ORIGINAL FICTION: "Climbers" (Chapter Ten)

Republibot 3.0
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CHAPTER TEN- Life in the fast lane.

I've heard people say that they'd love to see a UFO. Not me, pal. No, thanks. Don't need to see a flying saucer, shoot video of bigfoot or have lunch with Elvis at Burger King. Not this guy. I’m happy to see just the normal stuff. I don't want to have to explain what I saw and defend my sanity at the same time. One at a time is hard enough. Right now, Ray Meadows was thrilled beyond words. He was watching something move across his back yard. Something he was going to have a hard time explaining later, but he wasn't thinking about that now. For now he was simply amazed.
Whatever it was, it was no longer frozen. It had watched the keys hit the ground, took one look over at Ray and went back the way it came. In three long bounds it was across the yard. One leap and it was in the tree and gone. Ray walked as quick as he could to the limb- that infamous limb- and looked up into the tree. Nothing there. Nothing that he could see, anyway. Branches and leaves, leaves and branches. No, there was nothing there. Whatever it was, it was gone now. Short gone, long gone, but gone. Ray looked around the yard. The yard lights were still on. And Ray was trembling.
What's next? He backed off away from the limb and out from under the tree. By the time he had backed up to the middle of the yard, he was looking everywhere above him for some sign of the thing. In the trees, on the rooftops, over the garage, everywhere. It was nowhere. How could it get so far away so fast, and yet not make a sound? Ray was sure he hadn't heard a thing. No footfalls across the grass, no scratching noises on the limb or trunk of the tree. Nothing. And it was gone. Or was it? Ray felt that awful pit in his stomach as he did what he had to do: He walked back to the tree.
As he went back under the limbs and toward the fence where that one big limb hung, he thought about the thing he saw. Those lights coming on had confirmed just about everything he thought he had seen the first time on Rosser’s roof. The shape, the weird coloration, the head and even that tail. He had been right and Barbara had been wrong on two counts: It didn't have ears- not that he could see, anyway. And it wasn't a cat. In the darkness under the tree limb, he thought about something else he had seen in that moment before it turned and ran: the eyes. Large, almond shaped and pure black. No whites, no iris, just deep shiny black. All pupil? That would help to explain its incredible night vision. This thing walked in total darkness as well as Ray walked at noon. With eyes that good, it didn't need ears. Ray had to think about it. Maybe it didn't hear him raise up on that bed. Maybe it saw him.
Under the tree and looking up, Ray was straining his eyes to get every last bit of light that wasn't there. It was dark. It must be one o'clock by now, he thought. Maybe later. Too dark for Ray to see much detail up there. How long had he been out here? That thing could be just above his head, looking right back down. How would he know? He knew how he'd know. He had that flashlight in the pocket of his bathrobe. Slowly, like a kid trying to get away with something, he reached in to his pocket and pulled it out. It was just the little one, but better than nothing. Ray tried to point it up in the general direction of where he wanted to look, and hit the switch. It was bright enough to make him squint for a moment. Nothing. Well, mostly nothing. Did he see something move up there? Or was that just a trick of the light bouncing off the tree trunk? Was that even the tree trunk? Ray stood motionless, watching above his head for something. Anything. Then it landed on his forehead.
That single, fresh green leaf made no sound at all as it came silently down, spiraling in from somewhere above him. He almost didn't see it before it hit. When it landed, he could have jumped out of his skin. He kept his skin, and grabbed at the leaf. In his hand, and under the harsh glare of the flashlight, the leaf looked like any of the millions of green leaves that surrounded Ray out there that night. Except for this: Why would a fresh green leaf fall off a tree in the spring? Brown leaves fall in the autumn. This ain't autumn, and that leaf ain't brown. Something clipped this leaf off of a branch above him. Either by accident or on purpose, that thing sent Ray a calling card. He took the hint. With the leaf carefully tucked into a pocket of his bathrobe, Ray Meadows went back in to his house. The lights went off in his back yard. Not long after that, the creature Ray had seen moved from its perch on a lower branch to a higher spot in the tree. It could have reached out and placed the leaf on Ray's forehead. But it didn't and Ray never saw it in the tree.
