A shady pottery collector is murdered in sunny New Mexico in this mystery in a “winning series” (Susan Wittig Albert). Maybe it was the chance to make an easy $2,500. Or maybe it was the opportunity to examine a treasure trove of Anasazi pots—or maybe it was just a slow day at the antiques shop that convinced Hubie Schuze to agree to a strange proposition. A reclusive collector wants a confidential appraisal, with one catch: Hubie must be blindfolded and driven to an unknown location by a chauffeur. Sure, it’s an odd setup, but what could possibly go wrong?
Hubie’s nonchalance fades fast when he finds three replicas among the genuine antiquities. Worse, after returning home, he can’t seem to find the $2,500 cash that the collector gave him. Incensed at the rip-off, Hubie is determined to recoup the money, but Detective Whit Fletcher interrupts his scheme, dragging him instead to the morgue to identify a John Doe. When the sheet is pulled back, Hubie is shocked to see the body of the unknown art collector.
Hubie is not a suspect—yet. But the longer he pursues this mystery, the more tangled he will become in the dead man’s shadowy life.
The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein is the 3th book in the Pot Thief Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
J. Michael Orenduff grew up in a house so close to the Rio Grande that he could Frisbee a tortilla into Mexico from his backyard. While studying for an MA at the University of New Mexico, he worked during the summer as a volunteer teacher at one of the nearby pueblos. After receiving a PhD from Tulane University, he became a professor. He went on to serve as president of New Mexico State University.
Orenduff took early retirement from higher education to write his award-winning Pot Thief murder mysteries, which combine archaeology and philosophy with humor and mystery. Among the author’s many accolades are the Lefty Award for best humorous mystery, the Epic Award for best mystery or suspense ebook, and the New Mexico Book Award for best mystery or suspense fiction. His books have been described by the Baltimore Sun as “funny at a very high intellectual level” and “deliciously delightful,” and by the El Paso Times as “the perfect fusion of murder, mayhem and margaritas.”
Read an Excerpt
The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein
A Pot Thief Mystery
By J. Michael Orenduff
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2011 J. Michael Orenduff
All rights reserved.
I was trying to remember if I'd ever been blindfolded before.
I didn't think I had been, but the cloth on my eyes felt vaguely familiar, almost nostalgic. I couldn't imagine why. The only images I could connect with blindfolds were kidnappings.
What I should have been doing was estimating the distance traveled by the car and memorizing the turns it made. I'd seen that once in an old movie where the person being kidnapped was later able to lead the police to the bad guys' hideout by sitting in the patrol car with his eyes closed, recalling the trip.
"Turn right," he would tell them. Then he would fall silent and intent as if counting to himself. "Turn left," he would direct after the appropriate length of time.
Or maybe not. Maybe that works only in movies. Even if you counted at a set cadence and could remember that it was a count of, say, eighty between the second and third turns, that wouldn't tell you how far you had gone unless you also knew how fast the car was traveling.
But I never got a chance to try it because I started wondering whether I'd been blindfolded before.
You might think it foolish of me to be so easily distracted while being kidnapped. Except I wasn't being kidnappe0d. I had voluntarily agreed to be blindfolded for this ride.
As things turned out, it would have saved me a lot of hassle if I had paid attention to where we were going. I almost certainly wouldn't have been arrested for murder.
I'd been told we were going to the home of a reclusive collector of Anasazi pottery. I'm a dealer in ancient pots.
I'm also a pot thief, but I wasn't planning to steal anything. I'd been engaged to give an estimate of the value of the collection, a pleasant evening's work for which the collector had agreed to pay me twenty-five hundred dollars. I would have done it for free just to see the pots, but there was no reason to tell him that.
Anyone with a collection of true Anasazi pots is sitting on a fortune. If he sold the collection—which I had been told was why he wanted an appraisal—the twenty-five hundred would be petty cash to him. But for me, it would pay the mortgage for a few months and keep me stocked in New Mexico's finest champagne, Gruet Blanc de Noir.
It was the height of the tourist season in Albuquerque, but I'd sold only one pot from my shop in Old Town. The tourists were out in full force buying dyed corn necklaces, beaded moccasins, cactus candies and rubber rattlesnakes.
