The thermostat read 90º, which would be fine if not for the 80% humidity making it feel like they were standing in an open air sauna, fully dressed, surrounded by fat people. The fact that it was 7pm and still this hot only made the situation more irritating. Jake mopped his forehead with the sleeve of his blue sports coat, took a breath, and continued to eye the crowd as they filtered through the gate. Straightening his black top hat, he ran his fingers across his freshly trimmed beard, down the front of his bloused shirt, finally resting his thumbs in the empty belt loops of his loose fitting black, leather pants. He looked down briefly to be sure his alligator shoes retained their polish, then returned to counting ticket sales.
It had taken surprisingly little convincing to get the Valero Brothers, owners of the largest refuse removal company in town, to support his plan. They provided land, and the money for a security detail, lighting, and seating. But just for the first event. Either he showed a profit right out of the gate, or they were done. And if he did not repay their ‘investment’, well, he was probably done. From the looks of the turnout, that was not going to be a problem.
A large open field, zoned for warehousing that had never been built, was held by a company that the Valero’s were associated with. On either side of the field, a set of rented metal bleachers, 5 rows high, seating 20 each row, had been placed. In front of each set stood a transparent, bulletproof, wall, 10 feet high and 22 feet long. Racks of lights on extendable aluminum tripods 12 feet high, encircled the field, shining their light towards the center. Groups of teenage mexican boys hurriedly worked around the bases, securing the tripods to the ground with wires.
As the last arrivals took their seats, the cash register was locked away, and Jake sauntered out to the middle of the field, wireless mic in his hand like a wand. The crowd fell quiet, all eyes focused on the MC.
“Good evening, and welcome to the 1st of what I hope will be many fantastic, if cooler, evenings.” Polite laughter crashed against the Plexiglas shielding. “Tonight we shall see honor demonstrated, freedom protected, and our culture affirmed.” Applause.
Feeling his groove, Jake began to pace the field, waving his arms to accentuate his points. “On this night, on this field, at this time, shall meet David Pearce and Thomas Kincaid. Mr. Pearce claims that Mr. Thomas embezzled from their company, and he has the right to defend his livelihood. Mr. Thomas claims they were equal partners and therefore he was just using his money, and he has the right to defend himself from attack. Since they both claim defense, the law allows them to settle it by duel, as men of honor have done for centuries, and tonight they shall do exactly that!” He grabbed the brim of his hat and raised it with a flourish; the audience jumped to their feet, cheering.
On cue, 2 men stepped onto the field from small tents which had been set up as waiting areas. Now, between the bleachers, safely ensconced by the plexi, they stood, facing each other, hands resting on holstered handguns at their hips. Jake stood between them, a hand on the mic, the other arm over his head. He called for quiet.
“We will begin in a moment. Before we do, let us take a moment for our creator.”
The black robed preacher from the beach duel stepped through the gate entrance and walked onto the field. It had taken Jake several days to find him sleeping on the pews of a Synagogue that provided shelter to the homeless. Still dressed in the same black overcoat, pants and white shirt, he strolled onto the stage. Jake held out the mic. The preacher took it, held aloft his bible, and intoned “Lord! Lord ! We beseech you, guide us on our uncertain path. Protect the innocent and allow your justice to reign supreme.”
The crowd mumbled, “Amen,” in unison. He returned the mic to Jake and walked off the field. Jake paused, head bowed, then looked up at the crowd.
“Who is ready to see the Lord’s Justice prevail?” They cheered much louder than they prayed.
He turned and faced the men, waved them in a little closer with his arms outstretched to either side. They came, step by step, carefully eyeing their former friend turned opponent. Jake motioned for them to stop when they reached the stones set to mark 40 yards. He reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a silver whistle.
“I will blow 3 short blasts. When the 3rd blast ends, you may begin.”
As he spoke Jake walked towards the edge of the nearest plexi wall. He stepped around the corner, “Ready.” Their eyes narrowed. Beads of sweat formed on their heads. Fingers flexed. In their stomaches, fear formed a knot sending blood fleeing and the heart racing. He put the silver, plastic, toy whistle to his lips. He blew once, they did not move. He blew a second time, they did not breath. Nor did the audience. He blew a 3rd time. The sound faded. For a moment their was pure stillness, neither sound nor motion. Then they drew their weapons.
Metal slid against leather as the pistols were pulled from their holsters. A faint click as squeezed triggers released hammers, then another as they fell. The explosive noise of bullets being ejected from cartridges covered the sound of barrels driving grooves into the hot, spinning projectiles. Then they flew through the air, too fast to be seen or heard by humans. Hurtling mayhem towards their targets, and leaving tragedy in their wake.
However, their targets were nowhere near where they had been pointed, so the bullets flew harmlessly off into the night. Both men, now over their initial shock and fear, repositioned. Mr. Pearce, on the north side, laid his gun hand into the palm of his left hand and took aim at his opponent’s head. Mr. Thomas dropped to his left knee, balanced his right elbow on his right knee, brought his left palm up to support his gun hand, and fired 3 shots and the chest of his target.
Both strategies proved equally valid. The top of Thomas’s head exploded just above the forehead, causing his neck to rock back before he fell face first into his own brain matter. 40 yards away, 3 holes opened in Pearce’s chest, creating 1 giant hole in his back out of which oozed his left lung before he fell into a pile like a puppet with its strings cut.
Silence hung over the field, more confused by a contest with no winners than upset by the carnage. Jake knew he had to do something quickly if he was going to have repeat performances. He strode back onto the bloody field.
“And there you have it ladies and gentlemen. The Lord saw that both of these men were villains, and allowed them both to be removed from our just society. Thank God.” Applause erupted at this neat explanation that allowed them to enjoy the event while pacifying their conscience at the same time.
As people filed out Jake overheard someone asking about an events calendar, and he knew he had struck gold.
In the back of the stands sat Sheriff Greyson and Deputy O’Neal, in pain clothes, scowling.