Chapter 30

“Sprites are careless about money. They will say anything; do anything. It’s all the same to them.”

During the year since Avery Deane had appeared in Holden’s lonesome store, pacing and snarling and shouting at him to “Lock ‘em up,” Holden’s life had changed for the better, even though he had not taken Deane’s advice to lock up his rugs. Instead he had sold them. At first he had tried selling them the same way Deane did, by stomping around and shouting and comparing them to Mercedes Benz automobiles. Holden had tried standing a little too close to customers, had experimented with being overbearing, and had sometimes been obnoxious. It didn’t suit him. He was embarrassed by his behavior. He would bully a customer and then excuse himself. He would cajole and then apologize. His customers were embarrassed, too. They left the store. During this time of experimentation, he didn’t sell anything at all, though Deane continued to sell Holden’s rugs right and left by using the same methods.

But there came a time when he discovered his own way of selling, and there was no trick to it at all: With Deane’s support, Holden eventually became confident that his rugs were wonderful, and he stopped assuming that no one would ever buy them. Even though he now kept a respectful distance from his customers and did not take them by the elbow, and though he neither tricked nor bullied them, they began to buy from him.

From the very beginning, Deane had gossiped with him about the rug scene in London, Hamburg, Paris and Zurich. He had dropped names of famous rug people throughout the world, telling stories about them. All the while, he talked as if Holden were a fellow insider. Slowly, Holden began to believe that he actually was part of the rug world and not an imposter. And when he began to communicate his new confidence to customers—well, that sold rugs, too.

Of course, in the next breath after gossiping conspiratorially about a famous rug scholar, Deane would ask to borrow $1,000. Then later he would talk Holden into investing in a rug that never materialized. And then, finally, he would borrow another $5,000. So it was hard for Holden to feel unmitigated, joyous gratitude toward Deane. In fact, Holden became angrier and angrier as he felt more and more foolish for letting himself be taken advantage of.

He tried to explain it to Laura. “I have no idea of who he is. I don’t know where he comes from. I don’t know whether he is a real figure in the rug world…and I guess I don’t care. It’s just that I don’t know. I don’t know whether he’s rich or poor. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? He won’t take money from me when he sells one of my rugs. But on the other hand he won’t pay me back what he owes me. He’s bossy. He’s exciting. He gets everyone engaged. He takes advantage of everyone. He’s generous. He’s grumpy. So who is he?”

“What do you think?” Laura asked.

Holden closed his eyes and thought. “I think I’m missing something I need to know about him before I’ll understand who he is. I mean, someday I’ll learn that he spent fifteen years in prison for embezzlement and everything will make sense. Or I’ll find out that he is enormously wealthy and that will explain it all. Or whatever. Maybe he’s a mad-man. I don’t know what it will be, but something’s missing.”


About a week after the private viewing of the Ferrier Dragon Rug at the museum, Holden got the clue he needed. Deane showed up at the showroom, as grouchy as he had been the first time he had appeared. He didn’t even glance at Holden but began stalking the store from one mounted rug to the next. He looked at the price tag of one and he threw his arms in the air in exasperation. “Giving them away!” he shouted. “Well, I’ve done the best I could. I wash my hands. The pup won’t learn.”

“Uh oh,” Holden thought. “He’s in a foul mood. What next?” Deane carried a rug over his shoulder. It was wrapped in white butcher paper, but it was obvious to Holden by the way it flopped that it was a rug.

“Here’s your damned silk Kerman. Hope you’re happy.” Deane tossed the package onto the floor beside where Holden stood. “I’m moving on.”

Wait. The silk Kirman? He had long ago decided that it was a fiction. Avery was moving on?

“You’re what?”

“Going. Fleeing. Flying. Running. Jumping bail. Driving off into the sunset. It’s time, lad.” Deane’s sonorous voice had softened. For the first time since he had burst into the store he looked at Holden.

“But Avery…” Holden didn’t know what to ask first. “What about Sandra?”

He twirled away and resumed his dash from rug to rug. Staring for a moment at a recent discovery of Holden’s, an old Bashir prayer rug, he answered, “What about, what about, what about! What about Sandra? She wants to know where I’m going. Hah! You tell me!”

“She won’t come?”

“Doily unit! She won’t be parted from it or the other rooms. The damned place is her life. I told her I have two reclining seats: driver’s and passenger’s. She wasn’t impressed.” He laughed, not bitterly, and he came back to where Holden was standing by himself.

