What's up, I actually still exist. Here is a chapter, I can't make any promises of when there will be another, but who knows. I do want to actually write/finish this story so I don't plan on stopping writing any time soon, it just may be a while between updates, but I'll keep trying.
Just like any other morning, I hopped out of bed, and was ready in a few short moments. The usual hustle and bustle of the lodging house swirled around me, and we made our way out to the street. I walked beside Jack as I mulled over the evening before. Not only was there still something up with Jack, but I couldn't ignore what the heck had been going on with myself. There was definitely something less than savory going down with Morris and Oscar, and I couldn't help but be worried about it. There was one other thing bothering me though.
Yesterday I had called Morris handsome. Sure, it wasn't exactly direct, but I meant it. I don't remember ever having thought that about most anyone really. Well, I can tell whether someone is attractive or not, but I don't think I've ever actively found myself attracted to someone, and that someone now being Mo? Try as might, I can't get it out of my head. We've been friends for so long, but what if there was something else there? It would be crazy for sure, but that doesn't mean I can't think about it.
It only took a few minutes and then we were at the distribution center, Jack wandered off to try and find some breakfast, and I settled into my normal spot in between Albert and Specs.
"Did you have a nice afternoon yesterday?" I turned to Specs as I answered him, "Yeah, not necessarily uneventful, but I was a good day." I couldn't quite get the image of Morris out of my head, disheveled, hawking papers for me in the setting sun. I really ought to forget it though.
Albert turned into the conversation with a funny look in his eye. "What happened to your head?" I pulled my cap down a little further as I spoke, "Just knocked it yesterday morning is all." In a rare instance, both Specs and Al managed to look serious. "What happened?"
"I'm telling you guys, nothing too crazy. I was sitting on a stack of milk crates and it collapsed."
"Are you sure that's what happened?"
"How come you weren't at your normal spot then?" this time it was Specs interjecting.
"Well, as I'm sure you're aware, Elmer is sick, and Snyder hates me. The latter showed up at my spot, so I headed over to sell the rest of my papers at the former's."
Specs looked incredulous at that, can't blame him I guess, it was a risky move. "You went over there all by yourself? Are you crazy? You could've gotten seriously hurt, and it looks like you did!"
"I'm not that crazy," I try to assuage his concerns, "I took Mike with me." At that they both groaned.
"And you're sure that didn't have anything to do with why Snyder showed up at your spot?"
I could lie to them, but I'm not sure what good it might do, it's probably better to just be straight forward. "No. I'm not. Someone, for some reason, tipped Snyder and Weisel off that we were both there. For once though, I don't think they were there for me."
"What do you mean by that?" Al asks. "You know, I'm not completely sure," I reply, "but there's something up with Mike and Ike. Their uncle, we heard him talking about something, and it didn't sound good, almost like they wanted to get the boys out of the picture for some reason."
"Maybe you should think about trying to steer clear for a bit then." Part of me wishes I could Specs, trust me. "I would, but someone had to try and keep those two out of trouble."
The chatter continues while we wait to see the headline of the day. Jack is still missing, but his charges, Davey and Les seem to fit in fine; it's good to see that they've settled in this easily. At some point, Weisel, Morris, and Oscar wandered into the stand. I try to catch Morris's eye to attempt to gauge how heading back home went last night, but he's refusing to look my way. That's certainly something new. The both of them are each sporting straight faces, not giving away any emotion one way or another.
Les scurries across the courtyard to where we are standing, grinning up at us, "So, how's it goin' today?" Albert ruffles his hair and responds, "Ask me after they put up the headline."
"Here it comes now!" Les says, as on of the workers climb the ladder to write up the headline, and everyone is completely stunned.
Albert has the courage to say it out loud. "New newsie price, sixty cents per hundred."
"Is that news?" Davey asks.
"It is to me! They jacked up the price of papes, ten cents more a hundred!" Albert replies.
