Chapter 29 Wednesday, 2000 hours (8 PM)
The game ended and the kids gathered round to eat the snacks and drink the sodas that Jack had provided. Accompanied by the pops and fizzes from pull tabs, Paul described to Derek, how Rom and the scouts had been captured.
"We thought it was Rom, but it wasn't. It was a lot of these CALF people with guns. They said that Mr. Cave ordered them to find us."
"Did they say why Mr. Cave wanted you?"
"No. but they said it was important. Anyway, I accidentally told them that we were waiting for our Cubmaster to come back, and they said they'd wait too. They said they'd hurt us if we made any noise when Rom came back."
"You don't know where Rom is now, do you Mr. Robinson?" asked another scout.
"No, but I expect he's back with the other hostages."
Night had fallen and the leopard enclosure grew dark. Suddenly though, it became even darker. The lights in windows of CALF occupied buildings went out, and the SkySafari gondolas stopped in their forward paths and swayed to and fro.
"What happened?" asked a scout.
"I don't know," said Derek, looking at the darkened buildings in the distance. "The power's been cut."
The scouts discussed it among themselves, then stopped as a short scream broke through their chattering.
"Was that an animal?"
"I don't know," said Derek. He hoped it was an animal.
Then there was more screaming, this time, loud and sustained.
"That's not an animal," said Paul, "I think it's Cat."
Derek jumped up, and grabbed his spear. "Stay here." He bolted from the enclosure and closed the gate behind him. "Stay here," he shouted again, "Until I get back."
Derek ran into the darkness toward where the scream seemed to come from. The screaming grew louder and Derek knew he was getting close. Then the screaming stopped. Derek halted. He didn't know which way to go. He strained his ears for more sounds.
Then he heard another cry.
"Keep away from me. I don’t want to go with you.".
Derek recognized Kit's voice, and ran towards the sound. He was conscious that he was running the way Rom had taught him; soundlessly and on his toes. He didn't want to make a sound since his ears were showing him the direction.
He heard Kit cry out again. "What do you want? Why are you doing this to me?"
Derek followed the sound and then he saw it. There on the cliff overlooking the polar bear den, stood a figure in white, specter-like in the moonlight. Then he saw the smaller figure, pressed against the cliff.
"Why are you doing this. I just want to go home."
Derek ran forward and watched as Joshua, looking like a ghost in the pale light, climbed over the railing and moved slowly toward Kit. Joshua stumbled and seemed to twist his foot. He lost his balance and teetered over the edge. But Joshua regained his footing and started toward the boy again, this time with a slight limp.
When he got to within a few feet from Kit, Joshua put out his arms to the boy. "I’ll take you home."
Derek ran to the railing. "Keep your filthy hands off him." He jabbed his spear through the railing.
"My god," said Joshua, swiveling around, "I didn’t even hear you come."
As angry as Derek was, a small part of his mind registered Joshua’s comment as a compliment. Over the past day or two, Derek had learned stealth. Rom would be proud.
"Get away from him, Now," said Derek menacing Joshua with his key pointed spear.
Joshua’s look of startled surprise turned slowly to a smile as he dropped his arms to his side. Then smoothly and very quickly, Joshua unsnapped and drew his side arm. He leveled the gun at Derek.
"I’d say a nine millimeter Lugar trumps a spear, don’t you think?"
Derek thought he was as good as dead. He could expect no mercy from the likes of Joshua. He stared angrily at Joshua's smirking face, and then the shot rang out.
It took a while for Derek to realize he hadn't been hit. Then he saw Joshua's smile turn to a look of puzzlement. The man lost his balance. He tried to regain his footing but could not. Moving in what appeared to be slow motion, Joshua slipped off the edge, and pivoted over into the void, thirty feet above the floor of the bear den. He fell screaming, but as luck would have it, hit not the concrete floor, but splashed into the polar bear pool.
Derek didn't know what had happened, and was still mentally taking inventory of his body parts. Then he caught sight of a figure walking towards him. It was Jack and he was holding a gun at his side. Apparently he had heard Kit's screams as well.
Jack came up to Derek and they looked down into the Polar Bear pool.
Joshua surfaced from the fall, and struck out with strong strokes for the concrete shore. He made it to the water’s edge. As he pulled himself out of the pool, he drew the attention of the bears. Two of the beasts, ghostly in the moonlight, ambled toward him. Joshua, prone on the concrete, got to his feet and ran, keeping the pool between himself and the bears. The bears started to run and so did Joshua.
Derek watched as one of the bears stopped while the other chased Joshua around the irregularly shaped pond.
These polar bears are damned good. They've hunted before.
Joshua paused for a moment, looked forward and back. He changed direction and ran for the moat, but he didn't make it. The waiting bear broke into a run and seized Joshua in it's jaws. Joshua screamed as the bear bit down. The other bear meanwhile, had also run over, and had used its teeth on a part of Joshua not covered in clothing. Joshua’s agonized screaming continued until the first bear’s jaws collapsed Joshua’s rib cage. Joshua’s spotless whites became stained with growing blotches of dark, damp, red.
"Bears two. Humans nil," said Kit looking down at the ghostly carnage.
Derek noticed Jack’s pained limping and lent him his spear as a crutch. Then Derek turned his attention to Kit.
"Come away Cat," said Derek gently, urging the boy away from the precipice. Kit crawled back under the railing, his handcuffs clanking on the metal as he slid under.
He began to shiver, and he started softly to cry.
Derek scooped him up, hugged him and started back down the hill. He was struck by how light the boy was.
Jack stayed for a moment looking down at the scene below.
"Enough," he said. He detached the holster from his belt and flung it and the weapon it enveloped out into the darkness. It landed in the bear pool, and with bubbles of air leaving the leather pouch almost as a last breath, it sunk heavily to the bottom.
At the bottom of the hill they found Brian and his friend, Evan waiting for them. Brian explained that after he and Brian had talked themselves out of trying to get the hostages released, they decided instead, as a start, that they should honor the memory of the poor man Joshua had forced to his death in the bear den. They'd decided on a ceremony at his graveside, the den in this case.
Isolated as they were in the low hollow of the enclosure and shielded from sound by the brunt of the enclosure, they'd heard Kit’s screams only as the distant call of some animal. Brian happened to look upward however. He nudged Evan and they both observed the drama unfold on the high service walk.
Now Brian and Evan, gathered around Jack. They all talked at once, seemingly to get the horrors out of their systems.
Derek though, kept his attention on Kit. "Are you OK, Cat?" he asked, gently.
Kit sniffled. "Yes." Derek set him on the ground.