Some guys have all the fun. Consider Chris Middendorf's track record:

In 1974, armed with a Harvard art history degree and a $20,000 inheritance, Middendorf opened a Dupont Circle art gallery.

A couple of years ago, he and his wife, Palmer Lane, paid about $220,000 for a rundown house near 20th Street and Columbia road and turned it into an art gallery and home featured on this spring's Kalorama House Tour.

Last year he masterminded the acquisition of the largest art collection ever assembled by a law firm, buying an estimated $250,000 worth of art for Arnold & Porter's new headquarters.

And this year, Middendorf is one of five investors in Making Waves, a newly opened hot tub emporium that rents private rooms at $6-a-half-hour-per-person in the heart of downtown's trendy new art district, Seventh Street above D Street NW.

But the charmed professional life of 29-year-old Middendorf was almost derailed his first year in the gallery business, when he began to suspect the prints that hung on his new gallery's walls weren't quite what they were supposed to be.

Middendorf says he was given about $150,000 worth of prints on consignment by a Milwaukee gallery owner, who asked only a 30 percent cut upon each sale. Middendorf soon realized the deal was too good, that there had to be something fishy about the art.

"I called him on it," says Middendorf, "and he suggested I fly to Milwaukee to talk with him. A doorman let me into his apartment and there was a bouquet of flowers with a note: "To Chris, With love, Picasso.' Written on the bathroom to Milwaukee, Andy Warhol.' There were also notes signed by Miro and Dali."

The signatures looked authentic.

Recalls Middendorf: "I knew then I was in trouble."

Several hours later, when the gallery owner arrived at the apartment, Middendorf confronted him. The Milwaukee sharpie handed Middendorf a bronze sculpture he identified as an Alexander Archipenko original and offered Middendorf a deal.

"He told me to go to a particular Chicago gallery, trade it for whatever I could, and we'd split whatever I got," says Middendorf. "I flew to Chicago, called the gallery and said I had an Archipenko I wanted to sell or trade."

The gallery owner agreed to exchange $30,000 in prints for the sculpture. Middendorf called the Milwaukee dealer, told him he'd received only $15,000 in trade and that he could come to Washington, choose $7,500 worth of the prints and collect the art he'd given Middendorf on consignment -- none of which Middendorf had sold.

Today, Middendorf is a more assured gallery owner who features the works of contemporary artists. His wife, whose name is on the gallery door, too, studies architecture at Catholic University. And Middendorf intends to expand his investing. Down the stairs from the Middendorf/Lane Gallery on Seventh Street are the hot tubs sculptor Eric Rudd convinced Middendorf and others would find fans in Washington.

Middendorf has high hopes.

"I've got a friend in the Justice Department who wants to reserve a room at midnight every Friday night for the next six months," says Middendorf. "He leads a fairly active social life.