27 Years Later, Son Solves Mystery of a Father Gone Missing
–Headline in the New York Times
As soon as she walked through my door, I could see she was all bent out of shape—dangerously low on electrolytes, hyperventilating. I helped her into a chair, jump-started her heart with the office defibrillator, and asked her to tell me about it.
‘It’s my husband,’ she said. ‘He’s finally gone and done it.’
‘Gone and done what?’ I said. Sure—like I didn’t know exactly what he’d gone and done. But I thought it might be therapeutic if she came right out with it, got it off her palpitating chest.
‘He’s gone missing,’ she said.
I acted surprised and sympathetic. But it was getting to be an old story, and getting older by the day. It used to be that wives or husbands or children disappeared without a trace, vanished into thin air, dropped out of sight. But now they were going missing—by the thousands.
For verification, all you had to do was check the pages of any newspaper—the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Newark Star-Ledger. Every day somebody else went missing.
Worse, it was a retroactive phenomenon. No longer was Jimmy Hoffa the labor boss who’d simply dropped off the face of the earth—he’d gone missing. So had Amelia Earhart, Judge Crater, Pussy Bonpensiero, and Ralphie Cifaretto, among the more high-profile members of the formerly vanished.
I hadn’t checked the pages of the New York Review of Books or the TLS lately, but I would have bet that every mention of Ambrose Bierce identified him as the exiled writer who’d gone missing in Mexico. It was having a ripple effect in the sciences as well, with anthropologists shifting their focus to the investigation of gone-missing links.
Whatever was causing this epidemic, I could hardly complain. It had given my business a healthy uptick, especially after I launched my new website.
Once my latest client was breathing normally again, I got down to business, debriefing her and making notes on my Palm Pilot.
‘Had your husband shown any signs of inappropriate behavior?’ I inquired. ‘Before they went missing, a lot of men had been behaving inappropriately—watching Spongebob Squarepants, having their noses and navels pierced, reading Barbara Kingsolver novels.’
‘Negative,’ she said. ‘In fact, all my friends told me how lucky I was to have a husband who always behaved so appropriately.’
‘He hadn’t been edgy?’
‘No, he didn’t have a single edge, cutting or otherwise. Nothing about him was asymmetrical. He was the most well-rounded person in the world. He ate a pint of Chubby Hubby every night at bedtime.’
‘You hadn’t had any spats or tiffs? He hadn’t criticized your housecleaning or your personal hygiene before he left? He hadn’t gone dissing or dismissing?’
‘No, no, a thousand times no,’ she said. ‘He was a paragon of civility and tranquility. He’d become a disciple of Joseph Campbell, after watching his series on Public Television.’
‘That’s a link,’ I said. ‘Is there a chance that he might have gone blissing?’
‘Not a chance,’ she said, ‘he was strictly a sedentary blisser, not a peripatetic one.’
‘I wouldn’t foreclose any possibility,’ I said.
‘You can foreclose that one,’ she insisted. ‘He did all his blissing at home—usually on the sofa watching the Yankees.’
‘Oh, he was a Yankee fan,’ I said. ‘He must have been seriously bummed out by their stunning upset in the playoffs.’
‘Stunned out of his cantaloupe ,’ she said. ‘Now that you mention it, it was the day after the Yankees were eliminated that he went missing.’
I got vital stats on her husband and told her I’d get back to her in a day or two, maybe sooner if I could connect all the dots.
‘Dots?’ she said, arching an eyebrow. ‘I’m not paying you for connecting dots. I expect methodical research, Sherlockian reasoning, irrefutable logic.’
‘You just have to trust me, I said. ‘I’ve had to connect a lot of dots in my line of work, and not one has ever gone amissing.’
I forward-deployed myself over to Bellevue and located the nurse in charge of the Stun Ward.
‘You’d better prepare yourself for the worst,’ she warned, unlocking the door to the ward. ‘It’s not a pretty sight.’
‘I see a lot of stun cases in my line of work,’ I said, ‘and I think I can handle anything.’
‘You haven’t seen anything yet,’ she said. ‘We’ve been swamped lately. First, there was the stunning new Avedon retrospective at the Met. Then the Republicans’ stunning victory in the mid-term elections. Then there was Baz Luhrmann’s stunning revisionist take on ‘La Boheme.’’
She shook her head in disbelief. ‘We desperately need to tighten our stun laws in this country. But the stun lobby is just too powerful. Everybody’s at risk—they’re being stunned down not just on the streets but in multiplexes, theaters and opera houses, museums, electronics showrooms—no venue is safe these days.’
As she took me into the ward, I saw immediately that she hadn’t exaggerated. It was a horrific sight—all those stun victims, in various stages of immobilization and disempowerment.
‘Did you notice a bump after the Yankees’ stunning upset?’ I asked.
‘Bump nothing,’ she said, ‘it was a spike—off the charts. It was bad enough last year, when they lost the series to the Diamondbacks. But this season, when they didn’t even get into the series. . . . ‘
I told her I thought my gone-missing person was a Yankee fan and described him for her.
‘I think I’ve got your man,’ she said, and led me over to a screen, behind which there was a patient more dreadfully stunned and disenabled than the others.
‘We had to put him here because he was having such a demoralizing effect on the other patients. He was totally incoherent when he arrived, raving on and on. I can’t make out what he’s saying. It sounds like he’s speaking in tongues.’
I leaned close to see if I could decipher his ravings. But all I could make out was a litany of names, repeated over and over: ‘Ruth, Gehrig, Lazzeri, Dimaggio, Rizzuto, Mantle, Berra, Ford…’
‘He’s pretty far gone, isn’t he?’ the nurse said.
‘He’s gone as you can go,’ I said. ‘He’s gone reminiscing.’
I saw the look of horror cross her face. ‘What a way to go!’
‘It’s the worst way,’ I said. ‘Nobody wants to go there. Once you do, there’s no chance you’ll ever go remissing.’
I left the hospital and went out into the fresh air. ‘Case foreclosed,’ I typed in my Palm Pilot. I was happy to have wrapped things up so quickly, but I still had to break the awful news to his wife. Even though I’d located her husband, he was too far gone. There was one consolation: If I couldn’t bring her husband back, she’d at least have foreclosure.