The Hamilton Twins

Pertinax Carrus

“The Sheriff was here to get you,” Ron Pritchard, the pre-Vet major from the University who was doing an internship with them, announced to Tommy Hamilton as he walked into the Veterinary Clinic he shared with Marjory Springer.

“What’s he on about?” Tommy asked an amused Marjory.

“Don’t ask me. I just got back from seeing to the Count’s new filly,” Marjory responded. “But it sounds like you’ve been up to no good.”

Tommy returned his attention to Ron. “Can you be a little more specific?”

The grinning student reluctantly parted with information. “He was here about a half hour ago, along with two guys, asking for you. I told him you were out on a call, so he said to tell you to contact him when you got back.”

“Two guys? What two guys?” Tommy asked.

“Don’t know them, but as I’m always being told, I’m not from around here,” Ron replied.

“Can you at least describe them?” an exasperated Tommy requested. He knew Ron liked to tease him, but he was getting just a little fed up with this.

Ron took his time, screwing up his face as he worked out a description. “Younger than me. About as country as they come. Probably brothers. Might be twins, except one’s a red head and the other blond. Tall, rangy, didn’t say anything.”

“That’s not much help. I guess I’d better call and see what the Sheriff wants,” Tommy concluded.

“That’s what I told you,” Ron said, then jumped aside as Tommy attempted to smack him.

“There are times when I wonder whether we were in our right minds when we decided to take on a pre-vet student,” Tommy sighed to Marjory, as Ron laughed quietly.

The phone call to the Sheriff’s Department was not much more enlightening. “Got a couple of your kinfolk down here. Kind of like to talk to you about them, Tommy,” Sheriff Brunell said, then just asked Tommy to come down to the jail when he could.

Marjory was enjoying this entirely too much. She smiled broadly as she told Tommy there was nothing on the books requiring his attention for the remainder of the afternoon, so he could go into town and check on his ‘kinfolk.’ Tommy got back into his four-wheel drive vehicle, which had been over two fields already that day, and drove into Westbrook. He parked in front of the County Sheriff’s Office and Jail on the town square, and walked in.

“Oh, Cliff’s been looking for you,” the deputy at the desk said when Tommy walked in.

“I know. Just talked to him on the phone. Says he wants to see me about some of my relatives,” Tommy replied. “Is it Travis again?” he asked, referring to a sometimes troublesome nephew.

“Nope. These are even worse than Travis. But I’ll let Cliff tell you all about it,” the deputy said, as he buzzed an intercom and announced Tommy’s presence. Getting a rough “Send him in” in reply, he nodded towards the door marked ‘Office.’

As Tommy entered, Sheriff Brunell, a hefty middle aged former football player for the high school, rose from his desk and extended his hand. “Glad you could make it. No idea what to do with these kids. Hope you can help.”

“Sheriff, I have no idea what you’re talking about. All that grinning ape we have working for us could tell me is that you came by with two youngsters looking for me,” Tommy complained as he returned the handshake.

“Sorry, Tommy. It’s been on my mind so much this morning I guess I was expecting everyone else to be up on it, too. Have a seat, this might take a while.”

Tommy sat.

“Earlier today I got a call about two youngsters breaking and entering. I went down to the old Wilson place, and found these two on the premises for no good reason, so I brought them in. They were in pretty pitiful looking shape, kind of mussed up, you know. At first, they weren’t very forthcoming, but when lunch time came around, they started talking when I offered them something to eat in return. We’ve got two of old man Decker’s grandkids here, and they definitely don’t want to go home. Can’t say as I blame them, as it looks like they got pretty roughed up last time they were there. But I don’t know what to do with them. Guess I could hold them for that breaking and entering job, but they don’t actually have anything except some truancy on their records. Besides,” the Sheriff added with a grin, “I’m kind of hoping they’ll tell me something about where the family weed is growing.”

“Jeez, all this sounds familiar,” Tommy said.

“Yep. When was it? Ten years ago, wasn’t it?” Sheriff Brunell agreed.

“Yeah. That was Johnny, not me, but I sure remember Jeremy. Only a little over two years since he got it over there. But he was in really bad shape when Johnny found him,” Tommy said.

“These guys are not so bad. Scrapes and bruises. Well, I contacted you because I didn’t want to set them down out at Mark’s place, and you’re the only other respectable Hamilton I know.”

“Oh, you’re considering Mark respectable nowadays?” Tommy teased.

“Well, as far as I know he’s not breaking any laws,” the Sheriff conceded.

“Let’s see these guys, then I’ll try to decide what can be done with them,” Tommy said.

“Come with me,” Brunell said, as he hefted himself out of his seat, and headed out the door. Tommy followed. They crossed the entrance way, where the Sheriff picked up some keys from a hook on his way through another door. That door led into the cellblock. They walked past a drunk lying on a cot and singing, and arrived at the last cell in the row.

There were two young men in the cell, not looking very happy at the moment. As soon as they saw the Sheriff, one of them said, “Let me out of here! I need to piss something terrible!”

