The Grey Man- Part 1 through 5 compiled.
© by me…
The young deputy guarding the parking lot didn’t quite know what to make of the old Suburban that was coming through the gate, it had a Texas plate and was dirty as hell and the old man in a grey work shirt driving was probably lost. He decided he’d be polite if nothing else and get the old truck out of the way.
Not even thinking about it, the deputy let his hand rest on the butt of his pistol as the truck pulled up next to him, “Afternoon sir, can I help you?”
The grizzled gray haired old man behind the wheel cocked his head and said, “Yep, you can point me to where the competitors park son.”
“Sir, you DO know this is a restricted competition don’t you? It’s limited to military and law enforcement only?” The deputy said politely as he casually scanned the truck, and suddenly realized there was a good looking young girl sitting in the passenger’s seat.
“Yes I do son, and I’m deputy sheriff out in Texas. That’s why I’m here. Now where can we park?”
“Oh, well park over there next to the fence and the check in is in the clubhouse up to the right”, the deputy replied, still looking at the young girl and now realizing she was wearing what looked like a full sized revolver on her belt. She just looked back at him and smiled as the old man drove off.
As he rolled the truck across the parking lot, the old man chuckled and glanced at the young girl sitting next to him, “Dammit, I knew this was a bad idea to bring you Jesse. This ain’t going to be fun, and it’s gonna be nothing but trouble.”
Jesse rolled her eyes, shook her head and looked over, “Well Grandpa who ELSE could you bring? I know how to spot for you, I’m in better shape than anybody else; and for damn sure nobody else was going to put up with riding with you for three days in this beat up old truck!”
“Besides, I can out shoot everybody but you anyway,” Jesse said.
“I know honey, but this is still a man’s game, like it or not. And they’re NOT going to like you messing with their egos when we start shooting.”
He rolled the truck against the fence, looked around and liked what he saw, this was a really nice range, and it looked like there would be some climbing, probably some running, and it looked like the longest ranges would be about 7-800 yards. It was one hellva lot greener than West Texas, and he just hoped the light and shadows wouldn’t be a big problem, since they were used to open shooting. Getting out and stretching, the old man stamped his feet into his boots, shrugged into a light jacket to cover the 1911 riding on his hip, and patted his badge to ensure it was still sitting on his belt.
The old man looked around casually, noting the positions of the range, the hills, and where people were moving in the parking lot. He shook his head, looking at the greenery and hills brought back memories he’d rather forget, but this was really not about him, not now.
Jesse was doing the same thing on the other side of the truck, and making sure her Python was covered and she reached back into the truck to grab her badge off the seat where it had fallen.
The deputy watched from a distance and saw the badge flashes as they walked to the back of the truck, shook his head and went back to watching the entrance.
“Got your creds?”
Yes Papa, I’ve got my creds; do you have YOURS?” Jesse asked, sticking out her tongue. “And yes, I’m covered, and I need to pee, and I’m hungry. Does that answer the rest of your questions?” With that she turned and walked to the back of the truck checking the rear doors.
Shaking his head, the old man locked the truck, rolled his shoulders and walked after Jesse. Still wondering if he’d done the right thing, wondering if he really should have even tried this, wondering if at 63 there was a chance in hell of him not embarrassing himself and her. But he figured this would be the last chance to do something like this, and yes she was a damn fine shot, a good spotter, and she needed to see a bigger part of the world than just the West Texas scrub oaks and mesquite. And the assholes that worked at the test track out off 103.
Jesse looked around and said, “You know Papa, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much GREEN in one spot! Everything has been green the last two hundred miles, and these hills look like they’re worn down nubs of what they once were. I’d hate like hell to try to chase a cow through this, much less a bad guy!”
The old man chuckled and didn’t say anything as they walked up to the old white clubhouse; he was mentally cataloging the players, seeing a number of police cars, Suburbans, Explorers, Excursions, and a couple of vans with military tags. Opening the door for Jesse, she slid in and to the left, he did the same to the right. It was like a hundred other clubhouses, one big room, a kitchen to the left with a coffee pot going on the counter, a hint of woodsmoke from the fireplace that centered the back wall, various animal heads hanging on the wall and a hallway off to the left- Probably the bathrooms…
As he scanned the room, it was readily apparent there were some serious competitors here, and every damn one of them was at least 20 years younger than he was.
Jesse interrupted his recriminations, “Pa, I’m going to the little girl’s room, I’m pretty sure I can find you when I come back”, she joked. She’d noticed they were the only two folks in the room not wearing tactical clothes.
Jesse walked off, drawing stares from most of the men in the room as she crossed to the rest rooms. The old man shook his head, knowing she was putting on a show, and walked up to the line at the registration table. The shooters in the room looked from Jesse to the old man, then looked again, as they realized there was something about this old man dressed all in grey work clothes and a beat up old cowboy hat that said this was not an old man to fool with.
He finally got to the front of the line, and the harried gent behind the table looked up, “Can I help you?” he asked.
“Yep, here to check in for the competition, John Cronin, shooter; Jesse Cronin, spotter. Pecos County, Texas,” the old man said laying his credentials on the table so the registrar could see them.
Scanning down his list, the registrar checked off their names, reached behind him and grabbed a packet out of a box and slid it across the table. “Sighting in, doping and safety checks on range one for the next couple of hours. Maximum one hour on the line. Be back here at five pm for COF safety brief. There’s a night shoot tonight and starting at oh seven thirty tomorrow there’s a couple of presentations after that if you’re interested. Y’all are team twenty three.”
“Thanks, what’s the altitude here?”
“1200, but the DA will vary depending on the weather, figure around 1300 for the match.”
The old man turned and scanned the room, looking for Jesse. Not seeing her, he walked over to the coffee pot, dropped 50 cents in the can, got a Styrofoam cup, poured himself a cup, and headed for the door. Jesse came out of the rest room area, and met him at the door.
“Are we in,” she asked? Opening the door and holding it for the old man.
As they walked back toward the truck, he said, “Yep, but I don’t think they know you’re my spotter yet,” he chuckled. “We can go sight in, in 30 minutes and this is about 1000 feet lower than where we are, so we’ve got maybe an inch of difference; but it’s quite a bit cooler up here. Lets go get the guns and go check the zeros and see if we’ve got any problem. “
Unlocking the rear doors, the old man reached in and flipped the blanket aside, revealing two gun cases and two ammo cans. Popping the lid on his ammo can, he reached in and grabbed one of the plastic cases, opened it and took out five rounds. Dropping them in his pocket, he turned to Jesse, “How many rounds to you want?”
Cocking her head, Jesse thought for a minute and said, “I guess five, since I don’t think we’ve bounced them around and screwed up the scope alignments.” Reaching in she slid her gun case out of the truck, and took the rounds he handed to her.