Once safely (?) inside his house, Ray threw caution to the wind and turned on the kitchen light. First things first: Pencil and paper. He had to try to draw this thing while it was fresh in his mind. As though he were likely to forget. Ever. He rummaged through three drawers before he found what he wanted. One short pencil and a few sheets of an old scratch pad. He sat down at the table and tried to draw. Now he knew how Yosemite Sam felt trying to draw that gun. Try as he may, it just didn't look right. Not sleek enough. Not nearly so svelte. His poor attempts at a static sketch did nothing to capture its fluid smooth movements. Made as much noise, though. He got that much right. Ray was so caught up in trying to draw what he had seen he never heard Barbara come down stairs. She had been worried about Ray until she heard the back door open and close that second time. So she knew he was back in the house. But then there was no sound of Ray coming up the stairs. What was going on down there? Time to go have a little look-see. Maybe, she thought, maybe they did need a gun after all. Who was down stairs if it wasn't Ray? She was relieved to see Ray at the kitchen table- but what was he up to now? One-thirty in the morning and Monkey-Boy was drawing cartoons at the kitchen table? She made a mental note to switch to de-caf on a permanent basis. And maybe slip a little something in his. This guy's too wired for this late at night. Not good. Not good at all. She walked into the kitchen and it never once occurred to her that maybe Ray was too busy to notice that she was there. But he would soon.
"Hey, whatcha doin'?"
"AAAAAAAAAHHHH!"
Ray jumped up and back from the table like a man who just found a scorpion in his coffee. The chair went over backwards and hit the floor. The pencil flew across the room, bounced off the wall and landed back on the table before sliding across it and on to the floor. Ray was pale and shaking and sputtering. Incapable of speech and lucky to stay housebroken. His wild-eyed stare went from Barbara to the pages he had been working on to looking around the kitchen as though he wasn't sure where he was. What ever cool Ray Meadows had displayed outside in the dark of the night vanished in the instant Barbara chose to speak. The whole chain of events had been too quiet for too long. But not no more.
"Whoa, Ray- you ok?"
"I- ah- yeah- I'm ok. You just startled me. I never heard you come in."
"I guess. What are you doing?"
"I saw it. I really saw it. In the back yard."
"The leopard?"
"It's no leopard. I got a good look at it when the lights came on."
"I saw them come on. I wondered what happened to you."
"Yeah, well, I saw it. It came down out of that tree- the one in Rosser’s yard. It was headed across the yard toward me."
"It came at you?"
"I don't think it knew I was there- or what I was. I was standing still and it just kept coming across the yard."
"And it tripped the lights?"
"No. Not at all. Weird, huh? The lights never came on."
"But I saw them-"
"Oh, the lights came on all right. When I threw my keys at it."
"Smooth move. Hit it?"
"No, I just wanted to get the lights to come on. Come to think of it, my keys are still out in the yard."
"I'll get them."
"NO!"
"Relax, Ray, I'm sure it's gone. We can turn the lights on from in here and take that monster flashlight you bought. Put it to good use."
"No- not yet. Just sit. Sit down."
Ray picked up the chair he had bowled over in his haste, and he and Barbara sat at the table. It was two o'clock in the morning. She was looking a bit bleary-eyed while Ray looked to be a close person friend of Juan Valdez. No sleep for Ray tonight. He pushed his best effort at drawing across to her. She looked. And looked again.
"I'd say you had it about right the first time. If this is what you saw, it's not a cat."
"No, it's not a cat. But what is it?"
"No chance of it being a kid in a costume?"
"No chance."
"What are these? Goggles?"
"Eyes. Those are the eyes."
"All black?"
"All black. No whites. And no iris, as far as I could see."
"If that's all pupil, it's no wonder it's out at night. Daytime would blind it. A firefly would blind it."
"That's what I thought."
"Blue and black, like you said?"
"Iridescent or something, yes."
"Wow. Fur? Skin? Scales?"
"I don't know. Not scales. Too smooth, unless they're really small. Maybe short fur. Real short. Maybe not- maybe just skin. I- I don't know."
Ray was starting to feel the strain of the night tear him apart. He didn't want to think about it any more. Not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever. He just wanted this thing to go away and leave him alone. Let Ray Meadows lead that simple life he loved so much. No worries, no problems, no weird things in the trees at night. As far as Ray was concerned, those car keys could stay in the back yard forever. Barbara, on the other hand, had seen nothing. She stood up and went for the door.
"Hang on. Be right back."
