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Thread: The Magnificent Seven

  1. #1
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    The Magnificent Seven

    The Magnificent Seven

    I felt I had marching orders and therefore a goal, a destination, and the direction was south.

    A week later found me at the Bell Inn in downtown San Diego across from a tourist trap called Seaport Village. Although I’d never visited a pub in the U. K. this one seemed authentic. There was a long oak bar with ivory-handled pumps and tables, a beamed ceiling and wood-paneled walls. One more thing was necessary to complete the perfect picture, a neighborhood clientele drunk on camaraderie.

    Check.

    It had that too.

    Even though it was early it was crowded. You expected any minute to see Arthur Seaton tumbling down the stairs, wrestling with the other drunk and angry young men, fueled to the brim with dark bitter ale, Nottingham accents, and swallowed up by depressive moods as dark as the pits.

    Then I heard, “Howdy, Barkeep, I’ll take a Miller Lite.”

    It was a cowboy, a cowboy! I could tell by his boot-cut Levis, snake-skin boots and ten gallon hat.

    He caught my eye and responded with a Howdy and a smile, and sat down. The sad beer that sat before me was my last. I was out of money, and since travel relies on money as a precursor, I suspected my mission was about to end with a whimper, not a bang. The cowboy looked over and noticed my empty.

    Then his eyes moved to the barkeep filling his order. The cool amber liquid flowing into the glass was topped off by a foaming head, a delicate piece of liquid art. The cowboy rubbed his manly hands together in anticipation.

    “Partner, I’m as dry as the Sonoran desert in summer, how about you?”

    “Me? I’m as dry as a pop-corn fart.”

    “Oooowee! Hear that, Barkeep? You’ve corralled one sharp maverick. Give him another of the same.”

    He slapped his knee and then my back. “Where you from?”

    “Californ-I-A.”

    “That’s as west as you can git. Know anything about horses?”

    “Not me,” I shook my head. “Only what they look like. I just saw the film War Horse though. It was amazing how that horse was trained. It must of taken some time and patience.”

    “Partner, you’d be surprised how smart horses are. Say, I thought the minute you said film instead of movie, you had an education. Maybe I was wrong. So git on over here and let me tell you a thing or two about horses. If there was a class I’d be doin’ the lecturin’. I’m what you call an expert.”

    “You have an M.A. in horses?”

    He hooted.

    “Feller, it’s more like a P.H.D.”

    The next hour we sat at a table and he lectured. He was the only ‘feller’ I ever met that actually sounded like Slim Pickens. Most of the talk was about horses, pedigrees, boots and saddles, Custer, the Seventh Cavalry, but at the same time the beer unleashed his more private side, where he was born, his family, his hopes and dreams, and eventually, as he put it, ‘the whole enchilada’.

    In the process he wheedled out of me much the same information, and the fact that I was stalled in my travels and broke.

    “You know,” he looked thoughtful. “I got a job right now that’s a little too big for me to handle. I could use some help. I need a ramrod.”

    I wasn’t sure what a ramrod was, only a vague black and white memory that Clint Eastwood played Rowdy Yates, Gil Favor’s ramrod on Rawhide.

    I looked a bit puzzled.

    “Don’t you worry yourself, Ishmael, you don’t have to ride ‘em!”

    You get a feeling that what’s happening is directed, just like that gold eagle when it rolled into the room off the library and I followed. So what did I do when confronted with Kismet?

    “O. K., Sonny. I reckon you got yurself a hired hand.”

    That’s me, Cameleon Man, whose miraculous powers allow him to get along with anybody. Maybe I should be a diplomat, and bring peace to the world.

    As it turned out a week later, the job wasn’t quite how I pictured it.

    I imagined I’d be driving a jeep somewhere on the north forty, mending a barbed wire fence, wearing a pair of sweat-soaked leather gloves, even, saints preserve me, smoking a Marlboro, the smell of purple sage filling my nostrils when I wasn’t exhaling clouds of toxic cigarette smoke, and humming the theme to The Magnificent Seven through manly-clenched teeth.

    Instead my assignment was on a small freighter, out in the Pacific, heading towards the Panama Canal, wearing canvas deck shoes, breathing clean sea air, humming What Will We Do With The Drunken Sailor, ready to shave my belly with a rusty razor.

    And the horses? The horses were twenty thoroughbred polo ponies whose ultimate corral was on the Lion Castle Polo Estates, St. Thomas, Barbados.

    Me, ride? That was out of the question. I didn’t even know how to swim.


    https://youtu.be/yulmgTcGLZw The Magnificent Seven -Elmer Bernstein

    ©Steven Hunley 2013
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 06-22-2016 at 11:46 AM.

  2. #2
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    Pretty entertaining, as far as it went, Steve. At bit longer would have been all right.

