Chapter 18 Wednesday, 0945 hours (9:45 AM)
You were in there a long time," said Derek when Rom regained the cover of the trees.
"Sorry," said Rom, "but they were there, my scouts. They're safe and happy, except they won't leave. I said we should try to get out of the zoo, but they only have their underwear, and they're afraid there might be girls outside. They're going to stay put until I can get them some clothes, their uniforms preferably."
"Jeffrey's not with them then?"
"No, and they don't know where he is. I'm sorry. We'll just have to keep trying to find him."
Derek smiled to hide his worry. Jeffrey was sort of a Ďhot house flowerí. Despite reading ĎBoyís Lifeí, he didnít have Kits feel for the outdoors. And he was alone. Derek let out a long breath. "Okay. Letís get going."
They tried the Gorilla Pavilion and the Mouse House, all with negative results. Then, thinking Jeffrey might have been hungry, they started checking out the various zoo cafeterias and snack bars. Each one they tried turned out to be closed for the season.
This search was beginning to wear on Derek, not only because of the disappointments, one after another, but also because the searching was hard. They had to move carefully, especially now in the daylight, an avoid not only the Calfers on the ground, but also the spotter in the tramway, not to mention tigers and the like. The cats would probably have run to ground by now, and they were probably all well fed on nyalla.
Perhaps it was just that it was hard to feel stealthy in sunlight, or maybe just because they were getting tired, but they got careless. They had just climbed out a window of the Lakeside cafeteria, the only one so far, not closed for the season. They turned around and found themselves looking into the faces of two Calfers. Although each of them was carrying an assault rifle, they appeared friendly and they were not pointing their guns.
"Nice spear," said one of them.
"Thanks," said Derek nervously.
"Youíre the Cub Scout leader," said the other. "I thought you were out of the zoo." This Calfer although friendly, seemed nervous.
"I was," said Rom. "Iím looking for my cub pack. You havenít seen them, have you?"
"No, and weíve been looking."
Here Derek broke in, "Iím looking for another kid. Iím his father. Iím worried about him."
The Calfers looked embarrassed.
"Thereís a kid in the snow leopard cage," said the first Calfer.
"In a leopard cage?" said Derek, excitedly.
"Donít worry. There are no leopards in with him," said the other. "Hey, weíre sorry. We came here because we are for animal rights, not to hurt kids and kill hostages."
"What do you mean, kill hostages?" Derek asked.
"Forget it. God I wish we were out of here."
"Why donít you just leave?" asked Rom.
The two Calfers exchanged looks "It's not that easy anymore," answered the nervous Calfer.
It was pretty clear to Derek that though they didn't like being in the zoo, they were even more frightened at the thought of escaping.
"Come with us. We'll get you out," said Rom.
"No. Itís OK. We have to do this for the animals. Besides, there are snipers now at all the exits."
The nervous Calfer seemed eager to end the conversation. "Look," he said, "We've got to figure out what to do with you. Excuse us for a moment."
Derek watched while the Calfers moved off and talked. He noticed Rom watching them and straining. Clearly he was trying to overhear the Calfers. But they certainly were too far away--even for the keen ears of youth.
The Calfers were clearly uncomfortable with the situation; the looked around occasionally, at Derek and Rom: apparently checking to see if they'd run off. Derek got the feeling that the Calfers would have like them to have run off.
Derek watched. It looked as if the Calfers had reached a decision.
"All right. We havenít been ordered to find and bring you in, so go away." Derek looked hard at the Calfer's face. His eyes were wild with--what? Fear probably. "Thereís bad stuff happening here. Get out if you can. If you canít, just hide out. Now get out of here. Look man, Weíre really sorry."
Derek felt Rom's hand on his shoulder; Rom and Derek set off fast, and low to the ground.
"Those guys were scared. Do you know anything about killing hostages?" asked Rom.
"No. Just a figure of speech, hyperbole. I hope."
They stopped in the protection of a grove of trees. Derek needed to catch his breath.
"By the way," he said, trying to drag out the rest period. "So you donít know where your Cub Scouts are. Doesnít the scout law say something about being truthful?"
Rom paused a moment. "No. Thatís funny, it doesnít. Besides, I didnít lie. I just asked if theyíd seen them."
"Splitting hairs, I think." Derek felt rested enough. "Come on. Weíve got to find the snow leopard cage."
"Itís back near the World of Darkness." Rom. pointed the way. "Let's go. I don't want to leave my scouts alone too long."
