Chapter 27 Wednesday, 1720 hours, (5:20 PM)
Derek reached the snow leopard enclosure and stopped short of it when he saw the zoo cart parked in front. From low in the bushes he saw that Jack, the monster, was actually in with the boys talking to them. Derek gritted his teeth and then noticed that Jack was not carrying a weapon. Derek smiled bitterly and hefted his spear. He'd try to be patient and wait until Jack came out and was in spear range.
Derek was fighting the pain from a cramp when he saw Jack open the door of the enclosure. He was leaving and taking Kit with him.
He heard Jeffrey shout, "Be careful Cat."
Derek waited until Jack was out of the enclosure, and Kit was clear. Then he sprang out from the undergrowth. "Iíll teach you to beat children, you filthy sadist," he shouted, jabbing at Jack's midsection with the spear.
Jack stepped backwards to avoid the point, and tripped, falling against the bars of the enclosure. As Derek readied his spear for another thrust, Jeffrey shouted out,
"No Dad. Stop! Heís my friend. He brought me food. He brought me batteries."
Derek stopped in surprise. Not only had Jeffrey called this beast, friend, but also for the first time, he heard his son call him dad. He wondered if all fathers melted at the sound of the word, or only those like himself who had never heard it applied to themselves.
Jack got up and dusted himself off. "Please. Iím very sorry and really ashamed."
Derek had hated Jack and it took a moment for him to adjust to the current circumstances. You can't tell the players without a scorecard.
"Jack's okay. Mr. Cave's the bad guy," said Jeffrey.
Derek put down his spear. He remembered Jack's look of horror in the Reptile house. Maybe the experience had brought the kid to his senses. "Well. If Jeffrey can forgive you, I guess I can too." He extended his hand, "Iím Derek Robinson."
"Jack Marin," said Jack taking the hand. "Jeffís a great kid, Mr. Robinson."
"Yeah. Thanks." Derek thought about that. Jeff. Great kid. He had never thought of the boy as other than Jeffrey, a toddlerís name. Jeffery, Jeff, was no toddler anymore. Derek looked across the bars at his son. Definitely not a toddler, he was growing confident and tall. This was a thinking human with his own ideas, own likes and dislikes. Jeff. Derek played with the name. Jeff, my son. It sounded good.
"Are you all right," said Jeff.
"Call me that again.".
"Dad. I like the sound of it."
"Sure. Dad," said Jeff, laughing.
Derek reached through the bars to tousle his sonís hair.
Jack and Derek spent some time exchanging news and getting to know each other. Jack explained that Joshua had decided to hand back the zoo, but wanted someone, a kid, to tell his story. Kit had volunteered.
Jack took his leave to bring Kit back to Joshua at Zoo Center. Derek decided to stay in with the scouts.
"If a patrol comes by," said Jack getting into the cart with Kit, "tell them itís all right. Tell them itís been cleared by Jack and Joshua. Not that anyone will bother checking now that we donít have walkie-talkies anymore."
As Jack was about to drive off, Derek leaned his head in the window and asked softly, "Joshua really didnít force someone into the polar bear cage, did he?" Derek knew the answer, but had to hear it.
"Yes." Jack put the cart in gear and drove off.
Derek walked into the enclosure and he was nervous. There had been a murder at the zoo, two of them, and here he was in a cage with a bunch of kids. He had a right to feel nervous. He tried telling himself that everything was all right now, but he wasnít quite ready to give up his spear yet. He forced the concern out of his mind. Heíd use the time until Jack returned to try to make up for lost time and try to get to know his son.