Nancy Morgan, young mother of two stands panting, sweating, clutching her two young sons. Nancy’s blond hair is matted to her scalp, weighed down by bodily fluids, sweat and tears. The sticky blood of the latest victim covered her upper torso. She was seated directly next to him as he was axed to death. Inside the maze of dark barns was dank, hot and humid. Bails of hay and animal waste were scattered randomly about the floors of the barns. Only slim streams of light sliding through the old beams of the structure illuminated the ill smelling stagnate air. Ms. Morgan tries to stay aware of her surroundings, listening out for her pursuer. Despite all of the chaos and carnage around her, she can only hear her heart pounding in her ears. Slowly the woman turns in the dark with her hands on her boys’ shoulders. She whispers to them to remain quiet. After taking just two steps a bright spot light flashed in their faces temporarily blinding them. The voice yelled out to her like in the beginning.
“The tour is not over!”
Nancy tries to shield her eyes from the light with her hands as she questioned her captor.
“Why are you doing this? Please, just let us go. I promise, we won’t say anything just please let my boys go.”
She was answered abruptly behind the blinding light.
“No one leaves until they experience the entire tour!”
Just then a large hooded figure appeared in front of Nancy and her boys with a raised machete in his hand. She screamed as the large blade came swinging towards her and her offspring. The last thing she heard was her unknown captor laughing from afar as she prayed that this day not be her last…
Weeks earlier Nancy was preparing breakfast for her two special little guys, Tommy and Timmy ages five and seven.
“Mommy do you think Daddy could come to the springs with us tomorrow?”
Nancy tried her best to hide the level of irritation she felt at her darling little boy’s question while answering him.
“No Tommy, I think your father is busy tomorrow. It’s a weekday and I’m sure he has to work. Actually Tom is going with us. He’s going to drive us in his car, it’s bigger. We can fit all of our stuff in it. We’re going to have a great time. Aren’t you excited?!”
Tommy looked down while pushing the eggs around on his plate with his fork.
“Yeah, I like going to the springs. It’s just more fun when Daddy is there.”
Nancy clinched her teeth. Then walked over and lifted his little chin with her forefinger until their eyes met.
“Well sweetie I am sure we are going to have a great time, just give it a chance. Plus, you’ve never been to the springs with Tom before; I am sure he can be a lot of fun too.”
Young Tommy was not convinced. He answered nonetheless.
Nancy was satisfied with his answer so she busied herself once again with her motherly duties. The woman knew how much her boys loved their father and it really stuck in her crawl. She couldn’t believe that the man who broke her heart into a million pieces still had the unconditional love of her children. It was hard enough for her to look at him; she especially didn’t enjoy talking to or spend time around him. The divorce was final and she was left with the house, primary caregiver of the boys, alimony and child support. Tony felt guilty for the way he behaved during his marriage so he allowed his formerly loving wife to take him to the cleaners. He gave her whatever she wanted and then some. Nancy’s hurt helped her to take all she wanted in an attempt to hurt him; while Tony gladly took his lumps.
Nancy just wanted a fresh start after being with the same guy since high school. She didn’t quite know if Tom was the one but she did know that he wasn’t Tony and he adored her. Being an elementary school teacher she had plenty of time to spend with her boys during the summer. The income she received from Tony paid her bills during the months of unrelenting Florida Sun. Tom tried to spend every free moment he had with Nancy and her children. Father of none he took baby steps in learning to be a stepfather. He knew that he was jumping the gun a little so he spared no expense in trying to win Tommy and Timmy over. Tom realized that the boys still loved their father so he never wanted to come off as trying to replace him; in essence that was exactly what he was trying to do.
Tony didn’t mind his ex dating; he would just rather the boys be with him while she did it. He didn’t want her playing house with some guy around his children unless it was going to be a long term relationship. The proud father had yet to let any woman meet his boys. Tony dated some to fulfill his carnal needs but he didn’t hold strong enough feelings for any of them to allow them to meet his little guys. When his boys were at his home, their time was their time.
“Nancy, I just wanted to know if I could pick the boys up a little early this weekend. I thought I’d take them to the springs and have a picnic. Is that okay with you?”
Nancy held the phone in her hand, pausing before answering. Both of her boys were looking up at her. She turned and walked into the dining room before answering him.
“Well actually we were planning on going to the springs tomorrow so I don’t know if the boys would want to go again so soon.”
Nancy knew that she was telling a lie. Those boys would go to the spring everyday if you let them. She was trying to start something new building a bond between her, her new beau and the boys. Also she wanted to loosen Tony’s grip on her kids. Tony objected.
“What do you mean? That has always been our thing since they were babies. Plus, I don’t know if you’ll be safe there with just you and the boys. Is there anyway we can all go together?”
Again Nancy paused, dreading what she had to tell Tony. Then as she thought to herself this was a way to take back a little power from him and cut him a little at the same time.
“Well actually we’re not going there alone.”
Tony readily understood what she meant and he didn’t like it.
“If you don’t mind ne asking, who is it that is going to the springs with you and our sons?”
Nancy took a hard swallow as she gathered the courage to answer strong and assertively. She reminded herself that she was in control here. She was now the dominant one in this relationship.
“Tom is coming to the springs with us. As a matter of fact we’re riding with him in his SUV; we can pack more in his vehicle than mine.”
Tony masked how angry he was; he knew that their conversation could easily blow up into an explosive argument.
“Tom? I don’t believe I have had the pleasure of meeting Tom. I thought that we agreed that if either of us were going to have someone around the children we would let the other parent meet them first.”
Nancy rolled her eyes.
“I believe that is what you said; not what I agreed to.”
Tony hated when she played word games with him and he wasn’t in the mood to tongue wrestle with her about what was said and what was agreed to.
“I don’t want to argue but I would like to come by and meet him tonight. I am sure you’re going to get together tonight before you hit the springs tomorrow.”
Tony forced Nancy into a lie. The last thing she wanted was Tony interrogating the guy she was dating. She knew that he would ask the boys a ton of questions when he had them over the weekend but she didn’t want him intimidating Tom causing him to have second thoughts about dating her.
“Well actually Tom has to work late tonight so we are going to just meet tomorrow. Sorry, maybe some other time.”
