Western Short Story
Packer and Son
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Outside Kamlock Falls, at least six miles from town and down river, early in the morning, a small ranch home was about to be invaded by three riders who were wearing masks. They had fired on the ranch house and demanded that any gold and money in the house be put out on the front steps or the house would be invaded and burnt to the ground. Inside was an old man and his wife and he said to her, “It’s all for Chester. Nobody gets it but him. Do you agree, Mary?”

“Yes, Walter,” she said, “and he knows where it’s hid.” Her arm circled the waist of her husband. “It’s all right, Walter. Perfectly all right.”

“Okay, Mary, then we make a stand.” Walter Perkins, steady as a rock, leveled his rifle and fired out one of the shuttered windows, through a gun hole, and a fusillade of shots came back in turn, some hitting and shattering glass and a section of the inside shutter. Some slugs hit the door with a heavy thud. Splinters flew.

Then all was quiet. No voices were heard by the elderly couple, alert, listening, waiting on signs.

“They’re probably reloading, Mary. It’ll be heavier this time. Life’s been good to us, and Chester’s to be proud of. We have to provide a decent chance for him.” He Hugged her again. “You sure, Mary?”

“Yes,” she said, but there was sadness in her voice. “I just wanted to see him one more time.”

The air outside was suddenly cut up by a series of shots from a repeating rifle, a single repeating rifle, but from a different direction.

The old man said, “None o’ thems hitting the house, Mary. Must be aiming at something else, or… .” His voice faded as more shots sounded. Then more shots, coming from the two sources.

“Some o’ thems comin’ from away, Mary. Somebody else is out there.”

“Chester?” she said.

“He don’t have no repeating rifle, Mary. I shoulda bought him one. Besides, he ain’t due for ‘nother few days, Tuesday best.”

“Oh, Gawd,” said a voice outside, “he got me. Right in the leg. Let’s get outta here ‘fore I bleed to death.”

The sound of galloping horses faded away and silence settled about the ranch.

Perkins opened the door to look out and saw the dust of the horses just clearing the hill west of the house. As he stepped down to look around, a rider appeared from behind the four cottonwoods on a slight rise directly out from the front of the house. The horseman, wearing a white Stetson the morning sun touched with brightness, a light tan shirt, and a black face mask, waved a rifle in the air as if in salute, and rode off, toward Perkins Creek, a small rivulet coming from the foothills to the east.

Perkins waved back as the rider, trotting off, looked back and returned the wave. Perkins tried to pick up details of the horse, but could not do so other than noting it was a big gray.

His wife stood beside him as the rider disappeared. Mary Perkins also nodded after the rider, but with an inquisitive look on her face.

Later that morning, the sun bright with the new day, Reginald Forest Packer, general merchandiser, stood in the road and looked back at his establishment, the only general store in Kamlock Falls, sitting at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The new sign, painted by Newby Graystone, a neighbor, said, in bold black letters, “Packer & Family, Provisionaries.” Packer’s daughter Angela had, of course, made up that word “Provisionaries,” to make it stand out. Packer was sure nobody else in Kamlock Falls would know any better.

Packer could smile at that thought, as he had smiled at many things that flowed around the girl, “a raving beauty” everybody said, being one of those things that swing a father into line. And he had an idea that Angela also entertained the notion that he always wanted a sign posted on the store front that said “Packer & Son.” Such an idea came because of the territory … guns, trail drives, gunfights in the main street, poker and gambling in every saloon for hundreds of miles, and jails that brimmed with slow recoveries many weekends in the year. Men at their best and their worst. This beautiful daughter of his promised a person to be far from the idea of a regular son who grew to manhood without fear, who could stand his ground against anybody, for the wide, wild west in his mind was far from being tamed.

Daughters, no matter how beautiful and no matter how smart, could not do what sons could do. Perhaps, he thought on rare days of slow business and inner contemplation, a grandson would be the only way. He’d dwelt on that too many times already. But Angela had spurned just about every man who seemed to be on the verge of some kind of connection. They came close, were diverted or spurned outright or simply left hanging on vague as tumbleweed after a wind.

