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 American Odyssey [part two]

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PostSubject: American Odyssey [part two]   American Odyssey [part two] Icon_minitimeFri 17 Jul 2015, 11:23

I had already met Southnarc at his stall, and shaken the hand of his wife Kim and her pal, Tam. Southnarc is a former narcotics agent, with a long acquaintanceship with the martial arts. He’s small - but so are ball bearings, and you wouldn’t want to get hit by one. After the general public had been ushered out, the stalls were dismantled and heaved toward the exit. Two guys were trying to avail themselves of a box chock-full of cleavers. As big a fan as I am of the humble cleaver, I can only imagine the wrath of the customs officer as I walk through the “Nothing to declare” channel jingling and jangling like a morris dancer on fire. I politely declined and discovered they were guys I knew from a forum I inhabit.
Upon vacating the hall, I had been roped into carrying all kinds of stuff back to the hotel room. It is a huge hotel, very posh with all the bells and whistles. There were waterfalls, potted plants and elevators made of glass. I thought it was a palace and gazed around starry-eyed looking for people wearing robes and sporting crowns. The hotel room revealed some more knifemakers. A guy called Neil Blackwood (master knifemaker – check out his stuff) was tattooing another guy by the beds. Drawings of knives and other sharp goodies yet to be produced were scattered over every flat surface. It was chaos, but fun chaos. I was introduced, but mainly stayed silent as the repartee flew back and forth. Bags were swiftly packed, goodbyes were said, hands were shaken, and we were suddenly out of the hotel into a SUV. The womenfolk sat in the back and I was up front with Snarc. All the road trips in America are horrifically long. Even when you drive rather fast, they are horrifically long. Five hours is a long time to spend in a car, but conversation makes up for a lot. I had met Snarc before, at a training event in Canada. While the girls slept, talk started inevitably with the topic of self protection, of knives, guns and bare hands, the mindset and stories of the guys Snarc had met when working as a corrections officer. I’m not sure how the topic turned to “What The X-Men Would’ve Been Called If A Brit Was In Charge Of Marvel” but I do remember laughing like a goon at Wolverine becoming “Scratchy Hands”, Cyclops being christened “Hard Stare” and Storm “Persistent Drizzle”. There were loads more, but you get the picture. Driving in the southern United States at night is a beautiful experience. The high humidity makes the region a storm-friendly environment, and lighting is always crackling though the sky and thunder rumbles regularly through the air. I’ve always been a storm watcher, so my face was pressed against the window the whole time.
The women awoke and announced their hunger. It was soon decided that a Mexican meal was in order, and they knew just the place. We pulled up, got a table and the waitress took our order. I was quizzed by the women as to who I am, what I did, and my opinions of their country so far, et cetera. I replied that my holiday was excellent, apart from credit card trouble and death in the family. While Kim and Tam pulled sympathetic faces and made “Awww” noises, Snarc smiled and shook his head, then said “Dude…you could seriously get laid with a story like that.” I howled laughing while his wife slapped his arm and told him not to be so callous. Snarc enjoys seriously spicy food, but mainstream cuisine doesn’t pander to tastes that extreme. I told him all about the Indian food restaurants at home that make food so spicy it would kill a billy goat. I think this got him eager to visit the UK.
Arriving at his home, my jaw hits the floor. It’s a beautiful house. As soon as I walk inside, the blast of air-conditioning hits me and I enjoy the cool after the muggy air of the exterior. Little things stand out of the multitude of memories. Snarc’s dog is a terrier that owns the house. It barked and stamped its feet until I gave it some attention. Suitably mollified, it scampered away and pranced around the feet of Kim. I was introduced to the refrigerator. My fridge is the size of a reasonably thick book, so when I was faced with a monster bigger than my wardrobe, I was impressed. It even served ice in chunks or crushed-up! I messed with the fridge for ages, it was better than a playstation.
I was shown my room for the duration of my stay and bidden to watch TV while they did some admin. American TV is odd. Their advertisements are odder still. I saw an advert for cinnamon flavour lubricant. I wasn’t expecting that. The adverts for medicine were even worse. By law, they have to give all listed side-effects of the drug in question. So you’d be subjected to a professionally produced advert that actually energised you to buy the drug (whether you needed it or not!), only for it to finish with a list of side-effects delivered in rumbling baritone: “Warning, may cause sexual dysfunction, palpitations, rectal prolapse, nausea, sensitivity to light, bad breath, vertigo and a strong fish odour.” I just sit there aghast. I look around the room to see if everyone else is similarly astonished, but nobody seems to care. This is normal. The dog looks up from its dent on the sofa cushion during the lubrication commercial, but that’s as reactionary as it gets.
Admin attended to, I am called through to the garage and Snarc gives me the rundown on what the rules are for the forthcoming week. I am here for firearms training, and therefore I must be made familiar with firearms. To this end, I was to be issued with personal weapons.
I entered a state of panic. Dear mother of mercy, please don’t let me have a negligent discharge. Opening the boot of his car, he rummaged around and I caught a glimpse of many guns lying in there. More adrenaline. More panic. Snarc straightens with what I recognise as a Glock in his hands.
“Peter, this is a Glock 19. It holds 15 rounds of ammunition. It is loaded. This is your personal weapon. This stays with you.” He handed me the weapon and as I take the gun from him, I swear I muzzle swept him. Fuckfuckfuckfuck. I know that is a bad thing and I’m consumed with the urge to point it in a safe direction. My mind is running ten to the dozen working out where homes and people might be, so I eventually settle for a lawn ten yards away. I had a gun in my hand for less than 5 seconds before violating a major rule. Not a promising start. He demonstrated how to load and unload the pistol, before making me do the same. Satisfied, he placed the pistol on a lawn chair before returning to the trunk of his car. Reaching inside, he extracted an M4 carbine. Sweet child of mine, I thought. After watching the brief introduction to the rifle, I gingerly took the rifle from him and went through the same motions. A short while later, he judged I was ready and able to call them personal weapons. I judged myself a danger to the public, though my opinion was kept to myself. Getting ready to put them back in his car, he told me that because they were mine, I was to keep them with me in my room. Hauling them back to my place of rest, I carefully arranged them so the muzzles weren’t pointing at the bedrooms of anyone I know. Heart beating frantically, I settle down for the night and pray for a day free from accidents.

