Chapter 29

It was astonishing how loudly the small child could sing. Her piping filled the chamber so that those closest to her actually took a couple of steps backwards.

Three months had passed since Deane bought Clem’s vineyard. He had been annoyed to find that he had not succeeded in ducking certain tax obligations. For instance, the County of Napa had billed Clem Briano $38,000 for property taxes, which was absurd, of course, because Clem was no longer the owner. He was. But if they thought he had $38,000, they were crazy. No one could get that much money together when there had hardly been time to harvest any grapes at all and now it would be next year before he could get any grapes to market. Well, Napa County would just have to wait for its tax money.

Anyway, these days, if he wanted to visit the farm he had to get Holden or Sandra to pay for the petrol. And even then, the utilities had been turned off in the house and it wasn’t much fun to be there without lights and heat and all the rest.

There was one bright spot, though. Two, actually: the wine that Clem had sold with the house was superb! And there were still 48 barrels of the stuff. Secondly, the new rug had come along splendidly. Everyone had pitched in, excited about the new project. The spinners had produced large baskets of hand-spun wool in a very short time. It was wonderful to see them filling the little apartment with their industry and their singing. Cherise had done her magic, too, dyeing the yarn in record time. Khalil had taken another leave from his restaurant and had happily strung his loom for the new rug. This time, his hands flew from the very start and at the end of each day he could boast at least two inches of progress. The rug was off the loom in just two months, and now, already, Deane had dug it up from its muddy grave by the banks of Strawberry Creek in Tilden Park, where he had been careful to avoid park rangers. He had hosed it off and dried it and brushed it smooth, and he was admiring it as its glow filled his small apartment—when the phone rang.

“Avery, did you hear that they found the Ferrier Dragon Rug?” It was Holden. He was excited.

“I’m not surprised to hear it, lad.”

I am! What are the chances of that rug being discovered nearly four hundred years after Ferrier wrote about it, and in good condition? It’s incredible! And here’s the best part. Apparently Sarah Atwood from the Museum managed to land the rug for a one-night private preview next week by the Bay Area Rug Society. Want to go see it?”

“My car, your gas,” he answered.

Of course, this was the rug-event of the decade, and everyone came: Sarah, as curator of the museum’s carpet collection, hosted the event; Holden came and brought his girlfriend, Laura. Of course he invited Avery Deane who brought along Sandra; unknown to Avery Deane, Holden also invited Khalil, who brought Kammi and Star. Tom, who nearly a year earlier had bought Holden’s Bijar and had come along to Little Kabul where they discovered Khalil, came, too. All of Holden’s rug-dealer friends were there; the many collectors who for three years had showed Holden the rugs they had bought from his competitors and who finally, now, were buying rugs from him—they were there, too. And then, to crown the event, Ulysses Pope tottered in like royalty, accompanied by Marley Highland, Kyle Berman from the Carpet Museum and Charles Evans Green, the grand old man of the Oriental rug world.

Holden, one of the most forgiving and charitable of all people, was not happy to see Pope. Pope had never thanked him for putting together the meeting in which he had solicited membership in the Ali Babbas (but had not accepted Holden’s application), nor had he apologized, nor had he in any way made good for having taken scandalous advantage of Holden in a number of ways. Holden’s face burned with embarrassment, thinking back on it. But it didn’t matter. The old man was there, and he acted like he owned the Ferrier rug. Which was a thought. Did he own it? Pope’s kingly air said yes. His patronizing pose said he was the rug’s owner. And one could guess that Pope, of all people, was the one and the only person who had the money and clout to collect it.

But it didn’t matter. The rug, occupying one wall of room by itself and lit by a host of spotlights that enhanced the warmth of it’s colors—the rug was astonishing, gorgeous, simply beyond compare, a work of art of the first order. It was far more than an artifact. Holden was moved almost to tears by it.

All those in the room had drawn up before the rug and were silently taking it in. Deane and Sandra came in a little later than the others and moved to Holden’s side. “Avery, have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” Holden whispered. Deane seemed pleased but not terribly interested. “Really, Avery, look at it!” Holden quietly insisted. But Deane was staring at Khalil, who was at the very front of the crowd, so close to the rug that he could have tasted it if he had stuck out his tongue. Khalil turned away and began jerking on Kammy’s sleeve, pointing at the rug and excitedly whispering something to her. He pointed to his chest with a thumb and then at the rug with a finger; then to himself again. He was attracting attention. Sarah Atwood, Marley Highland and Ulysses Pope were standing together just opposite Khalil on the other side of the rug and very near it. Though Holden couldn’t hear what Khalil was saying, apparently the three rug Titans could, and they were obviously very unhappy. All three glared at him with obvious ill will.

