Chapter 32 Thursday, 0900 hours (9 AM)
The police were pretty good about things. The local precinct wasnt large enough to hold everyone, so vans took them over to some sort of barracks. The Calfers were interrogated about a half-eaten human body that the police came across in an remote part of the zoo. Brian was horrified at yet another death, but he was baffled. It wasn't a hostage. The guy was armed though, and turned out to be an FBI agent. No one knew why he was there, not even his department. Evan thought he might have been one of the two men he saw in the zoo. But where was the other one? Brian was annoyed. Operation Zoo wasn't really over. There was still a mystery, and Brian felt his usual frustration at not having all the information.
Aside from the matter of the FBI agent, the police had everything under control. People were processed efficiently, and the hostages were distinguished from the Calfers. But for Rom, that was mainly done by age. Rom for his part was reasonably happy with his behavior during the take over. He had kept his cool and used his scout skills. He and his pack had come through reasonably unscathed. Kit might need some counseling though. He was thinking of these things while waiting for Alan to pick them up. Rom was eager to get the kids back to his van and to go back upstate - back home. He also wanted his pack and his raft back, and of course Alan would want his cell phone returned.
"Oh my gosh, the cell phone," he said suddenly remembering.
"You had a cell phone?" asked Derek.
"Yeah, but I totally forgot about it," said Rom. "We could all have been killed, or Jack might have been eaten." Rom shook his head. "I could have used the phone, but I forgot. Maybe I didn't keep my cool after all."
A police officer came by and told Derek that his cab had arrived. Derek said goodbye to Rom while Jeff bid farewell to Kit. Then they went out to their cab. Derek had opted for a taxi rather than a more conspicuous ride home in a police car. It was good though, that the police had made the arrangements since a cab might not have stopped for a man supporting an exhausted kid with one hand while holding a spear in the other. It would have been more convenient to drive home in his own car, but of course he didnt have the keys anymore.
They rode home in silence in the early morning light. They were quiet not necessarily because they were tired, but because they didnt need to talk. They understood each other now. Derek listened to the rhythm of the tires as they rolled over the slabs of concrete highway. Click-Click, Click-Click; The kids are OK, The kids are OK.
As the cab turned off the F.D.R. Drive and onto east side city streets, Derek gazed over Jeffs head on out through the window. It had been only three days yet everything looked different; trivial, unimportant. The fancy cars, the billboard ads, high priced boutiques, all unimportant. He looked over at his spear. That had been important, the stone age implement with the sharpened car key as a point. He visualized where in the apartment he would mount the spear, and he knew he would keep that car key far longer than hed keep the car.
He looked down at Jeff who was also gazing out the window. Jeff had grown up over the last dozen hours, but he felt that he himself had grown up even more. "Maybe", he thought, "Maybe Kate and I can work things out." He hoped so, but even if that proved to be impossible, he would ask for joint custody. His kid needed a father, almost as much as he needed his son.
"You know dad," said Jeff sleepily, "That polar bears keeper is going to have to be pretty darn careful in the future, now that the bears know what he tastes like."
"Hmm," said Derek.
Derek continued gazing absently and let his mind wander back to the ending of the crisis. He mentally scanned the young faces of the CALF group. "Yes, with good adult leadership, the kids will be O.K."
The scenery became familiar again. There was the House of Perfect Celestial Cleanliness. Madam Wu as usual, was peering out the window. She watched as the cab pulled in and Derek and Kit get out. Derek wondered what Madam Wu would make of it all. He really must look a sight. Neither he nor Jeff had had a shower since Sunday, and they both needed one. Even with your eyes closed, you could tell that.
Derek paid off the cab, included a hefty tip, and helped Jeff across the street. Exhaustion had begun to set in, so Derek hefted Jeff up and carried him over his shoulder. Very primitive they looked, man, boy, and spear. Derek smiled at Madam Wu as they went by, acutely aware that their cleanliness was by no means perfect nor celestial.
As they passed the newsstand in front of his apartment house, Derek glanced at the headlines. There already, in the early morning edition, was a story about the zoo take over. Under it was another story about genocide in a previously inconspicuous part of the world. "Yes," he thought again, looking at the second headline, "with good adult leadership the kids will be all right...but where the hell are we going to find that leadership."