The Pot Thief Who Studied D. H. Lawrence

The Pot Thief Who Studied D. H. Lawrence

by J. Michael Orenduff


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480458826
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 01/28/2014
Series: Pot Thief Series , #5
Pages: 270
Sales rank: 354,506
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)

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 D. H. Lawrence

A Pot Thief Mystery

By J. Michael Orenduff


Copyright © 2012 J. Michael Orenduff
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-5857-4


Opportunity didn't bother to knock. It just walked into my shop in the guise of a man with a broad face and pronounced epicanthic eye folds.

Of course I didn't recognize him as opportunity. Nor did I think he was a customer. In the twenty years I've been in business, I've never had an Indian buy a pot.

He made no eye contact as he turned to the first piece of merchandise, an ancient olla from Santo Domingo. He studied it for perhaps thirty seconds. His movement to the next pot was so contained it seemed as though he was still and I was the one moving. Like when a boat moves away from a dock, something I never experience in Albuquerque.

I watched him survey the merchandise in this fashion for a few minutes then went back to The Wooing of Malkatoon by Lew Wallace, a book so bad I couldn't put it down.

When my visitor finally approached the counter, I marked my place in the book and studied him. The heavy-lidded eyes looked weary, his face impassive. His sparse facial hair was unshaven. His worn jeans and stained chambray shirt gave him the look of someone who might ask you for spare change.

And yet ...

There was another layer, a sort of pentimento. What could be read as resignation might also be strength. Someone comfortable enough in his skin that he feels no need to demonstrate it to others. Did his countenance reflect five hundred years of white dominance or five centuries of quiet resistance? He stopped four feet from me. His hooded eyes seemed to take in the entire room without focusing on anything specific.

"You don't have any pots from my people."

His sibilant words drifted across my eardrums like tumbleweeds over dry sand.


"Taos," he said. "How you know?"

He probably counted Picuris as a correct answer because Taos and Picuris are the only two places that speak the northern Tiwa language. I thought I heard the accent. The southern version is spoken in the two pueblos closest to Albuquerque—Sandia and Isleta. A variety of Tiwa was also spoken in Texas, where it was spelled Tigua. The pueblo there—also on the Rio Grande—was named like the one near Albuquerque but spelled with a 'Y' in the little village of Ysleta, long ago swallowed up by the El Paso metropolis.

But my fascination with Taos stems not from their language but from their traditional pottery. It was unlike any produced in the other pueblos of New Mexico. Their utilitarian style made Taos pottery less popular with collectors than the elaborate polychrome works of San Juan or the black-on-blacks of San Ildefonso.

The reason I had no pots from Taos wasn't a matter of taste. I specialize in antique pieces, and old pots from Taos are rare because they were often purchased by local Hispanics and Anglos for everyday use which led to their eventually being broken or discarded. Very few people collected them.

When I explained this to my visitor, he nodded.

There was a long silence. I knew to avoid small talk. I looked outside to the deserted sidewalk. Too late in the year for skiers, too early for summer tourists.

"I can get you three Taos pots from the 1920s," he finally said, eyes looking through me.

I told him I was interested.

"First you have to get an old one for me," he said.

The offer to get me three pieces if I got him one seemed odd. I asked how I could get an old Taos pot for him.

He finally looked me in the eyes. "You'll have to steal it."

Maybe he wasn't opportunity personified. Maybe he was temptation.


I guess he knew about my reputation. My name is Hubert Schuze and I'm a pot thief. I stole my first pots back in the eighties as a student on a summer dig with the anthropology program at the University of New Mexico. I sold them for enough money to make a down payment on my building in Old Town which has my shop in the front and my residence in the rear.

Except I didn't really steal them. In the first place, they didn't come out of the excavation site. I knew the faculty leaders were digging in the wrong place as soon as I saw them drive the stakes and stretch the string. After studying the ruins and the lay of the land for a week, I dug my own hole on the other side of a dune field and found three rare intact pots.

In the second place, digging up old pots wasn't illegal back then. But that didn't stop the University from kicking me out of school. They hinted I might be reinstated if I returned the pots and apologized. But I didn't know who to apologize to. The potter whose work I unearthed had been dead for a thousand years, and I'm confident she never gave much thought to what would happen to her works a millennium after she made them. I imagine her as the practical sort. If I were to ask her whether I should trade her pots for the right to attend more classes or sell them to get money for a house, she would advise me to take the money and run.

She and I were born under the same desert sky and looked up at the same starscape. We enjoyed the feel of wet clay between our fingers. We shared the disappointment of discovering a fissure when the firing temperature fluctuated too much. Neither of us ever had much interest in living anywhere else.

We are from different tribes. Her people arrived on this continent from the west, mine from the east. But we are both human, and like all members of our species, we need shelter, food, drink and companion–ship. We laugh and cry. We feel pain and sorrow, triumph and joy.

