While the plantation was under siege, Sally Ann had cooked to relieve boredom. She had baked bread, done two elaborate cakes, prepared long-simmered soups and done a slow-cooked pork shoulder. She also spent time preparing much of what she cooked for the freezer. For supper, she planned to have pulled pork sandwiches, red cole slaw, oven roasted potatoes and German chocolate cake for dessert. Fortunately, adding Rich only required adding a few more potatoes to the oven and making a bit more slaw.
Rich came as Sally Ann was taking the potatoes from the oven. She had a Jack Daniel’s with a splash of water and an ice cube waiting for him when he walked in the back door. The boys were having Virgin Marys.
“Well, I must admit you look better with a clean face,” Sally Ann said as she handed him his JD with a splash.
“Feel a lot better too,” Rich said, accepting the glass and taking a large sip and looking around, he saw Andy was in the den with the Taylor men—he considered Scotty one of the Taylors. He joined them.
“I assume you called Doug to give him an account of your investigation’s success,” Jamie said.
“I did. He’ll be here tomorrow evening.”
“Agent Yeager gave us your message about our taking Sally Ann’s advice,” Scotty said. “I assume that you won’t be vacating my house.”
“You assume correctly. Well, of course that depends on decisions from you and Ethan and/or Davis. After all, I am in the house only because of the investigation and that is closed so far as I am concerned. It is now up to the prosecutors.”
“I don’t plan on needing it,” Scotty said.
“I don’t plan on his needing it,” Ethan said. “I’ll talk to Davis. I don’t think he’ll have any objection. Changing the subject, when are we going to hear the full story of what happened today—well, and what led up to it?”
“How about after we eat? I’m starved. Aside from a couple of energy bars, I last ate at 3:00 am.”
“In ten minutes,” Sally Ann said and Ethan and Jamie got up to set the table.
“I’m willing to wait on the macho stuff,” Sally Ann said as they began the meal, “but what about the romantic stuff? You are planning on living here, so?”
“Doug was transferred last week with Audubon State effective second semester. Since he was under contract to another branch of the state university system, there was no problem there. While I don’t know how the university ranking system works, he does get a promotion with the move. He’ll finish at Atlanta State December eighth and classes start at Audubon State January seventh so he has a whole month off. I am due some time off, so we are planning on spending Christmas in Australia. We’re meeting up with a couple we met last year when we spent two weeks touring British Columbia. They have rented a place on the Gold Coast for a couple of weeks. After that, we’re headed for Sydney before we come home. We’re leaving December fifteenth and will be back January the sixth.
“Because of the investigation, we didn’t get married as planned, so we’re going to Vermont before we leave. We’re having a civil ceremony there, but coming back to North Carolina where a priest I knew growing up will bless our union. Enough romance?” Rich asked with a wink at Sally Ann.
“I’m excited for you,” she responded.
After supper, Ethan and Jamie served coffee and large slices of German chocolate cake. When they were all settled down with dessert, Rich said, “Okay, before I appeared on the scene, Sheriff Jackson had called in the GBI to investigate several incidents of what appeared to be harassment and intimidation of African-American and Latinos. They were making no progress until a young black woman showed up sexually assaulted at the hospital. Her father said Deputy Rudy Ballock had assaulted her, but the young woman wouldn’t allow the rape kit and would say absolutely nothing. Sheriff Jackson wanted Rudy charged and hauled into court, but with the woman refusing to talk and no physical evidence, the prosecutor saw it as a no-win situation. The sheriff could, of course, fire him for any reason or no reason at all under Georgia law. The county attorney went along with the sheriff bringing him in for questioning and essentially bluffing him into signing an agreement which included his not being involved with law enforcement for ten years. That happened about six or seven months before I appeared on the scene.
