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Authors: Rosanne Bittner

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BOOK: Thunder on the Plains
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The man came back around to his chair at the head of the long, freshly polished oak table, his eyes dancing with excitement. “Next week I'm meeting with former congressman Abe Lincoln. His popularity is growing again, and there is a good chance he could become president—a man from our own state! I'm told Lincoln is very receptive to the idea of a transcontinental railroad. He even owns land out near Omaha, so he is also aware of the potential value of the country. I will also be meeting with Dr. Thomas Durant in New York City. Durant is a strong supporter of the railroad, and has already been lobbying in Washington to promote the idea and has founded the Pacific Railroad Company.”

Bo leaned forward, the cigar between his teeth, his hands resting on the table. “I want and need all of your support,” he said. “I'll tell you right now that I'll be investing a good deal of the profits of Landers & Sons into Durant's company. I intend to get in on the ground floor. Those who act now are going to profit the most in the long run, and I want all of you to have a share in this. I'm asking for, in fact I'm counting on, your support, your personal investments. I am also counting on investments from the profits of the shipping and warehousing companies, and the freighting and supply businesses.” He looked at Stuart. “Son, you were out there. You know it can be done. Besides that, we have to invest heavily from the freighting business. After all, once the railroad is built, Landers Overland Freighting will cease to exist. We will simply meld it into the railroad, and by so doing, we technically won't be losing business at all! We'll just become part of the Pacific Railroad!”

Bo puffed the cigar, removing it from his mouth then and setting it in an ashtray. “Well? Let's hear your offers. You all stand to make a fortune. I want to be able to go to Durant and tell him Landers & Sons is willing to sink a good share of its profits into investing in a Pacific railroad.”

He looked around the table at men he had called friends for years, men who owned banks and factories, hotels and theaters, and who were heavily invested in Landers & Sons. He did not see the eagerness in their eyes that he had expected, and he was beginning to understand the reason for the tense smiles and nervous talk he had noticed when they first greeted him. He straightened, glancing at Stuart, who kept his eyes averted. He looked then at Vince, who met his gaze boldly.

“We have all already decided this whole idea is ridiculous, Dad,” Vince told him. “I said it before you left, and I still believe it.”

Sunny watched her father's face begin to redden, and she saw another storm coming in the Landers family. “You started that sentence with
we
,” he said, obviously struggling to stay calm. “You said
we
already decided. Would you mind explaining that?”

Vince sighed, looking around the table, then back at his father. He rose, standing just as tall and commanding as Bo Landers. “We talked about the whole ridiculous idea while you were gone, and we took a vote,” Vince said. “First I held a meeting with the board of directors for my company, and we decided—”


Your
company? You hold forty-nine percent of the shares of Landers Shipping and Warehousing. Other investors and I hold the other fifty-one percent.” Bo seethed. “It isn't
your
company.”

“I'm president and major stockholder,” Vince retorted, “just like Stuart is for the freighting and supply businesses. You can't order him to give up the overland freighting to the railroad just like that! And you can't order me to risk the profits of my company in something as harebrained and impossible as a transcontinental railroad!”

Bo moved his eyes to Stuart. “Did
your
board of directors also take a vote?”

Stuart shifted in his chair. “They all had a right to know what was going on,” he answered. “I just wanted to get an idea how they felt about it.”

“After what you saw and learned on that trip?” Bo fumed.

Stuart finally met his eyes. “I saw a land so rugged and untamed that to think of settling it is to think crazy!” he answered. “I saw people die! I saw a vast, open land that's worth
nothing
, and I saw that if anyone tried to build a railroad out there, a lot of men would lose their lives doing it—to Indians, the elements, buffalo, outlaws, you name it! Such a project would take years, and millions of dollars! It can't be done, Dad!”

Sunny felt like crying at the crestfallen look on her father's face. The rest of the fourteen men in the room sat quietly, some embarrassed at the emotional confrontation between father and sons, although they had seen such arguments before, some looking ashamed of their betrayal of a good friend. There was a long, agonizing moment of silence in the room. The laughter and greetings of moments before had turned to bitterness and anger. “Tell them, Sunny.” Bo finally spoke up, almost startling her. “Tell them what
you
think.”

“We don't need to hear what a fifteen-year-old girl thinks,” Vince raged. “My God, Dad, she's just a kid, and everybody in this room knows that if you told her jumping into Lake Michigan was a good idea, she'd go and
do
it! What the hell does
she
know, except what
you
tell her! She wants the railroad because
you
want it!”

“I want it because I don't want innocent people like Miss Putnam to
die
out there,” Sunny answered, too angry at the moment to realize she had spoken up on her own at one of these meetings for the first time, let alone talked back to Vince. She rose and looked around the table. “All any of you can think about is money! Even if you were in favor of this, it would be because you think you might get richer because of it! Our scout lost his best friend out there, and I lost my friend and tutor. Six other good men died, and all along the way we passed grave after grave, old people, little children. No matter how useless any of you might think that land is out there, thousands of people think otherwise. They keep going west, most of them heading for California and the coast, many stopping in the Rockies to look for gold. People will keep going out there and they'll keep
dying
! If they can go by train, they can be safer, get there faster, be sheltered from the elements and the Indians! And the thing for all of
you
to remember is that they'll
pay
to go by rail! At the same time, we can bring silks and spices and other expensive items from China back to places like Chicago and New York. People will be able to get them cheaper because they can be sent straight across the country instead of having to go around Cape Horn or across the Isthmus of Panama.”

