She was waiting for him, sitting on the marble edge of the fountain: strawberry blonde hair, powder-blue dress, just like she had said to look for. She was checking her makeup in a compact, didn't see him approaching. He waited for her to close it before saying, "Anne?"
"My friends call me Whistler."
"Why do they call you 'Whistler'?"
"It's my middle name, was my mother's maiden name."
She looked relieved that a man of his age wasn't still walking around with some frat-house nickname. "I actually like 'Herbert'. Distinctive. You don't meet many Herberts."
"I don't meet many Annes." It was a corny line, but it made her smile. He asked, "Where are you from?"
"Autotech? or ORS?"
"Sorry?" Her body language shifted; she was suddenly guarded, expression set.
"No, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been so blunt. I've just been on a lot of these lately."
"…of this particular kind."
Her eyebrows scrunched up and her head tilted. She wasn't angry or offended, she was confused. "I don't understand what you're saying. What kind of blind date is this, I mean, as opposed to any other?"
"Listen, I have a certain amount of money. I've done all right. The service, they know that because of the questionnaire and the background checks. Then users can search by income bracket. A lot of them do." He shrugged. "I'm not judging, I'm just saying it happens. But then the big robotics companies, they figured out that they could use that for direct marketing."
"Direct marketing. Robotics companies."
"…Autotech. O… what was it?"
"ORS. Oakland Robotic Systems, Inc. Those are the two 'bigs' based in California, anyway. There's others. So they trawl the listings, find alpha consumers, people who can afford their robots. They configure one to match that consumer's preferences and boom, some shmuck gets a blind date with his ideal match."
"But then how does that result in money for them? You'd still have to end up buying the robot, right? They'd have to pull back the curtain at some point."
"Sure. But by then you're… three, four dates in, and you're in love. You're already in a changing-your-life frame of mind, and those plans for the vacation home or the yacht suddenly don't seem so pressing. It's happened to me twice now."
"They're really doing that?" She shook her head in apparent incredulity and dismay. "And you think I'm number three." It wasn't a question.
"You're perfect. Not just physically either, I looked through your whole profile. They did a fantastic job. You're everything I've ever wanted in a woman, except you're not real.'"
She stared at him, then asked, "So why'd you come, Herbert?"
He didn't answer; he didn't have an answer.
"Thinking of buying me?"
He just stared at her face. "I don't know. Maybe I just want those three or four dates. To believe it for a week."
"…But what if I turn out to be real?"