It was just after lunch. Finny still had the watch Joe had given her for her part in the burglary at the Ranyhyn Company offices so she, alone amongst the four of them, knew that it was...
She counted the '5s'... Twenty-five minutes past the one. She was still getting used to mechanical time, but Joe had insisted, so that was that.
Nevertheless, it wasn't easy making the time in her head fit with the little numbers on the thing on her wrist. In her head, it was 'feeling better after dinner' time.
It was the quiet time before everyone got busy again, and it would stay quiet time until all the Union guards changed over, or two ock-lock according to the watch.
They were in the dump, of course. There was no battle going on just now because lunch, although barely palatable, certainly filled you up and left you just wanting not to move.
So now they were sitting huddled cross-legged together in a three-sided box made of holed, bent and rusty corrugated steel sheets.
This was good because it meant they had shade from the noon sun.
But it was only good if your elbows or other exposed flesh didn't touch the makeshift walls or if you didn't mind the smell of your friends' freely oozing sweat.
Basically, they were sitting in an oven.
"Still bored," Onetooth mumbled.
Finny lifted her head off her knees and looked across Casper to Onetooth.
It wasn't the first time in the last ten minutes that she had answered the eternal question, but now Finny was starting to suspect Onetooth was doing it on purpose.
The heat wasn't helping her temper any either.
"Well, what do you want me to do about it?! It's too hot to do stuff yet. An' any way we don't have enough for a battle 'cos Lisa an' Fru-Fru an' Horse are still on jankers."
'Jankers' was the word used by kids and staff alike to describe the punishment work inflicted on the inmates for minor infringements of the rules... Or just 'getting caught' as the kids put it.
Lisa, Fru-Fru and Horse had been caught being somewhere they weren't supposed to be; the shed out the back where they were trying to find out just what it was the big kids did in there.
The result was two days jankers.
A new voice joined in.
"I know what we could do. An' it's inside so it'll be coolerer."
Onetooth and Casper both leaned forward to see past Finny. Finny had been deliberately not looking to her left.
Hence the interest in her watch for most of the time they had been cooped up in here together. But now Worms had spoken so, as leader, she had to at least acknowledge his presence.
Even though that also meant acknowledging the small, feathered corpse he was currently poking at between his feet.
She shuffled around to look at Worms while trying not to be too obvious about not touching him.
However, she didn't get the chance to interrogate him because the other two were already eagerly doing it for her. In chorus too.
Worms grinned and slammed a half-brick down on top of the days dead bird, fortunately also hiding it from view.
"Come on; I'll show you!"
He was already out, and Casper and Onetooth were scrambling after him.
Oh well, Finny thought, happy to be out of the oven. Can't be any worser than breathing boy-smell. She ran to catch up.
Worms led them a fast-paced and zig-zagging route through the back streets of New Flagstaff, making them wait in a tight huddle at corners until Union patrols were looking the other way,
and generally being all very ninjary about the whole journey.
Not that it was really necessary, but it did avoid much chance of their location being reported back to the orphanage by an over concerned busy-body.
To be fair, the area they were heading through was not exactly a child-friendly part of town, but then not much of New Flagstaff was.
But Worms turning it into a game did make the twenty-minute walk from the dump fun and much more exciting than just plodding along the sun-scorched sidewalks.
Then they were there, and Finny felt the little knot of unease that had been growing, suddenly tighten.
Finny knew the streets of New Flagstaff well.
So she had been becoming more and more concerned as their little group had happily navigated down roads and alleys that were leading them to the part of town where grown-ups went for more of
a good time than could be had down at the local bar.
This corner of New Flagstaff was where the streets only came to life after it got dark and the brightly lit signs pointed to dark doorways and promised cheap drinks and dancing and
a 'guaranteed good time, buddy'.
In contrast, by day these same streets were usually deserted because the night people, like vampires in the stories, shunned the daylight and retreated behind drawn curtains and locked doors.
Worms was now proudly presenting them the entrance to one such place. Its front door smashed up but boarded over and festooned in yellow police 'do not cross' tape.
Above the doorway, a neon sign, with its delicate tubes smashed into oblivion and the brightly coloured shards now forming a glistening carpet at their feet,
still betrayed the name that had until recently enticed the usually already drunk customers into its noisy interior.
Finny knew the name. She knew the name because she had made a habit of reading whatever was on Joe Spivey's desk at the factory.
She knew that Joe had recently bought some 'Decorative Beer Pumps' and some 'Furniture; various' and some 'Kitchenware; Mis-cell-an-eous (she'd had to look that one up)'.
She also knew that these, and other items, were now either in, or on their way to, Joe's warehouse on Verde Street.
Finny already knew something bad had happened at Diamond Lil's. What she didn't know was what that something was, only that there had been a huge big fight, but everyone knew that.
The fact that the place was boarded up and covered with ominous yellow police tape pulled annoyingly at Finny's common sense, trying to catch its attention.
But Finny was watching the other three members of her little gang. All of them 'ohhing' and 'ahhing' and trying to see into the building through gaps in the boards.
She knew that if she even tried to dissuade the boys, it would likely lose her some cred; even more so if she actually managed to do it and they left without ever trying to get into the place.
Besides, she was feeling just the same tingling excitement that they were. Forbidden places were a magnet to kids, especially street kids hoping to find things they could later trade.
Common sense, it seemed, would be taking time off today.
Worms led them around the corner into an alley; each long, high wall of which was dull, uninterrupted brick. That didn't matter though because Worms put his back to the side of a lone dumpster.
Finny, Casper and Onetooth duly obliged, lining up beside Worms.
The dumpster screeched its wonky-wheeled way along the wall until its absence revealed a sizeable hole in the brickwork.
The four of them pushed and shoved each other to get a better view into the interior. Inside the hole was some kind of an office, and it was a mess.
Most of the furniture was gone, leaving only its cleanish footprint on the plaster-dust covered floorboards. What furniture remained was smashed.
Even the pictures of cowboys and cows that hung lopsidedly on the walls had been ripped and stabbed.
Paper, glass and broken ornaments littered the floor, but beyond a few metres, the far walls of the room were just vague darkness.
Onetooth took the lead and heaved himself up onto the bottom of the hole.