Go to beginning of the book Brian and Evan commiserate and plan.The scouts and Jeffrey exchange news.Jack looks within himself, and decides to commit suicide.Joshua needs a disciple and soul-mate.Quotation: Even when the bird walks, one feels that it has wings. - LemierreA wolf habitat sign, and a wolfGo to chapter 23 in the Novel ViewGo to chapter 25 in the Novel View

Chapter 24 Wednesday, 1445 hours (2:45 PM)

Brian and Evan were discussing things in Brian’s room.

"You know Evan, I can’t take much more of this. I’m OK with Joshua for now, I think, but I’m going to have to go into hiding soon. I’m sure of it. I just don’t know when," said Brian.

"Yeah, I know. I’ve thought about swimming out of here, down the Bronx River," said Evan.

Brian laughed. "You’ve got to get a better idea than that.You’d freeze to death before you got a hundred yards."

"I know, but whenever I try to visualize a plan, all I can see is bats."

Brian nodded understandingly as they thought together in silence. After a while Evan said, "How could this happen? Brian, until when?, yesterday?, you were president of CALF. We weren’t murderers then."

"No, but it’s been gradual, little by little. You know the saying, Sometimes they raise the temperature of the bath water so slowly you don’t know when to scream’," Brian answered.

This time Evan nodded silently. Here in Brian’s room, even though it was just a marginally converted office, things seemed amenable to discussion, like a college dorm.

"I think it’s time to scream now," said Evan after a while.

The tranquillity was broken by a rough knock at the door.

"Brian, Open up," came a voice from the other side.

Brian heaved himself out of the plush chair and opened the door to admit a techie Calfer.

"Where the hell have you been. We’ve been looking all over for you. Didn’t you hear us on your walkie-talkie?" he asked.

"Uh, No," said Brian temporizing. "Maybe my batteries are low or something," he continued unclipping the ever present communication device from his belt.

"Let me see that," said the Calfer grabbing the walkie-talkie with techie zeal.

Brian watched helplessly as the Calfer fiddled with the device. Of course there was nothing wrong with the batteries. Brian worked on another story.

"Yeah, you’re right," said the techie. "There is something wrong with this walkie-talkie."

"Really?" asked an astonished Brian. "I mean you really are able to tell so quickly?"

"Yeah, sure."

The Calfer fiddled some more.

"Hmmmph," he said. "The batteries seem to be fine."

He unclipped his own unit and flipped through the channels.

"Uh Oh," he said, "Mine’s not working either. Something funny’s going on."

The Calfer gave an ‘Oh well’ shrug and got back to the purpose of his search.

"You’d better get to Joshua fast. He has some video he wants you to edit, and he says he wants it now."

Brian let Evan stay in his room and followed the Calfer back to Zoo Central. A couple of minutes later, he was in the makeshift video room editing footage from The World of Reptiles. While a certain part of his mind indeed reacted to the horrific footage on a content level, Brian here was in his element. Here, he was the professional, the artist, the critic. He monitored the footage on his editing deck.

"Amateurs, bloody amateurs," he said scornfully.

As it turned out, Brian’s walkie-talkie was not malfunctioning. The police, after verifying the snake woman’s story, responded with another harassment, but hopefully not one serious enough to destabilize the situation. They jammed all the walkie-talkie communication channels. That, in addition to the earlier cutting of the phone lines, effectively ended communications, both between the zoo and the outside, and within the zoo itself. There was only the hard wired phone line to the police precinct in the broadcast room. Communications between CALF occupied buildings would now have to be done in person. This could be a problem as the loose carnivores, one day after their nyala feasts, would find the remaining nyala very illusive. As zoo animals, and not afraid of humans, they might be an effective impediment to CALF communications, particularly those done on foot. Although the CALF techies didn’t know it yet, even the signal from the rogue TV broadcast transmitter was now being jammed.

The police were not aware however, of another line of communication, although only one-way. The bugs at the entrances of the zoo and at the police command post on the roof of the high rise apartment building continued to work.

Something had cracked inside of Jack back in The World of Reptiles. His brittle shell had shattered allowing him to see inside to himself. He was hot headed and impulsive by nature, but the sadistic streak had come upon him gradually. Until his association with Joshua, Jack’s temperament was sadistic but benign. He satisfied his impulses by going to movies, violent ones, like the ones everyone went to. Under Joshua’s tutelage, his sadism became active rather than imagined.

