Karl Myers

A novel by Jeff Lee

first pages

Good Eye and Steady Hands

< A 6-minute read >

Before you begin, you may wish to click this link–Karl Myers–to read an overview of this 150,000-word-plus noir novel set in 1955, which begins in Lewes on the Delaware Bay and concludes in Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula (and points west).

(Karl Myers is dedicated to two very singular people who unwittingly inspired some of what follows.)

Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.” Thomas Wolfe

Four, empty quart bottles glisten in the sun. The dark brown glass of each, near black to the eye in the bright light, is belted with a label on which, among other things, is printed “Schmidt’s.” The bottles sit on the rusting remnants of the tailgate of an ancient Chevy pickup, which is close to and pointed toward the western boundary of Fort Miles. The pickup is corroded and pitted from years of exposure to the salted sea air that has blown inland from the Atlantic Ocean, which is one-and-a-half-miles away on the other side of the Great Dune. It is sand from the dune that has buried the front of the pickup to its headlights due to the dune’s irresistible and glacial, wind-driven march inland.

Because today has brought a reprieve of light, southerly air, the gentle breeze carries the unique scent of nearby salt marshes and not the unpleasantly pungent odors of the fish processing plants that line the Delaware Bay shoreline. The sandy clearing—bordered by invasive black pines—is not far from a two-laned, paved road that runs parallel to the bay and toward the entrance to the Army base. The only sounds are the occasional buzzing of greenheads, and the distant workings of the fish plants, the plants that are the reason why in 1953, Lewes, Delaware claimed to be “the nation’s largest fishing port.”

A sharp, earsplitting crack disturbs the silence, followed almost simultaneously by the crystalline sound of splintering glass and a metallic click. A faint echo of the first shot returns to the clearing as another deafening crack and the shattering of glass rings out. The sequence repeats until the bottles are destroyed. Doing so requires six shots and less than ten seconds.

At the other end of the clearing, two hundred feet across the sand from the abandoned pickup, thirty-three-year-old Jerry Peterman holds to his shoulder a surplus, M1 Garand, .30-06, battle rifle still sighted at where the bottles had been. Slowly, he lowers the rifle muzzle until it points at the ground. His eyes remain focused on the pickup as a suggestion of a smile—a hint of confidence or perhaps arrogance—interrupts what has been a stony countenance, but the smile lasts only for a moment, and cold eyes turn toward his twelve-year-old son standing a few feet away. When the boy senses his father’s eyes on him, he straightens into a posture approximating military attention and stares at the elder Peterman’s left ear.

Greg is of average height and build for a boy who has just turned twelve, which in August of 1955 means the boy is a tad less than five feet tall and lean. He has a mousy-brown buzz cut the barber calls a Teddy Bear, and he wears a white T-shirt and drab olive-green slacks, all of which make him look like an embryonic jarhead, a miniature rendition of his father. The older Peterman had been a Marine in the Pacific Theater, and if asked, would say he is still a Marine, although the only time he truly feels that way is when he has a rifle in his hands.

“Good shootin’, sir,” says the boy, his voice still in a girl’s soprano pitch.

“Damn right that was good shootin’. Took out a lot of Japs with that kind of shootin’.”

“Yes sir.”  

“Good eye and steady hands.”

“Yes sir.”

Peterman stares at his son for a beat before announcing, “Got a surprise for you, boy.”

“Sir?”

“It’s in the back of the Jeep.”

Greg runs a short distance to a battered and open-topped, Army surplus Jeep, which sits in the shadows of the pines that cloak the sandy track that has brought father and son to the clearing. When he reaches the back of the Jeep, Greg looks over the tailgate where he sees a loosely rolled, olive-colored army blanket that does not represent something he would characterize as a surprise. When he turns to look at his father, there is apprehension in his eyes.

“In the blanket, boy.”

Greg grabs hold of the blanket roll and is startled by what feels like a rifle. He takes a step back, and again looks anxiously at his father.

“I only get one Saturday off a week, and I don’t want to spend it watching you stand there like a jackass, looking at me,” Peterman grouches. “Hop to it and bring it here.”

