Joey Penner made sure he hadn't missed any spots while shaving, brushed his teeth twice and used hair spray.  
He put on a brand new shirt and a sport jacket that was still in the plastic bag from the cleaners.  He was sure
that they could--and would--turn anyone down for any arbitrary reasons whatsoever, and he wasn't going to
let his appearance turn anyone off.  

Sloping Valley was two hundred and eleven miles from the state capitol, and while the police department shared
little of the fabulous criminal forensics technology that their colleagues in the large city did, they did have a
911 system and each officer had one of those little radios strapped to his shoulder and they even had two
female officers (one was the desk sergeant Wednesday through Sunday, and the other headed and totally
composed the police department's Social Services/Sex Crimes/Child Abuse/Battered Spouse division.  She was
thankful in a way that most of the time she had nothing to do).  The Sloping Valley Police Department had
direct hotlines to the state police and law enforcement offices in neighboring communities.  But most important,
at least to Joey Penner, they had all the licensing forms.

Hunting, fishing, commercial development, marriage, dog, putting up a new name it, and some facet
of government had their hand out before you could do ahead and do it.  Almost all license forms had to go
through someone at the state capitol, someone in a room filled with paper and a window overlooking the parking
lot.  The Town Council of Sloping Valley, in their infinite desire to make the town as pleasant a place to live as
possible, had struck deals with the various departments of the state government so that no Slope (as they
goodnaturedly called each other) need drive the two hundred and eleven miles to the state capitol or the
sixty-four miles to the county seat.  They'd determined that the easiest thing to do would be for every
conceivable license application and request form to be made available right there in town.  And since there was
no functioning Town Hall as such (the town's Business Manager was a practicing attorney who handled most of
the day to day business right out of his private office; the Town Council met every Monday night at the Legion
Hall in public and generally friendly and straightforward meetings), it had been determined that all such
accommodations would be found at the police station, a converted ex-feed and grain store in front of which
some wag had put a sign that said: 'Sloping Valley Police Department.  Ten Cops, No Waiting' and which was
still there three years later.  Sloping Valley was, by all criteria, a very nice place to live.

Joey Penner carefully stopped his car at the curb not far from the police station and almost reverently put a
dime into the parking meter, leasing him two hours of space on West Main Street.  Making sure he didn't slouch
or in any way present an unpleasant figure, he entered the police station.

Acting Sergeant Kay Carter was behind the desk this Friday morning and she really had nothing to do.  Car One
was helping a disabled motorist out on the county road, Car Two was on a Code 4 coffee break, and Car Three
was at the grammar school's auditorium, giving an anti-drug lecture to a bunch of awed second through
fifth-graders.  She was actually pleased to see someone come in through the front door and she displayed a
genuine smile.

Joey Penner calculated how much eye contact he should make as he approached the desk: he didn't want to
seem shifty, nor did he want to appear to be challenging the woman behind the counter.  So he met her eyes
as he entered the building, shifted to some posters, caught her eye again, looked at a display of antique guns,
then held her eyes for the final approach.  All in eight steps.

"Good morning," Acting Sergeant Carter said.  "Can I help you with something?"

"Um, yes, please," Joey said, making sure to keep his voice steady and firm, yet friendly.  He did not want to
seem to be guilty about doing something wrong--which he wasn't--nor did he want to seem overbearing. "I
need an application for a license."

Kay Carter was a little disappointed, but she didn't show it.  She'd kind of been hoping that this man had
walked in to report that he'd uncovered a hidden cache of drugs or guns, or a jumbo jetliner had crashed in the
high school athletic field.  Something to...well, liven up the day.  Alas, this was Sloping Valley, not Dodge City.  
She nodded and pointed to a table across the room.  

"All the forms are there," she said.  "Fill out the one you need and then just bring it back to me.  Okay?"

Joey met her smile and said, "Okay, sure.  Thank you."

