Captain Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was in the process of doing his annual office personnel performance reports and was stumped when he came upon that of Lt. George Weasel. He was stumped not because Weasel’s performance had been below standard – which it had not been – but because the man’s name had changed since the previous year. There was a new label over the name and it read “Billy-Bob George Handsome Weasel.”
“Handsome?” Noonan said softly.
“Right!” yelled Harriet from across her desk across the room. “You’ll love the story.”
“How do you know what I am looking at?” Noonan snapped as he looked up.
“P-l-e-a-s-e! You said Handsome. We all,” she pointed around the room to a half-dozen smiling faces, “know what you are reading. Handsome George. Who knew?”
“Why’d he change his name?”
“Why not ask him,” Harriet said and pointed to Billy-Bob George Handsome Weasel as he lumbered like a hippopotamus toward Noonan’s desk.
Noonan held up the file as if to say “And?” as Billy-Bob George Handsome Weasel sat down.
“It’s a short story,” he said.
“I’ve got time for a novel,” snapped Noonan and handed him the file.
“My uncle, Handsome Weasel, left me a small cabin on Pamlico Sound. I had to claim it by using my full legal name. The minute that happened I had to change all names on all documents to Billy-Bob George Handsome Weasel. See,” he said as he pulled out his wallet and showed Noonan his new driver’s license, “I’m officially and legally Billy-Bob George Handsome Weasel on all my documents.” He tapped his Annual Performance file. “Including that one.”
“How efficient of you,” said Noonan with half a grin. “What do we call you around here?”
“How about Lt.” He was stone-faced. “Until I make Captain and then you-all can call me Captain.”
“Or Corporal if you backslide.”
“If I back slide it will be to a cabin on the shore of Pamlico Sound.” He paused for a moment and then said, “Now that I’m here I’d like to discuss a difficulty that came up.”
“Does it involve getting rid of a handsome ghost in your cabin on the shore of Pamlico Sound?” Noonan chuckled at his own pun.
“Partially. It involves crocodiles, ship bells and Russian rats.”
* * * * *
“Now let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Noonan was still shaking his head. “From the story that told me, you’ve got marauding saltwater crocodiles from the waters of Pamlico Sound which are coming ashore on your uncle’s, that is, your property to scavenge Russian rats and your uncle has been trying to scare them away with ship’s bells on trip wires.”
“That’s the size of it, sir.”
“Call me Heinz.”
“That went well.”
“Never mind. I do not want this to come as a shock to you but your story has a lot of holes, so to speak.”
“First, the only crocodiles in the United States are in zoos. Second, even if there were saltwater crocodiles, they would not chase Russian rats. The rats are too fast. Crocodiles wallow in the shallows like logs and surprise animals that come to the shoreline to drink. Third, even if crocodiles did forage for Russian rats, I don’t see that a trip wire would be any good. If a crocodile hit a trip wire all the bell would do was ring. I don’t see that scaring crocodiles off – if there were crocodiles to scare off.”
“You want more? I think those fantasies are a good start.”
Weasel had a comeback. “First, there are saltwater crocodiles in the United States that are not in zoos. They started in the waters off Florida where they were released as pets. As there was nothing to eat them, they grew large and then started moving up the coast. Now those crocs have not made it this far north,” he paused for emphasis, “yet,” and gave another pause, “but the saltwater crocodiles on Pamlico Sound are from a crocodile farm that was established during the Second World War. The military was studying the animals as part of war effort. After the war they closed down the farm.”
“Let me guess,” postulated Noonan. “Some of the crocodiles wandered off into the yaupon bushes and were never seen again.”
“Not never again,” said Weasel. “Just not often. There are still some out there. And they occasionally feed.”
“On your uncle’s property.”
“Yes. On Russian rats.”
“Do the bells scare the crocodiles away?”
“No. The bells are to scare the Russian rats away. When they go, the crocodiles go.”
“Kind of a reverse dinner bell.”
“I guess you could say that, Captain.”
