Beyond the Western
Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was dinning on his favorite sandwich – blue cheese, scallions and anchovies with mayonnaise on toasted sourdough – because his wife was out of town. It was a fine repast which, to his dismay, everyone else in the office avoided like the plague. They, Noonan lamented, had no sense of exquisite taste. How could they not like the little emperor of seafood, the anchovy?
“That’s the most disgusting sandwich I have ever smelled,” sniped Harriett, his administrative assistant.
“My garbage disposal smells better,” said Billy-Bob George “Handsome” Weasel, his second in command.
“Good example of ocean pollution,” piped Josephine, the new secretary who was ‘getting with the program’ early.
Noonan ignored all of them.
He was enjoying his gourmet repast – until Josephine mentioned there had been an anchovy hijacking of sorts in Ocracoke, down the Outer Banks from Sandersonville.
“Wasn’t me,” Noonan whined. “I buy my anchovies. I don’t purloin them!” Then he thought for a moment and asked, “Hijacking anchovies? I haven’t heard of that theft.”
“I don’t know if it’s a theft the way you mean it, Captain.”
“Heinz. Around the office I’m Heinz unless his lordship is here,” Noonan snapped and let his eyes drift upwards to the ceiling. But not to God but god on the Third Floor, the Commissioner of Homeland Security for the Outer Banks.
“Fine, Heinz,” Jennifer said with enthusiasm. “I read about it in a Raleigh tabloid over the weekend. No one called it a theft or anything illegal. Just a ton of missing anchovies.”
“In Ocracoke, you say?” Noonan was intrigued. “I wonder why they didn’t list it as a crime?”
“Probably because you’d sequester the evidence in the office refrigerator,” retorted Harriett with a dramatic shiver of her shoulders. “No crime, no investigation, no slimy fish next to my chicken sandwich.”
* * *
“NO!” was the emphatic answer from Blackbeard Seafood Distributors in Ocracoke. “No! NO! No! We do not want any kind of an investigation of the missing anchovies. Least of all from the ‘Bearded Holmes’ of the Sandersonville Police Department. We do not need the negative publicity. We’re already up to our ears in fish jokes. Now we’re getting anchovy jokes! And none of them are funny: fish or anchovy jokes! So, no, we are not going to even ask for an insurance payment. We’ll just be short anchovies for a while.”
“A ton of anchovies is quite a few.”
“It wasn’t a ton. That was a pun by the tabloid. It was 400 pounds.”
“Were the anchovies in cans or jars?”
“In the round?”
“Anchovies are not round. They are small and long and skinny.”
“Ha, ha,” Noonan said flatly. “Very funny. I can see you are up on your fish jokes. So, these were actual fish and not fillets.”
“What can someone do with raw anchovies that are small and long and skinny?”
“Not much. You could cook with them but 400 pounds is quite a lot. More than a restaurant could use in a year. They could be used as bait but you’ve to sell them pretty quickly before they go bad. If, that is, anchovies are ever good.”
“You’re not an anchovy person, are you?”
“Nope. I like my fish flaky and cooked.”
“Have any of your usual customers cut back on their orders of anchovies?”
“Quite the opposite. Tourist season is right around the corner so the restaurants need more and so do the bait shops. That’s why the 400 extra pounds were ordered. We’ve got time to replenish the order but we’re still out 400 pounds of product.”
“So, you have absolutely no idea why anyone would steal 400 pounds of raw anchovies.”
“Not only do we not know, we do not care. As far as we are concerned, to quote a T-shirt I once saw, ‘Evolution created anchovies; man’s ignorance put them on pizza.’”
“Well, if you can think of a source for 400 pounds of God’s gift to blue cheese sandwiches and Caesar salad, give me a call.”
“I’ll mullet over.”
* * *
As Alaskan humorist Warren Sitka notes, “One measure is worth more than ten expert opinions.” So, when you need an anchovy measure, go to an anchovy connoisseur. As a matter of fact, Noonan had one. When his wife was out of town, he left the cooking to someone who knew what she was doing. Or, in this case, she. She, in this case, was Avalon Lone – spelled with a silent “e” she was always quick to say – at the Pamlico Lobster Pit.
