After Charlie’s mother sends him to school, Charlie goes instead to Darlington Parade, where he has an appointment with a man named Squizzy Taylor. Inside Squizzy’s apartment, Charlie finds three other boys waiting nervously, each wearing a differently colored sash. An associate of Squizzy’s gives Charlie a red sash to wear. The short, well-dressed Squizzy emerges and inspects the boys, and he mocks Charlie for patching the holes in his boots with newspaper. A group of men come in with a board, on which is written each boy’s colors and his odds of winning whatever competition is about to take place. Charlie has the worst odds at 10–1.
Squizzy Taylor was a real gangster in early 20th-century Melbourne, and his introduction in the story marks Charlie’s entry into Melbourne’s criminal underworld. Squizzy appears polished and well dressed, but his rudeness about Charlie’s beloved boots hints that his good looks might hide an inner nasty demeanor. Charlie, on the other hand, finds that most of the race’s spectators underestimate him because of his poverty and ramshackle appearance.
Squizzy’s associate explains the rules to the boys. Each boy must deliver a small, delicate parcel to a specific address, and whoever succeeds first is the winner. There are no other rules. The men place bets on the boys. Before the race, Jimmy Barlow, the boy with the best odds of winning, approaches Charlie and warns him to stay out of his way. The boys gather at the starting line. Squizzy is the only man who bet on Charlie, but Charlie doesn’t mind. He has heard that Squizzy is untrustworthy, but he likes Squizzy and admires how he commands respect.
The fact that the race has no rules besides the guidelines for victory foreshadows the ruthlessness Charlie will encounter in Melbourne’s world of crime. Charlie’s perception of Squizzy as exciting and charming mirrors his perception of that world of crime. Charlie also starts to see Squizzy as a role model due to the gangster’s ability to command respect, since Charlie’s desire to escape from poverty is partially driven by frustration at the disrespect with which people treat the poor.
It begins to rain violently just before the race begins, but Charlie assures Squizzy that he can run on any track, wet or dry. The men move to a covered veranda, leaving the boys in the cold, wet rain as they receive their parcels. Charlie recognizes the address designated as the finish line—it’s a bar popular with criminals. He plots a route in his head. A boy in a blue sash forgets the address, and Charlie reminds him. The race begins, and immediately Jimmy Barlow knocks Charlie off balance.
The moment when the gangsters leave the boys in the rain highlights that while Charlie might see their lifestyle as a way to elevate himself, they still hold status that he and the other boys lack: they are adults, they are wealthy, and they are well connected in Squizzy’s circle. Charlie proves his street smarts as he plots his route. When he reminds his opponent of the finish line, he also proves that he is not fundamentally selfish, despite his self-serving ambition.
Charlie gets back up and runs, and he soon catches up to Barlow, who was the only boy smart enough to take Charlie’s route. They run side by side for a while, until Barlow knocks Charlie into the path of traffic. As Charlie falls, he is more concerned for the safety of his parcel than himself. He hurts himself badly, but he gets back up and continues running, cutting through a busy intersection to gain on Barlow. The two boys approach the bar at the same time, but Barlow beats Charlie by a small margin.
As he pushes through Barlow’s attacks, Charlie demonstrates his unwavering persistence in achieving his goals. His prioritization of the parcel over himself also hints that a childish disregard for his own safety informs that persistence.
The other two runners reach the bar. Squizzy’s associate inspects each boy’s parcel, inside which are two eggs. The two slower boys’ eggs are unbroken, but Barlow’s eggs have cracked. The man unwraps Charlie’s parcel and finds that the eggs are intact, making Charlie the winner. Squizzy whispers to Charlie that he hard boiled the eggs that morning. He welcomes Charlie to the gang.
The race that Charlie physically injured himself hoping to win was rigged from the beginning. Squizzy’s world of crime is one of underhandedness and deceit, but Charlie doesn’t mind because those qualities are serving him. He shows no hint of his previous outrage over the injustices of poverty, since in this case, he stands to benefit from the injustice.
Charlie hobbles back home in the rain. He would normally worry about truant officers, but now that Squizzy has employed him, he feels like an adult. The boy with the blue sash catches up to Charlie and thanks him for reminding him of the bar’s address. He introduces himself as Norman Heath, but adds that most people call him Nostrils because of his large nose. Nostrils warns Charlie that Barlow comes from a dangerous family of boxers in Fitzroy, and Charlie asks why Barlow came from Fitzroy to run for Squizzy. Nostrils suggests that Squizzy is expanding his enterprise.
Mrs. Feehan has urged Charlie to stay in school; instead, he is leaving school permanently in order to work. Charlie feels so removed from school and childhood that he is no longer afraid of truant officers catching him; he feels entitled to walk the streets like any other employed adult. Nostrils’s suggestion that Squizzy wants to expand his territory also hints that Melbourne’s criminal underworld is not static––the different factions are constantly adapting, creating a dangerous landscape to navigate.
Charlie has avoided people since Mr. Feehan died, wanting to evade pity and stories about the past. He likes Nostrils, though, because Nostrils is “something new, something fresh”—a person who never knew Charlie’s father. As they part, Charlie invites Nostrils over to play football over the weekend. Nostrils accepts, and he remembers Charlie’s address by matching his house number to the jersey number of an athlete he likes. Charlie doesn’t tell him that if his own eggs had not been boiled, Nostrils would have won the job with Squizzy. He believes that in the Richmond slums, “good fortune [is] as hard to find as an honest copper,” so he has to take luck where he can get it.
Charlie struggles to grieve his father, especially around other people. He is relieved to meet Nostrils, who is entirely removed from Charlie’s journey with grief. Though he likes Nostrils, Charlie doesn’t tell his new friend that Squizzy’s race was rigged in his favor, further highlighting Charlie’s willingness to go along with unfair systems that benefit him. He justifies his complicity in this corruption by emphasizing how rare good luck is in the slums, where unjust systems like corrupt law enforcement actively hinder Charlie’s own life. At this early point in the story, he does not equate the injustice of Squizzy’s criminal unit to the injustice of the systems that affect him.