Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

November 14, 2013

Apprentice to Murder

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 6:33 am


From the second story porch, you lean against the railing. Below you, a broad lawn falls off into a valley where a pond hides.  Beyond, even without a ‘scope, you can see the town we evacuated, and the great lake which sprawls to the horizon.

From the porch, my enemy can’t hide.

It’s the perfect vantage for a sniper.

Our Team moved up here to the country to be pretend farmers.  All the kids of real farmers had guns, but not me.

“I want a gun,” I told the King and Empress.

“Not in this house,” the Empress seethed.  “Never.”

“Not right now son,” the King attempted to echo her decision.

Then there was some groveling and whimpering that began with, “but all the other kids…” which I won’t go into.  Too embarrassing.

I looked at gun magazines.  Field and Stream and others.  I fell in love with the lever action 30-30 by Marlin.  Yeah, love.  I learned a lot about all the others – single shot 22’s; clip magazine 30-06’s; shotguns.  But none were as beautiful, as heroic, as the 30-30.

The natural home of the 30-30 was a leather scabbard tied to a saddle.  It was the rifle of heroes. Like John Wayne. Or Chuck Conners, “the Rifleman.”

I joined the NRA.  Junior member.  They sent lots of neat stuff in the mail.  Magazines, free targets for practice, a code of safety or ethics or something which I discarded.  The Empress saw everything that came in the mail.

Eventually they gave me a gun.  A B-B gun.  The classical Daisy lever action.  It was just a toy replica of the Marlin 30-30, but it actually shot projectiles.  So I said, “Thank you.”

You had to unscrew a cap that covered the muzzle (no real gun has a cap on the muzzle) and pour B-B’s down the barrel.  Then re-screw the cap.

You’d hear the B-B’s rolling around inside whenever you moved the gun.  Embarrassing.

When you cranked the lever, it loaded one B-B into the chamber and tensed a spring.  Ready to shoot. A 30-30 would have emitted the commanding click of steel from cocking its lever.  The Daisy sounded like tin rattling.

I used the paper targets the NRA sent to us Junior members.

I’d lower the rifle, and the B-B’s would rattle like marbles down a pipe. The weight of them rolling would destabilize my sighting; the noise would scare away the enemy.  Well, not the paper targets.  They were pretty much stuck no matter what.  But it definitely would have scared a real, live enemy. 

It was still embarrassing.

After I went through a half dozen boxes of 100 B-B’s, I got to be a good shot.  I saved my pennies, and bought an accessory – a ‘scope.

It was plastic, but looked pretty good and you could actually almost see something through it.  I sighted it in and went through another box of B-B’s.

When the bull’s eyes of my targets were all shot out I packaged them  up and mailed them in to the NRA.

They sent me a “Marksman” certificate.  Real fancy, with a gold seal.  For free.  Those NRA folks sure are nice.  And generous.  They gave me all this stuff and got nothing in return.

“I want a real gun,” I told my parents.  “I’m old enough now.”

“Oh?” shot the Empress.  “And who decided at what age you can have a real gun?  You?”

“The NRA,” I played my trump card.  “I can show you.”

“No real guns in this house,” she seethed.  “And don’t you dare ask your father when he gets home.”

“Well, you are getting older,” the King answered my request when he got home.  “Check with your mother.”

“She said ‘no’.”

“Oh.  Well.  Time for dinner.  Let’s go eat.”

I was silent over the roast beef and potatoes for a while.  Then, in a lull in the conversation among all the others, I blurted, “You know, soon I’ll be old enough to buy a rifle without your permission.  And I don’t see any reason to just get a 22.  I think I’ll go right to a high-powered rifle.  I have enough money.”

The King looked at me, smiled, and took a deep breath, ready to say something.

Apoplexy swept the face of the Empress.  But she aimed all her boiling oil toward the King.

He caught his breath, held it, then released it slowly, in a sigh.

“Well, son.  That time’s still a ways off.  Enjoy the B-B gun…” he glanced at the Empress, “then we’ll see.”

It was time to shoot something different.

I lined the enemy up in a row.  As if before the firing squad.  I peered through the ‘scope.  Took a deep breath.  Released half of it, held my breath, and squeezed.

The 30-30 would have kicked and roared.  The Daisy twanged and pinged.

One of the enemy teetered, and almost fell.  That was all.  I put down the gun to survey the damage.

I found, upon inspection, a tiny chip of paint missing on the aluminum can where my B-B had hit it.

I grabbed the Daisy, cranked the lever again, and stalked three paces closer.  Deadly aim on enemy #2.


My inspection revealed a dent.

I retreated back to my magazines.  As always, I paid homage to the Marlin 30-30 until my eyes were wet.  Then I poured through them all looking, looking.

A small ad, one I’d overlooked many times, advertised a different B-B gun.  Not a Daisy.  I almost dismissed it, but my eye caught the phrase  “22 caliber.”

It was manufactured by a company called ‘Benjamin’.  Auspicious or inauspicious?  I set that aside and read on:

‘pump action… high velocity… 177 caliber or 22 caliber… B-B’s, lead pellets or darts.’

It was the ‘22 caliber’ part that held my attention.

It was the ‘22 caliber’ part I made a point of not mentioning during my bid.