Before he could stop her, the outside light was on, the back door was open and Barbara Meadows was in the back yard. Alone. It only took a minute for her to find Ray's keys. She didn't even need that Night Killer monster flashlight. It was easy enough to spot the keys where they were, right next to one of the yard lights. She picked them up and headed back in without so much as a cursory look around. The door was locked and the yard lights were off before Ray could say a word. So he didn't. He just sat there, drained off all energy and emotion. Now he wanted to sleep. For about a month.
"Here you go: Car keys. No problem."
Ray left them on the kitchen table. They'd be safe there for the night. They would have been safe in the back yard, really. Ray didn't think he could lift them. Or himself, if he waited much longer.
"I'm exhausted. Let's go to bed."
"Good idea. Come on, up the stairs."
Ray made himself climb the stairs, each step harder than the last. By the time he found the bedroom, and the bed, any thought of removing the bathrobe was long gone. He slumped down on his side of the bed and kicked off his slippers with his last ounce of energy. Barbara kept a close eye on him during all this, then quietly turned off the light and joined him in bed. Now it was her turn to stay awake for a while. She thought about that drawing downstairs. And that thing in the tree. What in the world was going on around here? Was Ray crazy? She fell asleep and dreamt of crazy Rays in the trees. It was not a restful night for either of them. At least they could sleep in. One of them did.
Saturday morning gave Barbara Meadows an incredible sense of Deja' Vu. She woke up, rolled over and- no Ray. No Ray whatsoever. Not one Ray there in that bed. That was one cold bed where the Ray should be. She sat bolt upright and looked around. Sunlight streaming in, the window open to let the breeze through, and what's wrong with this picture? Ray wasn't in it. It took a moment for her to adjust to this being awake thing. Once she did, she could hear Ray from where she sat. Or rather, the sound of Ray, tapping away at the keyboard in the other room. A little early for surfing, but then that's the best time on this side of the country.
In Meadows' Computer Central, Ray was indeed a tappin' fool. And had been for quite some time this morning. He was up at first light. Made a pot of coffee, and drank it. That pot was gone. Ray was surfin' wired. The only way to fly on that long information highway. By starting early, Ray was able to get information much quicker than he would have later in the day. Before everybody on the West coast logged on. Boy, did those guys ever gum up the works. Everybody and their dog must be on line West of the Rockies. He knew that by noon he may as well shut down. Things would slow to a crawl by one. Gridlock on the Info Interstate. But from six to noon? No stop lights, no speed limit. Full speed ahead. Ray was making the most of it. Everything, Ray included, was buzzing.
Barbara found her own bathrobe and wandered into the other room. She made a point, this time, of being noisy. No need to freak him out again. She needn't have bothered. Ray heard her sit up in bed, get up and walk down the hall. In her fuzzy slippers. He was one wired dude. For now. He was working hard and living fast. As long as the coffee held out. He turned to greet her before she was even in the room.
"Hey! Morning!"
"Morning. How long you been up?"
"I dunno- since about six I guess. How you doing?"
"Ok. For a late night of weirdness."
"It was that."
"So whatcha doing, surfer boy?"
"Looking for it."
"Any luck?"
"That depends. What would you call it?"
"Hmmm?"
"If you had to name that thing, based on what I drew, what would it be?"
"Oh- I don't know. Uh, a night monkey?"
"That's good. Haven't tried that one."
Ray typed "night monkey" into a general search. Everything hummed on. And on and on. The system was starting to slow down already. It wasn't even nine o'clock. Don't these people have something better to do on a Saturday morning? Didn't he?
The screen showed a number of entries, and Ray began to scan through them, looking for some hint of what he had seen. Unfortunately, "Night Monkeys" turned out to be an industrial band with a strong following on the 'net. Darn. Ray was frustrated by his inability to find an accurate inquiry to get the answers he wanted. He never doubted for a minute that the truth was out there, somewhere, on the Internet. Everything was. Absolutely everything. Maybe too much of everything, if you were only looking for one thing. He'd have to try again. On a sheet of lined paper next to him was a long list of words and phrases he had already tried. No real luck, but a couple of close calls. But only close. No direct hits.
"Ok, so Night Monkeys is a popular band. Next?"
Barbara had sat down next to him. Surfing the 'net was not a spectator sport. It was barely a participatory one. Especially as it slowed down. Then it became a passive hobby. Type something in and send it, then go off and do something else. Something real. Come back later and see how it went. If it went at all. Ray and Barbara stared at the last screen until the Granville Corporation screen saver kicked in. What to do next?