“And the vineyard?”

“Do you want it? No title. No income. Damned vines just hanging on. They’re ninety years old and if I stay I’ll be the one who killed them. Tax bills come every day. It’s a tragedy, though, about the wine. 45 barrels of fine Napa cabernet and I can’t get even one of them in my hatchback.”

Holden wondered vaguely about how he might manage to send them to Deane, wherever he was going. Actually, there really might be some way. A train or something. “Where will you go?”

“Hah!” Avery looked restless again. He tapped a toe of one shoe on the floor.

“But Avery, I was there. You have nearly a million dollars into that place.”

Deane shrugged impatiently as if Holden had missed the point. “I have the car. Free and clear.” He looked at Holden, not unkindly. “Listen, lad, take my advice. Throw that silk Kirman down your famous black hole of Calcutta. Leave it wrapped. Forget about it. Open it someday when you’re old and famous and you’ll remember me.”

Holden felt confused. Avery had become more and more of a problem for him, causing scenes in his shop, demanding to be driven around, borrowing money, ranting and even raving, killing time in the rug store when Holden had work to do. Many times he had wished that Avery would disappear. But now, hearing that he was leaving, Holden suddenly felt almost frightened, as if he were being left behind. “Well, uh, thanks for the rug. I didn’t think I’d ever see it.”

“Should have trusted me. Right, lad?” Avery smiled a huge, ironic smile.

“I did,” Holden protested. Actually, he hadn’t. Still didn’t.

Avery straightened his beret and pulled his scarf tighter around his neck. “Well, time to toddle off. Remember, lad: don’t give ‘em away. And publish, that’s the thing. Publish or parish! Write a novel!” He stuck out his hand and Holden shook it and watched as Deane crossed the sidewalk in front of the store. Avery turned back and looked at Holden briefly and said, “Only one more thing to do before I flee. I have to return a book to the library.” With that, he flung himself into his white Porsche and roared away from the curb.

Holden shook his head. Back inside his shop, he wondered what was in the package. It was about the right size to be a silk Kirman, he supposed. But why had Avery suggested that he not open it? It could be anything. It was also about the right size and weight to be a worn-out Hamadan. Holden carried the package across his showroom floor and then through the curtain to his apartment, then to his bedroom to which the black hole of Calcutta opened. But instead of throwing the package down its mouth, he pulled the tape from the paper and opened the package.


One by one Deane’s victims showed up at the store, wondering whether Holden knew where he had gone. The four Afghan women were the first: Zainab, Soroya, Katija and Fatima. They hadn’t been paid for the last work they did for him. Then Sandra. Deane owed her for rent, though it was obvious that her regrets had to do with losing him rather than anything having to do with money. Khalil came, Kammy and Star in tow. Khalil asked if he knew where the boss was. Clem Briano showed up, wondering what the hell had happened to Deane. He had had to reclaim his property and pay back taxes and save his vines from death. What the hell was he supposed to do about all the money Deane had paid for the place? Cherise Hollander phoned him from Oregon asking if he knew anything about Avery Deane. He had stiffed her for a bunch of dyeing-work she had done for him. Even Judge Barron called up Holden, wondering whether Deane might have changed his mind and might like to buy his Rolls Royce after all. Many people drifted in over the next several months looking for Deane. He owed them all money. A fellow came in who claimed that Deane owed him either money or a silk Kirman, whichever. An investigator from the Claremont Hotel said that Deane had freeloaded there many times during the past year, eating at the expense of various trade-groups. Holden assured all of them that he had no idea where Deane had gone and that he doubted Deane even had a plan.

One day Marley Highland visited his shop, wondering whether he knew where Deane had gone. Highland was not surprised to learn that no one knew of Deane’s whereabouts. During his visit, he called Deane a genius but did not explain his thinking. And he bought a rug from Holden, paying full price.

And, finally, Sarah Atwood phoned, asking about Deane. She said she “just wanted to see him.”

On the first anniversary of Deane’s disappearance, Holden phoned all of them except Highland and Sarah Atwood and invited them to a party at his store: a “survivors party,” he called it. They all came, even Cherise from Oregon, and after they had a couple of drinks, they told Avery Deane stories.

