Anna is young and simple and sweet when Spot first sees her. He knows she won't last long. Every corner is already marked and she hasn't learned how to push and fight and bribe. That first day he watches her he can tell she is tired. Her voice is hoarse and the few papers she has left weigh heavily at her side. But she doesn't give in. It's almost admirable.
The blood and gore doesn't seem to bother her. Every article trying to outdo the last. Severed limbs. Missing persons. The shores of the East River red with blood. It doesn't seem to faze her at all. He begins to notice how certain customers seek her out, as though they know she'll keep their secret. They too want to know the horror that is the "Murder of the Century" but they don't want their news from the nearest loud-mouth kid with no discretion. Anna looks like the kind of street kid who won't cheat you. Who won't lie about a headline or take off with a few extra pennies after pretending to not have change for a dime.
It doesn't take him long to figure out that she's hiding more than he thinks.
He isn't that surprised to find out she is not all sweetness and light. And she doesn't take kindly to his discovery of her secret. Her tongue is sharp and edges he once thought were dull threaten to cut him to the core.
Spot is an expert at the game but it takes longer than he expects. While he waits other girls offer to keep him occupied. They are loud and brash and have few expectations beyond having a good time and ending up as just another story to add to his growing reputation. Her brother's shadow is an easy hiding place and Anna retreats back to it whenever she fears Spot is getting too close.
It was quite possibly the worst time of year to leave home. "The Murder of the Century" still had people on edge and since the first body parts had washed up along their shore Brooklyn was a particularly somber place to live at the moment. Just the same, Anna had decided that the chaotic situation would make the perfect time to run away. It had taken her a month to realize that Kieran was not coming back. On his sixteenth birthday Kieran had decided to fend for himself but Anna had not been able to accept being left behind. The first few times she'd followed him she'd simply bought a paper from him and left without arguing. But it was going to be different this time; she was determined not to leave his side.
A slight breeze managed to make it up the street but it didn't help the sweltering temperature even at that early hour of the morning. Anna had spent her last dime bribing a newsie to bring her to the corner where Kieran bought his papers. As each newsie took off for the morning Anna finally saw Kieran walking up alongside a shorter boy who had a cigar tucked into the corner of his mouth.
When their eyes finally met Kieran passed a coin to the dark-haired boy and made his way toward Anna.
"Do you ever listen to a word I say?" Kieran asked with a grin.
"You never say nothin' worth listening to," Anna countered. She slid the burlap sack at her feet behind her but Kieran caught the motion and rolled his eyes.
"We ain't talking about this again," he explained. "Go home, Anna."
"No," she protested.
"Don't make me drag you back," Kieran sighed.
Anna planted her feet and stuck her jaw out defiantly. "Go ahead."
Minutes ticked by as the siblings stared at one another, neither willing to give in. Anna decided to play the only card she had.
"You'd have more money if you let me sell with you. We could be partners," she pointed out. It was common knowledge that her brother was always looking for the next big thing. It was part of the reason he'd left home. Kieran had been caught taking more than his fair share of money that their mother believed should be used to support the whole family.
Kieran glanced back at the crowd of boys buying papers and Anna felt satisfied. He was at least thinking about it. She picked up her few belongings and slung the bag over her shoulder. Kieran took a step toward the boy from earlier who handed him a stack of newspapers. Kieran thumbed through the papers, counting out ten and held them out toward Anna.
"Go on," he told her as Anna hesitated. "Sell 'em."
"How?" Anna asked. She looked around for a minute. "You want me to sell them here?"
"Up to you," Kieran said simply. "You sell them papes and we'll talk 'bout you staying. Got it?"
Anna swallowed any further protest and silently accepted the papers. She frowned down at the small stack of newspapers, her mind filling with unanswered questions.
It didn't take long before Anna realized that selling newspapers was not as simple as she'd originally thought. Everything her mother had ever told her ran through her head. Girls don't shout. Girls don't pester. Girls are sweet and know how to catch a husband.
By the time the midday sun peaked in the sky Anna was hoarse, exhausted, and stuck with 7 out of the 10 newspapers Kieran had given her. She slipped through the marketplace crowd easily, ignoring the cries of the vendors and customers as she passed by. Selling was more difficult than she had ever imagined and she had found another problem. Nearly every corner was already taken by one newsie or another and Anna was beginning to lose hope that she'd ever make it.
