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The Secret Adventurer's Club Second Adventure (part 13)

 
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The fact that Lonely looked away and murmured that she didn’t know made Tukiko immediately suspicious. She looked again at the far away scene and concentrated on it in a way that was becoming more and more comfortable ever since the birth of Ichiro.

The scene zoomed into focus and Tukiko was taken aback when she saw the familiar face of the red-haired girl from the factory, one of the four Joe was teaching to read and write.

“Shit.”

She surmised that the three boys who sat beside her must most likely be the other three members of the reading group.

“Shittitty shit shit.” Tukiko snapped her attention back to Lonely and grabbed the girl by the arm. “Take me to Long Hands.”

There were three gangs of Devil’s Own in close proximity to Hope Springs. Over the years an ‘understanding’ had grown up between them and Hope’s less than conventional mayor. Since her return to Hope a couple of years ago, Dr. Tukiko Troy had become part of that understanding. So much so that now it was even possible for injured Devil’s Own, under the watchful eye of vigilant Hope Springs residents of course, to get treatment at the town’s small clinic.

Usually, however, Dr. Troy visited each of the three camps on set days to deal with anything from fevers to childbirth. At each camp she was given an ‘assistant’, a drudge – someone who had once been taken on a raid but had never been adopted by the gang. Where she was now, in the north camp, Tukiko’s assistant was Lonely and Tukiko was patiently teaching her and the other two drudges the basics of field medicine. It had been agreed with the gang leaders of each camp that, once trained, the status of the assistant would be elevated to gang member and so escape the abuse common to all drudges. Tukiko had not told Hyle Troy, her mother and the mayor of Hope, of this situation as Tukiko wasn’t sure how Hyle would take the knowledge that her daughter basically owned three people… However temporary that situation might be.

Long Hands was the gang leader of the northern camp. He was also the most amenable to change and had discouraged the practice of taking young children for later adoption. However, ‘discouraged’ was a long way from banned but he was Tukiko’s best hope of interceding on behalf of the four orphans about to auctioned off as drudges.

By the time Lonely and Tukiko had found Long Hands, appraised him of the situation and arrived on the scene, Justin was well into his sales pitch.

“… ‘E’s a bit feisty as you can see…” Justin was holding Onetooth at arm’s length as the little boy swung and kicked and swore in response to Justin’s goading. “… but a swift back-hander will soon sort that out...” Justin demonstrated by viciously back-hand slapping Onetooth across the face and then letting him drop to the ground. “…As you can see.”

Justin moved to stand behind Casper who was visibly shaking and staring straight ahead with wide, terrified eyes.

“Now then, this one…”

Which was as far as he got before noticing the crowd parting to make room for Long Hands and his lieutenants. Also, much to Justin’s irritation, the doctor from Hope Springs. Long Hands stepped forward, walking around the four captives as if appraising them himself.

“You been on a raid, Justin is it?” Long Hands came to a halt in front of Justin.

“Well, no. We ain’t had no raids in a couple of weeks… You, you know that.”

The crowd had gone quiet, it was looking like the evening was going to become entertaining. Even Sadie managed to haul herself to her feet and pay attention. Long Hands looked perplexed.

“So, if you haven’t been raiding, where’d you get these from then?”

Justin paused. He was well aware of Long Hand’s view on taking kids in raids but it wasn’t a view held by a good many of the gang, Justin included. He was sure he had broken no rules by doing so.

“We, er, found ‘em. Out by the old power station. All alone they were, didn’t have to kill anyone either.”

Long Hand’s looked around at the crowd to try and judge the mood. No one looked too pissed off with the interruption to the auction, well, except Justin of course. He turned back to Justin, raising a hand to let his over-long fingers tap one of the few bullets into alignment with its neighbours.

“So did it never occur to you why four kids were out in the wasteland all alone and wandering around as if they owned the place?”

“No, not really. We just thought they were lost or sumink, din’t we Sades?”

Sadie felt all eyes turn to her, and didn’t like it.

“So you said.” She turned to appeal to the crowd. “That’s what he told me. I was just out looking fer food an’ shit.”

The look Justin gave her would have curdled milk. Long Hands tapped another bullet in Justin’s cross belt.

“The thing is Justin. I’m reliably informed that these four wanderers make those bullets you have slung around your manly chest.” The finger turned into a stabbing point of displeasure. “These fucking kids work in Joe fucking Spivey’s fucking factory Justin.”

That statement got a reaction from the crowd. Spivey was far and away the most prolific supplier of ammunition to the Devil’s Own. Not only that, his traders also did a good trade in foodstuffs and in life’s little luxuries. Long Hands stopped poking Justin in the chest and turned to re-join his lieutenants.

“Do you remember the last time Spivey got pissed off because some hothead killed one of his traders?”

Everybody did. The flow of ammunition stopped, as did the food, as did the luxuries they had become used to. It only resumed again when the leaders agreed to a price increase to cover Joe’s ‘expenses’.

Long Hands waited. He had played his cards, but was the hand strong enough?

Justin felt the anger rising but was savvy enough not to let it show.

“But these are just kids, ain’t they? Spivey has a whole orphanage full of replacements.” Justin turned to the crowd. “’An I ain’t breaking no law, am I? Am I?”

The crowd murmured. It was true. The rules, such as the gang had absolutely allowed ‘adoption’. Justin was banking on the crowd to support him and the gang’s own laws.

Long Hands recognised that he was perhaps moments away from a challenge, something he had every reason to be afraid of. A lot of the camp weren’t fond of his progressive ideas and his ‘cosying up’ to Hope Springs. He stepped forward, raising his hands in the air and talking directly to the crowd.

“He’s right. He’s right. Taking these kids for adoption is not against the law, but… Pissing of Spivey is never going to end well. I suggest we compromise. He turned to Justin.

“What if I say Justin can keep one kid and I’ll see the rest get back to Spivey all safe and sound as a gesture of good faith. He’ll see the sense of that.” He turned to Justin.

“Pick which one you want to keep.”



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