Cleanup Crew 

It's a nasty little creature with teeth; you just know it will use them. Want something cute and cuddly? Stick to Disney. The look in this thing's eyes makes my genitals grow cold.

And I'm here on an errand of mercy! When an animal lies half squashed in the center of the road, who do they call? The police. In other words, me.

These forest preserves along Lawrence Avenue and River Road may never qualify as wilderness, but don't tell that to the animals that live here. Deer by the dozens graze right up to the highway, raccoons cross into the city every night, foxes fix you with their yellow-eyed stare. Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, and skunks are common. And yes, opossums.

Someday we will all live in glass high rises and forget what wild creatures really are. We will no longer eat meat, we will no longer wear furs, and we will think of them as our friends. Fellow travelers on the spaceship earth. Whyever would a fellow traveler wish to draw back its lips and hiss out pure hatred at someone who has only come to help?

Of course, the only help I can give this guy is to kill him. When an animal's entire hindquarters are crushed, there is no nursing him back to health. You do what you got to do. It's as simple as that.

Or is it? Let me give you the picture. An officer of the Forest Preserve Police (that's me), stopped in the center of Lawrence Avenue, car door open, looking down at a creature which, if not cemented to the pavement by its own crushed flesh, would gladly tear off his face. This is not a chance encounter. The call came over the radio: "446, you have an animal problem at Lawrence and Dee." That's how they word these calls, "animal problem." Could be anything from King Kong on the loose to an opossum unwilling to die. The thing to remember, if you're a cop, is that you are expected--check that--required to remain on the scene until you have taken "the proper action." The proper action, as any cop can tell you, is usually defined only after you have done something else.

One thing is certain. We are not about to shoot this creature, not with traffic whizzing by in both directions. A bullet ricocheting around a populated area can't possibly be the proper action.

The accepted procedure is to call Animal Control. They will respond. They will take the proper action. See how simple things are?

Past experience says otherwise. Past experience says Animal Control is understaffed and always tied up somewhere 30 miles away. Past experience says waiting for Animal Control can be an all-day job.

The dispatcher is not encouraging. Animal Control, she advises, does not answer the telephone. A machine answers instead, and she has left the message. Left the message?

Let's have another look at the opossum. Maybe it will die by itself. No such luck. If hate alone can keep something alive, this creature will last a week. It bares its teeth, it hisses, its eyes flash courageously. No quitter here.

The commonsense thing to do, the only humane thing to do, is to get out of the squad and smack this little fellow square between the eyes with a PR 24. PR 24, that's one of those fancy police clubs they used to use on Hill Street Blues. You could drop a full-grown moose with a PR 24.

It's no easy thing to kill a warm-blooded living creature, not even a rat or mouse. Think about it. We live in a civilized world where somebody else chops up the meat. Bacon comes in plastic shrink wrap. Chicken in cardboard buckets with the Colonel's picture. And have you ever thought about what must happen to some perfectly harmless cow before you can break out the A-1? To look something square in the eye and then shoot it is bad enough. To club the poor thing to death, brrr. Besides, what if it doesn't work? I once hit a half-dead baby rabbit with my old wooden baton. Darned if it didn't leap eye-level into the air and turn several somersaults before it died. Who can tell what this thing would do if it got that chance?

The opossum hisses as if to say don't even think about it.

So it's a standoff. I wait for Animal Control, and the opossum waits for me to try something foolish.

A brown van pulls up. Joe Citizen, a good Joe, I can spot a good Joe everytime. "Why don't you shoot him?"

"Can't. If I discharge my weapon I'll have to put it in my report and the next thing I know somebody in Hobart, Indiana, will be claiming he was struck in the eye with a fragment, it's always an eye, and--"

"Yeah," Good Joe says. "I get the picture."

"And I can't leave him here. What if he causes, you know, an accident?"

"Well," Good Joe says. "Why don't you just back up and run over him?"

This idea has already crossed my mind. Also what might happen if some animal-loving citizen saw me doing it and called headquarters.

"I don't think I better."

"I'll do it," Good Joe says.

"Oh, I don't think you better. But you can help me. If you would? I've got to make a phone call. Could you stand by here till I get back?"

Good Joe catches on like a good Joe should. "Sure."

When one man understands what the other is thinking, further words are quite unnecessary. I take a last look at the opossum, put my squad in gear, and drive around the block. Blocks out in this part of the county are big, big. It takes almost ten minutes. When I return Good Joe is gone and the opossum--well doggone it, it seems somebody has run over that opossum again and this time done it right.

I'm feeling so immediately relieved that I take a ride over to the Indian Boundary maintenance office, which is where I generally go when I want to dope off. I can talk to Carl and Joe and Hank, whom I count as friends even if Hank is a Republican. No sooner do I walk in than he charges up and cries:

"I heard what that sonofabitch did!"

"What? Who?"

"That Animal Control guy!"

But sometimes the wisest thing is to say nothing, even to your friends.

"Someone called here! They saw it all."

"All?"

"After you left, that Animal Control guy just backed up his van and ran over the animal."

"The bastard!" I cry.

"I'll say! That lazy son of a bitch! I'm going to call his boss!"

And there's a Republican for you.

Call Animal Control? All he'll get is an answering machine.

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