When Finny and the boys had travelled these tunnels on their way to their second 'great adventure' the weather had been so hot that barely a trickle of water ran down the centre of
the troughs and the walls and floors were caked in dry and crusty platelets that exploded into dust when hit with their sticks.
Today, though, the sewers were back to their normal state, wet slimy walls and a treacherously slippery floor.
Down the centre of the tunnel, the metre-wide trough was full of murky water that carried along all the literal and metaphorical crap from the city in a slow,
gurgling journey to where Finny and Kru had just come from.
The only light down here is what came in from the sidewalk gutters and drains.
Daylight had gone and now, and all that filtered through from above was the flickering neon glow from the streetlights.
This made the walking doubly dangerous and once or twice Kru tripped on the broken concrete floor or on something that had been too heavy to be moved in all but the most fast-flowing water.
The thought of ending up in the filth that lay beneath the curiously pretty, oily film made Kru shudder and she wondered how Finny even knew the way to where they were going,
never mind how she deftly managed to avoid all the trip hazards.
"How the hell do you know which is the right way?"
"The sewers follow the streets," Finny called back over her shoulder. "It's easy."
Kru wasn't a native of New Flagstaff. If she'd grown up on the streets like Finny and her friends, she too would have known every backstreet and alley in the town.
Kru just hoped Finny's confidence was justified. She'd hate to be lost down here.
The plan was for them to get Finny's lockpicks from her vault and then, using the sewers again, make their way to Verde Street where Joe's lock-up was.
Hopefully, by the time they arrived,
the Union guard patrol there would have set up a cordon for a 'gas leak' or whatever reason Eric had come up with to make sure there would be nobody laying in wait for them.
At the moment, though, they were heading for a quiet corner of Milton Road, close to the vaults, where they could climb out into the fresh evening air.
Kru had just finished turning the latest rat attack into a bloody, pulpy mess when Finny called a halt.
Kru pushed a stray lock of hair out of her eyes and hoped that whatever was wet on her cheek was only blood.
Finny was pointing up, so Kru followed the finger up to where faint orange light leaked past the edges of the round manhole cover.
"There's a problem, though."
The finger descended, following the path of the ladder. One rung, another... and that was it, just the snapped off rusted ends remained.
The ladder ended half a metre higher than Kru had a hope of reaching. She swore under her breath.
"Well, I guess we'll just have to go to the next one then."
Finny shook her head.
"Too far away, and it's right inna main road. It outside the orphanage an' the next one is the one we want after I've got my lock picks."
Kru swore again.
"Shit!" She kicked the remains of one of the rats a long way back down the tunnel. "Fuck!" Another mangled corpse joined it. Finny watched.
Just as Kru was pulling her foot back to launch another rat, she raised her voice over the grown-up's cursing.
"If you boost me," Finny said, standing under the manhole cover and peering up. "I bet I could reach the ladder."
Kru flicked the last rat corpse into the trough with the toe of her boot and joined Finny under where the ladder ended. She looked up too. Yeah, she could boost the kid up that far.
Finny looked at Kru as if she was dumb or something.
"Then I go and get my stuff and come back here."
Kru started wagging a finger.
"Oh no no no. No! No way. Anything happens to you up there and Joe'll croak me for sure. There has to be another way."
"I just said. This is the only way up near the vaults. If we go up another one, then they're gonna spot us anyway."
Kru looked like she was about to try and veto Finny's idea. Finny, still dangling the briefcase from her left hand, put her hands on her hips.
"I can run there an' back in a couple of minutes, an' it's dark anyway."
"Not dark enough so that they can't see you. And that hair of yours is a dead giveaway."
Finny made a face. Not for the first time had her hair betrayed her in the face of those looking for a culprit. Then the scowl turned into a sneaky grin.
"I can do a disguise, though."
Finny sat down on the wet floor of the tunnel and started pulling off her shoes.
"Have you got a knife?"
Looking unsure, Kru reached into her boot top and pulled out a substantial hunting knife.
"This do?" She asked, flipping it in her hand and holding it out handle first for Finny to take.
Finny pulled off her other shoe with a grunt and took the knife.
Then, sitting with her right leg straight, she moved the blade of Kru's knife to a point just above her knee and, with a regretful sigh, started to dig it into the expensive denim.
Kru lunged to stop her, pulling the knife out of Finny's hand.
"What in hell do you think you're doing?!"
