A/N: You may or may not have noticed that Dalton, my annoying yet semi-cute
preppie muse, has been oddly silent so far in this fic. I've managed to
keep him from talking by feeding him a jar or so of peanut butter every
time I start a new chapter, and so far it's worked like a charm, but we ran
out of Skippy yesterday morning and now there's no stopping him. . .
DALTON: Damn straight.
*sigh* Anyway, Dalton promises that if I let him talk at the beginning of
this chapter he'll never ask to again during the "Home" series. And. .
.well. . .I guess there's no forgiving me. But if you could find it in
your hearts to send me a gallon or so of peanut butter, or even nutella. .
DALTON: Okay, Dakki, time's up. Now then. I think it's time for. . .
"Dalton And Friends Reviewer Rodeo"!
"Okay. A word to all readers, past reviewers, and people who are even
mildly tempted to review this chapter:
STOP. REVIEWING. NOW.
Okay. Maybe it's just ignorance. I mean, maybe you just don't know what
Dakki *does* when she gets a review. Well, I'll tell you-she gets so happy
she starts bouncing up and down, and then she has to run around the house
singing old Cyndi Lauper songs, wearing my underwear on her head. And even
worse, the more you review, the more she's encouraged and the sooner she'll
update. And you just don't want that. So...please...just don't review,
*sigh* Are you done yet?
DALTON: *satisfied* Yes.
So. To wrap it up: don't listen to anything Dalton says, ever. Review
often. Eat peanut butter, it'll make you grow up big and strong. And most
of all, thank you. I love you all.
Always in life there are things that we cannot help but take joy from-
simple things, trinkets of our daily existence, and moments among thousands
crystallized and remembered forever. We sort them and string them like
pearls on a necklace and wear them next to our hearts like rosary beads.
Everyone has their own strand, moments of truth, beauty, exquisite sadness
and understanding, or just pure and unburdened bliss-glimmering and
opalescent, and all their own. You have yours, your collection of the
things that for just one moment align the stars and make the world a
perfect place. You have yours, and I have mine as well.
Collected on my own fishing-line, the gems and spangles decorating my life-
The rickety Ferris wheel out on Coney Island, and the first time you ever
rode it, faster than even the wind. Spot's first golden summer, when
Brooklyn was his and everything was right. The water of the Hudson,
soaking you through after a summer swan-dive, purer and colder than any
storybook fountain of youth. The way that Jack grinned, his dopey smile,
slivers of which I found in Greece, China and Sicily, the smile I searched
the world to find. Black licorice's biting sweetness; the first snow of
winter; summer rain. And now I had one more thing to add to this list,
something that I would be able to look back on and always laugh about: the
look on Jack's face when he looked at me that night in the park, and
realized for the first time who I was.
First, unabashed shock. Then his look metamorphosed into joy, the look you
take on when you see an old friend, one you think you have lost. Then a
questioning glint in his eyes, and then at last his mind took over, molding
his features in the form of punch-drunk reserve.
"Samantha," he said, "you're here."
"She goes by Sam," Annie whispered to him, not missing a beat.
"Of course," Jack said, looking at me, his expression dazed. He reached
out a hand through the silky shadows, cupping my cheek in his roughened
palm, almost as if he was trying to assure himself that I was really there.
"It is you...isn't it?"
I nodded. Slowly...like him everything about me was slow, slow to move and
speak, slow to think. My body didn't trust itself in this familiar
reality, and somewhere in my mind I was still a million miles away. I
wondered when the dark and untold rhythms of the vagabond had replaced in
my heart the constancy of New York. And I realized for the first time that
Jack and everyone else could very well have changed just as much as I had
in these past six years.
"It's me," I said. "It's me, Cowboy...or, no-does anyone even call you
"Not really," he said, with an air almost of regret in his voice, as of a
concert violinist laying down his instrument for the very last time.
Annabelle was eyeing him with interest, clearly uninformed until now of her
father's past. "None a' the old nicknames are really still around."
"Not even Franny?"
Annie tried desperately to keep herself from laughing. She looked as if
she was about to rupture a kidney with the effort it took. Jack grinned
and leaned forward, whispering loudly in my ear: "If ya don't tell her
about the hat an' bandanna, I might let ya live." And I knew right then
that it really was him.
