Meanwhile, in the square...
"Stop eating it all!"
"I'm not! You stop eating it all!"
"I'm not. I'm just testing it. 'Sides I can't eat the hard ones." Onetooth pulled a hard, pale blue shape from one of the bags he was carrying. "What's this anyway? I don't even know."
Worms, who was currently sucking on one of the very same, shifted the sweet into his cheek.
"It's a Sugar Bug. It's a ant or something in the middle an' they cover it all over in sugar. You hafta suck it all off then you can eat the bug."
Onetooth examines the sweet critically for a moment and then pops it into his already full mouth. He slurps back the sugary saliva that is threatening to escape down his chin.
"Cool. Finny likes bugs an' stuff."
On their way to the market, there had been much debate about making sure they only bought things that Finny liked. The only thing they had agreed upon was that Finny definitely liked sweets.
So, to learn that she liked bugs too only confirmed Onetooth's theory that buying sweets was going to be the safest way of avoiding Joe's wrath.
The fact that both he and Worms also liked sweets, perhaps even more than Finny, was just a happy coincidence that even Joe couldn't fault them for.
But they had bought a lot. Like, really a lot. Their combined chips had bought them more sweets than they had ever seen outside the sweet stall in the market.
They were weighed down under paper bags, some of which were full of some of the most exotic sweets that they had never been able to afford before.
Fortunately, their determined and thorough testing of these was going quite a long way in reducing that bulk.
The boys were on their way back to the orphanage when they realised that they had spent all their combined money on the sweets and had entirely forgotten that Joe's instructions
also included that their present was to be nicely wrapped. It was Onetooth who realised it first and stopped dead.
"We din't get any wrapping paper."
They sat down with their backs against the dump's fence and watched some of the new police people coming and going from the police station, while a pair of Liquorice Laces each,
aided the thinking process.
"We shoulda got one of them big fancy glass jars they had. They even had 'Candy Jar' written on them."
Worms made a face.
"Yeah, but they cost four blue. I ain't paying four blue just for a big glass jar." He flicked a pebble at a passing rat. "'Sides. We'd probably have broke it afore we got it to the party."
They watched the rat scuttle off through a gap in the fence. Onetooth pulled hard on a new Liquorice Lace until a piece snapped off. He chewed thoughtfully.
"Finny would have liked it though."
"I guess." Worms looked unhappy. They were going to have to go to Joe's posh house with just the bags of sweets. He could just imagine Joe's glare.
Then he sat up straight, an idea turning his frown into a cunning grin. He struggled to his feet, careful not to spill any of the precious sweets.
"C'mon. I got an idea. I know where there's lots of posh jars."
Still laden down with a dozen paper bags each, the contents of more than one of which were starting to become sticky in the heat,
Onetooth and Worms headed off to the outlying parts of the city where the buildings were almost entirely ruined. Where vermin roamed in packs and where larger predators hid in the shadows.
It was also the place where criminals went when not even 'The Borough' would take them in. But to Worms, it was his absolute favourite playground.
At noon the following day, Joe stopped the four members of the reading group at the factory door.
"Finn, you're with me today."
Usually, this would have elicited a grin of excitement from Finny because these little side trips with Joe were always interesting.
All he got today, though, was a silent shrug very much in line with Finny's whole attitude of late. Trying to ignore it, he turned to the boys.
"You three can do some work for a change. Report to Taiyoko for your quotas." And the standard response to this would usually be a chorus of whiny, high pitched "Awwwwww." ...
Which is exactly what Joe got. Casper, Onetooth and Worms filed past Joe into the factory, where at least it was cool.
In Chez Spivey, Kirsten, Silja, and two youths borrowed from the boutique Kirsten had just spent a small fortune in, were busy fulfilling Kirsten's meticulous plan for party decorations,
sometimes helped but more often hindered by Anneka's excited assistance.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, two harried caterers were putting the final touches to various sugary snacks and savoury finger foods while fighting to get the jelly to set, the cream to not go off,
and to keep their employer's four-year-old daughter's fingers away from it all.
Back in the factory, Taiyoko followed the boys into the changing room.
"Forget that," he said as they began to hunt through the pile for the least smelly of the felt uniforms. Tai pulled a folded sheet of paper out of his back pocket. "Instructions from Joe.
" He passed the paper to Casper. "Do everything on the list and make sure you don't arrive late." He left them to it and went back into the factory to make sure Joe's profits didn't slip.
Onetooth and Worms gathered either side of Casper, who used his finger to read down the list.
Finny and me will be in town. Don't be seen.
Arrive clean unless you want to be scrubbed by Silja. I'm serious!
Make sure your presents look nice.
No swearing in the house because of Annie.
No stealing, Silja will search you before you leave.
Be there at 4 o'clock. (Ask someone the time).
The boy's looked at each other for a moment. Then they spent the next three hours in the laundry room at the orphanage. Possibly the worst three hours of their lives so far.
The results of their collective efforts were... Damp, but passable.