Beyond the Western
The Matter of the Cozened Gnomes
Steve Levi

Beyond the Western

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department was enjoying a pleasant evening on vacation in confines of the fine Merlot as he was dining on King Salmon at Munsey’s Bear Camp on Uyak Bay. Uyak Bay was on the remote west side of Kodiak Island and the key word for Noonan was remote because it meant he was distant from his mother-in-law and in-laws in Anchorage as well as far as he could be from the politics of the Sandersonville Police Department as he could be and still speak English. Alas, he was still within the grasp of the treacherous beast of Satan which, at that very moment, was vibrating in his cargo pants’ pocket. He did not have to look at the number on the face of the infernal instrument of mayhem to know it was his wife. She was off with his close friend, Robin Barefield, and fishing for King Salmon on the far side of Uyak Bay. Who else would call?

“Yes, dear,” Noonan said lazily. “I hope you caught a nice fat one because I look forward to a fine king salmon repast this evening.”

“Fine with me,” said a strange voice. “But I’m more concerned with the theft of 150, two-foot high, garden gnomes that are turning up in vacant lots all over the city.”

* * *

“Yes, sir. You know, gnomes like the one in the advertising for that travel service on television.”

“You mean garden gnomes, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, first of all, who are you and how did you get my number?”

“First, I am Brando Tagaloalagi. I’m the Sheriff of Chillingworth County in Western Washington and Harriet will deny she gave me your number.”

“I’ve never heard of any Harriet,” snapped Noonan. “And I’ll bet no one has ever asked you about your name.”

“Samoan names are quite popular among Samoans.”

Noonan snorted. “I’m sure they are. Are you a lot of Samoans in, where?, Chillingworth County?”

“There are now.”

“Good answer. I was interested in the Brando name.”

“My mother was an aspiring actress and fan of Marlin Brando.”

“A good answer. Give you mother my best.”

“She’ll appreciate that. She manages the local youth theater here in Chillingworth.”

“OK. Enough. What’s the problem?”

“Well, I was told when it came to unusual . . .”

“Yes, yes, I know. The problem. I’ve got a glass of chilled wine and I’d like to get back to it.”

“Not a problem. About a year ago there was a theft of a boxcar of garden gnomes. The gnomes are a foot-and-a-half high. They were taken out of a railway boxcar that was on a sidetrack. Someone snapped the lock on the box car and took every box of gnomes out.”

“How many gnomes are we talking about?”

“Maybe 150. The shipping documents were scattered. That is, the company sending the gnomes knew 560 gnomes were sent west. Along the way boxes were taken off for delivery. To get an exact number the company would have had to contact every distributor who would have to contact every story where the gnomes were sold to get a total of the gnomes that were not stolen. It was not worth the gnome company’s time to get a number. All it wanted was the police report for the insurance company. The company estimated 150 gnomes. That’s the number I’m stuck with.”

“150 gnomes?”

“Correct. If that was all, I wouldn’t be calling you. The theft was about a year ago. 14 months, actually. But within the last month they have been appearing in vacant lots all over Chillingworth. We picked up about a dozen of them but they get replaced. So now we just leave them in place.”

“Why would anyone want to steal a gnome let alone 150 of them and then leave a bunch of them all over town a year later?”

“That, sir, is why I’m calling you.”

Noonan was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Tell you what. Call me back in an hour. Let me think about this for a while.”

“Yes, sir.”



“Heinz. I’m not a sir. If there’s a crime and I’m duty, it’s sir. There isn’t a crime here.”

“Heinz is fine with me if you call me Brando.”

“Marlin won’t work?”

“That’s what my wife calls me when she’s mad.”

“Brando it is.”

* * *

One of the blessings of the internet is its availability. Even at a remote lodge on the far side of Uyak Bay on Kodiak Island, an island most people in America do not even know exists. Noonan punched up garden gnomes on Wikipedia – and donated a sawbuck to the site because free information is not really free; someone is paying for it and if you use information from Wikipedia you should pay for it because there are people who cannot (or will not) – and did a quick read. Which was possible because there was not much he didn’t know.

