Hoping it was the promise of the plush interior, the high end kitchen, the mirrored chest of drawers, the flat-screen TVs we’d seen in each room, and not the promise of our bodies for sport, which was giving rise to his excitement. Motioning to Cassie, I stepped slow and cautious across the thick-piled carpet, heading towards the door I hoped held a secret escape hatch to a hidden basement. Pulling the door open as fast as I dared dashed my hopes the owners were paranoid, obsessed with their safety. At least they kept their hinges well oiled. Inside was a dark, narrow walk-in wardrobe, rows of shoes shelved on one wall from floor to ceiling. On the opposite side clothes hung down from a pole, the floor piled with plastic boxes. Everything neat, spick and span.
Stepping with care, we walked along the centre, bathing us in total darkness as I pulled the door closed. By touch, we felt our way to the far end, pausing with each lull in the commotion below. Our breath held as another voice joined in the laughter, but resumed as the chaos increased in volume. The floor creaked as we arrived at the end and Cassie crouched to the floor as wordless, I took an arm full of clothes from the rail and scattered them across the floor. With a second armful, I sat, pulled the clothes on top of our heads, trying our best to cover ourselves, moving only to pull the screwdriver back into my fist.
Cassie shuffled closer beside me as we heard the footsteps on the stairs directly below. Her breath stopped, if only for a moment as their voices grew louder, their excitement cutting clean through the walls. I tried to visualise the pair. One we knew. One we’d seen too much of already, his bald head fixed in my mind, probably forever. The other I could only guess, but it was the weapon my mind fixated on. Now they’d reached the stop of stairs, the gently warping boards underneath confirming, their voices soon moving to our side. They were in the main bedroom.
My concentration fixed on their words, seeking their intention. Were they really such a threat? We’d only seen the skin head defend himself. The two voices were distinct, the skin head’s much lower, still the second had morphed into the sentry who’d stood at the back of the pack, a short guy with an iron bar in his hand. I knew it was wishful thinking. Howls of animal excitement bounded through the walls, Cassie jumping as a window smashed and some animal chant rang out. A distant joyous call came back.
I reached across with my left hand, found Cassie’s and squeezed, wordless to reassure her they were looters only out for the prize. They weren’t hunting us. I didn’t reassure myself. She squeezed back. I had no idea if I’d helped, but I stopped worrying as they started to talk.
“You hear where we’re going next?” came the skin head’s voice edged with concentration as I felt myself shaking, the first signs of my body thawing. Warm for the first time in days.
“Yeah,” came the slightly higher pitched reply. “It’s bullshit, right? Some hospital in St Buryan?”
“It’s true,” the skin head said. “Some do-gooder set it up like a field hospital. Takes in those that can’t look after themselves. The ones who didn’t get out. Once we’ve done the house down the road, that is.”
I turned to Cassie, felt her hot breath on my face. Her hand moved, her arm curling around my mine, squeezing tight.
“I don’t get it,” came the other voice. “Pass the screwdriver.” There was a long pause. “Fuck’s sake.”
“Careful,” said the skin head. “You damage it and I ain’t protecting you.”
“Shut up,” came the reply. “Go on then tell me the secret. Why the fuck are we going to a fucking hospital? Someone ill?”
“Gordy’s got the shits,” he said and they broke out in laughter. “Nah, seriously. They got supplies, right? Medicine, food and petrol. Stuff that’s worth a thousand times what it used to be, at least while all this shit’s going on.” I felt Cassie’s arm squeeze tighter. There was silence in the other room and I worried somehow they might have felt it too.
“But won’t there be lots of people there?” the short guy replied.
“Yes you twat. The weak and the sick and those stupid enough to hang back and look after them. They’ll be no one protecting them, except maybe a few old men. It’ll be a walk in the park and we’ll be king of the castle.” The pair broke into a high laugh. “You look constipated.”
“Fuck off,” the other voice replied. “What I don’t get is why we’re getting all the TVs and stuff? There’s no fucking juice.”
“You twat. It ain’t gonna be like this forever. We live in one of the richest countries in the world and you think they’ll let this stop us. You’re more of a mug than I thought. Give it a couple more weeks, maybe a month, this will all be over and we’ll have a stock pile of TVs to sell when the internet’s back on.” There was a pause and I pictured the short guy’s expression changing, realisation lighting up his face.
I hoped he was right.
His reply was laughter and we went back to listening to the sound of their effort.
“Shove it on the bed,” the skin head soon said. “Then we’ll have a look in that cupboard. I reckon there’s sweet shit hiding away.”
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One