Chapter 1: Jack
Jack sat on the hard, wooden slab as the man stalked around the dark basement.
“So Kelly,” Pulitzer asked, “what’s it going to be? Back to the Refuge with all your little friends or the opportunity of a lifetime, enough money for your grand dream?”
The two sat in silence, staring at each other. “Cat got your tongue, Kelly?” Pulitzer mocked him.
“No,” Jack said, looking at the floor.
“No,” Jack repeated, this time making eye contact with Pulitzer. “I’se won’t be taking your deal. Throw me in the Refuge for all I care. I won’t betray my friends.” He was standing now, stomping towards the older man. Pulitzer shook his head and then motioned at the door. It swung open and the Delanceys advanced towards them. But Jack just smiled because he had seen the brief look of surprise and fear that Pulitzer had tried to hide.
“You’se scared of us, admit it,” Jack said and Pulitzer laughed, but he could hear the slight panic behind it.
“Over here,” Pulitzer said to the Delanceys. Oscar walked around behind the boy and grabbed him by the neck. He wrenched Kelly backward until he was lying flat on the printing press. Morris put his fist into Jack’s stomach and the first one wasn’t that bad, but as it continued and Oscar joined in, Jack wanted to curl up. But there was Oscar’s arm, as steady as ever, keeping him from moving.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” Pulitzer continued through Jack’s beating. “Do you want to condemn all your friends to this?” Jack groaned and fought back tears. “C’mon Kelly, just give up already. Take the money. Head west to Santa Fe, Cowboy.”
“No,” Jack mumbled.
“Sorry,” Pulitzer said with a mocking smile, “you’re going to have to speak up.”
“No!” Jack screamed, spitting blood on the ground. “Take you’se deals someplace else. We will win. We’se already winning.” And through the beating and wounds, he managed a smile. “Them boys ain’t givin’ up just cause I’se gone. Hell, it gives them more of a reason to fight. Don’t underestimate us.”
The Delanceys pulled him up and Pulitzer grabbed his face. “Enjoy the Refuge, boy.” Then he was dragged out of the dark room and up the stairs, hitting his bruised knees on each of the steps. Once they reached the floor, Jack gathered the strength to stand up. He whimpered as he straightened his left leg, but a loud gasp prevented the Delanceys from hearing it. Katherine stood in front of him with her hands over her mouth. She rushed forward and tried to pull Jack from the brothers. It was obvious that it wasn’t gonna work, but Jack got close enough to pass a message.
Katherine felt a hand slip into her pocket and Jack winked at her. Then he was dragged away from her too. It was only a short carriage ride to the Refuge and then Jack was officially handed off to the Spider.
“Hello, Mr. Kelly,” Snyder sneered. “Welcome back.”
“Aww, thanks,” Jack crooned. He refused to be broken. “I can’t say I’se really missed you though.” A quick slap to the face silenced him. It hurt, but he still laughed. “You haven’t changed, Spider.”
“Neither have you, Kelly. That’s too bad.”
Jack took a deep breath, his last of free air, and stood strong as Snyder pushed him into the Refuge. The two walked through the doors and immediately two guards took up position behind Jack. Obviously, Snyder wasn’t going to let him escape again. But he would. He had to.
He was led down a long hallway filled with heavy metal doors and he could see kids peeking through small windows to see the newcomer. But he wasn’t a newcomer. No, Jack had been stuck in the Refuge more times than he’d ever admit. He’d made the papes the one time he had escaped with the governor so everyone knew about that and a select few even knew about the three times before that, but only one knew about the very first time Snyder had caught him.
Jack didn’t know what was happening. He didn’t know where he was or where his family was. He just knew they were gone. Maybe dead, maybe in jail, or maybe they just left him behind. All he knew was when he went back to the house a week ago, it was full of police officers. He had been told his entire life to stay clear of officers. His dad said they were all liars and thieves. So he had left, refused to go back to the house that night. And when he returned the next day and the day after that and the day after that, the house remained empty. It was locked, otherwise he would’ve spent the night there. Instead, he spent the night on the streets. And no one ever came for him.
Jack sat in an alley where he was sure no one would see him. He wasn’t an orphan, he couldn’t be. He had seen orphans passing on the streets. They were all mean-looking and scary. He couldn’t survive like that. He began to sob into his hands, trying to muffle the noise from any passerby. But it seemed somebody heard him because he felt a tap on his shoulder.