After re-locking the truck, they trudged back up the parking lot to the side of the clubhouse and walked through the gate down to the line, finally seeing range one all the way at the right end of the ranges.
The RO met them at the line, and confirming their event number said they could take any station they wanted. The old man wandered down to the very end of the range, and picked a station that didn’t have any tables, since he figured there wouldn’t be any nice benches to shoot off of the next couple of days…
Using the bench at the back of the station, he and Jesse uncased their rifles, and Jesse took the old Baush and Lomb 7 X 50 binoculars out of their case and wiped the lenses down with her shirt tail.
The old man walked back down to the RO and found out they would be going cold range in about five minutes, and he was free to grab any of the various types of targets stacked on the RO’s table to use for sighting in. He picked up a couple of the gridded orange sighters and with temps in the low 60’s and 1300 feet of altitude; he mentally ran the numbers and figured that he would be within ½ inch or less at 100 yards.
When the RO called cold range, he grabbed a stapler off the back bench and walked down range to post the targets. He got a chance to look at the other ranges, and see if there were any wind or potential wind tunnels that he couldn’t see from the line. After putting the targets up, he stood for a minute looking back at the line and what the terrain was behind the range, noting the hills and the one valley they’d driven up to get here.
When he got back to the line, Jesse was talking with two military shooters and smiling so he just went on by and sat down at the back bench. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his earplugs and reached up and picked up his glasses from the gun case.
When the RO called the line hot, Jesse immediately excused herself putting on her eyes and ears and came back to him, “Are we both shooting or just you Papa?”
“Let’s carry both rifles to the line, and if I didn’t beat the gun up, I should be good to go in a couple of rounds, then you can check your zero too,” the old man said as he grabbed his rifle out of the rack and patted his shirt pocket to make sure he had the five rounds in there.
Jesse looped the binoculars over her head, grabbed her rifle and followed the old man up to the line. He dropped to his knees, opened the bolt on the rifle and loaded three rounds into the magazine, then got into the sling. Jesse laid her rifle down making sure the chamber flag was in it and the action was facing up and laid down and propped herself up on her elbows and adjusted the binoculars to focus on the targets. The old man dropped down into the prone position, snugged the rifle down and looked over at Jesse, “You ready?”
“Yes Papa, right target, no wind, center sighter,” Jesse replied.
“Sure,” he came back, throwing the bolt and shifting to put his natural point of aim on the target. “Target.”
“Send it,” Jesse said.
The boom of the rifle seemed to relax the old man, now he was in his element. Working the bolt without ever coming out of the hold, he waited for Jesse’s call.
“Dead on windage, two and a half high Papa,” Jesse repeated.
“One more, target.”
Another boom, and he was on the bolt even as the recoil ended.
“Still dead on windage, two and a half high touching the first one Papa, where are you holding,” Jesse asked?
“Dead center, both shots; one more and I’m done. Target”, the old man said.
“Send it,” Jessie replied.
Boom, and he opened the bolt, inserted the chamber flag and shrugged out of the sling. Jesse passed over the binoculars and he quickly scanned his target, and smiled a little bit. “What’s your zero girl,” he asked?
“Uhf… Ah, 200 Papa, so if this is 100 I should print three inches high,” Jessie said as she pushed three rounds through the loading gate. Levering a round into the rifle, she wiggled into a position she liked and said, “Target”.
“Send it Jesse, (crack) three and a quarter high quarter left, give me one more, the old man rattled off.
Crack. Jesse looked over as the old man concentrated on the binoculars, finally rolling off and looking at Jesse, “Give me one click right, and lets see if that is it,” the old man suggested.
Jesse reached up, put in one click right windage and got back into position, “Target”.
“Send it”, the old man replied.
Crack. “Okay, that was dead on windage, elevation looks good, you want anymore shots?”
“If that was on, why screw with success Papa, let’s just leave it where it is,” Jesse retorted. Rolling over and levering the spent case out, she inserted the chamber flag and picked up her spent cases. The old man, doing the same, got up slowly and rolled his shoulders. He reached down and picked up both rifles, and the RO called cold range so Jesse went down range to pick up the targets. When he turned around, the same two gents were standing there watching them.
The older of the two waited until the rifles were back in the rack and stuck out his hand, “First Sergeant Matt Carter Sir and this is Sergeant Aaron Miller. We’re out of the school house at Quantico and former Two MEF.”
The old man shook hand with both and said, “John Cronin, and my granddaughter Jesse, we’re out of Texas.”
“Mr. Cronin, I’ve gotta ask, what are you shooting?” Matt asked.
The old man smiled and said, “Well it’s a mongrel, it started life as a Winchester model 70, and I added a Schneider bull barrel, and did my own bedding job and it’s running an old USO SN-9 up top. And it’s a 30-06 too. The action is about 60 years old, the rest of the rifle dates to the late 80’s early 90’s. And Jesse is shooting my 94 Winchester 30-30, and it’s got a Redfield up top. Nothing fancy, just comfortable old guns.”
Just then Jesse walked back up with the targets, and handed the targets to the old man, smiling at the two Marines. “Hi guys, y’all bored or what?”
Sergeant Miller, looking at the targets whistled and asked, “Well, I was just wondering who your spotter was, but now I know. But I can’t figure out how she can spot for you since this is supposed to be a military and LEO only shoot?”
The old man just shook his head and said, “Jesse, show the man.”
Jesse grinned and pulled out her credentials, and flipped them open. “I’ve been spotting for Papa for about as long as I can remember, and yes I really am a Deputy Sheriff, and yes I do carry a gun, and yes I am a girl too.”
The young sergeant just goggled at the credentials, and Matt shook his head, smiling.
Once Jesse was back from the targets, the RSO strolled over and said, “Okay, if y’all are done sighting in, you can restow your rifles; after the BBQ late this afternoon, and COF brief, we’re going to do a bonus shoot in low light if you’re interested. It’s not required, but folks seem to like the challenge.”
The old man nodded and finished stowing the rifle in the case. Jesse cased her rifle and they carried them back to the truck in a companionable silence.
Aaron looked at Matt as they walked back into the clubhouse, Matt just shook his head saying, “Don’t mention a word of what we saw out there, I think some folks are in for a bigger surprise than they think.”
“I won’t, but she is a real cutie!”
“Down Sergeant, we’re here to shoot not chase skirts; besides she’d probably kick your ass.”
At 5pm all the competitors gathered in the clubhouse to hear the course of fire layout for the competition tomorrow. Since most of the teams had shot together either at this match or others, there was the usual babble of noise, backslapping and insults flying back and forth. The old man hit the coffee pot again and he and Jesse slipped into the back row of chairs and sat quietly, just watching the interplay.
