A special thank you goes to Pietar who helped with editing and provided valuable advice and suggestions to the authors. In addition, we must give a special call-out to John Smith who carefully read through the entire document and found additional mistakes previously missed.
© 2019 Charles Well and Sam the Ham all rights reserved
Twelve-year-old James and eleven-year-old Damien were not happy campers. The Bukland brothers had been awoken in the middle of the night by their parents, told to dress and bundled into a car they had never seen before. Both boys grumbled and whined, asked questions, demanded answers, but got no response from their usually unflappable mom. As they drove through the still busy streets of New York towards the interstate, a shroud of silence descended over the car. Their mom said nothing – nothing at all.
Jimmy (all his friends called him that) was scared. This was all wrong. It had been a perfectly ordinary day until a few hours ago. Their dad had worked late that night as he often did. Their maid Consuelo had cooked a fine meal of chicken breast and potato wedges and the two boys and their mother sat down in the dining room to eat. Everything had been routine until Jimmy mentioned the two men taking pictures of them and their friends as they came back home with Mickey Bailey and his brother that afternoon. He didn't see any reason not to mention it. The men hadn't spoken to them directly or even come close. Besides, all four of the kids had raced into the building and told Bill, the doorman, about the men with the big camera. Bill came out and saw them, and then he called the police. However, when the cops arrived, the two guys were gone.
That had been the last minute of normalcy Jimmy could remember.
"Why didn't you tell me immediately?" his mom screamed at him.
Jimmy felt guilty, but didn't know why. He didn't think he'd done anything wrong. Besides, it wasn't such a big deal. Nobody got hurt. Mickey Bailey said the guys with the camera were probably perverts and the cops agreed. They would check out the security camera pictures and start looking for those men.
But what was clear, his mother wasn't waiting for an answer to the question. There was an air of panic about her face he had never seen before. That was something new and it terrified him. He didn't understand what was happening. He wanted to say he'd look after Damien whenever they went out, but he never got the chance.
Mom left her half-eaten dinner on the table and rang the front desk. But Bill had gone off duty at 6:00PM. Then she disappeared into their dad's home office and wasn't seen again until she woke the boys at 11:10 PM. Their dad was there by then. He had a large gun in his right hand neither boy had ever seen before. They were told to dress and be quiet. When Jimmy attempted to ask what was happening, his father shook him hard and whispered firmly,
His dad had never treated him that roughly before and Jimmy was terrified all over again. His eleven-year-old brother, Damien, started crying and Jimmy put his arm around his shoulder as they were hustled down to the basement car park.
They were led over to an old Subaru Outback that looked about 10 years old, Jimmy guessed. They had never seen this car before. Why this vehicle, he didn't know. Dad had a BMW and their mom a Porsche still sitting idle in the assigned parking places nearby. Their father kissed each boy on the forehead and told them he needed them to be brave and to do whatever their mother ordered. None of it made sense. Then he said goodbye, and they got in the strange car and drove out the car park of their building. On normal road trips the boys would play video games in the back seat. But they wouldn't be doing that this time. All the technology of both brothers had been confiscated. Again, Jimmy didn't understand why. It's not as if they had done anything wrong. It wasn't his fault those men were there. But their mobile-phones, tablets, and even laptops had been locked away at home. They were given a blanket and the two brothers settled down and slowly dozed off to sleep as the crappy old car headed south out of New York.
The car stopped many hours later. Damien was the first to speak.
"Mom, I need a pee," he complained in the whining voice he used last night.
Indeed, that had been last night. Jimmy opened his eyes reluctantly and looked around. It was broad daylight now and the sun was well overhead. "Fuck!" was the initial reaction he mouthed under his breath. It can't be. None of this made sense. They were in the country. But the Bukland boys were city kids – New York – Lower Manhattan, the West side. Neither had ever knowingly been within 50 miles of a real farm before in their lives. But that's what the place looked like. He'd seen them in books and movies of course. An old homestead that looked like something out of a Walton's rerun. And there was a red painted barn, various other out buildings, animal pens, and chickens all over the place, trees, grass and other country stuff. And was that cows over there? A whole bunch of them walking in a line out to open fields in the distance. They were bigger than he imagined they'd be.
