Shooting People Is Good

Be honest now – you all wanted to shoot somebody today.

Maybe it was your boyfriend, or that dude cut you up on the freeway. Maybe it was a politician – lord knows Lee Harvey set every one of us an example with that. Maybe it was your sister or your ma, your high school gym coach or that jerk in accounts screwed with your expenses four months running. Maybe it was that creep hit on your girl in the roadside, or the motorcycle cop followed you a steady thirty all the way home, or the drunk who threw up all over the steps of your building. Maybe it was Hannah Fucking Montana – seriously, who’d blame you for that?

The who don’t matter. All that matters is we both acknowledge the truth. You wanted to shoot somebody today, and you didn’t. For all those crazy reasons keep our half-assed excuse for society from drifting into anarchy and chaos. Morals and decency. Conscience and consequence. The law. You didn’t do it, and it’s chewing you up inside. But imagine for one moment you didn’t have to worry about any of that. Imagine you could shoot whomsoever you wanted, whenever the mood took you – without fear of arrest or reprisal or guilt. Imagine you could work out those frustrations in the moment, bask in the swell of satisfaction, gratification… justice…. then move on with your day. Be honest now…

The first time it happened was an accident. I hadn’t seen him and he shouldn’t have been out there. I arrived at the range a little after seven – I was first one there and Crebbins was still sweeping out the yard. He waved at me from across the compound as I set up. I was eager to try out the new Westley Richards 20 gauge I’d bought from an old-timer out on the Circle Hill Road. Guy was selling off a bunch of old shotguns – said his wife had died so he no longer had any need to keep them in the house. Most of them were crap, but this one… this one was a beauty. 28 inch barrels, nitro-reproofed, with a solid silver safety and red sandalwood stocks. I’d been careful not to go straight for it, gave some consideration to the junk before settling on my jewel. If the old man didn’t know what a peach he had here, I sure as hell wasn’t going to let on. In the end I got it for seventy-five, two cases of ammo thrown in. I could have sold it on for five times that, and maybe I might have done. I’m not sentimental about these things, a profit’s a profit. Turns out though, this particular gun was worth a whole lot more.

Like I said, I hadn’t even seen him. No way I could have known he was out there – why would he be? Why would anybody go wandering out across a live shooting range, seven in the morning, like he’s taking the air on Main Street? Turns out he was a retard – mentally deficient, like – dragged out into the country on a whim the night before by some reckless kids from Johnstown, then left to find his own way home. Poor fucker couldn’t read the signs, it was simple as that. He just saw the lodge in the distance and started out towards it. A little barbed wire and a few red dangers weren’t going to stop him – he was in a flap, and he wanted his ma. And he came climbing right up out of the ditch in front of the target area just as I pulled the trigger on my new Westley for the first ever time.

Those people you wanted to shoot today… how far d’you let that particular fantasy play out? Maybe you lined them up through the hood ornament on your car, maybe you tossed them what Mr. Raymond Chandler used to call The Gunman’s Salute – two fingers and a little click, back of your throat, followed by a mouth-filling boom. Maybe you actually imagined the blood – the stain of it, blotting out cross the fabric of their shirt, just like in the movies. You’d have to be pretty far gone to picture the insides of their skull blooming up like fungus from an old tree stump – the full-on ‘NC-17’ special effects – but hate’ll do that to you, and I don’t reckon we know the half of what goes on in most people’s heads but never gets out fully into the light. That’s probably for the best, you ask me, the world’s a scary enough place as is, don’t you think?

The retard’s head didn’t explode or nothing. This is a bird gun we’re talking here, and what would be the point splattering your duck all over the horizon? There’d be nothing left to eat, certainly nothing worth having your picture took with. So a nice, neat hole, no bigger than the end of your forefinger, and down he goes.

“Shit!” Lest you think I’m a callous… some kind of cold-blooded type… well, I’d never shot a man before, and while certainly I’d thought about it just as many times as you have, it’d never been without provocation. This was just some innocent kid, not even playing with the full deck, I had no truck with him. No, he sure as hell shouldn’t have been out there, but don’t for one second think I thought he deserved it.

“Oh Tom, oh Tommy – my god, Tommy, what did you do – what did you…?” That was Crebbins, running out after me across the range, mewling like a just-spayed tomcat, though I knew his concern wasn’t so much for the kid as how this all might lose him his license. That range out in Tilbury closed up after an accidental, though rumour has it there was more going on behind the scenes facilitated that particular termination.

