Chapter 27 Wednesday, 1720 hours, (5:20 PM)
Jack left Joshuas office and went not to the snow leopards cage, but to the Lakeside cafeteria and gift shop. There he rummaged through the refrigerator and filled a zoo shopping bag with various foodstuff and canned sodas. On his way out, he tossed in a pack of AA alkalines for Jeff. Jack had to be more careful than he normally would have been. The sun had set, and he could hear some cries from the hyenas and some of the other carnivores. Having been reintroduced to hunting the previous night, they seemed ready to try it again.
Jack made it back to the snow leopard cage and called in Jeffrey, and the pack. He handed out food and drink and was puzzled when the cubs forcefully declined the snack cakes. He handed Jeffrey the batteries.
"What are the batteries for?" asked Jack.
"My pocket TV," said Jeffrey inserting the batteries.
Suddenly feeling stupid, sitting and talking to the boys through the bars, Jack got up, unlocked the enclosure and went in. He gathered the boys round and told them that Joshua was about to give up, and they could all go home. He went on to tell Kit of his part. He would be the spokesman, and would tell everyone outside about CALF. Kit rather liked the idea. He would walk sharply and firmly out of the zoo in his spiffy cub scout uniform, go up to the adults and tell them everything about what was going on in the zoo.
Jack told Kit that Joshua wanted to talk to him before he was sent out. Jeffrey didnt like the idea at all.
"Dont do it Cat," said Jeffrey, "That Joshuas crazy. Im scared of him."
"Im not," said Kit with bravado.
"Its OK Jeff," said Jack, "Joshua just wants his side of the story told."
"I dont know," said Jeffrey, "I still dont like it."
"Ive got to get Kit to Joshua now," said Jack. "The cage is unlocked, but I think youd better stay put. The lions and leopard are starting to hunt again. Best to stay here until your, what is he called, your cubmaster comes, and keep the gate closed."
The cub scouts agreed to stay put, and wait for the return of Rom.
"Whens Rom coming back?" asked the diminutive Paul, all but hidden within the tight cluster of cubs.
"Im not sure. Ill try to bring him back with me after I drop off Kit."
"Be careful Cat," shouted Jeffrey as Kit and Jack left the enclosure.
Outside the enclosure, Jack was attacked, not by a wandering carnivore, but by Jeffreys father. Derek, holding his homemade spear, jabbed at Jacks midsection.
"Ill teach you to beat children, you filthy sadist," shouted Derek. Startled, Jack stepped backwards to avoid the spear point, and tripped, falling against the bars of the enclosure. Derek was readying his spear for another thrust when Jeffrey shouted out,
"No Dad. Stop. Hes my friend. He brought me food. He brought me batteries."
Derek stopped in surprise. Not only had Jeffrey called this beast, friend, but also for the first time, he heard his son call him dad.
Jack got up and dusted himself off.
"Im sorry Mr., I dont know your name, Im sorry. Ive been a real skunk," said Jack
Derek wasnt sure how to respond after harboring a hatred of Jack for the last few days.
"Please. Im very sorry and really ashamed," said Jack.
Derek put down his spear. "Well. If Jeffrey can forgive you, I guess I can too," he said.
Derek extended his hand, "Im Derek Robinson."
"Jack Marin," said Jack taking the hand. "Jeffs a great kid, Mr. Robinson," he continued.
"Yeah. Thanks," said Derek.
Derek thought about that. "Jeff. Great kid." He had never thought of the boy as other than Jeffrey, a toddlers name. Jeffery, Jeff, was no toddler anymore. Derek looked across the bars at his son. Definitely not a toddler, he was growing confident and tall. This was a thinking human with his own ideas, own likes and dislikes. "Jeff." Derek played with the name. Jeff, his son. It was good.
"Are you all right," said Jeff, noticing his father somewhat distracted.
"Jeff. Call me that again," said Derek.
"Dad. I like the sound of it."
"Sure. Dad," said Jeff, laughing.
Derek reached through the bars to tousle his sons hair while Jack looked on.
Jack and Derek spent some time exchanging news and getting to know each other after which Jack went off to bring Kit to Joshua at Zoo Center. Derek decided to stay in with the scouts.
"If a patrol comes by," said Jack getting into the cart with Kit, "tell them its all right. Tell them its been cleared by Jack and Joshua. Not that anyone will bother checking now that we dont have walkie-talkies anymore."
As Jack was about to drive off, Derek leaned his head in the window and asked softly,
"Joshua really didnt force someone into the polar bear cage, did he?"
"Yes," answered Jack.
Jack drove off with Kit and felt uneasy. When he was in with Joshua, he had believed him entirely. He had been sure that Joshua was sincerely intending to surrender the zoo. Now, outside of Joshuas presence, a small doubt was forming. Jack hoped he was just being suspicious, that this was a manifestation of the old Jack, the cynical, suspicious Jack. Jack decided that he really believed Joshua was going to talk to Kit and then hand back the zoo, but Joshua was a strange animal and you could never be sure with him. Jack told himself not to worry, but decided that hed keep a brotherly eye on Kit anyway.
Back in the cage, Derek also had some concerns now that Jeffs bear story had been confirmed. There had been a murder at the zoo, and here he was in a cage with a bunch of kids. He had a right to feel concerned. He tried telling himself that everything was all right now, but he wasnt quite ready to give up his spear yet. He forced the concern out of his mind. Hed use the time until Jack returned to try to make up for lost time in getting to know his son.