Beyond the Western
The Matter of the Unsaleable Cattle
Steve Levi


Beyond the Western

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was locked in a life-or-death struggle with the online Thesaurus when Harriet snatched his pencil-scrawled list of synonyms for ‘life or death’ from his desk.

“There’s a cattle baron from Greenville just dying to talk to you,” she snickered as she said the word dying.

“Dying?” Noonan repeated with a question mark on his face. “If he’s a cattle baron then an alternative term might be slaughtered, demised, expired, exterminated, extirpated, decimated, expunged, deleted . .”

Before he could go on, Harriet terminated the sentence — and used the word in her sentence – with a snicker. “It’s one of those cases you get to solve every sixteen or seventeen seconds. It’s about cows. Or cattle. They’re all the same to me, $6.99 a pound unless you want to go organic. I’m not sure.”

“He’s got a beef?” Noonan’s face was twisted into look of fake astonishment. “In North Carolina? Are you sure he’s not from Texas?”

“His card says ‘Greenville,’” Harriet snapped as she handed Noonan a business card with a logo of a longhorn cattle, its horns extending from one edge to the other. Immediately below the snout were the words, “Barron Meats, Organic, Gourmet, Free Range” and below that, “Best Cattle west of the Pecos!” and, below that, “Charles Randolph Barron, North Carolina’s Cattle Barron.”

“So, he really is a cattle baron,” Noonan said to himself.

“Better be,” Harriet said as she raised a package of butcher paper. “He came with ten pounds of London Broil which is just crying for my barbie. I’ll let you know how it comes out.”

“What about me?! I like steak!”

“You can’t accept gratuities. I can. Besides,” came the snide response, “You’ll be up to your shanks in his unsaleable cattle long after London is broiled. I’ll send him in. (pause) And I’ll see you on Monday!”

Barron looked like a cattle baron. He dressed like a cattle baron. He spoke like a cattle baron except his voice was a high-pitched tweet. He plopped more than sat in the wooden office chair next to Noonan’s desk and stretched his long legs out into the aisle and crossed his Texan cowboy boots in clear and obvious eyesight to anyone and everyone.

“Unsaleable cattle. I haven’t heard that one before.” Noonan looked at the note from Harriet on his desk. “What exactly are unsaleable cattle?”

“That, my good man, is what I am here to find out.” (He may have been a cattle baron but he spoke like a hillbilly from Eastern North Carolina where ‘roots’ are ‘ruts’ and ‘fixin’s’ means ‘chicken.’)

Noonan was silent for a moment, clearly waiting for Barron to continue. Finally the Cattle Baron got the hint.

Speaking slow out of culture rather than unformed thought, he continued. “Now, I don’t think this here’s got a crime involved but, he. . ., heck, you know, it’s got all of us puzzled.”

“Who’s us?” Noonan asked.

“Well, you know, the cattle people ‘round Greenville. We are there, you know, more than you’d think for North Carolina. We’re the tar heels but there’s a lot more cattle people than tar people.”

“So this is a problem for all cattle people in the Greenville area. How about the rest of the state?” Noonan paused. “Are there a lot of other cattle people across the state?”

“Oh, sure. Cattle are big business. Not as much as Texas, ‘course, but we’ve got our sizable ranches. But this is a problem in Greenville. Local, I guess you’d say. See, we’ve got a fellar who brings his cattle to market, bids ‘em up so high they don’ sell, then leaves with ‘em.”

“I’m assuming you mean he brings his cattle to auction and then bids on his own cattle so high no one else with buy them. Is that right?”

“Yes, sir. An’ it’s an expense to him besides. He’s not selling any cattle so his herd is getting old. He’s payin’ for transport to and from the auction lot and that’s an expense he is not recovering. Then there are the auction fees. So he’s losin’ comin’ and goin’ and no one knows why.”

“It’s odd,” Noonan said shaking his head. “But there is nothing illegal about it. So why should the Sandersonville Police get involved?”

“Odd, yes it is, sir. Unusual, yes it is sir. Legal, it may be. But no one does things like that without making a dime. He’s gots to be making a dime, somewhere and he’s not the kind of a rancher whose rollin’ in any dough. So what’s going on?”

“That’s a good question. Tell you what. I’ll give it a thought,” Noonan grimaced indicating he was picking up the Western North Carolina brogue. “Off the top of my head, I’ve got a handful of questions. Why don’t you get the answers and I’ll see what I can do.”

“I’ll do that, son.”

“I’m older than you. Call me Heinz.”

“Yes, sir.”

