“Otis, tell me, what were you doing last night?” Trevor Monroe asked with a sneer.
Otis frowned. Monroe, sixty-nine, seized the silver knob of his walking cane tighter.
“I told you the boy’s mine. Keep your hands off him,” the plantation owner said.
“Yes, sir,” Otis replied with a bow to Monroe. “I assure you, Sir, I have no interest in him.”
Monroe gave his steward a haughty look and walked on. Otis gave him the finger and spat on the ground. He wasn’t interested in men. He liked wide hips and big breasts. He liked Missy, a new import from the Dark Continent. Otis couldn't pronounce her real name, he didn’t speak her language and she didn’t speak his, but it didn’t really matter. Missy had quickly understood what he wanted and that serving him was good for her. Otis smiled. He would have to make up a name for her soon, but he would call her Missy for now.
Otis didn’t mind that Master Monroe liked boys. Monroe had told him that a boy was more like a girl than a man anyway. According to the Bible, there was nothing wrong with his orientation. Monroe showed Otis the relevant passage, John 13:23: Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples whom Jesus loved. The words left no doubt and Otis wondered why people didn’t see their true meaning. He didn’t really care, however, what people believed and he guessed that Trevor Monroe was right, in a sense.
What really bothered Otis was that the boy’s mother had died of pneumonia. Master Monroe claimed she had picked up the disease in Africa. He claimed that whatever sickness befell a slave originated from the Dark Continent. If true, Otis mused, then Africa was a widely plagued area. Anyway, the woman had died, leaving her ten-year-old son Boy behind, unprotected and at the mercy of his master. Everybody knew that Master Monroe had an interest in the boy. It was wrong in Otis’ eyes, not because of Monroe’s orientation or the age of the boy, mind you, it wasn’t his business, but everybody knew that Trevor Monroe had fathered the boy. This very fact was a shame to Otis' eyes because the relationship was a case of incest. Otis loathed incest. The mere thought of it made him feel sick. Otis felt he needed to do something to whitewash the shame, something acceptable to God, something big probably, something that would please Him.
Otis entered the place where the farm factories were located. Three workers were piling up deadwood to fire the engines. The sight made Otis think of a bonfire, a pyre with purgatory flames. A passage from the Bible came to his mind. Gen 22:2: And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains. The meaning of the scripture passage left no doubt either. Otis was thinking.
He stopped pondering at night when he was leaning on Missy’s bosom. God had saved his son Jesus and God had saved Abraham’s son. An act of faith was the solution. Otis sat up. Missy looked at him from under her lashes and let out a grunt. Otis ignored her. He grabbed his clothes, dressed and hastened towards the farm buildings, leaving Missy in the field where they had met. He felt the urge to act quickly but then he forced himself to slow down. He needed a well-thought-out plan.
Otis stopped in front of the deadwood pile, thinking. An accident when firing the engines could easily set the farm factories on fire. A burnt bone would provide evidence for the boy’s death. But how could it be done? The solution was simple. The thought of the implications, however, made Otis feel sick. He took a deep breath to fight the unpleasant feeling. He clearly had to face a trial and he wanted to do something big to whitewash the shame. His courage, however, faded the following morning and Otis refused to think of what he now thought was a blasphemous plan.
Otis almost forgot about his self-imposed challenge until a night six weeks later when he went to see Missy in the field. She wasn’t alone. She was sitting on the ground, her arms wrapped around Boy. Missy talked to Otis in her odd language. Otis didn’t understand a word but grasped her sign language. Master Monroe had abused the boy again. Boy was crying. He was apparently in pain. Otis sensed God’s scrutinizing eyes on him. The time had come to put his plan into action.
Missy and Boy spoke the same language. The boy, despite his condition, acted as their translator. Otis told Missy to take Boy to the women’s quarters. He waited until they were gone, then headed back to the farm buildings and got a shovel, an oil lamp and a sac. Despite his disgust, Otis hurried to the place where the slaves’ graves were located. A girl about Boy’s age had died the previous year. Otis sneaked about until he found the gravestone. Lucille was carved on it. Otis started digging until he found the remains.
The sight and the stench made him almost faint, but Otis forced himself to continue. He grabbed a skeleton foot. It was attached to the shinbone. Otis dragged and threw the whole leg into the sac. He hesitated and then retrieved the whole skeleton. Dawn was near when he had completed his task. Otis hid the sac and returned to his room. He washed his body with soap and water. He doubted the nauseous smell would ever leave him again, but he finally gave up washing and slumped down on his bed.
Two days passed by. Otis was barely able to behave normally. He had to force himself to not run from Trevor Monroe every time he saw the man. Otis went to see Missy and Boy two days later at night in the field. He told them of his plan. Missy was frightened, but a gleam in her eyes showed that she saw a chance that she no longer had hoped for. The woman agreed to his plan.
The following morning, Missy pretended to be sick. She was a good actor. The symptoms grew worse every day. Otis told Trevor Monroe that the woman suffered from pneumonia or something worse, something she had picked up in Africa and something that might be infectious. Like Otis had expected, Master Monroe wasn’t pleased with the news. Otis told him that he would travel to the slave market the following day. He advised selling Missy before her health deteriorated. Her body was still in good shape. Master Monroe signed all relevant papers. Otis told him that he would leave before dawn. One problem was solved. Otis would solve the other problem at night.
It was dark when Otis sneaked into one of the factory buildings. He fired the wood-burning stove and spread the skeleton parts, a pair of worn boots that Boy had inherited from his mother, and cotton rags in front of the stove. Otis made sure that the rags would catch fire, albeit not too soon. He shut the smoke exhaust flap and the windows, locked the doors, and then got his horse from the stable. It was two hours until dawn. Nobody was around. The farm was quiet. Otis met Missy and Boy in the field. They climbed the horse. Missy sat behind and Boy in front of Otis. They left the farm and moved on small paths where chance was low that someone would spot them. They stopped at nightfall and hid not far from a place where escaped slaves gathered to meet people smugglers.
“I cannot do more for you two,” Otis said. “I know where to get a false contract of sale and I’ll pay the sale revenue to Monroe from my own savings. I have saved that much.”
Boy translated and Missy nodded. Otis handed them a few coins. Missy kissed him on his lips. Otis was perplexed. She had never before kissed his lips. Otis saw fear in her eyes but also determination. Boy just stared at him with widened eyes. Otis gave them a final nod, then departed and didn’t look back. He had little hope they would make it but he prayed they would. It bothered him a lot.
Otis got what he wanted on the slave market, a false contract of sale and a male slave, a new import from Africa. Back at the plantation, he was told that Monroe's favorite boy had set fire to a building and had died by the fire. Master Monroe, outraged, had personally given two men a whipping until he broke down because of exhaustion. He was bed-stricken now. Otis did not even pretend he cared.