Chapter 5 (also Derek ch 5) Monday
Monday dawned overcast and rainy--warmish but otherwise nasty. Derek knew it was no day for the zoo, but to a nine year old, a promise is a covenant--and with Jeffrey, probably a test as well. Derek did not intend to fail that test; they would go to the zoo, weather not withstanding. He let Jeffrey sleep in while he did some work for his agency. When, at about 8:30, he heard signs of life from the boyís room, he turned off his computer and phoned in to the office telling them he was taking a Ďpersonal dayí. He started to dial a second number, paused, and put back the receiver. "No. Iíll call Kate from the zoo. Faite accompli and all that.
"Weíll pick up a few burgers for breakfast on the way," said Derek as Jeffrey padded out in his pajamas.
"Burgers for Breakfast?" Jeffrey giggled.
"Sure. Why not? By the way, the weatherís pretty rotten. Youíre sure you want to go to the zoo?"
Jeffrey didnít answer, but gave a hurt look.
"Okay, okay," said Derek, rolling up a newspaper to swat his sonís behind. "The zoo it is. Go. Go. Go. Get some clothes on."
Jeffrey giggled again and made for the safety of his room.
They waved to Madam Wu as she peered at them from the doorway of the House of Perfect Celestial Cleanliness.
"Weíre going to the zoo," shouted Jeffrey.
Madam Wu looked back disapprovingly, but said nothing.
"I don't think she likes the idea of me missing school."
"Miss it?," said Derek. "I wouldn't think you'd miss it at all."
After a quick foray around the corner to pick up the burgers, fries, milk and coffee, they trotted down to the apartment house garage. A few minutes later Derek pulled his car out into the rush-hour traffic, eased onto the clogged FDR Drive, and then turned on to the Cross Bronx Expressway. Despite the traffic, they were in high spirits when they sprung out of the car at the Bronxdale, Zoo parking lot.
"Can we take a zoo train tour?" asked Jeffrey
"Sure. But donít you want to leave your Pocket TV in the car?"
"No. Itís small. Iíll take it with me. I might get bored later." Jeffrey tucked the device in his jacket pocket.
Derek reined in Jeffrey at the first phone booth they encountered in the zoo.
"Iíve got to phone your mother."
"You didnít tell her yet?"
"Oh Boy. Youíre in trouble."
"I know," said Derek through gritted teeth as he dialed. He wished phone booths still had doors so he could keep Jeffrey out of it. Kate though, was very understanding, and even suggested that Jeffrey stay with him that night.
"That was easier than I expected."
"We lucked out," said Jeffrey.
They set out into the zoo.
"Where is everyone?" said Jeffrey. "The zoo's almost empty. It looks dead."
"Well," said Derek, looking up and down the paths. "it's a little late in the season for going to the zoo. And anyway, it's a school day."
"As long as the animals aren't in school."
Derek laughed. "Yup. I guess we have the zoo almost to ourselves today."
They walked to the central zoo area and saw a row of empty zoo trains.
"I donít think the zoo train tours are running today," said Derek.
Jeffrey made a face. Derek in fact, was himself looking forward to the zoo train, the little, rubber wheeled, articulated trolleys covered with depictions of happy animals, and with their enthusiastic drivers commenting on the life of the zoo. Without these silly vehicles, the zoo looked almost somber.
As they explored the zoo, it became clear that the place was far from dead. It looked as if some exciting things were likely to happen during the day. Everywhere they walked, they came upon young men with IDs on colored cords around their necks. Some were carrying camcorders. Others carried black fiberboard tubes containing, Derek suspected, photographic equipment of some kind. He stopped to talk to one of them and was told they were filming a documentary.
During the course of the day, Derek and Jeffery saw a lot of activity relating to the film. There were the big white support trucks from 'Big Apple On Location' in several of the parking areas. A lot of college-aged kids ran around with their mouths pressed to walkie-talkies, and the chaotic running around of the film crews made them almost as interesting to watch as the animals.
In spite of many of the exhibits being closed, the zoo was interesting. The relative emptiness gave it a feeling of adventure and mystery. Derek shared Jeffreyís imagination; they saw danger in the empty diminutive canyons of the Somba African Village. Jeffrey growled at the bears in their dens, aaahed at the cute little red pandas, admired the litheness of the snow leopards, and laughed at the antics of the sea lions at their feeding time.
The zoo seemed to belong to Jeffrey. Derek noticed no other kids in the zoo, except for a Cub Scout pack who, distinctive in their bright blue uniforms, appeared to be just another species of zoo wildlife.
The indoor habitats knew no season. Jeffrey gazed with silent awe at the bats in the World Darkness, and explored the well-constructed wildness of JungleWorld. Later, when they emerged from the Reptile House, they were left blinking in the light, for while they were inside, the weather had cleared. It was still warm, warmer in fact, since the drizzle had stopped. The overcast had lifted, and the sun had come out. The light glistening off the wet paths and railings, gave the zoo a magical quality.
Jeffrey peeled off his jacket and Derek carried it as they continued their mission of exploration. Finally Derek, hot, and tired of being a beast of burden, suggested they go to the zoo cafeteria for rest and snacks. Jeffrey needed only the snacks.