  3. #3
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Sometimes a man has to ask himself, "Am I about to go in over my head in this endeavor? Where exactly is this going and when did it start?"

    My decisive moment was the day I found a letter in our mailbox. It was an invitation to a party.


    You are cordially invited to dinner at Mandalay House for our annual meeting of the Collector’s Club. Don’t forget to bring your nephew for his initiation on this exclusive special occasion. We look forward to seeing you both.

    Sylvia and Louis Purloiner


    I bounded up the stairs to the west wing, in through the oak double doors of the study and found my uncle with a feather duster in his hand, dusting one of the two Faberge eggs in his collection. I think it was the Necessaire, the one Alexander the Third gave to his wife Maria Fedorovna on Easter day, 1889. It was one of those pieces he wouldn’t let the servants near.

    “It’s come, Uncle, it’s come!”

    He looked up, recognized the stationary and smiled. “Now you’ll see what real collecting is all about.”

    As if I didn’t know already. Just one look around the room the first day I arrived told me more than enough. The doorstop was one of my uncles first ‘rare pieces’. I looked like a worn-out brick, which it was, but no ordinary brick. My uncle had slipped it out of the wall of the Coliseum in Rome when he did a grand tour of Europe in his twenties. It was nearly two thousand years old.

    ‘Vespasian’s Dream’ he christened it.

    “But Uncle, if every tourist had stolen a brick, they’re be nothing left by now.”

    “You’re right, but I’ve got my piece here, a chunk of history, an Emperor’s dream if you will. And I’ll protect it. Vespasian imagined the Coliseum when he was in Sicily keeping bees, after Nero banished him for falling asleep during one of his poetry readings.”

    That was my uncle. If the piece had an interesting provenance he wanted it. When he was poor and younger he collected simple things, and was limited. But then his grandfather left him a vanilla plantation in Tahiti, and that led to a coffee plantation in Sumatra. Long before Starbuck’s signed him as a preferred supplier he became rich, and his wealth enabled his collection to grow in value. The trouble was that good pieces were rare and dear, and since he’d been brought up a bargain hunter, he often sought out black-market suppliers.

    He received special satisfaction in getting ‘impossible to obtain’ antiques with a "five-finger discount". He started off a young man, poor, grabbed an odd brick from the Colisseum when was no one was looking. Now he was old, rich, and possessed two Faberge eggs. It didn’t bother him in the least when a week later he read of an art robbery in a St. Petersburg museum.

    “It only adds to the provenance,” he shrewdly calculated, and left it at that.

    “How many others will be there, Uncle?”

    “Oh, two or three couples more. It’s only a once a year affair, and they’re highly selective in who they invite.”

    Uncle Silas returned the egg to its holder, a small cupped gold platform shaped like a bird’s foot.

    From there he moved on to the shelves holding his rare book collection.

    “I’ll be finished with these soon, and we can talk more over dinner. Are you still practicing the latest trick I bought you, what was it?”

    “Haskell’s Diminishing Deck.”

    “That’s the one we found in the shop in San Francisco, wasn’t it?”

    “That’s it.”

    “Will you be ready after dinner?”

    “I think so.”

    “Very well then, Max and myself will be your audience.”

    He turned his attention and his feather duster to his precious books and I took my hint and left. I liked practicing before the two of them, my uncle had a keen eye, and Max was very direct for a butler, and forthcoming with his comments. I think he picked up the habit when he worked for a has-been movie star on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. She’d gotten in some sort of scandal, but he wouldn’t say anything more. I could always depend on Max for a truthful evaluation of my performance and to keep his mouth shut.

    I would practice and practice, cut and restore bits of rope, change things from one thing to another, levitate, read minds, do a million and one card tricks. But my specialty was sleight of hand, because it took manual dexterity and misdirection.

    Allow me to let you in on a secret. The best magic tricks are the ones where no one knows you’re doing them, just as the perfect crime is one that no one knows was committed.

    It was my plan, no, my design, that that dinner at Mandalay was to be my crowning achievement in magic and crime wrapped up in one single flawless performance. It wasn’t that I needed the money mind you, but rather the fact I’d become profoundly addicted to the thrill.


    ©Steven Hunley 2013

    https://youtu.be/ivTbd38NtWg Sunset Boulevard
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 07-13-2016 at 08:27 PM.

  4. #4
    Registered User Welcheren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Hunley View Post
    The Magnificent Seven

    I felt I had marching orders and therefore a goal, a destination, and the direction was south.

    A week later found me at the Bell Inn in downtown San Diego across from a tourist trap called Seaport Village. Although I’d never visited a pub in the U. K. this one seemed authentic. There was a long oak bar with ivory-handled pumps and tables, a beamed ceiling and wood-paneled walls. One more thing was necessary to complete the perfect picture, a neighborhood clientele drunk on camaraderie.

    Check.

    It had that too.

