Chapter 17 Wednesday, 0800 hours (8 AM)
If the police had known that the zoo would be almost empty at 8:30 in the morning, they might have decided on an invasion. However they did not know, and the results of the earlier SWAT team incursion gave them pause.
The Calfers streamed towards Zoo Central like ants returning to a hive. Except for a few on critical duty, the SkySafari spotter, a techie at the listening post, and one or two mobile sniper patrols, the Calfers were all there. Joshua had suggested a pre-broadcast meeting and of late, with CALF without elected leadership, his suggestions had virtually the force of law. He had said having the membership on camera during the broadcast would be a show of solidarity, but knowing how groups work, he had another reason. The pre-broadcast, with the Calfers tooth by jowl in a smallish room, would be in the nature of a college pep rally. They would go on the air pumped up and united.
Joshua had not yet arrived but Brian was there. No longer the elected leader, he never the less had the absolute control in his job of the moment, cameraman, director and producer of the TV broadcast. He was miking the set, running cable, and blocking the action when Joshua made his entrance with Jack and Wolf trotting in behind. Joshua sat at his desk and waved everyone still. Only Brian continued moving, fastening a lavaliere mike to Joshuas collar and arranging Wolf for best photogenic effect. Joshua, ignoring Brians scurrying, began to speak. It was not a good nor memorable speech, but it was impassioned, and it did what it was supposed to. The CALF membership, approving, chanting, and shouting with righteous enthusiasm did not balk when Joshua announced they would sacrifice a hostage. Theyd take the hostage, throw him in the bear den, and let the polar bears decide his fate.
"Let the bears decide his fate," they chanted, even though many of them knew that polar bears hunt people, and that fate would undoubtedly be death. The chanting Calfers would be murderers, or at least accomplices to murder, but it didnt seem to matter. It mattered to Evan though. He was always alone, even when in a crowd. His eyes, brown and sad as they were often described, now also registered disbelief. Brian in the course of his puttering around the set, happened to look out and see his old friend Evans shocked expression. Their eyes met, and all at once, Brian was hit by the enormity of what they were about to do.
Joshua continued speaking, now explaining how important, significant, and how difficult the act would be. It would require all the dedication that he knew the CALF membership possessed. And it would take exceptional courage. He asked for volunteers for the Bear Detail, as he called it. For a few dangerous moments, there was no sound and the membership, as individuals, were alone with their thoughts. Then Jack, sitting to the right of Joshua, stood up.
"Count me in," he said.
Joshua stood up and clapped Jack on the shoulder.
"Good," he said.
The ice was broken by Jacks action, well planned as it turned out to have been. The volunteers were soon found. Most of the membership though, still had serious reservations and were thinking how to deal with them when Joshua announced that the act would be broadcast live.
"Thats impossible," shouted one of the techies. "Theres no way we could do a live feed. We have no RF relay and laying cable would degrade the signal."
"No, We could move the transmitter, get power at the bear enclosure and rig a temporary broadcast antenna," said a second techie.
Joshua, who might have been expected to be disturbed by these interruptions, was smiling broadly. Now the membership were discussing logistics and minutia. The actual brutal act was now shifted to the background, and therefore tacitly accepted. Joshua understood this, and so did Brian.
"Is this how state executions work?" thought Brian. "Strapping down, black masks, pulling switches, mindless ritual."
"Wont work," said the first techie. "With a low antenna our signal would get out about two city blocks, if were lucky."
"Well, we could do a live audio link instead. We have walkie-talkies."
"Naa. That would be about as interesting as a live radio broadcast of a tennis game. Unless you intend to have color commentary, The bear on our left is walking slowly towards our microphone. No. I dont think so."
"All right," said Joshua closing discussion with a wave of his hand. "Well do it on tape instead. Well put it on during the noon broadcast. Now Brian,.."
Brian snapped out of it at the mention of his name. Joshua was announcing that Brian, CALFs best videographer, would do the live camera work.
"Wait," said Brian. "This is a major shoot. I need a second cameraman, and a line assistant."
Volunteers were then found to work under Brian.
"Oh God," thought Brian, "Now Im guilty of it myself, ritual and minutia."
"9AM broadcast live in five, four, three, ..." said Brian behind the camera tripod.
"Good morning," began Joshua.
Brian began to tighten the shot, slowly sending the faces of the Calfers slowly off the periphery of the screen. He paused when only Joshua, the desk, and Wolf were on camera. It made an effective tableau. Then he steadily closed on Joshuas face, and his intense, compelling eyes.
Joshua gave an abbreviated version of the warm up but left out any mention of sacrificing a hostage.
On schedule at 9:15, the police negotiator called. This time Joshua didnt lift the receiver, but instead pushed the speaker button. This time, they would also broadcast the negotiators voice. There was a squeal of feedback.
Joshua smiled expansively, knowing that the feedback meant that the negotiator was watching him on TV.
"George. Turn your TV volume down," said Joshua.
George started talking softly so as not to excite or provoke. He was trying to build a private, personal relationship with Joshua in the same way as he had with Brian. This would be harder, he knew. Joshua was a very odd fish, and it was extremely hard to be private with the phone conversation being broadcast.
"Do you need anything?" asked George.
"Yes," answered Joshua. "We want newspapers, three color television sets, and about 100 fresh croissants."
"Fresh croissants. We have lots of food, but the croissants are beginning to go stale."
"Well, I think I can arrange that," said George, seething inside for some reason.
Joshua went on, "I assume you have no news on our demands?"
"Not yet. These things take time," said George.
"Of course. Oh, one more thing," said Joshua. "We want to see the news anchors of the three TV networks. We want to give them a few video tapes. See that theyre at the Southern Boulevard pedestrian entrance at 11:30. Have the newspapers, TV sets, and croissants ready for us then too."
"What kind of video tapes?"
"Youll see, but its important. You must have the TV anchors here," said Joshua. He looked now, directly to the camera, talking past George.
"I know the Networks are watching this broadcast. Ive got important news for you, too important to relay through the police. I want to hand each of you a video tape. Lives depend on it," said Joshua. He turned his attention back to the phone.
"Will you do this for us, George?" asked Joshua.
George was ready. "Yes, but how about releasing some of the hostages."
"No," said Joshua.
"Come on. You dont need them all. How about releasing the children then? Look its only a half dozen or so kids. What harm is it?"
Joshua paused an instant, digesting this new information. "Well think about it," he said.
"I dont think my supervisor will let me do anything for you unless you show us some kind of good faith gesture."
"Fine. Well release a hostage. After that, well see," said Joshua, but his mind was elsewhere.
Joshua had assumed that the kids had somehow managed to get out of the zoo, but apparently not. They were still here. "As soon as that matter of the polar bears is taken care of, Ive got to find those kids."
Joshua was surprised at his hostility towards the children. He was actually beginning to actively dislike them. Perhaps they were too genuine, too feral, maybe even too young.