Lions, Tigers and Bears. Oh My!
Usual disclaimers apply. The following contains male-to-male sex.
If you are under age or such reading is illegal in your country,
please go elsewhere. Otherwise, please enjoy.
Comments and Critiques are welcomed at Kindar11@Yahoo.ca
October 16th, 2010
The memory of the young man I had loved gave way to the old man standing in front of me and I had to fight myself not to run away, how could he have gotten so old? How had the man full of life and energy turned into this wrinkled husk?
“Simon?” he asked again taking a step toward me, “how can this be?” I could smell his astonishment and fortunately he couldn’t smell how scared I was that he’d recognized me so easily. I couldn’t stop myself from taking a step back at the intensity of his scrutiny.
“Excuse me?” I asked, having to work at controlling my voice; where had all my self control gone? This was why I had no business coming back to a country I’d lived in so quickly, I never knew who might still be alive.
“You are not Simon Adler, are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
“It’s incredible how much you look like him.” His body language didn’t reveal anything, but his scent spoke of how disappointed he was. Did he really want me to be the same man? Why would he want that? My mind raced to find a way to explain the resemblance.
“That was my grandfather’s name,” I said. If I claimed to be in my late thirties the time frame worked. “I was named after him; I’m Simon Wilner.” I reluctantly offered him my hand. He continued to study me instead of taking it, did he not believe me?
“What brings you to the museum?” he asked abruptly his tone having turned cold.
“I’m looking into an expedition to the Congo Oxford mounted some time back.”
“What is your interest in it?”
“I came across information that leads me to think they found something related to Sir Richard Francis Burton.”
“Simon was rather obsessed with him,” he stated with suspicion in his eyes.
“I know,” I forced myself to smile, “the stories of his research and adventures are why I became an archeologist.”
“Really? Who do you work for?”
“No one at the moment, this is a personal search, but I was with the Smithsonian before this.” The moment I said it I knew I’d screwed up, I didn’t have any of my Wilner IDs and if he contacted the Smithsonian to confirm who I was he would find out I was supposed to be dead. I needed to distract him. “How well did you know my grandfather?” I asked.
“Very well,” he said looking me in the eyes, “we were lovers.”
I stared at him, I hadn’t expected him to mention that, much less the accusationnal tone. How was I supposed to react to that? I had expected him to get over me, he had been young and there had been plenty of other prospect available to him.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly, “I shouldn’t have laid that on you. I guess I’m still angry with him.”
“I take it it didn’t end well.”
He shook his head. “He just left after promising me he would stay.”
“He must have had a reason for doing that.” Part of me wanted to hug and comfort him; to explain why I had had to leave, but the thought of touching this old man also made my stomach turn.
“He said that he was doing it to protect my career, but I didn’t care about that, all I wanted was to be with him. I’m sorry again, you probably don’t want to hear about your grandfather’s lover, although you seem to be taking this quite well.”
For a moment I’d forgotten I wasn’t supposed to know about what he was talking about. “His love life was his own business,” I said. This was the twenty first century; it would be a credible attitude.
“Did he ever mention someone named Martin Finsher?”
I thought about it for a moment trying to figure out if it would make sense that my grandfather had mentioned an old lover. “No, I’m sorry,” I said having thought of a different way to let him know I hadn’t forgotten him, “He died when I was only twelve so he didn’t have many chances of talking about his life, but I remember him often reading a book by a Martin Fisher; The Secret History Of Rome.”
“I wrote that book,” Martin said with a soft smile.
“He really seemed to care about it.” I still did, I had the original book in a safe place and I liked having a copy with every identity I lived under; it was a link to a time in my life I remembered fondly.
“What exactly are you looking for?” he asked so suddenly that it took me a moment to remember why I’d come here.
“Anything about the expedition, unfortunately all I have is a name and a crate number.” I dug out the paper and handed it to him.
“You won’t find anything about this in the museum; we don’t have anything about the Congo exposed at the moment. You’ll have to go to the archive for that.”
“How do I get permission for that?” I asked knowing this was going to be a problem. They wouldn’t let just anyone in there and I didn’t want to resort to breaking in.
“I’ll go there with you, it’s only a few blocks from here.”
“Really? Thank you, I was afraid I’d have to fill out papers for the rest of the day.” It covered nicely for my surprise at learning the archive had been moved.
“No, no, all you’d have to do is sign in and provide your credentials, we’re open to any researchers. By escorting you myself I’m hoping you’ll be able to tell me about what Simon did after leaving Oxford.”
