Cow Pies and Country Cousins

by Charles Well and Sam the Ham

Chapter 12

An attack on the farm

In the end, Jimmy said nothing to Uncle Jack, Aunt Kate, or even Tom, about the email from his buddy, Mickey Bailey. The farm and his life now seemed a million miles away from anything in New York. After all, that was why his mother had brought him and Damien here in the first place. That distance made him safe, he was sure of that now. Besides, he was just a kid, and he shouldn't have to deal with stuff his dad might or might not have done. That was adult business, not his. So he expunged the whole email debacle from his mind. It was actually easier than he thought. There was a host of other issues of more immediate concern at present. His relationship with Damien and the Sullivan boys, chores, but most of all - sex. Yes, Jimmy was a very normal happy, horny, healthy tween who had discovered sexuality and his true identity. And by some strange quirk of fate, or good karma, he had landed feet first into a sexual paradise for a gay preteen boy. That was what occupied almost all his waking thoughts and most of those when he was asleep as well. He was aware that in the South, there was far greater opposition to homosexuality and the "gay lifestyle," than the more accepting attitudes where he came from, but that same hostility hardly applied to pre and early teen boys, at least in Harrison County. As far as he could tell, provided kids only did things with age peers and no one complained, young males were more or less left to their own devices. (or was it vices).

Unfortunately, events might move slowly at times, but like water building up behind a concrete wall, it must discover new paths forward in the end, or break the dam. Jimmy Bukland was about to learn an important life lesson - you can't bury your head in the sand, or even on a farm in South Carolina, forever and ignore the world. It will get you in the end.

The day started out typical in every way. The usual 5:30 AM wake-up, discussion over hot cocoa of proposed jobs to be undertaken that morning, and the normal round of chores, breakfast, more chores, showers and lunch thereafter. However, by the end of the day, nothing on the Sullivan farm would ever be the same again. Everyone, adults and children alike, would be affected in ways that would take months, or even years to become fully apparent.

After almost a month in rural South Carolina, both Bukland brothers were more than pulling their weight. Eleven-year-old Damien had always enjoyed the rural lifestyle and was learning so much every day that he was now regularly making suggestions for ways to improve things that even Uncle Jack was taking seriously on occasion. His uncle and aunt considered that he possessed a natural affinity for the land, and an almost scary understanding of the dogs and all other animals, both wild and domestic, that made up life on the farm. After seeing him track and shoot a fox that had eaten several of the house hens one day, Uncle Jack had spoken of the incident to his wife as they got ready for bed.

"Give the boy another month here, and he'll be the best hunter and tracker of all the young folks in the county. Even now, I'd reckon he'd give Junior and Harry a run for their money."

On the other hand, Jimmy Bukland had not exactly taken to the farm like a duck to water, but he had come to terms with his life for now. After all, it wasn't all bad. He had more or less resigned himself to the hard, dirty farm work, because his afternoons had become a 12-year-old gay boy's erotic heaven. It was hard keeping him away from the swimming hole these days as an endless buffet of sexual activities and different partners always awaited. Even the 'so called' straight boys around these parts were happy to engage in homosexual activities. Not that they thought of it as "gay" of course — "just fooling around." But for young Jimmy, it didn't get much better than this. He was starting to realize that full acceptance of his true nature might have taken years to develop in New York. For him, mornings were hell, and afternoon's paradise. But you learned to take the good with the bad. If life had taught him nothing else in his 12 years, fairy-tale happiness only existed in books.

As a result of the extra hands provided by the Bukland brothers, the boys on the Sullivan farm had completed their chores well before lunch that Tuesday. As soon as the midday meal finished, Jimmy took off towards the swimming hole on one of the Sullivan ATVs. He had a hot date with Ricky and a new kid he had never met. Jimmy had passed his "so called driving test" with Tom a few days before and now had legitimate access to all the farm vehicles. He was followed shortly after by the rest of the boys. Tom took Luke and Stevie in the UTV, Junior and Fred went on the second ATV, and somehow Harry, Bill, and Damien all squeezed on to the third one. The boys left in a flurry of yells and the roar of engines. But within minutes calm had returned to the farm.

