The first time I saw him, I called him Medvěd—'cause he looked just like a bear. He looked up at the word, looked at me like a ghost.
"I need help. Will you help me?"
They'd left him out in the snow, while they went into the bar to get a drink or something. He was all chained up to the post and his face was bruised in a pretty bad way.
"What?" he finally said.
"Wanna go home. Will you help me go home?"
He stared at me a long moment.
"Where's your parents, kid?"
I crouched down in front of him. "Dead."
He sighed. "That sucks."
"I guess." I poked my finger into the snow. "I don't know about my Mom, but they put my Dad up against the wall and shot him. That was when I was seven. Now I'm nine. I didn't remember too well until yesterday but then Elijah—"
"All right, that's enough, kid," he grunted. "Scram."
"—Elijah told me all about it. What's gonna happen to you?"
At first he pretended like he didn't hear. But the snow kept falling and I kept asking him until he answered, "They'll shoot me. Or turn me into a slave. I don't know."
"Do you want that to happen?" I asked.
After a moment he said, "It doesn't matter."
"Then why don't you help me? It's not that far."
"What's not far?"
He laughed. "The Protectorate?"
"Won't you help me?"
"You're nuts, kid."
"I guess." I pulled out my pocketknife and began twisting it around in the lock by his feet.
He laughed at me again. "That's not gonna work."
The lock was one of those big fat black ones, kind of like Vater had on his safe in the study. This one was pretty old though, least a year, and the cold had stiffened it up. It was easy to get the point in the right place, right under the catch and next to the first or second spring, except I was out of practice a few weeks.
He watched me curiously.
"You'd better run, kid," he told me. "They're not going to stay in there forever."
"They chase me a lot." My hands were getting clumsy from the cold too and I wished for the millionth time I'd taken the thicker gloves with fingers and fur in the linings. "Last time they nearly caught me. I wish I had a gun or something."
He shook his head slowly.
"I was supposed to go to school," I told him, "but I kept walking. They have my photos up in the other town. Lady said I could stay there, night, but she told them 'stead. Heard them in the hall. It's just the way they walk. I jumped out the window, I was halfway down the block 'fore they noticed. I think it was snowing then too but I'm not sure."
The snow was falling around us, faster and thicker now. It nearly came up to my waist, kneeling down like that. It was seeping through my pants, into my skin and blood, but I didn't care.
The bar door opened and he raised his head.
"You'd better run," he told me again.
"It must've been snowing for weeks." I jabbed the knife into the lock, hard and someone lifted me into the air. He set me on my feet but kept his hand on my neck.
It was Hermann. His face was red and puffy and still scratched over his eye from where that cat clawed him. It took him a second to see it was me, anyway.
"Well, well," he said.
I threw my knife at him but it bounced off his chest. He didn't look away.
"Stubborn little brat, aren't you?"
"I hate you," I said.
His hand tightened like he wanted to throttle me and Medvěd stood up slowly behind him.
"It's all over for you now, brat."
"I'm not going with you," I told him. "I hate you."
"Ah, that's too bad." With one hand holding me, Hermann took out his pistol. "Guess we'll just tell Wolf there was a little—accident."
Medvěd clocked him in the temple and he fell sideways into the snow. It didn't even make a sound, it was so deep. And Medvěd just stood there, like he couldn't even believe how strong he was.
"Fuck, that felt good." He picked up my knife and tossed it back to me. "You're good with that thing, kid."
"You're good too," I told him.
He lumbered off. I slipped my knife back in my sleeve and rummaged through Hermann's pockets—there wasn't anything good except for the gun and some cigarettes—I shoved the cigs in my pockets and took the gun and ran after him.
He ignored me. He was still shuffling, swaying side-to-side like he hadn't got quite used to walking without chains yet. I caught up to him on the main road—that was the only place possible to walk anymore.
He pawed in my general direction. "Scram, kid."
"Medvěd, you've got to help me out."
"Shut up," he snorted, "I ain't got to do anything for you."
"I helped you out," I insisted, "you owe me one."
He ignored me. He was still wearing his uniform, so they must've captured him recently. Even though it was the same color it was different.
"You owe me," I said, "you owe me!"
"That doesn't mean I gotta take you—to fuckin' Bohemia!"
There was a rumble and we looked behind us. It was one of those motorbikes, crawling up the road. It stopped right next to us and the guy got off.
"Good God." It was Dieter. He smiled at me. "You'd better come away from there, little Engel!"
I stood there.
"You don't want to associate with that character," Dieter continued. "He's quite dangerous."
I didn't answer. I never talked to him.
"Come along. Come along, now." Dieter walked closer to us. "Be a good child."
I pointed the gun at him. Dieter stopped.
"My," he said softly. His smile didn't change as he looked at me without blinking, "and could a little child like you kill a man?"
I pulled the trigger and shot him. It only hit him in the leg, though. He stumbled back and swore.
In a flash, faster than I ever would've thought, Medvěd got alongside him and wrapped the chain around his neck. Dieter grabbed it, and he tried twisting his head around—he kept trying to get the gun off his back, but he couldn't. I thought about shooting him again, but I didn't want to hit Medvěd. So I watched. It took longer than I expected. His glasses fell off. He thrashed around a lot and then went totally still all of a sudden.
Medvěd dropped the body to the ground and looked at me. He was panting.
"I saved your life," I told him, "you owe me twice."
"Look, kid," he said. "I could throttle you." He stretched the chain between his hands. "I could break your neck right now."
"But you won't," I said.
He came right up to me. "What makes you think I won't?"
"'cause you've got to take me home first."
He stared down at me. I stared up at him. His eyes were like two black holes, and it was getting darker and darker. The motorbike's motor was the only sound, and the falling snow all around us.
Suddenly he laughed. "What the fuck?"
He pivoted and walked over to Dieter; he took his gun and slung it over his back. He walked over to the motorbike. I followed him. He stood, looking over the controls. I sat in the sidecar. He got on the motorbike and looked at me sitting there. He shook his head.
"Let's go," I said. "Let's go home."
He gripped the handles and we tore off down the road.