Saturday Morning, Day 20 – Singapore
Exploring Singapore by subway all week failed to distract Spence. His guilt over doing nothing to stop Megyn’s kidnapping nagged him constantly. Sleep came only from a bottle. He’d finished Mickey’s Scotch the first night, replaced it with a Lagavulin the following day but switched to Johnny Walker Black when Mickey complained the single malt tasted like squeezings from a worn-out insole.
On Friday morning, he rode the MRT to Bedok station and walked south a mile through the East Coast Seafood Village to Badok Beach. He sat and watched the mostly empty deep ocean ships sitting at anchor waiting for booking agents to accumulate enough tonnage for profitable trips to their mostly regular stops around the world.
But his mind was on Megyn and her captors. He was trying to work out how they’d get to Singapore with a barely cooperative Megyn. Public transportation with its one-at-a-time security screening was out. That meant they couldn’t fly, take a train or ride on a passenger ship.
They had to drive.
It was 2000 miles in Google-Earth going West from Guangzhou through southern China, across the top of Vietnam and Laos before turning South and down through Thailand and Malaysia before reaching the bridge to Singapore. But even so, they’d still have to pass through five international borders. Remembering Megyn’s wildcat struggle as Sartaq had thrown her into the van, he had a hard time believing she would stay passive that many times.
He wondered how she looked after a week in a van with five wide-eyed college students while her own brother pointed a revolver down into her head, bouncing down roads in all sorts of condition.
Spence suspected he didn’t look much better sitting on the bench that morning. He hadn’t shaved all week or bathed in … He couldn’t remember when. His shirt worn twice, set aside and then worn again today, was ruined by the permanent stains under each arm. His shorts had splotches of curry and brown sauce from bites that’d gotten away from his chopsticks. Even his white cotton socks seemed depressed as they sagged down around his ankles.
Someone must’ve complained because two uniformed Police officers walked up from behind and, one standing on each side, politely but firmly demanded his identification. When asked if he had a place to sleep, Spence realized he looked homeless. They called Mickey to confirm his story but suggested he set a better example when going out in public.
That evening when Mickey returned, Spence had cleaned himself up, done all his and Mickey’s laundry, vacuumed the apartment and straightened out the kitchen after pouring what was left of the Johnny Walker down the sink. Mickey complimented the change and didn’t mention he was also forced onto the wagon.
Spence felt marginally better but shook his head in frustration; there was still a week to go.
The next morning, it was in the upper 80s with a light rain and the usual 100% humidity. Spence’s fresh shirt was wet with both sweat and rain as he grunted to hoist the borrowed gun box onto the right half of the shooting table. Loaded with three handguns, three hundred rounds of ammo and the other paraphernalia common to Bullseye shooters, Spence knew from checking his into baggage on airlines for competitions in the US that it probably weighed close to 45 pounds.
Mickey boosted his gun box onto the left side of the same table.
Cards taped to the top said they were taking firing points 7 and 8. Five more tables, three to the left and two to the right, filled by ones and twos as more shooters arrived.
No one opened their gun boxes.
“Spence,” Mickey said, “let me introduce you.”
A 30-ish, slim man with close cropped black hair, madras shirt and tan shorts turned when they approached.
“This is Taufik.”
Spence held out his hand and it was taken in the very firm grip common to Bullseye shooters.
Not knowing Taufik’s conversational English ability, Spence kept his sentences short and predictable.
“Hi, Taufik. My name is Spence.”
“Glad to meet you, Spence. I guess you’re a friend of Mickey’s. You’re American, yes?”
Spence grinned. He’d have no trouble communicating with Taufik.
“I’m that obvious? Yeah, I live in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.”
He added, “That’s in the southwestern US.”
Taufik grinned back. “My wife and I drove through on our way to Sedona. We were in Claremont visiting her sister’s family but we drove over and took a couple of days at a timeshare they have in Sedona before heading up to the Canyon. We then stopped in Vegas for some shows before driving back down to her sister’s house. Oak Creek was our favorite spot. Do you know the Indian Gardens Cafe there?”
Spence was overwhelmed.
“Yes, I do! My wife— I mean my ex-wife. … We used to escape the summer heat by going there for lunch and sitting out back on the patio. I haven’t been in several years but it’s a beautiful escape. Down inside that canyon, you forget the rest of the world.”
