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The Hand Scroll

The Hand Scroll

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The Hand Scroll

455 pages
7 hours
Nov 23, 2012


A recently discovered hand scroll ends up on the work table of Lia, an expert who repairs paintings and researches their contents and histories. The scroll is tightly rolled, fragile and extremely brittle. She hires Jon, a part Chinese calligrapher/painter, to assist her in rolling it out and doing repair painting as necessary. Jon studied calligraphy with his grandfather, whose parents immigrated from Beijing early in the twentieth century. The sexual attraction is immediate and within days, she and Jon become lovers.
Lia recognizes the opening scene as a copy of the landscape depicted in China's most famous painting, Spring Festival Along the River. Further along in the scroll, buildings, boats, and the famous Rainbow Bridge appear, with lines and colors of a crispness and clarity that suggest the brush of Qiu Ying, a professional and one of the Four Great Painters of the Ming Dynasty. The scroll painting is long, about seventeen feet, and for much of its length, landscape, villages, boats, and many of the figures, faithfully replicate those in the original, but with startling differences. The original scroll has few females, the copy has many. The most shocking additions to the copy are tiny scenes that grow increasingly intense and explicit, each a jewel-like vignette in the style of erotic art by Qiu Ying. The final addition is a shocking divergence from the conclusion of the original scroll.
Scientific testing dates the hand scroll to the sixteenth century, and Lia, convinced by its style that Qiu Ying painted it, argues for authenticity. If she is correct, the hand scroll is worth a fortune. Some experts agree with her, some scoff, believing that the contents and conclusion point to a modern creation. One Chinese scholar sees it as the work of a later sixteenth-century painter doing a passable job of copying the famous Qiu Ying. The issue of authenticity raises intense arguments among experts.
Who owns the scroll raises personal and legal issues. Four parties claim ownership. The scroll is Chinese, and Jon's family, based on some old correspondence with relatives in Beijing, make a secret claim, hiding behind a lawyer who demands that Lia hand over the scroll. The Chinese committee to repatriate Chinese treasures is determined to get it back and hide it from the public as a disgusting desecration of their beloved Spring Festival scroll. A local professor presses their claim. The last and perhaps most powerful claimant, based on bills of sale and other documents, might just be the richest man in Japan. Hanna and Michael possess the scroll. Hanna inherited it from an uncle who bought it from a Japanese man in Tokyo at the end of World War Two. She is furious that others are butting in and hires Jimmy to handle the legal end.
Ignoring claims and counterclaims, Lia continues repairing the scroll and ponders questions raised by the painting. Did the painter include eroticism to satisfy a patron, or for personal reasons? Do the additions to the painting reveal details about the painter's life, details that have eluded other researchers? Qiu Ying's talent was prodigious and his paintings are famous, yet almost nothing is known about the man's life, even birth and death dates are guesswork based on his earliest and last known works. Why would he turn a painting, revered even during his own century, that celebrates male public life into one that appears to focus on a girl? Was it love? His one great love?
Lia hasn't found true love either. Recognizing that she has always been drawn to bad boys, she still can't resist Jon even as she is strongly attracted to Jimmy, the lawyer hired by Hanna to protect her interests. The scroll might be an art world bombshell. It definitely explodes in Lia's life, forcing her to make surprising personal choices.

Nov 23, 2012

Tentang penulis

I lived in China for several years, studying in Tianjin and teaching in Beijing. When not working I traveled. Now I explore her art and culture in my novels.

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The Hand Scroll - D L Morton



So small. How old is she?

Four, my lady, she don’t eat much.

What is her name? The voice dripped disdain.

My old woman calls her Meimei.

The man looked down at his daughter, his heart sinking. What if the woman wouldn't take her? And after coming all this way, fretting the whole time because he left his wife alone to work his meager plot of dirt, and it took both of them working hard every day sunrise to dusk just to get by. There was never quite enough food, or land either.