Woken the next day about 9am, I was breakfasted and ready in short order. I was given a gunbelt and a leather Alessi holster, told to grab my pistol and get in the car. The range wasn’t too far away and the rain was torrential. The first hour was spent listening to the basics of firearms manipulation, marksmanship and safety. Carefully noting everything down, I went through the essential components ‘dry’ and worked on drawstroke and failure drills until they were up to scratch. The rain had stopped, and I was judged fit to stand at the firing line. Loading up three magazines of ammo, I was working hard to contain my stress. I hadn’t handled live ammunition in years, least of all fired a handgun, and worry was taking its toll. Watching me shake like a leaf as I fumbled round after round into the magazines, he asked: “Are you nervous, Peter?”
I was either terribly nervous, or a committed Mohammed Ali impersonator. I nodded to confirm the former. Loaded up and ready to rock and roll, I walked on weak knees to the firing line.
Guns are extremely loud. This statement may seem like an obvious one, but until you fire a gun, it never really adopts a sense of scale. It is an explosion inches from your hands. I’ve fired rifles before, but they were .22 rifles and pretty low power. Plus the bang takes places a foot or two away from your body. Not so with a pistol. I damn near shat my pants the first time I pulled the trigger. There was a violent explosion, and the gun tried to tear itself from my grasp. The bullet hole on the target was a long way away from where I had intended. This is difficult. As the day continued, each trigger pull became easier. Familiarity with the gun sets in pretty quick, but it takes its toll physically. After three hundred rounds on paper (it took hours to shoot that many), I was tired out and my performance took a steep dive. Calling it a day after five hours, we cleaned up, reloaded the weapons and headed back home.
The rest of the day was spent driving along the southern coast of the United States. I saw beaches, casinos, huge houses and palm trees. Beautiful area. The weather is warm and the people are chilled out to the Nth degree. Wonderful place. We stopped by an Indian restaurant and sampled the local curry. Snarc and I opted for the hottest curry in the house, but this was a faint hope. Snarc actually ordered extra spice – “I want it so hot, my in-laws will be burning.” The meal, though tasty, wasn’t as spicy as we’d hoped. The Glock behind my hip felt large and awkward and I was constantly dropping an elbow to onto the pistol to confirm it was still there. The hours dropped past me like lazy leaves in autumn and pretty soon it was dark and time for bed. More shooting in the morrow.
The next day came, and I was far more comfortable readying myself and my pistol for the trip in the morning. Things aren’t quite so bad this time around. The day starts well, and after a session on steel plates and shooting from a seated position, supine and a kneeling, I progressed to shooting while on the move. I was marched up and down the range, keeping my pistol on a pectoral index for hundreds upon hundreds of rounds. I eventually got to the point where I could reliably put rounds on a torso from ten yards. I was rather pleased with my little self. Fate, determined not to let my holiday pass without incident, sent me a small gift to let me know I was not forgotten or forgiven for past sins. In the course of firing, a hot brass casing fell down my forehead and INTO my protective eyewear (what Snarc gleefully refers to as “Virginity Retention Spectacles” because if any respectable woman ever saw you wearing a pair she’d never sleep with you.). Shell casings are hot. Really hot. Having one roll around your eye socket is not an encouraging experience. I removed my eyewear as quickly as possible, though it seemed like a lifetime and shook the offending article out. My face was burned up pretty good from contact with the hot brass and later blossomed into some spectacular scabbing around my eye. The lesson is this: buy a pair of Oakley sunglasses, as they don’t let this happen to you. After some hours of this, Snarc informed me that he would be altering the environment a little. I was to continue shooting as before. I was walking up and down the range, adopting the ‘default position’ as target-paper came within touching distance, then spinning around to walk ten meters out, then defaulting through a 180 degree arc and back toward the target. I saw Snarc throw a can onto the grass and I thought “Litter? I can shoot no matter how much litter you throw, buddy. Garbage isn’t big on my list of distractions. Snarc barked “Six!” indicating I should fire six rounds at the target. Then there was a massive, bowel-shaking boom. It sounded HUGE. I fired six rounds at the target, turned around and made my unnerved way back downrange. The can was now spouting a massive quantity of thick smoke. Coming back up-range, still more orders to fire came and I fired through the haze at the murky outline of the paper. Shit, this was wild. Apparently, my “war face” was on good and strong throughout the flashbang phase of the drills, the strain of putting accurate rounds downrange doing something to make me dig deep for that little bit extra.

