The pecan harvest was in full swing and it was all hands on deck. With Randy unable to lift, or ride a tractor, Molly turned up the first day of harvest dressed to work. Ginger offered to help as well, but with Randy's recovery taking much more time than had been anticipated, Ethan told her to stay with her husband. She compromised by asking Molly if she could 'borrow' Claire Bell to help cook and she and Claire Bell would prepare the mid-day meal.
One of the jobs involved shaking out those nuts which were resting in their opened hulls. This was done by a tractor fitted with a pair of padded jaws which gripped a tree trunk, or in the case of huge old trees such as some on both Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove, large limbs, and literally shook them. Because of the vibration caused by the shaker, the tractor driver was rotated after each break. When Alfred asked if he could shake a tree, Ethan said, "Sure." Jamie had taught Alfred how to drive a tractor and swore he was good at it. Ethan rode in the cab with him to explain the shaker's controls and discovered that that was all he needed explained. Alfred had watched the shaker at work and knew exactly how and where to grasp and shake. After observing him shake three trees, Ethan climbed down from the tractor's cab and left Alfred to the job.
Jamie and Andy had gone to school for the first time in two weeks. They had a doctor's excuse for their absence and a doctor's note stating they should only be in school half a day until the following week. Both thought they should go in the morning since they only had two afternoon classes and PE---which was actually training for track---and art. The afternoon classes were non-college prep and pretty easy. Further, they were not required for graduation.
When the harvest crew went in for lunch, Andy and Jamie were dressed in work clothes. They told Ethan they had called Drs. Bailey and Stokes and asked about driving tractors. They, of course, had to leave a message and Dr. Bailey called back and spoke for himself and Dr. Stokes. He told Jamie if he and Andy felt up to it and protected their backs and genitalia, they saw no reason why they shouldn't. They applied ointment to the healing burns, wrapped their junk in gauze and cotton and placed the wrapped genitalia in cups the doctors had ordered for them. "I don't think we want to be running a shaker," Andy laughed, "but sweepers we can handle."
With the reconditioned equipment from Pleasant Grove, essentially a double crew worked in the groves shaking, sweeping, and collecting. The collectors removed dirt clods, twigs and other trash picked up from the ground. The collected pecans were taken to a centrally located machine which did further cleaning and passed the cleaned nuts over an inspection table. Dek, Molly and Davis presided over the inspection table, tossing out unacceptable nuts. The pecans then moved over a table with graduated holes which separated them into small, medium and large sizes. They were then bagged in huge nylon bags ready to be picked up by the dealers who purchased them. The whole process was dusty and dirty work.
The second week of the harvest, Jamie and Andy were back in school full time. Since they had missed three weeks of track practice and two meets, both decided to drop out of track and Ethan got permission for them to drop the PE class as well and leave school early since they didn't need the credit to graduate. In fact, they didn't have to have credit for the art class after lunch, but they enjoyed it and both Dek and Ethan insisted they not drop it. Since they had first lunch---which started at 10:30---they were ready to go to work at 1:00 when the crews were ready to return to the groves.
Pecans produce a heavy crop on alternate years. While the previous year had been an exceptionally good one for an off year, this year's crop was well over double that of the year before last. It was proving to be the best year Arkadelphia had ever had. The downside to the abundant harvest was that it meant long days of dirty, dusty work. Fortunately, harvest had started at Arkadelphia in mid-October so the summer heat and humidity was over, but the days were still quite warm. Ethan had over-ruled the earlier restrictions on the work day and harvest began at 7:00 and ended at 6:00 with an hour break at lunch. The crew also worked Saturday morning from 7:00 until noon. Randy was able to take care of most of the cattle business since it was very slow at the moment. The pastures on Pleasant Grove were all properly fenced, the pastures being renovated had been finished and the one being started afresh was covered with crimson clover.
When the crew came in from the groves Saturday, Scotty motioned to Jamie and they went into the living room. Scotty gave Jamie some money and said, "That's for movie tickets and popcorn. We can sleep in tomorrow, so why don't you, Andy and Sally Ann take your Braggton friends to a movie at the mall? And don't come back until your curfew." Jamie grinned as Molly might have said, 'like a jackass eating briers' as he took the money.
