Gone Boy: When My Boyfriend Was Kidnapped on My Birthday and How I Got Him Back

Girl Loses Boy

The Minute Of

“GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” he screamed in the living room.

And then the door slammed.

I was peeing when it happened. Literally. It was August 23, my birthday, and Bret, my boyfriend, had been fretting all day about how he’d not chosen a place yet for my birthday dinner. We’d spent the afternoon at the Japanese American National Museum, viewing their Samurai weapon and armor exhibit before venturing into Little Tokyo for a spell. Once we returned home and rested, he announced that he’d picked a place. “Get ready! Wear something nice.”

I was partially dressed and just, you know, taking care of personal business (ahem) when I heard him scream.

I opened the bathroom door. My cat Robespierre (aka Robie, aka Robie Wan Kenobi, aka Mr. Cuckoo Banana Pants) wandered inside and head-butted my leg. “Your kitten daddy is being overly dramatic. Again,” I said, scritching his ears.

“Honey? What’s wrong?”

No answer. I explored the apartment.

He was gone.

Gone Two Minutes

My laptop sat open on the living room coffee table. A video was up with a face that looked familiar but with terrible hair and a silly mustache. I played it:

When I finished laughing, I clicked “Show More” below the video, copied the code, and pasted it into a YouTube URL.

It didn’t work.

Wait. It looked like the code to a YouTube URL, but I’d never seen one before with two dashes. Maybe it was missing two letters? Was I supposed to find the two letters? Or maybe I’m supposed to ROT13 (or ROT-N) the letters to get a different code? I proceeded to rack my brain for another 20 minutes as I tried to figure out what I needed to do with that sequence to make it work, testing every option. I even opened my boyfriend’s suitcase and dug in there for a clue. Nothing.

Saphron says, “Bellehs not gonna feed themselves!”

Now both Robie and Saphron were circling and meowing. It was about 5:30 p.m. Dinner time! Why you not feed us, The Mama?

Still, stuck is stuck. I took a break to feed the fur babies before I returned to the task at hand. In desperation, I simply copied and pasted the code again into the YouTube URL.

I must have accidentally deleted something the first time because this time — Eureka! It worked!

Gone Sixty Minutes

The cat-shaped clock sitting on my kitchen pass through said it was getting close to 6:00 p.m. I had zero ideas as to how I was supposed to get his email address as demanded in the video. Aucune idée, as the French say. (And I should have known. I bet you, gentle reader, can guess how to find his email address.) The real cats were finished eating. They sprawled on the couches, taking baths and generally looking unimpressed with me trying to loosen the mental knots.

After staring at the screen for far too long, I noted that my laptop battery was getting low. Better plug this thing in.

As I hefted the machine, a piece of paper that had been folded in two and taped to the bottom flopped loose.

I gingerly removed the paper, plugged my computer in the office, and examined my find.

A crossword puzzle. Of sorts.

Cryptic Crossword

The boxes, of course, had not yet been filled in. But soon they were.

Certain boxes were colored in, but none of them were numbered. The clues below were organized by how many letters the answers were. And they only gave the first name of the funny person.

When I saw the answer to the clue “Paula” (ROT-13 FTW!) was 10 letters, I knew immediately how to solve the puzzle.

Paula Poundstone. One of my all-time favorite female comedians. The rest of the answers came easily, as they were not just any comedians, but my personal favorites. (He forgot Emo, but I’ll let it slide.) It was the sort of puzzle that Amy in Gone Girl would have loved.

In less than five minutes, I solved the puzzle. The colored boxes spelled out:

Starship Titanic.

I ran to the bookcase, aware that I was on some kind of deadline but unaware of how dangerously close I was to blowing it. All I knew was that I had to solve the next clue quickly. In the pages of this Douglas Adams novel was tucked a piece of paper that read:

Jesus A. Goethe!

(Go straight there. No texting or calling her, cheater!)

This had to be an anagram that sent me to a friend’s house. I fed the larger letters into various online anagram solvers and eventually came up with:

Jeeta G’s House

My upstairs neighbor is Jeeda and her last name starts with G. Could he have misspelled her name? He isn’t one to make errors, my sweetheart. He is quite the perfectionist.

I went upstairs and knocked on Jeeda’s door. No answer. I knocked again. Still no answer. Discouraged, I returned to my place, wondering what to try next. No, it had to be correct. I went back up again. This time I rang the doorbell and Jeeda answered.

The look of bafflement on her face as I asked, “Are you supposed to give me something from Bret?” told me everything I needed to know. I returned to my widening puddle of confusion downstairs.

