Soft metal, the cuffs were made of. Some kind of fool’s gold iron that probably could have been snapped with a pair of wire cutters. Easy take, for the scream of an approaching train.
The man on the balcony jams a finger ruefully in his ringing ears. It’s been a long day on set. He can still feel the metal cold against the sweat on his wrists.
SLAP! And those darned mosquitos. It’s no wonder Anne took off for Madrid. Just as well.
Eli Wallach studies the chipped red of the columns in the apartments across the way, the concrete bricks making up the road in the city square. The lamps on the brick walls cast a liquid yellow light that flickers, the smell of oil wafting up to the balcony. Spain does have its own romance to it, a perfectly fine place to run off to. Tracking American gold through Spanish graves on a silver screen. At a distance. In person, well, there’s a lot more sweat and dirt to be had than he’d figured on.
And with the sun having set just as they were leaving their warground, Eli might as well collapse and forget about this mess, dream about getting back to the rise of a curtain where the director had more to say than "watch me!". Or less, that could be nice too.
But for all he’s used to sleeping off the day’s work without company, it would be very nice to have a soft and sweet-smelling pair of arms to hold him and tell him off for chasing rainbows and all that blood-soaked gold.
He leaves off the balcony there. Ought to get something else to eat, maybe a drink. Their hotel has a bar beneath, that looks like more of a saloon than anything else, with the veteran cowboy van Cleef smoking at the end of the counter.
"Evening, Lee. Mind if I join you?"
Right, he's forgotten the speed at which their villain turns over from quiet to uproarious to utterly taciturn. Whiskey does that to some men. Eli sighs and takes a seat down in any case. The menu is in Spanish, but he had some luck with paella a few nights ago.
" ¿Está él contigo? " the fresh-faced boy at the bar casts a slightly terrified glance at Lee.
"Lo siento, parlez-vous francais?"
The boy shakes his head, looking back to the middle aged matron who glares at him. Eli would laugh if he could just figure out what the boy wanted.
"Eh...he...you.." the boy gesticulates, then turns red, checking that his boss isn't looking. Lee slumps slightly against the wall. The boy gestures again.
"Say no more," Eli leaves the bar stool with a creak, slinging Lee's arm around his shoulder. The boy's relief is obvious.
Lee doesn’t seem to object to being manhandled up to walk, simply nodding blearily in Eli’s general direction. Well, walking is a challenge, unless he takes most of Lee's muscle on his back. It's just as well, the boy being skinny as he is, it would be hard for him to guide a man like van Cleef anywhere. As it is with his height Eli could be having a better time of it --
He's pretty sure that's him in the clean yellow pressed shirt, even across the crowded bar-- when he turns to show his stubble, Eli knows. See if their man is as 'good' as their little cowboy opera says he is.
Sure enough, Clint strides over quick pace when he sees Eli struggling, "Everything okay?"
"Can you give me a hand with him?"
Clint obliges, slipping his arm atop Eli's on Lee's other side. Lee, for his part, simply gives something of a mumbled nod to Clint.
"Where are you planning to take him? Someone should be keeping an eye on him," Clint eyes the hallway of rooms doubtfully.
"I'd agree with you, only I'm not sure where his room is! Well, we can take him to mine. Someone who drinks like he does, he'll sober up fast, and be able to tell us where he's supposed to be."
"You say so," Clint nods, "have you seen my wife anywhere?"
"Nope. I'm afraid the three of us are abandoned bachelors, much the pity. I was missing Anne tonight, after how close I came to losing my head on set!"
Clint pats his arm clumsily, rather than offering any of his usual gruff advice. From the way they talked, sometimes you'd swear he was the older man between them. Well. After today, Eli can see how being on these Italian sets would have aged him.
“Do you have him?” Eli asks when they get back to his hotel room, and when Clint nods, he lets his arm go, fumbles in his pockets for his key.
There’s a lengthy green couch in the corner that he’s never sat on, Clint walks Lee straight over there. The man tumbles down to lying without much nudging. Clint frowns, crossing over to the bathroom.
