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Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq.




Chapter 2


Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Late Summer 1979


          Ambrose Powell Hill Barksdale III, 'Trey' for political purposes back when he was running for public office but 'Porky' to his few intimates since his high school days, was surprised to find his son-in-law not only awake but fully dressed sitting on the back veranda sipping coffee his eyes locked on the mountains covered in the wispy fog of early morning.  He and his daughter had only been in Virginia two days yet Jake looked to have already adjusted to the three-hour time difference from the west coast.


          Ambrose despised Jake from a distance for many years. The reasons were manifold: shacking up with his daughter, for being a hippie, and for not serving in the military. To see his daughter again after such a long absence, Porky reluctantly agreed to allow them to stay at 'Mossy Creek' the Barksdale's ancestral home for a couple of weeks before they began law school. In his mind, having Jake under his roof was a small price to pay to be able to reconcile with his middle daughter. Life, however, is filled with the unexpected.  Once Ambrose finally met Jake, he found the young man to be genial, polite, and intelligent if not particularly deep and respectful. Helen told him how hard a worker Jake was and Ambrose saw how well he treated his daughter. After years of detesting a man he never laid eyes on, Ambrose found to his surprise, that he genuinely liked Jake. 


          "It's quite a view, isn't it?" Ambrose asked.


          Jake snapped out of his reverie. "Yes, sir, it is," he quickly stammered.


          Ambrose eased his bulk down onto a chair setting his own coffee mug onto the small table between him and Jake. "See that mountain there?" he asked pointing in the distance. "That's West Virginia."


          He swung his hand to the northeast. "Now if you climb to the top of that mountain to the left there, you can see the Potomac River and Maryland."


          "I didn't realize that we were that close to either state," Jake admitted.


         "Close," the older man mused. "Yeah, I reckon these days with automobiles, the interstates and the like we are fairly close but back when I was a boy they seemed mighty far away. Not many cars at all and what few roads there were weren't all that good and none of them were paved. More than a few people got to and from their homes in the hollows by traveling up and down creek beds."


          "Almost sounds like another century," Jake said politely.


          Ambrose smiled. "Or even two. My great-great-great grandfather, Robert Barksdale built this house in 1791 yet his son would have been at home in my boyhood. Change came slowly to these mountains. Dad was ten when Granddad had indoor plumbing installed. Electricity didn't get added until after I got discharged from army in '45."


          "What was the biggest change?" Jake asked.


          "Well, the war, of course," replied Ambrose.


          "World War II?" asked Jake.


          Ambrose chuckled. "Son, when a Southern says 'The War' he means the War for Southern Independence what you Yanks like to call the Civil War. Could be that a relative of yours traded shots with great-granddad a time or two."


          "Helen mentioned that the Barksdales have been in Virginia since colonial days," Jake said.


          "1662, to be precise," interrupted Ambrose


          Jake nodded than continued. "But mine only goes back to 1889 here in America and that's my Mom's family. Grandpa Morgendorffer didn't come to America until 1921."


          "Mercy, you're practically an immigrant yourself," Ambrose joked. "Morgendorffer is what? German? Swiss?"


          "Alsatian," Jake clarified. "After the Treaty of Versailles control of Alsace passed back to France. It wasn't the warmest place after that for a young man who had proudly fought for his Kaiser so Grandpa came to America. One former enemy spurned him, another welcomed him."


          "So then it was my father and your grandfather who traded shots," Ambrose said.


          "Looks like they both missed," Jake deadpanned.


          Ambrose laughed before turning his attention to his coffee. It had cooled to the perfect temperature so he remained quiet savoring the simple delight of his brew. Jake was glad of the reprieve. His father-in-law made him nervous. He feared saying or doing the wrong thing angering the elder Barksdale into changing his mind about funding Helen's legal education.


          The harsh ring of a telephone cut jaggedly through the peaceful fabric of early morning. Jake heard the quick footfalls of Dinah, one of the Barkdale's servants, scamper across the kitchen floor. The ringing stopped abruptly. Moments later, she poked her head out of the door.


          "Who in the world has the audacity to call me at five-thirty in the morning, Dinah?" Ambrose asked.


          "It's for Miss Helen's young man," she replied "It's your momma. Your daddy's awful sick in the hospital."


          "Excuse me, sir," Jake said rising from his chair.


          "Of course, my boy," he replied as Jake disappeared inside.


          Ambrose did not intentionally eavesdrop but he turned in surprise when less than a minute into the conversation Jake's voice rose in argument. 


