Malcolm stood outside washing windows. Lancer had a tremendous amount of glass which meant that his task was a long one. But it was a beautiful day, just as it had been nearly very day of the three months, since his arrival.
The small man's reverie was broken by the sound of gunfire. The noise startled the gentleman's gentleman, but he chided himself for his fright. <<Mr. Johnny is at it again. He certainly does seem to discharge his firearm a great deal.>> This time, however, Malcolm's curiosity got the better of him.
Walking around the house, he found the brunet annihilating cans and some type of pottery. "Ah Mr. Johnny, you're practicing again?"
"Yeah Malcolm, can't afford to get sloppy."
"I don't understand, sir."
"Well, I lived by this gun for many years and even though this ranch is usually peaceful, I don't want to lose my edge."
"Ah I see. Practice makes perfect as they say."
"Maybe. One thing I did learn in them border towns is that there's always someone out there faster than you. I guess I just haven't met him yet."
"I sincerely hope you never do, Mr. Johnny."
"Thanks. Say what are you doing out here?"
"Miss Teresa asked me to do some of the windows."
The young man made a horrible face. "Windows? I did those once. Took forever."
"Well yes, Miss Teresa is an exacting housekeeper."
"Damn straight! She had me do this one window so many times I rubbed away the glass."
Malcolm let out a chuckle. "Mr. Johnny, you are quite droll."
The brunet gave the man a questioning look. "Is that good?"
"Glad to hear it. I guess I'm done for today. Maybe I'll go have one of your stones and a cup of coffee before I head into town."
"Uh, Mr. Johnny?"
"I say...could you...would you teach me how to use a firearm?"
"You want to shoot a gun?"
The small man nodded.
"Why? You're not gonna draw down on those rugs I saw you beatin' up on the other day?"
"Hardly sir. I was merely giving them a good cleaning."
"Well then, why a gun?"
"I would like...I would like to be able to protect myself--and my employer if necessary."
"I think one of my responsibilities as a gentleman's gentleman should be the defense of my employer's property and perhaps even his life. How can I do that without a firearm?"
Lancer looked over at the broken plates and ruined cans. "You know it's one thing to shoot at them. It's another thing to shoot at a man."
For one moment the valet hesitated then drew himself up. "I am aware of that, sir."
"Okay then, come here and I'll show you what to do."
The remainder of the afternon was spent teaching the older man how to draw and fire. It was slow going, but finally Malcolm managed to hit an inoffensive can. "I think that's enough for today."
At the disappointment in the green eyes, Johnny promised that they would practice again the next day.
Just then Malcolm heard a woman's voice calling his name. "Miss Teresa! I forgot about the windows!"
"Maybe you'd better keep that gun in your hand to protect yourself from her."
"Just kiddin'--I think."
Sure enough, the feisty Teresa appeared around the corner. "Johnny Lancer, what have you been doing with Malcolm?" She then noticed her tableware on the ground. "And my dishes!"
"Aw Teresa, I haven't done much--and besides, they're your old dishes."
"Really, Miss Teresa, it wasn't his idea."
"That's all right, Malcolm, I was just looking for you so you could show me how to make that sauce you mentioned."
"Oh of course, I'll be right in."
"Thank you. And as for you, Johnny Lancer, tonight I want you to wash up good for dinner. Last night you came in looking like you wrestled a bull and lost."
"Actually, it was a bronco. He dusted my behind for me--and I've got the bruises to prove it!"
The exasperated look Teresa gave the Lancer son spoke volumes.
The next two weeks were spent in daily practice with pistol and rifle. Malcolm's accuracy improved remarkably. In fact, Johnny was quite proud of his student. Even Murdoch comented on Malcolm's prowess.
One evening after dinner Murdoch remarked to the valet that if he stayed at the ranch long enough, then he might be able to compete in the shooting contest at the local fair. "Johnny won the competition last year, but maybe it'll be your turn this year."
"Oh no, sir. I'm certainly not as good as Mr. Johnny."
"Well, you're not as fast, but you are accurate."
Just then the fast shooter entered carrying his 2nd piece of cake. "Ah there you are, Son. I was just telling Malcolm about the shooting contest at the fair. I'd like him to enter."
"Hey, that's a good idea."
"No, no. I'd really prefer not...
A knock interrupted the conversation. Murdoch headed to the door to see who could have arrived at such a late hour.
The door opened to reveal a slouched- over figure. In a slurred voice, the man anounced, "Name's Tucker. Want to see Malcolm." He staggered in, nearly tripping over the wainscoting. "Malcolm, there ya are. Let's get your stuff 'n go!"
