Engage 4.03

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I feel kinda exposed, carrying all this cash without the bag.

We’ll get a new one.

A better one.

That’s why we’re here, remember.

Kid took a long look around the store, from the fighter pilot suits, to the heavy machine guns hanging from the ceiling, long rows of military uniforms from bygone eras of Americana, and glass cases filled with every kind of blade imaginable, and some that Kid hadn’t even considered imagining.

I think I might love America.

The store was broken into aisles divided by tables covered with boxes of obscure military gear. Kid approached the nearest table, boxes packed with wool and leather accessories: socks and underwear, gloves and hats, scarves and stocking caps. Kid pulled one of the full-head coverings from its box, a black stocking cap with a thinner weave than the others and a single ovoid opening through which to see. Clutching the cap in one hand, Kid turned to the gloves.

Um. So many gloves.

So many everything.

I think that’s what they mean by ‘surplus’.

Kid rifled through the gloves until he found a pair marked ‘Child-sized’, with a tacked on tag listing slash, fire, and water resistances as properties of the neoprene material, and after a moment, another small pair of wool. Gloves and hat in hand, he left the accessory table and walked down the aisle lined with bags of sizes and colors varying as much as possible while staying within the strict military color scheme of blacks, greys, blues, and shade of greenish brown.

Olive?

Seems like a dumb name for a color. Aren’t there different colors of olive?

Leather bags, canvas, soft cloth, one strap to sling across the body, two straps, even some with a third wrapping around the waist, and then a fourth across the chest, bags with metal frames, and bags with wheels and extendable handles…

Kid turned slow circles, a smile growing on his face.

Grabbing a random bag, one strap, hard leather with shiny buckles, Kid slipped the strap over his head, and tugged at the slider governing the length of the strap. Settling the bag under his arm, Kid took a few quick lunging steps back and forth in the open space where aisles intersected, ducking and spinning, the bag bouncing on his hip then swinging around to smack Kid right in the face in the middle of his spin.

Rubbing at a face that was scrunched in the middle, Kid ducked out of the bag strap and dropped it back on the table with other one-strap bags. He turned to look over the bags with multiple straps. After lifting a few of the large two-strap variety, Kid grabbed one of the three-straps, turning it over in his hands.

He’d grabbed the smallest multi-strap bag, with a little tube stuck out of the top of the all black bag. Unzipping the pocket with the tube, Kid saw a little plastic pouch with instructions on how to fill with water, which could be sipped through the tube.

Handy.

Kid unbuckled the strap that served to connect the other straps in the middle, slipping the bag over his shoulders. He clicked the belt at his hips, and then the one across his chest, and tightened all the straps. The small bag, snug against his little back, did not move as Kid darted and hopped around the corner of the store.

Um. That guy is staring at us.

Kid came to a stop, turning to look at the glass counter filled with myriad blades, and the bearded man leaning on the top, bemused. Kid gave a small smile.

“I like the bag,” Kid said, ducking his head and dropping his hands to his sides.

The clerk returned to talking to someone interested in some of his knives, and Kid shoved the hat and gloves into one of the pouch pockets on the bag while he turned to the display between the bags and the blades. Small plastic cases featured a variety of solutions to any number of different problems.

I didn’t even think we HAD this many problems.

That’s how we ended up cold and wet stranded on a roof.

And probably how we ended up bloody and alone in a sewer.

We need to do better at preparing for problems we don’t expect.

Um. Right. So, about that…

That is the exact reason we’re here.

Kid grabbed a first aid kit that was on the smaller end of the range but perhaps the most dense, and a gear repair kit with various size patches and strong threads and needles. Kid unbuckled the chest strap in order to pull free his arms, then squirmed to shift the bag around to sit in front of him, still buckled at his waist. He unzipped the front pocket, slipping in the two kits.

Looking back at the display, Kid grabbed the pouch labeled Survival Blanket, boasting invulnerability to wind, rain, and radiation while fitting into the palm of his hand. The blanket slipped next to the two kits, soon joined by something called a tactical pen, which featured a glass breaker, a handcuff key, and ink that would write in the rain. Kid held one package close to his face to read the small print.

That isn’t how you spell Quick.

Ah, does this say what I think it does?

Stop serious bleeding in seconds? Yeah, I don’t care about their spelling.

Several spongelike blocks went into the open pocket, taking up most of the remaining space. Kid pulled one of the zippers up to hold a corner closed, and shoved his items into a more compact arrangement before adding a plastic tube a little longer than his hand that claimed to filter water and a box labeled All Weather Firestarter.

Don’t forget the rope.

