Beyond the Western
Captain Noonan, the "Bearded Holmes" of the Sandersonville Police Department, was at a loss for words. He was; Harriet was not. Harriet, the office administrative assistant and agonizingly-always-correct matron of the office was playing a word game with the captain. And he had failed with every word.
“Listen carefully,” Harriet had said as if she was speaking to a child, “I am going to give you a number of words. See if you can tell me which one is out of place.”
“Why am I doing this?” Noonan asked edging toward mental exhaustion.
“It will all become clear soon,” Harriet said. “Ready?”
“Yeah,” said the exhausted Captain of the Sandersonville Police. “Let’s hear ‘em.”
So Harriet began, “Bonker, bumbo, crock, bumboozer, tonk, Tom Bowler, dobber, dobbert, hogger, toebreaker.”
“Not a clue.”
“OK, how about boulder, masher, godfather, fourer, taw, popper, shooter.”
Helpless now, “I give up! I give up!”
“Those,” Harriet said with a supercilious smile, “are all terms of types of marbles. Toy marbles. Marbles kids play with.”
“And,” stated an exhausted Noonan, “this has to do with what?”
“Some woman’s completely lost her marbles.” She pointed to the phone on Noonan’s desk. “Line One.”
* * *
“Captain Noonan?” The voice was that of a plaintive child.
“Yes,” Noonan said with an avuncular tone.
“Captain Noonan, my voice is tinny and high, I know. Everyone says I sound like a child. But I’m not. I’m Chief of Police in Hume, Nevada. And, no, this is not a crank call. There is a Hume, Nevada, and I am the Chief of Police here.”
“OK,” Noonan said as he dug around in his desk for a notebook. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“Again, this is not a crank call. We are a fairly new town, named for James B. Hume, h-u-m-e,” she spelled it out, and then continued. “He was one of the foremost lawmen of his day. He’s the man who actually captured Black Bart.”
“Interesting,” Noonan said as he wrote down “Hume” and made a note to remind himself to look up the lawman on Wikipedia.
“We’re a fairly new but growing community. We are also a gambling community because this is, well, Nevada. We’re not the size of Las Vegas by any means but we’re large enough for a dozen smaller casinos and gaming houses. We cater to families which makes us different from Las Vegas. They attract high rollers who occasionally come with their families. We want families because the children will spend as much on theme parks, rides and pinball games as their parents gamble on cards.”
“And the kids don’t expect to win money.”
“You got it,” the tinny voice continued.
“What’s your name, by the way.” Noonan’s pen hovered over the notebook page.
“Gloria Aria. The ‘aria’ is not Italian, by the way. I’m Maori and my name translates as ‘music’ or ‘a pool of water.’ I always thought it was odd I ended up in Nevada which does not very many pools of water.”
“We all end up in places we never thought we’d be. Now, about the marbles. . . “
“I feel odd about calling another law enforcement professional when I don’t have a crime to discuss. I was told you listen to unusual activities and could give insight. Right now, I need it.”
“I do what I can. What’s the unusual activity you are experiencing?”
“Theft of marbles. A lot of them. Why, we do not know. What we do know is who is taking them.”
“Who is taking them?”
“The best term I can think of is ‘hooligans,’ wise guy wannabes. We don’t have organized crime here. Thanks to the FBI, by the way. What we’ve got are the low level bozo hooligans. What they are going to do with marbles we do not know. We just know there have been a rash of warehouse break-ins and hijacking focused on marbles. We’ve got a lot of marbles here in Hume because they are used in kids game and the casinos give them out as awards. Instead of cash.”
“How many marbles are we talking about?” Noonan asked.
“I can’t give you a number count, only a weight. Marbles are shipped and stored based on their weight not numbers. We estimate about 15 tons. And that is a lot of marbles.”
“You’re right, that’s a lot of marbles. All taken over a short period of time?”
“No. We only saw the puzzle forming about a month ago. Then we went back and looked at the records. It’s been going on for about a year. Very under the radar until the two warehouse thefts last month. Then we started paying attention.”
Noonan scribbled in his notebook. “So what you want me to do to tell you what they plan to do with 15 tons of diamonds.”
“It would be nice.”
Noonan chuckled. “OK. Let me see what I can guess for you. But I will need some more information. Have a pen?”
“Ready when you are.”
“Here goes – and give me all the answers are once – tomorrow. I have to do some research on my own. What percent of the people showing up in Hume are under gambling age, how many large casinos do you have, do the casinos get their cash from a local bank, how often are deliveries made, do you have sewer drains in the street large enough to handle 15 tons of marbles, how near is the airport to the casinos, where do you get your water, is there any celebration being planned, are there any parades being planned and, and, and, that’s all I can think of right now.”
“I’ll have your answers tomorrow.”
