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Home to Roost
By Nancy Brewka-Clark
Marsha grabbed the dashboard. “Why’d you stop?” Trapped in the cone of light cast by the low beams, about a dozen wild turkeys formed a paralyzed barricade across the driveway. “If they’re too dumb to move, mow them down. ”
Joe kept his foot pressed down hard on the brake. “You can’t just kill them.”
“Who says? I’m sick of the damn things strutting around like they own the place.” Marsha pushed the remote. “Drive.” A hundred feet away, the garage door rose silently. “Just do it.”
“Wildlife’s protected by state law.” In the gathering twilight, reinforcements were streaming in from all sides. “They’re game birds.”
“That means you’re supposed to eat them, dummy. There was an article about it in the Sunday paper, with recipes. They call it having a ‘green’ Thanksgiving.”
Joe could swear the flock had doubled in just a couple of minutes. “It’s only legal to kill them during hunting season.”
“Twice a year, spring and fall.” He squinted down the driveway. Were more coming from around the back of the house? “The last day was November fourth.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I looked it up.”
“Fat chance.” She drew a breath. “I hate it here.”
“You hated the city.”
“I did not.”
“Well, you said you did.”
“I said I hated being poor in the city. But we’re not poor now, are we?” She slammed the remote back into the glove compartment. “I want a condo. A penthouse condo. In the city.”
Joe tightened his fingers on the steering wheel. “You always said you wanted a house, a brand new house, four bedrooms, four baths, a family room, the works.” He didn’t add, yeah, a bedroom for you, and a bedroom for me, like Prince Philip and Her Majesty the Queen.
She leaned toward him. “Do you know what people with taste call these places? McMansions. Oversized pre-fabs on undersized lots. Big deal.”
“The people who call them that can’t afford one.” There was no point in arguing that a man’s home was his castle. While he was watching Game of Thrones he learned that castle was just another word for fortress, a refuge perpetually under siege. “They’re just jealous.”
“I doubt it. We can do better.” She laughed. “I can do better.”
Joe thought of the endless hours comparing swatches of material in various shades of beige, the floods of angry tears when a particular fixture didn’t live up to snuff, the stacks of bills still coming in. “This place is custom-made. You cherry-picked every detail.”
“Not them.” Marsha jabbed a finger at the swelling mass of turkeys. “Get rid of them.”
“And go to jail? No thanks.”
“Chicken.” Sensing that Joe was about to laugh, she snapped, “It’s not funny.” She settled back. “Gun it.”
More birds came waddling out of nowhere to crowd up against the grille. “No point.” They reminded him of fat, old men in suits of worsted tweed pushing to board a train. “They’ll just fly up into the trees.”
“I hate those trees.” Marsha peered across the frost-killed lawn toward the towering firs marking the property line. “I want them cut down. In fact, I want every tree on the property cut down.”
Joe imagined a wood lot of raw stumps. At least they’d make dandy chopping blocks for the turkeys. “The neighbors won’t like it.”
“Screw the neighbors.” Marsha leaned across him to punch the center of the steering wheel six times in rapid succession. Over the blasts, she shouted, “It’s their fault in the first place, feeding the stupid things like they were hummingbirds or something. My God, they’re so—” she punched the horn one last time—“ugly.”
Keeping an eye on her fist, Joe sucked in his gut a little. “Who, the neighbors or the turkeys?”
“Both.” Marsha pressed the heel of her hand into the horn and held it there. Over the blare, she shouted, “Go on, move, you rotten buggers.”
When she punctuated the air with more staccato blasts, he grabbed her arm. “Enough.”
Marsha jerked away. “Get out.”
His ears were ringing. “What?”
“Go on. Get out.” She shoved his right shoulder hard. “Chase them away.”
Joe looked through the offending trees toward the house next door, a khaki variation of their beige turreted Queen Anne shingle-style. “The Chaplins will think we’re crazy.”
“Never mind them.” Marsha shoved him harder. “Go on. It’s getting dark.”
Joe slid out from beneath his seat belt into the raw November twilight. “Shoo.”
My God, they were big, taller up close than he’d thought. What if they stampeded--knocked him under with their evil yellow claws? And those beaks. He had no desire to be stabbed by those pointy little shivs with their red bungee cords of flesh.
He clapped his hands. “Go on. Beat it.”
“What a wuss.”
He jerked around.
“You’re hopeless.” Marsha dashed around the rear of the car. “I’ll fix them.” Sliding into the driver’s seat, she turned on the high beams. “Watch this.”
He’d never known that a turkey's eyes could light up like a cat’s. It was like being at a rock concert with a thousand flicked Bics winking at once. For a moment his waving arms cast shadows as long as football fields. “Go on. Git.”
Then she put the car into gear.
He barely had time to jump aside. With wild gabbling, some of the turkeys took to the air. Others scattered like beads from a broken string. An unfortunate few fell bloodied onto the grass. Joe broke into a run as his brand new Lexus careened across the lawn in the widening wake of terrified turkeys. “Marsha?”
