Chapter 10 Tuesday, 1330 hours (1:30 PM)
Rom, sitting in the passenger seat, studied the map as Alan drove his sports utility vehicle to The Bronx Botanical Gardens. The gardens were on the other side of Pelham Parkway, somewhat distant from the zoo, but the gardens and the zoo shared a common river.
The vehicle swung into the entrance and after Alan paid the admission, came to a halt in the parking lot.
Rom got out, went around to the back, lifted out his pack and hefted it to his shoulders. He walked up to the driver's side window. "Are you coming?"
"I still think this is a mistake." Alan got out of the car.
Rom had spent the night at his frat brother's apartment arguing about what to do. Rom, angry about his forced dereliction of duty argued for returning to his cub scouts. He'd asked if Alan knew any way to sneak into the zoo.
"I think it would be better," Alan had said, "if you obeyed Chaba's instructions, and just stay put."
"I've got to get back to them," said Rom. "I have no place to stay here in New York, and I'm not going back to Ithaca without my scouts."
"You can stay with me as long as you want. Let the police deal with it."
"I'm going back. Are you going to help me or not? If not, I'll do it myself."
"Okay, okay. I'll help. You don't know The Bronx and could get in trouble."
Rom remembered the thugs at the phone booth. "Great. Thanks."
With a borrowed backpack filled with, among other things, an inflatable one man boat, Rom marched into the Botanical Gardens. Alan walked with him. When they reached the entrance gate, Rom, in scout uniform and carrying the pack, waved at the guard and strolled through.
"Just a moment," said the guard, pointing at the pack. "Why are you bringing that into the park?"
Alan had foreseen this question. "Iím going for my hiking merit badge," said Rom. "I have to take a three mile hike with full pack and there arenít very many places you can hike in the Bronx."
The guard laughed. "Yeah, I donít suppose there are," he said, passing them through the gate.
The story after all, was plausible. Rom had just turned 18 and until just a few months ago, he was a registered Boy Scout.
Alan led the way through the gardens, showing Rom the Bronx River, and also a place where he could hide until nightfall.
"You don't have to do this you know."
"Yes I do," said Rom, "I'll call you when I get out with the scouts."
"Ah. That's an idea." Alan reached to his inside jacket pocket, pulled out a small cellular phone and handed it to Rom. "Take this. It might be useful. Do you know how to use it?"
"Oh wait. Give it back."
Alan took the phone. "I forgot to turn it off." He pressed a button and handed the phone back.
Rom stowed it in his pack.
"And keep it turned off," said Alan turning to walk back to his car, "Itíll save the battery and you wonít get a lot of calls intended for me." He stopped. "By the way. how do you intend to get the scouts out?"
"I don't know yet," said Rom. "If worst comes to worst, I'll use the boat. I should be able to ferry them out a couple at a time."
When Alan had gone, Rom stowed his pack in the hiding place and wandered the gardens, trying to look as much like a tourist as he could. Although he was a scout leader, he actually was abysmally ignorant of species of flowers and trees, and saw no reason to change. Animals were interesting, but trees were dumb and just stood there.
"We mammals have to stick together." Rom talked to himself out of sheer boredom, and there were still five hours until closing.
Two hours later, bored out of his skull, he went around the gardens yet again, this time reading all the information signs. It was no use. The Botanical Gardens were very well manicured and civilized, but they had about as much attraction for the wilderness loving Rom as did a golf course. After a while though, a long while, closing time came and Rom went to ground until it got dark.
At last, when it was dark enough that he could work unobserved, Rom tried to inflated the boat. He was used to canoes, not these rubber bath toys. After ten minutes or so of blowing into the inflation tube, when he was getting light-headed from hyperventilation, he stumbled on the embedded foot pump.
Rom finished inflating the boat, assembled the paddle and set out for the middle of the Bronx River. Although he had earned the canoeing merit badge, he had trouble maneuvering his flexible little craft and found he could only go around in circles. After a while, he got the hang of rubber boat paddling and feathering the paddle using a modified J stroke managed to maneuver his little craft to the middle of the river.
The current carried the raft smoothly towards the Pelham Parkway Bridge. The lights, smells and noise from the traffic increased steadily as he approached the span, receded, then strengthened again as he passed under, and then just as steadily decreased as he gently floated off into the zoo waters on the other side.
His boat drifted around the bend in the river and the city illumination vanished completely. Now it was almost as if he were on a night canoe excursion in the Adirondacks. He floated deep into the zoo before using his paddle to maneuver the craft toward a bank. Once out of the river's swift, central current, the boat floated slowly and lazily toward the shore. Rom looked for a place to go ashore and then saw an animal crouching at the bank. Upstate, he was used to seeing animals, deer usually, drinking at a river. Here in New York City though, he found the sight incongruous. With no reference objects for comparison, he couldnít tell how large the animal was, but it was big, and he could almost swear it had stripes.
Earlier in the day, Sam and Elliot had been disappointed when they got back to the Education Building and found that the canteen was gone. As the underwear was gone too, they assumed that the kids had changed back into human form.
"I can't hear any kid noises up there," said Elliot, pointing to the window from where the kids had climbed down.
"Me neither," said Sam. "They've gone somewhere else. We've got to find them. I want that canteen."
"You really want to be a werewolf that much?" said Elliot.
"All right," said Elliot, "Let's go hunt 'em."
They drew their guns for protection against the leopard that attacked their car the previous night, and stalked off into the zoo.
"How do you suppose that leopard got loose?" asked Sam.
"Don't know. Probably the kids that took over the zoo let them out."
"Then they might have let out more," said Sam.
"I don't want to think about it," said Elliot, "Wait. Look at that."
They were near the Jungle World building. Sam peered through the binoculars. "It's them."
The two men jogged softly towards the building and were just in time to see the last of the cubs disappear inside, and close the door behind.
"What now?" asked Elliot.
"We'll wait," said Sam.
"A stake out?"
"Yeah," said Sam.
"Fine," said Elliot. "Let's just hope we're not the steak."