Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chapter 16 and the Epilogue - The End...

Chapter 16

At the police station, Gwynne and Juliette were ushered into a waiting room against their will.  
“Not again,” said Gwynne.
“You’d better not leave us here all day like the last time, you wankers!” Juliette shouted.  
She just wanted to be by Petros’s side.  He looked incredibly pale before they carried him away.  With Mozer dead, she worried about his position with the police.  He had planned to testify against Mozer in order to get out of a harsh sentence for his history of petty crimes in the city.  But now, she wasn’t certain at all what would happen.  
Several minutes later, the door opened and the chief’s wife walked in with a basket of sandwiches and cups for soup.  She stopped when she saw the girls.  “You again?”
“Us again,” said Gwynne, waving weakly.
“You’ve really got to stay out of trouble.”
“It’s not us!  It’s the men.  They can’t seem to go a day without having some officer or another after them.”
“Where are they now?” she asked as she poured the steaming soup from a huge thermos into the cups.  
“Hopefully they’re still at the hospital.”
The chief’s wife looked at them, alarmed.  “What happened?”
“It’s a long story, but the short version is that they were both shot.”
“Oh my stars.”
“They’ll be fine.  But you know men.  One bullet and they’re whining like babies.” Gwynne said.
The chief’s wife nodded and smiled. Juliette snorted.  The soup and sandwiches were delicious, as always, and over the course of the next hour, they told the chief’s wife everything that had happened to them since last she saw them.  She refilled their soup and handed out extra halves of sandwiches until the plates stopped emptying.  
It felt good to talk about what had happened, and Gwynne let out some of the things she had been holding in the whole trip.  The chief’s wife listened attentively and nodded occasionally.  Juliette added her perspective occasionally, until they’d run out of words and a silence filled the space where the future would be.  
The chief’s wife stood and wiped her hands on the front of her pants. “Well, that’s quite a story.  And don’t you worry.  Your secrets are safe with me.  I’m not taking official statements.  Save those for the detective.  I hope your friends recover quickly and everything works out for you all.”
“Thank you. For everything,” Gwynne said, rising to hug the woman.  
She left the room, and the two women settled in to wait for however long it took them.  Two minutes later, the door opened and the detective entered.  
“I’m detective Panter,” he said in perfect English.  “I understand you ladies have a story for me.  
He placed a recording device on the table before asking them for their statements.  They told the story again, this time just the facts.  He took notes in addition to the recorder.  When they were done, he stood and thanked them.  “Do either of you have any questions about the process?”
Juliette put on her best doe eyes.  “What’s going to happen to my friend Petros?”
The detective looked back, unmoved.  “He will get what is due to him, but that isn’t for me to decide.  The trial will be held whenever he is fit enough to get out of the hospital.  After that, he’s at the mercy of the court.”
Before he left the room, he turned.  “And officer will be in to take you home.”
Gwynne looked at Juliette.  Juliette looked at the detective.  “We don’t really have a home, at the moment.”
He stopped.
Juliette continued.  “My apartment was given up when we were going to leave.  Petros’s apartment is a crime scene.  All of my stuff is in a storage unit that only Le Ours knows about.  The papers probably burnt up in the fire that left us without even a safe house to stay at.”
“There’s a government funded home for transients I can drop you at.”
The prospective didn’t sound appealing to either of them, but it beat living on the streets.  He had an officer take them there.  They rode in silence the whole way, decompressing after the tension of the last few days.  Gwynne couldn’t believe it was all over.  Although, it wasn’t really over; they couldn’t leave the country yet because of the court process.  Juliette just wanted to get back to her apartment.  She wondered if anyone had rented it yet.  
The government home was a large, squat set of buildings on a well-maintained plot of land.  They weren’t particularly remarkable in any architectural sense, just short flat rectangles with low-pitched roofs and front doors that contained no windows, just a peep hole.  After filling out paperwork and getting the blessing of the police officer, Juliette and Gwynne were put up in an olive building near the back of the plot.  Each home had a kitchen and bathroom, two bedrooms, and a small area designated as a living room.  The furnishings were sparse and cheap looking, but they were glad to have a space all their own.  
The police officer said he would look into her storage unit for Juliette.  He couldn’t guarantee they would find anything, but he expected one of the boys might know something about Le Ours’s backup records, if he kept any.  Juliette made him promise to find Adam and Petros and let them know where the girls were.