She braked just short of the line of firs and screeched into a U-turn. A few stragglers flew up into the bobbing branches as the Lexus rocked its way back toward Joe. “Stop!”
Marsha spun the car about and headed back toward the trees. For a heart-stopping moment, Joe thought she’d slam into one of them. Instead, she steered through the gap. “Come back,” he yelled idiotically, and ran after the ruby taillights.
“Okay, folks, this is what I’ve got so far. Mrs. Pinkham, being unfamiliar with the new car, stepped on the gas instead of the brake, panicked, and drove onto the Chaplins’ property. She took out five bird feeders and cracked the base of the flagpole in the front flower bed. No injuries.” Police Patrolman Ray Ruggles looked up from his notepad. “Anybody have anything to add?”
Barb Chaplin raised her hand. “Will she go to jail?”
Ruggles frowned. “I thought your husband said earlier you weren’t interested in pressing charges. Did I hear wrong, Mr. Chaplin?”
“Bird feeders attract vermin,” Marsha interjected. “I did you a favor.”
“Ed?” Barb raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow. “You love watching the birds, don’t you?”
“Barb, just drop it, okay, sweetheart?” Ed Chaplin smiled hopefully. “What’s a few bird feeders?”
“Oh, for pity’s sake,” Barb said. “It’s your only hobby. It’s the way you relax.” She looked over at Joe. “Maybe you should try it.”
“Maybe I should,” Joe said.
Ed said, “I can give you some tips. Watch the birds at dawn and dusk. That’s when they really flock to the feeders looking for seeds. Turkeys, they’ll chow down any time.”
Joe said, “I’ll remember that.”
“What about the lawn?” Barb glared at Joe as if he’d taken a backhoe to it. “We’ll have to re-seed the whole thing. It will be all patchy unless we just dig it up and start over.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Marsha barked.
Joe cut her off. “If you have to re-seed your lawn, we’ll pay for it.”
“Darned right you will,” Barb snapped. “And you’ll replace the flagpole, too.”
“Barb, calm down.” Ed held up a palm. “Joe said he’ll do it, and he’ll do it.
“Do you want to press charges or not?” Ruggles asked.
“No,” Ed said.
“Yes,” Barb said.
“Tough.” Marsha stood. “You press charges and you’ll be sorry.”
Barb gasped. “Officer, did you hear that?”
“Mrs. Pinkham,” Ruggles said, “you’re on thin ice here. If I was you, I’d thank the Chaplins here for being good sports. Then I’d take my new Lexus and go home. Not across the grass, though. Use the Chaplins’ driveway. And maybe Mr. Pinkham should drive.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my driving.” Marsha crooked a finger at Joe. “Get off your butt and let’s get out of here.”
Sipping his coffee, Joe shuffled over to the window overlooking the front lawn. Even though it was Saturday, he couldn’t see the point of changing his routine and sleeping in, although Marsha reveled in it. The sun had been up for more than half an hour but you couldn’t prove it by him. That low ceiling of ashen clouds might even predict snow, something he really wished wouldn’t happen before Thanksgiving. There was just enough murky light to see the ruts Marsha had dug while doing wheelies.
And the bodies.
He’d had the lame hope last night that the birds Marsha nailed had just been stunned, like sparrows whacking into a picture window. But there they lay, four distinct forlorn messes he’d have to get rid of somehow before the Chaplins saw them.
Not bothering to shower or shave, Joe changed into his old jeans and a heavy black hoodie. Down in the garage, he removed the aluminum snow shovel from its hook on the wall. It was lightweight, with a wide edge unsuited for thrusting into turf. Digging turkey graves wasn’t his idea of a good time. In all those old horror movies everybody had a body-sized freezer in their garage. It would have been so much easier just to store the frozen carcasses until he could bag them and put them out, one a week, on trash pickup day.
Slipping out through the side door so that Marsha wouldn’t hear any mechanical rumbling, Joe crunched over the glittering layer of frost to the first body. Although he was no expert in these matters, he calculated it to be a twenty-pounder, give or take an ounce or two. A few feet away, an even bigger bird lay on its side, its wattle flopping onto the icy grass like a fat pink worm. Beyond that, two more lay side by side like fallen comrades in a Russian Army photo from World War II.
He pondered shoveling the bodies into a big black garbage bag and dropping them off at the back door of the homeless shelter, or, better yet, the Unitarian Church soup kitchen. But what if he got caught? One time somebody had suggested killing the Canada geese invading parks and cemeteries and feeding them to jail inmates and they’d caught holy hell from environmentalists and humanitarians alike. And geese weren’t even iconic holiday fare. The last thing he needed was to make headlines: “Turkey Poacher Turns Stomachs Donating Road Kill.”
Joe looked up just in time to see someone—something?—lumbering at him across the grass. “Who’s there?”
Big, dark and menacing, on it came.
