A/N: This is a character-study fic, basically a Spot-centric meta in story format. It's also definitely a branch-out for me stylistically, so if you think the prose is weird, well, it is. It's supposed to be. XD
Contains hints of Spot/Race, but all could potentially just be taken as friendship if you wanted--again, this isn't a romance. It's just my version/opinions on Spot and how he got to be the character we see in the movie...in story format. :)
Read, review, enjoy!
This is a story.
More than that, this is a mystery. One without an answer. There is no solution, no conclusion, no aha! moment. This isn't Clue.
This is a story with one simple question and about a thousand answers, many of which could be right, many of which probably are right. Even the ones that aren't necessarily true.
Because this is a story in which reality is considered to be highly overrated.
How did a ninety-pound shrimp come to control the toughest borough in New York City, with a veritable army of newsboys answering to his every beck and call? How could he have done it, when so many of the other Brooklyn newsies are older, bigger, stronger? How?
Spot's not a straightforward person. So he's not going to sum this up for you, nice and neat, in a straightforward answer. And neither will anyone else.
But maybe that's because there is no nice, neat, simple, straightforward answer. Maybe the answer is a puzzle, made up of a thousand different pieces, stories, factors, reasons. Maybe some of them aren't even true.
Maybe it's more complicated than beating the last leader at a fistfight (unlikely, cliché, simple).
After all, you think a guy like Spot can commandeer an army like that through physical force alone (hegemony, people, hegemony)? Or hell, even good looks alone?
It is those things. But…it's more than them, too.
So much more.
Would you believe that it happened when he was ten? That he was ten when he became leader?
No? Well, okay. Eleven, then?
Twelve is what the youngest of the Brooklyn newsies will tell you. They'll say that Spot Conlon entered the Lodging House in a blaze of glory, right on his twelfth birthday, soaked five—maybe ten—of the big boys and staked his claim as leader. That was, they'll tell you, that, and no one ever questioned his leadership after that, not even the boys who were nearing twenty years or had twenty inches on him.
By the time they'd become newsies, those younger boys, Spot Conlon had been running Brooklyn for quite some time. Well-established, you might say. So how would they know how he'd done it? Someone would've had to have told them. Somebody would have had to have made up that cock-and-bull story.
He enjoys the different versions. They amuse him, keep people guessing. Spread his reputation, enhance his mystery. Keep people interested. Command respect.
Even if most of it isn't true—even if the truth isn't nearly as interesting as the reality, even if he didn't do most of those things—he always liked being the center of attention.
Or, at least, a truth?
Not even some of the older boys know for sure how it happened. And they were there.
Their confusion indicates what might be the exact opposite of the soaking story. It might indicate a slow progression, a gradual creep… A situation in which there is no exact day you could pinpoint as the day Spot Conlon became the most feared and respected newsie in all of New York (and probably everywhere else). He just…wasn't one year, and was the next. There's no explaining it. There's no grand, epic battle to look at.
But how did he even manage that? Even a gradual takeover isn't easy.
Take it from Bumlets. He's been trying it for years.
The kid Brooklyn newsies are the rare exception. Most of the more ridiculous, outrageous, wildly out-there stories come from outside Brooklyn.
Actually, the further away you get from Brooklyn, the more implausible the stories get. You oughta hear what they say in Philly. (Yes, they talk about him there.) There's a certain hierarchy to it. Older stories, and the stories told by older boys, are more credible than the stories told by the younger ones. The closer you live to Brooklyn, the more credibility your story has. And so on.
Everyone wants to know. Everyone has their story, their own version—one which they choose to believe. They argue over it, each one convinced—or at least wanting to be convinced—that theirs is right.
Even the Manhattan boys have their stories. One of them may even possibly have it right.
But we'll get to that later.
He's eleven when he becomes a newsie. Don't ask what he was doing before that; Spot, as we will learn, is a Man of Many Mysteries.
He's eleven when he becomes a newsie. He's eleven when a larger boy pushes him to the ground on his very first day.
He's eleven when he stands back up.
Wanna hear another fun story?
Spot pushed the last Brooklyn leader off of a bridge.
No, we're not kidding.
It's become a bit of an old wife's tale, actually. A fable. Urban legend. Myth.
In Brooklyn, Queens, anywhere nearby—they know it isn't true. They scoff at it, if they happen to hear it. There was no Brooklyn leader who fell—or was pushed—off a bridge. Not around the time the stories claim, anyway.
Spot loves this story almost most of all. Because it, more than anything else, means he's famous. A legend in less than three years.
Whoops—did we give away too much?
Back to the bridge.
Story goes—goes on Long Island, parts of Midtown, Trenton, anywhere anyone's ever heard of Spot Conlon—Spot and some of the other Brooklyn boys were crossing the bridge.
He's thirteen in this story.
Story goes, it's an icy December. And the leader just happens to slip—
—or is pushed—
—or is tripped—
—or any number of things—
—and off he goes.
Sometimes it's a full-blown fistfight, and he gets punched over the edge. One newsie in Harlem swears he jumped to avoid getting more of a soaking.
And sometimes it's a slightly different tale. It's night. Spot and the leader, alone now, are walking along the bridge. The leader's sharing words of wisdom with his young protégé.
And then the push. The fall.
Spot slips back into the lodging house, gets in bed, cozy as you please. Doesn't lose a wink of sleep over the thing. And in the morning, acts as surprised as everyone else to find Merv washed up on the riverbank.
But asserts his power that very day.
Nowadays, hardly anyone actually believes the bridge story. The very young boys sometimes do. They repeat it over and over in silent awe, in fear and in wonder. They use it as a cautionary tale—why never to go to Brooklyn.
The older boys act like they don't believe it, and for the most part, they don't. But many of them wonder in a small, vague corner of their minds. They look into Spot's eyes and wonder if maybe, maybe there's some truth to it (could those be the eyes of a killer?).
And Spot Conlon smirks and knows what they're thinking and doesn't deny it very convincingly.
There's no such thing as bad publicity.
Let's get back to reality, here.
Well, sort of.
Back to events that actually, arguably, happened. Ones that have eye-witnesses and vouchers. Ones slightly more plausible.
Well, if they all happened…
…and they all are claimed to be the moment Spot Conlon became King of Brooklyn…
Which one is true? Which is right? Which was it?
It all depends on your perspective.
Let's focus on one individual.
No, not Spot.
Not even that alleged newsie who allegedly fell/was pushed off the non-alleged bridge. The definitely very real bridge.
Let's meet someone new.
Let's call him Bricks.
Everyone else does.
Bricks grew up in Brooklyn. Born and bred. On the streets at the age of six, doin' the newsie thing by seven.
He'd never wanted to be leader of any kind, although he'd been around long enough. He's seen his fair share of leaders and bi-leadership, and anarchy, and different levels of officialness. Taken sides a few times, learned better.
Decided it was safest and smartest to just stick with what he was good at:
Being gruff, tough, muscular.
It always worked fairly well for him.
In this story, Spot's thirteen, maybe fourteen. This story—well, it actually happened. But its importance is mostly to Bricks alone.
You see, Bricks has roughed up a few leaders, pseudo-leaders and wannabe-leaders in his time.
In this story, Spot's thirteen and Bricks is sixteen or seventeen. At this particular time, Brooklyn is in a state of complete anarchy. Sometimes they have a vague leader, sometimes a very specific one, occasionally a group of popular kids, sometimes many little ringleaders of many different groups… Bricks has seen it all. Every conceivable situation. But right now, no leader(s). Anarchy. And Bricks is the biggest of the boys.
