Thursday, August 9, 2007


Diana slipped out of Will's arms and dressed herself in the dark. She picked up her rifle, ammunition and lantern on her way out, pausing outside the tent to admire the clear black sky, punctuated by moon and stars. The silent tents all around made her glad to be the only one up so early. It was like being the only person in the world.

She headed toward the practice range. It was almost dawn and the sun would be coming up by the time she had her target ready. The dim light would make for good practice in case the conditions for the assassination were less than ideal.

There was a thick patch of woods between the campsite and the training fields and as the trees closed in around her, Diana felt her shoulders tighten and sweat trickle down her back. She switched on her lantern, but it didn't help. This fear was deeper, more primal than mere lack of light. There were watches posted, she reminded herself. No strangers could approach their camp unseen. There were no raiders here. Still the irrational fear lingered, making her start at shadows and at the ordinary sounds of rabbits, raccoons and skittering mice. She was relieved when the trail made a jog to the left and opened onto a moon-washed meadow.

At far edge of the field, some hay bales had been set up, and nearby, a wooden crate contained hammers, pins, and different types of targets. She selected one she thought she would be able to see in the dim light of early morning, tamped in the long stakes to attach it to a bale, then stepped back and considered. It would do. She went looking for the lines Harley had cut in the ground to mark the distances. At the first demarcation, she examined her rifle, made sure the silencer was set properly, then took aim, bracing for the kick.

At her first shot, the rifle jerked and hit her in the collarbone. It was as if she had never fired a gun before. There was no point in looking to see if she had hit her target. Pathetic. She tried again, willing herself to concentrate, but again her shot went wide. This was ridiculous. She had fired guns since she was a kid, hunting game with her grandfather near their rancho.

She was thinking too much, letting her ego get involved, and the empty field with dark woods all around spooked her. Why had she though it was a good idea to go wandering alone in the dark? Had the past few months taught her nothing? Annoyed, she fired again and this time it felt more natural. She only hit the outer rim, but at least she had found her target.

She was taking aim and preparing to fire again when a bullet whined past her ear and embedded itself near the bulls-eye. She spun about and aimed at the intruder. Then slowly, she lowered her weapon. "Aren't you supposed to be on watch? You could've at least said something."

Boeing walked over in his casual way. "It was a boring watch until you showed up. From your work so far, it didn't look like scaring you would put me in any danger."

A wave of anger and adrenaline washed through her. Before she could give herself time to doubt, she turned back to the target, snapped the rifle to her shoulder and fired three times in rapid succession. She did it on instinct and memory, like hunting rabbits, and hit the center ring all three times. "I just needed to get warmed up."

He looked at her coolly. "Come a few feet back and do that." He raised his own rifle and demonstrated.

Diana followed suit and hit the center ring.

"Not bad for a girl, but I bet you can't do it from another twenty feet."

With Boeing mocking and goading her all the way, Diana went through the full range of distances, sometimes hitting only the outer ring, but firing more consistently toward the center each time as the sun came up and the gun began to feel familiar again. By the time she stood at the outermost range, she was nearly drunk with self-satisfaction. She picked off her last shot and turned to Boeing with a confidence she hadn't felt in months. "Still not bad for a girl?"

His eyes confirmed her skill, but his words mocked her. "Not bad at all. . . for a married woman."

Diana scowled and began walking toward the target. "I don’t know what that's got to do with it."

Boeing ran after her. "Why didn't you bring your husband with you?"

"I don't need to go everywhere with him."

He was at her elbow now, matching her stride. "Tell me, is it any fun, fucking your brother?"

Diana stopped and stared. "You are such an asshole, you know that?"

"If you ain't too prissy to do it, you shouldn't be too prissy to talk about it. You're always welcome in my tent, if you get bored with your brother."

Diana shook her head in disgust and began walking again. "Even if I wasn't married, you'd be the last person I'd ever go to bed with."

Boeing laughed. "Why do you take everything I say so seriously?" He bent over the target and joined her in inspecting the bullet holes. "You know I like to talk."

"Talk to Sachi, then. Isn't she your girl of the moment?"

