Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was gingerly handling a corpse. He, the detective, was unused to dealing with remains. Or, in this case, a cadaver. This was for two reasons. First, he was not in homicide. Second, the deceased in this case was a neon tetra, Paracheirodon innesi, which had reached its maximum length – an inch and a half – and had expired of that affliction which affects all Paracheirodon innesi: old age. It had to have been old age because there were no predators in the Sandersonville Police Department aquarium, and the other, younger aquatic residents were still alive and kicking. Rather, alive and swimming.
The carcass of the deceased was on its way to a final repose in the office toilet when Harriet, the office manager and common-sense magnate, seized the toilet paper-wrapped deceased from Noonan’s palm and pointed to the telephone on his desk.
“Did you hear about the undertaker who was a magician?”
Noonan gave her a strange look. “No, can’t say I have.”
Harriet snickered, “His slogan was abra-cadaver.”
“Save your laughter for the woman in Line 2. She is trying to stop a marriage between a gold digger and a dead millionaire.”
* * *
“Good afternoon, er, I guess it is afternoon. I was told you could solve odd problems.”
“I’ve been lucky. What can I do for you?”
“Well, it’s an odd problem but critical to me.”
Noonan dug for a notebook with a blank page from the pile of notebooks on his desk. “What exactly is the problem.”
“My father was killed in an auto accident a week ago. He was a widower. My mother died a year ago and her father, Gerald, a very wealthy man, died ten years ago. Last week, Gerald’s estate finally came out of probate, and my mother inherited six million dollars. Since she was dead, the money went to my father. Since he was dead, the money should have come to my sister and me. But suddenly, a woman who my sister and I had never heard of, came forward with a wedding certificate from my father. She’s claiming she’s legally my stepmother, and so the $6 million is hers.
“You’ve never heard of her?” Noonan was surprised.
“How do you know the wedding certificate is a fake?”
“It doesn’t have my father’s signature. Just as X where he was supposed to sign.”
“I thought you had to have a real signature on something like a wedding certificate. Maybe an X would be OK, but it would have to be notarized.”
“It was. But the notary is dead as well. The notary was also the Marriage Commissioner. Do you know what that is?”
“I’m guessing. Someone who is authorized to marry a couple.”
“Correct. The notary, now dead, filed to become a Marriage Commissioner. Then, on paper, she stated she performed the marriage ceremony for my father and this woman. She notarized the X as being my father’s signature as my father was, in her filing statement, ‘too weak to sign the document.’ Then she sent the marriage license to the State with the filing fee. We, sister and I, didn’t suspect my father was allegedly married until the woman showed up at the bank to get my father’s inheritance from my mother.”
Noonan shook his head. “Did she get the money?”
“NO! Our probate attorney called us, and we asked her to put a hold on the money. Then this woman called and offered to settle out of court for half of the $6 million.”
“I see. Let me see what I can do. I presume you left your phone number with my office manager.”
“Yes. I’m Henrietta Winslow.”
“Fine. Give her the name of the notary and the dates on the marriage license and commissioner paperwork, and I’ll see what I can do for you.”
“Thank you very much and please hurry.”
* * *
Since the case needed immediate resolution, Noonan pulled up the marriage requirements which were listed online. As expected, the instructions were cut and dry. The marriage application required the usual information including first, last and middle name, Social Security Number, address, date of birth, previous marriages and a guarantee there was no close blood relationship between the two parties. There was no requirement that the two parties be a man and a woman, but it was required the parties be over the age of 18 unless there was a document of parental approval. No one under 16 was allowed to marry. Anyone over the age of 18 could be a Marriage Commissioner and Noonan could find no requirement the applicant had to appear in person. A Marriage Commissioner could be ordained, if that is the correct verb, by email.
As he was reading the requirements for both the marriage license and the Marriage Commissioner, Harriet brought in the dates for the notarization of the X signature and the marriage license. Then Noonan pulled up the obituaries for Turtle, North Carolina, where the loo-loo call originated. The Marriage Commissioner paperwork and the notarization of the signature on the marriage certificate had been done on the same day. The notary’s death was listed in the Turtle Gazette a week later. The father’s death was listed in the Turtle Gazette as well, a week before that of the notary. Noonan did not see a connection as the notary died of a ‘lingering illness’ in Turtle and the father in a “vehicular accident” in Virginia Beach.
