The Matter of the Poached Bananas
The Matter of the Poached Bananas
Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was deep into the pile of files of Sandersonville evildoers when he received a call — on his office phone, not the tool of Satan which, at that moment, was (form one’s fingers in the form of a cross) slumbering en corde as far from his desk as he could get it and still be close to a wall socket — and as it was midday, he had to professional and cordial.
“Better be. No one else answers my phone.”
“I’ve got a problem I was told you could solve.”
“Well, that depends on the problem. What is it?”
“It’s not the problem, so to speak. I don’t want you to solve a crime. I just need a police report that a crime has been committed.”
“That’s an odd one. The police take reports of crimes and then go after the bad boys and girls. But you want a report and not have us go after the bad boys and girls?”
“It’s a bit for complicated than that.”
“When I tell you, you will not believe me.”
Noonan shook his head sadly. By this time Harriet and the rest of the staff was peering at him with, collectively, a here-we-go-again look. Usually, any time the term “police report” is used, there was an exodus out of the Major Crimes Unit. (The Major Crimes Unit was only because it the words “Major Crimes Unit” was stenciled on the door because the Commissioner of Homeland Security wanted to head a “Major Crimes Unit.” So rather than actually form a “Major Crimes Unit” and investigate major crimes, he just ordered the words “Major Crimes Unit” printed on the door of the detective division — and on the Commissioner’s stationery.)
Returning to the sequence of events, whenever the dreaded term “police report” were uttered, there was an exodus out of the Major Crimes Unit because no one wanted the paperwork assignment. But if Captain Noonan took the call, well, then, that “police report” was Captain Noonan’s responsibility. And no one was shedding a tear over someone else doing the “police report,” a “police report” or any “police report.”
Noonan was perplexed. “Let me make sure I have this right. You have a crime but you do not want it investigated but you do want me to write up a crime report but not investigate the crime?”
Noonan was silent for a moment. Then he said, “OK. Can you tell me about the crime that was committed but you don’t investigated.”
“Sure. The theft of 30 pounds of bananas.”
“Yes, you know. Cylindrical and yellow. Shaped like bananas.”
“I got that part. How did these bananas get stolen?”
“Shoplifted, so to speak. Someone came into the store — I’m the manager of the Sandersonville Grocery — and that person walked into the back room, picked up a box of bananas and exited out the back door. Out the delivery entrance.”
“He exited out an entrance. How appropriate for this call.”
“Yup. Into the back room and out the back door with a box of bananas.”
“Why do you want the police report if you are not going to want us to investigate the crime?”
“I don’t want you to investigate the crime because it will cost us more to pull up the security tapes than the bananas were worth. But I want the police report as proof we need a better security system. We’re considering an upgrade and this is just one more reason to replace the system we already have.”
“You think the police report will do it?”
“Who knows? It’s just costing me a phone call.”
“We’re here to serve and protect. OK, for the moment, you send me a letter stating what happened and I’ll write up a police report.” Noonan looked up to see his office personnel doing a quiet cheer at the term “police report” preceded by the contraction “I’ll.”
“Just one more thing. Being nosey because it’s my job. Have you heard of any other thefts like this?”
“In Sandersonville, no. We’re too small. There were some banana thefts in Avon, Nags Head and Manteo. Those thefts were like ours. Small potatoes, so to speak.”
“So to speak. When did this shoplifting occur?”
“Not that long ago. Just after Hurricane Michael. In the confusion. I don’t know that the hurricane had anything to do with the banana theft.”
“I don’t see a connection.”
Noonan had a sardonic smile the grocer could not see, “I don’t see a connection between stolen bananas and anything, frankly.” (pause) “Can you send me the names of the stores where the bananas have been stolen.”
“Sure. But no one is going to want you to investigate. It’s a waste of time for any of us to dig through the security tapes for $20 of bananas.”
* * *
AS it turned out, there was a lot more to the banana thefts that just a few pounds here and there. After a few hours of calling around he discovered the total poundage of bananas stolen was in the range of 500 pounds. The largest collections were taken from elementary schools. These were bananas which were being tossed out because they had exceeded their shelf-life.
At the elementary schools.
But they were still edible so they had been boxed and left outside for a nonprofit that routinely picked up ‘old’ food from the elementary schools for the homeless shelters. When Noonan called God’s Loving Hand and asked about the banana theft, the woman laughed.
“Yeah, we know someone’s been taking the bananas. We know because we usually get about 60 or 70 pounds a week. Over the past two weeks, we haven’t gotten a single banana.”
“Are the banana’s worth anything? I meant, if they are being thrown out they do not have a grocery store value.”
“They have less than a value,” the woman said. “They’re garbage. We’re actually doing the elementary schools a favor. If the bananas were tossed into the dumpster they’d ferment, attract flies. No, the bananas have no value.”
“Then why would anyone steal them?”
“Maybe they have a zoo.”
Noonan felt that was a good enough lead to follow. Which he did. And got goose egg. There was only one zoo on the Outer Banks and the zookeeper laughed when Noonan asked where they got their bananas.
“Not from the Chartreuse Azalea, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Chartreuse Azalea?” Noonan kept his voice calm. He had a clue!!
“Yeah. That’s what we were told.”
“Really?” He voice was pp, ‘police professional,’ “Who told you that?”
“Oh, I don’t know. There’s been a regular theft of bananas lately. One of the stores that was hit gave us a call and told us a couple of people had stolen bananas from them and driven off in a truck with the words Chartreuse Azalea — in red — on the side of the truck.”
“Chartreuse? Isn’t chartreuse kind of a green-yellow.”
“I suppose so. Not sure. But, no, we have been buying bananas from anyone but our regular distributor.”
“Can you remember who told you about the Chartreus Azalea?”
