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Since the Shawnee

Published: November 1, 2013

Sheriff Lovell was almost, absolutely one hundred percent sure there were no wild turkeys left in Muhlenberg County. He couldn’t say exactly when they disappeared, but it was sometime after the Shawnee, after everybody except Mennonites gave up horses for cars and after the invention of the telephone, but before anybody got a single line. That is to say, Jerry had enough of a notion of when the big birds flew away that he sounded almost confident when he told Mrs. Henryetta that she might not have seen a single wild turkey, let alone four, perched on the fence of the house opposite the one she shared with her sister, Mrs. Daisy, on a road so busy that a car whizzed by at least once every three minutes.

But Henryetta replied, “Think what you like. The only other birds that big around here are turkey buzzards.”

Illustration of a turkey

Illustration courtesy Shutterstock. © olies

“I agree with you there. But I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a turkey buzzard in town.” Jerry was standing in the dress shop part of a hardware-dress store owned by Daisy, and Daisy was helping a customer. Henryetta called across to her nephew on the hardware side of the store, “Mark, tell the sheriff what Ray Ramsey said yesterday.”

“Said he saw a big bird in his back yard,” Mark said.

“How big?” Jerry asked.

“Don’t know. Could’ve been a pigeon. Ray exaggerates.”

Jerry thought Mrs. Henryetta was exaggerating, too. But he didn’t say that because he’d already crossed her more in a single conversation than he ever had in his life. He hesitated to press his luck any further, and not just because it was late October and he was up for re-election in November. He respected Mrs. Henryetta because everybody did, and because his mother would’ve taken a switch to his little bottom a long time ago had he not. Mrs. Henryetta was a frail woman, not long for this world, and that had been true since the sheriff was a little boy, and, maybe, even since the Shawnee had become extinct in the county. He said, “Mrs. Henryetta, did anybody else see them?”

Henryetta arched an eyebrow and pursed her lips. The look was not lost on Jerry. He added, “I have to ask as part of the investigation. The more witnesses to a crime the better.”

Henryetta said, “It’s not a crime for birds to sit around.”

Jerry was tempted to respond, “Then, why did you call the sheriff?” But he was called for all sorts of things. Just that morning he got a kite off a roof. He thought the fire department would’ve been the logical people for that, as they carried ladders; but they were mostly volunteers and not up for re-election. So he said, “But you suspected a crime?”

“Not until you mentioned turkey buzzards. I just didn’t want anybody shooting wild turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner.”

“I see. Preventing a crime.”

Mark, who was leaning on a knife display case, said, “Is shooting a wild turkey a crime?”

Sheriff Lovell didn’t know. That was really the business of the state fish and game rangers, and the only dealings he’d had with them were the occasional coordinated nighttime raid on Rocky Creek, where heavy petting between minors and fishing without licenses were common. Usually, any raid would collect one or the other, and the sheriff had a good working relationship with Fish and Game, so he said, “I can find that out easily.”

“If it’s not,” Mark said, “I’ll set up on the front porch and bag us Thanksgiving Dinner.” He was talking to his aunt, who along with his mother provided him, his wife, his children, his brother, his brother’s wife and children, and assorted cousins who dropped in unannounced, dinner every Sunday after church. So Henryetta just ignored that remark. She didn’t expect Mark to actually provide a dinner until long after she was dead. She did say, “We’ve lost the train of conversation. I saw the birds, whatever they are, about a half hour before dawn.”

“I hope they weren’t owls. You can’t eat those,” Mark lamented.

Sheriff Lovell said, “Well, I promise you I’ll get to the bottom of it.” The hardware/dress store family, like Jerry’s, had been Republicans since the Civil War, but the county was split half and half by the parties, and the Democrats had the governorship, the senate seat on the ballot, and a machine with some money.

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