Home Page Discussion

Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

A Novel Idea


Jerry Silverman

As the Monty Pythons used to say, “...and now for something completely different.”

The Victorian Salons which are the inspiration for our Turkotek Salons were gathering places for intellectual and creative experiments of all kinds. Often poets, playwrights, musicians or novelists would bring works-in-progress to seek fresh ideas, new inspiration, or just plain public approval.

That’s what I propose for this Salon. As many of you know, I’ve written two long short stories (or is that two short novelettes?) - both based on ruggish themes. The first “Book-Collecting Ain’t for Sissies” was a noirish look at an obsessed book collector who commits suicide because he can’t complete his run of oriental rug titles. As the story plays out there are thuggish cops, women with agendas (agendae?), violent death, explicit sex, and rug books - a natural combination that I’m surprised hasn’t served as a plot more often. The second was “GOB of Death”, about a rug store’s Going Out of Business Sale that goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Some of you have had the privilege of reading them and know there are a couple re-occurring characters. The most important is Det. Lt. Max Fine who works in Homicide at the Chicago Police Department and who’s something of a renaissance man with a built-in lie detector. Minor characters include Sherry Ames, the newcomer to Homicide with the kind of looks that gets men’s motors running and enough ambition to drive them until they run out of gas - and Riordan, a brutish Homicide dick who just barely gets by.

My current effort has the working title “Payback’s a Bitch.” It features an unnamed protagonist who has been driven mad by some incredibly rude, snobbish, venal people he has met in the rug world. He plots to get even with them...in grisly yet cleverly ironic ways. Just because he’s mad doesn’t mean he’s stupid. As you will see, he has already dispatched three notables in the rug world before Det. Fine gets on the case. (This is not intended to be a roman a clef. All characters, descriptions, and situations described in this story are completely fictitious. Any similarities to anyone, living or dead, are coincidental.)

After you’ve had a chance to look over these chapters, I’d like you to consider these questions.
1) What other types of ruggies deserve a horrible death?
2) What sort of deaths can be tied-in with ruggish pursuits?
3) What kind of ruggish behavior could be inflicted on someone that would lead to his madness?
4) What kind of response do you imagine there’d be from the rest of the rug world as they discerned a serial killer moving around them?
5) Should the killer be caught?

Credit, should I include your contributions, will be lavishly acknowledged. Profits, however, won’t be shared as there have never been any.

He’s Coming

He awoke at noon in a darkened room. Not a sliver of light penetrated the floor-to ceiling windows. The panoramic view of Chicago from the 50th floor of his Gold Coast condominium was completely obliterated. Thick, oversized Labijar kilim rugs from northwest Afghanistan were nailed across the windows. Even in direct sunlight only a faint reddish glow struggled through the dark madder-dyed rugs, bathing the room in the carmine of a charcoal briquette at its hottest.

He stretched, cracked his neck and back audibly, and walked to the adjoining bathroom. Black tile, black marble, and smoked glass absorbed much of the halogen lighting. Slowly he worked his eyes open, leaning on the pedestal sink and gazing into the mirror. Looking back at him he could see the transformation was nearly finished. His powers were almost fully grown. He was becoming...dangerous.

It was there for the seeing. Every plane of his face had hardened, made leaner through a daily regimen of exercise and strict diet. His aquiline nose had become more prominent as his cheeks had sunk, becoming more rapacious, hawklike. So, too, had his teeth - now more visible as his mouth tightened, turning each smile into a rictus of anger. His shaved head outlined the skull within. Wrinkles had thinned to spider webs of tension bracketing his mouth and eyes. And his eyes. Not green. Not amber. Not brown. More tweed-like, hooded and hypnotic as a cobra’s, spitting venom.

Satisfied, he grinned, if something so hate-filled could be called a “grin.”

Cupping his hands, he splashed ice cold water on his face and torso and returned to his room where he switched on a single high-powered floodlight that illuminated a collection of black iron free weights and black leather exercise benches. With coiled fury he attacked each element of his workout, loving the pain, listening to the clanking iron, hearing the blood flow in his knotted veins. Sweat dripped slowly from his naked body, slid in rivulets to the leather bench, pooled at the edge, and dropped in glistening pearls to the 18th century yellow-ground Konya rug below.

