The Price of Inheritance: A Novel

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9781476758602: The Price of Inheritance: A Novel
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In this enthralling new novel from the author of The List (a “smartly paced and dishy debut,” Publishers Weekly, starred review), a young woman working in the high-end art world stumbles upon a rare antique—and an irresistible man with a dark past.

After eight years in the American Furniture department at Christie’s, twenty-nine-year-old Carolyn Everett is a rising star. But one wrong decision and a scandal leaves her unemployed and broken. Desperate to piece her life back together, Carolyn leaves New York City to work in a tiny antique store in Newport, Rhode Island.

One day at a small county auction, she discovers a piece of Middle Eastern pottery, which she purchases for twenty dollars on a hunch. Curiosity sends her on a mission to find its original owner, and she eventually winds up in the town’s United States Navy Base—and in a relationship with notorious womanizer Marine Sergeant Tyler Ford, who claims the relic came to him as a gift from his translator during the early days of the Iraq War. From two different worlds, Tyler and Carolyn become obsessed with the mysterious relic—and each other—until the origin of the art comes under intense scrutiny and reveals a darker side of Tyler’s past. Carolyn still feels like there’s more to the story, but can she risk attaching herself to another scandal—and does she truly know the man she’s fallen in love with?

The Price of Inheritance is a rare find of a novel. Engaging, suspenseful, and full of intrigue, it delves into the elite world of big bucks deals and dangerous black market promises, where one woman must decide whether she’s willing to gamble her greatest asset—her heart.

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About the Author:

Karin Tanabe is the author of The Gilded Years, The Price of Inheritance, and The List. A former Politico reporter, her writing has also appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and The Washington Post. She has made frequent appearances as a celebrity and politics expert on Entertainment Tonight, CNN, and The CBS Early Show. A graduate of Vassar College, Karin lives in Washington, DC. To learn more visit KarinTanabe.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Price of Inheritance

CHAPTER 1

It starts in my ears. A slight ringing that fades in and out like a faint Morse code signal. Then my heart takes off. It beats and thumps and pounds so loudly I’m sure the people next to me can hear it. I smile and laugh nervously. I think about reassuring the worried-looking man to my right that I’m sane; it’s just a little heart murmur and I’m not in need of a Xanax or an EKG. But nothing can stop the rush of adrenaline, anxiety, and animal-like sweating. My palms start to clam up, from the tips of my fingernails to my wrists. They become damp, soaking even, as the bids in the auction room start low—low in billionaire-speak—and soar up in minutes. I want to join them, calmly dishing out seven figures for that Chippendale armoire handmade by craftsmen in the eighteenth century, like it’s as routine as buying a latte. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to get the super-rich to buy, and as the room buzzes with the sound of moneyed voices, I know my job is almost done. But that doesn’t calm me down.

The bids rise as a waterfall of sweat swims down my back. I’m so sticky I could keep a fish alive in my shirt. I’m sure I look crazy, but I try to smile through my adventures in perspiration. The auctioneer’s sophisticated voice works its way rhythmically through the crowd and hands go up and down like a rich person’s version of Whac-A-Mole. Then, finally, only the most determined bidders wave their paddles in the air—some tentative, some powerful, others unnaturally relaxed as they bid with someone else’s money. Then, a pause. A single hand rises in the crowd, the auctioneer acknowledges the final bidder, and the hammer hesitates, then firmly falls. The mahogany hits the podium. And just like that, someone very rich and rather sentimental has spent millions of dollars, dirhams, yuan, or pounds on a painting, a table, a coin collection, dueling pistols, or an old pair of Kennedy underwear.

After ten years of the money-fueled adrenaline fest, I knew what to expect when I walked into the Christie’s saleroom in New York on September 13 at 6:30 P.M. As soon as my leather soles squeaked through the institution’s glass doors on the periphery of Rockefeller Center as a nineteen-year-old intern, I vowed to never leave Christie’s, and I hadn’t. For the last decade I’d been assisting, and then appraising and finally acquiring lamps in the shape of boats, clocks in the shape of birds, and desks made by men who loved powdered wigs. And all that—along with a few good connections—had led me to today.

The last time the famed Nicholas Brown Chippendale Mahogany Block-and-Shell Carved Desk-and-Bookcase sold at auction was in 1989 and it went for $12.1 million, a world auction record for American furniture. All the art journalists wrote about it. And everyone agreed that the desk, crafted by the Townsend-Goddard School of cabinetmaking in Newport, Rhode Island, was worth the astronomical price. There was plenty of buzz around the sale, and no one thought it would sell again for decades. But they were wrong.

Thanks to a tip about a family’s failed investments from a collector whom I’d worked with for years, I’d made two trips to the Cayman Islands in six months and one to Boston to convince Jack Davidson, the fickle heir of an old Massachusetts family, that yes indeed he should sell his prized desk to help pad his bank account. And I convinced him that only my distinguished place of employment, Christie’s, could get him a higher price than the eight figures he’d paid five years ago.

