Tepic looked around the room at all the expectant faces, some well known friends, but most only half remembered glimpses or completely new to him.It was time to begin. He stood up onto the long table and banged the pots he was holding together, the loud noise bringing chatter to a halt. Every eye looked towards him, and he nervously cleared his throat.
“Watcha all, welcome ter Loki’s Secret Urchin Hideout, a safe place fer all us urchins. Fer some of you, this is yer first time up here, we keeps it a secret, an new people only come here if they’s been brought by someone who knows. We got a couple of places like this in the city, some is known by the grown ups cus they set em up, but others is ours only.”
He paused to let this sink in, hoping he had got the message across that no-one was to squeal.
“Most of you have come ter the City during the spring an summer, you’ve had good pickings an somewhere ter sleep in the corners. Well, it’s gonna change. We got autumn coming on, then winter, an life gets kinda difficult. You needs a place covered an warm, or you gonna be found stiff as a board an dead as nails in the morning.The urchin who brought you here tonight’ll show you our safe places, remember em!”
“Fer some of you, living on the streets ain’t gonna work, an if that’s so, well, there are some factories always looking fer young uns to work, an since the Match Factory strikes couple of years back you ain’t gonna have to work more’n twelve hours a day, which ain’t bad, an most of em offer free transport to the charity hospitals when yer get hurt or ill. Yer also get breakfast, supper an a butty at noon, which is real good living.” Tepic paused for breath, then continued… “but.. you sees a notice wanting urchins fer work, or some bloke tries ter get you to come into his factory, you waits till you checked with some of us as has been here a bit, just ter make sure.”
“Same goes fer when scrounging a bit ter eat, there are loads of nice people round here as will help out a hungry urchin, an we’ll show you the sign we use to show em. Keep an eye out fer marks ter show if someones eaten there that day, yer don’t want ter go wearing out yer welcome, do you Tubby?” the boy eyed his slightly rotund friend pointedly. “Less’n it’s really cold, try ter get em to bring the grub to you, ain’t a good idea ter go indoors, specially not alone, an specially if you’se a girl – an i mean’s you too Pat, don’t you think you’se got us fooled dressin that way!”
A taller boy blushed and looked away, then smiled at Tepic and shrugged.
“Yeah, an you ain’t the only one, why does yer all read them stories an think no one will notice if yer puts on a pair of trews an a jacket, shessshhh! There’s people in this City as can smell yer out, an that don’t only mean me, though if yer with DreadPirateBob or Jimmy, yer probably safe…..”
“Oh, yes, an if any of you’se came ter the city from a poor but nice home with lovin parents, an with a bundle tied on a stick an a cat fer company hoping ter make your fortune in the big City, well……. GO HOME YOU DAFT BUGGERS!!!”
The shout startled the gathered children, and one or two looked around guiltily. Tepic sighed, there were always one or two who believed the stories, and gave up a good life for the harsh, unforgiving and often deadly city.
“i means it, you gets a chance ter go home, do it, cus life ain’t easy here, we has ter work hard an stick together, or we ain’t gonna make it through the winter…”
“Some of the people here are nice most of the time, but you still got ter be careful, cus if one of em is doing experiments an needs something testing, well, if you’se handy, it might just be you…”
“Now sometimes it’s alright, an we can do all sorts of errands an message running fer people, fer which we get a few coppers – there was some as was getting way too much fer jobs, an they was being offered loads to do simple stuff. Well, that seems nice at the time, but if we keeps getting too much, an asking too much, then people will use the real messengers or get others ter do the jobs for em an we will starve ter death! Anyhow, if someone offers yer gold ter do a job, yer gotta ask yerself ‘whys they paying so much?’, specially if they lives here an knows how much ter pay…”
“Could be yer handy with a slingshot, so’s you can knock off the odd small animal or bird fer dinner. That’s alright fer now, but come winter, they gets a bit scarce. The cats can catch rats an mice better’n you, an the voles is mine, so keep off!
Pigeons is good, but if’n you get one as has something tied ter it’s leg, then find out who it’s for an take the message yerself, otherwise people get a bit miffed. If yer can’t read, bring it ter one of us as can, an we will tell you where it belongs. Oh….. there’s a bloke down the Gut as has a big cage of pigeons, don’t eat em! They’s fer shows an stuff, an if yer goes near there he’s probably gonna fill yer backside with buckshot, so be warned.”
“Now some of you probably come across some people calling emselves ‘The Family’, an some of you probably been thinking it’s a good idea ter join em. Well, that’s your choice, an maybe it ain’t a bad one, if’n you like ter be told what ter do, an i do hear as they looks after their own. Before you do, have a word with Yang over there, he’s from someplace called China, an they got ‘Familys’ over there, cept they call emselves Tongs or some sort of thing, an though it can be good, tain’t all roses. We also got a bunch of blokes turned up down in the Gut, call emselves the Pennyfathing Boys an ride them big wheeled things. So far, they ain’t bothered us, an we been keeping out of their way. Ain’t got nothing against doing the odd job fer any of these lot, or any of the other gangs as are here in the City, but us urchins are fer us urchins, an we gotta look out fer each other first.”
He looked around the children gathered in the large room, and realised at least half his audience had that stunned look newcomers always got when told the reality of life in New Babbage. There were bound to be some tears that night, and with luck, those who could go home would be off in the morning. Time to finish for the night, anything else could wait, though he still hadn’t talked about surviving the zombie outbreaks…
“That’s all fer tonight, grab a plate from over there,” he waved a hand in the general direction of the cupboard, “an line up by the stove where Gill’ll give you some stew an bread, then if you needs somewhere ter sleep, pick a bunk.”
Tepic sighed as he dropped from the tabletop, and looked up. “Well Lofty, how many you think we’s still gonna have by springtime?” He sat on the trestle, and rested his chin on his arms, “Didn’t do too bad last year, even if it were cold, think most of us made it, but these new uns….”