FICTION

Man of Consequence

Packy, the roving toolmaker, had a face like a gargoyle’s, but he could turn his hand to anything ... even to playing Cupid

RAY MILLHOLLAND August 1 1946
FICTION

Man of Consequence

Packy, the roving toolmaker, had a face like a gargoyle’s, but he could turn his hand to anything ... even to playing Cupid

RAY MILLHOLLAND August 1 1946

Man of Consequence

FICTION

Packy, the roving toolmaker, had a face like a gargoyle’s, but he could turn his hand to anything ... even to playing Cupid

RAY MILLHOLLAND

THERE is no law on the statute books which decrees that a toolmaker must be handsome in a masculine way—or even not the first cousin of a gargoyle for that matter. Which is a very fortunate thing for Packy Laws, who once earned the distinction as being the only baby in Atwood Riding whom both rival candidates during the Tupper campaign publicly refused to kiss.

But, contrary to the ideas of modern child psychology, Packy’s complete lack of even one feature which could be so much as called “plain” without lying about it had no effect on his disposition. His first reaction upon viewing the world— while his own father was trying vainly to obliterate the image of his first-born from his memory—was a broad grin which gave his tiny face the appearance of an uncooked pie crust in which the cat had been walking. Added to all his other handicaps, he was born with the raucous voice of a young crow, and as he grew older his voice grew even more raucous and louder; which got him into no end of trouble in school, for when Packy tried to exchange whispers with a schoolmate—well, he thundered; and wilful and premeditated thundering is not dealt with lightly by schoolteachers.

Nevertheless, Packy made quite a favorable reputation for himself at school. It was the manual training teacher who discovered that this boy with the face of a gargoyle seemed pumped up to the bursting point with an instinctive genius for using tools. From the fifth grade on it was always Packy Laws, in June, whose name was called by Mr. Eckers, the principal, to come forward and receive the first prize blue ribbon for the best manual training project produced by any pupil in the school for the year.

By the time Packy was 14—when most parents of that time were worrying about their boy’s future and where he could find an opening as an apprentice Packy’s father could hardly walk a half block on Main Street of a Saturday night without one of the local employers of apprentices buttonholing him to talk of the wonderful opportunities a machine shop, or a cabinetmaker’s shop, or a blacksmith’s shop held for a good, strong, steady boy like Packy.

• . . All this, and a great deal more of his life’s story, Packy Laws had been pouring into the ear of a mere slip of a girl • Continued on page 29

Continued from page 19

whom he found in the front office of a small brick shop building bearing the sign, “The Phil Jordan Mechanical Laboratories.” It was a very small place, not much larger than Old Man Winters’ shop, where he had served his apprenticeship, and Packy could look through the glass-panelled door separating the office from the shop. There was a fine new lathe back there, and a milling machine looking like it still had some of the original factory grease on it. A glass front tool cabinet on the wall contained row upon row of new drills, reamers and milling cutters.

“When’s the boss coming back?” Packy enquired of the girl; and though he was trying to be extra polite, his voice rattled the windows.

“Why, he didn’t say.” A pair of

flustered blue eyes flitted hastily past Packy’s countenance, which had grown no handsomer in the course of 50 years. “As a matter of fact, he might not come back again this afternoon.”

“I got nothin’ else to do, so I might as well wait him out,” announced Packy, with his most engaging smile. “It sure would be a bad break for him if he missed a chance to hire me.”

Suddenly the girl burst out laughing. “You’re funny—Please, I don’t mean your—your—I mean, it’s the way you talk, like there was only one streetcar in the world and you were running it.” “Stuck on myself, you mean, uh?” Packy Laws shook his head and grinned modestly —for Packy. “Nothin’ like that, young lady. I just never bumped against a job of toolmaking I couldn’t handle, is all.” He nodded casually toward the shop. “What’s the boss trying to make back there?”

