Cow Pies and Country Cousins

by Charles Well and Sam the Ham

Chapter 11

Unwelcome News

"It can't just be me, Tom. Come on, Harry at least you'll come, right?"

Jimmy heard Bill's voice even before he opened the door to the bunkhouse. As he stepped inside, he saw the twins. Damien and Junior were also there and it looked like everyone was getting ready to take a shower. Not sure what was going on, he intended to ignore the conversation, but Bill noticed him.

"Jimmy, you like history, right? Would you do a Civil War re-enactment?"

Jimmy paused, looking over at the little group. "I can't say I ever thought about it. Why do you ask?"

"Last year our uncle and aunt took us to The Battle of Aiken re-enactment. We spent the weekend there."

"I'm not doing it again," Harry cut in as he finished stripping. "Damien, it's boring. You spend all day running around doing what other people tell you to do. And I had to carry this big drum everywhere."

"It's fun," Bill countered. "Fred, Harry and me and the Henley twins all got to be drummer-boys, and Tom and Junior were treated as enlisted soldiers. It's the closest you can get to being there."

"It's hot, those uniforms are uncomfortable and it's boring." Harry responded, crossing his arms.

"It's three weeks away." Junior raised his voice to silence the other two. "Damien may not even be here then. Now, you three, get into the shower. You're giving me a headache."

The twins shared a look before starting to head to the bathroom. They finished undressing as they went. Damien followed without even glancing over at his brother. Not knowing what this was all about, Jimmy went over to his bunk bed and sat down with a sigh.

Junior, dressed only in underwear, got up from his bed and walked over.

"I suppose you haven't heard anything about when your parents are going to pick you up?"

"No." Jimmy answered with a shake of his head.

"Yeah, I figured you would have said something. Bill is trying to recruit Damien to go with him to the re-enactment. We all did it last year, but I don't think everyone wants to do it again." Junior scratched his crotch absentmindedly.

"You probably want to see us gone," Jimmy said as his cousin continued scratching. He was beginning to think the action was a little more suggestive than he first thought. Not that the New Yorker could be sure. He hadn't interacted a lot with Junior outside of chores. The older boy stopped his rubbing and stared directly at Jimmy.

"You've gotten better. You were a prick, but now you're not so bad."

"Thanks." Jimmy said, and didn't try to hide his sarcasm. He undid the straps of his overalls and took off his shirt.

"Damien really seems to hate you."

Letting his sweaty smelly shirt fall to the floor, Jimmy glared up at his cousin. "What makes you say that?"

Junior sat down next to him. "My brothers can be a pain, but we don't avoid each other as you two do. It's pretty obvious."

"Are you just trash talking me, or are you going to offer a suggestion?" Jimmy tried not to sound as annoyed as he was.

For several seconds Junior was quiet. "Saying sorry is easy. If you were as much of an asshole to him, as you were to us, you're going to have to do something. I can tell you're trying to change and you're hoping he'll forgive and forget. It's probably not your best option though. Do something."

"What?" Jimmy asked genuinely unsure.

"You need to figure that out. He never talks about you though. That's worse than constantly bitching, at least for you." Junior sat up signifying that was the end of what he had to say, and he dropped his underwear. He was half hard as he marched into the shower room.

Jimmy sat there thinking about what he'd just heard. It wasn't bad advice. He could imagine Tom saying something similar, albeit with more tact. He thought about what he might do for several minutes, before another thought popped into his brain. It has been long enough. He needed to check his fake email account again, and hoped the message to his New York buddy, Mickey Bailey, hadn't ended up in the spam folder. If he and Damien were back home in New York, things would be easier. He definitely wouldn't be the old Jimmy ever again, but his kid-brother needed him more there. On the farm the twins were always his shield and protectors. In West Village, Jimmy could take on that role and repair the relationship with the kid.

He decided not to take a shower. Instead, he changed clothes and went looking for Fred. It was one of those rare days where everyone just wanted to lounge around the house. No swimming, hunting, or caving today. That meant he would probably find Fred on the improvised basketball court.

The court was just a patch of grass with a basketball hoop mounted on one of the barn walls. Jimmy could make out the sound of the ball bouncing on the ground even before he rounded the corner. Fred was walking out to where the three-point line was and didn't stop dribbling even when he noticed Jimmy.

