"You mean, we're risking life, limb and dehydration to stroll, God knows how many miles, to this place ... which you suggested ... yet you have no idea what it is?!"
"It's like an adventure." Luke interjected trying to calm her down.
"It's the end of the world chica, do you have anything better do with your spare time?" Juan retorted.
"That is beyond the point." Andrea snapped quickly. "We could die!"
"In several ways, and they don't even involve hiking to Panacea." Juan pointed out, using the voice he reserved solely for scaring children. "Just staying in one spot for too long, you could fall victim to the raiders, the sick and not to mention the ..."
"I think what Juan is trying to say, is that Panacea is our best bet." Luke interrupted standing up between the two.
"It looks like canned goods are next on our list." Luke said dismissively, at last answering Ian's question. He led the way to the stationary escalator; it was obvious that everyone was meant to follow him.
They left the mall soon after scanning all the windows of the shops to make sure that there was nothing else worth breaking into. The sun was high in the sky, Luke's watch said it was one thirty, they had to move fast if they were going to find a grocery store and make it back to the hotel before it got dark.
The going was very hard, the trash carts where heavy, and the smell of smoke and rot was in the air, making breathing difficult as no one wanted to breathe through their nose. To make things even harder, every little while, Luke would take them off course in search of a grocery store. If they couldn't find one he would lead them back on the route to the hotel, and they repeated the cycle until they found one. They were half way back to the hotel and nearly two hours had passed, when they approached a rather sad looking Vons.
Ian immediately set to breaking through the glass with a tire iron. It took several swings before the door gave way with a nasty sounding Crack!
"Let's not waste any time here." Luke said checking his watch and guesstimating how much longer the sunlight would last. "We'll have to rush back to the hotel."
Andrea made a rather pathetic little moan of complaint and pain. Luke gave her an apologetic look.
"Hang in there kid." He said, patting her encouragingly on the back.
They proceeded carefully into the store, Juan and Luke in front armed with guns and flash lights, Andrea in the middle and Ian bringing up the rear with a machete. The produce section had rotted and the smell of fermenting fruits and vegetables was suffocating throughout the Vons. After only a few moments in the store, it became obvious that they were the only ones there. The group immediately located the canned goods aisle and grabbed everything down from the shelves to be sorted later. However, they couldn't fit cans into their cart and had to leave some items on the shelf.
"I'm gonna go see if I can find some dry beans." Juan said when they reached the granola bar aisle. "I know how to make a month's worth of beans and chili."
With that, he took his cart and went searching down the aisles for this product. However, after a few minutes the group heard the sound of shattering glass; no doubt the shattering of the glass case that held the cigarettes. Juan returned several minutes later looking very pleased with himself, pushing a cart full of dry rice and beans ... and cigarettes hidden somewhere.
"What?" Juan asked as innocently as he could when he was greeted with questioning looks from his companions.
When they had taken all they needed and a little more, they transferred the food to the trash carts, at which point there was no longer any room for the tire iron. They left it at the door; they no longer needed it, since their raiding days were over-for now. Getting back to the hotel was even harder work now then it had been before the trip to Vons. The trash carts were nearly as full as they could be, and the sun was threateningly close to setting. The small group had to move fast, pressed against time.
Luke took over pushing Andrea's trash cart, and she became the new scout - not a very good one though. However, the road was as uneventful as it had been the last few times they crossed it, the only trouble they encountered were the inconveniently placed cars.
The setting sun was a mix of orange and pink darkening into purple, when Luke led the trash cart lugging group past the threshold of the hotel. They locked and barricaded the hotel doors to the awakening sick outside.
"I'm so tired I could sleep anywhere." Ian said letting go of the handles to his trash cart and messaging his sore muscles.
"Aaw $*#!." He complained as he found his way to the suite blocked by Juan's vending machine placement.
"Sorry brother, I'm too tired to move that." Juan said plopping down in front of the vending machine and leaning against it.
"What! You put it there!" Ian complained.
"You said you could sleep anywhere." Juan reminded him.
Ian glared at him before crouching down behind the vending machine, and pushing it slowly from the steps.
"Guys, help me hide these." Luke said gesturing to their trash carts. "These won't make it up the stairs."
Juan stood, he and Andrea helped Luke find a place to hide their supplies in a cleaning closet and when they returned, Ian had completely removed the vending machine from the stairs and was half way up.
"Sleep!" Andrea cried setting off up the stairs. When she reached the suite, Ian had kicked off his shoes and thrown himself onto the couch.
"That's classy." Andrea teased.
Ian made some muffled retort indistinguishable by human ears. Andrea was just
about to tease him again, when there came the sound of footsteps from somewhere in the suite. She spun around to ask Luke and Juan if they had made that noise, but Luke already had the gun at his shoulder his fingers clamped around the trigger and his stare deadly. Juan pulled Andrea out of Luke's way, and Luke stepped forward.