She was 20 years old and firm in her thoughts. Packer knew that to be true as the ground he stood on, or she stood on.

Newby Graystone, for that matter, hung at a slight separation, seemingly more friendly with him than with Angela, and he thought that stance was at least attractive at some level to her. But he realized early on that she was a woman with women’s wiles and general outlook, “to be understood at rare occasions.” His wife, and Angela’s mother, had stayed in the background all his business life, though he still could not understand her thinking. He thought there existed some level of contentment in her life, and that sufficed.

Graystone, a decent looking man of 27, with a flair of the artist in his hands, joined him in the street. It was a Sunday morning in Kamlock Falls. The street was deserted. Church services were at least an hour away. One horseman rode out of town at the other end of the road, a small swirl of dust at his tail, no hurry in his manner. A rare yawn or cry of realization came from the jail where a drunk saw the start of a new day. Doves cooed in the soft sun just warming up all the buildings of Kamlock Falls. The day had promise written all over it.

The two men smiled and shrugged their shoulders at each sound from the jail, having a vague idea of the comprehension with such men who had been arrested for their protection as much as that of others.

“You did a nice job on that sign, Newby. I really appreciate your talent. I like the way you handled the Ps, the flair in them, the nice sweep like your hand was loose.”

Graystone smiled, nodded his head and said, “What does Angela think of it? Does she have any objections?” He was relaxed, knowing he was on the inside of some personal information.”

“Oh,” Packer said, “she’d never say anything, and if she did I’d tell her I’ve included her mother in all of it.”

“She sleeping late, as ever?” Graystone said. He was comfortable again handling inside information.

“Girl never rises too early. Must be afraid the sun’s going to burn her skin. Her mother says it’s the smoothest skin she ever saw.”

“I’ll bet it is,” Graystone said, and both men laughed.

In her own little two-room apartment at the back of the Packer house on the edge of town, where the cottonwoods were thickest between the foothills and the river, Angela Packer yelled out an open window to her mother in the small garden between the house and the barn. “I’ll be right out, Mom. No lifting until I get there. I’m just slipping into my pants now. Be right with you.”

“Where’s Pop?” she said as she came out the window feet-first with her mother staring at her.

“You’ll rip your pants or your shirt one of these days. I’m not that much of a hurry to get some vegetables out of the garden. Your father’s not opened up yet. It’s Sunday, case you didn’t notice. He’ll wait until services are over or someone needs ammunition or something else and in a hurry.”

“Easiest way out here, Mom, from my room. What’s for dinner?”

“You don’t want any breakfast?”

Mom, it’ll be noon closer than it was to breakfast time. I’ll pass on the pancakes and take the roast. Could smell it all the way back in my room.”

“Have you seen Newby’s sign?” her mother said, a tilt to her head.

“That’s okay, Mom, Pop’s heart is good.”

“I’m glad you understand, Angela.”

“I do, Mom, all the way.”

The two of women held hands for a moment before they searched the garden for dinner’s vegetables.

Sheriff Paul Yankton, at that moment, was still in his saddle in front of the Perkins’ house. “What kind of a horse? You remember what color it was? What was the shooter wearing, the one with the repeating rifle?”

He was talking to Mary and Walter Perkins, and Perkins said, “How come you’re a askin’ about the gent that saved us rather than them ornery ones sweared they was gonna burn us out?”

It was late in the afternoon and a rider who passed by the Perkins ranch delivered their message to the sheriff

“Well, I tell you, Walter,” Yankton said, “I figure I know who them fellows was. I guessed wrong again, ‘cause I was at the Harrington place waitin’ on ‘em. It was there or here and I missed on the guess. I’ll get them next time.”

“Who are they, Paul?” Perkins said.