Merchandise in the ninety-nine cents to nine-ninety-nine range was flying off the shelves of other stores around the historic plaza, but no one seemed willing to part with the thousand dollars it would take to buy the least expensive item in my store, a small dish from the Acoma Pueblo with their traditional geometric pattern of black lines on a white background.
The dish was unglazed and therefore unsuitable for most practical applications, but it displayed the simplicity and grace typical of Acoma, and I was surprised no one had bought it.
The most expensive piece in my inventory at that time was a squat Anasazi jug with a variety of minor nicks and dings, not to mention a hand-sized hole in its bottom. For those who wanted that pot, but couldn't swing the fifty-thousand-dollar price, I had fashioned a copy identical in all respects to the original, and it was only a tenth of the asking price.
In some ways, it was even better. It didn't have a hole in it, and no politically correct nitwit was going to hassle you about returning it to its rightful owners.
Supply and demand was what they taught me in the University of New Mexico Business School. The supply of originals is low because the Anasazi disappeared about a thousand years ago.
Except there are a few more "originals" out there than there should be because some of my copies have been sold as the genuine article. I know it sounds unethical. But look at it this way. I'm happier because I get a better price, and the buyer is happier because he has the pride of ownership of something he believes is ancient and rare.
Two happy consenting adults.
I've never lied about my copies. I don't label them as genuine. If someone asks if one of them is real, I tell the truth. But if someone buys one off the shelf no-questions-asked, I take the money and wrap up the pot.
The next thing I knew, the car came to a stop and the engine went silent. The driver opened my door and led me by the arm up a walk and into a house. I did notice how far it was from the curb to the door, and that came in handy later.
"Stand here," he said, and I heard him back away and close the door.
A voice from the other side of the room said, "You can remove the blindfold now."
Then I remembered—piñatas.
Of course I'd been blindfolded before. Every fifth day of May, from as early as I could remember until I was maybe fourteen years old, there would be a piñata at my birthday party.
The memory was bittersweet. The people involved were mostly gone, my parents both deceased, my childhood friends drifted away and my old nanny suffering from kidney disease.
But my cheerful nature quickly reprised the memory. My parents had led long and happy lives. My childhood friends had gone on to the lives they wanted, and we had all made new friends. And maybe the doctors could successfully treat Consuela Sanchez' condition or even do a transplant if it came to that, and she would live to see the grandchild she so desperately wanted.
I pulled myself out of my reverie and responded to the unseen voice by removing the blindfold.
A large misshapen hand held open a swinging door. Between the door and the wall stood the owner of the hand, a stooped fellow with a strong jaw and eyes hidden deep under bushy brows. Above the brows was a big boney forehead complete with a supraorbital ridge the likes of which one rarely sees outside of an anthropology lab.
When I'd been told he was a reclusive collector of Anasazi pottery, I assumed it was his hobby that made him a recluse. There are people out there who believe no one should possess any ancient pottery, and they're not above breaking into houses to achieve their goal. Most of them are just misguided do-gooders, but a few of them are dangerous zealots.
But looking at this contemporary Quasimodo made me wonder if it wasn't his appearance that made him agoraphobic.
"I was told you like margaritas," he said, "so I put one there on the coffee table."
I glanced down and saw the drink. I know this is unfair and probably indicates a character flaw on my part, but my first thought was what kind of poison might be in the drink.
A bottle of Corona sat next to the margarita, and next to that was an opener and a glass with a wedge of lime on its rim.
"If you prefer a beer, I put one of those out too," he added.
He had an Hispanic accent. Nothing unusual about that in Albuquerque, but his was different. His wasn't hard to understand—quite the contrary. He pronounced each word carefully as if it were an effort.
"That's very thoughtful of you," I responded. "Maybe I'll have something later, but I think I should keep a clear head while doing the appraisal."
"Okay, but don't leave without a drink. I don't like things to be wasted."
Then you shouldn't have put them out in advance I was tempted to say. What I said instead was, "Are there other pots elsewhere in the house?"
"No," he replied and let the door swing shut.