When Noonan got Winslow on the phone, he had a few questions.
“You had never heard of this woman who now claims to be your stepmother?”
“That’s correct. We, our family, grew up in Turtle but we moved to Virginia Beach when I started high school. My mother was born in Turtle. I still have friends in Turtle, and they know of this woman, but I have never met her. Neither has my sister.”
“So, you know people who know her?”
“Sort of. She’s kind of a low life. Lives in her car and does odd jobs around town.”
“Odd jobs? Like what?”
“Janitorial for school, nurse’s assistant at the senior home, dishwasher at the local restaurant, delivers coupon books, waitress at the truck stop, does advertising sales for the newspaper, ..”
And a gong went off in the recesses of Noonan’s cerebral cavity.
* * *
The next Thursday, Harriet wandered into Noonan’s office with a bouquet. “Iris you all the happiness in the world.”
“Really, how nice. Is there a special reason for the flowers?”
“Of course! For the dear departed.”
“Departed? You mean the Paracheirodon innesi? Do you mean the neon tetra?”
“Spare me!” Harriet sat down heavily in the empty chair next to Noonan’s desk. “These,” she wafted the flowers, “are from Henrietta Winslow. She knew you could not accept a gift – personally – so she sent the office these flowers.”
“How nice,” Noonan said flatly.
“Don’t ‘How nice’ me. I took the loo-loo call. The gold digger marrying the man who signed his wedding certificate with an X.”
“Oh, that case!”
“Yes, THAT case.”
“Well, I got lucky.”
Harriet leaned forward, “Well, get lucky for mama. Tell me all,” she said as she spread her arms wide.
“Well, it was con job gone bad. My guess was the con somehow learned of the inheritance. Turtle, North Carolina, is a very small town. The perp probably learned about the inheritance like everyone else. By that time the notary had died, and I’ll bet our con had already stolen the notary stamp while she was cleaning up the woman’s room. Probably a spur-of-the-moment theft. She didn’t know what she could do with the notary stamp, but it was worth snagging it at the time.”
Harriet squinted. “But how did she go about getting married and the paperwork involved?”
“Learned it the same one I did. Even better for her, everything could be done over the internet. She never had to show up in an office. It was all by email. She filled out all the forms and sent them in.”
“I can see that. I mean she could date everything herself and make it look legitimate. But unless she was an excellent forger, which I doubt, she would never be able to pass off her signature as that of the real notary.”
“I agree. I don’t think she was looking to get the entire inheritance. Just a chunk of the change. It was worth a shot. If she created enough of a problem, she’d get a few thousand to go away.”
“She might have. But you stopped the scam.” Harriet pointed to the flowers. “How’d you do it?”
Noonan smiled. “The key to the scam was to make Henrietta believe there was a chance her father had remarried. That’s when the spur of the moment opportunity came. Our con had the notary stamp, knew a large inheritance was coming to Henrietta’s father, so she took a chance.”
“According to friends of Henrietta in Turtle, the con had lots of minimum wage, temporary jobs. Including advertising sales for the Turtle Gazette. When the opportunity for the scam came up, she figured a way to delay the obituary of the deceased notary. She only needed was a few days. She might have palmed the obituary from the Gazette newsroom and returned it a day of two later. Again, she was looking to scam some money, not get it all.”
“But you nipped it in the bud. It almost worked. How’d you stop the scam?”
“Easy, actually. When someone dies, the coroner or physician in charge fills out a death certificate. I could have gotten a copy, but it would have taken a while. And I would probably have had to go to court. But I wanted the date of death faster. So, I called the Social Security Office. When someone dies, their Social Security Number becomes extinct immediately.”
“And Social Security numbers are public knowledge when someone dies.”
“Yup. I just made a few calls and got the actual date of death of the notary. That ended the scam.”
Harriet sighed and looked up. “And now Mr. Winslow and the notary and the neon tetra are all in that great neighborhood in the sky.”
Noonan flicked the flower bouquet in Harriet’s hand. “You might say I nipped this one in the bud.”