by Lewayne L. White
Jake Farmer crouched behind the bullet-riddled John Deere tractor and centered the rifle cross-hairs on the chest of the man leading the group. The guy called himself Barry and used everyone’s first name, like they were all pals.
He’d been to the farm twice before, each time bearing a white flag and an attaché case.
If the white flag dropped, or any of the man’s escorts made a move, Jake would start the killing with Barry and continue until all those Alliance bastards were dead. Then he’d reload and wait for the next ones to arrive.
Jake glanced down at Joey. “Hey, sis,” he whispered. “You still good?”
Jake saw the sweat, and her pale face, and knew she was lying. Then Joey winced, and her hand reflexively touched the bloody bandages across her belly.
They both knew the wounds were serious. If these negotiations failed, Joey was as good as dead. They were cut off from any hospital and Jake’s half-remembered first aid didn’t cover multiple gunshot wounds. Jake sighted through the scope again.
The pack of Alliance men had reached the next to last roadblock — John Farmer’s rusty Ford pickup. It stood at the entrance to the farm, only a few feet from the sign proclaiming the location a Century Farm, worked by the same family for over one hundred years.
Jake wondered if any of the thugs recognized the truck as the same one his father had been found dead in. He also wondered which of them had something to do with John’s fatal “heart attack.”
“They’re coming up on this side, too, Dad,” said Eli’s voice from the walkie-talkie in Joey’s hand. “A pack of them with a white flag.”
Jake sighed, said, “If they make a move, you know what to do, Eli.”
Christ, Jake thought. I can’t believe I’m giving my ten-year old the go-ahead to shoot somebody.
Another voice from the walkie-talkie said, “Jake, this is Lindi. I’ve got them coming up on my side, too.”
“Okay, honey, remember what I told you.”
“I know!” she snapped, then, more quietly, repeated, “I know.”
“Jake, it’s Travis.”
The only farm hand that had stayed. After all the others had hired on with the Agricultural Production Alliance, Travis had stayed.
Well, Dad, Jake thought. Maybe he wasn’t as dumb as you always thought.
Jake sighted again, counted all the armed men.
Then again, maybe he was.
Unless he signed on with APA there was likely to be some killing today. Jake couldn’t believe it had come to this point. Not here in the heartland of America.
Except the nation’s been suffering heart failure lately.
Somewhere along the line, people decided they needed McMansions and strip malls more than they needed fields. Farmable land dwindled as the population grew. Asphalt and concrete replaced soil. Apparently, people didn’t realize that food didn’t materialize, pre-packaged, on the store shelves.
Then, with some helpful legislators and pro-business judicial appointments, the Agricultural Production Alliance stepped in to “streamline” farming. They “encouraged” farmers to join the alliance for the sake of maximizing production, increasing profits, and lowering cost.
When profits to the farmer decreased and cost to the consumer increased, the APA appealed to patriotism.
“Our nation needs you, for you feed the nation.”
“The environmentalists want you to fail, for they will achieve their ridiculous return to nature. The terrorists want you to fail, for it will weaken the nation.”
Then they just offered money, and if you didn’t accept, they took your farm...
And maybe your life.
The Alliance men stopped at the pickup. One of them placed a speaker on the ground and handed a microphone to Barry.
“Jake,” Barry said, after a few seconds of feedback. “I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for the earlier misunderstanding.”
“Misunderstanding? One of your goons shot my sister!”
Barry paused, then said, “I’d like to point out that she also killed one of my men.”
Jake glanced down at Joey, who smiled and raised four fingers.
“But, regardless, this is your last chance. We have a final offer that I think you’ll find very generous.”
“You decided you don’t want the farm!” Jake yelled back.
“Actually, we’d still like the farm very much. So much so, that we’re willing to pay you three times what we originally offered.”
For a split second Jake considered that number.
He could go back to college. Eli could eventually go to college. Hell, they could just leave Iowa forever. Get the hell out and settle somewhere they didn’t have farms.
“Take it,” whispered Joey. “We both know you wouldn’t have even come back if Dad hadn’t died.”
Jake knew it was true. He left Iowa as soon as he could.
He hated farming.
The stink, the dirt, the lousy money. All of it.
He’d had a life.
He and Lindi and Eli.
They’d been happy out in Seattle. Jake worked during the day, played a few gigs at night or on the weekends. Lindi ran a small e-business from home.
Thousands of miles from the family farm.
The Family Farm.
A couple hundred acres the Farmers had worked practically before there was a state. Jake’s great-great-however many greats-grandfather coming to the US as a teenager.
No one knew what the boy’s name had been before he arrived in New York. Family stories always claimed that when asked to identify himself, he declared, “I am farmer.”
Jake wiped his brow, sighted on Barry again.
The eternal jokes. “It’s the Farmer Farm.”
The shit he’d gotten in college. “Dude, you’re actually, like, a Farmer from Iowa.”
Jake glanced at the dirt.
It’s not dirt, his father’s voice bounced through his head. It’s soil. It’s life.
Without it, without us, the world starves.
“Jake,” whispered Joey. “What do we do?”
“Why do I have to decide?”
Joey didn’t say anything.
They both knew why.
He was the oldest, the son, the man bearing the Farmer name.
It was his birthright.
It didn’t matter that he didn’t want it. It was his.
Joey seemed to sag.
She nodded, but Jake saw the bandages darkening.
“If I let them have it, we can get you out of here. Get you help.”
Joey waved a hand. “Up to you.”
“Dad,” said Eli’s voice. “They’re moving up. If they reach the next barricade...”
“If they reach it, open fire.”
“Be reasonable,” Barry said. “All your neighbors have accepted our offer. Most of them are now enjoying retirement somewhere sunny.”
“What about the ones working for you?” Jake yelled. “The famlies working their own land for sharecropper wages?”
Barry shrugged. “A big payout and a regular wage beats the hit and miss of farming. They’re happy with their decision.”
Jake didn’t believe it. He’d run into Kenny Langdon during a final trip into town to prepare for this seige.
Kenny’d sold out. Then he’d blown all his money, and come crawling back to the Alliance to hire him.
Now Kenny looked worn out. Not the exhaustion of working for something important. He had the hollow-eyed look of someone who’s sold his soul. Kenny’s own Century Farm now belonged to Alliance, and apparently so did Kenny.
Barry lifted the microphone to his mouth again. “We know you don’t want to be here. Nor does your wife, nor your son. We’re offering you a final chance. Think about your family.”
Think about your family.
Jake’s mother yelled those same words at his father when he decided to move out to the farm after Gramps died. “Think about your family.”
And his father said, “I am.”
But not his wife and children.
The family before him, the men and women who raised crops and livestock and children. The family that had fed the world, or at least their little part of it.
Jake sighted again.
The men had moved past the pickup and unslung their rifles. Barry remained behind the truck with his microphone in hand.
“This is your final chance. If I don’t get a response by the time I count to ten, we’ll serve our warrant, seize the property, and evict you as trespassers.”
Warrant, Jake thought. Whipped up by a judge in your pocket.
Using laws passed by the politicians in your pocket.
I hate this goddamn farm.
My father hated this goddamn farm.
He was an actor. A good one. A goddamn brilliant one.
He gave up everything to raise crops and livestock and children.
“Dad, they’re coming in.”
“Jake, they’re coming.”
I’m Mister Farmer, now.
It’s my farm.
Jake Farmer squeezed the trigger.
Copyright © 2009 by Lewayne L. White