Joe arrived at the factory, as usual, the following morning. The first thing he saw was the drain cover.
Without taking his eyes off the interior of the factory, Joe locked the door behind him, at the same time, pulling the sawn-off shotgun from under his duster. Then he stepped cautiously into whatever had happened last night.
When the orphans and overseers started to turn up, later on, they found a notice on the door. 'No work today. Come back tomorrow. J. Spivey.'
It was the following day before they would let Joe into the orphanage to see Finny.
Finny saw Joe approaching down the empty dormitory, empty beds on either side of him and staring right into her soul. Finny swallowed and tried to sink further under her blanket, making a very passable impression of a certain famous 'Kilroy' image as she did so.
Her side still hurt though, despite the latest clean bandage, and the itchy stitches.
Not to mention the stinky ointment that the medical centre emergency room had provided that was supposed to relieve the pain. She grimaced.
Joe came and stood at the foot of her bed, looking down at her silently. Finny couldn't tell from his perpetual scowl just how annoyed he might be.
After several seconds, Joe sighed. He reached into his duster and brought out a paper bag and tossed it onto Finny's lap.
"Here, this is from Anneka."
Finny propped herself up onto her elbows. She took the bag and unrolled the top. Inside were a whole load of the same candies Silja had given her. Joe coughed, and Finny looked up.
"It, er," he started. "It's from Silja really but, you know." Joe was way out of his comfort zone; the orphanage, kids... the weird smell of wood polish and cabbage together. But he reckoned that, considering the balls Finny had shown, he owed her the effort. Even growing up in the ultra-violent east end of London, Joe doubted he could have done at age eight what Finny had pulled off.
"Tell her thanks," Finny whispered, waiting for the shoe to fall. From her perspective, their was always a comeuppance to be paid. She knew it was coming. It had to be.
Joe's turn to nod.
"Oh, and er, Kirsten said I have to pay you while you are sick. Stupid idea, but..." He shrugged.
Finny swallowed. Joe would not be happy about that. But, did that mean she still had a job? The orphanage had confiscated her lock picks but hadn't made any decision about her future yet.
Finny and Joe stared at each other for long seconds. Then Joe reached into his duster again.
"Here." Joe pulled out an enormous book and dropped it next to her. It was so big it made Finny bounce on the mattress. "It's a dictionary. Kirsten never said anything about you not working."
Finny groaned and made a face at the book. Was he gonna make her read a dictionary? She looked up with a scowl, about to protest. But Joe was reaching into his duster again.
It was another book, thankfully a lot smaller than the dictionary. It was bound in red leather, like a lot of the books in that room in Joe's house had been.
Joe tossed it like he had the dictionary, but this one landed in her lap.
"You'll need the dictionary for this. They tell me you are going to be in bed for at least a week." He held her eyes.
"So, by the time you come back to the factory I want you to have read this book and to be able to tell me all about what happens."
Finny's scowl softened into a frown. At least it was smaller, she thought.
Joe turned to leave, but then turned back and moved around the bed to stand by her side. He reached into the endless pockets of the duster one more time.
"Oh, I almost forgot. Here."
Finny thought Joe's hand was empty at first, but he held out his hand like he was holding something small. Finny opened her palm under his hand.
Joe's thick fingers opened slightly, and a thin chain began to coil down into Finny's hand.
Once delivered, Joe turned again and walked back the way he had come, down the rows of empty beds and out of the door.
Finny examined the chain. It was silver and had the same kind of aged patina as her locket. She lifted her locket from under her nightie and compared the two.
It wasn't just 'kinda' the same; it was exactly the same. Finny's brows furrowed. Inside, the thing with no name smiled and grew just a little bit.
Still trying to resolve the puzzlement she felt, Finny took up the book on her lap. She opened it and read the title on the first page.
It didn't mean anything to her and made the book sound boring.
With nothing better to do, she sighed, popped one of the candies into her mouth and started to read, her finger moving slowly along the lines of weirdly unfamiliar text.
"Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name,
there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat,
inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter."
Finny curled her lip. This was too grown up for her. Joe must be really mad at her. But one word caught her eye. Finny reached for the dictionary:
plural noun: workhouses
Historical: a public institution in which the poor received board and lodging in return for work.
Finny reread the first paragraph. Then she looked at the chapter heading, which was the same as the book's title.
Intrigued despite herself, Finny turned onto her uninjured side and read a bit more.
Over the next ten days, as her stitches healed, Finny could not be separated from the book. She laughed, she cried, and she sat in nail-biting dread, scared to turn the page.
At the end of it all, Finny discovered that she had learned something new.
Something 'reading' had taught her... Hope.