Layer upon layer of vile thought and deed finally became too heavy. The incident of the woman and the snake was the final straw. Now Jack could see clearly inside. He once had ideals, sheltered in a matrix of cynicism perhaps, but none the less ideals. Now he was a murderer, even a double murderer.

Jack looked at what he had become, what he once was, and what he wanted to be. The views were irreconcilable. To the impulsive and action oriented Jack, there was only one possible resolution, and that was suicide. Jack explored the notion from all sides but found no flaws. He had to commit suicide. It was the only way he could atone. The only question was how.

Jack left Zoo Central. His decision to end his life had freed him from the concern about stray carnivores whenever afoot outside. Now it didn’t matter. He had even left his rifle back in Zoo Central. He would not need it again. With a feeling of freedom, freedom from worry about roaming cats, and freedom from worry about the future, he walked the zoo trying to decide which zoo animal he would offer himself to for lunch.

He came first to the polar bear enclosure. The pure white bears were pacing their enclosure which still had the inedible parts of Andrew Steiner scattered about. He decided against the bears. Mixing his cartilage and such with Steiner’s seemed something akin to sacrilege. He continued his walk, thinking about predators. Surely the crocodile would be efficacious, he had seen that himself, but his phobia about drowning was too strong. It was a fear greater than the fear of death itself. No, he’d find a better animal. An elephant stampede, or indeed any kind of a stampede in the zoo involved logistic problems. No elephants then.

Suddenly he thought of wolves and played with the idea. That was good, even romantic. He liked the idea of departing this earth by being torn to pieces by a pack of vicious wolves. Even the symbolism was right. Jack walked with deliberation toward the Mexican Wolf habitat. Several CALF patrol vehicles passed him on his walk, but they recognized him as Jack, a person not to trifle with, a person with a lousy temper. They let him alone

Jack found the Mexican Wolf habitat, climbed over the fence and dropped to the ground below. It was, he thought, a very easy break in considering the danger presented by the wolves. Jack looked around, saw no pack of ravening wolves descending on him, and felt the wolves showed a remarkable lack of gratitude. He would have to seek them out and make a more formal offer of himself. The habitat was large, large enough to satisfy the needs of this roaming species. Finally Jack went over a low rise and came upon the wolf pack. They were not as numerous as he had supposed, nor as large. He approached the nearest wolf, which went into a crouch and snarled at him.

"Come on wolves, Chow time," shouted Jack.

Although a few of them growled at him, none seemed inclined to tear him to shreds. Indeed, many of them seemed actually to want to play, barking, wagging their tails and jumping up and down stiff legged.

Jack sat down on a log. Although the wolves came closer, not too close though, they still seemed only to want to play. Jack watched this and then cupped his head in his hands and started to cry.

About fifteen minutes later, Jack stood and the wolves who at this point were frolicking almost within his reach, moved back to a safer distance. Jack felt cleansed, or at least now cleansible. He had been given another chance. The wolves had spared him, and he took this as a sign. Murderer as he undoubtedly was, he could try to make amends, try to undo some of the wrong. Andrew Steiner and Mr. Foreman were dead but there were still the hostages, and the children. He would start with the children.

Jack turned to leave the wolf enclosure when he saw a flash from a tree far back in the enclosure. The flash turned out to be reflection of the rays of the sun, now low in the sky, from the shiny buckle of a backpack. The pack was tied to a limb out of pawing range of the wolves. Curious, Jack untied it and by the Boy Scouts of America insignia affixed to its outer flap, deduced it must belong to the cub scout pack leader. As part of his making amends, Jack intended to return the pack to its presumed owner.

"This guy obviously knows more about wolves than I do," said Jack to a nearby wolf as he hefted the pack onto his shoulders. It was heavy, Jack noted, probably from the weight of the collapsible rubber raft strapped to its top. Jack struggled to climb out of the wolf enclosure.

"He’s probably in better physical condition than I am also," said Jack.

Jack was no longer suicidal and his soul was stripped raw by his encounter with the wolves. Now he felt fear. He left the enclosure afraid that some marauding cat would savage him before he could make amends for his sins. He smiled to himself in spite of the fear, in fact even because of it. Jack, who had not been afraid of anything since he had graduated high school, was afraid now. He regarded the fear warmly, as a true and wholesome emotion. Jack, now that fear had returned, ran back to Zoo Central to pick up his rifle.

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