Initiative is doing the right thing without being told.
Victor Hugo – French Author (1802 – 1885)
Molly and Andre crept forward until they reached the corner of the leafy hedge.
“There’s the keeper’s entrance,” Molly whispered, peering through the leaves.
“Yeah.” Andre ran a hand through his hair. “And there’s the keeper.”
They watched as a young man in a brown uniform approached from the opposite direction. Tapping buttons on the keypad jutting out from the wall, he pushed the adjacent door’s handle down and entered, closing it behind him.
Molly sighed. “How are we going to figure out the code?” She turned to stare at Andre. “You’re a computer whiz…”
Andre held up both hands. “Whoa, girl. Slow down.” He sucked in a deep breath and exhaled through pursed lips. “First of all, you do realize these gorillas belong to Animal World.”
“They abolished slavery, remember?”
Andre shook his head. “They’re not human.”
Shouts echoed across the path, followed by a woman’s loud screams.
Molly and Andre turned and ran back the way they’d come.
“Look,” Molly exclaimed, pointing to a billowing cloud of smoke rising from behind the tree line. A loud boom was followed by more screams.
“Crap, it’s on fire,” Andre said. “We need to get out of here.”
As if on cue, several people rushed past them heading for the exit.
An announcer’s voice came over a nearby loudspeaker.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Due to technical difficulty, Animal World will be temporarily closed to visitors. Please make your way to the exit in an orderly fashion.”
“Come on.” Molly ran back into the building where she’d first seen the gorillas.
Rolling his eyes, Andre followed her.
Molly gave him a wan smile when he entered. “Everybody’s gone,” she said, just as her phone vibrated in her pocket. “Crap, I didn’t call Mom.” Pulling the phone out, she glanced at the screen. “Yep, that’s who it is.” She waited as the call went to voicemail.
“Aren’t you going to talk to her?”
A second later, the phone screen lit up with a text. Molly groaned. “Figures. The fire made the news already. She wants me to come back to the hotel immediately.”
Using her thumbs, Molly typed in a few words and pushed the button on the side of the phone.
“What are you doing?” Andre’s eyes widened. “Seriously? You’re turning your phone off?” He grinned. “You’re braver than me.”
“What? I told her we’re fine. I also mentioned that my phone might shut off due to my battery getting low-er.” Molly emphasized the split in the word. She looked at Andre. “Well, it is getting lower. It’s down to eighty-seven percent.”
A rapping sound on the glass caught their attention.
Molly looked up.
The gorilla’s keen gaze darted from her to Andre. His chest heaved as his fingers burst into a flurry of sign-language.
‘The code is five, six, three, two, eight. Hurry. I will meet you at the keeper’s entrance. When they find out Jace can talk, they’ll take him away like they took the twins last year. My mate, Dian, is heartbroken. She is not sure how much longer we can hide him.’
Molly filled Andre in.
“Wow, that sucks,” Andre said. “So, he didn’t kill the baby last year?
Molly signed the question to Ben.
‘No. I would never hurt my infants.’
Molly squeezed her eyes shut and then they flew open. “I have an idea.” She turned to the glass. ‘Ben, what’s the passcode again?’ she asked.
Ben signed the numbers, adding, ‘Meet us there in two minutes.’
“Come on.” She turned and walked out the door.
Andre caught up to her as she was slipping back through the hedge. The park looked abandoned but shouts echoed from the distant area where even more black smoke now billowed into the cloudless sky.
“You really going to do this?”
Molly looked at Andre. “You heard Ben. If we don’t act now, when? And if they can’t stop Jace from talking, they’ll take him away and blame Ben again.” She grimaced and gave an involuntary shudder. “Not only Jace. If they think Ben hurt him, they might separate him from his family.” Her eyes widened.
“What if there are others like Ben and Jace?”
Andre’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “If so, the government would want to keep them hidden away. They’d want to experiment on them, and try and figure out how they evolved.”
“Yeah, they would.” Looking around and seeing no-one, Molly crept forward and punched the code into the keypad. She pushed the door with one hand, and it swung open.
