Beyond the Western
The Matter of the Nags Head Taxidermist
Steve Levi


Beyond the Western

Captain Noonan, the "Bearded Holmes" of the Sandersonville Police Department, was enjoying a legal beer at his sister-in-law’s brother’s brother-in-law’s brother’s home in Ocracoke on the Outer Banks while the tribe of in-law kith and kin were imbibing a stiffer elixir which was both illegal and plentiful. It was also cooler than the beer because it could be poured over ice, an alluring temptation when the temperature was 103 and the humidity between 99 and 100, because, like San Francisco, there was more water in the atmosphere than in the moonshine tumblers.

Noonan was enjoying the first of his two-per-afternoon beers when a wizened old man, as tall as a main mast and just about as corpulent came into the gaggle. He was so tall he had to stoop to make it through the doorway and was immediately surrounded by all of the older women in the throng. Noonan had no idea who the man was nor did he care. He was in Ocracoke on vacation and knew so few people his mind was mercifully clear of having to remember all kinds of trivia about his collaterals and their in-laws.

But he was not to be so blessed with solitude that afternoon. The lanky gentlemen came over to the table where Noonan was sitting, alone, and extended his right hand. It was massive, huge for a man as thin as he was. He was so tall that his clothes did not fit. His sleeves were a good two inches too short for his arms and the body of his shirt draped his frame like a sheet on a cenotaph. He had a rugged face, angular like that of a classic Cherokee warrior and a full head of gray hair, the longest of which was the diameter of a grain of sand. His nose was sharp, his eyes jet black and he had a voice that sounded as though it was emanating out of the bottom of a well.

“Detective Noonan, I presume.”

“I hope so,” replied the Detective. “I’m the only one here I know.”

The man smiled knowingly. “I know what you mean. My Outer Banks relatives are always a handful.”

“You’re an in-law?” Noonan asked.

“No,” the man replied. “Actually, I’m out-law. But I am related to your sister-in-law. Sort of. It’s a long story.”

“The out-law part could be an intriguing story.”

“It’s a long story of my younger days. Fortunately the statute of limitations has run out on all my evil deeds. I’m Pharaoh Farrow, by the way.” He spelled both names.

“Pharaoh Farrow,” Noonan mused. “Your parents must have had a sense of humor.”

“Oh, they had more than that. I had two brothers and a sister. My brothers were Ramses and Tutankhamen. I’ll bet you can’t guess my sister’s name.”

“Oh, I don’t know. How about Nefertiti?”

“Good guess. But, no, her name was Gertrude.”

“Gertrude? In a family with a Pharaoh, Ramses and Tutankhamen?”

“Different father.”

“Ah!” Noonan smiled. “A half-sister.”

“No. Actually a full sister. My father was no longer studying Egyptology when my sister was born. My father was a scholar of sorts, mixed nationality but mostly British Isles. My grandfather, oddly, was sort-of Italian, my father’s father, that is. That’s where the name Farrow came from. Faro in Italian is ‘lighthouse’ and my grandfather was the lighthouse man. He went to Washington D. C. one spring and finagled the job. Held it for 20 years.”

“What do you mean your father was ‘sort of’ an Italian?”

“We think he was Italian. He was a shipwreck survivor. That’s how most white folks got to the Outer Banks. It was immigration by backstroke. They married local; Indians, escaped slaves, outcasts from more civilized areas of America. We’re so ethnically mixed on the Outer Banks we don’t know what Affirmative Action is. Around here we call it ‘local hire.’ We only hire locals and all locals are family.”

“Ah. And since your father was the lighthouse keeper . . .”

“I as well,” Farrow said smiling evilly, “for a while. Until some funds came up missing.” Pharaoh smiled mischievously. “Then the Federal government discovered I held my grandfather’s secret. The lighthouse was built on our family’s land. I served them with an eviction notice,” He smiled even more broadly. “Cost them a fortune in those days to buy a couple of hundred square feet of land and an appurtenant easement. You know what that is?”

“Access.”

