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Sagas of the Wild West

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Fixing a Hole


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Mature Content: No.

Author: Lorenzo Crabbe

With: Jay Ryker; Charlie Fa & Bridget Monahan.
Location: Empty rented store at the end of the High Street.
When: Early April 1876
Time of Day: Morning.

 

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Mr. Lorenzo Crabbe, late of the snakepits and dives of that Sodom and Gomorrah of the old West: Ogallala, Nebraska, had yet to reach the heights of sartorial elegance that he became known for in his heyday, but even in the early days of April, in the year of our Lord 1876, as he stood looking up at the man wobbling up at the top of the slightly tottering  ladder, he was already an unmistakable figure: dressed in a decent suit with a low crowned derby hat, with thick spectacles on his face and toting an elegant silver topped cane nonchalantly over his shoulder.

 

Had one cared to lift that billycock hat, one would have found a head of straight tow colored hair, neatly combed into a side shade and, more significantly, in that hat, a good wad of padding for extra protection against blows to the top of the head. Similarly, a closer inspection of his cane would reveal that the top of the cane was formed not of silver, but a heavy enough knob of lead to crush a skull if applied with a good amount of vicious force.

 

This individual looked up for some time, before shouting to the man aloft.

 

“You Ryker?!”

 

He squinted through his glasses and blinked against the weak but cheering and fresh Springtime morning Sun.

 

“A dickybird tells me you can do fine work in metal.” He added, indicating his reason for being interested in talking to the Englishman, if only still in the vaguest of terms.

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The whole morning, well...and the past two weeks..., Jay had spent trying to fix up the inside of the old building in hopes of either making it his home or getting paid for his services by the owner. Unfortunately he wasn't as good with wood as he was with metal.

Why he had actually stuck around this long was due to his slightly stupid nature. He felt at home in Kallispell. It was a place like he had hoped for and he had come to like its inhabitants. So far nobody had even had the slightest suspicion about him, so he had stayed. And he would...until he had reason to leave.

 

The voice below him alerted him of the presence of someone else in the house so he turned around to see a man in a fine suit and thick glasses, whom he did not recognize. Instantly he wondered whether he might be a bounty hunter...but apparently he needed a black smith.

 

Taking the nails out of his mouth he lowered his hammer and said.

"I am...who's asking?"

Then he stepped down from his ladder, wiped his sleeve across his sweaty fore head, his hand on his pants and offered it to shake.

"Good morning...can I be of service, sir?"

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Taking the nails out of his mouth he lowered his hammer and said.

"I am...who's asking?"

 

“My name’s Crabbe, Lorenzo Crabbe, of Crabbe & Company!” the other man shouted up. The ‘Company’ part was true in some sense, in that the disused store at the end of the street, which he was renting as his headquarters, did contain two other people.

 

That is, if you counted a Chinese man and a crippled teenage girl as people which, to an extent, the laws an statutes governing the Territories did not. But Crabbe counted them as people, and useful ones at that. The man now climbing down the ladder was a foreigner, so maybe he was in the same class: something of an outsider, but with a great deal to offer.

 

Then he stepped down from his ladder, wiped his sleeve across his sweaty forehead, his hand on his pants and offered it to shake.

 

"Good morning...can I be of service, sir?"

 

Lorenzo shook the man’s hand and the sweat on it, despite the wipe, made it slip a little in his. “Oh, I do admire a man who can work so hard as to lather up a good sweat, Sir, indeed I do. Used to do a lot of that myself at one time. If your skill can match your admirable application to business, Mr Ryker, then I might well have an interesting and profitable proposition for you, if you will hear me out.”

 

By way of illustration, he fished out some small metal components from his pockets and dumped them into Jay’s hand. “Think you could rustle up something like those?” he asked, and then stepping to where he had leaned it against a wall, he fetched up a sheet of metal, about a foot square, with holes punched in it in an even pattern, so the whole thing looked like it had been used for some extremely accurate target practice. “And this?” he held it up for the metalworker to examine, without explaining its purpose.

