A couple of minutes later Finny was sitting at the kitchen table happily demolishing a sandwich containing more meat that she normally saw in a week and surrounded by bread that was white and soft instead of brown and gritty.
Silja, hands on hips, watched her eat for a few moments before a thought seemed to strike the teenager. Snapping her fingers Silja disappeared off into the larder and emerged a couple of seconds later with a cloth flour sack.
Still barely halfway through her sandwich, Finny, her legs lazily swinging back and forth under the chair, watched with growing interest as Silja moved from one end of the kitchen counter to the other gradually filling the sack with anything edible.
Half a joint of beef, a chicken carcase minus its legs, an enormous wedge of cheese, a pot of jam and even a half filed jar of olives all disappeared into the flour sack. When she had reached the end of the counter Silja stopped and looked into the sack. She frowned for a second before reaching up into a cupboard and pulling out a large paper bag. Silja looked from the paper bag to the sack and back again, then shrugged and jammed the whole bag down into the already full sack.
Seemingly satisfied, Silja nodded and made a contented grunt. Then she paused and slowly turned her head towards the rapidly filling Finny. Finny’s swinging legs stopped and a she forced down what was in her mouth in a single tortuous swallow. She didn’t like the growing smile that was slowly spreading across the increasingly unlikely killer ninja assassin’s dreadlock framed face. Finny was still deciding if she should leave the sandwich or run with it when Silja turned and sank into a squat to open a cupboard under the sink. After a bit of rummaging she stood up again, triumphantly waving a big bar of soap for Finny to see before dropping it into the sack and tying the neck securely.
The single digit gesture aimed at Silja’s back was gone and the protruding tongue replaced by a beaming smile by the time Silja turned and plonked the sack down on the table in front of Finny.
“Okee. SpiveyJoe say to feeds you sos I feeds you good. Iss his hard lucky that wassa his suppers.”
Finny blinked. Silja’s laughter was borderline scary. She slowly slid off the chair. Watching Silja very carefully just in case the mad Outsider nanny, or whatever she was, tried to touch her. Then she reached for the flour sack and somehow managed to get it firmly locked under her arm while never losing her grip on her sandwich. Silja found this even more funny and, still laughing, she led Finny across the kitchen.
After the door closed behind her Finny took a few moments to finish the wonderful sandwich and let her eyes get used to the now dark sky of full evening. Once she had her night vision she crossed the yard and let herself out by the back gate and found herself in an unlit back street. All she had to do now, she thought, was get back to the orphanage while carrying a very conspicuous large sack that screamed shenanigans afoot... People, however, she could hide from, it was dogs that were going to be problem. Overhead the first rumble of thunder sounded in the distance.
Fortunately, dogs are also stupid and an old enemy so it wasn’t too long before Finny found herself back on familiar streets with familiar short cuts and familiar hiding places where she could stop and catch her breath. Finny didn’t have a watch, had never had a watch, and couldn’t tell the time anyway. At least not from some mechanical thing strapped to your wrist. But Finny knew the night and all its moods. She knew who was around and when and what was going on and when it was due to end and all the other little clues that turned the whole city into one big timepiece. So she knew that the orphanage doors would by now be well and truly closed and that if she turned up late and knocked to be let in… well, she could say goodbye to her sack of goodies and probably wouldn’t see the outside world again for a week at least.
But getting in and out of the orphanage unseen and at any time had stopped being a problem within two days of her arrival there. However, squeezing the large sack through a cellar window she was just small enough to get through herself was going to have consequences for the quality of the contents of said sack. Getting it up through the wall cavity was no mean feat either but eventually she was kneeling over her own lockbox and decanting the contents as quickly as she could into its sadly sparse interior.
The only think that seemed to have seriously suffered was the cheese, but it had been so big that even the remaining lumps would need to be sliced up. Once done Finny sat back on her heels and looked over her spoils. The paper bag grabbed her curiosity and she lifted it out and unrolled the open end. It was candy. But not the hard boiled sweets given out as rewards at the factory or the broken homemade toffee that locked your mouth shut which sometimes made rare appearances at the orphanage. The candy in the bag was soft, pastel coloured and cast in the delicate shapes of animals that would appeal to a three year old. Finny felt her eyes start to water and quickly shut the bag and pushed it down into her lockbox.
A non-food related smell wafted up from the box. Finny lifted out the bar of soap. She sniffed it. It was the same hard soap they used in the orphanage. Used for cleaning floors and kids alike. Finny frowned and lifted her arm to sniff her armpit. Did she smell? She couldn’t smell anything… but they had. She shrugged, pfft, maybe their noses were broke. Inside, Resentment grew just a little and smirked.
Finny pushed the soap down into the box away from the food. Everything was worth something, even soap. She would sell it quickly so that it didn’t contaminate the food.
It was then that she caught her finger on something and jerked her hand back.
Her finger was bleeding. Sticking it firmly in her mouth Finny leant down and looked for the offending splinter. Except it wasn’t a splinter. It was a protruding screw head and Finny remembered about the false bottom she had discovered ages ago. And that reminded her about what she had hidden there.
Not long after arriving at the orphanage, after she had found her lowly place in the pecking order, one of the much older inmates had been showing off something that Finny instantly wanted more than anything else in the world.
Whiskers was one of Joe’s, of course, but he was also one of Fat Eric’s. Whiskers was playing a dangerous game.
Whiskers had got his name because he was sixteen and insisted on calling the patchy growths of sparse hair around his jawline a ‘beard’. Not that Finny cared about that, or Joe, or Fat Eric. Finny only cared about the gift Fat Eric had given him for some job or other. Finny only cared about the beautifully made roll of lock picks that Whiskers had flaunted around the recreation room one day.
Not that she had a clue how to use them, but then nor did Whiskers. The difference was that Finny wanted to learn, but before she could learn she had to own them. The price had been high, very high, but that had only made her more determined than ever to learn how to use them. She had a rough idea how it was done, back in the day she had seen locks being picked and it seemed like magic. She wanted to be able to do that too.
It had taken her half a year, but after that there was hardly a lock in the orphanage that Finny couldn’t open. There were some that she wouldn’t, like other people’s lock boxes, but only one that she could never manage, and nearly got caught trying. That had been the safe in the office and it was way beyond her skill. In that same half year there was a day when Whiskers never came back to the orphanage. The older kids looked at each other and shrugged. It looked like Whiskers had eventually lost the game.
Finny unscrewed the false bottom and lifted the roll of lock picks out. She hadn’t used them in ages. Getting caught with them would mean being thrown out of the orphanage and maybe handed over to the police.
But now Finny was looking at the picks in her hand and seeing Joe’s Ditty Box. She wasn’t going to wait a week and risk losing her locket for ever. She was getting it back tonight.