"I've tried everything I could think of as some sort of name for that thing. Nothing. I can't be the only person in the entire world that's seen one. Can I?"
"Let's hope not. Let me look at that list."
Barbara read down through the list. Mostly long involved descriptions. No wonder he couldn't find anything. Or found too much of the wrong thing. There had to be one word, one phrase, that narrowed it down. Barbara put the list down.
"Try 'climbers'."
Ray typed it in and sent it.
"Ok, why not? Here goes nothing. Again."
They waited. And waited. Then they gave up and went downstairs for breakfast. It was going to be a long day, even with that afternoon nap they had both already mentally penciled in. Some holiday weekend this turned out to be. It was only Saturday morning.
After a slow breakfast of coffee, toast and jelly, Ray fussed around the first floor of their house, reluctant to go back upstairs. A watched search never ends. Or something like that. He managed to stay away from the screen for almost an hour. Finally, he had to go look. He couldn't take it any more. There had to be something on the screen by now. Up the stairs and into the back bedroom- now their computer room. What's on screen? The answer? Maybe. Lot of stuff there.
With the inquiry "climbers", Ray got a response. Several pages worth, in fact. As he scrolled through, he saw why. Every entry in the world on vines was there. As was every entry on mountain climbing. He had to wade in and start deleting. Tough job. By lunch time, he was down to just a handful of listings and each looked radically different. How many types of things could be called "climbers"? Ray was finding out. Of the six entries left to examine, two concerned climbing the corporate ladder. They were deleted. One was on social climbing. Equally relevant, and as quickly eliminated. One was about a wind-up suction cup toy that climbed smooth surfaces. It wasn't what he was looking for, but Ray downloaded a copy of it- just in case. The next one was about some book written by an Englishman after the Second World War. Where "climbers" entered into it escaped Ray completely. Misfiled? Probably. Off it goes to Delete City. A quick glance at the last (and newest) entry showed a reference to "blue-skinned night climbers". Ray paled. It got cold in the room. He grabbed the edge of the desk for support. He had hit the electronic jackpot.
Ray Meadows was face-to-the-screen, reading every detail of a rather odd home page. "Climbers In America" seemed to be the title, but there were references to several European cities as well. The file was the work of one man in Denver. One very odd man. Even Ray could play "Spot the Looney" with some success. This was a loony. Gilbert Lawrence- the name attached to the file- was a man with a mission. And kind of like John J. J. Smith, that would soon be Ray's mission, too. Gilbert's file offered several pages of information, most of it speculative, on the subject of "climbers". Gilbert might sound like one of those "The government put a radio in my head" types, but somewhere in there were a few facts. Ray had to sift through and find them.
After the initial page offering a menu of options, Ray went to the "Enhanced Photograph" that was offered. That move proved to be a real show-stopper. There it was. Badly done, but that was it. Good ol' Gilbert had it almost right. He had missed the tail, of course, and the fact that the blue pattern went to solid black on the feet, hands and head, but this was it. Except for the eyes. He had missed that as well. Drew in whites and irises. Wrong-o bong-o, Gil boy. But it was the only drawing Ray had seen other than the one he tried to do himself. Ray downloaded the file and went on. The sightings location map was a bit odd. The sightings were mainly in the Denver area. Could G. Lawrence be seeing things? There were a few other dots scattered over the map. Major cities, small towns, the middle of nowhere. Outside of Denver it was even, if sparse, coverage, with the exception of heavy coverage in southern Illinois. Not much in the warmer Southwest, though. That seemed odd to Ray. If only loonies saw this thing, why wasn't L.A. covered with dots? Why was the Carbondale area so special? And why did Ray just lump himself in with the loonies?
Under "Media References", Ray checked out a few newspaper articles about things going bump in the night. Obviously, Gilbert was reading more into these reports than anyone else cared to. A new-age magazine did a feature story on Gilbert. Whoa- a photo. This is Gilbert Lawrence? Ray stared at the photo on his computer screen. Scanned in from the magazine article, it was a not good photo. Titled, badly framed and almost out of focus. Very New Age. Gilbert looked to be one seriously intent individual. Brown hair, moustache and goatee. Sort of the college type. Maybe somewhat Bohemian. Not your average IBM executive, but no Maynard G. Krebs, either. Ok, so this is the guy Ray needed to talk to. Maybe.