American Odyssey [part two] Slacky%20firing%20Glock_zpsezctrpoq

The day lasted five hours and one thousand, three hundred and fifty rounds. I was exhausted, but my performance was somewhat improved upon yesterday.
That evening was spent in a local Mexican restaurant, drinking glasses of Margarita the size of a birdbath. My food was folded up like a napkin and that Glock was part of my body, utterly comfortable and normal. I was rather drunk, so the ideal way to end the evening would have been to go to bed. Instead, it was decided to rent a film called “Vulgar”. Folks, watching a clown get raped isn’t a way to relax after a night on the margaritas. I stumbled to bed and, against all odds, slept soundly.
The next day was M4 day. The trip to the range was short and the guy in charge of the range was great fun to talk with. He even gave me a baseball cap to keep as a memento. It was hot. Very hot. A cooler full of Gatorade occupied a table and it was raided at frequent intervals. I embarrassed myself during the introductory prone phase of marksmanship. Lying prone, rested upon sandbags, I could barely hit a barn door. Once I took the sandbags out of the equation, my accuracy improved a bit. Flummoxed, Snarc could see it was going to be a long day, and so ran me through the basic drill ‘dry’. First came finding and becoming familiar with the “mount”, the position at which the butt of the rifle comes into contact with the shoulder. I did lots and lots of work just moving the rifle from low ready to a firing position, and progressed to manipulating the safety while attaining a sight picture. Keeping a good base is vital, together with a solid postural framework that will dissipate and channel recoil into the ground without destroying your balance. Stood correctly, 5.56 ammunition shouldn’t knock you on your ass when you fire a few rounds. It took me a while to learn that, with the constant mantra of “nose over toes” to remind me of what I should be doing. I fired a burst on the full-auto setting and damn near landed on my ass. I wasn’t prepared for that! A few magazines later and I could fire 2-3 rounds bursts without much trouble.
The day was a constant round robin of loading the magazines, walking to the firing point, examining the target and firing round after round starting from a low ready. My arms were aching in a big way by the end of the day, my left hand was burned from contact with the receiver and my right thumb was shredded from manipulating the safety. I was pretty pleased with my work on the M4. I could call my shots on the target (know when I missed and where I hit) and gets shots downrange pretty quick for a guy who hadn’t done much of this previously. Nine hundred rounds later, Snarc closed the day. I heartily recommend the experience to everyone. An added bonus was that I got to speak to Belisarius on the phone for a short spate of time on the return journey.

I slept the sleep of the righteous that night. The next day was proper holiday stuff. I was going to New Orleans for the day and doing the tourist thing with Snarc as my guide. I had to leave my Glock at home owing to legal concerns, and I was uncomfortable as hell without it. After only a short while, it became similar to a pair of shoes – you don’t want to go anywhere without it. New Orleans was only a couple of hours away by car and the whole day was full of glorious weather. Bright, bright sunshine and lots of bars to enjoy it from. My face wasn’t pretty as a result of the hot brass two days previously, so I wasn’t bothered by the street vendors and buskers that populate the French Quarter. I guess most of the six foot, shaven-headed, scarred people in New Orleans go about their daily business unharrassed. Snarc insisted that I sample a New Orleans delicacy of “Beignet” a small, heavily sugared doughnut taken with a coffee you could use as a blunt instrument. We sat in a massively crowded café, surrounded by pigeons with absolutely no fear of man whatsoever. I watched several climb onto someone’s table and attempt to steal a beignet in broad daylight. Maybe next year they will be snatching children from prams. The pigeons over there are organised, ruthless and brave. There is a strong possibility they are addicted to sugar.
My drink for the day was bourbon, so after one hour of drinking in the very early afternoon, I was absolutely trashed. In one bar, a live band would play periodically and one guy seemed to have the best job in the band. He played the corrugated tin vest with a knife and fork. Bingo! All of the coolness of being a musician, without the hassle of having to learn to play an instrument. I nearly fell off my stool laughing at this, and spent at least ten minutes trying to keep my drunken hands still enough to take a decent photo of him playing the vest. I stumbled out of there a happy man. Next up was a blues bar. The doorman was a big old black guy dressed in a purple zoot suit. He looked amazing and the band inside sounded great. The pair of us walked in, ordered our drinks and listened to this amazing collection of guys who looked old enough to die at any moment. Maybe that is what the crowd inside were waiting for: a death on stage, just like rock ‘n roll.
I was pretty drunk, so when some sixty-something boiler starts grabbing my arm and heaving me toward the dancefloor, I think it’s a great idea and start dancing away in a style that is utterly incompatible with both the music and the pensioner I’m dancing with. She seemed well pleased and we both danced until the band mercifully stopped for a break. Snarc was all cracked up and could barely speak for laughing. I’m not sure if photographic evidence exists, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Next stop was a strip club with the best sign I have EVER SEEN in the window outside. “Wash the girl of your choice.” It even had a picture of the tray (probably a second-hand autopsy table) on it. We paid 12 bucks for a bottle of Budweiser (I damn near choked on it. Twelve fucking bucks!) and watched some decidedly unenthusiastic dancers slowly sway around a small stage. Moving swiftly on to a higher class club, we watched decidedly more attractive women remove clothes for money. Being absolutely smashed, I thought this was great. I still do. The rest of the day was a blur of strippers, more bourbon and the drive home. I recall going to bed feeling very pleased with the way the day turned out.

Friday morning, we set out for Memphis. It’s another long drive, but we had plenty to talk about by that stage. Snarc had to stop by a guy’s house to see if he wanted to buy a knife. It was a nice knife and apparently he was something of a collector. We pull up onto the driveway and entered the icy blast of air conditioning. He looks over the knife, politely declines and talk turns to me. Finding out I’m from the UK, he decides to open up the gun safe and show me some cool stuff.
Sweet child of mine. What a toy chest. Several automatic rifles, more handguns than I could count and knives scattered higgledy piggledy all over the shop. He pulls a case down from a shelf and pulls out something named an oddly shaped gun. It transpires to be a .22 pistol with an integral silencer. I’m totally bowled over – this is the coolest thing I’ve seen all day! Moments later, his eyes light up and he loads it up with ammunition and invites me to shoot some rounds into his lawn. I laugh and say “Yeah, right!” and he’s perfectly serious. Wow. I’m all in favour of this and we wander to his back garden and I gleefully unload a magazine into the turf, the only sounds being the “snick” of the pistol action and the “Argh!” from Snarc and the host as hot brass lands on them. Sorry about that, fellas. Suitably cheered, we say our farewells and hit the road.