Everyone broke into chatter. They hiked the price. No wonder neither Morris nor Oscar would meet my eye; I can't believe they wouldn't tell me about this. "Ten cents more a hundred," Specs spoke. "I guess we can kiss the joint book fund goodbye then," Albert commented.
"Hey, what're you all standing around for!" Jack finally makes his entrance. Mush, Romeo, and Crutchie explain the situation to him, and he just laughs it off, and falls in line; we all follow suit with bated breath.
Jack speaks, "Weasel, good joke, I'll take my hundred," and he slams down his fifty cents. "A hundred will cost you sixty," comes the reply. Jack just peels away laughing, but Weisel doesn't budge. "No, no I ain't payin no sixty."
"Then make way for someone who will."
"Oh, you bet, me and the fellas will take a hike over to the Journal." Now there a real idea, something that might give us some headway.
Henry shows up, out of breath, "I'll save you the walk, they upped their price to!" For a moment, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
"Well then we'll take our business to the Sun!" Jack yells as we start to leave, but then Weisel cut's us off, "It's the same all over town, new day, new price. Now that's from further of the food chain, so you buyin, or you movin on." I can hear the smugness in his voice from halfway across the square. Jack took his money with a slam, and walked over towards the mail cart in the middle of the square. We all gather up around him expectantly, probably the quietest I've ever heard the newsies. Just a couple of us make comments about inevitably starving and general misery. Jack tried to get ahold of the group for a minute, but I can tell he is grasping at straws. Everyone just keeps asking him what to do, but he doesn't have an answer, neither of us do.
"Stop crowding the man!" Les shouts as he clears the space around Jack, most everyone jumps back a little startled though. "Let the man work it out!"
Waiting with bated breath, we all stand around for a moment. If there's anyone that can think of a crazy scheme to get us out of this mess, its gotta be Jack. "Hey Jack," Les created the silence, and he's the first to break it, "ya still thinkin?"
Race answers him with, "Sure he is, can't you smell the smoke." Then, Jack is beckoning us all back over, turns out he really does have an idea, count me both scared and impressed.
"Here's the deal. If we don't sell papes, no one sells papes. Not until they put the price in tha window back where it belongs."
"You mean, like a strike?" Davey responds, and he doesn't sound too excited about it.
"Ya heard Davey, we're on strike," then everyone is chattering, but Jack isn't finished, "Hey! We shut down this place like the strikers shut down the trolleys"
"Then the cops'll just bust our heads," Elmer speaks up, and I notice several of the others newsies shake their heads in agreement, but until they come up with a better idea, the strike sounds pretty solid.
In a bid to calm everyone down, Jack responds, "You really think the cops will care about a bunch of kids? Right Davey"
"Leave me out of this! I'm just a kid trying to feed my family!" That's certainly not what I expected out of him, but Jack isn't ready to let it go, What, is the rest of us is on playtime? Just because we only make pennies doesn't give them the right to up and rub our noses in it."
"I know, but it doesn't matter. You can't strike, you're not a union." Davey retorts.
"Well what if I says we is?"
"There's a lot of stuff you gotta have to have a union, like membership."
"And what'd you call these guys?" Jack sweeps his arm across all of us newsies, and I finally chime in, "We've got members, and we've got a cause, everything else is just extra."
"Well you've gotta have officers at least!" Davey shoots back, and Jack is elected President immediately, typical. I'm surprised Davey didn't see that coming. After a brief talk with Davey, Jack walks back over to our group shouting, "So our union is hereby formed to watch each other's backs! Union we stand! Now that's not bad somebody write that down!"
Les joins him saying, "I've got a pencil!" and Jack smiles as he states, "Whoa! Meet our secretary of state." Davey then shouts that if we want to strike, the members have to vote, and so Jack doesn't hesitate to ask, glancing at both Specs and Al, we grin as we shout, "Strike!"
