G is for Gumshoe - Page 56/98

Dietz drove up the pass in his little red Porsche like a man pursued. Maybe we were practicing for a car chase later on. The Porsche was not equipped with passenger brakes, but I kept my foot jammed to the floorboards in hopes. From where I sat, it looked like one of those camera's-eye views of the Indy 500, only speeding straight uphill. I was wishing I believed in an afterlife, as I was about to enjoy mine. Dietz didn't seem to notice my discomfiture. Since he was totally focused on the road, I didn't want to spoil his concentration with the piercing screams I was having to suppress.

The gun club was deserted except for the range-master, to whom we paid our fees. The May sun was hot, the breezes dry, scented with bay laurel and sage. The rains wouldn't come again until Christmastime. By August, the mountains would be parched, the vegetation desiccated, the timber primed for burning. Even now, looking down toward the valley, I could see a haze in the air, ghostly portent of the fires to come.

Dietz set up a B-27 human silhouette target at a distance of seven yards. I'd been practicing with the Davis at twenty-five yards, but Dietz just shook his head. "A.32's designed for self-defense inside fifteen yards, preferably inside ten. The round has to penetrate deeply enough to get to the vital organs and blood vessels, eight to ten inches in. The Silvertip has a better chance of getting far enough to make a difference."

"Nice business we're in," I said.

"Why do you think I'm getting out?"

I loaded the magazine on my little Davis while he detailed an exercise he referred to as a Mozambique drill. He had me start from the guard position: pistol loaded, round chambered, safety on, finger off the trigger, pointing at a forty-five-degree angle downward. "Bring the pistol up to shooting position and fire two quick shots into the upper chest, level with the sternum. Do a quick visual check to see where you've hit and then fire a third more careful shot into the head right around here," he said, indicating his eye sockets.

I put on my ear protectors and did as I was told, feeling self-conscious at first under his scrutiny. It was clear that in the years since the police academy, my skills had deteriorated. I'd come up here often, on an average of once a month, but I'd begun to think of it almost as a meditation instead of schooling in self-defense. Left to my own devices, I'd been neither rigorous nor exact. Dietz was a good teacher, patient, methodical, suggesting corrections in a way that never made me feel criticized.

"Now let's try it with your gun in your purse," he said when he was satisfied.

"How do you know all this stuff?"

He smiled faintly. "Weapons are a passion of mine. My first formal training in defensive pistolcraft was a class designed for certifying security guards to carry weapons on the job. The practical shooting part was minimal, but it did give me a fair grounding in the laws related to firearms. I went to the American Pistol Institute after that." He paused. "Are we up here to work or chat?"

"I get to choose?" I said.

Apparently not. He had me try the.45, but it was too much gun for me coming off the.32. He relented on that point and let me continue with the Davis. We went back to work, the smell of gunpowder perfuming the air as I concentrated on the process. I'd ceased to think about Mark Messinger as a person. He'd become an abstract-no more than a flat, black silhouette seven yards away-with a paper heart, paper brain. It was therapeutic firing at him, watching his midriff shred. My fearfulness began to fall away and my confidence returned. I fired at his paper neck and hit an inky artery. I pretended to tattoo my initials on his trunk. By the time we packed up and left the range at noon, I was feeling like my old self again.

We had lunch at the Stage Coach Tavern, tucked up against the mountain with a stream trickling down through the rocks close by. Live oak and bay laurel kept the tavern shrouded in chill shade. The quiet was undercut by the gossiping of the birds. Only an occasional car climbed the grade out in front, heading for the main road. Dietz was still vigilant-scanning the premises-but he seemed more at ease somehow, sipping beer, one foot propped up on the crude wooden bench where he sat. I was seated on his left with my back to the wall, watching as he did, though there wasn't much to see. There were only three other customers, bikers sitting at one of the rough plank tables outside.

We'd ordered the chili verde, which the waitress brought: two wide bowls of fragrant pork and green chili stew with a dollop of cilantro pesto on top and two folded flour tortillas submerged in the depths. This might be as close to heaven as a sinner could get without repenting first.

"What's your deal with California Fidelity?" he asked, between bites.