Spence was embarrassed to have to ask, “I’m sorry, where is Claremont?”
Taufik laughed, “It’s one of LA’s desert cities, right next to Ontario. The weather is almost the same as what you get in Phoenix, very hot like Singapore, but no humidity.”
He went on, “Mickey says you’re a Bullseye shooter, is that right?”
Mickey leaned in to interrupt, “I beat him at Camp Perry a couple of years ago! Spence is here to see if he can even the score.”
“I don’t know if that’ll be today,” Spence frowned, his head dull from the week long binge. He made up a different excuse, “I’m still working to be consistent enough to make Master class.”
Mickey smiled and patted him on the back, “Me, too, Spence. We’re both stuck in Expert land.”
As they moved to the next shooter, Mickey added, “Taufik is in our recruiting department. He twists my arm sometimes to go and talk to high school and college kids about trying for the Police force. We also look him up sometimes for one-on-one private talks; he’s got a degree in Psychology and, well, he’s helped me over some bumps.”
Spence nodded but said nothing.
Jonathan was next. He was also a Policeman and worked in the communication department. “The International Communications Department,” Mickey emphasized.
Spence assumed he was Mickey’s source for the non-public information about the Wuhan bombing that had been quietly shared by the Chinese government.
Jonathan was a little taller than Mickey but shorter than Spence. He was trim and muscular, had a solid grip, and a smooth voice.
Haziq, next on the firing line, wore a Master Sergeant’s stripes, three over three, on his camo fatigues. “Singapore” was stitched to a swatch over his left breast and “Jegal” above his right. His long sleeves were folded in precise 2” layers all the way up and above his elbows. They were so flat Spence wondered if they’d been ironed that way. His tightly laced boots, with the exception of thin rims of brown mud around the base of each sole and heel, looked otherwise like polished black marble. Haziq had a square face and his flat nose took a decided zig-zag just below the bridge. His upper lip, chin and cheeks had the look of a man who needed to shave at least twice a day.
He returned Spence’s handshake with a trim smile and a quickly increasing grip that both knew was a silent test. Spence’s eyes narrowed when he reached his limit and Haziq immediately dropped the pressure.
Macho-pecking order established, Haziq grinned.
Spence was sure he was full military, not Police.
Akmad was just the opposite. He was bubbly, gregarious and had a “Let’s go get ‘em” exuberance that Spence immediately liked. His clothing said, “Party!” He wore a loose fitting, flamboyant blue and yellow floral print Hawaiian shirt, bright yellow shorts and pink flip-flops with plain white socks.
Spence’s gaze must have lingered on Akmad’s feet because he said, “Keeps the hot brass from burning my tender toes!”
“If you meet Akmad in a bar,” Mickey said in a mock whisper, “you better have nothing planned for the next two days.”
“Three,” Akmad corrected. “And I’ll bring the ladies. Are you married?”
Before Spence could answer, he rocketed on, “Doesn’t matter. I’ll bring them anyway, and someone for your wife that’ll keep her distracted, too.”
Moving on, Mickey filled in the details. “When you were teaching at the base, you probably heard him. He’s not supposed to but he likes to make low, supersonic passes over the runway.”
Spence remembered the booms that had rocked his windowless classroom in the nearby ST Aerospace hanger on his first visit to Singapore.
Next was Andrew with a blocky face and easy smile. He was closer to Spence’s age than the others and, from his clothing and demeanor, Mickey guessed he was some sort of businessman, an exception to the otherwise military or Police affiliation of the others. Bullseye wasn’t a cheap sport, neither in time or money, and Spence guessed he must be rather successful.
Bruce, on the end, had a Pacific Islands’ complexion, more of a permanent deep tan than brown. And his features were sharper than most, almost delicate. He nodded when Mickey introduced him but turned away without shaking hands.
Spence was relieved they’d reached the end. There was no way he’d remember all the names, most of them foreign. They walked back to the center but Mickey kept going; there were four more to meet.
Yong and Nasir, immediately to the right of Spence’s firing point. were the ones to beat, according to Mickey. They were both snipers in the military’s terrorism unit but, unlike Haziq, were in casual clothing with short sleeve sport shirts and shorts, sheer black nylon socks and leather sandals.
