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Within two weeks after buying the bankrupt general store in Coyote Crossing, Abe Isaacs sensed a mixed feeling in the little settlement. And he knew why! Money was scarce and many large accounts were outstanding. To refuse credit in mid winter in the thirties was unthinkable. With his battered homburg pulled down to his ears, he plodded from door to door while the swirling snow stung his face. All his customers greeted him warmly wishing the grizzled little man well. All except Jim Rankin who stood in his doorway glaring at him. "What do you want?" The burly man growled, his piggy eyes coldly surveying Abe. "Sorry if I disturbed you, Jim. I'm just calling on my customers." "If you're after money you know where you can go." Rankin swore as he spat in the snow at Abe's feet. "I'm sorry you take this attitude. You do owe a fair amount." Abe stepped back slightly. "So what you want me to do?" Rankin gestured with huge arms. "Just grab it out of thin air?" "Of course not, but you could try being civil like your neighbors, and they’re not any better off than you are" Rankin turned red with anger. “Listen you shriveled old termite---when I step into your crumby store I expect service? And don’t preach to me about the neighbors." “So far I’ve given you good service when you haven’t paid a nickel. I’d be better off without your business.” Abe turned to leave. "Well now---let's not be hasty, little man. Yours is the only store in town." Rankin stepped forward till he was breathing into Abe's face. "A man might overlook things-- like keeping his fire
insurance paid up.” Rankin lifted a mean eyebrow then leered. “You know---at 20 below a fire might be awkward." Abe's blue eyes clouded over and a chill ran through him. "All right. You've made your point." he sighed and turned away. Rankin fished a plug of tobacco from his pocket and bit off a generous chunk as he watched the feeble old man tread knee deep in snow to call on Mrs. Jones. The next day, Rankin barged into the store. "My heater conked out. I’m here to get a new one!" "Sorry, Rankin, you have no more credit." "I’m supposed to freeze to death when you won’t give me credit?" He looked around, then picked up an oil heater and looked it over. Abe's heart sank when he brought it over to the counter. Shoving the heater across the counter to Abe, he jeered, "This should keep my shack nice and cozy, storekeeper. Just put it on my account." "I might." "Nice little heater. Doesn't seem to need a stovepipe?' "No, it's a new kind. Uses kerosene." "Well now. Then how about some kerosene?" "It's on the deck at the warehouse---in the blue barrels." Rankin took the heater and left. Abe entered the price in the ledger then went back to the kitchen for lunch. Greta his loving wife of many years smiled when he sat down at the table. She set a bowl of hot soup in front of him. "I heard the bell,” she said. "It was Rankin." "Oh." "Weather looks bad. We better get more freight." Abe said. "Bob was in this morning. He offered to go." "I need more oil. He could haul five barrels on that big sleigh." "With those kids he can use the money. Did Rankin buy anything?" "The little oil heater."
"Oh, Abe. Did he pay something on his account?" "Not a nickel." "You can't keep giving him credit. He owes so much." "I'd rather not talk about it." Abe stood up from the table. "I'll make a list for Bob to take to Calgary. Did you mail the monthly statements?" "Yes." "Thank you, dear." He put his arm around his wife, and then went to the front of the store. The next morning was 10 below and Abe tugged harder on the rim of his battered homburg as he hurried to the post office, where Rankin coming out stopped him in the doorway. He glared at Abe, and then waved the monthly statement under his nose. "You little termite. What do you expect me to do with that?" "Everyone receives a month end statement---just normal business practice." "Smith never sent them." “But his business went down the tube, didn’t it?” Rankin sneered while glaring at Abe. "I don't care about Smith and I don’t care what I owe. Way I figure, you can wait for your money." "If you don't pay I'll have to sue. Now if you'll step aside I'll get my mail." Abe spoke calmly as he started to inch past Rankin. Without warning Abe was sprawled on the icy street, clutching his guts where Rankin had buried his fist in it. He gasped for air while the pain in his insides made his head reel. The snow was cold on his bald head--his homburg-- he groped blindly for his homburg. "When you threaten to sue me, you're in big trouble, so get smart.” Rankin growled. Abe painfully twisted around to see Rankin shaking his big fist at him. Red-hot anger well up within Abe as he huddled in the snow, trembling and powerless to raise a finger against the burly giant. He could see Rankin's unshaven face leering at him; mouth full of tobacco-stained teeth. "You step on my property and you’ll get
more of that and next time you might not be so lucky." Then suddenly he was gone! Abe looked around but no one was in sight so he managed to get up and stagger back to the store and make it through the door. Greta heard the bell and came to the front. Stunned, she helped him to the bedroom where he flopped across the bed and passed out. The situation was hopeless with no doctor in the town, so she sat with him till he regained consciousness two hours later. Slowly his eyes focused on Greta. "How long have I been here?" "Two hours. Just rest." "Rankin hit me." Greta's eyes flashed angrily. "I'll have a word with Mr. Rankin. He could have killed you." "No! Don't bother with him, dear. He might hurt you. I'll be fine." He relaxed on the bed. "Bob should be back soon. I'll make a pot of coffee." She put the kettle on the stove then went to the window. "I see him coming now." "Greta. Don't tell Bob." "Why shouldn't I tell Bob? That man is dangerous! Town people all know it." "Please, not a word, it would mean more trouble." "Oh-- very well." She poured the hot water into the coffee pot then turned to Abe. "He almost kills you and you tell me to say nothing." She muttered, her frail body trembling with anger. "Tell Bob to come in for coffee." She did as he asked, then went to the front of the store. Bob came into the kitchen and sat across the table from Abe. "You look a bit pale. Are you not well, Mr. Isaacs?" Bob asked, creaming his coffee. "I'm okay. How was the trip?" "Not bad. Drifting." Bob sipped his coffee then lit a cigarette. "How much oil did you bring?"
