Cold winter air filled my lungs.
"Hold it. Six or seven seconds. Then, let it out."
I released it. Long wisps of condensed breath swirled up from my cold lips, evaporating beneath the mid-morning sun.
"Keep the pattern steady. Breathe in. Hold. Breathe out. Until you don't even need to think about it."
I did as I was told, keeping the cross-hairs leveled at my target.
"Now--between breathes. That's when you fire. Use the spot between the center of your fingertip and the first knuckle... and don't squeeze--pull."
I waited until I was between breathes, just like she said. Then, careful to keep my finger steady--moving on its own--I pulled.
The trigger snapped. With a gentle fft, the gun released its payload.
A coffee can produced a metallic 'tink' as the bee bee struck it dead-center.
"Good shot," my mother said, giving me a pat on the shoulder. "Now, do the rest. Just like I told you."
I didn't hit them all like that first one on my first try, but I came close. My mother nodded her head all the while.
When I finally finished, she stopped me before I got to my feet.
"What's the first thing we do once we're done shooting?" she asked.
"Turn on the safety," I responded, and snapped the lever down. When I stood up, I surveyed my work, keeping the barrel of the gun pointed at the ground--just like my mother had taught me.
My mother brought me out here, sometimes. Sometimes to talk, sometimes to teach. We didn't have a lot of time together--her work often pulled her away to some distant coastline. There were times when I didn't see the point of all the things she wanted me to learn, but I cherished any time I could get with the woman--so I rarely complained.
Today, though, I was feeling a little brazen.
"Why are you teaching me this?" I asked her.
"How to use a gun," I said. "I mean--is this something that's important for me to know?"
Her face slid into a frown. She glanced toward the car, parked on the trail that lead out of the woods. "It might be, sugarplum."
"Really? Because--um, I know--I mean, I know dad was in the military and all, but that isn't what I want to do..."
She looked down at me and grinned. "Whatever you want to be, sweetie, go and be it. I just want you to be able to handle yourself when things get nasty."
I wrinkled my nose. "But I'm not going to carry a rifle around, mom." I double-checked the safety, unloaded it with a click, then handed it to her. She plucked it up, double-checked the safety, made sure it was unloaded, then quickly started packing it back up. "Besides, have *you* ever used one?"
Suddenly, she stopped moving. I could tell that I had asked something she didn't quite want to answer--she didn't look back at me, but I could tell she wasn't happy. But when she spoke--her voice didn't contain a hint of ire to it.
"...really? Like, a real rifle?"
"Did you shoot anyone with it?"
She snapped the rifle's case shut with a click. When she turned, she was smiling. "It was a long time ago. Anyway, what do you think about ice cream, sugarplum?"
I drowned my curiosity in the thought of the banana-cherry sundae I'd soon be devouring and told her I thought ice cream was pretty neat.
Sumerset woke me up with an elbow to my ribcage.
"Unf," I said, pulled out of the dream. "What?"
"We're there," he said. "Get your cellphone. Call your girlfriend."
Sumerset knocked on the window, drawing my attention outside. Glancing out, I could see we were about half-a-block away from the house, which now had several police cars out front of it--along with yellow ticker-tape.
"Crap," I mumbled.
"Someone burned down the meth labs out back," he said. "You can kind of see them from behind the trees. Probably your boyfriend from last night."
"Okay. So, what do we do now?"
"Now, you call your girlfriend, find out if she knows the name of the person who owns that property, and we chase down the lead before the police do," he told me.
I did as I was told. Anna picked up quickly on the other line.
"Hey," I told her. "Any lead on the names?"
"Donovan," she said.
"...Sharkface?" I said. "That was his real name."
"Clarice Donovan. Probably a relative," she said. "I've got an address, if you want it. Looked her up in the phonebook. Pretty sure it's the same lady."
I wrote the address down and handed it to Sumerset. He started the car, turning us around.
"By the way," he told me. "The plan when we get there, just in case you're curious, is that you shut up and let me do the talking."