The usual caveats, and comments/corrections appreciated!
Toad leaned against the counter in the gun shop as everyone crowded around his latest creation. He smiled as Matt said, “That’s not…that can’t be an original issue gun, is it?”
The old man walked over, “What original…oh, old school isn’t it Toad?”
Toad nodded, “As close as I can come to an original M forty A one. McMillian stock in the original pattern, Schneider contract barrel, correct action that I got off Ed Howe, a former sniper up in Alaska, and one of the last MST one hundreds from US Optics.”
Aaron whistled. “Shoot it yet?”
“Who’s getting it,” Matt asked hopefully.
Toad laughed. “Not you. But somebody you know. Gunner Price. His wife had me build it for him for Christmas. Apparently Gunner is not happy being retired, and is quote trying to find something to keep busy with unquote.”
Jesse laughed. “So he’s underfoot and she’s thinking this will get him out of her hair?”
Toad replied, “Or words to that effect, yes.”
Jace tugged at Jesse’s pants, “Wanna see!” Jesse picked him up, and he looked at the rifle, then said solemnly, “Ugly. Not pretty.” Everyone cracked up laughing, and Jesse had to set him down, she was laughing so hard.
Toad, injured expression and all, finally had to laugh, “Out of the mouths of babes,” looking down at Jace, he said, “You’re right, Jace. It is ugly. But it’s a good ugly!”
Jace looked up at Jesse. “Good ugly, momma?” Prompting another spate of laughter, and she had to hide her smile.
“Honey, sometimes ugly is good. Not everything has to be pretty and shiny.”
Jace shrugged. “Okay, momma,” and wandered off as everyone laughed again.
Toad looked around speculatively, “Now, who do I get to fire the first rounds?” Matt and Aaron looked at each other as the old man picked up the rifle, opened the bolt and checked that it was empty. “I’ve got thre…four snipers sitting here. Now who?”
The old man asked, “Dry fire it?”
Toad nodded and he hefted the rifle to his shoulder, sighting at a light in the far corner of the shop, a soft click was heard, and the old man asked, “Two pounds?”
Toad shook his head in amazement, “Exactly two pounds John.” Both Matt and Aaron were surreptitiously pointing at the old man and he nodded. “You want to put the first rounds through it, John?”
The old man laughed. “Afraid to shoot your own gun, Toad?”
“No, sir. I’d rather a good shot put the first rounds down range with it. Superstition is the better the shooter, the better the rifle will shoot over its life.”
“Never heard that.” Glancing at Aaron then Matt he asked, “Neither one of you wants to be first? You really want an ol’ Army fart putting the first rounds through it?”
Aaron chuckled. “No, sir. More like Toad said, best shooter. As you’ve proven to us more than once.”
“Just luckier. Y’all have age and eyes on your side.”
Matt chimed in. “Bullshit John, you have us beat in experience, age, and you can probably see better than either one of us can. Besides, I think Gunner would appreciate having a true master fire the rifle in.”
“Okay, let’s stop jawing and go do it then. We’ve got enough light, and the winds are pretty quiet.” That prompted everyone to start moving, with Toad proffering up a box of 175gr match ammo, and Jesse grabbing a sight-in target from behind the counter. “Eyes and ears,” the old man reminded them as they trooped out to the 100 yard firing line. Matt jogged down and put up the target as Aaron set up the spotting scope, and the old man spread a shooting mat out.
“You don’t want to shoot off the bench,” Jesse asked.
“Nah, I’m better on the ground, you know that. And before you go there, I’m not that old. I can still get up and down.”
Jesse just shook her head and picked Jace up, “Eyes and ears, Jace.”
Jace touched his eye protection, “Eyes,” then his ear muffs, “Ears, momma.”
The old man quickly removed the bolt and sighted down the barrel. “Ten twist?” Toad nodded as adjusted the sling. Strapping it up and holding the rifle in his left hand as he got down. He pulled six rounds out of the box. “One fouling round, then five for grouping?”
“Sounds good.” Toad looked around, “Ready on the left, ready on the right, ready on the firing line. Range is hot. You may fire when ready.” The old man nodded as Jesse handed Jace to Aaron and crouched behind the spotting scope.
Aaron looked at her and she said, “What? I’ve been his spotter for years.” She put her eye back to the scope as the old man squirmed into his shooting position.
“Lower right corner.”
“That’s good. Target.”
“Quarter MOA high, quarter MOA right.”
The old man grunted, “Okay. Same hold next four. Target”
On the last round the old man cussed, “Pushed it right, dammit.”
“Range is cold,” Toad called as the old man opened the bolt and climbed to his feet. He set the rifle carefully on the bench, and they waited while Matt went to retrieve the target. Jesse was smiling and Aaron cocked his head, but she just shook her head and smiled wider.
He put Jace down as Matt came jogging back up, target in hand, and he laid the target on the bench, pulling a dime out of his pocket. Aaron whistled as he looked at the target, “You call that a push? That’s…damn near one hole!”
