The big yellow truck with the nervous little man at the wheel came to the track every Thursday morning. The racetrack
did all of its business between Friday and Sunday so the delivery of hot dog buns on Thursday was critical. The race fans were interested in only two things, the probability of witnessing a dreadful automobile crash and getting their hands on one of Don's famous dime dogs.
"The Happy Bunny Bread Company" made deliveries to both residential and commercial clients but the Minnesota Speedway was the anchor of its trade. The track went through more Bunny buns in a single weekend than the rest of the bread company's customers ate in a month. The Thursday morning delivery to the track was vital so the Happy Bunny people assigned their most reliable driver.
Willy Gibbs was now pushing retirement age and he had been working for the bread company since he was eleven years old. His father actually founded "The Daily Bread Bakery" when Willy was a child but had been forced to sell out to the Happy Bunny people during the darkest days of the depression. His father stayed on after the sale and managed the company until his tragic death in the kneading machine in '38. Little Willy swept floors and cleaned the ovens until he was old enough to drive a delivery truck.
He took pride in his work and developed a genuine affection for almost everybody on his route. After some fifty years of delivering to the same addresses, Willy felt as if he was a member of many families. He had seen scores of people make the entire circuit from cradle to grave and had a hand in feeding every last one them. Willy's job was a vital one, in his estimation, and he came to think of himself as an instrument of God. He provided the daily bread for scores of hungry children.
Each morning, just before climbing into the big yellow truck with the blue bunny on the side, he'd recite the Lord's prayer aloud. Willy would mist up a little bit every time he got to the part about "our daily bread," thinking about his father and the little bakery he began. His father had given his life to answer this humble appeal and there was no doubt in Willy's mind that he was doing the Lord's work.
"Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us..."
Don was a rapscallion, not a scoundrel. This world was a playground to him and he reveled in poking fun at those who thought it otherwise. His pranks were rarely mean-spirited but the practical joker walks a fine line between tragedy and comedy and the banana peel isn't so funny if you're the one with a sore ass.
Don opened the first automobile speedway in the state of Minnesota but he had done so reluctantly. His chosen profession of barnstorming was legislated out of existence by a new bureau of the federal government called the Federal Aviation Administration. When he received the "cease and desist" warning, on fancy government letterhead, he thought it was some kind of practical joke. Why on Earth would the government care if he broke his neck in an aeroplane mishap?
The young daredevil continued crashing his old punch board and bailing wire biplane until the day he slammed into the side of a particularly stubborn hay barn. Don landed in the hospital with a broken collarbone and a roomful of unsmiling federal thugs. The G-men placed him under arrest for "reckless flight," as he lay in his hospital bed and Don came to the realization that the FAA wasn't joking.
He had a hankering for danger after decades on the edge so he turned to the next best thing. If he wasn't allowed to crash aeroplanes any longer he would switch to ground based mayhem and "The Minnesota Speedway" was born.
Don soon discovered that the fifty cents a head he was charging for admission barely supported the purses and the fees he paid to keep an ambulance handy. He became a master showman in the tradition of P.T. Barnum and had no trouble putting butts on benches but he would have to expand his profit potential if the track was to survive. One day his ten-year-old daughter stumbled on the missing ingredient. Little Mary complained that she was starving to death in the ticket booth so her mama brought her a plate of hot dogs and home fries.
The race fans were openly envious of her little banquet so Mary munched on the home fries and sold the two hot dogs to the highest bidders. She got seventy-five cents for one of them and a shiny silver dollar for the other. To her amazement the bidding war edged the value of the dogs past the price of admission and a companion industry was born. The little girl was often called on to work the ticket booth so she was accustomed to handling money but these were lean times and she had never even seen a silver dollar before. Mary couldn't wait to show her father.
Don was quick on the uptake and built the concession stand before the next weekend's races.
The delightful little girl who met him every Thursday at racetrack charmed Willy Gibbs but he dreaded the stop nonetheless. Little Mary was a peach but there was something unsettling about the girl's father. The owner of the Minnesota Speedway was not the kind of man that Willy Gibbs admired but the racetrack consumed Happy Bunny buns by the truckload so his duty was clear.
Mary's father seemed like a huckster to Willy, little better than a con man doing the Devil's work, flaunting his joie de vivre all the while. It was widely known that the speedway appealed to a base interest in potential tragedy and Willy believed that such a thing was indecent. He lived with his widowed mother and took her to church every Sunday, where the preacher would rail against "The Oval Demon" and the sin it engendered. The reverend sometimes referred to Mary's daddy by name, from the pulpit, as a trafficker in blood lust and beer. How, Willy wondered, could a man like that be blessed with such an angelic little daughter?
