The Matter of the Holy Shingles

“That particular item is still available. It’s an antique Sheffield silver on copper lazy Susan dinner buffet tray. It was created in 1915 and we have the its provenance. It’s steal at $1,500. Do you know what a provenance is?”

“A list of owners who owned the item over time. Who bought it, for how much and when.”

“Correct. And we have an inhouse appraiser to verity the value of the item.”

“That’s good to know,” Noonan said and then asked, “Why is it called a Jeffersonian lazy Susan? And I thought all lazy Susans were wood.”

“A common mistake,” the sales clerk replied. “The term ‘lazy Susan’ is actually a shortening of the term ‘Jeffersonian lazy Susan’ because it was invented by Thomas Jefferson. This is for real. He called it a ‘labor saving device’ but because he had a daughter named Susan, the term ‘lazy Susan’ was immediately attached to the device. Our antique Sheffield antique would look great on any dining room table and we can ship from here.”

Noonan feigned interest and then maneuvered the conversation into a chitchat about the sales clerk. Was she local and where did she get her background in antique furniture? She said she was local and the local college had an entire department dedicated to estate management, antique appraising and specialized classes in American art history. “I am specializing the estate management,” the young clerk told Noonan. “I had no idea there were so many people who had no idea what they inherited.”

“Do you get a lot of those kind of folks?” Noonan asked with interest.

“More than I expected,” she replied. “We were was once a rich town. Rich, that is, in the old sense of the word. We started as a mill town with the management, I guess you’d call them, living here. By the time the mill closed, the rich had their money invested handsomely. Their children, the bright ones, went on to college and then into the tech industry. What really caused the town to boom again was COVID19. All those techies left their high priced apartments in New York and California and came home. They worked virtually from homes they had inherited. They became home bodies and the old furniture had to go as they needed more office space. One and Only is the largest antique dealer here. Now, as to the Sheffield lazy Susan, if you buy today I’ll see if I can get the shipping cost cut by half!”

* * *

“And there hasn’t been any major changes within the church lately? No large bequests, donations. Anything like that?”

“Not really. We’re just glad to be open in these trying times. We get enough money from the use of the church to balance our budget.”

“Who are the largest renters of the church?”

“The university, of course. Then there is a group of art dealers who offer one of those shows like the Antique Roadshow on public television, a young woman’s dance company and a Shakespearean theatre company who uses our stage to rehearsal.”

And a gong went off in a deep crevice of his brain.

* * *

Noonan was sitting in his office staring at a can of tuna fish and six celery stalks when his administrative assistant and office common sense guru came in with a ham and cheese sandwich. She chortled at Noonan’s ‘lunch’ and made a rude a comment about LDL levels and then pulled the top slice of bread off her sandwich. Reaching onto the top of the now-exposed — to and from Noonan’s view; delectable — luncheon repast, Harriet lifted a — again, to and from Noonan’s view — massive slice of Swiss cheese.

“Speaking of holy,” Harriet said as she took a bite of the flavorful slice of heaven, “I just got a call from some church in Pennsylvania.” She shook a finger at Noonan, “You’ve been a busy boy while I was on vacation.”

“All in a day’s work,” Noonan said as he pulled his eyes away from the Swiss cheese and planted them back on his open can of tuna fish. “All in a day’s work.”

“Well,” Harriet said as she took another bite of the Swiss cheese, “tell me all.”

“Not much to tell,” Noonan pushed the tuna fist can away and snagged a celery stalk. “There was a church where someone — or someones — were digging holes in the roof.”

“The roof? Trying to dig their way to heaven?”

“Not so much to heaven as mammon.”

“Ok, enough of the allusions. Why would anyone want to dig a hole in a roof?”

Noonan sighed, “That wasn’t the biggest part of the problem. The church did not want any negative publicity. It did not want to be seen as helping the police (pause) because it wanted to continue to be known as a sanctuary.”

“Even for criminals?” Harriet snickered. “The church is supposed to be sanctuary for criminals of conscience, not cash.”

Noonan spread his hands and shrugged like an Italian being asked about his in-laws. “Mine was to solve the matter, not recommend punishment.”

“Well, what was the matter that needed resolving?”

“The church, St. Vincent of Albany’s parish rectory, was established about the time of the American Revolution. What made it unusual was the inclusion of a consecrated nave from France. The nave was from an older church. So the nave was moved to Pennsylvania along with some icons, paintings and a large stained glass window of Jesus.”

“And?”

“Well, I suggested the reason for the holes in the roof were for some miscreant to get behind the nave for some of the support timbers. See, the community had become quite an art center and apparently someone with a nefarious streak saw an opportunity to get their hands on some 16th century wood.”

“Wood? What’s the big deal? Wood’s wood.”

“Not really. Art forgers need 16th Century canvas, 16th Century paint and 16th Century wood so their creations pass muster as 16th Century artwork. 16th Century canvas is not hard to find. At estate sales, for instance. But over the years, the frames of those 16th Century paintings were replaced. Wood can be dated. A good forger can fake 16th Century paints but not 16th Century wood.”

“So,” Harriet cut in. “Some forger wanted to get the wood from behind the nave to make fake 16th Century frames for paintings.”

“That was my guess. It was also my guess those persons would continue to dig into the parish roof until they could actually remove the 16th Century timbers which came with the nave.”

“Well, if the church didn’t want to make a fuss about it, how are they going to keep that person from continuing to dig into the roof?”

Noonan stretched. “Oh, I just made a suggestion.”

“Which was?”

“To announce the timbers from behind the nave were being sent to Paris to aid in the rebuilding of Notre Dame. I suggested the church hold a ceremony and trot out some ancient timbers from behind the nave. With the 16th Century timbers gone there would be no reason for anyone to dig through the roof for timbers which were not there.”

“Were they really 16th Century timbers?”

“My lips are sealed.”

“Not around tuna fish and celery,” Harriet said as she pointed at his festering, low carbohydrate. Then she leaned forward and said, “You know how to sneak up on celery?”

“Oh, no. Not a joke at lunch!” Noonan said as he covered the tuna fish can with his right hand.

Harriet laughed as she took another bite of her Swiss cheese, “You stalk it.”

[You can find Heinz Noonan’s impossible crime novels at www.authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

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