No doubt eighteen months of lockdown and cautious venturing out have left its mark on all of us. One of the marks it’s left on a friend and me is, as John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, the “urge to be someplace else.” And so, we have begun, a good year in advance, to plan a road trip. Not only a road trip, but a Mother Road trip, a journey down the “Main Street of America”: Route 66.
Technically, Route 66 doesn’t exist any more. It was decommissioned as a highway in the 1970s, and large sections of it are missing, paved over, or derelict. But the sections that are left still exert the call of the Sirens to some of us.
I’m very happy to announce that my first quarterly newsletter went out in August.
If you’d like to be put on my mailing list, you can subscribe at my website (LizHartleyAuthor.com) and about every three months, I’ll send you a sneak peak from an Eden Beach novel, let you know what I’ve been reading, and what else I’m up to. You can, of course, unsubscribe any time you wish, but I’ll try to keep your inbox clutter free!
Thanks for subscribing. And as always, thank you for your support!
“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.”
Gemstones that have been known in the world for millennia have collected any number of myths about their mystical and medicinal properties. But could gemstones really heal? Possibly.
Many myths about gemstone medicine developed in the Middle Ages, which, for the bulk of the population meant a world of gray—especially in northern Europe and Great Britain. Gray-brown clothes, rarely washed, edged with mud and dust. Gray-brown houses of mud and straw and mildewed thatch. A gray-brown world of poverty, pain, ignorance, illness and superstition.
Now bring into that world the blazing color of an emerald, ruby, sapphire, opal—stones the color and value of which the people could barely conceive. The stones would not even have had to be of high quality as long as the color was rich. Tell someone that these gems—ground and drunk in wine, held in the mouth, worn around the neck—would heal all manner of disease.
Is there any possibility that your cure might work?
In times past, rubies, among other gemstones, were considered medicinal and magical. Hold them under your tongue, wear them, or grind them up and drink them down—probably in wine—and they were alleged to cure a number of ills. (Or maybe it was just the wine.) The catch was that often any red stone was considered a “ruby” and an appropriate amount of cash was charged for the cure. When the potion failed to work, it was easy to blame the failure on an adulterated powder or a stone of impure color. Of course, if the patient did not survive, there would be no one to complain, so…
My favorite memories of summer—and probably yours—are those idle days of doing nothing: climbing a tree with a book, lying in the grass checking out the shapes of clouds, tooling up and down the street on my bike with no destination in mind, sitting on a dock with my feet in the lake letting the minnows snack on my toes.
The modern world—at least that part occupied by adults—has forgotten how to be idle, writes Celeste Headlee, in her book Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving. In the post-World War II boom, Americans had an unprecedented amount of leisure time and they used it creatively with hobbies: making models, jewelry, mosaics, painting by number, learning ham radio, cutting rocks, racing soapboxes, collecting stamps, minerals, butterflies. Communities abounded with hobby shops and clubs.
I woke about midnight to hear the wind chimes hanging from my oak tree clanging wildly and the deceptively shy “ticking” on the windows. I looked out to see more than an inch of ice on the branches of the oak that spreads over two-thirds of my backyard. I could see it because the branches were bent down in front of the bedroom window. Another branch was peering into the dining room window. The branch that had rattled the wind chimes was lying on the ground.
Oh, this was so not good. But what do you do about a steady fall of freezing rain at midnight? Holler, “Stop!”? The thunderless flashes of lightning that followed did not bode well.
I had no sooner gotten nervously back into bed when I heard the sound dreaded by anyone who has large trees in their yard: the slow creaking crack of a tree giving up to a superior force of ice. It was either mine or a neighbor’s, but I couldn’t see which.
Moments later, my phone pinged. A friend was texting images of the giant oak in her front yard that had come down scraping the front of her house. For the next hour, the two of us nervously texted back and forth as I listened to more branches crash.
I was fortunate. Though the crack I’d heard was indeed one of my trees, and it had taken the top of another tree with it, the damage I suffered was minimal. My friend’s heavily treed property has been mauled by the ice. Another friend had a tree come through a window and siding torn off. Both were blocked in by trees and debris across driveways and roads and left without heat.