With each inhalation he sucked in as much air as his expanding lungs could hold, pushed the lifeless iron to the ceiling, and drew it downward with a smooth exhalation and a curse: I’m gonna’ kill those motherfuckers!

A Second Opinion

“It’s structure that’s determinative,” maintained the older gentleman with the thin mustache and neatly trimmed white hair. He was immediately interrupted by a thick-waisted woman in a twenty-year old floral dress, “Not when the design is so obvious.” “You’re both wrong,” shouted a man with a thick Middle-Eastern accent capable of being both condescending and contemptuous with only three words. He went on, “I know for a fact that this rug was woven by people who lived just two villages from my home in Iran. I saw rugs just like this on the loom.” Only he knew that he was making it up as he went along, trying to appear expert to attract potential customers to his Evanston store.

In other words it was a typical ending for the Chicago Oriental Rug Club. Five times a year rug fanciers from the Chicago Metropolitan Area and beyond gathered to hear a speaker, enjoy a dinner together, and finish with a “Show and Tell.” People would bring their latest acquisitions to bask in the club’s assembled admiration and receive praise for their wisdom, good taste, good judgment, or slick bargaining - preferably for all of these at once. Sometimes novices would bring their rugs to find out just what it was they had bought. And that became the flashpoint.

Most people who know nothing of oriental rugs think it should be pretty easy to identify them. “Well, it’s blue - dark blue - in the middle with pink, green, and yellow flowery thingies around the border; and the tag says ‘Made in Iran.’ What do you suppose it could be? And was $7,500 too much to pay for it?”

The truth of the matter is that accurately identifying the country of origin of most oriental rugs is not especially difficult, with a few months of diligent study. But merely identifying the country of origin is about as meaningful as distinguishing between Fords and Cadillacs. It is the first layer of onion skin, Salome’s first veil, the first step on a long journey, the hand under the bra.

The only absolutely reliable attribution can be made when the rug is purchased from the weaver. Since this happens so rarely, an entire literature of opinion salted with an occasional field study exists to fill in the inevitable blanks. And since minute differences in attribution can mean adding or subtracting a zero or two from the price of the piece, wisdom is power.

Which made Harry Hogshead the most powerful man in the Chicago Oriental Rug Club. Harry had spent the last 40 years in the rug trade, combining sales, repair, and cleaning to generate a more-or-less successful business. Always quick with a story, even more so when lubricated with whiskey which he often was, he could be a charmer. Profane in a rascally way, professorial in a bespectacled way, and intimate in a devious way, Harry had learned the rug business the old-fashioned way: he bought, sold, fixed, and cleaned rugs himself. But the years had not been kind to him. The combined effects of age, drink, and financial uncertainty had ruined marriages and his business several times over. Still, in his lucid moments, he had power.

Twice, all by himself, he had split the Chicago Oriental Rug Club into warring factions. Both times it had been when the club was sponsoring an exhibition and at a crucial moment Harry had flung in his monkey wrench of dissension - each time over an issue of attribution. Each schism took ten years to repair. It was as if he planned to make himself the issue. He was respected by some, pitied by others, and hated by those with memories.

So there he sat with his last brandy of the night. The dishes were cleared. The rug club’s members gone. The bartender fidgeting, anxious to leave.

Harry stepped down unsteadily from his stool, straightened his bowtie, and drew himself up into a reasonable facsimile of a sober man. As he made his way to the door, he could not help but notice that someone had left something behind. It was a beautiful Shahsavan bagface. The Shahsavan lived in the very southernmost areas of the Caucasus Mountains where in the 19th century they turned utilitarian items like bags into magnificent examples of the weaver’s art. Now they were extremely collectible, and the best were worth upwards of $25,000. This much for a textile only about 18 inches square.

Being an expert, Harry immediately recognized what had been left behind...an especially tasty one, too. To some the design resembled a squashed bug with its body a flattened square with legs protruding from the corners. Harry had a particular affection for this pattern as he had bought one years earlier from an ignorant novice collector for a fraction of its true value. Its prompt sale at Sotheby’s had paid Harry’s rent for a year. And here was another just laying there. Well he couldn’t just leave it, could he? No, of course he couldn’t. He would take it back with him and call around tomorrow to see who it belonged to.

