Chapter 26 Wednesday, 1645 hours (4:45 PM)
Joshua was putting the finishing touches on a second redefinition of the Ministry of Information. The jamming of the walkie-talkies had left them with nothing to do. Joshua wasn't particularly upset with the jamming. It was part of the game. He had done something the police didnt like, the incident with the snake woman, and they had reciprocated with another petty harassment. The lack of communications between Calfers was an inconvenience in the 265 acre zoo, but the Ministry could handle it. Now they had a new function and a new name, The Pony Express.
Joshua handed his former ministers, now Pony Express riders, a zoo map marked with a roughly circular route. The Pony Express, Calfers in a maintenance cart, would continually ride the route stopping wherever there were Calfers. The tramway was an important part of that root, so important in fact that they would stop at both ends of it. They would pick up and deliver messages, and when their carts batteries started to run down, they would exchange for a fresh cart from the maintenance area. To prime the pump Joshua gave them their first task; Spread the word everywhere that Jack is wanted back at Zoo Central.
There were three Pony Express riders. One was to drive the cart and act as lookout, and the other two were to go out with the messages and guard each other against carnivores. The riders left Joshuas office with some enthusiasm. After being cooped up in an office for most of Operation Zoo, it was good to be actually moving around.
When the door closed behind them, Joshua sat at his desk, preparing for the next telecast and negotiation session that was scheduled in just about an hour. He had just taken a fresh sheet of paper for notes when he was interrupted by a techie at the door. He had bad news. He had fired up the transmitter with a test pattern, and had tried to look at it with the broadcast monitor. There was nothing but snow. At first he thought it was a problem with the transmitter, but it wasnt. Someone was Jamming their signal.
"Couldnt you use another frequency, another TV channel?" asked Joshua.
"No. Its an old crystal controlled transmitter. We only have one crystal, for channel 58. We could try to jury rig something but it would take all night and it probably wouldnt work anyway," answered the techie.
Joshua made light of the situation.
"Let the police have their fun. Well have the last laugh," said Joshua as he put his arm around the techies shoulder and guided him out the door.
Youd not know it from looking at him, but Joshua was furious. The broadcast was where he was in control, where he could show videos of what he had done. Not that he was planning to show the crocodile feeding. No, that might cause the police invasion to happen before he was ready. The snake woman footage was the scheduled fare for the evening. It would make the police angry, but not angry enough to change their plans. Joshua knew hed still have to go ahead with the six oclock phone call to the negotiator but now, without television, he knew hed be at a disadvantage. The public would not see him, calm and collected, behind the desk with his winning smile and in full control of the event. He would also not have the pleasure of hearing Georges reaction to the snake woman video.
Joshua walked to the window and looked out at the sunset. It had special poignancy since he knew it was most likely his last sunset. Although it was sweet and honorable to die for ones cause, the dying part was rather awkward. It would be nice, he thought, to be able to see the results of his handiwork, the flames, the desolation, his legacy.
What he needed now was a spectacular gesture, a horrible portent. He needed it to show the police that he and only he was in control. It was almost the time. He needed a taste of Armageddon. He had a rough idea of what the portent would be. Now he had to refine the idea and actually execute it.
His eye caught the movement of the aerial tram and gave him an idea, the critical idea, the missing element. Looking at the tram moving high over the zoo, he thought his way through it. He went on to imagine the morning sunrise and the horror it would reveal. He had figured out how to get the police to attack, but not how to produce a frenzied attack. Now he had it. The horror would impel the police to attack without mercy. It would be a massacre.
Joshua went back to his desk to plan it step by step. There were logistic problems since he had to do it alone. It would take some physical strength, but not an inordinate amount. He could manage it. Hed need Jacks help to set it up though. Joshua went back to the window to watch the developing sunset.
He was startled by a knock at the door. It was Jack. He was wearing Roms backpack which, thought Joshua, perhaps explained why he looked uncharacteristically wholesome.
"Just the very person," said Joshua. He guided Jack to a chair.
"Sit down Jack," said Joshua warmly, "and take off that thing. What is it anyway?"
Jack unbuckled the heavy pack and let it thud heavily to the floor.
"a backpack. Oh you mean this?" said Jack pointing to the yellow and blue rubberized roll tied over the top. "Its a one man inflatable raft. Its probably the way that scout leader got back into the zoo."
Jack pulled up the chair and sat facing Joshua. Joshua leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial voice,
"Jack, I know you want to hold the zoo until the bitter end, but what would you say if I said I wanted to end Operation Zoo."
Jack was taken aback. "End it? Yeah, I think weve probably proven our point," he said.
"My thinking too," said Joshua. "I want to release another hostage, one who will tell our point of view. Id like to start to pull back from our no compromise stance. No sense getting everyone killed. What would that prove."
