Fiona watched from the window as Carlton’s truck pulled out of the driveway. The light from the afternoon sun reflected off the waves in the bay, burning her eyes. As the ache inside her head worsened, she pulled a bottle of painkillers from her pocket and washed down a gelcap with the last of her coffee.
She glanced across the room at Pepper, who bobbed her head while clenching her eyelids. Fiona could hear the squeal of an electric guitar leaking from her niece’s headphones. Although the sound was faint, she could also feel the rhythmic thump of the drumbeat in her head. That girl, Fiona thought. She’s going to be deaf by thirty.
She bit her lip in an attempt to bear the pain. Like it or not, Pepper was and adult, and the leaking cans weren’t loud enough that Fiona should have been bothered by it. But the next song was even heavier, and the now noticeable rhythm of the bass guitar only increased Fiona’s irritability. She had enough and snapped.
Fiona stood and threw herself across the room, grabbing the headphones’ band and ripping the cans from her ears. Pepper leaped to her feet and shouted, “What the hell?” as she grabbed the headphones and took them back.
Fiona felt sheepish. That wasn’t something she had done before, even after the worst nights. “I’m sorry,” she said, apologizing for her behavior. “I shouldn’t have done that… I know, I shouldn’t have but the music… it was too much, and it was hurting my head….”
“First off,” Pepper said, “fuck you. If it bothered you that much, there’s a dozen rooms in this house that you could have gone to.”
“I’m sorry,” Fiona said again.
“Whatever.” Pepper placed her headphones on her head and stepped into the kitchen. She spotted a stain on the tile floor, barely noticeable after cleaning. She looked back at Fiona and flashed a mischievous grin.
“You know, that was very unlike you,” she said, removing her headphones.
Fiona didn’t respond.
Pepper placed her headphones on a nearby table and sat down beside Fiona. “Have you ever thought about the difference between asking someone for a favor and manipulating them?”
“You’re a nice person. The problem is, it’s just an illusion–because you’re nice, people are more likely to do things for you.”
“That’s not why–”
“I know,” Pepper replied, “but say you’re out with a friend and you want to buy yourself an espresso. When you get your drink, you reach into your pocket only to realize that hey, you forgot your wallet. Chances are good your friend would offer to pay for it, right?”
“Well yes, but I would pay them back.”
Pepper leaned in. “Well say I’m out with you and I want a latte, but I don’t have my wallet on me. I’d put on a show, claim I don’t really need a latte, maybe pout a little and pretend to head back to my car. You’d buy me one, maybe aware of what I’m doing, maybe not. What’s the difference?”
“You’re serious right?” Fiona rolled her eyes. “Fine. You deliberately didn’t bring your wallet, and you wanted a latte anyway. You were using me, and you probably wouldn’t think twice about doing it again. I actually forgot my wallet, and my friend picked up the tab, knowing I’d pay her back.” Fiona stroked her temple. “You knew that, though.”
“Oh, that’s not the point,” Pepper said, that same, sly smirk creeping across her face again. “What you did was just life. I was having fun.”
“Pepper, my head hurts, and I don’t feel like playing games. Please tell me what you want.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with using people. That’s what they’re there for. Some people do lose their usefulness, but so what? No one’s useless forever. And if push comes to shove, I can give them a jump-start–a little push to help them be useful again.”
Pepper motioned toward the rifle propped up by the stair. “You’re pretty good with that rifle, right?” Pepper asked. The began to change into a devious grin.
“I guess so,” Fiona said.
“But you didn’t go for it when that thing broke in.”
It hadn’t occurred to Fiona, but Pepper had a point. She could have easily ran from the room and grabbed the rifle, but she froze up instead. “I guess I didn’t think about it?” she said. “I mean, I was terrified–I couldn’t move. I even fainted.” She paused for a moment. You did faint, she thought. Who faints outside of a fifties B movie? At the very least you should have run screaming out of that room….
