Cow Pies and Country Cousins

by Charles Well and Sam The Ham

Chapter 2


The breakfast prepared by Aunt Kate was nowhere near the disaster Jimmy had feared. In fact, if pressed he would grudgingly admit it was far better than anything they typically ate in New York. Rather than the usual Frosted Flakes, they were served bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy, home fries, and fruit. Both boys were hungry and happily wolfed down all that was put on their plates. Uncle Jack had reminded his sons they still had chores to complete and all but the very youngest of the males, a 5-year-old named Stevie, and the girl named Sue, who turned out to be 9, had left them in peace. As Aunt Kate busied herself at the stove, their own mother helped. The brothers looked on in surprise as they never knew their mom had such skill. They always helped themselves to breakfast, they bought lunch at the cafeteria at school, and their maid, Consuelo, always cooked their evening meal.

Over breakfast the boys learned some interesting facts. This family were the Sullivans, and their farm consisted of 285 acres of the "dang-near best bottom land" in Harrison County, South Carolina. The nearest town of any note was River Falls (population 73,182) "just five-miles away to the city limits." Five-miles seemed a lot to the boys from New York where everything was measured in blocks. Two blocks to the subway. Four blocks to school. Neither brother had any real idea how far a mile actually was. The farm used to be the property of "old-man O'Reilly back in the day," they were told and their own mom had lived here for several years as a "young'n." Neither boy could imagine their mother ever being a young'n, let alone own a country girl in pigtails like Sue who sat with them at the table, but who was not eating.

They also learned about the family. Apart from Uncle Jack and Aunt Kate, there were 9 kids in the clan. The oldest, Margaret-Mary (18) who liked to be called Meg was away at College in Columbia at the University of South Carolina. She would occasionally return home for weekends, but she had several part-time jobs and always took on extra hours during the long vacation. The only other female was 9-year-old Sue who threaten Dame with a black eye if he ever called her Susan. Then there were the boys. As far as Jimmy could tell, they had been popping these out every year or so like sausages in a meat packing factory. The oldest, Thomas, was 15 and called Tom. Next was John, who they called Junior, or sometimes Jack. He was 14. Then there was the 12-year-old kid Jimmy had spoken to. His name was Frederick.

"But be prepared to have your ears boxed if you call him anything other than Fred," warned Aunt Kate. "Same with names like Freddy or Freddo Frog. That's fighting words for my Fred," she pointed out only half-jokingly.

Dame burst into uncontrollable laughter at the mention of "Freddo Frog" and sprayed half a mouthful of egg, bacon, and toast over the table.

Jimmy looked on in disgust, but Aunt Kate smiled at the antics.

"He is mighty sensitive about the name, as I said. Oh Lordy yes! You see Freddo Frogs are a famous candy in the UK, and one poor English young'n, who happened to mention it to my son in the 5th grade is still missing a front tooth I hear tell. So you be warned child."

Dame had not stopped laughing and ended up on the floor in fits of giggles.

"Get a grip Dame. It's not that funny," Jimmy warned, showing signs of losing his temper. The younger boy eventually managed to resume his seat and Aunt Kate continued.

"Folks say that there's a real hair-trigger on that boy. But don't you go worry'n none Jimmy. There be no better friend than my Fred, once you get to know him."

Then she turned to the younger boy, "And Damien, you'll get along real well with the twins – Harry and William. They're 11-years-old too. But call them Harry and Bill. Those two are a real handful. Enough to frazzle their daddy's nerves at times. And his belt too, true enough. But they're good boys and not a mean bone between 'em."

All this was far more information than Jimmy wanted, or thought would be ever needed. It was not as if he was going to make friends with any of these hillbillies. They might be distant cousins, but as his mom had never mentioned them, he was perfectly fine with pretending they didn't exist. South Carolina and New York were a long way apart, and none of his friends would ever meet these people. He looked at his watch. Everyone said it was impolite to eat and run, so he avoided asking his mom directly when they'd be leaving for home. But his patience was wearing thin.

If Aunt Kate sensed Jimmy's mood, she gave no sign and continued the proud recitation of her offspring.

"Next oldest is Sue here, who you know. She's 9 and only the second girl. You see, I was blessed with mainly boys. And that brings us to Luke, 7 and Stevie 5. They are the babies in the family."

"Ma!" grumbled Luke, who had wandered in and sat down a short time before.

"We're not babies. I'm almost 8," said the indignant youngster.

After the fine breakfast, Mrs. Bukland insisted that her two sons accompany her on a walk around the farm. Jimmy was reluctant at first, but it was clear Mom would brook no argument, and he grudgingly followed. On the other hand, Dame appeared rather excited with the idea.

