Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was savoring his lunch of a can of tuna which, opened, was placed on the most remote corner of his desk. It was partially-eaten and had a fork strategically placed with the tines anchored inside. This was his assigned repast for the day. It was also for show – just in case his wife sauntered in from shopping. It happened often enough that Noonan suspected his wife was spying on him to make sure he stayed on his 20-pounds-down-by-September-15th pledge. He had lost five pounds – the easy ones he had been told – and now came the hard work.
But not this afternoon.
He had a chicken sandwich hidden in his desk drawer.
He was surreptitiously popping a breaded morsel into his mouth when Harriet, the office manager and common sense guru, wandered into his office and sat in the empty chair beside his desk.
“I’ll bet it tastes just like tuna,” she said as she pointed at the can of tuna festering on the desktop.
“I wouldn’t know,” Noonan said as he looked over her shoulder to see if his wife was advancing.
“She’s not here.” Harriet pointed over her shoulder. “But a friend of hers is.”
Noonan kept looking over Harriet’s shoulder.
“Not here here,” Harriet said. Then she pointed at the telephone on Noonan’s desk. “Here here.”
Noonan looked at the phone, then Harriet.
Harriet smiled evilly. “One of your favorite kinds of calls: a relative of your wife. Mary Ann Poll, she’s a horror writer living in Kennedale, Texas. Used to live in Alaska, where she married one of your wife’s relations.”
“Oh, no!” Noonan moaned. “In-laws!”
“Well, you know the difference between in-laws and outlaws, don’t you?” Harriet smirked.
“I hope this is a joke.”
“In-laws aren’t wanted. Mary Ann Poll has a problem. She just got a new stove she didn’t pay for.”
“She won it?”
“No. It just appeared. Paid for and all. She doesn’t know who paid for it or why. Just that it was delivered to her.”
“Nope. More troubling, three of her friends had kitchen appliances, all paid for, suddenly appearing.” Harriet used the fingers of her right hand to indicate a magician’s hand sign for poof.
“What’s the problem?” Noonan asked.
“No one does something for nothing,” Harriet said as he pointed at Noonan’s office phone. “You can ask her about it on Line One.”
* * *
“Heinz! I’m not sure you remember me. I’m your wife’s brother-in-law’s sister. You read one of my short stories when you were in Alaska. You said the story kept you awake at night.”
“Ah,” said Noonan as he recalled MaryAnn Poll. “Now I remember you. And, yes, I do remember that story but, no, do not have me read another one. Horror is not my cup of tea.”
“Heinz! You look at crime scene photos for murders and you have a hard time with horror stories?!”
“It’s the professional in me. What can I say? Now, tell me about the stove.”
“Well, I’m not living in Anchorage any more. I’m in a small town in Texas. Kennedale. Small town about a dozen miles from Fort Worth. Between Fort Worth and Dallas.”
Noonan dug for a notebook in a desk drawer. “Fort Worth has about a million people, right, and Dallas is, wow, say a million?”
“About. Big cities. That’s why I live in Kennedale.”
“No snow, I’ll bet.” Noonan chuckled. “Now, the stove?”
“Not a crime, Heinz. I know you’re a cop so this isn’t a crime call. Just an odd one.”
“Odd things sometimes turn into crimes.”
Noonan heard some papers being shuffled. Then Poll came back on the phone line. “Here’s what I have. Two weeks ago I got a new stove. By that, I mean I got a call from an appliance delivery service that my stove had come in. I said I didn’t order a stove and the delivery people said someone did and had already paid for it. I asked who had paid for it and they said their records were proprietary. Did I want the stove or not?”
“And you said, ‘of course.’”
“You got it. But I did say I wanted a letter from the delivery company, Kennedale Refrigeration and Appliances, stating the stove was mine and had been paid for.”
“Did they give you the letter?”
“Oh, yes. I would not have taken the stove without the letter.”
“And no one showed up later to say the delivery was a mistake?”
“No. Then it got weirder. I told my writer’s group about the stove and three other women said they or their friends had had the same experience. One got a refrigerator and the other two got dishwashers. Same story as mine. Everything were paid for and there was no way to find out who paid for the appliances.”
“And everyone said ‘Sure, I’ll take the appliance.’”
“Yup. And every one of them asked for paperwork just in case there was a delivery mix-up.”
“They all got letters?”
“Just like me.”
Noonan was scribbling his notebook. “OK, I have a number of questions for you. I’ll call back in a few days for the answers. I’ll have to do some research on my own. Got a pen and paper? Now, thinking about it, what writer does NOT have a pen and paper?”
“I’m on my computer. Give me the questions.”
“Here goes. Do the people who received the appliances have anything in common, are the appliances all the same brand, what time were the appliances delivered, did the same company deliver the appliances and finally, regarding the woman who received the refrigerator, how much advance warning did she get? After all, replacing a stove or dishwasher is just an in-and-out operation. The refrigerator replacement requires you to empty the old one before a new one is put in.”
“And you’ll call me in a few days?”
