The Matter of the Rubber Duckie Debacle

The Matter of the Rubber Duckie Debacle

The nearest Captain Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department had ever come to a rubber duckie was a $25 check. One rubber duckie was worth about $.99 but as a participant in the Sandersonville “Feed the Homeless” Fundraiser they were $5 apiece. Six for $25 and for each of the six rubber duckies he was given a number. If any one of his numbers won, he would get $500 which, he knew, the Sandersonville Police Department would donate back to the “Feed the Homeless” Fund so, in essence, he was donating $25 for six lottery numbers which would never make him a dime even if he won the $500 lottery — which he would not.

But it was for a charity, so what the heck, eh?

Donating the $25 was simply a way of keeping peace within the family, so to speak. But then again, as long as it kept the Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security secluded in his throne room on the Third Floor, $25 was a cheap price to pay. That was the way Noonan viewed it until he received a call from that boss, the Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security, an office of one with the ego of Mussolini’s mother.

Noonan was pleasantly perusing a cold case file on a day where everything was going along swimmingly. But, as everyone knows, whenever everything is going well, bad news is dialing your number. In Noonan’s case, speed dialing.

And the call was from the Third Floor.

“Noonan.”
“Captain, it’s so good to see you are at your desk.”

“Desks are made for work, (pause) sir. And what is the nature of your call?”

“Business, Noonan, business. Hush hush business.”

Noonan lowered his voice — volume not tone — and muttered half-in amusement, “What’s the hush hush problem, (with a pause just long enough to be considered interest but not insubordination) sir.”

“Ducks, Captain, ducks. 10,000 of them vanished off a shipping dock in Virginia Beach.”

“Vanished?”

“Correct, Noonan, correct. A truck container of 10,000 rubber duckies. Rubber duckies. You know, the kind ‘Feed the Homeless’ was going to use for their fundraiser.”

“Someone stole 10,000 rubber duckies? May I ask why?”

“No one knows, Captain. No one knows. But it is suspected it was done by foreigners. Muslims, surely. You know how Muslims like ducks.”

“Actually, sir,” Noonan said as he rolled his eyes. “I’ve never heard Muslims liked ducks and even if they did, rubber duckies are not edible so why steal rubber duckies?”

“A distraction, Captain, a distraction. Some dastardly deed is being planned and it involves national security.”

Noonan shook his head like a cartoon character trying to clear the rubble in its mind because of a non sequitur it had just heard. “You have some proof of a plot involving national security being planned because 10,000 rubber duckies have disappeared? What do the Virginia Beach Police have to say about the theft?”

“They don’t know because they have not been told. This is all very hush hush, you know. National Security and all.”

“What’s the national security link, (p-a-u-s-e) sir?”

“I don’t know, Captain. That’s for you to find out. Here’s the number of the person with whom you will be working.” The Commissioner rattled off a number with an area code Noonan did not recognize. “She’s under cover in Virginia Beach as we speak. You are to work with her on this matter of national security.”

“Really?” Again Noonan shook his head, figurately speaking, to set logical round pegs in round holes. “Does this individual work with the Virginia Beach Police?”

“No, Captain. Virginia State Troopers. I, we, need this wrapped up as quickly as possible. Those rubber duckies are for fundraisers up and down the coast. Quickly, Captain, quickly.”

And before Noonan could ask another question, the line went dead.

* * *

Kismet Bonifacio del Rio was not the least bit interested in talking with Noonan and she made it clear immediately after Noonan introduced himself. “Listen, Captain. I do not know what your connection to the Virginia State Troopers is, but I have this situation well in hand and I do not need any assistance.”

“Music to my ears, Ms del Rio. I was ordered by my commissioner to touch base and I have done so. If you need any help, let me know. The theft of rubber duckies is interesting but not particularly noteworthy.”

“Duckies?”

“Yes, that’s what I was told had been stolen.”

There was a silence on the other end of the line for a l-o-n-g moment. Finally del Rio came back cautiously. “Excuse my initial rudeness, let’s start over. Who are you exactly and what do you have to do with Virginia Beach?”

“Officially I am Captain Heinz Noonan of the Sandersonville Police Department — Heinz until there’s a crime. I have nothing to do with Virginia Beach. My boss, the Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security has the Sandersonville Police Department listed as his staff. Any time he gets a burr in his trousers, he drops the matter on us. We can’t say ‘No,’ so we ‘investigate,’ if you know what I mean.”