The sheriff’s deputy in him could tell that she was lying. Tony smiled to himself before asking more probing questions.
“So what does this Tom do anyway?”
Nancy was wise to the way Tony operated and she didn’t want to get trapped in her lies so early.
“Look Tony, I’m not answering any of your questions. I will not allow you to interrogate me about who I date. I am a good judge of character and I know what is best for my boys.”
“Yes Tony, I guess you will see. Because I make the decisions here!”
Nancy disconnected the call before Tony had the opportunity to speak with his sons. She didn’t want the questions. Nancy knew that Tommy would ask his father to come to the springs with them and he would throw a fit if his mother said no. Luckily for her Tony really didn’t want to start a conflict with her so he didn’t call back. Instead he spent his time trying to figure out who Nancy’s friend Tom was so that he could run a background check on him.
Nancy called Tom to cancel their dinner plans. She couldn’t risk Tony driving by and see his car in front of the house.
“Tom, I’m sorry but I have to ask you for a rain check on dinner tonight. I had some things come up and I won’t be home until late. I’m just going to let the boys eat some junk food tonight and we’ll see you first thing in the morning. I am so sorry to cancel on you; do you forgive me?”
Tom struggled to hide his disappointed.
“I can’t say that I wasn’t looking forward to it. But, I’ve got you guys all day tomorrow right?”
“Sure, sure. The boys are so excited.”
“Of course I’m excited. I can’t wait to kiss your sweet lips.”
“Boy am I falling for you. Well, I guess I can wait to see your beautiful face for just a few more hours. You have yourself a good night and sweet dreams.”
“You do the same Tom. See you in the morning.”
She hung up, slightly ashamed of herself for the lies told and games she was playing. Meanwhile Tony busied himself getting to know who this mysterious Tom was that Nancy insisted on having around his sons. His ex-wife still shared a cellular plan with him; they were under contract and didn’t want to break it forcing them to pay a penalty. Tony secured a print out of all of their incoming and outgoing calls then cross referenced them by time and frequency.
He quickly came up with the name he was looking for. Thomas Mead was an office manager with no criminal record other than some parking tickets and a citation for vandalism when he was in his late teens. It seemed to be a protest gone too far. Thomas and some other young activist threw blood on the front of a building where they were conducting medical experiments on animals. Other than that the guy was clean but Tony still didn’t know him. He intended on changing that real soon.
Tony found his place of work and entered the building in uniform. He asked to speak with Thomas Mead and was led to the call center in the building that Tom managed. Tony walked up on him in a very authoritative and accretive manner. Tomas was initially shaken up, wondering what the police may want from him.
“Hello, are you Thomas Mead?”
Tom answered nervously.
“Yes, I’m Thomas Mead.”
“You mind if we talk for a minute?”
“Sure we can go into the office.”
Tony extended his arm instructing Tom to lead the way. When they got to the office Thomas closed the door.
“How can I help you officer?”
“That’s deputy sheriff!”
Thomas was taken aback by Tony’s gruff tone.
“I am sorry, ah, deputy sheriff.”
Tony looked the guy over, he was tall, slim and didn’t look like he could handle his self very well. He wasted no time in declaring who he was.
“I’m Tony Morgan. I thought it time we met since you’ve been spending so much time around my house and my boys.”
Thomas swallowed hard and chose his words carefully.
“Well I agree with you. It’s about time we met.”
Thomas extended his hand Tony squeezed tight to assert his dominance while shaking his hand.
“So what are your intentions fella?”
Thomas was taken aback by Tony talking to him as if he were a kid on his doorstep asking his daughter out for the first time. Still, he remained calm. The last thing Thomas wanted was a confrontation with Tony.
“You tracked me down to ask me what my intentions were?”
Tony didn’t blink.
Thomas rubbed his neck trying not to lose his patience before answering.
“Well we’ve been dating for five months or so and I really like her a lot. It’s way too soon to talk marriage but I would like to believe that we are monogamous and exclusive. I really care for Nancy a great deal and I think that your sons are great kids.”
Tony didn’t say anything for a moment. He wanted Thomas to stew for a while. He just looked him in the eye, never blinking.
“So you all are going to the springs tomorrow?”
“Yes, ah , yes we’re going to the springs. It should be a good time. I believe the boys are looking forward to it. I know that I am.”
“Can I trust you, guy I just met today, to keep my boys safe?”
“Safe? Why yes, of course. I would lay my life down on the line for them.. and Nancy.”
Again Tony quietly looked him over. Beads of sweat formed on Thomas’ brow he didn’t know what to expect next. Nancy hadn’t told him a lot about her ex except that they dated since high school and that he was a jerk cop who cheated on her. Finally Tony spoke again.
“You say you’d lay your life down on the line for my boys?”
“Well you better because if any harm ever comes to them while in your care I most certainly will come and see you friend. Are we clear?”
Thomas answered quickly out of fear.
“Ah yeah, yeah.”
“Good to meet you Tom.”
Tony glared at him a little longer, stuck out his hand and squeezed Thomas’ hand even tighter this time. He turned around and opened the door then walked out of the small office. Thomas stayed behind to gather himself before facing his employees. Tony strutted across the call center floor with curious employees craning their necks to get a look at him. He exited just as quietly and abruptly as he had arrived after having accomplished his mission. Thomas was later joined in his office by his concerned assistant and he was more than happy to share with her the semi-confrontation he had just had with his girlfriend’s ex. The sheriff’s deputy’s visit was a topic of gossip in the office for weeks afterwards.
Thomas resisted calling Nancy and telling her about Tony’s little visit to his workplace. He didn’t want to cause any more problems… for himself. He knew if he mentioned it to her, she would call and argue with Tony and then he might pay him another visit. This time he might even come to his house; Thomas certainly didn’t want that. He didn’t consider himself a lover but he knew that he was far from a fighter. He figured that the guy was just marking his territory while putting a scare into the guy who was going to be spending so much time with his kids. Later when Thomas had time to sit and think about the situation, he didn’t really blame the guy. Instead he focused on the next morning and the great time he was going to have with the girl he was so fond of and her little boys.