“Then luck, fate, whatever, stepped in and I was here when Jamie and Andy were attacked and Rudy had abused the office he agreed not to have—that is, he abused his position as a law enforcement officer after agreeing not to be in law enforcement. While the GBI had a case against him and Braggton’s police chief, it was a pretty weak one. I, on the other hand, could go after them for violating Jamie’s and Andy’s civil rights with the added charge of the violations being hate crimes. The penalty was pretty severe. When I suggested that to the GBI, I was asked to expand my investigation and did so.
“I kept having hints of something going on in the African-American community, but I got only hints, otherwise I ran into one brick wall after another. Then Ethan, and indirectly Jamie, saved my butt. I had been called back to Atlanta and I was positive the purpose was to tell me to drop the investigation and close down things here. I hated that because I knew it meant I would be chasing butterflies again and I was positive there was something going on here. The night before I left, Ethan called me and told me what Eli had told you. I reasoned that if African-Americans were leaving jobs and homes they had for years, frightened, then brick walls could be expected. Ethan also told me you, Jamie, had commented on Jake Ballock’s increased drug dealing and sudden wealth. He had escalated his dealing, but not enough to explain such things as that tricked-out truck. It was enough for my boss to extend my assignment for two months. I was now under a deadline.
“Within a couple of weeks, I was positive Jake was head of a drug distribution network which supplied dealers in high schools and colleges. We got final proof yesterday. He was a major supplier from roughly Macon to Valdosta and from Columbus to Tifton. Additionally, he was supplying a select circle at Fort Benning. He had regular runs, most made at night and off major highways. He had almost half a million dollars hidden—some in his house, some in an abandoned shack and fifty thousand in his truck. That much we found. Tad handled an area west of Leesburg and Ox and Tiny worked for him. Tad, as usual, let them do the lifting. Jake brought him the merchandise which he stored in a barn on his grandfather’s farm. He then supplied Ox and Tiny who actually did the distribution. As I said, we found more than adequate evidence to support the charges.
“An interesting twist comes from that. My boss is sure that we can make an intimation of a federal witness charge stick for their assault on you, Jamie and Andy. Thus, they face a double whammy for their attacking you two guys.
“Which brings us to Ethan and Scotty’s leading me to the complex and Ethan and Jamie’s subsequent, unintended visit. That, of course, was the cause for Jamie and Andy’s foolhardy pursuit of the truck and you know what happened after that. Now you know what happened here.
“After closing hours yesterday, the offices of the Grant, Grant and Sherman in Atlanta, Montgomery, Nashville and Wilmington were raided, records and computers seized. It quickly became evident the records were bogus. The contents of the computers were encrypted and the FBI expert told us they could probably break the encryption, but it would likely take days, maybe weeks and months.
“The firm’s headquarters were in Atlanta, not for any reason beyond the fact that it was Robert Grant’s home. Robert was CEO and major stockholder, holding fifty percent of the stock. The other Grant and the Sherman were his son and son-in-law. Agent Yeager was a leader on that raid and he had commented that Robert Grant had absolute trust or none in his security system because the one guarding his office took some doing before agents were able to get inside. Once inside, the safe, desk, etc. had ordinary locks. The youngest and most recent member of his team laughed and said, ‘Yeah, I bet I could open the desk myself,’ and proceeded to do so. When he did, he pulled out the sliding writing surface on the right side, flipped it over and said, ‘And here’s the encryption key.’ Amazingly enough, it was. When Agent Yeager asked him how he knew it would be there, he said, ‘The whole feel of this office is like my dad’s—an arrogant, self-important, rules-don’t-apply-to-me attitude yells from this office like it does from my dad’s. No-one would dare violate their space therefore, anything is safe. Yeah, it just felt like that.’
“The FBI encryption expert had the computers up and running in minutes. Seconds after he had them open, the high speed printer in the office started churning out page after page. There was a complete list of the activities, employees, merchandise inventory from drugs to women to ‘temp workers’—there was a notation alongside the Braggton ‘temp workers’ page ‘inactive.’
