Chapter 14

Pope was still annoyed, so he let Holden pay for lunch.

Following a three-day performance at the Halliburton Museum of Fine Arts in Huston, Ulysses Pope flew north-west to repeat his performance at the Denver Fine Arts Museum. It was an act he had perfected during the past decade, and likely there had never been a person as skilled in the art of mau mauing museums as he had become.

He was met at the airport by a senior member of the board of directors of the Denver Fine Arts Museum, a gentleman who had been a low-level general during the Regan administration. The General’s aide held a sign at the arrival gate reading ULYSSES POPE, and, as soon as Pope revealed himself, the General shook his hand and took his arm and led him to the limousine.

“Sir, we’ve been looking forward to your arrival. It’s not often that a true patron of the arts graces us with a visit. We will do everything we can to make your stay a pleasant one. Of course, as you know, tonight you will be staying in the mayor’s mansion and there will be a reception in your honor. I hope we won’t tire you with too much attention.”

Pope’s face was as stony as a gargoyle’s, but he felt satisfied with his reception. In the early days, when he was still keeping written scores, he would have given the General’s greeting 90 points. Pope’s instinct, though, was to shake things up right from the first. “I don’t give a God damned about mayors and mansions and receptions,” he said. “Waste of time. What I care about is finding the right home for my collection.”

The General was unruffled. “Sir, if you don’t mind my saying so, that is the exact phrase we at the Museum use when we’re discussing your collection of Oriental rugs. We ask ourselves, how can we create the perfect home for it? And sir, I think we have some answers for you. But I’ll let others make the case. I just want to thank you personally for giving us the chance.”

Pope would have scored the General’s speech rather highly, but he had heard variations of it many times before and pretty much ignored it. He was enjoying the ride in the black stretch-limousine, and, even through the darkened windows he could see motorists and pedestrians gawking at it, no doubt wondering what important person was riding inside. He was looking forward to lavish dinners, a reception in his honor, an attentive mayor, free lodgings in the mayor’s mansion, royal treatment by the museum staff and all the other perks accorded to one who had let it out that he was looking for the “right home” for the greatest collection of Oriental rugs in America. He would have plenty of opportunity during the next three days to make nonnegotiable demands (such as to name the Carpet wing of the Museum the Ulysses Pope Heritage), to make important people beg, and to be “shown around” by nubile young docents. And a few days later, he knew, he would take his leave from the museum and its director and its board of directors with a few encouraging words. He would tell them that they were on the right track and that he was impressed by their attitude and that he would discuss all of this with “the boss, hah, hah, hah, Mrs. Pope and see what we come up with.” However, he would also mention that the Fogg Museum in Boston had been very receptive, yes, very receptive to some ideas of his, “but we shall see. We shall see.” And then he would be on his way to the Los Angeles County Museum of Fine Arts, and finally to the San Francisco Museum to repeat his performance.

Far from exhausting the 84 year old industrialist, the attention paid him by fawning functionaries during his twice-yearly museum tours vitalized Pope, so that by the time he reached San Francisco in the first week of May, he was at the top of his game. As soon he settled into his suite in San Francisco’s Ritz Carlton Hotel, provided free, of course, by the San Francisco Museum, he made arrangements concerning his other projects, that is, finding rugs for his collection and recruiting members for his rug group, the International Ali Babba Society. He telephoned the affable young rug dealer in Berkeley named Holden something who, he knew, was running around, possibly right at that moment, arranging a meeting the next night for prospective Ali Babba Society members whom Ulysses Pope would personally address on the subject of Oriental rugs and rug collecting.

The young fellow picked him up the next day at noon as Pope had arranged. Pope suggested a restaurant in San Francisco and Holden drove him there in his modest automobile. Just inside the door of the restaurant, their way was barred by the host, who told Holden that he would not be allowed into the dining room without a necktie. Pope wore his customary suit and tie, and he stood by as an embarrassed and suddenly sweating Holden offered to wait in the car for Pope while he ate lunch, and then accepted a loaner necktie from the host. A moment later the young man came out of the men’s room wearing a grotesque necktie in lurid green and yellow. Clearly the tie was meant to punish guests who had showed up without their own neckties.

Seated now and having ordered, Pope went down a mental checklist. “You have a slide projector?


“A screen?”


“A lectern?”

“A lectern?”

“You didn’t get a lectern for me?” Pope’s young squire looked sick. Pope chuckled to himself and noted how easy it was to make Holden sweat. He hoped the fellow would change his shirt before tonight’s meeting, though. Hmm. Maybe he wouldn’t have a chance. Pope decided to give him some slack and not make him sweat any more.

“Maybe I didn’t mention a lectern. But you do have an audience coming, don’t you?’

“About 40 people.”

“That’s good enough. Well, there’s plenty of time until the meeting. There’s time for you to take me around.” Of course he meant for Holden to take him around from dealer to dealer, just as he had done once before, so Pope could buy rugs from them. This young fellow, Holden, had a store full of good rugs at very good prices, but Pope believed that if he bought more than one or two of them per visit, the kid would realize what he had and would raise his prices. Better to use him as a go-around and pick off his rugs one-by-one, slowly, without driving up his prices. Keep him running around. “If he is back there at his shop he’s liable to sell something I want,” Pope thought.

As if he were thinking something similar, Holden said, “Uh, I’d better be back at my store by three o’clock. I’m afraid I’ve left it closed too often lately. But I can take you around to a couple of places here in San Francisco before I have to go.”

Pope narrowed his eyes at Holden. “Take my advice, son, and get your priorities straight. You’ll make more money that way.”

“Uh, I suppose so.”

Pope was still annoyed, though, so he let Holden pay the bill for lunch. As the two were leaving the restaurant, the restaurant’s host startled Holden by calling after him, “You are going to return the tie, aren’t you?”

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When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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