‘That Damned River’
Gregory V. Boulware, Esq.
The ides of December brought no new activity from the beast. The people went with their daily activities as they prepared for the upcoming Christmas and New Year Holiday events. The ranger and his team were mapping out strategies for their assault on the “Killer Kodiak.”
There weren’t any new signs or tracks to be followed along the banks of the Schuylkill River since the last attack. There were no signs of activity or attacks. Glenn and his team started their search at the last killing scene along the West River Drive in Fairmount Park. They contemplated setting up bait traps, steel claw traps, and prowler stations. The river was now in a state of sporadic ice packs scattered out on the water. Ice platforms gathered at the edge of the dam where the majestic view of the Art Museum peered out over the river. The mini glaciers piled up along the edge of the dam where the East and West River Drives meet in the park. A driveway bridge connected the two roads that allowed access into the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and I-95 corridor via route 676.
Snow began to fall at eleven a.m. on December Seventeen, a Saturday. It began to form heavy flakes at four p.m. The layer of snow on the ground measured at two and a half inches from the ground. At 6 p.m., the snow fell heavier and the layer on the ground exceeded the earlier measurement. The wind was mild. It blew about five to 10 miles an hour at a nor’ easterly direction that eventually blew nor’ westerly. The ranger wondered where this beast had gone. Did it just up and leave? Did it eat enough? Did it decide to hibernate? If so, where? “Where the fuck did it go?” He began to stare at the dam along the river and wondered about the pumping station wells underbellies.
The ranger shouted aloud…”Damn!” His staring at the river-dam evolved into an all-out eyeball examination of the location. He turned to one of site searching rangers with the communications backpack. It contained a field radio and satellite telephone. “Get the city archeological engineering department on the horn – I want to know what’s under this dam and pumping station shacks – pronto!”
The City of Philadelphia Records Department, city archives division, responded to the call almost immediately. They could not get the original plans out to him for fear of disintegration – exposure to air and light. The electronic facsimile was available but could not be made immediately available. It could take more than an hour to locate the electronic backup. The field unit also needed to get a notebook computer out to then as well. The portable computer delivery would not necessarily create a problem to dispatch… The date would. It was faster to go to the source – the records department at city hall. Glenn was just five miles away.
Sirens screamed down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Pavilion into the City Hall Courtyard. The police car drove directly up and onto the sidewalk surrounding the building – through the breezeway into the courtyard and entrance doors nearest the records department. Ranger Glenn exited the vehicle and dashed through the double doors into the first floor corridor. The records room was just off to the right. The records staff was ready and waiting. They were at the rangers beckon call. The data was being uploaded as Glenn and Police Sergeant Macauleany, the officer from the Smith Playground attack site, and a ranger lieutenant by the name of ‘Asa Wells’ stood by.
It was Lieutenant Wells who noted the fresh footprints in the old snow on the bike and jogger trail. The jogging trail continued into the other side of the river from under the overpass of the west river drive that lead down to the Southside of the Schuylkill River.
The prints in the snow were out of the team’s search area. They could not see them. The trail of prints was pounding a path in the direction of the Philadelphia Zoo.
At the records department, Glenn was able to pull up the archived data on the river’s dam. He was not surprised to discover an underpass right under the water at the dam’s edge. The underpass lay directly at the base of the dam. It is an existing access causeway for the construction crews to make repairs on the dam. No one ever realized such a space existed. It’s been there since the dam’s construction and has never been used. The records staff watched the ranger as he researched other unknown tunnels under the river and along its banks. They were surprised to see all sorts of underground passageways. These excavations were established about the time the dam was built by the “Free Masons of Pennsylvania.” The research brought to light, even more tunnels of ingress and egress points appeared throughout the city’s underground realm. The ranger instructed the department staff to make him copies of the maps immediately. They complied with an exuberant amount of excitement and pride in their ability to jump too in an emergency. The time was three forty five in the afternoon.
At five o’clock in the afternoon, staff of the Philadelphia Zoo, closed its gates for the day. At 10 p.m., one of the zoo guards was completing his 30-minute rounds. The guard who patrolled the area near the polar bear exhibit noticed their agitation. He thought it unusual. The bears are usually calm and settled at this hour. He made note of it on his report sheet attached to a clipboard. On his way to the brown bruins exhibit alarms rang throughout the establishment. They were quite loud. The surrounding neighborhood knew something was amiss when these alarms went off. It drove them out of their sleep…out of their beds.
The guard froze at the sounding of the alarm. The alarms screamed the scream of the wailing witches of Othello fame. The shipmates of Ulysses could bear witness to the screams. The ship in which they were traveling did crash because of it. The covering of their ears didn’t help either. Odysseus was warned of the screaming witches…the alarms of warning.
Realizing his ass was on the line should he shirk his duties, thought the guard. He recalled the fire. Members of an endangered species, a family group of six lowland gorillas, a family group of three orangutans, four white-handed gibbons, and ten lemurs (2 ruffed, 6 ringtail, and 2 mongoose), died in their sleep from smoke inhalation – carbon monoxide poisoning.
At about 10 pm., two security guards smelled smoke by the Philadelphia Zoo’s primate house as they made their rounds. This happened on Saturday December 24, 1995. They took no action. They dismissed the smell as coming from nearby trains on the railroad tracks as had happened frequently. Almost three hours later, at 12:40 a.m. Sunday, the guards returned and found flames on the roof. Fire and zoo officials pinned the blaze on an electrical malfunction caused by improperly installed wires that heated ceiling pipes. Snow on the roof of the 10-year-old World of Primates building muffled any noise that might have been produced by smoke alarms, and fire officials discovered upon investigation, no one who had heard them sound. This engagement happened within the walls of the world famous landmark.
The guard was not in the frame of mind to receive blame for any wrongdoing. He wanted to be recognized as a guard who was Johnny on the spot…proficient and steadfast. “Shit…they caught me once for sleeping on the overnight shift. Two years ago they caught me for drinking a fuckin beer on New Years Eve in the parking lot. It was my lunch break for Christ’s sake. Shit, I’ve got five fuckin years to lose…unemployment just ain’t gittin it!”
The frantic guard snapped too – and like greased lightning, he bolted towards the designated report station. Once there, another guard was dispatched to the power and alarm and shut-off terminal and grid shack. It’s still called the shack after the new building was erected since the fire. No longer was the guard focused on himself and his troubles. His mind was on his job performance and the saving of animals and zoo property. He thought of all the animals and his designated patrol area. The bear exhibit. The bears needed him.
~ ‘The E-Store for Books by Gregory V. Boulware, Esq.’ ~