He went to the den and said to Ethan, "We can sleep in tomorrow and we have been working overtime, so I think we should have a late curfew. We'd like to take our dates to the mall and to the movies. We'd be on Scotty's dime." Ethan blushed which sent his brother into gales of laughter.
Ethan tried to appear to be reluctant to give his permission, but he didn't pull it off. "Okay, midnight curfew."
"Sally Ann, call Keith and see if he'd like to go to the mall and take in a movie---this time not a chick flick. I'll call Andy and he can check with A'isha." Thirty minutes later they were out the door, headed for Braggton.
Before they were in Braggton, Scotty had Ethan in the bed, making passionate love to him. After a long, passionate kiss, Scotty said, "Ethan, make love to me. I am ready." Ethan realized what Scotty had been doing when he stayed in the shower so long; he had prepared himself for his lover.
After their first time penetrating each other, they had pretty much alternated being top and bottom, but it seemed more and more as though Scotty liked being bottom more than top. Ethan liked both---very much.
Again, Ethan's orgasm sent Scotty over the edge as well and both collapsed in each other's arms, sated. Then they slipped into dreamless sleep, Ethan still buried inside Scotty.
At 2:30, Ethan was awakened by Scotty cleaning him with a warm washcloth. When he finished, he kissed Ethan's cock and the two started making out. Both were soon sporting throbbing erections again. Scotty rolled a condom on Ethan, straddled him and sank his lover's cock in his willing ass. He continued to ride Ethan for several minutes, climbed off and, resting on his elbows and knees, presented himself to Ethan. They had never tried doggy style, but both soon discovered they had been missing something.
The two got dressed and Scotty suggested they go to Audubon and purchase the shrubs they had planned for around the house. It was getting dark by the time they had the last shrub in the ground, but they were happy with the result. The beds they had planted in late summer were now very beautiful. "Our house is looking more and more like a real home," Ethan said as they looked over the front with its flowers and shrubs. Scotty agreed, but having seen the shack where the Taylors had lived before Davis moved them to Arkadelphia, he knew he could never appreciate a house as much as Ethan.
They showered again---their third of the day---and had supper. An old movie Scotty really wanted to see came on and the two snuggled on the den couch and watched it. When it was over, Ethan grabbed Scotty and carried him upstairs to their bed. They started making out and before long, Scotty was playing with Ethan's rosebud, preparing it for his cock. Ethan was being very verbal in his demand that Scotty make love to him. Scotty slowly penetrated his dark lover and began slowly thrusting into him in long strokes---pulling out until only his head remained in his lover then plunging his long cock deep inside Ethan. Finally, he could hold out no longer and stroked Ethan as he hammered his butt. In spite of two earlier orgasms, both experienced powerful eruptions after which, his cock still buried in Ethan, they fell asleep.
This time they were awakened by the phone. Ethan's heart immediately started racing and his hand was shaking as he reached for the phone. His hand was shaking so hard he knocked the phone out of its cradle and it fell on the floor. Scotty picked it up and answered it. He listened for a few minutes and finally said, "Jamie, I'm sure there's no problem, but you need to speak to Ethan. What about Andy?" He listened a few more minutes and said, "Okay, here's Ethan." As he handed the phone to Ethan, he said, "No real problem, lover."
Jamie had called to get permission to be a few minutes past curfew getting home. A'isha's mother had called Auntie Sherlene to tell her A'isha needed to come home because her grandmother had called and they were leaving early the next morning to go to see her in Atlanta. Ethan asked if this was a surprise and Jamie said it was. Apparently, there had been no plan to make the trip until Mr. Wellborn's mother had called and pretty much demanded he come. Ethan just told him to be careful.
After the call, Ethan was still shaking. Scotty had been disturbed by it, but Ethan had been more than a little frightened, understandably. They got dressed and went downstairs where Scotty fixed cups of hot chocolate. "God, babe, how do parents stand it?" Ethan asked. "I am only their brother and I just about came unglued when the phone rang."
