Joe and Tukiko shared a glance. Then Tuki put an arm around Finny.
"Never mind. Just Joe trying to scare you into going back again. Which, you will be doing, and right now, young lady."
Finny knew bullpoop when she heard it. She twisted in the doctor lady's grasp.
"Why can't I stay? What's going on?"
But Doctor Troy was already turning back to the mysterious room.
Finny took one step to follow her but then found Joe again blocking her path, this time pointing back down the passageway with a finger that brooked no argument.
Joe walked behind Finny, only moving up to her as they neared the storeroom with all the jars.
Joe stood in front of the gap and made sure the nine-year-old kept walking before falling into step behind her again,
Finny, with arms folded across her chest, stomped with indignant feet back towards the growing daylight of the entrance.
She had been weighing the little bits she had seen in the room where everyone had been. Nothing, just doctor stuff. Then she stopped and turned to face Joe.
"What was that thing on the weird table?"
Joe halted. He had calmed down considerably. Finny was a smart girl, that's why he'd picked her after all, so he shouldn't have been surprised when she had done what she did.
He looked into her face. Took in the defiance, the need to know what was going on and the anger at being denied. Finny was the only one, outside of family, who could do this.
Face him down like this, all spit and vinegar and happy to bear the consequences.
These thoughts took several seconds, during which Finny never flinched, or looked doubtful at all. Just determined.
Joe took a long drag on his cigar and blew out the smoke in a tight stream of curling blue smoke.
"Fine. You want to know? It was a baby, a dead baby. There, happy?"
Officer Kopkage read the file, well, technically, it was a file. In reality, it was just the chief's scrawled single sheet of notes shoved into an official brown folder.
The Union was supplying the forensics team because of the typhoid connection. Kopkage wasn't too happy about this. Detectives built up a relationship with their police pathologists.
They knew the information the detective needed and in what order they needed it. Oh well, it can't be helped.
Oliver Rundle. An eight-year-old orphan. Why would a kid kill another kid? Accident? Jealousy? Bullying gone wrong? A budding psychopath? Well, he wasn't going to find out sitting on his ass.
By the time he pulled up in what seemed the middle of nowhere,
there were already several vehicles and a half dozen or so people doing things like setting up a generator and taking pictures of everything in sight...
Now that was interesting. Joe Spivey, no less, shepherding three little kids through the throng of people towards his car. Kopkage made a note.
Joe had gone to talk to someone about something. Finny sat silently on the front passenger seat.
Behind her, Casper and Onetooth were animatedly interested in the bustle going on outside the car. They'd pestered her, when she emerged with Joe, for information.
What had she found out? Was it a monster? Was Worms building a monster from dead animals? Finny wasn't saying, she was in a mood. Probably for getting caught.
Without her telling them otherwise, then. Casper and Onetooth were now adding substance to their monster theory... at least in their imaginations.
Finny was thinking 'monster', too. But her monster was the Worms she had seen in her dream last Kidsmass.
The grown-up Worms with a long, bloody knife standing in front of an ill-defined corpse in an alley. The words came back to her, whining, almost pleading, "It's not what it looks like Finn.
She was already dead, honest."
But then, after the fight with Worms the day after the dream, Joe's words came as a counterpoint to the horrible image, "And Worms isn't some weird sicko murderer either. At least not yet..."
Still no sign of Joe, and Finny's head was hurting with all the thinking. She was sure that everyone would be jumping to conclusions and thinking Worms had killed the baby.
Did she believe that? Worms liked dead things, and that was creepy, but kill a baby? But if he hadn't killed the baby, then who did and how did Worms get it?
Worms found most of his dead things by the side of the road, usually all squished... Or, the thought bloomed like a flower.
He dug them up! That's it! That's what Worms must have done! She looked out of the window at all the people, and now the NFPD were here, she'd seen one of them getting out of his car.
They were gonna do Worms for killing the baby, she was sure of it.
It wasn't fair! Now she thought about it, even Joe had looked like he thought Worms had done it.
But it was also Joe that had told her that she was the leader and it was her job to look after everyone and make sure Worms didn't become the man she saw in her dream.
Worms was still only a kid and didn't have anyone, and he was sick. So, it was her job to stick up for him.
Anyone who knew Finny would have known the expression that settled on her face at that moment and what it meant. Finny was going to do something very Finnyish.
She turned around in her seat.
"C'mon, we're not waiting for Joe. We gotta save Worms." She didn't wait. Flinging open the car door, Finny leapt out and started to run.
It was only after she had gone perhaps twenty metres that she heard the voices behind her.
"Finny! Where are we goin'? Finny?!"
"Finn wait up! Finneeee!"
Officer Kopkage fought back the clammy sweat that threatened to turn into something worse. The dead infant wasn't the worst corpse he had seen.
That honour belonged to the woman who had been adjusting the hay bailer. But the way the little corpse was, he fought for a better word but kept coming back to the only one that really fit.
The way it was displayed, arms and legs akimbo and the organs arranged neatly in a semi-circle around it... it robbed the corpse of its dignity.
It made Kopkage angry and forced away his normal objectivity. And that made him even angrier, that it should affect him this way.
He wished the forensics team would hurry up and be done and cover the poor little thing up.
He turned to where Doctor Troy was poised over some books on a side table. He was surprised to see the Hope Springs physician here, so much out of her jurisdiction.
Kopkage went over to her and introduced himself. The last time they had met, he had been surprised by her concealed hostility and wondered what story lay behind it.
When she turned to him, the same hostile mask flipped into place again.
"I wondered how long it would be before the NFPD turned up."
"Doctor Troy. Nice to meet you again."
"It, was..." The response hung in the air between them.
Then the little doctor seemed to come to a decision and the hostility lifted.
"Look here, these notebooks."
Office Kopkage looked closely at the collection of what looked like school exercise books as doctor Troy showed each one to him.
"See, each one has drawings in them, childish yes, but anatomically correct. Worms was recording what he found."
"Worms?" Officer Kopkage asked as he picked up one of the notebooks.
"Oliver. The little boy who has typhoid. He's in quarantine in Hope."
"And our chief suspect."
Tukiko looked at him stony-faced.
"Yes." She replied. "Apparently, this is the place he liked to play.
" By the expression on the policeman's face, it was evident that he didn't care very much for the games Oliver Rundle had been playing. Tuki brought his attention back to the book in his hand.
"Worms has been carrying out autopsies, lots of them. Look." She pointed to the front cover, and then to the covers of the other notebooks.
In a childish scrawl, the title on the cover was 'A fox'. Kopkage looked at each cover as doctor Troy presented it to him. 'A cat', 'A pigin', 'A hedjhog', 'A baby Sheep,'.
There must have been over twenty of them. Then she presented him with one she had rolled up and put in her pocket. She smoothed it out flat and Kopkage went white when he saw the title.
'A Baby Human'.
Maisie replaced the wet cloth on Worms' head with a yet another fresh one from the refrigerator.
The Doc had been gone several hours now, which was fine, Maisie reasoned, as long as the little boy's condition remained stable.
For now, the saline drip was keeping him hydrated, and multiple fans around the bed and the simple wet cloth on the forehead were keeping his temperature below dangerous levels.
The kid's pulse was Maisie's main concern at the moment. Fast and weak, and indicative of the battle going on as the massive amounts of antibiotics fought the bacteria ravaging his small body.
Then there was the delirium Worms kept slipping in and out of.
Maisie had listened to deliriums before, well, snatches of them in passing as she was going about her other duties. But that was in the clinic where she had other duties.
Here she just had the one patient, and she had pretty much stayed by his side ever since the Doc and his little friends had left this morning.
Worms had not wanted them to leave, he had even managed to lift an arm to try and stop them. But they had gone anyway.
He had cried for a while, but even crying had soon drained him of energy and he had drifted off into unconsciousness.
In his fever, Maisie heard Worms talk to the people in his dreams. Mainly gibberish but he had called out for his friends many times, wanting them to stop, to come back.
Sometimes he became agitated, and Maisie was concerned he would pull the cannula from his hand.
She tried shushing him, even thought about tying him down, but in the end, it was just talking softly and stroking his face that calmed Worms down during these episodes.
Talking softly wasn't something Maisie did naturally and she certainly wouldn't have been doing it if anyone else had been around.