“Something for a college laboratory,

but I don’t know what,” said the girl with a shrug. “All I know is, Mr. Jordan said it was very complicated, and he rather wished they hadn’t asked him to make it.”

“Bit off more’n he can chew, uh?” commented Packy, edging a little closer to the door leading into the shop and peering in.

“I don’t think it’s doing the work,” sighed the girl. “It’s old Professor Menzes. He comes in every evening about five with some new idea, and then wants Mr. Jordan to stay up half the night working out the idea while he stands right beside him and criticizes.”

“Yeah, I know the type,” agreed Packy. “Had a straw boss in Hamilton like that. But I fixed him, for good.”

The girl looked apprehensively at the formidable fist Packy was resting on his hip as he leaned against the doorpost and let his eyes feast on the enticingly neat interior of the shop.

“You—you strangled him?”

“No strong-arm stuff,” said Packy modestly. He tapped an enormous forefinger against his temple. “I put the slug to him, mental. He never tumbled until after the superintendent give liim the hook and he was outside the gate with his last pay cheque in his hand.”

The ring of the telephone distracted the girl’s attention just then. Packy made himself quite at home by opening the shop door and quietly closing it after him. He walked over to the new lathe and squinted down at a piece of partly finished work in it. Then with equal sang-froid he picked up a blueprint and frowned studiously at it. Next he examined a piece of scientific apparatus lying on the bench, to which, he decided, the half-finished piece in the lathe was to be fitted.

Without further ado Packy took off his coat, folded it carefully, unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt sleeves and turned them back out of the way. Then he punched the button to start the lathe.

FOR the next hour, under the guidance of Packy’s enormous but amazingly sensitive hands, the lathe peeled glittering spiral strips. Every few minutes he would stop the machine and measure the part with micrometers.

Then suddenly the spell was broken by a brusque demand uttered from behind him: “What the deuce are you trying to do, and who the devil are you, anyway?”

Packy looked over his shoulder, to see a tall young man in a battle dress jacket with marks on the shoulders where pips had been. The young man was frowning aggressively at him.

Before Packy could answer, he called toward the front office: “Miss Vance! Miss Vance, how did this character get in here?”

“I — I really don’t know, Mr. Jordan,” the girl replied. “I guess he must have slipped past me while I was telephoning. I’ve been so busy working on the books that I didn’t look into the shop like perhaps I should.” Miss Vance looked ready to burst into tears.

“Stop scaring the kid, Red,” said Packy, automatically applying a nickname to Phil Jordan that was appropriate to the color of his hairand of his face, for the moment. “If you want an ear to chew on, try mine. She had nothin’ to do with it.”

A pair of steely grey eyes snapped around and focused themselves on Packy. “What business have you got shoving your big, ugly nose into my place and—” Jordan stabbed an angry finger at the now finished piece in the lathe—“and spoiling nearly 10 hours’ work I’ve already put on that?”

Unconcernedly, Packy removed the piece from the machine and placed it on the bench beside the micrometers.

Then he pulled a thick billfold from his hip pocket and tossed it down beside the piece.

“I’m makin’ you a bet of half what’s in my kick, there, the piece I just finished will fit that microscope housing on the bench. And I’m bettin’ the other half it wouldn’t have fit if you had finished it, usin’ this cockeyed drawing.” Packy snapped the drawing with a forefinger. “You stand to lose better’n 200 shingles, Red. Better let your collar cool off some before you call me.”

“You mean you didn’t even try to follow this drawing?” demanded Jordan with angry sarcasm.

“Not where the drawing went haywire, I didn’t,” said Packy unperturbed.

“This is going to cost you a cold 200,” said Jordan with the sardonic satisfaction of a poker player laying down a royal flush. “It happens that this particular drawing was made by Professor Menzes—one of the big shot mathematicians of the country.”

