“What are you doing up there? Don’t tell me you’re up this early hiding in the barn loft to get out of your chores!” Connor shouted up at me from below. The grin on his face let me know he thought he had just made a clever and funny joke. He had not.
“Get out of work? I am the work, brother!” I shouted down from the open barn loft window. My older brother thought he knew more than me, even though he was only a year and a couple months older.
“Oh is that right? Well I’m coming up there to expose your hiding place.”
“Suit yourself!” I said. But the real reason I was up in the loft peering out over the back 40 was much more serious than hiding from the day’s chores on the farm. In fact it had me so worried that I was out here before putting breakfast in my gut just to see if the dawn would shed some light on the situation.
“What’s going on up here? You still got jet lag from your trip to Uncle Jake’s in Virginia?” Connor asked, as he climbed up the ladder to the loft.
“No, it’s what happened here at the farm while I was at Uncle Jake’s that has me up here,” I said, turning my attention back to the land.
“What do you mean by that?” he asked, joining me. He sat down with his legs dangling off the edge of the loft. The ground was about twenty feet below him.
“It’s the corn crops on the back forty,” I said.
“Yeah, what about em?”
“Something ain’t right but I can’t put my finger on it. I didn’t realize it until yesterday but I didn’t get a chance to go out there. I’m gonna take a ride through there after breakfast though. I just wanted to come up here and see it from this angle,” I said, staring at the back forty acres where we had our corn crops.
“Lord, I think you’re right Tanner. They do look a little defeated,” Connor said. “What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. When’s the last time the irrigation was checked?”
“Just last week, I did it myself,” Connor said proudly.
“In that case I better double check it,” I joked.
Connor gave me a look and then stood up, coming to my side with his fists against his chest, ready to play fight. “Come on! You’re the bookworm with a masters in agriculture!” He pushed me a little, which led to some light rough housing as always. “What is it, doctor?” Connor teased me.
“Well you’re the one that’s been here while I was in Oklahoma helping Uncle Jake with his farm! You should know!” I said, pushing him back as we played dangerously close to the edge of the loft. But that’s just how the Dawson brothers did things—dangerous, reckless, and rough.
“What the hell? What did you do, Tanner?” Connor straightened from his hunched over play boxing position and stopped. He looked toward the road and I followed his gaze. Crossing the cattle guard was a black and white car.
“The Sheriff? What’s he doing here? It’s barely sunrise,” I said, looking at a familiar sight. It wouldn’t be the first time the Sheriff had come out to the Dawson Ranch to let our father know what we had been up to.
“What are the odds that Dylan has something to do with this month’s visit?” Connor said, heading to the ladder.
I climbed down after him. “Dylan’s been in the last few days, hasn’t been to the bars in a while,” I said.
As soon as our feet hit the hay covered ground we took off in a light jog toward the house. Connor of course kept his pace a few steps ahead of me. He liked it that way, being a former athlete and all. Some say he would have gone on to play ball at the collegiate level if he hadn’t hurt his shoulder during his senior year of high school. Still, he was an athlete through and through.
By the time we got to the porch, our father was standing at the bottom of the steps with his daily morning read, the newspaper, folded under his arm. He faced Sheriff Morris, but their voices were low.
“Get inside,” our father said, turning to us with a dark look on his face.
“Yes sir,” we both said without argument. You didn’t argue with our father, ever. If he gave you an order, you best follow it immediately. That was how it had always been.
We walked in the house and Connor breathed in deep. “Smells like Wyatt is up.”
The place carried the scent of bacon and coffee, the delicious aroma beckoning to us from the kitchen.
“Morning,” Wyatt said, as he beat a dozen eggs in a large bowl. He was the eldest of our brothers and had helped father raise us. Making breakfast was his routine.
“Wyatt, how many of these?” Abi asked, chopping fresh yellow heirloom tomatoes from our garden.
“Five should do it,” Wyatt said, pushing the pieces she had already chopped into the bowl of scrambled eggs.
I grabbed the pot of coffee and poured a cup into my favorite mug. I looked at Connor who leaned against the counter munching on a piece of bacon. He looked at me. We stayed quiet. Abi noticed.
“Now what in the hell is up with you two? I swear if you pulled another prank on me and I find applesauce in my shoe or a lizard in my bed so help me God I’ll—”
“Sheriff is outside talking to Father,” Connor interrupted.
“What?” Wyatt said. The sound of spatulas and knives clanging on the counter was deafening as the two ran toward the front windows of the house and peered out.
“What’s all this? The pigs get into the garden again or are y’all waiting for a Valentine? Newsflash—no one loves ya,” Dylan said sleepily, walking into the living room as he pushed his hand through his messy short blond hair and pulled on a white t-shirt.
“What the hell did you do this time, Dylan?” Wyatt said, pushing a finger into Dylan’s chest. The tattoos on his forearm moved as he tensed.
“What? Well good morning to you too, brother,” Dylan said in shock.
“Sheriff’s outside,” I said to Dylan.
