Mylar. Mylar was just not one of his favorite things; inflated shiny hearts, emblazoned with "I love you," hundreds of them bobbing and floating together in bunches tethered to curling ribbons… plastic cupids and inflated roses, silver and puffed up and as insubstantial as the wishes behind them.
Henry pushed past the display, setting them swaying and bobbing at the end of their tethers. When was it that florist shops turned into a carnival of balloons and teddy bears and all manner of knickknacks declaring love and undying devotion? Undying devotion, I suppose that would be my motto, he thought with a twist of his lip. Undying…I'm sure that the "constable" could make use of that one.
He tossed his cashmere scarf about his neck and straightened his jacket, pulling on his gloves as he pushed through the steamy door, out into the chill of the street. That used to be a wonderful florist shop, family owned, and old man Browne, had a real feel for the language of the flowers. He was a true talent. When did it change hands I wonder?
Henry frowned, and I wonder what happened to old Thomas Browne.
"Mylar," he muttered to himself with his father's characteristic affront showing in his face. Henry had set his heart on an old fashioned bouquet for Vicki for the celebration of Valentine's Day. It pleased him, pleased him greatly, the idea of a meaningful arrangement for Vicki. For weeks now he had been turning over and over in his mind the possibilities for her gift.
At first it had been jewelry, perhaps a piece of his mother's, the cabochon cut ruby pendant, but on reflection he had thought perhaps that was too forward, might make her too uncomfortable. Then he thought, in one of his weaker moments, perhaps lingerie. That thought had been followed a most enjoyable hour or more spent online, viewing various, well… they were not really substantial enough to be considered garments, but it had certainly been amusing imagining his Vicki in some of those items of clothing. In fact he even had a slim portfolio of sketches that he profoundly hoped Vicki never, ever, saw. He sighed slightly as he walked. No, most likely lingerie would not be well received.
He had haunted the antique stores, having in his desperation thought, perhaps she might enjoy an antique pistol, some sort of police memorabilia, but thankfully he had come to his senses one evening as he pictured the look on her face when she realized that he was giving her a gun for Valentine's Day. Of course he would mean it in the best possible way, yet if she misunderstood, there she would be, with a gun in her hand.
Finally he had remembered Thomas Browne, and his little shop tucked away off Avenue Rd. Thomas Brown who was a wizard with the meaningful arrangement. He could remember the old man's hands moving unerringly from stem to knife to oasis…deftly assembling an arrangement that told a story in and of itself. It had pleased him to think that he might give Vicki an arrangement that spoke of his feelings and yet she would have no idea just how sentimental the message actually was…the more he thought of it, the more he pictured the arrangement sitting in her office, and the more he became convinced he had his gift. That is until this evening when he had visited Browne's Flower Shop on Avenue Road. The store was still there tucked as before in a lower story, stepped down from the street, but Thomas Browne was gone and all that remained was a mish mash of arrangements and floating Mylar balloons.
Henry reached a hand in his pocket and pulled out his phone, hitting a preset number with his thumb. He waited as the phone rang once then twice and then held the cell slightly away from his ear as it was finally picked up with a clatter.
"Nelson Investigations," Coreen's voice sounded on the other end.
"Coreen, it's Henry, I was wondering if you might do a little research for me."
"Henry?" He could hear her heart pick up from here and her voice took on that breathless quality that he always associated with her. It brought a smile to his face, Coreen was one of his favorite humans. His little sister.
"Tell me that this has something to do with Valentine's, please. Mike has been asking a zillion questions about what you might be planning. He had this crazy idea of buying Vicki an antique pistol from a gun show. Can you imagine?" Henry's brow rose, but he managed to keep his voice even.
"I take it that you convinced him of the foolhardy nature of such an idea."
"Uh, yeah…though his new one is just as bad. He has some sheer red thing that is trimmed with pink feathers…I really don't want to be around when Vicki opens it."
"Coreen, I was wondering if you might do a little research for me. I'm looking for the current location of one Thomas Browne, for years he owned a small florist shop, Browne's Flowers on Avenue Road. The shop is still there, but Mr. Brown no longer owns it. I was hoping that…"
"That I could find him, sure Henry, shouldn't be too hard, give me maybe half an hour…flowers eh?"
Henry smiled a perfect white baring of his teeth, "Yes Coreen, flowers. I'll call back in half an hour or you can get me on this number… and thank you."
He clicked his phone closed and nodded with a friendly smile to a couple that walked arm in arm past him, heading the other direction, then crossed the street at the intersection moving smoothly along the opposite side of the street, stalking them. He was hungry and there was something erotic in their combined scent, something he wanted.
So it was the Henry Fitzroy, once Duke of Richmond and vampire, stood outside the Golden Rest Retirement and Care Home on February 12th at seven pm on a cold Toronto night. Coreen had been most specific; Thomas Browne had, five years after the death of his wife Angelina, sold his business. Two years after that he had been moved to a care facility by his son, who lived in Calgary, based on mild dementia. Apparently Thomas Browne lived here still.
For a few moments he watched the brightly lit entrance way of the facility. Not particularly large or ostentatious, the building did have certain solidity to it and the vine covered walls, now denuded of leaves, gave it a certain appearance of hominess. He traversed the carefully shoveled and salted front walk and entered blinking into the reception area.
"Good evening, I'm here to see Mr. Thomas Browne," he asked the matronly attendant behind the desk.
The name tag on the starched white and stiff uniform read Edwina Murphy RN and the fabric rustled as she stood, but her voice was melodious, beautiful as she answered. "Oh Tom. You're lucky, he's having a good day today, down in the recreation room. I'm very glad he has a visitor. Please," she turned a clipboard with a pen attached towards him on the desk top, "Just sign in and I'll walk you down to see him myself."
Henry signed in and taking the clipboard back she smiled as she rose, "Well Mr. Celluci, just follow me. Tom so seldom gets visitors any more, it is so great you got here on one of his lucid days, so often he is lost in the past." She shook her head a little as though sorrowing and Henry found that he liked Nurse Edwina Murphy.
At the end of the long wide hall, Henry was admitted into a cozy room where there were several residents, some on sofas and armchairs, some in wheelchairs watching television, a re-run of "Law and Order" if I'm not mistaken. To the left, there were three white-haired ladies and a steely-haired gentleman sat involved in a game of poker at a games table. The nurse led Henry across to an aged man, sitting over a game of solitaire spread out in orderly rows on a table top.
Watery blue eyes looked up as Henry approached. Though he had feared he might see the vagueness of the lost, but the sharp gaze pricked and the rusty voice that emerged said, " I know you…you used to come into the shop, years ago now, gladiola arrangements for Professor Betty Sagara." He paused for a wheezing breath, and Edwina looked at Henry apologetically, for it was obvious this handsome young man couldn't be who Tom was talking about, he was far too young. Thomas Browne continued, "I remember because I didn't get much call to deliver to the University and you were always so insistent, red gladiolas at Valentine's…hard to get…" His voice trailed off as though puzzled. Henry slipped off his coat as Edwina walked away, and slid into a chair opposite Thomas.
"Yes, Betty always appreciated the extra effort you went to obtain the "glads" Thomas, as did I. There was no one I could rely on quite like you."
Henry grinned at the old man's smile, and picked up a single card from the deck spread on the table top between them. He fingered it, the Queen of Hearts and then he leaned close.
"Mr. Browne" he said quietly, "I have a proposition for you."
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Henry pulled the jag up to the back entrance to the Golden Rest Retirement and Care Home. He sat for a few moments, the car idling and he wondered if his arrangements would all be in vain. Thomas Browne was after all, senile, living in a world of the past and yet, yet he had seemed to come to life last night when Henry had outlined his plan.
The door beside the loading dock cracked open and the slight, bent figure of Thomas Browne, swathed in a heavy overcoat and a muffler and a cap, quietly emerged into the dark.
By the time he had carefully edged the door closed, Henry was beside him, taking the boney old arm and carefully guiding Thomas down the snowy ramp to the waiting jag.
How it was Thomas had escaped the confines of his quiet and confused existence at nearly midnight on February 13th Henry could not say, yet here he was buckling into the seat beside him, an excited smile on his face and a glint in his blue eyes…"You said there would be flowers."
Henry nodded with a grin as he put the Jag in reverse, "Oh yes, Mr. Browne, there will be."
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The lane behind Browne's Flower Shop was dark and icy and Henry bade Thomas to wait in the car while he made short work of the lock and the alarm. Returning, he took Thomas's arm and guided him into the back work room that had been his place of business for almost fifty years.
The old man looked around a little confused, running his fingers over the work table, crossing to the glass- doored coolers. He opened one to run his gnarled fingers over the soft petals of the flowers resting in buckets there…"You were right," he said with a smile as he turned to look over his shoulder at Henry. "There are flowers." He plucked a small white globe shaped flower from a pail, turning to Henry. "This was Angelina's favorite…amaranthus…he stroked the bloom against his cheek.
"Angelina should be around here somewhere," he looked about for a moment and then his eyes focused on Henry's. "Oh no, that's right…she died you know, in the spring, she is buried up in Mount Pleasant Cemetery," he replaced the flower in the container. "I used to take her flowers every week, but now, well, I don't. But I have her picture by my bed. Angelina, my queen of hearts."
"So, Henry, tell me about your lady friend," he slipped his coat off his frail shoulders "and what message is it that you want to send?"
"I love her, Thomas. She is the most…frustrating, headstrong…impossible woman I have ever met…she is a mystery, yet since the first moment I saw her, since the very first moment when she threatened my dental work," Henry smiled at the old man, "I have loved her…Do you believe in love at first sight Thomas?"
His response was a smile and he tottered to the cooler returning with a bucket of long stemmed roses, the petals a deep royal blue, and a bundle of boxwood greenery. "And surely she loves you on the same manner, Henry?" There was a fond memory in the old man's voice.
Why the vampire found it so easy to confide in the old human, he couldn't exactly say. Perhaps it was the knowledge that most likely in a day or two Thomas would remember nothing of this night's work.
"No, my friend, I am afraid that she does not, and it pains me, for I truly love her with a rare passion." Henry replied. Tsking under his breath, Thomas shuffled to the cooler and selected a bunch of deep burgundy red carnations, ruffled and intense, and then after a glance at Henry, a few stems of Angreacum…waxy green orchids…and well as a bunch of the Amaranthus…
When he had laid out the flowers, Thomas moved to the containers, selecting a cut crystal vase, hearts deep etched in the heavy crystal…Henry crossed to him and after a few muttered words the old man nodded and selected a second, taller vase.
Thomas worked just exactly as Henry remembered; efficiently, quickly…the oasis soaked in water, the age spotted hands still swift and sure as he stripped off leaves, cut to length and placed the blooms and the greens unerringly, creating a lush and beautiful arrangement.
As he worked, he spoke as though to himself…listing the flowers as he handled them. First a base of boxwood, for constancy, shows unchanging love and devotion. Then carnation, the reddest of reds, the message carried, "my heart aches for you" indicative of deep romantic love and passion. Thomas lifted each of the blue roses, trimming the thorns from the stems carefully and putting rose after rose on the arrangement, "These represent love at first sight and enchantment, romance and yearning for the unavailable." Then finally the pale waxy Angreacum…exotic and delicate. Thomas cast a quiet glance at Henry, remembering him clearly. The quiet, calm demeanor, the regal bearing. "Angreacum, for royalty." Thomas muttered.
The larger arrangement complete, Henry watched quietly as Thomas created a second simple but beautiful arrangement. Boxwood formed the base, and then red tulips, and then a frothy fill of the white amaranthus…. A tall glass vase, circled round with a red bow. "For Angelina," Thomas told the Vampire, nodding. Henry read the message the flowers spoke himself…A declaration of love, constant and immortal, lasting beyond death.
Thomas cleaned away his clippings, and Henry left a couple of hundred dollar bills in the till of the darkened store. After helping Thomas on with his coat and seeing him seated in the jag's front seat, the arrangements safely stowed in the back, Henry swept through the work room making sure all was as it should be then closed the door and returned to the car.
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The cemetery was dark, cold and icy. Henry had supposed that with his failing memory Thomas might have had trouble finding Angelina's grave, but he did not, he directed Henry with a confident …"left here"…"right here"… and then finally a curt "stop here."