“Right. That’s what it was called in those days. Today it’s got a high class, legal name, ‘appurtenant easement.’ Same thing.”

“That must have thrilled them all the way to the Treasury.”

“They were not happy. They were even less happy when they discovered that the lighthouse well wasn’t on their property either.” Pharaoh smiled again.

“Ah,” said Noonan. “I’m beginning to see why you consider yourself an outlaw.”

“Actually, it had nothing to do with the lighthouse. I was a highway man for a dozen years. I bought a strip of land that extended across the island and then charged a toll for anyone who wanted to cross my land. I even paved the road so there was a smooth ride. Pretty good in those days.”

“Really? How long was the road?”

“600 feet.”

“600 feet? You had a toll road that was 600 feet long?”

“Yup. I had a strip of land 600 feet wide from the Atlantic to Pamlico Sound. Everyone had to pay to cross my land so everyone paid.” He smile, “Everyone called it highway robbery.”

“I’ll bet they did. I’m surprised you’re still around.”

“That wasn’t the least of my sins. I was also a bootlegger, poacher and smuggler. Then I went into real estate and finally taxidermy.”

“Taxidermy? That’s quite a switch from bootlegging and selling real estate.”

“Not really. It’s just a half-step onto the other side of the legal line. I like taxidermy because it’s so much more relaxing. No one talks back.”

“Kind of like undertaking.”

“That’s rich. I never thought of it that way.”

“Is there a point you are maneuvering around to making?”

“Henrietta said you were astute and I see that you are. Yes, as a matter of fact, there is. I appear to have a little problem . . .”

“Everything starts out as a small problem. I hope this ‘little problem’ involves some legal enterprise you are involved with.”

Pharaoh raised his right hand as if he were taking an oath. “I haven’t skinned a lamb in 20 years – other than in real estate but that’s called ‘business.’”

“Uh huh,” said Noonan as he set down his beer. “Let’s hear it.”

Pharaoh pulled a chair over and sat down. “It’s a rather bizarre story even for this community.”

“That,” Noonan said as he surveyed the room with the passel of his in-laws, “would take some doing.”

“It involves a stuffed alligator, three bottles of formaldehyde, a pink raincoat, $50,000, a limping Chihuahua and 16 tons of slag iron.”

“Now that is a mix.”

“The alligator was stolen three days ago along with three bottles of formaldehyde. From my shop. There was note wrapped in a pink raincoat saying the perpetrators wanted $50,000 in ransom.”

“A pink raincoat? Is there anything symbolic about that?”

“I don’t have a clue,” Pharaoh replied.

“$50,000 sounds a bit high for a stuffed alligator. Am I missing something?”

“Nope. You can get an eight-foot specimen for a thousand dollars in Florida. Quality taxidermy – we professionals don’t refer to our product as ‘stuffed’ – can run up to $5,000 if the job is to be done really well. But $50,000 is way out of the ballpark. WAY out of the ballpark.”

“Anything special about this alligator?”

“Not the way you mean it. The man who dropped off the gator skin said he’d split half of the $50,000 with me if I raised $50,000 and we wouldn’t even have to pay the ransom. He doesn’t know why anyone would steal the alligator skin in the first place, much less hold it for ransom.”

“Where does the limping Chihuahua and the slag iron come in?”

“16 tons of slag iron. The limping Chihuahua is a local tall tale. It’s somewhat obscure, . . .”

“I’ll bet,” Noonan chuckled.

“A lot of the old folks would know what I’m talking about but I’ll bet not one in fifty youngsters do.”

“Enlighten me.”

“Well, actually, the limping Chihuahua isn’t a dog. It was a saloon in Nags Head. Back before the Civil War some entrepreneur took an old building that was decaying away down by the beach and turned it into a saloon. That wasn’t anything unusual in those days. Saloons came and went all the time. This one lasted a lot longer than most, all the way through Prohibition. Went from saloon to speakeasy without so much as a thank you very much. When Prohibition ended they just put in a front door that had the little slit in it. Not that they ever used that slit for anything. Anyone who wanted a drink just came in. This was Nags Head, for God sake, not Chicago.”

