Maybe I Was Right to Be Scared

WelcomeWhen I was in the interior landscape business, most of my clients were businesses. We contracted to maintain plants in hotels, restaurants, office buildings, and other businesses. However, we had a few individual clients who hired us to care for their plants in their homes. One of our residential clients owned a chain of retail businesses, and he became well-known in the community for appearing in the television advertisements for his company.

My staff and I always served the homeowners with the utmost professionalism, even though the man and his wife were both often rude to us. They treated us more like servants than contractors providing a service.

They had two atriums inside the house—one off the living room and one off the master bath. Shortly after I returned to work after my stroke, a leak developed in the atrium off the bathroom, and the homeowners asked us to remove all the plants from both areas so they could have the atriums sealed. We removed the plants and stored them in our greenhouse for a couple of months.

I didn’t charge them any extra for removing and returning the plants, but I continued to invoice them for the regular monthly maintenance fee. They questioned the bill, saying we shouldn’t charge them since we didn’t have to go to their home to maintain the plants. I explained that we were still providing the service, albeit it was in our facility rather than their home. However, I incurred extra expenses in removing and returning the plants, and they were taking up space in my facility that should be used for inventory. I was being generous in not charging them extra for the added costs. Reluctantly, they paid the invoices.

After we re-planted the atriums, I visited the home on a quality control visit. I don’t recall if the wife or the maid let me in, but I do recall that the husband was in the swimming pool in the back yard. No one paid any attention to me as I checked the plants in both atriums.  

However, as I left through the front door, the homeowner dashed around the side of the house and accosted me on the front porch.He was a large man, and I was surprised he could move so fast. He started berating me because the atriums didn’t look like they did before. I tried to explain that they wouldn’t look the same because we couldn’t get the plants back in the exact same position. In a little while, the plants would settle in place and grow again, and the atriums would look lush and full again.

The man started screaming and shaking his fist at me. I was still very weak from the stroke and had to sit down. There was no place to sit, so I dropped to the porch, which put me only a couple inches off the ground. This large man in a skimpy bathing suit towered over me, yelling and making threatening motions. I was absolutely terrified. He demanded that I remove all the old plants we had returned and replace them with new plants at no charge. He screamed that he would destroy my business if I didn’t do what he demanded.

The only other times in my life I have been so frightened were when I was robbed and molested at gunpoint and when I was attacked by a Doberman. The screamed threats and shaking fists and towering presence would have made me shaky had I been at full health. Since I was already weak and unsteady on my feet, the perceived danger made it almost impossible for me to get up from the ground-level concrete and walk to my car when he finally backed off a few inches, still yelling about what he would do to my business and my reputation.

I don’t think I said anything—just nodded and maybe mumbled something that could be taken as agreement. When I returned to the office, I looked up his account and tallied up how much money he had paid us for buying the plants in the first place and maintaining them for several years. I wrote him a check for the full amount and sent the check with a letter saying he could have the plants and the money, but no one from my company would ever go to his home again.

My staff all breathed a sigh of relief that they didn’t have to deal with these rude people any more, and I said a prayer of thanks that I was physically safe, even though I’d lost several thousand dollars. I still worried for some time that he would follow through on his threats to harm my business, but we never heard anything else from him or his wife.

Recently, I heard on the news that the man was arrested for solicitation of capital murder for hiring someone to murder his wife, who was planning to divorce him. I had often wondered if I overreacted that day—after all, I couldn’t really believe that a respected businessman would threaten me or physically harm me.  But if he would hire someone to kill his wife, he probably wouldn’t have any qualms about doing something to someone he considered a nobody.

I’m not identifying the man or linking to any of the articles or videos about the case. The man is innocent until proven guilty, after all, and while I’m not afraid—I am cautious. 

Creative Commons License photo credit: Nieve44/La Luz

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