Anna stumbled against a gentleman, causing her to drop her papers. The man glared at Anna and brushed invisible dirt off his clothing as though just touching her had contaminated him. Anna stuck her tongue out and bent to pick up her papers. She was surprised to find another newsie had stopped to help her.
"I don't need your help," Anna told him stubbornly.
The boy straightened his hat, pushing his hair back and revealing a startling pair of blue eyes. For a split-second Anna was struck dumb. He'd only looked at her for a second but in that second was a feeling that both exhilarated and frightened her.
"Thank you," Anna recovered quickly as he handed her small stack of papers over without a word. She counted and found the boy had mistakenly handed her some of his own papers. She held them out to him. "I only had seven."
"You only gonna sell seven papes?"
"Yes," Anna snapped.
The boy let out a low whistle. "Damn you're green. Ain't the worst though."
"Thanks a lot," Anna said sarcastically.
"No problem," the boy answered smoothly. He held his hand out. "Spot Conlon."
Anna held on to his hand for a moment longer than she should have and dropped her hand back down to her side as she blushed. "I'm Anna."
If Spot noticed her blushing he was polite enough to pretend otherwise. "So, Anna, what's with sellin' seven papes? You ain't even gonna make enough to eat that way."
"It's a long story."
"I got time," Spot told her. She admired the way he could hold a conversation with her and still sell his papers to passing customers. She clearly had a lot to learn.
"It's my brother. He told me I could stay if I sold these papers. 'Cause I ain't going home."
Spot studied her for a moment. "You a runaway?"
"Not exactly." There was a heavy silence but Anna was reluctant to tell her life story to this boy. He was clearly much more experienced and had been on his own for some time.
"So, the way I see it is you need to sell those papes and I just happen to know how to sell papes."
"You want to help me?" Anna asked, surprised. "What's in it for you?"
Spot gave her an appraising look. "Let's just say I'm a helpful kind of guy."
Anna knew better than to expect help from some strange kid who didn't look like he even knew where his next meal was coming from. Kids like that didn't do things out of the goodness of their hearts.
"Yeah, and how much do you want for your 'help'?" Anna asked knowingly. "'Cause fact is any money I make I already promised to Kier."
"Guess we'll just have to figure out some other kind of payment then," Spot grinned as he took hold of her papers.
Anna hesitated. "I'm…I mean…I'm not that kind of girl."
Spot looked her up and down. "That's pretty clear."
"What do you mean 'that's pretty clear'?" Anna asked in an insulted voice. "I could be, you know."
"You just said you weren't," Spot pointed out.
"I don't like you," Anna said bluntly.
"I get that a lot," Spot answered as he flipped through the pages of the newspapers he held. "Problem is the afternoon edition is already out. That murder has everyone putting out new papes before the first edition is dry. Folks ain't gonna buy these no more."
Anna considered the possibility that it was nothing but a cruel trick. It seemed terribly unlikely that this boy was willing to help her for no reason. Especially since she was a girl and she could only imagine how negatively it might affect Spot's clearly inflated sense of self if he was seen selling with a girl.
"So what now?" Anna asked, honestly curious.
"Now? We get the afternoon edition," Spot said simply. He turned on his heel and Anna struggled to keep up with his pace as he headed back toward the distribution center.
Anna tried to keep track of the streets and buildings but her head was full of thoughts about this Spot Conlon and what exactly he was expecting from her if it wasn't money. He certainly didn't look any older than she was but he carried himself with a confidence that she couldn't ignore. But it only made her question why he would want to spend time with some new girl who couldn't even sell ten papers.
"Wait," Anna said and grabbed Spot by the sleeve. "I don't buy it. You ain't just helping me for no reason and I ain't got any money, so what gives?"
Spot smiled. "You're smarter than your brother gives you credit for."
"I knew it. I knew Kier sent you," Anna interrupted but Spot put a hand up.
"Look, the way I figure you got two choices. One, you give your brother hell, he figures out you ain't sold any papes, and you end up back home. Or you let me help you, we sell some papes, and you prove to him that you can make it on your own."
"He's gonna know you helped me," Anna argued.
"I have a feeling he won't mind when he sees you come back with money in your pocket," Spot answered. There was a strange look in his eyes that Anna didn't quite understand at the moment but it was gone in a flash.
Spot held his hand out. "Deal?"
Anna hesitated briefly before reaching out and shaking his hand. "Deal."
That was the first time she ended up making a deal with Spot Conlon. It wouldn't be the last.