* * *
Finding material on James B. Hume turned out to be incredibly was easy. And Gloria Aria had been correct. Hume had been a highly respected law man. Born in 1827 in New York state, he left home at 23 to join the human Niagara into California looking for gold. He, like 90% of the stampeders was unsuccessful. He switched to opening a store “on and off,” according to Wikipedia, until 1860 when he began a career in law enforcement. He was elected as the city Marshal of Placerville which had, by then, cleaned up its act. Prior to being Placerville, it was known as ‘Hangtown’ for its numerous executions. He served as the Deputy Warden of Nevada State Prison in 1872 and thereafter became one of the most prominent detectives of his day. The highlight of his career was the capture of stagecoach robber Black Bart.
Black Bart was an unusual bandit, even for California. He robbed stagecoach dressed in a feather duster, basically a long, narrow, bag large enough to encapsulate a man. Black Bart cut holes in the duster for his eyes and arms and brandished a shotgun to show he meant business. After he got his loot, he fled on foot. Because of the rough terrain in the gold country, Bart was able to elude law enforcement pursuers because he would go where a horseback posse could not: scaling steep inclines and moving across rocky landscape.
But he made a mistake.
While attempting to rob a stagecoach on November 3, 1883 in Calaveras County, an armed guard took a pot shot at him. It spooked Black Bart and he fled. But he left behind what in this century is called ‘forensics.’ Specifically, a handkerchief with a laundry mark. That was his undoing and it landed Black Bart in San Quentin.
Hume continued to work as a detective for another decade and a half and died in retirement in 1904. But not in Nevada. In Berkley, California.
But he lived on; in Hume, Nevada. Surprisingly, Hume was relatively new city. Rather than being like Topsy who just “growed,” it was planned. It was a trillion dollar enterprise funded by a plethora of companies who purveyed goods and services to children. The concept was to create a city which catered to children specifically while their parents gambled. It was to be a contained community in the sense all of the workers would live outside the city limits leaving the city itself a tourist spot with no surrounding neighborhoods. By contract, Las Vegas is a gambling mecca approximately five blocks in width. A mile from The Strip, it’s a ‘normal city,’ and many resident thereof have never been to The Strip. Or are smart enough to know the advantage goes to the house so there is no reason to gamble other than lose your money.
Hume was uniquely located for a children’s mecca. The back of the city was against the chest of a mountain range while the front opened onto a state park. No company could build on a state park so, to the front, the casinos has a 270 degree vista of forest, wild game, stunning sunsets and photographically-enticing thunderstorms. Since a road could not be built on the state park, entrance and egress snaked in along the mountains in the back. In the interest of saving ground level space for families with children, the elevated road ran across a series of casino rooftops and parking lots. This left what is traditionally called “the street,” open for foot traffic. All vehicular traffic – passenger cars, buses, trucks and delivery vehicles – came in on the tops of the buildings. The only vehicles allowed on the ground were wheel chairs and police bicycles.
Also unusual, access to the casinos was from the roof only. The roadway extended from casino to parking structure to the next casino and its parking structure to all casinos. There was an eight-story limit to height so, unlike Las Vegas, there was no enticing skyline.
But there were enticing rooftops.
The dozen large casinos had embellished their rooftops to make them children-friendly. Surrounded on the ‘downside,’ so to speak, with thick pains of plexiglass, the rooftops had slides, swings, sand boxes, several had petting zoos and all had complementary, sugar free drinking stations. All also had barbeque pits, large and small, like a campground for those families who wanted to ‘dine over the desert’ as the experience was advertised.
Hume, Nevada, took security seriously. Or, rather, it took the robbery of its casinos seriously. Wandering the internet Noonan found three different video stories on the casinos in Hume. These were not, as Noonan discovered when he logged in, features from television stations. They were produced by the casinos themselves. This Noonan found odd. Las Vegas casinos do not produce films on their security measures, they highlight their floor shows and the glamorous people who frequent the casinos. For those who wish to see the inner workings of the security measures of Las Vegas – maybe – they are encouraged to watch OCEANS 11, OCEANS 12 and OCEANS 13.
So why produce films on the security measures of Hume casinos? Even after Noonan watched all three productions, the only thing Noonan could determine was the films were made to show how impenetrable the security systems were. The camera lingered long on the vault while a/three head/s of security talked about the unique properties of their independent vault/s. Then there were wide angle shot/s of the security rooms showing the beehive/s of activity/ies. The talking head/s touted how the security room workers were searched going into the room as well as coming out. No one was allowed to leave during their shift. Food was brought in through special, small grated trapdoor/s. There were bathrooms inside the security room and all of the utilities lines were firmly secured to the walls and protected with lock boxes. Fresh air was vented into the room from a compressor in another high security room. After the air left the compressor, it wandering through the casino’s eight floors so there was no direct line to the casino security room and, just in case someone thought of popping open the ventilation tunnel to crawl into the security room, there were randomly placed, five-foot sections of the tunnel where steel girders had been welded across the air vent’s channel.
