You Do What You Have To Do
July 28, 1899
"Spot's not going to come," Jack said, unhappiness written all over his face.
Race chewed on the end of his cigar for a moment, then let out a mouthful of smoke and a sigh. "Did you think was?"
Jack tilted his head back and stared up at the sky. He shook his head reluctantly. "No. I didn't. But I had to ask." He shook his head again, a hard look coming into his eyes. "Damn it, Race, we need him. And that rat bastard knows it. You should have seen him, smirking at me, enjoying the fact that I had to beg." Jack ground a fist into the palm of one hand.
"I don't blame him," Race admitted. "I wouldn't help him, if roles were reversed. And if you think you'd do any different, you're fooling yourself."
"This isn't about us, Race. This is different," Jack snapped. "Spot Conlon is smart enough to know that."
Race inclined his head in acknowledgment, but then couldn't leave it at that. "Last time either of us saw Spot, he was doing his best to beat the tarnation out of me. You told him in no uncertain terms not to come back round these parts. You think he's going to be the bigger man and lend us a hand after that?" It was Race's turn to shake his head. "You're a bigger fool than I thought if you believed that would happen."
Jack was silent long enough for Race to finish up is cigar. "We need him, damn it," he repeated. He made a frustrated noise and punched the side of the lean-to.
"That help any?" Race asked with a calm he didn't feel.
Jack sucked on his busted knuckles, eyeing Race in a way that did nothing to alleviate Race's growing fears.
"No," Race said preemptively. "Don't even bother asking."
"You know we need him," Jack plowed on, as if Race didn't say a damn thing. "You know we do. Spot's a big man these days. Lots of folks take their lead from him now. And if he ain't with us, then we might as well just give up now."
Race dragged a hand across his face and tried to ignore the queasy feeling in his stomach. "Don't make me do this, Jack. Don't make me go back to him. You have no idea what you are asking."
"He's not that bad," Jack wheedled. "And it won't be for that long. You just got to get back into his good graces long enough for this strike to work. Then you can drop him like he's got the plague. Come on, Race, Spot's the key to this working. And you're the only fella that idiot will even pretend to listen to."
"God damn it, Jack," Race exploded. He felt ready to punch a wall himself. "You know what it was like between me and Spot. You know how hard it was to make a clean break with him the first time. Don't pretend like you don't. If I do this . . ." his voice trailed off and he let out a sort of moan. "Jack, if I do this I don't know if I'll ever be able to . . ." he trailed off again, not able to articulate the dread and fear welling up inside of him.
Jack, for his part, smiled that cock-sure smile of his and threw his arm around Race in a jovial manner, like he wasn't the reason Race suddenly felt like his ship was sinking. "Don't go borrowing trouble now, Race. You just go make things right with Spot and leave the rest to me. I'm your best friend and I've got nothing but your best interests at heart. You know that. Trust me, Race, I'll make sure you don't regret this."
Race closed his eyes and sent up a prayer, because, Lord help him, he was doing what he vowed he never would. Race was going back to Brooklyn.
Spot glared down at the paperwork spread across his desk and fisted a hand in his hair. He shot a glance over his shoulder at the door and then mentally cursed himself for doing so. He stood, shoving his chair away from the desk with enough force to topple it, and then cursed again.
Why does he have to come now, he thought to himself as he set the chair to rights and began to pace the narrow confines of his room. Five steps to the door and five steps back again, his hip brushing against the desk each time he passed it. Spot ran a hand over his face and picked up his cane from where it was leaning against the foot of his bed. He tossed it into the air and caught it, then tapped the brass head against his cheek.
Spot gave the door one last look and then shook his head in disgust and sat back down at the desk, determined to give the papers the attention they deserved. He picked up the first one and attempted to make out the words that Paddy had scrawled across the top. Spot squinted at the smudged ink and sighed, setting it back down.
He hunched his shoulders, refusing to look at the door again. I should have expected this, he thought almost frantically. I should have known it would happen. He glanced down at the note his boys had brought him a good twenty minutes before. Race had been spotted crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. It could only mean one thing, what with the visit he had received this morning. Race was coming to see him.
Spot rubbed his eyes and tried to tell himself that it didn't matter. That he was over that useless bum and that he could get through this without breaking a sweat. Too bad he couldn't make himself believe a word of his mental pep talk. Spot sucked his lower lip into his mouth and let his head sink down onto his crossed arms, his vision narrowing to the scarred surface of the desk.