"Can we look at some of the animals?" he asked enthusiastically.

He received a big smile and a "Yes," from his mother. Then as they emerged out the front door onto the porch, he asked Aunt Kate if he could put on a pair of the extra rain boots placed in a neat row, like soldiers on guard duty, next to the front door of the Sullivan homestead.

"Of course dear," she replied. "That's why they're there."

Jimmy was more reluctant to put on the ridiculous shoes at first, but one look at his Nike LeBron X Championship sneakers, still covered in animal shit, was enough to convince him otherwise. He wouldn't be wearing them again until Consuelo had a chance to work her magic. He guessed they'd need to go into a plastic bag to get them home.

"Boys, I need you to listen to me very carefully," said their mother as they walked down a gravel path that led towards open fields of grass where a small herd of cows grazed. They would learn later, this area was called the front-forty, as opposed to the field directly behind the house called, logically enough, the back-forty. In fact neither of these fields were actually forty-acres, as tradition dictated, but the names stuck. The farm had been in the O'Reilly, and later Sullivan family, long before the Homestead Act of the 1860s and had steadily expanded over the years.

"I have some serious matters to discuss with you and I need your full attention. Your lives may depend on it."

She glanced at the faces of each boy. Damien had been looking off in the direction of the dairy cows, but that last statement had them both focused.

"You are probably wondering why we came down here. Well, it's a little complicated, and I don't know all the details myself, but I'll try to explain as best I can. First, you both need to promise you'll never tell anyone what I'm about to say. Can you promise me that?"

Both boys agreed.

"You know your father's biggest client at work is a man named Mr. Michael Giordano? You've met him remember?"

"Yep!" answered Jimmy. "We went to his house in The Hamptons a few weeks ago for that party. He wanted us kids to call him Mr. G. That was the time Dame ate too many hotdogs and barfed in the rose bushes."

Damien hated his brother for raising that incident again. He promised he never would. It was the deal the two struck when he covered for Jimmy sneaking out one night. The "hotdog incident" as his dad called it, had been the most embarrassing day of his life. He just wanted to forget it, and now his brother had betrayed him.

Mrs. Bukland ignored her eldest son's snide reference to Damien's faux pas and continued.

"Mr. Giordano – well sometimes in his business he makes enemies and…"

"Mom, we all know he's a mobster."

"James Adrian Bukland, how dare you? Mr. Giordano is a businessman. He's in the construction... Who told you such outrageous lies?"

"It was in the newspapers Mom. Mickey Bailey's dad told us about him. They think he runs…"

"That's more than enough out of you young man. I will need to have a long talk with Mr. Bailey. He needs to mind his own business. That man has his own skeletons in the closet. His sleazy real estate deals are the talk of Wall Street."

Jimmy shut up. He already had his mother and brother mad at him, and knew when to quit while he was ahead.

"The situation is that Mr. Giordano has enemies. Some very, very bad enemies and your father thinks they may try to get to Mr. G through him."

Jimmy looked at his brother, but Dame was still pouting over the hot-dog incident. However, he couldn't let that statement remain unclarified.

"Mom, I don't understand. How could dad do anything against Mr. G?"

"Jimmy, remember those two men you saw outside the apartment yesterday taking pictures of you and your brother?"

"We were with Mickey and Kyle. Those men were just pervs. They weren't gonna do anything with four of us there. Besides, Bill the doorman called the cops, and they're investigating those guys."

"The thing is boys, your father and I have agreed that it would be best if you two were out of harm's way for a time. We don't think anything bad will happen, but we thought it would be good if you had a bit of a holiday away from New York. Just for a week or so. Your Uncle Jack and Aunt Kate have agreed to put you up and we thought…"

Jimmy looked at his mother in horror.

"You want to leave us here with these hillbillies? No fucking way Mom. I'm not staying here."

"James Bukland. You do not talk to an adult like that. You're a child and you'll do as we say. The matter has been decided. One more swear word, or rude comment and you'll be taking up residence at that military academy in Virginia next school year. And we'll see how you like that. Understand?"

It was Jimmy's turn to pout this time, as a smile suddenly appeared on Dame's face.

His parents had threatened him with military school before, and he knew he had probably already pushed his mother too far this time.

"Jimmy, you think of yourself as better than everyone else because your father has done well. Don't deny it. I've seen how you treat other people. Your own successes are not impressive enough to justify your attitude. Besides, the Sullivans are good people, and you'll have lots of kids to play with. It'll do you both good to experience a different lifestyle for a change. And who knows, you might end up liking the farm. The happiest days of my life were spent here."

