Illustration by Angelika Manhart
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The Thief Among Us

By Alessio Travaglia

His elbows leaned heavily on the table. His left hand held his sweaty forehead, his back hunched forward over his keyboard. Only the sound of typing revealed his presence in the conference room. With short dark hair and square glasses on a round face, Raymond was the type of guy who didn’t sleep much the night before lab meeting presentations. And now, with a newborn baby boy, his nights were even shorter than before.

Raymond was on his second cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, staring at his screen while his lab mates slowly flowed into the room. He made the final changes to the title and date on the first slide of his presentation.

“Does someone know where the little thingy is?” he asked, rummaging in the projector’s bag, full of assorted cables and remotes.

“Thingy?” Gina, the lab manager, asked.

“The…adaptor? The one that connects my laptop with the projector.”

“It should be inside the projector bag, together with the projector,” Gina continued, nonplussed. “Did you check there?”

“Thank you,” Raymond forced a smile. “I just said I didn’t find it in the bag. Did someone use it recently?”

Everyone looked at Italo.

“Italo, do you have the adaptor?” Raymond asked.

“So I guess you are asking me not because of space– that is, because I’m sitting in front of you and just raising your neck, you cannot help but look straight at me – but because of time– because I was the last person to use the adaptor last week during my lab meeting presentation, since in fact I needed it to plug it to my laptop, in order to…”

Raymond took a deep breath: “Italo — I just want to know if you have the adaptor.”

“Well that’s only fair to ask, I suppose, but if you are not going to be patient there is no need for me to spend my time explaining my point of view and there is also no need for you to spend your time to ask me. And even if we are not interested in time – which you actually might be since you need the adaptor to start your presentation – even if we were not interested in time at all, it will be very difficult for me to convince you that I am not in possession of the adaptor, since you are accusing me of having it because…”

“Italo. I’m not accusing you.” Raymond’s face was turning red, the veins in his neck pulsing: “I’m asking if you have it.”

“Well, that was my impression so thank you for clarifying and in this case I can tell you that I’m not in physical possession of any adaptor. As I was saying and as you probably remember, I was last week, but I no longer am. If you want, I might provide arguments, supported by evidence, to prove my innocence, but probably you will not believe me since you are looking to blame me for…”

“Jeez Italo! I’m not looking to blame anyone, I just need the adaptor! Did you put it back?”

“Let me be more specific about what I remember happened when I used the adaptor last week. First of all, I want to tell you how difficult is for me to precisely recollect this event. Don’t take me wrong, this does not mean that I don’t have a memory of using the adaptor, which indeed I needed and used last week. This memory is blurry because, as you all should know, memory engrams of events that are not salient are not retained long-term, a process known as…”

“You are killing me! Can you just answer my question?”

“As you wish! I can answer your question and actually I can answer many questions but I also wonder if you are asking the right question. What I’m trying to say here is that even if I tell you that I’m not in possession of the adaptor, this information does not solve your problem. Maybe a better question to ask would be…”

“On second thought, I’m gonna kill you! Where. Is. The. Adaptor?!”

“I thought we had a thief, but instead we might have a murderer! Very interesting. I also found very interesting that over time your original impatience has evolved into an unbearable anger. Even if nothing really happened – the power of time! Anyway, correct me if I am wrong but it now seems that you want to shift your interest from time to space, since you are asking quote where unquote. The adaptor is usually contained in a white, square box that is usually placed in the top-left pocket of the black projector’s bag, the pocket with the zipper. Unfortunately the zipper has broken, and has been broken for quite some time, so it is reasonable that the adaptor fell out in the cabinet where the bag is stored. However, I cannot prove that my hypothesis is correct: indeed, even if I did put the bag and the adaptor back, I wasn’t present when the…”

“Found it!” Gina said.


Alessio Travaglia is a neuroscientist working on mechanisms of memory formation and Alzheimer’s disease.