Home Grown Dilemma

Submitted into Contest #158 in response to: Write a story where the law plays an important role.... view prompt

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Adventure Contemporary Friendship

There’s something about the Carolina sunrise that makes people stop, look, and appreciate nature’s beauty by observing the diverse colors painted in the sky. Not AJ. Just as he was starting his shift, he received a call about a disturbance in the boonies and nothing ever good happened out in the boonies. After filling his stainless-steel tumbler with fresh coffee, he hopped in his patrol car and drove out to investigate.

Normally, he would have treated this as a routine check, but he didn’t receive the call over the radio. His fellow officer, Justin, called him on his personal phone to report the disturbance, asking specifically for his help. As AJ followed the GPS down a lonely dirt road, he kept replaying the conversation in his head. There was something in Justin’s voice that made it seem like he was uncomfortable saying everything over the phone. Justin was also supposed to be off today. It put AJ on edge.

What the hell was he doing out in the boonies?

Both had served at the same precinct for the past five years, and had become good friends in the process. AJ was good at paperwork, and Justin used his natural athleticism to catch the criminals. Both quickly learned they made a cohesive team and could rely on each other to get the job done. 

AJ made a turn onto an unmarked road that led to a large shed, well hidden by the thickness of the surrounding pines. Parking in the cracked driveway, he got out of the car and cautiously approached the old building. Before he could search the perimeter, the door suddenly opened and there was Justin, staring at him with a concerned look. 

“Are you alone?” he asked. 

“Yes,” AJ said, “GOMP, what is this all about?”

GOMP, short for “Get Off My Property”, was the nickname given to Justin after he roughed up some vandals who trespassed on his property a few years back. Long story short, it got reported and received negative press. 

“I’ll explain inside.” 

AJ gave his friend an odd look but followed him in, gasping at what he saw next. UV lights hung from the arched wood-paneled ceiling, illuminating rows upon rows of dirt-filled troughs. Rubber tubes snaked their way around each one, but whatever they had been irrigating, was no longer there. Though the crops were gone, AJ knew what had been taken. 

“Oh my . . .” he said, “how did you come across this?”

Privately grown vegetables had been outlawed after the government seized all means of production for domestically grown products a few ago following an unexpected fertilizer shortage. Growing vegetables on land not owned by the government was now a federal crime. GOMP shook his head. 

“It’s not what you think,” he said. 

AJ eyed his friend, curiously. 

“These were my vegetables,” GOMP said, pointing at the troughs.

AJ’s heart flopped. Respect for the law had been his founding principle ever since he was little, as laws brought order out of chaos—and AJ despised chaos to the point where some considered him a “neat freak”. He took a step back and straightened his posture.

“AJ, wait,” said GOMP, “let me explain.” 

“Please do.”

“There are a lot of people within this community that react very badly to the GMO vegetables the government distributes. I, and a couple of others in the area, are part of a local coalition providing those people with naturally grown vegetables, who would die of malnutrition if not for us.”

AJ wasn’t moved. He eyed his friend as he would a suspect. GOMP lowered his head. 

“My wife is sick.” 

AJ softened. 

“What?” 

“Naturally grown radishes contain a unique compound that’s used to treat a rare condition my wife has,” GOMP said, pointing at the vandalized troughs. “But some jerk thieves broke and stole them.” 

AJ relaxed a bit.

“So what?” he asked, “you want me to help you get your radishes back?”

GOMP nodded. 

“I know it’s a lot to ask but if my wife goes a week without eating radishes, she breaks out with a wild, uncontrollable fever,” said GOMP. His lip quivered. “Please, I don’t know what I would do without my sweet wife.”

AJ stood still, conflicted on what to do. On one hand, the law was the law and it was his job to enforce it. On the other hand, GOMP had saved his ass on more than one occasion and he felt obligated to help. He took a deep breath and let out a long sigh.

“Fine,” AJ said, “but we do this my way.”

* * * *

The two drove around town as AJ contacted some of his informants to see what they knew about any local vegetable cartels. Though most leads were dead ends, there was one informant, Leonard, who claimed not to know anything but also looked very uncomfortable when asked simple questions on the matter. AJ pressed him, and Leonard shifted awkwardly from foot to foot as he gave vague responses. After 45 minutes, GOMP grew tired of the games and seized Leonard by the collar, shaking him violently. 

“Tell us what you know,” he shouted. 

AJ reeled in horror. GOMP had always been a well-mannered cop who treated everyone with dignity and respect. Never had he been openly hostile towards someone who didn’t deserve it and the way he glared at Leonard, was almost inhuman. 

“Tell me, Goddammit,” he shouted. 

Seeing the fury building in his friend’s eye, AJ stepped .

“Stand down!” he shouted, “This is not standard operating procedure.”

