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The Chicken Lady: an excerpt from a draft of the next David Elliott mystery

My mood was sour. Judy and I hadn’t talked for a week. I clung to her words as she left me: “Don’t give up on me.” Not easy.

It had been hot day walking the streets of Las Cruces, No clouds, not much of a breeze. I hadn’t seen a thermometer, but it must have hit the 90s. I drank lots of water, but the air was so dry I didn’t break a sweat. Dr. Frick’s grid for this part of town was much less fruitful when it came to prospects for the Lutheran church. Lots of Catholics, lots of nobody homes. If no one answered the door, I left a pamphlet with information about the project, but I was to make a return call on every no show, which was a pain in the neck.

The last house on this block was set a ways back. I nearly missed it. As I walked along the dusty approach road, every foot step kicked up one or two grasshoppers. Soon there were three chickens trotting and clucking alongside, snatching at the spinning hoppers. Danged if once or twice those chickens didn’t spring up and grab an insect on the fly. I concentrated on the tableau, chuckling and laughing at those darn birds, and ran smack into the chain link fence in front of the house. Man! The clipboard and pamphlets went flying. My left hand was bleeding. The brown hen cocked her head, her right eye blinking at me. I scrambled in the dirt to pick up my stuff.

“What you doin’ to my chickens?” The voice belonged to a middle-aged woman, round face, long straight grey hair parted in the middle, wearing a kind of sack dress. Barefoot. I wiped my hand with a handkerchief, explaining with more irritation than I intended my purpose in coming to her home.

Her eyes widened. “Oh sweet Jesus! I been praying for you to come today. You just come on in and let me fix up that hand.” “You see,” she said as she poured about a pint of Merthiolate on the wound, darn near causing me to pass out from the burning pain, “I’m not what you might say religious, but I sure as hell am a spiritual being, no mistake. You see, the Virgin and I, we talk every day ‘bout lots of things, mostly spiritual, a’ course.” She pressed a band aid on my hand. To my thinking the cure was worse than the injury. The Merthiolate was probably eating a hole through my hand.

“Just yesterday the Virgin called me and told me that a young man had come to town and  would be visiting one of these days, and she was right, by damn.” “Yes. Well, I’m doing a survey for the United Lutheran Church to determine if there is interest in establishing a Lutheran church in . . .” The brown hen had followed me into the house and flew up to perch on my shoulder.

“Don’t pay her no mind. Do you believe in reincarnation?” “What?” “You see, the Virgin told me yesterday I should ask you. She’s really into reincarnation, you see.  She says I’ll probably come back as a chicken in my next life, seein’ how I likes chickens, especially fried!” She laughed, slapping her knee in delight.

I pulled a pen and held it above the clipboard in my lap. “I just need to ask a few questions and then I’ll be on to the next house. Uh, what is your full name, Ma’am?” “Do you?” she asked. “I’m sorry?” “Do you believe in reincarnation?” “Oh. No, I don’t. May I have your name, please?” “Why?” “Well, we need to know if . . .” “Not that. Why don’t you believe in coming back as a chicken or some such?”

“Um, actually Lutherans don’t teach reincarnation, and I’m pretty sure the Catholic Church does not believe in it either.” “What the hell does the Catholics have to do with this?  “I assumed that since you and the Virgin Mary talk with each other, that She wouldn’t ascribe -er, believe in reincarnation.” “The Virgin who? Mary? Her name is Susan. Susan Tavurgen, t-a-v-u-r-g-e-n. Her husband’s Don. She lives up on Mesquite. What the hell, you think I’m some kind of nut, talkin’ to Jesus’ mother?”

I never did get the chicken lady’s name. I listed her as Not Interested.

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