Ray returned to the file's first page. Was there any phone number here? Nothing. Ok, think: Does this guy even want to talk to anyone about sightings? Sightings. Ray re-opened the sightings location map. There it was- across the bottom. Gilbert Lawrence's phone number, complete with the Denver 303 area code, and the request for please, no calls before noon, Mountain Time. Ok, no problem. That gave Ray a couple of hours to hang around before he could make a fool of himself through the electronic wizardry of AT&T. What to do? He busied himself downloading Gilbert's entire file. Everything. He could read it in detail later. Ray decided to double check the phone number- just in case. Long Distance Information? Forget Memphis, Tennessee. Give me Denver.
The phone number checked out with the current directory listing. Now Ray had to stall around for awhile before he could call. No sense in getting off on the wrong foot on that first call. Wait until noon. Mountain time. Which was what? Two o'clock this afternoon? Ok, it's eleven now. What to do for three hours? Surf the net? Done that. Stand around in the back yard? Been there. It came back to him in a flash- but he wasn't sure it was still a good idea. Maybe it never was: the gun. Or rather, the lack thereof. With three hours to kill (no pun intended), should he go down to that Army/Navy store in town and see what they had to offer?
Of course, now the situation had changed considerably. What was the gun really for now? Not some exotic big cat, loose in the neighborhood. Not some acrobatic burglar or stealthy peeping-tom. It would be for a "climber", whatever that was. Was it dangerous? So far, it didn't seem so. But he had only seen them on two occasions. Ray had no way of knowing it, but he now tied with Gilbert Lawrence for "Most Sightings by a Single Living Human in America". It was a dubious distinction. Perhaps three times was a charm. Ray made his way downstairs and found Barbara outside, working in the front flower bed. Things were looking good outside with summer pretty much at hand. Flowers were everywhere. Barbara was happy to see Ray out and about, for whatever the reason. She stood up and wiped herself off. The dirt smudges on her face remained unnoticed by both.
"Find anything on the 'net?"
"Yes, I did. I found it."
"Great- What is it?"
"A climber."
"Oh, great. Which is a what?"
"I have no earthly idea. Some kook in Denver sees them. He's keeping some sort of record. Sightings, newspaper items, stuff like that."
"They've been in the paper?"
"Not that I could see. But this guy has. Sort of a well-known eccentric."
"Sounds like a guy you can trust. What's next?"
"I'll give him a call this afternoon. Right now, I was thinking about heading down to the Army/Navy store."
"For what?"
"Ah, well . . . you know how we talked about getting a gun?"
"Ok, but do you still think we need one? Sounds like it's not a big cat or anything."
"It's not a big cat, but it is something. And until we know exactly what, maybe a gun wouldn't be such a bad idea."
"Ok, your choice. Want me to go with you?"
"You'd want to go?"
"Sure. The smell of gun grease, the sound of the slide on a .45. My childhood."
"Or Viet Nam. Sure. Come on, let's go for a ride."
Barbara took her tools and yard hat back to the garage. With her gardening gloves off, she was ready to go. Ray backed the car out and she settled in to the passenger's seat while he closed the garage door. A quick run to lock both doors on the house and he was back in the car and they were gone. A Saturday adventure and it wasn't even noon. Their time.
The drive into town was uneventful. Traffic was light, since everybody and their brother was headed the other way, out of town. It was a holiday weekend. Why would anybody want to be in town today? A few people were, and here were two of them. Ray began to wonder if their destination would even be open. Maybe those guys took the long weekend off. Maybe they went hunting. Or shooting. Or whatever it was they did for fun. Nah, Ray convinced himself, the Army/Navy store will be closed. They'll end up driving around downtown, looking for someplace to have lunch where the help might possibly speak English. Maybe they'd go to April's. Hadn't been there in a couple of months. Why not? The food was good and the help did speak English. At least, they did at night. Worth a try. Ray was so focused on making it to April's for lunch he drove right past the Army/Navy store. Which was, indeed, open. Wide open. Doors, windows, freight entrance- that was one open store. Ray had never seen a store quite that open before. Once around the block and he made it in to the parking lot on the second try. Barbara had to wonder.
"What was that all about?"
"What?"
"You always drive by once just to check da joint out?"
