School was… sleepy. I didn’t really pay much attention in class. Lunchtime was similar to the rest of the week. I listened to Beth and Mike but this time Beth would look at me and smile, and the tension of the previous days just dissolved away.
I could live with just listening to her.
I was walking to my detention after school when Haley past me in the corridor. She took one look at me and burst out with a harsh laugh.
“Alexis! What have you done to your hair? What made you think getting a boys haircut would make you look any better than that mop you had before? Maybe if you had even a hint of tits you might pull it off… God you are such a dyke. You might as well go all out and change your name to Alex. I don’t know why you bother even pretending to be a girl.”
I clenched my hands into fists. She wasn’t going to ruin this. I liked my new haircut. I just had to ignore her and carry on walking.
“Hey Alex! I’m talking to you!” She shouted after me, but didn’t follow. I could their laughs echoing down the corridor as I got to detention.
One hour of boredom later I went to the computer lab to grab a tablet and do some research. The internet had so much good stuff on it but I didn’t have a bank account I could use. I only had cash. I could get an idea of what I could afford though. I checked for any local shops that might stock self-defence stuff or sporting goods and found a few candidates.
* * *
I opened the door; it knocked an old fashioned bell to let the owner know someone had entered. Seemed sensible on a gun store.
It was exactly what I had expected. The walls were covered floor to ceiling in racks of guns of all varieties. They were grouped, in roughly size order. Tiny little pistols that could be hidden in pockets or handbags moving onto larger pistols – some of them seemed ridiculously big. I’d probably break my wrist shooting one of them. They got larger, through shotguns of various designs then what looked like hunting rifles. Finally there was actual military style assault rifles behind the long counter.
I was not interested in guns.
I scanned the walls until I found a section that was full of knives. This shop creeped me out a little. It just seemed so devoted to death. Knives were closer to what I was looking for. I had considered getting one but they were too… fatal for me. I didn’t want to kill anyone.
“Hey boy, what are you looking for?” A voice said from behind me.
I turned to find a fat man watching me. I assumed he was the owner of the store because his stained t-shirt had the name on the front “Guns Akimbo” and a picture of two overly large crossed pistols.
“Girl.” I corrected him. He peered at me dubiously.
“I don’t care what you are kiddo, you don’t look old enough for any of that. I’d need ID, real ID showing you are 18 before I can let you get your hands on a knife.”
I was aware of this.
“I know. I’m not after a knife. What do you have that you can sell me?”
“I have a range of more age-suitable weapons.” He said in a joking tone. “Come with me.”
I was lead to a room off to the side. It had a lot more variety with all kinds of strangely shaped colourful objects that looked like they were more for contact sports and martial arts.
“Here we have a wide selection of less lethal armaments to suit any taste.” He smiled at me. “What kind of damage are you looking to deal little lady?”
“I don’t know yet.” I spotted a cabinet with what looked like batons. I had some success with the pipe I’d used. I would have been in a much worse state without it. “Can I have a look at some of those?”
“Sure.” He opened it and started pulling out some of the small black tubes. “These are pretty decent if you are on a budget, polycarbonate, telescopic.” I pressed a button on one and swung it, whipping it out to the side. It tripled in length.
I took one and tried it myself, it was ok I guess. It felt so light though. I wanted something with a little weight about it. I looked around.
“Is there anything to try it out on?” I asked, feeling shy all of a sudden.
“Sure, good old Bob here.” He went to the corner and dragged out an unrealistically muscled plastic dummy.
I looked around the room to check there was no one else around, I felt a bit silly to be honest. No one but me and him, might as well go for it.
I swung as hard as I could and with a loud bang the dummy wobbled a bit on its base. It was better than I expected but it still felt too light.
“Do you have anything… heavier?” I asked.
“Sure, we have some larger steel versions. And these solid ones – let’s see – aluminium, steel and more polycarbonate.” He started picking out all different shapes and sizes, I held a few and gave them some swings.