Sue had already groomed and saddled her pony Silver. She was on her way to rendezvous with her 9-year-old cousin Stephanie who lived on the next farm. A long-planned meeting of their Pony Club had been organized for that afternoon. She was about to take the short-cut through the woods to Uncle Jonas's place when she saw two SUVs coming down the drive. Black colored SUVs are the vehicles of choice of both government agencies and organized crime. There's loads of room for a crew, miles of cargo space, they are easily armored, and they all seem to have dark tinted windows to hide the occupants. Sue knew none of that of course, but strange cars were a novelty and she pulled her pony to a sudden stop in the woods which overlooked the farm. This had to be interesting.

When she saw what happened, Sue went into a panic. She wanted to help, but what could a small 9-year-old do? Tom would know. She kicked Silver hard in the flanks and they raced through the trees, back onto the fields in the front forty and towards the swimming hole. That's where all the boys would be. It was only a 7-minute trip by horse, actually faster than on the farm ATVs.

"Tom, Tom," Sue screamed as she arrived at the boy hang-out spot.

Fortunately, Junior, Fred, and Jimmy were all gathered in one group. They were with Ricky, Dustin, and another boy she didn't know.

"Tom, you've got to come fast. I was in the woods when 4 men with machine guns came to the farm. They hurt Mommy and Daddy and took them into the house."

The grins were wiped from the faces of all the listeners. It was rare that any female ever turned up here, and someone had cracked a joke about the problem of getting away from girls. However, it was clear something was seriously wrong.

"Calm down Sue and start from the beginning. What happened?" ordered Tom.

"You've got to come fast…," the young girl started saying again, but a look from her big brother, made her rethink.

"I was on my way to Stephanie's when I saw two big, black cars—you know—SUVs, coming down the drive. I was on Silver and we'd just got to the woods. So I waited to see what the cars wanted. They pulled up in front of the house and four men all dressed in black got out. They had machine guns Tom. You got to come now."

"Okay, Sue," said Tom sympathetically, "you're doing a good job. Please continue with what happened."

"Well, the men were yelling something about our cousins. You, Jimmy and Damien, and I couldn't hear it all. I think they were speaking in a foreign language. Daddy came out of the barn when the cars drove up and one of the men hit Daddy with his gun. Daddy fell on the ground and two of the men carried him. Then Mommy came out of the house. There was more yelling. I don't know what. Then another man hit Mommy with his fist. Then they took Mommy and Daddy into the house."

The boys all looked at each other in stunned silence. The group had expanded by then. Damien and the twins had come up shortly after Sue arrived, but by now everyone at the swimming hole had sensed something out of the ordinary was happening and had come up to listen. Damien had the largest Maremma sheepdog, Peter, with him.

Sue started crying as she looked around at all the faces watching her. Her parents had been hurt by some bad men and the boys were doing nothing.

"Forget these other kids. Look at me Sue, Tom insisted. "What happened then?"

"Two of the men came out of the house after a few minutes and they started looking in the bunkhouse, the barn, and in the sheds. Then I got back on Silver and raced over here as fast as we could. You've got to go help Mommy and Daddy."

It all sounded pretty farfetched to Tom. Why would men turn up at the farm with machine guns? It wasn't as if they had any money or things like drugs on the place. Tom felt sure Sue was being honest, but somehow she had misunderstood what she witnessed. This was Harrison County, South Carolina after all. Nothing like that ever happened here. Perhaps she had seen some of Uncle Jonas's Civil War re-enactor buddies. Over the Memorial Day weekend Uncle Jonas and Aunt Katheryn took Tom, Junior, Fred, the twins, and their own three kids on a Civil War reenactment trip with the 5th Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers. Fred, Harry and Bill and the 12-year-old Henley twins all got to be drummer-boys and Tom and Junior were treated as enlisted soldiers. Junior and Fred thought the weekend was a bit lame, but Tom and the twins (particularly Bill) really enjoyed the experience and wish to do it again. The Union guys in those pretend battles were out of towners—mostly from the North. They wore blue uniforms that might be mistaken as black, in the right light. Uncle Jonas was always having them over at his place. Maybe these men had driven up to the wrong farm. But that didn't make sense. Tom was sure that even Sue, who hated guns, knew the difference between a Civil War musket and a machine gun. Tom was still trying to process all these thoughts when Jimmy spoke.

"Oh shit! Err guys… this could be serious. Very fuckin' serious. Those guys sound like some of Michael Giordano's goons. They're probably looking for my dad."

Everyone turned to face Jimmy. "What are you saying?" demanded Tom, now biting his upper lip.