"I was thinking about lunch. How about April's?"
"Ok. Here first?"
"Yeah, why not? I found the parking lot this time around."
"You are one smooth driver. Ever work for a cab company?"
Ray had the car parked right by the front door. In keeping with the store's obvious open-door policy, Ray felt brave. He left the windows down and the car unlocked. As though locking the car with the windows down was an option. He'd been known to do that a few times, too. Oops.
Mustering up all the cool he brought with him, Ray Meadows went through that open front door, with Barbara right behind him. Ray kept his cool dude expression of having been there before (which he really had) while Barbara was ginning like a kid in a candy store. Which she was. Once inside, they had to get accustomed to the darkness. And it was dark. Darker than Ray remembered. Sure, everything in there was dark green, camo or black. But it was major dark. Ray caught some movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to focus. Big man headed this way. Really big man. Really big, sweaty man. But smiling. That's a good thing, right?
"Hey there, folks, how can I help you?"
Ray had to squint into the darkness to see one big guy in black looking back at him. The smile was reassuring, though. Ray returned it.
"Looking for small gun."
"You've come to the right place. Wrong time, though. Power went out this morning. No lights, no air. No cash register."
Barbara had been looking around, as best she could.
"No guns?"
"Oh, we've got plenty of guns, Ma'am. Just kind of tough to see them, that's all."
"I'll bet if you found a flashlight, we'd find the guns."
"Good idea- be right back."
Barbara stumbled around a bit in the darkened store, while Ray stood in one spot and looked from there. A minute or two later, here came two beams of light through the store. Their helpful clerk had returned with a light in both hands and sat one down on the counter.
"Here you go folks, right over here."
The clerk had stopped at a glass topped counter some distance from them. Both Ray and Barbara made their way over to him- carefully avoiding the piles of surplus items on the floor and in the aisle.
"So, what was it you were looking for?"
The moment of truth. What was Ray Meadows looking for? Defense against the impossible? The fantastic? The non-existent? Ray tried for an easy answer.
"Something for home protection, I'd guess."
"Yeah, that's a popular request these days- the city's moving out to the suburbs. Been having some trouble?"
Barbara and Ray looked at each other. Now there's a tough one to answer.
"Ah- We're not really sure. Stuff goes on at night, and you just don't know."
"Ain't it the truth? And you don't have any sort of gun right now?"
"Nope. Not a one. What do you recommend?"
Wrong question, Ray. This clerk was a fan of The Big Bore Theory. The clerk ignored the glass topped counter between them and reached behind it to the rack of much larger weapons. He came back with riot shotgun. Ray was more than stunned.
"Holy Mother of Pearl- What is it?"
"Twelve gauge riot gun with a folding shoulder stock, Parkerized finish with a rubber pistol grip and pump. A popular item and a real crowd pleaser."
Barbara was not nearly as over-whelmed as Ray. Army brats don't get excited until things get bigger than a .50 caliber machine gun. This didn't. Not quite.
"Nice, but a bit much to tote around the yard. We we're thinking more along the lines of a pistol. What have you got in the Colt semi-auto line? Forty-five ACP? M1911A1?"
The clerk took a step back- to return the shotgun to its rack and take another look at Barbara. Sounded like she knew her stuff. Who were these people? Bonnie and Clyde were dead, by most accounts.
"Ok, M'am, right here."
The clerk put his second flashlight down and reached in for a weapon. What he came back out with was indeed a weapon.
"How about this one?"
The gun he pulled out was as black as the store. And to Ray, nearly as big. Barbara recognized it, but wasn't overly impressed.
"Combat Commander?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Competition grips and sights."
"Here, Ray, try this one on for size."
Ray reached out and took the gun. Even though it was quite empty, it nearly went through the glass counter top before he could stop it. That was one big piece of iron for a keyboard jockey. Neither Barbara or the clerk laughed at Ray's awkward grab at the gun. It was dark in there, remember? Ray was seriously reconsidering the wisdom of this idea.
"It's a lot heavier than I had in mind."
There was an understatement. The clerk took the gun back from Ray and hunted around in the counter for another option. What he came back with looked bigger than the first one. And it was.
"Here we go, sir, this might be what you had in mind."
"You're kidding, right? That's even bigger."
"Trust me, sir- here."