I sat on the couch, staring hopelessly at the stupid flyer. “Jesus Christ,” I muttered. Christ. Christ A. Goethe…The Damnation of Faust.

Christa Faust.

It was now 6:15 p.m. I still wasn’t totally dressed and my hair was a mess.

Fuck it. I’m doing my damned hair.

Gone Eighty @#$@#$# Minutes

And so I sort of finished getting ready for whatever. Rushed, I threw on a pair of shoes that didn’t really match my shawl, which itself was ill-considered, and took off around 6:25 p.m.

I arrived around 6:45 p.m. Christa was waiting for me. After birthday hugs and kisses were exchanged, Christa sat me down at her laptop on the dining table.

“Bret’s twin wanted you to hear this,” she explained. It looked like a short sound file attached to an email. She clicked the “play” arrow.

Good Twin Bert spoke: “If your friends Dee and Edward came together to open a confectionery, what would they call it?”

I blinked. “John Kelly Chocolates.”

Christa raised her fist in triumph. “It’s in the bread box.”

In the kitchen bread box, I found a tower of John Kelly Chocolates — the best chocolates in the world, mind — with another clue.


This wasn’t as easy as the “Funny People” puzzle, as it required a bit of Internet confirmation, but it came along quickly enough. (In the background, Christa’s phone was going bonkers with texts. She uses the same “Noir” ring tone that I do, no surprise.)

The address was incomplete. Was it North or South Grand Avenue? Putting the address into Google Maps didn’t tell me what was there. But when I pasted it into Google itself, I got the answer:

Water Grill, a chic seafood restaurant on South Grand Avenue.

Bret had often talked about going to Water Grill. I’d always put him off of it, fearing it was too expensive. But lately his employment and finances had been pretty great. Clearly now was the time.

Reservations were at 7:30 p.m. It was now 7:00 p.m.

I had 30 minutes to go 26 miles to reach a Downtown destination. In Los Angeles traffic.


I jumped in the car, Christa waving to me from the doorway, and I voice activated my iPhone’s GPS. Laws might have been broken as I sailed over the 118 to the 5 highway, but SIRI guided me so that I never had to check Apple Maps. I was going to cut it really close…

The GPS brought me to the right place, but I missed the parking structure entirely, thinking that there’d be a valet stand in front of the restaurant. Nope! The valet was inside the parking structure I accidentally passed. Grinding my teeth at this time-wasting development, with mere minutes to spare, I parked at Pershing Square and scurried a couple of blocks past many a questionable fellow. As I approached my destination, I realized that I’d never sent Bert that email he’d asked for. Ah! Christa had gotten an email from him. She’d know. I texted her:

Very important. What is Bert’s email address? I need it for one more puzzle to solve everything.

Christa responded with the email address. Just as I reached Water Grill, I sent Bert the email he requested, hoping that that was the end of it.

Girl Meets Boy

7:31 p.m.

For some reason, I’d channeled all my puzzle-solving angst into the lack of a sidewalk valet and I was ready to go full Samurai on the first person I encountered in the restaurant. The genteel atmosphere and friendly hosts convinced me to keep my verbal katana in its saya.

“Hi. Is there a reservation under the name Bret Shefter?” I asked.

One of the hosts looked at the screen and frowned. “I’m afraid not,” he said.


“Wait,” he said, “Are you Maria Alexander? I have a table for one.”*

Relieved, I followed the host into the restaurant.

My incredibly handsome sweetheart was standing beside the table, wearing a fabulous suit and a mischievous grin.

We kissed and kissed. (The restaurant staff later said we were the cutest couple.) And then the katana slipped out a bit. (Mine, not his.)

“It was amazing! Until the end,” I said, still fuming for some reason about the dopey valet.

“What about the end?” he replied, gesturing to the table.


A dozen red roses filled the table vase.



Everything turned out beautifully, but remember that email I was supposed to send Bert early on?

I was supposed to have figured out from the YouTube account what the email address was and send the email. Upon receipt, Bret was then supposed to send me a clue to another series of puzzles — two hours ago. The last of those puzzles revealed that the Starship Titanic puzzle was taped under the laptop. And since I hadn’t emailed Bert, not only did I not get the next series of puzzles, Bret had no idea what was going on or how far along I was in the process. He sweated for almost two hours until he texted Christa while I was there. Fortunately, I’d found the Starship Titanic clue independently. I would have never made it otherwise.

So, I crushed the puzzle trail in more ways than one (oops).

Still… Best. Birthday present. EVER. Thank you, honey! I love you!

* This dialog was totally improvised by the host. All he knew was that it was some kind of surprise and made up a response to throw me off. How great is that?

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