FADE IN – ESTABLISHING SHOT.
The edge of a bleak, nondescript Western town. Curry and Heyes, ride slowly away from the cluster of clap-board buildings towards an equally bleak, nondescript Western landscape. Two sets of broad shoulders droop, disconsolately. From somewhere out of shot, we hear booted footsteps. A long, long shadow, wide-brimmed hat, gun low on hip, falls over the edge of the parched deserted street. The grey shape shimmers in the heat as the cruel sun beats down. A second shadow, a third, a fourth… In all seven unseen figures watch our boys leave town.
A voice, calm, purposeful, speaks. “Fellas, guess it’s time to go get us $20,000 easy dollars.”
“How much money we got between us, Heyes?”
“You ever see so many morning glories, Kid? Sure is a beautiful day.”
“Just look at that glorious scenery, clouds kissing the tops of the mountains…”
“Goes to show, huh? The best things in life really are free.”
“Heyes, how much?”
Heyes slews round in the saddle, faces his partner. “Kid, you know the answer to that question never makes you happy? So, why ask? Huh? Why torture yourself? ‘Cos we know what the danger is; while we’re doing the banter routine, you asking and me trying not to tell you, some Joe Sims type character’ll sneak up behind those bushes,” Heyes’ pointing finger indicates a patch of innocent looking foliage, a few mangy trees sprutting amongst the scrub, “and catch us off-guard…”
Right on cue, the calm, purposeful voice we heard before rings out, “Hold it right there, gentlemen, please!”
Curry and Heyes rein up, abruptly, and look around in surprise. Heyes rolls his eyes. Under his breath he mutters, “You happy now?”
“Me? ME? It was you tempting fate back there!”
The voice: “We got guns pointed right at your heads, so get your hands up, nice and high…”
A mute conversation. Resignedly, their hands go up.
“That’s it… Now, you in the front, that’s right, you Mister Curry, bring down one hand real slow and lift out your gun with two fingers…”
“If’n it’s all the same with you,” calls Kid, “you can skip the rest, we know the drill!” Gingerly, he tosses away his gun and dismounts on the side away from Heyes.
“You’re making a mistake,” tries Heyes, “I don’t know who you fellas think we are, but my friend here is Thaddeus Jones. We’re on our way to Black Ridge. He’s getting married there next week…”
“If it’s all the same with you, Mister Heyes,” calls back the calm voice, “you can skip the rest. We know the drill too!”
Fifteen feet apart, flat on their bellies, our boys fume in frustrated déjà vu.
“Say,” Heyes spits a stray strand of dusty grass off his bottom lip, “…What’s all this about?”
“Yeah,” calls Curry, “who are you?”
A figure strides out from behind the brush.
“The name’s Doc,” announces the calm voice. “Doc Holliday, and this,” six more figures emerge from the foliage, “is my gang. We call ourselves…” Ominous pause. His voice lowers, portentously, “The Seven!”
A chirpy fella chips in with a smile, “We’re bounty hunters, professional.”
“Aaaaaaaaaatischooooo!” contributes a red-nosed guy.
“Bless you,” says Heyes, civilly. Then, “YOU’RE Doc Holliday? I never heard he was a…”
“A what?” A threatening step forward is taken.
“A what?” A fella with a scowl that’d stop a clock backs up Doc, levelling his gun at Heyes.
“A… A…” Despite the guns trained on him, Heyes hesitation appears to spring more from embarrassment than nervousness. “A… A bounty hunter,” he finishes, lamely.
“For Pete’s sake!” explodes Kid. “You ain’t Doc Holliday! Doc Holliday ain’t a dwarf!”
An offended pause. Six bounty hunters draw themselves up, with dignity, to their full height – which full height has an average of three foot six (not including hats). One bounty hunter does not draw himself up; no, the flap-eared guy at the back simply continues to gaze around, vacantly, catching flies.
“D’you have a problem with dwarfs?” asks Doc.
“I do now!”
