Rules for Civil Disengagement
by Charles C. Cole
The economy being awful, the CEO of our company had charged each division with a ten percent reduction in overhead. In our small department of ten salaried souls, one of us was being separated.
Kenny Keeler and I, unpaid summer interns, were not vulnerable. The two sacrificial candidates had been around roughly the same amount of time, since the free-spending days of “the old man,” nice guys but, sadly, not really interested in new technology.
Randall, our darkly witty director of operations, who knew all about everyone's off-hours activities, gave these fellows the opportunity to settle the matter through an old-fashioned duel. Glenn, the more physically fit of the two, a self-proclaimed outdoorsman, was unimpressed.
Randall called him into his office and closed the door, leaving his intercom “accidentally” engaged, so we heard every word. “You clearly don't appreciate the opening I'm giving you,” said Randall. “You get to manifest your own fate on your own terms. I could have just as easily flipped a quarter.”
“We're in a tough spot, I get that,” said Glenn, “but I am not settling this with a duel. That's absurd. Honestly, Dermot shoots like a girl; it's not fair to the guy. The only reason I take him along paint-balling is because he's dating my wife's sister. He's got about as much manhood in his trigger finger as a limp goldfish.”
Through the intercom, Randall called for Dermot. “Sorry, forgot it was on,” he said.
Dermot, with red hair and fair complexion, the only one not standing and pacing, shook his head. With a deep breath and characteristically pink cheeks, he left the conference room with chin high and shoulders back.
“We can leave the intercom on,” he said from the office. “Everybody's a part of this now.”
“No offense intended,” said Glenn. “I was avoiding taking advantage of you. We're men of honor, you and I.”
“Yes, we are,” said Dermot, “bound to a code of ethics. So I have no choice; per the standards and regulations set forth by our paint-ball association, I challenge you to a duel. Do you accept?”
“This is just stupid,” said Glenn.
“Or you can apologize.”
“That's not going to happen,” said Glenn. (Rule 1. The first offense requires the first apology.)
“Fine. Finnegan's farm at eight on Saturday. I'll make the arrangements with the warden there.” (Rule 11. The challenged decides where and when.)
Duels were based on The Code Duello as described in American Duels and Hostile Encounters, Chilton Books, 1963, concerning the Irish practice as settled at Clonmel Summer Assizes in 1777. They were members of a gentlemen's club, theatrically civilized, like the horserace observers in My Fair Lady, insisting on vintage wardrobes, hats and formal white gloves for a classic recreation, which we'd heard about but never witnessed. Fist-fights were “strictly prohibited.”
We met on the first of November on a bare corn field behind a large red barn, the smell of fresh horse manure in the chilled air. Kenny and I agreed to be seconds, not that we expected to participate, although there was a rule about seconds jumping in if they strongly disagreed, shooting at right angles with their principals.
The solemn warden, the resident farmer, met us near his idling tractor, holding a coffee mug probably painted by his grandkids. He shook everyone's hands, looking deeply into our eyes. His skin was warm and rough. “Let's do this,” he said simply.
After asking the principals if they were in good health and checking them for steady hands, the warden led Glenn and Dermot through a ceremonial swearing-in.
“Before we begin,” he said, “I am required to remind you of the rules of engagement. Any insult to a lady under a gentleman's care is considered a greater offense than if given to the gentleman himself. Suggestions of cheating at games may be reconciled after one shot, on admitting their falsehood and begging pardon publicly. State the offense.” Dermot did.
“All firing will be regulated by my command. A miss-fire is the same as a shot. There is to be no discharging into the air. The firing must continue until a severe hit — on the chest or face — is received.
“Lastly, if the challenged is disarmed, his weapon malfunctions or he's shot in the hand, and he refuses to ask pardon, the challenger may lay his hand on the aggressor's shoulder and say, 'I spare your life!' with the option to revive the quarrel at a later date.
“I, state your name, do hereby agree to the terms of this duel, including the binding resolution. Upon losing, I will leave the company and/or issue a public apology. Understood?”
After the warden unlocked and opened a small case, we inspected and loaded the guns, two each, handing them to the principals. The principals stood back to back and took ten paces, at Dermot's choice.
We helped them remove their hats and gloves and jackets, put on their anachronistic safety goggles, and stepped away.
“We don't have to do this,” said Glenn, painfully ignoring Rule 2 (No apology can be received after the parties have taken ground without exchanging fire.) He had another chance, after two shots each. That's when I was to encourage Glenn to do the right thing, as I had already been doing on the ride.
The warden gave the signal for the first volley. Dermot missed completely while Glenn splattered Dermot's shoulder, impressively, with red. Dermot winced. The warden signaled for the second volley. Dermot hit Glenn's hip while Glenn's shot smacked loudly against Dermott's safety goggles, immediately dripping down Dermot's white shirt. It was over. Kenny helped Dermot remove his shirt, surrendering it to Glenn.
On Monday, Dermot was gone. Glenn hung on until the end of the month, then gave his notice.
“You won. You're the better man,” said Randall. “What gives?”
“I can't stop thinking the wrong man was out on that field that day,” said Glenn. “And the wrong weapons.” Then he walked away.
Copyright © 2017 by Charles C. Cole