Disclaimer: I don't own Newsies. Disney owns Newsies. I'm just borrowing the characters for my own plot. This mantra will, hence forth, always resound in my mind. Shall I proceed with the tale?
"Get up! Sell the papes, sell the papes!"
Lunch Money Higgins groaned, as did the boys around her. Kloppman gave Lunch Money a sharp tap on the forehead as he passed, shaking each newsie awake in turn. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Miss Higgins sat up, calling sleepily down to her brother, who was still determinedly asleep.
"Race, get the lead out!" Racetrack glared up at her in a drowsy fashion, annoyed at being so brutally awakened. He still hadn't completely forgiven his sister for becoming the only female resident at Kloppman's lodging house, despite the fact she'd been living there for nearly a year. Racetrack, as a rule, was a fairly laid back young man and always ready for a good time. But when it came to his little sister, his carefree demeanor went straight to Hell. Not only did Racetrack feel obligated to keep a paranoid eye on Lunch Money (not to mention all the boys she was rooming with), he insisted upon sleeping in the bunk below her and was constantly dropping hints that she should try working as a laundress… or anything girlier than a newsie. Lunch Money usually responded to these hints with a withering glare—the glare that Boots once compared to Spot Conlon's.
"If ya evah go ta Brooklyn, Lunch," he had said, "Don't show Spot Conlon that look—it'd kill him if he knew some goil had an expression as fierce as his." Lunch Money had just laughed uncertainly at this, not knowing whether Boots was serious or not, as she had never met Spot Conlon.
Lunch Money clambered out of bed, landing with a resounding thud next to the bunk she shared with Racetrack. Around her, several cries of annoyance and protest went up at the great amount of racket she had created.
"Ah, shuddup." She snapped to the room at large, "Get goin', I gotta get ready." Lunch Money folded her arms across her chest as she waited for all the boys to clear out, still muttering groggily as they made their collective way to the washroom. Once alone, Lunch Money quickly began to dress. Her usual attire—trousers, a white, buttoned shirt, a dark wool jacket, worn black boots and a caddy hat, naturally.
To her brother's eternal embarrassment, Lunch Money could never be persuaded to don the traditional girl's clothing. Those awful long dresses were far too cumbersome to sell papers in. And how the hell would she manage soakin' the Delanceys in a corset? Despite her small stature (5 feet, one inch, on a tall day.), Lunch Money liked to think she knew how to take of herself in a fight. No denying, she could hold her own against a wuss like Oscar Delancey, but Lunch Money's temper had a very unselective screening process, and she habitually got into scuffs with boys twice her size. On such occasions, Kid Blink and Racetrack were typically the ones with enough sense to hold her back when she flew into a rage (which happened with alarmingly regularity).
After quickly pulling her dark curls into two braids, the 14-year-old newsgirl crossed the dormitory, stopping outside the washroom door. She gave it one sharp knock and called a quick warning that she would be entering the washroom, and that they'd all better be decent. Knowing of course, that the raised voices behind the door were too preoccupied to hear that a female would soon be among them.
Lunch Money pushed open the door, and walked into the washroom. It was a chaotic scene; half-dressed boys wandering about, fighting over the dry towels, some attempting to shave. This was no surprise; newsies are not known for their affection for quiet order.
"What's takin' you'se so long? We got papes ta sell!" She chided, annoyed that the circulation bell would be ringing in less than 20 minutes, and most of the boys still weren't even dressed. The instant her presence was detected, a chorus of angry voices and a barrage of wet towels drove Lunch Money out of the washroom. Ah, gotta love Monday mornings.
The trip to The World's circulation office was an ordinary one; everyone peppered up by the coffee the nuns had so kindly bestowed upon them, and ready to carry the banner.
"Race you!" Kid Blink blew past Lunch Money, glancing back at her tauntingly. Lunch Money sped after him, and a frantic contest ensued. Blink and Lunch Money sprinted over the cobblestone streets, not bothering to slow for innocent pedestrians and leaving all the other newsies in the dust. They were therefore the first to notice something odd at the circulation office.
"What's going on?" That was the question on the air, as the circulation office came into view, more and more newsies asked the question in confused mutters. The newsies of Manhatten were now gathered outside the gates, but there was a problem. The gates were closed. It was at least a quarter past, and Weasel still hadn't opened the gates. That had never happened before. He was always quite prompt. Not only that, but Lunch Money noticed that Weasel and the Delancey brothers were standing on the nearest corner, at a sort of makeshift counter, with a sign reading 'Newsstand'. They were selling papers.
Lunch Money was sure that hers was not the only jaw to drop. The one question seemed to fill her head: What was going on?
"Weasel!" Francis Sullivan (better known as Jack Kelly, or Cowboy, to friends.) pushed his way to the front of the assembled newsies. "Weasel! What the hell are ya doin'?"
Weasel laughed. The Delancey brothers followed the suit. Lunch Money felt her fists clinch involuntarily. Ooh, what she wouldn't give to swing one fist straight through Morris's stupid mustache.