With that last statement she turned around and headed back to the house. A smiling Dame raced after her. The younger boy was actually rather pleased with the idea of spending a few days on a farm, and he had a million questions.

Jimmy waited where he was. He needed time to recover from his anger. If he went after his mom now, he'd say something he'd regret. The military academy was a real danger he knew. It was only his mother's intervention that had saved him from that fate when he got into trouble at school last semester for the bullying incident. But that wasn't his fault. That Baker kid was such a wimp, it was like he was asking for it. And besides, it was his buddy, Mickey, who pounded the kid and got suspended from school. Okay, he had said some bad stuff, but like the old saying, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me." And he had witnesses to prove he never touched the kid. Unfortunately, his father didn't listen, and said it wasn't the first time Jimmy had been accused of bullying. He argued strongly that his son be shipped off then and there. Fortunately, mom had interceded. However, his "last chance status" had been made abundantly clear on that occasion. So, pushing his luck this time was probably not a good idea.

By the time he got back to the house, his mom was standing on the front porch chatting to Aunt Kate. Next to her were two suitcases. Jimmy recognized them. They were the ones the boys had used when they went to France last summer. His parents had no doubt packed them before they woke them up for this trip, and they must have been sitting in the back of the car this whole time.

In his time alone, Jimmy had convinced himself that Mom must surely be joking about abandoning him to this nest of hillbillies. At the very least, he could talk her out of the crazy idea. That had usually worked before. But it seemed he might be fresh out of luck this time. The presence of the luggage "spoke to the issue of premeditation." That's how they talked on those cop shows he liked to watch. No, there was planning behind this. It was not some last-minute whim of his parents.

As he contemplated the dreary week ahead – had she used the word week or weeks – Dame came around the corner from the back of the house absorbed in horse-play with two boys who were obviously the twins Aunt Kate had mentioned earlier. Harry and Bill he recalled. He was good at putting names to faces, but these two would be a challenge. They were identical in every respect as far as he could see. They had the same curly black hair, olive complexion, deep tanned skin, strong facial features, and brown eyes all the Sullivan kids shared. But you could just about tell the others apart because of the age and height differences. However, these two? Then he noticed that Dame was carrying something. It was a small puppy and three other much larger dogs raced around the group excitedly. One even had a Frisbee in its mouth and kept pushing it towards Dame's feet. Jimmy knew his little bro loved animals and guessed he was probably in pig-heaven at the prospect of a few days on a farm. But Jimmy didn't share that view. Civilized people didn't keep animals in his experience. Well, the gay couple in 14B, Mr. Oliver and Mr. Brice, had two little yelping, nipping things the size of large rats, they called dogs. But Jimmy always assumed these were substitute kids, because they couldn't have any of their own. Animals always stank and they would shit anywhere. Other than providing a source of food, surely animals had no other purpose.

And with this crazy little group was the kid his age – Fred. The more he saw of this guy, the greater the sense of threat he felt.

"Boys, I've got to get moving," their mother was saying. "I have a long trip ahead to meet your father."

She motioned her sons toward her. Dame carefully put the puppy down on the ground and rushed over to hug his mom. Jimmy approached her with less enthusiasm. He wasn't used to losing. But he sensed this battle had been lost, and she wouldn't be changing her mind.

"You two be on your best behavior and enjoy your experience on the farm. Jimmy, if you give it a chance, I know you'll have a great time."

Not bloody likely, the boy thought to himself. But he had the sense to remain quiet. His time would come.

"And do whatever Uncle Jack and Aunt Kate tell you," his mom continued. "They're in charge until your father and I come to collect you. Hopefully, that won't be too far away, but we're not sure what's happening just yet. Remember, we're doing this for your safety. And one more thing. Don't contact anyone from back home. The Sullivans don't have Wi-Fi, so you can't be tempted, but we're not sure who might represent a danger back in New York. So just stay away for now. Understand?"

Jimmy had shut down after the phrase "the Sullivans don't have Wi-Fi," and nodded reflexively. They had Wi-Fi in China, India and even in Africa he knew. He couldn't believe there was a place in the USA without it. Even here in this rural backwater. No Wi-Fi! What was a kid supposed to do? How did these country cousins even get through the day? Then he realized. That's why his parents confiscated their technology. No Facebook updates, no Snapchat and no Instagram. His friends would think he had disappeared off the face of the Earth - abducted by aliens or something. "My God," he thought, as the full implications of the punishment sank in. He did think of it as a punishment, but what he'd done wrong he still didn't understand. However, he knew perfectly well that no connection to the outside world would do untold damage to his reputation back home. People just don't disappear – well unless you end up on a milk carton he guessed.

