"But where're we goin'?"
Jack Kelly, age eight, was pulling a kid along with him through the streets of New York. Their faces were smeared with soot, as Jack and the boy had just come from a building that Jack had accidentally set on fire. He hadn't meant to! That grown-up there had been holding a match, and had accidentally dropped it into some…well, stuff that had made the building go boom. So maybe it wasn't Jack's fault after all. He cast a glance at the little sandy-haired and green-eyed kid he was dragging along with him.
"We's goin' to the Newsboy's Lodgin' House," Jack answered. "You'll be safe there."
The kid put a hand to his mouth as he coughed, and struggled to keep up with the older boy. "What did you say your name was?"
"Jack." He looked down at the boy again. "Why d'you keep draggin' your leg along like that?"
The boy coughed again. "Mistah Jordan said it got dead, so I can't use it anymore. He said I 'ave somethin' called….polio."
Oh, Jack thought. He had seen plenty of kids and newsies on the streets like this kid, using crutches or something to walk along. He hoped this boy would be alright. Jack glanced behind him, seeing someone making their way towards the pair. He scooped up the boy in his arms, and started running as fast as he could.
"Why's we runnin'?" the boy asked.
"That's Snyder, he wants my guts," Jack decided to keep it short for the time being. "We jus' need to get to the Lodgin' House an' then we'll be safe, okay?"
"Okay," the boy said, and the pair rounded a corner onto Duane Street. Jack risked looking behind him. No sign of Snyder. Good. He slowed down, and the two practically jumped inside the Lodging House. Jack closed the door behind them.
"Who's this?" Kloppman asked, looking down at the boy, who looked right back up with wide eyes.
"I dunno," Jack said, and looked to the boy, and back at Kloppman. "He said he has polio. He can't use his right leg anymore. Can he please stay?"
Kloppman straightened up, and walked into one of the back rooms. He came back with a small crutch, which was more or less the boy's size. The boy took it, looking at the wood. He glanced up at Kloppman, who nodded.
"You can lean on that, boy. It'll help you walk."
The boy smiled, lighting up his part of the room. He slid the crutch under his arm, and took a few experimental steps, still smiling.
"What's your name, kid?" Jack asked. The boy gave him an uncertain look and was about to shake his head when he stopped and looked at his brand-new crutch.
"Crutch…" the boy said, trying out the word. He brightened up. "Crutchie! That's my name! Crutchie!"
Jack smiled too. "Okay, Crutchie. Tomorrow, I'll teach yous 'ow to be a newsie. We sell the papes all around the city."
"Is you the best newsie, Jack?"
Jack was taken aback, and then he nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I am, kid."