“Boys, dinner’s ready,” Betty called out.
No matter how far away Zach and Charlie were, or what they were doing at that particular moment, they always seemed to hear Betty call them when it was time to eat, and come running just like young boys.
Betty was good for Zach and Charlie; she loved them and they loved her. They also loved her cooking. She enjoyed cooking for them and loved being appreciated.
It was Saturday, May 21, 1937; six months after Zach and Charlie purchased the shop and promoted Betty as manager. Charlie and Betty were seeing each other now on a regular basis, and like every Saturday, Betty visited Zach and Charlie, cooked and ate dinner with them. She often prepared Creole dishes that were passed down from generation-to-generation. This evening Betty was preparing Shrimp Etouffee.
All the women in Betty’s family were remarkable cooks. Her mother’s maiden name was Julia Lavolier, and she was originally from Louisiana. Before marrying Betty’s father, Darin Washington, both of Betty’s parents were born and raised in Morgan City, Louisiana until they married and moved north to Oakland, California. Betty’s father worked for a fishing fleet in New Orleans and took the position as a marine mechanic supervisor in San Francisco. He worked in Fisherman’s Wharf for over twenty-five years.
Usually after dinner, Zach, Charlie and Betty would go out for ice cream, or go see a movie together. They always had a good time and enjoyed each other’s company, but that particular evening Charlie wanted to go for a walk to Piedmont Park. The park was pristine and clean with a gorgeous creek with ducks and park benches. Betty asked Zach if he wanted to come along, but he didn’t feel like going. He was already relaxed on the couch with his newspaper. He was all set with his coffee and plate of Betty’s homemade carrot cake on the end table. “You go ahead, I’ll stay home with Daisy and read the paper.”
Daisy had grown to 70 pounds, but she still was a puppy at heart. She had a short black shiny coat with a white tip on her tail. She had large paws that looked as if she were wearing white socks, and she had a white strip that ran down her forehead ending over her jowls. She was also content staying home with Zach and chewing on her bone.
“Ya need anything while we’re out?” Charlie asked.
“Nah, I’m good,” Zach replied already immersed in his newspaper. “Just catching up on the news. Have fun kids.”
Charlie removed Betty’s sweater from the closet and held it for her as she slipped into it. “Okay Daisy,” Charlie said, “we’ll be back in a little while. You be a good girl for Uncle Zach.”
Daisy looked up at Charlie, wagged her tail, and then continued chewing on her bone.
“Bye Zach,” Betty said.
Zach lowered his paper for a moment. “Dinner was delicious, thanks again, Betty,” he said. “Good luck, Charlie.”
Charlie winked at Zach and then quickly closed the door behind them.
“What did Zach mean by that?” Betty asked.
“Oh, nothing. We were talking about something earlier, it’s not important,” Charlie said brushing off the subject.
They held hands as they walked together to the park. Betty wondered what Charlie was up to, but after a few minutes she brushed it off as well.
It was a beautiful evening. The temperature was crisp and enjoyable for walking. The park was only a few blocks away, and there was still another two hours of daylight left before the sunset. The neighborhood was peaceful and had virtually no crime. It wasn’t unusual for people to leave their doors unlocked and windows opened.
Back at the house Zach was deeply absorbed in his newspaper when Daisy suddenly started to growl for no apparent reason. “What’s the matter girl?” Zach said without looking at her.
Daisy wasn’t an aggressive dog, but now her growl became even more intense and vicious. Zach wondered why Daisy was acting so peculiar. Then suddenly Zach smelled a foul odor; it was like a mixture of raw onions and soot. The smell was vaguely familiar to Zach. The soot odor reminded him of the train he took the night he ran away from the carnival. What is that odor and where is it coming from?
Zach lowered his paper and became startled when he saw a strange man standing in the center of the living room. He was scruffy, and his clothes were filthy. Zach realized the smell wasn’t onions, but body odor, and it was growing stronger. Zach examined the man’s face. The man looked familiar, but he couldn’t place him.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” the man said.
