Author's Note: This is not exactly a traditional Newsies fanfic. Don't get me wrong, the newsies will be a major part of the story, but it also focuses heavily on my own original characters—gangsters from the notorious neighborhood of Five Points. There will be many chapters in which you won't find any newsies at all, because I desperately wanted to delve into the world of Five Points and explore the possibilities it offers. Nevertheless, the newsies we know and love will be essential to the plot, and the whole story is very much in the Newsies spirit, so I hope you'll give it a chance!

Disclaimer: Any character from the 1992 movie Newsies belongs to Disney. I am using them without permission. No copyright infringement intended. No money was made. All other characters are mine unless otherwise noted. If you want to use them for any purpose, just ask!

Mulberry Bend

By Flare Higgins

Prologue

There is only one path that leads from the more respectable neighborhoods of lower Manhattan into the depths of New York City's most notorious slum. That path is a sharply curved stretch of Mulberry Street known as Mulberry Bend, and it has acquired such a reputation that even small children avoid it by instinct. Filthy, overcrowded tenements line either side of the Bend - places where twenty-five people might live and die in one basement room, and children are stabbed for the pennies they beg from their elders.

Alleyways sprout from Mulberry Bend like so many snakes, earning sinister names of their own - Bandit's Roost, Ragpickers Row, Bottle Alley. It is the latter branch of the Bend that leads to a seedy little bar called the Blood Diamond. A sixteen-year-old boy owns this bar, in practice if not on paper; he also owns Bottle Alley and the gang that operates there. They are a small-time gang, a ragtag band of children and teenagers, earning a living through petty crime under the direction of their fearless leader. Outside the Points, no one even knows they exist.

It's the big gangs people have heard of, naturally. They make Five Points' reputation, filling the neighborhood with lurid images of knives, brass knuckles, and gunfire, of bodies dumped in the river, of brothels, saloons, and opium dens. This is the way you would have found the neighborhood during its chaotic heyday in the 1850s, when the streets were dominated by dark legends like the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys. By the year 1896, however, the Points have quieted down a bit. You can no longer visit a brothel on every block. Many saloons have been replaced by churches or factories, and most of the big gangs have killed each other off, as gangs are prone to do.

Most of them, but not all.

Two rival gangs still remain in Five Points, two leaders at the height of their power despite their youth. One is Paul Kelly, a cultured Italian, equally at home in his flashy dance hall or the shadowy corners of his brothels and casinos. The other is a rough-and-tumble thug, known for his sloppy clothing and heavy slang and for the tame pigeon that perches on his shoulder.

This man's name is Monk Eastman, and at the age of twenty-two, he has already rallied a bitter band of nearly two thousand Jewish youth. Years of poverty and abuse have made them shrewd and angry, and Eastman knows just how to direct their energies in order to fill his own pockets. His boys and girls deal in drugs, whores, and gambling rackets, and they are the best hired thugs and assassins in all of New York. Their influence spreads throughout Manhattan's Lower East Side, where Monk works as a bouncer in a theater called Irving Hall. Groups of laughing, boisterous newsboys come in each night to see the vaudeville shows. Even they know Monk Eastman by name.

There is an expression in Five Points that most outsiders have never heard: to "go around Mulberry Bend." It means taking a turn in your life that brings you over to the dark side, so to speak - irretrievably, so that there is no coming back. If you go around Mulberry Bend, you have succumbed to the evil impulses of the human soul; you have bought your ticket to hell, and there are no refunds.

Some people, like Monk Eastman, live out most of their lives on the wrong side of the Bend; they know it full well and don't give a damn. Others are immune to its temptations; they shy away from that crook in the road until their dying days. But there are still other folks who seem to dwell at the very elbow of Mulberry Bend, poised in one of the twisting alleys separating one side from the other. Such folks, of course, can be pushed in either direction by the events that unfold around them and the choices they make. There is no telling which way they'll go.