Somewhere between the restaurant and his loft Harry remembered a collector in Virginia who would buy it in a heartbeat. Being freshly divorced and off the gravy train that his former wife had provided, Harry had more incentive for quick gain than usual. It was too late to call the collector, but it was not too late to take a closer look at the piece. When he returned to his loft, he placed the bag on his worktable and positioned a magnifying lamp above it. Peering through, he marveled at the oily suppleness of the wool, the deeply saturated reds, blues, greens, and yellows. But - wait! - what’s this? Almost hidden in the tightly woven wefts were about a dozen metal staples. With a needle-nosed tweezers he carefully extracted each staple. What were they doing there, he wondered.

He gathered them up to throw them away, but in his inebriated state they were slippery little devils. Twice, no thrice, he pricked his thumb trying to corral them. He felt himself getting sleepy: not unusual considering the quantity he had had to drink. What was unusual was the numbness that was accompanying the sleepiness. It radiated upward from his right thumb, engulfed his right elbow, insinuated itself at his shoulder, and made his jaw and tongue feel like he was about to have a tooth filled. He was still conscious when he realized he could no longer breath.

The Sicilians Had It Wrong

His workout took an hour, a blissful hour spent deeply inhaling purified air and triumphing over the effect of gravity on cast iron. He felt the “burn” in every muscle, but then he always felt the burn. Grabbing a bowl of granola, fresh blueberries, and skim milk he poured them in his mouth without bothering with a spoon. Drops of milk clung to his unshaven upper lip and gave him the appearance of a demented “Got milk?” advertisement.

He walked with a feline grace to face a mirrored wall where he performed his daily tai chi exercises to stretch out his bulked-up muscles. Slowly he extended a leg and curled it neatly backwards as his arms described a large circle before him. With great deliberation he moved through the entire routine. Where others found a meditative peacefulness in the discipline of the exercise, his mind wandered.

The Sicilians had it wrong, he thought. Revenge isn’t a dish best served cold. No. It should be served up hot, searingly, scaldingly, lethally hot. The victim must suffer, must die a death proportional to the wrong he had inflicted. He moved from position to position while his mind reviewed his Mikado-like list of enemies. To let the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime, he almost sang. But he was well past singing. He never sang. He hardly talked for whom would engage him? One look and conversation tailed off.

His revenge would be hot like dry ice was hot, burning by freezing. Appearing chilled by the passage of time, his lust for revenge had never cooled. Each hurt, each slight, each offense was recorded with the clarity of a DVD player that he could not prevent from continually playing back in big screen, surround sound, high definition detail. The quality remained perfect. The laughter ringing in his ears. The smirks smearing across faces like fun house mirrors. The whispers sibilant in the subsonics. “More money than taste.” “All hat, no cattle.” “Did you hear how he got taken?” “He bid too much, again.” “If you’d paid attention to my lecture....” “So you think that’s 18th century, do you?”

The tai chi countered the free weights, but it did nothing to counter the feverish workings of his mind. That would require an entirely different activity.

Corduroy is Never in Fashion

Reginald Quirt was the center of attention, as usual at rug conferences. His books were the bibles of the obscure knowledge that defined rug scholarship. Short, pudgy, so like a potato in face and figure that one would not be surprised if he were homogeneously white through and through. Thinning hair carelessly combed over a freckled pate, he was cunningly careless about his appearance. He favored corduroy suits so old they were practically smooth, white shirts with frayed collars and cuffs, scuffed suede desert boots, and soiled bowties - though how he could have soiled them hidden as they were beneath his redundant chins was a mystery. His look was that of a man too preoccupied with matters of the intellect to bother with mere fashion. And that was exactly as he intended.

His greetings to people who approached were strictly ranked. Old friends received a distracted smile and a quick, moist grasp of no more than four fingers. New acquaintances were awarded with little more than a grunt of recognition and a momentary flickering of his eyes. Strangers were hardly acknowledged. Unless they were wealthy. Then they got a languorous extension of his right hand, palm down, which they could shake or kiss the gold signet ring - their choice.

