"A hundred an' twenty papes!" Jack announced, slamming sixty cents down on the counter.
"A hundred an' twenty?" Crutchie echoed in surprise. "Jack, you'se been sellin' more an' more papes every day. What's goin' on?"
Jack held up his hands in mock defeat. "Ya know what, you'se is right," he said. With a grin, he added a nickel to the stack. "Make it a hundred an' thirty."
"Jack!" Crutchie scolded.
Weisel ignored the exchange between the two boys, concerned only about getting his job done. "One thirty for the Cowboy," he said, jerking his head for Jack to move along. "What'll it be, Crutchie?"
"Fifty papes, please," the gimp boy said, dropping his quarter into the box.
As he gathered his papes, Race moved up and draped himself over the counter. "I'll take one sixty, Weasel," he said.
Crutchie spun around. "One sixty? Race, whatsamattah with you?"
"Relax, kid," the gambler said, sticking a cigar in his mouth. "Half of 'em's for Romeo. He got held up a few blocks back. Saw some cute goil in a shop winda." He elbowed Albert in the ribs, grinning.
"Eighty papes is still a lot," Crutchie said with a frown, slipping his bag over his shoulder. "What's up with the boys today, Jack?"
The older boy merely grinned, clapping Crutchie on the back. "It's just business," he said. "C'mon, boys!" he hollered, cupping his hands around his mouth. "We'se got papes ta sell! Get out there, carryin' the banner!"
"Hey, Romeo!" Race called, spotting the dark-haired boy slipping into the square. "Get over here, I ain't the distribution wagon!"
"Ya shoulda seen this goil, Race," Romeo said, taking half the stack. "She had these gorgeous blue eyes..."
Crutchie shook his head, grinning to himself. There ain't nothin' wrong, he thought. I'se prob'ly just imaginin' things.
"Alright, boys," Jack said, waving them over. It was the end of the day and they were all tired, so he knew he had to be quick before the boys got bored and restless. Besides, they only had half an hour before Crutchie got back, tops. Jack snatched off Elmer's cap, making the dark-haired boy yell in protest, and handed it to Race. "Coins in the cap, fellas," he said. "Let's see how much we got. The book is two dollars, and if we'se done our math right we should have enough."
"We trusted you ta do the math?" Race scoffed.
Jack glared at him. "Hey, can it," he said. "Davey helped." It was true. He and Davey had sat down the other day with a pencil and paper, working out each boy's selling ability and how much extra weight they would have to pull.
"Any questions?" Jack asked as the cap made its rounds.
"Yeah, I got one," Finch called out, crossing his arms over his chest. "Why would Crutchie want a book, anyhow? Get him somethin' cool. Like a slingshot!" He brandished his own slingshot proudly, causing several of the boys closest to him to duck.
"You'se just sayin' that 'cause you can't read," Albert accused, jostling the slingshot out of his friend's hand.
"You can't read, neither!" Finch retorted, shoving the redheaded boy in the chest.
"Hey, hey!" Jack interjected. He nodded to Race, and together they pulled the two boys apart. "C'mon, fellas," Jack said earnestly. "This is for Crutchie! It ain't every day a kid turns sixteen. Let's try ta get along and do somethin' nice for the kid, okay?"
The boys murmured their agreement... all except one. "JoJo," Jack said carefully. "Why didn't ya put nothin' in the cap?"
JoJo's head shot up, a guilty look on his face. "I... well, I... now, ya see, Jack..." he stammered.
"You sold all your papes, I saw you!" Race accused.
"I know he did," Jack said. "I helped 'im sell the last of 'em." He stood in front of the younger boy, a stern look on his face and his arms folded over his chest.
It only took a few moments for JoJo to confess. "I spent it on candy," he admitted, pulling the colored foil wrappers out of his pocket to show Jack. "But I got some extra pieces for Crutchie!" he hastened to add. "For his birthday."
Jack relaxed some. "Alright, kid," he said, resting his hand on JoJo's shoulder.
JoJo's face flushed a deep red. "'Cept I ate those, too," he said.
Jack groaned. "JoJo!" he scolded, lightly smacking the back of the kid's head.
"I got hungry!" the twelve-year-old protested.
Jack ignored him, snatching up Elmer's cap and counting the coins inside. "One dollar and fifty-nine cents," he said with satisfaction. "And I sold enough today ta make up the rest." The boys let out a cheer. With a grin, Jack scooped the coins into his vest pocket and handed the cap back to Elmer. "Tomorra's the big day," he said. "I'll stop by the bookstore on the way back ta the Lodge House. It'll take Crutchie longer ta get back, so if the rest of ya hurry you'll have 'bout half an hour ta get things ready. Deal?"
"Sounds good, Jack!"
Jack grinned, waving them off. "Crutchie'll be here any minute, so scat!" he ordered good-naturedly. As his boys ran off in different directions, Jack felt the weight of the coins in his pocket and smiled, anticipating his brother's reaction. Oh, man. Crutchie's gonna love this.