"Ethan, you are not 'only their brother.' You are not their parent by birth, but in reality you are. There is no question but what they see you as their parent. You are also their brother, but you are the point of their stability and a damn good one. Of course you almost came unglued when they are out and the phone rings. Not only do you love them very much, but you also feel responsible for them and what happened to Jamie and Andy recently has to be in the back of your mind when the phone rings."
"Scotty. I don't know what I would do if something happened and I lost them."
"I know, but they are fine and responsible. They are two wonderful children and you deserve much credit for that and I love you for it."
"Scotty, we can never let them come between us ..."
"It'll never happen, Ethan, never would I put myself between you and your brother and sister." Somehow he did not seem too convincing to Ethan, but he dismissed it as just being very sensitive to his responsibility after what had happened to Jamie and Andy.
It took over an hour for Jamie to drive A'isha home and get back to Arkadelphia, so it was after 1:00 when the three got home. Jamie had dropped Andy off at his place on the way in. When Jamie and Sally Ann walked in, Ethan gave both a hug and said, "I assume all went well getting A'isha home."
"Mostly," Sally Ann said. "Mr. Wellborn's mother had called before A'isha left home, but he was debating not going. Mrs. Wellborn said he knew he'd go because he had never bucked his mama his whole life. Sure would have made things easier if he had been upfront with the facts. It's a long way to A'isha's place and back to here, especially in the middle of the night. I hope you two made good use of the 'no kids' time you had."
Ethan---need it be said---blushed and Scotty said, "Hell yes!!"
Rich had strictly warned Scotty and Ethan about going back to the compound in the pine woods. After what they saw, they had no desire whatever to get within miles of the place. Go back there? They'd have to be crazy!
Well, actually, they did not go back and it was an accident that Ethan did.
He and Jamie had gone hunting at Pleasant Grove one Friday after Jamie got home from school. They had spotted a deer bed and decided it belonged to a buck. They planned to stake it out the next morning and got dressed warmly and headed for the deer's bed two hours before daylight. For the first time in their life, they managed to get disoriented without knowing it. They kept walking, looking for the deer bed when suddenly the odor Ethan knew came from the lab hit them in the face, almost overwhelming them. Jamie started to say something and Ethan clamped his hand over his mouth and whispered, "Quiet!" It was just beginning to get light and when he looked in the direction the odor was coming from he saw the lab only a couple of hundred yards to their right. Directly ahead of them, maybe a hundred feet away, was the road leading to the compound. Before they could get away, they heard a truck approaching and Ethan put his hand on Jamie's back and pressed him to the ground as he, himself hit the dirt. The truck was moving slowly and as it passed, Ethan raised his cell phone and snapped several pictures as did Jamie. As soon as it was past, Ethan whispered to his brother, "Hunter's walk---fast! We need to get the hell out of here!"
Instead of going back the way they came, Ethan started walking back the way he, Rich and Scotty had approached the lab. When they had walked about a hundred yards from the road, Ethan decided they could not be seen from the complex and stood and started running quietly. When they reached Pleasant Grove's boundary, they walked to where they had left the truck and once in it and on the way home, Ethan said, "Brother, we are lucky to save our asses," and told him about the lab and the complex there.
Rich was still in Atlanta and when Ethan called his department he was told they could not put him in contact with Rich. Ethan left an urgent message for Rich to call him.
Monday following their hunting trip, Rich still had not called. When Ethan's phone rang just before the crew quit for lunch Tuesday, he hoped it was Rich, but when he looked at it, he saw it was Jamie. "Jamie, what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong, Ethan. I called to let you know something has come up and Andy and I have to go to Braggton to talk with Clyde Shepherd. He said we might be an hour or two, but it was important that he talk to us today.
"Okay, if you're sure nothing's wrong."
"Don't worry. We'll call when we finish. By the way, if Rich calls, please have him call me. Tell him it's urgent. I need to ask him a couple of questions about the kidnapping."
