Rivulets of sweat ran down Rob’s face as he sucked back his third bottle of water. The plastic crinkled as he pressed it to his forehead. He shifted further in the shade, trying to get away from the baking of the sun. He squinted against the glare on the asphalt, hoping to see the familiar deep tan of Jennifer’s truck. Still nothing. He glanced at his watch. Twelve forty. Twenty minutes late. He growled to himself. He pulled his cell from his pocket, and a horn beeped at him. It was Jennifer.
He waded through the heat miasma to her vehicle, climbed in, buckled his seatbelt and turned to her. She leaned forward so he could lightly pinch her cheeks. It was the start of a traditional greeting he’d come up with. “Awww, look at these cheeks! They’re so cute!” he said in a high-pitched voice.
As always, a huge grin spread across her cheeks. He was so adorable when he did this. “So, where’re we going?”
“Head to B&A boulevard, Utsukushī-kun,” he said. “I’ll let you know where to turn and what not. I’m not spoiling the surprise.”
She sighed. “Alright.”
They drove for a half an hour with Jennifer turning as he indicated until they arrived at a long brick two-story building with a green roof. Rob climbed out and strode around to her side of the truck and opened the door for her. After she climbed out of the truck and he closed the door, he led her to the long building, lightly draping his arm across her shoulders. She pushed closer to him.
Rob opened the door of the building for her and gave the usual exaggerated bow. Jennifer grinned at him and entered. He flowed behind her. A short, portly man dressed in a white buttoned shirt and blue jeans greeted them.
“Howdy folks. How may I help you?”
“Hey, Bill,” Rob said, “Is Bart available?”
“Yep. I’ll get him.” The balding older gentleman walked behind the counter and headed into the office. Jennifer began to look around the room they were in. Guns of all kinds were displayed on the walls and in the case under the counter. Rob pointed out and named some of the unfamiliar ones to her. On six different occasions, she named them before he could. He grinned with pleasure each time she did. “Looks like you’ve been paying attention to my lessons.”
She giggled. Moments later, a tall, blonde haired, young-looking man with blue eyes stepped out of the back. He was dressed in a black vest, white button shirt and black jeans. As the door opened, Jennifer heard the tell-tale sounds of gunfire. The guy waved at Rob.
“Hey, Rob. You here for the package?”
“Yep. This is Utsukushī, the pretty filly I’ve been tellin’ ya about. Utsukushī, this is Bart.”
“Glad ta meetcha, little lady.” Bart said jovially, shaking her outstretched hand.
“Likewise, Mr. Bart.”
Bart chuckled. “Just Bart, ma’am.” He turned back to Rob. “What’s a Utsukushī?”
“Utsukushī is the Japanese word for lovely. It’s a nickname I gave her.”
“You still givin’ folks random nicknames?” He shook his head.
“That’s right, Keebler.”
Jennifer smiled. “Why ‘Keebler’?”
Bart rolled his eyes. “You tell her, Rob.”
Rob laughed. “Two reasons. One, that’s his favorite brand of cookie. The other is because he’s an original hippie.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“He was a hippie in the 60’s. Tree hugging, peace slogan shouting, the works.”
“But, you own a gun shop.”
Rob sang, “Isn’t it ironic?”
“Don’t sing!” his friends chorused, then laughed.
The older man lifted a small teak chest onto the counter. He turned it so it faced the two of them and tilted the lid back. Inside, resting on red velvet was a gun. It was matte black and looked deadly even just sitting there. “The Heckler & Koch Universale Selbstladepistole kompakte taktische Kaliber .45, or the HK USP .45 caliber Compact Tactical. It has an ambidextrous magazine release lever that is shielded by the trigger guard from inadvertent actuation.”
“Say what now?” Jennifer said. Bart threw his head back and guffawed. She glanced at Rob who shrugged. A few minutes later, Bart’s laughter tapered off. “What’s so funny?”
“I’m sorry, little lady. The way you said that just hit my funny bone.”
She put her hands on her hips and tilted her head slightly to the right. “How so?”
He shrugged. “Just one of those things. Pick up the .45.”
She gingerly lifted it from the case. “Wow. It’s pretty heavy.” She sighted down the barrel, inadvertently pointing it at Rob.
“Whoa!” He pushed it to point at the floor. “Always be mindful of where you aim. Treat the weapon as if it is always loaded.”
“Yeah, even if you think it’s not.” Bart tucked his thumbs in the loops of his jeans. “My pappy always said, ‘Old man Splitfoot has a tendency to load guns when you’re not watchin’.’ He said the guy liked to cause mischief that way.”
Jennifer’s brow furrowed. “Old man Splitfoot?”
“The Devil, little lady. Pappy said that to remind me that weapons are dangerous, and it’s easy to forget a round in the chamber. If you treat it as if it is always loaded, you’ll not have any accidents.”
Bart placed two boxes of ammo on the counter and stepped back through the double doors he’d exited. Rob turned to Jennifer an gave her such an intent look, she felt a shiver race up and down her spine.
“Do you know how to load this?” he asked.
“I’ve never even held one before,” she admitted.
“Right. Pay close attention.”
She nodded and he began to explain the loading of the HK while explaining the steps to her. He guided her through the steps twice before having her try them. He allowed her to fail twice and then placed his hands over hers and showed her the proper movements. It felt weird having his hot body so close to hers, but she tried her best to ignore the unusual sensations. After guiding her movements in loading and unloading the .45, he stepped back and watched as she successfully loaded the gun. He praised her and led her to the back.
“This is the firing range. We’re gonna teach you how to shoot.”
After an hour of work, Jennifer had gotten to the point where she put all 15 shots in a tight ½ inch spread.
“That’s pretty damned good shooting.” He scratched the back of his head. “I know I’m good, but not that good. You sure you never held a gun?”
“I never said I never held a gun.” She smiled up at him. “I just never held this model before.”
He tilted his head as he nodded. “Good point.”
They left the range and stopped in the front of the store. On the counter where the teak chest had sat was a cleaning kit. Rob showed her how to break the gun down and carefully clean and reassemble it. He then slid it into a holster and clipped it to the small of her back. She involuntarily gasped when his fingers brushed her thong, but fortunately, he didn’t seem to have heard. He tugged her t-shirt back into place and handed her a laminated card.
“It’s a carry concealed permit. Keep it and the weapon on you.”
“Why?” she asked.
“I have a feeling you’ll need it.”