02 April 2023

The Chocolate Cherry Crime Wave

Cosette does not appear
in this article.

R.T. Lawton and others have written about Les Misérables. That great novel comprised a number of threads woven together and parted again to accommodate other stories. Think of this as a strand arising from Victor Hugo’s work. In this tale, think of me as Bishop Myriel, while my petite mother played one tough Inspector Javert. And Cosette… Okay, there’s no Cosette. Sorry.

My mother stood nearly five-foot-nothing (150cm, or, for the more worldly among us, about ⅝ of a Hobbit). Like Smaug, she breathed fire. She was fearsome. Mess with her, and she’d reach up and smack you in the kneecap. My 6’4 (193cm) father was usually a calming influence… usually.

I was wrapping up a lengthy, year-end consulting gig in Columbus, Ohio. That particular time I lived at a large, sprawling motel, not far from the Busch Beer Brewery, although lager has nothing to do with this incident.

Following six straight months of work, I mentioned to my parents my project was winding down and I was due for a break. My dad came up with an excuse to visit Ohio, and thus my folks offered to pick me up and tote me home for the Christmas holidays. I agreed.

The hotel staff and particularly the chambermaid, whom we’ll call ‘Val Jean’, had been kind and considerate of my cave, working around the clutter of work papers and my vampire hours.

After half a year’s occupancy, my hotel room had morphed. Computer discs and software listings covered tables and chests. A computerized chess board spread across a bench. Pairs of never-quite-dry swim trunks hung on the bathroom shower rod. And, next to the television sat an oversized box of chocolate cherries my mother had sent me.

chocolate cherries
No, er, Few cherries were harmed
in the making of this production.

I allowed myself one or two a day, but soon I noticed the chocolates box becoming lighter. While I gnoshed on the upper tray, cherry chocs were disappearing from the layer beneath. My legendary detective skills kicked in, locking in on The Case of the Disappearing Cherries.

I found it amusing: My unseen cleaning lady had a sweets addiction. Her weakness was entertaining, almost endearing. She had to know I knew. An odd relationship developed. I left the candy box in place, occasionally noting the declining numbers.

My project finished and the day came for my departure. My parents arranged to pick me up. As we were clearing out the room, I made the mistake of mentioning the mysterious Cherry Chocolate Bandit.

Carting clothes and computers down to their car took a few trips. Mom disappeared for several minutes. Upon my final return, my mother wore a look of self-satisfaction. My dad shook his head sadly.

“What?” I said.

Mom drew herself up to nearly Munchkin height. “I took care of the candy thief. I reported her to the front desk.”

“You what? Oh no. Why?”

She folded her arms, ready to bite someone in the ankle.

“I ordered those for my son, not a motel maid.”

“Mom, I don’t mind she ate a few chocolates. She dusted around expensive computers and hard drives. Books, my passport, even my wallet when I swam… nothing else was touched. I have to fix this.”

My father tried to explain to Mom management wouldn’t simply lecture the employèe. They would hear only the word ‘steal’ and be compelled to fire her. As Mom and Dad trailed behind, I jogged down to the front desk.

Les Misérables

I’m pretty bad at lying and the manager surely knew it. Not wanting our Val Jean to lose her job, I explained I’d given her permission, rationalizing that in a way I had. In the corner of my eye, my mother appeared less righteous and more stricken.

The manager said she’d take care of it. I paid up and departed, uncertain what the manager meant.

My mother’s Irish temper cooled and my upset faded, but the incident cast a pall over the holiday. Hotel housekeeping is hard, grueling work. What if the woman lost her job days before Christmas?

Mom had a way of doing the right thing. Christmas Eve, a card appeared with a Mom note inside. She’d checked with the hotel management. ‘Val Jean’ still worked at the motel.

Abruptly, the holiday felt a whole lot less Misérable.


  1. Leigh, funny and touching. Your mother sounds a bit like my wife. Er, as far as height, that is.
    Edward Lodi

    1. You dodged a bullet there, Edward. Fortunately my parents are opposites in many ways, which worked well for them. It was a great love story.

  2. A good story that reminds me of my first teaching assignment which included reading a shortened version of Les Miserables with a 9th grade honors class.

    1. Lucky students, Janice! I imagine teaching Les Miserables must have been a great reinforcing experience. It's a wonderful story.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Anne. I appreciate it.My parents were interesting characters!

  4. Thanks, Leigh. I enjoyed this real life story

    1. Thank you, RT. You've researched and studied French history. Think there might be a chance Javert and/or Valjean might solve a Lawton mystery?

  5. Loved this. And glad Val Jean kept her job.

    1. Me too! Thanks, Eve. I was incredibly worried about her. Losing a job would have been too harsh a price for a few chocolates that she was welcomed to.


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