| The Old and the Young
Daisy, as her neighbors knew her, watered her beloved petunias on the small balcony of her apartment, careful not to spill any water on the sidewalk below. Flowers draped from a hanging basket making it difficult to reach. The basket was a thing of beauty, made of woven vines. She had found it in an antique shop where it was dusty with age, but now it held her yellow petunias. Daisy was proud of her small balcony, littered with plants. The wrought iron railing with twisted bars of black metal showed beauty of long ago. The apartment, built in the 1930's, had a railing that was a lovely Art-Deco design. Though rusting at some joints it still had a timeless beauty.
Daisy's real name was Florence but her friends called her Daisy as she had a green thumb. Busy with her plants, she heard the man across the hall getting ready to leave for work.
She didn't want to be a busybody but the young man was of interest to her. Though some forty years younger, he was kind to Daisy and she had a fondness for him. She loved to see him and opening the door, she said, "My goodness, you are always in such a hurry."
As he locked the door, he said, "I know Miss Yates. I am, but life is that way."
"Please call me Daisy," she said, "We have been friends for a year now."
"Sorry I can't be more sociable," he said, "but I have an appointment to make. Have a nice day Daisy. I'll talk to you later."
Daisy watched him run down the stairs, his briefcase in hand, wishing she were forty years younger. He was such a handsome man and she liked his kind manners. Returning to the balcony, her cat Misty meowing at her feet, she tended to her petunias and the other hanging flora. She even talked to the flowers, telling them how beautiful they were. Their delicate petals looked like they were always smiling at her.
Down below, she watched the young man catching a taxi, as she felt the aching pain in her neck. She was healthy for her age, now pushing 80, but the pain bothered her every time she reached up to the baskets. The doctor had told her it was probably just a common muscle problem with her habit of taking so much time with the hanging plants. Soon, she would see him and get the results of the X-rays.
One day, shopping downtown, Daisy went into a small coffee shop to relax after so much walking. Even though she was healthy and quite spry, her legs didn't have the endurance they once had. This made her sad, as she loved just walking around to watch people and see life. She was about to sit down, when she was surprised to see her neighbor Jonathan, sitting nearby.
Looking up from a book in his hand, Jonathan said, "Daisy, what are you doing here?"
Delighted to see him, she said, "I've been shopping, but I didn't expect to see you here. Would you mind if I join you?"
"Of course not," he said, "I'd love to have you for company."
It warmed her heart to sit and talk with Jonathan, in spite of their difference in age. He was not only pleasant to talk to but he was kind and a sincere person. Jonathon also enjoyed her company. He thought of her as a grand old lady, with a gentleness and charm, regardless of age. She always looked well-groomed and her taste in clothes was neat and fashionable. After a relaxed conversation, he said, "I really should be going," With his hand holding hers, he said, "Daisy, it has been my pleasure to be with you. We should do this again sometime."
This was the highlight of Daisy's day. He was like the son she had never had. She found it so considerate of him to have an older lady sit and talk with him. Now she felt like singing.
Meanwhile, Jonathan went to the office to get his new instructions. It was a contract job with a government agency having to do with contraband in which he was to give an expert opinion. He didn't know why it paid so well but he wasn't about to complain. The only thing that bothered him was; why were they so secretive? It was a one-time contract job and the pay was so good he could invest the money into a safe place and take his time finding a secure and comfortable job. The reason they contracted him was he was an expert in old stamps, especially rare ones. A philatelist since he was a young boy, he knew everything about old stamps. He was about to meet with some collectors who dealt in rare and very expensive early items from some obscure British colony. There, he would examine the stamps for an evaluation and report back to the agency. They told him to say as little as possible and just tell the dealer they were authentic.
His job was to contact a certain dealer they suspected of dealing in forgeries. Normally, the government wouldn't be concerned with such things, but the stamps were worth a large sum of money. The agency had a suspicion it had to do with money laundering. Jonathan found it somewhat exciting doing this except that he wondered why he was issued a side arm. They told him it was a routine assignment, just a safety precaution. It always felt so heavy in his briefcase.
