The Matter of the Unusable Salables

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was not having a good day. It was not a bad day but, when compared to other days in his life, it was not good either. It was not a good one because it was April 15th. April 15th is the DAY OF DOOM for Americans of every color, ethnic strain, country of origin, sex, sexual orientation, or hair color—(real or altered)—because if you took in money of any amount, there was an IRS form just for you calling out your name to be fulfilled, rather, filled out. The Noonan family had owed no money. It has also received the same amount of income and paid the same income tax rate, so it was assumed one of two realities present. One, the forms had been filled out correctly and there was no need for IRS scrutiny. Or, two, the Noonans, like most Americans, depended upon their tax accountant to fill in the correct squares on the forms with the correct numbers.

Noonan was not shaking down to his Birkenstocks when he signed the bottom of the tax return before his wife deposited the same in the mail, but he always worried that there was some number in some column on some page that was amiss, and he would be host to a passel of bean counters from the IRS who were more automatic than human.

Shortly after his wife fled Noonan’s place of employment, Harriet, the office manager and common-sense potentate, sat in the chair next to Noonan’s desk and asked, “Is it possible to steal something of no value?”

Noonan was not sure what to say. “Is this some kind of a riddle?”

“Could be. Can you steal something of no value?”

“Well, if it has no value, there is no statute covering theft of no dollars, I guess I’d have to say you can’t steal something of no value because if it has no value, there is no statute to cover theft of zero dollars.”

“Tell it to the Marines.”

“The Marines?”

“Three of them. Line 1. They are facing court martial for stealing something of no value.”

* * *


“Is this the ‘Bearded Holmes?’ I hope  it is because we NEED a Sherlock Holmes right now.”

“I’ve been lucky. Who’s this?”

“Jennifer Matukonis. Corporal. I’d rather not say from where I am calling. I’m just reaching out because I’m desperate, but I don’t want the word to get out.”

“I’ll buy that. Now, what can I do for you?”

“It’s an odd story.”

“Everyone calling here has an odd story.”

“This one’s a doozy. Three of us, all Marines, were involved in a fundraising venture for local nonprofits here, in a city I will not name. We have developed a way to distribute military equipment that was going to be abandoned.”

“No value? Everything on a military base has a value. I mean,” Noonan dug for a pen and a notebook, “it was purchased by the taxpayer.”

“That’s part of the problem. Yes, everything on a military base was purchased by the public. But everything on a military base has a shelf-life, so to speak. That is, it has a useful life. When that shelf-life is extinguished, it has no value to the military. This is really a simplified look at the matter, but, in real life, when something is no longer useful on a military base it is either sold or donated. There really is no Plan C, to speak of. If no one wants to buy an object and no government entity or nonprofit wants something that has not been sold, it is dumped.”

“Where is this going? Noonan asked with his pen hovering over the page in his notebook that only had the Corporal’s name listed.

“Well, we came up with a Plan C. We, as in myself and two other Marines. There are things on the military base that have no shelf-life left, were not sold, and were not to be donated to a governmental agency or nonprofit. They were about to be dumped. We figured out a way to do something productive with the junk. And I use the word junk because I want to make sure you understand these items have no value. We were—and are—basically stopping them from going into the garbage dump and selling them.”

Noonan shook his head. “So, you were making money selling something that has no value.”

“No. We were NOT making money. That’s important for you to understand. We were selling the disposables and using the money to pay for any transportation costs of those goods to the buyer. What was left was donated to charities.”

“So, you didn’t make any money?”

“We made no profit. That’s the magic word for the military: profit. We are not allowed to profit from selling military items, even if they are discarded. We made a profit, on the books, so to speak, but none of the money went into our pockets.”

“So you are being charged for making a profit on something that has negative value in the sense you have to use the sales money to transport the items from, where?, a dump?”

“The items never make it into the dump. We just spread the word that, say, an old printer was about to be dumped. It had not been donated to a school or library and no one wanted to buy the old printer. It would be sitting on a shelf in a closet waiting to be picked up for disposal. We’d sell it for $10 and then use the money for cab fare to get it to the buyer. The cabbies have been pretty good and usually don’t charge us so, in the case of this printer, we’d have the $10 left over. We’d put it in our bank account and occasionally write a check to a charity.”

She paused. “But it gets more complicated. We’d take the junk item off base where we’d give it to a cabbie or the buyer. The military is calling that theft. So, e are also being charged with theft of military property.”

Noonan chuckled. “Let me guess, as far as the military is concerned, you made $10 selling military property and being charged with stealing military property that has no value.”


“And there is going to be a court martial?”

“An Article 15. Maximum punishment is extra duty for 14 days and a reprimand. But it stays on our records for two years and all of us are up for promotion. The reason we are calling you is we are not entitled to a defense attorney. But we have five days to appeal, and, right now, the clock is ticking. We were hopeful you could come up with a solution that will get us off the hook.”

Noonan chuckled. “OK, let me think about it. I have some questions for you. I’ve got your phone number from my readout, but I’ll wait for you to call me back tomorrow with the answers—I know the clock is ticking. Do you have a pen and paper?”

