Week 18

Putin strode deeper into the forest, glowing green with rage. He was followed by the white bear—his bear, his “Snowy.”

The idea of a bear in slavery disgusted him, yet he realized it was the best revenge possible against Orso. The so-called Bear King!

Orso! That weak, cowardly sack of garbage wrapped in a bearskin! The very idea of him with the noble Ursa … Putin stopped short. Ursa!

He still did not know where Ursa was. What had become of her? Where had she gone after he took the bullets meant for her?

Clearly, Orso would have died rather than tell him anything. Putin smiled grimly: So Orso did have some slight shred of courage.

Courage, or more likely extreme hatred—either one was fine with Putin. Perhaps the bear was a worthy foe after all.

On Putin went, lost in his thoughts, until the young she-bear behind him suddenly spoke. “Master, where are we going?”

Putin wheeled around, furious. “How dare you question me!” he shouted. If he expected the bear to cower, he was disappointed.

He snatched up a fallen fir branch and set it aflame with his radioactivity. “This is what I will do to you if you ever question me again!”

The bear blinked, but stood her ground. Putin had to admire the way in which Snowy withstood a bear’s natural fear of fire.

Naturally, Putin would not admit that he did not know where they were going. He had no plan, no purpose. He had acquired a bear: Now what?

The branch was consumed and the embers fell to the ground. “Dig a hole,” Putin ordered. The bear did so, then covered the ashes with dirt.

It might be useful to have a bear. This one seemed to have heart, bravery, intelligence—not qualities he would expect in Orso’s spawn.

“Permission to speak, Master?” Snowy interrupted his reverie. “All right,” Putin grudgingly allowed. “What is it?”

“We are deep into the forest now, far off the trail, and night is coming. I know a spot where we could safely rest; it is not far.”

“Do you think I care where I sleep?” Putin replied irritably. The bear bowed her head: “As you wish, Sir.”

Putin studied the beast with interest. Was it a trick, a trap, a way to lure him into danger? If he were to die, the she-bear would be free.

“All right,” he said. “You may lead me to this place you know.” The bear nodded and began moving swiftly through the trees, Putin following.

Soon they arrived at a fine camp at the base of a cliff, with a small rock overhang for shelter and a clear view downhill into the trees.

With Putin’s radioactive warmth, they had no need for a fire. Snowy brought fir branches for his bed and he lay down, pretending to sleep.

After several hours, he heard the familiar snore of a she-bear. “I believe I trust this one,” he thought, and closed his eyes.