Matt laid the dime over all five rounds, “Less than a half MOA definitely. Real close to a quarter MOA. Helluva job, Toad!”
Toad smiled, “I’ll take that. And a quarter of an inch off on the sight in? Hell, that’s golden! Now I’ve got to clean it and put another fifteen rounds through it for break in. Thank you, John.”
The old man nodded, “De nada, Toad. Nice little rifle.”
Jesse’s phone dinged, and she glanced at it, “I’ve got to go help Felicia, and dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes. If you’re late, it’s on y’all. Aaron can you lock up for me, please?”
“Yes, dear,” Aaron said, hanging his head.
The others laughed, and Matt said, “You’re learning.”
Toad took another sip of his Shiner Bock, burped and glanced around, “Um, gotta question.”
Nobody said anything until the old man finally said, “And?”
Toad was surprisingly tentative when he asked, “Would it be possible to bring three of our sniper teams out here to shoot on a weekend?”
Toad slumped, “Cause trying to get weekend range time at Bliss is a PITA. The range people don’t want to come in on the weekend, and they don’t like us to use the long range. I’ve checked with the colonel, you guys are NRA approved, and we could do it as an FTX, camp out and make it a full drill weekend. I can get some more targets, and we could—”
“Whoa, whoa. You want to bring your reserves all the way out here?”
“We’re allowed to go to other sites to shoot if there is a good reason, and you’ve got a thousand of them,” Toad waved toward the range, “Not many places have a thousand yards, much less the quality of facilities you’ve got here.”
Aaron and Matt nodded. “It’s been done before. How to you think we got to go to that West Virginia shoot where we met y’all,” Matt said.
The old man looked around, “Thoughts?”
Aaron and Matt shrugged, and both of them looked at Jesse, who said, “Well, we could shut the range down for the weekend. It’d cost us…probably a thousand dollars, maybe less. We can’t do that regularly, but once in a while, sure.”
Aaron nodded. “I’m all for it. This will give them some different winds and environment to shoot in. Anything like that helps.”
Matt said, “Agreed. Either Aaron or I can RO the range, leaving Toad to work with the teams.”
“What about feeding them?”
“MREs, and sleep rough in tents. We’ll make them bring a field loadout. They can use the restroom and shower back in the workroom, that way they won’t interfere with anything up front here, and I can lock the workroom so they can’t come up here after it’s closed.”
“Aaron, we’d need to let Jose know what’s going on. This would be a bit unusual, to say the least.”
“I’ll do that Monday.”
The old man turned to Toad, “I guess we can try it once. How are you going to get them here?”
“We’ve got some GMC carryalls, basically Suburbans, I’ll check one of them out with a trailer and haul ‘em over here that way.”
“So what, four hours?”
Toad shrugged. “At least. If I can get an early muster, say around sixteen hundred, load out by seventeen hundred, we can probably be here by twenty-one hundred, or twenty-one thirty. They shouldn’t have any problems setting up in the dark.”
That prompted laughter from both Aaron and Matt, as the old man smiled. “What,” Toad asked.
“C’mon Toad, you know better than that shit…half of them will be sleeping on the ground covered up by the tent and we all know that.”
“Well, if they do, that’s on them!”
Two weeks later, Aaron was puzzling through the documents from a domestic that had gone left on the responding city officers and PCSO personnel had stepped in to assist. His phone rang and he slapped the speaker button, “Miller.”
Toad’s voice came from the speaker. “That bad, huh?”
“Shit sandwich. Lemme guess, y’all aren’t coming now, right?”
Toad chuckled, “Oh, we’re coming. We’ll be there around seven, maybe a little earlier. What time do you shut the range down?”
“Usually a half hour before dusk, why?”
“Do you have a radio that can talk to an airplane or helicopter?”
“What the hell is going on, Toad?”
He heard laughter on the speaker, then Toad saying, “Well, it’s like this. There is lift available. Matter of fact, it’s available all weekend. And these guys have never shot from a chopper.”
Aaron dropped his pen on the desk and stared at the speaker. “You got the Army to give you lift?”
“Oh hell no. HMLA seven seven three Det Alpha is coming in Thursday, and looking for missions. I talked to the Gunny over there, and they would be more than happy to do some remote field air work, and Fort Stockton’s airport can support them for fuel. They’ve already gotten something called a PPR approved to go in there. All we’d have to do is find them quarters.”
“How many is them?”
“Three, one light colonel, one female captain, one gunny.”
“Lemme do some checking. What kind of radio do we need?”
“Uh, UHF I think. I’ve got a freq for them,” Aaron heard scrambling of papers, and finally Toad came back. “Here we go, two fifty-two point six.”
Aaron scribbled the numbers down. “Two fifty-two point six. Got it. I’ll see, we should have a couple of them for emergency services. I’ll call you back, you at the university?”