Jack looked up to see a man standing there. He was older, his hair was graying, but he had a kind smile.
“Are you okay, boy?” the man asked and Jack nodded. “Where are your parents?”
Jack just shook his head. The man rubbed his shoulder, attempting to comfort the young boy.
“Do you need a place to stay?”
Jack nodded and looked up the man, hopefully. The man held out his hand and Jack grabbed it. He led Jack out of the alley and to a waiting carriage. Once they climbed into the carriage though, Jack was afraid he had made a mistake. Although nothing appeared to have changed, the man’s eyes now seemed hard and his smile turned into an evil smirk. As soon as the carriage stopped, Jack tried to jump out, but the man grabbed his arm. His grip was like iron and Jack couldn’t shake him off.
“Welcome to the Refuge,” the man said and dropped Jack inside a large cell. He looked up and all the boys were staring at him. There were kids of every age, though he was definitely the youngest one. Finally one came forward. He was probably a couple years older than Jack. He looked kind, but so did the man who had put him here. He helped Jack to his feet.
“What are you in for?” the boy asked and Jack looked at him confused. The kid seemed to understand his confused look and offered an explanation. “This is a jail, kid. My guess is you was stealing something and Snyder caught you.” Jack shook his head, but didn’t offer any other explanation.
“Don’t matter, you probably won’t survive long enough anyways.” With that depressing thought, Jack was left alone in the middle of the room. He tried to find a bed, but they already all had three people per bed. He ended up curled up in a corner where he spent the night. It was so cold and he spent the whole night shivering. He didn’t sleep at all and that continued for the next several weeks. It was the worst few weeks of his life. He was starved and beaten and never got a bed. He tried a couple of time when kids were released, but he was the youngest one and stood no chance against the stronger kids. He didn’t talk at all and tried his best to keep to himself.
Then he started to get braver. He started talking back to the older boys and the guards, He fought when he could. Snyder, the man who had lied to him, seemed to take a special interest in him, often taking time out his day to beat Jack. And as long as he was conscious, he was taunting Snyder.
“Snyder the Spider,” he liked to call him and the nickname caught on very fast.
And sometimes he liked to play pranks. Like the time he broke a bed and stuck one of the legs through the door so no one could get the door open. But eventually, the guards offered food to whoever would open the door and give him up. Of course, all of the other boys jumped at the chance, but that didn’t stop his entertainment. Or the time he gathered all the rats he could fit into a balled up shirt and let them lose in Snyder’s office. He spent three weeks in the basement for that one.
But it was still by far his worst visit to the Refuge. He spent most of his nights bruised, shivering, starving, and, most of all, alone. There was no one on his side. At five-years-old (well, maybe six now) he was the youngest one there and everyone else fought him for warmer beds and food. There was no one that cared for him, no one to support him. And finally, a year later, Jack was finally released. He limped out, feeling years older than the boy who had entered.
“I guess you survived.” He heard a voice say. Jack whipped around to see the boy who had talked to him on the very first day, the boy he was so desperate to prove wrong. “I hear you made quite a reputation for yourself, Jack Kelly.”
Jack nodded, regarding the boy with suspicion. “What do you want?”
“Come with me,” the boy said and walked off, not waiting for Jack’s answer. Jack considered saying no, after all, misplaced trust was how he originally ended up in the Refuge. But he remembered he had no home so he followed the boy.
“Looks like some people are already checking out the new meat,” one of the guards behind him said, pulling Jack back to the present. Jack just laughed. The guard looked pissed, but Snyder kept him from touching Jack. They stopped outside the door at the end of the hallway and the guards shoved into the room with Snyder.
Snyder sat down in a large, cushioned chair and pulled out a heavy notebook. “Name?” he said, looking expectantly at Jack.
“Did you forget me already?” Jack sneered. “I guess I need to make a lastin’ impression this time.”
“Only if you don’t want to leave here alive. Every inmate has to be logged. How else am I going to get my money? Is this your first time at the Refuge?” His voice was joking as if he was trying to make fun of Jack.
