They sat in a room together in the police station for several hours, waiting for news of their friend and his captor. Dinner was brought in, a delicious stew with chunks of beef and vegetables in a rich, stout broth. The captain’s wife apparently loved to cook for guests of the police station. She made an appearance as they were tucking into their meal, delivering still-warm bread to the hungry captives. She was a short, stout woman with shoulder length white hair. She wore a sensible blouse and a floor-length skirt, both flecked with kitchen stains. Adam instantly loved her. He thanked her for her hospitality, and she responded in English.
“It is my pleasure, Mr…”
“Hudson. Adam Hudson.” He stood up and held his hand out for her to shake, but she pulled him in for a big hug.
“Call me Lorraine.”
She hugged everyone in the group before letting them eat, and she watched then for a minute as she cut the bread. When everyone had a slice, she let them eat. Adam couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten food that wasn’t takeout, and he’d never had a meal that was so delicious. It may have been the long day and the near-death run-in, but to him the stew was magical.
They all ate in silence. Right on cue, when their bowls were empty, Lorraine appeared to refill them and cut them another slice of bread. She didn’t leave the knife behind each time she left. Adam could tell she had been doing this for a long time.
Hours after they had eaten and thanked her and said their goodbyes, the stew warmed them in the cold holding room. No news of either Petros or the gun-toting man came in. It was starting to look like they might have to stay the night in the holding tank of the police station, and no one wanted to have to do that.
An officer passed the door of the holding room, and Gwynne banged on the window as he passed. He jumped, composed himself, and let himself into the room. “Hey. What gives? Are you guys going to talk to us or not?”
“I’m sorry. The officer in charge is out, still.”
“Well, when is he planning on being back?” asked Adam, hoping to sound more polite than Gwynne had.
“It is hard to say. I apologize. It appears that their investigations are taking longer than expected.”
“I’ll say,” said Gwynne.
“I will put a call in. Once again, I apologize for keeping you.”
Before Gwynne could say anything else, he departed, locking the door behind him.
“Well, shit.” Juliette crossed her arms on the table and laid her head on them.
After a while, they all settled in silently. Gwynne found a spot in the corner only big enough for herself. She took her hat off and used it as a small cushion to sit on. Adam leaned against one of the cold brick walls, glad he had a thick jacket. The stew made them all sleepy, and they dozed intermittently.
Across town, in an alleyway next to a concealing fence of trash bins, Petros rested. When the truck had crashed, his ankle had become pinned inside the cab. While he was unable to get out, the delivery man, whom he finally recognized as Milos, one of Mozer’s errand boys, disappeared. Petros had attacked him in the cab of the truck, wrestled the gun from his hand, and shot him with the second shot. The first shot went off while they were still trying to get control of the gun. The truck’s violent swaying caused the second shot to only skim Milos across his nose, leaving a violent fountain of blood spraying from his face.
He couldn’t be there when the police arrived, so he wrenched his foot free, no doubt causing lasting harm to the ankle. Limping as quickly as he could, he disappeared into the streets. It pained him to leave his friends in the truck, unsure of whether they were injured or worse, but he was a wanted man. He would find out if they were okay later. Mozer’s men would no doubt hear what happened and come looking for him. The police would be on his trail before too long, too, although he hoped all the blood might slow them down for a while.
As soon as he could, he dumped the clown costume in an alley trash can. Using the costume as a rag, he wiped as much of the makeup as he could from his face. He didn’t dare go back to his flat or Juliette’s. He was sure to be found unless he kept to the lesser-traveled areas of the city. So he disappeared into the smaller neighborhoods, hopefully keeping away from the attention of prying eyes. As he went, he looked for items from which to fashion a splint. He’d seen it done in the movies, so he figured it was possible to make, although he doubted the effectiveness. Thankfully, there were plenty of trash bins to dig through along the way. He slipped behind restaurants and pawn shops, eventually finding a length of wood like a yardstick. He snapped it in half and measured up the side of his calf, breaking the wood again as close to the right size as he could manage. A jumprope lying near the street in the front lawn of a shabby house caught his eye. He snatched the rainbow cord up, bundling it around the pieces of wood he had fashioned. Now he just needed something sturdy to use as a brace. They did it with magazines in the movies. He searched several bins, finding nothing. He didn’t dare go into a drugstore, for fear that his face was already all over the news. He needed a place where no one would see him and tell someone about it.
Le Sexe! The neon sign buzzed with secrets. The doors squealed without proper lubrication. Petros grabbed the two cheapest magazines he could find and paid for them. The cashier never even made eye contact. It was perfect.
“Do you have a bathroom I could use?” asked Petros.
