Union Candy (part 2 of 19)
Union Candy (part 2 of 19) postapocalyptic stories
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ferp2
ferp2 Old, well, old-ish.
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Casper watches the watching watchers.

Union Candy (part 2 of 19)

The day after Finny's birthday there was a perpetual crowd of orphans gathered around as Finny, wearing some of her new clothes, proudly demonstrated opening the vault,

taking out the big jar of candy, putting it back and then closing the door. Every phase of the process accompanied by a little collective gasp of amazement and jealous awe.

This was all much to the amusement of the vaults' usual clientele. Bank officer Montenegro allowed this to go on for about an hour before summoning Finny over and having a quiet word in her ear.

It didn't matter, though, the funk Finny had been in since the reading group's doomed adventure to Hope Springs was well and truly lifted.

Her grin, unlike the welts on her backside which were almost gone now, didn't fade for days, even at work.

In the weeks that followed, the novelty of having her own vault did eventually wear off. Finny transferred her modest savings to 'her' vault, along with her 'ninja' suit and the amazing goggles.

A lot of her new clothes and Silja's ring followed because they simply wouldn't all fit in her lockbox and she was worried that a box full of expensive, and therefore saleable,

clothes might just disappear anyway. However, even though she had seen other vault owners just getting changed right there out in the open, Finny decided that wasn't for her.

Instead, she picked what she was going to wear every evening and took it back to the orphanage where the selected items were placed flat under her mattress for a) security during the night,

and b) it stopped them getting all wrinkled. On Sundays, wash-day, the 'sniff test' decided which items needed taking to the ablutions for a good scrubbing.

In these same weeks, Finny found herself spending less and less time making bullets because Joe was sending her out from the factory pretty much every other day.

This was sometimes on heart-pounding errands, carrying little parcels to a quiet rendezvous, but mainly to Aunty Wainwright's Junk Emporium or Larry's Pawn Shop.

At Aunty Wainwright's, Finny learned that the old lady used to be a member of the Tech faction in a place called Chem Town, somewhere Finny had never heard of.

The only other Tech Finny knew about was the lady mayor person in Hope Springs.

Aunty started teaching Finny about scrap electronics and what was valuable and what wasn't.

Before long Finny knew her resistors from her capacitors and her transistors from her computer chips and developed a good idea what each was worth.

Aunty also had Finny painstakingly (the pain coming from a wrap across the knuckles with a knitting needle if she messed up) removing components from burnt-out printed circuit boards.

If she wasn't doing that, she was winding new coils for refurbished electric motors or cleaning up commutators and bedding in carbon brushes.

All of which was delicate work and suited to Finny's dextrous little fingers and the skills learned in making bullets for Joe.

At Larry's Pawn Shop, Mr Moise taught her the rudiments of pawn brokering and extended her knowledge of hallmarking and assaying.

She quickly also learned how to tell paste gems from the real thing. In all these tasks, the loupe Mr Moise had given her on her previous visit came in most handy.

But Finny's absolute favourite thing about working in the pawnshop was the jewellery.

The front of Mr Moise's shop was all steel cages and cameras to protect the various display cases and other expensive stuff.

But when Mr Moise took Finny through to what she thought was just the back room (it did have a sink and a bed and a table in it after all), Finny discovered that the whole room,

and the cellar below it, was actually one humungous steel-walled vault.

Mr Moise's workshops were downstairs, and this was where he crafted just the most exquisite items in silver, gold and beautiful gemstones...

and Finny got to try on tiaras and necklaces and bracelets and broaches and, and... and it was Finny's idea of heaven. Not that she would ever admit that, which Mr Moise found most amusing.

Finny did some work down there, too.

After assaying several items of equal quality but which were beyond repair, or more often simply of dodgy legal ownership,

Finny learned how to melt them down in a crucible at just the right temperature to prevent the composition of the metal from changing.

Then she would pour the molten precious metal into an ingot mould and lo, untraceable crafting components at very reasonable prices.

It also didn't go unnoticed by Finny that a lot of these ingots ended up being stamped 'Spivey's Independent Traders'.

So, while the rest of the reading group were doing fractions and learning the difference between verbs and adjectives, Finny was learning all kinds of fun stuff.

Always at the back of her mind, though, as she was sorting diodes or grading diamonds, was the question of why?

But to be honest, Finny was having too much fun in her rapidly changing life to pay that question much notice for now.

Casper had known about those he called 'the watchers' since a couple of days after Finny's birthday.

The watchers were four older boys in their mid-teens who took turns sneakily watching Finny and whoever was with her.

Casper had noticed them because, well, he was Casper and he was hard-wired to look out for danger.

As Finny's second-in-command Casper even automatically graded everyone he met or saw, or just heard about,

on an incredibly complex 'Threat Scale' of his own devising which ranked people from 0 to 10.

Therefore, because the watchers were, well, watching them, the four strange boys immediately went up from a 5 to a 6 and then to a 7 when it became clear they were watching every day.

Just for comparison, even Finny ranked a 2, or a 3 if she was in a bad mood. Anyone with a weapon was an immediate 10.

Joe Spivey slid up and down the scale on a daily basis because of Finny's weird relationship with him. Without the Finny modifier, Joe was always a 10, and bending the needle upwards.

Casper wasn't sure if he should tell Finny about the watchers. On the one hand, she would want to know.

But on the other hand, Finny was happy again after their incident with the Devil's Own, and Casper liked it when Finny was happy.

She would stop being happy though, and start worrying if she knew about the watchers.

But then on the other hand again Finny would definitely do something Finnyish which would probably be scary and might get him killed.

What finally decided him on not telling Finny was that there was more chance of Finny doing something Finnyish if he did tell her which she couldn't do if she didn't know.

So, Casper kept quiet and watched the watchers watching them.

If none of that explanation made sense, it is because you are not nine-years-old and worried about what your own shadow is up to behind your back.

So, Casper's reasoning worked out well enough right up to the point when another boy, well a man really because he must have been eighteen or nineteen at least,

came right up to today's watcher and talked to him. Now, Casper knew this older boy. Not directly of course because that would mean him going somewhere unsafe.

Casper knew him because Finny had described him one day when they were all laying in the sun on the orphanage roof and swapping stories.

Finny had told him about the time she had first met Joe Spivey and thought she was going to be drowned in a sack and then fed to the hermit crabs.

This boy talking to the watchers was none other than one of those boys who had held Finny captive until Joe had come. And they had hurt her.

So now Casper had another dilemma on his hands, and both options gave him the willies. He could tell Finny and face the hot temper which Finny's red hair openly warned the world about.

Or, and his mind really tried to skitter away from this option, he could go and see Joe and... But that's as far as he had gotten with that line of thinking.

Telling Finny would definitely make her mad at him for not telling her sooner.

Having Finny mad at him was bad enough, it usually left bruises because of their leader's penchant for dishing out dead-arms.

But having her possibly not liking him for not telling her was worse, and that would leave bruises on his heart.

But talking to Joe about it?

And that was what he would have to do because Casper knew for sure that the older boy was one of Joe's 'eyes' and it was pretty likely, then, that the four watchers were too.

With a heavy weight on his bladder, Casper knew there was really only the one right decision.

Of the two options, Casper would face Joe a thousand times rather than risk Finny thinking bad things about him.

So, Casper sat and watched the minute hand of the clock above Joe's office door make its final circle towards the twelve and prepared to do, what to him,

was probably the bravest thing he would ever do. And he still didn't have a clue as to what he was actually going to say.

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