Monkey Steal, Monkey Drool

JL Smither

The monkeys were too stealthy and too consistent for their behavior to be an accident. I’d watched them once or twice a week now, ever since I noticed the canopy of my double stroller covered in tiny orange handprints and my metal water bottle missing. My triplets never got tired of the zoo, so we’d been coming a lot this summer. And I was on to this monkey game.

I left Charlotte, Anne, and Emily to toddle around the narrow path under the trees where the langurs ran free. They’d be fine; the monkeys weren’t after children, and I’d only be gone a minute. I went back to the main thoroughfare, skirted around a food stand, and slipped into a gap in the bushes I’d noticed when we passed this way earlier. I followed the smell of cigarettes until I found the employee break area.

Two stoners sat in plastic chairs on a pavement slab against the back wall of a building. They wore cargo shorts and the matching t-shirts of seasonal zoo staff. Both of them gaped at me as I emerged from the bushes. On the ground between their chairs was a small collection of coins, cell phones, and wallets.

The one on the left stood. “Hey, uh, you’re not supposed to be here. This is for employees only.”

The one on the right stayed seated, and I noticed he had a bag of cheese doodles in his lap.

One of the langurs, black and fuzzy with a little potbelly, dropped from a tree branch above them. It scurried over to the pile on the ground and carefully added a silver business cardholder. Then it rushed onto the lap of the guy on the right and extended both hands, the international gesture for “gimme.”

I smiled.

“Dammit,” the one on the left muttered.

“Fellas,” I extended my hands too. “I hate to tell you that your little scam isn’t as subtle as you think it is.”

“I fucking told you, Brent,” the one on the right said. With orange-dusted fingers, he pulled a doodle out of the bag and gave it to the monkey.

The monkey popped the treat into its mouth. Then it hopped down to the ground and ran back into the trees.

“Now’s the time when you offer to cut me in,” I said.

The two exchanged glances.

“Obviously, your jobs are at risk,” I continued. “And I imagine the zoo will want to press charges as well, just to let all their guests know they don’t tolerate this kind of behavior.”

They looked at me, still silent.

“C’mon, Brent,” I said to the one on the left. “If the cops picked you up right now, how much weed would they find on you? And if they searched your car or room looking for stolen property, what else would they find?”

Brent went a little pale.

The other one rolled his eyes. “How much do you want?”

“40 percent. In cash.”

“No fucking way,” he said.

Brent’s eyes widened. “Mike, she’s gonna call the cops.”

Mike frowned.

Another monkey dropped down from the tree and added a wallet to the pile. Mike handed it a cheese doodle without taking his eyes off me, and it ran back toward the trees.

“We’re taking all the risk,” Mike said. “Five percent, and you come here to pick it up.”

“Twenty.”

“Ten.”

I pretended to consider this for a moment. “Deal.” I stuck out my hand.

As each of them shook it, I repeated their names and looked them in the eye. “Mike. Brent. Pleasure doing business with you. I’ll be back around this time next Tuesday.”

As I turned my back, I heard them whispering angrily to each other. I kept walking through the bushes, smirking.

I returned to the langur path and found my girls roughly where I’d left them. Charlotte was squatting on the ground investigating some squished bug, Anne had gone under the ropes and was trying to climb a tree, and Emily was sleeping in the stroller. “Ready, girls?” I called to them. “Time to go see the gorillas!”

Anne ran back to the double stroller and climbed in next to Emily. Charlotte ignored me, as usual, so I picked her up and carried her on my hip. She started crying about the bug, but I knew she’d forget about it once she saw the gorillas. With one hand, I steered the wide stroller down the path.

The gorillas lived in an open-air pit surrounded by a crowd of ogling families. I stopped with the stroller at the back of the group. Anne hopped out and squirmed through the people without a look back. Charlotte began her super-intense whine because she couldn’t see. That woke Emily, and she groggily climbed out of the stroller. As the people up front left, I made my way to the front, holding Emily’s hand with Charlotte on my hip.

I was about halfway through the crowd when I noticed Mike walking past. He smiled, but there was no warmth in it, and he moved on.

We finally made it up to the front, and Emily shoved her face between the bars of the railing. Charlotte stopped whining, and I set her down next to her sister. I looked around for Anne, but I was pinned in by taller people.

Before I could call for her, I heard Emily squeal with delight. “Look, Mommy! Anne gets to play!”

I turned back to the gorilla pit. At the bottom, I saw my curly-haired daughter standing near the wall in her strawberry-printed dress, with wide-eyed delight. The big silverback approached her at a slow, cautious lope.

Someone screamed, and maybe it was me. I scrambled over the fencing and almost got down to the other side before many rough adult hands from the crowd pulled me back. I kicked them and wrenched my shoulders. As they held my arms, I watched the silverback. I shouted out Anne's name. She looked up at me, panicked, and burst into tears.

A huge cheer went up from the crowd as Brent appeared in the pit with a tranquilizer gun. At the sound of the shot, the huge gorilla froze. He collapsed on the ground, maybe twenty feet away from my baby, mouth lolling open to reveal flat yellow teeth. With one arm, Brent picked up Anne, now red-faced, and carried her through a door in the wall.

I grabbed Emily and Charlotte so roughly that they began crying too. I shoved my way back through the crowd to the stroller. They got in, and I pushed it at a run toward the side of the exhibit where the door was.

Two zoo security guards were waiting for me. I shouted for Anne, but they wouldn’t let me see her. They said they needed to talk to me first and led us through a staff-only door. A woman spoke gently to Charlotte and Emily and took them into another room.

The security guards peppered me with staccato questions. Through the blur of my panic, I realized they were asking me the kind of questions you ask a Bad Parent. About abuse and neglect. Then Brent walked into the room.

I pointed at him. “He’s the one who put my baby in there!”

“Ma’am, he saved your daughter,” said a stern-faced security guard who I could tell was losing patience with me. “You owe him a huge debt of thanks.”

“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “He’s trying to get back at me.”

Brent wrinkled his brow with Oscar-worthy confusion. “I’ve never met her before,” he told the security guard.

“Ma’am, you’ve obviously been through a lot today…”

“No!” I shouted. “He and, uh, Mike, they have a secret scam. They trained the monkeys to steal things from people!”

The security officer looked at Brent, who mimicked pity. I wanted to punch his stupid face.

“We’ll look into that, ma’am. But today, he’s a hero. He saved your daughter’s life. Do you understand that?”

I didn't understand that. I started to argue. I may not be the World’s Best Parent, granted, but Brent was no savior either. The security guards offered to call the police, but I could tell they meant to call them about me, not about Brent and Mike. I bit my tongue.

They banned me from the zoo for a year. And they banned Emily, Charlotte, and Anne too.

It wasn’t until the four of us trudged out to the parking lot hours later—exhausted, hungry, and humiliated—that I noticed my wallet was missing.


About the Author

JL Smither has published short stories, poems, magazine articles, and a digital comic series and is currently working on a novel. By day, she writes content marketing material for a non-profit library cooperative. She holds a bachelor's degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from Florida State University and currently lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she belongs to the Naked Wordshop.