Jack stood in front of the bookstore, hesitant to go inside. He had walked past this place hundreds of times with Crutchie, and sometimes the younger boy even went in, but Jack always found some excuse to stay outside. "Aw, I'se sure that shop owner don't want me in there, gettin' my grubby fingerprints on his pages," he had said on one occasion. Crutchie had smiled, and shook his head, and gone in alone. The truth was, Crutchie was a better reader than his older brother. Sure, Jack knew the catchy headline words -murder, scandal, maniac, and others of the like- but beyond that, reading just wasn't his strong suit.
The book was there in the window- the book Crutchie had been talking about for the past three weeks.
"It's a new one, Jack," the blonde boy said, a big smile on his face. "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It's a fairy tale. Fairy tales is my favorite kind a' stories."
"Aw, what's so great 'bout fairy tales?" Jack grumbled, not looking up from his drawing. "Dreamin' away 'bout some place ya ain't nevah seen, that ain't even real."
"Kinda like Santa Fe?" Crutchie asked with a grin.
"Hey!" Jack said, scowling and pointing at Crutchie with his pencil. "Santa Fe is real."
"Whatevah ya say, Jack," Crutchie teased.
Jack ignored him, hunching over his paper.
After a while, Crutchie broke the silence. "Fairy tales is kinda like Santa Fe, ain't they?" he asked.
Jack sighed, sitting up again. "Whaddaya mean, Crutch?"
"They let ya escape!" Crutchie said. "For just a moment, ya can pretend you'se there insteada here." He sounded more passionate about this then he had since... well, since the strike.
"Yeah," Jack said softly. "I get it." He had resolved then and there that he would get Crutchie that book, just so the younger boy could keep that smile on his face.
"Hey," a harsh voice said, snapping Jack out of his reverie. Two boys, one taller and bigger than him and one about his size, blocked his path. Jack groaned inwardly. He was right across the street from the bookstore, right across the dang street, and the Delanceys had found him.
"Oscar and Morris," he greeted sarcastically. "Ta what do I owe the displeasure?"
The younger of the two frowned- Prob'ly tryin' ta figure out what 'displeasure' means, Jack thought with a wry grin. Oscar, however, took a threatening step toward Jack. "Saw you an' your boys sellin' a lotta extra papes the othah day, Kelly," he said.
"Yeah?" Jack said, meeting the older boy's challenging glare. "What's it to ya, Delancey?"
The staredown continued for several moments, neither boy willing to back down first, but it ended as Oscar shoved Jack hard in the chest. "Ya lousy street rats don't get ta talk ta me like that," he said.
Jack smirked as he got up from the pavement. "Have been for years, but good for you for finally noticin'," he said. He reached a hand into his pocket, checking that the money was still here. He glanced over at the store impatiently. He had no idea what time it closed. If he didn't wrap things up soon with the Delanceys, he could very well be going home empty-handed.
"Whatcha got there, Kelly?" Morris asked, his beady eyes fixed on Jack's pocket.
Jack grew still, suddenly becoming very protective. "Nothin' what concerns you, Morris," he ground out. That was his first mistake, he realized later. Showing the Delanceys they had stumbled upon something valuable? Rookie mistake.
"I think it does concern us, Kelly," Oscar said, sending his brother a smirk. "Ya see, your business is our business. We'se get paid ta keep the newsies in line, 'member?"
I remember, a'right, Jack thought grimly. Ya only remind us ev'ry chance ya get. "Hey," he said, spreading his hands wide. "It ain't my fault your lunkhead brothah here thinks it's strange for a newsie ta have pennies in his pocket."
He turned to walk away, but he had only made it a few steps before Oscar grabbed him by the back of his shirt. "You'se gettin' too cocky, Kelly," he growled. "Maybe it's time we taught ya a lesson.
The words echoed in Jack's head, and he remembered Snyder saying nearly those exact words. "You're getting altogether too cocky, Kelly," Snyder sneered. "I think it's time I taught you a lesson you won't soon forget." Jack shuddered involuntarily. It had been almost three years, and he still hadn't forgotten it.
Unfortunately for him, his hesitation gave Oscar enough time to throw a punch. Jack didn't see him coming, and the blow hit him square on the side of the head. He staggered forward, only to have Morris drive a fist into his gut. The hit to the temple combined with getting the wind knocked out of him sent him down like a sack of potatoes.
The next few minutes were a blur. Jack was riding on a wave of pain. He was vaguely aware of his body being trampled and kicked by the Delanceys, but it wasn't until he felt a hand in his pocket, that the reality of the moment sunk in. "No," he managed to get out. "It's for... it's for Crutchie." A harsh laugh filled his ears, and suddenly they were gone.
Jack lay on the ground, curled in on himself. He had to get it together. It was getting dark. The boys would have expected him back by now.