“You’ve been reading my mail. I’m with the Virginia State Troopers and I have been assigned to this case because we support the Virginia Beach Office of Homeland Security. I guess that makes me just like you, the last one down the administrative food chain.”

Noonan chuckled. “We’re both in the same mud hole. OK, here’s what I was told. 10,000 rubber duckies have been stolen and the missing duckies are going to force cancellation of the ‘Feed the Homeless’ Fundraiser here in Sandersonville. I was given your name to coordinate with. That’s all I know.”

del Rio chuckled in return, “Well, when it comes to rubber duckies, I’ve got nothing. I’m on a different assignment. But it’s an odd one too. 300 gallons of some kind of glue, Surefire, has disappeared from a warehouse. Under normal circumstances this would be, at best, a paperwork problem. But the door to the warehouse was broken so a police report had to be filed. An inventory was taken and the insurance company submitted a police report. 300 gallons of glue seemed suspicious so, making a long story short, I was put on the case.”

“Was that the only thing taken?”

“No one is sure. The glue was obvious because there was a gap in the shelving where the glue had been stored. The warehouse staff did a quick inventory and came up with other items which were possibly missing. The warehouse is large and their paperwork system is not the best so, ‘was the glue all that was stolen?’ the warehouse management doesn’t know for sure.”

“Were there rubber duckies on the list?”

“No. After we hang up I will ask.”

“OK, two more quick questions. First, why are the State Troopers involved in a break-in? Second, what is the link to Homeland Security? I mean, why are we even on this case? This is a city police matter.”

“I have two answers for you and they are both the same, ‘I don’t know.’ I’m just like you. The order comes down from on high and I’m on the case.”

Noonan chuckled. “Let’s play this out. First, will you send me a list of what was supposedly stolen. Then casually ask around about the theft of rubber duckies. I will move back up my administrative chain here and see if I can get a lead on the rubber duckie theft. Let’s see if we can solve this from both ends.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Noonan thought for a moment and then said, “Just in case this turns out to be something big, check around town and see if there is any unusual event in Virginia Beach involving big bucks. It has been my experience odd thefts end up being involved with crimes where money is involved.”

“I’ll check around town,” de Rio responded. “We’re right in the middle of tourists season — just like Sandersonville — so there is a lot going on. Big money, not so much. But I’ll check.”

* * *

While Noonan waited for the list of stolen and/or misshelved and/or inventory misidentified items, he did one of the few things in life he dreaded more than correcting his mother-in-law. He placed a call upstairs, to the third floor of the Sandersonville City Hall where the Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security had his throne room. Calls upstairs always resulted in confusion, lack of specificity, evasion and political doublespeak. That being said, it was the only lead Noonan had for the missing rubber duckies.

“Commissioner,” this time said with no pauses because Noonan wanted the call to be as short and succinct as possible. “There is confusion in Virginia Beach about the missing rubber duckies. The State Troopers do not have a record of the theft. Can you give me more information?”

“Captain,” His Majesty’s tone was condescending. “I never said the ducks had been stolen. I said they had vanished. From a shipping dock. If they vanished from a shipping dock the State Troopers would not know, would they, Captain? Afterall, a shipping dock is a federal facility, not a state facility. That makes this a matter for Homeland Security.” The statement dripped contempt.

“I see,” was all Noonan could think to say.

“Now, be a good little boy and find those rubber duckies before the ‘Feed the Homeless’ Fundraiser has to be canceled for lack of rubber duckies. That is all.”

Blessedly the Commissioner hung up.

As Noonan was writing down the gist of the call from the Commissioner — less the disparagement — the list from Kismet del Rio arrived by email. It, also, was odd. He noted the list was headlined with the word “stolen” which, to Noonan, meant someone in the warehouse was playing fast and loose with inventory items. Afterall, if one could claim an item was “stolen,” the insurance could cover the “loss” and management would not be on the hook for incomplete paperwork or warehouse personnel incompetence. The list carried the stench of both:

Stolen Items

1. 300 gallons of Surefire Glue

2. Nine crates of silverware

3. Two portable ovens

4. One refrigerator

5. Five toilets

6. One wine refrigerator

7. Three water pumps

8. 14 pounds of hamburger

9. 80 feet of copper pipe

10. Ten cases of hot dog buns

11. Two cases of chaise lounges

12. Two cases of garden gnomes

13. Case of lawn sprinklers

14. Four kitchen sinks

15. 300 feet of garden hose

16. Three generators

17. Four maid’s uniforms

18. Seven automobile jacks

19. Eight crates of toothpicks

As Noonan was going over the list, de Rio called. “Did you get the list?”

