If our troubles looked like burdens, Our pain as bloody wounds, Our struggles, fears, and worries Were bruises, stripes, and runes; Would our sympathy be greater? Our gentleness grow deep? If we saw what makes one stagger And makes the steps grow steep?
If pain could cause an injury, If words cut like a knife, If we could see the ragged flesh, The slowly ebbing life – Would we choose our tone more gently? Would we think before we speak? Would we show more love and kindness? More hands to help the weak?
If our inner pain and sorrow Played out upon our skin, Would we treat each other different, Then how we’ve always been? Why would the sight of bruises, Of cuts and blood and gore, Be what it takes to get us To love our neighbor more?
Visiting the Louvre had been on my list of dream destinations since age sixteen. That was when I first saw Sherlock Holmes recover the Mona Lisa, stolen from the Louvre, before going on the run from Professor Moriarty. Therefore, my connections to the famed building were conclusively linked to the mysterious.
I didn’t, however, expect to be accused of theft on my very first visit!
My excitement could scarcely be contained as I skipped past the glass pyramid and walked up the steps to the beautiful old building. That building made my trip worth it even without seeing the outside, it was so magnificent, but I didn’t have much time to consider it. The moment I stepped inside the building, two members of the French Police marched up to me, pulling me aside for questioning.
Their accents were strong, but I could understand them fairly well. They demanded to know my name and the reason for my visit. I told them that I was just a tourist, though I might be considering writing a mystery set in Paris. I think it was the wrong thing to say.
“A mystery? A theft, perhaps?” The first officer crossed his arms.
I shrugged. “That or a murder. I don’t really know. Maybe both. But a theft seems likely.”
“A theft of, say, the portrait of a Russian Princess, perhaps?”
I blinked. That seemed awfully precise. “I’m sorry?”
“We already know about you. We’ve read your blog.” The second officer had seemed more approachable, until he started speaking. “You posted that you were on your way to Paris two days ago, that among your plans while in our city that you planned to visit the Louvre, and that you were especially interested, among other things, to see the portrait of the Russian Princess.”
“Is… Is that a crime?” I looked from one officer to another.
“It is, if your interest led you to steal the portrait instead of merely observing it.”
I have never done well at responding when shocked. I lose all sense of words. Thus, I only started at the two men with my mouth hanging open.
The officers waited in silence with me. Obviously, they expected a response. I tried to think.
“When… When did the Russian Princess get stolen?”
The second officer narrowed his eyes at me, but the first one dropped his arms. “Last night. In the dead of night, someone stole the painting and disappeared. Undetected. You expressed interest in the Russian Princess.”
“I didn’t steal her!” I took a deep breath and lowered my voice. “I wouldn’t know how to get into the Louvre without detection, even if I wanted to. Not by day or by night. And I didn’t want to!”
The two officers nodded at me. “We understand, Mademoiselle.” The first officer spoke smoothly. “You must understand, however, that you must be high on our list of suspects.”
“How did you even know about my blog? I’m anything but famous!”
“Someone tipped us off.” The officer shook his head. “No, I can’t tell you who.”
I bit my lip.
“Are you implying that you can tell us nothing else about the theft, Mademoiselle Jones?”
“I can’t tell you anything at all, except that I didn’t do it.”
The second officer seemed to soften. “And yet, we will need to keep contact with you for the time being.” He pulled out a notebook. “Would you, please, give us your phone number – the best way to contact you?”
“Another question, Mademoiselle.” The first officer cocked his head. “Do you know anyone else in town, who might be interested in the Russian Princess?”
“I’m sure she wouldn’t steal it!”
“Then you do.” His partner smiled. “Supply us with her name, if you please. I assure you, if she is as innocent as you think, she has nothing to fear.”
I wanted to refuse, but I didn’t now how wise it would be, so I complied. “I don’t actually know if she is here, but I know she said something about visiting to see the portrait of the Russian Princess again. At least, I think she’s seen it before. After all, she put it in her new book! She’s the one who got me interested!”
The men gave each other a look. “The name, if you please, Mademoiselle Jones.”
I shook my head. “Liz. Liz Tolsma.”
I hope they aren’t too hard on her. What could I have done besides give her name? I really don’t know. Maybe I can make it up to her a bit, by showing you the GIVEAWAY for her new mystery, Slashed Canvas…
I went to the auction house to bid on the freakshow poster. You know, the one from Denise Barela’s new book Silencing the Siren. I hadn’t ever been to an auction before, but I think things seemed pretty normal. At least, everyone around me seemed to think that they were normal. That is, until they showed us the poster.
Just as the auctioneer lifted the cover, a loud boom made the entire building shake, and what do you know? The poster had disappeared! Completely, utterly vanished.
Something about the disappearing poster and the noise caused a panic. Everyone started running. I really don’t know why. What’s more, I don’t know why I joined them, except it was either run or be trampled! I heard one woman yelling about theft and that someone needed to pay. A man started calling for the police, but as he wasn’t actually making a phone call, I don’t know what good he thought he did.
