He’d charge over to the window like a nimble NFL linebacker taking a bead on a wide receiver—only no wide receiver could outrun a Western Lowland gorilla.
She loved the gentleness in that big body. They were separated by the mere thickness of laminated glass; separated by less in DNA: a gorilla is 98.67% human. His majestic head turned shyly, watching her nibble a PB & J, his intent mocha eyes locking on hers.
Break time over, she placed her hand on the glass. He covered it with a huge paw, dwarfing hers. He tore pumpkins to pieces with those hands as easily as peeling the “jackets” off Spanish peanuts.
The 600-pound silverback watched her walk away.
The afternoon was taken up with doing inventory for supplies and feeding the bonobos and chimpanzees.
Daryl told her to handle the lion tamarins’ medication, the squirrel-sized monkeys with flowing manes. Planning to become a veterinarian, she wasn’t fazed by the pungent smell of diarrhea. Grabby-hands Daryl leered at her with his moist eyes. Her stomach twisted with squirmy distress.
Avoiding him was a constant challenge because he used every excuse to isolate her from the others. She ignored the lewd suggestions he made when no one else was around to hear. A formal accusation was hopeless because Daryl’s “posse” stood ready to lie for him. She told herself to tough it out until college started in the fall.
Yesterday, while dressing for shift, two girls demanded to know why she was “bad-mouthing” him.
“I’m not,” she replied. Lying was another of his devious tactics to separate her.
Kelly sneered: “You should show more respect.”
“Maybe he should show me respect!”
“C’mon, Kell. Don’t waste your breath on this stuck-up bitch.”
God, it’s high school all over again with mean girls at your locker demanding you stay away from a boyfriend . . .
Smutty innuendo and bumping her backside weren’t all. Knowing her fondness for Bakari, Daryl mocked him by miming the gorilla’s knuckle-dragging pacing in front of the glass. If Kelly and her sidekick were near, he’d embellish the performance with howls and grunts.
At the safety meeting at four, Daryl lectured his staff on “animal escape preparedness”.
“I’m cutting it short today, gang,” he announced, checking his wristwatch. “Janice and I are feeding Bakari.”
That meant Daryl had starved him all day for no reason. She stifled her anger. When the others left, he ordered her to meet him at the access gate.
“You have the red key,” he said, handing it to her. “I’m yellow.”
“It’s late to be feeding him, isn’t it?”
“Are you refusing an order, Janice?”
“No, I’m concerned Bakari hasn’t been fed yet.”
“He’s a dumb ape. Silence now. I’m initiating protocols.”
“We’re supposed to agree on the mission first—”
“Don’t tell me my job, you little—”
“I’m reporting you for breaking silence protocol,” he said. “You can forget about your internship here, and if I have anything to say, I’ll see that your veterinary scholarship is revoked, too.”
“Why? Because I won’t let you paw me every time we’re alone?”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
Once protocol was declared, all conversation had to stop; each one of the two-person team must repeat what the other reported.
“Confirming Bakari’s location,” Daryl said. “The big stupid ape is sitting by the window.”
“Bakari is sitting by the window,” she confirmed robotically, her rage against Daryl building. Bakari heard them at the gate; he swung his massive head around and exposed his long, sharp canines.
“Unlocking the access door with the yellow key,” Daryl said.
“Unlocking the access door with my red key.”
Each access door was secured with a different colored lock and neither could be opened without both keepers present. The color-coded system was slow but prevented one keeper from entering a space where a dangerous animal might be present but unseen.
“Set his food inside the shift door,” Daryl ordered.
“We’re supposed to do that together.”
She placed the container inside and retreated behind the locked gate, waiting for Bakari to come so that she could lock him into the shift cage.
Bakari lumbered over to the cooler stuffed with forty pounds of leafy vegetables, apples, high-fiber biscuits, and bamboo shoots.
“So what do you think now?”
Janice stood between Daryl and Bakari in their respective cages. Similar to being in a shark cage—except that Bakari’s physical strength was untested against the metal bands. “Daryl, what are you doing? Let me back inside.”
“Look, your big-ass ape is shoveling food into his face. You have nothing to worry about.”
He switched keys while she carried the food over to the other cage. Bakari’s presence in the narrow shift cage was unnerving, locked padlock or not.
“You asshole! Let me back in! Bakari’s cage door is unlocked!”
She cast a nervous look over her shoulder at Bakari, noisily eating, but regarding her.
He jammed his thumb down his pants and poked it through his zipper, wiggling it, thumb miming for his pecker.
She cast another nervous glance over to Bakari again. He stood up and beat his chest. The big canines flashed.
Her heart thumped. Then nothing.
When she opened her eyes, she was lying on a cot in the zoo’s emergency room. A doctor told her the zoo was in lockdown.
She sat up, groaned. “What . . . happened?”
“You fainted. No wonder. That gorilla picked you up and set you down inside the enclosure.”
“Not so lucky. He tore a bar off that cage and yanked Daryl through. He was spaghettified, not a bone left unbroken.”
“They hit him with the tranquilizer gun,” she replied. “He’s sleeping it off.”
The girl mumbled. The doctor wondered whether to order a PET scan for a possible concussion.
“You don’t have to thank me, sweetie. I’m a doctor.”
I didn’t thank you, Janice thought, smiling.
About the author:
Robb White has several crime, noir, and hardboiled novels and has published crime stories in various magazines and anthologies. His private eye, Raimo Jarvi, has appeared in Northtown Eclipse and Northtown Blitz. A third Raimo Jarvi novel is scheduled for later this summer.
Free flash fiction on the first and third weeks of the month.