The bell over the door jangled as the young, snub-nosed blonde woman walked into the candy shop.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Frankel,” she said cheerily.
“Good afternoon, Miss Gabriela. And how are you today?”
“I’m doing very well, thank you. Oh, and those chocolate mints I got from you last week were so wonderful. I loved them.”
“I’m so glad, Miss. Perhaps you would like another pound. On the house, of course.”
“Well, I would like some more, Mr. Frankel. But just half a pound, and I insist on paying for them. No wonder you own a candy store; you’re so sweet.”
They exchanged more pleasantries, and Mr. Frankel handed Gabriela her candy and an envelope.
“Thank you, Mr. Frankel. I’ll see you next Thursday.”
“I’ll look forward to it, Miss Gabriela.” And the bell over the door announced her departure.
Gabriela went next door to the cheese shop and another bell told the proprietor of her visit.
“Ah, Signora Gabriela! Ciao, bella!”
“Ciao, Signore Lorenzo. Mmmmm. As fond as I am of the sweet scents at Mr. Frankel’s, I love your shop’s smells even more.”
“Come try this Gouda I got in just this morning. It’s aged to perfection! Some of the best I’ve ever tasted.”
Gabriela sampled the cheese and sighed deeply in appreciation. Signore Lorenzo offered her as much as she wanted, free of charge. As she did with Mr. Frankel, Gabriela purchased a small portion and put it in her bag, along with her candy. She also took an envelope from Signore Lorenzo before saying ciao again.
Next she came to a tailor’s shop.
“Mr. Ciprian, how are you and Mrs. Ciprian doing? Are you feeling better?”
A nervous older man beetled over to greet her. “Yes, Miss Gabriela, much better, thank you. And thank you so very much for the soups you had delivered to our home. It was so very thoughtful of you.”
“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Ciprian. I was only too glad to do it.”
“I’m sorry we weren’t here last week for your visit,” he said, a look of worry deepening on his face. “You spoke with Wanda, of course, but she…”
“Not at all, Mr. Ciprian,” Gabriela said, brushing it aside. “When you’re sick, the only sensible thing to do is to stay home and take care of yourself. And it’s so hard when you’re both down. I’m just glad to see you up and well again; that’s all that’s important.”
“Oh, well, thank you. Thank you.” He handed her two envelopes. “I had it ready, it’s just that Wanda…”
“You mustn’t give it a moment’s thought, Mr. Ciprian,” she said, smiling her pretty smile at him and laying her hand lightly on his arm. “Just take care of yourselves so you don’t have a relapse. Keep out of drafts.”
The tailor relaxed and smiled in return. “We certainly will, Miss Gabriela.”
Gabriela left and continued on her afternoon rounds. Everyone was pleased to see her, as they always were.
At the end of the day, she took the envelopes she had collected to Stefanos, the handsome Greek man who was her primary contact.
“They’re all there, Stefanos.”
“Good. The tailor was back, then?”
“Yes. He and his wife are feeling much better now. But you could see he’d been quite ill, the poor man. They’re all caught up.”
Gabriela chatted briefly with Stefanos. He gave her an envelope of her own and she left for home to put her shopping away.
Stefanos knocked on the door to his boss’ office. Someone inside opened it for him.
“This week’s collection, sir. It’s all here, including last week’s from the tailor.”
The boss removed a cigar from his mouth and his chuckle floated on the air with the smoke.
“What did I tell you about her, Stefanos?”
The underling grinned. “You were right, boss.”
“That girl’s the best bag man a protection racket ever had. Our clients can hardly wait to see her every week and hand over our money.”