Finny slowly raised her head until she could just see through the slowly waving pink and purple flowers of the fireweeds.
There were two people, a man, maybe in his twenties and a woman about the same age. When you are nine, anything older than about sixteen starts to look same-ish.
They looked like they were just talking to each other, then they held hands, and Finny wrinkled her nose. What were they doing out here? She continued to watch until they started to kiss.
Finny dropped back down.
The two boys looked at her expectantly.
"It's just two people... snogging."
Onetooth performed the international symbol for feeling sick by opening his mouth wide and pointing a finger down his throat.
Unfortunately, this created a loud snort from Casper, immediately followed by a loud shushing noise from Finny.
"Hey, what are you kids doing away from camp?"
The young man and the woman appeared through the long weeds. It was the man who had asked the question, but the woman, who seemed more annoyed than the man for some reason, added her own.
"Don't you know it's rude to spy on people?"
The three orphans rose slowly to their feet, the boys taking half a step back and by doing so, leaving it up to Finny to answer.
"Um. We didn't know you were there."
The woman frowned, but the man still wanted an answer to his question.
"Maybe not, but what are you doing away from camp? You know the rules."
Whoever it was the grown-ups were mistaking them for seemed to Finny to be working to their advantage so far. So she ran with it.
"We were just playing. I guess we didn't realise..."
Casper caught on.
"The weeds." He said.
"Yeah, the weeds are really high," Finny explained. There was the tiniest of pauses before she added the obligatory; "Sorry."
The man, however, wasn't paying attention. Instead, he was looking around, scanning the horizon of buildings half a mile away that were New Flagstaff. He ushered the children towards him.
"Save the excuses for your folks. Come on, let's get you back to camp while there are no townies around."
Finny's first thought had been that they had run across a band of raiders like the Devil's Own. But the man and the woman weren't acting like bandits, and they weren't dressed like them either.
No bandoliers of bullets, no tattoos, no coloured hair and definitely no spikey leather stuff. They didn't even have guns. Just worn-out clothes similar to what she and the boys were wearing.
No wonder they'd mistaken them for being part of their group.
As they walked forward between the two grown-ups, Finny felt a tug at her sleeve. She turned her head, and Casper mouthed a single word at her.
Finny nodded. As soon as she'd heard the man refer to the residents of New Flagstaff as 'townies', she'd realised that these people must be refugees from the south.
Refugees were unwelcome in New Flagstaff, and the Union guards spent a lot of their day turning them away.
Sometimes, though, some of them would make it through into the city and Finny had seen them in the square, usually begging until a patrol turned up and took them away.
There had been more than the usual amount lately, and their begging had become quite aggressive.
So much so that the orphanage kids had been warned by Matron Maisy at assembly to keep away from them. Now here they were, walking towards a whole camp full of them.
The first thing Finny saw was the rising smoke from many campfires.
Then, as the weeds and high grass thinned out, the camp came into view, spread out on flatter ground on the other side of the road. Dozens of makeshift tents.
Finny reckoned there must have been a hundred people at least, lots of them children.
Officer Kopkage pottered around the crime scene for a while until it became apparent that he wasn't going to learn anything new until after the crime scene and autopsy reports came in.
He left the claustrophobic atmosphere of the underground mortuary and returned to his car.
He was about to start his engine when he noticed Joe Spivey standing on the roof of his tonneau and, with both hands shading his eyes, slowly revolving,
looking for all the world like some short, brown human radar mast.
Kopkage shook his head. Spivey could wait. He had enough information now to make an arrest. He'd pick up the warrant from the office and headed over to Hope Springs.
Typhoid or not, murderer or not, the sick little fuck who'd gutted that kid in there was going to get what was coming to him.
The policeman started the engine and angrily hit the accelerator, making the car slide and kick up a cloud of gravel and small shards of red brick.
It had been an hour, exactly an hour since NFPD officer Kopkage had taken a seat in Mayor Hyle Troy's outer office.
He'd expected a wait of a few minutes, after all, it was a working day and no doubt the mayor was busy.
After twenty minutes he reasoned that, well, okay, he had arrived without an appointment so maybe the mayor had someone in with her.