“Yes, sir.”

“No, Heinz, Until there’s a crime, I’m just Heinz. No ‘sir'”

“Got it.”

“Here goes. Does the military have a form for property that is about to be dumped, who does the actual dumping, how do you reach the people who buy the product, where do they send money, who keeps a record of how much money has been made and spent, what was the largest object you sold, and where do you donate the money that is left? That’s all I can think of right now.”

* * *

Having been in the military for one tour, Noonan was familiar with an Article 15. It was not a crime in the sense it was a misdemeanor or felony, but it was serious enough to draw attention to an act. Or not. At its worst, punishment was ‘time off,’ extra duty, or some odious assignment. But it was not a ‘crime’ and an Article 15 was usually issued because some superior officer was exercising his—or her, now that women were officers—authority. Article 15s vanished after two years, and you could appeal an Article 15 but you only had 5 days to do it. Worse, if you were wrong, you had your supervisor’s supervisor to deal with and, unfortunately, in most cases, the chain of command was difficult to penetrate or convince, so to speak.

The last time Noonan had been in the military Ho Chi Minh City was named Saigon and “Charlie” was not the guy who lived next door. Noonan did a quick check on Article 15 on the internet to refresh his memory. What he did remember was accurate: an Article 15 is given at the whim of a superior officer or enlisted person. You could appeal an Article 15 but there were only three grounds for appeal: not enough evidence to have been found guilty in the first place, the punishment was too severe, or the person filing the Article 15 did not follow proper procedures. But it had to be appealed within five days.

When Jennifer Matukonis called back, Noonan had a few more questions. “Jennifer, to start with, who actually gave the Article 15?”

“A master sergeant.”

“Usually an officer is involved, at least in passing. What was the rank of the officer involved?”

“None. That’s part of the problem. We are on a small base and there are no sergeants above the master sergeants. There should be a First Lieutenant, but that slot is open. The next highest officer on site is a captain and that officer is brand new.”

“How new?”

“Say, four months.”

“Has he seen the Article 15?”

“I doubt it. It’s probably buried on her desk. The captain is a ‘she.'”

“Is the sergeant who gave Article 15 a woman?”

“Not that it makes any difference, no.”

“So, you do not know if the captain has seen the Article 15.”


Noonan looked over the scribbles on his notebook page. “Now, for your answers.”

Matukonis sighed. “For what good they will do, here goes. The Marines have a form for everything. Except, in this case, for things of no value. By that I mean, if a vehicle is donated or sold, there is a title associated with the vehicle, just like in the civilian world. But if the object is small and have no value, like the out-of-date computer sitting in a closet, no, there is no paperwork for the dumping. Its value is taken off the books, however that is done by the accountants. But after it has been determined it has no value, the object is just dumped. Who does the dumping depends on where the object is located. Usually, the office where the object is stored does the dumping. We have a routine to find the objects and advertise them.”

“How do you advertise?”

“We just call around. We don’t give to people, as in, private citizens. We sell to smash nonprofits. Sell is a bad word because there is no profit involved. We only charge as much as we think a taxi ride delivery will cost. Keep in mind that it is very hard for those folks to get in base.”

“What kind of things have you been giving away?”

“Used file cabinets, out-of-date computers, old printers, boxes of colored printing paper, worn desks, broken desk lamps, unbalanced office chairs. The kind of stuff that would normally go to the dump.”

“Is the dump on the base?”

“Half and half. Some portions are on the base, the rest is a public camp.”

Noonan fiddled with his pen. “How do you get the money?”

“It’s sent as  a check. We opened a bank account as the DD. For dumpster divers. People send checks and we deposit them. When we know we need money—as in cash—we get it from the bank.”

“How much do you have in the bank right now?”

“$128. The most we have ever had. We get donations.”

“The bank doesn’t have any problems dealing with a business that small?”

“They love it! Use it in their advertising! That’s how the master sergeant knew we were involved.”

A dull gong reverberated in Noonan’s cerebral cortex.

“So, until the master sergeant found out about it, no one on base objected?”

“Quite the contrary. Everyone liked the idea of some small nonprofits getting what the base usually dumped. It’s to the point now we have a list of old items to be given away and we do an email newsletter advertising the goods to the nonprofits. Everyone liked the idea.

“Except the master sergeant,” Noonan said flatly.

“So it would seem,” and she gave a long pause before she said, “Heinz.”

Sometimes silence speaks loudly.

“Uh-huh,” Noonan smelled a rat, figuratively speaking, and in this case, prophetically as well. “Being as sensitive as possible, how many of your co-conspirators getting Article 15s are women.”

“All of them.”

“Humm,” he mused loudly. “And,” he gave a l-o-n-g pause, “is there any connection between any of your co-conspirator and the master sergeant.”

There was a long moment of silence.

Then he stumbled on with his questions.

“What was the largest item you gave away?”

“Large as in size, file cabinets. Large as in value, printers— and particularly printers’ inks. We are always being asked for printer ink and most of the time we have it. Some printers are just, oh, dead, if you know what I mean. But when you buy a new printer, you have to buy the new ink cartridges. Most of the time the old cartridges are worthless. But not to a small nonprofit on a tight budget with an old printer.”

