It was just a few months into his new partnership with Illya, and Napoleon was ready to admit it seemed to be working out just right. They had a few growing pains at first, but it was getting better.
It wasn't that Illya was dumb or anything, he was just naïve as to how America worked. Napoleon had to explain a host of things, from how automats functioned to crosswalk etiquette. Illya was always very keen and very serious during these casual lessons.
He glanced down at his calendar. March 20th. The year seemed to be rushing by, and soon the cold, snowy days of winter would be surrendering to the warmer days of spring. He then saw the note paper clipped to his blotter. He recognized Illya's tight style of penmanship, and he pulled it free and unfolded the paper.
Your presence is requested today at eight p.m. The attached map with give you the necessary directions. I hope that you will join me.
Napoleon looked at the carefully drawn map and smiled. This was a bit of mystery and something he'd never expected from Illya. Illya always seemed so focused upon his work, unless there was food involved. This was new and exciting.
New and exciting gave way to frigid and annoying by the time Napoleon found his way to Central Park. He followed the path as indicated and then came to a small, secluded area. It was hedge-lined and set back from the path. In the middle there was a small fire burning and a figure hunched over it.
At first Napoleon thought it was a bum just trying to keep warm, but then he recognized the profile of his partner against the yellow light of the flames.
"If the cops see you, you are going to be in big trouble," he said as he approached. Illya looked sharply in his direction.
"We shall have to be quick about it then, won't we?"
"Who's your friend?" Napoleon nodded to a snowman that stood away from the heat of the fire. He appeared hastily made with dried leaves for hair and small twigs for arms.
"He is our poor sacrificial lamb." Napoleon hesitated at that. There was still so much of Illya's past that he didn't know about, but he didn't think Illya was into such things. His face must have betrayed him for Illya started laughing. "You should see yourself, Napoleon."
"It's just… you sort of caught me by surprise."
"I could tell." Illya gestured to the snowman. "This is a custom that started in Switzerland and spread to Germany and then the immigrants brought it here. It's not very widespread outside of certain communities here and I am guessing that you have not a clue as to what I am speaking of."
"And you would win that bet. What are you talking about?"
"What is today?"
"No, today is the day in which winter ends and spring begins - agreed?"
"That means all snowmen must be banished until next winter. They must take flight and flee. But snowmen have no legs, so we must help them."
"Help them, how?"
"We burn them." Illya's face lit up with boyish glee.
"You do love to set things on fire, don't you?"
"Oh, yes, but this is more important than just setting something on fire. This is the symbolic uprising of the people against the uncaring winter weather and sending it on its way."
"How do you propose to burn a snowman? Snow, as a rule, doesn't burn."
"No, but it melts." Illya removed a burning stick from the fire and carried it to the snowman. Carefully, he lit the hair and twig arms on fire and watched as the heat began to eat away at the snow.
"What happens if the fire goes out?"
"Then winter is destined to stay forever." Illya glanced around and motioned Napoleon closer. "That's why I hedge my bets. Our snowman had a heart of straw and a bit of petrol."
"You really are a pyromaniac. You do know that, don't you?"
"Cutter mentioned it a time or two, yes, especially after I set fire to the women's barracks."
"It was an accident. I was aiming for the water tower." There was a sudden flare up as the fire found its way in and set the treated straw on fire. Two more minutes and it was all over with. Illya carefully made sure the snowman was out and then he scooped snow over the small campfire.
"I can't believe you didn't get caught."
"The patrolman here is Ukrainian. We look out for each other."
"I should have guessed. So now what?"
"Now, the tradition is to go someplace warm and have something in order to toast the arrival of spring. And some food, too, I think. As the host, I have fulfilled my duties in that I have prepared the snowman and seen to his demise."
"And your guest?" Napoleon smiled slightly, already knowing where this was heading.
"You pick up the tab."
"All right, tricky Russian, let's go get some dinner. Where did you hear about this?"
Illya waved to a distant figure and turned back to his partner with a grin. "Look into the night."
As he scrutinized the park, Napoleon saw several small fires flickering. "I'll be damned.
I've live here all my life and it's happening all around us."
"There are times when you are too close to the source and need to see with new eyes. For months, you have been my eyes, Napoleon. Now I have had a chance to repay the favor. Welcome to America."
Napoleon laughed and gestured onward. "Glad to be here. Now let's go get a drink!"