Chapter 18 Wednesday, 0945 hours (9:45 AM)
Rom leapt lightly to the ground and was met by Derek.
You were in there a long time."
"Sorry," said Rom, "but they were there, my scouts. They're safe and happy, except they won't leave." Rom explained the scouts' lack of pants.
"Jeffrey's not with them then?"
"No, and they don't know where he is. I'm sorry." Rom tried to cheer the man. "But I'm sure he's all right. We'll just have to keep trying to find him."
"Okay. Letís get going."
They tried the Gorilla Pavilion and the Mouse House, all with negative results. Then, thinking Jeffrey might have been hungry, they started checking out the various zoo cafeterias and snack bars. Each one they tried turned out to be closed for the season.
During the search, Rom thought back to his scouts in Jungle World. He had totally forgotten to pull Kit away and ask him about the Lycanthrozine. Rom tried to visualize the cubs, looking for signs that they had used the chemical. No use. He'd ask them directly when he got back. They probably did use it though. Rom knew he would have in their place.
In the bright of day, Rom let his mind wander, and that was bad for stealthiness. He had to move carefully, avoiding not only the Calfers on the ground, but also the spotter in the tramway, not to mention the large cats. The cats though, would probably be stuffed with nyala by now, and sleeping it off.
Perhaps it was just that it was hard to feel stealthy in sunlight, or maybe just because Rom was getting tired, but he got careless. Rom and Derek had just climbed out a window of the Lakeside cafeteria, the only one not closed for the season. They turned around and found themselves looking into the faces of two Calfers.
Although each of them was carrying an assault rifle, they appeared friendly and they were not pointing their guns.
"Nice spear," said one of them.
"Thanks." Derek sounded both edgy and angry.
"Youíre the Cub Scout leader," said the other, running his eyes over Romís uniform, "I thought you were out of the zoo." This Calfer although friendly, seemed nervous.
"I was," said Rom. "Iím looking for my cub pack. You havenít seen them, have you?"
Rom tried to gage the situation. Maybe the zoo invasion had gone bad, or maybe it was even over.
"No, and weíve been looking," said the second Calfer.
Derek broke in, "Iím looking for another kid. Iím his father. Iím worried about him."
The Calfers seemed embarrassed.
"Thereís a kid in the snow leopard cage," said the first Calfer, sheepishly.
"In a leopard cage," said Derek, excitedly.
"Donít worry. There are no leopards in with him," said the other. "Hey, weíre sorry. We came here because we're for animal rights, not to hurt kids and kill hostages."
"What do you mean, kill hostages?" Derek asked.
"Forget it. God I wish we were out of here."
"Why donít you just leave?" asked Rom.
The two Calfers exchanged looks with each other.
"It's not that easy anymore," answered the nervous Calfer.
Rom wondered why the guys didn't just get out through one of the turnstile exits. It sounded as if they'd thought about leaving, but something was stopping them. Clearly, they were scared and didnít like it in the zoo, but that they were even more frightened at the thought of escaping.
"Come with us. We'll get you out," said Rom, good-naturedly.
"No. Itís okay. We have to do this for the animals. Besides, there are snipers now at all the exits."
The nervous Calfer seemed eager to end the conversation. "Look," he said, "We've got to figure out what to do with you. Stay there for a moment."
Rom and Derek waited while the Calfers moved off to talk. The Calfers engaged in animated discussion and every so often looked around to see if Rom and Derek had run off. Rom, who with his wolf-sharp hearing, could hear the conversation clearly, tried not to smile. It seemed as if the Calfers would have liked them to run off, so they wouldn't have to deal with the problem. The Calfers knew they were out of view of the SkySafari, but they worried that they might be observed from cameras hidden in trees.
Rom couldn't quite fathom the situation. What are they worried about? What's going on at the Education Building?
After a few moments the Calfers reached a decision and returned to Rom and Derek.
"All right. We havenít been ordered to find and bring you in, so go away. Thereís bad stuff happening here. Get out if you can. If you canít, just hide out. Now get out of here. Look man, Weíre really sorry."
"Thanks," said Rom. By his sharp hearing, he'd heard the decision before Derek had. He also knew just how fragile and tentative the decision was.
In a quick fluid motion, Rom pulled Derek away, and they set off fast and low to the ground.
"Those guys were scared. Do you know anything about killing hostages?" asked Rom.
"No. I hope it was just a figure of speech, hyperbole. I hope."
When they were out of sight of the Calfers, they stopped to figure out where they were.
