the Queen had visited Solomon – he of the ‘cut the baby in half’ ruling – and they had produced a child. The child, a son, returned to Jerusalem when he was a man and was honored. Then, after he left, it was discovered his priests had snagged the Ark of the Covenant which, legend and television specials proclaim, remains in Ethiopia to this day.
Noonan also knew the history of Avon, a booming metropolis of about 700 residents who, courtesy of global warming, were being washed out to sea. The community was initially named Kinnakeet and was famous for its yaupon. The expression “Kinnakeeters yaupon eaters” was well known along the Outer Banks. The scientific name for yaupon was Ilex vomitoria, which summed up the impact of the vegetation on the human alimentary canal. The community was renamed Avon by the United States Postal Service in 1883, though the catcall remained to the present day.
Avon did not have a newspaper, but there were more than a few grocery store tabloids. There was nothing on the Queen of Sheba – restaurant or historical figure – other than advertising. It was a modest restaurant and it, like many other restaurants, were struggling because of COVID-19. An interior shot of the restaurant showed no patrons but that the structure was modest in size. Masks were required and the restaurant was firm in its practice of social distancing. The internet was chockablock with advertising, stories and tales of Avon and the Outer Banks for good reason: it was the holiday central for the East Coast. “Holiday” on the East Coast was a six-week extravaganza and the city was packed from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The rest of the year, not so much.
The Queen of Sheba was a rapidly-developing portion of town fronting Pamlico Sound. To non-islanders, this meant the restaurant would be around long after the homes, restaurant and boutiques on the Atlantic side of the island were grottos for herring, mullet and mackerel. The restaurant was in a growing mall which housed, shoulder-to-shoulder, the Queen of Sheba, Hernando’s T-shirt shop, the Dominque Gallery and Antiques, a grocery store and a state liquor establishment. There was room for three other businesses slated to be in the mall, two boutiques and a small brewery.
The advertisement for the new businesses gave a clue. Rather than “coming soon” announcements, the openings were “pending negotiations.” Noonan could not find anything in any tabloids or on the internet regarding "negotiations,' so he checked the Dare County webpage for utility permits and roadway easements. He got zip. He checked with the electric and water utilities. Again, he got zip. Then he checked land records.
And he got a hit.
The mall where the Queen of Sheba was located was split between two landowners, both incorporated businesses. The portion of the mall which housed the established business was owned by Harrison and Harrison. According to State of North Carolina business records, it was a firm out of Turtle and was a conglomerate with holiday-related businesses scattered along the coast as far north as Virginia Beach. The other partner in the mall was Yaupon Brewing Associates. As the name suggested, it was small brewery with a home office in Sandersonville. It was a family business owned by – and at this point Noonan’s mind worked faster than his fingers on the keyboard – Edward Paul Lizzard II, his wife Fate, and two other ne’er-do-wells on the Outer Banks.
A quick call to the public affairs office in Harrison and Harrison revealed the "pending negotiations" were not between the businesses-to-be and the landowners but between the two landowners. Yaupon Brewing wanted the mall named the Yaupon Brewing Mall with the name boldly displayed on the marque along the highway. Harrison and Harrison had a policy of not encouraging alcoholic consumption – particularly along a roadway of any width – and didn't care what it was named as long as the implication of an alcoholic beverage was not in the title.
* * *
It wasn’t often that Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes,” could have more insight than Harriett. Afterall, how much could one learn about a land dispute dining in a restaurant that was not part of the dispute? The bearded detective was savoring the moment to on-up his office manager.
And that was all he got: a moment.
The moment Harriet came in the following day, she broke into the conversation with, “I’ll bet you can’t guess who owns half of the mall with Queen of Sheba! The Lizzards! And they are trying to open a brewery and the other partner in the mall doesn’t want the Lizzards to advertise beer on the Marquee.”
“Really?” Noonan said flatly. “How’d you know that?”
Harriett leaned toward him and said conspiratorially, “Only the shadow knows.”
“Yeah,” snapped Noonan. “How many bottles of wine did it take?”
“None! Dinner was on the house! Just happens I know Desta from bridge club. She and her husband, Estefan, opened Queen of Sheba a few months ago. It’s doing well. They’re going to do even better when COVID19 passes. And they do not have a nice thing to say about the Lizzards.”
