Annie Temple and the Bear

Helen Lehman

Annie Temple liked the bear at once. She thought, “My, that’s a handsome animal.”

She was standing at the fence which separated visitors from the grotto where the captive bears had to live. It isn’t known what the bear thought about Annie, but he stood up and looked at her.

The bear lived in a grotto with two others. They were brown bears, maligned by the name ‘grizzly.’ The grotto had high cement walls, extending to the edge of a moat. The moat kept people and bears separate. Its walls had been painted to look like cliffs. They didn’t look like cliffs. They looked like painted walls.

There was a pool in the grotto. The pool was too small for the bears to swim in, but they seemed to enjoy splashing in it.

Annie had come to the zoo to visit her niece, Eliza Thomas. Eliza was a veterinary technician. She worked with Dr. Sam Ennis. The lab assistant was Rob. They took care of hooved animals and primates.

Annie was the widow of Herb Temple. They were genealogists. They traced family trees back into the fog of the distant past. Herb said to prospective clients, “If we don’t find a king’s mistress or a famous buccaneer among your antecedents, sue us.” Annie missed Herb.

Gazing at the gorgeous bear, Annie told him, “You remind me of my late husband, so I’ll call you Herb. Is it terrible, being confined in there, and having people stare at you, Herb?”

She ignored the curious looks from other visitors.

The charitable ones thought, “She must be a researcher, finding out if bears can talk.” Others thought, “Look at that crazy woman, talking to a bear.”

Annie went to the laboratory where Eliza worked. She thought, “It’s neat and squeaky clean, as it should be.” She noticed a stainless steel operating table.

Eliza said, “Aunt Annie, I’d like you to meet Dr. Sam Ennis. Dr. Ennis, Mrs. Temple.” Annie noticed that Dr. Ennis was as good looking as the bear. “And this is our lab assistant, Rob.”

Dr. Ennis said, “Eliza’s being so formal. My name’s Sam.” He reached to shake hands.

“I’m Annie. That’s such a lovely gibbon in that cage. He’s the color of a newly minted doubloon.”

Rob said, “His name’s Golden Boy. He’s a favorite of ours. He had a hip replacement.”

Annie walked over to his cage. She said, “Hello, Golden Boy.” Then she asked, “Does he sing?”

Sam answered, “Yes, certainly he sings. But not here, not away from his clan.”

Tony Alonso came into the lab.. Tony had flashy good looks. He did publicity for the zoo. Tony grinned at Eliza, “Want to go to lunch, lovely?”

Sam arched his back like an indignant cat. “Eliza and her aunt are having lunch with me.”

Tony pretended surprise, “Oh, it’s you, Ennis. I didn’t see you there.”

To Annie the men stood like tomcats, facing each other, then looking away in disgust, then staring again,cats do this mime just before they tangle in earnest.

Eliza stepped between them. She said, “Yes, my aunt and I will lunch with Sam. Thanks anyway, Tony.”

“OK, please yourself. I’m sure you and Ennis do please yourselves.”

“Don’t talk to Eliza like that!” Sam stepped around Eliza, making a fist.

Eliza soothed him, “Oh, Sam, Tony’s a paper tiger. His babble is worse than his bite.”

Annie, Eliza and Sam had lunch in a restaurant on the grounds of the zoo. Its décor was jungle kitsch. Cartoonish zebras, okapis and leopards stood among papier mache palm trees of a bilious green. However, the food was good.

Sam told Annie, “Veterinary medicine has learned from medicine for people. We learned the technique to replace his hip. I’m grateful.”

Eliza put her arm around Sam’s shoulder, and said, “Sam and I are an item, Aunty. We’re in love.”

“Surprise, surprise."

Sam and Eliza went from lunch with Annie to Sam’s house for ‘afternoon delights’. Sam owned a house near the zoo. It was in an area that had once been desirable, but was marred by messy pepper trees, whose roots lifted and crumpled the sidewalks.

They undressed each other leisurely, not with the frantic haste of their first encounters. Sam gasped at the sight of Eliza’s beautiful breasts. He kissed and fondled her nipples. She reached for his erection, and said, “What shall we do with this?”

Annie had gone to see the bear, after lunch. He trundled to the edge of the moat when he saw her.

She said , “Hello, Herb.” She smiled at a kid, who stared at her, baffled by the woman talking to a bear.

Annie told the bear, “I’m watching the dynamics of a triangle, Herb. Usually triangles intrigue me, but this one seems sinister. I think that Alonso is a goniff. She looked around her at the kibitzers. “Gotta go now, Herb. The natives are getting restless.”

Tony Alonso had an office in an ornate, Spanish style building on the grounds of the zoo. He had taken his office manager, Shelly Davis, to lunch, in lieu of Eliza. Now they were at Tony’s desk.

Shelly thought Tony was the handsomest, most intelligent man in those parts. Tony concurred with that opinion. He took advantage of Shelly’s infatuation by bedding her. They used a day bed in a back room behind Shelly’s office.

Annie and Herb Temple had been patrons of the arts. They also gave to causes they thought worthy. The zoo was one of those causes.. Tony Alonso gave them a certificate. He didn’t remember. To be fair, Annie didn’t remember him either.

Annie walked quickly from the parking lot to the bear canyon. It was a Monday morning, so there weren’t a lot of nosy people to wonder why the woman wanted to talk with a bear.

“Hello, Herb. I had quite a day yesterday. I lunched with Eliza and Dr. Sam. They are in love. I told you so. Dr. Sam is a mensch! That Alonso wanted Eliza to go to lunch with him. He and Sam crossed swords over it. Oh, Herb, a man in a uniform that says Zoo on it has come to stare at me. Guess I’d better go. Bye, Herb.”

