7. Condition Orange

“I need something I can tuck into my pants and pull out quickly. Nothing bulky or heavy. And it has to be inconspicuous. I don’t want anybody to notice that I’m carrying a cons… ” Anton’s brain halted his mouth before the adjective could be fully formed. It sounded as though the sentence was interrupted by a cough.

The clerk behind the counter had no trouble finishing. “… concealed weapon.”

Anton’s neck disappeared as he tried to pull his head down into his body in a remarkably turtle-like manner. His eyes darted around the sporting goods department. His fight-or-flight response was in full overdrive. His arms and legs tensed, his pupils were fully dilated, and he held his breath, waiting for an unseen threat to rush in from the blackness beyond his peripheral vision.

The clerk sat on the stool behind the counter, curiously watching Anton’s reaction. “It’s none of my business where you keep your weapon, but wherever you conceal it, in your sock, in your pants, in your jacket, whatever, just make sure it’s C-3.”

Anton relaxed a little. He squinted and tilted his head in a way that is universally understood to mean, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“C-3. Condition-three.” The clerk produced a handgun, seemingly our of thin air, and slapped an empty clip into the base of the handle and set it down hard on the counter. “The full clip is inserted in the gun, but there’s no round in the chamber. It’s convenient and relatively safe. Condition-three.”

“Got it.”

“No, you don’t got it, Poindexter. You see, my cousin used to keep his Glock-Thirty tucked in the back of his pants. He thought he got it too. He was the nervous sort, like you; twitchy, always on edge. I can see it in your face – you’re just like him. Trouble seemed to follow him like a shadow. He always kept his piece C-1, as they say; a round in the chamber, ready to rock’n’roll. What my cuz didn’t understand is that Condition-one is colossally stupid unless you live in Bagdad or East L.A or frequent the Tijuana nightclub scene. One afternoon, at a ball game, my cousin gets some bad sauerkraut.”

“Sauerkraut?”

“Yeah. On a sausage. It gives him real bad cramps.”

“How do know it wasn’t the sausage? It’s more likely that it was a bad sausage. Sauerkraut is pickled. It’s unlikely that it went bad.”

The clerk grabbed the pistol and ejected the clip. “Are you gonna listen to my allegory?”

“Sorry.”

“So about fifteen minutes after eating the bad sauerkraut, my cousin makes a panic run to the toilets. He’s in a bad way, you know; sweating, doubling over with cramps. Not thinking clear, he rushes into the stall and drops his pants real fast. The Glock-thirty that was tucked into the back of his pants falls out. As usual, he was all jumped up on amphetamines so his reflexes were tack sharp – like a ninja, he actually catches the Glock before it hits the floor.”

“Impressive.”

“Not really. He had some really greasy onion-rings too, so when he catches the Glock, it slips …”

Anton rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Wait, wait, wait. Onion rings? At a ball game?”

“Yeah. Onion rings. What is your problem?”

Anton shrugged. “I’m a statistician.”

The clerk stared silently at Anton. “Interrupt me one more time, Poindexter.”

“Sorry.”

“As I was saying … he had just been eating some greasy onion-rings. So when he caught the Glock, it slipped out of his hand like a bar of wet soap. He ends up kind of juggling the pistol. Every time he catches it, three or four times, it slips again. Then on the last catch his greasy little finger slips right in over the trigger. In C-3 this wouldn’t have been a problem. But in condition-one …”

“Bang.”

“Yeah. Bang. My cousin’s branch of the family tree won’t get any longer, if you know what I mean.”

The clerk gave a sad little chuckle, half closed his eyes, and shook his head. Anton waited for a punchline. It never came.

“This is the fourth generation Glock-Twenty-six, also known as the Baby-Glock. But don’t be fooled by the name. It’s not as devastating as my cousin’s Glock-Thirty, but it’ll get your point across. Small, light, fast, and…”

“Does it come with bullets?”

The clerk snickered. “Right, your first gun. I’ll tell you what … I’ll throw in a box of rounds.”

Anton put on his tough face; narrow, steely eyes, flattened lips, clenched jaw. “I’d prefer bullets, if it’s okay with you.”

The clerk stared strait into Anton’s face with a seriousness that was several orders of magnitude beyond anything Anton could ever aspire to achieve. Anton shuffled nervously. After only a few seconds he conceded with a timid, uncomfortable smile.

The clerk spoke without blinking. “We call them rounds, Poindexter. If you keep calling them bullets, somebody will kill you and take your lunch money.” He placed the pistol on the glass top of the display case and slid it across to Anton. “The Baby-Glock holds ten rounds in the clip and one round in the chamber.”