Such was the state of oriental rug scholarship that a palpable asshole like Quirt could behave in a manner that would get him bitch-slapped into the middle of next week anywhere other than a rug conference. He was a bit of a polymath in the rug world, expert in many of the most arcane byways of study: 15th century Cairene Mamluk carpets, 16th century Safavid imperial rugs, and others too dull for even most rug enthusiasts. His particular area of expertise was in Turkoman rugs. He had written several books about them and made numerous presentations of his findings at rug conferences like this one. But that was long in the past. He had not done any serious scholarship in a decade. Still, that was good enough to be treated like royalty by those who courted his favor.

His favor was what the bowing and scraping was really all about. A nod from Quirt could double the price of a mid-19th century Turkoman bag. A word of praise could triple it. A sneer could send it to the scrap heap. Staying on his good side was worth real money. He knew it. They knew it. And no one ever referred to it.

The conference was going along as most rug conferences usually do. The Chicago Regency Hyatt was athrong with milling ruggies. The presentations were a thin gruel of facts, fattened by unreasonable suppositions and rendered in English as a second language. The exhibitions were massive ego massages for local collectors whose pieces had been chosen and humiliations for those whose had not. And everyone knew who was who. The Dealers’ Row was the real focus of the conference. Rug dealers from around the world were drawn to this conference as bees are to money. All through the day and long into the night the dealers’ suites were abuzz with dealers displaying their wares. Collectors sniffed the dealers’ offerings like sharks around a wounded swimmer, playing a waiting game, hoping their favorite pieces would still be there on the last day of the conference when the blood would finally be in the water.

For each dealer who had paid his extortionate fee to be officially recognized by the conference and ensconced on Dealers’ Row there was a rogue dealer who had bypassed the bureaucracy and had simply rented a room on another floor of the hotel and thrown his door open for business. There were even rogue dealers who did not bother with a room. They carried their merchandise with them in backpacks and satchels that could be opened at a moment’s notice for a likely customer.

Quirt noticed a tall, athletically-built man in a dark grey Armani suit and a black silk t-shirt. Actually, he hardly noticed him at all; but he could not miss the fabulous Chodor Turkoman bag the man had carelessly thrown over his shoulder. The Chodor tribe was a minor group in the Turkoman hierarchy. This made their weavings rare. And for those with a taste for the rich chocolately browns that marked Chodor work they were irresistible. Great rarity combined with great beauty equalled great price in the world of rugs.

The man was walking fairly briskly away, toward the exit to the hotel parking garage. Quirt was searching his memory to identify the man. He was pretty sure he recognized him even though he appeared to have changed somehow. But each time he thought he knew who it was he was diverted by thoughts of the Chodor bag. It was a chore, an exertion, to gain ground on the man who was now on the stairs leading down to the lower level parking. He was not used to proceeding at anything more strenuous than a stroll. Sweat was beginning to add shiny dots to his freckled head. His corduroy suit was trapping heat in all his hairy places. His bowtie was soaking up moisture like a regimental striped sponge.

The man neither slowed nor noticed Quirt’s pursuit. At the farthest corner of the lot, in a niche formed by concrete pillars and thick, overhanging water pipes, the man chirped the alarm and unlocked a gleaming black Mercedes 600 sedan. Only then did he slow and pop the trunk. He reached into the trunk and pulled out an antique Tekke Turkoman tent band. Forty two feet of exquisitely finely knotted textile that had encircled the yurt of a Turkoman khan two centuries before.

Quirt was breathing hard now. Most of it was the sudden exercise, but a fair amount was due to the exceptional quality of the things he was seeing. Could he have discovered a new rogue dealer? Might he impress him with his reputation and get him to part with these treasures? Was there the chance that the man might not know what his pieces were worth? What else might be in that trunk?

These and other questions of a similar theme were still running through his mind as he finally closed the distance with the man and his unbelievable possessions. Oddly, the man appeared unaware of the huffing, shambling Quirt. Just as this thought joined the others the man moved with the friction-free speed of olive oil in a hot pan. He looped the tent band around Quirt’s sweaty neck, twisted it, and swung it over the thick pipe above them. Without pausing, he gave the tent band a vicious yank and pulled Quirt cleanly off the oil-stained floor. Now that Quirt’s neck was stretched he was able to secure the loose end of the tent band around it as well.

As the Mercedes pulled smoothly out of the parking space, Quirt’s face exhibited a color that nicely matched the red, his protruding tongue the aubergine, of the tent band.

Mr. Hyde, I Presume?

