“Excuse me, coming through! Excuse me, look out! Make room for a still somewhat able, good-looking older woman!” Mrs. Wallace shouted as she shuffled her walker through the crowd with Precious, her orangutan help, in tow. She headed to the front where her daughter Beth was standing.

Beth glared at her mother, humiliated as she kept shouting once she got to her side. “Mother, what are you doing here?” she hissed through clenched teeth as her mother elbowed her in the ribs.

“Hello to you too, Bethie! Thought you were rid of me, eh? Well, I showed you I can get around without your help. Duct taping me to my favorite chair is no match for Precious with a pair of scissors,” she snorted as she patted the orangutan for her good work.

“Must you make a scene wherever you go?” Beth tried to hide her embarrassment.

“Make a scene?” Mrs. Wallace clucked. “I am here to help out the community. I am going to bid on a fine, handsome young man - Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald to be exact.” Grinning open mouthed, she waved and winked at Luis, who was standing on stage waiting his turn.

He shifted uncomfortably and smiled back politely. Then, he scanned the crowd till his eyes settled on Sheridan Crane. He smiled deeply at her when she winked and held up her bidding paddle to ensure him that she was bidding for him. He nodded and grinned with pleasure.

Across the grounds, on the other side of the crowd, Eve stood with Grace Bennett as the auction continued. They were watching in amusement as two older women squabbled and bid against each other for Hank Bennett, Grace’s brother-in-law.

“Poor Hank, he must be mortified. He is not used to this kind of attention,” Grace chuckled.

“Is Sam up for auction?” Eve wondered about Grace’s husband.

“With Ivy lurking in the shadows with a suitcase full of money? I don’t think so,” Grace replied.

“I can’t say I blame him. She is relentless; she will use anything and anyone to get what she wants,” Eve said.

“Yes, like forcing you to forge John’s DNA tests - blackmailing you.”

“Yes,” Eve said sadly. “I will always regret letting her use me to try to ruin what you and Sam have.”

“Well, I am thankful that we found out in time, and that we were able to get both Ivy and David out of our lives for good.” Grace breathed a sigh of relief.

“John, what happened to John?” Eve wondered.

“Well, when I thought he was my son, he and I became close. I became his mother. In a way I still feel like I am. I told him that if he ever needed someone, that I would be there for him,” Grace explained. “He was angry with David, but understood when he found out that Ivy was blackmailing him too with something from his past. David never said what, though. They left town last month. John still emails me everyday.” Grace smiled.

A shout of glee from a woman caused Grace and Eve to shift their attention once more to the stage. Hank was being led off by a grinning older woman. He did not look happy but forced a smile to be a good sport.

Chad and Whitney approached. “Hi, Mrs. Bennett,” they both chorused.

Grace smiled and exchanged greetings. “I have to go and find Sam, guys. Good luck up there, Eve,” Grace waved.

“Thank you,” Eve returned as she watched Grace leave.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the auctioneer shouted. “It is time for the last of Harmony’s finest police officers to be auctioned off. Reach deep into your pockets; this one is a looker,” he teased, and Luis blushed furiously.

“Show us what you got, honey,” Mrs. Wallace shouted as she smoothed her hair in an attempt to look more attractive to Luis.

He laughed. “You are too much, Mrs. Wallace.”

“Mother,” Beth poked her in the arm. “You are making a spectacle of yourself. Behave or I will have Precious take you home again,” she threatened under her breath.

“Precious? Hah! Good luck!” She motioned at the orangutan beside her who was sporting a bidding paddle herself. “She has her eye on Luis too, so I am not your only competition, Bethie dear.” She chuckled at Beth’s horrified look.

“All right!” the auctioneer called. “Do I have an opening bid?”

“One hundred dollars!” Mrs. Wallace shouted as she raised her paddle.

“Mother, we don’t have one hundred dollars!” Beth shrieked in alarm.

“Well then, smarty pants,” her mother said dryly. “How do you plan on outbidding everyone for that fine specimen of a man up there with less than a hundred bucks?” she asked.

“Well, I haven’t figured it out yet. I thought that no one would bid on him, and I would get him for like thirty dollars or something like that,” she offered.

Mrs. Wallace stared at her in utter disbelief. “Are you on drugs? I swear you just said that you thought that no one would bid on Luis.” She knocked on Beth’s forehead to see if anyone was home.

Beth shrank back and chewed her fingers nervously as she realized how idiotic her plan was. “OK, OK, so I misjudged a bit.”

Mrs. Wallace snorted in sarcastic agreement.

“Do I have one hundred fifty dollars?” the auctioneer asked.

“One fifty.” Sheridan Crane raised her paddle and grinned at Luis.

“Do I hear two hundred?”

“Two hundred!” Mrs. Wallace shouted.

“Two fifty?”

Precious, the orangutan held up her paddle and shrieked.

Hearing the shriek and seeing the paddle, the auctioneer counted the bid.

Mrs. Wallace and Beth gasped. “Precious!” they objected in unison.

Precious stuck out her tongue and spat at them.

“Gross!” Beth shrieked as she jumped back.

“What did I tell you, Bethie? Luis is one hot commodity,” Mrs. Wallace laughed.

“Three hundred!” Sheridan cried.

“Three fifty,” Mrs. Wallace countered, much to Sheridan’s annoyance.

“Mother!” Beth cried. “Where are we supposed to get the money to pay for this?”

“We’ll get a loan,” she stated matter-of-factly as she winked at Luis again.

“One thousand dollars,” Sheridan said firmly, determined to lose her fellow bidders.

“Fifteen hundred,” a woman suddenly joined the bidding.

Luis gasped as he looked at Sheridan, who just winked at him to assure him.

“Two thousand.” She held up her paddle.

Amazed, the auctioneer stared from one bidder to the next, feeling rather proud of himself even though he had to do very little to encourage the bidding.

As Precious raised her paddle to bid again, both Beth and her mother reached over and tried to snatch it from her. Precious shrieked and took off with Beth close at her heels. Mrs. Wallace clambered after them, continually losing ground.

“Twenty-five hundred,” the woman in the crowd challenged Sheridan.

“Five thousand dollars.” Sheridan raised her paddle triumphantly when the woman waved her hand in defeat.

Luis breathed a sigh of relief as the auctioneer pronounced him the official date of Sheridan Crane’s.

As she approached him, she promptly walked into his arms. Kissing him soundly, she said, “The best five thousand dollars I have ever spent.” She hugged him happily.

“All right, next up we have a line-up of the finest nurses and doctors in the area. Could all of you who signed up to be auctioned off please meet me here on stage?” the auctioneer called.

“Well, I better go,” Eve said to Chad and Whitney. “Wish me luck that someone nice will bid for me.” She laughed as she remembered poor Hank being unwillingly dragged off.

Chad and Whitney laughed and wished her good luck.

“First up, we have the beautiful, talented Dr. Eve Russell. Look at her, gentlemen. Who wouldn’t want a date with her?” The auctioneer smiled. “Dr. Russell is one of Harmony’s finest doctors. We are so pleased that she agreed to join our fundraiser. Please, everyone, be generous and support our worthy cause for better health care and more police officers for our beautiful town.”

As the crowd gathered closer to the stage, a man stepped out of the shadows, wearing a dirty overcoat, his appearance ragged and unshaven. In his hand he carried the paddle that Precious had dropped in an attempt to outrun Beth and her mother. He marched into the thick of the crowd and planted himself right in the center where he would be well seen. He smiled at Eve, showing off his missing teeth.

Eve noticed the dirty old man and shifted uncomfortably. “Dear God, help me,” she prayed when she realized that he intended to bid for her.