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Union We Stand

Bryan Denton, ace war correspondent for the New York Sun, was absolutely exhausted.

It all started last July when he charged up San Juan Hill alongside Teddy Roosevelt and the excitement, the running, the battles... they hadn't stopped yet. Sure, the Spanish-American War ended in August, but then there was that scuffle with Germany and Britain over some island, that ruckus in China with the dowager and her son and now all eyes were on the Philippines.

Ah, he thought with a grimace, the Phillipines...

Dragging his weary feet into his office, all he wanted to do was kick back, put his feet up and undo his bow tie. He still had the beginnings of an article or two he wanted to get down to show his editor tomorrow, maybe drink a cup of black coffee to help him through it, before he could even think of returning to his cozy, one room apartment.

What a homecoming. Two weeks stationed down in Washington in the hope that he would get the best scoop when it came to the latest skirmish and, instead of sleeping in his own bed for a change on his return, he had to head into his office to explain why no one was getting any news at all from the front lines. If it wasn't for his easy-going nature, the unfairness of it all would make him want to throw down his pen.

Whoever said it would be easy being a war correspondent because most of the country believed they were at peace certainly didn't know what they were talking about. If there was one thing Denton learned early on in his reporting career it was this: American was always at war with someone. It kept the military busy, the government busy, and—most importantly—it kept the the newspapermen in business.

He couldn't complain. He had a job. It was just... the sigh Denton let out was almost a groan as he sat down at his desk for the first time in two weeks, picked up the pencil he had left behind and tapped it anxiously against the flat of his palm. It was just sometimes Denton wished he didn't have to be an ace war correspondent. Sure, it was exciting and high-profile and engaging but, well, was there anything wrong with being a regular beat reporter than got to cover ordinary news? Especially if it kept him out of the battlefields?

Gripping his pencil loosely, Denton leaned his eyes back and closed his eyes. Just five minutes, he begged of the newspaper gods, five minutes and then he would get to work—

"Denton, man! I heard you were back in New York. Tell me: how was It with the Filipinos?"

Denton reluctantly opened his eyes to find Henry Smith standing in the open doorway to his office with his camera and tripod under one arm and a folded newspaper in his other hand. A middle-aged, heavyset man with bright eyes and a mischievous grin, Smith was a photographer for the Sun who was always trying to take a picture that would make the front page. He didn't write much himself, he didn't fancy himself a reporter, but he was persistent and would take snapshots for any reporter unable to do so themselves.

But he was a good man, as close to a friend as a busy man like Bryan Denton could afford, and Denton greeted him with warm eyes and a welcoming wave.

As to Smith's question, though—

"Never even got there," Denton admitted, unable to hide his frown. It wasn't directed at Smith interrupting him, either. As a respected reporter, he was simply unused to the idea that there were just certain places his camera and his pen could get him into. In this case, it was the Phillipines and, after the last few weeks, he was still unsure which side in the war was gunning on keeping the media out. He let his pencil fall idly back to his desktop. "Had to do all my reporting from Washington."

Smith let out a boisterous laugh. "Still, that's better than what we had to deal with up here, I can tell you that, buddy."

Denton had to agree with the photographer. When he had boarded the train to Washington DC to find out just why American reporters were grounded in the United States when it came to the conflict with the Phillipines the headlines in New York had been awful. One week into the trolley strike and, apart from some sensational stories regarding riots amongst the strikers, there hadn't been much else worth publishing in the newspapers. Three weeks later and it seemed like the trolley strike still dominated the news.

Until Smith went on to add: "At least, until this morning, I should say." And then, grinning like the cat that ate the canary, Smith tapped himself in the chest with the paper in his hand.

That caught the veteran reporter's attention. "Really? What's today's headline?"

Smith placed the folded up copy of that morning's Sun on the top of Denton's desk. "You'll have to see it to believe it. All I can say is that it knocked the trolley strike clean off the front page at last." His chest swelled out a bit with pride. "I took the picture, too. Above the fold, Denton, one of my snaps made it above the fold." He was beaming.

