Target Practice by Maureen

First released in the “Homecoming 2006 Lancer Convention Souvenir Magazine”from Yucca Flower Press, October 2006
Since the original release this story has been tweaked for format and form –but the tale itself really has stayed the same.Thanks, as always, to AJ and Karen, my publishing pals.

Word count: 825

“Just take one shot, Johnny!  Wastin’ one bullet won’t kill ya.”

Johnny sat on the tailboard of the supply wagon and slowly, deliberately, took another bite out of the apple in his left hand.  He needed the distraction to help control the temptation, rein in his temper.  If he couldn’t, there were seven vaqueros there to serve witness—them, and one fool.  Sixteen eyes total just waiting to watch Johnny Madrid come out and play.  Only thing was, when Madrid drew his weapon it was never for fun anymore.  Hadn’t been since he’d fought his first gunfight.  Killed his first man.  Making light of or showing off his abilities with a gun wasn’t Johnny’s style.  Not unless he was looking to hire out his services.  But Johnny’s profession was no longer that of gun hawk.

What Johnny Madrid Lancer considered himself to be now was rancher—third-owner of one of the largest spreads in California.  That is, until some yahoo would come along and find out who he had been.  Challenge him, like now, with a game—or worse, in a fight to the death.  Neither proposal much appealed to Johnny.  Both left a bad taste in his mouth.  He spit out a seed and tossed the rest of his apple into the nearby creek to drift downstream, out of his life.

‘If only Madrid was that easy to get shed of.’

He wiped his hand on his pants as he looked around at the other men.  All were silent.  All knew who Johnny Madrid was, heard about his reputation.  All knew that Johnny Lancer just wanted to be let be.  All . . . every one of them.  Except for the yahoo . . . the new man . . . the dog that wouldn’t let go of a bone.

Johnny’s day had started so . . . normal.  Lead a crew out to the Lazy Creek bridge, get it repaired, go home.  ‘Home.’  Lancer.  ‘Home.’  Sounded good.  If everyone would just let Johnny Lancer be . . . . 

The canteen the yahoo had set as target, heart high in the crook of a nearby tree, stood as a damning symbol to Johnny’s past.  And he didn’t like it.  Didn’t like it one bit.  He’d already told the yahoo to take it down once, in reply to the dog’s first howl for Johnny to quick draw on it. 

‘Quick draw . . . on some thing that can’t shoot back.  Ain’t my way.  No challenge.  No threat.’

When the dog had barked a second time, Johnny had simply, quietly, said “no.”  But like a stupid mutt without the good sense to stop biting at the tail of a coiled snake, the yahoo had yipped that third time. 

Johnny stretched his left foot down until it hit ground.  He lowered himself off the wagon and stood relaxed.  He tried to keep his voice light.  “Back to work, boys.  Lunch is over.”

The men immediately obeyed.  Donned their hats and hauled themselves off the ground.  Shoved that last piece of sandwich into their mouth.  Picked up their tools to head back to the bridge.  He didn’t look directly at any one of them, but Johnny took notice of each man, especially the yahoo, who hadn’t moved—until his fingers twitched . . . and he licked his lips . . . and he adjusted his stance . . . and . . . .

Johnny’s gun was aimed at the yahoo’s chest before the man realized he’d actually been ready to draw down on Johnny Madrid.  The dog’s hand hovered beside his holster.  The tip of his trigger finger just barely caressed the handle of his weapon.

No one moved.  Nothing seemed to move—most distinctly the rock steady barrel of Johnny’s revolver.

“You still want me to waste a bullet?”

”N-n-n-no . . . .”

“You’re fired.” 

“Y-y-y-yes.  S-s-sir.” 

Johnny knew he’d be the talk of the bunkhouse tonight.  The boys would tell the tale, each taking a turn to spin their version, speak in hushed tones about Madrid’s sight-defying speed, the fluidity of his draw, his remarkable calm.  But that’s as far as it would go.  Lancer had a good set of ranch hands, tried and true and loyal men who knew Johnny Lancer better than Johnny Madrid.  The night would be filled with their enchantment of having lived briefly in the presence of the legend, Johnny Madrid.  But tomorrow would bring just another day of cowboying beside Johnny Lancer. 

But the yahoo . . . .  Johnny didn’t know if that man’s tale was done being told yet.  Some men didn’t appreciate getting showed up—made to look the fool, however deserving of the brand the man may be.  Johnny would have to watch his back for a few weeks.

Rancher or gunfighter—he could be either.  But the one thing Johnny Madrid Lancer never wanted to be was target practice.

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~end~

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