AN: Okay, haven't updated in a while, sorry about that. I'm back in the 'swing of things' now. Time for the ending chapter- you'll be feeling sorry for Mush and Specs this time, but I never leave them feeling down! I promise!

                                                                                                                                                           

            I decided that the only way I could possibly do this and help bridge the guilt was to go straight to the newsies and tell them what I'd gotten myself into. Surely they would help me out.

            That night I went to the lodging house just after curfew, and found a game of blackjack in full swing. I asked Jack to have all the newsies come downstairs so I could talk to them, and after a moment's hesitation, he did so.

            Every newsie except for Skittery, that is. He had gotten himself drunk that evening at a local bar and ended up getting carried back to the lodging house by the bar owner himself, who took pity on the boy. He was in a state of unconsciousness now, and I left two dollars with Kloppman to give to him when he woke up- for the selling he'd missed, and for rent for as many days as needed. I told Kloppman that if he didn't show any signs of acting better to bring him back to my apartment and I'd watch over him myself.

            Soon I had all the boys' attention on me, and I knew how short that attention span could be. I got started, trying to remember not to use any 'fancy' words.

            "I've…I've gotten myself in some deep problems, guys. Problems that have come to involve you. And I need your help."

            Not a good reaction. I could see confusion on some faces, boredom on others, and anger or fear on those remaining. I took a deep breath, hoping to steady my nerves. "I know how many of you have pretty sensitive pasts behind you. But I promised my boss that I would get some of those stories down on paper for the Sun. I tried to reason with him today, but he won't budge. I was hoping…that maybe a few of you would be willing to talk."

            Complete silence. Uh-oh. This was not a good sign. I saw the boys look from one to the other, each hoping that someone else would volunteer.

            "I'll talk wit ya, Denton." A voice suddenly said from behind me, and I was shocked to turn around and see Mush standing at the bottom of the steps, a weak smile on his face. "We do owe ya, I guess. For da strike and all."

            "Thank you, Mush."

            Specs suddenly groaned and shook his head. "Ah, what da heck. I'll do it." After a moment he laughed and turned to Dutchy, who looked awfully surprised at his friend's outburst. "I must be insane, ain't I?"

            "Yep. You were already insane anyways."

            I could feel hope rising in me. That was at least two stories to hopefully quell my bosses 'orphan fever'.

            "Thank you, guys. Um…Mush, why don't we do lunch at Tibby's tomorrow? And Specs…dinner?"

            Both boys nodded, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I turned around and thanked Kloppman for letting me keep the boys up. He just smiled and began herding the boys upstairs, prodding the stubborn ones with a poke to the back. I left the lodging house, breathing a huge sigh of relief.

                                                                                                                                                           

            I was half afraid that Mush wouldn't show up; I'm sure he wasn't looking forward to this. But he walked in right on time, laughing and joking with a few other newsies. He was beaming as he walked over to the table and sat down across from me.

            "Must be good headlines." I commented as he ordered a drink. He nodded, but I could see his smile was already fading. I took out my notebook and pencil, looking him in the eye. "Whenever you're ready."

            "God, I don't know where ta start…"

            "Well, why don't you tell me about your family?"

            He nodded. "My dad was an accountant for this big firm in Jersey. I don't remember much else about him…I was only 5 or so. My mom stayed at home, and my sister Rebekka was goin' ta school. They were plannin' on sendin' me ta school pretty soon, too."

            "Sounds like you were pretty well off."

            "Yeah, we were makin' a good livin'. Had a house that was double the size of da lodgin' house. But that wasn't good enough for my dad. He wanted ta send us ta one a dose…um…hoity toity boarding schools in Connecticut. But we jest didn't have da money."

            "Well, private schools are expensive. Very expensive."

            "Yeah. Anyways, like I said, my dad was an accountant for dis big firm, and he started hidin' some of da profits. Sendin' them into our bank accounts instead of da companies. Mom told him not ta do it, but it was like an addiction or somethin'. Ya know, like race at da tracks. He jest couldn't give it up. He kept takin' more and more, and soon Rebekka was goin' to dat private school, and I was gonna start there in da fall."

            "But you never went, did you?"

            This was where he choked up. I had been waiting for it from the time he began speaking, and now he was growing even more tense. He pulled his hat off his head and began wringing it in his hands.

            "No. Da company…they found out. When they fired him, we thought that would be the end of it."

            "But it wasn't. They couldn't just let him go, could they?" I prompted when he hesitated.

            He was close to tears now. I could tell just by the way that his eyes didn't seem focused. He was concentrating on something long since past. "It was da first snow of da winter. Rebekka was home on a vacation, and I was awake, sittin' by my window, watchin' da snow come down cause I was lookin' forward to sledding with Rebekka da next day. And I saw people walkin' up to our door, carryin' lanterns and wearin' all black. It was…out of a book or somethin'."

            He stopped a moment, and this time I didn't speak. I let him gather his wits as I jotted down some more notes. I didn't need to take many- it was hard to forget a story like this.

