Our story starts happily enough, as many stories do, and not with once upon a time, but with July 12. That was the date I met with a pleasant surprise, as I went about my chicken chores.
    Little Red Hen, a friendly Bantam that so wanted to be a big chicken, had taken up residence in C. Everett Coop, the small, red building reserved for the larger birds. She had forsaken her Bantammates in Gary Cooper, the small, blue building nearby.
    As I sought eggs, I spied Little Red in one and decided I might as well frisk her, too. Sometime hens like to lay where others have been before them.
    I discovered a couple of warm orbs beneath Little Red. But, I also discovered something else.
    A wee, yellow head adorned with a wee, orange beak peaked out from under the hen’s right wing. It uttered a single “peep” before ducking under its feathered sanctuary.
    “Well,” I said to myself. “New life. How wonderful.”
    I let mother and child be, for they seemed content without the likes of me. I did make sure to find the bag of chick starter, layer crumbles and cracked corn. This I placed in front of the next box, along with a shallow bowl of water.
    The next day, I assumed all was well. The feed and water were nearly gone. My ears caught the sound of more peeping from under Little Red.
    On July 15, the chick had a name, Sanders. Yes, that’s derived from the Colonel gent who founded the Kentucky Fried chain. It seemed like a good name, for I had no idea whether the chick was destined for henhood or roosterhood.
    On that same day, Little Red Hen still seemed broody, so I stashed one big, brown egg under her along with five new Bantam eggs.
    We got no new chicks from that effort. Little Red snapped out of her Zenlike motherhood trance, abandoned the eggs and set out to show Sanders to the other chickens.
    On July 20, tragedy nearly struck. The sky darkened, wind rushed in from the west, rain lashed, thunder and lightning crashed.
    Where were little Sanders and Little Red?
    Just in time, we found them cowering in the tall grass by the woods. Quickly, Jessica and I shooed them into the coop.
    Eight days later, something attacked our veteran rooster. We discovered that Foghorn Leghorn, a Silver-Laced Wyandotte, was missing.
    Not a trace. No feathers. No blood. Nothing. Was this the beginning of the foul play?
    A day later, Ziggy, our black, Frizzle Bantam rooster met his maker. The brace of Golden Retrievers went romping by the creek and dragged the little bird’s wet, lifeless body back to the house.
    The next day, the plot thickened. Rooster Cogburn, the strawberry blonde, feather-footed Bantam, lay huddled and shaking by the redbud tree. A sorry sight he was, his back nearly devoid of feathers.
    We placed him in a portable pen and placed the pen in Gary Cooper. Nurse Jessica sprayed Cogburn’s ragged back with an antibiotic and placed feed and water within his easy reach.
    Was his attacker something from the sky? A hawk perhaps, or maybe one of the bald eagles that sometimes soar overhead?
    Rooster Cogburn departed on July 30. It was the same morning that I found the feathers of Foghorn Leghorn up along the driveway. Our happy flock had been winnowed down to four remaining roosters - Fog Light, son of Fog Horn, Russell Crow, Little Crow and Chanticleer.
    On Aug. 1, the Goldens earned their new nickname: The Hounds of the Johnsonvilles. It was an incident that could have been based on a Sherlock Holmes story.
    For some reason, the golden girls turned evil. Normally mild mannered, the canines went after one of my Japanese fantail Bantams. I’m sure she ran and flew and that only incited the hounds to their murderous behavior.
    I caught them red-pawed, dragging the scared and squawking bird by the neck. The next day, the Japanese Fan-Tail Bantam expired.
     The mysterious goings-on recommenced on Sept. 1. That’s the last day we saw Little Red Hen and Mrs. Prosser. I saw them head for the tall grass that grows between a patch of woods and our spring-fed creek.
    Why Sanders did not tag along with its mom, I do not know. I do know that Mrs. Prosser, an older, red hen with half her feathers gone due to the roosters’ romancing, was fond of frequenting the stream where she scratched among the fallen leaves from the large oaks.
    Labor Day came and went with still no sign of Mrs. Prosser or Little Red Hen. They are still gone, so the mystery continues.
    What’s more, a black Bantam hen vanished a couple of days ago. That makes at least seven chickens unaccounted for. We are down to seven Bantams and 10 larger ones.
    What evil lurks in the heart of the oak grove by the stream? What rampaging raccoon, hungry hawk, fierce fox, crafty coyote or wild weasel haunts that spot?
    What I do know is that I am in the midst of solving the case of murder most fowl.  Where are the likes of Miss Marple, Columbo and Sherlock Holmes in my hour of need?