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Bennett pushed the trolley, the exertion making him suck in more of the tainted air.
It blazed in his lungs, but he blotted it out.
All that mattered was getting home before Pablo and his friends came for them.
The journey was exhausting, even when Monique took over pushing.
But they got there in the end.
Bennett unlocked the door and shoved the trolley in.
The front wheel hit the lip of the step and upended, throwing the unconscious scumbag out.
Bennett laughed as he landed with a stunned groan.
The man began to shout, but Bennett soccer-kicked him in the jaw.
After an audible crack he slumped back, shards of ivory spilling out amid a stream of blood.
Bennett stepped back outside.
‘The fuck are you doing?’ Monique said.
‘The trolley left tracks. I’m gonna get shot of them.’
Monique nodded. ‘Be fucking careful.’
‘I will,’ he grinned, a crazy look in his eye. ‘Get the lights off while I’m gone.’
Then he shut the door and began kicking grey sludge over the tracks they’d made.
Bennett was gone an eternity.
All the while, Monique could hear angry cursing, honking of horns and revving of engines outside.
The occasional shotgun blast punctuated the cacophony.
When the door crashed open, she drew her gun, reckoning she was about to claim her first kill.
It was Bennett, panting, dishevelled.
She ran to him and shoved the door shut.
‘Fuckers nearly caught me. I had to double back and go round the other way.’
‘Well you’re here now. Sit down.’
He hosed the filth off himself, trying to wash out his mouth and airwaves.
The dirty charred taste clung to the back of his throat like day-old vomit.
He felt suddenly weak, like the makeshift shower area had somehow been resituated on a waltzer ride.
He gripped the sink and forced himself upright.
Turned the cold tap fully on and aimed it into his face to wake himself up.
Gritting his teeth against the icy blast of the water, he forced himself to stay under the spray for a slow hundred count.
This made him feel much better.
He climbed out, carefully, as his legs still felt suspect.
He towelled himself dry quickly, remembering that he’d left Monique alone with the man from the garage.
In the end he needn’t have worried; Monique had tied him to one of the wooden chairs and was watching him like a hawk, a handgun aimed in his face.
His head was slumped forward, but his eyes were slightly open.
‘You ready? Bennett asked Monique.
Bennett slapped him hard across the face.
He woke up, stunned, revealing teeth that had been shattered by Bennett’s kick.
‘Time to take your medicine,’ Bennett grinned.
The man moaned, sending more blood sluicing down his chin.
Monique stepped forward, the gun held in front of her.
She breathed heavily, picturing the poor girls in the van.
Her hands shook slightly but not as badly as they had when she’d been trying to kill Bennett.
‘Do it for the girls in the van,’ Bennett said, low.
‘We’re just trying to survive, same as everybody else,’ the man said.
Monique took a deep breath and pulled the trigger.
The back of the man’s head was sprayed up the wall.
He lolled forward, blood racing from his open jaws.
His hands beat a tattoo on the chair arms.
‘Well done,’ Bennett said, taking the gun off her and pulling her tight into his chest.
‘Now it’s done I wish I could make it hurt more,’ she said.
‘There ya go,’ Bennett beamed.
‘So what’s the plan?’ Monique said. ‘Do we go back later? Take them all out?’
Bennett thought about it for a few seconds.
‘Na. Part of being strong is knowing what battles to pick. They’ll be paranoid of us coming back. So they’ll be ready for us. There are actually a lot more of them than you saw. We’d be setting ourselves up for a painful fall.’
Monique went to say something else but Bennett cut her off.
‘I want to napalm the fucking place, more than anything in the whole world,’ Bennett said. ‘But it would be a suicide mission and I’m smarter than that. So are you.’
Saw that he was right.
‘So do we just hunker down?’
She already knew the answer.
‘We gotta get outta here,’ Bennett said, shaking his head. ‘It won’t take ’em long to find us. And when they come they’ll come hard.’
She nodded again.
It saddened her to leave this place, but knew it was the right thing to do.
She would never find Josie from inside a body bag.
‘I say we take everything we can carry and get the fuck outta here.’
She took a deep breath in, looked around the room that she had come to know as home, and smiled sadly.
‘I’m really gonna miss this place.’
‘Me too. But there’ll be others. Maybe even other book stores.’
‘Take ten minutes to assess what you really need to take and meet me back here,’ Bennett said.
She nodded and disappeared into her room.
Ten minutes later, she came back.
Bennett was already there; his belongings were permanently in the bag, ready to leave at the drop of a hat.
He’d merely collected the extra weapons and ammo they’d accumulated.
Monique was travelling surprisingly light; Bennett had expected her to have tons of stuff, but she’d packed a small bag of the clothes they’d gathered from the stores in town, some non-perishable food, and two books.
‘So I never forget them,’ she said, a tear running down from her eye.
Bennett smiled sadly and hugged her when he saw the books were Jurassic Park and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The bags weren’t heavy, so there was no need for the trolley that they’d hidden behind the building for their food runs.
‘Always good to travel light,’ Bennett grinned.
Monique crouched beside each of her children’s graves for a moment of silent contemplation, then she kissed the crosses, sighed deeply and turned away, backhanding tears from her eyes.
‘I guess this is goodbye,’ she sobbed.
Bennett put an arm around her shoulders and gently guided her away.
They left their home, and Monique’s family, behind them.
Next chapter is here