Snow, the fine powder falling like microscopic feathers drifting in a slow horizontal pattern. The only disturbance in the spotted whiteness on the concrete path being footprints, Shelly's. She hurried across the zoo grounds, a backpack bouncing up and down on her shoulders. It was night, the only reason she could tell was the cold that was left in the absence of the sun. No stars were visible this deep in the city.
The wet sound of water lapping against the concrete beach alerted her that she was here. Fingers pressed against the glass barrier, her eyes scanned the habitat hungrily. A pair of golden eyes glistened in the distance, enclosed with black foliage. Shelly couldn’t lie, the creature was beautiful. A muscular auburn body overlaid with dark slashes like chocolate syrup that reached to the tender white underbelly hidden behind bulky legs spreading up its chin framing a delicate yet dangerous profile. Relief flooded her although she was never concerned for the safety of the creature, to begin with.
Grabbing her notebook and pencil from her backpack she leaned against a concrete pillar and began to draw. Her pencil glided over the paper capturing details of the animal that she would never be able to see herself. She felt herself drifting away with the snowflakes, her imagination, and creativity at the wheel. That was why she didn't hear the footsteps at first. These were different than hers. For starters, there were more than one, and they were heavier, uneven, clearly belonging to a man. The only reason she was signaled to their presence was the words that came out of one of their mouths.
"So this is the infamous Siberian tiger?"
Shelly froze mid-stroke.
In one fluid motion, she was around the other side of the pillar, breathing heavily. The wire of her spiral notebook dug into her chin as she squeezed it closer to her chest.
"Yes, this is our Tiger," Her breath hitched as she recognized the voice, Peter, the zoo owner.
What is going on?
"I'm going to make this quick," The voice said, "I'll give you 40k for the tiger,"
40k? For a second Shelly's mind swirled and flooded with images of diamonds, mansions, and fancy cars before the second half of his statement sunk in.
For the tiger.
Peter was selling the tiger. To who? Who was this man he was talking to?
"M-might I ask what you will do with it?" Peter asked.
There was a moment of silence, "Whatever the consumer wants,"
Poacher. Peter was selling the tiger to a poacher. Devastation hit Shelly like a wave. It took all of her self-control to not make a noise. Her head swiveled to glance at the cage to the right of her, and was reminded of how similar she and the tiger's situation was. They were both trapped, but for how long?
Seconds blurred into minutes which blurred into an hour. Nothing they said registered in Shelly's fried brain, except for one sentence;
"I'll get the tiger tomorrow,"
Hours later, only when the footsteps and voices were nothing more than a chilling memory, Shelly ran home. Her thoughts began to organize themselves into somewhat of a plan.
Marching into her job felt different today.
Marching into her job, felt like it had purpose today.
Snaking between the small animal exhibits, she emerged into the center of the zoo. It reminded her of a maze, full of tourist traps and dead ends. Good thing this was a maze she understood. As she walked the plan she had thought of last night unfolded in front of her. She noticed one missing piece, an accomplice.
"Shelly?" A hand touched her shoulder. Andrew Shelly thought. She let the hand turn her around and rip her focus away from her thoughts. A pair of dark brown eyes stared quizically at her, "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you," Accomplice.
He paused, "Don't you have a shift?"
"No," Shelly lied.
"Really? Well, I do..." This was the first time Shelly had noticed the group of wide-eyed five-year-olds following him around like ducks, "And you're here to help apparently, I'm glad what would I do without you?"
"Your job," Shelly gestured to the group. This is fine. Shelly convinced herself. I can wait for a little...
Andrew frowned. Shelly noticed that the rest of his face still glowed, only the corner of his lips were turned down to signify his annoyance, "Fine, alright kids so can anyone tell me what animal this is?"
Shelly compared her ability to tune out other people to the volume down button on a television remote. Within seconds she was alone with one thought, How do I save the tiger?
Then it hit her.
"Listen," Shelly suddenly placed a hand on his chest, "Andrew, I need to see you in the breakroom, right now,"
Andrew flushed, "Y-yeah okay, uh of course, but I'm in the middle of a tour?"
Shelly had already vanished, she could hear Andrew's voice behind him, and smiled, "As it turns out it's a Porcupine! Yeah, GOTTA RUN!"
The breakroom door swung open and hit the wall behind it with a bang. As soon as Shelly heard the sound of Andrew entering the room she closed the door behind him and wheeled around to face him.
"They're selling the tiger," Clearly this was not what Andrew expected, his face fell, "What?"
Shelly marched towards the cracked cabinets on the back wall, determination fueling her stride. Turning over a padlock on a locked cabinet in her hand, she suddenly ripped it down forcefully. With a crack, it was broken. Pocketing something from the inside of the cabinet she turned around and faced Andrew. He stared wide-eyed at her, his brown eyes full of wonder and one question, What the hell are you doing?
A sly smile crawled its way up her face and she turned around fingering a small pointed object in her hand, "I overheard Peter last night, he's selling it, to a poacher,"
Andrew flinched at the venom in her voice, "I'm...so sorry,"
"Don't apologize, just help me,"
She finally revealed the object she had cradled in her hands, Andrew's face went white with recognition. A collection of tranquilizer darts, the perfect amount to stun a full-grown tiger.
Andrew froze knowing exactly what she was going to do;
Steal the tiger.