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Authors: Lili Wright

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BOOK: Dancing with the Tiger
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four
ANNA

Anna drove fast. Windows open despite the cold. Bare trees, stone walls, classic rock on the radio. Every song reminded her of slow dancing in somebody's basement. She was not loved. She was not lovable. Both were her fault.

The plan was to go home and see her father in Connecticut. Away from the city, she'd regroup, the polite euphemism for figuring out what the hell to do next. She'd have to tell her father she'd changed her mind and needed the money after all. Find out when it was coming, and how much. She'd leave David, move out. Cancel the wedding. Cancel the honeymoon. No moon. No honey. What an idiot she'd been to become so dependent, a fat tick on a dog.

She sipped Jose Cuervo from a dirty coffee cup. Its vomitlike aftertaste coated her nostrils. Exhaustion blanketed her cheekbones. She'd hardly slept. After her exquisite departure in her black-cat dress, she'd
spent the night on her yoga friend Harmonica's futon, working a bottle of chardonnay, weeping, checking her phone for messages, wondering if David was devastated or relieved. How had she missed the signs? There was that night, post-Chinese, when he'd said:
I don't feel close to you.
She'd been sitting right next to him and joked:
How much closer can I get?
Apparently, his new assistant, Clarissa, got really close. Apparently,
many
women enjoyed getting close to David's video camera. Who did he think he was—Andy Warhol?

She should have skipped the nap. She'd always hated naps, the way they sucked the life out of you, but she'd wanted to be fresh for David's opening, ready to put on a brave face. If “schadenfreude” was the word for taking pleasure in another's pain, what was the word for resenting a loved one's success? Pettiness. No, treason. Of course, she hoped David's show would light up the art world. She wanted that for him, but even more, she wanted that for herself—and her father.

The guest room had been spotless when Anna slipped into the sheets. Monogrammed. DOF. David Oliver Flackston. A present from his mother. The narrowness of the single bed comforted her, like she was a visitor in her own life. An hour later, she woke, stretched her legs, fished up something soft buried at the foot of the bed. Tan and lacy, a mouse of silk.
This was not her underwear.
These beige, nude, sand, camel, fawn, biscuit, buff, ecru bikini panties with peekaboo lace on either hip could have belonged to David's skinny younger sister, only he didn't have one. A guest, perhaps.
What guest?
It was the kind of skimpy underwear Anna wore when she slept with men she barely knew. Underwear she wore before David.

Into his closet she stalked, swatting hanging shirts, digging through drawers, looking for what? A business card? More lingerie? Who walks out of an apartment without underwear?

David's laptop sat close-lipped on his desk. Anna opened the top drawer, where a dozen typed passwords had been taped for safekeeping. Google user name:
DFlackston
. Password:
Plastic
. She had never done this before.

His in-box was bland, a million urgent e-mails about the opening. The “Personal” file had notes from his mother. The “Taxes” file? Dry stuff. “Insurance?”
Insurance!
Why, lookie here. E-mails from Clarissa. With attachments. Two more clicks and Anna saw Clarissa. Young, fit, gymnastically inclined Clarissa, wearing no underwear at all. There were other files. Other women. A regular art collection.

At the stoplight by Swifty's, Anna sloshed herself more tequila. She ate a pickled egg she'd fished from a glass jar at the packy. Protein. Hydration. If she ate little enough and drank a whole lot more, she might slip through a keyhole into a new world. What was the etiquette for recalling 150 “Save the Date” cards? Or did bad news trickle down the street on its own, like sewer water after a downpour?

Strip-mall traffic. Hardee's. Subway. Red light. Anna checked her face in the mirror. Time for an extreme makeover. Forget being the devoted fiancée, the risotto maker and Pilates babe, the recycler who separates trash. Bring on the old Anna. Drinker-smoker–lovable slut. If a misogynist was a man who hated women, what was a woman who hated men?

Smart.

At the market, she bought groceries. All her father ate was cheese and peanuts left over from Christmas. She'd fix him lunch. Five food groups. Cloth napkin. Steering up his pea-pebble driveway, Anna felt her head was about to explode. The dilapidated house, another failure. Warped porch. Cracked paint. Sad bushes. How could someone devoted to art let his home deteriorate this way? A layer of snow lined
the house and the yard, as if nature thought it best to cover the whole mess with a dropcloth. When he sold the collection, she'd insist on a paint job.

