A short story by Michael R. Lockridge
Cindy walked down the sidewalk of Seventh Avenue, her hair tied back and her rifle slung on her shoulder. It had been a half-day in school, and she wanted to make good use of the afternoon.
Mr. Johnston stepped out of his shop just as Cindy passed.
“What have you got there, young lady?” He said, eyeing the rifle.
“Remington .308, Mr. Johnston. Mom gave it to me for Christmas. It used to belong to my father.” She answered cheerfully.
“Nice. That looks like a really good scope. Rather small magazine, though, isn’t it?” Asked Mr. Johnston.
“Well, it isn’t for laying down cover fire.” She responded. “Slow and steady. Better scores. I am still just a juve, Mr. Johnston.”
“Of course. I know you will do well.” Said Mr. Johnston. “Here. Let’s up the stakes.”
He removed a black bandana from his pocket, and tied it on her left upper arm. It matched the one tied around her head. He looked at her, and smiled warmly.
“Are you sure?” She asked. Her face felt warm. He displayed considerable confidence in her, doing this. To risk loosing his colors!
“Your father always had my back. It is the least I can do.” He answered. He waved to her, and went back into his shop.
She walked very proudly, the rest of the way. The pride in her walk became caution, as she approached the block that formed the perimeter. She quickly found the abandoned building she wanted, and stepped through the door.
Bennie and Tom worked their way slowly through the rubble between the two perimeters. Neither could remember the time when the city was a contiguous mass of buildings. The blasted rubble of buildings that formed the no-man’s-land between barrios had always been there.
Bennie wore his colors on his head. Tom wore his on his arm. Each had been folded to best present the red circle that was centered in the green field. The circle was relatively small, but they presented the color proudly. Most gang colors had become a bit more subdued, to reduce easy targeting. Still, they were proud of the red on green.
They were very close to the perimeter wall on the far side of the no-man’s-land. They were feeling very small, and quite alone. Still, tagging the enemies’ perimeter was a proud tradition, and as juvenile members of their gang, they had to prove themselves. Each carried two spray cans. Enough to make their marks clearly.
They pressed them selves against the wall they had selected. Between them they had but two revolvers. One was a relatively new .22 caliber six-shooter. The other was a .38 snubbie that seemed ancient. Both were fully loaded, and each young man had a pocket full of the appropriate ammo.
The guns didn’t matter much, today. This was a tagging mission. They had been careful to avoid enemy patrols.
Tom examined the wall. He had to step back a bit. It looked good enough. Not too marked up and visible from the home side of the rubble-strewn zone. He began shaking the green can he held in his right hand. H didn’t even hear the report of the round that passed through his head.
Bennie was stunned. He dropped his paint and ran forward to his friend. Tom just stood there, staring at nothing. Then he dropped in a heap in the rubble and the dust. Bennie tried to catch him, but was pulled down by his falling friend. He heard the round that grooved his back as he fell on top of his friend. The pain flared through him, and he screamed.
He lay for a time, on top of Tom’s body. He was terrified. Where had the gunfire come from? He refused to move, even with the screaming pain in his back.
Finally, the pain and fear overcame him. He jumped up, drew his gun, and looked around frantically. Nothing. Nobody in sight. He quickly scanned the windows above him, but could see nothing but shadows. In a panic, he randomly fired six shots into the shadows, and then turned to run.
It was then that he caught a flash of light from a distant second story shadow. He turned toward the darkness that held his enemy. A cold calm came over him. He leveled his weapon and fired. There was a dry click. He saw another flash, and felt a heavy weight thump him in the chest. The sound of thunder followed.
Bennie was looking at the sky. It was bright and blue. He did not recall falling.
He was very tired. Exhausted. As his eyes closed, he realized he was not just going to sleep. He was too tired to be afraid.
Mr. Johnston heard someone call his name from the street entrance to his small shop. He turned, and saw Cindy standing there, as if in a frame. She had the rifle slung on her shoulder. He could also see two pistols in her belt. In her hand she held two bandanas.
She looked…. Proud. And sad. He understood.
“Cindy! Two!” He said. “And two weapons. Tell me about it!”
She told the tale of the taggers she had tracked across the no-man’s-land. She had, of course, tracked them with the rifle’s scope. She had watched them come; counting the times she could have taken them. She let them get all of the way across.
“I took them just before they made a mark. Of course, they were just taggers. Juves.”
“Nonsense. Just taggers! They had their colors. Now you have them! You have defeated the enemy!”
Her smile was weak. She offered to return his bandana. He refused. “Keep it for luck.” He had more.
She pulled out the .22, and showed it to him. He was polite, but he could tell that she knew that it was not much of a trophy. Then she pulled the .38.
He drew in his breath. She handed him her trophy. He held it, reverently. He hoped she did not see his hands tremble.
Mr. Johnston made polite remarks about the ancient weapon. How such a treasure was quite special. Would she carry it?
He returned it to her, knowing that children such as her had dreams of Glocks, and SIG’s, not ancient iron like this. Still, she was polite, and received her treasure back with obvious pride.
A few more words, then she was on her way. When she could not see, he let his tears fall.
“My father’s gun! Come back after all of these years! How proud my brother had been to carry it on his first mission. How we have missed him.” He said, as he looked in the direction in which Cindy had departed.
“Carry it proudly, Cindy.” He said, softly. “I hope you carry it for many years. Life is too often short, these days. May you see a better world.”
He turned, and walked quietly back into his shop.