As the man behind the counter slowly flipped through the stack of bills, Gregory ground his teeth and fought the urge to say, “The money’s all there.” Typically, that’s what a person says when they are buying something illicit or delivering ransom money. You slide a steel briefcase across a table, and when they pop the buckles open – strangely without ever asking for the combination or a key – you look them dead in the eye and assure them that the money’s all there. Even if it isn’t.
Of course, there was nothing remotely illegal about what he was doing. He had to remind himself of this multiple times as the man with the gray ponytail tallied the cash, licking his thumb before peeling off each bill. People bought guns all the time – it was his constitutional right as an American citizen. He had patiently waited the required three days and passed a background check. In fact, the only thing unlawful about the entire transaction was that he had parked on an expired space in front of the sporting goods store and hadn’t bothered dropping any coins in the meter.
Finally, the clerk counted the final bill – a folded ten that brought the total of the wad to $550 even – and deposited the haul into the register, slamming the drawer shut with undue vengeance.
“Alright then, she’s all yours,” he said, ripping a receipt from the top of the register and handing it to Gregory with a half-hearted smile, “You know how to use it?”
“Oh yeah,” Gregory lied, “I grew up shooting with my dad.”
That part wasn’t technically a lie, but he doubted the man would be impressed with two bird hunting outings with his father that ended without Gregory doing anything more than carrying the snacks.
“Alright then, enjoy. We don’t take returns if it’s been fired.”
Gregory nodded, wondering how good the man was at determining if a weapon had been fired. He’d been planning on returning the gun on Monday, claiming it was defective, or a gift for somebody who (bad luck!) already owned a Smith & Wesson six-shot revolver with a cherry inlay grip. Sarah would be home Tuesday morning; he was sure he could hide the gun itself from her, but the missing $550 from his bank account wouldn’t be easy to conceal.
He stuffed the receipt in his wallet and lifted the gun in its case from the counter. Its weight surprised him, and it occurred to him he hadn’t even asked to hold it before he picked it from the case. He’d been drawn to it because it looked like the revolvers he had seen in John Wayne movies. It was probably a dead giveaway – he was obviously an amateur. He was nearly to the door when the clerk’s voice stopped him.
“Hey, aren’t you going to need some ammo?”
Ten minutes later, Gregory was in his car – embarrassed a second time after he was forced to ask what kind of bullets the gun took. He stowed his purchases on the floor of the passenger’s side and started the car as he cussed himself for looking so incompetent. He pulled into traffic and pointed the car toward the city limits. He drove until the city gave way to the suburbs, then to interspersed houses on large properties. He kept going until the last house was several miles behind him and he was surrounded by dry desert and scrub brush. He parked on the shoulder and choked the engine. He waited, seeing how often cars would pass; spotting no other travelers after twenty minutes, he grabbed his weapon and walked into the desert.
Gregory found a spot a couple hundred yards from the car where he had a long view of the highway in both directions. He plopped on the ground laid out the ammo and gun in front of him, careful to set the bullets down carefully on the off chance that any minor vibration would set them off. He opened the case and removed the pistol, again marveling at its weight. Tucked neatly between the foam liner of the case, he found the owner’s manual and flipped through it until he found instructions for loading the pistol. Carefully, he flipped open the cylinder and slid six bullets into place before snapping it shut.
The highway behind him was still deserted, but he waited another few minutes to be safe, passing the revolver back and forth between hands to see what felt most comfortable. Gregory wasn’t sure if he was supposed to hold it with his dominant right hand and support it with his left, or the other way around. Maybe the stronger arm should be the support? Finally, with no one in sight, he pulled the hammer back and leveled the barrel at a point in the distance. He screwed his eyes shut, and slowly squeezing the trigger.
The roar surprised him, but the kick nearly knocked the gun from his hands. He peered into the desert, searching for a puff of dust or some indication of the bullets devastation, but found none. He took aim again, keeping his eyes open this time and trained on a tall bush a hundred yards away. He let loose another round, and was nearly ecstatic to see the bush shake on impact. Wildly, he let loose the remaining four rounds at the bush. Over the ringing in his ears, he heard the echo of the gunshots bounce away into the distance. His heart raced and his eyes were wide with excitement. He dropped to his knees in the dirt, and popped open the cylinder for a second time, burning his hand slightly on the scorching barrel as he did; he returned it to its case to cool for a moment.
He had enough bullets to last him the rest of the afternoon. Sarah was far away. Gregory reached into his pocket and found the receipt. He tore it into pieces and let it blow away into the brush while he reloaded.