The other kids were surprised to see Quyloc the next day, sure that Dirty Henry had gotten him. But he offered no explanations and ignored all their questions. The only thing he could do now was hide. Every night after that he awakened from nightmares and every shadow he passed held the diseased man in the black greatcoat, waiting to grab him and finish what he had started. It was only a matter of time. He knew that. Dirty Henry had marked him and eventually he would come for him. There was nothing he could do. Nowhere he could run. No place to hide.
Time passed and Rome made his inevitable way to the leadership of the street kids. He was bigger than kids several years his senior, already with a shadow of a beard, a deep voice and thick arms when those his age were still clearly boys, with slim, smooth bodies and high voices. But it was not just his size and fighting skills that took him to leadership. It was his charisma. Even as a boy Quyloc recognized that in him. When he spoke, other children listened to him. Where he went, other children followed. True, Rome fought his way to the leadership of the street rats, but even the boy he defeated for that place held no grudge afterwards.
A few weeks after Rome took what was clearly his rightful spot as leader, Dirty Henry struck again. This time it was a curly, blonde-haired boy who called himself Piper, a joker, well-liked by all. The next day Rome decided it was time to do something about Dirty Henry.
“Tonight, I’m going down to the Pits,” he said, holding up the knife he had fashioned recently. It was made from a blade with a bent tip, that he’d found in a refuse pile and lashed to a makeshift handle. “I’m going to finish Dirty Henry for good. So he never bothers us again.” He must have been twelve or thirteen at the time, his shoulders already taking on the width that would make him a powerful man. And though what he said seemed unbelievable to the other street rats he had a way of saying things – as if they were already done and all that was required was for the proper time to pass – that made them believe him. “I’m going in right before dawn, when he’s sure to be asleep.”
The other kids looked up at him in awe, Quyloc included. Dirty Henry was the nightmare that had ruled their nightmares forever and Rome stood before them and calmly announced that he was going to go at night – at night! – and slay the monster. Had he said he would pin the dread god Gorim’s tail to his back they couldn’t have been more impressed. It was at that moment that Quyloc knew all he wanted in life was to be like Rome. And felt the sudden bitter bite of the knowledge that he never would be, no matter how hard he tried. The most he could ever hope for was to be close to this boy and hope some would rub off on him. Love and envy sprang forth within him at the same time.
“Who will come with me?” Rome said it casually, not the frightened child who needs others to come with him to bolster his courage, but a man turning before he goes to see if others wish to come and share in what he does.
No one spoke. There must have been two dozen of them and Jef was probably fifteen, but none of them could meet his eye. Rome merely said, “Okay,” and let it go. He didn’t harangue them or lash out at them, he just said, “Okay,” and went about getting ready for the thing he was going to do. Quyloc watched, ashamed because he could not stand up and go too, his heart and lungs so full of terror he could barely breathe, and felt another surge of the same confusing mix of love and envy. How could Rome do this thing that none of the rest of them could even dream of? How could they stand by and let him go alone?