Chapter 2 Friday
Some came by car, most by subway. They wandered the zoo, taking in the sights, until eleven when they assembled at the Bronxdale parking area. The CALF membership, the Calfers as they called themselves, surrounded the large, windowless van that Joshua had rented especially for the occasion.
"OK, Synchronize your watches," said Joshua standing in the open back of the van, "On my mark, 11:21...Mark. Everyone got it?"
"Got it, hell. I dont even own a watch," came a voice in the crowd. It was ignored.
From the rear of the van, Brian and Jack checked members' IDs, and gave out the plastic coated movie staff cards. Each card had a colored cord loop attached so that the card could be worn around the neck. Joshua smiled, looking at his cord-marked troops, each carrying a smart black umbrella. That was one of his ideas - the colored cord. Joshua had a passion for detail. The color indicated, not rank, but function; Green for camera people, red for snipers, purple for people control, blue for the techies, and so forth. If a member in the course of the day, were stopped for suspicious behavior, he could explain, with some measure of truth, that he was rehearsing for Mondays shoot. Joshua as part of the plan, had paid a substantial sum to the zoo for the privilege of filming a documentary and the zoo was prepared for the arrival of a film crew.
As a Calfer put on his staff card, Jack wrote an entry in a large organizational chart, handed out a top-of-the line walkie-talkie, and then individually explained the Calfers duties. Brian meanwhile, was handing out black umbrellas. Every Calfer not wearing a green, camera crew, strap was handed one. Not that it was raining, overcast perhaps, but not rain. The umbrellas were ersatz weaponry. Monday, it would be the real thing, but today the black bumbershoots represented hand guns, grenades, assault rifles, and even the occasional bazooka and flame thrower.
Other military equipment; bullet-proof vests, binoculars, night-goggles, and the like, would for now, have to be left to the imagination. No one but Joshua himself knew about the hand-launched surface to air missiles.
The umbrella-armed Calfers strolled through to the zoo proper for a day of mock maneuvers. It was Friday, a preferred day for school trips, and the weather was unseasonably warm. The zoo was thronged and the Calfers melted into the crowd. No one seemed to pay any attention to the black umbrellas. It would be a day of maneuvers, fun actually, with their walkie-talkies, zoo maps, pretend weapons and individual missions. They were instructed to return to the van at 4:15, just after zero hour. Zero hour itself would not be rehearsed, at least not at the zoo.
When the last of them had passed through the Bronxdale entrance on route to the animals, Joshua, Brian, and Jack closed up the van and sauntered to their selected command post. They had chosen to monitor the day's events from the zoo's Lakeside cafeteria. Monday, the command center would be the Education building which hosted school overnighters and had bunks. Today however, it was an outdoor table at the cafeteria. Brian, Jack and Joshua walked the path alongside the World of Birds, then continued on to the Mexican Wolves, passed the Elephants, and finally arrived at the Lakeside Cafe. Brian and Jack sat down, hooked their umbrellas on the backs of chairs, and set out the clip boards and walkie-talkies. Joshua went to the cafeteria proper to buy them all hot chocolates. At that point there was nothing left to do but sip their drinks and wait for reports to come in.
This was actually rather more than a simple rehearsal. The Calfers had to be confident that they had memorized their maps well. This was important since, on Monday they were going to twist all the zoo direction signs 90 degrees. This they hoped would confuse any police types who might manage to get by the snipers. Also, the communication officers, the blue corded techies, had to plant the listening devices. These were small, very advanced bugs; voice activated and turned on and off by radio. Unless they were on, and there was enough sound to activate them, they were undetectable. They were to be planted at all four zoo entrances, including the two that were closed for the season. Another listening device had already been installed in a building across the street. Before arriving at the zoo, Joshua and a techie had placed one of the little bugs on the roof of the only high-rise apartment building that had a view of the zoo. Joshua figured that if the police were to have their own command post, it would most likely be there.
The techies were extremely important. It was they who would set up and manage the video transmitter, not a satellite video up-link, but a true rogue transmitter broadcasting over an unused UHF channel. All New York City could watch over channel 58. The techies also made up the all-important Key Detail. They had to find out where all the important keys in the zoo were kept. For Operation Zoo to succeed, keys were needed for the zoo buildings and for the ignitions of the zoo's vehicles. Keys were also needed for the animal enclosures since at the end of Operation Zoo, the Calfers intended to free the animals.