Since then, I have watched dismayed as the Artic air has ravaged across the country affecting friends and family from Oregon, to Colorado and Texas, to Ohio and Pennsylvania. A cousin in Florida sent pictures of her thriving orchids on her lanai. For a moment I considered disowning her.
My thoughts and a virtual warm blanket go out to the millions still left in the dark and cold with damaged homes. I can only hope that you stay warm, have friends or family who can bring you a warm meal or let you use a hot shower, and that we all get though this.
I love Sherlock Holmes’ mysteries. I discovered the original short stories and novels in a massive volume on my parents’ bookshelves when I was nine, and I’ve never tired of them, from the original to all the spoofs and the multiple television and movie reincarnations. Who can tire of “Hurry, Watson! The game is afoot!” (Speaking of movie spoofs of the Great Detective, if you love these as much as I do, and you haven’t seen Without A Clue, with Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine, see it. Trust me: You owe it to yourself.)
One of my favorites Holmes stories (next to The Speckled Band and, of course, The Hound of the Baskervilles) is The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, where Holmes tracks down and retrieves a mysterious blue gemstone from the gullet of a goose. It became even more of a favorite after I became a gemologist. Because there is no such thing as a blue carbuncle.
The term “carbuncle” has traditionally been used to represent a cabochon-cut red gem—primarily a garnet, though it could conceivably apply to a ruby or red spinel. And because rubies are simply red versions of sapphires (which are most notably blue), Holmes could have made the case that this famous goose-eaten gemstone was really a blue cabochon-cut sapphire. And, being Holmes, he could have gotten away with it, because if Sherlock says it, it must be true, right?
That’s what he’d like you to believe, anyway. But Sherlock makes a number of gaffes in this story that tickle me to no end. I wish the long-suffering Dr. Watson had written a story detailing how someone at the British Museum had called Holmes out on his errors. But since he didn’t, I had to do it for him.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will lose no sleep over my parody, but I had fun writing it. I hope you have fun reading it, too.
“Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil’s pet baits.”
Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE BLUE CARBUNGLE
Fog swirled outside the windows, while Holmes, curled Turkish fashion on his cushion, smoked his pipe and created a fug of his own in our room. Despite the pall, I was congratulating myself that I did not have to go out into the damp, autumn afternoon when the bell downstairs rang. Moments later, Mrs. Hudson’s steady tread on the stairs heralded her approach.
“Hullo, Watson,” said Holmes, “What’s this? A new puzzle?” He sprang to his feet, almost visibly gathering his deductive powers.
I rose as Mrs. Hudson announced a neatly dressed man in his fifties with salt-and-pepper side whiskers and stern blue eyes behind metal-rimmed spectacles.
“Cyril Hyde-White, Curator of Gems, British Museum,” said our visitor. At the mention of the man’s title, Holmes’ eyes sparkled in anticipation of an engaging problem.
“A pleasure, I’m sure,” said Holmes.
“I wish I could say the same, Mr. Holmes,” said Hyde-White, “but I’m here on a sorry business.” He pulled from his coat a copy of the small volume in which I had recently published several of Holmes’ more remarkable exploits. I was immediately filled with a sense of foreboding.
“Please sit down and tell me what brings you here,” said Holmes. Our guest took the seat I had just vacated and adjusted his spectacles. Holmes took his accustomed place by the fire. I stood near the door in the event I might want to make a hurried escape.
“I am quite used to the fact that the general public views the study of minerals and gems as a frivolous pursuit,” said Hyde-White. “However, one would think that if jewels are the ‘nucleus and focus of crime’ that you here suggest they are,” he gestured toward the book on his knee, “that you, who professes to be an expert on crime, would make it your business to be better informed about them.”
Holmes became quite still, indicating to me, who knew his moods well, the extent of his agitation. “You do not make yourself clear,” he said. “To what do you refer?”
“This, sir, this!” said Hyde-White, brandishing the book. “I refer to this history you have titled ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.’” Holmes nodded. “And I refer, sir, to the numerous of egregious errors of fact contained therein!”
Holmes shot me a look. I racked my brain for appointments I had forgotten, patients I had to see immediately. Nothing came to mind.
“Errors?” said Holmes, turning back to Hyde-White. “Perhaps you would be so good as to give me an example?”