Jimmy looked at his watch. It was 9:16 AM. "Fuck!" he groaned to himself again, "we must have been driving all night." They had left home around 11:30 PM. They could be in Mexico by now he thought.
Then people started appearing, but they definitely weren't Hispanic. So maybe not Mexico. A thick-set man about his dad's age came out from the barn accompanied by three boys. Two looked older than him and the third was about his age. A slightly plump woman and a skinny girl came out of the house, and then kids started popping up from everywhere. Was this place some sort of orphanage?
"Mom, I really gotta go," Damien stated firmly.
"So race over to those trees over there. This is the country. It's okay to do that here."
Damien didn't wait for a second invitation. He pulled open the left-hand side car door and hurried over to the trees his mom had pointed at. Soon Jimmy could see the stream of urine flowing from his kid-brother.
The Bukland boys didn't have much in common or even look particularly alike. James Adrian Bukland (Jimmy aka JAB) was tall and skinny at 5 foot 2 inches (157 centimeters) and 93 lbs. (42 kilograms). He had a strong nose and chin, an olive complexion, dark grayish-green eyes, and medium-length thick raven-black straight hair. He liked to tell other people, he looked like his dad in his younger years, before the man started losing his hair. In personality, Jimmy was confident and ambitious – an extrovert, but far too controlling according to his mother. He liked involving himself in every possible decision and was happiest directing influence over others, especially his brother. As far as he was concerned, he only did this to help the kid, and prevent him being bullied or manipulated by others. Yes, Jimmy Bukland was perfectly happy being the center of attention and leader of the pack. He hated it when his rising star was out-shone by age peers in any situation. He got outstanding grades at school and was good at any sport he tried. On the other hand, Damien Ignatius Bukland (aka Dame or Dib) was short for his age at 4 foot, 6 inches (137 centimeters) and weighed in at just 73 lbs. (33 kilograms). He had a small button nose, a ruddy complexion and curly auburn hair like their mom. Not an introvert exactly, but blessed with empathy towards others and tended to be passive in nature with other boys. This was the reason JAB felt the need to rescue his brother from poor decisions and inappropriate friendships. Damien did well enough at school to never create teacher or parent concerns, but he didn't have the drive and determination of his brother and was nowhere in the same league academically or in sporting prowess. He played baseball, basketball and swimming, but mainly because his brother excelled at all these sports and Dib was dragged along.
Jimmy needed to go to the bathroom himself, but his 12-year-old dignity had convinced him to hold it in a few more minutes. Two of the smaller kids that turned up from who knows where, walked over to watch Damien in action. Jimmy couldn't help giggling when Dame (he always called him that) turned around and started pissing at the two little spectators. And he yelled at them as he did it.
"What? You never seen a guy pee before?"
Clearly that broke the tension on the faces of the two adults and the other older kids who had come out to greet them. Everyone was smiling. One little boy about five went over and stood next to Damien. He unhooked the suspenders of the bib-overalls he was wearing and let them drop to the ground. Then he pulled down his white underpants and joined him pissing into the bushes.
Jimmy's mother got out of the car and made her way to the plump woman and embraced her. He joined his mom, standing a few feet behind as the two women chatted excitedly. He hadn't worked out what was happening yet, so he defaulted to safe mode. Jimmy had discovered over the years that the wisest course of action was to remain on his best behavior when in the presence of adults he didn't know. Soon the twelve-year-old was surrounded by the local kids, who formed a semi-circle, two yards away. Damien eventually pushed through the throng and stood next to him.
After several minutes, the women became aware of the crowd of expectant onlookers. Then, as if noticing the presence of her sons for the first time, Mrs. Bukland announced,
"Boys. This is your Aunt Kate and your Uncle Jack," pointing out the woman and man. "And these are your cousins," she explained with an expansive wave of her hand towards the children.