The cold water of the shower hissed off his body like a car’s busted water hose in Death Valley. Even in the shower his mind raced. Anxiousness to get on with it intertwined with the delicious pleasure of anticipation like the twin snakes in a caduceus with fangs exposed and blood dripping down. Gaining control, he steadied his hand and swept the lizard claw sharp straight razor from the nape of his neck to his forehead. Fine stubble built up on the edge of the blade until his scalp was as smooth and white as a sun-baked bone. He dried himself with a Turkish towel that he had picked up in one of his many trips to Istanbul. Thirsty loops of long-fibered cotton absorbed the water with an efficiency that he admired. He knew that kind of thirst. It had defined his life.

An ambitious man, he had created a modest fortune by being the first to create a critical softwear component that was now embedded in virtually every database program in the world. His wealth had doubled when Y2K fears produced a new, fevered demand for his code cowboys to repair their unintended errors. Despite his computer skills, he was nevertheless a man with an unsated desire for pre-machine age crafts. Maybe it had something to do with his belief that writing code was not entirely unlike the solitary skills of rug weaving. Hand-spinning wool, dyeing it, and fashioning it into a pattern unique to the weaver came to mind whenever he worked at his computer keyboard.

So it was that he began to get involved with the world of oriental rugs. First he bought whatever appealed to him to furnish his home. Gradually he learned of the differences that distinguished the collectible from the decorative. To learn more he bought books aboutrugs and carpets. But the authors’ conflicting opinions just confused him. So he visited local rug dealers and quickly decided that they were full of shit and would tell him pretty much whatever they thought he wanted to hear. Then he discovered rug conferences. Originally held every couple of years but now semi-annual events they attracted the rug cognoscenti like iron filings to magnets. And that is where he went mad.

It was really relatively simple. He had an ordered, linear intellect. Drop a period in computer code and it fails. Typos are errors. Ones and zeros. Right or wrong. Black or white. There was an elegance to clean code. Direct solutions to abstruse problems. As pure as math. As innocent as a strawberry.

While he was right about the similarities in the solitary craftsmanship of the weaver and the software writer, he was wrong as wrong can be to assume it went any further than that. He was not entering the world of the weaver. He was coming face to face with the people who had wound up possessing the weavings. And for them oriental rugs were the polar opposite of computer code.

Pure objectivity was supplanted by impure subjectivity. Opinion ruled. And some opinions counted for a great deal more than others. Aesthetics, taste, and trendiness were the slippery ground he stepped out onto. And like a kid who had never ice skated he was all over the place, crashing into foolish purchases, stumblingly overbidding, flailingly asking ignorant questions in public places. Where others were roundly applauded when their high bids were successful at Sotheby’s or Christie’s, he was laughed at.

He just didn’t get it. Rugs, no matter their vintage, could always be ranked “good,” “better,” and “best.” Phrases like “sublime spirituality” and “totemic power” did not register for him. In an era in rug collecting where wildness and drama had supplanted precision and grandeur he was adrift on a sea of cattiness, sarcasm, and scorn. It was humiliating.

Then the whispering began.

It started at the 1997 International Conference in Geneva. At the end of a lecture he asked a noted authority a simple but hopelessly misguided question - a question that implied that he did not understand the aesthetic underpinnings of the lecture. Hundreds heard it. A nervous titter went through the auditorium. Reginald Quirt peered down from the lectern trying for a better view of the person who had asked the silly question. Once Quirt had him transfixed in his gaze, he gave one short barking laugh. The room erupted. For the rest of the conference he left a foam of whispers in his wake.

Some time later after he had returned home, he wasn’t sure when, the whispering became continuous. He heard it wherever he went. Scornful, mocking, it was relentless. It interfered with his work, drove him to become even more reclusive, diverted every thought. With each poorly chosen purchase it became more cruel. Every time he paid too much or ignored an aniline dye or bought a fake it crescendoed.

Walking to breakfast one day he noticed a young man with a t-shirt that had a phrase on the back: Even paranoids have enemies. He chewed that over with his ham and cheese omelet. And he saw the profound truth it contained. By the time he finished his third cup of coffee he had a plan. It wouldn’t be easy. He would have to be more focussed than ever before. But just thinking about revenge quieted the whispering.

While the people at the neighboring table dug into their apple pancakes, he imagined he had grown fangs.

