"So, what about the gun?"
"I'm thinkin', I'm thinkin'. I think maybe I got a piece for you. It's a bit bulky for a woman, but I think it'll work."
With that, Jake came around the counter and slid the Navajo throw rug that lay on the floor in front of the counter aside, revealing a trap door in the floor.
"Stay up here. I'll be right back up. If anybody comes in, tell 'em I'm buryin' a body."
She had watched him as he moved around the counter. He looks normal. He doesn't seem like he's missing anything. There's a lot of scars on his lower arms and hands - his tee shirt shows his upper arms ... they're not scarred. He moves okay. No limping. Her curiosity was definitely piqued.
Jake descended the worn wooden stairs into the dark cellar where the Sons of Nevada held their clandestine meetings. What am I doin'? Nobody but the Brothers knows this place exists but I just opened that fuckin' door like it was a closet. I gotta have my head examined. Yeah, no shit. If the Brothers find out about this .. but they won't. They won't. I can't be that fuckin' dumb. Can I? He found what he was looking for, and headed for the stairs.
"What are you doin' down here? I told you to stay upstairs. Now turn around and get up those stairs."
Jake replaced the Navajo rug and turned to Sarah, his face red with anger.
"I told you to stay up here. When I told you, you had to do what I told you to do, when I told you to do it, without question I wasn't fuckin' kidding!!! Do that again and this exercise is OVER!! CLEAR?"
"And don't be a smartass. That'll get you bounced just as quick."
"Okay, Jake. I'm sorry."
"No. 'I'm sorry' don't cut it. Just do what you're told. I don't want to hear 'I'm sorry' out of you. Not ever again. If I tell you to jump - you say 'How high?' - not 'I'm sorry, I can't' or any other bullcrap that means anything other than "How fucking high?"
"Okay, Jake. You've made your point. Now what's in the case?"
Jake had brought up a hard, black case about the same size as the tenor sax case she had as a kid.
"I gotta be crazy, doin' this. You're gonna get me killed, you know that, right?"
She stared him dead in the eye, again.
"Do you want to live forever, Jake?"
"Fuck, are you kiddin'? I never wanted to live THIS long. But that's another story."
He opened the case, which was lined with black felt, revealing the strange looking weapon inside.
"Wow. What is that?"
"It's a handmade, .223 caliber, bolt action, side fed, sniper rifle with a scope, silencer and a three shot magazine. If the wind is steady, this thing can hit a cantaloupe at a thousand yards. There's a drop chamber for expended casings, so you don't leave any brass. It field strips to the three main groups you see here, plus the scope. You've got wire stock, receiver and barrel. Add the silencer and you have five pieces that make up the deadliest single rifle in the State of Nevada. There isn't another like it anywhere."
"What's that other thing in there?"
"I almost forgot. This is what is going to make this weapon usable for you. It's called a bipod. You clamp it on the barrel, right in front of the receiver .... you have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
"Never mind, you'll learn. The receiver is all of this stuff here, in the middle of the piece - behind the barrel and in front of the wire butt stock. It's where all of the operating parts of the weapon are located. Trigger mechanism, bolt, chamber and the magazine plugs in right here. You ARE right handed, right?"
"Yes, I am."
"That's good - because that's how this weapon sets up - the bolt action is managed with your right hand. It would be awkward with your left. And the magazine would hit you right in the lips if you tried to fire the weapon left handed. And we wouldn't want nothin' hittin' you in the lips, now would we?"
"No, Jake. We wouldn't. So look, how much is this going to cost me?"
"Why don't we wait until you've been at this for a bit? If you're still at this in a couple of weeks, we'll talk."
"Okay, Jake. you're on. Look, is there someplace out here I can stay? I can't go back to the city and I'm not gonna live in my car ... "
"There's a little motel about 2 miles north of here. It's cheap and there's a greasy spoon diner just on the other side of it and a gas station across the road. Thelma Gleason owns the place and she don't allow no hookers so it should be pretty quiet most of the time. Just tell her I sent you. Oh, and take her this box of .22 longs, will ya? She's gotta be pretty low on ammo, by now. She likes to pick off critters from the window out back."
"Don't worry. She can't see in the dark so she don't shoot at night. Like I said, quiet."
