Word Count: 1,221
He peered out of the wide windows and frowned. Behind him, her fingers twitching nervously at her sides, Alice asked, “What is it? Who are they?”
She’d eaten the burger, eventually; he had been certain it was cold but she ate it anyway. Hunger could bring even the most stubborn person to his knees.
He shrugged, but kept his eyes on the vehicle rolling closer.
“Looters, I would imagine.”
“Should we leave?” There was an edge of panic in her voice – she wasn’t a fighter, he had known this upon first glance, of course, but seeing it in action always disappointed him. He liked to believe everyone would stand up and fight, sometime in their life.
He shrugged again, “I will not be leaving. I have found the perfect shelter, and I intend on keeping it.” He looked at her, then, as if asking what her choice would be.
For a long moment, her big brown eyes just looked at him. He wondered, briefly, what she was thinking. He brushed off the curiosity and returned his attention to the monstrous vehicle. She didn’t answer his unspoken question, so he let it go.
“Do you remember the layout?” He asked, instead. They’d gone all around the store, barricading doors and boarding off windows whenever possible. He’d left only one of the front windows untouched so he could see, and two possible exits. The front door was only halfway boarded, and one of the loading docks was rigged for easy opening from the inside.
“Yes,” she said, and the word hung in the air like the confession he thought it was.
She wouldn’t be staying.
He slid his jacket off his shoulders in the fluid motions of a man without need to think of an action before doing it. A man programmed to react, to control, to maintain dominance in a situation. Without his jacket, the easily half a dozen sheaths and holsters littered his torso were apparent. Beneath the jacket, they were invisible; he could feel Alice’s eyes travel along the straps and buckles, could smell her skepticism. His black eyes flicked once to the window, monitoring the mammoth vehicle outside. It had come to a stop.
“Arm yourself, if you please,” he said to Alice, gesturing at the small arsenal he had set up on a table beyond a kiosk of drinks. “You may use whatever you wish.”
He did not look at her to watch the way she eyed the table suspiciously. He did not wish to see her weighing the situation in her mind – knowing, he was certain, that one did not pick up a weapon unless one were prepared to use it.
Alice was not. She tucked her fingers into the back pockets of her beat-up jeans and watched him, then the window, over and over.
Doors were opening outside, behind the blindingly bright headlights.
His compact crossbow remained in its secondary holster at his hip. Stretched across his back, revealed now that he’d removed his jacket, was a sheath for his machete. Across his ribcage was one of his own sheath designs – the leather wrapped entirely around his chest, on the left side was a row of sheaths for throwing knives. It held eight. At the base of his spine were two gun holsters, positioned to face opposite directions, with twin HK .45s in a gleaming stainless steel nestled against his shirt. Tucked under his right arm, opposite the throwing knives, was a third HK .45.
In his right hand he held the barrel of a stainless steel 12-gauge riot shotgun.
He checked his discrete utility belt, feeling around for the small round explosives and smoke bombs he had separated in the thin pockets. He rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck twice.
He glanced at her then, and across the ten yard gap his onyx irises met her earthen brown and he stayed still. The sound of footsteps was everywhere; the group was smart enough to circle the building. He listened as they reconvened.
They would only find one usable entrance, Judah had made certain of that.
He could hear her heart pounding in her chest, the only giveaway to her panic. Her expression was stoic and empty, but he could see it for the mask that it was. He was a professional, after all.
“Don’t be frightened,” he said, and he knew the footsteps had grown close enough for her to hear when her pulse stuttered.
She broke their stare, then, turning to look at the door as it was kicked in from the outside. Shards of glass burst outward; the steel crunched and compacted in on itself, as the doorframe swung inward. Light from the headlights poured in, growing wider as the door hit the wall behind it.
Judah stepped forward into the light, his body shielding Alice from view. He said nothing, merely stood as an impassable wall between the inside of the building and the men at the door. There were three, guns at the ready; they moved swiftly, with the deftness of practice, but they did not get very far before their eyes landed on Judah.
There was stillness for a long, hushed moment.
It was then that Alice moved – her shadow danced briefly on the wall behind Judah but he did not need to see it. The other men had, and Judah saw it on their faces. They saw her. Her heartbeat grew louder than the others’.
“You there!” said the apparent commander, shouting to be heard over the rumble of the vehicle’s engine outside. “Step into the light.”
For the first time, Judah raised the riot gun and leveled it between the commander’s eyes. “You will not touch the woman.”
A standstill fell over the grocery store. No one moved, no one blinked; no one, that was, except Judah. “Alice,” he said over his shoulder, “I think you had better leave.”
She didn’t respond, but he could hear the first soft shuffling sounds of her backing away. Her heartbeat grew fainter and he knew she was around the corner.
One of the men shifted, his motion indicating he had intentions to tail Alice, and instantly Judah re-targeted. He pulled the trigger and an explosion of blood hit the remaining glass of the doorframe. The shot echoed harshly around them, over and over, shaking the windows. Before the looters could spin to see the damage, to hear the torn scream of their comrade, Judah had swung the riot gun back to aim at the commander.
The man he had shot groaned, his wide fist spreading open to clutch his wounded shoulder, but rose to his feet in the determined way that a properly trained man does.
“I said, you will not touch the woman,” Judah said as his only explanation.
He could hear the thudding of her running down the short hall, before she turned left and lunged over the barricade they had set up in the loading docks. He wondered if he would see her again.
To the men, he said, “Return from whence you came. The resources of this building have already been claimed.”
Silently, the looters glanced to each other. They backed out, none quite willing to turn their backs to his shotgun.
He wondered if he should try to find Alice or simply let her go.