Ah. Yes, that was serious. I had been thinking about Mike too, it was one hell of a coincidence that he let me escape, and then disappeared. “Have you heard anything from him?” I asked.
“No, not since I got a message from him about that ‘family trouble’. Not since you came back to school. I’ve sent him a bunch of replies though. I tried ringing him but his phone is off.”
That did not sound good. And I couldn’t really help without letting her know I knew about his family. That would result in Questions. I didn’t even know what she knew. It might be that she had no idea about who he really was. “Beth, do you know anything about his family?”
“Hmm, not really. I’ve known him for years but he doesn’t really talk about them much. They are rich though. I know his granddad died a while back,” her eyes narrowed as the nature of my question raised her suspicions. “Why?”
It was very specific. Almost like I knew something… She wasn’t stupid.
“If he hasn’t told you…” Primarily I was Beth’s friend. I wasn’t even sure what kind of relationship I had with Mike. I knew, however, that he had really gone out of his way to help me. I owed him. Even if I was not so sure I liked him.
“Alexis, I haven’t heard from him in a week. If you know something why won’t you tell me?” How much could I give away? I owed it to Beth to be as honest as I could, but I owed it to mike to keep his secrets.
We had gotten to the steps of the library now. We didn’t make a move to enter, instead Beth turned to me.
“I know you’re hiding things from me. I’m fine with you having your… secrets. Though I don’t understand why you want to keep things from me. I’m your friend Alexis.”
Crap, well that confirms my worries that she was suspicious. I wasn’t good at lying, not to Beth anyway. I guess I just didn’t have the practice.
Now came the ultimatum. She was going to ending our friendship. “Beth, I-“
“No! Listen to me. I don’t care. Hide things from me if you want… I’m sure you have your reasons.” Her voice shook a fraction. Her eyes shined. She did care. “I hate that you don’t trust me with the things going on in your life. But don’t you fucking dare lie to me about Mike. If there is something wrong and…”
She trailed off into silence. I held it, genuinely conflicted.
And she just stood there, watching me.
Should I tell her? Should I betray Mike or her?
“Fine.” She said, turning on her heel. Walking away. Away from me.
“No!” I managed to say it out loud this time.
She stopped. Betray Beth or Mike? There is never going to be any question on that matter.
“I won’t lie.” I said, quietly.
“I won’t lie to you anymore.” Louder this time.
She turned back to face me with a sigh. Was it a sigh of relief? Maybe… I started trying to think of a plausible story that would lead to me knowing about Mike’s family without telling her about what I’d been doing…
I was not going to lie to her anymore. It stopped here.
“Beth, what’s Mike’s last name?” I asked.
“Henderson,” she replied instantly, confused.
“He lied to you, or maybe he is actually registered under that name, I suppose he could have taken his mother’s name if they weren’t Civil…”
“What? Why would he lie about his name? Anyway, it is, I’ve seen it on the school system.” She said.
“Ok, he must have taken his mother’s name then.” I said, taking a deep breath and getting to the point before she could get more confused. “His father is Anton Laas.”
There, I said it.
“Laas,” I said, exasperated. Who doesn’t know the most renown criminal in the state? He runs more brothels in my area than there are shops. “The Kolmek, the Estonian Mafia. Strong gang, particularly here in Montreal though recently losing out to younger more vicious competitors. Primarily deals in the distribution of illicit material, acts of questionable character and extortion.
“Aging founder passed away, ‘a while back’ ” I quoted her own words, “due to suspected internal troubles. Family trouble…”
My explanation ran out of steam.
“But… He… Are you sure? How the hell do you know?” She asked, eyes wide.
“I met his father.” I said. Truth. I wasn’t sure if I would provide more if I wasn’t asked though. I became aware that we were still standing in the door of the library. It wasn’t the best place to discuss your friend, son of a known criminal. “Let’s walk.”
We set off in a random direction. At least moving would keep us warm. I shoved my hands up my t-shirt to try take away some of the numbness in my fingers.
“You met him?” She said. “Wait, is this to do with… You said you wouldn’t lie to me right.”
“Yes.” I replied.
“How did you get that cut? I didn’t buy that whole mugging thing. Is that to do with Mike? He didn’t…”
“No, it wasn’t him. Mike helped me out. I… This is kind of hard to explain. It might be easier to show you something.” We weren’t walking randomly anymore. I had a destination.
* * *
I was beginning to like the sound of that bell.