“I figure I know but can’t say until I see ‘em in the crosshairs. Then I got ‘em for life or worse. But I gotta catch ‘em doin’ it.”

Sliding off his saddle, the sheriff said, “Tell me about the gent with the repeating rifle again. Tell me all you know.”

Mary Perkins said, “You don’t have any ideas on that. Do you, sheriff?” The simplicity of her smile ran inside of the sheriff who decided all over again that he knew nothing at all about women or their secrets.

“Just tell me what you saw,” he said.

Perkins answered first, jumping in with, “The horse was a big gray, the rider wore a mask, and had a repeating rifle.”

Yankton looked at Mary Perkins, who said right away without missing a step, “And wore a tan shirt, a white Stetson, and doesn’t fight a horse when he rides it.”

“Loose in the saddle?”

“Yes, graceful, like a racer or a …. “ She stumbled in her words, and then continued, “Like one of them birds floating up there.” She pointed overhead to some birds riding a thermal without the slightest effort. “Like them,” she said again. “They ain’t even trying. I think they’re hawks chasing rabbits or prairie dogs, but it doesn’t matter to them.” Then, in a moment of clarity for both of them, she said, “Are you going back to the Harrington’s place next Sunday morning, after those men lose what money they have in their pockets on Saturday night?”

Yankton, in another moment of clarity about women, shook his head, mounted his horse, and said, “If I find anything, about any of them,” and he pointed in the two directions the participants had taken to flee the scene, “I’ll let you know.”

He rode back toward Kamlock Falls.

On the following Saturday evening, in the heat of the night and the hard games at Flannery’s Saloon, Sheriff Paul Yankton, trying to break up a major fight, ended up with a broken arm, two broken ribs, a broken finger, a split lip, and sundry bruises, all taking him out of action for a while.

On the following Sunday morning, tight against the foothills of the Rockies, a mere 6 or 7 miles from the river and from Kamlock Falls, at the small spread of Maurice Harrington, the B-Bar-L Ranch, commonly called the Double Barrel, three riders in masks started shooting at the ranch house. They demanded at the end of the first fusillade of shots that all money in the house be put on the front porch or the whole ranch, including the two barns, would be burned down.

When their first round of gunfire raked the house, and a steady stream of returning gunfire came from the house, the three masked men hunkered down as a withering fire of gunshots came from behind them, and from two directions almost opposite each other, but eerily simultaneous. One of the sources of that gunfire was a repeating rifle with deadly aim, with two of the attackers being wounded by the gunfire.

From the other source, hidden from view, had come the fire power of three separate rifles. All the shooters were excellent in their aims, as proved by the hits they scored. When the third masked man threw up his hands, after tossing his rifle away and standing up with his arms raised overhead, Maurice Harrington stepped out in his porch and yelled, “Who the hell’s up there? Come down and get a hand shook. I won’t tell who you are. Not to a soul.”

Out from a position on a small hillock came Walter and Mary Perkins and their son, Chester, each with a rifle still smoking from the bore.

Mary Perkins, looking over to her left, where the repeating rifle had sent its steady stream of bullets at the masked men and where nobody moved, until Mary Perkins stepped forward and said, “It’s okay. I knew it was you from the first, the way you ride your horse, the special grace, the color of your tan shirt and how it goes with your pants, a perfect match.” The laughter and joy was in her voice. “I won’t tell anybody, including these three yokels here, unless you want me to.”

The rider on the big gray waved a hand in the air and rode off as the foolish and inept bandits, all three bound up at the wrists, sat on their horses and were escorted back into town, right to the sheriff’s office, by Mary Perkins.

Reginald Packer and his wife and daughter stood out in front of the store as they watched Mary Perkins lead the three bandits into town.

“Can you imagine that?” Packer said, “And a woman to boot. Well, I’ll be.” He kept shaking his head as his wife and daughter squeezed their hands in silent joy.

During the night someone painted out a portion of the sign over the store so that it read, “Packer and Daughter, Provisionaries.”