"Okay, Jake. And thanks. Tomorrow?"
"Yeah. I open a 9. Be here at 6. We'll get an early start."
Sarah walked out of the shop and to her car. After the events of two nights ago, she had been lucky to find her car. But she remembered that The Kid had been dropped off three blocks away from the casino that night he was supposed to kill her. She figured he probably parked the car three blocks away from the alley where he was gonna do Sully. The alley where Sully wound up doing him. She walked for almost an hour looking for her car - hiding wherever she could when a car went by, not wanting to chance being seen and recognized by Sully. She found it, three blocks away from the cheese warehouse where The Kid had died, tucked between two buildings, facing out toward the street, but with escape in either direction. She reached up into the rip in the headliner and retrieved the plasticine envelope with the spare key in it, started the car and drove away. She didn't throw up until she was 20 miles north of Vegas. Now she got in her car and headed north, to the Glen Gleason Motel, not sick to her stomach, this time. No, this time she was full of resolve and determination. She knew where she was headed. She knew what she was going to do. And how she was going to do it. Now she just had to learn. Learn, and figure out Jake Bertrett.
The beat up old '41 Chevy pulled off the road in a cloud of choking dust.
Thelma Gleason sat in a chair on the porch of the office of the Glen Gleason Motel, handkerchief in front of her mouth and nose.
"From now on when you pull in here, slow down out on the road and then turn in, slow. I'm gonna be spittin' that shit out for a week."
"Sorry, I'll know better next time."
"If you're gonna live out in the desert, you're gonna hafta learn how to survive out here. Drownin' your neighbors in dust is a good way to piss folks off."
"I said I'm sorry."
"Don't get your panties in a twist, Sister. Jake said you were coming and not to cut you any slack. Don't look at me like that, we got phones out here, ya know? I don't pay Jake no mind, nohow. Your name is Sarah, right? C'mon, I'll show ya yer room. You'll be stayin' up here in this buildin'. The cottages get pretty warm and I can't afford air conditioning except up here in the main building. I got two rooms in this building and I don't usually let them out to short-timers - you know, over night guests - I try to keep them for longer term people. 50 bucks a week and you get room service Monday, Wednesday and Friday, first week in advance. There's no smokin' in the rooms and if you need towels I keep them in that closet behind the front desk. The food at the diner is pretty good and it's open 24 hours - so is the gas station across the road. There's a pay phone out there next to the road - the phone in the office is not for guests. You got luggage?"
"Not really. Just a few things I managed to grab the other night in this little bag. I can't go back to my place to get anything else, either. I'm tired, I'm hungry, I've been in these clothes for two days and I need a shower."
"Give me your washing and I'll have the girl do it in the morning when she comes in. That's okay, isn't it? Of course it is. Say, how'd you get all the dried blood on the front of this blouse? No, never mind. Jake said don't ask no questions - and I won't. Now. My daughter was about your size, I've still got some of her stuff she left when she run off with the no good drummer from Salt Lake City, used to come by here about once every couple of months or so, sellin' his shit and stealin' my daughter. C'mon in back, I'll show you my livin' quarters."
"Oh, wait a minute, okay? I got something in the car for you, from Jake. A box of ... .22 longs? And I gotta call my Mom."
"Those are bullets for a .22 rifle. And you go right ahead and call your Momma. Use that phone over there on the desk."
"But you said ..."
"I know what I said. You just go ahead. Where is your Momma, anyway?"
"No shit? Sally's gonna pee her pants. She LOVES calling Frisco. There's an operator there she's in love with and every once in a while she gets her on the line and, Christ, those two could talk for hours. What? Oh. No dial system here, dearie. Plain old ordinary operators. Don't even have a long distance operator. Sally does it all. Just pick up the phone and talk to Sally. You tell her what you want and she'll call you back when the connection is ready."
Sarah went out to her car, now getting hot in the sun, and started it up. She put the car in gear and pulled around so she was facing the road. Just in case.
"Here's your bullets, Thelma."
"Listen, sweetie, the last person that called me Thelma was my old man and that salty bastard died before I got him broke in right. Everybody calls me 'Ma', except for that fucker Jake - he calls me Deadeye. Call your Momma."
