Every so often he drives at night to the zoo. It's deliberately left off the regular rounds. He doesn't want to spoil the experience with routineness--one of the treasured places he visits as redemptive treat. Or, in this case, tonight, after Connie, an attempt to not sink to a place he won't rise from again.
Past dark the visuals are something removed from the washed-out daytime look. Everything reverses, from timeworn seediness to mystery and beauty--leafy overhangings, animal-urged deformations of earth, the unfathomable bizarre odors.
The location bespeaks bizarre civic inspiration--the heart of the south side, a huge block bounded on the west by Burg Jones. Official explanation would be that the neighborhood went through the usual degradation, white, mixed, then black, but it was never white to begin with. Nor was it exactly rural before suburban invasion--rather, a shallow-soil wasteland in the midst of alluvial prime. Curious. Martin assures Mac the whole matter of site choice is on his list, a trip to the courthouse and library to peruse records intended.
Mac has a favorite pattern. Wilson street, newly paved and widened, abrupts onto a curved intersection, treeless with municipal park trappings. Straight ahead is the drive that leads to the parking lot and visitor's center, then on to other neighborhoods. Right is back toward the Lone Star highway and the charity hospital, the old section.
Mac wheels left instead, anticipating the delights. Along the bumpy blacktop sits a series of dilapidating two-room houses and groundward-sloping beer lounges, heavily shadowed from dense-branched overheads, provoking grassless yards. Soon the outbuildings of the zoo appear on the right, no less or more dilapidated than the nearby houses, segregated from them by hurricane fences bulged strangely from leaning exotic animals.
On a night with windows down this can be imagined: a man in his living room turns the television off for the night and peers through the curtains to see a pack of lions moving slowly to some destination in moonlight. An unlit bedroom sexual congregation is punctuated by guttural calls of the tiger. A drunk staggers across the street to berate a giraffe's somber visage gazing down through a dangling crown of Louisiana tree moss. Small well-built houselike structures with high-wattage lamps for warmth scattered in villagelike formation across a manicured prairie. Monkeys chattering back to immodest jukeboxes and car radios. Children being put to bed complain of not being able to hear the elephant tonight. A distant dark continent across the mere border of a city street.
Mac parks on a gravel extension off a ninety-degree turn in the blacktop, hidden near the abode of Ralph the Wonder Llama. An almost pleasant calm. After two, and the bar beside the Mercedes Inn motel has dispatched its denizens. There's a light on in Ralph's shack, visible through the door opening, but the llama has not come out yet. The driver is able to wait.
After some time, Mac sees something he has never seen before. It is as though a specific reward for the predictably sad encounter earlier. Had he not seen it himself he would have not believed it. While he is paused, waiting for the llama to appear, there comes a surreptitious procession crossing the street.
Directly before him are a number of men in magnificent tribal regalia, clasping poles--spears? They step gingerly, knees raised high in wide, loping steps, hips pivoting, moving from the neighborhood onto zoo grounds through an unobvious slit in the hurricane fence. No bicycle-riders these. Nor are they gold-chained bandana-wearing drive-by gangstas clothed in shades of red and blue. Their enclave bears faint resemblance to others distant downriver in New Orleans, wild Mardi Gras troupes, but this indicates something different.
With lights and engine off Mac is not particularly noticed. Once through the fence, they march to a grassy savanna-like plain and gather into a circle. There are seven of them. One innovation seems notable: upon black oily skin the glowing of novelty shop neon fingerpaint.
A distant rhinoceros starts, moving away from the intruders. A drumbeat erupts. The drummer swirls in an erratic dance. A low, almost mumbled communal chant. Beneath municipal streetlights the tall leafy grass sways with an electric green tint.
Shouts punctuate the drum accents. Limbs thrust in dance coordinate with violent machine-like motion. The pantomime of a great hunt is acted out, an invisible quarry seeming to occasionally materialize among breezy shadows.
Mac gets out of the car in order to see better.
The sound of the door is a mistake.
There is much shouting and pointing. After a moment, a coordinated cry, loud. He makes a tentative retreat. Acquired primitiveness, apparently, does not preclude modern firearms; after a warning shot Mac scrambles back inside the car.
He tries to call out; he was just watching, no harm meant. Another shot and then the answering cry of something huge--the tiger?
Almost sullenly he fires up the Fury. Again, rejected.
Early the next morning he approaches Martin in the parking lot of the newspaper plant where he has been waiting. But Martin knows already. Mac hears the tale of mangled carcasses found in daylight over recent months by zoo workers--baboons and macaws. Mostly.