John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

Maria was gone. And when he tried to remember the name of the one who always came on at four, there was a blank spot in his brain where the name should have been. Thelma was sleeping again, and the motorized bed had been cranked down to flatness. There was a small lamp with a pink shade on the night table. The draperies were pulled across the windows. He could hear the rain beginning, the big drops first, and he heard the thunder move closer.

He remembered he had told the housekeeper he would eat down at the club but he could not remember if he had made a date with anyone. It was too early to go down there. If he went now, he would drink too much.

He went into the closet in his study, turned on the light and worked the combination on the barrel safe in the closet wall. He took out a small package and placed it on his desk blotter. The tiny ivory carving was wrapped in a square of soft dark red cloth. It was a netsuke of the eighteenth century, carved by Masanao of Kyoto, a toggle once used by the Japanese to hold the partitioned box which contained personal possessions, the cord between box and toggle threaded behind the sash.

He examined it through a glass. It was a seated rat, tail curled around its body, scratching its ear with one hind paw. The large eyes were inlaid. It was signed on the belly in an oval reserve. The toned ivory had minute age cracks, one of them crossing the right eye. It was a splendid piece by one of the great masters. His London agent had bid it in at Sotheby’s for twelve thousand pounds, over eighteen thousand dollars with the buyer’s premium on the hammer price.

He stroked the elegance of the ivory with the tip of his finger, and he had the feeling the glossy eyes were looking at him. One day, he thought, I will have the finest collection of Masanao netsuke in the world. The Loomis collection. And I will give it to one of the great museums of art. Already he owned ten superb pieces.

He folded the ivory rat carefully into the cloth, put it in the safe and spun the dial. Because the rain was still coming down after he had changed, he drove down to the club.

“Hey, there he is!” the guys yelled. “Hey, Tuck! Over here! What kept you?”

And he smiled to think that if he told them what had kept him, they would begin to believe he was losing his wits.


Wade Rowley finally found the Feeney place in the late afternoon on Wednesday, the twenty-third of July. It was west of the city beyond the solid waste dump which drained toxic wastes down into the broad salt marsh, and was the object of endless meetings, resolutions and demands, none of which changed the fact that there was no other sanitary landfill site available at the present time.

The dirt road turned right off Lamarr, and the heavy rains of Sunday night and Monday had scoured the dust and left puddles in the ruts. In the heat of late afternoon he could smell the murky acid of the dump and hear the bulldozers grunting and shoving.

There was a mailbox out by the end of the driveway, shaded by an old live oak, with FEENEY printed on it in crooked capitals. The narrow lot was deep, and the travel trailer was parked toward the back of the lot, between two live oaks bigger than the one out by the road.

Wade parked his blue Ford in the shade near the trailer, turned the engine off and got out. He heard a shrilling of insects, a mockingbird in the oak tree and an intermittent rumbling sound which he finally identified as a dog growl. It was a big mottled dog with a broad head and a deep chest. It was in a wire run next to the trailer, sitting like a library lion, pale yellow eyes watching him as it growled. He started to go toward the trailer to knock on the door, but the dog stood up and increased the volume, pulling his lips back in a snarl. The chicken wire looked flimsy. Wade went back to the car, opened the door and blew the horn.

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