Author's Note: Well, since I finished Prelude before the actual one year anniversary of Diabo, I thought I would do another companion piece – especially since a bunch of you were awesome enough to read and review the other one. This one is shorter and, as such, I decided just to put it out as a one-shot rather than draw it out over a few chapters. I hope you like it!
Disclaimer: I do not own, nor stake any claim, to any of the original Newsies characters that appear here – they are the property of Disney. This features my interpretation of the Devil as well as quite a few mentions of historical figures… whom I definitely do not own. They were just added for my amusement and for those history dorks like me.
This short is part of the a Maldição de Diabo universe.
Double or Nothing
April 2, 1924
With his hands in his pockets and his hat perched suavely atop his primly parted salt-and-peppered hair, Anthony Higgins left the jazz club. It was already late as it was and he had a very important appointment with the Honorable Judge George W. Olvany early in the morning. He could not afford to be late. Four years into Prohibition, his speakeasy could not handle being shut down just as it was promising to be successful in its new location, a shy street just off Duane.
It had been a long day and he was tired. Aware that he had that business meeting set up so early, he had limited his alcohol intake – only a glass or three of some new bathtub gin that Johnny had decided to sell. Johnny Mason and his pal, some Jewish punk called Seigel, had been working under Tony for a few years now; with their innocent looks and Tony's God-given knack for covering his ass, the trio had quite an operation going. Never having any children himself – his only wife, a good girl called Molly, had died three years after they were married, leaving him a widower – Tony had a penchant for helping out some of the old neighborhood kids; though he no longer lived along the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he still had a soft spot for the area.
The black Ford Model TT he had been driving for the past two years – after he broke down and finally bought a motorcar in order to cart the liquor around – was parked not more than a block away from the club. He patted the roof of the car fondly as he slid inside. Being on the somewhat shorter side, the man shifted down the seat so that he was comfortable reaching the pedals.
Once he was ready, Tony removed his hat and tossed it onto the perpetually empty passenger seat. It landed atop a folded copy of the New York World; the newspaper, opened to show the results of the evening prior's races over at Sheepshead, was a staple for the former newsboy. Over twenty years after he sold his last copy of the World, Tony – who went by Racetrack back then for obvious reasons – still adored the scent of fresh newspaper ink.
With a quick glance out of the car, ensuring that no one was walking down the street, Tony started the car and began to drive. The motions were jerky and, though he had grown accustomed to it, he preferred the smoothness of the trolley. He was still convinced that these fancy contraptions would never last – they were incredibly expensive and far too dangerous. And, coming from a former (and current, depending on his mood) gambler, that was saying something.
It was not as if he was a stranger to danger. When he was younger, he had been in his fair share of fights and brawls. Though he preferred to use his quick wit, and quicker mouth, to get him out of most situations, sometimes a life on the street means fighting for survival. It's when you give in that you're done.
He had proof of that: the case and point of Jack "Cowboy" Kelly. Cowboy, Tony thought, as he began on the journey back to his comfortable, if lonely, home in New Jersey, was a bum. Worse, he was a coward. He could not handle the guilt of the Rhian girl's murder and, just like a coward, he took his own life. Poor Kloppman had found him, dead, on the roof of the lodging house back in 1900.
Anthony Higgins was no stranger to guilt. But he was no coward. It had been twenty-four years since Jack drank that flask of poison – at least, that's how the lodging house supervisor said he died – and Tony was still alive. He had seen countless friends – his family, really – come and go. But he was still there. Alone, but there.
"Fucking memories," Tony muttered under his breath, chiding himself for thinking back to the earlier times. He left the lodging house when most of the others – Mush, Blink, Boots… the guys – did; they couldn't handle being in the building where Cowboy killed himself. And, though he stayed in Manhattan, he never saw any of them again… well, except for Blink Moore. Blink came around to the jazz club every now and then, but for never long. He had a family to go home to…
The night that Jack Kelly died, the newsboy family they had just fell apart; Tony never really replaced that sense of camaraderie. He was a loner, had been for years. And that was just the way he liked it.