He went over to the other side of the room.  Kay went back to putting State Police bulletins in chronological

There was a table that ran most of the length of the room, pushed right up against the long window.  Neatly
stacked on top of the table, in white, blue, green, canary, and pink, were dozens of different license application
forms.  The seventh one Joey looked at (pink) was the one he needed.

APPLICATION FOR LICENSE TO POSSESS FIREARMS, it said, along with lots of indecipherable numbers citing
state laws and codes and sections and words like 'pursuant' and 'amended' and 'ratified.'  Joey took an
envelope from one jacket pocket and a brand-new pen from the other and began to fill out the application.

NAME: Joseph Roy Penner [he wrote].

ADDRESS:  23 Cornwall Street, Sloping Valley

TELEPHONE: 952-555-9751

OCCUPATION: Store owner

NAME/PLACE OF BUSINESS:  Friendly Hardware, County Mall, County Road 42, North Hills


Joey had been very conscientious.  He opened the envelope he had brought with him and shook out the
carefully-folded papers.  He opened one and copied the information.

FIREARM DESIRED: Bradley & Smith #870 Shotgun

PLACE OF FIREARM PURCHASE: Domenico's Sporting and Hunting, Regional Mall, State Highway 12, Brookdale


Joey unfolded another piece of paper from his envelope.  It was a photocopy of a preprinted form, with the
necessary blanks filled in, which he had received from Domenico's when he had inquired about purchasing the
shotgun, stating that a person who had proved his identity to the satisfaction of said Domenico's had inquired
about the purchase of a B&S #870, and that said person had been instructed to apply for the proper license,
and that said person had been informed about the state law (number so and so, amended and ratified and
coded and whatnot) mandating a waiting period of fifteen to thirty days before Domenico's would sell said
person said weapon, etc.


Joey Penner took a deep breath and wrote:

To shoot large and noisy crows causing disturbance at place of residence.

There were other lines of desired information, such as military service, education, references, arrests, etc.  
Joey took his time and filled out the entire form neatly and carefully.  He took the shiny paperclip he had spilled
from the envelope and used it to attach to the license application the statement from Domenico's, a photocopy
of his driver's license, a copy of his honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy, and two original utility bills to
prove his address.  He clipped them together very carefully, very evenly, and walked back to the counter,
where he handed the papers to Acting Sergeant Kay Carter.  And then he just stood there with a small smile.

She gave him another quick smile and glanced at the form.  "Shotgun, huh?" she asked.     "Mmmhmm, yes," he

She scanned the form.  "Birds giving you a hard time?" and her smile this time was one of people sharing an
embarrassing little secret.

"Yes, they're very noisy," Joey said.  "Sometimes I can't even sleep.  They start right at the crack of dawn and
don't shut up until well after midnight."

"Have you tried other ways to get rid of them?" she asked.  It was her duty to help citizens any way she could.

"Yes, but nothing seems to work," Joey sighed.

Acting Sergeant Carter flipped through the other papers.  "Well, you sure did your homework, Mr. Penner.  I
don't know, I mean, I'm not a licensing expert, but I can't see why you wouldn't get the permit.  Everything
here looks fine.  It's just you might have to put up with the noise for another thirty days or so."

Joey's polite smile turned into a grin.  "I know.  It's the state's gun control laws.  They've got to check me out.  
But that's good.  You can't be too careful with guns, and who gets them."

"You're not kidding," Kay Carter said.  "There's too many people out there who have firearms  who shouldn't be
allowed to handle silverware.  This stuff--" she wiggled the papers--"it's not the answer, but it helps a little bit."

"And a little bit is better than nothing," Joey said.  "Umm, well, if you'll excuse me, Officer, I've got to open the

"Sure," she said.  "You'll hear right from the state.  Good luck."

"Thank you," Joey said, and he left.

