Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Gun

The Gun 


Ed Benjamin 

Harry had zipped up, washed his hands and left the restroom.  His intent was to pick up another bottle of water before leaving, but he was interrupted by the man who pulled a gun and stuck it in his face. 

“Get those hands up, Asshole!”

Harry stared at the gun barrel pointing at his face.  The gun was a revolver and he thought it looked like a .38 caliber.  It was what they used to call a ‘Saturday Night Special’.  But as far as Harry could tell, it was just an ordinary street gun. 

The gun barrel looked about the size it should be.  Everything he had ever read had indicated that people facing a loaded gun barrel would assume the barrel would look huge, bigger than life. 

The other thing was that he did not seem to be afraid.  He wondered if he should be afraid and was surprised he wasn’t.   Harry had often wondered if he were missing the ‘fear’ nerves.  He did have a healthy respect for life and for saving his own skin but it seemed that in other situations in which others had mentioned they were afraid; Harry’s reaction had been a desire to take action. 

Perhaps that was the result of his training in what he had come to refer to as his “other life”; his life as a top of the line fighter pilot in the United States Air Force.

He remembered the day in his “other life” when, in his fighter aircraft, he faced eight Iranian fighters in the skies near the Iraq – Iran border.  He remembered he had not been afraid then but as he thought about it, he was a little busy during those scant few minutes in which the air battle had taken place.   

The gun barrel wavered a bit and a voice shouted; “I SAID; GET THOSE HANDS UP, ASSHOLE!” 

Harry noted a slight tremor in the voice but otherwise it was clear.

Harry raised his hands higher.

Should I tell him my name’s Harry, not asshole?  I don’t think so.  He doesn’t seem to have a sense of humor.  He won’t think that’s funny.  He seems a little nervous.

Harry complied.  This would not be happening if Harry had not had to stop to relieve his bladder.  He had traveled down from Austin in his newly restored 1965 Mustang with his 270 air conditioning going. 

Two windows down and seventy miles an hour. 

Actually it was a little closer to 80 miles an hour rolling down Interstate 35 from Austin to the cutoff at the northern end of New Braunfels.  Harry gauged his speed more on the traffic flow, which was fast.  Like the other drivers, he assumed the Highway Patrol was not around because there were a whole group of cars and truck traveling faster than the posted 70 miles an hour.  Since it was early afternoon, there wasn’t the wall to wall line of cars and trucks which filled the Interstate during the rush hour periods.  Enough traffic to call it moderately busy and enough that Harry and the other 80 mile per hour group could assume a police vehicle on the highway would cause a noticeable slowdown

Even at that speed, the wind whistling through the car was hot. The San Antonio weather in the June, July and August time period was simple.  Hot ! Hot ! . . . then hotter and more heat.  There seemed to be some humidity in the air even though everyone railed about the fact that the area was in the middle of a drought.  95 degrees here seemed like 120 degrees on the desert.  Harry has some experience with desert heat having been stationed at the Air Base in Saudi Arabia while flying Combat Air Patrol missions along the Iraqi border.  That was his last operational assignment as a pilot and he savored the memories of that duty as if reliving them would bring back his return to flying. 

When he left Austin he had stocked up with a few bottles of chilled water and had nursed them on the way down from Austin.  He had wanted a beer really bad before he left but he had a rule that he did not drink and drive. .  a hangover from his days as a fighter pilot.  If you got busted with a DUI while in the Air Force, one of the consequences might be removal from flying duties, and Harry, like many of his peers, never wanted to risk that.  Even now, he harbored some thought that he might be able to fly again at some point in the future.  Besides, he had an interview to conduct later.     

Harry was headed for a bedroom community called Bulverde located on US Highway 281 about 30 miles up from the San Antonio airport near the Guadalupe River.  He turned off Interstate 35 on Texas State Highway 46 and just before he was to hit the turnoff onto State Highway 1863, he saw a gas station / food mart on the right so he pulled in to take a well-deserved pee.  He was familiar enough with the road to know that the next opportunity to pull over for a pee break would be at least 25 miles.  Otherwise, he might be tempted to pull over to the side of the road.

