We strolled down to the harbor where the waves met the
scrubby shore. My sister had her gun. I had my sword.
The rising sun had not yet breached the horizon — across the bay the burnt outline of Tisbury shown black against the sky’s cold violet glow. My sword clacked in its sheath against my off-white shirt. Once, it had been black.
“Smoke?” she asked me. I declined.
Seagulls scuffled beside us on the slipshod arena of a sunken roof. They extended their wings and opened their beaks, plunging in, puffing up. One with a hurt leg slid on the outskirts of the fight, clucking its impotent wrath. My sister casually puffed her hand-rolled cigarette. We had both been here so many times before.
One dies or both die. It’s the only rule that cannot be broken. The only rule keeps order. One of two truths I believe.
We were family now in these final moments. Brother and sister in death. She looked over to me and opened her mouth to ask a question, but was cut short by an electric crackle, the speakers coming to life.
Alert now, our sun-tightened skin prickling. Sirens cried out, caroming off the sea and wave-wrecked shacks that lined the harbor. We rose and drew our lines in the soaked sand.
I didn’t need to know her story to know it as dearly as the blade in my hand. All our stories were the same. We all killed to survive.
“Nice sword,” she said from her spot twenty yards down the beach. “Just like the Duelist.”
But for a tight hint of a grin, I didn’t respond. She let her sun-bleached dreadlocks fall over her face before whipping them back up and over her head and knotting them with a shoelace. She had on loose-fitting cargo pants, threadbare, ripped and stained and a soiled green tank top. Her sun-brown skin was run through with minute wrinkles. She couldn’t have been more than thirty; a killer since childhood.
“Never paired on the beach,” she said, marveling at the beauty surrounding us. It was foolish talk. Advantages were scarce enough. Everyone left had survived so many pairings.
A wall of sunlight crept down the treetops. The sixth beep rang out. At ten, our fight would commence.
“The silent man in black.” She said. “No scars on his body. The most duels won. No equal. You will know him by his red blade. He is called the Duelist.” She laughed and shook her head, gun at the ready. “You’re him, right?”
This was the second truth. I am the Duelist.
She dug her feet laterally in the sand, testing for purchase, smiling. “You know he’s just a myth,” she said. I said nothing.
She was wrong.
My legend had grown so long that many tried to pretend they were me. They wore their black jackets or shirts or shawls. They carried their katanas easily and said not a word. They concealed their scars with makeup. This was why my sister was not afraid.
“Alright, Duelist,” she said. “Why not put your skills to ending this brutality: these pairings. Let’s stop this madness.”
Her fighting strategy was pitifully formulaic. Distract your opponent with talk. Score the early kill. I nestled my fingers into the grooves of my Katana’s grip. The tenth beep’s echo faded. Silence struck. The pairing began.
We circled each other, she felt out the ground. My footsteps fell into their comfortable rhythm. It was like listening to a song for the ten thousandth time. Every beat in its place. Every note falling as it should.
“You know,” she said, concern in her voice. “You know this whole thing is bull… This whole situation. Making us fight. I think—”
Her first shot sent the gulls scattering. I bobbed a-rhythmically and the bullet nestled into the sand far behind me. Having failed in her first gambit, she would launch into how she was part of a group. How her people had the arms and will to confront the power that had mandated this new way of life.
“I’m part of a group that can change this,” said my sister. “It’s a small group, but we have big ideas… Why don’t you talk?” she said. Her body quivered now with fear’s adrenaline. She had begun to understand. “Why don’t you talk?”
Why don’t I talk? There are no answers in talk. The only answers that matter are those that you yourself create. The rules you hold yourself to. Everything outside of that relies on proof. Proof of this, proof of that. Even the proof itself requires further proof on and on down. There are no absolutes other than those whose source you know. Your truth.
My truths are two: I am the Duelist who never loses and one of us must die.
I continued to sway and bob as heat crept into the sand and into our clothes. Sweat twinkled on the fringes of my sister’s forehead.
I pulled my sword free of its scabbard and raised it vertically above my head. Its red blade dripped with sunlight. Her hands fell to her sides, fear blossoming on her face.
This was the chorus before the final refrain. One after the other they would talk or plead or stay silent. When they saw my blade, when they understood its hue. When the rhymes that haunt the dreams of all but me creep into their head, unbidden:
The Duelist in black,
No scars to track,
His blade is red,
All words unsaid.
She would fight now. She would put in everything available to her. The song would continue, nothing could be rushed, nothing could be hurried.
“Say something, brother,” she said. The sweet smell of wildflowers sprung from the gorse beside the beach’s edge. I could see her frantic heart in the ropy veins of her neck. She stumbled on a rock and opened fire. The sand around me exploded in angry burrs of rock and shell. She was screaming, my sister. Most do.
I slid toward her, eyes closed. Bullets hummed past and around me as lazy as bumblebees. She had seven, six, five left. Now four. Now three. At two she would wait. She would let me get close and fire at the last minute. My song was nearing its beautiful coda. When my blade would prove my truths: I am the Duelist, one has to die.
Gulls cried from the jetty and the ocean calmly lapped at the shrinking shore. I swayed through the sand, closing the gap between my sister and her end. Another year, my purpose again fulfilled.
When I was close enough to smell her — that faint, burnt stink we all carry — she fired her last two bullets. I ducked as they neatly whispered past. I opened my eyes. She was smiling. She should not have been smiling.
In a blur I could hardly see, she reloaded. The first bullet knocked my sword from my hand. The second slammed into my thigh. I sat down and gasped. How?
My sister hit my face with the butt of her gun. I blacked out.
I awoke trussed in sea grass. My sister sat next to me, looking out at the quavering reflection of the opposite shore. Behind us the sun had just begun to set. Her guns lay at her feet.
“The Duelist doesn’t speak. The Duelist never loses?” I looked up at her. She spoke at the water. “And he never left a man alive?”
Why was she toying with me? Kill me. One had to die.
She looked at my manacled hands and legs. “Do you also believe that we have to do this? That someone will come kill us if we don’t?” She shook her head and stood up. “Look around. Look at this place.” I scanned the darkling shore. Shells of burnt homes, soot, grime. People listed to and fro, bent under unseen weight.
“Who is in charge of this?” my sister asked.
She dropped her gun in the lazy surf, as casually as you’d toss a broken shell. I needed to die. One must die or both die.
My sister left me on the beach by way of an overgrown path that led back to town. My blade lay down the beach in the sand.
It was deep night before I managed to cut loose my bonds. No sirens had accompanied my sister’s escape. No helicopter blades had snapped into view. She had not killed. Two had not died. I was not the Duelist. There is no truth.
I walked into Salvage thinking yeah sure cool another BBQ joint in Portland. I walked out of Salvage thinking mother of god.
The meal itself will probably run you in the ~$20 range if you’re getting BBQ, Sides and some drinks. The price, however, matches the fare to a T. This is well-respected meat.
Summer Camp Grub Hall
Spacious but not cavernous. There are quite a few seats, both at tables and at the bar. Feels appropriate to stuff your face within these environs.
Order BBQ. Order beer. Get beer. Sit down. Get BBQ. VOUS MANGEZ.
EAT OR SKIP:
Before visiting, I had certain notions of what I thought Salvage was going to be. I envisioned dry-ish barbecue smothered in so-so sauce and ho-hum sides. I don’t know why that was in my mind, but it was. Those notions were wrong. Salvage is legitimate BBQ. Smoked to perfection. Every meat-made item is succulent, fall-apart BBQ goodness. Cap that with quality sauces and sides. If you find yourself in Portland, in need of a smoked meat fix, get on down then they-a to Salvage.