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up, but that much you have to admit.'

'I suppose so,' I said. 'Well, there's one thing to be thankful for, anyway.'

'What's that?'

'I was just thinking: He might have given the Rembrandt to a French museum and stuck us with the Leger.' I put my hand over my heart. 'Whew, it's too awful to contemplate.'

I say such things primarily for the fun of annoying Tony, who has a thing about me being too enamored of my specialty. He thinks I need to be more eclectic. He says I put the Old Masters up on a pedestal (he's right), and that I look down my nose at anything after the eighteenth century (he's wrong, but not wildly wrong).

But this time he wouldn't bite. He merely gave me one of his superior, pitying looks and went on with his story. According to the terms, both pictures were to be displayed for two weeks at Le Galerie Vachey, after which they would go to their respective new owners. Vachey would pick up all transportation and insurance costs. He would even provide a continuing fund to cover future conservation and insurance.

'So what do you think, Chris? Too good to be true?'

'By half,' I said.

In Seattle, you can't walk very far without passing an espresso bar, and most of us are addicted to the stuff. Tony and I, exercising our iron wills, ignored two of them, but finally succumbed at the third, a plant-filled, conservatory-like Starbucks on Fourth near Union. We got on the end of a line of five or six people at the counter.

'Uh-uh, no, it is too good to be true,' I muttered while the barista went through her steamy routine at the espresso machine. 'There's a catch somewhere.'

'Um, there is a sort of catch,' Tony said.

I looked at him sharply. I didn't like the sound of that um. 'What catch?'

'Two catches, you might say.'

'What catches?'

'Well, remember what you were saying about getting that X-ray and microscopic analysis done?'

'Yes-oh, Bussiere, that's the name of the lab in Lyons. I have the number in-'

'No dice,' Tony said.

'What?'

'No labs. No X-ray, no ultraviolet, no cross-sectional analysis, nothing but the naked eye. You can look at it all you want, but no scientific stuff.'

'Why not, for God's sake?'

'That's the way he wants it, Chris.'

'But why? Tony, come on, he knows it's a fake, that's the only possible reason.'

'Not necessarily. He says they're fragile. He's worried about damaging them.'

'With X rays? That's ridiculous, you know that.'

'Apparently he doesn't.'

I shook my head. 'I don't buy it. You know what it is? He's got a good fake, that's all, and he's giving it to us because he thinks Seattle is probably located just west of Dogpatch, and what could we know about art? He thinks he can get it by us, and after he does, he's going to announce that it really is a fake, and so once again he'll show us all up for the greedy, ignorant idiots we are-don't ask me what his point is this time.'

Tony listened to this harangue, visibly and somewhat smugly amused. 'And could he?'

'Could he what?'

'Get it by you?'

'By me?' Oddly enough, the question caught me by surprise. 'I don't think so,' I said honestly, after a moment.

'So there's no problem.'

'Well, yes, there is. First of all, there's the question of why he won't allow tests-he knows damn well they won't hurt the picture, and he knows equally well that museums always run them before they buy something.'

'True, but we're not buying anything, are we? He's giving it to us.'

'What's the difference? Why not allow them? And there's a second problem. Sure, if it isn't real, I think I could spot that, but a lot of other so-called experts have thought the same thing and wound up making big mistakes. What if I made a mistake?' I shook my head. 'I don't like seeing us put anything in our collection without adequate testing.'

'But you're not a 'so-called' expert, Chris,' Tony said simply. 'If you tell me it's a fake, we won't touch it. If you say it's real, that'll be plenty good enough for me. We'll take it in a flash.'

I was flattered, even touched. I cleared my throat. 'Thank you, Tony. I appreciate that.'

'Besides, we can test the hell out of it after we get it here.'

'Right,' I said, laughing. Tony wasn't the sentimental type either.

Tony smiled in return; somewhat weakly, I thought. 'Well, actually, even that's not true, Chris. You see, this is a restricted gift.'

'A restricted gift? You mean we're not allowed to sell it later? Even if we decide we don't like it?'

His expression was one of bottomless forbearance. 'Chris.'

'Tony?'

'Museums are not in the business of'selling' works of art,' he said softly. 'You know that.'

'Oh. Right. Sorry. I don't know what I was thinking of. I meant we're not allowed to de-accession it?'

I suppose I was getting back at him for getting me into this- for despite all my reservations, I knew perfectly well I was in it up to my eyebrows.

'That's better,' he said, fractionally mollified. 'But not only can we not de-accession it, we have to agree to keep it on permanent exhibit-well, for five years, anyway-properly labeled as a Rembrandt, and displayed in a manner befitting a Rembrandt.'

He exhaled, long and soberly. 'So, my friend, if we decide to take it, we better be damn sure it is a Rembrandt ahead of time.'

In themselves, restrictions like these are not extraordinary. Donors are always sticking little riders on their bequests that tell you what kind of case something is to be displayed in, or when or where it's to be placed, or what should be next to it, or how it ought to be lit. That, as far as it goes, isn't usually objectionable. These things are gifts, after all, and the people donating them usually love them every bit as much as we do. Why shouldn't they care about what happens to them after they go to a museum?

But this was different. The proscription on testing made it different; the absence of provenance made it different; above all, the presence of the unpredictable Rene Vachey pulling the strings made it different.

'You mentioned two catches,' I said. 'Was that the second one?'

'Actually, no; that was still part of the first.'

'What,' I said, gritting my teeth, 'is the second?' 'Um, it'll hold. I'll tell you about it when we get back.'

Um again. 'Tell me now.'

'Patience. Let's have our coffee first.' 'Tony-'

'Here, Chris,' Tony said generously as we got to the cashier, 'let me pick up the tab. This is on me.'

Chapter 2

I knew that whatever else was coming was going to be bad because Tony invited me into his office when we got back to the museum, then further suggested that we step out on his private terrace. It is well known among the staff that this little terrace, for whatever reason, is Tony's locale of choice for dealing with recalcitrant curators. Maybe he thinks the unspoken threat of winding up, crushed and broken, on the pavement of Second Avenue five stories below helps soften us up.

'Terrific view, isn't it?' he said, elbows on the railing. 'You can really feel the pulse of the city from here.'

'What's the other catch, Tony?'

He sighed. 'The, uh, timing of Vachey's showing is a little unfortunate, I'm afraid. And he insists on your

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