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“How many bullets is enough?” I asked the rabbi.

We were loading the XD-M to its 19 round capacity. Ten boxes of 115 grain Federal 9mm sat on the wooden table in front of us.

“You can never have enough,” he replied.

“You know you’re crazy,” I told him.

“And you’re not?”

It wasn’t a question. It was a call to arms.

“Sam doesn’t love me anymore?” the rabbi asked, as we finished loading the XD’s magazines.

“Apparently not,” I said.

“She might need a smaller gun,” the rabbi announced. “I’m worried that she doesn’t have the upper body strength to handle the recoil of her nine.”

“Didn’t you say nine was the minimum for self-defense?”

“I did.”

I’d travelled over an hour to fire my weapon at a target in a hardscrabble “range” no bigger than my back garden. The time for small talk was over.

After my second string, I stopped and checked my surroundings.

“Did I teach you how to do that that?”

Suitably chastened, I learned proper post-shooting etiquette.

Low ready. Scan left to right, not forgetting to look up at the third story apartment window masquerading as an oak tree. Lower ready. Turn 180 degrees one way. Then 180 degrees the other way.

“Do NOT turn if you see or hear a cop coming. Drop your gun. Just drop it.”

I nodded, finishing my surveil. A few strings later . . .


My new Springfield XD-M hit the dirt, the sickening clank-thud muffled by ear protectors.

I varied my strings. Sometimes I didn’t shoot at all. Sometimes I shot an entire mag. Scanning. Always scanning. The dumpster. The cars. Trees. A shed.

“How many fingers did I have up?” the rabbi asked, after I finished a firing – scanning sequence.

“Four,” I replied without hesitation.

The rabbi taught me to move while drawing my gun. To keep moving when shooting. To crouch slightly. To back up from an attacker at an angle. To check for a new magazine before dropping the first. To run away when the ammo’s gone.

It felt like I was playing Jenga. Every time I received a new piece of information, my foundation wobbled. Sometimes, my shooting skills came crashing down. I forgot to check my surroundings after shooting. My shots went low. I put an empty magazine in my belt holder.

So many simple things. So much complexity.

I trained hard, knowing that the real thing would be bad craziness at Owl Farm. I understood I had to get my skills up to expert level—so they could sink to novice level if push came to shoot. Rather than disappear entirely.

As the hours passed, I gained a quiet faith in my abilities. Hundreds of bullets flew down range. “Each one of them blessed,” the rabbi assured me, as I packed up for home.

Sam and I kissed Lola and headed for American Firearms School. Sam’s eyes began to droop as we hit the exit. She perked up when we rolled into the parking lot.

“I don’t want to go,” she announced, surveying a half dozen pickups parked outside, listening to the staccato crack of gunfire.

“You need to shoot,” with more urgency than I’d intended.

We couldn’t get a lane at AFS. So we headed for Panera and sat by the window. A lobster sandwich and two cups of coffee later, we found an alternative.

Sam’s shots hit the paper at 25 feet, but the groupings were far from tight. She forgot to rack her gun four times. Once, a full magazine hit the deck.

“The rabbi says you should consider a revolver,” I remarked, later.

“Then he’d win. I’d have one in the chamber. Tell him I’m not that stupid.”

On the final approach, we were strafed by a hair gel of biker boys.

“I knew someone who hit a telephone pole at 130 clicks,” Sam said. “I knew another guy who lost his arm in a motorcycle accident.”

“Some people get mangled and get right back on a bike.”

“So they don’t want to see their child graduate? They don’t want to hold their grandchild?”

“Live free or die,” I said.

“Free? Nobody’s free,” Sam pronounced. “It’s an illusion. Somebody owns you. The bank owns you. Your kids own you. Everybody has a piece of you.”

“You really should put one in the pipe,” I said, after a suitable silence.

“I’ll consider it,” Sam said.

As far as she was concerned, she just had.

“It’s a crazy world,” I said.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Sam said.

Camp Street flashed by in the fading light. I wondered if the rabbi shared Sam’s world view. I suspected he does. No wonder she’s scared of him.

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