When Jack had done his business, he looked out the front door for Oz. He wasn’t there and neither was the van. Jack worried a little, until he turned around and saw Oz standing beside Wart in the back with all the targets. Wart had laid out his guns on a spare bale of hay but was using a brand new bow. Oz tapped Wart on the wrist and the older man tried to adjust his grip to Oz’s suggestions. He released the arrow, only to have it overshoot its mark. Wart looked frustrated.
Oz looked, well, like Oz had always looked in Jack’s mind, unruffled. He handed Wart another arrow. Wart tried again. Again, he overshot the target but by not as much. Oz handed him another arrow. Jack watched the pair work through a stack of arrows. By the last one, Wart had hit the bale of hay, though he had missed the bull’s eye.
Wart finally set down the bow and he and Oz started picking up the spent arrows. Jack decided it was safe to walk into the target area. At the sound of Jack opening the door, Wart jumped a little. The corner of Oz’s mouth twitched upward.
Jack sat on the bale of hay that displayed the guns. His eyes roved over the extensive collection. He tried to keep his reaction to himself when he realized that that sawed-off shotgun had
to be illegal. As Jack had expected, all the guns were cleaned and oiled to perfection. They were still cushioned in their carrying cases. They gleamed with deadly beauty in the floodlight.
How long had it been since Jack had touched a gun?
“Wanna try?” Oz asked. His soft-spoken ways did not disturb the quiet of the desert. He belonged far away from civilization, Jack realized.
Jack nodded, “Ya, sure, youbetcha,” and reached for the service revolver that was the same model that he had been trained on back when he was eighteen or nineteen. That was thirty years ago or next year depending on one’s point of view.
Wart choked and Jack stopped reaching.
Oz’s eyes were twinkling. “I meant the bow.”
Jack looked from Oz to Wart and realized that the older man was moments away from snatching the gun out of Jack’s reach and re-oiling it, just to make sure that none of the oil from Jack’s hands had been transferred to the gun.
“Ah, sure. Why not?” He had never tried it before. Jack listened carefully as Oz explained how to stand and how to hold the weapon. He pulled back on the string and then released it. He overshot the bale of hay but not by much. Oz silently handed Jack another arrow and Jack tried again. This time he hit the hay bale, but just barely, on the furthest corner. The third time, he missed the hay bale but he was much more centered.
Wart made a huff of jealousy and Jack heard the click as a magazine locked into place. His back was toward the man but that sound was all the warning Jack needed to know that Wart was about to start shooting.
Indeed, the first ‘bang!’ happened as Jack was lining up his bow for his fourth arrow. Jack didn’t jerk. He couldn’t tell if Oz winced or not. He followed Oz’s instructions with even more precision than before and hit the bale of hay, just low of the target.
Wart was mumbling and firing a bullet every ten seconds, or so. Jack would have been surprised if wasn’t every ten seconds exactly. Jack tried to match his every arrow with Wart’s every other bullet. If he did so, Wart’s precision and accuracy improved. If Jack shot an arrow in between Wart’s bullets, Wart’s aim would be a little high. After Jack’s third arrow had hit the target, he started moving around. He’d take a step or two back, or to the side and shoot from there. Oz adjusted to his movement and was always there to hand him another arrow. Soon, Jack was hitting the target with every attempt and the bull’s eye one-out-of-three.
Jack reached for another arrow but Oz’s hands were empty. He’d gone through all the ammunition and the bale of hay was well perforated.
Oz held his hands out for the bow, so Jack handed it over. Oz proceeded to unstring it and check it for any damaging wear and tear. Jack watched closely. His muscles ached, but in a good way. Maybe he would buy a bow when he returned to Colorado. He could wait until the Academy to get a gun, but to acquire one now would raise way too many red flags. He did have his throwing knives, even if he hadn’t practiced in a while.
He needed to practice and he probably wouldn’t get another chance in a while. “Where’s the van,” he asked Oz.
