A quarter to five in the morning. The streets were barren. The summer heat, lingering all night, oozed from the black asphalt. The moon, luminous and full, dominated the sky. The stars were fading. Bailey locked the door of his small apartment. He lit a cigarette. It was freight day at the store. He would meet the owner at five a.m. as usual to unload the truck. It would be a long day.
Bailey walked down the street between the school and the Bettencourt house. Tom Bettencourt was a successful trucker, a giant of a man with wavy black hair that covered his head, arms and chest, dark thick skin, and perfect white teeth. He always appeared in blue jeans with a white T-shirt, the sleeves cut off, slightly soiled from his work. There was something primitive about him. He was handsome but threatening like a sleek wild animal, someone to b admired only at a distance. He was intensely jealous of his wife. Oola Bettencourt was beautiful and sexy with pure white skin, short hair black as coal, and long legs that had been a popular topic of conversation in the local bars. In the summer she wore white shorts and tight colored T-shirts, in the winter short colored skirts, revealing floral blouses and wool coats. The local women, wives of farmers and tradesmen, devout and proper, scorned her.
Bailey thought about Oola as he walked by her house. He was a loner, a vagabond, a handyman by trade, yet he had become good friends with Mrs. Bettancourt. Oola dreamed of a beautiful fur coat but her husband, who loved every dollar that he’d made more than life, refused to purchase such an extravagance. Oola grew furious with her husband. This is how Bailey came to be a friend of a woman that other men feared because of the disarming nature of her beauty and the ferocity of her husband.
Bailey reached the warehouse behind the grocery store at precisely 5 a.m. The door was already open as was the back of the truck. Peggy, the owner of the store, was talking to the driver. “Ah, here is Bailey, right on time.”
“No use arriving early,” said Bailey soberly. “I get paid from 5 and I work from 5. Let’s get to it.” This was a joke of sorts. Bailey didn’t get paid by the hour. Everything he did for Peggy was in trade for the apartment she maintained for him and for the food she gave to him from the store. Some said she expected him to sleep with her but this cannot be confirmed.
Bailey positioned the movable link of the conveyor belt between the fixed section in the warehouse and the ramp on the back of the truck. Lonnie, the driver, climbed up into the truck and started sending boxes down the conveyor belt. The conveyor belt consisted of metal tracks with wheels over which the boxes were propelled by gravity. Bailey and Peggy unloaded the boxes as they came down the line into neat piles in the middle of the warehouse. Later Bailey would put the boxes away in their appropriate spaces making sure to rotate the stock.
“The moon was beautiful this morning as I walked down to the store.”
“A real harvest moon,” said Peggy. She minced few words. She was short and stocky with cropped blond hair and wore thick glasses with sturdy frames much larger than her deep blue eyes. Bailey thought she was one tough character. So did most of the people who knew her. Her sense of humor was deceptive. At heart, she was all business. “Lonnie, get a leg on. We haven’t got all day, ya’know? We must put these boxes away before the store opens at 8.”
All the freight was stacked into piles in the warehouse by a quarter to six. Lonnie closed up the truck and left on his way to the next stop. In the mix there were a few items for Schneiderman’s bakery. Bailey put them on the handcart and took them three doors down the back alley. Felix Schneiderman made the best donuts in town not to mention his cream blitzes and fruit butterhorns.
“Gut day Bailey. Pleeze dump de flour into de bin. Zee, I am too busy var do it myself vit zeeze blitzes.”
“Sure Felix, how’s your wife?”
“Ah, she speak wid de devil. Keep us out of da grave vor more day. Ve’re too old for dis job. Vork, vork, vork.” Felix was medium height and stout. He wore a white apron spotted with fruit stains and smears of flour. He looked like mix of Kandinsky and Salvador Dali. His wife was short, plump, red faced, fair skinned and wore her hair in a tight bun. She ran him around like a tyrant. Bailey laughed to himself. He imagined her bending over to touch her toes and rolling down the street like a bowling ball.
“Oh, come on Felix, you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you didn’t come in here every morning at 3 a.m. How about a dozen donuts and a few blitzes and butterhorns for the crew at the store?”
“Vy not, go ahead, steal zee sweat vrom my vrow. You bring me boxes and cink I owe you zee world.”
“Not me Felix, Peggy. You know how she loves your sweets.”
“Ya, ya. Jez get away of here before my vife finds out.”
On the way back to the store Bailey ate one of the donuts. Bailey was tall. He had curly red hair with white skin and freckles. He was not particularly attractive or unattractive. He was a mystery to everyone in town. No one knew much about him, not even Peggy who took him under her wing and paid for his apartment in exchange for his help around the store. In his free time, he did odd jobs around town. Everyone liked him but some said there had been a dark side to his past. He was like many of those hobos and bums that hung around the outside of diners in the small towns of northern California in those quiet days of the fifties. He had strong hands and a thorough knowledge of practical things acquired over the years. He was useful to have around. He was adept at carpentry, plumbing, and wiring and he could spear an animal with an arrow at a hundred paces, gut it and skin it and cure the skin.