The proprietor pointed to a sign near the back of the store. A sign proclaimed a five-minute time limit in the bathroom. “No masturbation!” in big, bold letters. Apparently that was a problem so severe they needed a sign for it. Petros entered the dimly lit bathroom, not wanting to touch anything. The floor was sticky. The walls were mysteriously stained. He didn’t have long. He propped his ankle up on the toilet seat as well as he could, pulled his pant leg up, and began to construct the splint. The wood was just the right length to fit inside the sides of his shoes and reach to his knee. He cupped the magazines around his leg until they formed a sheath. The jump rope was long enough to wrap around the whole deal several times. The knot was secure. Petros tested it, placing his ankle down gingerly. It still hurt, but it would allow him to move a little faster. He left the bathroom, thanked the cashier, and walked back out onto the street. It wasn’t the first time he had visited a porn store, but it was the first time he had left one feeling like a genius.
It was dark. He stuck to alleyways. And when he couldn’t go on, he rested. He was prepared to bed down for the night in his refuge of refuse when he thought of someone who might be able to help him. Years ago, when he was new to the gay scene in Paris, a man had taken him in as one of his own boys. Whenever he needed money, Le Ours was there. Whenever he needed shelter, Le Ours was there. Whenever he needed food or water or a place to fuck someone without taking him back home, Le Ours was there. He owned a large flat in Le Marais, the center of Paris’s gay district. Those who were close to him called him Papa Bear, but to everyone in the district, he was known as Le Ours—the bear.
Petros mentally calculated how far he would have to go tonight to get there before daylight. Normally, it wouldn’t be an issue, but with his ankle in a splint and getting worse all the time, he couldn’t waste time resting. He hoisted himself to his feet and limped as quickly as he could toward Le Marais.
He knew he was getting closer when he started to see signs in Chinese and Hebrew. Le Marais used to be a mostly Jewish community, but over time it became a refuge to other minorities. Chinese immigrants set up shop and put down roots there, and after them, it became the center of art and culture, a Parisian Mecca of gay bars, cabarets, and art galleries where people could take off their masks, don other masks, and be who they wanted to be for a night, or, in Petros’s case all those years ago, months.
Papa Bear had taken Petros in off the streets one crisp Spring night when the gutters smelled of rain. Petros didn’t understand at first why he was being shown such hospitality at no cost, but several nights later, the bear came to raid his camp. He understood that sex could be traded for shelter, comfort, and even companionship. Papa Bear became his confidant. Petros became Le Ours’s favorite street boy. For weeks the large bearded man took his boy to shows, to dinner, and wherever else he wanted to show off his arm candy. Petros didn’t mind. The sex was actually quite good, and he liked the feeling of being appreciated, especially if it was for something he didn’t have to work to maintain. Their symbiosis met an end, however, when Papa Bear accidentally introduced Petros to Mozer, who would become the boy’s employer.
He never understood the relationship Papa Bear had with Mozer. There was more history between them than either cared to share. They could have been brothers, lovers, or bitter enemies holding on to the connection like old friends. All questions were brushed off with sexual advances or brusque refusals to talk. Petros learned to quit asking after a while. Serving two masters proved to be too difficult for him to manage, and he, of course, chose the one which gave him more freedom, more money, and more excitement. He chose Mozer.
He hoped Papa Bear had forgiven him, or at least had softened enough to let him back into his den in his hour of need. Petros wasn’t worried that he would be given up to Mozer. His two masters’ relationship had broken apart long ago when Mozer sent some of his men to collect what he believed to be his from the den of Le Ours. Petros had refused to take that job, something he didn’t think Mozer had ever forgotten.
Petros knew the streets of Le Marais intimately. When police cars appeared at the end of the street he was on, he knew exactly where he could duck, slide, climb, or shimmy to get away from them. These streets had been his home even before Le Ours had found him. It was a gamble, coming here. Mozer knew his history and would know to come looking for him. The police knew his record and would know he had friends and enemies here—friends who would abet him and enemies who would rat him out, especially if they were leveraged with charges against them.
It was a game of cat and mouse where Petros felt more like the cat, for once. He climbed up a fence and scaled a wall to get into the back yard of Le Ours’s building. It looked like a set of inexpensive flats from the outside, but the whole building had been renovated inside into one massive dwelling with two kitchens and rooms for all of Papa Bear’s cubs. There were no lights on inside, which was rare. Petros let himself in the back door with the key that was still under the huge fake palm tree on the patio. Before he entered, he noticed that they’d added a hot tub since he had been there last. The thought of having a good soak made him miss his claw foot tub at home.
Once inside, Petros padded through one of the kitchens and up the stairs. Papa Bear’s room was at the end of the hall, in the largest bedroom Petros had ever seen. He was sure in another lifetime it had been at least three rooms, but Le Ours needed space to roam and play, sometimes with several of his boys at once. Petros knocked on the door, not wanting to startle a bear into attacking.
He heard a stirring. The door opened a crack and a beautiful boy with blonde hair and what looked to be sleep crusting the corner of his eyes stuck his head out. “What?” he asked, none too politely.
“Is Papa Bear in there?” Petros could hear the huge snores of his old friend.
The boy looked Petros up and down. He suddenly felt very old and unattractive in his soiled clothes and makeshift splint. Their eyes locked, and Petros was sure the boy was wondering how he’d never met this person who seemed to know his master so intimately that he used his pet name. “He’s sleeping. What do you want with him?”