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Jay listened with caution but also with interest to what the man had to say. When he dumped a few small metal pieces in his hand, he curiously looked at them, took one and held it up to the light falling in through the broken window.

It was small but very precisely made. This didn't look like hand made but as if it had been poured into some mold.

"Is this hand made? Looks very difficult to do with ordinary tools. I don't know if anyone can be this precise...."

He then studied the sheet of metal and raised his brows.

"What is it for?"

He wouldn't know how to put the things together to make any kind of sense.

"I think I could but it'd take me a while."

He handed the pieces back but his mind was now trying to figure out why the man had seeked him out or what the purpose was.

"Who pointed you my way? I mean...I usually do doors, fittings....even horse shoes or tools... This is new."

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"Is this hand made? Looks very difficult to do with ordinary tools. I don't know if anyone can be this precise...."

 

Crabbe frowned, he was hoping this man was going to say that manufacturing the parts would be as easy as shelling peas. He remembered what Fa had said about the components.

 

“Well, my technical adviser, Mr. Fa, he reckons that these were cast back East, but as long as you can come up with pieces roughly the same shape and size and durability, that’ll do nicely. They don’t have to be a work of art!” he assured him.

 

He then studied the sheet of metal and raised his brows.

"What is it for?"

 

The well dressed man looked around, as if he suspected that spies were hiding in every shadow of the house that Jay was renovating. He leaned forward and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper.

 

“Can you keep a secret?” his pale blue eyes, magnified by the thick spectacles that dominated his otherwise bland face, darted around again “We’re making mining equipment. The parts are for constructing rockers, for placer miners. We’re also going in for portable sluices, as well as the usual picks and pans and shovels and what not. In a month’s time, there’ll be a stampede of greenhorn gold-mad speculators coming through this town from Canada, and I’m fixin’ to sell ‘em every last piece of equipment they’ll need.” He gave the Englishman a knowing nod.

 

“Now, you reckon you could take a shot at making these things, if we get you the tools and metal you’d need?" he asked with an air of excitement and expectation in his voice.

 

"I think I could but it'd take me a while."

 

“Ha ha! Good man!” beamed the fancy dude and clapped him on the shoulder “That’s the spirit!”

 

"Who pointed you my way? I mean...I usually do doors, fittings....even horse shoes or tools... This is new."

 

Lorenzo shrugged and tried to remember. “Well, I asked the Blacksmith on Main first, and the thing was well beyond him. So I went to the Saloon for a wet, and brought the subject up amongst the crowd there, surreptitious like: you know, bemoaned the state of modern metalworking, not like in the ‘good old days’ and saying that things had generally gone downhill since the days of Tubal Cain, that sort of banter. I knew that’d elicit the name of anyone who had any skill in the business.”

 

He repeated the words he’d heard. “The finest metal worker in Kalispell is an Englishman called Ryker, and he’s working right now in the old Jones House.” He pondered the voice in his head and remembered the face that went with it.

 

“Well, ‘pon my soul, that’s right, it was that little girl that plays with Bridget! Don't know why she was in the saloon of all places, and who’d have reckoned a young girl knowing a thing like that? You advertise around here?” he asked, wondering if he’d perhaps walked past a dozen billboards proclaiming Jay’s skill in the ironmonger’s art.

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Jay was glad that he had worked up a good enough reputation amongst the men in town to be recommended to this stranger.

Actually...it hadn't been men but a little girl. Jay didn't know many little girls in town but he had an idea, who that could be. A sly smile crossed his face.

"No, I don't advertise. My work is my advertising." His chest was in the air when he said that because he knew he was a good black smith. He took his trade serious and delivered good work. Anyone could attest to that. If he hadn't become so greedy, he'd never strayed of the real path and probably have a real good name by now.