To keep Jack from contacting rival Sotheby’s while we wined and dined him, I’d immediately made a $12 million guarantee. Every dollar above $12 million that the piece brought in would be split by Jack, the seller, and us, the auction house. I’d also promised him prime placement on the cover of our September auction catalogue, skybox tickets to the Boston Red Sox, and a ninetieth birthday party for his father at the Christie’s headquarters in New York. I assured him that he and his third wife would be put up at the Plaza in the F. Scott Fitzgerald suite for the weekend, and that I’d personally take his youngest daughter to the American Girl store and to lunch at Delmonico’s. “Around strangers, she only eats condiments,” he’d warned, pushing back his dapper mop of brown hair and giving his diabolical seven-year-old daughter a wink and several packets of ketchup before heading back to the hotel.

Before I showed Jack the mockup of our catalogue—which I’d had the graphics department put together in twenty-four hours—I tied it with a linen bow handmade in Nantucket and spent thirty minutes starching and ironing it until it could barely be knotted. American furniture is mostly bought and sold by Americans. But this cabinet was a record breaker. I knew collectors in Russia, Asia, and the Middle East would be interested; it was something we had to have.

The courting we did in the American furniture department to woo estates was nothing compared to what went on in the bigger departments—Old Masters, Impressionist, Contemporary. I wanted Jack Davidson to build a relationship with Christie’s, and as soon as his beloved father, Paul Davidson, died, I wanted him to think of no one but Christie’s when he sold his estate. So a big-dollar promise was made and now I had to deliver on it. We both knew there was no guarantee I could keep my word. Worst-case scenario, it wouldn’t sell for $12 million and Christie’s would own the piece. I would be branded a failure and the next decade would see me selling plastic chairs in church parking lots.

I woke up on auction day in my tiny apartment on East Fifty-Ninth Street and pushed back the covers an hour before sunrise. I went through the same ritualistic motions on every big auction day as I tried to steady my racing mind. I picked up the New York Times and the front-page headline read: “Economy in shambles. Never spend another dime! Move to burgeoning New Delhi,” or something like that. But I was ignoring the pessimists. Those grizzly economists always saw the champagne glass half empty and there were lots of rich people left counting Bentleys and Picassos between their spoonfuls of fish eggs. I knew it was wrong to ask God for large sums of money to be spent on ludicrously expensive furniture, so I didn’t pray. Audibly, anyway. Instead, I walked. It was the same every time my department had an auction. My alarm went off at 5:30 A.M., I ate an entire bar of dark chocolate and three organic breath mints, and then I hit the pavement for an hour.

The morning of the desk auction, or Chippendale Day, as I’d been calling it during nervous phone calls to my therapist, I headed toward the park. I would start by strolling around the edge, the empty streets full of historic buildings inhabited by the extremely wealthy, and then, when the sun started to rise, I would turn into the park, watch the orange rays cover Manhattan, and sweat out a tiny portion of my nerves in the city’s cloud of green.

I walked twenty-three blocks, watched the yellow cabs race by, and climbed up and down the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All I could think about was money. Specifically, $12.2 million. I’d be happy with that. Not thrilled, but happy. I sat down on the steps, letting the morning wind slap my pale face, and stretched out my arms. In the next hour, I would wash, dry, brush, powder, and paint myself into someone who looked like she knew what she was doing. I’d appear polished and intelligent. Someone who deserved to have the job title Senior Specialist, American Furniture and Decorative Arts; someone Christie’s was proud to have associated with their venerable name.

I thought back on the first full day I worked at Christie’s as an employee instead of an intern. I was twenty-one, I was terrified, but I knew much more about American furniture than your average college student. I was a little obsessed. I thought about getting a tattoo of a Chippendale drop-leaf dining table on my inner forearm. To me it said, Passion, Old World, Awesome. To my parents, it said Lunatic, Criminal, Antiquities Freak, so I never did it. But I was ready to. That’s how much I loved what I was doing. And maybe Christie’s had seen my obsession, which, combined with the fact that my grandparents were once a pretty big deal, led them to slap a secure entrance card in my hand and give me a desk and access to very expensive things.

In the nearly 250-year history of Christie’s, I was the youngest senior specialist ever to be employed by the American furniture department. And as much as my parents were disconcerted by the way I wanted to express my passion, it was a job that was in my bones.

All through my childhood, my mother, Laura Everett, taught American art history at Salve Regina University in Newport, and my father was an architect specializing in nineteenth-century restoration. My family liked old things. Most of the time we liked old things more than we liked each other. But no one was in Newport anymore. We were just three, my parents and me. My grandmother, Virginia Everett, lived with us until I was thirteen years old. My parents had me far too young, when they were just getting ready to devote their lives to PhDs and academia, and quickly concluded that they weren’t kid people. So my grandmother beckoned us from Boston to Newport and raised me while my parents focused on what really mattered to them—things without a pulse. It was clear to all of us by the time I could walk that I was happiest when I was in my grandmother’s arms. When she passed away from liver cancer the void she left was something even teenage freedom couldn’t fill. Our house, once booming with the sound of her thick Rhode Island accent and determined matronly ways, became very quiet. At thirteen, I was considered an adult by my parents, and they didn’t bother to fill the silence.

