by Jim E.M. Miles
The discussion was over, and it was clear there was no way out through the air lock without spreading the disease to the camp. Jaleel looked at the gauge on his air supply. It was finally empty. He had no choice. He had to remove his helmet and breathe the contaminated air.
He did it decisively, sucking in a lungful.
"Mohamed," he said. "I have removed my helmet."
"Your spirit pulls you upward," said Mohamed through the intercom speaker. "You are immune to the downward pull of the material world."
Jaleel did not want the other martyrs-to-be finding him in this humiliating position. He wanted to do what must be done before they returned. "I am ready."
"The camera is running," said Mohamed.
There had been no blank video tapes available for weeks - all the existing tapes had been filled with testimonials and pledges of bayt al-ridwan, named after the garden in Paradise reserved for the prophets and the martyrs. Jaleel had not been able to record his testament. He had rehearsed it to himself, but now he could not remember a single word.
Jaleel drew his pistol and disengaged the safety catch. He stood like a soldier, helmet under one arm, back straight, and placed the muzzle of the pistol against his temple.
Jaleel thought of his family. He hoped they would be proud of his sacrifice. He hoped they would forgive him for screwing up. He had planned to die after spreading the new disease to the infidels. But now he must die immediately, for the sake of the mission.
"May Allah be with you. May Allah give you success so that you may achieve Paradise," said Jaleel.
"Wait!" Mohamed exclaimed. "Your testament, Jaleel."
Jaleel struggled to think of something. "This is my free decision, and I urge my friends to follow. We will meet in Paradise."
Unseen by Jaleel, Mohamed smiled. There were no windows in the metal walls of the airtight sea container that held Jaleel.
"Your voice is on the tape. That was a good testament, Jaleel. Farewell. Your wait is over."
"Allahu akbar. " With a smooth, steady squeeze, Jaleel unflinchingly fired the pistol into the side of his head.
Jaleel's lifeless body collapsed into the straw.
The loud noise startled the six small pigs, and their biosensors recorded a sudden, temporary increase in heart rate.
Wednesday. Morris Parker arrived at the Cumberland Arms at his usual time, precisely 2030 hours. He set his watch in military time.
He nodded to the bartender. After seven years of Wednesday visits, he still could not remember the bartender's name, because Morris never sat at the bar.
He saw his regular table in the corner booth was already occupied, which was unusual. Morris and his army buddies occupied that space almost every Wednesday night. He decided to wait for the others to arrive, and seek consensus on selecting another table.
Shortly after Morris took a seat at the bar, he heard a voice from behind. "Buddy, these seats are taken."
Morris turned to see two tough, middle-aged biker types in leather jackets. They were just returning from the men's room.
One of the two men stepped forward, closer to Morris than necessary, glaring down at him.
Suddenly, Morris was cheerful no longer. These guys were not smiling. These guys looked like they were ready for a fight.
One quick punch would re-break the blunt, crooked nose facing him, he thought. But, after that, it would be two against one.
Morris stared back at the biker, who looked to be about six foot two. It's a negotiation, he thought. Show no fear. Make him wait for my response.
"My mistake," said Morris, finally. Then he got up slowly. As he rose, Morris had no choice but to get closer to the bully, who had given him no other place to go.
Morris, at six foot three, then looked down at the biker. "Now - get out of my personal space."
Several people at a nearby table stopped talking to watch what was going on.
The biker didn't move. He appeared to expect Morris to be intimidated. "I don't like your attitude, buddy."
"Well," Morris paused, "I don't like your breath."
"Ha!" the other guy laughed.
The bully glared at the other guy, and the other guy lost his grin. The bully faced Morris again.
What a stupid-looking dick this guy is, thought Morris. "I came here for a beer, not a brawl," he said.
Looking the bully in the eyes, Morris blinked, then half shrugged. "Why don't I just apologize?"
The bully finally moved back a small step, then nodded. "Go ahead." He placed his hands on his hips expectantly.
