Disclaimer: I don't own Newsies. Must I constantly be reminded of this? I wish I owned Newsies. I would settle for just owning Spot. Or Racetrack. Or Kid Blink. Hell, who am I kidding? I want them all.
...And an Author's Note: I'm back. I'm addicted to writing this. I totally was not planning to write a sequel... and then I got to the last four chapters of "Once and For All" and I couldn't stand leaving them with so many loose ends to tie up. Then I thought of a plot. Mua. So yeah. Nothing really happens in this chapter, it's mostly exposition about where the newsies (or rather, former newsies) are and their situation. Enjoy.
Spar Street was not a high profile location of New York City. It was on the shabbier side of Brooklyn—a part of town that even Spot Conlon's boys didn't bother selling in. Well, back when newsies still roamed New York, that is. Spar Street was a slum, a real skid row. There was no cash to spare on that street, and the Spar residents knew to keep an eye out for the little dough they did have, lest it be picked from their pockets.
Visually, the street was a disaster. An atrocious setting. There wasn't a window that wasn't either cracked and shattered or boarded up with rotting planks. The actual road had a mire-like quality, what with the amount of waste accumulated on the rough, uneven cobblestones. The buildings were grubby to the touch. The entire alley (for the narrow, crooked road really was more of an unusually wide alley than a thoroughfare) was a sketchy place. The inhabitants were unpleasant and suspicious; everything on Spar Street seethed in filth.
From this description, anyone with half a brain (or more) should know better than to roam Spar Street alone and after dark. Of course, Racetrack Higgins had never set much in store when it came to curfews. In his days as a Manhattan newsboy, he was often the last to return to Kloppman's, well after dark. Anyone who knew Racetrack at all would not be surprised to learn that he was returning to Spar Street after a day at Sheepshead Bay. Any day at the tracks was a good day, in Racetrack's book, even if he now spent his time taking the bets, rather than making them himself. Yes, now that the era of newsies had passed, Racetrack Higgins picked up his change by working at his favorite place in the world.
He turned onto Spar, not even flinching at the sight (or the stench) that greeted him. After spending a little more than seventeen years of residing in slums of varying quality, and two months of actually living on Spar Street, Racetrack had become acclimated to the awful place he now called home.
'Home' was a dilapidated old building near the end of street. It wasn't the shabbiest structure in the area, nor was it one of the finer buildings around. It was conveniently inconspicuous: soiled and rotting like the rest of the street, but not a place that would catch anyone's eye.
Racetrack approached the door, knocking twice before calling quietly through the substantial crack between the door and its frame:
There was a scuffling sound as someone on the other side fumbled with the hinge, and a moment later, the door opened to reveal a small black-skinned boy.
"Heya, Race." Boots ushered Racetrack inside, "We'se was jus' startin' suppeh."
The last piece of information was evident as soon as Racetrack walked into the one room the former newsies shared. Most of the boys were perched on crates or laying the floor sipping tomato soup. That wasn't Racetrack's only clue: Mush Meyers appeared to be wearing most of his soup—tomato was splattered all down his front. Kid Blink Ballatt and Francis Sullivan (better known as Jack Kelly) both looked very pleased with themselves, and Racetrack, therefore, had no doubts that he had just missed an interesting prank.
Boots handed Racetrack a bowl half-filled with soup; he accepted it gratefully and took a seat on the floor between Crutchy and Jack. He sipped it contentedly. Life certainly had changed for the former newsies. Since their final defeat that winter, which had ended with the eight of them fleeing from the clutches of Warden Snyder, the newsies were forced to abandon their jobs and find work elsewhere. Racetrack felt he'd had the best luck finding a job. Sure, most of the others probably made more money, but Racetrack at least enjoyed his job at the tracks.
Kid Blink and Mush both were working as busboys at an Irish alehouse several blocks away. It was thanks to them that the other kids got food to eat; Blink and Mush often saved table scraps from the restaurant to bring home to share. (Racetrack suspected that O'Connell's Alehouse had sponsored the cold tomato soup he was currently savoring.) Boots was making use of his old profession and shined shoes in the street. Crutchy and Lunch Money were both strangely fortunate in their job searches; Crutchy ended up clerking at a drugstore, while Lunch Money was apprenticed at a millinery. Lunch Money had recently decided that she despised milliners even more than laundry girls.
Speaking of Lunch Money, Racetrack realized (as he looked around, mentally taking roll of his friends) that his little sister wasn't among them.
"Hey guys, wheah's Lunch Money?"
Blink looked around, bemused, only just noticing Lunch Money's absence.
"I dunno, Race, I ain't seen her."
"She had ta woirk late." Jack said as he lit up a cigarette, "But actually, she shoulda been back by now." The tip of the cig smoked and glowed, reminding Racetrack of the Havana cigar he'd lifted from some rich stuffed shirt on his way home. It was currently waiting in his coat pocket. He didn't have time to smoke though; he had to attend to his protective older brother panic attack.
"What?" Racetrack demanded, "She's woirkin' this late and and you'se is lettin' her walk home alone? It's already dark out!"
"Relax Race," Jack rolled his eyes, "You seemed ta make it home al'right yahself."
"Well, shoah, but d'ya remembeh what happened last time we let her wander around Brooklyn in the middle a' the night?" Racetrack glared significantly at the other boys, referring to a memorable night that had taken place several months ago.
