For this installment of The Literature Corner, I present a heart-warming tale of animals and the police. It has been said that police work is 98% boredom and 2% sheer terror. This is essentially true, but there is also humor to be had. Police officers learn that life is truly stranger than fiction. Mark Twain was correct when he said “Fiction is obliged to stick with possibilities; truth isn’t.” Most police officers will spend an entire career without having to fire their weapon in the line of duty. Even fewer will find themselves face to face with a vulture in a suburban bedroom.
It was 0300 and because the call volume slowed down, I had the rare luxury of sitting in the office working on a DUI report rather than doing it somewhere on the street in my car when my shift supervisor, Sgt. Steve Kirshner, poked his head in and asked: “what do you know about vultures?”
“Vultures? You mean the fly-around-up-in-the-sky-in-westerns type vultures?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he replied, grimacing. W.C. Fields-like, Kirshner didn’t like kids or animals and he didn’t care that much for adults either.
“A little, I guess. Why do you ask?”
“There’s one caught in a house out west and we gotta go get it out.” Kirschner wasn’t happy about it at all.
“Why isn’t Animal Control handling this?” I asked.
“Called ‘em. They said they have no idea what to do with a vulture;” he replied in frustration, “said they don’t have the right equipment. They wouldn’t come out.”
I started laughing. “Figures. OK, let’s go, but we’ll have to stop and pick up a vulture capture kit.” This was going to be good!
“A vulture capture kit?”
“Yeah. We’ll take my mini-Blazer and stop by the loading dock at Timmon’s Furniture downtown. We’ll head through the alley.” At Timmon’s I quickly fabricated and loaded our kit and we headed west. Kirschner filled in as many details as he knew, and as he did, I laughed until I cried…
It was 0230 and John Williams III couldn’t sleep. He was restless and thirsty. In his underwear, he stumbled out of bed and padded sleepily into the kitchen, closing his eyes too late against the sudden brilliance of the light bulb inside the fridge. He fumbled for the orange juice, closed the door and was just beginning to take a drink when the glass screen door of the second floor balcony in the living room only 15 feet away shattered with a resounding crash. The intruder, entangled in the curtains, was noisily thrashing about.
Williams, adrenaline suddenly kicking in, his night vision compromised, his chest coated with cold orange juice, grabbed a nearby broom and began to swing it wildly back and forth, yelling obscenities at the top of his lungs: “You **&^%%!!” I’m gonna kick your **&&^^$$3#! ARGGGGHHH!!! HELP! HELP!”
It only took a few moments for the other sleepy but alarmed residents of the Williams household to stumble out of bed and rush to the living room where someone flipped on the lights, stopping Williams in mid-swing/cuss. There was nothing in front of him! Surprised, he frantically looked all around, the broom cocked and ready to deliver a death sweep.
Everyone’s eyes simultaneously locked on the intruder at Williams’ feet. Everyone simultaneously screamed “ AAAAAAH!” The intruder, a terrified vulture who had just managed to disentangle himself from the curtains, immediately responded “BLEARGGHHHH!” and hacked a partially digested rabbit carcass onto the clean carpet.
Doing what vultures do, the panicked bird tried to fly out of there, but ended up circling the living room. The Williams clan, equally panicked by the huge bird noisily flapping and squawking around the room, convinced that it was about to swoop down and attack, ran in circles, screaming wildly. Eventually, the vulture flew down a hallway,landed and hopped through the open door of a bedroom. Someone gathered the presence of mind to slam the door shut and made a panicky 911 call.
“I hate *&%%$#** animals!” Kirschner muttered in fine W.C. Fields style, “##*$%&^**$ vulture!”
I wiped away tears. The closer we came to the residence, the more agitated Kirschner became. When we pulled into the driveway, he was sweating and swearing under his breath. It was all I could do to keep from doubling over with laughter. He really didn’t want to go into the house, but as Navy SEAL Dick Marchinko says, “you don’t gotta like it; you just gotta do it.”
One of our patrol cars was already there. “Who’s handling this?” I asked.
“Big Eagle,” Kirschner grumbled, too upset to appreciate the irony.
I almost fell over. Could it be more perfect? Tim Big Eagle handling a vulture call!
We knocked on the door and Big Eagle answered, a big grin on his face. The family was sitting in the living room. They looked absolutely shell shocked. The screen door and the curtains were shredded and an incredibly vile stench permeated the room.
“Wow! What’s the smell?” I asked Big Eagle.
He grinned and told me the whole story including the rabbit hacking. “They already cleaned up the glass–and the rabbit–but it didn’t help the smell much.”
“No kidding,” I replied. “Where’s the vulture?”
“End of the hallway,” Big Eagle gestured, “bedroom on the right.”
I cracked the door and looked in. Sure enough, there he was on the floor against the far wall. His head cocked to one side at the sight of me, and his little beady black vulture eyes peered at me curiously. He looked just like a vulture was supposed to look. He was a big bird, almost three feet high, and handsome in a raggedy, efficient sort of way. I guess it was a he. I wasn’t going to get close enough to check, and I had no idea how to tell the difference anyway. I closed the door and walked back to the living room.