When he opened the unmarked door in the old nondescript building, he was met by a man sitting behind a desk, covered with several files, one of them open. The room had no other furniture except for some cardboard boxes, filled with more files. He was dressed in a dark suit and plain tie with an obvious bulge near his waist. Jonathan wondered if it was a side arm. Looking up, the agent said, "We would appreciate it if you kept this assignment to yourself. We don't like any kind of publicity."
"Of course." Jonathan said. "Just give me the details and I will do as you say."
As the agent gave him the instructions, Jonathan, seeing the glint of metal at his waist said, "Why do we have to be armed?"
"Don't worry about it." he said. "It is just a precaution, you know, government policy."
He told him to meet with the dealer as a qualified expert and examine the stamps. After determining their authenticity, he should take a few photos, using the excuse it was for verification. That's all he had to do. Of course, he was to verify, if possible, that the pieces were authentic. If they were forgeries, which he knew they would be, he was to lie and say they were real. It was as simple as that. Above all, he was not to ask any questions or be curious in any way. The men he was dealing with were in criminal activities, but they were not dangerous. Or so he thought.
Back in her apartment, Daisy was worried about her pain, as she got ready to go to the doctor's office. Dressed in her best, she told the cat, "Take care of my plants Misty, I'll be back."
The bus ride through town seemed longer than usual, giving her time to think. She had led a good life even though she had never been married. Sometimes she wished she had raised a family, but with a younger sister who had two daughters, she often visited them. She usually brought them a gift and it pleased her to see them so happy. She did enjoy her life alone in most ways, with her cat and of course, her beautiful plants.
The doctor's office was the usual decor, with the large aquarium and the bright-colored tropical fish, but the smell of disinfectant made her nose twitch. She did not see doctors often as she was always so healthy. The nurse took her arm, leading her into the doctor's office, saying, "You always look so nice Miss Yates."
For a while, the doctor sat scanning her X-ray, his face looking serious. Not glancing up, he said, "I've been looking at these X-rays and I hesitant to say it, but they don't appear so good I'm afraid."
Daisy didn't like the tone of his voice, saying, "What do you mean doctor?"
"Well," he said, "It may be too early to say, but there seems to be some kind of mass in you neck. I'm going to have it checked out by a colleague of mine. At your age it may be just a normal muscle density, but we have to be careful."
"Is there anything I can take for it doctor?" she said,
"No" he said, "It's too early to know so don't worry for now. Come back in a few days and I'll let you know."
Daisy felt a heavy heart leaving the doctor's office. She had led a healthy life and now it worried her she may have a dread disease of some kind. Home with her cat, making a pot of tea, she picked the cat up, stroking his furry belly, saying, "Well, we both are old I guess, aren't we?" As she sat on the balcony with her cup of tea, the cat purring on her lap, she heard the young man in the hall. He was young and with his life in front of him, he was what Daisy thought, in the prime of his life. She didn't really envy him so much as she felt a longing to be young again, to be full of life and enjoying all that life offered. She had never thought much about death. It was like she just ignored it, but now she had to face the music. Stroking her fingers over her plants, she wondered who would take care of them. A light breeze fluttered over her plants and the hanging basket of petunias swayed lazily in front of her. With her loving cat curled on her lap, Daisy felt a certain peace in her life.
Across the hall, Jonathan took out the Walther automatic and carefully made sure the safety was on. He had never fired a gun before and it made him nervous just holding it. Tomorrow he would be meeting the dealer. Thumbing through the stamp catalog of foreign stamps, he carefully studied the British colony sets, noting the secret marks and other distinguishing characteristics. It still puzzled him why they paid him so well for such a simple assignment, but after all, he was a known expert in his field.
A knock on the door startled him. It was Daisy with a plate of sandwiches. She said, "Would you like some sandwiches? I know you don't cook much so I brought you something to eat."
Surprised of her visit, he said, "My gosh. How kind of you. You shouldn't do this for me."
Giving him the plate, she said, "Think nothing of it. I never see you buying any groceries. You need to eat."
With a chuckle, Jonathan said, "If you keep doing this, I'll have to pay you as a cook."
Jonathan thought, what a nice person, saying to her, "You are like my favorite aunt. She was so thoughtful too."