Jimmy looked over at his brother Damien and got an almost imperceptible nod before answering.

"Sorry. I should have told you about this before, but… Okay, you know our dad is a lawyer, right?"

All the Sullivan kids nodded their heads.

"One of dad's biggest clients is a man named Michael Giordano. Mickey Bailey's dad…" Jimmy stopped when he saw the confused looks he got.

"Sorry! Mickey is a kid—a friend of mine from New York. Well, Mickey's dad told me one time that my father was playing with fire because Michael Giordano is a mobster. You know, the Italian Mafia. He said the guy was in the newspapers sometimes. Well, Mom also mentioned Giordano when she dropped us off at the farm. We went to his house in The Hamptons once. There were a lot of scary looking dudes guarding the place, but they didn't have guns when we went."

"Yeah," added Damien helpfully. "But they speak Italian, like in the Godfather movie. Maybe that's the foreign language Sue heard."

"You saw the Godfather movie? Isn't that rated R (Restricted) or something?" asked Bill.

"Bill! Shut up!" said Tom angrily. He was getting more confused by the minute. All this talk of mobsters and men with machine guns was too mindboggling to comprehend.

"You think these four men could be looking for your dad, Jimmy?"

Jimmy shrugged. He had no real idea.

"Well your father has never been to the farm that I remember. Your Mom dropped you off. I've never even met him. If the four men are looking for your dad, I don't see any reason they'd be interested in anyone else. You don't know any stuff about secret drug hoards or anything like that?" he asked Jimmy and Damien.

Both boys grinned and shook their heads.

Then Tom noticed everyone looking at him as if expecting answers. They saw him as the undisputed leader when there were no adults around. They all wanted to be told what to do, and Tom knew he needed to act. But before he sent kids off in every direction asking for help, he needed to check this out for himself. He was convinced there would be a very logical explanation for all of it.

"Okay, here's what we do," said the fifteen-year-old decisively. "We all head back towards the farm. But we meet up in the gully this side of the woods towards the front of the house. It's out of sight and far enough away from the house that any noise won't travel. You know the place I mean?"

They all did and everyone nodded.

"Good! We travel there as quietly as we can. When we get there, no one says anything. Total silence, hear? We don't know what we are really facing."

Everyone agreed again.

"Then Junior, Jimmy, and I will sneak through the woods. The forest is only about 300 yards (275 meters) wide at that spot. We can watch the main house and see what's happening from the safety of the trees."

Fred, the twins, Damien, and even Sue all started speaking at once, but Tom held up his arm in a stop gesture.

"This is not negotiable guys. Junior and I are going because we're the oldest. I need Jimmy along in case he recognizes any of the men. End of discussion. Capeesh!"

This time, the children all grinned at the use of the famous Italian line from the Godfather movies. Although most of them had never seen the films, this bastardization of the Italian word, "capisci," meaning, 'do you understand?' had long ago seeped into the standard American lexicon.

"Don't worry. Once we get a better idea of what's happening, there'll be jobs for you all."

When they arrived at the gully, Tom ordered Fred and the twins to act as look-outs from high branches on nearby trees. You couldn't actually see the farm from here, or much of anything else, but the 15-year-old feared some of the men might be out searching the forest. Sue, Luke, and Stevie all complained bitterly when told to hide behind bushes, but they did as they were told. Then he, Junior, and Jimmy quietly made their way through the woods towards the back part of the house.

Jimmy knew this narrow part of the forest well by now. This was where Tom had brought him hunting that first time. Still he obviously didn't have the tracking skills of either his two older cousins, so he followed in silence. Another emotion—guilt, had also started to plant its first seeds. Could he have prevented this somehow? There was also dread at what they might see.

The three boys managed to find good cover not more than about 150 yards (140 meters) from the bunkhouse. From their location, they got an excellent view of the rear of the farm and the outbuildings and sheds that covered the grassed area that opened before them. Junior was first to spot the man as he walked from behind the old tractor shed. He was exactly as Sue described. Dressed head to toe in black, the guy looked like he belonged on one of those old WWF wrestling shows from the 1980s. A clean shaven face, bald head, beady eyes, and a huge solid frame that looked all muscle. He had a very distinctive scar on his face, a nose that had clearly been broken before. Several times Jimmy guessed. Not someone you'd want to meet in a dark alley at night. He was wearing black trousers, construction work boots, and a wife-beater tee-shirt. Tattoos covered his arms, but continued under the shirt and up the back of his head, and even on his neck and around his chin. Plus there were various weapon and knife pouches at seemingly random places over his body. Finally, he carried a very dangerous looking automatic weapon at the ready in his hands. If this guy meant to intimidate, then Jimmy was impressed and dutifully ready to shit his pants.