Johnny stood up and walked over into Tucker's space. The liquor fumes were overpowering. "Malcolm works here now. He doesn't belong to you."
"So you think you can get away with stealin' my property?"
"He's not your property. He's a free man and works for wages."
"Well, I'll double 'em. What do ya say, Malcolm old boy?"
"I prefer to stay here."
Tucker swayed over and took Malcolm by the arm. "And I say, you're comin' with me."
"Get your hands off of him!"
Johnny took one step towards the inebriated man.
"Please, Mr. Johnny, I'll take care of this. Mr. Tucker, I do not wish to leave here, and I don't think you wish anyone to know about the poker game you won while in Modesto? Now do you, sir?"
After a long moment, Tucker replied, " Uh. guess not. Okay, I'll leave, but you haven't heard the last of this. And Malcolm, if you know what's good for you, you'll forget Modesto." With that comment Brant Tucker made his wobbly exit.
"Well done, Malcolm."
"Yes, well you don't always need a firearm I have discovered."
Three days later the usually dapper valet waited at the corral. Now he looked somewhat like a cowboy since he had borrowed a shirt and pair of jeans from Johnny. Once he could fire a gun, he had decided that he wanted to improve his riding skills. Usually he made do with bumping along, but that wasn't good enough for a student of Johnny Lancer.
At that same moment, Brant Tucker lifted his rifle into position. After a few drinks at the cantina, a Lancer vaquero had mentioned that Johnny was planning to teach Malcolm how to trail that fine day. Now was his chance. Two quick bullets and he'd be rid of the two men who had cheated him.
Not far away he could see the dust of a rider trotting through the Lancer gate. It was the man Malcolm--and Tucker--were waiting for. <<Not long now, Lancer!>>
"Put down that firearm!"
Tucker started to turn, but realized a gun barrel was aimed at his head.
"I said put it down!"
"Malcolm, how'd you get up here? You were just down there."
"One of the things Mr. Johnny has taught me is that a gun barrel will reflect the sun's glare. I saw a ray of light so I circled aroud behind you. You were very careless."
"Think you're smart, don't ya?"
The valet said nothing.
"So what happens now?"
"You ride off and never come within fifty miles of Mr. Johnny or this ranch again."
"Huh? You mean you aren't turnin' me over to the law?"
"No, I will be leaving here soon and I do not wish to return because of a trial. But I will do that willingly if I hear that you have tried to harm anyone on this ranch." He cocked the pistol and aimed it at Tucker's forehead.
"Hey, didn't anyone ever tell you not to point those things?"
"What they actually said is not to point it unless one intends to use it!"
Tucker gulped. "You're not a killer."
"I can be many things in defense of those I care about. Now, do you leave or do we see how successful my shooting lessons have been?"
Cautiously Tucker got up and headed to his horse.
"I heard you."
"Good. There might be hope for you after all."
Slowly Malcolm walked down the hill to meet Johnny Lancer.
"Hey Malcolm, what were you doing up there?"
"Practicing my draw. I'm getting quite good at it."
"Oh, are you? I'll have to watch out. You'll be drawin' down on me next."
"Oh no, Mr. Johnny. I would never do that to my employer. <<But I definitely would to an ex-employer--especially one like Tucker.>>
Johnny slapped him on the back. "Well, let's get on with your lesson."
That night at dinner Johnny moved slowly, taking his place at the table.
"Mr. Johnny, here's your pillow."
"Yes now, sir, you know you have bruises."
"It's okay, Murdoch, just a small one."
"Malcolm, I said it was small!"
The valet held his tongue. He knew the young Lancer son was a proud man who would not like anyone to know his secret.
"Johnny Madrid Lancer, no more scones for you until you tell us what happened."
"You heard what I said."
Johnny looked at Malcolm. Malcolm just shrugged.
"Oh all right! While I was showin' Malcolm how to trail, a rattler spooked Barranca. He threw me."
"So? You've been thrown before."
Gingerly Johnny stood up and headed to his room. When he returned, he was carrying a pair of dusty jeans with the whole rear end torn out.
Teresa and Murdoch gasped.
"Unfortunately, I landed on an ornery cactus. Malcolm had to cut away some to get me loose. Speakin' of that, just how good are you with needle and thread, Malcolm?"
"Alas, sir, I am not a magician."
Hiding her snicker of glee, Teresa remarked, "Johnny, just accept it. You're going to have to buy a new pair of jeans and trash those."
Equally amused, Murdoch chimed in, "Oh Teresa, let him keep those. They'll come in handy on hot days."
Laughter surrounded the red-faced gunfighter--even his own.