“See that cow?”
Officer Angus Buford had been daydreaming about Florida State football and was befuddled by Police Chief Earl Rayner’s comment. “What?”
Rayner spoke slowly: “Behold the bovine.”
Buford looked out the passenger-side window to ascertain what the hell his boss was talking about. “I’m beholding, but which one? There’s like a hundred.”
“Off by herself,” Rayner said. “Down there, by the creek.” He pronounced it “crick.”
Buford shrugged. “It’s a normal cow.”
“Normal? Hell, no. She wants to kill me.”
Rayner continued the police cruiser’s southerly course on Ham Pond Road, outside Sneads, Florida, across the Apalachicola River from Chattahoochee.
Buford had spent more than enough hours with Rayner to know the man had no sense of humor, so he scrutinized the black-and-white Holstein as she sipped water from a tiny tributary of the Apalachicola.
“You sure it’s that one?”
“When a cow wants to extinguish your life, son, you know it. They’re not subtle.”
* * *
Buford had trouble sleeping that night, his mind on the cow. Rayner was a lot of things, few of them pleasant. But crazy he was not.
About three o’clock, Buford gave up on shuteye. He was glad he got sober two years earlier because what he was about to do felt like something only a drunk would even consider. If there was a chance that someone – or some animal – wanted to kill his boss, he had to look into it.
* * *
The driveway gravel crackled under the tires of Buford’s lime green 1975 Ford Ranchero as he turned into the lane leading to Harry Halstead’s farm. A white sign at the open metal gate declared it to be a “Dairy of Distinction.”
Buford parked next to Halstead’s pickup and noted that the farmhouse was dark, not even the air conditioner running despite the oppressive heat and humidity. He grabbed his flashlight from the glove box, confirmed that his personal handgun was holstered on his belt, and walked to the barn.
Inside, the cows were lying on the hay, asleep. Buford stepped between them, searching for the one Rayner had identified earlier. Halfway through the barn, he found her. Reflexively, he unbuttoned his holster and rested his hand on the grip of his pistol. The cow lifted her head and Buford stared into her eyes like he would any suspect. And, after some 15 seconds, recognized a flicker of malicious intent.
“Moo,” said the cow. “Moooo.”
Was there a “v” on the end of that? Buford realized it was impossible, but he couldn’t help believing he’d heard it.
“You telling me to move?” Buford asked the cow, thinking, Why am I talking to a cow?
The cow stood quickly, surprising Buford with her agility. With no hesitation, every other cow in the barn – had to be more than 200 – did likewise. The cows moved with the singular purpose and focused discipline of an ant colony, surrounding Buford and steering him toward the end of the barn that led into the adjoining field.
“Stop,” Buford said, packed too tightly between two Holsteins to draw his weapon. “Freeze!” Still thinking, Why am I talking to the cows?
He considered falling to the floor and trying to crawl out, but fear of being trampled by a thousand bovine hooves kept him upright.
Once they had forced him into the field, the cows separated from Buford. Other animals milled about: horses, sheep, goats, chickens, llamas, ducks, and pigs. Buford, vaguely aware of the fact that all these animals being in the same field was odd, stood face-to-face with the cow that wanted Rayner dead. He drew his pistol and pointed it between the Holstein’s eyes.
“I don’t know if you can understand me,” he said. “And I sure as hell don’t know what’s going on, but …”
At that moment, a goat – and this was unseen by Buford but nonetheless a spectacular display of interspecies cooperation – got a running start and jumped onto the back of a sheep. The goat launched himself, rounded horns first, into the area between Buford’s shoulder blades.
Buford dropped his gun and crumpled to his knees, which is when a second goat rammed his head.
* * *
Buford regained consciousness as the sun was rising. He discovered instantly – and terrifyingly – that he couldn’t move his arms or legs, seeing as how both were buried in the heavy mud at the edge of the field near the driveway. Only thing he could do was turn his neck, and barely.
A cat – a skinny, white cat – paced the roof of Buford’s Ranchero. And, God help him, Buford would’ve sworn he heard the cat say, “The revolution has begun!”
Turning his neck in the opposite direction, Buford’s eyes widened as he spied the slow, steady approach of a passel of hungry hogs.