The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Level, Sight, Cock, Shoot

Big and fancy, I picked it out of five more lying under the clouded glass countertop at the gunsmith's. That was my taste back then. In guns anyway.

Scott said when he'd first seen it that the gun was something to keep and show my children and grandchildren someday. Then he shut up and shot me a funny look, like maybe he offended me or stepped into something he didn't really want to get into. I let him off the hook with a half-smile and shrug—he's my brother, but he doesn't know.

The barrel was cool to touch, its silver curlicues still shiny in a few places, the mother-of-pearl butt worn and smooth where it fit into my hand. The etched Mexican eagle on the handle was cracked a little and marred across its left wing. Just like I left it. 

It still fit real comfortable in the cup of my palm. I hefted it, feeling for its quirky balance. And that's where Scott had it wrong. A thing like this—what it could do—is nothing for kids.   

I never told anyone this story. I think I wanted to once, after Wes died, but there was too much going on. Too much dancin' around between Murdoch and me already. And Scott being mad at the both of us. Water under the bridge, then forgotten. No, I never told a soul—would be hard put to say why not though.

I was fifteen when I saw it in the smithy's window. I wasn't tall for my age, and alone in the dusty street of Sonora, I picked that gun to be mine, mainly because it was big and had a nice look to it. I liked the idea of being a small kid and carrying around something fancy like that.

The Colt had belonged to a soldado Mexicano and was a thing of beauty. I learned to shoot, but had little interest in fanning, wanting to feel the bite of the trigger as it pulled against me. My finger was red raw, blistered all around, and eventually ended up calloused.

I wanted that Colt, wanted to know who owned it before and what they'd done with it. It wasn't some prissy 32 caliber that a woman could carry in her possible bag; its curves were gentle-like, more sloping, its weight solid. A real weapon.  

I learned the how-to's from an old man. He must have only been around Scott's age, but to me back then, he was old.  Clean-shaven, except for a rowdy moustache that claimed his upper lip, and intense, he had long calloused fingers that tapped on the buttons of his vest as often as his cards. I'd do all I could to make him tell me about pistols and rifles, how he started. Sometimes he wore a slick contraption tied to his arm that held a small pistol, but only when he went to the Alhambra for poker. Guns weren't allowed there in the general sense.       

He never married, nor had any kids that he knew of anyway. Good gunfighters, he told me, were men that made piss-poor husbands. Dallying is one thing, but keep it inside your trousers when women started looking in earnest.    

But he called his revolver a she. “She could do with some oiling”, or “take her outside and practice.” And: “You take care of her and she'll do her best to keep you on the narrow.”

Starting out, I wasn't a particularly good shooter. My hands were too small for the big Colt. A man needs a good length between the thumb and trigger finger to cock a pistol the right way and I didn't have it at fifteen. I remember fumbling with a two-handed grip, and sneaking glances at him as he stood off to the side. His “boss of the plains” hat covered his eyes, but I could hear something, a “tch” sound, like he was disappointed. He walked over to where I stood, sweating in the sun, thumb and finger pulpy, and traded his own smaller pistol for mine. Then he set up a four count beat, tapping the heel of his boot against the hard-baked ground until it rang. I knocked down six of ten cans that day.

It's been a lot of years since then, and I'd almost forgotten it. But when I dream of shooting, I still hear the pings from his boot heel: Level, sight, cock, shoot.

I practiced every day outside of town in a manzanita-filled draw: tin cans, bales of straw, paper targets on trees. When I wasn't practicing, I was thinking about the gun. Or holding it, rubbing my fingertips across the sharp edges of the carved eagle and the snake held in its beak. To Mr. Jimenez, the mercantile owner, I was lazy. My sweeping should have been better, more precise, to get the dirt out of the store, not in. My hands on the broom were clumsy. But as long as I showed up every day at two o'clock, no one cared. And I still had targets to hit, my pistol hidden under the floorboards of my cot in the storage room, ready and waiting. Mr. Jimenez would have never kept me on if he knew what I was doing. I had a feeling Mama wouldn't approve either, but she was gone so it didn't make a difference.   

