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Four Bidding For Love (a novel)

Part 5: Robin vs. the Axe Murderer (6/2/12)

     As Alexia recovered from the stunning last-second loss of The Thief of Bagdad poster to another sniper, something about the winning bidder's screen name, WolfgangSuchard, jogged her memory and she clicked back to her last few auctions.
     With narrowed eyes and a grim scowl she found WolfgangSuchard right where she didn't want to find him: the bidder she'd beaten by eleven cents for the vintage Sunbeam toaster, and again for the T-20Z by the magical two cents.
     Coincidence? There was an easy way to check, and Alexia clicked on WolfgangSuchard's recent auction history. His interests were either pathetic dead-ends—old magazines, cheap Tarzan memorabilia, garish melamine serving plates from the 60s, and books on foreign currency trading, followed a few months later by the purchase of Do-It-Yourself Bankruptcy—or disturbing, for he seemed to have bid on an inordinately large number of hatchets and hand axes. Only his kitchenware wins exuded any warmth or personality, and Alexia grudgingly admitted he had a discerning eye for classic blenders, toasters and waffle irons.
     The oddball buys—a children's craft beading set, a doll playhouse set, assembly required, a man's electric razor—suggested the slovenly sort who lived at his desk and bought everything online. Alexia reckoned her own profile of buys did not truly reflect her personality; after all, half the beauty and diet items on her list had been presents for Katy.
     But despite this admonishment to reserve judgment, WolfgangSuchard's history was undeniably damning: here was a lost soul, a troll-like, distorted, husk of a man who lived for his old toasters and little else—other than hand axes from Japan, Sweden and Canada. The sociopathic possibilities struck Alexia as sobering indeed; here was a man who might be cloaking his axe-murderer tendencies behind a seemingly benign fascination with kitchen appliances.
     Most suspiciously, his desire for film memorabilia seemed to have started with this poster, for his only sustained interests other than hatchets and vintage kitchen appliances were old magazines and a morbid fascination for Tarzan. Probably because Tarzan was everything Suchard is not, Alexia reckoned coldly; how sad—and disturbing.
     Sensing his mistress’s increasingly anxious mood, Hanover the tabby cat stirred from his perch on the sofa and snuck off for safer environs. Alexia had read about such tit-for-tat bidding, but never expected to become the target of a vengeful troll. Was it a single stroke of spontaneous payback, or the ominous start of a concerted campaign against her?
     The lower unit's front door slammed and rising footfalls announced a visit from her downstairs neighbor Robin. Alexia felt lucky to have such a pleasant, thoughtful neighbor; he almost compensated for the upstairs couple who persisted in trying to make a baby in the quiet hours non-rutting humans reserved for blissful sleep. She'd lodged a timid protest against their rumbling punishments of their creaky old four-poster bed—probably worth a pretty penny at auction, Alexia estimated—by timidly tapping the end of a mop-handle against the ceiling.
     Either Dorrie or Janson had interrupted their procreative efforts long enough to answer with a rude answering bang on the floorboards, and Alexia had retreated to the sofa to escape their noisemaking. Their dismay, if not open hostility, was thereafter on display; they were coolly polite when she ran into them a few days later on the sidewalk, and she supposed her greeting was equally frigid.
     In contrast, she could never tell when Robin was downstairs; more often than not she only discovered he was home when he came up to present her with a bottle of wine. Though the surplus of free wine was one of the benefits of his job as a buyer, he was under no obligation to share his bounty with her. His generosity flowed from a warm heart, and this had sparked a neighborly exchange of food—she'd just given him a heaping plate of fettuccini yesterday—and pet care, for Alexia fed his old black cat Dorothy when he was on vacation and he cared for Hanover during Alexia's occasional absences.
     To her disappointment, Robin was only returning her plate, not bringing another gift of the grape. Sensing her troubled state, he thanked her for the fettuccini and then asked, "What's wrong? Are Dorrie and Janson bothering you again?"
     "Not recently. Maybe she's finally got a brat in the chute," Alexia replied, and Robin's youthful features expressed confusion. "I'm sorry— 'a brat in the chute'?"
     "Maybe she's finally preggers," Alexia explained. "Pregnant, knocked up, expecting, so they won't have to go at it in the wee hours anymore."