"By the way," said Derek. "So you donít know where your cub scouts are. Doesnít the scout law say something about being truthful?"
Rom thought a little, running the scout law through his head. "No. Thatís funny, it doesnít," he said. "Besides, I didnít lie. I just asked if theyíd seen them."
"Splitting hairs, I think," said Derek. "Okay. Weíve got to find the snow leopard cage."
"Follow me," said Rom. " Itís near the World of Darkness. And let's run for it. I don't want to leave my scouts alone too long,"
They had traveled that terrain before and the return trip held no surprises. It was disconcerting doing it in bright sunlight, but they didnít encounter anyone.
"Careful," warned Rom as they were about to emerge from the undergrowth at the front of the snow leopard cage. They got down and crawled forward.
Looking through the high grass, Rom almost laughed at the sight.
There, in front of the cage, a snow leopard looked in through the bars. Apparently, he'd had enough of freedom, and wanted to go home to his cage. The cage was occupied however. Jeffrey, safe inside, looked admiringly back at the leopard.
When the leopard had run off, Rom crawled out, and stood up. Derek followed.
"Itís safe to go in close," said Rom. "The tramway canít see us here. Go on. Iím going to nose around and see if there is a way to get him out."
Derek went to his son, while Rom melted back into the bush.
The snow leopard habitat consisted of a mix of old and new style zoo architecture. The leopards lived on natural ground and there was an artificial cave that the leopard could use as a den. On the other hand, the habitat was surrounded by old fashioned, prison style, bars. Rom circumnavigated the enclosure and found that the keeper access door was locked, and the only way in or out was by going over the twelve-foot, spike-surmounted fence.
Rom rejoined Derek and shook his head, Ďnoí.
"Hello Mr. Haldane. Did you find Kit and the others yet?" asked Jeffrey.
"I'm not precisely sure where they are now," said Rom, skirting the truth, figuring that the less the kid knew, the less trouble heíd be in.
"Well, I hope you find them."
"What are you doing in there?" asked Rom lightly,
"They said I was bad and Iím being punished."
Rom nodded in sympathy.
"Get me out of here."
"We will," said Derek.
"Get me out of here now," said Jeffrey raising his voice.
"Hey. Keep it down," whispered Derek.
"We canít get you out now," explained Rom softly, "Unless we have an elephant stampede to knock down the fence, weíll have to wait until after dark before we can pull you out over the top,"
"Whatís wrong with the idea of an elephant stampede?" Jeffrey asked.
"The elephants are locked in too. We canít get them out either," answered Rom conspiratorially.
"Did they feed you?" asked Derek.
"Yeah, a couple of hard rolls and water. And someone threw me a candy bar from a zoo cart. I donít think they plan to feed me again until they let me out tomorrow morning. One of the Calfers, a really nice guy, is going to smuggle some food to me later, though."
"Good, but weíve got to go now so that they donít catch us," said Rom. "Weíll be back later."
"Please don't go."
"We've got to, Jeffrey," said Derek, "but we'll be back real soon. And here. Take your jacket. The TVís in the pocket. Iím afraid the batteries are starting to run down. You should be able to use it for a few more hours." Derek passed the jacket through the bars. "It might be good to keep your jacket in that den. Itís best if nobody knows we were here."
"I really hate Mr. Cave," said Jeffrey.
"Is that why you have the spear? to kill him?"
Derek laughed softly. "No. I donít think so. But we've got to go. I'll see you later, just a little later," he said, "Bye, Jeffrey."
"See you, Derek."
They turned and ran back off the trail, into the wilds of the zoo.
"Whatís the matter?" Rom asked observing Derek in thought.
"Nothing. Itís just that I think Jeffrey is handling this situation better than I am. Heís in there and I canít rescue him."
"Heís a good kid," said Rom. "Heíll wait. Weíll spring him tonight. Meanwhile, let's go steal some food. Jeffrey could use some, and so could my scouts."
"Your kids must be pretty hungry by now."
"No," said Rom. "I doubt it. They stumbled on a load of snack cakes and have eaten themselves sick. But if we can find food, maybe we can find clothing."
"Oh God," said Derek, wearily. "I just want to get Jeffrey free and sneak out of this damned zoo."
"Yeah," said Derek. "I don't like notoriety, and I don't think it would be good for Jeffrey."
"Are you saying,"--Rom almost didn't dare hope--"that if you could get out of the zoo without the police finding out, you would?"
"Yes. I'd pretend this never happened. Why are you smiling?"