She popped a mint, slammed the car door, crossed the frozen yard. What would she tell him? Her father had introduced her to David. They'd met at a fund-raiser. David had hidden his disdain for masks. Her father had hidden his disdain for Warhol. Soon enough, they had Anna in common.

She reached the porch, grabbed the banister. A heavy emptiness filled her torso and shoulders, making it hard to stand straight. Posture. Her mother had been big on that. Her mother. Anna looked across the field. She could see the pine tree from here.

Anna knocked, pushed open the front door.

Her father sat in his usual plaid chair. Although Daniel Ramsey saw virtually no one, the collector still dressed with care, as if at any moment he might receive a museum official or give a university talk. Pleated pants. Collared shirt. His favorite goofy explorer's vest, a multipocketed khaki affair that made Anna cringe.

He rose, his worn face brightening. He was always happy to see her, which made her feel guilty. She should stop by more often. “What a nice surprise.”

Anna hugged him, smelled his breath. Force of habit. After her mother's death, her father drank with the same gusto he applied to acquisitions. His collection of Mexican masks was reputably the largest in the country. His drinking had been equally epic. It took a fender bender to persuade him to go to treatment, which he grudgingly attended, though Anna still worried. She dropped the groceries in the kitchen, went to the living room couch. She had planned to tell him everything, but now the bad news stuck in her throat.

“How was the opening?” he asked, sitting back down. “I could have gone, you know.”

Anna was always steering her father away from the proverbial punch bowl. “Full of Warhol wannabes. You would have hated it.” She scanned the living room. The walls were riddled with tiny holes, as if from a shooting spree, the only clue that dozens of masks once hung there. Anna sat down, forced out the words. “You remember how I said I didn't need my share of the money, that you should invest it? Well, I might need it after all.”

Her father rubbed his jaw, not meeting her eyes.

“Have they signed yet?” Anna asked. “You never give me updates.”

He stared out the window into the cold. “There's been a little hitch.” He rallied a halfhearted smile. “Let me put it this way: There's good news and bad news.”

Anna sat up, wary now. “What bad news?”

“I'll let you read it for yourself.” He hobbled to his desk, handed her a letter from the Metropolitan. Anna skimmed the opening paragraph of pleasantries and then read:
“Regretfully, the Museum must suspend negotiations regarding the purchase of the Ramsey mask collection due to worrisome inconsistencies and inaccuracies in its documentation. Any information about the provenance of the masks, particularly receipts of sales, would help our investigation. Specifically, we have concerns about the masks attributed to Emilio Luna and Ricardo Rodríguez. There appears to be adulteration, antiquing, and artificial rusting. We are also unsure about the veracity of your book
Dancing with the Tiger,
where the same worrisome misinformation is presented as fact.”

Anna's mouth went dry. “What worrisome misinformation?”

“There's a second sheet with an inventory.”

“After taking wood and paint samples, our curatorial team has
confirmed the Centurion mask in the collection, reproduced on page 37 of the book, is not turn-of-the-century, as claimed. It appears to have been carved within the past decade. Contrary to claims made on page 122, Grasshopper masks were never danced in a town called Santa Catarina. There are nine Santa Catarinas in Mexico, but none holds a ‘Harvest Dance.' These masks appear to be purely decorative, likely carved for commercial sale.”

Anna skimmed ahead. Not only was the Met backing out of the sale, it had trashed
Dancing with the Tiger
, the book Anna had helped write. For decades, her father had dreamt of publishing the first definitive guide to Mexican masks, but he never would have finished if Anna hadn't quit her editorial job and stepped in to help. Since then, she had subsisted on fact-checking gigs—and David.

Anna flopped back in the couch. “I can't believe it.”

“They will have a field day with this online when it breaks.”

“When it breaks?” It hadn't occurred to Anna the disgrace would be public. Who would hire a fact-checker who couldn't get her own book right?

Her father grimaced. “It's a juicy little story for the bloggers. Some will accuse us of fraud. Others will be nice and say we're incompetent.”