Thomas was so excited that he awoke at five o’clock in the morning ready for his big day at the springs with what he was hoping to be his new family. He didn’t blame Tony for being protective of his children but he didn’t exactly like the man or his tactics of intimidation. Thomas wasn’t much for confrontation but he could be quite passive aggressive. Direct altercations he avoided but he did find ways of achieving the justice he felt he was due. The man was very particular about his lawn and the upkeep of his home; he expected the same of his neighbors. Great tolerance for clutter, mess or just lack of up keep of the property Thomas did not posses. In actuality it really bugged him. He just couldn’t stand for people being lax or lazy when it came to taking care of their houses; it reflected poorly on him.
Living next door to him was a family of eight. Surprisingly, the family didn’t make an excessive amount of noise and the children were never destructive or rude. There was one major issue though. They didn’t cut their lawn as often as Thomas would like. That family was always busy with school, work, church and the children’s many activities. This kids played little league baseball, Pop Warner football, basketball, soccer and softball and both parents coached. The family attended church most Sundays and both parents were deacons in their home church. Sometimes, especially in the summer, their schedule made it difficult for them to maintain their yard work. This did not sit well with Thomas so he took matters into his own hands.
He could have been neighborly and just offered to mow their yard for them when the family got too busy. But, instead he decided that he would force them to mow more often, his way. Whenever Thomas mowed his yard, he would mow into the neighbors’ yard. He would mow into their yard but only in certain places leaving patches and gashes. Thomas would adjust the blades on his riding mower from high to low making the grass uneven and look even more unkempt. With some of the yard cut and other parts uncut, it looked bad, so much so that the family couldn’t ignore it and the father would go out one night after practice and cut his lawn in the dark.
The first time it happened the family thought it to be a mistake but eventually they noticed the pattern but never called Thomas on it. Being a Christian family they were still kind to the man, greeting him whenever they encountered him. The father was certainly not afraid of confrontation; it was one of the sins he’d asked the Lord to deliver him from. Instead of confronting Thomas, he prayed for him and continued to show him kindness despite him being a jerk. Police were called to shut down anniversary and sweet sixteen parties that had been announced to the neighbors for weeks inviting them all to attend. The homeowner’s association was contacted about people painting their homes or mailboxes a slightly incorrect color forcing the homeowner to pay to have it repainted. The city was called on neighborhood pet owners who walked animas without leashes or allowed their pets to defecate in undesignated areas. Any unregistered vehicles or cars without tags backed into drive ways were also reported to code enforcement to be ticketed or towed.
Never would Tom donate to any fundraisers that the neighborhood kids were having or even give out candy on Halloween. Instead, he posted polite signs warning people to stay of his lawn and no solicitation. He kept the house dark on October 31st but if anyone walked into his yard or driveway bright, almost blinding motion detector lights would switch on illuminating the signs and warnings. The children of the community all knew to by pass his house but some kids would still come back later and throw eggs or toilet paper at his house. By his second year of living there it was a pagan holiday tradition for the children of Veronica Place to come back during the cloak of night and deface Tom’s house. His cameras could never get a clear identification no matter how hard he tried to tell who it was. There were so many people in the video, all wearing masks, that it was hard to single anyone out. No one turned in or scolded their children when questioned by police; in actuality the adults started to join in on the ritual of punishing their jerk neighbor once a year for being so kind.
The neighbors were all aware of whom the culprit was and behind his back they named him “Tight wad Tom” or “Mr. Anal”. No one was fond of him yet they were never cold or cruel to him despite his cowardly attacks on those who had the misfortune of living in his area. The only punishment he received was his holiday hazing every year on Halloween. He took his lumps every year but it did nothing to curb his behavior.
Tom ate breakfast at 5:45am and as the sun rose he was outside cleaning his vehicle in preparation for his big day. He packed his car very neatly being sure to leave adequate room for Nancy and the boys to load their belongings. Thomas waited impatiently until 7:00 am to give Nancy a call waking her from her sleep.
“Good morning Sunshine.”
“Good morning? Tom?”
“Yes it is.”
“What time is it?”
Nancy wiped her eyes and mouth then looked over at her alarm clock.
“It’s 7 o’clock. Sorry to call you so early but I’ve been up since before five. I am so excited about today. The park opens at eight so I figured I would go grab breakfast for you and the boys and pick you up in about an hour. Sound good?”
Still groggy, Nancy answered.
“Yes, sure. See you then.”
“I can’t wait to see you angel.”
Nancy really wasn’t in the mood for all of the sweet talk after being awakened form her sleep so early in the morning. She had to gather herself first then get the boys up and dressed. Her task went easier than expected. The boys got up, showered, brushed their teeth and put on their bathing suites without much prompting. She had them ready to go by 7:45. Something told her that Tom would most likely be a bit early. Sure enough, he was. He showed up with Mc Donald’s in hand. He bought everything from hot cakes to egg mc muffins. The boys were excited; they loved Mc Donald’s hash browns. Thomas stood back and smiled at their jubilation. He sucked up their accolades as Nancy walked over and gave him a side hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Wow, thanks Thomas. I love Mc Donald’s pancakes!”
Timmy’s little brother shared his excitement.
“Me too! Thank you Thomas.”
It was so easy to please children and Tom knew that well. He always loved his father more than his mother despite the man living across town with another family. Father was rarely present but whenever he arrived, he came with gifts. That was all a young Thomas needed. His dad would stay for a day or two, spending a lot of time alone with mom in the bedroom but when he emerged, Thomas could have anything he wanted for lunch or dinner. Yes, Thomas knew just how little it took to make little boys happy. He knew that, and a few other things. Many tricks could be found up the sleeve of a seemingly harmless, go lucky Thomas Meade.
On the way to the springs the boys were in high spirits and Nancy felt proud to have such a thoughtful, caring man in her life. The temperature was rising and it was only 9:15 in the morning. None of them cared; they wanted to feel the wind on their faces so they rode with the windows down. They would be submerged in the cool waters of the spring soon enough.
As they rode along they approached a slight hill and up ahead on the side of the road they could see that there was some kind of stand set up. Then they saw a sign.
“Furry, fluffy cuties up ahead.”
Then there was a second sign that read.
“Come see our cuddly babies.”
As they got closer they could make out two girls in bonnets with small animals in their arms and at their feet. Then they passed the final sign.
“You’re here! Sammy& Jo’s Petting Farm~ The Cutest and Cuddliest Little Critters in the World!”
