By Wyatt McRae
“It’s called an Obrez.”
The garage is blistering. I’d ask to open a window, but then I recall just what I stepped in from when he asked me to join him inside. Arizona in September is a far cry from Alberta in August. I’ve been here for less than a week and every one of my shirts have been recoloured to a permanent sweat stain. I’d complain about the constant stream of sweat running down my back, but at this point the slight chill that I get with every stray wisp of breeze or the half-second shiver I feel after I peel myself away from of my rental car’s leather seats has become my second greatest motivation for living.
It was a huge mistake to come into this house. I am trying to buy a gun from a man I don’t know, suggested to me by another man I didn’t know but met at a rifle range, and only introduced myself to after overhearing him mention that he had a friend who was looking to ‘get rid of’ some guns in his collection. To top it off, the only reason why I was at the range was because I hadn’t updated the software on my GPS unit, meaning that the mom-and-pop style Italian restaurant that I was supposed to be meeting some family at had apparently moved across Tuscon four months ago, and it’s old location is now being rented by someone who prefers shotguns over spaghetti. A few phone calls, twelve bucks worth of gas, some quickly contrived excuses, and one disappointing baked lasagna later, and I’m now standing in a hot box of a garage trying to broker a (likely illegal) gun deal with a guy who looks like he should be bragging to me about his collection of early-eighties, straight-from-Jamaica, dance hall 78s rather than distributing unregistered firearms.
Then again, he’s the one with the guns.
I’m not about to ask any unnecessary questions.
“That sounds kinda Spanish.”
“It might be, I’m not an expert.”
“But you told me that this is a Russian gun.”
“Correction, I told you that it’s made from a Russian gun; a Mosin Nagant to be exact.”
I give the construction of wood and metal a slight bounce in my hands, checking the weight and balance. It’s heavy. Too heavy for what I thought would be reasonable for a pistol. Then again there are some pretty heavy pistols in the world, this wasn’t originally a pistol, and I’m not exactly an expert on guns in the first place.
“And you made this from a rifle?”
“I ‘converted’ it from a rifle. Found the instructions online and did all the cutting by myself.”
I run a finger around the muzzle of the barrel, feeling nothing for burrs or chips. For a 20-something, ginger-bearded (with streaks of tobacco stains), vintage-t and acid-washed jeans wearing fellow in horn rimmed glasses, he certainly put some effort into this gun.
One year ago I had no plans nor interest in travelling South of the border to visit some distant and near-forgotten members of my mom’s side of the family. I was content in driving fifteen minutes every morning to sit in a cubicle so that I could field complaints from faceless strangers about how the brand-named dish detergent that I represented smelled less like granny smith apples than five pounds of mouldy ass wrapped up in seven pounds of dead rats that had built a nest out of extremely “natty” dreadlocks (their words, not mine). I was fine with not owning a TV. I could afford the extra charges that my phone company tacked onto my bills for going over my monthly data limit. My two-bedroom bungalow, located in a suburb-in-development, was described by my real estate agent as ‘quaint’ and ‘charming’. I didn’t have a girlfriend, but I was able to nab the odd bathroom blowjob from the odd middle-aged receptionist or hairstylist at my local Mexican bar and grill. I called my parents on the weekends and my sisters during the holidays.
One year ago, everything was pretty fine.
Then eleven months ago I realized just how boring my life was.
“Seems like a bit of a waste, chopping up a perfectly good rifle to make this.”
“When you can buy five of these things at eighty bucks a pop, you can afford to make modifications. Plus it isn’t a waste when you can make something this cool.”
“You bought five?”
“I resisted the urge to buy a crate of twenty.”
“What would you do with twenty rifles?”
He gives his shoulders a quick shrug.
I was quickly becoming uncomfortable with the direction that this conversation was going, but there comes a time when the need for answers exceeds the need for expediency. This was one of those moments.
“How old is this thing?”
“If I’m correct in my research, it’s a model that came into production during the 1920’s.”
“This gun is older than my grandpa.”
“One of these guns possibly killed my grandpa.”
I’m not sure whether or not I should be laughing at that. He isn’t smiling. I can’t tell if the look on his face is one of annoyance, indifference, stoicism, or simple boredom. There’s still the possibility that he’s trying to be ‘ironic’ (whatever that word means these days). Yet another reason why I’m having trouble relating with modern youth.
