Spoiler alert! - Read Chapter 1
Simon Price sat by the fire with three middle-aged, unshaven, leather-skinned Australians. It was his first internship as an Environmental Studies major at UCSB and so far it was going well. They were roasting feral pig and drinking canned beer or “tinnies” as the Aussies called them. Though Simon was underage, the Aussies didn’t seem to mind, and he was well on his way to getting drunk.
His mentors were outdoorsmen who understood nature from a practical standpoint and not by textbook or via a microscope. Hugh had been a cattle rancher in the Northern Territory, Keith came from a family of cane farmers in Queensland, and Lionel had worked on oil rigs in Western Australia. The harsh landscape of their homeland had taught them that nature was something that would kill you if you weren’t careful.
When Simon had been taken on as an intern by the international environmental NGO, Natura, to help with invasive species management on Santa Clara Island, he imagined that he would be pulling weeds or setting out poison bait to kill rats. Instead, he’d spent the past several days hunting wild pigs from a helicopter with three men twenty years his senior, who in their work exhibited the same reckless, competitive and aggressive behavior of your average high school male. In other words, his new Aussie friends were great fun.
“I can’t imagine a better job. I mean here we are hunting, grilling prime tucker on the barbie, sinking some piss, and getting paid for it. It’s wicked,” Loinel said.
“I reckon tomorrow it’s time for old Simon here to have a go. Eh, Simon? You’ve been shooting before, haven’t you, mate?” Keith asked.
“Yeah, I can shoot,” Simon claimed.
The men had a prankish sense of humor. In line with their other juvenile behavior, which included taking off in the helicopter before Simon was fully aboard, so that he was hanging from the landing skid twenty feet off the ground, Simon fully expected tomorrow to be a day of hazing. But he didn’t have to wait that long.
With his flashlight, Hugh illuminated a row of empty beer cans on a rock sixty feet away from camp.
“So let’s see what you can do,” he said, handing Simon a rifle. “Every time you miss, you gotta drink and take a step back. You start here at the campfire.”
“Alright. And if I hit ‘em?”
Simon had been sitting on a log most of the night, and standing up, he felt his liquor. Trying to keep pace with the Aussies and not lose face, he’d put down six beers.
“I’ll give you five bucks a can.”
Simon took the rifle, checked to see that it was loaded, and cocked it. He put it to his shoulder, sighted as best as he could at the first can in the row, and pulled the trigger. The can didn’t move.
Hugh stuck a bottle of whiskey in his hand. “Here you go, mate. One step back and try again.”
Simon took a swig from the bottle. He knew that the rest of the internship would be difficult if he failed to hit any of the cans, and that being drunk was an excuse that was not going to fly with the company in question.
This time he aimed at the base of the can, braced his shoulder, and pulled the trigger. The can popped in the air and fell to the ground.
“Good on ya, Simon,” Hugh said, clapping him on the back. Of the five cans, Simon hit one more: a performance worth three swigs of whiskey and ten dollars, the only money he would make from his unpaid internship.
Then, because it was their sense of humor, Lionel picked up a can, rested it in his palm with his arm out parallel to the ground, and Keith shot it out of his hand. If that wasn’t enough, he picked up another, turned it horizontal in his grip, and Keith shot again and surprisingly, missed. Then Lionel showed them the can. There was no hole in the top and an exit hole in the bottom; the bullet had gone through the pop-top opening.
“So what do I owe you for that one,” Simon said, taking out his money.
“No, mate, don’t worry. That’s just for show,” Keith said.
“You guys are amazing marksmen,” Simon said.
“Not always, eh,” Lionel said, holding up his right hand where Simon saw his ring finger was missing to the second knuckle. “Good thing I’m left-handed. I guess it means I won’t make much of a husband. Ha, ha.”
“How’d you lose it,” Simon asked.
“Same as this, gettin’ rooted and largin’ it. One of me mates shot it off.”
“So what did you do about it?”
“You take risks in life, and you accept the consequences. Just a bit of bad luck, I reckon. Not too bad though, I still got half left, eh.”