The boys were overjoyed. They pleaded with their mother and Thomas to stop and look at the animals.
“Mom please, can we stop?”
“Please Mom, just for a little while?!”
Nancy looked over at Thomas. He smiled at her, squeezed her hand and gave a nod as he slowed the car so that he could pull over. Thomas didn’t mind getting a closer look at the girls in their bonnets and ponytails wearing short shorts and white blouses exposing much of their ample cleavage. One blonde, the other brunette they each offered warm inviting smiles. Nancy didn’t give much thought to how attractive the girls were; she was just so happy to see her boys and her new man getting along so well. It was as if they were a real family.
They pulled over in front of the stand, animals and the two little country cuties. The boys jumped out of the car and ran over to where the women and animals were. Nancy and Thomas followed behind, slowly walking with their hands locked. Beyond the stand they could see a trail that led through the dense woods and to a clearing with the petting farm was located.
The girls greeted them in unison.
“Welcome to Sammy& Jo’s Petting Farm~ The Cutest and Cuddliest Little Critters in the World!”
The boys jumped with joy as they rushed over to pet the animals. Nancy and Thomas extended their hands and returned the young ladies’ salutation.
“Well thank you for having us. I’m Thomas and this here is Nancy, Timmy and Tommy.”
Nancy took notice that Thomas didn’t give her a title when he introduced her to the women. It irked her a little but she didn’t let it show. Thomas noticed the gaffe as soon as he made it. He figured he’d make up for it later. Nancy took over the conversation as the boys stroked and petted away. Sammy engaged the boys while Jo spoke with the parents.
“What type of animals do you have in your petting farm?”
“Oh all of your average variety of farm animals, cows, chickens, horses, hogs.”
“How long have you been open?”
“At this location, three weeks or so.”
“So what is this, a traveling petting farm?”
“Well we do migrate from time to time, following the seasons. We want our little critters to always be as comfortable as possible. Here at Sammy & Jo’s Petting Farm we focus on the babies. We are constantly breeding and raising the young. We sell and breed out older livestock as needed.”
“What are your hours of operation?”
Thomas interrupted what sounded like an interrogation to him.
“I see here on the sign that you are open from six to six.”
“Yes, we like to get our day started early and give our babies plenty of rest in the evenings.”
Just then the boys came over, one holding a baby bunny the other a chick.
“Look Mommy and Thomas, this one’s name is Hank.”
“And this bunny’s name is Sue.”
They both pet the tiny animals as the babes in bonnets smiled on. Sammy and Jo knew that they had the family hooked. Boobs and fury babies did the trick every time. Thomas smiled wide as he asked more questions.
“So how long will you be here?”
“Oh, this is our last week. Then we’re gonna make our way down south while we’re still early on in hurricane season. If any major storms hit we’ll make our way back up to Georgia, Alabama or even as far as Kentucky. We don’t want no harm to come to these precious babies.”
The woman snuggled and kissed the chick on the head that she was holding. Nancy figured it was time she redirected the conversation once again.
“I would love for the boys to see your petting zoo but today we have other plans. We’re on our way to the springs. Maybe we could visit before you go. What do you think boys, sound good to you?”
The boys jumped in place and cheered.
“Thomas, what do you think babe?”
Nancy nestled up to him, subtlety staking claim to what was hers. Thomas knew exactly what she was doing but he certainly didn’t mind. He loved the fact that she wanted him all to herself. He answered sweetly then gently kissed her on the lips.
“It sounds good to me, how about sometime next week?”
“Well we are having our grand finale next Friday, Why don’t y’all come back and see us then?”
“It’s a date.”
Again the boys jumped and cheered. Nancy got them all back on track.
“Well c’mon guys we’ve got to get moving. If we get to the springs too late it will be filled to capacity.”
They all complied and said goodbye to their new fury and busty friends. The boys waved goodbye from the back window of Thomas’ SUV as they pulled away. Sammy and Jo smiled wide, waving back at the two freckled faced little boys. Just beyond the tree line, off the road, eyes watched as the sirens did their work.
Once at the springs they got all set up on the bank of the water with their tent, blankets, rafts and coolers. The boys rushed to the top of the spring with their new friend Thomas so that they could ride the cool waters all they way down to the mouth of the river. Nancy stayed at the camp organizing and making snacks. She wanted to give all of her boys time to bond and Thomas was sure to make the most of his time with Timmy and Tommy.
At the top of the falls the three of them stood in line. Thomas was sure to buy a huge round raft with a sturdy bottom. It could easily seat four adult men. He wanted to be sure that it didn’t capsize no matter how rough the water got. The boys were excited but not nervous. They were both better swimmers than Thomas and been down that spring in much smaller and less stable floats capsizing many times. That was half the fun. They would swim fast, go find their float and continue down the spring.
Now here they stood next to Tom with lifejackets on and floats on their little arms. Tommy looked up at his older brother with a quizzical look on his face. Timmy looked down at him, shrugged and smiled. They were both just humoring the man; their mother warned then to be nice to Thomas. Eventually it was their turn to go, so they all climbed into the large raft. Off they went all smiles. Initially they moved swiftly down the spring, splashing and bouncing side to side.
“Are you okay boys.”
The boys shared a knowing smile as their little vessel slowed. Down the lazy river they floated pass where Nancy set up camp for them. She waved and her three special guys waved back at her. The three of them slowly made it to the mouth of the river and into a connecting body of water. They dragged the raft out of the water and walked it back up the bank to where their camp was set up. Nancy smiled wide watching them walk back up to her.
“Did you guys have fun?”
The boys were polite.
“Good, good. Does anyone want a snack?”
Timmy and Tommy declined. The boys didn’t want to have to come out of the water and they had eaten breakfast not long before. Thomas agreed to try what she had prepared. He didn’t want her efforts to go in vain. Thomas learned from relationship books he had read to always show his woman appreciation for her deeds. While he chomped down, Timmy pulled his mother to the side to speak with her in private.
“Mom do you think me and Tommy can go down the springs by ourselves now?”
Nancy looked confused.
“Why, I thought you were having fun with Thomas.”
He took a deep breath before answering.
“We are but we want to go down in our small floats. We don’t want to wear all this junk. We just want to swim. His big boat is nice and all but we want to be in the water, it’s more fun.”
