He was too young to die.

But there he was, all the same, locked in the National Zoo alone at night, facing ghastly death from the jaws or paws of giant man-mauling panda bears.

"It was terrible," said Csaky, a graphics designer and photographer who uses only his last name, "although now that I have settled down a little I can see it was hilarious, too.

"I wass hired to paint the company logo of Sky Courier on the black and white enameled crate that was going to carry the London panda, Chia-Chia, back to his home zoo. I was just hired by Sky Courier to paint the crate. They told me they were picking up the tab in line with their motto, 'We Deliver,' even if Chia-Chia didn't. [the panda did not mate with the National Zoo panda, as hoped. The zoo had intended to pay for shipping the London panda home, but when Sky Courier volunteered to pay for shipping the beast they accepted.]

"I was busy cutting templates and waiting for things to dry to sharpen up the edges -- listen, painting corporate logos is more complicated and harder work than you might think -- and I knew it was getting late but me worry? I heard plenty of voices so I knew they hadn't shut up and gone home. Then I didn't hear voices anymore and I said oh-oh.

"I was out in the paddock painting, but I didn't worry at all because I could get back in the panda building through a little passage that runs between the panda quarters in the building. It opens into the hallway that visitors use to see the pandas. So I went through the passage into the hall to the public entrance door and it was chained. I hadn't counted on that. All I had to do was go back in the passage and use the phone there . . ."

"The touchy thing was back in that passage. When I began to phone, the pandas started banging on their doors that open into the passage. I kept hearing them lunging against the doors. What if they gave way? I'd just be killed by those huge animals. I kept thinking what if the doors open automatically to let the pandas out to the paddock, and what if they open now?"

But he "called zoo security and they came with motorcycles and searchlights and sprung me," saved by the cavalry, as you might say, in the very nick. The zoo was open that night until 8, which is why Casaky was working the night of June 5.

June 5?

Right. Now it can be told.