Oh, he heard things about the others from Blink. Mush worked in a factory over in the Bowery and had a large family. Skittery, he moved down South where it was warmer. Dave was a fancy photographer, married with a couple kids. Les, he ran some small company with his wife – he even heard that the younger Jacobs' new bride was a rich young widow who used her husband's money to buy the old lodging house building on Duane Street. Hell, even Spot Conlon, good old Brooklyn himself, was happy; he wed Sarah Jacobs.
Blink asked him sometimes why he didn't want any of the others to know where he was. He thought it was strange that Tony, who was successful, though he was doing something that was definitely less than legal, did not want to share his good fortune with the others.
Sometimes Tony wondered the same exact thing.
Shaking his head, he put on a burst of speed by pressing the sole of his leather shoes against the accelerator. Sometimes, when he forgot himself for a moment, Tony liked to look back on the olden days. It had been a tough childhood but good friends, a carefree attitude (when he could afford it) and his trusty pair of loaded dice had made it worthwhile.
And then there was that one night. That one unnaturally still night in the beginning of August. Everything changed.
Tony hated change. More than anything – well, not more than losing a bet, but that was a given – he hated change. The way he saw it, things should just stay the same they were. It made things easier, after all. A strange philosophy for a man who made his fortune from the introduction of the 18th amendment but Anthony Higgins never said he was not a hypocrite.
Trying to keep his mind off of the unpleasantness of what seemed to be a lifetime ago, Tony continued on his drive. It was dark out and, at almost forty-two years of age, his eyes were not what they used to be.
Which was probably why he did not notice the cat that darted across the road until it was almost too late.
He did see the animal. Caught in the headlights of the car, it froze, back arched as it yowled loudly in fright. It was most likely a stray, used to owning the streets; it was afraid of the mechanical behemoth that had been lumbering towards it and it let Tony know that.
The sight of the cat's strange eyes flashing in the headlight coupled with its high-pitched cry spooked the driver. He jerked the steering wheel roughly in an attempt to miss hitting the cat and he succeeded – but only barely. The cat was not harmed. The same could not be said of the driver.
The car was unused to such turns and commands. It swerved as Tony intended it to do but the movement threw it off balance. Careening forward, the man did not even have the opportunity to pull on the brake before it smashed into the side of a brick building.
Tony might have sworn out loud when the chassis made contact with the hard wall but he was not sure. His every nerve was rattled after the impact but, miraculously, he thought that he was okay. Slowly, as if in a dream, he climbed out of the destroyed motorcar, taking shaky steps away from the wreckage. His dark eyes sought out the cat that had caused the accident; the creature was still standing in the middle of the road, its eerie eyes fixed on Tony. It meowed once – Tony sarcastically interpreted the soft sound as a 'thank you' – and was gone.
Rubbing his neck, Tony turned his attention back to the Ford Model TT. It had cost him a months profit from one of his older speakeasies and now it was useless. He pulled his foot back to kick a pebble at one of the rear wheels and let it fly; however, either he missed entirely, or something was wrong with his foot, because the pebble did not move.
Thinking that was odd, he bent down to pick up one of the small rocks instead. This time, there was no denying it. His fingers passed right through them; he could not touch the rocks. Standing back up, he dropped his hands angrily to his side. "Alright, then. What's goin' on here?"
"Anthony Higgins. I've wasn't expecting you so soon. I must say, this is a surprise."
Tony started. When he asked his question, he had not expected an answer – but he had received one. The voice was low and gravely but held an air of sophistication to it. It was the sort of voice that Tony imagined himself to have.
Purposely ignoring the fact that whoever spoke had addressed him by name, Tony was more concerned to see who it was that was there. He spun around, his back to his car, and met the eye of a very tall gentleman.
