Chicken Coop
Chicken Coop
Fowl Play
Chapter Three

The Colonel navigated the corridors, cursing under his breath. Surely, his eyes had been mistaken. A dull ache in his legs urged him to slow down, but he kept moving. He had to get a better view, but it was imperative that he do so without drawing attention to himself. Rounding a corner he drew back against the wall. Not ten feet away, Mavis Purcell stood talking to the man he’d seen through the window. The man was turned so that his face revealed only the shape of his forehead, his jaw line, his right ear and a mane of silver white hair.

The Colonel retreated around the corner, clutching at his chest, trying to take measured breaths to avoid hyperventilating. His eyes had not deceived him. It was him, but what was he doing here? Had he come to settle the old score? Word had it that Emily had died, but what of the girl? The Colonel knew he had to find out without raising any unneeded questions
.
Regaining his breath and with it some of his external composure, the Colonel headed for his apartment to think the matter through.
##
“Thank you, so much, Ms. Purcell. I know my daughter is not your typical resident, but my health is not what it once was, so I need to assure her care remains as close to home as possible.” Wyatt Davidson swallowed hard. “My wife before her death was terribly concerned that Amy would be mistreated if cared for by anyone other than family. But there is simply not any family to take her in and I am, even with help, no longer able to keep up with her and provide for her needs.”

“Mr. Davidson, we are happy to have Amy join us and we will do everything we can to meet your requests. I think you will be happy. Now why don’t we go see how she is settling into her apartment?” Mavis smiled and gestured down a hall.

The apartment Mavis had chosen for Amy Davidson adjoined the live-in staff’s apartments on the first floor. Most of the employees lived off campus, but Helen Marcum, the Director of Nursing and Taylor Wingate, the Head of Maintenance and his wife, Lucille resided at Heritage Village.

The Wingate’s reached retirement with little means and no real property. What they had to offer and what Heritage Village needed matched. They brought a surplus of useful skills, a strong work ethic and a willingness to work for a small salary and a place to live. Taylor took care of mechanical problems, most plumbing, and dealt with Otto—a task Mavis found frustrating. Lucille helped in the kitchen and laundry as the need arose which it did quite frequently and never complained about any job she was asked to do, no matter how menial. Mavis praised the day they’d come to her office with their proposal.

Helen Marcum was a horse of a different color. Long before Mavis took the administrator position, Helen’s reign had been established. Following a military career that included a MASH unit in Vietnam, Helen struggled for a year or so as a civilian nurse in a local hospital, where she managed to make enemies without respect to person. By the time someone had the guts to fire her practically everyone, administrators, doctors, other nurses, housekeepers, the volunteers and not a small group of patients or families of patients had reported her for something insubordinate, rude or abusive, depending on the perspective of the offended party.

Righteously indignant at being fired by a peep squeak mealy mouthed pencil pusher, she raised a ruckus that finally gave her a voice in the Press where she bad-mouthed the slovenly way the hospital functioned, implying multiple infractions that endangered patients and staff alike. Before she got to the point of putting names to her now public allegations, the hospital’s CEO and their legal counsel met with Helen and bought her silence. Part of the offer that brought her tirade to an end was her position at Heritage Village, the apartment she lived in and a hunk of money, the amount of which remained secret.

Mavis worked with Helen when she could, around her when she couldn’t, and in spite of her when all else failed. The Residents with Pets project was one of those “in spite of her” actions. At the Board Meeting Helen lambasted the idea of pets on the premises, let alone with residents caring for them. Mavis figured when Helen caught sight of the chicken coop she’d come flying into her office breathing fire.

In Helen’s case, Mavis acknowledged her primary function would always be damage control. A day didn’t pass without one of the nurses or nurse assistants sobbing through another Helen infraction. When Mavis first took the position, the chairman of the board had taken her aside and told her that no matter what Helen stayed. A protest had risen in her throat then, but his final words to her were, “Just deal with her, but don’t fire her.” For five years Mavis had done just that; she figured even with the age difference Helen would probably outlast her.

Escorting Mr. Davidson quickly past Helen’s apartment, she knocked on Amy’s door. The door opened and Wyatt Davidson swept his petite daughter into his arms. Mavis stepped back a bit until the father/daughter embrace ended, then stepped forward and clasp the hand Amy extended.