“A popular place?”

“Only speakeasy in Nags Head? The only city on the Outer Banks with a bonafide dock? Yeah! Had the best clientele on the Outer Banks including sheriffs from three counties, the marshal and lots of Coasties.”

“Doesn’t sound like anyone wanted to close them down.”

“Naw. Prohibition was a lot different out here than your history books tell. John Law only went after the real bad boys. Everyone else got a bye. Besides, the Limping Chihuahua was paying everyone and had a brothel upstairs run by the mother of one of the Coasties who was married to a sort-of sheriff so they had plenty of protection.”

“What’s a sort-of sheriff?”

“That’s a sheriff who only arrests people who piss him off whether they broke the law or not.”

“So no one bothered the Limping Chihuahua?”

“Not so much as a raid on the outhouse.”

“The outhouse?”

“That’s where they stored the liquor.” Farrow smiled.

“Kind of a small storage shed with, uh, lot of people coming and going, so to speak.” Noonan responded.

“Nice pun, bad logic. The outhouse as in privy was next to a dilapidated warehouse. The warehouse was the outhouse.”

“You Outer Banks folks slay me.”

“We do, we do. Anyway, the Limping Chihuahua would still be open except that the highway department – those are the federal boys, now, not the North Carolina boys – decided to build the highway right through the front door and out the back. Some say it was the way that the feds solved a legal problem they couldn’t take to court. Anyway, the day the Limping Chihuahua came down we were all standing around with boilermakers watching a piece of history be eaten by bulldozers.”

“Sad. Why did they call it the Limping Chihuahua?”

“I don’t have the slightest idea. It didn’t start out as the Limping Chihuahua. It had a whole bunch of names before that. It had been around since before the Civil War, before my daddy was born. It went through a lot of owners and whenever it was sold, the new owner gave it a new name. New owner, new name. I think my daddy called it the Rusty Flagon. I only remember it as the Limping Chihuahua. I never saw a sign over the door and I never saw a Chihuahua. I’m guessing the man who bought out the Rusty Flagon had a wife who had a Chihuahua that limped. You know how women are when it comes to dogs? All I know was when I was a young drinking man I went to the Limping Chihuahua. Sometime before the Second World War it was bought by guy named Oscar Whitford.”

“Anything left of the saloon?”

“Asphalt and gravel six feet thick. There’s talk of putting up a sign beside the highway but it’s been a lot of talk and no action.”

“And the slag iron?”

“16 tons of slag iron. That’s got an old story too.”

“Does anything normal every happen here?”

“Occasionally but not often. That 16 tons is another one of those unusual Outer Banks stories. It had been ballast on a cargo ship, the ABERDEEN MISTRESS. She went aground off Nags Head in August of 1937. I remember it well because I helped with the cleanup.”

“You mean you assisted in the looting of the cargo that floated ashore.”

“Well, yes. It was called ‘clean-up’ in those days. That way we don’t embarrass our grandkids. We referred to ourselves then as ‘land pirates’ but no one has used that term since the Second World War when the feds came down to the Outer Banks in a very big way.”

“The slag iron?”

“The ABERDEEN MISTRESS was an odd wreck. It caught a rock on the port side stern. She hit the rock hard and opened a hole too big to survive so she plowed for shore. She was doing all right what with the storm driving her toward the shore. She missed the rest of the rocks by inches on either side of her hull and headed for the only open six inches of beach sand in Nags Head.”

“She never made it?”

“Oh, she made it all right. The bow sliced right into the beach and stopped the ship dead. Everything that wasn’t nailed, glued or spiked to the rafter came forward ripping out the topside. Tide and wind gave the ship and lift and then everything poured out, plop! right onto the sand. Killed everyone on board but a dog.”

“That’s kind of gruesome.”

“Not in those days. Shipwrecks weren’t quite a dime a dozen but they were frequent. And there is a connection between the Limping Chihuahua and the slag.”