"That looks like an AK47 he's carrying," Junior said. "Remember we saw one at that gun show Dad took us to last year?"

When Jimmy looked confused, Tom explained, "Originally a Russian, Avtomat Kalashnikov, invented after World War II. The weapon of choice of terrorists and bad guys all around the world. It takes 7.62 mm x 39 mm cartridges; it has a muzzle velocity of 2,350 feet per second and has an effective range of about 380 yards (350 meters). So let's not make too much noise. We're well within range here. Yep, it's a real serious weapon. Much more dangerous than anything we have here on the farm."

"Not a Civil War musket then," joked Jimmy.

The two older boys just stared at him. He hoped they realized he was trying to lighten the mood. Jimmy studied the man in black as he crossed over to the bunk house. It seemed he was no longer searching for anything. The guy was behaving like a soldier on guard duty.

"I don't recognize him," stated Jimmy emphatically. "But no way he's Italian. Hispanic is my guess." At school there were all sorts of kids from different backgrounds, and Jimmy thought himself pretty good at detecting ethnic origin. "As far as I know, my dad never did any work for clients south of the border. So I have no idea who he is."

"Okay, let's see what's happening around the front," said Tom. The boys move quietly through the woods as far as they could go. It was more difficult to see the house from this location because of the angle from where they were forced to watch. Still, the two black SUVs were there—dark and menacing. After several minutes of careful observation, they spotted another man with a similar gun. He had been sitting under the big oak tree in the front yard of the house and was difficult to see until he moved. This guy didn't look half as intimidating as the one at the back. In fact, he looked more normal than anything else, but definitely Hispanic, like his buddy. Again, Jimmy had never seen him before.

"We've seen two men, but no sign of our parents," said Tom. "According to Sue, there were four of them in the cars. That means there must be two in the house with Mom and Dad. I need to get inside and see what's happening in there. But first we've gotta protect the younger kids and then get help from the law. Sheriff Riley is going to be shitting bricks when he learns about this. Let's get back to the others."

When the three boys returned to the gully, Tom called everyone together and explained what they had seen.

"Sue was one-hundred percent correct. We saw two of the four men. One was at the back, a big scary looking dude and another at the front. They are carrying AK47s we think. That means the other two must be inside with Mom and Dad, but we didn't see any sign of them."

"I didn't recognize either of the two we saw," said Jimmy cutting in. "They weren't men we saw at the Giordano mansion. I don't reckon they were even Italian. They looked Hispanic—Mexican or Colombian to me."

"Still, we have to assume they are crooks or mobsters of some sort," Tom said, looking a little pissed at Jimmy for butting in, "and they mean to do serious harm to whoever they are looking for. Therefore, our first priority is to stay clear of the farm and get help here as fast as possible."

Tom met the eyes of all the scared faces watching him. They were looking for leadership and direction, but the truth was he was petrified about this whole situation. He had never dreamed anything like this could happen. Still, he had to take charge.

"Sue, you ride Silver over to Aunt Katheryn's and get Uncle Jonas to call Sheriff Riley. He needs to get his men out here as soon as possible. Ride through the woods. Tell Uncle Jonas the men are armed with AK47s and the sheriff must assume these men are extremely dangerous. Take Luke and Stevie with you and then you stay there. Do not come back here until an adult you know and trust tells you it's okay." The two youngest boys protested, but Tom gave them a withering look.

"Harry, you take the old ATV from the shed over at the alpaca number 2 field. You know the one I mean?"

"The old Recon 250? Isn't the engine on that fucked?"

"No, Dad and I got it working yesterday afternoon. With the cousins here, Dad said we needed another 4 X 4. It's all gassed up and everything. It was going to be a surprise for the Bukland brothers to share. You race over to Uncle Gerry's place and do the same. Ring the sheriff and get men over here."

"Bill and Damien, you take another of the ATVs and drive into town to the sheriff's office. That's about 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) and will take about 15 minutes. Stress that this is not a kid's game or trick, he needs to come well-armed and with as much backup as he can get, and it's a matter of life and death that he come as soon as possible."