The chipper guy leans forward, beams helpfully, “We usually prefer the term, ‘persons of short stature’, Mister Curry.”
“Okay. Doc Holliday isn’t a fella of short – er…”
“Stature,” supplies Heyes.
“I’m not claiming to be the Dodge City Doc Holliday. I’m claiming to be A doctor, name of Holliday. No relation.”
“You got a problem with THAT?” growled the grumpy guy, Grumpy. (Sometimes a name says it all, huh?)
Heyes and Kid muse a moment.
“Nope,” decides Heyes. “THAT we don’t have a problem with.”
“Okay, Sneezy, go tie up Mister Heyes. Bashful, go do the honours on Mister Curry.”
“You know…” Heyes cranes his neck to address the red-nosed guy making a depressingly good job of securing his hands behind his back. “You fellas are making a big mistake – we’re not…”
“Bless you. We’re not Heyes and – what was the name of the other fella?”
“Cur… Cur… Cur… Aaaaaaaaaatischooooo!”
“Gesundheit. We’re just two honest, ordinary citizens…”
“Aaaaaaaaaatischooooo! Sorry. Pollen.”
“Hay fever, huh? That must suck in this kinda country – pollen being kinda…”
“Look, fella – Sneezy was it? – do you wanna have a good blow before you carry on, ‘cos – mistaken identity aside – I’m kinda getting soaked here.”
Fifteen feet away, Kid Curry is reflecting (among other things) that when it comes to tying decent knots, dwarfs appear to rival ambidextrous sailors and anachronistic boy scouts in the capability stakes.
“You fellas really are professionals, huh?”
“Y’know, we’re not who you think we are.”
“You’re gonna feel real embarrassed when you march us into some Sherriff’s office and find out you got the wrong guys.”
Bashful finishes his task, twists his hands together and shoots Kid a sheepish look.
“…Which don’t matter none, ‘cos you feel pretty embarrassed all the time anyhow, huh?”
A nod and a rosy blush. Bashful indicates that Kid should join Heyes who is already dodging nasal explosions over by their horses.
Meanwhile, the cheerful fella, Happy …
HEY! At least you can’t argue this story has a complex cast list, huh?
Anyhow, Happy has emptied the boys’ guns and now pokes them back into their holsters.
“There you go, Mister Heyes.” Chortle.
“The name’s Smith – but thank you.”
“And one for you, Mister Curry. And, Mister Curry, may I say that gun does you credit? Clean as a whistle while you work – I mean, clean as a whistle!” Gurgle.
“It’s Jones. Thanks.”
“You boys never give up, huh? I like that. Now, let’s get you two hefted onto your horses. Doc, cover us, in case these two get any funny ideas. ‘Cos funny ideas,” Chuckle. Snort. “…They’re my job!”
Happy, Sneezy and the vacant-looking fella form an obviously practised triangular formation.
“Come on, Mister Heyes. Don’t be holding up the parade!”
Looking foolish, though maybe not as foolish as he feels, the former leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang makes an effort to vault into his saddle. The short-statured threesome insert themselves under the Heyesian butt. “Heigh-Ho! I mean: Heave-Ho!” pants Happy.
Bashful, a yawning guy and the grouch step up, take a measuring survey of the Kid, spit on their hands and make with the hoisting action.
“Why do I always get the one carryin’ the extra pounds?” splutters Grumpy.
“Hey!” protests Kid.
“I reckon puttin’ you on prison rations is us doin’ you a favour!”
“Now, now,” demurs Doc, peaceably. “Keep it civil. Let’s remember we’re professionals.”
A troop of nine rides along. The tall two in the middle of the line are not happy.
“Here we are again,” mutters Kid. “Trussed up like fatted pigs for market!”
“You trying to make this MY fault? You’re the one thinks he’s Hawk-Eye. Why didn’t you spot ’em?”
“Well, if you’d been doing less yakking and just answered a simple question…”
“You going to gripe all the way?”
“I thought I might, yeah!”
