Which was as far as he got before noticing the crowd parting to make room for Long Hands and his lieutenants. Also, much to Justin's irritation, the doctor from Hope Springs.
Long Hands stepped forward, walking around the four captives as if appraising them himself.
"You been on a raid, Justin, is it?" Long Hands came to a halt in front of Justin.
"Well, no. We ain't had no raids in a couple of weeks... You, you know that."
The crowd had gone quiet, it was looking like the evening was going to become entertaining. Even Sadie managed to haul herself to her feet and pay attention. Long Hands looked perplexed.
"So, if you haven't been raiding, where'd you get these from then?"
Justin paused. He was well aware of Long Hand's view on taking kids in raids, but it wasn't a view held by a good many of the gang, Justin included.
He was sure he had broken no rules by doing so.
"We, er, found 'em. Out by the old power station. All alone they were, didn't have to kill anyone either."
Long Hand's looked around at the crowd to try and judge the mood. No one seemed too pissed off with the interruption to the auction, well, except Justin of course.
He turned back to the raider, raising a hand to let his over-long fingers tap one of the few bullets Justin owned into alignment with its neighbours.
"So, did it never occur to you why four kids were out in the wasteland all alone and wandering around as if they owned the place?"
"No, not really. We just thought they were lost or sumink, din't we Sades?"
Sadie felt all eyes turn to her, and she didn't like it.
"So you said." She turned to appeal to the crowd. "That's what he told me. I was just out looking fer food an' shit."
The look Justin gave her would have curdled milk. Long Hands tapped another bullet in Justin's cross belt.
"The thing is Justin. I'm reliably informed that these four wanderers make those bullets you have slung around your manly chest." The finger turned into a stabbing point of displeasure.
"These fucking kids work in Joe Spivey's fucking factory, Justin."
That statement got a reaction from the crowd. Spivey was far and away the most prolific supplier of ammunition to the Devil's Own.
Not only that, his traders also did a good trade in foodstuffs and in life's little luxuries. Long Hands stopped poking Justin in the chest and turned to re-join his lieutenants.
"Do you remember the last time Spivey got pissed off because some hothead put one of his traders in a hospital?"
Everybody did. The flow of ammunition stopped, as did the food, as did the luxuries they had become used to.
It only resumed again when the leaders agreed to a price increase to cover Joe's 'expenses.'
Long Hands waited. He had played his cards, but was the hand strong enough?
Justin felt the anger rising but was savvy enough not to let it show.
"But these are just kids, ain't they? Spivey has a whole orphanage full of replacements." Justin turned to the crowd. "' An I ain't breaking no law, am I? Am I?"
The crowd murmured. It was true. The rules, such as the gang had, absolutely allowed 'adoption'. Justin was banking on the crowd to support him, along with the gang's own laws.
Long Hands recognised that he was perhaps moments away from a challenge, something he had every reason to be afraid of.
A lot of the camp wasn't fond of his progressive ideas and his 'cosying up' to Hope Springs. He stepped forward, raising his hands in the air and talking directly to the crowd.
"He's right. He's right. Taking these kids for adoption is not against the law, but... Pissing off Spivey is never going to end well. I suggest we compromise. He turned to Justin.
"What if I say Justin can keep one kid and I'll see the rest get back to Spivey all safe and sound as a gesture of good faith. He'll see the sense of that." He turned to Justin.
"Pick which one you want to keep."
Justin's lips opened to protest but stopped short of any words coming out. Although this left his face looking like a startled guppy, his rodent brain was working overtime.
His head turned towards Finny.
Long Hands wasn't going to let him have his way, but he was giving him a chance not to lose face in front of the crowd.
And the acquisition of a female drudge had its perks, more so in a few years, he thought with a growing leer.
Drug-addled as she was,
Sadie recognised a threat when she saw one in the way her mate was looking towards Finny and moved surprisingly fast for someone who was having trouble even focusing on the planet.
She grabbed Onetooth by both shoulders and pushed him in front of Long Hands.
"We'll take this one. He's a scrappy little shit, gonna make a good fighter he is."
Finny was still trying to wriggle out from under the look Justin was aiming at her. She knew that look, Whiskers had looked at her like that when...
Fortunately, that memory was interrupted by what Sadie was saying and the horrified look on Onetooth's tear-streaked face.
The thought of her friend being left here while she got to go home made her stomach churn. Finny jumped up.
"No! Pick me!" Suddenly, she had everyone's attention. "He ain't no good. He's stupid an' he loses every fight an'... an', he'll probably get killed. An'..." She changed tack. "...
An' I can cook, an' read an' write. An'..."
But that was as far as she got before Justin put an end to the flow of what else she could do.
Which was probably good because the only other talent Finny could think of was her ability with a scrubbing brush, which probably wasn't high on any gang member's list.
"No. We'll take the girl." Justin said, giving Sadie a 'What the hell do you think you're doing?" face. An expression Sadie totally ignored.
"The hell we will! You said yerself she ain't nothin' but trouble."
Justin crossed over to her and got right into Sadie's face.
"Well, if'n she can cook then at least ah can be sure of a decent meal."
Sadie released Onetooth and turned, hands on hips, to glare at Justin.
"Ah cook just fine!"
"That ain't cooking. What you do is just burning shit!"
Sadie took to jabbing Justin in the chest with a finger, hard enough to make him step backwards.
"Listen, you! I ain't your mama. If you don't like what I cook, then you can damn well cook it yourself!"
Now backed up all the way to the yurt, Justin had to retaliate to prevent Sadie breaking a rib. The crowd closed in, enjoying the unexpected theatre.
Long Hands and his lieutenants inconspicuously ushered the throng to form a ring around the arguing couple.
"Maybe ah should! Least thataway if'n ah die it'll be suicide an' not murder!"
"Justin, if I murder you, it sure as hell won't have anything to do with cooking! If I murder you, it'll be a damn mercy killing!"
"What you talking about woman?!"
"It'll be a mercy fer me an' any other woman who has ever fucked you. They sure as hell named you right, mister Just-In!"
That got a roar of approval from the crowd, mainly the women.
What got a shout from the men, however, was Justin's fist hitting Sadie square on the nose and knocking her backwards into the arms of the excited crowd. The fight was on.
Long Hands turned his head to look directly at Dr Troy. He flicked his eyes in the direction of Hope Springs.
Tukiko put her finger to her lips and beckoned the orphans to come to her.