Denton automatically murmured his congratulations to the longtime photographer—considering Denton did his own picture taking, he never understood what it was Smith did following reporters around but he was a good man and Denton told him so—while picking up the paper and flipping it open. His eyes gravitated to the picture that dominated the top half of the paper.

There were about fifteen boys pictured in the frame, street urchins all of them. Ages ran from ten to twenty if Denton was any judge and it was clear from the stacks of papers they were standing on to the dirt on their cheeks that they were newsies—the boys and girls the newspaper giants employed to hawk the headlines and sell their wares.

But, thought Denton, the newsies sold the newspapers. What were they doing in it?

The headline below answered the question for him: DAVID VS GOLIATH AT THE BRINK OF A NEW CENTURY

"What's this?"

"Pulitzer and Hearst raised the prices for the newsies two days ago," explained Smith. "The kids answered by going on strike."

That was certainly news to Denton. Huh. So it seemed like Joseph Pulitzer, head of the New York World, and William Randolph Hearst, owner of the Journal, were being mocked by their own undersized employees and the New York Sun was running the story. He was glad he hadn't missed this story but who in their right mind would write it?

Denton glanced back up to see the byline. By K. Plumber, it read. Now who was K. Plumber?

"Plumber..." he mused out loud. "I'm not sure I know the name."

"Sure you do. That girly reporter, right? The one they had reviewing the flower shows and the vaudeville performances down at the burlesque hall. K for Katherine, you know."

And Denton did. His eyes brightened as recognition dawned. "Are we talking about the one whose father is—"

"Her name's Plumber," Smith said reproachfully. He jabbed at the name on the page. "It's in the paper, Denton. See."

"Oh, I see. Katherine Plumber... You're absolutely right. Sorry about that. My mistake."

Clearly mollified, Smith nodded at the page. "Go on. Read it. It goes real well with my snap."

He didn't need to be told twice. His interest piqued, first with the gall of a bunch of nobody kids to take on the richest and most powerful men in New York, then with the brass of this Katherine Plumber making it front page news, Denton was halfway through the first sentence by the time Smith had urged him to start reading.

With all eyes fixed on the trolley strike, there's another battle brewing in the city. A modern-day David is poised to take on the rich and powerful Goliath. With the swagger of one twice his age, armed with nothing more than a few nuggets of truth, Jack Kelly stands ready to face the behemoth Pulitzer. In the words of union leader Kelly, "We will work with you. We will even work for you. But we will be paid and treated as valuable members of your organzatios." Then he addressed the boys who Pulitzer recruited as scabs—

Denton looked up from the paper, trying not to give away anything at the mention of Pulitzer in the article. He nodded approvingly. "This is good. I mean, really good!" And then, because he knew it was necessary, he added: "It definitely does justice to your picture, Smith." He pointed to a charismatic looking fellow in the center of the picture, his arm raised high above his head in defiance. "That the Kelly boy?"

"So Miss Plumber tells me. I didn't stick around for introductions, I had to develop my film. It takes a keen eye and a steady hand. Didn't want to ruin these shots."

Denton rattled off a couple more noncommittal responses while his eyes danced across the rest of the article, picking up key words and turn of phrases. Good writing, he thought, though he wondered if the writer was a bit partial to this Jack Kelly fellow. She certainly had no qualms using him as the face of this fledgling newsboy strike.

Aware that he might have lost his audience, Smith clapped Denton on the shoulder and wished him a good night. Smith whistled as he left, telling Denton he could keep the paper since he already brought a stack back home earlier that morning. Denton believed him, too; the first time he made it into the papers, he cut out the article and had it framed. He didn't blame him in the least and waved the photographer off with a congenial smile before turning his attention back to the story.

Girls writing hard news for a paper like the New York Sun, how did you like that? Denton smiled to himself, his first real and genuine smile since his train pulled into New York that afternoon. Then he thought about the look on that old crab, Joseph Pulitzer's face when he saw his daughter writing about a newsies strike in one of his rival's papers and he couldn't help but let out a small chuckle under his breath.

As an ace war corespondent, Bryan Denton could feel a war brewing a mile away. This time it seemed both sides might be evenly matched. Who knew? It could be interesting. Maybe he had returned to New York just in time...

- stress, 06.19.12