The seventeen now homeless boys were put up in the two homes next to Juliette and Gwynne’s.  They got an extra bedroom in each of theirs and bunk beds.  It was a tight squeeze, but they were used to living together and they would help each other cope with the loss of their benefactor.  The girls enjoyed having familiar faces around, although they might not admit to it.  
Later that day Juliette called her landlord from the office phone to see about her old apartment.  It had been rented almost immediately after she left by an older American couple looking for a reasonable place to live during retirement.  She hung up the phone after her landlord wished her luck.
When she got back to the house, she found Gwynne staring at a corner.  “Well, it’s rented.”
“You got it?”
“No.  Some old American couple rented it.  I’d feel bad getting them evicted, so I guess it’s on to plan B.”
Gwynne furrowed her brow.  “What’s plan B?”
Juliette sighed.  “I don’t know.  I was hoping you would have something.”
Gwynne thought for a moment.  “What about our original plan?”
Juliette plopped down on the firm sofa.  “Refresh my memory?”
“Going to Chicago.  Living in the city.  You know, getting away from it all.”
“Forgive me if I’m not jumping at the chance, but look at how well it ended up for you.”
Gwynne ran a hand over her bullet hole.  It was healing nicely, but it still itched occasionally.  
Juliette continued, “And that apartment belonged to a now dead bear.  I’m sure he willed it to his boys or something.”
“I can’t imagine he would own something big enough for all his boys.  He’d have to be a millionaire.”
“Well, you saw what kind of weight he was throwing around here.  I imagine the only thing that can get you as far as he got is money.”
Gwynne sat next to Juliette on the couch.  The weight of the day caught up to her and she was suddenly feeling exhausted.  “Maybe the boys will have some suggestions when they get out.”
“If they get out,” Juliette said.


Adam was released later that day from the hospital, his shoulder patched and stitched, his good arm in a sling.  He went to find Petros, who was still in surgery, a desk clerk told him.  He waited in the small sitting area outside the operating room.  After a few minutes of French television chatter, he dozed.  
When he awoke, everything looked the same.  He got up to ask after Petros.  The orderly gave him the room number.  It seemed he had slept through the rest of the surgery.  He followed the instructions to the elevators.  Without a good arm, pushing the buttons was a trial.  Finally, he used his nub to press the call button.  When the doors opened, he tried for his floor, floor four, and got two others.  He rode the elevator to three.  The doors opened and closed with no one getting on.  At four, he passed a woman in a green wool peacoat getting on.  He held up his stump and said, “I’m sorry.  I pressed more than one floor.”
They looked at him with a blank face.  He’d forgotten again that not everyone spoke English.  He shrugged as the doors closed and turned to find Petros’s room.  Petros was sleeping off his anesthesia.  Adam took a seat next to his bed and waited.  
He wondered what the girls were doing, if they’d been seen by the police yet.  The thought of going home filled him with exhaustion and relief.  He missed being able to communicate freely.  He missed having responsibilities.  Most of all, he missed belonging somewhere.  As it stood now, he was homeless.  They all were.  
He imagined Petros had a home in a cell when they were done here.  But he and Gwynne and Juliet?  Their future was uncertain.  Adam dozed in his chair, wishing for a hot bath and a warm bed.  The door opened and he awoke with a start.  
“I’m sorry.  I didn’t meant to frighten you.”  It was a police officer. 
“No.  It’s okay.  I’m just…” he trailed off.
“I was sent to tell you that your friends?  They are in the government transient homes.”
“Are they okay?”
“I am sure they are fine.”
He hadn’t seen them since they shut the doors of the ambulance on him.  He was glad to know they were taken care of.  
“Would you like to go to them now?” the officer asked in broken English.
“I think I’ll stay here.”
“Is your lover going to be okay?”
“He’s not my…umm…yes.  I think he will be, now.”
The officer nodded his head, bid Adam adieu, and left.  Adam watched the sun track across the sky, lengthening the shadows in his room.  Back home it would be late morning.  He would be hungry, as he was now.  “Hold tight, Petros.  I’ll be back.”  It made him feel better to say it, even if Petros wasn’t conscious.  
The nurse at the station was staring at the television in the corner.  “Excuse me,” Adam said.  “If he wakes up, could you page me?”
