Saturday, May 06, 2006

Kin to the Saboteur - Ch. 2

“Thank you for coming so soon. Please have a seat,” Robert O’Donnell said. He pointed to a brown calf skin chair a few feet away from his polished thick pine desk.

Normally Robert would have stood up when a guest entered his office, but his most recent bout with gout left his joints stiff and his feet swollen with pain. If he wasn’t still trying to keep Adam a secret from his wife and other three children, he would have simply had the young man to meet him at his ranch where he was more comfortable.

Adam sat down in one of the wing-back chairs he’d been directed to. “Your letter sounded urgent, so I came right away,” he replied in a businesslike tone. How else could Adam converse with a father that he never really knew?

“I’m glad you did since time is of the utmost importance right now,” Robert said, fighting not to grimace too much from the throbbing pain in his lower limbs.

“Are you not feeling well, Father?” Adam asked with concern, allowing his professional tone to slip just a bit. He couldn’t help but notice that his father looked paler than usual. Even Robert’s beard had more white than red in it right now. In fact, the older man looked like he’d been rode hard and put away wet.

Oblivious to the pain in his limbs now, Robert visibly cringed at his son’s reference to their secret relationship. Color rose in his cheeks, his nostrils flared, and a flash of Irish temper showed up in his next words. “I told you never to call me that in public!”

Adam regained all of his previous composure. He looked causally around the spacious corner office that contained plenty of expensive furnishings, but no other people. “If this is public, then I certainly don’t know what private is.” He stood to his feet to leave. “I should have stayed in New York,” Adam added with a closed expression.

Not only was Adam unwilling to listen to anything his father said now, he wasn’t particularly interested in pitching his business idea to him now, either. If ever. This trip had actually turned out to be a waste of time after all.

“No, please don’t go!” Robert shook his head and sprung to his feet also, despite his swollen lower limbs. “I’m sorry for my disrespect.”

Adam paused at the first apology he’d ever gotten from his father. Something washed over him like a soothing rain on parched desert soil. The boy in him embraced that apology as precious, yet the hardened man in him refused to show how affected he was by it. Adam hadn’t gotten where he was today by showing his emotions or revealing anything else about himself that he didn’t want people to know.

“Apology accepted,” Adam replied flatly, eyeing his father more closely as he sat down again. The man truly did not look well. “I ask you again, are you not feeling well?” He left out the ‘father’ part this time. Adam’s stomach couldn’t take the cringing he’d seen before. His heart hated that this man could still affect him at all.

Adam erroneously thought that he was completely immune to Robert’s rejection at this point in his life. Yet it was abundantly clear now that the immunity didn’t cover face-to-face contact.

Robert nearly collapsed in his chair with relief for several reasons. The first was definitely health related. The second was because he desperately needed his son’s help in order to save his company and couldn’t afford to alienate the only hope he had left.

“No, I am not well at the moment. Which is part of the reason I summoned you,” Robert replied, using a white handkerchief to wipe the beads of sweat that had gathered upon his glistening forehead. Then he began to tell Adam the details of this urgent meeting.

It seems that just like the health of its owner, the O’Donnell Cattlemen Association was faltering in the face of severe losses that he’d suffered during the two difficult winters gone by. He’d taken out several bank loans in order to keep afloat, yet the only chance his business stood to fully recover was if he could secure enough grazing land for his and his associates’ livestock.

Unfortunately, O’Donnell’s latest agent, like all the others before him had brought back bad news concerning his plans for grazing rights in western Nebraska. Miss Halona Ackerman still would not cooperate with them no matter how much money they offered her. Not only was she sitting on some of the best grazing land in Nebraska, the Ackermans held so much land in the Miskito area and its surrounding cities that it was impossible to go through that part of the country without running into property that belonged to the country heiress.

“I understand everything you’ve said thus far, but what I don’t understand is how you think I can help you in this matter. I’m not an agent and I know next to nothing about the cattle business,” Adam said, sitting with perfect posture in his seat like he’d been taught to in boarding school.

“But you are a lawyer and that will come in very handy up there in Nebraska.” Robert returned his handkerchief to the left breast pocket of his black suit as he spoke.

Adam’s eyes bucked and his hands involuntarily grabbed both arms of the chair he sat in to keep from falling out of it in shock. “You want me to go to Nebraska? Don’t you have any trusted associates or even my half-brother Parnell that you could send? Besides, I’m not particularly ready to leave my practice right now.”

Robert’s temper flared again. “If it wasn’t for this company, you wouldn’t have a law practice!” Then catching himself before he went too far again, seeing as Adam’s face was turning just as red as his, Robert swallowed over his pride and calmly went on. “Truthfully, there’s no one I can trust but you, son. My associates have proven to be easily spooked by trouble and your brother hasn’t been the same since the War Between the States. Parnell shies away from even the hint of conflict these days.”

“Go on,” a much calmer and more relaxed Adam urged when his father paused. Although he’d had no idea that his half-brother was experiencing anxiety problems, he knew full well that his father’s business associates were more unscrupulous than easily spooked. Based on Adam’s research, which he conducted for personal and professional reasons, Robert O’Donnell was known for surrounding himself with corrupt companions and it was no big surprise that he couldn’t trust any of them in times of crisis.

