The Matter of the Maple Syrup Deluge

The Matter of the Maple Syrup Deluge

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was savoring the frigid 55 degrees above zero that January day. He had just returned from a trip to Alaska visiting in-laws where it had been 55 degrees below zero.

At noon.

For the entire ten days he had been in Fairbanks.

Now he was sweltering in the 55 degree above zero weather in Sandersonville.

Life was certainly tough!

In Sandersonville on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Just as he was taking off his suit jacket because of the wet heat, Harriett, the office manager, came into his office, sat down on the empty chair beside his desk, and whispered, “I’d have given you a maple syrup joke but it got stuck in my throat.”

Noonan looked at her with a been-there-done-that look. “Let me guess. Someone has a problem with maple syrup.”

“A dozen barrels. Line Two,” she pointed to his phone, “Don’t be sap,” she said, “It doesn’t grow on trees.”

“Thanks,” Noonan muttered as he picked up the phone. “Noonan.”

“I hate to ask but is this the ‘Bearded Holmes?”’

“He looks like me, so I guess it is.”

“Sorry. I have to ask. I’m calling about a situation that is not a crime. At least not yet. I was told you’d listen to me.”

“Still am.”

“Great! It’s good to know someone will listen. I’m in law enforcement, North Dakota State Troopers. (Pause) And I’ve heard all the North Dakota jokes.”

“Well, you’re safe then. I don’t know any.”

“Oh, well, then let me give you some. Our State Tree is the telephone pole and the land is so flat you can see your runaway dog for two weeks.”

Noonan chuckled. “OK, now I’ve heard two.” He plowed through the rubble on his desktop for a notebook. As he was digging, he said, “Let’s start with your name.”

“Mandan Jackoby. Mandan like the Indians up here. Mixed marriage.”

“They all are,” Noonan said flatly. “Where are you calling from?”

“Eielson. I was told you had Alaskan in-laws so you’d know who Carl Ben Eielson was.”

“Alaskan aviator,” Noonan said as he wrote in his notebook. “First mail flight in Alaska and the first pilot to fly over the North Pole to Europe. Died in a plane crash in 1929 and the United States Airforce Base in Fairbanks is named after him.”

“You are well informed,”

“I read my history. How big is Eielson, North Dakota?”

“Nothing in North Dakota is big. In terms of population anyway. Actually, Eielson is a new city being built around an abandoned military installation. It’s all about oil, gambling, and, of course, aviation.”

“And the problem is . . .” Noonan let the sentence hang.

“Money. Too much of it. Coming too fast. Because of the oil boom there was a need for somewhere to spend money. There are Indian casinos in North Dakota but there is a problem. The casinos are small, scattered and hard to reach by road. Someone came up with idea of creating a ‘Las Vegas of the North’ in North Dakota. Yeah, I know, a stretch. But there is nothing like Las Vegas anywhere but Nevada. But North Dakota was ideal because it is in the Midwest, and with a three-hour flight, about one-third of America can come North. And then there’s Canada. Gambling in Alberta and Manitoba is legal, but the casinos there are, well, not Las Vegas.”

“So,” Noonan said as he wrote ‘gambling nirvana’ in his notebook, “with big money comes organized crime.”

“Yup. Top to bottom. From the building trades to the utilities to the unions to the security forces — the whole ball of wax. We know organized crime is here, and we are working with the feds to keep it out. The good news is the feds know what they are doing. The bad news is there are so many money-making opportunities there are a lot of cracks for organized crime to squirm through.”

“And you are calling about one of these cracks.”

“Yup. Not sure what I’ve got, but it’s odd. It was suggested I call you.”

“I’m all ears.”

“OK, here goes. The reason Eielson is perfect for a ‘Las Vegas of the North’ is because it was once a nuclear missile base. It was part of the NORAD, North American Air Defense. Back in the bad old days when we were expecting a missile attack from the Soviet Union at any moment. It had underground facilities, overground buildings, a massive landing strip and miles of secure utility lines. After the Cold War ended, it was once again in the middle of nowhere so the feds abandoned the base. A family picked it up for song and lived in one of the deteriorating buildings.”

“What did they do there?”

“Farming. They were more interested in the land than the buildings. They could get the base cheap because it was so far by road from the railroad. They made a living for a while and then foreign competition put them out of business. A cattle company bought them out. Same reason, lots of land. It did well. For a while. Failed for the same reason. Land went into foreclosure. Was picked up by a Native group, a conglomerate because it had, and I quote, ‘potential.’ That potential played up big time when the Natives were able to get the feds to convert it to Native land.”

