Anthony Higgins was only four when he was abandoned by his father. He was left in the Sheepshead Races on Coney Island, tucked away in an abandoned horse stall, buried under hay. It was cold, but he wasn't freezing. It was dark, but he could still make out the shadowy forms of the jockeys and grooms. One groom heard his moans of hunger--it had been three days since he was abandoned.

"Hey, kid, whatcha doin' heah?" the groom asked. The little Italian boy was so young and thin, and he looked half-starved. "You know wheah ya ah, kid? Dis is da racetrack, not a noisahry."

"Racetrack?"

"Yeah, kid, it's a racetrack. What's ya name, who's ya mudder an' fodder?"

"Racetrack?" Anthony asked again, turning the new word over on his tongue. He liked the sound of it.

"Ya name's Racetrack?" the groom asked incredulously. "Sounds like a newsie nick' t' me. C'mon, I'll take ya t' me brudder--he's a newsie, he might know who ya ah. Ya look a li'l young ta be on da streets, though."

Anthony shrugged. He didn't talk much, and his answers were usually only a word long. The horse-groom didn't learn anything from Anthony that day on their walk to the lodging house, but he didn't expect to.

"Hey, Cowboy, seen me brudder?" he asked a kid who was maybe seven or eight, wearing a huge cowboy hat. The kid called Cowboy just pointed up, his message clear. Upstairs. "T'anks Jackie-boy."

Four-year-old Anthony "Racetrack" Higgins could barely climb stairs, so he concentrated hard on getting up each step, one by one. He clutched the bars supporting the banister, dragging himself upward. Cowboy grinned his amusement, and Anthony glared at him.

"Oh, Michael!" shouted the horse-groom.

"Da name's Shot, bruddah deah. Whatcha got deah, Tom?"

"Kid dat won't say anythin' but "Racetrack." So I raddah t'ought he eiddah din't know, din't wanna remembah, or hated 'is name. Or maybe dey called 'im Racetrack. I dunno, but I figuahed if anyone'd know what ta do wid a boy by da name a' Racetrack, it'd be you."

"You'se prolly right, but why would I wanna know what ta do wid 'im?"

"'Ave ya seen dis kid's mug? He'll be da best at sellin' pity-papes since Margaret got a job wid Medda. Da custahmahs is suckahs fah a cute goil, but dey'se gonna love dis kid. He coul' prolly jus' stand nex' ta a stack a' papes an' sell 'em all in five minutes," Tom grinned.

Shot looked at the child beside his older brother. He knelt down on the ground but was still almost a foot taller than Anthony. "Ya right, he's got da cutest puss since Spot was t'ree--too bad he's a Brooklyn kid now, he's such a liddle t'ing. I dunno how he'll sahvoive deah if 'e can't even fight da scrawniest kid. But dis Racetrack, he has jus' what I'se lookin' fawh in a front bruddah."

"Dat's what I t'ought. So, ya takin' 'im?"

"If 'e ain't got nowheah else ta go. Do ya, Race? Do ya have a home an' a family?" Shot asked the young boy gently. Race just shook his head, there was nothing worth returning to.

As the year went on, Race still talked rarely, and when he did it was either a sharp retort or a put-down. He had the baddest mouth Shot had ever seen on an almost five-year-old. But he was a real sweet-talker when he sold papers, saying please and thank ya and god bless ya, ma'am. He knew how to win the hearts of the young women who came by Shot's spot--which he now shared--and made up headlines wild enough to get even men who thought they had seen everything interested.

But the fact remained that around people his own age, Race didn't know how to act. His brothers beat him up when he was home, his sisters had shot him down all the time. He scarcely trusted even Shot, his partner. And he constantly ran from the bulls. In that single year he had been a newsie, he had stolen, lied, and cheated. He also gambled illegally and went to the Sheeps Head Racetracks every day--getting Tom the groom to bet for him. He learned quickly how to pick winners, and was fairly good and knew good and well that if he bet the week's earnings on a long shot, he had bad chances of coming out alive. Little did he know, Tom often bet where he did, he trusted Race's horse-senses so much.

By the time Race was six, he was hardened to the street-life. He smoked on occasion, gambled constantly, developed the best poker face the Manhattan Lodging House has ever seen,--before or since--and became the best player of any street game you've ever heard of--and some you haven't--that any of the boys had met. Even Shot couldn't beat him in marbles, though everyone tried often enough. And not a single person who ever came to play him could beat him in poker, he was just that good.

But beyond the gambling, smoking, and the racetracks, he became interested in the harmonica and even tap dancing. Well, he mixed what he had seen of fancy tap-dancers with street-dancing, which he sort of developed himself. A harder, more rigid style that was more an athletic feat than an art form. He could do some dances while he played his harmonica, so he always had music. All in all, he was the most artistic of all the newsies.

When he was eight, Racetrack saw the one man he thought he would never see again--his father. Far from running and jumping into his arms, Race turned tail and ran in the opposite direction as fast as he could. But he had been seen. He was dead meat now. With a groan of protest from his legs, he pushed on faster, and saw his father catching up. It was no use. His legs weren't long enough.

