The Royal Flush
By: Racetrack's Goil
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize from the movie is not mine.
I ran until the breath in my lungs couldn't escape anymore, and then kept running. It was nothing like those nightmares you have where you are running through mud. I was running faster than I ever had, and my body seemed to have trouble catching up with my legs. I kept glancing back; I couldn't help expecting that the boy would be right there with a nasty sneer, "Hello, I decided to chase you down and kill you after all!" and then stab me in the heart.
I headed straight towards LH. It was newsie haven, the safest place I could think of. The streets of Brooklyn had always been dangerous, and after what had just happened, I didn't feel like staying outside if I could help it. Everything felt too loud, too jarring. Every rattle made me jump, every shout made me think it was those two after me, and I didn't dare stop for breath in case they had decided to come after me to finish the job.
I was in LH in no time. I went inside, gasping for breath, and took the steps two at a time. The building was still empty, and I realized that they must be at lunch. I was not hungry. I stood swaying dangerously near the bunk, and to my vague surprise, felt sick. There was mud on my pants and my face felt bruised and swollen. I grabbed the side of the bunk bed, and then stumbled to the washroom. My stomach heaved, and I squinted, feeling like the world was tilting to one side and I was on the other. Once I could catch my breath, I staggered back to the room and promptly sat down on my bunk, trying to calm down.
I'm afraid I did something really embarrassing then. I felt so awful, miserable, and so sick of being sick that I started crying. Maybe for a couple of minutes, before I realized what I was doing and stopped myself with a mental slap.
You're pathetic, Ace, I told myself fiercely between hiccups. Throwing up and then getting hysterical like that. Be thankful you're alive.
I was, really. I knew all too well how insanely lucky I had been to come out of that situation intact. I finally started breathing normally and then, I felt eerily calm. The rush of hysteria was gone. Maybe I was going into some sort of first-real-brush-with-death shock. I don't know. Whatever it was, I sat there alone in the Lodging House, suddenly feeling very serene and calm. It was as though someone had turned off a switch. My body was still trembling after that rush of adrenaline, but my mind seemed ready to just placidly sit back and review the facts.
Fact #1: Two boys at Queens were dead.
Fact #2: That boy and girl were not newsies.
Fact #3: Duke thought we were murderers.
Fact #4: …I might have killed that boy.
The door downstairs slammed open.
Peace and serenity gone, I jumped up to my feet and promptly fell. Swearing, I picked myself up and ran across the room, hearing footsteps coming up the stairs. I dashed around the corner, hoping that it was Spot, and stared down stupidly at Jackal and Artemis, who were both on their way up.
"Where the devil have you been?" said Artemis in her usual, amiable manner.
Words flooded my brain as I immediately tried to answer her. Knife, I thought. Death. Stabbing. Queens. Spot. But too much had happened, and I barely knew what to think, let alone say. The only thing I could spit out was, "Where's Spot?"
Jackal's arm was around Artemis, I noticed vaguely. He moved away from her and kept walking up the stairs, his eyes narrowed slightly, "Don't know. You alright, Ace?"
I shook my head and contradicted myself by saying, "I'm fine." I swallowed hard, and gave myself a good mental shake. "Someone tried to kill me," I stated and felt strangely guilty as I watched Jackal and Artemis' expressions change from disbelief to shock to anger. I didn't want this, I thought suddenly, belatedly. I didn't want to add anymore to this insanity.
"Listen," I said wearily, "I need to see Spot. Isn't he at the docks?"
Artemis nodded quickly, her eyes wide, "Are ya sure? Who tried to kill ya?"
"Am I sure? What kind of a question is that?" I bellowed madly.
"Okay okay," Jackal said, surprisingly helpful, "Let's get you to da docks first. He's probably dere."
The streets felt safer with Jackal and Artemis loping next to me, yet despite Jackal's protectiveness and Artemis' growingly menacing looks, I couldn't keep my eyes from looking at everyone we passed. I clenched my jaw and kept on going, knowing that I was worrying Jackal and Artemis with my silence, and hating myself for being so unsure about everything.
Artemis didn't ask any more questions, but was unusually silent. Jackal was also quiet, but he kept looking at me with a confused expression. I was grateful, but I found myself wondering if I should have just kept my mouth shut. At this point, things were wheeling from one extreme to another, and I didn't want to make a mistake and tip the balance any further.
Of course, while I was walking with them, I remembered what Verge had told me last night about how Jackal was part of Duke's gang. I shot him a quick glance, trying to see him with this new information shedding some light. I couldn't. All I saw was dependable, friendly Jackal, with his quirky personality and his rakish grin. I couldn't imagine him standing against Spot with Duke. Sure, he was one of the more outspoken ones about his opinions about Spot, but he never acted upon them and it was obviously all in good fun. Would he ever betray us? Would anyone else? I didn't think so. But somehow, I wasn't so sure anymore.
We reached the docks and I immediately looked for Spot in his usual pile of crates…and all I saw was empty sky. He wasn't there. In fact, there was no one there. And at this point, I wasn't even surprised.
I breathed out impatiently and swore under my breath. Artemis said sharply, "I'll look for him. You two go to Rays."
