"Brooklyn ain't fun, but it sure is exciting."
—Brooklyn's Here, Newsies (paraphrased)
Spot paced back and forth along the roof, fingering the gold finial on his cane. Every so often he stole a glance at the street down below, keeping an eye on his boys. They were just starting to get home, trickling into the lodging house in twos and threes as the sun started to go down. He kept a mental tally, swearing under his breath when he came up two short. The two he was looking for, of course.
Finally, he saw them. A tall, broad-shouldered Italian kid with a big smile on his face, and the brown-haired, olive-skinned girl that rode on his shoulders, waving their last pape in the air and laughing so hard it was a wonder she didn't fall off. Also known as Hot Shot and Riddle, his second- and third-in-command. Spot rested his elbows on the narrow railing that ran around the rooftop to watch, his thin lips pressed tight together.
"Extra, extra!" Riddle shouted. Her voice carried even to Spot's ears, a block down and two stories up. "Maniac on the loose in 'Hattan! Hundreds flee the city!"
Hot Shot grinned, cupping his hands around his mouth to bellow his own headline. "Unda'paid milkman drives truck through factory! Death count high!"
"Mayor falls in love with seagull!"
"Drunk jockey at Sheepshead runs race without a horse!"
"Drunk vaudeville singer falls off stage mid-song!"
Spot shook his head in disgust, watching as a man stopped them a few feet from the lodging house. He took the pape from Riddle and handed a coin to Hot Shot, touching his cap to both of them before he left. I didn't think it was possible. These two is worse than Kelly.
Pushing himself up from the railing, Spot brought his fingers up to his mouth and let out a piercing whistle. Both newsies looked startled, and he pointed at them with his cane. "Both of ya!" he called. "Get up here." Hot Shot let Riddle slide to the ground, leading the way to the fire escape ladder. Spot could hear them bickering even from where he stood.
"Ladies first," Hot Shot said with a bow.
Riddle took a step back with a shake of her head. "Not a chance. I ain't gonna have ya checkin' me out as I climb the ladder."
"I had ya on my shoulders all day and didn't try nothin' once, what are ya talkin' about?" Hot Shot said indignantly.
"Ya can neva' be too careful," Riddle said in a singsong voice.
"Yeah, since ya care so much 'bout bein' careful," Hot Shot teased.
Riddle parked her hands on her hips with a scowl, like the older boy didn't have a good six inches on her. "Says the fella who let me fall."
"It was an accident!" Hot Shot protested.
"Twice?" Riddle scoffed.
Spot rolled his eyes. "Would you two cut it out an' just get up here?" he yelled down the ladder. He resumed his agitated pacing, muttering to himself. "Why can't ya just act your age?" he said under his breath, casting a baleful glare in their direction.
Hot Shot pulled himself up onto the roof, giving Spot a nod and pausing for a second to give Riddle a hand. She sat down right where she was, leaning her back against the railing and stretching her legs out in front of her. "I wanna sleep," she said with a yawn. "Is it time for bed yet?"
"Quit your gripin', I did all the walkin'," Hot Shot said good-naturedly, nudging her leg with his foot. He reached into his shirt pocket, taking out a slightly squashed hunk of bread and tearing it in half. "Ya eat yet today?"
Riddle sat up straighter, reaching out for it. "No," she said, a note of bitterness in her voice. "Those old bats don't give me a second glance. Judgmental old hags."
Both boys' heads whipped in her direction. "Riddle!" they said at the same time. Spot's tone was scolding, and Hot Shot sounded horrified.
"Ya can't just insult nuns!" the Italian said, his dark eyes wide. He performed the sign of the Blessed Cross, making Riddle -the only one of them who wasn't raised Catholic- roll her eyes.
"Whateva' ya say," she said drily. "My point is, they won't give me food. They think I's some kind a' whore."
Spot grunted. "Ya are a whore."
Riddle opened her mouth to protest, then she changed her mind. "Fair enough." She sat back against the railing, chewing her bread, and Hot Shot dropped down beside her to count out the days' earnings, dividing the coins into two neat piles. Spot waited impatiently for them to finish, tapping out a beat with his cane on the ground.
Most people had a way of getting on his nerves, these two only slightly less than others. They could be irritating enough most days, but these two -the cool-headed Italian and the fiery, flirty gypsy girl- were part of his inner circle, somewhere between allies and friends. Hot Shot was the same age as Spot, fifteen, and the two of them had been fast friends since they were eleven. The other boy had Spot's level head for leadership, but without the quick temper that so often got Spot into trouble. His easy-going nature and the way he kept his temper under control made him a valuable second-in-command to have.
