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Union Candy (part 11)

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Eric Small put down the receiver and stared at it. It was only when he realised that his fingertips had become sticky that he stopped scratching at the already red and inflamed flaky skin on his neck. Dammit. Dammit! Children shouldn’t be allowed to use phones. They certainly shouldn’t be allowed to call him up and casually ask for something that could get him instantly fired, and probably sent to prison.

He was still cursing the existence of children in general and one little red-haired girl in particular as he skittered down the boring grey office corridor inside Union Headquarters, leaving a floating trail of flaked off skin behind him. His mother had warned him about redheads but he hadn’t expected it to include the miniature variety, until Joe had introduced him to this one that is.

He found the office he wanted and quickly checked up and down the corridor to make sure he wasn’t being followed. Then he knocked rapidly on the door even as he was opening it.

“Hank, I need a favour…”

The door closed behind Eric, cutting off his words with a woody thud.

Both Don and Kru were reluctant to leave the car and step out into the gathering dusk. They walked close behind Finny with their hands inside their jackets while their heads turned, eyes ever vigilant for, well, anything that needed shooting.

Finny led them across the garage forecourt towards the gap between it and the entrance to the Lifenet bunker. She waved at the man coming out of the garage office, wiping his hands on a dirty rag and ready to see what he could do for the new customers.

Bill Bailey stopped dead in the doorway. It was her, the same girl who had come by with her gang of little hoodlums weeks back. She didn’t have a gun this time, just a battered pre-fall briefcase, but the two seriously serious looking adults walking with her told him that she had even more firepower than before, it’s just that she wasn’t carrying it this time. Bill forced a smile and nodded back in response to the girl’s incongruously happy wave and hoping this was the correct etiquette for not getting murdered today. Then he turned on his heel and walked back into the office and straight to the bottle he kept in an old box folder optimistically entitled, ‘Foreign Imports’… Well, the bottle did say ‘scotch’ on the label.

Normally, Kru or Don would have just shot their way past the giant wasps and the coyotes that wandered across their path. Even now, with the likelihood of the people they wanted to avoid waiting for them at the nearby checkpoint, gunshots out here would not have been amiss. But Finny insisted that they creep around trying to avoid them instead. In the deepening gloom it became easier to do, but so did kneeling in or putting your hand in something unpleasant as they literally crawled around between the hummocks. Kru and Don, especially Don, soon began to long for the concrete and tarmac they were used to.

But then they were there, outside the wide-open mouth that was the main entrance to the sewer system and the world of the Underfolk. The two henchmen looked at each other, then Kru turned to Finny.

“Finny? Are you sure about this? There are mutants in there you know, and they don’t like visitors.”

Finny took Kru by the hand and pulled.

“It’s fine. They’re my friends.”

The look Don gave his partner doubted the validity, even the sanity, of the poppet leading them into possibly permanent darkness. Kru shrugged and allowed herself to be led by the hand across the bouncing planks of the wooden bridge that spanned the huge spillway just inside the entrance. Unseen by Finny, Don pulled out his gun and brought up the rear of the little group.

The three of them had barely passed through the brick archway into total darkness before the unmistakeable clicks of several weapons being cocked echoed against the damp walls. Everyone stopped dead.

A figure, wielding an ancient AK47 emerged from the gloom. Finny felt Kru trying to release her hand but she held on tightly.

“Don’t!” She hissed. “You’ll scare him.” Finny turned to the mutant. “Hi Amador. It’s only me, you remember?”

Kru doubted that anything she was doing was going to scare the large mutant standing worryingly calm just a few metres away, especially as her shooting hand was being firmly held by a very determined nine-year-old. But she forced herself to relax, at least a bit. She lifted her free hand in a tentative greeting.

“Hi there.”

The mutant looked from her, down to Finny. When he spoke, his voice was muffled and wheezy but behind it was a strength that Kru recognised as authority.

“I remember you. You are the climbing girl. You are the child who killed a bear. You lead a tribe of children.” He looked up again at Kru and then Don. “These who come with you now, they are not children.”

Finny turned around, finally releasing Kru’s hand.

“They’re my friends. This is Kru, and this is…” Which is when she saw the pistol in Don’s hand. Without thinking, Finny stepped forward and twisted the weapon from Don’s grasp. She stood on tiptoe to hiss at him. “They don’t like guns! I told you!”

Now Don could easily have resisted Finny taking the gun from him, even just pushed her away, but he was starting to realise that something unexpected was going on here. The kid really was a friend of these things, just like she’d said.

Finny turned back to the mutant.

“I’m sorry Amador. He’s just scared is all.”

There were a few moments of heavy breathing until Amador spoke again.

“What do you want, little leader?”

Finny, awkwardly juggling both the briefcase and Don’s heavy 45 automatic, took a step forward.

“We want to get into the city without being seen. Some bad guys are trying to stop us.”

Amador looked from Finny to the two henchmen.

“No guns.” He nodded towards Don. “He cannot come. He has no control.”

The little trio huddled down together, whispering. The whispering got louder and more and more argumentative. Finny stamped her foot, literally, and the whispering now came only from her. Finally, the grown-ups stood up and Finny turned back to Amador.

“Okay. Just me an’ Kru then. Don will take the guns an’ go back.”

Amador nodded and Finny handed Don his pistol back. Kru reluctantly handed her own weapons over to her partner. With a departing glare at the mutant, Amador, Don turned and made his way back to the entrance. He would drive around to the far side of New Flagstaff and make as much noise as he could as if trying to force a way in on the other side of town. Hopefully this would draw attention away from whatever Kru and Finny would be doing. He wasn’t happy about the new arrangement, but it was obvious the big mutant wasn’t going to let him in without a gunfight.

Once Don was gone, Amador stepped to one side. Finny led her down several flights of steps, passing half a dozen well-armed sentries who had been standing in the darkness. They would have had no chance, Kru realised. When they were well below ground level, a final sentry opened a door for them and Kru found herself entering the home of the Underfolk.

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