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.Saying: The lion's skin is never cheap. - English proverbAn aligatorGo to chapter 20 in Jack's ViewGo to chapter 24 in Jack's View

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

Jack felt he was in a dream. Hardly four hours ago, they had sent Andrew Steiner to his death, and now they were going to do it again. He, Joshua, and four hard liner guards stormed in to the hostage compound. Joshua made no attempt at sugar-coating his mission with euphemisms. He announced that he was there to chose two hostages, one to be freed and the other killed. He ordered the hostages to line up against the wall, and as he had done earlier that day, Joshua slowly walked down the line, enjoying the process of making his selections.

He stopped in front of a man, stared him down, and asked,

"What’s your name?"

"Reggie Foreman, sir," answered the man, casting his eyes down to the floor as he spoke.

"We will take you, Mr. Foreman," said Joshua nodding to a guard.

"No, not me," he pleaded, "Look, I have money. Chose someone else."

Joshua ignored the man and continued down the line.

"Damn it. You can’t do this to me," Mr. Foreman shouted.

Mr. Foreman tried to move forward and plead his case face to face with Joshua, but was held back by two Calfers. Joshua paid no attention to the commotion behind.

Foreman, held as he was, just raised his voice higher. Joshua stopped, paused a few seconds with his back to the man. Then he swiveled around sharply, grabbed an AK-47 from the nearest Calfer and pointed the weapon at Mr. Foreman’s stomach.

"Shut up now, or I’ll kill you on the spot," said Joshua, cocking the mechanism to punctuate his threat.

Mr. Foreman’s eyes widened in fright. Joshua waited a few seconds, then turned and took a few more steps. He stopped in front of the woman who was selected the last time, only to be replaced by Andrew Steiner.

"I think it’s only fair we give you another chance," said Joshua again nodding to a guard.

The woman screamed.

"It’s fifty fifty," shouted Joshua over the wailing. "One of you is going to sleep in your own bed tonight."

Outside the locked hostage rooms, a wailing woman and a cloyingly ingratiating man were being taken out to a truck for a ride over to The World of Reptiles. As the guards were guiding their captives into the foyer, Joshua radioed for Brian and his video crew. Brian could not be found.

After a while, Joshua tired of waiting, gave instructions to Jack and arranged for technicians to grab some cameras, get over fast and prepare to film the events themselves.

Jack and the guards took the hostages to the snake exhibits, in particular to the hooded cobra enclosure. The woman’s wailing stopped only to be replaced by a nasal whine of terror. Mr. Foreman remained silent. He considered himself and Joshua cut from the same cloth. By Joshua’s manner with him, he was sure he was the one to be released.

Joshua came in with the techies and waited while they set up a camera and lights. When they signaled they were ready Joshua stepped forward, placing himself between the woman and her view of the cobra. Not being able to see the snake, she stared intently as Joshua.

"Again, we’ll let the animals decide your fate," Joshua said to her.

Then he turned to Jack.

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

The woman, hearing this, began to scream again and fight with the Calfer holding her. Joshua looked at her and then back to Jack.

"Better take some help," he said nodding to a guard.

The techies had lighted the cobra enclosure very well. The woman’s 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. This flurry of light and motion aroused the normally tranquil cobra. It moved around the enclosure, stopping to display its hood in front of the unseeing hand. Then it struck.

By the recoil, Jack knew he need hold the arm no longer. He released the woman and slammed the little feeding door shut as soon as her hand was clear. She was alternately screaming and whimpering as they brought her around front and face to face with Joshua.

"Cobra venom is deadly. It’s a matter of twenty or thirty minutes before death is certain. Before that, cobra antivenin is effective," Joshua explained.

Joshua unclipped his walkie-talkie and radioed instructions that no one stop a woman leaving the reptile house. He turned back to the woman.

"Go," he said, "try to make it to the outside. No one will stop you."

The woman looked at him bugged-eyed for a moment, then she started screaming again and at the same time started running. A Calfer opened the door and her progress towards the perimeter fence could be measured by the volume of her screams.

As the cameras and lights were being taken down, Mr. Foreman finally spoke up to ask when they were going to release him.

"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 while he fully absorbed Joshua’s words.

Jack’s reaction was louder. He was trembling. Holding that screaming woman’s hand in the cage had taken a lot out of him. Sadistic as his nature was, it was not the pleasure that Jack had thought it would be.

"Why the hell didn’t you tell me the snake wasn’t poisonous," he shouted.

"It was there on the sign," answered Joshua lightly. "If you had bothered to read it."

Jack didn’t answer, directing his anger inside instead and trying to control his trembling.

Reggie Foreman, from his position on the floor, watched Jack and Joshua with fear glazed eyes.

They bound Mr. Foreman’s hands and legs with electrical cable and were carrying him towards the crocodile lake. The lake was behind a glass barrier wall. It was obviously of recent construction as after the wall, there was 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 was behaving much as the woman before him had except her high pitched screams were here replaced by muffled moans. Joshua had the man’s mouth sealed with duct tape.

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

Joshua smiled at his own little joke.

"OK, throw him in," he said to the guards.

The guards, seeing Joshua’s joking mood thought this was another mock killing, like the woman’s. They bent Mr. Foreman over the railing, but did not push him over. They waited there expecting or at least hoping that Joshua would tell them to release the guy.

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

The startled Calfers mechanically did as they were told and flipped Mr. Forman’s legs over the railing.

The tape muffled scream was cut off abruptly as he hit the water, head first. Trussed as he was, he could have simply 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. Foreman’s 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, it was unknown if Mr. Foreman died from the reptile’s teeth or from drowning.

Jack watched this with horror compounded by his phobia. He had been taught to swim by the ‘sink or swim’ school of aquatic instruction. He had indeed learned to swim, but at the cost of a dread fear of drowning. Swimming was no fun for him. Jack couldn’t wait to get out of the World of Reptile building.

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