With that, Ray had no choice but to reach out and take the gun from the clerk. If the last one threatened to go through the counter top, this one was nearly thrown to the ceiling. By comparison, it didn't weigh a thing. Looks were deceiving, even in the dark. Ray held the gun, amazed by the lack of weight.
"It doesn't weigh a thing. What is it? Plastic?"
"High resistance polymer. Only uses hard steel where it has to- the barrel, slide and action. An Austrian Glock."
"What? Like a cuckoo?"
"Pardon me, sir?"
"Cuckoo clock?"
Barbara was having a hard time suppressing her laughter. Ray was getting more comfortable with the idea of holding a pistol. Good thing it wasn't loaded. Hope it wasn't loaded. She decided now would be a good time to reach out and take the gun from Ray, in case it was loaded. Ray handed it to her, happy with his little joke. The clerk was only slightly dim, but catching up fast.
"Uh, no sir- Glock. G-L-O-C-K. They make some very advanced weapons. This is one of their best. Perfect for home protection, or on trips."
Barbara had pulled the magazine out- no bullets. A tug on the slide yielded the same results for the weapon itself. One empty gun. And smooth, too. Being used to those old military pistols, this one worked light and smooth and didn't weigh a thing. Hmmm. Maybe this was the one. She silently wondered if there was a range anywhere nearby. She returned the magazine to the gun. Very smooth. Ray was still trying to look like he knew what he was doing. He was having only moderate success. That clock joke didn't help.
"And why is this one so good for home and travel?"
"Well, sir, it is light, as you saw. And with few steel parts, rust and corrosion aren't as much of as problem, so maintenance is low."
"OK, but it's big. Physically, I mean."
"Yes, sir, it is. I guess that's part of the intimidation factor. Looks mean. Of course, it is mean, but it looks the part as well."
"I don't know. I've got a friend of mine that said we should buy the biggest hand gun we could find- for that intimidation factor- but no bullets."
The clerk laughed. He actually laughed. I know they're not supposed to- you know it, too- but he did. Stood right there in his store, in the dark, and laughed out loud. Ray felt about two inches tall. Wasn't Ray's fault, though. The clerk managed to control himself.
"I'm sorry, sir, but that sounds like Jake Jacobson."
"It was. You know Jake?"
"Oh, yeah. He shops here. Was in here a couple of weeks ago, buying another one of his 'big guns'."
"Another? How many does he have?"
"Just the one, I'd guess. But they keep getting stolen out of his car. He's on his third or fourth one in as many years."
"So the big gun- no bullets thing isn't a good idea?"
"Oh, no. It's a great idea. It's kept Jake alive."
"What do you mean?"
"He almost caught the last guy that broke into his car. He went to stop him, but the guy already had the gun out of the car. Stood there and pointed it right at Jake."
"But it was empty, right?"
"Oh, yeah, it was empty. But it's still unnerving to be looking down that drain pipe of a barrel, and wondering if maybe this time the guy brought his own bullets."
"I see. What happened?"
"From what Jake says, the guy pulled the trigger. Click. Pulled it again- click, click, click. Empty gun. He was not a happy camper."
"I'd have to bet that Jake was."
"And that he was. Until this guy threw the gun at him. Just like an old episode of Superman. Only Jake's no Man of Steel."
"Hit him?"
"Square in the forehead. He dropped like a rock. The crook ran over, picked up the gun, and took off. Ol' Jake high-tailed it out of there before the guy could find an ammo shop."
"Smart Jake. Sort of. What do you recommend?"
"What ever you buy, get some bullets."
All the time the clerk and Ray had been talking, Barbara had borrowed one of the flashlights and was working her way up and down the glass cases, looking at everything inside. There was quite a selection of firepower in there, from the hand-held cannons like good old Jake preferred, to the small, cheap and useless tin 22's that would only get you in trouble. Then she saw it. Her flashlight beam was frozen on a small glossy black pistol in the back bottom of the last case. This was the one. Whether Ray wanted it or not, she'd buy it herself. Sometimes you don't know that you always wanted something until you see it again. She was seeing it again, and she wanted it.
"What about this one? Here on the bottom shelf?"
The clerk stumbled his way over in the darkness with the other flashlight, leaving Ray in the dark- quite literally.
"Which one, Ma'am?"
"Right down there. Looks like a Walther."
"Yes, Ma'am, it is."
"PPK?"
"Yes, Ma'am."
"Three eighty?"
