It was several weeks later when Joe told Finny that they were going on a little business trip. In the intervening time, the orphanage had held its annual medical check-ups.
Union Candy is basically a very hard form of fudge. Like seriously hard.
You could suck on one of the little 2cm x 1cm x 1cm bricks for half an hour easily, that's if you'd managed to break it off from the block of twenty that formed the whole candy bar.
Union Candy was made up of left-overs from several other food processes.
Its malty flavour came from the brewing industry,
the hard crystals that helped to give it its near indestructability and gritty texture were burnt sugar residue left over from making more prestigious sweet things.
The fat that bound the crystals together came from various dairy processes combined with emulsifiers, and God alone knows what else that had been thrown in there during mixing.
Union Candy could never be described as delicious, or even particularly nice. 'Strangely satisfying' about best summed it up.
The entire orphanage had trooped into the Union medical centre to be weighed and measured, prodded and poked,
have teeth and eyes checked and finally injected so many times that an uncomfortable night was guaranteed no matter which position you tried to sleep in.
The reward for each of these various stages of indignity was a paper-wrapped bar of Union Candy, each white wrapper printed with the logo of a smiling cow's head, set between the UC initials.
By the end of the day, each orphan had collected around ten bars of Union Candy each, depending on age and gender.
Finny had her ten bars, along with sore shoulders and butt from the half dozen needles that had been jabbed into her with what Finny thought was unnecessary force.
Although Union Candy wasn't particularly nice, it wasn't particularly awful either.
So, until an orphan could get their grubby hands on anything better, it would do if you needed something to tide you over to the next meal.
However, Union Candy's primary role in orphan society, since long before Finny had arrived there, was as a form of unofficial currency.
Things, or even services like doing someone else's chores, became worth so many 'bars', 'half-bars' or 'bits'.
But now, with Finny's newly gained knowledge of the pawn brokering industry, a potential profit-making opportunity presented itself with this year's supply of rewards from the medical centre.
And it didn't take long for Finny to persuade her three friends to invest their candy in her scheme.
It was doing very nicely, too.
Finny's little enterprise had brought in enough spare candy so that a lot of it could be turned into actual cash chips - which worked just as well as candy but could also be spent outside
the orphanage. Everyone, then, was a winner. That is until the supply of candy would eventually run out, which Finny had calculated would be in about a month.
This date was fast approaching when Finny got the message from Joe about the trip to Diesel Town.
It was the longest car trip Finny had ever been on, and it was turning out that way, too, for the two gang members in the cramped back seat of Joe's Interceptor.
Not so much for Joe, because he'd had the pleasure of Tuki's company on one particular nightmare journey a while back.
Don and Kru, however, had never had the experience of being in a car with an, at first, excitable and then very bored child.
Everybody was relieved when Joe's pride and joy finally turned into the twin white towers at the entrance to Diesel Town.
By mutual consent, the first stop was the waffle house where those with the larger bladders, who hadn't had to stop three times already to pee,
were able to relieve themselves while Finny got busy with a bowl of ice-cream the size of her head. While she happily ploughed her way through the desert, the adults discussed business.
Finny listened to them, in-between painful cold-induced headaches. She already knew they were here to deliver 'certain goods' and would be taking back 'certain other goods.
' But now, across the table, a mild disagreement as to who should do what was becoming more and more heated, albeit very politely because Joe wasn't someone you usually argued with.
In the end, it was decided that Don would accompany Joe to the rendezvous at a little camp just outside of town, while Kru would chaperone Finny around town until they got back.
In the silence that followed, everyone watched, mesmerised, as Finny's tongue tried to chase the pink and white ice cream fallout around her face. Kru broke the silence.
"It's just because I'm a woman, isn't it?"
Joe and Don did a pretty good job of not smirking as they got up to leave. Joe adjusted his shotty.
"Absolutely not. You're just the best man for the job."
Joe followed Don out of the wafflehouse.
"That's the spirit, Kru."
Kru sighed and watched Finny finish up the ice cream.
The two had never met before, but she knew that this little kid sitting opposite with the happy and contented grin on her face, was some kind of prodigy of the boss.
She could see the reason why. A teeny-tiny cat burglar could get into places an adult wouldn't be able to.
Before this trip, Ned Flowers had taken Kru to one side and told her to be careful around Finny. Likely in all innocence, Finny would report back to Joe pretty much anything she saw or heard.
Ned had also said that if anything happened to the little girl on your watch, there would be a chair in a blood-spattered room waiting for you.
So Kru waited for Finny to finish belching with the best smile she could manage. When Finny finally finished and started looking around her, Kru took it as her cue.
"So, what d'ya wanna do kid? Maybe sit here and have another ice-cream? My treat."
"Nah. Can we explore?"
Oh well, so much for the easy option.
"Sure." Kru got up and waited for Finny to slide out of her seat. "Just make sure you stay close; this place has a serious pest problem."
Finny followed, but only until they had left the building, then Finny was like a puppy on its first walk outside. Running ahead, moving from one thing to another, avoiding the new people.
Then she stopped in the middle of the street, between the pumps of the most enormously big gas station she had ever seen, and just turned around and around,
taking in the whole vista of the little town.
Kru walked up to her.
"This is the biggest gas station in the province..." She started. But Finny wasn't listening, at least not to her.
"Listen to all the birds!"
Kru cocked her head. Yeah, birds, so what? But the open-mouthed awe on Finny's face made her smile.
"You never heard birds before?"
"'Course I have. But there's like a gazillion!"
Of course, the kid had never been out of NF. The only birds in that shit hole were pigeons, the vermin of the sky.
On the drive up here,
Finny had been overwhelmed by the sight of so many trees and had sat for many gloriously quiet minutes with her nose pressed against the window watching the never-ending green curtain of
the forest as it slid by.
They continued their exploration, Kru keeping her charge well away from the known areas of rodent infestation.
Eventually, they found themselves around the back of the only other building of note in Diesel Town, a large factory right in the centre.
It was here Finny spotted a long row of small blue plastic sheds, each with a door.
But the warning came too late.
Finny opened one of the doors and then stopped dead in her tracks before slamming it shut again and then slowly turning around,
her mouth open and gagging on the smell that had hit her like a fist. Kru laughed.
"Yeah. The locals are used to it, but it makes your eyes water the first hundred times or so."
Finny was still making exaggerated gagging noises as she walked back to where Kru stood at the big delivery door at the back of the factory.
Which is when she saw the enormous logo painted high up on the factory wall... a smiling cow's head between the letters U and C.
"Oh... My... GOD!"