"Oh, damn it!" Peter swung the steering wheel, sending the car slewing to the right.
Neal grabbed on to the car frame, bracing himself. "What was that for? I thought we were going back to the office."
"We were – but I forgot about something."
"Care to enlighten me before we die?"
For a moment it didn't seem like Peter was going to answer as he gripped the steering wheel tightly, staring straight ahead. "Firearm qualification," he finally said.
"Agents have to re-qualify periodically with a gun. I've been getting reminders for a while now, but we've been so busy."
"Let me guess – you're at deadline?"
Peter nodded. "Today's it. I qualify today or I have to wait two weeks to re-test. And that means they'll take me out of the field until then."
"You send me out in the field without a gun all the time."
"I'd be perfectly willing to go without the gun," Peter said. "But I have a feeling Hughes won't go along with bending the rules like that."
"So where are we going?"
"The NYPD has a firing range out here that the Bureau contracts with. I can still get the qualification in before they close."
"I don't suppose you'd like to just drop me off here. I could catch a cab."
"What, and miss watching my perfect shooting?"
Neal rolled his eyes. "Oh, yeah, what was I thinking?" he asked, the sarcasm dripping almost visibly from each word.
"It won't take long," Peter said, maneuvering through another high speed corner.
Neal just held on tighter, hoping that Peter was right and this wouldn't take long.
The range was, luckily, almost empty when they arrived. It didn't take long for Peter to sign in, verify his testing information, have his weapon checked, pick up some targets, and get assigned to a firing position. Neal signed in as an observer and followed Peter through the double doors to the shooting area.
There were a couple of people at the far end shooting rifles, one uniformed officer just packing up his pistol, and one other shooter about halfway down the line. Peter picked up a pair of ear protectors and goggles, motioned for Neal to do the same, and headed toward slot number nine, as assigned.
It turned out to be right next to the other shooter, who turned to look at them…
The Organized Crime agent smiled, though it wasn't necessarily friendly. "You got your qualification notice too, huh?" he asked. Still grinning, he looked past Peter to where Neal was standing. "Gonna use your pet con for a target?"
Neal just favored the agent with his phoniest smile, put on his ear protectors, and went to lean against the wall.
"I kind of thought I'd use the official paper targets," Peter said dryly, laying his collection on the counter. With any luck, he'd only need one. He hit the button to bring the target holder zooming in, clipped on a target, and sent it back out to the twenty-five yard distance. He pulled his gun from its holster and started to check it.
"Yeah, figured you might," Ruiz said, bringing his own used target in. He held it up, showing most of his shots fairly well grouped around the center circle, with a few scattered in the next ring. "It's dead, Jim," he intoned, laughing, apparently pleased with his own joke. "I think I just qualified. Figure you can beat it, Burke?"
"I guess we'll see," Peter replied. He pushed the ready button, and a moment later got a green light. Firing quickly without rushing, he squeezed the trigger until the clip was empty. Then he hit the button to retrieve the target.
Curious, Neal slipped his ear protectors off and stepped up closer as the target zoomed in. The center circle was filled with several holes, and the couple of outliers in the next ring were closer to the center than what Ruiz had – which made Neal smile.
Peter was smiling too as he unclipped the target. "I'd say I qualified too – and I think this may be a little better than yours."
Ruiz scowled for a moment, and then turned his attention to Neal. "What about you, Caffrey?" he asked, pointing at his pistol on the counter. "Want to take a shot?"
"Why? So you can arrest me when I pick up the gun?" Neal asked.
Ruiz shook his head. "Nah, I'm just curious. Unless you turn the gun on one of us I don't think I could get any charges to stick anyway."
Neal looked over at Peter who just shrugged. "Up to you," he said. "But I'm kind of curious too."
"Come on, Caffrey, one clip," Ruiz encouraged. "It's all paid for."
Peter gave a slight nod and Neal finally stepped up to the counter. "One clip. And the idea is to beat your results?"
"Yeah, that's the idea," Ruiz agreed, laughing. "Wanna put a bet on it?"
Neal calmly hooked a target on before he answered. "What did you have in mind?" he asked, sending the target out to the twenty-five yard mark.
The agent thought for a moment. "Well, I hear you like wine," he said. "So do I. So the bet is, the loser buys the winner a bottle of wine of the winner's choosing."
The slightest of smiles touched Neal's lips. "Done." He picked up Ruiz's service weapon, racked the slide back to verify that it was empty and then reached for a clip. It slid into place and he racked the slide again, chambering a round. Then he put the ear protectors and goggles on, aware of Peter and Ruiz doing the same thing.
Finally, he hit two buttons. The first sent the target farther out, to fifty yards. Before either agent could say anything, he hit the ready button. The green light came on, he raised the gun, braced his right hand with his left, and pulled the trigger…
"I'll get back to you about that bottle of wine," Neal called as they watched Ruiz stalk out of the firing range.
Peter waited until the door shut and then turned back to Neal, tapping his finger on the tight grouping of holes all within the center circle. "Care to tell me where you learned this?"
"Would you believe beginner's luck?"
Neal considered his answer for a moment. "Did I break any rules such that I'm required to explain?"
Peter sighed, knowing what was about to happen. "No," he admitted. "Two agents told you to take the shots."
"Then I'd really rather not." Neal picked up his paper target and headed for the door, stopping to drop off the goggles and ear protectors before disappearing into the outer room.
Peter checked his weapon, re-holstered it, and then signed his own target so that he could submit it for qualification. Then he walked slowly toward the doors, knowing that his own to-do list had just gotten longer. First, he'd need to try and keep Neal's wine request to something in a reasonable price range.
And then he had one more Neal Caffrey mystery to solve…