Mickey had interrupted their discussion of what Spence could see was their shot record books. Neither smiled as Mickey introduced him and, after a perfunctory hand shake, they went back to their discussion.
All business, Spence thought. Typical for snipers.
Next to them was Chong, a chubby but gruff, short man who barely nodded when Mickey introduced him and immediately turned back to his cell phone using both thumbs to type in some extended message.
Breaking the indifference of the previous three, Mahesh vigorously pumped Spence’s hand up and down and gave him a toothy grin. His brown face and quick-to-please gestures pegged his ancestry and culture. In a distinctly Indian accent, he bowed slightly and said, “I am being very happy to be meeting you today!”
Spence grinned. He’d never met a stereotype before but Mahesh seemed to be trying hard to fit the part.
Returning to their firing points, Mickey explained that Mahesh normally spoke Tamil but was making a special effort for Spence.
“We don’t get visitors at the range. You are a very rare exception. Our last American was another trainer, for Rolls Royce, I believe. He was good, very good. He won the 2700 and gave Yong a good run in Rapid Fire as well.”
Just behind the firing line in the center was a 6×6’ platform about one foot high with a table across the front. On it were a small kitchen digital timer, a microphone, stacks of blue, yellow and pink preprinted scoring cards, a Scotch tape dispenser and a tray of odds and ends including scoring plugs. Off to the right with a cable that trailed out the center of the range was a small metal box with knobs and switches, undoubtedly the controls for the turning targets.
An older man, Spence’s senior by a couple of decades, sat in a folding chair behind the table. His bald head was ringed with white, the same color as the stubble on his chin and cheeks. Dressed in a red, short sleeve shirt and dark shorts, he had the hairiest legs, almost a white froth, that Spence had ever seen. The word “Silverback” sprung to Spence’s mind as he imagined what it must look like under his shirt. Spence kept his eyes on the man’s face as Mickey introduced him.
“This is Akim,” Mickey said.
Spence reached up to shake the man’s hand.
“Akim will be calling the match today. He’s the official Range Officer. Be especially nice to him; he’s my boss.”
Akim looked like he might be as tall as Spence with his long lanky body but, since he was seated, Spence couldn’t be sure. He had an easy, warm smile and spoke slowly, measuring out his English with confidence and authority.
“Nice to have you with us,” he said, pulling his hand back. “Mickey told me you were coming. He said you would be familiar with Bullseye, is that correct?”
“Yes, thank you, I am. I met Mickey at the US Nationals a couple of years ago. I’ll be shooting borrowed guns today so I may occasionally have a question for Mickey but, other than that, I know the drill.”
Akim nodded, “Good. Everything should move along just fine then. We shoot a fairly standard match and pride ourselves on following the rules and recommended cadence. When we move the turning target boxes to the short line. Be sure your control cable gets plugged in.”
On the table in front of him was a sheet of paper with the numbers 1-12 down the side. Names had been written by hand, apparently as shooters had arrived. Glancing down, Spence was surprised to see they were all in English.
Checking his wrist watch, Akim picked up the microphone and keyed its switch.
“Shooters to the line! This is the 22 caliber competition. Your three minute preparation period starts now.” He reached forward and pressed a button on the white plastic kitchen timer in front of him. It chirped.
Time to get busy. Spence turned to his firing point and swung up the front cover of the borrowed shooting box Mickey had prepared for him. Attached to the inside of the now upright lid, Spence rotated the spotting ‘scope into position. Looking through at his 50 yard target with the #8 firing point number attached, he scooted the back of the shooting box left and right to center the view on his target.
Taking out Mickey’s Smith and Wesson Model 41 target pistol, he pulled back the slide and pushed up the stop with his thumb to lock it open. He threaded the foot long orange plastic weed wacker line, his Empty Chamber Indicator, through the open chamber and out the far end of the barrel. Mounted on top of the barrel was an Ultradot. He rotated a knob on its left side and, inside the dark tube, a bright red dot appeared. Spence cranked it all the way up so the dot, not the target that would also be visible through the tube, would hold his attention.
He set the pistol on the bench, muzzle pointed downrange with the ECI sticking out, clearly visible to anyone who looked.
