It was a cold morning in downtown Vermontville and the thin, white stream of smoke rising straight up from the chimney of Gene's Grocery and Gas Station proclaimed to the villagers that Gene had stoked up the big pot-belly stove in the center of his store and was preparing for the day's activities. Gene had installed an efficient oil furnace several years ago but he enjoyed the extra heat provided by the old wood burning pot-belly stove. Arthritis had set in from years of pumping gas during the Adirondack winters and the heat from the old stove felt good on Gene's aging, weather-beaten hands. His regulars, too, enjoyed the warmth provided by the wood stove. Most mornings they could be found sitting around the old pot-belly stove perched on cracker barrels, which were placed in a semi-circle around the hot stove. Gene had bought the barrels from Jim Latour when the old lumberman closed down his sawmill. The group found contentment sitting on those barrels in that old store, drinking coffee and swapping yarns. This was the ultimate pleasure for the regulars on a cold winters day. Jim had made the barrels by hand and Gene had considered them a good investment at five dollars apiece. Jim had also thrown in a large perculator coffee pot which he had saved from the Saranac Inn fire of forty years ago. Gene kept the old pot on top of the stove, simmering all day and occasionaly refilling it when it got too low or too strong. It usually got too low before it got too strong. The regulars would drop donations to pay for the coffee into a tin cup near the pot. Whenever they felt a twinge of guilt, that is. Each of the regulars had his own mug, which could be found hanging from a nail in the wall behind the stove and each user was responsible for the maintenance of his own vessel. A few of the mugs had been in an unwashed state for weeks. Gene had just recently installed a new cappuccino machine next to the till for the "New Adirondackers" who had been moving up from the flatlands lately. They just couldn't acquire a taste for the brew on the pot-belly stove. Whenever a "New Adirondacker" would order one of the cappuccino beverages the regulars would look at each other with sly smiles and hold their pinkies up and take little sips of coffee and say things like, "Oh William,have you tried the French Almond?It's soooo tasty." Then they would all laugh like schoolboys until Gene came over and threatened them.

On this particular cold January morning Gene had just filled the pot with water and the metal basket on top of the pot with coffee from a can behind the counter. He ground his own blend in an old grinder he had bought from Orville Paye several years ago. Orville had obtained it from the old IGA store in Saranac Lake when it had closed in the late 40's. Gene knew that Orville had made a good profit from the sale but the machine had worked flawlessly for the last fifteen years so he was confident that he had gotten his money's worth..

The pot had just begun to perk when the cowbell, which hung from the front door, announced the first customer of the day. It was Sandy Hayes. "Hi,Sandy.You're kind of early aren't you? It's not even seven yet.What's up?"

Sandy went to the stove, picked his cup from the wall and filled it with coffee. "I've got to meet an old friend here. He's interested in seeing that flock of turkeys that have been feeding at Dave Dekkers' place for the last month. He's writing a book on turkeys and wants to do a study on them."

"Yep. Dave says that there are about thirty turkeys that come to eat in his yard every morning. He claims that lately some of them have come up missing. He feeds them popcorn,Kibbles and Bits dog food and sunflower seeds. Says they love it. He claims the tom must go sixty pounds. The hens, he says, go about twenty. He should be in this morning some time to pick up a case of Kibbles, matter of fact."

Sandy took his seat on the barrel against the wall,where he could keep an eye on the door, took a sip of his coffee, filled his pipe, scratched a stick match across the side of the stove, lit the pipe and took a long, thoughtful, draw. "He should be here by now."

Gene paused from sweeping behind the counter. "Who are you meeting?"

"Do you recall Neil Drew, who used to live in Bloomingdale years back?", Sandy took another draw and blew a smoke ring which hovered just above his Stetson hat.

Gene leaned his broom on the counter and went to the stove to warm his arthritic hands. "Last I heard he was raising ostriches on a farm he bought just outside of Malone."

Sandy chuckled. "Well, he did well with it until the bottom dropped out of the business. Seems folks weren't interested in Thanksgiving ostrich and the eggs were too big for normal sized frying pans. He switched to raising flamingoes for a couple of years with no better luck, then switched to turkeys. In the meantime he had acquired a a vast knowledge of the bird family. In fact, he's working on a book now called 'The Adirondack Turkey'. I asked him if it was autobiographical but he wasn't amused at all by my quick, biting, wit. He's very serious about it. He's very interested in why the local turkey flock is getting smaller."

Just then, the cowbell on the front door announced another customer.