Virtual Hell

Kato Krasney took to cyberspace like a rat to a dumpster. A man unburdened by the morals that God gave a hyena he could see the possibilities of the Internet for someone willing to invest a little sweat equity and a whole lot of sycophancy. He could use it to become Someone in the rug world. So before more reputable people paid much attention he already had his site, “RugWorld.com”, up and running.

Starting with little more than a bulletin board where Web surfers with questions about oriental rugs could post questions, he gradually built it to an oasis of rug lore along the Information Superhighway. He made it “content rich” as the geeks say. What kind of rug did I buy last weekend at the hotel auction? Did I pay too much? Where can I find an honest rug dealer? Are there any good books about rugs? Can I clean my rug myself? Answers to these and hundreds of other questions were archived.

Were this the alpha and omega of it the site would have been a blessing to ruggies everywhere. But Kato Krasney could not keep his personality from - cancer-like - metastasizing throughout his Web pages. Continually sucking-up to rug luminaries, he flattered and praised like a charity fund raiser. Except the charity he had in mind was Kato Krasney . “Look what I’m doing for you” went hand in hand with an oleagenous self aggrandizement thinly masked by false modesty. Even this kind of obnoxiousness might have been excusable had he not been a vile, hateful, nasty sonofabitch. Cross him and he libelled you on his listing of Rug Notables. Whether his comments were true or not they stayed up on the page and could not be removed by the victim. It was the Internet equivalent of William Randolph Hearst’s famous dictum: Never argue witha man who buys ink by the barrel.

The jousting field was his bulletin board. Questions were posed by the curious and answered by anyone who felt like responding. Most of the time it was peaceful. But now and then all hell broke loose. Someone would take issue with one of Krasney’s pedantic, posturing, mistaken postings. Truth be told, Krasney really did not know all that much about oriental rugs. He was a great cataloger of other people’s knowledge, but he could find himself out of his depth in short order if the appropriate reference did not fall immediately to hand. It did not happen very often. When it did, Krasney either acknowledged his error (if the person who pointed it out was someone he wanted to curry favor with) or got nasty (if he didn’t give a rat’s ass about the person who called him on his ignorance). Then there was no lie, no threat, he wouldn’t use to defame his opponent.

Once he even went so far as to publicly accuse someone of religious bigotry because that person flamed him on the evening of Christmas day. The fact that the one had nothing whatsoever to do with the other did not matter to Krasney. Instead of entering the debate he simply grabbed a handful of mud and flung it. The mud stayed there dripping all over his opponent for weeks.

There are many routes for turning a high visibility Web site into money. Krasney decided on transferring his new-found reputation as an oriental rug expert to becoming a rug dealer on Internet Auctions. He did not own any rugs himself, but that was easy to get around. He took rugs on consignment from real rug dealers and offered them at auction as his own.

For most people buying something over the Internet requires a major leap of faith. Rugs are tactile as well as visual. On a computer monitor they all feel the same. Additionally, slight variations in color and condition can mean a large difference in value, and the images that can be sent via computer are always subject to interpretation. In spite of these difficulties, the explosive rise in the popularity of Internet Auctions coincided nicely with the growth of his own reputation. In short order he was listing and selling one hundred rugs a month. At an average sale price of $500 he was taking in $50,000 monthly. His mark-up was twenty-five percent which meant that he cleared $12,500 - enough, one would think, for any fledgling business with no inventory, no warehousing, no rent, and almost no labor costs.

But not enough for Krasney. By the simple expedient of not paying his consignors when he sold their rugs he was able to quadruple his net. And so it went for nearly a year. Then the consignors got together and planned to force Krasney into bankruptcy. But they never got a chance.

On the same day Krasney was served with the papers notifying him of the lawsuit he also received an e-mail from someone who had purchased one of his rugs on Internet Auctions. The buyer was displeased with the runny reds in the Afghan War rug he had been the high bidder for. Ordinarily, Krasney would have argued with the guy, but today he had other things on his mind. So he just e-mailed him to return the rug and he would send him his money back.

