A Thief at the National Zoo

This is for my niece, Desiree Roy.

—R.R.

1
The Tiger’s Eye

“Here they are,” Dirk, the zookeeper, said. He placed a small tiger cub in KC’s lap and handed another cub to Marshall, KC’s best friend. “They’ve just eaten, so they should fall asleep.”

“Thank you,” KC said. Then she sneezed. Twice.

“Are you allergic to cats?” Dirk asked KC. He was tall and his long arms were tanned. He wore a short-sleeved shirt and cargo pants with zippered pockets. A thin silver bracelet dangled around one wrist.

KC sneezed again. “No, we have three cats at home and they never make me
sneeze,” she said. “But maybe I’m allergic to tigers!”

Dirk laughed. “See you in twenty minutes,” he said. “I need to check on mama tiger.” He left the room and closed the door.

The tiger cub on KC’s lap opened its mouth and yawned. The two-month-old Sumatran tiger was the size of one of KC’s cats.

“You are so cute!” KC said, tickling the drowsy tiger’s belly.

“Gee, thanks, KC. You’re kind of cute, too,” said Marshall with a grin.

“Not you!” KC said. “I mean little Lucy here.”

“Lucy is a dumb name for a tiger,” Marshall commented. “I mean, I guess it’s okay for a tiny cub. But can you see
calling a five-hundred-pound tiger Lucy?”

KC Corcoran and Marshall Li were at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Their friend Dr. Phillip Tutu was the zoo’s head veterinarian. He had invited them to play with the baby Sumatran tigers in a small room across from the tiger enclosure.

“Ricky is a pretty silly name, too,” KC said. Lucy’s twin brother, Ricky, was curled up on Marshall’s lap. “But in a little while they’ll get their real names.”

“Tell me again about this party tonight,” Marshall said.

“A rich family from China is coming here to donate a lot of money to the zoo to help the tigers,” KC said. “They have a daughter who’s twelve. She gets to pick names for the tigers.”

“Cool. Maybe she’ll name this little guy Fang,” Marshall said.

KC shook her head. “The president said she’s giving them special Sumatran names,” she said. KC’s stepfather, Zachary Thornton, was the President of the United States. She lived in the White House with him and her mom.

Marshall looked at the sleeping tiger cub in his lap. “Where is Sumatra, anyway?” he asked.

“Somewhere in Indonesia. It’s part of Asia,” KC said. “I found it on the big map in my room.”

The door opened again and Dr. Tutu stepped inside. He wore a loose shirt and crisp white pants. He was carrying a leather briefcase in one hand and a half-eaten apple in the other.

“How are you two getting along with these famous babies?” he asked. He set his briefcase on the floor.

“Fine,” KC said. “So far all they want to do is sleep.”

Dr. Tutu laughed. “You’re lucky,” he said. “When they wake up, they’ll be running all over the place.”

Dr. Tutu moved aside. A girl with dark hair was standing behind him. “KC and Marshall, say hello to Sunwoo Chu,” he said. “All the way from China.”

The girl was a little bit taller than KC. She wore a T-shirt, dark blue shorts, and sandals on her feet.

“Hello, I am happy to meet you,” Sunwoo said. She sat on the floor next to KC. “My father and your stepfather are having a meeting at the White House
today. They will talk about how to help save tigers from extinction.”

Marshall gave Ricky a pat on the head. “It’s hard to think of the world with no tigers,” he said.

“My father and President Thornton are trying to find ways to make the people happy, and the tigers as well,” Sunwoo said. “Perhaps the Tigers Eye will bring luck.”

“What’s the Tiger’s Eye?” KC asked.

“A special magic jewel,” answered Sunwoo. She nodded at the baby tigers. “May I hold one, please?”

“Sure.” Marshall transferred Ricky to Sunwoo’s lap. The little cub opened its eyes, then let out a small growl.

“Oh, I’m sorry I disturbed your nap!” Sunwoo said.

The tiger growled again, making the kids laugh.

“Just a few more minutes,” Dr. Tutu said. He picked up his briefcase and walked toward the door. “We have to return Ricky and Lucy to their mama across the hall.”

