Joe had told Finny that the biggest part of being a leader was making decisions and not 'um' ing and 'er 'ing about it. And not letting them have a vote or anything like that.
"Gangs", he had said. "Were not a bleedin' democracy."
In a group then, with Finny in front, they pushed through the swing doors...
And stopped dead in their tracks.
The kitchen had been trashed, of course, but it's much harder to destroy stainless steel units and mixers than it is old wooden tables and chairs.
And these were even pre-Fall, so we are looking at durable here. But it wasn't the general state of the kitchen decor that made the kids halt their headlong rush to claim any left-over booty.
In the middle of the tiled floor was a sizeable pile of neatly stacked fresh lumber, from '2 x 4' beams to large sheets of plywood.
On top of the pile were tools, tapes and many, many boxes and bags of screws and nails.
Next to this treasure trove was another one in the form of planks, trestles, dust sheets and mounds of paintbrushes, rollers and at least a dozen cans of paint.
There were also industrial looking devices and several 25litre plastic drums of colourful liquids with skull and crossbones labels emblazoned all over them.
The four treasure hunters slowly circled the temple of delights before them. Little fingers even hesitantly daring to occasionally touch the ultra-valuable merchandise.
"We're going to need a truck." Worms whispered.
Finny folded her arms and looked at him.
"We can't drive, though, can we?"
"We could push it."
"We could make loads of little trips."
Casper shook his head.
"We'd get caught." His eyes widened. "An' robbed. Probably murdered."
That seemed to put a damper on things,
but you could see it in the faces of all three boys that they were hoping for some brilliant idea from one of them that would allow them to own what was rapidly in danger of
becoming 'Their Precious'.
Finny, examining their haul, put a sudden end to their ambitions of trading the treasure and living in luxury for the rest of their lives.
"We can't take it."
If Casper, Onetooth and Worms had been a few minutes further along in their transformation into juvenile Gollums, then their reaction might have been a bit more negative.
As it was, Finny's voice initiated 'leader override' so their response became restrained to a loud:
"But we found it!"
Finny passed them a bag of nails.
"Look. See? Read the label."
Nails Roundhead 2"
Spivey's Independent Traders
For All Your Wasteland Needs
And then in very small print underneath:
Finny gave them a moment for their varied reading skills to catch up and then proceeded to point to similar labels on all the building materials.
Hopeful of not losing everything, Onetooth went over to the cleaning and decorating pile.
"But what about..."
Which was as far as he got before Finny lifted a can of paint up to his nose.
Domestic and Forensic Cleaning and Decorating Services
(A Subsidiary of Spivey's Independent Traders)
Once again, similar labels adorned everything in the pile.
By now, Casper was looking nervously around as if expecting to see the man himself, surrounded in demonic cigar smoke, rise up from the litter-strewn floor.
"Maybe we should... You know, go... Or something."
The undefined 'something' in Casper's mind was the same as 'go'... But faster.
Worms looked like he was about to object. After all, they had found it hadn't they? There was no one here to stop them taking it was there? Finny headed him off at the pass.
"Joe'll kill us if we take his stuff. He'll know it was us."
Worms still didn't want to let it go.
"How's he gonna know...?" Three pairs of eyes turned to him with the same disbelieving expression and Worms realised how dumb he was being. "S'not fair though.
" Which it maybe wasn't, but fairness was a pretty rarely experienced concept when your parents were an unforgiving state bureaucracy.
And now it was Finny's job to stop them from falling into a sulk. The obvious way was by finding food.
"Right. Never mind about this lot. Let's see what the grown-ups have missed."
The storerooms and the fridges were bare, as were most of the cupboards.
But they did find several catering cans of 'Jumbo Hotdog Sausages In Brine',
a cardboard box containing a dozen of each Ketchup and Mustard dispensers and an unopened two-litre jar of 'Smokey Bar-B-Cue' sauce.
Not quite as good as half a ton of building and decorating supplies but at least they would fit in the sack which Worms had unearthed from the trash.
Found foodstuffs didn't go in the front door at the orphanage. If you wanted to trade them, you went straight round the back to the kitchen and talked to Edna.
Edna was the head cook. Some would describe her as a well-built woman. Others would only actually describe her as a woman because her name was Edna.
But ask any of the kids what she looked like and it would be highly likely that they wouldn't get past, 'There's this mole... This huge, hairy mole.
' Then their eyes would glaze over, and you had to snap your fingers in front of their nose to bring them back. Edna ruled the kitchen with a rod of iron.
Or, to be more exact, a long-handled ladle of aluminium. And she wasn't too bothered about whose skull she cracked with it if they got her mad.
Edna had a simple trading system. If she wanted it, she took whatever it was you offered her and gave you something in return.
You had no say what the something was, and there were strictly no take-backs. But you usually left the deal feeling she hadn't ripped you off too badly.
They hid the sack in a stainless-steel unit with a very stiff sliding door. The boys looked at Finny with 'where next' expressions. Finny grinned.