Switching from a banking comedy (The EU is saved!) to a literary one, here is this week's chapter of my serialized comic novel "Four Bidding For Love." (Those who find absurdist humor and adult situations offensive, please read no further.)
Being late was not in Kylie's nature, and being more nervous than usual, she'd arrived in San Francisco far in advance of the 2 p.m. meeting at the Craft Fair. Though she wasn't to meet Alexia on Union Street until 4 p.m., rather than wander aimlessly around a Craft Fair which did not interest her, she made her way to Union Street.
Alexia's shop was the sort of tony boutique Kylie reserved for window-shopping only—dark-green woodwork and a whimsically designed sign reading "Well-Heeled Etc." With the confidence of the anonymous casual shopper she slipped through the door and located Alexia's selection of second-hand shoes behind the handbags and new footwear.
Kylie had chosen her faded blue jeans and cream V-neck blouse carefully, for the pert college-girl informality made no claim to either rebel or upscale; gold-loop earrings and her one good pair of Raybans suggested that she was neither naive nor aggressive. She'd tied her dark hair back in a sleek black braid, and decided after much agonizing to wear a pair of worn black flats.
As difficult as that decision was—for a woman who sold shoes for a living would discern an entire world in another woman's footwear—it paled beside the difficulty of selecting an outfit for Ross. For after much deliberation, she'd concluded he should not risk revealing his true identity during the negotiation, but should hide beneath the layered attire of a matronly woman.
It was not easy convincing him of the wisdom of this deception, for he'd clung to the idea he could flit anonymously around the craft fair, keeping in touch with her by cellphone. Even worse, she could not reveal her true concern: that should the negotiations for the coveted T-20Z go poorly, Ross might physically accost this Robin and end up being arrested.
Just as she thought he might be close to conceding, his huge wild-bearded friend Dewey appeared like the Devil's own tool-slinger—assuming the Devil's tool-slinger wears oil-stained blue overalls reeking of jet fuel, and fills an entire doorway with his cheery bulk—acting like a child on Christmas morning, excitedly begging Ross for the Canadian hand axe which had just arrived in the mail.
Distracted by thoughts of disguise, Ross wordlessly complied, and Dewey practically squealed with delight—if a loud baritone can be said to squeal—at the shiny blade and handcarved handle. With an enthusiastic "The balance is perfect!" Dewey bustled out to the front porch and industriously set to testing the hatchet's sharpness by tossing it at one of the porch's round columns. The blade stuck in the innocent post with a satisfying thunk that brought Ross out of his chair with electric alarm. Rushing to the door, he shouted, "Don't bring down the building, for God's sake!"
"Just testing it," Dewey remarked in a wounded tone, and Ross snapped, "There's an old board in the backyard. Use that."
With the slump-shouldered pose of a reprimanded hound, Dewey withdrew his great bulk to the weedy backyard and retrieved a sun-stained old plank to the front porch, where he set the board upright and happily resumed throwing his new hand axe; each thunk was followed by a muted exclamation of glee, and Ross glanced at Kylie and shook his head.
"Imagine getting that much fun from splintering wood."
Kylie smiled, but behind her agreeable grin lay a scheming mind seeking a reason so compelling that Ross would finally agree to dress up as a harmless matron. Hiding her real concern, she'd quickly sketched out the absolute necessity of a female alter-ego.
"This Robin is sure to notice another man skulking about," she warned, and Ross's brows knitted into deep furrows of anxiety.
"OK, so I'll wear a hat and sunglasses."
"And fool no one," she said acerbically. "Suppose this Alexia is skulking about, too, and decides to stalk you. And don't forget, she has telepathy."
"Clairvoyance, not telepathy," Ross had countered tiredly. "Which means she'll know it's me even beneath a disguise."
"No, she'd never guess you'd cross-dress," Kylie replied. "Never ever, I don't care how clairvoyant she is when she's bidding. Believe me, it's your best chance. And if you don't agree, fine; handle the negotiations yourself."
