One From Three Thirty

11 Feb 2008

Girls, guns, ganja. Phnom Penh still has some of the lawness 'frontier city' character which dominated it ten years ago. I'm here; I should get involved.

This is the attitude that leads me to a military base near the airport, a frowning man at my shoulder and a warm AK-47 in my hands.

I'm scared, but I'm no longer terrified. I crossed the real bridge a few minutes before when I touched a gun for the first time in my life, a diminutive .22 pistol.

As our guide loaded the gun, cocked it, and offered it to me, I regarded it with deep, almost primal suspicion. I felt like it was cursed, that it had a mind of its own. Like Conan's blood-seeking sword, would it force me to turn it on others, on myself? Evidently the instructor had the same idea, because he stood at my shoulder, paying extremely close attention.

I squared away, gritted my teeth and fired. Hey, this isn't so bad.

The terrible truth is that the second shot was easy.

By that, I mean that it was easy to pull the trigger. It was impossible to aim. Conditions were perfect; the target was stationery. I was calm, braced, taking several seconds per shot to aim. I hit nothing, not even the paper around the scoring circles.

Apparently this is not unusual. Lyn struck out. So did a couple of tough-looking English guys.

As Lyn finished, puffs of dust sprang up as machine-gun fire raked the targets. Right, so that's how you hit the bastards.

Now, looking down the AK-47's oily sights, shoulder tensed and jammed against the brace, I'm more confident.

Christ, the thing is loud. And that's with hearing protection. The brutal punch in the shoulder I was expecting doesn't come, but realigning the sights, the bipod, my glasses, my earmuffs takes several seconds. Rambo has enormous biceps so that he can control his gun.

Lyn notices the bulletholes in the ceiling as I switch the gun to fully automatic. The instructor is standing directly behind me, in case I lose it. I don't think he likes me.

It's over in a fraction of a second. They bring over the target for my inspection. It has a small bullet hole in the upper chest.

One from thirty. It's harder than it looks. I'd like to get good at this, but, thank god, I can't see any reason to.