He's starting to like this feeling of being in control. Of being the newsie all the other newsies—the Brooklyn ones, at least—are scared of.
Uh oh. He's tasting power, liking it.
And there's nobody, at the moment, to challenge him. Nobody except Spot. Wise-cracking, witty—makes jokes at Bricks' expense, and all the other kids laugh.
So Bricks…Bricks decides to rough this little punk up a bit. Or a lot.
Spot puts up much more of a fight than Bricks had counted on. And somehow it turns into a wrestling match, them rolling around, right there on the dirty ground outside the distribution center, the other boys gathered around, cheering and yelling indistinguishably. As boys will.
And Bricks is finding it much harder than he'd gambled on to beat the kid. You would think, wouldn't you, that a wrestling match involving a skinny maybe-fourteen-year-old who couldn't have weighed more than a large dog and arguably the biggest newsie in Brooklyn—and most other places (Brooklyn boys are, as a rule, large)—would be over pretty quickly. The outcome predictable, inevitable. Almost boring.
But Spot is quick, and keeps slipping through Bricks' fingers like water. Bricks is cursing. Spot's slippery. It's hard.
But, of course, inevitably, unavoidably, he has Spot pinned. He's just about to finish him off, make his point, with maybe a sharp bang of Spot's head into the cobblestones, hard enough to cause swelling, when Spot—
—Spot kisses him.
Spot kisses him.
Full on the mouth. Lips and everything. Hard. And Bricks, surprised—maybe not the right word, maybe you need "shocked" or "flabbergasted" or "holy shit" or something stronger—loosens his grip.
—maybe, just a little, though he'll always deny it—
—maybe he even, sorta, kinda, a little bit kisses back.
Maybe he doesn't know what else to do. Maybe it's an automatic response and he doesn't even realize he's doing it. Maybe he just likes the feeling of Spot's lips over his own. (No. No, no, no, he'll vehemently deny this. Maybe a little too much?)
The upshot of it all is that Spot takes his chance, quick as lightning, rolls him over, unattaches his lips before Bricks knows quite what's happening. And knees him in the groin. Bangs his head on the cobblestones. Punches him swiftly on the jaw.
And stands up, the clear victor.
Bricks learns many things that day (besides the fact that he kinda maybe sorta likes to kiss boys).
He learns about Spot's determination. Cleverness. Craftiness. Sneakiness. Manipulativeness. His ability to think fast and improvise. (Scrappy, underhanded—)
He learns how hard Spot can knee a guy in the groin.
He learns that he kinda don't mind that punk too much. Actually, he sorta even—don't tell a soul—likes him. Shh. Spot may fight dirty, but at least he fights fun.
He learns that Spot will do anything—anything—whatever it takes—to win.
And that lesson stays with him.
And he decides maybe he doesn't like the taste of power too much after all. It's a little too bitter in his mouth.
He never lays another finger on Spot again.
Does he lay his lips on him again?
That's a different story.
So is that what got Spot his spot as leader?
Determination? Fearlessness? Machiavelli? Sun Tzu?
Kisses alone aren't enough, though. Neither is determination (as Bumlets will doubtless tell you).
Thanks to our friend Bricks, though, we have what may be piece one to the puzzle of how.
Because maybe that fight didn't matter just to Bricks. Maybe it stayed in the minds of the other boys, too. Maybe not even the specific incident—just it's meaning. Just that piece of Spot.
Maybe, less consciously than Bricks had, they realized the same things about Spot that he did. That maybe that kiss represents a whole lot more.
It certainly lived on in mild infamy. The boys were talking about it for weeks afterward, congratulating Spot, teasing and harassing Bricks. A few of the boys still remember—one of the many insane things their leader Spot did, this way back in the day. Some boys will just recall a memory of a memory of the incident.
Spot claims he doesn't remember it at all.
But it happened. He doesn't deny it.
And Bricks, Bricks is heading off to the mill soon. Away from the newsies. He's getting too old for this.
Let's take a moment here and step back. Why is Spot leader?
Not how. Why?
-the best slingshot wielder in Brooklyn
-got a smart mouth
-not afraid of nothin'
-a good fighter
-fastest/best pape-seller in Brooklyn (and most other places, too)
-wants to be. Knows he's good at it. Loves being in the center of attention. Knows everything. Charming.
So why shouldn't he be, then? Shouldn't it have been easy?
-somewhat immature, at times, compared to some of the bullies and thugs in Brooklyn
-he cannot hold his drink
Here's a story.
But it's not a one-incident, one-day, one-event story. It's an era. A time period.
And we're back to the concept of a gradual takeover…
First, let's have some amusement.
It makes sense that Racetrack is the first of the Manhattan newsies to meet him, or know of his existence. Racetrack is generally the first to know most things about Brooklyn and Coney. Before even Jack, who knows most everything from everywhere.
Race, after all, passes through Brooklyn at least twice a day. Sometimes more. His father was from Brooklyn. But that's a long story, and this isn't Racetrack's story. It's Spot's.
(Why doesn't Race just move out to Coney? He claims to be a Manhattan boy, but Jesus. Hassle much?
He'll tell you he likes the commute. Sure, Race.
We don't know. You decide.
Race is riding along on the back of a carriage—more of a wagon, really—reading a pape. Opens it, scans the inside page. Headline reads: President McKinley Visits—
But he doesn't finish reading it.
Because he hears a whizzing sound, like that of a bullet—but not a bullet—go past his head, and a sharp crack as a sharp little stone goes right into the paper, through the paper, perfect little round hole, dots the "i" in "McKinley".
Well, what the hell.
No one can shoot so well, so fast, from a slingshot that it tears through three sheets of paper, nice clean hole. No one. No one that Race knows, anyway.
He looks up, looks around. Sees they're crossing the bridge—he'd been immersed in his paper, hadn't noticed much—sees the Brooklyn boys practically hanging off the bridge as they tended to do. Target shooting. Practicing. Mostly at birds (the poor things).
But apparently one of the boys' targets was him.
A younger boy—about a year younger than himself, maybe, not much—smiles mockingly at him, waves. Looks smug and cocky, and ought to, really, judging from what he can back it up with.
Race touches his hat in a brief salute. You have to admire someone with that kind of talent.
But wait, you protest. Wait.
That wasn't a meeting. That was barely even an interaction. At best, it could be labeled an encounter. So Spot destroyed Race's pape and Race was duly impressed, so what?
Well, if that's what you're thinking, then maybe you should spend some more time with the Brooklyn newsies between the ages of six and ten. They'll give you what you want.
Because if what you want for Spot and Racetrack's first meeting is a deep, significant, meaningful conversation or an epic adventure that they'll both remember forever and ever, then you also probably want Spot to blast his way into the Brooklyn Lodging House, bust a few heads and be declared Unconditional King of Brooklyn on the spot. (Spot, geddit?)
But real life isn't like that.
Real life is getting to know somebody in peripheral vision. Becoming more and more aware of someone's existence without even realizing you're doing so. Until you can pick them out of a crowd (or a police lineup) and spout off basic information and more obscure facts about them without even knowing you know them.
Back to the standing up.
How Spot's eleven when he stands back up?
Maybe that was the beginning of it all. The first lesson learned. The first puzzle piece. The first clue to how.
And the kicker?
Nothing all that eventful actually happened.
