Chapter 29 Wednesday, 2000 hours (8 PM)
Joshua picked up his briefcase and the rope, and led Kit to the door. His briefcase was empty save for the roll of duct tape, and a set of handcuffs.
"Come along, Cat," said Joshua. " Were going on a ride in a zoo cart to the tramway. Youre going to get to ride the SkySafari again."
"Neat," said Kit. "How many times?" he asked.
"As many times as you want, until you tell me youve had enough." answered Joshua.
"Ill never get enough. I love that tramway. But at night? Its sort of spooky," said Kit.
"Are you afraid?"
"Naa," said Kit with a touch of nervousness in his voice.
They went out the rear of Zoo Center to a zoo cart. Kit was excited, and so was Joshua. He was excited about his plan and thought of another aspect of it that he should document before he forgot it. Out of habit, he reached for his scheduler and then suddenly remembered hed left it on his desk. Although he felt naked without his little diary, he did not want to go back for it. His excitement was growing in anticipation of what he was about to do, and he didnt want to break his mood. Hed just have to remember his thoughts and write them down for posterity later.
The sky had cleared some and the dark was broken by moonlight. Joshua would rather there had been no moon that night, but from the look of the sky it would only be an hour or less before clouds came in and made the night truly dark. Joshua got in on the drivers side and Kit on the other. They moved more rapidly than they might since they heard the growl of an animal and it seemed close. Joshua switched on the quiet battery powered vehicle and they glided down the path. Kit stared silently out the window.
Joshua was silent also as he was running his plan over and over in his mind. It was the ultimate gesture, the ultimate irreversible act, the ultimate act of desolation. It was logistically difficult but the imagery was compelling. In the early light of morning, while the zoo would still be in darkness, the first oblique rays of the sun would illuminate the tramway. There, swinging slowly on a rope tied to a gondola, a stationary gondola in the middle of its course, would be the boys body, a cub scout in his full blue uniform with the yellow piping. He would be swinging there, executed, hung by the neck, hideously dead. That sight would signal the apocalypse; The police attacking with full fury, CALF futilely resisting. Everything would be in flames. Everyone would die. Well not everyone. Joshua had decided to use the raft fate had provided him. He would be the immortal. He was beginning to feel immortal already.
Time was slowing down. He had run through his plan two or three times and yet they had not quite left the pathway circling Zoo Center. He realized he was driving the little cart very slowly, to give him more time to savor the impending hanging. Kit was busy looking out the window. Joshua ran through the plan again, this time thinking on the difficulties. How, carrying a rope, could he get a kicking boy and himself onto the moving gondola. How would he avoid having the hanging rope get entangled in the tramway mechanism as the gondola went around the terminus. He could kill the boy first of course. It would be easier boarding the gondola carrying an inert burden, but the symbolism would be lost.
While he was driving, Joshua kept part of his attention on the tramways single gondola, moving slowly back and forth over the zoo. Even at night the gondola sometimes was visible by reflected light from the ground while at other times in its course it appeared as a black void against the sky. Joshua could see it now. Then, quite suddenly, the gondola stopped in its course, and the zoo became yet darker than before. Even though it was at night and the zoo was closed, there were small dim lights everywhere. These were little purple or deep red warning lights on utility poles, or green glowing lamps indicating the location of public phones. There was also the diffuse light coming from cracks and little windows in the habitat buildings. There was stronger light also, emanating from the windows of CALF occupied buildings. These lights were suddenly no more and the zoo was black. Kit noticed it too.
"What happened?" asked Kit.
"The powers been cut," answered Joshua.
"Oh Rats," said Kit. "This means the tramway wont be working either."
Joshua stopped the cart and fumed. The police had cut the power of course. As a final harassment before their morning invasion, they had done yet one more thing to make the occupiers nervous. They probably figured that the climate controlled habitats could do without power over night. Natural outages had certainly occurred from time to time and the animals probably survived. But now they had interfered with his plan. He needed that tramway. While Kit peered out into the darkness, Joshua despaired. Then he laughed, drawing Kits attention.
"Whats funny?" Kit asked.