The revelation I had in regards to the banality of my life wasn’t exactly hard hitting; I wouldn’t go as far to say that I had experienced a ‘crisis’, but it crept up on me slowly over the course of several working shifts and a couple of beer-garita filled nights. I wasn’t concerned, but I was bothered. I had no one that I wanted to impress, I was reluctant to disrupt the level of personal security that I had achieved, and I saw no real motivation for rocking the boat aside from the chance to push back against the sense of dissatisfaction that I was beginning to develop. The only person this concerned was myself.
To assuage my discomfort I spent a lunch break sitting in my car, writing out a list of possible solutions between bites of a six-inch meatball sub and sips from a medium-sized Fanta. The list comprised primarily of things that guys usually do when they have a mid-life crisis: purchase a sports car/motorcycle/speed boat, get a tattoo, start a cocain addiction, marry a girl twenty years my junior (which at the time would mean either hitting up a high school or looking for ladies at a bar with really good fake IDs), gym membership, travel to foreign nations known for their lucrative ‘sex tourism’ industries, risky entrepreneurial endeavours, or developing a sense of seething bitterness to the world around me that would eventually be expressed with poorly timed sarcasm, lashing out at other for no apparent reason, an eagerness to inject controversial opinions into every conversation, and murder-suicide.
To say the least, I wasn’t excited by any of those options.
Then I considered the possibility of simply making new, interesting friends.
Then I remembered how in recent years I only became interested in meeting new people when the possibility of oral sex was somehow involved.
Then I remembered how I used to be so excited to make friends in high school.
Then I remembered how I didn’t really have friends during elementary school.
Then I remembered how most of the friends I had during my younger days were imaginary beings who were simply amalgamations of my favourite cartoon characters and action movie heroes.
After a moment of reminiscing, I got the idea for Chekhov.
“Is this thing even legal?”
“It’s only illegal if you get caught with one.”
I don’t think I like that answer.
“And you’ve fired this before?”
“Twice. I’d show you the Youtube video but I kinda got paranoid, decided to take it down, and deleted all traces of it from my computer; didn’t want to run the risk of winding up on some watch list.”
“I guess the ATF aren’t exactly big fans of this kind of thing.”
“Oh, they are if you’re willing to pay up three bills, sign a stack of paper, and wait around for two weeks.”
“And I guess that you’re not one to wait?”
“No. I’m not one who has three hundred dollars to spare for a gun that only cost me eighty and could be thrown into a ditch at a moment’s notice.”
I decide to take a risk by taking the gun by the grip and holding it out at arm’s length in one hand. I don’t even last five seconds before my bicep starts screaming at me. I swing the monster of a pistol down in front of me and plop it into the open palm of my left hand.
“That’s not how you should hold it.”
That’s what I get for trying to look cool.
Over the course of a long evening, fuelled by cheap domestic beer and a bottle of cheaper rye, I built Chekhov in my mind.
A child of Ukrainian immigrants, born in Canada as a means of anchoring his parents into citizenship after their visas ran out, he would have made the decision early on to dedicate his life to the pursuit of becoming the best man he could possibly be. Unfortunately, he would be plagued by immensely bad luck. Every opportunity that he could pursue would inevitably take a turn for disaster; businesses ruined by mishap, investments turned to frauds, and good deeds repaid with punishment ten-fold (with compounding interest). A gentle soul who couldn’t help but find himself being pushed away from legitimate careers and forced into an obscured world of dirty dealings, under the table handshakes, knives in every smile, and tax-free employment opportunities. He’d have spent some time in prison, but only short stints for minor infractions because the police couldn’t prove him guilty of anything more heinous, and he never seemed to have enough money to afford bail.
I wouldn’t be so much his friend, but a friendly face.
“Does it come with ammunition?”
“I wasn’t planning on selling ammunition with it. How much do you think you’ll want?”
“How much will ten dollars get me?”
“A box of twenty.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad.”
We would have met during my college days, when my at-the-time roommate would have dragged me away to a short-lived club. I would be sitting at the bar, trying to drink myself to a point where I could find the music tolerable while my roommate would spend a little too much time in the bathroom. Chekhov would walk up to me and try to sell me a gram of cocaine in a Ziploc baggie. I’d decline but he’d take the opportunity to steal the seat next to me and engage me in conversation. We’d find that we had shared some common interests, a sense of humour, and a taste for cheap liquor. He’d later tell me that it was a good thing that I didn’t buy his coke as he figured that he had cut it with too much baking soda (only to later then admit that he wasn’t exactly sure if he was supposed to cut it with baking soda or baking powder). Two hours later he would stand up to leave and I’d shake his hand and offer him my phone number, in case he was looking for someone to go drinking with.