Packy blinked chidingly at Jordan’s hand reaching for the wallet. “Don’t burn your fingers, Red, until we see how the part fits where it’s supposed to.” He took up the part and walked to the bench; then abruptly handed the new part to Jordan. “You’re the boss. You try it, and if I’ve made a bull, I’ll be bumming a dime from you for a cup of coffee.”

Jordan applied the new part to the end of the microscope housing and began screwing it into place. It went home snugly. Without a word he reached for his own wallet.

“My loud mouth has cost me again, I see . . .50 . . . 65 . . . 68. I’ll have to give you my cheque for the rest. Wait a second, maybe the bet is a standoff. I bet a hundred against your hundred the part wouldn’t fit. And you bet

another hundred it isn’t made like the drawing.”

"It sure ain’t,” agreed Packy calmly. “Where the drawing is wrong, it specifies'a German metric thread, which is different., from our standard this side of the water. They look alike, and they measure with micrometers alike, almost; but they won’t fit together.”

“Now ' I know you’re wrong—” Jordan quickly unscrewed the new part from thç microscope, then hesitated, frowning. “This is getting creepy. I know blamed well this microscope was made in Germany before the war. There’s the maker’s name and the place it was made, Jena, stamped on it. All their threaded dimensions are slightly different from ours.”

"This .is one time they ain’t,” said Packy. “I ain’t talkin’ to hear my head roar, neither.” He tapped the instrument with a gentle forefinger. “A whole bunch of these Kraut jobs was rebuilt to use American-made lenses. I know, because T worked at the shop that did it.” '

Jordari stripped his billfold and tossed all his money on the bench in front of Packy Laws, saying, wryly, “Come out to the office and I’ll give you a cheque for the rest.”

"Nix, I don’t touch that kind of money,” said Packy, gruffly. He allowed his gaze to Wander approvingly over the small shop. “Y’know, Red, I like your joint. I’m gonna bring my toolbox in the morning.”

“I don’t remember asking you to,” replied Jordan, a little curtly.

“Look, Red,” said Packy, patiently but with every assurance that his decision was to prevail, “you got plenty of fussy work. And you can’t go on plugging away 18 hours a day, like that nice kid in the office told me you been doing. So I’m sticking around to see you don’t make an old man of yourself

before your time. Packy Laws is the name, and I’ll leave my registration card on the kid’s desk when I go out tonight.”

“I’m afraid it’s no soap, Packy,” said Jordan, a shade less firmly. “I can tell by the job you’ve just turned out that you’re a swell mechanic, but—well, it’s a matter of personalities. You see, I’m working up a big deal with the university to build a lot of new scientific apparatus, and there’s a queer old duck of a professor who has the final say in the matter. It’s all I can do to keep his feathers smoothed down, but at the first crack you made at him he’d walk out in a huff. Then, blooie, would go my chances for the contract.”

“Don’t worry,” said Packy, tapping his temple with that enormous forefinger again. “They don’t come too nutty but what I got the savvy, up here, to make ’em think they’re no worse than regular people like me and you.”

There was no time to argue further, for just at that moment Professor Menzes entered the shop and walked directly to the bench. Without speaking, he unscrewed the new part for the microscope, took out a folding magnifying glass, and gave it a searching scrutiny.

“Is it satisfactory, Professor?” asked Jordan.

“I most certainly would have said so if it weren’t,” snapped Professor Menzes, folding his magnifying glass with a click and popping it into his vest pocket. He levelled a hostile look over the rims of his eyeglasses at Packy. “What are you doing here?”

“We gates, Professor,” said Packy, affably.

As the professor’s brows started bristling, Jordan broke in, desperately: “Just an old Army acquaintance, Professor, who looked me up while passing through town.”

The professor ignored him, and said to Packy: “How long since you left

Germany, and where did you work there?”

“Left there in July of T9. Last place I worked was in Coblenz,” answered Packy, not bothering to explain that it had been as a member of the Army of Occupation after World War I. “Mostly on optical stuff, like fourprism range finders and artillery sights.”

