The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound – Chapter 1

The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound
Golden Gate Bridge Disappearing Greyhound Bus Caper
by Steven Levi
Master of the Impossible Crime
Chapter 1

Captain Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville, North Carolina Police Department, was pleasantly sequestered in the back row of the stretch 737 with a double Cointreau in one hand and Warren Sitka’s Sourdough Journalist in the other. Life was going along smoothly until he was tapped on the shoulder by a flight attendant. He quickly covered his plastic glass with the book and looked up innocently.

“Captain Noonan?” the woman asked.

He ignored her, hopeful she would go away.

“Captain Noonan?” She asked again, clearly ignoring the book covered Cointreau.

“Never heard of him,” Noonan grumbled as he sank back into the saga of the fossilized alligator of Talkeetna. “He’s probably up in First Class.” He was re-reading the classic of Alaska, absorbed, and, as he was on his way to Alaska for a two-week vacation, it seemed to make perfect sense to read up on the lore and legends of the northland. He was also reading the tales so his wife, Alaskan born and proud of it, wouldn’t catch him unprepared when they went to Talkeetna for the Moose Dropping Festival – at least that was what she was threatening to do. If there was such a thing as a Moose Dropping Festival. When it came to his wife and her Alaskan friends, as he had discovered over the years, there was no telling when Alaskans were serious or just pulling your leg.

“I’m sure you’re mistaken, Captain.” This flight attendant was not about to be bamboozled – particularly when she was certain she was correct. “From the description I was given, it’s either you, the copilot or the Yuppie in 5B. I was told you could be cantankerous, so that leaves out the Yuppie. He made a pass.”

“What about the co-pilot?”

“His beard isn’t salt-and-pepper, he isn’t hiding out in the back of the airplane, and he doesn’t carry a flask of refreshment.”

“What makes you think I’ve brought liquor on board?” Noonan gave her a look of absolute innocence in spite of the fact he had clearly been caught glass-handed, or at least plastic-handed. He had snitched the cup from the plane’s galley as he had walked by. He would have liked some ice but he had not been able to find any cubes, so he was living with the indignity of warm liquor.

She gave him the old do-you-think-I-was-born-yesterday look.

“What are you?” he snapped pleasantly. “Some kind of detective?”

“No,” she replied with mock pleasantry. “I’ve got three kids and two of them are teenagers. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll forget all about the liquor you brought on board if you’ll take a walk down to the terminal check-in desk. A man is standing at the counter who’s just dying to speak with you.”

Noonan stroked his salt-and-pepper beard and looked imploringly into the eyes of the flight attendant. “This is my first vacation in three years. Couldn’t you just call the check-in counter and say you couldn’t find me? I must have taken another flight, possibly to Denver?”

“Captain Noonan! How am I going to cover myself if you’re in the computer for this flight?”

“Lie,” he replied dryly. “People do it all the time.”

“Not on my watch, Captain. Besides, you’re holding up the flight. Why don’t you just go down and see what the man wants? I’ll hold your seat.”

“I know what the man wants,” snapped Noonan. “He wants to spoil my vacation.”

“Well, tell him,” said the flight attendant with a smile, “you need one.” Then she reached under the book and took his plastic cup with a finger of Cointreau from his grasp. “I’ll hold this for you. We can’t have you walking around the terminal with an open container of liquor, can we?”

“Will you hold the plane for me? “The question was plaintive.

The flight attendant looked him squarely in the eye. “Do you want me to lie? OK. Sure, I’ll hold the flight for you.”

She was lying.

The moment Noonan stepped into the passageway leading to the concourse, the door to the Alaska Airlines flight swung shut behind him. By the time he made it to the check-in desk at the head of the ramp, he could see the plane and his Alaska vacation disappearing into the labyrinth of approaches at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. When he arrived at the courtesy lounge, Flight 132, non-stop to Anchorage, was off the ground.

So was Noonan.

