by Sky Hedman, 1876 words
Only the white headed volunteer, Audrey, knew where Tim lived, and only Audrey instinctively knew to help Tim right now. She paused in the hallway, listening to the conversation about the Tesla, the chickens and the kidnapping. Lucille, the black and white Border Collie that Audrey had just taken for a walk, stood quietly at Audrey’s side. Tim had few choices when it came to safe places, and Audrey sensed that Animal Farm was not one of those at this moment. Neither was his home at his mother’s, the double wide trailer where his mother ran a side business getting tips from “clients” that she brought home for the evening. Audrey guessed that Tim had been the one driving the white Tesla filled with chickens (where did he get that car?) and, that it was probably parked outside the place that Tim called home.
Audrey could do more than bake cookies for Tim. During her career as a middle school teacher, she had developed “street cred” that calmed the waters during chaos. What should she do? Mr. Roger’s phrase popped into her head: “Look for the helpers.” None of the excited people she was listening to belonged in the category of helpers. Each of them, Delia, Pino and Phil, seemed to care more about themselves than anyone else. She knew that they could care less about Tim’s safety.
Audrey had just seen another volunteer, Lynn Bassett, out back, hosing down the dog run. With a gentle tug on the leash, Audrey turned Lucille around and the two headed for Lynn. Since Lynn’s van was big enough for her two Great Danes, it would work out for the chickens, Audrey thought. In hushed tones, Audrey conveyed what she had heard. “We need to help Tim,” she said. “Would you drive?” With Lynn’s consent, Audrey brought Lucille along, hoping her herding instinct would help with the chickens. Without delay, they headed for the parking lot. “Wait,” Audrey said. “What do we have that chickens could eat?”
Lynn silently ran through the various bags of food the shelter kept in the pantry. “Food for gerbils, kittens, cats, rabbits, puppies, dogs, hmmm,” she thought. “Oats? Parakeet food?” The two made a quick detour to the pantry, and without asking permission, hauled a huge bag of vegan cat food towards the van. “We don’t have enough vegan cats to eat this much in ten years,” Lynn commented quietly. “No one will notice.” She also grabbed a bag of apples.
The three of them, Lynn, Audrey, and Lucille, loaded into the van, hoisting the vegan cat food and the apples onto the back seat. Lynn put the van in gear just as Pino was coming out the front door of Animal Farm. Avoiding his gaze, Audrey gave quiet driving directions to Lynn. “Turn right out of the driveway.”
“Oh, Tim,” Audrey thought as they drove the narrow country road. He has the biggest heart, but the prefrontal cortex of his brain? It was lagging behind. Audrey knew Tim would never plan to hurt any animals, but he might impulsively act out his dream of freeing chickens from industrialized murder without thinking it through. “He’s a sweetie,” she said out loud. The sun was already dipping in the sky, as it did this time of year in the late afternoon. Audrey’s volunteer shift would normally be ending now, so no one would question her absence. The waning light cast deep shadows across the road.
“It’s amazing that Tim gets to Animal Farm every day on foot. This is a long commute,” Audrey said. She knew that sometimes he borrowed a bicycle.
Lynn drove with a heavy foot. She had been on her own since she “liberated” herself from home at age 15, same age that Tim was now. Lynn didn’t dwell on her past. Some memories were clouded by too many beers and a few too many tokes. After years of riding on the backseats of motorcycles owned by her boyfriends, she bought her own at age 18. The motorcycle was cheap enough to purchase but not fun as transportation in this climate of rain, cold and dark. Not much to write home about anyway, Lynn thought. She was glad to leave the past behind.
Lynn’s two Great Danes filled up the house that she rented, even before she added the cat. She worked full time as a meter reader for the city, which gave her time to volunteer in the mornings and her days off. She didn’t have much use for humans. The animals were a loving and grateful family, more so than the people she knew. The other Animal Farm volunteers came and went. Only Audrey had been a steady presence, and only Audrey had reached out to Lynn.
Rain started to spatter the windshield. “We need the rain,” Audrey commented, filling the space in Lynn’s silence. Just then, they spotted an old man slowly pushing a bicycle in the opposite direction. He seemed to be limping. His helmet was pushed back from his forehead and the muddy spandex bike top he was wearing revealed a gap that exposed his pale stomach. He limped on stiff bicycle shoes like he had been walking a hundred miles. Audrey recognized him immediately. “That’s Tom!”
“Should I stop for him?”
“No!” Audrey said as she exhaled, “We are on a mission.”