So, he was optimistic when, after a few minutes more, an elderly couple came out of her office, beaming and holding each other's hands.
Ten minutes after that, he was starting to become impatient and kept giving the mayor's secretary long, meaningful looks... to which she always responded with a smile, a nice smile.
A smile that always disarmed the increasing annoyance he was feeling... As it was supposed to do, because that was part of her job.
But, when the little hand on his watch counted down the last few seconds of the hour officer Kopkage had been sitting, he was determined that this time he was going to say something.
Fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight...
"Mayor Troy will see you now."
Kopkage tapped on the door and pushed it open.
The office was still just as bright as he remembered from his last visit, the furnishing still as functional and straightforward,
and the mayor's oak desk still sported the little red flag with the white cross on its six-inch flag pole and with the framed picture of the mercenary known as Reavy, sitting next to it.
"Officer Kopkage. Two visits in one year. What do we owe that dubious honour to this time, hmmm?"
The policeman offered his hand across the desk, again like he did at their last meeting.
This time, however, it was two whole seconds of cold blue eyes boring into his own before the mayor reached up and shook it.
Even then it was yet another couple of seconds before it dawned on Kopkage that Mayor Troy, unlike last time, wasn't going to offer him a seat.
He cleared his throat and rummaged inside his jacket pocket for a folded piece of paper.
"I have here a warrant for the arrest of Oliver Rundle, a New Flagstaff resident who, I understand, is currently being cared for by your town clinic.
" He held the warrant out, half expecting the mayor to ignore it, but was relieved when she took it from him and opened it flat on her desk to read.
He cleared his throat again, wondering why he was beginning to feel like he was back at school, handing in his late homework.
"I understand that the boy may be rather ill..."
Mayor Troy held up a hand, effectively halting whatever it was Kopkage was going to say and reinforcing the sudden anxiety that he hoped his spelling was correct.
He stood patiently while the mayor finished reading and resisted the sudden urge to polish his school shoes on the backs of his socks.
A loud sniff of indifference signalled the end of Hyle's reading of the warrant.
"It says here that the Rundle boy is under arrest for the murder of an unidentified female infant." She looked up at the policeman. "Not for the suspected murder, but just for the murder.
So, you have evidence that proves his guilt in this?"
Kopkage cursed his earlier hurrying of the clerk who typed out the warrant.
"Well, no, not exactly. But the body was found in a secret underground facility known to be a place where the suspect frequented.
We have notebooks written in the suspect's hand that place him at the scene of the crime and a witness who can verify that the suspect once took him to the location."
"Ah, yes. The notebooks. Doctor Troy mentioned these to me."
Kopkage expanded his curse to cover the diminutive doctor and daughter of the mayor. This was not going well. Mayor Troy relaxed into the high, cushioned leather back of her chair.
"She never mentioned that your suspect had signed these notebooks, though. Rather serendipitous of him to have done so."
Kopkage looked down and pursed his lips.
He was an experienced policeman, but this woman was pushing his buttons just as effectively as her secretary had pounded away at her keyboard in the office outside.
He looked up again and even managed to force a smile to his lips.
"The notebooks weren't signed, as such, but they were written in a child's hand."
Mayor Troy shrugged.
"In a child's hand." She repeated. "There are, how many children in New Flagstaff officer Kopkage? And you've narrowed it down to just one already?"
The New Flagstaff policeman did not like having his professionalism impugned.
"The evidence is circumstantial, yes. But that little girl was butchered...!"
"Please don't raise your voice, officer. Remember where you are."
Kopkage bit back the rest of his words, but it was an effort. Mayor Troy leaned forward over her desk, pushing the piece of paper back towards the fuming policeman.
"This warrant is not acceptable.
Partly because it assumes guilt already, therefore indicating bias, and also because every word you have said demonstrates that you do not have enough evidence to arrest anyone,
let alone a very sick little boy." She sat back again. "Do you have the crime scene report?" Kopkage shook his head and again cursed his conversation with Doctor Troy.
"What about the autopsy report? Does the body you have found even have Typhoid?"