Chapter 21 Wednesday, 1230 hours (12:30 PM)
By now Rom and Derek had gotten rather good at knowing where they could and could not be seen from the SkySafari. At the moment they certainly couldnt be observed since they had broken into the main zoo gift shop and snack bar. Rom had already filled a shopping bag with food, not particularly wholesome food, but definitely better than snack cakes. Now he was selecting a half dozen hooded sweatshirts with animal paintings on them.
"Ill pay the zoo back for these when this is all over," said Rom filling another shopping bag with the sweatshirts. "I wish they had pants though."
"No need," said Derek, "Your cubs are short. Those sweatshirts will go down to their ankles."
Rom continued to wander around the gift shop, looking for short term clothing for his cub scouts. He giggled.
"Kit may never speak to me again for this," he said scooping six pairs of bunny slippers into the bag, "but I dont want them all coming down with colds."
Actually they were more like lion, fox, bear, and elk slippers.
Derek had fewer shopping needs. He had filled a much smaller bag with food for Jeffrey, and had taken a flashlight for himself. He sat down, enjoying sitting in a real chair again, while Rom continued with his acquisitions.
"What kind of a zoo is this," he asked Rom lightly, "that doesnt sell hunting rifles?"
Rom laughed while finishing up his shopping spree.
"Look, Weve probably been here too long already," he said. "Lets get back to Jungle World and hang out there until dark. Then we can go back and slip Jeffrey some food."
Derek considered it, but it didnt feel right to him. He knew that with Roms cub pack around, hed feel even worse about Jeffrey being locked up alone.
"No, you go back," said Derek. "Im not much of a climber. Id never be able to get up to that ledge you used."
"What? Oh. Dont worry about that," said Rom. "Theres a service entrance around the back of the Jungle World building. I found it on the inside when I was looking for my scouts. I left it unlocked."
Derek looked at him with puzzlement. "Then why didnt you use it when you went out of the building back there. Why did you climb back down?"
Rom thought about it. "I dont know. Didnt think of it. I guess climbing was more fun."
"Well anyway," said Derek, "Im going to hang out in the wild until dark."
"Its dangerous," said Rom.
"I know," said Derek. "I dont really relish being out there with lions, tigers and leopards running around."
"I dont mean the cats," said Rom. "There were plenty of nyala to go around. Im sure the cats have gorged themselves. Now theyll be sluggish, dozing in the woods, digesting their food. No youll be safe from them, unless you actually trip over one of them or something."
Rom turned uncharacteristically serious. "Its those guys with the rifles Im worried about. When you have a rifle, you are sometimes are tempted to use it," he said.
Derek assured him hed be careful, and said hed join him later at Jungle World. It was agreed. Derek heaved himself out of the chair and then noticed the small backpacks hung for display on the rear wall. They each borrowed one for their food bags. Rom, having more to carry, still had to use a shopping bag for the sweatshirts and bunny slippers.
Rom started to climb back the window, but was stopped by Derek.
"Look. Were on the inside. We can use the door." Said Derek.
"Spoils the fun," said Rom.
Derek watched him flow out the window and then, even though burdened with backpack and shopping bag, virtually melt into the undergrowth. Derek, taking a final scan around the gift shop, and noticed the pay phone, a link to the outside world. He rummaged in his pocket for quarters and found three. He could make three calls. He decided on the office, Kate who would be frantic about where Jeffrey was, and Madam Wu. On the way to the phone he reproached himself for being really stupid since he could certainly find as many quarters as he needed in the cash register.
He picked up the phone, put a quarter in by reflex, and discovered that there was no dial tone.
"Damn," he said slamming down the receiver. "Why cant anyone ever find a working pay phone in New York."
Derek moved stealthily and a little sheepishly to the window fearing that his outburst might have been overheard. He looked around and saw no one. He started for the door, then hesitated. On impulse, he turned back and went through the window. Now that he was out, he needed a plan to free Jeffrey. He wandered around the zoo trying to think of one but he came up with nothing significantly better than Jeffreys elephant stampede. During his wanderings he stopped at a number of pay phones but none of them were working. He decided that the non working phone statistics were considerably greater than normal for New York, and deduced that the police, had probably cut all phone lines to the zoo.
Although he knew he should wait for nightfall, Derek decided to try to get back to Jeffrey and drop off some food. He worked his way slowly away from the gift shop taking a circuitous path, one that would keep him out of sight of the tramway. By now he knew he could use The Reptile House as a sort of a way station. The reptiles were very near the snow leopards and from the cover of the sprawling Reptile House, he could scout out whether the coast was clear for the rest of the way. He had learned quite a bit from Rom in the practice of stealthy moving.
Derek, moving low, spear in hand, easily avoided the occasional zoo cart patrol, and found his way back first to the Reptile House and then to the snow leopard habitat, now the Jeffrey habitat.
"Derek, Theyve killed one of the hostages," whispered Jeffrey.
"What? How do you know?"
"I saw it on TV. They made someone go into a bear cage."
"I cant believe that."
"Derek, I saw it. The polar bears ripped him to shreds. They ate him."
Jeffrey described the news program including Steiners apparent eagerness to go to his death. Derek didnt fully believe the description but it was clear that Jeffrey believed it and was starting to get frightened from what he thought he had seen. Derek tried to stay calm but more importantly keep a calm voice. He told Jeffrey to stay out of sight in his den until dark when there would be a plan to get him out. Derek passed the food from his backpack through the bars, and started back to Jungle World to tell Rom, and to try to come up with such a plan.
Derek approached Jungle World obliquely so as to throw off any possible followers. He circled to the back of the building, and true to Roms word, found the service entrance unlocked. He let himself in, and worked his way up from the basement, looking for Rom and the cubs. He found the classroom and smiled at the sight of snack cake wrappers strewn freely. He was getting closer. Derek continued searching the building but without success. By the time he got to the top level habitat, he had to face the fact that Rom and his cub scouts had disappeared. To make sure, Derek searched again, from the top level down to the basement, and then once again, back up to the top. He tried to imagine where they had gone and why they hadnt waited for him. There was also the possibility to consider, that they had been captured. Derek sat heavily on a bench in front of an open jungle scene with one part of his mind occupied with the antics of a troop of Vervet monkeys and another part wondering despairingly what to do.