Boredom is not something kids in the New Flagstaff Orphanage generally suffer from. The staff there know that bored kids get into mischief nine times out of ten.
So, if you have nothing to do then the staff will find you something, usually involving a scrubbing brush and a pail of water.
Consequently, the kids tended not to hang around the orphanage during their free time.
Which is why we find Finny, on the day before Christmas Eve with a belly still full of whatever that was for lunch, ambling along the sunlit streets being bored in safety. She was alone.
Casper was, as was often the case, hiding from someone he thought was after him. Onetooth was running from someone who definitely was after him.
And Worms was still busy digging up that dead thing. Alone then, Finny found herself passing a shop she had passed many times before. It was a bookshop.
Up until very recently not a place she and her little gang would have been seen dead in... Thrown something dead in, maybe, and then run off laughing. It passed the time.
But now, Finny had read a book.
She stopped and pressed her nose against the window. Rows of bookshelves, like in Joe's study, but all higgledy-pigledy with books of all sizes and in all sorts of condition.
There were magazines too, and newspapers, and posters, and even some maps. The thought occurred to Finny that she could maybe buy a book.
She still had a little bit of money left from that thing she did for Joe.
Finny frowned in concentration. Money could buy food, nice food, even sweets. She needed a new pair of pants too, or she was going to, soon.
The knees couldn't take much more repair and she was sure she could feel the wood grain of the bench every time she sat down for a meal.
Food and sweets she could trade, but Finny didn't know anyone who would trade anything for a book. The frown deepened. Unless they needed toilet paper.
But something inside her wanted to read another book. She just wasn't sure how you went about buying one that you wanted to read. What if she bought a boring book? Only one way to find out.
Mr Trent did not look up but watched from the corner of his eye as his dutifully cleaned windows became the canvas for the child's dirty fingers and greasy forehead.
He said nothing, did nothing because to do so would invite retribution from the urchin and the gang of miscreants to which she no doubt belonged.
He waited for her to go away, then he would get a bucket of water and clean the window.
But she didn't go away. With a sinking heart and a rising temper, Mr Trent finally lifted his head as the bell above the door jangled. He wondered what devilment the girl had in mind.
A dead rat maybe? That seemed to be the currently favoured prank.
Or would she instead try to steal a book? She was certainly looking nervous enough, eyes darting along the shelves, picking a target. Just let her try.
Mr Trent was one of the few clones who didn't make his living with a weapon, but he still had the enhanced reactions that came with the collar.
Should this street rat try to rob him she would get a hiding she would remember for a long time.
Finny stopped halfway to the counter. The man staring at her wore the expression Finny and her friends were more than familiar with.
Distrust mixed with wariness and a desire for her, should she insist on existing, to do it elsewhere.
Then the something that had made her enter the shop was joined and bolstered by stronger emotions and Fear was pushed to the back. The chin stuck out, the loins were girded.
"I wanna buy a book."
The silence that followed the defiance-filled utterance was one of surprise.
On the part of the bookseller, certainly, that such a young and untidy person was possibly not quite as black as he had painted her. But the surprise, too, encompassed Finny.
The words that had come out of her mouth were not her. At least not the 'her' she had been familiar with since the earliest she could remember.
The statement belonged to a Finny she wasn't sure she was comfortable with, at least not yet.
Mr Trent recovered first.
"I see. For a gift maybe?"
"No. For me." Finny may be a novice reader of words but was good at reading expressions. The man's face suggested further explanation was required.
"I read a book once and I, um, thought the guy who wrote it might have written another... It was good."
This extra information had the effect of further dampening Mr Trent's already receding temper and heightening his curiosity of the curious child standing before him and twiddling
her fingers into the hem of the tattered, once pink hoody she wore.
"And what was the name of the author of this book you read?"
Finny wasn't familiar with the word the man had used.
"You mean the guy?"
Despite himself, Mr Trent was beginning to warm to the four feet of dirt and freckles that had wandered through his door.
"Yes. The 'guy'"
"You don't know the name of the man who wrote the book?" Finny's hair bouncing shake of the head prompted extra interrogation. "Do you remember the name of the book perhaps?"
"'Course I do. It was called Oliver Twist."
The book seller's surprise bordered on shock.
"You've read... Oliver Twist?"
Finny wasn't sure she liked the implied slight.
"Yes, I have. Did the guy write any more books?"
"Ehem. Yes, actually. He did. A great many more. Let me show you." Mr Trent stepped from behind the counter and led Finny to a shelf.
He lifted his hand and ran it along the long line of books, some ragged, some without covers except for the paper sheet he had wrapped the pages in. "Charles Dickens wrote all these."
Finny's eyes widened. One man did all this writing? She read along the titles, her lips silently sounding out unfamiliar names.
Behind Finny, Mr Trent watched the little girl exploring the titles of truly great literature and felt a lump form in his throat.
Finny's finger reached a particular title. It was a girl's name. She wanted to read about a girl this time. She turned and looked up at the shop man.
Mr Trent lifted the book down.
"Carol isn't a person." He flipped through the pages, showing Finny the few illustrations while he explained the basics of the story.
Finny was disappointed that Carol wasn't a person. But this was quickly replaced by the excitement of ghosts being in the story.
"I want to buy that one. How much is it please?
"Ten blue." Mr Trent watched the excitement fade from the green eyes and the face fall into utter disappointment. He thought for a moment and then replaced the book on the shelf.
He took down another. This one had no cover but was wrapped in stiff brown paper. He held it out. "This is the same book. Some of the pages are loose, but they are all there."
Finny looked into the book seller's face. Ready to be disappointed.
Whatever it was that had put the lump in the bookseller's throat was still active. He knew he was about to take a loss here. Books, any books, were luxury items.
But it was nearly Kidsmas and she was a fan of Dickens, so what the hell.
"How much do you have?"
Finny emptied her pockets and counted the chips. She spoke in a whisper.
"One blue and twenty-three white."
"I'm afraid..." Finny sighed and started to put her chips back into her pockets. "... for that price I can't wrap it." Mr Trent handed Finny the book. "Enjoy."
Tucked up in bed, in the hour before lights out and with the big dictionary by her side, Finny began to read.
The sights and sounds, and eventually even the smell, of the orphanage faded away as Finny entered and embraced the world of Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley. Of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.
When the lights went out fifty-nine minutes later, Finny was plunged reluctantly back into the real world.
Tomorrow, though, once work at the factory was done she would have the whole afternoon to learn the fate of her new friends.
But tomorrow had a shock in store. Joe Spivey stood on the balcony outside his office and told them of a rush order that had just come in. An order that had to be filled.
Consequently, everyone would be required to work the following day, Kidsmas day.
Finny's afternoon off faded into memory as everyone volunteered to work over so that they could diminish the workload of the following day.
It was an exhausted Finny who flopped down on her bed after the evening meal. Her feet ached from standing all day and her fingers hurt from working the crimp.
But not enough to stop her pulling her new book from her lockbox under the bed and propping herself up on her pillow to read.