Surprise was quickly replaced by panic. I set off into a full on sprint, my measured jog forgotten.
It’s amazing how fatigue evaporates when you are threatened. I could feel the adrenaline pumping into my bloodstream. It flooded my arms and legs, the soreness and clumsiness dissolving, replaced with fire.
I kept my head down, concentrating on going as fast as possible.
Not a good plan. I should have had my eyes forwards, planning. Running is useless unless you know where you are going, what lies ahead.
I ran straight into my downfall.
A foot, jerked into my path. Something I’d avoided at school countless times. Normally I’d be ready, but it caught me completely by surprise.
Without time to change direction, it hit me and I stumbled. Knowing my balance was gone and I was going to fall, I tried to turn it into a roll to absorb some of the energy.
It was half successful. I sprung to my feet, my arm numb from the impact and a lot of pain in my knee which I was trying to ignore. Elbow and knee pads… Spinning to face my attacker I was ready for a fight, running having failed spectacularly.
He grabbed my shoulder. I brought my hands up to try a joint lock. Ivan assured would allow me to break an arm. Then my head processed what was in front of me .Just before I put my half-instinctive thoughts into action.
It was a uniform. Blue.
Realisation dawned. I quickly let go, arms out, palms upwards, away. I submit. Never fight cops. They get all vindictive. They like to know they have power over you.
“Hey, it’s a girl? What did she do? Did she nick something?” the guy who’d tripped me up, who clearly wasn’t a cop – just a civilian who’d spotted someone running from one and decided to be a Good Samaritan.
“I don’t know, probably. Look at her! What is she doing round here?” his voice was filled with venom. He gestured to my clothes. Hey, this jacket is new. Well it’s in reasonable nick.
What did I always say about running? Breeds suspicion. What a way to prove my point.
“What so you just start chasing her?” Samaritan said at the cop. Was this guy taking my side? “You made me knock over some little girl!”
Aha! Wounded pride.
“She ran when I told her to stop! Why would she do that if she was innocent?” I was relived at the anger being directed away from me, but I didn’t think winding up the police was a good thing to do. “Besides, I didn’t make you stop her!”
He pulled me roughly by the shoulder of my jacket.
“You must have nicked something, what the hell are you doing running about in this neighbourhood?” he addressed at me.
I decided to play meek; it sometimes worked against people who like to think they are powerful. Challenging them doesn’t usually help; they just try proving it. That is not often Fun. Anyway, if this other guy was feeling a bit sore for taking down a little girl I’d give him a little girl.
“I… I was just going running, I wanted to try get into the track team and my teacher said if I want to get in the under thirteen’s I need to practice.” I could pull off under thirteen’s. Damn I wish I could make myself cry…
The man’s face contorted in frustration, which nearly made me smile. Hit the bull’s eye there. It didn’t deter the cop though.
“I’m not buying that you little shit. You’ve got to have something on you.”
Before waiting for a response his hands grabbed at my jacket. He pulled it from my shoulders; The cold wind cut though my t-shirt. His searched, patting and turning out pockets. They were empty – I’d only had it an hour. Casting it aside he moved to grab at the pockets in my pants.
Samaritan stepped sideways to block him.
“Hey! She can empty her pockets herself. I’m not going to watch you touch up a kid.” This really was an unusual experience for me. I liked this guy, he wasn’t afraid to help someone out at his own expense. Would I have done the same? “Go on kid.”
Dutifully I emptied my pockets. At a guess, normal people my age would have a phone, money, a bus pass; things that I could be accused of stealing. For once I considered myself lucky for not having any of that stuff. I had ten dollars as a crumpled note, not an amount worth picking up from the pavement for some.
Yeah, I had nearly fifteen thousand stuffed inside my sock but I hoped this ‘search’ wasn’t going to go that far.
The cop grumbled at my lack of incriminating evidence, Samaritan’s face glowed smugness. “Happy now?” he said.
“She got lucky. We don’t want her kind around here anyway. Even if she hasn’t stolen anything now she’d probably have your kidney if you weren’t paying attention.”
