The urge to get a gun came to Tim so suddenly and powerfully that he knew his instinct had to be correct. He reacted without thinking, and found himself leaving his house in his weekend khakis, golf tee, and white socks. He hadn’t realized that he’d forgotten to put on his shoes until he stepped out of his car in the parking lot.
If asked, he couldn’t have said whether Herb wanted a gun, or had ever held a gun, or could even stand the thought of a gun in his hands, but Tim knew he was going to get his friend one for his birthday. He couldn’t help but wonder how he’d react when he opened the box in front of everybody. Should he pick up a box of bullets? Or was it rude to hand a loaded gun off to an unsuspecting friend?
The gun shop was located in the lower level of a mall that hadn’t been renovated in twenty years. Some of the shops had closed, but the food court still held onto a loyal clientele, and the department stores remained in business. He took the escalator down to Packer Ammunition, in the windowless cradle of the mall, where the shops that hadn’t failed, had relocated upstairs to replace the ones that had. Aside from the tattoo parlor near the back exits, the Korean supermarket, Mad Katz Gymnasium, and the five theater cinema, the lower level had become a graveyard of commerce.
But Packer’s place remained an oasis of white light and unblemished glass. Rows of shotguns, rifles and handguns wrapped around the back wall, behind the register. The cameras were visible, and the green uniformed security guard was a redundant reminder that the customer was always being watched. Rows of non lethal accessories gave a sense of privacy where he could silently appraise his options, were he interested in anything other than Herb’s gun.
Tim approached the counter, where a man with a grey mustache and a tucked in collared shirt gently smiled, seemingly ready to educate the uninitiated to a new hobby. Tim looked at the handguns, not entirely sure what he wanted. He was overthinking. He told himself that he was looking for the gun that spoke to Herb, but really, it was just the gun that spoke to who he thought Herb had been.
“Are you looking for home protection?”
Roger, the sales clerk, asked the question without a hint of accusation. He took a sober interest in his customer. Tim wasn’t sure why, but he felt as if Roger had been listening to him more deeply than anybody had in months. The thought was terrifying, knowing that he couldn’t just tell the guy that the gun was a gift without feeling as though he would have to vouch for Herb.
“I was thinking of going to a gun range.”
Roger hummed and nodded.
“I don’t really know anything about guns.”
“Uh huh. I go down to Crosstown a couple of times a week. You know where that is? No? Go down Oakdale Avenue, and you take a right on Treemont, soon as you pass that ice cream stand. What’s that called now? Kelsey’s Dairy, or something or other. Used to be a pawn shop is how I remembered it. Anyway, you go down Treemont about a quarter of a mile and it’s on your right. Can’t miss it.”
Without thinking Tim had focused on a handgun resting over Roger’s left shoulder. Roger unlocked the glass case and handed the unloaded pistol over to Tim.
“This is a Glock 19. Fires a 9 millimeter round, and can hit a target from 100 yards out with reasonable accuracy. If you’re a shooter, that is. Some of the guys call it a smaller gun, but it’s got plenty of stopping power inside of 30 yards. And it can hold a Glock 17 magazine.”
Tim failed to absorb any of this information as he held the gun in his hand. Roger mentioned that the Glock 17 was a bigger gun, and he wondered if Herb’s hands were so large that he might have trouble with the 19.
Roger left him with the 19 and the 17, and tended to a couple in their 40’s who were stocking up with giant cubes of bullets. Tim wanted to ask them for advice. People he’d never see again, who weren’t worried about making a sale. He wanted to talk to them, to see how they felt about shooting, or if they were a couple of gun nuts in love.
The man had enough ammunition to wipe out an army of intruders, or stationary targets. Tim hesitated before walking over, but had a feel for the couple, the same way he had a feeling that he needed to buy the gun for Herb. The moment was about to pass. The couple had moved toward the exits, and he finally moved without thinking to catch them before they left for the mall.
“Excuse me, could you two help me out?”
The husband, a bearded man with a paunch that filled out the bottom cup of his Mopar t-shirt, spoke up in a voice that seemed too light for his bulky frame. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m getting a gift for a friend. Not entirely sure what I’m doing.”
The wife, Tammy, leaned in and smiled. “You’re thinking of getting him a gun?”
“Yeah. But I don’t know anything about guns.”