Eli sits down on the wicker chair opposite the couch, leaning over to nudge at his visitor’s knee, “Hey, Lee.”
Not much response. Seems like he’s more drunk than he was in the bar, somehow. Clint emerges from the bathroom, carrying a glass full of water. Eli smiles, shaking his head.
“If you can get him to drink that—”
Clint finds Lee’s limp hand, presses the glass into it. Surprisingly (or maybe not so much), the man responds to this, sitting up a little bit to take slow sips of it. Eli casts Clint a mildly impressed expression, to which Clint shrugs.
“You know, my first night on the set for A Fistful of Dollars, Sergio brought all kinds of people out to meet me. All these lovely people, but I couldn’t speak to any of them, and they —”
An embarrassing gurgle interrupts Clint’s story. Eli half-shrugs, gesturing to his stomach, “I was going to get a bit of a late dinner, when I came across him.”
Clint is already up, heading for the whole, “Well that won’t do, we’ve got to work tomorrow. The hotel has some good room service, patatas bravas? Cured ham? Cheese and olives?”
“The first, and the last thing, no ham.”
Clint just nods, begins his order in what Eli can recognize as a slow, careful Italian. Eli sits back, taking stock of the warm light from the lamp settled on the bedcovers. The room somehow looks cozier than when he left it, which doesn’t make a lick of sense.
"Should be here in ten minutes or so," Clint takes a seat back on the other wicker chair.
"You were telling me about the set of Fistful?"
"Right, yeah. All those Italians, they wanted me to try their wine. It's dangerous stuff. Tastes sweet, goes down smooth, doesn't hit you till after. I considered myself pretty healthy for alcohol tolerance. But ah...that was something else."
"No fooling? That's kind of thing I thought you'd have warned me off of!"
"Well I would have, if we'd had the same kind of dinner the first night on set. Guess Sergio learned his lesson there."
"The way you say that makes me think there's more to that story," Eli prodded slyly.
"If there is, you'll have to ask Sergio. I don't remember a damn thing after trying to explain the word ‘lilies’ to a woman I never saw again ," Clint smiles crookedly, and that's the bravado of a younger man after all.
"Heh," Eli rubs his wrists, thinking about the afternoon. When he looks up, Clint is still studying him carefully.
"You okay? That ah-- scene with the train this afternoon. That was a reckless stunt, even for him. You handled it well, though."
"Ah, I'm fine. Ringing in my ears just about cleared up."
"Guess you can see why I don't even trust him to plan an explosion at a distance, much less put me in anything resembling a stunt.”
“I’ve been considering myself, am I working with a genius or a madman?”
Clint shrugs, indifferent, “Both, but you know something--”
This time, it’s a knock on the door that interrupts him. Eli is on his feet quickly, the hollowness in his stomach now a pressing matter. But Clint has chosen well, the cart wafting a delicious scent of potatoes, coriander, something with tomato? He thanks the attendant with a generous tip before pulling out a plate to dig in. Clint takes a small serving himself, eyeing Lee’s sleeping body with an almost motherly concern.
Eli would laugh at it, only he’s got a mouthful of this funny kind of fish soup, probably cod? White wine, rich tomato, and olives in that too. In short, exactly the kind of thing that he would have picked. He mumbles a thank you through a mouthful of food, feeling his cheeks go red at his eagerness.
“Don’t mention it,” a smile tugs at the corner of Clint’s mouth as he digs in as well.
“Anyways, you were right in saying,” Eli continues when he swallows, “Sergio is some kind of piece of work. I like his style but...I’m not about to lose my head over it. Not trying to be funny!”
"He's got an eye for detail, though, I respect that," Eli reflects, "Gets in there, like when he was trying to show me how to kiss Pistilli's belt. And he takes suggestion on detail, like the tooth."
"Did like that. Suits Tuco," Clint nods, "I haven't gotten to see your other Western yet, though."
"Ah yeah, Calvera was a real piece of work," Eli grins, thinking about the strut that role had, "I thought of that when I saw the script, and thought, that was fun, even though I'd have to put up with all this Western violence again. Well. Work is work."
