Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste

Prologue

Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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A Princess and Stolen Gold

September 16, 2015

 

She was a real princess, an infanta of Spain, and I’d come thousands of miles to pay her homage. She wasn’t exactly pretty; she possessed those unfortunate characteristics that, had she lived a long life, would have twisted her sweetness into the grotesqueness so characteristic of her family. She was a Habsburg, and no one would remember her today were it not for her father’s famous painter. As I gazed upon her, I felt something peculiar happening…deep in my pants. Princess or no princess, I was about to humiliate myself.

           

I’d grown up in California and had been raised on tales of Spanish chivalry and pirates of the Spanish Main. As an artist, Spain loomed large in my imagination for another reason: Madrid’s Prado Museum contained the greatest collection of Italian and Spanish paintings on Earth. Velazquez was one of the most accomplished artists who ever lived, and in my opinion the best portrait painter. His canvas, Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) was arguably the greatest picture ever painted. I’d come to check it out with my own eyes. But greed came between me and Velazquez’ masterpiece.

           

I’d entered the Prado and stood in line to purchase my ticket. It was a chilly day in late winter and the queue in front of the ticket counter was uncharacteristically short. After purchasing a ticket for a dozen pesetas (this was before Spain went on the Euro) I passed into a chamber with hooks on the walls for coats. An attendant, nose buried in a newspaper, was doing a poor job guarding the coats. One of my shoelaces had come undone and I plunked down on one of the empty benches to retie it. My eyes grew wide at the sight beneath me—Spanish treasure!

           

Beneath my bench was a thick rubber mat with slot-like holes, like a giant coin tray in a bank, slots filled with coins. Some were worth as much as five or ten US dollars. Thousands of tourists must have dropped them while struggling out of their coats. I felt like Edmond Dantès discovering the treasure of Monte Cristo.

           

The attendant was still behind his newspaper, snoring. I wish I could report that my Catholic upbringing had immunized me from such temptations, but this wasn’t the case. With no security cameras in sight, I began plucking coins and shoving them into my pockets. I figured I’d stop in a minute or two when other tourists arrived, but none did. When my pockets could hold no more, I waddled out of the chamber, rich as Midas as I sought out the little princess.

           

A crowd was gathered in front of Las Meninas. I pushed my way forward and got my first clear glimpse of her. The critics hadn’t lied. She was a miracle: Velazquez had created Infanta Margarita and her entourage from a loose salad of brushstrokes that at a certain distance, like perfect pitch in music, transmogrified into the semblance of a living breathing person.

 

           

Velazquez had defied convention by painting nearly everything slightly out of focus. The dog in the foreground being kicked by the dwarf is blurry up close, as is everything except for the face drawing the viewer’s eye to the center of the composition, the face of the little princess. Over on the left, Velazquez had depicted himself standing before an enormous painting, palette in hand. But what is he painting? The little princess’ back is to him. And hanging on the wall in the background; is that a mirror? Reflected in it are the images of the princess’ parents, the King and Queen. Are they the subject of this painting, or are they standing in the doorway, an impromptu visit to their favorite painter’s studio as the artist prepared to paint their daughter?

 

 

           

I’d come a great distance to study this painting but I was thwarted by greed. The princess’ eyes seemed to lock on me, and I was suddenly filled with shame. The ill-gotten treasure in my pockets seemed to burn through the fabric of my pants. At that moment, the stitching in my pockets tore open and coins rained down my legs, a symphony of clinking and clattering on the marble floor as coins piled up at my feet.

           

Before bolting from the room as fast as I could, I caught one last glimpse of the little princess. Three hundred year old paint is hard as cement, unchangeable, but in that fleeting moment I swear that long-dead little girl’s face had changed. She was laughing at me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

22 Comments
Oh, my dear! How humiliating and in front of royalty, too!!
By: The Broad on September 16, 2015
OoOoOoOo how unlucky! guess that's karma for you ... or something like that. Love the post!
By: Hey Monkey Butt on September 16, 2015
¡Ojala, La Infanta Terrible! The story is wonderful.
By: Mitchell is Moving on September 16, 2015
It's always interesting to stop by here. I marvel at your knowledge of your craft and more! Fascinating stories! :)
By: Michael Manning on September 16, 2015
That's hilarious! She gave you a guilt complex and tore your pants to boot.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on September 16, 2015
I alwyaa enjoy the knowledge and the humor in your posts!
By: John on September 16, 2015
She really cast a spell on you and your pockets:)) Bet those left behind scrambled to clean up the floor after you left.
By: Akansas Patti on September 16, 2015
Aha! The wages of sin . . .
By: Catalyst on September 16, 2015
Well, maybe next time you pick up change, you will donate it to a good cause. Great story!
By: mimi on September 16, 2015
That's an amazing painting. It must have been pretty awesome to see it up close...even if you lost a small jackpot!! Great story.
By: Bouncin Barb on September 16, 2015
Wow! Did you ever have a guilty conscience that you will remember the rest of your life!
By: red on September 16, 2015
After three centuries the poor dear needed a laugh, even if at your expense. Ah, but what a story it makes!
By: Tom Cochrun on September 16, 2015
ahahah a "gelt" complex! Wonderful story-I did not know that about the mirror reflecting the royal couple! Thanks for the education!
By: on September 16, 2015
thanks for the laugh!
By: TexWisGirl on September 16, 2015
Great story. You needed bigger, stronger pockets. I love your analysis of a painting...I miss so much on my own.
By: cranky on September 16, 2015
Crime doesn't pay, the princess don't play!
By: Val on September 16, 2015
No way! Surprising that it had gone so long undiscovered but, oh how mortifying even though there is no shame in found money and you did end up 'donating' it to the museum. More curious is what the other people in the room thought when all of a sudden your pants rained coins and you fled making no effort to retrieve the money.
By: Ellen Abbott on September 16, 2015
Karma strikes again!!
By: fishducky on September 16, 2015
You see things in pictures that I never would notice, so I'm glad I get to see so many pictures through your eyes. LOL at the coins busting out of your pants!
By: Pixel Peeper on September 17, 2015
Oh that did not end well. I would have done the same thing but i would be lucky to have a purse. Guilt would never even enter my mind because it was there for the taking-sounds horrible but it wasn't a bank. You are so lucky to have seen this great picture for real. I love art and have yet to visit the Prado
By: Birgit on September 17, 2015
That's a fun story. I'm sad when it comes to my knowledge of fine art. But I'm humbled in its presence.
By: Rick Watson on September 20, 2015
Un fait accompli... as it was meant to be.
By: Daniel LaFrance on September 25, 2015

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