Morris looked at the bar. "Sorry. Now I see it." Then he looked back at the bully. "You guys had your names on the seats. Beavis and Butthead."
Two women at the table laughed as Morris turned and walked away.
Morris took a seat farther down the bar. What a pair of assholes, he thought as he tried to recover his good mood. The Arms does not normally attract the biker type.
Why they wanted the end seats, Morris could not understand. There were several pairs of empty seats at the bar, he thought.
Angela, a pretty, 20-something blond waitress in a short tartan skirt, saw Morris waiting at the bar. She immediately poured him a pint of Keith's Red Amber Ale, and placed it on her tray.
"How are you tonight, good looking?" she asked, as she served him the frosted mug with a smile.
Morris suddenly forgot about Beavis and Butthead.
Although Morris could not remember the name of the bartender, he could recall the names of most of the regular - attractive - waitresses who had served him and his buddies over the years. Angela had been working Wednesdays for almost two years now, as she paid her way through nursing school. The Arms, located in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans, where she grew up, was close to home for her.
"Cold beer!" Morris grasped the handle on the mug, feeling the cool glass in his hand. "And a warm smile. Thank-you, Angela. I am well. And you?"
"It's been a long day." Angela looked around, checking for the owner. Not seeing him anywhere, she sat down next to Morris, and put her tray on the bar. "I've been on my feet all day, doing rounds at the Ottawa Civic."
"You graduate soon," said Morris.
"Thank God for that."
"Here's to you." Morris raised his mug, then brought it to his lips and tipped it back, taking three deep pulls. "Ahhh."
Morris wiped his moustache with the back of his hand, and turned to Angela. "You look different." Morris looked at her hair.
Angela raised her eyebrows. "Go on...."
"Your hair. Did you cut it?"
She rolled her eyes. "Buzz. Wrong answer."
"Are you this observant with your wife? Of course you are."
Morris took another swig of beer, suddenly feeling some pressure. "Was it a color change?"
"Maybe. Is that your final answer?"
Morris looked at her, trying to read her poker face. "Yes, I'll go with a color change."
Angela smiled and shook her bangs out of her eyes. They immediately fell back in place, partially masking a blue-eyed, steady gaze. "You are... correct. Now tell me what the color used to be."
"That's easy." Morris reached for the beer nuts. "You used to be brunette."
"Yes." Angela looked sideways to show Morris her profile, and began teasing her hair. "Now, for one million dollars, tell me when did this major change occur?"
"Hmmm. Could we make this multiple choice?"
"Not this game." Angela turned her head back to face Morris, and looked at her watch. "This game is timed."
Morris smiled awkwardly. He was comfortable in leading a high-stakes boardroom negotiation, pitching a multi-million dollar business deal, or fighting a legal battle. But not doing this.
Angela noticed his discomfort, and batted her eyes to increase it.
Wow, thought Morris. She looks like a movie star. She's just flirting for a tip. It's her job to be likeable and attentive. She's half my age. I'm married. Duh.
He finally blurted out: "Last Wednesday you were brunette, now you're blonde. Final answer."
"Buzz." Angela frowned. "I changed it two months ago,"
"Well, at least you noticed," she said.
"And for that, I almost had a million dollars." Morris grinned.
They began to chat about the weather.
The main door swung open and Boyd MacDougall, owner of the Cumberland Arms, arrived. He started to make his way over to the bar.
At the end of the bar, unheard by anyone, Beavis and Butthead were speaking softly.
"Shit. That's the owner," said Butthead.
"Is Martin here yet?" asked Beavis.
"He's on his way," said Butthead. "He just sent me a text message."
"We can't hit this fuck'n place until he's in position out back. How much longer?"
Angela spotted her boss and stood up, checking her watch. "He's early. Boyd has a poker game on tonight." She picked up her tray. "He'll probably ask you to join."
"What's the buy-in?" The last time Morris played poker at the Arms was because he had to entertain a rich client from California.
"What makes you think I know? I'm just a waitress here."
Morris flashed a look of mock impatience.