Maude Barney, making her weekly visit to civilization, stomped noisily in, removed her helmet and placed it on the counter, then went to the stove, where she tossed her snow-covered, moth-eaten, bearskin parka on a barrel and placed her rump only inches from the stove, rubbing it in obvious delight. "Dang seat of my snow machine is colder than a witches hooter! A body could freeze their dad-blamed wazoo off out there today."

Maude took her dirty mug off the wall, filled it with coffee and put a dime in the contribution cup. She gave Sandy a scowl when she saw that he had only dropped in a nickle and took the nickle as change. She turned towards Gene. "Throw a bag of them gol-dang dog kibbles into my staple order and some of them fancy sunflower seeds you got in for them "New Adirondackers" to eat while they're watching their dad-blamed cable t.v."

Gene looked up from the meat counter, where he was slicing baloney. "Get yourself a new dog,Maude?"

"None of your dang business! Just get my order together and let me get back to my cabin away from nosy folk, such as the present dad-blamed company!"

Maude quickly got dressed, brought her supplies out to her snow machine and tied them behind a large box, which was already fastened to the back of the sled. She sped off, leaving a large cloud of snow behind.

Sandy tapped his pipe against the stove and grinned. "Guess she's still mad about the moose incident, huh? Never could figure out what went wrong."

Maude still displayed a slight limp as a result of the encounter with a large moose which Sandy was photographing last month. Sandy had sold the tape to a tv show on Fox called "Worlds Most Dangerous Antlered Creatures" which specialized in showing shocking live-action videos of horned and antlered animals stomping and goring innocent bystanders. Folks in the flatlands seemed to enjoy watching these shows. He gave Maude fifty dollars for her part in it but she still was mad. He had been paid two thousand but since it was his camera he felt entitled to the larger share. He gave Hawley ten, though the poor guy couldn't remember anything since the incident. Hawley's memory was showing signs of improvement though. He showed definite signs of fear last week, when one of the nurses mentioned that they were having chocolate mousse for dessert in the hospital dining room.

Just then the cowbell clanged and Neil Drew walked in covered with snow. "I almost got killed out by the gas pumps just now. Someone,looking like a deranged bear on a snow machine, ran me over. I could hear cackling laughter as the driver knocked me to the ground. Luckily, I am still agile enough to dodge her on her second attempt."

Gene chuckled, "Oh,that was just Maude. She doesn't care much for strangers, or anyone else, for that matter. She almost killed Dave Dekkers when he first moved up the road. Thought he was a "New Adirondacker", just because he was wearing a Bruins jacket. Only thing that saved him was that he had his grandson's hockey equipment in the back of his Ram pickup and he was able to grab a hockey stick. Whooee, you don't mess with them Bruins fans! Good thing she was wearing her helmet."

Neil rubbed his shoulder gingerly and brushed off some feathers which had somehow gotten on his coat. "Oh, yes, I stopped at Dave's place on the way in and witnessed the turkeys as they fed. I put on a camouflaged jacket and hid in the field. It was interesting how the Tom displayed his feathers to signal orders to the hens. They waited until the old Tom gave a certain display of his feathers and then they would proceed to come out of the woods to feed. He would do the same display when it was time to leave. Altogether it was very interesting. Dave said he lost two more birds today. He says about two a week disappear.Very strange!"

Gene poured Neil a foam cup of cappuccino, forgetting for a moment that Neil was a Real Adirondacker, and handed it to him. "How many are left in the flock,now?"

Neil accepted the cappuccino. "The correct terminology for a group of turkeys is a "RAFTER". There are twenty two left out of thirty.Dave can't figure out what's happening. He suspects coy dogs are taking them."

Sandy absentmindedly brushed a few feathers from the back of Neil's coat. "It's a mystery to all of us,Neil."

Gene stooped and picked up one of the feathers which had fallen to the floor. "Hey, you must have gotten some turkey feathers on your coat while you were out at Dave's!"

"Uh, I wasn't wearing this coat. I had on my camouflage jacket while I was out there."

Sandy went to the door and peered out. "Look at all those feathers out by the gas pumps." Suddenly it dawned on the group. Maude's purchase of sunflower seeds and kibbles. The timing of the weekly disappearance of the birds. The box on the back of her sled! Everything fit right in.

The following week the group concealed themselves in Dave's field and Sandy videotaped Maude as she shanghied another of the hens. This time, however the large Tom spotted her and gave chase. It caught her just as she was trying to start her snow machine and the resulting mayhem was taped by Sandy, who once again reaped a hefty profit for his efforts. The tape can be seen this week on "The Worlds Most Dangerous Fowl", on the Fox channel.