Fierce screeching and snarling nearly drowned out the high-pitched human screams. Too late, I saw the vicious monkey reach through the bars to grab Artie’s arm, my wasted warning hanging in the air as razor-sharp fangs sank deeply into the man’s flesh. Two other monkeys darted in and the three yanked their prey face-first against the cage as though trying to squeeze him completely through the metal rails. I had no doubt that was their intent.
An agonized scream fueled my sprint around the maze of tables and countertop workspaces as arterial blood painted the ceiling a deep red. Artie fell to the floor, minus his right arm.
Angry chatter, snarls, and growls accompanied the grisly wet gnawing as the animals feasted on the stolen limb.
I dragged my friend’s inert form out of the beasts’ reach and heard a low moan. My God, he’s still alive! Deep bites on the right side of his face exposed white bone—clear evidence the animals had tried to tear out his throat. Only the narrow-spaced bars had protected the jugular.
Keying the walkie-talkie on my belt with one hand, I tried to stem the bleeding with the other. The spurts from the torn shoulder slowed, the diminishing crimson arc a clear indication Artie was losing the battle.
“I need medics in Building Two asap!” I yelled franticly. “Artie’s lost an arm.”
Although I applied pressure with both hands on the destroyed socket, blood streamed through my fingers.
Almost immediately, the double doors burst open. My husband Carl and two white-coated doctors dashed to my side just as the flow slackened to a dribble. I knew, even before Dr. Chen spoke, that Artie was gone.
“There’s no pulse. I’m sorry.”
He pronounced time of death and the doctors stepped away from the body, so Carl could help me to my feet.
“Are you okay?” he asked, holding me at arms’ length and looking me over. Worry etched deep furrows in his forehead.
He frowned and shook his head. “What happened? How’d they get hold of him?”
“I don’t know. I was over there…” I pointed across the room. “…when I heard an odd sound, and glanced back just as Jock grabbed Artie’s sleeve. You know how incredibly strong they are. He tried to pull free but the other two monkeys jumped in and he didn’t stand a chance against the three.”
Hanging my head, I replayed the gruesome scene in my mind. “Before I could get to the pen, they’d ripped his arm off.” I trembled and sobbed. “There was so much blood… I couldn’t make it stop.”
Oblivious to the red smears my hands made on his white coat and with anger in his voice, Carl pulled me close and pressed his chin to the top of my head. He growled against my hair, “What was he doing so close to the cage? Dammit, he knew better!”
We had worked with Artie for three years. He was a dependable, conscientious worker. But with these beasts, a lack of concentration for only one second could prove catastrophic.
Dr. Chen radioed for a gurney while Carl took my hand and led me to our quarters—away from the grisly scene. Losing a friend and co-worker under such horrible circumstances had drained my energy and any enthusiasm I’d felt for the afternoon’s work. After I washed away the blood and changed my clothes, we stretched out on the bed and he held me until I quit shaking.
An hour later I awoke, surprised that I’d been able to fall asleep. Feeling more in control of my emotions I rose, fixed a cup of tea, and joined Carl in the living room.
He looked up, his bushy brows forming a question. “Are you okay?” he asked softly. “Feeling better?”
“Yes. Not so shaky,” I replied, his apparent concern touching my heart. What would I do without him?
We sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, then, taking a deep breath, I said, “I’ve been thinking…”
He sighed, set aside his book, and uncrossed his long, gangly legs. I knew he hated it when I prefaced a conversation with that phrase. Inevitably, we ended up at odds with each other.
“What is it now, Laralee?”
“We need more space. I’m afraid more people will die like Artie did. What if we ask the Spanish government to consider erecting additional buildings or, maybe moving the experiments to a different location?”
I could see him pondering my suggestion, various emotions flitting across his craggy features. His brown mop of unruly hair needed a trim and the stubble on his square jaw seemed especially pronounced. His dark eyes settled on mine.
“I don’t know. There isn’t enough suitable land on this tiny island to build another large-animal enclosure. I suppose we could ask about a new location.”
He seemed to be considering it, so I added, “If they want the experiments to continue without further loss of life, something has to be done. The serum has boosted the monkeys’ intelligence as well as their appetite. I feel like they’re watching us, learning our moves, and figuring out how to defeat us. Are we experimenting on them or vice versa? We need more safeguards.”
“Yes, I agree,” he nodded. “Last month when King Louie escaped and let those other monkeys out, we nearly had a mutiny on our hands. We were lucky to put them down before they got to you.”
I shuddered at the memory, stood, and went to the kitchen to refill my tea. Raising my voice to be heard from the other room, I said, “And in addition to the safety issue, it put us behind in the experiments because the four animals we killed were the most advanced. Losing people is unacceptable. Losing monkeys is a loss to the program and we just don’t have the space here to perform safely at maximum capability.”
Returning, I took my seat. “Surely, the Spanish would understand that.”
He nodded and gazed into my eyes. “I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you and I hadn’t done everything I could to keep you safe.” He rose and changed seats, sitting next to me on the couch. Draping one arm around my shoulder, he nuzzled my neck. “My heart nearly stopped this morning when I heard your frantic voice on the radio. I’ll draft a letter to the Spanish Committee on Scientific Experiments tonight.”