LIKE A HOLE IN THE HEAD
In theory it seemed to me to be a pretty bright, money making idea, but it only took around four months for the fact to sink in that The Jay Benson School of Shooting was headed for a flop.
Of course, I should have known. The previous owner, a nice old guy named Nick Lewis, had hinted that the school had long ago run out of powder. It was certainly ramshackle, and in need of a lot of paint. Against this it was plain to me that Lewis was long past good shooting and this, I told myself, was the reason why he had only six paying pupils, all as old and as doddery as himself. He had been running the school for twenty years. Over this period his books showed an impressive profit and it was only during the past five years the receipts had fallen off as his shooting had fallen off. I was confident enough to believe my shooting talent could put the school back on its feet, but I didn't take into consideration two important factors: my lack of working capital and the location of the school.
By the time I had bought the lease, the buildings and the three acres of sandy beach I had used up all my savings and most of my Army gratuity. Advertising in Paradise City and Miami comes high, and until I could make some kind of profit, advertising had to remain a pipe dream. Until I moved into the black, I couldn't afford to give the shooting range, the restaurant, the bar and our bungalow a much needed face lift. This, of course, turned into a vicious circle. Those few who were willing to pay to become good shots expected a decent restaurant and a comfortable bar. Those who did show up lost interest when they saw the set-up. They expected something in mink. They turned up their rich, spoilt noses when they saw the paint peeling from the buildings and that the bar carried only a bottle of whisky and a bottle of gin.
At least we had inherited Nick Lewis's six pupils, old, tiresome and hopeless as they were, but they did provide us with eating money.
Four months after we had opened, I decided to take stock. I looked at our bank balance ($1050) and our weekly turnover ($103) and then I
looked at Lucy.
We're not going to get anywhere unless we make this place fit for the rich and the idle," I told her.
She fluttered her hands. This was a sure sign she was getting into a panic.
"Take it easy," I said. "Don't get excited. We can do quite a lot ourselves. Some paint, a couple of brushes, some hard work and we can put this place nearly right. What do you think?"
"If you say so, Jay."
I regarded her. Every now and then, I wondered at the back of my mind, if I had made a mistake. I knew this school, if it was going to make money, had to be worked on. I couldn't do it alone. Maybe, if I had married a pioneer type of girl who could work as hard as I could, there would be less of a problem, but I hadn't wanted to marry a pioneer type of girl, I had wanted to marry Lucy.
Whenever I looked at Lucy, I got a lot of satisfaction. The moment I had seen her, I felt sure she was for me. We had run into each other in that strange way that destiny has for pairing off the male and the female.
I had just got out of the Army after serving ten years as a range instructor and three years in Vietnam as a sniper. I had ideas about my future, but no idea of getting married.
Lucy, twenty-four years of age, blonde, beautifully built, lovely to look at, was walking ahead of me along Florida Boulevard, Miami, where I had come for some sun while I made up my mind just how I was going to earn a living.
There are breast-men, leg-men, bottom-men and men who dig for the over-all female scene. I have to admit that a neat, small bottom that twitches as its owner walks has always caught my eye.
Lucy had the prettiest bottom I had seen and it so fascinated me that I followed it along the boulevard without being aware of the rest of her. As she passed a saloon a fat drunk came staggering out and cannoned into her. She went reeling across the sidewalk, heading helplessly towards the fast moving traffic. I was ten steps behind her. I reached her, caught hold of her arm and swung her against me.
She looked at me and I looked at her : those clear blue eyes, the snub nose, the freckles, the wide, scared mouth, the long silky blonde hair, the brave little breasts straining against the white cotton dress made a tremendous impact on me. I knew right away that she was the woman for me.
During my years in the Army I had met a lot of women. Experience had taught me how to handle the various types. I saw at once that Lucy was the timid, dithering type so I appealed to her kindness. I explained I was on my own, I had no friends and as I had undoubtedly saved her life would she have dinner with me?
She stared at me for a long moment while I tried to look lonely, then she nodded.
We saw each other every night for the next three weeks. I could see I had made an impact on her. She was the kind of girl who needed a man to lean on. At this time, she had a job as a book-keeper at a Pets' store on Biscayne Boulevard so she had only the evenings to herself. I took her by storm. I told her I had this chance to buy the shooting school and why I thought I could turn it into a paying proposition.
I had the reputation of being the second best shot in the U.S. Army. I had enough medals, trophies and cups to fill a small room. Also I had spent three years in the jungles of Vietnam as a sniper. I didn't tell Lucy I had been a sniper. I had a feeling I wouldn't get far with her if she knew that. Sniping is cold- blooded murder. It's a necessary job and I had got used to it, but it is something I never want to, talk about. When I got my discharge, I had to look around for a new career. Shooting is my business. I have no other talents. When I saw the ad. that this school of shooting was in the market, I felt it was for me.