Images of dark rooms, cold nights, starving, and beatings flashed through Jack’s mind and he winced, but put on a smile. “No, it’s my sixth visit. Though, judgin’ by the looks of things, you haven’t listened to my reviews.” Snyder reached over the table and backhanded Jack who fell to the floor.
“I thought you would’ve learned by now, boy. Or do you really like the beatings? I’m going to break you and you will surrender to me. You won’t last forever, kid.”
“Nah, I’se gonna live forever,” Jack said from his place on the ground. Snyder chuckled and stepped over him. Jack reached out and grabbed his leg, forcing him to the ground. Snyder struck out and nailed Jack in the face, making him roll over and groan. Snyder opened the door.
“Guards! Please take care of Mr. Kelly.” Then Snyder disappeared and the guards wrenched Jack off the floor. They weren’t at all gentle and slammed his head against the wall. He cried out and dropped. The first guard continued to beat him until his vision blurred and he couldn’t move. Jack felt cool, heavy metal snap tightly around his wrists and ankles.
Katherine watched as her father ordered the Delancey brothers to drag Jack to the cellar. Jack looked at her with contempt in his eyes. He thought she betrayed him, but her whole heart was in this. Katherine didn’t sleep that night and kept watch on the cellar door. She groaned as her father entered the room and gasped when the Delancey brothers did.
They were only in the dark room for about 30 minutes, but when they came out, Jack could barely walk. He was bleeding and dark bruises were already forming. But he still smiled and tried to reassure her. She rushed forward as he whimpered in pain and tried to wrench him from the brothers’ grasp. But it didn’t work and he only cried out louder.
Katherine felt his hand slip into a pocket she had sewn into her dress for her pens and paper and she let go in surprise. Then the three disappeared out the door. Katherine reached into her pocket and pulled out a small piece of cloth.
It read: Warn the boys. Pulitzers going after rally. Hold it somewhere else.
“Hold it where?” she whispered softly.
“What’s that?” her father asked after he snuck up behind her.
“Uh, nothing. My skirt just ripped,” she hurriedly said, putting the cloth behind her back.
“Oh, well. I’ll have the tailor fixed it up. And now with Kelly out of the way, our lives will return to normal.”
“What did you do to him?” Katherine said, glaring at her father with scorn dripping from her voice.
“Just returned him to his rightful place. After all, he has several sentences to serve out.”
Katherine turned her eyes to the ground, angry at her father. “I have to get to work, Dad,” she said through gritted teeth. She turned on her heel and stalked out the door.
Katherine didn’t plan on making it to work on time, and she immediately started to look for the other newsies. Of course, no one was out selling papes, but she eventually found Race hiding out on a street corner.
“Race!” she screamed. “Race!” He looked up, startled.
“What is it, Plumber?” he asked, once she reached him. “And have you seen Jack? I haven’t seen since Crutchie was taken.”
“He went to see Pulitzer and Pulitzer offered him a deal: enough money for his trip to Santa Fe but he had to speak out against the rally, or be sent back to the Regure.”
“He refused, right? It would destroy the rest of the newsies if he spoke out against them.”
“Of course he refused. But then Pulitzer sweetened the deal. He swore he would throw all of you in the Refuge if Jack didn’t listen. I think he was undecided at first, but he told me to warn you and this morning, the Delanceys took him. Pulitzer’s going after you at the rally so either hold it someplace else or postpone it.”
“How do you even know this? Were you there when he was talking to Pulitzer? Don’t you work for The Sun?” Race asked.
Katherine paused. “Um...uh… don’t freak out please, but Pulitzer’s my, uh, father.”
“Your father!” Race yelled.
“But I’m not doing this for him. I’m on your side.”
“Sure you is,” Race said, sarcastically. “And I’m the king of New York.”
“I’m telling the truth. But this isn’t the time to argue. If the rumors about the Refuge are true, we have to get Jack out of there now.”
“Fine, but we will discuss this later. You’se said Pulitzer is going after the rally. I’ll talk to Spot and Medda and we’ll hold it tomorrow. Hopefully they won’t hear about the change. But how do we get Jack out? I’se seen him come pack from that place too many times. I...I don’t think he can survive very long.”
“What do you mean?” Katherine asked, her eyes full of fear.
“The Spider hates Jack. Jack is the only person to escape the Refuge. He will do anything in his power to make sure Jack doesn’t make it out again. If he’s in there too long, he will die.” Race trailed off with that depressing thought and glanced at the ground. “We can’t lose Jack. He’s protected us for so long. He’s taken care of us for too long.”