“Condition-one.”

The clerk nodded approvingly. “Five points for Poindexter. You catch on quick.”

Anton held the Glock-Twenty-six, turning it over in his hands, examining it like a museum artifact.

“It’s heavy.”

“Yeah. The weight should remind you of what you really have in your hand: Power. Life. Death. A weapon like that only has one purpose.”

Anton held it very still. “Right. To kill.”

The clerk reached out and took the pistol from Anton’s hand. “No, moron. You just lost your only five points. Statistician my ass. Persuasion, Poindexter, persuasion. A good weapon will harmlessly persuade any sane person to see things your way. That’s its only purpose – not to kill. Killing is what humans do with their minds; that’s a decision we have to consciously make. A weapon is an inanimate object, like a road sign or a stapler, or a shoe.”

Anton stepped back. “What if I show them the gun, but they still don’t see things my way?”
The clerk put the Baby-Glock back in the display case drawer and locked it. “A gun can’t make decisions. It can’t act. It can’t kill. That’s not it’s purpose. Your mind is the only thing in the universe that is equipped to make decisions. You base your actions on those decisions. You either decide to pull the trigger or you decide not to. Like I said, killing is what humans do with their minds.”

“But the gun is the facilitates killing.”

“A butter knife facilitates killing. Killing is always possible. I could punch you in the throat or flatten you with my truck. I don’t need a gun. I have the most terrifying and devastating killing machine ever conceived of, right here under my hat. ”
Anton had heard enough.  He held out his hand. “Thank you. I appreciate your time. I have to think about this.”

The clerk shook Anton’s hand. “You never did tell me why.”

“Why?”

“Why are you here? What made you come looking for a handgun?”

Anton looked at the clock on the wall behind the counter. “I already told you. You just don’t remember.”

The clerk let go of Anton’s hand. In the span of one breath his posture changed from relaxed and friendly to defensive and alert.

Anton smiled. “Condition-orange.”

The colour drained from the clerk’s face. He reached his right hand behind his back, but before he could pull the Glock-Thirty from his waist band, Anton was pointing a fourth generation Glock-Twenty-six at his face. Anton’s hand was steady and his eyes were fixed on the clerk’s.

“You had me fooled Poindexter. Fifty points for that outstanding performance. You look too prep-school for a cop. ”

“I’m not a cop. I really am a statistician. Put your hands up.”

“Okay. Easy does it. How’d you get the Baby-Glock from the display case. I was watching you the whole time.”

Anton smiled. “I bought it from you.”

The clerk’s voice was pitching up. “Me? No. I’ve never seen you before today.”

Anton kept the Glock trained on the clerk. “Yes you have. And you haven’t. It’s complicated.”

“There you go Poindexter. See. The weapon is working, just like I said. I am very willing to see things your way now.”

Anton took his finger off the trigger and stepped back a couple of feet, pointing the gun away from the clerk’s face. “Do you know anything about quantum theory?”

The clerk’s bottom lip began to quiver slightly. “Are you fucking kidding me? Afghanistan. Chechnya. Serbia. And this … this is how I die? Shot by a crazy-ass mathematician because I didn’t finish high school? No, professor Dexter, I can’t even spell quantics.”

“Slowly unlock and open the display case drawer. Then take out the Baby-Glock and put it on the counter. Nice and slow.”

“You’ll shoot me.”

“I won’t shoot you.”

“You will. I’ll put my hand on the Glock and you’ll ask me about quadratics and I’ll get the answer wrong and you’ll shoot me in the face.”

“I won’t shoot you.”

“Then why don’t you put the gun down?”

“Because I need it to persuade you to see things my way.”

“Dammit. You’re good at this.” The clerk slowly took the Baby-Glock out of the drawer and placed it on the glass counter top in front of Anton.

“Take that slippery Glock-Thirty out of your pants and unload it, including the round in the chamber; I want condition-four, Castrati. And be careful not to fumble it this time.”

A rush of colour welled up around the clerk’s neck, cheeks, and forehead. “Castrati? How do you know …”

“I’ll explain later. Now, I’m going to put my Baby-Glock on the counter top next to the other one, and you’re going to continue to see things my way.”

The clerk nodded. Anton dropped the clip from the handle of the pistol and pulled the bolt back to eject the round from the chamber before setting it on the counter next to the identical Glock twenty-six. He slid them both toward the clerk. “Look.”

“What am I looking at?”

“The serial numbers.”

The clerk examined the numbers of both Baby-Glock pistols and looked up at Anton. “They’re the same. But that’s not possible.”

Anton smiled. “Five points for Castrati.”