Today's Reading

She was only my fourth customer of the afternoon. Except for my reenactor clientele and their steady appetite for black powder, business had been slow for months. The Civil War's sesquicentennial was over. All the tourists wanted was Moonshine merchandise. All the locals wanted was guns and ammo and cheap Confederate flags, the larger the better, which they could get on almost any street corner since every Tom, Dick, and Bubba in town sold them from the back of his pickup truck.

I checked the clock. Five-fifty. I locked the front counter and strolled up next to her. "Can I help you with something?"

She pointed to a Smith and Wesson .45 in the display case. "I need that one."

"You sure? That thing's heavy, with a trigger pull of eight pounds and a kick like a mule."

She twisted her mouth. "I can handle it."

I started to argue some more, but then I heard the unmistakable growl of Trey's Ferrari. Sunshine glinted off the black metal as he pulled into his preferred parking spot next to the empty flower boxes.

The woman's eyes jerked toward the door as Trey came inside. He'd changed out of his special ops outfit into workout pants and a tee, his staying-in clothes. He paused in the threshold, curious, wary. I shook my head. After a second's hesitation, he nodded and went behind the counter. This was his Saturday night routine, running the register while I closed up, and I was always happy to hand off the task. But this time he didn't start sorting receipts. This time he watched the woman, who was getting antsy.

"You gonna give me my gun or what?" she said. I hooked my thumbs into my pockets.



"You don't like it, call the cops. I suspect they'll be keen to know why you came in here claiming to want to buy a gun for yourself when in reality you're buying it for your boyfriend in the parking lot."

She blanched. "He's helping me pick it out, that's all."

"From inside his truck?"

"He didn't want to come in."

I tsk-tsked. "Don't blame him there. He's probably got a felony or two under his belt, which means he can't buy a firearm. So he sends you in here to buy it for him, which is illegal, but since I didn't actually sell you a gun, you might only get a few years in prison."

She directed a furious, fearful glare out the window. That was when she noticed the camera above the door. She turned her head abruptly, but then she saw the camera over the other door.

I smiled. "Yeah, your face is on the video instead of his. Every spook in Washington D.C. is running down your record as we speak. You got any secrets? Guess what? They're not secrets anymore."

She made like a jackrabbit for the parking lot. Her boyfriend had the truck started, so she barely had time to shut the door behind her before he was peeling out, kicking up gravel on the sidewalk. Trey watched them drive off. He now had my flashlight in hand, the giant Maglight he'd bought me for my birthday. He was holding it like a police baton.

"Did you get the license plate?" I said.

"I did."

Not a word I'd said to her was true, of course. Well, the cameras had caught her face. And I would be downloading a still shot into my Do Not Ever Under Any Circumstances Sell A Gun To This Person file for my assistant Kenny.

I switched off the display lights. "I am sick to death of them, all of them. Cheaters. Liars. And I swear if one more person asks me if I have anything with a werewolf on it, I'm gonna commit bloody murder."

Trey held up one hand, and I tossed him the keys. He put away the flashlight and opened the cash register. While he ran the day's tally, I went around pulling the shades and double-checking the burglar bars. The air conditioner coughed and wheezed, like an asthmatic alien on its last legs.

"You didn't stay for lunch," he said, counting bills into neat stacks. "After the scenario."

"I had to get back here."

"You left before I could talk to you."

"You were busy yelling at the entry team."

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