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The Dueling Grounds

© ERIC FERGUSON
5348 48th Av. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55417
phone: (612)726-6364
eric@celticfringe.net
http://www.celticfringe.net



CHARACTERS
Mother Hedda, proprietor of Twin Cities Dueling Grounds (MOTHER)
Man with a coupon (COUPON)
Charlie, a regular (CHARLIE)
Charlie's opponent (DUELIST)
Robber (ROBBER)


(The scene is the lobby of Twin Cities Dueling Grounds. There is a central desk with telephone and cash register. Behind it is the proprietor Mother Hedda. The phone rings.)

MOTHER

Hello, Twin Cities Dueling Grounds. Coffee? Yeah, I got some in the employee break room. Well, I guess I could give some to customers, it really hasn't come up. No, I'm not selling coffee, what are you...no, this isn't a coffehouse. Dueling Grounds doesn't mean different kinds of coffee. We're a dueling parlor. We have duels here. You know, where two guys walk ten paces, turn, and fire. No, of course we don't sell tickets, we just provide a dueling space. I'm sick? You're the one calling a dueling parlor in search of a caffeine fix.

(She hangs up. The phone rings again.)

Twin Cities Dueling Grounds. We charge by the half-hour. Charge by the square yardage? I think I you want a lawn service. No, this is a dueling parlor. "Grounds" refers to a place where duels are held. Yes, we have a bunch of guns here. No, we don't have caller I.D., you've nothing to worry about.

(She hangs up.)

I'm sorry if the pistols in the ad weren't obvious enough for you!

(The man with the COUPON enters. He looks confused. He approaches MOTHER.)

COUPON

Excuse me.

MOTHER

Yes?

COUPON

I have this half-price coupon for first time customers.

MOTHER

All right. Let me just get out the paperwork.

COUPON

Paperwork?

MOTHER

Who's the other party?

COUPON

Other party?

MOTHER

Who are you meeting here?

COUPON

Meeting here?

MOTHER

The idea of asking a question is to get an answer in response, not another question consisting of a repetition of the last words of the prior question, regardless of how convenient it is for me to not need you to actually respond in order to converse.

COUPON

I just wanted something to eat. I can take my business to any other restaurant.

MOTHER

Restaurant?

COUPON

I heard your steaks were good, but I can't believe anyone actually eats here.

MOTHER

Nobody eats here. This is The Dueling Grounds.

COUPON

So?

MOTHER

Not The Ground Round!

COUPON

It's not the same thing?

MOTHER

No.

COUPON

Yeah, well, whatever.

(Man with coupon starts to leave.)

MOTHER

Look, I'm sorry, it's just been one of those days, you know? Here, have a coupon for one free duel.

COUPON

Free duel?

MOTHER

(COUPON has done it again, but MOTHER restrains herself.)Yes, this is a dueling parlor. Next time you come in, bring this with you and your part of the duel will be free. Your opponent still has to pay, but I'll doubt you'll mind under the circumstances.

COUPON

You're serious.

MOTHER

Death is a serious business, and I hope a lucrative one.

COUPON

People don't duel anymore.

MOTHER

No, they just ambush each other or torch a house. Or maybe you're fond of the old-fashioned drive-by shooting?

COUPON

Of course not.

MOTHER

Why have rules when you can shoot so many people at random?

COUPON

That's not what I'm saying.

MOTHER

Maybe you're happy if people kill each other in the streets, but I let them come here where they have rules and there are no innocent bystanders.

COUPON

You've running a bloody slaughterhouse!

MOTHER

Not if I clean up between duels.

COUPON

And how high are piling you the bodies?!

MOTHER

How high are they piling outside? Have you noticed our murder rate around here?

COUPON

And you're raising it.

MOTHER

There are no murders here. Every duel is a fair fight, and every killing is justifiable as self-defense. Technically, these are not homicides. These are merely disputes settled with a greater than usual degree of finality.

COUPON

Violence doesn't settle anything.

MOTHER

Of course it does. One man's alive, the other one's dead. Argument settled.

COUPON

So every time I have an argument with somebody, I should just haul out a gun and shoot him.

MOTHER

No! That's exactly what I'm trying to get away from. It's fine with me if cooler heads prevail but when they don't, fight it out here, where there are rules to make it a fair fight, and where there are no innocent people around to get hurt.

COUPON

We're a civilized society. That's what we have the courts for.

MOTHER

Oh right, the courts. The litigious society. The trials that go on forever. Take the most obvious case to the courts and it takes years to settle it, and you probably settle out of court anyway. You argue over every niggling point when you're not having delays or appeals IF the other party even has anything they can pay in damages, while the rest of us pay to run the court in the first place. But that's what our great culture has come to, sitting in court all day, suing each other over the drop of a hat. No sooner does the derby hit the dirt, the bowler take a bounce, the top hat hit the top soil, then you've got a subpoena slapped on you. It used to be that people fought each other over the drop of a hat. You know what the result was? A few more bodies and a lot fewer lawyers.

COUPON

Even long trials are better than people killing each other.

MOTHER

You know, back a long time ago, when dueling was a common practice, men had a sense of honor.

COUPON

And a bunch of them ended up dead.

MOTHER

Of course a bunch of them are dead! It was a long time ago, they're all dead! But I bet they were very polite to each other when they were alive. Maybe the threat of being killed for rudeness is just what we need to make people polite again.

(Another man enters the lobby. He is coming to be a DUELIST)

DUELIST

I have an appointment for 2:00.

MOTHER

Oh sure, just fill out these forms if you would.

DUELIST

Can I see the bill?

MOTHER

It's in there.

DUELIST

Check all right?

