Welcome to The Book of Bones, a weekly adventure story. If you’re just joining the story, click here for Chapter 1.
Bones spread his arms and backed slowly toward Jessie, his eyes flitting between the lion and lioness who were moving toward them. He’d had some experience with wild animals, even predators, but he had a feeling what worked on a bear wouldn’t work on these apex predators from the Savannah.
“Oh my God,” Jessie whimpered. “What are we going to do?”
“No sudden moves,” he said. “And try not to show any fear.”
“It’s all I can do not to faint. How am I supposed to show no fear?”
“Just do your best. Remember, zoo employees work with these animals all the time, so it’s not like we’re encountering them in the wild.” That was technically true, but Bones knew it to be a flimsy hope. Nothing would change the fact that these were wild animals at heart.
“They are beautiful,” Jessie managed. “If I wasn’t about to die from fear and shock, I might want to give one a hug.”
“Same here,” Bones lied. Right now, he wanted nothing more than to get away. He stole a glance over his shoulder and saw that they were about twenty meters from an access door. It would be locked, but hopefully someone would see them here and an employee would let them out. “Follow me.” Keeping his eyes on the big cats and Jessie between himself and the wall, he began inching to his left, toward the door.
“I wonder what the tourists are thinking,” Jessie said.
Bones glanced toward the front of the exhibit and realized they were screened from view by a huge boulder and the corner of a wall. No one knew they were here. “I don’t know.”
The big male paused, sniffed the air, and gave a great shake of his mane. The female crept a few paces closer before also pausing and giving an audible sniff.
“What are they doing?”
“I don’t know,” Bones said. “Just keep moving.”
The door seemed to be no closer as they made their slow way through the lion habitat, but the lions made no move to follow them, and a flicker of hope sparked inside him. Maybe they could make it.
Just then, the male let out a low rumble, every muscle in its body tensed.
Holy crap, he thought. So close.
“If either of them makes a move for us, I want you to run for the door,” he said.
“But what about you?”
There was no time to answer. Voices rang out from the direction of the road, someone shouted, “There they are!”
Bones looked up to see the two men who’d been pursuing them standing on the wall at the back of the habitat. The red haired man raised his pistol and took aim.
“Run!” Bones gave Jessie a shove and then sprang to the side as the man squeezed the trigger. The bullet pinged off the wall behind him, a foot from his head. The lions broke and ran at the sound of the shot, heading for safety behind the boulder that dominated the small space. Bones zigged and zagged as he ran for the door, suddenly wishing he were a runt like his friend Maddock, and not a six foot five behemoth. Another shot rang out and then another. Both missed.
Jessie was tugging at the doorknob, but they were locked in.
“Move!” Bones thundered. He leaped, twisted in the air, and drove both feet into the door in a devastating flying side kick. The door didn’t budge, and he found himself lying on the ground, pain coursing through his legs.
The door flew open and a young man in the khaki garb of a zoo employee poked his head out.
“What is going on out here?” He cried out in shock as a bullet punched through the door inches from his nose. Bones shouldered him aside and hauled Jessie through the doorway. They dashed away, his cries chasing them down the dimly-lit concrete passageway.
They ran blindly through the building, winding through the corridors until at last they found an EXIT door and emerged in the middle of a surprised-looking group of zoo workers.
“What are you two doing in there?” a sturdy woman of middle years demanded.
“Got lost,” Bones said. He took Jessie by the elbow and steered her around the confused group.
“Hold on a minute. How did you even..” The woman moved to block their path, but Bones froze her with what he liked to call his “Lethal Weapon eyes”, modeled after the crazed expressions of Mel Gibson’s character. The man was a douche in real life, but he pulled off the borderline lunatic role with ease. As the lady gave way, she mumbled to her companions, “Call security.”
Bones and Jessie quickened their pace and wove through the crowd until they were out of sight of the employees. None had dared follow them.
“Head for the front gate?” Jessie asked.
Bones shook his head. “That’s where security is likely to wait for us. And I’ll bet one of our friends with the guns back there is waiting for us there while the other watches the truck. We need another way out.”
He scanned the area and quickly spotted what he was looking for. “Over there, behind the concession stand.” He pointed to a delivery truck idling behind the concession area, just in front of a locked gate that opened onto an access road. The snow-capped peak of the Rocky Mountains was painted on the sign with the word “Coors” emblazoned across them in red. It wasn’t Dos Equis, but it would do.
“A beer truck? Jessie asked. “Is this really the time?”
“Just follow my lead.” They hurried over to the concession stand and stopped a few paces from the truck. Bones watched as the deliveryman unloaded a few cases, stowed his hand truck, and then headed inside the concession stand, clipboard in hand.
“Come on,” Bones said. They hurried over to the truck, double-checked to make sure the coast was clear, and then clambered into the back of the vehicle. The chill air of the refrigerated truck gave him the chills, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to get away safely and then figure out their next move. He hastily rearranged some crates and he and Jessie hunkered down behind them.
“It’s freezing in here.” She scooted over and pressed her body against his. He put an arm around her and pulled her close, trying not to let his thoughts drift to her trim, athletic figure and her soft hair…
“You’re not going to make a move on me, are you?”
“What? Oh, no. At least, not until we get away.”
“Fair enough. We’ll put a pin in that discussion and circle back to it later.”
Bones grinned. He liked this girl.
Behind them, the truck door clanged shut and their surroundings went black. Moments later, the engine roared to life and the truck lurched forward.
“So, how do we get Manny’s truck back?” Jessie asked.
“I’m not sure. Maybe give it a day and then call a tow truck. They won’t stand guard there forever.” He paused and scratched his chin. “One thing I can’t figure. They clearly wanted our research, so why did they come after us once we abandoned the truck? You’d think they’d look inside.”
“They won’t find the research there. I stuffed it all inside my shirt when we took off. Feel the small of my back.”
Bones slid his hand around and, sure enough, felt the thick sheaf of papers there.
“Way to think on your feet. I’m impressed.”
Just then the truck took a sharp turn, throwing Jessie hard against Bones.
“Not the smoothest ride,” she said.
“No, but we’re safe.”
“How can you be so calm? We’ve been chased, shot at, almost eaten by lions, and you’re so…chill, and I don’t mean because it’s cold in here.”
Bones laughed. “Chick, you wouldn’t believe the things I’ve been through.”