The Matter of the Vaded Lagomorphs

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was coming into his office on a bright Tuesday morning – after a three-day weekend – and was disturbed to find Harriet, the office manager and common-sense Raja, hopping toward him. He gave her an odd look and then looked away, not sure he had seen what he saw. When he glanced back, Harriet was now standing in place but still jumping up and down with her hands held chest-high and flapping.

“I hate to say this, but have you been drinking this morning?”

“Not a chance,” Harriet snapped and kept on jumping. “I’m just pretending to be a hoppy rabbit.”

“A hoppy rabbit? Are there other kinds?”

“Probably, but this morning I am a hoppy rabbit.”

Again, Noonan looked about his office hoping something would be a clue to his office administrator bouncing on tiptoes. “OK, am I supposed to pick up a clue as to why you are bouncing like a playground ball?”

“I’m not bouncing, I’m jumping. Because I’m hoppy! You do know the name of the rabbit who stole from the rich and gave to the poor?”

“Where is this going?”

“Rabbit Hood. Today is a lagomorph day,”

“Lagomorph? Where did that come from?”

“John ‘Rabbit King’ Jankovic. He’s on Line 3. Someone stole 150 of his lagomorphs. He’ll give you all the details?”

“Lagomorphs?” Noonan said to himself as he sat down and punched Line 3.

*  *  *


“Captain Noonan! The ‘Bearded Holmes! We’ve heard about you all the way out here in California!”

Noonan gave a kind of a smile as he dug for a notebook with a blank page in the Tell of notebooks on his desk. “Nice to know I’m so popular. But until there’s a crime, I’m Heinz.”

“Well, there is a crime, Captain. So, I guess I can call you Captain.”

Noonan kept smiling. “Well, if there is a crime, are the local police involved?”

“Oh, yeah. But there is nothing they can do. I filed a police complaint and that’s where it sits.”

Noonan sighed. “Well, maybe I can help. What’s the problem?”

“150 rabbits are missing.”

Noonan wrote ‘150 rabbits’ in his notebook and then asked. “Odd. How do you know there are 150 rabbits missing?”

“Because they are mine. Or, wore mine. From my business, the Vaded Lagomorph.”

“You’ll have to spell that. Both words. I’m not familiar with either one.”

“Sure. V-a-d-e-d is the first one. It’s an unusual word. It means a goal or higher quality or higher standard. Not only are my rabbits top of the line, but I’m also constantly improving the biological line. The second word is l-a-g-o-m-o-r-p-h. Lagomorph is the family name for rabbits. Rabbits, hares, and pikas are not rodents, so they are in a class of their own. I use the term lagomorph so pet stores won’t confuse me with vendors who sell rats and mice, usually as food for snakes.”

Noonan spelled the words back to the voice on the phone. Then he said, “Well, let’s start with your name and location.”

“John Jankovic. Double Js. My parents thought that would be funny. I agree. It is. Looks great on my business card. I’m in Steffens, California. In Calaveras County. Mark Twain country.”

“Isn’t that Brett Harte country too?”

“Boy, you know your history! Yup. But Twain Harte is in Tuolumne County, to the south of us. We’re in Gold Rush and Earthquake country! When the earth shakes, we look for gold in the cracks of the earth! Steffens is named for Lincoln Steffens. If you know your history, you know who he was.”

“Muckracker in the early 1900s. Was a socialist until he saw how badly Russia was doing after the Russian Revolution.”

“Boy, you do know your history. He died in California. About 40 years ago, 135 of us wanted out of the Bay Area. What is now Steffens was an abandoned California Gold Rush town. We bought it for a dime from the feds. We’re constantly improving the buildings, roads, and bridges. Named it after Lincoln Steffens because there was no town in California named Steffens. Should be so now there is.”

Noonan chuckled as he wrote, “OK, JJ, tell me about the missing rabbits.”

“Lagomorphs. Anyone can sell rabbits. Mine are top-of-the-line. Vaded, just like my company name.”

“OK, vaded lagomorphs. Tell me about the missing ones.”

“Odd, you know. Someone popped open the gate to my ranch here in Steffens and scooped away the animals. We have the perpetrators on security camera. We don’t have an alarm on the ranch fence because, well, you know, no one steals vaded lagomorphs. Or, until now, they didn’t.”

“Just poof and gone?” Noonan asked.

“I like that term, yeah, ‘poof and gone.’ The three people who were involved in the theft put up a kind of chicken wire channel from the back gate around to the front of the storage shed. The Steffens police figure that was the way the thieves could hide any description of the vehicle that stole the animals.”

“150 is a lot of rabbits. Did they take all of them at once?”

