February first the weather seemed especially gloomy. First thing in the morning, Hans and Li Du took the bus to the Smith Storage Company.
The auction was to start around 9 o'clock, but Hans wanted the two of them to be there earlier to observe their competitors. Knowing that this was Li Du's first time attending such an auction, Hans explained, "Arriving early will allow us to have time to observe our competitors. We need to gain a better understanding of who we are dealing with so that we can adjust our strategies for the bidding rounds accordingly..."
Most of the bidders seemed to have arrived at around eight thirty. Li Du estimated that there were approximately fifty people there.
He suddenly felt a bit of pressure. "There are a lot of people here, but only eight storage units?"
"They are all here for the massage chair. Don't worry, at least half of these people won't bid unless they feel a hundred percent certain, while the rest of them are only here hoping to buy something at a low price. Anyway, we're here for only one storage unit, and I've got more than enough money for it."
"Where did you get the money?" Li Du was confused.
"How did we get here today?" Hans asked.
"We rode the bus…. S*it, don't tell me that you sold your car?" Li Du exclaimed.
"No, I only mortgaged it for three days. After that, I will lose the car. So, can I trust you or not? Do you actually know which storage unit has the massage chair?"
"I didn't come unprepared. I have a general idea which unit it will be in. Once the auction starts, give me a little more time. I will find it for you."
Ten minutes later, an old man wearing a cowboy hat walked out from the crowd, and started announcing loudly, in a breakneck speed, "Everyone-line-up-we-are-going-to-start-I'll-skip-the-rules-so-those-who-don't-know-them-can-just-leave..."
Li Du always felt that his English was pretty good, but now he realized that he had been overconfident.
As the unit door was opened, everyone lined up waiting for their turn to check out the contents. Most people had a flashlight, and everyone was allowed one minute to look around the warehouse. The old man wearing the cowboy hat stood outside with a stopwatch. He made sure that everyone stayed outside the regulated area while keeping time to make sure that everyone would get their one minute turn.
One minute per person, with fifty people, it took almost an hour.
Unit 202 didn't look to have anything in particular that seemed high in value. The most promising items were a few household tools and some old-fashioned appliances, but these could all be considered garbage.
Auction hunters were not interested in garbage. They would only buy storage units that they thought would earn them money. If they were not sure about the likelihood of making a profit, they would probably not place a bid.
In most Americans' point of view, manual labor and time were both very costly. Therefore spending them to clean up insignificant storage would only make them lose money.
When it was Hans and Li Du's turn, the two stood by the entrance while Hans swept his flashlight inside as he explained, "We need to first look for things that are of worth, and this requires experience. Look at this; there's a 'handle with care' label printed on the side, I bet that inside this box are plates and other glassware. And over there is a handle, so I think that is a vacuum..."
Li Du nodded, realizing that he really couldn't look down on professional treasure hunters. Hans's judgment was right. When Li Du checked that area using the little bug, there was truly some beautiful pottery inside the box, and that handle did belong to a vacuum cleaner.
Their one-minute time limit soon passed. As the two left, Hans quietly said, "The stuff inside is worth around five hundred dollars or so. I'm guessing that someone is willing to spend around three hundred dollars for it."
As the exhibition period ended, the auction started. The old cowboy raised his hand. "One hundred! One hundred! One hundred dollars is the starting bid. Is there anyone who's willing to raise it to one hundred fifty dollars, one hundred fifty, one hundred fifty…"
He spoke extremely fast, and Li Du had a hard time following
There was someone who immediately nodded his head. The old cowboy pointed to the man before continuing, "It is now one hundred and fifty dollars, one hundred and fifty, one hundred and fifty. Two hundred, is there anyone who's willing to bid two hundred dollars? Two hundred…"
"Me!" someone shouted.
The old cowboy immediately pointed to the new bidder. "Very good, it is now two hundred dollars. How about three hundred dollars?"
Auctions were just like that; the auctioneer would ask for a price while the buyers would place their bid. When the old man raised the price by a hundred dollars, however, the whole crowd fell into silence. It was not that the items within the unit weren't worth the price, but the fact that the old cowboy had raised the price by so much.
Hans raised his hand. "Two hundred twenty dollars!"
"You want this one? But the massage chair isn't in here," Li Du commented in a low voice.
"Don't worry, this storage is worth more than two hundred twenty dollars. No doubt that others will outbid this price. I'm only doing this to show you how auctions work, " Hans explained. "When the price suggested by the auctioneer is too high, then the bidders can suggest their own price as long as it's higher than the latest accepted price."
Just like what he said, as soon as that sentence was out, the auctioneer said, "Two hundred twenty dollars is the current bid, how about two hundred and fifty dollars, two hundred and fifty dollars anyone?"
"Two hundred and fifty dollars, two hundred and fifty dollars. Is there anyone willing to bid two hundred and seventy-five dollars, two hundred and seventy-five dollars, anyone?"
With no one else placing a higher bid, the auctioneer raised his index finger on his right. "Two hundred and fifty dollars once, two hundred and fifty twice. This is the last time. Anyone else? Alright, two hundred and fifty dollars, this gentleman has won the bid!"
A Hispanic man nodded his head and went up to the auctioneer to get the paperwork. He then locked up the storage door with his dial lock. For the next 24 hours, that storage and everything in it was his.
And just like that, unit 203 and 204 were both sold. 203 was sold for three hundred dollars, while 204 was sold for one hundred twenty-five dollars. Neither looked too promising from the outside.
When it came to unit 205, Li Du saw the box with the massage chair in it. He pretended to look around inside a bit before turning and winking at Hans, "Big Fox, get it!"
Hans acted as nothing had happened, and no one noticed the serious tone of his voice, "How certain are you?"
Li Du nodded. "I am at fifty percent certainty."
"Really? Alright, leave it to me," Hans replied excitedly.
It was already one in the afternoon. Both men hadn't eaten anything yet. They had only drunk a bit of water. However, everyone was in this state as well, and looked quite tired. As a result, the competition had somewhat calmed down.
On the other hand, the auctioneer could rest in between each unit being sold. In fact, he was even able to take a half hour nap—so the old man still looked as refreshed as in the morning.
"One hundred dollars, one hundred dollars is the starting price, is there anyone who's willing to bid one hundred and fifty dollars, one hundred and fifty dollars anyone…"
Hans raised his hand signaling his interest. The auctioneer pointed at him. "One hundred and fifty dollars, one hundred and fifty is now the price. In that case, how about two hundred, two hundred dollars anyone?"
All of the other treasure hunters either wore a frown on their face or were talking among themselves, completely ignoring the bidding. No one who was willing to compete.
Li Du tried his best to keep a poker face. However, his heart was as turbulent as stormy seas as he prayed to Jesus Christ that there were no competitors.
However, there was someone else that noticed that box as a person raised the bid with a "Me!"
"Nice, it is now two hundred, two hundred dollars. Then how about two hundred and fifty, is there anyone who's willing to follow with two hundred and fifty dollars?"
"I'll follow!" Hans shrugged as he replied,"I've got to buy something today, I've got money to spend; I'll bet on this storage."
"Two hundred and fifty dollars, two hundred and fifty dollars is the bid, anyone who wants to bid three hundred, three hundred dollars, anyone?" The auctioneer asked.
There was no one else who placed a higher bid. From what could be seen in unit 205, it was even less valuable than the previous three storage units. So just like what Hans said, buying this storage was a test of his luck.
After another quick round of questioning, seeing that there were no more bidders, the auctioneer pointed towards Hans. "Very good, unit 205 is now yours!"