Chapter 5 Monday
After checking out of the motel on the New Jersey side of the bridge, and making a quick stop for breakfast, Rom and his fidgety Cub Scouts drove straight for the zoo. Rom parked in the Zoo's Bronxdale lot, and held back his scouts from running for the turnstiles until a dark blue car with tinted windows drove clear of the van.
Rom had expected the zoo to be cheerful and bustling, but apparently the overcast sky and light drizzle had kept the attendance down. And as they wandered the immense zoo, they found many of the exhibits were closed. A man at the information booth said that it was past the season and in New York City, it was a school day, and that's why the zoo appeared empty and there weren't many kids around.
"You guys are pretty lucky, actually," said Rom, as they walked toward Wolf Woods. "Without a lot of people clogging the paths you'll see more animals and you won't have to push through the crowds."
As they walked on though, it became clear that some exciting things were likely to happen during the day. Everywhere they walked, they came upon people with IDs on colored cords around their necks. Some were carrying camcorders. Others carried clip boards, or black fiberboard tubes.
"What do you think's going on?" asked Kit.
"I don't know," said Rom. "It looks like they're going to film a movie."
"Wow. Do you think we'll be in it?"
"Maybe, unless they're just going to film animals."
"We're animals," said Kit.
All through the day, Rom and the scouts saw a lot of activity relating to the film. Big white support trucks in the parking lots disgorged people and equipment. Guys with walkie-talkies held to their faces, raced around shouting instructions, and the film crews seemed to shoot everything that moved.
At Wolf Wood, Kit walked right up to the railing and started to climb over. Rom was ready. He pulled Kit back, thwacked him on an ear and, as if he were speaking to a dog, said 'no', loud enough for all the Scouts to hear.
Scouts and wolves, with a railing and moat between them, looked at each other for a while and then the wolves and Scouts both, went off to do other things.
By one o'clock they'd seen about a third of the zoo. Jungle World, with its re-creation of moist tropical habitats, was the overwhelming favorite. They stayed there until they got hungry and then emerged from the building blinking in the sun. The drizzle had stopped and the sun in the now clear sky, glistened off the wet paths and railings, giving the zoo a magical quality, but the scouts didn't seem to notice. They needed food.
Rom, map in hand, led the way to the Lakeside Cafeteria where they recharged on burgers and fries. Rom relaxed at a table and watched his cubs, blue-clad creatures of raw energy, eating lunch, making lots of noise, and playfully beating up on each other. Into that fray came a man and a boy of cub scout age, each carrying a tray. Rom gathered up his food to make room for them.
"Hi. Quite a bunch of kids youíve got," said the man.
"Yeah. Itís like trying to herd cats."
The man extended his hand. "Iím Derek Robinson, and this is my boy Jeffery."
"Iím Romulus Haldane, and this is Cub Pack 9, Ithaca New York. Everybody just calls me Rom though." Rom shook Derekís hand.
"Cat. Stop it," Rom shouted out.
"Cat?" said Derek.
"His nickname," Rom explained. "His real name's Kit. Cat 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."
Derek chuckled. "Cat. Great nickname. I assume he likes it."
"Oh yes." Rom lowered his voice, "and it's a lot better than 'kitten', his parents nickname for him. Kit hates that and threatened to kill anyone in the Pack who called him that."
Derek chuckled again. "I don't blame him."
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," said Derek.
Jeffrey moved out to the patio behind the cafeteria.
Derek turned to Rom. "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."
They talked a while longer until the Cubs became restive and Jeffrey had tired of ducks and herons. Derek and Jeffrey waved goodbye and went off to see Jungle World, while Rom and the scouts went next to the SkySafari.
They covered as much ground as they could and finally, about 10 minutes before zoo closing time, found themselves back at the Bronxdale entrance. They couldn't get out however. Someone had chained the exit 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: tables with heaping platters of goodies and coolers filled with ice and canned soft drinks. Another table held a mass of cookies and cakes.
Kit started to run for the tables, but Rom grabbed him by the shirt and held him back.
One of the movie people came up to Rom. "I'm sorry sir, but because of the filming, we canít open the gate." He smiled at Kit. "In a few minutes there'll be a zoo train to drive you and your boys out another exit to your car. To make up for the inconvenience, you and your scouts are our guests. Please enjoy the buffet."
The scouts looked up at Rom.
Rom let loose Kit's shirt.
The scouts ran off to the food tables, with Rom following behind.
During the next half hour, the group at the food tables grew to about 25. Derek and his son Jeffery were also in the crowd. Then Rom heard the distant electric hum of a zoo train. He and the Cubs looked toward the hill from where the sound seemed to be coming. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the group, with normal human hearing, looked that way too. Soon, a train, adorned with painted frolicking antelopes, came over the hill and to a stop near the platters. Jeffrey ran for the last car, his favorite spot, and called for Derek to follow. Rom 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 deserted zoo. The sun, nearly at the horizon, cast long bands of light and shadow, making the train look zebra-like in the late afternoon.
The train did not leave the zoo, nor even drive to another exit. Instead it stopped in front of the Education building, rather close to where it started out. Cheerful movie people were there to greet the passengers, encouraging them to come into the building for a surprise.
"This is pretty neat," said Kit. "What do you think the surprise is?"
"I don't know," said Rom. "But I guess we have to go in to find out."
They went into a lecture hall with rows of wooden seats and a podium up front. When everyone had taken seats and quieted down, a movie person, older than the rest, moved to the front of the room and waved for silence. He smiled, but Rom instinctively didn't like him.
"Ladies and Gentlemen. Iím sorry to have to inform you that you are now," he paused for the word, "guests of CALF, The Captive Animal Liberation Front."
Rom looked around and saw the film crews at the back of the room open the black fiberboard cases they were carrying and take out assault rifles.
"Keep calm," said Rom, aware that his voice sounded far from relaxed.