He had finished peeing and headed toward the front of the store when the guy burst in and waved the gun.  He pointed the gun first to the girl behind the counter and then, perceiving Harry to be a bigger threat, turned his attention toward Harry.

Harry found he was getting very busy thinking about the situation.  Later, he would admit to himself that he should have been very afraid but he rationalized everything by telling himself he had a lot on his mind at the time. 

The man holding the gun seemed to be about forty five years old, Harry judged.  He had brown hair with grey streaks in his sideburns.  He had stubble on his face.  Harry wanted to look at his eyes but the man wore sunglasses.  Harry concluded the man was on drugs of some kind.

While Harry could not see the eyes he did notice the slight twitch as the man moved his line of sight from Harry to the girl behind the counter.  The gun was a revolver.  Harry thought it might be a .38 caliber.  From his vantage point, he could not tell what caliber it was.  He did concede the barrel pointed toward his was larger than a .22 caliber.  It was big enough to punch a hole in Harry’s head.

The gun shook a little as the man held it in his right hand.

“Get all the money out of the cash drawer and put it in a bag.”

Harry could almost feel the girl behind the counter freeze.  He hoped she would keep her cool and not make things worse.

Harry turned his head slightly and spoke to the girl.

“Do what he says.”

If they have an alarm, I hope she set it off.

“Who asked you to butt in, ASSHOLE?”  

Harry was 6 feet tall and weighed just over 200 pounds.  It used to be mostly rock hard muscle; but months of steady drinking and lack of exercise has reduced some of those muscles to flab.  The man had about 3 or 4 inches on Harry and it appeared he weighed thirty or forty pounds on him as well.  He did appear to be in reasonable shape. 

I’m going to pot. If I were in better shape, he would be very easy to take.

“Take off your shirt, asshole”

There he goes with that “asshole” again.  I might have to teach him some manners.

This was getting burdensome. 

Harry unbuttoned his shirt.

“Name’s Harry, not asshole.”

“When I want your opinion, ASSHOLE, I’ll ask for it.  Toss the shirt on the floor.”

When Harry dropped the shirt on the floor, his ID case fell out of the shirt pocket and half opened.  Part of his badge was visible.

“You a cop, asshole?” 

“Private Investigator.”

“Where’s your gun?”

“Don’t have one.”

“Yeah, sure. Take off your tee shirt up and turn around slowly.”

Guy doesn’t seem too strung out. Seems to be thinking rationally.

Harry raised his tee shirt to the middle of his chest, pulled it off, tossed it on the floor, and turned.  He hoped this would assure the man that he was indeed unarmed.  He took advantage of the turn to position himself more to the left of the gunman.  Since the clerk was located to the gunman’s right, this created a wider angle for the gunman to keep track of both Harry and the girl.  Harry also inched closer to the gunman so his was just two feet away from the barrel of the gun.

This is stupid.

Harry’s mind went back to the unarmed combat classes he had taken while in the Air Force.

Eyes. Knees. Throat. This is stupid.

Harry’s mind looked at the situation logically.  Chances were, the man would just take the money and go.  But then again, if he started shooting, then both Harry and the girl were finished.  Logically and rationally, Harry concluded the odds were in favor that in this simple robbery was just that; a robbery.  But another thought began to well up in Harry’s consciousness.  If it were just the money, shouldn’t this guy have been long gone by now?  Harry was getting a weird feeling.

I don’t think he wants any witnesses.  He’s not going for the money now.

The man removed his sunglasses and put them in his shirt pocket.

“Is that your Mustang out there?”

Harry looked into the man’s eyes and noted the wild determination. Pupils slightly dilated.  He nodded his head.

“That where your piece is?”

“Don’t have a piece.”

“Who do you think you’re kidding?  All cops, even you private ones, have a piece.”

“Not me.”