So he stood up. He looked the taller boy squarely in the eye.
No kicking of butts and taking of names. No soaking, no pushing, no words.
The older boy merely scoffs at him and moves on, gets his papes. It's over.
But already, however minorly, he's established himself. Already he's made it clear that his is a face, a name, to be remembered. And all he had to do was stand up.
So we know about the standing, and we know about the kissing. The standing and the kissing (and the tripping). We know about them both (all). Let's go back to the beginning. The beginning, after all, is where the story (the big one, now) starts, where they all start (stories, that is).
The standing and the kissing were both near the beginning, but…
There was stuff before that.
Here's a beginning: How did Spot get this way?
Surely he wasn't just born a badass. His life couldn't have just started the day he became a Brooklyn newsie.
You'd think there would have to be some sort of tragic childhood, right? Some bitter, angry mask he's been using to hide his bitter, angry pain. Some type of Freudian excuse (for why he is the way he is).
But if there is?
Then that's one damn good mask, because he's not letting on.
Anyway, Spot Conlon doesn't need a tragic childhood to be the way he is. Spot goddamn Conlon. Himself. Amazing. Whatever.
He was just born that way.
(Just like he must've been born with that cane, and with his slingshot abilities, and yes, his life must've started the day he became a newsie at age eleven—)
Oh, the story. The gradual, era story. Right.
Let's refer back to Bricks, shall we?
Named so because he has bricks for brains, but that's not important.
Remember all that he's seen?
The fake leaders, the real ones, good and bad, weak and strong. The multiple leaders, the leader groups, the depends-on-your-point-of-view-who-the-leader-is leaders. The barely-above-everyone-else leaders, the unofficials and the officials.
And difficult transitions. Everything.
This is sometime after The Kiss, now. No longer total anarchy.
Instead, out of the hundred or so Brooklyn Lodging House boys—ones from the main Lodging House, those who don't live a) on the streets, b) with their parents, c) in the smaller Brooklyn Lodging House—two have arisen.
As potential leaders.
And neither is content to share power. And both want to be the more official, powerful, wise-and-respected-and-known type of leader. (Of the main Brooklyn Lodging House, that is. Being leader of all of Brooklyn—including the smaller LH—is as-of-yet unheard of.)
There's only room for one.
And they're ready to rumble. Just like in one of them dime-store novels.
Where are we?
Let's assess them.
Butch is seventeen. (Bricks, remember Bricks: also seventeen. Spot fourteen, Jack fifteen. Same with Race. Teddy Roosevelt, 49. Just in case you were curious.)
(Amelia Earheart is three.)
Long John is brunette.
What more do you need to know?
Every famous newsie—that's not to say there have been a lot—has had their Event.
For Jack Kelly, it was the strike. For those two weeks and a few months longer, his fame overshadowed even Spot's own.
Of course, that pretty much ended by the time Teddy Roosevelt mentioned Spot by name in a National Address he gave (and in the same sentence as Napoleon, no less).
Now, Spot's event, his first event—this is another big piece of the puzzle. This happened during a key time during his Ascension. At a time when no Brooklyn newsie would come out and say Spot Conlon was their leader, their decision maker, their king. (Remember this. This will be important later.)
Anyway, this is something that will gain him fame, and infamy, amongst not only the newsies of Brooklyn but also all of New York. And a few other places too. Trenton, even Philly.
And—here's a kicker—even non-newsies across the city hear about this one. Bootblacks. Shoeshiners. Factory workers. Businessmen. The governor. Because, you see, Spot Conlon has been in the paper before.
Not by name. Not with a picture (of him, anyway). But the newsies, at least, know exactly who's to thank for the good headline the next day.
This story will inevitably be brought up nearly every time someone mentions Spot Conlon for years.
It doesn't even involve violence. You might think that, given his dangerous reputation, but you'd be wrong. No show of force or toughness here. Nothing like that.
Just what some might call—
—if I may—
Oh, you laugh. So he stole a carriage, maybe rode around the block a little, possibly over the bridge? So what? That'd give him, what, a week of minor celebrity in Brooklyn, tops?
But there's where you're wrong.
He doesn't steal a carriage.
He doesn't even steal an automobile (of which, in the entire city, there is a total of about two).
Spot Conlon's much too good for that.
Spot Conlon steals a ship.
It goes off without a hitch.
It's the dreariest time of year in New York. Cloudy, clammy, cold, grey. But Mother Nature decides to switch things up a bit and grant the city a clear night. The Brooklyn newsies decide to switch things up a bit and give the city something to talk about.
What had begun as a meaningless joke—"We oughta get us a boat sometime, steer 'round the bay a little"—turns very real.
It's a Sunday. There is no afternoon edition, they've played cards and marbles here and there, it's evening, they're bored.
Little Mosie—near eleven—is chronicling his day selling at the shipyards, as though anybody would be interested. Mosie is fascinated by the shipyards, however poorly he does selling there. Nobody's really listening, but no other conversations are really going on, either. Boredom.
A wicked gleam finds its way into Spot's eye—where it often finds a home.
"Hey, Mosie," he interrupts, and Mosie immediately shuts his mouth and stops his rambling, snapping to attention. Some of the other boys turn their heads, begin to listen—Spot's showing interest in Mosie's story, have they been missing something? Spot's not the leader yet, but he is older than Mosie, and he's definitely at the forefront of all the boys.
"Yeah?" Mosie asks, taking off his hat and wiping his forehead with his sleeve. In all honesty, he hadn't thought any of the more important boys nearby—Long John, Butch, Bricks, Spot, Gooner—had been listening to his story at all.
"Y'see anything smaller than an ocean liner down at the docks?" Spot asks.
Mosie scratches his head. He could've sworn the most exciting part of his stories were the superliners—who cared about the smaller boats? But Spot asked…
"Uh," he says, "Battleships at the Navy Shipyard, like always. Coupla fishing boats, maybe, those are real tiny…oh, and some ship just come over from dumpin' a load of immigrants on the Island. Polish, I think. Maybe a thousand, from what I heard. Came to the shipyards for repairs—broken rudder, but they ought to have fixed it by now. Probably be sent back to Poland in the mornin', t' get more of 'em. Like we need anymore Poles here, the—"
Spot strolls past Mosie and casually drives his cane into Mosie's foot to shut him up. The younger boy winces and gets the hint.
"Hey boys," Spot calls, raising his voice a little so that all the boys hanging on and around and off of the bridge can hear. "Whaddaya say we take a little trip down to the docks?"
The boys look at each other.
"Why?" calls out one.
"Gettin' late," observes another.
Spot simply smirks and turns to walk off the bridge. He doesn't look back.
He knows they'll follow.
Of course he's right.
First there's the younger boys, the ones who would follow the older ones—and especially Spot, that enigmatic devil—anywhere.
The curious ones, the ones who don't want to miss out, the followers, all went.
The ones who particularly liked Spot. The ones who smelled adventure.
And then the ones who would've looked damn stupid not to go, at that point.
Even the gimp, even Bricks and Gooner, about forty boys in all, went.
Of those on the bridge, only Long John and Butch stayed behind.
Maybe they wanted to show that they were too good to be followers, that Spot Conlon had no power over them, that he was nothing.
This was their biggest mistake.
Because instead of making the impression that they were above any outing headlined by Spot Conlon…
…They just ended up on the outside of Brooklyn's biggest inside joke in years.