Morris nodded. "Last time I sat at that table in the back room, I lost six thousand dollars to a client of mine. I only play for business reasons. Besides, I just used up all my luck playing Wheel of Hair Color. Wait - don't leave. He'll come and talk to me."
Angela began to wipe the bar, trying to give herself a reason to stay. "Who else is coming tonight?"
"Ed will be here. And Jacques is bringing a new guy. There may be others. Who knows for sure?"
"I'll try to get your regular table back." Angela looked over at the corner table. "As soon as those two leave."
Morris looked at two men in jean jackets. An Asian and a middle-aged white guy. The Asian was young and skinny, with scraggly long hair. He looked like a punk who wished he were tough. The middle-aged guy looked tough.
"What's happening to this place?" asked Morris in a low voice. "Where does the riff-raff come from?"
Angela shrugged. "I haven't seen either of them before." Angela saw Boyd stepping up to Morris. She turned to get back to work. "See you later."
Boyd offered a handshake. Morris returned a firm grip.
"Morris. Now here's a good candidate." Boyd grinned. "Would you care for a seat in tonight's game?"
"It would be fun, but I don't have the buy-in."
"I would be happy to cover you with my own cash."
Oh yes, the all-cash game, Morris thought. Cash eliminated the problem of covering losses, and prevented wives from seeing large debit transactions at The Arms. The players found that attractive.
The other attraction Boyd provided was sex. Morris' California client had loved that fringe benefit. Boyd had some very discrete hookers. After the game, he brought them over from his strip club - to console the losers. The regular pub staff was unaware of that activity. They all knew about the poker game, but the late-night entertainment did not arrive until long after The Arms closed for the night, and the regular staff had left for home.
"You run an honest game and provide classy entertainment," said Morris, "but tonight is just my regular pub night. The other guys will be here soon."
Boyd grinned. "OK. But I also wanted to say that your security guy - Zia - he set me up with a really great video security system. He hooked-up these cool hidden cameras, and they give the best face shots of all the systems I tried. He gave me software that zeros-in on each face, recognizes the person, and timestamps their photo and arrival time into my database."
"Face recognition? What do you need that for?"
"It's good for the poker game. The players are impressed - it reminds them of Vegas security. They think I've checked out all the other players thoroughly. Besides, Zia gave me a good package price. He wants to use my place as a reference, which is OK as long as he doesn't say anything about the poker."
Morris figured Boyd's idea of running a secure game consisted of not getting caught by the cops. "I'll tell him you're satisfied."
There was a pause, as neither man could think of anything more to say.
Morris noticed Ed Smitt arrive at the main door, and he waved him over.
"I'll let you get on with your evening," said Boyd. "Enjoy."
Ed walked up and greeted Morris with a handshake. "Hello, Morris."
Ed and Morris had known each other for many years. Yet, at The Arms on Wednesdays, there was always a ritual handshake greeting.
"What happened to our regular table?" Ed asked.
"Those two were here when I arrived. Angela says she'll try and reclaim it for us."
Morris observed a bruise and skin abrasions on Ed's neck and cheek. "What happened to you? Lose a fight with your little sister? Lady hit you with her purse?"
"I fell off my tricycle."
The thought of Ed on a tricycle made Morris grin. Ed was six foot one and 220 pounds of muscle in a marine haircut. He was big-chested with muscular arms, and he walked like a linebacker.
Ed was formerly with the US Special Forces. He was born in Maine and married a Canadian, so he now held dual citizenship. He presently taught various combat-related topics as a civilian instructor on contract to the Canadian Forces unit responsible for counter-terrorist operations, Joint Task Force 2, also called JTF2.
"I was teaching unarmed combat. I let a rookie put me in a chokehold so I could show him how to break it, just as a guy flipped beside us. I couldn't get out of the way in time, and my left cheek arrested his right foot. He was wearing combat boots."
"You can almost make out the tread pattern." Ed turned down his collar.
"Yeah. Size 12. Nice."
Ed looked incredulous. "You can tell the size?"
