“You think he saw you!” Tepic roared at the two cowed boys “ain’t you never dodged someone before? You was trying to stay hidden an peeking round corners, weren’t you?!”
The boys shook as they nodded, aware that all the other children had edged away from them, and they now stood in a very lonely space, the focus of the little fox’s wrath.
“Right,” he declared, “how many of the rest of you has been trying to sneak an hide while watching the mark? Come on, hands up, i don’t bite, yer know…”
Some of the urchins exchanged glances at this, and one of the older boys had to stifle a giggle, but first one hand was tentatively raised, then others joined it until almost half the children had admitted their error. Tepic looked around, and slumped slightly, then let out a long sigh. He sat on the end of the long table, and gestured the mob to sit around.
“Alright, seems we need some lessons in keeping an eye on someone, specially if they may be dangerous… listen up, an fer goodness sake, try an remember!”
“We got an advantage, see, there are urchins all over the city, playing, arguing, running about, begging, doing errands, all sorts of stuff. Sos people don’t notice us, cus we is always there….. When we going to watch someone then, we got to work together, an keep doing our usual stuff while remembering what they is doing.”
There were a few furrowed brows and tilted heads, so Tepic decided to give them an example.
“So, if there are three of us playing marbles an the bloke passes by, ain’t strange if one of us picks up his marbles an runs down the street past the bloke and round a corner further on, where he tells the lad with the hoop to follow, then he passes on to the girls skipping an so on! Nuffing different from usual, cept we see all the bloke does, an who he chats to. If he gets wary, yer goes up in a gang an try begging, no one suspect you if they thinks you is after money, an if he gives you something the others can follow on as if they is about to ask…. if he chases yer off, you follow an give him a bit of lip from a distance, or even shy a stone at his hat or something… we does that anyway, so he thinks it’s just normal….”
“Oh! an Tom, NO picking pockets, specially of marks, i knows yer good at it, an you made yer living in Steelhead, but you try it here an some geezer is likely ter slit yer gizzard – some of em has ways of knowing what yer up to!”
“Now you knows the way of it, remember, work together an we will all be safe, an we get pennies in the kitty fer the winter.”
Tepic looked over to the still rotund but now fitter and brighter eyed Tubby.
“Looks like you got two volunteers to go on yer runs, Tubby, you’se in charge, an you can run along the mark’s path, be twice the use then…”
“Right, grabs yourselves some dinner, an don’t forget what i told yer!”
Tepic sighed to himself as the crowd of children scampered over to the stewpot, fighting to be first in line. It was getting more difficult each year, maybe it was time to go on a walkabout again……..