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       Miss Daisy, p.1

           James Antonio
 
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Miss Daisy
Miss Daisy

  a short story by

  James Antonio

  Daisy had come to Venice for a specific reason, unlike the swarms of tourists she'd worked her way through en route to the Cà Del Dose Hotel. She envied them in a way, but business was business and she was very good at what she did and well paid too. Her room was absolutely sumptuous and she was tired enough to appreciate the comfort and charm, especially after such a hard trip. The flight from London hadn't been the greatest with all the jarring and shaking from turbulence and then the rough ride across the choppy lagoon in that crowded boat had been enough to make her even a little cross. She looked into the heart-shaped mirror with its rosary edging of gold beads and managed a tight little smile. She'd travelled to a lot of places but never before to Venice. She giggled and shook her head in disbelief. Why, she'd gotten off the plane, gone into and out of Marco Polo airport, and jumped right into a boat! It was almost like a scene out of a James Bond movie!

  The next morning she got a wake-up call in her room. She wasn't one to ever sleep in but she didn't want to take any chances on being late for their agreed upon time. This would be the coin deal of her career if she could pull it off and, not only would she make herself and the company plenty of money, she'd gain a measure of fame as well. She had a warm shower, got dressed in loose-fitting, chocolate colored slacks and a beige blouse, and sat down in front of the mirror to do her hair. She had short blond hair, parted somewhat to the left of center, and she combed it out carefully so that the bottom swooped forward just under her ears in curlicues. She lightly put on some lipstick, normal red, and sat back to gather her thoughts. She was attractive in a 'cute' sort of way, with her narrow blue eyes and her tiny nose, and she took consolation in the fact that she was still single at thirty-three because of her unavailabilty and nothing else. She worked long hours and travelled a fair bit and well, there just wasn't much time for romance.

  After a light breakfast in her room of mixed fruit, whole-wheat toast and coffee, she made a phone call to Mr. Domanico for confirmation and directions, and then went downstairs and scuttled outside to the 'riva', or quay, to hail a gondola. It was a lovely day, and she guessed it was already in the low seventies. She watched as a flock of pigeons cooed around a smattering of bread crumbles and seeds. It truly was a beautiful place and as she stood there with her microscope box and her purse, she tried to dismiss, for a moment at least, the work aspect of her trip just to appreciate the setting. She took a deep breath and the air, with its trace of salty tang, reminded her of being by the sea. It was quiet too, despite the fact there were a good number of people already about. Nobody, she could see, was in much of a hurry. She heard a church bell tolling off across the old buildings somewhere and, like bees, the buzz-buzz buzzing of small boats as they slipped hither and thither in the jade-colored water of the 'rios', or canals. Daisy was gazing fondly at the foam green of the sky, wondering whatever made it such a lovely color, when a voice, in very good English, called up to her from just below.

  “You are waiting here for a gondola and I am here to take you wherever your heart desires!”

  Daisy came to her senses at once. She glanced down and saw in a newer gondola a handsome man in black pleated dress slacks and white shirt waiting to take her hand and help her into the boat. He had a scarlet sash around his waist that mimicked a belt and the end, fringed, fell casually halfway down his leg. He reminded her of a matador. He was tanned, but what caught her eye like a flash of lightning were his bright aquamarine eyes.

  Letting herself down into the boat awkwardly while she held his hand, Daisy told him where she wanted to go. She was somewhat weak in the legs—and not from physical exhaustion—from the proximity of the fellow.

  “I could have walked,” Daisy began, trying to sound unaffected by the presence of the good-looking gondolier, “but I just had to ride in one of these gondolas. They look so relaxing and I might never get the chance again.”

  “It is spectacular!” the gondolier exclaimed. “You will not regret it, not even for a single moment.”

  As soon as Daisy was settled on the padded seat of the boat, she felt the craft moving slowly away from the 'riva'. She was glad in a way that she was facing forward and that the handome gondolier was behind her. She could feel the hot blush in her face and she guessed it would now be about the color of his sash. She wondered whether or not he was married or had a girlfriend. He must have one or the other, she told herself, as attractive as he was. And though she didn't know for sure, she was disappointed anyhow.

