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Wayne Kyle Spitzer
Death Scene | Stories That Take Place at the Moment of Death
Copyright © 2018 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. All Rights Reserved. Published by Hobb’s End Books, a division of ACME Sprockets & Visions. Cover design Copyright © 2018 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. Please direct all inquiries to: HobbsEndBooks@yahoo.com
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this book is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Pine needles cycloned wildly as Jan swung her car into the Institute's parking lot. It was 7:30 a.m. Heading in, she found herself mulling over what she'd say to Nimson: Empirical data? I’11 give you empirical data; my tomcat, whom I delivered personally to his new home not three weeks ago, has returned. He has crossed the length of a city to do so, leaving behind an acre of farmland, a barn full of mice, and a harem of willing females. Now, if that doesn't say something about an animal’s ability to think, or express sentiment, then I don't know—
She stopped abruptly, staring straight ahead.
“Oh, my ...” The briefcase slid from her fingers, striking the concrete with a dull thump, popping its latches. Paper riffled as Napoleon's progress reports scattered on the wind.
The building's front doors had been demolished. They hung from their hinges in shambles, frames bent outward as though racked by an explosion, panes shattered. Splotches of blood dotted the ground, as did something else: a trail of bird-like footprints—each about 17 inches long—which led off into the woods.
A balding man in a tweed jacket staggered into the vestibule; it was Nimson, his face white.
Jan stepped forward. “Ben?”
He stumbled through the breach and fell to his knees in the bushes. “It’s—it’s Levi,” he groaned, and vomited.
“Bloody reptiles,” Oberon Gore cursed, putting his fedora back on. He stepped over Levi's intestines and went to the security monitors, crimsoned water squelching beneath his boots.
Jan burst into the lab an instant later, and gasped. There was blood everywhere. The habitat's exhibition-window—like the doors outside—had been destroyed, and the mock Cretaceous marsh had spilled out onto the floor. Napoleon was gone.
Trembling, she turned to Oberon. “What happened?”
The handsome zoo keeper didn't look up; he had sat down and was rewinding the tape from the security camera, “I think that's fairly obvious,” he said. “Your specimen has gotten out and killed someone.”
He hooked a thumb over his shoulder, indicating an abandoned maintenance cart. “The janitor, apparently. Levi.”
Jan glanced down and saw the entrails on the floor. Like monitor lizards, the Nano-T consumed all of its prey, spurning only the contents of its stomach and digestive tract. She covered her mouth and looked away.
“Did you see the tracks?” Oberon said. “They head west. And at a fast clip, by the look of it.”
Jan nodded, surveying the rest of the room. Oxygen and nitrous oxide cylinders were scattered everywhere (it was amazing the place hadn't gone up in flames), and the walls were cratered as though gouged by a wrecking ball. Most of the computers—her converted IBM among them—had been smashed. However, the two 7-foot-tall mainframes (situated side by side near the center of the lab, like a scale model of the World Trade Center) appeared undamaged. Whether or not they'd been shorted-out by all the water was another question.
“There,” said Oberon, stopping the tape. He motioned her over. “I think you’ll want to see this.”
Dazed, she joined him at the console. Staring over his shoulder as he played the tape back, she saw Levi—a chubby, twentysomething black man dressed in baggy shorts and a T-shirt—push his cart into the lab. Eerie gray video flickered as he steered the omnibus into the center of the room and parked it next to the mainframes.
“Unbelievable,” Oberon whispered, chuckling, but did not elaborate.
Jan hardly noticed. She was looking at Levi's mop, which stood upside down in its holder at the back of the cart, its soiled yarns dangling like palm tree fronds. The sight gave her a sense of deja vu—why, she couldn't say.
She glanced at the timecode window at the bottom of the screen; it read 11:38 p.m. “It's all on tape?” she stammered, sitting down. “The killing, I mean?”
“However,” he said, “the camera's programmed to pan back and forth every 60 seconds. So we won't see everything.”
Jan nodded distantly, recalling the one time she'd agreed to feed Napoleon a live animal: The T had used its slender jaws and even teeth like pinking shears, lopping off the animal s head. Not seeing everything was fine by her.
She watched as Levi stooped to the cart's lowest tier, yanked away a tarp, and came up with the biggest boombox she’d ever seen.
She put a hand over her forehead. “I explicitly said: no radios!”
Napoleon was a high-tech carnivore with super-keen senses; his visual, olfactory, and auditory capabilities were unparalleled. Something like that, she realized, staring at the footlocker-sized stereo, could blow his eardrums.
“You get what you pay for,” Oberon said. “Any laborer will tell you that. I find it amazing how a major corporation will invest millions in its equipment, then pay the guy running it—or maintaining it—a minimum wage.” He laughed. “Most companies are rotting from the inside, and they don 't even know it.”
Jan didn't say anything. If she had bothered to scan the nightly footage just once ...
Levi sat the radio on the floor by Napoleon's window and appeared to turn it on—it was impossible to say for certain; the closed-circuit TV cameras didn't record sound. Then he took up his mop and went to work, spinning his black cap around backwards so that its white “X” emblem faced the camera.