"The SkySafari has its own emergency generator," said Joshua. "You can go on your ride after all."
"Oh, Neat," said Kit excitedly, "What if we got stuck up there. That would be really scary."
"It would be really scary," echoed Joshua trancelike.
Joshua started up the cart again and proceeded on the long voyage, while Kit kept a running commentary. Joshua drove on. At the point where the cart was passing through the dark traverse of the polar bear area, Joshua turned off the engine.
"What did we stop here for?" asked Kit looking up innocently.
Joshua didnt answer him.
"Why are you looking at me that way?" asked Kit.
"Please start the cart and lets go to the tramway," said Kit in a shaky voice.
Joshua still didnt answer. Instead he opened his briefcase and took out the handcuffs. Then he swept Kit over his knee and pinned his arms behind his back. Kit screamed as Joshua fastened on the handcuffs. Joshua let go and Kit sat bolt upright with his hands cuffed behind his back. Kits mouth was opened but no words came out. His eyes were wide with fear and surprise. Joshua started the engine again and set the cart moving toward the tramway. He was still driving slowly, this time to absorb Kits fear, to feel it and enjoy it.
"What are you going to do to me?" asked Kit when he was finally able to speak.
"Take you on a tramway ride," answered Joshua.
"Please dont hurt me," cried Kit with tears starting to roll down his face.
Joshua didnt answer.
"Please," Kit implored.
Joshua still made no sound. Kit, eyes still wide with fear looked hard at Joshua, then he turned his head out the cart window and started screaming at the top of his voice.
Joshua was rattled and at first didnt know what to do. Then remembering, he reached into his briefcase and pulled out the gray duct tape. He unwrapped the roll and ripped off an eight inch strip. He tried to force Kits head around so he could put the strip over his mouth but in the struggle the tape twisted, got tangled and was useless. Joshua cursed and tore off another strip, this time tacking it to the windshield so he could use both hands to pull Kits head into the car and hold him while affixing the tape. Kit stretched his head backwards as Joshua came at him with the tape. Then suddenly he leaned his head forward and bit Joshuas hand at the fleshy region between thumb and forefinger. He bit down hard and held on even as Joshua cried out in pain and reflexively pulled back his hand. Joshua cried out even louder as Kits clenched teeth raked and tore open the flesh. Before Joshua could do anything else, Kit pushed down on the door latch with his knee, kicked open the door, and ran for his life.
Joshua pulled out a handkerchief to staunch the blood from Kits bite and took off in pursuit. He wasn't too worried. After all, how fast could a kid run when his hands are handcuffed behind him? Joshua looked up from his hand and caught sight of Kit running into a little culvert behind the polar bear enclosure. Joshua followed him in and stopped. It was now very dark as a cloud covered the moon. Joshua could see no sign of Kit. He knew he was in there though, and there was no exit. The only way out was exactly where Joshua was standing. Kit could also get out by running directly up the back of the culvert, but that would take him to a service walk overlooking the polar bear enclosure and the only way out from there would be by jumping the thirty feet or so down into the enclosure proper. Kit was trapped. All Joshua had to do was be careful.
Joshua waited for the cloud to drift off. Then in the bright moonlight, he walked slowly into the culvert, making sure that he kept an eye on the way he came. Joshua, though not much of an athlete, was still confident that he could outrun a little, scared, handcuffed ten year old. He walked silently, listening for any sound. He knew Kit would be breathing heavily and he tried to listen for it. He stopped to listen but heard nothing except the occasional cry of a distant animal. Joshua walked again, calmly and quietly, as an apparition in the moonlight. Then almost in front of him there was a flurry of motion as Kit panicked at Joshuas approach. Joshua saw the boy run clumsily up the rear hill, up to the service walk overlook. He was running for high ground, but he was as high up as he could go. There was nothing ahead except the fall off into the bear enclosure.