He left his name and got directions to the cafeteria.  There wasn’t much on offer that he recognized by name on the menu board.  He pointed to a sandwich in the cold case, got coffee at the vending machine, and sat in the quiet cafeteria munching his sandwich and feeling glad to be alive.  It was a quiet happiness that burned in his chest.  Something born of wandering and waiting and enjoying a quiet meal by himself.  When he started this journey, he pictured local foods and small cafes.  He thought of sitting on a silk pillow around a short table, tasting something he couldn’t pronounce.  Somehow, this cold sandwich and bad coffee was just as good.  
When the food was gone, he wandered around the ground floor, stretching his legs.  He wasn’t in a hurry to go back up to the room just to watch Petros sleep.  After two rounds, he decided it was time to check on his friend.  He took the elevator back up, this time hitting the button he needed on the dot.  
When he got back to the room, Petros was awake.  He turned to look at Adam coming in.  “Hey.”
“You’re awake.”
“Barely.  Where are the girls?”
“I guess they’re in the government home.  An officer was here.  He filled me in.”
Petros was quiet for a moment.  “He’s dead.”
“Good riddance, that son of a bitch.”
“No.  Not Mozer.  Papa Bear.”
“Oh.”  Adam didn’t have anything to say that would add anything to the conversation, so he let the silence be his answer.
“I can’t believe it.  What are those boys going to do without him?”
“You think he didn’t provide instructions for this eventuality?”
“I don’t know.  I never even considered he COULD die.  I mean…I know he’s mortal, but he always seemed…”
“Larger than life?”
Petros sighed.  “Larger than death.”
“You really loved him, didn’t you?”  Adam couldn’t imagine how, but he knew it was true.
“I did.  But…he loved enough for all of us.  He didn’t need it.  He was full of so much love that you couldn’t help but feel that way.  I know it seems weird, a big fat old man in a house full of pretty young boys.  But he was more than a lecherous opportunist.  He really did care for each and every one of us.  He took care of us.  He got us jobs.  Found us homes.  He was our family.  Which makes all of that sound very wrong, but it’s true.  I loved him like a father…”  
Petros paused.  Adam waited.
“I don’t know.  It sounds wrong, given our history.  But it’s true.”
“Well, I’m sure he was proud of you.  He certainly loved you.  That’s not something you should have any question about.”
“And I don’t.  Not at all.”
They sat in silence for a while, watching the French television and glancing at people passing by the doorway.  It had been only two months and some change since Adam met Petros in that crowded roundabout under the Arc de Triomphe, yet they had been through so much together.  Adam felt like he finally had a close friend, someone he was able to be open and honest with.  And honestly, he didn’t want to lose that.
“What do you think about coming to America?”
“The movie?”
“No, you idiot.  Like we planned.”
“I very highly doubt I’m going to be able to leave the country any time soon.”
“Well, be that as it may, you’re still welcome to come stay with me when your debts to society have been paid.”
Petros chuckled.  “Debts to society, eh?  That’s one way of putting it.”
“I’m serious.”
“Well, I appreciate the offer, but you don’t even have a place to live yet.”
“Or a job.  Or a car.  Or anything.  But even still.  The invitation stands.”
“As does my thanks.”
The matter was dropped in favor of silence.  Later that night, he phoned a taxi service and had them take him to the government home the officer had directed him to.  It was an exhausted reunion.  Juliette gave him a big hug and went to bed, saying she would get up early and go see Petros in the morning.  Gwynne sat with him on the sofa, telling him about the boys next door and how they’re all settling in, about what had happened after he was taken away in the ambulance, and about how she and Juliette talked about going back to America together.  
“I talked to Petros about that same thing.  Of course, he might have longer to wait before he’s free to travel.”
“Well, we can’t really go anywhere, either, what with the trial and all.”
Adam hadn’t considered that.  He settled into the sofa and leaned against Gwynne.  She threw and arm around him and squeezed, careful not to touch his bandaged and sling-bound arm.  They sat that way for a while, watching the lights pass by their complex on a nearby road, thinking of home, despite the fact that it didn’t really exist at the moment.  