He indicated I should follow him before heading to the door. This was something of a mixed bag; on one hand I didn’t have to worry about my ID, but on the other now I had to be careful not to reveal more than I should to Martin.
“I don’t know all that much. From what my mother said he traveled for a while before settling in Germany and teaching.”
“You’re not German,” Martin stated.
“No, my Mom moved to the US to be with Dad, that’s where I was born.”
“Did . . . he have a large family?”
“No, just my Mom.”
“And his wife?”
“I didn’t know her; she died before I was born.”
“Did he love her?”
“I don’t know, I guess. He never talked about her.” I paused for a moment, debating asking the next question. I didn’t really want to know, but it would be expected. “What about you? Do you have a large family?”
“No, I never found anyone who could measure up to what he and I had.”
I nodded following him. “Was he really that great?” I asked, I knew I was a skilled lover; I did have a few centuries of practice, but it was a strange thrill to find out I’d been so good he hadn’t been able to replace me.
He stopped and looked at me. “That’s a rather personal question.”
“Sorry, I just can’t imagine someone being *that* good in bed.”
He continued looking at me and I started to worry that he’d ask me if I was gay. Instead he said: “Then you haven’t slept with the right person, but you’re still young, I’m sure it will happen to you.” I breathed a sigh in relief as he started walking again.
“What did you do after he left?” I asked as we turned toward a larger stone building. Curiosity was getting the better of me, I knew the broader strokes of his academic career, but I knew almost nothing of his personal life.
“I tried to follow him,” he said after a moment of silence, “I found out he’d crossed the channel to France and set myself to go the same way, but my father stopped me. He wasn’t going to let me go after the man he thought had defiled me. He even started making arrangements to get me married, but my sister became pregnant and distracted him enough that nothing came of that. I almost abandoned my studies to spite Simon, but eventually I came to my senses and returned to them. After I was done I did research for some years before becoming a teacher myself and eventually coming back here.”
“How old is this building?” I asked when what I really wanted to know was if he was happy. I couldn’t imagine I’d affected him so much he never had any kind of relationships, and he didn’t smell of sexual frustration. Still I wish I could ask directly, but if I did it would probably make him too curious about me.
“Almost two decades now,” he replied sounding almost happy for the change of subject.
“It looks older,” I commented as we entered.
“They made sure it would match the surrounding buildings, the archive is in the basement. We’ll probably have to search them manually; I don’t believe that these old expeditions have been digitized yet.”
We went down a large set of stairs and then a narrow corridor which led to a metal door. Martin punched in a number in the keypad and the beeping echoed on the bare walls. The room it revealed was bathed in darkness until he flicked a switch and with the hum of old fluorescents and rows upon rows of shelves became visible.
“This is pretty big,” I said. It was much bigger than in my days.
“These were old catacombs that were rebuilt in the sixties to store precious pieces of art, but it was never used as such. When the archives needed to be moved while that building was renovated someone remembered about it and they decided to make this its permanent home.”
“Nice,” was the only thing I could think to say. It was much roomier than the old archives had been; I remembered having to squeeze down narrow aisles while trying to figure out how I’d take whatever I’d wanted out with me.
“You said this was a crate number, didn’t you?” he asked as he led me to a side room.
“Then we’re going to have to look through the ledgers, unfortunately they are cataloged by expeditions, not crate numbers, this could take some time.” The room had more shelves in it, but in them were large volumes instead of boxes; there had been over a thousand of them in my day, I didn’t want to think about how many were there now.
“It’s ok, I have plenty of time,” I told him.
“I’ll help you.”
“You don’t have to, I don’t want to take you away from whatever you need to do.”
“Actually, I do have to. I can’t leave you here unsupervised, after all, you haven’t signed in officially. With me here no one will question your presence and with my help you will be able to get back up to dustless air much faster.” His points were valid so we started our search.
We were able to use Robert McCormick’s name to narrow our search to a twenty year period; from nineteen twelve to nineteen thirty-two, the years he had worked at Oxford. This reduced our search to about two hundred volumes; each one almost two feet in height, one and a half wide and six inches thick and covered with dust. Each time we pulled a volume out we were coughing for the next five minutes.
For hours we peered over tiny hand written numbers side by side, sometime having to decipher the scribbles that passed for some accountant’s writing. It wasn’t long before I felt like I was back in my office with Martin next to me doing our best to focus on the books we had to read while distracting each other by rubbing our legs against each other.
