A few months ago we had a dozen. Then it went down to eight. A couple of weeks back I could only find three. Last week, there was just one.
Sorry – in my excitement I’ve left out an important detail. I’m talking about teaspoons. Our teaspoons have been disappearing. Time was there was barely enough room in the cutlery drawer for them. Not now.
Other things have been vanishing as well. The mugs used to fill two shelves of the cupboard: now they barely occupy one. Double sheets and tea towels too. All these things we used to have, if not an embarrassment of, then at least a comfortable supply. Now we’re almost down to sleeping on bare mattresses, drying up with paper towels and drinking tea and coffee out of vases or egg cups.
In such cases, the wise man summons expert advice. I made some calls and soon had four appointments. To make them feel at home, I slipped out to buy sirop de menthe, a packet of Lapsang, a seven-per-cent solution of cocaine and a bottle of Bourbon, none of these being things we normally keep in the house.
Holmes was the first, Watson following with a notebook, like some North Korean flunkey ready for on-the-spot guidance. Holmes looked awful but perked up after a bit of the seven-per-cent. While the great detective was dealing with this in the bathroom, Watson and I chatted about his time fighting in Afghanistan in the 1880s. He was saddened though not surprised when I said that, 140-odd years later, the war there was still going on.
I told Holmes my story. He listened with great attentiveness, his hands pressed together, the tips of his index fingers resting against his lower lip. When I had finished he sat back and closed his eyes.
“A most singular narrative,” he said at last, “and one that presents several features of interest. You first noticed these disappearances about three months ago?”
“Did anything else happen about that time?”
I thought back to mid-July. “One of our cats disappeared.”
“And hasn’t returned.” I was about to ask how he knew but he anticipated me. “There’s only one feeding bowl.”
“Might these things be connected, Holmes?” Watson asked in that dim and dogged way he has.
“I cannot say. It is a capital error to formulate a hypothesis on insufficient data.” He was silent for a moment, lightly drumming his fingers on the table. Then he stood up. “I would like to examine the kitchen, as that appears to be the principal scene of the crime. The sheets we shall leave to one side for the present.”
He then subjected the room to a minute scrutiny, much of which was conducted on his hands and knees. He took samples from the dust, fluff, pieces of onion skin, stray cat biscuits and the other things which are normally found on our kitchen floor. He looked in the drawers, under the sink and on top of the cupboards. It was impossible not to smile.
“You find my survey amusing,” he said, though not unkindly, when he had finished. “It is rare these fail to reveal features which have a bearing on the case.”
“Has it on this occasion?” I asked.
“There are four things of cardinal importance and nine others which may prove to be so. As you may know from the sensationalist accounts my dear friend Dr Watson has fashioned, I keep my own counsel until I am certain the quarry is in sight.”
“But surely…” Watson gasped, his pen poised.
Holmes closed his eyes, as if with boredom. “Beyond the obvious facts that the person who prepares most of the vegetables is left-handed, that the household has changed its brand of dishwasher powder twice in the last month, that chickens are kept here but have not recently been laying, that a guitar has been re-strung and that the fridge has a tendency to leak, no.”
• The rest of this story is now available in a paperback book (as are 25 others) – Unaccustomed as I Am (RRP £9.95).
For more information, click here. It is stocked by the Hungerford Bookshop, the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, the Mad Hatter Bookshop in Wantage and through an increasing number of other retailers.
You can order it from any bookshop: they will need to know that the ISBN is 978-1-8382580-0-9 and that it can be ordered from Gardners or Central Books.