Time was ticking down. His spurs glimmered in the heat while a tumbleweed tumbled its way across the deserted streets. As he raised his boot to strike a match on its sole before lighting a cheroot, Sheriff Daniel Levy looked up at the town’s bell tower. Twelve o’clock was fast approaching and there was still no sign of the arrival of Perez, the feared Spanish rancher who had laid claim on the scalp of the prisoner languishing in the town lock-up.
Levy was well aware of his captive’s value. Over the course of a long, scorching summer the bounty for him had risen astronomically, though it was unclear what the actual price would finally be. Some spoke of it involving a bundle of worn notes with a couple of immigrant itinerant workers thrown in to work on the town’s inadequate transportation links. Others however believed it to be significantly higher; a one-off payment, non-negotiable and somewhere in the region of eighty-five to ninety.
Either way, Levy was reluctant to hand over his town’s prized asset so willingly.
The boy Bale had come to the town of Tottenham as an apprentice stablebuck and had since been taken under the Sheriff’s paternal wing, having suffered a series of bone-shattering injuries dispensed by maverick stallions. He had also endured the kind of crises of confidence that many countryfolk experienced when arriving in a town as bustling and rowdy as the one Levy presided over. Bale though, had matured. Moreover, he had inadvertently discovered the science of alchemy; having taken raw metals found within the stables and transformed them into gold over a number of years now. News of the youngster’s mercurial talents had travelled across the prairies and his services were coveted by the most craven, disreputable and cunning ranchers from across the continent. There would be no moral too virtuous that could not and would not be sullied by these men.
Bale’s allegiance to Levy and the good town of which he served was severely compromised when an agent in the employment of the most powerful rancher in the land Perez, was dispensed to addle the boy’s brains with promises of gold and non-alcoholic liquor. Her name was Zidania (a shallow apology for a pseudonym) and she would regularly frequent the saloon and flash her garters at the wet-eared stablebuck imploring him to turn his back on Levy and take up lodgings in the household of the repulsive Perez, where he would enjoy with regularity such earthly delights in return for his miraculous gift.
Needless to say, young Bale’s head was turned. Levy however was reluctant to see the boy’s naivety exploited by Perez and was not willing to allow him to be taken so easily; his talents to be used against those who had given him succor and shelter these past few years. Bale though, refused to turn up to the stable to fulfill his duties. His moods became darker and many remarked that he was often “furious” and “frustrated”. Sheriff Levy was given no option but to imprison the stablebuck until such time as he came to his senses.
A return to senses was unlikely. Bale became increasingly susceptible to bouts of narcissism, often having Stetsons of pinkish hue smuggled through the prison’s bars by Perez’s minions who had infiltrated the town.
Perez made his move soon enough. Having received a telegram from his nemesis, the Sheriff had until the clock struck twelve on the first Monday in September to either relinquish the boy and take the money or perish in hale of gallactico bullets. Levy poured himself a glass of whiskey, cleaned his glasses and looked into the middle distance. He would be ready for Perez’ arrival.
In the meantime, the Sheriff despatched his Deputy, Villas-Baos, a swarthy Latin type renowned for his meticulousness, to reconnoiter the surrounding areas. His mission was clear. The town of Tottenham needed reinforcements if it was to withstand the barrage that was hurtling towards it. The town was inhabited by too much deadwood and although competent, a higher quality gunslinger was a necessity if it was to survive. The Deputy, using a Sioux tracker known to his tribe as Contacts Has Baldini, was relentless in his pursuit for the best mercenary his money could buy. But time was of the essence. Twelve o’ clock was hours away.
Levy squinted his eyes. Over the horizon a cloud of dust could just be made out. Deadline day was imminent. The only sound that could be heard was the sound of buzzing flies and the subtle swing of saloon doors as they gently swung in the breeze. A bead of sweat formed on the Sheriff’s brow but as he gripped his gun holster, his hand remained steady. This would not be the first time he would have fended off foes that threatened the peace in his town. He was ready to die. Five minutes to go. The cloud approached with ever-increasing speed.
Horses hooves now. Levy prepared to draw but a familiar voice implored him to desist. The vision that appeared was not that of the fearsome Perez and his posse but of the welcome sight of Deputy Villas-Boas. And riding alongside him was not one, not two but a whole gang of newly acquired sharpshooters lead by the famed shootist Roberto Soldado whose reputation for clinical precision in the territory of Iberia was beyond question. Levy now had his Magnificent Seven: Soldado, Paulinho, Capoue, Chadli, Lamela, Chiriches and Eriksen. There would be no blood spilled this day.
The deadline of noon came and went. No sign of Perez. Either he had relented in his pursuit of Bale or his bravado had been shown up for the sham it really was, thought the Sheriff. As it transpired it was neither. It was later told that there had been a typographical error when the original telegram had been sent. Apparently Perez had desired to conduct the ‘transaction’ for Bale under cover of darkness, at midnight.
In any event, with his town now fully equipped and readied for a prosperous future, Levy was happy to relinquish the stablebuck. For that amount of money, all Perez would ever receive was a fool’s gold.
As the sun set over Tottenham, Sheriff Levy sipped a sarsaparilla and surveyed the sight before him. His thoughts turned to Perez and the fortune the rancher had parted with. He let a wry smile slowly creep across his face. “Sure is good doing business with a bunch of cowboys,” he said to nobody in particular. A coyote howled in the distance as if vocalising Levy’s loss but heralding the dawn of a brighter tomorrow.
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