Spitzmann and Krochmal were strong men in their sixties who had hunted the Northern Dolomites together since they were teenagers, climbing ever higher as they grew intimate with each other and acquired mastery over the wild terrain. Over five decades, through military service, various marriages, fatherhood, business success and the wartime destruction and subsequent resurgence of Europe, the bond between Spitzmann and Krochmal endured, tested by comity and disagreement, by embraces and even occasional blows. They were men of inflexible character who defined friendship not simply by its warmth, but also by its inherent conflicts.
Today they hiked in the overcast coolness of October, and as they neared the Ritterfeld Exposure, where they would pause for a breakfast of rolls, cheese and peaches, the bell-like sound of rockfall rang from the far slope of a deep ravine to the east. The ravine was a steep face, which in terms of distance was a difficult but reasonable shot for marksmen such as these, who knew their weapons and themselves and had been hunting this high remote country for half a century. Their attention went to the source of the rockfall, and through field glasses they scanned the ravine, both men hoping to spot the rarely-seen Smallhorn sheep in a location where it could be successfully taken.
Krochmal had recently learned he was seriously ill, but not yet having accepted this himself, had not yet told Spitzmann, and the stress of denial and suppression had made him uncharacteristically impulsive and credulous. Spitzmann had noticed this in small ways—Krochmals eagerness to reach the Ritterfeld Exposure today, or his increased religiosity—but he assumed Krochmal would disclose the trouble in due time, according to the fifty-year compact of trust between the men. At the moment though, both of their hearts pounded with a thrill that overwhelmed thought, because on a promontory halfway up the ravine stood seven Smallhorn sheep. Before Spitzmann could stop him, Krochmal raised his rifle and hardly even sighting, fired at the lead animal in the line of sure-footed creatures strung across the precarious slope. His wild attempt missed and the shot struck an overhanging schist massif five meters above the sheep, alarming them into flight and transforming them from the attainable prize they had been at the moment of discovery into lost opportunity sacrificed to the haste of an experienced hunter made reckless by thoughts of mortality.
As Spitzmann turned to Krochmal to reproach him, and as Krochmal prepared to defend himself, a great shearing roar silenced both men when the schist massif over the fleeing sheep, having fractured due to Krochmals shot striking it at a point of natural geological exfoliation, collapsed in a section twenty meters wide by six meters high, struck the slope and carried the trapped sheep down to the bottom of the ravine in a marvelous avalanche of rock and beast and unexpected certain death. Spitzmann was by nature both self-possessed and critical, and after a momentary silence at the grandeur of the proceedings, he remarked to the grinning Krochmal that by the law of duplication, such a shot could not be seen as anything other than the most capricious sort of luck, and the kills therefore could not be seen as legitimate.
An intense disagreement followed, during which gray clouds lowered and a drizzle began, and Krochmal denounced Spitzmanns words as an affront to the God who determined all good fortune, as under His guiding hand the seemingly random events of life were not to be termed luck. They could be seen as blessings, yes, he was blessed to have taken seven Smallhorn sheep with one shot, there could be no doubt he was blessed, and he was thankful for the blessing which was the only suitable term for what had happened. Except he now articulated the difficulty of retrieving seven sheep carcasses from beneath uncountable kilos of broken rock, and Spitzmann remarked that if the mention of luck offended God, then this anxiety of Krochmals was equally problematic because in his book The Seven Storey Mountain, which both men had read in translation, Thomas Merton had condemned all anxiety as a form of spiritual insincerity. Krochmal reminded Spitzmann that Father Merton was a Catholic and thus believed in the divinity of the Virgin Mary, which was tantamount to cheating his way up that mountain of his, because the assistance of Jesus alone was sufficient for any climb. Spitzmann reminded Krochmal that he himself was a Catholic and the divinity of the Virgin Mary was not to be questioned, at which point Krochmal laughed and termed this belief utter heresy, a term that infuriated Spitzmann to the degree where his self-possession yielded to irrationality. He suggested the only test of their competing beliefs could be to stand back-to-back and, on the count of three, pace off ten steps and fire at one another with the intent to kill. They had known each other for fifty years and Krochmal agreed to this, not taking his friend seriously, but after the report of two shots had echoed down the Ritterfeld Exposure, and Spitzmann had given his life for seven Smallhorn sheep, Krochmal, who had ducked when firing and expected Spitzmann to do the same, stood in the now steadily falling rain and snickered.