One of the perks of being the general manager of a zoo was having a great place to exercise. Brent was enjoying his morning run when he heard something with soft feet running beside him. He looked down to see Gimpy, the Florida panther with the bum leg, gently trotting in the direction of his enclosure with a squirrel in his mouth. Gimpy looked up at him and continued his steady unconcerned pace. Brent watched as the big cat receded in the distance and rounded the corner. Sure, it’s every morning that a wild panther escapes its enclosure and joins you for your morning run.
Brent raced around the last turn to Gimpy’s habitat and found him sitting calmly, Sphinx-like, eating a squirrel. Gimpy looked up briefly as if Brent’s presence was not of concern.
Brent walked slowly back to his office. The male black bear was standing next to the pond watching the fish. The female was watching him. The juvenile timber wolves were snoozing at the base of a tree. The adult male was grooming himself and the adult female watched Brent walking by. The sun bears were asleep in a tree. Brent walked through the major exhibits. All the large animals were accounted for. He didn’t check on the alligators. He had no idea how many of those there were.
As soon as Brent finished his morning’s appointments, he went to check on Gimpy. He knew Gimpy had been out of the enclosure. No other animal had that gait. Gimpy was serenely napping inside his habitat. Gimpy sneezed and twitched in his sleep and Brent went back to his office.
Brent called Danielle, head of animal care, to his office.
“Has Gimpy been acting strangely?”
“He’s been eating squirrels. I can tell from his feces. You’d think the squirrels would be smart enough to stay out of his habitat. He’s eating a lot of them and he’s not eating his regular food.”
“Is that good for him?”
“Small animals would be part of his regular diet in the wild. I don’t see any harm in it.”
“Is he eating more squirrels than would likely stumble into his habitat?”
“I don’t think so. We have a lot of squirrels on the property.”
“You don’t think he’s getting out, hunting and returning to his habitat to eat what he caught?”
“There’s no way he could get out. Why?”
“Probably an over-active imagination.”
“That’s a common affliction.”
Brent’s mysteries were piling up. How did a panther with a bum leg get out of its habitat? How could he prove who killed his brother? Did his grandson really kill the man who killed his family? Who was behind the attacks on the park?