While we're waiting for global markets to unravel in a paroxym of frantic official lies and flustered reassurances, let's turn to 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.)
Alexia's voice fairly exploded out of the tiny device. "What did that horrid old beggar say to you?"
"To watch out for you."
"And what's that skinny little broad demanding?"
Robin did not like his friend's tone and he lowered his own voice. "She wants a set of movie posters and the toaster."
"A set? That's insane! Absolutely not!"
"She knows you want this poster, and is driving a hard bargain."
Alexia bit back an oath. "Then just forget it. I'm not giving her three posters to get one."
Robin murmured, "Don't you have any low-value ones we could pass off as valuable?"
Kylie's eyebrows arched in bemused dismay at his suggestion as Alexia clucked, "That might work. Let me think."
"Give me a little time here to work on her," Robin said, and then rang off.
As if on cue, Kylie's phone chirped and she gave Robin a knowing grin as she answered.
"I know you're all lovey-dovey with Robin now," Ross's voice said harshly. "So what's the deal—or have you forgotten about that?"
"The deal is front and center," she answered grimly. "He'll give you the T-20, but he wants the poster and another toaster—not as good as the T-20, but a good one."
"Right. No way in Zeus's great Heaven am I giving up a Toast-o-Master and the poster. You're caving in, aren't you? I should have asked Dewey to do this."
"Just give me a little time here," Kylie muttered. "Don't you have some old thing that looks like it's valuable but isn't?"
"Ooh, I like your thinking," Ross purred. "The Acme Toastway looks very good but isn't worth more than a decent steak."
"I'm on it," Kylie said. "Now stop bugging me."
She snapped the phone closed and then turned to the waitress. "We'd like a dessert menu, please."
"The creme brulee here is wonderful," the waitress enthused, and Kylie said, "Sold." Robin chimed in, "Make it two," and the negotiators were left to gaze in amusement at the others' trickery.
"I should cut to the chase and just demand her first-born child," Kylie said, and Robin laughed. "A very fair bargain: a child for a movie poster. And I should just ask for a house in trade for this fabulous T-20Z toaster."
"I'll have to consider that very seriously," Kylie intoned, and then guffawed in a most unladylike manner.
"I would think Miss Alexia will be very grateful indeed if I get a collectible toaster out of you, and all she has to give up is a worthless movie poster or two."
"And Mr. Ross will be beside himself with relief if all he loses is the Acme Toastway and he gains two valuable film posters."
The pair shared a private enjoyment of their playful machinations, and then Robin asked, "I wonder if we should wrack them round one more agonizingly difficult negotiation, or extend it into another lunch."
At this suggestion of a follow-up date Kylie's heart missed a beat and she smiled cautiously, pleased with his offer but unsure if she should agree right away. Despite her reserve, she found herself adding, "Maybe we can find something else to negotiate."
Intended as a mild joke, the phrase came out as a risqué invitation, and she blushed. "I never would have guessed negotiating small appliances could be so fun."
"Yes, great fun," he agreed, and an awkward silence fell over their table.
The moment was broken by the arrival of the sugar-encrusted creme brulee, and a minute after that by Kylie's phone ringing.
"I told you to stop bugging me." Kylie whispered harshly, and Ross's voice was unapologetic. "There's some weird guy in an old hat following me," he said anxiously. "Does Robin have an accomplice?"
Kylie repeated his words for Robin's benefit, and commented, "Don't get too worked up. He's probably just a lonely guy who wants to ask you out."
"If he hits on me, I'll deck him and then throttle you," Ross fumed.
"For making you too attractive? Just decline in a very sweet voice."
"I should never have agreed to this," Ross muttered. "Did you get the T-20Z?"
"If you give up the Acme, we have a deal."
Ross's voice expressed relief and grudging respect. "So he bought it. Excellent."
Kylie closed the phone and then glanced askance at Robin, for the red-nosed beggar had returned to their table.
"Begging your pardon again, beautiful people, but I thought I should warn you that another sharpie has eyes for you—some old bat in a straw hat and purple scarf." Nodding slightly toward the craft fair entrance, he added helpfully, "Right over there, in big sunglasses. You have to watch out for birds like her—she'll fall right in front of you and start screaming you tripped her."
Robin and Kylie exchanged looks of suppressed amusement and Robin slipped their informant another bill in payment.
"Thank you very much," he told the beggar. "I have no idea why we're attracting so much attention today."
"Oh, I can tell you," the raspy-voiced man volunteered. "Couples in love are easy marks."
Realizing the beggar had expertly played this very phenomenon, Robin nodded in rueful acknowledgement and the beggar gave him a half-salute and a thin smile. "You two take care, and invite me to the wedding."
Kylie's blush deepened and Robin was rendered speechless for a moment. Clearing his throat, he declared, "It seems Mrs. Ross has made her interest in us a bit too apparent."
Kylie laughed, and with visible relief she said, "Let's give Mr. Alexia the glad tidings that negotiations have been settled."
Robin nodded and then added, "But we do need to arrange delivery of the goods. I insist on making the exchange with you—in person."
His pert companion squinted in mild amusement at his ploy. "You drive a hard bargain, but I accept."
To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.