“Um, what’s this magic jewel?” asked Marshall after Dr. Tutu, chomping on his apple, had left the room.

Sunwoo stroked the tigers belly. “It is a legend in my country,” she said. “Two thousand years ago, a Chinese boy was digging roots to help feed his hungry brothers and sisters. Their parents had died, and the children were alone. Buried in the dirt beneath a tree, he discovered a smooth ball of amber. The amber was the color of light tea, and the boy could
see something inside. It was an emerald.”

“What’s amber?” Marshall asked.

“It is like sap that comes from a pine tree,” Sunwoo said. “Over time, it hardens like plastic.”

“So this emerald got covered in this sap stuff, then it hardened?” KC asked.

Sunwoo nodded. “But it’s very, very rare,” she said. “No one thought emeralds and amber came from the same place. And neither is found in China. It’s a mystery. Or maybe the legend is not true.” Sunwoo shrugged.

“How big is this Tiger’s Eye?” Marshall asked Sunwoo.

She made a circle with her fingers. “Like a peach,” she said. “But inside, instead of the pit, there is an emerald.”

“Cool!” Marshall said.

“The boy raced home with the beautiful thing he had found,” Sunwoo went on. “The people in his town came to see the emerald. When they saw how poor and sick the children were, they brought food and money. His brothers and sisters became strong and healthy. The boy himself grew up to become the mayor of his village. He made sure that no one ever went hungry again. He told everyone that he owed his good fortune to the Tigers Eye emerald.”

“What happened to the emerald?” Marshall asked.

“It has been passed down from generation to generation,” Sunwoo said. “It has always brought health and luck. The premier of China gave the Tiger’s Eye to my father to bring here. He will lend it to the
zoo for one year. It will bring good luck to your people, but especially to the tigers.”

The door opened and Dirk came in. He was talking to someone on a walkie-talkie. He finished and clipped the device to his belt. “Time for them to go back,” he said.

KC placed Lucy in Dirk’s hand. She sneezed. Dirk scooped up Ricky in his other hand.

“The cubs are beautiful,” Sunwoo said as Dirk took them away. “I have perfect names for them! Now I must leave. My mother and father are waiting to take me sightseeing.”

“We have to get home, too,” KC said.

The kids left the room. They were in a long hallway with a wall on one side and tall, wide doors on the other.

“Excuse me, but I don’t know the way,”
Sunwoo said. “Dr. Tutu brought me here, but I was not paying attention.”

“Well show you,” KC said. “This hallway runs under the spaces where the lions and tigers live.”

“What’s in there?” Sunwoo asked. A door stood directly across from the room they’d just left. A number 3 was painted on the door, below a small window.

“Take a look,” Marshall said.

Sunwoo stood on her tiptoes and peeked through the thick glass window. “Goodness, this is where the tigers live!” she cried, jumping away from the door.

Marshall laughed. “Don’t worry, it’s locked,” he said. He put his hand on the knob and twisted. The door didn’t budge.

The three kids walked down the long passageway. They passed several more
doors, each with a window and a number painted in black. At the end, Marshall opened a normal-looking door into the public part of the zoo.

“Where are you staying?” KC asked. “We can walk you back to your hotel.”

“Thank you, but my fathers driver is waiting out front.” She looked around and giggled. “Where is the front?”

“Follow me!” Marshall said. He led them past the tiger enclosure. They stopped to look at the huge mother tiger. She was lying next to her twin cubs.

“Can you believe little Lucy and Ricky will grow up to look like that?” Marshall said.

They watched the tiger and her cubs for a few more minutes, then walked down paths past other animal exhibits to a
gate. “Is this where you came in?” KC asked.

“I think so,” Sunwoo said. “Oh, there’s my driver!”

Sunwoo shook hands with KC and Marshall. “I will see you tonight!” she said.

Sunwoo passed through the gate and walked up to a white stretch limo. The driver, dressed in a dark suit, opened the rear door for her.

KC and Marshall watched the stretch limo leave.

“Wish we had one of those,” Marshall said.

“Not me. I like riding on the Metro trains,” KC said. She pulled her subway ticket out of a pocket. “And that’s where we have to go now. We have a party to get ready for!”

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