Onetooth punched Casper on the arm. Finny glared at the man. He was a bit better dressed than most of the others in the camp, and he had a gun.
He also wore a badge around his neck on a faded blue ribbon. It looked a bit like a sheriff's badge, but it had some kind of bird above the star. Finny guessed David was some kind of leader guy.
"I'm Finny an' this is Casper an' Onetooth. Whatcha gonna do with us?" She asked, sticking her chin out defiantly.
"Well, you've seen too much already and now you know about the typhoid." He was distracted for a moment by the small whimper that escaped Casper's throat.
Then he turned back to Finny and continued. "We've started to strike the camp. It'll take a couple of hours, but then we'll be on our way.
We'll leave you three behind so your folks can pick you up."
Onetooth squared up to him.
"Yeah, well, we'll escape and tell everyone."
The man and Finny looked at each other. Finny rolled her eyes and shrugged, and the man turned back to Onetooth.
"No, son." He sighed. "You won't." He raised his voice. "James? Bring some rope."
Casper returned Onetooth's punch to the arm with enough force to make the younger boy gasp.
Maisie's arm was getting tired from holding the bowl of chicken soup close to Worms' pale face.
Her patient had woken up a half-hour earlier, and the first thing he had done when he saw the nurse sitting by his bed reading a book was to attract her attention by croaking:
Maisie checked his vitals, noting with relief that the little boy's temperature was down.
Not normal, but out of the dangerously high forty-degree fever he had had when she had first brought him into Hope.
His blood pressure was normal, too, as was his pulse, even if that was a little weak. Thankfully, the massive amounts of antibiotics the doc had pumped into him seemed to be working.
Now, here she was, spoon-feeding chicken soup into the propped up eight-year-old like a mother bird feeding its chick.
Eventually, Worms signalled that he had had enough and Maisie put the bowl down on the little bedside locker and set about tidying the bed.
"Where's the others?"
The question caused Maisie to stop, just for a second,
before she went back to tucking in sheets that had ever so slightly been pulled loose enough to bother the head nurse's sense of what constituted being a bed properly made.
She brushed out a final minute crease in the blue bedspread.
"They'll be back soon."
"I din't kill no one. It was already dead."
Maisie straightened up and looked down at the human lump messing up her handiwork.
"Don't you go worrying about that. You just need to concentrate on getting better."
Worms returned Maisie's look with tired eyes that were already starting to close as the warming comfort of the chicken soup lulled him back towards sleep.
"I didn't, though." Then he took a large breath, fighting off his body's need for healing rest. "Will they put me in jail?"
Maisie saw the anxiety behind the tiredness of Worm's slowly closing eyes.
"Nobody's putting anybody in jail kid."
But Worms was already asleep.
Finny and Casper had given up trying to untie themselves and sat silently on the chairs they had been tied to. Onetooth hadn't.
He still fought and pulled against the ropes that held his arms and legs securely against his chair's counterparts. The other two watched him out of sheer boredom.
Finny couldn't see her watch, but she figured it had been two hours at least, probably three.
In fact, it had been only a little over forty minutes before the tent flap was pulled aside, and David and two other men came in and untied them.
"Can we go now?" Finny asked, rubbing her wrists.
David ignored her. He and the two others stood between them and the entrance to the tent. David was looking at her.
"Who are you?" He asked.
"I'm Finny," She gestured to the boys. "This is Casper and..."
"No. I mean, who are you?"
Finny's lip curled in puzzlement.
David took a step closer, pointing behind him.
"There are about thirty heavily armed gangsters lined up along the road out there and a pissed-off looking little bald guy demanding we hand you kids over. So, who the hell are you three?"
Finny's heart leapt at the news that Joe had come looking for them. The expressions on Casper and Onetooth's faces mirrored her joy... at least for a few moments.
Then, almost at the same time, the smiles fell away, and eyes widened. It was now Finny's stomach's turn to leap...
well, flip over at least, as it dawned on her and the others that there was more than a little chance that Joe wasn't half as annoyed at the Fugees as he likely was at them.
"Um. Were orphans. We make bullets... Inna factory... Joe's our boss."
David was having trouble making sense of a gangster turning up with a small army just to 'rescue' three kids who, apparently, just made bullets for him.
He didn't waste too much time thinking on it, though.
He had a camp full of scared people, some of whom had guns, facing off against thirty heavily armed thugs and criminals and their irate little Napoleon.
"Okay. Listen to me. We're going to go out there all nice and friendly-like. And for fuck's sack don't make any stupid sudden moves or you might just kick off a goddam massacre."
He gestured Finny towards him and, when she came close, he took her by the hand. Then he nodded to his two men, and they copied him, each taking a hand of one of the boys.
"Okay. Let's go."
Finny found herself being led through a crowd of scared-looking men, women, and children towards the road.
The road itself seemed to be serving as a kind of 'no man's land' with Joe's assault rifle-armed gang on the far side, looking very mean and business-like.
On the fugee's side, there were perhaps a dozen men and women who were nowhere near as well-armed and looked way less confident.
David led them to where Joe was standing in the middle of his line of people, with his sawn-off shotgun resting against his shoulder. They came to a halt.
Casper and Onetooth stood shuffling their feet, their heads bowed and interested only in the dust their toes were disturbing. It was left to Finny, of course, to face Joe.
She tried her bestest, most disarming smile
Joe didn't reply straight away. He was busy looking for bruises or other signs that the three orphans had been mistreated.
Only when he was confident there were no outward signs of any such, did he speak.
"Are you all okay?"
"Um, yeah." Her response didn't sound enough to even her own ears, so she added a little more. "We had stew."
David stepped forward.
"We haven't hurt them. Yes, we did tie them up for a little while. We've decided to head on to Papermill and didn't want them running back to town until we had gone."
The news that the Fugees had tied the kids up turned Joe's screw just a little more, but not enough for him to do anything... Yet.
"Really? Now, why might that be?"
The silence stretched into seconds, and as it did so, the tension in the air grew.
When we were kids, we've all been in that awkward situation of being in a room with a bunch of adults that just seem to be getting angrier and angrier with each other for the tiniest thing,
but none of them will admit it. Eventually, they end up shouting at each other and then you get dragged off home still not knowing what it was all about... No? Just me then.
The point is, though, that as kids, we don't say anything because we know we will only be told to shut up and maybe even get into trouble if we don't.
Fortunately, Finny had no such reservations.
Seeing the growing likelihood of things becoming loud and bullety, Finny blurted out the first thing that came into her head which, in her mind, would explain everything.
"Dogs dug up the dead baby an' Worms must have found it!"