From The New Orleans Review: “Gerner’s Retired Lives of Gunslingers” by Christopher Hellwig (excerpt)
The current issue of The New Orleans Review includes, among much else, poetry from Joshua Edwards and Srikanth Reddy, essays by Samantha Cohen and Mike Miley, fiction by Jacob Appel (selected by Nancy Lemann as the inaugural winner of the Walker Percy Fiction Contest) and an excerpt from Christopher Hellwig’s forthcoming collection of fictional gunslinger biographies, Gerner’s Retired Lives of Gunslingers.
Hellwig will read on Sept. 29 as part of Room 220’s Live Prose at the Antenna Gallery reading series, along with Michael Lee and Michael Martone. Hellwig and Lee both studied under the venerable Martone at the University of Alabama, and have composed essays about their experiences with Martone that will appear in the coming days on Room 220.
For now, an excerpt from Gerner’s Retired Lives of Gunslingers as it appears in the current issue of The New Orleans Review:
GUSTAVE REMY LE BEAU DE MAREVILEE, A.K.A. LE LAPIN
Gustave Remy Le Beau de Maréville, scion of a most leisurely Orleans Parish lineage, at an early age developed an interest in bicycles—when as a boy he straddled his first penny farthing and, velvet-vested, his mother and father looking on, went gently sailing, listing here and there, down Esplanade Avenue. He developed as well a fascination with pistol—germinating perhaps slightly later, at twelve and a half years, when Remy, as his parents were fond of calling him, stole into his father’s study late one night and there found in a bureau drawer a velvet-lined case bearing a superbly preserved Austrian-made flintlock, which, tucked into his breeches, he removed from the house, only to produce it not one hour later, loaded and cocked, and, after interpreting some irreconcilable offense to his honor, little Remy discharged the lead ball into the gut of a beggar on Canal Street. When Maréville finished his schooling, and as he entered his virile, idle years, he became a happy ornament of daily life in le Vieux Carré: known by the clothiers and haberdashers for his deep credit and discerning, if particular, taste in fashion, the boy once called Remy, who preferred now Gustave, had grown long, handsome sideburns and took to riding his chain-driven safety bicycle, shipped directly from Scotland and decorated always as if for Carnival, through the commercial streets and pedestrian squares of the Quarter, hailing his fellow man often with jolly flourishes of his boater hat, which seemed, indeed to some, never to lie atop his head at all, but rather to be engaged always in some more active gesture of gay social grace. After nightfall, the young esquire was less amiable, prone to drinking and the occasional enthusiasm for medicinal tonics, and prone also to the same sensitivities and pridefulnesses which as a small wag drove him to fits of indignance before his parents and au pair—and, on the one known occasion, to a sudden fit of violence—and which, as a man, instilled in him now the more considered, structured, and ultimately satisfying habit of the armed duel: in the company of his own society, usually in the waning hours of a well-attended soirée, by the methods prescribed by the rules and regulations of gentlemen, as most respectable households were lacking in neither a pair of gilded high-caliber percussion pistols for the purpose, nor a pair of eager, tipsy witnesses; and in lesser fellowship, in the back alleys of taverns and cabarets, on the quick-draw, for it was Maréville’s custom to wear a holstered, hair-trigger revolver, manufactured in Quebec, on his nightly outings. He was as fast with the piece, it was whispered, as a rabbit. Over the course of Maréville’s early adulthood, he shot as many as twenty-five men, a figure regarded with some uncertainty, as accounts of the contests in which he fought as primary and won satisfaction were either suppressed by the bond of secrecy demanded by the code duello of gentlemen, by the fear of subsequent offense which may risk further-sought restitution, or else—on the part of those witness to Gustave’s swaggering cross-belt draw—by the unreliable testimony of addicts and sots. Thus, to the high society of Orleans Parish, and to the honest inhabitants of the Quarter, and, most importantly, to the law, the reputation of Gustave Remy Le Beau de Maréville remained unfreckled, and the young master was free to ride his bonny bicycle by day unworried and unmarked, so long as his red-handed exploits were confined to the nocturnal upperworlds and underworlds of the city. But it was on a particularly sweltry, sodden August afternoon in his twenty-first year that Gustave fell from social and legal grace, for on this afternoon Gustave shot Claude Lebrun, a popular tailor, six times in the chest just behind the drawn curtains of his shop’s fitting room, a murder witnessed by one M. Babineaux, a whilom friend of Maréville who, waiting for his turn with Lebrun whom he considered, as did many of his station, to be the finest tailor in the city, and therefore indispensable—, heard the six shots from his position at the front of the shop, greeted with a tip of his hat Maréville as he slipped from behind the curtains, and quickly alerted a nearby constable as the murderer absconded on his bicycle. Maréville sought shelter in his family home, and, after consulting with his parents, knowing that it would be a short time before a warrant would be issued for his arrest, it was decided that the best thing for Gustave would be to leave New Orleans, and that, besides, an extended bicycle tour may be of some benefit to his constitution, which bore some effects of his carousing, as well as to his temperament, and so Maréville, under the cover of night, was concealed in the back of a wagon and taken to the limits of the parish, and from there headed West on his bicycle. The Maréville household heard nothing of their fugitive son for some time, until, just within a year of his hurried departure they received a letter in the mail from a captain of the Texas Rangers, whose small scouting detail had spotted a man in West Texas, careening down a hill on the west bank of the Pecos River on a rickety boneshaker, firing a six-shooter into a band of whooping Comanches in pursuit. The Rangers quickly dispersed the war party, and the captain later reported that, although he had sustained multiple gunshot wounds and had split his head on a river rock, Gustave Remy Le Beau de Maréville, his body gracefully contorted beneath the diamond frame of his bicycle as if caught mid-step in a robust dance, was still alive when he was found, long enough for him to tell the captain his name and station, and to express to him the satisfaction he felt at dying in such good company, and in such a civilized manner.