“Appeared to be three trips.”

“OK, what are the rab, er, vaded lagomorphs worth? I mean, individually?”

“Depending on the pet store and location, normal rabbits run about $50 or $60 apiece. My vaded lagomorphs are special and can draw $90 apiece. But that $90 is if the rabbits are mine. There is no black market for rabbits, or, rather, for vaded lagomorphs.”

“Where do pet stores get their rabbits? I mean, if someone wanted to sell 150 vaded lagomorphs as rabbits, would pet stores buy them?”

“Not the way you mean. Pet stores do not buy rabbits by the dozens. Usually by the handful and they buy them ahead of time. And through established buyers. There is not a lot of money in generic rabbits. That’s why I’ve been able to make a living. Mine are vaded lagomorphs so they can be sold for more than the run-of-the-mill rabbits.”

“OK, so what is someone going to do with 150 vaded lagomorphs?”

“Thanks for using the proper description. Why? I don’t know. That’s why I’m calling you.”

Noonan chuckled. “The way I work, is to spend think time on a problem. I’m going to give you some questions. I’ll call back in a few days for the answers. And I need to call the Steffens police. Who did you speak with?”

“Colin Sturgeon. Just like the fish. The ‘sturgeon’ part.”

“I figured that. Now, here are my questions. Where is your nearest rabbit competitor, how much food per day would someone need to feed 150 animals, how much water, do the animals need to be covered for the weather in your area, is there a market for rabbit skins, is there a market for rabbit feet, can the vaded lagomorphs be released into the wild without upsetting the balance of nature in the Steffens area, and that’s about all I can think of right now.”

*  *  *

Patrolman Colin Sturgeon was a hoot. “Just like the fish but I’m not all wet!”

“Good for you,” Noonan said. “I’ll bet elementary school was a real joy with a name like Sturgeon.”

“Oh, yeah. Fish face, scaley, stink after three days. I’ve heard it all. You’re that ‘Bearded Holmes’ from somewhere back East. Solves all kinds of odd crimes.”

“I’ve been lucky. Anything unusual about the vaded lagomorph theft?”

“Stealing 150 rabbits? Odd? Spare me!” Sturgeon laughed. “Big crimes here are speeding, double parking, some marijuana sales, DUI, underage drinking, d-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s stuff.”

“Kind of what I thought. Anything unusual happening in Steffens or the area?”

“Nothing unusual. People are preparing for tourists and the State Fair, graduation is always an event, no big-time drug busts. There’s been a lot of upgrades lately because of earthquakes. We get a lot of them here.”


“We’re in earthquake country. Earth moves, roads shift, buildings tilt. The main mall here is going through an upgrade because of the quake. It went up during the Gold Rush and it was time for major renovation. Other than that, nothing new or unusual.”

“Nothing to do with animals?”

“Rabbits, no. FFA, sure. All time. We’re an ag region. Some vineyards, some potatoes, some berries.”

“Would releasing rabbits affect the agriculture in the area?”

“I doubt it. Kind of nature’s way. Rabbit population goes up, the predator population goes up. Rabbits get eaten and the predator population goes down. I know what you are thinking and, no, releasing the rabbits into the area is not going to affect anything. And 150 rabbits is not a lot of rabbits in this country.”

“Any possibility there is an insurance scam with the stolen rabbits?”

“Unlikely. JJ will only get paid for the cost of the rabbits, not what he would get in stores. So, no, I don’t see a money angle here.”

“There’s always a money angle,” Noonan sighed as he wrote ‘no’ next to the word ‘insurance?’ on his notebook page. “I’m going to do some research then I’d like to call you back, is that OK?”

“As long as I’m not out chasing down vaded lagomorph lawbreakers.”

* * *

            Whenever Noonan had a loo-loo call, he went back to his two, tried-and-true sources of information: local history and local newspapers. Lincoln Steffens was one of those early 1900s literary pioneers. Or, as they were called, muckrakers. He exposed large capitalist firms for the fiscal slimes they were. And, Noonan noted in his notebook, “still are.” Steffens had been employed by three of the leading reforming newspapers of the era, the New York Evening Post, McClure’s Magazine, and The American Magazine. His most widely read articles on the Tweed Ring in St. Louis were later printed as a book THE SHAME OF THE CITIES which sparked civic reformation movements across the country. He was celebrated in his era, and, like many reformers of his day, was a diehard socialist. Until 1919 when, on a trip to Russia, he discovered what many socialists would – and do. Socialism is like Prohibition, a good idea that will not work. Socialism is small doses like public schools, public libraries, funding of police and fire departments is workable. But expecting the doctors to be paid the same as ditchdiggers was unworkable. The ‘Workers of the World’ were not going to unite. Steffens married a much younger woman, a socialist, and moved to Italy where it appeared Benito Mussolini was coming up with a brand of socialism that could work. It didn’t and Steffens returned to California, where he settled in Carmel-by-the-Sea. He had a brief return to celebrity in 1931 with his autobiography but he became quite ill and could not complete his planned book signing tour. He died in 1940 and never lived to see the ultimate collapse of National Socialism in Germany, Fascism in Italy, and Stalinism in the Soviet Union.