He hoisted Annie up and put her on his shoulders, craning his neck and
smiling at her, two pairs of chocolate-brown eyes meeting through the half-
darkness. "Whaddaya think you're smilin' about, goilie?" he asked her
"Nothing," she said, biting her lip. She had the innocence bit down.
Jack turned and smiled at me, and took me by the hand. "Looks like we got
a little catchin' up ta do, huh Conlon?"
"Just a little," I said. Above me, the cold swaths of cloud parted,
revealing a perfect crescent moon. The light it shone on the park, the
trees, on our hands linked together, was as bright as the low-burning flame
Lithe and sure-footed, a child of the streets, Spot sifted through the
garbage that spilled into the alleyway, searching for something to eat.
Hunger was a reverberation inside of him, a rhythm barely felt, only making
its presence known in the knotted feeling of emptiness that lived at the
pit of his stomach. He had not eaten for four days.
Four days. It was a lifetime to him, a time long and wide enough to erase
the past and make him wonder if any other life had existed before this one.
He was already beginning to forget what his mother's face looked like. He
could remember all the rest of it, the clouded and dangerous months that
had come before, with a knife's deadly precision, and he knew that somehow
it was his fault. He had tried his hardest to support them, finding things
to take to the junkie in exchange for a few pennies, shining shoes, doing
odd jobs, selling anything he could find, even buttons or bits of string.
And Mumma had worked all day at the factory. They had been surviving,
nothing dangerous in their path, getting along, barely, but getting along-
and then one morning Mumma couldn't get up, coughed up blood, couldn't
breathe, or even speak. Dr. Hennessey came and looked inside her, tapped
her chest and listened to her breathing. Shook his head and said words
that Spot didn't understand. Tissue-thin words, the battle going on inside
his mother. One word that stood out most of all: pneumonia. He kept it
with him and whispered it to himself that night. Pneumonia. Fear and the
uncertainty of their futures had a name, and in its cadence and
syllabification, the sound of it was almost beautiful.
And Kathleen took her son and daughter in her arms, gave them what she
could. Her words were breathless coming out of her, falling each like
stones, and she told them what she thought they needed to know. Kissed
Spot on his brow, and he knew then that she was already gone. Last words
hanging in the still night air: my poor children.
Their mother had been their home, and with no home they took to the
streets, sleeping in the alleys, trying their best to survive. Spot was
nine years old, and Sammy just turned six. In the past four days he had
unearthed a hardened heel of bread and a green apple soft with rot that he
had told Samantha to eat core and all to fill her stomach. The bread, too,
had gone to her, and whatever he could find this morning--if he was lucky
enough to find anything at all.
My poor children.
Spot sifted through the garbage rich with coffee grounds and eggshells
ivory white, lemon rind and spoiled greens, the wrinkled paper of
yesterday's news. Suddenly, he unearthed a jackpot-a whole boiled potato,
white and perfect. Someone's uneaten leftovers. He cradled it in his
palms as carefully as one would a robin's egg, breathing of its rich and
"Hey, kid. What's yer name?"
Spot jumped, stood straight up, stock still, and looked the man dead in the
eye, refusing to back down. He swallowed hard. The person who had spoken
was huge, tall and strong-looking, hands thick and callused, made for work.
But when Spot looked closer he could see that he was only a teenager, no
older than sixteen with his dark thatch of hair covered by a ragged gray
cap and a thick stack of papers pinned under his arm.
"What's it to ya?" Spot said sharply, not willing to give an inch.
The boy sighed, reached up for his cap and swiped it across his brow. "You
been livin' out here a while?"
"Why dontcha come with me kid, huh? Give ya somethin' to eat, maybe you'd
like to stay with us at th' lodgin' house?"
"Lodgin' house?" Spot asked faintly. In his mind he was already sitting
down to lunch-his imagination running far ahead of him, envisioning a plate
loaded with thick slabs of corned beef, salted, tender and juicy, with
boiled cabbage and carrots and roast potatoes crackling with fat. His
mouth began to water, and as he looked up again at the boy the reality of
his surroundings hit him hard, hunger coming to him like a blow to the
"Newsies lodgin' house," the boy explained. "It ain't much, but we'll take
care a' you. C'mon. You think I can leave ya out on th' street like dis?
You'll be dead in a week. How old are ya, kid? Seven?"
"Nine," Spot said defensively.
The boy cracked a smile. "C'mon, kid, whaddaya say?" Seeing Spot's look,
he spat into his palm and extended a hand to him, which Spot tentatively
shook. "Wolf MacLeod."