Oz jerked his thumb toward the right corner of the building. Jack was thankful it was away from Wart. He didn’t want to walk behind the jumpy man while he was firing a gun. Jack followed the silent directions to the van. It was unlocked. Jack found his backpack and dug through to unearth his throwing knives, and then he unearthed the one on his person. Jack shut the van door as quietly as he could and strolled back toward the shooting range.
Jack showed Oz his prize possessions and nodded at Wart. “Do ya think he’ll mind if I use them on his hay bale?”
Oz shrugged. “Should probably wait until we take all the arrows out of it first.”
Jack gave Oz a dirty look, to which the kid was immune. Of course they would have to remove all the arrows first. He and Oz sat on the ground behind Wart and waited. The strange man shot through a mag, and checked to ensure that nothing was in the chamber. All three men heard the sound of a car slowing down and driving toward the gas station. Wart changed mags and walked into the convenience store. Oz grabbed a couple arrows, a bow and followed. Jack was surprised that the men were reacting with such preparedness. He tucked his extra knives into his back pockets and palmed his favorite two. Jack managed to slide into the store without noise.
There was a black van in front of the gas pumps. Like Oz’s, the back windows were blacked out. The driver was a big, broad, blond, intimidating manner of a man. He walked into the store as if he owned it. Jack found it interesting that neither Oz nor Wart ducked their head. They looked the driver in the eye. Jack too looked the man in the eye, but he had fifty years of experience to know that this man was not superior. By not following the laws of the ‘wild’, they seemed to throw the man’s equilibrium. He wanted their fear and Jack and his new friends refused to give it to them.
Then two riders spilled out of the van: a man and a woman. They were half dressed and, if Jack wasn’t mistaken, speckled with blood. They were laughing.
It was disturbing.
They stumbled into the silent store and stopped. It was obvious that they hadn’t expected Wart to have guests.
“Well, suck,” the girl muttered.
Oz handed Jack the bow and arrows (Jack had to pocket the knives in a hurry) and maneuvered Wart away from the cash register and took his place. “How much?” he asked.
The big man jerked his head at his male passenger. “Get money,” he ordered. Apparently, he hadn’t planned on paying for this. The male scurried away. The female started casing the aisles. Wart followed, gun carefully trained on the floor. Jack stayed where he was, bow and arrow ready. He wished that he had a gun, though, by the wary looks that kept on getting tossed his way, this antiquated weapon made a statement too.
The male came back with money. Oz exchanged it. The three filled up their gas tank and left with little fuss. Neither Oz’s nor Wart’s face showed emotion as the taillights faded into the night. Wart ushered Oz out of his way and started organizing the cash register. He started with the pennies and worked his way up in denominations. The whole time he was mumbling, “Gotta take them out of circulation. Gotta take them out of circulation.”
If Wart was using a double entendre, Jack whole-heartedly approved. He had met snakes that were less rabid.
Wart finished with the money, added a toothpick to his line on the counter and then looked at a loss of what to do next. “You staying or going?” he asked Oz.
Jack approved. The trio of trouble could double back. Wart would need back-up when that happened. But a part of Jack winced at the idea of that trio alive and free. They needed put down for everybody’s best interests. None of Wart’s guns had a scope on it, so his range –should he set up a sniper’s nest- would be limited.
Wart finished his counting and motioned to Jack. “I’ll show you the bunks.”
Jack looked down at the longbow in his hands. “Uhm.”
Oz appeared at his side and confiscated it. “I’ll put it away.”
Jack followed the store owner to the back, past the storage area. There were three steel doors. One had an EXIT sign over the frame. The second one, Jack assumed was Wart’s private area. He opened the third door and here Jack saw bunkbeds. They were clean as expected and had such tight corners that they would put most soldiers in Basic to shame. No evidence of rodents or bugs. Jack might be able to sleep here. It had a comfortable, if basic, bed and a steel door with three dead-bolt locks. He liked that kind of security. It would be better if he had a loyal Jaffa standing guard, but a clone couldn’t have everything. He could understand why Oz would skip hotels or motels for this set-up. It didn’t have the amenities, but it was clean and cheap. He tested the bed with one hand; it seemed comfortable as well.
