The Grey Man… Last tease…

Okay, one more tease, and I’m stopping until I finish the book…

As always, unedited….


Jesse huffed a stray strand of hair out of her face, looked around the display area and spotted the old farts as she thought of them, comfortably ensconced around the coffee pot. Walking over, she asked, “Tom, would you mind helping out behind the counter?”

Tom, looked up startled, “Me?”

“Yes Tom, you! You know guns, I’ve seen you helping people on the sly, thinking we aren’t seeing what you’re doing. And I’m too damn busy to help everybody. Besides, it’s time you earned your coffee.”

Ed, Bob, and Joe, the other three old farts laughed, and Ed snickered, “You go Tom. Take one for the team.”

Tom got up slowly, rising to his full five foot six inches, minus the badly bowed legs, which really made him about five foot four. Hitching his jeans up, he asked, “What you want me to do Mizz Jesse?”

“Just what you’ve been doing. Help people. For a broke down old cowboy, and one that claims he hates people, you seem to do a pretty damn good job of guiding people to make good decisions.”

Tom shrugged, “Kinda like herding cows, but they talk back. I jus’ answer their questions.” He stumped over to the end of the counter, followed by Jesse, and asked quietly, “Why me?”

Jesse leaned hipshot on the end of the counter, “Matt’s doing ranch stuff, and Khalil is going to be heading back to school in a month. We’re busier than I thought we would ever be, and I need to keep the books, do the BATF paperwork, and pay the bills. I can’t afford to get distracted in the middle of that. We’ll even pay you, how about twenty dollars an hour, plus coffee?”

Tom’s eyes got big, “You’re going to pay me? Just to stand back here and talk to people?”

Jesse shook her head, “Yes, we’re going to pay you. Why shouldn’t we?”

Tom leaned forward confidentially, “Well, if you’re a gonna pay me, you might want to know Ed and Joe are both retired Army DIs, and Bob is a dab hand tinkerer, he fixed my old Colt after it got out of time.”

Jesse glanced over at the other three, and mumbled, “Damn… Right under our noses…” That thought was interrupted by the cowbell over the door jangling as a mixed bag of folks came through the door as soon as Khalil unlocked it, some making for the coffee pot, others for the gun counter, and a couple of the young ones, for the play area at the far end of the display area.

Tom said, “I ain’t doin’ kids. Don’t know how. I’ll do big people.”

Khalil caught Jesse’s eye and waggled his fingers, asking which direction she wanted him to go. Jesse pointed to the kids’ area, and Khalil started that way with a nod. She hated dumping what she thought of as kiddie patrol on him, but he wasn’t twenty-one yet, so there were issues.

Fernando came through the door in a rush, “Sorry I’m late, had a flat…”

Jesse waved him off, “No problem. Shit happens. I don’t know how busy we’re going to be, but we may be shorthanded. Especially if a lot of folks want to shoot today. If you need help, grab Ed or Joe to help you out, and let me know how they do, okay?”

Fernando grinned, “I can do that. I’ll go get the ranges set up.”


At noon, Matt brought tamales, rice and beans, along with the usual jug of iced tea, and set them in the conference room, then walked over to the counter, catching Jesse’s attention, “Soup’s on.”

Jesse sighed, “Good, I’m starved and I haven’t slowed down all morning. This has just been nuts!”

“What’s up?”

“I don’t know for sure, I think it’s folks that are buying while the prices are down. I’ve got ten signed up for a class this weekend, and it’s only Tuesday.”

“Why’s Tom behind the counter?”

“I hired his ass. That old fart knows guns, and turns out he’s damn good with people, too!”

“Hired him?”

Jesse bristled, “Well, who showed up to work today? Me, Khalil, and Fernando. You’re doing ranch stuff, Felicia is watching the kids, Aaron is sleeping, and there were ten people at the door when we got ready to open. I don’t want folks to have to wait, and the old farts have been underfoot, damn near since day one, but they have also been helping out on the side anyway. I may hire all of them!”

Matt held up his hands, “Whoa! I’m not…”

Jesse laid a hand on his arm, “Sorry. It’s… well, that time of the month, and… Dammit, we need help. Apparently it’s been under our noses the entire time, and we just didn’t realize it.”

Matt cocked his head, and Jesse continued, “Two retired Army DIs apparently, both of whom are former range officers, and a shade tree mechanic, who’ve been drinking our coffee since damn near the day we opened.

“Damn… Are you going to put them on the payroll?”

“Of course. Part time, full time, whatever they’ll do. I’ll take care of the paperwork today. We need to find somebody to replace Khalil too, he’s got to go back to school.”

