Friday, May 12, 2006

Kin to the Saboteur - Ch. 9

On a sunny afternoon of his third week of employment on the Ackerman farm, Adam was just getting another jug of water from Henry and Evie Colbert’s only daughter when a prairie rattlesnake appeared out of nowhere. The greenish-brown reptile quickly squirmed closer to Mindylee’s left leg and looked intent on biting the child at any hint of movement from her.

Now very comfortable with his weapon thanks to Sheriff Birch’s summer program, Adam swiftly pulled out his Colt six-shooter and blasted the reptile. Yet before he could put the weapon back in the side holster he wore, he had to blast three more. Suddenly all eyes were on Adam. The work of the farm instantly stopped.

Halona quickly rode up at top speed, having heard the first gunshot from her location one field row over. “What is going on here?!” she demanded, bringing her black steed to a halt directly in front of Adam and the frightened little girl.

Mindylee’s cheeks were streaming with tears that soon saturated the white collar of the brown dress she wore. The forgotten water jug lie at her feet, saturating the ground underneath it.

“Rattlesnakes about.” Adam pointed to the dead reptiles. “I dealt with four, but there may be more.” He silently breathed a sigh of relief that he’d thought to freshen up his shooting skills as soon as he came to town. Otherwise, he would not have been such a straight shot when he really needed to be just now.

“I’ll alert the others,” Halona replied, looking at the dead rattlers. Some of them were still squirming and making biting motions with their mouths until the end.

Then quickly lifting Mindylee up and into the saddle with her, Halona turned her horse about and went to warn the rest of the workers. Inwardly, she knew that this was just another tragedy waiting to happen. She had personally checked these fields for any signs of snake dens not more than two days ago and had found nothing. And just yesterday they’d threshed with no problem in the area.

Therefore, someone had to have deliberately let these critters loose in her fields over the last twenty-four hours. The same as someone had deliberately left that small animal trap in a place where Sonny could get hurt, the same as someone had deliberately tried to burn the western portion of her crop back in April. The bottom line was that someone was deliberately trying to ruin Halona.

When Elnora heard about the latest Ackerman incident, she praised God for His continual provision and protection. She saw Adam being so handy with a gun today, Halona being so close to Sonny that she was able to quickly release him from the trap and carry him into town a few weeks ago, and heavenly rain sent just in time to quench April’s fire, as signs of God’s favor and mercy upon the Ackermans.

Although Halona didn’t necessarily disagree with her friend’s assessments, she just didn’t understand why God bestowed mercy in certain areas and at certain times, and not in others. She would have gladly allowed every inch of the property to burn in exchange for one more day with at least one of her loving parents.

After calling an early quitting time today so that they could search the fields for more rattlers, Halona and a small crew of men combed the fields with long sticks in one hand and weapons of choice in the other. Adam was a part of that search team and he proved to be very handy in the necessary extermination process.

By nightfall, they’d found twenty more rattlers, which further proved that someone was deliberately trying to sabotage the Ackerman crop. Even Sheriff Birch had been called out to investigate. Usually Halona tried to handle whatever happened on her farm on her own, yet the fact that a child had almost been seriously hurt today caused her to finally bring in the law.

Now that Halona was no longer dismissing the calamities as simple unrelated accidents, Sheriff Birch was finally given free rein to follow every possible lead to the source of the sabotage. The first thing he did was set up appointments to question every Ackerman employee in hopes of finding out who was loyal and who was not.

That night, Adam did take Henry up on his offer for lodgings. He not only didn’t feel like riding back to town, he also didn’t want to stray too far away from the Ackerman property. Adam was starting to feeling something deeper than lust for Halona and he didn’t want whoever was behind these accidents to get too close to her. Even though he desired some of her land for his father, he did not wish to see her harmed in any way.

Although Adam suspected that he was somehow related to the person sabotaging the Ackerman property, he couldn’t prove it. Robert O’Donnell adamantly denied any involvement in those mishaps in his last return letter, which he routed through Adam’s New York law office in order to avoid suspicion in Miskito.

Robert’s exact words had been ‘My associates and I are above violence in any form.’

Yet if it wasn’t the head of the O’Donnell Cattlemen’s Association and his acquaintances, then an indubitable mystery had just been created. A mystery that Adam felt compelled to solve now. After all, who else had something to gain from running Halona off of her property?

~~<<>>~~

“What do you mean this plan didn’t work, either?” the bearded man asked as he conversed with the man on the black and gray horse. His own horse was already in the red stable behind them.

“Sir, it seems like no matter what trap you have me to set, Miss Halona always escapes. This time that new hand she hired helped her out,” the Ackerman spy replied, getting down from his horse so that he and his benefactor could talk face-to-face, despite the surrounding darkness.

“What new hand? I thought all the locals were scared stiff to work on that farm.”