Jack looked on with amazement. He was going to try to make the very same argument to Joshua, to wind down Operation Zoo, but here Joshua had already come to the decision himself. Joshua was looking at him now, waiting for him to say something.
"Why dont we just release all the hostages now and be done with it. It might be hard under the circumstances," said Jack, "to find a hostage sympathetic to us."
"I know. But what about one of the kids?" asked Joshua. "Kids like animals. Id like to talk to one of them, tell him about us, make friends. Then well send him out. Itll be a nice gesture. Then in the morning, well release everyone else.."
Jack was dazzled by the turn of events.
Joshua went on enthusiastically. "Well get good press from the kid. It will make it easier and less dangerous for us when we hand back the zoo."
Jack nodded and waited for Joshua, obviously excited, to finish.
"We need a boy who can do this, someone who would not be afraid to talk to the police," said Joshua.
"I think I know the kid. He leads the pack. Kit, I think his name is," said Jack
"Great," said Joshua standing and thus bringing the meeting to an end. "Bring him here after the broadcast, about 6:30. OK?"
Joshua stood up, signaling an end to the conversation.
"OK," said Jack rising to leave. "Can I leave this here?" he asked pointing to the backpack.
Jack had planned to free Rom and give him his pack. It meant he'd have to go against Joshua, but now he didn't have to. Everything was going to be OK.
"Of course. Leave it here," answered Joshua. "Wait a second," he went on, going over to his desk and rummaging through a side drawer.
"Here. The keys to the leopard enclosure. Catch," said Joshua.
Joshua remained standing after Jack left. He was very impressed with himself, with his way with people. He had moved Jack from being absolutely ready to hold the zoo to the death, and had him at the end ready to hand over the zoo and send out the hostages. In fact it was amazing how easy it was to turn Jack around.
The sun was now below the hills and the room was darkening. Joshua looked at the backpack and thought about the raft and alternate futures. Joshua wanted his immortality but it was inconvenient that his death seemed the only way to achieve it. In his minds eye, he saw the fiery apocalypse of tomorrows dawn. He saw the mortars, the flame throwers, the flares, the automatic weapon fire, the death. Then he had another vision, of himself floating serenely down the Bronx River with flames roaring out of control on both banks, floating down the river, and out of the zoo.
Joshua continued speculating in the waning light. The police knew him by his broadcasts, but they only knew his first name. At least he thought he had never used his full name. Maybe they had no idea who he was. Maybe he could just go home, change his appearance perhaps, and be safe. But then maybe it didnt matter. He was rich, very rich and great wealth makes for great mobility. He had after all, large amounts of money stashed for safety in a number of friendly countries. Maybe if he did things right he could have it all, life, immortality, as well as the godlike thrill of Armageddon.
As he envisioned the possibilities, the possibilities seemed to become reality, a scheme. He did not spend time dwelling on the difficulties of the scheme thinking that since providence was kind enough to provide him with a raft, who was he to question providence.
Joshua wove all this into a sort of plan before going out to the broadcast room for the next negotiation with George. He entered the details into his diary, left the room whistling, and took pains to greet everyone he met in the halls. He was beginning to feel immortal, especially with regard to the people he met in the halls.
Joshua went into the broadcast room and found that Brian and Evan were there too. Apparently no one had bothered to tell them that cameras werent needed anymore.
Joshua sat at his desk and picked up the phone, this time not waiting for the negotiator to initiate the call.
"Hello George," said Joshua.
"That was a pretty dirty trick, that business with the woman and the cobra," said George.
"Would you rather Id killed her then?"
They negotiated without any real purpose. Joshua used the code phrase Weve all sacrificed much, again. By using the phrase Joshua sent the message of surrender, and assured that nothing unpleasant would by inflicted on them from outside before morning. The matter of CALFs demands were not even brought up, nor for that matter, was the disposition of the hostages. All was calmness and tranquillity as they hung up.
When Joshua had put down the phone, Brian and Evan approached him.
"Id like to talk to you," began Brian tentatively.
"Go on," said Joshua.
"Well, you see, weve had a petition made up, and," said Evan timidly.
"Brian, Whats this about?" asked Joshua ignoring Evan.
"Id like to read the petition," said Brian. Actually he was planning to read it on the air, but since there was no air to be on, hed read it to Joshua. This was not an easy task since he, like practically everyone else, was scared of Joshua. Brian cleared his throat and began reading,
"Whereas: CALF has successfully taken over The Bronx Zoo in the cause of animal rights, and,
Whereas: CALF has successfully broadcast our philosophy out to the world over TV, and,
Whereas: Brian VanMeer has been removed from the CALF presidency, and,
Whereas: over sixty percent of the Operation Zoo CALF membership have petitioned to have Brian VanMeer restored to the presidency of CALF, and,"
"Is this going to take long?" asked Joshua.
"Uh, No, just a little longer please," answered Brian.