Now, Spot could have orchestrated the biggest catastrophe in recent history, but he doesn't.
He doesn't at all.
It's fairly dark by the time some fortysome Brooklyn newsies reach the shipyard. Very few workers are about. Most are going home for the night; the bustle is dying down. There are maybe half a dozen left, most back in headquarters or tethering up ships. Two on Polyana. Cleaning it. They've left their work a bit late, the slackers—
About fifteen minutes after the newsies stealthily arrive, unseen, at the shipyards, the First Admiral Commodore notices that Otto and Keuhn haven't come back from swabbing the decks of that damn Polish ship. He looks out the window.
It's not there. The damn Polish ship isn't there.
He crinkles his brow, scans the dock; has it moved? Nowhere to be seen.
Consults his log. Was it supposed to leave this early? Tonight? And where the hell are Otto and Keuhn?
Looks out the window again.
Sees the ship.
Surely you're dying to know what's become of Otto and Keuhn.
Relax. They're fine.
They're not exactly overjoyed with their situation, but they're doing all right. About as right as you would be if you were tied to a pole belowdecks and floating towards the mouth of the Hudson, your life entirely in the hands of a ragtag bunch of teenaged newsboys, most of whom have never been to sea in their lives.
Actually, the boat is sailing surprisingly well. Spot, much to everyone's surprise, headed straight for the steering deck when he got on board. (Right past the hobbling boys who are already having trouble getting their sea legs and the boys who are about to be very badly sick (ironically, Mosie, who's always dreamed of going to sea, is among them.)) The captain's hat firmly on his head (looking quite dashing at a jaunty angle, a far cry from his usual newsboy's cap), Spot steers the ship out of the bay with little incident.
How he knows how to captain a ship no one's quite sure.
But he doesn't do it for long. He takes Danny up with him—a young boy, maybe eleven, idolizes Spot with all of his wide eyes—and, it can be assumed, shows him the ropes, because when he leaves the steering deck to visit the captain's cabin, the ship continues its forward course, passing right under the bridge, and doesn't run into anything, or even come all that close to doing so (except for one minor incident involving a flock of geese). It must be a remarkably easy ship to handle, for an eleven-year-old to be able to do it. But apparently the Poles are known for their shipbuilding.
While the boys are carousing on deck—running and laughing and yelling, threatening to push each other off, spitting over the edge and generally praising their own awesomeness—Spot saunters down to the captain's cabin. He comes back a few minutes later with two dozen bottles of the finest Scottish whisky—the real captain is either a Scottish nationalist or a very, very heavy drinker (perhaps both)—and a box of fireworks. Usually used to signal other ships in times of distress.
The Manhattan sky is well-lit that night.
When the small Navy frigate Blastside finally catches up to Polyana an hour later—in the middle of the frigid New York Harbor, far from the Brooklyn Bridge (it's been quite a marvelous, one-sided chase), it is to find a number of unexpected things:
a) no one on board except Keuhn and Otto, tied up belowdecks and looking rather scared
b) empty whisky bottles everywhere
c) all of the fireworks detonated and some recent fire damage and burns on the deck
d) one word carved into the wooden wall of the captains' cabin:
You might be wondering if everything changed in Brooklyn that day.
Of course it didn't.
Well, did anything change?
Of course it did.
For one thing, Danny was now called Sailor. In honor of this, Spot bestowed him with the captain's hat he had taken. Sailor tried not to wear it near the docks, or anywhere near the presence of any Navy officials.
This hardly left Spot without a souvenir, however. After all, all the locks on Polyana were changed—just to be safe—once it was discovered the key to the captain's cabin had mysteriously gone missing along with the hat, the fireworks, and the whisky.
Spot isn't big on symbolism, but that key was his first and most prized trophy.
Okay, so Spot got a new necklace and Danny got a new name and a hat. The ship got new locks. What else changed?
Well, Spot became as often seen at the very head of the distribution line as Long John or Butch. He definitely established himself as ahead of either Bricks or Gooner, status-wise (before, it had been rather murky and contested).
Their relationship with the docks changed, too, giving the newsies yet another gathering place (a bit more legroom than the bridge, actually, and nicer when one wanted a swim).
What else changed?
Well, short-term, the papers sold very well the next day (the picture was a nice touch: the boat looked quite magnificent silhouetted against Liberty Island while fireworks lit up the sky).
And long-term, well, still no Brooklyn newsie would tell you Spot Conlon was their leader, their decision maker, their king, if you were to ask.
—very big but here—
—they wouldn't tell you he wasn't, either.
Here's another story. Boots' story. The one he heard from Brooklyn itself, and even though he knows it probably isn't true, he stands by it anyway. Staunchly defending it to the last.
Setting: Brooklyn, now a borough of New York City. Boots is twelve. It's his first venture into Brooklyn (when he goes with Jack and David—that's his third). Spot is the young, very official, uncontested leader of Brooklyn.
The previous night, Boots had met some boys his own age at Medda's. As a marbles enthusiast, Boots was invited to join them for a game or two down at the docks the next day. Boots has heard stories about Brooklyn from the older boys, and about Spot, and yeah, he's nervous. With stories like he's heard, who wouldn't be? But Boots is no chicken. He goes.
Boots goes, and the boys are nice enough, good-natured but competitive, and he's beating them (pretty soundly). He's gathering up his marbles at the end of the second game, preparing for a new one, when his best shooter rolls away from him. It rolls onto the docks, it's nearing the gap between the wooden slats where it will fall into the harbor and be lost forever, he scrambles to get it but misses—
A foot is placed on top of it, stops it right on the edge of that gap.
Boots looks up, following a surprisingly clean trouser leg and a checkered shirt and bright red suspenders, right up into the eyes of none other than Spot Conlon. (Well, Spot always did know how to make an entrance.) Boots swallows—he's seen the so-called legend before; hasn't talked to him.
And all he can think of is Curly, Curly who came back from Brooklyn last week with a bad attitude and a marvelous shiner after getting on the wrong side of Spot the night before. More specifically, after accidentally spilling beer on him (he'd tried to get them all to believe another story, but he was tossed enough to be completely unbelievable). Of course, Curly had always been a bit of a bum, and Boot privately thought he deserved it, and took a great deal of pleasure in Curly's indignation and humiliation and wounded pride, but still. That was some shiner.
Without looking at Boots, Spot leans down and picks up the marble. He turns it over in his fingers, holds it up to the light. "Real nice shooter you got, here," he says, still not looking at Boots. Throat dry, the latter nods wordlessly.
Quick as lightning, Spot takes a slingshot out of his pocket and fires the marble, hitting a distant Brooklyn newsie squarely in the back of the head. Boots swallows as the boy yelps, his hand flying to the back of his head, looking around, glaring, clearly in pain, as Boots can tell even from a distance. So that's the kind of shooting Spot meant. There went his best marble (oh well).
Spot smirks and tucks his slingshot back into its place. The targeted boy finally sees Spot and recognizes him as the perpetrator, but is apparently unwilling to do anything about it and so, scowling, turns back around and resumes his business. He may or may not have stuck his tongue out at the back of Spot's head before doing so.
"Spot Conlon," Spot Conlon says, holding out his hand, which Boots hastily scrambles up to shake. "Where ya from, kid?" Friendly enough, but the intimidation is all in the eyes. (David knows this.)
"Boots," Boots says, "I'm Manhattan." He shakes his head rapidly. "I mean Manhattan, I'm from Manhattan, I'm called Boots—"
"I getcha, kid," Spot says, and his eyes are now laughing. "Come up to play some marbles with my boys?"