Taking out a new plastic box of 22 LR CCI Standard Velocity ammunition, Spence used his thumbnail to slice open the paper seal. Sliding the plastic lid back enough to reveal one row, he dumped five rounds into left hand. He loaded them, one at a time, into a magazine before setting it on the table to the left of the pistol and then loaded a second one. He set it on the table next to the first.
Spence took off his wrist watch and, pressing the bottom left button twice, switched the display to elapsed time mode. He pressed and held the bottom right button to reset the display to 00:00:00.0. He set it just below the magazines where he could see it while shooting.
Surveying the table, everything was arranged.
He turned to Akim at the calling stand and pointed to the roll of Scotch tape.
“May I have an inch of that?”
Akim nodded but returned his attention to the line as the other shooters continued their preparations. Yong and Nasir had already started dry firing.
Spence needed to get to that, too. He’d asked Mickey the night before if it was all right if he dry fired the 41. Mickey had nodded, “It’s my backup gun now. A few dry fire shots will be OK.”
Spence tore off the strip of tape, folded over the end against itself and positioned the translucent strip on the right lens of his sunglasses. Putting them on, his right eye was effectively blocked by the tape.
Back at his firing point, Spence put on his “ears” and settled the bright red hearing protectors into place. He wriggled them to be sure they sealed around each ear. Spence’s world pulled in around him in the muted silence. It was as if only his thoughts, the equipment on the table in front of him and his sole target existed.
He turned his body so he faced down the firing line to the left, the targets out to his right. He set his feet slightly wider than his shoulders with the tips of his toes touching an imaginary line that ran through the center of the target.
Ninety degree stance, he confirmed to himself, like the Russians. Recoil will go straight up my arm and into my body. A gentle thump with minimal rise and quick recovery.
His body in position, he twisted around toward the table to his right, pulled out the orange weed trimmer line ECI, picked up the gun by the barrel with his left and pushed it into his right hand, twisting back and forth so the slab grips seated into his palm exactly where he wanted. Always keeping the muzzle pointed downrange, he used his left hand to insert the third and only empty magazine.
It clicked into place.
Straightening and untwisting his body so he again faced down the line, he crossed his left arm across his stomach and hooked its thumb in his belt just beyond the buckle.
Minimum tension in my back, he said to himself, twisting his head in a figure-eight pattern to relax the muscles. He rested with his head down, stretching the muscles in the back of the neck that wanted to tense up.
With the end of the muzzle resting on the table, he closed his eyes and took in a slow deep breath and then blew it out through pursed lips like he was playing a flute.
Opening his eyes, he raised his head. Ignoring the side of Mickey’s head in the center of his vision, he rotated his head 90 degrees to the right so that his left eye, the dominant one, was nearly over his right shoulder and looking directly toward the target.
Spence shot “cross-eyed,” left eye aiming with right hand shooting. He’d tried his weaker, right eye but couldn’t keep his attention from wandering away from the red dot. And he’d tried shooting left-handed but, after a lifetime of being right-handed, it just didn’t work. Like the few other shooters with cross-dominance, he’d adjusted his stance and grip to deal with it.
He concentrated through his left eye on his goal, the very center of the target 50 yards away. He visualized a tiny white hole in the center suddenly popping into existence exactly where the two strokes of the “X” crossed.
Keeping his visual attention on the target, he raised his right thumb from the grip and pressed the slide release on the S&W 41. The slide made a satisfying “Shook!” as it slid forward and closed on the empty chamber. He moved his thumb back down to its normal position, lightly touching the grip.
Stiffening his elbow and tightening his grip using mostly his middle and third fingers, he then raised his right arm and, as it came to bear, he shifted his visual attention into the Ultradot tube on the back of the pistol. There, the bright red dot rose up, passed through the center of the target but then slowed and settled just above the black 8-ring.
Pausing there, he took another breath, slowly in through the nose and even slower out through his lips, the dot rising slightly and descending with his chest. When the pressure in his lungs felt neutral, he closed his throat keeping only a tiny bit of air so he wouldn’t feel desperate to breathe.
From here on, Spence was on automatic. Everything would happen without conscious thought.
His shooting arm slowly descended as Spence watched, a spectator to what his body and mind were doing.
