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.Quotation: An infallible method of conciliating a tiger is to allow oneself to be devoured. - Konrad AdenauerAn aligatorGo to chapter 22 in Joshua's ViewGo to chapter 24 in Joshua's View

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

Joshua, Jack, and four hard liner guards whom Joshua knew to be doggedly loyal, 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 answered.

"We will take you, Mr. Foreman," said Joshua nodding to a guard to pull the man out of the line.

"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 him and calmly continued down the line.

Foreman, held as he was, just raised his voice higher. Joshua stopped, paused a few seconds with his back to the man. The 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," he said, cocking the mechanism to punctuate his threat.

Mr. Foreman’s eyes widened in fright. He gurgled a bit, and became quiet. Joshua turned away 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."

This comforted her not at all. Although she screamed and carried on less than on the last time, she still had to be dragged out of the room. The hostages had been together now for several days. They had learned each other's names and had filled their hours with casual conversation but they hadn't yet begun to think of themselves as a unit with a common cause. As a result, no one stood up for the woman. No one tried to stop her from being taken and it would have been a foolish gesture for anyone to try.

On the drive to the Reptile House, Joshua caught the eye of Mr. Reggie Forman. He exchanged a knowing glance to tell him that he was the one going to be released. Then he caught the eye of the woman, smiled, and gave her the message that she was the privileged one.

Outside the Reptile House, while guards moved the captives into the building, Joshua paused to radio for Brian and his video crew.

In the building, Joshua was being driven to distraction by the woman's screeching and imploring.

"Where was Brian and his crew?"

Joshua decided not to wait any longer. He gave a quick instruction to Jack, went out of the building so he could use the walkie-talkie, and radioed for a few techies to grab some cameras, get over fast and prepare to film the events themselves. Joshua turned to go back in, but stopped. The woman’s screams had gotten on his nerves. He’d go back in when the techies arrived. He preferred his blue-corded techies, even when others, such as the film specialists, might be more appropriate. The technicians usually were of a type. They believed in technology, and liked to work with it. Moral judgments as to the uses of technology could be left to others - to Joshua for example.

In the meantime Jack and the guards, as instructed, had taken their hostages to the hooded cobra enclosure. The woman’s wailing stopped, only to be replaced by a nasal whine of terror. Mr. Foreman remained silent.

Joshua came in with the techies and watched as 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.

"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 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 well. The woman’s hand in the rear, was clearly 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 cobra. It moved around the enclosure, stopping to display its hood in front of the unseeing hand. Then it struck.

Jack 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 asked a Calfer to go out side and radio in a general order 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. No person will stop you. I can't speak for the tigers."

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.

Back in front of the cobra cage, 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.

Jack’s reaction was louder. He was trembling. "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.

They bound Mr. Foreman’s hands and legs with electrical cable and carried him towards the crocodile lake. The great reptile was behind a glass barrier wall. It was obviously of recent construction as beyond 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. As a sound reduction stratagem, 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 seemed to think this was another mock killing, like the woman’s. They bent Mr. Foreman over the railing, but did not push him over.

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

As he left the Reptile House squinting in the brightness of mid afternoon, Joshua was disappointed. He had expected this killing, more like a double killing actually, to give him the same degree of exhilaration as did the Steiner execution. There was exhilaration of course, but the rush was not there. He needed more.

"Only the apocalypse will do," thought Joshua, "and a child will lead the way."

Joshua was glad that the children had not been released as originally planned. He had something else in mind for them.

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