Four Bidding For Love
Part 15: A Beggar's Banquet (8/18/12)
Their oyster sandwiches arrived, and Robin recounted, with only slight exaggeration, Alexia's inexplicable obsession with movie posters, and this one in particular. "It's a type of madness, this bidding and collecting," he concluded, and Kylie nodded in agreement. "And not a very fine madness. They're so hysterical, they need us to cut the deal."
Dawdling over coffee, it seemed to Robin that Kylie's flower-bud lips were the most kissable he'd ever seen, and with an effort he shifted his gaze to her dark eyes and said, "They must be anxious for a report by now. Just to keep it interesting, let's say I demand not just this poster in exchange, but another toaster, too.”
"A toaster," Kylie gasped in mock dismay. "You are impossible. Well then, I want not just another poster, but a set of three."
"I knew you'd be tough, but that is outrageous," Robin replied in his FM voice, and Kylie struggled to suppress her merriment—and her curiosity about Robin. Yes, he was good-looking, and self-effacing in an appealingly confident way; but was he simply practiced in the art of charm? She liked his slightly rumpled air, and his willingness to play off their respective friends' collecting obsessions, for he did so in a spirit of fun rather than judgment.
As Alexia fidgeted on the cold concrete planter, wondering why such a simple transaction was taking so bloody long—just her wretched luck this Ross had cleverly recruited a pretty girl to do his bidding—the German couple left and the spot beside her was taken by a grizzled denizen of the street with greasy trousers belted halfway up his chest and a reddened nose which had seen far too much weather and drink for its gnarled good. As was her habit, Alexia glanced down at his shoes and recoiled in disgust. A once-proud pair of wingtip leather shoes had been allowed to degrade to broken-down scuffery; even more barbaric, the man wore one argyle sock and a dingy white sweatsock.
Given his proximity, Alexia hesitated to engage her sense of smell; as she'd feared, the man smelled of sour-mash whiskey, but the alcoholic edge was softened by the unexpected scent of cloves, as if he'd just left a shift behind the spice counter.
After taking in her crumpled fedora and oversized athletic shoes, he offered her a shiny curved flask and asked, "So how have you done today? Found any good marks?"
Puzzled by the man's good-natured inquiry and surprised by his jocular tone—his voice sounded like a rasp being pulled over soft wood—she cleared her throat and attempted a low-toned response. "I beg your pardon?"
"You know, the green folding stuff. How'd you do so far?"
Finally catching the man's meaning, she harumphed, "I am not a beggar."
In a tone of hurt pride, the man sniffed, "My liquor's not good enough for you, huh?"
Alexia stood up and the man muttered, "Don't think you're putting one over on me. I see you've got your eye on that young couple."
Stunned that her surveillance had been espied, Alexia spun round. "What do you mean?"
The man's soft raspy voice expressed rich amusement. "Oh, you really think you're so slick? What sob story are you going to run on them? Your poor wife is in the hospital?"
"This is outrageous," Alexia fumed, but her guilt was rather incautiously visible and the man murmured, "Then you won't mind me going over and chatting with them, will you?"
"Certainly not," Alexia retorted, but her alarm was so apparent the world-wise beggar chuckled. As he sauntered toward Robin and Kylie's sidewalk table, Alexia beat a flustered retreat back to the craft fair entrance. As she turned to watch the beggar approach Robin and Kylie, she saw the ugly woman in the fusty hat and large sunglasses watching her with keen suspicion; for without intending to, she'd come perilously close to bumping into the heavyset woman once again.
Giving up her surveillance entirely, Alexia slipped back into the anonymity of the craft fair's crowded floor and agonized over the nosy beggar's unpredictable intervention.
Displaying a nearly military deference to perceived rank, the beggar approached Robin and Kylie and raised his hand in a half-salute. "Begging your pardon, but I thought such a nice couple in love should know there's an odd chap in an old fedora with designs on you."
Kylie flushed at the mention of love and Robin gazed at their informant with a quizzical expression. "How is this fellow odd?"
Leaning forward confidentially, the gnarled-nosed man murmured, "Well, he's got a high voice and a shifty way of talking, and he's watching you like a hawk."
Pulling his wallet from his pocket, Robin smoothly extracted a small bill and passed it unobtrusively to their whiskey-soaked savior. "Thank you very much. We'll keep an eye out for him."
The beggar offered another half-salute and then slipped away. Robin turned to Kylie with a knowing grin. "So Mr. Odd-Duck Ross couldn't resist spying on us?"
Confusion furrowed her brow, and Kylie shook her head. "I know for a fact that can't be Mr. Ross."
With a conspiratorial grin Kylie said, "Because I dressed him up in a purple skirt and straw hat myself."
Robin's bafflement clicked for a few seconds and then he chuckled. "You know what's truly remarkable? Your Dragon Lady is also in disguise. I just can't imagine she'd dress so clumsily. She's always so—you know, shiny."
"Then weird thrift-shop is exactly how she'd dress," Kylie asserted.
"They really are two peas in a pod,” Robin observed, but before he could continue his phone rang. Winking at Kylie, he took the call.
Next: The Negotiations Turn Nasty
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