I'm a city boy, grew up in a city and always lived in a city, and not in a rough section either. Never had a gun. Never wanted one. Only one kid in my high school played with guns and his nickname was "Crazy Donny." We all knew he owned pistols; someone said he had a Thompson too. Once he overheard us use his nickname. His shoulders jerked and his eyes blazed and he hissed, "Don't call me 'Crazy Donny.'" No one did either, not to his face.

Once I fired a gun at a living thing. A friend of mine took me duck-hunting and lent me a shotgun. We weaved through the marshes in a motorboat, towing a canoe. When the waterway narowed we left the motorboat and paddled to a blind. There was room only for one and he left me in it. I listened as he paddled out of sight. Nothing's quite so peaceful as the sound of paddling as it dies out. Then everything was still.

I waited to get bored but never did. I liked it out there. I liked the feel of the gun in my hands. No ducks flew within range, and after a while I just wanted to fire the damn weapon. My friend tells me I'm the only one he knows who went duck-hunting and shot a fish. Hell, it was four feet long.

That was the extent of my experience with guns until I met Drew. Drew comes from rural Mississippi and says everyone he knew there had a rifle or a shotgun before they ever saw a BB gun. He says, "A BB gun has only one purpose and that's destruction."

A large man, he laughs a lot -- he's the kind who says nasty things to his friends and then laughs like it's a joke. Maybe there's a little bit of bully in him. He's got a gun collection of 50 or 60 pieces and a private indoor firing range. When asked if he's an expert, he says, "Well, yes.I guess I am. Yes." Then he adds, "I love guns."

We are standing now outside his firing range. Some friends of his are using it. One is a Customs officer who says the first time he fired a pistol he was 3 years old. Another man complains that his gun jammed and shows it to Drew. Drew lays it on his lap. All I can think is: It's a gun, it's loaded and it's pointed at me. But in Drew's hands it seems not steel but something malleable. His hands caress it, coax, then give it back.

"Hell," he sayd, "just a feeding jam." Turning to me he laughs and quips, "It's a Walther PPK .32 -- the James Bond special."

Guns are such a part of his life that I am curious. More than curious. I want to shoot, and ask to.

Drew grins and says, "Good." He gets out ammunition, a target and a .357 Magnum, then gives precise instructions. All the time he is talking the guns sits on a chair. Just lying there, it dominates everything. Its nickel finish glints in the light and it emanates a bored and sullen evil, like a fat rattlesnake lying in the sun.

I pick it up. Even empty it is heavier than I expected and I heft it. Then we go inside and stand at firing point. My feet are apart and braced, my knees flexed.

"Lock your elbow and wrist now. Move your left hand more under the butt. Put the butt right in the palm; don't support the wrist, support the gun."

I sight down the barrel and aim at the door. I could put a hole in the door. I could put a hole in anything. Then I load. Now the gun is a live thing. My hand tingles and my body tingles. I have always feared guns.

Drew sends the target only halfway down the alley "for my confidence." A small black spot in the center scores 9, 10 and bull's-eye. The rest of the target is white. "Ready?" he asks. I nod. A moment later I fire -- it catches me by surprise.

The bullet makes in the target, a six. I fire again, then searched the target and find nothing. Disgustedly I say, "I missed the target."

"No you didn't. You hit the black."

I hit the black. Suddenly I don't want to shoot anymore. Suddenly it is more upsetting now that I have hit what I aimed at. Impatiently I fire again and this time do miss the target.

"Way high. Maybe you're closing your eyes."

He is right. I closed my eyes. Now I am angry and want to do well the way a man always wants to do well. I go inside myself and block our everything, block out what Drew is saying, block out the thickness of the atmosphere in here, block out what has gone before. Now there are just me and the gun. Less than that. Just me and the front sight. That is the whole world. I fire. I fire again, and again. The target comes back. There is my first six, then where my shot barely nicked the corner of the target. And a nine, and a 10, another 10, a nine. I think of the just-past moments when there had been just me and the gun.

Drew shows his teeth. It is like there is a secret he has been hiding, a secret that now I know. I turn away.