The memory of those days had me hard and I turned to Martin to comment on it, but his wrinkled face made me go soft instantly. How I could have forgotten that he was old now escaped me. Not long after that he was moving closer to me, until our bodies touched. The contact felt nice; it had been years since I’d worked in such close quarters that they almost forced us to touch and then I realized that we weren’t just touching, he was rubbing his arm against my side. It felt good; I could feel myself reacting to the touch and I almost leaned into it when I realized that he was actually hitting on me.
“Excuse me, but what do you think you’re doing?” I made sure to sound more than a little annoyed to cover that I was enjoying it and hoped I hadn’t waited too long before saying something.
“I’m sorry,” he said looking at where our bodies touched before moving away. “Simon and I used to spend many nights doing research like this and they often led to more pleasurable things. You remind me so much of him that I forgot you aren’t. I truly am sorry.”
He did smell apologetic, but there was also an undertone of sexual excitement under it. I could also see that he wanted to add something; I didn’t give him the chance. “I understand, but please don’t do it again.”
“No, of course not.” We went back to work and he kept his distances, but it didn’t stop him from glancing at me wistfully when he though I wasn’t looking at him.
“I have it,” he said hours after that. There was no excitement in his tone, just exhaustion. I had been going over the same page for the last half hour, reading it over and over, but unable to make the strings of letters and numbers I read coalesce unto something I understood. And to think there was a time I loved peering through hand written volumes for hours at a time.
Once Martin was able to stand he lead me through the alleys created by shelves filled with boxes until we reached a shelf also filled with boxes, except for one empty spot. Under that spot was a card with the expedition number Martin had found and a string of ten numbers; none of the cards below the boxes had such a number.
Before I could ask what it meant Martin had written it down and walked away so I followed him to a computer terminal. I couldn’t believe such a thing had found its way in these archives; wasn’t anywhere safe from them?
Martin turned the infernal machine on and once the orange cursor appeared on the black background he entered the number that had been on the card. Text scrolled up the screen until it was filled, I was too tired to make sense of what it said, but I did catch the last word to appear, ‘Smithsonian’.
* * * * *
“So it ain’t there no more,” Lau asked over dinner two days later. It had given me enough time to work off the horniness remembering Martin by fucking Arsalan thoroughly, and then to sleep, but not to get over my surprise at where the journal had ended up.
“Can you believe it? They sent it to the Smithsonian.”
Lau just looked at me.
“You know, where I worked.”
He still wasn’t getting it.
“In nineteen ninety Oxford lent everything from that expedition to the Smithsonian so they could run a bunch of test. I started working there in ninety-two; the damn thing was under my nose the entire time and I didn’t even know about it.”
“Well, now ya know where it is,” Lau said before going back to eating his chicken stir-fry.
“Lots of good that does me,” I replied before digging into my tenderloin. Lau looked at me with a raised eyebrow while he chewed. “I can’t go there,” I said after swallowing.
“‘Cause I’m supposed to be dead. You think a dye job’s going to keep anyone from recognizing me as Simon Wilner?”
“So, ya wear a hat and glasses and no one’ll know.”
“And how does that get me in the backrooms at the Smithsonian? Only people who work there are allowed back there. I’m dead, remember? There’s no way I’ll be able to get in.”
“Ya can always break in, ya know the setup so that’ll be easy.”
“I am *not* breaking into the Smithsonian. It isn’t some sort of illegal museum holding stolen history artifacts; it’s an American master piece of historical preservation. I’ll never get that damn journal.” I paused as a thought occurred to me.
“How’s the food,” Arsalan asked sitting down, smelling of sex and some other man.
“There’s no fucking way I can do that,” I said out loud, “I just can’t.” I needed to convince myself of that.
“What’s that about?” Arsalan asked.
“Dunno,” Lau replied, “guess he can’t do something.”
* * * * *
I couldn’t be here. Being back in the US was a big enough mistake, but to be back here, at his house would open such a can of worms I’d probably never be able to close it. Looking at it from the rented car the house looked pretty much the same. He’d painted it since the last time I’d seen it, the front lawn had been redone and the steps leading to the porch had been replaced by a ramp.
“Who’s here?” Arsalan asked from the back seat.
“Someone who might help,” I replied.
“Cool, so why are we still sitting in here?”
had a point I’d been stalling for ten minutes now, given a chance I’d
be able to find excuses to not see him until the sun went nova. With a
breath I opened the door and stepped out of the car. Lau and Arsalan
me as I walked up the path and then the ramp. In front of the door I
hands on my jeans; I couldn’t believe how nervous I was.