I was standing on Saltillo tile in a small entry area raised several inches above a living room carpeted in beige. There was a door to the right—a coat closet I assumed—a wrought iron railing to the left, and a step down straight ahead.
The left wall had a fireplace with a stucco mantel and deep floor-to-ceiling shelves on each side that displayed twenty-five pieces of ancient clayware, mostly Anasazi, but with a few works of different origin. Most people wouldn't know the difference. I did.
There was a window in the wall directly opposite the entrance. Its thick cream-colored shade was all the way down but couldn't block the strong desert sun. Even though no lights were on, the room was a clean well-lighted place.
The coffee table with the drinks on it was in the center of the room in front of the fireplace, and a Danish modern couch was against the right wall. There was no other furniture in the room. Maybe the collector spent all his money on pots.
At the far end of the room just past the shelves was the swinging door the man who greeted me had disappeared behind to do whatever he intended to do as I did my work. I half expected to see a portrait on the wall with real eyes peering out at me. I had also seen that a couple of times in old movies, but there was no artwork of any sort on the walls.
Still, you couldn't say the room was austere. No matter how grandiose the décor might have been, the pottery would have rendered it superfluous.
Ancient Native American pottery is more beautiful than gold and almost as expensive. My love affair with it started when I unearthed three pots while on a dig as a graduate student back in the eighties. The money I got for those pots was enough for a down payment on my Old Town adobe, which has my shop in the front and my residence in the back. I love living there, and I love the freedom of being my own boss, but what I love most is my merchandise.
The pottery of the Anasazi and the other pot makers of the prehistoric Southwest is a national treasure. Prospecting for those pots is challenging, finding one is exhilarating, and when we do so, we should be celebrated and rewarded.
It was once thus. Treasure hunters—as we were called back then—enjoyed a glamorous public image, the sort of personae popularized in the last few years by the Indiana Jones films.
Then someone came up with the ridiculous idea that these national treasures didn't belong to all of us, that they belong solely to the descendants of the people who made them, and that those of us who dig them up are dishonoring their makers.
I understand some of the motivation for these ideas. Some treasure hunters behaved badly. Some even dug secretly on reservations.
But most of us felt more reverence for the objects we found than did those who wanted to stop us. After all, it was our awe of the pots that led us to seek them out in the first place. We believe—at least I do—that they deserve to be seen and enjoyed, not left forever in the ground. I'm certain the women who made them would rather have their pottery on display in my shop than have them slowly dissolving back into the clay from whence they came.
But the worst part about this new attitude is that there is not a shred of scientific evidence to suggest that the ancient potters actually have descendants. Indeed, the best anthropological evidence suggests that, for example, the Mogollon of the Gila Wilderness died out completely, and no modern day Indians are descended from them.
But Congress caved in to political pressure and passed the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) redefining treasure hunting as theft. And as I often quip, who knows more about thievery than Congress?
Despite Congress' efforts, here I was standing awestruck in front of the best collection of Anasazi pots I had ever seen. I thought, as I always do in the presence of these luminous treasures, about the people who made them, about how much I share with them.
We are all potters, people working the clay beneath our feet into the implements of our hands, the tools of civilization—water jugs, storage vessels, plates, and bowls. When I picture those ancient potters, I can feel the wet clay smooth between their fingers. I can see the glow of the fire dancing across their faces. I can sense their pulse quicken as they remove the pot after the fire is cold and see that it is good.
I hope they somehow know how much their work means to me. If they were to see me making pots today, they would understand every step of my process. A thousand years separate us and we speak different tongues. But we have these things in common—the clay, the process, the pride of artisanship.
I reveled in that feeling for several minutes. Then I took from my briefcase a seamstress' tape, a small sketchbook, and a box of pastel pencils and set about earning my pay.CHAPTER 2
Susannah's big brown eyes stared over the rim of her margarita glass, incredulous.
"You let him blindfold you?"
"It was part of the deal. Carl said the guy is paranoid about his collection. He never lets anyone see it."
"But you said it was in plain view in the living room."
"I guess he never has guests."
