Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik
Scott put the transmission in park and got out of the SUV. The private entrance to the old Lewis Sportsman Ranch brought back memories. Twin stone columns of native rock supported a steel sign curving overhead.
He'd seen it when the sign was new. Since then, the sign had served as a target. Bullet holes and pellet marks decorated the rusting sign. The 'Lewis' name had borne the brunt of the damage. If the locals couldn't take their ire out on the man, they could vent their anger against his sign.
Scott sorted through the keys in the envelope and extracted the one labeled 'gate.' The gate and chain were rusting, but the lock was new. He wondered how many times the caretaker had replaced it.
The blacktop had been bleached gray by the unrelenting sun. He had a clear recollection of riding his motorcycle along new blacktop, impressed by the landscaping and obvious expense. The lodge at road's end wasn't as glamorous as it was in his memories. The windows were shuttered and disuse had aged the building.
The neatly groomed paths he remembered were being reclaimed by the land.
Scott took out his cell phone and started snapping pictures; first of the lodge, and of the surrounding landscape. Some people couldn't find beauty in such desolate isolation, but West Texas had a beauty you either got or didn't. He got it.
He dictated a quick note and forwarded the images to Rita Nogawa. The architect wanted to see the property, but hadn't committed to the project. He hoped the images would inspire her.
He walked the overgrown paths and tried to envision what the property would look like once the last traces of the Lewis endeavor were removed. With so many acres available, there was no need to build in the same location. The thought cheered him.
His new ringtone for Ed, the opening riff of the Soggy Bottom Boys – 'I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow', began to play from his phone.
"Where're you at?" Ed asked when Scott answered.
"I'll be at the range on time."
"Not if you don't come get me, the alternator on my truck is shot."
Ed was driving a ten-year-old Ford F150 extended-cab truck that was becoming a permanent resident at the local garage.
"Ed, are you sure Amy didn't sabotage it?"
Ed muttered something unintelligible. "Just come get me, you know Arnold's repair shop?"
San Angelo was a two-hour drive from Fort Stockton. Scott had been looking forward to spending time with his old high school buddies, but Ed was not his usual chatty self. Scott suspected it was a girlfriend related issue because their practice shoot at the range the previous day had gone great. Sheriff King was familiar with the type of competition and walked them through the rules and what to expect. Scott figured when Ed was ready to talk about what was bugging him, he would. They reached the outskirts of San Angelo without more than a few sentences passing between them.
"GPS shows the turn coming up," Ed said, breaking the silence.
Scott scrutinized the road ahead. "Bo said it was a gravel road, so we may not get much warning. Keep an eye out for those antennas he told us about."
"How many cops are going to be at this thing?"
"He said a couple hundred for the weekend, no idea about the earlier event." Scott pointed ahead. "There's a radio tower. This might be it."
"There's a sign," Ed said.
A sign had been stapled to a stake opposite the turnoff. Scott checked his mirrors and signaled. He turned and gravel crunched under the wheels as dust flew behind the SUV.
"When was the last time you were on a gravel road?" Ed asked.
"Afghanistan didn't have many state highways."
"You don't talk about it," Ed said.
"Afghanistan?" Scott asked.
"Any of it, the war or the Marines. Were you scared?"
Scott looked at Ed, but Ed was looking out the passenger side window.
"Sure, I was scared. Been crazy not to be."
"What about when you were wounded?"
"I was too busy at the time to think about it. Afterward, I was mad."
"You think I could have been a Marine?" Ed asked.
"If you'd wanted it bad enough, sure. You're not thinking of joining are you?"
"No," Ed replied. "Been thinking is all."
"You know you can talk to me about what's bugging you," Scott said.
"Like you talk about the war?"
They'd reached the entrance to the range.
"Get a load of this place," Ed said.
A bulldozer or grader had shaped earthen berms to create multiple shooting bays. Plastic banners advertising different gun manufacturers were everywhere. Groups of people were standing under white portable tents for shade. The impromptu dirt parking lot was full of official vehicles from law enforcement agencies across the state.
Scott and Ed got out and stretched their legs.
"This is more organized than I thought it would be," Scott said.
"Yeah," Ed replied. "Me too. Hey, here's Bo."
Bo jogged toward them. He had a buzz cut that would have looked right at home on most military bases. He wore a black polo shirt emblazoned with a Texas State Troopers logo, light-khaki tactical pants, and his duty utility belt.
"You found it all right?" Bo asked as he shook hands.
"Right where you said it would be," Scott replied. "Good to see you."
"And you," Bo replied. "Civilian life looks like it agrees with you."
"Can't complain. What's with the uniform belt?"
"Ah," Bo shrugged, "competition rule. Gotta shoot what you normally carry. For the LEOs, it's uniform belts unless you're in plainclothes."
"Holster slow you down?"
"It evens out." Bo grabbed Ed around the neck and patted his belly. "Just like old times, but Ed, light beer for you this weekend."
"Yeah, yeah," Ed said. "I'll get our gear." Ed turned on his heels and walked to the Jeep.
"What's his problem?" Bo asked in a quiet voice.
"He's down about something," Scott replied.
"Don't know. He was fine yesterday, but he barely said ten words on the drive here."
Bo walked over to the SUV and clapped Ed on the shoulder and whispered something to him. Bo looked over his shoulder at Scott and shrugged. "What are you guys shooting?"
"I brought a pair of 1911s," Scott said.
"Big .45s, that's old school," Bo replied, "I like it. Scott, you've got your Concealed Carry License don't you?"
"I do, but being at school I've not been carrying."
"You get yours yet, Ed?"
"Haven't had the time," Ed replied. "You guys know I'm not very good. Between the Marine here and Mr. State Trooper, I'm only going to drag the team score down."
Bo hung his arm over Ed's shoulders. "Bud, you're wrong on that account. That's why we're going to shoot this classifier deal. It will tell us what kind of shooter you are and you'll compete against other shooters at the same skill level."
"Nothing to worry about then, Ed," Scott said. He reached into the backseat of the SUV and grabbed their small drink cooler. "Come on, let's show these guys how the boys from Fort Stockton do it."
Bo squeezed Ed's neck. "What do you say?"
Ed sighed. "All right already. At least if we get in trouble, Bo's badge might keep us out of the pokey."
"That's the spirit," Bo said.
"For the record," Scott said, as they started to walk, "The three of us never got in any legal trouble."
Ed slung the bag with the shooting gear over his shoulder. "I seem to remember a few close calls. We nearly got killed in a flashflood."
"We were perfectly safe," Scott said.
"What about that terrorist girl that tried to blow up the biology lab? Ed said.
"That was you two," Bo replied, "and it was an M-80 wasn't it?"
"Well," Ed said with a finger in the air, "the two of you found a body."
"Bo found her," Scott said, "and I don't think that counts."
"Who set off the stink bombs in the girl's bathroom senior year?" Ed looked accusingly at them.
"Wasn't me," Scott replied. "I was working for Uncle Sam."
"Ed," Bo said, "I thought you did that!"
"Wasn't me!" Ed protested.