This is the first of the excerpts I’m including from Brandwell Zoo that is from the humans’ point of view. Several human characters have already been introduced, and the Warden has previously been mentioned, but this is the first time she and Tristan appear.
With five o’clock only a few minutes away, a tall, ginger-haired woman in her mid forties prepared to leave her office. Her features generally resembled those of a statue rather than a person: her sharp, angular nose, high, prominent cheek bones, thin, pale lips and uniformly straight hands ending in long, claw-like nails made her look as if she had been carved out of a block of wood. The only hint of any life within the shell was a pair of small, deep blue eyes.
With great speed and accuracy that showed the twenty-three years she had been working in this office, the woman slotted all her pens into the black pencil cup in the far-right corner of her desk, placed her stapler next to it and cleared all the files and loose pieces of paper off the desk, putting them away in the drawers next to her right leg and the filing cabinet behind her; by now, she could have done it with her eyes closed.
Finally, with only a cursory glance at a glass dome containing a stuffed owl, she plucked a yellow duster off a hook on the wall and carefully ran it over the triangular nameplate standing at the front of her desk, throwing its engraved letters into sharp relief:
WARDEN J. H. RAMSBOTTOM
Just as the Warden was reaching for her coat, a series of three hard, heavy knocks on the glass of her door made her hand clench into a fist: she knew who was knocking, and would rather talk to anyone else at this time.
‘Come in,’ she said impatiently, still looking away from the door as she took her coat.
The door banged open and a tall, muscular man in a tight-fitting green polo shirt marched in: he had short, dark hair, a thin carpet of rough bristles on his face and strong hands with nine thick, sausage-like fingers; his right index finger was missing.
‘Tristan, it’s five o’clock,’ said the Warden. ‘This had better be important.’
‘Of course it’s important,’ Tristan said dismissively. ‘Any issue I bring up with you is always important.’
‘What is it this time?’ the Warden groaned, inspecting her fingernails. ‘I’m supposed to be meeting Max for dinner.’
‘Well, your boyfriend will just have to wait, won’t he? It won’t kill him if you’re a few minutes late.’
‘Don’t talk about Max like that,’ the Warden said through clenched teeth.
‘I need to talk to you about the conditions of the animals’ enclosures,’ Tristan pressed on. ‘And your decision to hire that lazy nephew of yours, Howard.’
‘Tristan, we’ve been through this before –’
‘No we haven’t. I’ve tried to talk about it several times, but you always think of some excuse to avoid it – usually something to do with your bloody boyfriend.’
‘Tristan, it’s five past five, Max is waiting and I’m going. Come back tomorrow.’
‘Tomorrow is Monday.’
‘So it is,’ said the Warden, putting on a falsely sympathetic smile as she picked up her handbag; she hadn’t forgotten that Monday was Tristan’s day off. ‘Well, you’ll just have to wait until Tuesday, won’t you? I’m sure that won’t kill you.’
She opened the door, still smiling at Tristan, and watched his brown eyes roll upwards before he strode out of the office. She waited until his footsteps became distant, then stepped out and locked the door. She was used to Tristan trying to complain about petty things that he exaggerated to make them sound more serious, but this time she thought he might actually have a point: Howard’s work ethic did indeed appear to be poor.
Checking that the door was locked, the Warden put the key in her handbag and set off to meet Max, deciding to talk to Howard tomorrow.