“Yeah,” Noonan said flatly. “It looks like a laundry list of misplaced items to scam an insurance company. I don’t see the rubber duckies on the list but I do see the glue. Exactly why are you looking into the glue theft?”

“I have no idea. You are a political a pawn of your Office of Homeland Security. For me, it’s the Virginia State Troopers. It was a request which came ‘down the pike,’ so to speak.”

“But someone must have filed something to involve the Troopers.”

“True. My guess, looking at the list, there was break-in of some kind at the warehouse. Then one of three things happened. One, the thieves took what they wanted and other stuff to throw us off track. Two, the thieves took what they wanted and the warehouse people added stuff they could not account for. Three, there wasn’t a break-in at all, and it is all just a way to account for missing items.”

“True, true.” Noonan mused. “But from my end, I was told to investigate the disappearance of 10,000 rubber duckies. They are not on the list but I was told to work with you. There’s a disconnect here.”

“I did find your rubber duckie connection, Captain…”

“Heinz. Until there’s a crime I’m just Heinz.”

“Ok, Heinz. Then I’m Kismet. I did find some vanishing rubber duckies but more than one shipment vanished. Three, as a matter of fact. Each about 10,000 ducks. I am not going to call them crimes because no report has been filed. I found them by accident. I called around and was told three trucking companies had lost shipments of rubber duckies. Everyone thought it was funny but not criminal.”

“What do you mean by missing but not stolen.’

“Well, shipping companies know things can get lost in paperwork. Sometime the shipment is delivered but the paperwork is faulty. A shipping clerk quits and new one is hired and it takes a while for the newbie to learn the system. So the paperwork sits in the ‘to be filed’ tray. Or the paperwork is lost. Just because the paperwork is lost does not mean the shipment has been stolen.”

“True,” Noonan mused. “But now we are talking 30,000 rubber duckies. That’s a lot of property to be missing.”

“Yes, but back to the paperwork. A shipping company loses the paperwork for 10,000 duckies. That’s about a container load. The container load is delivered to a distributor and the distributor divides out the duckies to the buyers. On paper, 10,000 duckies have vanished from the shipping company. But down the line, so to speak, there are no missing duckies.”

A faint gong went off in the deepest recesses of the convolutions of Noonan’s brain.

“Something is not right here,” Noonan mused to Kismet. “I think we should call around and see if those rubber duckies were actually delivered. Why don’t you give me three or four of the end deliveries and I’ll see if anything is amiss. You call three or four and see what pops.”

“Sounds like a waste of time but, OK, I’ll get three names of the final deliveries for you.”

* * *

In more ways than one, Kismet was correct.

It was a waste of time.

The ‘final deliveries’ were small and would not depend on timely shipments — at least not until the Christmas rush which would not begin until November. And some of the ‘final deliveries’ were unusual. The public relations office of the Virginia Entomological Study Center bored Noonan to tears talking excitedly about Solenopsis invicta, Amazonian fire ants, which the Center was studying. During the wet season when the Amazon River basin flooded, the ants survived by creating living rafts. They would attach themselves, individually and collectively, to each other and form large floating mats. The mucus the ants used to hold the mats together created bubbles which the ants under the water used as a source of air. As the ants on the topside were eaten or blown away, the mats would shift position and roll. Then some of the ants from underneath would find themselves on the top. This rolling allowed the mats to stay afloat for months until the flooding subsided.

The Virginia Entomological Study Center had been using the rubber duckies to see if it could duplicate the floating mats. When Noonan asked why if there were no Amazonian fire ants in Virginia, he was told rubber duckies mats might reduce the erosion of riverbanks “in critical locations.” Bonded together, the rubber duckie clumps would drift down the Lyhhhaven River upstate from the city of Virginia Beach and lodge against critical spot along the waterway and stop erosion. Since the rubber duckies do not decay, there would be no damage to the pristine environment. Then, over the years the natural vegetation will cover the rubber duckie mattings.

