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Too furry for a deer and too big for a fox or dog, he thought as he caught the animal's stare. He didn't much care what it was. Once spooked, those bastards moved fast. The animal turned and fled. Jeff stomped the pedal and the old Chevy pickup lurched forward.
The creature lumbered along the highway's white marker as if it felt that safety lay straight ahead in the least unobstructed path. In Jeff's estimation such logic made it just another dumb animal fit for the hunt. Tonight's kill would be easy because whatever it was, its legs were short and its movements slow.
It mattered little to Jeff if the weapon were his sporting rifle or his half-ton pickup. Today he had already emptied a chamber into four squirrels without leaving the pickup, just to get in a little target practice. Shooting them or steering into them, it was all the same. "Huntin's huntin'," he said if asked about the big pile of animal remains in the back of his truck.
But no one ever asked because Jeff was only a man doing the job Richard paid him to do. Six months earlier Mayor Jamal had given himself one hell of a task choosing an official title for that job, one that would not make the men on his force laugh themselves sick. The mayor finally settled on The Highway Sanitation and Animal Removal Patrol.
When Richard posted the job opening on the MorneauVille police station's bulletin board, the next morning only one man applied. Until that day Jeff's primary responsibility around the station house had been a janitor, cleaning up the mayor bathroom.
During those six months Jeff had redefined the boundaries of his duties as originally envisioned by the sheriff, although he never bothered to inform Richard of this. After the first week he requisitioned himself a cow catcher like those found on the front of old railway trains. He claimed the Chevy's grill had suffered damage when a deer had crossed the pickup's path. The impact had been so big that part of the animal's dripping hind leg had lodged in the grillwork.
Jeff chose not to inform the sheriff that he had chased the fleeing creature a good quarter mile before catching up with it. Richard took one look at the ruined dripping grill and the next day Sussex County's newest employee had his cow catcher.
Tonight the cow catcher had surely done its work. The truck had caught its target dead center without Jeff's hitting the brake, and the pickup sent it flying. The animal came down on Highway 96 like a sack of laundry, thumped a few yards, and came to rest along the soft shoulder about a hundred feet from where it had been struck.
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