Nancy understood but she listened as her eldest son continued on.
“When we come here with Dad he let’s us…”
She interrupted him abruptly. Nancy couldn’t stand to hear one more word of praise from her boys about their wonderful father.
“Okay fine Timmy but you better keep a close eye on your little brother. How about you let Thomas go with you. You can ride your little float with just your shorts on but I want him to go with you for safety.”
Timmy looked up at his mother with a smirk on his face.
“Mom, you know I can probably swim better than him.”
“I know but invite him to go up with you, for me, please.”
“Okay mom, let me go tell Tommy.”
“Good, that’s mama’s little man.”
Timmy gave his loving mother a hug while deputy sheriff Tony Morgan looked on through binoculars. He wanted to keep an eye on his boys while they were with this strange doofy dude Nancy was dating. He called Thomas a wuss under his breath when he saw the way he had his boys dress in all that crap just to go down the spring.
Timmy walked up to Thomas and threw him a bone.
“Hey Thomas do you want to go down the stream with us again?”
“Sure, let me get the raft and your lifejackets.”
Timmy put his hand on Thomas’ shoulder as he stood above him.
“Maybe this time we can go down without lifejackets and we could go on the small floats. We’ve got one for you to. Are you a strong swimmer?”
“Ah, yeah Timmy; I can swim pretty good. Is your mother okay with you not wearing a lifejacket?”
“Yes, she’s good with it. Plus it’s only about three feet deep in most places. I think we’ll all be just fine.”
The three of them climbed to the top once again. This time the boys were truly overjoyed. Tony kept a watch just to make sure this weirdo didn’t diddle his kids. When they reached the top the boys jumped in with their floats. Thomas followed behind them. The boys raced down giggling all the way. Thomas lagged back, grabbing onto the walls of soil and foliage to slow his decent. Timmy and Tommy look back at him encouraging him to let go and speed up. When they reached the bottom the boys swam around for a while waiting for Thomas to reach the bottom as well. He finally reached them, eyes wide and flailing. The young boys held their laughter as best they could while Nancy watched from the bank and Tony from the hill.
“Are you oaky Thomas?”
He coughed and choked a little bit.
“Yeah, yeah boys I’m fine. You guys alright?”
Just then Nancy called to them from the bank.
“Guys won’t you come over and dry off for a bit.”
The three of them looked around at one another then they all replied.
Nancy felt special when Thomas called her Dear. It was as if they were a real family. He knew how she would take it; that’s why he said it. Nancy laid out her lunch spread for them and the boys had finally worked up an appetite. As Nancy turned on the radio and tuned it to a classic rock and roll station she noticed Thomas had some cuts on his leg. She looked closer and she could see them on his arms and both of his knees were busted as well.
“Tom are you alright? You’re bleeding from everywhere.”
Tom looked himself over to see that what she was saying was true. His knees hurt but he didn’t realize that they were all bloody. All of the gabbing and holding on to things on his way down caused him to come in contact with many rocks and branches. Then he did remember falling off of his float on to his knees at the bottom of the creek bed. Nancy bandaged him up while the boys look on. The boys shook their heads. This guy was nothing like their father. Tony was a tough guy and he taught his boys to be the same way.
Once Thomas was all bandaged up Nancy fixed everyone a plate. Tony chuckled from behind his lens at the man’s weakness. The boys had a certain look in their eyes as well. Thomas could feel their looks so he tried to engage them once again.
“So guys what sports do you like.”
Timmy spoke up first.
“I like football.”
Tommy chimed in.
“I like basketball!”
“Tommy you know what, when I was your age basketball was my favorite sport too. I guess we have something in common. I might have to start calling you TJ for Tom junior.”
The boys looked at one another then Nancy turned to see their faces. She needed to know how they received what Tom had said. In their eyes she could see that the boys were taken aback. The silence let Thomas know that his statement didn’t go over well. He quickly changed the subject.
“Well guys maybe we could all go to a Magic game one day. I can get tickets and the four of us can go together when the season starts back up. What do you think?”
Once again the boys were excited.
“That sounds great Thomas. Thank you!”
“Yes! Thank you Thomas.”
Little Tommy ran over and hugged Thomas around his waist. Nancy smiled on feeling her boys were finally truly taking to her new beau. The embrace didn’t make Tony happy but he understood his youngest son to be an affectionate child. The rest of the morning and afternoon went well. Everyone had a good time and Tony left a little before everyone else. He didn’t want Nancy to know he was spying on them but he was going to make damn sure his boys were safe.
Nancy and her budding new family passed by where she thought Sammy Jo to be set up but she didn’t see the stand. Nancy thought that she may have just missed them. The boys asked to have pizza for lunch. Nancy and Thomas agreed. Thomas decided that they should all get a slice of authentic New York City style pizza, so they headed downtown. He promised the boys that the drive would be worth it. Nancy just squeezed his hand and smiled with her eyes behind her shades. When they arrived downtown he parked then led them through the streets of downtown Orlando past many shops, bars and eateries. The boys marveled at the street performers and strange looking people with all of their crazy haircuts, piercings and tattoos. Timmy and Tommy were wary of the homeless men talking to the air and waving wildly about. Nancy explained that some people aren’t in their right state of mind and it caused them to sometimes act out Eventually they reached a thin building with a large window. Up the boys looked to see a man behind the glass tossing and twirling doe about. Behind the man the boys could see ovens, a long counter, cash register and other employees of the pizzeria. Being little kids from the south, they had never seen a restaurant like this before.
“You guys ready to go in?”
“Yes, it smells so good!”
Thomas held the door as his lady and little friends entered the establishment. To their right Timmy and Tommy saw a large display case filled with all types of pizzas, Calzones, Stromboli and garlic knots. Thomas walked them to the counter and told them that they could order anything they wanted on their slices. Timmy and Tommy weren’t shy; they loaded their slices up with almost every meat topping. They boys watched in wonder as the man shoveled the huge slices into the oven to bake. Each slice was served with a garlic knot and a soft drink, the lunch special. They were served on paper plates. The plates could barely contain the huge, thin greasy slices.
Thomas led them all up stairs to a loft dining area. There were televisions on the walls and a juke box in the corner. A large window allowed them see down on the cook as he prepared new doe for his next batch of sauce and cheese covered joy. The boys remarked at how delicious it was.