"Will do. Be careful, Jamie."
Ethan wasn't supposed to worry, but something didn't sound right. He decided he'd call Atlanta and pester them until they got a message to Rich. When he called, he asked for Rich's boss and when his secretary answered, Ethan identified himself and she knew immediately who he was. "My brother Jamie just called and said it was urgent that Rich call him. I'm not sure what's going on, but knowing my brother, I don't think the tale he told me was the truth. I'll check on it as soon as I can. Can you get a message to Rich?"
"You're in luck. Two hours ago I couldn't, but he just came in and he and the boss are in a conference. You sure this is urgent?"
"Then I'll interrupt them. I'll have him call your brother."
Fifteen minutes later Ethan's phone rang and he didn't recognize the ID. "Arkadelphia Plantation. This is Ethan."
"Ethan, I'm on the boss's phone and he's here with me. We're on speaker. I just talked with Jamie. What can you tell me about last Friday's deer hunt?"
Ethan quickly filled Rich in on their stumbling on the meth lab compound.
"Did you by any chance see an eighteen wheeler?"
"We did and both got pictures of it. It was pretty dark, but you can make out the truck."
"Can you send pictures to me on my phone now?"
"Sure." Ethan quickly found the pictures on his phone and sent them.
"Thanks. I'll get back to you in a few minutes."
Ethan was not sure what, but knew Jamie and Andy were up to something. He had been chewing his nails and pacing for twenty minutes and was ready to try Clyde's office again---when he called earlier he was told Clyde was in court---when his phone rang. It was the same ID as the first call from Rich. "You can relax and stop pacing now. Jamie and Andy are being escorted back home by a state trooper. You'll probably ground him for life when he tells you what he and Andy were up to."
A state trooper called shortly after Ethan had talked to Rich and told him Jamie had been stopped on a country road some twenty miles south of Audubon after he had contacted the state troopers. "Seems he went deer hunting last Monday with you, Ethan, and you two got disoriented for some reason and stumbled on a complex you and Scotty McCarter had discovered earlier. Based on the evidence you two and Agent Long collected when you stumbled on it and further evidence amassed since, it is almost certain the complex contains a meth lab capable of producing the drug by the hundredweight. Other nefarious activities are also centered on the complex.
"Anyway, last Monday when you and Jamie stumbled on the complex, you took pictures with your cell phones. Jamie's memory is pretty sharp and he remembered the logo on the truck. Today before noon he and Andy left school to go get lunch and spotted a truck with the same logo. He checked the photos on his phone to make sure and he and Andy decided to help out by following the truck.
"Apparently the young men in the area play a hide and seek game on the back roads and know them all. Accordingly, Jamie was able to keep track of the truck without actually following it. Wisely, he got in contact with the state police and state troopers in unmarked cars are following the truck, switching off so the driver doesn't see the same car following. As soon as a state trooper made visual contact with the truck, another one pulled Jamie over and is escorting him home. I agree that it was damn foolhardy on the part of Jamie, but it is the break Agent Long said he had been waiting for."
It was almost an hour later that a state trooper pulled into the backyard followed by Jamie who was tailed by another state trooper. As soon as they got out of the truck, both grabbed Ethan and Scotty in bear hugs as all four burst into nervous tears.
When they broke the hug, Ethan said, "James Eugene Taylor if you ever pull another stunt like this you are going to die the death of a rag doll!"
"I don't think you need worry, Ethan. I thought of it as a great adventure when I spotted the truck. Andy wasn't so sure. So long as we were in Bragg County, I knew the truck driver would never spot me because I have a pretty good idea of the route he would take and I could dodge around him on country roads. Then when we crossed into Dodson County, I began to get worried. I didn't want to lose him, but I was running out of familiar territory. I didn't let Andy know it, but I began to get uneasy. Fortunately, I got pulled over a few minutes before I would have dropped the chase. I'm pretty stupid at times, brother, but not dumb."
"Well, you're safe now." Jamie nodded in agreement.
