by BJ Bourg
I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Okay, I'm ready.”
The instructor began the countdown. When he said, “Fire,” I dropped to the ground and pulled the butt of the sniper rifle snug into my shoulder. When the crosshairs locked on the lemon at one hundred yards, I squeezed off the shot. It exploded. My body went into autopilot. I bolted a fresh round and took out the next target. My hand was like a machine. I fired until my rifle was empty and my targets were only a misty memory.
“Eighteen seconds!” the instructor bellowed.
I smiled inwardly. Thus far, my overall time was the best. There was only one sniper left in the competition—my partner, and she wasn't even close to being in my league.
I stepped off the line and Skyler walked past me with her rifle. “That was awesome, Blake!”
I smiled and took my seat under the awning. As Skyler began shooting, I glanced over at the Top Gun Trophy. “That'll look good on my—”
My head jerked around. “That's impossible!”
Skyler's mouth was wide. The other snipers crowded around and slapped her back. She pushed through them and jumped into my arms. I forced a smile. “Good job, Sky.”
The instructor walked up and glanced down at his clipboard. “As of now, Skyler Conner's in first place and Blake Morgan's in second.”
One of the snipers jabbed my shoulder. “Ha! You're losing to a girl!”
My chest burned.
The instructor looked at Skyler. “Do tomorrow what you did today, and you're taking that trophy home. Blake, you should be proud. This is the first time we've had two snipers from the same department competing for first place. You've trained her well.”
Over supper, I didn't hear a word Skyler said. My mind was on the final competition. I couldn't lose to her. I'd trained her. The rest of the department would never let me live it down.
“You listening to me?”
I glanced up. “Yeah, sorry. Hey, let's walk down to the bar.”
“You said we shouldn't drink while attending sniper school.”
“It's okay. This one's in the bag.”
We left the restaurant and walked down a narrow street to a dumpy, biker-looking bar. When we entered, Skyler took an uneasy look around. “You have your pistol?”
“Relax, we're cops.” I ordered Skyler's favorite—Tequila shots. “To you!”
Skyler gulped down her shot. I lifted the glass to my mouth, but shielded it with my hand and placed it back on the bar untouched. As the night wore on, I fed her shot after shot until she couldn't stand straight. When the bar closed, we left walking down the dark street. Skyler leaned against me on unsteady legs and mumbled something about friendship and love. I smiled. The trophy was mine—no doubt. A pang of guilt tugged at my heart, but it was quickly replaced by excitement when I envisioned that trophy squatting atop the filing cabinet in my office.
Footsteps approached quickly from behind and I turned. Something thumped against my temple. A bright light flashed inside my skull and my knees buckled. I fell hard.
A gruff voice hollered, “Give me your wallet!”
Through blurry vision, I saw Skyler fighting with a man. He knocked her to the ground. I struggled to my feet just as he turned. Skyler's pistol was in his hand and he immediately fired two shots into my chest. I collapsed. Each breath brought fire into my lungs. Footsteps retreated. My eyes dimmed. Someone shook me. I tried to focus—it was Skyler. Her face was streaked with tears.
“I'm so sorry!” she wailed.
I opened my mouth to explain, to release her of the guilt, but only blood poured out…
BJ Bourg lives in Mathews, LA with his beautiful wife and two wonderful children. He has had over a hundred stories published in various online and print magazines, as well as in several anthologies. His website is www.bjbourg.com .