"Spot Conlon," he said, proudly, in the way that he had been taught to
speak his name.
Wolf grinned. "A mick, huh? That's good. We'll be friends, you 'n me-we
Irish gotta stick together. 'S mostly eye-ties over at th' lodgin' house.
Pinky Falconetti, he's an eye-tie. Still, wit' you, I guess we got him
outnumbered two to one, huh?"
"Who's Pinky?" Spot asked curiously.
"Never mind, kid. You'll find out soon enough. Well," he said, gesturing
towards the sidewalk. "Guess we'd better get goin'." He had already begun
to walk, expecting the boy to follow, when Spot called out.
"Wait! Not yet. We can't go widout Sam."
Wolf sighed. "G'wan then, kid. I'll wait here."
Wolf didn't quite know what to imagine "Sam" was. Maybe a dog, or a
younger brother. But whatever he thought it could have been, it wasn't a
skinny girl with matted blonde hair, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as
Spot lead her from the alley.
"Dis is your sister?" Wolf hazarded. He could already tell that it would
be impossible to separate the two, and didn't want to think about how he
would get Pinky to let the girl stay at the lodging house.
Spot nodded. "Well, c'mon, kid," Wolf sighed, leading the way once again.
"Let's get you two fed."
There is nothing sweeter, nothing more beautiful, than your first meal
after days without food. Like air to a drowning man or water to someone
parched and dying of thirst-for a few moments that spread themselves
willfully into an eternity, Spot could concentrate only on the meal placed
in front of him, and on the miracle of need finally answered. He devoured
an entire roast chicken in what seemed to be a matter of seconds, and
afterwards slowly picked over the oily carcass rich with salty remainders
as he talked to Wolf for the rest of the morning, unwilling to let the
smallest morsel go uneaten. Sam, too exhausted to do much of anything
after she had eaten her fill, had curled up under the table with her head
in Wolf's lap, lulled to sleep by the comfort of a full stomach and the
lull of the voices around her.
Wolf MacLeod was a person cursed with a soft heart and a weakness for
children and animals, and for the rest of his life he would try
desperately, acting against his strong humanitarian streak, to seem tougher
than he actually was. The name "Wolf," frightening as it might have made
him seem, was nothing more than half indication of his size and his
strength and half a joke at his expense. The only way his appearance
served him was to discourage anyone from trying to pick a fight, for if
anyone had, he would never have had the heart to throw even a few punches.
As it turned out, Spot had hit an unexpected windfall all those years ago
when Sam had given his new nickname. At the Brooklyn lodging house, at the
time that he came and for many years afterward as well, it was a general
unspoken rule that the more threatening the name, the less threatening the
newsie, and vice versa. Named Wolf, you were guaranteed to be everyone's
friend. The ones to look out for were called things that would seem absurd
to anyone outside looking in, right up to Pinky Falconetti, at the time the
most feared newsie in New York City.
But Spot didn't know any of this yet. The world was contained in the
fragile skeleton of a picked-over roast chicken, and Wolf was his hero, the
strongest man in the world. In a world where the gap between children and
adults (that is, those brave souls strong enough to make it past the age of
twelve) seemed all but insurmountable, Wolf was easy to talk to, seemed
genuinely interested in what he had to say, and also had the definite
advantage, from the outset, of being the one who had taken him off the
streets and given him the most precious thing that Spot could imagine there
Wolf, too, had already taken a shining to Spot. He was a fighter, tough
and street-smart, and even at nine years old it was obvious that he was a
born leader. The kid would go on to do great things, bigger than Brooklyn.
And for now, he would no doubt be something for Pinky to reckon with.
The chicken was still on Spot's mind as Wolf led him into the lodging
house. It was late afternoon, the shadows just beginning to lengthen a
little and the sky a gentle blue that would linger on undiminished for
hours yet. Spot had spent the early afternoon out selling with Wolf, led
through the back-alleys and busy thoroughfares, accompanied by the music of
the streets, the carriage wheels and hawker's shouts. Wolf had made a
killing that day with Spot as his selling partner, with Samantha doing her
bit as well. Sensationalistic headlines aside, the best tool a newsie
could ever hope for was a wide-eyed child who could get sympathy from
almost every customer and, if that didn't work, could run fast enough to
make off with a quarter with a call over their shoulder that they didn't
have any change, losing themselves in the crowd before their unwitting
victim could object. Ever the advocate of fairness, Wolf had slipped sixty
cents to Spot to cover both him and his sister, and as the sun began to
inch towards the horizon there was nothing left to do but the messy
business of introducing the two children to the rest of the lodging house.
