A Peculiar Duel

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The fine mist floated a half meter above the damp pampas earth. The sun had not quite lifted its sleepy brow above far off mountains that formed a crooked line at the extent of the plain. Octavio de Ponferrada Suarez Scarambolli sat in the wooden folding chair; the seat wobbled on the uneven ground. Blowing warm moist air into his cupped hands to keep his gnarled joints loose for the grisly business at hand, he shivered— his black wool morning coat, silk vest with the white ascot wrapped snugly around his thin, long neck were not enough to ward off the chill in the early amanacer. Even in the thin light of predawn, when the world is still flat and grease gray, he could clearly make out the thick form of Gregorio Zarrate, or simply Tio Goyo to his faithful lackeys, goons and street mobs that served and adored the caldillo, a brutish local boss of this remote region.

Zarrate commanded the loyalty of the area’s simple campesinos and tough independent gauchos. He understood their distrust of the soft politicians from the large cities. Through his defiance of national politicians and his indefatigable ability to sit and share yerba mate with those whose hands were calloused from a lifetime of rough work, he had gradually attained control of the local consejos and bureaucracies. Octavio, however, knew the truth–the undeniable fact that Zarrate, for almost three decades, had built his hinterland empire upon propaganda, broken backs, lies and ultimately fear from those that opposed him. His common man reputation dissembled the monster that he was. Octavio was the last voice of reason, and he had come to this particular moment when his words of truth would prevail.

Goyo stood among the tall grass, before the sun would cast its first long early morning shadows, his heavy overcoat draped over his broad round shoulders and the sharp, large blade facon tucked into his built as was the traditional style of the gauchos. His thick right hand gripped the rosewood handle of the revolver that he had chosen has the weapon, its bright steel frame contrasting against the flat, colorless sky and earth. Forty feet from him sat his antagonist of many years, the local publisher of a third rate newspaper, a thin periodical that was more innuendo and vitriol than fact and news.

Scarambolli had come to the area many years before, following a young woman who had left the pampas to make her way in Buenos Aires but returning a year later. She had never accomplishing anything more than serving tables at the small street cafes; dancing the Tango at night for a few pieces of copper, and her grand achievement: luring the emaciated young writer, Scarambolli, to her small town. She thought that his education would make him powerful in such a small place as her village and outlying area. Instead, he had engaged in a holy crusade against the ascension of Goyo. To defy and fight Goyo could only result in death, a broken body or poverty. The latter was the destiny for poor Scarambolli, with the ridicule of anyone with enough education and ability to read his preposterous publication.

Eventually the young woman found an other amorous interest in the arms of teamster passing through. On an icy spring night, Scarambolli lay cold and shivering in bed without his beloved, green eyed maiden by his side to keep him warm. Of course, the writer could only blame the great satan, Goyo for this calamity, for who else, in the beguiled academic’s mind, could possibly drive his woman away from true love?

The charcoal sky began to lighten to a hazy gray. Goyo watched, as the intermediary dropped the handkerchief, thus beginning the duel. In the dim light, Scarambolli rolled a white sheet of paper into the ancient, oversized black typewriter. The glowing tip of the cheroot bobbed up and down as the writer held it between the fingers of the same hand he used to turn the roller in the carriage. Even through the mist whisping upwards in long fingers, somewhat blurring Scarambollis extraordinarily thin frame, he could make out the long thin strands of gray hair that hung about man’s ears and collar like the an old bare mop.

“Octavio” shouted Goyo, “don’t be a fool. You are going to die. Pack and leave.” Scarambolli hunched over the typewriter.

Goyo could never understand the nature of animosity between the two. Although his rise to prominence had occurred without the occasional use of forceful persuasion, Goyo had treated his people well and protected them against the exploitation that had befallen many other rural areas such as his. He even provided them with bread and beef when harvests were poor, and he would help rebuild their homes when great storms swept across the plains reducing the earthen hovel to piles of rubble and mud. But now he was tired and wanted to retire from his accomplishments and leave the work to his son. That, however, had become increasingly difficult as Scarambolli tripled the vehemence against his progeny that had once been reserved for him. Moron. Puppet. Idiot child. Child of the beast. Slaver. The insults proliferated the weekly paper until Goyo could take it no longer.

One damp afternoon, as the two passed on opposite sides of the square, Goyo abruptly stopped and called out, “Scarambolli, you are a liar, a coward, and a despicable snake. You were not man enough to find the thief that stole your woman and defend your honor. And now you hide behind your paper and print words that you would never defend to my face. I wish I had really taken your women, for you would do nothing but talk and write. A real man would use his facon to carve his message into his enemies heart.”

Goyo’s voice boomed and echoed. Fine gentlemen and their ladies stopped mid stride. The delivery men reigned in their large draft horses to a stop. Everyone was familiar with the voice of the strong lunged Goyo from his many speeches proffered from the center of this very plaza, but there was menace in his tone today.

And then the unexpected happened: Scarambolli cleared his throat. Just as he had thought–indeed, Goyo had been responsible for the loss of his woman. No doubt he had used her and then sent her away to become one more of his capital assets. Scarambolli could feel his throat tighten with fierce anger…so much anger that tears began to collect around the folds of his small, wrinkled eyes.