“Let me see if Ernesto has any friends that want to work part time. What are we going to pay them?”

Jesse cocked her head, “Well, we’re paying Fernando twenty an hour, and I don’t think it would be fair to pay them any less.”

Matt winced, “That’s a lot, just to work the counter or do range… Never mind. Safety… I wasn’t thinking.” Glancing at the clock on the wall, he continued, “I gotta go move cows. Tell Fernando we’ll be working north of the thousand yard range this afternoon.”

“You want to close it?”

“Yeah, let’s do that just to be on the safe side.”



Aaron came through the door at a little after five to see Tom, Ed, Bob, and Joe sitting at the table, filling out paperwork, with Jesse standing over them. Aaron cocked his head, “Should I ask?”

Jesse grinned, “Meet our newest employees.”


“I hired all these old reprobates today.”

Ed grumbled, “Hey, I resemble that.”

Tom laughed, “You are that, Ed.”

“Ah shaddap, you’re not anything to look at yourself, ya old fart.”

Aaron interrupted, “Why, may I ask?”

Jesse replied, “Well, it’s actually pretty simple. They’ve been drinking free coffee since damn near day one, and we were shorthanded today.  I put Tom behind the counter. Ed and Bob, who, by the way, are both certified NRA instructors and range officers, in addition to being retired Army, worked the ranges with Fernando, and Joe put on five sets of sights and sighted in three rifles for customers. I’ve already told them we’re hiring them as part-time employees, so they can work when they want.”

Aaron took one look at Jesse’s expression, and said, “Yes, dear.”

He was saved as Toad and Cindy came through the front door, surprising everybody. Jesse said, “You’re early!”

Cindy laughed, “I took a half-day, and Toad was done at nine this morning. He’s been frothing at the mouth to get whatever he was working on finish…”

Toad, with an injured expression, interrupted, “I was not frothing, drooling maybe, but not frothing!” He shook hands with Aaron, then slapped him on the back, “How goes it?”

Aaron chuckled, Same o, same o… Another day in the trenches.” Turning to the guys, still sitting at the table and watching the byplay, he said, “And these are our new employees. Tom is…”

Tom got up, whipping off his cowboy hat, Ma’am, Tom Kline. Broke down ol’ cowboy. Now I guess I’m a gun seller.” He shook Toad’s hand, “You’re Matt and Aaron’s buddy, right?”

Toad laughed, “I wonder some times.” Ed, Bob, and Joe got up and introduced themselves, hands were shaken, and Toad disappeared into the back room, with Joe in trail.

Jesse grabbed Cindy, “Come on, let’s go up to the house. You guys finish the paperwork at leave it on the table. I’ll get it in the morning. Aaron, would you make sure everything is closed down and lock the door on your way out?” She gave him a peck on the cheek, as she and Cindy went out the door, whispering and laughing.

Aaron rolled his eyes, “Women…” Prompting a laugh from the guys, as they went back to filling out the paperwork.

Bob said, “I noticed you didn’t say that until they were out of hearing…”

Aaron chuckled, “I have learned a few things. And I do appreciate you guys being willing to help out.”

A loud ‘Gahdammit!’ was heard down the hallway, and Aaron shook his head, “This ain’t good. It usually takes Toad at least fifteen minutes to get this pissed.”

Tom asked, “Why?”

“Toad’s an armorer first, and a gun builder second. Something isn’t fitting exactly like he wants, and he’s getting pissed. Which means he’s about to…”

A loud ‘clang’ echoed down the hall, and Aaron continued, “Get out the big hammer.” He started down the hall, with the guys following him into the shop portion of the building. Tom hung back a little, not sure if he wanted to be in the shop with a pissed off Marine, but finally shrugged and straggled in behind the others.

Toad was standing at the workbench, mumbling to himself as he screwed an action into a barrel held in the barrel vise, while Joe, eyes bugging a little bit, holding a big wrench in his hands. Aaron looked around and asked, “What was that all about?”

Toad glanced up, “Damn McMillan makes their stocks tight,” gesturing at the A5 stock lying on the bench, “I test fitted the action, and couldn’t get the sumbitch back out. Had to have Joe give it a whack. Ain’t doin’ that again until I’ve got a barrel on it, and can get a good grip to pry it out if I need to.”

“Remington seven hundred?”

“Yep, long action. Reamed the receiver threads, squared the receiver lugs, squared the receiver face, lapped the bolt lugs, and squared the bolt face. Once I get this barrel on, I’ll try that again.”