    Even though it was early it was crowded. You expected any minute to see Arthur Seaton tumbling down the stairs, wrestling with the other drunk and angry young men, fueled to the brim with dark bitter ale, Nottingham accents, and swallowed up by depressive moods as dark as the pits.

    Then I heard, “Howdy, Barkeep, I’ll take a Miller Lite.”

    It was a cowboy, a cowboy! I could tell by his boot-cut Levis, snake-skin boots and ten gallon hat.

    He caught my eye and responded with a Howdy and a smile, and sat down. The sad beer that sat before me was my last. I was out of money, and since travel relies on money as a precursor, I suspected my mission was about to end with a whimper, not a bang. The cowboy looked over and noticed my empty.

    Then his eyes moved to the barkeep filling his order. The cool amber liquid flowing into the glass was topped off by a foaming head, a delicate piece of liquid art. The cowboy rubbed his manly hands together in anticipation.

    “Partner, I’m as dry as the Sonoran desert in summer, how about you?”

    “Me? I’m as dry as a pop-corn fart.”

    “Oooowee! Hear that, Barkeep? You’ve corralled one sharp maverick. Give him another of the same.”

    He slapped his knee and then my back. “Where you from?”

    “Californ-I-A.”

    “That’s as west as you can git. Know anything about horses?”

    “Not me,” I shook my head. “Only what they look like. I just saw the film War Horse though. It was amazing how that horse was trained. It must of taken some time and patience.”

    “Partner, you’d be surprised how smart horses are. Say, I thought the minute you said film instead of movie, you had an education. Maybe I was wrong. So git on over here and let me tell you a thing or two about horses. If there was a class I’d be doin’ the lecturin’. I’m what you call an expert.”

    “You have an M.A. in horses?”

    He hooted.

    “Feller, it’s more like a P.H.D.”

    The next hour we sat at a table and he lectured. He was the only ‘feller’ I ever met that actually sounded like Slim Pickens. Most of the talk was about horses, pedigrees, boots and saddles, Custer, the Seventh Cavalry, but at the same time the beer unleashed his more private side, where he was born, his family, his hopes and dreams, and eventually, as he put it, ‘the whole enchilada’.

    In the process he wheedled out of me much the same information, and the fact that I was stalled in my travels and broke.

    “You know,” he looked thoughtful. “I got a job right now that’s a little too big for me to handle. I could use some help. I need a ramrod.”

    I wasn’t sure what a ramrod was, only a vague black and white memory that Clint Eastwood played Rowdy Yates, Gil Favor’s ramrod on Rawhide.

    I looked a bit puzzled.

    “Don’t you worry yourself, Ishmael, you don’t have to ride ‘em!”

    You get a feeling that what’s happening is directed, just like that gold eagle when it rolled into the room off the library and I followed. So what did I do when confronted with Kismet?

    “O. K., Sonny. I reckon you got yurself a hired hand.”

    That’s me, Cameleon Man, whose miraculous powers allow him to get along with anybody. Maybe I should be a diplomat, and bring peace to the world.

    As it turned out a week later, the job wasn’t quite how I pictured it.

    I imagined I’d be driving a jeep somewhere on the north forty, mending a barbed wire fence, wearing a pair of sweat-soaked leather gloves, even, saints preserve me, smoking a Marlboro, the smell of purple sage filling my nostrils when I wasn’t exhaling clouds of toxic cigarette smoke, and humming the theme to The Magnificent Seven through manly-clenched teeth.

    Instead my assignment was on a small freighter, out in the Pacific, heading towards the Panama Canal, wearing canvas deck shoes, breathing clean sea air, humming What Will We Do With The Drunken Sailor, ready to shave my belly with a rusty razor.

    And the horses? The horses were twenty thoroughbred polo ponies whose ultimate corral was on the Lion Castle Polo Estates, St. Thomas, Barbados.

    Me, ride? That was out of the question. I didn’t even know how to swim.


    https://youtu.be/yulmgTcGLZw The Magnificent Seven -Elmer Bernstein

    ©Steven Hunley 2013
    Similar to desiresjab: this was a fun read; "drunk on camaraderie" is great line. Not sure where's its going though. Will there be more?
    And as I pass through the first gate, I know that the better part of my soul will remain behind - forever.

  5. #5
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    A week later it was already five-thirty in the afternoon when I caught my first glimpse of Mandalay House. We were heading west, overlooking the Pacific. Hills and trees cast shadows longer than themselves, exaggerating their effect on your consciousness. The landscape becomes more dream-like. Colors intensify, shapes delineate, and nature gives up her dull felt marker for a sharp gold-nibbed pen.

    The road dipped into a hollow, and then wound upwards.

    “It’s over this knoll,” said Uncle Silas. “You like old films, if I’m not mistaken.”

    “Yes, you know I do. It’s the effect of watching all those old black and white movies with you.”