“This had better be an incredible case,” he snapped at the Sandersonville Commissioner of Public Safety Lizzard – a delegate to one of those professional conferences which lasted a day and a half, but you could take a week of vacation since your flight has already been paid for – who was hovering near the complimentary champagne with his hands full of a single glass. Noonan glared down at the bald pate of the Commissioner from the majesty of his 6-foot-2 frame. “I mean, this had better be an incredible story. We’d better be talking about lost mines and hidden treasures, right? Topless dancers and Cointreau by the waterfall? I’ve paid in advance for a three-day king salmon trip on the Kenai, a flight-seeing trip around Denali and dinner with Warren Sitka.” He snarled as he tapped the book he was holding into his open palm. “That’s not to mention the heck I’m going to get when I don’t arrive in Anchorage and my wife has to explain to her parents and relatives, yet another time, why I’m not coming north – again.” He put a heavy accent on the word again.

“Oh, I’ve taken care of that,” Commissioner Lizard said, stumbling over his words trying to be polite and professional at the same time. “I called Lorelei, and she completely understands. She said she’s taken care of the king salmon trip. Your father-in-law will sit in for you.”

“What! I pay for the tickets, and my father-in-law takes my place! I’ve never even been king salmon fishing!”

“Now, now, Captain. It’s not all that bad. In fact, I wish I had an assignment like this myself.”

“Commissioner Lizzard, don’t give me that. What are you doing in Seattle anyway? This is a long way from North Carolina.”

“The call of duty, Captain Noonan. The call of duty. I happened to be in Seattle at a conference when the call came. I decided to meet with you myself.”

“You’re here because everyone else in my office had the good sense not to pull me off a vacation-bound airplane,” snapped Noonan. “That’s one thing I have to say about my people. They’ve got the brains to know when not to bother me!”

As Noonan continued to ramble and roar, the Commissioner found himself a chair still conveniently close to the complimentary champagne table and settled in holding his champagne glass in front of him like an offering to the gods. Standing, he barely topped five feet; seated he looked more like a child on a love seat than a man in a recliner. He was so small his black suit appeared like a stain on the massive chair.

Unfortunately for Commissioner Lizzard, just as it appeared Noonan was calming down, a flight attendant appeared with his luggage. The flight attendant recognized Noonan immediately and set the twin suitcases down in front of the detective. Then he did the worst possible thing he could have done under the circumstances. He pulled Noonan’s fishing pole tube out from under his left arm and passed it to the detective at the same as he handed him a copy of Noonan’s Law, Greatest Cases of Sandersonville’s “Bearded Holmes.”

“I’m a great fan,” he said as Noonan took the book and fished for a pen. “If you ever get to Alaska, look me up.”

Noonan smiled at the attendant, turned slightly, and glared at Commissioner Lizzard. Modestly Noonan signed the book and thanked the attendant for getting the luggage.

“How did you know I was getting off?” Noonan asked suspiciously as he handed the book back to the attendant.

“The Sandersonville Police Department called about an hour ago and asked for your luggage to be pulled off the flight and held. I guess you were already on the plane.”

“Apparently.” Noonan swiveled his head to the side and shot the Commissioner a look of First Degree Murder.

The flight attendant left without realizing the dynamite stick he had ignited. Noonan looked out the window of the courtesy lounge for a moment, watching the flight line personnel scatter as an Horizon Air flight wallowed toward the terminal. He tapped on the window absent-mindedly and then turned back toward the Commissioner who was trying to let the cushions of the recliner suck him to oblivion.

“So you had my luggage taken off the plane? An hour ago?! You let me sit on the plane for half an hour while you debated whether to call me off or not?”

“Well, it’s not the way it seems.” Commissioner Lizzard was stumbling over his own logic. “The situation was changing with each moment. We weren’t sure if you were needed, so we asked to have your bags removed just in case, if you know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t know what you mean. What I think you are saying is you had my bags taken off, and, should it have come to pass I was not needed, I would have left with my bags here in Seattle while I was on my way to Anchorage.”

“No. No. We would have made sure your bags were put on the same flight you were on. It just didn’t work out that way.”