Outside the building, a woman I had never met nor seen before, grabbed me by the shoulders. Shaking me, she stared at me far too intently. “Where is it? Where is the poster? And what was that sound when it disappeared?”
I tried to tell her I had no idea, but she didn’t actually seem to care. She just ran off like the wild woman she was.
I’d lost my group, and as I tried to find them again, I heard a man grumbling as he walked past me. “Worst magic trick I ever did see. They should have consulted me.”
I don’t know if I agree with him. I still have no idea how that poster disappeared. Before the covering lifted, I would have testified in court that it seemed to be there.
It seemed to take me forever to find Chautona. When I finally did, we compared notes about what happened – but I’ll let you see what she has to say in her own words. I have no idea what became of that poster – but I hope someone comes forward to tell us the truth!
I’ve always loved Nutcrackers, but I haven’t ever had one of my own. Unless earrings count – and I don’t think they do. This Christmas, I decided to remedy the situation and get one. Or two. Or three. I did consider that the poor Nutcracker might get lonely, if I only got one, so it could only be kind to get some companions for him. That seems like good logic, at any rate.
I’ll blame Chautona that I went searching for a Nutcracker store. I didn’t know such a thing existed – let alone in Arizona – but she sent me a picture of the Nutcracker that she put in her new book, The Nutcracker Suite, and that is all I needed. Off I went on a hunt to find a store filled with Nutcrackers. My GPS led me to the wrong place three times, but I finally found it tucked away, all alone in the desert. Nifty Nutcracker’s Nook.
It really should have been Nutty Nutcracker’s Nook, if you ask me, but I get ahead of myself. The moment I stepped inside, the scents and sounds of Christmas engulfed me. Someone must have been baking cookies and brewing hot apple cider, because no candle can get those to such perfection. Music from The Nutcracker played at the perfect volume, while twinkle lights strung about the room seemed to chime with tiny bells with every sparkle. Green garlands decorated the shelves and tables, while a literal army of Nutcrackers in all shapes and sizes stood at attention. I didn’t see another human, but I can’t say that I looked for one.
Mesmerized by the Nutcrackers, I began wandering through the irregular store. Near the back, standing on a very furthest corner of an old bookshelf, decorated and filled with Nutcracker men, I saw one who I fancied looked rather shy. I reached for him and, to my horror, off dropped the poor Nutcracker’s head! I caught the heavy ball of wood, staring at those painted eyes, wondering where I’d seen them before.
“Puu eee ack!”
I think I just stared.
“Puu eee ack!”
The head of the Nutcracker began to tremble in my hand and I wondered what in the world I had gotten into.
“Puu ee ack, oo you ‘ear? I iding!”
Why I understood the thing, I don’t know. I suppose it must be difficult to talk without your lower jaw, but I knew what he said. No, my shock came from the ball of wood talking to me. Perhaps, I should have been better prepared. I’d just read Pinocchio, after all. I shook my head.
“Put you back? You’re… hiding?”
The eyes seemed to nod. That’s when I recognized the face.
“You look exactly like Chautona’s Nutcracker!”
His eyes widened.
“You are Chautona’s Nutcracker!”
“Puu ee ack. ‘Iding.”
“Why are you hiding?”
“I ‘on’t ee ‘ear ‘ong.”
“Why won’t you be here long?”
Either he didn’t trust me or he grew tired of talking. Both are plausible.
“Put him back! Put him back!” The chant, beginning soft and low, grew in depth and volume as the army of Nutcrackers voiced their support of their broken brother. I stared far longer than I should have, before I nodded. I moved two of the tallest Nutcrackers on the bookshelf, then carefully placed the headless body well behind them. Carefully, I balanced the head on top.
“ank you. ‘ot afe. ‘Ight eak ee again.”
Before I could assure the Nutcracker that no one would be breaking him again, that I would do my best to keep him safe, I heard the store door open. All the Nutcrackers grew silent. I moved the two giants further back to better hide the poor broken fellow, and moved to examine a row standing on a tall shelf.
“Where is he!”
I couldn’t see the speaker, but he sounded human and quite angry.
“The broken Nutcracker, lady, where is he?”
I stuttered, trying to see whoever seemed to see me. Also, I despise being called “lady” in that voice.
“I know that you know and you’ll tell me!”
“Don’t tell! Don’t tell! Don’t tell!” The Nutcracker chant began again.
“Where is he?” The figure started to come around the corner, large and intimidating. “If you don’t tell me-“
I bolted awake. When had I fallen asleep? I checked my phone. Of course, I ought to be asleep at 3:49 in the morning.
A message from an unknown number showed a picture of Chautona’s broken Nutcracker, demanding to know how he broke. Still fuzzy from my dream, I typed back a response, “I don’t know. I certainly didn’t break him. I only hid him. Go ask Sandra Barela.”
