The Detective Who'd Rather Watch a Zombie Movie: A Five-Minute Mystery

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“What’s that sound?” Christina asks.

We’re watching Army of the Dead. Trying to, anyway. But this damn sound—tap-tap-tap—every fifteen seconds makes it difficult to concentrate. And let’s be honest, the noise is a little frightening for those who are easily frightened, which is to say, me.

“What is it?” Christina asks in a whisper. “Should we be worried?”

Should we be worried? Yes, of course we should be worried. We’re sitting in the dark, watching a heist film set in a Las Vegas overrun by zombies, and there’s a mysterious tapping sound… nearby! Plus, there are other things to worry about—the perilous state of our democracy, racism, sexism, climate change, nuclear proliferation, genocide, drought, famine, COVID, cyber attacks, existential dread, cruelty, killer bees, and the fact that I have not kept up with the Kardashians. The list of worries is endless, which is why I just want to call it a day and escape into a zombie movie.


“Aren’t you going to check it out?” Christina asks.

I should investigate. That’s the mature, reasonable thing to do. But I’d rather not do the mature, reasonable thing. I’d rather get my thrills the way Netflix intended: vicariously through the magic of cinema, on the couch, watching the screen.


“Five-minute mystery!” Christina declares.

So much for the movie. Christina and I live for Five-Minute Mysteries. Or, more precisely, we live to solve Five-Minute Mysteries, which is the name Christina came up with to describe life’s quotidian riddles, puzzles, and investigations.

Where are the car keys? The classic Five-Minute Mystery case.

Have you seen my ear pods? A modern twist on the classic Five-Minute Mystery.

Did you eat the last slice of pizza? A tense whydunnit take on the Five-Minute Mystery genre.


“Pause the movie,” I say. “I’m on the case.”

Christina fumbles around in the darkness.


“You have the remote,” she says.


I pause the movie, get up.

“Shouldn’t you turn on the lights?” Christina asks.

Question: What kind of a detective turns on the lights?

Answer: A smart detective, which is to say, a sleuth who is too clever to wind up in one of our household’s brief, zany mysteries.

In the darkness, I creep slowly toward the tapping-tapping-tapping outside our living room’s sliding glass door.


“It’s the plant,” Christina says. “You watered earlier. It’s dripping onto the floor.”

I glance at the plant. Christina’s theory is bunk. Our fig leaf fiddle is a red hearing that’s seen better days. The source of the tapping-tapping-tapping is coming from outside our sliding glass door. I’m sure of it.

“Honey, I think it’s the water from the plant.”

I crouch low, and look up for the next round of tapping-tapping-tapping outside our sliding glass door.

“What are you looking at?” Christina asks.

“A bird on a wire.”

“No, honey, it’s the plant. Turn on the lights, you’ll see.”

“Don’t tell me how to run my case,” I grumble. “This is my stakeout.”

Well, damn.”

I hold up my hand for silence.


“It’s the plant! I’m sure of it.”

“It’s a raven tapping on the power line.”

“A raven!?”

“No, but it’s a bird, and this is a mystery, and we’ve already established a spooky vibe and supernatural element, so… I’m thinking Edgar Allan Poe.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. What kind of bird?”

“For story purposes it’d be cooler if it was a raven, but this is Los Angeles, so it’s your basic city bird. And it’s tapping on the power line.”

“Honey, I think it’s the plant. Why don’t you turn on the lights and check?”

“I observed the suspect in the act. He’s our guy. Case closed.”


I point outside in the direction of the power line.

“Are you sure it’s not the plant? Because sometimes you overfill it, and the water leaks out, and it makes a mess.”


“Care to join the stakeout?” I ask.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the plant.”

Christina gets up and walks toward the fig leaf fiddle.


I point to the power line outside. Christina changes course.


I see it. Christina sees. The bird is our culprit.

“Oh,” she says, “yeah, OK.”

Oh-yeah-OK?” I say in disbelief.After all that, you give me, oh-yeah-OK?”

Christina shrugs.

“You know, when a detective presents a solution to the case, procedure dictates that you test that solution for holes. Presenting alternate theories about over-watered plants, without evidence, is counter-productive and bad form.”

“Bad form?”

“Oh yes. It’s frowned upon in the amateur detective community. Also, it’s customary to offer congratulations for the solve.”

“Like a parade?”

“That would be for a big solve, like… finding ten million bucks in Bitcoin… where the password is written on… I dunno… a cocktail napkin.”

“I get it. You want an attaboy,” Christina says.

“Yes, I do. I want my attaboy, and I want to watch Army of the Dead.”

“How about some ice cream? Is that a sufficient attaboy?”

“Sounds good to me.”

Christina walks to the kitchen, flips on the lights, and opens the freezer.

“Hey honey…”


“What happened to the ice cream?” Christina asks. “Did you finish the carton?”

“One case at a time!”

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back next Sunday with a new story.

Meantime, if you want more slice of life stories, pick up a copy of Ride / Share, a collection of stories I wrote about my strange, silly, and soulful experiences with Lyft drivers.

As one reviewer put it, “When I’m not in a great mood, this book really helps Lyft my spirits.” Yay for joy, and yay for puns!

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