The red dot slowly descended into the black toward the center of the target. His right index finger took up the slack in the trigger as the red dot wavered slightly left and right and bounced gently as if passing near a rising bubble.
When the red dot reached dead center, motion seemed to pause for a fraction of a second and there was a soft click as the gun’s hammer dropped on the empty chamber.
Bullseye! Spence told himself as he slowly let his trigger finger back out to reset the trigger. He exhaled the last bit of air and lowered the gun to rest the muzzle on the table top.
He took a deep breath and let it out.
Leaning slightly, he reached over with his left hand, racked the slide and went through another complete cycle.
His second “dry fire” shot was a six-o’clock ten.
“Attention shooters,” the announcer interrupted his reverie. “The preparation time is now ended.”
Spence half listened to the familiar commands as Akim continued, “This is the Slow Fire match, ten rounds in ten minutes. You may now … LOAD.”
Spence held the 22 pistol near the table and pressed the magazine release. The empty magazine gently dropped out. Spence inserted the first of his loaded two magazines while studiously keeping the muzzle pointed downrange. His finger out of the trigger guard, he pulled back the slide with his left hand and released it. The recoil spring drove the slide forward and picked up the first round, threaded it into the waiting chamber and made the same “Shook!” sound as before.
Rotating his arm and keeping the muzzle on the table and pointed downrange, he glanced at the right side of the gun to confirm the slide was fully closed.
Gun ready, he rotated his arm back until it was almost upright but with a slight cant to the left.
“COMMENCE FIRE,” Akim announced. “You have ten minutes.”
Spence started the up-counting timer on his wrist watch.
Repeating the same process as in dry fire, Spence’s first shot, confirmed in the spotting ‘scope, was an eight o’clock nine.
Don’t jerk it, he instructed himself. Add pressure straight back until the trigger breaks. Don’t think. Just wait for it to go. Your body knows what to do.
The next shot clipped the upper right leg of the “X” a half inch from the center of the target.
Piece of cake, part of his mind said.
Two respectable shots delivered, Spence started to relax.
This is going to be good, he thought. I can take it easy and just enjoy this.
He should’ve known better.
For his third shot, he forgot to take his usual deep breaths and brought the gun up too soon. It fired and, seemingly before the bullet had even left the barrel, he knew he’d jerked it. The spotting ‘scope confirmed what he didn’t want to see. He’d thrown the shot down and left to the seven ring, a full six inches from the “X”.
“Shit,” he slowly hissed aloud.
His face felt warm as he thought ahead to the scoring when his boo-boo, so characteristic of right-handed novices, would be obvious to any and all.
All right, he sighed and gently shook his head, you’ve shot your bad shot. It’s done now. It’s all over.
He gave himself a silent pep-talk.
You can shoot your plan now. The plan works. Just follow the steps, the plan, and let it happen. Relax and watch the show. You can do this. You’ve done it many times. Just shoot the plan.
Resting the end of the muzzle on the shooting table, Spence took a full minute to close his eyes and see himself doing every step, from deep breaths before raising the gun all the way through to resetting the trigger after the shot and the final deep breath.
Mental rehearsal complete, he opened his eyes, re-focused his left eye on his goal in the center of the target and started the process for his third shot.
All ten shots were downrange and his watch said 00:08:42.4 when he stopped it. He reloaded both magazines and then ‘scoped his target, looking for all ten holes.
“CEASE FIRE, CEASE FIRE,” Akim called.
“Let’s make the line safe. Magazines out, cylinders open, empty chamber indicators in place, guns on the table, muzzles pointed down range.”
After a minute during which several shooters stepped back from the shooting tables, Akim added, apparently for Spence who still stood idle at his gun box, “Step back behind the red line, please, when you are safe.”
Spence looked down. There was a red strip of duct tape on the concrete about a yard back from the table. He’d seen a similar set up, painted on the concrete, at the Sunnyvale California club. It was a safety measure he could appreciate even though not formally required in Bullseye rules. Here, with the temporary tables, they used tape instead of paint but it served the same purpose.
Spence stepped back and nodded a thank you to Akim who then announced, “The line is safe. Come get a blue scoring card from me and write your name and target number on it. We will pass right and score left. Pass right, score left. You may go down range and score targets. Repair centers are also here on my table. Take a 50 yard center with you. Staple guns are available if you need one. I remind you, do not handle any firearms until the range has been cleared and the line made hot again.”
