"We should get a grown-up," Onetooth said after she had told them this.
Finny heard Casper's intake of breath and already knew what his objection was going to be. She was leader, though, so she cut him off.
"Nuhuh. We don't get a grown-up. We can't trust them. At least not anyone we don't know." Even as she was telling Onetooth this, she was wondering how she could get Joe.
He'd know what to do and could come and get them and..."
But Casper knew straight away what Finny was thinking.
"An' not anyone like Joe either."
Finny's head spun around, annoyed. Casper didn't flinch though.
"Joe might help, but he might just get one of his friends to come an' get us an' I don't trust them."
This was awkward for Finny.
She could overrule Casper, but she knew that none of the boys, especially Casper, liked that Joe was getting Finny to 'do stuff' and also that they were being cut out of what she did.
She wouldn't even tell them half the stuff she did for Joe. Also, if Finny got Joe involved, he would just take over, and she would lose cred with her two friends.
She'd keep Joe out of it then, for now. She shrugged.
"'kay then. Who should we get?"
"Someone from the orphanage."
At the mention of the orphanage, Onetooth piped up.
"Matron is in today. I saw her in her office with a man from the Union."
Miss Maisy, the matron, was a favourite of pretty much all the orphans. She was young and pretty and usually fair if you did something wrong.
There was silence as each of the three friends standing around the prostrate Worms took a moment to each recall a personal episode they had shared with her.
Matron Maisy was the closest thing to a mom that any of them had had since, well, forever in a lot of cases.
It was Finny who broke the silence.
"Right then." She turned to Onetooth. "You're the fastest runner. Run to the orphanage and tell Matron what's happened an' that she should come quick. We'll start bringing Worms on Santa Fe."
He wasn't the fastest runner, Casper was... well, after her, but Finny knew she was going to need the older boy's strength to help her get Worms as far along Santa Fe as they could.
Onetooth took off. Finny turned to Casper.
"Come on. You get on that side of him an' we'll hold him up in the middle."
One on each side of Worms, Finny and Casper pulled Worms to his feet. The little boy lifted his head.
"I don't feel well, Finn. Everything hurts."
Despite being a year older and a couple of inches bigger, Finny, and even Casper struggled to hold Worms upright.
Eventually, they managed to get it so that Worms had an arm over each of their shoulders and Finny and Casper supported Worms under his arms.
"It's okay. We're gonna get you home. Onetooth has gone for help."
Worms squinted in the sunlight, and his body shivered.
Between the three of them, they managed to hobble and stagger through the maze of overgrown paths and the piles of junked cars until they emerged at the fence where they had got in.
Getting Worms through the small gap they had simply wiggled through earlier was a case of Casper pulling on Worms' arms while Finny pushed his feet.
By the time it was done, they were all panting, and they still had all that grass to cross before even getting onto Santa Fe Avenue.
While they got their breath back, Finny checked on Worms. He wasn't looking too good.
Now it wasn't just his top lip that was sweaty, his short black hair lay plastered to his scalp, and a droplet of sweat ran across his temple.
If Finny hadn't been watching his ragged breathing with her own eyes, she would have sworn by his pallor that he was already dead.
"Come on," she said, climbing to her feet and taking Worms by the arm. "Help me get him up. We've gotta get to the road afore Onetooth an' Matron get back."
By the time they managed to complete that Herculean feat, Finny and Casper were exhausted. Worms was heavy and, by now, he could barely drag one foot in front of the other.
He only just managed to grunt in response to the chatter Finny had kept up to keep him from giving in altogether.
But they had done it. They were at last on the broken tarmac of Santa Fe, and all three collapsed onto the steps of Beau's Tavern.
Finny drank her fill and then passed what was left of the water to Casper.
Worms sat like a rag doll between them, his chin pressed against his chest and Finny looked down Santa Fe to the shimmering far end of it, where they needed to go.
The half-mile or so seemed such a long, long way away.
Though her legs were already like jelly, Finny stood up with a groan. Casper, though, was making no effort to get up. He was slumped forward with his elbows on his knees. She kicked his foot.
"Come on. We need to get going."
"Can't we just wait for Matron to come?"