“I see,” Noonan said, ideas swirling in his head. “If you are put out of business, who gets the money left in the bank account?”

“No way of knowing. The master sergeant has control of the account now.” The clanging in Noonan’s brain was deafening—metaphorically speaking.

* * *

A week later Harriet came into Noonan’s office with a Manilla envelope with an 8×10 certificate. She waved the certificate at Noonan as she sat down at the empty chair beside his desk. Noonan looked at the certificate casually and went back to his notebook.

“Not so fast, buckaroo,” Harriet snapped as she shoved the certificate between his eyes and the notebook page he was reading. “This is from those Marine women who called last week. In the loo-loo call you took. The ones facing that Article 15.”

Noonan looked at Harriet for a moment, glanced at the certificate and commented, “A marine corps certificate. I didn’t know they gave those out.”

“They don’t” snapped Harriet and pointed to the bottom of the certificate. “It’s from a collection of businesses in some town in Alabama. I looked it up to make sure it was real. It is.”

“Interesting. What does the certificate say?”

“What they all do,” Harriet said as he pointed to the other certificates on the wall of his office. “No one can pay you for your services because,” she snarled Hollywood-style like a deadbeat on the street being arrested. “you’re a cop.”

“Uh huh,” Noonan muttered without looking up.

“No, no, no.” Harriet put the Manilla envelope under Noonan’s chin to pull his gaze to hers. “Now, tell Mama about the three Marines who no longer have Article 15s.”

Noonan had a blank look on his face. “Not much. It just did some off-the-wall thinking.”

“Such as?”

“I don’t know all the facts so I just guessed. Intuition, you know.”

“Intuition me.”

“Three Marines had come up with a way to get junk no one wanted to buy to small nonprofits that could not afford to buy the junk. So, the Marines just charged for transportation. The master sergeant got miffed and charged them with stealing government property.”

Harriet laughed. “Charged with theft of government property that had no value?”

“World’s a strange place. Seems thee three Marines involved were women and the master sergeant who issued the Article 15 was a man.”

“I see the plot thickening.” Harriet kind of shivered.

“I saw it too. So to speak. Apparently,” he gave a short pause, “there was a romance connection between the master sergeant one of the Marines that was probably extinguished.”

“Uh-oh. No surprise there.”

“Correct. That’s what I thought too. But there was a flaw in his plan. Any person can initiate an Article 15 on anyone further down in the food chain. But for it to stick, the person above has to approve of it. That’s the military way.”

“So the officer above the master sergeant reversed the article 15?”

“That’s not the way it works. No one in the chain of command wants to make anyone else in the chain of command look bad so you have to come up with an off-ramp, an honorable way to solve the problem.”

“I don’t get it. Why didn’t the officer over the master sergeant just overturn the Article 15?”

“You’ve never been in the military. That’s not the way things work. Besides, there was no one immediately over the master sergeant. There was someone up the administrative chain of command, but she was brand new. My bet, the master sergeant slipped the Article 15 d-e-e-p under the paperwork so the three Marines would miss their five-day appeal window.”

“But you saved them, right?”

“Sort of. I did what is called an ‘end around run.'”

“Which was?”

“I told our Commissioner of Homeland Security,” Noonan said as he looked skyward. Rather, as he peered through the ceiling tiles to the throne of the Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security on the third floor, “I had an idea for him to consider. Some Marines at some military bases were making sure items of no value were being given to small nonprofits. He could have cared less until I told him the local papers wrote them up big time.”

“Then you had his attention,” Harriet chuckled.

Noonan gave him a blank look. “I suggested he work with the local Commissioner of Homeland Security and honor those marines. That would give the Commissioner press coverage there and our commissioner could follow up with press coverage here.”

“How’d he find the Marine base?”

“I gave him the area code off my phone. He connected with the local Commissioner of Homeland Security who contacted the local Marine Corp base commander and found the captain in charge of the Marines with the Article 15s.”

“Was she pleased to be given the award?”

“She was taken completely by surprise. She was brand new and didn’t even know three Article 15s had been given. I’m sure they were buried on her desk under piles of whatever official paperwork there on her base. The first she heard about them was when the base commander ordered her to be at a ceremony to accept the award.”

“Let me guess, the three Marines were there.” Harriet waved the certificate.

“In uniform. I told our Commissioner that was a good idea. And I wrote up a news release for His Majesty. He sent the news release with a copy of the photograph of the Marines to the local press here with an announcement of his new program to, and I quote, ‘turn trash into cash for local nonprofits.'”

“Let me guess,” Harriet said as she looked at the certificate. “The three Article 15s went to the rings of Saturn.”

“Good guess, By the way, did you hear about the crocodile that joined the Marines?”

“Oh no! A joke!”

“He was made a great navigator.”

Steven C. Levi is a sixty-something freelance historian and commercial writer who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, his home for past 40 years. He has a BA in European History and MA in American history from the University of California Davis and San Jose State. He has more than 80 books in print or on Kindle.