"Why do we all have to do the same thing?" asked Bill. Surely if Sue gets Uncle Jonas to call the sheriff, that's enough."

"No," Tom answered. "Remember I wasn't certain that Sue had the story right until I saw it with my own eyes. The adults might think this is some sort of kids trick. But if they get the message from different sources, they might take it seriously." Tom also had another reason for sending the smaller kids off in different directions. He wanted them safely away from the farm, but he didn't mention that of course.

"And don't use the walkie talkies unless it's an emergency. We don't need a static squelch giving our positions away. Besides the men inside the house have probably discovered the main base station by now. We don't want to give them information on what we're doing."

Tom looked around at all the scared faces once again. 'Scared' was probably a good thing. It meant they'd do as they were told. He continued explaining as ideas came to him.

"Fred and I will set up in the woods and watch the back of the house. Junior and Jimmy will be on the other side, watching the front. Tell the sheriff he and his men should not drive up with sirens blazing. They are likely to get shot if they do. Stress how well armed we think the men are. The deputies should park on the main road and make their way through the woods. Explain that we'll be waiting there for them. Any questions?"

Nobody asked anything. Tom stood up straight and stared at them all.

"Okay, go guys. We're depending on you to bring us help."

The younger children split up and headed off on their assigned tasks. When they were gone, the four remaining boys made their way to the hidden places where they could watch the house from both sides.

Tom and Fred had barely returned to their well-hidden surveillance spot when the watching boys heard a short loud scream from inside the house. It definitely sounded like their mother and sent both brothers into a panic.

"We need to see what's going on in there," stated Tom firmly. "Run around and get Junior and Jimmy over here. Now!"

When the four had gathered together, Tom wasted no time.

"Fred and I heard a scream from Mom a few minutes ago, but nothing since. We need to know what the assholes in there are up to. Why are they just waiting around? Was Sue correct about that too? Do they really want Jimmy and Damien? Why? I don't get it."

"We need to know more," Tom said again. "I think I can safely climb the tree next to Meg's bedroom window and sneak inside the house. I've done it before. I'm guessing they probably did a quick search of the second floor, but I doubt they have someone posted on guard duty full-time."

"The guy from the back went around to the SUVs parked in the front yard. He's smoking a cigarette and talking to the second man," said Jimmy concerned that Tom might get spotted if the thug returned to his old post.

"I had guessed that's where he went," Tom said looking at the others. "Now is the time to act then before he comes back."

"Let me come too," Junior insisted. "There's safety in numbers and all that."

"No," Tom answered. "Not against men with AK47s, there isn't. Besides, I need you here. I want to see where Mom and Dad are being held, what the two men inside the house are doing, and maybe why they are here at all. That's a one-man job. You know how quiet I can be. Then I'll raid Dad's gun safe. We need something to even the odds a bit, if it comes to that. Hopefully, the sheriff will be here well before that becomes an issue, but we really don't know what they're doing in there.

"Junior," Tom continued, "I need you to crawl over to the tool shed and get your crossbow and all the bolts you have. You've killed rats and deer with that thing you got as a present for your 14th birthday. It's a bad-assed weapon and I don't see why it couldn't be used to kill home invaders. Besides, it's quieter than any rifle and that could be useful. Also bring any baseball bats, garden spades or anything else you think might be used as weapons for Fred and Jimmy. I doubt the thugs have found Dad's gun safe. It's well hidden in the closet in their bedroom, but we don't know as yet."

Then Tom turned his attention to his 12-year-old brother. "Fred, do you still have the red kerchief you use sometimes?"

"Right here," answered Fred, pulling it from the pocket of his jeans.

"Okay, come with me all of you. Quietly as you can." The four boys made their way to the very edge of the tree-line where the grass area opened directly ahead. It was the side of the house where Meg had her bedroom. "If any of the assholes go to the back of the house again, place your kerchief on this tree so I can see it from Meg's window. As long as it's there I hide myself inside. If I don't see it, I'll know the coast is clear. Understand?"

Fred nodded.

"Jimmy, I need you around the front while I do this. If the men make any move, race back to Fred and tell him. Hopefully, Junior will also be back by then. And one last thing. If I'm not out in 10 minutes, you three go back to the gully and wait for the sheriff to arrive. No heroics! That's my order."

