I was bleeding, half on the sidewalk, half in the street. My bike was wadded up next to me, the tire bent into a taco shell. That hot dog cart came out of nowhere. Why was he out so early? I could hear the vendor. He was angry with me. All those buns scattered on the blue stone sidewalk getting soggy and melting back into dough. Hotel porters just hosed down out front, pushing all the broken glass, puke and ciggy butts into the gutter. A few random weenies rolled. It was early, a little after sunrise. Feeling sore and nauseous and generally out of it. There was a woman’s voice. It sounded like a man’s though.
“Look at them buns! No, I ain’t talking about your hot dog bread, Sam! That big boy crumpled in the road with the wedgy – I’ve seen them buns before.”
Coming out of it now.
“I know them buns,” the lady said, quieter this time. She was thinking.
I lifted my head toward her. Ah, a transgender. Huge blonde wig, red highlights. Blue Jean hot pants. Fish-net tube top, tight. Wide base. Not uncommon. Dear God, I hope he/she hasn’t really seen my buns before. Not impossible though. Strange things happen here.
“Them buns used to set in here when your mama pushed me around at The Great American. They were a lot smaller back then.”
The hair on my arms and neck stood. It could not be. He was gone.
“Pick up what’s left of that two-wheeler and put it in my basket, Michael. You climb in, too. I’m going to take your big butt home.”
I drifted off zig-zagging down the bumpy streets of the French Quarter. Jittering to the familiar rattle with a half-drunken smile on my face. Barry was alive. Somehow. My shopping cart was in New Orleans. How? Why? Why was he dressed like Ru Paul?
“You’re too top-heavy to be riding bike and drinking Dixie beer, Michael. Why with all that foam people thought you were an escaped Barnum and Bailey tricycle bear — rabies! At least wear a helmet, anyway,” Barry was saying from the kitchen.
The bed was comfy – wow, it was mine. But it was made, fresh linens. Wounds – elbows and knees mostly – were cleaned and dressed.
Barry came in the room: “I found a pay stub in your wallet, had your address. It was a hell of time piling you into the streetcar. What a mess. Lucky I found you, didn’t wind up in jail.”
I saved the cross-dressing questions for later.
“Last I knew, Barry, you were on a Russian freighter somewhere, Vladivostok?”
“What no thank you for wheeling you home? That was a night of horror all by itself. I’ll tell you about it some day.”
“God I’m so sorry, Bare. Thank you, so much. For all you’ve done. I’m just confused is all. In the diary the cops found on Silver Street last year you wrote that you’d been Shang-haied and tortured. And the last entry – that was grim – led everyone to believe you had committed suicide? I, everyone, thought you were dead.”
Barry was whisking Hollandaise sauce in a bowl. From scratch. Something was sizzling. Smelled like Canadian bacon. Eggs Benedict, my favorite. He shouldn’t have.
“All lies,” Barry said emphatically. “I didn’t write any of that.”
He raised his eyebrows coyly. I waited.
“I’m illiterate,” he said, not the least bit embarrassed.
“Had no idea,” I said acceptingly – a little surprised, but not shocked.
“I mean honestly; a shopping cart that can read and write? Have you ever heard of anything more absurd?” he asked rhetorically.
I nodded in agreement as I watched him drizzle Hollandaise over two perfectly shaped sunny sides over bacon and an English Muffin. Hell of a cook, that cart. His cage was a bent in a few places, not bad. His wheels where chipped a little. Even so, I’d seen him look worse.
“You should have known it was bull,” Barry said in between chews, pointing his fork at me. “Someone, some human, wrote that mess and planted that journal. I woke up one day – same as you in the Vieux Carre this morning – without a clue as to where I was or how I got there. Except I was drugged against my will. You – you’re just dumb.”
“Yes, I am dumb. Hungry too. Thanks for breakfast, by the way. Looks great. You’re too good to me.”
“Breakfast,” he laughed. “You are crazy. This goodness is mine. Hell, you should’ve cooked it for me, all I’ve done for you! No, you need to pack your things. We have to catch a train back to Norwich. Time to find out why I was written off, sent down here – believed dead.”
“Wait. Why are you going back now. Why didn’t you go back when you first woke up down here. Why do I have to go with you?”
“I needed a friend. A friend I could trust. I need you to help me,” Barry said.
“Okay… but how did you find me.”
“Not sure. When it matters things just work out, I guess.”
“No, I went on Facebook.”
“Why are you in drag?” I quickly asked, unfazed to learn this was no coincidence.
“Because, as the carts down here say, “Les Bons Temps Rouler!”