As it turns out, I’d just missed the start of MHI’s next Newbie Training Class, as Harbinger called it, and the next one wouldn’t be for another four months. I was pretty pissed when I found that out, but I figured out pretty quick that it was really a blessing in disguise. It gave me time to prepare.
Like I’d told Jon and Dominique, I was your stereotypical Skinny White Guy. I hadn’t been in decent physical shape before the Incident, and the weeks of recovery hadn’t helped me much. Pretty soon after I found out I had to wait four months to start at MHI, I figured out that in the shape I was in, I’d probably lucky to survive, much less complete, whatever training it was they had in store for me; I figured it had to be at least as tough as military boot camp. So, with a couple months with nothing to do and a bloated bank account, I got to work.
Firstly, I threw myself into physical therapy, working to rebuild the muscles in my arm that had atrophied over months of disuse. Actually, I might have overdone that a bit; the doctor at my first consultation visit had to tell me to take it easy, lest I accidentally screw up my arm again. I did heed his advice, but only a little (personally, I think he just wanted to stretch out my recovery for as long as possible so I’d have to keep paying for more consultations). Once therapy ended, I moved from exercising my arm to exercising my entire body. I got a membership at the local YMCA and started working out daily, alternating between lifting weights (both machines and free weights) to build muscle mass and running on the treadmills and elliptical machines to build up my endurance.
My next step was to get back into martial arts training. I’d done Taekwondo for a few years when I was a kid, but had stopped when I was in tenth grade. I found a good dojo and started taking classes again. I had to start over as a white belt, but remembered enough that I was quickly promoted up to blue belt. I also tried to focus more on weapons training this time, particularly with bladed weapons. While I knew pretty much zilch about monsters, I did know that the only way to kill some was to decapitate them, and I’d always had an affinity for the legendary katana. After a good month of hard training, I felt proficient enough with the katana that I ordered my own, as well as a similar but smaller wakazashi, from Cold Steel. In addition to the Taekwondo, I also took some Krav Maga classes. As much respect as I have for the ancient Eastern martial arts, I also knew that they can be virtually useless in a real-world knock-down drag-out street fight, and since I really had no idea what I’d be up against, I wanted to be prepared for anything and everything.
It was probably the hardest four months of my life up to that point, but in the end it proved worth the effort and exhaustion; my weight eventually went from a pathetic hundred-twenty pounds to a much more respectable hundred-fifty.
One aspect of training that I wasn’t worried about was my firearms. I was already a member of my local IDPA chapter, shot there regularly, and I’d previously taken a handgun and carbine training course with Crusader, the same guys who’d built my AR-15. Even so, while I already had a rifle and a pair of pistols, neither the Crusader, the Kel-Tec, or the SIG P6 that I used in IDPA were the proper caliber, and while the Stoeger was indeed a 12-gauge, I definitely wanted more than two shots on tap if I was facing down an angry werewolf or whatever else MHI typically went after. That wasn’t much of a problem, though; even with all my training and the two swords, I still had the vast majority of my half-million dollar PUFF bounty, and I knew the perfect place to go to find guns.
It was called OnTarget Firearms, it was about a forty-minute drive from my apartment, and it was, in my humble (if biased) opinion, the best gun shop anywhere in the Tri-State Area. No sooner had I walked through the front door than there came a shout from behind the counter.
“Hey, hero! How’re ya feeling?” Daniel Hampton was two years my senior and the only other person I knew, besides Jon Callahan, who was a bigger gun nut than me. We’d been copy editors for our college newspaper for a year before he graduated, hoping to start a career in law enforcement. Unfortunately, all of the police academies he’d applied to still had him waitlisted, so he’d had to make ends meet by taking a job here at OnTarget. Not that he minded it that much, of course.
“Hey Dan,” I said as I walked back to the counter, “I’m doing a lot better, thanks.”
“Yeah, I heard you really got your ass kicked. How many times did you have to shoot the guy?”
“You mean besides two barrels of buckshot?” He nodded. “I hit him eleven times.”
“Holy shit, man!” he exclaimed, “Eleven times with a nine millimeter? You were carrying hollowpoints, right?”
“Yeah,” I told him, “and you should know; they were the Hydra-Shoks you sold me.”
