Baxter Black: Fowl Play

Darrie took a likin’ to Hangin’ Tree cow dogs. They are slick, short-haired and promoted for their endurance and stamina. They have that hound dog look and come in various colors. Darrie bought her pup out of Missouri and brought her to Arizona. It was female so she named her Billie.

Billie soon adapted to the new neighborhood and was already “workin’” all the animals on the place: barn cats, old dogs, saddle horses, jackrabbits, and the occasional javelina.

By the time she was nine months old, she had begun to travel farther afield so it was necessary to pen her up at night.

One morning, Darrie drug herself out of bed. She worked her way out to the kitchen in her old but comfy nightgown with the faded pattern of Sequoia cactus and cowboy hats. Slipping outside, she scooped a cup of dog food from the barrel and went to feed Billie. To her exasperation, Billie had “flown the coop.”

Darrie scuffed across the yard in her wool-lined bed slippers, calling Billie by name, “Billie! Billie! Biiiiilllyyyyy!”

At the edge of the irrigated pasture, she stopped to survey the horizon. Low and behold, she saw Billie across the pasture in the neighbor’s farm yard. That was a relief in a way, but in another way it was an acid-reflux moment.

Billie was racing along the ridge with an object in her jaws. A white, feathered object, to be precise. It occurred to Darrie that the neighbor had chickens … but Billie still had most of her baby teeth, didn’t she?

Still yelling at the tip of her lungs at the dog, Darrie climbed the wire fence into the pasture. It was boggy from irrigation, the grass was wet with humidity and it was a foot high. She fought her way across the field, her cactus and cowboy hat nighty dragging in her wake. She crawled over the other side fence and caught goofy-little Billie who was delighted to show her the catch that had lost all its feathers.

Then Darrie noticed the ground around her looked like a broiler battlefield, a Campbell’s soup catastrophe, a field of flattened fowl … all the chickens were naked. Bare breasts everywhere. It looked like one of those old Renaissance paintings.

Distraught, Darrie went up to her neighbor’s kitchen door. With tears in her eyes, she confessed to Billie’s crime, chicken murder in the second degree. She offered to pay restitution and do her laundry for a month.

The neighbor took in Darrie’s appearance: muddy up to her hips, feathers stuck to her arms and hair, and her nightgown dragging like a bridal train at a greased pig contest.

“They’re not dead,” the neighbor said. “I chased your dog away, just not in time. But your dog didn’t kill them, she just plucked ‘em all!”

Then she added that one did die, but she thought it was from fright.

“What can I do?” asked the contrite Darrie.

The neighbor thought it over and said, “Well, I am worried about them getting heat stroke.”

“Oh, OK,” said Darrie. “I’ll run home and get some sunscreen.”

“Either that,” said the neighbor, “or barbecue sauce.”

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