Disclaimer: I do not own Newsies.
Author's Note: I don't know why, but lately I really like exploring Spot's possible future. I wrote a fic a couple of months ago called For the Record that explored Spot's future, and here I go again with another story that takes Spot on a different possible route. What fun!
Dime a Dozen
Spot Conlon ain't a king. That's just what he wants you to think.
Most street rats hear the name of Spot Conlon and act like you're talking about the President himself, but I'm telling you, he's as much of a king as I am. He don't even notice me when I walk through the doors of O'Neill's saloon, even though he's standing right behind the bar with a bird's-eye view of everything. Can you believe it? A month ago he could sense me a mile off, and now he don't even give me the time of day.
I'm tempted to pull out my harmonica and blow a sharp blast on it, just to get his attention, but there's a whole lot of huge, bearded micks in the joint who wouldn't take too kindly to little ol' me making a racket. I may be a wise guy, but I ain't stupid. Spot keeps standing behind the bar, pouring something out of a bottle for the most red-faced mick I've ever seen, and I make sure to keep my distance from that drunk lobster of a fella as I find a rickety bar stool to sit on.
Trust the Irish to have shoddy furniture in their saloons. Yeah, yeah, I'm half-Irish myself—where else would I get a name like Higgins?—but the Italian half of me thinks it's shoddy.
Now picture this: the great Spot Conlon, so-called king of the Brooklyn newsies, who used to rule the docks with an iron fist and strike fear into the hearts of anybody who dared to cross him, has traded in his infamous cane and his slingshot. Even those tell-tale red suspenders have disappeared. Instead he's hanging around indoors when I know for a fact that he hates the indoors, and to top it all off he's tied down to this dingy little bar answering to the beck and call of drunk Irishmen all day long.
Is this really Spot Conlon or am I losing my marbles?
Oh, it's Spot all right. I'd bet every penny I've ever earned that the king of Brooklyn himself stands right before me, finally noticing me with those eyes that can see through a fella like he's made of smoke. He don't even look surprised, but what do you expect? You could walk around stark naked singing Spain's national anthem at the top of your lungs and Spot wouldn't look surprised.
"Well if it ain't Racetrack," he says, all smug-like. "I thought you wasn't a drinker."
"I ain't," I say. "I'm still a cigar man, through-and-through."
"Then what are ya doin' here?"
"Now that's funny." I even chuckle for good measure. "I came here to ask ya the same thing. How did Brooklyn's best newsie end up servin' liquor for a living?"
He don't answer me, 'cause some old fella who looks at least eighty plunks down his empty mug and asks for more ale. A fella that old must have ale running in his veins at this point. What are they gonna do, bury him in a beer barrel instead of a casket?
I crack myself up.
Spot serves the old man and ignores me for about thirty seconds, until he realizes I ain't going nowhere and glares at me like I'm a stray dog that wandered in. "You gonna order somethin'?"
"Why'd ya leave the newsies?" I ask.
He looks at me like I'm an idiot. "Why's the sky blue?"
"That don't make no sense."
"Then don't ask stupid questions, Race."
"Who says it's a stupid question?"
"I do, and if you ain't gonna order somethin' then beat it. We don't hold with loiterers 'round here."
Same ol' Spot Conlon, thinking he can boss the whole world, but it's downright strange to see him out of his element. Most of the Brooklyn newsies was bigger then him, which didn't stop him from bossing those fellas around, but in the saloon he looks like a kid surrounded by all these older, hefty, bearded guys. I've never seen Spot look so young before and I wonder how he got this job in the first place. Same way he became leader of the Brooklyn newsies, I guess, though even that is a mystery.
"All right, then, Your Majesty," I said. "I'm outta here."
He acts like he don't hear me, but I know he does. Spot's poker face is almost as good as mine, but it ain't good enough to fool me when I know he's gotta be thinking about my visit to his new home. He's gotta be wondering why I had the nerve to come see him, though he won't ask outright if he can help it. The old Spot would tell a couple of his boys to tail me for a while and then report back to him, but this ain't the old Spot and his boys are managing out there by themselves.
