I got the bullets off the Trigger boys in the end, in return for another adult-size sleeping bag and two more buckets. Sensible trade, on their part – the last thing they needed was to be fighting each other for the basic comforts. It didn’t take them long to find the cameras in the fridge, and they keep accidentally throwing stuff on top of them, the scamps. I’ve said if any go dead, they don’t get dinner or fresh buckets, and so far they’re not pushing me, cause they don’t know how far I’ll go, and frankly neither do I.
We’ve killed some time this week with “Store-room confessionals”, a good way of getting to know your looters. I told them their dinner would depend on their answers.
Trigger Grumpy went first. I expected him to be the most trouble, but once out of the fridge with the door closed behind him, fuck me if the bastard didn’t look straight into the camera and start weeping.
“This isn’t me,” he kept saying, and he looked younger than I’d thought, early twenties maybe, with hair just long enough to curl and a little chin-dimple that was beginning to be lost to stubble. He begged me to get him away from the other two, said he’d lost his family to the Flu and escaped a quarantine hostel (though he was hazy on the details of how he’d done that) and they just picked him up and made him start looting with them.
“Seems a lot of effort for them to go to,” I said, “when they could just kill you and keep more for themselves. Guess you must have some special skill they wanted you for.”
Turns out he’s military, trained in ammunitions, and he knew where to get the guns from. Which begged a few questions, such as why take them to the armoury if they didn’t already have guns to make him? Why was he in a hostel if he was qualified to be guarding it? Why stay with the others when he had as many guns as they did and more practice at using them? He clammed up after that. I gave him macaroni cheese, for effort.
Next was Trigger Happy, who didn’t want to talk about his past or how he’d fallen in with professional looters, but was happy to spend the next fifteen minutes explaining what he was going to do when he found me, swearing almost as much as Jezza on a Monday morning. Eventually he ran out of ideas and started smashing up the store room, which didn’t contain much besides empty tins and full buckets at that point. I left him a bucket of soapy water and disinfectant, a mop and the threat of no more bucket changes til it smelled of roses down there, and later watched him grudgingly cleaning it up under the watchful eye of the third Trigger, who’s been keeping the other two in line since the beginning.
His confessional was interesting. Before I even asked him about his situation he threw a challenge at me, and put me on the defensive. Who am I to keep them there? Who am I to hold an entire storeful of food to myself? And probably because I’ve been asking myself that question on a daily basis for the last couple of months, I responded quicker than I should’ve.
“I let people take what they need,” I said. “You saw the setup I had when you came in, you could’ve gone on your way with a week’s supply; you didn’t have to get greedy and go looking for the source.”
“What gives you the right to the source?”
“What gives anyone the right to anything anymore? Possession’s ten tenths of the law now, and that was suiting both of us pretty well until you walked into my fridge – at least I didn’t get here by waving guns around.”
Which I shouldn’t have told him. I was supposed to be gauging how much of a threat he was. I tried to keep a bit of control after that, and when he wondered how I did get here, I told him, “You first.”
Then I got the full story of the gang. Trigger Grumpy was a soldier, but he wasn’t a resident at the hostel, he was a guard. The three of them were security, and after the order came not to release people on the 28th day, parties were sent out to collect more supplies, since the depots were almost empty by now. They were given firearms (it was a risky business, with looting gangs and quarantine refusers out there) and they were given a list (no doubt compiled by my “breakers and auditors”) and once they were far enough away from the hostel they figured why keep going back with this stuff? The only real reason would have been for the anti-virals, but the supply of those had to run out sometime, and they weren’t the first guards to desert before it got to crisis point. If they didn’t go back, they’d be presumed dead or diseased, and nobody would go after them, so they stole the lists and went freelance. They were going to take this place over for themselves. They didn’t know it was occupied already, but the set-up was enough of a clue to prepare them for the possibility. I didn’t press him on what they’d been planning to do about that if they hadn’t got locked in a fridge, cause I was more interested in the hostels.
“So why aren’t they letting people out?” I said.
He laughed, or maybe choked.
“What’s going on there, not too different to what you’ve got going on here. People’ve been kept in shitty conditions too long, not given information, unreliable food, taunted, messed with. The quarantine managers are afraid to let people out in case they go for the remaining supplies, take it all back.” He paused long enough to let me take that one in. “Not many left to let out, anyhow,” he continued, “but enough for riots when they see how few security are left.”
I couldn’t resist responding, “Yeah, I hear some of those deserted.”
“I saw an opportunity to get out of the round-up, and I took it, just like you. You got lucky, is all. I wouldn’t have been working for those fucking flag-wavers if I was sitting on a storeful of food, either. I did what I had to.”
“Sure. And more besides.”
“You’d know about that, wouldn’t you?” he said calmly. I decided I wasn’t compelled to justify myself to him, and let him fill the silence. “You had to keep us from finding you, sure, but you wouldn’t be doing all this Big Sister shit if you weren’t enjoying it.”
Well, a little.
“Not at all. I’m just wondering how to get rid of you without compromising my safety. Easiest would be to turn off the cameras and look the other way while you run out of air. Riskiest would be to let you go. What would you do?”
He dealt with that one pretty creditably. Ran a hand through his hair, looked straight at the camera and said, “I’d keep me on. I can help you get the others out the way. We’d both rather they were gone but not dead. Two of us could watch in shifts in case they came back. You’re smart, and you’re handy, but I don’t think you know how to fire a gun. I’d be good security – I’ve got experience, and a man’s voice is more threatening to a gang of looters – that’s their prejudice, not mine. Reckon we could both do with the company, too.”
Not a bad pitch, all things considered. I considered all things.
“I mix a mean Martini, if that’s a decider,” he added. It wasn’t, but the rehearsed half-smile to camera was.
“Big Sister will keep your CV on file, but for now we regret we have no suitable opening for a person of your skills.”
That broke his calm, but he didn’t kick himself half so hard as I did. I should’ve made it plain from the start that I wasn’t alone here. They didn’t need to know that. I could’ve been the spokesperson for a whole armed gang. I’ve been an idiot to let them see me as a weak, lonely woman. Not his prejudice, no, just his veiled threat to intimidate me into thinking I need him.
As he went back into the fridge, he asked, “Did I earn tinned stew or dog food for that?”
Honestly there’s not much difference between the two, I think the dog food tastes a little better – less salt. I gave him the dog food, in a plastic cocktail glass with an olive in it, but I gave him a tin of beans, too. It’s nice to have somebody to talk to, even if he is a skeezy bastard.