The Perfect Shot

A story for NaNoWriMo 2020. Thanks to /r/writingprompts for the idea.

“How do you go about tracking?” The man with the hat takes a sip from his drink, and raises his eyebrows at the other man, a shorter fellow dressed down without a tie.

“The key,” he says with foam on his mustache, “is to use your knees and hips, keeping your arms stable.” He twists on his stool, elbows out and hands cupped near his eyes. “I was always told to keep my neck relaxed, but firmly in place.”

He twists back to the man with the hat, and rests his feet on the few bags piled below him.

The man in the hat nods. “Yes, but you can't have your elbows spread like that, not when a small adjustment can get everything out of frame. You must stay within yourself.” He tucks his elbows close to his chest, only a few inches away. “A twitch or itch is all it takes to ruin the shot.”

“I find that pretty subjective,” says the man without a tie. “If it's comfortable, I can't imagine it being wrong. Either way, I never found tracking to be the difficult part. Timing always messed with me.”

Another sip before the man with the hat responds. “That is tricky. How do you teach someone to jump, or slip into a line of cars properly? I'm not sure you can. Anyone I've met in the profession has just had a knack for timing.”

“Well, I suppose that's true. I guess I've always wished I could get it in one, rather than having to take so many as quickly as I can manage. It's demoralizing.”

The man with the hat raises his eyebrows again, while his neighbor continues.

“It's certainly easier on a longer distance, at least mentally. I don't feel like each shot makes things change quite as much.”

“No wonder you've had trouble, that's no way to think about things!” The man with the hat quickly takes a sip from his drink, sitting up straighter. “You have to get all that trash out of your head, friend. Distance makes no difference, you have to take your job and its affect on the world around you seriously no matter where you set up.

“I have no idea what your background is, friend, but maybe you've heard rumblings of quantum mechanics if you run in circles of educated folks. I find it a helpful metaphor for what we do. Just observing the world will change it, and your distance from what you're observing makes no difference. An ant below your foot, a deer hundreds of yards away, all affected by your glance. If you make yourself believe that, at least you can seriously start figuring out what method of timing works for you.”

The man without a tie taps his fingers on the bar as he receives this lecture, looking down at his feet, then over to his neighbor's, a similar arrangement of black bags as his own near the stool. Then, a longer drink from his beer before looking up towards the man with a hat.

“I suppose outbursts like that are commonplace in bars down here.” He takes another sip from his beer. “While I don't like being chided by a stranger, I'm interested. What methods of timing are you talking about?”

Ignoring the comment on his manners, the man with the hat continues immediately. “First, you must decide whether you breathe in with the shot, out with the shot, or do not breathe at all. Trembling hands can be accounted for, but if you want perfection, you must consider how all of your body is going to work together.”

“I don't see how those relate to how I perceive my effect at a distance.”

“You must keep your breath consistent no matter how far away you are. If you breathe in or out too quickly, it will certainly affect the target that is close. But it won't do any good to breathe in when close, and out when farther away. That's madness! You'll never be consistent, and consistency is all that matters!”

“I take your point.” He tugs near his collar, loosening the tie that is not there. “But, it seems your idea is running backwards. Shouldn't I just determine which way I want to breathe, and not worry about distance after that?”

“No, no, you have it all wrong. Understanding that distance isn't a factor is the key! You have to treat it seriously no matter the distance, and that will lead you to the right choice in breathing, in grip, in how you arrange your body to take the time you need.”

“You're an interesting person to share a drink with. In all my time, I've certainly made decisions about each of those points. I breathe out, I relax my fingers except the thumb and index, and always have one knee on the ground unless I must be standing. Yet I never considered the distance to be fundamental, just another factor to consider.”

With a heavy sigh, the man with the hat signals the bartender for another drink, which he consumes half of before continuing. “Though you may switch tools, and in that way it is just a factor, the foundation must bet set.

“Remember, even the professional is never done learning, and must always chase the perfect shot.”

He finishes the rest of his drink, and tips his hat. “Have a good afternoon, friend.” He picks up his bags near his stool, and leaves the bar.

After several seconds of staring somewhat blankly at the exit, the man without a tie swivels back to the bar. He contemplates the small bit of foam left atop his beer, the circles of draft staining the glass, each ring marking the flow of conversation. He takes a final, swift drink, leaving a tip to cover both him and the man with a hat.

Leaving the bar, he veers right, toward a hill overlooking the plaza. The sun blazes on his skin, a sweat of liquor and salt slowly forms on his forehead. He's thankful for not wearing a tie as he takes a small cloth and wipes his face.

Cutting across a corner of the street, he spots an unoccupied piece of lawn beneath a tree. Others would be there soon to watch the parade. He is thankful once more for getting there early.

A small tarp is laid out, then he sits with legs crossed. One more wipe of his forehead. With practiced and patient hands he opens his bags, finding a sufficient plateu for his tripod. A camera body is mounted, while various lenses are scattered about him in an apparently random way. A quick wipe of his hands as he starts putting on, then removing, each lens in turn, habitually finding them precisely where he expects on the ground around him. Feeling satisfied with the arrangement, he finally attaches a modest zoom lens and begins testing his view of the plaza.

A cobblestone road leads in and out, where cars, pedestrians, and cyclists all go about a fountain during the day. Police officers are slowly guiding cars along detours while blockading the parade route. He goes on one knee, and imagines that his breath changes which way the officer might direct the next car: Breath in, to the left; hold, go straight; then out, to the right.

He switches lenses a few more times, preparing those which he expects to use the most as he scans the parade.

Then, a break. He takes the melon, meat, cheese, and crackers his wife packed from the small lunch tin.

He checks his watch. Fifteen minutes, no more than twenty. He stands up and stretches, then goes back down to one knee. He checks each part of his camera and begins scanning the scene, imagining a small float rolling by as he tracks it with a swivel of his hips.

The parade comes, led by the mayor and his wife. He quickly gets images of kids thrilled by candy tossed their way, of the local butcher driving a pickup with the top off and large horns on the front. As he moves up to see the stilt-walkers, a flash catches his eye to the left, across the street.

Tracking another part of the parade through an open apartment window is the man with a hat, a pair of binoculars to his face.

The man without a tie begins to sweat. Small drops of perspiration start to form around his eye, causing discomfort as he looks through the viewfinder. He watches as the man with a hat breathes in and out, slowly, then holds his breath and leans down towards the window sill.

The man without a tie quickly turns his face, wiping it. The retort of a gun echoes through the plaza, and screams erupt around the parade. Quickly moving back to the camera, he manages to see blood at the front of the procession, the mayor's wife in hysterics.

He takes a picture before tracking back to the apartment window, getting only a glance at a hat and the barrel of a rifle, too late for his index finger and thumb to launch the shutter.