"What did you do with the body?" Tom asked Bill and Damien.
"We didn't touch it. We left it there near the deputy's patrol car."
"We need to hide it. You said you don't think the guy inside saw what Harry did? We can't let him find out his partner is dead. He might start taking revenge. Junior, Fred and Jimmy, you go and drag the body into the woods, or hide it somehow. If…"
Tom's orders were interrupted by another static squelch on his walkie-talkie. But this time the voice was unknown.
"Hello boys. Can you hear me? At this moment I have my gun pointed at the head of Mr. John Sullivan who is tied up, gagged and sitting in a chair in front of me. His wife, Mrs. Catherine Sullivan is sitting next to him. She is also securely bound. If I'm not mistaken, these two are your parents. Answer me within 30 seconds or I'll put a bullet into the man. Believe me, this weapon makes an awful mess of human flesh."
Tom looked around at the anxious faces of his brothers and brought the radio to his mouth. He pressed the PTT button.
"What do you want?"
"Ah, good boy. I assume I have the pleasure of addressing young Tom Sullivan? Would I be correct in that assumption?"
"Yes, what do you want?" Tom repeated.
"Your mother and I are having a wonderful time visiting together. She told me all about her boys. You know she is very proud of her sons. And Tom, I'm looking at your picture now. The one that was on the mantle –piece in the parlor. You're a very handsome boy."
"What the fuck do you want?"
"Now! Now! Such bad language, and with your parents listening too. Perhaps one day I will return to teach you some manners, and some proper respect for your elders. Unfortunately, I don't have time for that today. More's the pity. Still you are right. Let's get down to business. I am the Viper, and just like my reptilian namesake, I have a powerful bite. But you should think of me as your friend because I'm here to help you. So listen carefully. Do as you're told and we all walk away happy. That includes your parents. I have no beef with you or any of your family. All I need are the two Bukland brothers – James and Damien. That's all. Bring them to the house and my men and I will leave and no one gets hurt. You have 5 minutes. If you don't, I'll start hurting your Mom and Dad. But I won't kill them – well not quickly. A bullet through the left hand, then the right hand. After that the knee caps are next. Have you any idea what damage a bullet through the knee-cap will do? Who should I pick first? Mr. or Mrs. Sullivan? Your time starts now."
Jimmy sensed his moment for action had come. He turned to Tom. "Tell him you will hand me over. Tell him his two men went chasing after Damien in their SUV. Damien was driving an ATV and you have no idea where they went. He has no way of knowing what happened to his men. The guy in the pond only had a cell phone. But you know as well as I do, mobiles don't work around here. They don't have radios, so the Viper guy can't know it was me the men in the car were chasing."
He paused to think it through. Jimmy was making this up as he went along. But he saw he had the attention of everyone.
"Say you'll tie me to a tree in sight of the back of the house. Tell him to release your parents and he can have me. If he doesn't release your parents, tell him you'll set me free."
"I'm not handing either of you over Jimmy. I'll never do that. It wouldn't be right."
"Geez, I hope not," Jimmy responded giggling. "The idea is to get the guy out of the house to collect me when I'm tied to the tree. While he's doing that, someone can sneak inside and release your Mom and Dad. Maybe you or one of the others can shoot the guy before he gets to me," he said eyeing the guns all the Bukland boys now carried.
Tom looked like he was about to say something, but the more he thought, the better he liked Jimmy's plan.
"No way," Damien yelled. "We both go. I'm not hiding while Jimmy puts his life at risk. I'm no coward."
"No one said you were. But it doesn't make sense to put both of you at risk," said Tom. Let's try it Jimmy's way."
"No," Damien repeated. "Then let me be the one to go, and Jimmy can stay here."
"Sorry Damien. I'm pulling rank. It has to be me. Mom and Dad would never forgive me if I let you get hurt. You see there's something you don't know." Jimmy looked around at the other faces, unsure. But lives were on the line, the seconds were ticking down, and he'd kept this secret long enough.