I didn’t forget! Did you see all the different ropes?

We’ll get to the rope.

The rope section of the store was as varied as the bags. Some of the ropes bore similarity to the one Kid had left dangling from the side of the building, in thickness and coarse texture, but some of the others bore that old tattered rope as much similarity as svelte new roadsters bore to old beat up pickups. Set off to the side by itself was a dark black rope, braided where the others were twisted, label claiming ‘abrasion resistance coating’ and an ‘optimal friction coefficient’. They were called SPIE ropes.

Huh. I thought spies would be better spellers.

Kid dropped the rope in the main pocket of the bag, pulling the gloves and hat from the pouch to join it. The coiled rope was longer than the bag was deep, so Kid just pulled the zippers tight around the rope so it would stick up over his shoulder the way the handle of sword stuck up over the shoulder of charging warriors in story books.

Kid smiled and turned to approach the counter filled with blades, and backed by beards. Kid stood, looking at the glass case, while the attendant chatted at the other end of the counter with another customer. Looking over the collection of blades, Kid’s eyes caught on something in the corner of the case.

Range finder?

“Accurately gauges distances up to 1600 meters.”

Like, the distances between buildings?

The distance to the ground?

Seven times magnification on the scope, water and fog resistant.

Muahahahha, distance problems: solved.

Ok, so we ask the guy to get us one of those.

And a knife!

Um. We already have a knife.

Not like these.

Kid began looking closer at the different blades, and the other customer gathered his things and left the store. The bearded man came over to look down at Kid, a half smile buried in his whiskers like a twisting river under a forest canopy. He looked at the bag perched on Kid’s hip, attached at the beltstrap, and back up to Kid, eyebrows tented. Kid fumbled at the buckle, unclasping the catch and hefting the bag up onto the counter.

“Um, could I,” Kid pointed to the corner of the case, “get one of those, too?”

Beard looked where Kid was pointing.

“Rangefinder?” He asked, “Gonna do some hunting?” A low chuckle rumbled out of the beard. “You’n’t strike me as the golf type,” the man continued, pulling the box from behind the glass.

“I want a knife, too,” Kid said, looking back into the case.

When he spoke again, the smile was no longer as present in the bearded man’s voice.

“An’ what,” he asked, setting the box on the counter next to the bag, “Would a boy like you need with a knife?”

Palms on the glass, he leaned forward, beard looming over Kid, who looked up from inspecting the knives.

Uh-oh. Are kids allowed to buy knives?

Why wouldn’t we be?

Because a knife is a weapon?

But they can be used for other things, too, right? Stuff that kids can do?

“For cutting things?” Kid tried. When the beard gave no indication of receptivity, he kept trying, “Um, like wood? Or rope?”

The bushy eyebrows matching the thick grey beard began to bunch together.

Different plan.

We could try something like the truth?

What truth? That we live alone underground and need to protect ourselves?

Um, maybe not all that, but a little of that? Like maybe we’re afraid of what someone like Ilk might do to us? Because I am and that doesn’t seem unreasonable.

No, Whiny. It isn’t.

Alright.

“Also,” Kid looked away, quick, studying the minute details of the floor, and his voice dropped, “um, do you know what ‘rape’ is?”

The brows retreated, and the eyes beneath them softened. The beard settled back, no longer looming over the display case.

Kid rushed on, “Um, did you know that people do that,” looking up at the beard, not the eyes, “um, do that to kids? Even the little ones?”

Kid looked back at the ground, blinking and pressing together lips that were not quivering.

What is happening right now? Why are we almost crying about something that hasn’t even happened.

I don’t know! Just hearing it out loud, saying it out loud.

And it has happened. That’s what Mike was saying. It just hasn’t happened to us.

Rojo.

Stop it. We need to get this under control, not make it worse. Fuzzy, count some stuff.

One, one, two, three, five, eight, thirteen,

“Son,” a voice that was as warm and soft as a pile of blankets descended from above, but with a tightness beneath it that Kid couldn’t understand, “has someone, done, something to you?”

His voice makes it worse. How can someone squeeze our chest with just words?

Kid’s hand took advantage of the boy’s distraction to reach up and brush the side of his head, where a twisty scar wove under his hair. Snatching his hand down, Kid looked up, taking a half step back, away, hips turning to face the door, and jerked to a halt.

HEY! Knock it off. Whiny, I don’t know if you’re still juiced from last night or what, but dial it down. We got this. Fuzz.

One, one, two, three, five, eight,

“NO,” Kid said, then took a breath, and tried again, “No, but if he does,” Kid looked back at the collection of blades, “I’m going to fucking kill him.”

