Erica and Fred arrived at St Peter’s to find the fridges and freezers empty and the store room in chaos, with bags and packets strewn across the floor. Fortunately for breakfast, the burglars hadn’t been interested in oats, and fortunately for Fred’s bread, they hadn’t taken the flour.
But all the meat was gone, all the cheese, all the fruit and vegetables, all the frozen food, and all the stuff in tins and jars.
Amy was standing crying in the middle of the mess, and being comforted by Katie and Stew, and Mr Phipps was measuring out oats for the porridge while muttering and swearing under his breath.
Erica stood in the doorway, stunned, while Fred began re-stacking the oats, flour, lentils, rice, and all the other food rejected by the burglars.
‘Glad to see they left the oats, then, Mr Phipps,’ said Erica.
‘It’s so bloody stupid!’ said Mr Phipps through gritted teeth, ‘I mean, the lady next door sees them driving off in a yellow van. So why doesn’t she knock us up or call the police? Some people! I mean, what goes on in their heads? Unbelievable! And everyone was so bloody pleased with themselves at being on the telly. What’s so clever about that? All they were saying was, “Here’s the food, come and get it!”’
‘A yellow van?’ said Erica. ‘It was a yellow van that made off with the vegetables from the Community Garden, too!’
‘Erica?’ interrupted Fred, ‘Can I have a word?’
They slipped out the back together.
‘I think I know the guys with the yellow van. They’re junkies. They would’ve stolen the food to sell it and get money for a fix.’
‘But that doesn’t make sense. Who are they going to sell it to? No one’s got any cash left!’
‘They wouldn’t think of that. Drugs for brains, you see… Anyway, I think I know where they live.’
‘Great! I’ll ring the police.’
‘Don’t do that, Erica. They’ll confiscate it.’
‘No they won’t – it belongs to us. Everyone saw it on the telly.’
‘So can you prove it? That a particular tin of baked beans belongs to us? Has it got our name on it? No. So they’ll confiscate it. As evidence pending trial. Policemen get hungry too, you know.’
‘So what do we do? Let these guys get away with it? While the members of the Food Club go hungry? That’s bonkers, Fred!’
‘Not at all. That’s not what I meant. I meant we might be able to get it back. You and me.’
They went on Fred’s motorbike, which he had wisely hidden in the hallway of the rowdy house, now no longer rowdy in the absence of his housemates. Erica was impressed to see how clean the bike was, and even more impressed that the fuel tank was nearly full.
‘This is a great idea, Fred, apart from one little thing. How are we going to carry the food?’
‘This is just a reconnaissance trip, Erica. Let’s see if I’m right, first.’
It was the strangest journey she’d ever taken, weaving through deserted streets which were littered with debris from the riots, including the occasional burnt-out car. They didn’t see another moving vehicle. In the silence, the sound of the engine drew a few people out of their front doors to watch them go by. But where was everyone else? Were they all dead of starvation? It seemed unlikely. A lot of people could probably do with a few days of fasting, herself included. But not the elderly. She felt quite fierce about that. How dare those junkies steal their food!
Then it occurred to her that she was deliberately winding herself up into an angry state, ready for confrontation, and that this was an old pattern of hers – righteous indignation as a substitute for assertiveness. But anger wasn’t the best way to deal with the situation, was it? If the junkies threatened violence it would just add fuel to the fire.
So what if I stay calm and try to be assertive? she asked herself. I wonder if I could do that? Of course you could, said her guides, whom she’d forgotten about. Okay, you guys, she replied. But I’m going to need some help.
The house was almost derelict, with boarded-up windows. Erica was going to knock on the front door, but Fred dissuaded her and wheeled the bike round the back, into an overgrown and junk-strewn garden, and hid it in the shrubbery. Then he led the way to a large shed. The door was held ajar by the entry of an extension lead, which trailed all the way back to the house.
Inside was a huge pile of cardboard boxes, stacked higgledy-piggledy, and full of food. Two fridge-freezers and a chest freezer stood against a wall, also full of food. And in one corner was a heap of rotting vegetables – presumably the ones stolen from the Community Garden. Erica felt the anger surging up inside her again. What a waste! She took deep breaths, asked her guides for help, and felt the rage gradually subside.