Three days later, everyone was in the grove working when Rich called, "Ethan," he said, "both you and Scotty need to stay in sight of the plantation house until further notice. I'll give the all clear. Under no circumstances, and I mean none, are you to leave the plantation house area until I personally call. Ignore any other instructions, period. Do not be outside without someone with you. Keep your rifles handy and don't be afraid to use them if you are threatened. This is serious. I'm calling Davis and giving him the same order. Sheriff Jackson will be out to look around and will escort two agents from this office to keep an eye on all of you. DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT allow anyone on the place unless escorted by Sheriff Jackson or myself regardless of their ID. Anyone who shows up and is not with Sheriff Jackson, hold them at gunpoint and call the Sheriff. This is serious business."
Ethan started walking toward the final processing machine and met Davis coming toward him. "Ethan, I sent the crew working on the inspection table to the house. We are all are gathering there until Sheriff Jackson arrives. I called Claire Bell and told her to lock up and only admit us."
Molly pulled up beside Davis and said, "I picked up Scotty. Ethan, get Michael and Alfred. I'll tell Randy and Ginger."
She drove off, hell bent for leather. Ethan swung around and picked up Michael and Alfred. "I don't know what's going on, but apparently we are in danger," he told them. He then headed for the plantation house.
Molly told Randy and Ginger to drop what they were doing and head for the plantation house at top speed. "Stop and pick up Mrs. Kistler and Shawn."
They had all just reached the house and gotten inside when Ethan saw Sheriff Jackson pull up outside. Three men dressed in camouflage and carrying large bags were with him. As they stepped out of the car, two walked ahead of Sheriff Jackson and one walked with him. They had taken only a few steps when Ethan saw Sheriff Jackson and the man beside him take out their side arms and stick them in the back of one of the men walking ahead of them. The third man in camouflage cuffed the man's hands behind his back. He was marched back to the sheriff's car and put in the back seat after being searched.
'Damn,' Ethan thought, 'what the fuck is going on.'
There was a knock on the door and Davis unlocked it and let Sheriff Jackson and the two men inside. "Folks, if you'll all get settled, Agent Yeager and Agent Patrick will tell you what's going on, at least the part we know about."
"I am Agent Bryan Yeager," one of the men said, "and my partner is Agent Michael Patrick. We'll get your names later.
"Okay, before I say anything else, you may have seen us take a man into custody just after we drove up. It should demonstrate how important it is that you admit no-one unless they are escorted by one of us or Sheriff Jackson. That man had agency ID so perfect neither Michael nor I could spot it as being fake. The only way we knew he was not assigned to this investigation was code words which were worked into our conversation did not elicit a response. As Rich warned you, trust no-one except the two of us and Sheriff Jackson regardless of any ID they may present.
"Now, which of you is Ethan Taylor and Howard Hickey?" Dek and Ethan raised a hand. "Great. A state trooper is on the way to escort James Taylor and Andrew Hickey here from school. Michael and I will check the trooper's ID and make sure he knows the code words assigned to him by the agency."
"What about Sally Ann?" Ethan asked.
"She's safe," Sheriff Jackson answered. "She was on a field trip and is with Mavis until I can get back and pick her up."
"So do we all stay cooped up here in the plantation house?" Ginger asked.
"We're working on that, but you and your husband pose a special problem since you live on---what? Pleasant Grove? I grew up where farms don't have names." Randy nodded. "There is no-one within a couple of miles or more of you. The only way we could risk you being home would be to place a guard in your house. If this situation goes on longer than three days and we haven't come up with a better solution, I'll see that that is done. For the rest of you, you'll need to stay here for perhaps two or three hours while a perimeter is being established. Once that is accomplished, you can return to your homes, but except as absolutely required, stay inside or in your own backyards. Do not go elsewhere unless it is absolutely necessary. Before leaving your own yard, dial 777 and speak to the agent, It is very important that you do not go outside after dark. If there are no more questions ... then Mr. Edwards, do you have an office where I can talk with Ethan and Alpin?" Davis said he did and Ethan could show him the way.
