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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Into Dust

April 3, 2017

Nearly thirty years later, it remains a day in retail I’ll never forget. A customer walked into the jewelry store I managed, asking about opals. I showed him a few but he wasn’t interested in buying. He seemed to know more about opals than I did, or so it seemed until disaster struck.

 

The secret to being a great salesperson doesn’t necessarily reside with the products you happen to be selling. Here’s a secret you might not know; the key to being a great salesperson is convincing the client that you’re the person they want to buy from. Convince them of this and you can sell them anything. To this end, I was tremendously successful. My ability to chatter like a magpie served me well.

 

One day a gentleman walked into the store and I schmoozed with him for a few minutes before he explained why he’d come. “Twenty years ago my wife and I traveled to Coober Pedy in Australia. Are you familiar with Coober Pedy?”

 

I’d heard of it; the opal capital of the world. Opal was the gemstone for October as well as the national stone of Australia.

 

“We’d planned on mining for opals like countless other tourists,” he explained, “but my wife stumbled and broke a toe and we had to fly home. Nevertheless, we were determined not to leave without a magnificent opal.”

 

“I take it you managed to acquire one?” I asked.

 

“Yes, we paid through the nose for it at a gift shop at one of the mines, a magnificent opal with tremendous fire and color. It’s been sitting in a safety deposit box all these years. I’m here to have it mounted into a piece of jewelry for my wife.”

 

I reached for a velvet jeweler’s pad while he dug into his coat pocket and pulled out a packet. From that packet he extracted the most magnificent opal I’d ever seen, a swirling kaleidoscope of color encased in hydrated silica—yellow, red, orange, green, blue and pink, about the size of a silver dollar. As it turned out, I had only a few seconds to admire this miracle of nature.

 

 

 

 

Opals have a high percentage of water and can easily dry out. When stored, they should be placed in a sealed plastic bag along with a few drops of mineral oil. It was a shame this fellow didn’t know this. After twenty years in a dry safety deposit box, his opal had become extremely brittle. He held it up to the light so its exquisite properties could be properly admired. Before I could open the velvet pad and position it on the counter, the opal slipped from his fingers, spun through the air—winking in the light as it spun about—before making contact with the glass counter. It struck with a slight popping sound.

 

I stared along with the customer as the opal disintegrated, leaving a small pile of dust on the counter. I was uncharacteristically speechless. That opal had to have been worth several thousand dollars and now it was powder, grime on my glass. I felt terrible for him, while at the same time overjoyed I hadn’t done so much as touch it. Had I done so I would have felt obligated to replace it.

 

I’ll never forget the expression on that man’s face before he turned around and walked out of the store without uttering a word.

 

I’d dodged an opal, but it felt like I’d dodged a bullet.

 

 

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Comments

20 Comments
What do you say at that point? That sucks for you?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on April 3, 2017
Yeah if you had touched it he might have been able to sue or something. Someone at the gift shop really should have warned him. Since I assume this was before the Internet it really would be hard to find that out by himself.
By: PT Dilloway on April 3, 2017
Oh, what a relief you hadn't yet touched it! How heartbreaking.
By: Mitchell is Moving on April 3, 2017
Oh my goodness! That poor man- lucky you for not touching it. Question: if a person has an opal and always wears it- is it safe from that disaster? Years ago I had a grandfathers opal stick pin set into a ring that I have always worn- is it safe from that disaster?
By: Kathe W. on April 3, 2017
I am actually speechless. I love opals and that one sounds so beautiful just like the picture you show here. I had no clue that is what one needs to do with an opal. I...am still speechless and feel horrible for the poor man and his wife. I wonder if they stayed married after this?? :)
By: Birgit on April 3, 2017
Imagine the conversation that follows when he tell his wife the Opal is gone!
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 3, 2017
It sucks when something that you prize breaks and falls apart. It's part of the impermanence of life I suppose. I might have been tempted to capture the dust and somehow suspend them in a glass bauble as a reminder that everything becomes dust in the end.
By: Michael Offutt on April 3, 2017
Oh, the disappointment of that poor man and his wife. Very lucky for you that it wasn't in your possession when it broke, though. I didn't know you had to store opals like that. I just did a search to see what kind of opal is in my earrings and could not believe how many different kinds there are!
By: jenny_o on April 3, 2017
Not only the Opal broke, so did a few hearts! A sad tale.
By: Tom Cochrun on April 3, 2017
Oh, what a tragedy.
By: Catalyst on April 3, 2017
How sad, i really feel badly for him.
By: messymimi on April 3, 2017
That's one of the saddest stories I've ever read. I might have somehow befriended that man's wife and she maybe might have left that piece of jewelry to me in her will because I never got the ring my mother promised me. She left it and the matching necklace to my niece. She was punishing me for something. I don't know what. But I take great pleasure in the fact that the amethyst in the ring (my birthstone, my mom's, and my niece's) had really faded. My daughter picked out a much nicer amethyst and diamond ring for me and made her father buy it. (We were still married. He stopped giving me jewelry when he married someone else. Now she gets my jewelry, I suppose.) Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on April 3, 2017
Some guys have to have nerves of steel. Obviously you had them. You would work with other valuable stones as well.
By: red Kline on April 3, 2017
This makes me very sad. Opals are my favorite stone.
By: Robyn Engel on April 3, 2017
NOOO!!! That's too sad! At least his wife still had a crooked toe to remind her of the trip.
By: Val on April 3, 2017
That is truly a sad story. But like you, I would have been grateful that I didn't touch it.
By: Rick Watson on April 3, 2017
I didn't know that about opals, but they are a favorite gem
By: Sage on April 3, 2017
Ouch what a horrible outcome. I'm glad that it wasn't your fault that it broke.
By: LL Cool Joe on April 4, 2017
Wow...what CAN you say after a scene like that?
By: Pixel Peeper on April 4, 2017
Clearly, it just wasn't his day.
By: Bryan Jones on April 7, 2017

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