An older gent walked to the front of the room and banged on the table for attention. “All right gentlemen, shaddap, siddown and lets get this show on the road. I’m Kyle Edwards and I’m the RO for this little get together and I want to get all this info out now and make sure y’all don’t have any questions. Everyone here is either military or law enforcement, so if you’re carrying that is not a problem. The entire COF will be considered a hot range the entire time. However, if you exhibit unsafe behavior, you will be DQ’ed immediately and without recourse. All RSOs will be open carrying, will be in red shirts, and will be positioned at each station.”
Walking to the front row, he handed a stack of papers to the first man on the row, saying, “Take one and pass em down; here’s the layout of the course, it’s a seven klick course, fifteen stages, starting and ending here at the range.“
Walking back to the table, he clicked the computer and the COF popped up on the back wall. He continued, “First and last stages are on the range here. Total target count is forty seven, with shot opportunities for both shooter and spotter depending on how you want to run your teams.”
Pacing back and forth, Kyle continued, “In addition to the RSOs there will be two scoring persons at each position, they will be in white event shirts and WILL NOT, lemme say that again, WILL NOT tell you your scores on any stage. That’s what your spotter is for.”
“When you come to the line tomorrow, you must have everything you will need to complete the entire COF, including weapons, what ever round count you need or want, water, batteries or anything else. The first stage here will be a cold bore shot at 100 yards for each member of the team. You will then proceed onto the course out the left exit from the firing line. You will be responsible for navigation to each stage, and once there you will get specific engagement parameters from the RSO at that point. There will probably be a few spectators at some of the stages. Now I’ll tell ya, this first stage is the ONLY stage that is an exact range; so it’s shooter beware, and ya better know your equipment. Lasers are approved, since everybody and their brothers have one now, and the scoring is as follows.”
Picking up a paper off the table and clicking the computer to the next slide, Kyle read, “Anything less than 300 yards will have a one half MOA ten slash X ring, and four more one half MOA rings outside those. Maximum score is ten points, going down by two points per ring. Over three hundred yards, will have a one MOA ten slash X ring, and four more one MOA rings outside of those. If the spotter is shooting those sizes are doubled. If you get movers or swingers, they will have a one MOA X ring and a two MOA ten ring, and those will also be doubled if the spotter takes those shots. The final standings will be based on a combination of time to complete the course and scoring for the shots.”
The old man and Jesse looked over the COF paper that had finally made it to the back row. It was set up with compass courses and distances from stage to stage, overlayed on a topo map of the area, but no specific information on each stage. Tracing the route with his finger the old man chuckled, saying, “Well, we’re not gonna win this one honey, it’s up down and around, with some pretty steep climbs just prior to the stages, so we’re gonna get beat on the time. But maybe we can outshoot a few of these young bucks.”
Smiling, Kyle looked out over the room, “Now we DID bring y’alls favorite stage back from last year.”
And was interrupted by groans, and grumbling including one, “Fucking DOTS, gahdam,” from the shooters.
Kyle laughed, “Yes sir, it’s the dots again, stage seven, on top of the ridge, and you’ll draw for colors. Now those are all one MOA targets, but you gotta get ten of them out of each target.“
Jesse leaned over to the old man, “Dots Papa?”
“I don’t know Jesse, but I’m guessing it’s not going to be a fun stage. Probably something like a dot torture target, but colored dots and something else thrown in. And if it’s on top of a ridge, wind’s going to play a part.”
Tracing the route again he laughed softly, “Damn that is almost a vertical climb to get to stage seven, THAT is gonna hurt.”
Concerned with the course and elevation changes, Jesse asked, “Papa, are you going to be okay doing these? I’m mean this is a lot of walking, climbing and all; and you’re not exactly young anymore.”
“Hell Jesse, this is no worse than a typical day on the ranch, and I’m not in that bad a shape. This is all about heart rate, breath control, and knowing when to take a shot.” We’re not going to win, but I don’t believe we’ll be last either.”
Kyle held up a card and waved it at the room, “Here is your time card, you will be required to keep this with you at all times tomorrow, and here’s how we will run this. On command, you will punch the clock to start stage one, do your shots and proceed to the next stage. At each stage you will clock in and hand your card to the RSO. He or she will brief you on the engagement and when you have received the brief, you will clock back in and shoot the stage, then proceed. If, as has happened before, we have more than one team on a stage at the same time; you will not be put back on the clock until the previous team has completed the stage, so the time waiting will not be held against you. Remember, it’s cumulative time and score, so if you forget to clock in at each stage, you’ll be adding time that could cost ya.”
Kyle leaned against the table and looked out over the teams, “Now the last things before the BBQ is, we’re going to do a low light night shoot starting at 1900 as a bonus shoot, so participation is NOT mandatory; but we’ll have some fun with it. The other thing is show time is 0800 tomorrow morning for check–in and breakfast; and we will have two presentations that you are welcome to attend on optics and long range shooting, and new technology rifles and bullets and their impact on long range shooting. These are being sponsored by American Snipers dot org, and y’all might find them informative. Now the food’s out back, go eat!”
At that point, the room erupted into noise and movement as folks headed for the doors to get in line for the BBQ. The old man and Jesse hung back, and didn’t take part in any of the byplay going on. Matt walked over, and Jesse asked, “What is the dot thing he was talking about?”
Matt shuddered, “It’s fuc..er… damn diabolical that’s what it is. It’s about 100 dots on a board, but they are NOT all circles, they are various shapes, but all of em have dots IN them. And the colors are mixed all over the board, you get up there, draw a color and then each of you will have to hit five dots to clear the stage. There is no ammo limit, but you DO have to hit all ten to clear the stage successfully. Last year some folks ran out of ammo trying to clean that stage, and basically DQ’ed themselves, but they were allowed to finish. Last year it was about a hundred ten yards, so just enough off that people were dropping shots low.”
“So, one minute of angle at one hundred-ish yards is roughly one inch, and you’re expected to hit five of five each?”
Matt replied, “Yep, first thing is range the target and then go high or low from there. I’ve got incremental dope for 25 yard intervals all the way out to a thousand yards, since I screwed that last year.”
Jesse turned to the old man, “Papa, we don’t have anything but a hundred yard dope! What are we going to do?”
Grinning at her and Matt, he said slyly, “Why we’ll have to improvise, adapt and overcome.”
Matt burst out laughing and just pointed a finger at the old man, “You got me with that one!”
Chatting quietly they moved through the line and picked up plates of BBQ, the old man jerked his head, and he and Jesse went back to the truck, unlocking the tailgate, they sat on it and ate the BBQ and fixins. After they’d finished, he looked at Jesse, “Well, do you want to try this night shoot hon? Or do you want to blow it off and go back and get some sleep?”