"She's a tease. She just wants to make your man jealous."

"Good luck to her."

"So you don't care?"

"Why should I?" She dug in the crate for something to pry the long pins out of the target so she could put it away.

"You want to try another target? There's a better one than this, if you're practicing for the sniper mission."

Diana glanced at the brightening sky. "I guess there's time for one more round before breakfast."

Boeing rummaged through the crate and handed her a strange target, smaller than the one she had been using, patched several times over and painted with colored patterns and swirls. "It's designed to fool your eyes," he explained. "It's the one we practiced with for the Don Fernando assassination. If you can hit this, you can hit anything."

Diana placed the target, wondering if there was a motive behind Boeing's apparent helpfulness. She stepped back and took a look. Yes, this one would be tricky. She picked up her rifle and began walking back to the lines, Boeing at her heels.

They spent the next half hour in serious practice, unencumbered by conversation, except for Boeing's occasional word of advice or approval. By the time they were at the farthest distance, straining to make out the bull's eye in the growing light, Diana had almost forgotten his earlier remarks, so she was surprised when he leaned in close and said, "There's nothing sexier than a pretty girl who's good with a gun."

She drew back in annoyance. "I should've known you couldn't be nice for long." She lowered her rifle and began walking toward the target. It was time for breakfast, anyway.

"What do you expect," he said, catching up with her. "A guy can't help wondering about a girl who'll do her own brother."

"He's not my brother, and you know it."

"That's not what you've said all these years."

"Well, it's what I'm saying now."

"Still doesn't sound like much fun."

"I'll be the judge of that."

"But you've got nothing to compare it to." He grabbed her braid.

Memories hit her like a wall of water. Suddenly she was back on the forest path, lost and surrounded. In a panic she swung at Boeing with her empty rifle. They struggled for a moment, then he wrenched the gun from her hands and threw it on the ground. He grabbed her by the shoulders, his fingers digging into her flesh. "What's the matter with you? I'm not going to hurt you."

He kissed her roughly. It wasn't the way Will kissed her or the way Robert had at the Varamendi house. For a moment she was too shocked to react. Then Boeing let her go. "That was all I wanted. Was that so terrible?" He picked up her rifle and handed it to her. With a laugh, he started walking toward camp.

Diana stood for a moment, her knees weak and her mind reeling. She ran after him. "Why are you messing with me?"

"Because I can."

"Well, stop it."

He quit walking. "Come a little closer and tell me that."

"I can tell you from right here."

He took a step closer and put his hands on her shoulders, but this time his touch was gentler. "Want to tell me now?"

The sharp report of a rifle made Boeing and Diana jump away from each other as a bullet flew past them and buried itself in the bull’s eye.

"How'd I do?" Coyote called, loping up to them.

"Great," Boeing said, unable to mask the annoyance in his voice.

Coyote looked from one face to the other. "Definitely my favorite target," he said, looking significantly at Boeing. "So how come you're down here and not on watch?"

"Nothing was happening on watch, and it looked like she could use some pointers."

Coyote slung his rifle onto his back and pulled out his hunting knife. The blade caught the morning sun as he passed it from hand to hand. "That doesn't sound likely. Diana's always been a good shot."

"I got off to a bad start."

"You got it now, though, right?"

She nodded.

Coyote looked at Boeing. "See you later."

Boeing shrugged and walked away.

Coyote sheathed his knife. "You probably shouldn't do this sort of thing alone any more."

Diana nodded. "I just needed to make sure I wouldn't embarrass myself in front of everyone."

"And are you embarrassed?"

She ducked her head.

"Come on." He took her arm and they began walking back to camp. "He has trouble understanding when it's not a joke any more, not to mention he can't keep his mouth shut."

"He wouldn't tell Will, would he?"

"I'm sure he'll want to put some version of this story around. Don't worry, though. I don't think he'll actually do it." They were on the edge of the path through the woods. On the other side was the hill back to camp. "You okay to walk the rest of the way alone?"


"Go on, then. I'll fix it for you. I still owe you for saving my girl's life." Then he ran up the path, leaving Diana staring after him.

1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

Fix it for her? This I've gotta see.