Chapter 13 Tuesday 2015 hours (8:15 PM)
Derek watched the tail lights of the zoo maintenance vehicle disappear down the path. He slowly let out the long breath that he hadn’t even realized he was holding. He felt he had failed another test. What kind of a parent was he, to let his son be taken away alone. He should have let himself be captured as well. At least Jeffrey wouldn’t be facing his captivity by himself, and without his jacket and the comfort of his little TV.
Derek started jogging to the Wild Asia exit. He’d escape, get to the police, and then... And then what? He stopped. No. He’d have to rescue Jeffrey himself. What’s the worst that could happen. He’d be captured and returned to take care of his son. It would be embarrassing being returned to the hostages, but so be it.
His first priority, was to stay alive. He must avoid CALF, with their night goggled sniper surveying the zoo from the tramway. He smiled grimly, thinking of the little zoo maintenance vehicles, with the pictures of happy animals painted on them and their Calfer occupants wielding AK-47s. More immediately though, he’d have to figure out how to handle the big cats roaming the zoo. By now, they’d be hungry, and perhaps ready to seek revenge for their captivity.
He understood he couldn’t simply stand around deciding what to do, especially since the hyena was probably still prowling around. He had to find a place of safety, comparative safety anyway, where he would have time to make a plan.
But where would he be safe from the cats now free of their cages. The answer came to him. He’d be safe in a cage. He congratulated himself for his brilliance and tried to think back to when he and Jeffrey were just visitors to the zoo. What harmless creatures had they encountered, and more importantly, what cages were they in?
"Nyala," said Derek aloud.
He thought of the nyalas. They were around here somewhere, the cute, small, and harmless looking deer.
Derek, crouching animal-like to convince any night-goggler that he was one of the roaming cats, found the nyala enclosure and saw that the gate was held closed only by a flimsy padlock. He rooted around for a rock, found one, and smashed the lock. Eyeing the nervous nyalas which had retreated to the rear of the enclosure, he went inside, and closed the gate behind him. Safe. He couldn’t stay too long however. In the morning light, he’d be a sitting target. He’d have to make his move at night.
Wishing for a hot cup of coffee in this damp, drizzly night, Derek put Jeffrey’s jacket over his head to keep off the rain.
What I need now, is a weapon. Derek was shocked at the thought. I'm a civilized citizen of the 20th century.
But he felt the need for a weapon, not that any armament he’d be able to come up with would be effective against an AK-47, but it would feel good having. His key chain knife would not do. He let his eyes wander around the nyala habitat and found a tree with a limb that would make a good spear. Hacking away with his knife, he managed to worry the limb free. Pausing now and then to wipe the rain from his eyes, he worked at the wet wood with his knife to make it smooth and functional. He tried to cut a point to the spear but the wood was green and too soft to hold a point.
He put his hands in his pocket for warmth while he thought of what to do next. He fiddled with the keys in his pocket and came up with an idea. He pulled out the keys and examined the largest of them, his car key. It was the right shape for an Indian arrow head and it would do as a spear point, if he could only sharpen it. Conscious that he was regressing back to the Bronze Age, he looked around for a grinding stone.
There, surrounded by nyala deer, he sat down and honed his car key to a sharp point. He tested the edge with his finger and admired its sharpness. Now he had to affix it to his spear which at the moment was nothing more than a long staff.
He cut a channel in the tip of his spear, and fitted in the key. Then he unlaced one shoe and tied the key to the channel with the lace. Chinguchgook couldn't have done better. Of course, Chinguchgook didn’t have car keys.
He brandished the spear at one of the distant nyala and experienced a surge of confidence. Derek felt strong and primitive with his spear and could almost imagine the beat of African drums. He cocked his head. He wasn’t imagining. He did hear drums. He smiled as he realized that the sound being wafted in on the breeze, was from the South Bronx, outside the zoo. Although it was the sound of Bongo Drums, it took not much effort to imagine oneself in the Africa of old. Bongos in the Bronx.
He hefted the spear again and it felt good. Now he had to figure out what to do with it. He looked at the gate, and thought he’d rather not have to test it out on one of the wandering cats. He really did want to go into action. What action, he didn't know.
He thought of the hungry cats, and got yet another idea. He looked about for lions, and not seeing any, threw open the gate wide. Then he went to the rear of the habitat to intimidate the nyala. It was hard to be too intimidating when one of his shoes, the one without the lace, kept falling off. He bent to remove the lace from the other shoe. He cut it in half, and laced each shoe from the middle to the top.
One more step back to the primitive.
Waving his spear, and thumping the ground with his feet, he herded the reluctant nyala out of their habitat. That should keep the cats occupied, and well fed.
He watched the last of the nyala wander into the darkness, closed the gate behind them, and considered what to do next. It had stopped drizzling. He took Jeffrey’s jacket back in hand, sighed. There was nothing to plan. Wait twenty minutes for the nyalas to be converted to food, and just go out and try to find my son.
