With hindsight, he should really have just called in sick. That, or taken the very strong suggestion of the Chief zoologist to just put on the damn galoshes and help out with the elephants.
As it was, Chip Southby, simian zoologist of almost one weeks seniority, found himself in the aquarium next to the piraņa tank. "You sure 'bout this ?" asked the Chief.
"Yep." said Chip, to the Chief's dismay and the general mirth of all the fish-heads who normally worked in the aquarium. "Fair enough." said the Chief. "Don't say I didn't give you every opportunity though." he left.
There was no way that Chip was going to put his back out mucking out three tons of elephant poo. He was an ape man. Well at least he had trained to be an ape man.
"We are a bit short staffed today Chip." the Chief had said, "And since you are so new here anyway, would you mind awfully helping out either with the elephants or in the aquarium ?" It was one of those 'take one for the team' moments that seemed to always happen to Chip. He couldn't really fault the Chief. He was new. Very, very, new, and so if they were short staffed anyway, he couldn't rightly expect them to send him off to the ape house again today where they would have to pair him up with someone who already knew all the ropes to make sure he didn't kill a gorilla by accident.
The choice had been simple. At least, it appeared simple. Behind the Chief had been an enormous wheel barrow, an unfeasibly large-headed shovel, and a pair of black rubber galoshes. That was for the elephants. For the aquarium there was a normal sized bucket, a mop, and a pair of quite snazzy green Crocs with all the little holes in them filled in with fish charms. "Fish." Chip had said, almost without having to give it all that much conscious thought.
"Thanks Chip." said the head fish-head, handing Chip a small disposable razor some twenty minutes later just as the Chief had left. He probably had a fancy title - Head Marine Biologist or something - but Chip was an ape man, so this guy had to be a fish-head. It was how things worked.
He took the razor, eyeing it dubiously. "What's this for?" he asked.
"Legs." said the fish-head, whose name turned out to be Bernard. "Normally Judith cleans the piraņa's tank out but she's off today. And tomorrow as well most likely. A small workplace injury. Nothing you need to concern yourself about."
"What about my legs ?" said Chip, never the brightest ape in the pride.
"Oh," said Bernard. "You'll want to shave your legs before you get into the tank. So the little nippers think you are Judith. The crocs help but you'd be ever so surprised just how clever the little blighters really are. I'm not saying you have to o'course. It is entirely up to you, but, well.... I really think you should." he pulled up his left trouser leg and showed off a shapely leg that would have made Claudia Schiffer jealous.
"You all have shaved legs?" Chip asked, a little incredulously.
"Most of us who go in the tank do, yeah." said Bernard. He handed Chip a can of shaving foam as well. "Doesn't have to be perfect but, well, as good as you can get it would be the best plan." said Bernard, "But we feed 'em first and let them get full and a but sleepy, then we find it's the best time to clean out the tank." He left Chip to go and shave his legs.
"Right." said Bernard a few minutes later. He had a large bucket of raw fish and a small trowel. "Let me just feed the nippers and then wait ten minutes until you see the last bit of action before going in, OK?"
'Action' seemed to be an odd word to use, but Chip found out almost immediately that it was the best one as soon as the first trowel-full of raw fish was thrown into the tank. It was like when he had seen pictures of people dynamite fishing. You throw the dynamite in, and it explodes and sends a torrent of water up in the air full of dead fish. Except here, there was no dynamite, just dead fish. Well, dead fish and live, hungry, piraņas in a feeding frenzy. Bernard could hardly keep the gleam out of his eye as he shoveled more and more fish into the tank and the water boiled and roiled away as the little nippers ate supper. Once the bucket was empty he wandered off. Away, but not too far. "Ten minutes." he told Chip again.
For all the apparent understaffing, there seemed to be an awful lot of other people in the aquarium not doing all that much, thought Chip. They were just hanging about really. Chatting away and glancing at him every so often.
He looked at his watch. Ten minutes had gone by. He needed to get in. Most of the chatting stopped, and there were some words of encouragement given. He put on the Crocs and grabbed his mop. He dipped his toe in the water. Nothing. A foot. Nothing. A leg. Nothing. He glanced around at the watchers, about to tell them how easy this was when he put his other leg in and something brushed past it. Then another something. He stopped, waited, and was about to carry on when something brushed past his big toe and bit it. Hard. Really, really hard indeed.
He was out of the tank, out of the aquarium, and running full pelt towards the elephant poo before the laughter behind him could be heard.