"Well ya see, Francis, Mista Pulitzer thought it's be better for The World to leave it's circulation up to professionals, not grubby little orphans. Meaning newsstands, ya street rats. I'll be sellin' papes from now on. So, effective immediately, you're all outta a job." Weasel smirked broadly as the newsies displayed utter outrage across their faces.
"You can't do that!" Lunch Money protested loudly.
"I beg ya pardon, but Mista Pulitzer can do whatevah he wants. And a strike ain't gonna help you'se this time neither—ya got that, goilie?" Goilie. It was a word Lunch Money couldn't abide. She had felt a ripple go through the group when Weasel had used it. Everyone knew that it was a near death wish to call Lunch Money "goilie". As Weasel's smirk widened to an impossible air of smugness, Lunch Money felt her blood boil. She started towards Weasel, with every intent of pummeling the stupid fat man into the ground.
A hand firmly grasped Lunch Money's shoulder, pulling her back. It was Blink. He had kept Lunch Money out of enough fights already that he could tell she was about to endeavor to claw Weasel's eyes out.
"Lemme go!" She growled, jerking her shoulder out of Blink's hand. Blink was too quick for her though, in an instant, he had pinned Lunch Money's right arm behind her back and Mush had come to help Kid Blink contain her. She gave both of her friends a dirty look and managed a couple of good kicks in their shins before shaking them off with the promise she'd be good. The Delancey brothers laughed sycophantically.
"They've got us." Lunch Money heard Jack mutter. Then he added, in a louder voice,
"Come on, guys. Tibby's." He set off at a quick pace toward the restaurant, he and Racetrack conversing in low tones.
"Tibby's?! Without papes ta sell anymore, we can't even afford a glass a' water, let alone a lunch at Tibby's!" Skittery griped from the back of the queue. Blink and Lunch Money exchanged a look, both torn between amusement at Skittery's unending pessimism, and anxiety over their current unemployment.
"A newsstand!" Racetrack burst out, once the twenty or so newsies had filed into the restaurant. He was obviously agitated. "A newsstand! It's Pulitzer's final revenge! He's still spittin' 'cause of the strike last year, and now he's gettin' back at us! No extra aces this time fellas, no weighted dice on our side." Lunch Money nodded her concurrence, but looking around, she realized she was one of the few who comprehended what Racetrack had actually said.
"Could we had that in laymen's terms, Race?" David asked, rolling his eyes. Snipeshooter and Boots choked back laughs. Racetrack looked irritated at having to translate his gambling analogies.
"We've got no way out this time. Like Weasel said, striking ain't gonna help us—we're flat outta a job! They're eliminating the middleman and selling the papes straight to the public instead a' ta us!" Racetrack made a fist with his right hand and smashed it into his left palm.
"There's gotta be a way!" Little Les Jacobs piped up from Jack's elbow. Lunch Money doubted she had ever seen Jack without his living shadow, Les Jacobs, tagging along behind him. "Come on, Jack, you gotta think of something!"
Most of the newsies rolled their eyes or shook their heads at Les's utter naïveté (Lunch Money included) though she did notice that the restaurant had become abnormally quiet, as though everyone really did think, in their heart of hearts, that Jack would be able to think of something. Alas, after a moment Jack shook his head. The newsies around him seemed to deflate.
"Race is right," Jack said, his brow furrowed, "Pulitzer's got us. The only thing I can think of is ta leave The World for a paper that hasn't switched ta newsstands."
"Oh come on," Lunch Money slammed her fist on the table, frustrated, "Pulitzer will have all them papes sellin' from newsstands by now! The Sun, The Times-- Whatevah Pulitzer says goes, in the newspaper woild. All them stuffed shirts listen to Joe." She glowered angrily at no one in particular. It was true, what she had said; Joseph Pulitzer was the most powerful man in New York, if he wanted to shut the newsies out and put in newsstands, it was only a matter of time before the other papers did the same.
"Well," Jack began slowly, "If there's any group a' newsies that ain't in any trouble yet, it's Brooklyn. We'd've heard if Spot Conlon were in trouble."
"What, you think newsstands ain't been set up in Brooklyn yet?" Mush asked hesitantly.
"Spot would nevah let them shut out his newsies. I'se bet you'se anything Brooklyn's still a place where newsies can woirk." Jack said confidently.
"C'mon, no newsie woirks in Brooklyn without approval from Spot Conlon. Those Brooklyn newsies would soak our skins if we'se sold in their territory." Skittery argued amid murmurs of agreement.
Spot Conlon. There was that name again. Since she had become a newsie, Lunch Money had heard the name crop up at least once a week. The name sounded ominous, the way the other boys appeared to fear him. At first Lunch Money had pictured the leader of Brooklyn as just a huge, stupid, thuggish newsie. But after hearing vague stories of his adventures, involving Spot's great strategic mind, that picture disappeared and was replaced with darkness. Just a faceless boy with the often-whispered name. Spot Conlon.
"Eithah way." Jack said, over the nervous mutterings that were quickly circulating among the newsies, "I gotta talk ta Spot." (Here a wide grin spread across Jack's face.) "So… who wants ta go ta Brooklyn?"