Most plots belonging to the men of his village, all members of the Liu clan, were tiny, and his was the smallest. The tilted Liu patches were hard to work, being on the mountainous side of the great city Huzhoufu and some distance from their own little stream. Troublesome too, occasionally the local mountain spirit would shit rocks as big as boulders. When it happened, the man didn’t dare grumble out loud about the extra labor, and it frightened him when others did; complaining might attract the attention of the spirit. He would always recall what his pa had shared about an angry one, a tale of devastation offered by a wandering beggar who had lived through the fury of one bent on splitting open the earth, flattening huts, and killing people. The stranger exchanged his story for a cup of water and a few grains of rice, and in a voice hollow with loss and hunger, described the signs of rising anger. Pa, and later his son, while eating his morning bowl of rice gruel, would sneak peeks at their paper kitchen god trying to catch it making unusual flutters, and as all the Liu families headed out to their fields, would search the sky for ominous colors and listen hard for strange cries on the wind. So far Liu village luck had held, their local spirit hadn’t gotten violently angry with them. And it usually answered their prayers for rain, so perhaps the rocks didn't mean it was annoyed with them, perhaps the small Liu plots just happened to straddle its asshole. Trying to understand was a waste of time.

Hoping her mother would never learn how he really disposed of the girl, he took the muddy road to distant Huzhoufu, bypassing several villages as small as his own. Rain had fallen in the night, and a cool mist hung in the air. Donkeys straining to pull carts weighed down by logs or other goods went around them, an important man, looking down from a fine chariot, rushed up behind them, his driver yelling at them to get out of the way, and an occasional horse ridden by a military man galloped close and splattered them with mud. Even other men on foot passed them.

The child slowed him down. Each time Meimei lagged behind, he tightened his grip on her hand and yanked her hard, muttering to himself,‘ what a softhearted fool I was letting my woman keep her just because she was our first-born. Would have been easy to get rid of her before we got fond of her. Won’t be stupid again if she makes another girl.’ Around mid-morning, tired of her asking for food he led her to the side of the road and told her to sit. Pulling a small ball of packed rice from his sash, he handed it to her saying, eat this and stop whining or I'll smack you. Not in the habit of beating her, pressure and fear for his sons sometimes made him threaten to lash out.

Desperate to get rid of her hungry mouth, trying to sell her was what he’d settled on, at least she’d have a chance to live. He knew a man who rid himself of baby girls, putting one out to starve in a field and leaving another beside a road far from home. Meimei’s pa just couldn’t do it—yet. Yesterday he’d told his wife he had learned of a rich family living a couple of villages away who would take their female child to raise as a servant, but he lied. He lied because he had kindness in his heart toward his woman, she had given him two boys now, plus she worked very hard in his field. What he was really doing would pain her, make her feel even worse whenever she thought of her daughter. Always tired but really beat down now, he berated himself for hiding the truth, but part of the truth was he felt bad enough for both of them. The tiny girl aroused tender feelings, especially at dusk when the weary father wiped the dirt off his tools, loaded them and his boys in the cart and started the trudge back to his small hut. He would catch her looking up through her lashes at him, gauging his mood. Could she run to him and hang on his leg, beg him to carry her? Once in a while, when not feeling as worn down as usual, he’d make his woman pull the cart while he pretended to be a donkey and bounced a giggling Meimei on his shoulders all the way home. What he was doing today saddened him, but he hardened his heart; there was no rice for the girl now, his second son had celebrated one year and needed it.

Mist turning to rain darkened the streets of Huzhoufu. Meimei, still hungry but too tired to whimper about it, squatted and leaned against his leg while he looked around. He hadn’t imagined such size, walls and streets melting into the wet haze with no end. Not usually a brave man, the farmer, pushed by desperation, asked one stranger after another where he could find a fine tea house. More than a few disbelieving looks fell on him before shrewd eyes spotted the tiny girl and understood his mission.