Annoyed, Finny looked up.
"Cutting the legs off, so they look all scrappy."
"Not like that you don't, girl. There're two damn big arteries just where you're about to stick that thing. You nick either of those, and you're dead meat." Kru squatted down.
"Here, give me your britches and I'll do it. Not having you dying on me in a damn sewer and me having to explain it to Joe just before he blows my head off."
Finny looked at Kru and blinked.
"Joe wouldn't do that."
Kru was about to set the kid straight when she caught the uncertainty in Finny's voice. Shit, she doesn't even know, she thought. The two stared at each other for a single long second.
Kru felt a chill ripple down her spine. If Finny didn't know that Joe could murder in cold blood, then it was only because Joe didn't want her to know, and she nearly blew it. Kru changed tack.
"Yeah, well, maybe not. But you slicing your leg open is still gonna leave you dead and me having to explain how I watched you kill yourself." She waved her fingers impatiently.
"Just give me the goddamn jeans."
Finny stood up and unbuckled her belt. That done, she stopped and looked up at her companion. Kru might be a girl, but still.
"Please, can I have your tee-shirt?"
"I need your tee shirt. It's part of the disguise."
Muttering under her breath, Kru took off her jacket and pulled her black tee-shirt, with the long since undecipherable logo, over her head and handed it to Finny.
She shivered as she put her jacket back on, glad she had a vest underneath.
Finny pulled the too big and still warm tee-shirt over her head, the hem of which came halfway down to her knees. Then she finished taking her jeans off and handed them to Kru.
"Do it just above the knees, like you would if you were making a worn-out pair into shorts."
"I know, I know." Kru bunched the material of one leg around the knee area and began sawing through the sturdy denim.
"What are you going to do about that ginger explosion on your head? That's what's gonna get you recognised up there more than anything else."
Finny was busy slapping 'mud' over her bare legs.
"Wait here an' I'll show you." Finishing up, she turned and headed back the way they had come.
The knife finally sliced through the leg of Finny's jeans.
"Hey! Where are you going?"
Finny was already out of sight when her voice floated back.
"I saw something."
"Saw what?" But Finny was gone and didn't answer. Kru cursed and set to work on the other leg.
When Finny came back, she almost cried when she saw her precious jeans. She handed Kru a soggy mass of green wool.
"Can you cut one of the sleeves off for me? Right at the top by the neck."
Screwing her face up in disgust, Kru took the dripping sweater and straightened it out. There were matching big ragged holes right in the middle of the chest and back.
During the sweater's time caught on a broken piece of rebar that had been sticking out of the wall, most of the blood had been washed away, but not all of it.
"From the shoulder, you mean?"
Finny, pulling on her now sodden 'shorts' nodded. While Kru was hacking through the fibres with the hunting knife, Finny started tying her long braids up into an untidy swirl on top of her head.
Kru wrung out the cut off sleeve as best she could and passed it to Finny.
The look on Finny's face showed that this was the just about last thing she wanted to do, but she pulled the wider end of the sleeve over her head,
then folded the rest of it down and tucked the cuff end under the back. Then she stood back.
"How do I look?"
Kru looked her up and down, nodding.
"Not bad, not bad." She frowned. "Hang on a sec." She picked up one of the discarded legs of Finny's jeans and sliced it in two lengthways. Then she tied the two ends together.
"Okay, come here."
Finny stepped closer, and Kru knelt and looped the home-made denim belt around the nine-year-old's waist and tied it off in the front.
Then she pulled a few inches of tee-shirt up through the belt and let it fall loosely over it. She stood up.
As an afterthought, Finny wiped her dirty hands down her cheeks, hiding most of her tell-tale freckles under muddy smears. Kru grinned.
"You look like a proper little street urchin now." She held her nose. "Phew, you smell like one, too."
Finny laughed. She stepped over to where the ladder hung down above her.
"Okay, boost me up."
Kru still looked uncertain.
"You be careful, okay. Keep your eyes open." She saw Finny roll her eyes. "Listen, kid, these guys will grab you and beat the crap out of you to get their hands on this briefcase.
You see anyone looking like they're coming for you, you run back here fast, got it?"
"Okay, then." Kru squatted down and cupped her hands. Finny planted her bare foot against the interlaced fingers and put her hands on Kru's shoulders.
"Ready?" Kru said, bracing herself ready to boost.
Finny checked her balance.