“This is the best pizza we have ever had, right Tommy?”
Tommy didn’t pause long to answer. He was trying his best to devour the entire slice, the boy could barely get his little mouth around it but he found a way. Nancy dabbed the grease from around his little cheeks and lips. When the boys were finished they walked over to the large window and watched the people walk by on the street. Then Tommy noticed something strange about the walls in the place.
“Timmy, do you see that? There is writing on all the walls.”
“Yes Tommy, you’re just noticing that?”
“Well… I don’t know.”
Thomas jumped in as he saw an opportunity to offer a lesson to the two lads.
“Actually boys a lot of that writing is graffiti and they have a lot of it on the walls of buildings, trains and busses in New York City. Some people see it as an art form and it can be quite beautiful but you should never do it on a surface that you don’t have permission to.”
Tommy was curious.
“Do people get in trouble for it Thomas.”
Thomas was happy to see the boys were actually interested in what he was telling them.
“Well yes TJ, um Tommy. If you paint or draw on a building and you don’t have permission, you might be arrested and forced to pay restitution.”
Thomas then had to explain to the inquisitive little boy what restitution was. Before getting to his point.
“Now the people who own this business allows its customers to write on the walls up here so it’s okay.”
“Really? Can we write on the walls?”
Thomas pulled a sharpie and a black ink pen from his pocket.
“I thought you boys would never ask.”
All of them wrote their names on the wall, Nancy included. Thomas was sure to date it so they could mark the time when they returned. It was a lovely day so they decided to walk around downtown for a while. The four of them grabbed some cones from an ice cream parlor two blocks from the pizzeria to keep themselves cool as they walked along. Then they stopped by historic Lake Eola and rented a swan shaped boat to peddle around the lake in. It was a magical day for both Timmy and Tommy. For dinner on the way home they stopped by Steak N Shake and the boys filled their bellies with steak burgers, shoe string fries and milkshakes. Thomas didn’t want to leave Nancy so he suggested they watch an action movie that was still in the theaters.
“I don’t know Thomas. It is getting a little late and the boys have been running all day long.”
Then he reached into his center console and pulled out a disk.
“Oh, you’ve already got the movie on disk. What are you a bootlegger or something?”
They shared a laugh then Nancy turned around asked the boys if they wanted to watch the movie. The two of them erupted in cheers.
“Okay great guys. Well first you are going to take a bath and put your pajamas on. Then well get the movie started and I’ll pop some popcorn.”
Just then Nancy’s phone rang. It was Tony calling to speak with his sons. Nancy looked down at it but didn’t answer. She looked up at Tom and shook her head. Nancy didn’t want to ruin the mood by having Tony interrogate her boys about the day they had. She figured that she would let them talk to him after they had their baths.
“Guys we’re almost home. Tommy you getting sleepy buddy?”
Tommy perked up quickly.
“No mama; I’m awake. I wanna watch the movie.”
As they pulled into the driveway, Nancy’s phone started ringing again. Without looking, she quickly muted it.
“Alright guys, let’s go, straight to the tub.”
“You go ahead and get the boys settled and I’ll unpack the car.”
Nancy embraced Tom and gave him a kiss on the lips.
“You’re the best Tom.”
She hustled her little guys off into the house and down the hall. As Thomas pulled tents, rafts and coolers from the back of his SUV he had the feeling of being watched. He looked up and around but he didn’t see anyone, so he shrugged it off then reached back into the vehicle remove more equipment. As he pulled the cooler out he heard a voice. It startled him so bad that he jumped up and hit his head, cutting it on the edge of the rear door. Thomas fell into the back of his vehicle the turned his head to see Tony standing over him.
Tom winced from the pain as he rubbed the top of his head. He looked at his hand to see if he were bleeding. He was.
“You might want to put something on that son.”
Thomas was hurt and angry but only the hurt shown in his face.
“Tony? What are you doing here?”
Tony quickly walked up on Thomas causing him to lean back further into the SUV. Tony loved imposing his will on and intimidating the little wimp.
“I came here to check on my boys. Nancy seems to be having trouble answering her phone tonight.”
As Thomas stood, Tony brushed pass him and walked towards the front the door of the home he purchased seven years earlier. Thomas called out to him.
“She’s giving the boys a bath.”
Tony yelled over his shoulder.
“Shut up Thomas.”
As Tony entered the house the boys were just coming out of their room in their pajamas. They ran to him.
He leaned down and hugged them both.
“How you guys doing?”
Nancy stood with her arms crossed, fuming mad.
“C’mon boys, let’s go into to your room and talk for a little bit. You don’t mind do you Nancy?”
Tony didn’t wait for an answer. He stood, draped his arms around his sons and walked them back to their room. Nancy tried to protest but Tony walked the boys pass her as if he didn’t hear a word she said.
“We were going to watch a movie.”
She had a good mind to go into that room and curse him out for being so disrespectful and bursting into her house. Before she had the chance to march down the hall to deal with Tony, Thomas came staggering into the house holding his head.
“Thomas, what happened to you? Are you alright.”
“I hit my head in the car.”
While she tended to Thomas’ wound in the master bathroom. Tony was in the boys’ room getting the low down on every detail of their day with Tom. He didn’t like what he heard. The boys had a blast. Tony displayed a fake smile while asking more leading questions. Then he learned something that infuriated him.
“TJ is what he called you, huh.”
Tony had what he needed. He wanted some bit of information to make an issue of and now he had it. How dare that little punk try to get his offspring to call himself his junior? He told the boys he loved them and wished them a good night’s sleep. Then he was off to talk to Nancy about her weak little boyfriend. As Tony entered the hallway, Nancy was there to meet him. Tom sat in the master bedroom at the foot of her bed with one hand on his head and the other on the remote surfing channels. Nancy pointed her finger at her ex.
She turned and stormed down the hallway towards the living room; Tony followed behind her. Nancy opened the front door and pushed though the screen door. Nancy continued to stomp away; she wanted to get as far away from little ears as possible. They didn’t need to hear what she had to say or how she was going to say it. Down to Tony’s truck and away from her budding family she led, then turned towards him with fire in her eyes matching the fury she felt in her belly.
“Don’t you ever come storming into my house without announcing yourself or calling first! Who do think you are!”
