The Imperial Wife - Irina Reyn Page 0,1

turn-of-the-century Fabergé hardstone inkwell like what Nadia Kudrina’s got over at Christie’s. And in this climate, in this depressed market, clients want rarity above all. The kind of property they can’t get anywhere else. To guarantee the highest bids, it should be a work that’s fresh to the market, rediscovered, that no one even knows exists.

“We may have a bit of a historical contradiction here. As a courtesy, we would be happy to bring in our restorer to look it over in greater detail.”

“What do you mean by a contradiction?”

“It’s the subject matter, that’s all. Just raises a small question in my mind.”

“Oh, no. Really?”

“It should take just a week or two. We’ll get it back to you.” I say this in a conclusive way. But always positive. This is just an obstacle to be surmounted.

Mr. Brooks rises off the couch, his hand resting protectively on the frame of the fake. I reach over to reassure him in some way, a pat on his shoulder, a handshake, some human interaction he may remember later in the depths of his distress. I know he’s paid over two hundred thousand for it and he’s not getting that money back. Just as my fingers settle on the wool shoulder of his jacket, I notice my assistant Regan in the door waving frantically to me.

“Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” The door claps shut and the light brightens. I breathe in, exhale.

Regan is waiting down the hall, in the corner of the floor carved out for the Russian art department. Because our specialty is still relatively new, our area’s an afterthought. We’re an island surrounded by East Asian and Middle Eastern, a row of desks squeezed between mahogany bookshelves and a cemetery of broken ergonomic chairs. My friends always expect the Worthington’s offices to look like coolly curated galleries or at least the blankness of a modernist museum. How lucky you are to work there, they tell me. If they only knew! The space is a disheveled jumble of extension cords and books and articles and spreadsheets. On top of one of the bookshelves sits a ransacked box of chocolates next to a wilting bouquet of yellow roses. Most of the specialists’ desks are littered with electrolyte water bottles, teacups, or clear nail polish. Like everything else at an auction house, beauty here tends to be for public consumption only.

“Good timing. What’s up?”

“Someone’s in the paper,” Regan sings, holding up the Financial Times “Diary of a Somebody” column. In red ink, she has circled the pull quote:

Between a looming Russian art auction, a fund-raiser at Sergei Brin’s, and her husband’s best-selling novel, Worthington’s Russian Art specialist Tanya Kagan Vandermotter hobnobs with the most important businesspeople of the world. But despite all the fabulous parties, she is “just a simple girl from Moscow” whose dream is to see more Russian masterworks returned to their place of origin.

“Booya. Read it and weep, Nadia Kudrina. This is coming in at the perfect time.”

I wave it away, but I’m secretly pleased. “Let me see that.”

Most of it is embarrassing me as I read it in print but I’m tempted to walk it straight up to Dean. See, you can’t cut the Russian department now! I turn on the computer to find an in-box flooded with congratulations and e-mails with subject lines like “Hey, Simple Girl from Moscow!”

I call my parents to celebrate. They’re thrilled.

“‘Diary of a Somebody’ must mean you are a Somebody,” my mother says. My father promises to find a copy of the paper in New Jersey. If he has to cancel a client for a