Noticing his kind eyes, she said, "You take good care of yourself young man and have a nice evening."
Jonathan, after eating the sandwiches, went to bed early, worried about the meeting with the dealer. He still was curious why the government was involved with something as simple as a stamp collection. Maybe he was naive.
That morning, as he took the taxi to the appointment with the dealer, he felt uneasy, but he didn't know why. About to enter the office with only a room number, there was an eerie silence. As he swung the door open, he saw the dealer with two heavy-set men next to him. In front of him, the set of stamps were in an unmarked album, waiting for his examination. With no emotion on his face, the dealer said, "We've been waiting for you."
Jonathan, trying to look professional, said, "It may take awhile."
The dealer said, "Take your time. Just take your time."
It was impressive to see so many rare copies of old stamps with their fine engravings and vivid yet subtle colors. At first, they appeared authentic but something caught his eyes. Looking closer with the powerful eyeglass, he could see there was a missing detail at the end of the plinth near the bottom. Every stamp was the same. Jonathan felt a shiver up his spine. The stamps were all forgeries. With no emotion, he said, "they appear to be authentic." He was not a good liar and he had a dread feeling as soon as he said it. His only thoughts were to be somewhere else.
At first, the dealer said nothing, but with a dark look in his face, he said, "You my friend, are a liar."
Jonathan, breaking into a sweat, tried to think of an excuse, but the dealer said, "We know who you are working for. Tie him up boys."
Before he could say anything, the two men grabbed him and quickly tied his hands behind him. As the dealer looked through his briefcase, finding the gun, he said coldly, "Well, well, what is this?"
The last thing Jonathan could remember was a sharp blow to the head.
On the other side of town, Daisy went to the doctor's office with sadness, expecting the worse. Like a heavy veil over her, she sat waiting for news. Finally, after a long wait, she sat in front of the doctor saying, "Well, tell me the news doctor."
With a smile on his face, he looked up saying, "Miss Yates, you are a very lucky woman."
Surprised by what he said, she said in a weak voice, "What does that mean?"
Smiling broadly, he said, "It seems I made a mistake in analyzing your X-ray. It is nothing but a muscle that is slightly inflamed. Maybe you spend too much time with your hanging plants. You have nothing to worry about. Go home and enjoy life."
It was like a heavy load off her shoulders. She said, "You mean there is nothing wrong with me?"
"That's right, go home and forget about it. Just take these pills if the pain persists."
Daisy felt like a new person. Everything now looked so bright and cheerful. She felt like skipping home. Entering her room, the cat rubbing against her, she said, "Let's go and water my plants Misty."
Like a new lease on life, Daisy took affectionate care of her plants with the cat at her feet. Carefully sprinkling water on her flowers she said to herself, "My you are thirsty today." Then with a knock on her door, she hoped it was the young man across the hall. To her surprise, two official-looking men stood in front of her, one saying. "Do you know the gentleman across the hall ma'am?"
"Of course" she said, "Why do you ask?"
"We are interested in anyone who might know him and since you are his closest neighbor, we thought we would ask."
"Has anything happened to him?" she asked.
"Well" he said in a low voice, "It seems he was killed in an accident. We are just checking it out."
Heartbroken, almost in tears, she said, "Oh my God, What happened?"
With a sober tone to his voice, he said, "He had an accident. It looks as if he fell off a roof of a tall building downtown. We don't know why he was up there. Have you noticed anything different about him recently? You know, did he act depressed or anything?"
Choking back tears, she said, "Oh no, no, he was always so cheerful and friendly. I can't believe he's dead."
Trying to console her, he said, "Accidents do happen sometimes. Sorry to tell you the news."
Closing the door, Daisy wiped the tears off her face and returned to her beloved plants. On the balcony with her cat and her yellow petunias, she sipped her cup of tea in the evening breeze, but it wasn't the same. No longer could she watch the young man going to work, nor could she talk to him in the hall. Daisy never could understand why some died so young and others had a charmed life. Tears again welling in her eyes, she murmured to herself, "It just isn't fair...why dear God am I allowed to live and not him?"