“Papa, I don’t care, but if we ‘need’ bonus points, I’m all for it, and shooting tonight would give us an idea of what they might do to us on the stages.”
“Good point, but lets reserve judgment until we see what they’ve got up their sleeves.”
Getting up, Jesse grabbed the plates and headed back to the clubhouse, asking over her shoulder, “Coffee?” The old man just nodded.
After a restroom break, Jesse hit the coffee pot, getting two cups and putting .50 cents in the can. As she was turning away, Kyle smiled and held out his hand, “Miss, I’d just like to welcome you to this shoot, and I’m gonna apologize ahead of time for the language you’re gonna hear the next couple of days. I’m kinda surprised y’all came all the way from Texas for this, but you won’t get the long distance award, cause that’s going to the team from England.”
Jesse smiled, “Well, I’m a ranch girl, so I’m pretty sure I’ve heard all that before, and I’ve probably USED most of them at one time or another. Papa decided he wanted to do one last shoot, so this is kinda his swan song, so to speak. And before you ask, no he’s not my real papa, but he raised me from the time I was seven after my parents were killed. So I call him Papa, since he’s really the only papa I’ve known most of my life. Here are my creds, and yes I really AM a deputy sheriff in Texas, albeit a reserve, but I do 40 hours a month of patrol or operations.”
Kyle handed the credentials back, abashed, “Well, I never doubted your creds, but some of the old farts around here were questioning how old you were, and whether you really were an LEO. I’ll straighten them out now.”
Jesse just looked at Kyle, “I’m twenty three, I went through the academy at twenty one, and was immediately brought on as a reserved when I graduated. You gotta understand, our county is forty seven hundred square miles, and a population of a tad over fifteen thousand folks; and the total Sheriff’s department only has twenty full time officers on patrol, DPS has eleven, and we have ONE game warden. When you figure a four to one ratio, that means any given time there are a total of five Sheriff’s department and one DPS on patrol in the entire county, so a bunch of us reserves are almost always available as backup or to take a call if it’s close to our place. Otherwise it could take twenty or twenty five minutes for an officer to get from one side of the county to the other, and that’s running balls out since it’s almost sixty miles across the county.”
Kyle didn’t reply, and Jesse continued, “Any ‘other’ questions Mr. RO?”
Kyle just shook his head, “No Ma’am, not a one. Somehow I think you’re going to surprise some folks tomorrow.”
Jesse carried the coffee back to the truck and handed one of the cups to the old man. They sat and drank the coffee as others started filtering into the parking lot and getting gun cases from the various vehicles. Jesse looked over, “Well Papa?”
Throwing the rest of the coffee on the ground the old man got up, rolled his shoulders and said, “Let’s go see if we can do this hon.”
They grabbed the rifle cases, and Jesse threw the binoculars and range finder into the shoulder bag, and they walked back up to the range. It looked like every team was there, and there were rifles of every possible configuration sitting on the benches. They added theirs to the end of the bench, and filtered to the back of the group.
“Thunk, thunk, y’all hear me?” Kyle asked over the range PA, “Okay, you’ll be shooting in order of team entry. Here’s the scenario, you’re responding to a call, and have to stop short of the scene. The caller states there are four unknowns with guns, and his wife and daughter are being held hostage by two of them, the others have fired at him from out of the darkness. They are holding them just over the berm. You’ve got to cover fifty yards, with two unknowns holding two hostages at something estimated at around one hundred yard range. There are two other unknowns somewhere in that fifty yard stretch that you can engage with either pistol or rifle, your choice.”
“If you’re not on the line, please remain behind the back bench, and feel free to sit in the bleachers. Oh yeah, and we will not post the times for tonight’s shoot until the dinner tomorrow night, in case we need them for tie breakers.”
Team after team rolled through the scenario until it was the old man and Jesse’s turn. They picked up their rifles and walked over to the car sitting on the line. The old man looked at Jesse, “You’ve got the left, I’ll take the right, two yard offset going down range.” Jesse nodded.
The RSO introduced himself, “Hi, I’m John and I’ll be your RO for this run. If you want to load your rifles please don’t put a round in the chamber. Place them in the trunk so you can get to them quickly, and set what ever else you need where you can get to it. Eyes and ears ahead of time, go strap into the seats, and when you’re ready, I’ll hit the timer. In two to four seconds you’ll get the beep, and then it’s on you. I’ll be following you to catch the rounds fired, and record your total time. Please don’t muzzle me or each other as you go down range. Any questions?”
The old man and Jesse looked at each other and shook their heads. Walking around the car they got in and buckled up. John stepped to the window, “Shooters ready?”
In the stands, Matt and Aaron both reached for their watches, ready to hit the timers. They knew from timing their runs, and most of the others, they were in pretty good shape, and were confident they’d both gotten at least 10 rings if not x’s on the targets and they had cleared the poppers fairly quickly.
The old man nodded, John hit the timer, and three seconds later the beep sounded. They both cleared the car, Jesse pulled the trunk open and grabbed her shoulder bag, threw it over her shoulder and picked up her rifle as the old man cleared the back of the car. He grabbed his rifle and they started jogging down range with John following.
Jesse offset to the left to keep from muzzling the old man and scanned ahead and left. There definitely wasn’t a lot of light and after about twenty-five yards she began to get nervous about when the unknowns were going to show. Suddenly the poppers erupted from the ground ahead and to the left and right of the line. Both Jesse and the old man drew and fired without breaking stride. The boom of the .45 and crack of the .357 sounding almost simultaneously.
Re-holstering on the run and they continued jogging to the shooter box. Both went down prone, the old man scanning for the targets and calling, “Two up left one is a tighter shot, target right. I’ll take it; you take the right one, target left.” Jesse responded, “Left target 109 yards, right target 118 yards. Going to the gun.”
“Up, on the right Papa.”
“On three- One, two, three…” Two cracks sounded almost simultaneously again, and John hit the timer.
In the stands, Matt and Aaron hit their timers on their watches, and just looked at each other. They had just been trounced by almost ten seconds.
“Damn, how’d they do that Matt,” Aaron asked?
Shaking his head Matt replied, “Well they didn’t have to stop and fumble with the holsters like we did, and they didn’t waste any time. They just went out and got it done.”
The RO stepped up to the old man and Jesse, “Unload and show clear on the rifles please, keep your pistols holstered, flashlight coming on,” John said. The old man and Jesse got up, unloaded and showed clear chambers to John.
The scorer putted by on his ATV as the old man and Jesse walked back to the line. John was looking at his timer and shaking his head, of all the teams he’d RSO’ed tonight, this team was the fastest at 32.2 seconds by at least a 10 second margin. Now the question was how good were the shots they took? As they walked back, John took a can of white spray paint out of a pant pocket, and went to the poppers to spray the hit. Jesse looked at the old man’s popper, “Head shot? Or was that an accident Papa,” she said with a grin.
