The front door closed behind Finny and she was suddenly cocooned in nicer smells and more warmth than she was used to. Silja strode silently past her down the carpeted hallway.
“Stay here. Don’t be touching with dirty leetle fingers okay?”
Sounds, too, seemed muffled and Finny waggled a finger in her ear to make sure it wasn’t her.
“Okay.” Even her own reply had taken on a softer quality as the carpeting and furnishings soaked up the harsher squeaks of her voice.
Finny watched Silja walk towards one of the doors at the far end of the hallway, then casually sticking the meaty end of the chicken leg into her mouth before reaching for the door knob. Eyes, experienced by necessity, took in every detail of the hallway. The fresh, clean paintwork. The polished furniture. The spotless walls. The toys dropped carelessly and forgotten on the thick carpet. Finny’s gaze lingered on a doll. The doll’s eyes stared into her own.
Inside Finny Resentment appeared and tried to goad Anger but something Finny had yet to find a name for rose up and slapped Resentment down hard. Resentment sulked.
Silja opened the door and poked her head into what, by the mouth-watering smell that wafted down the hall, was the dining room.
“Ermm.. Joe, Issa woss summa liller girly wanna be seeings you, she smellerings a bit ..”
Finny frowned. Pulling the neck of her top away from her body she poked her nose into the gap between cloth and skin and sniffed. She couldn’t smell anything bad. Lifting her head she scowled at the back of Anneka’s so called nanny.
Joe’s voice, his mouth obviously full, floated through the gap in the doorway.
“What? What girl? Fer fu…”
Finny’s scowl turned into a smirk. That had been Kirsten. There was a pause during which it appeared that Joe had swallowed whatever it was he had been chewing on before Silja had interrupted the family dinner. Then Joe again.
“Fudge I was going to say fudge. Silja, put her in the study will you? I’ll see to her after I’ve finished eating.”
“Joe, don’t be rude. Silja please show her in.”
Finny’s heart raced. Yes! Perfect. But then Joe’s voice again.
“Never mind. It’s probably business, well, it better be business because I was enjoying that. I’ll go see what she wants.”
“Poor Joesy. Never mind, I have a special desert for you. Hmmm?”
Silja snorted and withdrew her head from the doorway.
“Pfft, Like I is needings to be hearings all off dis. Imma goings to kitcherings iffa yous iss wantings me.”Chicken leg in hand Silja headed for the door at the far end of the hall. She called back over her shoulder. “Don’t be wantings me okay!”
Suddenly it had all gone wrong. Finny started to run for the still partly open dining room door. She could see Kirsten through the gap, she was leaning over and cutting up little Anneka’s food while the child watched from her highchair. All she had to do was get to the door before…
The door opened fully and Joe filled the gap, hiding Kirsten from view. Finny stopped abruptly only a metre in front of Joe. It was hard to tell who looked more surprised.
Finny had never seen Joe without his brown duster. Not ever. Now here he was, not only dusterless but wearing a clean starched shirt with an actual collar. Tucked into which was a long white linen napkin which, by the look of it, had recently protected the shirt underneath from a variety of meat juices.
Joe recovered first. Swiftly closing the dining room door behind him he closed the gap between him and Finny in one stride. Finny found herself firmly grabbed by the scruff of the neck and being hurriedly part carried and part marched back down the hallway with the toes of her tatty sneakers barely brushing the carpet. In despair Finny thought she was about to be quickly ejected back out of the front door and onto the street, probably missing the steps entirely on the way. Her fingers scrabbled at the neck of her top to try to get enough air so that she could say something, anything, to stop the seemingly inevitable painful collision with the sidewalk.
Just as the back of the front door was looming large in front of her Joe swerved to the left and she suddenly found herself in a wood panelled room with a large desk and lots of shelves with books and pictures and other stuff. Joe let go of her then and Finny collapsed to her knees on a thickly woven patterned rug. While she gasped for breath she heard the door close behind her and saw Joe’s legs walk past her towards the desk.
Finny slowly climbed to her feet, her scared eyes watching Joe as he perched his butt on the edge of the desk. Joe neatly folded the gravy stained napkin and put it down on the large green blotter. He did not look happy. Finny rubbed at her neck and grimaced. Hopefully it would get her some sympathy or at least try and make Joe feel guilty for choking her. It didn’t work
Joe put his hands in his lap.
Finny had nothing. The plan. The stupid stupid plan hadn’t happened. Her mind worked overtime to come up with a plan ‘B’. She thought about asking to see Kirsten. But Joe would see through that right away. Shit, even One Tooth would see through that right away. Asking to see Kirsten would do nothing to improve Joe’s current mood.
Joe leaned towards her.
“Finny? Why are you here?”
Finny swallowed. Oh well, maybe if she just told him the truth.
“Um, it’s about my locket…”
Any hopes of Joe getting back to a warm dinner disappeared as Joe listened patiently while Finny basically told him her life story. Finny’s tale wasn’t unusual, and Joe had definitely heard worse. His own childhood hadn’t exactly involved silver spoons… except when he was taking them to be fenced. No, her story hadn’t done anything to change his mind about sending her on her way with a boot up her scrawny behind. But, credit to her, she had come here to try and get her locket back. She hadn’t just given up on it. Joe’s small but growing conscience fought with his ingrained low opinion of humanity in general. In the end he had to admit that it was probably the freckles that swung it.
Finny finished her story. She looked up.
Joe took a deep breath and let it out in a long, noisy sigh.
“Okay. How about this. If you, Finny, keep up with your reading… and stop being such a pain in my neck about it… for a month, I’ll give you your locket back. Assuming it’s still there. Okay?”
Finny thought about it. ‘Assuming it’s still there’. Of course, there was a tradition in the factory that good behaviour or, more importantly, going above your quota, was often rewarded by a free dip of any of the confiscated items in the Ditty Box. Her heart sank. The chances of a solid silver locket not being the first choice of any kid lucky enough to get the first free dip was non-existent. These were street kids after all.
Finny hesitantly voiced her concerns. She waited. Joe looked at her. He started to say something, then stopped. Then started again, then stopped. He knew the truth of Finny’s words. Finally he spoke.
“Fine. A week then. One week. And I want to see a huge improvement in your reading. Okay, Miss Ophelia?
Finny had pushed her luck and she knew it. The ‘Miss Ophelia’ had been a warning. A week though, a whole week. But it was the best she was going to get. Joe’s left eye was twitching and that was never good. She nodded and the twitch in Joe’s eye stopped.
“Good.” Joe stood up and took Finny by the arm and led her towards the door. “Now, time for you to…”
But it never became clear what it was time for her to do because Joe’s words were almost drowned out by a loud growling coming from Finny’s middle. They stopped.
“Have you eaten?” Joe asked.
Finny shook her head.
Joe continued with Finny into the hallway but instead of turning left where the front door was Joe turned right and took Finny through to the kitchen where Silja was just finished trying to lick the pattern off a bowl long since empty of ice cream. Joe propelled Finny forward towards her.
“Here. Feed her, then kick her out.”
Silja put down the bowl and then smiled hugely at Finny as Joe disappeared back to what was left of his dinner and the promised ‘desert’.
Finny backed away, fearing Silja’s deadly touch and being infected with Manbites.