Later in the week on a day when Krasney had spent six hours with his lawyer trying to figure a way out of his financial problems the rug showed up FedEx Overnight delivery. It sat in the corner of his foyer for a day until he got around to opening it. There was no rush. He didn’t intend to return the buyer’s money. From the looks of things he knew he’d be going belly up and wouldn’t be paying anybody anything. Besides, most of the money he had stolen was in an anonymous, numbered, Cayman Islands bank account.

The box was tightly-packed, the rug folded and re-folded until it fit. He had to hold the box and yank on the rug to pry it loose. It fought him as though it were glued in. He was red-faced and puffing with exertion by the time he got it out.

Opening the rug split a small plastic capsule and freed a very angry Namibian six-eyed crab spider which leaped on him and bit him on the neck. Krasney never saw it and felt the bite as nothing more than a mosquito. He squashed it without a second thought. The cytotoxins in the spider’s venom worked slowly but surely. Even had Krasney thought it was serious and called 911 they would not have been able to locate the correct antivenom because none exists. Instead over the next three days his internal organs dissolved.

He had played fast and loose on the Web, and the spider got him.

The Smart Detective

The trick to this job, thought Detective Lt. Max Fine, is separating the random from the planned. In eleven years as a Chicago homicide detective Fine could boil it all down to this simple dictum. The random killings that came his way would need either a tip or lucky forensics. The planned killings needed insight into the mind of the killer. If he could tell them apart, he could concentrate his efforts on pursuing the line of inquiry most likely to produce results with a minimum of false starts and dead ends.

When Harry Hogshead’s neighbor reported nasty smells from next door, the first officers on the scene were pretty sure it was something simple like a heart attack. The guy was old, overweight, and sprawled with his arms and legs out like a squashed bug. They were about to write it up that way until Fine showed up.

Fine operated out of Chicago’s 18th police district which ran from the Chicago River north to Lincoln Park and encompassed the white-glove neighborhoods of the Gold Coast, Streeterville, and North Michigan Avenue. Slightly less affluent neighborhoods to the immediate west were also part of his beat. Harry Hogshead’s loft was in a recently gentrified industrial area just west of the Magnificent Mile. Fine caught the call.

Tall and faintly professorial, Fine didn’t look like most people’s idea of a homicide detective. Years of televised “Law and Order” and “Homicide” had conditioned people to think of homicide cops as cynical, wisecracking smartasses beset with personal problems and wracked with angst about their jobs. That wasn’t Fine. He was as at ease as a meditating Tibetan monk. Calm, centered, he moved gracefully with an air of confidence. He wore tweed sportcoats that he bought off the rack at Brooks Brothers but that fit him like Saville Row. And no matter how horrible the scene of human remains his expression never wavered from the composed curiosity of a child.

His grey eyes took in everything. Slowly. He was in no rush. Was it death by natural causes, suicide, or homicide? It was Harry Hogshead’s expression that convinced him to call in the crime scene team. Harry looked surprised. Suicides aren’t surprised: they know what’s coming. So it still might be natural causes or homicide. The forensics team and an autopsy would determine which.

As he was placing the call, he noticed the Shahsavan bagface on the table. He recognized it from his past experience with oriental rugs. The job had exposed him to a full helping of the world of oriental rugs. First there had been the Nathan Hollings suicide. Hollings had been a book collector who fell into a fatal depression and killed himself over his inability to acquire the forty-two books about oriental rugs that had been written before 1900. And in one frantic day of law-breaking Fine had helped himself to Hollings’ entire collection which he now kept in a self-storage locker. He visited the books in his off hours, reading deeply both from the classic first editions as well as the rug books. He had a retentive mind and knew a squashed bug Shahsavan bagface when he saw it.

Then a couple years later there had been the case of the murder of a salesman who worked at a Going Out of Business Sale. A salesman for an oriental rug store that was running a scam going-out-of-business sale was found murdered in a dumpster. The case hinged on the salesman’s theft of a rare Star Kazak rug. Again, Fine’s familiarity with rugs was pivotal in the solution of the crime.

And now another ruggie was dead.

Forensics bagged and tagged, photographed and videotaped the entire loft. Presently, Hogshead's body was taken by the medical examiners. Fine couldn’t wait to get out into the fresh air - or what passed for fresh air in downtown Chicago. He took the stairs from the eighth floor loft instead of waiting for the elevator. He liked taking the stairs. Detective work was largely conducted in a seated position. His colleagues showed the effects of too many donuts and too little moving around. He estimated that over the course of a month he got about as much exercise as the folks paying through the nose at the West Bank Club. And if he threw in his savings from not buying fluorescent-colored spandex shorts and the five dollar smoothies at the club’s juice bar, he figured he was way ahead of the game. No doughy, flabby thighs for Fine.