Greg slowly unrolls the blanket, and his eyes validate what his hands had suggested. Carefully, he lifts a .22-caliber rifle from the trunk, and with difficulty due to its heft, he holds the gun at arm’s length as he walks toward his father.

“Is this for me?” Greg asks.

Peterman answers with a nod and a wry smile.

As Greg’s expression reveals a range of emotions—the surprise of so wonderful a thing as his very own rifle, the gravitas of having to be responsible for it, the shock of his father’s recognition—he asks his father, “Would it be all right … if maybe … could I shoot it, sir?”

“Could I shoot it, sir?” Peterman repeats in mocking falsetto. “Why do you think I had you get it out of the Jeep, pissant? Give it to me.”

Peterman takes the rifle, and as he aims at the old pickup, says, “Time you learned to shoot, boy.”

The father lowers the rifle and walks toward the truck. After a few steps, he turns to see if his son is following—he is not—and with an annoyed look, jerks his head in the direction of the pickup. The boy runs to his father’s side and keeps pace until they halve the distance to the rusted hulk of the truck.

“Stay here, boy, and hold the rifle.”

Greg takes the rifle from his father, and clearly uncomfortable doing so, he holds it as he watches his father walk the rest of the way to the pickup. From under the truck’s rear bumper, Peterman retrieves a half-dozen empty beer quarts from the orange crate he had brought to the clearing and lines up the bottles a foot apart on the tailgate. As he strides back to where his son waits, Peterman looks at Greg straight in the face, and in response, the boy comes to attention and stares at his father’s right ear.

“I’m gonna tell you something,” Peterman begins when he is a stride away from Greg, “and you damn well better listen good. You are never to touch this rifle unless I’m with you. You got that?”

“Yes sir.”

“Do you understand?

“I shouldn’t touch it unless you’re with me.”

“You know I’m serious about this, don’t you?

“Yes sir.”

“And you know what’s gonna happen if I ever catch you around this rifle on the sly?”

Greg makes the mistake of looking into his father’s eyes for a split second, perhaps in the hope that he might see the hint of a right answer in them.

Are you eyeballing me, boy?

The shout causes Greg to flinch. His eyes widen and his lower lip quivers, but he manages to say, “No sir!

“It’s a damn good thing because boy, I don’t want you eyeballing me. I want to hear you tell me what’ll happen if you ever touch this rifle without me being there.”

Greg gulps and whispers, “I … you’ll … I’ll get punished.”

Punished? I’ll tan your goddamned hide! Do you understand me? I’ll warm that stinking backside of yours so bad you won’t be able to sit down for a week. Any questions?

“No sir!

The father gives his son a fleeting, critical glance and says, “This here’s a Mossberg twenty-two-caliber, auto loader. Here’s how you load it, so pay attention.”

Peterman gives a quarter turn to a plug at the base of the butt stock and pulls out a magazine tube. He extracts a handful of .22-caliber, long-rifle cartridges from his left pants pocket and drops them into Greg’s hand, save for one, which he slips into the magazine tube.

“You load it just like that, see? Bullet toward the barrel. You can put up to fifteen cartridges in there.”

He hands Greg the rifle. The boy holds it barrel-down with both hands and stares at the thing.

“Go on, boy, load the damn thing.”

Greg does as he is told and when he gets to the last cartridge looks at his father with wide eyes and says, “This only makes twelve.”

“Jesus Christ, boy, that don’t matter. It just won’t take more than fifteen. Now turn the butt toward me so I can show you how to lock the magazine.”

As Greg holds the rifle as he is told to do, it seems heavier than it had felt moments before, weighted as it is not by the addition of twelve bullets but by the significance of what is transpiring. He wants to tell his father what he is feeling, but when he looks at his father’s face, words fail him.

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Copyright 2021 by Jeffrey Lee Byrem–All Rights Reserved

Karl Myers is Independently Published

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

The cover page photo of the fictional Karl Myers is a copyright-free image from Pixabay.

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