Chapter 18 Wednesday, 0945 hours (9:45 AM)
Jack walked with his usual swagger, but it was an effort. He believed in Joshua, and the Lord, but now he was being put to a monstrous test. Could he participate in what might be thought of as murder? He knew he liked to inflict pain, but for a purpose. Could this 'sacrifice' serve any real purpose, or was it just simple murder. It would be fun though. He thought hard about all this as he and Joshua flanked by six Calfers carrying AK-47s, solemnly entered the hostage room. The hostages cleared a path for them and timidly obeyed when asked to stand in a line against the far wall.
"I have to select two hostages," said Joshua, "one of whom will be freed before noon, and the other who will be put in with the polar bears."
"What do you mean, put in with the polar bears?" asked a disgruntled hostage mistaking Joshuas friendly tone.
Joshua looked at him. "The authorities have not acceded to our demands. We have no choice but to allow one of you to be a martyr to our cause."
Joshua had not used the words sacrifice or kill but the hostages were beginning to understand his meaning. Slowly Joshua walked down the line of hostages, stopping in front of each of them, then passing to the next while the one just passed over let out a silent sigh of relief.
Finally Joshua stopped in front of a middle aged man, cowering against the wall.
"You," said Joshua pointing. The man looked as if his knees would buckle, but he managed to remain standing, shaking visibly and with undisguised fear on his face. The hostages around him edged quietly sideways, leaving him standing alone.
"You," he said again, "will be released."
The man uttered a sound of relief while the hostages still to be inspected looked on him with a look of envy.
Jack looked with some envy too. Joshua had the power of God.
Joshua went back to the beginning of the line and began the process again. He stopped this time, in front of a woman looking to be in her early thirties. Before he lifted his hand to point, the woman cried out.
"No. Not me. Please, not me," she pleaded.
Joshua stood looking at her.
"You cant take me. Please, take someone else, not me," she went on as the other hostages again edged sideways leaving her alone and exposed.
Joshua nodded to the two closest Calfers to come and take her. The woman backed away from them, ending up wedged in a corner of the room. A Calfer took her by the arm, but she slid to a curled up, sitting position against the wall, wailing and whining. Another Calfer came over and they attempted to drag her toward the door. Progress was slowed by her kicking and screaming.
Jack was starting to feel serious misgivings, but at this point an older man stepped out of the line.
"Leave her alone," he said brusquely.
Joshua turned to him.
"Shut up, unless you want to take her place," he said.
"Let the woman alone. Ive had enough of this sadistic spectacle," he continued. His voice was firm and calm, but it had a weary quality.
Joshua regarded him coldly. "I guess youre telling me you want to take her place," he said sarcastically.
"Want is not the word I would have chosen," said the man, "but you have the idea. Let her go."
Joshua was taken aback. He turned his attention to the Calfers who were now attempting to draw the woman to her feet and get her through the door.
"No, Please. I dont want to die," she said, "Take him instead. He said so."
Joshua shrugged. "Let her go," he said. The woman scrambled away to cower at the far end of the room.
Joshua turned back to the older man. "Fine. Well take you instead, if thats what you want, but why are you doing this?" he asked.
"My name is Andrew Steiner," said the man. He was hoping that someone would have heard of him but looking around he deduced sadly that no one had.
"Andrew Steiner," he went on. "I am an animal photographer. As animal rights activists I would have thought youd have heard of me. Well, even if you dont know my name, youve probably seen my work in newspapers and magazines, and even on public television. Ive done some motion picture work and video too. If I might say so, Im considered by many to be the best animal photographer of our time." Mr. Steiner went on to mention his magazine credits by name but was cut off by Joshua.
"Fine. Fine, but go on."
"Ive lived my life with animals, and on two occasions almost died on field expeditions. I was younger then. We all were. That wasnt a particularly clever thing to say was it? In any case I didnt die. It was as if Id cheated death. When were young we all feel immortal. Now I find Im mortal, very mortal indeed. You see , I have an incurable disease, terminal in fact. Its very inconvenient."
Steiner had everyone listening intently. He paused for breath and went on.
"I dont want to die a slow lingering death in a hospital. Its just a matter of months, three maybe, maybe less. If I have to die, and unfortunately I do, Id rather go in the field as Ive lived, photographing animals."
He pointed to his camera bag on the floor, under a chair. "Those are my tools, my cameras. Only one with me today, my old Nikon." He was wandering now. "Its loaded with Plus-X, in my opinion the best film for truly artistic work; black and white and extremely fine grain. You have to be careful developing it though."
An impatient wave from Joshua brought him back into focus.
"Youre probably doing me a favor, really," Steiner said. "I wont cause you any trouble, but in return I ask that you let me photograph the bears. Let me go into the enclosure with my camera. Polar bears are magnificent. Maybe I can take the definitive polar bear sequence. Send the film to my agent. His names in my wallet. Send him the film undeveloped. He knows the right processing lab. He wont let it get mangled in one of those drug store 24 hour film development atrocities. Kill me if you must, but save the film. Boy, that sounds melodramatic, doesnt it?"
Joshua agreed to the terms.
"I assume youre also going to record the event on film," said Steiner.
"Were going to videotape it," said Joshua.
"Too bad. Film would have been better. But if you have good video equipment... Look, Id like to talk to the cameraman beforehand, to give him a few pointers. Hes got to get it right the first time, no retakes of course."
"Of course," said Joshua. "But who knows, maybe the bears will just ignore you. Maybe in an hour, youll be right back here."
"Dont tell me fairy tales Mr. Cave. Polar bears are killers, magnificent killers. They love to hunt, and theyre good at it. You know that in the North, they actually stalk and hunt people."
Andrew Steiner nodded to himself. "No. Ill not be coming back here," he said.
The Calfers led Mr. Steiner, and the hostage to be released out of the compound. Save for Joshua, they were uncomfortable with their choice for the polar bears. The Calfers, the volunteers, outside of admiring Mr. Steiner, which they did, felt vaguely that something was not quite right and looked on silently.
Jack on the other hand, thought things were very right and harbored the idea that Joshua had a special relationship with God. Jack and Joshua would be the agents to give Andrew Steiner a noble death. There would be no lingering illness, and his death would have meaning. Jack knew it now. His sadistic tendencies had a higher purpose.