“Few people besides Avery and Sandra have been able to find me in my little home in the woods,” Cherise said.” She spoke softly and tentatively, like someone not used to talking, and, instead of drinking beer or wine like the rest of them, she sipped from time to time from a small vial she carried in a pouch tied around her waist. “When I saw your car coming slowly down the dirt road, I was going to disappear,” she explained to Sandra, “but I had a premonition that I should greet you.” Disappear? Holden wondered about that. “Of course, Avery was not human, and I understood that from the first. He was a spirit, wrapped in lightning and energy. He couldn’t be still.

“He asked me for six colors. They were the six colors of ancient Chinese culture, the ones they called the ‘true colors’: imperial yellow, gold, light blue, medium blue, deep blue and russet. I knew he was on an important quest and that I had been chosen to take a small part in it. I had never before been selected to do great things, but Avery called on me. I was surprised that he paid me the first time. Sprites are careless about money. They will say anything; do anything. It’s all the same to them. A half-year later, still on his mission, he again asked for my help, and this time he didn’t pay. Now he has passed on to wherever spirits go. We won’t see him again, I think.”

Holden would not have said that Cherise was smiling, but there was something like a smile playing on her face. She looked pleased with the roll she had played in the Avery Deane story. It suited her. She just added this, and then she was done talking for the evening: “People aren’t made to make their way alone. We try to be true to our calling, whatever it is, and to do a good job. But we need something other, something outside of us, a spirit, a person, an audience, a reader to make us have meaning. That’s what Avery is. He is a spirit who gave my work with color meaning. That was payment enough.”

Holden looked around his showroom, caught as he had been so often by the beauty of the rugs that had somehow survived decades of being walked on, danced on, prayed on and preyed on and loved and ignored and stored and treasured and had wound up here on his walls, at least for a time.

“Well, I don’t know about him being a ‘spirit,’” Sandra broke the silence. “I suppose he was just another man, mainly. He still is. He’s not dead, you know. He must be out there someplace.” She seemed sad. “It’s just that I had such a good time running around with him and finding you out in Oregon, Cherise, and going around to Holden’s store and here and there.

“He loved the room he rented form me, the doily unit. I think all my tenants have liked the doilies, but Avery was the only one who ever said so. He could talk about each one of them. I helped him wind up the wool that you ladies spun.” She smiled at the four friends from Little Kabul. “He paid me rent for a while and then he didn’t. Then he paid up again and then he beat me for three month’s rent. I don’t really care. I think he was broke or he would have paid me.” She swirled her drink. “We ran around together for a while, but I knew he was never going to stay. As you said, Cherise, he couldn’t stay still. So, I wish him well if he’s alive, which I hope he is.”

Clem told the other survivors that Deane had caused him a lot of trouble. “The son-of-a-bitch nearly killed all the vines. That’s all that place is is vines. Ninety years old. Then I had to come back and save them. Hell, I don’t mind. The truth is, I had gotten tired of the old farm until that Brit or whatever he is came along. Then we drove around the farm and he thought it was swell. I got excited about it all over again. He’s the kind of guy that can get you all wound up about something. Did me, anyway. That’s worth something, isn’t it? I don’t know if the fellow was a crook or a saint. Or a spirit like you say. But I like working the vines again. I guess I’ll just putter around out there until I pass on. No harm in that.” Clem caught his breath after all his talking.

“He had some kind of voice, didn’t he? Loudest son-of-a-bitch I ever did hear.” He shook his head.

Zainab spoke for the spinners. “He was nice to us. He liked to watch us spin. He said we were magic.” She laughed. “It’s good that somebody liked what we do. He paid us for the first job.”

Khalil took his turn. “Man, I don’t know who he was or what he was. There’s a lot about this country and the people that I never have understood, even if he didn’t come from here. He made me promise not to talk about some things. That’s okay. He was the boss. I think about it and I can’t understand how I could have given up a half of a year away from the restaurant to work on Avery’s rugs. It was crazy. But he got me to do it. How did he get everyone to do all those things? He made everything a lot of fun, that’s how.

“Sitting at the loom again after all those years got me to thinking again about Afghanistan. All my people in the North. I want to take my family back there for a while to meet my people. I don’t know what they’ll think of Star. They’ll love her. But she’d better be a little more modest. They’ll teach her.

“But Avery…what the heck was he, Holden? It seems like you knew him better than anyone. Was he a crook? Because some of the things he swore me to secrecy about may not be so good, if you know what I mean. Or was he a good guy, or what?”