“To start, Mr. Holmes, what kind of stone to you think you retrieved from that much-abused goose’s crop?”
“I should think that would be obvious, even to the most unimaginative of readers,” said Holmes. “It was, as the title indicates, a blue carbuncle.”
“Blue carbuncle, indeed,” snorted Hyde-White. “From what do you deduce that, sir?”
“The Countess of Morcar says it is a blue carbuncle…” began Holmes, but Hyde-White cut him off much to Holmes’ evident annoyance.
“For a man who is said to think little of mental capabilities of the fair sex, you seem oddly eager to accept the judgment of a woman like the Countess who, my dear Holmes, has far more money than good sense.”
I was becoming fascinated by the exchange. I had never, in all our years together, seen Holmes bearded in his own den. Although I knew Holmes would have sharp words for me once we were alone again, I could not tear myself away. I rather began to enjoy myself, I am ashamed to admit.
“Perhaps you would enlighten me?” said Holmes icily.
“Carbuncles, Mr. Holmes, are red stones,” said Hyde-White, “not blue. Red stones cut ‘en cabochon’—flat on the bottom and domed on the top.”
“I know what a cabochon is,” said Holmes.
“Thank heavens you know something about the subject,” said Hyde-White. “However, I beg you to remember that, in this work, you clearly state that the Countess of Morcar’s stone ‘twinkled,’ a statement that implies the stone was faceted.”
“A poetic turn of phrase, my dear sir, a tendency to which my biographer is all too often inclined.” Holmes gave me a cool glance, but I was far too intrigued by the conversation to feel cowed.
“And is the ‘crystallized carbon’ nonsense a ‘poetic turn of phrase’ as well?” asked Hyde-White.
“I beg your pardon?” said Holmes.
“Where is it?” muttered the curator, paging through the volume. “Ah! ‘This stone is not yet 20 years old…In spite of its youth, it already has a sinister history. There have been two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide and several robberies brought about for the sake of this 40 grain weight of crystallized carbon.’
“Sheer nonsense,” said Hyde-White forcefully as Holmes opened his mouth to speak. “The only gemstone that could possibly be described as ‘crystallized carbon’ is a diamond. And, sir, there are damned few of those that are blue. The only one of note is Sir Henry Hope’s magnificent specimen, which blighted minds would call accursed. There are no red diamonds*. Even if there were, no cutter would be mad enough to try to cut them into cabochons. Thus, a diamond, even a blue one, could never be called a carbuncle. Your famous deductive powers should tell you that.”
Once again Holmes attempted to speak but was cut short by the indignant Hyde-White.
“And if, as I doubt, your Countess’ stone was indeed a rare blue piece of ‘crystallized carbon’, she would certainly know she had a blue diamond, and would make sure everyone else knew it as well.
“Finally, Mr. Holmes, the red stones most commonly referred to as carbuncles are garnets, semi-precious* stones worn by every shop girl in London. Not even the most determined criminal would consider them a ‘focus and nucleus of crime’. The Countess would rather die than be seen wearing one. And garnets, sir, are unknown in blue.” Hyde-White sat back in his chair, a man content that his argument could not be undone.
Holmes, I was surprised to note, did not even try to refute Hyde-White’s arguments.
“Sir,” he said smiling coldly, “You miss the point, which was that I was able to correctly deduce the identity of the stone and its owner making it possible to effect its return. Not only that,” he added, shaking his finger in the air, “I was able to put my hands on the criminal!” Two spots of color appeared on Holmes’ normally pale countenance.
“Yes, you had him,” said Hyde-White, with a slight emphasis on the word “had.” He paused. “And you let him go.”
Holmes’ color heightened at the implied disapproval. He opened his mouth to respond but Hyde-White interrupted him again. As Holmes was a man more used to doing the interrupting than to being interrupted, I could see Hyde-White’s continued presence was doing nothing to improve my friend’s temper.
“But what is done is done,” said our visitor. “What I want to know now, Mr. Holmes,” he said, rising from his chair, “is what you are going to do to correct this misleading and downright false information you have given the public?”
“Do?” asked Holmes quietly. “My dear sir, I’m going to do nothing. The public has forgotten this small matter already in light of my more recent achievements. Why should I do anything?”