“Similar raids started the same time as the one in Atlanta in Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina. From drug runners such as Ox and Tiny to Robert Grant a total of almost a thousand people were arrested, most by local law enforcement unless it had been bought off.
“My boss is holding a news conference at 9:00 in the morning. Local law enforcement everywhere except here was given a heads-up and told to hold any news conference they wish, just remember to stick to the facts and report for their locale only. By 9:00 the national media will be in the know and will show up here.
The next morning the Taylor household was up, had breakfast, showered and got dressed—blazers and ties for the men. A few minutes after eight, Andy showed up in ratty jeans and a T shirt. Sally Ann just gave him a look. He grinned and headed home at a lope. Fifteen minutes later he appeared dressed as the other guys. They planned on a casual walk to the plantation house, but as soon as they started, they saw a line of cars being held back by a couple of men dressed in camouflage in front of Dek’s place. They were walking to the truck when a van, driven by a man in camouflage with Dek inside stopped in front of their house and the driver motioned to them. When Ethan walked over to the vehicle, the driver said, “I can take one more. There’s a SUV behind me that can take the rest,”
When they reached the plantation house, they went inside. There was standing room only in the living room when they all got inside. “If this family keeps growing, we’re going to have to add a meeting room,” Davis laughed, obviously happy at the size of his ‘family.’ Doug was standing beside Rich and gave the Taylors—which now included Scotty—a hug.
“We’re all here now,” Rich said. “Folks, my boss, Special Agent Abraham Howard.”
“Thank you, Agent Long. Folks, I wanted you all here to thank you for your support of Agent Long. I know how much you all have meant to him personally as well as professionally. I also wanted you present because Agent Long has claimed you as his family and I wanted you to know how much the Agency and I appreciate him. Some of the ways that will be shown will be given to the media, but not all of it. Where are Ethan and James Taylor, Alpin McCarter and Andrew Hickey?” They all held up a hand and one by one identified themselves. “Gentlemen, the same is true of you. I will express the agency’s thanks to you in the news conference and as young and handsome as you are, you can expect them to go nuts over you. I can’t blame them. However, they won’t get the full story of our expression of appreciation. So, before we face the beast assembled outside, the inside announcements.
“The federal government has a policy of rewarding civilians who assist in recovering ill-gotten gain. This is usually a percentage of the recovered monies. For example, you blow the whistle on someone evading taxes, you get a percentage of the back taxes. If it were in my power to give, I’d give you four a percentage of all cash and property confiscated in the operations of Grant, Grant and Sherman, but it is not. The decision is made by someone several pay grades above me. Nonetheless, on my recommendation and that of Agent Long, a percentage of monies confiscated here from the operation directly under the control of Grant, Grant and Sherman and headed by Jake Ballock and the local drug distribution operation headed by Tad Hayes will be awarded to you. At Agent Long’s suggestion, each of you can expect between a half and three quarters of a million and, if my recommendation gets reviewed, maybe more. It is, by the way, tax free. Officially, you will receive a commendation from the President. The State of Georgia is recognizing your contribution to ending a major part of the criminal activity with a commendation. That, by the way, includes a full scholarship to any college or university in the system.
“Now, Agent Long. You will receive a Letter of Commendation from the head of the agency and will be presented one by the President. Unfortunately, no money changes hands. However, I am granting you two weeks leave—with pay—to be taken at your convenience and ours of course. Also, you are, as of today, assigned to the Macon district with responsibility for the Audubon sub-district with an office in Audubon or environs—that includes Pleasant Grove Plantation if that is agreeable with said plantation management. Concretely that means you can stay put if you can work it out with Mr. Edwards. Any questions?”
There were none.
“Time to face the beast,” Agent Howard said. “I’ll introduce Agent Long and he’ll read a statement and answer questions. I will then made the awards to the four young men and to Agent Long. I want to keep it under an hour.”