Harry noted the man’s finger beginning to tighten on the trigger.  Harry knew he only had a matter of seconds before he had to do something or both he and the girl behind the counter were toast.

Most people considered Harry as having few emotions, but in a sense they were wrong.  His sense of “fight or flight” was very highly tuned and provided him with the adrenalin he needed in many situations.  What others did not realize was his ability to compartmentalize.

Harry was highly intelligent and throughout his life, he had developed many compartments inside his mind.  It seemed to those who cared to look closely that Harry was very unemotional.  They didn’t realize that Harry compartmentalized everything and he alone had the key.  Harry had a keen sense of humor which he used to deflect all but the most astute observers.  

Harry needed those compartments.  Two years ago, the Air Force had medically retired him because he had developed a condition which they were unable to diagnose, much less treat.  Even though the highest senior officials, including the most senior general in the service, the Air Force Chief of Staff, had pressed the medical authorities to restore Harry’s health so he could return to flying duties, the Air Force medical community reluctantly retired him with a pension and left him to his own devices.   
This action had a severe, adverse effect on Harry’s self-confidence and left him feeling inferior and resurrected a negative self-image he had stuffed deep inside his subconscious years ago. 

The Air Force had awarded him, the nation’s second highest military decoration for valor, the Air Force Cross, and then, according to Harry’s mindset, discarded him like a bag of trash.

During the past two years, he alternated between getting his life back on track and periods of self-doubt.  These feelings of inadequacy had begun to leak outside the box in which he had stored them from his adolescence years, and they began to affect his daily life. 

These feelings were a holdover from Harry’s life as a teenager growing up in Kannapolis, North Carolina.  As a result, the compartment he stored these feelings in had been fairly full to begin with and these days, it seemed the slightest little thing would cause the box to fill up and leak.  Harry yearned for the days when he felt privileged; a fighter pilot flying the hottest fighters in the United States Air Force.

He developed a drinking problem with the habit of drinking every day. 

Restoring the Mustang had some positive benefits for Harry’s self-image.  With the help of a retired Chief Master Sergeant, “Chief” Sam, Harry had spent several months restoring the 1965 Mustang.  Chief didn’t allow Harry to come to his garage when he had been drinking and neither did he permit Harry to bring a beer or two while they worked.  Harry had developed a pattern of drinking a lot of alcohol lately.  This enforced bit of sobriety had caused Harry to lift himself a little out of the well of self-pity he had allowed himself to fall into.  At least, he was not drinking so much. 

Then, strangely, Chief Sam had asked him to help with a case.  After all, as he put it to Harry: “You are a Private Detective, aren’t you?”

Harry had tried to explain that his cases involved checking security clearances for the Department of Defense as a contract Defense Security Services Investigator and he had taken some missing persons cases, including one referred by his old Air Force mentor.  When he continued to demur, Chief Sam presented him with a bill for car repair services and informed Harry he could work it off by taking the case. 

Apparently, an older lady had gone missing and was presumed drowned during a Caribbean cruise which had sailed out of Galveston three months ago.  Harry had done some research and had determined there was some monkey business going on.  

He had spent the morning in a meeting with the insurance executives in Austin.  Harry actually saw some benefit to the case because he managed to talk the insurance company into a nice retainer.  It seemed there was a $250,000.00 life insurance policy on the lady with a double indemnity clause for accidental death and the insurance company wanted to cover the bases before it paid the benefit. 

At the moment, in the food mart, while he tried to maintain a calm exterior, his mind filled with self-doubt.

I can’t do this.

If you don’t, you’re toast and you really will be an ASSHOLE.  A dead asshole.

I’m not in shape.  He is going to clean my clock. 

The voices in his head continued.  Persistent voices.  Voice summing up the same message.

I’m not worthy.

With an enormous force of will, Harry began to collect those thoughts.  One by one, he mentally dragged them over to the big black box inside his head and threw them inside.  When he had collected the last negative thought and placed it in the box; Harry took a mental hammer and began to pound nails into the lid until all those thoughts were securely locked inside.