Laughing, the Sheriff unlocked the cell and directed the boy to the restroom which opened off the cellblock. The redhead dashed past them, and in a second the sound of pissing issued from the still open door. The other three individuals were laughing so loud, they almost – but unfortunately not quite – drowned out the drunk.

“Now if you could just shut up old man Finzer (meaning the drunk), this would not be such a bad place to sleep,” the remaining boy said.

“This is a jail, not a hotel,” the Sheriff mumbled, but he was still laughing at the redhead’s desperation.

There was a flushing sound, and the redhead emerged from the restroom.

“Come over here, Ken. Let’s see what we can do with you two,” Brunell directed.

The redhead came over, and sat on one bunk next to the blond. They really did look like they could be twins, as Ron had said. The Sheriff and Tommy sat on the facing bunk.

“This here is Dr. Hamilton, the vet,” the Sheriff began, using Tommy’s title to set the tone. “He’s about the only respectable Hamilton in Jouett County (Tommy noted Mark’s loss of respectability), so I decided to check with him to see if there’s anything we can do for you two before I have to run you up before the judge.”

Tommy nodded towards the two across from him, and stuck out his hand. The blond shook the hand and said, “I’m Mel, and this here is my brother Ken.” Ken then shook hands as well.

From there, they began to talk. Sheriff Brunell told the boys that he could charge them for breaking and entering, as he found them in the house where they had broken in without permission. But he was hoping for a little cooperation, and in return he would let them go free, as long as they had a safe place to go. That, in turn, led to a discussion of a safe place. The boys admitted they had been ‘roughed up’ by their father and older brother. After a bit of beating about the bush, they admitted the cause was that they had been caught fucking their brother’s wife. Yes, both of them at the same time. “We do most things together,” Mel said with a grin. But that meant they could not go back home, or to any of the other Decker Hamiltons. When the question of letting the cops in on the location of the family marijuana field arose again, Ken seemed to change the topic quickly.

“What happened to Jeremy?” he demanded.

“What do you mean?” Tommy asked.

“Well, a while back, when we were kids, our uncle Jeremy got beat up for squealing to the cops, and we never heard from him again. Dad says he was killed by the cops. So, if we tell, will you kill us, too?” Ken put it on the line.

“Oh boy! You answer that one,” Sheriff Brunell said to Tommy.

“I don’t really know where to begin,” Tommy said. “You guys have it all twisted. Okay, let’s see. That was in the fall of 1996, more than ten years ago. I was at the University at that time, so I was not here, but I knew Jeremy. My brother Johnny was his best friend. They started off fighting like hell, but when Jeremy got beat up by his folks, it was Johnny he turned to for help. If we need to, I’ll get Johnny in here to tell you himself. They finished high school together, went on to the University ...”

At that Mel interrupted. “Jeremy went to the University?”

“Yeah. Wanted to be a teacher. But as a kind of back-up, he also joined the ROTC, and at the end of his four years at the University, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in – let’s see – 2001, yeah. That’s the year my tour was over. That summer, for a little while, before he went off to the Corps, and before I went off to vet school, we worked together out on my brother’s place. I saw Jeremy only once or twice after that. Then he was killed.”

“He was killed!” Ken and Mel said together.

“He was on patrol, serving in Iraq, when he was killed by a sniper. Your fucking grandfather would not even bury him, so Johnny did that, too. His grave is in the cemetery here in town,” Tommy said with some bitterness.

“When? When was that?” Ken asked.

“A little over two years ago,” Tommy answered. “April.”

“Two years ago,” Ken said, like it was a revelation.

“What?” Tommy asked.

“We were told a long time before that that the cops had killed him,” Ken said.

“Didn’t you see the obituary – the death notice in the paper?” Tommy asked wonderingly.

“Um, we, ah, we don’t read much,” Mel admitted.

Tommy’s story had obviously shaken the boys. They looked at each other, then Mel asked if they could talk together in private. Sheriff Brunell and Tommy left, leaving the cell door open. They went to the Sheriff’s office, and left that door open as well. There, Tommy said he would do what he could for the boys, if some kind of deal were struck, but he would need help. Not long after, the two boys walked out of the cellblock and into the office.

“Okay, we talked it over. If you can show us what really happened to Jeremy, so we know we’ll be safe, we’ll tell you what you want,” Mel said.

Tommy turned to the Sheriff. “Okay if I take them on a little trip out to see Johnny?”

“Sure. Try to convince these blockheads,” Brunell agreed.

And so it was, the three Hamiltons left the jail and got in Tommy’s SUV. Instead of heading directly to Hamilton place on the Waterford Road, however, Tommy drove first to the cemetery on the outskirts of town. There, he led the boys to Jeremy’s grave. The headstone proclaimed him 1st Lieut. Jeremy J. Hamilton, 1979-2005. There was a marker placed by the local American Legion post as well. The stone also had a cross.

Ken pointed that out. “What’s the cross for?”

“While he was at the University, Jeremy converted to the Catholic Church. He was buried from St. Francis of Assisi here in Westbrook,” Tommy explained.

