Beyond the Western
Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was not having a pleasant day at the beach. He did not get to the beach that often, and when he could go, he went as far from the maddening crowd as he could get. This was a chore even Hercules could not complete during the summer – summer, in Sandersonville, being defined as any moment between Memorial Day and Labor Day – but after Labor Day, pods of blue whales could pirouette in white suits down the beach and no one would be the wiser.
But it was, alas, the weekend before the Fourth of July and Noonan was not having a pleasant day at the beach. He was about to state such a third time, this time verbally, when his staff, all six of them, joined him on the sand – in rage. They were all in uniform, all hungering for a more sedate day – sedentary at that – yet here they were, up to their shoelaces in hot sand looking for privies.
Four of them.
“Why,” snapped Harriet, the office manager and common sense dictator, “are we spending a day at the beach in clothing. We are supposed to be undercover so, you know, we should be, at the very least, uncovered.”
"I agree," snapped Billy-Bob George "Handsome" Weasel as he spotted far more than his fair share of fair maidens eyeballing his uniform. "We should be uncovered undercover," he said offhandedly – rather, off-footedly – as he kicked some sand and asked, "and tell me again why we are looking for stolen privies on a beach?"
"Weasel," Noonan said softly. "If you want to do well in the world, you need to follow some basic rules. Rule Number One is when you are told to do something, do it. You don't have to put a lot of time or effort into it, just enough to say you did it. The Commissioner for Homeland Security, . . .”
“His Majesty,” cut in Harriet, “the royal idiot was told four outhouses from the Municipal Storage Yard were missing. So, in his mind – under the assumption he has one – it is part of some dastardly plot having to do with Muslims. Logically, in his mind, that is, it is part of an invasion plot, and the only place to invade in Sandersonville is by sea, so, here we are, on the edge of the sea."
“Correct,” Noonan added. “So, Weasel, we all have to say we did what we were told to do …."
“…. even if it is a complete waste of time," Harriet cut in. "Get used to it. Someday you will be married and then it will make a lot of sense. Don't argue. Just do it so you can say it was done."
“But,” Weasel cut in. “If the privies are missing, they are still missing.”
“Absolutely,” said Noonan smiling. “And that is your assignment, Weasel. Find those privies.”
“And,” Harriet cut it, “after you have resolved that matter, why, you can come back here and without cover go undercover looking for that Muslim plot and waiting for hordes of Mullahs to come ashore."
“I like the second part of the assignment,” Weasel said eyeballing the female patrons of the sand dunes. “What do we know about the missing privies.”
"They are missing," Noonan said. "From the Municipal Storage Yard. Weasel, as they say from a time before you got your first iPhone, 'Now go and do, the Voodoo, you do, so well.'"
Weasel stalled, so Harriet added heat to his departure. “And when you have solved the matter of the privy piracy, you can come here. Undercover."
The added words sent Weasel scrambling.
“Ah, Harriet said. “To be young again!”
“After which marriage,” Noonan asked as he smiled.
“All of them,” Harriet smirked. “They all started well.”
Noonan remained silent.
Harriet was silent but smirked.
“OK,” Noonan said after the extended pause, “now, to the missing boughs.”
“Ah, yes,” Harriet said. “Our latest loo-loo call. Seems a small town in Wyoming is missing boughs. As in tree branches. Someone has been cutting off branches of spruce trees all over town. Not so many from any one tree that the theft is noticed but, at last count, about 30 branches.”
“How’d they discover the theft?
Harriet turned serious. “I don’t know that I’d call it a theft. Taking tree branches from a tree on public land is not necessarily a crime. It’s just stupid. Now, if they are used in a crime, well, that changes things.”
“How’d they discover the branches were missing?”
“Well, when the branches were taken, whoever was doing the taking would put black tar over the stub of the missing branch. That made the theft invisible. Someone didn’t take the time to tar over one stub and that attracted attention. Probably got lazy.”
“Or was running out of time,” Noonan mused. “When was the bough theft discovered?”
“Three days ago. That’s when the missing branch was discovered. A quick inventory ran the missing boughs up to 30.”
“All the same size?”
“Same kind of tree?”