“Then it’s time for you to return the favor,” Katherine gently said, putting her hand on Race’s shoulder. “Stop the strike and save him and Crutchie from the Refuge.”
Race nodded and smiled at Katherine. “Maybe you’se not so bad after all.”
Katherine laughed. “Now go get the boys. The newsies are going to need a leader while Jack’s gone.” Racer took off down the street without any hesitation. Katherine smiled and continued over to The Sun. She didn’t get any work done as her mind was too focused on other things. Is Jack okay? Would they get him out in time? Is Crutchie okay? Is he with Jack? Did Racer warn the newsies in time? Would they forgive her for her father? Would Brooklyn still back them? Would Snyder get them all? Would Jack survive?
With all of these thoughts running through her mind, the day passed especially slow and she was practically climbing the walls when the work day finally ended. She raced out of the office and, in a very unladylike manner, sprinted all the way to the lodging house. She was gasping by the time she arrived.
Race met her outside and laughed. “You don't run very much, huh?”
She shook her head and straighten up. “It's kind of hard in a dress.” He continued to laugh. “Shut up,” she muttered.
He finally quit and turned all business. The smile on his face disappeared and was replaced with a somber look. “I talked to Miss Medda and Spot. They both agreed to postpone it. I’se got boys out now warning the other neighborhoods. No one will be in that theater tonight.”
“Alright, good job Race.”
So, I'm hoping to update weekly, but we'll see how that goes.
Let me know what y'all thought. Criticism welcome.
Chapter 3: Crutchie
Enjoy. Flashbacks in italics.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Crutchie was scared. He had watched so many of his friends come back from the Refuge and it was never good. They all came back scared of touch, shaky, and waking up every night, screaming. He knew that with his bum leg it would be even worse for him because everyone would pick on him. That’s why Jack had fought so hard for so long to make sure he’d never end up. But he’d cried out for Jack and made eye contact with him, and Jack had run. He had left Crutchie behind. And maybe that proved just how bad the Refuge was. Jack wasn’t scared of anything.
Jack had always protected Crutchie. Before he was even a newsie, Jack was still willing to lay down his life for Crutchie.
Crutchie shivered and let out a choked sob. His leg throbbed in the cool winter air. It always hurt the most in the cold, but this was the first year he was alone, on the street, in the middle of winter.
He had watched his mom drink herself to death and he knew his father wasn’t far behind. And he was getting angry. His father was beating him and no one was there to help. So, at age six, Crutchie had taken the bruises and the pain and left. He had ended up on the streets of New York with less than two dollars to his name. Now, he was down to his last cents. He had gone without food the last few days, but now his stomach was growling in pain.
Crutchie stumbled through the dark streets, using a flimsy stick to limp forward. Warm buildings lined the brick street and Crutchie longed to be out of the freezing air if even for just a minute. He considered sneaking in and sleeping underneath the stairs. But if he was found, they would probably try to send him to the Refuge. So he kept walking and eventually stopped in a large store. At this time of night, the store was almost empty. Even the clerk appeared to be falling asleep.
Crutchie moved slowly to the back and kept glancing around. He felt like everyone was looking at him, but no one was even near him. Crutchie took the small satchel off his back and filled it up with bread and fruit. He hated to steal, but the pain in his stomach brought tears to his eyes. He hobbled towards the door, but not before the clerk looked up and noticed the full bag.
He stood up with an evil glint in his eyes and stared at the bag. “You’se planning on paying for that, boy?”
Crutchie shook his head and tried to run, but he only made it a block before his leg forced him to stop. He collapsed on the ground and a police officer walked up behind him.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but stealing is illegal,” the officer said, laughing, and pulled Crutchie off the ground. The man laughed as Crutchie uselessly struggled. Then the man jerked forward and dropped him to the ground, jarring his leg. The officer rubbed the back of his head as he looked around, glaring.
Then Crutchie saw a rock fly through the air and hit the officer. “Stay here,” the bull growled at Crutchie. The man disappeared, taking Crutchie’s satchel with him. As soon as the man was out of sight, a boy raced out of a nearby alley and pulled Crutchie off the ground. The boy started to run, but once realizing Crutchie wasn’t following, he came back and picked him up. Although the boy appeared to only be about 2 or 3 years older, he had no trouble carrying Crutchie. Once they were three blocks away, the boy stopped and gently set Crutchie down.