Riddle was a year younger, and the only girl living at the Poplar Street lodging house. She had been only ten years old when she had somehow charmed her way past house manager Mr. Crawley and into the ranks of the Brooklyn newsies, and she hadn't lost any of her skill since then. Then again, she was a lot less trouble back then, and old Mr. Crawley's heart was a lot softer. Either way, her quick thinking and out-of-the-box ideas had earned her a place close to Spot... in more ways than one. She had a few other attributes he was fond of, too.
Finally, Riddle swallowed the last of her bread and looked up, her violet-blue eyes meeting Spot's. "What'd ya need us for?" she asked, starting to untie the length of twine securing one of her braids.
Spot rolled a cigarette between his fingers before striking a match against the concrete and lighting it. He didn't miss Hot Shot's flinch as he did so, or the way he tugged his shirtsleeves down further and wrapped his arms around his torso. Spot saw it all -he saw everything- but he ignored it, blowing out a breath of smoke. "I's been hearin' things from me boids," he said. "There's whispers of a turf war brewin', ova' in Queens."
The other two exchanged glances. "So?" Riddle said cautiously. "Queens always fights ova' boundaries. Stretch is a good enough leada', he keeps 'em in check."
"He did," Spot corrected with a grim smile. "'Til they found 'im in the river."
He kept that eerie smile on his face as Riddle let out a gasp and Hot Shot muttered a curse in Italian. "A'right," Hot Shot said after a moment. "So they's without a leada', and they's fightin' with themselves. What's that gotta do with us?"
Spot rolled his eyes, running his fingers down the length of his cane. "'S only a matta' a' time 'fore a new leada' rises ta the top. New leada's is full a' bluff an' bluster. First thing he'll wanna do is try ta prove himself by takin' Brooklyn."
"Ya don't know that," Hot Shot said with a slight frown.
Spot took a seat, propping his feet up and letting his cigarette dangle from his fingers. "Ya wanna bet? I'se been around long enough ta see three guys take ova' Queens. Neither a' you was here, but Jumper always stomped 'em out quick 'fore they could do any damage." He noticed Riddle stiffen at the mention of the old leader's name, and he was curious as to why. Carefully, he filed that information away before finishing his thought. "We's got a chain goin', and I ain't lettin' myself be the weak link. Brooklyn don't fall, not on my watch."
Riddle rearranged her features carefully, building up her mask of indifference before she spoke again. "That why we ain't allies with them like we are with 'Hattan?"
Spot studied her appraisingly. "More or less," he said finally. "If me boids is right, they'll have a new leada' come summa'. We's'll hafta be on our guard 'til then, make sure they don't try nothin' while it's still every man for hisself. I want ya ta stay away from the borda', Riddle."
"I don't go there, anyways," the girl said, shaking out her hair and stuffing the twine in her pocket. "Too close ta Blade's territory."
"Don't talk about him," Spot snapped. "I ain't in the mood."
Riddle frowned. "I ain't talkin' bout nothin'," she said. "You's the one who brought it up."
"I didn't bring nothin' up," Spot countered. "I just told ya-"
"As entertainin' as this is," Hot Shot cut in. "I'm out. It's too late for sparks ta be flyin' between you two. I's headed ta bed."
Spot glanced up, surprised to see the moon high in the sky. "Yeah, that's prob'ly a good idea," he agreed. "Whaddaya say, Rid? Let's save the sparks flyin' for the bedroom."
Riddle shifted her position to sit by Spot. "Sounds good by me," she said, her hands traveling up his suspender straps to rest behind his neck. Her slender fingers tangled themselves in his hair, and a playful smirk crossed her face. "Let's save the real fun for lata'."
"Yeah, I didn't need ta hear that," Hot Shot stated, scooping up his coins and getting to his feet. "'Night, sorella," he added to Riddle, handing her her share.
Riddle slipped the coins into her pocket and gave him a little wave. "'Night, Hot Shot," she said, laying her head back on Spot's chest. It was only a few moments before his restless energy was back, and he pushed Riddle off of him and crossed over to the railing.
The gypsy girl stood up with a sigh. "I should head down, too," she said. Spot didn't turn, didn't even seem to hear her. "Are ya comin'?" she pressed, wrapping her arms around her waist.
He glanced back at her. "Nah, I'm good up here," he said. "G'night."
