The counterman poked his glasses up the bridge of his nose with a forefinger.
“That one right there is a hunting knife. A Bowie. That’s a great knife, and practically a steal at $35.”
Ray hefted the Bowie, impressed by its weight; it looked almost like a sword in his small fist. He sighed with longing, but put the knife back on the velvet pad atop the counter. There was nothing in his pocket but a creased and crumpled five and five ones, every bill worth more to Ray than the numbers in the corners would indicate.
His life savings.
“What about that one?” He indicated another knife, of a similar design but little more than half the size. It felt okay. Not like the larger one, but okay.
It was also twenty dollars. He looked up at the clerk, whose kind eyes were magnified to almost ridiculous proportions by those coke-bottle glasses.
“Uh, is there anything I can get for ten bucks?”
Those eyes regarded him a moment.
“Son, what do you need this knife for? And why isn’t your dad in here with you?”
Ray focused on the knives as he scrambled for an answer, then realized his averted gaze might look guilty. He raised his eyes again, but it was too late. Those soft brown eyes, clearly visible through those thick lenses, darted about Ray’s face.
He’d cleaned up as best he could, but with only a shiny hubcap for a mirror Ray knew he missed stuff. He wondered what the man saw: a smudge of dirt he hadn’t caught, something off with his self-cut hair, maybe even some smell Ray didn’t notice anymore. As he watched those eyes widened, then softened in comprehension.
“You’re one of those kids, aren’t you?”
The question drove Ray’s eyes to the knives again, hands knotted beneath the counter, more tongue-tied than ever.
“This is about that guy in the paper, isn’t it?”
Ray could only nod. The man started to speak, then sighed. He plucked the big Bowie from the display and held it out.
“The boss’ll be pissed if he finds out, but… here.”
Ray met the brown eyes again and forced out a “Thanks” as he took the heavy knife. The forefinger poked at the glasses again.
“But you be careful, okay? It’s kind of like they say about guns: you’re not careful, it’s more likely to cut you than anyone else, you understand?”
Ray thanked the man again, and fled the shop.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
Ray scattered his last handful of shards across the alley in a wide arc. At first he’d used empty cans, the squashed kind you can’t return for the deposit, but then another one of the Streets, a big guy with dreads and wild eyes, had taken the cans, saying “Thanks for the scrap” as he’d blackened Ray’s eye. Now he used broken glass, sweeping it up each morning with a square of cardboard from the end of his box.
Ray crawled into his box now, laying amid some old couch cushions and his blanket. It said “Ryder” on the side, but was warmer than anything else he’d found. He wrapped the blanket about himself, and himself around his new knife, being careful with the blade, and tried to go to sleep.
But he was thinking of the Ollie-Ollie Man.
Ray didn’t know what they said in the papers, like that counterman had said, but all the street folks knew about the Ollie-Ollie Man. For the past year or so, street kids had been showing up dead. Cut. Carved. Lots of different stories, but they all agreed on one thing: Ollie took kids. That was where he got his name: no matter where the kids hid, he found them, like it was one great game of Hide-and-Seek.
Ollie-ollie oxen free.
When other kids told him about it he’d thought they were joking, but then adults started talking about Ollie, like that pawn shop guy. He’d been hearing things like “Watch out for the Ollie Man” for the past six months. Ray was twelve, but small; most people mistook him for nine. His small size had helped him panhandle and scrounge that ten dollars, but in a fight everyone knew bigger was better.
His new knife was big. He squeezed the handle.
Ollie comes around here, he thought, I got a surprise for him.
Holding that knife like a big-bladed teddy bear, Ray was just about to fall asleep.
His eyes popped open.
Someone. Moving through his glass field. They’d kicked two pieces, then started stepping carefully. They couldn’t avoid the smaller shards, though, grinding them into the asphalt. Ray kicked off the blanket and rolled to his knees.
Anyone who knew Ray would’ve cleared their throat by now, made some sort of noise to show they weren’t sneaking up. Ray listened. Heard nothing but those stealthy sounds. Getting closer.
On one knee, almost like a runner in the blocks, Ray squeezed the Bowie’s handle with fear sweaty fingers and listened. Had the intruder stopped in the middle of the glass field, aware of the noise? Had he made it through? The urge to push back the flaps covering the entrance to his cardboard cave and peek out was strong: his terror was stronger.
He wanted his mom. Whoever she was.
He held his breath.
The flaps in front of him quivered. A soft whisper floated through the gap, and a squirt of hot piss filled Ray’s lap.
“Ollie-ollie oxen free…”
With a terrified shriek, Ray launched himself through the flaps, big Bowie leading like a spear. Fingers clamped around his wrists. The edge of a hand caught him in the throat like a cleaver, chopping off his scream. As Ray flopped on the blacktop, choking, a stiff forefinger poked thick glasses into place. The big blade shone dully in the dim alley as the whisper came again.
“I told you to be careful…”
The Bowie came down.