‘You okay?’ said Fred.
‘Yes. Just trying not to go ballistic, Fred.’
They followed the extension lead to the back door of the house, and knocked. A lanky young man with spots and a runny nose looked out, a grotty kitchen behind him.
‘Yeah, what you want?’
‘We’re from the Food Club at Sneed Parish Church, and you’ve got our food,’ said Erica, coming to the point without delay.
‘Is that right?’ sniffed the young man.
‘Hi Zac,’ said Fred.
‘Is that Fred?’
‘Yeah, how you doing?’
‘Not so bad. Who’s this?’
‘It’s Erica. Zac – Erica. Erica – Zac.’
‘Hi Zac,’ resumed Erica. ‘Do you realise that hundreds of old people are going to go hungry because you nicked their food?’
‘Yeah? Well, I’m sorry about that,’ said Zac, and sniffed juicily.
‘Sorry’s not good enough, Zac. We want it back.’
‘Yeah, I get that. But what do you expect me to do about it?’
‘Bring it back, is what I expect you to do about it.’
‘Well I can’t.’
‘Yes you can.’
‘No, you don’t understand. Grant would kill me. No, he would. You don’t know him. He’s a nutter.’
‘He’s right, Erica,’ said Fred. ‘Grant is a nutter.’
‘But hang on a minute, you two. Just because Grant’s a nutter, does that mean no one stands up to him? Does that mean we just let him get away with stealing everybody’s food and leaving it to rot, so that nobody can eat it and we all starve together? That’s the sort of thing we’ve all been doing with the Cabal, and look where it’s got this planet – totally in the poo.’
But just then the front door slammed, and shortly after that there was a deep and menacing growl from behind the kitchen door, and a human voice that didn’t sound much better.
‘What’s up, boy? What’s up, Satan?’ it said.
The growl swelled abruptly into a savage snarl, and something hit the door so hard that it rattled on its hinges. Fred grabbed Erica’s arm and pulled her towards the garden.
‘Who’ve you got in there, Zac?’ warned the voice, ‘I’ve told you before…’
‘They’re just friends, Grant. They’re okay, honest. No problem.’
‘Satan doesn’t seem to think so, Zac. Now open the door. He wants to meet your friends.’
‘Grant, I don’t think that’s a good…’
‘Open the door, Zac! I don’t want to have to tell you again!’
And Zac opened the door.
But by then Fred had sprinted into the shrubbery and pulled the motorbike out. He straddled it and fired it up, while Erica snatched a piece of timber from the litter on the ground. She scrambled aboard, grabbing the back of Fred’s belt with her left hand as the bike swerved across the broken paving slabs.
At the same moment a black pit bull terrier shot out of the back door of the house, not wasting his breath on barking, just coming straight for Erica at full speed on his bandy legs, teeth bared, all ready to sink them into her flesh, drag her off the bike and tear her to bits.
But when his jaws were only two feet from her thigh, she brought the piece of wood down on his head, one-handed, with all the force she could muster. Fortunately, she was an ace with a rounders bat, and had a strong right arm. The blow knocked him down – not for long, but by the time he’d scrambled to his feet and got himself up to speed again the bike was out on the street and accelerating, and he soon fell behind.
‘You all right?’ called Fred over his shoulder.
‘Yeah, just about.’
As an animal-lover, Erica hoped she hadn’t done Satan any permanent damage. But as a human animal she wanted to roar with triumph, and it was only the nearness of Fred that stopped her from doing so.
But then reaction set in, and she tossed the piece of wood away, put both arms around Fred’s waist and held on tightly all the way back to St Peter’s, shuddering gently.
Mr Phipps was in an even worse mood by the time they got back.
‘Where the hell have you been? No food, no bread, and no bloody organiser!’
‘We went to get the food back, Mr Phipps,’ said Erica wearily.
‘You did? So where is it?’
‘We haven’t got it yet. Look, it’s a long story and I don’t want to go into it right now. Let’s just get on with the lunch.’
‘That’s what I’m bloody telling you! I’ve got nothing to bloody well make lunch with!’