     Robin was one of those young men who seem to too handsome for their own good—with his mix of Spanish and Indian subcontinent blood, he reminded her of a dashing Bollywood star—but appear unaware of it, and his bashfulness at the topic was especially charming. After smiling awkwardly, he asked, "Then what is bothering you?"
     "Oh, just an axe murderer is after me," she sighed dramatically.
     In response to Robin’s puzzled consternation, Alexia explained, "I beat this guy out of an online auction by two cents, and it looks like he took revenge by snatching a film poster I absolutely need."
     "Is he a poster collector, too?"
     "No, this is the first one the scoundrel ever bid on."
     Pursing his lips thoughtfully, Robin said, "Then it's not going to do him much good, is it? Why not let me negotiate with him for the poster?"
     "Why should I reward him?" she huffed, and Robin shrugged. "I just thought an axe murderer might respond less murderously to a third party."
     With a defensive tone Alexia said, "You think I'm joking, but look at his bid history. There's at least a dozen hatchets."
     Robin gave her a dismissive look. "A lot of guys collect tools."
     "Right," Alexia said darkly, and then patted his arm. "You know, I'll take you up on that offer to negotiate. After all, you're a buyer, and too nice to annoy anyone."
     Her youthful neighbor nodded, regretting he'd made the offer, and Alexia added, "I won't be able to resist calling him a scoundrel, and rather than get the poster I'll get an axe in my back. I'll send you his email. If you can wheedle it out of him, I really need it by next week."
     As she returned to her laptop computer in the living room, Robin gazed at a framed reproduction poster of the 60s Italian film Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and asked, "When did you start liking Italian movies?"
     "As soon as I laid eyes on Marcello Mastroianni," she cooed, "in the very movie you see there, with Sophia Loren playing a sexy housewife, a call-girl and a rich witch."
     Cocking an eyebrow, Robin exclaimed, "A witch?"
     This elicited an amused snort from Alexia. "Since our house was always war zone, I’d watch movies with my grandmother every weekend. It was my escape."
     Robin absorbed this anecdote of an unhappy childhood without comment and Alexia clicked the button to forward WolfgangSuchard's email address to Robin. An electronic beep announced the arrival of an email, and Alexia narrowed her eyes as she read the text. Her expression brightened and she murmured. "Someone in Berkeley wants to buy an absolutely hideous pair of lime-green size 7s from me, and she'll come over to pick them up."
     Turning to Robin, she said, "Oh, there's something else I need to ask you," she said. "An old friend in Sonoma has begged me to house-sit for two weeks while she's in Europe. Her dog is old and frail and she refuses to entrust her to a kennel. If I accept, could you take care of Hanover for me?"
     Pleased to accept a job that didn't involve negotiating with an axe murderer, Robin nodded assent. "Then I won't feel so guilty about asking you to watch Dorothy when I'm at a trade show next month," he said, and Alexia smiled warmly. "Any time. Dorothy is such a sweetheart."
     Footsteps ascending the stairs drew their attention, and the muted voices of Dorrie and Janson became audible as they entered their third-floor flat. A moment later, the upper flat’s floor boards squeaked in complaint, and as Robin glanced up at the ceiling, low moans of high passion were soon joined by rhythmic thumping. It was a strip-fest scene anyone who'd ever seen a cheaply overheated movie could imagine, and Alexia reckoned her upstairs neighbors must have tumbled on their sofa half-clothed.
     Seeking a distraction from the embarrassingly audible mating just a few feet above them, Robin said, "So about taking care of your cat," and Alexia motioned him into the kitchen, muttering, "If only people were so easy."

Next: Kylie Caves In

To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.

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My non-fiction books:

Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change (print edition)
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An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times (print edition)
An Unconventional Guide (Kindle edition)
Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation
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Weblogs & New Media: Marketing in Crisis
Marketing in Crisis (Kindle edition)

My other six novels and assorted stories: (sample chapters and the stories)

Claire's Great Adventure
Kama Sutra Cadillac
Of Two Minds
Verona in Spring
For My Daughter
I-State Lines

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