Finn Shelby ran through the darkening streets as fast as his little legs would carry him. Freezing rain was mixing with two inch deep mud in the narrow alleys, making footing especially treacherous. He had slipped and fallen twice, and the two burly youths following him had managed to close the distance between them. But the boy still had a significant advantage. He knew the streets of Small Heath like the back of his hand, and his pursuers did not.
Several streets over from Watery Lane, there were two buildings undergoing renovation. If he could just get there, he was sure he could find a hiding place. Accelerating as he rounded the corner of Bridge Street, he looked back over his shoulder. An instant later, his head slammed into something hard. Then everything went black.
"Hello there." A young woman smiled down at him. Finn blinked, then winced.
"My head hurts something awful," he croaked.
"Hardly surprising, considering you ran straight into my metal filing cabinet." She held up two fingers. "How many fingers do you see?"
He squinted up at her. "Four..no,..three?"
"Close, but not quite." She laid a cool hand on his forehead, and Finn relaxed at her gentle touch.
"Who-who are you?" he asked.
"I'm Dr. Alexandra Ross, but you can call me Alex."
Finn stared at her. He had no memory of being cared for by any woman other than Aunt Polly. His aunt was kind, but stern-and she was usually preoccupied with what his brother Tommy called "family business." Finn wasn't quite sure what that family business was, but he knew it involved guns and money—in very large quantities.
"I've never heard of a lady doctor," he said doubtfully.
She laughed. "Well, I've never heard of a boy named Finn, but here you are. May I take a look at your head?"
He hesitated, then said, "Okay. But I think I'll be alright. Tommy says all the boys in our family have heads as hard as bricks."
"And who is Tommy?" Her dark hair brushed against the side of his face, and Finn caught the scent of roses. He tensed as her fingers gently probed the back of his head.
"He's my brother. He's tough as nails."
"Really?" She raised an eyebrow. "Well, I'd better stay away from him then."
"You probably won't be able to. All the girls like Tommy." He winced as Alex put a wet cloth to the back of his head.
"It'll just sting for a moment," she said soothingly. True to her word, she removed the cloth a few seconds later, and the discomfort immediately resolved. Picking up a roll of gauze, she started to wind a bandage around his head. "So tell me, why is Tommy such a favorite with the girls? Is he taller or faster than the other boys?"
Finn chuckled. "He's definitely not the tallest. And John's always been the fastest."
"Hmm. Then he must like to make people laugh."
"Not Tom. He's quieter than most." Finn thought for a moment, then shrugged. "To be honest, miss, I don't know what they like about him. Girls are just strange."
She laughed again, and helped him to sit up. As he did so, the room spun around him, and his stomach began to churn.
Alex took one look at him and promptly laid him back down. Covering him with a blanket, she said, "I think you'd better just rest here for a bit. Give me your address, and I'll send word to your parents. It's getting dark, and they'll be worried sick."
Finn hated it when people asked him about his parents. Fortunately, those occasions were rare, as nearly everyone in Small Heath knew the history of the Shelby family. "My mum's dead, and my dad left years ago. Aunt Pol says good riddance, because he's a lazy fucking drunk."
He braced himself for one of the usual reactions. But Alex surprised him. She did not fuss over him, or give him a long speech about how he should be glad that his mum was safe and happy in heaven. She merely took his hand in hers, and said, "Your Aunt Pol then. How do I find her?"
Finn shook his head."Aunt Pol's not at the house. She's gone to Bristol for a few days to see her cousin. Tommy'll be home, though. 6 Watery Lane."
Alex was silent for a moment. "Is Tommy old enough and responsible enough to keep an eye on you?" she finally asked, tucking the blanket around his shoulders.
"Yes," he said stoutly. "He doesn't drink like Arthur."
Although she finally nodded, Finn thought her eyes looked sad. "Alright. Tommy it is then."
It was after dark when Tommy got home. The house was eerily quiet, but a single light could be seen in the kitchen. "Arthur! John!" he called. When there was no response, he took off his coat and hat, and went to the stairs. "Finn? Ada? Where is everyone?"
Shaking his head, he went into the kitchen, and found Arthur passed out with his head on the table. One hand was wrapped tightly around an empty bottle of whiskey. Tommy sighed, and pried the bottle from his brother's fingers.
A loud groan came from the table. "Fuck off, Tom."
"Come on, Arthur."
Hauling his brother to his feet, Tommy dragged him into the living room and deposited him on the couch.
"Now, where's Finn?"
"Hell if I know. He went out with some of his friends this afternoon. Ain't seen him since."
Tommy leaned over Arthur, grasping his shirt with one strong hand. "You were supposed to be keeping an eye on him."
"What am I, a fucking nursemaid?"
Tommy was silent for a moment, then spoke, his voice and slow and deliberate. "He's our brother, Arthur. He's ten years old. It's well after dark, and the truce with the Italians is shot to hell. If anything happens to him, you're going to answer to me."
"Okay, Tom. I'll answer to you." Arthur's head lolled to the side, and a loud snore was heard a moment later.
"Fucking hell." Tommy stood up, and rubbed his eyes. He sighed, and reached for his coat. As he shrugged it on, a knock came at the door.
He opened it to find a lad of about thirteen, nervously twisting his cap in his hand. "Begging your pardon, Mr. Shelby, but I was asked to deliver a message to you about your brother."