He finally came to The Peony Pavilion in the south part of the city and with panicky force banged on its gate. A crone poked her head out and looked him up and down. Clearly he wasn’t a patron, so what did he want? An hour later she returned to lead him and the girl to a tiny courtyard in the back of the house where the madam stood, waiting impatiently for a servant to bring her a stool. Finally, seated to her liking, she beckoned him near. Out of respect, the farmer lowered his eyes as he faced Madam, My Lady to him. The child was afraid to look at her.

Madam’s first glance at the girl produced a sour expression, lowering the father’s hopes. Meimei was dirty and, despite the rain and cool temperature, poorly dressed in a thin cotton tunic over ragged pants, ending well above her ankles. My Lady asked her age and name, raising the father's hopes again. Then she leaned close and lifted the damp shirt to take a look at the child’s belly. As Madam suspected from eyes too large for the small face, the girl’s middle bulged in the shape of hunger, and her pants, too small to go around her bloated stomach, hung well below her bellybutton. Grabbing an arm, she rotated the child, assessing her bony shoulders, swayback, and feet, tiny under their thick coating of dirt.

As the woman turned her this way and that, the little girl took a chance and peeked up at magnificence. She quickly dropped her eyes. Since it was well into the afternoon, Madam was dressed for her working evening, and even though seated, loomed large. A heavily embroidered purple tunic made of thick woven cloth draped over her knees and hung to mid-calf. Under it, a narrow green skirt came down to the tops of tiny green shoes embellished with scroll designs in pale blue. Madam herself appeared to emit fierce lights; coiled black hair gleamed with oil, narrow eyes glittered, thin lips glimmered bright crimson around yellow teeth, dangling earrings sparkled, and cloisonne index nail guards flashed vivid colors. Precious stones in her many rings glinted as Madam removed the ties on Meimei’s hair.

Greasy, knotted clumps, feathering to ragged ends fell beside the child's face and hung to her waist. Madam used a fingernail guard to tuck strands behind the girl's ears, then gently tried to raise the tiny chin.

Look at me child. Her tone was seductive.

Meimei resisted, afraid to look at the glittering woman.

Madam slapped the child’s cheek.

Raise your head girl. This time her voice was hard.

Meimei lifted her face but shifted her gaze away.

The woman examined the little face, pleased with its delicacy, but frowned to keep her edge in the haggle. I will not be able to make anything of such an ugly, disobedient girl, and her feet are already ruined. You’ll probably have to give her away. How much you asking?

He whispered thirty copper cash as his price, naively expecting to end up with twenty-five.

Bah, at most she’s worth ten, but I’ll give you twelve.

Twenty-five My Lady.

Thirteen, my highest offer.

Twenty My Lady.

Fifteen, take it or leave it. I can get a dozen worthless little twats like her for much less.

Fifteen then.

The woman waved her hand and a servant came in with a small box. Madam opened it and counted out fifteen coins. She recounted very carefully as she put them one by one into the man’s hand.

Judging their weight against something he’d heard from the rich man in his village, holder of its largest plot and owner of a two room hut, the father dared to complain, Too light, these are new cash, not good cash like old Song. I want Song cash.

Madam turned red from rage. Slapping violently at his hand, she knocked the coins to the floor. There leave them and take your filthy brat away.

Dropping to his knees, the farmer crawled around picking up coins and whining, No Your Ladyship forgive me. I am happy with your coins.

On his feet, he checked to be sure he’d found all fifteen, placed his daughter’s hand in the hand of the madam, turned and walked out, thinking only about where he could hide his stash from his woman.

Meimei tried to pull free to follow her pa, but Madam held tight and, struggling onto her bound feet, struck the child viciously across one cheek and backhanded the other. One of her rings raised a drop of blood, and the mistake so annoyed the woman that she laid into the little body with both palms, smacking and pounding until Meimei was a mewing, crumpled heap. There would be bruises, but no more scratches and possibly scars. Madam wasn’t so blinded by anger that she lost her head for business, as sometimes happened. Breathing hard, the woman sank to her stool, straightened her clothing and fanned her face until she regained her composure. Then she rang a bell for a servant to assist her back to her private chamber. On her orders, the old woman attendant first picked up the stunned girl and laid her on the floor of a bare, windowless little room off the courtyard and barred the door. She came back much later and tossed a thick blanket over the child.