There was a deathly silence in the room while the two men faced each other unflinchingly.
“Well,” said Hyde-White at last, putting on his hat, “if you feel no responsibility for your actions there’s not much I can do to change your mind. But hear me on this, Holmes. You run a very grave personal risk here. You evidently wish your name to go down in history as the greatest detective of all time, else you would not allow Dr. Watson here to chronicle your activities.” He waved the book at Holmes. “But if you continue to make such grossly erroneous statements as you make in this history, future readers of your exploits will come to doubt your very existence. ‘Such a great detective,’ they will say, ‘would certainly never make a gaffe like that.’ They will put all of your adventures down as the imaginings of an overworked and poorly informed writer. Sherlock Holmes, the great detective will be scoffed at as a creature of fiction. Mark my words!”
With that, Hyde-White left, slamming the door behind him.
As his footsteps faded down the street Holmes burst into laughter.
“Can you believe the cheek of the man?” he asked. “Sherlock Holmes a fictional character? Details of his work read as a diversion?” He smiled that brief, singular smile of his, then suddenly he turned a humorless gaze on me. “And as to that, Watson…” he started. But I had anticipated him.
Quickly picking up my hat and coat I reached for the door.
“Sorry, Holmes. I can’t stop now. I’m meeting a friend at my club and I’m late,” I said, as I hurried out. If I was lucky, Lestrade or someone else from the Yard would bring him a problem while I was gone. Perhaps then he would forget the morning’s unpleasant interview for which I knew he was blaming me heartily.
“Well, at least now…” I thought as I walked along Baker Street. Then I stopped stock still. No! We still did not know what the Countess’ stone really was. Hyde-White had never said.
“This won’t do,” I thought. The British Museum was not far from my club. I would just stop by and ask him. Then in future I could chafe Holmes that I knew the true identity of the Countess of Morcar’s blue carbuncle. I quickly hailed a cab and set off for the museum.
* During Holmes’ era there were no known red diamonds. Even today, they are exceptionally rare.
*The term “semi-precious” was used for decades to describe gemstones other than the “big five”: diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and pearls. The term is now discouraged by jewelers and gemologists.
I’m slowly building my word count in the next Eden Beach Main Street series: Sing Me the Rain. This one will go deep inside the colored gemstone business, when Sam Kellerman, a well-respected colored gemstone dealer, dies without a will, leaving his wife in charge of a multi-million dollar business about which she knows nothing. Her son is confused and her brother-in-law furious by the situation. And Sarah doesn’t know if Sam’s wife is aware that, before his death, Sam had begun the process of making Sarah his partner.
There’s no time to sort it out, because within days, they all have to be at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show, the largest of its kind in the world, and they all need to work together to convince the jewelry industry that Kellerman’s is sound and safe.
But nothing is going smoothly. First, Sarah and Sam’s son David make a misjudgment of almost monumental proportions. Then Sam’s nephew Michael, who is also at the show, creates a potentially huge problem with his carelessness. David turns to Sarah to make it right.
This is a draft, so things may change before the final. But let me know what you think! Thanks, Liz.
Sarah looked after Michael as he stormed from the booth, then turned back to Fred, eyebrow raised.
“Pissing contest,” said Fred quietly.
“Ah,” was all Sarah said, coming behind the counter. “Morning,” she said to everyone and no one. She was pulling her tablet out of her purse when David stopped her.
“Sarah,” he said, and hated the wary look that came to her eyes. How on earth did she manage to look so beautiful this morning? he wondered. No one would ever know she’d been awake more than half the night. Way more than half.
“Michael was supposed to deliver a nine-carat cushion-cut ruby to Jai Chaudhari a couple days ago. Apparently it slipped his mind.” She barely lifted an eyebrow. David might not have noticed anything so slight before last night.
“Would you run it over to their room? Maybe you can tell Jai there was a miscommunication? Michael thought he was coming here to pick it up?” David flipped his laptop around so Sarah could see Jeannette’s e-mail.
“Sure,” said Sarah. “Fred, do you know where that stone is?”
“Yes. It’s here,” said Fred pulling a tray out of a case. “Lucky thing. I had someone looking at it yesterday.”
