I hope you won’t think me vain if I say I’m a pretty smart guy.
You have to be pretty smart to survive long as a detective. I’ve seen detectives with an animal cunning survive for a short time, but if all your moves are based—they on guesswork—you don’t last more than a few years.
I always made good grades in school, although that’s often more an indication of memory than brains.
But there’s one area where I seem to be completely out of my depth. No amount of patient observation, exhaustive research, combing for subtle clues helps me in this.
In this area my keen eye for the dark spots in the human psyche is blind. My ear for falsehoods might as well be a foot for all the good it does.
I’m glad the cases I take don’t have anyting to do with this because I am completely hopeless before it.
I bought Holly a kitten.
We’d been dating for quite some time now—traveled overseas together, I had met her extended family, rescued her from a psycho, and we’d even solved cases together. Things have been going really well between us.
Holly is smart, much smarter than I am. She understands that my job involves some danger and a lot of long hours.
I really appreciated how great she was.
So I bought her a kitten. It was small, cute, playful, and cuddly. It made me feel protective and kind.
When I picked Holly up for our date she heard its tiny mewling and asked me what I had in my pocket. I gave the kitten to her and I thought she was pleased.
But she was very quiet all through dinner and when I drove her home she politely thanked me for a lovely evening and went inside.
Clearly I’d done something terribly wrong.
I went back over the evening to see if something else bad had happened. It hadn’t—not that I could think of. I hadn’t said anything wrong and I hadn’t been droning on about a case.
In fact—I’d told her all about my last case with Noel and Xi Wangmu on the phone a few days before when we made the date. So all I had to relate were my library antics with Ms. Crankford—usually a centerpiece of our joking conversations. In fact—Holly usually liked going over my cases with me afterward.
I figured the best response to a bad date was to pretend it didn’t happen. So I called her up at work the next day and asked when she wanted to get together again.
We tried to find a time that worked for both of us and I asked her how the kitten was doing. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she replied, “something just happened here. I have to go.”
I hung up, puzzled.
I didn’t understand. We’d had minor tiffs over things before. I’d missed dates because of stakeouts and not been able to call, talked too much about the grisly details of a case, nodded off during movies, etc.
But after the first time I did those things, we talked about it and reached an understanding. We liked each other for who we were. We had an even exchange of good and bad.
I wondered if I’d somehow tipped the balance—and not in my favor.
One week without talking and it felt like a lifetime.
I left some messages at her office. I called her apartment, but tried not to let the phone ring too many times before hanging up.
I wasn’t playing it cool, but I didn’t want to come on too strong if she needed space. But I was beginning to seriously worry.
Finally, I managed to get her on the phone. The conversation was perfunctory and short. She didn’t seem mad, but she didn’t seem present. I was now at the end of my rope. I was hurt. I didn’t know what to do.
Some guys would have written her off. Some guys would have started coming on extra strong, sending flowers and chocolate.
Me? I did what I do best. I became a detective.
I started watching her apartment in the evenings. I wore clothes she hadn’t seen before, and a hat, and went to movies at the theaters she frequented. I staked out her grocery store.
I worried that this was stalker behavior. I worried that she’d be mad, or see me and call the police.
Mostly I just worried that she might not want to see me anymore.
But then I began to notice more and more odd things about her behavior.
She didn’t walk the same route home from work as usual. She didn’t buy the same vegetables she always did at the market. She flinched when she saw pale blue cars. She didn’t wear the same jewelry as when we were seeing each other.
Something was wrong and she was trying to communicate with me.
I know it sounds crazy. Obsessive even. But I’d know Holly for a long time before we started dating. If she was changing these little things, it might have been because she was trying to tell someone that something was off kilter. Someone who knew all the little details about her life. Someone like me.
I’d had to rescue her from a psycho once before. It’s possible he’d escaped, possible he was watching her too. I felt better having something to investigate.
I called the institution where Peter, not my nephew but an old foe of ours, was supposed to be spending the rest of his days.
There wasn’t an answer. I checked my watch only to discover that it was well after midnight. I decided I ought to get some sleep. That’s what sane people did after all—slept.
I woke up around nine in the morning and the first thing I did was call the institution. Still no answer. Now I was suspicious.
Peter wasn’t just smart, he was a genius. If anyone could figure out how to walk out of a high security psychiatric institution, it was him. Somehow mis-routing calls from my neighborhood to the nuthatch—also well within his capabilities. I decided to let myself into Holly’s apartment to see what I could find out.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into Holly’s apartment was that it didn’t smell like her. I couldn’t quite place it, but I could tell someone else had been living here too. Someone messy who’d been sleeping on the couch, judging by the state of her living room.
Napkins and magazines were strewn about, as well as crumbled up bits of paper with unfathomable diagrams drawn on them. Convoluted plans were Peter’s calling card.
It was clear to me that Peter had been living here for the last week. He was probably using her to try and get to me. And I hadn’t noticed her clues in time.
I’d seen her the evening before, so if he’d left with her they couldn’t have gone far. I started to search other rooms in hope she managed to leave me a clue as to his plans.
But in the bedroom I got my biggest surprise. I recognized Holly’s handwriting on a legal pad on the nightstand and rushed to it. Sure enough—she’d written a note to me, over and over, slightly different wording each time, like she was rehearsing a speech.
The message she was practicing to say was clear, “Will you marry me?”
She was practicing proposing to me? Suddenly I wasn’t dealing with one mystery… but two.