|20 | SACRED SIMPLICITY|
“Hey, you ...”
Apollo snapped around, peeking just outside the heavy tint of his teashades. It was a rapid movement, and he dropped his keys as soon as his eyes flipped up from his hands. The only reason he hadn’t instinctively reached for Hebenus was the puerile timbre to the speaker’s voice.
The child that his amber eyes found seemed small for his age; just by the way the boy greeted him, Apollo could tell he was at least a year or two older than his short stature indicated. The boy was terran with dark skin and long, nappy hair. His clothes were dark rags that barely served as proper clothing, and there were no shoes protecting his feet from the harsh gravel underneath them.
A pang of familiarity crossed the proprietor’s mind, but the reflection left as quickly as it came.
The boy jabbed his stubby finger at Apollo’s waist. “Can I see that?”
Apollo knew he was referring to his revolver, but repeated, “… What?”
“Your gun,” the boy said. “Can I look at it?”
Apollo wrinkled his brow. The boy asked so nonchalantly as if he had no idea how crazy the question seemed.
“What?” Apollo said, again.
“Can I see your gun?”
The nappy-headed kid bobbed his head and enunciated slowly as if he were the one speaking to a child. Apollo stared incredulously at the boy as he waited for the shopkeeper to retrieve his firearm from his rear waistband. Apollo didn’t, simply turning back around to pick up his keys.
“Go somewhere, little man.”
“Are those Python rounds?” he asked, nodding at the revolver poking out of his pants. “The grip looks pretty cool, too. You got another one?”
Apollo snapped around again. Why was this boy pressing him? Moreover, why did he know what Python rounds were? The proprietor turned and looked both ways down the adjacent street, finding no one that seemed neither mother nor father of this little kid.
“Where’s your mom at?”
The boy shrugged, confused. “I don’t know.” He paused thoughtfully, pinching his little chin. “Is that b …” Struggling with the pronunciation, he said, hesitantly, “B … Bigadimum?”
Apollo shook his head, frowning. “No, it ain’t ‘bigadimum?’”
“You know what I meant!” the boy growled.
“No,” Apollo said, finally finding the right key and opening GUNSMITH’s front door. “No, I don’t. Go home, little man.”
The proprietor grabbed the loaded hand truck beside him, and turned to backpedal into the shop. With all the aloofness of a child, completely ignoring Apollo’s dismissal, the boy made to follow him into the shop. Apollo stopped the hand truck at the door between himself and the boy. He stared at him, waiting for the kid to get the message. The boy didn’t.
“Come on, man! Hurry up,” the boy insisted, gesturing impatiently at the man at least four times his senior. “You need help or somethin’?”
A long silence followed. Apollo considered dragging the boy by his tattered collar and tossing him into the street, but decided to go easy on him. The kid was a lost cause. His parents were either completely absent from his life or might as well have been. Even as destitute as Apollo’s family was, they could at least afford him a decent shirt and shoes when he was a boy. This boy didn’t have a chance – especially not out here.
“What’s your name?” Apollo asked.
“Cario,” the boy answered. “What’s yours?”
Apollo nodded, and pulled his hand truck into the store. Sure enough, Cario followed him inside.
“I can’t have a kid in here unsupervised,” Apollo said, rolling the two heavy crates into the back. Cario’s eyes were glazed with wonder as he entered and looked around. “Hey …” The volume of the proprietor’s voice was just enough to draw back the boy’s wandering eyes. His glare was stern. “Don’t touch shit in here.”
The cutting stare seemed to bounce off of the boy’s blissfully ignorant façade.
“I’m not unsupervised,” Cario said. Apollo raised an eyebrow. “You’re watching me, ain’t you?”
The proprietor clenched his jaw muscle. The boy was too smart for his own good and, even worse, the boy knew it.
Cario continued exploring the gunsmith’s humble boutique. Wide eyes peered through the scuffed glass pane underneath the counter at the various handguns inside. Apollo disappeared around the corner, dropping off the scrap metal crates in his workshop in the back. Cario’s boundless curiosity had carried him to double-hung workshop door, but the proprietor met him there.
“Hell no,” Apollo said, flatly.
Surprisingly, the boy didn’t put up a fight. He simply rolled his eyes, and walked back down the singular aisle of the shop, perusing the man’s wares.
“This place is kinda small,” Cario said, frowning. “You gonna get a bigger shop?”
“I have a bigger shop,” the proprietor said.
The boy hummed, disbelievingly. The proprietor ignored the slight, mostly.
Slipping behind the left counter, Apollo knelt down to unlock a particular base cabinet. He didn’t face the wall completely, not willing to let the boy out of his sight for a second. The key he was looking for was smaller than all the others so it was easy to find. Unlocking the rickety sliding door, Apollo pulled out a small lockbox and set it on the counter. The familiar metallic clattering from within drew the boy in with a magnetism that made the proprietor uneasy.
Apollo paused for a moment and opened it. Organized rows of bronze, silver, and gold coins were revealed. Cario’s amber eyes widened slightly, but he had the sense to check his captivation standing so close to the surly shopkeeper. The boy’s amber eyes danced between the shopkeeper and his assortment of currency.
