Chapter 22

“King of my castle,” he said aloud, “but you do have to defend it, don’t you?”

During the past several months, the summer months, Holden had been in a sunnier mood. Rarely now did he peer glumly down the Black Hole of Calcutta. He wondered what had brought on the change. Did his ascent out of gloom begin when thirty people dropped out of the Ali Babba Society on his behalf? During his three years in business, he had believed himself to be invisible in the rug world, but when Pope had embarrassed him, his colleagues and customers had all stood up for him. Maybe that’s when his mood had begun to change.

Or had it been even earlier, when Avery Deane had shown up in his store, crabby and loud and exciting, shouting like a mad man, “Lock ‘em up!” Holden had felt discovered. Or, rather, his rugs had been discovered and respected. Suddenly here was someone else who seemed to value them as highly as Holden. In fact, Deane may have valued them even more than Holden. “You’re giving them away, man. You’re giving them away!” And suddenly Holden had found their beauty and importance again. Maybe that’s when his mood began to change, when Avery Deane walked through the door. Holden thought so.

But, goodness knows, there was a price to be paid, too, as he was reminded when Deane walked through the door that morning as he had done so often.


Holden was glad to see him, despite everything. Despite everything? Well, Deane could be a problem. For instance, not all of Holden’s customers enjoyed having a man shout at them such things as, “It’s not a sniveling little Chevy, man, it’s a Mercedes! A Mercedes!” Some folks who entered the rug store believed that Deane was a mad man, plain and simple, and, frightened, they got the hell out. And others felt that there were some very hard-sale tactics going on here, and they left too. And, furthermore, Holden did not enjoy the fact that many of his customers assumed that Deane was the shop’s owner and that Holden worked for him. So having Deane in the store was a mixed bag. Very.

And he could be grouchy and irritable. With Dean, you could never tell.

That morning he had come in singing some song Holden wasn’t familiar with. He spun about the shop looking at Holden’s new acquisitions, praising them, urging him to raise his prices even higher, though Holden had already marked them up considerably. A customer came in, then another. Just as Deane was getting ready to grab one of them by an elbow, another man walked through the door and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Avery Deane. The man had the look of a boxer. Was it his broken nose? His epicanthic fold? His forward-thrusting head? Or his loud voice?

“Well, speak of the devil! Old Jake himself.” (Had he heard right, Holden wondered. Jake? Is that what the prizefighter had called Deane? Because obviously he was talking to Deane.) Deane checked him out and then ignored the fellow.) “Just the bloke I was hoping to run into someday.” The man was loud and aggressive, and Holden and his customers glanced at him nervously.

“Uh, can I help you?” Holden asked.

He can.” The man pointed at Deane. “He can help me by paying off his bloody debts.” Holden had the sensation that this wasn’t really happening, a sensation that was added to by the man’s accent. He could have been Avery’s brother. He spoke just like him, though without the gorgeous, soaring voice. But brotherhood seemed unlikely. While Deane was less than 5’7”, this man was a burly 6’2.” Deane ignored him and turned the corner of a rug mounted on the wall to examine its back, but he had quit humming. The big guy lumbered up behind Deane and put a big hand on his shoulder. “I guess you don’t recognize me, huh Jake?” His voice dripped stupid sarcasm. One of the customers hurried out the door. Holden was very unhappy.

Deane turned and brushed the man’s hand off his shoulder and faced him. “Ever the gentleman, yes Johnson? Still a bit heavy of jowl, I see, and a little heavy handed. If you have something to ask me you can ask politely.”

“I don’t have to be overly polite, now do I, when I’m asking for something that is mine to begin with? Where’s my money, that’s what I’m asking?”

“I have invested it for you, Johnson. Now if you will quit acting like a goon you will have your money twice over.”

The “goon” stuck out his broad hand for his money, and squared his jaw and shoulders at Deane. The one remaining customer moved closer to the door.

Holden had to do something. “Look, gentlemen, let’s keep this polite and let’s keep it quiet. This is a place of business.”

“Better not get involved with this one, mate,” Johnson said to Holden, though he still stared at Deane and held out his hand. “He’ll take you to the cleaners. Next it will be you trying to get your money from this big-mouth.” Holden shuddered. Deane still owed him for the silk Kirman. Just then Deane slapped Johnson’s hand away and began roaring.

“You bloody fucking idiot! Go back to your cave and scratch yourself. And get out of my face!” Johnson lunged, but Deane slipped him like a bullfighter and Johnson crashed into a rug on the wall. The last customer dashed out the door. Deane twirled around the showroom like a dervish while the boxer tried to catch him. Deane goaded, “If you were a lot smarter, Johnson, you’d be a moron.” Johnson growled as he lunged again and again.

Now, in the last few years Holden had been through a lot. He had been shunned by no less than Marley Highland, Sarah Atwood, Charles Evans Green, Ulysses Pope and Kyle Berman in one evening in Washington, D.C. He had suffered the long, slow, retailer’s death of no sales for most of three years. He had been made a monkey of by Ulysses Pope. He had stood by while customers assumed that Deane owned the store and that Holden worked for him. But he had never had to watch a couple of madmen drive away his customers. With unambiguous clarity, suddenly he understood that it was his shop, his castle, his livelihood, his stand to make. As people sometimes explain after flying far outside their normal bounds, “something snapped.” Before he had time to be afraid or to think this through or to put a sign in his window saying “Closed for Fistfight,” he dashed between the dervish and the caveman, threw his arms out and yelled his head off. “OUT! OUT! BOTH OF YOU! OUT OF MY STORE!” Hyperventilating but unstoppable, he shouted, “I’m going to count to three and if you guys are still here, I’m going to take your arms off.” He dropped his doubled-up fists to his hips and gazed first into Deane’s eyes and then Johnson’s, challenging them both. “One,” he said. They stopped.

