Thursday, May 04, 2006

Kin to the Saboteur - Ch. 1

1886
On a crisp March morning, Halona Ackerman peered through the green window shade of her parlor. She wanted to determine what kind of day it was outside without actually opening the front door. A frown instantly creased her forehead as she looked out over the purple and orange horizon.

Halona did a lot of frowning these days. However, this current frown was because she’d spotted cattlemen spies on the brow of the eastern mountain adjacent to her property.

Although the two horsemen were not trespassing on her land as some had done in previous years, Halona still wasn’t comfortable with them being so close. Her father’s dealings with cattlemen in the past had all yielded horrible results.

Before the harsh winters of 1880-81 and 1883-84, Gordon Ackerman had actually tried to allot grazing privileges to the cattlemen, unlike many grangers who were at constant war with them. Yet the greedy beef barons had carelessly allowed their herds to topple fences and destroy precious Ackerman crops on too many occasions to count for it to be deemed accidental. Not to forget all the barbed wire that had been cut on the property since that was the most effective tool to keeping the cattle out.

As a result of her father’s negative experiences, Halona made it a point never to do business with cattlemen once she was left in charge of the family’s assets. And she certainly didn’t trust the beef barons. How could she trust people who originally told homesteaders like her father that no rain ever fell after the Fourth of July on the plains so that they wouldn’t settle there? Starting from the first year of Gordon’s residency in Nebraska until now, the Ackerman land has not ceased to yield impressive crops.

Already dressed for the day and having just had a simple breakfast of oatmeal and honey (which was as far as Halona’s culinary skills went); the athletically built twenty-three-year-old went over to her gun shelf to retrieve her rifle. She had a feeling she would need it with cattle folks in the immediate vicinity.

~~<<>>~~

With late April showers pelting his black umbrella, Adam Thorpe went to the downtown Texas building that housed the offices of the O’Donnell Cattlemen Association. Was the distinguished young lawyer in the tailored gray suit going there for employment? No, Adam Thorpe already held a lucrative position in a prestigious New York attorney firm and was a paid part-time columnist at a major northeastern newspaper.

Interestingly enough, although the young man was good at both careers, he chose the former position for the status alone. The latter career is what Adam really loved since his secret passion had always been reading, researching, and reporting interesting facts.

Adam Thorpe was in Texas because he’d been summoned there by his father, Robert O’Donnell, the head of the O’Donnell Cattlemen Association. The letter he received two days ago did not disclose exactly what this meeting was going to be about. However, its tone was very serious and it contained words like ‘dire’, ‘immediately’, and ‘of the utmost importance’.

Yet it wasn’t the poignant wording that had Adam taking a brief leave of absence from his job, it was the fact that his father had summoned him at all after fifteen years of silence. Robert O’Donnell hadn’t deliberately sought Adam out since he was ten years old and had just lost his Creole mother to disease. Yet even then Mr. O’Donnell had said very little to the lad as he transported him from his Louisiana home to a boarding school up north. Way up north.

One of the few things Adam had been told on that long ride north was to never call Robert ‘father’ in public. Another had been to always pass for white as much as possible in order to make his life easier in this world. Wise for his age even back then, Adam understood exactly why he’d been told such unique instructions and why he needed to heed them.

First of all, his mother - Angelique Brion - had been very forthcoming during the last week of her life when she revealed to Adam that he was the product of an illicit affair. Angelique also revealed that this secret could wreak many lives if the truth got out, including his own.

That information explained why his father had never been a part of his life and why his mother had been so secretive about their anonymous benefactor who made it possible for them to live comfortably for years. It further explained why news of his mother’s death from yellow fever had to be forwarded to his father’s office instead of to his home.

Secondly, Adam had gone through enough discrimination as the son of a Creole woman for him to know that whites simply got treated better everywhere they went. And if pretending to be white got him that kind of superior treatment from others, then he was going to do just that. Even at the expense of his own conscience.

After that train ride, Adam never saw his father again. From that point on, he only received money wires from Mr. O’Donnell as acknowledgement of his existence. That’s how it had been when his mother was alive, except then Adam had had at least one parent that cared a hoot about him.

Although that steady supply of money had allowed Adam to go to the best schools and financed his law degree, he had wanted his father to openly acknowledge him at some point along the way. When that never happened, Adam had stopped expecting it and his heart had grown bitter towards his only surviving parent.

Now whether this rare summons meant that Robert O’Donnell was finally going to acknowledge his illegitimate child was left to be seen. If not, then Adam had a business proposition to make to his father instead. Either way, the ambitious young man was determined that this trip would not be a total waste of his time.

“Good morning, ma’am. I’m here to see Mr. O’Donnell. My name is Adam Thorpe,” Adam said, taking his black hat off as he approached the gray-haired receptionist at the front desk of the tall, red and brown building.

Lola looked startled for a moment as a younger version of her boss stood before her. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say that that young man was Mr. O’Donnell’s son. But that couldn’t be right. Mr. O’Donnell only had one son and two daughters, all red-headed, freckled-faced, and green-eyed like him.

Yet the auburn-haired man with the honey-brown eyes in front of Lola right now could also go for a son or at least a nephew. His features were handsomely chiseled like Mr. O’Donnell’s had been nearly thirty years ago and the generous sprinkling of freckles across his nose had to mean that he was some sort of close relative to the cattle tycoon.

Gathering her thoughts together enough to speak, Lola said, “Good morning as well, Mr. Thorpe. Mr. O’Donnell is waiting for you in his office. Please follow me.” Then she stood up and led him down a long hallway to the last office on the right.

As soon as Adam was ushered into her boss’ office, Lola discreetly disappeared. Yet as she walked back to her desk, she still pondered over the young man’s relationship to Mr. O’Donnell. However, the more Lola pondered, the more confused she got since her boss didn’t have any known siblings or illegitimate children.

© 2006 Suprina Frazier

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