I don't know any of the details of her life, but I know she was a potter, and that's enough for me. She could distinguish a well-made pot from an ill-formed one. She took pride in her work. I take pride in mine. I also take pride in the three pots of hers I found. Though I didn't make them, I'm proud to share membership with her in the potters' clan of the human tribe.

When I lay me down to sleep, I sometimes look up at the vigas of my ceiling and whisper a silent thanks to her. Which is not the same as an apology. I don't think she would want one. I think she's happy her pots are with someone who appreciates them instead of being hidden in the earth.

The University forgave me a couple of years ago though I never asked them to do so. I was credited with recovering a rare Mogollon pot that had gone missing from their Valle del Rio Museum. The recovered pot was auctioned off at a fund raiser with the understanding it would revert to the Museum, and my filthy-rich attorney matched the donation so that the University ended up with a hefty new scholarship fund.

The fact that I was the one who had extricated the pot from the Museum to begin with was kept tactfully secret by my attorney. And that's as much as I think I should say about that.

I'm not really a thief. I don't break into homes and steal the silverware. I'm a treasure hunter. But treasure hunting, a fun and profitable hobby enjoyed by thousands, was criminalized by the passage of ARPA, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

It's a ridiculous law, and I have chosen to disregard it. There are more archaeological resources in the ground than could be excavated in a million years, and only a few of them need protecting. During the aforementioned summer dig, I spent one afternoon idly sifting through the sand at Gran Quivera. I discovered nine perfect arrow heads, sixty-seven broken or chipped arrowheads, and about a thousand pieces of worked flint. According to ARPA, removing even one of those flint pieces would have been a crime.

A crime I did not commit. I admired the work and then left the arrowheads where I found them. I could have sold them, but it would have hardly been worth the effort. Nine arrowheads at the going price back then of a dollar each is nine dollars for four hours work—not even minimum wage.

Pots are another matter. The three I unearthed that summer brought me $25,000. In today's dollars that would be ... I don't know. I don't even know why we worry about it. It was $25,000 then and I spent it then, so what difference does it make what it would be now?


Of course I didn't explain my treasure hunting background to my visitor. He already knew I was a pot thief, and I doubt he had any interest in knowing why.

He handed me an old cracked black and white photograph of a smiling Indian on a horse holding a shiny pot. Actually, the Indian was holding the shiny pot. The horse couldn't have done so because all four of his feet were on the ground.

"The man on the horse is my great-grandfather. This was taken the day he took that pot to Mr. Lawrence."

"D. H. Lawrence?"

He shrugged. "I don't know his other names. It's the man the ranch is named for."

"Why did your great-grandfather take a pot to Lawrence?"

"Tony Lujan asked him to. It is my people's custom to take a bowl of food to a newcomer."

Tony Lujan was the Taos Indian who married Mable Dodge, the wealthy heiress who persuaded Lawrence to come to Taos.

I glanced down at the photo again. "This is the pot you want me to steal?"

"White man law might call it that. But it belongs to my great-grandfather. He made it. Now he wants it back."

There were strands of grey in his ponytail and crow's feet around his eyes. He had to be at least forty. Allowing twenty years for each generation, his great-grandfather would have to be pushing the century mark.

"Your great-grandfather is still alive?"

He shook his head.

"He told you he wanted it back before he died?"

Another shake of the head. Another long silence.

Finally he said, "His spirit asked me to bring the pot home."

I looked down again at the photo. "What was his name?"

"His Spanish name was Fidelio Duran."

"And his Indian name?"

There was a long silence before he answered. "He didn't sign his pots with his Indian name."

I assumed that was his way of saying I didn't need to know his great-grandfather's Indian name. I didn't need to know my visitor's name either, Spanish or Indian. I could find him at the Pueblo just by asking around. But I asked him anyway, and he said his name was Cyril Duran.

"So if I find a pot that looks like this and is signed 'Fidelio Duran', that's the one you want?"

He made one almost imperceptible nod.

"Where would I look for it?"

"I don't know."

"And you'll trade me three Taos pots from the same era, the twenties?"

Another slight nod.

"Made by your great-grandfather?"

"No, his wife."

It took a couple of seconds for me to make the connection. My pulse spiked.

"Dulcinea Duran?"

He nodded.


After Cyril Duran left, I locked the store and pawed through the drawer where I toss mail and papers I don't know what to do with. I found the invitation from my alma mater. They wanted me to come to the Lawrence Ranch to give a presentation on pueblo pottery to a group of university benefactors who would be gathering for a retreat.

I don't like to travel and I don't do presentations. I'd thrown the invitation in the drawer rather than the trash because I thought I might need the stipend they were offering. Now my keeping it seemed serendipitous.

