A few months ago, when I visited my friend Julie (not her real name) on Mother’s Day, I was fretting that I hadn’t bought her a gift. Could I just pick up the tab for lunch, or did I have to get her something on top of that? I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was.
But I found her not in a celebratory mood at all when I arrived at her place. She was in a panic because she had lost the keys to her condo two days earlier. She was feeling unsafe, having no choice but to keep her doors unlocked whenever she went out, worrying that someone in the building might have found her keys and was planning to rob her, or worse, as she slept. Since she was renting in a security building, her landlord would charge a steep fee to change the locks to her condo and the main entrance, plus make new keys for all the other tenants. It was an expense she could not afford.
I sat down with her and had her tell me what happened. On the Friday when she last saw her house keys, she had dropped her kids off at school, come home, put her keys on the kitchen counter and gone straight to the computer to work until she had to go pick up her children. She was certain she had the house keys when she entered because she had to unlock her door. After she put the entire bunch on the counter, she never moved it. No one else was in her home or had entered while she was there. And yet, when she grabbed the key ring again, her condo keys were missing, leaving only her car key behind.
After she picked up her kids, the three of them turned the place upside down looking for the keys. Julie even went downstairs to root around in the Dumpster, on the off chance she threw them out by accident, then somehow hit her head and got selective amnesia. She ended her retelling by saying, “It sounds impossible but they just disappeared.”
I sat back, fighting the urge to steeple my fingers and puff on a pipe, and said, “It’s not impossible; it’s improbable. And when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
“Huh?” Julie said.
I realized I sounded like a pompous ass, but you Sherlockians out there know I was quoting our man Holmes because the observation was apropos. I explained to Julie what I meant and, to help solve the mystery of her missing keys, I first set out to eliminate the impossible.
“Keys can’t disapparate* so that didn’t happen. They can’t walk away by themselves so cross that off the list. Are you certain you didn’t move them after you put them on the kitchen counter?”
“Yes,” Julie swore.
“Then someone else did.”
“But no one was here except me!”
“Your cats were.”
Long pause. Julie looked at her Siamese and tabby, Wolfgang and Johnny, who were licking their—erm—themselves nearby, acting nonchalant. Then she looked back at me with squinty eyes.
“Are you saying my cats removed the condo keys from my key ring, and then…hid them somewhere?”
“I don’t care how crazy it sounds. You’ve eliminated all other possibilities so that’s what happened. Your keys are here. Give me five minutes and I’ll find them for you.”
I thought I’d search where her cats might like to stow things—under the bed, behind the couch, etc.—but I found the keys in the second place I looked: in a basket on the floor that held DVDs. After taking the movies from the basket, I saw the keys at the bottom, under a copy of Tangled. I held them up triumphantly, like Arthur after he pulled the sword from the stone. Julie screamed.
“Ahhhhhh! How did you—I don’t…but I thought—OHMYGOSH, I don’t have to pay the fine! This is the best Mother’s Day gift possible!” She jumped up and down for a moment but suddenly stopped. “Wait, how did Wolfie and Johnny get those keys off the ring? They don’t have fingers.”
“That, my dear, will remain the curious incident of the cats in the daytime.”
*Harry Potter term meaning to disappear from one location and appear in another by magic. Julie and I are huge HP fans.
Elyse is a freelance writer/editor who likes soup and the Bee Gees, not necessarily in that order. Due to a childhood incident, she’s scared of walking over manholes. For more info, visit her site Pop Culture Nerd.