"Please. We've had it in here forever. The boss thought we'd sell tons of them. We didn't. The distributor took back most of them, but this one stayed. There wasn't even a novelty to wear off. They never sold well here in the U.S. This is more of a forty-five country."
"So even all those movies didn't help sales?"
"No Ma'am. Most Americans don't go running around in tuxedoes and fancy British cars, either."
"Let's have a look at it."
"Yes, Ma'am. My pleasure."
The clerk had the little gun out by the time Ray made his way over to see what all the fuss was about. Whatever it was, it met with his approval.
"Now, that's more like it."
"You're kidding, right, sir?"
"Am I? What's wrong with it?"
"Well, nothing, I guess."
"It works, doesn't it? I mean, it's not damaged or broken or anything, is it?"
"No, sir, not at all. Only been fired once or twice."
"So it's used?"
"Ah, yeah- I guess you could say that. But we never sold it or anything. The boss took it to the range on one occasion. I think it was this one."
Barbara had the gun in her hands, and was giving it the in-depth once over. Or twice over, by now. This was it. Ray could see she was impressed. Or at least amused. Tough to tell in this light.
"So what do you think?"
"I think our search is over. This is the one. Small, potent and well-made. Only one decision left to make."
"Which is?"
"Visa, Master Card or American Express?"
"They won't take my Dick Tracy Crime-Stoppers card?"
"Not on the weekends, dear."
Ray forked over a card- in the dark he wasn't sure which one- and they got down to the serious business of armament. With an efficiency that amazed both Ray and the clerk, Barbara ordered up a small belt holster, cleaning kit, trigger lock, locking case and yes, bullets. Two boxes worth, no less. She intended to try this thing out. And soon. Once all was said and done, and the forms and receipts taken care of, the Meadows would soon be one small armed camp. At least, more armed than they used to be. Time to head for the car- and daylight. and it all went fairly well. Except for that one little glitch:
"Ok, folks, with the power off I can't run a confirmation on the credit card, but that's ok. I'm sure the power will be on before the seven day waiting period is up when you come back to get this little gem."
Ray was flummoxed. I looked it up, and that's the only word for it. Flummoxed.
"Say what?"
"What."
"No, no- what do you mean, 'When you come back'?"
"Welcome to Amerika, Komrade Meadows: The land of the free and home of the bureaucrat. You buy a handgun anywhere in the good ol' Useless of A, and you have to wait a week to take possession. It's called a 'cooling off' period."
"For buying a handgun?"
"Yes."
"Which, as I understand it, means just the pistols?"
"Yes."
"But not the rifles or shotguns?"
"That's correct, sir."
"Or those military guns on the wall over there?"
"Absolutely. Those are available right now. No waiting."
Ray worked on his impersonation of a guppy at feeding time. It was a good one.
"But, but- That's so stupid! I could walk right out of here with a bigger gun!"
"Yes, sir, you could."
"Who's cockamamie idea was this?"
"Not mine, sir. I didn't vote for him."
"I- ah- oh. Uh, ok. So now we have to wait a week?"
"Yes, sir, that's the general idea. See you next Saturday?"
Ray picked up the bundle of everything they had bought, minus the gun itself.
"Yeah, I guess so. I feel a letter to my congressman coming on."
"Good for you, sir."
"I wonder who he is."
Outside in the bright May sunshine, both Ray and Barbara were blinded by the brightness. It had been dark in there. They never did find out why the power was off. Maybe if it was a money thing, their purchase today would help out a little. Neither of them could see the stolen delivery truck two blocks away, sitting wrecked on top of the stump of a power pole. Money was not the problem. Neither was the car thief, now that the concrete power pole had fallen on that truck.
Ray looked around as they left the parking lot, trying to get his bearings and plot a course for April's. He made a few false starts before he settled on a route that would actually work. He was content with purchase, but not nearly as happy as Barbara. Why was that, did he suppose?
"So- We did good?"
"Oh, yeah. I think so."
"Ok, little miss Army brat- What's so special about this thing we just bought?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know- we just passed over all the big guns- and all the new guns- for something small and used. Must be a reason."
"And you don't know what that reason could be? Or who?"
"Or what who?"
"Bond? James Bond?"
"Who?"
"Please tell me you're kidding, Ray."

To Be Continued...
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Copyright 1996,2010 Chip Haynes

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