"Relax." Jack said again, "Geez, Race. Spot went ta pick her up. He'll walk her home, quit worryin'."
Racetrack knew Jack was right. He needed to stop worrying so much about Lunch Money. Ever since his sister had joined the newsies, Racetrack felt constantly responsible for her. Which was not in his nature. His friends knew Racetrack Higgins as the boy likely to talk his way out of paying off a bet he'd suggested in the first place. The boy who spent his time coming up with bad jokes, jokes often accompanied by his incorrigible wise-ass grin. But in the last year, Racetrack had been on older brother duty; a nonstop occupation that was rather challenging, given that Lunch Money (of all the little sisters in the world) had to be his little sister. Unfortunately Racetrack was not cut out to be responsible. He hated being the responsible one. He was a scoundrel, a grammar-school drop-out, a gambler.
"Wait." Mush said slowly, "Spot went to pick her up?"
The boys looked at Jack reprovingly He should know better than to compromise their position. For God's sake, they were living on the lam, outside of the law. Snyder had been looking for Jack and Spot for months. Any cop around Brooklyn would recognize them; at least that's what the other boys thought. Jack and Spot had therefore spent a good deal of time indoors during the last couple of months. It was driving both of them mad; Jack and Spot were used to getting out, having their day's adventures, causing a bit of trouble on the side. But they couldn't afford to continue their usual rash behavior if their presence was to remain undetected.
But of course Spot had to go roaming the streets of Brooklyn. And Jack had let him go. It seemed that most street rats weren't cut out to be responsible.
"Hey. Ready ta go?"
Lunch Money looked up from a disgustingly feathered lady's bonnet. Spot stood just inside the shop. His presence was a relief; Lunch Money was that much closer to closing up the millinery and getting hell out of there. Shelving ugly hats and selling them to uglier women always put Lunch Money in an ill temper by the end of the day.
"I'se been ready ta go all day. I can't wait ta get outta this hellhole." She grabbed a pile of circular hatboxes off the front counter and marched them into the workroom in the back. She reappeared a minute later, as distracted and irritable as ever. Spot watched while Lunch Money fiddled with the register at the front, the high-pitched bell dinging as the cash box slid open. She scanned the box, quickly calculating the day's earnings. Lunch Money looked up quickly, Spot's presence finally registering fully.
"Whaddya doin' heah?" She asked angrily, "Spot, you'se an' Jack are s'posed ta be keepin' outta sight." Lunch Money couldn't quite bring herself to act as annoyed as she should.
"It's too late fa' ya ta be walkin' home by yahself." Spot shrugged.
"Blink coulda come. Race coulda come." Lunch Money told him sternly, finishing off the last of her work, copying the monetary information into a thick accounting book, dotting the decimal points with a little more force than was necessary. "Someone who didn't have a twenty dollah reward on his head coulda come."
"Look who's talkin'." Spot teased good naturedly, handing Lunch Money her coat as they made their way toward the door, "I ain't the only one with idiot ideas that put me at risk."
Lunch Money laughed. It was true; her past was littered with recklessness and poor decisions. She was the very last person to lecture Spot about staying out of trouble.
"Well, one of us has to stay sane." Lunch Money gave Spot a reproachful look, "And apparently it's my turn."
Spot smirked, and held open the door of the millinery, ushering Lunch Money out of the shop. Lunch Money buttoned up her coat. It was almost eight o'clock, she guessed, and the light had long ago dimmed to a navy blue shroud that was quickly darkening to black. She couldn't wait for the summer, when the sun stayed up until ten.
Spot and Lunch Money started down the street, not walking as quickly as Racetrack would have preferred, had he been there to express a preference. No doubt the boy was still waiting nervously on Spar Street for his sister to get home. Talk about paranoid.
They took their time, Spot's arm around Lunch Money's shoulders. They talked of nothing in particular—Lunch Money's newfound distaste for hats, the awful food Kid Blink and Mush were always bringing home (that topic always led to fantasies about what the tightwads like Pulitzer and Hearst might be eating off of their dinner tables.), whether or not it was possible to sling-shot a marble through the top windows of the Woolworth Tower. They kept up an easy, comfortable banter, only interrupted when one would steal a quick kiss from the other. It was rare that Lunch Money and Spot got a moment alone, away from Racetrack and Jack and Mush and the other boys. And in the few moments that they did get by themselves, they rarely squandered that time just talking.
...But this was nice, just the two street urchins walking home, enjoying simple conversation. In the past months, they had gone from bitter enemies to love interests. Now they sounded like best friends, the way they carried on as they walked down the center of Spar. Albeit best friends who slept together.
Racetrack was waiting right inside the door upon their return. He surprised everyone by not launching into a lecture. He had promised himself to lay off the big brother act. He would follow through on that promise if it killed him.
"Geez, Lunch, what kinda hours they have ya woirkin' there? Any business that's open after the tracks close is jus' wastin' it's time—all the respectable types go in once the gates are closed." Racetrack smirked. Lunch Money merely looked puzzled. The Jack shoved Racetrack, laughing.
"Yeah, the real respectable gents are all down at the races."
"Dressed in only the best." Crutchy added slyly.
"I put on my best and I stick out my chest--" Kid Blink began jovially.
"No!" Spot's hands jumped to his ears, "I haven't been able to get that damn song outta me head since eighteen ninety-nine!"