“All center-of-mass hits?”
“Most of them,” He’d never believe me if I told him four headshots hadn’t dropped the ‘crackhead.’
“And he still didn’t go down?” Dan’s entire body conveyed his absolute disbelief.
“I really don’t know what to tell you, Dan,” I said simply. Even if the Feds hadn’t threatened to kill me, I knew Dan would probably never believe me if I told him the truth about the Incident.
“Jeez,” he said, “Thank God you had that shotgun.”
“Yeah, thanks for convincing me to go with the double-barrel instead of waiting ‘til I could afford that autoloader.”
“Hey, no problem. Now I’m really glad I did.”
“Me too,” I replied truthfully. I’d been hankering after a Remington 11-87 Police at the time, but that was way out of my price range (I was still hurting financially after buying the Crusader) and Dan had convinced me to go with the inexpensive Stoeger double-barrel as a stop-gap until I had enough saved up. Thank God I’d listened to him; I’d purchased the shotgun not a week before the Incident.
“So,” he asked, “I’m guessing the cops confiscated the Kel-Tec and the Stoeger, so you need to replace them now, right?”
“Actually, can I see that SIG-Sauer?” I asked, indicating the .45 caliber P220 behind the counter’s clear plexiglass.
“Uh, yeah, sure thing,” he replied. He pulled a ring of keys off his belt, selected the proper one, and unlocked the counter. “We just got this one in,” he said, placing the pistol I’d indicated atop the clear plexiglass. “It’s the new Series S4 model. Has an extended barrel that’s threaded to accept a suppressor, elevated night sights to clear whatever can you might put on it, and a retention lanyard.”
“I’ll take it,” I said immediately. Dan raised his eyebrows.
“Uh, Steve, you do know that it’s listed at eleven-twenty-four-ninety-five, right?”
“I’ll take it,” I repeated, nodding.
“But… that’s more than your Partisan cost, and you couldn’t really afford that,” he protested.
“I’ll take it,” I repeated again, unable to hold back my grin.
“And didn’t you just lose your job?” he asked, now thoroughly exasperated. I did blink in surprise when he said that; I’d forgotten that little tidbit had leaked onto the news.
“Yeah,” I said, “I did.”
“Then how are you going to be able to pay for this?” he asked, “No offense, man, I’d love to sell it to you, but shouldn’t you be concerned with more important things? Like food? And paying your rent?”
“Nah, I’m good,” I told him.
“I don’t think so, Steve,” he said. He picked up the pistol and moved to put it back under the counter. I grabbed his wrist, stopping him.
“Okay, look,” I said, “That guy I killed, he was wanted out of Chicago, remember?”
“Yeah, so? What’s that got to do with it?”
“Well, it turns out that he killed the daughter of a rich politician out there. The guy put up a reward for his capture, dead or alive.”
“Reward?” Dan asked, “How much?” I leaned in close to his ear before answering.
“Five hundred thousand,” I whispered. The pistol clattered to the counter as Dan shot bolt upright like he’d just been hit by lightning.
“Are you shitting me?” He exclaimed, “Half a million bucks?!”
“SHHHH!” I frantically gestured for him to be quiet. There were other people in the store after all, and I really didn’t want to broadcast my newfound wealth. “Yes,” I answered quietly, “Half a million bucks. Seriously. For real. Honest to God.”
“So let me get this straight,” he said, “You get five hundred-k from some wealthy politician or another out in Chicago, and your fist thought is to blow it all on guns?”
“Well, not all of it…” I started to explain, but Dan cut me off.
“All right, Steve!” he exclaimed, reaching across the counter and clapping me on the shoulder. “Stickin’ it to those anti-gun creeps! I like it! So,” he said, “SIG-Sauer P220 S4, check. You want anything else?”
“Well, I could use a good home defense shotgun,” I replied.
“You’ve already got the Stoeger,” he pointed out, “you sure you need another one?” I snorted.
“Yeah, right, so speaks the man that owns not one, not two, not three, but four Mosin-Nagants.”
“Touché,” he replied, “So, you still looking at an autoloader? We don’t have that 11-87 anymore, but we’ve got a few Benellis in. Those are real good guns.”