Business is slow in the high-end pot trade, and Susannah's chores as a lunchtime waitress at La Placita don't allow much time for socializing, so she and I meet most weekdays at five for margaritas at Dos Hermanas Tortillaria where we can get anything that's on our minds off. The topics run the gamut, but frequently deal with her attempts to find Mr. Right and my brushes with the law. She's a couple of inches taller than me and a couple of decades younger, outdoorsy but still very feminine.
It was a typical dry summer day, and I needed another margarita. Actually, I needed a glass of cold water to quench my thirst because I knew where quenching it with margaritas would get me—Jimmy Buffet's favorite town.
So when the willowy Angie made her way through the crowd and over to our usual table, I asked for a large glass of ice water.
And another margarita. The water was a complement, not a substitute.
Susannah ordered more salsa and chips. The salsa at Dos Hermanas Tortillaria is made by hand on site by one of the hermanas. I don't know which one because they're usually in the kitchen in their white frocks with their hands covered in masa and their heads covered with old-fashioned hairnets. The front of the house is run by Angie and the hired help, but the sisters don't let anyone but family do the cooking.
The salsa is simple—tomatoes, jalapeños, white onions, and cilantro, finely chopped and seasoned with just a touch of salt and their secret ingredient, lime zest. I make the same recipe at home, but it's never as good, probably because the sisters have a source for real tomatoes whereas I have to use the hydroponic, picked green and ripened-in-the-truck jobs they sell in grocery stores.
Susannah has a theory that the chips soak up alcohol and keep her from getting drunk.
She grabbed the last chip from the bowl before Angie whisked it away and said, "You know what you should have done, Hubie? You should have counted how long you went before each turn and which direction the turns were. Then you could have retraced the route and found out where he lives."
"You must have seen that in an old movie."
"You saw it, too? Humphrey Bogart, right?"
"I don't remember who was in it. Anyway, I was busy doing something else."
"I was trying to remember if I'd ever been blindfolded before," I said sheepishly.
"How long could that take? I don't remember you ever telling me about being kidnapped, so ... Wait! I'll bet you played pin the tail on the donkey at birthday parties, and that's when you were blindfolded."
"Close. It was at birthday parties, but it wasn't pin the tail on the donkey. It was when I got to swing at the piñata."
"Bet you were never the one who busted it open."
"How did you know that?"
"You probably couldn't reach it," she said mischievously.
"I wasn't that short then." I'm 5' 6" now and used to the occasional short joke.
"No one's tall in the first grade, but I'll bet you were the shortest one."
"Was not," I said in my little boy voice. "Pudgy Perez was even shorter than me. Wider too."
"I think I could have guessed that. What happened to him?"
"He never got much taller, but he got a lot wider. He's a mechanic. I take my Bronco to him when it needs repairs."
"He must be a genius to keep that thing running. But why did you never hit the piñata?"
"My mother said it would be rude for the guest of honor to be the one who broke the piñata, so my father would pull the rope when I swung. Then after everyone had a turn or two, he would let one of the other kids clobber the thing without making it look too obvious. He was pretty deft with a piñata rope."
I guess my eyes may have clouded over a bit with nostalgia. I stared off into the middle distance.
Excerpted from The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein by J. Michael Orenduff. Copyright © 2011 J. Michael Orenduff. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This third Pot Thief book is great fun, but really doesn't live up to his first two books. The interactions between Hubert ---the pot thief--and his younger friend, Susannah, are like a Burns & Allen classic TV show----well worth the read alone. Both discuss each other's prospective dates, connecting them to various old movies they have seen. I also continue to appreciate the new vocabulary words, , and other tidbits of information that Orenduff throws into his mysteries. In this book, Hubert is taken blindfolded to appraise a set of ancient pots. After he returns home, he finds that his appraisal money is no longer in his pocket. As he seeks to find the home he was in, he gets caught up in a murder. Never one to avoid trouble when he's determined to accomplish his goals, Hubert seeks to find this unknown place again, even going to far as to break in and hot wire the homeowner's car. Problems develop when the homeowner's body is found and the police arrest Hubert for murder. Fun, intelligent read, with an interesting mystery. Each pot thief book is connected to someone. This one gets into Einstein's particle theories. Orenduff does a great job of mixing knowledge with fun!!
Welcome!! I am Angelina (Fred Weasley's girl friend) and have fun!!