Madam's mind was on tomorrow's job of binding Meimei’s feet, folding bones and breaking arches to shape Golden Lotuses, the tiny, erotic appendages designed to sexually arouse her clients and open their purses. Someday she would remember how easily Meimei had engaged her emotions and wish she had taken it as a warning from the spirits, a hint about the effect the girl would have on her life and fortune, and on those of the famous painter, if she had known about him. But understanding would come too late. For now, Madam was deaf to hints. In her experience, gods weren't eager to help anyone, in fact seemed to enjoy piling pain on top of pain, enough to crush a person. Knowing it best to keep her head down, her only commerce with them was the annual purchase of prayers on behalf of the Honorable Widow, prayers to maintain a deceased friend in comfortable eternity. Madam worried about this small exposure, but reassured herself each autumn with 'they're much too busy harassing others to trace the money back to me'. Hard cash was the only god whose voice she heeded, the jingle of coins dropping into her hand, the little clinks of protection shifting inside her pillow, and the ring of security landing on the growing mound inside her hollow wall.

The Hand Scroll—Country vistas

Traveler, a long journey ahead, faces south as his craft moves steadily along the river, riding the current east toward the city. A narrow strip of dark water ripples between him and the bank, and in the distance several trees with naked branches and twigs claw at the gray sky.

Traveler is not alone in this cool dawn. Trudging toward him along the bank of a narrow ribbon of water trickling into the river are two men, one leading a string of five laden donkeys, the other urging them along from behind. The leader, slightly hunched in the chill, will soon turn the pack animals onto a footbridge spanning the rivulet. Traveler supposes the two men are on their way to market. He notices a small flat-bottom boat tied up near three trees at the eastern end of the footbridge. No concern of his, and his attention moves on.

In passing, he idly observes two small clusters of low buildings under bare branches whose summer canopy will shade them from the hot sun. A millstone lies in the field between the houses. The sky is brightening, and peasants will take up their work soon.

After passing the sleeping hamlet, Traveler’s craft rides so close to the bank it nearly runs aground by an impressive clump of eight or nine mature trees. Their trunks, gnarled and twisted, bulging with massive pruning scars, grow man tall and thick before sprouting fans of limbs and fine twigs, each little fan a small unit in a grand fan that slopes darkly to his left. He always anticipates the old trees as the sign he is well and truly on his way.

Suddenly he stares between the brutalized trunks at a house where a man sits in the doorway, contemplating the early morning sky. Traveler’s gaze penetrates the shadowy depths of the house and lingers on the paler planes of a woman’s naked back, neck, and upraised arms. Too fast, the river tears him away from the intriguing sight.

Traveler’s regret fades as he spies a flurry of activity in the distance. A bit to the left of the magnificent trees come several servants heading toward the river, yelling and waving their arms. Looking in the direction they are pointing, Traveler catches sight of the back end of a horse plunging away from them. Following the chasing men, an orderly caravan, composed of a sedan chair resting on the shoulders of two men, three servants, and a man on horseback trailed by another servant, makes its way along the fields. Traveler sympathizes with the excited men. Likely they’re in serious trouble because the master’s horse is running loose.

Traveler’s gaze hopefully returns to the great clump of trees but he no longer can see into the house. Resigned, his eyes trace the curve of their crowns down to the left, coming to rest on more travelers. He counts seven people, two men leading donkeys carrying two women, three other men walking along, and all so near he could hail them.

