“Did you ever steal something from a store; shoplift a candy bar; anything?” asked my college girlfriend. She had just told me that, as a little girl, she took something from a gift shop without paying for it, and how her parents severely scolded her.

I shook my head, “No.”

“Seriously, never?”

Susan was so disappointed. It was apparent that she wanted a story; and immediately my imagination kicked in. So, I replied, “Well, never intentionally.”

“What does that mean?”

“There was this one time, when I was twelve years old, that I accidentally stole something. And, I probably shouldn’t be talking about it because I could still get trouble for it.”

“How could you get in trouble for something you did so long ago when you were just a kid?”

“Because it was something really big, and the owners still want it back.”

“Enough, just tell me what you stole!”

“OK,” I continued in a conspiratorial whisper, “but you’ve got to promise to tell no one.”

“I promise. Why are you whispering?”

We were sitting in the living room of my apartment with the doors open to the balcony. I got up and closed them. “Because I could go to jail if anyone overhears me.”

Now she was really interested.

“First of all,” I said, “you’re not going to believe me, but even if you don’t, you still have to keep your promise not to tell.”

She nodded her assent, so I continued, “I stole the Hope diamond from the Smithsonian Institute.”

“You’re right I don’t believe it!”

“OK, just remember you promised not tell either way.” I picked up a deck of cards off the coffee table and started dealing a hand of solitaire. As I laid the cards out, I could feel the tension building in the air as she stared at me.

A few minutes passed and she said, “There is no way I’m going to believe you stole the Hope diamond, but I’m curious; go ahead and tell your story.”

I told her how I had gone to Washington D.C. on a school trip, and on the day we went to the Smithsonian, the teachers had us stop at the gift store to buy something for our parents. I looked around and selected an imitation Hope diamond for my mother. After paying for it, I put it into the side pocket of my suit jacket (this was back in the day, when boys wore coats and ties on school trips).

I knew Susan had never been to the Smithsonian, which is the only way this story had a chance of working (It was also 1978 when you couldn’t just look anything up on your smart phone). I continued by telling her how we toured the museum, “When we got to the section with the gem and mineral collection, one of the curators was conducting a laser light show with several crystals including many of the world’s most famous gem stones.” (I never actually made it to that part of the museum, so I was creating the story completely from my imagination.)

“There was a thick red velvet rope, like the line dividers in movie theaters, that separated us from a table filled with jewels. In addition to the Hope, there was the Star of India, the Red Ruby of Russia, the Irish Emerald, and others whose names I can’t recall. On the other side of the table, the man was giving the demonstration. He’d take one of the gems, put it in a metal holder on a stand, shoot the laser beam through it, then explain how it refracted the light. We saw lots of cool rainbows on the wall.”

“I pushed through the crowd to see better, and when I got up to the velvet rope, I saw the Hope diamond right in front of me. I was curious how close my imitation looked to the real thing, so I pulled it out of my pocket with my right hand. I held it out in front of me, but I needed to see them side by side to know for sure. So, I just picked up the Hope with my left hand, and held them in front of me, one in each hand. I couldn’t tell any difference. The imitation was really good. I then closed my hands around both to see if I tell any difference in weight. Each was big enough to fill my fist, but they seemed to weigh about the same.”

“All in all, I figured I had gotten a pretty good deal for my mom. I reached out with my left hand facing down to drop the Hope back on the table. At the same time, I opened my right and gently tossed the imitation once in the air. The movement caught the eye of the security guard who was standing nearby. He snatched the imitation out of my hand, and yelled, ‘Hey, no touching the gems!’ He set it down on the table, and commanded, ‘You’re out of here.’ He grabbed me by the shoulder and started shoving me toward the door.”

“I tried to tell him he had gotten the wrong stone, ‘But, but sir...’ I pleaded, but he cut me off, ‘Don’t talk back to me. You broke the rules; you have to leave the building.’”

