Who is Old Joe?

18 months Ago...

The full heat of summer on Santos was beating down on the small tin shack where Haddie sat playing with three small white puppies. Two were plain white and the third had a brown patch around its right eye. The patch eyed pup was growling as it pulled against a knot of rope that Haddie had been teasing him with.

"Come on Haddie its time to go." Her mother called from outside.

"In a minute ma." She called back showing no sign of moving. A few minutes passed and Gill appeared at the door, sent on a mission to retrieve his younger sister.

"Come on short stuff, we're heading out." He looked down at the puppies with a wistful smile. Haddie gave a groan and with a sudden look of defiance scooped up patch and ran out into the yard where her mother was waiting by the store entrance.

She had long auburn hair and bright green eyes that flashed with amusement as she took in the sight of Haddie with the pup. "Go put it back now Haddie." She chided but the little girl stood her ground.

"Ma can't we keep this one?" She asked.

"Out in the black is no place for a puppy." Her mother answered just as her father emerged from the store followed by his friend Old Joe. The two were laughing over some joke and stopped short when they saw Haddie with the animal.

"I see you found the puppies then." Old Joe observed with a wry smile. He was as his name suggested an older man in his late sixties with a grizzled white beard and no hair.

"She is after keeping one of them." Her mother said not unsympatheticly.

Her father came over and crouched next to her. He ruffled the pups fur and it nipped at his hands making him chuckle. His brown eyes were sparkling with amusement when they met Haddies and she grinned with triumph knowing what was coming next.

"Why not," he winked up at his wife and she groaned as he turned to ask, "how much for the pup Joe?"

Joe barked a laugh, "She's all yours Tam, I can only keep one of them."

The men shook hands laughing and went back inside Tom complete their business. Haddie stood there grinning as the tin clad door closed behind them. The words Old Joes' painted across it in red.

Present Day...

"What are you grinning at?" Gill asked as they walked up to the store front. The words Old Joes were daubed across the outside of the closed tin door confirming they were in the right place.

Haddie glanced up and shrugged. They approached the door and Gill pushed it open. It was silent inside, the dusty shelves sparsely stocked with supplies and ship parts. Motes of dust spiralled down through the thin rays of sunlight that seeped in through the cracks in the Zink plate roof.

"Hello?" Gill called out, "Anyone here?"

"Just a moment." Came a gruff voice from out back followed by a the clash and clank of produce being moved. After a moment a familiar figure emerged from the shadows at the rear of the store, a wiry bald man with a grizzled beard.

"Been dead as a week old dung rat this morning ideas just taking stock and.." he stopped short as his eyes fell on the children and for a moment his mouth worked like a drowning fish struggling to find his next words.

"As I live and breath." He managed at last.

"Mornin Joe." Gill managed suddenly overcome with an emotion he could not quite understand. He fought away the tears that were threatening to flow and Haddie ran over and hugged the old man.

"Well I'll be damned." Joe said after a moment. "What are you doing here? No.. no let me shut up shop and we'll catch up proper like over a plate of food."

As Old Joe busied himself closing up the store Gill and Haddie made their way through to the living quarters in the back. Haddie sat herself in an old armchair that their father used to sit in to drink and haggle with the old man, while Gill wandered over to the Cortex panel. He considered patching in. He knew a few ways around the front end security that his pa had taught him and...

"Dont be touching that..." Joe's voice was harsh and Gill flinched back from the panel but then the old man said in a softer tone, "Got some stuff on there that... ain't for kids." He flushed red at the last and Gill looked away to hide his grin. He had been around long enough to know what that meant even if he didn't quite see the point in it all himself.

He shrugged and went to sit down. Joe wasnt long preparing a small meal and soon they were all sat downto eat and Gill filled in the old man on the fate of his old friends and the sad plight of Gill and Haddie.

"That there is a harsh fate." Joe muttered a last. "But lad the Fed's are most likely your best hope of a new life."

"No!" Gill snapped, "no they would seperate us."

"Well that as might be.."

"No." Gill repeated, "We were hoping you might help us."

"And so I will." Joe said at last glancing sideways at Haddie. "You two been through too much..."

Haddie was focused on the window. She kept propping herself up to peer out.

"You got ants in your pants girl?" Asked Joe.

"I think she's looking for the puppies. We... we lost ours.."

"Well i only kept one and she ain't no puppy no more. Had to train her up as a guard dog. Sad but true." He was silent then, as he stared out of the window in thought.

"What is it Joe?" Gill asked.

"What oh nothing, just a stray thought, happens alot when you get this old." He laughed, "Say how about I take you kids out to see her, Maddie only bites if I tell her to." He eye balled the two kids in mock threat and then burst out laughing. "Come on mayhaps she'll remember you."

They followed Joe outside towards the tin shed that served as a kennel. Joe opened the door and ushered them inside. The shed was empty.

"Where's Maddie?" Gill asked.

"Oh she's nearby." Joe replied and there was a change in his voice, "She'll have to sleep outside tonight."

And with that Old Joe slammed the door closed. Gill threw himself forward but he was to slow. The old man had placed a bar across to edit.

"Yī dà tuó dà biàn*, what are you doing?" Gill screamed.

"Mind you language boy." Came the reply from without, "The Fed's will have no truck with a foul mouth kid and you and your sister are in enouh trouble as is."

"Why?" Gill was close to tears now as he beat against the door.

"Cos the verse is a hard place boy and your pa owed me hard coin... damn near bankrupt me when he got himself killed the dumb pi gu*."

OOC: Well shit. The kids can't catch a break.

*Yī dà tuó dà biàn = Big pile of shit
*Pi gu = Ass

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