Footsteps sounded in the hall and Spot felt his heartbeat speed up in anticipation. He had told his boys not to bother him without good reason, and they knew damned well what that meant. He straightened at the three taps at the door, slapping a smirk on his face as he shifted in his seat.
"What?" he barked.
The door opened a crack and Ginger stuck his head in. "Racetrack to see you, boss."
Spot turned back towards the desk. "Send him in." Spot forced himself not to watch but he couldn't keep his ears from straining to hear what was happening. There was a low murmur and then the sound of steps retreating down the hall. He licked his lips and then school his expression into one of composed indifference and glanced over his shoulder. "Racetrack," he said without a hint of emotion as his eyes all but ate up the sight of the other boy.
"You know why I'm here," Race said shutting the door behind him and crossing his arms. "So just let me say it and then you can kick me out."
Spot winced. He wouldn't help it. Clearly Race was here against his better wishes. Still, Race was here. And that wasn't something Spot ever expected to have happen. He slapped a wide smile on before he twisted in his chair to face Race. "Is that any way to greet an old friend?"
Race snorted. "Going to play it that way?" he asked leaning back against the door. "No matter, that works better than having you scream at me till you're red in the face."
"Come around here where I can see you without having to crick my neck," Spot said, still trying for that friendly tone. He faced the desk again, shuffling papers in what he hoped look like a purposeful manner while Race slowly made his way to the chair opposite him.
"I'm gonna tell you outright that it was Jack's idea that I come. He seems to think that you'll change your mind if I ask you sweet enough." Race scowled. "I never knew he was such a fool."
Spot smiled in response. "Jack's always been a fool when it comes to getting what he wants."
Race nodded, but didn't smile in return and Spot felt a stab of pain at the reminder that things were not right with them. That they probably never would be right again. He let out a long sigh and shook his head.
"Look, Race, this isn't something I'm going to just up and commit myself to on account of Jacky-boy wanting me to. And, no, it ain't got nothing to do with you and me and what went down between us. I'm not the sort of fella who lets personal problems cloud his business sense. You know that as well as I do. And you also know that I'm also not the sort of fella who won't make the most of whatever opportunity I'm presented with."
Spot paused, knowing what he said next had to be perfect. He drummed his fingers on his desk and then said slowly, "You explain to me why this is my concern. I swear on my mother's grave that I'll give you a fair hearing. So lay it all out, give me your best argument. And if you convince me, then I'll come tomorrow. I'll bring my boys and all of Brooklyn will stand with you on this. But if you don't convince me, that's it. Game's over. Got it?"
He studied Race for a moment until the other boy nodded. Then he made a show of stacked the papers in front of him neatly and then opened a drawer and put them in it, giving Race time to think. Satisfied that enough time had passed, Spot returned his attention to Race.
Race rubbed his temple and sighed. "I don't know what Jack said to you this morning, and I don't know what your other sources have been whispering in your ear, but truth is, this is more than just Manhattan's problem. This affects every one of us newsies, no matter where we live. Now," he held up a hand as if he expected Spot to protest, "I know what you are going to say, that things are on the up and up in Brooklyn, that you don't give a damn about a rate increase because it ain't going to change your game any, and you are right. So far as the boys you got under you are concerned, you're right."
Race leaned forward, bracing his hands on the surface of the desk. "But what about the boys in Brooklyn who ain't under you? What about the littles just starting out, the fellas in the small change games? It will matter to them and you know it."
Spot frowned. "Those boys ain't my concern. If they don't want my hospitality, then they can just make by as best they can. I won't spit in their eye, but I won't do them any favors either. Paint as pretty a picture as you want, Race, but this is still Manhattan's bit of trouble. Everyone else has a different structure with a strong leader around to make sure things don't get too tight. And, yes, people are coming to me, asking me what to do. But they aren't fluttering around in concern about the price hike. They're fluttering around in concern about the strike."
Race pulled a face. "If you think they aren't concerned about the price hike, you're kidding yourself. The first thing they asked me in Midtown was if I knew what Jack was going to do about it."
Spot blinked. "Midtown? You went to Midtown? What, were you afraid of Brooklyn, Race?" he asked before his brain caught up with his mouth. Aggravating Race was not in his best interest.