When I finished boarding school and was about to become a very nervous college freshman, my parents shipped back to Boston, home to a whole host of nineteenth-century buildings for them to have fits over. They abandoned our history and our little house with the green glass roof.

My heartbreak pushed me swiftly into studying ­nineteenth-century American architecture and decorative arts, which turned into my first job at Christie’s as a summer intern in the Valuations department. I got to handle not only American furniture but Renaissance art, Chinese scroll paintings, South American and Asian pottery, Middle Eastern artifacts, and a lot of massive diamonds. Before I had my Princeton diploma, Christie’s officially hired me in April of my senior year. As I was allowed to become more of an expert, everything else faded away until I was surrounded only with what I loved most, American history. I became a junior and eventually senior specialist in the American Furniture and Decorative Arts department. I loved old things, but I really loved old American things. And if they had been pieced together in Newport, I went into joyous cardiac arrest.

On the unseasonably chilly morning of the auction, the wind ripped through my thin jacket as I watched the vendors set up their carts. The summer’s ice cream and soda stands were slowly turning into New York’s fall street food—roasted nuts, salted pretzels—but everything else was the same: the I Love New York T-shirts, the mass-produced wall art, the mini plastic versions of the city’s iconic buildings. Mementos for normal people to enjoy.

I took in the five-dollar price tags as I thought about the hours in front of me. Was having an auction this close to the summer holidays a good thing or a terrible idea? Terrible idea. Was the senior director of my department going to have me done away with if I didn’t keep my $12 million promise? Absolutely. Death by old-world hands and an antique butcher knife was predicted. But I had to give a price guarantee to lure the cabinet out of a handsome house in Boston and onto our showroom floor. Everything we sold had a reserve price—we were never going to let Édouard Manets sell for a nickel—but pieces or collections we really wanted to acquire and keep away from Sotheby’s we gave a guaranteed price to. That’s just how it was done. Sometimes we even gave half the guarantee in advance so the seller could buy more porcelain dogs or whatever oddity they were coveting. My department knew that the $12 million I had given was very high, but collectors liked records, and it wasn’t going to break a record again unless it went past $12.1. There was money in the world and people wanted to spend it on well-crafted mahogany, I was sure. Funds from blood diamond sales, arms dealers, drug cartels—surely someone wanted to own the most expensive piece of American furniture in the world. And we weren’t picky! Money was money.

I needed to rope up some confidence. This was not doomsday, even if my central nervous system seemed to think so. This was a day I had worked very hard for. At one time, my family had an astronomical amount of money. When I was born, most of it was gone, but I grew up around enough millionaires to feel comfortable with wealth. That was the key to working with the extremely rich. They couldn’t intimidate you, scare you, or disgust you. You had to sit down to dinner with them and declare, “You paid eight hundred dollars for that haircut (that looks like it was done with a fork and gardening shears)? What a bargain! Your (pot dealer) child is taking seven years to graduate from Choate? There’s no hurry! You have a Queen Anne Carved Mahogany Armchair and want fifty thousand for it? Of course, totally possible, more than happy to discuss.”

It wasn’t normal life. The people were rich and crazy, the men were pompous, the women were vain, and everyone wanted to win in front of an audience. If no one was watching then it wasn’t worth it at all, which is why the filthy rich always bought at auction. I absolutely loved it.

I had reached my salary high at Christie’s this year: $85,000. Many of our buyers made that in a day, but I would have done my job for much less. When I started at the auction house, thanks to connections and solid grades at an Ivy, I made $20,000 a year and had to live in a friend’s home office. My bed was so close to her power shredder that I slept with shoes on, just in case. But I’d moved up quickly by consigning the right collections. During non-auction weeks, I spent my workdays putting together catalogues, researching provenance and doing appraisals, sourcing pieces, working on client relationships, and trying to stay on the winning side of our duopoly with Sotheby’s.

Now, even when the art market, especially American decorative arts, was shaky, I was still managing to bring in big collections, and that was partially because my late grandfather was Marlin Everett, whose grandfather first came to Newport for the summers after his father made a pretty penny in New York working in steel manufacturing. He, along with Andrew Carnegie, was a key investor in the mass production of American steel through the Bessemer process, brought over from Britain. My grandmother, Virginia Everett, served as chair of the Red Cross Ball three times in a row. I liked to think it wasn’t the only reason I was at Christie’s, but I knew it helped. At all the major auction houses, your relationships mattered enormously. They cared about your last name, your mother’s maiden name, your parents’ bank accounts, how many millions your grandparents had, and where your biological tentacles reached all over the country. They asked you about private club memberships, university club membersh...

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