Without waiting to be questioned further, Packy turned his back on the professor and walked toward the office. Ostensibly it was to get a drink at the water cooler in there, but his real reason was to have a word with Miss Vance, who was sitting at her desk with her hat and coat on and staring disappointedly at the office clock.

Packy lingered at the water cooler while taking his time about downing four brimming paper cups, grimacing with a shade more distaste for the stuff at each draft. But, at that, he felt he was making a favorable impression as a water-drinking man and not just one of them bums who use it only to wash their celluloid collar with.

AFTER a proper interval he, too, L gazed at the clock; then said: “Seven-thirty, a’ready. Is that thing right, Miss Vance?”

“It agrees with my watch.” She caught up her purse and arose, but with a little too brisk a show of haste to deceive Packy.

“Don’t be too hard on Red for standing you up like this,” he said engagingly. “He’s trying to shake off the professor, but the old guy is sticking like a burr to a poodle.”

The girl bit her lip and tried to ignore Packy, but the twinkle of sympathetic understanding in his eye melted her reserve.

“If it were just this once, I wouldn’t

mind so much,” she said with a little shrug of outworn patience. “But this is the third time this week that he’s asked me to an early dinner and a movie. It always turns out the same. The professor comes in, pretending it’s only to inspect the day’s work on his new apparatus, then stays and stays. And I have to go home alone in the dark.” She pressed her purse a little more firmly under her arm, and said, with her chin up, “Tell Mr. Jordan I’ve left—”

“Just hold the pose another five minutes,” wheedled Packy. “Just give me five minutes to work the shoo-fly on the professor; then you and Red can make your date.”

“Please don’t,” begged Miss Vance, alarmed. “The professor would be furious. And Phil—Mr. Jordan would —I don’t know what he would do to both of us if he lost that contract with the university.”

But Packy was already beyond recall. He walked boldly up to where Jordan and the professor were discussing a new blueprint spread out on the bench, and said, “Professor, didn’t I read in the morning paper something about you making a speech tonight someplace?”

“Gracious me!” gasped the professor, jerking out a small notebook and consulting it. Without another word he snatched up his brief case and departed in utmost haste.

For a long moment Jordan eyed Packy’s utterly expressionless countenance with deepening suspicion.

“How did you know the professor had a lecture date tonight?”

“All a hunch, Red. I played the drums once in a summer stock burlesque show. The comedian used to come out dressed like an absent-minded professor. Then the straight man would say, ‘Didn’t I see in the paper something about you making a speech tonight?’ And the comedian would take off like a singed cat, with me giving him the pump whistle. It knocked the customers outta their seats every night.”

Packy jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the office. “Let’s don’t be having two absentminded clucks in one act, Red. You’re standing up a swell date—”

“Gosh, that’s right!” gasped Jordan. “Turn out the lights and set the night lock on the door, will you, Packy? I’ve got to take off.”

The next morning, at ten minutes to seven, Packy Laws was waiting at the shop door for Phil Jordan to arrive and open up.

Jordan’s manner, while friendly enough, lacked any display of wild enthusiasm when he nodded to Packy, and said, “So you’re still making up my mind for me, about hiring me for your boss, eh?”

“Nix, Red, don’t push it clear down my back,” Packy knocked the dottle from his pipe against the heel of his hand. “Yeah, I read this morning paper, same as you. It’s tonight—not last night—the professor makes that speech.” Then quickly he recovered something of his wonted cheerful selfconfidence: “But my hunch was a close one, anyways.”

“The only trouble with your intuitive cerebrations, Packy,” commented Jordan, tartly, “is that they’re so colossal that when they misfire they do more damage to your friends than a stick of bombs. In my particular case it’s going to cost me a juicy contract with the university and maybe all the money I’ve got invested in this shop.”