"Sure." Morris took a swig of beer. "I can read the number, backwards."
Ed looked at Morris, perplexed.
Morris was poker-faced.Then Morris laughed. "Nah. I'm just trying to make you feel less foolish. See, the boot print looks kind of small, actually. It was probably a girl's boot, right?"
"There's not enough footprint on my neck to tell that."
Morris grinned, noting that Ed did not deny it was a girl. "But I guessed right, didn't I?"
Before Ed had time to respond, Angela delivered a Hoegaarden in a huge mug. Ed accepted it gratefully and immediately took a sip.
Ed decided to change the subject. "What's new with you?" Ed put his mug down. "Any interesting deals? Did you get that land you wanted?"
"Almost. Our building design won the bid, and I signed agreements to purchase two of the three empty lots I need. The third owner is out of town. I think I'll be able to offer him either a good price for his land, and/or I can interest him in participating in the project. I happen to need another investor for this deal."
"How much is this deal worth?"
"The land and construction costs will run about seven million. The lease deal we just won is worth about twenty."
"Wow. How do I get into your line of business? Twenty years ago in Gagetown, you and I were lieutenants. Our idea of property ownership was renting a hotel room in Montreal. Seriously. How do you do it?"
"Seriously?" Morris said. "You have to be in the right place at the right time. I quit the army to build database systems. When that business started to take off, I took some of the revenues to buy the building we were leasing. The owner was letting it go for half of what it cost to build. Then property values in my business park skyrocketed. Demand for office space went up - I was able to rent out extra offices. It kind of grew from there."
"That sounds too hard. I think I'll just marry rich."
"What exactly would Debbie think of that, Ed?" Jacques Tremblay had arrived, accompanied by an unknown man.
Jacques shook hands with Morris. Like Ed, Jacques was another big guy. Two inches taller at six foot three, he had the build of a basketball player, with the arms and shoulders of a boxer, which he once was. His face was weather-beaten and his nose had been broken a few times. He sported a black handlebar moustache, short haircut, and had a perpetually cheerful expression.
Ed looked at Jacques and offered a handshake. "You think an additional wife would be out of the question?" Ed asked.
"You're lucky she lets you out on Wednesday nights," said Jacques, as the two men shook firmly.
"Look who's talking. It's Mr. Mom."
"True, I am whipped," Jacques admitted. "But at least Suzette doesn't leave any marks." Jacques pointed to Ed's neck.
"A guy tumbled into me. I made him eat his ass."
Morris made eye contact with Ed. "Bullshit," he mouthed. Raising one eyebrow, Morris made the shape of an hourglass with his hands.
"That's my story," said Ed. "And I'm sticking to it."
"Guys, this is Bill," said Jacques. "He's my sister-in-law's husband. They're visiting from Halifax. Bill's a Navy pilot."
A round of handshakes followed.
"I'm Ed. I used to be airborne. Morris is ex-infantry, like Jacques. Jacques was a CO, but we still let him sit with us."
"You guys are all what, six foot four?" Bill asked, looking up at the three men.
"I'm only six-two," said Ed. "Those guys are older. That's how high they piled shit back then."
"And now, they compact it a bit." Jacques gave Ed a slap on the back. "Ed's like a brother to us. A more ugly, pain-in-the-ass, little brother."
"It's easy to miss Ed's humor," said Morris. "On one of his night insertions, the he fell out of the chopper on his head, we figure."
Bill turned to Ed. "What did you do with the Special Forces?"
"If he told you that, he'd have to kill you," said Jacques. "By boring you to death."
"We think he killed a couple of minor terrorists," said Morris. "And Elvis."
"Elvis lives," said Ed.
"He also shot the man who killed Kennedy," added Jacques.
"Yes, I shot Lee Harvey Oswald." Ed said sarcastically. "I would have been one year old. Just a cute little baby."
"A very bloodthirsty assassin-baby," Jacques said, reaching out to pinch Ed's cheek. "Goochy-goo. Whack the nice man, baby."