Noonan asked if they were short on rubber duckies. He was told several thousand rubber duckies had been ordered but not yet arrived. Noonan asked if this was a critical matter. Well, replied the public affairs wonk, yes, because the Center needed to set the mats adrift when the extreme ends of the Upper and Lower Lynnhaven River in the Virginia Beach watershed were at their peaks. When was that, Noonan asked. The wonk replied, “Soon.”

Noonan next called a tidal research thinktank in Virginia Beach where he was given an earful of the so-called “Friendly Floatees.” In 1992, a container of rubber toys had been swept off a cargo barge in the North Pacific during a storm. The container took on water and sank. When it hit bottom, the door popped open and 29,000 “Friendly Floatees” were loosed onto the surface of the North Pacific. These red beavers, blue turtles, yellow duckies and green frogs were carried by the tides in all directions. An unconventional oceanographer by the name of Curtis Ebbesmeyer realized it would be possible to study the tides of the North Pacific by where and when the “Friendly Floatees” made landfall. Where the “Friendly Floatees” ended up was mindboggling. In addition to the shores of North America, Asia and Hawaii, some ended up in the Atlantic near where the TITANIC had gone down, half a world away from where the container had gone down! Other toys became frozen in Arctic ice and took more than a decade and half to become unfrozen and float to a beach.

The Virginia Beach think tank wanted to release 2,000 rubber duckies with microchips to chart ocean current patterns along the Virginia Coast. Since the rubber duckies were not pollutants, there would be no effect on the environment. And if the duckies washed up on a beach, someone was likely to take them home. This would solve the trash problem, as Noonan was told.

Was the think tank missing any rubber duckies?

Yes.

When was the delivery expected?

Two weeks earlier.

Was time critical?

Not really. Then the scientist at the think tank chortled, “Time and tide may not wait for no man but they don’t care about rubber duckies.”

His last call was to a toy story distributer and, yes, they were short on rubber duckies. An order had been made six months earlier but the expected influx had not arrived. They had a month’s supply in the warehouse but after that it was going to be difficult keeping the two dozen toy stores stocked.

* * *

When Kismet called again, she reported her findings as similar to Noonan’s. Yes, there was a shortage of rubber duckies but it was not critical.

But it was odd.

“OK,” Noonan said as he looked over his notebook. “Let’s see what we don’t have. First, if someone is stealing rubber duckies for a nefarious reason, they will need two or three things to happen at the same time. Let’s pretend we have crime preparation here. If you steal 30,000 rubber duckies you have to do something with the containers. You’re in Virginia Beach. See if the containers have been discovered abandoned somewhere. The containers had to have been driven there so see if there are any report of trucks missing at the three places where the containers vanished.”

“Fine with me,” Kismet said. “What are you going to do?”

“A good question. I don’t know right now. Best guess is go through the Virginia Beach newspapers, magazine and tabloids trying to find some event with a link to rubber duckies. Whatever is being planned — and we have to assume something is being planned — it has to have something to do with water. And money. As you are looking for the items on your list, see if any of them relate to the dock, river, lake, whatever.”

“What about the list I sent you?” Kismet asked. Do you think there may be a clue there?”

“Absolutely! But until we have more information, it’s just a list.”

* * *

Noonan lived in Sandersonville on the Outer Banks of North Carolina which was miniscule when compared to Virginia Beach. Virginia Beach had close to 500,000 residents and was split by the Lynnhaven River. Since rubber duckies were involved, Noonan concentrated his research on the dock areas. He found a few longshoremen’s tabloids and some waterfront magazines but if there was not much ‘news’ in the coverage. Shoreline management was a big problem because of erosion and “natural shoreline habitat” was disappearing. While shipping had been big business in Virginia Beach, COVID19 had delivered a devastating blow to the economy. Several of the docks had been shut down and others were clinging to economic life.

The only somewhat suspicious news item which involved money was a traveling jewelry exhibit. ‘Traveling’ in this case meant by water. The “Jewels of America’s First Region,” was a coast-hopping museum of historical, exotic jewels. It was clearly designed to encourage the wealthy of the East Coast to buy more jewelry. Stops of the maritime museum had included Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Chesapeake — known historically as “America’s First Region” because of the Chesapeake Bay and its environs.