Apollo couldn’t tell if he was considering asking for charity or waiting for an opportunity to snatch one and run off.
Sighing, Apollo went to work recounting the previous days’ take. Whereas he usually stacked them in columns on the counter, this time, he tallied them where they were in light of his unwanted guest. Having to keep count in his head was onerous and time consuming.
“You, uh,” Cario started, hesitantly. “You need help?”
Apollo leaned in a bit. “Hell no.”
“Why not?” the boy asked, his wide eyes shifting skeptically. “Can you count?”
The proprietor slammed his fist on the wood countertop and fumed through his nostrils. The coins in his lockbox shuddered, but the boy didn’t flinch at all. Apollo figured the vexatious hoodlum was used to adults losing their temper around him.
“Go,” Apollo growled venomously. “Home.”
Cario shrugged. “I don’t have a home.”
“Don’t care,” Apollo spat back. “Get the fuck out.”
“You know, you shouldn’t say curse words around kids,” Cario said, turning and moving to the opposite wall. “You sure you don’t need help.” He gestured at the guns spartan-mounted there. “Some of these look crooked to me. I can fix ‘em if you want.”
Apollo snapped from his ire and checked them, even though he would never admit the kid was right. Instead, he respired through his nose and his chin fell to his chest. Finally resigning himself to the indefinite fate of the boy’s company, Apollo let his nerves cool down.
Absently, he watched Cario walk down and around the counter as he thought how best to rid himself of the kid. A few coins of exa would likely do the trick, but Apollo was far too stingy to just give away money. As innocent as he appeared to be, he wasn’t above the proprietor’s suspicions. Every minute the kid spent in his store was an opportunity for him to steal something.
His short residency in the Civitatulum made him question everyone and everything all the time.
Before he realized it, Cario had climbed a short step ladder and pulled a rifle off its mount. Clumsily, he tucked it under one arm while fiddling with the mount with his other hand. Apollo scoffed and hopped into the center aisle. The stool quivered under his feet, but he managed to keep his balance. The second time, he didn’t. It kicked out right under his feet.
Instead of his head viciously banging against the edge of the counter, a hard boot in the back broke his fall. Cario bounced off his rubber sole and hit his forehead on the cabinet. To his credit, the boy grumbled under his breath, looking back at the man twice his height with tears fiercely held back in his eyes.
“You better not’ve scratched my shit,” Apollo growled.
He reached for the boy as if to pull him up to his feet. Cario was disappointed as his massive hand passed by him to pick up the weapon. Apollo carefully inspected the longarm for any nicks or blemishes, and the boy stood up, cradling his throbbing cranium.
“Lemme buy it from you!” Cario offered.
Apollo squinted down on him with an incredulous look. “Fuck no …”
“Why not?” Apollo said, scaling the counter to his side. “You ain’t got the money and, even if you did, you ain’t old enough.”
He made to put the rifle back up but, at this closeness, he realized the boy was right. The mount was crooked. Looking down at the boy, Apollo could see him searching internally for a way to change his mind. The both of them knew it would never happen, though, and a look of defeat slowly overcame his infantile features.
Apollo sighed, again. “Where are your parents at?”
Cario wiped the tears from his eyes, and a deep furrow set into his brow. A hard, mile-long stare pierced through the fogged glass front doors. His small fingers balled into tight fists set at his sides. It was a look of visceral hate intimately familiar to the man standing above him.
“I don’t know,” Cario murmured. “And I don’t care …”
Apollo frowned, checking the rifle and looking to the mount again. “What do you need a gun for?”
Silence followed. Cario’s eyes drifted further away from the proprietor, still drawn to a thin scowl. “Because …”
The boy parted his mouth to speak, but quickly closed it. A more discerning or empathetic individual might've pried to find the root of those seething emotions. Unfortunately, that's not the man Cario had crossed paths with this day.
“Just ‘cause …”
Apollo’s frown deepened. He set the rifle on the counter, and crossed over it again, heading back to his lockbox on the other side of the shop. Picking up a piece of exa, he looked back to the boy who remained right where he was, still stiff with rage. The knot on his head swelled into a tiny horn on the side of his head. Apollo didn’t feel bad, but wouldn’t have the boy blaming it on him.
Grabbing a handful from the lockbox, he placed a pile of auritium coins on the counter. The boy’s eyes slowly floated that way, still too stubborn to look the man in the eye. Apollo lightly flicked one from the pile and it slid close to the edge of the counter, but said nothing. Cario looked at it for a moment, but before he could make eye contact with him, the proprietor went back to counting his money.
“Go get a screwdriver out the back,” Apollo ordered.
Cario stood frozen, watching him stack each piece one by one. Slowly, the boy decompressed, and his stiff little shoulders fell back down. He made to speak, but was cut off.
“It’s in the back,” Apollo said. “The red toolbox in the corner …”
The boy’s bottom lip trembled slightly, but he quickly stowed his emotions. Pivoting on his bare feet, Cario went toward the backdoor in complete silence. Just before his hand reached the knob, the man’s voice startled him again.
Cario snapped back to him with wide eyes. Apollo pointed a harsh finger at him.
“Don’t touch shit else in there.”