“I just did. Now, is there a reason you are telling me this tall tale?”
“It’s not a tall tale, sir. It’s the
root a very old mystery on Tabor Island.”
“I’ve never heard of Tabor Island.”
“Most people have not. It’s a mythical island.”
Noonan looked across his desk over his glasses at Lt. Weasel and then at Harriett who was rolling her eyes. Then he looked back at Weasel.
“OK. So the footloose saltwater crocodiles who do not eat Russian rats because they are being scared away by trip wires on ship bells are part of a tall tale of an imaginary island. Do I have that right?”
“This story has progressed so well I’m sure there are more moving parts.”
“More unusual aspects of the story.”
“You mean like the phantom seagulls?”
“I would never have guessed.”
“They are not phantom as in phantoms, you know. They are just all grey and appear ghostly. That’s why they are called phantom gulls.”
“And they fit into the story of the saltwater crocodiles who escaped from a World War II experimental facility,” Noonan stalled and Weasel finished.
“. . . who forage for the Russian rats who are scared away by ships’ bells attached to tripwire. Yes, sir.”
Noonan was silent for a moment. “Well,” he said finally. “Your uncle, the one who left you his property. He must have been very concerned about living there. I mean, with those sea crocodiles wandering all over the landscape. He didn’t get eaten did he?”
“Oh, no. He was very careful. He spent a lot of time on the property putting up fences and the like. You know, to keep the crocodiles off the property.”
“Are you going to be spending a lot of time on the property?”
“Well, yes. Of course. I’m going to be selling my home here in town and moving out there. It will be my retirement home-in-progress, so to speak. It will take longer to get to work but the drive will be worth it. I guess I’ll be coming to work a bit later than normal because of the drive, you know.”
Noonan thought for a moment. “Did I ever tell you about the monkey and the crocodile?”
“The monkey and the crocodile. It’s a one of those moral stories. Once upon a time there was a monkey who lived in an apple tree. One day a crocodile – a hungry crocodile – came swimming by and the monkey gave the crocodile an apple.”
“Really?” said Weasel. “Crocodiles don’t eat apples.”
“In this story they do,” Noonan replied.
“Well, the crocodile ate the apple and found it delicious. So the monkey gave him another one and another one. See, the monkey could give the crocodile apples because the monkey was in the tree where the apples were.”
“Is this going somewhere?”
“Absolutely. The more apples the crocodile ate the more he liked the monkey. So they became great friends.”
“As long as the monkey kept feeding the crocodile apples.”
“That’s correct. Now this friendship upset the crocodile’s wife to no end so she demanded that her husband trick the monkey into taking a ride on her husband’s back and then, when the monkey was least expecting it, the crocodile was to devour the monkey and bring her the monkey’s heart.”
“Heart, yes. The crocodile didn’t want to kill his friend but, you know, his wife and all.”
“I’m not married.”
“So the crocodile lured the monkey onto his back. He said he’d take the monkey around the lagoon and when the two were far out in the water the crocodile confessed to the monkey he needed the monkey’s heart to keep his wife happy.”
“That must have distressed the monkey to no end,” said Weasel.
“True. But the monkey was no fool. He told the crocodile that he didn’t have his heart with him. It was back in the tree. If the crocodile really wanted a monkey heart, he’d be glad to give it to him.”
“But the hearts was back in the tree, right?”
“Let me guess, the crocodile was stupid enough to take the monkey back to the tree and once there, the monkey made it back up into the branches and said ‘Sorry, Charlie.’”
“Correct again. The moral of the story being that the world is full of fools.”
“Sounds like a crock to me,” said Weasel and chuckled at his play on words.
“Could be,” said Noonan. “It’s like your story of trip wires on ships bells to scare away Russian rats to keep sea crocodiles off the property which is associated with a mythical island with phantom gulls where you will be living so you have to come in late every day. It has a lot in common with the story of the monkey and the crocodile.”
“Well, both are tales.”