The woman Venitia doesn't enter into the narrative yet, but so much that affects her going forward can be better understood from what's happening here and now.
We look upon a farm, a big corporate one. The people living in the ramshackle house on the farm are certainly not the owners, but the use of the house is part of their compensation for farming this land in the way the corporation wants it done. The equipment belongs to the corporation, even so far as the truck the family uses like a personal vehicle is owned by the corporation. In the end, beyond some personal belongings that can be easily moved and their clothes, all this particular “farm family” really has is each other and we will see how tenuous that is as well.
Acres and acres of green beans, stretching
out to the horizon, the sight only broken by a solitary red bug-shaped monster tractor.
The father of the farm family is riding in the air-conditioned cab of the tractor, not even paying attention to steering wheel or other controls as computers, tied to GPS satellites, determine the direction and speed of the massive wheeled behemoth which sprayed a cocktail of fertilizer, herbicide, and insecticide that the man mixed together in the wee hours of the morning. He is listening to some country pop music station coming into the cab via satellite, the Nashville origins of the music probably being the only tie to his father and grandfather who originally farmed their own spreads and eventually couldn't make payments and had their lives auctioned to some suit from Chicago. The music is unrecognizable to the previous generation, as is the gargantuan automated tractor, the lack of any real ownership in land or time, and the growing irrelevance of his proudly heritaged “farming skills”. The man blocks out any thought that he bears a striking resemblance to some factory worker in the far East, utterly expendable. His formal training at the nearby country school in mostly basketball did little more than distract him from his inevitable serfdom.
His ignorant smile and humming to the music was clouded by a boiling of dust coming off two black SUVs that were moving on the dirt road toward the farm house. He grabbed for his trusty shotgun that years of hunting had molded perfectly to his hand, kicked open the cab door, lept the nearly ten feet to the ground, and raced through row upon row of green beans between himself and his family. His track and field years done in the basketball “off-season” was doing him a good service.
The tractor moved and sprayed on its programmed course, not bothered in the least by the man's absence.
In the mile run to farm house, the man was thinking several things. He slung his shotgun over his back to make things less cumbersome. He thought about his wife watching some soap opera on the satellite TV, his ten-year-old daughter watching who-knows-what on her rhinestoned smartphone and texting foolishness to her vacationing schoolfriends in spite of his recent tirade on her “screen time”, and the six-year-old “man of the house” who he always said he left behind to watch over Mom and Sis. His wife hadn't let him take the boy hunting yet and the boy's BB rifle, locked in the gun safe at feminine insistence, couldn't even give the appearance of helping the boy “watch over” anything. The guardian boy was likely stirring up ant hills and wrestling playfully with the farm dog they inherited with the house.
The man needs some better help and his cell phone practically lept into his hand as he dialed up “Ol' Coot”, the man who owned and worked the next farm over. All that needed to be said was that strangers were on their way to the farmhouse and his neighbor replied “Be right there.” As more thoughts entered his mind of what might happen, he absently dropped the phone in the field as he ran a bit faster.
The scene is set. It is just as much a tragedy laid out before us as any Greek could contrive. Several tattooed and multi-racial men had already exited their vehicles. With nothing ceremonious, the father had never gotten the chance to discharge his weapon before the obstensive leader of the newcomers dispatched him with a single shot from a largish revolver. The screams from the other family members had already died out as the men ranged out to work their pre-determined plan.
A few tattooed thugs had already seized the daughter and were hauling her back to the nearest SUV. There was some argument between the leader and a few hungry-looking black men who wanted the mother taken as well, perhaps for no more than a quick gang-rape and then slitting her throat. The disoriented mother was protectively trying to get between the invading gang members and the crying son that clung to her leg, as if she could do anything in light of her husband's murder and her daughter's soon-to-be abduction.
Venitia enters this story as her husband was the leader of the band of gang members. Although charged with completing this kidnapping as “a sign of loyalty”, he was not informed that his band was stealing cute pre-teen girls “fresh from the farm” for future grooming into the lucrative sex slave market. Venitia's husband just wanted to get this job done so that he could bring home the promised money and food needed to support his own family. The farm father that he had shot was not a part of his personal plan for the day, but there would be hell to pay from the gang leadership if he made excuses for his lack of success. Should he let his “soldiers” have their way with the mother as well and perhaps win some favor as a leader? He was trying to think about the ramifications of his decision and the band's reaction as a beat-up antique truck came speeding up the road and watched his men suddenly dropping around him to the sound of rifle report.
While other men from the arriving truck continued to pick off anything sporting tattoo ink with the precision of a short-range deer hunt, Ol' Coot himself lept out of the still-moving truck with his tight-spread shotgun, leaving his even tighter-faced wife to grab the wheel. The single invader left holding the girl like some human shield didn't have any time to compose anything interesting to say as Ol' Coot brought up his weapon and blasted the man's head clean-off right below the ear. The girl crumpled on the ground in stunned silence, tangled a bit with her former captor's still-twitching arms and legs.
It was at this moment, with gang members dead all around him and a handful of rifle-toting farmhands leaping out of the back of the finally-stopped truck and racing toward him, that Venitia's bewildered husband let his pistol drop to the ground and lifted his empty hands. He had failed. He only imagined the retaliation that the gang would exact on him for this. He didn't consider what came next.
Ol' Coot came nose-to-nose with the last remaining gang member. His breath reeked of the sickening sweet smell of tobacco snuf that bulged his bottom lip and he contemptuously spat the juice to one side. The old man didn't say anything for a moment, just drilled into the other man's darting eyes that took in the several rifles pointed toward him. Ol' Coot didn't appear concerned at all of being close to the lines of fire.
The old man signed and looked toward the mother who still sheltered her son. “C'mere, boy.” He motioned the six-year-old to come closer. “If you are gonna protect your ma, you better learn how.”
There was a groan and sob from the mother and the Ol' Coot's wife was about to say something before he shushed her. The old man pushed Venitia's husband down to his knees. “Pick up that pistol,” was the next words to come and the young boy obeyed. “Bring it here, boy.”
The two women on the scene were next to each other now and the boy's mother hissed out “He's only six…”
“He just saw his daddy killed. He ain't a child anymore.” Ol' Coot guided the boy's hands to grip the pistol properly, helping him hold it steady. “You ever fired one of these?” The boy shook his head hard.
Venitia's husbands' eyes were blinking rapidly. He might have thought they would let him go back and get killed by the gang, but it seemed that the old man had other lessons to teach. He stayed very still and prayed to some forgotten God that he could live and maybe see his own family again. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the cooling body of the farm father that he had unthinkingly killed. Why should God or anyone here be particularly merciful?
“This man killed your daddy so he could hurt your mama and your sister. Your daddy would have shot him to keep it from happenin'.” The old man laid a finger over the boy's that stretched to feel the trigger. “You're gonna finish what your daddy was runnin' back to do.”
The boy's mother wailed and the woman beside her redoubled her hard expression as she pulled the mother close. “Hard day to become a man. We'll take you home with us.” the older women whispered as the shot was fired and the gang member slumped dead to the ground.
When the corporate man came to investigate the signals from the tractor that it had run out of chemicals and had stalled beyond the programically acceptable timing, there was nothing to see. No one was at the farm house or the barns and the tractor was powered down in the middle of the bean field. Corporate heads in Chicago shrugged as many families just up and left the fields without giving any notice. There was always another farm family, starved for the work they thought they understood, to take over the place.