Now it’s time to take care of this asshole.

Harry’s mind began to focus on angles.  When Harry was an Air Force fighter pilot, he flew many training sorties simulating air to air combat with planes which had technology equal to his own or possessed superior technology.  Sometimes the difference between victory and defeat in these simulated combat fights depended on the physics and angles of attack.  He judged the angles involved in his current situation and began to decide which angles he could use to his advantage.

It’s close.  He’s just about ready to pop.  Better make a move. 

Harry looked the man straight in the air and made the following comment.
“The State of Texas, in its infinite wisdom, has decided I am not suited to carry a weapon.” 

Here goes.  Now or never. 

Harry continued, “But, if I did have a gun, I wouldn’t be so stupid as to point it at someone with the safety on.”

Harry saw the man glance down at the revolver.  Attention distracted for a millisecond or two. 

Harry reacted quickly and analytically.  All emotion drained out of him.  He launched his attack dispassionately.  Harry’s brain was a flurry of activity.  He was able to analyze the action as it occurred and grasp the gestalt, the entire view of the action.  Fighter pilots and other warriors called it “situational awareness”, the ability to see and assess the whole picture, the entire environment of a battle even when in the thick of the action.  It was something you developed and the military services possessed many people with the ability to grasp this overall picture.  People who consistently succeeded in combat were those who could understand the overall picture of what occurred in the battle area and deal with it dispassionately.  Though native ability and the thorough training Harry had received in the Air Force, he possessed this ability.

While the man’s eyes had focused on the gun instead of him, Harry reached up with his left hand and pushed the man’s right arm, the one holding the gun, up toward the ceiling.  With the gun momentarily neutralized, Harry then began the second phase.  Holding onto the wrist with his left hand, Harry then reached up with his right hand, grabbed the man’s shirt and pulled.  It felt awkward at first but Harry’s intent was to create an uncontrolled forward momentum with the man’s body.
Pulling the man toward him, Harry also pulled with his right hand while holding on to the man’s right wrist.  Harry had to ensure the man’s gun remained pointed toward the ceiling.  When Harry gauged the man had attained an uncontrolled forward momentum, Harry released his grip.  He hated to let go of the gun hand but felt it necessary to complete his next maneuver. 

Harry thrust his left leg behind him and spun out of the way.  He encountered a complication when he banged his back into an end cap loaded with potato chips and peanuts and lost his balance slightly.  A searing pain roared through Harry’s back and radiated through his abdomen but he kept his focus.  Packs of peanuts and chips scattered.  This collision with the counter left Harry a little off but he ended up close to the way he had planned it; facing the man perpendicular to the man’s body moving in front of him.  Fortunately, the man was lurching forward as planned.  Harry steadied his left leg and kicked out with his right foot hitting the man on side of the left knee. It was not the solid blow Harry had hoped for but the man began to wobble.  Instead of going down as Harry had planned, the man remained standing.


The man seemed like he was about to recover so Harry grabbed the man’s right arm again and pushed upward.  Harry’s foot slipped on a pack of peanuts but he held on to the gun hand.  They danced a crazy dance; the man pounding Harry’s side and back with his left hand.  Then he hit Harry’s head.

He hit Harry’s head hard.  Harry’s head hurt! 

Not only did his head hurt, Harry’s back hurt and the man would occasionally hit the tender spots on his back.  Holding onto the man’s right arm to keep the gun pointed up, Harry began grabbing got grabbing for the man’s left arm, which pounded harry relentlessly.  The pair began a crazy spinning dance. 

Harry saw flashes of daylight spin in his vision and he began to dance and spin and push the man toward the double plate glass doors at the front of the store.  He wanted to get the man outdoors for two reasons. 

First, it would give the girl behind the counter time to get out the back, hopefully after she had called the police.  Second, Harry was losing the close-quarters battle and sensed that if he guided the man outside; he may have some maneuver room and could handle the situation better. 