"I'm adopted. I'm not their real kid. But you are. So, I'm not really your brother."
Jimmy got the reaction he expected. Everyone stared at him open-mouthed. So he continued while his courage held.
"I heard Mom telling Mickey Bailey's mother one time when they thought I wasn't home. Later, I saw the adoption papers in Dad's safe. You see, years ago Mom and Dad were told they couldn't have kids - something Mom had wrong with her. They were involved in an IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) experiment. IVF is when doctors do medical stuff to help a lady have kids. But after 3 years without any success, they gave up and adopted me as a baby. My real mother was a 15-year-old when she had me. Like Tom's age! She was just too young to keep me. But almost as soon as I was adopted, Mom found out she was pregnant with you. So you see, it's me that has to go. I've spent the last three years trying to prove I'm better than you. I've always been afraid Mom and Dad will stop loving me if I'm not better than you or other kids – smarter, more confident, and a leader. You know how much dad wants us to be leaders."
Jimmy stared fixedly at his brother, as tears ran down his cheeks. "Sorry I've been such a prick to you over the past few years. I was just scared I wouldn't be loved, unless I was better. But you're Mom and Dad's real son. I'm just the kid of a teen girl who got herself in trouble."
He tried to put his arm around Damien, but his brother looked around wildly at the faces of the others. Tears streamed across his face and his chin trembled. Then, without saying another word, he took off running into the woods.
Jimmy was about to start after him, but Tom put a hand on his shoulder. "Let him go. He's had quite a shock. I'll talk to him later. For now, we'll try your plan.
Summoning all his courage, Tom got on the radio and spoke to the man who called himself The Viper. It was a stupid name meant to scare him no doubt. He laid out the plan Jimmy had explained.
Diego Martinez knew he was fast running out of options. This whole operation had been one fowl-up after another. Of course he could leave now. He could shoot his way out if any of the children tried to stop him. He was much better armed then any of them. He had seen no evidence that they had any type of weapons. But that wasn't the point. He hadn't succeeded in his mission. He didn't have the Bukland brothers. For his boss, Angel Ramirez, that was all that counted. The man didn't react well to failure. Diego knew the best he could hope for was a quick bullet in the head, but more likely it would be something very much less pleasant. He had made two fatal miscalculations. Fatal for him of course.
First, when they had discovered the location of the Sullivan farm, he had planned to attack the place at night. Everyone would be fast asleep and it would be a simple matter of rounding up the two boys he needed. The rest could be disposed of quickly, and there would be no live witnesses to say what happened. Unfortunately, that same day, their informant in the FBI had provided worrying intelligence. It seemed the Feds had also made the connection between Amanda Bukland, (38) nee O'Reilly (mother of James and Damien) and her first cousin, Kate Sullivan nee O'Reilly (42). They were sending two teams up by car from their South Carolina Field Office in Myrtle Beach. They were expected to arrive sometime late that afternoon. The bad news had forced him to act immediately, or miss out completely on nabbing the sons of Adrian Bukland. Surveillance in a place like this would have been difficult, but he regretted that he had no opportunity to do so. With little pre-planning and insufficient intelligence, the mission had gone badly wrong from the start. They arrived at approximately 2:00 PM and quickly took the two adult Sullivans hostage. However, even after an extensive search of the main house and all the outbuildings, not a single child was found. The bitch had stuck to her story, even after being roughed-up a little. The children were all out at a swimming hole miles away and he didn't have the time to go running around the countryside looking for them. And according to the woman, he didn't have the cars either. His man Santiago could drive anything, anywhere, but she insisted only off-road vehicles could get there. Knowing something of the terrain around here from his study of the maps, she was probably telling the truth. His second mistake had been relying on mobiles for communication. It had never even occurred to him that there were places in the USA you couldn't use a cell phone. If he'd been back home in Colombia, yes, he would have thought of that, but not in this country. What a damn silly rookie mistake that had been.