Ben and a female gorilla stood waiting, with Jace cradled in his mother’s arms. Stepping forward, she handed the baby gorilla to Molly, turned and ran on all fours back to an opening in the rocks some fifty feet away.
Ben reached out and touched Jace’s forehead. Lifting one hand to his throat, he made a guttural sound as if clearing his throat. He reached out and stroked Jace’s forehead.
“I love you, Jace,” Ben said in a low, hoarse tone.
Molly and Andre gasped.
Ben met her eyes. “Take good care of him. Keep him hidden until-“
“Holy Mother of Jesus,” Andre exclaimed. “You can talk?”
Ben blinked. “Yes,” he said. He looked at Molly and continued, “Until we can come for him.”
Andre laughed and shook his head. “What I said before about not being human. I take it back.”
“This is savage!” Molly’s grin widened, as she stood, with Jace’s arms draped around her neck. She shifted his weight. “Ben, I don’t know what to do with him? What does he eat?” She groaned. “Never mind, I can Google it.” She glanced over her shoulder, chewing her lip. “We’d better get going.”
“Can he act like a stuffed animal?” Andre said. “Because that’s the only way you’re going to get him out of here, and that will only work until the keepers realize he’s missing. All hell is gonna break loose.” He frowned. “Ben, are you sure this is the best way?”
As if on cue, Jace let one arm drop and hung his head to one side, looking just like one of the gorilla dolls Molly’s little brothers had seen when leaving the park yesterday.
Ben raised both hands in an eerily human gesture of uncertainty. “I don’t know what else to do.”
“How are we going to keep in touch?” Molly asked. “And I’m just a kid. How am I going to take care of him? Why did you choose me?”
Ben pointed to the pin Molly wore on her blouse. “That pin.”
Molly’s mouth fell open, and her hand flew to the tiny emblem. The last time she’d visited the psychologist, Dr. Fountain, a handful of identical pins had been sitting in a small basket on the counter with a sign promoting animal rights and conservation. The receptionist had encouraged her to take one, explaining they were free.
Ben nodded, his dark eyes serious. “That’s how I knew to speak to you. To ask for your help to save Jace.”
Molly’s chest tightened. “Uh, Ben, I don’t think I’m the one. This pin was just-“
Ben met her troubled eyes. “You are. I know it.” He touched a hand to his chest. “Here.”
Andre shook his head. “This is surreal.”
Molly shot him a glance. “You think?”
“Go, quick.” Ben turned and stepped back inside the enclosure, closing the door behind him.
Andre and Molly stared at each other, with Jace still hanging in Molly’s arms.
“Now what?” Andre said.
Molly shrugged. “We get out of here.”
As they hurried to the exit, Molly’s heart pounded as her mind turned over all the possible scenarios.
Andre walked next to her, his eyes darting in every direction.
“I cannot believe I’m helping you break the law,” he muttered when they slowed their pace just before the main gates.
“Me neither,” Molly said.
Groups of people hovered outside the entrance, talking and pointing to the flames now visible between the trees.
“If you present your ticket marked with today’s date, you will be allowed free entry when we re-open,” a greeter informed them, a forced smile on his tense face.
“Thank you,” Andre said.
Molly walked past him without raising her head. She could feel Jace’s racing heartbeat where his warm body hung over her arm.
“Young lady with the gorilla,” a deep voice boomed from behind them. “Wait right there.”
Icy fingers of fear squeezed Molly’s heart as Andre turned around to look at the speaker.
“Oh, crap,” he muttered.
Molly looked up at him. “Get out of here,” she hissed, as the man approached. “Now!”
Andre stared at her. “I’m not leaving you-”
Molly glared at him. “I don’t care what you’re selling,” she said in a loud voice. “I don’t want your tickets. It’s a scam. Get away from me!” Shoving Andre hard in the chest with her free hand, she turned her back on him and walked several feet to one side, just a man’s large hand came down on her shoulder.