Ken and Mel looked at each other in wonder. Then they made their way to the Hamilton place. As they drove in, there was a scattering of little ones. Old Mrs. Penny Hamilton was sitting on the porch. Tommy approached with the boys.

“Afternoon, Mom. These are some of Uncle Decker’s grandsons. They need to talk to Johnny. Is he about?”

“Decker’s grandson’s, eh? Up to no good then, I bet. You be careful. Johnny’s over at the nursery,” she replied.

“Now, Mom, these boys want to know about Jeremy,” Tommy admonished his mother.

“Oh, that’s all right then. Jeremy was a good boy. Johnny never got over him getting killed, and so far away, too,” Penny said.

“We’ll go find Johnny,” Tommy said.

He led the two boys across the fields to the Waterford Road Nursery, where they found John Hamilton working among the plants. When his brother explained what they wanted, he became very quiet. Without responding to Tommy’s request, he began showing Mel and Ken around the place, discussing the work of the nursery in considerable detail. Finally, after about fifteen minutes of monologue, he collapsed on a bench and wept.

“I loved Jeremy,” John sobbed.

Ken and Mel were completely blown away at John’s response to the request for information about Jeremy. They had never seen a grown man cry before, either. After a minute or two, John pulled himself together. He got up, and said, “Come with me.” He took off at a brisk pace, back to the Hamilton farmhouse. There, he led them to his room, where he pulled out a photograph album which had bits and pieces spilling out from nearly every page. He began with pictures of Jeremy in bandages, as he was when John rescued him after he was beaten up by his brothers. Page by page, they progressed through Jeremy’s life at the University. Along the way, there were newspaper articles, ribbons, other mementos. There were photos and other items from the ROTC program, from Sigma Alpha fraternity, from Jeremy’s entry into the Church. In most of those photos, Jeremy and John were arm in arm. This culminated in the graduation from the University and commissioning as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps. There were fewer pictures after that, although some, along with letters and e-mails recounting Jeremy’s activities, including reception of medals for bravery in combat. Then there was the official notice of the death of 1st Lieutenant Jeremy John Hamilton, and the account of the funeral, again with pictures, including a weeping John at the grave site. By the time this display was completed, John was again weeping profusely.

“Johnny, I did not mean to cause you such grief,” Tommy said.

“No. It’s okay. Nothing about Jeremy can really bother me.” Then John sobbed again, “I loved him. I have every damn word he ever wrote, too,” he added, indicating a stack of papers on a table.

Tommy and the two teenagers left John in his room. They said good-bye to Penny, who was still shelling peas on the porch. They drove back into town, and to the home which Tommy shared with his wife and children. On the way, he asked, “Satisfied?”

‘Yeah,” Mel said. “That ... that was ... I don’t know. But, yeah.”

Tommy had called ahead and given Joyce at least the basics of the situation, so she was expecting them. Mel and Ken were introduced to the kids, Johnny, Nancy, and little Clem. Clem proudly announced, “Mommy’s going to have another baby. I won’t be the baby any more.” Tommy rolled his eyes, and for the first time, the teens laughed. Their laughter sounded good after the heavy meeting with John. Joyce served an excellent meal, which Mel and Ken clearly enjoyed, even though Clem got after them for their table manners. That boy sure talked a lot for being not quite two.

Tommy explained that he could not invite the boys to sleep there, as the Sheriff had insisted that they return to the jail before dusk, so, after dinner, they again entered Tommy’s vehicle and drove to the jail. Again, Tommy had called ahead, so Sheriff Brunell was waiting for them.

“Well, are you boys satisfied about Jeremy?” he asked.

“Yep,” Ken replied. “We’ll tell you what you want to know.”

“That’s great. Let’s get to it. Then, tomorrow, you boys can be released to Tommy.”

Tommy left them and returned home, but he spent quite a bit of time on the phone. If he were to become responsible for two teenagers, he had to make provisions for them. The place he shared with Joyce and the kids was simply not large enough to accommodate them. Fortunately, he was acquainted with some very generous people.

The next morning, Wednesday, August 8, Marjory Springer agreed to cover Tommy’s appointments at the veterinary clinic until he had the boys settled. He picked up Mel and Ken from the County jail, and drove out the Waterford Road again. They stopped at the clinic, so the boys could see what Tommy did and meet Marjory and Ron. Then, it was a little farther on to Todd Farm. They had noticed the impressive entrance the day before on the way out to the Hamilton place, but today they drove in, around the large federal style house, and parked. They were met by Zip and Sandy, and by Scott MacKenzie.

“Okay, guys, here’s the deal,” Tommy announced after the introductions were made. “Mr. & Mrs. Todd own this place, but they’ve agreed that you can stay here and work on the Farm until we come up with something more permanent. They will not always be here, but Mr. MacKenzie is the manager, and he is always here, so you’ll be dealing mostly with him. Any questions?”

The boys looked like they wanted to say something, but not in front of the Todds and Scott. Tommy grinned. He knew what was coming. So did the others. Tommy excused them, and walked a few paces away with the two. “Okay, what’s up?”

