The Want - The Instructor
Two thirty-eights roared in-sync.
The walls of the gun range took the pang of sound well, batting it against every surface in the room in an invisible to and fro until, what can only be described as a harsh silence, resumed. The shots, which were fired in unison, sounded like a quick bang-bang with the echo of the tunnel. Both of the paper targets received one in the heart. The two cartridges disappeared somewhere in the mesh of netting at the far end of the shooting corridor called the bullet trap. It was a subterranean range, in the second sub-level of Central Police Station, with a door just across the hall from Ray Pinker and the Technical Services team. Central gun range was made of lead – there was a sign on entry with ‘WARNING – Lead Hazard – No Smoking, Eating & Drinking or Chewing Tobacco’. There was a stick of holly over it.
Jake Lacey watched the smoke dissipate at the end by two wall-mounted filtration units. The fans were well-greased, emitting minimal noise. The Instructor was grinning.
‘Finger out of the trigger guard,’ he said. ‘Eject those cartridges, lay the revolver on the ledge and stand back.’
Meatheads one and two followed his instructions promptly. Placing their hands in the air to show they were unarmed, they put them behind their backs and took a single step out of the firing lanes.
‘Nice work,’ the instructor cried. ‘Dismissed.’
They filed out.
The Instructor came up to him and asked how he was.
Lacey had come to know the man very well. The Instructor was called Mr. Freeman. Elden Freeman was a black man born in Bristol, Tennessee, in 1869. He didn’t have much of a drawl, which he said was down to his parents who kept them on the move. They travelled around the country on horse and wagon. The Instructor had no formal education. His father, who was an ex-bounty hunter by profession, showed him how to shoot when he was just six-years-old with a pair of Colt Frontier Six-Shooters. When he was a teenager, he performed in state competitions. He competed in Jeff Cooper’s Leather-slaps pistol shooting competition over at Big Bear Lake in San Bernardino County. Among the six combat masters, he was considered the fastest draw, a title he retained until 1940. He now worked for L.A.P.D as a part-time instructor. He lived with his wife and three daughters somewhere on the outskirts of the city, though Lacey hadn’t worked out where exactly.
It wasn’t an exaggeration to say he was completely in awe of the seventy-two-year-old.
‘Just fine, Mr. Freeman.’ he said.
The Instructor padded over, taking him by the hand. ‘Ready to be recertified and do an old man proud today, Officer?’
‘I sure hope so, sir.’
‘Hope is for wasters, you just need to shoot your shot. How many times you been in here watching the guys now?’
The question didn’t require an answer.
He knew he needed to pass, he’d been working himself up to take the test. He’d spent many hours watching the other officers get in their practice while he was off-duty. He wasn’t confident, or comfortable with a gun the way he had been last year. The Instructor was well aware of this – he had spoken with Ray Pinker who in turn spoke with someone in the Records Department. They pulled his file and word got back to him.
Officer Lacey had served overseas, making the rank of Corporal before getting wounded in action. The Instructor decided to keep his cards close to his chest, he didn’t want to bring anything up in case it spooked him more. However, he was going to spring something on him that afternoon. Today was going to be the day he got recertified. The Instructor went over to the control panel and tripped a switch.
The open sign outside blinked off.
‘Okey,’ he began. ‘Calmly make your way to your usual firing lane.’
Lacey did as he was told. He walked up to lane number seven. When he got there, two guns were already waiting for him. There was a standard-issue service revolver and a Colt .45.
The Instructor stepped in behind him. ‘Have you ever used a .45 before, Officer?’
He looked down at it. ‘Yes, sir. Over in Africa.’
‘Africa?’ he said coolly. ‘You were in the War?’
‘Third Infantry Division, sir.’
‘Then I won’t tell you how to use it. We’ll go to the revolver then. Would you mind preparing it for me?’
Lacey nodded. He found the release latch behind the cylinder and slid it forward. With his left hand, he reached under the gun and broke the cylinder sideways. He pointed it toward the ground, taking the bullets on the ledge one at a time and dropping them into the chambers. While he did this, he slowly rotated the cylinder with his left thumb. The Instructor kept an eye on the process the entire time. The boy knew what he was doing, he was just nervous was all. When he finished, he pushed the cylinder back into place and it clicked. Without being asked to do so, he laid it down on the ledge and looked at the M1911.