American Odyssey [part two] SNarc%20%20Slacky_zpskvqslhrm

Snarc was teaching an ECQC course at a place called “Rangemasters” owned by a gentleman named Tom Givens. Tom Givens is a sea-story of the firearms training world. Not many people have heard of him, less still have even seen him, but everyone who has met him is impressed! Having carved a niche into the training sector of Memphis, Tennessee, he busily trains his local CCW citizenry to frighteningly high standards. Owing to the somewhat busy crime sector in Memphis, a fair number of students and former students end up killing in self defence each year. Product endorsements don’t get much better than that, do they?
Snarc and I checked in at the hotel, dumped our kit and made some phone calls. We were met by the illustrious Mr Givens and his lady friend. Tom Givens has an encyclopaedic knowledge of local eateries, and we landed at a very high-class restaurant indeed. The food was delicious and the conversation was even better. Tom had been a homicide detective in Memphis PD for many moons, and had seen his fair share of nightmarish stuff. All of which seemed to make for excellent dinner table conversation. The only hiccup was a momentary panic on my part thinking the waiter was putting ice into my single malt. A mistake on my part, as my scotch arrived unmolested. On the way out of the restaurant, it was decided that we should mess with the heads of Tom’s Rangemasters staff. This sounded like a great idea to me. The plan was for Snarc and me to walk into the store, start acting in a belligerent manner and ask for Tom Givens repeatedly and loudly. We get to the range and arrange for Tom and his missus to sit in the car for two minutes while Snarc and I raise hell. We stride in and start picking at the merchandise on sale, completely ignoring the staff. It is five minutes to closing time and they’re getting ready to head on out the door. Snarc turns to one guy and asks straight out for Tom Givens. I’ve put on my best neutral face and stare straight through the other guy. They start to look nervous as hell. Snarc asks again for Tom Givens, slightly more insistent. The guy behind the counter looks at his friend and unbidden, he moves to a corner that overlooks the hall and provides him with cover, too. Shit. These guys are lining up to kill us. We’re only thirty seconds into the ruse and they’re already figuring out what to tell the local PD when they arrive to take statements from the survivors. At this point, Tom bursts in laughing, way ahead of schedule. We all have a jolly good chuckle at what we had planned, but inside, I’m relieved as all hell. Another minute and I would have been eligible for a Darwin Award under the category “Fucking with people who work at a gun store.”
Fully laden with food and whiskey, I retired for the right and slept like the dead.

Saturday was the first day of a two day event. Sitting in Rangemasters waiting for the seminar to kick off, I chatted with the guys showing up to train. We had a real mixed bag of guys. One guy was a defensive trainer for FedEx, teaching aircrew how to subdue the nasty sorts. Another guy named John was an agent of the National Park Service, and had all the same privileges as any other federal agent. I raised an eyebrow and tried to figure out why Ranger Smith from the Yogi Bear cartoons would be eligible to carry a firearm on an aircraft or apply for the department SWAT team. It turns out that park rangers are the department with the highest assault ratio of any federal agency. If you join the park service, there’s a good chance you’ll get your hide kicked, shot or stabbed by the local drug cartel. Hence the paramilitary flavour their agency is adopting. He was cool guy and full of interesting stories. There was a lad who was seventeen years old, but could already shoot the left nut off a squirrel at five hundred yards with a pistol. An older gentleman looked quite benign until you put a gun in his hand. It transpired that he’d been to every school you could name and trained with guys whose names appear in big lights. He could put holes on any part of the paper he liked from any range. Impressive shooter.
We start on the range, working on the four-count drawstroke, firing on the horizontal plane. Once folks got comfortable with the drawstroke method, we started firing on the target within elbow distance. Firing a pistol while pressing it against your pectoral is an unusual experience. Several experienced shooters were plainly uncomfortable for the first few rounds, but after a hundred or so, everyone was comfortably blasting away mere inches from their skin. I got a bit enthusiastic and experienced my first ND. Snarc was taking us through the delicate process of firing from retention, and I pulled the trigger when I really should have simply drawn and waited for the order. Whoops. Rather mad with myself, and doubly embarrassed for showing myself up in front of a class, I was grateful not to be kicked off the range, a fate which surely would have awaited me at any other training facility.
Walking backward and forth, extending and withdrawing the gun to retention all took place with live fire. Satisfied that we were all up to speed with firing guns pressed next to the torso, we moved on to the next section of the course. But first, there was lunch. There is a magical place called “Hooters”. The food is alright, the price is right, but the drawing attraction is the waitressing staff. Outfitted in tiny orange t-shirts and white hotpants, if you’re not hungry walking in, you will be after a minute or two. All the girls were worthy models of their clothing. Fantastic place. I managed to get one of them to slip on a “Liverpool Gutterfighters” T-Shirt and snap a photo. Best looking one of the bunch, too. Hah!

