Disclaimer: I claim words, not Newsies. Everything belongs to people and personages that are not me. Sue not.
Dedication: To Ali who reminds me, suddenly and in so many ways, of the Cheshire Cat. This is for you and, in that strange silly way, about you or rather someone who I consider an extension of you. Though I feel I have not done the Slinks her proper justice, I sincerely hope you enjoy anyway.
As every best worst day of one's life does, Slinks' began with a rainstorm.
Wet and sodden had never been a favorite fashion of the Slinker. She usually took to the slightest form of precipitation as would a cat or a dead duck: not well at all. To be sure, the ability to coexist with any form of water –other than a nice warm bath- resided somewhere in the innards of Slinks but she had neither the knowledge of its whereabouts nor the patience to find it.
So it was that she opted for a hike through the heavy droplets back to her home, the Lodging House, and utilized her now useless papers as a make-shift umbrella. Wet print slid from the soggy paper in illegible clumps along her arms and down the open collar of her shirt, marking her skin in misshapen letters and scattered punctuation.
Brooklyn had been her home for more years than she had fingers and though the wind was strong and the rain fierce the streets were no problem to navigate. Slinks darted around familiar buildings and sidestepped ominous puddles with surprising sureness of foot on the slick ground.
Allow a Digression…
The curtain was very soon to fall on the nineteenth century, blackening it into history. The whole of the world seemed awaiting their moment of applause with excitement and impatience, ready to commemorate one hundred years into the annals of the past and "remember when's".
But Slinks, like many she knew, strayed far from the worry. In the forgotten corners where their reality crowded, Brooklyn was still a messy, clunky cog in the machine of the world, oversized and shapeless. Days rolled by in changless waves. There were papers to sell and games to play and life to live and memories to make. With so much on a young person's mind it was understandable that such grand things like the turning over of the world would become faded and irrelevant.
Slinks dropped her papers to the ground outside the door to the Lodging House. The fabric of the paper was now the consistency of very soggy oatmeal and it landed in a mountain of gray on the wet street. She felt a tug at their loss.
The foyer was warm and lit by a family of flickering lamps. From the hall and the stairway she could hear other voices; it seemed she was not the only one who had decided on profitless warmth over being both broke and wet. Slinks shook the water from her hair and twisted her shirt front. Rain ran from the dark cloth to the floor, amassing into a puddle of considerable width. She stepped over the miniature lake and clomped up the stairs.
Familiar faces greeted her with silent nods, quick smiles, and single toned "hullos". Her drippy entrance gained no more notice than that and was just as quickly forgotten over the next dealing of faded cards or the broaching of a new subject for thought in the midst of a hazy circle of cigarette smoke.
Slinks searched in vain for a dry towel and settled for 'almost dry and slightly pungent'. She scrubbed down her arms and through her hair, tousling and tangling with each vicious rub.
From across the floor a small lump under her pillow beckoned. A smile tugged at her lips.
Slinks and the King…
Slinks was not dumb. She'd had enough of an education to know her letters and numbers. She could write a little, spell her name and count to fifty with her eyes closed (though it's never quite been understood why such a feat was admirable). Slinks also knew important things.
She knew that New York stretched as far as you could see from the steeple in St. Patrick's and what you might see beyond that was the Atlantic Ocean or Canada or England: the rest of the World. It was big and all the pictures she'd seen told her it was pretty but after much thought and much mulling Slinks had decided that Brooklyn was surely better than any of that.
She also knew that you can swim and play between the sandy shores of the East River but you are never to ingest any of its contents. That lesson was learned well by Robert Ruby, a kind-eyed boy who worked down by the docks. He had once accidentally swallowed some of the water and, by the next morning, had turned a funny green color, gone extremely sweaty and visited the washroom every time someone even mentioned food.
Slinks unfortunately knew that the boys who worked the presses were large and greasy and liked to whisper rude things in girl's ears and tug at their skirts. Fortunately they never messed with Slinks. At least a few knew personally her rather able right hook and the rest just took the black eyes as enough warning.
But most importantly, Slinks knew that you never, ever, unless specifically instructed (and sometimes not even then), touched and/or stole anything that belonged to Spot Conlon.
Now about a great deal of things it can be truthfully said that Slinks most definitely was not dumb. However, when it came to Spot, Slinks was the biggest mess of dumb anyone could possibly get. It wasn't really her fault of course, the big lug did ask for it. He was a bit crude at times. And he could be very bossy. Not to mention, he let the whole 'King of Brooklyn' thing go to his head just a little too much.
(Incidentally, Slinks had kindly alerted Spot once that his head seemed a fraction larger than the day before and he should beware, lest it float away when he wasn't expecting –though one never really does expect those kinds of things. Spot was not amused nor was he particularly appreciative at this warning because at that time his cane was nowhere to be found and he was quite preoccupied with its loss.)
Simply, Slinks liked to do just what everyone knew they shouldn't: aggravate Spot. This mission included an assortment of pranks and rebelliousness and, most preferable, stealing.
Every other day or week or month, just when he'd least expect it, he'd turn to find his cap gone… or his cane… or suspenders. On one occasion he'd discovered all his clothes gone and spent an entire hour searching -in his worn long johns no less- before finding them shamelessly displayed in the front window at the bookstore up the street.
Slinks regarded her best of successes to be when the entire population of Brooklyn were yanked into Spot's frantic searching. The whole borough would be turned inside-out, over and in; pulled from here to there, up to down. It was a true statement that if Spot was unhappy, Brooklyn was unhappy (though most outside of a certain vocation and age had no idea why they felt so). And with each day of fruitless searching Spot would turn a deeper shade of red and the cloud which hung over the borough would look just a little blacker.