There's something protective, almost fond in his voice when he says my boys, but also a strong sense of ownership. Like they belong to him. Boots turns his head toward said boys—Wheeze, Biscuit, Sonny—to gauge their reactions to Spot's words. They seem like they're half just used to it and half swelling with pride. It's an interesting combination, to say the least. But they certainly don't seem to mind. And they don't seem too scared of him—just admiring.
"Yeah," Boots answers.
"Beating you pretty badly, Sonny?" Spot tosses over Boots' shoulder. Sonny grimaces.
"He's pretty good," he admits.
"I can see that. So tell me, Boots, how's things in your neck of the woods? Jack still got it into his head he's some kind of rodeo queen?"
Supposing he was alluding to Jack's ongoing obsession with going out West, Boots nodded. "Worse than ever."
"'Course he is. And how's the others? The only one I ever see is Racetrack, and that's only because he comes over the bridge every stinkin' day, the bum."
"All good," Boots says, his head swimming. "Selling's up. Good headlines lately." He decides to be bold. "Curly's still sporting that shiner you gave him last week. It's great."
Spot leans against a rail and folds his arms and looks at Boots amusedly. "Don't like him, do you?"
Boots shakes his head.
"Me either, kid. Wasn't just the beer, y'know. That bum's got a smart mouth." Spot glances out over the harbor, looking for all the world like a magnificent king surveying his empire. (Did kings have empires? Did it matter?) It's practically breathtaking. "Nobody ever got nowhere by letting people walk all over 'im."
Spot produces a big, shiny marble, seemingly from nowhere, and tosses it at Boots, then wanders off. Boots watches him as he goes, ambling past the group of craps-playing boys Boots saw earlier. He takes one of the boys' cigarette right out of his mouth and puts it in his own. The boy, bereft of his smoke, scrambles to light up again. Boots is amazed by the sight, this giant of a boy allowing Spot to just take his cigarette like that, no questions asked, and merely grimaces and lights up a new one. It could just be that this boy is particularly non-confrontational, but this is the second instance Boots has seen of such a thing in under five minutes.
"How'd he do it?" Boots asks wonderingly, almost to himself. He turns back to the others. "How'd he get hold of Brooklyn?" He's heard stories, sure, wild rumors, but he figures in Brooklyn they actually know. It happened in Brooklyn, after all.
The boys exchange glances. They shrug.
"I ain't been 'round long enough to know," Wheeze says.
Sonny lines up his first shot. "I was here, but, well…" He trails off and this is when Boots first thinks what we, dear reader, already know: that maybe not even Brooklyn knows how it happened, maybe no one knows. "What Trainor told me," Sonny says more confidently, "is that he won it."
"Yeah. Card game. Poker, I think. 'Gainst Long John and Butch."
"I heard they played craps," Biscuit offers.
"Wasn't marbles," Sonny says, and they all laugh.
Can you imagine?
Just try to, for a moment.
A dark winter's night, maybe. Lodging house full to bursting. But Long John, Spot, and Butch…they aren't there. They're off in an alley somewhere…crates for chairs, crates for a table. It has all the seriousness of one of Pulitzer's famed poker nights. It's rougher, too, in the freezing temperatures. Leave it to Brooklyn to figure out how to make poker extreme.
They've played two games so far, Spot's smirking, the others are scowling: it's clear who's been winning.
"I've got no betting money left," Butch growls, the cold, perhaps, making him humble enough to say it—he throws down his most recent losing hand. Spot's smirk grows. He leans forward and speaks in a low voice.
"Then don't bet money."
Butch glares at him.
"You ain't gettin' none of my things, Conlon."
"I don't want your things, Butch," Spot says with enough disdain to make Butch feel vaguely embarrassed.
"Then whaddaya want?" he asks defensively.
The bet is placed, the challenge made, the stakes risen, the glove tossed:
Butch and Long John stop short; Long John looks at him wide-eyed, like he's grown another head, Butch crinkles his nose and knits his brow. Their grips on Brooklyn have slipped and been slipping ever since the Polyana incident, maybe even before. And they both know it.
"What?" Long John asks, all wary suspicion.
"Bet Brooklyn," Spot repeats. "Whoever wins gets it. Gets to have it. To lead it. Brooklyn belongs to the winner and the other two…back off." He sounds surprisingly menacing for a guy a good foot shorter than "the other two", and probably half their weight.
"None of us got Brooklyn to bet, Spot," Long John points out.
"Then you have nothing to lose."
"What're ya, mad? 'Course there's something to lose! I ain't playing," says Butch.
"What, scared you won't win?"
Of course, of course the goading works.
It always does.
Of course, as far as anyone knows, that shady game alone by the docks never happened.
After all, think of it logically. If there were no witnesses—which there weren't—then surely Butch and Long John wouldn't have honored the arrangement. It would have been two words against one, after all. And surely Spot, rational and calculating Spot, wouldn't have left something so important to chance anyway.
It's a fun story. Even better than the bridge one.
That was summer 1898, by the way, that Boots first heard the story while winning at marbles. Spot hadn't even been leader a full year, probably.
He was still fifteen.
Here's what makes this an era, what gives Long John and Butch some semblance of importance: Spot used their struggle for dominance in his favor.
He's like some master puppeteer, pitting them against each other whenever possible, slyly, giving them even more reason to hate each other, to fight, to be distracted from all the other Brooklyn boys.
And while Butch and Long John are being surly, snappy, bitchy and bossy, Spot rolls his eyes and shows the boys a leader they can actually count on. One who's above petty power-squabbling. He senses what the boys need and responds accordingly—when Butch or Long John is ordering them around, he disguises his orders as suggestions, suggestions which, on the whole, they prefer.
But is Spot actually a better leader than either Long John or Butch? Probably. Possibly not, though. The important part is that he makes it look like he is—that he makes the other two look like a coupla idiots fighting over something they could never afford to buy.
They're just pawns in his game, and they don't even realize it. And that, above all, is their greatest downfall: how they allowed themselves to be used without batting a single eyelash.
Nobody but Spot knows quite how he did it, and he ain't sharing. But he did it, he played his game brilliantly, setting them against each other and everyone else and getting the "people" on his side, over several months as this would-be-drama played out.
Really, the other two never stood a chance.
There's a political story.
More boring than most.
Says the previous leader of Brooklyn made the younger boys pay taxes, on their papes, to him, or he'd soak 'em. Nickel a week. He ripped them off worse than Pulitzer, and all to stay at the Lodging House, something there was already a fee for. (Not all of the versions of this story include the taxation without representation aspect—most do. Most also say that that newsboy went on to be a miserable failure of a politician.)
In this story, Spot is the Indignant Protestor. A rabble-rouser. A revolutionary. The boys rally behind him, and the old, corrupt government is overthrown. Newsies upset with the way things are run—nearly all of them—start going quietly over to Spot's side, gathering behind this boy who promises change and protection.
The most boring version says that eventually everyone switched to Spot's side until the leader, completely bereft of followers or cronies, had no power left. Boring, but realistic. Similar to our theory, really…the gradual takeover.
Slightly more exciting is war, Spot's boys against the leader's. Spot's won.
A little too Che Guevara for our taste.
Some people rule through fear—people follow them for fear of what will happen if they don't. Some people rule through love—their followers adore them, know they are well taken care of, benefit from their rule.