“I got that part all doped out,” said Packy, reassuringly. “When the professor comes r’aring in here about five tonight, same as usual, and starts shoving the hot rod to you about it, all you got to do is look around, mad, for

me. I’ll be standing right where the lightning can’t miss me when you say to me, ‘You sawdust brain, this is your doings. Get the hell outta here and stay out,’ real toughlike.”

“I probably will,” Jordan promised grimly as Packy followed him inside.

Packy scratched his ear and mused reflectively, “Mebbe I shoulda brought my toolbox, so’s it would look real when I h’isted it on my shoulder and snuck out like a bum.”

“Never mind going back for it now,” said Jordan, brusquely. “The professor left blueprints for two jobs he’s in a running sweat for tonight.” He picked up a blueprint and handed it to Packy. “Get the milling machine set up for this while I drive down to the steel warehouse for the material . . . And another thing,” he added, squinting hard at Packy, “when Miss Vance comes, don’t start pumping her, like you did yesterday, for more hot tips on which to base another one of your terrific hunches. Let’s have one quiet day around here for a change.”

Around eight—while Jordan was still absent, getting the steel at the warehouse—Miss Vance came out to where Packy was setting up the milling machine. She held in her hand a badly smudged registration card and wore a slightly baffled expression.

“Packy, I can’t'seem to make this out.”

“Don’t matter,” he thundered airily, with a wave of a huge hand. “I’m blowing outta here right after I get this rush job done for Red.”

“You mustn’t do that,” objected Miss Vance, anxiously. “Phil—Mr.

Jordan—thinks you’re a wonderful mechanic. He was telling me last night at dinner—”

“I ain’t bad, at that,” admitted Packy with his usual modesty, “but I’m a bad influence on Red. I jam his luck every time I open my big mouth.”

“I think you’re a very good influence on him,” contradicted Miss Vance emphatically. “He needs somebody around here who will—well, snap him out of his trance when he gets to working so hard he forgets what time it is.” “Yeah, and who he promised to take out on a date,” added Packy, stealing a sidelong glance at a nice profile and beginning to weaken. His next remark was apparently addressed to the milling machine. “Reason I never married myself, I was scared before I knew it I would be owning a shop of my own. Then every time the little woman would be needing a new rug or some fancy curtains, I’d’ve already spent the dough on a new drill press or something for the shop. It’s a disease, I notice, shop bosses catch . . . only it’s the little woman who takes the rap every time.”

Blushing indignantly, Miss Vance said, “Phil isn’t at all like that. He’s very considerate. I mean, when he realizes—”

“Sure, sure—when he realizes,” agreed Packy. “When somebody hits him between the shoulders and yells in his ear he’s standing up, you mean.” “You do it wonderfully, Packy,” said Miss Vance, and hastened back to her own work without waiting for his comment.

Jordan returned from the steel warehouse shortly after that. And Packy, true to his nature, stopped talking when there was close work to be done, and kept the chips dropping from his milling machine.

ONCE or twice during the rest of the morning his redheaded young boss left the lathe he was running to check up on Packy’s progress. He remarked admiringly, on his second trip, “That’s pouring the cobs to it, Packy. We’ll knock the professor’s eye out when he comes this evening.”

Packy said nothing until the noon whistles in the neighborhood started blowing. He shut off his machine instantly and announced: “Amscray,

Red. Load the office help in your car and take her to lunch. The hash joints in this neighborhood ain’t no fit place for her style.”

The suggestion was received with studied silence by his young boss—a fact which bothered Packy not the slightest. He went on blandly to say: “I worked for a sap in Montreal, once, who was so scared he wouldn’t find another bookkeeper as good as the one he had that he married another dame. About the time his wife crowned him for the third time with a pickle crock, his nifty bookkeeper married a salesman from Vancouver and left him flatfooted. I give him the shoo-fly and blowed the job when he came crying on my shoulder about it.”

Having delivered this subtle parable, Packy betook himself to the nearest hash house, where he ate a double portion of corned beef and cabbage while aloofly declining to be drawn into a discussion of local politics by an electrician on the opposite side of the table. After returning to the shop and getting his machine going again, he noticed—just before one — that Phil Jordan and Miss Vance came back together.

