A shirtless Bowie sat in a rickety chair in the residence of the esteemed Dr. Thomas Maddox, a decrepit old man with a withered face, spectacles, and a lengthy white beard.
The good doctor’s hands trembled. In an effort to calm his nerves, he took a belt of whiskey, then for good measure, dropped a splash of the good stuff on his patient’s arm wound.
“Oh hush,” Dr. Maddox said as he pushed a needle into Bowie’s skin, then worked a piece of thread through the nasty cut. “I should hate to see the other fellow.”
“Depends on which fellow,” Bowie said. “The man who took the bullet meant for me is stone dead.”
“And the man who fired?” the doctor asked.
“Ah,” Dr. Maddox said. “You and that big mouth of yours.”
“Word that you accosted the sheriff’s reputation had infiltrated my ears as of late,” Dr. Maddox said as he squinted at the stitches he was making. “I assumed it would only be a matter of time before he challenged you to a duel.”
“I accepted,” Bowie said.
The good doctor sighed. “Of course you did.”
“What of it?” Bowie asked.
Dr. Maddox examined his patient’s back. A healed over bullet wound. A number of slashes and scrapes.
“So many scars,” Dr. Maddox said. “I should hate to be your guardian angel.”
“It may sound like poppycock,” the doctor said. “But I believe that every man has an angel looking after him.”
As soon as the wound was stitched shut, the doctor pulled on the thread tightly, then snipped off the end of the thread with a pair of scissors.
“You might consider putting your life ahead of your ego, my boy,” Dr. Maddox said. “You might live longer and your angel will thank you.”
Bowie grabbed the doctor’s bottle, took a swig, then set it down. “It’s not about ego. It’s about honor.”
“It’s about a set up,” Dr. Maddox said.
“A what?” Bowie asked.
Dr. Maddox stroked his beard. “James, you do have a knack for charging head first into a mess as though you were a rabid rhinoceros, oblivious to all consequences, concerned only in the imminent moment and not day after.
“Stop speaking gibberish old man.”
The doctor snipped the end off of a cigar, held it over a lit candle, then puffed on it. He inhaled, exhaled, coughed, then spoke again.
“Dueling is a gentleman’s sport,” Dr. Maddox said. “And you, lad, are no gentleman.”
Bowie scoffed. “What’s that got to do with a hill of beans, old man? I’m just as good as those fancy fucks. I’ve wheeled and dealed my way into more money than they’ve got, that’s for damn sure.”
“You have,” Dr. Maddox said. “But I resubmit the fact that you are no gentleman.”
The patient put on his shirt and buttoned it up.
“You see,” Dr. Maddox said. “When our forefathers took up arms against the British and drove their cursed hides from this land, it was assumed that the concept of royalty exited this country with them.”
“Didn’t it?” Bowie asked.
The doctor winked his left eye. “An aristocracy remains. To be certain, there are no lords, dukes, or princes here but…there are Governors. Senators. Wright, he was once Major Wright and is now Sheriff Wright, though he is free to use both titles interchangeably. And I, of course, have never been one for battlefield combat so I studied until I earned the right to be called ‘Doctor.’”
“What are you getting at?” Bowie asked.
“The titles changed but the titles remain, just the same,” Dr. Maddox said. “Whether you are in Jolly Old England or in the United States of America, if you have a title then you are a gentleman and there are rules for gentlemen.”
Dr. Maddox puffed on his cigar.
“Titled gentlemen obtain and maintain their power through the favors they perform for and receive from other titled gentlemen,” Dr. Maddox explained.
“I could buy and sell the lot of them,” Bowie said.
“No doubt,” Dr. Maddox said. “But you have no title and thus no position, the power of which could be bartered for assistance from other titled men. Thus, you are no gentleman.”
“We’ve established that,” Bowie said.
“Dueling,” Dr. Maddox said. “Is the means by which titled gentlemen regain their good name when it is besmirched by another titled gentleman. As such, gentlemen must follow the rules when squaring off with other gentlemen. But with a commoner such as yourself, Sheriff Wright will be able to violate the sanctity of the duel in any way he pleases and as long as you die, no gentlemen will think ill of him.”
“Sure they would,” Bowie said. “He’d be branded a cheater.”
Dr. Maddox laughed. “Oh my boy,” Dr. Maddox said. “That’s what titled gentlemen do. They sit around in parlors and smoke cigars and imbibe alcohol and plot out their intentions to cheat lowly commoners such as yourself.”
The good doctor noticed the smoke in his hand and the booze on his table, then cleared his throat.
“Naturally, I would never use my title to harm another,” Dr. Maddox said. “But Sheriff Wright would and will and as you hold no title, his fellow gentlemen will heap praise upon him for snuffing out the commoner who dared to speak up against him, rules be damned.”
Bowie’s lungs expelled a sigh of deep, forlorn exasperation. “Fuck.”
“Indeed,” Dr. Maddox said.
“Well,” Bowie said. “There’s nothing I can do about it now.”
“Preposterous,” Dr. Maddox replied. “Of course there is. Do not show up at the duel.”
“Then I’d be yellow,” Bowie said.
“My boy,” Dr. Maddox said. “I have spent eighty some odd years avoiding one fight after another and I assure you, being ‘yellow’ has allowed me to live a long, healthy life.”
Bowie looked around the doctor’s empty house. “What have you got to show for it?”
Now the doctor looked around his sparse home. “Touche.”
Dr. Maddox waved his hand through the air. “I have given you my counsel. Do with it what you will.”
Bowie put on his coat. “Be my second?”
The doctor choked on his smoke. “Don’t be absurd!”
“Every duelist needs a second,” Bowie said.
“And what good would I be to you as a second if you will not heed my advice?” Dr. Maddox asked.
“I don’t know,” Bowie replied. “You could patch me up like you always do?”
Dr. Maddox rubbed his aching cranium. “Oh fine. As we speak I can feel the eyes of your father, who had a head as hot as yours, burning a hole into my soul with his livid eyes, demanding that I assist you. I shall be your second.”
“Much obliged,” Bowie said.
“If only hot headedness could skip a generation,” Dr. Maddox said.
Bowie grinned. “Now where would the fun be in that?”