This is my entry into Patti Abbott's flash fiction challenge, 'A Day at the Zoo'. Another episode of Jimmy Kiley's movie making.
The scrawny kid couldn’t been more than nineteen years old. His feet were barely scraping the ground, though they were cycling fast, looking for purchase. Two hard, muscled men each had a hand wedged under an armpit, marching him along the path.
‘I never did it, Mr Kiley. I swear. You know me. I’d never do anything that might upset you.’
‘Reggie caught you red-handed, you little bollix,’ Jimmy Kiley said, walking alongside, staring across the lake through the gloom. They’d already been through this conversation twice.
A troop of monkeys on the far side of the still, dark water were whooping up a storm, filling the night air with cries of ‘ah-ah, ah-ah’ and ‘oh-ah, oh-ah’.
‘It was a misunderstanding. Look, you can have the money. Shit, you can even have the drugs, but look, leave the face alone, okay? Okay, Mr Kiley?’
‘You were dealing on my patch, Jason. Taking away trade that was rightfully mine.’
‘Look, I said I was sorry.’ The young man was starting to get desperate. He was being escorted through the city zoo at gone midnight by a man with a well earned reputation for violent enforcement. And if the rumours were to be believed, a lot more besides.
He’d been snatched whilst walking home from the pub, bundled into a car and driven to the Phoenix Park, a massive expanse in the middle of the city. They’d parked near the entrance to the zoo and had forced entry into the complex by over-powering the two hapless security guards, one of whom had been beaten half-senseless. Both had been tied up; the conscious one warned in very graphic terms as to his fate should he work his way free and call the police, whose national headquarters were visible just a couple of hundred metres away.
‘ I’m sure we can come to some agreement. I can work for you. I’ve got contacts; got my own regulars. I can expand. I could be useful to you.’
‘You’re going to be useful for me right now.’
‘What? How?’ The youth couldn’t keep the fear out of his voice. ‘Please, Mr Kiley.’
A long, high pitched howl floated across the lake.
‘I make movies, Jason.’ He raised his right hand, revealing a small video camera. ‘I guess you could call them thrillers. Or live-action horror. I don’t know, I guess it’s my own unique genre.’
‘Live-action horror?’ Jason’s voice had risen an octave.
‘Maybe horror’s the wrong word. There’s none of that supernatural nonsense. More like violent psychological drama. And the stars of my movies do all their stunts.’
‘Stunts?’ Jason scanned his surroundings. ‘What the fuck? You’re going to feed me the lions?’
‘Now, there’s an idea, but no.’
‘Alligators? Crocodiles? Look, Mr Kiley, I’m sure we can come to some agreement. I’d be much more use to you alive than dead.’ He struggled in the vice-like grip of Kiley’s two companions, who ignored his writhing and ineffectual kicks.
‘I doubt that Jason. I really do. You’re going to be much more use to me in how you become dead.’
They pulled to a halt in front of unlit building. As if on cue, the moon peaked out from behind a cloud to faintly illuminate the entrance.
‘The Snake House,’ the youth said, reading the sign.
‘We’ll see how you get on amongst your own kind.’
‘Mr Kiley, please. I’ll do anything you want.’
‘You’re about to do exactly what I want. The way I like to direct things is to show the present star how the last performed; let them know what’s expected.’ Kiley lifted up the camera and pulled out the small screen at the back.
‘Oh fuck. Oh Jesus. Please, Mr Kiley. I have my whole life ahead of me.’
Kiley sniffed, then glanced down at the small puddle at Jason’s feet. ‘It would have been better if you could have saved that for the movie. Never mind. The last star was a journalist.’
The screen flickered into life showing an over-weight middle-aged man fixed to a large wooden cross.
‘Couldn’t keep his nose out of my affairs; heard stories that I’d been torturing people. I guess you could call crucifixion torture. He seemed to suffer a lot in any case. Took nearly two fucking days to die.’
Jason shifted his horrified gaze from the screen to Kiley.
