Pleased with her giddiness and her demure cloaking of it, Kylie returned home and parked her car just as the streetlights sputtered and went dark, along with all the lighting in the buildings lining her street. Hoping it would only a temporary power outage, Kylie took the precious T-20Z toaster and vintage posters and made her way through the gusty wind to her rooming house porch. The moonless night and high cloud cover—practically hurricane weather, Kylie noted—left the door in pitch blackness, and she fumbled with her keys for some seconds before remembering the lock had been broken for a week.
Pushing open the heavy door, she noticed a faint glow emanated from beneath Ross's door. Grateful he was home to take delivery of the troublesome toaster and posters, she lightly tapped her signature knock to signal her presence without alerting Vonda.
Ross swung open the door and Kylie saw the source of the illumination: an assortment of candles were set atop his desk and the stacks of catalogs which did not yet reach the ceiling.
Ross's whisper startled her. "Vonda's on the warpath," he hissed. "She's beside herself without the television and is desperate for company. I managed to get rid of her by giving her some candles, but you better be quiet unless you want to hear her stories for the 400th time."
"Thanks," Kylie whispered, for the last companion she would choose in the powerless darkness was her nosy, endlessly loquacious upstairs neighbor Vonda.
"I brought you the T-20," she said softly. "Fully tested and in perfect condition."
Instead of the gratitude she rightfully expected, Ross snarled—if a whisper can be said to contain a snarl—"Can you believe this? I'm cursed."
"Well, you're welcome," she murmured icily, and he issued a monstrous, deeply anguished sigh. "That's just the point," he moaned quietly. "I was all ready to take some photos of the T-20 to send with my application for the show, and now there's no light. I'm cursed!"
"Stop being so dramatic," Kylie whispered peevishly. "Your camera has a flash, doesn't it?"
"You still need some ambient light or the contrast kills you."
"Just take the toaster down to Dewey's shop. He'll have a generator. Or maybe the power's still on down there."
Her solution struck Ross as a nearly spiritual revelation, and he turned to her with sudden reverence. "Brilliant. You've saved the day once again, dear girl. I'll call him, and then take the bus down there."
Kylie shifted closer and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial tone. "Now that it's all over and you have your miracle toaster, there's something else I've been dying to tell you."
With a loving gleam in his eye, Ross stroked the shining surface of the coveted toaster. "Fire away."
"It's about your nemesis, Alexia."
"I'm all ears. No, let me guess. She's the Devil's consort?"
"Practically," Kylie exclaimed in a low voice. "I found out how she can afford such fancy digs. She makes her best money on the sofa."
" I've heard there's big money in used furniture if it's the right quality."
"No, dunderhead, on the sofa. With guys, sans clothes."
This revelation carved its way through the collector's fixation on the toaster and Ross blurted, "You mean . . . for money?"
"Yes," Kylie whispered. "I cased her flat, and saw her lead a guy in a pricey business suit straight to her sofa. After she'd taken care of him, he passed her an envelope."
Ross gave her a dismissive glance. "Your imagination is certainly fertile. It's just her boyfriend. And how did you see all this? Peek through her window?"
"She didn't even bother closing the blinds. I could see the whole thing a half-block away. And it wasn't her boyfriend or husband."
"What makes you so sure?"
"Who strips their hubby between the front door and the sofa? And why would he pass her an envelope right after the, uh, service was performed? They weren't lovey-dovey after, either; it was business all the way."
Ross rubbed his chin and gazed at his beauteous neighbor. "Rent's pretty stiff on Green Street. What was she wearing? I mean her shoes."
"And what does your woman's intuition say about that?"
Kylie paused meaningfully. "I just told you."
"Is she a pretty hot number?"
Kylie gave him a puckishly innocent look. "Why?"
Ross sighed exasperatedly. "Right. On my budget? No, it was just standard male curiosity. And admit it—you'd be disappointed if I hadn't asked."
Ross pushed the toaster into a package and murmured, "At least that explains how she had the money to outbid me on the T-20Z. He unrolled the gaudy film posters and then chuckled softly. "Blue Bikers Take Borneo and Kama Sutra Cadillac? These are so deliciously bad I might keep them for myself. I could use some wall art."
"Too bad you don't have any blank walls," Kylie said, and he waved her irritably away. Leaving Ross to examine the bonus posters in the dim candlelight, muttering as excitedly as if he'd just discovered the lost treasure of the Superstition Mountains, Kylie slid silently to her own door and searched for the right key on her ring in near-perfect darkness.
Entering her cave-black room, she edged over to her tiny kitchen cabinet to search for the scented votive candles a friend had given her as a present the year before. As she felt blindly through her cupboards and storage boxes beneath her bed, she heard Ross leave his room, followed by the creak of the entry door.
Vonda's still powerful voice called down the staircase. "Kylie dear, is that you?"
Freezing as solid as ice, Kylie waited for the inevitable curiosity of her old neighbor. As expected, footsteps descended the stairs and came to a stop by Ross's door. Kylie detected the faint light of a candle in the crack beneath her door, and was not surprised to hear Vonda's ragged voice. "Ross, Dearie, are you home?" Vonda repeated the question twice before eventually surrendering to the silence and returning to her upstairs lair, very much like a spider, Kylie thought, creeping back to the edge of its quivering web.
To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.