Ok, here we go. A short story that gives a little back ground on Pocket, for those of you who enjoyed Behind Every Good Man. I have a few more of these planned, as well as the sequel, so let me know what you think. (that means review, people) This one is set just after Pocket joins the Manhattan newsies.
"Hey Race, wait up!"
Young Anthony "Racetrack" Higgins turned his head in the direction of the voice calling him. He grinned at the sight of his new friend coming toward him. Pocket trotted over, cap pulled low, smiling happily.
"Whatcha so happy about," Race asked suspiciously.
"Aw, nothin much Race," his friend answered casually. Too casually.
"Don't look like nothing," he observed as the two headed into Tibby's for dinner.
Pocket gave him an odd look, then motioned him over to a booth in the back. Race watched, amused, as Pocket glanced slyly around the room. Seeing the other boys were paying attention to their food, the rookie newsie leaned forward.
"Alright," Pocket said, "But ya gotta keep quiet."
When Race nodded his agreement, Pocket pulled out a wallet, tossing it on the table. The wallet was made of dine leather and stuffed full of bills. Racetrack's eyes widened.
"Where'd ya get that?" he asked, amazed.
Pocket smirked. "Got it off some nob over in Midtown. Prob'ly don't even know its gone yet."
Race laughed at the proud expression on Pocket's face.
"Bettah not let any a the othas see that," he warned. "They'll all be bummin off ya."
"Nah," Pocket scoffed. "Ain't nobody gettin their paws on me dough."
They didn't notice Roller approaching until his shadow fell across the table.
"What's happenin fellas?" the tall Manhattan leader asked casually, his eyes falling on the wallet in the middle of the table.
Racetrack looked guilty, Pocket only stared up at the other boy with an innocent expression.
"Hey Roller," the younger newsie tossed out an offhand greeting.
"Whatcha got there, Pocket?" the leader's voice was stern.
Pocket shrugged. "Found a wallet."
"Oh yeah?" Roller mocked. "An' where'd ya 'find' this wallet?"
"Midtown." Pocket answered easily, without a hint of shame.
Roller sighed as he looked down at his newest newsie. Pocket had only joined them a few weeks ago but already the new kid showed signs of being a top seller. Unfortunately, the small, slender boy tended to be a little "free" with other people's belongings. He never stole from the newsies, but Roller couldn't convince him to stop picking the pockets of the wealthier citizens of Manhattan.
"That's the second time this week, Pocket," Roller scolded. "Ya gotta stop this. We took ya in cuz ya almost got caught. Sooner or later, you'se gonna get nabbed by the bulls, bring trouble down on alla us."
Pocket shrugged, unconcerned.
"Don't worry bout it," he said in his odd, husky voice. "I ain't gonna get caught."
Roller gave a firm look.
"I like ya, kid," he warned, "but if ya make trouble for me an' the boys, yer out on ya ear. Got it?"
Pocket agreed reluctantly. "I'll be careful."
Racetrack noticed that Pocket didn't promise to stop stealing, only to be more careful about getting caught. Roller noticed too, but didn't comment.
'You boys ready for tanight?" the leader asked, changing the subject.
"What's tanight?" Pocket wondered curiously.
"Poker game," Race answered glumly. "Some of the boys from the Bronz is comin by for cards."
"Whatcha so down about then?" his friend wanted to know. "Ya love poker."
"Lost all me money at the tracks," the little Italian confessed. "Got nothin ta bet."
Pocket smiled. "Well, my friend, looks like its ya lucky day. Just so happens I came across some extra cash taday," the tiny dark haired newsie said generously. "Could be persuaded to spot ya a little ta get ya goin."
Roller leveled a warning look at Pocket.
"Be careful throwin money around an' actin uppity," he cautioned. "Brooklyn's comin too. Don't want ya makin a bad impression."
Pocket sobered slightly. Even outside newsie circles, Brooklyn's reputation was well-known. Race, however, didn't seem bothered by the news.
"Brooklyn's comin?" he said excitedly. "That's good. Always a good game with Brooklyn," he told Pocket. "An' ya can meet me pal Spot."
Pocket hung back in a corner as the guest began to arrive at the lodging house. Being a thief required you to slip in and out of crowds unnoticed, and Pocket had blending in down to an art form. As the common room filled with newsies calling out greetings and insults, no one paid any attention to the small figure slouched low against the wall. Except one newsie.
Spot Conlon tapped Racetrack's shoulder.
"Who's the new kid?" he asked curiously, with a nod at Pocket.
Racetrack grinned and started that way, motioning for Spot to follow.
"This here's Pocket," Race introduced when they reached the corner Pocket had claimed. "An' this is Spot Conlon," he continued. "He's from Brooklyn, but don't hold it against him."
Spot gave his friend a playful shove for the insult, but kept his attention on Pocket. Suddenly nervous, Pocket nodded wordlessly at the newcomer.
"Where'd ya come from?" Spot wanted to know.
"Around," Pocket answered simply. With a grin at Racetrack, Manhattan's latest addition darted off into the crowd. Those strange, pale eyes on the Brooky made Pocket nervous, they seemed to see too much. Pocket had secrets nobody needed to see.
Spot watched Pocket's retreat, eyes narrowed suspiciously. Race noticed the look on his friends face and hurried to distract him.
"Look, they's startin the games."
Racetrack and Spot settled in at a table with Roller, Blink, and a couple of other boys. Race saw Pocket at the next table playing with Snooker, the leader of the Bronx newsies, and Lucky, his second in command. Pocket chatted easily with Lucky over the cards, and Race remembered that they new each other already. Pocket had spent a lot of time in the Bronx before coming to Manhattan. Spot watched covertly, sneaking glances at Pocket that no one but Racetrack noticed.
By the end of the evening, the game was down the just Race, Spot, and Pocket. The three of them were actually the youngest newsies allowed to play, but they'd steadily beaten out all of the older boys until no one else was left. Then the game got serious. Racetrack was arguably the best Poker player in New York, but he soon realized he had stiff competition. Spot had already perfected his famous blank mask and Pocket's face also bore no expression, gave nothing away.
They played in near silence, speaking only when necessary, each studying the others carefully for signs of weakness. Racetrack noticed that Spot watched Pocket especially close. The stakes went higher and higher, until Race reluctantly folded and settled back to watch the battle unfolding between his friends.
Hand after hand they stayed pretty much even, raising the bets more and more. Finally Spot called it, leaning forward casually.
"Let's see 'em," he challenged.
Pocket laid down a decent hand, two pair, kings over eights. Spot smirked evilly as he turned over his own cards to reveal a royal flush. Cheers erupted from the watching newsies as the Brooklynite raked his winnings across the table. In the uproar, no one heard when he leaned forward to whisper in Pocket's ear.
"Couldn't let myself get beat by a goil, now could I?"