Steffens, California, did not have a newspaper but there were some references to the community. As JJ had stated, it was formerly a California Gold Rush boomtown that went ghost. A group of business entrepreneurs bought the ramshackle buildings and proceeded to modernize them. As much as possible, the old buildings were historically renovated and the community began a push for tourists with gold panning expeditions, stream fishing, museum, winery, tours of the local caves and frog jumping weekends. Getting water into the California Gold Rush-era buildings was chore because the pipes had to be installed and power was provided courtesy of a series of low-head hydro dams. The largest building in Steffens had been a warehouse that had been transformed into an antique emporium with a gold coin store, jewelry enterprise, two eateries, a beer garden and a handful of clothing boutiques. There was a bank in Steffens – which Noonan noted was brand new and thus had all of the necessary security equipment – a landing strip, bus station, a police force of six and a full-fledged fire department rather than a cadre of volunteers.

The information on lagomorphs was pretty much what Noonan remembered from his high school science class. They were not rodents and were herbivores. They did not have paw pads and their feet were completely covered with fur. Their teeth never stopped growing, and thus there was the need for them to be constantly chewing on fibrous, woody plants to wear down their teeth. Domesticated rabbits survive on pellets, they would eat their own poop, have their own anger language, sleep with their eyes open – (No surprise there, mumbled Noonan to himself) – and their young are called ‘kittens.’ And rabbits produce a lot of kittens giving truth to the statement they ‘breed like rabbits.’

When Noonan got JJ on the phone, he had a few more questions. One in particular had been gnawing for several days. “JJ, Lincoln Steffens was, by today’s standards, a dyed-in-the-wool socialist. Was Steffens, California, set up as a socialist community?”

“Generally speaking, yes. But not the way you probably think of socialism. There was no way any one person or business could bring the Gold Rush community back to life. So, we took a commune approach. We all chipped in money and expertise to create the city. We needed a water and sewer utility and an electrical system and no one person or store could pay for them, so we formed a cooperative. As the community grew, we taxed ourselves for police and fire. And an elementary school. High schoolers are bused out of town. We’ve bonded the city-owned golf course and a dock so, in a way, I guess you could say we’re socialists. Just like every other city in America.”

Noonan chuckled. “OK. Now, how about the answer to my questions.”

“The answers haven’t done much to help me get my rabbits back but here goes. My nearest competitor is about 30 miles away, but his rabbits are not quality like mine. Rabbits eat about a quarter cup of pellets a day so we are talking 40 pounds of pellets a day. Rabbits drink a lot of water, about as much as a dog. Rabbits do need cover but it’s more for protection than warmth, particularly this time of year. There is a market for rabbit hide and rabbit feet but most of the product is from outside of the United States. There’s no financial reason to slaughter a vaded lagomorph worth $90 to sell a hide for $5 or $6. Rabbit feet run about $5 each after they’ve been made. I don’t see a dime of profit in vaded lagomorph feet. Finally, no, there would be no impact on the release of the vaded lagomorphs into the wild. Too few, frankly.”

Noonan didn’t see any leads in the answers. “Just a few more questions, JJ. The utilities for Steffens. Those are new, correct. I mean, there was not a lot of indoor plumbing or lighting during the California Gold Rush. I’m assuming the holes were drilled into the buildings for the water and wiring. Is the bank on the same system?”

“Ah, it’s the cop in your coming out, oh ‘Bearded Holmes!’ Yes, we had to install the piping and wiring for the buildings. We don’t get a lot of ice and snow, but we did insulate the water pipes. We dug into the basements so the pipes would be underground. Wiring doesn’t need the same protection from the weather. So, in the old buildings, the writing was buried between the low head hydroelectric dams and the city. There have been some problems because of earthquakes and we have had to repair the wiring in the buildings a number of times. The pipes have held their own. Just to satisfy your law-and-order interest, the bank is on its own electrical system. For security, that is. It is on the city system from the low head hydro dams, and it also has a backup generator and is connected directly to the Steffens Police Station. Water and sewer pipes are not secure but there are no toilets in the vault.”

Noonan gave kind of a ‘huh,’ and then asked, “Have there been any robberies in town lately?”

