“I do not want you to do it… Please.”
Sam’s father cradled the shotgun in his arms like a newborn baby. Sam knew his words would not work. The look in his father’s eyes was fixed and like stone.
Through the van’s windscreen, beyond the square block of a building that was the foodbank, the dawn was breaking, a pink bar across the horizon, fading up into the deep, dark blue of retreating night. A single fierce star burned in the corner of the darkest part of the sky.
Pete glanced sideways at his son, allowing himself a moment of weakness before his resolve would need to harden for the raid.
“Sam, we need to eat. You understand this, they’ve de-classed me now, I have no way of getting a job. So, I have no way of getting food.”
Sam just saw the shotgun and instinctively knew this was wrong and could end very badly.
“Your mother, I promised her I’d keep you fed before she died. She made me promise. I’m not going to let her down, or you.”
Food was currency. You got paid directly in food tokens or home deliveries. No job, no food, no hope.
Pete had dared question the system to a town official and was fired within a day for stirring up trouble. He had seen one too many skeletal bodies littering the alleys to wait for a reasonable solution, that would never come. He was full of rage. He felt stepped on.
“Stay here, Sam. I love you. I will be back within 30 minutes… If I am not, leave the van and walk to the farms beyond town, say you have no family and beg for work.”
Sam began to cry, not aloud, he knew better than that, but he could not stem the tears.
Pete opened the driver’s door, jumped out and banged on the side of the van with a fist. Mac and Tom piled out, head to toe in camo fatigues, with motorcycle helmets on their heads. Each brandished a shotgun of their own. The three of them slung on rucksacks and Pete took a balaclava out of his jacket pocket and wrapped it about his face.
The route to the rear of the foodbank was a relatively narrow road flanked by two tall brick walls. It was concealed and only used by executives checking inventories, organising staff and for making small delivery runs by car. The main delivery route was monitored constantly, so this offered a stronger opportunity to sneak in close before detection. Pete knew his plan was not perfect, it had holes and unknowns but it was at least a plan.
There was one armed guard on the door to reception. He was sitting in a tiny shed with a window and the light was on, illuminating him in detail, as he watched small-screen porn on his mobile device. Circling around to the shed unseen was not a problem. Pete burst into the shack and the guard literally fell back off his chair, in shock. No one had dared do this before. Pete cuffed him to the desk leg and sprayed his face generously with a sedative until he lost consciousness. First obstacle, done.
Turning their attention to the foodbank’s external door, they did not bother with the keycode pad with its infinite combinations, instead removing the whole door at the hinges and snipping the wire of the code box. No alarms rang out.
Slightly ahead of Pete, Mac and Tom edged inward down the long corridor until it opened out into the main hanger of the foodbank. There were shelves, hundreds of shelves. Tins, breads, fruits, vegetables, meats in freezers – it was a bounty to take your breath away.
“This is too bloody easy,” smiled Pete, staggered by the wealth of produce. The food was racked up to the ceiling end to end in the cavernous hanger. His knees felt weak. This was a jackpot. They should have brought bigger bags. Then it occurred to him.
“Tom, go back to the van and park it outside the door, let’s fill up the whole van, not just three poxy rucksacks! The security is shit but I bet tomorrow it won’t be when they find out what we’ve done. We need to make the most of this.”
Tom shuffled anxiously and, muffled slightly by the motorcycle helmet, said: “No, wait. We agreed to be quick, in and out, done and dusted before they have a chance to catch us.”
“Mate, this food will last us, what – a week?! Then what? With a few months-worth of food we can really plan our way for a real happy ending, maybe even start our own farm somewhere?”
Pete could see Tom’s chest rise and fall rapidly in a kind of panic. Mac too, looked taken aback. He needed to assure them and fast.
