The Quilted Squirrel is located on Lake Street in Hamburg, NY at the intersection of Highland Ave in a rather unassuming building housing several other local businesses. Though Lake Street is a thoroughfare, the streets adjacent to it are quiet and residential—home to families, retirees, playgrounds and parks. In the summer, the lawns are manicured and the leaves on the trees make a rustling sound in the afternoon breeze. Pleasant, suburban, safe. The American Dream, preserved and maintained for a posterity too obsessed with avocado toast, Trader Joe’s Everything-but-the-Bagel-Seasoning and, oh yeah, saddled with student loan debt to access. I digress.
Not exactly the setting for a perfect crime.
And yet, that’s what we arrived to when we showed up to work on a rainy Wednesday morning in July. Our office was, as always, exactly where it should be. Our trash cans, however, were not.
I’m Olivia White, a copywriter at TQS. I don’t have much of a sense of urgency when it comes to investigating criminal enterprise, but I have read In Cold Blood several times and do have a distinct fascination with the dark underbelly of pleasant, suburban, safe small-town America—with what happens when we take our facade for granted, look away and leave our doors unlocked or our trash cans untethered.
I arrived to work around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, July 17 with my small dog, Sushi. I got myself settled, made coffee, read a bunch of promotional emails I don’t remember signing up for, and got to work on a separate and totally unrelated blog post. The rain picked up outside. Nothing seemed amiss.
Chris and Emily showed up around 9 a.m. and Courtney followed shortly after. We greeted each other and exchanged pleasantries, but no one mentioned anything about missing garbage receptacles.
There are a couple reasons why no one said anything, but only one is worth spending time with. Maybe, no one noticed that the cans were gone. This is likely because a.) they are such a minor, mundane detail in our otherwise stimulating lives here and b.) trash and the receptacle in which we dispose of it are usually not top-of-mind details first thing in the morning, unless you are a raccoon or a free-gan (like “vegan” but with “free”), in which case you are probably consumed by the thought of trash as you rifle through it in the early hours of the day for breakfast. To my knowledge, none of us are free-gans. Or raccoons.
The second, more compelling reason why the missing cans weren’t mentioned is that one of us was involved with their disappearance.
It was Steve who, upon his arrival closer to 9:30, announced that the cans were missing and, after doing a quick sweep of the perimeter, were nowhere to be found.
Now, before you ask why Steve was so concerned with trash in the first place, I should note that he, as the founder of The Quilted Squirrel and the primary lessee of the office space, has a responsibility to know about the office trash and when to take it out. But because the first rule of investigative journalism is “everyone is a suspect,” I couldn’t count him out. Operating under the guise of responsibility is one of the most covert modes of operating. Anyone who has watched even a millisecond of Law & Order knows that.
(At some point Tyler also arrived.)
Steve invited Chris to inspect the area around our office for the cans or any possible clues as to where they could have gone. I figured that would probably be the end of it—maybe the cans had tipped over behind a car or had accidentally been switched with our neighbors’. Their recovery would be swift, painless and involve absolutely no bribery whatsoever.
But I’m writing this post for a reason, and it’s not because the missing cans were a false alarm. This became real for me when both Chris and Steve returned from their search with no further knowledge on their whereabouts.
I asked Chris when he first noticed the cans were missing, to which he replied, “this morning when Steve came in and told me.”
I had to give it to him. That checked out.
The morning continued at a sleepy pace as the humidity rose outside. I completed several minutes of work, but the cans were on my mind. Sushi was getting restless, so I took him for a short walk. The rain had tapered off and I needed to remove myself from the scene of the crime to contemplate leads. I tried to think of anything that had changed within the past few weeks that might prompt a disturbance at our comfortable corner on Lake Street and Highland Ave.
For one, school was out for the summer, which directly contributed to the rise in bike traffic of license-less high schoolers en-route to the Dairy Queen kitty corner from the office. Many of them took Highland Ave to get there, and everyone knows that bored teens are always looking for a trash can in which they can light a fire. But ours are plastic, and teens these days are too concerned with carcinogens in the atmosphere to contemplate burning stuff in plastic trash cans, hence the rise in vaping. I eliminated “neighborhood teens” from my suspect list.
My mind wandered to the repeat visitors we’d had to our office in recent weeks. We happen to work next door to a security product company, with which we’ve always had a pretty neutral rapport. Lately, they’ve been coming to our office periodically to “check it out.” You see, we’re moving offices at the end of August, which means our space is up for grabs, and the firm next door has expressed very strong interest in shacking up here after we vacate. They’d visited on multiple occasions, each time bringing along new members of their team for the inspection.
I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, but my mind started to race. They’d scoped the place out. They knew the grounds. And who would think to indict a security firm in a crime of theft?
Were they trying to teach us a lesson about the importance of securing our assets? Maybe it was an elaborate sales pitch. Or were they getting back at us for something we never even knew we did?
More on that next time.
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