"One stove oil, four kerosene." He replied handing Abe the envelope with the invoice. "Martin said there’s a note regarding the oil. Said to make sure you read it." Abe glanced at the note then slipped it in his pocket, putting the other papers back in the envelope. "Anything important?" Bob asked. "No" Abe replied as he drummed his fingers on the table, "Nothing important. I'll help you unload." "I’m a lot stronger than you are, I’ll do it for you." Bob replied. "The fresh air will do me good." He said as he wearily pulled on his coat and went with Bob to unload the sleigh. "The barrels are covered with snow so let's leave them on the platform for now. I’ll clean them off and wheel them inside later." "Doesn’t the stove oil--- the green one go by the wall— beside the hay bales?” Bob asked. “Yes. Maybe if you’ll roll it over for me. The blue ones can stay where we unload them." Somewhat puzzled Bob asked. "Why so much Kerosene?" "Oh-- for lanterns, lamps. Those little portable heaters use it." "Won't they burn stove oil?" "Sure, but stove oil gives off carbon monoxide. It can kill you." "You mean kerosene doesn't give off carbon monoxide?" "Not supposed to---more highly refined." Abe replied as they rolled the last barrel onto the platform. Bob drove off as Abe watched from the warehouse door till the team and sleigh was a shadow in the swirling snow, and then he went inside. He picked up the bung wrench from where it lay on a barrel then lifted the barrel pump from it's hook on the wall and carried them outside. He casually placed them on top of the bales then locked the warehouse and went back to the store. He poured himself another coffee then strolled over to look at the thermometer outside the window. A trace of a grin crossed his thin lips. The mercury was going down fast.
Within minutes, Rankin came along---glanced around and then approached the warehouse. Seeing the street deserted he jumped upon the platform---got the bung wrench and barrel pump then filled a container from a blue barrel and hurried back to his cabin. About two the following afternoon, Mrs. Jones rushed into the store shivering and out of breath. "You must come quick, Mr. Isaacs. It's Mr. Rankin," she puffed. "Oh. What about Rankin?" Abe asked nonchalantly. "There must be something wrong with him." "I think there has been for some time." "But you don't understand, Mr. Isaacs. He didn’t answer when I knocked on his door," she explained while puffing heavily. "So. What am I supposed to do about it?” "Mr. Smith used to look after these things when he had the store." "A sort of community caretaker." "Yes. And seldom got paid, I might add.” "Very well, Mrs. Jones. Soon as I finish what I’m doing I'll look into it." He reached into the pocket of his Melton cloth vest; took out his watch and slowly wound it. He replaced his watch as he studied her concerned, tired looking face. "When he didn't answer I opened the door a crack to look inside. It was terribly hot in there and he just lay across his bed." "I'll look into it. Go home and make a cup of tea and don't fret about it. I'll look in on Rankin in a few minutes." "Now you hurry, Mr. Isaacs. I know there is something wrong. `a cup of tea he says`” she muttered as she waddled out the door where the icy wind whipped her flimsy dress around her chubby legs. Abe went over to the clothes tree and took down his heavy mackinaw coat then went to the shelf where the hats were prominently displayed. Feeling a little pompous he selected a high priced homburg that fit perfectly, then went outside. But he didn't go directly to Rankin's shack. He trudged through the snow to the warehouse to remove the barrel pump
and bung wrench from where he'd placed them the night before. He carried them inside, put them in their proper place, and then closed the warehouse. The cold wind swirled around his spindly legs and stung his earlobes but he barely felt it. He fished a small-penciled note from his pocket and reread it: "Abe. I ran out of green barrels so I had to put your stove oil in the blue ones. I marked them on top with red chalk." It was signed 'Martin.' Abe tore up the note as he walked slowly to Rankin's shack, throwing the little pieces one by one to the swirling wind. He must hurry to see what’s wrong with Rankin. Yes indeed! THE END
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