The old man smiled, “Of course, am I going to see a body shot on yours?”
“Nah, right eye Papa.”
They walked to the other popper, and sure enough Jesse’s shot was close enough to be called a right eye shot. John just shook his head and sprayed the target. They walked back to the line in silence, and thanked John for RO’ing for them. They went straight to the truck, put the rifles away and headed to the hotel.
John was surprised they didn’t ask about their scores, but then again, they weren’t the ‘normal’ team that was here. He went over to the scoring table, showed the lady the timer, and she whistled. John cocked his head and looked at her, “What was that for Merle?”
“Well, they’re second fastest, and based on their shots, they’re actually leading. How good were the hits on the poppers?”
“Merle, they were jogging, and I don’t think either one even broke stride, two head shots, and they just kept on trucking. How good were the shots?”
“X and a ten ring John.”
“Damn, and she’s shooting a lever gun Merle!”
The next morning, after breakfast and the lectures, the old man and Jesse grabbed coffees and headed to the truck. Knowing they’d drawn 6th place in the starting sequence, they would have an hour of prep time and a chance for the jitters to take hold. The old men turned to Jesse, “Well, are you ready for this? We’ve got an hour, so I’m thinking about a nap…
Jesse just looked at him, “What do you mean a nap?”
“Well, all that snoring last night”
“I DO NOT snore, thank you very much!”
The old man chuckled, and Jesse realized she’d been had yet again, and finally shook her head and started laughing.
The turned to their guns, rechecking to make sure they were ready to run, and loading small backpacks with bladders, ammunition for both pistols and rifles, energy bars, and compasses; in addition to little medical blow out kits, Jesse also loaded the binoculars into the old man’s pack and the laser range finder into hers after loading new batteries into it. They both checked their EDC lights and knives in the pants pockets, and the old man slipped five rounds into his shirt pocket. He patted the other shirt pocket to make sure he had his wheel book safely tucked in that pocket.
They picked up their rifles and packs and walked back to the line. Laying their rifles on the end of a bench, they stacked their packs underneath the table. As they walked back to the stands, Jesse looked at all the rifles lying on the benches and just shook her head. Matt and Aaron walked up and set their rifles down as Jesse and the old man walked by. Jesse stopped and asked Matt what his rifle was, he replied, “Well, this is an M-40A5 in .308, McMillan stock, Remington short action, Premier 3 by15 Tactical on top and a Surefire suppressor hanging off the front. It’s magazine fed, 10 round Badger magazine modification.”
Aaron jumped in, “Mine’s an M-4 with a TA-31 RCO AGOG on top, and I’m shooting 62 grain Gold Medal Match.”
Jesse smiled at Aaron, and asked Matt, “Why the wrap on the silen…er suppressor?”
“It keeps the heat from coming off the suppressor after multiple rounds.” Matt pointed to other rifles setting on the benches, “See, about half of the rifles here have suppressors, and most of them have the wraps.”
“So those with the muzzle brakes are going to be a lot louder, right,” Jesse asked?
“Oh yeah, and don’t ever stand to the side of one of them, always get as directly behind one as you can,” Aaron said laughingly, “I learned THAT the hard way downrange when we were doing some vehicle interdiction.”
Jesse grinned and walked over to the old man who was lounging on the bleachers with his hat pulled down over his face. She plopped down next to him saying, “Papa, there are way too many nice rifles sitting out here. I’m almost embarrassed by that old gun of mine.”
“Just remember, the gun you know is better than any pretty gun Jesse,” the old man said, “and it’s our turn next, so let’s go gear up.”
The old man got up, gave Jesse a hand, and walked to the bench. Picking up his pack, he took out his eyes and ears and set them on the bench; he shrugged the pack on, settled it and picked up his rifle. Jesse was doing the same and no words were needed. Methodically he pulled out the earbuds, wet them and seated them comfortably in his ears, then pulled on his shooting glasses; the last thing was to make sure his ball cap was where he wanted it. Looking over at Jesse he asked, “You ready hon?”
“Let’s do this Papa, we ain’t, aren’t getting any younger”
Picking up their rifles, they walked down to the end of the firing line, and met Kyle the RO there. He gave them a timecard, gave them the first scenario for the cold bore shot and had them load and make ready. The old man scanned the range, and noted blue tarps blocking the view of the right side of the range and a set of scaffolding set up. He and Jesse loaded their rifles; once they’d done so, he asked if they were ready, they nodded and the beep started them on the way.
Jogging to the line, they stepped into the shooter’s box, went to prone, and confirmed targets. “Papa, I’ve got the left target, ready any time.”
“I’m on the right, in three; one, two, three…”
The two shots sounded almost as one, and they safed the rifles, got up and jogged slowly off the range.
“Okay hon, steady slow jog here,” the old man said, looking down at his compass to get a good heading and looking at the trail. It was scuffed by military boots, so everything was matching up.
Eight minutes later, they got to the first stage, clocked out and got the scenario, which was four targets spread across the hillside. Clocking in, they dropped down in the shooters box and Jesse started calling ranges, “Far left—75 yards, left center—125 yards, right center—225 yards, far right—256 yards; do you want me to take the two left,” as she reached for her rifle.
“Yep, left two are yours, I have the right two, engaging now.” Boom…
Jesse shot the 75 yard target, the old man shot the far right target as Jesse jacked another shell into the Winchester, and shot the 125 yard target. Safing the rifles, they got up and took a heading to the next stage…
Stage after stage, either at a fast walk or slow jog, they proceeded around the course until they got to stage 7. Twice they were passed by teams that had started behind them, but the old man just kept to a steady pace. At stage 7, they were caught by a third team at the clock, so the old man let them go ahead. Jesse was a little miffed, “Why did you do that Papa, WE were here first!”
Dropping down onto a convenient boulder, and patting the space next to him, he responded, “Think about it Jesse, we get our breath back, get a break off the clock, and get our heart rates down. Let those boys get up there, shoot and move on; betcha we do better than they do!”
Listening, he heard 15 shots, before the team scrambled down from the shooting box. Jesse drew a card, and the RSO told them their color was blue, clock in and go.
The old man clocked them back in, and they scrambled up the bank the 15 feet to the shooting box. Going prone the old man called, “Range check! You take the blue dots, I’ll take the blue shapes.”
“111 yards Papa, looks like 15 knots of wind, dead crosswind from the right.”
“Aim point is center of the dot for elevation, right edge of dot for wind Jesse, there are five dots, you get em, I’m on the five shapes.” Boom…
Jesse alternated shots with the old man, and had to take one extra shot as the wind shifted and she dropped one shot just to the right of the dot, “Cleared mine Papa.”