“When I finish my research, yes.”
* * *
Whenever Noonan was presented with a loo-loo call, he went to his two tried-and-true sources of information, history and the local papers. There wasn’t much history to consider. Kennedale was very small, less than 8,000. It had been erupted from the soil in Texas before the Civil War and was named for Oliver S. Kennedy who platted the city in the 1870s. Typical of the era, land title was checkerboarded with the Southern Pacific Railroad getting every other square mile along the transportation corridor.
There was no Kennedale newspaper but there was a Fort Worth daily newspaper and a Fort Worth weekly tabloid. But neither had any articles specifically on Kennedale. A search of the internet gave him zip. The N-DEx system gave him quite a bit of crime data on Kennedale but it was useless as far as Noonan was concerned. There were the usual DUIs, DVs and D&Ds but nothing that was out of the ordinary.
According to the Texas Department of Commerce and Economic Development records, the delivery company had been formed eleven years earlier by Johnathan and Elizabeth Armstrong. Then he tried the State of Texas database searching for court cases for Kennedale Refrigeration and Appliances. There were a handful of court cases involving the company but none were unusual. When he ran the names Johnathan and Elizabeth Armstrong through the Texas court cases he got a laundry list of cases but the names, first and last, were so common that was to be expected. Only one stuck out. It was a case of property damage and the Armstrongs were listed as a dba. But it was in Dallas.
What made it so interesting to Noonan was that it was a wholesale jewelry operation.
A gong clanged distantly deep within the recesses of Noonan’s brain.
* * *
“That’s about to be ancient history,” Harrison Otis of the Otis Jewelry Emporium in Dallas, told Noonan. “It’s been about seven years since that happened. If the jewelry ever shows up, I’m afraid there’s nothing that can be done. The Statute of Limitations, you know. Besides, we’ve already been paid by the insurance company. It would not be our problem, theirs.”
Noonan was scribbling furiously. “Well, if property was stolen, even after seven years if you can prove the property was yours, you can get it back.”
“That’s the problem,” Otis said sadly. “We can’t. We’re a wholesale operation, not a retailer. To someone like you who’s not in the jewelry business, what that means is we get product – to you, gems – which are heirlooms. Typically, someone with heirloom jewelry dies and leaves their loved ones with, say, two or three diamond rings, a necklace pendant and some gold pins with sapphires. The heirlooms have been passed down for generations so, to the loved ones who get the objects, the heirlooms are just a source of money. There is no sentimental reason to keep the jewelry. And if the person who died had no children, the property is usually left to charity. To make a long story short, if the heirlooms cannot be sold as artwork, we get them. We extract the gems, melt down the gold and silver and then sell the gems and gold to jewelry retail outfits.”
Noonan opened a new page in his notebook. “Gold and silver are untraceable when they are melted down. I’m not sure about all the gems, but diamonds are Gem Printed so they can be identified for well, forever.”
Otis sighed. “That’s right. Except that the heirloom diamonds coming to us are usually very old. They were purchased and inset long before there was Gem Print. So the diamonds we get are untraceable.”
“Don’t you get them Gem Printed when you get the stones?”
“Yes, we do. But the stones you are talking about disappeared before they could be Gem Printed. If they are ever found, there’s nothing we can do to identify the missing diamonds.”
Noonan had his lead. “Tell me about the missing diamonds.”
Otis paused for a long moment. Then he said, “Give me your name and police department and I’ll call you back. I have to make sure there’s no problem with the local police or the insurance company.”
Half an hour later, Noonan got a call back.
“No one seems particularly concerned about those gems anymore,” Otis told Noonan. “It’s an open case with the FBI but being in law enforcement you must know the FBI never tells anyone anything.”
“True. Why is the FBI involved? I would have expected the Dallas Police to handle the investigation.”
“They did. The diamonds that disappeared had come in by mail and were stolen in postal envelopes. That’s how the feds got involved. We dealt with the Dallas Police and they worked with the FBI. We talked with an FBI agent once and that was it.”
“How were Johnathan and Elizabeth Armstrong involved?”
Long pause. Then Otis replied, “They, personally, were not. Their employees, yes. Short story but interesting. The Armstrong couple operate a mom-and-pop refrigeration and delivery business. Had, maybe, ten employees. They did – probably still do – a lot of repair work and were – and probably still are – a delivery subcontractor for the larger home appliance operations. They do deliveries. Big-box stores sell the refrigerators but the subcontractors do the delivery and installation.”
“Did they do the install for you?”
“Yup. The drivers for the Armstrongs did. That’s when the diamonds disappeared. About $2.5 million.”
Noonan whistled. “None of them Gem printed.”
“So you suspect the drivers were involved in the theft.”
“I know they were involved. I just can’t prove it. The diamonds were there in postal envelopes before they made the delivery of the refrigerator and were not there after they left.”
“I assume the local police searched them and their business?”
“Right away. And several times since then. And I am assuming the FBI did a search as well. No one found anything.”
“But you are sure they were involved?”
“Had to be. No other people involved.”