“What did you bring us Bailey,” grinned Peggy, “and what did you steal along the way?”
“A dozen donuts, some blitzes, and a few butterhorns. Old man Schneiderman complained as usual about how he gets the short end of the stick. Once I mentioned your name, he became meek and agreeable.”
“No doubt, the old windbag. He still owes me for last week’s supplies. He can bake but he has no idea how to run a business. He lets those school kids rob him blind.”
It was 9 a.m. Oola stood naked in front of the mirror in her bedroom admiring her body. She went to the cabinet where she kept the tiny fur skins—the first ones from the Chinchillas she had been raising with Bailey’s help. She took one out and brushed it softly against her skin. She held it to her neck and looked into the mirror. She smiled. The contrast between her black hair, white skin, and the soft gray Chinchilla fur was strikingly beautiful. She stood hypnotized for a few minutes then tossed the small fur piece back into the drawer with the others, closed the drawer, and walked into the bathroom to shower.
Bailey had finished putting away the boxes in the warehouse and stocking the shelves in the store. There wasn’t much left to do so Peggy let him have the rest of the morning off. She asked him to come back later in the afternoon in case something came up. The summer sunlight blinded him as he walked out of the store. He turned and walked in the opposite direction of the sun along the same path that he had come to work. He walked without thinking, without feeling until he came to a small garden by the school. He sat on the soft ground under a tree and was soon fast asleep.
In his sleep he dreamed he was driving a harvester on his own farm. The golden stalks of barley swayed in the wind ahead of him. He picked a point on the horizon and used it to help him drive in a perfectly straight line. He turned again and again as he reached the edge of the field to make another pass. It was hot and dusty work and his skin itched from the bits of chaff that floated down and stuck to it. It wasn’t a bother to him. After all, this was his farm. For once he was working for himself.
A small animal ran in front of the harvester. Bailey couldn’t stop the harvester in time. When the harvester came to a stop, Bailey climbed down. There was a rabbit under the blades. One of its legs had been severed. The rabbit was shaking. It looked up at him, pleading for help with its large brown eyes. He picked it up gently and carried it to the harvester. He put it in his lunch box with a soft towel, and he saved the leg.
That night he treated the rabbit’s wound and dressed it. He fed the rabbit and cared for it tenderly until it began to hop around on three legs. Once it was strong enough, he let it go out by the river. By then, the barley had been baled and sold. The field had been tilled. At night he sat on his deck in the warmth of the late summer evenings and smoked. He wondered whatever happened to the rabbit. He felt in his pocket for the rabbit’s foot that he carried with him for good luck.
Oola emerged from the shower. She dried off with a towel but when she looked into the mirror she saw not a towel but a beautiful Chinchilla fur coat. She pulled the coat luxuriously around her naked body and admired the twin staring back at her. But then something bizarre happened. The Chinchilla coat came alive. Little rodent heads appeared in all directions, their sharp teeth biting into Oola’s soft skin. Dark red blood appeared over her, first in droplets, then in streaming rivers. She scratched at her skin with her sharp nails to get the animals away. She screamed. She fell back knocking the glass flower vase out the window. It crashed on the brick walkway below. As she fell, she hit her head on the sharp edge of the counter. She was dead in a minute.
Bailey awoke from his dream when the vase hit the bricks. He was startled and confused until he realized the vase had come from Oola’s bathroom window.
“Oola, are you o.k?” He yelled, but there was no answer.
“Oola,” he yelled again, but was answered only by the breeze and the sound of bees in the honeysuckle bush outside her window.
Bailey rushed to her door. He knocked but there was no answer. Sure that something terrible had happened, he threw caution to the wind, broke into the house and ran upstairs. There he saw Oola with her coal black hair, her white skin, and her body lying on the floor with blood flowing from the wound in her head.
“My God,” he screamed. “Help, help!”
One neighbor heard the screams and came running, and then another. Someone called the police. Bailey covered Oola with towels.
The official investigation ruled it an accident, but the neighbors blamed Bailey. He was the one alone with Oola. The rumor started that Bailey had tried to rape Oola and when she refused him, he’d killed her to cover up his crime. Tom Bettancourt vowed to get revenge. Bailey knew he was finished in the small town, a town that he’d grown to love. Peggy insisted he move from the apartment and asked him not to return to the store. He left after the incident. Just disappeared. He was never seen again. Some said he had started a Chinchilla farm in Southern California. Tom Bettancourt was never able to locate it. Felix Schneiderman was known to say after drinking his Schnapps on a Saturday night: “Zat Bailey, I zink he work out a deal wid da Devil.”