Noonan cut in. “Let me guess, and when it became Native land, gambling was legal.”

“Yup. It had everything needed for a full-fledged Las Vegas. Lots of underground tunnels for security, a huge landing strip for planes and all the utilities were in and operational.”

Noonan chuckled. “And if you own all the land, you can make a fortune selling land to casinos, bars, gift shops.”

“Yup. It was going to be a money-maker. Will be a money-maker.”

“And the problem you are calling me about?”

“Maple syrup.”

* * *

“OK. I’ll bite. Why maple syrup?”

“That’s why I’m calling you. Here’s what’s happening. At least one of the unions organized crime has infiltrated is the refitting industry. To explain, all of the Cold War buildings for the United States military were built on the same model. All across the United States, the building were the same. They were square cement structures. From the outside they looked like giant white blocks. They had thick walls with inset windows. The ones in Eielson are only two stories tall but still massive cement monstrosities. This was wartime and the military needed buildings as fast as they could be built.

“Across most of the United States the form of structure was no big deal. But in snow country, there were problems. A lack of insulation and flat roofs to start with. Energy was cheap and plentiful in those days so keeping the buildings heated was no problem — and money was not lacking so if you wanted more heat, you just turned up the thermometer. But the flat roof was a problem. The snow would build up on the roof, flat roof, and it would stay there all winter. Deeper and deeper. Weight wasn’t a problem because the buildings were solid cement. But in the spring all the snow melted and the runoff was massive. In Eielson, it is flooding the tunnels.”

“OK,” Noonan said blankly. “Go on.”

“All of the older buildings have to stay erect in this new city. That’s because they link all the underground tunnels, and they are the center of the water utility. So the casinos are building around them. Right now, there is a massive retrofitting industry. Not only do the building have to come up to code — and yes, North Dakota does have a building codes — but they have to be secure for the millions of dollars in cash the casinos are expecting to receive. The old buildings will all have outer shells to hide their origin. I mean, if you are going to be the ‘Las Vegas of the North’ all of the buildings have to be razzle-dazzle like Las Vegas even if their foundations are Cold War.”

“Where does the maple syrup come in?”

“That’s why I’m calling you. We discovered the refitting operation brought in a dozen barrels of maple syrup. 55 gallons each. We work with the feds to keep a sharp eye on the refitting because we know organized crime is involved. When the barrels popped up, red flags went up. We don’t know what the maple syrup can be used for. The refitting operation does not require food. Sssooo, what’s the maple syrup for?”

“That,” Noonan replied with interest, “is a very good question. Tell you what. Let me think about it. I’ll call you back in a few days. In the meantime, I need you to come up with some answers for me. Have a notepad?”

“Will a yellow dog do?”

“Absolutely. Here goes, off the top of my head, how many buildings are we talking about, and is there gambling going on right now?” He paused. “If there is gambling going on now, how many casinos, how much business is being done, do all have access to the underground tunnels, how many tunnels are there, what’s going to happen with the silos where the missiles were located, will there be one secure room for all cash from all casinos or will each casino have a share of the underground maze, are the buildings controlled by one party or have different businesses claimed different building for their own use, how many unions are involved in the retrofitting, does the landing strip link to the underground tunnels, who is doing the security for the underground tunnels, is it one firm or many, are all of the utilities state of the art or will they upgraded, where is the nearest depository for overflow cash for the casinos, who is handling security for the casinos and that’s all I can think of right now.”

“And you want these answers when?”

“When I call back in a few days. I need some think time.”

* * *

Whenever Noonan was presented with one of his loo-loo matters, he had two tried-and-true crime-fighting tools: history and the local newspapers. For Noonan, North Dakota was unknown territory. He had never been there, and his only ground-level view of the state was from the movie FARGO. Generally speaking, he knew the state had formerly been Indian nations, Lakota and Dakota, both Sioux, and had fewer people per square mile than Alaska — and he had in-laws in Alaska so he knew what vacant land looked like. Interestingly, courtesy of Wikipedia, he learned North Dakota and South Dakota had been admitted to the Union on the same day, November 2, 1889. As to which one was the 39th and 40th state, no one knows. President Benjamin Harrison signed both statehood documents and then shuffled them, obscuring the order of his signature. So, North Dakota was first because it started with an “N.” South Dakota began with an “S,” alphabetically speaking, so it became the 40th state in the Union. Neither name impressed the original Mandan people or the lengthy list of tribes who had inhabited the area until they and their land were sold to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1802. The land was far from any transportation network so the land was sparsely populated until the end of the century. Until the end of the next century, it was primarily a farming state. The oil boom came in the 1970s, and by the turn of the next century, oil started its slow decline with renewables on the rise. Some of the famous North Dakotans included Angie Dickinson, Peggy Lee and Louis L’Amour. Interestingly, Bobby Vee got his start when he and his high school band were recruited to play a concert in Moorehead, Minnesota, because the headliners for that show — Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper — had been killed in a plane crash. Vee went on to become a teen idol with such songs as “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Rubber Ball,” and “The Night has a Thousand Eyes.” Also from North Dakota was Lawrence Welk. Welk’s parents had emigrated from Ukraine and established a homestead where they spent the first winter, quoting Wikipedia, “inside an upturned wagon covered in sod.”