Tom was heading into the rising wind, and soon water was dripping down his forehead from the rain. In just another mile he would be back at Animal Farm. He was ready to heave the $4000 bike into the first dumpster he encountered, but here on the edge of town, none offered up themselves. He settled on the idea of making a deal with Tim, or one of the other low budget staff members, who would undoubtedly appreciate the bike more than Tom did.
Tom mused over Tyson’s business proposition. Had Tyson really said $250 million? Tom had reason to celebrate that proposition if he could just get out of the rain and into warm clothes. An armchair and a drink would be good too. Delia would be impressed, although Tom wasn’t sure he needed to tell her the whole amount. $50 million would be enough to settle her back in New York permanently. He’d try to get Tyson to transfer the money tomorrow before Tyson changed his mind.
When gray haired Sergeant Ralph Pepper and his younger Officer Charles Winthrop turned off the blue lights and eased the police car onto the Cluckers’ driveway, they were overwhelmed by chicken chaos. The door to the main barn stood open. At least a hundred rusty orange Rhode Island Reds were foraging on the driveway and in the field around the main chicken house, pecking like perpetual motion machines. A female flotilla of Cluckers’ chickens was streaming across the field that led to the river. Some had flown up in the trees, their red combs and waddles standing out amidst the fall leaves. Sergeant Pepper rolled down his window. The peeps of baby chicks mixed with the squawking of the mature hens scattered everywhere.
“Supposed to have 10,000 chickens.,” Ralph commented.
Charles murmured, “Yeah, I’ve been in the barn before.” The officers looked over the chicken scene, taking in a mental picture. It was remarkably devoid of human presence.
The cruiser continued past the chicken barns and slaughterhouse, as well as the original farm house where the caretaker used to live. A massive ten foot wrought iron fence separated the newer house and yard from the chicken operation. The fence gave an air of formality to the home.
Ralph steered the cruiser through the wrought iron gate, marked with two signs: “No Trespassing. This property is protected by Video Surveillance. Violators will be prosecuted,” as well as the familiar blue and white ADT security sign. The pair drove in silence towards the palatial house, following the circular driveway which curved around a lit fountain. It was pumping water over tall basalt rocks, stacked artfully to channel the cascade into the sparkling pool below.
Tyson Cluckers stood on the front steps of the house, still in his tight fitting green bicycle jersey, cycling bib tights and shorts. His fit body was framed by the massive two story glass entrance behind him. He walked towards them, every step accentuated by the tapping of his bike shoes on marble. Despite the rain and rising wind, he walked with confidence.
“Chuck,” Tyson said as the two police officers emerged from their squad car. Tyson extended his hand to Charles. The two had played high school soccer together. They shared many a late night party, as well, celebrating a win or commiserating from a loss. Most of the players attended, along with their girlfriends or sisters. It was at one of these gatherings that Tyson had met Cathy.
Officer Pepper introduced himself, “Ralph Pepper.”
The radio on Charles’ shoulder crackled and Charles turned away. He put his hand over the radio as he stepped away and spoke into it briefly, then turned back to give his full attention to Tyson. Pulling out a notebook and a pen from his vest, he said, “What seems to be the matter?”
Through the bandages, Cathy Cluckers could only see part of the screen. M.T. had to read the rest to her and put in the passwords that Cathy had carefully written down. Cathy was feeling feverish and tired after signing on and off several bank web sites and transferring money to the one account only she controlled. She sent silent thanks for her deceased father, who had made sure that his darling daughter would have enough for “what if.”
Cathy teared up as she thought of her father’s reluctance to support her marriage to Tyson. She had hidden her injuries and made excuses for Tyson’s behavior for a long time, eventually finding it easier to not see her parents or her sister, claiming to be busy. She soldiered through his bouts of rage and violence, suffering silently because she knew she couldn’t match his strength. “I’m not a camel and I don’t carry straw,” she thought, “but the straw that broke my back was the day Diamond was found dead in the back of Tyson’s pickup.” She knew her cat Diamond’s death was no accident, and she knew then that she had to get away from Tyson permanently, or her body might be next. She was vigilant enough to cover her tracks and plan her exit carefully before she made her move. Finding a plastic surgeon in this small town had been hard, but once she saw his ad guaranteeing privacy, she began to plot her solitary escape.
M.T. brought Cathy a cup of mint tea. “This should help you relax,” she said. “We can keep working on the computer stuff tomorrow.” Cathy’s energy was sagging, and M.T.’s caring demeanor was welcome. It has been a long time since Cathy had been on the receiving end of kindness.
“Before I leave tomorrow, tell me who I should donate to, to thank you for your help.” Cathy’s words were slurred. She pushed the recliner back until she was completely horizontal, and soon was fast asleep.