By swinging from the broken ladder from one hand, Finny, with much grunting and gasping, managed to haul the manhole cover back into place before dropping into the waiting arms of Kru.
Hands-on knees, Finny reluctantly gulped in the unhealthy air. Kru, not known for her patience, gave Finny the longest six seconds she could manage.
"So? How did it go?"
Still, breathing heavily, Finny stood up straight and pulled off the disgusting woollen hat, letting her braids drop, or rather droop down over her shoulders.
She lifted a braid to her nose and sniffed. Then made a face and wiped her fingers down her tee-shirt. Finny relieved Kru of the roll of lock picks she had dropped down.
"It went fine." She looked around, squinting in the near-total darkness. "Where's the case, bag thing?"
Kru turned to one side and retrieved the briefcase from the ledge of broken wall she had secured it on to keep it out of the worst of the muck.
"It's here. Did anyone see you?"
Tucking the roll of tools under her arm, Finny took the briefcase. Even though they could barely make each other out in the gloom, Finny didn't look at her partner.
"Only the bank guy. An' he thought I was a boy." To kids like Finny, lying to most grown-ups came naturally, but she liked Kru and lying to friends didn't sit well with her.
However, telling Kru about the party girl and her cannibal friends would likely mean having to tell her about what had happened, and Finny knew that, after all Kru's warnings,
it would only lead to a lecture, and she got enough of those at the orphanage.
Thinking of the orphanage, Finny went to check her watch. She couldn't even see the dial but knew that time was gradually creeping towards bedtime there.
She hoicked the tools into a more comfortable position under her arm.
"Come on, let's get going."
With a shrug, Kru set off leading the way, her bloody baseball bat at the ready should any rats dare to get in the way.
"What's the rush? The later we leave it, the fewer people should be around. It'll make it easier for the Union patrol to clear Verde Street for us."
Finny trudged along behind.
The roll of lock picks wasn't particularly heavy, but she had to keep swopping arms because that, combined with the cumbersome briefcase,
was pushing the nine-year-old's arm strength to the limit.
"If I'm late back they'll know I was out after lockup an' I'll get jankers."
"What the hell's 'jankers'? They lock you up or something?"
"Kinda. Jankers is you can't go out for a couple of weeks or however long, an' you hafta scrub floors an' stuff all day."
"Wow. Hard regime."
"What's 'red jeem'?"
Kru explained the meaning and then the conversation continued with Finny explaining life in the orphanage and all the rules, what they did every day, the people, and even working for Joe.
Kru feigned interest at first but was gradually drawn into Finny's world and how the little girl saw it.
Finny was just explaining how, yeah, the orphanage was a pain in the butt a lot of the time, but it was better than being outside when she interrupted herself and called a halt.
"Oh, here we are."
Kru had walked past the ladder, not even seeing it against the camouflage of slime, toilet paper streamers and other nasty things which made up the sewer system decor.
She walked back to where Finny was looking up at the manhole cover. Kru looked up too.
"At least we've got a ladder this time."
Finny gratefully put down what she was carrying and set off to climb the ladder. Kru stopped her with a hand on her arm.
"Wait, so this opens up in the middle of Verde Street, right?
There's gonna be trigger happy Union men up there who are probably just going to straight out shoot at a manhole opening up in front of them."
"Nuh-uh. It opens up inna yard of a busted-up building." Finny grinned and batted her eyelids.
"An' the union guards will have bin told that they're to not shoot the fantastically gorgeous redhead... an' whoever is with her."
Kru treated Finny to a sarcastic grin but let go of her arm. Finny began to climb.
"Well, I sure hope this 'friend' of yours in the Union HQ got everything right, and he didn't accidentally say they were to shoot the fantastically gorgeous redhead instead."
Finny stopped a few rungs up and on a level with Kru. She frowned thoughtfully before dropping back down.
"Maybe you should go first, you know, just in case."
Grinning, Kru swung onto the ladder.
"Yeah. Maybe I should."
She carefully opened the heavy iron cover and peeked out. Finny had been right. Three walls surrounded a small yard which opened up onto Verde street.
Joe's lockup would be a few buildings along to the right and on the opposite side of the road.
Kru climbed out and reached for her gun, which, of course, wasn't there because she had given it to Don, way back at the entrance to the stinking sewers,
she had been forced to crawl around in all evening.
Gunless then, Kru approached the opening and peeked around the corner. The street was empty. Okay, so far, so good.
Raising her hands, she stepped out onto the street and slowly turned all the way around.
From the alley next to Joe's lockup, a Union guard made himself known and made the hand signal for 'come' meaning the area was clear.
Kru responded with a nod and raised her hand above her head to indicate that he should cover the area, the guard acknowledged and disappeared. Kru returned to the open manhole.
"Okay shortstuff, we're good to go. Pass up the gear."
Half a minute later, Kru slid the manhole cover back into place and pulled Finny down into a crouch.
Even though the Union patrol had declared the area clear, it didn't mean it was, and if it were her team that was looking to take us out, this is where she would have made her move.
Kru considered her little companion. The nine-year-old was looking around nervously and clutching her tools to her chest like they were her favourite teddy bear.
What the hell was Joe thinking? Kru thought. But, it was what it was.
"Listen, kid. I know you're in charge and all that, and you got us both here safe and sound, but there's only two of us, and the only weapon we've got is a goddamn baseball bat.
So, this is what we're gonna do, okay?"
Finny's wide-open eyes stared at Kru from beneath the bask of freckles, shit and bravado and Kru couldn't help but admire her. The kid was scared. But, she nodded gamely.
"Good. Now, I'm gonna stay on this side of the street so I can keep an eye on you and on what's around.
If, and I only mean if anyone is out there, they're gonna be watching you while you do your thing with the door.
That means they won't be watching me so I can sneak up on them and shove this damn bat up their ass before they know what hit them."
Finny managed a smile, which was good.
Kru threw her a wink.
"You'll be fine. Even assholes like these guys will hesitate before murdering a little girl, that's our edge." If only that were true, though, she added silently.
"Now, if you hear me yell, you get yourself down on the floor as flat as you can."
Finny nodded rapidly. Kru responded more slowly.
"Good girl. Okay, Finny. You ready?"
Kru put all the reassurance she could into the smile.
"Okay kid, go get 'em."
With her heart in her mouth,
Kru watched Finny cross the street in a running crouch - still somehow managing to hold on to the bulky briefcase as well as her big roll of the thingamajigs she was going to need to open
the door to the lockup. Kru's face tightened.
"Fuck you, Joe Spivey." She whispered. "Fuck you right in your big, fat, British ass."
Then she disappeared into the shadows to do her best to keep her little boss alive.