It should be explained that Snarc is fully committed to having students walk out of the door capable of protecting themselves. This means that he will tweak, shortcut or extend any section of his curriculum to ensure that nobody walks out with a large piece of the pie missing. That in mind, he had all afternoon to teach committed shooters how to hold their own in a balls-to-the-wall fight. Starting with the basics of pre-emptive striking, pre-assault cues, the ‘default position’, the fence and basic strikes, I watched as the hesitant, genteel shooters slowly gathered momentum and willingness to bounce one another off walls and slap each other senseless. This was new to them, so to watch a guy progress from apologising for landing a half decent strike, to knocking me semi-conscious with a palm strike and kicking me all over the floor was an absolute hoot! They were accessing the inner animal by the end of the day and hitting pretty hard.
The evening was just as instructive as the day. Mr Givens, Mr Givens’ lady friend, John from the Park Service, Snarc and I were all going to dinner. Given that we had dined at a pretty darned posh establishment the previous night, I assumed we’d be in for more of the same. How wrong I was. Parking behind a building that looked like it had been rejected from downtown Baghdad for looking too derelict, we walked through a flimsy unmarked door into a medium sized room filled with Mexican folk. We were eating genuine mexican food that evening. It felt like a scene from a western. Everyone stopped to look, the guy with a scar over one eye straightened his straw Stetson hat and stared right through us. I felt uneasy. A huge television was tuned to a Mexican TV show that defied classification. It looked like a cheap opera, then all the girls took their clothes off and somebody appeared to win a prize. There was no sound accompanying this entertainment, as the jukebox was in full swing. Genuine Mexican music sounds like a Fidel Castro speech played at high speed with random tuba solos thrown in. Tubas are big in Mexican music. Bigger than guitar. I bet nobody in Mexico knows who Jimi Hendrix is. The table is cheap and unsteady, but the food was delicious and absolutely nobody opened fire at me – the two chief factors I now consider when reviewing a restaurant. Returning to the hotel to digest our meal and recuperate for tomorrow’s festival of pain, it transpired that the premier strip club of Memphis is two minutes walk away. I needed a drink and apparently it was also licensed to sell liquor. Fair enough. I didn’t bother taking off my Glock and headed out to the club. I smiled nicely at the two bouncers on the door and tipped the girl who sold me my entrance fee. Tips are big business in strip clubs. My advice is to take lots of dollar bills so you can save face by avoiding refusal to tip a girl, while only dropping sixty pence from the budget. I found a few guys from the course already in there, enjoying the drinks and the floor show. My experience of strip clubs so far has been that you might find one or two genuinely attractive girls, and the numbers are made up with boilers and optimists. Not so here. Virtually every girl I laid eyes on was attractive to the tenth power. And they all went to the same spandex tailor. Paradise on earth and the drinks were about the same price as they are in England. The American contingent grumbled, but I was well chuffed. After a few beers, I was well and truly loosened up and enjoying myself. The fact I had burns all around my right eye and looked as though I had lost a fight did nothing to dampen the professional charms of the girls working the floor. After a couple of hours, I was dragged off by a doe-eyed brunette who prised me out of my chair with a small joint lock. I was quite impressed and felt obliged to pay her for a dance. It’s never too comforting to hear the other girls shout out “Lauren! Don’t break his finger!” as I tiptoed alongside her in an effort to take the strain off my knuckles. I got hauled into a huge dark room filled with massive, black sofas. Sitting down, I practically disappeared into it. As she sat on my lap and whispered into my ear, I felt the belt buckle being manipulated open and I was seized with a quaking panic. I was wearing a loaded pistol, complete with an extra magazine of ammunition in a pouch on the belt. I was suddenly aware that I had no idea of what the law was regarding firearms in public places. None at all. Maybe she doesn’t like them and will freak when she finds it. As my mind raced for solutions, the belt came away from my jeans and I now had to presume that both the Glock and the magazine were adrift, black kit on a black fabric. Assuming I kept her hands from around my waist, I may emerge alive and un-prosecuted from the mire. Now, this is simple enough reasoning when sat in an office, but thinking is pretty difficult when you’re supporting the bodyweight of a substantially naked female who licks your forehead periodically. After a joyfully long interval of deftly parrying questing hands to the kidney region, the music faded and the crumpet sat astride my lap asking sweetly for the fee. I gave her a whole bunch of small notes and used the time she took to count her treasure to thread my pistol and ammunition back onto a belt and out of view. I’m pretty sure she didn’t have a clue of what lurked down the sofa cushion the whole time. Leastways, I wasn’t dragged from the club and beaten soundly at any stage, so if she did see, she didn’t tell.