The sad thing was he was right. Maybe not about the kidney, but I had been driven to theft, especially when I was younger. It was always food or clothes though; it wasn’t like I was selling things on for money.
I tried to make myself as small as possible. Confrontations are all about body language. It’s animalistic. Keep quiet while the two alpha’s clash.
It became more heated, the cop threatened to arrest the guy for public disturbance. A handful of people had stopped to watch, the crowd stirred at the accusation. Whatever entertainment our society could develop, nothing beats a public show, a fight, a bit of excitement. I tested a tentative step away from the two men.
The cop didn’t react to me, but he sensed the crowd’s opinion turning against him. His face contorted, trying to decide whether to take it any further. Back down I willed at him. Read this damn crowd. All you need is to give in, everyone will forget about it.
But he didn’t, the crowd was growing, watching the two men argue. They jeered at him, cheering Samaritan.
Attention off me, I slipped away. I didn’t want to get stuck in a mob if things turned bad.
* * *
I let myself relax as crossed the threshold into Jim’s shop and heard the half-familiar bell. I’d only been here twice now but it felt familiar. Maybe it was just relief at getting to my destination without anything else happening. Somehow being surrounded by walls of guns made me feel safe.
Jim was in his usual place, feet propped up on the countertop watching something on a tablet on his lap. Seeing someone act so casually also helped me stop imagining that I was going to get attacked, how I was going to get attacked, and everything that would go wrong when I was attacked.
“Hey kid.” he said, not even looking up. I wondered how he knew it was me, with his eyes still on his tablet. Surely he can’t tell from the corner of his eye. I looked around again and my eye caught a small button camera opposite me.
He was watching the security feed? Ok, that was reassuring. Maybe he had it pop up automatically when someone triggered the door in case he was in using the tablet in the backroom or something. It would only take a little remote sensor on the door and a few scripts…
“Hey! Stop daydreaming.” he was looking up at me now.
“Hi Jim.” I said, fidgeting with my hands, unsure of myself now.
“What do you need? You ok?” he was looking at my face. I was going to get a lot of that.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Things got a little… hairy.” hairy? Why was that even a phrase? It sounded stupid. I walked up to the counter.
“When did you get that, didn’t you get a helmet?” he asked. “Looks nasty, what did it?”
“Oh, a week ago. It’s not-“
“A week?” he raised one eyebrow. “It looks a month old!”
He must have been familiar with knife wounds. I suppose it would make sense if you own a weapon shop. How do you get into the trade?
“It’s not that bad.” I continued. “I got a helmet but it isn’t much use when it gets taken off you first…”
He stood up and leaned in to get a closer look.
“Doesn’t look like a knife.” he remarked.
“Wasn’t. Broken glass.” I said.
“Hmm… Nasty stuff.”
I looked away, uncomfortable with the attention. Someone looking so closely at me made me worry I had something wrong with my face. That I had a mark on it, or something stuck to my mouth. I had to resist the urge to raise my hands and check. Blushing didn’t help. He gave a short laugh at me, shaking his head.
Subject change, “Jim, the armour worked really well but bullet resistant isn’t going to cut it.”
“You got shot at?” he said. Both eyebrows this time.
“I got shot.” I don’t know why I was telling him, but he must have worked out I was doing something. I felt like I could tell him these things. For some reason I could trust him. Maybe I was being naïve, I was so paranoid about everything else. It went against my usual behaviour.
“Shot?” He said sceptically. Should I show him?
I pulled up my jacket and t-shirt and turned around. I’d taken off the bandage on my back, I’d looked on the internet and it said there wasn’t much use binding broken ribs and the skin had started to properly seal the wound. The doughnut of bruising had gotten more pronounced though and the swelling hadn’t gone down quite as fast as the cut on my face.
“The vest slowed it down. It cracked a few ribs but didn’t get any further. Luckily.”
He whistled. “Shit girl, that’s… What the hell have you been doing?” he said.
“Getting in trouble,” I said. I wasn’t going to tell him any more. “I need more protection, and I need to deal more damage.”