‘You’re mad! You’ve actually lost plot like that nutter in Apocalypse Now. Kurtz. Colonel Kurtz.’
‘I’ll take that as a complement,’ Kiley said. ‘Marlon Brando has long been one of my heroes. You’ll like this bit.’
The camera zoomed in on the man’s face, pulled in a grimace, his eyes closed, bubbles of spittle forming at the corners of his mouth. His eyes suddenly popped open and bulged, the whites crazed red, his mouth widened but no sound came out.
‘You have to put the nails in through the wrists, not the palms, did you know that? Palms can’t support the weight; the nails just rip through the hand. You also have to break the poor bastard’s legs otherwise it can take a week or more for him to die. In the end your arms and legs can’t support your torso and you sag forward and slowly asphyxiate. Amazing what you can learn on the internet. This fat fucker was all flab; no strength to support himself. Cried like a baby when I broke his legs.’
Kiley closed the viewing screen. ‘And so to you. We thought we’d see how you got on amongst a pit of dangerous snakes; that’s their collective name by the way - a pit of snakes. Lions have to be starving or angry to attack a human. They’re too well fed in this place to keep them docile. Snakes, however, snakes attack by instinct; best form of defence. Especially in a confined space. Reggie, get the door.’
One of the muscled men let go of Jason, the other gripping him more firmly. He pulled a short crowbar from his belt and set to work on the door. After half a minute of wrestling and cursing it popped open, closely followed by the quiet beeping of an alarm.
‘Fuck!’ Kiley muttered. ‘Come-on, get him inside.’
The four men entered the dark snake house. Kiley found the light switches and room flickered into light. A wide central corridor progressed between two banks of large windows. Kiley grabbed the crowbar from Reggie and moved to a door on the right leading in behind the pens. Ten seconds later he had it open.
‘Take him to the far end,’ he instructed Reggie. ‘Then on the way back open all the doors to the pens.’
Reggie pushed Jason into the narrow corridor forced him to the far end.
‘Don’t even think about making a run for it,’ Kiley said, pointing the video camera and a handgun at the distressed teenager.
Reggie made it back to his boss and slipped out into the atrium. At first nothing happened, then gradually a handful of snakes emerged from their pens, slithering across the floor, differing in colour, length, thickness and speed.
Kiley could just about hear Jason muttering a mantra as he tried to shrink in on himself. ‘Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit ...’
In the distance the whoop of an approaching police siren grew stronger. For the next two minutes, the snakes balefully eyed each other whilst exploring the new space. Kiley had all but closed the door, leaving a crack just wide enough to point the camera. Jason was shaking with fear, rooted to the spot, too petrified to make a dash for the door.
‘Boss, we need to go,’ the other muscled man said. ‘The shades are here.’
‘Just a minute.’
A thick, strongly patterned King Cobra had worked its way to the cowering youth and lifted its hooded head two feet clear of the ground, swaying gently left and right.
‘I said just a minute.’
‘You don’t have a fucking minute.’
Kiley turned his head to see two guards arriving at the front entrance. ‘Fuck!’
He glanced back into the room. Jason was folded over. Closing over the door he dashed out into the fresh night air, brandishing the gun. The unarmed guards reeled back. Kiley closed the gap between them, smashing the butt of the gun down on one of their heads, sending the man sprawling to the ground. The other retreated out of reach.
Rather than pursue him, Kiley set off at a canter through the zoo, his two men in tow. The unhurt guard started to follow then stopped, heading back to help his colleague.
Kiley had all but forgotten about the guards. All he wanted to know was whether the cobra had struck. Not only would the movie be ruined if he’d missed it, but the young drug dealer was now in the possession of way too much information. He needed to watch the tape back, but first he had to find a safe way out of the zoo.
Off to their right the dark shape of an elephant lumbered across its enclosure. Away to their left the monkeys had started to chant again, this time joined by a menagerie of other cries. In the distance a drove of pigs whooped, the sky tinged with blue flashing lights.