“Who.”

It wasn’t a question, and while still warm, the tightness in the man’s voice had stiffened to an iron brittleness.

“Who would you kill?”

This time in question form, still hard, and Kid looked up at eyes that didn’t match the iron in the tone. Kid took a deep breath, lifted a half shoulder in a tiny shrug.

“Anyone,” he said, and held the bearded man’s eyes for a long moment.

The man turned and walked down the counter, reaching into the display to grab a knife, which he brought back and handed to Kid. Kid held the knife in the palm of his hand, giving it a little raise and lowering.

Lighter than I expected.

Kid slipped the blade out of the sheath, turning it over, watching the light die on the matte black finish. The blade was almost as long as his forearm, as wide as two fingers together. Serrated teeth ran from the flat guard above the handle up for the length of a hand.

Wait, not quite a flat guard.

Huh.

As Kid leaned in to look closer at the knife, the rumble from the beard above filled in the blanks.

“The saw teeth should take care of whatever you need to cut.”

A gnarled hand descended into Kid’s line of view, finger extended toward the small lip on the guard which had caught Kid’s eye.

“The half-break can catch another blade,” Kid looked up, sharp, “if you know what you’re doing.” The half smile twisted beneath the hirsute canopy again, “but I don’t recommend trying it.” He continued, “The carbon-vanadium alloy is strong enough to use it as a pry bar while still keeping a pretty clean edge,” the massive finger flicked the blade to a dull ring in Kid’s hands, “and the channel running down the blade,” he looked Kid right in the eyes, “will let the blood flow out easier, allowing whatever animal you are hunting to bleed out quicker.”

Kid tightened his grip on the knife, holding it firm out in front of himself. He bearded man reached over the counter, grabbed Kid’s wrist, holding Kid’s arm still as he removed the blade, flipping it over in a practiced spin, and replaced the knife in Kid’s hand with the blade pointing down, past his littlest finger. The bearded man wrapped Kid’s fingers around the grip with a pat, and began pulling the items out of the bag, laying them out on the counter. As he laid out the first aid kit and the survival blanket, he looked up at Kid.

“Son,” he said, in the softer warm voice, not the steel-angry voice, “where are your parents?”

His eyes had the same kind look that the little girl’s had held when she gave him her sandwich. Kid pressed his lips together, looking down at the glass case with the broad variety of death dealing utilities, then looking up at the bearded man.

“Not around,” Kid looked back at the pile of tactical military gear he was asking this man to sell to a child, “clearly.”

The bearded man looked down at Kid, the moment stretching out between them. He looked back at the pile of gear, and grabbed the scanner to begin the checkout process. Kid tried not to exhale in relief. Then the man named the staggering amount of money Kid owed him, looking at Kid with the tiniest peak in his brows.

Kid reached into his pocket and pulled out the small stack of cash he had brought from the bag he left in the cave. He counted fourteen bills out on the counter, tucking the rest away, and looked up at the attendant. 

   The bearded man looked from Kid to the bills laid out on the counter, his tongue snaking out to loop a twist of mustache between his teeth. He chewed on the end of his mustache for a moment, looking back up to Kid, then sweeping up the bills. He packed the bag in less time than it took him to unpack it, threading the waist strap through the knife’s sheath, blade pointing up to where Kid’s armpit would be when the bag was on his back, then reaching out to snag a card from the rack next to the register.

Flipping card text down on the glass counter, he scrawled across the back of the card as Kid slung his loaded new bag across his shoulders, fixing all the straps to fit snug and comfortable.

“Here.”

Two gnarled fingers held a pinched card in the air, ten digits legible on the side facing Kid.

“Number on the back is me,” he flipped the card to display the store address and number on the front, “Store’s on the front.”

He extended the card across the counter, and Kid took it, tucking it into a pocket.

“Feel free to call, if you need to use that,” he gestured toward the knife already feeling natural at Kid’s hip, “or whenever. Ask for Horace.”

“Horace?”

Kid managed to raise one brow, just a fraction, and held it before he lost the moment. Horace waved a hand in Kid’s direction.

“Parents had a different kid in mind.”

Note: Voogle ‘Horace’ at first chance.

Um, don’t we have other stuff that we have to do?

Fine. Maybe not the FIRST chance.

Kid nodded, waving a hand and turning to the door. As he crossed the collection of collapsible cooking ware,  Horace called out behind him.

“Hey, kid, you got a name?”

Kid reached out to grab the door handle, turning back to face Horace as he pulled open the door, salt breeze sweeping in with the motion.

“Nope.”

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