“That they are, but I’m more in the mood for a pump gun right now,” I replied. I scanned the racks behind the counter for a moment before spotting something that caught my eye. “How about that Mossberg?” I asked, pointing at the shotgun in question. Dan obligingly pulled it down and put it down next to the SIG.
“This is the 590A1 SPX,” he said, “holds seven three-inch shells in the magazine, plus one in the chamber, ghost-ring sights, but it also has a rail on the receiver so you can mount optics if you want. The barrel’s ported too. Helps tame the recoil.”
“And it comes with that bayonet too, right?” indicating the seven inch blade affixed under the end of the magazine tube.
“Damn straight,” he said, “this is the kind of gun that gives the Brady Bunch nightmares.”
“Oh, yeah,” I agreed, “I’ll take it.”
“Great,” he said, “Anything else?”
“Yeah,” I said, “How about a good battle rifle?”
“Three-oh-eight?” he asked. I nodded. “Any particular preference as to what? We’ve got AR-10s, M14s, FALs…” he paused suddenly, lapsing deep into thought. “You like FALs, right?”
“That’s right.” I’d had the opportunity to shoot both the FAL and a Springfield M1A right after I’d graduated from college and had fallen in love with the FAL at first shot. Dan smiled thoughtfully.
“I think I’ve got something in the back that you’ll love,” he said, “wait here a minute.” With that, He disappeared in the back room for a few moments. When he returned, I could feel my jaw hit the floor.
“Okay,” he said, laying the rifle almost reverently on the counter, “This is a FAL, obviously. It’s a full custom build off of a DSA receiver. It’s got an eighteen-inch Badger Ordnance barrel fitted with a Smith Enterprise muzzle break to tame the recoil, full-length railed handguard with a Surefire M900 light, folding stock by ACE custom, and a Trijicon one-to-four power Accupoint scope. SAW-style pistol grip, enlarged safety switch and bolt release, custom trigger job, and of course the whole thing’s finished in DuraCoat; Flat Dark Earth on the furniture and accessories and their Gray Wolf color on everything else.” I was speechless; if my new Mossberg gave the anti-gun crowd nightmares, than this thing would make them wake up screaming after they’d just wet their beds in sheer terror.
“It’s beautiful,” I said at last, “How much?”
“Well,” Dan said, thinking it over for a minute, “With all the accessories, I can give it you for forty-five hundred.” Now it was my eyebrows that shot skyward.
“Four and a half grand for all this?” I asked, unable to hide my disbelief. “Dan, the rifle alone has to be worth at least six thousand. Throw in the accessories and the DuraCoat job, and it’s got to cost at least seven, eight grand!”
“Yeah, except it’s used.”
“What? What do you mean, ‘used’?”
“Well,” he explained, “Like I said, it was a full custom build. The guy who bought it waited almost a year for it to be built and shipped, and then proceeded to run exactly one magazine through it before he decided to try and return it.”
“That fast?” I asked, suddenly worried, “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing,” Dan said, “Guy told me that the recoil was way too much for him, so he didn’t want it anymore.”
“He couldn’t handle the recoil?” I couldn’t believe it. “A three-oh-eight running a Smith Enterprise muzzle break?”
“Yeah, and he ran a real light load through it too,” Dan said, “Hundred-and-ten grain Hornady XTPs, if I remember correctly.”
“What a wuss!”
“Yeah, tell me about it. So, you want it?”
“Oh hell yes!” I said.
“Great,” Dan said. “So, you got your SIG 220, the Mossberg, and the FAL. You want anything else while you’re here?”
“Phased plasma rifle in the forty-watt range?”
“Oh, yeah right,” Dan snorted as we both started laughing. That was one of the few movies that we both liked.
“Okay, okay, seriously,” I said, “Can I get a Magpul CTR, an Aimpoint, and a Surefire for my Partisan?”
“Sure, Dan replied, still chuckling, “let me get them out for you.”
“And can I get some mags for the rifles and SIG? Figure a dozen each for the rifles, and maybe eight for the SIG, if you have that many.”
“Sure, we’ve got plenty. PMags for the Partisan, right?”
“Of course. Oh, and I’m gonna need ammo for everything, too.”
“No problem,” he assured me, “How much do you want?”
“How much do you have?” I asked, grinning wickedly.