“Mm. This is gonna be my last. Spaghetti Western, that is," Clint sets down his fork, his gaze flinty as his nameless character on screen, "I’m going back to California. I’ll form my own company. And then I’m going to act in, and direct, my own films.”
It’s only years of keeping company with younger and less talented young men spouting the same nonsense that keeps Eli from laughing outright. But when he takes the measure of the grim blue-eyed cowboy in front of him -- well, he’s got something backing him beyond chutzpah , Eli has to admit.
Whether that’ll be enough -- ah, he doesn’t even know if this film will pan out. Never mind an entire career.
“How I had a career is a mystery to me, I hope that works out the way, though, the way you want.”
“I’ll figure it out.”
Sure you will, Eli thinks, and he isn't positive it's entirely sarcastic.
"You, ah," and here, Eli has the entirely ridiculous thought that the man would be better served by smoking cigarillos, "Ever have any trouble adjusting?"
"Well, you're kind of a big star, right."
"Oy vey, you think so? I try not to think about it."
"Makes sense. Guess I'm the same way when I think about it. I asked because I’d heard a lot about your work. I was a bit nervous meeting you.”
"You?" Eli does laugh then, "Never would have guessed, for all you act like the veteran here."
Clint shrugs, "Thought you could use the advice about Sergio."
"And you were right. ‘Sides, give it a few years, who knows! You’ll probably have people lined up nervous to meet you. Better to put it out of mind now.”
“Good advice,” Clint nods seriously,
"Whether they see a big star or a poor fool, that's not my problem. I just have to put the right face on for the part. Nothing to do with them."
"Well. Least he's not just seeing you, nothing else."
The two men start, hearing their would-be corpse speak with the villain’s timbre. Lee blinks with only half-bleary eyes, clearly having caught part of the conversation with some sobriety. He props himself up slowly, looking around them.
"Thought you were out," Clint says easily, not missing a beat.
"Mmm. This your room?"
"Ah. Do you,” here, Lee pauses, as if searching through his vocabulary, gesturing at Clint, “Remember. Well. I told you how Leone found me for For a Few Dollars. "
"Uhuh," Clint adds, and that look could have been for the camera, all he'd need was more of a squint.
"Well how's that go?” Eli asks.
"Saw me from a photograph and tracked me down. Just. For the face, never seen a single film," Lee mumbles, "Guess I should be glad I never let them touch my nose, huh."
Eli has very little idea what that means, but he's quick to jump in to reassure, “It wasn’t too different for me, you know? One scene in How the West was Won, something I did with my hands. Not even Calvera, who was popular in Italy.”
“Yeah, something you did.”
Clint shrugs, his eyes flitting to the darkened window glass, “Well, I was Sergio’s fourth choice, but I reckon he’s happy to keep me on now. And that’s both of us, for two films. Not like Angel Eyes is much like your last was, either.”
“True,” Lee fumbles in his pocket, “Oh. Do you might if I smoke?”
“Go ahead,” Eli says easily. He doesn't, not the way it would sandpaper up his tools of the trade. But the grim hoarseness does suit Lee to a tee.
“Much obliged,” he does look steadier, once he’s got the pipe in his mouth. Eli vaguely remembers hearing some absurd story he told about chasing a dog over the side of a navy boat, pipe still in his mouth. Lee had been drunk when he told it-- but that was before Eli really knew it was a state of being, with him.
With the smoke filtering out of his lips, giving the room the pleasant odor of tobacco, Eli could almost believe that story was true.
“You know I saw For a Few Dollars More , after I saw Clint’s cowboy solo. When you’re serious, you’re enough like that Colonel for it to be an easier role, sure. But it’s not just your face that’s acting when you do the heavy role, you know? Your voice, inflection, the casualness-- voice especially. Makes a man shiver! But I don’t think they could switch you out with anyone, even with the same look.”