The man was unusual, except for his height, with incredibly fair skin – so fair that, in the night's darkness, he almost seemed to glow – and dark eyes. His hair was as dark as his eyes and he wore a small, pointed beard that covered his chin. His clothes were expensively tailored, like Tony's, if more on the conservative side. He was grinning.
Tony found himself a bit unnerved by that grin. So, as he usually acted in situations that made him a bit nervous, he made himself stand at his full height, glaring at the stranger. "Do I know you, pal?"
The stranger's grin widened, showing off his extraordinarily white teeth. "No. Would you like to?"
"No, thanks. Not unless you know how to fix that," Tony scoffed, gesturing behind him at the car.
"I don't think I can fix your vehicle, Anthony, but I could fix you."
"Really?" Tony asked, as his eyebrows rose. He had a lot of experience with all sorts of gangsters and lowlifes in the City but not one of them ever made him feel as apprehensive as this man did. He did not like the feeling and, if he had to walk the rest of the way to his house in Jersey, he would, just to get rid of this guy. But not before he learned who he was dealing with. "And who are you?"
"I have many names," he began, with a flourish of his hands before being met with a skeptical look. He straightened and cleared his throat. No one appreciated the theatrics anymore in these fast and loose times. "Why, I'm the Devil, of course."
He couldn't help himself. Tony let out a short laugh. "The Devil? Yeah… and I'm Calvin Coolidge."
The man – the Devil – just stared at Tony intently, his thin lips twisted into a knowing grin. "You are not. You are Anthony Higgins, formerly of Hoboken, New Jersey. Currently deceased."
Tony did not know what was worse right then – this loon calling himself the Devil knowing so much about him or calling him deceased. He shook his head. "You know, I've had a pretty shitty night. It's late and I got a meeting tomorrow and my car's done for. Now this? Did you escape from Bellevue or something?"
With one long, white hand, the Devil mimicked Tony's earlier gesture by pointing at the car. "Don't believe me, Anthony? Then check it out for yourself."
"Fine, I'll humor you," Tony told him, shaking his head as he followed where the stranger was gesturing. Shuffling over to the wrecked motorcar, he told himself that would not have done so if he did not want to retrieve his hat from the passenger seat.
He was in for a surprise, though. Right when he arrived at the passenger side of the car, and reached inside to grab his hat, he saw that there was a body hunched over at the wheel. He had to do a double take to make sure that he recognized what he saw: it was his body, a trickle of blood running down the side of his face, that was lying motionless against the wheel.
He was dead. Just like the Devil had said. Dead…
Anger filled him and he spun around, a finger extended, pointing accusingly at the Devil. "What the fuck did you do?"
The Devil laughed. Surprisingly, it had a warm tone to it that did nothing but fuel Tony's rage. "What did I do? I did nothing. You have your feline friend to thank for that… though I do wish you could have waited. You weren't slated to die until a deal of yours soured and that young helper of yours… Seigel, I believe, who, I might add, has been robbing you blind… until Seigel took you out." The Devil sighed, a long drawn out sound that made Tony's teeth grind in annoyance. "Martyring yourself over a beast, it was enough to place you into Purgatory, Anthony. Not bad enough to come with me, not good enough to go above. But…"
Some of Tony's ire melted away when the Devil mentioned that he was not supposed to die – his mind began to whir so quickly that he did not even hear that Benny Seigel had been embezzling the club's funds. If he believed everything that this man – the Devil – told him – and he couldn't see how it was a lie, considering he had just witnessed his own dead body – then he was not supposed to be dead. Maybe there's a way around this…
The Devil was still talking. "…I might be able to help you, Anthony. I can offer you quite a lot, you know." He had seen that the recently deceased spirit missed much of his explanation and he was glad. He had purposely chosen not to reveal that Anthony had the opportunity to correct past mistakes in order to ascend upward. He wanted Anthony's soul – he had just enough evil potential in him that he would be a great find; it was also always pleasant to snatch a goody goody soul away from his chief rival. Since he was first on the scene, he would just have to convince the specter to choose Hell over Heaven… he had no idea that Anthony was going to make it easy for him.
