By Gary Lewis
O'Jambo said he was worried about T. Roy and Bill Haltz said he had noticed it too. No date had been set, but RaeBelle was marshaling her forces and it looked apparent that a wedding was in T. Roy's immediate future. "And you know what that means," O'Jambo said. "The worst thing that could happen is he gets married in October."
A hush fell over all assembled. Everyone knew what an October wedding meant. October anniversaries. And guilt, till death do us part, at missing an important marital occasion because of hunting season. But then the subject of our conversation pushed through the door.
T. Roy walked in with a spring in his step and a sparkle in his eye. Beneath his arm, he carried a cardboard box, the contents of which, he said he would show us in due time. He bought the first platter of fried halibut and asked Charlie to bring out a dish of each of his custom tartar sauces.
Everything was going the way he wanted it, T. Roy said. "Couldn't be happier," he said. And he had a bleached-white black bear skull to show off to the assembled members of the Bear Mountain Gang.
He passed it around and Pistol Pete produced a set of calipers to measure it.
O'Jambo took bets as to the final score. Figley lost again and ended up buying the next pitcher of root beer.
T. Roy had just about forgotten about his bear hunt in the Great White North, he said. Till the skull showed up.
He hadn't forgotten entirely, we found out. He told us again all about how he got the big bear on the last day of the trip and that it was the biggest one of his life and the skull was probably a ‘Booner.' That was last spring.
He had got the taxidermist up from his dinner and arranged to have the bear hide tanned for a rug. When it came time to decide what to do with the skull, T. Roy said he told the taxidermist he wanted the skull sent to his home address.
He expected he would get it sometime after the beetles were finished with it.
And now it was summer, he explained, and unseasonably warm at that.
As sometimes happens, T. Roy had to be out of town for a few days to finish up a job on a boat and he asked RaeBelle to watch his place for him and pick up the mail.
Now RaeBelle is well-acquainted with T. Roy's habits. She allocated a Saturday to cleaning up his apartment. She took away the dead plants and replaced them with new starts from her own flowers.
After that, she stopped by each day to check the mail. It was a Monday when she found a note from the postal carrier taped on the door. It was one of those yellow pre-printed cards that direct the recipient to visit the nearest Post Office to sign for a package. In handwritten script, the postman had scrawled a message.
RaeBelle had planned to pick up her friend Cindy for lunch. They each had a Caesar salad and then shared a cucumber sandwich. RaeBelle suggested that her friend go to help her try out wedding dresses afterward. Because the Post Office was on the way, she took the slip and ducked inside.
The postmaster snatched the slip and produced a cardboard box roughly two feet long by two feet wide and reinforced by duct tape.
"I don't know what you got in there lady," he said. "But Uncle Sam don't pay me enough."
There was a strange odor, but the wind was blowing in off the bay. RaeBelle figured the smell was coming from the docks.
RaeBelle and Cindy continued on to the mall and spent the rest of the afternoon trying on dresses and looking at shoes. Next, they stopped for iced mochas and biscotti.
The temperature that afternoon climbed into the high-90s. By 4:00PM, a not-inconsiderable cloud of flies circled the little sedan, trying to find a way in to the car. A lot of them already had, judging by the tracks on the steamy windows.
RaeBelle took all the shortcuts back, with all the windows open. She tried to keep Cindy engaged in polite conversation, but it was difficult to talk over the heaving and gagging and screeching tires.
In front of T. Roy's apartment, she slid to a stop and jumped out. She picked up the cardboard box and, holding her breath, staggered up a flight of stairs and dropped the box. Fumbling with the key, she got the door open and picked up the box again. A stream of gray fluid leaked out of a crushed corner onto her new pumps.
Inside, she grabbed a pair of scissors, cut through the cardboard and peeled back the soggy pages of the Anchorage Daily News. A greasy black eye glared back at her.
When she didn't come right back, Cindy went inside looking for RaeBelle. RaeBelle was hunched over the sink. Cindy took one look inside the box. She didn't make it to the sink.
T. Roy returned home a few days later to another note on his door. This one from the landlord.
The neighbors had been complaining of a lingering smell of death that worsened with each day. They suspected T. Roy. Stray dogs frequented the property. The landlord was now on a first name basis with the owner of a certain beagle that had been howling on T. Roy's doorstep.
It turned out that the taxidermist had heard T. Roy say not to boil the skull, because he might lose an eighth of an inch of measurement and didn't make the connection that he should employ a troop of beetles instead. As the taxidermist explained later, he doesn't keep dermestid beetles, because it gets too cold in the winter and the beetles go looking for warmth, which means they end up crawling into bed with him and the missus. "Hope that old bear skull didn't cause you any trouble."
T. Roy was back on good terms with the neighbors. To make amends, he had brought them houseplants. To help clear the air, he told them.RaeBelle didn't have a lot to say about it, except that she feared the wedding might be delayed till the maid of honor was speaking to her again.