Picture it, now, as it would have been then, seen through the eyes of a
child of nine:
Darkness, first. It's a shock after the summer afternoon softly shining
like the surface of a new-minted coin, and for a moment you can't see a
thing. You're close to the docks, the scream of the gulls and the stink of
fish fresh in your mind, and now in this filthy bunker, light filtering
weakly through the dirty windowpanes, you are struck with the thought that
you may be underwater. In truth, it never really gets light in here-the
lodging house is stranded in the shadows of greater buildings that have not
yet had the time to begin falling apart, and even at midday it is hard to
read so much as a headline without the help of a kerosene lamp. But
slowly, your eyes begin to adjust, and you take it all in-beds, cluttered
and clustered, rickety, most of them empty, but a few boys sprawled on
their flea-infested mattresses, shirtless in the day's unexpected heat,
their bodies lean and vulpine, their eyes cold. The room littered with the
possessions of boys-clothes stained and ragged, old grease-stained
newspapers, suspenders, boots worn through at the heels. A few younger
boys too, eyes shining, hiding in the shadows of the older ones. And at
the back of the room, slouched low, smoking a cigar with a bitter
expression as he looks out the window, is the boy who is clearly in charge.
Pinky Falconetti's exact age was a topic of much discussion among the
Brooklyn newsies. He was slight of frame and small in height, like a young
boy who had yet to reach his growth spurt-for his entire life he would
never grow taller than five foot three inches. His whole life, too, he had
been skin and bones, like a junkyard dog deprived of food for far too long,
and to look at him you never would have thought that he could come close to
beating you in a fair fight. Judging from this information alone, one
would have guessed that he was no older than twelve or thirteen. But his
face told a different story: quick, dark eyes older than the rest of him, a
jagged knife scar scored across one cheek. He had the quick fingers of a
pickpocket, almost fast enough to match his wits. The day that Wolf
brought Spot and Sam into the lodging house, Pinky was seventeen, and had
had the Brooklyn newsies under his thumb for almost two years. The moment
that Spot laid eyes on him-dark hair and raw cheeks, gold-tipped cane
carried at his side, his look of eternal indifference-his brief allegiance
to Wolf shifted immediately to this new hero. He saw for the first time
that you didn't have to be a giant to have power-power was this boy's, and
it could be his too. From that moment on, he worshipped Pinky heart and
soul. And in Brooklyn, there were worse idols to have.
Pinky did have power, almost as much as Spot imagined him to. It was the
only language he spoke, and the only thing that responded to his touch.
Gentleness was a word that he had never known; he had spent his life
running away before he could be abandoned, and his force over others was
the only thing that he could count on. The girls he was with stayed for
one night only; that was the rule. Some sweet nighttime rough-and-tumble-
it was what he imagined to live for. But still in the dark and windless
nights he could not help but wait for the few moments after, when all was
still, and the girl, whoever it was, would press her length against him,
and run soft hands across the scars of his body. Dusky tenderness burned
away quick by the merciless Brooklyn sun-and then another day, of
forgetting and surviving, and he was back to being the one that everyone
feared. And if Wolf, glad and big, eternally smiling, was the ultimate in
kindness in those years, then Pinky was his mirror image-ungenerous and
eternally wounded, refusing to trust, hating animals, children, family. He
looked up that afternoon at Spot standing in awe in the doorway, and saw-
what?-a runt. Worthless to him and everyone else.
"Whadja bring back dis time, Wolf?" he asked hoarsely.
Clearing his throat, Wolf nudged Spot out from where he stood near-hidden
as he leaned against the unsteady threshold, and sent him reluctantly out
into the open, where Pinky could see him in full. The Brooklyn leader
sidled up to the front of the room, emerging out of the shadows, and looked
at him critically. Spot felt him taking in his ragged clothes, bony chest
and pale, pointed face. But even as he sensed those eyes appraising him,
he refused to back down. He knew that he would get nowhere fast if he
didn't stand his ground, and so he looked Pinky straight in the eye with an
unflinching gaze, refusing to look away.
