Part 1 - Chapter 16 - Five Rules of Engagement

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Denholm led me outside, I assumed, for him to teach me how to shoot the revolver. I'd never held a gun before, knew they only brought trouble, but had to admit that wearing the thing strapped around my waist made me feel different. More confident.

I was ready to start blasting away at targets. Denholm had a different idea. He made me draw the gun from the holster over and over and over again without shooting.

"Fast draw is both a science and an art form," he told me. "There are distinct moves to be mastered, each one requiring tedious practice until perfected, until you no longer have to think about what you are doing. From start to finish, it should all be automatic. No thinking. Just reacting. The term we use for this is muscle memory."

During the next hour, he demonstrated proper technique on how to stand in relation to the target, how to hold my hands, and the mechanics of thumbing the hammer, and finally squeezing the trigger.

"Don't worry about aiming yet," he said. "Just point the gun down range and keep practicing."

Denholm left me alone for hours practicing those silly moves while he was off doing other chores. It had gotten hot and perspiration ran down my back and into my eyes, stinging them. Made it hard to focus down range. My thumb was getting sore from working the hammer.

Eventually I had enough and marched into the house looking for him. I found my teacher sitting in the air-conditioned TV room watching a baseball game.

"Done already?" he asked.

I crossed my arms across my chest. At that moment, I sort of felt like a gun fighter with the holster hanging from my hip. "Easy for you to say sitting here in the cool."

"Tell me, Sing, when you are out there on the street hot and perspiring or maybe freezing and wet, hungry, thirsty, or feverish, do you think your adversary will give a damn about your discomfort?"

"We're just talking about target shooting."

"Is that what you really think this is about?"

His question bounced around inside my head. "You mean it isn't about target shooting?"

Denholm ignored my question and turned his attention back to the baseball game.

I went to the kitchen and got a bottle of water from the fridge. Drank it down. My thumb throbbed, so I held it under the kitchen sink faucet and let cold water run over it. A blister had formed. I went to my room and plopped onto the bed.

The day's activities had taken my mind off of Las Vegas, the Gemthe Academy, the Heralds, my brother, all those things that were real to me. This distraction was just adults playing with guns. I didn't have a cell phone, but a phone extension set on my dresser.

Would Denholm mind if I used it?

A stupid thought. He wasn't keeping me prisoner here. I picked up the receiver and called Judge Severn. She probably wouldn't be home—

"Hello."

I didn't expect anyone to pick up on the first ring and the surprise threw me off balance. For a moment, I didn't know what to say.

"Hello?" The voice at the other end of the phone said again, this time more insistently.

"Judge Severn. Hello. This is Sing."

"Sing? You've been gone for only a day. Not homesick, are you?" Her voice came across as cold. She wasn't joking.

"Uh, no, I'm fine."

"I trust that Sir Denholm is treating you well?"

"Yeah, he's okay."

"Why are you calling?" she asked. Definitely an unfriendly tone.

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