Acting Sergeant Kay Carter put the application in the Chief's in-box.  The Chief was actually a Captain, but he
was the highest-ranking of the dozen cops on the Sloping Valley force, so he drew a little extra pay as
administrator.  When he got back later that morning from his lecture at the grammar school, he went through
his accumulated paperwork.  He opened the phone book twice, to see that one Joseph Penner was indeed listed
at 23 Cornwall Street and that there was indeed a Friendly Hardware in the North Hills strip mall. He called
Domenico's over in Brookdale and verified that this Penner had inquired after a B&S #870 and had met all the
proper criteria.  The Captain/Chief initialed his OK on the license application and put it with the rest of the mail
that went by Express Mail every other day to the state capitol.

A clerk in the State Police headquarters was routed Joey Penner's application papers four days later.  She
entered the information onto a computer.  When she got to his reason for desiring a shotgun, she
cross-referenced a software package that compared grounds for wanting to possess firearms with all the laws
passed by the State Legislature.  Section This, Subsection That, Paragraph The Other, the computer told her in
a matter of fifteen seconds, held that the elimination of certain vermin including but not exclusive to, rats,
gophers, moles, voles, mice, squirrels, and pigeons was a valid and lawful reason for possessing the following
types of firearms, among which were the B&S #870.  She called up another software program that
automatically printed out letters of inquiry and confirmation to Domenico's, the U.S. Navy, the utility
companies, police departments in four adjoining states, and the county Tax Department.  All told, it took her
less than six minutes to process Joey Penner's application.

When the replies dribbled back in over the course of the next three weeks, the same clerk stuck them in a file
with Joey's name and social security number.  When she received the last answer, she took a fast look and
noted that everything seemed to jibe with the information the applicant had put down.  She passed the
completed file to a Senior Clerk at the State Police's Firearms Control Bureau, and it only took her ten minutes
to approve Joey Penner's right to possess a shotgun for the purpose of shooting at some noisy crows.

His license was mailed out twenty-seven days after he had first walked into the Sloping Valley police station,
and he got it the next day.  

Two days later he went back to Domenico's in the nearby town of Brookdale and purchased a Bradley and Smith
#870 shotgun and a box of shells.  He spent a good half hour there as George Domenico, the owner, explained
how to safely use the weapon, and promised to attend a gun-safety course sponsored every other month by
the local Red Cross chapter.

That evening, shortly after eight, Joey Penner loaded his shotgun and went out his back door.  He walked
across his yard and through a gap in the hedges into the yard of his next-door neighbors.  As was common in
Sloping Valley, their back door was unlocked.  He entered the house.

Four people, a middle-aged man and woman, and two teenaged boys, were sitting in the living room watching
TV.  While the man could be said to be obese, the woman and the boys were merely overweight.  They all
gaped at Joey as he entered their living room from their kitchen.  One of the boys spilled popcorn on the floor.

"This is for your damn radio blasting all night!" he said, and fired two barrels into one of the boys.  Thanks to
hours of practice, he was able to reload in less than four seconds.  "And this is for you and your friends drinking
beer and shouting obscenities in the backyard under my window all summer!" he said, and fired two barrels into
the other boy.

The man was struggling to get out of his chair, but his obesity held him back.  The woman was keening.  Joey

"This is for your filthy garbage cans which you never cover and I've got your crap all over my front yard!" Joey
said, and fired twice into the woman.

Joey reloaded the shotgun just as the man got to his feet.  "And this is for your damn car with its damn muffler
scraping the ground every time you pull in and out in the middle of the damn night because you're so damn
fat!"  He fired twice into the man's abdomen, then reloaded and gave him two more, just in case.

He shut the TV off and relished the quiet.  Four people lay in various contorted positions half-on the living room
furniture,  half-on the floor.  Their wounds were so massive, so explosive, that there wasn't even the split-splat
of dripping blood.  There was just silence...dead silence.

"That's better," Joey said.

He went back through the kitchen and out the back door.  As he carefully and quietly closed the door behind
him, he paid no attention to the rubber mat he was standing on.  It said:

                               WELCOME TO OUR "NEST"

                                             THE CROWS