My friend Joey walked into the bar. He attracted two bids, chose one of them, and when the girl revealed herself walked off with her on his arm. That’s how it’s supposed to work – Joey is an attractive guy. The only thing is, I upped the winning bid myself.
Of course, that’s not supposed to happen. But I work in the company that makes the sensors for those things, and it’s not hard to fathom out the software. It was Joey’s birthday, and I added a couple of thousand to the bid just for fun.
I couldn’t see the girl’s original bid (haven’t worked out everything about the software), and maybe my intervention didn’t make a difference. But judging by her lack of interest as Joey walked in, I reckon it was pretty low. Just a speculative, if-you’ve-got-nothing-better-going-on sort of bid, the kind we all make from time to time.
So I’d put Joey together with someone who didn’t really want him. That should have been OK too. He’d have found out soon enough what the real score was. We’re always trying people out and casting them off. Only it didn’t work out like that with Joey.
* * *
I caught up with my friend at the club a couple of weeks later. He was ecstatic about the girl. Lowering his voice so that the people on the neighbouring table couldn’t hear, he said, “She actually understated herself!”
That was extraordinary. Who ever heard of someone bidding less than their full value? It didn’t make sense. And apparently it was a lot less, because even my extra two thousand didn’t bring her up to par.
I asked if he were sure.
“Sure I’m sure!” he exclaimed loudly, drawing glances from the next table. The group there included a couple of likely-looking females, and I think if we hadn’t been in the club (where sensors are banned) Joey would have attracted a bid or two. And I’d have put in one myself for the riper of the two women, who looked ready for distraction.
As it was, nothing happened. Joey continued in a low voice, “I measured her straight away. I don’t trust the sensors, so I checked myself…”
That was hurtful. I mean, did he realise it was my company’s product he was criticising? But I held my tongue.
“…and she came up trumps on all counts. Over-trumps. Especially on emotional intensity.”
How strange. Emotional intensity was where I’d allocated most of my two thousand. She must have massively underbid there. Why would she have done that? Normally people want to overbid, but they’re stopped by the software.
We were on the club veranda, overlooking the sports field where a couple of teams were chasing a ball. It was a fresh summer’s day, and we were drinking some rather nice aperitif. Joey sat back in his chair and said quietly, “You know, I’m in love.”
“Now, Joey,” I began, “there’s something you should–”
“In love,” he repeated, not hearing me. “And I’m thinking of shutting down.”
I felt a chill, despite the warmth and the buoyant feeling from the alcohol. Shut down? Cut himself off from bids from his fellow human beings. It was grotesque. It was risky. It was a throwback to the old days.
“Joey,” I said urgently. “I really want you to think about it. You can’t live like a caveman, just the two of you in retreat from the world.”
“Why not?” he said, his jaw jutting out stubbornly. And even in my distress I could see his attractiveness – Joey attracted plenty of bids from the gay community as well.
I was about to confess to my ill-judged birthday gift when a girl with a half-familiar face walked up to the table.
* * *
It was Joey’s girl; she announced herself as Miranda. Her soft brown hair swung fetchingly as she shook hands. Joey introduced me as his college friend, now in high tech.
“Just the service industry,” I said, as nonchalantly as I could.
Miranda raised a finely-pencilled eyebrow, but fortunately she didn’t pursue the topic. Instead, she sat down beside Joey and took his hand.
There was an immediate sense of warmth about them, so that even on the open veranda I felt like an intruder. I recalled an appointment and rose to leave. But Joey waved me to sit down.
After a minute or so, watching them gaze into one another’s eyes, I began to wonder if it wasn’t all for the best after all.
“So you two are… are…” I ventured.
“Yep,” Joey responded. “We’re going to – what’s the word?”
Miranda giggled – rather appealingly. She had draped a loop of her hair over one ear. “The word’s ‘marry’, Joey.”
My jaw dropped. This was the ultimate in strangeness. That appalling monopolisation of someone’s affection – I thought we’d gone beyond that. But who was I to judge? “I wish you every joy,” I mumbled.
Joey nodded. “And we want you to be best man.”
For a moment I couldn’t work out what he meant. And then I recalled the story books. What a thing! And was it even ethical? My company has pretty strict standards.
Yet their warmth was overwhelming; Miranda’s smile seemed to invite me in. Damn the company, I thought. And I agreed.
The two of them were delighted. I congratulated them again. And as I walked out through the club gates, I wondered if I was missing something in life.
But as soon as I got outside the bids started clustering again – yours truly has some value in the marketplace! – and that put Joey and Miranda out of my mind. When I remembered them, I put in a bid for Miranda – just a low one, just in case.
I can’t believe they’ll be together long. It just isn’t natural.