Exchange of scowls. Mutual recognition that squabbling over what is past is useless. Exchange of shrugs. Since their hands are firmly fastened behind them, they return to concentrating on staying on their respective horses.
“Hey, Joshua,” sotto voce murmur from Kid. “These fellas – them being – y’know – and seven of ’em… Don’t it seem kinda like a fairy tale?”
The troop of nine is taking a refreshment stop. The tall two sit on handy hummocks, their left hands freed for eating, their right hands tied securely by their sides. Their boots are removed. Their ankles are hobbled by makeshift rope shackles. We gather the seven… Oh, sorry, capitalise that and add a portentous tone. We gather The Seven continue to be distressingly competent.
“These beans sure are tasteless!” grouches Grumpy.
“I eaten worse,” chews Kid.
“Every time Joshua cooks. He could burn water! As for his coffee…!”
“Worse’n this bilge?” The dregs of a tin mug are thrown onto the flames.
“Compared to Joshua’s brew, THIS,” Kid takes a savouring sip, “is nectar! I’ve seen skunks holdin’ their noses to get past the stench of his coffee. I’ve seen flowers curl up and die if’n the steam hits ’em. I reckon I’ve heard the coffee-pot sobbin’ when it sees him comin’.”
Appreciative chortle from Happy. Daffy grin from Dopey.
“That bad, huh?” grunts Grumpy.
“Worse! Joshua’s coffee is so bad that…”
“Shaddup, Grumpy!” snaps Heyes.
An affronted dwarf stares at him.
“No offence,” dimples Heyes. “I was talking to the other fella!”
The troop of nine is digesting beans. It would be a peaceful scene except for one thing. (Well two things, actually, but does the world really need any more ‘what beans do to male gas production’ jokes?)
“…Look, fellas, you’re really just wasting your time. Maybe we do faintly resemble the description of those two outlaws, Heyes and Whatshisname – but I ask you, now honestly, do we have the look of a couple of desperadoes? We’re just honest, hard-working American citizens like yourselves, who are being made victims of a terrible injustice. And when decent, law-abiding people can’t travel in freedom without being manhandled by anyone who comes along, why then it’s high time for this country to do something about it, otherwise…”
“For Pete’s sake! Shaddup, Dopey!”
A startled pause. Kid touches his hat to a confused-looking dwarf. “No offence, I was talking to the other fella.”
“How did you fellas get into the bounty hunting business?” asks Heyes. “It seems an odd choice for seven dwa… Er… For seven persons of short stature.”
“I suppose you think we oughta be livin’ in a forest somewhere, shelterin’ princesses and workin’ a diamond mine?” says Doc.
“No! No, no, no. Not at all!” Heyes denial of such stereo-typical thinking is vehement. A pause. “Well, actually – yup.”
“We did have a diamond mine.” Dwarfish eyebrows knit together. “Until SHE stole the deeds!”
“She?” Kid raises a quizzical eyebrow.
“HER! Snow White.”
“Snow White,” grunts Grumpy. “I reckon that hussy drifted!”
“She turned up on our doorstep without so much as a by your leave! We knew she was wanted. Somethin’ to do with trainin’ cute raccoons to work as chicken rustlers and using a gang of blue-birds on look-out. I was all for handing her in to the Wicked Queen for the reward,” glooms Doc. “But no! She started silver-tonguin’ the fellas tellin’ ’em she’s got some kinda amnesty deal, and can she lie low with us till it comes through. Anyhow, these guys always were a soft touch…”
“Now, now,” chuckles Happy. “She had you wound round her little finger too, Doc!”
“Then one day, her Prince shows up and she’s off takin’ our diamond mine deeds with her! THEN, he comes back – evicts us! So,” brooding glower, “…We turned to bounty huntin’. AND, this time – we’re not listenin’ to any hard luck ‘oh, please, we’ve gone straight straight’ stories.”
Our boys exchange a bemused – and rueful – glance.
“Suppose, just hypothetically – not us, obviously, ‘cos we’re not who you think we are – but, suppose this Heyes and Curry pair actually HAD gone straight…?” begins Heyes.