‘Okey,’ he said. ‘Now, get the other one ready.’
It was like he stuck his finger in a wall socket. Instead of convulsing, muscle memory kicked in. He inserted the magazine and cocked it. It took him just a second. Unlike the other officers he’d trained, the Instructor didn’t have to remind Lacey to keep his finger off the trigger. It was something the newcomers really struggled with after years of watching gangster movies. The boy was a natural handler. Now, he wanted to see how good he was at shooting it.
‘Before we go much further, I have a duty to remind you that in order to pass you need to land five shots out of the seven to be recertified. Do you understand?’
‘I understand, sir.’
‘Fine. Now, take the .45.’
Lacey took it. He stood in the typical firing stance, his left hand supporting the weight of his gun arm. With his right thumb, he flicked the safety catch up and hovered the gun over the nearest target.
The white man-shaped target stood under the lamp unmoving. At a distance of thirty yards, it was well within his sights. Lacey took a deep breath and held it, causing his gun-hand to shake some. ‘I’m not sure I can. . .’
‘Breathe, Jake. Squeeze the trigger, don’t pull it.’
He saw a man standing there instead. He wore a black naval uniform. The right lapel bore a Nazi insignia. He nodded at Jake and glanced down at his right side. He unbuttoned the holster at his hip, drew the Walther PPK and hovered it in his general direction.
‘Breathe,’ the Instructor said.
Lacey took one. On his exhale he fired and a small hole appeared in his chest.
The Instructor was breathing on him now.
Suddenly compelled to finish him off, Lacey fired the gun six more times in quick succession. Bang after bang. Each smoke clouds drifted up, adding to the size of the one that came before it. When Lacey lowered the gun, the cloud was magnificent.
There were five shots in Fuchs’ chest and two in his head. One of them had penetrated the skin just below his right cheek. Lacey saw the blood cover the white wall behind him. The man sagged against it. It was over.
But he thought that before.
Lacey was layered in sweat, shaking now.
‘Well done, Jake.’ said the Instructor. ‘I’m going to make things a little harder now – don’t panic. When I trip the switch on the control panel, two of the targets will rush you. Whatever you do, remember the double tap is key here. Two well-placed shots will nearly always put a target down. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, sir.’ Lacey said.
‘Okey, then.’ said the Instructor. He heard the footfalls retreat and then: ‘Take aim.’
Which one’ll come first?
Suddenly, the lights went off. He heard the mechanical whir above his head, the cogs grinding, the retrieval carriers propelling the two targets at him. The light returned in strobes. The targets were on his left and right. He didn’t have time to think. Left first, bang-bang. The second one covered the same ground a lot quicker. He fired one up high and then shot three more times from the hip. When the sound finished bouncing around the room, the overhead lights came back on and the Instructor walked out onto the firing corridor easily.
Lacey waited, he came back through the half-light of the gallery with both targets. He said nothing as he laid them on the ledge. Target one had been shot in the head and neck. Target two had been shot once through the arm and three times in the stomach. ‘If you’re looking to kill, the second target may have survived. Just enough to return fire on you. See this shot?’
The Instructor pointed to a small hole in the cardboard. Lacey could see the dent made by his bullet. ‘Straight through the left wall of the stomach and out the other side. It’s enough to put a man in hospital, but not to stop him shooting at you. You would’ve been sent to the morgue if this was a real situation.’
‘Right,’ said Lacey.
‘But don’t worry,’ he said, smiling. ‘You passed the test, son. You landed seven out of seven shots. Congratulations.’ The Instructor extended his hand.
Lacey took it, shaking it earnestly. ‘Thank-you, sir.’
‘Same time next week? We’ll put some money on it.’
‘Yes, sir. I’d like that.’
‘Good, I’ll file my report with Captain McGinley by the end of the day. Based on that, he’ll find you clear for active duty and issue you with a new firearm.’
‘Thank-you for your help, sir.’
Lacey went out and came back a moment later. There was a small green box fastened with red ribbon in his hand. He gave it to the Instructor. ‘Merry Christmas, sir.’
He looked touched by the gesture. ‘Merry Christmas to you too, Jake.’
He smiled as Lacey disappeared through the door and ‘round the corner to the steep concrete stairs leading to the ground floor.
Great kid, he thought.