Bethany was in a very good mood as she and her two minions, Abigail and Tati left the orphanage that same morning for their daily posturing time at the market stalls surrounding the pond.
Clones were the 'in' thing at the moment, and it was absolutely de rigueur to be noticed flirting with one.
However, rather than be seen dead following the poor bullet monkeys on their trudge to Spivey's factory,
Queen Bee and her ladies in waiting always took a short cut down a narrow alley from Badger Court to emerge onto Milton Road.
Like the reading group before them, they too chatted happily in the sunlight... Right up to the point where a shadow crossed their path.
It was a boy. He stood a few feet away at the end of the ally. The three teenagers stopped in their tracks.
They had been street kids too and knew the dangers of enclosed alleys, and for a moment, the old fear snagged at their senses.
But the boy in front of them only looked to be about fourteen and he was better dressed than the usual street rat, probably a local was the collective thought.
Queen Bee struck a typical, hands-on-hips, Queen Bee pose.
The boy ignored her.
"Are you Bethany?" He asked. "The one they call the queen bee?"
The tiny hint of suspicion that all was not well began worming its way into Bethany's consciousness. But it was too late.
Behind her, Abigail snorted.
"Of course she is. Can't you see?"
The boy smiled.
"Oh, good. I just wanted to be sure." He gestured with his hand.
A second boy, a year or two older appeared from around the corner, carrying a short length of time aged two by two.
He handed the wood to the younger boy and then stood to examine the girly entourage with a smirk on his lips.
Bethany was already backing away by this point and, as she reached her ladies in waiting, all teenagers turned to run.
Except there now were two more boys, both about their own age, stopping them. Neither of them was smiling at all. The trio turned back again.
Resting the length of two by two casually against his shoulder, the fourteen-year-old just as casually commanded the girls to get down on their knees and put their hands on their heads.
Now terrified, the three teenagers started to sink to the ground.
"Not you, your majesty. You get all the way down. On your back."
His words brought a choking sob from Abigail and a tight, keening wail from Tati.
"Oh God, they're going to rape us!"
"Relax ladies. That's against the rules. We just want a word with the queen bitch here."
The ladies in waiting clasped their hands on top of their heads and watched their leader as she awkwardly got down onto the dusty, hard-packed ground and rolled over onto her back.
Looking up at first at her friends, and then her tormentors, with an expression of frightened disbelief that this was actually happening. Bethany fought back the tears.
Despite the young boy's reassurances, she too was convinced she was about to be raped.
Then the boy nodded to one of his two friends that had appeared behind the trio of victims. The older boy and the one who had brought the piece of wood stepped forward.
Bethany squealed as each of them grabbed one of her arms and pulled them uncomfortably taught above her head.
Abigail continued to sob quietly as she and Tati watched, both absolutely sure that they were all going to be raped despite the words of the boy who was obviously the leader of the four.
He now squatted down, looking down into the face of the queen bee.
"You did a bad thing."
"Wh... What do you mean?"
The boy slid the two by two under Bethany's elbows and stood up.
"You'll figure it out."
Without saying anything else. He lifted his foot and stamped down hard on Bethany's left forearm.
The sickening snap made one of the boys holding her wrists cringe and look away.
Bethany Ambrose screamed.
Abigail wailed, long and loud. Tati stared, wide-eyed, at first, not believing what had just happened. Then she threw up, splattering Bethany's kicking feet with barely digested breakfast.
The fourteen-year-old silently walked around the queen bee.
"It's gonna be hard being a bitch with a broken arm." He taunted. "Good job you've got another one."
Understanding broke through Bethany's pain, and she opened her mouth. Maybe to say something snarky. Maybe to beg. But she never got the chance.
The boy held up a finger as if he had forgotten something.
The second stamp broke Bethany's other arm, this time there was blood and the jagged end of a bone tearing through the skin.
He turned to the two ladies in waiting, still kneeling but visibly shaking in fear.
Tati puked again. Abigail saw the boy look directly at her. Her sobs were choked off as dread tightened her throat. A frothy pool formed in the dust between her knees.
The boy wrinkled his nose at the meandering river of urine. Ignoring it, though, he spoke to Abigail.
"You should get her to the emergency room."
With a flick of his head, he and the other boys left in the direction of the same square where it was unlikely these particular girls would be doing much of anything for a while.
When the factory workers returned to the orphanage that afternoon, the attack on Queen Bee was the only subject of conversation.
In the Matron's office, two NFPD officers were talking with Maisy after taking statements from the two witnesses.
In the dorms, small groups, including Finny with the girls and Onetooth and Worms with the boys, huddled and whispered together. Who did it? Why did they do it?
In the Union Medical Centre, Abigail and Tati sat either side of the bed where Bethany, both arms in plaster was sedated and thankfully oblivious.
Back in the orphanage ablutions, Casper sat, pale and trembling, behind the cubicle door.
Early that evening, in his office, Inspector Crabbe continued to stare at the report on the Ambrose girl assault for quite some time after he had finished reading it.
If he didn't look up to where officers Dybbol and Kojarsky stood patiently waiting for his instructions, then he would have more time to think.
The officers' investigation had come back with a pretty obvious chain of events which led to a pretty obvious conclusion.
Bethany Ambrose was a bully and had picked on a little girl nearly half her age. As it turned out, absolutely the wrong little girl to pick on.
This particular nine-year-old had her own file at the NFPD. It was very thin for sure, and there was nothing in it that definitely implicated her in any criminal activity... yet.
For now, she was what the police called a 'known associate'. In this case, a known associate of one Joseph Spivey esquire. Which presented certain 'difficulties.'
Crabbe was looking forward to his retirement. A retirement in no small way funded by the said Mr Spivey, among others. So, what to do? The attack was obviously payback for the bullying incident.
From the descriptions of the witnesses, Crabbe could hazard a guess as to who the attackers were. And, if it were them, then they led straight back to Joe Spivey.
Coincidentally under who's wing this girl 'Finny' currently resided. The inspector sighed, still not looking up, despite the polite coughs coming from Dybbol.
If the attack had been on an adult, then, well, that was just gang politics. But this was a teenage girl and an orphan to boot.
An orphan, by the way, who was under the care of the Union, so there would have to be an investigation.
Crabbe thanked the god he didn't believe in, that at least it hadn't been Kopcage who had been given the case.
Kopcage would have had the four young thugs locked up and Spivey and the girl in for questioning by lunchtime. There was only one thing for it. Crabbe closed the folder.
"Kojarsky? You take this. Take your time, no rush. Probably gang-related." He handed the folder to officer Kojarsky, probably the laziest, most useless policeman on the force.
"No need to fetch the little girl in, I doubt she had anything to do with it. My guess is that the Ambrose girl..." Crabbe slowed down and spoke the next words very clearly. "...
probably got involved with a jealous gang member."
Not looking at the other officer, Crabbe found some papers to shuffle.
"Dybbol, you er... you er, get back on with that burglary over in... wherever it was. No point wasting manpower on jealous teenagers."
Kojarsky took the folder, already writing up the chief's conclusion in his mind and wondering how early he could get off his shift.
Next to him, officer Dybbol was looking up at the ceiling at the very interesting crack that looked a little bit like... well, a crack, but it was better than catching the eye of the chief.
When the inspector stopped talking, both officers came to attention.
After they had left, Crabbe helped himself to a whisky and went back to his other paperwork. Kaibab Forest looked nice...