Ok, I was desperate.
It wasn’t often I stole. I had moral standards. They might not apply to you if you sold narcotics, but I held them highly. They placed me on a moral standpoint where I could effectively judge others, and I had to do that, being a ‘vigilante’. Sadly when it came to the fundamentals of survival, standards were the first thing to go out of the window. And nothing trumped hunger. Raw, painful hunger.
I would have been desperate enough to have taken money out of my stupid fund. The more I thought about what I’d been doing the more I realised how utterly naïve it was. I was ready to give it all up and spend that money on what I actually needed. Except I couldn’t, there wasn’t much left after re-buying all my gear that I’d lost it, and the last few medical supplies I’d been forced to buy cleared out the rest.
It wasn’t cheap stuff. I’d splashed out on fancy knives and near-military grade armour, I hadn’t envisioned that I’d be cut off from my major food source. Who could have imagined I’d ever regret not going to school?
Bandages, it turned out, were quite expensive, and you can’t buy them second hand.
So yeah, here I was trying to grab a tin of… well tinned stuff. I had no idea what it actually contained. Food of some description, hopefully.
I considered stealing some money to obtain food, but people are always more protective of the stuff. Someone would watch their wallet like a hawk even if it only had a hundred dollars in it. A six pack of tins, worth a similar amount, that you are unloading off the back of a truck?
No, you can leave that unattended.
Easy pickings for me to stroll up, grab it and run. If I could still run, my legs were not functioning well. I think I must have sprained my ankle. So, more of a hobble, with haste.
So here I was waiting in a wide back-alley for the right opportunity. My attempt went well. I timed my limp past so I’d reach the lorry after they’d picked a box off the back and brought it inside. As I passed I reached out and took the first thing I could.
It was a flawless plan, and was executed perfectly. But then I was hardly robbing a bank. I couldn’t feel proud of what I was doing, it was executed out of pure necessity.
My stomach grumbled at me to eat it right fucking now, but I could hardly sit down in the middle of the street and start hacking into some tins. It wouldn’t be normal, it would get attention. I needed somewhere quiet and out of the way. Private.
I took a detour into a back alley and, grabbing the cans in my teeth, shimmed up onto a low roof. It was pretty easy with a decent drain pipe, even with half-healed broken fingers and handcuffs. With a convenient platform to rest, away from the street, it provided glorious place for a picnic. I sat, cross-legged and tore off the plastic wrapping with my mouth. With my heart high-in my chest at the anticipation of my lunch, I ripped out a can from the pack to reveal my prize.
Fuck. I’d nicked some god damn ready mixed custard.
Still… it was food right? I flipped one of the cans over and read the back. Sugar, fat, tiny bit of protein. Yeah, I could manage with that.
I slipped the knife from my ankle and stabbed into the top of the can. Never thought I’d look forward so much to eating some shit like this. There was a satisfying tear of metal as I broke the seal. With a quick twisted to create a hole, I dropped the knife in my lap, lifted the can to my mouth, and drank the sludge of custardy yellow goodness.
I think it even tasted good. Just for a moment. Those first few mouthfuls. Maybe.
I dropped the first can and started hacking at the second. My stomach satisfyingly uncomfortable, bloated with nutritious sludge. God I love that feeling.
It didn’t last.
Then there was a voice from behind me, “You know, that really is rank.”
I spun as I leaped into a crouch, knife awkwardly held in both hands. Fucking cuffs. My lunch skittered along the flat roof forgotten, spilling it’s precious contents as it spun.
Could I not, just for once, eat in god damn peace? I hate the world. I hate it so fucking much.
The speaker was only a kid. I say only, he was probably taller than I was. Younger though, eleven or twelve maybe to my rather underdeveloped near-sixteen. His voice hadn’t broken yet.
I knew what ‘kids’ were capable of. Haley, and those before her, drilled that lesson into me from a young age. But, even so, I relaxed a little. I’d been expecting to get confronted by someone sometime. Police, Kolmek, those kind of people.
A group of kids? Not top on my list of threats.
But they were still trouble. I scanned their faces. There were four of them of a similar age. Could I take all four? Normally, sure. Now? They had the upper hand, cornering me against the wall that was devoid of anything useful to climb. My hands were cuffed, my ankle still wasn’t right. My fingers were fucked. I had a gash a hand-span wide in my side. My head seemed okay, but I was plagued by a splitting headache as a wonderful reminder of multiple faded concussions.