“Hello, Amy, it is Mavis Purcell with your Dad.”

Wyatt Davidson bent and kissed his daughter on the cheek. Mavis noted the genuine affection between father and daughter.

“Oh, yes, how are you Ms. Purcell? Won’t you come in? I believe there is a chair. . .” Amy took a few steps before grasping the back of the chair, “right here.”

##

While Mavis sat with Amy and Wyatt Davidson in Amy’s new living quarters, the Early Birds were busy looking over the information Agnes had printed about raising chickens. They had spread the papers out on their dining table once lunch had been cleared. Pauline had stayed a few minutes but after conceding that she wasn’t going to get three more for bridge moved to another area in the multi-purpose room.
From their position at the table they could watch Frank as he began working on the dimensions of the structure.

The Early Birds had given careful consideration to the location of the small coop. It had to be far enough from the living quarters to avoid interference by the Department of Public Health. Heritage Village rested at the edge of town and the campus covered several acres, but they needed it physically close enough that each of them could tend to the flock. So it had to be accessible as well, for Ruth in her wheelchair and Agnes with her walker and Thelma Louise with her leaden feet. The Reverend Henry Porter had no difficulty, but neither did he want to care for the chickens alone.

Otto had suggested the location they now observed beyond the buildings in an area near the small lake that sported a family of Mallards and a small flock of Canadian Geese. A concreted pad with a small shelter for residents who enjoyed being outdoors when weather permitted sat above the spot where Frank worked, but trees and bushes along the lake’s walking path shielded the hen house from the view of walkers.

“The brooder should be here tomorrow. Otto said we could set it up in the furnace room, but I think I am going to check with Mr. Wingate before we put it there.”

“Why?” The Reverend asked.

Agnes peaked over her glasses with a look that declared ‘you know why’ to which The Reverend sighed and nodded. Otto, kind as he was, tended not to process in a logical pattern at all times. The story was told that in a previous position as a night janitor in an office building he’d almost run out of one liquid cleaner, so he had poured the remainder into another cleaner bottle and mixed the two. The security guard had come on him passed out in a hallway filled with noxious fumes. The guard immediately called the security desk prior to passing out himself.

The fire department arrived with paramedics in gas masks, who pulled Otto and the guard to safety, but both survived but stayed in the hospital a few days. It took 72 hours before the building was declared safe for the occupants. Some folks theorized that the gas had wiped out Otto’s reasoning capacity but others contended that anyone who mixed ammonia and bleach had only a limited number of functioning brain cells in the first place.

Agnes refused to go that far, because as a young bride she’d done the same thing with a less disastrous, public outcome, although her nasal passages and sense of taste suffered for weeks after the incident. Still, apparently Otto’s accident had depleted his reservoir of common sense leaving him with an abundance of good humor and a desire to help anyone who asked. The Early Birds and others understood his limitations, appreciating his eagerness to assist. Mr. Wingate watched out for the interests of Otto, the residents and the facility; he saw to it that Otto stayed busy at things within his abilities. Mr. Wingate’s kindness matched Otto’s and the latter would have walked through fire for the former.

Frank, the builder of the coop, younger brother to Otto, though somewhat simple, too, did odd carpenter jobs at Heritage Village and in town as well. He was steady and reliable. He took pride in how he did a job, but either the school system had failed him or his capacity for certain tasks were limited by his own cognitive abilities. When Agnes handed him the first plans for the structure, he’d turned them over and over in his hands as if he was trying to make sense of them and clearing his throat with every turn of the paper.

“Something wrong?” Agnes had asked after several minutes.

“Got any with pictures?” Frank asked still rotating the instructions.

“Pictures? Well sure, I’ll get you some with pictures.” She yanked the papers from his hands before he had a chance to rotate them one more time. “Pictures are better, anyway.” She’d get him pictures if she had to draw them herself, which she did.

“Thanks, Ms. Agnes, I read pictures a whole lot better than words.”

Watching Frank work on the coop lifted the spirits of all four of the Early Birds. Before they dispersed to get ready for dinner and Wheel of Fortune, he had the flooring finished. By tomorrow or at least Friday, they’d be full-fledged chicken farmers, barring any glitches.

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