My teacher was a Famous man. It was part of the town legend—how he took on three drunken American cavalry soldiers, half-soused on tequila himself, taking them out the hard way when they accosted a saloon girl. He was never accepted on either side of the border, too dark for one, too light for the other. Too dangerous all the way around. The proper folk would turn their heads when he passed. But the Alahambra's senoritas would look at him under their eyelashes and smile, arguing over who got to fix his plate of tamales and pintos whenever it looked like he might be hungry.

One afternoon, I got it in me to dodge Mr. Jimenez and went to the draw. I wanted to throw cans in the air and shoot them through before they dropped to the ground. Looking up, I saw two men coming over the rise. My teacher and another man—a vaquero judging by his braided chaqueta and silver espuelas—were arguing. I lined up the cans on the boulder.  

Standing up straight, I drew my pistol half-way out of the holster then slipped it back in when the men stopped beside me. The vaquero was something else. He carried a double-holster, one gun riding on each hip, slung just low enough to pull the ivory-tipped butts out without a thought.   

My teacher told him about my practice, spending time every day to shoot a few cans or pieces of paper. He was about to tell him about the can-in-the-air trick when the Mexican turned and said, “That's a big gun, pendejo…difficult to grip, no?” and they both looked at me.  

“It's so big, and he's so small. But we're stopping you from practice. You shoot. Show me something.”

My teacher stared at me, starting to explain that it was all in fun.

“I want to see him shoot,” the vaquero said. “How old are you?”

“Fifteen, Señor, ” I said.

The Mexican nudged my teacher in the ribs. “He called me S eñor .” It amused him. He picked up four cans from the boulder. “Go on, shoot for me.” My teacher nodded and they stood there, waiting.

The Colt was a heavy weight against my leg, the tie around my thigh pinched, drawing my skin together at the knot. But I hitched the belt up and stroked the pearl handle for luck, my heart pounding away, and got ready to miss. I watched him throw the first can into the air. 

Even ten years later, I remember.

I didn't look at my hand or holster. I just pulled the trigger. The bullets boomed, one after the other, echoing through the draw like loud ticks from a bank clock. I shot the gun over and over, watching the cans jerk to the left and right. I did things with that gun my teacher couldn't do. I shot and shot, gripping the handle as I had never gripped a broom. Out of bullets, and out of breath—but happy —I stopped.

The vaquero started to applaud and even my teacher clapped a few times, a strange expression on his face.

“Very fine. Bravo!” The vaquero slapped me on the back. “This boy, I think he could be a man after all.”  And they walked away, leaving me standing ankle deep in the scrub surrounded by wasted cans. I swept the spent cartridges from the boulder and sat. Utterly drained, the fingers of my right hand curled around the pearl handle while the fingers of my left caressed the Mexican eagle.

Like any real story, the ending of it is muddy and not really something that's satisfactory, as Scott would say. A few weeks later, Mr. Jimenez found me in the street with the pistol on my hip and threw it across the boardwalk in a pique of anger. The eagle was cracked, the front-site broken, the barrel damaged.

I took it to the gunsmith's for repair, but when it came back, it wasn't the same. The balance was off, the new site pulled to the left, and the patina of the handle was dulled. It didn't fit the mold of my hand like it did before. Still comfortable, but wrong.

I failed her. I didn't take care of her, so she wouldn't take care of me anymore. I took up with another pistol, given to me by the vaquero. This one was a sleek Starr revolver, with walnut grips. Lighter than my other, it had a double-action. The thought of switching made me feel disloyal but I was marked, the old Colt didn't like me anymore. And I had learned enough to know that using her would hinder me.

And, soon enough, I knew there would be a time when I needed to be fast.






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