Race's jaw tightened but his voice was calm when he said, "I've made it clear what my stance on Brooklyn is."
"We both know where we stand with each other, Race." Spot said smoothly, almost taken aback at how natural the words sounded when they came out. "But we have history. You've Brooklyn in your blood, even if you won't admit it. Of course I was surprised when it was Jacky-boy who showed up. And not by his lonesome neither, which I could almost understand, but with Boots and some hoity-toity new boy so green he don't even have a name yet."
"Yeah, well Jack's decided to take on The World, not me. I wasn't going to just tramps on over here and do the hard work for him."
Spot laughed. "What do you call what you are doing now?"
Race cracked a smile at that. "You know how Jack gets, nattering on about something till you want to smash his face in. Figured it was in everyone's best interests if I just bit the bullet and did what he wanted."
"Sounds familiar, that," Spot said with a nod. "So it was Jack's idea, this strike?" He frowned. "Doesn't sound like Jack to me."
"That's cause it's really David's idea," Race replied with a shrug. "Jack might have been talking, but it was David's words coming out of his mouth."
Spot tapped his chin. "This David, where did he come from? I ain't never heard of him before."
"Nobody's heard of him before." Race rubbed his neck. "He showed up a few days ago, selling papes on account of his father's busted arm or something. But he's a decent sort of fella, for all he's bookish and uptight."
"He just showed up a few days ago and he's going around pulling Jack's strings?" Spot's eyebrows shot up at that.
Race shook his head almost angrily. "He's not pulling anyone's strings, least of all Jack's. He's just got ideas is all. Good ideas. And he knows about unions on account his schooling. David's an asset, Spot. Not a liability."
Spot snorted, but said, "I'll take your word for it." He leaned back in his chair. "I still haven't heard a thing to convince me to help you out of this pickle you're in, Race."
Race's eyes shuttered and he titled his chin up. "As cold as you ever were, ain't you Spot? Without a spark of human emotion in you and so blind to loyalty that you wouldn't recognize it if it punched you in the face."
"I don't see what cold's got to do with it." Spot glowered masking the hurt that flared up in him with anger. "As you said, I'm doing alright here for myself. My boys, they're doing alright too. Ain't none of us going to be crying in our soup over this here price hike. You Manhattan boys can't say the same. Now if you want me to risk my boys health and happiness on account of your boys, you better give me a damn good reason, Racetrack."
Race gave him a frustrated look, then ran a hand down his face. When he spoke, he sounded defeated. "We need you, Spot. I need you. I'm going to be in one hell of a tight spot with this price hike. All us boys in Manhattan are. Now, Jack, he's got himself a plan. A damn fine plan, if you ask me. And that plan won't work if the rest of you fellas don't go along with it. I know you ain't got no personal stake in this horserace, Spot. I know it won't matter to you one way or the other. So how about this. I'll give you something to make it matter."
"What in the name of God are you talking about?" Spot asked, eyes narrowing.
Race didn't say a thing. Instead he reached forward, grabbed hold of Spot's suspenders and tugged him forward. Spot's ribs slammed into the desk and he opened his mouth to protest, but before he could say a word, Race's mouth pressed tight against his.
Spot fisted his hands in the fabric of Race's shirt and pulled him even closer. Race let his tongue trace a path across Spot's lips before biting down on the bottom one and tugging. Spot closed his eyes and moaned, shifting his grip from Race's shirt to Race's hair.
And just like that the past fell away.
Race forgot all the reasons he's given himself for not doing this. He forgot the way they had fought, the bitter words they had said. He forgot the bad times, the way Spot looked at him like he was nothing. He forgot all the lonely hours and the days that dragged on like they would never end. Because Spot was touching him, Spot was wrapping his arms around him and pulling him back under even though Race promised himself he would never fall again.
Spot broke the kiss, yanking back so hard that he toppled his chair. "What the hell was that?" he demanded, rubbing his mouth with the back of his hand.
"A kiss," Race answered with a shrug and a causal air he did not at all feel. "Nothing to get all worked up about."
Spot's eyes darkened. "Nothing to get worked up about?" he repeated. "Have you lost your mind, Race?"
Race swallowed. He hadn't expected Spot to react like this. He shrugged again. "You don't have any personal stake in the matter, right?" He waited for Spot to nod. When he did, Race continued. "So I thought I'd give you a little taste of what would be in store for you if you tossed your hat into the ring."
