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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The Scam Artist

August 31, 2015

 

 

 

 

I consider myself an astute fellow, someone not likely to buy swampland or send money to Nigerian princes, but there was a time when my resolve not to be victimized by my own ego was put to the test.

           

I’d flown to London without Mrs. Chatterbox in 1985, who’d chosen instead to vacation in Hawaii with her parents and our little boy. The day dawned bright and clear, not that whiteout sky London is famous for. I’d decided to walk to Number One, London, the former address of the Duke of Wellington, now a museum housing several famous paintings by Velazquez and Goya. I’d arrived an hour before the museum opened, and while killing time at the Wellington Arch in an adjacent park, I had no idea I was being studied…hunted.

           

I returned to the Wellington’s front steps, where I sat waiting for the museum to open. He approached, umbrella in hand even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The dapper and quintessential Brit ambled up to me with a bouncy gait and gregarious smile, reminding me of John Steed from the old TV series The Avengers. After tipping his bowler, he twisted the corner of his impeccably trimmed moustache and engaged me in conversation. My bulky camera, tattered map of London and casual attire gave away my tourist status. He inquired where I was from, adding. “By your accent, I’d peg you as a west coast Yank.”

           

“I was born and raised in California, although I currently live in Oregon.”

           

He countered with, “I’ve read that of all the states, the residents of Oregon are the brightest and best educated.”

           

I had no idea if this was true, but who was I to correct him.

           

He asked if there was something in particular at the museum that I’d come to see, and I mentioned the Velazquezes and Goyas. He tested me on my British history and looked genuinely impressed with my answers. It was a good thing the museum wasn’t open because my swollen head would have made it difficult to squeeze through the doorway. Before long, he was complimenting me on my wealth of historical facts and asking if I was equally informed on American politics. I identified myself as a political wonk and before long the subject of Richard Nixon popped up.

           

I was never a fan of our thirty-seventh president, but then as now I only criticize my own government or its leaders on American soil—never when abroad. I smiled politely and held my tongue while he disparaged Nixon, his engaging British accent making the insults seem like Noel Coward satire. We discussed politics for fifteen minutes, and he couldn’t have been more complimentary about my facility with complicated political facts. Later, I realized his compliments served a dual purpose, to relax me and lower my guard, and to probe for exploitable weaknesses. My ego soon provided the opportunity he was seeking to line his wallet. When I was properly softened up, like a state fair entry of Mt. Rushmore made from butter, he struck.

           

“You must feel terrible that your home state of California was once represented in Congress by someone as contemptible as Richard Nixon,” he said.

           

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have said anything, but my ego had been so obscenely massaged by this fellow that I blurted out, “He ran for governor but was defeated, and he was a senator when Eisenhower selected him as his vice-president, but I don’t recall him being a congressman.”

           

As it turns out, I was wrong; Nixon represented California’s 12th District from 1947-1950.

           

With a smile so broad he could have sold advertising on his teeth, he said, “I know you’re much smarter than I am, and it is your country we’re talking about, but I do believe you’re mistaken.”

           

I seriously doubted it, and told him so.

           

He twisted his mustache and said, “Well, how should we resolve this? I know, let’s make it interesting. How about a gentleman’s wager? You are a gentleman, aren’t you?”

 

 

 

 

Conclusion on Wednesday

 

 

 

 

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Comments

26 Comments
Intriguing. I can't wait for the conclusion, although something tells me my countryman isn't going to come out of it smelling of roses. :)
By: Jenny Woolf on August 31, 2015
This isn't going to end well, is it?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on August 31, 2015
what was it W. C.Fields said...there's a sucker born every minute. you didn't actually make a wager did you?
By: Ellen Abbott on August 31, 2015
Here I thought you were.... oh well never mind.
By: Daniel LaFrance on August 31, 2015
Oh, I can't miss this next installment. I'm totally intrigued.
By: Cherdo on August 31, 2015
I am wincing already...
By: the broad on August 31, 2015
Oh dear. I do believe you're gonna lose a wager in the next installment. When my hubby and I were in New Orleans thirty or so years ago, he got taken the one and only time I can recall. A cute little boy came up to us in St. Peter's Square, and said to my hubby, "I'll betcha five dollars I can tell you where you got those shoes, mister." Long story short, with a laugh and a shake of his head, my hubby forked over the fiver when the boy chortled, "On your feet!"
By: Susan Swiderski on August 31, 2015
The British accent got you, didn't it?
By: fishducky on August 31, 2015
Don't do it!! From "Guys and Dolls" No matter sure the bet, don't do it. "If a guy comes up to you and bets he can make a little person with a squirt gun jump out of his picket and squirt orange juice in your ear, don't take that bet, if you do as sure as I'm standing here, you'll end up with an ear full of orange juice!"
By: cranky on August 31, 2015
At that point, i would have had to simply reply that i don't gamble under any circumstances.
By: mimi on August 31, 2015
There's one born every minute.
By: Catalyst on August 31, 2015
oh no say it isn't so! Mimi has the right reply!
By: Kathe W. on August 31, 2015
Loved the Avengers and the natty Mr. Steed. I can see why you were impressed. I have a feeling where this is going. Hope I am wrong but will be back to find out.
By: Akansas Patti on August 31, 2015
I'm afraid of how this story will turn out. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on August 31, 2015
See...you shouldn't travel anywhere without Mrs. C. All it gets you is into trouble!
By: Pixel Peeper on August 31, 2015
What? They don't play 3-card monte in London?
By: Val on August 31, 2015
Guys like that are unbelievable and that's why we get hooked.
By: red on August 31, 2015
I see you walking into this one ... but there's gotta be a twist.
By: Tom Sightings on August 31, 2015
Aaaargh ... we have to wait until tomorrow to find out if you're a gentlemen?!
By: jenny_o on August 31, 2015
oh oh...He is an expert at charm and does this for a living.
By: Birgit on August 31, 2015
You've set the hook. We're on the line waiting for the conclusion.
By: Tom Cochrun on August 31, 2015
Someone that smart should be able to make an honest living!!
By: Tabor on September 1, 2015
I am waiting patiently for the rest...............
By: John on September 1, 2015
Hm, how would one answer the question, "You are a gentleman, aren't you?" For me, that would be an easy "no." For you, I shall return.
By: Robyn Engel on September 1, 2015
DOH! I wanna know NOW! Also, was he with Emma Peel?
By: Scott Park on September 1, 2015
Oh how fun. This sounds like a very memorable encounter.
By: Michael Offutt on September 2, 2015

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