On the first day of Killercon, most authors are trickling in. Early on, Chris Welch and I did the tourist thing on Fremont Street, trying to spot where movies like "Diamonds are Forever" and "Honeymoon in Vegas" and others filmed their famous scenes. Our friend, fellow author Brian Pinkerton (author of the brand new novel Rough Cut, from Bad Moon Books), wasn't due until later. In the time between, I found myself with some time and a desire I'd had since spotting the large ads on buses and limos (and the $5 coupons in the little Vegas travel booklet), and armed with the knowledge that there would be an hour and a half to two hour wait, I cabbed to The Gun Store, where I would be given a choice among an almost limitless list of submachine guns and pistols to shoot.
As a thriller writer, I have always found that research can be everywhere and anywhere. Here was my chance to shoot full auto for the first time, and I decided to take it. I've known my way around guns nearly all my life. I've shot everything from black powder Civil War replicas to long guns in all calibers (including 5.56mm semi-auto), shotguns, and both revolvers and (admittedly to a lesser extent) semi-auto pistols. I've always prided myself on getting the gun stuff right in my stories and books, and I believe I have, in part thanks to my experience and to a fairly well-stocked reference shelf that includes more than one well-thumbed edition of Smith's Military Guns of the World. But I had never held or fired a submachine gun, even though my characters do it all the time. So here I was, and I had a hard time deciding whether to choose the H&K MP5, a standard modern police submachine gun, or the classic German World War 2-era MP-40 (known as the Schmeisser and seen in just about every war movie ever made... check out Clint Eastwood's awesome stance with a scorpion-like MP-40 in the Schloss Adler's staircase in the classic Where Eagles Dare). I chose the MP5 mostly because of my budget and the fact that more of my scenes have included it than the MP-40.
Ready with my plain target and ticket, I settled in for the wait at the main counter. Guns decorate every inch of every wall. Well-armed staff dressed in special ops-black shuttle unloaded weapons and tubs of ammo back and forth to the ranges. A long window allows those waiting to watch the shooters blast away in a hail of hot brass. The rattle of machine gun fire sounds like a movie soundtrack. The smell of cordite filters through the place like an air-borne hallucinogen. Coincidentally, most of the WW2 guns were kept tantalizingly behind the counter, where I could lust over the Schmeissers, the American-made Thompsons and a couple of M3 "grease guns," among many others.
While waiting, I spotted a gentleman in black whose nametag said he was Tony D. and decided that my wait would be well-spent if I asked some questions. I asked Tony if he would mind a few questions from a writer doing research and, to my delight, he agreed. Those WW2 guns are getting old, so my first question was how in the heck do they maintain them in firing shape? It turned out I had picked the best person to ask, as Tony admitted that he is the Chief Armourer -- it's his job to seek out parts all over the world and keep their stock in the best shape possible. From there, we discussed the pros and cons of various guns, including the Italian Breda submachine gun my own dad had used in the 50s during his stint in the Italian marines, when Italy and Yugoslavia almost came to blows over ownership of the city of Trieste. My dad had carried live ammo on the border, two small but jittery armies facing each other over a thinly-drawn line on a map. My story interested Tony as he informed me that his heritage is Italian as well, and so we were off, discussing families and his collection of exotic full-size machine guns (which he and a group of enthusiasts shoot in the Arizona desert once or twice a year). This was gold! I traded cards with Tony and secured his agreement to answer an occasional gun-related question via email. I told him my new book, Wolf'S Edge (to be published by Samhain October 4), contains a parallel story set in late-WW2 Italy based on my parents' recollections of life under German occupation and Allied bombing. I confessed that I'd vacillated between the modern smg and the old one, but had chosen the new one for expedience. The line was moving past the counter, so we parted ways with a hearty handshake and I set off to wait my turn in a very long and snaky line of guys and their girlfriends waiting to do the gangsta thing.
A half hour later, barely having reached the middle of the line, I felt a tap on the shoulder. I turned, startled, to see none other than Tony D., waving for me to follow. A couple dizzying minutes later, Tony personally handed me not only the HK MP5 I'd paid for, but also the WW2 MP-40 I'd passed on, as well as twice the ammo, and we were off and shooting. I was stunned, flattered, humbled, and -- I admit -- grateful for the opportunity to get the VIP treatment, even though it had been the furthest thing from my mind when I approached him.
Well, it was an instructive few minutes. Yes, shooting full auto squirts lead about as quickly as water from a hose. But instinctively I made the experience last and the rounds count more by shooting short bursts, improving my control of the chattering guns. The MP5 sported a laser sight, which made it easy to aim, but keeping the rounds within the target was difficult as it climbed up and to the right during shooting. The MP-40, on the other hand, Tony informed me (worth a cool $18 grand and change) would shoot like a thoroughbred -- and it did, with deeper reports and amazing accuracy with only mild climb straight up. Sure, we were shooting about 40 feet away, about the limit for these guns' accuracy, but I have to admit I tore up the center of that target pretty well for a beginner. I was happy to fare so well, continuing my life-long tendency to handle guns with instinctive ability I guess must be innate. All bragging aside, it's not that I was super accurate -- some rounds missed the target altogether as I gained some familiarity -- but I did well enough to feel as though my writing about guns isn't based on book research only. I also did learn a couple things you can't just read: recoil is fairly light on both guns, amazingly so (I'd expected a sore shoulder), and the MP-40 sports its bolt on the left, which seems amazingly well-designed (as Tony later confirmed) because when holding the pistol grip with your right hand, cocking the bolt with your left actually works better and gets you shooting again more quickly. What an experience!
I just want to thank Tony D. once again for the personal touch, the VIP treatment I didn't expect or demand, the friendly conversation, the answers to a writer's questions, and the offer to come back any time and shoot some more classic guns. I know I will return to the Gun Store. The last dab of frosting on the cake was having my picture taken with Tony and his goddaughter Jessica, who also works there, while on my way out. I count myself lucky to have had such a great experience, and having had the chance to make friends with such an expert... and a true gentleman!
Grazie mille, Tony!