“How would any of drivers know the diamonds they picked up were not Gem Printed?”
“Good question. Our guess, they didn’t. They grabbed what they did and figured on selling the goods later. The diamonds they stole were in heirlooms and had been sent to us. We hadn’t opened the envelopes yet so we really didn’t know right away what was missing. If they did not know about Gem Print then, I’m better they sure do now.”
“Do you want the heirlooms back?”
“Not really. We filed a claim of property damage to get the insurance money. That ended it for us.”
Noonan paused for a moment and then asked, “Johnathan and Elizabeth Armstrong ran their business out of Kennedale. That’s a ways from you isn’t’ it?”
“You live in a small town, right. Sandersonville? For you, five or ten miles is a ways. But it’s only about ten minutes of travel time. For those of us in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, 15 miles is an hour’s drive – if the traffic is light. The big-box stores use all kinds of subcontractors. It does not make any difference to them where the subcontractors are located.”
“Do the big-box stores still use the Armstrongs?”
“As far as I know, yes. They were never convicted of anything?”
“Correct. Nor any of their drivers.”
* * *
When Noonan called Mary Ann Poll back, he had a few more questions. “Another question came up. Do you know when the people who got free stoves and refrigerators got the original appliances? Did they get them at the same time?”
“I don’t know and they don’t know. Just a long time ago,” Poll said. “Victoria Hardesty and Valerie Winans have been in Kennedale since I got here. Robin Barefield is newer to the area. I’ve been here ten years.”
“OK. Now, how about the answers to my questions.”
“Here you go,” said Poll. “I had to reach well beyond the writer’s group to get the names of the other women who got free stoves and refrigerators. As far as I can tell, we all have nothing in common. All of the appliances we received were the same brand as the ones being replaced. The delivery time was set by when we, the receivers, were available. I assume the woman who received the refrigerator had enough time to empty the old one before the new one was installed.”
“Did the same company deliver all of the appliances?”
“Yes. That I checked. It was the Kennedale Refrigeration and Appliances.”
The gong in Noonan’s brain was deafening.
* * *
“Well,” said Harriet snidely as she saw Noonan surreptitiously snacking on a fish sandwich from the bottom drawer of his desk, “I see you are diligently trying to lose weight.”
Noonan was nonplussed. “Ever see a fat fish?”
“A whale,” Harriet said flatly. “But they exercise. I hear swimming is great for reducing the waistline. But then again, whales don’t have waistlines.”
“Ha!” Noonan mimicked Harriet’s flat tone.
“Now,” Harriet said as she leaned over Noonan’s desk. “Tell me about Mary Ann Poll.”
“Frightening lady. Writes stories that keep you awake all night.”
“I can imagine. No, the free stove. We got a ‘thank you’ call from the Kennedale Police, by the way. Where’s Kennedale anyway?”
“Deep in the heart of Texas.”
Harriet clapped her hands three. “Now, the stoves.”
“Right. Now, tell mama the whole story.”
“Not much to tell. While Kennedale Refrigeration and Appliances was delivering a refrigerator to a diamond wholesaler seven years ago, $2.5 million in stones disappeared.”
“Poof and gone. The drivers for Kennedale Refrigeration and Appliances were suspected but never charged.”
“Let me guess, the diamonds were never found and, dear me,” Harriet tapped her right temple with the index finger of her right hand. “Now that seven years have passed the Statute of Limitations has passed. Is there a connection?” She gave a faux innocent smile.
Noonan yawned. “I guessed the drivers who delivered the refrigerator picked up the diamonds on their way out of the diamond wholesaler. The gems were in mailing envelopes which had just been delivered to Otis Jewelry Emporium. The drivers knew they were going to be searched so they had to have a secure place to store the diamonds for seven years. And they needed it right away. It could not be their homes or at the Kennedale Refrigeration and Appliance company warehouse. They didn’t have that kind of time. They had to move fast.”
Noonan paused for a moment. “The best place to store something is in plain sight. So, again my guess, they slipped the heirlooms still inside the mailing envelopes up inside the refrigerators and stoves they were delivering that day. That deliveries must have been in Kennedale. It was just a fluke the people who got those stoves and refrigerators knew each other.”
“So, seven years later, after the Statute of Limitations, they went back to retrieve the diamonds.”
“My guess too. The drivers who took the diamonds initially bought new appliances and delivered them. In with the new. Out with the old.”
“And when the old went out, so did the diamonds.”
“You got it. I’m betting the diamonds were removed and the appliances junked.”
“So they got away with it?”
“Maybe. The diamonds were in envelopes and had been mailed to the diamond exchange. That could extend the Statute of Limitations. At the very least, the police now know who took the diamonds.”
“The drivers who have been on the company payroll for seven years are the ones who took the diamonds. Seven years is a long time to be employed in the transportation business.”
“All’s well that ends well, eh?”
“Maybe. By the way, do you know why ghouls and demons are always found together?”
“Oh, no, a joke!”
“Demons are a ghoul’s best friend.”