The next day was simunitions day. Hurrah! This stuff is the best fun in the whole world. We all had a pat-down for live weapons before going into the training hall. Simunitions, or properly called, Non Lethal Training Ammunition (NLTA), is high-tech paintball that faithfully reproduces the performance and detail of live-weapons without the inconvenience of live ammunition. And it hurts. A lot.

American Odyssey [part two] Shivworks%20sims_zpsbbxqw6td

We worked on some responses to gun grabs and methods of removing a pistol from a guy who will not relinquish his gun without a scrap. We were all well up for punishment by this stage and took great delight in handing out bruises and taking them in turn. As we progressed to sims training, I was called up as the demonstration dummy. All the other guys had shown up for training wearing two t-shirts, a jumper and some body armour. I had a t-shirt on I had purchased in Hooters yesterday. As I walked up to take some rounds, a guy gave me his body armour to wear for the demonstration. I was grateful and felt much better with some layers of Kevlar between me and the stinging pellets of paint. I do my attacker bit and get all tangled up with Snarc, who demonstrates the principle of firing from retention as covered yesterday. To prove the point, he fires a round into my torso. The body armour didn’t help a damn bit. It missed the body armour. It slammed into the soft, fleshy area over my left kidney and I damn near puked with shock. I wasn’t expecting that. We broke contact and closed again, to see another application. One more whistled into my waistline, while the other bounced off the armour. Two out of three so far. Wonderful. As demonstration ended and practice progressed, I returned the body armour to its owner and continued with my t-shirt. If there is one thing that will really sharpen up your muzzle-aversion skills, it is the certain knowledge that you will collect some scars if you don’t get it right. I got chunks shot off me all morning and the more I got, the easier it was to take. Be warned, though, sims rip straight through clothing. My jeans and t-shirt from that day look as though the moths have been at them.
Training closed with an after-action debrief, during which we all listed the stuff we learned and absorbed. They guys who left the hall that day were far more prepared for a violent confrontation than they had been beforehand. You can’t say fairer than that, can you?
My time with Snarc had reached a close. I was to catch a Greyhound bus up to Charlotte and contact Nick when I was ready for collection. After a long and convoluted route to the bus station, it soon became clear that greyhound stations are not good places to be. I gave my pistol and ammunition back, and heaved my suitcase out of the car, I shook Snarc’s hand and bid him farewell. His last words to me were to watch my back and be careful, as this was a bad area of town. He wasn’t joking. I had barely taken a dozen steps away from the car when a huge white pickup slowed in the street and a huge black dude shouted “HEY YOU! GET OVER HERE!” right at me. Was I going to accept his invitation? Was I hell. The only weapon I had was a pencil-thin neck knife, and even this is verboten on the Greyhound charabanc. I ignored him and fervently prayed he wasn’t going to take it personally and follow me into the station.
Greyhound stations are peculiar islands of chaos. They always seem to be in the worst area of town. Even if it isn’t the worst area when greyhound opens a terminal, I’m sure it gets that way pretty quickly. The number of dodgy people hanging around is frightening. I had hours to wait, I was dog-tired, bleeding, the facial burns were still looking ugly and I was too paranoid to fall asleep lest I make an attractive target. The overwhelming feeling I am left with is that every Greyhound station is an audition hall for “Jerry Springer” and “Cops”. People look kinda funny or kinda nasty. There was no in-between, though I admit I appeared a perfectly acceptable candidate for either group. After hour of interminable hour of condition orange (I might have to fight him. And him. And him. And her. And him…) I finally got to board the bus. That was an experience in itself. Americans aren’t terribly good at queuing, and the whole thing turns into a rugby scrum for available seats. Being British, I had an unfair advantage and secured a seat with ease. I observed my fellow passengers. Every single one looked like an extra fresh from the set of “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Everyone had at least one of the following: a facial tattoo, a scar, a dirty vest (or any combination of the three). I was mortified. There was no way I was sleeping on the bus, either. I’d wake up without a kidney.
The driver was a huge black lady, blessed with a marvellous booming voice and local patois. This is my most accurate approximation of the passenger brief:
“Shaddup at the back! Ahm talking now! OK, yall know the drill, yall done this before. I gotta say this staff so keep yoselves quiet and lemme get dis over wit. Dere will be no drinkin on da bus. I catch you drinkin and you get offa bus. I don’t care where we are or how far away from no city we are, you getting of da bus if I tink you’ve been on da sauce. Secon’ I done wanna smell no drugs. Ahm dead serious ‘bout dat one. I smell pot, we all getting off while Ah open all da windows and blow the smoke outa da bus. You done wan’ that, ah done wan’ that. So done smoke da pot, unnerstan? Thir’ you aint putting no cologne all round yoselves on mah bus. Mah eyes swell up and ah caint drive wid no swollen eyes. Mah eyes start swellin’ and we ALL waiting for dem to stop swellin’. It cain take hours, I joke not. So don’t be swilling dat cologne everyplace. You shoulda washed at de station. Done go dropping your litter everyplace, neither. This aint no pigsty, you put yo trash in the bag, done be leaving me to pick up your garbage after you gone. Any questions?”
Dear mercy, no.
“Hokey, lets go.”