Finally, he struggled into a sitting position, scrubbing at his face with his sleeve to try and remove any trace of tears. He had to get back to the Lodge House. The boys were waiting for him. Crutchie was waiting for him. The kid was probably enjoying his party by now, waiting for Jack to show up with his present.
Jack sighed, pressing his knuckles into his eyes. He couldn't show up empty-handed. He just couldn't.
Jack's head shot up, scanning for the source of the sound. There was nothing, just the empty street. He had almost thought he imagined it, but then he heard it again.
This time, he was almost sure it came from the alley.
"Anyone there?" he called, getting to his feet.
Grabbing up a big stick, Jack poked through a stack of boxes. Moving aside a stack of wet cardboard, he found a tiny, black, fur-covered lump. As he watched, the lump opened a pair of big green eyes and stared up at him.
A smile spread across Jack's face. Carefully, he picked the kitten up in his big hands. "You'sea little guy, ain't ya?" he said, stroking the kitten's nose with the tip of his little finger. The little cat purred, snuggling up against Jack's palm. "Stand up an' let me have a look at ya," Jack said softly.
Moving out of the dim light of the alleyway, he examined the cat for any injuries. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with it, he realized. "C'mon," he told the kitten. "I'se got somethin' in mind for you."
Jack pushed open the door the the Lodge House, hoping to slip in unnoticed. He would have made it, if not for Race.
The Italian made his way over to Jack, a look of concern on his face instead of his usual sarcasm. "You okay?" he asked in a low voice.
"Yeah, I'se fine," Jack said, avoiding eye contact.
"Jack," Race said, stopping him from walking away. "Ya were supposed ta be back an hour ago, you'se got one heck of a shiner on your face, and we can both see that ya ain't carryin' a book. What happened?"
Jack cursed, glancing past Race to where Crutchie was laughing with some of the other boys. "It was the Delanceys," he muttered. "They cornered me. Took the money."
Race gasped. "No! Jack, what're we gonna do?"
"It's okay," Jack said, sneaking a peek into his vest to where the kitten slept. "I'se got somethin' else." He donned his usual carefree swagger in a matter of seconds, crossing the room to join his boys.
"Jack!" Crutchie cried, struggling to his feet when he saw him. "You okay? What happened ta your face?"
Jack ignored the question, gently pushing his brother back down in his chair. Ever since his brief stint in the Refuge, the gimp boy's leg had been acting up more than usual. "Heya, Crutch," he said with a grin. "Enjoyin' the party?"
"Ya know it," Crutchie said with a big smile. "Ya really planned all this without me knowin'? That musta been why ya were all sellin' so many papes yesterday!"
Jack grinned, neither confirming nor denying. "Well, get ready ta enjoy it even more," he said cockily. Reaching into his vest, he carefully brought out the kitten and deposited it in Crutchie's lap.
Jack didn't miss the looks of surprise from his boys. He knew they were expecting him to show up with a book. He had left with their money, after all. Race cleared his throat to get their attention and shook his head, warning them not to ask questions.
All this went unnoticed by Crutchie. The blonde boy let out a squeak of surprise as the wriggling bundle of fur was placed in his lap, but he recovered quickly. "Jack!" he exclaimed. The little cat was scared at first, being surrounded by so many strange people, but it soon calmed down under Crutchie's gentle touch. "Look at 'im, he's poyfict!" the blonde boy exclaimed.
A couple of the boys snorted, hardly thinking a mangy street cat was the definition of perfect, but Jack silenced them with a glare. "He's from all of us," he spoke up. "I know ya wanted that book, but-"
"This is better," Crutchie interjected. Jack didn't miss the look of understanding in the kid's eyes. Crutchie was a smart kid. He had to have seen the bruises on Jack, not to mention the surprise of the boys, and put two and two together.
"What're ya gonna call 'im?" Jack asked, taking a seat in a beat-up wooden chair.
"Oz," Crutchie said promptly. "Y'know, like the Wizard of Oz. He's got green eyes like the Emerald City an' evrythin'!"
Jack laughed, ruffling his kid brother's hair. "Happy birthday, Crutchie. Ya know we love ya, right?"
"Yeah, I know," Crutchie said, with a smile as big as the Santa Fe sky. "I love you guys, too."
(A/N): Aww! A nice fluffy oneshot for you guys. :) Crutchie is adorable and I love him. He deserves a good birthday. I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter! It was inspired by my newsie friend Trip, who loves cats almost as much as she loves Crutchie. Shoutout to her, and to SomedayonBroadway for letting me bounce ideas off her and for giving me feedback on this chapter.
As always, I love getting reviews and requests from you guys! Requests turn into awesome stories like this and some of my other oneshots (which you should go check out!), or into chapters for A Regular Little Romeo (which you should also go check out). Also, ten awesomeness points to whoever spots the nod to 1992 Newsies in this story! (And for those of you wondering, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz came out in 1900. I did my research, y'all.)
Love you guys!