“Uh-huh.”

After the ABERDEEN MISTRESS was stripped, er, relieved, of its cargo it sat on the beach for a good 20 years. Kids would play around it but that was about it. No one needed what was left on it and besides, the Second World War started right after that.”

Noonan started to say something but Pharaoh cut him off. “The Second World War for the United States started in December of 1941 but for those of us in the shipping business we were working in the war zone a lot earlier. I lost friends to submarines in 1938. Anyway the point here is that the ABERDEEN MISTRESS sat on that beach all the way through the war. Then, in the 1950s, with the economy United States picking up, the owner of the Limping Chihuahua decided to do some renovations.”

“I would imagine so. That building was a good century old.”

“Sure, but things were built well then. The problem wasn’t so much the building as it was the foundation. The building was fine, actually. But the cement foundation had turned to powder. The owner then was a guy named Oscar Whitford but everyone called him the Dip Man. That was because he ran the cattle dip just out of town. You know about that, right?”

“Actually, no.”

“A lot of times the survivors of the shipwrecks were cattle, horses and dogs. To make sure the cattle, horses and dogs we already had on the islands didn’t get any new diseases, every shipwreck animal on the islands was dipped in disinfectant. Right after every storm Oscar would head for the dip shack and be ready for any animals that were swept ashore.”

“He doesn’t sound like a man who’d do this for free.”

“He wasn’t and he didn’t. He would be paid in kind. Every third animal he dipped was his. Had the largest herd on the island until they got rustled in about 1956.”

“You didn’t have anything to do with that, did you?”

“Nope. That was Albert Hollister from Frisco. He was the nicest man you could ever meet until he had a beer. One beer. Then you’d think he was Blackbeard cousin. He was a nasty drunk. One day he had two beers and rustled all of the Dip Man’s cattle. Traded them to a mainland smuggler for a load of lumber. Lumber came off the barge as the cattle were going on. Took the Dip Man a week before he even knew they were missing. Never could figure out what happened. Probably died thinking they’d been eaten alive by flies.”

“So the Dip Man’s dead?”

“Alzheimer’s. Just as good as. Wife’s still alive and nasty as ever. People like that don’t die young.”

“What did they call his wife?”

“Mrs. Whitford. She was a real mean woman. A Wiggins. That probably means nothing to you but around here the Whitfords and the Wiggins were like the Hatfields and McCoys. Your wife is related to both, by the way.”

“My wife’s related to everyone on this island and I don’t have the slightest idea who any of them are.”

“Keep it that way.”

Noonan chuckled.

“Anyway, the Dip Man was the second cheapest man on the island. The only one cheaper was his wife. After all, she was a Wiggins. Every Wiggins dies with the first dime they ever made. The Dip Man needed to prop up the Limping Chihuahua and he wanted to do for as close to free as was possible.”

“So he salvaged what was left of the ABERDEEN MISTRESS?”

“There wasn’t much you could use by then. No, he went for the only useable thing still inside the ship: the ballast. There was a lot of slag iron in that ship that no one wanted.”

“16 tons of it.”

“Not really. Maybe only a ton or two. The reason we all refer to it as 16 tons was because we were moving it in October of 1955. That was the month Tennessee Ernie Ford came out with 16 TONS. The whole time we were moving the slag that was what kept playing on the radio.”

“If the Dip Man was so cheap, how did you get the job of moving the slag? Did he pay?”

“Not a chance. He was from the School of 3Fs if you know what I mean.”

“Actually, I don’t.”

“The 3Fs: ‘Friends, Family and Fools.’ That’s who the Dip Man used to fund everything. The day the Dip Man spent a dime of his own money the Devil would have bought a snow shovel. The Dip Man forced his friends and family to ante up then he went after the fools.”

“You were one of them, eh?”

“One of the fools? Yup. I was his supplier. He kind of hinted that if the Limping Chihuahua didn’t get some foundation support he might have to close the business. I was making a lot of cash from the Dip Man so I saw it in my interest to make sure he stayed open. So did my crew. So a dozen of us spent a week moving slag from the ruptured belly of the ABERDEEN MISTRESS to what became the basement of the Limping Chihuahua.”

