[I found this short story in the liquor store box where I keep my discarded writings. This snippet was inspired by a real life Miata ride down state to have a barrel threaded for suppression—that’s “silencer” most of the world. I’d have added it to Blue Rubber Pool had I known it was there.]
Going with a different platform for 9mm suppression required having another barrel threaded at a time when my regular source for that work was in jail. The Colonel suggested a low-key guy that happened to actually be located in South Carolina, not far from Ft. Jackson. “You’ll like this kid,” the Colonel said. “He’s an innovator. I had him build a couple of specialized machine guns for me and what he came up with was totally evil.” That word, coming from the Colonel, could have any number of meanings, some good, some not. You could never tell at first glance. So I figured, what the hell, check it out, why not? I rang up the kid and, two weeks later, took a high ride in the convertible to check him out and retrieve the barrel he made for my CZ-75 Semi Compact, an usual pistol that would quickly become my new favorite.
The kid’s shop is in an uninteresting metal building that can be seen from the highway but, turns out, can’t be accessed from the highway without untangling a mess of winding, scatter-brained back roads that from the air probably looked like strands of paint slung at the canvas by a retarded artist. “Evil” certainly described the kid’s directions at least. Wicked and brutal worked too. And that was a bad thing, not a good thing at all. I’d been tuned for a no-brainer high ride with speakers blasting reggae and a fistful of marijuana pinners readied for time release perfection. What I got instead was a nightmarish stop/start zig/zag maze of paved and unpaved roads dodging between trees and billboards hiding small town sheriffs. Several times, I had to slow down to barely a crawl because my low-slung convertible kept bottoming out. I was a flippn bundle of nerves by the time I found the kid’s shop.
Still, to his credit, it was right where he said it would be, hiding in plain side along a highway just a hundred yards off as the crow flies yet on a completely different galaxy in terms of getting there by car. The Colonel must come in by chopper, at night, with the lights off, assuming he’s even made the trip (I suspected he never had). The place was totally stealthy …on the radar screen …yet NOT on the screen …if you know what I mean. It was pretty freaky even by my own standards. I don’t mind trekking through boonies in other countries but for some reason USA boonies (and South Carolina boonies particularly) creep me out. There’s a tendency to let one’s guard down due to the suggestion that one is “at home”. Deliverance made as big an impression on my generation as Jaws did.
The kid’s shop had green metal sides with a green metal roof and no windows. Just a single, standard-sized door painted the color of dried blood. It was locked. There was an unobtrusive doorbell buzzer button next to it. I pressed it just once, heard the familiar small motor sound of a 1980s vintage surveillance camera stir. Noticed the camera tucked high up in the eave of the building and then heard the “click” of the door lock releasing as, at the same time, I heard a tinny voice say: “enter” through a barely working speaker. At another time or another place I might have leaned into the speaker and ordered a cheeseburger with fries but I wasn’t in the mod for kidding around. My brain was hurting from the ride in and I wasn’t looking forward to the drive our. I just opened the door and stepped in and closed the door behind me. I heard the lock shut tight. “Hope this isn’t a mouse trap,” one half of my brain said to the other. I has certainly stepped in to some sort of cage.
The entry room to the kid’s shop stopped abruptly at a counter. There was just a long thin strip of floor bordered by 10-foot steel walls topped with chain link all the way to the rafters. There was even a chain link ceiling. There was nobody there, just a lot of signed insisting that “Magazines Must Be Removed From All Weapons And Breeched Must Be Open. No exceptions. This means you!” But given the mood I was in, and the fact that I’d just walked into a place much resembling either a jail cell or the towel dispensary at my old high school gym, I chose to ignore them. The tinny voice said “Be with you in a moment” and then the place was client but for some the faint, muffled sound of at least two different voices drifting up from the other side of the steel walls and drifting down to me through the chain link ceiling. I leaned into the speaker and said “I’ve got to take a piss” then, a few seconds later, heard another surveillance camera swivel on an outdated little motor. It was located up in a corner or my cage, on the other side of the counter. “I said I’ve gotta take whiz,” I repeated right away. “Been in the car all flippn afternoon.”
But Tinny Voice was ready for me. “Shitter’s broken,” it said.
“No problem,” I told it. I leaned into the counter to reach through the small opening in the chain link counter. As I did, the camera swiveled for a better view. I grabbed a Maxwell House coffee can full of pens and dumped the pens on counter. “I’ll just piss in this.”
And without waiting for a response, I whipped out Andre The Giant and peed into the can. As I did, a steel door on the other side of the counter opened and in walked the kid wearing a plain gray cotton tee shirt and desert camo pants. He was in his late twenties with that “beyond my years” look of having seen some action. The grin on his lips and in his eyes told me it hadn’t been so much action to have to charred his sense of humor. As I pushed the can over to him through the opening at the counter (piss sloshing around inside), he said: “The Colonel said to expect this sort of thing from you. C’mon back if you don’t mind waiting while I finish up with another client.” Without waiting for an answer, he pressed a button on the wall behind him and I heard the lock click free on the door to my left.