Punishment vs. reward. Orwell vs. Huxley. Potential revolution vs.…potential revolution.
So which does Spot do?
Like many leaders, he chooses a mix of both.
Unlike many leaders, he does it right.
For one thing, Spot has a temper. Everybody knows this. Spot may seem cool and collected and able to take everything in stride, but he's also quite capable of flying off the handle.
He doesn't do this too often, of course—he's not completely easily riled. But it does happen often enough. And you know what?
You wouldn't like Spot when he's riled.
If you know nothing about Spot Conlon and wonder how such an impossibly skinny and small boy could hold his own amongst all those big Brooklyn newsboys, the first point anybody will bring up to prove you wrong is his temper. Because you do not want it unleashed in your direction. It's…violent.
So who is this temper usually unleashed upon? Well, that's all part of the balance.
It's unleashed upon his own boys enough times—not without reason—to keep them in check, to keep them remembering that there is punishment should any of them step drastically out of line. (Not often needed, of course. Sorry, but newsies, even Brooklyn ones, do not get up to questionable activity as much as you'd think. (At least not activity that Spot, a fellow newsie, would consider questionable, anyway.) They'd have to do something pretty extreme and troublesome and probably not worth their time in order to get Spot too mad at them. He's strict within reason.)
And then there is the violence unleashed upon others, which conveniently enough helps that sense of camaraderie, makes it clear that he's protecting them. When need be…when they can't take care of themselves. Like any good general, he knows how to give the enemy as well as his own troops an ass whooping when need be.
And that's it, really: he's really just like a military general: how all the really good ones got along with their men while at the same time not allowing them to forget who was really in charge. Or like they're a company and his their good-natured boss who's serious when he needs to be and whom they all respect. You get the picture.
Spot may fight well, but like any good general, he rarely actually has to. Once you have that much power, you can delegate. You don't have to waste your talents on every little problem that pops up. And anyway, it's not like Brooklyn boys are going around just constantly picking fights. No, really, we swear. (The day David met him was a bad example. They all had their weapons out and guards up because they weren't sure who to soak, what with the prices raised and all, but knew they should be soaking somebody.)
Newsboys all claim they can take care of themselves, but really, they take care of each other. And this is where Spot really excels. He looks after his boys; makes sure they're well taken care of.
You won't often see Spot with a coat in winter, because doubtless he will have given it to one of his boys. This isn't due to any great philanthropy or sympathy on his part, but to a certain duty he seems to feel he has, to take care of his charges, make sure they don't get into trouble, or starve, or freeze to death. (He has other means of keeping warm, anyway, and no, he won't tell you what they are, and no, Racetrack won't either.)
He treats them well personally, too. He gets along with them, he's genuinely friends with them: How could he have risen to the top without being so? So he knows them well, and like any friend he can tease them, joke around, he sleeps in the same room as them—but still keeps that distinction there, still is careful not to sink too far into playing favorites, still keeps his distance. He has genuine concern for them. An older brother, a military general, a company boss—
Can't sink himself completely to their level or he won't be Authority. Won't have respect.
Can't be too high or he'll foster resentment.
(Maybe that's what makes him so lonely. Maybe that's why, as much as he loves being leader, he loves his little vacations to other parts of the city—where he gets all of the respect with none of the responsibility— just as much.)
Most outsiders agree with this interpretation of his character. Spot is usually fairly civil (even if he does have that slight air of superiority that makes you want to slap him, but you don't dare, because, well, he's Spot). Those who know him better say he can be downright friendly. Those who have only seen him in certain social situations, or those he don't like, will merely shudder and utter words such as: scary.
So some people talk about how scary he is, some about how affable.
This combination must be a big part of why he rose to the top, right?
Sigh. So many theories, so little patience.
Some leaders rule with fear. Some with love. Spot does both.
After all, there's no denying people are afraid of him. There are people who will laugh in the face of your average Brooklyn thug yet readily admit to being terrified of Spot Conlon. It's accepted.
What makes people nervous? He's different. He's unpredictable. You're never sure if he likes you or not, never sure what he likes, never know when he'll lash out. Not often, but it happens.
Flip side. What makes them love him? His personality, his charm, his good looks, his sense of humor, his ability to protect, his impressive skills… His affability.
It's a hard line to walk. Like the authority game, the friendliness game is a difficult one to balance.
But he knows how to play. Just as he knew how to pit two people against each other—it's innate. These so-called "rules"? He practically wrote them.
So you want a weakness?
Spot cannot hold his drink.
He swaggers, he struts, he's a tough, cane-carrying sling-shot wielding badass, but…
He simply cannot hold his drink.
No matter what the type of alcohol, it doesn't take much before he's drunker than all get out. And it doesn't take much more after that before he's out cold.
Like a snuffed candle.
It's a bit embarrassing, really. He's Irish, for God's sake.
He tries not to let his boys know this—no signs of weakness, no vulnerability.
Eventually some start to find out. He don't take such small shots to look sophisticated.
At this point he's secure enough in his leadership that no one tries to exploit this weakness, thank God. Those who do know sometimes tease him about it, though.
But not much.
He's still Spot.
Racetrack is actually the first of anyone to find out. No, really. It's late one night when Race is heading back from Sheepshead. It's been a long, slow day at the races. He's caught a ride on the back of a wagon carting crates of Spanish rum.
Spot intercepts him. Feeling rather lonely that night. He won't admit it, but it's often lonely at the top. They're both lonely. They're both loners, but they're both lonely.
Maybe that's why they get along so well.
Spot coaxes him into staying. Spot's surprisingly—or maybe not so surprisingly—awful good at coaxing people into doing what he wants. Persuasive.
One of the qualities of a leader. Spot has it, Jack has it, Teddy Roosevelt has it. Race has it, but he doesn't want it.
They take a crate of rum with them and scoot off into the night, off to the docks. A secluded dock, and they can see the sun gripping the edge of the horizon with rose-colored fingers.
They talk about anything and everything, their tongues loosening as the drink flows faster. It's not many people Spot'll do this with. Even through his own haze of drink, Race can see how quickly Spot is slipping away.
Race and Spot…they see each other more often than most intra-borough newsies do (what reason, after all, do any of them ever have to go too far out of their territory?). Spot will often waylay Race as he passes through, riding with him on the back of a carriage until he crosses the bridge. It happens often enough that Race begins to worry if he hasn't seen Spot in over a week. Sometimes, after a long selling day, Race will put up at the Brooklyn Lodging House. And sometimes Spot comes up to Manhattan, for business or fun or celebration or what have you, and he'll spend much of the night at Race's side. It's Race who isn't afraid of him, Race and Jack whom he talks to the most (he talks to the others, too, but on the whole they respect him more than they know him, and the youngest—the ones that look up to Race as an older brother—are in silent awe of him. Half flattering, half annoying).
Spot's rather fun once he's so quickly drunk. He spouts poetry, swaying slightly on his feet ("Look at that bridge, will ya, Race? Like…like a giant on wheels. Wait" (head shake) "No, not wheels, struts…D'ya hear that funny noise?") and other things ("You're my favorite, Racey, you know that? More than Jack or any o' my boys. We go together, you an' me…"). He giggles, which is insane in of itself. By the end of it, Race, tipsy himself, tries to drag Spot back to the Lodging House, but when the latter passes out cold, decides it isn't worth it. They sleep on the docks.