When Noonan came in alone, Lone with the silent “e” shouted enthusiastically, “Heinz! Anchovies have been calling your name all day!”
“Sandersonville is certainly a small town,” Noonan grumbled.
“Well, we don’t have 400 pounds of them, but I am sure we can overflow a Caesar salad for you.”
“400 pounds are a bit much for a Caesar salad. But since we are talking about that delicious repast . . .”
Lone with the silent “e” finished his sentence, “ . . .what would someone do with 400 pounds of anchovies, right?”
“It crossed my mind to speak with an expert.”
Lone with the silent “e” beamed. “So, you came to moi! How delightful (pause) and complimentary.”
“Well, since you are so well informed . . .”
“Sorry, I’m not that well informed. 400 pounds of anchovies in the round don’t have much of a market. Basically, there are three buyers of anchovies: restaurants, bait stores and garbage dumps. I’m guessing you checked to see if any restaurant or bait shop suddenly stopped buying anchovies in the raw.”
“Round. Is there a difference?”
“Same animal, different word, a syzygy.”
“Syzygy. It’s a word I learned from a crossword puzzle. It means two things that are alike or opposite. Or, according to the dictionary, three things in alignment, like the sun and moon and earth.”
Noonan shook his head. “That’s American English for you. A specific word which can meant two or three things at the same time.”
“Even more interesting,” Lone with the silent “e” said, “it does not have a vowel. The only other word in the English language without a vowel is ‘rhythm.’”
“Other than ‘gypsy,’ ‘lynch,’ ‘flyby,’ ‘nymph,’ and ‘crypt.’”
“I stand corrected. I was distracted by the three y’s in syzygy.”
“A word for two things that are alike or opposite.”
* * *
The next morning, Noonan was bumbling through his sock drawer. He was thinking of two things that were alike – thinking of socks – when a distant bell went off in his mind. Muted it was but discernable. He was blessed with good hearing, so to speak, so he took a moment to mull over the cause of the distant bell – or mullet as the Director of Public Relations of Blackbeard Seafood Distributors in Ocracoke had told him.
Syzygy. Two things that were three – or two – depending on how the word was used.
Again, the bell, this time a bit louder.
He was looking in the wrong direction!
An hour later he was back on the phone to the Director of Public Relations of the Blackbeard Seafood Distributors in Ocracoke.
“Noooo,” she whined when she came on line. We don’t want them back. We don’t want hear about them.”
“I don’t have your fish,” Noonan said softly. “But I do have a few other questions.”
“Seems fishy to me. Be quick.”
“Sure. Where did the anchovies come from, how long had they been in transit, were they onboard longer than other shipments of anchovies, how were they shipped, who shipped them, did they stop anywhere along the way, from where were they stolen, er, taken, how much are they worth and how do you know they are really missing?”
“All this for 400 pounds of anchovies?”
“God’s gift to the connoisseur.” Noonan accented the word connoisseur with reverence.
“I can’t remember everything you asked but I’ll tell you what I know. The anchovies were originally from Peru, at least I think they were coming from Peru, because that’s where most anchovy originate. A lot are salted and canned or put in bottles in Peru and those anchovies are shipped in boxes to distributors around the world. I imagine. We only deal with raw anchovy. Do the stop on the way from Peru? They have to. Are we the last stop? Don’t know. Unlikely. I’m sure there are anchovy distributors north of us. The anchovies are in lightly salted water in 100-gallon plastic containers which we unload here in Ocracoke.”
She paused for a moment. “Where was I?”
“Well, where were the anchovies when they were stolen?”
“They weren’t stolen. That would require a police report.”
“OK. Where were they last seen?”
“The anchovies were in four, 100-gallon, plastic containers in our refrigerated warehouse. Truckers come into the warehouse with paperwork and leave with deliveries. We only knew the four containers were gone when a trucker asked for them and the four containers were not there. There is a record of them coming off the barge but not out the warehouse door.”
“So, it could have been an inside job. How many people work in the warehouse?”
“Nothing is missing so it is there is no job to be inside of.”
“OK, how many of your employees work in the warehouse.”
“Depending on the day, up to 15. This is summer, don’t forget, and we’ve got a lot of day labor.”