“Confirmed, safe and lets’ go.”
“Jesse, something tells me it’s about to start getting harder, this has been too easy to this point,” the old man commented as they trudged further up the ridge line.
Getting to stage 8 proved his prophetic, as they had to shoot from under a barricade with about 6 inches of clearance. Jesse was grumbling as she had to get down in the dirt to get good ranges, and take one shot; getting dirt in her hair and dirt blowing back in her face after the shot. The old man just ticked along, not saying much, just shooting the calls.
At stage 10 they finally got some long range targets, and also got their first significant angle shots, “Papa far target is 778, looks like 15 degrees down, go down two MOA, wind is about 15 knots, and it’s about 135 degrees to us slightly helping so I’d say hold low and 4 MOA right.”
“Got it, glass and check my hit,” the old man responded.
Jesse pushed the laser out of the way, got on the binoculars and called, “On it”.
“Send it.” Boom.
“Adjust right, second target, 525, 10 degrees down, come down 12 MOA, wind is 120 degrees, hold is 5 MOA right.”
“Send it.” Boom.
“Adjust right, third target, 438, 10 degrees down, come down 4 MOA, wind is 100 degrees, hold is 6 MOA right.”
“Send it.” Boom.
“Okay, safe and let’s roll,” the old man said, getting slowly to his feet. Hunching and rolling his shoulders, he reslung his rifle and looked at Jesse, “How you holding up?”
“I’m okay Papa, but we’re about to get passed again; is your shoulder bothering you again?”
“A little hon, but I’ll survive; don’t worry about them passing us. Just concentrate on US getting through this.”
At stage 12, they had to shoot from the kneeling position to actually get clear shots at the target, and the old man noticed a couple of bullet tracks through the weeds, so he knew someone had tried to shoot that set prone. On stage 13 Jesse burst out laughing when they got to the stage, and there were a door and window standing there. The RSO told them the both had to shoot, one offhand through the door and one kneeling through the window. The old man had Jesse take the short target through the window using it as a rest, and he used the doorframe as a rest for his shot. Both hit and moved on to stage 14, which turned out to be a mover, the first one they’d seen in the competition. Three shots were required, through three ‘windows’ in the tar paper wall. The old man took the first shot through the first window, Jesse shot through the second window and the old man cleared the target in the second window also.
Trotting back into the range an hour and a half after they left, they were directed to the right side of the range, where a clock was sitting next to some scaffolding. Kyle was there and took the card from Jesse after she punched in, “Last stage, you have a school bus hostage situation, one shooter on the bus and moving around. He has a blue hat on and is surrounded by children and threatening to shoot them in the next five minutes. You have to climb the ladder to get a shot, and the powers that be want him taken out before the five minutes are up. Ready?”
The old man nodded and Kyle punched the time card in. “Go!”
Jesse immediately started scrambling up the ladder while the old man groaned. At the first landing Jesse stopped momentarily saying, “Can’t see everything from here, going up to the top.”
The old man continued climbing, shaking his head and thinking to himself that the heart rate was going to be through the roof by the time they both go to the top of the scaffolding, “Go, I’ll get there in a minute.”
Jesse got to the top of the scaffolding, flopped down, and pulled the range finder out of her backpack. As the old man got to the top, she yelled, “One hundred thirty-eight yards, wind is ten knots quartering left to right.” Reaching for the binoculars from the old man’s backpack to start looking for the target.
“Got it Jesse, get on your gun, cause we’ve only shot forty five targets, so there might be two on this one.”
Jesse stopped, and shook her head, then picked up her rifle and set up on the target rolling the scope back to a 2x, “Looks like random timing on pop-ups in the windows Papa, first three windows left haven’t seen a blue hat yet.”
“M’kay, keep watching and tell me if it’s the same figures that come up every time; I’ll take the two back windows.” Settling the scope on the bar between the last two windows gave the old man enough coverage to see both of them. A small head popped up in the last window, and he moved over to the next to the last window figuring that would probably be where the target showed. Suddenly it was there for about two seconds, but he wasn’t ready for the shot with a small child being held in front of the target. Wiggling down one more time he said, “Got the target fourth window back, hostage child in front, tight shot. I’ll take it if I get it again.”
Jesse didn’t answer, just kept watching the front windows. It seemed like it was taking forever for the targets to pop back up.
Boom! The old man had taken the shot and Jesse jumped a little bit, not expecting it.
Suddenly there was a swinger at the front of the bus, Jesse sighted in, saw the gun on the target and took the shot. Crack! “Swinger, at the front Papa, I think I got him.”
“Okay, unload and safe the guns and lets get down from here,” the old grumbled.
Jesse repacked her bag, threw it over her shoulder and followed the old man down the ladders back to the ground. Kyle was standing there when they stepped up, “Unload and show clear on the rifles please, y’all made it in the five minute window and y’all are completed.”
The old man and Jesse both showed clear and the old man grinned, “That was a tricky little set up there, with that swinger coming out. I can’t help but wonder how many have gotten it, and how many missed it.”
Kyle just smiled, “Well, lets’ just say you’re one of the few. Y’all can unload and either come back here and watch shooters come in, or go grab some lunch inside, or go back to the hotel and catch some down time. We’re not posting any scores here, those will be posted tonight at the restaurant after we award the various teams. Don’t forget, six pm for the feed.”
Walking back to the line, they stowed their rifles in the cases and carried them back to the truck. The old man opened the tailgate and they shoved the rifles into the back and covered them back up with the blanket. The old man sat down on the tailgate and reached over giving Jesse a hug, “You done good girl, I’m proud of ya for hanging in there today, and I hope you’ve at least had a little fun out here.”
Jesse hugged him back and laid her head on his shoulder, “Papa, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. It’s been an education and then some thank you; and I stink, I’m dirty, and I’m hungry. So lets go eat and “I” want to go back and take a nice long hot bath!”
The old man just shook his head and chuckled, “Women…”
Getting up, they walked back to the clubhouse, grabbed some lunch and headed back to the hotel. Jesse got her long hot bath, and the old man got a nap in.
Pulling up at the restaurant just before six, the old man saw the same deputy directing traffic in the parking lot. The deputy held up his hand and walked over to the truck as the old man rolled the window down, “Sir, y’all drive around back, there’s parking for y’all there and go right in the back to the room that’s reserved for you.”
Jesse smiled at the deputy as the old man grunted and pulled around to the back. Getting out of the truck, they met Matt and Aaron walking from their truck, both of them were in khakis and red polo’s with the Marine emblem. Jesse smiled, “Geez guys, I didn’t realize it was ‘formal’ tonight.”
Matt chuckled and Aaron blushed, “Ma’am, us Marines are ALWAYS formal.”