He went out to the van and grabbed his bag. He glanced at his watch and realized that he had only traveled with Oz for less than twelve hours. It was early morning and he was glad that his car had crapped out. He would not be sleeping on anything as comfortable and clean as what he had been offered here. Jack washed his face and brushed his teeth. He did his normal nightly clean-up. Jack laid on the bed and picked up a book. He needed to unwind. Then he realized that he hadn’t seen Oz or Wart for a little while.
Jack wandered into the store area. Wart was scrubbing the floor, taking extra care to remove any evidence of the trio that had been by. Jack didn’t walk on the floors, for fear of adding to Wart’s job. He was pretty sure that no matter how clean his shoes were, they weren’t clean enough for Wart. Oz was nowhere to be seen. The gun cases were stacked up in the corner behind the register.
“Where’s Oz?” he finally asked.
Wart didn’t answer. He paused briefly and then just kept on scrubbing.
“Wart?” Jack tried again. “Where’s Oz?”
“All the guns are put away,” Jack countered.
“Oz doesn’t like guns.”
Jack paused with that information. Oz hadn’t shown any anger or fear of the guns, perhaps a bit of amusement? Jack hadn’t noticed any aversion. For cryin’ out loud, Oz had a tranquilizer gun in his van. He had to practice some time to be proficient. But he hadn’t practiced now that he had the chance. Oz didn’t seem to have a problem with other people using guns with bullets. The only time when Jack had seen such a dichotomy was when the person in question had a better defense system. Jack knew that it wasn’t throwing knives; Oz only carried a pocket knife. Oz didn’t quite move with the fluidity of someone well acquainted with the martial arts. Yes, Oz was fluid, but not in that way. The martial arts made use of a wide range of muscles that the kid didn’t have strengthened. Oz didn’t have the bulk to discourage someone that way. Perhaps Oz was experienced in an obscure fighting style? It was a possibility.
If Oz was practicing with his tranquilizer gun now, Jack should have been able to hear if from now. If he was practicing with the bow and arrow, Jack wouldn’t have. Jack cocked his hear and listened. Nothing. He backtracked to the storage area and found a window to the outside. The ‘backyard’ was just as lit as before, but Oz was nowhere to be seen. Jack rushed back to Wart.
“Oz isn’t out back.”
“He went looking for a challenge.”
Forget good manners. Jack raced across the newly cleaned floor for the front door. He ran to where the van should have been parked. The van was gone. If Oz had gone after the trio, he should have taken back-up, namely Jack.
Jack stomped back into the store.
“Oz’ll be back for you,” Wart assured him.
“He should have someone watching his six,” muttered Jack.
Wart shrugged. “Oz’s a lone wolf. He just went for target practice.”
And Jack was an astrophysicist in disguise. Oz had gone after the trio, or his name wasn’t Jonathon O’Neill. Okay, so his name wasn’t Jonathan O’Neill anymore, but that was beside the point. Without a car, he had no hope of catching up to Oz. So now he had to wait.
He hated waiting.
He did have his high school’s summer reading to read and Wart was eyeing where he had stepped. He would probably start cleaning again the second Jack left the room. There was nothing he could do right now. He wasn’t sure that he was ready to revert from ‘Old Jack’s’ life back to ‘Clone Jack.’ He wasn’t ready to be a ‘dumb teen’ again. There had to be something that he could do.
“What if we called the cops?”
Wart looked startled. “On Oz?”
“On the trio. Tell them which way they went, give Oz some backup.”
“I told you, Oz is just doing some target practice.”
Jack glared; like he believed such a bald-faced lie. He would never be able to get cops to believe him-in this teenage form- if Wart wasn’t willing to corroborate his story and it’d be worse if Wart tried to undermine it. There had to be something Jack could do.
“Go to sleep,” Wart said. “Oz’ll be here in the morning.”
Wart seemed so sure. Jack stomped away. There had to be something he could do. The demands on his teenage body though sent him into dreamland before he could suss out an answer to the dilemma.