He leaves them behind as the current ripples on toward another hamlet. Tidy, rectangular fields, filling much of the landscape into the distance, are still empty, but in the villages he notices a few country folk eating breakfast or tending their chores. The morning is slowly warming. Fat cows chew cuds and laze in the crystal air. The placid scenes should soothe his senses, but they don’t. Alerting him to the second stage of his journey, the bucolic countryside increases his tension.

Chapter 1

I said ‘nudity’ not porn.

Lia and Jon, her assistant, were in her workroom examining an ancient Chinese scroll. Spread open on the table and held down by weights along its edges, the exposed four feet of the hand scroll showed water and the far bank of a river running parallel to the foreground edge. Trees, country hamlets and farmland stretched from the bank into the distance. Jon pointed a long index finger at a clump of trees close to the riverbank. Their combined mass of trunks, gnarled, twisted, thicken by pruning scars, and topped with dark, fan-shaped crowns, dominated the section.

With some asperity, Lia said, Trees. So?

Look here. Careful not to touch the painting's surface, Jon pointed at a low house barely visible between the trunks.

Lia reached for her magnifying glass and trained it on the house and on a seated man who gazed out into the morning sky. Her eyes narrowed as dark and light patches in the corner behind him settled into the shape of a woman’s bare back, neck, and arms reaching upward, possibly to fasten her hair.

She tilted her head to squint at the scene from a different angle. Well yes, okay, I see her, but she didn’t jump out, at me anyway.

I can spot nakedness from miles away, one of my talents. He laughed and added forgivingly, You were checking for tears and loose paint. I’m used to examining faces and bodies.

When they first met, Lia’s eyes were greenish. Now Jon would call them blue, silvery blue set off by dark lashes. Contacts or maybe they picked up the color of her clothes, today a royal blue shirt. From his painter’s point of view, her features were well proportioned and neatly rendered, but from his lust perspective, aside from her luminous eyes, they didn’t add up to special, just an average, nice looking thirty some year old face.

Not noticing his appraisal, Lia went over to a wall of books, her collection of research materials. Pulling one out, she rifled through till she found the image she wanted. Propping an elbow on a shelf, her weight on one leg and her spine curved, with the loose shirt falling against her ribs and clinging to her hip, her backside made a greater impact on Jon than her refined features. He re-evaluated. Mentally sketching, he made a semi abstract composition of globes swinging at the end of a string of delicate vertebrae. When she suddenly straightened and stuck a hand under her hair to rub the back of her neck, he smudged in thick brown locks with reddish glints falling on muscular shoulders. Turning around, her hair in disarray, silvery eyes shooting off sparks, shoulders tense with discovery, she was an exciting woman.

She carried the book back, and finger stabbing at the opening section of a famous hand scroll, said, Looks like our painter modeled his work on this twelfth-century scroll, at least this beginning part.

Jon erased a segue image, her as an opulently breasted, desirous nude, before his imagination could delve into the next stage. Back to business. If ours does turn out to be sixteenth-century, I’m gonna be nervous about touching it.

She nodded in agreement then realized what he’d said. Seriously? Frowning, she added, You do know it might be necessary?

Yeah, I know. Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.

She tapped her lip with a pencil as she considered the scroll. Wish we could roll out the whole thing all at once, but it’s too long, maybe all of seventeen feet like the original. So far, I see a lot of repair work here, cracks and bursts, but if the rest is no worse than this first part, probably won’t have to remount. Research will be a huge job though.


Everything, materials, painter, subject matter, patronage, context, you name it. And if we find more nudity, pornography will definitely become a major issue.

You’re still calling this bit of nudity porn?

Of course not, but surprising in itself, and we do have a long way to go along this river. Who knows what might turn up? Okay, first thing is to check with my client about dating. If they decide not to go the expensive scientific route, they’ll have to settle for expert opinion.

Meaning yours?

I wish! But no, mine wouldn’t count for anything in the art market, need big names. Here’s the thing. If they go for radiocarbon dating, and it comes in as sixteenth century, the immediate issue will be how much restoration should we do. If the scroll is genuinely old, my feeling is we won’t want to mess with the painting itself, better to leave it with splotches. Looking at him, she continued, So, Jon, for now, we’ll work on flattening it out and examining it. Then I need to talk to the owner. Will delay be a problem for you?

