Our Best Customers Ever

Two mysterious strangers in brown suits appeared right when my husband and I needed rescue from a dangerous situation.


I leaned against the cooler in the downtown flower shop I ran with my husband, Hugh. Every bit of me ached. Working 13 hours a day for a week straight when you’re coming up on 65 years old. But I had to do it. After all, the week leading up to Christmas was one of our busiest.

I glanced at the mirror and laughed. My Santa hat and poinsettia-print shirt were covered with gold and silver glitter. I looked a sight.

Outside, the late December sun cast a glow on the festive decorations. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, 1993. The rush was over and our floral designers were gone. The streets were deserted. Even the Salvation Army trio had packed up their instruments and gone home. Nothing to do now but lock the door, clean up the store and make sure all our holiday orders had been delivered.

Hugh picked up some flower buckets and dumped the water into the sink. “Another holiday down the drain,’ he said. He’d told the same joke every holiday for the past 35 years. Still, I laughed. It was tradition.

Hugh went to straighten up in the back room and I grabbed a broom. As I circled the arranger’s bench and neared the counter, my eye caught movement outside the front door. Next thing I knew the door flew open and three very large young men walked in. Hugh and I had run this shop for so long we knew everyone in town. Everyone and their guardian angels too. I had no clue who these three were. From the look of them, they were trouble. Grimy black leather jackets and filthy jeans. Wool caps pulled down low. Mean-looking. Real mean. I thought of what Hugh always told me: “If we are ever robbed, don’t argue. Just do what you’re told and give them whatever they want.”

Lord only knew what they wanted. “Help you?” I managed to choke out.

They looked around and must have figured I was alone. They surrounded me. One of them blocked the door. The biggest thug flashed a cruel grin. “Hey, mama,” he sneered. “Got any specials?” The other two snorted.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “We’re closed. I was just cleaning up.”

“Whadda ya mean, closed?” he snapped. He brought his face right up to mine. “It’s Christmas,” he said. “I need some flowers. Now!”

His breath reeked. I turned my head, nearly gagging. I saw Hugh coming from the back room. He stopped short, took in the situation, then quickly came to my side. “What do you need, fellas?” Hugh said. “Make it quick.”

“Lookie here, another one,” said the leader. “You’re not closing yet. First I wanna see what you got.” He looked around. “Let’s see them shiny things up there.” He pointed toward the vase-filled shelves high on the wall. “Come on, let’s see ‘em.”

Hugh reached to get one down.

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