Anna's shame twisted into anger. “You know more about Mexican masks than anyone in the country.”

“Anyone can be fooled.”

“You were drinking.”

“You would blame global warming on my drinking. That's over. I'm as dry as that plant.”

The plant, an ivy, was near death. Anna checked the letter's date. January 5, 2012. “This was sent a month ago. Did you ever respond? They're asking for documentation. Don't you have something?”

“My journals, but nothing official enough to please them.” He set
down his glass with a frown. “Why should I make their case? Let them send a nice art history docent into the jungle to verify things. Do they think I buy these masks at gift shops?” He hiked his voice into a falsetto.
“Excuse me,
Mr. Carver. Do you gift wrap? Oh, and I'd like an itemized receipt with that.”

“It's my fault. I should have gone down there. You expect forgeries in fine art or antiquities, but folk art?”

“The art of forgery is as old as art itself. It's not your fault. The book was my responsibility.”

He shifted the crank so the footrest of his recliner rose, then crossed his hands over his belly and closed his eyes, as if something had been decided.

“I need that money,” Anna said. “
You
need that money. That's your retirement.” His calm infuriated her. “You don't seem that upset.”

“I was irate, but not anymore.”

“They could be wrong.
You
know the carvers, they don't.”

“I suspect what they say is true. But you're forgetting the good news.”

“What good news?” Anna nearly spat. She had lost her fiancé and a family fortune in less than twenty-four hours.

“Yesterday I got the most remarkable e-mail from Mexico.”

He lowered his footrest, passed her his laptop. On the screen was a turquoise mosaic mask with blockish white teeth. One eye was missing. She noted these basics without enthusiasm.

“Nice mask.” She couldn't have cared less.


Magnificent mask.
Sixteenth-century. Aztec. Just dug up in Mexico City. It's for sale. Lorenzo Gonzáles is brokering the deal—”

“Who found it?”

Her father shifted in his chair. “A twigger.”

“A what?”

“A twigger. A tweaked digger. A meth addict. An American.”

“How would an American twigger even get to Mexico?”

“He took a bus, I imagine.”

Anna rolled her eyes. Other daughters weren't doing this.

Her father nibbled the end of his glasses. “He's a rather
famous
twigger in some circles.”

“Famous for what?”

“A soft touch. A keen eye. He's not an archaeologist, but he's made significant finds. He's lucky. Got a sixth sense.” Her father swelled with avuncular pride, whether for himself or this digger Anna couldn't tell. “The drugs help, of course. He's driven. Always needs more money, more dope. Terribly sad, but what can you do?”

“Send him to rehab.”

“I am not his mother.”

“Or father—”

“These twiggers work like camels, go days without eating.” Her father leaned into his story, voice warming. “Hoover sites, don't leave a scrap. And this one is the best. Here. I am forwarding you Gonzáles's e-mail.”

“How much?”

“Ten grand.”

Anna groaned.

He finished his drink, whatever it was. Everything he drank looked like water. “This is a pre-Columbian funerary mask. Five hundred years old. A collector's dream, and I have first crack at it. I'm flying to Oaxaca tomorrow to meet Gonzáles. He'll oversee the sale. He gave me his word—”

“How much does that cost?”

“Two-grand commission, and worth every penny. Gonzáles directed the anthropology museum in Oaxaca. Now he's a premier dealer in pre-Columbian art. Top of the line. Whatever he says about a piece—”

“I know. I spoke with him on the phone multiple times. That's the good news? Another mask?”

He ignored her tone. “I wired Gonzáles a deposit. We have an exclusive until Wednesday. I pay the looter directly when I see him. Cash in hand.” He pointed to his bedroom, where presumably the money was waiting. “Of course, it would be easier to fly directly to Mexico City, but Gonzáles insists in meeting first in Oaxaca. What can you do?”

Outside, sodden snow had sunk into gray banks.
The average dream lasts about twenty minutes,
a fact Anna had read somewhere, remembered. She had a knack for that: getting little things right and big things wrong. Their book sat on the coffee table. Anna gave it a shove. “Let's face it, the Met isn't buying, and no mask is going to change that. There's not going to be a big ‘Daniel Ramsey' in gold letters over the door.”

BOOK: Dancing with the Tiger
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