"Yes ma'am. Ma, sorry. Hello, Sally? Sally, I need to call San Francisco."
Ma Gleason had found her some blue jeans and some plaid western style shirts and a couple of nice pair of hiking boots, and there was some underwear her daughter must never have worn so she was pretty well set. As she stepped in the shower, all the tensions that had built up in her over the last three days just broke loose all at once. She curled up in the corner of the shower stall, her body racked by sobs, letting the hot water run over her and steam her soul.
She thought about The Kid and how he died and he never knew how she felt - how she wanted to stay with him - how she had never forgotten the flight into Vegas and the little cargo area in the back of the plane. And how he saved her life and Jerry's and Mom's. And she thought of her indecision. How she wondered if all this was such a good idea. How she almost just pointed the car toward the mountains and California and her son and her Mom and safety. If I get myself killed out here no one is ever going to find me and Jerry .. my poor Jerry. Already he doesn't have a Dad - can I take the chance he won't have a Mom, either? But if I don't, then The kid was just a waste, and what he did was just a waste and that would make me just a waste. And I'm better than that.
She had talked to her Mom. Let her know she was okay. Let her know it was going to be a while before she got out to Frisco. She told her that Janet Pearson, her friend from her flying days, the friend of Sarah's that she was staying with, would help her find a flat, would help her get Jerry registered for school in time, would help her put the money to work in some sound investments. Janet was good people.
The water started to run colder and she knew it was time to get out of the shower. She climbed into the soft bed with the crisp clean sheets and fell into a deep sleep. For the first time since she got off her shift at the casino three days ago, she was able to sleep soundly - and safe.
She didn't know that Ma Gleason sat outside her door, rifle across her lap, reading her latest copy of Reader's Digest. All night. Jake had told her much more than not to ask questions.
"You're right on time. Good. Timing is everything in this business and punctuality is very important. Park your car around back where it won't be seen from the road."
She came around from in back of the building with two large paper cups in her hands. She handed one to Jake.
"I brought you coffee. Ma says you like your coffee black. Is that right, Jake. Do you like your coffee black?"
He opened the door and stepped into the shop.
"Yeah, that's right. Now let's get to it. Pull that rug away from the counter."
"What, you gonna take me downstairs, Jake? I thought I wasn't supposed to go down there."
"You weren't. But now that you've seen it, there no point in keeping you out. Besides, my workbench is down there and we'll need some space to work in today."
"Why? What are we going to do?"
"You, darlin'. It's what YOU are going to do. You are going to learn how to take that weapon apart and put it back together again. You're going to do it over and over again until you can do it blindfolded. You are going to learn everything there is to know about your piece. When I'm done with you, you'll be able to strip the weapon, clear a jam, and reassemble the weapon, in less than one minute. In the dark. With one hand, if necessary."
"One hand? What the hell, Jake. Why would I use one hand?"
"In case you've been wounded and that's all you have available to use is one hand."
She looked dumbfounded.
"Look. Your motto from now on is "One shot, One kill". But what happens if you don't get the kill with the first shot? What happens if you get return fire? What happens if you get hit? What happens if your target is not alone and there are other arms pointed at YOU? There's a reason I built this weapon with a three shot magazine. You have to be prepared for the unexpected. And that's why THIS is going to be your other weapon."
"What IS that?"
"It's a machine pistol. A Skorpion 61. Made in Czechoslovakia. It's brand new. The Slovak Army doesn't even have this yet. It uses a standard Browning .32 ACP round. The big magazine holds 20 rounds. You'll use this for close in work. If you have to. You're going to learn this weapon, too. Just like the BSR."
"Yeah. The 'Bertrett Sniper Rifle'. Standard issue to the sniper corps of the Sons of Nevada."
"The Sons of Nevada. That's their flag up there on the wall. But never mind that now. We have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time in which to do it. The store opens at 9 and you have to ready for your physical stuff by then."
"Physical stuff? What physical stuff?"
"You're out of shape. You have no wind. You have no stamina. On order to be a truly effective sniper, you must be in top physical shape. You have to be strong and in total control of your body. I have designed a fitness course for you that you WILL follow and when I'm done with you, you will be the most dangerous woman on earth. Or at least the most dangerous one in the State of Nevada."