By Dan Leicht
Splints and the kid walked the length of the zoo, the polar bear exhibit on the far end from the tigers. On the way the boy would try to stop and stare at the different animals. He pulled on Splints’ hand in an effort to drag him over to the leopards.
“Those don’t look like polar bears, kid,” said Splints.
“Did you know leopards will often bring their food up into trees? They do that so other predators can’t steal it from them. They’re so strong. I tried to climb a tree once when I was eight and I fell and broke my arm. They had to put a metal screw in it. I’m like half robot now. I’m really good at math too, watch this.” The kid counted on his fingers. “I’ll be ten in thirty-two days.”
“I’d swear I was talking to a calculator with skills like that. Let’s keep moving until we find the polar bears. How many polar bears are there? Did you count those?”
“There’s three. A mommy, a daddy, and a little boy named Rascal. I think they named him that because he’s such a trouble maker. That’d be my guess.”
“Sounds like a good guess. If his name is Rascal is your name Nuisance?”
“My name is Allen, but everyone calls me Al.”
“Like A.I, since you’re half robot.”
“Wow, you’re right. I never thought of it like that. I can’t wait to tell my mom. Come on, let’s go see the polar bears. Wow, look at these penguins. They have wings, but they’re swimmers and can’t fly. I think swimming is pretty cool, the ocean is just like the sky. I bet birds get a lot of bugs in their faces in the sky, penguins probably go into the water and open up their mouths to all the yummy goodness. I can’t swim. Can you swim?”
“You didn’t happen to see a bar around here did you, Al? Maybe one with an octopus bartender. I’d ask for a drink and he’d have it in front of me in less than ten seconds, all the bottles already wrapped up in a tentacle.”
“They don’t have an octopus here. Did you know they have eight tentacles? I’d win in arm wrestling every time if I were an octopus.”
“An octopus bartender. I’d tip eighty percent for just a shot.”
“What’re you mumbling? Come on, we’re almost to the polar bears.”
Al grabbed Splints’ hand and pulled him forward.
They arrived at the outdoor portion of the polar bear exhibit. Al ran up to the black gate positioned ten feet away from the enclosure, which was six feet below, composed of a hole encased in cement with a large pool area off to the side.
“I don’t see my mom. Let’s go below. There’s a big window and you can watch them swim.” He yanked on the detective’s hand again.
In the area below there were pictures on the walls with various polar bears facts, some interactive touch screens with puzzles of polar bears, and a giant stuffed polar bear with friendly eyes in the corner.
“They made that polar bear have a goofy face so the little kids don’t get scared,” said Al, noticing Splints’ focused on the stuffed bear. “The real bears are much cooler. Oh, look, one is about to go swimming. You have to see this it’s so cool.”
Splints’ looked around for anyone who could be the kid’s mother.
“You see her here?” he asked.
“See who?” asked Al.
“Your mom. Who else would we be looking for?”
“We were looking for the polar bears. Look. Rascal is swimming.”
Splints walked up to the glass and looked at the swimming bear.
“We need to find your mom, Al.”
“She’s around here somewhere.”
“Let’s head to the offices. Maybe she’s there looking for you,” said Splints.
“Are there any cool exhibits there?” asked Al.
“There’s the disgruntled employee exhibit. They’re sitting at a table, but they’ll move sometimes.”
“You’ve got some years left before you’ll be in the exhibit yourself. Enjoy life without having to clock eight hours every day.”
“There are twenty-four hours in a day,” said Al, “missing out on eight doesn’t sound like that big a deal.”
“You’d be surprised. The ones you sleep through are usually the best.”
They left the polar bear exhibit and headed towards the offices. Splints tried to keep the kid moving, but was unable to stop him when an animal would catch his eye.
“Kangaroos always move their legs together when they hop on land, but in the water they move each leg separately,” said Al. “Did you know they’re my favorite animal…named Kangaroo! Ha-ha, I got you!”
“Don’t quit your daycare, kid.”
Splints’ pointed to an ice cream stand in the distance.
“If I buy you a cone we head straight to the offices,” said Splints. “Do we have a deal?”
“Oh, wow. I want strawberry with chocolate sprinkles.”
They walked over to the stand. “Two strawberry cones with chocolate sprinkles,” said Splints.” He handed one to Al. “A deal’s a deal. Let’s check the offices for your mom.”
“Mmm, thank you,” said Al. “Oh, wow, look it’s a cheetah.”
“Did you know cheetah’s can run up to seventy miles an hour? They can reach their top speed in a matter of seconds. They use their speed to catch prey instead of focusing on raw strength or pack tactics like other animals. They can only run in short bursts, though, so they have to make sure they catch their prey on the first try.”
“Wow, you know a lot about cheetahs,” said Al.