This would have been ridiculous if it wasn’t real.
The Sun was intent on drying me out like old leather. With my shirt sticking to my back I walked down the wide street with old houses on both sides. I could feel the sweat trickling down my back and pooling in my shoes. I am dressed like some old movie cowboy with a gun belt round my waist and a holstered gun at my side. I had to get out of the sun. I had a thirst like a camel fresh off the desert.
I spied some activity at a building further down the street and hurried in the direction.
The sign out front says “Little Joe’s”
I walked in through the double-door and paused in the doorway briefly to let my eye adjust to the darkness inside. I felt better already. It was much cooler in there.
Feeling kind of out of place, I headed for the nearest table with only one occupant – an old man. I sat down and greeted him politely. He looked in his cup and grunted – I took that as a reply.
“You new in town?” he asks.
“Yes.” I said. I could also have told him I had no idea where I was.
“Joe. Bring a mug over here for this fella.” He said.
Joe came over with a tall mug of lukewarm beer. I nodded my thanks to both of them.
I could see more of the interior of the place now that my eyes had adjusted to the gloom. Most of the tables were occupied with what looked like townsfolk.
And right across the room from me was a table occupied by only one person. A young woman with her hair piled high. She was definitely a looker. Even at that distance, I could see she was her own person and had an easy grace about her. She didn’t seem to be interested in anything going on in the room, but yet you get the impression she knew every person in that room, except myself of course. I am a stranger.
I stare intently at her – trying to catch her gaze.
I asked the old man who the lady was.
He grunted. “Let her alone. There is a reason why she is sitting over there by herself.”
My eyes roved around the room. No one appeared to be paying me any attention, yet I had an uncomfortable feeling I was the subject of some unspoken undercurrent heaving and ebbing in the room.
I couldn’t help myself as there was no other distraction in the room.
“Young fella. You had do yourself a world of good to look somewhere else.” the old man says.
I tried. Truly I did. But soon I was back staring in the same direction. There was something familiar about the way she was seated. I couldn’t quite place a finger on it. I mentally ran through the list of women I knew who were about her age – almost none – no one jumps to mind.
I wasn’t a man to court trouble, but for some reason, something at the back of my mind seemed to indicate I needed to go over to her table.
I stood up and casually walked over. I casually looked round, but no one in the room seemed to be paying any attention to me except the old man.
“Hi” I said.
I am idling. I needed to say something.
I spied what looked like a tattoo on her left shoulder
“Do you mind?” I asked pointing at the tattoo. She shrugs.
I think it was the sense of some familiarity I had about her. I reached over and slightly shifted the collar of her shirt – no skin contact – the tattoo read “D. K.”
I could not help noticing the gentle swell of her breast.
“What does D.K. mean?” I ask.
She shrugs again.
There was a snigger behind me and a voice said “Double Kill” followed quickly by another voice that whispered “D*** Killer”.
She looks at the butt of my holstered gun and asked what “A.I” stood for.
I looked down at the gun and wondered how it got there. I was no gunslinger. But the inscription on the holster said “A. I.” which were my initials.
I toyed briefly with the idea of telling her my real name, then instead simply said “Artificial Intelligence”
“What does that mean?” she asks
“It would take me some time to explain it”
“Can I get you a drink?” I ask. If she accepts, that would be my excuse to sit down at her table.
“My mug is empty, the day is young and it’s a free world. You buying, I am drinking”
I signaled at the barman “Can you refill her cup?”
There was another snicker from some dark corner of the room.
“Come get it yourself.” the barman responded.
I walked over to the bar, paid for the drink and ferried it back to her table.
She took the cup, took a swig and said a low thanks.
That took me aback a little as I wasn’t exactly expecting it.
“Are you going to sit down or not?”
For some reason, I looked back at the old man, and noticed the barely perceptible shake of his head.
I dragged back the seat opposite her and sat down on it.
“So you interested or what?” she asks.
She slid a little piece of paper across the table. I looked down at it and all it said was “The challenge”
“The challenge I assume. Well, why not?” I responded. Though I didn’t know what it was, I thought what could it be? I needed to display some male brashness.
The room seemed to come alive with my acceptance of “The challenge” – whatever it was. Even though my voice was barely above a whisper, I was almost immediately surrounded by all the people in the room except the old man. They were chanting “Challenge!” repeatedly.
The lady got up, stretched luxuriously, winked at some of the bystanders and placed both hands upon the table and looked me straight in the eye for the first time. There was something familiar about her eyes.
She smiled at me and said “Let’s step outside, shall we?”
For the first time I noticed the two holstered guns in the gun belt around her waist.
“Step outside for what?” I ask.
“The challenge of course. The duel.”
The crowd switched to chanting “Duel!”
I felt I was missing something.
“Yes. What did you think the challenge was?”
“Duel. With what?” I ask for want of anything better to say, though I had a sinking feeling with all the obvious guns suddenly in plain view it would be a gun duel.
With the crowd chanting the same word over and over, she said “See you outside” and gracefully walked out the double-door. I couldn’t help but admire her gracefulness, until I was suddenly propelled off my seat and into the blinding sunshine outside.
She was standing with legs slightly apart about ten yards away. Her hands hanging loose by her side. I could swear I remember that stance – but from where?
I looked at the gun by my side. I tried to think of all the John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies I had seen. I wasn’t really going to go through with this duel, was I?
In the meantime, I assumed what I hoped resembled the easy stance of Clint in one of his many cowboy movies.
The chanting died down and was replaced by an expectant silence. This wasn’t really happening was it? How had I gone from drinking lukewarm beer to dueling in the space of thirty minutes?
Some disembodied voice that sounded like the old man said “Ready.”
I looked at her again. The smile was gone. Replaced by a look of determination without hatred or malice. Just a concentration on the task at hand. She hadn’t moved in the last couple of minutes.
I took a deep breath. Though I wasn’t exactly scared, my blood pressure had gone up a notch . Probably the Andrenaline. I tried to remember everything I knew about guns – from films and books. They were heavy, they had a recoil, a trigger, a safety latch.
It hit me again.
This would have been ridiculous if it wasn’t real.
This is 2012 and not 1812 – or was it?
Suddenly, there was loud rap music coming from somewhere in the distance. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a slim lady walk up in 5-inch heels lugging a boom box. She sets the boom box down, smiled, and said “Good day ladies. Is this a duel or duet? Are we gonna see some action or grow old from boredom while you ladies pick your nails?”
She said it so light-heartedly, for a minute I forgot about the possibility that in the next few minutes, I might be lying in the dust bleeding to death.
“Uncle” she says with a smile.
Uncle? I was not sure if she was addressing me or not, but she sounded so familiar that for a minute I was almost certain this wasn’t our first encounter.
“You are looking in the wrong direction” she said nodding in the direction of my supposed opponent.
I had forgotten about the lady with the gun for a minute. I sensed rather than saw her move. She was quick and I doubt if I would have beaten het to the draw even if I had made the first move. There was a glint of sunshine in her hand and a flash of light.
She winged me. I looked down at my arm. No blood, but it hurt. Blank bullets?
“Cut! Take 10!” someone shouted. I spun around, but the Sun was in my eyes, so I couldn’t make out the face of the figure descending from up the nearby scaffolding. Suddenly, the mood changed. People started bustling around, joking, chatting, and a gathering slowly formed round a huge table behind one of the houses. A big spread of food was the focus of attention.
I was confused. What was going on? Am I on a film production set of some sort?
She walks up to me. She lets down her hair and started to strip off some synthetic skin make-up stuff from her face.
“Hi” she says.
“I know.” I smiled.