Kathleen (a.k.a. Kathy) here with a little real-life mystery.
A few years ago, I went to the mailbox and pulled out the usual jumble of 80% post-consumer-content papers. Bills. Statements. An assortment of catalogs. One #10 envelope caught my eye: a letter from the Multnomah County Circuit Court.
I tore it open in the driveway and read.
I was being called to appear as a witness to a crime committed in Portland by someone with my last name.
My mind stuttered.
My brother-in-law goes by the name of the person who had allegedly committed the crime. But that’s his middle name, not his first. Plus, I was pretty sure I wasn’t in Portland on the date in question. And despite having the memory of a goldfish, I was also pretty sure I hadn’t witnessed a crime.
I called the court clerk’s office. After several very long conversations with people who were as confused as I was, it became clear that someone had pulled my address rather than that of another woman who shared my first, middle, and last name—and who was married to the man accused of the crime—and the mix-up ensued.
Satisfied with the explanation and the promise of a resolution, I filed away the paperwork and forgot all about it. Until I got another official-looking letter two years later.
It was a traffic citation for running a red light in Salem.
Okay, yes, I’ve accelerated through the occasional yellow light. But I’ve never run a red. And I hadn’t been to Salem in years. Confident it was another case of mistaken identity, probably with the same woman, I called the number on the citation and explained.
I could hear the smirk in the clerk’s voice right away. Suuuuuure I didn’t run the light. Suuuuuure there was someone else with my name committing moving violations and witnessing crimes.
He asked me for my date of birth. I provided it. The voice-smirk returned, even broader. “Yep,” he said. “That’s what I have here on the vehicle registration.”
That’s when panic set in.
There was a woman out there with my exact name and date of birth!!! And she wasn’t exactly endearing herself to the police!!!!!
I wanted to use all the exclamation points. Then borrow a cup from my neighbor.
Instead, I put on my calm voice—the one I use to tell someone there’s a spider on them—and told the clerk my story.
He wasn’t having it.
So I re-explained. Re-pleaded. Re-argued. Surely there was some kind of mistake! Surely he could see that the woman whose picture accompanied the citation was older than the date of birth indicated! Surely there was some reasonable explanation, especially given that I don’t own that type of vehicle and live three hours away!
I kept waiting for him to quote Airplane! and tell me to stop calling him Shirley.
Fortunately, he connected me to someone else, who then connected me to someone else.
Several hours, many phone calls, and a trip down to the DMV later, the truth emerged. When the other Valentis (the same couple mentioned earlier) purchased a vehicle, their registration was incomplete. Intent to fill in the blanks, a DMV employee searched the database, came up with my information, and put my data on their form.
Voila! Form complete. And identities exchanged.
It was enough to make me want to go back to my somewhat unpronounceable but reassuringly rare maiden name.
We finally, fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally got it all straightened out. But the experience was more than a little unnerving.
The silver lining? It reminded me how often brushes with mystery have provided great fodder for my books.
The technology aspect of PROTOCOL was based in part on a computer repair snafu in which our hard drive was swapped out for someone else’s by the repair center.
39 WINKS was inspired by my own chronic sleepwalking.
In AS DIRECTED, Maggie struggles with post-concussion syndrome, something my husband experienced after a bad snowmobile accident.
This case of mistaken identity seems like a great beginning for a book. Ditto for the mysterious packages that arrived at my home with no return address, invoice or packing slip. Double ditto for the true crimes that rocked my hometown. (More on those in future posts.)
Will The Case of the Other Valenti make it into a future book? What about these other brushes with mystery? Only time—and the muse—will tell.
Oh and also? My son now attends school with someone who shares an almost identical name, causing mass lunch account and attendance confusion. (On the other hand, the other junior Valenti was just named student of the month, so it kind of worked out for my kid.)
Have you had any brushes with mystery—name-related or otherwise? Please share!