I haven't flexed my professional skills in a long time.
On the drive down to the client's site for field testing, I was worried I might be stale, that after so long doing my best to bury it I might have succeeded. That the bear might finally have died.
It was the feeling of prying up the outhouse floorboard to find the old iron wrapped up in oilskin and slowly putting back on the wide leather belt to find that the hands still knew exactly where the grips rode, and the eye still knew exactly where to find the glimmering brass sights before the guns even came to rest off a quickdraw.
It was nailing six old bottles in a row even as the dust from the first shot obscured the last target. It was the fingers doing the reloading trick while the glint of green shards still danced on the packed earth of the old corral, and the hotshot deputy pulled a face that told me he was reevaluating where he thought he stood in the rankings.
Sometimes being the hired gun means being there like a safety net so the local talent can learn to walk the tightrope, to give them the nudge and the confidence they need to rally up and win the fight so I can ride off into the sunset and rebury my guns.
Sometimes it means showing the local talent that what thet have planned will get them all killed - to be the court physician who declines the case, knowing the patient is doomed.
I was allegedly being factory certified, but it was immediately obvious that the gear was NFG and the client's experts had never been outside a lab or a demo. I spent the time helping them get a grip on deficiencies they hadn't even known they had, so they could rally up and try again.
Afterwards, I sat down with the other grey hands from my old posse, and we talked about where to go from here. We have plans, and they're being pursued. In the mean time, I wait.
I might not be able to fix the world, but I can damn sure fix the parts I can get my hands on.