Everyone laughed at that, and Aaron held the door for the four of them to enter. Jesse went left through the door, the old man to the right. Matt entered and stepped to the side also, “Mr. Cronin, why do you do that every time you walk through a door? I know we’re trained to do that in our MOUT training, but I don’t normally do that back here.”
The old man glanced around the room and said, “Well Matt the only two times I’ve ever been shot that counted were both coming through doors, so I kinda have an aversion to standing there being a good target!”
“Twice that counted?”
“Yep, once in Nam, and once in a bar in Fort Stockton. Decided not to be a target anymore; sides, it’s harder’n hell to hit a moving target.”
“That counted Mr. Cronin?”
“Well, the others weren’t serious, they were just dings,” and turned away.
Matt just shook his head and followed the others into the meeting room. They were some of the last to enter, and finally found an open table at the back of the room. The old man took a seat facing the door with Jesse on his left. Aaron and Matt took the two chairs and left the last two open. At the head table Kyle was once again standing in front of the microphone scanning the room. He seemed satisfied with the crowd, and bent to the microphone, ”Okay folks, buffet style for dinner, and the bar is open, but it’s a cash bar. Y’all eat and then we’ll give out the awards. Enjoy!”
A waitress came around as the crowd surged to the buffet, so the four of them stayed seated and ordered tea and took their time. Finally the line got short enough to make it worth their while to get up and get in line. Going through they piled their plates high, and headed back to their table.
Jesse picked through her plate and commented, “This BBQ sauce is sure different than what I’m used to, and I didn’t see any brisket at all. But it’s not bad.”
Matt, having grown up in Western Virginia, proceeded to give Jesse and the old man a history lesson on BBQ and the infighting between Virginia, North and South Carolina and Eastern and Western variations within each state that had both Jesse and the old man rolling laughing. Aaron just chuckled and refused to comment, since he had grown up around Boston, and didn’t “do” BBQ until he’d gotten into the Marines.
Finally Kyle got back up from the head table and picked up the microphone while two assistants went over and unveiled two whiteboards standing off to the side of the room.
“Awright, lets get this show on the road. We’re gonna start with third place and work up for military first, then LEOs, and then we’ll hold the drawings for the prizes. Applause is fine, boos are fine, no cussing the winners allowed, we’ve got ladies present.”
Merle chimed in with a cackle, “Who you calling a lady you old fart?”
Over the laughter Kyle responds, “Well, EXCEPTING you Merle, there are a few ladies here…”
More laughter erupts and Merle just waves to Kyle, conceding the point to him.
“Third place, law enforcement, is… Jacksonville PD!, Y’all come on up!” Kyle starts clapping and the crowd joins in as the two officers from JPD come forward. Kyle presents them their plaque and various cameras flash as the three pose for pictures. Kyle points off to the side of the stage and the JPD officers step to the side.
“Second place, law enforcement is Tulsa PD, come on up!” The Tulsa officers come forward, receive their plaques with more pictures, they move over to the side and the four shake hands as they juggle their plaques.
“And in first place, Broward County Sheriff’s Department with a net score of 460 and a time of 51 minutes, give em a big round of applause!” Kyle lead the applause and once the two officers got to the stage, presented them their plaque; gathering all the awardees, they posed for more pictures and shook hands all around to applause and various good natured catcalls from the audience.
Kyle walked back to the microphone and started on the military placing, “Okay folks, for ‘this’ group please do not take pictures, as these folks are still going in harm’s way and we don’t want, nor do they want, their pictures out there. Now having said that, in third place are the Marines out of Quantico! Come on up fellows!”
Matt and Aaron looked at each other and got up and headed to the stage, as they were walking up, Jesse let out a wolf whistle that got every body around their table laughing, and Aaron turning various shades of red.
Once on stage, Kyle covered the mic and whispered a question to Matt, then turned back to the microphone, “Folks our Marines are First Sergeant Matt Carter and Sergeant Aaron Miller from the Weapons Battalion at MCB Quantico. They are both instructors in the Scout Sniper course and former Scout Snipers in the Second Marine Expeditionary Force. And Aaron tells me they are known as ‘Hogs’. Lets’ give them a big round of applause and again, no pictures please. And their score is 459 and 46 minutes!”
Matt and Aaron shook hands with Kyle and walked back to the table as the applause continued along with a few good-natured jibes from the other services. The old man leaned over and shook both Matt and Aaron’s hands saying, “Congrats guys, y’all had some pretty round competition to overcome there, and that’s DAMN good shooting.”
Jesse chimed in, “And pretty damn good running too!”
Kyle started up again, “And in second place we have the Navy SEALS, come on up gents!”
As the SEALS made their way to the stage, Kyle again muffled the microphone and spoke to the SEALS. Shaking his head, he came back to the mic, “Um… Mr. ‘Smith’ and Mr. ‘Jones’ here scored 460 and 43 minutes! Lets give them a hand.”
Laughter, applause and catcalls for ‘Smith and Jones’ continued as the two SEALS returned to their seats.
Kyle waved at everyone to be quiet and said, “And the first place team are our friends from across the pond, the Brits! Y’all, er… I guess I better use proper English, you ‘gents’ please come up to receive your plaques.”
Applause and a standing ovation happened as the two Brits walked to the stage. One of the Brits leaned over a whispered in Kyle’s ear, and Kyle started laughing.
Still chuckling Kyle stepped back to the mic, “Um, Mr. ‘Jones’ and Mr. ‘Smith’ wanted to remind me they are the original owners of those names, going back well before this upstart country ever got started, and they are proud to be the ‘Artists’ from Albany. Their scores were 462 and 40 minutes, and yes they RAN the entire course!”
Kyle presented them with the first place plaque as more applause and laughter ensued. “Okay folks, that’s it for the presentations, we’ll do the drawings in a bit.”
Matt and Aaron got up and walked over to congratulate the other military shooters along with the law enforcement winners, and received the good-natured ribbing from the other military shooters in the room. The old man and Jesse stayed at the table and waved down a waitress for more coffee, as they watched the folks circulate.
Matt wandered over to the whiteboard and checked out the scoring, and was amazed to see that the old man and Jesse had matched the best shooters with a score of 462 points! Merle walked up and Matt turned to her, “Thanks for all the work you did on the scoring ma’am, and we do appreciate it!” Pointing to the scores, Matt said, “Did you see the scores for the deputies?”
Merle laughed, “Yep, all you young bucks might be faster, but that old man can shoot, and the girl is pretty damn good too! Comes down to it, I wouldn’t want him on my bad side, cause I don’t think he’d hesitate to shoot. I watched them on the dots, and they didn’t miss but a single shot; and that girl got right back on it, no muss, no fuss. Oh, and I noticed your buddy has been sniffing around the girl pretty heavy,” she said with a grin.