I wasn’t a fan of the extendable versions; I preferred just a good solid bar. Maybe it was psychological. I had this vision in my head of it getting jammed at a crucial moment. The solid ones were simple. My favourite was just a steel bar with an engraved hatched grip on either end.
Then I saw something interesting.
“What’s that? I said, pointing.” It looked like the solid steel baton, but with a ‘handle’ coming out about a third of the way down.
“Oh! You have taste. That is a classic. A Tonfa, old Chinese design. It’s mostly used by law enforcement nowadays.” He reached up and took it down from the wall mount.
“Tubular stainless steel, might be a bit heavy for you.” He handed it me. “Here, you hold it like this. Protects your forearm see, you can jab or swing it out at a target.”
He had me hold the sticky out handle and the bar ran along the underside of my arm. He was right; it would be pretty damn good against anyone taking a swing with another baton or a knife.
I threw an experimental strike at ‘bob’ putting all my weight into it and flicking the end out from under my forearm to swing round like he’d shown me. The noise of the impact was deafening and the blow nearly caused the dummy to fall over. It felt good. This was the kind of thing I needed.
“I can tell by your smile that’s what you want.” I looked at him, I didn’t realise I had a grin on my face. He returned it.
“That’s 1200 dollars; you got that kind of money?” He said.
“Money isn’t an issue. I’ll take two.”
“Well, if you’re sure. Follow me and I’ll put it through the register.” He turned to go back to the main room.
“Wait, I’m also after something else, some protection. Armour, that kind of thing.” I was painfully aware that my chest still hurt and it had only been a punch. I didn’t doubt the people I’d be fighting might have all kind of things, knives were a big worry.
“Well, we’ve got this here.” He started taking some bright red and blue padding from the wall.
“No, not for sports. I want something that can stop a knife. The kind police have and stuff” I said.
“Why on earth do you need that? What are you going to be doing?” He didn’t look like he believed me.
“That’s no concern of yours. You can legally sell me it, I checked.” I was getting more serous now.
“Fine, fine. I’m not the kind of person to turn down a customer. Or pry into their business.” He took me back to the main room.
“We usually do this kind of stuff in bulk to security companies though, I don’t have any on display but I have some in the back, just a minute.” He went behind the counter and came back with a handful of polythene wrapped black vests.
“Here we go. I doubt any of them are going to fit you though…”
I picked through them, they looked just like you see security companies wearing. The actual armoured sections were about half an inch thick and somewhat flexible. I pulled one of the smallest vests on. It was far too loose around my chest and went down too far. I was too skinny for any of them. Why did they assume security guards were going to be big beefy men? It was really annoying.
I wasn’t just going to give up though. I would have to modify them somehow to fit. Thinking about it, they were all vests, I wanted some protection for my arms and legs. If I was modifying a vest I might as well make some rudimentary pads for my thighs, shoulders and arms too.
“This stuff should be able to stop a knife and resist a bullet.” He said. “It’s woven laminate, nothing fancy but it is cheap.”
“Good, I’ll take four.” I thought I might need 3 or so, better get one extra for mistakes and experimenting. “Are the large sizes any more expensive than the small sizes?”
He gave me another funny look. “No.”
“Good, I’ll take one in the smallest you have and three in the largest you have.” I figured a small one would make the best base and I might as well get large ones for the material.
I spent another twenty minutes in the shop trying to think of anything I could use. I picked up some of the most expensive gloves I could find – I still had a half-healed scar on my fingers where I’d grabbed the knife in the mall – and a selection of useful looking pouches or bags and small, close fitting backpack. I think they were ammo holders or something. I figured I could cannibalise the straps and they would be useful to carry things in.
He put it through the till and it came close to 14,000 dollars. Until yesterday I’d never seen that much money, let alone spent it. I could feed myself for months, years on that much. I peeled out the cash handed it over. It wasn’t my money. I couldn’t just spend it on stuff I wanted. Just what I needed to do whatever it was I was doing.
I left the shop with my bags full of stuff and a cheery shout from the owner:
“I’m Jim, come back any time!”
I wondered if I would be back.