The Devils Tiger


In West Texas where Jacob Trace made his way toward a dry camp after a fruitless day trailing a mountain lion, September dusk brought little relief from the heat and his mule kicked up dust from the parched, cracked earth. In Houston where Randolph Morgan, assistant director of the North American Zoological Association, and bored reporters awaited the arrival of World Air 17, dusk was hardly noticeable in the warm blanket of fog that wrapped the city.

At 24,000 feet and holding, World Air 17 was at last out of the storm. The flight across the Atlantic had been rough, even for the experienced crew aboard World Air 17. Storms had forced a detour, and severe turbulence had placed the DC-10 at the edge of control. A downdraft had dropped the wide-bodied jet several thousand feet. The altitude loss took seconds but gave the passengers time for screaming, vomiting, hyperventilating, and discovering suspect hearts.

The plane had groaned like a woman in labor and bottomed out with a jolt that tested every weld in the airplane and destroyed some electrical circuits, none of them crucial. The passengers had been belted down, but one stewardess, Claudette, had been assisting a sick child just aft of the first-class cabin when the aircraft went into its Jesus Christ mode, and she had been slammed against the overhead and knocked unconscious. The passengers wanted their feet on the ground. However, World Air 17 had arrived at Houston to find the airport wrapped in dense fog.

“World Air 17, this is Houston Center. Do you wish to declare an emergency?”

“Negative, Houston.” Captain Robert Hansen had never declared an emergency in a long career, and he had no intention of declaring one now. He wanted everything routine, another flawless flight under the hands of Smiling Bob, doctor of the air. “Had a little turbulence. Stewardess with minor injuries. We’d like a priority landing.”

“Houston still below minimums, expecting momentary improvement. Continue pattern. You’ll be first to land.”

“Roger. And thanks.”

“Darryl,” the captain said, “everything’s under control here. Amble aft, tell the folks back there that we’ll be landing number one as soon as we get clearance, and have the stews break out the medicinal alcohol. Check on Claudette and be sure the stews have cleaned up any blood. It only takes a drop to panic passengers when they’re scared.”

Darryl nodded. He had occupied the copilot’s seat for half a dozen years and this had been his worst trip. He wouldn’t admit it once he was on the ground, but he had made his peace with God, certain the airframe would warp under the stress. He had often yearned for the newer, faster airplanes–the Ten had been approved by the FAA in 1971 and, twenty years later, World Air and some others were still flying them. Today he was grateful for the tough, reliable, and unglamorous Ten. He removed his headset and harness and left the flight deck to smile at the passengers and assure them they had the best captain in the sky and would be safely on the ground by the time they finished their drinks.

He was pleased to see there was no blood in the cabin. Claudette had a cut on her head that would require stitches and was calm but dazed. He told Susan, chief stewardess, to keep her quiet and out of sight of the passengers. He continued aft, smiling, reassuring, promising they would be landing soon. The flight attendants had done a good job helping those who were bruised or sick and cleaning up the mess.

On his way back to the flight deck Susan reported that the elevator was not in the full up position and seemed to be jammed. Darryl opened the door of the elevator and leaned inside to try the buttons. Nothing. The elevator was at an awkward angle in the shaft and he jumped back when something shifted in the pressurized cargo compartment below. Structural damage. Forcing a smile, he returned to the cockpit to tell the captain.

* * *

In Moscow, the Iron Curtain had cracked and strange winds blew through the open spaces–democracy, chaos, anarchy. Mikhail Kuzakov was not a politician; he was a bureaucrat. He had done as he was told and he had done well, director of the Moscow zoo. Things had been simpler when the Communists ruled. Logical, practical, hard. Then, he had known what to say.

He did not know what to say when the minister telephoned to report the police had found Adja Bayan dead. The old man tended felines at the zoo. “There was a cat in his apartment,” the minister said.

“I don’t understand.”

“Perhaps you know that before democracy,” the minister said the word carefully, “scientific experiments were conducted on zoo animals.” Unofficially, Kuzakov had known about the secret labs and faceless scientists who experimented with infectious diseases but the labs had been dismantled, the records destroyed, the scientists removed.

“Adja Bayan’s death seems normal but suspicious. You will take appropriate action.”

Accompanied by a technician, Kuzakov went directly to the remaining lab in the wooded area behind the zoo, the lab for testing samples from sick animals and preparing their medicines. Everything seemed to be in order. He led the technician to the small building shielded from view by the antelope compound and the patch of woods on the back side of the zoo on Bolshaya Gruzinskaya Street. Adja had a single room with a cot, washstand, kerosene stove for cooking, a table, and one chair.

They searched for the cat until they found it hiding under the bed. The technician, a small man with folds of skin in his face, slipped a net over the cat. The cat flattened its ears and hissed, but the technician, who was wearing thick leather gloves, grasped the cat across the shoulders and lifted it from the net. Taking the cat’s head in his other gloved hand, he twisted until the vertebrae cracked and the cat went limp. He dropped it into a bag and and the two

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