Tony reached his hands in his pockets and was relieved to see that his hands still worked well enough to draw two objects out: his trusty loaded dice. He figured that, since they were part of him when he… when he died, then he could still handle them (he would later learn that all it took was concentration to make his form tangible enough to touch).
"Listen," he said, holding his hand out, the dice resting in his palm, "you say that I ain't supposed to be dead. Why don't I roll you for it? I win, I get to climb back into my body and I'm alright."
A deal. The Devil loved a good deal – especially since he very rarely played fair. He knew damn well that those dice that Anthony held were cheat dice. And he knew that they would do no good, either. "And if I win?" he asked, feigning an interest in the terms. He would get what he wanted in the end – it would just be better if Anthony handed his soul over.
Stopping to think about it for a second, Tony shrugged. "I don't know. What do you want?"
"Hmm… well, you'll remain deceased so it's pointless to set that as a term. How about, if I win, you work for me?" He tried to make it sound as an off-handed offer. He did not want Tony growing suspicious and asking what exactly one did by working for the Lord of Hell.
Tony thought over the terms and nodded. It seemed fair. The way he saw it, he was going to Hell anyway; he had no idea that such actions that he thought of as trivial – giving the neighborhood kids an advantage that he didn't have, swerving to avoid hitting the cat – were the exact things that made him as good as he was bad. "It's a deal." He held out the dice out to the Devil in a show of good faith. "You roll first. First to snake eyes wins."
It happened so fast. One second, he had dropped the dice into the Devil's waiting palm, the next, they were nothing but a pile of melted wax. The heat of the Devil's hand had destroyed the loaded dice.
The Devil smiled as he offered a smooth apology. "I'm so sorry. I forget that mortal trinkets do not do well when in my possession. Here," he said, folding his thin, white fingers over the mess in his palm, "how about we use mine?" When he opened his hand, there were two crudely carved dice sitting there. They were made of black stone with white dots haphazardly painted along the four sides. He handed them over to Anthony. "Since they are my dice and this is your gamble, you may roll first."
He had no choice but to accept. "Thanks." Tony took a deep breath and rattled the dice in his hands. He tried not to notice how the dice had an eerie sound when being shaken – like bones being tossed – as he let the dice fall to the dirt. It was hard to see what sides the strange dice landed and, before he could bend down to get a closer look, the dice were back in the Devil's hands.
"Oh, tough luck, Anthony. A two and a four. But not ones," he said, feigning compassion. Inwardly, the Devil was enjoying this. He had not had anyone play for their soul since that wealthy banker, Morgan, a couple of years back. It took a real gambler to go up against the Devil and think they may win. Even more now, he craved attaining Higgins' soul. It would make a great addition to his collection.
It was his turn to roll. There were no pretenses with this one – since he knew for sure that he was dealing with a gambler, he did not have to attempt to make this anything that it was not. He let the dice fly, where they landed in the dirt with a thud. Just as he expected, they landed squarely with a matching set of ones visible to both of them. He smiled evilly. "I win. You belong to me."
Tony could not believe it. Thinking that there had to be a trick to this – for a second, he forgot that he was dealing with the Devil – he held his hand out. "Wait. Let's roll again. Double or nothing."
This was what the Devil had hoped for when Tony first proposed a gamble. "Your terms? And don't say staying alive again. You lost that privilege with the last game."
"If I win," Tony said, trying to sound confident, "then I… come back as something else. Reincarnation, that's what it's called. And if you win," he added, anticipating the next question, "then I do whatever you want. I mean, since you've already got me working for you."
The Devil pretended to think this over. "If I win," he said, sounding extremely confident, "then I shall name you one of my agents. You do what I tell you do with no hope of ever breaking free. You come to Hell and you stay there for all eternity. But," he added, slyly, "if you agree to those terms and I win, then I will allow a portion of your soul to live on. Sound fair?" He did not add that the portion of the soul that would go on would be the purities that resided in his soul currently, or that it would imprint some of his characteristics – both evil and benign – on the recipient.