Pressed by her ultimatum, Ross had finally relented, and Kylie took up the task with undisguised enthusiasm.
"It'll be easiest to make you a big-butt, small busted middle-aged woman," Kylie had opined, and he'd protested in hurt dismay. "Look, if I'm going there as a woman, I want big boobs," he demanded. "If for nothing else, to offset my big butt."
"Fine, but I don't have any big bras to stuff with tissue paper," she replied.
"My ex-wife was pretty busty," he remarked wanly, "but I don't think I have any of her bras."
"Guys are so obsessed with big boobs, even when they're undercover," she said disparagingly, and as she'd expected, this had shamed him into agreeing to use what was available: makeup to soften his Adam's apple and chin, one of her bras stuffed with tissue for a modest but visible bustline, a skirt to mask his lack of a waist and a shawl to cover his head.
"I guess I'll fit right in with all the other ugly women in the City," he'd said sourly. "What about my facial hair?"
"Shave close, and I'll pancake over the rest," she'd replied confidently. Leaning forward, she whispered in a husky voice, "Admit it. You've always wanted to be a woman."
"In terms of my divorce, you’re right. If I'd been my ex’s lesbian lover, I'd have done much, much better."
"If you'd been a better husband, you might have done better, too," Kylie had said, and instantly regretted it, for without intending to she'd launched an arrow that plunged straight through his heart.
"As tasteless as this idiotic scheme is," he said wanly, "I'll do it to give you some backup in case this Robin is some sort of scoundrel like GreenDollGal."
"Then let's get to work," Kylie replied in a light voice, for she considered it a tremendously entertaining challenge to transform such lumpish burly clay into a passable woman.
A more recalcitrant subject could hardly be imagined, as Ross fidgeted and whined as if he were a circus bear being squeezed into a pink tutu. With much cajoling, Kylie managed to work him into an ankle-length lavender skirt, a long-sleeve blouse, and after some fretting over his prominent Adam's apple, a matching purple scarf round his neck.
"I look like I'm dressed for winter in Siberia," he'd complained, but she'd just ignored him and rummaged through her small collection of hats until she found the sweetly feminine straw hat which her grandmother had given her "for college picnics." Grandma was from another era, and Kylie had wondered when the last co-ed had been invited on a picnic where straw hats with pink flowers were appropriate attire.
Another poof or two of powder, a hefty squirt of musky perfume and a cheap pair of big sunglasses completed the disguise, and Kylie had studied the transformation of grouchy Ross into stiff-lipped matron with a critical eye before announcing her satisfaction. "Now don't forget to swing your hips a little when you walk," she'd admonished her reluctant undercover companion. "Don't swing your arms like a man, and when you smile, smile like a pixie."
"Right," Ross growled. "Have you ever seen a big-butt battle-axe with a pixie smile?"
"Many times," Kylie replied sweetly. "Now go practice your smile, Dearie, and I'll see you at the craft fair in a few hours."
As Ross harumphed in futile protest, Kylie gazed perkily into his frowning powdered face. "It's all about getting the T-20Z, right?"
At the mention of the Holy Grail of Small Appliances, Ross quieted and his resolve returned in full force. "See you there," he murmured. "Don't be late."
"Your shoes!" she blurted. "I don't have anything you can fit in."
"Don't try to get me in heels. I'm wearing sneakers, thank you."
"Just wear your best pair."
"I will," he’d reassured her and then muttered, "My best and only pair."
To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.
A note of thanks to those who buy the book: As an independent writer, book sales are a substantial part of my income. I receive no funding from a university, trust fund, hedge fund, think-tank or government agency. I self-publish my books as a financial necessity, as the small royalties (5% to 7.5% of the retail price) paid by publishers cannot support me during the long months it takes to write a book. Your purchase makes it possible for me to continue sharing ideas on the blog and in my books. Thank you.