" and Whereas: the aforementioned sixty percent of the CALF membership do not believe in violence and object to the killing of Andrew Steiner and Reggie Foreman, and,
Whereas: the aforementioned sixty percent of the CALF membership believe it is time to end Operation Zoo,
Therefore Be it Resolved: that Brian VanMeer be restored to the presidency of CALF, and,
Brian VanMeer is directed to conduct negotiations with the authorities to immediately surrender the zoo, and,
that for the safety of all, all weapons be returned to safe keeping."
Brian looked firmly at Joshua.
"Here are the signatures," he said handing the document and a page of signatures to him.
"I hereby reaffirm my rights as President of CALF and ask you to step aside," he continued.
Brian waited with nervous expectancy on Joshuas next move. Joshua stared at Brian for a moment or two, then took the document from Brians outstretched hand.
"You morons," he said.
Joshua turned abruptly to his bodyguards.
"Take these guys next door and beat some sense into them, will you."
The two bodyguards came forward, AK-47s at the ready, and nudged Brian and Evan to move. They were guided into the adjacent office while Joshua turned away, crumpled up the document, and threw it on the floor.
Joshua left the broadcast room and made his way back to his war room to wait for Jack and that boy, Kit. On the way he stopped a Calfer asked that some items be brought to his office. He would need some rope, some cakes, sodas, and any other things that a kid might like to eat. Next he intercepted a Pony Express rider and had a message sent to the tramway sniper. He was to be relieved of duty. There was no need to have anyone spotting from the tram tonight.
In the next door office the two bodyguards glared at Brian and Evan. They had seen enough cop movies but they still had not even a hazy notion how to beat some sense into someone. Finally one of the bodyguards, Ben, the larger burly one, said,
"OK. How about you guys stand there while we hit you a few times?"
"and you expect us not to hit back? Fat chance, Ben," said Brian.
"We can take you," said Ben.
"Maybe," said Brian, "but it would be a fight, and what goods a brawl anyway, and what about your oath. Doesnt that mean anything to you. You are really going to be in trouble at the next frat meeting," Brian continued.
"Whats going on here, please?" asked Evan.
"Ben and I are fraternity brothers. In fact Ben was my pledgemaster when I was inducted," Brian explained.
The bodyguards and the two to be beaten continued glowering at each other.
"OK," said Ben, "How about you two bend over the desk and we beat your asses with our belts, like at your initiation Brian."
"In case youve forgotten, the deans forbidden this kind of hazing now," said Brian.
"It was forbidden last year too, when we did it to you. Anyway, were not at the frat house now, so bend over," ordered Ben.
"Dont be ridiculous," answered Brian.
Suddenly Ben punched Brian in the stomach, a rather soft punch though.
Brian folded a little then stood straight preparing to fight. Ben though stepped back with his hands open and raised.
"Have you had enough sense beaten into you little brother?" asked Ben.
"What? Oh. Yeah. Lots of sense," said Brian catching on. He turned to Evan.
"You?" said Brian.
"Yeah. Sure," said Evan, "Tons of sense."
"Look, kidding aside, guys," said Ben, "It might be a good idea if you two laid low for a while."
Brian and Evan thought it a good idea too. They left for the safety of Brians room.
"So much for doing it by the book," said Evan.
"Yeah," agreed Brian, "It looks as if well have to start a genuine revolution."
"Im not sure theres time."
"What else can we do?" asked Brian. "and by any chance, Evan, do you know anything about starting revolutions?"
"We might have to become guerrillas," saud Brian. "We could start by trying to free the hostages."
"Tricky. If Joshua sees us, especially without bruises all over our faces, both we and his bodyguards will be in big trouble," said Brian.
"Yes, but when we get out of this, out of the zoo I mean, then well really be in big trouble. Look Brian, were accomplices to murder," said Evan.
"More like accessories to murder, but I see what you mean," Brian said.
They tossed around a few ideas on how to free the hostages before giving up on the whole idea because it was both too dangerous and impractical. Maybe in the morning theyd think of something - something better than just emptying out the shells from Jacks rifle.
Rom was also thinking on how to free the hostages, with more immediacy since at the moment he himself was one. The best idea he could come up with was to ignite a mattress and shout fire. Then he remembered he had gotten the same idea the last time he was captive in this room. He gave up on the idea again, and for the same reason. If nobody responded to his call, and with the windows barred, they'd all be incinerated. Then he thought about fire codes and it seemed strange that the windows were allowed to be barred. Rom went over to examine a window and found that there were pull out rods. If they were removed, the bars should just swing out. That was the intent, anyway. The barring had been painted many times though, and as a result the pull out rods were immobile, both from globs of paint and rust. For lack of anything else to do, Rom took out his pocket knife and started picking away at the rods, stopping when any carts rolled by.
"Hey guys, look at this," Rom shouted back to his fellow hostages. "Theres a lion running around out there," he continued, pointing out the window.