By Dan Leicht
They arrived at the offices. Two of the three employees from earlier were still at the table.
“Al, this is how adults spend their down time in their exhibits,” said Splints. “Notice how they don’t talk to one another. Instead they talk to other people, not in the room with them, but on their phones.”
“This exhibit is boring. Where’s my mom?”
Splints walked up to Rosalie. “Excuse me, but did a woman come by here looking for a young boy? This kid was separated from his mom and sister.”
“She did actually, not too long ago. She said the last time she saw him she was at the polar bear exhibit. Edgar suggested they go back there in case he returned. My guess is they’re still there. If you head over I’ll radio him you’re on the way.”
“We must’ve just missed her, Al,” said Splints. “We’ll head over. Thanks for your help.”
“She’s back at the polar bear exhibit?” asked Al.
“She’s probably reading all the facts on the wall so she can keep up with you once we find her,” replied Splints.
As they were walking back towards the polar bears something caught Al’s attention. He was holding the detective’s hand and their quick pace suddenly came to a halt.
“What’s up?” asked Splints.
Al pointed to a man taking pictures of the Burmese python.
“Is that the guy who gave you the comb?” asked Splints.
Al nodded his head.
“Let’s give him a visit and see if he has an extra for me.”
Splints and Al walked up next to the man and stared down at the python.
“Gorgeous snake,” said Splints. “Al, do you know anything about snakes?”
Al was looking at the snake through his fingers as if watching a horror movie.
“I guess he has to draw the line somewhere. Are you a photographer?” Splints placed his hand out for the smarmy photographer to shake it.
The man looked down at the detective’s hand, ignored it, and went back to taking pictures.
“It’s a hobby,” said the man.
“Beautiful hobby. The name’s Splints. Nice to meet you.”
“My name is Poe. It’s nice to meet you too. Now if you don’t mind I’m busy.”
“How do you keep your hair slicked back so nice like that?”
“I use a comb like a normal person.”
“Fascinating. Have any extras?”
Poe pulled a comb out of his back pocket and handed it to Splints. He then noticed the boy alongside him.
“I recognize you,” Poe said, looking at Al. “Apparently handing out combs is the universal sign for go away around here. Well, you have yours now too. That’s my last one. Now scram.”
“I appreciate the gesture, Poe. I actually already have a comb of yours from earlier.”
“This is the first time I’ve seen you,” said Poe.
“I didn’t get it from you. It was lying on the ground in the peacock exhibit. How’d it get there? Any ideas?”
Poe held his camera in his hand like a football and made a run for it.
“Al, how fast can you run?” asked Splints.
“Like a million miles,” Al replied.
“Let’s run a million miles after that guy, come on.”
The two took off and Splints was able to get a hand on Poe’s shoulder. He pulled down and took the photographer off his feet. Poe crashed to the floor, his camera lens shattered on impact.
“Where’s the peacock, Poe?” asked Splints.
“Yeah, Poe. Give us the bird or you’ll be Rascal’s lunch.”
“I’d listen to the kid, Poe,” said Splints. “Rascal has been swimming all day, probably building up quite the appetite. Now tell us where the peacock is.”
“Let go of me,” cried Poe. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Splints picked up Poe’s camera and scrolled through the pictures on the screen. The camera was filled with pictures of almost every animal at the zoo. He kept scrolling until he found the peacock.
“Wow, these pictures are pretty good,” said Splints. “So you did see the peacock today? Funny he disappeared this morning, or you’re a traveling magician and turned him into a comb.”
“Fine. Fine,” said Poe. “Just let me up.”
People were beginning to crowd around the spectacle. As Poe got up Edgar was making his way towards them.
“What’s all this?” asked Edgar.
“This is your guy,” said Splints. “Where’s the bird?”
Poe rolled his eyes and pointed towards the parking lot.
“He’s in my truck,” said Poe. “It wasn’t my fault, though. After I took the pictures I posted them online and had a bidder within seconds.”
“How’d you pull this off?” asked Splints. “Do you know someone here?”
Poe looked down at his shoes.
“Don’t blame her,” he replied, “Rosalie is an old friend. I cut her in on the deal. Someone really wants that bird. How was I supposed to say no?”
“Always say no to bad people,” said Al. “I should’ve said no to you when you gave me this.”
Al snapped the comb in his hands and dropped it on the floor. Edgar bent down to pick it up and placed it in his pocket.
“What?” asked Edgar. “We have a strict no littering policy here.”
Al’s mother and sister made their way through the crowd.
“Allen, I was so worried. Where did you run off to?” asked his mother.
“Sorry, mom. I was busy stopping a bad guy.”
“Stopping a bad guy?” she asked.
“He helped me solve the case,” said Splints.
Splints shoved another wrinkled check into his pocket and took his leave. As he walked away he could hear Al excitedly telling his mother cheetah facts.