Noonan watched another Alaska Airlines jet arch into the sky. It was headed north, to the land of king salmon and moose burgers. The sun caught the angles of the plane’s metal for a split second, and then it was nothing more than a shining spot in the sky.

“Commissioner,” Noonan pointed to the empty sky into which the airplane had just vanished. “I’ll have you know three years of waiting and close to $6,000 went north just now. Worse, now I’ve got to explain to my wife and the twins why I’m not in Alaska with the in-laws when I’ve been talking about it for years!”

“But I talked with your wife. She said she understood!”

Noonan leaned forward and looked at Commissioner Lizzard over the top of his glasses. “Commissioner. You don’t know my wife. That’s what she’ll tell you. What she’ll say to me is going to be quite a bit different. You have no idea what this is going to cost me!”

“No. I promised you would have your vacation right after you dealt with another matter. And you could have three weeks instead of two and the Department will see you are reimbursed for any expenses you can’t recover.”

Noonan was enraged. “Wake up and smell the ground roast, Commissioner. King salmon season is only open in July. It’s what, the 22nd?! Great, I get three weeks’ vacation in Alaska when it’s illegal to catch king salmon. What a thrill! Did you think this one up all by yourself?”

The Commissioner started to speak, but Noonan continued right over him.

“Who do you think you’re fooling by saying the Department is going to pay me back for all my expenses? The Department doesn’t have the money to keep the first aid kits in the patrol cars full! Wouldn’t I be considered the Department Grinch if I got expense money reimbursement and no one else did?”

Noonan let the question hang while he marched over to the coffee table. He looked for china and had to settle for Styrofoam. Lizzard was silent, waiting for Noonan to fill his cup with decaf.

The Commissioner spoke as if he had an inside angle, which he did. “Actually, it’s not our Department that’s going to be paying your expenses.”

Between bites of the coffee, Noonan snapped, “This had better be good, Commissioner Lizzard. I’ve been dreaming of barbecued salmon steaks for the past six months.”

The Commissioner ignored the Alaska reference and went on as if he had not heard a word the detective has said. “There was another reason to have your luggage pulled. You see, you are going to be taking a trip but, unfortunately for you, it’s not to Alaska. You’re going south.”

“What a thrill. Where am I going?”

“San Francisco. It’s another of those Alaska Airlines cities, so we didn’t have any trouble getting you booked. First-class this time, what a thrill, eh?”

Noonan was unimpressed. “First class? For a trip lasting, what an hour and a half? How accommodating. And since I’m going to be working, I won’t be able to drink. Takes all the fun out of first-class, don’t you think?”

Noonan leaned forward aggressively, causing Lizzard to charge on as if he had not heard a word Noonan had spoken. “Well, the San Francisco Police Department said you would have every amenity. That’s easy for them to say because they aren’t paying the bill. Butterfield-Fargo First National Bank is. That’s one of the largest banks in San Francisco, you know. Actually, I believe they’re the largest bank chain in California.”

“Then it’s probably a good bet they’re the largest bank chain on the West Coast,” snapped Noonan.

“Could be. I don’t know.” Lizzard said it quickly and then went on so fast Noonan could not get a word in edgewise. “All I know is they’re paying your expenses. All of them. All we had to do was agree to lend you to them for the duration of the case.”

“Oh, how equitable! I guess that makes me like a shortstop or halfback. I get swapped around. Am I making the same kind of money?”

“Now, Captain, we, er, I understand how you feel. In fact, I’d feel the same way if I had planned on going on vacation, but sometimes things just happen.”

“Yeah, don’t they?” Noonan was not mollified. “When was the last time you gave up your vacation to go to work for someone else?”

Lizzard dodged the question. It wasn’t a good dodge, but it stopped Noonan from another snippy statement. “All I know at this point, Butterfield-Fargo First National Bank was hit yesterday with a robbery. The thieves got away with about $10 million in cash, who knows how much from the safety deposit boxes and ten hostages.”