“How many day laborers?”
“Per shift, six or seven.”
“Do raw anchovies have a street value?”
“The value of the anchovies is meaningless because we don’t buy or sell the fish. We basically pass along the order. Think of us as truck drivers. We don’t buy and sell what is in the trucks, we just do the transporting.”
Noonan shook his head. “But there is a hard dollar loss. Regardless of who loses the anchovies, someone has to foot the bill.”
“Not in this case. Blackbeard Seafood Distributors guesstimated the cost at $5,109.48 and wrote it off as an ‘advertising expense.’”
“$5,109.48? What where did the $.48 come from?”
“We guesstimated the anchovy loss at $3,000 and the four plastic containers at their replacement cost: $527.37 each.”
“So, the actually loss was not 400 pounds of anchovies. It was 400 pounds of water and anchovies in four plastic containers of 100 gallons each.”
“Yes. So, what?”
“What do you usually do with the empty plastic containers when they come back from the buyers?”
“Return them to the shipper.”
“Do you keep track of the empty containers when they come back?”
“Sure. On paper. Why?
“Has there been an increase in empty containers coming back?”
“So, the containers have not come back?”
“Not to us. The disappearing anchovies are a month out. If a buyer was going to slip in a few extra containers, we’d know by now.”
“What else could you use a container for?”
“Why? If no one cares to file a police report – which we have not – there’s no reason for public money to be spent on looking for something that has not been stolen.”
“I have an incurable curiosity.”
“I don’t know. You could fill them with gasoline for a boat. You could fill them with Tabasco, BBQ sauce, salad dressing. I don’t know and we don’t care.”
“But none of the containers ever came back?”
“Do you want them back?’
“Not a chance.”
* * *
“Word on the streets of Sandersonville, which, in our case is just a street,” Harriett said in her snippy, so so-what tone, “that the never-was case of the mislaid anchovies has been solved.”
“Mislaid?” said Noonan feigning confusion.
“Mislaid,” snipped Harriet. “As in lost, misplace or just plain missing. You know, not where they are supposed to be.”
“Well, there are no lost, misplaced or just plain missing anchovies because there has been to report any.”
“Odd,” Harriet said as she shook a letter and an envelope. “Then this letter must have been a mistake.” She adjusted her glasses and read, “Thanks for arranging for the donation of $2,109.48 to the Sandersonville Aquarium along with several hundred pounds of fertilizer. Sandersonville Aquarium salutes your philanthropic effort.”
“So? So? What gives?”
“Not much. It appears the disappearance – not theft – of the 400 pounds of anchovies was not, alas, [Noonan ran his right index fingertip down the right side of his nose indicating a tear drop] for the purpose of anchovies. It was for the four, 100-gallon plastic containers. Those ended up on four boats. Seems one of the refrigerated warehouse workers at Blackbeard Seafood Distributors in Ocracoke is a boat racing fanatic. The 100-gallons were a perfect fit for the boats.”
“Let me guess. The plastic containers had a street value of ¼ of $2,109.48.”
“Could be. I’m not good at math.”
“And the fertilizer is what was left of the discarded anchovies.”
Noonan again feigned grief. “Could be. I’m into anchovies in a sandwich, not as fertilizer.”
“What did Blackbeard Seafood Distributors say about this alleged-to-be donation to the Sandersonville Aquarium?”
“I have no idea. I didn’t mention it to them.”
“Then, what was the call to them yesterday all about?”
Noonan gave her a blank look. “Oh, I just suggested they clean up their paperwork routine in the warehouse. Who knows?” His voice quivered a bit. “Why, someone might be able to spirit out a few 100-gallon containers of anchovies.” Again, he ran the tip of his right index finger down the right side of his nose. “They, the anchovies, never to be seen again in a Caesar salad or on a pizza.”
“Or in a sandwich with blue cheese and scallions,” snapped Harriett. “Your wife will be back tomorrow so you’ll be back to real food again.”
“Pizza with anchovies?!” Noonan said hopefully.
“You cod do better,” Harriett said over her shoulder as she left his office, “Any fin is possible.”
“Don’t know,” Noonan’s voice followed her out of the office. “I’m have trouble herring you.”