Tony did not need to hear that additional information. He would have agreed to any terms just then; he was desperate. So desperate that he overlooked the use of the word 'fair'. This was the Devil, after all. He was anything but fair. "Agreed."
Like earlier, the Devil felt no need to hide the fact that he was going to do everything he could to win. Without even giving Anthony the opportunity to win fairly, he lifted the dice and let them fall back into the dirt. Though he had not dropped them any heavier, the echo of their contact resounded in Tony's head. He knew what the results of the toss would be even before the Devil confirmed it.
Tony glared at the dice; just like he had expected, the ones were face-up again. There was no way around it. He had made a bet and would stick to it; he was no welsher. Even if he had the very strong suspicion that his opponent was a no-good cheat. "You win."
And, with that, Anthony Higgins – as he was – was no more. Just as the roaring siren of the ambulance could be heard – someone had noticed the accident and, unnecessarily, rung the hospital – all that was left at the scene was a broken car and a lifeless body.
Though, if one was looking intently, they might have noticed a faint burn mark, with small ashy flakes, a few feet away with the accident scene – but, of course, thought the Devil, no one is ever looking properly. Humans don't see with their eyes, they see with their greed. He was living (dead) proof of that; if the day came where a human saw through his disguise and spied him as the fiery being he was… well, now, that would be something.
So, with a clap of thunder, though there was no sign of rain on the early spring night, the Devil vanished away, content with the soul he had claimed. While it may not be thebestsoul, it was as good as he was going to get. In fact, he was pretty pleased with the acquisition. He had been looking for someone to stick on a certain job for quite some time and to have someone whose soul was prime both to good and to evil, with an emphasis on evil… well, that was just evilly delicious.
But, before the Devil had disappeared completely, following Higgins into the fiery pits of Hell – home – the Devil waved his hand, fulfilling his part of the bargain. Somewhere, more than thirteen hundred miles away, that last bit of Higgins' soul – the majority of the good that had resided within him – settled into the subconscious of a baby boy just being born.
Let it never be said that the Devil does not have a sense of humor.
The minutes passed, the incessant ticking of the clock telling the harried man that another second had gone by since the last time he had asked the midwife the time. The woman was growing frustrated with the father-to-be's repeated questions. This was, after all, his third child – surely he knew by now that the process was a lengthy one.
Dodie had been in labor all afternoon and all evening. Only now, as the night hours slowly gave way to early morning – the 2nd of April saying goodnight as the 3rd of April dawned – that the baby's crown was in view. The child would be born before they knew it.
Marlon continued to pace, though, waiting for the tell-tale sign that the child was born, and was healthy. This was the third child that Dodie had carried to term and birthed within the past five years and, secretly, he was concerned that it was too much for her. She had expressed concern, upon learning of the pregnancy, that it would interfere with the upcoming opening season of the Omaha Community Playhouse, of which she was part of the cast, but, with Marlon supporting her in both her acting and this third pregnancy, she was as excited about the birth as the rest of the family; after having two daughters, Marlon was positive that this time he would finally have a son – a Marlon, Jr.
Waiting outside of the room, he could still hear his wife's grunts and groans of pain. The midwife was giving her strong commands – "Push!" – and, with one loud moan, Marlon knew that the child was born. He listened… there was a smack and the sound of a shrill cry cut through the midnight hour.
He knew that it was over and decided to chance re-entering the room. Dodie was sweating and she appeared exhausted but there was a smile on her face. Panting, she told her husband, "It's a boy. We have finally have son."
The man was sure that the grin that came to his face mirrored that of his wife's. He watched as the midwife handed the bundled baby – cleaned off and red-face with a shock of dark hair – to Dodie. "Marlon Brando, Jr.," he said, approvingly. "I like it."