Angela appeared. She had a pint of Keith's Red for Jacques. "Are you guys going to take a table?"
"Why don't we take this one," Ed suggested, pointing to an empty table in the middle of the room.
Back at the bar, Beavis was speaking on his cell phone. "As you saw, the owner came in early. Martin is still not in place."
"You wanna quit? There's a lot of money here tonight," stated a voice.
"You'll get your share. We'll do this."
Beavis struggled, trying to improvise a new plan. "When I give you the nod, create a disturbance."
"Do I have to tell you everything? Grab a waitress. Pick a fight with somebody."
Pause. "I can do that."
"That should draw the owner out of the back room. We'll grab him when he comes out."
Morris saw Beavis close his cell phone and put it in his leather jacket. He noticed the middle-aged white guy at the riff-raff table do the same thing with his jean jacket. They're talking to each other, he thought. The bikers and the riff-raff. Something's going on here. These guys are working together.
"What can I get you?" Angela asked Bill as the four men took their seats.
Morris started to pay attention to details. It's kind of warm for jean jackets, and leather jackets. Shit. No wonder Beavis and Butthead were cocky. These guys are packing weapons, Morris realized.
"Do you have Moosehead?" asked Bill.
"Sorry. In the bottle we have Canadian, Blue, Sleeman, Bud, Coors Light, and Stella," said Angela.
"What do you have on draft?"
"We carry mostly Labatt's line." Angela efficiently listed every beer The Arms carried on tap: "Tennent's, Blue, Boddingtons, Hoegaarden, Stella, Strongbow, Keith's Pale, Keith's Red and Keith's White, Bud Light, Kilkenny and, of course, Guinness."
"Go for a Keith's," suggested Ed. "Pride of Nova Scotia."
Morris was barely aware of what was going on at his table. His mind was on the two pairs of tough guys. They were not chatting or drinking. They were waiting for something. He took care to avoid eye contact, and kept a close watch on them.
Bill seemed lost without a menu. "What do you have in the bottle, again?"
"Canadian, Blue, Sleeman, Bud, Coors Light, and Stella."
Morris noticed Beavis check his cell phone. Must be a text message. Beavis pocketed the phone and gave a nod across the room, toward the riff-raff table. A waitress was talking to the Asian. Morris looked over to see the middle-aged tough guy reach for something just below table level.
The conversation level in the pub was at the usual level, with about forty people in the room.
The waitress jumped and shouted "HEY!"
The room went silent.
"Hands off, Grabbypants!" she exclaimed.
The middle-aged guy had just run his hand up her thigh, so the waitress slapped his face hard. The smack sounded like a shot. Bill let out an involuntary laugh.
The guy went red. He turned to glare at Bill. "You think this is funny, asshole?"
Bill sized up the guy. He looked pretty tough. He was seated in the corner booth with the Asian.
The guy got out of his booth. "Hey! Got anything to say, fuckface?"
Bill looked at Morris, Ed and Jacques, and felt confident. "I count four of us over here, Mister, uh, Grabbypants."
A couple of people laughed nervously.
Grabbypants took two steps closer. "Smart mouth? You wanna be smart with me?"
Morris leaned over closer to Bill, and spoke quietly in his ear. "Don't."
"There are only two of them and four of us," Bill whispered to Morris.
"Yeah, but that guy has a knife or something. He's baiting you."
Grabbypants started walking toward Bill. "I think you should learn some respect." Walking slowly, maneuvering around tables, he seemed to enjoy the attention he was getting. People moved out of his path and looked away.
Morris tried to size up the situation.
These four might be gang members. But picking a fight in public seemed an unusual activity for a gang. Was it an initiation? Maybe this was a diversion. Could this be a diversion for a pickpocket scheme? Someone could easily lift a purse while all eyes were on this little drama.
"These guys are up to something," Morris said quietly to Jacques.
Ed leaned over to Morris and Jacques. "Should I take this guy out?"
"Hold off. I think they're armed," said Morris. "Jacques, see if you can stall him." Morris started to think about tactical positions.