The only good news so far was that Santiago and Joaquin must have caught up with the smaller one by now, or very soon would. No doubt the little fucker was running them ragged on the ATV. Diego had firsthand experience using those machines in his early days in the business to outrun the border patrol. They could get to places no SUV could ever go. But Santiago and Joaquin, would never give up. They knew better than to turn up without the Bukland boy. Their own families would suffer badly if they did. They may have caught the kid by now and gone straight to the rendezvous sight. That was their orders if they got separated. But he didn't know for sure because mobile phones didn't work out here. Fuck it!
"A nice plan," Diego said as Tom outlined his proposal. "How do I know you have the kid?"
"That's why I'll tie him to a tree. You can see by looking out the window in the parlor," said Tom. "You leave my parents in the house, go and collect Jimmy from the tree and drive away. Nobody gets hurt. Over."
"He won't be driving anywhere," Bill said as his brother waited for the man to reply. "We slashed his tires, shot crossbow bolts into the radiator, and we stole the battery."
"Not, not good enough," Viper responded after a 30 second wait. "You bring the Bukland boy to the house or I'll start causing your parents a lot of pain."
"No way. You'll kill us all if I do that," Tom said. "We need a little good faith from both sides for this to work. Let my parents go, and you get Jimmy. Otherwise he stays with us. Your partner had a gun-fight with Deputy Peterson and now they are both dead. How long will it be before the sheriff and more of his men show up. They'll be expecting Peterson to report in. When he doesn't, what do you think will happen? Let me guess. I assume the land line has been ringing a lot. Did you answer any of those calls? You see, we're in a mobile dead zone round here, so people trying to contact the farm need to call the old fashion way. There are a million places here we can hide Jimmy Bukland and you'll never find him. We know this place. You don't. So accept our offer, or we all wait around for the sheriff to arrive."
"Alright, I'll trust you kid, but with one change. I'll bring your mother with me as a hostage until I get Bukland. Then she can go. I'll leave your dad in the house, but don't try to set him free till I'm gone."
"Fine," said Tom. "Over."
Diego Martinez could see the Bukland boy tied to a tree as Tom Sullivan had promised. He made his way out the front door and down the long path that led to the wooded area. He had the woman in front of him as a shield and had his gun pointed at her back. He looked around frantically, but saw nothing.
Martinez guessed he was walking into a trap. But he had little choice. The whole operation had taken far too long. He had to assume some of the kids would have run to neighboring farms and called for help. He had seen all the pictures of the Sullivan children on the mantelpiece. And the kid was right about the sheriff. They would send another car fast when he didn't report in. Mateo, the third member of his group had proved a real disappointment. He had such high hopes for him. He was a cousin after all, and could have gone places in the organization. But clearly, he had made the most fundamental mistake of all. Martinez could see the two bodies over near the police car. They were a fair distance away, but that was Mateo all right. No doubt he hadn't checked that the pig was dead. How many times had he told Mateo to check the body? Well, he won't be making that mistake ever again, he said to himself with a grin.
There were faint sounds of sirens in the distance now. More than one. They were a way off yet, but no doubt they'd be here soon. The woman stumbled slightly from time to time, but he had a firm grip on her arm with his left hand. She wasn't going anywhere he didn't want her to go.
The Bukland boy was sitting on the ground next to a large tree. It was definitely the kid he needed. He had studied the pictures for hours. The boy had his hands tied in front of him.
Diego smiled. "Hello Jimmy Bukland. I'm very pleased to see you. You have no idea how many people want to talk to you."
Diego looked around again, but he hadn't seen a sign of any living thing since he left the house. He assumed Tom Sullivan would be sneaking in through the back door to free his father. Well he had a little surprise for the kid when he did. So he needed to move fast now. His little surprise might go off any second. Besides, those police sirens in the distance were getting closer. Every second counted. Time to swap one hostage for a more valuable one.
