A cold wind scattered the tumbleweeds down the empty main streets of Queen's Gulch.
A shopkeeper spat on the sidewalk for something to do.
A lone horseman rode into view. "Shucks," he said, looking around him. "I guess this really is a one-horse town."
The vultures waited.
Nothing else happened that day in Queen's Gulch but down south at the county jail in Dodge, Sheriff Ardern and her deputies waved charts, talked loudly, banged their fists on the table, sent out for more coffee, ran their fingers down balance sheets, gave the floor to Doc Bloomfield, sent out for more coffee, underlined passages in policy documents, looked at plans for a new-fangled set of traffic lights, and narrowed their eyes to show they meant business.
There was a tap on the jailhouse window. A familiar face appeared. "Excuse me, Sheriff," called out Half-Fish, Half-Clarke, "but I'm going through our wedding menu with chef Peter Gordon, and he wants to know how you feel about a starter of freekeh and artichoke salad, pairing the smoky flavour of the grain (caused by the burning of the fields by farmers at the end of summer) with fragrant cumin, golden corn and vibrant pomegranate?"
"Not now," said the Sheriff, and pulled down the blinds.
Sheriff Ardern met with Banker Grant at a corner table in the saloon.
"Rotgut," he ordered.
"Camomile tea," she ordered.
When their drinks arrived, the Banker lowered his voice, and said, "We've got a problem."
"Apart from the plague?"
"Housing's still in a mess," he said. "There ain't enough homes for the townsfolk. We need all the help we can get. And someone is offering us just that."
He took a slug from his glass, and said, "Whitey Collins."
"What should I tell her?"
She took a slug from his glass. He took that as a yes.
Sheriff Ardern met again with her deputies.
"Shall we reopen schools next week?"
"The principals want it."
"But experts warn against it."
"How about we bring the South Island down to level 1?"
"It's got zero cases."
"But experts warn against it."
"How close is Queen's Gulch to 90 per cent vaccination?"
"The Doc reckons just over a month."
"But experts warn against any sign of optimism."
Half-Fish, Half-Clarke stuck his head through the open window, and said, "Sheriff? Peter wants to know how you feel about his choice for dessert, in which the flavours of summer are put centre-stage in a stunning strawberry and ginger beer jelly, served with icecream for an added touch of indulgence?"
"Not now," she said, and closed the window.
The Sheriff met with the Banker at their usual table. He ordered a glass of rotgut, and she ordered a bottle.
He said, "We've got a problem."
"No. There ain't enough money. We need all the help we can get. And someone is offering us just that."
He lit a cheroot, and said, "Boris Johnson."
He slipped her the papers, and she signed the free trade agreement.
The Sheriff spent the day installing a set of traffic lights. It was greeted by Queen's Gulch with the sound of one hand clapping.
The holiday weekend loomed. She knew that was a luxury she couldn't afford but looked forward to putting her feet up just for one evening. She rode home, hitched her horse to the white picket fence, and walked inside. "Yoo-hoo," she called out.
She found Half-Fish, Half-Clarke in the lounge.
"Something smells good," she said.
"Dig in," he said, and they ate fish and chips.