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“So let’s play Rainbow Six: Vegas, but with pistols only.”

“Yeah, pistols only.”

We put the revolver back in its case, but left it open so we could admire it as we went back and forth to the kitchen for Dr. Peppers and stacks of Oreos and handfuls of Doritos and slices of the poppy seed coffee cake someone brought and red vines. Everyone was careful to wipe his hands before lifting the gun out. No one pointed it at anyone else. We somehow instinctively knew not to dry fire it, in case a bullet somehow sneaked its way into the cylinder. Or maybe just because of the wear and tear. Either way, actually pulling the trigger was way too serious a thing to do. The gun was handled with the appropriate gravity and reverence you’d give any holy relic.

I set up Vegas on the LAN. I queued up a series of maps. With the new patch, we could even have different names. Before the latest patch, everyone was MyComputer. Every death message read, “MyComputer [<nameofgun>] MyComputer”.

We all took the Raging Bull, which most resembled Trevor’s gun. It also did the most damage of all the pistols. It sometimes took a few shots to kill someone, but it looked totally sweet. When you reloaded, you tilted the pistol up and shook out the empty shell casings. Then you slapped some sort of ring of bullets up into the cylinder before snapping it shut. Spinning it first, of course.

Even without the big guns, this is the best shooter there is. No joke. Until another game comes along that lets you seamlessly use cover like Vegas does, it will sit in its own special place, preceded by the word ‘best’. Gears of War might be good, but it’s not that good.

“Whose .38?” Douglas’ voice said over my shoulder. I could hear him eating celery. Douglas didn’t eat the normal Shoot Club food. He brought vegetable platters and quietly lorded it over us that he was in better shape than we were.

“Oh, hey, Douglas. We’re playing Rainbow Six: Vegas.”

“I can see that. Who left a .38 laying on the table in there?”

Lying, I thought but didn’t say.

“I only made three hundred tonight,” Douglas said, even though I hadn’t asked. The sound of his celery rivaled the shots from our Raging Bulls.

After playing a few rounds, we gathered around Trevor’s gun in the dining room. We all tried to emulate the reloading animation. Now that was first person perspective.

“So do you have bullets?” Peter finally asked.

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“I don’t know if they’re any good still.” Trevor pulled from his backpack a box of bullets arranged on end, five rows of six, little bronze helmeted soldiers in formation.

“Can we shoot it?” We were pumped up on Rainbow Six. “Where would we go?”

“The backyard?”

“Sure, if you want to get arrested,” Douglas laughed. “You can’t just go into your backyard to shoot a gun. This isn’t Arkansas or something. Plus, it’s the middle of the night.”

“Since you don’t have a silencer, we could shoot through a pillow,” the new guy said. “Do you have a silencer?”

Mike was looking through some online yellow pages. “This place looks fun. Ready, Aim, Fire. It’s out by the airport.”

“You guys have never been shooting before?” Douglas finally said, shaking his head. “Man, this should be a sight. Count me in. I haven’t been in a few years, but I can show you the ropes.”

Eight of us resolved to go the day after tomorrow, but three of us would flake. So that afternoon, me, Trevor, Mike, Peter, and Jude piled into Trevor’s Honda and drove out to the airport. I called shotgun, where I held the silver case in my lap.

Ready, Aim, Fire was a non-descript, windowless concrete building. There was an oddly cheery red and yellow sign over the front door. We opened the door and the sound of assault rifles roared out at us, but it was only a TV.

We filed in uncertainly, like freshmen on their first day of school. Inside, there was a counter with a TV behind it. Two dudes who worked there were watching a movie. Heat. It was the shoot-out scene.

“Without gun control taking away your freedom, this would never happen,” one of the guys was saying.