            "At first I thought that dad would take care of 'em, ya know? Send 'em away. But then I heard the screams. I knew it was my mom, I recognized da voice. I ran down the hall to dad's office, 'cause he had been writin' some letters, but they had already gotten to him. He'd been stabbed in da head. I froze up, and I didn't get out before one of the guys was blockin' the doorway. I saw a knife in his hand, and I panicked. I jumped out da window."

            "The window was open?"

            "No."

            "Oh….um…well…what level were you on?"

            "The second. I landed on my feet, but I fell and busted up my arm pretty bad. But I could see that they had lit da house on fire, on da other side from where I was. So I ran."

            "Where did you go?"

            He was crying outright now. I couldn't blame him. "I hid in the neighbor's hedges for a while, but after da fire went through da whole house, I knew nobody was gonna walk out. 'Specially not Rebekka or my mom. So I left. I hitchhiked up here ta New York, and dat's when I met Blink. We was about da same age, and he introduced me inta bein' a newsie. And dat's where I been since."

            We sat there in silence for a few minutes, just finishing our meals that had been unnoticed throughout the story. He obviously had lost his appetite- he only ate half his sandwich before pulling his hat back onto his head.

            "I gotta sell da afternoon edition. Hope I helped. No names, remember?"

            "No names. Thank you."

            "Anytime, Denton. Glad I could help."

                                                                                                                                                           

            Dinner came all too fast for me- I was still reeling from Mush's story when Specs joined me at the corner booth for dinner. He smiled, but I could tell it was a completely fake smile.

            "Hey. You ready for this?" I asked him, and he laughed.

            "As ready as I'll evah be."

            We ordered, and then I pulled out my notebook and got my pencil out of my pocket. Then I nodded to him, signaling that I was ready whenever he was.

            "Where do I start?" he asked, and I felt like laughing. That was practically the same thing that Mush had said to me.

            "Just…tell me about your family."

            "I was an only child. My mom worked in a factory. She was the angel of da family, always smilin' and laughin'. My dad…he didn't work. He laid at home, drinkin' beer and occasionally goin' out to bars with his friends. My mom and I basically paid the rent, cause I was a newsie by then, but my dad wouldn't let me live in da lodgin' house. Mostly cause he needed somethin' ta take his anger out on."

            "He beat you?"

            "Beat? No. He practically killed me just about every night. It was worse than beating. I'm surprised I didn't die one of those nights."

            "But you do live at the lodging house now. What happened?"

            Once again, the bridge was crossed from just tension to anger and sorrow. I could see it in their eyes when they were talking about something that hurt them badly. "He went too far." Specs whispered, so quietly that I had to lean forward to hear him. Then he broke down into sobs. "I can't say it…I jest can't say it…"

            I stood up and slid in beside him in the booth, putting an arm around his shoulders and letting him lean on me. "You can say it, Specs. What happened?"

            "He…he tried ta rape me. And when mom tried ta stop him, he raped her…and beat her. She was jest about dead when he finished wit' her."

            I was so stunned I couldn't speak. He wouldn't lie about something like this, and his sobs confirmed my fears that it was true, but I couldn't imagine that kind of abuse. It seemed so unbelievable. And there was nothing I could do for him but hold him as he cried out all the tears he'd probably been holding inside all this time.

            "Specs…I'm so sorry…"

            He had to get the whole story off his chest, obviously, because he continued. "Mom made me leave that night. After he stormed out to go back to da bar, she told me ta leave and never come home. She told me.... that she'd take the next train to California. That if we split up there'd be less a chance of him findin' us. I didn't believe her. I knew she was gonna die. But I did what she told me to. I found a newsie on da streets- ended up bein' Skittery- and he carried me back to da lodgin' house. Even paid for my rent and brought me food da first few nights when I was too beat up ta sell or even walk."

            "Did you ever find out what happened to your mother?"

            "No. But she told me she'd send me a postcard from Cali, dat night when she was dyin'. And I nevah got one."

                                                                                                                                                           

            The next day I walked into my bosses' office, my head held high. He jumped when I slammed the door, and his surprise quickly turned to anger.

            "What's the matter with you, Denton? Have you lost your mind?"

            "It would be less of a price to pay then what those boys have! You want their stories? Go get them yourself!"

            "Denton! I could fire you right here, right now-"

            "Go ahead! Fire me! I could care less right now. We can't publish those stories!"

            He had stood up by then, his face red with rage. I had one advantage here- I was his best reporter, and firing me would be a big blow to the paper. "Fine! Just drop it! Go back to doing stock…but I warn you, this is your last stunt before you're out of here!"

            I left his office, and for once in my life, I actually felt truly proud. I believe that those newsies would've been very proud of me, and that was the greatest prize to be obtained- not the ratings of a newspaper, but lifetimes and memories that belong to one person and nobody else.

The End

                                                                                                                                                           

AN: Well, what do you people think? See, Denton did redeem himself, and the newsies won't have to publish their stories! Yay! I always keep my promises…anyways, now that you've read it, review it!