Chapter 19

He kept glancing over at the black and tan Silver Cloud, and then he stopped talking and gazed at it as if he had never seen it before. “God!” he said. “What a splendid automobile.”

“My God, Holden, you’re wasting away in this dusty little store! Lock it up! We’re going to Napa Valley. All aboard!” On his last two words, Avery Deane’s voice pitched upward to a thrilling howl. With his voice alone, his golden pipes, Dean could have led all of the children out of the village, like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Even now as he entered Holden’s rug store, Deane led a small retinue: Sandra and Khalil. “Let’s go pick up Laura!” Deane said. He meant the journalist Holden was dating.

Holden loved the thought of spending a day in Napa Valley with Laura. “Is there room?”

“Of course there is. We’re taking your car.”

“Where’s your Porsche?”

“I’m in the market for a new car. You can help me buy one in Napa. Come on lad, let’s go!”

By now Holden had nearly come to terms with closing shop in the middle of the day and running off on whatever adventure Deane roped him into. He had signs to hang on the door for every contingency: Back by 2 PM, Closed for the Day, Closed Due to Illness and so on. It was strange, he thought, but even though he missed a day of work now and then doing Deane’s bidding, sales had never been so good. At Deane’s urging he had raised all of his prices, and sales increased. He had even been thinking he should hold back some of his best pieces, and of course they went flying off the walls. These days, if he took four hours off work, customers were waiting to get in. He knew that Deane had everything to do with his sudden success and so could not refuse him when he said, “Let’s go!” Nor could he bring himself to raise hell with him about the silk Kirman that had never materialized, nor to demand his money back.

After a phone call to Laura, Holden put up his “Gone all Day” sign, locked his door and drove off to pick her up, with Dean, Khalil and Sandra in the back seat. Ten minutes later, Laura answered her door, ready to go, her hair styled short and snappy. “Hi all,” she said to those in the car. “I’m Laura.”


Dean first directed Holden to an address in St. Helena where he said there was an automobile he wanted to see. “And Holden, my friend, it’s not a sniveling little Toyota. You’ll see.” And it wasn’t. It was a 1971 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. Its owner proudly presented it on his estate’s grass-lined, winding driveway. Holden and the others were impressed by the splendid old car, but Deane was visibly moved by it. The car’s owner, a retired judge named Henry Baron, watched as Avery Dean approached the old two-toned beauty as if it were royalty. He walked around it slowly, quietly, and when he finally touched it, he first pulled out his handkerchief and used it like a white glove, sparing the car’s finish the indignity of being touched by the human hand. His expression was that of an art lover before a de Vinci. A few minutes later he turned to Judge Barron and took his hand in both of his, clearly startling the old man.

“Don’t sell it, sir.”

“What’s that?”

Dean narrowed his eyes and whispered, “Keep it. Don’t sell it. I’ll find another automobile to buy, but you, sir…you’ll never forgive yourself if you sell it.” The owner looked confused. For one thing, he seemed to be trying to get his hand back from Deane, who not only had his hand but was also standing much too close. At the same time he was obviously pleased that Deane liked his Rolls Royce.

“Well, ‘keep it.’ Of course. That’s what I think, too. But the wife, you know. She’s the practical one. Insurance and all that. Yes, I’d love to keep it.” Holden thought that the old judge really was having second thoughts. He kept glancing over at the black and tan Silver Cloud, and then he stopped talking and gazed at it as if he had never seen it before. “God!” he said. “What a splendid automobile.”

Deane dropped his hand but then took his arm and led him closer to the automobile. “Sir, look at its finish. Only time and good care can build such a deep glow. And the leather. Saddle soap and love. Saddle soap and love. It shows, sir. There’s no substitute. Don’t sell it.”

“God!”

“My friends and I will just excuse ourselves and leave you here with your Rolls. Thank you. Thank you. I’m moved.” Deane shook the man’s hand again and backed away from him and the car as if unwilling to turn his back to them. Holden and the others started back to the Toyota, but the car’s owner seemed to break out of his spell.

“But wait,” he called to Deane. “Maybe you’d better drive it or something. Take it around, see how it runs. I mean, I’m just thinking of the wife.”

Dean stopped backing away but said nothing.

“Don’t you want to know how much I’m asking for it?”

“Money?” Dean said. “That’s not it. I’m sure you’d ask something fair if you were to let it go, but sir…” Dean shook his head.

“Well, take it out and drive it. Take your friends around. Visit a winery, have some fun. Then come on back and we’ll talk about it.”

Deane looked serious. Finally he started back toward the Rolls Royce and its owner until he again stood a little too close. He took his hand. “I would be honored, sir. Honored.”


Next, Deane and his retinue went shopping for Napa Valley property. “No less than 60 acres,” he explained to a realtor.

“Planted or unplanted?”

“Planted. Old-vine Cabernet, and let’s take my car.” Somehow they all fit into the Rolls Royce.

“Where are you from?” the realtor asked Deane in a friendly voice from the back seat.