"Now Ive got him," thought Joshua as he walked steadily up the hill. He could afford to walk now, since Kit had no avenue of escape. He reached the summit and the service walk. Kit was there, outlined against the dark sky, leaning against the railing. The other side of the railing had a few feet of grassy knoll and then a sharp drop off, below which was the concrete floor and pond of the polar bear habitat. Kit was about ten yards away. Joshua approached slowly, not wanting to spook the boy into going under the railing and falling in with the bears. That would spoil all his work and cheat him of his grand gesture.
"Come on Cat," said Joshua softly, as if trying to calm a dog. "It will be better if you just come with me."
"Keep away from me. I dont want to go with you," cried Kit.
Kit looked about to panic again, so Joshua stopped and waited. Waiting was his advantage since patience is not a virtue of young boys. They stared at each other through the darkness.
"What do you want? Why are you doing this to me?" shouted Kit.
"I want you to fly," answered Joshua starting slowly toward Kit once more.
"Youre crazy," shouted Kit as he darted under the railing. Now there were just a few treacherous feet between Kit and the drop off. Joshua stopped again. Kit moved parallel to the railing, until he was stopped by the wall, shaped by the habitat designers as a jutting iceberg. Kit backed against the iceberg, trying to wedge himself in.
"Why are you doing this," cried Kit.. "I just want to go home."
Joshua climbed over the railing and moved slowly toward Kit. Dressed as he was, entirely in white, Joshua looked like a ghost in the pale light. Joshua continued forward and twisted his foot on a rock. He lost his balance and almost fell over the edge. Joshua regained his footing and started toward Kit again, this time with a slight limp.
When he got to within a few feet from Kit, Joshua put out his arms to the boy.
"Ill take you home," said Joshua.
Neither Kit nor Joshua were aware of another figure coming up from the culvert.
"Keep your filthy hands off him," shouted Derek thrusting his spear through the railing at Joshua.
Joshua turned in surprise at the voice.
"My god," said Joshua, "I didnt even hear you come."
Derek,as it turned out, had heard Kits scream from the leopard cage, not very far from where they were now, and had come spear in hand to investigate.
"Get away from him, Now!" said Derek menacing Joshua with his key pointed spear.
Joshuas look of startled surprise turned slowly to a smile as he dropped his arms to his side. The three of them each stopped, even froze for a moment, and took in the situation. Then smoothly and very fast, Joshua unsnapped and drew his side arm. He leveled the gun at Derek.
"Id say a nine millimeter Lugar trumps a spear, dont you think?" he said.
Jack had followed Joshua from Zoo Center. If he hadn't fallen and sprained his ankle he would have been able to keep up with the cart. He was limping on his injured leg, using his rifle for a crutch, desperately trying to find Joshua in his cart, when he heard Kits scream. Though his eyes were almost useless in the dark, his ears were not. Kits scream provided the navigation beacon he needed. He ignored the searing pain in his ankle and ran straight through the undergrowth toward the sound. He saw the tableau on the top of the bear den. Joshua, the figure in white, was pointing a gun at someone, someone he couldnt make out. Then he saw the other little figure. It had to be Kit. Even at that distance, Jack could see that Kit was traumatized with fear. Jack shifted his weight back to both feet, ignoring the searing pain in his ankle. Joshua, in white, provided an easy target in the moonlight. Jack raised his rifle, aimed and fired. The rifle did not fire.
"God damn," muttered Jack.
Joshua neither saw nor heard Jack. His attention was focused on Derek. Joshua paused for an instant, savoring the situation, leveled his gun at Dereks chest, and then the shot rang out. Joshua jolted as if from the recoil from firing his weapon. Joshuas smile though, turned to a look of puzzlement as he did not in fact fire his weapon. He himself had been shot. The shell did not penetrate since Joshua was wearing his bulletproof vest. However, the force of the shell however knocked him off balance. He tried to regain his footing but could not. Moving in what appeared to be slow motion, Joshua tried to shift his weight backwards, attempting to fall backwards onto the grass. He failed. Struggling for purchase all the while, he slipped off the edge, and pivoted over into the void, thirty feet above the floor of the bear den. He fell screaming but as luck would have it, hit not the concrete floor, but splashed like a plane in the sea, into the deepest part of the polar bear pool. He was the plane, and he was living his nightmare.
