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Against her better judgement, Monique put the suit on.
‘What about you?’ she said. ‘You’ll get ill.’
He shrugged. ‘When it’s my time, it’s my time. That may well end up being my medicine.’
She shook her head. ‘We should swap halfway through.’
‘Na. You’ve got a daughter. That’s a real reason to keep living. I ain’t got shit in this world except you. So you keep the suit on, no further fucking argument.’
They crept through the streets, torches off for now.
They followed the road to the supermarket, glancing around them nervously all the time.
‘Christ,’ Bennett said, coughing ferociously.
‘What is it?’
They were on edge the whole time, expecting someone to rush them from the ruins, but nothing stirred save the clothes of the dead and the dust and years-old litter blowing through the streets.
The town looked greyed out, as though the extinction – or perhaps exodus – of the life therein had taken the colour with it.
The wind blasted them, whipping up dust clouds that looked sinister and alien.
Bennett coughed a little more.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to swap?’ Monique said.
Bennett shook his head.
His gaze was pointed down towards the tyre tracks that ran through the greyed mud and ash build up that formed the road these days.
There was a low rumbling in the distance and Bennett dragged Monique into the rear of one of the ruined buildings.
The lights of the van seared their eyeballs in the all-consuming darkness.
The roar of the engine, coupled with the occasional gunshot and whoop of joy, hurt their ears.
Bennett crouched, his gun aimed at the van.
It pulled up near them, making them think that they’d been spotted.
One of the men got out.
A gas mask was clamped against his face, a blue and black plaid shirt over his heavily-muscled chest.
He cradled a shotgun like a newborn baby.
‘Woo!’ he shouted, throwing an empty beer bottle against the wall near where they were hiding.
Bennett’s finger tightened on the trigger as the man approached the wall in front of them.
His eyes seemed to move over them, like spiders crawling over their skin.
He came a little closer.
Bennett was within a millimetre of pulling the trigger.
There were at least three more men in the van, two of them waving shotguns around.
The man took one more step then paused.
His torch played over their hiding place, making them retreat into the grey debris.
Then relief flooded them when they saw him unzip his fly and begin to piss.
Steam rose from the dust at his feet.
His sigh of relief was distorted by the gas mask.
‘You fucking done yet?’ one of the other voices shouted.
He shook the drops off, turned to go back to the van.
They picked up the stench of his piss from where they stood.
The van’s door opened and two more men got out.
One had a gas mask and a leather biker jacket on. ‘Fuck ’em all,’ was emblazoned on the back in blood red paint.
The other one had a red bandanna wound tight around his mouth and nose. A black baseball cap was wedged backwards onto his head.
‘Need some fucking beers,’ he said.
‘Get the fucking lot, Pablo, we’re going through ’em pretty quick,’ the van’s driver shouted.
He was wearing a gas mask and a dirt- and blood-encrusted white vest.
The others nodded and disappeared into the supermarket.
They watched the men until they returned to the van with trolleys laden with beer and spirits.
‘Having a goddamned party tonight,’ Pablo, the one with the bandanna, hooted.
They attached the trolleys to the back of the van with short lengths of chain.
Then the engine roared and the van took off, leaving a clinking of glass bottles and chains in its wake.
‘Thank fuck they’re gone,’ Bennett said.
‘I got a really bad feeling about them fuckers.’
‘You don’t know the half of it.’
They waited until the van was well out of range then began to follow the tracks in the direction they’d first been headed.
The streets all seemed to look familiar around here; grey, crumbling, soot-stained shells that had once contained so much life and love.
So many people’s happy memories, Monique thought grimly. Blown to ashes in the blink of an eye.
The street petered out to a dirt track.
Again this was a mass of grey ashes and sludge.
We’re ankle deep in the men, women and children of this town, Monique thought and the idea made her heart wrench.
The dirt track led up a slight incline to their left.
All the noises were coming from up here.
The beeping of van horns.
The crackle of flames.
The creak of van springs and low, pained moans.
Behind it all, pounding rock music, seemingly hiding a multitude of sins.
Bennett pointed off to the left.
‘There’s an outbuilding over there,’ he said. ‘Get yourself inside and watch through the sniper scope.’
Monique’s face dropped. ‘I don’t want you going up there on your own.’
‘I’ve been before,’ he said, smiling sadly.
And she suddenly realised that he had already risked life and limb ensuring that this was safe for her long ago.
The thought filled her with dread, but she was again angry at him for keeping secrets from her.