“Selling it would have been bad, if it’s been promised to Jai.” Sarah wrote the measurements, weight and price code on a stone paper, dropped the stone into it, and slipped it inside her jacket. As she dialed Jai’s number, she told David. “He’s going to want a price on it, if he’s had to wait,” she said.
“It’s in your hands,” he said.
Sarah nodded. “Jai?” she said into the phone. “Sarah at Kellerman’s. Seems we had some crossed wires. Mike thought you were picking the stone up here. I can have it to you in fifteen minutes.” She was quiet for a minute. “Hmm. I don’t know if we can do that, Jai, but we can certainly talk.”
“He’s going to beat us up, isn’t he?” David asked Fred quietly.
“He may try, but I doubt he’ll win,” said Fred. “Listen.”
Sarah was telling the dealer: “You had that amazing Paraiba on memo for a designer customer of yours. Any luck with it?” Pause. “I agree. Normally it would be tough to match that. But if he’s thinking of a neckpiece, like that, we happen to have a suite. The center stone is smaller than the one you have, by about five carats, but it’s almost the same killer color. And there are another six stones, graduated, in pairs, to match. Would make a sensational neckpiece if that’s what your client wants. Why don’t I bring the suite along? I can pick up the other Paraiba at the same time.” A pause. She smiled. “Great. Be right over.” She thumbed the phone off.
“I know that smile,” said Fred. “I saw it on a Great White nibbling a surfer.”
Sarah just smiled again “Would you pull that suite for me?” Fred was already turning to the case.
Sarah was making another call.
“What’s going on?” Jesse asked Fred.
“Watch and learn,” Fred told him, as he wrote the essentials—inventory code, weight, price code—on gemstone papers for the Paraiba tourmalines.
“Rashid. Sarah. Kellerman’s. Question for you. You had that Paraiba suite last summer, but it didn’t work for you. What was the problem?” Pause. “Really? And she wasn’t interested at that price?” Sarah listened for a while. “No. I agree. But listen, do you know if she’s here at the show, and if she still might be interested in a suite like that?” She paused. “No, not Paraibas. But I’m thinking, if she didn’t want that price, I have some apatites in that color range she might like. And the price will be better. Yes, one that size and one bigger. What do you think?” She caught Fred’s eye and he nodded, turning toward another case, taking out brilliantly colored apatites that approximated the color of the Paraiba suite.
“What?” Jesse asked again.
“She’s making multiple sales from Michael’s screw up,” Fred told him.
This is why we can’t lose her, David thought. He’d watched his father, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the inventory and their customers, do just what Sarah was doing, playing a shell game where everyone would win. David’s heart twisted. At one time, he would have been able to do the same thing. He’d forgotten—or had tried to forget—how exciting this business could be.
Jesse still looked mystified.
“She’s going to sell the apatites to the customer who couldn’t sell the Paraiba suite because of the price. Jai’ll take the ruby, because he has a customer, and will probably take the Paraiba suite, too, since he had a customer looking for something like that. She’ll get full price for the ruby and, knowing Sarah, she’ll probably get full price for the suite, too. Even if she has to lower the price on the tourmalines, Sam bought them four years ago. Even at a lower markup, we still won’t get hammered. Jai will make a bigger profit, and we’re all happy.”
“Sure. I’m going out now,” Sarah was saying. “Why don’t I bring those apatites by? Great. See you in a bit.”
David smiled at her as she terminated the call, and she smiled back, the look of a cat finishing a bowl of whipped cream. For a moment everything seemed the way it had been.
He could see the moment she remembered. Her face closed up. “I’d better go. Thanks,” she said taking the papered stones from Fred and putting them inside her jacket. She snagged her purse and slipped out of the booth as Saul Levin walked up. “Morning, Saul,” she said, continuing to move down the aisle.
“Something I said?” joked Saul, as she breezed by him. Sarah smiled and waved over her shoulder.
David took a deep breath and went to greet one of his father’s oldest friends in the business. “Saul. Good to see you.”
“That girl’s a pip,” said Saul, smiling back at David. “Best day’s work your dad ever did was hiring her.”
And the worst I ever did, thought David, was to lose her.