She turned her blue eyes to Vince, surprising him with the determination he saw there, and with her knowledge of the subject she had suddenly so passionately defended. “I am not such a stupid little kid as you might think, Vince,” she added. “I might be only fifteen, but I've grown up learning everything about this business, and I know this company can afford to make this investment. I've done my homework. I have also been out west.
You
haven't! I've not only seen, but have experienced for myself the suffering. That railroad
can
be built, but it will take men who can dream big, men who are willing to take risks, men who love a challenge!” She looked at the others again. “I thought those were the kind of men who called themselves my father's friends.”

She struggled against tears, angry with herself for suddenly feeling like crying. That would be a childish thing to do, and she did not want to appear childish at this crucial moment. She glanced at her father, who was almost as surprised as the others. She saw the intense pride in his eyes, and she was glad she had spoken up.

“Well,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I couldn't have said it better myself.” He looked at Stuart, then at Vince. “While my daughter was out risking her life to support me, going on to the mountains when all she had to do was tell me she wanted to come home, my sons were here plotting against me.”

“Dad, it wasn't like that,” Stuart put in.

“Maybe you didn't think so in your heart, Stuart, but Vince certainly did!” He faced his elder son, who was reddening with anger. “You call the shipping and warehousing
your
company. It's yours only because you're my son and I decided to
give
you the bigger share after you got married. You never
earned
it, Vincent. You never had to struggle to build it. It was handed to you on a silver platter, just like I handed Stuart the freighting and supply businesses! At heart they're still
my
companies, and
I
own seventy-five percent of this
controlling
company!” Bo took another deep breath, glaring at the rest of the men with a cold, accusing look before looking back at his son. “So, let's hear what it is you and
your
board voted on.”

Vince closed his eyes for a moment, gritting his teeth. He faced his father squarely, keeping his chin high. “We voted not to allow you to use any profits from Great Lakes Shipping or from Landers Warehousing to invest in your transcontinental railroad idea. Our votes represent sixty percent of the companies, so you can't override them.”

Bo held his eyes, nodding his head with a look of disgust. He turned to Stuart. “Is it the same with the freighting and supply board?”

Stuart looked almost ashamed. He forced himself to rise and meet his father's stare. “We, uh, we just took a mock vote. No one wanted to allow profits to be invested in the railroad, but it's not an official vote yet.”

“Why not?” Vince barked. “You said you'd hold a legal vote and get it on record! Why do you chicken out every time it means standing up against Dad!”

Stuart stiffened. “I didn't chicken out,” he said quietly. “I simply thought it wasn't right to take a final vote until Dad returned. He founded those companies, Vince. He has a right to get in his say!”

Bo's eyebrows arched in surprise. “Well, I got
that
much out of
one
of my sons, at least.”

Stuart shook his head. “The fact remains, Dad, that no one on the board wants to invest in your idea, not individually, and not with company profits. We've talked to these men here, and it's the same. The board of directors of Landers & Sons is not willing to take the risk. There's been no official vote among this board, but we've discussed it.”

Bo picked up his cigar. “Sit down, both of you,” he ordered his sons. Stuart sat down right away, but Vince took his time. Bo puffed on his cigar for a moment, and everyone waited quietly, tension filling the air. “Well, well,” Bo said. “I have certainly found out who my friends are.”

“It's got nothing to do with friendship, Bo,” one man said. It was Harold Regis, owner of one of the biggest banks in Chicago. “It's simply a matter of logistics. I think the whole idea is ridiculous and impossible, but that doesn't mean I don't value our friendship.”

Bo glared at him. “You have as much as called me a fool. I don't call that any kind of friendship.”

“Give us some solid figures, Bo,” another man said, “something that will ensure we won't be risking bankruptcy by putting our money into this thing. After all, it's nothing more right now than the dream of a couple of men. You have no solid support from Congress, no solid support from other investors, no—”

“I'll get the support!” Bo interrupted. “I told you I'll be talking with Abe Lincoln and Thomas Durant. I'll be going to Washington and lobbying for a railroad act. I'm telling all of you, right now, that I
am
going to make this happen! I'll get land grants from Congress, government money to back us. I'll
buy
votes if I have to! I've done it before and I'll do it again!”

He paced around the table again, and as he passed each man, Sunny could see that man cringe slightly, as though he thought her father might hit him. “I have learned a lot here today,” Bo went on. “I have learned that I can't count on my friends, or even on my own sons! All of you have been scheming behind my back, preparing to defeat me before I even had the chance to explain my position. The only person in this room who supports me is my daughter.” He walked back to his chair but remained standing. “So be it.” He looked at Vince. “You will always remember this day, Vincent, long after I'm gone.”

Vince's eyes widened with indignation and near fear. “What the hell does that mean?”

“You figure it out, son.” He looked at the others. “I still own seventy-five percent of Landers & Sons, and therefore I control what happens to the profits of this parent company. I'll invest them as I see fit, as well as the profits from the railroad companies, which, I am glad now to say, I own fully! When the transcontinental railroad is completed, the B&L will connect with the Pacific Railroad, and I'll be richer than any of you can ever hope to be! I'll get this thing done—or I should say,
Sunny
and I will get it done! You can all go to hell!” He picked up his papers. “I'm not staying for the rest of the meeting. Since you all think you can conduct business so well without me, go ahead and do it. Sunny and I have to plan a trip to New York and Washington.”

Whispers went around the table as Sunny rose, and she decided that if looks could kill, Vince's glare would surely leave her dead. She walked with her father toward the door, where Bo stopped and turned. “By the way, you can add to your official records today that Bo Landers, the major shareholder of Landers & Sons, has decided to change the name of this company to Landers Enterprises. I want the ‘Sons' removed from the company name.”

“You can't do that!” Vince yelled, rising again, his face purple with rage.

BOOK: Thunder on the Plains
5.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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