"Daddy, Daddy, the Bunny Man's coming!"
Thursday was Don's favorite day. The weekend was a blur of activity with the races and Monday through Wednesday was spent cleaning up the mess. Thursday was his day to admire what he'd built and to rest a bit on his laurels. Thursday also marked the arrival of the bread delivery guy who he lived to torment.
Don decided that if there was a God, that he must have put people like Willy Gibbs on this Earth simply for comic relief. Don couldn't abide people who took themselves too seriously and his mission in life was to see to their deflation. Willy Gibbs reminded Don of those humorless bastards at the FAA who had grounded him and poor Willy would have to pay for their transgression.
Don began to mimic his daughter and call Willy "The Bunny Man," sometimes to his face and always with a broad smile. The Bunny Man seemed to have no sense of humor whatsoever, which only served to fuel Don's amusement. He would try to outdo himself every week with a new prank hoping to either drive The Bunny Man insane or make him smile; whichever came first.
Willy didn't appreciate Don's sense of humor one little bit but he reined in his outrage for the good of the Happy Bunny Bakery. The racetrack was paying his salary, after all and he couldn't afford to alienate the owner. When he discovered that he had been made the butt of one of Don's practical jokes, he would simply shake his head and quote scripture.
Don felt that the religious readings he received from the Bunny Man were more than adequate spiritual guidance and he’d boast that it saved him from wasting a perfectly good Sunday in church.
"You know what to do, sweetie, when the Bunny Man goes to the concession stand, you go for his truck."
"Should I take them all, Daddy?"
"No, no, honey, we don't need all of them. Just grab six or seven, whatever you can carry."
Little Mary called it "The Bunny Man Game" and relished the larcenous bonding with her father. Her daddy was the smartest man on Earth so she never questioned his motives. One time he told her to put William, their pet goat, into the back of the Bunny Man's truck and at first she wondered why. William had a grand old time tearing into the baked goods so Mary figured Daddy was saving money on goat chow. She didn't have to ask him why he wanted to steal the empty bread racks from the Bunny Man's truck; she knew what they were for.
"Well I sure appreciate you carrying all those hot dog buns to the concession stand for me, Willy. That damned barnstormer's back kicks in when the barometer dips."
"It's, uh, my pleasure Mr. Thomas. Where do you want me to stack them?"
The look on Willy's face indicated anything but pleasure as he grunted and groaned under the combined weight of twelve steel racks full of weenie sheaths. He didn't like to leave his truck unattended for any length of time, ever since that little episode with the billy goat. The owner of the bakery took the goat losses out of his paycheck that week and threatened to fire him for his carelessness.
"Oh, right over there is fine. How's your mother, Willy?"
The Bunny Man was exceptionally gullible so he fell for Don's conversational delaying tactic.
"Oh, Mother is fine. She gets a little owly when her lumbago acts up but the doctor says..."
A flash of worry crossed his face and ceased the friendly chitchat abruptly.
"I've got to...umm...I'd better be...uh...getting back to the truck." Willy's face betrayed him with a nervous twitch. "Say...uh, you got that goat in a cage now?"
"Yes siree, Willy, I've made cages for the lot of them. C'mon I'll show you."
"I'll...uh...take your word for it. I'd better be getting on to the rest of my route, thanks anyway."
Willy was making a move for the truck when Mary's Daddy grabbed his arm.
"Aw, it'll only take a second. I welded the cages together myself and I'm sorta proud of 'em. C'mon Willy, there's a couple of 'em right over there, behind the house."
The two men walked from the concession stand toward the house, while Don carried on about how much money those pirates wanted for store bought cages and how he'd gotten a great deal on the arc welder
. The Bunny Man didn't hear a word of it though, because the Bengal tiger in the cage behind Don’s house transfixed him.
Willy had seen one before, in the National Geographic but the glossy photograph didn't do the feral beast justice.
"Dear Lord! Is that what I think it is?"
"If you're thinkin' she's a big bad Asian kitty cat, you're thinkin' clearly, my friend. The race fans go all gaga over her. I got her on the cheap 'cause she killed a zookeeper in Topeka; tore him to shreds. Quite a mess, I hear."
"Are you sure those cages are secure? You've got children, for Heaven's sake!"
"Sheba could gobble up little Mary without stoppin' to chew, no doubt about it but those cages are tighter'n the preacher's daughter, if you catch my meaning."
The Bunny Man would have been aghast had he heard Don's coarse reference but he was too busy scrutinizing the grated metal squares that comprised the cages. They seemed oddly familiar.
"Where'd you come up with all of the metal grating?"
Mary's Daddy smiled his biggest Thursday smile and told the Bunny Man the whole truth.
"Aw, just some stuff Mary found lying around."