“Yer was lucky.” Tepic stated quite abruptly to the two boys as he finished bandaging the smaller lad’s neck.
“What were yer doing down that neck of the woods that time of night, an with stuff someone could nick in plain sight anyhow?”
The older boy, Hoyt, bristled at this, and replied defensively “We go’ loss in fhe fog, easy fa do, could’ve happened fa anyone…”
They looked at each other, the fox boy’s face clearly showing his disapproval, and Hoyt’s mouth was set, challenging him to say more. After several seconds, Tepic hrumphed and turned away to put the assorted bits and bobs of the urchin’s medical supplies back in their box under the bar of the Sneaky Vole. It wasn’t worth having a fight, and in truth, Hoyt had managed to survive in the city despite the other urchins reservations. The younger boy, the one calling himself Weasel, was a different matter, and Tepic had not seen him before.
The pair of them had staggered into the bar a short while before, both white as sheets and staggering as they helped each other, still grasping numerous packages, to the safely of the nearest table where they collapsed. He had known they had run into some kind of trouble and had put down the glasses he had been cleaning to hurry forward and see what he could do to help. It hadn’t taken long for Hoyt to spill the beans, giving a fairly accurate account having forgotten to shore up his own role in his shaken state. The Weasel’s neck injury was deep but not life threatening, and as long as he kept it clean and dry it would heal up fine, though he was thoroughly frightened and under the impression he was dying. Tepic murmured reassurance as he worked, then, after finishing putting the kit away, ladled three mugs of steaming hot mulled wine from the pot on the counter. The boys didn’t notice him palm a small bottle from under the bar, glance quickly at Weasel as if sizing him up, and flick two drops into one of the mugs.
“Here we go fellas, something ter warm yer up and calm yer down!”
He plonked the drinks in front of them, sitting down with a hand curled round his own, raising it up in a toast.
“Ter all urchins an living another day!”
All three boys took a deep gulp of the hot spicy liquid, the two older ones savouring the sweet warmth that blossomed inside them, the younger spluttering slightly as the strength of the drink. They talked quietly as they drank, working out what they had to do next, like diminutive Generals planning a summer campaign. Hoyt and Weasel had tried to dump the body in the canal, but he had been to large to move very far, so they had left him hidden only by the fog. Even in his shock and fear, Hoyt had the wits to recover both his knives, the parcels, and to cast around for any evidence they had been there. Tepic had nodded his approval at the hidden knife, you always needed a backup, though if it hadn’t been for the man’s unexplained behaviour, they both knew what would have happened. The young lad had mentioned something about a weird bird, Hoyt shushing him before he could say more, and for some reason bells rang for the fox boy – unlike at the Asylum!
“The ally down behind the Chandlers?”
Hoyt nodded, sipping his wine.
“That’s Joffery Teeds patch, big bloke, nasty turn of mind, ain’t nobody gonna miss him much, ceptin his landlord maybe.”
The erstwhile giant killer spluttered, spraying the tabletop at the thought someone might come looking.
“Lived down the Lanes, ain’t much of a place, an his neighbours probably give yer a medal, but if he ain’t paid, the rent collector might ask a question or two, till some new bloke moves in. Recon we has ter nip back an make sure they looks fer someone else an not you two. Ain’t difficult, an if they think he got topped fer something he did, well, yer safe.”
The older lad looked down, he hadn’t considered there might be someone who might have wanted the man to be alive, and the thought of going back made him queasy again. He was about to object when there was a light thud from the other side of the table, and glancing up he saw Weasel slumped and snoring gently.
“Right, time ter be off, throw that blanket over his shoulders, he’s gonna be sleepin soundly till the morning, plenty of time fer us to sort stuff out!” said Tepic, all business and seemingly unaffected by the wine they had consumed now the youngster was safely out of it. Within minutes, the two boys slipped from the old factory into the dim and smog filled night……..
As the morning light broke over the City, the lamp-lighter on his rounds of extinguishing the street lamps came across the body, propped up against the ally wall. In addition to the shirt front covered in stab marks, the throat had been cut wide, a large knife pierced through in the region of it’s heart, and one hand lay in it’s lap, palm up and open as if asking for alms. The workman shuddered, knowing that if he looked, he would find a small coin wrapped in blank paper in the mouth, all clear signs that this was the final payment for a known stoolie! He would report the body to the Watch, until they picked it up it would stay as a warning to all who might be tempted to tell tales….