“That went well.” Noonan shook his head humorously. “Now, how many cattle are we talking about? What is the total number of cattle on the market when this man doesn’t sell his cattle? How does he get his cattle to market? Are they different than other ranchers? Do his cattle eat anything different than other cattle? How much higher does he bid for his own cattle? Do his cattle mix with the other cattle on the way to market or in the auction yard? How can he tell his cattle from the other cattle during transport or in the auction yard? Are his cattle any different than the other cattle being sold?”
“He.., heck, I can answer all of those questions right now.”

Noonan gave the Cattle Baron an indication to continue.

“Well, we all know our cattle so there’s no mixing up ours with others. No one brands cattle the way you see it in the movies but we all know our beeves. His ranch is a ways out, last one out. He’s bringing about 40 cattle to market every month, same cattle, and in that same month, every month, there’s over a 1,000 cattle at auction. His cattle mix with others on the way to market because he’s so small he has to subcontract the transport. So his cattle are mixed with a lot of others on their way to auction but, of course, on the way home, his cattle ride alone. His cattle mix with all other cattle in the auction yard. Not in the same pen, but in the same yard. Like I said before, we all know our cattle so he’s not switching with anyone. Besides, his cattle are old and getting ancient while the others are young and strong. He bids close to twice the market rate and no one’s going to overbid. Other than old, his cattle are the same as everyone else’s. All cattle eat the same food, use the same medicine.”

“Tell me about his ranch.”

“Odd but not unusual. There’s not a lot of room for milling. The larger ranches are like open fields with a lot of fences. His, not so much. Flanked by forest on one side and swamp on the other. Long and narrow. Probably once a tobacco farm. Long time ago. Got fences on both sides of the road to the ranch house. The pens back up to the swamp on one side and forest on ‘tother.”

“You said he was far from the rest of the ranchers. How far away?”

“In miles?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe 20 miles. If he’s not the last one out, he’s close to it.”

“The rest of the ranchers are close in?”

“The big ones are.”

“So, to get his cattle to market he has to transport them quite a ways.”

“From his ranch to the auction yard, about 65 miles.”

“Is the auction yard near a highway?”

“Close.”

Noonan scratched his head with a pen. “Now, after the cattle are sold in the auction yard, how are they transported to the slaughter house?”

“That’s up to the buyers. They have their own transport vehicles.”

“I’m guessing the larger ranches ship their own cattle to the auction yard.”

“You are correct, sir.”

“How many smaller ranches are there in the Greenville area, I mean. How many small ranchers share the same transport carriers?”

“Maybe four or five. But that’s coming in, ‘course. Then they are picking up cattle ranch by ranch.”

“But coming back, there’s only this man’s cattle, is that right?”

“Correct.”

“Same transport company every time?”

“I assume so. Our focus is on why he never lets his cattle get sold.”

“I see.” Noonan wrote something on the sheet of paper and then stood up, extending his hand across his desk to the Cattle Baron. “I’ll see what I can do.” He shook the man’s hand and waved his business card. “I’ll be in touch if I can think of anything.”

* * *

Three days later, Monday, Harriet was back with a steak the size of a poker chip.

“This is my share of a ten-pound London broil?!”

“Don’t be greedy. I had many mouths to feed.”

“I’ll bet they all ate well.”

“No, they ate beef. By the way, I looked up cattle jokes just for you. Do you know what one steer said to another when they saw a cow in the pasture?”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

“One steer said to the other, ‘I’ve never seen herbivore.’” Harriet broke into laughter.

“Herbivore. Cute.”

“Speaking of cute,” Harriet pulled out the Sunday paper. “And cute is one letter more than cut, as in London broil,” she said as she pointed at the poker chip steak. “Did you see his majesty made the Sunday paper?”

“Really?” Noonan said nonchalantly.

“It has to do with your cattle baron. Seems one of the cattle men has been smuggling drugs. Appears the drugs were put in a transfer vehicle at the auction yard by ‘person or persons unknown’ – it says that right here.” Harriet said pointing at a line in the newsprint. “Then the drugs were transported to this person’s ranch where it was flown out to parts unknown. Apparently the cattle dung, sweat and whatever made the smell of the drugs undetectable to the drug sniffing dogs.”

“Imagine that,” said Noonan looking at the steak on his desk. “Do you know what you get from a cow with no legs?”

“Ground beef. I saw that joke this weekend. I know you talked to the Cattle Baron on Friday and here’s this story where the Commissioner of Homeland Security for Sandersonville is claiming credit for a drug bust. Hummmmmm, I wonder if there is a connection?”

“Who knows?” Noonan replied. “Stranger things have happened than the Commissioner of Homeland Security taking credit for something he didn’t do.”

“Or know how to do.” She turned to leave Noonan’s office. But before she left she looked over her left shoulder and snapped, “Hey, stop staring at my rump.”



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