Maybe they put the kid back in the dorm room, doubtful but possible. Maybe they’d found the Cub Scouts by now and Jeffrey might be in with them. That would be good, as Jeffrey would have Kit and the others for company and it might be easier to find a group of kids than just one. Derek opened the enclosure gate, looked around and left the nyala habitat. In a crouching run, he started back to Zoo Center.
"Hello." came a cheerful voice from behind him.
Derek shot bolt upright and had there been a ceiling above him, he would have had to peel himself off it. "What the hell." He pivoted around.
It was the Cubmaster, Rom. He was carrying a knapsack and looked every bit the Boy Scout leader.
"Hi!" said Rom.
"Hi? I could have been a CALF sniper. I might have shot you."
"No," said Rom, "You weren’t carrying a weapon.
Derek looked at his spear and felt deflated. Who am I kidding. A spear against assault weapons.
"I mean other than that neat spear."
Derek smiled. "Thanks." Then the strangeness hit him. "Wait. What are you doing here? Didn't they send you our of the zoo?"
"Yes, but I snuck back in. I'm going to find my scouts and get them out of here."
"And I'm looking for my son. Perhaps we should join forces." Derek looked Rom up and down and suddenly felt ridiculous. "What am I saying.. Two of us. A spear and a scout knife. You do have a scout knife, I assume."
"Sure. Of Course."--Derek noted that the kid didn't seem to understand sarcasm.--"Let's get out of sight--those trees over there."
The Cubmaster pointed to a dense cluster of trees near the duck pond. Derek followed as Rom ran for cover.
"And," said Rom just loud enough for Derek to hear, "if any wandering cats should drop by, we could climb the trees."
Derek looked over at a tree and had trouble imagining himself climbing it. "The Calfers might still be a problem," he whispered as he reached the safety of the trees, "but I think we're safe from the carnivores. I broke the antelopes out of their enclosure. I think they make better cat food than we do." Saying that, Derek felt immensely proud of himself. He juggled his spear.
"Hey. That's neat."
"When are they going to rescue us?" Derek spoke with the casual confidence borne of a good spear.
"I don't know. Nobody's told me anything."
Derek was puzzled. The police wouldn't just let things play themselves out. "What about the newspapers? What do they say?"
"I haven't read them, or watched television either. I've been working on how to get in and then back out. What has been going on, anyway? And by the way, I thought you were in with the hostages."
Derek's anger welled up. "After Jeffrey was beaten by the scum, we escaped. But Jeffrey was caught."
"Beaten? They beat a human child?"
"An odd way to put it," Derek speculated that Rom's first language might not have been English, "but yes. I've got to find him and get the hell out of here. Before I do though, I'd like to kill that Jack, the guy who beat my son."
Rom nodded and rolled to his feet. "You don't know where my Cub Scouts are, do you?"
"I haven’t a clue." Derek shrugged. "My son gave me the unlikely story that they were hanging out with the wolves."
"Impossible. They’re not there. I’ve just come from the wolf habitat. That’s where I’ve set up my camp."
"With the wolves?"
Derek felt he was missing something. "Wolves?"
"Sure. There’s a low area at the rear of their habitat that can’t be seen from the path, or even from the tramway. Come on. Let’s go back there and plan. I can offer you food and hot cocoa. You can stay in my tent tonight. Don’t worry. The wolves won’t bother us."
Derek gestured that Rom should lead the way.
"and I can offer you an evening of quality television," said Derek thinking of the little TV set in Jeffrey’s jacket pocket.
Rom looked back, over his shoulder. "What?"
"I have Jeffrey's pocket TV set."
God, this kid's young. He talks just like Jeffrey.
The Cubmaster looked over his shoulder again. "Try to move more quietly," he whispered.
"I’m trying." Derek watched as Rom floated like a ghost through the undergrowth.
Rom stopped and waited as Derek ran to catch up. "Actually, I haven’t set up my tent yet," said Rom. "If I had, the wolves would have ripped it to shreds by now."
Derek leaned double, catching his breath. "Wouldn’t they also rip us to shreds if we were inside it?"
"No. Wolves have good noses. They’d just sniff around to satisfy their curiosity. Then they’d go away and leave us alone."
They started walking.
"Did you say hot cocoa?"
"Sure," said Rom. "Not to worry. The flame of my little alcohol stove is almost invisible."
"Boy, I could use some hot cocoa," said Derek using his spear as a walking stick. "Coffee would be better, but cocoa's fine."
"Have you talked much with the other hostages."
The Cubmaster's question seemed an abrupt change of subject. "What? No. They're a pretty unpleasant group."
"You haven't talked about me or my scouts, or where we're from?"
Derek felt Rom was hiding something. "Not even where I'm from. Why?"
"No reason. Just curious."
Derek shrugged. Maybe the kid's just awed by the big city and doesn't want to seem like a rural hick.