Joe, beer in hand, turned to look at Finny.
"What do you mean?"
Finny swivelled on the seat so that she was facing him.
"Why are you taking me to all these people?" Her eyes narrowed into suspicious green slits. "I'm not gonna steal stuff for you, you know. I don't steal stuff."
Joe's face softened into a quiet smile.
"Really? So, I punished the wrong girl then, did I?"
Finny's face reddened under the freckles and she looked away.
"You know what I mean."
Joe placed the glass carefully onto the beer mat.
"Yes, I know what you mean. And I'm not asking you to steal for me, or for you or for anyone." The suspicious scowl remained, so Joe continued.
"I've introduced you to these people just so that you now know them, and they know you. What you do about that, well, that's up to you."
The same lack of understanding showed on Finny's face as when she was currently being stumped by percentages in class. Joe tried again.
"Look. Let's say you are late to dinner and there are no carrots left, so Worms gives you some of his..."
Finny shook her head.
"He wun't do that."
Joe reminded himself that he was talking to a kid.
"Ok. Casper then. Casper gives you some of his carrots."
"Yeah, Casp would. He'd probly give me all his carrots."
"Fine, he gives you all his carrots then." Having a four-year-old at home had taught Joe a degree of patience he never realised he had. "So, Casper has done you a favour, right?"
Finny thought about it.
"So, you owe him a favour, right?"
He watched the eight-year-old's face to make sure the concept had sunk in before he went on. "Well, that's how it works with grown-ups too.
So, Aunty Wainwright, Soggy and our friend Eric now know that you are with me so they'll be more likely to do you a favour, got it?"
"What sort of favour?"
Joe looked into Finny's face and saw Anneka.
He realised he was teetering on the edge of the bottomless pit of "Why?" He took a long swig of beer to give him time to think, wiped his mouth and put the glass down.
"Right, well. Take Eric. He works in the Union offices, he works in the Buildings Department, ok?" Finny gave a single long nod, allowing Joe to go on. "Ok, good.
But he knows people in all the other departments too, and let's say they owe him favours, right?" Another nod.
"So, let's say that I want one of those Union Patrol people to forget to walk down Verde Street one night..."
Joe had a little panic attack. It was starting.
"Never mind, I just do..."
"Is that where your lock-up is?"
"So, you don't want the patrol guy to see you doing stuff at your lock-up?"
Joe had to grin. Sharp as a knife this one.
Finny responded with a shrug.
Joe opened his mouth to continue, but Finny reached for her glass and became busy in draining it.
Then it was her turn to put the glass down and wipe her mouth before treating Joe to a big innocent smile that wasn't in the least bit innocent. Another Anneka mannerism.
Must be a girl thing Joe mused.
"Right, so anyway. I tell Eric and Eric goes to the patrol office and talks to one of his friends and, hey presto, no guard on Verde Street."
Finny's brow furrowed as she thought about it.
"So, Eric does you a favour, and the man in the patrol office does Eric a favour."
"So now you owe Eric a favour and man has paid back the favour to Eric."
"You got it!" Joe beamed.
Finny was still looking puzzled.
"But I don't want any favours."
They looked at each other until Joe broke the silence.
"Maybe not, Finn. Maybe not. But one day you might." He left Finny looking thoughtful while he pulled out his watch.
"Bloody hell!" Joe drained his glass in one and stood up.
"Come on you, we're late."
Finny had to trot to keep up with Joe as they left Rowdy's.
Pedestrians scattered as Joe's car skidded and swerved on the grass. Finny held on as best she could.
At six minutes past four, the car screeched to a halt outside Joe's house.
When Finny crossed the threshold into Joe's entrance hall she was not expecting the explosion of noise that greeted them and tried to hurriedly turn and flee.
Along with the noise-makers, and party-poppers exploding their coloured streams around her, shouts of; "Surprise!" And "Happy Birthday!" added to the confusion.
Then Joe had his hands on her shoulders, turning her back around and preventing her ducking around him.
Unable to escape then, Finny could only face the little crowd of cheering, grinning, clapping people, surrounded by pink and white decorations, who were insisting that this was her birthday.
Confusion turned to dread as she realised that she was going to have to tell all these happy people that they were wrong. She didn't know when her birthday was.
Nor did the orphanage because they always recorded the day she arrived as the day her age officially changed, and that was a couple of months away.
It was that moment that Joe pushed her forward. Finny gulped.
But that was as far as she got before she was grabbed and bustled through the streamer and balloon decorated hallway into the even more lavishly bedecked living room.
Joe took his time taking off his duster and hanging it on the coat stand by the front door before ambling after the throng.
He stood in the doorway and leaned on the door jamb, watching the proceedings.
"Open mine first!"
Anneka ran to the pile of presents on the couch and returned with a badly wrapped lumpy parcel. She thrust it into Finny hands and stepped back expectantly.
Having gotten over the initial shock, Finny concentrated on coping with the unfamiliar situation.
She sank to her knees to be more on a level with the four-year-old and began to very carefully prise open the sticky-taped seams of the expensive-looking decorated paper.
"No. Like this, Silly." Anneka mimed various energetic tearing motions that would in no way preserve the wrapping paper for future use.
Doubtful about following the destructive instructions, Finny looked to Kirsten for guidance only to be met with eager nods for Finny to copy her daughter.
So, Finny shrugged and plunged into the spirit of things, quickly tearing the paper and letting it gather on the floor at her knees.
It didn't take much to reveal the fluffy, fat, stuffed blight wolf toy, carefully selected by Anneka from her collection.
"I picked it speshul for you."
Finny opened up her arms and Anneka ran into them.
"Thank you, Annie. It's lovely."
"He's called Growler an' he likes hugs at bedtime." Annie put her lips next to Finny's ear. "He scares the monsters away.
" Then she stepped back, solemnly nodding to confirm the toy's magical ability.
"Who's next?" Kirsten asked, looking pointedly towards the unnaturally clean Onetooth and Worms.
The order of the gift-giving was decided by Kirsten shortly after the three boys had arrived and their presents catalogued.