Packy did not so much as look up and nod when Jordan resumed his work at his lathe. In fact he was very obviously engaged at the moment—to judge by the furrows of painful intentness in his brow—in making a delicate adjustment, to a split thousandth of an inch, on his own machine.

Finally, around four o’clock, and not having uttered a word all afternoon, he removed the finished job from his milling machine and laid it with the drawing on the tool stand at Jordan’s elbow.

“Better check it, Red, and see if I missed anywheres, before the professor comes,” he suggested.

Jordan spent the'next 10 minutes measuring and checking before he laid aside his micrometers and walked over to where Packy was cleaning the last chip and smudge of oil from the new milling machine.

“Right on the money, Packy.” He turned the work over in his hands and watched the light flashing from its finished surfaces. “Looks like something right out of a jewellery store showcase, doesn’t it?”

Packy had already wiped his hands and was rolling down his shirt sleeves. He reached up and snapped off the light over his machine.

“I got a hunch,” he said, casually, “maybe I’d better pull my freight before the professor shows up. That way, when he starts beating his teeth over that gag I pulled on him last night, I won’t be around to open my big mouth and get you in Dutch over it too.”

With an apologetic look, Jordan said, “Packy, it burns me right down to the socks to see you go. I’ll probably never run across another toolmaker who can turn out swell work like this as

fast as you do. But you know how it

is—”

“Don’t let it gripe you, Red,” said Packy, reaching for his coat. “You got your money sunk in the shop, and the only way you can get it out is by pleasing your customers. And since the professor is the only one you have right now—”

Packy got no further, for Professor Menzes was hurrying toward them, a little breathless in his haste.

“I have only a minute,” he said to Jordan. “Must rush home and change for my lecture tonight. How far have you progressed on the quadrant for the new spectroscope?”

Jordan handed over the finished part, and said, “Packy Laws just took this out of his machine. I’ve checked it personally.”

“Wonderful — wonderful work,” mused Professor Menzes. He peered over his glasses at Packy, a twinkle dancing in his eyes. “Thanks for saving me a wigging last night. I had forgotten completely that my wife had arranged a wedding anniversary dinner party and had invited the president of the university and his wife. I just made it under the wire, as my students would say.”

Professor Menzes glanced at his watch. He said to Jordan, “Tomorrow evening, as usual. And I hope to bring the signed contract for the new work. President Fuller approved it last night after dinner.”

A full minute of silence went by; then Jordan pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead.

“With your lucky hunches, Packy,” he finally said, “you could have made yourself a million in the Army with just two bits and a pair of square dice.”

“Yeah, I was lucky with my hunch, at that,” admitted Packy, modestly.

With a coaxing grin, Jordan held out his hand. “See you tomorrow and from then on—What do you say, Packy?”

“Yeah, this looks like the place, all right,” mused Packy, nodding to himself as his eye roved over the shop. “I’m getting to the age where it ain’t the fun it used to be lugging a 40pound toolbox from one shop to the next. I’ll see you in the morning, Red.”

Packy was halfway out of the shop when Jordan snatched up a thick wallet from the bench where Packy had tossed it the afternoon before.

“Talk about your absent-minded professors,” laughed Jordan, overtaking Packy and waggling the wallet under his nose. “Here you leave yours with 200 shingles in it lying around.”

Without a flicker of expression Packy opened his wallet and extracted its contents—a much thumbed racing form and a torn betting ticket.

“Two hundred shingles them souvenirs cost me,” he said sadly. “It was a surething tip, right from the feedbox, a guy in the barbershop give me. I shoulda played my hunch on Atom Bomb. He paid off 40 to one.”

Unconcerned, Packy thrust his empty wallet back into his hip pocket and went on his way with the assured pace of a man of considerable consequence.