“Stop!” He hoisted the shovel. “I’m warning you!”
The thing ‘s face was obscured by a ragged ring of fur. Black bear? Yeti?
“I mean it! Freeze!”
Instinct kicked in.
“She’s dead.” Ed Chaplin stood. “My golly, you whaled her a good one.”
“That’s my old parka. She said she gave it away.” Joe stood frozen to the spot. “She just kept coming.”
Ed rubbed his bare hands together, then blew on them. “Lucky shot.”
Joe gaped at him. “How do you mean?”
“Well,” Ed said slowly, “good thing she turned at the last minute to run, or you’d have hit her in the face. Back of the head, what with a thick down-filled hood and all, it’d be pretty hard to say just exactly what hit her.”
Trembling all over, Joe pointed to the dented shovel. “That did.”
Ed picked it up. “I can fix that.” He squinted down the handle like a man sighting down the barrel of a gun. “Yep. Be as good as new when I’m done with it.”
Ed looked over toward the firs, and waved. “Over here, hon.”
“Poor things.” Barb threaded her way around the turkey corpses, shaking her head. “That woman.”
“Now, Barbie, don’t start, not in front of Joe here. He’s had a shock.” Ed put his arm around his wife’s shoulders. “Came out to find his wife stone dead on the lawn.”
“What?” Joe said.
“Barb and I saw it all,” Ed said.
“She’s the killer,” Barb said. “Not you.”
“Yep.” Ed gave her a little hug. “Barb and I know an innocent man when we see one.”
“We witnessed the whole thing, Joe.” Barb pointed a gloved hand toward their house. “Ed got up early, as usual, to watch the birds. This time of year you’ve got some real beauties, cardinals and jays and the like. And, then, of course, there’s the turkeys. They come around with their beaks just hanging open, ready to gobble up all the whole corn kernels and grain sorghum Ed spreads out the night before. You like them to eat well, don’t you, hon?”
“I do indeed.” Ed’s face grew sober. “I was just putting on my jacket in the mud room when I heard this kerfuffle. The turkeys were going hog wild. Thought it might be a fox, so I just flung open the door. What did I see but this creature from the black lagoon creeping about sowing something among the splintered posts of the feeders that got knocked down the very night before.”
“No,” Joe said. It wasn’t as much of a protestation as a sound of disbelief.
“Oh, yes.” Barb nodded. “I heard Ed hollering, so I came running down. He just bolted out the door, left it wide open. I flicked on the outside light and there it was.” She drew herself up. “Rat poison.”
“Meanwhile, I’m running after the culprit,” Ed said. “Chased it right back into your yard. Couldn’t tell who or what it was.”
Joe was still a couple of shockers behind. “How’d you know it was rat poison?”
“Everybody knows that stuff,” Barb said. “Little turquoise beads, comes in a pie-wedge box? That monster was trying to poison our beautiful wild turkeys. And God knows what other creatures, since all kinds of furry critters partake of our largesse.”
“Now, this is the strange part,” Ed said. “I’m chasing it and it’s galloping toward home when it trips over one of these poor fellas.” Ed pointed to a turkey carcass. “Almost lost its balance. But that’s not the strange part. All of a sudden, something else swoops over my head, flying real low.”
“The angel of death,” Barb whispered. “ ‘Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.’”
Joe said, “Ed, Barb, I appreciate this, but—”
“Now, let me finish.” Ed pointed upward. “This giant bird, it’s a wild turkey. It flaps after your wife here and just comes up behind her and, boom, slams right into the back of her head, right at the nape. This isn’t very savory, but I heard her neck snap, Joe. Down she goes, and just kind of sprawls there. The turkey, it hasn’t done itself any favors either. It can barely flap away, flying all kind of wobbly, but I don’t pay much attention because I’m attending to your wife. Bad news, Joe. Look at her pockets.”
The bulging outlines of those tiny cardboard pyramids left him speechless.
“The police won’t have any trouble figuring this one out.” Before Joe knew what she was up to, Barb heaved a half-frozen turkey carcass off the lawn and slammed it hard against the back of Marsha’s head. “How else would someone get bloody feathers stuck in their hair?”
“Forensics, they call it,” Ed said.
“About the rat poison,” Joe heard himself ask from a great distance. “Is it really sprinkled around your yard?”
“Not only that, but she left a trail of it.” Barb pointed. “See?”
“Like it was breadcrumbs, “ Ed said.
“That’s evidence of evil intent if ever I saw it.” Barb stood there with the swaying turkey carcass dangling down head first. “This poor thing was already dead so I don’t feel bad about treating it a little rough. But what that woman was doing was murder, pure and simple.”
“So, Joe, after we call the police and get this all straightened out, Barb and I were wondering if you’d care to join us for Thanksgiving.” Ed held up that warning palm again. “Now, don’t imagine for even a minute that we’d be serving turkey.”
Barb shook her head. “No, sir, it’s vegan all the way.”
For Joe, there was only one thing left to say. “Thanks.”