The Buzzard Table - By Margaret Maron



In America, the term “buzzard” is often employed incorrectly to describe vultures. This probably dates back to the arrival of the first English colonists. There are no vultures of any type in England, so these pioneers probably gave the common term “buzzard” to all the soaring figures above the New World.

—The Turkey Vulture Society

Midafternoon and the thin February rain was making a total nuisance of itself—too light to turn the windshield wipers on steady, yet too heavy to let them clear the glass between intermittent sweeps. At least it wasn’t cold enough to turn the rain to ice. Frustrated, my nephew Reese fiddled with the adjustable settings while I tried to find where he’d hidden the NPR station on his radio.

Up ahead, I caught a glimpse of movement on the wet pavement.

“Look out!” I cried, automatically stomping on brakes that weren’t there because I was buckled into the passenger side of the pickup.

Too late.

With a sickening thunk, the front right tire hit flesh.

Reese glanced in his rearview mirror, braked, and immediately threw the truck in reverse.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

Looking into my own mirror, I saw no motion, only a splash of bright red blood that the rain had washed from the crushed head. No way could that small body still have a spark of life in it, but Reese kept backing up till we were even with it. Luckily, this was a deserted country road with nothing but scrub pines and bare-twigged underbrush on either side and no other vehicles behind or ahead.

“Won’t take a minute,” Reese said, hopping out of the cab. I twisted around in my seat to watch him push aside the tarp that covered the neon sign we’d just picked up from the auction house so that he could get at a plastic tub that was secured to the side of the truck bed with a couple of bungee cords. He picked the dead squirrel up by its fluffy tail, dropped it in the box, and snapped the lid back in place. Through the translucent plastic, I could make out another small shape.

All of my brothers and their children grew up cooking and eating whatever they shot when out hunting—deer, rabbits, game birds—but roadkill? Besides, I’ve heard Reese on the subject of tree rats too often to think he was going to take that squirrel back to his trailer and dress it out. Even Haywood’s quit eating squirrel except when Daddy gets Maidie to stir up a washpot of Brunswick stew big enough to share with the whole family.

(According to Daddy, “It ain’t a real Brunswick stew if it ain’t got a squirrel in it.”)

Like some of my equally squeamish sisters-in-law, I sort of pick around any dubious chunks of meat and fill up on the vegetables.

I hadn’t paid any attention to that box when he and my brother Will slid the sign into the bed of the truck. I was too excited that Will had come through on his promise to find me the perfect piece of retro neon for the back wall of the pond house we planned to build this summer. The battered pink metal sign was pig-shaped, measured about five feet long by three feet tall, and spelled out BAR-B-CUE & SPARE RIBS in bright orange neon tubing on the side. Normally it would have been out of my price range, but one side was so damaged that it could no longer swing freely and be viewed from both sides. It was going to need some electrical work, too, but hey, when one of your eleven brothers and two of his kids are electricians, you get the family discount. I figured a case of beer and all the barbecue Reese could eat for the next month at our cousin’s barbecue house would just about cover the cost of getting that pig up and oinking.

For the record, Will is three brothers up from me and runs an auction house on the west side of Dobbs, our county seat.

Reese’s dad, Herman, is four more up from Will, one of the “big twins,” which is how we differentiate Herman and Haywood from Adam and Zach, the “little twins” who were supposed to be the end of the line. I was an unexpected bonus—a “change baby” and the only girl. Herman’s in a motorized wheelchair now, so Reese and his sister Annie Sue do most of the electrical work these days, but Herman still keeps his hand in with whatever jobs he can do sitting