"Is that so?" Spot's voice was as cold as a day in the middle of December.
This was not going according to plan. Although that was not particularly surprising, given how little thought had gone into Race's so called plan. He had spent the whole of the walk to Brooklyn attempting to come up with something other than "go down on your knees and beg." At the time "try to talk him into it, if that doesn't work, kiss him and see what happens next" sounded like a good idea. Now, however, it was starting to seem like the stupidest thing he had ever done. Still, there was nothing to do now but brazen it out and hope for the best.
"Are you in or what?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
"You taking to selling something other than papes now, Race?" Spot snapped, his eyes wide.
Race glowered at him. "The hell I am! I'm no whore."
"Oh really?" Spot gave him a hard look. "Then what do you call what you just offered me?"
Race felt his words like a blow. He took an involuntary step back, shaking his head violently. "That's different. You," he took a deep breath. "We aren't like that, Spot. You know that. However things ended between us, we aren't like that."
Spot's eyes were brimming with something dark and unpleasant. It was clear that he wasn't pleased with Race's fumbled explanation. Race tore off his hat and ran his hand through his hair. "Say something, Spot," he pleaded.
Spot let out a long, shuddering sigh. "I'll do it," he said finally. "I'll bring my boys into your fight." Race opened his mouth but Spot cut him off with a raised hand. "But you, you aren't going to be paying me for it. Understand me, Race?"
Race nodded. "I," he started, but Spot cut him off again.
"You and me, we're going to pretend like that never happened. Got it? We aren't going to talk about it ever again. That way when you see your lady, you won't be ashamed to look her in the eyes."
"My lady?" Race said, completely baffled. "What lady?"
Spot hunched his shoulders. "Don't play dumb with me. You know who I'm talking about."
Realization dawned on Race. "Catalina," he breathed.
"Yeah," Spot said dully, "Catalina."
Spot felt bitterness bloom inside of him but he only nodded and hated himself for bringing her up in the first place. He stared down at the desk between them, determined not to look at Race until he could control his features.
Race sighed and Spot heard his bed creak. He risked looking up long enough to see Race slumped on it, his head in his hands. The desk suddenly became the most fascinating thing in the world.
"I never would have done something like this to her," Race said after a space as long as a year. He sounded the words were being ripped from him. "I loved Catalina. I wanted to marry her."
"Wanted?" Spot asked and then mentally cursed himself for doing so. He raised his eyes and studied Race, who still had his head in his hands.
"I asked for her hand." Race's voice was tortured. "Stupid of me." He laughed and the sound of it made Spot's chest ache. "Her father kicked me out of the house without bothering to let me finish my request. Her brothers told me to never talk to her again. Said that I was nothing but a half-breed street rat with nothing to offer but a life of poverty and an Irish surname."
Race lifted his face and Spot had a visceral reaction to the hurt stamped across it. He fought back the urge to close the distance between them, to touch Race and offer what limited comfort he could give. Comfort Race didn't want and wouldn't appreciate being offered.
"They were right, too," Race said softly, after a pause. He stared down at his hands, his face bleak. "What could I do for her? I'm nineteen and I've got nothing but my name and a bag full of mismatched clothes. I ain't got a job that could support a family. I ain't got any skills. I'm nothing but an overgrown newsie and I won't even be that for much longer." He shoved his hands through his hair and stood up, slamming his fist into the wall.
Spot felt like he was being torn in two. One half of him was being ripped apart by the agony in Race's words while the other was rejoicing over the fact that Race's hopes had been so thoroughly dashed. Race married? He recoiled from the thought.
He watched as Race nursed his hand, letting the silence between them grow. Finally, Race shook his head and said, "The past is better left in the past."
Spot didn't know how to respond to that, so he simply inclined his head. "I'll be there tomorrow," he said for lack of anything else.
Race's face brightened. "I look forward to it." He held out his hand and Spot crossed the space to take it. "You're a better man than I gave you credit for," Race said solemnly as he shook Spot's hand.
Spot smiled at that and kept on smiling as Race made his way out the door. But he stopped smiling as soon as Race was out of the room. He sat down at his desk, pulled out a piece of blank paper and started writing. Not only did he have a strike to plan on top of running his territory, he also had a siege to plan. This was the second chance he never thought he was going to get, and this time things were going to end different. Because he'd be damned if he let Race slip though his fingers again.