Once the three were in the office, Scotty said, "Agent Yeager, I would much prefer you call me Scotty. I have always thought that Alpin, even if it is a good Scottish name, sounds pretty dumb."
"Fine, then Scotty it will be. Agent Patrick."
Agent Patrick said, "Ethan, I understand you are head of your family and hold an important position here at Arkadelphia Plantation. When Agent Long told me you two had been responsible for the location of the compound where the meth lab is located---which, by the way, is responsible for much more than meth---I expected to meet someone his age. All he told me was that I would be in trouble if I was caught giving you a beer. So I am impressed. While I am sure you are ready to kill Jamie---I would be if he were mine---looking at it from my official perspective, I applaud his sharp thinking and his skill in pulling off what he has. He was literally risking his life and that of Andy but he along with you two are responsible for taking down a massive criminal empire.
"I'm sure you would like to know what is going on, but I'm afraid you'll have to wait on that. Officially I can't talk about it right now and unofficially Agent Long will kill me if I messed up his telling you the story. Unofficially, I was to tell you it was a good thing you and Scotty took your brother and sister's advise about housing because Doug got the appointment, whatever that means.
"Now, I can tell you this, Agent Yeager and I are just team leaders on this operation. There are others whom you will not see. They are setting up a perimeter around the houses here. You are relatively safe moving outside during the day, but don't do it without talking to the agent. It will stretch our resources if too many people are outside or if someone is outside too much.
"I suspect it'll all be over in twenty-four hours, maybe before," Agent Yeager said and asked if they had questions and they did not. "Then I have some. There's nothing I need to be doing and I'd like to know how an eighteen-year-old ends up the head of a household and manager of a thousand-acre pecan business."
Between Ethan and Scotty, Agent Yeager got the full story. "So you really are Jamie and Sally Ann's legal guardian and manager of the pecan groves of two plantations," he said. "Amazing."
"A definite yes to the first and a kinda yes to the second. Truth of the matter is Davis is manager ..." Ethan started to say.
"Not true, Ethan. When was the last time Davis made a decision? Who does the hiring? Who decides who will be assigned to what? Agent Yeager, Davis is always standing behind Ethan and I don't think he would allow Ethan to make a decision he knew to be wrong. Otherwise what Ethan says goes. He has had a lot of backup. In addition to Davis there is Dek, who has twenty years or more working groves, much as crew chief, and Ash, who is a college graduate who specialized in pecan diseases and pests. There have been times Ethan listened to Dek and/or Ash and went against Davis. Couple of weekends ago, Jeff, the Edwards' son was home. Everyone was ribbing Jamie and Andy over their determination to plant a new variety of cover crop when Jeff congratulated them on doing it because he wanted to when he was at home and Davis would not allow it. Ethan had told them he thought it was a good idea because experimentation in growing pecans and raising cattle---I am on the cattle station crew---and living in community was the main thing his vision held for Arkadelphia."
"Long speech, Mr. McCarter," Ethan said as his face lost some of the redness from all his blushing while Scotty talked.
"I can see why Agent Long thinks so highly of you. Well, shall we join the others?" Agent Yeager said in an overdone British accent as he bowed to the two.
An hour after Jamie returned, Scotty and Claire Bell had fixed breakfast---ham, eggs, grits and biscuits---for supper. Claire Bell had made biscuits while Scotty fried large slices of Davis' prize cured ham, scrambled eggs and cooked grits. In spite of the fact that he had been born and raised in Georgia, Scotty was first introduced to grits by Sally Ann. She also was responsible for teaching him how to cook grits without lumps. Molly and Ethan got the table set and everyone had just sat down and Davis had said grace when there was a knock on the back door. Davis looked out and saw Sheriff Jackson with Sally Ann and Mavis.
When they came inside, Jamie grabbed Sally Ann and hugged her. When he broke the hug, she gave him a generous slap and said, "Jamie, you are going to be the death of me yet." Ethan smiled. In spending time with Molly she had began using many of Molly's idioms. "Andy Hickey, I declare, I expected you to have better sense."