Jimmy and Dame shared a startled look. This was news to them. They had cousins? Hundreds of them! But hillbillies though, Jimmy thought. As far as he was concerned, whenever guys compared each other, the way you presented yourself and the coolness factor was of paramount importance. But the cousins, and even Uncle Jack, were all dressed in the same country bumpkin uniform. Dirty bib-overalls, tee-shirts, thick black rain boots, and ridiculous wide brim straw hats that he knew wouldn't look out of place in a Norman Rockwell painting. His 6th grade teacher had been a major fan of that artist for some reason. And the females were no better dressed. Aunt Kate wore something Granny Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies might consider appropriate, and the young girl, who looked about 8-years-old, had on something that would have been rejected by a welfare clothing pantry in New York. No wonder no one had ever mentioned them before.
"Lordy, where are my manners? Y'all, come into the parlor. You poor things," fussed Aunt Kate (she insisted the Bukland brothers call her that). "You must be plumb tuckered out. What do you want? A real late breakfast or early lunch?"
Jimmy and Dame couldn't hold back the giggles this time. People actually spoke like that? They had seen it on the television, but never expected to hear it in real life. Astounding! But the boys received a warning "daggers" glance from their mother and fought to contain their mirth. To distract himself, Jimmy looked at his watch. It was barely 9:25 AM. Admittedly, that was a little late for breakfast on a school-day, but it was mid-June now and the summer holidays were in full swing. In his view, 9:30 was a perfectly respectable time for the first meal of the day during the long break. But then a new concern occurred to him. Would breakfast around these parts include something like collard greens and grits? He had no idea what these were, but he knew hillbillies ate them. And what about baked possum? Well, it seemed the boys were already in their mother's bad books, so Jimmy would keep quiet until they got out of this rural nightmare. But he'd be careful about what went into his mouth.
Clearly Dame had also picked up on the strange accent and had that shit-eating grin he wore sometimes. No, they were definitely not in Mexico, but somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line for sure. He had studied the Civil War in history class. And that would explain why it was so damned hot all of a sudden. Outside the car air-conditioning, both boys notice the sweltering temperature and the oppressive humidity. They had days like this in New York, but they were rare before July or August. And it was still early morning. The sooner they got inside, out of this heat, the better as far as Jimmy was concerned.
"Shoes off!" demanded Uncle Jack before they got to the house. Jimmy looked down at his feet. "Oh shit!" he almost screamed. He was wearing his new $500 Nike LeBron X Championship sneakers, and he'd stood in some sort of animal poo. He wasn't sure whether it was from a cow, horse or some chickens, but what a stink! And worse, he saw his cousins trying to suppress their own grins this time. And even Dame, the little prick, noticed and gave him a thumbs up. He would pay for that next time they were alone. "Shit!" he said again to himself. At the very least, the country-side should have warning-signs about such dangers. Maybe he could sue? His father was a lawyer after all.
After taking off their shoes, they followed the adults and a bunch of the kids into the house. It was a two-story wooden structure with three steps leading to the front door and a long wide porch that ran along the entire front of the place. Jimmy noticed the three gable or dormer windows on the second floor. He knew what they were because his best friend from school, Mickey Bailey, had them at his condo. Yes, he concluded, this definitely looks like the Walton's movie set.
The Bukland brothers were in for another shock once they entered the house. If anything, it was hotter here than outside. "Don't these hillbillies even have air-conditioning?" Jimmy wanted to ask his Mom.
The parlor had a definite rustic feel. There were several cheap small tables, a side-board where some old china plates and dishes and various knickknacks were proudly displayed. He guessed they were antiques. They certainly looked old. He had great respect for things of value and knew he needed to learn much more about antiques. They were part of his world. The houses and condos of his friends were full of them. Indeed, they had some of their own back home. But his Mom's tastes ran more towards American Contemporary. These were no doubt inherited. He strongly doubted whether Ma and Pa Clampett here were collectors. Then there was a three-seater couch and two arm-chair set that looked straight out of the 1960s. Still, it had been kept in good condition and Jimmy guessed very few people ever sat here. None of the children made any move towards the chairs and even the bib-overall clad Uncle Jack stood respectfully near the door. And the look of horror from the cousins when Damien plopped himself down in one of the arm-chairs was not lost on him.
