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“I should probably go first,” Trevor volunteered.

“All right, you’re up. Who’s got the, you know, the … it … the gun?”

None of us had the gun. We had left it out on the counter. I offered to take the walk of shame. The gun was sitting where we left it. The guy behind the counter said, “Yep, I figured you might need that.” He grinned. He was actually being friendly.

“Y’all sure you don’t need any help? You’re cool?”

“No, no, we’re cool,” I said too loudly from under my earphones. “But maybe you could come show us real quick what we should do. Some of us are new.”

“Yeah, I figured. Happy to help. Hey, Dell, pause the movie a sec. My name’s Ricky,” he told me, taking ear guards for himself but no safety glasses.

We went into the range, where Trevor was peering at the metal clip where you hang the paper target, as if it had to be more complicated than it looked.

Ricky showed us how to hold the gun. “No, no, you don’t want to limp wrist it like that,” he told me when I cupped my left hand under my right. He told us about squeezing the trigger and not flinching. He showed us how to put your hand on someone’s back when he’s on the firing line. “All right, you boys are good to go. Holler if you need anything. Have fun.” Then he retreated back to his movie leaving us with a Smith & Wesson Model 10 .38 revolver and a box of 30 .38 Special rounds.

Trevor loaded the revolver and stepped up to the firing position. He screwed up his face and fired. We were expecting it this time, that instant flower of pure white noise, but it was no less surprising. The pistol kicked up slightly. Trevor turned around at us with a ‘did you see that?’ grin. He peered out at the paper target, which seemed unscathed.

He fired a second time, holding his arm straight against the kick this time. He peered. He fired a third time. He peered. Not a mark on the target.

“I think there something wrong with the sights,” Trevor said.

“Maybe you need to compensate for distance, like with a sniper rifle.” We were watching, a little breathless and ready for our turns.

“No, I think the sights are off. They probably go off kilter on older guns. You know, like they need to be recalibrated.” He examined the gun as if to check for a recalibrate sights dial. Finding none, he took his fourth shot. A little circle appeared into the lower left corner of the dangling paper target.

“Hey,” he grinned, spinning around to see if we saw, but careful to keep pointing the gun downrange.

“How many points is that worth?”

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He peered at it. “I don’t think there are points outside the circle. I’m going to move the target closer. I think the sights are messed up on this gun.” He pulled the lever and the paper target bent forward and hurried towards us like a carnival ghost on a clothesline.

Trevor’s fifth and sixth shots missed.

“Where’s the crouch button?” Peter joked during his turn. His first shot hit nearer to the center of the circle than any of us would get. His second shot strayed out towards the right side of the page. The rest of his shots missed.

“Right click to call up iron sights,” Mike told him.

“You’re limp wristing it,” Trevor noted.

“Doug’s missing out,” Peter said, putting the gun down and stepping aside to let Mike take the booth. Doug was one of the three guys who flaked.

“You go ahead,” Mike said to me. In high school, he was always the last one to jump off a high cliff at the rock quarry.

It’s pretty much impossible to describe that first shot, just like it’s impossible to describe the first time you had sex or the first time you were drunk or the only time you stepped out of an airplane when your girlfriend bought you that skydiving jump for your birthday. You’re certainly not thinking about Rainbow Six: Vegas or Heat. Instead, odd uncontrollable things swim up into your head and insist you think about them. You think about what it must be like to be a cop. You think about what it must be like in Iraq. You think about the prospect of a little kid finding one. You think about people who’ve shot themselves in the head, in the mouth, or against the right temple. You think about how this could stop anyone from doing anything you didn’t want them to do. You think about justice and power and crime and punishment and retribution and suicide, even if none of these words occurs to you. A new universe of implication is born from your first shot.

But the bang and kick sweep thoughts from your head soon enough. And then you’re thinking about Rainbow Six and how cool it would be to fire guns akimbo, or to jump while firing. We’re only men for so long once you put a gun in our hands. The boys come out soon enough. I only hit the paper target three times, but each shot is in pretty much in the same place.

“That’s some nice, uh, shot dispersion,” Trevor says, nodding at my paper target. “But you were still limp wristing it.”

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We take turns, firing six rounds and then passing the gun along while one of us goes back to get more ammo. At first, we’re very careful to keep the empty shell casings in a pile on the firing line counter. But once we realize the other shooters’ shells are flying wildly and skittering onto the floor, we just empty the revolver like in Rainbow Six, tipping the gun back and letting the spent rounds clatter to the concrete like peanut shells at some family restaurant with indoor picnic benches and pitchers of cheap beer. Some of the other shooters occasionally push the shells off to one side with one of the beat-up brooms against the back wall.

“I’m going to get my own,” Jude says after his turn. He comes back with a semi-automatic.

“It’s a Sig,” he says.

“Like at the end of your post?” Peter asks.

“Like a .45 Sig. That’s what that guy said.”

“I want to try that one.”

“You’re limp wristing it.” It’s our favorite thing to say to each other.

We swap off firing the Sig and the Smith & Wesson. We’re surprised that it’s easier to load the revolver, since you don’t have to press bullets down into a clip. The first few rounds are easy enough once you figure out which direction they go. The last two are almost impossible. We laugh at each other and eventually give up, going with six rounds per clip instead of eight. It’s more even with the revolver that way and our soft gamer thumbs can’t take the pressure of pushing in rounds seven and eight.

But what you get with the Sig that you don’t get with the revolver is slapping that clip into the handle and then pulling back the action. It’s pure instinct for boys, mimicked muscle memory from every movie with a semi-automatic we’ve ever seen, from every re-loading animation we’ve ever watched. We know how to do it from someplace deep and primeval in our brains, the same way we know how to breathe and be fascinated by breasts.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Watch your muzzle discipline. Jesus, man, do you want to get me shot?” Trevor says. ‘Muzzle discipline’ is something he learned to say from Rogue Spear.

“Relax,” Jude says. “I wasn’t pointing it at you.”

He wasn’t. We’ve all been very careful handling the guns.

“Maybe not at me, but you were within fifteen degrees. That’s not within acceptable safety parameters.”

“Do you even know what fifteen degrees is?” Jude asks. He holds his hands at perpendicular angles. “That’s ninety.” He halves that. “That’s forty five.” He halves that. His hands are a thin pie slice. “That’s like twenty. Are you telling me I had that barrel pointed within fifteen degrees of you?”

“No, because I said something before you got that close. I’m just saying be careful.”

“Anyway, it’s your turn,” Jude says.

“I’m like the Smith & Wesson better.” He shakes out the six spent shells, slips in six new ones, spins the cylinder, and slaps it shut. He takes aim.

To be continued…

***

Tom Chick has been writing about videogames for fifteen years. His work appears in Games for Windows Magazine, Yahoo, Gamespy, Sci-Fi, and Variety. He lives in Los Angeles. Shoot Club appears in this space every Thursday.

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