Harry was running on instinct now.  Instinct and training had saved his life over Iraq, but over Iraq, Harry had the advantage of hundreds of hours of training preparing for the air-to-air combat in which he had engaged.  Over Iraq, Harry had the advantage of superior missile technology and physics.  Harry had not trained for this eventuality as he had trained for aerial combat.  But his fighting instinct was still alive. 

When learning to fly and fight in the Air Force, his mentors drilled mantras into his soul: “Win or Lose, but Never, Never Quit,”  and “Adapt, Adapt, Adapt.”  Basically, Harry had developed the behavior pattern to continue to press the aerial attack when lesser pilots would have given up and withdrawn.  His primary mentor, Bulldog, had always stressed that one should press the attack at all times.  In addition, Harry learned that to succeed in that life or death arena, it would serve him to be unpredictable.  As a result, Harry became unbeatable in most of the training sorties he flew against his fellow fighter pilots and this training paid off one day in the skies over Iraq when Harry faced off against eight Iranian fighters bent upon erasing Harry from the face of the Earth.
Harry fought on, but a part of him realized he was not in an air battle.

I’m not getting anywhere.

As Harry struggled with the man, he felt he was outclassed both in weight, height and more importantly, the basics of street fighting. 

The gun went off; a bullet tearing a hole in the ceiling.

Get him outside!

Harry and the man spun until they hit the glass doors and rolled out the door.    

They ended up scrambling over the hood of Harry’s Mustang. 

Something’s got to give. 

Harry found himself underneath the man.

He’s got bad breath!  Focus! 

Harry was struggling to keep the gun pointed away from him when an intense pain exploded in his groin.  Harry realized the man had kneed him in the groin. 

God, that HURT!

Harry winced and his grip on the man’s left wrist loosened for a second and the gun began arching down toward Harry’s body.  Harry started spinning.  It saved his life because just as he spun away from the hood, two shots rang out where Harry’s chest had been; leaving two holes in the hood.   

Harry’s ear rang.

The pair then rolled over to the ground.  Fortunately Harry was on top when they hit the ground.  Harry tightened his grip on the gun hand and then realized his right knee was between the man’s thighs.

Time to return the favor; ASSHOLE!

Harry got some leverage and thrust his knee into the man’s groin hard.  It was the man’s turn to wince.

Harry used this opportunity to grab for the gun with his left hand, wrest it from the man, and then spin away.  There was gravel in the parking lot and Harry’s face and back contained bloody scratches and tears from his battle with the assistant.  Harry leaped to his feet and pointed the gun at the assailant.

“Don’t move, ASSHOLE!”

Harry covered the man holding the gun in the two handed grip they had taught him when he qualified on small arms weapons in the Air Force.

The man was sitting up holding his groin. He smiled at Harry and reached in his pocket.  Harry saw a switch blade in the man’s hand.

“Don’t do it, ASSHOLE, I’ll fire.”

The blade flicked out. 

Shit, he going to go for it.

The man positioned one knee below him and Harry knew he was going to stand on come after him with that knife.

Harry thumbed the hammer back ready to fire.

The man hesitated at the sound of an approaching siren, smiled again, and dropped the knife on the ground.

Sirens pierced the air and Harry heard the patrol cars as their wheels skidded to a stop.  A door opened and closed.  Another set of doors opened and closed.

A deputy ran over to the man and turned him over on the ground, pulled his hands behind his back, and cuffed him.

“Harry Miles, don’t you know it is against the law to carry a gun without a permit,” a voice boomed.
Harry recognized the voice.  Jim Bradley, a lieutenant’ in the Comal County Sheriff’s Department, had helped Harry when he tried to obtain a “carry” permit for the State of Texas.  Because of the medical condition which prompted the United States Air Force to medically retire Major Harry Miles, the Texas Department of Public Safety had granted Harry his Private Investigators’ license but refused to allow him to carry a concealed weapon or any firearm for that matter.

Harry knew the other deputies called Jim names behind his back because of his long blonde hair which reached down to his shoulders.  Harry suspected the hair length was due to the fact that Jim was working undercover for some task force somewhere.  That would explain his long hair and frequent absences.  