“They is. This new hand is a carrot top from the east. He talks citified, but he mighty useful on the farm. Probably one of the hardest workers Miss Halona got besides me, of course.” The Ackerman spy smiled in conceit. He even tugged proudly at the collar of his gray flannel shirt.

“Of course,” the bearded man in the black and blue plaid sack suit agreed. He was more than ready to stroke the ego of his most trusted field spy on that cool June evening. Especially if it would help keep the man loyal to him.

After taking a puff of his new clay pipe with its horse foot-shaped bowl, the bearded man proceeded. “Now tell me more about this citified new hand. Is he rich? No, he couldn’t be too rich if he’s working on a farm. What about educated? Does his citified talk all sound like he’s reading from a book?”

“Yep, and all the women folk seem to like that trait about him. Plus, he good-looking and that helps his cause, too,” the Ackerman spy replied.

“Hmm…all the women folk? Including Miss Halona?” The man puffed on his pipe again.

“Yep, including her. I even caught my own missus looking at him for too long a time or two.” That last part was said with a bit of resentment.

The bearded man chuckled. “I imagine that must have got your temper blazing.”

“Yep, but seeing as this carrot top is a good sport and all, and only seems to have eyes for Miss Halona, I let it slide.” The Ackerman spy failed to disclose that he was more than a bit intimidated by the new farm hand who had demonstrated superior shooting abilities with his gun today.

“So Miss Halona is kinda sweet on the new hand, huh?” This information gave the bearded man more than a few new ideas to explore.

“Yep, but she try to hide it, though.” The Ackerman spy chuckled. “But he don’t seem to care who sees him eyeing her. Don’t even care that she got mixed blood in her, either.”

“Interesting. Well here’s your due for your services this month.” The bearded man pulled a leather sack of gold coins out of his pocket and handed it to the man.

“Thank you kindly, sir. Well, I best be getting on back now, seeing as how I got an early day of work tomorrow and the ride back is gonna cut an hour off my sleep time already,” the Ackerman spy concluded as he received his ill-gotten gains. Then he got back on his horse, and prepared to take his leave of the city known as the ‘Gateway to the Cattle Country’.

The departing field spy had been making sure the Ackerman farm in Miskito suffered one calamity after the next for the last three years. It was unfortunate that nice old man Ackerman got hurt on his very first try. Yet the payoff for that accident had been more than enough for the man to make a fresh start in life. First, he bought a small patch of land in town. Then he built a house on that land in order to show further stability in the eyes of others. After that, the Ackerman spy was finally able to convince the woman of his heart’s desire to marry him.

One would have thought the Ackerman spy would be extremely happy that he’d finally gotten everything he’d ever wanted in life. Yet it was hard to be truly happy with his conscience always bothering him. He could barely stand to be around Halona these days, especially with his benefactor pushing him to increase the frequency of the incidents. Before it was one every six months or so, now it was one almost every month. Yet the Ackerman spy continued to perform these acts of sabotage, especially since he now needed that extra money more than ever before.

~~<<>>~~

Griffin Haines casually leaned in the doorway of his newspaper business, watching the afternoon pedestrians stroll by. There were more people in town today due to the episodes of sporadic rain that made it an inconvenience to try to get much work done in the fields.

Two of those pedestrians were the newspaperman’s dark-haired older brother, Reuel, and his blond-haired sister-in-law, Annabelle. The former is whom Griffin would direct his smug comments towards. “Still working on that doomed farm with that half-bred and her misfits, huh? I heard about those rattlers.”

“Still don’t have a wife yet, huh? Or maybe you still waiting for that same half-bred to suddenly turn all white so you can marry her,” Reuel retorted, stopping in his tracks with clenched fists. He was ready to go toe-to-toe in any way with his obnoxious younger brother on that last Friday in June. He could care less that he was about to ruin his day off and his new beige summer sack suit in an uncivilized street brawl.

Griffin’s fair skin turned almost as red as his cravat at that reminder of his secret crush on his archenemy. Halona was the only girl that had ever whipped him and stolen his heart at the same time. His gray eyes grew stormy as he now stood erect at his full height of 6’1.

“You just better be glad Annabelle finally took pity on a born loser like you and tried to make a half-decent man out of you,” Griffin said.

Reuel started to come back with an equally spiteful comment, but when he felt a constraining tug on his arm by his pregnant wife, he knew that it was time to continue on his way. Annabelle obviously didn’t want him to get into another fight with his younger brother. For her, Reuel could walk away from this confrontation. For her, he could and would do a lot of things.

“Honey, let’s go get them supplies you wanted from the store. And you can have anything else you want, too,” Reuel said, turning to his wife and completely ignoring his brother now. Then seeing a few sprinkles hit her creamy white cheeks, he considerately took the black umbrella in his left hand, opened it and put it above their heads.

Then as Reuel and Annabelle walked away, they failed to see the thick slime of green envy seep upon Griffin’s face before the lonely man turned around and sadly walked back into his business.

© 2006 Suprina Frazier

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