Union Candy (part 16 of 19)
Union Candy (part 16 of 19) postapocalyptic stories
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ferp2 Old, well, old-ish.
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Union Candy (part 16 of 19)

Joe stood by the factory door and counted heads as today's workforce filed past him ready for another fun-filled day of making bullets and not getting your fingers crushed in the process.

The last urchin passed through the arched brick maw of the old building, and Joe was left chewing on the end of his cigar and looking down the street in the direction of the orphanage.

Coming to the factory was voluntary, and Joe could never be exactly sure how many workers he would have day to day. Except for the Reading Group, that is.

When Joe had started the group over a year ago, he had made it clear that if they didn't turn up for class every day, then they would pretty soon find themselves back on the factory floor.

Absences amongst the four Reading Group members, therefore, were rare. Today, Joe was missing one of them.

Giving up after a few minutes, Joe flicked the cigar butt away in a high arc and went back into the factory, closing the heavy door behind him and shutting out the last of the sunshine.

He walked past the slowly filling work bays, nodded at Harry Bumble - today's overseer, and poked his head around the corner of the changing room.

"Where's Finny?"

Casper's head appeared through the neck hole of the brown felt smock all of the workers wore as part of their anti-static uniform.


Onetooth, bare-chested amongst the communal pile of uniforms slung into a corner at the end of yesterday's shift,

lifted a smock up to his nose and sniffed before gagging and throwing it back onto the pile. Picking the next one, he turned his head in Joe's direction.

"Two weeks."

Joe cursed and, annoyed at this news, slouched back towards the stairs that led up to his office.

'Jankers', was the orphanage term for the compulsory labour, menial tasks carried out in an orphan's leisure time and used as punishment for misbehaviour and rule-breaking.

Yesterday's escapade, which had ended up with Finny and Kru sloshing around in the sewers for half of the day,

had resulted in Finny not only missing lock-up at sunset but also the bed check at nine pm before lights out at ten.

Joe wasn't to know this, of course, but he had known that Finny had had to sneak back into the orphanage, and so being caught was always a danger.

What was annoying Joe, though, was the length of the punishment. Two weeks hard labour seemed a bit excessive for the kid being late to bed.

Joe, of course, would never admit that he was also feeling guilty because it had all been his fault anyway.

He decided to go and see Maisy Clinton, the Matron, the head honcho who ran the New Flagstaff Orphanage.

That night, Joe arrived home in a foul mood.

Unusually, he was still in a grump even after returning downstairs after reading Annie her bedtime story, a task that Kirsten knew often relieved him of his worries after a stressful day.

Kirsten rarely pursued the reason behind these rare long-lasting moods.

And as a last resort, she and Joe having an early night always did the trick anyway, and Kirsten was looking forward to that being the case tonight.

It was only when Joe was going through the mish-mash of odd scraps of paper, torn beer mats and crumpled receipts,

which was his idea of paperwork that Kirsten caught the words 'bloody woman' from amongst Joe's mumbled and invective-filled mutterings.

She put her book face down on her lap, an elegantly painted fingernail marking the page.

"What's Hyle done to upset you this time?"

Joe, his train of thought derailed, looked up.

"What? Hyle? Nothing." Then, more suspiciously. "Why? Has she been here?"

Kirsten was confused now.

"No. Well, not for a few days, she's been very busy..." She shook her head. "Look, you just said 'that bloody woman'. That usually means Hyle in your book."

Joe's mood worsened, his expressive eyebrows telegraphing his annoyance.

"Well, not this time. I mean that bloody woman who runs the bloody orphanage."

Kirsten noted the rising anger. Joe generally got like this when one of his 'business' plans had gone askew, or he'd lost a deal.

Typically, however, Joe was on excellent terms with the orphanage.

"Why? What's happened? I thought you liked Miss Clinton?"

Joe huffed, air escaping from his nose like an angry bull.

"Storm inna teacup all over the Finny thing. You'd have thought after I'd pretty much got her that job in the first place that I'd carry a bit of clout.

" Joe threw the pile of papers in his hand down onto the gilded coffee table. "Three bloody weeks. THREE! And just fer being a few minutes late for bed."

Kirsten looked at Joe, her glossy lips pursed into a thoughtful expression.

Kirsten had an interest in the New Flagstaff Orphanage, her daughter had even spent a day there to show the then four-year-old that not every child was as lucky as she was.

Finny was one of Annie's few, and probably her closest friend. So, Kirsten could guess what the 'three weeks' referred to.

For Finny to have earned three weeks extra work, it was going to be for something much more than being late to bed. Her eyes narrowed.

"Joe? What 'Finny thing'?"

Joe blinked. Joe swallowed.

"My love?"

Kirsten's smile didn't reach her beautiful almond eyes.


Finny hadn't actually missed the bed check. She had managed to sneak into the dorm while the Matron and the duty staff person were checking the boys.

' It wasn't even the fact that she had still been wet from the shower that gave away that something was amiss.

What had given it away, even to those standing at the ends of their beds on either side of Finny, had been, the smell.

A quick shower might have gotten most of the 'not mud' off but to get rid of the smell was going to take time, soap and friction.

On top of that, this hadn't been Finny's first time being caught, having been in the sewers.

It was the resulting interview with Matron half an hour later and Finny's carefully constructed answers that had led to the sentence of two weeks of Jankers.

As far as Finny was concerned, that was that.

Then Joe had arrived later in the morning and, curious, Finny had nonchalantly carried her bucket to the short corridor outside Matron's office and found a patch of floor to work on.

The conversation behind the door pretty soon devolved into an argument, and then a row... Finny had slunk away.

Being around angry adults was to be avoided, especially when your name kept cropping up.

After Joe had left the building via two slammed doors and a profanity-laden trail of cigar smoke.

Finny had been called into the office and informed that her two weeks of jankers had suddenly become three.

Things got even more interesting the following day when the Mrs Joe arrived.

Once again, Finny's bucket found itself plonked down on the already clean tiles outside the Matron's office. This time the talk behind the door had gone on for longer.

Tea had been sent for and cookies. The conversation had wandered like a bee in a summer meadow, only sometimes touching on the subject of Finny and her misdemeanours.

Then it would float off to land on fashion or politics or children or other things before coming back again and again to the orphanage and Finny.

Eventually, though, the subject had turned to Joe... And stayed there.

Outside the door, Finny had strained to hear, anticipating raised voices, but also eager to learn any titbits about her boss.

What she had got, however, was mostly hushed voices, giggles and lots of "Oh I know!"

Without realising it, Finny had been slowly dragging her bucket closer and closer to the office door. Then the voices had stopped.

A couple of seconds later, the door had opened and Finny had almost strained her neck looking up into the stern face of Matron Maisy.

Finny climbed to her feet, drying her hands on her dress. She looked all around her, wiping her nose on her arm.

"Yup. That sure looks clean enough now." She took a step backwards. "I'll err. I'll go and get started on those stairs now. Should I, Miss?"

Matron Maisy folded her arms and leaned against the door jamb.

"That would be a good idea, Finny. Always best to leave some of the pattern left on my floor, I think."

"Yes, Miss."

The Matron watched Finny, both hands lugging the heavy bucket, stagger off down the passageway. The ginger head glanced back just once and then disappeared around the corner.

Maisy smiled, pushed herself upright and went back into the office.

"Now then. Where were we? Would you like more tea?"

Sometime later, Finny had once again been summoned to the Matron's office. Her three weeks of jankers, it seemed, had now become just one... Which was good, but confusing.

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