Erica hadn’t had enough sleep. She was worn out and fed up and shaken by the encounter with Satan. The only reason she didn’t bawl Mr Phipps out or burst into tears was because she was equally poised between the two. And this fortunately gave her a moment or two for reflection. After which she took a deep breath.
‘Okay Mr Phipps, I think we owe you an apology. We shouldn’t have just disappeared like that without telling you what we were doing, and I’m sorry. I just didn’t think, and it wasn’t fair on you.’
‘And I’m sorry too – it was really my fault, Mr Phipps,’ said Fred.
‘Hmmph,’ said Mr Phipps ungraciously. But it was an improvement on all the bloodies.
‘It’s a difficult situation and we’re all under stress, but let’s do our best, okay?’ continued Erica. ‘We can get some stuff to make soup from the people with vegetable gardens in Little Bedlam Street. Just tell me what you need and I’ll send Stew round to get it.’
‘And there’s still time to make soda bread, Mr Phipps,’ said Fred, ‘So don’t worry about that. Do you know where Mr Staines is?’
‘He went home in disgust, and I don’t bloody blame him.’
‘Okay. Any chance of giving me a hand, Erica?’
All the members turned up early for lunch (vegetable and lentil soup with soda bread), in a long and rather subdued queue. Erica wondered if they were early because they knew about the theft and thought there might not be enough to go round, but decided to give them the benefit of the doubt.
But right in the middle of it all, something unexpected happened which changed the whole complexion of the day. Hassan turned up with a van full of food! He explained to Mr Robertson – whom he wrongly assumed to be in charge – that he admired what they were doing, had heard about the burglary, and wanted to help.
How quickly an atmosphere could change! The pall of gloom immediately lifted, and as the boxes of food were carried past the queue, through the hall and into the kitchen by Hassan and his sons, the diners broke into applause, cheering, whistling and stamping, and Mr Robertson led them in a chorus of ‘For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow’.
Hassan blushed darkly, beaming with pleasure. Erica wanted to hug him, but didn’t know whether he would take offence. So she hugged his lovely wife instead, wondering if she’d been behind it anyway.
She did suspect that the food was near or past its sell-by date and might be on the verge of being un-saleable, but told herself to stop being so cynical, and focus on being grateful instead. After all, it couldn’t have been easy for Hassan to overcome such a deeply ingrained habit of tight-fistedness, and she was proud of him.
Gosh, we’re all making progress here, she thought. It must be the Ascension energies!
And as if to confirm it, no sooner had Hassan’s family departed than Zac drove up in the yellow van, loaded with all the food from the shed, including the rotting vegetables from the community garden.
It was ferried through the hall by Zac, Fred and Erica to another storm of applause, cheers, and stamping, and another chorus of ‘For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.’ Everybody was having a lovely time, and Zac with his spots and runny nose was right in the middle of it.
When the storm had subsided a bit, Fred sat Zac down in the kitchen with a big bowl of soup and half a loaf of soda bread. He was ravenous, and the bowl was refilled twice.
‘Well done, Zac!’ said Erica, patting him on the back and then going to wash her hands.
‘Does Grant know?’ whispered Fred.
‘Nah. Not yet. He’s out for the count. Him and that Alistair. They traded the last of the meat for a fix. None for me, because I’d been a naughty boy. So I waited till they were out of it, then packed my bags and loaded up the van. They’re scum, they are. Erica was right, we can’t let them keep getting away with it. And I’m not going back.’
‘Good for you, Zac. But you can’t park the van here. Grant’ll come looking for it.’
‘Nah, I’ll drive it up to my parents. They’ve been trying to get me into rehab, and I’m halfway there, now. And it’s my van, anyway.’
Shortly after the yellow van had driven away, Mr Phipps turned up in a state of excitement. He’d gone home to get drunk, but when he saw what was on the telly he’d changed his mind.
‘It’s just like you said, Erica. Those Cabal people. They’ve all been arrested! Bush and Cheney and Kissinger and all that. It’s all over the news, the things they’ve been up to. Unbelievable!’
‘So that’s why the streets were so empty this morning, Fred,’ said Erica. ‘Everyone’s glued to the telly. It’s Disclosure, at last!’
Final part soon.
© Sue J Davis 2015
Please see Copyright Notice on the ‘About’ page.