It isn’t all fluffy bunnies and puppy dogs in the animal control biz. Well, there are a lot of fluffy bunnies and bathtubs full of puppy dogs, but there’s a darker side, too, and not dark like some nice shade to get out of the sun before you catch a raging case of melanoma, but dark like you rolled snake eyes in the parents lottery and ended up chained in a closet until your fortieth birthday and only then are freed when a singing telegram goes horribly, horribly awry. But I digress. People tell me I digress a lot. It’s my worst trait, aside from bad teeth and a lop-sided case of male pattern baldness. Really lopsided. My right side, completely hairless, not even eyebrows. The left side…but I digress again.
Most of the time we’re rounding up stray animals, dogs and cats wandering over sidewalks that look like Appalachian hillbilly teeth. But we answer all sorts of complaints, barking dogs and spraying cats and sabotage-intent badgers. We do a whole line in missing animals. That’s the worse. Every one hates the missing animal beat. People crying their eyes out and hoping to get back Fido when you know he’s likely a red splot on a freeway somewhere. Dealing with that day in and day out breaks your heart. I’d rather shot up my grandmother with rabies and watch her foam at the mouth as she dies than be on the missing animal beat. But then, my grandmother used to hit me with a coat hanger so maybe that’s not a good example.
But I’d got in bad with the boss, and I was stuck with missing animals. My fault for sleeping with his wife, and then complaining to him she was no good in bed.
My latest case, however, the animal in question wasn’t missing. No, I could see it right there, in front of me, in its cage. Dead.
“I swear he was healthy,” the owner said, her eyes red from crying. She was a dame, the kind of dame who’d make an archbishop kick in a stained-glass window just to get away. But I didn’t hold that against her. Someone had loved her once. The best candidate was the now-deceased chincilla, especially since chincillas are notoriously loyal, and have equally notorious bad eyesight.
“These things happen, ma’am,” I said.
She grabbed the front of my shirt. “I’d just taken Chuckie to the vet last week. He was perfectly healthy.”
“Chincillas die, ma’am,” I told her as I tried to pry her fingers from my shirt. “Every day. So do dogs, cats, mice, horses, pigs, people, bluewhales, slime molds, redwoods…”
“But I saw these men lurking around the house. They looked very suspicious. I tried calling the police, the real police, you know…”
I sighed. “Yes, I know. Real police, not animal control.”
“…but a patrolman came by and said there was nothing to it. Then this morning…” She emitted a little sob, almost like a burp as if she had been drinking sob soda. “Chuckie was gone.” She wiped at her eyes. “I tried calling the police, the real police, but they put me on to you.”
“As I said ma’am…”
“Please, couldn’t you at least inspect the crime scene?”
I winced. Next thing you know, she’d want me to put yellow tape around the cage.
But as I lifted little Chuckie Chincilla’s body and ran my fingers through his luxirous hair, thinking what a nice sweater it would make, I discovered something.
A fresh injection mark. Hardly noticeable, unless you have the eyes of a hawk, or a brother who’s a heroin junkie.
I didn’t say anything to the owner, but talked her into letting me take little Chuckie away to our unit’s vet.
“You’re right,” Doc Yippitango said, stripping the latex gloves from his hands. “I almost missed it in the blood work, but there’s the signature of an extremely subtle and rare toxin, which according to Wikipedia is used almost exclusively by a secretive and murderous religious cult.”
“Which one is that, doc?” I asked, but he didn’t have time to answer, because he was busy rubbing at a mysterious injection mark on the back of his neck, and then falling down dead.
I asked my boss if I should call for an ambulance, but after checking the doc’s pulse, he shook his head. “He’s dead. And the bastard also slept with my wife. I really hate you guys.”
If only we had enough budget in the department for a connection to the internet, I thought, and I might be able to solve this mystery. Temporarily thwarted, I began to rifle through my desk, looking for appropriate paperwork form, when the phone rang.
“Consider this a warning, Mr. Jowseen,” said the gravely voice.
“It’s pronounced ‘Joe-sin,'” I said. “You know, there’s this guy over at the loading dock who pronounces it just like you.” I paused. “Is that you, Bob?”
There was a long silence on the other end of the line.
“Hello?” I said. “Can you hear me? Are you going through a tunnel?”
“This is a landline, dipwad,” Bob said, now in his normal voice. “Listen, I’m supposed to warn you off.”
“What’s this about?”
“The end of the world,” Bob intoned. You know, I always thought he was a bit odd. “We are keepers of the secret knowledge, that there have always been thirty-six sacred chinchillas, whose presence prevents the Old Ones from remaking the world in their image. For thousands of years we have sought to destroy them and hasten the rebirth of a new world, but now, with Google and Facebook, we can track down owners of chincillas much more easily.”
“Thousands of years?” I said. “Aren’t chincillas from South America?”
“I’m talking about the rare Arabian chincilla, whose identity was hidden from the world for this very reason.”
“Huh,” I said. “And I suppose I’m just suppose to let you kill these innocent chincillas? What did they ever do to you?”
“My sister had a chincilla when I was a boy,” Bob said. “The little bastard bit me, on the thumb. I still have the scar. It itches when the weather changes. The weather’s changing, Frank.”
“It’s pronounced ‘Mike’,” I said. “And I have an umbrella.”
“No umbrella can shield you from this storm. Once we kill the thirty-six sacred chincillas…”
I hung up.
And that’s how I ended up in this cave, far from civilization, stacked high with cages and chincilla chow. Someone has to keep the world safe. I guess it will be me.