Chapter 26

“I’d rather have the rug, hang it on my wall and drink claret. We could sit there together and clink glasses.”

Deane might whistle in the graveyard: “I know you’re going to love it Sarah dear …” But who could tell what she might think? Until now, he had shown the finished version of the dragon rug to no one. Would she laugh at it? Was its purported antiquity transparently fake? Its dragon laughingly kitch? Despite his bravado, he could scarcely breathe as he laid his rug out before her.

When, instead of laughing, she ran her fingers over the rug’s silky pile with a kind of reverence, he lost all doubt. Through her eyes he saw its glowing, age-browned colors, it’s balance and harmony and its air of mystery. Of one thing he was now certain: With his magic he had created a mirage, a grand illusion, a heart-stopping deception. From earthworms and wool, roots and muck, and by his own artifice he had conjured a work of art. He wanted to spread it before Pope and Highland and look them in the eye and dare them to call it a fake.

“But the collector wishes to be anonymous,” Sarah argued. “He asked me to bring the rug to him myself. Then, if he approves, I’m to bring you the money.”

“Hardly anonymous, Sarah. It’s Ulysses Pope! Who else? Could anyone else pay a million dollars for a rug?”

“Still, I have to respect his right to privacy.”

“Talk to him. Tell him I’m balking. And I am, you know. I’m tempted to keep it. I don’t care about the money. I’d rather have the rug; hang it on my wall and drink claret. We could sit there together and clink glasses, you and I.” Deane had settled into a sofa and she into a comfortable chair in Sarah’s living room and while they talked they gazed at the dragon rug before them, spread on the white wall-to-wall. Now he turned in his chair and looked at her. “Let’s keep it,” he proposed, earnestly.

She wasn’t sure just what he was proposing, but Sarah’s eyes, though fixed on the rug, were steadfastly on the prize: a million dollars. Plus commission. “Avery, a deal is a deal. You knew the rules before you brought the rug by tonight. The collector remains anonymous. If you wanted to keep it, you shouldn’t have come.”

Deane was delighted by her spirit. “All right, my dear, let’s sell it.”

“Half for you and half for me?” she wondered, silently. She turned and looked at him and was certain that was exactly what he meant. “A half-million-dollars each and a life together,” she said to herself, trying it out. She was interested in this unusual man. It’s just that she had been thinking along the lines of a million dollars, free and clear.

Then he added, “But I still want to show it to Pope myself. And Highland. I want to watch the famous debunker examine it.”

Whatever else was going on, Sarah heard loudly and clearly that the scenario he was insisting on took the money out of her hands. “If he delivers the rug to Pope, then Pope will pay him for it if he decides to buy it,” she reasoned to herself. “No chance to put the money in my pocket. On the other hand, I could cast my lot with him and have half of the million dollars. I could keep working at the Museum and wait for other opportunities.” All in all, it seemed to her as if a million dollars was startlingly more than $500,000. She decided not to settle for half of it and to keep looking for a way to keep it all.

“Okay, I’ll phone,” she said. Deane listened while she explained to Pope that the man with the Dragon rug wanted to deliver the rug to him in person. She added, on her own, that he wanted the money in cash upon delivery, not the next day or next week.

“Tell him ‘no deal,’” Pope said. “Wait! You’ve seen the rug, right? How does it look?”

“It’s the best rug I’ve ever seen, but of course I don’t know whether it’s the Ferrier rug. If I had to guess, I’d say it is.”

“The best rug you’ve ever seen?”

“Yes. The best looking. Not the finest, but the most attractive.”

“I don’t give a damned whether it’s attractive or not as long as it is the Ferrier rug!” Sarah could picture his scowl. “Why does he want to give it to me in person? Does he want to know who I am?”

“He assumes the buyer is Ulysses Pope. He thinks no one else has the money to buy this rug. My guess is that he wants to see your face when he shows you the rug. I think it’s personal with him. He was hoping Marley Highland would be there, too.”

“Why?”

“Same reason, I think.”

“I don’t like this.” A pause. “Okay, let’s all meet the day after tomorrow. You and Deane be at the San Francisco Airport Hilton at 2:00 PM with the rug. I’ll have the money in cash and I’ll have Highland there to inspect the rug. But before I pay, this man will have to sign a statement promising never to disclose any information at all about the rug: who the buyer is, where he got the rug, that he got it, how much I paid for it, anything. You’ll have to do the same thing. It looks good, you say?”

“The rug?”

He grunted.

She turned and looked at Deane. “It looks fabulous. I just hope it winds up where it should: in a museum.”

“Screw museums,” Pope said. She silently agreed.

Off the phone now, Sarah left her chair with her glass of wine, kicked off her shoes and walked to the sofa, where she sat at the end opposite his. She turned in the sofa until she faced him, leaned back against the arm of the sofa and put her bare feet in his lap. “Avery, it is real, isn’t it?”

“This little piggy,” he said, wiggling one of her big toes. He smiled.

“But tell me the truth.”

“Of course it’s real. Does it matter?” He ran his hands over her calves, dabbing at the muscles and then smoothing them like a sculptor working a piece of clay.

“No, it doesn’t matter. The rug is so good that it really doesn’t matter whether it’s the Ferrier piece or not.”

“It gives me great pleasure to hear that you like it, my dear. I always thought you would, though I suspect you aren’t a great fan of many other Oriental rugs.”

She looked steadily at him for a moment, took a sip from her wineglass and said, “A very good guess. And a very big secret of mine. Are you shocked?”

He traced the long curves of her calves with his hands. “No,” he said, “I’m not shocked. Most Oriental rugs are boring.”

“Yes, and we still have to make a living, don’t we? Take you. If you were to fake an Oriental rug for $1,000,000., who could blame you?”

“But that isn’t it, Sarah. I told you before that it’s not the money.”

“Well, it is for me.”

Deane laughed. “I don’t know why I’m amused. I’m usually quite impatient with people whose focus is money. The stuff doesn’t move me.”

“Then give it to me,” she said.

Deane laughed again, playfully slapped the bottom of one bare foot and scooted toward her so that now her knees were arched over his lap. “I don’t have it yet, my dear—the million dollars cash.”

“Let me take the rug to them. If you go, you’ll just say something outrageous and blow the sale. When I sell it for you, you pay me a hundred-thousand-dollar commission.”

He smiled and shook his head. “If I give you the rug I might not see it or you again, or the money. Besides, I want to be there to see what old Ulysses says, and I’d like to hear how Highland advises him. That’s what interests me.” But he was interested in her knees, too, and he resumed his sculpting.

handspun wool for oriental rugs

When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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