I love lions, and my experiences with them over the years have been incredible. I decided to write this excerpt to give this ferocious beast what it’s due.
The lion’s rumbling snores vibrated through the dusty ground as Dr Katherine Halloway tiptoed across the enclosure towards the sleeping beast. A tufted red dart sticking out of its left flank showed how it had been felled. Its sloping hindquarters twitched as she approached, and flies clustered around its profusely drooling mouth. She knelt down beside its magnificent maned head and slid back one single eyelid to reveal a dark amber eye flecked with gold, glazed and unfocused. She let out a sigh of relief. It was unconscious.
Quickly and quietly, she went to work. Removing a slender syringe from its black velvet case, she plunged the wicked, shining tip into the creature’s powerfully muscled shoulder. Beads of blood appeared there, and she deftly wiped them away with a crumpled tissue. Stepping back to admire her handiwork, she stashed the now empty syringe and its container into her khaki shorts pocket and retreated behind the scratched and dirty glass into the safety of the viewing deck. She watched the dozy lion regain consciousness and clamber unsteadily to its paws. Spotting her, it gave a feeble snarl and attempted to roar. All that came out was a gurgling, throaty growl. She smiled in satisfaction as it tottered to the nearby spring and started lapping up the cool water. She was still watching the lion when a voice beside her right shoulder made her jump and turn.
“Beautiful beasts, aren’t they.” Said a man whom she hadn’t noticed standing there before. Her sceptical eyes travelled down his neatly ironed shirt, crisply pleated trousers, and shoes so shiny that you could see your reflection in them. “They are.” She responded, her voice laced with suspicion. “You don’t look like you work here.” She said abruptly.
He flashed her a perfect smile and she felt her dislike for him grow. Distrustfully, she averted her gaze and focused on the lion, who was now stretching luxuriously on a sun-warmed rock. “Apologies.” He said, slicking back his greasy hair. “The name’s Sam. Sam Tide. I work for the government.” He stuck out a sweaty, red hand. She didn’t take it.
“I see.” She said coldly.
Retracting the hand smoothly, he nodded and gazed back out at the clouds gathering in the dull sky. “What does that have to do with me?” she asked, finally looking at him.
“There have been a few, ah, incidents, on an island in Papua New Guinea. The government would like you to take a look at it.”
“For how much?”
“100, 000 dollars.” He responded, with a film star smile.
“I’ll think about it.” She replied, turning away from him and bending down to lace up her boots. She didn’t like this man. Didn’t like him at all. He tapped her on the shoulder, and she flinched at the touch. “What do you want?” she snapped. Undeterred, he pressed a small square of glossy white card into her palm, embellished with golden letters. “My business card.” He explained. She stared down at it. “My number’s on the back.” He nodded, gave her a half-smile, and pulled on a pair of gold-framed aviator sunglasses. “Nice to meet you, Dr Halloway.”
She stood there, in the same spot, as he left, the card clutched in her loose, unresponsive fingers.
Then she jingled her keys, stuffed the card in her bag, and stepped outside. It smelt sweet, like rain, and a few shafts of sunlight broke through the blanket of grey as she strode across the glimmering pavement and unlocked her battered blue-grey Jeep. She sat in the car, the engine humming, staring at the small row of numbers printed on the paper. Then she picked up her phone and dialled.