He butt-stroked the old women across the face with his AK47 and she went down for the count. He thought of putting a bullet in her head, but what was the point. She wouldn't be getting up any time soon. Besides, some of the Sullivan kids were still around here somewhere. They were just kids, but you never know how people would react when they saw a family member killed. He had enough experience at that to make him cautious. Besides, there was still the surprise inside for the kids.
He stood next to Jimmy and saw that the kid was indeed securely tied up. He pulled out his twelve-inch carbon-steel hunting knife from a sheath latched to his ankle. The kid looked ready to piss his pants. No doubt he wasn't sure if he'd be set free, or have his throat cut. That could be useful later. There was no better way to make a father talk than to threaten to cut his son's balls off.
Diego bent over, sliced the rope from the tree and grabbed the boy by the shoulder. He looked about again.
He heard it before he saw anything. And by the time he did see, it was too late.
"Kill, kill, kill," and four large dogs flew from the trees and were on him before he could stand up straight and bring his gun to bear. Diego hated dogs – all of them. When he was 8-years-old he'd been attacked by two local barrio hounds. He wasn't badly hurt that time – they had been more interested in the meat he was carrying for his mother than tackling him. Still he had carried the phobia ever since. As he swung around, the first animal clamped onto his right arm at the elbow. He felt flesh pierced, bones crack and knew agony off the scale of anything he had previously thought possible. A second mongrel attached itself to his hand and ripped, pulling muscle, sinew and fingers away in a horrific scene of blood and unbearable pain. The last two dogs focused on his legs. There were blood curling shrieks and screams of panic intermixed with the growls, snarls, and crazed barks of the four Sullivan dogs that could be heard miles away.
Dogs are born with an instinctive sense of pack mentality and work well together. It's said that dogs are just two meals away from being wolves. Well that rule might apply to city pets, but the Sullivan dogs were bread as killers. Their job was to eradicate anything that threatened the farm. When they attack, their first objective is always to drag their prey down and maul. So they tackle limbs first. They will clamp on a large section of tissue on the arms or legs of the victim and use their posterior teeth to tear off pieces of flesh by shaking and pulling their heads. Once the victim is on the ground, the pack turns its attention to the throat, neck, or cranium. If the attack is allowed to continue, death will inevitably result from asphyxiation, exsanguination, or a fractured skull. But unlike cats, dogs don't wait until their prey is dead before they begin the feast.
It only took minutes for the screams to stop. Life for Diego Martinez ended in a wet and bloody gurgle, rather than a shriek, as what remained of his throat was ripped away. But the growling, gnawing and the sound of shredding flesh continued a little longer until pack-leader, Damien Bukland, ran up and brought the dogs to heel.
Tom had no intention of fulfilling his part of the bargain. These men had invaded his home and hurt his family. You didn't respect deals made under duress. Besides, assuming they hadn't destroyed the land-line telephone, he could call the sheriff. He couldn't understand why none of the younger kids had managed to get the authorities to come to the rescue. Perhaps he could hear sirens some miles away, but he wasn't certain. They didn't have time to wait now. There was a second reason he needed to get inside. If his brothers didn't kill the man as he went to collect Jimmy, who was tied to the tree, the guy would fall back to the house. Junior, Fred, Bill and Harry were all good shots and had sufficient fire-power, but killing another human being was not an easy thing. Junior and Harry had already done that today, and might hesitate when the moment came. Tom looked down at the shotgun in his hands and knew what he had to do.
As soon as Junior signaled that the man who called himself "Viper" was out the front door, Tom ran towards the back. He was pretty sure there were only four intruders, but he wasn't 100% certain. Reaching the back porch, he was tempted to go straight through the door, but something told him to check first. He veered off to the side and carefully peered through the kitchen window. He was prepared to duck back in a hurry. But that didn't prove necessary. The room was remarkably undisturbed. He could see his dad bound and gagged to a chair and struggling to escape. There was no sign of anyone else, and watching the frantic efforts of his father to get free, he had to assume, no one was watching him. He tapped lightly on the window.
