Merc Rule 29

Written by J. D. Wiley --- Art by J. D. Wiley

Merc Rule 29: Humility: Watching another merc do what you just said was impossible.

It’s important to note that there’s three kinds of impossible. First, you got what’s merely unlikely. Then, what’s inconceivable. And finally, what even Luck Avery can’t do. That lass made her name doing what mercs told her she couldn’t. Hell, what everyone said she couldn’t.

There’s a particularly memorable story involving Bullet-Eye Cain and Five-Ace Kirkland that leads up to that very point.

Now, I wasn’t there, but it more or less goes like this…

Ol’ Cain and Five-Ace were out back of Granny Lemieux’s having themselves a friendly bottle-shooting contest. There’s a gallery set up across barrels, crates, and hay bails. Bottles were sat at all heights, angles, and distances. Cain was winning, as he’s like to do. And Five-Ace decides to make it interesting. He pulls out a purse of silver marks. Starts putting down tender on every shot.

Cain is blasting bottles left, right, top, bottom, and center in rapid succession. He’s taking Five-Ace’s money faster than a ten-penny brothel. The longer they go at it the more complicated the gunplay gets. Real trick shots. The kind that only a fella of real talent can achieve. We’re talking behind the back, at waist height, while spinning your pistol. Two guns at once. Over your shoulder with a mirror. Holding the pistol upside down, shooting blindfolded. You name it.

It’s drawing a helluva crowd now.

Well, Five-Ace ain’t one to back down so he’s taking bet after bet. Losing all his money too. He’s starting to look desperate, but he’s got a plan. He talks Cain into going double or nothing on a shot he gets to pick. Cain agrees without hesitation before even hearing the shot. Why wouldn’t he? He’s been winning all night.

Five-Ace is a clever bastard and a known cheat. Well, “suspected, but unproven cheat” as he likes to say.

So, when Bullet-Eye agrees, Five-Ace grins. Says he’ll throw three coins spinning into the air and Cain has to fell ’em with one bullet. Good ol’ fashioned lead. No buckshot. 

Cain scoffs, says “It ain’t possible.” In fact, he’s so sure of it that he says Five-Ace can get help from anyone in the bar who says otherwise.

Enter Luck Avery. She wasn’t too well known back then, but if you have an instinct for how these stories go, you know she’s about to be.

Five-Ace brings her back to the gallery, lays out the details of the shot. Luck sidles up, says she’s got no pistol. The crowd laughs and Five-Ace hands over his .44 Longhorn. She inspects the six-shooter, gives the barrel a sniff, thumbs the hammer back and forth, cycles the cylinder, takes a listen to the clicks and whines. Then gives Five-Ace the nod.

Three glittering coins arc into the air. One shot rings out in the silence. All three coins spin away. Murmurs go up through the crowd. Cain’s floored. So’s the entire bar. Drinks start coming in from everyone within earshot.

Hell, the whole town was offering to buy her drinks for the better part of the week after that. But don’t ask Luck to duplicate the shot, ’cause good fortune ain’t the only reason they call her Luck. There’s two sides to every coin.

But best anyone could tell she’d managed to line two of ’em up in the air and then ricocheted one of them two into the third. Don’t really matter how she did it. Fact is, she did. And folks are still telling stories about it. ‘Specially around Bullet-Eye Cain. Poor bastard will never live it down, despite his being unparalleled in the fine art of gunslingery.

Mercs are a prideful bunch of bastards. And they ain’t likely to ever let you—nor anyone else—forget it when someone accomplishes something that you couldn’t. So do yourself a favor and don’t make any sweeping predictions about what’s possible and what ain’t. Or if you must, make those predictions in the privacy of your own skull, where they ain’t as likely to do injury to your pride.

Coyote Joe, Memoirs of a Merc

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