"Hello." Came a voice from the bedroom.
Ian shot up from the couch and looked around alert. No one answered the intruders call.A small boy stepped out from the bedroom cautiously; he was no more than fifteen with messy blond bed head. Luke cocked the gun threateningly when the boy came into view.
"Don't shoot!!" the boy cried terrified throwing up his hands in surrender.
"Luke no!" Andrea gasped jumping on Luke from behind and trying to pull the gun from his grip. Luke fired, the muzzle of the gun pointing up.
Ian and Juan cursed both ducking and covering their heads. The bullet ricocheted off a ceiling light, whizzed back and nicked the invader in the shoulder before lodging itself into the elegant wallpaper.
The boy cried out in pain and surprise ducking out of the line of fire, clutching his bleeding shoulder; the sound of the shot still resounding in everyone's ears, like a drum against metal.
"I wasn't going to shoot him!" Luke cried frustrated disentangling himself from Andrea and flipping on the gun's safety.
"Oh." Andrea gasped. "But you looked kind of serious there." She said apologetically shaking slightly from the shock of the shot.
"What part of prevention do you not get?" Juan demanded.
"His face." Andrea tired to explain before saddling sheepishly away from Luke.
Luke turned back to the boy his gun trained on him.
"What is your name and why are you here?"
"My name is Paul." The boy sputtered, clutching his wounded shoulder, blood oozing slowly through his fingers. "I came here with my dad, but we got separated and then the sickness hit and I've been here every since. I didn't know you guys were here! I swear! I'll just leave now...if you'll let me."
"Did you steal anything?" Ian asked from his position on the coach.
Paul looked at him terrified, and shook his head.
"Touch anything? Take anything?" Ian persisted.
"Don't lie." Juan warned menacingly.
"I was hungry." Paul admitted pathetically.
"So you did steal something." Ian insisted.
"You lied." Juan chided.
"How old are you?" Luke asked interrupting the firing squad.
"Sixteen." Paul answered.
Andrea made a sympathetic noise.
"He's bleeding." She said looking guilty.
Paul turned to face her hopefully.
"He's bleeding Luke." Andrea said pleadingly.
Andrea wasn't helping the interrogation; Luke knew this kid would use Andrea to appeal for him.
"Go get first aid." Luke said to Andrea.
She nodded dashing out the door.
"Juan," Luke began.
"I'm on it." Juan nodded understandingly, closing and locking the door behind Andrea.
"Are you with anyone?"
Paul shook his head.
"Where is your father?"
"Do you know what Panacea is?" Luke asked
Ian and Juan looked at him surprised and confused.
"No, I don't know anything, I just came for Disneyland." Paul replied.
"Disneyland sucks." Ian muttered.
There came a knocking at the door.
"Who locked me out?" Andrea demanded, knocking continuously.
Luke looked Paul over once more, deciding he was harmless he nodded to Juan.
"Andrea, why'd you lock yourself out?" Juan asked opening the door. "We needed this a long time ago." He took the first aid kit from her.
"Yeah, about that." Andrea muttered scanning her companions suspiciously.
"Come on, hombre." Juan said helping Paul to his feet and leading him to the kitchen, Luke followed closely to keep everything under control. Juan dressed the wound in no time, when he was finished Luke took him aside to speak to, locking Paul in the kitchen.
"He seems harmless." Luke said.
"Cowardly." Juan corrected.
"He can stay."
"Oh hell no, he's not coming with us! I can't stand him!" Juan protested.
"Of course we're not taking him, he seems useless." Luke said honestly. "We're leaving tomorrow, he can keep this hotel, he's survived this long, let him have it."
Juan pondered this for a moment. "Sounds reasonable, what about tonight?"
"He can have the second floor." Luke decided, too tired to think up anything elaborate.
Once this was agreed upon, Luke unlocked the kitchen door and let Paul out.
"You're free to go to the second floor. Don't make me regret this," he warned.
"N-no." Paul promised, hurrying off to his allotted territory. Luke was certain he would never hear from that boy again. After Paul left, they double checked the suite to make sure he had been the only invader before barricading the doors. While everyone crawled off to bed, Luke sat by the window on lookout duty. Five minutes into his shift Andrea came over with a comforter and a cup of tea. She handed Luke the tea and wrapped the blanket around him.
"Thanks." He said as the cup warmed him hands.
"Now go to bed," she said, sitting on the window sill. "It's my turn to watch."
Luke smiled at the gesture, but doubted that she would be able to stay up all night. However, Andrea poked and prodded him until he finally left her alone to her duties. Luke made a mental note to check on her during the night, before he went off to bed. As he had suspected Andrea's watch only lasted a few hours, before her exhaustion and old habits of sleeping got the better of her and she yawned herself to sleep against the glass. However, Luke had not expected to be far too exhausted to get up and check on Andrea and the night passed without a lookout.