Nah. I’ll hang at Jerry’s for a while, let you know if anything else comes up.

OK. She stretched and sighed. I’m tired and hungry. Let’s call it quits for today, get something to eat.

Sorry, going out for a drink with your boss Stu. Guess you could join us.

It didn’t sound like a genuine invitation, so she shook her head no. Jon took off leaving Lia to marvel at her good luck at getting this scroll and thinking about how it landed on her table. It had been two weeks ago now since she met the owner at Marlowe’s in downtown Denver.

Chapter 2

Lia worked her way around a small clump of people clogging the entrance to the restaurant and spotted a woman sitting alone, impatiently tapping a finger on the table. Blond hair slicked back in a tight twist and wearing glasses, she looked every bit the professor.

Hi, you Professor Wagner?

The blond looked up at short, curvy woman dressed in black jeans and charcoal gray tee shirt topped by a slick, red jacket sparkling drops of rain.

Yes, but call me Hanna. I’m glad to meet you. Lia ok?

Lia nodded and took the chair opposite, and as she shed her coat, Hanna noted big silvery gray eyes framed by long dark lashes. Shoulder-length auburn hair, probably disgustingly thick and lustrous when dry, drooped beside a gently plump oval face.

Would you like coffee or tea, maybe something to eat?

Tucking strands of hair behind her ears, Lia said, Nope, a big glass of cabernet. I’m tired, wet, and it feels like Friday.

Let’s have some chips and salsa too. Hanna got the attention of their server and placed their order and turning back to Lia, said, You come with some pretty glowing recommendations from the guy in the Asian gallery at the DAM and Harold Johnson at CU. Harold said that you and I probably had a lot of research overlaps too. What’s yours?

Mine was into certain stories and characters in sixteenth-century Suzhou paintings. Yours?

The development of Buddhism in the south, mainly fourth-century.

Ah, there it is, we were looking at some of the same people. I focused on fourth-century rebels, the James Deans and Dennis Hoppers of their time, Tao Yuanming, the Seven Sages, Wang Xizhi, for a few. Flouting Confucian conventions, drinking, carousing, fun guys from your scholarly class who took up the philosophical side of Buddhism.

Yeah, northern was laced with magic and miracles, southern was very intellectual, as befitting scholars of course. Oh good, food.

After their server left, Lia took a big swallow of wine and relaxed as Hanna, leaning forward a bit, explained what she needed.

I have a scroll that I’m hoping you will find time to examine. My great uncle Eugene went missing in 1945 or 46, World War Two in Asia, and the Navy shipped his footlocker packed with personal things and several items he bought in Tokyo, jade pieces, prints, and the scroll, to his mother. His trunk got shuffled around, lost for a long time and just surfaced not so long ago.

Only the scroll? What about the other things, the prints?

Already sold them for a bundle, turned out they were pretty rare Japanese items. The scroll is in a box and hasn’t been opened, at least I think there’s a scroll in it but the box is sealed tight. Now, tell me your consulting fee. If it’s astronomical, maybe I’ll rip into the box myself.

My initial look at the externals is a flat seventy-five. It should tell us whether or not the scroll is worth looking into. If yes, I would lay out the painting and evaluate it in terms of repairs needed at seventy-five an hour. Might take two to three or four hours depending on the length of the scroll and its condition, but your first hour is already covered. With this evaluation and plan, I can give you an estimate of the total cost of repairs. Research is seventy-five an hour. Understand, I only research art historical aspects. Chemical analysis of paints, glue, paper or silk is a lab job. A scientist can trace the materials back to their sources, way out of my field.

How do you track your time?

