By Aeryn Rudel
Linda sat on the porch, sipping coffee and listening to her husband bump and rattle around the house behind her. Harlan hadn’t come down for his morning cup, and that meant he was up to something. She had a pretty good idea what.
She took another sip of the fancy brew their daughter sometimes brought from Seattle. She’d resisted at first but had to admit those folks knew their way around a cup of Joe.
Harlan continued his ruckus, which was now joined by soft curses. “Where’re my goddamn shells? I know I left ‘em in that drawer . . .”
Finally, the screen door squeaked open and out stepped the love of her life. Even at sixty-two, Harlan stood tall and broad-shouldered, his arms and chest muscular, his square, honest face not quite handsome, but reassuring, comforting. He wore his hunting get-up—camouflage chic, she called it—and carried his duck-hunting shotgun.
“Harlan Dubois, where are you going with that shotgun?” Linda said, over the rim of her coffee mug.
“Where am I going?” Harlan replied. “Where the hell do you think I’m going, Linda?”
“I think you’re about to traipse off in those woods looking for trouble.” She nodded toward the line of pine trees that served as the northern boundary of their farm.
“I ain’t looking for trouble,” he said. “It was brought to our doorstep. Did you not see the massacre in our hen house last night?”
Linda nodded, slowly. “I did. Blood, feathers, and shit everywhere.”
“Well, I am gonna go find the villain who killed three of my best egg layers,” Harlan said and drew himself up. He loved those chickens, named every one of them, and Linda knew it hurt his heart to find them mangled and torn.
“And who do you think visited this tragedy upon us, husband-o-mine?” Linda pressed.
Harlan glared at her. “That damn fox. What else? It’s been slinking around the property, and I know for a fact the mangy beast took some eggs.”
“I’ll grant you that vixen absconded with a few eggs, but she didn’t kill those hens,” Linda said, and braced for the storm.
“What? Harlan thundered. “Foxes eat chickens. Every man, woman, and child with enough sense to add two and two knows that. I tell you, though, this one ain’t gonna eat any more.” He stepped off the porch with his gun over his shoulder, muttering to himself, and headed toward the trees.
Linda watched him go, then finished her coffee.
She was on her third cup and in the middle of a spicy romance on her Kindle—another thoughtful gift from her daughter—when Harlan appeared at the edge of the property. He walked toward the house slowly, the shotgun cradled in his arms. When he neared, he didn’t meet Linda’s gaze.
“You find that fox, Harlan?” Linda said.
He mounted the stairs, set the shotgun against the side of the house, and plopped into the old wicker chair beside hers. “I did.”
“I didn’t hear a gunshot,” Linda said, suppressing the triumphant smile threatening to bloom at the corners of her mouth.
“No, Linda. You did not,” Harland said, flatly.
Linda looked up from her book again and tapped her chin with one finger. “Well, now, Harlan, that strikes me as odd. You left an hour ago, shotgun in hand to find and shoot a fox. You found the fox, so why didn’t you shoot her?”
“She had a litter of kits in her den,” Harlan said, softly, almost whispering. “Couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t be right.”
“Oh, I see. Anything else in that den?”
He chewed his lip for a second and then, “Egg shells.”
“No chicken feathers?”
He chuckled and stared down at his hands. “You are enjoying this, ain’tcha Linda?”
She was enjoying it, but not because she’d been right and he’d been wrong. It was because Harlan had once again proved to be the gentle, compassionate man she’d married thirty years ago. She got up, kissed him on the top of his head, and said, “You’re a fool, Harlan Dubois, but you’re a good man. Now, you want a cup of coffee?”
He perked up. “That stuff Jennie brings?”
Linda sat on the porch again, drinking coffee. They’d run out of the Seattle brew and she’d resorted to an old can of Folgers she’d found in the back of the pantry. She took a sip and grimaced. Tasted like dish water.
Harlan was out collecting eggs from the hen house, and when he returned he had a full basket. “I’m gonna do a scramble when I get back from visiting with Vickie,” he said, and went into the house.
He came back with half an egg carton filled with six of the best eggs he’d gathered. One for Vickie, and one for each of her kits. “You see the present she left us on the doorstep this morning?”
Linda nodded. “I did. She chewed that weasel’s head right off its furry body. I suspect your chickens will go unmolested henceforth.”
“I suspect you’re right,” Harlan said, trying not to smile, but it battled through, and he grinned down at his feet. “I guess this proves beyond a shadow that you were right.”
“It does, but that’s not important,” Linda said. “What is important is that you take yourself back into the kitchen and fetch that rasher of bacon I set out.”
“For what?” Harlan said.
“For Vickie and her kits, of course. She did us a service, Harlan.”
He snorted laughter. “Well, never let it be said Harlan Dubois don’t offer fair pay for fair work.”