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Monique took as deep a breath as she dared.
Her head swam.
She closed her eyes for the merest hint of a second, trying to pluck up the nerve to do it.
Her finger depressed the trigger slightly, then seemed to freeze.
He deserves it.
It’s his fucking medicine.
He killed people just like the ones you’ve lost.
Fucking do it!
This is your chance.
Right the wrongs that have been done to you.
Her son’s face flashed into her mind.
Always smiling, ever since he was a baby.
So cute with his wild hair and his gap-toothed grin.
His pudgy little toes poking out from beneath the bottom of his Paw Patrol pyjama bottoms.
He died because of men like the one lying on the bed in front of you.
So pull the fucking trigger.
A flash of her husband on their wedding day, clad in his finery, looking sweeter than ever.
The immense smile on his face the day she’d told him she was pregnant with Josie.
The photo she had of him staring at a sleeping Josie the day she’d been born, a smitten dad if ever there was one.
A flash of their kids crawling into bed with them one morning, barely room for them, cuddly toys on their faces, exhausted but so happy.
He died because of men like the one sleeping in front of you.
Pull the trigger.
Still her finger hesitated.
A flash of her oldest daughter, so small, so frail, needing so much care and love.
And getting so much more than she needed.
A bottomless well, enough to cope with all the hurt that life could throw at them.
With plenty to spare.
Then her grown, healthy, happy.
Enough to make any mother proud.
And all that had been torn away from her in the blink of an eye.
It may as well have been him pulling the trigger cos he had torn apart hundreds of other families.
Pull the trigger.
Pull the trigger.
Her finger depressed the trigger another fraction of an inch.
Tears rained down upon the edge of the bed.
She was suddenly hit by a sadness so palpable she swore she could feel it pressing down on her shoulders, crushing her feet into the black-glossed floorboards.
The gun shook in her hand.
Tears fell from her eyes.
Her body shook like she was drilling the road.
She threw her head from side to side, screaming silently, her teeth drawing blood as they burrowed into her lower lip.
She closed her eyes, squeezing even more tears out.
It felt like the walls were moving in and out in time with her frantic heartbeat.
Though every fibre in her being wanted to squeeze the trigger another fraction of an inch and blow a ragged wound in the side of her sleeping friend’s head, her body wouldn’t let her.
Her finger would go no further.
Shaking her head in fury, she raced out of the room.
The next night was the same.
And the next.
And the next.
Her life became a constant cycle of avoiding Bennett during his waking hours then trying to pluck up the courage to pull the trigger on him while he slept.
No matter what she did, no matter what he had done, or said to her in the day that further pissed her off, she simply could not do it.
The last time she had gone in, as always, creeping.
He was on his left side, as always, the old self-preservation thing of facing the door at all times, even when sleeping, ringing true.
As always the tears had come, making her eyes all swollen and stinging and hot.
As always the rage had overcome her.
As always her family’s faces had taunted her, reminding her of a life that had been so much better than this one.
And as always the impotent self-hatred when she realised that she wasn’t going to pull the trigger on him, that it had all been an act and that she should have saved herself the time and anguish and tears by not even bothering coming in here on any of the dozens of nights.
This time as she sighed and clicked the safety on, realising it was not going to happen again, he looked round at her.
‘Still not plucked up the nerve, eh?’
She felt as though he’d just slugged her in the gut.
Her jaw dropped open, eyes staring madly at him.
‘I heard you the first time,’ he said. ‘If there’s one thing I’ve developed over the years it’s an acute sense of paranoia. I never really relax. Even if it looks like I’m chilling, I’m still switched on, still weighing things up.
‘That first night I heard you come in. I saw the gun in your hand and I figured it was time to take my medicine. God knows I’ve done enough to deserve it.
‘But I heard you hesitate with it. And I didn’t react cos I figured I deserve it for the things I’ve done.
‘When it’s my time, I’ll know it.
‘And it felt like it was.
‘But maybe I’m being given another chance here. Another twenty-six fucking chances if my count is right.’
Monique silently tried to judge how many times she’d crept in here, fully intending to redecorate the wall with Bennett’s pulverised brains, and realised that he was probably bang on the money.
‘Thing is, I figure I have so much more good to do. So much more to teach you. And I figure I’ll be here until I’ve passed all of that on.’
Monique said nothing, just stood there, tears pouring from her eyes.
‘I’m sorry. But if it’s any consolation the things I’ve done haunt me. I sleep maybe three hours a night. I know I have done wrong and I’m doing everything I can to make amends. I figure that’s gotta count for something.’
Monique still struggled to find the words.
‘And I figure you do too, since you’ve spent almost a month trying to kill me in my sleep.’
Monique pulled him in close.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said.
‘If you’d done it I would have deserved it.’
And she would have sworn she saw him crying a little too.
‘I’m so glad you’re still here,’ he said. ‘Thank you.’
That night they got good and drunk and stayed up talking long into the night.
Monique made her signature Lasagne using almost the right ingredients.
It was nice, like a night in with friends before, if you ignored the blacked out windows, swirling radioactive winds and the constant threat of the assholes across town breaking in.
Monique couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed so much.
Certainly not after anyway.
While they talked, Bennett eyed her warily.
She had gotten to know him now and could tell there was something on his mind.
‘What are you scheming now?’ she grinned.
‘I think it’s time you got some blood on your hands,’ he said, nodding wisely.
‘I’ve had blood on my hands,’ she said, shuddering as the feel of her dead children’s blood, clammy and cool, hit her anew. It was something she’d never forget.
‘No, no, no. I want you to claim your first kill.’
‘I killed that driver.’
‘That was to save my ass. I’m talking your first cold-blooded murder, Mon.’
Monique swallowed hard.
The last mouthful of beer suddenly seemed to be made of cotton wool.
‘Doesn’t the idea excite you?’ he smiled, a twinkle in his eye.
She shook her head hard, vomit creeping up her throat.
‘Well, I think it’s a good idea. Dip your toe in the water, so to speak.’
‘I think it’s a good idea too, I mean it’s gonna have to happen sooner or later. But the idea repulses me.’
‘As well it should. That’s healthy. But you gotta learn how to switch that off sometimes.’
‘Who do you have in mind?’
‘One of the yokels out there,’ he pointed in the direction the whooping and hollering had been coming from.
She thought about it for a second. ‘I want it to be someone bad.’
‘They’re pretty fucking bad, trust me on that one.’
‘They sound like idiots, but that doesn’t make them bad.’
‘Oh, they’re bad. Believe me.’
‘And what the fuck do you know?’
‘Put on the suit. I’ll show you what the fuck I know.’
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