“Kind of you to say,” Lee straightens, with all the peculiar nobility that is so like his role as that bleakly dressed Colonel. Not much like Sentenza at all. Angel Eyes. Eli isn’t really sure if that name is going to catch on, but Sergio is keen on it.
“And you,” here, Eli resists the absurd desire to add amigo , as if he’s getting to into his own role! He turns to Clint, “You might play strong silent type off the stage, but all the same, you bring something to those films, and this one, that’s what carries them through.”
“I know my strengths,” Clint doesn’t seem offended, so he’s struck the right notes. All of them here together, it makes the morning's brush with death seem like a funny thing that happened to someone else.
Happened to a loud mouthed Mexican who wants nothing more than to strike it rich. Which, if Eli were to think about it too much, he'd wonder what on Earth made Sergio think he was right for the role at all. Then again, yelling after Clint with every muscle in his face felt natural as anything... hopefully it looked it as well.
"All these explosions," Lee closes his eyes, voice bitter as snake venom, "What's it all going to come to? An entire army he's got for this sideshow. And he expects it to make it in America this time?”
"There's precedent," Clint points out.
"S'pose," Clint sets his plate down, utterly indifferent to their fate. Eli ought to be too-- with how much he's negotiated for film profits, what did it matter to him if it was art or vaudeville?
Eli frowns, looking to the men he shared the screen with. Truth is, he had gotten to the point where it always mattered. Today almost made him forget it.
"Come on, come on, let's go outside a minute! Can you walk?" Eli jumps to his feet, all the gold fevered fire shot through him again.
"Sure." Lee tilts his head and slips his pipe out of his mouth.
"What's this about?" Clint, ever the man of action, gets to his feet too, all his attention on Eli.
"I want you two to see something, seeing as I've got company."
Clint nods seriously, and as Lee stands he does seem steady enough that he won't tumble into anything. Eli grabs his jacket, seeing as it’s gotten a little chillier in the night. The other two, they’ve got long sleeves at least. And this won’t be long.
He hums to himself as he leads them quick pace through the hallways, out the hotel lobby and into the fresh dew of the night. The town of Burgos is small and sleepy, in the dead of night -- well it’s as quiet as any death march through the desert would be....
...Without a loud mouth to give it comedic flair.
“Come on, this way. I walked out here the first night we came back from filming. Or maybe it was the second, for all they worked us to the bone that first night, I might have passed out!”
Behind him, Lee mumbles something that may be ‘that makes two of us’, but with those long strides, he’s keeping up fine. Clint, as usual, says little, but his blue eyes sparkle in the small town lamplight. It takes all of ten minutes to reach the city’s edge, just like the kind of ramshackle border-town an unnamed man would hide out in, looking over his shoulder for a vengeful bandito...
“See, this. Just look at it,” he gestures towards the view, and holds his tongue, for once. The glowing half moon tracing out the barren rock faces, and further on, the hills sparse as a balding saloon keeper. The landscape has its own language, Eli remembers thinking that in parts of For a Few Dollars More . And as the madman who hustled him underneath that train sees it, breathes it into speech for all of his other flaws. That seems to be something worth making.
"I think about the what the camera sees. The way it would look on all those silver screens. It takes a lot of nerve to sell America back to America, from over here, sure. But all of this? It's a good pitch."
"Crazy, but. I wouldn't have signed on again, if I didn't think it would work,” Clint tightens his lips, “Probably. Sides, three's a lucky enough number."
"The perfect number?"
"You ask me to do six of these, I'll let Sergio blow up the bridge next to you next time."
Eli lets out a snort of a laugh, pulling his jacket a little closer in the desert wind. Blondie gets only a few humorous lines in the film, sure, but they crackle with the same dry wit that comes easily to Clint.
"Thank you," it’s Lee that says it, gruff yet unmistakably tinged with emotion.
Eli doesn’t look to him, but he does smile, "Oh, don't mention it, don't mention it."
And he means that, too. The picture should be doing the speaking, or the view the three of them can’t seem to tear their eyes away from. No doubt, Eli thinks, and he’s sure of it in that moment -- any audience will feel the same way.