Jimmy had remained near the exit because he needed the bathroom desperately now, but hadn't seen one on the way in. He turned to the dark-haired kid, who looked about his age, standing next to him and asked,
"Which way to the bathroom?"
The boy gave him a malicious grin and was about to say something when Uncle Jack intervened.
"Fred, take this-here young'n to the back toilet."
"Yes Sir, Daddy."
Jimmy followed the boy. He wanted to say, "Young'n, this-here and Daddy. Seriously!" But thought better of it.
They walked through the building and made a left turn down a narrow corridor. The house was actually larger than it appeared from the outside. They passed a set of stairs going to the second floor, and various other rooms. One in particular caught Jimmy's attention. This was obviously the family room. There was a cheap looking landscape painting, more likely a print, hung above the only television he'd seen so far. Not a modern 4K Ultra HD set, like he had in his bedroom in New York. This one could hardly have dated from the 21st century. Antiques were fine, but not when it came to electrical stuff. There were several worn couches and easy chairs that obviously received a great deal of use. Yes, this was where the family relaxed, not the parlor. Why even have a parlor at all? Did these people have pretensions?
Jimmy's reverie was broken.
"Through there. That's it," said Fred pointing at another door at the end of the hall.
"We've got a better bathroom in the bunkhouse, and another one upstairs, but this is closest to the parlor."
Jimmy responded with a nod. This whole trip was becoming a little weird. But the pressure in his bladder knocked all his other concerns to the side for now.
"Don't you go pissing on the floor. Mom gets real angry when us guys do that," Fred warned.
Jimmy smiled. "I'll do my best."
He was surprised when he went inside the toilet. He was expecting to find a stinking dirt hole in the ground, but instead there was a proper clean, flush toilet and even a small hand basin for washing his hands afterwards.
That job done, he felt a lot more relaxed. He emerged from the bathroom and saw Fred standing there and smiled. He truly examined the kid for the first time. An inch or so shorter than him, he estimated. Maybe 5-foot 1 inch (155 centimeters) and a few pounds lighter. But the kid wouldn't be a push-over. Maybe the farming life had built muscle on the guy. There were clear signs of upper body strength. Not bulging biceps exactly, but what Jimmy could see of the arms and shoulders not covered by the tee-shirt, attested to power there. Jimmy recognized the signs. He had a similar body, all due to many hours in practice for the JV swim team.
Jimmy's reaction when meeting an age peer for the first time was always this mental inventory process. He needed to understand what he was dealing with. There were three basic categories – possible friend, formidable foe, or wimp, but with subcategories for each if needed. Jimmy was leaning towards caution in this case. In a one on one fight, without his buddies back home to back him up, he thought he could probably take the kid. He had taken boxing and Judo lessons at the YMCA. But Jimmy knew it was dangerous to underestimate people. A lot would depend on Fred's previous fight experience, his determination to win, and what, if any, allies he could muster. He had a lot of siblings. Where would they line up? He had had his own kid-brother, Damien, firmly under his thumb for years, but Fred was a middle child and that messed with his calculations.
It was clear however, that this kid was a good looker – definitely. All Jimmy's friends were. Race didn't matter to him, but he couldn't abide fat, ugly or uncool kids. This one had curly black hair, an olive complexion like his own, but a much deeper tan, a strong nose and chin and brown eyes. He could imagine many a country girl wetting her panties over this package. But the clothes and that accent. Jimmy could never associate with someone like this at school. But he wasn't at school just then, and he needed to assess whether he could make use of the kid, at least temporarily, while he was stuck in this rural backwater. He hoped his mom would say hello, blah, blah, blah and they could return to New York as soon as possible. He just wasn't comfortable outside the city. Apart from the animal shit all over the place, there were too many other unknowns. So he would be careful for now.
"Hi Fred. I'm Jimmy. Until five minutes ago, I never knew I had cousins," he beamed warmly. He could turn on the charm when appropriate, and he always demonstrated a friendly confidence when he met a kid of undetermined category. There would be time for putting the guy in his proper place later. It was a subtle game, but he was very good at playing his role. Jimmy was an alpha male. He never used the term himself, but all the kids at school recognized the reality. He had his own coterie of admirers and hangers-on. You either showed him the deference and respect he was due, or he could make your life a misery. He had loads of money and was extremely generous with his "true friends." And he cultivated the right people. On top of that he had the brains, good looks, extrovert personality, and the "gift of the gab" as his father called it. Jimmy was used to being top-dog. He rarely did the harassment himself of course, but a word in the right ear was all it needed.