“Whereas you have a reputation for going head to head with even the fiercest enemy, is known for never backing down, and has proven yourself to be very discreet in sensitive situations. I personally liked how well you handled that case that involved that adulterous New York politician. In short, you’re the best of the best, son,” Robert concluded, playing with the ends of his thin black necktie – a nervous habit he didn’t even realize he had.

Starting to feel a bit fuzzy inside by the sound of his father calling him ‘son’ and issuing out such compliments, Adam fought to keep his composure again. “What would you know about my reputation? Seeing as you haven’t directly spoken to me in fifteen years,” he snapped, trying to use anger as a cloak of protection. Adam was smart enough to know that his father was likely to say anything to get what he wanted.

“I may not have kept in touch as much as I could have, but I have kept up with your progress over the years. I needed to know that you weren’t wasting my money,” Robert replied. “I was pleased to discover that you put all of it to good use. Now I need for you to use your legal know-how to find some kind of loophole in Miss Ackerman’s landholdings by September. For without that land my company will be belly up by the span of one year, two if I’m lucky.”

With his large manicured hands now clasped casually together, Adam sat silently for a long while, contemplating everything he’d just heard. Although he wasn’t particularly fond of the man that had rejected him for practically all of his life, he certainly didn’t want to see his father lose his shirt. After all, Robert O’Donnell did introduce Adam to a lifestyle for which he’d grown accustomed to.

Adam’s lifestyle included frequent trips to the Hamptons, the best seats at concerts, operas, and plays, the best corner apartment in the wealthiest part of town, reservations at all the best New York restaurants and a wardrobe tailored for a modern day king. However, that particular lifestyle had been harder to lead over the last four years due to the fact that Robert stopped all financial support upon Adam’s early graduation from law school.

Besides, there was still that business idea Adam had. An idea that he would need lots of financial backing for since he planned on going head-to-head with some of the largest publishing houses in the country, or even in the world. Adam had always been a big dreamer.

Robert held his breath and continued to play with his tie while he waited for his son’s answer. He hated being in this position. He particularly hated that he’d had to do so much humbling of himself in order to get his son’s help. If there had been any other way, Robert would have surely taken it. Especially since dealing with Adam on any direct level meant that he jeopardized the cushy life he’d created with his wife of thirty-five years. A life that caused him to be at the top of the Texas social ladder. In fact, Robert had even dined with presidents before.

“I’ll do it,” Adam finally replied as he mentally mapped out tentative plans for the summer. He was confident that he could take a longer leave of absence from the law office. He’d definitely earned that privilege since he’d never missed a day of work from the first day of his employment until now, often stayed late, and succeeded with some of the hardest cases presented to the firm. Plus, Adam could always free lance the articles he wrote for the newspaper from wherever he was located. The fact that there was no love interest, no close friends, or even a pet to consider made it that much easier to just pack up and leave town.

Robert breathed a loud sigh of relief and finally released his tie. “Thank you, son.”

“Don’t thank me too soon. I haven’t done anything yet,” Adam replied, refusing to be affected by the word ‘son’ now.

“But I have every confidence that you will be very successful in Nebraska.” Robert truly was confident in his son’s ability. He wouldn’t have solicited his help if he wasn’t.

“I intend to be. Therefore, I’ll need a file of everything you have on Miss Ackerman, at least two weeks to make arrangements for my life in New York, and a traveling/living allowance out of your personal budget,” Adam added, looking pointedly at his father as he negotiated his terms.

“Wait just a min…” Robert began, only to be interrupted by his resolute offspring.

“Don’t even bother to protest that last thing. I am fully aware that a man of your social status would not mix his personal finances with those belonging to his business. Therefore, I am sure you have enough saved to cushion you and your Texas family for many years following a possible business collapse. Also when I finish this job, I expect a sizable bonus. The amount will be specified in writing and forwarded to you as soon as I return to New York,” Adam said in a very professional tone. He was fully in control of his emotions now. He had to be in order to remember to throw in that bonus clause.

With that bonus, Adam wouldn’t have to pitch his idea to anyone. He could just put those funds together with his savings and start his newspaper without owing a soul. If that wasn’t a much better plan than the previous one, he didn’t know what was.

“Very well then.” Robert nodded, agreeing to Adam’s terms with an element of pride pricking at his heart. Not only was his youngest son handsome as the day was long, he was as sharp as a whip.

If only Robert’s oldest son was this strong-minded, he’d have even more reason to be proud. However, Parnell had always been too sensitive for a man and his brief service in the Civil War had overloaded his circuits, leaving him hypersensitive now. Sadly, the battle weary man even retreated to the basement when it was time to ignite the fireworks on Independence Day.

Adam stood to his feet again now that their business was concluded. “Don’t bother to stand, considering your current condition. I will see my own way out.”

Then after shaking his father’s hand to seal the deal, Adam headed to the nearest library so that he could learn everything he could about the 37th state to enter the Union and its laws. He would particularly focus on the city whose name sounded more like that of a disease-causing insect than an actual place in the world.

© 2006 Suprina Frazier

No comments: