(Read the rest of this series here.)
The last of the concussions faded away, replaced by even more shouting and commotion. There had been three or four of the blasts, all coming from somewhere on the other side of the zoo. They hadn’t exactly been mortar rounds, but they packed a wallop even from our distance.
Sid shrugged. “Figured it would only be a matter of time before they tranqed the bear. So I rigged up a couple trash fires to buy us some more time. Not big enough to hurt anyone, just draw their attention.”
I laughed. “Yo, that is brilliant! I almost wish I was gay as shit so I could deeply french kiss you right now.”
In the distance, smoke began to billow upwards, thick and black as my dick.
Reminder: I’m white.
I turned back to the manatee tank to focus on my imminent victim. “OK, so how do we do this?”
Sid waved his hand at the tank. “Pick one.” He took the bundle from under his arm and began unrolling it. A few pieces snapped together and we had a full-sized stretcher. Perfect for the temporary transportation of a fat ass sea cow.
I looked over the manatee tanks. Now that we were here, ready to scoop one out, they looked a helluva lot bigger than I remembered. I had no idea how we were going to get down into the tanks, let along hoist one of the enormous beasts back out. Maybe we should have planned this out better…
Then something caught my attention, further away. I pointed. “Yo, wait. Those other tanks over there. You see that little guy in there? He’s small enough, right? Should be easy to transport, too.”
Sid clapped his hands. “Perfect. A young one. Let’s get to work.”
We hopped the “Do Not Cross” fence and ran through a pelican exhibit. Another fence later and we were at the roped off manatee tanks. These were smaller than the main exhibit tanks, standing about chest high. They were less luxurious too. The three tanks were connected with narrow channels shut off by sluice gates.
And defended by a ferocious winged guardian.
Together the tanks held only a few manatees, one of them the pipsqueak I’d spotted. I took one good look at him and fell in love. He was perfect! Barely a third the size of the other manatees, he’d be a breeze to transport. Honestly, it felt like cheating. But as far as I knew, the official Manatee Challenge guidelines didn’t say shit about how big the manatee was supposed to be. So I had found the perfect loophole! I could probably sling this little bastard over my shoulder.
I rubbed my hands together and said, “Right, let’s get in there.”
We hopped over the walls and into the tanks. The water came just above our dicks, though was thankfully warm enough to not cause too much shrivelage. We sloshed through bits of lettuce floating in the water toward the little manatee. He turned, tried to scoot away, but was too damn slow. We grabbed him, his skin like slimy leather. With a bit of wrangling we directed him back to the wall.
We flopped him up onto the side of the tank. He grunted and flapped around like a weirdo. Sid jumped out of the tank and propped the stretcher against the outside of the tank. I held up part of the manatee, though to be fair the tank wall did most of the work. Once Sid had the stretcher in place we worked the manatee onto it. Then I crawled out of the tank and helped Sid lower it to the ground.
To be honest, this little critter was a lot heavier out of the water. We leaned against the tank wall, panting. After a minute or so, I realized that Sid and I weren’t the only ones. The little manatee wriggled around on the ground and wheezed. He didn’t seem to be taking to a non-aquatic environment too well.
I pushed myself up. “C’mon. We gotta get this guy to the van. Put him in the tank or else he’s gonna die and I’ll lose the manatee challenge.”
The worst case scenario.
We each grabbed one end of the stretcher, but strained to lift it. The manatee squirmed.
Sid said, “This thing is still way too heavy. We’re gonna have to just pull it.”
Together we managed to lift the front end of the stretcher, the back end dragging along the ground behind us. But at least we were moving. I glanced back at the manatee from time to time to make sure he wasn’t falling off. He just lay there and blinked. He actually seemed pretty chill about the whole thing. I guess manatees are just that kind of people.
I said, “Yo, can I name him?”
Sid looked at me. “What? Why would I give a shit?”
“I’mma name him Joe.” I looked back at the manatee. “What you think ’bout that, huh little guy? You like being called Joe?”
Joe didn’t say much.
Typical Joe. Nothing fazed him.
In no time we had the van in sight. Behind us, the little spots of smoke had grown into full-on plumes. The sound of sirens began drifting in, but I wasn’t worried. If the increasingly desperate sounds coming from the other areas of the zoo were any indication, there wouldn’t be anyone around to stop us from leaving. All we had to do was load the manatee and drive off. A clean getaway. I had just started to grin one of my trademark Chris Derricks victory grins when I took a last glance backwards.
There she was. Maria. Rescue coordinator. Manatee savior.
She came from the inner zoo path at a jog, from the opposite direction of the sounds of commotion. Unlike the rest of the zoo staff, she wasn’t running to see what all the fuss was on the other side of the zoo. She was coming to check on her manatees. Like she instinctively knew when they were in danger. When they needed her help.
Maria Loveland: manatee whisperer.
She turned her hardened features toward us and spotted us instantly. Her gaze slapped me across the face.
“You.” She spat out the word like it was poisoned shit.
Sid stared at her too. Both of us, dragging this wriggling manatee away on a makeshift stretcher. It felt like we’d been caught kidnapping someone’s child. And, in a way, we probably had.
Maria pivoted off the path and ran toward us, screaming. “You caused this, didn’t you?! Get back here!”
Sid was the first to move, pulling his weight with renewed gusto. I followed suit. We were only a few feet from where he had strategically parked the van, after all. We reached the bumper and Sid threw open the back doors while I sprinted around to the front. Joe flopped around on the ground.
Maria had almost reached us. Her face was contorted into pure malice. “Did you take her out of the rehabilitation tank? She’s just a calf, you evil fuckers!”
Sid fumbled for the pistol in his waistband, couldn’t get to it in time. Maria closed the distance. She cocked back her fist.
Then I was there, right next to the little manatee, harpoon in hand. I raised it over my head. Pointed it down, directly at the manatee’s adorable face.
Maria stopped dead. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Fuckin’ try me, lady. You got no idea what I’m capable of.”
Anything’s a weapon of mass destruction when it’s in my hands!
She said, “So that’s it, huh big man? You’re going to harpoon a defenseless baby manatee?”
“You’re damn right I am. Come any closer and I’ll Moby Dick this bitch.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You do realize that Moby Dick won that battle, right?”
I scoffed. “Whatever, word fag. Don’t tell me how to read books. Now, you just turn around all nice-like and pretend you never saw us.”
“Like hell,” she said. “That’s my manatee. I am not letting you take her away from here.”
“Look lady, if you think I’m the type to back down from a challenge, then you got-”
Suddenly, Sid interrupted. “Uh, Chris? I think our distraction has caught up with us.”
I’d heard it a second before he said anything: a mad thundering of feet and several hasty screams, followed by a bone-chilling roar. A particularly frazzled looking security guard came barreling around the corner of the aquatic building. He sprinted right past us, his tattered clothes flapping in the wind. He didn’t pay us the least bit of attention. Though I don’t exactly blame him.
Following mere feet behind the guard came the lumbering, razor-clawed colossus that was the sloth bear. It had seemed so docile in his cage, back when it was a dispirited prisoner. But now it was liberated, thanks to Sid’s crafty expertise, and seemed to be taking to its new-found freedom with gusto. And hunger. It stopped at the sight of us.
We froze in the middle of our scuffle, Sid, Maria, Manatee Joe, and I. We stood perfectly still, like we were hoping its vision was based on movement or something. But no, the bear was dead focused on us. Its lips curled back. Blood red spittle dripped from its teeth.
“Oh God,” whispered Maria. “What have you two done?”
The bear charged.