For Joshua and Jack there was a hidden agenda item for the day. They had to observe well and attempt to find out whom they could trust. Things could get tough during the actual operation so the rehearsal would also be used to weed out any half-hearted supporters. Jack expected the Columbia University students might be a problem. They were from an Ivy League school, and presumably rather well off financially. Jack automatically distrusted such kids.
The units started reporting in. Somba Village was secure. So was Wild Asia, the Baboon Reserve, and the African Plain. A short time later, the reconnaissance units began to radio in their reports from the Zoo maintenance facility, the animal hospital, first aid station, and finally from Zoo Center, the main administration building.
Everything was going well and to plan, but there were glitches. The first came from the Aerial Tramway, the SkySafari. The sniper assigned to scan the grounds from a gondola high over the zoo was, it turned out, susceptible to airsickness. After taking the tramway back and forth a few times, he was ready to throw up. Sheepishly, he reported his situation to Jack who took it in stride. Jack scanned the operation sheets, made a few erasures, and exchanged the tramway sniper with an armed patroller of Wild Asia.
"One problem solved." Said Jack.
"I hope theyre all this simple," said Brian.
It was another hour until they encountered a more serious problem. A Calfer radioed in. He spoke with a nervous, squeaky voice.
"Look guys. I dont think I can do this. Im quitting. Over."
Jack pursed his lips and then said, "Hell of a time to back out. Who are you? Over."
"Mickey Calder. Im sorry, really sorry, but now that I'm here, I think this is all wrong. Over."
Joshua and Brian exchanged glances while Jack hit the table with his fist.
"Hello. Did you hear me? Over," came Mickeys voice.
"Yeah," said Jack, "Come on over to the Lakeside Cafe, and well talk about it. Over."
"Ill come, but theres nothing to talk about. I quit. Over and Out."
Jack put down the walkie-talkie. "I know this kid from school," he said. "Hes one of the NYU group."
"Do you think hell keep quiet?" Joshua asked.
"I dont know. He might. I think weve got to calibrate him though," said Jack.
"Im sure he wont talk," said Brian, scared of the look in Jacks eyes.
Jack ignored him.
"Is he strong?" asked Joshua.
"Is he strong, physically? Could I manage him?"
"Hes a runt; a couch potato," answered Jack, "What do you mean manage?"
"I need a place, a private place to talk to him."
"How about the rest rooms at the Northern Ponds. Thats not used much," said Brian. "We could have it closed off for cleaning or something."
"Good. Do it," said Joshua handing a walkie-talkie to Brian, "We have a few snipers in that area."
Brian radioed for the bathroom closure while Joshua explained that he and Jack would walk Mickey over to the Northern Ponds for a talk. Jack tapped the table for attention and then pointed to a smallish teen-ager with an umbrella and a hang dog posture coming towards them. Jack and Joshua went out to meet him, leaving Brian to manage operations.
Joshua greeted Mickey with his most comforting smile, put an arm over his shoulder, and guided him towards the Northern Ponds. Mickey was indeed comforted, relieved that he would not have to face Jack alone. He was nervous in Jack's presence, even a little afraid of him. Jack was dangerous and unpredictable.
When they reached the restroom, Jack sent the snipers back to their posts, while Joshua shepherded Mickey inside. Even though Jack did not come in with them, Mickey was getting nervous, but was too timid to protest. Jack closed the heavy maintenance door behind them and kept watch outside the virtually sound proof concrete structure.
Joshua took off his watch, filled a basin and washed his hands while Mickey watched.
"I guess this is not your cup of tea," said Joshua.
"No. I told you," said Mickey, "I'm quitting."
"Ahh," said Joshua, "I understand. I wouldn't tell anyone outside about Operation Zoo if I were you. People could get hurt, seriously hurt."
