In the history of the West, there wasn’t a job less thankless than that of Mayor of Fiddler’s Gulch. The last three holders of this less than esteemed position had been shot dead.
Even so, Tobias, the current office holder, at the ripe age of twenty, made due. As a sign of his status, he wore a black stovepipe hat. The circle of felt at the top had ripped long ago so it flapped up and down whenever he walked. No suit. Just a plain blue shirt and trousers, both in need of a good washing.
The town was just a small collection of houses and run down stores along a dirt road. Much of the population had either died, been zombified, murdered, or dispersed. Twenty souls were left under the Mayor’s watch.
Tobias strained under the weight of the bricks he was carrying. When he reached the road, he dumped them on the ground, then proceeded to put one in each of the bags of grain that had been lined up.
Arnold Watson had once been a shopkeeper, back when there were people to sell things to.
“What are you doing?” Arnold asked.
“Sam wants ten bags,” Tobias said. “We only got seven so I’m improvising.”
“He’ll check,” Arnold said. “You know he will.”
Tobias put a brick into another bag, then used his hand to scoop grain over it. “Maybe he won’t.”
“He will,” Arnold said. “And then he’ll shoot one of us as an example. He always does.”
The Mayor stood up and threw up his hands. “Well I don’t know what else to do, Arn. Ole Sawbuck ain’t exactly reasonable. He’s taken everything we have and keeps demanding more.”
“Lying to him is a good way to get one of us killed,” Arnold said.
“What do you think will happen when he shows up and we only have seven bags?” Arnold asked. “We apologize and he tells us that’s ok? He’ll give us more time and come back for the other three later? No. We know he’ll definitely shoot one of us if we only have seven. At least this way there’s a chance, a small chance that he might not and by the time he figures it out, we’ll have hightailed it out of here.”
“We’re just supposed to leave?” Arnold asked. “Where to?”
“Hell if I know,” Tobias replied. “But we can’t stay here. Sawbuck’s cleaned us out but he keeps trying to squeeze blood out of a stone.”
Eleanor Stuckey, an old gal who’d been a school marm in a previous life, sat on her porch knitting.
“Listen to the Mayor, Arnold,” she said. “You know he’s right.”
“Damn it,” Arnold said as he grabbed a brick and shoved it deep down into a bag. “Fine. But take that stupid hat off.”
“I like it,” Tobias said. “No one told Mayor Bratton to take it off.”
“He wore it well,” Arnold said. “You look like a jackass.”
“Eleanor,” Tobias said. “Does this hat make me look like a jackass?”
The old lady looked up from her yarn and squinted at the Mayor through her spectacles.
“Nope. You look all kinds of regal.”
Tobias opened up an empty bag, tossed a brick into it, then pored some grain out of another bag onto that. “You hear that, Arn? I’m regal.”