"Let's get married, Lucy," I said to her. "We can make a go of this school together. With your business training and my shooting, we can't miss . . . How about it?"
I saw the hesitation in her blue eyes, She was the kind of girl who dithered, not sure whether to go forward or to go back. I knew she loved me, but to her, marriage was a big step and she had to be pushed. I put pressure on her and turned on all my persuasive charm. Finally, after more dithering, she agreed.
So we got married and we bought the school. The first month was the sort of paradise I thought only came in dreams. I liked playing the boss-husband. Although she wasn't much of a cook and she would rather read historical romances than clean the bungalow, she was terrific in bed and she seemed to like being bossed around. Then, when the money didn't come in, when we had only these six old deadbeats paving us, between them, $103 a week and wasting my ammunition, I began to worry.
"It takes time . . . I must he patient," I kept telling myself.
At the end of the fourth month, the position looked so bad, I decided Lucy had to accept some of the responsibility and I called this board meeting.
"We have to create a better image, honey," I said. "Then, somehow, we must advertise. The trouble is we are fifteen miles from Paradise City . . . that's fifteen miles too far. If people don't know we are here, why should they come to us?"
"So I'll buy some paint and we'll smarten the place up. What do you say?"
"Yes . . . let's do it. It'll be fun."
So on this bright late summer afternoon with a stiff breeze fanning the sand, the sea lapping the beach, the sun hot, the shadows growing long, we were both at work, slapping on paint.
I was working on the shooting gallery while Lucy worked on the bungalow. We had been at it since 05.00 with a break for coffee and another break for a ham sandwich. I was dipping my brush into the paint pot when I saw this black Cadillac come bumping up the dirt road that led to the gallery.
I put down the brush, hurriedly wiped my hands and stood up. I saw Lucy was going through the same motions. She too was looking hopefully at the big car as it came slowly up the drive, scattering sand and pebbles.
I could see two men in the back and the driver. All wore black, all had black slouch hats and they looked like three crows, sitting hunched up and motionless until the car pulled up within ten yards of the bungalow.
I started across the sand as a short, squat man got out of the car and paused to look around. The other passenger and the driver remained in the car.
Thinking back, I can see now that there was something menacing and vulture-like in the way this squat man stood, but that's thinking back. As I approached him, all I hoped for was this could be a profitable client. Why else, I asked myself, would he be here?
The squat man was looking at Lucy who was regarding him roundeyed, too shy to welcome him; then he looked towards me. His fat, swarthy face lit up with a smile that showed gold- capped teeth. He moved towards me, extending a small, fat hand.
"That's me." I shook hands. His skin was dry and felt like the back of a lizard. There was power in his fingers, but the grip was friendly without being challenging.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Savanto." Thinking back, this was the understatement of the year.
Augusto Savanto was around sixty years of age. I guessed he was Latin-American. His face was full and slightly pock-marked. He wore a straggly moustache that hid his top lip. He had flat, snake's eyes : genial, darting, suspicious and possibly cruel.
"I've heard about you, Mr. Benson. They tell me you are a fine shot."
I glanced beyond him at the Caddy. The driver looked like a chimpanzee. He was small, very dark with a completely flat face, deep set tiny eyes and hairy strong hands that rested on the driving wheel. I looked at the man in the passenger's seat. He was young, slim, swarthy and he wore big sun goggles, a black tight suit and a startlingly white shirt. He sat motionless, staring straight ahead, not looking at me.
"Well, I guess I shoot," I said. "What can I do for you, Mr. Savanto?"
"You teach shooting?"
"That's what I'm here for."
"Is it difficult to teach someone to shoot well?"
I had been asked this question before and I gave him the cautious, stock answer.
"It depends what you call well and it depends on the pupil."
Savanto took off his hat to reveal thin, greasy hair and a bald spot on the crown of his head. He stared into the hat as if expecting to find something hidden in it, waved it in the air, then replaced it on his head.
"How well do you shoot, Mr. Benson?"
That was the kind of question I could live up to.
"Come over to the gallery. I'll show you."
Savanto revealed more of his gold-capped teeth.
"I like that, Mr. Benson. No talk . . . action." He laid his small hand on my wrist. "I am sure you are very good at hitting the bull, but can you hit a moving target? I am only interested in moving targets."
"Would you like to see some clay pigeon shooting?"
He looked at me, his small black eyes quizzing.
"That's not what I call shooting, Mr. Benson. A burst with a shotgun . . . what's that? One bullet from a gun . . . that's shooting."
He was right, of course. I waved to Lucy who put down her paint brush and came over.
"Mr. Savanto, meet my wife. Lucy, this is Mr. Savanto. He wants to see me shoot. Will you get some beer cans and my rifle?"
Lucy smiled at Savanto and offered her hand. He shook hands, smiling at her.
"I think Mr. Benson is a very lucky man, Mrs. Benson," he said.