"Give me a hug," Jimmy only distantly heard his mother say. He allowed himself to be pulled into a three-way embrace with his brother. She kissed each boy on the cheek, the forehead and finally on the lips. Then she got in the car, waved to Aunt Kate and the few Sullivan kids who had gathered, and drove off down the gravel road towards the interstate, 8 miles (12.87 km) away, Jimmy would learn later. For now, he was still fixated – no Wi-Fi! What had his parents done to him?

Dame and all the Sullivans waved eagerly and two of the dogs chased the car for a few hundred yards until it was out of site over a small hill.

Eventually Aunt Kate turned to the Bukland brothers and said, "Welcome boys. It's a pleasure having you two young'ns visiting for a time. No chores for you today so go exploring, find your way round and relax. Fred and the twins will be looking after you. Dinner in an hour, but supper is not til 5:00."

With that she turned around and disappeared into the house.

"We're taking Damien to the bunkhouse," one of the twins yelled to no one in particular. They grabbed his suitcase and the noisy group, which now consisted of three 11-year-olds, three dogs, one puppy, the 9-year-old Sue and the two youngest Sullivan boys, Luke (7) and Stevie (5) all moved off towards the rear of the house.

When his wits finally returned, Jimmy found himself alone, apart from Fred Sullivan who had been standing in the shade of the porch. The kid stepped towards the railing, but didn't say anything. He had what appeared to Jimmy as some sort of manic grin on his face. This clearly forebode of real trouble ahead.

"And Chores!" said Jimmy to himself in disgust. What would that involve? Could he possibly survive this hell-hole?

Seven Weeks Earlier – Somewhere in Colombia

Diego Martinez always hated bringing bad news. The "La Oscuridad," (the Dark) cartel was the third largest drug syndicate in Central and South America, and his inappropriately named boss, Angel Ramirez, was determined to expand even more. It was the USA where the real money waited. It seemed there was no limit to the amount the gringos would pay for access to their products. The plan had been simple enough. Take over the territory of one of the American families. In the last 40 years the Italians, who still ran a large part of the organized crime in the New York and Chicago regions, had become fat, lazy and far too comfortable to battle a hungry newcomer, or so the theory went. The Giordano territory had looked ripe for the plucking. They even had inside information about the location and security around the main warehouse and cash collection facilities. But everything had gone wrong.

"Boss," Diego stated forcefully as he entered the main office in the fortified stronghold known locally as Villa Montana. He couldn't appear week at a time like this. The two men spoke in English. Both were comfortable in the language having spent a good part of their youth in North America.

"Okay, out with it," said Angel, looking up from the computer screen on his desk. He recognized the concern in Diego's eyes. They had been friends for as long as either could remember. Both had been the sons of mid-level officers in the Colombian army and met when they were sent off to military school in America at the ripe-old age of nine. With all the political turmoil, death squads, and kidnapping in those days such places were considered the safest option for keeping your children alive.

At 42 years of age, Angel Ramirez still had the black hair, handsome Latin good looks, and well-toned body of a much younger man. And unlike so many of the drug lords in this part of the world, he hated the lime-light, and never sort to have his name associated with any of his businesses. He had three "capitanes" (captains) for that. Crazy mother fuckers all, but basically expendable. It was one of the reasons Diego respected the man. That and the fact he was intelligent, strategic and not a complete sociopath as many in this business were. He could be ruthless, cruel, and callous, but preferred to keep a distance from that side of his trade. The captains were known and feared. They did the dirty work and provided the muscle. As long as they followed his orders, Angel was fine with that. Besides, it was them that got the attention of the Americano DEA and other agencies. Angel took his 20% off the top. Any more ambition and greed beyond that was an almost certain death sentence. So life in the shadows was perfectly fine with him.

"That New York business. Apparently, a real cluster-fuck," Diego explained. "All 14 of our men dead, the bodies disappeared and the head of our inside informant was sent to our Florida associate in a box. DHL special delivery, would you believe? How do you want me to retaliate against the Giordanos? I can have hit teams on site by the weekend."

"Fuck! I knew trusting those Lopez brothers was a mistake," Angel swore. "Between the two of them, they didn't have the brains god gave a 5th grader. Are we sure they're both dead?"

"We believe so."

"Okay, but no to the hit squads. A war helps no one just now. Sit! We examine what went wrong first. Then we need a plan to deal with the changed circumstances."

The two men sat and discussed alternatives for over three hours before a final decision was made.

"Remember Diego. We need the inside information first. We no longer have our own source, but anyone can be turned if the stakes are high enough. So put things in motion immediately. But let's be subtle. Allow Michael Giordano to think he's won for now. Then once everything is in place, we nail that little prick to the wall."

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