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The Case of the Missing Mug

By Carissa Tobin

MON OCT 18, 2021

"Hi!" My in-laws came out to greet us as we got out of the car. I was carrying a paper bag in each hand - their birthday gifts.

"Happy Birthday Observed!" I said. We were celebrating theirs and Axel's birthday today.

"We've been looking all over for Grandpa J's mug!" my mother-in-law, who we'll call "MIL," said to Little L. "We've searched the entire house. Whoever finds it gets a prize!"

I like prizes, I thought. And I also like a good mystery.

This is the mug in question. However, when I asked my father-in-law to send me a photo of his mug, he initially sent me a handsome portrait of himself.
This is the mug in question. However, when I asked my father-in-law to send me a photo of his mug, he initially sent me a handsome portrait of himself.

A while later we were sitting on the back deck and my father-in-law, who we'll call "FIL," was sipping his coffee from a black mug.

"So, when did you first notice that the mug was missing?" I set in. My childhood friend Lydia would have been proud - we lived for mysteries.

"We looked everywhere!" he said. "We looked upstairs, downstairs, all around the house."

"Well when did you first notice that it was gone?" I asked, biting on a handful of sugary almonds that MIL had placed in a bowl.

"Oh, I don't know," he said, shaking his head. But I wasn't going to settle for vague answers.

"Well, it was gone this morning," I stated. If I'd had a notepad, I would have pulled it out. "You couldn't drink your coffee out of it. What about yesterday morning? Did you have it yesterday morning?"

MIL had emerged and sat down on the back deck with us. Now I had two witnesses.

"So did you have it yesterday?" I repeated.

"No, he didn't have it yesterday," MIL supplied. "We were looking for it yesterday."

Now we were making progress. "Okay, then, what about Friday? Did you have it on Friday?"

"I can barely remember what I did on Friday!" FIL said, laughing. "When you're retired, every day seems the same."

I was not laughing. I was interrogating. "Get out your calendar!" I suggested.

"Well, I had my groups on Friday," he said - Aha! So he did know! - without pulling out his phone to scroll through the calendar.

"On Friday morning I left to drive down-town to meet some friends on a patio," he said.

"But he didn't take his mug in the car," MIL added. "He never does."

"Okay..." I rubbed my chin or fiddled with my glasses; whatever it is that super secret spy-detectives do.

"So before you went," I continued. "You had to get ready. What did you do to get ready? Did you take a shower?"

"It's not in the bathroom!" he said. "We looked."

"Did you look in the shower?" I said, perhaps a bit accusingly.

"I don't take my mug in the shower," he said, perhaps a bit proudly.

"Okay," I said - this was a dead end. "So you got ready and you went to your group. What then?"

"Well then you came back, you wanted to walk to your Friday afternoon group, but Axel called!" MIL remembered.

"Oh no!" I said, leaning over for another handful of almonds.

"An ill-timed phone call!" FIL said, getting into the fun. "He wanted to know about ventilation."

"Ventilation?" I didn't ask more. Probably another house project that I'd find out about soon enough.

"Let's see... so did you need to walk downstairs to check on the ventilation? Perhaps into the back laundry room?" I sipped at my own coffee in the bright yellow mug I had picked this morning.

"Nope. I talked as I walked," he said.

"Oh, good, so you were still able to walk then."

"Yes!" he said.

"He was just worried he was going to be late," MIL clarified, sipping on her water.

"And you didn't have your mug with you as you walked?" I was grasping for clues.

"Nope."

"Okay, okay, so you met your group—"

"We met outside the brewery and had a beer."

"You're sure you didn't have the beer in your mug?" I said, hopefully.

"Nope."

"And then you walked home?"

"He came home and then I banished him to the basement!" MIL said. "I was teaching a class on Zoom and I told him he had to stay downstairs and couldn't make any noise!"

I laughed — when Axel teaches online, Little L and I are supposed to stay out of the kitchen over his basement office. He says we sound like a herd of elephants in there, which I blame more on the creaky floorboards than our volume level while eating snack.

"I probably just watched something. I think I watched a program," FIL said. There's a new train show he likes; perhaps that was the one.

"In the basement?"

He nodded.

"So would you have coffee that late in the day?" I asked.

"No, probably not," he said. "Maybe tea. Or I might have had a beer."

"If you had tea would you use your teal mug?"

"Yes, probably," he said. "I use it for both coffee and tea."

"Maybe you had tea," I said. "Because after having a beer at the brewery—"

"That's right!" he said. "I wouldn't have had another beer." He's a man of moderation.

"You might have wanted some tea," I said, swirling the remaining inch of coffee in my bright yellow mug while thoughts swirled in my head.

"Well, the only place I would have drunk tea would have been downstairs or in the kitchen," he said. "And we looked everywhere..."

The kitchen. Tea. Late night. The kitchen!

"THE MICROWAVE!" I said, plopping my coffee cup down on the deck with a flourish.

His eyebrows shot up. He didn't say a thing.

My own face mirrored his: excitement, trepidation, and hope.

Without a word, I walked to the door of the house. He followed me.

MIL was in the kitchen by now, preparing ingredients for individual-sized pizzas for for lunch.

"What are you doing?" she asked as we beelined for the microwave. I was just glad she hadn't needed to heat anything up yet; we needed to check first.

"Press here!" FIL said, his excitement growing like my own.

I pressed the rectangular button. The microwave opened.

The mug had about an inch of tea left in it. Cold tea. Tea that my father-in-law had been hoping to reheat.

"That's amazing!" FIL said. "She was amazing," he told MIL. "A regular Sherlock! She just used her powers of deduction!"

"I have to text Lydia," I said. "She would be so proud of me." And she was, saying that sounds just like the kind of mystery we would have solved back in the day. Thirty years later, it was still thrilling.

We wandered back out to the deck, where FIL informed me that I could choose any flavor of sparkling water as my prize. "Strawberry!" I said.

"Well, we have raspberry," he said.

"Even better!" I was on a high. As every amateur detective knows, it's not the fizzy water. It's the pride in having cracked the case. The joy of returning the teal mug to its rightful owner.

As I lounged in the Adirondack deck chair sipping my raspberry sparkling water, listening the leaves rustle above, Axel turned to me and said, "You know what I find the most impressive?"

I looked over at him, where he was sipping his own sparkling water. "You cracked the case without even getting out of your chair!"

The late night tea needed a warm-up. Two days later, it was discovered and tossed. The tea, that is.
The late night tea needed a warm-up. Two days later, it was discovered and tossed. The tea, that is.