          "Dad can rot there," he growled into the phone. Jake quickly moderated his tone after he caught his father-in-law's staring at him. The strident tenor if not the words continued to catch Ambrose's ear. The only thing he heard clearly was a heartfelt 'I love you, mom' before Jake hung up.


         The younger man's features were tight but otherwise unreadable to Ambrose when he returned to the veranda dropping back into his chair.


          Ambrose sipped his coffee patiently. Some folks, he knew, would tell you their whole life story upon meeting you. Others would drop hints like breadcrumbs in the forest allowing someone with a good memory to reconstruct their biography. Others still give away nothing. Usually those were the ones with something to hide or something from which they were running. Jake, he had pegged for the last sort.


          "Son," he began gently. "I don't reckon you would've come back out here if you really didn't want to talk."


          "Son," Jake chuckled without humor. "You know, I can't recall my dad ever calling me that or anything resembling it.  If he had to point me out for some reason he would say 'that boy there' or 'him' usually".


          Ambrose shifted uncomfortably. He loved his daughters but he could not hide the fact that he regretted not having a son. He could not imagine having a boy and not shouting the fact from the rooftops.


          "I'm sure he loves you," he ventured.


          Jake rudely snorted.


          "Every father and son have some difficulties," Ambrose said.


          "Have mercy, Daddy, don't get him started about his father," a bathrobe and slipper clad Helen said as she stepped out from the kitchen clinging to a coffee mug. "I don't need that before I've even eaten breakfast."


          "Will miracles ever cease," Ambrose said expansively the delight of his reunion with Helen evident in every syllable.  "You're awake before noon. Good morning, sweetie. "


          "Good morning," she mumbled. "Who called so damn early?"


          "Mom," Jake replied simply.


          "Your mother?" she asked. "Why? "


          "Mad Dog's in the VA hospital in Philadelphia," he replied.


          "Who's Mad Dog?" Ambrose asked.


          "Mad Dog is my father," Jake answered.


          "What's so wrong with him that Ruth felt the need to call at the crack of dawn?" Helen quickly asked before her father could put more questions to Jake. 


          "He's dying," Jake coolly replied.


          Ambrose shivered chilled by Jake's utter lack of emotion. He himself had kept a brave public face when his father died but in private, he wept for days.


          "Is there anything I can do?" He asked in concern. "I have been out of office for a few years but I still have contacts at the VA and the Defense Department."


          Jake shook his head. "No, thank you, sir," he replied. "I'm sure they are doing all they can."


          "Will you be going with him to Philadelphia?" Ambrose asked Helen.


          Jake spoke before she could. "I haven't seen or talked to Mad Dog in eleven years. I see no reason to now."


          Ambrose paused for a few moments eyeing Jake speculatively before nodding his head slowly. "Son. I don't know the history between you and your father."


          "It's short if not too sweet," Jake snarled. "I was born a week after Private Morgendorffer, U. S. Army shipped out to Korea. By the time, Sergeant Morgendorffer returned from battle and a stint in a Red Chinese POW camp, I nearly three. He was a genuine war hero and one mean, miserable bastard. I endured ten years of hell at his hands until he dumped me in a military school paying others to continue to abuse and ridicule me."


          Jake leaped to his feet. "You can damn well rot where you are, old man!" he shouted more or less in the direction of Philadelphia. "I hope you don't die easy!"


          He kicked a stool before leaping over the veranda's railing onto the dew-laden grass. Without a backward glance, he stormed into the woods. Wordless, An astonished Ambrose and his daughter watched him disappear amongst the trees.


          "What in tarnation is wrong with that boy?" Dinah asked from the kitchen door.


          "His father's on his death bed," Ambrose replied.


          Dinah looked at the footprints left in the wet grass and shook her head. "Peculiar way of showing grief, if you ask me," she muttered moving back into the house.


          "Daddy," Helen hesitantly began.


          Ambrose patted his daughter's hand. "Your Jake might have some problems but I don't think he's crazy or anymore crazy than the rest of you hippies."


          "He's just..." Helen started.


          "Sweetie, don't try to explain a relationship that neither you nor I are really privy to," he said kindly. "Just have Jake an overnight bag ready when he gets back. Yourself one too if you're going with him and I think you should."


          "Daddy, you heard him," Helen said. "He's not going to Philadelphia."


          Ambrose stood. "I know people so trust me on this, daughter, he's going if for no other reason than his momma wants him there."