‘Go watch. I’ll be fine,’ he said.
Bennett walked up the dirt track, skidding slightly on the sticky grey sludge underfoot.
There were filthy white transit vans lined up at the end of the driveway. The first one had words scrawled on the back door in permanent marker.
Blondey big tits.
Fat but fit.
Ugly but tight.
All but the last were crossed out with one thick line of black marker.
The other vans had nicknames drawn on too, sometimes more, sometimes less, but never kind.
Bennett walked up the drive, towards the garage building.
Floodlights lit the grounds of the garage.
The whiff of gasoline, hard liquor, smoke and a musty smell wafted out to greet him.
‘What can I do ya for, stranger?’ Pablo asked, getting up out of his green camping chair. He adjusted his bandanna then firmly shook Bennett’s hand.
‘I’m new in town and I wanna know the lay of the land.’
‘We-hell, have you come to the right place, brother. Welcome to Pablo’s Pussy Palace. Where it’s always fucking party time.’
A few men in the background were drinking beers in their camping chairs. The suspension creaked on one of the vans in front of him.
‘Let me show you around,’ Pablo said.
Bennett noticed Pablo’s eyes were bloodshot.
The exposed parts of his face were unshaven.
Red raw welts of flesh poked through the dark stubble in places.
He was well-built, but had a layer of flab.
Bennett could tell he knew how to use the shotgun in his hands.
He could handle himself too, that much was also clear.
‘Well, let’s talk payment,’ Pablo said. ‘Half an hour in the van will cost you a bag of guns or a coupla kilos of food. Or a coupla crates of hooch. Used to be cold hard cash before, but there ain’t much use for that nowadays, is there?’
Bennett shook his head.
‘I got nothing on me, man. But I know where I can find a really hot piece of ass.’
Bennett felt sick saying this, but it was for the greater good.
The man grinned. ‘You bring her with you next time, this one will be on the house. OK?’
‘So let’s see the fucking sights, man.’ Pablo wrapped an arm around Bennett genially, a proud host revelling in the depravity.
He fumbled with a collection of van keys which dangled from a huge chain on his jeans.
‘Ah, here we are,’ he muttered, fumbling the key into the lock.
The back doors came open and Bennett saw a filthy mattress on the van’s floor.
A blood-smeared red-haired woman was chained to the anchor points on the walls.
Her skin rose in goosebumps.
Flakes of dried semen adorned her like the shed skin of a snake.
‘That’s my favourite,’ Pablo grinned, pulling down his bandanna to expose blackened stumps of teeth.
Bennett longed to punch them down his throat, but he held off for now.
‘She’s hot,’ Bennett said, ‘But I wanna see the whole set up.’
‘The world’s your fucking oyster, man,’ Pablo grinned.
He opened the next van and this girl was chubbier, with dark hair. ‘If you like a bigger girl. More cushion for the pushin’,’ he beamed.
The girl was sleeping, Bennett noticed.
But her wrists and ankles were red raw, no doubt from trying to escape.
‘What else you got?’
There were over a dozen vans in total, each containing a bleeding, naked girl.
It all made Bennett’s stomach lurch, but he hid his disgust well.
‘So you can have any key you want,’ Pablo said, grinning and twirling the key ring round his finger. ‘Except for those ones.’
‘Why not those?’ Bennett said.
‘That one is occupied. Well, guess you could go in there, if you paid extra. Wouldn’t be the first time,’ he smirked.
Bennett was already imagining him with his head blown off.
Nothing would give him greater pleasure.
‘Those two,’ Pablo pointed with a grease-stained finger, ‘are empty. We’re always on the lookout for fresh meat though. And we can always get more vans too.’
‘And that one?’ Bennett asked.
‘Well that one we gone and broke,’ Pablo said, giggling like a schoolgirl.
Bennett furrowed his brow.
‘Say, I know you said you’re going to bring us a girl next visit, but as a show of faith, why don’t you clean it up for me?’
The idea made Bennett’s dinner creep up his throat, but he pushed the urge down and nodded. ‘Yeah, man, you’re on.’
‘Hey, I’m a good guy,’ Pablo beamed. ‘I’ll even let you decide whether you do it before or after the deed.’
Bennett thought for a second.
‘I’ll clean up first. The wait will be worth it.’
‘Man after my own heart.’
‘And besides, it’ll give me time to decide which van to visit.’
Pablo nodded, smiling proudly. ‘Hell, you’re one smart motherfucker.’
You have no idea, Bennett thought.
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