 

"I can have these done by the beginning of next week for you. How many do you need?"

He squinted against the light falling in through the window to see the man better than just his outline.

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"No, I don't advertise. My work is my advertising." His chest was in the air when he said that because he knew he was a good black smith.

 

“I like that! Ohh, I like that!” grinned Lorenzo and fished out a little notebook and a stubby pencil to make a note of the phrase, just altering it to suit Crabbe and Co. “We do not advertise our wares. Our wares are our advertising!" he muttered to himself as he wrote it, before glancing back up at Jay “Lord, that’ll look pretty slick on one of our advertisements!”

 

He held up one of the pieces to look at himself. “So, how long do you reckon it’d take to churn out these here doo-dads?” he asked.

 

"I can have these done by the beginning of next week for you. How many do you need?"

 

“Well, oh I don’t know, let’s start with a dozen. We’ll have to see how they sell: I mean, these rockers’ll be our most expensive product. Say, why don’t you drop round to our place and my technical adviser can show you the finished product, might help to get your head around how all these here bits and bobs fit together in the wooden frame? He didn’t come himself on account of being a Chinese. Chinese ain’t popular round these parts.”

 

Then, of course, there was the question of financial remuneration on the work.

 

“Now, in terms of payment, I can give you 10 cents on the piece, dollar a unit, or you can come in on the deal on shares. You might not want to decide on that until you see the layout of the whole operation.”

 

This was an important factor – either get paid a low rate of pay quickly, or take a gamble on the products selling well and getting a bigger profit in the long run.

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Jay understood quickly that he was talking to a business man, who knew what he was doing.

The advertising line seemed ironical but also pretty smart.

"I'd like to see the finished product. That'll give me a better idea."

Jay himself was also a business man. He wasn't short on money but he knew what one could ask for decent work. So he replied.

"I'll take 15 cents a piece for the first batch. Then 30% of whatever you sell. You provide the raw materials."

His arms were crossed in front of his chest to signal that there was no room for negotiation.

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"I'd like to see the finished product. That'll give me a better idea."

 

“Why sure!” beamed Lorenzo “My thoughts exactly!”

 

"I'll take 15 cents a piece for the first batch. Then 30% of whatever you sell. You provide the raw materials."

 

His arms were crossed in front of his chest to signal that there was no room for negotiation.

The bespectacled man laughed in a good-natured way and slapped Jay on one of his crossed arms.

 

“Ha, ha! I like you Mr Ryker – you’ve got a sense of humor!” he exclaimed.

 

He looked around the place, the lengthening shadows of the late afternoon were making it difficult to work at ease in the place, and yet it was still light enough to make the use of lamplight ineffective.

 

“Say, are you ‘bout finished for the day here?” he asked “Why not come down the street to ours right now: we can have a nice little drink and discuss this 30% of yours.” He offered “An’ you can meet Charlie, he’s the brains of this mining equipment side of the business. And Bridget’ll be there too, she’d like to meet you, I’m sure. Oh, she’s a pretty young thing all right: handy, too - got her stitchin’ canvas under the riffles.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

Looking at the darkening room Jay knew that Mr. Crabbe was right. Oil lamps weren't very good for working and he had done enough for the day anyway.

"If you don't mind my dirty clothes, I'd like to come and meet your crew, have a drink. That sounds like a good idea for now."

 

The Englishman quickly picked up his tools and neatly stored them away in a metal box, which he locked, just in case someone thought he could 'borrow' them.

Then he went to retrieve his gun and his hat before he followed the man to the door.

 

Outside the evening air was fresh and clear. A deep inhale and a smile spread on his lips. This was what he loved about this land.

 

"Let's go."

He followed the older man down the road, greeting a few people on the way. As they approached the place her kicked the first off his boots, took the two steps up to the front porch where a cat was trying to catch a mouse and then stepped inside with his hat in his hands, something that his father had taught him as good manners.

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