And Slinks would watch the chaos unfold, glee dimpling her cheeks.
A Moment of Calculation…
On this rainy afternoon that was very soon to be the worst day of Slinks life, her newest captive was none other than Spot's cap. This possession, possibly most prized of the boy, had come into his life at the bottom of a box of donations given to the Refuge during his first of many stints for general misbehaving and lawlessness. It had since served with him through two borough wars; survived the dock fire of 1897; joined him on the carriage ride across the Brooklyn Bridge with Governor Roosevelt; and had been snatched, to date, a total of fourteen times by the famous Slinker.
Everyone knew it was Slinks who dared tempt Spot's fury. And Slinks was sure the 'King of Brooklyn' didn't have that big of a head as to not, eventually, figure it out. But it was fun to pretend and continue on; the excitement, the thrill of the chase and all that. (And, secretly, Spot didn't really mind the futile searching for days on end only to find his items returned, suddenly and safely, one morning on his bed, as though they had never left. It served as a worthy distraction during the long summer days and kept a humor in his veins.)
However, two factors should be duly noted. First is that a cap is primarily a head covering. Second is that on this, the worst day of Slinks' life, it was raining quite furiously.
Adding together these two elements, and calculating also Spot's prolonged and generous patience, as well as the inevitability that one day Slinks' constant meddling would someday come back to haunt her, a grand total is figured. Simply put, the stormy sum was equivalent to the result of a cat suddenly and quite violently tossed into a deep body of water: predictably, and very, unpleasant.
The King and the Thief…
If Spot Conlon's presence commanded attention, his strong gaze and level voice held it.
For years he'd ruled the rag-tag group of orphaned, runaway, and down-on-their-luck kids that Brooklyn had to offer. As a leader Spot had been tried and tested and he'd never wavered.
He'd fought. He'd starved. He'd bled. He'd wept.
He'd seen death. He'd held hope. He'd loved and he'd felt hate, inside and out.
But none of it, nothing past could compare to the new and burning fury he felt now as he stormed into the bunk room, soaked and fuming. His hair was plastered to his face; rain water dripped into his eyes. His clothes hung heavy on his thin frame, weighed down by the torrent that had engulfed him.
"SLINKS!" His voice boomed. It echoed. It shook the very foundations and froze every heart.
Slinks sat bolt upright and slammed her nose to the wooden slats of the bunk above her. She saw the stars and felt a vessel of blood break at the bridge of her nose. Through eyes that stung she peered out at her soaked leader while her hand quickly shoved his cap into the back pocket of her damp britches.
She attempted an innocent grin but it was lost as she pawed at her nose and the blood that ran freely.
"Conlon. You r-rang." Her confident (and nasally) tone tripped and stumbled and fell flat. Truly she felt anything but confident. That Spot was wet and angry and sore and ready for some justice for the misfortune he had thus far received was felt by everyone.
To be truthful, his problem didn't entirely lay with the prankster but it would be an ill move to try and tell Spot such. His day had already involved chasing some cocky kids from Queens out of Brooklyn, being chased in return by an overly eager beat cop, the vicious attacking by a wicker basket filled with dirty laundry, and, of course, rain and no cap.
Spot took three soggy steps forward, stopped, and raised a finger at the girl.
"I want it. Now." Each word hung in the air, drug out into a deep, single-tone sentence of terror.
Slinks looked at her leader, her king, with eyes wider than they'd been in her life. She swallowed hard. Her hand wavered to her back pocket and, after a long moment of indecision, brought the captive into view.
It was twisted and crumpled, a sad memory of its recent former glory. Spot looked to it longingly. His fingers twitched and clenched into fists then stretched open again.
The water dripping from Spot's clothes became the only sound. No one spoke; no one dared. Everyone stared at the pair, who were but a tantalizing reach from each other, and waited.
Slinks' mind shoved thoughts into quick circles. They went round and round and round. Each worry and plan and fear and trick whirling like the wooden Merry-Go-Round in park. But this feeling was far from merry and the spinning was making her nauseous. She didn't like the look in Spot's eyes. It whispered of something Slinks thought only could mean firm and final retribution. And Slinks really truly wanted none of that.
So, because it seemed the right thing to do at the moment, or perhaps the only, or just the best, Slinks did what anyone would surely do in such a situation: she ran.
For her reputation, her precious pride and hide, and in the name of every delicious prank she had ever pulled, Slinks just ran.
She burst across the floor... past damp newsboys (shocked)... past Spot Conlon (frowning)... down the stairs (two at a time)... through the door and out into the rain. A fist as tight as iron gripped the tattered cap. She ran and didn't stop. She ran until her face was numb from the rain and the cold and her chest ached and burned. She ran till she felt as if she could run no more and then she ran still.
Slinks ran until she was sure no one could have followed (which they hadn't, they were still frozen to the floor, staring at their leader, who was strangely quiet) and then she stopped and leaned against the cold brick of an alley wall.
She was cold and wet and breathless. Her nose ached and her legs throbbed. She took a few quick, deep breaths. She thought of the hat and her flight and the rain and Spot and then, perhaps because it was the only thing left to do, she let the worst curse she could muster rumble from her lips. It wobbled from her throat strangely, dived into the downpour of wetness and was swept away down the street and into the darkness.
Author's Note: This started out small, I swear. Honestly, I haven't the foggiest how this big scary monster got here. And the worst part is there's more! Ack! Well this is supposed to be the worst day and we've only just touched the tip of the iceberg. Mwuah. Until I return again, all I ask is for feedback, good and/or bad... though I really really like the good kind. It makes me very happy.