With a grunt, Toad put another 1/8th inch turn on the action, then stepped back, “What else? I know his barrels, been using them my entire career. Now comes the fun part.”

“Um, I’m gonna send the guys home, no need for them to stand here and listen to you cuss.”


An hour later, Aaron’s phone beeped with a text, YOU COMING TO SUPPER OR NOT? Aaron quickly typed, BE THERE IN 10! Turning to Toad he said, “We’re being summoned. It’s chow now or the couch later.”

Toad looked critically at the almost completely assembled rifle on the bench, “Oh well, I couldn’t sight it in tonight anyway. Guess we might as well go eat.”

Aaron shook his head, “Does Cindy let you get away with that at home?”

“Oh hell no. Most nights I’m cooking, since she’s usually late getting home. I forgot once, that was all it took. Found out she doesn’t like pizza.”

“What? She doesn’t like…”

“Apparently never has, and to quote her, never will, unquote.”

Toad flipped off the light, and followed Aaron out as he locked up the shop. Stepping out on the front porch, they saw that it was already twilight, and Aaron said, “At least the business isn’t losing money.”

Toad looked at him, surprised, “What brought that on?”

“We’ve been running on a shoestring, basically with no employees other than family, and Khalil and Fernando. I guess Jesse’s decided we can’t do anymore ourselves, without… I dunno, burnout? I was getting to the point that I was starting to dread having a day off from the department, knowing I’d have to come work down here. I can’t remember when we actually took a day, maybe the fourth was the last time.”

“Damn, that was four months ago! Y’all haven’t taken a day off since then?”

“Well, technically Sunday and Monday are days off, but we do church, then come back here and do stocking, cleaning and maintenance, and I’m usually on the schedule one way or the other on Monday. And Jesse usually comes in then to do the books, and take any deliveries, so no…”

As they started up the steps, Aaron continued, “Don’t say anything, please.” Toad nodded as they walked in the house, “Lemme dump my junk and I’ll be right there.”

Toad was pounced on by Boo Boo, closely followed by Yogi, then Jace. Toad picked him up and flipped him in the air, prompting childish laughter and, “Again!” Toad continued playing with him as he walked into the kitchen, nodded to the old man and plopped Jace in his high chair.

The old man handed Toad a glass of tea, and smiled, “What are you building now, Toad?”

“Thanks! Putting together an M40A-5 for one of the guys I drill with. He’s a scout sniper, but because of the weird rules, he can’t check his gun out to practice with, other than on drill weekends. So he wants something to take to the range on a more regular basis.”

“Smart move, but kinda expensive isn’t it?”

Toad shrugged, “I’m building it for him at cost, but don’t tell Cindy.”

A pair of arms came around Toad’s chest and Cindy asked, “Don’t tell Cindy what? That you’re not charging Michael for building his rifle? I knew that.” She gave him a hug, then went to help Jesse and Felicia get the food on the plates.

After dinner, the old man took a cup of coffee out to the front porch, enjoying the cool breeze, the starry night, and the momentary peace and quiet as he sat on the steps. Toad came out and asked, “Mind if I join you?”

“Feel free. You ever play with old guns?”

“How old?”

“Late eighteen hundreds. Say eighteen seventy-three and on?”

Toad cocked his head, “What did you have in mind?”

The old man nodded toward the office, “Got a few old ones in the safe that I’d like to get checked out.”

He didn’t see the grin that crossed Toad’s face, but he heard the wistfulness in his voice, “I’d love to, sir. You pick ‘em, I’ll fix ‘em.”



The Grey Man… Last tease… — 18 Comments

  1. Good stuff ! Thanks for that. You have an excellent weekend.

  2. Old friends from your novels and a double dip of gun stuff. What a great way to start my day! Thank you.

  3. Waiting patiently…sorta…
    Glad you are getting close to being finished 🙂

  4. Ok, you throw this out in front of someone who’s wife says he has a “Father Flanagan complex” about guns, i.e., it’s not bad, it’s just misunderstood. And then you’re gonna make him wait AGES for the rest of it? You, sir, are not a nice person!

    When’s it coming out? I’ll need two print copies, and a Kindle version.

  5. Puzzler:
    How come the old farts are in the store, around the coffee pot, yet Khalil has yet to unlock the door?

  6. Sendarius- Back door… LOL, but that is a nice catch, I’ll fix that, thanks!

    Home- Yes, sir! 🙂

  7. watching the byplay? (run together on words or play by play?)
    shaddap? shut up you mean? 1 more sentence need a and in it but don’t see it again. get this out soon please

  8. Please, please, hurry up and finish it’s been too long since the last instalment 🙂