“Go call an ambulance!” I shouted back, more to get Crebbins out of my vicinity than because I believed the kid stood a chance. Not many folks survive a headshot, not even from a gun like this. Maybe at a greater distance – but this was the nearest target on the range, little over 15 yards, and sure enough his lights were out by the time I got there. And that hole – that perfect little red-black hole just above his left eyebrow – I couldn’t help but stare into it, though I couldn’t tell you exactly what I expected to see.

What happened next, I don’t rightly recall. After the clarity of that one moment, the rest of the morning blurs away like cream in your coffee. I remember Bob Cornell came out from the Sherriff’s Office; I knew Bob Cornell from back in Junior High, we was on the wrestling team together. He was a good man, mostly. He asked me some questions, then he asked ‘em me again, then he said how he’d have to take my gun in as evidence, and I remember how that felt then, like this was the most devastating part of the day, like I just couldn’t abide the loss of that Westley – not for nothing.

“First I need – I need to clean it on out,” I remember saying that, telling him. But that was an excuse. In back of my head, I had this notion – and it’s just as crazy as it sounds now – that if I could get another couple of cartridges in that thing, I could hold off Bob Cornell and his deputy. I could get away, the Westley with me, and hide it where they’d never find it.

Of course he tried to stop me – that was his job. “You’re in shock, Tom, you’re not thinking right. You can’t—“ But he never had won a bout, Bob Cornell, not against me, and I wasn’t about to let him start now.

“Just need to clean it out,” I told him again, “just need to—“ Right then I must of sounded like the kind of idiot goes wandering across shooting ranges seven o’clock in the a.m., but I couldn’t let him take that gun. Even if he pulled his own weapon on me – for tampering with the evidence and that – I couldn’t let him stop me.

So I broke open the action and the spent cartridge popped on up out of the breech. Bob Cornell shouted at me to stop. I wasn’t listening. I reached down and plucked out what was left of the hull, then…

Then I was back at the beginning. Bob Cornell, his deputy, the paramedics and all the crime scene boys… they were gone. The sun was lower in the sky and Crebbins was still going round with his broom. It was the quiet hit me first. After all the clamour and palaver the morning had become, I’d forgotten it’d ever been this quiet.

In my hand, two fresh cartridges, waiting to be loaded. I checked my watch: 7.14 a.m. A breeze came out of the pines and stroked cool fingers long the back of my neck. Geese crossed the sky, safe as houses. It wasn’t the season yet anyhows.

“You OK, Tom?” said Crebbins, leaning on the handle of his broom like he was about to start singing ‘Oklahoma!’

I looked around me and off towards the first set of targets. I didn’t need to think this through. There wasn’t any doubt. I knew exactly what had happened.

“What the hell kinda place you running out here, Crebbins – there’s a fucking kid out on the range!”

Crebbins went white, but not as white as he’d been the last time this moment played out. He set out across the grass, still carrying his broom – waving it and shouting at the kid who was walking towards him too now, arms splayed out in a panic.

“Mister, I’m lost, mister… Where’s Johnstown, mister, where’s 43 Beech Street, where’s my ma, mister, where’s–?”

I knew exactly what had happened, and somewhere deep inside, I knew it’d happen again. Whenever I wanted it to.

Say you could shoot whomsoever you wanted, take out whatever frustrations you had – watch them suffer, watch them die… and then put everything back just the way it was, with nobody any the wiser? Say all you had to do was carry that gun round with you day in day out – get yourself one of them fishing rod cases, one of them zip-up pool cue bags – hell, a fucking violin case, you don’t mind the cliché. Say whenever the mood took you – and you’d probably find it’d take you a whole lot more as the days went by – you just get out that weapon and hold it straight in their face. Whichever one of them pissed you off most that moment. See the look in their eyes, hear them trying to talk their ways out of whatever they did to upset you in the first place, listen to them beg… begging’s always good… then click. Click – boom. You know what I said earlier ‘bout a bird gun not making much mess? From a distance, no. But get it right up between some bastard’s eyes – right where the sweat off their forehead beads down onto the top of their nose – pull that trigger right then, and you won’t get no pretty little nickel-shaped hole. You’ll get what they deserve. What everyone deserves, one time or another. You know what I’m talking about.

Come on now, be honest with yourselves – given a gun like mine… how many people would you have shot today?

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Rol Hirst was the first man in space from Huddersfield. The Russians still beat him up there.

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