“Is that nigger really married to that white woman?” Ken asked.

Tommy hit him hard in the solar plexis, so that Ken bent over in pain.

“Why’d you do that?” Mel angrily demanded.

Tommy waited until Ken had recovered his breath. “That,” he said, “is for calling someone a nigger. You’ll get the same every time you use that word, so you’d better get it out of your vocabulary real quick. I know you learned that at home, but you learned a lot of shit that’s just not acceptable, so learn quick. You boys are ignorant, but not stupid, so pay attention.”

“What’s the difference?” a still angry Ken asked.

“If you’re ignorant, there are a lot of things you just don’t know. If you’re stupid, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never learn,” Tommy explained. “You’re going to be living here and Zip – that’s Mr. Todd – will be teaching you a few things, so you’d better learn right off to be polite to him and to every other person you meet here, no matter what color they are, got it?”

“Yeah,” they chorused.

The three of them rejoined the amused welcoming party. “I think Ken just learned a good lesson,” Tommy announced.

“I’m glad you decided to be a vet and not a teacher,” Zip commented. That drew a smile from all of them. Zip then approached the boys and held out his hand. “You’re not used to people like me, I know, but can we give it a try?”

Ken grinned. “I like your way better than Tommy’s,” he said, and shook hands with Zip, as he rubbed his midriff.

Scott put his fingers to his lips, and let out a shrill whistle. His son, Peter, appeared from Stable B. “This is my son, Peter. He’ll show you around while Tommy and the rest of us have a little talk. Peter, these two are named Ken and Mel,” Scott said, pointing to the correct Hamilton as he made the introductions. The teens greeted each other, then the adults turned and went into the house.

Peter did not seem pleased with having the Hamiltons to show around, and they quickly picked up on that. By the time they had toured Stable B, the tension between them was patent.

Standing on the road leading past the stable and the corral, Mel said, “Okay, Peter, it’s obvious you don’t want us here. Why not?”

“This is not the first time I’ve met you two. I know you from school. Even if you did skip a lot, you were there often enough to make life miserable for me and my friends whenever you were around. You’re bullies, stupid, and about as obnoxious as it gets. I don’t know why you’re here,” Peter laid it on the line.

The immediate reaction of both boys was anger, but Mel reined his in, and put his hand on his brother’s arm to restrain him. “We’re going to be living here, for a while at least. Let’s see if we can’t work this out. You’re wrong, Peter. We may be ignorant, but we’re not stupid. Tommy told us the difference. So maybe we can learn.”

Peter was surprised at that reaction. He had seen the anger in their faces, and that’s what he expected, not reason. Still, he was not completely convinced of the Hamiltons’ goodwill. “Why are you here?” he asked.

Mel looked toward his brother, and got a shrug, as if to say, ‘go ahead.’ “Okay, here’s the short version. Our older brother caught us fucking his wife, and got our dad to beat us up and toss us out, so we have no place to live. We tried breaking into an abandoned house, but someone saw us and called the Sheriff. He caught us, and took us to jail, then called Tommy. He said Tommy was the only respectable Hamilton he knew,” Mel added with a grin. “We spent all afternoon yesterday with Tommy, who convinced us a lot of what our folks told us was a lot of shit, so we agreed to tell the Sheriff where the pot crop was, and he let us go. But we can’t go back home, and Tommy’s place is not big enough, so here we are. And that’s about as much as we know.”

“Your dad threw you out for fucking?” Peter asked in wonder.

“Not exactly,” Ken said. “He don’t mind if we fuck. It’s just that we were fucking Deck’s wife, and she’s kind of his property.”

Peter considered. “That won’t fly here. Nobody is anybody else’s property. Why’d you get socked earlier?”

Ken gave a wry grin. “I used the word ‘nigger’ and Tommy taught me not to.”

“I thought it might be something like that,” Peter said. “Well, it’s the same thing with the girls and women. Nobody owns anybody else. You’d better learn to treat girls as equals, just as you’d better learn to treat black folks as equals. In fact, for a while, maybe you’d better treat everyone here as your superiors, especially me.”

Ken and Mel looked at each other. Then they noticed that Peter was grinning at them, giving a sly look as he did. Another look passed between them, and they both attacked Peter. In seconds, the three boys were rolling on the ground.

“What are you guys up to?” a new voice asked.

They stopped their roughhouse and looked up.

“Oh, shit! My retarded cousins,” Mark Hamilton declared when he recognized Mel and Ken.

“We’re not retarded, you nig....” Mel caught himself before uttering the forbidden word.

“Good boy,” Peter petted him, like a dog who just learned a new trick. To Mark he said, “We’re trying to civilize these two.”

Mark picked up on the petting and grinned. “You’ve got a long way to go. They’ve been uncivilized for seventeen years.”

“Seventeen years, huh? Both of them?” Peter asked.

“Yeah. We’re twins,” Ken said, then realized he had agreed that they were uncivilized and looked confused...

