Ok, so it was not that bad. There was footage, but it from some low-grade security cameras. I hadn’t seen any. They must have been well hidden, and luckily didn’t pick out a whole lot of detail in the light. That or the woman had been nice enough to make the footage that ambiguous on purpose. Clearly, I had left the her with more than the couple of grand in cash. She must have sold this story for a decent sum. My estimation of her rose a notch.
It showed me, in my full getup, bursting into the room and taking on however many men. The brutality of it was shocking even for me. I knew what happened – I remembered every bit of it. But seeing it played back… watching someone sitting atop of me, I looked so small, and punching me in the face. That made me wince. Those bruises had lasted for ages.
And then the bit with the finger. I paled. The footage was silent, but it brought back memories of the sound, the feeling of it. The taste. Urgh.
Beth watched over my shoulder. She said she’d seen it before. Now? It was probably a bit different knowing it was me. I didn’t dare look at her face.
Luckily the news company surrounded it in a positive spin, explaining how I was rescuing the innocent girls. It didn’t mention the type of business they ran.
I handed it back to Jim who mentioned that they followed it up with some interviews of witnesses to some of the other fights. Apparently, there was quite a heated debate about vigilantism and the failure of the police in the Island. “I’d better get back to the shop,” He finished, “Can’t leave it for long. I’ll leave you two to… talk. I checked your order kid, everything’s there.”
I walked up to the box with my new stuff and absentmindedly started picking through it. I didn’t know what else to do. Six vests, two small, one as a backup. The rest were for experimenting. I found the helmet. It was more military looking than my old one. Bulkier. The Perspex, or whatever, visor alone was about four millimetres thick. It slid up into the helmet. I noticed there were indents for earphones or similar COMs equipment. I would not need those.
I sighed and tossed it back with the rest, leaning onto the edge of the box with my back to her. I had hoped Beth would have reacted better. I had hoped she’d… Ok, I had no idea what I wanted to get out of this.
“You…” she sounded accusatory. “I knew you were lying. That you were hiding something but this? Why Alexis? Why?”
To help others? Revenge? No. I have no fucking clue.
“I…” I can’t explain this to myself, let alone you.
“Those bruises, your face… are you trying to get killed? Because…” She let out a half-sob. “…there are damn well easier ways of doing it!”
I turned to her. I couldn’t tell if she was more angry or upset. Her face was all blotchy and red, tears streaming down it. Just looking at her upset made me feel a lump in my throat. That I was the cause made me want to hit myself in the face. I couldn’t tell her about being shot, though Jim mentioned it I don’t think she’d really taken it in.
“I wasn’t trying to… I’m sorry, you weren’t supposed to know.” I said, taking a step towards her, reaching out. She was upset – maybe I could comfort her.
“Get away!” She skipped backwards to get out of my reach. “I don’t even know who you are. I wasn’t supposed to know? You were just planning on hiding it forever?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it…” I backed away; she didn’t want me near her. I’d ruined everything. I was such a fucking mess I’ve gone and destroyed the one good thing in my life, the one thing I care about.
“Hadn’t fucking thought about it? You didn’t fucking think of me? Of us?” Her voice rose in pitch, making me flinch. “What the hell do you think would happen if… if you’d got fucking killed? I wouldn’t even know what would have happened to you. You would have just disappeared!”
I thought of her, all the time… But then I realised, the core of what she was saying was right. Whenever I thought of Beth it was selfishly. I wasn’t thinking about how this would affect her. I didn’t know she cared so much, that it even would. “I’m sorry Beth. Please, I’m not… I’ve never really known anyone like you, I’ve never really had a friend before-”
“Don’t fucking turn this around to be about you!” she snapped. “Why did you even take me to see this?”
I could feel hot tears flowing down my cheeks. I’d just wanted to help. “Mike, I think he’s in trouble… It’s all linked to this, I had to tell you. I said I wasn’t going to lie to you anymore.”
“Stop it.” She said, calmly.
“What?” Stop talking?
“Stop this. Doing whatever the fuck this is.” She said, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand.
“I…” I can’t. “What about Mike?”
“Fuck Mike! If he is some goddamn m-mafia prodigy, he can take care of himself. It’s not worth you d-dying over.” She was stuttering her words.
I didn’t reply. I said. No lying.
The silence cut between us sharper than any blade. You could feel it, almost taste it’s metallic edge.
She glared at me, before shattering it. “Fuck this Alexis! Fuck you. Do whatever the fuck you want.”
Through blurred eyes I watched her leave.
I couldn’t just stop…
* * *
The kid’s friend came running out from the back with tears streaming from her eyes. Jim looked around to make sure none of the customers had seen, not a good image to have distraught teenage girls fleeing your back room – whatever line of business you are in.
“Hey! You alright girl?” He was worried something like this would happen when it was obvious she didn’t know a thing about the other kid.
She shot him a look of pure hatred. He involuntarily took a quick step back. She dashed out of the door before he could start saying anything else.
Oh shit. Poor damn children. Still, who said we ever grow out of drama like this? He hoped they’d kiss and make-up in a few days, they seemed like a nice couple… or whatever.
He turned from the door and nearly bumped into her, backpack on her back and a bag stuffed with gear in her arms.
“Is your friend ok?” He immediately regretted asking, what an idiot. Way to rub it in.
She looked straight into his eyes. Her own were almost dead, blank, uncaring.
“She’s better for not knowing me. It would be better if she’d never known me.” Her voice was level, monotone.
He’d seen those eyes before, that look. He was familiar with it as a veteran. She’d seen shit go down, she’d been through hardship and come out of the other side alive.
Soldiers, after the particularly gritty parts of war have that look. Refugees have that look. Rape victims, abuse victims. He’d been around the block a few times and seen the people the world grinds up and spits out.
Some of them survive.
He knew what she had to do, and why. He’d been the same when he was young and a soldier. Throwing himself at the dangerous assignments… risky, stupid deeds. Sure they give you medals, you get praise and bonuses but everyone who does it knows that’s not the real reason…
You see it on soldiers before they go out, the ones that don’t come back.
It pained him to see it in the eyes of a child so young, younger than most though sadly not all. It made him forget that she wasn’t all that old. That really, she wasn’t an adult.
Aw shit… Maybe he shouldn’t be selling her this stuff.