Matt smiled, “Yeah, but I doubt that will go anywhere, because she’s smarter than both of us, and I’m pretty sure the old man isn’t going to let any of us get close to Jesse. He knows better.”
Matt headed back to the table when Kyle announced they were about to start the drawings for the prizes.
Throwing the last of the tickets on the table in disgust, Aaron looked at Matt and the rest of the table and said, “Well, I guess we got snookered again. Sometimes I think that is my typical luck, and it seems like it’s rubbed off on everybody else tonight.”
Matt laughed, “Well, we’re not going home empty handed Aaron, and I think the Colonel will be pretty happy with this, considering our competition this weekend. I don’t think we could legally have won anything anyway.”
The old man, Jesse, Matt and Aaron sat in a companionable silence, sipping coffee and nibbling on the deserts and cookies. Watching the other shooters, wives and girlfriends circulating between tables and admiring the various plaques the different teams had won and the winners of the raffles admiring their prizes.
There was a small crowd looking at the scores, and more than a few glances were coming their way. Both SAS and the SEAL team were off in a corner by themselves and raucous laughter was heard every few minutes. Jesse was looking at the plaque Matt and Aaron had won as the third place military team and decided to eat one more cookie.
“Oh damn, here comes the grunt again,” Matt moaned.
The old man looked across the table with a quizzical expression, “what’s the problem?”
“He keeps trying to catch us without our coins sir, Sergeant you’ve got yours right? Matt shook his head and started digging in his wallet for his as Aaron went for his breast pocket.
Jesse, not understanding what was happening looked over and asked, “Papa what coins are y’all talking about?”
The old man was reaching into his shirt and pulling out a pouch that was around his neck on a leather thong, from it he extracted an old silver looking coin and palmed it in his right hand. “Just wait and see Jesse,” he said with a evil grin on his face.
The Army Sergeant weaved up to the table and slapped his hand down on the table, calling out, “Coin check you misguided children! 101st, put up or buy up boys!” And revealed a coin laying on the table.
Matt and Aaron both slapped their hands down on the table, saying in unison, “Two MEF.” And showed their coins.
The Army Sergeant looked over at the old man, “Do you even know what we’re talking about old man?”
The old man raised his hand to the table top, gently laid it on the table and said, “DOL, Fifth Group; you know what we drink.” And showed the old silver coin in his palm.
The Army sergeant literally turned pale and quickly put his coin back in his pocket, saying “Yes Sir, be right back Sir,” as he turned away and headed for the bar.
Jesse, now totally confused, looked at Matt and Aaron, who were also confused at this point and realized the old man was smiling, if it could be called that. “Papa, what in the hell is going on?”
“Well, he stepped on his dick is what just happened Jesse; he didn’t think there would be any chance of running across one of us here, and he got caught out. I hope y’all like brandy.”
Jesse asked, “what do you mean one of ‘US’ Papa, and what’s DOL?” Matt chimed in, “I’ve never seen him do that either, what did you show him sir or was it what you said?”
Grinning, the old man spun the coin in his hand and passed it to Jesse, reaching under his shirt and taking off the pouch that had held the coin, “There are a few of us old farts around that go back to the early days when Fifth Group was the main Special Forces group in Vietnam.“ Pointing at the coin he said, “All of the old farts like me got silver coins presented by the General in country, and we all had these elephant hide pouches made for them. We all wore them around our necks, and vowed never to be without them. DOL is De Oppresso Liber, Latin for to free from oppression and the motto of Special Forces.”
As Jesse looked at both sides of the coin and passed it to Matt, she shook her head and just looked at the old man, “Why is THIS the first time I’m finding this out Papa? And what’s this about drinking, I’ve never seen you take a drink in my life at least that I can remember.”
“Honey, there are a LOT of things you don’t know, and I hope to God you never find out; that was a different life and a different time from today.”
At that point a very subdued Army Sergeant returned to the table with four shots and quietly asked, “Sir if there is nothing else, may I be excused?”
The old man just nodded. He gestured to the others and each picked up the shots, and he toasted, “De oppresso libre;” as they downed their shots. Jesse shivered and wondered what she had gotten into, and realized she didn’t really like brandy.
Matt realized the old man they were sitting with was one of the real warriors, and at least for him, things began to fall into place. The attitude, the old but well cared for rifle, the shooting ability, and his watchfulness all snapped into place and he decided he truly did not want to get on the wrong side of this man. And he decided that this old man had put more than a few in the ground over the years…
He also wondered if Aaron had picked up on it, or was too enthralled by Jesse to be aware of the bigger picture.
The old man turned to Jesse, “You about ready girl? We got miles to go tomorrow and I ain’t gettin any younger.”
Jesse just shook her head, “Well Papa, I guess since ‘you’ need your sleep I guess we better get you to bed.”
Aaron looked like he was going to say something, but stopped when Matt gave him the quiet hand signal. Matt noticed the old man smiling, and he guessed he caught it. The old man got up and so did Matt, Aaron and Jesse.
Fishing in his wallet, the old man passed Matt and Aaron cards, “Matt, Aaron, it was a pleasure to meet y’all, and I wish you the best in your careers; and if you ever get to West Texas, give me a call. I’ll treat y’all to some good BBQ on me.”
Aaron reached across and shook the old man’s hand, and Jesse walked around the table to give both Matt and Aaron hugs, and a peck on the cheek for Aaron, who promptly started turning red again.
Matt took the card and shook hands with the old man saying, “Mr. Cronin, if I ever get out that way I will, and thanks for letting us join you. I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve never even checked your scores. Do you know how well y’all did?”
“Nope, and I really don’t care. This trip was just for fun and to get outta Texas for a bit, and let Jesse see a different part of the country,” the old man replied.
Jesse looked at Matt asking, “Did you go look? And if you did, how’d we shoot? Papa never tells me anything.”
Matt, looking at both Jesse and the old man responded, “Well sir, y’all out shot everybody but the SAS and you tied them at 462 of a possible 470 points. AND you did that without really modern guns, or scopes or spotting scopes. If y’all had been a bit faster, you would have won the law enforcement side hands down, and probably beaten most of the military folks.”
Jesse and Aaron both looked at Matt in incredulity, but the old man just smiled. Jesse hit the old man on the shoulder, “Dammit Papa, why didn’t you tell me we did that good?”
“Cause I don’t care hon, this is all for fun, so it don’t make a damn how good we did. And I knew coming in I was too old to run that far that fast. But I wanted you to see that YOU can compete with the boys, and you don’t have a damn thing to be apologetic for. Now lets go,” said the old man as he shook Matt’s hand.
The old man and Jesse slipped out the back door, as quietly as they’d come.
The End for now…