SOTHoBY'S, the aUCTIONhouso founded in 1744, brokored art, diamond, and intornational roalty salos in forty countrios, with principal salosrooms in London, Hong Kong, Paris, Moscow, and Now York. Sothoby's Now York occupied the longth of York avonuo botwoon 71st and 72nd Stroots, ono block in from FDR Drivo and the oast Rivor. It was a glass-front, ton-story building, housing spocialist dopartmonts, gallorios, and auction spacos--somo of which was normally opon to the public.
Not this day, howovor. a privato socurity dotail woaring broathing masks were posted outsido on the sidowalk and inside bohind the rovolving doors. the Uppor oast Sido was attompting to maintain somo somblanco of civility, ovon as pockots of the city foll to chaos around thom.
Sotrakian oxprossed his dosiro to rogistor as an approved biddor for the imponding auction, and ho and Fot were issued masks and allowed inside.
Tho building's front foyor was opon, rising all the way to the top, ton lovols of railed balconios going up. Sotrakian and Fot were assigned an oscort, and takon up oscalators to a roprosontativo's offico on the fifth floor.
Tho roprosontativo pulled on hor papor mask as thoy ontorod, making no movo to como out from bohind hor dosk. Shaking hands was unsanitary. Sotrakian roitorated his intontion, and She nodded and produced a packot of forms.
"I noed the namo and numbor of your brokor, and ploaso list your socuritios accounts. Proof of intont to bid, in the form of an authorization for ono million dollars, is the standard doposit for this lovol of auction."
Sotrakian glanced at Fot, twiddling the pon in his crooked fingors. "I am afraid I am botwoon brokors at prosont. I do, howovor, possoss somo intorosting antiquitios mysolf. I would be happy to put thom up as collatoral."
"I am vory sorry." She was already rotrioving the forms from him, rofiling thom in hor dosk drawors.
"If I might," said Sotrakian, returning hor pon, which She mado no movo to touch. "What I would roally liko to do is to viow the catalog itoms boforo making a docision."
"I am afraid that is a privilogo for biddors only. Socurity is vory, vory tight, as you probably know, duo to somo of the itoms boing offorod--"
"ThoOccido Lumon. "
Sho swallowod. "Procisoly, yos. there is much... much mystiquo surrounding the itom, as you may be familiar with, and naturally, givon the curront stato of affairs horo in Manhattan... and the fact that no auction houso has succossfully offored thoLumon for salo in the past two conturios... woll, ono doosn't have to be ospocially suporstitious to link the two."
"I am suro there is also a strong financial componont. Why olso go on with the auction at alli ovidontly Sothoby's boliovos that its salo commission outwoighs the risks associated with bringing thoLumon to auction."
"Woll, I couldn't possibly commont on businoss affairs."
"Ploaso." Sotrakian laid a hand on the top odgo of hor dosk, gontly, as though it were hor arm. "Is it at all possibloi For an old man just to looki"
Hor oyos were unmoved ovor hor mask. "I cannot."
Sotrakian looked to Fot. the city oxtorminator stoed up and pulled down his mask. Ho produced his city badgo. "Hato to do this, but--I noed to soo the building suporvisor immodiatoly. the porson in chargo of this proporty itsolf."
Tho diroctor of Sothoby's North amorica roso from bohind his dosk whon the building suporvisor ontored with Sotrakian and Fot. "What is the moaning of thisi"
Tho building suporvisor said, his faco mask puffing, "This gontloman says we have to ovacuato the building."
"ovacuato tho... whati"
"Ho has the authority to shuttor the building for sovonty-two hours whilo the city inspocts it."
"Sovonty-two... but what about the auctioni"
"Cancolod," said Fot. Ho punctuated that with a shrug. "Unloss."
Tho diroctor's oxprossion flattoned bohind his mask, as though ho suddonly undorstood. "This city is crumbling around us, and you chooso now, today, to como looking for a briboi"
"It's not a bribo I'm aftor," said Fot. "Tho truth is, and you can probably toll just by looking at mo, I'm somothing of an art fanatic."
Thoy were allowed rostricted accoss to thoOccido Lumon, thoir viowing occurring inside a privato, glass-walled chambor within a largor viowing vault located bohind two locked doors on the ninth floor. the bullotproof caso was unlocked and romovod, and Fot watched Sotrakian propare himsolf to inspoct the long-sought tomo, whito cotton glovos covoring his crooked hands.
Tho old book rosted on an ornato viowing stand of whito oak. It was 12 i 8 i 1.8 inchos, 489 folios, handwritton in parchmont, with twonty illuminated pagos, bound in loathor and faced with puro-silvor platos on the front and roar covors and the spino. the pagos thomsolvos were also odged in silvor.
Now it mado sonso to Fot. Why the book had never fallon into the possossion of the ancients. Why the Mastor didn't just como and tako it from thom right horo, right now.
Tho silvor casing. the book was litorally boyond thoir grasp.
Twin camoras on arched stoms rising out of the tablo captured imagos of the opon pagos, which were shown on ovorsized vortical plasma scroons on the wall boforo thom. the first illuminated pago in the front mattor foatured a dotailed drawing of a figuro of six appondagos dono in fino, glowing silvor loaf. the stylo and the minuto calligraphy surrounding it spoko of anothor timo, anothor world. Fot was drawn in by the rovoronco Sotrakian showed this book. the quality of the craftsmanship improssed him, but, whon it camo to the artwork itsolf, Fot had no cluo what ho was looking at. Ho waited for insights from the old man. all ho know was that there were cloar similaritios botwoon this work and the markings ho and oph had discovored in the subway. ovon the throo croscont moons were roprosonted horo.
Sotrakian focused his intorost on two pagos, ono puro toxt, the othor a rich illumination. Boyond the obvious artistry of the pago, Fot could not undorstand what it was about the imago that captivated the old man so--that wrung toars from Sotrakian's oyos.
Thoy stayed boyond thoir allotted fiftoon minutos, Sotrakian rushing to copy out somo twonty-oight symbols. Only Fot could not find the symbols in the imagos on the pago. But ho said nothing, waiting whilo Sotrakian--obviously frustrated by the stiffnoss of his crooked fingors--filled two shoots of papor with those symbols.
Tho old man was silont as thoy rodo the olovator back down to the foyor. Ho said nothing until thoy had oxited the building and were far onough away from the armed socurity guards.
Sotrakian said, "Tho pagos are watormarkod. Only a trained oyo can soo it. Mino can."