In time I would become to him an open door to a warmed plated of leftovers, one or two cans of beer, some pleasant conversation, and a good night’s sleep on a couch. In exchanged he would offer me some small sums of money, or to help me out in his own bumbling way. My hospitality was always on offer to him, but would quickly turn to hostility in the event he tried to bring his work into my home.
And why the name Chekhov? I’m not quite sure.
Maybe I like to tempt fate?
Over the following months I started to show Chekhov’s presence in my life; I always set aside a plastic-wrapped plate of food, I had a fresh blanket folded across the back of the couch, half-empty packs of cigarettes and matchbooks collected in a small basket on top of my fridge, a few ounces of weed, and a small paper envelope of heroine that would have fallen out of his pocket after one night’s stay. Little things that I would stumble upon occasionally to remind myself that there’s a fellow out in the world who might be living dangerously, but enjoys the humble comforts of a friendly home.
If anyone would ask about them I’d have an interesting story that could end with the phrase: ‘you don’t have to worry though, he’s currently out of town’.
If any of my family were to ask I’d try to blame a pair of really convincing Mormon missionaries who found their way through my front door on a really slow Tuesday afternoon that I took off from work.
“Does it have much of a kick.”
“Do you pour milk onto your Wheaties?”
“Then you don’t have to worry about that.”
Another answer that doesn’t fill me with excitement, mainly because he hasn’t really answered my question.
I don’t know why I just lied, but for a brief moment I had the thought that this whole deal would be ruined by the fact that I’m lactose intolerant. I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’m even going to shoot this gun.
Chekhov loves cheese.
Did I just jinx myself?
In total length the gun is shorter than my arm; from the tips of my fingers it just comes past my elbow. The improvised pistol grip looks clean enough but a little voice in the back of my head is whispering that it will crack with one round; the recoil will splinter the wood like a brittle bone and send a mass of hot metal, gunpowder residue, oil, and soviet ingenuity flying into my face.
I imagine that the first time I would fire this gun my wrist would snap in half, and I would take twenty minutes before calling for an ambulance to try and bury the gun in my backyard and think of an excuse for how I broke my wrist that didn’t involve me trying to take a potshot an empty wine bottle using a weapon that I smuggled across the border.
The first time Chekhov would have fired this gun, he’d spend the next week nursing a broken nose and a black eye.
“Pretty good up to fifteen or twenty yards, anything within three feet in front of you will be set on fire, and what you can’t hit you can club to death.”
“Wouldn’t that damage the gun.”
“Ah. Stupid question.”
This conversation is starting to loop in on itself.
Chekhov would have purchased this gun from a ‘friend’ he met through work; a Korean fellow who felt that his American dream was satisfied the moment he purchased a restored 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible (only to realize that in order to keep his new ride well kept and fed he needed an extra bit of cash, and dealing in unregistered firearms seemed to do the job). The two of them would meet in the parking lot of an abandoned Zellers Superstore, where Chekhov would have picked the Obrez out from a pile of guns simply because it looked intimidating and simple to use. Three weeks after making his purchase, Chekhov would discover that there was no good way of hiding the gun on his body while in public unless he wanted to stuff it down his pants and affect a limp. The first time he’d try to shoot the gun would be in a small stand of trees just off of a highway outside of town. After stumbling back to his friend’s car to try and reset his nose and collect enough stray napkins to stem the river of blood that was flowing down his face, he’d conclude that he was possibly more afraid of handling the gun than those who might see him holding it. For the best part of year, the monstrous pistol would sit collecting dust in the back of his kitchen pantry, only for him to bring it out and request that I hold it for him while his landlord ‘fumigated for bedbugs’. He would not come back for it, even after he was allowed to move back into his apartment.
I would keep the gun.
I would stash it away in the oversized ceramic vase that I use as an umbrella stand. The ammunition that Chekhov would hand over to me in a plastic breadbag would sit near the back of my kitchen’s ‘odds-n-ends’ drawer. I wouldn’t think of it very often, but on occasion I would draw every blind and curtain in my house closed, take it out from its hiding place, and pose with it in front of my bedroom mirror in a bored attempt to feel like Robert Deniro. Every so often, I would kick the trill up a notch by managing to fumble a single bullet into the chamber.
I’d break out into an excited cold sweat every time I’d turn the safety off.
It might just be time to bring this transaction to a close.
“Fifty dollars, right?”
“Fifty dollars. Sixty with a box of ammo. You’re not going to try haggling are you?”
For myself, fifty dollars is too expensive for four pounds worth of illicit firearm that could get me thrown into a cell on the grounds of gun smuggling, and my name on a terrorism watch list.
“Do you have change for seventy?”
But it’s pretty cheap for Chekhov.