Former Secretary of Defense Hildegard Claflin signed her name on the compact with the proffered quill, flourishing it in an expert bit of calligraphy. Not to be outdone, her fierce rival businessman David Sump signed in 12-inch-high letters, using both hands to get a grasp around the entire girth of the ostrich feather.

“With this official and binding legal contract,” said the moderator, “the two candidates agree to be bound by the Code Duello, to waive all rights of life and limb, and to decide which shall become President of these United States by trial of combat.”

Secretary Claflin nodded curtly. “It is an honor to be the first female duelist sanctioned under this ancient and noble code,” said she. “Especially after the unfortunate training accident with my second Bernhard Sanderson.”

“I will be the best duelist you’ve ever seen,” Mr. Sump responded. “I’ll build a wall of bullets in front of you, and I’ll make you pay. I’m going to make bullets graze again.”

“Very well,” the moderator continued. “As we are on the neutral ground of Quahanahogha Island, disputed between the US and Canada, no one has any legal authority to stop this wildly unconstitutional act. Please take your pistols and assume your positions.”

Mr. Sump and Secretary Claflin each marched the obligatory ten paces, where they were issued one regulation .56 caliber caplock dueling pistol. Secretary Claflin was handed hers by Senator Cain, while Mr. Sump was passed his weapon by Senator Pounds, who quietly whispered a warning that a bullet shot begins at ignition.

“Mark ten paces, turn about, and fire!” shouted the moderator. “One shot only! Miss, and the election goes to a mud-wrestling match on the Senate floor!”

With remarkable energy for a man his age, Mr. Sump spun around and took aim. But he was unable to wrap his tiny fingers around the impressive oak of his pistol, even when using both hands, and the piece slipped out of his grasp before discharging harmlessly into the vast Canadian wilderness.

For her part, Secretary Claflin calmly cocked, aimed and fired. Her opponent slumped over, badly wounded if not mortally so. “I spent a decade in the Alabama governor’s mansion,” she said coolly. “We had to shoot three wild razorbacks each way just to get to work.”

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