I nodded automatically and changed my direction as Artemis ran off. I walked quickly in the direction to Rays and Jackal matched my pace. He didn't talk, which I was grateful for. I know if it were me in his shoes, I would be bursting with questions. I was already bursting with questions anyway.
What if that boy, Harry, died?
And this time, the fault actually would be ours. It was my actions, my blow, that caused Harry to die. To Duke and the rest, we would be responsible for a third murder. Oh, of course we weren't, but it would be construed to be so. And no matter what the truth was, I had killed that boy. Or gravely wounded him. All that blood…
I hadn't meant to. Not that it would matter, at all, of course. Motives weren't worth beans anymore. I was wrong, absolutely wrong, and I had made things worse…
When I reached Rays, I nearly died of relief when I saw that the lights were on. I could see the Brooklynites inside, which was pretty unusual, since we barely stayed there in the evening. I was just happy I found them there. Jackal opened the door for me, gentlemanly as usual, and I burst inside. With a quick sweep, I saw that most of the Brooklynites were indeed here and that they were all quietly sitting at the tables. But where-
"Ace," I heard a blessedly familiar voice say, and Spot was standing right in front of me. He glanced at Jackal, and said sharply, "Where was she?"
Jackal said, "In the Lodging House."
"Spot," Again, that brain freeze. Words clammed up and I could feel my throat closing up with the enormity of what had happened. Everyone was staring at me, and then Spot took my arm and firmly took me outside without a single word. The door closed softly behind us, and I thought to myself how curious it was that everyone was still there, quietly sitting at the tables. Then I sort of flung myself at Spot, and his arms automatically went around me.
I clung to him for a second, like an absolute sap, and then took a step back to take a deep breath. Then I explained everything. How I was nearly killed. How Queens thought we were responsible. How I might have killed someone. How I looked for him everywhere, and I was all alone at LH, why wasn't he there instead of Jackal and Artemis, he wasn't at Ray's, I nearly died torturing myself…and why was he looking at me like that.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Like what?" he wasn't even looking at me in any way now; he was hooking his thumbs across his suspenders and staring at something I couldn't see. I bit my lip.
"Like," I squinted at him, "Like I'm…like you don't believe me. What's going on?"
Spot frowned. "I believe you, Ace. I see all the bruises on your face. Listen, Ace…things aren't good."
Was this his idea of humor? "Of course they're not," I glanced behind and saw everyone through the windows, watching the two of us intently. I turned back to Spot. "Why are all of you still at Ray's?"
He raised his eyebrows, his expression slightly ironic. I glared at him, trying hard to stay calm. Why wasn't he all worried? Why wasn't he angry about the said bruises? Why wasn't he being comforting?
He let go his suspenders and smoothly made an elegant gesture. "Walk with me, Ace?"
I silently followed him down the street, away from Ray's and all the newsies staring at me from inside. We turned the street corner and kept going for a few more feet before he stopped.
"Ace," he straightened up and looked at me in the eye. I felt something uneasy settle down somewhere inside of me as I saw his expression. He looked torn, like there was something horrible he was about to do and he wanted to get as far away from it as he could. I went very still. "We need to talk. Right now. And I need you to swear to tell me da absolute truth, cos otherwise, I…Ace, I don't know what's gonna happen."
I couldn't do anything but nod. Nod miserably, and wait for things to get worse, because apparently that's the only direction things can go during situations like this. The best you can do is brace yourself and take it.
"Good." Spot looked away again, for a brief moment, and when he faced me once more, his expression wore that cold professionalism that I hated to see directed at me. "About an hour ago, a girl came into Roy's. I recognized her as one of Duke's lackeys."
"Yona." It wasn't a question.
"Yes," Spot calmly said. If a bomb fell right now, he wouldn't flinch. He was that composed, that carefully prepared, and I was hating it. "Yona. She was hysterical. She told us about what happened. How her brother Harry was dead. How da boys' deaths in Queens was also our fault."
"So I did kill him. I killed her brother." I squeezed my eyes shut. "I had hoped I only hurt him."
Spot shook his head. "No. According to Yona, Harry is dead. Died shortly after you ran off."
I didn't know how to ask it. "Spot…"
He rubbed the back of his neck tiredly. "It wasn't your fault, Ace. They'd have killed you."
I raised my head and gave him a narrowed look. "No, Spot. I was going to ask if she's right. About those boys."
We just stood there, looking at each other. Spot was the first one to look away, and he had the decency to drop that calculating, calm mask for a brief moment. He looked genuinely sorry. But only for a second. He shrugged. "Nope. Brooklyn had nothin' to do with those two kids. Unless," he straightened his collar and then he said pointedly, "Someone ain't tellin' me somethin'."
"What's that even supposed to mean?" I shrieked unabashedly. "I swear, are you actually mad at me for killing-" I couldn't speak anymore. I knew in my head that I had no other choice, I had to do what I did. But the scene kept replaying over and over again, and I couldn't make sense out of the horror and guilt.
"God, Ace, no," Spot grabbed my arm and more or less dragged me further down the street before flinging me into an alley. I spluttered, indignant and furious. I was about ready to either break down in tears or go into a mad fit. Why was he acting like this?