“Which bit of: ‘we’re not listening’ did you have a problem with?”
A sigh. No, make that two sighs.
“You mind telling us where you’re taking us?”
“Nope. Don’t mind at all,” smiles Happy. “Tomorrow morning we’re takin’ you over the hills and far away.”
Doc rolls his eyes. “He means Red Rock.”
Two more sighs. Another Red Rock. That could be anywhere.
“Tomorrow morning?” Heyes has not quite given up. “So – we’re making camp here?”
“And, you’ll have couple of fellas keeping watch?”
A pair of brown eyes rest hopefully on two particular dwarves.
“D’you really think,” scathes Doc, “I’m gonna put Sleepy and Dopey on guard duty? Tchah! You’ve spent too long reading ’bout the villain’s henchmen you find in fanfic stories, Mister Heyes!” He leans forward, “Mister Heyes, believe me, unless YOUR prince comes along, there is NO escape from The Seven!”
It is night. It is dark. Our boys are tied together, back to back. If they have been working away at their bonds, they have now stopped. A blond and a dark head nod. Gentle, and frankly adorable, snores join the cricket chorus.
“Pssstttt! Heyes! Kid!”
Blue and brown eyes flicker open. They stare at two figures crouching beside them.
“Come on, Heyes! Let’s get you out of here!”
“Who are you?”
“You know. ‘Someda.a.a..a.a..y your prince will come’,”
Heyes winces and moves his ear further away.
“I’m him – your prince. Prince Calico! I’ve come to rescue you!” Eager hands reach for his – well – let’s give Prince Calico the benefit both of the doubt and the choice of vowel – those hands could have been going for his knots.
“And I’m YOUR prince, Kid!” chimes in rescuer number two. “Prince Maz!”
A yelp from Kid as a second pair of hands connect with their target.
“Ma’am! That is NOT the rope!”
Two offended looks.
“What do you mean, ma’am?”
” We’re boys! Boys in the prime of our youth!”
“You’re boys?” Disbelief is written all over Kid’s face as he stares at the length of leg on show between the briefest of tunics and the longest of over-the-knee boots.
“You’re boys?” Heyes lets his eyes linger on the generous bosoms heaving under tight velvet waistcoats and frothing lace shirts.
“You wouldn’t say you were – oh I dunno – middle-aged Englishwomen at all?”
“Perish the thought!”
“Principal boys!” A shapely, fishnet-clad thigh is slapped, heartily.
“And the thing about principal boys is, not only am I a prince,” Prince Calico claps Heyes’ now freed hand onto the heaving section of the lace shirt, “…There’s a pal in here too!”
Heyes tries to regain control of his fingers. “Let me put it another way…”
“You can put it any way you like, Heyes!” purrs Prince Calico.
“You ARE women. What’s more, you’re women with as much talent for disguise as a pair of Old-English Sheepdogs tying maracas to their tails and trying to bust into a Rattlesnakes only party.”
The princes exchange a glance. They straighten up.
“Look!” Prince Maz, hands on hips, plants one gleaming patent leather stiletto boot on Kid’s chest. “Do you want rescuing or not, Blue-Eyes?”
An improbable looking fake-fur horse straddled by two improbable looking princes jogs away from the camp site.
“Heyes, how the Sam Hill did I get here?” grunts the tail end.
“They’re slipping us out in a cunning disguise.”
“I got that! But how come I’m doubled over staring at your butt and you get the eyeholes!”
“Hey, Kid,” soothing tone, “…We flipped YOUR coin!”
More jogging. Our focus moves up to the riders.
“This story is turning into some kind of dumb pantomime!”
“OOOOOH no it isn’t!”
“OOOOOH yes it is!”
“Who cares? We got our hands on the boys, huh?”
“True enough.” A wicked grin. “In fact, right now, I’ve got a dang sight more than hands on mine! Muhahahahah!”
“Muhahahaha!” agrees the author.