“Well, it’s a vulture all right,” I said deadpan in my best Joe Friday, just-give-me-the-facts, Ma’am, voice. Big Eagle nodded, desperately trying to suppress a grin.
“What are you going to do?” A pretty and very distraught woman in a nightgown asked.
“Not to worry Ma’am,” I said jauntily in my best Lone Ranger tone. “We brought our vulture capture kit. I’ll go get it.” As I went out the front door, I could hear Big Eagle assuring the Williams family that I knew what I was doing, even though he had no idea whether I did or not. When I returned with the kit–a large cardboard box and a flat piece of cardboard big enough to cover the open end of the box–Big Eagle’s face fell. He was certain I didn’t have a clue! The family was astonished. Apparently they were expecting some sort of hi-tech, nuclear powered, laser night vision, Ghost Busters device. After all, didn’t the police handle this sort of thing all the time?
I huddled with Big Eagle and Kirschner. “Okay, we’ll go into the room and shut the door. I’ll put the box over the vulture, we’ll slide the piece of cardboard underneath it, carry him outside and let him go,” I said.
“I ain’t goin’ in there!” Kirschner exclaimed.
“Neither am I,” Big Eagle added, shaking his head emphatically.
I broke up. Big Eagle wasn’t nearly as freaked out as Kirschner, but he wasn’t wild about confronting the vulture either. Kirschner ordered Big Eagle to do it, and we gathered up the kit. Our procession down the hallway consisted of me, then Big Eagle–each of us carrying a part of the capture kit–followed by Kirschner, and the entire family timidly keeping a discrete distance.
“OK Sarge. Close the door when we get in. You just keep an eye on the door and we’ll yell when we’re ready for you to open it,” I said.
Kirschner nodded nervously; “%$##@@*& vulture,” he muttered.
I opened the door. The vulture was still where I last saw him. He wasn’t nearly as agitated as Kirschner and Big Eagle. We slipped into the room and Kirschner closed the door with a bang. Big Eagle grabbed the doorknob and found that Kirschner was holding it shut!
“Why don’t you pick up that blanket on the floor? You might get a chance to toss it over him,” I said. Big Eagle gladly grabbed it, holding it and the piece of flat cardboard defensively in front of him. The bedroom wasn’t very big and there was a large waterbed frame in pieces on the floor. That complicated things. There were only two spots with enough open floor space to allow us to put the box over the vulture and slide the piece of cardboard underneath, and he wasn’t in either of them.
I approached the bird, holding the box in front of me, and he suddenly and noisily flapped up, landing on the other side of the room. Big Eagle let out a gasp and recoiled, and I could hear everyone in the hallway tittering nervously.
“He’s too close to that chair. You lift the waterbed headboard out of the way, and I’ll be able to put the box on him,” I said to Big Eagle. He wasn’t anxious to drop the relative protection of the blanket and cardboard, but he reluctantly complied and took hold of the heavy wooden headboard at my feet. “OK; lift it now,” I said.
When Big Eagle lifted the headboard, the startled vulture flapped into the air again. Big Eagle freaked and dropped the headboard, right on my shins! I yelled in surprise, and Kirschner and the family, thinking that the vulture was eating us, began to yell too. Kirschner renewed his grip on the doorknob. Explosives wouldn’t have dislodged him.
The vulture settled in an open spot by the door. I limped over, cursing under my breath, and quickly set the box down, neatly covering him. Big Eagle handed me the flat piece of cardboard and I gently slid it under the box. The vulture cooperated, hopping onto the cardboard sheet. As I suspected, the darkness in the box calmed him and he didn’t move or make a sound.
It took us a little while to convince Kirschner to release the doorknob. Evidently he thought the vulture had eaten us and was mimicking our voices, tricking him into opening the door(!?) so he could eat him too! Finally, he relented and at the sight of the box, retreated to the living room.
Big Eagle and I carried the box down the hallway, scattering the Williams family, and made our way to the back yard. Big Eagle scampered to a safe distance, and I lifted the box away. The vulture looked over his little vulture shoulder, gave me a baleful, beady-eyed vulture stare and took off. As he slowly gained altitude, his huge wings flapped noisily and loudly, forcefully beating the air. He flew between two trees, brushing the branches, and was gone. I couldn’t help myself. I broke into the first verse of “Born Free:”
As free as the wind blows,
As free as the grass grooooowwwws,
Born freee to follow your heart!”
Big Eagle looked at me as if I just arrived from Mars and shook his head. Some people have no sense of irony.
We walked back through the house carrying the capture kit. The family thanked us profusely, and I couldn’t keep from laughing as I acknowledged their thanks and left, glad the smell was in their home and not mine. It took all my strength not to say, “My job here is done. I’m needed elsewhere now,” like the Lone Ranger (Who was that masked man?).
Big Eagle met me later and told me that as I was leaving, laughing myself silly, Williams told him, “That officer sure enjoys his work!”
So I did; so I did.