He was just taking his first deep breath of air that wasn’t tainted with the body gasses of Harry Hogshead when his pager went off. It was one of those pagers that could be set to ring or vibrate. He preferred the vibration. Sometimes he would let it vibrate for a minute or two just for the sheer pleasure of it. This time he didn’t. A page so close to the end of his day meant only one thing: trouble.

The garage of the Hyatt was too cute by half. Each parking level had its own theme. Level 1 was Grant Park. Level 2 was Jackson Park. Level 3 was Washington Park. And Level 4 was Jefferson Park. Chicago’s great park system was put to use as a mnemonic device to help confused tourists remember where they had left their cars in the maze of the parking levels. Bright paint and an abundance of fluorescent lighting helped dispell the fear that grips some people when confronted with a dark, empty garage. Too many scary things happen in such garages, especially in movies. There is always a bad guy with a chainsaw behind a support column.

As it turned out, all the clever names and bright paint and lights had not helped Reginald Quirt in the least. He was still hanging there in the farthest corner of Jefferson Park. He had been found by a janitor who was now talking quietly with a bulky man with a buzz cut and a navy blazer. A police cruiser with its lights flashing had the aisle blocked. One of the patrol officers was sealing off the scene with yellow tape.

Fine pulled into a parking space, opened the door, and immediately recognized the smell of parasympathetic letdown. Humans still retain some of their more primitive mammalian reflexes. When confronted with life-threatening situations, the “fright or flight” reflex kicks in. You either stand there transfixed with a deer-in-the-headlights paralysis, or you lighten up to speed your escape by evacuating your bowels. That distinctive smell was the first thing Max Fine noticed about the crime scene.

The next thing he saw as he slowly made his way to the dangling figure of Reginald Quirt was his nametag from the rug conference. Fercryinoutloud! thought Fine. Another ruggie. Who thought this arcane hobby could be so lethal? Then he recognized the name. Quirt. He had read his books and knew he was an authority on Turkmen textiles. So he immediately got the irony implicit in Quirt’s being strung up with a Tekke tentband. He would have laughed had it not been so wildly rude.

He quickly took control of the scene and called for the forensics team and the coroner’s crew. His interview of the janitor and the man with him who turned out to be the manager of hotel security took only a few minutes. They had seen and heard nothing. Quirt was just hanging there when they found him about twenty minutes before. As the Jefferson Park level was almost empty, he could have been there for as much as eight hours - the last time a janitor would have been through on his rounds. Fine looked over the scene carefully and knew the forensics team was not likely to find anything. A man does not wind up hanging from an overhead pipe without considerable planning, the sort of planning that takes care not to leave clues.

He waited for the everyone to arrive and do their jobs. Then he got in his dark grey sedan and went to the Gold Coast Lock-and-Leave where he had Nathan Hollings’ rug book collection hidden. He was going to have another look at those books. Then he would return to the rug conference and start the process of learning who had a grudge against Quirt. It would be a long night.

I’m On a Roll

He moved through the rug conference like a phantom. His name tag said he was “D’Arque Angelli” and raised no eyebrows in this thoroughly international gathering. He had changed into a simple Armani charcoal suit with a black silk mock turtleneck t-shirt which made him the best-dressed person in the room by a factor of a thousand. So out of touch were the conferees that they never noticed the elegant drape of the worsted wool as its cuff crested his unadorned grey suede loafers. In this tiny universe of frayed tweeds, shapeless smocks, and Christmas cardigans the monochromatic greys of his attire rendered him as invisible as the busboys who were refilling the wine and cheese trays.

After you’ve had a chance to look over these chapters, I’d like you to consider these questions.
1) What other types of ruggies deserve a horrible death?
2) What sort of deaths can be tied-in with ruggish pursuits?
3) What kind of ruggish behavior could be inflicted on someone that would lead to his madness?
4) What kind of response do you imagine there’d be from the rest of the rug world as they discerned a serial killer moving around them?
5) Should the killer be caught?