The Matter of the Vagrant Tattoo

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was having a wonderful afternoon. The Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security was hobnobbing with the money people out of Washington D. C. and his wife was ensconced in a weekend art retreat to capture in plein air of whatever was in plein air in Manteo. Or was it Nags Head? Virginia Beach? Wherever. But one thing was certain; there were not going to be any conversations on the electronic Beelzebub. Chortling to himself Noonan failed to remember one of his own adages: Whenever things are going along well, bad news is dialing your number.

In this case, it wasn’t bad news, just another loo-loo.

But it was on his tool of Satan which he was just about to lock inside his desk drawer. The area code was his but he did not recognize the number so, to be on the safe side, he was diplomatic.

“Noonan.”

“Captain Noonan?” The voice was an older woman. Ancient would have been a more appropriate guesstimation.

“Better be. I’m washing his clothes tonight.”

“This is, well, I’m not in the law enforcement business. But I have a problem that could be a crime. Maybe.”

“I’m here to serve. Who are you and, of course, how did you get this number.”

“I’m Rachel Sacerdote. I live in Currituck. It’s between Maple and Sligo on Highway 168.”

“I know where Currituck is. Let me guess, my wife gave you my number.”

“My lips are sealed. I have sworn an oath to keep them that way.”

“OK, What’s the crime?”

“Well, I don’t know if it’s a crime. But it’s really odd. I don’t know what to make of it.”

“I’m listening.”

“Well, I got a tattoo recently. Silly, at my age, of course, but I always wanted one. So I got the tattoo just before I went into the hospital. For a colonoscopy. When I got out, the tattoo was gone. Making it even stranger, I saw my tattoo on the shoulder of an actress promoting a play in Nags Head.”

* * *

“I don’t know how anyone can steal a tattoo but how do you know it was stolen? I mean, was it a permanent tattoo?” Noonan asked as he looked for something to write down the basics of the call.

“Oh, it was permanent all right. It hurt like the blazes, needles and all. It’s not what I was in the hospital for, but when I went in, I had the tattoo. When I came out it was gone.”

“Gone?”

“Gone. As in nothing was there. The tattoo was gone.”

"It was an inked tattoo, not a washable one?"

“Yes. Needle and ink. It was a beaut.”

“I see. How do you know the tattoo on the actress was the same one?”

“Looked the same in the photograph.”

“Which paper?”

Nags Head Actor Central. Local actors tabloid. I’m an actress too. It’s where I find my gigs.”

“Do you know the actress who had the tattoo?”

“No. Her husband is a doctor at the same clinic where my husband works. That’s the only connection.”

Noonan was writing furiously. “And you are sure it is the same tattoo?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have a photograph of the tattoo that is missing?”

“Yes. Do you want me to email it to you?”

“Please. Now, the actress, is she performing now?”

“Well, not at this minute. This evening, yes. And for the next two weeks at the Nags Head Performing Art Center. Tuesdays through Fridays. 7 pm. And two shows on Saturday and Sunday.”

“What’s her name?”

“Cleopatra Chaplin. She changed her name for the theater.”

Noonan chuckled. “I could have guessed that. What was her former name?”

“Joanna Simpson. But that was long ago.”

Noonan smiled as he shook his head. “OK, I’m going to give you a number of questions. Work on the answers and I’ll call you back next week. Do you have a pen and paper handy?”

“Just a sec,” she paused for a long moment. “OK, go ahead.”

“Let’s see, what was the cost of the tattoo, where did you get the design, who put the tattoo in your skin, where in your skin was the tattoo inked, when was it put under your skin, how long was it there before it disappeared, is there any indication on your skin you had a tattoo, how did you pay for the tattoo, how often do you act, where do you act, where might you have met Cleopatra Chaplin and, for the moment, that’s all I can think of.”

“I can answer all of these questions now.”

“No. Not now. I want to put in some think time.”

“I’ll wait for your call.”

* * *

Noonan would have made the perfect bestselling author. At least the post-publication phase of the operation. He did not mind the paperwork but he hated meeting the public. Murderers, bank robbers, thieves, pedophiles and people who overpark, fine. Regular citizens, nope. But in Sandersonville, he had the perfect stalking horse.

“Harriet!” Noonan was faux enthusiastic. Worse, he had to use the electronic Beelzebub because it was a weekend.

“No,” snapped Harriet as she answered the call. “It’s Saturday and there is a Margarita calling my name.”

"How can you be so flippant?" Noonan was humorous. "This is the call you've been waiting for! The opportunity of a lifetime. Well, maybe not a lifetime. But a weekend, anyway."

Harriet was nonplussed. “It’s still ‘no.’ But just in case I might change my mind …” She let the sentence hang.

“Ah, intrigued!” Noonan chuckled. “How would you like to go to a play.”

“I wouldn’t. Unless it’s in New York with travel and per diem.”

“Not that far. Nags Head. For a show tomorrow. Choice of two, actually.”

She paused for a moment. “Nags Head, hmmm. That’s a long way from Sandersonville. It might take me a day or two to get back. With pay, of course. Then there are the travel expenses.”

“Harriet!” Noonan was all virtual smiles. “You could be up and back in a few hours. Then you could take that travel day off at another time.”

“Have I heard THAT before,” she sniped. “What about the travel time, per diem and expenses.”

“I’m sure we can get you mileage. Per diem might be hard.”

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Steven C. Levi

Steven C. Levi

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