Morris realized Beavis and Butthead were behind Ed and Jacques. They were in a good position. From those seats, they could see everybody in the room, and had nobody behind them. They could easily back up Grabbypants.
Jacques stood up and moved forward to intercept Grabbypants. "Please h'excuse my friend, Monsieur." Jacques was suddenly using a thick French-Canadian accent. "My friend, 'e was laughing at some'ting I said, me."
Grabbypants stopped. The two big men stood face-to-face.
Grabbypants suddenly moved forward, shoving Jacques hard with both hands. "Fuck off!"
Jacques stumbled back two steps to recover his balance. Grabbypants waited for Jacques to react.
Jacques looked across at Morris, and rolled his eyes. "I'm terribly sorry, Monsieur! My squarehead friend was laughing at my accent. 'E was not laughing at you."
Grabbypants glared at Jacques. "Well then, why don't I just kick the crap out of you? "
Morris looked at the bikers. Butthead was not watching the action. Instead, he was watching the short hallway leading to the back room. Beavis was leaning back, and he seemed satisfied, not concerned, at the commotion.
Morris leaned over to Ed. "This is a four-man team. Check out the leather jackets at the bar. I'm going to get next to those two, and back you up."
Ed looked over at the bikers while the action on the floor continued.
"But why?" Jacques asked Grabbypants. "Why should you want to fight me?"
"Here's a good reason." Grabbypants stepped forward and shoved Jacques again, forcing him back two more steps. "You're a mother-fuckin' frog!"
Morris nodded at Ed. Ed stood up, confronting Grabbypants. Jacques stepped aside.
Grabbypants turned his attention to Ed. "Which one of you fucking kittens is going to stand up for yourself?"
"Meow," said Ed.
Morris stood up suddenly. "OK, one against one. That's fair enough." Morris motioned to Jacques. "Let's make room. Help me move this table, Jacques. Give us a hand, Bill."
Jacques, Bill and Morris swiftly moved the table aside, clearing floor space. People who felt too close to the action vacated their seats or moved their chairs back.
Ignoring Bill, Morris motioned Jacques over to the bar. They took two seats to the left of Beavis and Butthead. There was a full Pyrex pot of coffee on the bar. Morris sat so it was within arm's reach.
Morris suddenly realized what these guys must be up to. Split four ways, there would not be enough cash in the till to make robbing the pub worthwhile. But there would be over one hundred thousand dollars in the poker game. They were creating a disturbance to draw out Boyd. Boyd was the only one with a swipe card able to access the locked, back-room area. Angela said he arrived early. These guys must not have been ready.
Grabbypants surged toward Ed. Ed stepped back and to the side, gripping Grabbypants by the lapels of his jean jacket, pulling the heavier man off balance and over his hip. Grabbypants tumbled and crashed to the floor, rolling out of control. He collided with a table. Beer spilled onto the floor. Nuts and nachos went flying in all directions.
Morris noticed the Asian had his hand in his jacket. He must be holding a gun. Morris slowly reached over and firmly grasped the handle of the coffee pot.
Angela entered from the hallway. "I informed the owner," she said loudly, with authority. "He's calling the police, and he's coming out."
Beavis stood up, threatening Ed from behind. Butthead stood up and faced the hallway leading to the back room, waiting for Boyd MacDougall.
Beavis, closest to Morris, reached into his jacket. Morris saw the butt of a pistol.
"GUN!" Morris yelled loudly.
Beavis looked at Morris.
Morris brought the coffee pot across his body in an arc, striking Beavis squarely on the forehead.
Pyrex shattered on skull. Scalding coffee burst in Beavis' face, and exploded in all directions. Blinded and burned, Beavis released his gun and grabbed his face with both hands, screaming. The gun clattered to the floor. Morris scrambled after it.
Butthead, splattered with hot coffee, screamed with rage. He pulled his gun on Morris.
Jacques charged into Butthead, knocking him up against the wall. Butthead fired a shot wildly into the ceiling. People screamed and ducked.
