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.New York City,May 20, 2:00 P.M.THE SALE room at Christie’s was a simple space, framed in blond wood and lit by a rectangle of lights suspended from the ceiling.Although the hardwood floor had been laid in a beautiful herringbone pattern, almost none of it was visible beneath the countless rows of chairs—all filled—and the feet of the reporters, latecomers, and spectators who crowded the rear of the room.As the chairman of Christie’s mounted the center podium, the room fell silent.The long, cream-colored screen behind him, which in a normal auction might be hung with paintings or prints, was vacant.The chairman rapped on the podium with his gavel, looked around, then drew a card from his suit and consulted it.He placed the card carefully at one side of the podium and looked up again.“I imagine,” he said, the plummy English vowels resonating under the slight amplification, “that a few of you may already be aware of what we’re offering today.”Decorous amusement rippled through the assembly.“I regret that we could not bring it to the stage for you to see.It was a trifle large.”Another laugh floated through the audience.The chairman was clearly relishing the importance of what was about to happen.“But I have brought a small piece of it—a token, so to speak—as assurance you will be bidding on the genuine article.” With that he nodded, and a slender young man with the bearing of a gazelle walked out onstage, holding a small velvet box in both arms.The man unlatched it, opened the lid, and turned in a semicircle for the audience to see.A low murmur rose among the crowd, then fell away again.Inside, a curved brown tooth lay nestled on white satin.It was about seven inches long, with a wickedly serrated inner edge.The chairman cleared his throat.“The consigner of lot number one, our only lot today, is the Navajo Nation, in a trust arrangement with the government of the United States of America.”He surveyed the audience.“The lot is a fossil.A remarkable fossil.” He consulted the card on the podium.“In 1996, a Navajo shepherd named Wilson Atcitty lost some sheep in the Lukachukai mountains along the Arizona–New Mexico border.In attempting to find his sheep, he came across a large bone protruding from a sandstone wall in a remote canyon.Geologists call this layer of sandstone the Hell Creek Formation, and it dates back to the Cretaceous era.Word got back to the Albuquerque Museum of Natural History.Under an agreement with the Navajo Nation, they began excavating the skeleton.As work proceeded they realized they had not one but two entwined skeletons: a Tyrannosaurus rex and a Triceratops.The Tyrannosaurus had its jaws fastened about the Triceratops’ neck, just beneath its crest, virtually decapitating the creature with a savage bite.The Triceratops, for his part, had thrust his central horn deep into the chest of the Tyrannosaurus.Both animals died together, locked in a terrible embrace.”He cleared his throat.“I can’t wait for the movie.”There was another round of laughter.“The battle was so violent that beneath the Triceratops, paleontologists found five teeth from the Tyrannosaurus that had apparently broken off during the heat of the fight.This is one of them.” He nodded to the assistant, who closed the box.“A block of stone containing the two dinosaurs, weighing some three hundred tons, was removed from the mountainside and stabilized at the Albuquerque Museum.It was then taken to the New York Museum of Natural History for further preparation.The two skeletons are still partly embedded in the sandstone matrix.”He glanced at his card again.“According to scientists consulted by Christie’s, these are the two most perfect dinosaur skeletons ever found.They are of incalculable value to science.The chief paleontologist at the New York Museum has called it the greatest fossil discovery in history.”He carefully replaced the card and picked up the gavel.As if on signal, three bid spotters moved wraithlike onto the stage, waiting at quiet attention.Employees at the telephone stations stood motionless, phones in hand, lines open.“We have an estimate on this lot of twelve million dollars, and an opening price of five million.” The chairman tapped his gavel.There was a faint smattering of calls, nods, and genteelly raised paddles.“I have five million.Six million.Thank you, I have seven million.” The spotters craned their necks, catching the bids, relaying them to the chairman.The sotto voce hubbub in the hall gradually increased.“I have eight million.”A scattering of applause erupted as the record price for a dinosaur fossil was broken.“Ten million.Eleven million.Twelve.Thank you, I have thirteen.I have fourteen.Fifteen.”The show of paddles had dwindled considerably, but several telephone bidders were still active, along with half a dozen in the audience.The dollar display to the chairman’s right rose rapidly, with the English and Euro equivalents beneath following in lockstep.“Eighteen million.I have eighteen million.Nineteen.”The murmuring became a groundswell and the chairman gave a cautionary rap with his gavel.The bidding continued, quietly but furiously.“Twenty-five million.I have twenty-six.Twenty-seven to the gentleman on the right.”The murmuring rose once again, and this time the chairman did not quell it.“I have thirty-two million.Thirty-two and a half on the phone.Thirty-three.Thank you, I have thirty-three and a half.Thirty-four to the lady in the front.”An electricity was building in the sale room: the price was mounting far higher than even the wildest predictions.“Thirty-five on the phone.Thirty-five and a half to the lady.Thirty-six.”Then there was a small stir in the crowd; a rustle, a shifting of attention.A number of eyes turned toward the door leading out into the main gallery [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]