Chapter 19 Wednesday, 1030 hours (10:30 AM)
Joshua led Andrew Steiner over to the polar bear enclosure. It was a hive of activity. Brian and his crew were setting up cameras, checking batteries and videotape, and putting up lighting umbrellas. Other Calfers were doing other preparations, and there were several who had just come to watch. There was also the Calfer guarding the hostage to be released and who'd be forced to watch the execution. It all had the air, thought Joshua, of a hanging in the old west.
They walked up to Brian, who was wearing earphones and had his eye to his viewfinder, watching the bears frolicking among the imitation ice flows - swimming, diving, and playing with a floating log that was in their pool as a toy.
"It would work better in black and white, wouldnt it?" said Steiner from behind.
Startled, Brian straightened up and spun around. He saw Joshua and the other man, and blushed from embarrassment.
"Brian," said Joshua cheerfully, "I would like to introduce the gentleman who shortly will be entertaining the bears. He would like to talk with you."
Brian took off his earphones.
"This is Mr. Andrew Steiner. I shall leave him here to talk to you," said Joshua. Joshua walked off leaving Mr. Steiner and four Calfers to guard him. As he walked off, Joshua looked back.
"15 minutes, Mr. Steiner."
Joshua looked at his watch and went off to enjoy the scene from a more distant vantage point. He was aware of the contradiction. Here, at the wild zoo and in the company of young college kids, he felt more alive than he could ever remember. Yet it was impending death that gave him that vitality - not only Steiner's death, but also his own. Joshua did not plan to survive Operation Zoo, but he would take many with him on his grand exit. That was a comfort. He wasn't particularly afraid of dying, but he worried that he'd miss things - that the world would go on without him. If fate had brought him a button that were he to push it, the world would be destroyed, then push it he would.
For a quarter of an hour, Joshua drank in the scene.
He returned to the bear enclosure accompanied by a Calfer carrying a wood board to place across the bear moat. Mr. Steiner was quite literally going to walk the plank. They also brought a chair so that Steiner could step up to the plank.
"OK," said Joshua, "Lets get on with it."
Andrew Steiner was helped on to the chair, while another Calfer began to place the board across the moat. Steiner, signaled him to hold up."
"Id like to say a few things," said Steiner. "Last words and all that."
"Of course," said Joshua. The Calfer put down the board.
"Roll tape please," said Steiner to Brian.
Mr. Steiner reiterated his dedication to animals, and his terminal medical diagnosis. Finally he looked straight into the camera and spoke directly to Brian.
"Brian, I know you are being forced to do this, but dont beat yourself up about it. You really are doing me a favor. At worst you are aiding in something like a doctor assisted suicide. I find Im sort of thrilled by the prospect of dying at the uh, at the claws of one of the animals Ive spent almost my whole life photographing."
Steiner looked out at the bears, and then back to the camera. Now he spoke his last words to the world. He said farewell to his friends and those who knew him by his work. Then he said,
"Finally, I leave my old Nikon, this one," he said holding up the camera he was holding, "to my young colleague Brian. I hope he will keep it and let it serve him as it served me."
Steiner looked back over to Joshua,
"OK, Im ready," he said.
The board was placed to span the moat. Steiner first took the camera from around his neck, set its focus, f-stop, and speed, and shakily walked across the board to the concrete floor of the bear enclosure. For a few moments the puzzled bears ignored him. Steiner for his part was taking picture after picture with his motorized film advance camera. At last, one of the bears, the one closest to him started slowly towards him. Steiner set the camera on automatic. There'd be little time to set exposure. Then, with mouth open in attack attitude, the bear ran at him at full speed.
The bear closed for the kill just as Steiner got off his last shot. His last word, which was for Brian, was "Catch!" which he shouted as he flung the camera backwards over his shoulder. The camera traveled in a slow arc. Brian, who would not normally leave his camera during a shoot, left his camera running, sprinted out and caught the camera, cradling it gently in his arms.
When he got back to his camera, there was no Andrew Steiner. There remained only a bloody carcass being ravaged and fought over by four ravening bears.
Brian signaled his assistant to stop filming. "Thats a wrap," said Brian under his breath.
Joshua closed his eyes, replaying the killing over and over again. This was his first killing. The bears were just his agents, his instrumentality like a gun or knife. In his mind he saw his own hands tearing and rending the flesh. It was his first killing, an irreversible act. Yes, he enjoyed the harrowing of Evan with the bats, enjoyed the quivering and twitching of that boy under his hands while Jack strapped him. But the killing, the irreversible killing, that was more than simple enjoyment. It was the power of life and death. "This is what it must feel like to be God." Joshua replayed the scene again and felt the life flowing out from Andrew Steiner and into himself. Andrew Steiner was his first, his beloved first, but there would be more. Joshua thought of lives, first the hostages including the children whom he would soon find. Then he thought of all the young Calfers, and finally of the police attacking and killing. Then he fondly replayed his dream, the aircraft smoothly crashing into the water and this time he heard the sounds of screaming as it went under the waves.
Joshua was well satisfied. He wondered idly "How, do you suppose, do you get blood stains off polar bear fur?"
Joshua turned to Jack and the Bear Detail volunteers, one of whom was holding the hostage that would be released.
Joshua smiled sweetly at the hostage whos knees were about to buckle from the horror that he had just witnessed, and then spoke to the Calfer holding him up."
"Escort our temporary guest to a bathroom. I think he probably wants to freshen up a bit before hes ready to leave."
Joshua was enjoying himself.
"The first one for the cause," he said, "Therell be more, " he added.
Turning to Brian he said,
"Brian, get me copies of those tapes. I need three copies of each, no make it four, and I need them in a half hour, by 11:30." He spoke as if nothing particularly unusual had happened.
Brian nodded glumly, "Film at 11. Life goes on."