“Of course not,” Pepper said, taking Fiona by surprise. Her smile seemed to lighten. “That thing’s loaded with overpressure ammo. They’re also heavy, high grain rounds. That means a lot more kick and a hell of a lot more penetration, and a twenty-two inch barrel isn’t something you really want to be swinging around inside a building anyway. That’s why you didn’t go for it–you’re not stupid, not in the slightest. Buckshot goes through walls, Fiona. That thing? It’ll tear through the door and end up in our neighbor’s teacup. So you still felt helpless, and you froze, your blood pressure went to hell, and before you knew it, you found yourself laying on the kitchen floor.”
Maybe that’s right, Fiona thought. She’d felt comfortable with the gun on the range, but that was in a controlled setting. She wasn’t comfortable with putting it to use. “So what do you suggest?” she asked. “I mean, a pistol might not reach the Hawkins’ living room, but it would still have enough power after a few walls to take out you or Grandpa.”
“Oh, any gun worth using in a defense scenario would,” Pepper said. “The biggest problem is how to you get a gun that you can use indoors easily enough that you aren’t as likely to fire it blindly.” She pointed over to the footlocker. “The pistols in there will work, but pistols are for people with experience. Or for people who don’t mind getting a bit closer to their target. Sure, you’re a crack shot, but paper targets don’t fight back. Now if I remember correctly, Carlton did mention that he had a gun that would ease the need for precision a bit, but one that isn’t like slinging around a thirty-inch rod.”
Fiona blinked. “You mean the sawed-off?”
Pepper moved toward the footlocker and motioned for Fiona to follow. After taking a moment to break her hesitation, Fiona complied, and watched as Pepper began rummaging through it.
“Now keep in mind that this won’t mean you can just point the gun and shoot,” Pepper said. “Buckshot does spread out, but even with a twelve-inch barrel it won’t work like you see on TV. You’re looking at about an inch of spread per yard, tops.” She looked at Fiona and grinned once again. “Well, here we go.”
It looked like a massive pistol with a curved grip. The receiver was covered in a nearly ivory-like enamel and loosely decorated with a gold leaf acanthus design, while the furniture was carved from what appeared to be white birch. There were three barrels–two at the bottom and another nestled between them on top–each about twelve inches in length. Even the trigger and guard were dazzling in design, having apparently been filled with fourteen karat gold.
“Now this is a weapon for close quarters. You have three shots that you can fire off faster than you can blink, and with the right ammunition you can punch through your target without hitting anyone behind it. You’re looking at a range of about twenty yards, and you’ll be able to move around with it just fine. She pointed to the raised metal bead at the front of the top barrel. “Just don’t forget to use this. Aim small, miss small after all.”
Fiona smiled. “Okay, so what do I use in it?”
“Well,” Pepper said, “double-ought buckshot is a classic, and it can take down a target just fine. But you’re looking at eight or nine pellets depending on the load. Sure, you can get more with a magnum shell, but that will knock your teeth out.”
After looking at a few boxes, Pepper pulled out a large, black box with white trim. “This will do fine,” she said, pulling out a large silver-on-blue box. “Managed Recoil, number one buck. A teensy bit smaller than double-ought, but the pellets are just as lethal. Only this has fifteen of them in each shell. It’ll kick, but if you can handle that rifle, you should be fine with this.”
As she handed the box to Fiona, something inside the footlocker seemed to catch her eye. Her grin faded into a look of perplexity, and as she reached inside, Fiona could hear her niece mutter to herself.
“What is it?”
“It’s Tri-Ball,” Pepper said. “This stuff’s designed to one-shot dangerous game. You don’t see shells like this very often.”
“It’s for shotguns?” Fiona asked.
“Yes, but I wouldn’t shoot it in yours. The recoil would be like firing a cannon. Hell, I wouldn’t want to use this at all–this shit will tear through your chest like it was made of toilet paper.” Pepper gently shook the box and frowned.
“The box is empty,” she said.