That caused both Peter and Mark to burst out laughing.

“What are you doing now?” Peter asked Mark.

“Just finished mucking the stalls in Stable A. Nothing pressing until later, Why?” Mark answered.

“I thought you might like helping to civilize your cousins. As I recall, they made your life pretty miserable at school from time to time,” Peter proposed.

“Great idea, Peter,” Mark said, rubbing his hands together and cackling.

The twins rolled their eyes, but they were beginning to catch on that, even if these guys did not like them much, they weren’t going to actually harm them. That was a big improvement over the way most of their relatives treated them before. So Mark joined Peter in showing the twins around, including explaining in great detail what mucking the stalls involved, and how much he would enjoy handing that job over to them. The thing which really impressed the twins, however, was the horses. They were so huge, and so beautiful. When they walked through Stable A to the paddocks behind, and Mark called CH First Toddling over, and then mounted him, riding him around the paddock bareback, Mel and Ken were just about ready to actually regard him as a superior being.

“You want to try it?” Mark asked, with a gleam in his eye.

They caught that evil gleam, and decided another time would be better.

About that time, there was another piercing whistle. Peter sighed. “That’s my dad. I wish he had never learned how to whistle like that.” The others laughed, but all four turned back to the main house. There they found Tommy, Scott, and Zip awaiting them.

“Tommy has to get to work. You boys will be staying here, unless you absolutely cannot stand my son and his friend,” Scott said, indicating Peter and Mark.

Mel and Ken looked at their companions with an appraising glance. “I guess we can put up with them,” Ken said.

And so it was agreed that Mel and Ken Hamilton would live on Todd Farm until further notice.

* * *

As Tommy drove away, Scott said to Mel and Ken, “Come in here for a bit, and we’ll talk about where we go from here.” He then led the boys into the farm office. Scott settled behind his desk, and indicated that the boys should take seats on the hard chairs available. Then he began. “Well, what Tommy had to tell us about you two is quite a story. If I hadn’t known Jeremy, I might not have believed it.”

“You knew Jeremy?” Ken asked. Ken was the redhead, and tended to be more outspoken than his brother.

“Oh, yeah,” Scott said. “Of course, my dad was the manager at the time, but I was around. Let’s see, that was September of 1996. As I recall, Jeremy was in a lot worse shape than you two. Broken arm. Broken rib. A real mess. Crawled up to the school and asked John for help. John was living here at the time. Seems like we always have Hamiltons here. Besides you two, we’ve got Mark and Cathy now, and sometimes others when we need them. Anyway, Jeremy and John lived here all through their senior year at the high school and that summer, then they went off to the University. Of course, they were back here for holidays and summers before they graduated. Then John went to work full-time out at the Hamilton place – well, I guess I should say Mark and John’s place, not any of your lot – and Jeremy went into the Marines. When he was home on leave, he stayed mostly with John, but he always came by. Yeah, I knew Jeremy. He was a great guy.”

“We were kids when Jeremy sold us out to the cops ...” Ken began.

“Wait a minute. Jeremy did no such thing. He told us that first day, when John brought him home, that his dad and brothers thought he told the Sheriff where the marijuana crops were located, but he didn’t do that. They just knew he did not approve of what they were doing, and assumed he was how the cops found out,” Scott corrected him.

“Wrong about that, too.” Ken sighed. “But we did. Yesterday we told the Sheriff where to look. That’ll really piss off Dad and the others.”

“You’ve already been beat up and kicked out. As long as you stay here, you’re safe. Just be careful when you go into town. I’d suggest staying with others, and keeping a good lookout then,” Scott advised them.

He looked them over. “You boys have anything besides what you’re wearing?”

“At home, but we can’t get to any of that,” Ken replied.

“Okay. Jeremy was in even worse shape. My dad took him in to the Walmart for some new clothes, so now I guess it’s my turn. But after dinner. Let’s go see what’s available as far as a room is concerned.”

Scott led Ken and Mel across the courtyard to the kitchen, where he told Molly and Winnie that there would be two more for dinner. Then he mounted to the third floor, where the new rooms were located. He selected one which seemed large enough for both boys. They were grateful, saying it was better than anything they had at home.

“You won’t mind sharing a bed, will you?” Scott asked.

Ken and Mel colored deeply at that.

“Oh, ho!” Scott crowed. “Maybe you’ll really like sharing a bed, just like Jeremy and John did.”

“Did they really? I mean, when we talked to Johnny yesterday, he said he loved Jeremy, but ...” Ken trailed off.

Scott sat on the bed and looked at the two boys. “When Jeremy arrived here, his butt was torn all to pieces. He said his dad and brothers did it to him. We won’t put up with anything like that. But what John and Jeremy had was different. Yeah, I guess they did love each other. But they liked girls, too. Do you know what ‘bisexual’ means?”

The twins looked at each other, but shook their heads.