Information on the intercontinental ballistic missile sites was limited, more likely because they had been abandoned decades earlier rather than any national security reason. The silos and support structures were scattered across Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Montana, and Wyoming. The nuclear missiles were long gone but the structures were still in situ, many of them had been acquired by private parties for farming purposes, not national defense. Others were still available for sale, but most were sitting vacant. Available photographs showed the silos and support structures to be architecturally identical. The silos — actually reverse silos — were simply deep holes in the ground with launch paraphernalia removed. Underground tunnels linked the above-ground structures with the silos. The above-ground structures varied in height and were solid concrete. The operational structures had windows the same size, alert horns on the outer walls and observation structures on the roofs (“Why the observation structure?” Noonan muttered. “To watch incoming ICBMs coming in at the speed of seven kilometers a second?”) The shorter buildings were barracks, cafeterias, assembly halls, libraries and recreation halls, all constructed on the same model. All the underground tunnels were identical. Each had stand-alone utility systems.

If there was a clue to the matter of the maple syrup in those details, Noonan did not see it.

There wasn’t much linking maple syrup to any recent crimes. The syrup had been originally created for one of two reasons: it was profitable and/or it was a sugar product which was not produced by slave labor. Since the days of the colonies, the most profitable product of slave labor was sugar from both the Caribbean and what became known as the Deep South. Many Northerners wanted sugar but they did not want a product which had been produced by slave labor. Thus the origin of maple syrup. Which became popular and thus profitable.

The only link to a crime Noonan could find was known as the Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist. Between 2010 and 2012, about 3,000 tons of maple syrup operated by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers — being Canadian bilingually correct, Fédération des producteurs acéricoles du Québec, FPAQ — vanished from its storage facility. It was an $18.7 million theft, in Canadian dollars, and 18 people were eventually charged with theft. But this was theft of maple syrup, not the use of maple syrup in a nefarious operation. Everything else he got from Wikipedia was interesting but useless; maple syrup does not freeze, it is actually xylem sap and usually comes from sugar, green or black maple trees, and each tree can produce up to 15 gallons of the sap per year.

Again, Noonan had zip.

When Noonan called Mandan Jackoby back, he had a few extra questions. “Before you give me my answers, I have a few more questions.”

“Go for it.”

“When it comes to gambling and crime, cash is the name of the game. In most states, casinos need to have a reserve of cash. Usually, the extra cash is needed for weekends and holidays. But during the week the cash isn’t needed, so it is sent to a bank. That way the casino can earn interest on its money. Short-term but still a few percentage points on millions of dollars is not chicken feed. Eielson is quite a way from a traditional bank, so how are the casinos planning on getting the cash from their weekend operations to a bank that is, oh, a few hundred miles away. That sounds dangerous.”

“It is,” Jackoby said. “Very dangerous, and that’s what the casinos have been told. So they came up with a novel solution. Simplified, there are eight structures that all link with the underground tunnels. So eight casinos are going to be constructed on and around the eight foundations. Each casino will have a section of tunnel but there will be triple doors on the tunnels beneath those foundations. The casinos will have access to the tunnel doorways on their side, but the middle doorway will be controlled by a state bank. See, in a roundabout way to answer your question, the money, as in cash, for the casinos will not actually leave the tunnels. It will only be an electronic transfer. Each casino will keep the bank’s cash in a separate room in their section of the tunnels but transfer the amount electronically. The bank will be virtual. It will have the cash on its books, but the physical cash, the paper, will be in eight special rooms in the eight casinos. The money, as in the virtual transfer, will happen down a stand-alone computer cable in the tunnel so it cannot be hacked. It’s a novel concept conceived by a North Dakota brain. It just might work.”

A faint chime echoed in Noonan’s brain.

“This stand-alone line, is it in now?”

“It’s in the process of going in. The line needs to be in place before the casinos close off the tunnel in eight places.”