But it was no longer the stipend that interested me. It would be chump change compared to what I might get if I could find the Fidelio Duran pot and trade it for three pots by Dulcinea, the most famous pueblo potter of the early 20th Century. Her fame has now been eclipsed by Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso, but Dulcinea was the first superstar potter.

Dulcinea Duran was a gifted potter even before she was taken under the wings of the wives of the robber barons who came to Taos to take the mountain air and study the aborigines. They told her they would buy her pots if she would use a wheel in order to make them symmetrical. I imagine they even ordered the wheel from back east and had it shipped. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that they had electricity run to the pueblo in order for her to plug it in. Except for the fact that even today, there is neither electricity nor running water in the part of the original pueblo building where she lived. Those structures are used today mostly for ceremonial purposes, new residences having been built at various locations on the hundred thousand acres owned by the Taos Pueblo. Technically, the land is held in trust by the U.S. Government, but in reality it belonged to the Indians for eight hundred years before there even was a U. S. Government, and in my mind it still does.

Dulcinea's pots became all the rage and were exhibited widely in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The museums didn't actually purchase the pots, no doubt considering them crafts rather than beaux arts. They probably showed them merely because the women who owned them were wealthy and influential. The fad eventually waned, and the works were returned from the museums to the 'cottages' in Newport. Finding a genuine Dulcinea today would be like finding a Van Gogh.

I stared at the invitation and wrestled with my conscience.

An industrious lad with long hair and an easy smile had entered my shop a week earlier with a rack of greeting cards which he offered to leave on my counter for free. The cards depicted buzzards perched on saguaro cactuses and making witty remarks shown in little bubbles above their heads. I could sell them, he explained earnestly, for any price I chose and pay him after the fact at the bargain price of only fifty cents for each one sold.

He left with the rack still under his arm and, if we are to believe what he said, utter disbelief that I would decline the opportunity to make money with no investment. I like to make money. But I love my pristine shop and simple life even more. I do not sell postcards or candy. I have no vending machines. I'm not in the trinket business.

One result of this Spartan approach is I am not overrun with customers, and I often have cash-flow problems. It is a painful admission because—speaking of painful admissions—I graduated with a degree in accounting. My graduate work was in anthropology until I got booted, but as an undergraduate, I started as a math major. I switched to accounting because everyone told me that's where the jobs were. It was the only conventional decision I ever made, and I learned my lesson.

When I make a $15,000 sale, I live off it until it is gone. When I make a really big sale, I give some of it away because I don't like having a lot of money all at once. My father was fond of saying that money is like manure. It's good to spread it around, but if you leave it in one big pile, it stinks.

I know what you're thinking—how can you get in line for the money I give away? It's a short line. I partially support my nephew Tristan, I pay the medical bills for my former nanny Consuela, and I donate to a scholarship fund for kids from the pueblo where I volunteered back in my undergraduate days.

For the past few months, Tristan had been forced to live off his part-time earnings and the scholarship fund was depleted. Consuela Sanchez' kidney problems were worsening and her medical bills soaring. Now a transplant loomed. I had done the paperwork to apply for assistance which Consuela and Emilio qualified for, but even with that, the "patient responsibility" portion came to $46,000, half of which they wanted in advance.

Just one of the Dulcinea pots would cover that. The debate with my conscience was going well until it actually spoke. What it said was that if Consuela's transplant expense justified stealing the Fidelio Duran pot, then it also justified robbing a bank.

Don't you just hate it when your conscience is right?

I'm not a thief. I needed to know I would not be stealing the pot. Cyril said the pot belonged to his great-grandfather. Why not just take his word for it? But he also said white man law might call it stealing. Why worry about that? Surely he knew more about his great-grandfather than he did about the law.

Mr. Conscience vetoed that one as too obviously a rationalization. He's a smug little devil.

I needed to think harder. I asked myself what was the real issue. Who owns the pot? Who deserves the pot? Who should decide? What time is it?

The last question was the only one I could answer. It was past five, and I was thirsty.


It was a dark and stormy night.

I'm not kidding. It really was.

Which was unusual. Not the dark part. Nights are always dark except above the Arctic Circle in summer. And maybe below the Antarctic Circle in summer—I'm not certain about that. But the rain part was unusual. Evening rain is as rare in Albuquerque as English ivy. What little rain we get is almost always in the form of afternoon showers.

When I got to Dos Hermanas Tortilleria, Martin Seepu was standing in the rain staring up at the sky. I knew why because I had seen him do it before.

Susannah was more sensibly ensconced under the veranda along with a margarita which she had obviously ordered for me, it having salt on the rim which she does not take. I greeted her and took my first sip. A few more and I could silence Mr. Conscience, at least for the evening.


Excerpted from The Pot Thief Who Studied D. H. Lawrence by J. Michael Orenduff. Copyright © 2012 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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