17. Giblets

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When Chris fully emerged from the bushes, he raised his arms and grinned. He held two birds in his left hand, and another one in his right. They were the size of small chickens, but thinner, leaner. Their pale gray plumage dripped with blood.

I scanned the man's body, but it looked as if the blood was the birds', not his.

"Barbecue time, folks," he said and threw his catch at our feet. He wiped his hands on his pants, leaving red stains there, too, and then rested them on his hips.

One of the birds had landed at my feet, staring up at me with a red-rimmed, glazed eye. It was snatched away.

"Good man." Bruna turned the animal over in her hands. She had approached me without a sound.

"We have to gut them," Nita said.

"Right." Still holding the bird, Bruna retreated to her spot in the shade. "But first they need plucking." She sat, grabbed some feathers, and pulled. They came free with an ugly, tearing sound. "Actually, you should scald them first... put them in hot water, to make the feathers come off more easily. But since we don't have water, let alone hot water, we'll have to do it the hard way." With that, she ripped another handful of feathers from the bird.

She had an interesting set of skills, that woman.

"And who's doing the other ones?" Nita asked. The tone of her voice made it clear that it wouldn't be her.

It wouldn't be me either, but another topic took precedence.

I squinted my eyes at Chris. "What the hell did you think, walking off just like that? With Pamela disappearing yesterday, did you ever consider how this would make us feel? We were worried."

Were we? Kind of, probably.

He took a step back from me. "Sorry," he said, "but I woke up early, went down to the beach to wash, and then I saw the birds. Yesterday, you said that each one of us is responsible, and I thought this was an opportunity to fulfill my responsibilities for the group."

"And did you ever—"

Farid placed a hand on my arm. "Let's not fight again." He gazed at Chris. "Next time Chris is leaving, he'll tell us." He stooped to pick up one of the birds and proffered it to Yves. "The French are known for their superb cuisine."

The Frenchman shrugged. "Sure." He seized the bird, went to sit in the shade beside Bruna, and begun plucking it, too.

Still miffed at Chris, I kept quiet as I listened to the tale of his hunting, which was accompanied by the ghastly sound of Bruna, Farid, and Yves ripping plumage from skin.

Our managing partner had spent hours sitting still at the south shore, armed with a stick, at a place where the animals were feeding in the tidal ponds. When one came too close, whack the stick went. And then whack some more.

His words.

"And now it's a family barbecue," Chris added with a grin.

"Do you have a family?" Nita asked.

"Sure." He nodded. "My daughter's about your age now. She has moved east, to Boston. My wife... she's gone."

"Gone?" Nita frowned. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Well, not really gone. We had a divorce." He looked at his stained shirt. "I need to have a wash." He walked off towards the sea.

Nita looked at him as he took off his shirt and squatted down at the waterline. "That must hurt," she said. "The daughter is on the other side of the continent, and his wife is gone."

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