Holden thought he had figured it out. Because, when he had opened that package, expecting to see either a silk Kirman or a worthless, worn-out rug, he had instead found something so strange that he could at first make no sense of it at all. There was the dragon, staring at him, the gold field and flaming pearls and wave-patterns. There was the Ferrier Dragon Rug: old, breathtaking, gorgeous, fleecy, alive. It was the rug he had seen on the wall of the museum just a week before, and now he held it in his own trembling hands there in his little behind-the-store apartment. He wanted to run to the street and stop Avery and say, “There’s been a mistake…”

There was something different about it, though. He knew there was, but he couldn’t see it. He counted the toes of the dragon. Five. That was the same. What was different? He couldn’t place it, but suddenly he knew that it was not the same rug, not the Ferrier rug. Were there two Ferrier rugs? And what was Deane doing with one of them?

The truth, when he suddenly understood it, snapped his head back and shut his eyes. No, there was no Ferrier rug, or, if there was, it wasn’t the rug he held, nor was it the rug in the museum. This rug, the second one, totally destroyed the validity of the first. Two of them turn up at the same time? Obviously made by the same weaver; in the same condition; the same patterns of wear? They were both fakes. Incredible, fantastic, impossible fakes—incredible, that is, that someone could fake them, that someone could make rugs that were so good. And who had made them? Avery Deane. That’s what he had had Khalil weaving.

Holden opened his eyes now and admired the rug’s undiminished beauty. How could he have done this? How could Avery have made something so good? And how could he have been so dishonest as to sell it, rug number one, as the Ferrier Dragon Rug? He had made and sold a fake, a forgery.

It occurred to Holden that this rug suddenly made Ulysses Pope’s rug worthless. No, not worthless, but worth far less than the amount of money Avery had carried in his briefcase. Not only that, but it made a liar out of Marley Highland, who had authenticated it. And he supposed that it also made a monkey out of Sarah Atwood who had been so obviously triumphant to land it for the museum. He smiled. “Is that why he gave it to me?” he wondered. “For me to revenge myself on those three? Or just to pay off his debts to me? Fake or not, this rug is worth far more than what he owed me. Or just for fun?” He didn’t know. But he didn’t seriously consider coming forward with this rug for revenge or for money. “A friend gave it to me,” he thought. “I should keep it.”

And so Holden carefully moth-proofed the rug and finally threw it down the black hole of Calcutta, to be pulled out and opened some distant day. And when he had tossed it down the shoot and still sat on his bed and thought about everything, he believed he now had the clue he needed to understand Avery Deane.

So when Khalil asked Holden who or what Avery Deane was, he answered, “He was an artist. Nothing else was important to him: not money, not love, not fame, not us. Oh, I think he liked a few people, but he used us for his ends, and his end was to make rugs. They were his medium. And the rugs he made were works of art.

“I used to wonder whether he was a con man.” Holden laughed. “Maybe artists are con men. And maybe art is an illusion, if not a lie. That’s what Avery used to say. I mean, those people up on the stage are just pretending, aren’t they? They’re acting, creating an illusion. And the plot of a novel isn’t something that really happened, is it? It’s just a story. That’s why they call it fiction. The perspective in a painting is nothing more than a tricky way of making a one-dimensional medium seem like three. And that portrait of George Washington—it’s not Washington. It’s an impression, an illusion, a series of tricks.” Holden could have gone on, but what he was thinking about were Avery’s rug’s. Now there was illusion: making something brand new look nearly 400 years old.

“Anyway,” Holden went on, “that was the fire in Avery’s belly: his rugs, his art. That was his right and wrong. That was his testosterone. It was his reason to borrow and lie and finagle. Or at least that’s what I think.”

The others didn’t know whether they understood what Holden had just said. Cherise still thought Avery was a spirit.

Holden laughed out loud. Actually, everyone was having a good time and doing a fair amount of laughing. But Holden laughed because suddenly now, a year after he had thrown the dragon rug down the black hole, it came to him how the rug Deane had given him was different from the rug that had become the official Ferrier Dragon Rug. Just like the rug Pope had bought, his rug’s dragon stared and glowered and maybe even accused: “Who are you,” it seemed to ask. But this dragon’s stare could only get so intense and only so accusatory. Just one of its eyes was open. The other was closed in what could only be a wink.

The End

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When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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