GOMP shot him a fierce stare and tightened his grip.

“This dingus knows where the radishes are being kept,” he growled, “I know it.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about, sir,” said Leonard. He tried to act calm, but AJ could see how terrified the man was. 

GOMP growled and threw Leonard to the ground before AJ knew what was happening. 

“Tell me what you know,” GOMP shouted, punching Leonard a couple of times before AJ was able to grab him by the back of the collar, and yank him off. It was like trying to pull a predator from its prey. Leonard rolled over onto his side, groaning in pain.

“What the hell, man!” AJ shouted once he got GOMP under control. “Get in the car!”

The fire in GOMP’s eye was not so easily extinguished. 

“Now,” said AJ, firmly. “Or I will drag you there myself.”

After a tense couple of moments, GOMP complied, grumbling to himself as he stormed off towards the car. Once he was inside the vehicle, AJ helped Leonard up, and sat him down on a nearby bench.

“What the hell was that?” Leonard asked, wide-eyed, “I’ve been your loyal informant for two years now and this is how you treat me?”

AJ reached into his pocket and handed him a crumpled-up napkin, which he used to wipe the blood flowing freely from his nose.

“I’m sorry,” said AJ, “My fellow officer is going through a rough time.” 

“Oh?”

“I can’t tell you why, but the station will pay handsomely for any information you give.”

“It has to be very handsome. The vegetable kingpin is ruthless and can be as mean as a pissed-off honey badger.” 

“You know I’m worth my word,” AJ said. 

A clever smile crossed over Leonard’s face. 

“If that’s the case, I’ll also need a little extra to forget about your friend’s behavior.”

AJ’s eyes narrowed but he knew that he was in no position to negotiate.

“Fine.” 

“1600 Haw Branch Road. A man named Mike runs the operation from a warehouse there. He’ll have what you are looking for.”

* * * *

The address turned out to be a large country-style building that operated as a restaurant, bakery, and winery. From the outside, it looked like a legitimate family-owned business. Out back, however, was the large warehouse AJ and GOMP were looking for. Both had changed into plain clothes, with guns and body armor worn discretely underneath.

“Alright, we're only here for information,” said AJ, “If we find any illegal crop, we can take pictures and show them to a judge who can sign off on a warrant.”

GOMP shook his head, “That’ll take too long.”

“We need a warrant. That’s standard operating procedure.”

GOMP glared at him. 

“To hell with your standard operating procedure. This is personal.”

“GOMP, no . . .”

But it was too late, GOMP was already storming his way toward the warehouse. AJ stood there for a moment, faced again with the decision of either enforcing the law or helping his long-time friend. He watched, frozen with indecision, as GOMP circled the warehouse once, searching for anything out of the ordinary, and then, once satisfied, entered the building. Almost immediately AJ heard shouting. 

“Dammit GOMP!” he growled and then ran to the warehouse.

He yanked open the front door and burst into the lobby ready to fight, but GOMP had already knocked out the clerk and had moved on. AJ surveyed the inside. To his right, it looked like a standard warehouse, with tall, steel shelves containing many different colored plastic crates. AJ could see that some of them contained different types of vegetables but weren’t marked with approved government labeling. To store vegetables in such a manner was a federal crime. 

Looks like we're at the right place, he thought.

To his left was a single hallway that snaked its way to the back offices. AJ heard another scuffle and he rushed to investigate. Just like before, he found a worker sprawled out on the floor, unconscious. A loaded pistol lay not too far away that couldn’t have belonged to GOMP and a chill ran down AJ’s spine.

Suddenly a man whipped around a corner and charged. Reflexively, AJ pivoted and delivered a push kick to the man’s chest. The worker grunted, stumbled backward, and AJ followed up with a vicious roundhouse kick to the side of the man’s head, knocking him unconscious. AJ smiled but quickly stiffened when he heard the sound of a cocking gun. Slowly, he turned, looking further down the narrow hallway at a man pointing a gun in his direction.

“Hands on your head,” the man said.

AJ did as he was told but the worker suddenly gasped, spun to his left, and pointed his gun down a perpendicular hallway. Before he could get a shot off, GOMP sprinted out from the hall and cracked him across the chin with a wild haymaker punch. The man’s knees buckled out from underneath him and he crumpled to the floor. 

“Thanks,” said AJ. 

GOMP wiped away the sweat beading at his temple and gave a savage grin. 

“Always coming to your rescue,” he said and was about to continue his search when AJ ran up and grabbed him by the arm.

“We gotta get out of here, man.” 

“My wife needs those radishes,” GOMP said. He easily pulled his arm free and took off down the hall.

AJ rolled his eyes but ran off after his friend, who followed signs leading up a flight of stairs to the manager’s office. Both formed up outside the large door, and when they were ready, AJ kicked it in. The two stormed into the room. 