    “You’d be happy to know that Mandalay was built by Errol Flynn and Lilli Damita, bought with the money he made after Captain Blood.”

    “When she burst out crying that she lost him, after she saw the audience’s reaction?”

    “Exactly, after the premier. She was French, had a woman’s sensibilities and studied tragedy. She was famous long before Errol, and recognized the hungry beast of stardom stalking him.”

    We were nearly at the top of the hill, almost out of its shadow.

    “They built it together, but broke up later. He kept it, and used it as a hideout from the studio when he wasn’t using his yacht. I think you’ll see why they picked the location.

    He pulled to the top of the hill, then slowed to a turn-out and stopped.

    “What do you think?”

    The vista was bathed in amber light. Mazanita with small purple blossoms and chaparral took over the foreground. The property overlooked the coast, and the western horizon ran in a curve from light blue to azure to cobalt, like a painter mixing pacific watercolors. The estate was bordered by a white wooden fence that led to a stone wall connected to a black wrought-iron gate. Stately Eucalyptus hid the house, all but the red Spanish tile roof of a tower. Behind that sat orange trees and a formal garden with a fountain and a lath gazebo. Surrounding the garden were rows of grapes on lattices, fanning out in all directions.

    We continued closer and stopped on the gravel paving the entrance.

    The gate was wrought iron and substantial. Like a California mission, you had the impression it would stand forever. I got out to ring the bell and noted the initials EF and LD cast onto the ironwork. It seemed romance and stardom were as ephemeral as a learner’s permit.

    The gate opened inward and we proceeded to loop around the gravel driveway until a gap in the trees revealed an immense white stucco Spanish hacienda sprawling between two towers with red-tiled roofs. Green southwestern succulents with thick fleshy leaves sat in dozens of clay pots against the walls. We parked and got out. A fountain ringed with peeing cherubs spurt water into a quiet pool where sparrows were gaily bathing. I expected the birds to fly away; instead they bounced, as if they couldn’t be airborne more than a foot.

    “They look like they’re drunk.”

    “They are drunk,” said Uncle Silas. “They’ve been eating the berries off that Eugenia hedge. Some of the berries are so ripe; the sugar has turned to alcohol.”

    A massive oak double-door with iron hinges opened and a woman stepped into the sunlight.

    “Silas, good to see you again! And this must be your nephew, uh…”

    “Call me Ishmael.”

    “So pleased to meet you. I’m Silvia.”

    She shook my hand enthusiastically, a woman sure of herself. No doubt she was the other side of fifty, but at the same time she maintained a slim figure, and hair dark as obsidian with a narrow matrix of silver.

    “Are we late?” said Silas.

    “No, you’re early. You have time for drinks before we start.”

    The entryway led to a living room one step down with an ornate carved ceiling. Sitting around a coffee table were two couples and an older man with a mustache who was leading the conversation. They were animated and loud and gesturing wildly. The birds weren’t the only ones drunk.

    “That’s Louis, giving the lecture,” whispered Uncle.

    When he saw Uncle Silas he sprung up like a jack in the box.

    That was the only time I saw Louis spring into action. The rest of the evening he was sedate, and let Silvia do most of the talking.

    “So good to see you again. I think this occasion will provide you with valuable additions to your collection.”

    He made introductions, but was careful not to give names.

    One of the couples was a count and his wife. The countess was wearing a black spaghetti-strap dress with a slit. Her hair was frizzy, multi-colored, and her cheeks were as rouged as a Khymer. I like it when women get creative in color and design, even if it means they’re unstable.

    “So happy to meet you,” she gushed, and returned to her conversation. When she turned I noted a phrase branded in ink across her back.

    ‘Only God can judge me.’

    I knew I could get along with this ‘countess’. She had morals, her morals.

    The next couple was an oil magnate and his real-estate-wrangling ‘partner’ from Texas. I could tell from her accent and his Stetson. Believe it or not they said, “Howdy.”

    They were discussing the impact of TV commercials on business, collecting antique guns; he referred to them as ‘shooting irons’, and how striking oil had ruined his private golf course.

    Silvia got a nod from the servants. “Dinner is served.”

    “I guarantee,” said Louis with a smile, “It will be like nothing you’ve ever had. And after that…”

    “Let’s not let it get cold,” chided Silvia, So if you please…”

    She bowed quite dramatically and gestured towards the dining room with a sweep of her hand. She had lovely French-tipped nails. I like women who have a flair for stage plays. When the real drama in life crops up, they know how to handle it. To be this accomplished you need a completely expressible face, one that demonstrates every emotion.

    Silvia had plenty of that. She had a regular Merle Streep/ Judi Dench thing going on and a bit of Lillian Russell thrown in for old time’s sake.

    We all strolled in and sat down to the most elaborate meal I ever tasted. The rare antiquities would be the desert.

    ***

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