“Listen to me. I didn’t know it would be this easy, OK. This is our biggest chance for survival, for helping more people, to get a community going outside this one. This is one of those moments. Let’s choose our ending, for once. You don’t want a farm? Well maybe we trade some of the food for more guns, and another van. We could get a bigger gang to take on the next foodbank. This is our way to having real choices. We can do this.”
“Shit, shit, shit…” spat Tom, and then he sprinted out the door in the direction of the van.
Mac and Pete faced each other and as if psychically connected, turned toward the shelves and began to pull the crates of fruit and veg off, to line them up next to the open doorway.
“Right, proteins over there, carbs here!” Pete ordered.
The sound of the van reversing fast down the narrow road was almost a shock, like the rules of stealth were abandoned in a heartbeat. Tom was scurrying, throwing open the side door, hurling crates inside without looking where they landed. Pete could hear his son begging them to ‘hurry up’ between sobs.
For about five minutes they continued without interruption. Sweat was pouring off them, they were panting, aerobic in the shock of what they were doing. Apples, swedes, onions, tomatoes, tins and packets formed a small hill inside the van.
Floodlights erupted and they froze.
Further up the hanger, two officers were pointing handguns in their direction.
“STOP, put the crates down NOW!”
The pause after that, it seemed to last for eternity. It was a heavy moment in time.
Pete watched, stunned for a second, as the two cops’ skulls exploded.
Tom and Mac had been quick with their shotguns. They were ex-forces, so knew how to shoot straight under pressure.
“Go, go, go!” shouted Pete. They bundled into the van, Pete in the driver’s seat, and sped off, accelerating up the narrow road.
It was a trap. A police car was blocking the exit to the road. Pete slammed on the breaks and watched his son’s head bounce off the dash with a thud. He reached a hand out to push Sam back into the passenger seat. There was a small cut on his forehead, nothing serious. Sam held his palm flat over the seeping slit in his skin.
Mac slid from the side of the van and blasted at the long barrier of the car, his pump action reloading in smooth movements between shots. Glass, metal and blood leapt up from the cruiser as gunfire tore into it, through its engine, into its windows.
“Drive through it!” yelled Mac, but instead of climbing back into the van, he ran ahead, careful to keep a little safe distance from the van.
Pete hit the accelerator and the van smacked hard against the car blocking their way. It span out of the path, red and blue lights illuminating the brick walls in flashes. Mac trained the gun on targets, holding the barrel aligned to his eye, moving like a predator toward the smashed police vehicle.
Checking the bodies inside were inanimate, he reached through the broken door window and grabbed a card that was fixed on the chest pocket of one of the dead cops. The van had screeched to a halt long enough for Mac to dive back inside through the side door.
“I got a cop’s food card. That’s a ticket to four rations a week, right there!”
Mac was beaming with excitement.
The van rumbled away and picked up a network of backroads they had factored into their escape route. In the back Tom and Mac pushed off their helmets. They were hot, clammy and sweating, their hair wet, their eyes bloodshot.
“We did it, damn. We pulled it off!”
Tom was shaken a little. He had seen action in the army but shooting cops wasn’t part of the plan today.
As the van eased off the acceleration and trundled down a long empty country road, Pete relaxed his shoulders and looked at Sam. Sam was still covering his cut with a hand and did not return his gaze.
“You OK, son?”
Nothing. No reply. Sam just glared at the dark, fast-moving jagged shapes of the roadside tree-line, against the morning sky.
“Sam, why don’t you jump in the back and take a bite of an apple. It’s OK. Come on, when is the last time you ate an apple?!”
Sam stared at his father, accusingly.
“I’ve lost my appetite, dad” Sam said.
Tom and Mac raised their eyebrows and decided not to get involved in the family matter.
“The one thing I know about hunger,” said Pete without thinking, “is it will always come back. Your body will soon tell you, you can not lose your appetite for long….”
The sun was rising fast and the sky had turned a brighter blue. The day had just begun and with the wealth in the back of the van, for the first time in a long time, Pete believed anything seemed possible.