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The Faces of Kuchumaa by Carole LaMond

In 2020 we continue to feature extraordinary works of writing by recent Ranch guests. Each piece focuses on The Ranch and moments of personal insight, observation, or awareness.

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The Faces of Kuchumaa by Carole LaMond

The flashlight beam was steady as the watchman patrolled the perimeter of the grounds, passing the labyrinth and heading toward Mount Kuchumaa. Invisible in the darkness but a palpable presence, the sacred mountain loomed all-knowing from where I crouched low in the rosemary-scented brush. I watched as my nemesis and the younger woman appeared on the casita patio. I first saw them at lunch that day, two strangers making conversation at Rancho La Puerta, when one of the crows saw his opportunity and deftly snatched a piece of bread. Their faces, turned in my direction as they watched the thief, wore identical expressions. In those few seconds, illuminated by the bright Tecate sun, their features seemed to coalesce. I stared at the older woman in astonishment. Hers was the face I knew from fuzzy security tapes, the suspect I pursued until I was dismissed from the case, the laughingstock of the department. I was the detective with the crazy theory about witchcraft and an international ring of female jewel thieves who all bore an uncanny resemblance, so that every surveillance photo from London to Lima showed the same face.

The name on her Rancho tote bag read Mary Mazer.

There was a pattern to the thefts, always a single gem removed and another item left in its place, a kernel of maize, a feather, a stone, all of which analysis revealed to be hundreds of years old, likely from Mexico. I argued that this evidence held the key to the crimes, that we needed a scholar of ancient cults to decipher their meaning. The inscrutable items were left as a joke insisted my colleagues, and I often arrived at work to hear muffled laughter, only to find a trail of corn, even a dead bird, on my desk.

I was 20 years off the case, but news of unusual jewel heists still piqued my interest. The last was just a few months ago, a diamond stolen from an obscure collector in San Diego, a round white stone left in its place.

Now I realized with chilling certainty that this was not the first time I had seen Mazer at Rancho La Puerta. A few years earlier I startled a woman at the ranch museum who was studying a photograph of seven figures in spa robes with Kuchumaa in the background. She quickly left the building and as she did, I experienced a faint jolt of recognition, but just then the breeze caught a black feather which swirled and fell onto the open page of a book. The illustration was of a crow, its feathers multi-colored jewels, the capstone a diamond radiating white light. The book told the legend of a shaman, the keeper of the sacred stones of Kuchumaa, her totem a crow sparkling with rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds. The jewels were stolen by a conquistador centuries earlier and thereafter flocks of crows came to live in the shadow of Kuchumaa.

Mary Mazer was at Rancho, and I was going to keep my eye on her. I wandered the grounds, contemplating the unsolved case and found myself at the small adobe museum. The photo was still there, but as I studied the image I realized the women were not dressed for spa treatments, but in identical white gowns. That wasn’t the only thing they had in common. Each face in the photo was the same. Mary Mazer.

It was later that day, as I came round the path to the labyrinth and saw Mazer stoop to touch the circular stone at the center of the maze, that the pieces came together – the crow, the recent diamond theft, the haunting resemblance of the women, and the clue that was right in front of me: maize, ‘maze-r.’ All this time the sacred Kuchumaa jewels had been hidden at the labyrinth.

And that is why I was hiding in the bushes at a casita directly across from the labyrinth where now seven women in translucent white robes were assembled on the patio. They walked slowly to the center of the labyrinth. Mary raised her arms just as the watchman returned on his rounds, the beam of his flashlight illuminating thousands of sparkling facets of the jeweled crow she held above her head. Suddenly a shaft of light rose from the robed figures, its supernatural glow moving to the peak of Mount Kuchumaa. Just as abruptly, the labyrinth was again in darkness, empty.

Oblivious, the watchman continued on his rounds.

 

Carole LaMond first discovered the power of the written word at the age of four when she received a big reaction by memorizing the letters in her sister’s name and scratching them into a dresser. At the age of 11, her story about a maple leaf named Mabel received more positive reviews and was published in a school magazine. She majored in English at Mount Holyoke College, and upon graduation, began work as an assistant editor at Houghton Mifflin in Boston.  The mother of three children, she didn’t do any writing until the PTO asked her to submit a story about a middle school robotics team to the local paper, The Wayland Town Crier. The editor offered her a part-time position as a staff writer, a job she held for nine years before deciding to freelance. The first of her seven visits to Rancho La Puerta was with college friends in 2006. She returned a year later for Writers Week, and later spent time at The Ranch with her husband, and more recently her older daughter. Carole lives in Massachusetts and now has five grandchildren.