As it was the only water-related, big ticket item he could find , Noonan placed a call to the “Jewels of the America’s First Region’ and was told, politely, to ‘leave well enough alone.’ The exhibition had the “finest surveillance equipment” on board and 24/7 security onboard and along the waterfront wherever and whenever the ship docked. The exhibition “worked closely” with the local police in the cities where the ship docked so, what was Noonan worried about?

Noonan had long since learned whenever someone said, ‘everything is peachy keen,’ it was not.

Kismet had clearly learned the same lesson.

“Heinz, I don’t know you very well so I hope you don’t take offense at what I am about to say. With more than two decades in law enforcement, I’ve developed a sense of smell for trouble. I smell trouble.”

“Same here,” Noonan replied.

“But I cannot put my finger on what may be going down. But something definitely is. The three containers which held the rubber duckies have been found. All in the same area, an abandoned warehouse parking area. The macadam was behind the warehouse so the containers could not be spotted from the street.”

“Well, that links the thefts.”

“Yes. So I thought to myself, ‘if I was going to do something with 30,000 rubber duckies, what would I need? ‘ First, I’d have to move them all at once. This was obviously the job of a dump truck and, guess what?”

“Some dump trucks ended up stolen.”

“You are quick! Three of them. Then I went one step further. Rubber duckies float so I looked for stolen boats large enough hold 30,000 rubber duckies. None. A lot of smaller boats, I guess you’d call them pleasure craft. But one caught my eye. Not large enough to carry rubber duckies by any means but it was from out of town. Way out of town. Chesapeake. And it was a deep sea fishing rig. That’s odd for us. Fishing in the Lynnhaven River, yeah. But not a lot of deep sea fishing around here.”

“How do you know it’s in Virginia Beach?”

“It got a ticket for polluting from the Coast Guard. The boat had not been reported missing. Apparently it had been drydocked for the winter in Chesapeake. When the owner got notified of the ticket she went ‘whaaaaat’ and discovered her boat gone. That’s how it popped up on our radar.”

(She gave a long pause.)

Noonan picked up on the nuance. “Let me guess. There’s a link.”

“Yup,” Kismet said enthusiastically. “Guess what the pollutant was?”

Noonan thought for a moment. And then said, “Humm, could it be glue?”
“You are quick! Three 55 gallon drums on deck. One was leaking. Someone reported the leak and the Coast Guard investigated. Left a ticket and called the registered owner.”

“Let me guess again,” Noonan said. “When the owner got to the location of the boat, it had disappeared.”

“You got it again.”

“It’s those little mistakes …” Noonan mused. “OK. Now we know we have a crime in progress.”

“And we know it has something to do with water. The boat is most likely the getaway vehicle. My guess, whatever crime is being planned, the boat is to get the perps away fast. But the escape route is out to sea, the one direction the local police and State Troopers would not search. I’ll tip the Coast Guard we’ve got a crime in progress. Do you have any idea what the crime is?”

“Not sure yet,” Noonan responded. “Let’s take a look at the list of stolen items again.”

“You mean the supposed list of stolen items,” Kismet said as Noonan put the list on his desk.

“Gotta work with what yuh got. Let’s eliminate the obvious,” Noonan said with a Western accent.

Noonan heard Kismet shuffle her list. Then she said, “OK. Out go the silverware, ovens, refrigerator, toilets, wine refrig, hamburger, hot dog buns, chaise lounges, garden gnomes, kitchen sinks, maid’s uniforms, automobile jacks and toothpicks.”

“I agree,” Noonan said. “I’d eliminate the copper pipe as well.”

“Why?”

“Just a gut feeling. It will not bend and everything else we have not eliminated is in threes.” Noonan said as he looked over the list. “And I’d include the lawn sprinklers because we have power generators, water pumps and garden hose.”

1. 300 gallons of Surefire Glue

2. Three water pumps

3. Case of lawn sprinklers

4. 300 feet of garden hose

5. Three generators

“OK. Now we’ve got a bunch of items which can be divided by threes. Funny, three dump trucks were stolen.”