Dylan’s mouth fell open. “And that means I did something, right? Jesus, Mary and Joseph, no wonder I’m a hellion—you all expect it and you’ll get what you expect.”
“Just tell me what you did so I can get a head start on smoothing it over in town, and making up for your stupid ass mistakes,” Wyatt said, clearly annoyed. But he wasn’t wrong. Wyatt was the charmer of the family and he had a gift for making our problems go away. Being the oldest, he felt like he had to have more sense than the rest of us.
“Dang it! I said I ain’t done nothing. Now, can I get some coffee and properly wake up before you continue to interrogate me, Detective Dawson?”
“Leave him be, Wyatt!” Abi shouted, as she pushed her long black hair into a high ponytail on her head, but never took her eyes off the window. Just then father half turned over his shoulder, letting us know he had heard us.
“Shit, they can hear us,” Abi said, jumping away from the window. We all followed her moves as we piled into the kitchen and sat around the table. Abi went back to cutting the tomatoes and I grabbed a strip of bacon off the pile and sat down with my cup of black coffee.
“Whatever it is, it must be serious, cause Father’s been out there a while,” Conner said, leaning back in his chair allowing it to teeter on the back legs.
“Well it wasn’t me,” Dylan said, pouring a cup of coffee.
“Alright, alright, we heard you—but that is yet to be seen,” Wyatt said, as he plopped a spoonful of butter into a searing hot pan and poured the eggs in. Abi topped it off with the rest of the chopped tomatoes.
“Where’s that loaf from the bakery?” Wyatt asked her.
“In the pantry. I’ll get it,” she said, then quickly placed the loaf on the table with the butter. The smells were making my stomach grumble. When you worked twelve hour days of hard chores, you burned through a lot of calories. This meal would be one of four that kept us going throughout the day. We were over six feet tall, and could pack away the food. I myself was the tallest, at six-foot-four and damn proud of it.
“What do you think is going on out there? He’s been out there a long time,” Connor said. “Way longer than usual.”
“We won’t know until Father comes in, and I won’t have y’all badgering him with questions. Just let him speak,” Wyatt said, as he started to scoop heaps of eggs on each of our plates. The long table sat six, with Father at the head of the table and Wyatt at the other end.
Arms reached out across the table, grabbing at bacon, bread, and ham steaks. It grew louder as conversations crossed paths.
“Any one for a refill?” Abi said, holding the coffee pot, and pouring her own cup in front of her.
“Here! I’ll take that!” Dylan shouted.
“Pass the ham steaks, Tanner, you ain’t got to hoard them. It’s like your saving up for winter,” Connor said.
Slam! The familiar sound of the screen door reverberated through to the kitchen. We all grew quiet and looked at each other. Father’s cowboy boots clicked on the wooden floor as he came into the kitchen. He had an angry look on his face as his thick black brows furrowed together on his worn and tanned face. It created an even more intimidating figure than he already was, a tough man.
“Daddy, you alright?” Abi asked.
“Sheriff Morris came to warn us. It seems that someone in Safety has been intentionally ruining crops all over the county,” he said.
We all gasped and looked at each other. Nothing like that had ever been heard of.
“What? Why? How is that even possible?” Wyatt said.
“I want you boys to keep a look out. This is serious business. We could lose an entire year’s income—and if it’s really bad, even ruin the soil, making it impossible to ever grow on this farm again. I will not allow that,” he said sternly. “I’ve worked too damn hard, and your Granddaddy worked hard for this land. We will not lose it to some scum after all these years.”
“Yes sir,” we all said.
He turned to walk back out of the kitchen.
“But Daddy, aren’t you going to have breakfast?” Abi asked, looking at the plate already piled high with food, and just waiting for him in front of his chair at the head of the table.
“No Abigail. I think I’m going to go eat breakfast at the diner. Someone’s gotta know something,” he said.
“Alright Daddy,” she said.
“I’m going to go fetch my hat. Tanner, get me my keys from my office,” he said.
“Yes sir,” I said, jumping up from my chair.
A few moments later I was on the porch with his keys as he came out of the house. I knew he asked me for the small errand because he wanted to have some words. He lowered his voice to me. “I’m sure you’ve seen the back forty.”
“Yes, I noticed it yesterday. I was gonna ride out there today to have a look.”
“Well, now that we know this information, it looks like we may have been hit by this crop assassin. Find out what they are doing to those crops and get ahead of this.”
“Yes sir. I’ll get right on it,” I said.
He nodded and made his way to his pick-up truck. The old ‘57 Chevy roared to life and jostled down the road out onto the main street, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake.
It made me proud that father was looking to me for answers. After my brothers were always teasing me about going to college and being a nerd, it felt good that my education might be worth something in this new problem we were facing. Hell, it could even save the farm. I was going to find out what the hell was going on and who the hell was doing it, no matter what it took. Even if it took a little bit of roughing up some of the locals. That was expected of the Dawson boys anyway, and I wouldn’t want to disappoint them.
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