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Bennett woke the next day in a blissful stupor.
He was ignorant to what was going to unfold over the next few hours, and, for possibly the last time, he clung to the outer limits of sleep as long as he could.
He wasn’t due at work until late evening, so he relaxed as best he could.
A cullsmen never really relaxed, before it was all about putting on a laidback front but remaining alert.
They could be called out for say, a knife attack on some unarmed civilians, or to engineer a gas leak in a block of flats, or – and this was the one Bennett had derived the most pleasure from – unleashing a hail of hot lead upon a crowd of shoppers looking for a few measly quid off the latest fashion fad.
They could be called out any time the government – as it was called in those wistfully-recalled before days – decided there was an opportunity for a cull.
His phone blared, and it was Slade, giving him a call which he had half-expected.
But what Slade had said was certainly not expected.
‘Come to the office now. Your home is right in the eye of the storm.’
Bennett went to reply but all the moisture in his mouth had dried up.
‘I’m going to be nailed to the wall if anyone finds out I’ve told you this, so I’m going to have to hang up. But if you’ve got a brain in your head, you’ll get here as quickly as you can. If you’re not here in ten minutes I’m out of here.’
Bennett knew Slade was not one to fuck around, so he dispensed with any delay – save to drain his bladder – and ran out to his car.
That a thirty second phone call had this stone-cold killer shaking like a shitting dog should tell you everything you need to know of Slade’s tone.
He got in the car and floored the accelerator, not stopping, even for red lights, until he got to the office.
Slade was waiting by the side of the road, an impatient yet terrified look on his face.
He’d checked his watch four times in the mere minute that it took Bennett to get up the street to him.
The car had barely drawn to a halt before he had flung the passenger door open and dived in.
‘Go, man, go,’ he bellowed, his voice cracking under the weight of his fear. ‘What the fuck took you so long?’
Bennett didn’t need telling twice; if Slade – a veteran of the Gulf and Iraq wars – was frightened then this was something that he wanted absolutely no part of.
‘Where am I going?’
‘North,’ Slade said, his voice urgent. His hands were trembling so much they couldn’t fasten the seat belt. ‘Come on, man, drive.’ He darted a nervous glance at the dashboard clock. ‘Fuck! We’re running out of time.’
They left the hustle and bustle of the city behind, eventually reaching suburbia.
Slade was still glancing at the dashboard clock every few seconds.
His hands, clasped together in a praying grip, were still shaking.
His lips moved soundlessly, seemingly uttering a perpetual silent prayer that they made it to wherever they were going before whatever was going to happen happened.
‘You feel free to tell me what the hell is going on here, bossman,’ Bennett drawled. ‘Any fucking time you feel like it.’
Slade looked over, all the colour drawn from his face.
He looked as though he’d just found out he had mere minutes to live.
‘What’s the problem?’ Bennett said.
Slade said nothing, just continued to mouth his creepy-ass prayer or whatever the hell it was.
‘If you don’t tell me what the fuck is going on here, I’m going to pull this car over by the roadside.’
‘No,’ Slade shouted, as if the thought of the car stopping was enough to shock him out of his panicked praying. ‘You mustn’t.’
‘Then spill the fucking beans.’
After Slade’s revelation, Bennett felt a powerful wave of nostalgia for his ignorance of the situation.
It sounded crazy to say it, but the faltering words that spilled from Slade’s quaking lips had changed Bennett’s life irreparably.
The words to reply to such a dramatic revelation were not forthcoming, even for a man as grotesquely verbose as Bennett.
‘Holy fucking shit,’ was all that he could say.
Instead, he put his foot down harder, now equally as keen as Slade to beat the clock to their destination.
‘We’re nearly there,’ Slade said, not even the hint of a smile on his lips or in his tone.
‘Then why are you still sounding so fucking glum?’
‘Because we’re not going to make it.’