I was invited to Inspector Goatlock’s house the other day and was surprised to find dozens of wadded up sheets of paper scattered around the study. Some of them were soggy and appeared to have been chewed. The great detective made no reference to this messy scene, but it was obvious he had decided to re-open some old files. I quietly tucked a damp wad of paper into my pocket and unraveled it at home. Here’s what it said:
A breathless TV news anchor burst into my office and said “There’s a mysterious missile in the sky just off the coastline! Something is going on and I want YOU to figure it out. We go on the air with a live report in 7 minutes!”
I walked to the window for a look. A glowing, jagged line pierced the sky. It looked like the edge of an extremely vertical, quite rugged mountain. I suppressed a deep-seated urge to scale it and calmly returned to my desk.
“What do the authorities say?” I asked.
“They can’t tell me what it is!” he replied in even, measured tones tinged with a hint of pants wetting panic. “They say they didn’t launch a missile and they shrug, thinking somehow that will calm me down. But that makes the story even scarier, because it means someone else launched a missile! Someone whose identity is a mystery!”
I returned to the window and watched the telltale line of high altitude vapor as it slowly dissipated into nothingness.
“Go get ready for your live report,” I told him, “while I make some calls.”
I phoned two friends of mine – one dining in a pasture 40 miles north of the scene, and another pal climbing a mountain 40 miles to the south.
When I got off the phone I strolled out to the TV station’s remote truck just as the anchor went live with his hysterical report.
“We’re at the office of the famed solver of mysteries, Inspector Goatlock. Inspector, clearly we are under attack. Is it domestic enemies, North Korea or space aliens?”
“Ignorance is the real enemy,” I told him. “That was no missile. What you saw was the contrail of an ordinary jet flying toward you at a level, but very high altitude.”
“Nonsense,” he shot back. “This is a vast cover up and you’re part of the conspiracy!”
“That’s an easy and exciting explanation,” I said, calmly. “ But I insist this is an unremarkable jet trail, dramatized by the setting sun, warped by unusual elements of perspective and magnified by the relentless demands of the 24 hour news cycle.”
When he accused me of being a foreign spy, I admit, I bit the microphone.
How did Inspector Goatlock know the truth?