Two weeks passed, and Petros was kept at the hospital, healing.  He whined about getting out of there every time they went to see him, but the nurses wouldn’t clear him until they were sure he would be free from infection and able to support himself with his reconstructed core.  It was much different than the fast-food service version of hospital care in America, and Adam was glad he’d received his care here, instead. 
In the first week of Petros’s convalescence, Juliette received a letter in the mail from a storage company, informing her about payment options and finally cluing her in to where her belongings were held.  The home had everything she could need, so she didn’t retrieve any of her stuff from the locker.  A second sheet in the envelope informed her that her bill was paid through the rest of the year.  She silently thanked Papa Bear.  
Three days into Petros’s third week in the hospital, the nurse came to his room and checked his bandages.  She cleared him to leave with no ceremony.  He dressed in an outfit Adam had brought him and stood next to his bed, staring at the doorway like he couldn’t believe he was free.  No officer stopped him on his way out.  There weren’t police cars waiting for him at the door.  Nothing hindered him from getting in a taxi with Adam and cutting across the city to the government housing.  At every stoplight he expected lights and sirens to bloom behind him.  Every car was a potential police car.  It was torture.
Adam paid the taxi driver with a credit card and sent him away.  Petros looked at him.  “When did you get a credit card?”
“It came in the mail.  An expense card, from a mysterious benefactor.”  He smiled at Petros.  
“I missed his funeral.”
“You did.  It was a real production.  It seemed like everyone in the city turned out for it.  That man really had some sway in this town.”
“I’ll never know all he did for me, that’s for sure.  Paris is a poorer place without him.”
Adam nodded.  “But at least he took a terrible scourge away with him when he went.”
Petros didn’t want to talk about Mozer.  It was enough that he was gone.  He didn’t deserve to be eulogized by anyone, friend or foe.  “I still can’t believe they let me leave the hospital.”
“Why not?”
“I should be in custody.  I should be answering for what I did.”
“Maybe you already have.”
“That’s ridiculous.  The justice system doesn’t work that way.  When the police hear that I’m out, they’ll be here in minutes.  They’re probably already on their way.”
They spent a nervous day at the home.  Every siren was coming their way.  Every car outside was his last ride as a free man.  Darkness drew its blanket over the city of lights, and Petros was still free.  He knew something had happened while he was in that hospital, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.  Papa Bear was dead.  Could his influence have been so strong that it reached beyond the grave?  Surely not.
In the morning, after a night of light sleep, Petros was still a free man.  They made plans, had lunch as a group, and in that simple act, cemented their future together.  That night, an officer arrived at their door.  Petros answered it, almost relieved that the hammer of justice was finally coming down.  The officer didn’t berate him, didn’t tackle and shackle him, didn’t even mention what he had done in a time that seemed like years ago.  He just handed Petros a letter and drove away.
Petros could hardly believe it.  He staggered back inside and collapsed onto the couch.  
“What is it, Pet?” Juliette said, sitting next to him.
“They didn’t…I should be…”  He was at a loss for words.
Adam smiled at him.  “I told you.  That man was a magician.”
Gwynne saw the envelope in his hands.  “What’s that?”
Petros glanced at it as if seeing it for the first time.  “I don’t know.”
Juliette nudged him, which made him wince.  “Open it, Pet!  Sweet Jesus!  Don’t leave us all in suspense.”
Petros tore the end of the envelope off and eased the letter out.  It was a legal statement, typed on elaborate letterhead, on paper of such high quality that he felt bad it ever got folded.  He scanned the words, not believing exactly what was in front of him.  Papa Bear, whose name he learned in the letter, finally, had left him something in the will.  He read the letter three more times before it sunk in.  
“What’s it say Pet?”
He handed it to Juliette, and a second sheet of paper fell away from the first.  It was a handwritten letter in Papa Bear’s own handwriting.  

Dear Petros,
Do not mourn for me, for my life is a life well-lived.  Instead, take this and use it in a way that honors the love that we shared.  You have said since I met you that Paris was the most beautiful place you have ever lived, but I can tell that you do not want to stay forever.  Trust me when I say that I know this city.  It is nothing compared to any other place.  Consider this your ticket to a life lived elsewhere.  I love you still, and I always have.
Make me proud,
P.S.  When you get there, do me the favor of getting a real, honest job.  A life of crime is fine for an adolescent, but do not dally there.  The world doesn’t need another Jackal.  Especially not after the considerable expense I endured securing your amnesty.

