a beautiful woman -- not in the conventional sense perhaps, but when
walked down a street, entered a room, smiled, said hello, you knew you
in the presence of a special someone. It was that obvious.
The one person
see that magic was Melody herself. But that was about to change.
It was an
morning in New York. It had rained during the night, and the rain had
the air, giving it a freshness rare to the city. Occasional clouds
lazily in a high, bright blue sky. Walking past a tree-lined street on
Manhattan's East Side, Melody could even hear birds chirping.
The people she
her way to work seemed happier than usual. Some were even smiling and
at complete strangers, a usually suspicious act in the New York that
in the minds of most of the city's dwellers.
a young man was strolling toward his job, enjoying the rare beauty of
morning. He was a typical New Yorker, looking everywhere without
to look, seeing most of the world around him.
luncheonettes and newsstands
were doing their usual business. Retail shops were just opening, hoping
to catch some early business before the quiet mid-morning stretch.
were being swept casually. It was that kind of morning. You had to get
to work, but if you had to be a few minutes late, today was definitely
Later on, the
would be hard-pressed to recall just what drew his attention to Melody;
he was perhaps 20 yards behind her. Suddenly, there was an audible
in his brain. Most New Yorkers recognize the signal. Something is not
seemed wrong. He continued walking. Melody walked past a florist with a
display of plants outside. The young man couldn't tell one plant from
but he did notice that all of the flowers were drooping by the time he
reached the storefront.
An idea began
to work its
insidious way into his mind. Reflexively, he focused his attention on
as she continued down the street. She crossed at the corner, and turned
right onto a quiet street lined with brownstones, each with a small
in front, the city's concession to a need for greenery, a tiny sense of
the suburbs amid the concrete vastness.
It was a
street he would
not normally have turned on, and had she been aware of his presence,
would certainly have been concerned. But given the beauty of the
and a generally careless nature, Melody continued on her blissful way.
A bird dropped
out of one
of the trees. The young man froze, allowing Melody to walk ahead
20 or 30 yards. He watch carefully, absorbing the scene.
A super was
the front of his brownstone as Melody approached. His dog was
the tree in front of the building, for apparent reasons. Melody passed
by. The super stopped and grabbed a railing to steady himself. He shook
his head a few times, reached into his back pocket and took out a
He wiped his streaming eyes, hacked a few times into the handkerchief
then glanced at his dog who had rolled over on the small plot of earth
and was clearly whimpering.
The young man
Melody, because that was exactly what he was doing by now. He knew what
was happening, or at least he was pretty sure. She turned again when
reached the avenue, walked midway down the block and entered an office
He had only
seconds to act.
his back pocket,
he rushed into the building just as Melody was about to get on an
including Melody, turned -- all with a look of alarm on their faces.
He rushed up
to her, shoved
the wallet at her and blurted out, "You dropped this in the street."
took the wallet without thinking as the young man hurried away. "But
isn't my...I didn't..." But he was gone.
her composure by the time she reached her desk. She sat down and stared
at the wallet. While it wasn't hers, it certainly belonged to someone. There must be some
identification inside, she thought.
she was on
"This is Jon
not available at the moment, but if you'll leave your name and phone
I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you." Beep!
You don't know me but I have your wallet. If you would call me and
it, I'd be happy to return it to you. My number is 212-538-1746."
Rafter got the
he had obviously hoped he would. He dialed Melody's number. "Ms.
"This is Jon
called a while ago about finding my wallet. I'm really glad you have
I can't tell you how worried I was."
the contents of his own wallet, right down to his Red Cross blood donor
said Melody. "How can I get it to you?"
"I only work a
blocks away. Perhaps I could come by your office and pick it up. I'd
to thank you in person."
"I'll be here
11:45? Then I
can go right on to my luncheon appointment. If that's all right with
"I work for
& Yokum at 551 Fifth. The 19th floor. Just ask the receptionist for
"See you at at
She hung up
and went about
her daily routine. Suddenly she stopped. I didn't tell him where I worked.
How did he know it was only a few blocks away? She worried about
a few minutes before concluding that Rafter must have figured he lost
wallet somewhere in the immediate area. She went back to work.
Rafter was at
Fatshard & Yokum promptly at 11:45, albeit with a great deal of
He had only had a glimpse of Melody as he shoved the wallet into her
but that glimpse had already become a bead on his personal string of
never to be forgotten.
"Good day. Mr.
see Ms. Gerass please."
receptionist was corporate
pretty, a look that was supposed to translate into an image of
an image that was often misleading, particularly in New York. She was
a corsage. Probably her birthday,
thought Rafter. "One moment please,"
she said crisply, giving him her best corporate smile, the one that
said, "Who cares?"
the reception area, looked at Rafter and, "You're the man who..."
"You gave me
"Please let me
you do that? Why would...? It was your own wallet."
bit more insistent.
"Let me explain."
are you? What are you? What is this? I don't..." Total confusion.
incomprehension. Rafter noticed the flowers on the receptionist's
begin to droop. The receptionist showed faint beads of perspiration,
her eyes were beginning to roll. Rafter knew the signs.
"Can we talk
just for a moment. I can explain."
He walked toward
a corner of the reception area, the corner furthest from the faint
lady at the front desk. "Please, Ms. Gerass. I'm really quite harmless.
Just a minute or two."
glancing about, oblivious to the state of the receptionist who was
to rock woozily in her chair.
interrupted. "Do you
recall the liquor store holdup around the corner about 10 days ago?"
She looked at
"The one where
used gas masks to capture the robbers? It was in all the papers. And on
to stare at
him, but some of the shock seemed to be wearing off. Her eyes were
on him. "Are you talking about the robbery where the crooks were found
got to do with
out why they
were unconscious," said Rafter, "but they never found out exactly what
the source of the..." He hesitated. "What caused them to pass
the agent came from." He knew he was near babbling.
staring at him,
a hint of red -- just a hint -- rising in her cheeks. "They, the
in the eyes. "I am the Puffer."
Why am I here? she thought. This is a madman. He's a hero
because some people passed out from him.
Is this man safe? He's a nut. I'm nuts.
"I know this
is going to
sound peculiar, but we have something in common."
"What could we
have in common? You don't even know me. Until you pulled that wallet
I had never even laid eyes on you."
"It was the
"I was walking
to work when
something struck me as odd."
"I struck you
"No. To be
I hadn't even noticed you yet. I just knew something was wrong. And
I spotted the 'incidents.'"
And over a cup
several cups of coffee, and a Danish -- and finally a banana split --
told her about the dead bird, the drooping flowers, the super and his
He even mentioned the receptionist and her corsage.
, along about the florist part, Melody's ears began to turn red. The
spread down her cheeks, and as Rafter continued his story, he could see
it traveling down her neck toward her modest but delightful cleavage.
stopped in mid-sentence, daydreaming about Melody's spreading blush.
what we have in common..." She stopped, unable to complete the thought.
He finished it
"...is gas." And he smiled.
reached for her water, took a sip, choked, sputtered and started
-- until the tears started to roll down her cheeks.
Melody and Jon
dated a while,
then married. It was a marriage of the usual smiles and occasional
-- and roars of laughter you wouldn't believe.