Two Birds With One Stone by Mark SaFranko
Two Birds With One Stone by Mark SaFranko
Rex Givern’s parents were against the idea from the beginning.
“A zoo? That’s damned dicey, isn’t it?” His father made most of the snarky comments, but he knew that his mother felt the same.
He’d heard some variation of that skepticism of his aspirations from nearly everyone, and it annoyed if not angered him. And he’d always answer, “I disagree. People of all ages will always visit a zoo. It’s a no-lose proposition.”
It was true. Humans are generally interested in wildlife, the more exotic the better. From childhood Rex had been fascinated by unusual and glamorous animals. Coming as he did from a family of means, he’d been able to travel the world studying them as a quasi-professional biologist, and later he’d begun to collect them, once going so far as to smuggle a rare and deadly green mamba into the States in his luggage after an excursion to Tanzania. Operating a private menagerie of his own had been his very first dream however, and he never stopped dreaming it. When he was finally able to open the gates of the Endangered Creatures Sanctuary, it thrived. Not only did he admit the public, but he also provided specimens for other zoos through his breeding programs.
Of course it wasn’t all so easy. Because Rex Givern was a complicated man. There was an entirely different side to him that wasn’t dedicated to God’s precious creatures. He enjoyed a rich man’s lifestyle, including fast, expensive cars and beautiful women, as well as drugs, alcohol and gambling. As anyone who has indulged knows, those pastimes cost money. A great deal of it.
The single person who’d stood solidly in his corner when he built the zoo from the ground up was Julia, his fiance once upon a time. But Julia was long gone, their breakup the collateral damage of Rex’s excesses — especially other women.
Now it was only him, and these days he was facing a wasp’s nest of problems. The crowds, which had once paid an exorbitant entrance fee to tour his compound, had thinned over the past couple of years. The taxes on his Idaho property had been significantly raised. The town council had sanctioned and threatened him after one of his chimpanzees had gotten loose and spent a few days frolicking in the nearby forest and terrifying the citizenry before police were able to tranquilize and return Sadie to her enclosure. His longtime veterinarian had decamped for Florida and another wildlife sanctuary, and her replacements weren’t inclined to cut Rex any slack when it came to the cost of treatment — and at least one of his beasts required some type of ministration on a daily basis. Most frustratingly, the expense of feeding the animals had skyrocketed in recent months, probably the result of a hike in fuel prices….
He’d spent everything that he’d once had. And so Rex felt like he was caught in an invisible vise that was slowly closing on him. He even dug out Julia’s phone number –- because maybe, just maybe, since at one time she’d been so attached to the animals, she would consider extending him a loan — but when he dialed it he got a message announcing it was no longer in service. And when he Googled her he couldn’t come up with her current address. Julia was a beauty; no doubt she’d met another man, gotten married and changed her name, which was how most women managed to disappear.
Rex had run to the end of his credit and had twice refinanced the mortgage on his property. If he didn’t figure something out soon — very soon — the bank was going to come and take everything away, and his beloved companions would be shipped off to God knows where.
It was his immediate family Rex was most irritated with. The bastards were flush with money — his father was a singularly successful executive in the robotics industry –- but they refused to donate any of it to him, their only son (his sister, married to a commercial real estate attorney in Westchester County, was more than covered). It was true that despite their reservations about the enterprise they’d handed him a hefty check to establish the Endangered Creatures Sanctuary in the first place, but when it began — and kept — losing money while Rex partied away, the purse strings were drawn closed and stayed that way.
Nevertheless, he had no choice but to try them again. If you couldn’t count on your blood, who could you count on?
His father let out an exasperated groan when Rex once again presented his well-rehearsed pitch for a bailout loan by phone.
“Haven’t we been through all this before?” he grouched.
“I know, Dad, I know…but this time I’m convinced I can right the ship,” insisted his son. “This time I’ve got it figured out, I’m telling you. I’ve actually — ”
“You’ve only got yourself to blame for this debacle and you know it, Rex. I mean, look at the way you’ve been living! What goddamned cage cleaner besides you drives around in a Ferrari? And a Ferrari that he can’t pay for! I’d like to know how in the world you’ve managed to keep the dealer from repossessing that damned car! If you spent your money on those animals instead of women and partying and whatever the hell else you’ve been doing, you wouldn’t be in this fix! And as far as that other business goes, I don’t even care to get into it….”
Rex of course knew what “business” his father was referring to: an arrest for possession of a small amount of cocaine. A DUI. Two stints in rehab. Well, Rex didn’t particularly want to go there either.
When the elder Givern handed the phone to his wife, Rex wrestled a concession out of her that at the very least they would come out soon and visit and maybe they could all talk about it some more. They hadn’t seen their son in quite a while. But when he tried to nail down a date, his mother refused to commit to anything. The only thing Rex knew for sure, because his sister had told him as much, was that he hadn’t been cut out of his parents’ will –- yet — which was no small consolation. Their estate was worth in excess of twenty-five million dollars and was still growing, and some day in the future his half would be the answer to all of his problems.