“What kind of security is in place right now?”

“Not much. There will be no cash until the casinos are built over the foundations. There is a roving security guard operation in the tunnels at the moment, and access to the tunnel through the foundations are monitored by the old system.”

“What’s the old system?”

“Not modern, if that’s what you are asking. There are no security cameras but access to the buildings is monitored 24/7 with metal detectors and need-to-be-admitted at the doorways. The windows still have the sirens attached so they cannot be breached, broken or removed without a siren going off. Access to the roofs is only available during the day and only for construction crews. There is also a crew of ultrasound people who patrol the areas around the foundations to make sure no tunnels are being dug to link with the NORAD tunnels already in place.”

“Who monitors the utilities? I mean, there have to corridors for the water lines, power cables, sewage return systems. I’m assuming they link with the tunnels under where the casinos will be.”

“They do link and they are patrolled by the security force. Right now it’s not a big deal. There’s no money yet. Won’t be for at least a year. The security arrangements are loosey-goosey now because there is no money. Everything will tighten considerably when there is actual cash in the tunnels.”

Noonan was scribbling, then he said, “OK. Now, the answers to my questions.”

“Well, some of the answers you already have and others are convoluted. Kind of filling in the blanks, there will be eight casinos on the eight foundations which exist right now. There are tunnels that link those foundations with the silos which are empty now. No one knows what will happen to the silos in the future. They may eventually be filled with cement or earth or gravel. The only tunnel links outside of the eight foundations are for water, sewer and electricity. Those tunnels will be closed off with two or three doors, depending on where the utility lines run.”

“OK, go on.”

“There is no gambling now, but you know that, and there are six or seven unions involved with the retrofitting. On top of that, we have six or seven architectural, HVAC, security and communication firms along with three or four State of North Dakota department personnel involved. There are also transportation companies involved moving building materials in and a disposals crew handling the construction residue. The landing strip does not link with the tunnels.”

“How about the restaurants, meeting hall and bunk house? Are they open and operational?”

“Yeah. Culinary unions. But there is no link to the tunnels. The tunnels can only be accessed from the eight foundations and the utilities.”

“OK, now to the maple syrup. You said a dozen barrels had been brought in. How do you know it wasn’t for the cafeteria?”

“Because it was part of the inventory for one of the construction unions. The roofers. And we didn’t really know it had been brought in until empty barrels were spotted in a dumpster. It was odd. Maple syrup barrels in a construction dumpster.”

“How’d you spot the barrels?”

“The dumpster had been filling for a while. The work on the roofing had started in September and finished in November. Just before the snow came and temperatures dropped. There was a final inspection of the roofs of the eight buildings in November. It was approved and then there was the final clean-up. That’s when the maple syrup barrels appeared. A day later the dumpster was emptied. We were lucky we spotted the barrels when we did. So, what’s going on?”

“What’s the temperature there now?”

“Four degrees.”

And the dinger of the bell in Noonan’s brain was clanging.

* * *

A week later, Harriet came into Noonan’s office with a Manila envelope. She made a false gasp of surprise and as she pulled out a sheet of cardstock. “Well,” she said in — again — false astonishment, “it’s a Certificate of Merit from North Dakota. I didn’t know North Dakota even knew what a certificate was.”

“What a joy,” Noon said dryly.

“Well, you know what the Irish say?”

“Not a clue.”

“It’s a toast: ‘May you live as long as you want and not want for as long as you live.”

“There’s a reason for the Irish toast?”

“Do you know what the French toast is?”

“No, but I’m sure you’ll tell me.”

Harriet waved the Certificate of Merit. “Cinnamon, eggs, bread, and maple syrup.”

“C-l-e-v-e-r.” He pointed at the Certificate of Merit. “I’m guessing it has something to do with maple syrup.”

“You are correct, oh wise one. From someplace in North Dakota. Do they have hot water there yet?”

“Very funny.”

“Now,” Harriet said as she sat in the empty chair beside Noonan’s desk and plopped the Certificate of Merit on top of the paper rubble on his desk, “tell Mamma about the maple syrup theft. Remember, I was the one who took the call.”

“Just a guess.”

Harriet pointed to the Certificate of Merit. “You don’t get Certificates of Merit for guesses that are wild.”

“Long shot. It all had to do with money. Casinos were going to be built over an abandoned nuclear missile base. It’s a great idea because the base has massive cement tunnels which are perfect for security. Once money made it into the basement and tunnels of the abandoned base, they were secure.”

“But there was a flaw.”

