Chapter 20

“By the time you’re finished, I want you to know how the Ferrier Dragon Rug smells.”

Sarah held the phone away from her ear as Ulysses Pope shouted. “Well where the hell is it? China? Here? Does it exist at all?”

“I don’t know, Ulysses.” Sarah Atwood was one of the few people who could call the old billionaire rug collector by his first name. “All he told me is that the prospects for getting it are looking better and that he should know more in a month or so.”

“Well if I have to come up with a million dollars in a month or two, I have to know more than that! Has he seen it?”

“No. He says a friend in China thinks it’s the real thing. He says that his friend has connections with the Chinese military, and evidently the military controls Chinese antiquities. This fellow is trying to get it out of the country right now.”

“The Ferrier Dragon Rug?”

“That’s what he says.”

The old man was silent for a moment. “Well, don’t scare him off. Tell him I’ve got the money. Don’t tell him my name, though.”

“Of course not,” but she thought, “You old fool. Who do you think you’re kidding? Who else has $1,000,000 to buy a 4 by 5 foot rug?” Out loud she said, “So anyway, I thought I should inform you.”

“Call me day or night! Day or night. I want that rug!”

“I’ll keep you posted, Ulysses. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted.”

“I’m not worried! Just get me that rug.”

“Of course.”

“Day or night.”

“Yes, day or night.”

“He’s worried,” she thought. “Good.”

“You think this guy is on the up-and-up? A million dollars is enough to bring crooks out of the woodwork.”

Sarah had to laugh, but she kept it to herself. “A million dollars?” she thought. “Stick that much money under our noses and aren’t we all crooks?” But to Pope she said, “I don’t know, Ulysses. This man is strange. Queen’s English. Refined manners. Breeding. He’s a wound-up sort, though. On the edge.”

“On the edge of what? What are you talking about?”

It took her a while to answer as she thought back on her encounter with Deane in the Museum. “Well, on the edge of sanity.” She laughed out loud. “On the edge of good-looking, too. Little man, big voice. Big, beautiful voice. Energy, charisma. He said he and I don’t care about money. I believed him. At least I believed it about him.”

“I still don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. God damn it, Sarah, just get me that rug.”

“It’s best if you don’t hold your breath, Ulysses. It’ll either happen or it won’t. It probably won’t.” Sarah wondered why it amused her to tease Pope. Maybe Deane was a crook or a con man, but, still, he was her best hope for getting the Ferrier Dragon Rug for Pope and a $100,000 commission for herself—or at least coming up with a rug that might pass for the Ferrier rug.

Ulysses Pope grumbled and hung up.

The truth is that Sarah had become impatient with the course she had chosen—the “rug path,” she called it. She had chosen it in cold blood, without being the least bit interested in Oriental rugs, and she had done so because of the opportunities the rug world seemed to offer for making a killing. In nothing flat she had risen to the pinnacle: curator of one of the most important museum collections of rugs in the country, where she trafficked in rugs worth millions of dollars. Thus far, none of those millions had rubbed off onto her.

Rather than being so cynical, she thought, perhaps she should have found a profession that involved something she loved…and the money would have followed. What did she love, though? Money.

Really, after 6 years of climbing the ladder, her best chance for some decent money was that Avery Deane would come up with the Ferrier Dragon Rug. With all her hopes vested in him, she had begun to remember him as larger than life. Of course he wasn’t literally large. He was rather short. But she remembered how he seemed to wake up the museum as she had guided him through her part of it: shouting, purring, imploring her to “Lock ‘em up!” Whoever he was. She didn’t know where he was from, even. Who did he know? Who knew him? She had seen him at Ulysses Pope’s boring talk in Berkeley where Pope had been trying to drum up members for his rug society. Deane must have been invited by that rug dealer what’s his name. Holden Caufield. Holden something. Maybe the rug dealer knew more about him. She thought she might call Holden and see if she could find out more about Avery Deane. If she could remember his last name. Holden…Holden something.

A short while after Ulysses Pope grumbled and hung up on Sarah, Marley Highland received a phone call from the old rug mogul.

“Listen here, Highland, I’m going to tell you something and I want you to keep your mouth shut about it.”

Ah, Highland thought, there’s no one quite like Ulysses Pope. Thank God. Aloud he said, “Of course, Mr. Pope.”

“I might be able to put my hands on the old Ferrier Dragon Rug. Do you know anything about it?”

Highland was stunned. “You’re kidding!”

“Highland, have you ever known me to kid? Don’t be an ass.”

“Uh…It’s just that I always thought the Ferrier rug probably was a myth. It’s real? You know where it is?”

“I told you, I might.”

“Well that’s marvelous! I don’t know what to say!”

“Don’t say a damned thing to anybody. Is that clear?”

“Of course.”

“Before I acquire this rug I want to make very certain that it’s the real thing. That’s where you come in. Highland, I want you to become the world’s expert on the rug. Read everything that has ever been written about it. Then, when the time comes, I want you to authenticate it for me. Got that?”

Highland thought for a moment. “What you’re asking is impossible. How can I authenticate something that no one has ever seen? All we have is a written description.”

“Damn it, don’t argue with me! If you’re worth your salt you will be able to tell me whether the rug is old enough. You’ll be able to tell me whether its weave makes sense. You’ll know whether it matches Ferrier’s description. Just tell me whether you want the job or not. If I get the rug, I’ll pay you $10,000 to examine it and tell me whether it’s the Ferrier rug.”

“Mr. Pope, Charles Evans Green could do the same thing, and he probably wouldn’t charge for the advice.”

“The difference between him and you is that you’ll know if the rug is a forgery and he won’t. Also, I’ll want you to be on the scene within a few hours of the time I get my hands on the rug. It probably will land on the West Coast.”

“From where?”

“None of your business.”

“Provided by whom?”

“None of your business.”

“Maybe it is. I am aware of at least one man capable of making quite good fakes. Would you describe the person who might bring you the rug?”

“I don’t know what he looks like. I just know a bunch of nonsense about him. He’s on the edge, whatever that means. Speaks the Queen’s English. Small man, big voice. Charismatic. A bunch of nonsense.”

“Hmm. And if you don’t manage to get the rug for me to examine?”

“I’ll pay you $5000 anyway. Plus expenses.”

“All right. I’ll start my research tonight.”

“Good. By the time you’re finished, I want you to know how the Ferrier Dragon Rug smells.”

“Well, I’ll know whether this rug smells fishy or not.”

“That’s why we have you, Highland. You have a good nose.” Highland had to agree. He had a good nose for fakes.

“Small man, big voice.” The timing of Pope’s phone call was strange. Since Highland had taught his graduate seminar on archeological fakes several weeks ago, he had been thinking again about the two rugs in the National Carpet Museum’s collection that he knew were forgeries. He had never discovered who had faked them, but he did have a suspect in mind, the fellow of mysterious origins and unknown name whom several New York rug dealers had fingered as the most likely perpetrator, someone they had without exception called a small man with a big voice. And now Marley had just received a phone call from Ulysses Pope that set off bells.

Of course he didn’t know whether the rug that Pope was expecting to get was a fake or not. Maybe it was the real thing. But Highland thought that already he was catching a whiff of rat. The rug was going to surface on the West Coast? Maybe he should research it there, and, while he was at it, he might just ask around rug-circles about a short rug guy with a big voice. He thought he might start in San Francisco. And, of course, Berkeley.

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When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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