"What about him?" Tommy asked, his eyes boring into the boy.
"He fell and hit his head-but he's okay, just a little banged up. He's with the new doctor over on Bridge Street-Dr. Ross. That's all I know, sir-honest."
The boy's voice was rising in panic, and Tommy instinctively knew he was telling the truth.
"Right, lad. What's your name?"
"Harry Evans, sir."
"Dottie Evans' boy, aye?"
Tommy put on his cap and shut the door behind him. Putting his hand on the boy's shoulder, he murmured, "Well, Harry, you are going to take me to the good Dr. Ross' office."
After five minutes' walk, they came to a street on the edge of Small Heath. Narrow brick row houses stood shoulder to shoulder, shutters closed against prying eyes.
"There's the surgery, Mr. Shelby." Harry pointed to a two-story building on the corner. A freshly painted white sign hung over the door.
Dr. Alex M. Ross, Physician & Surgeon.
"The doctor said it would be unlocked—you're to go on in. They'll be in the exam room."
Tommy slipped a few coins into the boy's hand. "Be sure you give your mum and granny my best regards."
Harry nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you, Mr. Shelby."
"Good lad. Off with you now." The boy dashed off.
Tommy tried the door, and found that it was indeed unlocked. Stepping into the house, he closed the door softly behind him. A stone fireplace stood directly in front of him, the embers of a dying fire casting a warm glow over the polished wood floor. A dozen chairs lined the walls of the room, and a box of toys sat in the corner.
There was a murmur of voices, and Tommy noted a corridor to the left that led to several rooms. The door to the first room was ajar, and light streamed into the hall. As he headed towards the exam room, a small spaniel darted out into the hall and began barking furiously.
"Calm down, Charles." A slim young woman stepped out into the light, and the spaniel trotted over to her, his tail wagging. She picked the dog up, then noticed Tommy. "I'm sorry, sir, but the surgery is closed for the day. I'm just finishing up with a young patient at the moment. You are in luck, though, as there is an available appointment first thing in the morning. Do you mind leaving your name and the nature of your ailment in the appointment book?"
Touching the brim of his cap, he said, "You must be the nurse. I'm looking for Dr. Ross."
The dog wriggled out of her arms and jumped to the floor, then disappeared into the exam room.
Her frank hazel eyes met his gaze equably. "I'm Dr. Ross. Dr. Alexandra-Alex-Ross."
He shoved his hands into his pockets, then gave her an apologetic smile. "Well, it seems as if I've put my foot in it."
"Tommy? Is that you?" Finn called.
"Yes. I'm here to take you off the good doctor's hands."
"You're Tommy?" She began to laugh, then clapped her hand over her mouth. "I'm sorry, that was terribly rude of me. It's just that I was expecting a gangly thirteen year old boy, not a full grown man. But Finn did say that you were old enough and responsible enough to care for him."
Her smile was infectious, and Tommy found himself chuckling. "Well, my aunt does say I'm nothing but an overgrown boy at times. But that's usually when I've gotten Finn into some sort of mischief."
"Like the time when we ate all the strawberry jam while Aunt Pol was at church!" Finn yelled.
"Charming." Alex's eyes danced with amusement.
Tommy grinned. "What can I say? Guilty as charged."
"Well, let me reunite you with your erstwhile accomplice."
He stepped into the light to follow her, and took off his cap. Her pupils dilated almost imperceptibly when she saw the flash of the razor blade, but her expression betrayed nothing.
"He's right in here." She led the way into the exam room.
Tommy stepped inside. Although his throat tightened when he saw his Finn's bandaged head, he schooled his face into a severe expression. Pointing at his brother, he said, "You and I are going to have a conversation when we get home." Finn nodded, then yawned, his eyelids growing heavy.
Alex lowered her voice, and drew Tommy off to the side. "I'd advise you to wait until the morning, Mr.-" she stopped. "I'm sorry, I don't know your last name."
"Shelby." Tommy waited for her to show some reaction to the name that was feared all over Birmingham, but she merely nodded.
"Mr. Shelby, Finn has sustained a concussion, and recalls nothing of the actual event-or what preceded it. But I can fill in a bit of the details. He came tearing around the corner in front of the surgery whilst I was moving a metal filing cabinet into the office, and slammed into it head first. He was out cold for several minutes."
"Lucky he ran into you. Not everyone would have been so gracious," Tommy observed, watching his younger brother closely. Finn was not always forthcoming with the details of his misdeeds, and he suspected there was much more to the story.
Alex glanced up at him. "You'd be surprised. My faith in humanity was restored when two young Italian men helped me carry him into the office."
Tommy's mouth went dry. "Italian men?"
"Yes. They came around the corner just after your brother hit the ground, and were such a help. They even insisted on taking the file cabinet into my office for me. It was quite lovely to see such kindness-especially in young men." As she turned to check on Finn, her words echoed in Tommy's head. He seized her arm, and spun her around, his hands closing around her wrists.
"I need you to tell me exactly what they said."
She took a step back. "Mr. Shelby, I—"
Her next words were drowned out by the sound of shattering glass. An instant later, all hell broke loose.
All recognizable characters belong to the BBC. I own nothing but my OCs and my original dialogue.