  Soon, they were cruising easily along the canal, and the water, sounding like a kitten drawing milk from a saucer, lapped against the oak sides of the gondola.

  “You are a very pretty woman,” Daisy heard the gondolier say in his smooth, Italianized English. The remark had come as a bit of a surprise. “Your husband must be very happy. You should have brought him along with you.”

  Daisy corrected him right off. “I'm not married,” she said, not bothering to turn around and trying to sound miffed. “And I'm here strictly on business.”

  “That is spectacular but not very right. Venice, it is for romance—for love! Where is there a better place?” She could tell he was a good talker. She didn't say anything. “This man you are going to see, I know him well. Raphael has sold us many coins, my father and me, but strangely, numismatics is not his specialty. He is an art dealer and one of the very best. He has a thorough knowledge of the art world and he can tell at a glance if a painting is genuine or if it is not. He is spectacular for sure.”

  Daisy's ears had perked to attention when she heard the word 'coins'. “You are a coin collector? You and your father?”

  “Yes, signorina....May I ask what is your name? Me, I am Ferdinando.”

  “What do you collect?” Daisy asked.

  “I have sets of Soldi,” Ferdinando said. “My father, he has gold Soldi which are very rare and expensive....But, you have not told me your name.”

  A boat ambulance suddenly appeared out of nowhere with red and white lights flashing, its siren blaring; it sliced close by them leaving a frothy wake and waves that rushed over, rocking the gondola.

  “My name is Daisy.”

  “It is the name of a flower. 'Margherita' is what we call it in Italian. That is spectacular!”

  Daisy began to laugh quietly. “A margarita is a drink too.” She turned halfway round on the bench, laying her arm along the back so she could catch a glimpse of him when she spoke. “So, Ferdinando, what can you tell me about Raphael Domanico? Is he nice to deal with? I mean, does he give you a hard time when you're buying a coin or trying to get it for a better price?”

  “He never changes his mind on the price,” Ferdinando said, not entirely thinking about what he was saying but rather contemplating asking the pretty woman to meet him somewhere in the evening. “Once Raphael gives you a price, that's it. He will not budge. He is not easily fooled, that I can tell you.”

  At the Grand Canal, Daisy took a 'vaporetto', or water bus, to the Riva del Vin, near the Rialto Bridge and, with only a little searching, came upon Pinacoteca Domanico.

  It was just a small shop all by itself at the bottom of an old salmon-colored building in a shady little alley. There was a small Phoenix palm in a terra cotta pot out front looking quite forlorn and forgotten. Daisy hesitated before going in. The shop seemed so dark and inhospitable, but she saw a light toward the back. She found it hard to believe that such a place could yield treasure. She was still thinking about Ferdinando, the gondolier, when she put her hand on the door to go in. She took a deep breath and braced herself for the encounter of her life.

  Raphael Domanico turned on all the lights and the paintings on the walls in their lovely frames came to life like
fresh new photographs. He stood waiting at the back beside an old oak desk. He could easily appreciate the plain beauty of the woman walking confidently towards him and he was impressed.

  “I have only been open for a few minutes,” he told her at once, “and it is a compliment to have someone come early for an appointment....You are Daisy, are you not?”

  “Yes, of course. And thank-you so much for having me here and for your interest in our auction company. We'll be able to market your coin far better than anyone, I can assure you.” Daisy shook Mr. Domanico's hand, surprised that it was cool and clammy. She figured that maybe he was as nervous as she was. He reminded her of a sharp, successful, middle-aged businessman, with his fluffy dark hair combed back and all in place, the determined look on his face, his well-pressed black slacks and his sport shirt with its motif of tiny black and silver rectangles. She didn't miss the minuscule cell phone either that seemed to cling magically to his waist. “I brought my microscope, Mr. Domanico. Authentication of this gold piece is going to be mandatory, I'm sure you understand.”

  “You can call me Raphael, please. There is no need for formality. Come. Sit down.”

  Daisy sat at the desk across from the art dealer. He offered
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