* * *
Edward Paul Lizzard III, like Donald Trump, was the patron saint of drunk uncles. And both had method to their madness; cash on the barrel head. If it did not involve cash to them individually, it was “no good,” “fake news,” or a political conspiracy to keep them from getting cash on the barrel head.
There are only two ways to deal with a drunk uncle. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. But dealing with the conspiracies of the Edward Paul Lizzard’s of the world takes more than kid gloves. Noonan knew there were generally three ways of dealing with fake news. One way was to dilute the story. When someone says all Democrats are lizard people, you might say, "Just the Democrats? How about Sierra Club members and student body presidents?”
The second way was known as the “truth sandwich.” You start with the delusion, add a real world item, and finish with the delusion in the hopes the person will realize the insanity he/she believes. When someone says all Democrats are lizard people you say, “If that was true then they must eat a lot of flies. I haven’t seen any Democrats eating flies, have you?”
The third way is distraction. You pull the conversation away with a question because, when you ask a question, you control the conversation. When the statement that all Democrats are lizard people comes up, you say “Really? How did the Dallas Cowboys do on Sunday? Do you think they’ll make the playoffs?”
There is also a fourth way which is just as ineffective as the other three. It’s the Alaskan way: absurding. You drag the statement made by the looney a giant leap deeper into absurdity. When the lizard people come up, you say “Did you know lizard people make special knives and forks to eat flies? They have large handles but very small blades and tines. They also have plates with rubber band straps to hold down the struggling flies. The Democrats have to keep the plates and cutlery hidden so one knows they are lizard people.”
Now that he knew all there was to know, what was Noonan going to tell Edward Paul Lizzard III?
* * *
Three Monday’s later, Harriet was bursting with energy. “You will never guess who showed up at the Queen of Sheba yesterday?”
“Solomon?” Noonan was flat faced.
“Don’t give me that ‘Who, me?’ look. You know darn well who showed up.” She let her eyes drift upwards toward the ceiling. “His majesty!”
“Let me guess,” Noonan said nonchalantly. “He was there with the press.”
“Of course,” snapped Harriett. He never leaves the throne room except for public events with the press. If a week went by with no ‘breaking news,’” Harriet made quotation signs with the first two fingers of both hands, “he’d starve.”
“Possibly true.” Noonan’s response was flat.
“No, no, no,” Harriet cut in as Noonan tried to get back to work. “YOU,” she pointed at him with both fingers of both hands, “tell Momma what you told his majesty.”
“Oh, not much,” Noonan replied. “I just told him the Queen of Sheba restaurant was incredibly popular and had a waiting list for when the Corona Virus was gone. People were flocking to the restaurant.”
“I said the restaurant was unusual, even for the Outer Banks and would probably attract customers from out of Avon as well. Then I told him that Ethiopians were Christians, not Muslims so there could not be a Muslim cabal. It was just misinformation. Fake news, you know.”
“He and Trump are birds of a feather.” Harriet chortled evilly.
“Correct. And I said he should give the Queen of Sheba an award for being an outstanding example of multiethnic American entrepreneurship. Afterall, it’s owned by an Ethiopian and a Jamaican, both citizens. Then he could say something about the restaurant being a bulwark of Democracy, immigrants and children of immigrants doing well. And two of the stores in the mall were owned by children of immigrants. He could say he was looking forward to dining there because the mall was a snapshot of America and we welcome all who come to our shores.”
“And he bought it.” Harriet chuckled. “He even gave Desta and Estefan a large certificate to hang in the restaurant.”
“I hear the mall changed it’s name too,” Noonan said flatly but slyly.
“Yup. It’s now Yaupon Plaza. His majesty made the announcement saying it was mix of the Old World and the New with Yaupon of the New and Plaza, Italian, of the Old.”
Noonan shook his head. “All it takes is little forethought to solve most problems.”
“And money,” sniped Harriett. “Just a whiff of it. As soon as the Lizzards scented cash, things changed. What a shock?! And he’ll send the press coverage to the Office of Homeland Security and ask for more dollars.”
“The way of the world, Harriett,” Noonan chuckled. “Speaking of an Italian Plaza and Yaupon Brewing, do you know what a Roman wants when he makes the sign of a V in a beer parlor?”
"Oh, no! A joke! No, what does a Roman want when he makes the sign of a V in a beer parlor."