Eyes in the Darkness

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Jack leaned up against the tree as the wind howled down the empty road. His cigarette trembled, the only light in the darkness, and the trees shivered beneath a moonless sky. His head pounded from his fight with Laura. You don't care about me. You never loved me. Why do you even bother coming home? She fought like a woman.

With each drag in, and each exhale, he counted backwards, wading back in time.

Three. Her dress on the floor.

Two. Lipstick smudges on a whisky glass.

One.

A pair of headlights turned the corner, and Jack gave a faint smile as the red Ford Mustang pulled into the empty parking lot. For the first time that night he pushed Laura out of his mind and smiled.

A beautiful car for an ugly man.

"Sh-it, Jack, you knew I was leaving tomorrow to go huntin. What's so important?" Tommy stepped heavily out of his car, and slammed the door behind him. He had once been a brute of a man, but now he was swollen, like a carcass left out to rot in the sun.

Somewhere in the distance a howling noise rose, haunting and terrible. Both of the men paused, and Tommy reached from the gun that usually set at his hip. But it wasn't there tonight. He was off duty.

"Sorry Tommy, need your help tonight," Jack said when the howling died away, and only the moan of the wind remained. "Something's been breaking into the cages, killing the animals. Could use a second set of eyes." Jack took a final drag on the cigarette and flicked it aside.

Once Tommy would have criticized Jack for smoking, but now he only said, "Sure, Jack. Anything for you."

Anything for you. The words burned between them like the dying cigarette on the ground. Had it really only been a year ago that Jack had traded handcuffs and pistols for a flashlight and bucket of meat? Unlike Tommy, in his deep blue police jacket, Jack's clothes stank of alcohol and smoke. The only clean piece of clothing he wore was the green jacket stamped with the cheezy Zoo logo.

They stood silent, watching each other. No handshake. No embrace.

"Let's go then." Jack turned and strode up the gravel drive. After a moment he heard the steady crunch, crunch, crunch as Tommy followed. A groaning howl filled the night again.

"What's that?" Tommy walked faster, and glanced up at the barren, twisted limbs of the trees. The last few leaves of fall hung on, limp and listing, like a dead man swinging from the noose.

"Hyenas." Jack's voice was soft.

"No shit? That'd be a hell of a thing to hunt. They smart?"

Jack paused at the gate. Tommy had hunted all his life, but Jack knew more about the animals here. "Some people think they're smarter than primates. They even lie to each other. If they have a kill they don't want to share, they'll make distress sounds and keep the other's away." The chain-link fence rose up high, disappearing into the darkness. There was an eerie stillness to the grounds, a foreboding that came with the night. Jack worked at the lock and then swung the gate open.

Tommy looked up at the rising fence.

"Don't worry." Jack turned back. "It's the quiet animals that kill the fastest."

Tommy laughed at this, as if Jack had told a great joke. He pushed his way through the gate and declared, "Been years since I've been here!" It was the back entrance to the Zoo, without any of the fanfare of the front. The gravel drive extended to several brick buildings and sheds. In the darkness Jack could just distinguish piles of sand, rocks, and bark.

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