Harriet flinched. “Visually, I’d say yes. The woman I spoke with rattled off a bunch of scientific terms. My guess was that the branches came from trees of different species but visually, they were similar."
Noonan thought for a moment. “Let’s go back to the office. I’d like to talk to our tree hugger.”
* * *
Before Noonan could get the tree hugger from Wyoming on the line, Weasel made a preliminary call.
“For law and order, always. What do you have Weasel?”
“Tidbits. I’m at the Municipal Storage Yard. Yes, four privies are gone. ‘Stolen’ is not a word I would use because there is no way to make sure they were purloined. But they are gone from where they are usually located. Technically they are called ‘portable sanitary enclosures’ but you can imagine what staff here calls them.”
“No comment,” Noonan replied. “Anything else? Anything unusual associated with the disappearance of the,” he chuckled, “portable sanitary enclosures?”
“Actually, yes. I looked over what records they have for the time the privies vanished. Two other items popped up. Not connected as far as I can see, just interesting and on the same date.”
"Remember, no one knows for sure when the privies disappeared. Just over a three-day or night period. Over one of those nights, a water van was also checked out all night. According to the records, it was checked out unusually early.”
“Water trucks, the kind that are used to wash to roads, routinely start road cleanup about 7 p.m., after tourists have had dinner and gone back to their hotels and rooms. Only the drinkers are still out and about and the roads are relatively clear. So the ‘slosh and wash,’ that’s the term used, starts a little after seven and ends by about one the next morning. But on one of the nights when the privies vanished, a water truck was checked out at 1 a.m. and did not get back until 7 a.m., six hours later.”
“Any idea what it was doing for those six hours?”
“Not yet. The signature on the checkout is illegible and no one is talking. You know, talking to cops is bad form.”
“Chief, ‘cops is cops’ to some of these guys.”
“Nice. You said two things were unusual. What was the other?”
“Not a theft, just a misplacement. About 30 feet of water hose was misplaced on the morning after the water truck went missing. Two and two makes four so I think they’re connected.”
“Excuse the pun, eh?”
“What was that?”
“Never mind. Weasel, now you know what to do next?”
“I’ve learned from the master. I read local papers.”
“You have learned well, my son.”
“I take that a compliment because my father is on the back nine in Virginia Beach right now.”
“May the force be with him.”
As Noonan was hanging up from Weasel, Harriet pointed to his desk phone and said, “Line Three. Tree hugger from Wyoming.”
“Heinz. Until there’s a crime, I’m Heinz.”
“OK, I’m Sheryl. I’m the Honorary Mayor of Evergreen, Wyoming.”
“We’re not incorporated. Not yet. We’re a retirement community and the lot and block plats have yet to be recorded. We currently have three buildings with 60 assisted living apartments each around some pools, cafeteria, assembly buildings and a golf course.”
“We’ve named ourselves Evergreen because we are doing everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint. We have planted all species of evergreen trees throughout the community, to where homes will be as well as in and around the central mall of the community and up into the foothills.”
“These trees are the ones which are missing limbs?”
"Yes, Heinz. It's odd. I don't think stealing tree branches from trees on public property is a crime but it is unusual."
“I agree. Do you have a local paper?”
“Not yet, why?”
“I just need some background information. Do you have a bank in Evergreen?”
“Not yet. We’re in start-up mode. Businesses are slowly filling in the mall area.”
“The mall area is in the middle of town, with the condo buildings around it?”
"Yes. We're a walkable, walk-friendly community."
A dull clang went off in Noonan’s brain.
“So you can walk aground in the mall but once outside of the mall area, is the land open? As in flat?”
“Well, it’s open now because there are no homes built yet. There are dirt roads into where neighborhood subdivisions will be and then out to the interstate.”
“How thick are the trees?”
“If you mean individually, like last year’s Christmas trees that were not cut down. Say, eight feet tall. If you mean, how thick are the forests – we call them forests – the roads are lined with them. We call them chockablock.”
“OK. Now, how about the businesses in town?”
“We’re not a town yet. That’s why I’m only the honorary mayor. Right now we have about a dozen and a half businesses. Six or seven are eateries, a clothing boutique, local brewery, jewelry store, two lawyers, a used book store, telecommunications exchange and a store that sells local artwork.”