“Basement? So the Dip Man wasn’t just putting in a foundation.”

“Yes and no. A ‘basement’ is something that is a space below the main living quarters so, in that sense, yes. But in most parts of America a basement is a room below ground level, so in that sense, no. What the Dip Man did was compact the ground next to the Limping Chihuahua with heavy equipment and then poured a slab of concrete. The slag was set in upright in the concrete and then he built the new saloon on the tops of the slag bracings. It wasn’t really a basement in the sense that you could store things there.”

“Didn’t he have to rent the heavy equipment?”

“Not a chance! He got the Coast Guard to do it. Said he was building a meeting hall for the Coasties and all he needed was the service of the machine, no money. The Coast Guard is always happy to help a community when all it means is using equipment it already has. It’s when you ask for money they get stingy.”

“A meeting hall? How did he pull that one off?”

“The Dip Man got the local commander to make the request. Blackmailed him, actually. I guess that’s the most accurate way to state it. The commander had enough hormones to fill a rain barrel. But he had a wife and three kids living with his mother-in-law in Minnesota. So an arrangement was reached, if you know what I mean.”

“I have Alaskan relatives so I know just what you mean. Kind of like the military’s policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”

“You got it. So the Dip Man got the Coast Guard to flatten the ground. He got the cement for free from a wreck up the coast, I think it was the SHENENDOAH, and the Coast Guard hauled it down here, mixed it with beach sand and laid the foundation. My crew dragged the slag iron in and we all framed in the uprights. Then the Dip Man used timbers from another derelict, the CARROLL A. DEERING, to make his floor. Then it was just a matter of building up.”

“The CARROLL A. DEERING? That’s the ghost ship, right?”

“Not really a ghost ship in the sense it had a crew of skeletons. It was found without a crew. I wouldn’t draw any conclusions about the rest of the story because the timbers came from the CARROLL A. DEERING. The ship was still intact when it was found. It was auctioned off to a passel of Outer Banks businessmen who divided the timbers among all of them. Probably the first time the businessmen actually talked with each other in civil tones.”

“That must have made the Wiggins mad.”

“Wiggins mad, why?”

“To have to pay for a piece of the CARROLL A. DEERING.”

“Nah. Not a single Wiggins put up a single dime. They let their relatives do the buying, the Whitfords and Scarboroughs. Then they swooped down on the booty. Pretty soon everybody had CARROLL A. DEERING timbers under the homes, supporting their roofs or as part of a veranda.”

“Is this story going somewhere?”

“Yeah, actually it is. See, once the Limping Chihuahua had been reconstructed things got back to normal.”

“Except for one little detail, right?”

“That’s right. The Coast Guard commander who had been so obliging got transferred out. The next man in was younger but he didn’t have a hormone problem. He wasn’t a drinking man either. He was an evangelical, a bench jumper. Friday night came around he was reading his Bible up in the barracks. That wasn’t so bad except he expected all his men to do the same.”

“That must have led to a lot of complaining.”

“Immediately. But the Dip Man was up to the task. He offered the Evangelical Coasties the use of the Limping Chihuahua as a chapel Sunday mornings. Those were slow times for the saloon anyway. Everyone accepted. The Dip Man would close the saloon during those hours and let the local religious people have their ceremonies. It was quite popular among the evangelicals because they didn’t have a church of their own.”

“And the problem you have been maneuvering around to discuss?”

“Well, the new commander wasn’t just your regular bench jumper. He was one of those religious nuts who believes God has anointed him personally. Whatever he did was God’s will. He wasn’t a drinking man so, of course, no one else should be. So, since he had the run of the Limping Chihuahua, alone, and a lot of friendly bench jumpers with him, he decided that it was God’s will that he and his minions would solve this local drinking problem.”

“Did they burn down the Limping Chihuahua?”

