Go to beginning of the book 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: When a man wants to murder a tiger, he calls it sport; When the tiger wants to murder him he calls it ferocity. - Bernard ShawAn aligatorGo to chapter 22 in the Novel ViewGo to chapter 24 in the Novel View

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

Joshua, Jack, and four hard liner guards who 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, relishing 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. Joshua 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," said Joshua, cocking the mechanism to punctuate his threat.

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

Rom was there, but he hadn't been there earlier when the others were taken to the polar bears. He couldn't believe it was really happening. It must be some kind of a joke.

Rom was back among the hostages. When he had returned to JungleWorld carrying food and clothing for his scouts, he found Calfers there in wait for him. His scouts had been terrorized into silence and could only watch mutely as their cubmaster was recaptured. At the point of a gun, there was nothing he could do except try to calm his scouts and then watch as the six cubs were taken away. He fervently hoped that Derek would not fall into the same trap.

Rom was acutely embarrassed to have been caught. He, holder of the Tracking Merit Badge, walked right into it. But perhaps Derek, presumed still at large since he was not in with the hostages, might be luckier. Maybe he would even find his way back to the wolf enclosure, rummage through the pack and find the cell phone. The police had to be told how dangerous Joshua was. This wasn’t a prank anymore.

After Joshua left with the two hostages, Rom tried again to escape. He checked all the windows. No good. The bars were well installed and it would take explosives to blow them out. He didn’t have explosives, but maybe a fire. He could set fire to the bedding, and they’d have to let them all out. Then Rom thought, "But what if they don’t."

"Cancel that plan. I’ve got to have patience," thought Rom as he paced the room, back and forth, like a caged animal.

At about the same time as Rom was speculating on Derek’s luck, Derek had given up on waiting at Jungle World. Knowing not what else to do, he decided to make his way back to the snow leopards to visit Jeffrey. Maybe somewhere along the way, he'd find a rope or something. He could throw one end over to Jeffrey who could make those neat little loops along the rope, and he could climb out. Derek tried to work out the logistics for freeing Jeffrey as he scuttled through the undergrowth. He’d stop for cover again at The World of Reptiles on the way. Maybe he’d find a rope in there.

Outside the locked hostage room, a wailing woman and a cloyingly ingratiating Mr. Reggie Forman were being taken out to a truck for a ride over to The World of Reptiles. During the process each of the captives had caught Joshua’s eye and such was Joshua’s skill that each was left with the impression that the other was to be sacrificed. Those impressions along with the persuasion of loaded AK-47s caused them to be more docile than they might otherwise have been. It was relatively easy therefore, to get them into the door of the building. While the guards were guiding their captives into the foyer, Joshua radioed for Brian and his video crew.

Brian heard the call but chose to ignore it. The effects of the polar bear filming were still with him. He would not be involved in filming another murder spectacle. If it got to the point where he would be compelled to film, he would run away and hide out. For now though, he could just say his walkie-talkie batteries were dead and he didn’t get the message. It would be good if he made himself scarce at this point though.

Brian, former president of CALF was now skulking the zoo, trying not to be seen. It would be hard to know right now whether any Calfer he should happen to meet was personally loyal to Joshua or just trapped like himself. He’d try to find his friend Evan.

After a while, Joshua grew tired of waiting and he was being driven to distraction by the woman’s screeching and imploring. He gave a quick instruction to Jack, went out of the building so he could use the walkie-talkie, and radioed for the 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 were getting on his nerves. He’d go back in when the techies got here. 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 had taken their hostages to the hooded cobra enclosure. The woman’s wailing stopped only to be replaced by a nasal whine of terror. She was deathly afraid of snakes. Mr. Foreman remained silent. He considered himself and Joshua cut from the same cloth. By Joshua’s manner with him, he was sure he was the one to be released.

Joshua came in with the techies and watched patiently 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, hearing this, 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.

Meanwhile, Mr. Foreman was keeping a discrete silence and congratulating himself on his good luck. He wasn’t overly concerned about the woman, but just wondered when he’d be released.

The techies had lighted the cobra enclosure very well. The woman’s hand in the rear, was very 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 normally tranquil cobra. It moved around the enclosure, stopping to display its hood in front of the unseeing hand. Then it struck.

By the recoil, Jack knew he need hold the arm no longer. He 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 unclipped his walkie-talkie and radioed instructions 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. The bug monitors back in the communications room of Zoo Central could probably hear the screaming, even without their earphones on.

She did make it to the perimeter fence. She ran along it until she came to the one way exit turnstile. Screaming still, she bolted through and right into the hands of the police. They managed to calm her down enough to tell her story, and then they radioed for paramedics. A general call was placed to the hospitals for cobra antivenin and surprisingly, Bronx-Jackobi hospital had it. An ambulance with police escort rushed it to the zoo. The woman was put on a stretcher and told to try to be calm so that the poison would progress more slowly through her body. They did not use a sedative since no one knew how it would react with cobra venom. Finally a paramedic examined her arm and discovered that though there was bruising, there were no fang marks, and her skin had not been broken. There could be no cobra venom in her system. She was told this, and immediately fainted, leaving the paramedics and police wondering just what exactly had occurred back there in the zoo.

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. Holding that screaming woman’s hand in the cage had taken a lot out of him. Sadistic as his nature was, it was not the pleasure that Jack had thought it would be. "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.

Reggie Foreman, from his position on the floor, watched Jack and Joshua with fear glazed eyes.

They were also watched by another. Derek who had taken cover in The World of Reptiles before making a run to check on Jeffrey, had found himself trapped in the building when Joshua’s truck pulled up. He had barely time to find a hiding place before the hostages were dragged in and the building was overrun with Calfer guards and videographers. From his vantage point within a large open diorama depicting the Indian desert he could not avoid seeing the whole sadistic scene. Only then did he really believe his son’s story of the man being forced to his death in the polar bear den. "Damned blood crazed bunny huggers. Sadistic bastards." But then he observed the participants more carefully. It was only Joshua who was enjoying himself. The Calfer guards were clearly unhappy and ashamed. Their body language and the way they avoided all eye contacts made that clear. The techies were just doing their jobs as techies do, but it was clear that they were trying to bury themselves in their work and ignore as much as possible exactly what that work was. "The kids are OK," thought Derek, "It’s really all that monster Joshua, that fascinating, charismatic monster." Derek sympathized with Mr. Foreman who was cowering in the corner. "Poor slob!"

Derek didn’t really want to watch the goings on, but he had no choice. He was trapped. Once Joshua and his gang left, The World of Reptiles would be safe but it still wouldn’t be save to leave as long as it was light outside. So Derek stayed put, trying to blot out the gruesome happenings and planning his attempt to get Jeffrey out somehow.

They had bound Mr. Foreman’s hands and legs with electrical cable and carried him towards the crocodile lake. The lake 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 might have thought 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.

Jack watched this with horror compounded by his phobia. He had been taught to swim by the ‘sink or swim’ school of aquatic instruction. He had indeed learned to swim, but at the cost of a dread fear of drowning. Swimming was no fun for him. Jack couldn’t wait to get out of the World of Reptile building. Neither for that matter, could Derek.

As he left the World of Reptiles 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 a better plan.

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