Outside, the reporters were not exactly waiting patiently when Agent Howard said, “Good morning, I am Special Agent Abraham Howard of the Atlanta Regional Office of the US Attorney’s Special Task Force. Yesterday, at approximately 1900 hours, simultaneous raids were conducted in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina. The raids were directed against Grant, Grant and Sherman’s offices, manufacturing and distribution centers. The raids revealed a large criminal empire which was engaged in drug manufacturing and distribution, prostitution—both male and female—and transportation of undocumented men and women into the country. Millions of dollars of property as well as cash were confiscated. I was informed only a few minutes ago, almost a thousand arrests have been made. These range from heads of the operation, Robert Grant and his son and son-in-law down to a number of small drug dealers in high schools and colleges. The powerhouse behind bringing down this crime organization, I am proud to say, is one of my agents, Agent Richard Long. He, in turn, gives a lot of the credit to the people standing behind me: Sheriff Peter Jackson of Bragg County and four young men of Arkadelphia Plantation, Ethan and James Taylor, Alpin McCarter and Andrew Hickey, but the story is his to tell. Before I turn this over to him, I want to express both my personal and the department’s thanks for the support the people of Arkadelphia Plantation have given Agent Long. Without these fantastic people, Agent Long would have had great, if not impossible, obstacles to his investigation. Agent Long.”
“I would like add my name to the note of thanks to all the people of Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove Plantations. The people are the same, but one of the great helps I have been given was an opportunity to have my home and office at Pleasant Grove. These people have not only been generous in allowing me to become a member—if often absent—of the Arkadelphia Plantation family, but also have often been an inspiration when the going was tough. Ethan, Jamie, Scotty, Andy, if you would hand out these.” The four each took a stapled sheets and passed them out among the reporters. “I am sure you will find all you need to know about the investigation in my written statement, but since you haven’t had time to read it, I will summarize.”
After the papers containing a written statement summary of his investigation were distributed, Rich elaborated on it. In both he had heaped praise on Ethan, Scotty, Jamie and Andy. When he finished, he said he would answer questions for twenty minutes. The first question he was asked was whether or not he would allow the boys to answer questions.
“I assure you, the boys as you called them, are perfectly capable of deciding if they want to answer questions or not. Further, I suspect they would not answer anyone’s question who calls them boy. Ethan, Scotty, Jamie, Andy?”
All four nodded agreement, then Scotty spoke up, “So long as it is pertinent to the situation. Especially when younger men are involved, matters totally unrelated to the situation get raised. I would warn you to avoid doing that.”
A forest of hands shot up and Scotty nodded at a woman in the back. “Ethan, I understand that you were actually the one to point Agent Long in the direction of the complex here in Bragg County. Exactly what prompted you to do that?
Ethan told her about the odor which led to his speaking to Agent Long.
“Is it true, Ethan and Scotty that you two were a major part of the sting that ended the ‘temp worker’ racket this group had going in Bragg and surrounding counties?”
“I’ll answer that,” Sheriff Jackson said. “Ethan and Scotty will downplay their role in that and, truth be told, it would never had happened without them. The idea for the sting was Scotty’s.” He them told the reporters about the sting and about Ethan and Scotty’s part in it. “The two literally put their lives on the line and Ethan was shot, near fatally.”
“So Scotty dressed in drag as a part of it?” a woman reporter asked.
“He dressed to impersonate LaLisa Allen as he was the only one available small enough.”
“So he did dress in drag?” she responded.
“I suppose you could say that,” Sheriff Jackson responded.
“It was reported that the Reverend from the Temple of Jesus Healing Stripes and the Women’s Bible Class staged a protest at the hospital because Ethan and Scotty are fags. Is that true?” a scrawny man asked.
“The group staged a protest and several people were arrested,” the sheriff responded.
“Because the two are fags?”
While the whole Arakdelphia Plantation family were seething, the sheriff remained calm and repeated, “There was a protest.”