“Bisexual means you kind of like sex with both girls and guys. As far as I know, the only guys John and Jeremy ever had sex with was each other, but I was not checking up on them, especially after they started at the University. So, I kind of think you guys might be the same, if you like getting it on with each other, and were caught fucking your brother’s wife. Here’s something you don’t want to forget. Around here, if somebody says ‘no,’ it means ‘no.’ Nobody is ever forced to do anything sexual - ever. Also, stay away from the little kids, and don’t do anything to upset them. Keep your private affairs to yourself, and no one will be upset. Got it?” Scott instructed them.

“Yes, Sir,” the twins said in unison.

“Just to be sure, does that mean we can fuck each other in here?” Ken asked.

“As long as the other guy is willing. The no force applies to you two just like to everybody else. You can’t force anyone else; no one else can force you; and you can’t force each other,” Scott made it clear.

“But we can fuck others, like girls, if they agree?” Ken pressed.

“Yes. And some will. I suspect Cathy is already plotting how to get you in her bed. She fucks every guy who’s willing. So does Shelly. Some of the others have slowed down a bit, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they wanted to try out the new guys. Just remember the rules, okay? Now, I know teens are always thinking about sex, so if anything comes up you’re not sure about, ask. You can ask me, or one of the other guys, like Peter or Mark, or Zip Todd. We’ll give you a straight answer,” Scott promised.

“Mark talked about us mucking out stables. Is that what we’ll be doing?” Mel asked.

“Probably. The stables need mucking out on a regular basis. Horses don’t know about flush toilets,” Scott grinned. “But don’t worry. We’ll find plenty to keep you busy.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Ken replied.

“You guys ready for dinner?” Scott needlessly asked.

“Yeah!” they both responded.

Farm dinners were plentiful. They were the main meal of the day, and lasted for well over an hour. In the fine summer weather, they were usually eaten outside at the tables in the courtyard. There, Ken and Mel met the other residents of Todd Farm, including both the regulars and the Todds who were there off and on, as their schedule permitted. As they were about to sit down, a pick-up drove in, and Lennie Fenwick emerged.

“Sorry I’m late. Had a last minute problem with one of the horses,” he proclaimed.

“Well, I was about ready to send out an emergency rescue team. I figured it had to be a major disaster if my son missed a meal,” Winnie replied, as everyone else laughed. Lennie kissed his mother, and sat down.

Then as Ken reached for a bowl, Mark swatted his hand. Zip said grace. “Now you can eat,” Mark told him, grinning.

Both boys were more than satisfied with the dinner. As everyone started to rise, they were surprised to hear various diners thank the women who had worked in the kitchen. That never happened at home. Thinking of what Mark said about how to treat women, though, Mel walked over and thanked Molly, then, remembering that he had seen Winnie in the kitchen, too, he thanked her as well. Mark grinned and nodded approval.

Scott approached and said, “Let’s make that run into town to Walmart now. I have a feeling Mark has something planned for you later, and after that they won’t even let you in the store.” As he had previously, Mark rubbed his hands together and cackled.

Scott and the Hamilton twins got into a Todd Farm pick-up and drove into town, to the outskirts where the Walmart store was located. Scott then directed them to select two pairs of jeans, four shirts, four tee-shirts, underwear, and both sneakers and work shoes. Each boy had a cart full of stuff. Then they went to the personal grooming section, and Scott directed their attention to toothbrushes, tooth paste, shampoo, nail clippers, deodorant, shaving gear, and the like.

“Never had this much stuff just to myself before,” Ken observed.

“That crop of yours must not pay very well,” Scott commented, tongue in cheek. The twins blushed.

Back at the Todd place, they were told to stow their new possessions in their room, but not to change, as they really would be working during the remainder of the afternoon. When they came back downstairs, Mark was waiting. He led them out to the farthest of the stables.

“This one hasn’t been done yet, so you can learn right on your first day. Aren’t you lucky,” he teased.

He then proceeded to show the twins what was involved in mucking out stables, repeating what he had said before. All the old hay at the bottom of the stalls had to be removed. It was loaded with horse shit and piss. Pitchforks were used for this purpose, as well as other tools when one is down to the ground. The used hay is loaded into a wheelbarrow, and trundled off to an assigned location, where it is allowed to age into mulch. The stall is rinsed out with a hose and allowed to dry out. Then new hay has to be laid down and the process starts over again. There were sixteen stalls in Stable C. Mark demonstrated each step in one, then had the twins follow through. He acted as foreman, watching them work. Mel and Ken might not have manners, and were ignorant of a lot of things, and had some bad health and personal hygiene habits, but they did know how to work. Mark obviously enjoyed watching them do the work he would otherwise be doing. He told them the story of Rick Underwood first coming out to the Farm and being supervised by Johnny Hamilton as he had his first experience mucking out stalls. Rick had been at dinner. Mark then related another story from before his time, but which was part of the lore among the farm workers. This one involved Rydael Seagraves and Aaron Marlow. Mark told about Rydael, son of a rich family, being thrown into the horse manure and held down by Aaron. Then he concluded, “Rydael is a lawyer in Clifton now, and Aaron is the assistant manager of Madison Forest, oh, and was in the Marines. So, I guess there’s hope for you losers, too.”