His dad immediately stopped moving and tried twisting his head around to see who was there. Then he jerked forward and, with a little hop, managed to turn the chair around a few degrees. Tom could see his dad's eyes, and gestured that he was coming in. But his father shook his head violently. For a second, Tom thought the man wanted to be left alone, but that made no sense. Tom gestured again that he was coming in, and again his dad continued to shake his head, as if saying "no" and worked hard at freeing the gag in his mouth.
The boy hesitated. He was clearly missing something. So he abandoned the idea of going in the back door and ran along the side of the house to the tree that led to his sister's room. He climbed fast, scrambled through Meg's window and made his way to the second story hallway. The stairs ended with a clear view of the front door. He leveled the shotgun right at the doorway. If Viper returned, things were up to him. Tom cocked the shotgun and was ready to kill.
Then he heard it. A boy yelling something - unclear. A New York accent. Damien? Then the snarls, yaps, howls, muffled barks, growls, and the sound of ripping flesh. These were intermixed with panicked shrieks, cries, and screams of something being torn apart and unable to defend itself. Hardly human really. But Tom recognized the sound. He had heard it at night often enough. It was the noise made by Peter, Paul, Mary and Wendy, the farm's 4 Maremma sheepdogs, when they caught some unfortunate varmint attacking the chicken tractors. But that clamor usually only lasted a few seconds and the animal was dead. This time it went longer. Minutes, he guessed. But the screams did stop and all that remained was the racket of the dogs arguing over the choicest pieces of the carcass.
Who had thought of using them? Damien? He had only been here a bit over a month, but had a unique affinity with animals. He remembered his Mom once joking,
"That boy could get the dogs to square dance, if he only put his mind to it."
Tom could almost pity the man. He made his way down the stairs and looked out the side window. A bloody mess on the ground he didn't want to see. Jimmy and Damien were standing nearby, alive, but looking totally dazed. The others – Junior, Fred, and the twins were making their way over to help their Mom who was lying on the ground. He wanted to go out and help her, but his father was still in the kitchen, and something wasn't right. His dad's warning didn't make sense, but it meant he needed to exercise caution.
Tom opened the front door and yelled to his brothers. "Stay outside everyone. Dad's tied up in the kitchen. He's okay, but there's something wrong. No idea what. Is Mom okay?"
"The asshole hit her pretty hard. Glad the dogs got him," yelled Junior who was helping his mother sit up. Then he turned to his brothers. "Bill and Harry, run over to the bunkhouse and bring blankets and pillows. Fred, get over to the barn and get the first aid kit in there."
The police sirens were louder now. There were many of them. The boys knew the sheriff and a bunch of deputies would be here in minutes.
Tom went back inside and made his way towards the kitchen. He was feeling very tired. The stress from the day seem to hit him all at once. The bad guys were now all dead and accounted for. Absentmindedly, he unloaded the shotgun. He had been carrying it around everywhere for the last hour and hadn't noticed the weight. Now he felt the burden. He fumbled with the shells and dropped several. They hit the floor and rolled in different directions. He would need to pick those up, but that could wait for now.
He started moving towards the kitchen. "He's dead, Dad. The man who called himself Viper is dead. They're all dead Dad. All the bad guys. We killed them all."
In a detached sort of way, Tom recognized how weird it was to admit to killing four men. He didn't care though. They had come to hurt his family and got what they deserved. He was just about to enter the kitchen when his dad started banging the chair back and forth. It was enough to bring the 15-year-old up short. He'd forgotten about the warning his father was giving. Adrenalin pumped again. He was not finished yet.