A distant gong chimed in Noonan’s brain.
Then Noonan did research on marbles.
There wasn’t much.
Marbles had been around since the Egyptians. Then, as now, they were round. Then, as now, they are small, spherical toys made from – depending on the millennium – clay, stone, glass, plastic or steel. They ranged from 1/30th of an inch to 3 inches of diameter and were used to attract birds to bird baths, could be put in a sauce pan to keep jam from burning to the bottom of the pan and could be put in a can of paint to help the mixing process.
That was about it.
When Aria called back, her answers didn’t add much to the puzzle.
“OK, Captain, . . .”
“Heinz. Until there’s a crime, I’m Heinz.”
“Fine by me. I got your answers but I don’t know what good they will do for you. According to our statistics, roughly 70% of our visitors are not gamblers. This is because about 60% of the visitors are under the legal age to gamble. The city is designed that way. We have six large casinos, all at eight stories and 15 smaller enterprises. Three of those 15 I would call casinos and the others are small enterprises like video poker salons, pull tabs. All the casinos can get cash from the local bank but most do not. The only reason there is a bank at all is to handle the interest on the money. That is, simply stated, the casino tells the bank how much money came in over a weekend, say, and the bank registers that amount on its books. The money, as in the cash, is actually the bank’s but it sits in the casino’s vault. But it’s the bank’s money and the bank can lend it out because loans are sheet of paper, not actual cash. When a casino gets too much money, as in cash, it is sent by armored car to the bank.”
Noonan thought for a moment. “When a casino has too much cash and it is sent by armored car, how, exactly is the cash sent. I mean, there is only one road and it is on top of the building. So the armored car has to travel on that road, exposed, as it were.”
“Yes, that is correct. It’s a weakness in the security system. That being said, the deliveries are at random, day or night, and no one knows when the deliveries will be made. They just happen. Only the bank knows for sure and only with limited notice. And, before you ask, yes, all information on the deliveries are security, coded and need to know.”
“Have there been any attempts on any delivery? I mean, if the armored cars are the elevated roadway there are lots of people there 24/7.”
“True. Which is why the loading of the armored car is done so quickly. We are talking two, three minutes. Even if the perps are watching 24/7, they are not going to know when the deliveries are about to be made. The load-up so fast there’s not time for any robbery on the buildings. The attempts we have had are on the road well out of Hume.”
“How many are we talking about?”
“Four or five, depending on what you call an attempt. Ever so often we have a distress situation which may or may not be a robbery attempt. The armored will see someone lying on the side of the road near an overturned motorcycle or a couple with kids with what appears to be a stalled vehicle. We don’t know if these are attempts to stop the armored car for a robbery or just a motorist in need of help. The armored doesn’t stop; it just radios in the emergency. If it is an emergency.”
“How about the others?”
“Three, and like I told you before, rank amateurs. A roadblock with fake cops in the wrong color uniform, a sort-of official sign saying the road was washed out . . .”
“Washed out? You’re in the desert, right?”
“Yes. But we do get gully washers and there are arroyos along the road. Just not where the sign was.”
“So, no successful robberies.”
“Correct and my fingers are crossed.”
“How about the other information I asked for.”
Aria continued, “Our sewer drains can handle 15 tons of marble but they would backup at the water and wastewater utility. That would plug the system and cause flooding on the street but I don’t see how that would help with a robbery. Our local airport is on the far side of the mountain crest about 15 miles away and we shuttle families in and out by bus 24/7. Our water is mostly ground water and it is recycled. By law it is recycled. There are lots of celebrations planned by the casinos and those have been calendared long before the event. We don’t have parades here; because we do not allow vehicular traffic on the foot traffic only streets. That’s all I’ve got.”
Noonan thought for a moment and then said, “In my long experience, every strange event is ultimately tied to cash. Those 15 tons of marbles have something to do with cash. The closest I can come to cash are the films done the casinos on the internet. Why were those films made?”
“Good question; bad answer. The original idea ws to show how secure the casinos were when it came to cash. Five of the casino were against the idea. Their attitude was to keep the crooks guessing. The less the crooks knew, the better. The other three produced the videos to discourage the crooks. I’m still out on which was the better approach.”
“I’m with you. Now, when it comes to those security rooms, I’m assuming everything that happens in a casino, from who’s cheating at cards to which bathrooms need more toilet paper is routed through that room.”
“Maybe not the toilet paper in the restrooms, but anything that has to do with cash. Like which slot machines are broken, how many chips have been dispensed, items like that.”
“How about burned out light bulbs, ceiling lights, Emergency Exit signs?”