“Did you say that guy Aaron was a Marlow?” Mel asked.

“Yep. Actually, the Todds kind of rescued a couple of those Marlows. With our help, of course,” Mark replied.

“Oh, yeah. I nearly forgot. Your mom is one of them. That’s why you’re a ... what the hell are you, anyway?” Ken asked.

“Technically I’m a quadroon. I’m one quarter black and three quarters white. And even that is not definite. Sandy – Mrs. Todd – is working on some family history stuff, and seems to think my grandma out in Graves Holler is related to old Doc White, so she’s not entirely black either. But, in case you missed it, the worst of the Marlow shit part does not come from Grandma but from my grandfather, Silas Marlow, and he was all white, and just as biased as you guys,” Mark replied. “Come to think of it, the Marlows of Graves holler and the Decker Hamiltons have a lot in common.”

Ken started to get hostile, but Mel said, “Calm down. He’s just trying to rile us.”

“Good for you, Mel,” Mark said. “But you’re only partly right. I was trying to rile you, but what I said is not all that wrong, either.”

“What about you? You’re not all that fancy, you know,” Ken returned.

“I know. I know where I come from. But I’m going to make something of myself, just like Aaron Marlow, who’s my uncle. And so’s Aunt Penny, who teaches at the high school – Mrs. Roanhorse to barbarians like you two. I see she didn’t make much headway in teaching you English.”

Ken blushed, as he had failed his last English class under Mrs. Roanhorse

“Hey, when you’re embarrassed your face matches you hair,” Mark teased.

Ken flipped a load of manure at Mark, which caught him by surprise. Mark reacted by attacking Ken, and before long all three were rolling around in the muck. They were brought back to earth by a stern voice which said, “This is not what I had in mind when I told you to teach the twins about mucking out the stalls.”

Three very dirty boys looked up sheepishly at Scott MacKenzie.

“Uh, we got talking, and I guess things kind of got out of hand,” Mark said.

“I guess they did,” Scott concurred. “I came out to check on how you were getting along. You still have a long ways to go, so I guess you’ll have to help the newcomers, Mark. I want this finished before supper.”

“Yes, Sir,” Mark replied.

Once Scott had withdrawn, Mark said, “Shit! Now I’ve got to work, too. And we’re all filthy, with no relief until we finish.”

“Be glad for what you’ve got,” Ken said. “If that had been our dad, we would have all been beaten with a broom stick or worse.”

And so the three Hamiltons got to work, and, with Mark’s expert help, got Stable C mucked out. Then they all used the washing down facilities in the stables to wash themselves and their clothing, at least to the point where there was no manure sticking to them. They then made their way into the house and up to the third floor, where Mark also had his room.

“It’s a good thing we weren’t wearing any of our new clothes,” Mel observed.

“I want to see what you guys got,” Mark said. “After we shower.”

“Sure,” Ken agreed. The twins were very pleased with their new acquisitions, and were anxious to show them off.

After their showers, Mark showed the twins where the clothes washer and dryer were located, and all three sets of clothing were sent to clean up. “After all,” he said, “we’ll be working tomorrow, too, and you won’t want to get your new things all dirty, now will you?”

“More mucking out stalls?” Mel asked.

“Yep. But not all day. And we really don’t have to roll around in them,” Mark grinned.

Cleaned up, they went in for supper, which, like dinner, was eaten outside in such nice weather. Besides, with the Todds in residence, there was not enough room in the kitchen, and they would have to use the formal dining room, which was too much for an everyday meal at the Farm.

After supper, Zip asked the twins to come with him. He led them to the library, and asked them to sit.

Addressing the redhead, he said, “You’re Kenneth Johnson Hamilton, right?”

“Um, I guess. Usually I’m just Ken.”

“As you boys are going to be staying here for a while, I took the liberty of looking you up on the Internet, and I downloaded copies of your birth certificates and Social Security records. Scott needs that information in the office. And you,” he said, turning to Mel, “are Malcolm Boone Hamilton.”

“I am? All I know is Mel.”

“Here are the copies of your birth certificates,” Zip said, handing each twin his own.

They studied them with some interest, but were obviously having some difficulty with reading the documents.

“Any idea where the names Johnson and Boone came from?” Zip asked.

They looked at each other for a minute or two, then Mel said, “I kind of think Mama’s daddy was called Boone Johnson.”

“That would fit,” Zip said. “On your birth certificates, where there is the space for the mother’s name, it asks for the mother’s maiden name. That means her name before she married. And you see it says there Sarah Johnson.”

“Oh, okay,” Mel said, peering at his document.

“Your birthdays are both on February ninth, I see. Ken is six minutes older than Mel,” Zip read from his copies of the birth certificates.

“I told you I was older,” Ken smirked, as Mel looked dissatisfied.

“Neither of you boys finished high school, right?” Zip said.

“Right. We both dropped out when we turned sixteen. We, uh, we’re not school type guys,” Ken said.