He's only been gone for a month, but Brooklyn just ain't Brooklyn without him. I don't live in Brooklyn and even I can see it.
I slide off my rickety bar stool and head for the doors, dodging drunk micks left and right on the way, and don't look back as I step out of O'Neill's saloon.
But I will be back. You can bet your life on it.
The strike was two or three years ago, but the lodging house looks the same as ever. Snipeshooter is still here and the little brat still likes to steal my cigars, even though he's old enough to get 'em on his own now. Mush, Blink, and Crutchy are still around, but Jack left a while ago. Couldn't expect Cowboy to stick around when he was getting older and was restless besides. Me and the other fellas had a running bet on how long Cowboy would stay until he cracked, and I still like to tease Specs on how much money he lost to yours truly here.
He says I rigged everything, but Specs is just a sore loser. He tossed away that old bowler hat he used to wear all the time, but his glasses are the same and so is his mouth.
Aw, but who am I kidding? Specs is like a brother to me, even if he does question my skills as a bookie.
Aside from Jack, I don't see Davey and his brother Les around no more either. Guess they're in school or something. I see ol' Denton every now and then and Medda Larkson still puts on a great show, and of course Weasel's fat ass still hands out the papers. Haven't seen the Delancey brothers in months, but I'm sure Weasel will replace 'em with somebody just as dumb sooner or later.
Oh, and Skittery ain't here no more either. He knocked up some broad a while ago and got a factory job so he could do his duty and marry her or something. Can you believe it? Skittery, for crying out loud. Of all the fellas in Manhattan, Skittery's the last one I would expect to get in that kind of mess. Didn't think the stick-in-the-mud had it in him, for one thing.
Guess that goes to show you how things can change. Like Spot, for instance.
I'm eating a meager supper with some of the boys when I finally let the news slip. "Went and saw Spot Conlon today."
Blink is the first one to react. He usually is. "Spot Conlon?" he echoes, as if he's never heard the name before.
"Yeah, Spot Conlon," I say. "Who else would I mean? The king of England?"
"How is he, anyway?" asks Specs.
I'm not really sure how to respond. "Okay, I guess. Different."
"Different how?" asks Mush.
"I dunno. He don't have his cane or his red suspenders, for one thing. He serves a bunch of micks who drink like fishes and it don't even bother him. He ain't no king of Brooklyn no more, that's for sure."
"Did he tell ya why he left the papes?" asks Blink.
"Are ya kiddin' me? You could get a whore to give ya a free night more easily than you could get an answer outta Spot. He's as close-mouthed as ever. Can't imagine why, when he don't even got much to live for these days. Ya shoulda seen him."
Mush's eyes have gotten big, just like they used to do when Jack told some dashing story about dodging the bulls. "Ya think he's happy at all? Or does he miss the old life?"
"Damned if I know. Only saw him for a few minutes, really, and he couldn't wait to kick me outta the joint. I'd bet twenty bucks he didn't want nobody comin' to see him, whether they was a friend or not."
Specs is looking all thoughtful as he eats, except his glasses make him look cross-eyed when he thinks real hard. "I don't get it," he says. "Spot ain't even that old. I'm a bit older than him and I'm still sellin'. You fellas are still sellin' for all you're worth."
"And Spot was the best newsie in Brooklyn," Blink adds. "Everybody knows he could sell fifty papes with his eyes closed. You sure he didn't tell ya why he left, Race?"
"Don'tcha think I woulda told ya by now if he had?" I shoot back. "Besides, who says this is the last time I'm gonna see him? And if you fellas are so curious then you can go down to the saloon yourselves, ya know."
They all fall silent after that. Mush's spoon scrapes against his bowl, but that's the only sound I hear as I think about all those unanswered questions floating through my head. Sure, Spot likes to keep himself to himself, but he's a friend of mine, and he's gotta crack sooner or later if I grill him hard enough, right?
Besides, he's only been out of action for a month. A fella can't change all that much in just a month.
He's still Spot Conlon. Right?