Swearing fluently, he put on an extra burst of speed, managing a slight lead before his father started coming closer again. Suddenly, he ran into someone, who grabbed him and yanked him into the alley, then dragged him up the fire escape. Race's father went right past the alley. Race sighed in relief and turned to his rescuer--or next assailant. It was a smirking Jack "Cowboy" Kelly.

"T'anks," Race said finally. "I dunno why ya did it, but t'anks."

"I did it 'cause you'se a fellah newsie, an' I want ya t' do da same fah me, if I evah need dat kinda favah. But I want one t'ing in exchange."

"What?"

"Tell me who it was I saved ya from, an' why dey'se chasin' ya."

"It was my faddah, an' I really don't know."

"Okay. Dat's good 'nuff."

Race shifted uncomfortably. "So, uh, wha' 'bout you?" he asked finally.

"Huh?"

"Wha' 'bout your faddah?" Race clarified.

Jack's eyes darkened. Then he thought about something and grinned. "Me folks're in Santa Fe, lookin' fer a place ta live," he lied. Race, who knew poker faces, could tell a bluff when he saw it.

"Ya lyin'," he said mildly. "But I ain't gonna force ya t' tell me."

Jack looked visibly deflated. "Fahgot how good ya ah at pokah. It's easy ta do--ya jus' look too young an' innocent ta be da best gamblah in Man'attan," he admitted. Race snorted in amusement.

"Dat's why I sell s' good. I'se a--whatcha cawl 'em--con-ahtist. It's surprisin'ly easy ta get people ta believe a young face. I can get even da hoity-toity sons-a'-bitches cryin' 'bout how "Poor li'l fellah tossed on da streets at such an eoily age, gotta fend fah hisself." Dat's jus' life. Ya eiddah cheat ah be cheated, kill ah be killed. Beat 'em or be beaten by 'em."

"I'se hoid a few rumahs 'bout you an' street-fightin'," Jack began slowly. Race nodded inquisitively at him. "Dey say dat watchin' ya fight is like watchin' a dancah. Ya move awl fluid-like an' dey can't even land a hit."

"Well, dey'se exaggeratin'," Race told him flatly. "I been hit b'foah," he continued in the same monotone. "I c'n dodge mos' a' da toime, but on'y if I see it comin'. Really good fightahs are unpredictahble. I hafta try'n soak 'em, 'stead a' dodgin' 'em breathless."

"Try'n soak 'em?" Jack asked.

"Yeah. Try. Sometoimes it woiks, sometoimes it don't. 'S long as I don't get meself killed, I don't mind too much. Most of 'em won't kill or seriously injah a li'l kid like me. I'se on'y eight, Jack. You'se, wha', twelve now? We shouldn't hafta live like dis. Like we'se nuttin' mawh'n a walkin' newsstand. Like we'se nuttin' at awl. I dunno how much mawh I c'n take. How many mawh fake smiles I c'n give." Race finally realized what had been bothering him ever since his father left him at the tracks. He should have a loving mother, at least, who fussed over every scratch on his knee.

"Kid, I'se been at dat point in ya life when you'se wonderin' how long ya gonna last. I made it past dat point, an' in some ways, it was like I had passed some sorta test, 'mong da newsies, at least. Now, insteada bein' jus' a kid who sells papes like dem, I'se a kid who sells papes WID dem. Along wid dem. The way dey do. I'se one of 'em, an' once ya get past dis stage in ya life, you'se gonna be a newsie, too. Ya gonna feel like a real paht a' da newsies, an' ya will be. An' it'll be mawh fun, easiah ta give dose smiles. I ain't gonna lie an' say deah won't be hahd days--deah's gonna be HAHD days, when ya wish ta god dat ya could jist die an' get it ovah wid. But you'se gonna wake up da nex' mawnin', you'se gonna sell ya papes, hang wid ya friends, eat lunch, sell mawh papes, eat dinnah, hang wid ya friends, play pokah, an' go ta sleep. It'll be monotonous, it'll be da same day in an' day out, but it'll be a bettah life ovah awl den jist bein' a beggah in da guttah."

"Dat's da longest speech I'se evah hoid ya give, Jackie-boy. Colah me impressed, ya do know a thing a' two 'bout public speakin'. Ya even have mawh'n a six-woid vocabulary."

"You'se such a jokah," Jack rolled his eyes.

Race bowed. "But a' coise," he drawled. "Whadda I look like, a hitman?"

"You'se da shawtest hitman I'se evah seen."

"Ahhh, shuddup!" Race stuck out his tongue at Jack.

"Jeez, put ya tongue back in ya mouth, Race. Dat's disgustin'," Jack told his new friend, rolling his eyes.

Race burst into a fit of wild laughter. "JACK! DAT'S DA FUNNIEST T'ING I'SE EVAH HOID!" he yelped.

"Why?" asked a confused and half-deaf Jack.

"You'se da one who spits in ya hand ta greet people an' kisses women fouahty yeahs oldah den you'se," he giggled. Jack rolled his eyes. "I sweah, you'se gonna be da death a' me, ya li'l punk," Race joshed his new FRIEND. Friend. The word had been so inconceivable but an hour ago. He had a friend.