“And nobody will try to make you into school type guys,” Zip promised, “but I think it will benefit you if you get more comfortable reading. How’s your math?”

“Math?” Ken asked, as though it were a foreign word.

“You know. Counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, fractions. Things like that,” Zip illustrated, keeping it simple.

“About as bad as our reading,” Mel replied. “We get the idea. We already know everyone here thinks we’re a couple of dummies,” he added with some heat.

“How about if we prove them wrong?” Zip suggested.

“Huh? What do you mean?” Ken asked.

“I’m suggesting that, in addition to having fun in piles of horse manure” – at that the twins looked at each other and blushed – “part of your responsibilities here at the Farm will be to improve your reading and math skills. Maybe some writing and spelling, too. But it won’t work unless you agree to go along with it. So, how about it?”

“We have a choice?” Mel asked.

“Yes. If you absolutely hate the idea, we’ll drop it. But I kind of think you know you need this, but you were given a really negative outlook on school at home, and after a while it was just too much to admit that you can’t do what younger kids do, so you pretend you don’t care. How’m I doing?” Zip asked.

“You’re pretty smart,” Mel said.

“For a nigger?” Zip asked.

“I didn’t say that!” Mel reared back.

“Look, I know where you’re coming from. I saw how you reacted when we first met this morning. I think you realize that the way you thought about a lot of thing needs some work. So, I’ll work with you on this, too, and so will Mark and the others here on the Farm. But denying it won’t get rid of it. You’ve got to work at eliminating it, not hiding it. Are you willing to do that?” Zip put it to them.

“You’re right. Since yesterday, we found out that a lot of things our dad and others told us isn’t so, like what happened to Jeremy. But this is a lot to deal with all at once, along with getting the shit beat out of us, and getting kicked out by our dad,” Mel said.

“I realize that. We’ll take it at a comfortable pace. There are no exams and no deadlines. All I’m asking is whether you’re willing to try,” Zip explained.

The twins exchanged a glance. “This place is better than anything else we’ve had going for as long as we can remember,” Mel said. “We got new clothes. The meals are great. And Scott says there’ll be no beatings and no force,” Mel then got a wicked grin on his face and added, “except when we get thrown into a pile of horse shit.”

At that, Zip laughed loudly, but added, “The way I hear it, Mark got thrown in as much as you guys.”

“I guess it was all of us together. Anyway, we’ll give it a try. But ...”

“I don’t expect instant success. And if it gets to be too much, we can change things,” Zip promised. “Deal?” He held out his hand.

They looked at that brown hand, then Ken grinned and grasped it. “Deal,” he confirmed. Mel added his hand to the bargain.

“We like to be careful about everybody’s health here on the Farm, so tomorrow you’ll be run in to the clinic in town for some tests,” Zip informed them.

“We ain’t sick,” Ken stated.

“I don’t think you are. But we want to be sure. From what I hear, you’ve been sexually active. Are you sure you haven’t picked up some disease? Sometimes those things don’t show up until years later, but they’re much easier to deal with if you catch them early. Everyone here on the Farm has been tested, and is clean.”

“Everyone?” Mel asked.

“Everyone who’s sexually active. And everyone, even the little kids, get check-ups regularly. I’ll bet it’s been a while for you two,” Zip guessed.

“Uh, yeah. So, okay. Check-ups tomorrow,” Mel capitulated. “Anything else?”

“We can deal with anything else as it comes up. I think you two and Mark and Peter will be mucking out stalls again in the morning, but I want you to take a break about 9:30 or 10:00 and we’ll start the reading and math lessons. We’ll do that out in the courtyard, in case you take a notion to do some more rolling in horse manure,” Zip teased.

“Peter, too?” Ken picked up on that.

“Yes. Peter gets paid to work around here, just like Mark, and just like you will. He does all the same kinds of things the rest of you do.”

“We get paid?” Ken asked, surprised.

Zip grinned. “The slave days have been over for a long time. You won’t get rich working here, but yes, you will get paid. You can ask Scott about the details.”

“Yeah!” the twins said in unison.

“All right. Go relax. Watch television, or play video games, or something until bedtime. I’m sure you know the day starts early on the farm,” Zip said.

“Video games? You guys have video games?” Mel asked.

“Come with me,” Zip said. He led the twins across the entrance hall into the front parlor. There they found Mark, Peter, Peter Springer, Curtis Quinlan, and Trey Hoff engaged in some kind of intense contest in front of a television screen. “Guys,” Zip announced, “I think there’s something you can teach the twins here better than I can. Just let them join in your games.”

“Oh, no! Not the dastardly duo,” Mark teased.

“Just one more comment from me,” Zip said. “No roughhousing in the house.”

“We weren’t doing anything, Grandpa,” Trey said.

“No, but Mark was leading up to it,” Zip said, giving the offender a stern look.

Mark blushed.

“I’m going into the next room where things are quieter. Quieter, I said. We want to keep it that way,” Zip said, walking into the back parlor.

Sandy kissed him. “How’d it go?”

“I think they’ll make it.”