"Hey, what's up?"

Jimmy leaned against the corner of the barn wall. This part of the building was in the shade now, but he could still feel the perpetual heat radiating from it. "Can I borrow your bike? I want to go to the library again."

Fred dribbled the ball a few more times. "If you beat me in a game. First to 10 wins?"

Jimmy knew enough about Fred by now that there was no way he was going to get the bike without giving in. "Are we using the lines, or do we just need to make a shot?" He asked as he pushed away from the wall and assumed the position.

It was a close game. Basketball was Jimmy's favorite team sport, but he was used to playing on a smooth court, or at least on pavement. Around here, the uneven ground sent the ball bouncing in odd ways. Just as Jimmy was about to leave, Fred stopped him again.

"One question."

Jimmy turned around and watched as Fred tried to spin the ball on one of his fingers. "What is it?"

"Are you and Ricky just friends?" Fred asked. The ball slipped from his finger and bounced a few times before coming to a stop in the grass.

He had to think about that. "Yeah, I guess we're friends. Why?"

Fred grimaced and shook his head. "Nothing, I guess."

"Doesn't sound like nothing." Jimmy said before shooting the ball blindly. "You know he likes you. I think he still has a crush on you."

Fred gave a nod and slowly retrieved the basketball. "I know. We're just friends. Kind of wish he could find someone though."

It slowly dawned on Jimmy. "Do you think I like boys?"

Fred chuckled and shook his head. "I think just about everyone thinks that. You went from calling everyone queer to going into the woods almost every day. A big change."

Jimmy couldn't deny that. It's just, it was so easy and why not. A part of him realized it would never be like this again. He was almost beginning to like being on the farm. If it wasn't for the worry about his parents, the lack of air conditioning, and the chores, his life might almost be perfect. The other stuff wasn't so bad.

"Sorry to disappoint you. I think Ricky and I are just friends. I don't think I've ever even had a crush on anyone," he said, even though that wasn't true. He had a crush on Tom that he pretended didn't exist. Besides, there were a lot of other good-looking guys around here in South Carolina. Half of them were distant relatives, but that fact didn't bother him.

"All right," Fred said turning his attention back to the basketball.

Jimmy found Fred's bike with the others. It was an exhausting ride back to the River Falls public library that afternoon after chores all morning. But there were few other travel options in the country.

He logged on to his hillbilly email account and saw it. Other than "a business opportunity" in Nigeria, there was only one other thing in his Inbox.

"Wow! Dude you back. Glad the aliens didn't get ya. How's London? Your dad is cool taking you on the surprise holiday. Where are you now? Not sure what your email means. When you didn't turn up at my place for the sleepover, I rang you like a million times. You could have let me know you were going on vacation. You're a prick. You ever heard of a text? I'm real pissed man. Even went to your place that afternoon. But Bill said your family went on holiday. Your mom gave Consuelo time off. So still pissed you didn't let me know. Lazy fucker! You better bring me back something real nice from Russia. Corny pic on FB. Your mom made you do that?"

Jimmy had no idea what Mickey was talking about. None of it made sense. He thought of writing a very nasty email back and calling Mickey the fuckin' idiot he was. But then he re-read the email. What did he mean about the corny pic?

In near panic, Jimmy logged off the email account and opened his Facebook page. He was stunned. There was a picture of his entire family standing in front of Big Ben in London. And below there was a caption.

"Great news. Dad has taken our entire family on a surprise vacation to Europe for the summer. We're in London at present. Then we are going to France, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and finally to St. Petersburg in Russia. Expect us back in September in time for school."

Jimmy was stunned. The problem was he hadn't made that post. He would never have phrased the photo caption like that. This post must have been made by either his mom or dad. They had all his user names and passwords for everything he did online ever since his Mom caught him in that porn site that time. And he remembered when the photo was taken. It was about a month ago, but they were nowhere near London. It was taken in a photographer's studio in the Village in New York. He remembered his dad insisting on a series of blue-screen background shots.

"I can morph a Christmas scene background there for the Bukland family annual Christmas card," his father had explained.

Now he understood and it scared him. Is that all it took to make someone disappear without question these days. A note and a fake photograph on Facebook and none of his friends would even wonder where he was. He thought of writing back to Mickey and telling him the truth, but he needed to think this through before he did anything more. He cleared the history and cache folders of his browser on the library computer and made his way out to Fred's bike he had left chained up outside in the bike-rack.