“Alex, this is a gun shop,” Beth whispered to me. She was staring wide-eyed at the walls as she hung on to my arm. It didn’t really warrant a reply.
It was Saturday and there were a few people browsing. Jim, as usual, was lounging behind the counter.
“Hello kid. Who’s your lady friend?” He called out to me after looking up from his computer. I was beginning to suspect he just had the TV on it.
“Jim, this is Bethany.” Why did I just use her full name? “Beth, this is Jim.”
Still rather confused, she shook the hand he held out to her.
“So… What are you looking for? Something for your friend here?” He wasn’t speaking in his usual jokey demeanour and was giving me what I can only describe as a Look. I could guessed he was trying to work out whether she was ‘in’ on my activities.
“I’m here to collect my order.” I said, making things clear.
“Ah!” He switched back to normal. “I wasn’t sure if she was in the know. Here, come on into the back.”
Beth looked like she was about to explode with frustration of not knowing what was going on. Jim cast an eye around the shop floor. He must have decided it was safe to leave it unattended for a while. He seemed satisfied. Given that it was a gun shop, I only assumed that he knew all the customers that were in.
We followed him through a door into the backroom. It was dimly lit compared to the shop. The unpainted breezeblock walls were lined with shelves instead of racks. Boxes were piled as high as the ceiling.
There seemed to be little order to it, but he navigated the labyrinth of crates and shelves with ease.
“Here we are lass.” He pulled out a battered composite-board box and flicked out a small, if perfectly crafted, flick knife. The tape that sealed it was swiftly cut.
“How have those knives been?” He asked, probably reminded by his own.
“Haven’t had to use them yet, so no idea.” I replied, ignoring Beth’s frown at me.
“Good!” he said, casually, pulling out the plastic packaging. “Right, here we are.”
He turned and handed me my new vest.
Mostly matte black, no not black, it was a very dark grey. I figured that would be better anyway. I had noticed complete black tends to stand out. Dark grey would just merge into the concrete, grime and shadows…
I lifted it to get an idea of the weight of it. It was definitely heavier than my previous one. That was nothing but comfort. My back gave a little twinge to remind me why.
It was, if anything, more flexible than the previous. Thick, but not rigid. It was not made of hard plates, though feeling it there must be some kind of solid material in there.
“Interlocking synthceramic disks, helps stop slower moving pointy things,” he said, noticing my fingers trace the structure underneath the layers.
“Hmm, let’s try it on.” I said. He held it while I slipped my arms through the holes then pulled the straps tight.
It was a good fit, could be a little smaller but I would probably be wearing more than a t-shirt underneath. The collar wasn’t removable but wasn’t obtrusive, especially if I had a hooded top.
It was getting to the point where I would not be able to hide it under anything but a winter coat. Perfect for this time of year, but I could never wearing it for school.
Still, I had some of the old ones – they might fit under a t-shirt. Better than nothing.
“Are you sure it’s bulletproof?” I said.
“No vest is bullet proof, they are all just resistant to varying degrees,” he said, in lecture mode. “That fucker that got past your old one wouldn’t stand a chance. You are getting into assault rifle territory here. Then you might be having similar problems. Better than skin though.”
Beth had backed away a few steps. She got my attention, “Whoa, Alexis, what the fuck?”
Somehow her presence had slipped my mind for a moment. The excitement of getting some new kit…
“Ah…” I was hoping I’d either have thought of the words to tell her by now or she’d somehow get an idea of what the hell I was doing.
“She doesn’t know?” Jim said, serious again. “That’s why I did the whole wink-wink thing before!”
“This is me telling her!” I said, trying to defend myself.
“Well, what a way to break it to her lightly.” He looked from me to Beth and back again.
“Hell what do you know anyway? I haven’t even told you anything,” I said.
“It’s not that hard to work out, I sell a little girl a fuck-tonne of armour and some batons and the next week there’s this story on the news…”
“News?” What the hell?
“Don’t tell me you are doing this and you don’t even watch the news afterwards!” he said, rubbing his forehead in exasperation. “Wait here.”
He headed back towards the shop, leaving Beth and me avoiding each other’s eyes.
“Have you seen the news?” I asked, timid.
“Yes, I’ve seen the fucking news Alex,” she said. I’d made her mad. She was mad with me. Today wasn’t going well at all.
The short time it took Jim to return, tablet in-hand, felt like an eternity.
“Here, this is the thing.” I watched as a news presenter faded into view.