"Sally Ann, have you ever tried to stop Jamie from doing something he was determined to do?"
"Point taken, but it can be done."
"Sis, I don't know anyone who can stop Jamie except you," Ethan laughed now that his family was safe or at least he felt it was safe.
"You should see Kathryn handle him," Sally Ann laughed and Jamie blushed.
After supper had been cleared away, everyone except Randy and Ginger headed home. Agent Yeager searched the Taylors' house before he allowed them inside. "Okay, you shouldn't have any callers, but you never know. Demand ID from everyone except the people you live with here at Arkadelphia, even Sheriff Jackson. Also, you have a password. Use it in a sentence that sounds perfectly natural. For you the word is pine. It can be used in the plural and in any combination with another word. The response is elm. Sally Ann, give it a try.
"Don't you love the scent of the pines? That's one nice thing about living where we do. You are never far from the fresh fragrance of pines."
"Don't like it myself. I guess it's because I come from an area where there are few pines. I grew up among elm. Elm doesn't have a scent. Questions about the password?" There were none. After Agent Yeager left, Ethan and Jamie went upstairs and got their rifles and kept them nearby.
After they watched an old movie---since Scotty had been living with them, they had all got hooked on Scotty's much-loved old movies---they went to bed early. Ethan and Scotty lay in each other's arms, exchanging soft kisses, but soon slipped into sleep exhausted by the tension they had experienced since early afternoon.
Next morning as Sally Ann was fixing breakfast, there was a knock on the door. When she looked out the door, she saw a man, dressed in camouflage and carrying an assault rifle in the crook of his arm. His hand held out a wallet opened to show a badge and photo. Ethan and Jamie had moved to either side of her. Their rifles held ready as she opened the door a crack.
"Ma'am, I'm Agent Carlson," he extended the wallet allowing her a clear look at the photo ID. I wonder if I could fill my water bottle. I don't know when I'll be relieved and I ran out of water."
"You stuck in the pines? Pines always make me very thirsty."
"No Ma'am, I'm stationed across the road in that clump of some kind of bushes."
"Can't have you thirsty, just come inside. You can leave your gun on the porch."
"Sorry, Ma'am, I have to have it on my person," he said as he stepped inside.
As he did, Sally Ann fell to the floor and Ethan and Jamie jammed the ends of their rifles in his ribs. "Drop it!" Jamie demanded and poked the man a good one with his rifle when he was slow in reacting.
As soon as the rifle hit the floor, Scotty appeared with rope and he and Sally Ann had the man more than adequately bound in no time. As she tied her last knot, Sally Ann said, in a sweet, helpless southern lady voice, "Poor boy, are you still thirsty?"
"Bitch!" the man hissed.
"My, my, yo' mama neglected teaching you manners, I see."
Ethan dialed 777 and spoke into his phone. "We have an agent who seems to have forgotten the password tied up in our den. Think you could send someone to pick him up?"
Five minutes later, Agent Yeager and Agent Patrick stood outside the door, wallets open and extended. "You two sure got here in a hurry. Hiding in the pines across the road?"
"No, I was in the elm," Agent Yeager said.
"And I was in an elm too," Agent Patrick said.
"Come in and see our guest."
The two came in, walked over to the man tied up, lying on the floor and Agent Patrick read him his Miranda rights and took him away.
"Good job," Agent Yeager said. "He'll have charges enough to hold him for a long time and maybe he'll turn. As soon as we get one or two to turn, we'll be in clover. Keep vigilant."
The plantation was still, for all practical purposes, under lockdown the next morning. Then, mid-morning, trucks loaded with men in camouflage started arriving. The trucks parked in the grove between the highway and Ash's house and men started pouring out of them. The agents all seemed tense, poised for action, but were just waiting. Jamie, who seemed to know such things said, "Like the military---hurry up and wait."
Suddenly there was a lot of movement among the men.
Agent Yeager came to the back door, identified himself and came in. "If you will come with me, I'm doing a briefing. I'm sure you're curious as to what's going on."