And that was it.  Juliette whooped on the couch next to him.  He jumped.  
“What?” Adam and Gwynne asked in unison.
Juliette shook Petros by the arm.  “Tell them, Pet.”
“He…gave us the apartment.”
Gwynne thought of the pile of soggy ash that lay where his beautiful home had stood.  “I don’t understand…that place is gone.”
Adam said, “No.  Not here.  The one in Chicago!  It’s the one in Chicago, right Petros?”
Petros nodded.  
Gwynne looked at Juliette.  “Why are you so happy?  I thought you wanted to stay here.”
“Look!”  She shove the legal note under Gwynne’s face.  
“That’s…that’s a lot of zeroes,” she said, counting them.  
Adam’s eyes widened.  “Whoa.  I wish that he were alive so I could kiss him!”
Petros shook his head.  “He got me off.”
Juliette wrinkled her nose.  “Ew.  Pet, no.”
“Not like THAT!  I’m off the hook!  No police. No jail.  I don’t know how he did it, but he cleared me!”  He jumped to his feet and looked for someone to hug.  
They all obliged him, whooping and hollering like outcasts rescued from a deserted island.  After everything they’d been through, one of them was being richly rewarded.  
Petros sobered.  “Guys.”
They waited.  
“We have to tell the boys.  They’re going to have to pack!”
“Pack?” Adam asked.
“Yeah!  If they’re coming with us, they’ve got to get ready!”
Gwynne looked at Adam, looked at Petros.  “Why would they come with us?”
“You heard what he said!  ‘Use it in a way that honors the love that we shared.’  What better way than to invite them along?!”
“Is there room?”
“There’s more than enough room.  You guys don’t even know!  I have to go tell them!”  He ran out the door, whooping like an idiot into the night.


Adam walked from his office to the apartment.  It was the first perfect day of spring.  The sun warmed the new grass and leaves chattered in the breeze.  He took the stairs, holding the rail with his good hand.  He still wasn’t used to the prosthetic on his left, but with time, the doctors told him, it would be like second nature.  
He waved at the boys on the first floor as he passed them.  They had mostly settled in to their life in the city.  Some of them had even gotten jobs, although Papa Bear had left them each enough money to never have to work.  It wasn’t easy for them initially, especially the ones who didn’t know English.  But after a few months, they were settling in to a comfortable routine.  Several had stayed back in Paris, not quite ready to start a new life away from everything they knew.  Adam was glad for the company of the ones who stayed.  They were like family now, and Petros was making sure to take care of them in any way he could.  
Without the threat of imminent death over his head, Petros had discovered he was actually quite a good painter.  The city made a lovely model for him, and his gallery show was coming up soon.  Granted, it was just some artwork hanging in a local restaurant for a few weeks, but he considered it sort of a retribution for ridding the world of beautiful things just to collect a paycheck.  
Gwynne was writing when he got home.  She wrote a lot nowadays.  All the sights and sounds and experiences she had in Paris had to go somewhere when she got home.  She’d started a blog after her own journal didn’t seem to do the trick.  With the money Petros had given them, she could afford to live for a while without a career.  She even talked about selling her experiences as a book some day.  
Juliette had taken longer than them to settle in.  She still pouted about how Chicago could never rival the beauty of Paris, and she was right.  But she tried to acclimate herself to life in another city with a personality just as big as the one she left.  She was teaching French at a private elementary school a few blocks from their apartment.  Being from France had gotten her though the screening process a lot more quickly than other people, and she was the obvious choice when they saw how she interacted with the children.  She thought her time with the boys of Papa Bear’s flat had softened her and taught her how to be motherly to a room full of children.  

Life hadn’t returned to normal, at least not in the sense that it was before Adam threw a dart at a piece of paper mounted to the wall.  It was, however, much, much better than any of them could have ever hoped.  Their joy was always shot through with a touch of sadness, for their material comfort came at the expense of one of the world’s truly great men.  A responsibility to make life better for others was inherent in their gratitude.  Adam would spend a lifetime trying to repay even a little of the kindness that had been shown to him.  They all would.  And even years later, on nights when he walked himself home under the street lights, shivering from a fall wind, he would remember the Paris incident, all they had endured and all that had befallen them, and he would smile.  



No comments: