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‘Since the Shawnee’

They were standing not eight inches apart. Ray whispered, “She’s gotten into nudity.”

“How do you know?” Jerry asked.

“There’s a space about this wide between a couple of slats in my fence,” said Ray as he held up his thumb and forefinger. “The only other person I’ve told is Betty, but it may be a law enforcement issue so I’m telling you.”

Jerry had wondered during his drive if being naked in your own yard was a crime. Being naked on a public street was, but yard nudity was another matter. People had property rights. He suspected that might be one of them, and he was really investigating birds. He said, “I don’t know about that, but do you think there’s a connection between the buzzards and Miss Pickens’…well, you know, display?”

“Hum,” the furniture salesman replied. “I hadn’t thought about that. She’s not very big, and they could, I suppose, be mistaking her for a meal.” A shiver ran through Ray’s body.

Jerry, who was practically nose-to-nose with the salesman, felt the tremor. He said, “That’s a pretty grim thought.”

“Yes, she looks like…,” Ray began, but Jerry interrupted him by putting a hand between their noses. “No need for the details,” he said.

“Well, you can imagine,” Ray replied.

“Maybe you should just not look through your fence?”

“I’m trying not to. But, you know, it’s like having a hangnail. The dang thing’s so worrisome, you can’t help but bite at it.”

Jerry had a sense of what Ray meant. But he didn’t want to dwell there, so he thanked him for his help, told him he’d think about the television set, and went to his office to double check the city ordinances. Not finding any prohibitions applying to the situation, he walked back over to the hardware/dress store. Through the window, he saw Mark ringing up a customer’s purchases and Mrs. Henryetta behind her counter.

“Did you get to the bottom of it?” she asked as soon as he came in.

He laid his hat on her counter. “I believe I did. You did see birds. They were turkey buzzards.”

“There was never any question that I saw birds, she huffed. “But why are there turkey buzzards in town?”

Jerry didn’t really think that Miss Pickens’ display was attracting the carrion eaters. She was old, but not dead. He said, “Well, now, you know it’s hard to explain the ways of animals. My granddaddy had a chicken that took up with a mule. Followed that mule to the field. Sat right out on a fencepost and watched him plow. They were quite attached.”

Henryetta didn’t doubt that. She’d been raised in the country and also knew something about the ways of animals. She said, “What do you think those turkey buzzards are attached to?”

Jerry hadn’t expected that question. He’d just intended to solve the identity of the birds and let the subject rest. And he regretted bringing up the chicken and mule rationale. He changed his tactic: “Well, I don’t know that they are attached to anything. I think animals just have territories. Your house is probably in the buzzards’ territory. They may be coming in closer to town just because it’s fall, and winter’s coming.” He smiled and laid his hand on the crown of his hat.

“Well, we can’t have them flying around over Barnacle. He’s old for a cat, but he still likes to go outside. What are you going to do about that?”

Jerry didn’t really see his authority extending to the protection of cats. Kites were bad enough. He said, “No disrespect, but I thought you were concerned about somebody shooting wild turkeys?”

“I am. There aren’t many of them left. But now that I know they’re really buzzards, they’re a whole different ball of yarn. Buzzards carry disease.” Henryetta adjusted the sticks that held her hair on top of her head. Her hands shook when she did. She added, “You wouldn’t know about that. You were born after vaccinations.”

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