The Mystery of the Taupe Toupee | Steve Ashton

Naked contortionist or not, sometimes the real mystery lies within.

The Mystery of the Taupe Toupee

By Steve Ashton

For The Taupe Toupee Award

Harriet Houdini, one-time escapologist and now celebrated debunker of paranormal phenomena, sensed this case would be her toughest yet.

Here are the facts. An unmarked crate arrives at the gatehouse of CUFOR, the top-secret centre for UFO research. The crate measures a metre square and requires a forklift truck to transport it to the warehouse. A subsequent security scan reveals a near-empty box. When staff prise off the lid, they find only a bushy taupe toupee. CCTV images from the yard confirm no one has tampered with the crate. So what happened to the missing contents? Staff begin to suspect the crate is a Trojan horse, and that an army of miniature aliens has infiltrated the building. At which point, CUFOR’s Director of Operations calls in Harriet Houdini to restore a sense of proportion.

After inspecting the crate and questioning staff, Harriet presented her initial findings to the Director. The crate, she explained, had contained a balding, naked contortionist. Once inside the warehouse, he planned to enter the air-conditioning ducting system, and then, lubricated by the sweat on his naked body, wriggle through to the inner sanctum where he hoped to find documents proving the existence of extraterrestrial beings.

“Ah,” the Director said, shoulders slumping, “so you’ve heard about those fellows.”

Harriet felt the thrill of a breakthrough. Her fishing expedition had hooked the final part of this fishy puzzle.

The Director asked if he should send a maintenance crew to check the ducting.

“No need,” Harriet said, pointing upwards. “He’s up there.”

“On the roof?”

“Abducted by aliens,” she said. “Probably to prevent him sharing proof of their existence with the world.”

An astonished expression spread across the Director’s face. “How could you be so certain?”

“It was the toupee that clinched it,” Harriet said. “A man vain enough to wear a hairpiece would not readily abandon it. The only plausible explanation is that aliens beamed him up to their spaceship. The tractor beam, calibrated to collect organic matter matching a specific DNA pattern, would have failed to register the toupee which, though of human origin, belonged to a different profile.” She lifted her gaze. “And if I’m not mistaken, which I rarely am, they will be returning our flexible friend to Earth any time now.”

Moments later, a scintillating beam pierced the warehouse gloom. When it faded, the figure of a naked man, balding and bewildered, rose from the open crate. He reached back inside for something, briefly held the toupee in front of his crotch, then succumbed to vanity and replaced it on his head.

“I bid you good day, sir,” Harriet said to the Director, moving towards the exit. “My work here is done.”

Then she left as enigmatically as she had arrived, leaving the Director puzzling over what to do with a naked contortionist wearing a taupe toupee.

On the train home, Harriet’s sense of elation faded. Something nagged at her. Why was each new case more bizarre than the last? Almost as if a storyteller was at work, pulling her strings, orchestrating increasingly far-fetched cases for her to solve.

As the train entered a tunnel, she noticed that the double-glazed carriage window did not reflect a secondary image of her face as physics demanded. A careless oversight by her creator? Solving the conundrum of her own existence may prove to be her toughest test.