Art Pact 63

We reached the main plaza of the zoo just before midnight - me, Caroline, Gobbler and Stumblebum. Gobbler and Stumblebum were still dressed in their Halloween costumes: Unsexy Nurse and Half-Man Half-Unicorn respectively. Stumblebum's horn kept catching on overhanging foliage, until he finally whinnied in disgust and remove it, letting it dangle around his neck like some kind of narwhal hunter's lucky charm.

"This is crazy," he said. "Why aren't we doing this in the daytime?"

"Because the animals are only vanishing at night," Caroline told him. She'd explained it to me while we were waiting for the others: the zookeeper, a friend of hers (jealous, I did not press too much about just how friendly they were), had found one or more of his animals completely missing every day for the last four days. This morning he'd come in to find not only a teenage rhinoceros had disappeared, but also the security guard he'd hired to keep an eye on the place. There was no trace of either of them. The rhinoceros's enclosure was a huge open pit, completely impossible for such a large animal to climb out of. The guard's booth was even more mysterious - there was no way into it except through the door or the window. The window was bulletproof glass, unscratched and locked, and the door, likewise, was still locked.

"Get this," Caroline had said. "When I turned up to examine the scene, the keys were still in the door - on the inside."

We split into two groups on Caroline's orders. She and Stumblebum began to set up her triangulating microphones, the sensitive rig she'd used in the Case of the Absent Janitor that had allowed us to home in on the rattling bones of the first Earl of Dorchester in the hidden room above the grand ballroom.

Gobbler and I, lacking technical prowess, began to wander around the zoo. Caroline had suggested we split up in order to cover more ground, and we did so for just long enough to get out of Caroline's line of sight, each of us taking a different route around the parrot cage and meeting up on the other side.

"This is not what I was planning to do tonight," Gobbler grumbled. Her costume was ill-fitting, and constantly threatened to turn sexy if she didn't fiddle with it, adjusting straps, pulling down bits of skirt and so forth. "Why can't mysteries ever happen on sunny spring days?"

"Perhaps they do," I suggested, "but everyone's too happy to pay any attention to them. It's only on dark autumn days that people are spooked enough to care about-"

"About security guards vanishing into thin air?" she asked archly. Just at that moment we heard a bone-chilling cry - the blood-curdling call of a wolf. "Oh great. So now it's werewolves and stuff. Come on, we'd better check the wolf pen."

Sure enough, there were no wolves in the pen. I read the plaque.

"There should be one wolf. A Liberian Timber Wolf."--I frowned--"Is that a thing? Don't they have, like, lions in Africa? Isn't that where-"

"Yeah, there's something a bit weird about that," she said. "But I think we've probably found the culprit."

My phone rang.


"We have the microphones going. Did you hear that wolf call?"

"We're at the wolf pen now," I told her. "It's empty, there's something strange going on."

"I've got it!" Gobbler said, gesturing to me to hand her the phone. "Listen, Caroline? The security guard is a werewolf. He disappeared because he can't eat a whole rhino in one go. But he's probably still around here somewhere."

Another wolf cry echoed out of the darkness. Gobbler pointed towards the rodent house.

"It's coming from that way!" she said. "Caroline, triangulate please!"

Much against my better judgement, I followed Gobble as she ran towards the building, catching the phone as she tossed it over her shoulder to me. We burst through the doors, into the musty smell of sawdust chips and hamster urine.

The wolf called again - it was strangely muffled.

"There's nothing here," Gobbler said.

"No wolf?" Caroline asked me.

"No nothing!" I told her. "The guinea-pig hutch is empty, the hamsters are missing, and the mouse cage is covered in blood."

"Wait," Gobbler said. "There's a survivor!" She leant down and drummed her finger against the thin cage bars. A tiny furry nose appeared, gingerly followed by the rest of a mouse. The wolf called again, and both of us jumped together, arms wrapped around each other in cartoonish terror.

"I don't like the sound of that," I shivered. "It's getting closer."

"What if it's coming back?" Gobbler asked. She grabbed my right hand, brought it and the phone I was carrying up to her mouth. "Caroline, hurry up with that triangulation!"

"Lock the doors," Caroline advised us. "You should be safe inside if the doors are barred."

We did as she said, stuffing a length of translucent orange plastic hamster-tubing through the door handles. Then we backed as far away from the door as we could. In a rare moment of chivalry, I ushered Gobbler behind me.

"There's no way it can get through the door," I said - as much to convince myself as Gobbler. "If it is the security guard he might have a key, but the barred handles will hold him."

"Like the way he got out of... but that doesn't make sense," Gobbler said, a confused tone in her voice. "How would he get out of the locked door of his booth?"

"He had the key," I explained.

"But the keys were on the inside. That would mean he couldn't have got in or out, you can't lock those type of doors from the outside if there's a key in the keyhole on the inside. The only thing that could get in or out would be something very small..."

Just at that moment, the wolf howled again. It sounded weaker, somehow, as if it were losing its strength. My phone rang again. It was Caroline.

"I want you to put down the phone and get out of the rodent house immediately," she said, her voice tense and sharp.

"But the wolf-" I began.

"The wolf's already been eaten," she cut me off. "Don't argue, get out of there now!"

"But we can hear it calling," I said.



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