Spence had done this many times so the jumble of Akim’s directions didn’t bother him.
“How’d you do?” Mickey asked as they trekked out to the 50 yard targets, repair center, score card, staple gun and pencils all in hand. The rain had stopped and blue was starting to appear between the low clouds.
“91 with 2, I think,” Spence reported. “I ‘scoped the first couple of shots and they were right on my call. After that, I didn’t look. At the end, I couldn’t find one of the holes but one of the nines is stretched out a bit. I think it’s the double.”
Mickey nodded, “Sounds like you did very well. Personally, I couldn’t find the X ring. The pattern is nice and round but nothing found center. And there are two that might be in or out.”
Spence grinned, “I’ll be the judge of that.” He’d be scoring Mickey’s targets.
“Plug!” Mickey shouted in jest as they reached the targets.
Yong, the shooter to Spence’s right, was already bent forward looking at Spence’s B-6 target.
“Here,” Spence handed him his blue scoring card. Yong nodded and started writing down Spence’s score.
Spence leaned in to get a close look at Mickey’s target and did the same.
Starting in the center and working his way out, he tallied the holes in each ring.
Five tens, three nines and two eights.
On Mickey’s score card he wrote 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 9, 9, 9, 8, 8. One of the “maybe” shots had clipped the ten ring so it was “in” but the other showed an eighth of an inch of black outside the ten ring. It was definitely a 9.
If you want a 10, shoot a 10, Spence smiled as the familiar Bullseye quip ran through his mind.
Spence tallied the total of the shortcomings for Mickey’s shots. Rather than counting up, it was easier to count the “shortfall” from 10s. A 9 was 1 short of 10. An 8 was 2 short. Mickey’s shortfalls were 1+1+1+2+2, a total of 7. Spence subtracted 7 from 100 and wrote 93-0 on Mickey’s card, the 0 for no shots in the “X” ring. Had there been any, they were worth ten points each but also counted separately for tie-breaking. He slid Mickey’s blue score card between the paper target and the backing cardboard with the end sticking out for Mickey to withdraw and verify.
Spence stepped over to his own target.
In a neat hand, Yong had printed the tally on Spence’s blue card.
X, X, 10, 10, 9, 9, 9, 9, 8, 7 = 91-2
Yong glanced over with a questioning look and Spence nodded his agreement with the score.
What’s done is done, he held the repair center in place over the middle of his target and put a staple in each of its four corners.
He breathed a sigh of relief when his boo-boo, that nasty 7, was safely hidden from view without the embarrassing need for a paster.
A fair start, Spence acknowledged to himself.
But he knew there was a long way to go. There was another Slow Fire target to shoot, then the National Match Course during which, after the one Slow Fire, they’d pick up and move the targets in to 25 yards for a Timed and then a Rapid Fire target. And then there were two more Timed Fire and finally two Rapid fire targets. All this was in 22 caliber for the day’s first 900, so-called for the maximum possible score of 90 shots of 10 points each.
They took a short bathroom and water break after that before Akim started the prep time for center fire.
Spence was dreading this 900.
He would be shooting someone’s 38 caliber Smith and Wesson Model 14-2 revolver, a beauty with 6” barrel and impeccable bluing, but Spence knew he’d struggle with it. The rounded grip and lower hand position always seemed to conspire against him when he shot his own. Spence feared his shots would, as they did with his own 5” stainless steel revolver, waggle above and below the center, with few 10s or Xs. Even shooting single action, revolvers seemed simple to operate but were somehow impossible for him to shoot with Bullseye accuracy.
His fears came true.
Throughout centerfire, even though he kept running the fundamentals over and over in his mind and willing his body to comply, the iron sights of the revolver invariably jumped at the last instant just as the shot broke.
Scoring targets, Spence avoided eye contact and Yong quickly marked his scores but said nothing. It was dreadful. They both knew the less said the better.
Mercifully, centerfire ended and they stopped for lunch after turning in the yellow score cards. Spence didn’t even look at his total for that 900 much less check the arithmetic. He didn’t want to know.
The 45 competition with the big guns was still to come.
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