Zero at the Bone

Free Zero at the Bone by Mary Willis Walker

Book: Zero at the Bone by Mary Willis Walker Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mary Willis Walker
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    She took the opportunity of the rare silence to say, “Please call me Katherine.”
    “Oh, good. We like being on a first-name basis around here. And I’m Sam, of course. I want you to know, Katherine—this is difficult to say—that we regret this accident terribly, but I think you’ll find the zoo safety procedures beyond reproach.”
    He’s afraid I’ll sue him, Katherine realized.
    “Here we are.” He put his hand on her shoulder.
    They were approaching a large grassy enclosure, backed by what was supposed to look like a stone cliff but was clearly Gunite made to resemble rock. The rest of the exhibit was surrounded by a fourteen-foot-high green mesh fence with a one-foot lip at the top angled inward. A strip of grass separated that fence from a low barrier made of iron bars to keep observers away from the fence.
    “This is the outdoor area shared by our two tigers. It was Brum’s turn to be out here last night and Imelda’s—the other tiger—to be in. Can’t leave two adult tigers together unless they are mating, and even then it’s risky, tigers being what they are.”
    Katherine glanced around the enclosure. Very pretty and natural with its grass and clumps of bamboo, huge boulders, a trickle of water simulating a stream. Then she noticed the door and she was hit with the reality of what had happened here. It was an inconspicuous gray door in the cliff, with a small window boarded over with plywood. The grass just outside the door was stained dark.
    She wondered how long it took to be killed by a tiger.
    They walked around the fence to a door in the back of the cliff. The director knocked on the windowless steel door. “We’ve assigned members of the staff to be here round the clock for a while—just in case.” He looked at Katherine. “You going to be all right? We could do this another time.”
    “No. I’m fine,” Katherine protested, wondering why her voice sounded so thin and far away.
    Sam knocked again. In response came the clank of a big lock being opened. Then the door swung open.
    A slight man in zoo coveralls stood aside deferentially to let them enter. A badge on the left side of his shirt identified him as “Danny, Cat Keeper.”
    The second Katherine stepped through the door her nose twitched in reaction to the powerful stench of cats—urine and spray. Nothing like the odor of dogs, she thought. Far more aggressive and potent. She stifled the impulse to sneeze.
    The director closed the door behind them and the keeper quickly locked it with his big key ring. “Thanks, Danny. This is Katherine Driscoll, Lester’s daughter. I’m going to show her where it happened. Katherine, this is Danny Gillespie. He’s been assigned to the big cats for the last several months, working for your father.”
    Danny glanced at her, shuffled his feet inside the knee-high rubber boots he was wearing, and gave a sheepish half-smile, keeping his teeth covered.
    “You were on the shooting team,” she said.
    He lowered his eyes and ran a hand across the top of his wispy blond hair, trying to smooth it over the balding spot at the top of his head. “It was just too late to do anything for him, Miss Driscoll. I got there so fast, in just a couple of minutes, ’cause I was in the office when the call came in, but it was just too late.” He looked up at her. His pale-blue, lashless eyes were magnified behind the thick glasses that made them seem elongated. She wondered if the swelling around the rims was permanent or if he had been crying.
    “What made you so sure it was too late?” she asked.
    The question startled them both. Katherine hadn’t known she was going to ask it, and Danny blinked his eyes several times with the impact of it.
    After a long silence, he said, “Well, he was all … oh, it was clear from the way he … you know, when tigers make a…” He stopped and looked at the director in desperation.
    Sam stepped forward and put a hand on Danny’s shoulder. “Danny, I know

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