"Something going on?" Sally Ann said in a 'sweet' voice. "I hadn't noticed. I mean is there something unusual about five truckloads of men looking ready to play GI Joe driving into your pecan grove? What gave you the idea we thought something was going on?"
Agent Yeager was laughing so hard he was getting teary eyed. "Sally Ann, I'd like for you to meet my sixteen-year-old daughter. You two would be a pair. But, come to think of it, that would so much not be a good idea. Okay, let's go." For the first time since yesterday, they walked freely outside.
When everyone was assembled in the plantation house, Agent Yeager said, "With the exception of Sally Ann who noticed nothing unusual going on, I suspect you all have noticed a bit of activity outside. At 3:30 am the offices of Grant, Grant and Sherman in Atlanta were raided. Guess the name of the firm should have been a tip-off that it wasn't on the up and up but, well, most of us are Yankees. Evidence found there and that collected here by Agent Richard Long over the past months tied the senior partners of that firm to an extensive crime ring. Many of their activities are of no local interest---prostitution, gambling, etc. However, women for call girl services all over the southeast came through Bragg County. Agent Long and three other agents found proof of all that when they managed to do an undercover raid on the complex you, Ethan, Scotty, and Jamie have seen. What you have been calling the meth lab is just that. Chemicals come in from somewhere in Central America to manufacture hundreds of pounds of meth. Literally tons of marijuana come through the complex here as well.
"Rich's investigation stalled when it failed to find how the women, marijuana, the raw chemicals needed to manufacture meth, etc. got here. As unwise as it was, Jamie's following the truck provided a breakthrough. You may recall that its side logo identified it as "Macon Refrigerated Freight." After the state troopers took up the task Jamie started, they followed it to what appeared to be a seafood distribution facility in Chambers County. Several trucks there bore logos for "Sea Breeze Fresh Seafood." These, too, appeared to be refrigerated trucks when in fact they were not..
"Agents put a GPS device on one of the trucks and traced it to a Florida Wilderness Area. The truck drove into the area at night, parked very close to the beach and high-speed boats brought marijuana, women, chemicals, whatever, from a small container ship anchored offshore. The unloading and reloading took most of the night. As a truck was loaded, it headed for Chambers County where the logo was changed ready to head to Bragg County. When the warehouses in Bragg County were filled, the 'seafood plant' was a secondary warehouse.
"There is one more junior 'executive' who has not been arrested. Otherwise all of the senior and junior executives are in jail. The one not arrested holed himself up in his Atlanta mansion, but had until three minutes ago to surrender before the house would be flooded with tear gas. Meanwhile, while I have been talking, agents on foot have surrounded the compound and as soon as the last executive has been arrested ..." Agent Yeager's phone rang. He answered, listened for a minute and when he closed it said, "cancel that. The raid just began. Mr. Junior Executive walked out of his house spraying his front lawn with an assault weapon before he was shot. Everyone just stay put until I get back."
Half an hour after Agent Yeager left, the house was shaken by a violent explosion. When they all rushed to windows facing south, they saw a column of black smoke and flame reaching into the sky.
"Man, that must be something," Andy said. "How far away is that?"
"At least a mile, mile and a half as the crow flies," Ethan said.
"There goes your local meth lab," Scotty observed. "I knew small trailer park operations exploded, but I bet that was a well-equipped lab."
At 4:30, a very sooty faced Rich appeared at the backdoor of the plantation house, wallet extended. Sally Ann grinned at him when she opened the door and said, "Why, sir, you look as though you've been smoked by a pine knot."
"Afraid not, fair lady, it was a most splendid elm branch."
Sally Ann held the door wide and Rich rushed in, grabbed Ethan and Scotty in a bear hug, his white teeth sparkling in his very black face. He then spotted Jamie and grabbed him as well and said, "Jamie, my foolhardy hero."
Sally Ann gave Rich a tap on the shoulder and said, "Go home, get cleaned up and come back for supper." Rich smiled his thanks.