“He was so rough and mean to me, that it made me mad. So, I shoved the real Hope diamond in my left jacket pocket and walked out. So, you see, I didn’t mean to steal it. It was an accident. I was just a curious kid.”

“So where is it now?” Susan asked.

“It’s in a desk drawer with a bunch of broken crayons, marbles, plastic soldiers, and Matchbox cars back in my room at my parents’ house.”

“You put the Hope diamond in a junk drawer with old toys?”

“Where else was I supposed to put it? Besides I used to play with it. Billy and I would sometimes spin it like a top.”

“Billy knows you stole the Hope diamond?” (Billy was my childhood best friend, and also my roommate, so Susan knew him).

“You know how hard it is to keep a secret; I had to tell someone.”

“This has gone far enough. I don’t believe a word of it.”

I needed something else; something to give it verisimilitude. A final proof. Then inspiration struck, and I said, “Do you remember why I wouldn’t take that job at UPS?”

“Yeah, you didn’t like that they wanted to take your fingerprints and file them with the FBI. You thought that was too much of an invasion of your privacy.”

I nodded, then just looked at her. It only took a minute, but she cried out, “Oh my god, you didn’t want the FBI to have your fingerprints because your fingerprints are on the imitation Hope diamond. You did steal it!”

Just then the front door to the apartment opened and Billy walked in. Susan turned around and asked him point blank, “Did Bobby really steal the Hope diamond?”

Now Billy and I had been telling each other whopper tall tales for years, so I hoped he’d help me out. While Susan’s back was to me, I made a motion with my hand like I was spinning a top. He got it, and replied, “Hell yeah, we used to spin that sucker like a top on his bedroom floor!” That cinched it. Susan completely bought the story.

The next morning I confessed that it was all a tall tale. She was furious, “I worried all night that you would be arrested. I can’t believe you convinced me that you stole the Hope diamond. I’m going to get even with you for this!”

I didn’t give it another thought. Two weeks passed, and I was talking with Susan on the phone when she told me that a girl on her hall in the dorm had been sent home with some rare illness. It was a girl Billy had tutored.

The next day she told me the girl had been diagnosed with leprosy. She went on to say that the girl had once lived on an island in the Caribbean near a leper colony. And, how the disease had been dormant in her body for years. Meanwhile, I was keeping Billy up to date on the story since he knew her.

The following day she told me that everyone in her dorm, and anyone else exposed to the girl,  was going to have to get tested. And, that they should be on the lookout for any unusual rashes on their extremities. Susan knew that Billy had a rash on his ankles that his doctor couldn’t diagnose; that he had been given two different creams, and that neither worked.

The day after that, when she knew I was at work, she called our apartment knowing that Billy would answer the phone. She was crying as she asked Billy to speak to me. He told her I wasn’t home, then asked why she was crying. At first she wouldn’t say, but then he insisted. She said she tested positive and would be sent away to a special hospital.

Billy hung up and called me at work; he was hysterical. “Bobby, Susan called; she tested positive. If she’s got it, then I’ve got it.” I replied that I must have it too. He told me she said there was a Leprosy Task Force set up at the school clinic. That was where we needed to go. I told him I would leave work immediately, pick him up, and we’d go to the clinic together.

I was a nervous wreck as I entered the clinic. Billy was worse. We ran to receptionist and asked, “Where do we go for the Leprosy Task Force?”

She looked at us like we were crazy, and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Suddenly, behind us, we heard peals of feminine laughter. We turned around to see Susan and several of her dormitory mates. She cried out, “You guys are so gullible!”

We had both used our imaginations to concoct fun tall tales. Imagination is the heart of creative thinking. It’s not just for stories. It’s where we combine and connect diverse pieces of knowledge from our own minds into something bright and new and useful. Invention starts with imagination. How far have you allowed your imagination to go?

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist/speaker and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is the author of ...and Never Coming Back, a psychological thriller-novel about a motion picture director; The Annoying Ghost Kid, a humorous children's book about dealing with a bully; and the inspirational book: Wisdom in the Weirdest Places. For more information on Robert, please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.

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