Chapter 25

There was a glow about it, an aura of age, of wool polished and browned by centuries of use.

When she took Deane’s phone call at the Museum, Sarah was at her desk and had been thinking about him. She had spoken to him no more than three times and had seen him only twice: once when he had visited her at the museum and once at Pope’s rally for the Ali Babbas. She recalled his stunning voice, the flair of his silk scarf, his chiseled though deeply lined face. It was almost a pity that she would have to sacrifice him if he actually brought her the Ferrier Dragon Rug. Because, given the fact that Avery Deane wanted cash and Pope wished to remain anonymous, the likely scenario was that Deane would hand over the rug to Sarah, she would pass it on to Pope, Pope would give her the money ($1,000,000 cash) for Deane, and she would keep the money—all of it. Of course Deane would raise bloody hell, but it would be her word (the curator of an important museum collection) against his (a person of obscure origins).

Oh, and she would also like to wind up with the $100,000 commission, for a total of $1,100,000. Pope would get his rug; she would get her money. Avery Deane would get nothing. Oh well.

While she was daydreaming about piles of green cash, the phone in her office rang and Deane, on the other end of the line, said, “I have something to show you, my dear.” Sarah, who all her life had had nerves of steel, had to sit down.

“What is it you would like to show me?” Her voice quavered.

“A dragon, my dear. I think you’re going to like him, have no fear.” He laughed like a mad man, and she found herself laughing, too.

Finally she said, “Don’t bring it here. Can you come to my home tonight?”

He laughed again.


When Sarah moved to San Francisco to take the museum job, she sold her brownstone in Washington. Instead of buying a house in San Francisco, she invested her considerable equity in liquid assets. Sarah lived in a flat in Sausalito that she leased by the year. She felt sure that she would not be in San Francisco forever and she wanted to be able to put her hands on her money quickly if she needed to.

Deane arrived downstairs at her security door, and through the video monitor mounted near the door, she could see that his neck was wrapped in a silk scarf, his head topped by a tweed beret, and one shoulder was draped with a rolled rug. When she walked downstairs and opened the door for him, she saw a taxi drive away behind him. Sarah shook his hand and led the way up the stairs to her door, which she opened for him. She did not and would not glance at the rug.

She was the gracious hostess. “Mr. Deane, it’s so good of you to come. I know it’s late. Can I pour you a glass of wine? Red? A Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley?” He smiled while she pulled a cork and he flew about her living room like a humming bird, commenting on her objets d’art.

“A fine netsuke, my dear. Someone let it go. Imagine. Gave it up. Sold it! Hah, hah! You got it. That’s what matters. But how could they, you know? Makes you wonder. Money troubles, probably. No sin in that.” He was shouting, though she was just a few feet away. “But please,” he said, “don’t call me Mr. Deane. We’re birds of a feather! How about Avery? Or Jack. Or Jake. Take your pick. Besides, I’d like to call you Sarah.”

“I’d be pleased if you did,” she said as she handed him a glass of wine. “But my goodness, how can I decide what to call you? I’ve never known anyone with so many names. I like Avery, though, and if you don’t mind, that’s what I’ll call you.”

“Why, Avery is fine. I chose it myself. So, Avery it is then. And Sarah.” They clinked glasses.

“Shall I take your scarf and hat?” She said nothing about the object draped over his shoulder that she simply could not bear to acknowledge. He gave up his scarf and hat, revealing a shock of wavy brown hair that was beginning to gray over his ears. He sat in a chair to which she pointed, first shrugging the rug off his shoulder and dropping it to the carpeted floor beside him. Sarah had had many occasions to apologize to guests—many of them from the world of Oriental rugs—for her wall-to-wall carpeting, telling people that her landlord refused to let her pull it up to make way for hand made carpets, but the truth is that she preferred carpeting to Oriental rugs. In fact she had sold her Serapi along with her brick house in Washington, glad for the money and happy not to have the responsibility of maintaining it. The carpeting on which Deane had tossed his rug was plush and white. She loved it.

They made small-talk and sipped wine. Sarah thought Deane was a handsome man, but his face was disturbingly wrinkled in a pattern that suggested he was often annoyed. Yet now he was excited and enthusiastic. She found herself listening to his marvelous voice rather than to what he was saying. She was grateful that he did not once mention Oriental rugs, a subject in which she was, by circumstance, constantly having to pretend an interest. Instead he talked about his fascination with American “muscle cars” and the East Bay’s park system, especially Tilden Park “with its creeks and eucalypts.”

“They make me feel at home, the eucalyptus trees. Tilden Park must have the biggest concentration of them outside of Australia. They will burn, though! Grow fast, burn fast.”

“So you’re from Australia?”

“Oh yes, now and then. But I get bored and soon I’m from Botswana or London or New York. It really doesn’t matter.” She wasn’t listening carefully except to the way he said eucalyptus and Botswana. Even “grow fast, burn fast.” Everything he said sounded exotic or dangerous. “Muscle car.”

“Another glass of wine?” she asked. She drained the bottle of Pinot Noir into their two glasses. He spoke of the Burgundian hillsides on which the grape was farmed. Finally there came a time when neither had spoken for a few moments, and both seemed to become aware at the same time that they had been staring at the back of the rolled rug lying on the white wall-to-wall. Sarah was embarrassed, as if she had been caught.

Deane had finally stopped smiling. “Well, my dear,” he said, “I think it’s time for you to meet our dragon.” Still he stared at the rug’s back, humming now.

“Avery, you know that I’ll still have to show it to the collector? And I understand that he will have an expert on hand to authenticate it.”

Deane finally looked away from the rug and at her. “Marley Highland?”

“He didn’t say, but that would be my guess.” Deane’s smile returned.

“Good! Wonderful! What fun!” He jumped up. Really jumped up and swooped the rug off the floor. He sprang with it to an open space in the room and faced Sarah, beaming. “Are you ready, Sarah?”

She felt weak, and, instead of standing up, she stayed seated and nodded to him. A million dollars was riding on this rug. Was it the Ferrier rug? Was it real? With a flourish as ancient as the rug trade itself, Deane held two corners of the rug and unfurled it in the air so that the other end landed on the floor. The rug, open now, faced Sarah, one end in Deane’s hands and the other resting on the white carpeting, and at that angle it caught the light from a lamp. Slowly he pulled the rug straight and lowered his end until it lay before her like an offering.

First she saw color, a yellow gone amber with age. She rose and went to the rug and stood over it. There was a glow about it, an aura of age, of wool polished and browned by centuries of use. A dragon bristled on its amber background, a mad stare in its eyes. She knelt and ran the fingers of one hand across the rug, feeling it silky wool.

Deane walked around the rug and stood beside her and stared at it, too. He had quit his flourishing moves and had even stopped talking, and it was clear to her that he was deeply moved by the rug. He too dropped to his knees and felt the rug’s age-softened wool. Suddenly she thought she understood: “He is not pretending. He believes in this rug. This is the real thing, the Ferrier Dragon Rug. Unless it isn’t. Unless it’s a fake. And it really doesn’t matter, does it? The rug is that good.” She had just met the first and only Oriental rug that she truly loved—or even liked.

handspun wool for oriental rugs

When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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