"Let's tell the boss man what's up!" I yell, to a resounding shout of assent, and Jack asks Davey who needs to tell Pulitzer. Davey is hesitant, but then he's marching up to Jack saying, "Well I guess you do Mr. President!" After a few words, Davey is fully convinced and shouts, "We've got a union!"
Jack stands on top of a stack of old crates to address our new union, "Pulitzer and Hearst, they think we're nothin'. Are we nothin'?"
"No!" we all shout together.
Davey jumps up beside Jack as he throws his own two cents in, "They need to understand that we're not enslaved to them- we are free agents!"
Jack clamps his hand on Davey's shoulder and they stand together as he shouts, "Pulitzer and Hearst they think they got us, do they got us?"
"No!" comes the shout from the newsies.
"We're a union now! The newsboy union, and we mean business!" Davey continues.
"Even though we ain't got hats or badges, we're a union just by saying so, and the World will know!" Jack shouts, the newsies cheering him on. Finch's voice then pierces through the noise, "Hey, what's there stopin' some other kids from comin' along to sell our papes?"
"Just let 'em try!" Albert shouts, and I give him a look of disbelief, this is the only way we eat, we can't except every kid in the city to understand that, and for all he talks about how bad Mo and Oscar are for beating up on kids, you'd think he'd be a little more hesitant on that fact. Before I can speak up though, Davey interjects, "No no no! We can't beat up on other kids. We're all in this together," effectively quelling the excitement over punching people.
Then, we march together, chanting, towards the front of the distribution center. Jack calling out anything we might face and if we can take it, the crowd of newsies responding with an enthusiastic "Yeah!" each time, even Specs is caught up in the excitement.
"When the circulation bell starts ringin, will we hear it?!"
"What if the Delanceys come out swinging?!" Jack looks over the crowd, "Will we hear it?"
"No!" and for the first time, I don't participate in the chant. On one hand, I don't think I've ever been as excited as I am right now. For once, it actually feels like we are in control of our future, but on the other hand, I don't know what this would mean for Morris and Oscar. Specs give a wary glance and looks like he's about to ask if I'm okay, but I just shake my head and eave him off, letting myself drift to the back of the group, wondering whether or not I can find a way to get to either of the brothers and get some insight into what exactly is going on.
I glance around behind the group. Weisel has moved out of the courtyard, probably going out the back way, through the offices, while Morris and Oscar are hanging around only a few yards away from us waiting to lock up. Making a snap decision, I conceal myself behind a stack of old crates that block the view from both the front of center, where the newsies are, and the offices at the back of the center. Hopefully, one of the two boys was paying me enough attention to notice. I peek out from around the corner of crates and watch as the rest of the newsies walk out of the distribution center, and Oscar locks the gate. Davey and Jack both disappear around the other side of the headline board. At least I can't second guess myself on staying behind now.
Then, I almost scream as I feel someone gently grab my wrist. I twist around to see Morris standing behind me, his hat in one hand and his other holding onto me, crouched over just slightly to make himself short enough to actually be hidden by the crates.
"It's okay Bets, it's just me." Well yeah, I can see that now. It takes everything I have to avoid rolling my eyes and focus on the task at hand. "Do you want to tell me what's going on Morris?"
He responds in a hushed tone, more subdued than I've seen him in ages, "Yes, but we can't really talk here. There's a lot more behind this than just a price hike."
"How exactly is there anything else planned, intentions are pretty clear up there," I shoot back, gesturing to the headline board. "Yeah," he responds, a note of worry in his voice, "and something else is up there too." I look up to see my brother and Davey fighting with the worker. Morris grabs my wrist and I hear him say, "C'mon!" as he pulls me around to the other side of the crate, out of view of the platform. He's too late though.
Crouching together, I look Morris is the eye, the two of us only a few inches apart. "He saw us." I can barely breath, I don't know what to do. "What'd you mean Bets, who?" Morris looks down at me, worry in his face. "It was Davey. Once Jack started writing, he, well, h-he."
"He what Bets?"
"Davey looked back at the courtyard. He looked me straight in the eyes. There's no way he didn't see us." At this Morris looks stunned and glances around for a moment, his eyes settling on the back offices, and then swinging back to me. "We'll have to deal with that as it comes, right now, we need to get somewhere we can talk." I turn to look back towards the gate, until I remember it's already unlocked. "We can't go through the main gate," Morris interrupts my thoughts, "Oscar already went to take the keys back to Weisel. If we ever take too long with lock-up he thinks something's up, so we have to run them back to them."
"So what does that leave us with?" I ask, running my eyes across the now-empty courtyard, settling on the office entrance behind the newsstand. Morris turns to see what I'm looking at and we both come to the same conclusion. "Well this is a terrible idea," he groans. "It's the only real option we have though unless you want to sit here all day in the open," I state. "At least Weisel should still be talking to Oscar in his office," he looks down at me, "let's please try to not get caught here."
I groan as I roll my eyes, then set my gaze on the newsstand, and dash across the courtyard. I lean up against the wall of the building, out of sight of the windows, as Morris finally catches up, winded, "maybe a little bit of warning next time Bets."
"That would take all the fun out of everything though!"
"Oh, and we certainly can't have that can we," he deadpans, "now keep quiet, and we might just make it through this.
Morris slips open the door and softly treads into the space. I've never been back here, so I take a moment to orient myself. We slip into an entryway, stairs on one side, and the door to the distribution desk on the other, where Oscar is leaning in the door frame. "You're lucky it was me sitting up front and not someone else."
"Thank you for the words of wisdom Oscar," I whisper, "but maybe we could focus on getting out of here right now?" Oscar nods his head and steps in front of us, making sure the coast is clear as we move down the hallway. Behind every doorway could be Weisel, Snyder, or any of their goons, and if the boys get caught sneaking a newsie through here, I don't want to know what happens to us.
"Oscar!" Morris whispers, his brother halting in his tracks, "Where's Weisel? I thought he'd be talking to you?" Oscar faces forward and moves forward, slower now, taking care to minimalize any amount of noise. Whispering, he turns back around, "meeting," he says as he points towards what I can only guess is Weisel's office up on our left. Just past the office is the back door of the building. Oscar quietly slips by, keeping to the right side of the hallway making it to the door. Morris and I follow suit, taking deliberate care with each step, and its going pretty well, until I don't notice a loose board fast enough. The board creaks loudly as I step forward, and we all freeze in place. There isn't anything coming from the room but the low murmur of conversation. Good, they didn't hear anything.
BANG! The sound of someone slamming their fists on a desk resonates through the building, and we all jump, scared. I feel Morris grab my hand, almost like he's checking I'm still here as shouting starts to come from the other room. I'd recognize that voice anywhere, it's Snyder. Morris and I give each other a terrified look, and then a glance further down the hallway where Oscar is desperately beckoning us over to the now open door. Snyder doesn't seem to be calming down, so, throwing all caution to the wind, Morris hauls us both forward, and a good thing too as I'm pretty sure I'm frozen with terror. The three of us burst out onto the street and run for a couple blocks until we reach an alleyway out of breath.
Huddling in the alleyway, I'm taken aback as Morris once again grabs ahold of me, but this time he pulls me into a tight embrace. We are both still shaking, whether from adrenaline or fear I'm not sure, could be both. Being in his arms though, I can feel as we both relax some. Oscar lets out a cough, prompting us to detach ourselves, and the moment I feel the separation, some of that fear spills back in.
"Okay," I address both of the brothers as I try to keep my voice from shaking, "fill me in on what's happening."
The two switch off back and forth, explaining the price hike and the expectation of the newsies outrage, the plan to take out as many "trouble makers" as possible and however necessary. "And there's one more thing you need to know," Osc looks over to Morris. Mo's face morphs to carry an intense rage that I haven't really seen before as he continues the statement his brother started. "Snyder's goons know you're a girl. They've been assigned to track down you while we look for Jack, and they're looking forward to it."