Tony matched her tone.
“I am the father of those boys and I called you ahead of time but you refused to answer. So, I came to the house I bought to check on the wellbeing of my sons. If you weren’t so busy playing house that you couldn’t let me speak to them I would have never come over here.”
Nancy knew he had a point but she refused to give him the satisfaction so she just led into her next gripe.
“What did you do to Thomas? What happened to his head?”
“I didn’t touch that boy. He hit his head in his car. He’s so chicken shit that when he heard my voice he jumped up and banged his head.”
“So you snuck up on him and scared him huh tough guy. Look Tony, you saw the boys now just go home.”
“Before I go, what is this petting farm the boys were talking about you taking them to?”
“It’s just some little place on the side of the road headed toward the springs. Sammy Jo’s Petting Farm.”
“Sammy Jo’s Petting Farm? I’ve never heard of the place and I work that strip of road a lot. When are you going again?”
“We’re going Friday Tony and we’re going without you!”
He laughed out loud at her emotional outburst.
“I didn’t want to go with you; I just wanted to check the place out. Lord knows that wuss of a boyfriend you’ve got yourself ain’t gonna protect you or my boys.”
Nancy didn’t exactly trust her or sons’ safety in the hands of Thomas. She knew he was far more of a lover than a fighter.
“Whatever Tony. Good night!”
She turned and marched back towards her house. Tony couldn’t help himself; he had to get in one last shot.
“Nancy make sure you tell Princess that I hope his little boo boo feels better.”
Nancy didn’t turn to respond to him; she just raised her right middle finger beside her left ear and kept walking towards the door. After pulling off, Tony slapped the dashboard of his truck. He forgot to bring up the TJ thing. He wouldn’t forget the next time he spoke with her. Nancy, Thomas and the boys popped popcorn and settled in for the movie. She refused to let Tony ruin their night. The boys made a pallet of blankets on the carpet with a huge bowl of popcorn between the two of them. Thomas and Nancy cuddled on the couch behind them. Thomas was hoping that the boys might go to sleep so that he might finally get past second base. It didn’t happen, he remained encouraged.
The next week went by smoothly as the boys anxiously waited for Friday morning to come so that they could go to Sammy Jo’s Petting Farm. Tony felt a little uneasy about them going to some strange petting farm with that weakling Thomas. The boys told him that they were going early Friday morning so Tony figured he’d follow along for safety. Tony thought it was odd that he knew nothing about this so called petting farm and also he knew that they probably didn’t have the proper license to be setting up shop up and down the highway.
Patrolling the area, Tony tried to locate this petting farm but he couldn’t find it. He asked around and some people remembered seeing the sign but no one knew much about the petting farm or who owned and operated it. He was baffled but determined to find out what this place was. Tony needed to track them to the location but he knew that he couldn’t tail them. Nancy would be looking out for him. Instead he decided to utilize a GPS tracker to keep tabs on them. He figured they would be taking Thomas’ vehicle again so he attached the device to his SUV.
The boys were up bright and early Friday morning anxious to meet all of their new fury friends. Tony parked two blocks east of Nancy’s house so that he could get a good view of Thomas making his way to her house to pick them up. Strong black coffee he sipped, eyes blood shot red behind his shades. He had been up since five after just three hours of sleep but he felt it important that he find out what was going on. His police officer’s intuition told him that something wasn’t quite right.
Through binoculars Tony watched as they pulled out of the driveway thirty minutes after Thomas arrived. The sun rose slow that morning; it was overcast and cloudy. The mist was thick and the dew clung strong to every leaf and blade of grass. As they got closer to their destination the sun started to peak through gaps in clouds. Each stream was like a laser searing the moisture off of every bit of foliage it touched. Then came the humidity, now it was a summer Florida morning.
As Thomas pulled up he could see people huddled around Sammy and Jo who were standing up on a make shift stage with baby animals all around them. Thomas followed the signs for parking into a clearing down a hill just off of the road. The five of them parked then climbed the hill to where the other people were gathered around the small stage. The girls entertained the crowd with little animal tricks, jokes and ample cleavage. Smiles went all around, joy shown in all of the children’s eyes. About twenty people stood at attention taking in the girls’ charms.
“Now in just a moment we’ll all take a hay ride down to the petting farm. I’ll take the first group and Jo will take the second group. If you think these guys are cute, just wait till you see their friends. Everybody ready?!”
“I can’t gear you!”
Just then a large truck with a huge flatbed covered with bails of hay, straw and benches pulled up. The man driving the truck wore a straw hat and a prop corn pipe in his mouth. Sammy helped half of the families into the back of the truck as Tony looked on. The driver dropped the first group off then turned right around to pick up Jo’s group. As the truck pulled down the hill with the second group two men drove up in a pickup truck and loaded up the stage and signs. Tony now knew why he could never find this place. What he saw next really made him curiously concerned. The same two men pulled a huge billboard out of the woods and put in front of where the cars were parked. You couldn’t see the cars from the road anyway but the billboard assured that no one would detect that there was a petting farm just two hundred yards beyond.
Tony wondered to himself what all of the secrecy was about. What kind of business didn’t want to be seen or promote itself. He knew something wasn’t right so he called for back up and headed down in his truck. He parked in some brush and from there he could see the two guys from the truck inspecting all of the vehicles of the customers. The two didn’t look too bright but quite suspicious. Tony got the drop on them and drew his pistol.
“Hands on your head, both of you. What the hell you think you’re doing here boys?”
Neither man answered. Tony asked again more forcefully but still neither of them responded. Then their walkie talkies went off and a voice came pouring through.
“We need those inventory lists now. The harvesting is about to begin. Copy?”
“You better answer or I swear I will put slug in your skull.”
They looked at his badge and smiled.
“Oh you don’t think I’ll do it. My boys are back there and I guarantee you that I will kill both of you to keep them safe.”
Tony cocked his pistol and put it to the man’s head. He saw the look in Tony’s eyes so quickly he responded.
Then Tony took their walkie talkies and handcuffed the men together with their arms wrapped around the trunk of a large tree. He called out to his fellow deputies.
“What’s your ETA?”
“We’re about six minutes out.”
“I can’t wait that long; I’m going in.”