In the morning Spot is ill and has only vague memories to go with his headache, but remembers enough to make Race swear not to tell a thing to a soul.
Race doesn't even want to.
If only for the moment, he likes being the only one who knows.
What does that have to do with anything?
Nothing, maybe. But it's fun!
Race has a tendency to do that to Spot.
"Look, boys, it's Tweedledee and Tweedledum!"
(Take courage, Morris. It coulda been worse. He could have called you Tweedledumber.)
Why have Morris and Oscar crossed the bridge?
This is a fun riddle.
The answer, of course, is not to get to the other side.
As a matter of fact, they don't get to the other side at all.
Oscar has a split lip. Why?
And Jack is why they've come over. With a devious plan in their tiny minds. Get help from the most respected and formidable newsie. Help from Brooklyn, most especially from Spot himself. Help in keeping Jack in line. Soak him. Et cetera.
While they're talking with a false air of confidence, Spot is surveying them like he does all his visitors (like he will Davey in years to come). When they're done, he stands.
"You make a great point, there, Morrie. So tell me—what do I get out of the deal?"
Some flustered bustling.
"Problem is, I like Jacky." He stands. Oscar takes a step back. The Delanceys had such strong senses of superiority…those feelings are quickly fading, giving way to fear. The Brooklyn boys, some hanging nearby with their clubs and their chains, start forward. If their leader wants the bums out… But—
"I got this, boys."
Two shiners to mach the one they gave Jack and they're gone.
They tell anyone they can the Brooklyn boys are really big pussies, that Spot's ascension was a fluke.
Never to his face, of course.
You know what we seem to almost have forgotten?
Newsies sell papes.
So where's Spot's spot?
Spot's spot is wherever he damn well wants it to be.
On the bridge. Near the docks. Wanderin' around. Wherever.
He's the best seller in Brooklyn, one of the best in NYC, right up there with Cowboy. He sells at least a hundred a day and does it fast. Being a newsie isn't his favorite thing, but it gets him money, to say the least.
A good number of his papes he sells to the ladies. Spot Conlon has charm, good looks, witty (fake) compliments, and very, very blue eyes.
There are ladies who'll be captivated by his eyes as they pass, and buy a pape before they know what happened. There are older dames who'd give anything to be allowed to coo over him every day, but he's not Race, he doesn't let them—but they still buy from him regularly, and they tip nicely. There are the girls he'll charm every day on their way to school—they go the same route every morning, at the same time. If they pass the usual spot where they part with their pennies and he's not yet arrived, they'll stop and dawdle, even if it means they're held up to school. Marvelous little twits, he thinks. (Sometimes, just for fun, he won't show—Spot Conlon has a rather twisted sense of fun.)
He doesn't only sell to dames, of course. He sells to plenty of gentlemen who say he's "a fine young man" and who he says are finks. He sells to rough-and-tumble sailors down by the docks, to the working men and the crooks. They like this kid who's not afraid. They're impressed by his guts. He practically dares them to buy, and they do.
Spot can sell to anyone in the city, from the mayor to the gutter rat. He's got all the tools in his arsenal.
Does this relate to how Spot became leader? Maybe, a little. A bunch of boy salesmen wouldn't rally behind someone who stinks at their job, would they?
What if he told them?
He went in one day, informed them he was leader, and kept acting like it even when they laughed at him? Until they got used to it, accepted it, started treating him as their leader…
You act like something long enough, pretty soon that's what you become. (Take notes, Bumlets.)
'Course, that's another boring one. Only the more practical but not real smart newsies believe that.
Spot does love being famous. He likes being talked about. He likes appearing in the paper, likes it even more when his name and picture appear as well.
So of course he thinks it's simply his right to be leader.
Racetrack thinks it might have been his charm or good looks. Racetrack says this only half-jokingly.
Racetrack needs to stop popping up at random times to talk about the well-known better aspects of Spot's character.
Stop it, Race, or people might get suspicious!
Here's an idea.
What if—what if Spot has always been leader?
Oh, not of all of Brooklyn, surely. However, one does not, of a sudden, gain the kind of personality and temperance needed to be a leader. No, one is born with it. A leader has always been a leader. First you control your siblings, perhaps, and then your schoolyard friends. One day you may formally control the school as student body president, if your school does that sort of thing. Eventually, such a leader will work their way up, finally stopping their ascension at schoolteacher, perhaps, or even Principal—Head Doctor, Chief of Police, governor, president.
Maybe you'll wind up as Head of the Floor Swabbers in the State Penitentiary, but a head of something you will be. It is your lot in life.
(An aside—leaders have the strangest relationships with Authority. On the one hand, since leaders are leaders and do not follow, but are followed, it would make sense that they resist all forms of control imposed upon them by others. However, since they are and hope to be in a bigger way Authority figures themselves, there must also be that grudging respect as they want others to grudgingly respect them.)
And so Spot is a natural leader, a born one. He has all those characteristics we discussed earlier—charming, charismatic, fearless, bold, opinionated—plus a whole slew of others—abrasive, witty, attractive. So Spot—Spot has always been popular. And maybe he's always been In with the popular crowd. And people have always listened to him, ever since that day he Stood Up. And always, like any good leader, he's had his little fan club, his tiny group of friends and admirers who listen to him, look up to him, follow him, respect, revere him. And, also like any good leader, that group has grown as he grows, with people the same age as he in it, and younger, and finally even older. Until, of course, it would be silly to assume anyone else would be the Leader of Brooklyn.
That's how Jack did it.
And maybe that's partly how Spot did it. Except—very big "except" here—popularity will only get you so far. Popularity will get you what Jack has, the affections and admiration of your crew, and to a lesser extent others outside your group, too. Sure, Spot has that.
But he also has more. His position is a lot more official than Jack's, than Popular Pseudo-Leader Guy. Spot had to have more than just his leadership qualities to get to where he is. He had to work hard, to earn it. Good thing, then, that Spot is anything but a slacker.
Spot plays chess.
Yes, the rich man's game.
The war game, the strategy game.
He never loses.
Everyone wants to know how he got the cane. Everyone wants to know how he got his name.
But, like this entire story (and the entire story of his life, it seems), there are many theories and no answers.
And anyway, this isn't a story about the cane.
Unless…the story is the cane?
Hi diddle diddle, Spot and his fiddle—
(Spot does love to spout out nursery rhymes.)
Afterwards, after it's become clear that Spot Conlon is, and will be for quite some time, le chef de Brooklyn, Long John assimilates back into the crowd. Like a senator who's run a failed presidential race, he becomes again just one more person under the victor's jurisdiction. And like a defeated senator, soon the others forget he'd ever been in the running at all.
Butch, on the other hand, doesn't try to assimilate for long. He joins up with some enterprising young men convinced that the push westward isn't over. He signs on in an almost indentured-servant type role, to do their bidding and eventually reap the benefits. Beyond that, no one knows what happened to him, whether the venture succeeded, whether he ever made anything of himself at all.
We don't know either.
Race sees things in terms of gambling. Odds. Chances. Luck sprinkled with skill.
What're the odds of Spot becoming leader?
At one time he'd seemed unstoppable. Commander of every soul in the Lodging House, a feat in of itself. And then—then of all Brooklyn, all of the Brooklyn newsies, not just a feat but a feat previously unheard of. And there were murmurings, people wondering, maybe he won't stop there, he's already gone further than any newsie has before, maybe he'll take over the entire city? And…and how do we feel about that, boys?