Garden gnomes were the 21st Century’s Priapus, the Roman God of fertility, horticulture and viticulture. Just a glance at Priapus made it clear why he was god of fertility and, as Noonan was a wine connoisseur, he was familiar with viticulture. Small stone statues of Priapus with a sickle were common in Roman gardens. During the Renaissance Priapus became grotesque and were painted with wild, contrasting colors. Three hundred years later, in Germany, the evolving, grotesque Priapus were transformed into dwarfs or the legendary “little folk” of the region. Then, as with all things saleable, they were mass produced. In this century, Noonan discovered, the gnomes for sale usually had a red phrygian cap – he hit the link to phrygian for a definition – and sometimes have pipes. Pipes as what one uses with tobacco.

The only reference to the massive use of gnomes, other than for advertising, was a reference to a 2014 election in Austria where a minor party, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (DPO), used them as advertising. Dubbing them “coolmen,” the party had traditional performed so poorly the press labeled them “political dwarfs.” Just as Andrew Jackson had adopted the jackass as the symbol for the Democratic Party in America in the previous century, the DPO adopted the gnome. Then they placed more than 20,000 posters with gnomes and party slogan along the roadways. When more than 400 of the posters were stolen, the thefts (along with news anchors’ laughter) were reported around the world.

When Tagaloalagi aka Brando called back, Noonan had a raft of short list of questions. “OK, I’ve got a list of questions for you. Call me back when you have the answer to all of them. Ready,”

“Shoot, Luke.”

“I’m in Eastern Washington. Cowboy country.”

“OK, here we go. Why was the boxcar sitting at the siding? Was that on purpose or by accident? How long had it been sitting there? How was the theft discovered? Was it well known the gnomes were in the boxcar? How heavy were the boxes with the gnomes? Did any of the boxes ever show up? Are there any cults in the area? Have there been any increases in traffic violations in Chillingworth County since the gnomes were stolen? How many gnomes appeared in the vacant lots. Where were the vacant lots located? Were the gnomes you picked up dusted for fingerprints? That’s all I can think about right now. I might have some more questions later.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“Great. Just don’t call at dinner time. Alaska time.”

Four hours later, after Alaska dinner time, Brando was back on the phone. “Here’s what I’ve got for you. In order. The boxcar had been there for two days. Chillingworth is a minor transportation hub for Western Washington so being on a railroad sideline for two days is not unusual. Everyone knew of the gnomes in the boxcar. It was in the newspapers as one of those humorous sidebars. About how Chillingworth was so small dwarfs were immigrating. The theft was discovered when the boxcar was visually inspected, an inspection required by regulation. The gnomes are four to a box and the boxes weigh 20 pounds. No gnome boxes have shown up. We don’t have any cults, as in religious, in the area. The closest thing we have is a white nationalist separatist anti-immigrant/black/Samoan wacko group in the backcountry. There may be a dozen of them, maybe. We’re a small community so we know who they are. And we don’t care. Odd you show ask it, there has been an increase in traffic tickets. Parking tickets, not speeding tickets. You really have to be speeding in Chillingworth County to get a ticket. Parking tickets; a dime a dozen. Guessing you were going to ask, I did check the names of the offenders. A smattering of residents, a few scofflaws, and, surprisingly, a few of the white nationalist separatist anti-immigrant/black/Samoan wacko group. Yes, I know what you are going to ask next, most of those tickets were downtown. Not in residential areas or where the gnomes were found.”

“You are one step ahead of me,” Noonan said. “You’re in the right profession to be forward thinking.”

“Thanks. A total of 17 gnomes have been picked up and we are pretty sure another dozen were picked up by local residents. You know, finders-keepers. All were dusted. No prints. No markings or smudges. Like they were right out of the box. There are 20 gnomes out there now. Half of them are in the downtown area, the others are in some residential areas.”

“Those gnomes in the residential areas, are they clustered in one area or several?”

“Three, if the number means anything.”

“Any of the ones downtown area within sight of a grocery store, post office, federal building police station or the courthouse?”

“Heinz, everything in Chillingworth is within sight of the grocery store, post office, federal building police station or the courthouse?”

“Any special legal cases being heard in town?”

“Nope. The usual. Traffic tickets, shoplifting, small claims. Nothing big.”