Here….now: the gorgeous Napa Valley.” It was gorgeous. Not spectacular but peaceful, open, friendly, warm and, at the valley’s limits where mountains rose, rolling. Deane drove where the realtor directed and finally passed through a stone gate and then down a dirt road lined by old olive trees that met overhead. He pulled aside to let a tractor lumber slowly around them. Deane and his passengers waved at the farmer who raised a finger to them without smiling. Deane eased the Rolls Royce back onto the dirt lane. All around them grape vines with gnarly old trunks wrapped around simple trellises and leaned toward the sun.

Gradually a Victorian farmhouse revealed itself at the end of the road and Deane slowed even further. The vineyards grew right up to the house on both of its sides with no yard or fence between them. The house and the vines looked as if they had sprung from the same soil and were ruled by the same sun and rain. Railroad ties in front of the house marked parking places, and the Silver Cloud rolled to a slow stop. Holden, in the back seat with Laura and the realtor, felt shy about breaking the peace and he waited in the car, peering at the house. So did the others until finally the realtor got out. Then everyone stepped out of the car and stretched and gazed at the house and the apple trees and peach trees that surrounded the front of the home and at the mountains that were not so far off.

Even the realtor hung back from the front door, perhaps waiting for someone to greet them. “I called,” he said. “He’s expecting us.” He and the others looked around when they noticed the tractor they had seen a moment ago lumbering along toward them. The farmer pulled up by the group, letting its engine run.

“One of you wants to farm 80 acres?” The old man looked on them with suspecting eyes.

“That would be Mr. Deane here,” the realtor said, presenting his client. “You must be Clem Briano.”

The farmer glowered. “That’s some fancy car you’ve got there, feller.” He and Deane eyed each other. Holden watched them both, uncomfortable.

Finally Deane said, “I’ll trade you straight across for your tractor.” The farmer might have been amused. Holden couldn’t tell.

“Nope.”

“Okay, I’ll trade you this car for all your peach trees.”

“Nope.”

“Well then, how about for all your peaches?”

“Nope.”

“Well what about for just one peach?” The farmer did smile a little.

“Nope.”

“Then it looks like my car isn’t worth much out here.”

“Not to me.”

Deane looked at him. “You ever look under the hood of one of these? Because it’s pretty interesting.” He went to the Silver Cloud and popped the hood and raised it while the farmer watched. After a while the farmer pushed his throttle and the engine of his tractor revved down. He dismounted and sauntered over to the Rolls where he and Deane together gazed at its engine and got to talking about this and that.

After that the farmer, Clem, led them around the vineyard. “This here’s cabernet sauvignon grapes. That’s all I grow.” Holden thought Deane would tell the old farmer to lock them up, but he was unusually quiet.

“They look a hundred years old,” Deane said.

“Ninety.”

“Yep.”

Holden wondered whether he had heard right. Did Avery really say ‘Yep?’ He noticed that Deane handled every piece of equipment that the farmer called to his attention. He smelled every rose bush. He tasted the apples and peaches off the trees. He knelt and picked up a handful of soil here and there and smelled it. He sat on the tractor and started the engine and lifted the front end loader. He examined the vines and the grapes that were beginning to color. Inside the Victorian house, he patted the fine old stove and ran his hand along the curved banister of the staircase. He looked out of an upstairs window at the vineyards surrounding the property. And he kept his lip zipped.

Finally they all gathered back at the Rolls Royce. “Well, what do you think, fella?” the farmer asked Deane. The realtor kept back, knowing it was up to them. Sandra and Khalil and Laura and Holden hung back with him and watched.

“I think you’d better keep it, don’t you?”

He considered. “I’m getting too damn old to work it.”

“Would you like to stay?”

“Yep.”

Holden wondered, “Did he learn that from Deane or was it the other way around?”

“Well why don’t you spin off about 20 acres and give it to some young family in exchange for working the whole farm for the next 10 or 20 years? They don’t have to live here unless you want them to.”

“Well, 10 or 20 years would sure do the trick, wouldn’t it?” The farmer smiled a little and then thought for a while. “I could do that. I never thought of it before.”

“You want to?”

“Yeah.”

“Well then it’s about time we were on our way.” Everyone began climbing back into the Silver Cloud, waving goodbye to the farmer and saying what a nice place he had here.

When Dean was back behind the wheel, the old man came to his window and took his shoulder. “Will you all come back and visit?” he asked.


Holden didn’t know exactly what had happened. Finally he said to Deane, “Do you really want to buy a vineyard?” Deane didn’t answer. “You didn’t have much to say to the old fellow.”

“I was listening to him talk. Did you hear his voice? And his dialect? They’re wonderful! God!”


When they drove down the lawn-bordered driveway near St. Helena where Deane had picked up the Rolls Royce, Judge Barron came out and asked Deane, “How did you like it?”

Avery Deane asked, “What did your wife say?”

He grinned. “She said I could keep it.”

The friends broke out in a cheer. Deane out shouted them all, though.

“Then drive it man! Don’t sell it!”

A few minutes later they were back in Holden’s old Toyota, on their way home. It had been a long day, but everyone was in a good mood.

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When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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