“I’m in need of a favor.”
“How the hell did you even get in here?!”
“I climbed the fence and let myself in. It felt just like old times.”
“The door was locked.” The pretty boys eyes narrowed.
“Don’t you know about the hidden key?”
“Looks like maybe you’re not as close to Papa as you might think.”
“You’re going to let yourself back out right now, or I’m going to call the police.”
Petros considered decking the matchstick boy onto his pretty little ass and marching into the room, but before he could, the snoring stopped.
“Matthew? Who is out there?” the man’s voice had changed, deepened, gotten rough.
“Oh, just some washed up old street tramp who let himself in.”
“What does he want?”
Matthew asked again. “What do you want?”
Petros called into the room. “Papa Bear. It’s me. Petros.”
“Yes. I need a favor.”
“Get out of here, you traitorous little thief!”
Matthew smiled a cruel smile and slammed the door, but Petros jammed his right foot in at the last second, which hurt more than he could explain when the door closed on his splint.
“Wait! You said if I ever needed you, you would be there.”
“You broke my heart! You don’t have the right to come back here.”
“And yet, you haven’t changed your hiding spot.”
There was silence from inside the room, then a huge creak. Matthew said, “Get out of here, tramp. He doesn’t want to see you.”
“Wait,” the voice boomed from behind Matthew.
A huge hand opened the door from inside, and there was Le Ours, the bear, in all his naked glory.
He had lost some of his glow in the intervening years, but he was still the man that had given Petros so much. His face was open and inviting, despite their history. Le Ours looked at Matthew. “Go back to your room, Matthew.”
“Go.” He didn’t have to raise his voice or change his inflection, but something in the word caused little Matthew to tuck his little devil tail between his legs and scurry down the hallway to one of the open doors. “Come in.”
Petros followed the huge man into his room. A dim lamp lit the interior, which was all overstuffed cushions and apparatuses for various sexual escapades. Hammocks and swings and stirrups hung casually from the ceiling like houseplants. Dominating the room, swelling from its center like the cheese in a danish, was the bed. It hadn’t changed at all since Petros last saw it. Huge mounds of blankets and pillows, all an off-white no one was certain how he kept clean, seemed to fill a warm, soft pit. It was certainly a womblike structure, and Petros remembered fondly waking up many mornings and swimming through a sea of blankets to surface next to his benefactor only to be submerged again in a bout of morning sex before he had time to breathe. He longed to curl up there now, not for sex, but because this nightmare had squeezed him dry of the will to go on.
“Sit,” Papa Bear motioned to a large teal sofa with battered throw pillows askew.
“What do you need?”
“It’s good to see you again. Its been a long time.”
“Yes. What do you need?”
“It’s like nothing has changed since I…”
“Do not make me ask you again. You came here for a favor. Now what is it?”
Petros cleared his throat. “Maybe you’ve heard about what’s been going on?”
“Maybe I have.”
“Then you know that I have the police after me, as well as Mozer’s men?”
“Maybe I do.”
He motioned to his leg. “I was in an accident. Milos, one of Mozer’s men, captured me…and my friends. I fought him in the truck, shot his fucking nose clean off.” Petros waited for a smile that never came. “And as you can see, I’m hurt. I don’t stand a chance of getting out of here, of getting my friends out of here, by myself.”
“And what does any of that have to do with me?”
“I just…you…you’re one of the few people who never let me down.”
“I wish I could say the same of you, Petros.”
“Yes. Well, I’m sorry. You were right about all of that. We both know how that turned out.”
“Do we? It seems it still is turning out.”
“It’s just…I know that Mozer is going to come after my friends, and I want them, at least, to be safe. This is the safest place in Paris.”
“The police have your friends. They are holding them, presumably until they find either you or Mozer’s man. Or perhaps both.”
“Then they are safe.”
“Can you do anything about that?”
“You know the answer to that, Petros.”
“I do. Well, then I suppose there is nothing else I can ask of you.” He turned to leave.
It was what he had always called him, the closest he ever got to a pet name.
Papa Bear almost smiled. “It is good to see you, my friend. I only wish it were under better circumstances.”
“Yes. Well, it can’t be helped now. And I’m sorry about that.”
“We all do foolish things when we are young.”
Petros couldn’t picture Le Ours in his youth. It seemed that he had sprung to life fully formed, full of virility and with a heart the size of all of Paris. He wondered what foolish things this grand mound of a man could have possibly done. It didn’t seem possible.
“Papa, thank you. For everything.”
“I am certain I will live to regret this, but you were always my greatest mistake.” He opened the door at the far end of the room, where his palatial bathroom was hidden to everyone but his closest charges. “Draw a bath. You smell terrible. I will call for a doctor about your leg.”
He held up his massive paw. “Please. Now go.”
He swatted Petros’s butt as he passed into the high-ceilinged church of polished porcelain and scented soaps.