"It was bound to come out eventually I guess," I try to reason as I process just what kind of fun the buffoons were thinking about. Morris shakes his head, "That's not it Bets. They only told me, Edgar wanted to make sure I knew exactly what would be happening."
They know. "The bastard. Why bother to dangle that over you, they have to know they'd get a nice paycheck if you two got dragged down."
"I think they're waiting for us slip up," Oscar interjects, "I mean, we know they want us out of the picture anyway. Why not make it legal right? Or at least easy to cover up. We can try to counter them from the inside as long as we can stay there though."
I can't believe it when Morris nods in agreement. "Are you two absolutely crazy?" The two brothers just stare at me incredulously. "The longer you two stay around those creeps, the easier it will be for them to corner you."
"Well its not like there's much we can do instead," Morris counters, "What do you want us to do, join your brother?"
"Maybe! I don't know, but you can't possibly think sticking around Weisel's crew is a good idea."
Oscar shakes his head then, "I never said it was a good idea, just the only idea. We need to play along because there isn't anywhere else to go. Even if we did join you all and didn't get thrown in the river by some miracle, Snyder and Pulitzer still have the law on their side, and the numbers. That's why you've got to lay low."
"What do you mean lay low. You can't possibly expect me to stay inside and out of the way while almost everyone I care about is in danger," I let a little more steam into my voice than I meant to, but they can't seriously think I'd abandon my friends, my brother, just because I could get hurt.
Morris steps towards me, still carrying some anger in his voice, "And putting yourself in the middle of it wouldn't be helping much, you'd just be increasing the number of people in trouble, and then Osc and I wouldn't be able to help you."
Stepping up to meet him, doing my best to stare him down despite the height difference, I shoot back, "What makes you think I need you twos' help."
"I don't know, maybe the fact that you're half the size of the two guys gunning for you."
"Oh sure, but they'd have to catch me first, and I don't plan on that happening."
"No one ever does Bets!" I flinch as he yells, and his anger is replaced with shock. "I'm sorry Elisabeth."
"Elisabeth?" I ask, stunned that he used my real name. He looks utterly dejected as he plops down on a nearby crate, he runs his hands through his hair, trying to push away the stress bouncing around his brain. "I just can't stand to see you get hurt."
"Neither of us can," Oscar mumbles from his side of the alleyway. "Edgar pulled Morris aside with a purpose. They want to hurt all of us, as much as possible."
"What can we do instead then? We can't exactly ignore everyone, and you both know there's no way I'm going to go hide in a corner."
"We know," Mo responds, "You can't blame me for wishing you would though. It would make life a little easier sometimes," he can't help but grin, no doubt thinking about yesterday's run in with the Bowery Boys. The alleyway falls silent as we all try to figure out a solution, but nothing comes up. After what feels like an eternity, Oscar steps up. "I think the only thing we can do right now is try and play along. Morris and I will keep our attention on your brother and his friends, assuming you'll be with them, or at least nearby. That way we can at least be in the area when the other two show up."
"Anything we do will have to be convincing," Morris interjects. He is staring right at me, I understand his hesitancy. Either the newsies are gonna attack them, or they will have to try and get at the newsies so that their cover isn't completely blown.
"Don't rough anyone up too bad okay?" I ask, "you can make things look convincing without hurting anyone too much. There should be enough chaos to at least make that feasible."
Oscar nods, "and we'll make sure to only rough up the older boys, that's the least we can do." All I do is nod and hang my head. There is no way I can think of that tomorrow will end well. "Any other suggestions?"
Neither boy will look at me until Morris lift his head and stands up. He pulls me into another of those remarkably warm hugs with his chin resting on top of my head. Barely audible, he whispers, "Please just be careful."
I can only whisper back, "You too."