"That Wilson kid is an arrogant little shit," and Kyle Wilson, who had been part of the in-crowd until that time, suddenly found himself the target of every bully in the middle school.
"Hi!" responded Fred happily. "We've got lots of cousins on our dad's side. But I reckon you and me are really first cousins, once removed," added the boy helpfully.
"What?" Jimmy asked. He had never heard of second cousins.
"Your mother and my mother are first cousins. So you and me – we're second cousins."
Okay, that made sense Jimmy thought. That's probably why they had never visited this family before. But why were they here now? Why didn't Dad come, and why leave in the middle of the night in that strange car? Yes, everything about this situation was weird and made him feel uncomfortable. He just needed to get back home to where he belonged.
"It's done," said Anthony Salvatore as he entered the big office at the back of the third floor of the East Side Social Club. He was "consigliere" (advisor) to Michael Giordano, the current head of the Giordano crime family. Michael was 52-years-old and had inherited his position in the organization from his uncle Lorenzo after that man's untimely death some 15 years earlier. Michael had been attempting to drag the family into more legitimate ventures over the period of his tenure. But the intractable problem was that the drug trade was just so damn profitable, it was hard to ignore. So the family maintained their territories in New York, Chicago and the Appalachians all the way up to the Great Lakes.
"The attack is over for now and all the intruders have been neutralized and the remains sanitized and properly dealt with," the consigliere explained.
Michael motioned the man to a chair. This was going to take some time.
Anthony Salvatore was twenty years younger than his boss and hadn't grown up in the family business. He insisted people call him Anthony, not Tony, which he hated. He had been brought in over 10-years ago now as part of Michael's push for legitimacy. Anthony had an accounting major from Washington College and an MBA from Harvard no less. And like his boss, he never involved himself in the day to day activities of the "wet" side of the operation. Nowadays they mainly used Russian and Chinese "cut-outs" for that, and these worked under the direction of trusted lieutenants. But both men maintained an intimate knowledge of everything that happened.
"There were 14, all Colombians," Anthony explained. "They were operating under the direction of the Lopez brothers out of Bogota. Both loose-ends dealt with. If we hadn't received that heads-up from our federal contact, it could have gone very badly wrong. As it was, none of our people were seriously hurt. Charlie the Ant managed to get a bullet in his left butt-cheek. A ricochet apparently. He's in Saint Martins. But otherwise no injuries."
"Okay, send flowers and I'll visit Charlie later today."
"Fine. The product that we used as bait was lost though – about 400k, and we'll need to establish a new distribution warehouse."
"Use the backup site for now until we can establish something more permanent," Michael Giordano directed. "The main question is, who was really behind the attack? A clear attempt to put us out of business. From what I've heard, the Lopez brothers are just a couple of low-level street thugs, and couldn't have been the brains behind this operation."
"True enough." Anthony responded. "The simple answer is the La Oscuridad, (the Dark) drug cartel. But who's ultimately behind that is still a mystery. Not even our fed contact knows that."
"Didn't we do a favor for a guy at the DEA a few years ago? He was under-cover in Central America for a time. Rescued his ass if I remember. He might know, or can find out. Time to rattle the trees and shake the bushes. We need the name. And has the message been sent?"
"On its way as we speak," answered Anthony. The entire building was scanned twice daily for bugs and any other type of ease-dropping device, and a faraday cage had been built into the walls.
"One final issue is our laundry service," Anthony continued. "We have to assume it was compromised."
"Way ahead of you there," answered the boss. "I've got Bukland and his over-paid legal hacks setting up a fresh protocol. New front corporations, LLCs, new banks, and we're routing everything via Andorra, Belize, and the Bahamas before it comes back here. It's costing me a fortune, but the lawyers love it. It was time for a change in any case."
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