When he had the old man out of the car and was holding him with one arm while carrying the flowers with the other, Thomas led him unerringly to a modest headstone deep carved with the letters 'Angelina Grace Browne…Beloved Wife of….' Henry's eyes blurred with tears as the old man went slowly to his knees in the snow to place the flowers in the snow
beneath the sailing moon.
Thomas whispered a few words and even standing back a respectful distance, the vampire could not help but hear, "Angel, my queen of hearts, it won't be long now. Wait a little longer and I'll be with you soon." Listening to the old man's laboring heart Henry knew he spoke the truth. He moved forward to help Thomas Browne to his feet. When they were ensconced in the car again, on the way back to the Care Home, Henry asked Thomas as he dozed in the heat of the car, "Angelina, she was the Queen of your heart wasn't she?"
Wearily the old man nodded without opening his eyes. "Yes, my Angel, she is waiting for me."
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Vicki's office was dark in the hour before dawn, her scent everywhere but she was gone, home to her apartment he supposed. Henry carried the arrangement in to place it on her desk, lush and beautiful and delicately scented and he was pleased, more than pleased. Thomas Browne was a master of his craft, even still. Henry thought of the quiet dignity with which Thomas had accepted his thanks, refusing any payment, and had then slipped quietly back through the service door of the Home and back into his life.
Henry's senses told him that the old man would not last another month, and he was glad…glad to know Thomas and Angelina's wait was nearly over.
A master Thomas was, Henry thought as he regarded his gift…his message, spoken in the language of flowers… Love at first sight, enchantment, a dream of attaining the impossible. My heart aches for the want of you with a deep and passionate love that is constant and unchanging.
Satisfied, he slipped his hand drawn card amid the blooms then, faded into the night and sought his sanctuary.
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Coreen hunched over her desk, listening to the shouting in Vicki's office. There was no way she was going in…she could hear Mike's low voice and then Vicki's raised in agitation…she rolled her black kohl – lined eyes, wondering if there was going to be bloodshed. Anticipating Vicki's response to Mike's planned gift Coreen had thoughtfully unloaded the service revolver that Vicki kept in her drawer, just in case. Judging from the volume of the raised voices, she thought perhaps that had been a prudent course of action.
When the pone rang, Coreen grabbed it, thankful for any task that kept her looking busy.
"Nelson Investigations…oh … Hi Henry, yes Happy Valentine's Day to you too. Oh the flowers you left were beautiful, I didn't even know there was such a thing as blue roses. Uh yeah… Hang on a minute…."
The office door slammed open and Mike came barging out, his trench coat flapping and his strong jaw jutting out in a scowl. A slip of sheer red fabric clutched in his hand and a cloud of pink feathers appeared to have settled in his hair and Coreen was pretty sure she saw a couple of garters handing down.
Oh jeesh…she thought.
"Well …you're welcome, Nelson!" Mike growled out as he disappeared through the door and clattered down the stairs. The door to Vicki's office slammed resoundingly, rattling the framed pictures on the wall.
"Henry?" Coreen whispered into the receiver, "Are you still there?"
"I take it the constable presented his gift?" Henry tried mightily to keep the smile out of his voice, without actually succeeding.
"Oh God Henry…do you think maybe I could just sneak out?" The ominous silence in Vicki's office was worse than the shouting and slamming that had preceded it by far.
"I've just risen Coreen, and I'm on my way over so go ahead and go. I'll be there in a few minutes," Henry said as he piloted the jag through traffic.
Stealthily, Coreen gathered her things and quiet as a mouse, hanging her cape about her shoulders, she let herself out the office door and crept down the stairs to the street. "Discretion is the better part of valor," she muttered to herself.
Vicky poured herself a stiff drink, pushing back the wisps of hair that had escaped her ponytail. Her voice was a long low stream of invectives under her breath and she swallowed a long belt of her scotch.
"Fucking Celluci," she muttered, "Where does he get off thinking…" her eyes fell on the huge arrangement of flowers that Henry had sent…and then traveled to the beautifully hand rendered card that lay on her desk.
It pictured a meticulous and beautiful rendering of a playing card and in script, a handwritten caption…"For my Queen of Hearts…"
She moved across to her computer, pulling up a search engine and typing in the words… The language of flowers.