Riddle waited a moment, but he was apparently done talking to her. "Night," she said, turning to find the ladder.
"Up and at 'em, boys!" Crawley yelled through the open doorway. He heard a few muffled groans from inside and rolled his eyes, stepping through the doorway and into the darkened room. He was instantly hit with the smell of unwashed socks, teenage boys, and wool clothes drying on the radiator. "C'mon, get up, get up," he scolded, crossing to the first bed he saw and giving the boy in it a shake.
The boy -Tracks, judging by the shock of red hair poking out from under his blanket- swatted Crawley's hand away. "Lea'e me 'lone," he mumbled, curling up tighter.
The house manager shook his head in response, a grin spreading across his face. "C'mon, boys! Up and at 'em!" he ordered, flicking on the lights. He opened the windows for good measure, shivering slightly at the draft. With a glance at Spot's empty bed, he ducked out of the room and took the attic stairs two at a time to wake Riddle. "You up, girlie?" he asked, rapping on the wooden door.
"Yeah, I's gettin' there," the girl called from inside.
"Spot better not be in there with ya," he warned, not budging an inch.
He heard a pause, a snap of suspenders, and then- "oh, Mr. Crawley, we would neva'."
"Don't you try that on me," Crawley retorted, rolling his eyes. "Ya may have those boys all wrapped up in those pretty little fingers a' yours, Miss Ridley, but not me. Where's Conlon?"
The thin door couldn't muffle her laughter, prompting him to roll his eyes again. "No idea. He was up on the roof all night, came down the fire escape. He passed my winda' on by. It was about four, I think. Ain't seen him since then."
Crawley shook his head, turning back to head down the stairs. That boy. Pausing outside the bunk room door to yell a few early morning encouragements to the boys -"Hurry up, ya lazy bums! My ol' granny moves faster than all y'all, God rest her soul!"- he strode into the front room and dropped into his desk chair.
"Mornin'," a voice said, causing the man to jump a foot into the air. Spot stood in the doorway to the kitchen, leaning against the jamb with a smirk on his face.
"Land sakes, boy!" Crawley sputtered, his southern drawl coming out thicker than usual. "Scarin' me nigh ta death like that."
"Calm down, old man," Spot said, leaning lazily against the desk.
"Old," Crawley muttered indignantly. "Ya better watch that mouth a' yours, boy. I'm twenty-five, and ya know it."
"The boys givin' ya trouble?" Spot asked knowingly, ignoring the threat.
Crawley waved a hand dismissively, sitting back down. "Boys'll be boys."
"Not on my watch," Spot said darkly, pushing up from the desk and heading up the stairs.
Riddle passed him on her way down, dressed in a green-and-blue checked shirt and gray trousers, her cap stuck in her back pocket and her hair tied up in braids. "Mornin', Crawley," she said sweetly.
The Texan softened some, sending the girl a fond smile. "Good mornin', darlin'."
Spot rolled his eyes. "Suck up," he hissed to Riddle as he breezed past.
Riddle grinned, flipping him off behind Crawley's back.
"Hey, that ain't very ladylike," a voice drawled from the top of the stairs. Sting sauntered down to stand next to Riddle, his hands in his pockets as he leaned against the wall, just a little too close for her liking. "What about me? Don't I get a good mornin'?"
Riddle crossed her arms over her chest, sliding back a step out of the older boy's reach. Sting- seventeen, always pushing the envelope and a constant thorn in Spot's side. And, by extension, Riddle's. "Good mornin'," she said stiffly.
"Not good enough," Sting said, snatching up one of her suspenders and tugging her towards him. His tone was joking, but his eyes were cold as ice.
"Let go," Riddle said irritably, yanking the strap out of his hands and snapping them up on her shoulders.
"Ohh, I see how it is," Sting said with a grin. "You's Spot Conlon's whore, but when it comes ta the rest of us you's man-shy."
Crawley got to his feet, but Spot beat him to it. "Sting," he said brusquely from the landing. Crawley felt a smile spread slowly across his face. For all his faults, Spot had a radar when it came to Riddle. It made Crawley's job that much easier.
Spot moved down to the bottom step, folding his arms and gripping his cane tightly. "Ya got somethin' ta say ta Riddle?"
Even on the step Spot was about two inches shorter, but Sting's resolve wavered. "No," he muttered.
Sting shifted uncomfortably as Spot's gaze burned into him. "Somethin' ya got ta say ta me? Thoughts on how I run the place?" When he didn't get an answer, Spot's arm jerked up without warning, clipping the bigger boy's jaw with the head of his cane. "Get outta my sight," he ordered. One hand flying up to cradle his chin, Sting fled without a word.
