The Amateur

Matt Farley and Joe Banks shoot Thursday mornings at the gun club. I found them there in full gear, leather shooting jackets and pants over sweatshirts and tights. Shooting goggles, ear protection, and rubber palmed leather gloves completed the outfits. They only go all out in the final weeks before a competition.

I waited behind the firing line while they finished their 40 rounds in the prone position. Normally they take the full hour at prone, but I think my presence caused them to rush a little. Neither had particularly good groupings.

Matt pulled off his gloves and jacket and came over to the table where I sat, and began cleaning his rifle. He always cleaned it between prone, standing, and kneeling. That used to drive Joe nuts, but he got used to it. Joe joined us. We sat, watching Matt clean the rifle, not saying anything.

"You guys know anybody who shoots an SVD, with steel-cores?" I asked.

Matt picked up on it immediately. "They found the bullet?" he asked.

Joe asked, "What's an SVD?"

"Snaiperskaya Vintovka Dragunova" Matt said. "A Dragunova Sniper Rifle. Centerfire, scope. Takes standard NATO ammo, 7.62. Steel-core is usually only in the sniper grade cartridges. Don't find that in the local shop." He looked over at me. "They say who made the ammo?"

No, they didn't say.

"Could be Polish, or Chinese. Maybe Yugo, probably a lot of that floating around after Bosnia and Kosovo. Or Russian. Every Soviet infantry squad had a Dragunov." Matt offered.

"It doesn't make sense. They said she just fell over, no noise. A sniper rifle makes a bang, the round is supersonic, and they'd have all heard the shock wave, then the report." Joe brushed something invisible off the table.

"Could be a light load. Keep it subsonic. Still have the bang though." Matt considered further, "Pretty noisy part of town, but a light load would mean you had to be closer, so the report would be louder."

"Centerfire. Well, now we know Curtis didn't do it." Joe said, and he and Matt laughed for the first time since the funeral. "Remember that L96? After the first shot he couldn't even hit the target, he was so afraid of the bang and kick." They laughed again.

"Just a flinch" I said. "The damn thing jumps, too."

"Right, right. It's a poor workman who blames his tools." said Joe with a smile. For a moment, we had all forgotten the somber mood of the past few days.