The journey took an awful long time. Its like being in prison, convicts and all. I was hoping a territory war wouldn’t break out while I was on board.

Arriving in Charlotte, I called Nick and informed him of my safe arrival, against all odds. I went outside and stood on the damp pavement, already drying as the suffocating heat set in. An old homeless guy looks at me for a long moment and says “Damn. What happened to you?”
I was faced with a dilemma. Tell the truth for ten minutes or bullshit for five seconds. Short debate. “I was in a fight. Won it, though.”
“Uh huh.”
He shuffled off and asked other people for spare change. I guess today was my lucky day. It was exceedingly pleasant to get out of a greyhound terminal and climb into a big, black BMW. I felt like Kevin Spacey at the end of the Usual Suspects when he walks out of a police station and climbs into a waiting Jaguar. Except I’m not Keyser Soze, and Nick isn’t anyone’s lawyer.
The day was another circuit of dinners at restaurants filled with cute waitresses, trips to the bookstore and a final session with the FIST crew. The training highlight was the “wind suck” drills that tested the anaerobic capacity of the piggy in the middle. The atmosphere of dread that took over the room when Nick mentioned them was a tell-tale sign of good training. The session closed with a final speech on the number line analogy of mindset and aggression as the group wheezed and huffed their way to recovery. I suggest you hear this lecture from Nick personally, it’s a cracker.

The final day rolled around, and the drive to the airport was nothing ordinary. Nick had some documents to serve to some scallywag in his capacity as a private detective. Driving into what seemed to be a fairly nice area, the target’s address was soon spotted and Nick ambled up to the door. I confess I watched far too much TV as a kid. In the movies, it is usually at this point a fireball engulfs the house, or a man emerges with an automatic firearm and a ninja costume. The real world is rather less eventful. Nobody answered the door, nobody knew where the target was, so the job was over my next stop was the international terminal at the airport. A shake of the hand later and a stumble through the doors of the international airport, I was on my way home, which mercifully proved very dull indeed.

Check Six,
Dennis Martin
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American Odyssey [part two]
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