“Humm, I’m hoping you can live with a guess and not a solid answer.”

“I’ll take what I can get.”

“This is just a guess, now. I’m betting there is a big legal case coming. And coming soon. A federal one. But it will a lot of much ado about nothing. The kind of a case people laugh about.”

“How do you know that?? “

“Just a hunch. I think your white nationalist separatist anti-immigrant/black/Samoan wacko group in the backcountry – your words – were the ones who stole the gnomes in the first place. I’m betting one of the members works for the railroad in some capacity so he would know where the boxcar was located. He and his buddies broke into the boxcar and took the gnomes as a political statement against immigrants. It was a publicity stunt that went nowhere.”

“Good guess and likely true. But why are the gnomes appearing all over town?”

“I’ll get to that. I’m guessing the gnomes were used by the cult as targets. They had failed at publicity and could not afford to be caught with the gnomes. So they began using them as targets.”

“But the ones we picked up were complete, not shot-up.”

“Correct. The cult didn’t shoot all of them. As they were shooting up the gnomes, somehow, they got the word they were being investigated by the feds. If the investigation had been by the police or sheriff, the news would have been all over town. Chillingworth is that kind of community, it’s it?”

“You got that one right.”

“So, I’m betting the feds are involved. The feds are quiet sorts. But somehow the cult knew there was an investigation underway and suspected there was a mole. The way to remind the mole to keep his mouth shut was to put up gnomes around town, just like the ones they were shooting to pieces, in areas where the suspected mole lived and shopped. I’ll bet the gnomes are in the residential area where the railroad worker lives, the one who tipped the cult as to the location of the boxcar. If they are in more than one area, then your white nationalist separatist anti-immigrant/black/Samoan wacko group suspects more than one person.”

“That’s quite a leap of logic. What do you think the feds are investigating?”

“I call them ‘laughing indictments.’ They are designed to make people look foolish rather than charge them with serious crimes. It will be something minor, like destruction of railroad property for the lock on the box car. Something to drag people into court and get laughs on the local news and in the newspaper.”

“Why not the stealing of the gnomes?”

“No need. The gnomes are worth about $5 each. Wholesale. So 150 are $750, a pittance. My bet, the feds are going to threaten your railroad worker with breaking and entering, theft, white nationalist separatist anti-immigrant/black/Samoan wacko group in the backcountry trespassing on railroad property which is a violation of interstate commerce, littering, loitering and some other crimes. Or, they will say, you can plead down to breaking the padlock on the box car.”

“I’d take that deal.”

“So will your railroad worker. What the feds want to do is embarrass the cult, get the community laughing at them. There’s great power in laughter. They don’t want to spend $100,000 to get a conviction for stealing $750 worth of plaster and paint.”

“Good thought. I’ll keep you informed.”

“NOT while I’m on vacation. I can live with the suspense.”

* * *

Three days later, in the Kodiak Airport, the fiend of the underworld vibrated in his pocket. This time he looked the incoming call. “Drat!” he mumbled to himself, “the police department. What disaster am I going to be sucked into just as I coming home from vacation.”

“Let me guess, Harriett. There’s a national emergency in Sandersonville.”

“Not quite,” Harriett’s voice said reaching across time and space. “You got a package from a Samoan in Chillingworth, Washington. I’m betting you solved the gnome mystery up there. Since I haven’t heard from you, I’m guessing gnome news is good news.”

“Very funny, Harriett, very funny. Did you search the internet for that one?”

“Wasn’t hard. Gnome wasn’t built in a day. Gnome home because your vacation’s over.”

“Enough of the gnome jokes. What was in the package.”

“A gnome. What did you think was in the box?”

“No note?”

“Yeah, from a Brando with a Samoan name. Brando?”
“His mother is an old movie fan. What does the note say?”

“It reads ‘No Place like Gnome. An Alaskan joke. You were right. Sentenced to 10 hours of community service. Here’s one of the evidence gnomes. Enjoy.’”

“How nice.”

“You’re expected back on Monday. Gnome excuses.”

Before Noonan could respond, the beast of Satan went silent. No dead because, as is well known, evil never sleeps.