My actual work on it, and I keep careful records just like a lawyer, but it could be strung out over weeks while we wait for glues and paper to dry. And, depending its condition, we might need another kind of talent, a remounting specialist for instance. But I don’t know without looking, and when the clock starts ticking, you’ll have to trust me, Lia grinned, and her eyes flashed evil, but be assured, my accounting skills are right up there with those of attorneys.

Chapter 3

Lia rang the doorbell at Hanna’s townhouse in LoDo, local name for lower downtown Denver, then checked her watch. Not bad at all, ten minutes didn’t even count as late. She turned to look up at the sky, clear tonight with a few stars. A snowstorm was predicted for late tomorrow, probably a typical March soppy wet one. She turned as the door opened behind her. Hanna welcomed her in and took her jacket to hang in the closet.

A wonderful aroma seeped out of the kitchen. Hanna sniffed and said, Stay for dinner if you can. Michael is cooking, so you’ll get good food. Will you?

Sure smells like somebody can cook. Yes, I’d be happy to, thank you. Probably better let me have a look at your scroll before I get comfortable though.

Come meet my chef first, then we’ll go up to my office.

Hanna led Lia down a short hall, past the wide entry to a huge living room expanded by a wall of windows, and into a big kitchen outfitted with what to Lia looked like restaurant sized appliances. At the center island range, a very tall man with broad shoulders and thick dark hair tinged with gray was leaning over to stir something in a skillet. He raised his head, and Lia glimpsed a stern face, intimidating before a smile turned it friendly.

He offered a spoonful of something. Somebody taste this, tell me if it’s good.

Okay but first meet Dr. Sullivan. She’s here to look at the scroll and has agreed to stay for dinner.

Great! Michael straightened up, stuck the spoon back into his skillet, and wiping his hand on his apron, held it out to her. How do you do Dr. Sullivan.

Looking up and up at Michael, who towered over her by ten inches and filled her peripheral vision, Lia was glad he was still smiling. He had thick eyebrows above dark eyes shadowed by long lashes, and she could almost feel his gaze on her face. Her hand was lost in his gentle, massive grip.

Please call me Lia. You are Mr. Wagner?

On my better days. No, I’m Mr. Laurence. He smiled and added, Hanna let me keep my own name, but please call me Michael. Now can I get you ladies a drink?

After Lia has a look at the scrolls.

Hey, nobody’s tasted yet!

I’m not worried. Just don’t burn it, Michael.

Trust me this one more time Bubele.

Seeing Lia’s expression, Hanna laughed. It’s a joke, I burn things, he never does. Follow me.

Flipping the light switch in her upstairs office, Hanna pointed at an easy chair. That chair isn’t too bad.

Lia immediately felt at home in the small room so like her own, with a computer and walls of packed bookshelves. Hanna got a fabric bag from the floor of the closet and from it pulled out a bulky package and handed it to the expert.

May I sit at your desk, be easier to handle it?


Lia sat down, and turning the box over and over, examined the outer brown wrapping, loose now. This is Japanese washi paper with mitsumata fiber, often used to protect treasures because insects don’t like it. She peeled off three layers of heavy paper before getting down to the inner most layer of thinner washi paper. The glue once sealing its edge was now cracked in several places. Sharp! Got a letter opener?


Lia ran it under the long seam, loosened the end folds, and peeled the paper away, exposing a wooden box with a sliding lid marked by a square of lighter color at one end. Lia spoke admiringly. This is a Japanese box, beautifully made. This spot of lighter colored wood here is where a title label used to be.

With some force, she finally got the sliding lid to move. She commented, All the humidity in Illinois has been pretty hard on the wood. After sixty years of neglect, probably find mush and bugs inside.

They lucked out. The box held a scroll nested in a faded yellow silk lining. All they could see of the scroll was its protective flap held in place by a dark silk band wrapped around and anchored by a two-pronged yellowish jade pin with fluting along its length and fine striations carved perpendicular to the long edges. A thin wooden stave was attached to the flap to keep it straight. Usually the title label could be found there, but the scroll didn't have one. The outer, protective fabric was damaged and badly stained from handling, but along the upper and lower outside edges, yellow, blue, and red threads attested to a once colorful brocade.

