Beyond the Western
Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was making the sign of the cross with his two index fingers when Harriet came walking into this office.
“The Commissioner?” she said when she saw that Noonan was trying to hex the Wi-Fi fiend.
“It is evil which commeth,” Noonan said with a dramatic flair. “If I let it burble long enough, maybe it will die.”
Harriet was unimpressed. “Unlikely. More likely his holiness will come down to the office and none of us, not one of us, zip of us, want that to happen so you’d better answer the call of the urchin.”
“Urchin. I like that. It fits,” Noonan said as he poked the Ihellion to life. “Noonan.”
“I’m glad you’re there, Captain.”
Noonan gave Harriet a treacherous glare as she left his office. “What can I do for you, (pause just long enough to avoid a charge of insubordination), Commissioner.”
“A matter of national security has come up I need you investigate.”
“Well,” (shorter pause this time), “we have many pressing issues to deal with here.”
“Tut, tut, Captain. Nothing comes before national security.”
“Noonan, are you there?”
“Yes, sir. What can I do for you.”
“That’s the attitude! Good boy! It seems as though someone – or many someones – has been stealing used tires in and around Sandersonville.”
“Used tires?” Noonan’s voice expressed surprise.
“Exactly your kind of case, isn’t it? Yes, tires. Used tires, not new ones.”
“Odd, I must say.” Noonan shook his head and then asked, “And this relates to national security how?”
“One never knows where the terrorist lurks, Captain. I need you to investigate the thefts.”
“I see,” (pause) “sir. But we haven’t received any reports of used tire thefts.”
“Maybe the businesses don’t know someone is stealing their used tires.”
“I see,” (pause) “sir. What business might those be?”
“I’m not sure, Captain. I heard about the thefts from my brother-in-law at a party. It sounded suspicious so I’m calling you.”
“What is the connection between your brother-in-law and used tires?”
“He’s paid by a whole bunch of service stations to store their used tire. Kind of a used tire graveyard. Has a couple of acres near Manteo that is chockablock with tires. Piles ten high.”
“If he has a lot tires, how does he know some are missing?”
“Someone cut the chain to get into the tire graveyard. I like that, don’t you, Captain? A tire graveyard. I’ll use that in my press release.”
“So you are saying your brother-in-law knows that tires were stolen because the chain on the tire yard . . .”
“Tire graveyard. Use that term in your report.”
How does he know the chain was broken by thieves rather than
“Because the thieves left a chain of equal strength and length to replace the chain they snapped to get into the tire graveyard.”
* * *
“Oh, come on!” Commissioner Lizzard’s brother-in-law chortled when Noonan showed up at the used tire lot. “What I said was more of a joke than anything serious. I only lock the yard to keep kids from getting in and playing around. No one steals totally-used tires.” Lizzard’s brother-in-law had all of the personal characteristics Lizzard did not have: competence, professional demeanor and, most certainly, a sense of humor. “But if I knew someone wanted totally-used tires, hey!, I’ll even deliver!”
“Were any tires stolen?”
The brother-in-law took a deep breath. “Let me give you a quick tire-eco lesson. If you get a new set of tires and the old tires have some mileage let, you can sell the tire for, maybe, $20 dollars apiece. But if the tire has no tread left, as in bald or almost bald, it has no value. That’s when I get the tires. All the tires here,” he pointed behind him at the lot piled high with tires, “are worthless. They have no value. I am paid to warehouse them, so to speak. I don’t know the law but I don’t think you can be charged with stealing if what you take has no value.”
Noonan was persistent. “But were some tires taken?”
“Yes. Let me revise that. I don’t know but I’m sure some tires were stolen. But,” he said before Noonan could cut in again. “Let me make it clear I am not reporting any thefts. The Sandersonville Police have a lot better things to do then chase down some scofflaws. I want the police going after very bad people. Not totally-used tires of no value thieves.” And he gave a hearty belly laugh.
Noonan joined him. “I understand, sir. How do you know some tires might have been stolen?”