Holden glanced at Deane, who was still at his side but who had become quite still and pale. Then Deane dashed away toward where Khalil and his family were standing. Before he could reach Khalil, though, something unexpected happened. Khalil’s daughter, Star, looked around at all the people who were staring either at the rug or at her gesticulating father, and she believed that they were looking at her. Ever the performer, she believed that they were all here to hear her sing, and with that she took a stance directly before the dragon rug, faced her audience, threw open her arms in the age-old manner of people who belt out songs and launched into Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It was astonishing how loudly the small child could sing. Her clear piping filled the chamber so that those closest to her actually took a couple of steps backwards. Khalil reached out to stop her, but Kammy, with a mother’s fond smile, waved him off, evidently thinking that, once she was started, it was best to let Star finish her song. By this time, Deane had reached Khalil and he took him by his arm and hustled him away from the crowd.

Holden was confused. He watched as Khalil continued to point to the rug and then to himself, even as Deane got a kind of hammerlock on his other arm and more or less dragged him even further away from the others. As Star sang the lines about wishing on a star, which she sang with extra feeling, Deane was saying something in Khalil’s ear and Sarah, Highland and Pope were glaring in turn at Khalil, Deane, and at Star. Finally Star’s song ended, she curtsied, the crowd clapped uncertainly, and she returned to her mother’s side. Khalil returned to them but kept a little distance now between the rug and himself and, though he still seemed upset, he no longer spoke or gestured.

When Deane came back to where Holden, Laura and Sandra still stood, he glowered at Holden. “So, it was you who invited him to come?” he growled.

“Well, why not?” Holden asked innocently. “What’s going on?”

“Khalil was up there telling everyone he made that rug.”

Holden laughed. “When, four hundred years ago?” By this time, Sarah stood facing the audience where Star had stood moments before. She held a laser pointer and began lecturing, speaking first of the 17th century Ferrier account of a certain dragon rug. She read aloud Ferrier’s description of the rug as it had been translated by Martin a hundred years ago, and then she pointed out the similarities between that description and the rug mounted on the wall before them. Holden was enthralled as the story unfolded.

“Therefore,” Sarah announced, “the Museum has concluded that it is most likely that this, ladies and gentleman,” and here her arm swept the air before the rug in a motion that was remarkably similar to Star’s theatrics, “is the Ferrier Dragon Rug. Of course it will never be possible to be completely certain, but let’s just say that we feel 99% certain that it is.”

Throughout her talk, the crowd had often murmured and had even oooh-ed and ah-ed. “Do you have any questions?” she asked.

“Who owns the rug?” someone from the audience asked.

“The owner, who has graciously loaned it to us for a very short while, wishes to remain anonymous. But I’m sure you are as grateful to him—or her—as we are.” Everyone looked at Ulysses Pope, who looked pleased with himself.

“Wait!” Khalil shouted. Sarah glared at him.

“Well, what?” she demanded.

He opened his mouth and then looked around the room as if looking for someone or remembering something. When he didn’t speak, Sarah called for other questions.

Someone asked, “How can you be certain the rug is as old as the Ferrier rug would have to be?”

“I will let Dr. Highland address that,” she said, and she handed the pointer over to Highland who was beside her. He proceeded to describe in detail a series of tests he had conducted on the rug to determine its age and concluded that it was between 300 and 500 years old.

“Please look for my article about all this in “Ancient Arts Magazine” in the fall,” he added.

After that, Kyle Berman said a few very respectful words about the rug and finally Charles Evans Green, now quite old, said, “I don’t know what this rug is. I suppose it’s the Ferrier rug. Maybe not. Maybe it’s brand new. But I’ve never seen a rug more beautiful in my life. I’m glad I’ve lived so long.”

And that was it. That was the showing. Holden was so excited that he couldn’t sleep that night, even though Laura rubbed his fevered brow.

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When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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