Not until the sun rose did it occur to me that answering unknown numbers with the names of people I knew, not only was something I never did, but also wasn’t all that bright. All the same, I’m pretty sure that Sandy can take care of herself, so she’ll be all right. I’m quite certain.
When I set out to write The Lost Dutchman’s Secret, I had no idea the trouble it would get me into. I knew that people still searched for the mine, but I hadn’t a clue just how obsessed some of them still are. You would think, after 150 years, the hullabaloo would have died down. Apparently, it has done no such thing.
It all started the week of my book release. In the beginning, I thought someone must be pulling a prank. After all, leaving a note by the door when I got home came directly from a scene in my story. However, when I found a note on my car when I left my favorite coffee shop, I decided it might be time to take action.
WE’LL FIND THE MAP. IT’S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME.
While I still didn’t know whether or not they could be serious, I decided I had better take precautions. Before the day had ended, I’d sent a special delivery to Cathe Swanson. To be signed for.
The notes, however, didn’t stop. I had another when I headed to church the next morning. And another a week later. And then came the calls, emails, and messages. I started hearing about the notes and strange visitors that my fellow authors were receiving, as the map passed through their hands. Threats, intimidation, espionage. Men in Indiana Jones Fedoras. From what I heard from April, some of them even seemed to succumb to the greed of gold and tried to form their own branch of rogue treasure hunter, (I’ve made note to be wary of Sandy and Cathe for awhile,) while Chautona, Marji, Liz, and Denise experienced the more threatening side of gold fever.
I needed to put a stop to this and fast, before someone else got hurt.
When the weasel with his Fedora wearing backup caught up with me, I stood at the base of the Superstition Mountains, watching a group of deer meander through the rocks.
“There you are!”
The voice startled me, rough and halting. I did wonder why I thought coming alone was such a good idea. I tensed, taking a step back, slipping a hand in my pocket. I knew how to press “record” without looking.
“Did you think that we wouldn’t notice watch for you here?”
“I don’t think I thought that through, actually.” I heard the laughter of children not far off, and the conversation of a couple hiking down the trail. I took another step back.
“Where is the map?”
He really didn’t sound intimidating at all. His friends’ glares and crossed arms caused rather more trepidation than his voice. Or anything about him, really.
“We don’t want to hurt you, Miss Jones, but we will.”
“I don’t have it.”
“Because we believe you.”
I shook my head. “The Lost Dutchman’s Goldmine is lost for good reason – and it’s going to stay that way.”
The man nodded and his men uncrossed their arms.
My hands shook and I glanced around, hoping a random stranger or five would show up to help me if I needed it. “You won’t find the map. I can promise you that.”
“Because you don’t have it? We don’t believe you.”
“Because I buried it.”
The man started. “Buried… what?”
He looked back at his companions and then back at me. “She just admitted she has the m… Wait. Where did you bury it?”
“In the Superstition Mountains.”
“Then we want the map to the buried map.”
“I don’t have one.”
“You lost the map to the Lost Dutchman? Are you insane?”
I’ll have a reader note here that I never said I lost anything. I said that I buried it and didn’t have a map. There is a rather amazing difference. However, I didn’t see any need to correct a crazy man. He and his friends stared up at the Superstition Mountains with horror. “You’re insane.”
It seemed unfair to be called insane by a man who literally seemed to embody that trait in the treasure hunting sphere, but again, I didn’t see any need to correct him.
“We could have been rich.” He paused, an evil grin forming. “We will be rich. We’ll find that map before you do.”
I only blinked at him.
He nodded to his men. “Come on. Look at her shoes. She didn’t hike far into the mountains to bury the map. It’s fairly close. We’ll find it.” He raised an eyebrow at me and pointed a menacing finger. Or what he thought was menacing. “Don’t bother trying to get it back. We’ll find it first. We’re good like that.”
I stepped back, clicking off my phone. I felt pretty confident I had the message recorded.
With a last attempt at a glare, the three started off toward the mountain base.
“Are you all right, Miss?” The young man who asked might have been twenty-two. I wasn’t sure what he saw or heard, but I nodded with a shaky smile.
“I am now, thank you. I’m just headed to my car.”
Once in the car, I shuddered, then with a glance back at the Superstitions, I smiled to myself. They were right, I hadn’t hiked far into the mountains that day. I hadn’t even started to climb.
I also never said that I buried that map today any more than I had said I lost it. It wasn’t my problem, however, if their search had been based on faulty assumptions. And until they realized their assumptions would lead to literally nothing, I had evidence to send to the local authorities. And a map – safe, sound, quite buried, but hardly lost. I’d just have to wait awhile before I paid my next visit to the mine. I didn’t want to be followed.
On the other hand, there’s another treasure that’s up for grabs (well, it’s a book but books are treasure, right? And I can call it that, even if I wrote it?) – make sure you enter the GIVEAWAY forThe Lost Dutchman’s Secret!