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Western Short Story
The General Storekeeper
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Jonathan Jocko Farrell, Boston-born, adventurous just after diapers, eager for sites not yet seen, loaded with a controlled curiosity, finally got to see much of the country from a wagon seat headed west. His day with the wagon train usually making sure supplies and other goods of survival were safely carried, and dispersed, for accountability among different wagons to assure the wagon train always had a favorable spread and protection of said supplies. The truth was that once in a while someone would make off with an extra share of such goods as if stealing from oneself to load up for oneself, which he labeled as sneak thieves.

When a bucket of white flour went missing, Jocko searched every wagon until he found the bucket hidden under a crumpled piece of canvass in another wagon, already stuffed with an overload. He chastised the waggoneer in front of the whole train to set an example for all. Though the thief had three children, which he was surely trying to fend for, it made no difference to Jocko who had set his limitations to agree with wagon trains rules.

As a result, his arrival at the train’s destination in the high country of Montana, had demanded a general store to be set up and maintained, and Jocko was the one man chose unanimously to run the store, He could be trusted, was diligent and fearless when it came to corrections and punishment. Life was a raw deal for those who might easily be taken in by thievery at any level; in turn, he developed a reputation in line with his character; he was as sold as the mountains around them, in place since time began.

He hired a young man as a stockman and delivery agent when required, and instructed him in proper methods of doing his tasks, right down to number’s counting. Bud Anteniss was a good and proper student who smiled easily, learned quickly, and eventually had a razor-sharp mind at the numbers in the trade.

When some male customers started to complain about messily shortages in deliveries, Jocko thought them too quick on the trigger, and some of them he knew had no knowledge of numbers.

But when the women started complaining, the kitchens queens, the measurers if doses from teaspoons to a half pound of white flour, often known at the touch or the lift in either hand, Joko began to get really concerned; his own reputation, which he regarded highly, would begin to suffer. And when such talk began to move from kitchen to kitchen, even in the wide-open spaces, the concern grew.

Plans had to be made, set into actions, cover all grounds.

One day he watched as Bud Anteniss load up his wagon for deliveries, marking each container or package onto his work sheet, along with the destination. He took his sweet time at the task, and seemed as thorough as possible. When he was done, he started off on his delivery drive, the wagon well-loaded, the pair of mules pulling the unit behind them with a sense of ease.

In short order, Jocko put a closed sign on the door of the store, went to the sheriff’s office to advise him that he’d be back to re-open, and rode out of town.

At one point in the known route of the deliveries, he saw where Bud Anteniss had left the trail. With caution and sure but slow maneuvers, Jocko moved after Bud’s trail marks, until he saw the wagon parked at the mouth of a nondescript cave in a cliff face. There were few trail marks near the cave, which he knew meant few visitations by anybody else. It appeared secretive enough, and clandestine enough, to be serving an ulterior motive, and not one to be considered good either for his business and or the welfare if his customers.

He managed to hide him and his mount out of sight, but kept an eye on the cave and the goings-on taking place. Anteniss made several trips into and out of the cave, each time carrying in one of his containers, spending a little time in the cave, then bringing the container back out of the cave, and repeating the task with another container,

One word leaped into Jocko’s mind: off-loading. His man was obviously off-loading small amounts inside the cave into separate containers that stayed in the cave.

The sudden irritation almost blew out of him in a face down with his employee, but he managed to hold it in place: he himself knew where the cave was, probably knew what kinds of supplies had been off-loaded, could not think what kind of excuse or reasoning for his actions that Anteniss would put forth in defense of these maneuvers, which might be easy to defend in a man-to-man situation, so they had to be viewed and determined by the sheriff. but needed the sheriff to observe the actions if he could get him here on future trip, or at least tell the sheriff about the cave and its supposed contents, the off-loaded supplies of various sorts that belonged to his customers, all of it pre-paid.

The next trip would be decisive.

And it proved to him that the ladies in the kitchens, working at their small counters and hot iron stoves, had a natural scale built into their systems, and had been justified in their minor complaints, that now might be increasing by the pound instead of by the spoonful.

He backed off, remained hidden from Anteniss until he continued on the regular trail, then Jocko re-emerged and entered the cave. He was astounded to find a dozen or so metallic containers containing different amounts of kitchen/cooking supplies, enough almost to start a store on its own, or sell them off for hard cash. He made his own list on a pad he titled, In the Cave.

Satisfied he had done what he could, Jocko headed back to town, knowing that his employee was now on his regular route, but delivering, in some cases, an irregular delivery. Images of ladies in their kitchens, working as hard as their men, struggling to feed their children, certainly did not need some scoundrel in his employ cheating them of a rightful amount of paid-for goods. That part irritated him almost beyond measure, to slant it the way of this account.

The irritation continued, now and then ready to explode. His hands, generally steady, careful in handling the cheapest of goods as well as the most expensive, with a deliberate care, seemed to stretch for the touch of a weapon. Then he began, in hos own way, even before the sheriff was apprised f the situation, to arrange amends; and his mind exploded with ideas, but each one tempered with enough touch to somehow keep himself in business, and the ladies somewhat appeased.

When the time was ripe, the sheriff forewarned, he and the sheriff visited the cave where Jocko explained the whole thing. “My hand did this and I am, in the end, responsible for all of it.”

Then Jocko Farrell, storekeeper of the West, explained what he wanted to do, in order to stay in business, keep faith with his customers, and make some of the ladies feel better at the end of a tough day that each one of them surely had, by giving them something “for free.”

He argued with the sheriff that it had to go his way.

A wagon was dispatched to the cave to retrieve the contents while Anteniss was busy at odds and ends about the store, and a notice appeared on the store front, saying: This store will have a free giveaway for lady customers who must sign up by next Saturday morning to be eligible.

Of course, each one signed up for the giveaway, all the ladies from all the ranches in the area. And Jocko made sure, by tallying up all past deliveries, carefully kept by himself,

There was a grand day afoot in town when the drawings were conducted. Anteniss was jailed that morning without fanfare, the cave was emptied of all its goods by some trusted hands, at the direction of the sheriff, and placed on a platforming f front of the general store. All the registered ladies were issued a numbered tag, and when the drawing started, a container was retrieved for the pile and put on display, contents not known. each drawing was for a single container which was given to the lady holding the “lucky” number.

The whole show went off as planned, the sheriff thoroughly enjoying his part in it, Anteniss in a cell wondering what the Hell was going I and what was going to happen to him, and Jocko Farrell, grocer extraordinaire still in business.

There are still links to this day in Montana, from Jocko’s retail adventures, and all it takes is some minor research.