Jacques grabbed Butthead's gun arm with both hands, and the two men began to fight for control of the weapon.
Grabbypants pulled a pistol from his jacket and pointed it at Morris' back. Ed reacted instantly, lunging forward to tackle Grabbypants. Slipping on the beer, Ed skidded across the wet floor, struggling to maintain his balance. Grabbypants aimed at Morris and squeezed the trigger hard. The pistol did not fire.
Dropping two hands to the floor, Ed executed a perfect low spinning sweep-kick that took Grabbypants down from behind. The pistol went flying. Ed jumped on Grabbypants and the two of them began to wrestle on the floor.
The Asian stood with a gun in his hand, taking aim at Morris.
By now, Morris had Beavis' gun in hand and he had disengaged the safety.
With a stabbing motion, the Asian fired a shot at Morris, missing.
Morris, on the floor, spun into a sitting position and faced the Asian. Aiming quickly, he began firing.
Multiple shots blasted out from both pistols in rapid succession. BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG!
The Asian was aiming one-handed, and his pistol arm flailed with the recoil from each shot. His shots went increasingly off target.
Morris had shot a pistol competitively during his army service. He placed in the top ten shooters at the Canadian Forces Small Arms Competition several years in a row.
Morris held his pistol with a firm two-hand grip, placing his left elbow on his right knee for support. Even though the last time he fired was over 15 years ago, muscle memory kicked in immediately.
"One. Two. Three. Four." Morris spoke calmly, ignoring the bullets flying at him.
On his first shot, Morris saw splinters fly from the panel behind the Asian. The bullet struck high and left of target.
Morris had fired a 9mm semi-automatic pistol over ten thousand times, on the range or in the jungle lane in simulated combat conditions. His senses had been tuned to slow down time.
Where is this weapon zeroed? In each different human hand, a pistol will react differently. The size and position of the shooter's hand affects the recoil after each shot, which affects the path the bullet will take. If the pistol jumps slightly more to the left in Morris' hand compared to the average shooter, the bullet will strike left of target.
Morris changed his aim right and down. He waited an instant for the foresight to stabilize on his selected point of aim. Then he rapidly squeezed off his second shot, taking care not to disturb the sight picture.
His second shot passed through the Asian's shirt, just missing his armpit.
This time, Morris did not see the bullet strike, but now he had his rhythm. The cool metal of the pistol grip felt good in his hand. He felt the weapon's recoil snap his wrist and guided it quickly back onto his point of aim. His whole body was nicely aligned onto his target, so it required very little effort.
His third shot struck the Asian in the throat. Morris observed blood spatter.
He had never seen blood spatter from his target. Morris had never shot anyone before. He was accustomed to shooting a paper target, specifically figure number eleven - also known as the charging man - a fearsome graphic printed in black and white, pasted on a four foot high cardboard backing.
Morris aimed a bit lower. On his fourth shot, Morris struck the Asian mid-torso. The Asian fell forward to the floor, dropping his gun and grabbing his chest. Morris stopped firing.
There was another difference. Morris noticed a ringing in his ears. He was used to his shots being muffled by the ear defenders he always wore.
"Morris!" Jacques was doing his best to control Butthead against the bar.
Butthead gripped his pistol in both hands high above his head. Jacques had a tight hold on one of Butthead's forearms, and was struggling to block Butthead from taking aim. Butthead was slowly gaining control of the pistol, and was about to align it with Jacques' head.
Morris turned to aim at Butthead. From his position on the floor, Morris could not shoot without fear of hitting Jacques.
"Jacques!" Morris yelled. "Spread your legs!"
Straining, Jacques managed to bow his right leg a bit.
Morris fired a well-aimed shot. BANG!
"Five," said Morris.
The bullet passed close to Jacques' groin and hit Butthead in the left thigh. Butthead screamed in pain, and dropped like a sack of potatoes, exposing himself for a second shot. Morris aimed for his head and fired. BANG!
"Six," said Morris.