Jimmy had a lot to think about as he started the 5-mile ride back to the Sullivan farm. Where were his parents? Why hadn't they attempted to contact him or Damien? And what the hell was going on? He didn't understand any of it. For the first time, he was seriously worried. Should he speak to Uncle Jack and Aunt Kate about this? Or maybe to Tom? But his mom had told him to stay off the internet. Would he get into trouble? And what would he tell them anyway? Something was downright wrong, but he had no idea what that was. Had his parents got into trouble some how? Would he make things worse for them if other adults got involved? Were they even still alive?

As Jimmy made his way along Main Street, he took a shortcut through the supermarket carpark towards Kershaw Road. If he had been more attentive as he rode behind a large delivery truck bringing in groceries, he might have noticed the two black SUVs coming into town and the four Hispanic men inside.

Three days earlier - Unofficial FBI Field Office in New York

"Sir, there's news about the Bukland family. We're now convinced they did a runner. Our sources say both the Giordano soldiers and the Colombians are frantically looking for them." Agent Lizzie Myers told her boss, Senior Special Agent Sam Richmond, as she reported back into headquarters.

She placed a tablet computer she was carrying down on Richmond's desk and opened a Facebook account.

"This is the FB account of the oldest son." Lizzie looked down at the pocket-sized notebook she carried in her other hand. "His name is James Adrian Bukland, aged 12. There is a similar entry on the account of the younger brother, Damien Ignatius Bukland, age 11. That's a group shot of the entire family."

Sam Richmond looked at the picture and quickly read the caption.

"So, they're in London, England?"

"No Sir. We're pretty sure that's the last place we'll find them." She clicked on another window on the computer tablet. "This is what Big Ben actually looks like today."

The Senior Special Agent stared at a picture of the famous London landmark completely obscured by scaffolding.

"I don't understand," Richmond said.

"The picture is a low-end Photoshop job according to our technology guys. Big Ben, or what is also called Elizabeth Tower, was shut down in August 2017 and is under repair until 2021. We're pretty sure this was posted by the parents to explain the absence of the kids with their friends."

"So, if they're not in London, where are they?"

"That we don't know just yet, but neither do the targets of our operation. We are pretty sure the fake pictures won't fool either the Giordanos or the Colombians for long. The Buklands all have current US passports, but there's been no activity on those since last summer when they did the European grand tour thing. We think they are still in the country. We found Mr. Adrian Bukland's car in the long-term parking facility at Boston Logan International airport last night."

"Boston?" said Sam Richmond.

"Yes Sir. Boston. There's a forensics team going over it now, but we don't expect to find much. There didn't appear to be any sign of a struggle."

"Did they leave on false passports?"

"No Sir, way ahead of you on that. We ran the facial recognition software on everyone who has been through Logan for the past week. Plus, I added all the bus terminals as well. We have a team going over the CCTV footage from the carpark, but that might take a little time."

"Okay, that's good work Agent Myers. But where does that leave us?"

"Well Sir, that's the rub. We need to go old school on this. Other than the Facebook post which we traced back to a low-end internet café called Joe's Internet Kiosk in downtown Boston, no one in the family has used any type of social media, online multiplayer games, email, or anything else we can trace."

"God!" said Senior Special Agent Sam Richmond. "How are the parents controlling the kids? If they're anything like mine, three hours away from their devices, and they'd be calling in the UN Commission on Human Rights."

"Not sure," answered Lizzie Myers with a smile. She knew her boss had five kids, boys and girls and all between the ages of 9 and 17. They were a constant source of both pride and worry for the man. It was enough to make her consider seriously whether she wanted any of her own.

"Any credit card activity?" asked Sam.

"No Sir. Nothing in the last few weeks. It's not that easy going completely cardless these days. But we are following all friends and family leads we can find, particularly in the Boston area. Something has got to break soon. Making a family of four disappear requires skills, we doubt the Buklands possess."

"Yes, let's hope so. We need to find the Buklands very soon. If the Giordano's get them first, Mr. Michael Bukland, Esq, attorney at law, will be wearing concrete boots before the day is out. If the Colombians get them first, they'll torture the wife and kids until the husband spills everything he knows and then kill them all."

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