With that said, Tom raced from the cover of the woods to the old oak tree that had stood next to this side of the house for over a century. The 15-year-old was remarkably agile and was up the tree and through the window while the three watchers held their collective breaths. Junior was the first to speak.

"You heard Tom. Go!"

As Jimmy made his way back to the front of the house, he felt overwhelmed by all the events unfolding before his eyes. A dozen emotions surged causing his heart to beat hard, and the hairs on the back of his neck to lift. First, guilt had now taken strong root. It some level he knew it didn't make any sense at all, but he felt responsible for what was happening. Although these men were definitely not Italian and probably not Michael Giordano's men, he still couldn't shake the sneaking feeling that his Dad's work was somehow involved in all this. He didn't know how or why, but there didn't appear to be any other possible explanation for what was happening. The whole night-time escape from New York, the car ride to South Carolina, the fact there had been no word from his parents since, and the email from Mickey Bailey. They were all pieces of the puzzle that was only now taking shape. The second emotion Jimmy felt was impotence. Uncle Jack and Aunt Kate were being held prisoner by some very serious bad guys, and there was nothing he could do. The Sullivan brothers were in danger. He wanted to apologize, but couldn't think of words that didn't sound defensive. And now Tom was sneaking into the house. If discovered, it could mean his death. That was the third emotion—fear. Not so much for himself, but that was definitely part of it too. It was fear for what was happening to Uncle Jack and Aunt Kate, and what might happen to Tom and Junior if either were caught. And Jimmy knew he loved Tom. He never had the courage to tell him so. But that didn't change the fact. Jimmy had a job to do for now, but he felt sure Tom had deliberately given him the easiest and safest task. He had learned a lot about life and responsibility, about himself, and others since coming to the farm. And there was one thing for sure, Jimmy Bukland needed to be part of the solution, not the problem. It wasn't right that others put their lives on the line to keep him from harm.

Jimmy watched the two men at the front of the house alone for what seemed hours. In truth, it was less than 5 minutes before Fred re-appeared and told him Tom was back.

"I had no trouble climbing the tree and getting through Meg's window. Thank God she left it wide open this morning," Tom explained after the four boys had gathered at a place in the woods well away from the house. "Some floor boards there creak a lot, but I know my way around there pretty well. I listened to what was happening from the landing. I heard the two men downstairs. Jimmy was right. They spoke Spanish to each other. I could see Dad gagged and tied to a chair in the hallway. He was bleeding from a head wound, but it didn't look too serious. Mom was there too. I couldn't see her, but she wasn't gagged and one of the men was asking her about Jimmy and Damien. She was crying and kept saying they went to the swimming hole and she didn't know when they'd be back. There were pictures of you and your brother on the floor," said Tom looking directly at Jimmy. The New Yorker didn't return the stare and Tom continued his story.

"Then I made my way to Mom and Dad's bedroom. The gun safe is at the back of the closet in there. Fortunately, I know the combination. Dad told me last year. Said I was old enough and that he trusted me. Anyway, I grabbed the Ruger 10/22 Takedown, the old Winchester 94, and the new Remington 870 Express pump-action shotgun and spare ammunition for all three weapons."

He pointed to a large canvas bag on the ground before continuing. "There was no sign of Fred's kerchief, so I managed to get out without being seen. I was worried there for a while because the rifles kept banging together as I climbed down, but I made it okay."

Next to the bag, Jimmy saw a crossbow, a baseball bat, and a garden rake.

Junior must have noticed his cousin eyeing the stuff and added, "While Tom went into the house, I snuck over to the toolshed and got some extra weapons."

Jimmy was embarrassed and defensive. "I'm real sorry. I have no idea why the thugs want me and Damien. I promise we know nothing about organized crime, or drugs, or any stuff like that. It has to be about my…" He never finished the sentence. Tom had guessed why the mobsters wanted the boys, but didn't want to say.

Fortunately for Jimmy, that line of thought ended there. The two younger Sullivan brothers had other things on their minds just then as they opened the canvas bag and pulled out three rifles and boxes of shells.

Junior picked up the Ruger 10/22 Takedown. He was a better shot than Tom who was far happier with the old Winchester 94. Fred went for the Remington 870 Express pump-action shotgun. Jimmy tried to pick up the crossbow, but Junior said no.

"Jimmy you've only used the crossbow a few times. You're more likely to hurt yourself than one of the bad guys. Here, take the baseball bat."