“It’s just another B-B gun, only not a Daisy.  It’s either this Benjamin, or I get a high-powered rifle when I turn 16.”

There was silence. There were looks exchanged. There was a deep sigh, and finally, a shrug.

Like any Sportsman, I was excited to open the box.  Long, rectangular.  I felt its weight.  Like 3 or 4 Daisys.  I lifted the top flap, and gazed at it.

Wooden stock.  Real wood!

Gleaming blue barrel.  Like a 22!

A bolt at the breech.  Bolt action!

I tore into the pamphlet to see how I could buy some 22’s and put them into what the King and Empress thought was just a harmless B-B gun.

The words triggered disappointment.  I had to have purchased the more expensive 22 caliber rifle (I just had the 177 caliber).  And even if I had, it would only shoot a slightly larger B-B.

A 22 caliber B-B.

The ad had deceived me.

No wonder Sportsmen sometime become Snipers.

I took it out for a trial.  Pull back the bolt.  Place a B-B in the opening at the end of the bolt.  Close it.  Then pump the handle to build up pressure in the air chamber.  I pumped three times, like they said to.

I picked up one of my dented enemies and positioned it. “Stand there,” I ordered it, “take it like a man.” 

I sighted.  Deep breath; half exhale; hold; squeeze.


The stock recoiled into my shoulder.  Never got that from Daisy.

The can went flying.

When I picked up the corpse, there was a hole in it.  A hole!  Right through the aluminum!

I had a new love.

The pamphlet didn’t say this, but I figured: if they recommend three pumps and it can do THAT, just imagine – – – .

At seven pumps, the B-B penetrated both sides of the can.

At ten, the recoil was righteous.

I bought my B-B’s by the case.

Then I tried some lead pellets.  The power of the Benjamin flattened the lead pellets into mush.  Like real bullets.

And accuracy.  I shot out the bulls-eyes from three times the distance of the Daisy.

I shot the mailbox from twenty paces.

I shot petals from the Empress’s flowers in her rock garden.  Until a ricochet from one of the rocks hit a thermopane window, leaving a small hole in the glass. The Benjamin was yanked from my hands and thrown up onto the refrigerator.

“You just wait ‘til your father gets home,” she seethed.

I fretted, then worried, then feared the arrival of the King, whose castle I had damaged.  The window was large, four feet by three feet. Surely quite expensive. It used to have vacuum between its panes.

He arrived.  I hid in corners.  Dinner was served.  I was called to join.  I stared at my plate.  Finally, she brought it up.

“Your son has something to tell you.”

“Oh yeah?  What is it?  Want some more roast beef?”

“I (mumble mumble).”

“What was that?”

“The window.”

He turned to look at it.

“You see the hole he made?” she aimed his attention.  “He did it with his gun.  All the vacuum is gone.  The window ruined.”

He turned his attention to me.  I couldn’t keep my eyes on him.

“Don’t worry.  It’s insured.  What about the beef?” he said, fork poised over roast.

I struck quickly.  “CanIhavemygunback?”

The Benjamin was ransomed for promises of future behavior.  The Empress was not happy.

It was time to confront a real enemy.

Down in the valley, by the pond, the frog chirped and hopped.  Chirped and hopped.  Chirped and died.

A bird flitted within the birch tree.  I looked up, and my eyes found moving leaves.  Then they found the shadow of a bird’s body.  I aimed.


The Benjamin’s bullet hit the branch where it sat.  The enemy escaped into the sky.

But it was close.

I didn’t even need a ‘scope with the Benjamin.

I had become a sniper.

When the Empress left for shopping, I took the Benjamin onto the porch.  I surveyed the scene beyond the railing.  My Benjamin and I held sway over all I could see to the shores of the great lake.  Only the green squiggle of Canada on the far shore was too remote to be part of our domain.

I heard a sound.

Without moving, which would reveal my presence, my eyes turned toward it.  It came from the birch.

A robin.  Right at my level, now that my sniper’s perch was on the elevated porch.  I took aim.  Inhaled.  Kept my eye locked on the enemy.  Half exhaled.  Held it.  Squeezed.


For the first heartbeat or two, nothing changed.  Then the robin dropped.  This time it was the enemy that bounced off a limb, not my bullet.

It plopped to the ground, upside down, crimson belly up.

Exhilaration exploded in my chest.  I rushed down to see the corpse.

The bird’s belly, smeared with the color of blood, was a large splotch of evidence against the grass.  I nudged it with my gun.  It didn’t move a thing.  Dead.  Stone cold dead.

Just one shot, I tried to congratulate myself.

All it was doing was singing, something inside me said.

I stared at the big red splotch.  I have to hide the evidence, I thought.  Even the King won’t like this.

I looked up toward the porch and railing.  Just to have the enemy’s view.

Easy shot.

I bent down to remove the evidence. 

It was lighter than a couple of B-B’s.

I walked into the field beside the grass, Benjamin in one hand, heavy with steel and wood, devoid of conscience; bird in the other, so delicate I was afraid I’d break its leg if I held it too tightly between my thumb and index fingers.

I threw it into the tall weeds.

All it was doing was singing.

I continued to shoot the Benjamin.  NRA targets died by the dozens. But that was the last living thing I killed.

I’m a retired sniper.


   This flashback, from before Public Health days, reflects on the greater story of an emerging Public Health issue.



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