“That’s assuming,” Hyaki put in, “that they haven’t been tracked down and taken away from here already.”
Heaving a ponderous sigh, the gorilla adjusted his spectacles. “They haven’t.”
Though he had failed to intuit the Director’s reaction, Cardenas was not slow in responding to it. “You’ve seen them? Then they are in the Reserva.” He worked to keep his voice steady. “Do you happen to know where they are now?”
“Well then,” Hyaki blurted out before Cardenas could restrain him, “tell us!”
“Perhaps.” Unperturbed by the sergeant’s agitation, the Director turned to contemplate the rolling, untouched jungle beyond the porch. “What if I were to assure you that both females are in no danger of being forcibly removed from the Reserva?”
“There’s no way you can do that,” Cardenas replied bluntly. “There’s no way you can prove that to my satisfaction.”
Sorong half closed his eyes, as if pondering weightier matters, before looking back to his guests. “Let’s take a walk.” Rising, he led them back through the building and down the front steps into the central courtyard. Although plenty of primates were present, garrulous Joe was not among them. Hyaki was in an agony of impatience, but Cardenas saw that there was nothing to be gained by insisting. Attempting to pressure an entity like Sorong could prove counterproductive. Their host would help them in his own time—or not at all.
“We didn’t ask for the raise in intelligence we were given,” Sorong explained as they crossed the neat, well-kept grounds, “but now that it has been given to us, we have no intention of handing it back. The relevant genes appear to be dominant, and are being passed along to descendants at a rate of four to one. Those who are not so gifted at birth are loved and cared for here as affectionately and appropriately as are any comparably impaired human infants. Those primates who are only capable of lower forms of intelligence, from macaques to vervets, are looked after by the rest of us. There is less intelligence prejudice here than in your typical human community.” Rising up from all fours, he gestured at the buildings of the compound and the intact rainforest that swept up to cover the surrounding mountainsides in varying shades of pristine green.
“For those of us who now live here, Amistad is a primate paradise. As per the articles that established the Ciudad Simiano, no humans are allowed in the Reserva without our permission. Not even scientists wishing to do research. We run our own affairs. In return for being allowed to do this, we are better guardians of the park than any human rangers could be. Since the advent of our stewardship, not a single species of plant or animal has gone extinct within the Reserva. No other park in the Americas can make such a claim.” Deep-set, heavily browed eyes regarded Cardenas unblinkingly.
“Chimps and gorillas who have undergone training here are working as park rangers in Africa, in South America, and in Asia, guarding preserves difficult for humans to watch, scanning for poachers, taking readings for scientists. It is a relationship that has benefited all who are involved. Meanwhile, as I said, the more intelligent apes look after the lesser ones. As a system, it functions quite well. The only humans allowed in are those who have been preaccredited and accepted by us. No one else.”
Hyaki watched a quartet of sifakas lope across the path in front of them. “But you told us that there are many ways for people to slip into the Reserva.”
Sorong nodded. “It is difficult but not impossible to make an illegal entry. But to remain within the Reserva boundaries unobserved for any extended length of time is very difficult. Few try. One reason is that because of our presence here the park has acquired… a reputation. Largely undeserved, but we do not make an active effort to discourage it. Anyone found inside the Reserva boundaries without authorization is arrested by Joe’s people. The sight of a dozen or more of us, irregardless of size, aggressively wielding knives and other weapons is usually enough to humble the boldest intruder.”
“Meaning,” Cardenas observed sagely, “that if the Mockerkin women are within the Reserva, as you claim, and you know their current whereabouts, then they most likely are here with your permission.”
A large, free-standing statue dominated the far side of the courtyard. Wreaths of flowers had been placed at its base. The eyes of the beautifully sculpted figure appeared to be gazing off into the distance, beyond the compound, beyond the rainforest. Both hands were upraised, the thick fingers spread in a complex gesture. The figure was that of an aged, wizened mountain gorilla. Set in the base was a single bronze plate on which were inscribed multiple dates, and a single name.
Hyaki gazed up at the solemn, yearning countenance that had been memorialized in bronze. “Friend of yours?”
Their host was gazing respectfully, if not reverently, at the statue. “No, not a friend. A long-deceased relation, I am afraid. A most remarkable individual in the annals of primate development. A predecessor, you might say. Koko was a project. One who learned a great deal of universal human sign language, and in so doing helped to pave the way for the present intellectual circumstances of the inhabitants of this compound. Among us, Koko is venerated the way your kind revere an Einstein or da Vinci.”
Cardenas did not wish to appear impolite, but much as he was personally enjoying the tour, professionally he was no less keen to pursue their lead than was his partner. He said as much to Sorong.
The gorilla sighed and dug at the fur under one arm. “I was afraid it might come to something like this when we signed on to the original arrangement.”
His visitors exchanged a glance. “What arrangement?” Cardenas inquired without hesitation.
“Between ourselves and the females you seek. They did not use the name you mentioned earlier, but given their circumstances, one would expect them to employ many different names.”
“Just so you should know,” Cardenas informed him, “Mockerkin is their real name. Surtsey and Katla Mockerkin. Have they told you who they are running from?”
“Just that they are in danger, and needed a refuge.”
The Inspector nodded understandingly. “They’re fleeing the woman’s husband and the girl’s father, who is from all records and accounts a particularly nasty sort of felon. There are others after them as well, some for reasons we can determine, others for purposes we’re still not sure of. This matter has already resulted in the deaths of several people, among whom my partner and I were nearly included.” Leaning forward, he tried to bring all his considerable powers of persuasion to bear. “Based on what we do know, and have already undergone in the course of pursuing this case, the presence of these women constitutes a danger to anyone and everyone who happens to be in their vicinity.”
Sorong looked distinctly unhappy. “If that is so, then those who agreed to the present arrangement, myself included, were not told the true extent of the risk. Understand,” he explained calmly as he adjusted his glasses, “we of the Simiano are not afraid of anyone who might be tracking the two females. The jungle is not the city, and those who arrive here planning to make trouble usually find it. We know how to take care of ourselves.”
Eyeing the two-hundred-kilo silverback, Cardenas saw no reason to doubt the Director’s claim. Jumping someone walking the streets of the Strip was one thing; trying to root them out of a jungle hideaway defended by intelligent, weapons-bearing apes was something else entirely. The Inzini, the Ooze from Oz, and their fellow antisocs would likely as not find themselves as out of their depth in these green canyons as did Cardenas and his partner. On the Strip, they could blend in easily. In La Amistad, they would stick out like tofu in a steakhouse. Surtsey Mockerkin and Wayne Brummel had chosen well their refuge of last resort.
The Inspector prodded their host. “You spoke of a ‘present arrangement.’ ”
“We do not provide sanctuary for nonsimians out of the goodness of our hearts. Our resources here are limited, and perforce must be allocated on behalf of those who need them most. Charitable donations, stipends for maintaining the integrity of the Reserva, and volunteers who aid in medical research cover the majority of our expenses. And there is the substantial annual royalty that accrues to the Ciudad from our assistance in ongoing research to develop a final AIDS vaccine. Still, there are always needs.” He eyed Cardenas evenly.
“We have a financial arrangement with these females, to see to their safety and security. The thought of breaching that agreement, even on behalf of the law outside the Reserva, troubles me.”
“It would be to their benefit. They can’t run and hide forever. Not even here.” It took Cardenas a moment to realize that Sorong was waiting to hear something else. “The NFP maintains a fund for compensating those who assist in police work. If you’re concerned about losing a source of income, I’m sure we can work something out so that all concerned parties are satisfied.”