We both stepped into the massive space at the same time but through separate doors. The shop was a combination of workspace and storage lit by just a few strategically located florescent lights hanging from the rafters and small, brighter lights at selected work counters and tool and die machines. In addition to the familiar equipment of a metalworking shop, there were bins of different bits of metal including bins of different steel tubes from which rifle barrels and suppressor would be made. And different counters held different projects in various stages of completion –SBRs, suppressors, and a several odd looking weapons such as the “evil” ones the Colonel had mentioned. It occurred to me that he may have even been making some of them for the Colonel and that some of them may eventually find their way into my possession by way of the Colonel. There was other eye candy too. The kid had a nice collection of posters that, in addition to weapons and accessories for the black ops set, included some vintage Playboy pinups and bright scenes of bikini clad island girls posing on white sugar sand beaches beside nearly transparent turquoise water.
I followed the kid to the back of the shop –zig-zagging through machinery and rows of shelves to get there much like I’d had to zig-zag through his fucked up directions to the shop. Maybe there was something to that. Maybe the kid’s calm under fire exterior presence concealed a clusterfuck of emotions inside. I tucked the thought away for future study as snaked our way through dark aisles and then rounded a corner into an open space with better light.
There was a guy waiting there, wearing full camo with hair high and tight and boots laced and polished as if on his way to or from a “back-in-the-states-temporarily” assignment at Ft. Jackson. I had the feeling he wasn’t on a rotation; had the feeling he only came back for just a few days at a time between long stretches of being in far away, fucked up, radio-silent places. The soldier leaned over a table with his back to us, giving us just a quick look as we approached then returning to focus on the table top –a rifle and various parts arranged on it with great care as if a tricky transplant were underway. The kid went around to the other side and picked up where’d they’d left off before my interruption. There were no introductions, nor would there be. My presence alone was introduction enough, a symbolic “he’s okay” vote of confidence that spoke volumes in this line of work. Names and further details were customarily left out. Everybody around the table just them operated on a “need to know” basis. It was a very efficient and effective way of getting by.
The rifle was a “reach out and touch someone” M14 that snipers often carry and Jerry was having some “personal preference” tweaks made beyond the norm in terms of what Uncle Sam would normally provide. I stood by quietly, trying to offer the professional courtesy of reduce my presence to that of barely a shadow. We all knew the etiquette of our situation. In his late 40s, Jerry was getting up there. Most of the guys he served with were half that – probably too young to notice his spot-on resemblance, in my opinion at least, to The Who’s Roger Daltrey. It was uncanny. He had Daltrey’s high energy eyes the color of blue mountain stream found only near active glaciers. He had Daltrey’s confident but down-turned mouth and square chin and, too, those long thin dimples that gave his face and square jaw line and chin it’s deeply chiseled. Also like Daltry, Jerry carried his compact, medium-sized frame ramrod straight and seemed to be like an engine idling for now …but ready to break off into full throttle on a second’s notice or into an easy jog that could be sustained even in hard terrain with the ease of a mountain goat.
His “high and tight” haircut, hard jaw and firm chin made Jerry’s head as rectangular as a shoe box –a Saturday morning cartoon super hero comes to mind—but what really made an impact on me was his voice: a hoarse, sleep deprived-sounding baritone that he had a way of spitting through his teeth. It sounded to be on the very edge of cracking, straining toward a preference for whispering—as if life depending on not being heard. I easily imagined that for Jerry that was usually the case. His words came out as if having been pushed through clenched teeth with great difficulty under uber levels of chaotic stress.
Jerry was complaining that earlier tweaks to his weapon had given it an unusual fire signature that, last time around, had nearly gotten him killed. “I need to get back to something that sounds less like an AK,” he told the kid. “My own guys were calling in air strikes on me.” The veins in his neck strained a little as he told the story and of course the kid and I didn’t make a peep listening. Jerry’s voice need total quiet and no interruptions. Jerry’s voice needed all the help it could get. He spit it out through clenched teeth with a ramrod straight spine and rectangular head –yet the eyes were like marbles, like walls built up to create an appearance of calm at all times, under all circumstances. The eyes were the real story. The eyes kept the vibe from throttling too fast and getting away. The eyes kept the air around Jerry steady while his story of a shit storm played out around him.
Jerry’s accounting of what trouble had been caused by the odd sound of his rifle barrel bouncing off the rocky terrain of Afghanistan’s mountainous area near Pakistan was told with one foot on the accelerator and the other on the brake.
And at the end of it, there was a pregnant pause to which Jerry finished by asking us both “How fucked up is that?”
On one level it was a question with too large an answer. Yet on another level, it wasn’t a question at all.
# # #
— Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill