A Measure Of Time


It takes 23.3 seconds to empty a 30-round magazine in my Colt M4 Carbine. How do I know that? Because I emptied one last night. And I’m here to tell you what happens in those 23.3 seconds.

How did I get an M4? None of your fucking business.

So, first few seconds is all about the noise. Three seconds gone and you’ve already spit out four bullets that are rocket-powering the distance between you and the target, in this case four guys you’d rather see dead than see Megan Fox go down on your dick.

The sound is almost enough to make you take your finger off the trigger, but no, you stick with it.

You hit four seconds, five and the bullets reach the mark. Those first couple of shots are really just finding the target, nothing to get too upset about when they do more damage to the cinderblock wall than the four bodies you’re aiming at. Now you’ve got the gun erupting in your hand and the added sound of the impacts coming back to you off the wall, PLUS the echo of the blast caps bouncing all around the alley. Chaos. Fucking chaos.

But you stick with it.

Six to ten seconds and you start to sweep the barrel of the M4 to the right. Don’t know why it goes left to right, but it does. Somehow in the midst of trying to aim, blocking out the sound, looking for bullet hits on the targets, you manage to wonder if lefty’s do it from left to right.

Eleven seconds and your first bullet hits the mark. Now, at this point it’s impossible to tell if this is one that left the chamber at eight seconds, nine perhaps. All that matters is the sight of his shoulder being punched back and a splash of red leaping up into the spotlight of the club’s marquee.

You pass halfway – up to fifteen seconds of solid shooting. Your finger starts to cramp. Ears are ringing, but you don’t notice because all of a sudden there is a lot to look at on the other side of the alley. The first guy has started to fall and is blooming red all across his chest. His hands are flailing up like he’s calling a touchdown.

The guy next to him made the sorry mistake of trying to duck when the shots first started. He also tried to run, but all he managed to do was bump his forehead into the ass of the third guy in line. That left him bent over perfectly in your line of fire.

The first guy’s blood spurts were cute by comparison. This is when, again in the screaming mayhem of the moment, you start to feel a little bad.

It’s night because it’s always night when this shit goes down. The marquee does a decent job of lighting the space between buildings, but the muzzle flash of the M4 pumps a strobe light into the alley and watching a guy’s melon come apart in stop-motion is mesmerizing. First shot goes in under his eye, next one across his forehead, third takes out a chunk of bone over his temple. It ain’t pretty but it’s goddamn beautiful, if you know what I mean.

Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen seconds and you’ve shot more than 20 rounds and the third out of four guys goes down. They start to pile up, one falling into the legs of another, destroying what little chance he had of running away.

This third guy, the fat one, takes something like six bullets to the chest. They all thud in and make a sound that comes back to you across the alley like pounding nails into a phonebook. He’s thick, but for some reason, probably it’s that everyone is falling away, you notice the marks of exit wounds on the alley wall behind him. Red dots and concrete dust.

Just when you think you’ve been shooting for five seconds or maybe ten minutes – it’s over. All out.

Guy number four is down and you don’t even remember hitting him.

Now you know. Get your own damn M4.

~ fin ~

Eric Beetner - Photo by Mark Krajnak

Eric Beetner has been described as “the James Brown of crime fiction – the hardest working man in noir.” (Crime Fiction Lover) and “The 21st Century’s answer to Jim Thompson” (LitReactor). He has written more than 20 novels including Rumrunners, Leadfoot, The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, The Year I Died 7 Times and Criminal Economics. His award-winning short stories have appeared in over three dozen anthologies.  He co-hosts the podcast Writer Types and the Noir at the Bar reading series in Los Angeles where he lives and works as a television editor. For more visit ericbeetner.com