Now shame was a new emotion added to the long list of sensations stampeding through Jimmy's brain. His cousins didn't think him even competent enough to use a real weapon. He wanted to complain, but bit his tongue instead and remained quiet. However, there was one thing he knew for sure. He would need to prove them all wrong.

"So, do we kill them?" Junior asked. "I'll take the one at the front with the Takedown and you take out the guy at the back. The other two inside will rush out when they hear the shots and we take them down next. Fred can use the crossbow if you want to take them out quietly. He's a pretty good shot with that and it's real deadly as you know. Harry's better, but you sent him away."

"You've been playing too many shoot 'em up video games little brother. We've all shot coyotes, raccoons, ducks and deer before, but I reckon shooting a human being is a different thing. Besides, what do we tell the sheriff when he gets here? No, these guys haven't killed anybody yet. As Sue said, "they hit Daddy, and he's bleeding," but he'll live. I don't want to be the first to start killing people," said Tom.

Junior didn't look at all pleased with that response. "So what do you want to do then?"

"We only use the guns if there's no other option. We are way out gunned if it comes to that. AK47s are full automatic. Even if just one survives, they could spray clip after clip of bullets into the woods here, and probably kill us all. No, we need a better plan."

"I have an idea," Jimmy said.

Junior looked at his cousin angrily. "This is serious city boy. It's our parents those guys have tied up in there. Not yours."

"Let him speak," Tom responded. "But Jimmy, don't waste our time or you'll regret it."

"Got you. We do what Sitting Bull did at Little Big Horn. We divide and conquer."

Everyone gave Jimmy a questioning look.

"Okay, it's me and Damien these guys want. Right?" There were general nods of agreement around the group. "What if we give them that? Not really of course. Say, I walk up to the house, casual, like I don't have a care in the world. Then I see the bad guys and run like hell. I'm good at track and field and I reckon I can outrun those guys cross country. When they see me as one of the kids they want, some of them will chase after me. We don't know how many, but some will. I'll run all the way to the caves and disappear inside. I need to get a flashlight before I go. There's one in the barn if I remember?"

"Yep," said Fred. "I saw it this morning during milking. I put new batteries in it last week."

"The bad guys follow and get lost in the caves," said Jimmy as he continued to explain. "I get out through the swimming hole exit, or maybe the one Fred and the twins used. Once the bad guys are inside, you guys block the entrance with the ATVs locked in gear. It will take them ages to find the other exits, and they probably won't have flashlights themselves."

"You're assuming they don't just shoot you as soon as you make an appearance," Junior said.

Jimmy clearly hadn't thought of this and turned very pale at the prospect. "I guess there's always that."

"I'm pretty sure they won't do that," said Tom cutting in. "My guess is they want to use Jimmy and Damien to get information from their dad."

That statement didn't make Jimmy feel any better, and he was beginning to seriously reconsider his plan. Still, he needed to prove himself to his cousins.

"Okay, say two of the guys chase Jimmy, what happens then?" There will still be two left at the farmhouse with Mom and Dad," asked Fred.

"Hopefully, by the time Jimmy loses the guys in the caves, Sue and the twins have done their job and other adults will start showing up," said Tom sounding more and more enthusiastic about the plan. "You don't believe for one minute that you could keep Uncle Jonas and Uncle Gerry away from this. I guarantee the first thing Uncle J will do is activate the old 5th Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers. Within an hour, there'll be one hundred guys with squirrel guns in these here woods. And hopefully the sheriff and his deputies as well. You know how gossip spreads around this county."

The other boys started nodding their heads.

Tom had read in one of the military history books he liked to read, that no plan ever survived more than five minutes after first contact with the enemy. He hoped that was wrong in this instance, and he wasn't playing with the life of his cousin or his brothers. He had heard the tone of the voices of the two men in the house, even if he didn't understand much of what they said. He was pretty sure these were very serious dudes, and they wouldn't hesitate to kill if pushed.

"Thanks Jimmy. It sounds like a great plan to me. But do you understand the risk you're taking here?"

Jimmy nodded at Tom. The truth was he had no idea what jeopardy he was facing, but his ego and his own self-image wouldn't let him back out now.

"Okay," Tom said. "We go with Jimmy's plan, but we need to protect him as much as we can while he makes the run. I suggest a slight change. Here's what we do," said Tom pulling Junior, Fred, and Jimmy into a football huddle.

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