She sighed, and placed the phone back on the receiver. Looking over her desk, into the office beyond, she called out. “That’s the fourth call today. I don’t think your plan is really working, Mike.”
Mike stepped back from the pile of maps he was arranging in a zebra-shaped display stand. “Pity”, he said. “I genuinely thought it’d drum up a bit of business. God knows we need the money.” He adjusted the zebra’s tail. “Still,” he continued, “it’s not the worst idea I’ve had.”
She sighed. “Yes, I still haven’t forgotten the time you suggested the zoo should go open-plan.”
It was then that the tannoy system burst into life. The voice that could be heard was tinny and clipped, as if the person on the other end was trapped in a metal box, and in a hurry to escape. “C-c-could all s-s-staff please rep-p-p-port to the m-m-manager’s office? Im-m-mmediately? P-p-please?” The speaker crackled into silence.
A few seconds later, an afterthought; “Im-m-mmediately.”
When Mike and Sarah arrived at the manager’s office, he was sat at the desk, as pale and unwelcoming as a sheet made of asbestos. He was shaking slightly. Once all the other staff were assembled, he coughed to obtain silence. He spoke.
“Lad-d-d-d-ies and gentlemen. We have a s-s-s-s-“
He stopped, and tried to compose himself.
“A s-s-s-situ- “
He mopped his brow with the corner of his sleeve.
Mike stepped forwards. “A situation?” he asked.
The manager nodded, glumly.
“A ch-ch-child is in the oc-oc-oc-“
“Ocelot?” Mike offered.
The manager nodded “The ocelot enc-c-closure.”
There was a collective gasp.
The manager’s assistant stepped forwards. “I’ve phoned our solicitors, Earnest and Balding, and they’ve said that we’re liable to cover the costs. I knew not buying fences would be a false economy.”
Mike and Sarah walked over to the ocelot enclosure as fast as they could. Standing by the side was a man six foot tall and built like a rugby player crossed with a hippo. His face was contorted in anger. He stepped aside, and the boy’s father introduced himself.
“What are you going to do about this?!” he demanded. His voice was high with anxiety.
Sarah put on her best comforting-without-condescension speaking-to-a-customer voice. “We’re just going to talk to Derek, the Ocelot keeper. He’ll tell us the best course of action.”
Inside the enclosure, the boy was sitting on a rock. In his hands was a small, tin toy car. It was red. He was running the car along the stone, in the broadest sweeping arcs that his tiny arms would permit.
Mike and Sarah knocked sharply on the door to the Ocelot keeper’s hut. When, after thirty seconds, they received no reply, they knocked again. “Can you come back in about two hours?” came a muffled voice from inside.
“This is urgent!” Mike shouted.
They heard Derek shuffling to the door.
The door was opened a crack, so only his head was visible.
“What is it?” he asked.
Mike spoke “It’s urgent, can we come in?”
“Oh, I suppose” Derek said, opening the door fully. On his desk were a duvet and pillow, and now that he was visible in his entirety, Mike and Sarah noticed that he was wearing pyjamas.
Sarah spoke “Now, Derek, this is important. A child is in your enclosure. Your ocelots might eat him!”
Derek snorted, and straightened out the duvet. “I don’t think there’s much chance of that happening.”
“Why?” asked Mike.
“Well,” said Derek plumping the pillow, “there hasn’t actually been an ocelot in that enclosure for two years.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mike.
“I mean,” said Derek, climbing onto his desk and into his makeshift bed, “that in the last round of budget cuts it was declared uneconomical to buy a new ocelot once the last one died. If we had the enclosure, people would assume that the animal was there, just out of sight.”
Mike spoke. “But why do you still have a job? And why does the manager seem to think that there are ocelots?”
“Well,” said Mike, yawning, “the deal was brokered between myself and the accounts department. We agreed that the manager need not know.”
He lay down, and from this position said “The solution to your situation is simple. One of you gets to act the hero – walk into the enclosure, and rescue the child.” He rolled onto his side. “Can you please close the door on your way out?”
They flipped a coin to decide. Mike won, and chose to go in.
He’d always liked the idea of being a hero.