“They will certainly know if there was a power failure. Light bulbs and ceilings lights, I don’t know. I doubt it. Emergency Exit signs are probably hooked up to the power grid. If the power grid goes off, the Emergency Exist signs would pop on automatically.”
Noonan thought for a moment and then asked, “Your local wannabes, how many are we talking about?”
Aria laughed. “A lot. We call them cabals because they are not gangs who roam the streets trying to strong people. We are the big money so that’s what they concentrate on. Us. How many, I’d say three dozen individuals in six or seven loose groups. We know who they are; there’s just nothing we can do about it.”
“Do they ever get together as a unit?”
“My guess is ‘yes.’ I mean, to steal 15 tons of marbles over a one year period means someone is planning something big.”
And the gong is Noonan’s brain clanged loud.
* * *
“I,” Harriet told Noonan with a supercilious smile, “am a wealthy woman!” As she spoke she upended a small box and poured Hume, Nevada, poker chips all over the Noonan’s desk. She dug into the pile and came up with a chip with a $25,000 figure on its face – and reverse. “I can now retire in the style I can already appreciate.”
Noonan chuckled. “For some reason I don’t think those chips are real.”
“Oh, they’re real all right,” Harriet sniffled angrily as she popped a letter from the box as if she were a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat. “Very, very real. There’s only one problem..”
“Let me guess,” Noonan said sadly. “They are advertising chips, right?”
“Oh, no. They are real. Or were real. Two years ago.” She
pointed to the letter with the index finger of her free hand. “Says
so right here. It also says she, this Aria woman, cannot give you
anything of value because she’s a cop and you’re a cop so she is
giving you things of no value. These chips are from last
“Ah,” Noonan sighed, “the wages of honesty.”
“Yeah,” snapped Harriet. “And what did you do for, for, for,” she looked at the letter again, “Gloria Aria?”
“Nothing, actually. I just took a guess. It may have been right or may have been wrong but I’ll never know.”
“Yup. I figured someone was going to be something with them. I just took a wild guess. Nothing happened so I may have been right. But then again, we’ll never know.”
“What exactly did you guess?”
“Well, I was watching some films of the inside of three of the casinos security room. I didn’t see a flaw in the normal, law enforcement use of the term. What I did see was a lot of people staring at computer screens. I saw what the bad boys . . “
“. . . and girls,” cut in Harriet.
“Them too. What I saw and they saw was an opportunity for chaos. The point was not break into the vault for the money, it was to steal it up top.”
“But there is always topnotch security up top.”
“Yes, but there is profit in confusion. That’s what the bad boys (pause) and girls wanted to create.”
“How could marbles cause confusion?”
“If you look at Hume, Nevada, from above you will see all of the roads are on top of the buildings. The city was built that way so all of what we call streets are foot traffic only. All vehicle use the roadway runs along the top of the casinos.”
“So, if there was a flaw in the security design, it was in the air vent system. Air going into the security rooms and presumably coming out was routed hither and yon through the casino. And there were steel bars across sections of the venting systems so no one could crawl through the vents and get into the security room.”
“Yes, it was. But the designs was not meant to stop small things, like marbles.”
“15 tons of them.”
“Correct. I guessed what was going to happen was the 15 tons of marbles would be poured into the air vent of one of the casinos. Somehow the perps knew where to find a vent opening, maybe in an upstairs room or hallway. Then it was just a matter of routing 15 tons of marbles into the vents.”
“What good would that do?”
“My guess, and again, I’m guessing because it never happened, the marbles would flood into the security room. Whether the weight would have knocked out the security systems I don’t know but I guess not. But I did guess it would scatter the staff. Alarms would go off on all eight floors of the casino including the rooms, restaurants, child sections, everywhere. It would be chaos with the lights out and Emergency Exit signs flashing.”
“And in the chaos the perps would grab the cash in the booth where you can exchange cash or chips and the other way around.”
“Booths. Each floor of the casino would have one. Probably more than one. The perps would be just standing there waiting for the chaos. They would only need seconds to be in and out of the booths. The cash would be good long term. The chips would have to be turned in fairly quickly. Before the casino changed the chip design,” Noonan pointed at the chips on the table. “But as long as the perps didn’t try to cash $1,000 chips, no one was going to catch them. “
“But we’ll never know,” Harriet sighed as she looked at the chips on Noonan’s desk.
“We’ll never know,” Noonan replied.
Harriet snapped back, “No, not the robbery. These chips. We’ll never know how much good these chips would have helped a poor girl like me.”
“Well,” Noonan smiled, “there’s still 15 tons of marbles available in Hume.”
“Probably dumped in the desert somewhere.”
Noonan chuckles, “I agree. Next time you hear someone has lost their marbles, point them in the direction of the Nevada desert.”