Mickey stood gazing at Joshua with a mixture of confusion and fear. Then without warning, Joshua seized Mickey, spun him around, forced him to the basin, shoved his head down, and held his face under the water. Mickey fought and kicked but Joshua held him firmly, pushing so that Mickey's nose pressed against the bottom of the wash basin. Joshua waited until Mickey exhaled making bubbles in the soapy water, and his struggling subsided. Then he pulled Mickey's head up by the hair, but he did not let go. Then he turned the boy's head so that they were looking eye to eye. Joshua said nothing. Then he let go and Mickey crumbled to the tile floor, gasping for breath. Joshua calmly dried his hands and put on his wristwatch.
When they emerged, Mickey first. The kids hair was soaking wet, and his eyes wetter still and filled with fear. As the young defector scuttled by, Jack made a move to stop him, but Joshua nodded No.
"He wont betray us now," said Joshua.
During the walk back, Joshua replayed the scene with Mickey to himself, and savored the brutality. "An occasional lesson of this sort does a kid good."
As they walked, Joshua gradually let go of the exciting replays so that by the time he got back to the Lakeside Café, he was cloaked in his usual affable, avuncular persona.
Joshua started to wonder though, that he so easily gave in to the violent. Was he becoming the person of his nightmare? He thought about the dream that he called 'the nightmare' and was aware for the first time that it didnt scare him anymore. He would even miss the dream should it no longer occur. Now it brought not fear, he realized, but excitement.
When they reached the command table at the restaurant, Jack gave a sanitized version of the Mickey meeting to Brian who then presented them with another problem.
"How are the animals going to be fed during the take over?"
Joshua and Jack both laughed.
"The animals can do without feeding for a couple of days," said Jack.
By 3 PM everything was going so well that Joshua could disengage to take care of some details at the administration building and the small police station that was responsible for zoo security. When Joshua had arranged for the film shoot he had asked for rosters of zoo personnel so he could include the names in the film credits, or so he said. Now he would pick up the roster folders and dazzle the authorities with his winning personality.
The zoo officials had been thorough. Riffling through the folders as he wandered through the park, Joshua saw that not only did he have the names, but also the work schedules of almost everyone at the zoo. It seemed that everyone wanted his name in the film credits. During the Sunday rehearsal they would make good use of those names.
Joshua closed the folders, smiled and continued his solitary walk around the zoo. Although he desperately liked being in the presence of the young Calfers, his life of solitary living made it necessary for him to be off by himself from time to time. He needed the time to turn inward, to be in quiet conversation with himself.
As he walked, Joshua casually waved at other zoo strollers, particularly those carrying black umbrellas. Although he walked with no particular path in mind, he soon found himself at one of the two terminus points of the aerial tramway. Here, gondolas were launched out into the air high above the zoo or came clanking noisily back to earth where an operator would unlatch the door letting out the happy aeronauts. Joshua preferred mechanical devices over animals so he stayed and watched. He struck up a conversation with one of the off duty tram operators. This enthusiastic old-timer, who also preferred metal over beast, pointed out the features with a personal pride. Joshua was told stories of the massive electric motors that powered the system. He learned about the controls of the SkySafari tramway, how to turn it off and on, even how to work the little gasoline engine used to bring gondola cars back to earth in the event of a power outage.
This tramway operator, as it turned out, was one of the originals. He had been there for the installation and had been the ride tester. For the test, all gondolas but one were shunted off the line, and that one car, requiring no human intervention, traversed the zoo continuously all day. Joshua envied the operator who that day had the thrill of a pilot continuously taking off and landing his aircraft. Joshua spent more time than he really should have at the tramway but he justified his actions by thinking how important the tramway was for Operation Zoo and that any acquired knowledge about it might be useful.
Joshua pulled himself away from the SkySafari and continued his wander. He stopped in another of the zoo's restaurants for lunch. Since it was rather late in the zoo day, the place was almost empty, save for the gift shop where clumps of school kids were buying last minute souvenirs. When Joshua emerged from the cafeteria, he found the weather had turned overcast and was threatening rain. Joshua checked his watch and headed toward the Bronxdale parking lot. By the time he got there it was raining heavily and to the Calfers anyway, the black umbrellas no longer seemed quite so ridiculous.
Joshua from the back of the van, marshaled his troops. Jack was there too, as was Brian, trying to act presidential. Even though Brian was the CALF president, Operation Zoo was clearly Joshuas baby, and everyone knew it.