“Why don’t you just buy him a few rounds?”
“I don’t know if he owns a gun to begin with. Probably doesn’t. He hasn’t ever mentioned one, anyway.”
“Why do you want to get him a gun?” The wife couldn’t wipe the incredulous smile off her face.
“I just had a feeling. He’s a pretty sensible guy. Turning 50 years old. I’ve known him all my life. My dad used to have him mow our lawn. I don’t know. I asked myself what to get him, and I thought, ‘Gun. Get him a gun.’ But I want to pick the right one.”
“Did you look at any yet?”
“I was thinking about the Glock 19.”
The husband nodded and pointed to his phone. “I’m just gonna tell Ben we’re down here.”
Tammy pursed her lips. “Your friend a big guy?”
“I don’t know. Six feet. Six two.”
“Bigger than mine.”
“Glock 17 might feel better. You think he wants to go to the range?”
“He might. If nothing else I figured he could use it for home protection.”
“I don’t really like the stopping power on the 9 millimeter. If he’s a bigger guy it’ll probably feel too light. He might like the feel of a 44 or a 357. It’s more of an event.”
As she said this, their friend Ben walked into the shop. Ben was a skinny kid in his 20’s, wearing a George Thorogood concert tee, and a wispy mustache, but he shook Tim’s hand and immediately started talking about his friends in law enforcement, and their experience with the Glock.”
Ben hadn’t come to shop, but now that he was down, he started looking at the range targets and hunting decoys.
A sweaty bald man who had just gotten out of the gym, walked into the shop. His muscles spilled out of his muscle tank top, and all his tattoos were phrases written in gothic fonts along his shoulders and wrists. He stepped on Tim’s shoeless foot with worn out Chuck Taylors.
“Watch it, asshole.”
Tim couldn’t understand why he was getting yelled at for being trampled, but figured this guy for a goon who was jacked from a workout, ready to pick a fight with somebody. Sure enough, a few seconds later, while walking back along an aisle, he’d gotten annoyed with Ben standing in his way, and shoved him from behind, into a rack of camouflage jackets.
“Hey what the fuck?”
The bald man continued without turning back. “Don’t stand in the way.”
Ben pulled himself to his feet and shoved the musclebound aggressor in the back. The bald man spun around on his heel, chuckling.
“What was that, you faggot ass cuck?”
He slapped Ben across the mouth.
Ben ripped his shirt off and punched the bald man in the mouth. The bald man simply laughed and smacked him a second time, and then unthreaded the leather belt from his jeans. Holding onto Ben’s arm he began to lash him in the chest. Tammy and her husband walked over to break it up, but the husband caught a lash in the mouth. And then the bald man resumed whipping Ben, slowly. Tim counted five lashes in a deliberate rhythm.
Tim looked over to the security guard, who looked on as if nothing had happened. Roger wasn’t behind the desk. He had walked into the back area, with the guns safely locked away. Tim yelled into the open door, “Hey man. Somebody is whipping your customers with his belt.”
From the darkness he heard and outraged, “What?” Roger emerged. “No.” Without another word the security guard turned around to do something, but Roger motioned for him to stay put. He walked through the aisle to the bald man, holding onto a long gun; silver with red features. Something that looked like a toy, but couldn’t have been in Roger’s hands. He cocked the gun, making a loud cracking noise, and pressed the barrel so that it jabbed the bald man in his veiny neck.
“Not. One. More.”
The man smiled, with a defeated arrogance. He dropped his belt while the security guard bound his wrists with zip ties. Roger made a call to the police. Tammy said she’d stay to give a statement, but had to use the bathroom.
In the cooling moments after the fight, Tammy’s husband, Donald, turned to Tim. “Get him the Glock 19.”
“Yeah. It’s fine.”
The bald man laughed. “That pussy 9 millimeter doesn’t have dick for stopping power.”
Tim ignored him. “It’s not too small?”
“It’s fine. My wife gets crazy trying to prove something to somebody. Get the Glock.”
Tim nodded. He looked at the blackened soles of his socks and gave his information for a background check, and bought a box of bullets with a wolf on the package. He could decide later if he would hand it over to Herb loaded.
Without waiting to give a statement, Tim walked out the door, and rode the escalator, back up to the parking lot. If nothing else, he’d have a story to tell Herb, when he handed him the gun.