Sammy and Jo gave separate tours leading their groups deeper into the woods and eventually to a large barn with stalls of animals. The women led their groups into different sides of the same structure. As each of the groups entered their suspicions grew but the animals and the pretty girls took the tension away and helped them to keep their guards down. Tony made his way down the trail with rifle strapped to his back and pistol in his palm. He knew that Nancy and the boys went in the second group so he tried to guess which path to follow. He could tell by the way the foliage lay down that the trail to the right had been more recently traveled. Tony prided himself on being a great tracker.
As Tony tried to track his family down, a gentleman took a telephone call concerning product he’d anxiously been waiting for.
“I don’t have blood types, weights and measurements yet but we will have them soon. This is going to be a large order. I hope you are prepared to receive and deliver them.”
“That is not your concern. You just worry about getting me what I need so that you can collect your fee. The same rates apply. Call me when you have the product and information that I need and then we’ll talk delivery and payment.”
As the building came into his sight, Tony heard a blood curdling scream. He quickened his pace. Once inside the large structure he could see visible blood trails and hear running and screaming. He continued on, the deeper he got into the building the darker it got. The smells got stronger as well. He knew that smell well, it was death. Chopping and slashing he could hear as well. Eventually he could barely see his own hand in front of his face. The screams got louder and he could even hear flesh being cut into. He knew now what this petting farm was… it was a damn slaughter house.
He used his flash light to illuminate his path but he tripped and stumbled over debris and carnage. Soon he was covered in both animal and human blood. But he kept pushing on calling out to his children and ex wife. People called back to him pleading for help. Tony looked up and around with his flash light. He saw light coming through some boards above and around him. He pulled out his knife and pried one of the boards loose.
Light came flooding into the large smelly room and in the distance he could see a large man wielding a machete wearing a butchers apron and night vision goggles. Tony ran towards him and as soon as he got within twenty feet of the man, he raised his weapon and came down on a man’s neck. He put the small axe back in his waistline and chased after the woman and two boys with his machete in his right hand. As Tony got closer, he could see that the man axed in the neck was Thomas. He actually felt bad for Thomas but had not time to morn or help him. Blood spewed from his wound as Thomas tried to hold the blood in twitching and shaking.
“Nancy! Tommy Timmy!”
“Over here, help!”
The voices came from the darkness. He couldn’t see them, but the night scope on his rifle could. He panned the pitch black room seeing people run back and forth in a panic. Then he spotted the large man with machete raised. Tony could hear a booming voice over an intercom system then a bright light in the darkness. Beneath the crazed man was Nancy and her boys about to experience the wrath of his blade. Tony got the man in his sights and put him down with one shot to the heart. The exit wound from his chest splattered all over his would be victims squatting below him. Tony rushed over to them and held them all tight. They could hear gunshots ringing throughout the barn as help arrived.
“Everybody just stay low until they clear the building.”
He looked through his scope to see officers running through the building rescuing victims from their captures. The sheriffs found two more co-conspirators in a cabin a half a mile away. Behind the cabin was a warehouse with operating tables, drainage systems and refrigerator units. It would seem that this group was part of an international ring of illegal organ harvesters. They ran different scams to find unsuspecting victims whom they could murder and then harvest all of their organs. Often their vehicles would be chopped for cash, bank accounts drained and or identities stolen. This particular group had been working the east coast of the united states for six years. They would build a large structure deep in the woods where the victims would be murdered. There would always be a command center, the cabin where communications and negotiations could be conducted then of course the harvesting rooms. The candy, some attractive young women to put the victims at ease, two movers to organize the vehicles and repair structures and lastly, psychopaths to commit the murders. They killed with blades rather than guns so that organs would not be damaged or destroyed. They chose petting zoos because they could get more money on the black market for children’s organs. When the smoke cleared, Tony was hailed as a hero for uncovering such a huge ring and solving the murders of over ninety men, women and children.
Authorities in six other countries worked in conjunction with the FBI to arrest all parties involved with the organ trafficking. Tony was interviewed by news outlets and talk shows all over the nation. He was the hero who saved his family while bringing down an international ring of criminals. Eventually he was contacted by a ghost writer to tell his story; the book became a best selling novel. Eventually a screenplay was written and Tony’s heroic tale became a movie. While enjoying all of this success he continued to serve his community humbly as a local sheriff. The one thing hew wanted but never could get back was his family.
The traumatic experience didn’t exactly bring Tony and Nancy closer together. Loosing Thomas the way that she did shook her to her core. Years of therapy for her and the boys helped with that. Tony expressed his appreciation for Thomas sacrificing his life to save his family by creating a grant for mentors of young boys in his name. He celebrated the man in his book and movie. He thought these things would make Nancy happy and heal them in some way but it didn’t. Ten years later he pleaded to her; he needed Nancy’s acceptance, forgiveness and approval.
“I don’t know what else I can do Nancy. What can I do?”
“Nothing! I don’t want you to do anything at all Tony. You have done enough! Don’t do anymore.”
He looked at the floor as if he were a little boy being scolded by his mother. She hurt and he knew it, yet there was no way that he could alleviate her pain. Nancy finally let him off the hook.
“He ran. He freakin’ ran okay.”
Tony was confused. Nancy’s therapist told her that she would never truly heal until she was completely honest.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Thomas wasn’t trying to protect me and the boys; he was running away from us. He just happened to fall and we stumbled over him. The boys and I scrambled to our feet as we heard him getting chopped by that psycho. His blood splattered all over us. He left us alright, He left us to die. Thomas was a coward just like you said he was. You we right Tony! You were right!”
Tony ran over and embraced her. He knew how difficult and painful it was for her to say that to him. He held her tight and told her he loved her for the first time in twelve years.
“I am so sorry Nancy, so sorry. I don’t want to be right anymore. I just want to loved and forgiven. Can you do that for me?”
She looked up into his eyes as if she were seeing him for the first time.
“Yes Tony, yes I can.”
Nancy kissed him on the lips and he returned her affections. Their teenage boys looked on from down the hall, so happy to see their parents sharing a tender moment after so many years of brokenness. Seven months later Nancy and Tony remarried with Timmy giving his mother away and Tommy acting as his father’s best man. The Morgans were a family again, stronger than ever, bonded by an awful tragedy and heroic act never to be broken again.