The Cub Scout pack apparently had the same idea. They were there, blue clad creatures of raw energy, eating lunch, making lots of noise, and playfully beating up on each other. Derek bought food, and noticed Jeffreyís shyness around these scouts. Jeffrey was an only child and did not make friends easily.
Derek set the food tray down next to the scout packís Cubmaster. Maybe by engaging him in conversation the ice would be broken, and Jeffrey might get to know some of the kids.
"Hi," said Derek, "Quite a bunch of boys youíve got."
"Yeah. Itís like trying to herd cats," said the Cubmaster.
Derek extended his hand. "Iím Derek Robinson, and this is my boy Jeffery."
"Iím Romulus Haldane, and this is Cub Pack 666, Ithaca New York," said the Cubmaster. "Everybody just calls me Rom though,. He shook Derekís hand.
This Cubmaster, Derek noted, was not all that much older than the boys he was trying to control. He couldnít have been more than eighteen or there abouts.
"Cat. Stop it," the Cubmaster shouted at one of the more hyperactive boys.
The boy looked sheepishly up from his mischief.
"Cat?" said Derek.
"His nickname. It fits though, lithe and stealthy. Heís the pack Denner."
"I don't know the word, Denner?"
"Like a patrol leader. Its what they call the head boy in a cub pack."
They chatted awhile. The cubs devoured their lunches, and Jeffrey asked if he could go out to watch the wild foul.
"Sure, but donít wander off." Derek watched Jeffrey move out to the patio behind the cafeteria.
Derek turned to the Cubmaster. "Isnít this a school day up in Ithaca?"
"No. Ithacaís a college town, Cornell University. The schools follow Cornellís schedule, and weíre on break now."
After a few minutes, the cubs had become restive and Jeffrey had tired of ducks and herons. Derek and Jeffrey waved goodbye and continued their explorations.
They Ďdidí the Mouse House, the otters, and were admiring the elephants close by Zoo Center when they heard the announcement that zoo would close in half an hour. They left the pachyderms and walked back to the Bronxdale entrance by way of the Monkey House, and the Bison habitat. Jeffrey wanted to see it all. When they reached the entrance, it was 4:25, five minutes shy of closing time.
The exit was blocked, chained closed. Apparently the cameraman shooting a scene at the gate didnít want wandering people in the shot. In front of the gate though, was a feast. There were heaping platters of high-priced goodies and coolers filled with ice and canned soft drinks. Another table held a bakery sized mass of cookies and cakes. Derek had just observed that "Movie people eat well," when he noticed the Cub Scouts and their leader were at the tables gorging themselves.
A purple corded staff person; young, no more than 20, came up beside Derek.
"Weíre really sorry sir, but we canít open the gate until we finish shooting this scene." he said. "In just a few minutes they'll bring a zoo train by to take you all to the parking lots. It'll drive you out the long way; your boy will have a nice tour of the zoo." The movie person pointed over at the tables. " Until then, please be our guest. Thereís lots of food." He smiled a young, innocent smile and drifted off to inform other zoo visitors.
"I guess, Jeffrey, youíll get your zoo train ride after all." said Derek.
"Yeah, a short one anyway." Jeffrey hungrily eyed the cookie table.
"Go," said Derek, freeing his son to join the Cubs at their feeding. Derek wandered to the other table to sample some really excellent little circumcised sandwiches, crustless and delicious. Over the next twenty minutes, the group of munchers, the last visitors still in the zoo, grew to about thirty.
Shortly thereafter, Derek heard the distant electric hum of a zoo train coming down the path. The others heard it too. Soon, the train, adorned with painted frolicking antelopes, came over the hill and to a stop near the platters. Jeffrey grabbed a final cookie and ran for the last car, his favorite spot. He called for Derek to follow. The Cubmaster and his scouts also spilled into the last car. The train started up and during the next few minutes, the passengers were treated to a safari-like excursion through the now deserted zoo. The sun, almost at the horizon, cast long bands of light and shadow, through which the train traveled, causing quick alterations of daylight and dusk.
The train traversed a circuitous loop of the central zoo, and finally stopped in front of the Education building. Cheerful young people were there to great them. They waved the passengers off the train and said there'd be a surprise for them in the building. Derek, was getting a little tired of this flair for the dramatic that these movie types seemed to like so much.
"All right," said Derek following Jeffrey into the building. "Let them have their fun."
Inside, in a lecture hall with a lectern on a raised platform in front, they all took seats.
The zoo-train passengers buzzed in conversation, quieting when a movie person moved to the front of the room. He was older than the rest, mid fifties or so, He flashed a comforting smile, and looked slowly around the room, as if savoring the moment. His demeanor was such as to inspire trust, but Derek felt something was distinctly wrong. He put his arm around Jeffrey and gave a gentle hug.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," said the movie person smiling broadly. "Iím sorry to have to inform you that you are now," he paused, acknowledging with a wave the youths surrounding the room, "you are now guests of CALF, The Captive Animal Liberation Front."
Out of the corners of his eyes, Derek watched the movie people at the back of the room open the black fiberboard cases they carried and take out assault rifles.
"Oh my God," muttered Derek, softly.