“Well, well, well,” a tall, bald man in a tailored, green suit said from across the room. He stood behind a large desk, facing away from them with his hands clasped behind his back. Before him was a wall made entirely of glass where one could see the warehouse floor below.

Slowly, he turned. “If it ain’t the fuzz coming to stick their nose in Mike’s business.” 

GOMP was about to say something but AJ suddenly stepped forward and said, “Mike, you are under arrest for the possession of illegal contraband.”

Mike laughed. 

“You think I care about your stupid contraband laws,” he said, “If the government had its way, all things would be controlled by irresponsible central planners who have no idea how the real world works.”

“It is the law, sir.”

“You mean it’s the current executive order permitted under the emergencies act.”

“It’s still something we have to enforce.”

Mike walked around his desk and approached the two—cool, calm, and collected—stopping just five paces away. Only at this distance did AJ and GOMP realize how intimidating he truly was. He stared down at them, a wild look in his eye.

“We all have a choice,” he said, “you can either enforce the ‘law’, arrest me, and steal fresh vegetables meant for those in need, or you can turn around, walk away, and we can all pretend like this never happened.”

“Your guys stole my radishes. I want them back,” GOMP said.

Mike shook his head. 

“Good, fresh radishes are hard to come by, and yours are the best I’ve ever seen. No way in hell I would give them up when I know people will pay top dollar for them.”

GOMP clenched his fists and glared. 

“Give them back,” he said. 

“No can do.”

Without hesitation, GOMP lunged forward with a wild haymaker, but Mike quickly moved out of the way. AJ jumped in and the two fought against Mike who proved to be incredibly nimble despite his size and choice of wear. They fought hard, but their opponent always seemed to be one step ahead. The hits they did score, did little damage. 

Then, Mike caught AJ with a nasty right hook. AJ crumpled to the hardwood floor, teetering on the edge of darkness. He tried to pick himself up but a swift kick to the face knocked him down for good. 

“AJ!” GOMP shouted, and threw everything he had against his opponent, but Mike caught him with a grievous uppercut and dropped him to the floor. Mike towered over the fallen officers, fists clenched and breathing heavy.

“Pathetic,” he spat. 

As a last resort, AJ drew his gun but Mike quickly kicked it out of his hand. 

“Nice try, you government-sanctioned thief!” Mike cried and then fell upon him with a vicious barrage of punches. AJ thought he was done for and then, through the pain, he heard GOMP’s savage battle cry. Mike tried to get out of the way, but it was too late; GOMP jumped on his back, locking in a rear naked choke. Mike stood and stumbled about, failing wildly in an attempt to shake his attacker off—but GOMP held strong. Mike’s face turned a beet red, and in his desperation, threw his back against the glass wall. 

Crack!

A spider web of hollow lines spread out over the glass. 

“No,” shouted AJ but it was too late, Mike smacked against the glass once more and the window shattered. The two of them fell through, dropping thirty feet to the concrete floor below.

* * * *

GOMP’s wife would not stop crying and AJ sat by her as she grieved. Three days had passed since GOMP’s fall.

“I’m truly sorry about what happened,” said AJ. 

“It’s okay,” she said, wiping the tears away. “I know he was doing what he felt was right. It’s just a shame that Mike got off as quick as he did.” 

“That’s what happens when standard operating procedures aren’t followed. Bad people get off on technicalities. I tried to—”

Suddenly a nurse rushed into the lobby and both of them looked up.

“He’s waking up,” she said, beckoning for them to follow, “come and see.”

Both stood and followed the nurse to a hospital room down the hall. Once inside, the nurse pulled back the privacy curtain. GOMP was sitting up in bed, a bandage wrapped around his bruised head and a cast on his left arm. A stack of get-well cards, flowers, and presents sat on a table at the foot of his bed. 

“The doctors did what they could but they still don’t know all damage done to his head,” the nurse said, “We’ll have to run some more tests to find out. In the meantime, they recommended that he take a break from police work.”

GOMP looked up at his friend, a hint of sadness in his weary eyes.

“I’m sorry that I dragged you into that mess,” he said, “It was irresponsible of me and I put you in a lot of danger.”

AJ shook his head. 

“You were going to go on that rampage with or without me. At least I was there to keep you somewhat in check.”

GOMP laughed but then his weariness set in again, “What happened to all the vegetables?”

“After I made sure you were okay, I called into the station and had them all confiscated. Chief said it was the biggest vegetable bust this year.”

GOMP looked at his wife for a moment and then back to AJ.

“You did what you had to do.”

“Yeah, but . . . I got you something,” said AJ, grabbing a large, crudely wrapped present off the table and placing it on GOMP’s lap. The heaviness of the package made GOMP smile. He hastily opened it up.

Packed inside, were his radishes. 

August 12, 2022 17:57

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