Could I trust my own judgement in a fight?
I might be able to take them, if I got lucky. I was probably stronger, maybe faster. A sudden attack might take out two before they could properly react. I had a knife, they only had a few improvised clubs from rusty steel bars or pipes.
But what if I got unlucky? I’d been getting through fights by the skin of my teeth. Flukes and near misses. What if I tripped? What if my foot slipped? What if one of them was more than an amateur when it came to swinging fists?
Could I take that risk? Or could I get out of this situation in another way…
I broke our mutual assessment of each other with a sharp “What do you want?”
“This is our place. You can’t do shit here,” he replied.
Ah. So this is a little proto-gang. And this is their patch. They’ve just caught someone who, by all impressions, is about their age, stealing what is effectively theirs to steal. If I’d been an adult they would have left me alone, but they’d fiercely defend against others their age. Give them five years and they’d be nudging shoulders with the real gangs, fighting over areas for the drugs revenue not the rights to steal scraps of food.
Isn’t this place wonderful?
“I haven’t got anything. You think I’d nick this,” I waved the tin, “if I had something you’d want?”
I could guess at two objectives: A show of strength, which wouldn’t end well for me. Or to get something out of me. Which also wouldn’t end well, because I didn’t have anything for them to get.
“You got a nice knife there,” he said.
I looked down at it in my hand. It wasn’t the plain utilitarian blades Jim had picked out for me. It was the flick-knife I’d taken from an unconscious guard. One of the only ones I had left, probably because I judged it to be little more than a glorified can opener. The handle was overly ornate, but he was right. It was nice, as in expensive.
There were three diagonal lines built into the decoration.
So I had something at least. Now… what to do with it.
I spun it in my hand, feeling its weight and glanced up. They shifted nervously.
Time for a fight, what else?
Not today. I pressed the notch that held the blade out and flicked it back into the handle.
Then tossed it at the kid.
“Here, have it,” I said. “You’d better hope you don’t try use it on me though, or you’ll end up like it’s last owner.”
He snapped it out of the air with an expert grab. Quick reflexes. “Why? What happened to him?”
“He died.” I said and sat back down, picked up my tin and resumed eating what little was left like I had no worries in the world.
What would you think if you came across someone who had only one advantage over you, then proceeded to give it up to you without blinking then carry on as if you weren’t there?
I hoped to fuck they’d wonder why… why would anyone give a knife to someone who was threatening them?
Because I was beyond giving a fuck, and I thought life was hard enough on us. Because it really wasn’t worth some stupid fight to see who was the strongest? Someone would die. It might be me. But I’d be desperate. I wouldn’t hold back. I’m at too much of a disadvantage. And I’d lose, in the end.
Or maybe, just maybe it would look like it was because I was so sure I could kick their asses that I didn’t even need a knife.
He studied it carefully. Checking if it was a cheap fake? Then looked to his friends.
One of whom spoke. “Yeah right. You could have just nicked this from someone’s pocket.”
“I’d like to see you steal a knife off a Kolmek,” I said. The Kolmek weren’t as feared as they used to be, but their name had a hint of legend. They were a major part of the Islands history, they helped shape it. For a group of kids they were effectively gods.
“Let me see that,” the kid said to the leader, he tossed it to him for his own inspection.
“Where do you think I got these?” I said, holding up my wrists as evidence. Would they know that they were police handcuffs?
“You killed someone?” They were naturally dubious.
“Well, I had a friend who needed help. Michael Laas, know him?” Nothing like a bit of name dropping. I’d learned that from Mike himself.
“Laas?” the first boy said. “I thought you said you were fighting the Kolmek.”
“Yeah, it’s not so simple. Who are you anyway, should I know you?”
“We’re… It doesn’t matter.” Gotcha. Whatever name they had it couldn’t trump the ones I’d dropped. Still, I could just be making shit up. All the evidence I had was a knife and a set of cuffs.
“Think you could help me out with these?” I asked, holding them out. What the hell, they might know someone. “There’s something I need to do, and shit would be a lot easier.”
The leader looked to his friend, who shook his head slowly.
Then he met my eyes. “You’re funny. Full of shit, but you’ve got more balls than Tom here.” His eyes flashed with mischief as he ignored the look of daggers his friend gave him. “I think I know someone who can help. Follow me.”
He ran past me and jumped off the roof, landing like cat-like and dropping into a roll.
I followed. My landing was considerably less dignified.