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 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 official looking staff cards. Each card had a colored cord loop attached so that the card could be worn around the neck. That was one of Joshuas ideas, that colored cord. 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 staff were prepared for the arrival of a film crew.
As a Calfer finished with his check-in at the van, Jack handed him a top-of-the-line walkie-talkie, and Brian handed him a black umbrellas. Every Calfer not wearing a green (camera crew) strap was handed one. Not that it was raining, a little overcast perhaps, but not rain. The umbrellas, another of Joshuas ideas, were ersatz weaponry. Monday, it would be the real thing, but today the black bumbershoots represented hand guns, grenades, assault rifles, and even a bazooka and a flame thrower. Jack thought the umbrella idea idiotic, but Brian liked the cinematic surrealism of a collection of scruffy looking college students wandering the zoo with proper black umbrellas.
Other military equipment; bullet proof vests, fence cutters, binoculars, night-goggles, and the like, would for now, have to be left to the imagination. No one but Joshua however, knew about the hand launched surface to air missiles.
The umbrella-armed Calfers strolled singly 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 inconspicuously into the crowd. No one seemed to pay 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 outside area of the zoo's Lakeside cafeteria. Monday, the command center would be the Conservation Education building which hosted school overnighters and had bunks.
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 comfortably 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.
The communication officers, the blue corded techies, had to plant the listening devices. These were small, 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. Another listening device had already been installed on the roof of the high-rise apartment building across the street. 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 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 bound to be glitches. The first came from the Aerial Tramway. 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. He sheepishly 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 with a nervous 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 Lakeside, 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."
"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, hoping for a reasoned resolution of the problem. "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 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.
About five minutes later they emerged, Mickey first. The kids hair, Jack noted, 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. Jack watched Mickey vanish out of view, and then turned to look at Joshua. It was an entirely different Joshua. His eyes and the way he carried himself were changed. There was an unexpected hardness and ruthlessness in Joshua now. Jack looked at him in awe, and for the first time, with respect.
"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 was worried 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 yet 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.
Jack himself was occupied with another concern. There just werent enough Calfers to protect the perimeter, manage the communications, and also watch the hostages. Unlike Brian, Jack was sure the hostages would not be overly happy about their captivity. Jack was beginning to get an idea how to solve the problem, but thought it best to keep it to himself for the moment.
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 authorities had been thorough. Riffling through the folders as he wandered through the zoo, 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 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 here 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 tramway and continued his wander. He stopped in another of the zoo's restaurants for lunch which, since it was rather late in the zoo day, 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 ridiculous.
While Joshua was on his solitary walk, Brian also seized the opportunity for solo action. He had an hour or so before he had to be back at the Bronxdale parking lot, so he decided to visit his beloved lions in the African Plains area. He leaned on the low railing and looked out over the mock African savanna that was separated from him only by the low fence and a hidden moat. His sense of incompleteness from not having his video camera with him was more than made up for by the panorama. It was beautiful. A herd of nyala antelope were grazing in the tall grasses and were protected from a small pride of lions by another hidden moat. Brian watched the sinuous grace of the lions and had the uneasy thought in the back of his mind that if Operation Zoo really were successful, he would never again be able to observe these great cats- at least not without actually going to Africa.
Brian was too involved with his thoughts and his lion watching to notice the slight built Calfer angling up to him.
"Hi. Brian," he said, "Checking out the wildlife, I see." The speaker had a high squeaky voice and a strong accent.
"Oh, hello, uh," said Brian startled, "Ive seen you around but I dont know your name. Im sorry."
"Thats OK," said the newcomer, "Im with the Columbia contingent. My names Roger."
"English?" asked Brian.
"God no!" said Roger, "Australian, and an animal freak. You know," he went on, "This Operation Zoo is pretty average dumb if you ask me."
"Why are you here then?"
"Well, I really like animals, and Im a member of an animal rights group back home, but you know, I like zoos. Animals are happy in good zoos," Roger went on.
"Maybe," Brian allowed, "but they should be in the wild. Again, Why are you here if youre not going to support Operation Zoo?"
"Oh but I am," said Roger emphatically, "I get bored easily, and Operation Zoo is definitely not going to be boring. I might even get deported as an undesirable alien. That would be bonzer. My parents would have cats. Besides, Im an American History major, and now maybe I can make some of it, American History that is."
Brian laughed. Even though this squeaky voiced Australian didnt believe in the Operation, he was a fellow animal nut. Brian could see a friendship beginning to form. They talked until it was time to return to the Bronxdale parking lot and Roger finally admitted that the major reason he was going along with Operation Zoo was that he was an extreme animal nut and he wanted to play with and hold the animals. It started to rain, but neither seemed to notice. Roger went on to talk volubly about his passion for lemurs, civets and pro-simians. Brian admitted his love of lions but admitted he was not particularly enthusiastic about playing with one. They continued talking easily to one another until they got back to Joshua at the van. They reached the van in a soggy, bedraggled state since in his enthusiasm, Roger had completely forgotten he had an umbrella, and Brian, chief of the camera crew, wasn't issued one.
Joshua and Jack were in the back of the van marshaling the troops. Brian, as president of CALF, joined in and tried to act presidential. Even though he was the president, Operation Zoo was clearly Joshuas baby, and everyone knew it.