He screamed, “You are vile, Zarrate. No woman or child is safe in the streets with animals like you roaming them. It’s time we finished this business. I swear before all present that I will claim justice for every injustice and and evil that you have perpetrated upon me and our citizens. I will exact justice in the form of your life.”

Even the the ladies attired in the finest silks and richly adorned hats could not help but smile mocking at the folly of Scarambolli’s bravado. He had actually threatened Goyo to a duel to the death. Word spread rapidly through the region, but it wasn’t until a few days later after the most recent publication of the paper that it was learned that Scarambolli had chosen as his weapon, his decrepit old typewriter. Some had supposed that the publisher might attempt to drop it on Goyo’s head, but Scarambolli was clear in his message: the printed word was more powerful than brute might.

He would argue to anyone within hearing that his accusations born out in fact would bring Goyo to his knees and put an end to the monster. In fact, he would defend himself with his typewriter in the field. And so that is how Goyo came to be here this dark, bone chilling morning. And now with a shrug, he raised his arm with the pistol. He noticed Scarbolli’s hand begin to move rapidly toward the typewriter as he glanced up at the hulking caldillo. “That typewriter has killed the damned fool,” he thought as he looked down the sights of the American .45 caliber.

Octavio saw the white handkerchief drop to the ground. Strange, he thought that it might poetically slowly float there, but the morning dew had made it heavy and it fell like a stone. His typewriter was loaded, and he put down the cheroot. In the distance, the hollow winded mourn of a great horned owl called out, perhaps for the last time before it’s wide amber eyes closed sleep. For a moment, he thought he heard Zarrate call. His voice had always reminded Octavio of a bears deep snort, huffs, and growl. He began to type, his long delicate fingers accustomed to striking the heavy, chrome rimmed round keys; simultaneously as he glance up in time to to see the orange muzzle flash and hear the thunderous report of the gun slowly roll across the forty feet like a storm gradually crawling across the pampas.

“Odd,” he thought, “I would have thought the bullet would travel much faster.” He saw the elliptical point slowly float toward him, emerging from the blue cloud emitted from the barrel, spinning, in a line with a singular purpose and destination. “Well, then, I suppose I really must get busy,” he continued to think as he began typing furiously, banging the keys, so fast that the black oily levers with the letters on their tiny heads would not come to rest before five more were already driving toward the paper with a fatal force. “Zarrate is a dead man,” he mused and he hammered out paragraph after paragraph of detailing the the litany of Zarrate’s cruel acts over the many years. He wove the murders, the bribes, the extortion, and the torture together in a journalistic tapestry that be worthy of hanging on the walls of a large city newsroom. His arm was like a teamsters whip, it moved so rapidly striking the polished carriage return. And he stacked each completed page in a neat little pile to the left of the typewriter. Zarrate is a dead and he doesn’t know it.

He arched his back to provide relief from the tension from his hunched position and he noticed that the eastern clouds were tinged pink. He glanced up to see that the bullet was had covered half the distance between the two. He was amused with the irony that the lead cone was now the inverse color of the gradually brightening world around him. This observation vitalized him. The world was awakening this morning to the truth of his words, for his words were truth and light. Evil cannot hide in the light and this morning, once and for all his light will slay the beast, Zarrate.

His eyes pinched closely together as he strained to see the bullet and estimate its accuracy and velocity. He was sure he had time to write more, for his tome was complete, the indictment and evidence against Zarrate sat right there on the rickety little table. He was sure that in a moment he would see Zarrate fall into dirt and grass with a perplexed expression of bewilderment, permanently fixed by death, over the irony of his demise at the hands of Octavio. He wondered if Zarrate would fall face forward strike the earth with a loud thud or would he rumple at the knees with his head arched back as to plead with the heavens one last time for mercy and understanding?

The bullet continued its course, but he decide that he had time to continue to write. Looking up again at the dull flat face standing across from him, he decided to write a poem to the woman whose love was stolen from him. It would be grand, perhaps in the tradition of the sonnets written by the English poet Robert Browning to his beloved Elizabeth Barrett. Or perhaps he will show the world his passion and longing for the woman that that had inspired his own light, like the Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario. And he began to type, his words breathing, dancing, twirling adagios of love, his words of light illuminating a bleak, humorless world just as the sun was breaking across the horizon. His words spread a myriad of light and color across the sky, the clouds absorbing their pink, orange and yellow from the word that pour from his chest into his hands, onto the paper and into….

The second, standing a mere ten feet away flinched when Octavio’s head snapped back and then lurched forward again in recoil. Bits of skull, brain and blood sprinkled through the air as if the pink clouds of the sunrise decided to shower the earth with red. The second hesitantly stepped forward. The journalist’s white ascot was rapidly turning crimson, and remarkably, Octavio’s hands had managed to remain on the typewriters keyboard. The second’s eyes followed the path from the writer’s arms , to hands, to machine, to paper. At the top left corner of the blood splattered sheet was one neatly typed word, “Banjo.”

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