What is this about?

Like Father Like Son

With the butt of the rifle resting against the boy’s right shoulder, the small pumphouse a quarter mile away loomed large in the viewfinder of the Unertl 10x telescopic sight. As his father talked about something beside him, the boy could clearly read the grafitti that covered it and see the chunks taken out of the thick concrete walls from bullets of past battles. Though he knew he needed to be on his best behavior, his imagination got away from him and his hand wandered up inside the trigger guard while he pictured the closed heavy steel door suddenly opening just wide enough to put a bullet across that threshold and into his unsuspecting quarry. Before he could catch himself he made a soft staccato sound like that of a machine gun. Directly after he felt a heavy hand cuff him on the side of his head.

Letting go of the rifle he rolled away from it to a sitting position where wide-eyed he looked at his dad crouched on the other side of the weapon.

“Are you kidding me?” the man said, and spat a dark stream of tobacco juice in an arc off the southeastern corner of the Asbury’s rooftop where it plummeted the 140 feet to an unheard splat on the street. “This ain’t no toy, son! This isn’t the war like you played with the other neighborhood punks. This is the real thing. Now act like you can remember that.”

It smarted above his right ear where his father had struck him, but the boy nodded eager and obedient while stealing glances at the M40A5. It looked a bit like a toy with its green-colored figerglass stock. Mounted on a bipod, the gun’s thick muzzle poked out over the edge of the roof, pointed down at the pumping station some 450 yards away near the 8th Street side of MacArthur Park Lake. Except for a well-fed coyote moving near what remained of the bandshell off Park View, the immediate area was as devoid of life as it was devastated. The lake was dry and filled with garbage save for the gaping hole in the center when the subway was blown up before he was born. To the south, smoke rose from ever-present fires burning across the basin and stained the blue skies as winds pushed them westward toward the sea.

Returning his attention to the structure near the water’s edge, the father asked half to himself, “What was I saying?” But the boy searched his mind frantically as if it was a pop quiz.

“Uh, was it something about the first… something?”

“Riggggght,” his dad said and the boy smiled. “The first riots. Those were seventy years ago, long before I was around. Then came the ones in 1992 when I was about half your age. Bad, but nothing like the chaos of 2009 what with Arroyo earthquake and the westside secession and the governor carpetbombing practically everything between Imperial Highway and Washington Boulevard to quell the combined gang assault that resulted in the takeover of the Port of Los Angeles. Pretty much it’s been a war zone ever since.”

The boy looked at the rifle again. He didn’t really care about any of that. What he cared about was the gun. He knew it could effectively kill something more than twice the distance than the pumphouse was from them and at that range it took the 7.62mm bullet about 1.5 seconds — one-one-thousand-two-one — to travel from the end of the barrel to its target. He knew how to take the thing apart and put it back together. Basically he knew everything about the weapon, but he’d never fired it at anything other than stationery targets: fire hydrants and the details of the old Elks Lodge across the street. Last week his dad gave him one bullet and told him to bounce it off the head of the bronze statue of Gen. MacArthur standing 600 yards away in the southeastern corner of the park. He did, and today was the day to “take it to the next level,” his dad had said. Providing, of course, a target presented itself.

“It was in ’19 — I think you were four — when the feds tried to rebuild, but —.”

“Five dad. My birthday was in twenty twenty-four,” and the father looked at the boy a bit in surprise.

“You’re 12?” The kid nodded emphatically. “How about that,” he said almost wistfully. “I didn’t make my first kill until I was 16.”

You’d think the kid had won a spelling bee the way he was beaming. “Well go ahead and settle in beside it again — only this time don’t act your age. The boy responded by scrambling back onto his stomach and situating himself.

“Now look through the scope again,” but the boy was already there and his eyes went wide as the hair on the back of his neck stood up. He blinked hard.

“Dad?” he said, weakly.

“Yeah?”

“The door. It’s opening.”