Chapter 19 Wednesday, 1030 hours (10:30 AM)
At the polar bear enclosure, Brian was setting up cameras, checking batteries and videotape, putting up lighting umbrellas, and generally trying not to think. His assistant, performing similar tasks, was similarly anesthetized. They worked steadily, by rote. By turns Brian was trying not to let the mechanics of the situation blind him to what he was becoming an accomplice to, and alternately trying to bury himself in those very mechanics. Except for short instructions about the shoot, he did not talk or even make eye contact with his assistant.
Brian had his eye to the viewfinder, zooming in and out, trying to fix in his mind the extent of the scene. The polar bear enclosure was stark and almost without color. The multilevel concrete floor of the enclosure was built to suggest a glacier in a barren arctic landscape. For the bears enjoyment, the center of the enclosure had an irregularly shaped pool, large enough that the bears could swim, dive and generally frolic. They were doing that now, while watched joylessly by Brian through his lens. Brian was wearing earphones, currently not live, which blocked out much of the sound. The bears, cavorting in silence, looked cartoon-like to Brian, who was leaning over and observing the world through his small viewfinder. Concentrating as he was, he did not register the arrival of others until he heard the voice directly behind him.
"It would work better in black and white, wouldnt it?" The voice was unfamiliar.
Startled, Brian straightened up and spun around. Joshua and another man of about the same age of Joshua were looking at him. Brian blushed from embarrassment.
"Brian," said Joshua cheerfully, "I would like to introduce the gentleman who shortly will be entertaining the bears. He would like to talk with you."
Brian was not at all prepared for this meeting. To cover his discomfiture, he fiddled with his earphones as he took them off.
"This is Mr. Andrew Steiner. I shall leave him here to talk to you," said Joshua. Joshua walked off leaving Mr. Steiner and four Calfers to guard him. As he walked off, Joshua looked back.
"15 minutes, Mr. Steiner."
Brian, acutely ashamed of himself, held his head down but then the name registered. He looked up sharply.
"Andrew Steiner, THE Andrew Steiner, the animal photographer?" said Brian.
"The same," said Steiner, pleased to be recognized.
Brian opened his mouth to speak, but couldnt think of the right thing to say. Steiner smiled.
"You dont really want to do this, do you?" asked Steiner
"No. I hate this. I dont know what to do. I dont want to be a murderer," said Brian casting his eyes down. He was almost crying.
"No way out for you either, eh?" said Steiner sympathetically. "Look. Youre not a murderer, not even an accomplice. Think of this not as murder, but euthanasia."
Steiner almost laughed out loud at Brians puzzled expression.
"Later!" said Steiner, "..although Im afraid not much later. Oh. Well. For now, I want to discuss the shoot with you. I dont think your camera position is optimal, and the secondary camera certainly isnt."
"Really?" asked Brian somewhat put out, since he had worked hard on the setup.
"Yes. Look at the sun and the clouds. Theyre moving. In five or at the most ten minutes, the sun will be in heavy haze. Youve got to anticipate your shoot."
Steiner looked critically around. "Over there. Come. Lets move the camera. Well do the other camera next, and then the light umbrellas. Are you filming this M.O.S.?"
"Yes. I dont think sound would add to the effect. Probably even detract."
"Good. Correct. Youve got good instincts, Brian my friend."
The complement made Brian feel even more like a skunk than before.
For a few minutes they moved equipment, discussed the details of the shoot, and it seemed both of them had managed to forget the reality of what they, or at any rate Brian, intended to film. Finally though, Steiner put a hand on Brians shoulder.
"Get the camera back from the bears and take care of my film." He took out his wallet and gave Brian a card. "This is my agent. See he gets the film. OK? Tell him to have it developed with Accufine. Normally, Id do it myself, the developing I mean, but..." Steiner moved to put the wallet back in his pocket, but stopped, chuckled, and casually tossed the wallet to the ground.
"I can do without the clutter," he said.
Joshua came back accompanied by a Calfer carrying a wood board to place across the bear moat. Mr. Steiner was quite literally going to walk the plank. They also brought a chair so that Steiner could step up the board.
"OK," said Joshua, "Lets get on with it."
Andrew Steiner was helped on to the chair, while another Calfer started to place the board across the moat. Steiner, signaled him to hold up."
"Id like to say a few things," said Steiner. "Last words and all that."
"Of course," said Joshua. The Calfer put down the board.
"Roll tape please," said Steiner to Brian.
Brian looked into the viewfinder again and tried to concentrate on the little red record light."
Mr. Steiner reiterated his dedication to animals, and his terminal medical diagnosis. Finally he looked straight into the camera and spoke directly to Brian.
"Brian, I know you are being forced to do this, but dont beat yourself up about it. You really are doing me a favor. At worst you are aiding in something like a doctor assisted suicide. I find Im sort of thrilled by the prospect of dying at the uh, at the claws of one of the animals Ive spent almost my whole life photographing."
Steiner looked out at the bears, and then back to the camera. Now he spoke his last words to the world. He said farewell to his friends and those who knew him by his work. Then he said,
"Finally, I leave my old Nikon, this one," he said holding up the camera he was holding, "to my young colleague Brian. I hope he will keep it and let it serve him as it served me."
Steiner looked back over to Joshua,
"OK, Im ready," he said.
The board was placed to span the moat. Steiner first took the camera from around his neck, set its focus and exposure speed, and shakily walked across to the concrete floor of the bear enclosure. For a few moments the puzzled bears ignored him. Steiner for his part was taking picture after picture with his motorized film advance camera. At last, one of the bears, the one closest to him started slowly towards him. Then, with mouth open in attack attitude, the bear ran at him at full speed. The lighting was good and Steiner knew the film, both camera and video, would be sharp and clear. Brian understood this also, even though for him the view was blurred by tears.
"Damn you Joshua, and you too professor Rexford."
Brian, who had been told by his professors to be less detached, more involved with his subjects. He was working on that, but now he would have given a lot to be able to regain that detachment.
The bear closed for the kill just as Steiner got off his last shot. His last word, which was for Brian, was "Catch!" which he shouted as he flung the camera backwards over his shoulder. The camera traveled in a slow arc. Brian, who would not normally leave his camera during a shoot, did not want to be looking in the viewfinder for the next few seconds. He left his camera running, sprinted out and caught the camera, cradling it gently in his arms.
When he got back to his camera, there was no Andrew Steiner. There was only a bloody carcass being ravaged and fought over by four ravening bears.
Brian signaled his assistant to stop filming. "Thats a wrap," said Brian under his breath as he switched off his camera and watched the red record light go out. Brian mechanically began to break down the shoot. He was oblivious to the life around him, that is until he heard his name being called. It was Joshua. Brian couldn't understand how the man could sound so cheerful. Brian looked up.
"Brian, get me copies of those tapes, "said Joshua."I need three copies of each, no make it four, and I need them in a half hour, by 11:30" He spoke as if nothing particularly unusual had happened.
Brian nodded in compliance, "Film at 11. Life goes on."