A quiet Saturday. The morning turning warm from a cold start in the flat scrub of South Texas. It begins near here but ends far away.

From my recently released novel, GROUND EFFECT:

Izquierda y baja.” The segundo looked up from the spotting scope and cleared his vision.

The shooter sitting next to him at the bench centered the scope on the target and looked for a moment before cycling the bolt and charging another round into the rifle. He reached up to the dials on the rifle’s scope and moved each several clicks. Settling back into the sand bags under the rifle and pulling tight against his shoulder, he found the target and began his routine. “Wife still at her mother’s?”

The rifle fired and the segundo went to the spotting scope. Switching back to English, he said, “Yeah, she’s coming back next week. I’ll have to scrub the house and get rid of the burger wrappers. That’s it. Dead center. Throw two more.”

Gerrard “Gerry” Santos got off two more rounds then cleared the Steyr Mannlicher and laid it carefully on the thick blanket next to him. “Back to beans and rice.”

“Naw, I hate that shit. I’d rather have beefsteak and French fries.”

Gerry smiled and spun sideways to begin cleaning the rifle. The wooden stock ran the full length of the barrel and was a deep brown. The rifle was chambered in .06 Springfield and cost as much as a nice used car. Gerry kept it immaculate and would have fit right in on a stag hunt in Bavaria.

The segundo said, “Gotta go. You gonna be at the cantina tonight?”

“Likely. Unless something tall and lean distracts me.”

The ranch foreman stood, stiffly pulling his game leg up and over the bench. An old horse induced injury. Now he rode the ranch on a beefy ATV with a padded seat and shocks. He left in a cloud of dust into the scrub and the sound of the ATV engine faded.

Gerry took his time and when he finished he reloaded the rifle, slipped it into the stiff leather scabbard, walked it over to his work Tahoe and locked it down. It was illegal to keep a loaded hunting rifle in a vehicle in Texas but Gerry got a pass on that.

He went back to the bench and shifted his eyes to a target much closer than the baseball hat tacked sideways to a board out at one hundred seventy-five yards. The man sized paper target was only twenty-five yards away and Gerry shouldered his Mossberg twelve gauge and fired two rounds. The magnum double ought buck slammed into the body of the target and all but one of the twenty-four .32 pellets were within the black.

The Mossberg pump wasn’t an expensive shotgun. There were many more of finer quality but Gerry liked the thumb safety and didn’t have to guess if it was at the front or rear of the trigger guard like a Remington or a Winchester. And if he had to whack somebody with it, no big loss.

The next three rounds were slugs and all three found the head of the target. Gerry figured if the bad guy got through the first two rounds of double ought, he would either be too far away or too close and slugs would decide the battle. Gerry stepped into the dirt and advanced on the target. He fired the rest of the slugs, stopped at about three yards, returned to the bench and then broke the shotgun down to clean it. It was getting warm and he thought about having a beer but something nagged at him and he settled for bottled water.

The shotgun also went into the black Tahoe loaded. Gerry was getting hungry and wandered into his small wooden house, stopping at the propane powered refrigerator. He pulled another bottled water out and drained it. The rest of the small refrigerator held more water, twenty bottles of Dos Equis Amber, a bottle of good vodka, a loaf of bread and about half of a two pound block of cheddar cheese. Store run, Gerry thought. He had to fit routine chores into his too few days off.

The propane fridge was one of his few luxuries. What had been a line shack on the vast Texas ranch had been rebuilt and added on to but still had no electricity. A solar panel and a wind generator provided just enough power for his water pump, computer and a good stereo. This part of Texas had plenty of sunshine and wind.

He stripped and stepped outside to his shower. The sun was high enough to put a little heat into the water stored on the roof. The outdoor shower was a source of cleansing and provided a bit of fun when certain visitors were present. Neighbors were not a problem. The closest one was over ten miles away. He let the water wet his light brown hair and scrubbed himself. He kept his hair short. There were pictures of him somewhere in a storage trunk in the back room from his college days at USC. The hair then was long, sun bleached blonde and many of the photos showed him with barely covered girls and surfboards.

But that was twenty-five years ago. Now his six foot two frame carried a bit over two hundred pounds and there was just a little extra around his waist. The water felt good and he cut it off without wasting too much. The sun would easily recharge his battery bank today. He wasn’t planning on hanging around anyway.

His personal vehicle looked like a ’56 Ford pick-up truck. It wasn’t. Under the cherry red body was a modern frame and a 351 Cleveland engine pushing lots of horsepower to a four-wheeled drive train. The dirt track leading from his house went over several miles of rough country before it hit a hard road. He was it out here except for the ranch crew and they usually left him alone. The rancher charged $99 a year rent and was more than happy to have a Texas Ranger watching out for the southern end of the spread.

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