On a warm evening after the zoo was closed and the feedings administered, Rex walked the grounds and thought it all over. His big Victorian, which was situated on the southern end of the property, was in dire need of a paint job. The primates seemed to be mocking him with their gibbering and pointing. The ribs of his lions were beginning to show. The jaguars, perhaps his favorite animals of all, eyed him warily — even hungrily — from their pens. Just yesterday he got word that his food supply was about to be cut off for good at the end of the month for non-payment of past invoices. What the hell was he going to do? He didn’t know. Selling the entire shooting match — provided he could find a buyer –- might, in the end, be the only solution. But he would do it only as a last resort.
An idea had been forming on the fringes of his mind for some time, but he didn’t dare confide it to anyone. And it wouldn’t crystallize entirely until the night before his father and mother were to arrive at the compound. (Yes, they were coming; he’d finally convinced them.) Suddenly he was gripped by a feral excitement. The solution to every one of his many predicaments had been in front of his nose all along and he’d not been able to see it. But now he did. Oh, how he saw it. Like a bolt of pure platinum lightning in a starless night sky.
His mother got out of the rental car first. As usual, she was decked out to the nines, and over her fine dress, she was wearing, of all things, a silver mink stole. Rex nearly burst out laughing.
Mrs. Givern glanced around at the decrepit and muddy surroundings and turned up her nose.
“My God, Rex! Can’t you do something about that smell?”
“They’re not debutantes, Mother — they’re animals. Some of them give off an odor.”
As if in protest, there was an agitated bellow from one of the distant corrals. Rex’s father, dressed improbably in a blazer and tie, made his way around the front of the car and barely nodded at his son. No hearty handshake, no loving embrace — nothing. Only a look of disgust.
“Long trip?” Rex asked gaily.
“Exhausting,” cranked his mother. “I don’t understand it. You’ve been given every privilege in life. Why on earth would you exile yourself to such a godforsaken cesspool? Idaho? No wonder you’re going under. Who would want to come out here?”
Rex resisted the temptation to respond to the barb. It was at that moment that he knew for certain that he was going to go through with his plan.
“You must need something to drink.”
“Tea for me,” sniffed Mrs. Givern, “if you can locate a clean cup.”
“Coffee, decaffeinated,” rumbled his father, who was scrutinizing the grounds with a sour expression that suggested nasty thoughts of disapproval.
“Come on up to the house and have a seat. I’ll get the drinks going.”
The Giverns trailed their boy to the veranda, where they dropped into a pair of matching cane chairs which had rarely been sat in. Meanwhile, Rex ducked inside and into the kitchen, set a kettle on the stove and heaped the last of the fresh grounds into the coffee machine. Then he hurried down the hall, opened the cupboard in his study and grabbed the bottle of Calm and Focus tranquilizer that he used on his Asiatic wild horses at certain times of the year when they had a tendency to grow too rambunctious.
Back in the kitchen he set out cups and saucers and poured the steaming beverages before liberally spiking them with the horse tranquilizer. It was a tasteless, odorless substance, and after only a few sips it wouldn’t take all that long for Mother and Dad to slip into a foggy and compliant state. At least his beloved big cats, the jaguars and lions who were teetering on the border of malnourishment, would have something tasty and certainly different to eat tonight. And when they’d polished off Mr. and Mrs., there’d be not a speck of evidence for the police to discover, maybe not even a shred of clothing.
Within a matter of just a few months Rex Givern would be on the receiving end of a cool twelve million or thereabouts — making concessions for estate and sundry other taxes. Until then he’d have to figure out a way to make ends meet, but knowing the reward that lay ahead would make it a whole lot easier.
He smiled to himself. He’d be killing two birds with one stone, wouldn’t he?
Of course he’d have to do something about that fur monstrosity around his mother’s shoulders and the rental car. And there would likely be bones to dispose of. But there were many different ways to handle these matters, and Rex Givern was nothing if not a smart guy. Maybe he could spray some of his father’s blood over the interior of the rental and run the damned thing off the road somewhere between the Boise Airport and the sanctuary, then phone the police and report that his folks never made it for their visit….
That was one possibility. There were others. But he’d deal with all that later. What was the hurry? He had all the time in the world.
Rex took a seat between his mother and father on the veranda, where they were slurping their refreshments. For at least this moment, both of them looked content.
“It’ll do,” said his mother. “Is there a decent restaurant nearby? I certainly doubt it. I can’t say I saw a single place I’d like to eat on the drive in….”
“A little on the sweet side,” his father frowned, lowering his cup after another gulp, “but I’ll live with it.”
No, you won’t, thought his son gleefully. No, you won’t.
Copyright Mark SaFranko 2021
Learn more about Mark SaFranko at his website https://marksafranko.com/