They could, she thought. But what if Onetooth hadn't found her? What if she didn't believe him? Or she was busy? They could be waiting for nothing... Except for Worms to die.
"No. We have to keep going. Get up Casp." Casper didn't move.
"I said, GET UP!"
Casper's head lifted. Finny stood over him with her fists balled up by her sides.
"Get up, or I'll hit you!"
It was only rarely, very rarely that Finny ever resorted to threatening to hit one of them. But everyone knew she meant it when she said it.
Casper got up. Guilt pushing the tiredness away.
"Get his arm. Come on."
They staggered on for fifty yards, concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other. Then the sound of an engine made them both eagerly lift their heads in anticipation...
But it wasn't the Matron's battered old van. Disappointment hit Finny hard. It wasn't fair.
However, the car, crudely hand-painted in dirty white with an indistinct pink splodge on the door, pulled up to the curb.
The window shuddered down into the door frame, and the concerned curly head of nurse Maisie from Hope Springs poked out.
"You nippers all right?"
As she drove towards Beau's Tavern for a little 'pick me up' before heading back to Hope with a car full of supplies for the clinic,
nurse Maisie hadn't been sure when she saw the three kids on the sidewalk. The girl's ginger hair pretty much confirmed their identities though.
Then, as she got nearer, it looked like one of them may be hurt, so she slowed down. This suspicion was confirmed the nearer she got.
With a last sigh in the direction of Beau's, Maisie pulled over and rolled down the window.
With the arrival of a grown-up that they knew and trusted, all the strength seemed to leak from the muscles of Finny and Casper.
They sank to the hot pavement with relief, gently lowering their almost unconscious friend to the ground as they did so. Relief for Casper was from the dead weight of Worms' sweat-slick body.
For Finny, however, the greater relief, the guilty relief, was from the weight of responsibility she no longer had to bear.
Seeing the expressions on the faces of Finny and Casper warned Maisie that this was not just some childhood tumble.
She got out of the car and squatted down, already automatically looking for injuries on the boy the other two had been helping along.
"What's the matter with him? What happened."
Finny knelt over Worms, turning his head so that the nurse could see.
"He just said he wasn't feeling well. And then he started holding his tummy like it really really hurt."
Maisie was surprised at the pallor of the little boy's skin. She put a hand on his forehead. He was burning up.
Worm's eyes held a faraway stare, and when Maisie lifted her hand away, it was wet with sweat.
"How long has he been like this?"
Finny struggled for an answer.
"Umm, erm. I dunno. Um, half of an hour maybe?"
"Since the time when the Union truck dropped the new guards off," Casper added. Then, in response to Finny's questioning look. "I saw them from the top of the car."
Maisie put the information together and checked her watch. The union guards changed shifts on the hour so, unless it was ten minutes ago, then the boy had been sick for over an hour.
Maisie held his head between her hands and tried to connect with his blank stare.
"Oliver. Oliver? Can you tell me where it hurts?"
Finny and Casper looked at each other and mouthed a silent "Oliver?" to each other. Maisie noticed. She looked up at them.
"Well, what do you call him then?"
"Worms." They chorused.
Maisie tried again.
"Worms? Can you hear me? Can you tell me where it hurts?"
Worm's arm flopped in mid-air as he tried to lift it.
"Head." He whispered.
Finny touched the nurse's arm.
"He said it hurt all over before. Oh, and he was shivering like mad."
Maisie stared at Finny and Finny glanced to Casper for support. Even nurse Maisie's relaxed face could only best be described as a disapproving frown.
The look of concentration she was levelling at Finny made the nine-year-old feel decidedly uncomfortable. Not that Maisie noticed or cared. She was putting the facts together.
It was obvious the child had a high fever, over forty degrees-ish for sure. Sweating. Shivering. Abdominal pains. Headache... Hurting all over suggested joint or muscle aches. And weakness.
Even with a high fever, she would have expected more reaction than she was getting from Worms. But all of these symptoms could be anything. Anything from gastroenteritis to... Maisie stopped.
An uncomfortable feeling settled on her. She reached out and gently lifted the bottom of the boy's T-shirt, exposing his stomach. She let out her breath slowly.