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Ecuador: A Duel

I recently read of a French duke challenging an Italian of some lesser aristocracy to a duel. Further details; the reasons for the pas de deux and outcome, if any, I have since been unable to establish. But this snippet of bizarre news reminded me of the time I too was challenged to mortal combat.

Back in the seventies I owned and ran a bar in Ecuador. The Wildcatter club located in the residential, Amazonas district was the in place in Quito. The clientele was diverse: diplomats: ex-pats with their wives; members of government: the police and military hierarchy with their mistresses; oil-field rednecks and roughnecks with US dollars and their local beauties.

The bar, for that part of the world, was considered smart, the food excellent, the atmosphere congenial and the drinks expensive – at least for the locals. No doormen were required. Infrequent bouts of chest wrestling came to nothing. Rare incidents of guns being drawn; usually by obstreperous, Ecuadorian officials, passed without casualties. Apart from the incident I now relate which I was in part to blame - there were no punch-ups in my place.

One of my favourite customers, thanks to the British ambassador who introduced him to the club, was an Ecuadorian landowner and breeder of fighting bulls. His son Alejandro, an aspiring bullfighter and generally spoiled lay-about was a friend of mine, albeit, an impetuous one. It was Alejandro who, later in more pleasant circumstances, introduced me to my future wife.

That night an alcohol fuelled altercation, over the delayed delivery of his lobster order got out of hand. In a tantrum he stormed into the kitchen, threw things around, cursed and threatened to castrate Patricio, the chef . He then followed me upstairs to my office still looking for trouble. We traded blows and in grand Hollywood style, we tumbled headlong down the broad wooden staircase into the entrance hall. Friends and staff parted us but honour remained unsatisfied and still furious, Alejandro, in an out-dated, Latino way of settling grievances, challenged me to a duel. Eight the following morning would to be the hour. Guns were suggested (we both owned them) but common sense prevailed; fists were to be the weapons and the front garden of the Wildcatter the chosen venue.

Despite the confidence of Gladys, the waitresses, wife of the abused chef and self-appointed second for the event, who said I would easily “matar al matador”, the next few hours were some of the longest ones I have lived through. I had not a hope in hell of beating him and I knew it; unless I put him out of action at the start by kicking him in the family jewels - but after all, were not duels about chivalry and besides, we were friends.

My inflammable temper had dampened considerably as had the alcoholic high, and drinking before a fight is not a clever idea – except to dull pain. Customers began making bets on the outcome, as did some friends – odds-on against me. Someone suggested charging admittance to the garden but we were adamant, no one would be welcome to witness the carnage.

According to something I had heard or read ,in Freudian reasoning a duel should be treated as a love-struggle because in the contest one participant must be the female partner or the animal to be defeated. I certainly was not prepared to accept the female part and I doubted Alejandro, younger, larger and fitter than myself would be prepared to take that role either.

Being on the equator, the sun in Ecuador sets at six in the evening and rises at six the next morning. I was still wide awake to welcome it. I made a hearted attempt to limber up ready to pack some power into the punches I hoped to throw. I prepared a macho breakfast of a large rare steak with three fried eggs, only to find my appetite had disappeared. In the front garden I surveyed the little patch of gentle green grass where blood - probably mine - would soon be spilled. I checked the possibility of secreting a hammer or club in the surrounding bushes but had second thoughts about this.

Seven forty-five and no sign of Alejandro. The tension mounted. Was he as nervous? I doubted it. If he could face an angry, 300 kilo bull without flinching, I could not imagine him worrying about my 145 pounds lunging at him. Two minutes to eight and the street was still empty.

Back inside the bar I approached the telephone. To hell with it, I’ll apologise. Not all together my fault but who cares at times like this. Eight o’clock and the moment of truth arrived. As I reached to pick up the phone - it rang.

Alejandro, had sobered up as had I. Were we, and if so, why were we, going to fight a dual? Would I remind him? Thank God, as so often happens following ludicrous alcoholic incidents, common sense in the early morning light won through. All bets were off, business as usual, Gladys services as my second were no longer required and the garden’s virgin patch of grass would remain unsullied.

 Later the same moring, instead of us attempting to break each other’s heads, Alejandro and I met - he wrote a cheque for the lobster- I tore it up the cheque – we embraced. Our differences reconciled we repaired for a late breakfast of Ceviche and a few cold beers.

Strange, the older I get, the more convinced I have become that I could have bettered him.

BRT 25.11.2012

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