Jan's eyes narrowed. “Where's Napoleon?”
Oberon flicked his gaze to different parts of the screen, as though he'd had something and lost it. “Lying in wait,” he whispered, appearing anxious. “Somewhere.”
The camera vibrated suddenly. The image blurred—and became clear again. An instant later it happened once more, but this time the pulsing continued, rhythmically. The camera, Jan realized, was being rocked by a bass tremor.
Her nostrils flared. “That's a drum-b—”
Napoleon dropped into view suddenly. He landed in a crouch, foreclaws splayed, then bounded left across the habitat. It seemed to Jan as though he'd appeared out of nowhere.
“Where'd he come from?!” she shouted.
“Up there,” said Oberon, indicating the tops of the tree ferns. “He was perched high in the fronds, on that column of basalt.”
Jan was aghast. “The radio drove him out?”
“It would appear so, yes,” said Oberon.
On the screen, Levi threw his head back and stomped his feet; he'd clearly gotten a charge from the T' s reaction. He held the mop—business-end up—in his right hand as he did so. Again, Jan found herself comparing it to a palm tree.
Her eyes narrowed as she thought back on the prior day: Hadn't Napoleon kept saying—kept pecking, rather, ‘Out Eat Habitat?’ Or, translated: Door, drumstick, palm tree?
She nodded to herself. He certainly had, and it had seemed utterly incoherent at the time. Now she wasn't so sure. Perhaps Napoleon had been trying to say: ‘Out Eat Mop,’ and thus: ‘Out Eat Levi.’ After all, if Levi had been blaring his radio every night—which, she now suspected, he had—and causing Napoleon pain, the T would have had a motive to kill him.
She blew the hair out of her eyes, watching the janitor caper. “Dumb bastard,” she sighed.
Oberon—not privy to her thinking but just as disgusted by Levi's antics—shook his head at the screen.
“That's the problem with being a pet-crazed society,” he said. “And with keeping zoos, especially. People lose respect. What should be venerated becomes cute, and eventually someone gets hurt. I’ve seen it happen time and again.”
Jan fell silent, considering that. It seemed odd that a man who'd dedicated the last 10 years of his life to zoo-keeping would hold such an extreme view—but was it, really? A formerly renowned bush-hunter and nature-writer, Oberon had appeared on The Tonight Show several times in the early ‘70s, often distinguishing himself from other wildlife experts by focusing on nature's dark side. Perhaps his exploits in Africa had left him with a dim view of animals.
Or of people, she amended, as Levi resumed mopping.
He was working his way left. By coincidence, the pulsing camera panned with him. After a moment, Napoleon rushed by in the opposite direction, his head and neck pulled back and up, his stiff tail arched high.
“He's gone into a frenzy,” Jan sighed.
Oberon didn't say anything, just nodded his head. He stared at the screen expectantly as the camera swept past Levi and continued on.
Squinting, Jan rediscovered the crack in the exhibition-window where Napoleon had struck it the day before. “There,” she said. “The smoking gun. Do you see it?”
“Yes,” he acknowledged. “But that's not how he got out.” The camera reached the end of its trajectory and stopped. “Note the foreground.”
Jan looked. She saw a cluster of cylinders standing in the corner, their steely sides covered in warnings: CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE; HIGHLY FLAMMABLE; NO SMOKING WITHIN 50 FT ... “Nimson's anesthetics,” she whispered. “Of course.”
Then a shape loomed up behind the window and Napoleon's feet slapped flat against the glass. Jan jumped. The T rebounded and scrambled away.
She exhaled, pressing a hand to her chest. Amazing, she thought. Even without sound, the stark black and white pictures could startle. Then she tensed again, staring at the screen. Levi was backing into the shot, working his mop in a sawing motion. He wasn't watching where he was going.
“Oh no,” she whispered.
And all hell broke loose.
Had the cylinders been chained together—as was required by law—things would have been different. But Project Napoleon had been rushed from the start, and at 11:41 p.m. the previous night, the chain needed was still “on order.” Thus, the tubes fell like dominoes when Levi’s mop-handle butted against them, and the security camera—mounted in the upper-right corner of the room, near the ceiling—watched them fall, its reddish eye gleaming.
“Shit!” he cursed, hearing them bang against the floor, and whirled around—
Too late. With a hiss of escaping gas, one of the cylinders took off like a torpedo. He ducked as it whistled overhead and began ricocheting about the room—shattering vials, staving in walls, smashing out lighting fixtures. Levi hit the floor as broken glass rained down, adjusting his cap so that its bill faced forward and protected his face.
The footlocker-sized radio pulsed: Boom! Boom-boom! Boom! Boom-boom! Then the cylinder sheared through its center—spilling its electronic guts—and rebounded off the wall behind it, bouncing off yet another cylinder and throwing sparks.
KA-WHAM! There was an explosion. Hot shrapnel scattered; Levi buried his head in his arms; debris spated his shoulders. Water poured out onto the floor, surging around his knees.
Levi 's head spun. Water, he thought, but where—?”