Joshua was the son of a naval officer, and it was his filial duty to be a powerful swimmer. He surfaced from the fall, and struck out with strong strokes for the concrete shore. His breathing was labored and he made gasping sounds whenever his mouth came above the surface. He was taking in a lot of water, and coughed as he swam. It was only panic that kept him going. He had to get out of the water, or hed freeze. He struggled to the waters edge. Then, shivering from the cold and gasping for breath, he pulled himself out of the pool and lay wheezing on the concrete. He had however, drawn the attention of the bears. Two of the beasts, ghostly in the moonlight, ambled toward him. Joshua, prone on the concrete, looked up and saw the huge beasts coming noiselessly towards him. He remembered what the bears had done to Andrew Steiner and forced himself to his feet. Even though they were moving slowly, the bears were getting close. Joshua started to run. He tried to keep the pool between himself and the bears. The bears started to run so Joshua had to run faster. Polar bears though, are skillful hunters. One of them held up while the other chased Joshua around the irregularly shaped pond. Joshua paused for a moment, trying to think what to do, and was silently seized in the powerful jaws of the running polar bear. The bears teeth could not penetrate the Kevlar of course, but the mouth could crush. Joshua screamed as the bear bit down. The other bear meanwhile, had also run over, and had used its teeth on a part of Joshua not protected by the vest. Joshuas agonized screaming continued until the first bears jaws collapsed Joshuas rib cage. He lived a few seconds more, and was even alive as the bears started feeding. Joshuas spotless whites were becoming stained with growing blotches of dark, damp, red.
This was witnessed from the cliff above, by Kit, Derek, and Jack who as it turned out had fired the shot that brought Joshua down. He fired it with his side arm, not his empty rifle. It was a lucky shot. His hand gun at that distance, was neither accurate nor powerful. The shell had hit well however, and with just enough kick to throw Joshuas balance off a little.
"Bears two. Humans nil," said Kit looking down at the ghostly carnage.
Derek noticed Jacks pained limping and lent him his spear as a crutch. Jack had thrown away his rifle in disgust after it had failed to fire.
Derek turned his attention to Kit.
"Come away Cat," said Derek gently, urging the boy away from the precipice. Kit crawled back under the railing, his handcuffs clanking on the metal as he slid under. As the shock of the situation started to subside, Kit began to shiver, and he started to cry softly. Derek scooped him up, hugged him tightly and started back down the hill. He was struck by how light the boy was.
Jack stayed for a moment looking down at the ghastly scene below. Joshua, his personal demon, was dead and Jack felt that the nasty side of his own nature had died with him.
"Enough," said Jack. He felt the weight of the side arm on his belt. He detached the holster and flung it and the weapon it enveloped out into the darkness. It also landed in the bear pool, and with bubbles of air leaving the leather pouch almost as a last breath, it sunk heavily to the bottom.
Using the spear as a walking stick, Jack limped down the hill after Derek and Kit.
At the bottom of the hill they found Brian and Evan waiting for them. They had decided that they should honor Adam Steiners memory with a ceremony at his graveside, the bear den in this case. They went by foot, aware of the danger of carnivores, but that very danger seemed to make the activity more meaningful for them. They arrived at the enclosure to celebrate the man Adam Steiner. Brian thought of him now as his role model and a very close and dear colleague. Intent on their purpose, they didnt notice that the bears were still toying with the bones of the deceased. They could think of nothing to say so they simply stood, heads bowed. Isolated as they were in the low hollow of the enclosure, and shielded from sound by the rock of the enclosure they heard Kits screams only as the distant call of some animal. Brian happened to look upward however. He nudged Evan and they both observed the drama unfold on the high service walk. As they were honoring Steiners memory, they saw his tormentor plummet into the pond, and after he crawled out, witnessed the judgment of the bears.
It's been said that everyone is the hero of his own story. In the final instant of Joshua's life, as he was replaying it, he wondered if he were heroic and good. Not good perhaps, but he believed he was heroic. He had thought great thoughts and attempted monumental things. He held to that thought until the pain from the bears crushing teeth blotted it out.