Riddle bit her lip, smiling slightly. "My hero," she teased, wrapping her arms around Spot's neck. She pressed a quick kiss to the side of his neck, right below his ear.
Instead of grabbing her waist and pulling her closer, like he usually did, Spot batted her off. "I's gotta get the boys," he said, sliding his cane through his belt loop without looking at her. "They take too long." He spun on his heel and headed for the staircase.
Crawley hesitated, still standing behind his desk. "You okay, girlie?" he asked, giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
Riddle glared at Spot's retreating back. "I's fine," she said shortly. "Tell Hot Shot ta hurry it up, will ya?" Shrugging out from under Crawley's hand, she pushed through the front door and let it close with a bang.
Crawley sighed, leaning back against the desk. "It's too early for them to start with this," he muttered.
Riddle was leaning against the red brick wall of the distribution center when the boys got there, poring over a copy of the day's paper. "We get paid ta hawk the papes, not read 'em," Hot Shot said, snatching it out of her hands and examining the headline.
Riddle bumped against him with all her weight, but the Italian boy barely wobbled. "Gotta check out the merchandise," she said. "Figure out the angle for the day."
"Fair enough," Hot Shot said with a shrug, handing the paper back. "Why'd ya skip out on us?" he inquired.
Riddle fiddled with the chain around her neck, sinking down to sit cross-legged with her back to the wall. "Don't see no point in waitin' 'round for the nuns, not when I don't get nothin' outta it," she said finally, spreading the paper out in front of her. "Figured I's'd get here early, beat the crowd."
"Good plan," Hot Shot agreed. "'Cept I don't have my papes yet, so you's still gotta wait."
Riddle threw a bundle of papers at his chest, a smirk spreading across her face. "Ya owe me forty-five cents," she said.
Hot Shot dug around in his pocket and flipped her a fifty-cent piece, deftly catching the nickel she tossed his way with the other hand. "Let's get movin' then, whaddaya waitin' for? We's wastin' daylight and losin' customers." He let his bundle of papes rest on his shoulder, pushing his long dark bangs out of his eyes. "Usual spots. Yell if ya get inta trouble, 'kay Rid?" When a moment or two went by without an answer he tried again. "Rid. Ridley," he said in a singsong voice. "Riddle!"
His selling partner flinched, her violet-blue eyes snapping into focus. "What? Jeez, Hot Shot."
"Bad mornin'?" he asked, the corner of his mouth lifting in a grin. "You was blankin' out."
"Shuddup," Riddle said, ducking away from him. "I don't blank out. I was plottin' out my sellin' patterns for the day," she added primly.
"Sure," Hot Shot said knowingly. "Flirt with anythin' that moves and beg for money. Takes a lotta thought ta plan that one."
"Didn't I tell ya ta shut up?" Riddle protested, dodging the hand that reached out to ruffle her hair. "Get out there, we's got papes ta sell. I ain't buyin' your dinner for ya tonight."
"Yes, ma'am," the older boy said with mock severity. "Ya won't see me again today." Shaking his head with a smirk, he headed off towards Prospect Park. "I'll take the south side a' the park, you take the north."
"No... Hot Shot!" Riddle yelled after him. "Wind's comin' from off the bay. You'll sell more on the east side."
He grinned, halting in his tracks. "Grazie per il consiglio, sorella," he called back, not bothering to turn around. "Stai attento." He knew she most likely didn't know that phrase, but he also knew that he was confused practically every time she tried to give him advice, so he figured they were even. Taking a deep breath, he set out to face the day. Take it one thing at a time, Hot Shot. For now just work on sellin' your first pape.
"Ma'am!" he said, falling into step beside a woman pushing a pram. "Have ya read today's paper? There's some kind a' maniac loose in the park, ya might wanna find a different route for your walk. A penny'll buy ya all the details."
I can do this. Today's gonna be a good day.
(A/N): I'm back, after a very long time! I've been planning this story for something like two years, and I finally have enough of it written to start posting. Updates will likely be slow because of who I am as a person. But if I get five reviews on this chapter I'll post chapter two! So drop a review and let me know what you think of my OC's!
Big thank you to SomedayonBroadway for giving me feedback on every chapter and letting me bother her with ideas all the time! Love ya!
Sorella - sister
Grazie per il consiglio, sorella. - Thanks for the advice, sister.
Stai attento. - Be careful.