Noonan sighed. “Funny has nothing to do with it. Tell me about the Surefire Glue. I’ve never heard of it.”

“It’s a specialty item impervious to water. It was invented to quickly seal gunshot wounds in combat. For the war in Vietnam. It’s a super strong glue that will adhere to flesh instantly even if the flesh is wet. It dries — if that’s the correct term — almost instantaneously.”

“Quick drying glue,” Noonan muttered.

“Now,” Kismet asked. “How do to you think the rubber duckies fit in?”

A mighty clang registered in Noonan’s cranial cavity.

* * *

Three days later Noonan was moving a rubber duckie around on his desk. It had a number on its bottom which kept leaching ink onto a paper towel. He was replacing the paper towel when Harriet, the office administrative assistant and common sense guru, came into his office with another rubber duckie.

“I see we’re loaded with duckies in the office.”

“Maybe,” Noonan said as he looked at the duckie in Harriet’s hand. “What’s with that one?”

“A gift, you might say.”

“I don’t. And I don’t want another one. One is enough. Too many, actually.” Noonan chortled at the pun and moved the duckie on his desk yet again. “This one is from the ‘Feed the Homeless’ Fundraiser. Thanks for getting them their duckies in time for the fundraiser.”

“They gave you a duckie that was in the running?”

“Floating. And no. It was one of the duckies that was not bought.” He picked up the duckie and showed Harriet the underside. “Clearly the ink was not made to last much longer than the float down the river.”

“And out to sea,” Harriet said as she rolled her eyes. “Why do you have it?”

“Because,” Noonan said as he looked upwards, to the ceiling tiles, where, in the cathedra two floor up, the Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security had his throne room, “the Commissioner needs it for a photo op this afternoon. Where’d you get that one?” he said as he pointed at the other rubber duckie in Harriet’s hand.

“I didn’t get it,” Harriet said in mock outrage. “It just arrived. Didn’t fly in. Came in the mail.”

“Let me guess, Virginia Beach.”

“C-l-e-v-e-r boy. Yeah. Now, tell me why the Virginia State Troopers would send you a rubber duckie.”

“They didn’t. A State Trooper did. You know, officers of the law cannot accept gratuities.”

“A rubber duck is not a gratuity. It’s a, well, a rubber duck.”

“It’s a memento. Something to put on a desk.”

“OK,” Harriet admitted her mistake. “Why?”

“I helped the State Trooper solve a problem.”

“Give,” Harriet said as she sat down in the empty chair in front of Noonan’s desk.

“A long story.”

“I’ve got all day. I’m on the clock.”

“It started with the vanishing of 10,000 rubber duckies,” Noonan said as he pointed first to the rubber duckie on his desk and then to the one Harriet was holding.

“I KNOW that,” snapped Harriet. “That’s why you got that!” She pointed to the rubber duckie on Noonan’s desk. “Now, tell me about this one.” She shook the other rubber duckie in her hand.

“Odd story. There was a theft of an unusual assortment of items from a warehouse in Virginia Beach.”

“Rubber duckies?”

“Actually, no. Not rubber duckies. They were not in the warehouse. Like I said it was an odd collection. Kismet, the Virginia State Trooper I was working with, divided up the list and made some phone calls. I learned a lot about rubber duckies.”

“Other than they are small, float and are yellow.”

“More than that,” Noonan smiled. “If you are clever — (pause) and crooked (pause) — you could use the rubber duckies in a crime.”

“Do tell.”

“I will. Ever hear of Amazonian fire ants?”

“Not really.” Harriet said flatly.

“Fascinating creatures! Live in colonies in the Amazon River basin. Every year, when the Amazon River rises, the water gets so deep the ants are flooded out of their nests. They survive by forming large floating colonies.”

“Floating colonies?”

“Correct. They cling together and form large mats. The ants on top are above water so they can breathe. The ants below the waterline create a collection of bubbles so they can breathe as well. As the ants on top are eaten or blown away by the wind, the mats shift and some of the ants who were below the waterline end up on top. Enough ants survive the wet season so the colony can be reestablished.”

“Until the next wet season,” Harriet noted. “Fascinating. What does it have to do with stolen rubber duckies?”