"I'm not talkin' 'bout dose boys," he growled. "Dammit, I'm not even talkin' 'bout Duke. I'm talkin' about your 'intimate' friend Philip Danford."
My mouth dropped. "How do you…" I stopped. His grip on my arm tightened at my response, and I winced. He let me go immediately, like I had burned him.
"Who is Philip Danford?" His voice was like stone.
I shut my eyes tightly and breathed for a moment. So that was what this was all about.
"Yona?" I ventured to ask.
He didn't deign to answer. I crossed my arms and wondered if I dared to ask what Yona had told him. Refute whatever lie she had told him, for it was obvious that Yona had been telling lies. I briefly wondered then, how the rest of her story was true. I swallowed hard and decided instead to just tell him the truth.
"Philip Danford," I said carefully, "Is the leader of Queens. He's been my friend almost since I joined Brooklyn. Spot, I know I should have told you…I was just…afraid," I finished lamely, and wished promptly that I could start over. Not just my explanation. The whole day. This whole situation. Spot's face was too impassive, too collected for him to not be hurt. "Spot, I don't know what Yona told you, but it is not true. You have got to believe-"
He cut in, his voice dangerously level, "Smart of you to be afraid. You do know that Duke is hiding in Queens, right? And that Danford is helping him?"
I shook my head. "You don't know that. There is no way he would."
Spot slammed his hand on the wall right next to my head and I jumped. He snarled, "Why can't you see dis? How long is it goin' to take you to see how Duke works?"
"Spot," I tried to speak, but I had never seen him this violently angry before.
"Why didn't you tell me 'bout dis Danford guy?"
There it was. The ultimate question. "Because of numerous reasons, Spot Conlon," I rubbed my forehead wearily. "The first reason was legitimate, but by the time I changed my mind, it was too late. Because…I expected you to react like this."
"That," he growled, "has got to be the worst lie I've ever heard you say, Ace."
I gritted my teeth and pushed him hard enough to make him give me some space. "Listen, Spot, I had enough of being trapped and interrogated in an alley today. Are you even going to listen to what I have to say, or are you just gonna believe whatever Yona told you? Don't you even trust me, just a little?"
Almost as quickly as he had lost it, he regained his temper. It was just like old Spot and me, arguing with me all volatile and him calmly collected. "Trust?" he enunciated the word like he was stamping it into the air, "You're da one talkin' 'bout trust here?"
I swallowed hard and looked down. "It wasn't like that."
"I kept him a secret because everytime I mentioned you to him, he looked all funny. I thought there was something going on between you two, but when I told you about him once, you said you didn't know him."
Spot sneered. "Yeah, sweetheart. Because I didn't. I guess I shoulda figured out what was going on then, huh?"
I doggedly went on. "Well, I thought you were hiding stuff. So I wanted to find out on my own. By the time I figured there actually wasn't much going on, I didn't want to mention him to you or anyone else, because-"
"Because by then, you was all snug with him in Queens every night."
I stared at him. "Is that what you think?"
He didn't even answer. He just stepped away. If it wasn't for the way his knuckles were growing white around his cane, I couldn't have told that he was angry. He looked almost lazy.
"You are basing everything on what Yona said?" I tried to control my temper, which was rising as quickly as Spot's had disappeared. I struggled to make sense, to speak clearly, but my voice was starting to shake. "Do you know how much I've trusted you despite what every single person around me said? Tables turn, and you don't even give me that much?"
His eyes flashed. "Don't even try that, Ace. You were da one going on about 'propriety.'Don't even tell me dat you never made a trip to Queens to go see Danford."
"Never!" Then I remembered.
He saw my face. "Yeah?"
"No, Spot," I said exasperatedly. "There was one time. I went to find him and he helped me find a doctor for Cat. That was the one time I actually went out to find him."
"So dats where you snuck off to dat night. Cat and I was wonderin'," he raised one eyebrow, "At least, part of yoah story was true. Wonder how much else?"
I opened my mouth to snap at him, that Cat owed Philip her life, and how dare she discuss my life with Spot. But I shut up. This was insane. Why were we even arguing, at a time like this, when we couldn't spare any more dissension in Brooklyn? "You have to believe me, Spot. And Philip isn't working with Duke."
"You barely know da guy," his voice grew slightly louder, "Don't you get it, none of us do! No one knows who he is, and da coincidences are linin' up way too easily right now for Duke and Danford to not be helpin' each other out."
"That can't be true. He saved Cat's life."
"Den why would Yona, one of Duke's lackeys, know about you and Danford so intimately?"
"I don't know," I rubbed my forehead wearily. "I don't know. Spies?"
He gave a soft laugh, so bitter I shuddered. "You must really like dis guy, Ace. Maybe it's high time you went to Queens to pay him another visit."
With that, he straightened his hat and walked out of the alley without looking at me once. As if I wasn't anything anything to him anymore. I wasn't even worth a second look. I stared at the space in front of me, feeling much worse, if possible, than I had felt this morning. Something in my throat stuck like plaster. I slid down the wall of the alley, too numb to even cry.