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Then There Were Three (part 5)

 
Joe Spivey's picture
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Except for one man who remained standing outside the front door with his arms folded, the rest of the people started to leave in twos and threes. Some of them looked inside the car, but only a few of them smiled at the three kids sitting on the back seat. The blond lady did though, and she waved, but Finny saw in her eyes that even she looked worried.

Then Finny saw the missus doctor lady come out of the house and jog over to the building where all the medical stuff had come from. Seeing her cheered Finny up and, inside, Fear slunk off for a little while.

After a few minutes, nurse Maisie came back out. She handed the man by the door a paper mask that covered his nose and mouth, like the ones Finny had seen the nurses wear at the medical centre in Flagg.

When Maisie reached the car, she opened the door.

“Right, come on you three.”

Finny Casper and Onetooth slid across the back seat and, one by one, hopped down onto the cracked tarmac. There, they stood nervously by the picket fence, its neglected white paint thin and peeling in harmony with the house itself, and looked around. There were other houses on the street and here and there a curtain twitched. It still felt strange to the three orphans. Sort of in a town, but not in a town. It was too open, too much space between the buildings.

Maisie, busy pulling boxes and bags out of the car, noticed them and how they huddled together. She looked around too, something was obviously spooking them. Nope, nothing. Then she understood. City kids.

“Oi, don’t just stand there. Make yourselves useful and help me fetch these supplies in.”

The distraction worked and, laden with parcels, the three of them trooped after Maisie back towards the house like ducklings following Momma.

Inside, the house smelled musty and unused. Finny’s nose even picked up the faint but unpleasant aroma of mould somewhere above. It was untidy, too. This, Finny guessed, was probably what had been the living room of the house. Even though a lot of furniture had been removed, there were still carefully stacked piles of bed frames, mattresses, chairs, tables and other household stuff all around the walls.

Casper nudged Finny and nodded towards where four beds were arranged next to each other along one of the walls. They had mattresses and sheets and pillows and each bed had two blankets folded across the bottom. Finny frowned. If these were their beds, then where was Worms?

Nurse Maisie deposited her parcels on top of a long table that took up much of the middle of the room. Finny, Casper and Onetooth did likewise and then stood and watched as she checked the items off against a list. Once again, Finny felt Casper’s elbow in her ribs. She treated him to a hard stare, but took a step forward.

“Please Miss. Um. Where’s worms?”

Maisie stopped what she was doing, slightly irritated that she had been interrupted, and turned to Finny. The little girl took half a step back, before correcting herself and crossing her arms across her chest.

“He’s our friend.”

The words held defiance.

Hope Spring’s head nurse, not known for her good humour or her willingness to put up with silliness… even from her boss, certainly didn’t stand for any nonsense from children. Even if they had come in bleeding or limping or, as in one case, holding their severed fingers in their other hand, she expected a degree of stoicism while she sorted out whatever it was wrong with them. Parents of said children, didn’t fare much better.

However, Maisie knew these kids. Once a month she or the doc visited the ammunition factory specifically to check on the employees’ wellbeing. She knew most of their stories and the orphans often took the little bit of alone time they had with her to let the mask of hard, streetwise gutter-rat, slip a little and divulge their little dreams and fears. Because of this, Maisie was prepared to cut the kids from the orphanage some slack… just a little, mind. She put down her list.

“He’s in the next room. Do you want to see him?” Three untidy heads nodded as one. “Come on then. But be quiet, he’s asleep.”

Maisie led them out of the living room and down a short passage towards the kitchen. She stopped at a door and opened it quietly. With a finger to her lips she beckoned the three kids towards the opening.

Worms was a very small bump under the vast blueness of the hospital blanket. And against the stiff whiteness of the pillow, the sallow skin of his face had a deathly sheen that was beaded in sweat. As they watched, they could see his wet lips twitching, murmuring something that only Worms’ fevered mind could hear. Maisie felt a hand touch hers and looked down. It was the smaller of the two boys. Maisie searched for the name, Scott… something, although she doubted that was what the others called him.

“Miss? Is he going to die?”

The question turned the heads of the other two and Maisie found herself looking down into three concerned, and yet strangely accepting, faces.

“Well, we don’t even know for sure what is wrong with him yet but even if it is what we think it is then we have medicine for it.” She changed the subject. “Is anyone hungry?”

The worried faces quickly turned into eager nods. Maisie quietly closed the door and led Finny and co. back to the living room.

“Right. How do bacon sandwiches sound?”

Apparently, bacon sandwiches sounded very good, judging by the chorus of yummies and the exaggerated drooling sounds. Maisie smiled.

“Well great…” She went over to the table and unfastened one of the parcels, coming back with three glass tubes. She broke the seal on one of them and pulled out a long stick with a gnarled plastic ball, about the size of a marble, on the end. “But first, I need to take some samples from you all to make sure you haven’t caught what your friend has.” Finny, Casper and Onetooth looked at each other, and then at the little stick the nurse was holding. Maisie continued to smile. “Okay then, who wants to be first?”

The phone rang. It didn’t have time to ring again. Matron Clinton nodded solemnly as doctor Troy confirmed what the nurse she had talked to on the side of the road had feared. Worms had typhoid. A small pit of panic started to open in the young matron’s stomach but she quickly filled it with all the things that needed to be done. First on the list was another phone call. The Union Medical Centre needed to be told immediately.

Joe was not in a good mood when he flung open the door to his office. Saturday working meant overtime so he didn’t have chips to spare for whatever it was that was causing the commotion on the factory floor. When he leaned over the railing to see what was going on below, Joe’s first thought was that this was a police raid. His overseer, Taiyoko, was desperately trying to hold back the crowd of half a dozen Union guards from getting any further into the factory than they already had. The kids, meanwhile, were ducking under or climbing over the benches in an attempt to get behind Taiyoko. Some were even running to the changing room, probably to hide.

Just then, one of the Union men happened to glance up and see Joe.

“Mister Spivey! Mister Spivey, you need to let us in. This building is now under quarantine! You and everyone here need to come with us to the orphanage!”

Joe’s first instinct was to run. He had a prepared escape path which would see him roaring away on a motorbike in under a minute. However, the mention of quarantine made him hesitate. He signaled to Taiyoko to stop and his overseer and the men he had been holding back stopped struggling with each other and stood waiting for instructions.

The Union man continued.

“Mister Spivey. My name is Ducas, I’m from the Union Medical Centre. A case of typhoid has been confirmed in one of the children who work here. We need your cooperation to help prevent any possible spread of the disease.”

Half an hour later, having secured the factory, Joe, Taiyoko and all of the ammunition workers were safely behind the now locked doors of the orphanage. The confused and anxious inmates were led away to their respective dormitories to join their friends being tested for the disease. Joe and Taiyoko were taken to a small office where a pathology tech was waiting for them.

“Okay gentlemen,” the grinning young tech said, picking up one of the two glass tubes from the desk. “This won’t hurt. Just drop your pants and bend over and it’ll all be over in two shakes of a…”

Which was as far as he got before Joe punched him.

Comments

Veronica Volt's picture

((Good story! A different tension and suspense.



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