Beyond the Western
The Matter of the Missing Floor
Steve Levi

Beyond the Western

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department was enjoying his first cup of coffee of the day when Harriet, his administrative assistant and office common sense matron, burst into his office.

“Day’s starting early,” she said breathlessly.

“Crime never sleeps,” Noonan said sleepily.

“Yeah,” Harriet said as she pointed at the ancient phone on his desk, one with a wire. “You’ve got an emergency phone call on Line 1. A group of protesters have sequestered themselves on the third floor of a two-story building and are demanding sanctuary.”

Noonan was now awake. “Really? How can you be holed up on the third floor of a building that only has two floors?”

“That,” Harriet said as she pointed at the phone, “is only part of the problem on Line 1.”

* * *

“Noonan,” the ‘Bearded Holmes’ said he answered Line 1.

“Sir, this is Alexander Azinovic. I’m with the Montana State Troopers and I am on assignment here in Big Hole River, Montana. Big Hole River is not a town. It is a game sanctuary viewing community for the Big Hole River. I wish I had more time to discuss who we are but we have an emergency situation. An odd one. Your name was given as someone who could assist us.”

“Always here to help. What’s the problem?”

“Two days ago we had an invasion of environmental activists. They arrived in a caravan and immediately swarmed into the largest building in the community, the meeting hall. It’s a two-story building with offices on the first floor and an open second floor for wildlife viewing, meetings, and the like. They removed a window and hoisted themselves up onto the top of the structure and built a ‘community’ on the roof. They are claiming they will not come down until there is a sanctuary for the jackalope.”

“The jackalope?! I thought it was an imaginary creature. A cross between an antelope and a jackrabbit.”

“It is. They do not exist.”

“I got that. So why are the protestors demanding a sanctuary for an animal that does not exist?”

“That, sir,” Azinovic said, “is why I am calling you.”

* * *

“I know this sounds like a prank call,” Azinovic said in an agonizing whine. “But I assure you it is not. I really am a Montana State Trooper and there really is an invasion of environmental activists who have taken control of the third floor of a two-story building. The problem is the six people on the third floor are on a hunger strike. So time is precious.”

Noonan dug around for a notebook in the paper Himalayas of his desk. “OK. So what’s the problem. Wait until they get too weak to resist and them remove them.”

“We considered that two days ago. But there are problems. First, they came with a camera crew. Everything they do is on camera and being uploaded to the internet. This might not be much of an event in Montana but it is being broadcast around the world. Second, we know they are getting food roped in while we are not looking. So this hunger strike is for the coverage, not reality. They are not eating well but enough to sustain them. But on camera the six are dirty and haggard which make us, the Montana State Troopers, look like very bad guys. We, that is, the Troopers, got dragged into this because we are road warriors, so to speak. There are no local law enforcement folks here so we are it. We got the call. Now we are the evil anti-environmentalists who are holding up the show.”

“And getting the bad publicity,” Noonan added.

“24/7. And for a mythical animal. It’s not a serious takeover in the real world but in their world, the environmental world, their 24/7 world, it is a chance to ‘stick it to the man,’ if you know what I mean.”

“I do,” Noonan said sadly. “Why not just give them the sanctuary?”

“Wish we could. But the problem is the land around here is either state and federal. You, I, the Montana State Troopers cannot give or reassign the land. Any land transfer has to be done by the feds or state bureaucrats. That’s going to take a long time.”

“I know,” Noonan replied. “To quote Alaskan humorist Warren Sitka, ‘Nothing moves slower than a dog team in deep snow than the federal bureaucracy in high gear.”

Azinovic continued. “Which leaves the Montana State Troopers in a bind. No matter what we do we’re going to look bad. But we are going to have to do something and soon. In addition to the environmental coverage, Montana television stations are expected to be here in a few hours. So I called you. What can we do to resolve this situation without appearing like stumbling clods?”

Noonan thought for a moment and then said, “Is there a local artist available there in Big Hole River?”

* * *

“Well, that was quick,” Harriet said as she returned to Noonan just as he was finishing his first cup of coffee of the morning. “Did you solve the problem that fast? What about the people on the third floor of the two-story building?”

“My bet, they are on the ground now – dirt ground, not ground floor – savoring a victory.”

“How’d you get them off the third floor?”

“I didn’t. They came down on their own. All a matter of creative thinking.” Noonan stretched as he spoke.

“Yeah?” Harriet was skeptical. “They got their jackalope sanctuary?”

“Yes and no. See, Harriet,” Noonan took another sip of his coffee. “Publicity is like a dragon. If you stand still, you get trampled. If you run you get burned.”

“Not much of a choice, stand or run.”

“Harriet! There’s a third choice! You ride the beast! You cannot defeat the dragon but you can ride it. You turn a bad situation into a good one.”

“How exactly do you do that?”

“Anytime you want to defeat someone, give them what they want. I suggested the Montana State Troopers give them what they wanted. Give the environmentalist the jackalope sanctuary.”

“They can’t do that! All the land there is federal or state. You can’t give that kind of land away.”

“Fight fire with fire. The environmentalists got publicity by being humorous so I suggested the Montana State Troopers return the favor.”

“OK. How’d they do that?”

“With humor. I suggested they put up slabs of plywood on the side of one of the buildings in the compound. Then get a local artist to paint pictures of the jackalope and some scenery. In large letters the artwork would declare itself the Montana Jackalope Sanctuary. Boom. The environmentalist got what they wanted: publicity. And the Montana State Troopers got them off the roof for the inaugural ceremony for the Montana Jackalope Sanctuary. The press gets a humorous story. Everyone wins.”

“Except the jackalope.”

“Well, they may not be extinct but no one has seen one in a long time.”