The beggar cringed as well and slowly Quyloc lowered his hands, shaking his head to clear it. This isn’t Dirty Henry, he told himself. Dirty Henry died long ago. We killed him. Rome and I killed him…
Quyloc was nine the year that Dirty Henry finally caught him. Or at least, he thought he was. Growing up without parents, with only the other street urchins for family, made it hard to be sure of such things. But Quyloc needed more than anything to be sure of things and so he maintained that he was nine, even when the other kids teased him and said he was too small for that age.
One thing he’d been sure of for a long time was that sooner or later Dirty Henry would catch him.
Dirty Henry was a leper. He lived in the remains of a sprawling, rundown structure at the southwest corner of the city, hard by the offal pits, stinking, filthy holes in the ground where the city’s butchers dumped the remains of their livelihood, those parts too diseased or useless to grind into anything. Each day a team of men shoveled dirt over the day’s deposits, but it was never enough. Flies covered everything and carrion birds gathered in clouds. It was a wasteland. No one went there who didn’t have to. Disease was in the air, carried on a stink so bad it made the eyes hurt just to be near it. It was the perfect place for Dirty Henry.
By day he lay against the wall just off Piper Square – hard-packed dirt that doubled as an open-air market for the city’s poorest – always wearing his black greatcoat, no matter how hot it was. At night he wandered the streets looking for children. Specifically, the street children. He was smart enough to know that his time was numbered if he went after the children of the decent folk of Qarath. But the street children – the unwanted, the pests, thieves and runners – they were a different matter. They were less than vermin in the eyes of the city watch and what was the harm if a few of them disappeared anyway?
These were the children that Quyloc and Rome called family. They lived among a jumbled maze of fallen-down warehouses and abandoned homes called the Warrens. Back then, Quyloc and Rome weren’t friends. They knew each other, all the street kids knew each other, but no more of each other than names, and names were something that each child earned. It was a rough life and they died often, their names quickly forgotten.
Quyloc was always smaller than the other kids. He always stayed back, out of the light, trying not to be noticed. Because he had learned that if you were noticed, sooner or later someone was going to try and hurt you. He never questioned it. It was simply the way the world was. He could either try to survive it or be swept away by it.
As long as Quyloc could remember he had lived in fear. Very vague and distant was the fear of his father, a mean drunk with a heavy hand. Back in the shadows was a mother, also a drunk, but kind in her own weak way. When she died it was only his father and then there wasn’t even that, as the old man threw him out to make it or die on his own.
Fear was the reality they all had in common. They all had it, but none could admit it. Fear was weakness and weakness killed. That was the one iron rule of life on the streets.
There were lots of things to be afraid of. The city watch was one. They savagely beat any street kid they caught stealing, even throwing the bigger ones into the stocks or the city jail for a time. Some of the watch were sadists, plain and pure, and street kids were good for venting on.
There was also the fear of starvation. The fear of disease that came so suddenly and killed so surely. Fear of the packs of wild dogs that roamed the same hovels they lived in and wouldn’t turn away from bringing down a child on his own.