Bill Baily was the garage manager. He had been crouched down, securing the filling cap to one of the underground tanks when approaching childish chatter had attracted his attention.
Kids the age of these four were not a common sight unless they were safely secured in the back of a vehicle, or at least in the company of a suitably armed adult or two.
Four free range juveniles this far out from the city were rare, and just a little suspicious. Seeing they were making a beeline for the LifeNet bunker he stood up and called to them.
And now here they were, ten metres away. The boys looked to the red-haired girl for a lead.
"We weren't doing nothing mister."
Bill took a step forward and put his hands on his hips.
"Y'all were about to go where you know you ain't allowed."
The boys joined in.
"No, we weren't."
"We was just gonna sit on the wall."
Bill had kids of his own and knew this wasn't going to go anywhere, so he tried a change of tack.
"So what y'all doing out here? Where's your folks?"
Finny opened her mouth, but Casper beat her to it.
"We're going to Hope."
Finny jumped in with a qualifier before any of the others came out with the very lame 'we're exploring'.
"Joe Spivey sent us."
That might well have worked inside Flag, but it seemed Mr Baily either hadn't heard of Joe or didn't care because he just snorted.
"I don't care who 'sent' you. Little kids like you have no business..."
It wasn't deliberate, or even thought about.
It was just that, at that moment, Finny's already tired right arm had had enough of trying to hold the pistol up behind her back and gave up,
allowing the weight of steel to flop her arm down to her side.
The effect of the sudden appearance of a weapon on Bill Baily was profound.
In his years out here first as a mechanic and then manager, Bill had seen all kinds of situations he wanted no part of.
Car chases, gunfights, rabid animals, biker gangs, he'd seen and hidden from them all.
A confrontation with a little girl totting a gun way too big for her was something he had only ever come across once before,
many years ago and the resulting carnage right outside his place of work was something he didn't want to see again.
Very carefully, so as not to die just because his movement was misinterpreted, he lifted an arm and pointed down the road.
"Hope Springs is thataway Miss."
Casper, Onetooth and Worms looked at Finny with widening eyes, and in Onetooth's case open-mouthed awe.
Finny herself took a moment to realise what had just happened before going along with it just so they could get out of there. She signalled her friends with a flick of her head.
" 'Kay mister. We'll be going now."
Giving the man a wide berth, the adventurer's shuffled around him and onto the road. Mr Baily, on his way to the cover of the small store attached to the garage called after them.
"Watch out fer the coyotes down the road. Dead horse has got 'em all in a fightin' mood.
" With that,
he disappeared into the shop to agitatedly inform those inside about the evil of organised crime getting its claws into the city's youth and the worsening standards of parenting in general.
Finny and co. followed the road south-west for a few dozen metres. With a last look back at the garage to see if they were being watched, the party crossed the road and set off due south.
By now Finny's arms and shoulders were really starting to ache. Swopping the heavy pistol from hand to hand wasn't working anymore, so she tried sticking it into the waistband of her britches.
It was while she was trying to find a comfortable way of doing this that the questions started. Onetooth started it.
"Was ya gonna shoot him, Finn?"
"No! Of course not."
Worms joined in, fast-drawing a two-fingered gun.
"I'd have shot him in the head. PEW! Were ya gonna aim for the head?"
"I wasn't going to..."
Onetooth took up the theme.
"I heard you should always shoot the body, not the head coz you might miss. Shoot him in the body next time Finn."
Finny brought the party to a halt. She stared at them, already seeing that, as far as Onetooth and Worms were concerned anyway, what had happened at the garage was already becoming a shoot-out.
"Look. I din't shoot him an' I was never gonna shoot him. He saw the gun by an accident... Okay?"
Behind their eyes, the two youngest adventurers tried to fit Finny's explanation into their own preferred narrative. It took a second or two.
"Yeah but... You would still have shot him in the body, right?
She checked her watch. It was already halfway past the ten, and they were nowhere near where she wanted to be. The irritation showed in her voice.
"C'mon, let's just keep going."
They plodded on. The boy's now, bored from whacking at the grass with their sticks, just let them drag behind.
The uneven ground, the long grass and the constant lookout for coyotes were making the going tiring. When walking was made even worse by becoming constant low climb, the moaning began.
It was too hot. My legs hurt. I'm hungry. And finally, Are we there yet?
"Just Shurrup okay. We'll stop an' have a drink when we get to the top of the hill." Finny was having her own problems. It was too hot, and her legs ached and she was hungry.
On top of that, the barrel of the pistol was digging into her with every step and she still had to hold it to stop it from twisting out of her pants and landing on the ground, or worse, her toes.
The grumbling, however, stopped. Finny was their leader. She might be a girl, but she was awful fierce when she got angry.
If they thought about it, that was probably one of the reasons that she was the leader.
After ten minutes of hiking in silence, they finally reached the top of the long incline and Finny let them stop. Everyone flopped, and Casper handed out the water.
The morning sun was rising higher in the cloudless sky and everyone was dehydrated. When they had all drank their fill Casper decanted what remained into one bottle, and even that wasn't full.
He quietly informed Finny.
Finny nodded, she had noticed too, but her attention was fixed on some buildings in the distance.
Not Hope Springs, of that she was sure because she thought she recognised the tall tower thingy that seemed to be made of pipes and that rose twice the height of the buildings around it.
Long ago, on that night, she had seen that tower or something very like it silhouetted against the bright, moonlit sky.
Now, though, and more importantly considering their circumstances, the buildings might have water.
Probably not the clean, pre-boiled water they had gotten from Edna but hopefully clean enough to refill their bottles.
Random chatter returned to the group, signifying that for now at least their spirits had returned.
Finny made sure to smile a lot, to 'show confidence even though you're shitting yourself' as Joe had put it. She called time, and everyone stood up and set off down the hill.