A Lion in Summer
by Gary Clifton
“Delta 129.” The dispatcher’s soft voice jolted Gonzales to full attention.
The 27-year veteran stuffed his smoothie in the console holder and picked up the microphone. “Delta 129.”
“Vicious animal attack, 4747 Riverdale. Respond code three. EMT’s and animal control are in route.”
“What kind of animal?” He flipped on his lights and siren and U-turned toward Riverdale.
“Delta 129, the male caller is hysterical, but as well as I can tell he’s saying he’s trapped in a closet by a lion that chased him in from his driveway. Checking with the zoo now to see if they’ve lost a lion.”
Gonzales, who’d long since given up on thinking he’d seen it all, rolled up to the address, an affluent residence amidst many similar ones. An ambulance was parked at curbside. Inside the back fence, two EMT’s hovered, peering through patio French door glass. The sounds of additional sirens approaching drifted in.
Clearly visible through the door, a full-grown male lion stood, sniffing at the bottom of a pantry door.
“You gonna shoot it, Gonzales?” asked a firefighter.
“Well, hell no. A pistol would only make that critter mad. Animal control is on the way.”
Gonzales cracked the door. “Hello.”
The huge cat casually looked back over his shoulder, then resumed sniffing the door.
Gonzales tried again. “Citizen, it’s the police. If you can hear, talk to me.” He was relieved to see the pantry door was a slider when a tiny opening appeared.
A terrified male voice shouted trough the crack. “I came in my back door, and this monster followed me in. Help me, for God’s sake!”
When the lion sniffed at the door crack, the man inside slammed it shut.
Gonzales studied the situation, then told one of the EMT’s, “Try going to the front door and bang on it as loud as you can. Matter of fact, imitate some animal sound.”
The firefighter hurried away. In seconds, the sound of banging on the front door and a poor imitation of a wolf howling was audible. The lion lifted its head and strolled out of the kitchen toward the sounds.
Pistol in hand, Gonzales rushed across the kitchen, and slammed the door behind the lion. He propped a kitchen chair under the doorknob and opened the pantry door.
A fortyish, disheveled man with shoulder length, black hair was cowering atop a clothes dryer.
“Damnation, man,” the victim’s voice quivered. “Why didn’t you shoot that thing?”
Gonzales ignored the comment and flipped out his notebook. The victim identified himself as Henry Cook, who lived in the home alone.
When Animal Control officer Sharon Wilson arrived, Gonzales turned away from the victim. He would jot down the complainant’s vital statistics after the crisis had passed.
Wilson cocked her tranquillizer gun. Cautiously, she moved the chair prop and peeked through the crack. The lion, sniffing at the bottom of the door, looked up at her through the small opening.
Wilson, also an old-timer and tough as leather, reached through and touched the top of the animal’s head. Then she stroked the beast behind an ear. Gonzales was dumbfounded when he heard the lion purr like a small lawnmower engine.
Wilson grinned over a shoulder. “Tame, Gonzales. Glad we didn’t hurt it.”
“Don’t let that thing in this kitchen, Wilson. I don’t care how tame it is.”
The sound of raised voices on the patio caught their attention. Gonzales left Wilson to pet the lion and stepped out on the patio.
An irate, bearded man was standing indignantly, restrained by firefighters and backup cops. “What the hell are y’all doing in my kitchen?” he shouted angrily.
“You live here, sir?”
“Of course. If you fools have hurt Frank, I’ll have your asses.’
Gonzales, with sinking realization, asked, “Frank?”
“My lion. He’s my best friend and roommate.”
Gonzales turned to the two EMT’s who’d been first on scene. “Was that patio door open when you rolled up?”
“So, no chance Frank the Lion closed the French door behind him when he wandered in? He was inside all along.” He looked around him. “I suppose the guy trapped in the pantry is long gone.”
“Peeled off out front,” a firefighter said.
Gonzales spoke to the irate homeowner. “Sir, I believe Frank just interrupted a burglary.” And I just let the burglar escape, he thought.
* * *
Group needling at roll call the following morning was water-boarding with hydrochloric acid from the entire shift. Gonzales had screwed up bigtime. But he was no beginner.
He called dispatch, then called Sharon Wilson in animal control. “Sharon, I’m gonna fix you up with a date. I’ll be by there in ten minutes.”
Gonzales hung up.
Gonzales and Sharon, in the front seat, parked across from the entrance of a public park, a mile from the address of the lion incident.
Gonzales explained a plan. Then he dialed a number and handed her the cellular. A man answered.
“Hey, baby, “Sharon said in her best seduction-speak, “haven’t seen you in a while, but would be up for another roll in the hay?”
“Well, uh, honey, I don’t remember—”
“Oh, baby, you don’t remember how acrobatic I am. You’re hurtin’ my feelings.”
“Well, uh...” He nibbled at the bait.
“Baby, my apartment is near Shady Park on 51st. I’ll meet you on a bench by the front entrance.”
Shortly, the long-haired “victim” of the day before approached the park entrance on foot. Looking about cautiously, he sat on a bench.
Gonzales whipped his squad car across traffic, bounced onto the curb and, in seconds, had the long-haired suspect on the ground, handcuffed behind.
“What the hell I did?” whined the prisoner.
“Bad news is, you called 9-1-1 on your cell phone to report an escaped lion, genius. Shoulda used a burner. Good news: you’re gonna be Show and Tell at roll call in the morning.” Gonzales chuckled.
Copyright © 2018 by Gary Clifton