“Burn it down? Destroy property? Not on your life. The instant the Dip Man turned the saloon over to them for their religious service, the evangelicals snagged every keg of booze, all glasses and even the saloon counter. They loaded the goods into Coast Guard trucks and when the Dip Man came back to open up for Sunday evening, all he had was an empty tavern and a giant cross with the word REPENT where the counter used to be.”

“Did the evangelicals dump the liquor?”

“P-L-E-A-S-E! Dump the liquor? Not a chance. They threw up a tent on some land they had quietly purchased and sold booze by the glass! Built the Evangelical Church of the Heavenly Chalice on the same spot with the money from the Demon Rum. Said they were using the tools of the devil for God’s work. A holy saloon! What a laugh!”

“Evangelical Church of the Heavenly Chalice Saloon? That rich.”

“The Dip Man complained to the Coast Guard and their response was to contact the Highway Department. Last year, just as the Dip Man was finally starting to see a profit again, the bulldozers came in the front door of the Limping Chihuahua and out the back.

“Busted him?”

“As good as an IRS audit.”

“Your point?”

“The Evangelical Church of the Heavenly Chalice Saloon is still in business – with my liquor. I put up the money for the Dip Man to buy the liquor for the Limping Chihuahua. When the liquor was stolen he transferred title to me. Now I’m going to collect.”

“Sounds like a civil matter.”

“That’s not the way we do things on the Outer Banks. We cut deals out here; we don’t go to court.”

“I don’t see there’s a deal to be cut here.”

“That’s because you don’t live here. But I’m not here to talk about the liquor from Limping Chihuahua. I want to know why someone thinks they can get $50,000 for a stuffed alligator and what does that have to do with the three bottles of formaldehyde that were stolen along with the alligator.”

“I’d like to know too,” said the detective. “How much are the three bottles of formaldehyde worth?”

“Not $50,000. Or, for that matter, $1,000.”

“Other than use in your shop, does formaldehyde have any other purpose?”

“Sure. It’s in antiseptics, paint and glue. But it’s easy to get.”

“Was anything else missing from your shop?”

“Nothing that I could tell.”

“Is there any link between the missing alligator and the Evangelical Church of the Heavenly Chalice Saloon?”

“A tenuous one. All of the women who go to the Evangelical Church of the Heavenly Chalice wear pink clothing. It’s a cult thing. Men wear black and the women wear pink. Around here everyone has a raincoat. I’m guessing the women who dress in pink had pink raincoats.”

“Seems like a pretty solid link to me,” said Noonan. “But it doesn’t prove anything.”

“I agree. But why the alligator?”

“Why the formaldehyde?”

“Good question. Do you have an answer?”

Noonan channeled the famous statement by Daniel Boone. In his autobiography, Boone wrote “I can't say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” Bewilderment was a state Noonan was quite familiar with. All of his cases – he called them matters – began with bewilderment. One resolved bewilderment by being an off-the-wall thinker, by stepping out of the lock-step progression of logical, rational thinking. One solves an illogical problem by thinking illogically.

“Well, I can give it a try. What was the size of the pink raincoat? How far in miles between the Evangelical Church of the Heavenly Chalice Saloon and your taxidermy shop? How heavy are the bottles of formaldehyde? How big was the alligator? Was the alligator insured? What did the State Troopers say about the theft? And, and, let me think, was there anything unusual about this particular alligator since, let me make sure I have my vocabulary right, there are no alligators on the Outer Banks, only Caymans.”

Pharaoh Farrow smiled. “That’s a load of questions. As to the last one, you are half right. A Cayman and an alligator are different. Same biological family, so to speak, close kin, but not the same.” He looked sideways at the gaggle of his and Noonan’s in-laws and then back to the detective. “We do get an occasional alligator here but rarely. This was an odd one. We’d known for years there was an alligator in the swamps of the National Park between Ocracoke and the ferry to Frisco. Dogs, big ones, have been disappearing over the years. The dog microchips all had them all in the same general location. The man who shot the gator got him by triangulating the microchips beeps. I guess you’d call them ‘beeps.’ I’m not an electronics man.

