I could never imagine what would drive someone to want to own one.
I’ve only fired a gun two or three times in my life, while I was in high school in Iowa. Even then, shooting at rusted oil drums on my best friend’s farm, I didn’t experience the same thrill as the other kids. It scared me too much. As I would stand facing the target, aiming the heavy pistol, I couldn’t escape the thought that I was holding death.
The store is called Field and Glove, and I’m one of three customers at this late hour.
Wandering past racks of windbreakers and a wall of running shoes, I make my way toward the counter at the back of the store.
Shotguns and rifles hang on the wall over boxes of ammunition.
Handguns gleam under glass at the counter.
Ones with cylinders.
Ones that look like they should only be carried by vigilante cops in 1970s action movies.
A woman walks over wearing a black T-shirt and faded blue jeans. She’s got a distinct Annie Oakley vibe with her frizzy red hair and a tattoo that wraps around her freckled right arm and reads: …the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
“Help you with something?” she asks.
“Yeah, I was looking to buy a handgun, but to be honest, I don’t know the first thing about them.”
“Why do you want one?”
She pulls a set of keys out of her pocket and unlocks the cabinet I’m standing in front of. I watch her arm reach under the glass and lift out a black pistol.
“So this is a Glock 23. Forty caliber. Austrian-made. Solid knockdown power. I could also set you up in a subcompact version if you wanted something smaller for a concealed-carry permit.”
“And this will stop an intruder?”
“Oh yeah. This’ll put ’em down, and they won’t be getting back up.”
She pulls the slide, checks to make sure the tube is clear, and then locks it back and ejects the magazine.
“How many bullets does it hold?”
She offers me the gun.
I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to do with it. Aim it? Feel the weight?
I hold it awkwardly in my hand, and even though it isn’t loaded, I register that same I’m-holding-death unease.
The price tag hanging from the trigger guard reads $599.99.
I need to figure out my money situation. I could probably walk into the bank and tap Charlie’s savings account. It had a balance of around $4,000 the last time I looked. Charlie never accesses that account. No one does. If I withdrew a couple thousand dollars, I doubt it would be missed. At least, not right away. Of course, I’d need to somehow get my hands on a driver’s license first.
“What do you think of it?” she asks.
“Yeah. I mean, it feels like a gun.”
“I could show you a few others. I have a really nice Smith and Wesson .357 if you were thinking more along the lines of a revolver.”
“No, this would do fine. I just need to scrape together some cash. What’s the background-check process?”
“Do you have a FOID card?”
“A firearm owners’ identification card that’s issued by the Illinois State Police. You have to apply for it.”
“How long does that take?”
She doesn’t answer.
Just stares at me strangely, then reaches out and takes the Glock from my hand and returns it to its resting place under the glass.
I ask, “Did I say something wrong?”
“You’re Jason, right?”
“How do you know my name?”
“I’ve been standing here trying to put it all together, to make sure I wasn’t crazy. You don’t know my name?”
“See, I think you’re messing with me, and it’s not a wise—”
“I’ve never spoken to you before. In fact, I haven’t been in this store in probably four years.”
She locks the cabinet and returns the key ring to her pocket.
“I think you should leave now, Jason.”
“I don’t understand—”
“If this isn’t some game, then you have a head injury or Alzheimer’s or you’re just plain crazy.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You really don’t know?”
She leans her elbows on the counter. “Two days ago, you walked in here, said you wanted to buy a handgun. I showed you the same Glock. You said it was for home defense.”
What does this mean? Is Jason2 generally preparing in case I possibly return, or is he actually expecting me?
“Did you sell me a gun?” I ask.
“No, you didn’t have a FOID card. You said you needed to get cash. I don’t think you even had a driver’s license.”
Now a prickling sensation trails down my spine.
My knees go weak.
She says, “And it wasn’t just two days ago. I got a weird vibe from you, so yesterday, I asked Gary, who also works the gun counter, if he’d ever seen you in here before. He had. Three other times in the last week. And now, here you are again.”
I brace myself against the counter.
“So, Jason, I don’t ever want to see you in this store again. Not even to buy a jockstrap. If I do, I’ll call the police. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
She looks scared and resolute, and I would not want to cross her in a dark alley where she took me for a threat.
I say, “I understand.”
“Get out of my store.”
I step out into the pouring snow, the flakes blasting my face, my head spinning.
I glance down the street, see a cab approaching. When I raise my arm, it veers toward me, easing to a stop alongside the curb. Pulling open the rear passenger door, I hop in.
“Where to?” the cabbie asks.
“A hotel, please.”
“I don’t know. Something within ten blocks. Something cheap. I want you to pick it.”
He looks back through the Plexiglas separating the front and backseats.
“You want me to pick it?”
For a moment, I think he isn’t going to do it. Maybe it’s too weird a request. Maybe he’s going to order me out. But instead, he starts the meter running and pulls back out into traffic.