MOTHER

I prefer cash. You know, just in case the worst happens to you and the account gets frozen or something. I do insist on payment in advance. You understand.

DUELIST

Sure. Do you have the guns?

MOTHER

I'll give you your gun as soon as all the forms are filled out. The bullets are in the room. I'll unlock them as soon as both of you are ready. You've chosen the "OK Corral" room, right?

DUELIST

Right.

COUPON

"OK Corral" room?

MOTHER

The rooms have themes. Some men want to live out a fantasy, and it's a little easier to get them to follow the rules that way. The "OK Corral" room is for those who want to do a western shootout. They get six-shooters and they can draw or shoot from behind saloon doors and horse-troughs and what not. I've got the "Errol Flynn" room for sword fighting. It's got the chandelier they can swing from, the burning candles they can cut in half, all that stuff. Then there's the "Andrew Jackson" room. That's where they take turns shooting at each other with muzzleloading dueling pistols, but I charge extra if I have to provide the seconds. I just got a bunch of medieval sorts of weapons so I'm building a "Braveheart" room. They'll be able to bash away with broadswords, halberds, maces, whatever makes them happy.

COUPON

I saw "Braveheart" two times.

MOTHER

Maybe that's for you.

DUELIST

I'm finished.

MOTHER

Let me just have a quick look at these. Everything looks all right. I'll just dig out your six-shooter.

DUELIST

Thanks.

MOTHER

Oh, here's your opponent now.

(CHARLIE enters)

CHARLIE

Hello Mother Hedda.

DUELIST

Mother Hedda? Are you a nun or something?

MOTHER

No, that's just what everyone calls me.

DUELIST

You must have a last name.

MOTHER

Gabler. Here's your gun. (to CHARLIE) And here's yours. Go on in, the ammo's ready.

CHARLIE

Thanks.

DUELIST

Thanks. The bill was actually a little less than I thought it would be.

MOTHER

I gave you a discount for being a first-time customer.

DUELIST

Oh, that's decent of you.

(DUELIST and CHARLIE exit)

MOTHER

I often do that when first-timers duel with one of my regulars.

(DUELIST reenters)

DUELIST

One of your regulars?! No no, wait!...

CHARLIE

Get in here, you coward!

(CHARLIE drags the DUELIST into the room. MOTHER closes the door behind them, cutting off the sound of the DUELIST's pleadings.)

MOTHER

Now what were we talking about? Oh right, men have lost a sense of honor. They used to be ashamed of being thought a coward. It could be a vanity thing, but it was better than being afraid of being sued over everything.

COUPON

(A bit distracted.) I suppose.

MOTHER

I wish I could find a real laser gun, you know, so I could have an Outer Space room. You know, like that movie where Captain Kirk fights Darth Vader..

(Shots are heard from the room. COUPON MAN stares in shocked disbelief. The shots stop. CHARLIE enters.)

MOTHER

That was quick.

CHARLIE

Yeah it was. I'm afraid I hit him in the head.

MOTHER

Charlie...

CHARLIE

He moved suddenly.

MOTHER

Blood doesn't bother me, but you know I hate cleaning up brains.

CHARLIE

I'm sorry. Maybe I'll try the Andrew Jackson room next time. It's easier to hit them in the heart when they're standing still.

MOTHER

How are you coming with the saber fencing?

CHARLIE

Just fine. Remember I fought that guy in the Errol Flynn room last month? I think I prefer a cutlass though.

MOTHER

How about the rapiers?

CHARLIE

They're all right, but I'm anxious to try one of those medieval broadswords.

MOTHER

I have to charge extra for the armor. It just gets beaten up too fast.

CHARLIE

That's no problem.

COUPON

You just killed somebody!

CHARLIE

What of it?

COUPON

You can't do that.

CHARLIE

It was a fair fight.

COUPON

And that makes it all right?

CHARLIE

Yes.

MOTHER

That's what I've been trying to tell you.

COUPON

You people are crazy.

CHARLIE

Excuse me?

COUPON

You're psychopaths! You're bloodthirsty murderers!

MOTHER

I don't think that's called for.

CHARLIE

I think you just insulted Mother Hedda.

COUPON

(The implications of this statement sink in.) Oops.

CHARLIE

You get your kicks insulting women, is that it?

COUPON

I'm really very sorry.

CHARLIE

(to MOTHER) Should we use the OK Corral room again? You've only one room to clean up that way.

MOTHER

You're always so considerate Charlie. Just give me a moment to restock the ammunition. (to COUPON) Let me have that coupon back, you might as well redeem it now.

(ROBBER enters wielding a handgun.)

ROBBER

Get your hands up! Right now!

COUPON

Thank you sir!

ROBBER

Open the cash drawer lady! You two, on the floor!

COUPON

Happily! I'm on my knees to you!

(COUPON grabs ROBBER around the knees.)

ROBBER

Get off of me!

COUPON

Somebody sane! You can't believe how happy I am to see you!

ROBBER

I warned you!

(ROBBER shoots but misfires. MOTHER hands a broadsword to CHARLIE.)

MOTHER

I'm glad I still had this behind the counter.

CHARLIE

They ought to use these in convenience stores. Okay, say good-bye pistol-boy.

(CHARLIE chases ROBBER offstage and we hear the sound of chopping. The phone rings and MOTHER answers it. COUPON takes his chance to escape.)

MOTHER

Twin Cities Dueling Grounds. What?! You want to fight a woman! Oh, meet a woman. Listen, this isn't a dating service. That's dueling with an "e". The relationships here are all very short. What's that? Really? Actually, you sound kind of cute too. Well, I guess I'm looking for a man with a strong sense of personal honor.

(end of play)

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