“Anything unusual happening in town?”
“A traveling circus will be here tomorrow.”
“The jewelry store interests me,” Noonan said as he dug for a notebook through the paper Tell on his desk. “How big is it?”
“Not big city. But it does a thriving business. Our residents are well-off.”
“Do you have a police force?”
“No. We are in Freemont County, 30 miles from Lander. If you know where that is. Lander only has about 8,000 people. When we need help we call the Freemont County Sheriff or the Wyoming State Troopers.”
“How often have the sheriff and troopers been in Evergreen?”
"If you mean to investigate a crime, never. Someone from the sheriff's department drives through about once a month but other than coffee, they do not stop. The Wyoming State Troopers don't stop."
A dull clang went off in Noonan’s brain.
"I'll get back to you tomorrow."
“Crime never sleeps.”
* * *
Weasel came into Noonan’s office with Harriet, a smirk on his face which ran sideburn to sideburn. Harriet was all a chuckle too, but with a serious edge.
“Ah,” Noonan said looking up from a cold case file. “My loo-loo staff has solved the crimes of the day.”
Weasel broke into a laugh. “Gotta give bureaucrats their due. No crime here, just some civil servants doing their civic duty."
Harriet joined in the lament. “No crime in Evergreen City, either. At least not yet. I think we stopped them in their tracks.”
Noonan did not have a problem with problems unsolved. “Sounds like my staff is on the money.”
“We’ve learned from the best,” Weasel said. “I did read the newspaper and there was a little, tiny filler in the Sandersonville Tattler about a traffic accident.”
“Eh?” Noonan said.
“Seems a tourist with a bit too much beer ran off the road a week ago and hit the start of a cement road railing. Car bounced off the railing end like a cue ball on a pool table and plowed into an elementary school playground. It was late and there were no kids in the playground."
“And?” Noonan asked.
“Apparently – and no one in the municipal lot was willing to discuss the matter – there was concern it could happen again.”
“So some well-meaning public employees took four outhouses out of municipal storage, welded their doors shut and placed them at the ends of the highway railing by the playground, two each on the ends. Then they filled them with water. Next time someone hits one, the force of the crash should cause the water to explode out of the outhouse. The car would not move.”
Noonan chuckled. "Let me guess. Someone planted some small trees around the relocated privies so no one would notice they are there.”
“You are correct, sir.” Weasel chuckled. “There’s no crime here. We simply have Municipal property being moved around.”
Noonan yawned. “Let me also guess, no one at the Municipal Storage Lot knew anything about any of this.”
“You are correct again,” Weasel said. “I was told to spend my time getting drunk drivers off the road.”
Harriet agreed. “Drunks are more dangerous than privies.”
“Portable Sanitary Enclosures, Harriet. Portable Sanitary Enclosures,” Noonan reminded Harriet. “Portable Sanitary Enclosures.”
“Whatever,” she said. Then she leaned forward and asked, “What are you going to tell His Majesty.” She said as he let her eyes wander upwards. To the ceiling tiles. Where she looked to the great power above – but just to the Third Floor level where His Majesty, the Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security, had his Royal Throne Room. "He'll want to know about the Muslim invasion and the stolen privies."
“Portable Sanitary Enclosures,” Noonan said again. “I’ll think of something clever to say.”
“Speaking of clever,” Harriet said as he looked from Noonan to Weasel, “I talked with the tree hugger in Wyoming. She likes the title, by the way.”
“This the case of the disappearing tree branches?” Weasel asked.
“Yup. The Chief and I . . .”
Harriet corrected herself. "Yup. Heinz and I figured there was a crime involved. The only big-ticket item we could see was the jewelry store. Why tree limbs? Because the town is in the middle of nowhere. But the thieves had to get away. That meant getting out of the vicinity of the robbery and then along oodles of miles of highway. The key to the robbery was the getaway. If the police did not know what kind of escape vehicle to look for, the thieves were free and clear. So a quick escape was necessary. We, Heinz and I, figured what the thieves would do was rob the jewelry store and then run to a vehicle that had tree branches secured to the back of the car. They would pull into a dirt road beside the interstate with evergreens on both sides and wait for the Freemont County Sheriff and Wyoming Highway Patrol vehicles to come screaming into Evergreen. Once the patrol cars passed the vehicle hiding with the tree branches, the thieves would dump the branches and drive out of town. As there was no identification of any vehicle associated with the robbery, there was no specific vehicle to stop and search. And if the theft was jewelry, the loot could be easily hidden.”