 In any case, the one person who mattered, the Comal County Sheriff, didn’t seem to mind and it was his Sheriff’s Department.  One thing Harry had learned in his short tenure as a Texas Private Eye, Texas sheriffs ran their departments autonomously and each department reflected the character of the Sheriff who was in office at the time.  It reminded Harry of the modern equivalent of fiefdoms existent in medieval times.     

“Ho. Ho.” 

Harry relinquished the pistol to the other deputy who had reached around Harry and gently removed it from Harry’s grip.

Harry heard the deputy break the gun down.

After a moment, the deputy remarked. 

“You do know you were covering him with an empty gun, don’t you?

He knew it.  That’s why he was going to come after me with the knife.  Once I tried to fire and found the gun empty, I would have been in deep shit..

An EMS vehicle arrived and one of the technicians began looking Harry over.  Harry suffered many small cuts and bruises on his chest, back, and face.  The cuts came from rolling around bare-chested on the gravel and the bruises from the pounding the attacker had given Harry.  Harry’s balls felt like they were as big as basketballs but the EMS Tech told him to soak them in Epson Salts and to see a doctor if they were not better in a day or so.

For the moment, Harry was grateful he had a bathtub as well as a shower in his house.

The other EMS tech emerged from the food mart with the girl trailing.  She wore a pair of slacks and Harry noticed again what he had noticed when he entered the store to pee.  She had big boobs.
It did seem that one or more buttons on her blouse were unbuttoned than Harry remembered.
“Thank you,” she touched Harry’s arm.  “I thought he was going to kill us, for sure.”

She keeps this up and, under different circumstances,  I might just fall in lust tonight.  I guess she doesn't know I'm in a lot of pain.

Jim was conferring with the deputies and he walked over to where Harry was standing.

“You made the right call.  We think this guy shot a clerk and a customer at another service station earlier today.  If the ballistics matches those slugs to his gun, he will face the needle for sure.”

“That fits’” Harry replied, “He fired three shots when I was grappling with him.  I would have peed in my pants if he had come at me with that knife and I found out the gun was empty.”

“The clerk told us how you goaded him and then were able to jump him even when he had the gun on you.  How did you do that?”
“A little misdirection was all.”

Harry had the mindset.  His training as a fighter pilot involved feinting and misdirection at supersonic speeds.  In addition, Harry had spent over nine months working partial duty in Air Force Intelligence in the Pentagon while being evaluated by the doctors in DC after his incident.  While being evaluated at the Wilford Hall Medical Facility in San Antonio, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations had used Harry for a couple of undercover assignments.  After the Air Force made the decision to medically retire him, Harry decided to go into business as a Private Detective.

Harry nodded.  He turned and looked over at his Mustang.  It was a 65 Mustang, and with the help of Chief Sam, Harry had spent the last three months restoring the car.  As he walked over, he noted the two bullet holes in the hood. 

Oh shit!

Harry reached inside the car and pulled the hood latch then walked around and raised the hood.  There were two bullets lodged in the engine block.

Harry slammed the hood down and kicked the right front tire hard with his foot. 




“Too bad you took that bastard away, already.  I’d save the State the trouble of executing him.  Three months it took to restore this car.  Chief and I took it from a rundown piece of crap and transformed it into the classic 1965 Mustang it once was.  Do you realize how long it took to find this engine and then rebuild it?”   


Looking at Lt Bradley, Harry asked, “Jim, can you give me a ride to the nearest rental car agency.  I need to go by my house in Universal City?  I’ll call a wrecker and then we can leave.”

“Not so fast, Harry, we need to go back to the station where you need to give your statement.”

The end of this particular incident. 

Seems like harry is getting into the habit of finding himself in life or death situations.  In my novella, "Harry's War", Harry finds himself in another situation over Iraq.  This novella is available as an eBook at Amazon Kindle and wherever eBooks are sold.