“An educated guess. The chain on the gate was snipped and an equal length of chain was left. The thieves – and I’m saying theft had occurred and I do not want a police report filed in spite of the fact what my brother-in-law is talking about – thieves, must have stolen something. All I have are tires. Ergo, they stole tires.”
“Any idea how many?”
“A lot. You don’t break into a place like this to steal a tire or two.”
“Do you stack tires by make, size, radials?”
the way you asking. The larger tires are stored along one side of the
lot and others get staked as they come in. If you are asking if
someone can find a specific size and brand, sure, if they want to paw
through piles of tires. But why would anyone want to steal used
“Any sign that truck was used. I mean, to steal a lot of tires you’ve have to have a truck.”
“There are lots of signs of trucks here. I get trucks in and out all week. Which tracks were from the thieves I could not say.”
“Well, sticking to the tires that were stolen.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“OK, missing tires. Is there any way you could tell me how many tires were stolen, er, are missing. Do you have kind of a daily or weekly inventory system?”
“Yeah. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I take a looksee at my records, such as they are. I’ll see if I can find the number of misplaced – hear me now, misplaced, not stolen – tires. It’ll take a day or two. But if I do that for you, I need you to do something for me.”
“Convince my wife to get a better brother.”
* * *
“I’m so tired,” Harriet said with a false yawn. “You know what Confucius says?”
“Man who runs behind car will get exhausted, but man who runs in front of car will get tired.”
“Let me guess. Lizzard’s brother-in-law called.”
“Yes. And he made it clear he was not reporting a crime. He just said 68 tires, all car, same basic size.”
“Why would any steal used tires?”
“No tires have been stolen. He said they had been misplaced.”
why would anyone want misplaced used tires?”
“I don’t know,” snipped Harriet on her way out of his office, “Why don’t you ask the ‘Bearded Holmes’ of the Sandersonville Police Department.”
* * *
68 tires was quite a few, Noonan mused. So it was more than a prank. The leaving of a chain to replace the snapped one was a nice twist, so to speak. Whoever was doing the purloining was trying to stay honest. Stealing used tires to be honest? Odd, Noonan thought.
Well, what can you do with used tires?
Good question. He could not think of a single us for a used tire. Shredded they are just shards and have no dollar value. Further, since it was a single theft, it meant the thieves, er, misplacers were not going to be back for another load. 68 tires also meant they had to have made a couple of trips. If they were using a pickup, for instance, it would have meant, say, a dozen trips. He figured tires could be place three high and four long in a conventional truck bed.
Possible. But unlikely. People who misplace tires who are honest are not going to spend all night taking 68 tires. Afterall, loading the tires was one thing. Then they would have to drive the full pickup to wherever they used the tires and return for a second run. And at least a third run. Since he had not heard that anything was doing anything with used tires on the Outer Banks, it meant the tires were being used inland. But for what?
He spent a good part of the day – thank you very much, Commissioner Lizzard – calling construction sites and building contractors to see if they used, sold or dealt with used tires. All he got was chuckles. Nope, nope and nope. Paving companies didn’t buy used tires to shred and use in asphalt and architects told him using tires as part of building was not a good idea because they were unstable. On a hunch he called some environmental groups to see if there was a use for used tires and got a ‘kind of.’ Yes, they told him, it was reasonable to use old tires to make a wall or stabilize a hillside, for instance, but it wasn’t as simple as just stacking tires. The tires would have to be filled with something. Earth would not be adequate. Over the years rain would wash the dirt out of the tires and then the entire wall would come down. It would be best to fill the tires with something. Cement or gravel preferably. But even with the cement or gravel there was no guarantee the tire wall would still support the weight of a roof. Just a little sag could create major structural problems. Over the years the tires would join with the movement of the earth. Her was told most used tires ended up a swings, playground shreds, eco-sensitive flower pots or, some people, like the Mexicans, used tires to make Horiuchi sandals.
He had zip. So, when you have zip, you return to the scene of the crime, er, misplacement, and start from scratch. Back he went to the actual misplace of the tires. Four or five trips with trucks seemed like a waste of time. One trip would be better. But that would require a large vehicle. Maybe a rental. But that was a v-e-r-y long shot. Lots of people rented trucks for a day or two. A better shot would be the cement or gravel angle.
On his second call, to a gravel pit in Wanchese. The moment Noonan identified himself, the man on the phone almost yelled, “I told them not to do it! I’m not responsible!”
Noonan did not miss beat. In as professional voice as he could muster, he said, cop-like, “Tell me about it.”
There actually not that much to tell. The company had made the delivery of a dump truck load of gravel. What was odd was the delivery location: a river bank. The driver was not so sure this legal because there were more environmental regulations than tinsel on a Christmas tree.
But that was where the “greenies” wanted the gravel dumped and they were paying the bill so that was where the gravel was dumped. Right on the riverbank.
The “greenies” turned out to be a habitat restoration project midway between Turtle and Greenville. Had Noonan not be given directions he would have had a hard time finding the river bank location. When he arrived, the place was a beehive of activity. The “greenies” did not look like hippies. More like yuppies and dinks. After he identified himself, a lawyer by the name of Hortense Wang shoved a card at him.
“You’re a long way from your jurisdiction, officer.”
“Crime has no boundaries.”
Wang laughed. “We knew someone would show up sooner of later. You’re just a bit earlier from what we expected.”
From where he stood overlooking the riverbank, Noonan could see a row of tires filled with gravel. The second tier of tires was on top and they were being filled with gravel.
“I hate to ask,” Noonan said pointing at the pile of tires on the bluff. “Where did you get the tires.”
“They are garbage,” said Wang. “It’s not illegal to recycle garbage. It’s only illegal to use someone else’s garage can or dumpster.”
“Maybe. Could those tires have come from the tire disposal yard?”
“Only if you can prove it,” Wang said with a smile. “It’s not as if every completely used, unrecyclable, valueless tire in America has an identifying computer chip.”
Noonan smiled. “Ah. Let me guess. You don’t have a construction permit for this, this, river wall.”
“We don’t need one.” Wang smiled. “North Carolina only requires construction permits for construction where there will be more than $30,000 of improvements. The gravel is our only expense.”
“Well, the wall you are building is along a river. I suspect you need some kind of federal permit for that.”
“Not really. You don’t need a permit to sandbag. We’re gravel bagging. And contrary to what the gravel delivery driver probably told you, we are not littering. Littering is an untidy mess left with no intent of cleaning it up. And,” she cut off Noonan as he was about to speak. “Actually, the gravel pit is part of the local environment. We are just relocating the local environment. You do not need a permit to relocate part of the environment. As you can see, we are meticulous. We’re also legal. By legal definition, we are not constructing, we are not littering and there is no law against stealing garbage.”
“I see you know your laws.”
“I’d better. I’m an environmental lawyer.”
“Well, what are you doing here?”
Wang smiled. “We are making an eco-friendly campground. We are using garbage to show you can recycle in new and improved ways of saving the environment. You should come by sometime when we’re open.”
“Maybe I will. You don’t need any more tires do you?”
“Not that you will ever know. Do you have an email address?”
Noonan shivered at the progress of electronics. “Yes.” He gave her the address.
“I’ll send you some photos of the finished park. Pass them around. I’m sure you have environmentally-concerned friends.”
“Well, I’ve got one.”
* * *
Commissioner Lizzard was more than pleased with the photos. He and the Commissioner for Homeland Security for Turtle and Greenville held a news conference and announced the opening of the North Carolina Coastal Ecofriendly Recreational Area and announced how the park showed that Homeland Security was ‘on the job.’ How it was ‘on the job’ was not explained but the newspapers didn’t need an explanation. They had photos, each of which was worth a 1,000 words.
Harriet was unimpressed. She put the Sandersonville newspaper on her desk and snickered. “What’s the commissioner brother-in-law think of the ecopark?”
“Probably loves it, I suppose. Might even get someone to buy dead tires from him.”
“Which reminds me. Do you know why bicycles fall over?”
“It has something to do with tires, doesn’t it?.”
“Yup. Bikes fall over because they are too tired.”
“Well,” Noonan snapped back. “That took the pressure off to come up with a good tire joke.”