The morning had been spent in lectures: the lawful use of lethal force, familiarization with firearms, tactics inside the house. Then came lunch.
Baron’s voice cut through the chatter in the room. “Everyone finished with lunch? Load your gear on the back of the truck, and we’ll haul it down to the range.” He pointed out the door, where a pickup truck stood waiting.
Tom and Judith tossed the scraps from their hamburger and bratwurst sandwiches into a trash barrel, and joined the group that straggled down the hillside, ending at a shelter with a row of benches at the back. They picked up their gear from the truck and started to put it on.
Judith put the ear protectors over the top of her head, ready to pull them down over her ears when they were needed. Tom looked at her and burst out laughing. “Judy, with that pistol strapped on your hip, and those ears on your head, you look like a cross between Calamity Jane and Minnie Mouse.”
She smiled and reached out to brush her fingers across the back of his hand. He grasped her hand and gave it a quick squeeze before releasing it. He thought to himself, We haven't shared many laughs lately. Maybe this will help.
Baron divided the group into two relays, then lined up the first relay at the firing line.
“Okay, relay one, draw your weapons and load them. If you have any problems, raise your hand and an instructor will help you.”
Judith raised her hand immediately. Gerry promptly stepped to her side and spoke. Tom could see Judith loading the revolver, apparently following Gerry's instructions. Well, he thought, I won't have to ask how, now that I've seen her do it.
Baron continued, “As soon as your weapon is loaded, holster it.” When everyone on the firing line had holstered their weapons, Baron stepped in front of them.
“On my command, you'll draw your weapon, take up the stance and grip we showed you before lunch, and fire one shot at the target. When you've fired one shot, holster your weapon.
Tom watched as Judith slowly drew her pistol, leaned forward, and extended both arms, as they’d been shown earlier. The sound of gunshots rippled up and down the firing line. He saw the gun buck in her hand. It didn't seem to bother her, as she straightened up and holstered the gun.
The relay repeated firing one shot until the revolvers were empty. Then the relays exchanged places.
Tom opened a box of ammunition and placed it the on the ground, swung out the cylinder of his revolver, squatted down and began loading the chambers. Off to his right he heard the snick-slam of auto-pistol slides being worked. He stood up, holstered his revolver, and faced the target. He shuffled his feet to get a stance he found comfortable.
“The firing line is ready. At your own pace, draw, fire one shot, and holster.”
Tom drew his gun, extended his arms, and tried to line up the sights on the target. The gun wobbled, but he found he could keep it fairly well centered on the target. He pictured the face of Harry Grubbs on the silhouette, and squeezed the trigger.
The first relay returned to the firing line. Baron put them through the same drill. This time, Tom noticed that Judith was leaning farther forward than she had before. Stepping slightly to the side, he recognized the look of intense concentration on her face. He had no doubt whose face she was seeing on the target.
This time her shots were all in the chest. A dinner plate would have covered them all.
The two relays were run through various exercises: single shots, two shots, body armor drill (two shots to the torso and one to the head). All the drills were repeated at longer and longer ranges. Finally came the end of the day.
Baron spoke to the assembled relay one. “This is your final exam, folks. We've put up clean targets. At your own pace, fire six shots, two at a time, then reload and holster. Then six more shots in body armor drill. When everyone's finished, you'll move up to the five-yard line and repeat both exercises. After that, do not reload. Auto-pistol shooters should fire your weapons dry and remove the magazine. After the line is safe, you can take down your target and keep it. Then relay two will go through their final exam.”
Tom followed behind Judith as she moved through the various stages. She wore a grim look on her face as she fired. Even at ten yards she kept all her shots in the target. At five yards her shots were well grouped in the chest. There was a look of triumph on her face as she carefully pulled her target off the frame and rolled it up.
I haven’t seen Judy look so happy in a long time. But I wonder if she really wants a shot at Grubbs, or if she's just trying to be sure she can defend herself? Does she hope he'll come back so she can blast him? I never want to see him again.
After the targets were replaced, Tom's relay formed up at the ten-yard line.
Okay, never mind trying to outdo Judy. Outdo yourself. Keep your front sight on the target and squeeze that trigger!
He didn't outdo Judith, but he did keep all his shots well inside the preferred target area. He felt a warm sense of satisfaction as he took his own target down. The training here had been intense, but it seemed to work. He had no doubt that with some warning as an intruder broke into the house, he could give a good account of himself. But his elation was promptly swamped by a storm of doubts.
If someone breaks in, will I get enough warning to get my gun? Will it happen like it did the last time, so fast I can’t react? And what if Grubbs has a gun next time? What if he shoots first? Can I really carry out my promise to protect Judy? And what if the attack comes when we’re outside the house? We won’t even have our guns then.
Depressed, he rolled up the target and didn’t even bother showing it to Judith.
After they turned in their borrowed guns, they walked to Tom's car. He opened the door for her, then went around to the driver's side. As he was about to get in, he noticed a piece of paper under the windshield wiper.
He unfolded it. There was a message printed with a low-quality dot-matrix printer. At the top there was what appeared to be a telephone number, then some text.
WE MAY BE ABLE TO HELP YOU WITH YOUR PROBLEM. MEMORIZE THIS NUMBER, THEN BURN THIS PAPER AND SCATTER THE ASHES. CALL THE NUMBER. LEAVE A NUMBER WHERE YOU CAN BE REACHED, AND THE PHRASE “INVOICE NUMBER 70085.”
THE JUSTICE COOPERATIVE
He looked around. No one was near the car. Whatever the message meant, whoever had left it didn't want to be known.
“What is it?” Judith asked. He handed her the paper.
She read it, then turned to him, eyebrows arched. “It sounds mysterious. What is the Justice Cooperative? And is that invoice number a password?” She waved the sheet of paper. “What’s this all about?”
He shrugged. “I haven’t the foggiest idea.”
“Are you going to call the number?”
“I guess I'd better, just to find out what it's all about.”
“Better burn the paper, like it says. Whoever it is evidently doesn't want anything that could be traced to them.”
“Yeah. It could be traced to us, too. We both have fingerprints on it now.”
She frowned. “Do you suppose it's something illegal?”
“I don't know what to think. But I'm going to follow instructions. Except I'm not going to take a chance on forgetting this number.”
He copied the phone number and the invoice number down on a scrap of paper from the glove compartment, and slipped it under the floor mat of the car. He went to the charcoal grill that had been used to cook lunch. The coals were still hot. He stuffed the message into the grill, watched it flame up and blacken, then stirred the ashes around with a stick. He then got into the car and started the drive home.
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