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.
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.