Tony Alonso stood in the bushes outside Dr. Ennis’s lab, watching the door. He saw Ennis come out. Then Tony made his move. He knocked. Eliza came to the door. Tony pushed it open.

“Hello Eliza.”

“Dr. Sam isn’t here, Tony.”

“I don’t want to see him. I want to see you.”


“Come on, Eliza! I wanted to take you to lunch---I’ll settle for dinner and drinks tonight.”

“No, Tony. I won’t go out with you tonight. I won’t go out with you ever.”

“You little bitch!” Tony grabbed Eliza roughly. She beat his back with her fists.

Rob, the lab assistant, walked through the back door. “Get away from her, you crazy bastard!”

Golden Boy jumped around in his cage, huffing as though he wanted to get into the action. Gibbons don’t beat their chests like gorillas, but he looked like he would have, were he a different species.

Tony picked himself up, straightened his clothes, and tried to save face.

Eliza texted Annie, who was at the bear grotto. She told the bear an only slightly heightened version of Eliza’s story. She didn’t care if she was overheard.

Annie said, “I knew, Herb. I just knew that goniff was trouble. Wait till you what he had the chutzpa to do.”

Tony Alonso was dead.

He had been given a tranquilizer meant for horses. Shelly Davis knew it was used by Dr. Ennis on zebras and antelope.

Shelly Davis called 911. When the police came, she took the lieutenant to the room behind her office, where Tony’s body lay on the day bed.

She sobbed, ‘Tony—I mean Mr. Alonso—came in to my office. He seemed to be drunk, but it was only three in the afternoon.” Through tears, she went on, “He staggered in here, and collapsed on the bed. I was frightened….I called his name…no answer. I shook his shoulder. Oh God, Tony, don’t be dead!”

Lieutenant John Fargo asked gently, “Who are you, please?”

“The office manager, Shelly Davis.”

“Ms. Davis, this is a crime scene. I’ m going to have it cordoned off. My sergeant will bring you what you need from home, if you give him a key.”

The people who worked at the zoo saw that Tony’s office was closed for police inspection. They got together to gossip about it.

 “Did you hear about the fight at Sam’s lab? Tony tried it on with Eliza and….”

Lieutenant Fargo interviewed Dr. Ennis, Eliza and Rob.

“Mr. Alonso was killed by the injection of a horse tranquilizer. You use it for zebras and antelope, Dr. Ennis.”

Rob asked, “What’s its name?”

“My forensics guy says it’s called equinomorph.”

Dr. Ennis frowned. “Alonso was a horse’s ass, but I only use it for my hooved patients.”

Eliza called Annie.

“You and Uncle Herb found dead ancestors---I want you to find someone---the murderer. Be a detective, Auntie.”

“What if I find evidence that Sam did it?”

“I would get a good lawyer.”

“You don’t think the police are competent?”

“Lieutenant Fargo is OK. He thinks he’s funny, though.”

“Tell him what I’m doing. I don’t want to sneak around.”

 “You’ll do it, then? Thank you, thank you, Aunty!” Eliza’s voice was full of relief.

“Who could have done this, who, besides you, Sam and Rob could get that tranquilizer?”

“Well, somebody could have been in the lab, when the meds cupboard was open. We don’t leave it open often, though.”

Annie told the bear, “I went to see Lieutenant Fargo, Herb. He gave me the spiel about amateurs endangering themselves by messing in police business. Who’s messing? I’m just helping.”

Rob whistled as he gave Golden Boy his breakfast of fruit and monkey chow. “Here you go, handsome.” he said. He looked over, to see Lieutenant Fargo in the doorway.

“Robert Hackman, you’re under arrest, for the murder of Anthony Alonso.”

Annie looked around the room. It was a bleak chamber, in which inmates and visitors were allowed to meet. They sat at a long grey table, in chairs which made no concession to comfort.

Rob said, “I didn’t kill him. Somebody beat me to it.”

Annie asked Rob, “Who did you have in the lab with you, just before Alonso was killed?”

“I don’t want to tell you. She had nothing to do with his death, but you won’t believe that.”

“You’re being charged with murder, do you think you have a choice?”

 Annie said, “What an awful place! Poor Rob. Let’s get him out of there fast!”

She and Elizawere on the patio of the zoo café. It was still early afternoon. Annie had a fruit salad, like Golden Boy. She also had a glass of pinot grigio, not like Golden Boy. She said, “I must go see Shelly Davis, but first I’ll visit a friend of mone.”.”

Before she went to see the bear, she knew it was her obligation to update Lieutenant Fargo. He told her, “Be careful, Mrs. Temple. A lot of people know what you’re doing. The killer might try to stop you.”

Annie knew that Shelly Davis had been allowed to go home, so she showed up at the apartment. She told Shelly that she was there to commiserate with her.

“I met Mr. Alonso only once, but he made an impression on me.” She didn’t say what kind of impression.

“Thank you for your sympathy, Mrs. Temple. I think you know that I wasn’t just Tony’s office manager. I’m through with men. I was through with Tony.”

“How did you get the horse tranquilizer, Shelly?”

“Tony had it. There’s a cupboard in the room behind my office. The stuff was in there. Tony said he had it ‘just in case.’ He meant to use it on a jealous lover, or an irate husband. I think my using it on him is poetic justice”. Then Shelly cried out,”I don’t want to die in prison!” She took the hypodermic needle she had used to jab Tony from the folds of her tunic. She tried to stab her am with it.

“No.” Annie gave Shelly a bear hug, keeping her from stabbing herself.

Annie was at the bear grotto again. She wanted to tell Herb what had happened.

“I did what you would have done Herb. I hugged her.” Then she said , “I have to go now, Herb. Bye.” She gave the bear a rueful little wave.