“Let’s see, the rest of the questions. The raincoat for a child, teenager. It’s a good ten miles from my shop to the Evangelical Church of the Heavenly Chalice Saloon. The bottles of formaldehyde – and bottles is what they call them, I call them plastic containers – are one gallon each. I only noticed they were gone when I looked to see what else had been stolen along with the alligator. They weigh as much as water. The alligator weighed about 30 pounds. The alligator itself was not insured but it will be covered under the insurance for the taxidermy shop. But we are talking peanuts here, maybe $1,000, the value of a similar gator on the market. What did the North Carolina State Troopers say about the theft? After they stopped laughing they had a field day. Said they were troopers, not investi-gators and they were used to arresting tail-gators. When I told them the alligator was the one who had been eating the local dogs and he had been taken by a hunter who had tracked the beast with GPS, they suggested the animal had been a navi-gator. They laughed as they wrote up the crime report. One them remarked that he noticed my floor did not have rep-tiles and, as they were leaving, the other one asked about the difference between a crocodile and an alligator. I thought he was serious so I answered him. When I finished he said, ‘No. One you see in a while and the other you’ll see later.’”

Noonan had to laugh at that one.

So did Farrow.

“Well,” Noonan said after his chuckle. “I’m happy to see law enforcement still has a sense of humor.”

“I agree with you. But that doesn’t get me back my alligator.”

Suppressing his chuckle, Noonan said, “Tell you what. I want you to go back to your shop and slowly drive the road to the Evangelical Church of the Heavenly Chalice Saloon. Somewhere along the way there is a public building of some kind. You’ll find the alligator hidden inside. My bet? The theft was for the formaldehyde, not the alligator. The alligator was just a distraction and the $50,000 ransom note was to send the State Troopers on a wild goose chase. Or, in this case, a wild alligator hunt.”

“Not funny,” said Farrow humorously.

“Same with the pink raincoat. It was meant to link the theft with the Evangelical Church of the Heavenly Chalice Saloon. It was a good try but will fail. The Church has nothing to do with alligators, just your liquor. You’ll have to go to court to get your liquor, I’m afraid. But you will get your alligator back. It’s stashed somewhere along the route.”

“So the theft was for formaldehyde? Why would anyone steal formaldehyde? You can buy it in a store.”

“Kids, I am betting. Might not have had the money to buy it or needed it when the store selling it was closed. My guess? You have some young ones who were doing some kind of a magic show. When you mix formaldehyde with water, the water turns red. They could be doing a presto chango. As long as the audience is not close enough to smell the formaldehyde, it’s an impressive trick.”

Farrow gave Noonan a strange look. “I like the logic but it seems like a long shot.”

“It’s just my guess. See if you can find a public building along the route between your shop and the Evangelical Church of the Heavenly Chalice Saloon.”

An hour later Noonan got a call on the electronic Beelzebub he was required to carry by order of his wife and the Commissioner of Homeland Security in Sandersonville. It was Farrow.

“How did you get this number?”

“Your wife.”

“Can’t argue with that woman.”

“Don’t try. I did find the alligator.”

“In a public building?”

“National Park restroom. First place I stopped. Park Service was putting on a new lock because someone had forced it open. Park Service could not figure out why anyone would want to break into a rest room. When I got inside I saw the ceiling tiles had been shifted. Alligator was tied to the cables in the rafters.”

“Find the perpetrators?”

“Naw. Didn’t bother to look. I was a kid once. Let ‘em have their tall tale. This is the Outer Banks. We’re a very small town on a very long street. Sooner or later I’ll find out who did it. No rush. Thanks for the help.”

“Not a problem,” Noonan smiled evilly. “By the way, did you know why you should never play poker with an alligator.”

There was silence on the tool of Satan for a moment.

“Do I want to know?” It was a hesitating response.

“Because you’ll lose every hand."

With that the cursed tool of Lucifer went silent.



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