“Call me on my cell. I’m getting ready to go teach my final class of the week. If I don’t answer, leave me a message.”
“Wilco. Bye.” Aaron punched the speaker off and went looking for Lisa. He found her in the break room, “Hey, lady. Do we…do you know where the radios are we used for emergency communications with aircraft?”
Lisa stirred her coffee, cocked her head, and asked, “Now what the hell have you got yourself in the middle of, Lieutenant?”
Aaron smiled, “Oh nothing much, apparently landing Marine helicopters at the ranch.”
Lisa stopped stirring the coffee and looked at him, “You’re not…no you are serious.” She shook her head, “And I don’t think I want to know. C’mon, they’re in dispatch. You need VHF or UHF?”
“Yeah, we got that. Just out of curiosity, where the hell are you going to park these choppers?”
“At the airport, apparently. They got something called a PPR.”
“Prior permission required, and you say they already have it? We don’t have to request services?”
“According to Toad, they already got it. And they can get fuel there too.”
“What are they bringing in?”
Aaron shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know. Some reserve outfit out of New Orleans. They’re bringing the reserve snipers from El Paso.”
Lisa went to the back of dispatch and Aaron saw extra radios in chargers setting on the shelf. Lisa picked two out, looked at them, then put one back and grabbed a second one. “Yep, got two UHF units. Just let me know when you want them.”
“Thanks! It’ll be Friday. I’ll take them home with me when I leave.” Aaron walked back to the break room, got a cup of coffee and went back to his office, I wish this damn investigation was that easy. What Hawthorne wrote up in no way resembles what city has in their report. And Hawthorne is off till Thursday. I guess I better go talk to Alvarez and see what he knows…No wonder John had gray hair from this job. What did he tell me? Oh yeah, if it was easy, anybody could do it standing on their heads in the corner.
Three more hours of frustration followed, and finally Aaron gave it up as a bad deal, I’m going to have to talk to Hawthorne and try to figure out why there is so much difference. Something is not right here.
The weekend weather forecast was good, and Toad called at four, saying he was almost to Fort Stockton. Aaron stuck his head in the sheriff’s door, “Sheriff, mind if I scoot out a little early? Looks like the Marines are about to arrive.”
Sheriff Rodriquez took his glasses off and leaned back, rubbing his nose, “Go ahead. I might just go with you. This has been one of those weeks.”
Aaron laughed. “Agreed! I don’t know when they are going to shoot from the helo, but that might be interesting to watch.”
The sheriff cocked his head. “Give me a call, I might make a run out there to see that. Now get your ass out of here.”
“Will do, Sheriff.”
Aaron pulled into the yard five minutes after Toad parked the carryall and trailer at the gun store and he waved at him as he got out of the car. Walking into the house, he was surprised to find Felicia in the kitchen, and the old man watching, or trying to watch four kids. “What’s going on?”
Felicia flipped her head back as she got her hair out of her eyes, “We’re cooking for everybody. We decided they needed decent food instead of those…what you call it, MREs?”
“Yeah, meals rejected by Ethiopians.”
The old man snorted, “C-rats were always better. The old house is cleaned, fresh sheets on the beds, and towels and shit all laid out for the helo bubbas.”
Aaron smiled, “One of them is a bubbaette, John.”
“Whatever.” He looked over. “Esmerelda, stop beating on your brother. If you want to beat on somebody, pick on Jace, he’s more your size.”
Esmerelda looked up at him, then at Felicia before she said, “Okay, Papa,” and headed for Jace.
Aaron hid a grin as he said, “I’m going to go help Toad. I think he’s going to sleep in the shop, since we’re out of beds.”
The old man laughed. “I may join him, at least it’ll be quiet out there.”
A little over two hours later the radio crackled. “Range, Red Dog seven. How copy?”
Matt keyed the radio. “Red Dog seven, range. Copy five by. Range is cold. Winds are zero niner zero at three knots. Do you require smoke?”
“Red Dog seven copies all, neg smoke. I believe I have you in sight if you’re the cluster of buildings on the west side of the road.”
Matt heard the faint sound of a Huey and turned, finally spotting the helo coming from the south. He waved to Aaron and pointed, got a thumbs up from Aaron and he walked further out on the thousand yard range. “Red Dog seven, you’re south about a mile. You have a director in the landing area, recommend you come in behind the stand alone building and pick up your director.”
“Red Dog seven.”
Five minutes later, the Huey was setting on the range, blades in flat pitch as the six Marines offloaded their packs and rifle cases. Aaron ran under the blades to the pilot’s side and had a short discussion through the open door, yelling over the noise of the engines and blades, then nodded and closed it. He glanced back at the crew chief who gave him a thumbs up, and ran back to where he had been standing before. The Huey’s blades changed pitch, and at Aaron’s directions, picked up and headed south for the airport.
Aaron looked around. “Shit, somebody has to go get the crew.”
Matt shook his head, “The old man is already down there. He left as soon as he heard them.”