Tom stared at his dad. He was still tied securely to the chair. His wrists, ankles, waist, and chest were all bound and the gag was still fastened across his mouth. But his father could use his fingers and the man pointed and jerked his head in one direction. Tom got the idea and followed the finger that directed his attention to the entryway to the kitchen. He sunk to one knee, and could finally see what he had almost walked into. A thin piece of twine. The brown color hardly noticeable. It was the type used to tie up a rump roast before cooking. It had no doubt been taken from their own kitchen. He tilted his head forward making sure to stay well away from the string. One end was tied to a handle on one of the cupboards. The other end led to the trash bin which had been pulled out from the wall just a little more than where it usually sat. Then he saw the grenade. He'd seen them in movies, video games, and in a history book about WWII.
It was a simple trick used by everyone from soldiers in war to modern-day terrorists. Tie a string to a grenade and pull the pin. Then wedge it in a tight space. It wouldn't explode until the strike lever was allowed to fly open. If he had continued walking, Tom knew he would have hit the string. He probably wouldn't have noticed the little extra tug on his boot. But that would have been enough to release the grenade from its current position. Bang! He and his dad would both be dead.
His heart pounded fast. From where he knelt, Tom could see across the kitchen to the back door. There was a similar set up over there. Yeah, he could see how Viper had seen this going down. The man would get Jimmy and make his escape. Then one, or maybe more of the kids would rush into the house to free their dad. No matter which way they came in, they wouldn't make it. Both entrances were booby trapped. The idea of little pieces of the Colombian drug lord now passing into the digestive system of the dogs didn't seem such a bad thing after all.
Tom took a deep breath and tried to think through the situation. The smartest thing would be to withdraw and wait for somebody to help. He knew that's what his dad would want him to do. The problem was the garbage can wasn't that secure. The spring trying to eject the lever that would activate the grenade was probably pushing against it. Worst still, he remembered that Jimmy had emptied the trash just after breakfast. Inertia was the only thing keeping the bin in place and there was little weight inside to guarantee that. It was a ticking time bomb and the slightest vibration could set the thing in motion.
He put the empty shotgun down in the hall. Why was he even still carrying it? Then he very carefully stepped over the string, making sure both feet stayed well clear. From there, he grabbed two steak knives from the knife block and started cutting his dad free. Once one arm was loose, Tom handed the second knife to his father and started working on the other side. The man removed the gag and cut his own feet free. It couldn't have taken more than a few minutes to release all the ropes, but with two unlocked grenades mere feet away, those minutes were stressful for them both.
Mr. Sullivan was a little shaky on his feet when he first tried standing up. He had been tied very tightly to the chair for over an hour. They could hear the sirens out on the main road from town. The police were minutes away.
"You sure the Colombians are all dead?"
"Yes Dad. There were four of them, right? Harry killed one with the crossbow, Junior shot one with the Takedown, another died in one of their SUVs chasing Jimmy on the ATV. He's okay and I think Damien set the dogs on the last guy. There's a big bloody mess in the front yard."
"Yes, there were only four. I can't believe… Well, there'll be time to discuss that later. For now, I want you out of the house. It will take a few minutes before my circulation returns. I'm not going to try and get past the booby traps until I'm steadier on my feet and you're safe."
They both looked up as the sirens were screeching closer. There had to be three or four patrol cars coming fast.
"Get outside and warn everyone to stay away from the house, front and back, until I come out. I'm pretty sure Harrison County doesn't have a bomb disposal squad, but I'm leaving the booby traps to Sheriff Riley. It's about time that fat fool earned his pay."
They both laughed.
Tom carefully crossed over the thin brown twine once again and left the house by the front door. He joined the other boys who had congregated around his mother. His brothers tried asking questions, but he held up his hand warning them off.
The minutes Tom stood there waiting for his dad to emerge from the house were some of the longest of his life. He could feel himself start to cry when his father finally stumbled down the patio steps.
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