“Yeah. My brother-in-law in Waves. Do you want his number?”
After the zookeeper gave Noonan the number, he said, “Jerk him around a bit. He’s an in-law.”
Even on the phone Noonan could tell this in-law was a space cadet. He wasn’t sure of anything except that some thieving so-and-so had stolen a box of bananas and he, the grocery story owner, had chased the Chartreus Azalea for two blocks before he gave up. Then he had called his brother in-law and accused his brother-in-law of hiring someone to steal bananas for the zoo. “Let him buy his own bananas,” the man snarled.
But the man did have the name of two other people who had been hit. One was in Turtle on the mainland the other in Rodanthe. The grocer in Turtle was out fishing but the green grocer in Rodanthe was on duty. When Noonan asked about the thefts he said there had been three, one at each of his stores.
“Was it the Chartreus Azalea?”
“Boy, are you good! Did you arrest them? What are you going to charge them with? Shoplifting?”
“We haven’t caught them you. I thought you might have a clue as to who they were?”
“Nope. Just three or four men.”
“How do you know they were three or four men?”
There was laughter on the end of the line. “Captain! The Outer Banks are a small town on a long street. Everyone talks. Three or four men, not local, with a stupid slogan on the side of truck no one has ever heard of?”
“Your point is well taken.”
Noonan then spent a few hours looking up bananas on the internet. Surprising to him, bananas had a range of uses, few he had ever heard before. Banana skins were good for straightening your hair, whitening your teeth, fighting wrinkles and healing scar tissue, shining shoes, eliminating warts and soothing insect bites. The skins were good for fertilizing, polishing silver, purifying water and were good for dogs and cats (dogs and cats eating bananas?), could be used in ice cream and controlled aphids.
Then he tried searching for leads on the Chartreuse Azalea. Azalea was a flower — no help there — and Chartreus was actually a liqueur which had been around since the 1700 hundreds. The name of the liquid was courtesy of the monastery where it was created, Grande Chartreuse, and the color of the liquid became the color on the pantone.
When you have nothing, you go back to Square One and start over. What had he missed. No one steals 500 pounds of bananas for no reason. Thirty pounds, sure, a college prank. But 500 pounds?
What had he missed?
If the solution wasn’t with the bananas or the Chartreus Azalea what was left.
And a distant bell in his mind clanged softly.
* * *
It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for. Just as he picked up a possible clue, he got a return call from the grocer in Turtle. Yes, there had been banana thefts on the mainland and, no, no one was reporting them. Why should they? Bananas were, well, not that expensive. Then Noonan asked the critical question and the answer confirmed his suspicion.
Three hours later Noonan drove into the Harrison Brother’s hog farm. There wasn’t a sign for the farm because, frankly, no one advertised a hog farm. But even if you didn’t know it was a hog farm, the smell a mile announced its presence.
Noonan parked his jalopy and waded through the ankle-deep water to what could graciously be called an office. Before he mounted the stairs he noticed twin pieces of plywood painted white about eight feet long beside the office.
“Kin’ I ‘elp u?” a voice said from behind him.
“I’m betting those boards say Chartreuse Azalea.” Noonan pointed to the boards.
“Could be.” The voice belonged to a man who might have topped five feet. But he was five feet around. “And who be you?”
“Captain Noonan of the Sandersonville Police Department. Looks like you’ve had a flood here” he said as he pointed to the ankle-deep water around the yard.
“Say so, yeah.” The man said. “Gone down a lot. Hurricane Michael, you know. Lot of flooding.”
“I’d say so,” Noonan said. “Hogs drinking from the river before it flooded. Afterwards, well there was water everywhere.”
“What’s it to you?”
Noonan didn’t bat an eye. “Oh, I don’t know. I hear if you grind up bananas and toss them into water it purifies the water. That’d come in handy if the water the hogs were drinking came from a river with a lot of pollutants from over-flowing river. Meat packers want pure meat, not meat that’s, oh, shall we say, polluted.”
“Could be. What’s it to you?”
“Nothing, actually, See, no one’s reported a crime so I’m just on a Sunday drive.”
“It ain’ Sunday.”
“An’ this ain’ the Chartreus Azalea Nursery,” Noonan echoed the argot of the hog man.
“It’d be shame if any more bananas disappeared. You know what I mean?”
“Nope. We ain’ got any bananas here.”
“Not any more. But I’m betting if I took a sample of the water from where the hogs drink, I might find some banana fibers.”
“Ain’ no water there no more. Hogs gone.”
“So are the bananas. I suggest we leave it that way. By the way, what’s the Chartreuse Azalea?”
“Don’ know. Kinda liked the words. My wife looked ’em up and then painted them that way. Made to fool people. She’s the smart one in the family. Knows how to use the intranet. That’s how we knowed to use bananas to clean up the drinkin’ waters.”
“Did you know what color chartreuse is?”
“Red. Or rose. Like my wife said.”
“You should never disagree with our wife.”
Back at the office, Harriet wanted to know if he solved the case of the poached bananas.
“Absolutely. Some individuals where stealing the bananas to grind up and use to purify water for their livestock.”
“Livestock? You mean like horses?”
“Something like that.”
“Hurricane Michael flooded a lot of land that had chemicals and heavy metals and the like. It flooded into the livestock’s water supply. Using ground up bananas purified the water. It wasn’t a scam; it was an economic necessity.”
“So no one got arrested?”
“No crime, not arrests.”
“No banana jokes?”
“What do you call two bananas on the sidewalk?”
“I give up.”
“A pair of slippers.”
“Baaad. Do you know what kind of key you need to open a banana?”
And with that Harriet left the office just as the tool of Satan became to vibrate in the breast pocket of Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department.
[Steven Levi’s impossible crime novels can be found at www.authormasterminds.com.]