“A lot, actually. Six nefarious characters decided to duplicate the fire ant mat. They knew there was a traveling jewelry show on its way to Virginia Beach. The show was in a boat and it was traveling from town to town down Chesapeake Bay. Whenever the boat was docked, there was plenty of security. But as the boat was traveling, security was light. I mean, why pay for full security while the boat was moving?”

“So they were going to rob the jewelry show while the boat was traveling.” Harriet nodded in agreement.

“That was the plan. It was quite elaborate and might have worked.”

“Might have worked? You stopped them?”
“Nipped the plan in the bud.”

“How were they planning on getting onto the boat while it was in motion?”

“That’s the clever part. Just like the Amazon fire ants, they were going to build a floating mat. They attached a refrigerator to a plywood plank with chains. This was to be the base of the rubber duckie mat. The weight of the water-filled refrigerator was designed to keep the pile of rubber duckies erect. They maneuvered the plywood plank next to one of the piers abandoned because of COVID19. Then they backed a dump truck full of rubber duckies right to the edge of the dock.”

“To dump the rubber duckies onto the plywood sheet. So what? Wouldn’t the rubber duckies just scatter?”

“Ah, but this was a clever plan.”

“If it had succeeded.”

“Yes, if it had succeeded. Now comes the clever part. The thieves had stolen a number a items from a warehouse and were going to have to leave those items on the dock. They needed items with no paper trail to the thieve so they stole the items.”

“What were the items?”

“A number of them. To answer your question as to how they were going to be keep the rubber duckies from scattering, they hooked up a water pump to a stolen generator. Then they hooked up 100 feet of garden hose to the pump. At the end of the garden hose, they attached a common sprinkler. Then, as the rubber duckies were slowly dumped, the rubber duckies were sprayed with a fast drying glue. By the time the rubber duckies hit the plywood sheet, they were a solid mass.”

“ . . . which stuck to the plywood sheet.”

“Correct,” Noonan said as he smiled. “The rubber duckies were spread wide enough to keep the plywood sheet from flipping. The glue dried so fast they needed three dump trucks of rubber duckies, three sprinklers, three garden hoses and three water pumps.”

“And the empty refrigerator kept the mass of rubber duckies from flipping.”

“That was the plan. After the first load of rubber duckies was secure, a second load was dumped on top and a third load thereafter.”

Harriet smiled. “OK. So they had a pile of rubber duckies. What next?”

“The plan was to drag the pile of rubber duckies into the Virginia Beach harbor and shepherd it against the hull of the jewelry display vessel. No one was expecting thieves to come aboard while the ship was moving.”

“So no one was watching the outside of the boat.”

“Again, that was the plan. They would keep the pile of rubber duckies pressed against the hull of the jewelry display vessel just long enough to scramble up the rubber duckie pile and onto the boat. The thieves would only need about five seconds.”

Harriet smiled. “And once they had the jewels they’d climb back down the rubber duckies to their getaway boat?”

“Probably.”

“A clever plan,” Harriet grinned. “But cops are not dumb. The minute the perps left the jewelry show boat, every cop within a dozen miles would be on alert. How hard would it be to close off every dock in Virginia Beach and search every boat coming in?”

“An excellent point. That’s why the thieves planned on going one better. They knew there would be alarms all along the coast so they went where they were not expected to go. Out to sea.”

“You mean out into the Atlantic?”

“Yup. Out to sea. Then probably north into Chesapeake Bay. It really didn’t matter where they were going to go as long as it was not in Virginia Beach or up the Lynnhaven River. The Lynnhaven River divides Virginia Beach and there are docks all along both sides of the waterfront. Once out to sea they would have been home free.”

Would have been means you caught them.”

“Almost. Got them on the dock red-handed. Or at least rubber duckie handed. Once I and the Virginia State Trooper figured out what was going to happen, she had the State Troopers on alert. Caught the perps before they dumped the first load of rubber duckies.”

“And charged them with theft.”

“That’s all they could be charged with. My bet, the only charge to stick, to so speak, will be the generators. They have serial numbers which can be traced back to the warehouse as stolen property.”

“How about the dump trucks? Were they stolen?”

“Maybe. But if the thieves worked for the company that owned the dump trucks, probably not.”

“So what you have is a great story that ‘might have been.’”

“Yup,” Noonan said as he pointed at the rubber duckie in Harriet’s hands. “Can’t quack ’em all.”

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

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