“So you are avoiding my question or are you saying the protest was because the two are fags?”
Ethan had had enough. Anyone who knew him could see he was ready to bite nails. “Sir, as assistant manager at Arkadelphia Plantation, I am ordering you off the property.”
“I have a right to be here and my readers have a right to the truth. I refuse to go.”
“No, you are here as a guest of Arkadelphia Plantation and your readers have no rights whatsoever to my or anyone else’s love life.”
“So you are a fag.”
“Will someone escort that man off Arkadelphia Plantation?” Ethan asked. Two sheriff’s deputies got a nod from Sheriff Jackson and, literally lifted the man off his feet and carried him away. “You were warned about straying into impertinent questions and any question concerning any of our personal lives is impertinent. But putting that aside and straying from the raid, I would like to tell you about Arkadelphia Plantation.
“I and the members of the Arkadelphia Plantation family are engaged in transforming a dream into a reality. That reporter was ordered off the plantation because that dream includes certain cardinal principles. The reporter’s question would simply have been ignored except he violated a cardinal principal. It’s a bit off the subject, but I want you to understand why the man was escorted out. Those who live on Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove Plantations share a common dream which has, I suppose two parts although we see it a one. The dream we share? We dream of Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove becoming a model for modern plantations. On the concrete side, that means we are working closely with Mr. Joe Maddox, the county agent, in developing new and more effective ways of producing pecans and cattle. I am assistant manager of the plantations for pecan production. Mr. Randy Ashton is assistant manager of the cattle station. An example, recently, based on the research by Jamie and Andy, we planted an experiential cover crop to determine if it would be a viable alternative to what has been used.
“The second and more important part of the dream concerns people. We are working to assure that people who live and work on the plantations are treated with respect, valued for their abilities and honored as persons. People are to be accepted and treated with honor and respect regardless of race, religion, origin, sexual orientation. For that reason, words which cut and put down are not used or tolerated. In fact, we all know that statements such as those uttered by the reporter are grounds for immediate dismissal. Again, off topic, but you need to understand we take respect for persons very seriously at Arkadelphia. And, while it is up to each individual to reveal as little or as much personal information as he or she wishes, I will say that we do have a gay person in the family. Case closed.” A number of people applauded.
The four then answered questions for about fifteen minutes and then Special Agent Howard took over again. He announced the commendations and officially presented. “Finally,” he said, “I am happy to announce on behalf of the Governor of the State of Georgia that the four young men have free tuition to any state college or university in Georgia. I am awaiting confirmation that a percentage of the assets confiscated in connection with operations centered in Bragg County will be theirs. Thank you.”
“Before we leave, would it be possible for some of us to interview the Arkadelphia people about this noble experiment of theirs?” a reporter asked.
“That is something only they can answer,” Special Agent Howard replied.
Davis stepped forward and said, “Not today. We have work to do. I will discuss this with the Arkadelphia family, but I am sure if we do decide to do it, we don’t want another group this size. Perhaps you can select two or three from among you, we would be more open to it. If you select the reporters to do the interview and email the plantation at—surprise, surprise—arkadelphia dot com, I will respond between 6:00 and 7:00 this evening.”
“Thank you,” the reporter replied and all the TV reporters made a wild dash to try to get ready for the noon news.
After all the outsiders had gone, Rich asked if anyone would like to see the compound. In truth everyone did and they soon formed a caravan. The entrance to the complex was several miles from the entrance to Arkadelphia. Recalling that its property and Pleasant Grove’s adjoined, Ethan pointed out that a road on one side of all three would be shorter than the distance from Arkadelphia’s entrance to the complex’s entrance.
The metal building that had been the meth lab was no more. Instead, sheets of metal and other nonflammables were spread over a large area with many metal sheets in surrounding trees. The burned bodies of the dogs were in their pen. The other large building housing marijuana had also caught fire, but it had been extinguished. “Had the building been allowed to burn,” Rich laughed, “all of Bragg County and parts of others would have been stoned. The building was stacked full of bales of weed, tons of the stuff.”
