Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ray Guns at Dawn! (Part 3)

Dawn found me awake, dressed, and at the appointed spot, although my head was still pounding mightily. Pettifog was there, along with his second, Mr. Gregor Constipapalous, and a crowd of curious (and curiously early-rising) Caledonians. Always up for a good dance or a good duel, my fellow citizens. Mr. Constipapalous spoke no English, though he attempted to make up for this by smiling a great deal. He also patted my bottom as we were introduced. I moved several steps away and delivered my most withering glare, which had at least a temporary effect on him.

I failed to spot Uncle Roland, however. It was well within the realm of possibility that he had overslept, or even forgotten about the duel completely. Just as I was debating how to communicate to Mr. Grabby Constipapalous that his man had won the day and we could all go back to bed for some much-deserved sleep, I heard the sound of an automotive motor moving slowly toward us. The vehicle stopped, and I saw the top hat Uncle Roland always wore. My head throbbed some more.

“A lovely morning, is it not?” he exclaimed to no one in particular.

“D-d-d-do you have the g-g-guns?” Mr. Pettifog asked. Mr. Constipapalous smiled in my direction.

“Am I having fun? What kind of question is that, Pettifog? This is serious business, man, and if you cannot take it seriously, I’ll…By golly, I don’t know what I’ll do. Anyway, choose your weapon, you blackguard.” He produced a wooden case with two ray guns nestled inside.

Mr. Pettifog gulped at the sight of the guns, but summoned his courage and chose the newly-made gun. Mr. Luminos took the other, then handed me the empty case. I could not help but think the whole concept of seconds was highly overrated, and I could have been sleeping off the hangover while these two made fools of themselves. “Gentlemen, can we move things along?” I said rather crankily. “The customary twenty paces, one shot each, then we can all go home?”

“Dental places?” Uncle Roland replied. Then his brain deciphered my sentence. “Oh no, dear girl, that will not do. I insist that we have at least two shots – tricky business, these ray guns. First one might not hit the mark. Be a shame to have come out this morning only to have both of us go home alive.”

“F-f-f-fine with me. Twenty p-paces and t-t-two shots it is,” said Pettifog.

The two principals measured off the twenty paces while Mr. Constipapalous and I followed along. I had to slap his hands twice. Mr. Pettifog was situated at one end of the graveyard fence, in front of where Uncle Roland had parked his automobile, while Uncle Roland took the other end of the fence. He raised his gun. His opponent shouted, “Come now, Luminos, it’s not too late to call this off!”

“Calloused cough? I don’t care about your problems, Pettifog. Fire on the count of three, I say. One!” Wasn’t that my line? Pettifog raised his gun. “Two! And three, eh what?”

At the last word, two beams of light shot out from the guns. I winced. When I looked at the principals, both remained standing and the same height as before, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Mr. Pettifog had shot wide and high, and hit the Caledonian flag, which now fluttered above us resembling a colorful pocket handkerchief. Mr. Luminos also shot wide, but lower, and hit a lamp post next to the train station, turning it into a flashlight.

“One more time, Pettifog. Better make this one count, old boy!” Again the countdown, and again the flashes of light. This time the nerves of the first round had settled somewhat, and both men were considerably more accurate. But both selling bonds and inventing horribly destructive items were hard on the eyes, and neither was a young man. Pettifog was just a tad high, and the ray hit his opponent square in the latter’s top hat, which was reduced to the size of a thimble and blew off, revealing Uncle Roland’s completely bald head.

Uncle Roland saw that his opponent was still breathing, and shouted, “Well, Pettifog, I guess today was not your day to die! Just as well, eh, because you’re a good old bean, and I would have hated to have killed you. Friends again?” Mr. Pettifog looked at him incredulously. Then Uncle Roland saw where his second shot had landed: it scored a direct hit on the side of his motor car. The vehicle had shrunk to the size of a toy, and two small children were now playing with it. Uncle Roland sighed, and began walking back to his laboratory. I retrieved the other gun from a relieved-looking Pettifog. Mr. Constipapolous took the opportunity to feel a breast, which seemed particularly dangerous now that I had a lethal weapon. I limited my response to stepping on a foot with a stiletto heel. As he grimaced in pain, I smiled at him.

The sun was now fully above the horizon, and my bed called, so I, too, headed home.

And that is how Uncle Roland stopped driving.

(All three parts are available as a single file from Calameo - RJ.)

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