Cautiously lifting out the very fat hand scroll, Lia examined the ends of the roller and pointed out, flat porcelain caps like these were pretty standard for the Ming. Sometimes you see jade but more often this blue and white porcelain. Keep in mind, you can still find these in antique shops, so it would have been easy to stick an old pair on a modern scroll.

She started peeling back the protective cover, but needed help. You hold it by the end caps, and I’ll work this edge open a few inches.

Hanna rotated the roller as Lia cautiously worked at the leading edge, peeling it loose a fraction of an inch at a time. The scroll fought hard, but they persisted through several sections of blank silk.

Finally, something! Lia said, triumphantly over a stretch of lovely tea-colored silk splattered with faded red seals.

You think we might find a real picture in here somewhere?

Ignoring Hanna’s testy comment, Lia eased open another inch to expose a faint line and what looked like a hint of clouds. Another inch and it looked like a riverbank was taking shape in front of a distant group of three trees.

Sorry Hanna, we really should stop here. It’s brittle and wound up too tight. The intro sections weren’t a problem, but if we get into thick pigments, we might pull them off. She added, and look at this! The backing is extremely fragile—so many creases and little tears. Judging from wear and grime this scroll has gotten a lot of attention. Better we wait and do this properly.

Well nuts. Let’s go drink wine instead.

Lia went on, I don’t recognize any of these seals either, and we won't find a signature, if there is one, until the end. If you decide to go on with this, you’ll have to hold your breath for quite a while.

Lots of wine then.

Chapter 4

Hanna showed Lia the guest bath where she could freshen up for dinner. Checking her appearance in the mirror above the sink, Lia added a hint of moss green eye shadow and another layer of mascara for her glamorous evening look. The color of her eyes echoed her outfit, deep green pants and a v-necked sweater with generous bulges.

She went quietly down the stairs, and as she approached the kitchen, caught a low rumble, timing’s a little off Prof and, mmmm, just giving you something to think about. And from the sudden flurry of busy work knew she’d almost walked in on an intimacy.

The kitchen, smelling even more delicious with the added fragrance of hot bread, reminded Lia just how hungry she was. Michael offered a glass of white wine saying, This okay? There’s red if you’d rather.

This is lovely. Thanks for inviting me.

Our pleasure. Why don’t you two go in the living room, relax, put your feet up for a minute. Oh Hanna, I almost forgot, we might have more company tonight. I invited Jimmy and need to set a place for him in case he makes it.


Jimmy, James Patrick Masterson. We’ve been friends since grade school. Don’t you remember me trying to get in touch with him when we were in New York?

Vaguely. With such an impressive name, he must be ten feet tall.

You’ll see. I don’t know why he’s here, but I’m always happy to see him. If you’ll excuse me for a minute, I’ll take care of last minute things.

Removing his big apron, he went to the dining room, and they could hear the rumble of his voice but not his words. Noticing Lia’s curiosity Hanna explained, Michael is a Jew. He’s lighting Shabbat candles and saying the Kiddush, a blessing for Sabbath wine. Little behind on the lighting. Come on, let’s move into the other room.

Hanna and Lia were making themselves comfortable in the living room as Michael came in saying, I heard you about the candles, but I get close and it’s the thought that counts.

Sensing unease in the sudden quiet Michael invited Lia to check out the view. She had to maneuver herself out of the rust colored sofa. Oversize to accommodate Michael, Lia’s feet didn’t quite reach the patterned carpet covering most of the polished bamboo floor. Standing next to Michael she felt like she hadn’t grown up yet.

Ten foot tall windows gave a view of the street in front of the condo and Speer Boulevard a couple of blocks away where heavy traffic moved in fits and starts, headlights flashing like diamonds along a black conveyer belt.

"This is great, Michael. Resembles my place a

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