Susan Vaughan here. I posted this little misadventure a couple of years ago, but am sharing it again because the book I was researching, RING OF TRUTH, will be released this Wednesday, April 22.
When I attended a writers conference in Washington, D.C., I arranged to do book research at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. No, not the one in the film Night at the Museum; that one’s in New York City.
In RING OF TRUTH, the backstory involves a theft of crown jewels at the D.C. museum. I needed to see the layout of the area where the theft would take place and to decide if my fictional burglary was realistic, given museum security. Two weeks before, I phoned the Museum of Natural History’s manager of security. I’ll call him Smith here. You’ll see why. I explained about being a novelist doing book research and asked for an appointment to discuss security background for my novel. I stressed I didn’t expect him to reveal security measures.
So on my free afternoon, I made my way to the museum. I was directed to the security office, deep in the bowels of the building, where a helpful uniformed guard phoned Smith, but he couldn’t meet with me for an hour. As things turned out, I was lucky to have that time to visit the exhibits. Various gems and crown jewels are shown in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals on the second floor. Security was visible all around—guards standing at alert, cameras on the ceiling—and invisible sensors as well, I assumed.
No one seemed to care that I took loads of pictures. In fact, I had to elbow tourists with bigger cameras out of the way to get a good shot of the Hope Diamond.
Oh, not for the book, but, well, it’s the Hope Diamond.
Finally, Smith met with me in an outer office, me seated beside the secretary’s desk, him leaning against a table. A burly uniformed guard stood by. I think he’d been flirting with the pretty secretary. I again explained to Smith my purpose, first asking about how Smithsonian Special Police were hired and trained. He gladly discussed that, stating proudly that many were military veterans, including himself.
Then I launched into the meat of my questions, saying the burglary in my story took place years previously and stressing I didn’t need to know the exact security measures, only if my burglary was at all possible. As I ran through my scenario, his blank cop face got less blank and more hostile. He insisted no burglary could happen under his watch. As soon as I said that in my story two guards were involved, he demanded—yes, demanded—I not write the story as an inside job. All the guards are honorable and honest. It couldn’t happen, he insisted.
All this time the guard and the secretary seemed to barely breathe, riveted on our conversation. Smith leaned back, arms folded, eyes narrowed, and speculated I might not be who I claimed to be. Perhaps I was using this meeting as a ruse to set up my own crime. I wanted to shout at him, “I called you two weeks ago. Why didn’t you check on my identity in the meantime? Some security expert.” But I held my tongue. I had to, with my heart in my throat (yes, it does feel like that cliché). I quickly dug out my proof. When I handed Smith my bookmarks and driver’s license, the guard and the secretary immediately asked for bookmarks. “For my wife,” said the guard.
The boss ignored them—and my proof. He was done. He directed the guard to escort me out of the museum. With adrenaline roaring in my ears, I stood (on trembling legs) and shook his hand with as much dignity as I could muster, then followed the guard down the hall, up the stairs, and all the way to the door leading to Constitution Avenue.
I may hold the dubious honor of being the only author to be kicked out of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. My revenge? The acknowledgments of RING OF TRUTH contain an appreciation to this manager of security.
***** RING OF TRUTH is only 99 cents for a short time at getBook.at/RingofTruth. More information about my books is at http://www.susanvaughan.com.
Susan, I had no idea you could mastermind a heist! You are a woman of hidden talents. I think you need to write a book on the adventures of research.
Thanks, Jewel, but that would be a very short book.
Reminded me of my reporting days when all hell breaks loose if “they” know you’re on to a great story. I’ll be “Ring Of Truth.”
Reminded me of my reporting days when all hell breaks loose if “they” know you’re on to a great story. I’ll be reading “Ring Of Truth.”
Thanks, Ken. I hope you enjoy the book.
That’s awesome. And there’s a storyline right there…innocent author is detained, questioned and…body searched? by sexy security guard.
Marianne, if only…
I can see his point, but I also can see your point. As a member of the family of police officers, I hate bad cop stories where the cop has done something illegal. I know it happens occasionally, but I don’t like to read about it in fiction.
I also see your point. You did your due diligence and called ahead giving him the opportunity to check you out, including the hour he made you wait. Were they watching you the whole time? 🙂
It certainly makes for a great story and you have a great novel to go with it.
Yes, Michelle, I appreciate that the large majority of our law enforcement community are honest and dedicated. But once I dug into the research on museum security, I realized that no way would anyone steal a whole set of crown jewels from the Smithsonian unless they had inside cooperation. Had to do that. And… I needed a set of suspects!
This made me chuckle. Oh, the things we do in the name of research! Wishing you TONS of sales for your new book.
Thanks, Nina! It was fun until it wasn’t.
An absolutely GREAT story, Susan. I always knew you were dangerous.
99 cents is a steal for this book! So what are your plans for your next heist? 😉
Ha ha. I bet we could do a week of blogs telling funny research stories. Here’s one from this morning. I wanted to have a very fancy, customized truck in my new book, so I typed in Pickup in my google search, to look at different brands. Well, instead of getting trucks, I got a whole page of tricks and tips for picking up girls, and a new term: PUA, which is short, I’ve learned, for pick up artist. So in case someone out there wants to pick up girls, here are some useful places to go:
Oh, too funny. Maybe I can use that in a book, or you can.
I remember this trip. And this story never gets old. Congratulations on the new release! I’m so excited to finally see the story out there!
Ah, yes, you were there. I remember too. Thanks for the good wishes.
Great story, Susan and even better now that the book is out! What better way to get even. I think you’re correct. The Security guy should’ve checked you out before you got there. LOL But this makes for a better story.
Marsha, thanks so much. Yes, it makes for a good story I can tell when I speak to a library group.
Great story, Susan! Who would have thought a writer innocently checking her plot’s plausibility might find herself cast under a net of suspicion by the powers that be?!!Looking forward to your book’s release!
I think you ought to send him a copy of the book.
The guy is an idiot.
If you ever want to write something else like that, the American Society for Industrial Security has a bunch of books, and way back in the dark ages when I belonged, I got one titled “Museum, Archive, and Library Security.” Expensive, but worth it. (I had Plans for a book myself, but it was a first novel and it died.)
Susan, can I interest you in a little research? I need someone with experience working with security personnel… 😉
Great story that might fit nicely into another book you’ll write in future.
What a great story!
I did once hear Donald Westlake, on a panel, answering a question on he could write so well about bank robbery when he claimed he did no research. He said, with a perfectly straight face, “We pulled a job.” I THINK he was kidding!
Priceless, Susan! I can just imagine the manager’s reaction. He was probably terrified that he’d have something stolen on his watch. LOL!
Susan, this is just as funny as when you told us the story after it happened. I would have loved to seen the manager’s reaction, along with the others in the room.
I will always love this story. So glad they didn’t detain you! 🙂
That’s a hoot! I didn’t realize research could be such a grand adventure.