News From Home 19, Part III
5/31/2005 (updated 5/31/2005)
I was round, later that same evening, at Mr. Alphonso’s, sharing a pot of tea and a hand of Cribbage, when there was a knock at the door. It was too late for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and too early for FedEx. I opened the door cautiously, and there, in full dress uniform, and decidedly the worse for drink, was Colonel Briggs, demanding to see “That damned adulterer”. I tried to stall him at the door, but he shoved past me, and confronted Mr. A in the living room.
“Contepomi, you are a cad, sir, an underhand, lowdown, cheating sidewinder, and I demand satisfaction!”
Mr. A was struck speechless for several seconds, his jaw working silently, but no sound issuing forth. He then said what was probably the wrong thing.
“You can keep her, boyo. She is too old for me.”
Colonel Briggs was swaying quite a bit. It looked like he had come straight from some regimental reunion., and his splendid dress uniform was slightly off-kilter, and several buttons were undone. His face was flushed, and his eyes small and dark. He didn’t seem to hear what Mr. A said.
“Oh, and Contepomi – the next time you’re sneaking around in another man’s boudoir, don’t leave your bedpan behind as a calling card. It’s got your name on the bottom.” He sighed. “So what’s it to be, you old fool? Your choice of weapons.”
A duel? Surely not…didn’t that sort of stuff go out with the Civil War? But Briggs seemed the type, if anyone was, to keep with tradition, and his state was most agitated. Given his wife’s local reputation, this must have happened before…and yet it’s possible she had always gotten away with it, not all her lovers leaving behind medical paraphernalia as a calling card.
“If you want to fight me – I understand”, said Mr. A, lowering his eyes in a melodramatic gesture of vulnerability – “I would feel the same. But I am cripple – how do you fight a cripple?”
At this, Briggs looked confused. Colonel Dwight F. Briggs, medals gleaming on paunchy but still-firm chest, crew-cut, hollow-cheeked, firm-jawed, ramrod-backed, yet soft-mouthed; there was almost the mouth of a woman there, expressive in the middle of all those brutal features, and it was the mouth now that betrayed him, working and twitching independent of the dark, glowering eye sockets and the compressed brow. The mouth spoke silently of confusion, indecision, even weakness.
“I – I suppose there would have to be some – some levelling of the playing field’, he said with difficulty. “Damn at all, Contepomi, but if I have to, I’ll come down to your level, if it makes you happy. I’ll fight you wheelchair to wheelchair!”
Mr. A said that he had a perfectly serviceable spare that he would be happy to lend the Colonel, and he suggested, as a choice of weapons, that they fight with sabres, as he also had a pair of those knocking around. Colonel Briggs suggested the morning after next, at dawn, on the piece of flat ground near the YMCA swimming pool, up in the Santa Monica Mountains. This was agreed upon, and Mr. A nominated me as his second. Briggs stormed out, but his storm cloud seemed a little punctured, and the effect was noticeably lacking in menace. I now had 36 hours to talk my friend out of this antiquated folly.