“Two.”

Deane laughed. “Go Holden! Throw us out!” Holden glared at him, then at Johnson.

“Three. All right!” And that’s when he pretty much went berserk, though he didn’t seriously hurt anybody. And in the end Deane and Johnson were outside on the sidewalk and he was standing in his doorway, dusting his hands off. The two outside had grins on their faces, maybe sheepish grins or maybe amused grins.

The big one said to the other, “That’s the nicest place we’ve ever been thrown out of.”

Deane explained, “That’s my boy Holden. He’s a good man.”

Holden slammed the door and then turned and leaned back against it. For a while he could hear them outside, first laughing, then arguing; laughing again and walking away. He smiled.

“King of my castle,” he said aloud, “but you do have to defend it, don’t you?” It was a rhetorical question. In fact he had defended his castle, and that didn’t hurt Holden’s sunny mood at all.


There was no end to his surprises that day. Not long after he tossed Deane and Johnson out of his store, a very tall man walked in whom Holden instantly recognized as Marley Highland. Even as he welcomed him to his store and shook his hand, he remembered the hour he had spent in Highland’s company—and in the company of Ulysses Pope, Kyle Berman, Charles Evans Green and Sarah Atwood. They had completely ignored him, as if, like the magnificent Serapi the rug moguls had stood on, he were invisible. So now, as he shook hands, Holden held a little of his usual goodwill in reserve.

Highland clearly didn’t remember him. He made a cursory tour around the store and praised a rug or two. He made another round and looked closer at a couple of the rugs and stopped praising them. Then he stopped looking at them, or, rather, he glanced at them surreptitiously, from the corner of his eye. He asked about a couple of pieces that, Holden knew, had no particular merit. He began to make small talk: weather and things like that.

After watching Deane sell dozens of rugs in his store, Holden understood that collectors believe that expressing an interest in a carpet will drive its price up, and so they are forced to find a way to both ignore it and to buy it. Usually they mention it casually, like, “Hey, look at that Salor. One end is quite a bit wider than the other, isn’t it? I wonder what its weaver was smoking. Hah, hah, hah!”

Holden had learned to ignore this first thrust. That forced the collector to try again. Often their second stab involved damning with faint praise, like, “It is a decent Salor, though. Too bad about its dyes.” Of course there was more going on than a collector trying to keep a rug’s price from going up. Actually, they were hoping to drive it down. In any case, Holden knew that at that point it was safe to enter into an academic discussion of the rug. For instance he might agree that it probably was a Salor, though it was hard to be certain, considering its rarity. And so the dance proceeded, with neither the buyer nor seller seemingly able to stop the music.

He was sure that Highland’s apparent indifference was a sign that he was interested in one of Holden’s rugs. Highland confirmed it a moment later when he said casually, “You know, I disagree with your attribution on that rug you’re calling a Kazak. I believe it’s a Karabaugh.” In effect, Marley Highland the third had speeded up the dance, cutting right to the good-natured-academic-discussion stage.

But Holden was in a strange mood. Having recently taken the measure of two famous rug figures—Ulysses Pope and Sarah Atwood—and having finally become clear that they were sorry excuses for humankind, he found himself under-whelmed by the presence of yet another. And then, too, he had just thrown two grown men out of his store and had established what had not been so clear before, namely that he was the owner of his rug store and that, in it, he didn’t have to dance to anyone’s music but his own. So instead of arguing about the provenance of his rug—and it was his—and engaging in a dance that had everything to do with Highland trying to get his price down, he said, “All my rugs have price tags, and my prices are firm.” In that instant he hit on a principal from which he never again wavered: that in his store the price was the price, and the price would be the same for Joe Blow, for Ulysses Pope, for Sarah Atwood and everyone else (though not for Laura Scott. He would cheerfully have given her anything she wanted.)

But while Holden may have taken pleasure in refusing to dance, Marley Highland lll was not amused. He was annoyed. “I wasn’t talking about the price of the rug. I simply disagree about its provenance.” Holden kept quiet, and soon Highland changed the subject. “Anyway, I wanted to ask you if you’ve run into a fellow that some people describe as a small man with a big voice? He has a British accent and knows rugs very well.”

For some reason, Holden was cautious. “Yes, I think I’ve run into someone like that. What is his name?”

“Well, it’s a funny thing, but I don’t really know his name. Do you know it?”

Holden was uncomfortable. “Well, I think I’ve heard him called Jake.”

“Jake?” Holden nodded. He could see that Highland made a mental note of the name.

“If I see him, shall I tell him you’re looking for him?”

“No, no, that’s all right. At this stage I just would like to know where he is. But perhaps you could give me a call if you should see him again?”

“Sure,” Holden said. “Be glad to.”

After Highland left, Holden wondered what he wanted with Deane, and he also wondered what mischief Deane had been up to. As he pondered, he crumpled up the business card Highland had given him with his phone number on it and he tossed it in a waste paper basket.

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When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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