Zach’s eyes grew wide when he heard his voice and saw the scar on his face. It was Lucas Diehl!
“Ya remember me now, huh?” Diehl said showing his gray-stained teeth.
“Yeah, you’re that dirty thief from the train,” Zach exclaimed. “What the hell ya want?”
Daisy stood near Zach’s side growling. The hair on her back was sticking up, and her tail was up and stiff. Her eyes were fixed on the squalid creature standing in their living room before them.
“Good memory, Zach.”
“How do ya know my name?”
“I just so happened to be in the area,” Diehl said. “We’re neighbors now ... well, practically. I recently took residence at the train yard in Frisco, but this is much nicer I must admit. Anyway, we use newspapers to build fires to keep warm when I ran across an article about you and that nigga, Charlie. Y’all been busy with a new shop, I see. Making lots of money have we?”
“We ain’t got no money! Now get the hell out!” Zach demanded.
Diehl surveyed the room with his deep-set eyes. “No money, huh?” Diehl said. “Well now, tell me how a freak and a dumb nigga end up with a house like this?”
“None of your goddamn business! Now get the hell out or—”
“Or, what?” Diehl asked. “What ya gonna do? Ya ain’t got that big nigga here to protect ya this time, so what ya gonna do?”
Zach calmly scanned the room. If I only had a gun or weapon of some kind. He noticed the fireplace poker hanging in the stand on the hearth. Perfect, I’ll crack him over the skull with that. I just gotta get to it. “Last warning ya dirty piece of shit! Now get out, before you get yours!” His legs began to shake. He could feel his stomach twist in a knot, and his heart began to pound hard against his chest.
Diehl tilted his head back and laughed. He found Zach amusing. At that moment, Zach sprung to his feet and leaped for the fireplace poker, but Diehl was too fast. By the time Zach got off the couch, Diehl was already at the hearth. He laughed even louder when he held the poker in his hand. “Is this what ya want?” Deihl asked. “Sorry, ya came up a little ... short.”
“Fuck you!” Zach said.
“Fuck me?” Diehl said as he stepped forward. His face stiffened as he raised the fireplace poker. He was about to strike Zach when suddenly Daisy lunged at him. She latched onto him, sinking her teeth deep into his leg. Diehl cried out. Then he began striking her hard on her side. He struck her again and again until she released his leg with a sharp yelp.
“Daisy,” Zach shouted as he watched her fall to her side. Then he charged at Diehl, hitting him low in the legs catching him off balance, which caused them to crash onto the floor. Zach quickly climbed on Diehl’s chest before he had a chance to get up, and began pounding his fists furiously on his face.
When Charlie and Betty reached Piedmont Park, they found a bench to sit on to rest for a while. “I love it here, it’s so peaceful,” Betty said. The she snuggled up against Charlie for warmth. They quietly watched two ducks swim along the edge of the water. Betty smiled at Charlie as she placed his huge arm around her and nestled closer to him.
“I love you, Betty,” Charlie said. Then he kissed her softly on the lips. Each time he kissed her, he felt as though he was drugged. He still couldn’t believe that she cared for him as much as she did. Other than Zach, Betty was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Zach managed to unleash multiple punches before Diehl struck back with a blow that landed flush on his chin. The punch caused Zach to fall back and crumble onto the floor. He was no match for Diehl. He did, however, put up a good fight, but he was just too small. Diehl had at least two feet on him, weighed at least fifty pounds more, and was filled with pure evil.
Diehl grabbed Zach and lifted him up over his head. Then he slammed Zach hard onto the coffee table, smashing it into pieces. He stood over Zach and smiled before he began kicking him viciously, enjoying every minute of it.