“What do you mean, ‘got away?'” Noonan shook his head as if to clear it. “How can you get away with ten hostages? If the thieves already have the money, what do they need the hostages for?”

“Ah, intrigued already! Fine. Fine. Well, you’ll just have to wait until you get to San Francisco to find out. Oh my goodness!” Lizzard looked at his wristwatch in mock astonishment. “It looks as though your flight to San Francisco is boarding now! At Gate B-12! Here! Let me take your bags! Com’on. You don’t want to miss your flight! Hurry! Hurry!”

Before Noonan could respond, Lizzard was out of the chair like a cat that’s been caught napping where it shouldn’t and was hustling Noonan’s luggage out the door of the courtesy lounge. Noonan, caught just before he launched into another terse statement, suddenly found himself alone in the courtesy lounge, his fishing pole tube in one hand and a Styrofoam cup of cooling coffee in the other. He shrugged helplessly and set the coffee down. He was about to exit the lounge when he suddenly stopped and glanced into the kitchenette. There he spotted a glass, an actual glass, purloined it, and opened the refrigerator. After he discovered the icebox was empty, he dug four ice cubes out of the champagne bucket and dropped them into his glass. But the professional in him was too strong. Sadly he shook his head and left the glass on the counter.

By the time he got to the boarding area, the Commissioner already had his bags checked in. The Commissioner handed him his ticket. “It’s certainly nice of you to be such a good sport, Captain. You don’t know how much the Department appreciates this.” The Commissioner was all smiles.

“Yeah,” snapped Noonan tapping the commissioner’s chest with the end of the fishing pole tube, as aggressive as one can be with one’s boss. “Why don’t you show your appreciation by taking this back to my office? I don’t think I’ll be using it in San Francisco.” Then he reached inside his jacket and pulled out his flask of Cointreau. “I won’t be needing this either. Put it in my desk, away from prying eyes and greedy lips.”

“Of course.”

“Have my staff go over to my house and send me some of my work clothes. All I have in my suitcases are jeans, work shirts, bug juice and sunglasses. Fortunately, I have my leather jacket with me.” He patted his jacket affectionately.

“They’re already doing that. We anticipated you wanted your usual work clothes so we’re sending them along tomorrow.”

“Who am I supposed to meet when I get to San Francisco?” Noonan asked.

“I don’t know, but don’t worry. I’m sure someone will be there for you when you arrive.”

“Oh, goody goody.”
* * *
The only nice thing about the trip to San Francisco was that Noonan would be sitting in First Class.

But it was a short trip.

And he could not drink.

And the flight attendant for this flight didn’t have half the personality of the one on her way to Alaska. When Noonan finally traipsed down the hallway and entered the First Class cabin, the flight attendant slammed the door behind him and sniped, “Now that we’re all here.” Then he closed the door to the forward cabin. The plane was moving even before Noonan found his seat belt.

The rest of the passengers didn’t seem to mind the delay, at least no one in the First Class rows. On the starboard side of the cabin, two businesswomen in the front row were chatting while behind them, a man wearing sunglasses dressed like a movie producer on holiday was working on a laptop and downing whiskeys directly out of the little bottles. He made no move to stop the flight attendant as he scooped up the bottles before the plane could make it to the runway. In the back row, a grandmotherly type was playing cards with a young girl no older than ten. On the port side of the cabin, Noonan shared his back row with a man who was sound asleep against the window. Noonan couldn’t see anything of the four people in front of him save the backs of their heads.

As soon as the plane was aloft, the flight attendant, still smarting from having his schedule adjusted by a tardy passenger, made it back to offer him a drink. Noonan declined, cursing the fact he was on his way to an assignment. He did take a cup of coffee and launched back into his book of Alaska tales. He had just finished the story of the fossilized alligator of Talkeetna as the plane touched down at San Francisco International Airport.

“So much for my Alaska holiday,” he muttered as he stuck the book in the inside pocket of his overcoat. “Now, let’s see what fate has in store for me.”

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.