Agnes and Thelma Louise hovered over Otto who adjusted and tinkered with the brooder until he had it just like they wanted. He rose from the concrete floor of the furnace room, large beads of sweat dripping from his face, which was as red as the bandana he drew from the back pocket of his overalls. Drying his face, the kerchief became more sodden with every swipe until it looked full enough to wring out, he faced the ladies.
“Believe that’s got it, Ms. Webster, Ms. Sanderson.”
He nodded to both of them then folded the wet cloth and shoved it back into place—a wide damp circle grew quickly on the outer surface of the pocket attesting to the amount of perspiration absorbed from Otto’s face. The two ladies peered from Otto to the metal box, with its bottles of water, feeding dishes and warmer. For an instant Otto thought they might ask for some other adjustment, but after the brief scrutinizing, both beamed at him.
“Otto, it is just perfect.” Agnes said patting him on the shoulder.
“All ready for those chickens,” he responded, “but, it does seem pretty spacious for four little chickens.”
“Well, that’s better than being too cramped.” Thelma Louise remarked.
“When are they due to arrive?” Otto asked.
Agnes startled, squinted at the face of her watch, blinking several times to focus, thinking—I should have worn that monstrosity the Tri-Dees got me—as she struggled to read the time. She fumbled for her reading glasses in the basket at the front of her walker with no luck.
Letting out a disgusted sigh, Agnes thrust her arm toward Thelma Louise and asked, “Can you see what time it is?”
“Wait a second.” Thelma began digging into her black handbag, extracting mountains of tissue.
Otto, sweat once more pouring down his brow, pulled out a large pocket watch.
He said, “It’s 11:00.”—just as Thelma Louise whipped out her reading glasses and studied Agnes’s watch.
“It’s eleven.” She proclaimed.
Agnes looked between Otto and Thelma and shook her head.
“The chicks were to be delivered this morning. Let’s go see if they are here.”
The chicks had indeed been delivered. Mavis Purcell walked one way around the three large noisy boxes she had just signed for and then traced the same path the opposite direction. Careful observation did not reduce the size of the boxes nor the number. The peeping sounds obviously came from more than the four chickens the Early Birds had requested.
Mavis had been on her way to the therapy suite to talk to Amy Davidson. The conversation playing in her mind was stayed upon the possible responses Amy might offer when Mavis requested her presence and talent at the blessing of the animals and owners during the afternoon ceremony. With her mind locked into one task and her feet set in the direction of the therapy room, Mavis swept along the hall, when Leticia Hamilton grabbed her arm in a panic. Mavis jolted, then wavered in her forward progress.
“Ouch!” Mavis protested as Leticia’s inch long nails tore into her flesh.
“Ms. Purcell, you got to come quick. The mail truck is here and the mail girl says somebody’s got to sign for three boxes of live chickens—Three Boxes!—all crawling with the little critters!” Leticia released Mavis’s arm only to flap hers, while her eyes, indeed her whole face displayed alarm with a hint of revulsion. Mavis had followed Leticia into the administrative office area, shoving her previous mission into a brain cubby hole marked “Later”.
Annie McBride shoved the clipboard forward, a smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth. Mavis snatched it from her, scribbled her name as Annie pointed to the spot on the page and then shoved it back to her.
“It looks like Heritage Village is going into chicken farming.” Annie observed struggling to keep her voice level, an effort that provide unsuccessful as a snigger emerged on the last two words. Annie gulped. Mavis glared.
“Better get on to your other deliveries.” Mavis commanded her gaze boring in on Annie.
“Right.” Her pitch rose as she elongated the response and turned on her heels and left. Laughter wafted back growing louder and more sustained the farther Annie got from the door. The loudness was accentuated by the utter silence of the humans in the office area, the number increasing as the curious staff gathered.
Mavis stood as motionless as the others for a moment. With concentrated effort she drew a deep calming breath and then ordered the bystanders from the room. The staff scurried out; Leticia started to follow, when Mavis wagged her index finger at her. One more deep breath and she requested, “Find Taylor Wingate and get him here as soon as possible” then, her breathing evening out, “and find the Early Birds. Now!”
So, now needing something to do Mavis paced in circular pattern around the boxes of chicks. Occasionally she noticed little beaks poking through the holes and the peeping escalated and declined as the infant chickens moved around bumping and shoving each other in the cramped quarters. How many were in each box? Mavis wondered, trying to estimate.
“Well, well, what have we here?” Taylor Wingate chortled, from behind her. Mavis swung on him, prepared to retort, but found herself disarmed by Taylor’s good-natured calm countenance. Sweeping her arm toward the three boxes, she sighed before stating the obvious.
“Chickens,” then with emphasis, lest he not catch the gravity of the word, ‘Three Crates of Chickens.”
Taylor moved to the boxes and lifting one of the lids, studied the contents. Mavis edged closer peeking over his shoulder at the tiny birds. He glanced from the chicks to Mavis.
“Cute little things aren’t they? It looks like they are all wearing pill box hats. I wonder what breed they are.” He replaced the lid. Seeing that Mavis had no interest in the pompoms crowning the chicks’ heads and certainly no interest in chicken breeds, he reported, “I estimate 25 chicks per box, give or take one or two. Frank and Otto are going to need to get that poultry coop and yard finished.”
“Seventy-five chickens!—you cannot be serious. Never mind, of course, you are serious.” Mavis’s tone modulated from incredulous to resignation and was punctuated with a heave of her broad shoulders and an exhalation of air so noticeable that it needed no expletive attached to convey her meaning.
A chorus of voices gasped collectively. Taylor and Mavis turned to the sound. There stood the culprits.
“Oh, MY!” Agnes exclaimed eyes wide and hands trembling as she grasped the walker.
“Good Gracious!” Chimed Thelma Louise.
“Are those OUR chickens?” Ruth challenged a hint of distrust in her voice.
“Agnes, how many chickens did you order?” The Reverend Henry Porter asked the look on his face incredulous.