Each time Zach tried to crawl away, Diehl would grab his leg and drag him back to the center of the room. He continued kicking and stomping on Zach’s back and ribs. Zach knew Daisy was either severely injured or dead. His only hope was for Charlie to come home and rescue him. “Charlie, help!” Zach cried out in desperation.
“How ya like that ya little shit?” Diehl shouted. “Ya thought ya was tough, huh? Well, this is what ya get for hitting me!”
Diehl straddled Zach and began punching him relentlessly. Soon his face was covered in blood and began to look like raw meat.
As the sun began to fall towards the horizon, Charlie gazed into Betty’s eyes. He thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. He held her hands in his, and began rambling about how they only had known each other for a short amount of time, and how he had no family except for Zach. Then he told her how a family was the most important thing to him, and how he wanted her to be part of it.
It wasn’t clear to Betty where Charlie was going with all his rambling until he finally got down on one knee. Then he removed a small box from his pocket and opened it. When Betty looked inside it, she saw the most beautiful engagement ring.
“Betty, I know I’m not much to look at with this chewed up ear and all, but I love you with all my heart. I fell in love with you the moment I saw you. I want you to be my wife and the mother of my children. I want us to make a beautiful family together. Will you marry me?”
“Oh, Charlie, you’re a beautiful person inside and outside. I don’t care how your ear looks. You will always be my handsome prince. And yes, Charlie, I will marry you.”
They kissed passionately until she playfully pushed him away. “So, this is what Zach meant by wishing you luck,” Betty said. “So, he knows?”
“Yep, c’mon, let’s go tell him the good news,” Charlie said as he sprung to his feet.
Diehl stood in Zach’s room wearing a smile. In his hand, lay a small stack of dollar bills. He was proud of himself and what he had accomplished that evening. The weeks of stalking had finally paid off. He finally got his revenge, well, part of it anyway, and a little cash bonus to boot. He still felt that he needed to get Charlie back for the beating he gave him on the train. He felt it was an obligation he had to fulfill; a promise he had made to himself.
Diehl was getting bored with San Francisco, but had gotten an adrenaline rush from beating Zach. He wanted to keep up the thrill since he was enjoying himself now. Diehl left the house smiling and thinking of Charlie, and how he would be next.
When Charlie and Betty returned to the house, they noticed the front door ajar. Something didn’t feel right to Charlie, the house was dark and still. They entered the house cautiously, and when they turned on the lights they couldn’t believe their eyes. The exhilaration they had felt earlier immediately vanished and was replaced with shock.
The living room looked as though a tornado went through it. The coffee table and end tables were smashed into pieces, the couch was flipped over, and debris was scattered throughout the room. It looked like a complete disaster area. “What the heck happened? Where’s Zach and Daisy?” Charlie said out loud.
Betty stayed close to Charlie as they entered the living room. They scanned the room and found traces of blood on the floor. “Oh my ... what on earth happened?”
Near the couch they found Daisy. She was on the floor, on her side, and her breathing was labored. She was in bad shape. She couldn’t move, and she looked as though she was in pain. “What happened, girl?” Charlie said. He began to feel sick to his stomach, and his legs felt weak. His throat suddenly became dry; it became difficult for him to swallow. He went to Daisy and examined her to see where she was hurt. When he touched her side she yelped and startled him. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Daisy. What happened? Where’s Zach?”
Daisy rested her head facing the overturned couch and whimpered.
“Charlie, the couch!” Betty said.
Charlie grabbed the side of the couch and raised it enough to see what was under it. “Oh my God!” he said. Then he tossed the couch to the side.
Betty rushed to Charlie’s side. She covered her mouth and turned her head. She couldn’t bare to look. Zach’s body was covered in blood. His face was so swollen and bloody that they barely recognized him. Charlie quickly checked his pulse and then pressed his ear against his chest. “I’ll call the police,” Betty said as she quickly ran to the phone.
“I think he’s still breathing!” Charlie said. He took a hold of Zach’s hand. “Hang in there, Zach! Hang in there! Help is on its way!”