But he doesn't. He doesn't even try. It seems he's perfectly pleased with what he's already accomplished—he's a Brooklyn boy after all, through and through, and he'll be damned if he gives a two pence in hell what becomes of the other boroughs.
It's still a hotly debated topic, actually, whether Spot could have done it if he'd wanted to.
"Brooklyn, who wants Brooklyn?"
Well, nobody wants Brooklyn.
Suddenly all the newsies, vulnerable of being Sent To Brooklyn, are intensely jealous of those who have already left, bearing news to all of the other boroughs.
Anyone could talk to Queens. You just had to gather 'em up in a group and they'll nod right along. Kinda like Manhattan. Piece of cake.
Bronx? Easy. Just tell Smarty McQueen. He'll blab the news as far as Trenton. The rest of the Bronx will know in seconds.
Midtown? Well, they're not really united there (and a whole lot a'them sleep on the streets), so you'd probably have to tell every tiny group, pair and single newsie individually. Still, easier than Brooklyn.
Could you imagine, these newsies are all thinking, walking into Brooklyn, right up to Spot goddamn Conlon (because of course there's only one way to tell Brooklyn, only one person that needs conferring with; the idea that anyone else would get a say in their decision is never even considered and frankly ludicrous), and saying "Hey, we're going on strike, wanna join up?" Most of them would die on the spot if Spot so much as looked at them. Which is why they're currently very intensely focused on getting Jack not to look anywhere near them, by hiding their faces and looking very suddenly vastly interested in something going on very far away.
David doesn't know any of this.
David, clearly, wasn't around until well after Brooklyn became "Spot Conlon's Territory". And of course he doesn't know how it happened. (He does gain his theories as to why.) He doesn't even know that Brooklyn is Spot Conlon's territory, that he is their leader, he makes their decisions and he is in control.
He's never even heard of Spot Conlon. Because while the name may be famous amongst newsies and the occasional bootblack or factory worker, what newsies tend forget is that newsie society isn't very high-profile in the City. Surprisingly enough.
David only starts to realize how important this character is when they start hearing word from the other boroughs:
"Yeah, a strike! Good idea! Who else ya got? What about Brooklyn? Ya got Brooklyn? No? You sure it's a good idea?"
"I dunno, who else ya got? Bronx? Brooklyn? You got Spot?"
"We're mad. We're upset. What does Spot say?"
"We'll do it if everyone else is in. Or if Brooklyn is."
And so on. It's endless. And it becomes apparent—Spot Conlon is key. Because Brooklyn is key. And Spot Conlon is Brooklyn.
And so David has to wonder what this Spot is about to hold so much power and sway over all of the New York newsies. To inspire so much fear and respect. Surely, if the Brooklyn newsies are as intimidating and tough as everyone seems to think, this Spot must be ten times as tough. Taller than Snoddy, even. More muscular than the Delanceys.
(The reality is so much more frightening.)
So when he asks Jack and Boots, nervously, if this Spot Conlon is really dangerous, he considers it a perfectly justified question. And he just doesn't appreciate their laughter.
"Asking if Spot Conlon is dangerous, Dave? That's like—like—"
"Like askin' if the sky's blue," Boots put in.
Jack: "Yeah. Or if Delancey's an ass, or—"
"If Jack's ever heard of Santa Fe."
This, coupled with the fact that Boots had grabbed two of his best marbles to sacrifice to Spot's slingshot before they left, did not help David's growing sense of apprehension.
"Why?" David had asked.
"Peace offering," Boots said shortly.
And then David meets Spot, and he understands why everyone's so afraid of him—it's all in the eyes, he thinks—but one thing he still doesn't understand? Why everyone's so dependent on his approval. Why he is key. Why, besides the fact that the Brooklyn newsies are many thugs strong, it is so damn important to get them to join that no one else will if they do not.
And you know what? David makes some pretty good points.
We know he's famous. And we know he's respected. (He's the most famous and respected newsie in all of New York, and probably everywhere else.) We know why he's famous. (You're in the papes, you're famous. That's what's so great about New York.) But why is he respected? (Besides the obvious answer that of course becoming the leader of Brooklyn is a feat to be respected, and he's too scary to not respect him, for a lot of people. It's just safer that way.)
(Side note: maybe he's Brooklyn's leader because he's famous and respected. Not famous and respected because he's Brooklyn's leader.
Dwell on that.)
So why does everybody, including the borough of Brooklyn, trust Spot Conlon to make their decisions? Why does the whole city trust his judgment so much?
Because he makes good decisions.
It's as simple as that.
When a group of newsie-thugs from the Bronx get, well, ticked at a large group of Brooklyn newsies for a long string of reasons no one can quite remember and starts to come after them with fists and chains and clubs, Spot plays it cool. He knows when they should fight and when to run, when to talk, when to attack, when to wait, what they should take responsibility for and how to make the Bronx look damn stupid while doing so. It's like he's the general and the newsies are in a war (against about a dozen people, but that's not what matters).
Heck, Spot wasn't even a part of the group the Bronx guys were mad at to begin with. There's no particular reason he should be calling the shots. But he does, and they're good, and people listen.
We won't get into the gory details. To be perfectly honest, it's rather boring when you're not in the middle of it. Borough politics at the very lowest level—it may sound exciting, but really? It's really, really not.
It's quite the weeks-long drama for the young minds involved in it, however. The impressionable minds. And one impression they come away with?
Spot Conlon is boss. (Or the linguistic period equivalent, anyway.)
The important thing is not that it was some glorious war, it is that he handled it well. The more important thing is that it earned him, not just admiration, but trust. That after that, everyone turned to Spot Conlon for answers, everyone wanted to know What He'd Do.
And sure, maybe Spot isn't a perfect leader.
He's immature, sometimes, and sometimes he lets his temper get the best of him, and sometimes he thinks too much of himself for his own good.
But isn't that kind of the point?
No leader is perfect. No human is perfect. But people trust them anyway. Despite their drawbacks and flaws, they're still in the lead, they're still in control—they still know how to handle power, which is a quality far fewer people possess than you'd think. The ability to hold power and exercise it and not go completely mad-drunk with it.
So yes, Spot's a far cry from some infallible god, and sometimes he gets fed up and the Brooklyn boys get annoyed but it's never anything too serious. They get past it.
Spot Conlon can't do everything, but he can do enough.
We've stripped away the lights and the glitter and explained the production behind the show that everyone sees, and what are we left with?
Absolutely nothing. No conclusion.
Well, surely there is an answer. Surely someone must know. If Brooklyn doesn't even know—shouldn't Spot? Shouldn't he, at least, know how he came to be leader?
Sorry. He's not in. Not home right now. Not available for comment.
He doesn't want to tell the true story.
Because then where would all the mystery be?
Let's face it: We may never know the truth. Maybe there is no truth. Maybe the truth is painted in shades of grey.
Maybe the legends are more fantastic than the truth—but the important part of Spot's badassery isn't his actual badassery, but the reputation of his badassery. So maybe, just maybe, the legends have more relevance than what actually happened. Whatever that was.
Maybe what actually happened?
Doesn't even matter.
Remember how, many maybes ago, we said that maybe one boy had his story right? One, out of all the newsies in New York?
So we've been weaving this big complicated web of reasons and factors and answers, when perhaps one newsie can sum it all up in a few choice words.
Spot got to be leader…
Just by being Spot.
Fate. Destiny. Written.
Of course, Race may be just a tad biased…