A serial murder interrupts the lives of a handful of street kids, police officers, and everybody in between, building and breaking morals, friendships and romances.
The boy stumbles down the alleyway, leaning against the outer wall of some ramshackle building for support. He winces as a splinter pricks his finger, and quickly withdraws his hand from the offending wood, sticking the finger in his mouth until the pain is forgotten.
The alleyway is still light enough to see by, and he can easily skirt his way around empty crates and cardboard boxes that have collapsed in the rain. The night will be a different matter. He doesn’t know where these sorts of people sleep, doesn’t have anything to defend himself with if any of them try to pick a fight. And he can’t go back. Stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Something metal cracks underneath his foot, and he tentatively lifts it, discarding the broken object. It’s of no use to him, whatever it is. It hits the wooden building with a louder thump than he wants. Move a little faster, he tells himself, without knowing where he’s going. Somewhere. Anywhere. Away.
A little further down, he finds a pile of clothing, wet with last night’s rain. A branch is propped up against the fence that runs the length of the alley. He picks it up. Wet, but still solid enough. Not too disgusting to touch. Carefully, he hooks the other end beneath the wet clothes and lifts the pile from the ground. Nothing falls. One big piece of material – a heavy coat, or a sheet. He can’t think why anybody would have left it out in the rain. If it were dry, he’d probably have taken it for himself.
That’s just how low he’s sunk, in a matter of hours. The son of a respectable lawyer, now running with the rats and sleeping rough. Soon, anyway.
The sky begins to darken, but he knows it isn’t yet nightfall. Storm clouds. Rain is the last thing that he needs. He looks around. The alley looks like it branches off further along, and he follows the fence down with more purpose, desperation, than before.
Finally, a corner. He hesitates. If he glances back the way he came, he can still make out the vague glow of the street. It’s been a straight path so far, probably just skirting around the back of some of the shops. He isn’t nearly as far away as he thinks he needs to be.
Dodging around the corner, much is the same. The way is narrower here, room for maybe two people walking side by side, but the ground is littered with the same objects. Crates, boxes, scraps of material, old packets and cartons. The contents of a bin scattered and blown about by the wind. A piece of piping, maybe plastic, maybe rusting metal. Nothing that he can use.
He takes the next corner that he comes to, then the next, all the while trying to map it inside his head so that he doesn’t end up walking in circles. He begins to come across buildings with doors and windows, abandoned little shacks. None of them are in a decent enough condition to offer much shelter, and he passes them by. All the same, he keeps them in the back of his mind. Just in case. Beggars can’t be choosers, and he supposes that’s the level he’s fallen to. A beggar. Another kid on the street.
By the time the first drop of rain hits him, he’s lost somewhere in the centre of the maze of sidestreets. He doesn’t remember which way he came, has no chance of finding even the half-broken shacks. Completely lost.
A few more raindrops, and then the skies open up in an instant, pouring down before he even has a chance to duck under any sort of makeshift roof. He instinctively puts his hands over his head, knowing it won’t help him any. He’s already soaked through.
Puddles are beginning to form all along the alley, showing up the curve of the ground, like gutters running its length. He sidesteps into the middle, trying to avoid the empty packets and cardboard flaps swimming alongside.
Standing here isn’t doing him any good. He sets off in the opposite direction to the flow of water, heading for the higher ground, hoping to find somewhere that at least hasn’t been flooded. The rain pelts him in the face as he walks, his own sopping hair slapping him in the eyes. He doesn’t bother to run. He won’t get much wetter than he already has, and the ground is too slippery to risk it.
A voice cries out behind him, and he whirls. He can’t see well against the darkness, but there doesn’t seem to be anybody either in front of him or in the direction he came from. The rain hisses down louder, and for a second he wonders if he might have even imagined the voice.
Then another boy comes running out from a narrow pathway that he hadn’t even noticed before, wearing a baggy jumper and overlong trousers with wet, frayed edges. He can’t be much older, maybe fifteen at a stretch. It’s difficult to tell. He’s tall and lanky with serious eyes and a childish grin. “You look a bit wet.”
“Pot calling the kettle.”
“Pot calling the kettle what?” The older boy shoots him an odd look.
He’s already cursing himself for using an expression that his father used. Right now, he wants to be as far away from that man as is humanly possible.
The other boy seems to sense his irritation, and looks at him in concern. “Are you okay?”
“A bit wet.”
“I noticed.” A pause, punctuated by a crack of thunder somewhere in the distance. “D’you have a name?”
“Seytson.” He glances down at his own clothing. His shirt is soaking wet, and he can’t help but wish that he had a jumper as warm as the other boy’s looks. It’s his own fault. He ought to have been more prepared, taken an armful of clothing instead of just a wodge of money. No point having money if nobody will let you buy anything. In his current state, he’d probably be escorted out of the shop.
The older boy’s grin returns. “Somebody’s on the wrong side of the traintracks.” Getting no response, he sticks out a hand instead. “I’m V.”
Seytson raises his eyebrows. “Last time I checked, that was a letter rather than a name.” The cold and wet is making him irritable. He’s certain he’ll catch some illness or other. Still, nothing to be done about it now.
The older boy’s grin doesn’t falter. “Varner, then. That better?”
“Much.” Seytson still watches him warily. He didn’t expect such a posh name from such a rough-looking kid, but he’s quickly learning that it’s a stupid mistake to judge anybody by appearance out here. He wants to ask if the boy grew up outside of the slums, like he did. It’s not quite the question that comes out. “Do you have parents?”
“Somewhere.” The reply is quick, but guarded. Varner’s expression falls slightly. Even so, he’s smiling. “What about you?”
Seytson isn’t as good at masking his emotions, and he scowls, absent-mindedly kicking at the ground with the toe of his shoe. “Not anymore.”
“Alive, though, right?” The smile edges toward a smirk.
Seytson answers with silence, and Varner continues on right ahead. “Easy to tell. You don’t get angry at the dead.” He pauses and looks at the young boy, head tilted to one side. “Let me guess. They might as well be, right?”
Much to Varner’s evident surprise, Seytson shakes his head. “It’s just better that I’m not with them right now,” he says finally.
“Okay.” Varner just nods. He watches the boy’s hurt expression for a while, as though expecting a further response. But he gets nothing. “Hey.”
Varner grins and takes hold of Seytson’s palm, turning it up to face the sky. “The rain’s stopped. C’mon. Let’s see if we can’t find somewhere you can dry off.” He heads off downhill, turning into the second or third path on the right of the fence. The ground is still wet and slippery, but he doesn’t seem to care.
After a few seconds and a sigh, Seytson follows.