Nick Stone: The King of Swords

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Nick Stone The King of Swords
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    The King of Swords
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    Полицейский детектив / на английском языке
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Nick Stone

The King of Swords


November 1980


It was the last thing he needed or wanted, a dead ape at the end of his shift, but there it was-a corpse with bad timing. Larry Gibson, one of the night security guards at Primate Park, stood staring at the thing spotlighted in his torch beam-a long-stemmed cruciform of black fur lying less than twenty feet away, face up and palms open on the grassy verge in front of the wire. He didn't know which of the fifteen species of monkey advertised in the zoo's product literature this one was, and he didn't care; all he knew was that he had some decisions to make and fast.

He weighed up what to do with how much he could get away with not doing: he could sound the alarm and stick around to help when and where and if he was needed; or he could simply look the other way and ignore King Kong for the ten remaining minutes of his shift. Plus he craved sleep. Thanks to some Marine-issue bennies he'd popped on Sunday night, he'd been awake for fifty-nine hours straight; his longest ever stretch. The most he'd lasted before was forty-eight hours. It was now Wednesday morning. He'd run out of pills and all the sleep he'd cheated and skipped out on was catching up with him, ganging up in the wings, getting ready to drop on him like a sack of wet cement.

He checked his watch. 5.21 a.m. He needed to get out of here, get home, get his head down, sleep. He had another job starting at one p.m. as a supermarket supervisor. That was for alimony and child support. This gig-cash in hand and no questions asked-was for body and soul and the roof over his head. He really couldn't afford to fuck it up. Dr Jenny Gold had been dozing with the radio on when she got the phone call from the security guard in Sector 1, nearest the front gate. Something about a dead gorilla, he'd said. She hoped to God it wasn't Bruce, their star attraction.

Jenny had been the head veterinarian at the zoo ever since it had opened, nine years before. Primate Park had been the brainchild of Harold and Henry Yik, two brothers from Hong Kong, who'd opened the place in direct competition to Miami's other primate-only zoo, Monkey Jungle. They'd reasoned that while Monkey Jungle was a very popular tourist attraction, its location-South Dade, inland and well away from the beach and hotels-meant it was only doing about 25 per cent of the business it could have done, had it been closer to the tourist dollars. So they'd built Primate Park from scratch in North Miami Beach-right next to a strip of hotels-making it bigger and, so they thought, better than the competition. At its peak they'd had twenty-eight species of monkey, ranging from the expected-chimps, dressed up in blue shorts, yellow check shirts and red sun visors, doing cute, quasi-human tricks like playing mini-golf, baseball and soccer; gorillas, who beat their chests and growled; baboons, who showed off their bright pink bald asses and bared their fangs-along with more exotic species, like dusky titi monkeys, rodent-like lemurs, and the lithe, intelligent brown-headed spider monkeys. Yet Primate Park hadn't really caught on as an alternative to Monkey Jungle. The latter had been around for close to forty years and was considered a local treasure, one of those slightly eccentric Miami landmarks, like the Ancient Spanish Monastery, South Beach's Art Deco district, Vizcaya, the Biltmore, and the giant Coppertone sign. The new zoo was seen as too cold, too clinical, too calculating. It was all wrong for the town. Miami was the kind of place where things only worked by accident, not because they were supposed to. The general public stayed away from the new zoo. The Yik brothers started talking about bulldozing Primate Park and converting it into real estate.

And then, last summer, Bruce, one of the four mountain gorillas they had, picked up the stub of a burning cigar a visitor had dropped near him and began puffing away at it, managing to blow five perfect smoke rings in the shape of the Olympic symbol every time he exhaled. Someone had taken pictures of him and sent them to a TV station, which had promptly dispatched a camera crew to the zoo. Bruce put Primate Park on the 6 o'clock news and, from that day on, in the public consciousness too. People flocked to the zoo just to see him. And they were still coming, most of them with cigars, cigarettes and pipes to toss to the gorilla, whose sole activities were now confined to chain-smoking and coughing. They'd had to move him to a separate area because his habit made him stink so much the other gorillas refused to go near him.

Jenny found it inhumane and cruel to do that to an animal, but when she'd complained to the brothers, they'd simply shown her the balance sheets. She was now looking for another job.

When she got to the control room she found the guard staring out of the thick shatterproof window.

'You the vet?' he asked when he saw Jenny, his voice brimming with incredulity.

Jenny was petite and youthful in appearance, which led to some people-usually horny men and old ladies-mistaking her for a teenager. She was the only thirty-six-year-old she knew who still had to carry ID to get served in a bar.

'Yeah, I'm the vet,' she replied tetchily. She was already in a bad mood because of the election results. Ronald Reagan, a one-time B-movie actor, had won the White House last night. It was hardly unexpected, given Carter's catastrophic handling of the Iranian hostage crisis and the economy, among other things, but she had hoped the American people wouldn't be suckered into voting for Ronnie.

'Where is it?' she asked him.

'There.' He pointed through the window.

They were one floor up, overlooking the gently sloping wide grass verge which separated the zoo's buildings from the vast man-made jungle where the monkeys lived. It was dark outside, but daylight was just beginning to break through, so she could make out a black mound in the grass, like someone had doused the ground with petrol in the shape of a large capital T and set it alight. She couldn't be sure what it was.

'How'd it get through?'

'Power on the fence musta been off. Happens more times than you'd imagine,' the guard said, looking down at her. The jungle was surrounded by a high electric fence which gave off a mild shock when touched-enough to stun any monkey who'd want to clamber up and over it.

'Let's go down and take a look,' she said.

They stopped off at the first aid room down the corridor so Jenny could pick up the medical kit and a tranquillizer gun, which she loaded with a dart. It was the biggest gun they had, the Remington RJ5, usually used to subdue lions and tigers.

'Are we goin' outside?' The guard sounded worried.

'That's what I meant by "taking a look". Why? Is there a problem?' She looked up at him like he really wasn't impressing her. They locked stares. She turned on the contempt.

He took the bait. 'No problem,' he said in a bassier, more authoritative tone and smiled in a way he must have thought was reassuring but in fact came over as nervous and near rictal.

'Good.' She handed him the tranq gun. 'You know how to use this, right?'

'Sure do,' he said.

'If it wakes up, shoot it anywhere but the head. You got that?' The guard nodded, smile still in exactly the same place. He was starting to make her nervous. 'And, if the power's really down on that fence, we could have company. Some monkeys may come to see what we're doing. Most of them are harmless, but watch out for the baboons. They bite. Worse than any pitbull. Their teeth'll cut clean through to the bone.'

She could tell from his eyes that fear was now doing fast laps in his head, but he was still smiling that damn smile. It was as if the lower half of his face was paralysed.

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