“Yup. State law requires casinos to have money, as in cash, as backup. This creates a problem for casinos because they have to import cash for the weekends but then export it to bank on Monday morning.”

“Why not just keep the cash?”

“Because cash in a bank earns them interest. So, in other states, the casinos ship their excess cash to banks every Monday. Then, on Friday afternoon, cash comes back to the casino. That way they earn interest on the money for five days every week.”

“That’s pretty cheap of the casinos.”

“Maybe. But if you have a million dollars in the bank five days a week, that’s 260 days of income-earning every year. It’s free money, so to speak.”

“Cheap, cheap, cheap. So, every Monday the casinos in North Dakota are going to be sending their excess cash to a bank?”

“That’s what makes North Dakota so different. Eielson, that’s the city where the casinos are going to be built, is hours from a bank. That’s dangerous even if the cash is flown to the bank. So the casinos came up with a novel solution. Rather than move the money, the cash, to a bank, each casino would store the money in a special room. Then they would take it out of that special room each weekend and on holidays. All the banking will be virtual. The money won’t physically move. It will stay in place. But some bank in North Dakota will keep track of the money electronically. Virtually.”

“Isn’t that dangerous? How does anyone know the casinos are really putting the money in those rooms.”

“I’m sure there will be on-site auditors. But it’s not where the money is located that is the problem. It was how the reporting is going to be done. Each casino will be reporting the money virtually, down a real wire. I mean, the communication between the casinos and the bank office in Eielson will be on a hard wire. That will make it more secure than Wi-Fi.”

“OK, what does any of this have to do with maple syrup.”

“A lot, actually. Here’s what I think is going to happen in about 45 days. Right now, the temperature in Eielson is 4.”

“Pretty nippy.”

“Correct. But just as snow was beginning to falling in Eielson last October, the roofing renovations on the structures, all eight of them, were approved. The roof renovations changed the surface of the roofs from flat to an angle. The point was to make it faster and easier for melting snow to leave the roof. Once the inspectors left, the construction crews cleaned up the roofs and left. But before they left, they poured maple syrup on the roofs. The roofs already had enough snow on them to plug the drainage gaps on the roofs.”

“Why weren’t the roofs tilted in the first place?”

“The buildings were all military. All the same. And the structures were sturdy. Of concrete, so the weight on the roofs did not matter. Now it does matter because the structures are going to be renovated next year. Those roofs that are left need the tilted surface area. Anyway, snow was already on the roofs and the drain gaps were frozen for the winter. So the construction people poured the maple syrup on the roofs. They had quite a few barrels so the syrup was probably poured on more than one roof. Maple Syrup does not freeze but it does get very thick. So thick it will not leak out of the drain holes. It’ll be immobile for the winter.”

“What was the point?”

“Maple syrup is thicker than water. The plan was, still is, to wait until spring. Then, as the drainage gaps in the roof open up, the maple syrup will ooze down the side of the building. For the foreseeable future, the only security measures for the buildings are sirens on the outside. To get into the building right now, you have to go through security at a door. But there is no real security for the windows. There are so many of them the security team just put sensors on the windows and linked them with the siren. When a siren goes, a window has been breached.”

“So the maple syrup was to silence the siren?”

“Probably more than one. The bad boys and girls only needed one siren silenced. When the maple syrup clogged one siren, they are going to carefully remove a window. This will give them access to the building and then the cement tunnels.”

“Are there casinos operating right now?”

“No. That’s the beauty of the plan. They don’t want to rob the casinos. They just want to tap into the bank’s hard wire. For the next few months, there is minimal security in the tunnel. The plan is to slip into the tunnel and hook up some kind of a wire link to the hard-line the bank will use and then slip out again. When the casinos finally open up, the bad boys and girls can just skim money electronically.”

“Won’t the banks know their wire has been tapped?”

“Eventually. But by then, the money will be gone. Or, if a casino or all of the casinos know the scam is underway, books can be juggled. It’s a clever scheme that just might have worked.”

Harriet shook her head. “Let me guess. After they did the deed, they slipped back through the window they removed. When the maple syrup got washed away, the siren never went off so all was peachy keen.”

“Yup. Considering the number of barrels of maple syrup, more than one building has the substance on its roof. All the troopers have to do is wait and watch to see which building is going to be used as the entry point.”

“And catch the bad boys in action.”

“Or girls. Bad girls are out there too.” Noonan took a breath, “A clever plan,” Noonan pointed to the Certificate of Merit. “And since you like jokes. I have one for you. What is sticky and brown?”

Harriet groaned. “I don’t’ know.”

“A stick.”

Heinz Noonan novels can be found at




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