Another building had been blown apart. Rich said it was used to store the chemicals used to produce meth and the finished produce. The worse part of their exploration of the complex was the building used to house women designated for brothels or sold as sex slaves to wealthy men. It was better than the one discovered earlier housing the ‘temp workers’, but it was bad. The building had a large communal restroom with showers alone one long wall and toilets along the other. The main room had stacked bunks, a few chairs and a TV at each end of the room mounted high on the wall. There were washers and driers and that was about it. As they were leaving, a two men were posting no trespassing signs alongside one already attached to the gate announcing the absolute auction of the property on April 1st.
After they toured the site and before they got in the vehicles to go back, Davis asked, “What about the interviews? Should I okay them or not?”
“I’m not looking forward to it,” Ethan said, “but if what we hope we are accomplishing here is to benefit anyone else, they have to know about it. I just don’t want to deal with the gay question beyond what I have said already.”
“I don’t want to get asked questions about girlfriends and all that,” Andy added.
“Having had some experience with what is said in an interview and what gets printed or broadcast, I’d make sure I had final approval of all articles and broadcasts,” Rich said.
“Okay, we allow reporters ... How many did they come up with, Davis?” Ash asked.
“They had a list of ten and I emailed back, ‘No way,’ and they sent back three names, one each TV, news magazine and newspaper.”
“So, I say you set up interviews with them and you, Ethan and Randy do them.”
“No way Randy is going to do something like that,” Ginger said. “He’d leave town first.”
“Okay,” Dek said, “we know Davis has to be present, otherwise it looks as if he’s not fully behind us and our dream.” Ethan noted that while Dek had been hesitant about coming to Arkadelphia, he had bought into it.
“They’re only going to be interested, really, in Ethan, Jamie, Scotty and Andy,” Alfred said, rather shocking everyone. “You need Molly or Ash because we don’t want to look too male, which we are. Don’t know about Michael. Maybe since we are new, he’d be good. Don’t know much about interviews and all that stuff.”
“Damn,” Michael said, “how’d you figure that out, Alfred?” Alfred just shrugged his shoulders.
“Having been selected by Alfred,” What choice do we have?” Molly ask. “I do think Ash should be the token woman—we’ve got to work on that—she is such an example of someone who knows what has value in life.” That settled it. Davis did ask Rich to be ‘our media consultant,’ and he agreed.
Davis set up the interviews for the day following the raid. He had a request for one-on-one interviews with each of the people, an interview with him about the history of Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove and a tour of both. They asked about Scotty talking about the cattle station and Ethan about the pecans and the two talking about the Arkadelphia Dream.
The interviews went very well, but everyone was glad when they were over. Later, Ethan and Scotty were asked for short interviews on a couple of evening talk shows and did them. They did turn down more requests than they accepted. Fox publicly attacked them when they turned down their request, which they did because Fox said they would rule out no questions.
The final grove had been only about a quarter harvested when all hell had broken loose, and the crew returned to it. There was still some clover to be broadcast and disk in, and even some fertilizing to be completed. Having missed almost a week, Ash suggested they work overtime to get the pecan harvest finished. “We can fertilize for a couple or three months, but the pecans need to be off the ground as soon as possible,” she said. The crew agreed to work Saturday. At noon, there was about another hour or two’s work needed to finish bagging the last pecans. Without question or comment, they finished up. Getting the equipment to the shed, cleaned and serviced for next year could wait until the next week. Jamie, Andy and Randy were not in the grove as they had left as soon as they got home from school for a cattle conference in Florida. They hoped to talk with people who had hands-on experience with Brangus. They wouldn’t be back until Sunday afternoon.
Since they had worked overtime and more than half day Saturday, Davis suggested they take off Monday.
The raid and all that followed took place a couple weeks before Thanksgiving.