“Clever,” Weasel said. “Did they catch the bad boys and girls?”
“Nope,” Harriet said. “Since the last branch stolen was not tarred over, we,” she looked at Noonan and he nodded, “figured the crime was about to be committed. Not to tar over a branch meant they were running out of time. We were correct. There was a circus coming to town and that would bring lots of cars into and out of Evergreen.”
“Cool. And how’d you stop the crime before it started?”
Harriet smiled. “We told the Honorary Mayor, our contact there, to have a Wyoming State Trooper park in front of the jewelry store.”
“Did it work?”
“She hasn’t called back.”
* * *
Three days later Weasel came into Noonan’s office and doffed his patrol cap. “Kudos to you, oh overlord of the loo-loos. I just got out of His Majesty’s virtual press conference and he was touting his success in stopping a Muslim incursion in the Outer Banks.”
“Really?” Noonan was nonplussed.
“Clever it was, whatever you did.” Weasel paused. “Oh, tell me, my Dutch Uncle, what it is you did?”
“Ah,” said Noonan looking up from his coffee cup. “It’s all in the power of subtlety, Weasel. When in doubt be subtle.”
“It’s hard to be subtle with privies.”
“Weasel, in real life, you must have an array of approaches. An approach is like a tool. Every good mechanic has a box of tools. Which one you use depends on the job. When dealing with individuals of limited scope of understanding ….”
“Like His Majesty, ….” Weasel cut in.
“I didn’t say that,” Noonan responded. “I’m talking about your path down the road of life. No two people are the same so what works for Joe will not necessarily work for Jenny. But overall, when in doubt, be subtle.”
“How can you be subtle with His Majesty on outhouses?”
“You start, Weasel, by knowing what is important to him. It’s publicity. Because he uses it to support his request for money. With no money, he has no job, no office . . “
“. . . and he’d be just another guy on the street.”
“That’s one way of putting it. But as long as he is on the third floor,” Noonan glanced up at the ceiling tiles for a moment and then back to Weasel, "you have to do it his way. With, of course, some subtly."
“OK, I get it. Now, what did you do? He was pleased as punch on the virtual press conference.”
“He should have been. I gave him everything he needed for a virtual press conference.”
“Subtly, Weasel, subtly. I reported we – his office – had thwarted any invasion of the Sandersville beach by Muslims by employing a new tool.”
“Never lie, Weasel. It’s bad for your complexion and you never have to remember what you said.”
“I told the Commissioner what we had done was hush-hush, secret. We resolved the theft of the privies with ‘veterans of the industry,'" Noonan made quotation marks in the air with his fingers," to make sure there would be no repeat of any nefarious incidents. To that end, we, his Department of Homeland Security, created a unique, innovative tool to stop any incursions into our schools. It was called PCEs and it was, again, very hush-hush.” Again, Noonan made quotation marks in the air with his fingers. “I told the Commissioner those ‘veterans’ had worked through the night to have the PSEs in place quickly and quietly. The Commissioner liked the acronym because it was so close to PSD and PSTD and he could slur the PSE into PSD and PSTD. Then he made the political leap from bad logic to funding. He announced the Outer Banks was actively using disabled veterans in the fight against any Muslim invasion.”
Weasel shook his head sadly. “Let me guess, then he asked for more money for his office.”
“You got that right. He asked for money for a lookout post to be manned by disabled veterans who ‘knew what was what.’”
“So, we are successful. We have satisfied the powers that be with ingenuity, remained blind to an act of civic action …."
Noonan added. “…. and stopped a jewelry robbery before it started. Now we don’t have to worry about looking for privies.”
Weasel smiled, “And all we gave him was a load of ….”
“Careful,” Noonan warned.
“…. PSEs to not think about. What did you think I was going to say?”