Three Creeps emerge from the ice-cream shop. They’re young, early teens, in strangely mismatched clothes. Parasites care nothing for fashion.
“I never saw them. How’d you know they were there?”
“I didn't. That’s why I do a drive-by. Rule sixty three.”
The unattractive individuals head towards us. I reverse and lead them off since shooting them would be too noisy and running them over risks damaging the truck. We agree to humanly abandoning them at a remote location. The reconnaissance has shown the vandals have left enough goods to risk this lengthy manoeuvre, but if any more Creepies spring us we’d call it quits and search out another target.
A boring half hour later has inflicted a lot of energetic shuffling on the hosts and assaulted eardrums from Kristine’s CD on me. Once a suitable distance is amassed, I accelerate and lose them.
Hosts tend to be fascinated with the last known position of their quarry and will draw others for a radiating search. I know this from foot pursuits in the past. Times when I’d been spotted and easily outran a single host, hiding at the first opportunity. My pursuer and a colleague or two, silently called in to assist, split up to look around, leaving a sentry as an aerial. To borrow their own logic, I’d backtrack and escape through an area they’d checked and deemed devoid of prey.
Low revs and a circuitous route return us to the vacant mall unmolested.
A refrigerated semi-trailer blocks access to a useful back alley. I’d hoped to bust into storerooms where everything is boxed and labelled. Easy pickings. However I’m not amenable to screwing around shifting the rig. The alley is tight and lacks alternative exits anyway.
Front and centre is well suited to systematic ransacking duties.
A routine is quickly put in place. Sweep the shop for enemies and leave Kristine to rummage while moving on to unlock its neighbour. Load truck with girlie crap and move forward when she catches up.
The interiors are dark caves. Grabbing stuff one-handed limits what I can carry. The other hand juggles two items. A powerful torch that lights an area the gun should be covering, and a gun that points into shadows a flashlight should be illuminating. It makes me nervous to be continually swapping one for the other.
I keep an eye out for Kristine’s slashing beam that delves into dark recesses. Generous skylights are compromised by cloud. Rain threatens to dampen our outing soon.
In any case, morning light can’t penetrate far into the eastern side’s buildings.
The brand name clothing stores are Kristine’s weakness. She completely forgets about inhuman monsters trying to kill us. She peruses and picks outfits from racks with careful consideration.
“Everything’s so last season,” she complains.
“However could that be?” I exclaim.
A coat hanger whizzes through the air, aimed at my head.
Every clothing shop is locked, disregarded by raiders more concerned with their next meal than dressing up for a party. I deduce young males are the main culprits. Clothing obsessed girls mustn’t be welcome on their larcenous jaunts.
I ignore the mobile phone stall and ice-creamery. A shattered jeweller’s doors shows greed has rid someone of their good sense. Sure, I’d taken a few watches when the opportunity presented itself too. Nothing that glitters amongst the wreckage inside tempts me further.
I move on to work on the next entrance. A vehicle accessory shop that contains tools that I wasn't aware I needed.
The bower bird in Kristine is not so resistant to sparkling dross. She sneaks in while I’m occupied with crowbar and obstinate lock. A fleet figure clasping an armful of shiny stones passes me by. She flings them into the passenger window and is gone before I can yell at her to concentrate on the list.
Of vague interest to my inquiring mind is the previous raider’s methodology. Only doors to instant gratification are opened. The wanton destruction left behind in the mini-market slows our progress to restock with canned Asian vegetables. I study our predecessors leavings like an anthropologist tracking the marks of a beast. The conclusion is that these scavengers are no better than animals. They take pre-packaged food, yet leave seed packets in the hardware shop. They aren’t collecting provisions for a siege; they live hand to mouth in an unsustainable and dangerous manner. Raiding shops in response to a rumbling stomach increases the odds of discovery well above acceptable risk.
Ammunition runs out and mistakes will be made. Hadley learned that the hard way.
I concentrate on covering our backs, fronts and sides and snatch opportunistically at things I want. The hard-core bargain hunting is Kristine’s gleeful domain. She delivers trolley after trolley, full of her hearts desires. I load the truck in untidy piles.
We’ll be sorting this junk for a week.
Aluminium grinds against steel as I break into another fashion outlet. Kristine goes forth and models various styles that are tossed into tubs or thrown to the ground. I shake my head and hold my tongue. It had taken me fifteen minutes at a work-wear shop to kit myself out for the next 10 years.
There’s been no sign of offensive movement in the last three hours. My guard slips lower as I move the truck for the seventh time and pull up opposite a gutted liquor store. The smell of spilled spirits wakes a thirst that water won’t quench. I inspect what’s left. Not a lot. Even the wine has been stolen or smashed.
A packet of cigarettes lies at my feet. An innocuous cancer stick would be a useful distraction from boredom right now.
I remove the helmet and light up.
Kristine crashes another tub onto the trucks ramp and smells the smoke. She tilts her head at my new bad habit. I toss it aside. She runs away with an empty bin as hydraulics lift her latest load. I upend the contents inside like ridding a wheelbarrow of dirt and wait for a Xanax to work. Relaxing and letting Kristine do her thing is crucial to eliminating any whining later. I occupy myself by throwing packs and boxes towards the front of the tray.
She’s showed no signs of slowing and I need to make room.
A rumbling of distant thunder promises a coming storm. Enough falling water will wrap this up without my urgings. Either that or we’d run out of space.
Kristine pushes another full tub of assorted boxes towards me and has a breather while the ramp lowers. I run an eye over her haul.
“Makeup, perfume, brushes, mirrors, glass bowls,” (for fuck's sake, if we become host snacks while stealing this rubbish I’d never forgive her), “washing powder, bleach, sulphuric acid,” (hope that doesn’t bust or she say goodbye to all these clothes), “motor oil. Tiffany lamp! Are you sure you don't want more than one lamp. I hear interior designers are pairing them now for full effect.”
“Oh, I think there was another one. I’ll go get it.”
“I was being sarcastic.”
“Well you’re bloody good at it.”
She leaves to source more knick-knacks.
I reach for the ramp controller and ascend in a God-like manner.
The viciously sharp fingernails that dig into God’s wrist and wrenches Him off the platform is unanticipated. I spin through space and hit the ground face down. Son of a bitch, that hurts. Belted weapons jab hard into soft guts. A fist pounds at my head then hair is gripped to pin my face to the pavement.
“Stay down, mother fucker,” a voice hisses in my ear.