Maybe I should have told him that this, in fact, didn’t ever happen, that it was a movie. But to be fair, he might have known the North Hollywood Bank of America robbery in 1997 may have been inspired by the scene. The police adapted after the fact by selecting different loadouts. As anyone who’s played SWAT 4 would know, cops can have weapons that are varying degrees of lethal or non-lethal. Some cops can have the GB36 assault rifle. Others might just have that pepper spray paintball gun. Some cops take a taser instead of a sidearm. Just ask Mostafa Tabatabainejad, that guy who got tasered at UCLA. Yes, I had to look up his name.

“What can I do you for, fellas?” one dude asked. His buddy kept his attention on the shootout. Val Kilmer whipped around and fired off a few shots in the other direction.

Trevor put the case on the counter, popped the snaps open, flipped up the lid, and spun the case around. “We need bullets for this,” he said.

“Look at that. An old Model 10. You don’t see many of these six inch barrels anymore.” He picked it up and popped the cylinder out, then sighted down the length of the barrel. “You’ve taken good care of it.”

“Thanks. I mean, I haven’t really used it.”

“Well, that’s one way to take care of it.” He snapped the cylinder back in and then closed the hammer, which one of us had left back. “You don’t want to leave this pulled back. It weakens the spring.”

“Right,” Trevor said, slightly embarrassed, the same way you’d be if your mechanic chided you for not setting the emergency break. De Niro fired a sustained burst into the side of a police cruiser. The cops with nothing but pistols and shotguns ducked down. Suppressing fire.

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“So, hey, those ones are for sale?” Mike pointed at a spread of guns on the wall, with prices underneath them. They ranged from ten to twenty dollars each.

“Those are rentals.”

“Oh, right. Yeah, rentals. I was going say, at that price, I’ll take one of each. But, yeah, rentals. That makes more sense.”

“Let me ask you,” Trevor jumped in. “Is it worth a lot? My gun?”

“Naw, these Smith & Wesson Model 10s are a dime a dozen. She’s a good ol’ gun, though.”

“Well, we need bullets. I had some old ones. I forgot to check what kind.”

He slapped a box onto the counter. “.38 specials. Anything else?”

Trevor looked back at us as if we’d know. We didn’t.

“I guess we need five, uh, tickets.”

“We just rent you a booth.” He recited rates while slapping down waivers on the counter for us to sign. We signed them as if we knew just what they were. Jude made a show of reading his first.

“We have a special on these.” The gun counter dude pulled out a paper target with a picture of Osama bin Laden on it. “They’re normally three dollars each, but they’re a dollar off today.”

“Do you have any just bull’s-eye ones?”

“Suit yourself. Booth eight. You need any help?”

“We’re cool,” we lied.

He sprawled out a bunch of gear on the counter on top of our paper targets. There were fat plastic earphones that looked like they belonged to some 1970s hi-fi sound system. An orange one. And there were huge clear glasses like you might wear in wood shop. We each took our headphones and glasses, donning them, a little disheartened at how dorky they made us look. We looked like dudes who were going to wave a 747 into the gate and then operate a table saw. The only way we could have looked any dorkier would be if the guy were to hand out bicycle helmets. We kind of stood around expecting that to come next.

“Booth eight,” he repeated, turning back to watch Tom Sizemore take a hostage and get shot by Al Pacino.

We shuffled off in the direction he indicated. A pair of doors led into the shooting area, but we didn’t realize it was an airlock for sound until we were strung out in a line filing through both doors. The counter dude called out “one door at a time, please” with an exasperated look. We somehow heard that as “one person at a time”, so we backed out and laboriously went through one at a time, letting each door shut.

There were only a couple other guys in the dark cool room, futzing around with their guns or talking to each other. They didn’t look at us. They didn’t need to. We had the stink of guys who had no idea what we were doing.

We looked around for booth eight. And then a gun went off. It was a sudden piston of pure percussion entering my skull. I jumped and looked around, embarrassed, to see who saw me jump. The other guys were looking around to see who saw them jump. We sort of grinned at each other and shook our heads. Our heads shut up in orange and clear plastic.

“Okay, who’s going first?” I said, and then said again a little louder when I realized I could barely hear myself.

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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