The Seven Devils rode into town early that morning. Before sunrise, they were there on their horses. And they were surveying what type of damage they might like to do.
Nolan had no doubt they’d followed the trail of wanted posters he’d strung up all along his mail route. So now that he had them all in one place, whatever in the hell was he going to do about it.
He took a deep breath and patted the pistol at his side. It was a good weapon, government-issued by his request. All he had to do was tell them that things were getting a little out of hand way out there on the frontier and they’d set him up proper.
Ammo wasn’t a problem either, because the government had sent him a shipment of bullets too.
But now that the Seven Devils were there in town, and looking for the man who’d placed a reward on their heads, no doubt. Whatever in the hell was he going to do.
They’d come escaped off some railway somewhere, originally. And Nolan supposed that they’d initially felt they could do better at banditry than starving to death working a dangerous job at slave wages.
On the other hand, he didn’t think anyone, especially the law, paid them much attention at first. After all, what was a small group of escaped Chinamen going to do? This was tough, rugged land, filled with tough, rugged men. He supposed that most thought they wouldn’t last a week. There was no reward posted for them. At first.
But goddamn if that hadn’t been stupid and prideful. Whatever weird shit they had going on over there in the Orient, it seemed like they’d just picked it all back up once they were free of that railway company.
They used swords for starters. Those weapons alone were faster and more accurate than any government-issued iron-forged pistol that Nolan had ever handled. They used swords and some survivors had even whispered about magic.
The Devils would just appear and disappear again. Sometimes there’d be smoke, but mostly there wouldn’t be. They could appear, cut a man to pieces, and then vanish like ghosts. Without a trace.
They’d fashioned themselves after the seven deadly sins. A joke, perhaps. They did it maybe to instigate feelings inside all the God fearing citizens that they liked to terrorize so much. So each wore face paint, like Indian raiders. They wore different color pigmentations to further their representation of each one of the sins.
Nolan figured it was now or never, and so he checked his pistol one last time and then headed out onto the street to meet with them.
He’d hoped they’d learned to speak English out there in the wilds and soon learned that at least one of them had. The one with the red face paint addressed him in the middle of that street. The usually busy town was not busy today. Anyone who had initially dared the morning had scuttled away back inside. It was just Nolan and the Seven Devils, standing out there in the street before god.
They wanted to know if he was the one who had been putting up the wanted posters for their arrests and rewards. Nolan acknowledged that he was indeed that very man.
And now that they all stood before him, the devil in the red face paint wanted to know, would he claim that reward for himself?
Nolan again, agreed with them. They were correct.
But what if the Devils did not go peacefully? What then? If they wanted to remain a part of civilized society, they never would have turned on their masters and left the railroad behind so many years before.
Nolan shrugged his shoulders. His hand lowered to his gun holster. He explained that maybe their reading of the English language wasn’t quite as sharp as their speaking of it. The poster had suggested if not alive, than bring them in dead would work too.
There was the sound of blades being drawn at that moment. But the devil in the red face paint made a motion for his brethren to put their swords away. He wasn’t quite done with his inquiries yet.
He then asked Nolan if Nolan thought he could kill them all. There were seven of them. He had six bullets in his gun. Even if he were fast enough, (and he was not fast enough) and accurate enough (he was not accurate enough), there would still be one left. And they would surely kill him.
What would a dead man need with the reward money of six other dead men? There was nothing for him here.
The logic crept up his spine and seemed to seep into Nolan’s thoughts like so much blood washing down a fast-flowing river.
Even as the man in the red face paint laughed down at him from the saddle of his stolen horse, Nolan realized his plan had been flawed from the beginning. The wanted posters to get them all there was certainly clever, his new shiny pistol was a good idea, and all that training and studying he had done might have paid off. But the math was against him. Simple mathematics.
He had no response, because he realized that he had suddenly had no options open to him.
He was about to fire on the devil in the red face paint when the man’s next gesture stopped him cold. The devil tilted his horse sideways and outstretched his hand.
“Come. I have a better solution to this problem of yours. There is a reason you summoned us, and it was not to collect some foolish reward.”
Nolan hesitated, but only for a moment. He was likely the best sheriff in those parts. As likely as good as he was going to get.
He took the red-faced devil’s hand and jumped up onto the saddle behind him. They took off down the road in a thunder of horse hooves.
When the townspeople finally came out onto the street, they could find no trace of a gunfight, no trace of murder, no trace of the Devils and no trace of their Sheriff.
With a sigh, the mayor immediately went over to the post office to telegraph in for a new one.
Michael R. Colangelo is a writer from Toronto. Visit him at michaelrcolangelo.blogspot.com.