For a moment, Pinky faltered. Looked at the skinny half-grown guttersnipe
trying to stare him down, eyes the color of gunmetal and just as cold. And
he must have seen, looking into those eyes, the growing spark of power and
determination that was making itself apparent even when the boy was only
nine years old. He must have understood that if anyone this was the person
who would succeed him to the throne; he must have looked down at him, then,
and been unable to deny the strength that he saw. But if he did, then he
did a good job of hiding it.
"Well, kid, can ya tawk?" he asked at last. Spot-whether through impudence
or fear, he would never be able to quite decide-simply nodded.
From where he stood, taking this all in, Wolf couldn't help but be amazed.
He looked over at Sam where she stood leaning against the doorjamb, chewing
thoughtfully on a twist of black licorice that he had bought for her.
"Your brother's a real tough cookie, huh Sam?"
Sam looked over at Pinky. "I ain't afraid of him, neither," she said
"You gonna be like Spot, then?"
"Wolf!" she exclaimed, looking up at him in horror with her clear blue
eyes. "Of course not! I'm a GIRL!"
Wolf looked down at her, smiling faintly, and took in the little girl
standing before him. The light shining behind her, coming in through the
door of the bunkroom, illuminated her tangled yellow mop, creating the
illusion of a halo. A childhood on Water Street had not yet managed to rob
her of what he knew she would lose so soon-that certain softness, a gentler
shape. She was right-she was a girl. But in a few years, growing up to be
like her brother wouldn't be that far off.
Wolf turned his attention back to Pinky. A slow smirk was curving across
his lips, the one everybody in the lodging house was so accustomed to by
now, the one that meant trouble. But Spot took him in head on, seemingly
unfazed. Looking at him carefully with the quick eye of a sibling, Sam saw
what the others missed: his hand nervously clutching at a handful of fabric
from his shirt, shaking in panic. But still, his eyes remained locked with
the older boy's, daring him to look away.
"Ya gotta name, kid?"
"Well, what is it, den? Cat got yer tongue?"
As nonchalantly as he could, Spot spat into his palm as he had seen Wolf
do, and extended it to Pinky, waiting for him to do the same. "Spot
Conlon, of da Water Street Conlons. 'Sa pleasure ta make yer
Pinky didn't so much double up with mirth as explode with it-laughter
bubbling up organ-deep, hearty, face-contorting laughter. "That's yer
name, kid?" he said at last, once he had gotten control of himself. "Hey,
Wolf," he called, sniggering, "ya sure ya brought home a kid this time?
Could be a lost dog."
"Aw, Pinky, leave th' kid alone."
"Seriously, kid," Pinky repeated, undaunted, "what kind of a name is Spot?"
Spot's face was red with anger. "Well, what kind of a name is Pinky, huh?"
Suddenly, all the laughter evaporated from the Brooklyn leader. Unlike
Spot, he had had ample time to come up with a good retort to that question,
and used it whenever possible. "It means," he said, his voice suddenly low
as he crouched down, bringing his roughened knuckles close to Spot's face
and letting his fist connect gently with his chin, "dat if ya piss me off,
Spot, I'se gonna pink ya 'fore youse can even run off. I'm gonna give you
a second chance now, though, 'cause I ain't in the mood ta waste my time on
you. So scram." Spot stood his ground. "What, are ya deaf too? Get
outta my sight, kid. Beat it!"
Chastened, Spot slowly backed away, back to Wolf's comforting shadow.
Pinky sighed and looked over at the boy who, despite a lifetime of
conflict, remained one of his only true friends. "Lemme guess..."
"C'mon, Pinky, ya can't turn 'em out on the streets. They got no place ta
"Them?" Pinky said caustically. "Ya got more than one?"
Tentatively, Sammy stepped forward, half-trying to hide behind her brother.
"I'm Samantha," she said, voice barely above a whisper.
"Huly Jesus..." Pinky muttered.
"So ya gonna let him stay?" Wolf asked.
"Sure," Pinky said at last. "Sure. But jus' one night. Then they can fend
Laughing, Wolf slung an arm around Pinky's shoulders, walking towards the
dimness at the end of the bunkroom as Spot and Samantha made introductions
with the younger newsies. "Knew you'd come through for me, Pinky."
"Yeah, yeah..." Pinky looked down, scuffing the floor with the tip of his
cane. "Hey, Wolf?"
"Ya mind not tellin' th' kid how I really got my nickname?"
"Sure, Pinky. Why?"
"No reason...he just, uh...kinda reminds me of someone. Someone I used ta