Go to Cover Brian ignores Joshua's call, but observes another murder.Derek watches as a hostage is tormented, and another is murdered.Rom looks to escape, while Sam seeks him out to bite him or to die.Jack helps torture one, and kill another, but it brings no satisfaction.Joshua uses a cobra to terrorizes a woman, and he also feeds an alligator.Fact: The official state animal of Tennessee is the raccoon.An aligatorGo to chapter 22 in Derek's ViewGo to chapter 25 in Derek's View

Chapter 23 Wednesday, 1415 hours (2:15 PM)

Derek stood suddenly, startling the troop of vervet monkeys. There was no sense staying here. What he needed to do was to break Jeffrey out of the leopard enclosure somehow, and then get out of the zoo. Maybe he could bribe a Calfer to let them out. First though, he'd visit his son to make sure he was still okay.

Derek went to the basement of Jungle World, but at the back door, he hesitated. It was dangerous outside and, as he knew now, the Calfers were more dangerous than the freed cats. He opened the door a crack and peeked out. It looked safe. Derek slipped through, and crouching, spear in hand, ran for the cover of the undergrowth.

He worked his way slowly toward the snow leopard cage. Maybe somewhere along the way, he'd find a rope or something. He could throw one end over to Jeffrey who could make those clever little loops along the rope, and he could climb out. Derek tried to work out the logistics for freeing Jeffrey as he scuttled through the undergrowth. Heíd stop for cover again at The World of Reptiles on the way. Maybe heíd find a rope in there.

Derek darted into the Reptile House and turned back to look through the tinted glass doors.

Damn.

Three zoo carts were moving down the path. And it looked as if they were heading right for the Reptile House. Derek frantically looked around for cover. He found nothing on the ground floor but overlooking the hall from a balcony, there was a large open diorama of the Indian desert. There was a low tree in the display surrounded by tall grasses. He could hide there. It afforded a good view of the ground floor and he'd know when it was safe to go.

Derek climbed to the diorama and leapt from rock to rock to the tree so as not to leave footprints in the sand. He dropped prone and looked out through the grass like a sheepdog through fur.

He froze as the door to the outside opened, and Calfers entered. They dragged two hostages in with them. Joshua came in next, and then Jack. One of the hostages, a woman, screamed steadily. It was by no means pleasant, but Derek was relieved that the screeching might cover his loudly beating heart.

Now though, nothing seemed to be happening. They seemed to be waiting for something, and Derek worried that a Calfer might let his eyes wander to the diorama.

A few minutes later, there was another flurry of activity at the door, and a few more Calfers came in. They carried video cameras and lights. It looked very professional. Derek used the diversion to shift to a more comfortable position.

He watched then, as Jack and the guards pulled the hostages over to the snake exhibits. Derek could make out that it was the hooded cobra enclosure. The womanís wailing stopped only to be replaced by a nasal whine.

Joshua, smiling, watched as technicians set up a camera and lights. When they signaled they were ready, Joshua stepped forward, placing himself between the woman the cobra.

"Again, weíll let the animals decide your fate."

Then he turned to Jack. "Take this lady around to the back of the cobra den. Hold her arm down into the enclosure for say, five minutes. Letís see if the cobra ignores her or not."

In his hiding place, Derek stifled a gasp.

The woman began to scream again and fought with the Calfer holding her.

Joshua looked at her and then back to Jack. "Better take some help."

Derek had to admit, the Calfers knew their jobs; they'd lighted the cobra enclosure very well. The womanís hand in the rear, was very visible especially since she was struggling, flopping her hand about, trying to find something in the enclosure to hold on to. The flurry of light and motion aroused the cobra. It slithered around the enclosure, stopping to display its hood in front of the unseeing hand. Then it struck.

Derek saw the hand jerk out of the enclosure, and heard the the little feeding door slam shut. The woman was alternately screaming and whimpering as they brought her around front and face to face with Joshua.

"Cobra venom is deadly," said Joshua. "Itís a matter of twenty or thirty minutes before death is certain. Before that, cobra antivenin is effective."

Joshua gave instructions that no one stop the woman leaving the reptile house. He turned back to the victim. "Go. Try to make it to the outside. No one will stop you."

A Calfer opened the door and the woman ran screaming out of the Reptile House.

Derek turned his attention back to the cobra den, and watched as the cameras and lights were taken down. Then he saw the other hostage wave to Joshua.

"Excuse me please." The hostage spoke in an meek voice. "When are you going to let me go?"

"You misunderstand, Mr. Foreman," said Joshua. "The snake was not venomous. Its fangs were removed, so you see it is she, not you that will sleep in a bed at home tonight."

"Man. Oh man," said Mr. Foreman backing against a wall and letting his knees buckle.

Then Derek looked over at Jack. He was trembling.

"Why the hell didnít you tell me the snake wasnít poisonous," he shouted.

"It was there on the sign." Joshua smiled and pointed to a sign. "If you had bothered to read it."

Derek had until now, not entirely believed his sonís story of the man being forced to his death in the polar bear den, but he doubted it no longer. Damned blood crazed bunny huggers. The sadistic bastards.

But then he observed the participants more carefully. It was only Joshua who seemed to be enjoying himself. The Calfer guards were clearly unhappy and ashamed. Their body language and the way they avoided all eye contacts made that clear. The technicians were just doing their jobs as technicians do, but it was clear that they were trying to bury themselves in their work and ignore as much as possible exactly what that work was.

The kids are okay. Itís really all that monster Joshua, that fascinating, charismatic monster.

Looking over at the hostage cowering in the corner, Derek could only sympathize. Poor slob.

Derek didnít want to watch the goings on, but he had no choice. He was trapped. Once Joshua and his gang left, the Reptile House would be safe but it still wouldnít be save to leave as long as it was light outside.

Derek watched as Calfers bound Mr. Foremanís hands and legs with electrical cable. Then under Joshua's direction, they carried him towards the crocodile lake. The lake lay behind a glass barrier wall. It was obviously of recent construction as beyond the wall, stood an older metal railing. Apparently after acquiring the large crocodile, the zoo considered the railing insufficient protection against accidents.

Joshua unlocked the access door and the Calfers carried Mr. Foreman through and up to the railing. Mr. Foreman behaved much as did the woman before him except he screamed in a lower pitch. 

Joshua ordered the man's mouth taped shut with duct tape and the screams were replaced by muffled moans.

"Oh dear," said Joshua, "You seemed to have soiled your trousers. No matter, the water will clean them."

He turned to the guards. "Okay, throw him in."

The guards bent Mr. Foreman over the railing, but did not push him over.

"I said throw him in." Joshua growled menacingly, "Now."

The Calfers did as they were told and flipped Mr. Formanís legs over the railing.

The tape muffled scream stopped abruptly as Mr. Foreman hit the water, head first. Trussed as he was, he could simply have drowned but the crocodile was already in the water, seemingly there waiting to be fed. The reptile seized the man in its jaws and in the usual killing style of crocodiles pulled its victim under water and rolled over sideways spinning Mr. Foremanís head in and out of the water. Finally as the man weakened, the crocodile was able to hold its prey completely under the surface. With the water turning red as it was, Derek couldn't tell if Mr. Foreman died from the reptileís teeth or from drowning.

Derek turned his eyes away, and happened to glance at Jack. Jack's face was contorted in horror.

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