On a stifling day in the first dry rushes of August, a man walked into a florist shop. He wore a trench coat with brown and black pin stripes with painted sweat on the collar and gluing the back along his spine. Sunglasses sheltered his eyes and his hands reclined comfortably in his pocket.
The florist shop could not afford air conditioning this summer due to remarkably low sales Mother’s Day weekend, much to the detriment of the employee behind the counter who never thought saving money for college would include near death from heat stroke on a daily basis. He self-consciously stood at an angle to hide the soaked armpit spots on his red polo shirt. “Hello!” he shouted perhaps too enthusiastically, as there had not been a customer in over two hours.
“Hello,” said the man in the trench coat.
“Jesus, sir – aren’t you hot?” asked the employee, feeling as though he should wipe down his face or at least his congealing hairline.
“A bit,” replied the man. “Tell me – do you have any dragonsnaps today?”
“Snapdragons? No, sir, I’m sorry. But we do have a sale on orchids.”
The man nodded placidly. He simply opened the left side of his coat, calmly pulled on the cord that had been holding his shotgun in place, raised it to the florist, and gracefully shot him in the chest the same instant in which he cocked his weapon. All this was over within a matter of seconds. The boy had no opportunity to scream. His jaw dropped and his brow creased, and then he crumpled to the floor in a swelling puddle of his own blood and was silent.
Quite nonchalantly, the man retied his shotgun back inside his coat, placed his moist hands back in his pockets, and walked back out into the sunshine with a brief jingle from the door. In two minutes, he was at the bus stop. In ten minutes, he was at the next flower shop.
This shop was only a few degrees cooler than the first, with two boisterous over-sized fans propped on the floor and blowing in partial spirals. The woman at the counter was framed by roses that contrasted sharply with her sloppy, frizzy red hair. She frustratingly looked up from her romance novel, flipping it over on the counter to save her page and slicing the spine with a sharp crease.
“Can I help you?” she asked in a less-than-helpful voice.
“Tell me – do you have any snapdragons today?” asked the man in the trench coat.
“No. We only have red ones.”
Swiftly, his coat was opened on the left, his shot gun unhinged and into his arms with one motion. The woman screamed, but the sound was overpowered and consumed by the cocking double-click and boom of the trigger. The shot hit her just below the throat, shattering her ability to collect oxygen. She began choking on her own blood as the man watched with disinterest, and died moments later.
The man replaced the shotgun in its coat and wiped the feeling of gunpowder off his hands on his trousers. He tugged on his wet collar, stood in front of one of the inefficient fans for an extra minute, and then plunged back out into the brutal beating of the sun.
In three minutes, he was back at the bus stop. In nine minutes, he was at the next flower shop.
Remarkably, this shop was air-conditioned. It was larger than the first two. The walls held secret promises and whispered of forbidden lovers of every size, shape, and color. Buckets and buckets decorated the floor, flowers adorning other flowers. A man in a crisp Oxford shirt and red tie greeted him, walking in from the side. “Welcome in out of the heat,” greeted the florist. “My my! Take off your coat and stay a while!”
“Perhaps I will,” said the man in the trench coat. “But first – tell me, do you have any purple snapdragons?”
The florist smiled, a foreign grin just like his tongue. “Of course! A dozen for you? Two dozen?”
The man in the trench coat matched his smile and laughed. Then, without warning, he reached into his coat and unclasped his weapon. It spun out into the air as it cocked and fired. The shot hit the florist square in the forehead. It propelled him backward into a field of daisies, three buckets spilling out onto the floor as yellow and red blended together but did not make orange.
The man sighed. He peeled his coat from his perspiring flesh and threw it on the ground. He dumped out a bucket of carnations and overturned it to take a seat. Stretching his arms to the sides, he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his dented package of cigarettes. He put one between his lips, struck a match on the bottom of his shoe, and inhaled his first sweet reprieve of the day. Flicking the ash with his fingers only when it was in danger of dissipating in gargantuan clumps in the air, he admired the flowers around him and felt the hairs on the back of his neck stiffen as his sweat chilled.
When he finished the smoke, he put his coat on once more and clasped in his shotgun. It only took a minute to walk to the bus stop. Eight minutes later, he was home. On the rack just to the right of the door, he hung up his trench coat.
Above the entrance, he hung up his shotgun with the assistance of a few well-placed nails.
The air was cold, and he unbuttoned his shirt.
A few seconds later, his wife entered the room. She was wearing a red dress. “Did you find me any flowers?”
She frowned. “Did you remember to ask for purple snapdragons?” “Yes.”
“Well, tomorrow go find me some white daffodils.”