Michael is reading the newspaper with his feet on the desk in the office of ENIGMA CONSULTANTS S. L. while Jacob tries to fit the pieces of a two-piece puzzle.
“Hey, Jacob, the newspaper says that strange phenomena occur in the Bronx Zoo. How about we take a look?”
“I was there just this Sunday with Maggie and I didn’t see anything strange.”
“Who is Maggie?”
“Your girlfriend’s girlfriend.”
“I didn’t want to tell you not to demoralize you, Michael, but Violette is a lesbian. She goes out with you just to save face. Her girlfriend, Maggie, goes out with me for the same reason.”
It’s worth remembering that we are in the thirties, when the majority of the population not only frowned upon homosexuality but was not even capable of conceiving such a phenomenon. When the Roosevelt administration launched a campaign to try to explain it, many Americans entered into a catatonic state and the campaign had to be aborted.
A few hours later Michael and Jacob are walking around the zoo in search of something out of the ordinary. “You see? Everything is normal” Jacob says. Michael doesn’t answer because he is focused on his thoughts. Suddenly an ostrich stares at him and says: “You should pay more attention.”
“The ostrich is right, Michael. You’re still thinking about Violette.”
“I still have to assimilate it.”
“She and Maggie live together in an apartment in Queens.”
Michael stops suddenly: “Hey, did an ostrich have spoken to us?”
“Yes, and it has given you good advice”
“Let’s go back”
They return to the ostrich enclosure.
“Do you remember which of them it was?”
“I think that one with the orange vest and the glasses.”
Michael tries to get the ostrich’s attention: “Hey, you, the one with the glasses!”
“Are you talking to me? My name is Carmine”
“Hi, Carmine. I am Michael and this is Jacob. Yesterday there was a brief news in the New York Times according to which the rumor has it that lately strange phenomena occur in the Bronx Zoo. What do you know about it?”
“Have you heard of the ‘omertà’?”
“You mean the Mafia’s code of silence?”
“That means that nobody will talk to you.”
“You are talking to me”
“But I’m not going to tell you anything. The omertà doesn’t forbid talking about time, say. By the way, it’s shaping up to be a lovely day to spend at the zoo. An ideal day to visit the new rhinoceros specimen, for example.”
“It’s okay, Carmine. Thank you anyway.”
The two friends continue their walk. “My gut tells me that the Mafia is involved in this matter” Michael says. “Maybe we should visit that rhinoceros.”
“Bah, I don’t like rhinos. I prefer monkeys, they are funnier.”
“Maybe the ostrich has given us a clue.”
A little later, both are next to the rhinoceros enclosure. Michael addresses the rhinoceros: “Hi. We have been told that you’ve been the last to arrive. If you tell us what is happening here we’ll give you a good bunch of herbs.”
“Puoi mettere le erbe nel culo. Io mangio pizza e pasta italiana. Ascolta. Ti dirò cosa vuoi sapere se prometti di dire a mia mama una cosa. Digli che non sono morto, che sono nello zoo e sono un rinoceronte. Mia mama vive a Brooklyn, 413 Degraw. Lo prometti?”
“Write down the address it said, Jacob. We have to tell its mother that it is at the zoo, in the rhinoceros enclosure.” Then turning to the rhino: “Do you speak our language?”
“Course. Do you promise to warn my mother?”
“Promised. Now tell us what you know.”
“The Lucchese family has brought a strega from Napoli. A strega is… Come si dice? A witch! Capisci? And so the boss saves money in ammunition because, when he wants to get rid of qualcuno, he tells the witch, who does a spell and turns humans into animals of any kind and they bring them to the zoo. Capisci?”
“Where can we find that strega?”
“Live right in front of my mom. Nella stessa casa.”
That same afternoon, we found Michael and Jacob perched on the roof of an old house. Through a skylight, they observe the movements of a thick woman with her hair in a bun and all dressed in black. Although the house does not lack electric light, the apartment is lit by randomly distributed candles. Drawn on the ground is a pentacle in whose center the witch is placed. She is holding in his hand a black and white photo of a dark-skinned man. She stares at the picture and pronounce a spell in an Italian dialect.
At the same moment, in the Little Italy neighborhood, Salvatore Mizziano goes strutting down the street when he suddenly becomes a platypus. Pedestrians turn away in horror, a woman shrieks, dogs bark at the intruder who is as surprised as they are. Immediately a truck stops at his side and its occupants board the platypus, which tries in vain to resist and does not stop proffering insults in Italian. Then, the skylight from which Michael and Jacob observe the strega break under their weight and both fall on the woman who, cushioning their fall, dies instantly crushed under the weight of the two men. At that precise moment, Mizziano recovers the human form, jumps out of the truck and runs screaming “Mamma mia!”. At the same time, visitors to the Bronx Zoo gawk at how many cages and animal enclosures are suddenly occupied by humans dressed with the typical bad taste of gangsters. An agile spider monkey that was up on the highest branch of a tree suddenly becomes a bulky man more like a gorilla. The branch breaks under his weight and the man collapses, just like an old woman who was throwing peanuts to the Spider monkey.