The shot struck the side of Butthead's neck, spraying blood against the wall behind him. Butthead spun and collapsed against the wall, landing in a sitting position.
Keeping his pistol aimed at Butthead, Morris said calmly "Jacques, take his gun."
Jacques had thrown himself to one side. Jacques checked his crotch. "Saint-ciboire, ša passÚ proche! " He got up and walked over to examine Butthead.
Butthead's eyes were open. He stared vacantly at the floor in front of him, stunned. Blood flowed from the side of his neck. Jacques firmly grasped Butthead's gun arm, and carefully took the pistol.
"Got it, Morris," Jacques said, then rose to his feet. "You were trying to kill me, you piece of shit!" he said to Butthead, no more French accent. "And worse, you almost made my friend shoot my balls off. We should let you bleed out."
Morris looked around the room. Several people were lying on the floor. "Jacques, cover the Asian," he said. "Angela, how's your first aid?"
Jacques checked the safety catch was in the fire position, and then aimed his gun at the Asian lying in the far corner. Jacques could not see him fully, and he suspected the Asian might still be able to use his gun.
Morris, aware that Ed was still struggling with Grabbypants, switched aim to cover them.
Grabbypants was no longer interested in fighting Ed. He was simply trying to get away.
"You can't leave until you pay your bill." Morris said.
"I can hold him," Ed said, grunting. "If he starts to get away, though, do me a favor and just shoot him. I don't like the way you serve coffee."
Angela was looking for something to plug the flowing blood before Butthead bled to death. She found a clean bar rag and clamped it down on his wound. "Here. Hold this tight." She positioned Butthead's hand over the rag. He complied - with difficulty.
"Bill?" Morris gestured toward the Asian. "See if the guy's still alive, willya?"
Bill had been hiding under a table during the battle. He stood shakily to his feet. Then his face went white and he fainted to the floor.
"Let me do it," said Angela.
"OK Angela - just stay out of our line of fire. Walk around behind us."
Angela nodded and began walking, looking determined.
"You are always ready to go that extra mile for your customers," said Morris, trying to reassure her. "Good food. Cold beer. Checking the enemy wounded."
Angela looked down, winced, and adjusted her step to avoid a puddle of Butthead's blood, pooled with some spilled beer and still-steaming coffee.
"I expect a good tip for this," she said in a shaky voice.
Angela examined the Asian. "He's just a kid." She heard a faint gurgle as air passed out of the hole in his throat. It was his final breath.
Putting two fingers on the side of his throat, she checked his pulse. "No pulse. He's dead."
"I could use a little help, here!" Ed said. Ed, holding Grabbypants from behind, had him in a partial strangle hold. Grabbypants was gasping for air but succeeding in slowly rising from the floor, pulling himself steadily up to the bar countertop. He was bringing Ed with him. Both Ed's feet were now off the floor.
Using his free hand, Morris reached over and gripped Grabbypants by the ear. "Put my friend down!" Morris twisted the ear sharply.
Grabbypants yelped and instantly submitted.
Ed got his feet back on the ground and quickly took control by twisting Grabbypants' arm behind his back.
"Jacques, Grabbypants' gun is somewhere around here," said Morris.
"I see it." Jacques picked up the pistol from the floor.
"He tried to shoot Morris," Ed said. "But his gun didn't go off."
Jacques looked at the guns he was holding. "These are very nice pistols - 9mm semi-automatic. Very similar to what we trained with." He put down one of the guns and examined Grabbypants' pistol with both hands. Then he walked over to where Ed was holding Grabbypants, head forced down on the bar.
Jacques looked Grabbypants in the eye. "How do you like me now, tough stupid guy? Let me show you something. Look here." Jacques held the pistol up to Grabbypants' face. "You see this little metal part, just here, above the grip?" Grabbypants looked at the small lever Jacques was indicating, going slightly cross-eyed to focus.
"Shit." Grabbypants closed his eyes, disgusted.
Using a thick French accent as he had done before, Jacques said, "I may be French, Monsieur, but I know how to use zis safety catch, tabarnac!"
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