Weasel woke with a sore throat and a slight headache, but for the first time in a long while he was warm and comfortable, and he luxuriated in the feeling until he became aware of an urgent pressing need. He realised he was resting on a soft mattress, with a thick layer of blankets over the top of him. To ether side were warm bodies snuggled close, and it was with moans of protest that he extracted himself, though his companions quickly resumed their slumber. A faint daylight penetrated the darkness, and to one side he could see a covered pail, much like could be found in most homes, so he lifted the lid and relieved himself of some of the night’s drinks.
As he finished a trap door in the floor popped open and the head of the boy he had met last night appeared.
“Ah, you’re up,” the boy exclaimed, as he pulled himself up onto the floor, “Nip downstairs an there’s some hot milk on the stove, pour yerself a mug an we’ll be down in a jiffy!”
Still sleepy, Weasel nodded and let himself be helped onto the ladder leading to the floor below, stumbling slightly as he reached the bottom. Up in the sleeping loft, Tepic examined the pile of lumpy blankets critically before nudging one of the shapes with his foot.
“Come on Hoyt, time ter be up an about, rouse yerself!”
He continued his prodding until the shape groaned and a tousled head poked itself from under the covers’
“Wha’d you wan’, ‘s tired…. le’me sleep……”
It was time for more direct action, so Tepic grabbed under the boy’s arm and hauled, pulling the bigger lag halfway out from the warmth!
“Hey!” Hoyt cried, thoroughly annoyed, “Wha’ yer do fha’ for?”
“We gotta talk ter Weasel, remember, before he thinks too much bout yesterday, come on, we decided last night, yeah?”
On the way back to the old factory after the distasteful task they had performed, the boys had talked over what they had to do next. Tepic was very firm that they never tell anyone what had happened, and Hoyt, still green and sick looking from the experience had agreed whole heartedly. It was alright to see yourself as a hero, saving a smaller lad from certain death, but every time it came to mind he felt ill again, especially when he realised they might be after him for the killing. Better never to mention it again….
What to do about Weasel was more of a concern, he was still new to the City, and even though Tepic and he were of about an age, he was still wet behind the ears. Between them, they had come up with an ingenious and definitely urchin solution.
The two of them descended to the room where the Sneaky Vole was set out, and where Weasel was currently guzzling down warm milk. They ladled themselves mugs from the pot suspended over the fire and joined the lad at the table.
“So how’s yer feeling this morning Weasel?” asked Tepic.
The boy trembled and raised his hand to his throat, a look of fear beginning to cross his face, “The man….”.
“Recon yer still a bit shocked, after yer accident, running in them dark streets with all them parcels, stands ter reason yer gonna trip an bang yer head, don’t it?”
“Yes,” Hoyt joined in, “banged your head good, you did!”
“Was lucky Hoyt were there, specially when you cut yerself on that bit o’ metal, he looked after yer an brought yer here. We sorted yer out, but yer was having some bad dreams last night….”
“Dreams……” the younger boy looked between the two of them, now looking thoroughly confused.
“Yep, yer was going on about all sorts of stuff, still, it’s over now, an yer better, but don’t mess with that bandage! Now, fancy some more milk?”
“Oh….. errrrr….. yes?” he said, anticipating some more of the delicious warm liquid, as the horrific events of the previous evening were consigned to the dumping ground of bad dreams within his young and flexible mind.
Tepic winked at Hoyt as he turned his back to replenish the mug, now all they had to do was find out why Weasel was in the city, and where he could be safely placed for the winter.
“So Weasel, why’d yer come ter the City, Hoyt tells me yer only been around a few weeks, yer folks kicked yer out?”
The boy shook his head and gulped down a mouthful of warm sweet milk before replying “I ran, an I ain’t goin’ back!”
“It weren’t fer something daft was it, not cus yer hadda do chores or nuffin?”
“Me da drinks, he does, an me Ma has ter look after all the others, an there were another on the way…..”, his head dropped as he related his all too familiar story. Hoyt put a hand on his shoulder, comforting the younger boy.
“Don’ worry, you are wif friends now, we’ll help!”
“Yup, it’s just a matter of yer decidin what ter do, cus yer gotta earn yer living somehow, an Hoyt has his job ter do as well….”
Weasel looked between his companions, a dubious look on his face, “Can’ I jus’ halp Hoyt?”
“Sorry Weasel, you’ve been very helpful, but feir isn’ enough for fho of us fa do..” [Hoyt]
Relaxing as the morning sunlight slowly warmed the room, the city boys mulled over the options, putting them to Weasel and each other. They discussed the pros and cons of factory work – a place to sleep, regular but low wages, usually a meal at mid-day against long hours, dangerous conditions and constant hard work. The young lad didn’t like the sound of that, far too like the home he had left, so they moved on. Shipping as a cabin boy, on either the sea or air fleets, did not appeal either, even when they discounted the fact he was several years short on age. After his recent run in with the Church of the Builders, Tepic wondered if Weasel could find a place with them, and maybe train to be a Messenger. The idea of having to study not only reading but also his numbers worried the youngster, and the idea the Brothers kept discipline with a swift cane decided him against that course. Then Hoyt had an idea.
“How abou’ the Boo’ Boys, ‘epic?” he suggested.
“Hmmm….. now that’s an idea, ain’t it, free enough life it is, yer get yer own patch, an the Boys take care of their own, so’s yer got protection…. an if yer good, in a few years any of the big houses’ll take yer on as Boot Boy, an from there, just depends how hard yer willing ter work….”
They explained to their friend about the Boys. They were a gang, of sorts, well organized and experienced, running the shoe and boot cleaning business in the City, from the boys roaming the streets with blacking boxes, through the stands outside every barber, and even up to the contracts for some of the hotels. Anyone who wanted their boots shined and who didn’t do themselves or employ a Boot Boy of their own had to use their services – anyone trying to set up in competition had a habit of meeting with unexplained accidents. Anyone could join the Boys, they would go out with an experienced lad, you had to learn the trade quickly and well, for as soon as you could show you could clean and polish to the required standard you would be given a blacking box and a street, and be expected to earn your keep. Naturally, a percentage of earnings went straight to the Boys, and not a small percent either, but you had a place to sleep, food to eat and you were part of the gang, to be looked after when needed. Boot Boys stood together.
“Tha’ sounds nice, Hoyt, I’d have lots ob friends ta play with…”
“I’ isn’ all play, Weasel, you have fa work hard, and in fhe winter i’ can be cold, but leas; fey look affer you and you won’ freeze.”
“It ain’t easy ter get in either, yer usually need ter put up some dosh, ter show yer mean it, an if yer don’t stay the course they keeps the cash.”
Weasel’s face fell, he had no money, and couldn’t think of any way to raise any funds.
“Ha! No need ter look like that, i knows the Chief of the Boot Boys, an he owes me a favour like, know what i mean?”, the fox boy exclaimed, “an Hoyt an me, well, we had a bit o’ luck the other nice, a chap we met gave a nice wodge of the foldin stuff, we can use that fer yer apprenticeship, right Hoyt?”
Hoyt looked a little discomforted by this, they had taken the money from the dead man’s wallet, and he had thought of several things he could do with his share, but seeing his friend so happy at his new fortune broke any resolve he had to object.
“Yes, fha would be good.”
“All fixed then, we can take yer down later an introduce yer, and of course, yer can always come an kip down here anytime yer like, or drop in an see us when the Boys come ter the Vole!”
Tepic raised his mug, and the three toasted the new day in best quality vole milk.