JJ laughed. “Why? We’re not big-time. Most of our business is with credit cards or checks which are checked electronically. Shoplifting, occasionally. Armed robbery, the last one was when Gerald Ford was President.”

Patrolman Colin Sturgeon chuckled when Noonan called back. “No arrests, no suspects and no vagrant vaded lagomorphs found wandering the city streets, sorry.”

“My heart is broken,” Noonan chuckled. “Just a couple more questions.”

“Shoot, Luke.”

“That’s from a Western. I’m from the East Coast.”

“We all have our cross to bear. Go ahead with your questions.”

“Have there been any break-ins in Steffens lately?

“Nope. It’s been quiet.”

“Bank’s secure?”

“Better be. I double checked after the vaded lagomorph theft. You never know.”

“Got it. Power to the city up to snuff?”

“In most cases, yes. We are in earthquake country so occasionally we have an outage but it’s not that long. Maybe a minute or two.”

“Do the wires ever get snapped because of the quake?”

“Not yet. The problem is not the wires. It’s the plugs in the building. A good shake knocks the plugs out of the sockets. The merchants must check the plugs. It’s usually a plug problem, not a wire problem.

A chime in the deepest recesses of Noonan’s cerebral cavity gonged.

* * *

            A week later, Noonan was about to leave for lunch when Harriet collared him on his way out of the office. She raised a set of car and house keys and dangled them before his eyes.

“See anything unusual?”

“Yeah. Cars these days have those automatic starters. And you don’t need house keys. We all got the coded door locks last year. So, no, I do not see anything unusual.”

“You, oh ‘Bearded Holmes,’ are looking at the keys, not the token on the ring. She raised her finger to show him a rabbit’s foot.

Noonan scoffed. “Some rabbit gave his best foot for you.”

“It’s a special foot. A vaded lagomorph foot. Direct from Steffens, California. You, of course, cannot accept gratuities so I, a humble employee, am sequestering it so you do not get into ethical trouble.”

“Steffens, eh? The missing vaded lagomorphs.”

“Correct. The card with the foot,” she jiggled the rabbit’s foot, “said ‘Thanks for the lead.’ It was signed by a patrolman with a fish name.”


“Could have been. It wasn’t Wahoo or Red Snapper.”

“I hope you enjoy your key holder. Now I have to hop along.”

“Not so fast, buckaroo. I took the loo-loo call. Now, tell mama what you told Patrolman Wahoo.”

“Sturgeon. Further north. Great Lakes. I gave a guess. Apparently, he took it to heart.”

“Fine. What was the guess?”

“Long shot, I must admit. It was odd the vaded lagomorphs would be stolen in Steffens. There are lots of other rabbit farms in California, so why Steffens? What did Steffens have that was unique? The only uniqueness I could find was the wiring for the city. It came from the low head hydroelectric dam system and the electricity was run by wires into the city.”


“Steffens is in earthquake country. Power outages are common. But most of the problems were with the plugs in the buildings. By that I mean, when there is a temblor or quake, what usually happens is the plugs inside the buildings get pulled out. The plugs get put back into the socket and all is well.”


“I felt the key was the time it took to restart the electrical system. There is a mall in Steffens with a gold coins store and a jewelry store. If the power failed for too long, their security system would go down. What the bad boys and girls wanted was a window when the security system was down. I was betting the power outage would come at night when the bad boys and girls would just beak in, and the alarm system would not go off.”

“How were they going to do that and what did it have to do with rabbits?”

“My guess was the bad people had figured a way to run duplicate wires somewhere between the hydroelectric dams and the city. It would not be hard for an electrician. Then the perps would wait for the regular wires to be cut. They would then remove the duplicate wire and the mall would be without a security system. It would take the city a few days to find the broken wire.”

“What am I missing? The police find the broken wire and trace it to the perps. With forensics. I watch FORENSIC FILES.”

“No forensics. See, I figured the vaded lagomorphs were stolen so the rabbits would gnaw through the wires. 150 rabbits chewing on the electrical wires would do the trick. After the thieves removed the duplicate wire, they just took away the chicken wire around the rabbits. The rabbits scattered. The dead ones would be eaten quickly. By the time the police found the chewed break in the wires, there would be no rabbits, no tool marks and no way to link the rabbits to the perps.”

“Clever! Did it work?”

Noonan pointed to the rabbit foot. “Probably not. Otherwise, I would not have gotten the rabbit foot. Or, rather, you would not have gotten the rabbit foot. Thinking of rabbits, do you know what the rabbit bought his sweetheart?”

“A joke?!”

“A four-carrot ring.”

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.