"Careful," warned Rom as they were about to emerge from the undergrowth in front of the snow leopard cage. They got down and crawled forward. Derek looked through the brush and got a dizzy feeling of surrealism. There, in front of the cage was a snow leopard looking in. Apparently, he'd had enough of freedom, and wanted to go home to his cage. The cage was occupied however. Jeffrey was safe inside, looking admiringly back at the leopard.
Rom laughed at the sight. The leopard looked up at the sound, gave a short growl and ran off.
"Itís safe to go in close," said Rom. "The tramway canít see us here. Go on. Iím going to nose around and see if there is a way to get him out."
Derek nodded and went to his son. Rom disappeared into the bush.
Looking into the cage, Derek felt unexplainably guilty that he wasn't in there as well.
"I'm sorry, Jeffrey."
"Hi Derek." Jeffery seemed reserved--even cowed. "Is Mr. Haldane looking for a way to get me out?"
"Mr. Haldane? Rom. Yes. We're going to get you out."
The snow leopard habitat was a mix of old style and new style zoo architecture. The leopards lived on natural ground and there was an artificial cave that the leopard could use as a den. On the other hand, the habitat was surrounded by old fashioned, prison-style, bars. Out of the corner of his eye, Derek watched as Rom circumnavigated the enclosure.
Rom joined Derek and shook his head, Ďnoí.
"Hello Mr. Haldane. Did you find Kit and the others yet?" asked Jeffrey.
"I'm not precisely sure where they are now," said Rom. Derek marveled how the Cubmaster could be strictly truthful but misleading at the same time.
"Well, I hope you find them."
"What are you doing in there?" asked Rom, lightly.
"They said I was bad and Iím being punished."
Derek clenched his fists.
"Get me out of here." Jeffrey banged on the bars.
"We will," said Derek.
"Get me out of here now," said Jeffrey, raising his voice.
"Hey. Keep it down," whispered Derek.
"We canít get you out now," said Rom. "Unless we have an elephant stampede to knock down the fence, weíll have to wait until after dark before we can pull you out over the top,"
"Whatís wrong with the idea of an elephant stampede?" Jeffrey asked.
"The elephants are locked in too. We canít get them out either."
Derek, marveling at Rom's imagination, turned to mundane matters. "Did they feed you?"
"Yeah, hard rolls and water. and someone threw me a candy bar from a zoo cart. I donít think they plan to feed me again until they let me out tomorrow morning. One of the Calfers, a really nice guy, is going to smuggle some food to me later, though."
"Good, but weíve got to go now so that they donít catch us," said Rom. "Weíll be back later."
As they turned to go, Derek remembering the jacket turned back to the cage. "Here. Take your jacket. The TVís in the pocket. Iím afraid the batteries are starting to run down. You should be able to use it for a few more hours." Derek passed the jacket through the bars. "It might be good to keep your jacket in that den. Itís best if nobody knows we were here."
"I really hate Mr. Cave," said Jeffrey.
"Is that why you have the spear? to kill him?"
Derek laughed. "No. I donít think so."
Behind the laughter, Derek considered Jeffreyís question. He didnít really hate Joshua. Without knowing him better, hating him was hard. Jack though was another matter. It was Jack that lost his temper with Jeffrey. It was Jack that wielded the strap. Did he want to kill Jack? He played with the idea and was disturbed that here among the animals, and the nyala carcasses, and with the absence of newspapers, the idea of killing did not seem quite so morally abhorrent anymore. He didnít want to want to kill. He played with other images and decided it would be better not to kill Jack, but instead to spear him through the hand and transfix him to a tree.
"We've got to go. I'll see you later, today later," said Derek, "Bye, Jeffrey."
"See you, Derek." said Jeffrey, putting on a brave face.
"Whatís the matter?" Rom asked observing Derek in thought.
They were again hidden in the scrubby undergrowth between habitats.
"Nothing. Itís just that I think Jeffrey is handling this situation better than I am. Heís in there and I canít rescue him."
"Heís a good kid," said Rom. "Heíll wait. Weíll spring him tonight. Meanwhile, let's go steal some food. Jeffrey could use some, and so could my scouts."
"Your kids must be pretty hungry by now."
"No," said Rom. "They stumbled on a load of snack cakes and have eaten themselves sick."
"Oh God." Derek felt suddenly dog-tired. "I just want to get Jeffrey free and sneak out of this damned zoo."