17:2 Palace of Delights


Built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, the cavernous former art gallery that partially surrounded the classical colonnade had housed everything from tennis courts to army jeeps in the interim. The City had recently retrofitted the entire place, but presently, it stood empty.

“Hold tight, I’ll make sure we’re cool,” Bear stepped out of the Lincoln and produced a key as if by magic before disappearing into the fog.

“Say, sweetheart,” Bentley tentatively tried his luck at using his battered charm. “Can’t you loosen this rope a bit? I mean, Jesus Christ, your friend there is either a cowboy or in to some really kinky shit. I can’t feel my hands.”

Rosenda thought hard about the possible ramifications of loosening Bentley’s bonds, then thought about what Bear might do if he came back and Bentley was back on the loose. He might not do anything, she realized. It was really no skin off his balls if Bentley fucked right off and was never heard from again. She did not have that luxury.

“Look, Devon, I don’t care what issues you are working through that make you act like a petulant child holding a blowtorch in a lumber yard, but you are not going to burn down my career.”

Bentley was still trying to muster his faculties enough to construct a pithy rejoinder when Bear yanked open the rear suicide door. He reached into the Lincoln and without a word, grabbed Bentley by a confluence of knots, which invariably made them all suddenly cinch tighter.

The rock star yelped as he was hauled out of the car and to his feet. Bear silently took his measure, and deciding that the man before him was probably not going to bolt, produced a large, very sharp knife.

“All right, I am going to cut you loose. If you bolt, I’ll catch you, and when I do, I’m going to pitch you into the lagoon,” Bear explained, pointing with the blade toward the murky, freezing pond that reflected the ornate rotunda. “We need to get you inside and find you some clothes. Are you onboard, smart guy?”

Bentley, whose core temperature was dropping fast standing buck naked in the fog, only nodded his head enthusiastically.

The interior of the cavernous space was pitch black when Bear first ushered them in a side door.

“Don’t move,” he warned. “There’s a lot of construction tools laying about, and I wouldn’t want either of you to break any of them.” With that, the pair could hear his retreating footfalls moving away from them.

“How the hell does he know where he’s going?” Bentley asked in genuine wonder.

“Don’t ask me,” Rosenda shrugged in the void. “Maybe he’s a fucking leprechaun.” That garnered a snort from Bentley somewhere to her right, which was as close as she could come to seeing in the dark.

With the sound of a powerful electrical contact being thrown in the distance, a row of flood lamps suddenly bathed the Quonset-shaped room in blinding light. Bentley, whose retinas had just retracted to the back of his dry skull, recoiled and looked for someplace to hide as if he were a giant cockroach.

He didn’t, or couldn’t, see Bear step out of a service corridor across the hall carrying a paint-splattered pair of coveralls which he threw to Bentley without a word as he approached, hitting him square in the chest.

“Put those on,” Bear instructed. “We’re tired of looking at your bony ass.”

Rosenda, who to that point had been too freaked out by the situation to process that she was basically alone with a musician infamous for his sexual proclivities and prowess, only nodded her head in slight disappointment.

“Look, Bentley, I’m sorry I had to clock you, but I’m sure you’d have rather stayed out of the county psych lockup, and there was no way to reason with you.”

“It’s all right,” Bentley acquiesced. “I would have done the same for you.”

Bear considered the slight musician doing his best to knock him out and laughed despite himself.

“Look, mate,” Bentley asked probing his outraged face with his long fingers made for playing guitar. “Is there anywhere around here to get some ice? I’d hate to do the gig tomorrow night looking like I caught the worst of a rugby scrum.”

Bear thought about it for a moment and ventured he could trust Rosenda to babysit while he popped over to the liquor store on Chestnut. Besides, it was her ass if the fool went AWOL. He could go for a cold one himself.

“I’ll be right back,” Bear said, surveying the scene as someone coming in off the street might. “If anyone comes by—they shouldn’t, but if they do—you two work for Shamrock Construction. Mick Jigger here, is a painter, obviously, and you … ”

Rosenda lifted one carefully sculpted eyebrow, curious to how Bear saw her fitting into his alibi.“ You figure it out.” With that, he left the way they came in and disappeared into the fog.

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