“Hey, kid. You okay?” the boy asked, softly. Crutchie nodded and shivered.
“Thanks,” he whispered. The other boy just smiled and shook his head.
“No problem. You’se got a name?”
“People calls me Crutchie. Because I’se a crip and they’se don’t bother to know my real name.” He mumbled the last part, but the boy still heard him and laughed.
“Well, Crutchie, why was that cop after you?”
“I stole some food from a nearby store, but I’se not strong enough to run. I haven’t eaten in two days. I’se so hungry.”
The boy nodded as if he understood. “I know a place you can come. I can’t promise you’se get food everyday or a warm place to sleep, but they’se good people. You’ll have someone to look after you. They—” Then he paused and stared down the street. Crutchie followed his eyes and saw two bulls staring at them.
“Kelly,” one of them said, “I should’ve known you had something to do with this. Just give up the boy and we’ll let you go.”
But the kid shook his head and pointed to Crutchie. “This kid? He has nothing to do with this. I made him do it.”
The officers smiled at that as if they knew he would say that. The closest one reached forward and backhanded the boy. He fell to the ground and his hands were quickly cuffed. “Run,” the boy whispered to Crutchie.
“It’s back to the Refuge with you, Kelly,” the police said as they wrenched him off the ground and away from Crutchie.
Even when they had just met, Jack was willing to take the fall for Crutchie. So why was he now turning his back on him? “Please don’t leave me here, Jack,” he whispered with tears burning his eyes. Crutchie cried himself to sleep.
The next morning, Crutchie awoke to guards banging on the door. “Wake up!” the guard yelled. “You’ve got things to do!”
“What?” Crutchie asked himself as he attempted to get off the bunk. Most of the boys said you didn’t do anything in the Refuge. Just sat in silence waiting for something to happen. He pushed himself off and landed awkwardly on the floor. Most of the boys ignored him as they filed through the doorway, but a small boy helped him off the floor.
“You okay?” the kid asked.
Crutchie shook his head and pointed to his crooked leg. “They took my crutch. I can’t really walk without it.”
The boy put Crutchie’s arm over his shoulder and helped him limp to the door. “What’s happening?” Crutchie asked.
“Sometimes, not often, but sometimes” the kid started, “they like to make us clean. I think it’s just to get us out of here and get us moving a little.” They reached where all the other boys were and the kid set Crutchie down and gave him some supplies.
“Thanks…” Crutchie paused realizing he didn’t know the boys name.
“Fox,” the boy supplied. “And you are?”
“Welcome to the Refuge, Crutchie,” Fox said and disappeared. Crutchie cleaned a bathroom, and he had never, in all of his years on the streets, seen something so disgusting. Grime was encrusted on the walls of the shower and the spouts were so covered in filth that water only barely trickled out. After several hours when Crutchie was sure his nose had stopped working, the rest of the boys started to leave and Fox came back for him. The two slowly made their way back to the room and Fox helped Crutchie up onto the bunk and then joined him.
“So how did you end up here?” Fox asked.
“I’se a newsie for The World. Pulitzer recently raised his prices and we went on strike. But he wasn’t very happy about that. The bulls attacked us and got me. Everyone else got away, I think. But…”
“But they left you behind,” Fox said, finishing Crutchie’s thought. Crutchie nodded.
“I’se sure they had a reason. If they helped, we alls would’ve been caught. They’ll get me out.” Fox nodded with fake reassurance, but it didn’t matter. Crutchie had convinced himself that Jack would come back for him and hadn’t left him behind. He smiled to himself. Then a large commotion caused him to look up as a small crowd gathered in the middle of the room.
“What’s happening now?” Crutchie asked, confused.
“He’s here!” a kid in the crowd shouted.
I'm just throwing the whole schedule idea out the window. I'll update when I'm ready.
The next few chapters will all be about the Refuge so I'll try to get those out pretty quickly.
Jack woke up with a start and groaned. Pain assaulted his body and he almost cried out as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. The room was dark and Jack could barely see his own hand. Jack tried to stand up but the chains stopped him from moving too far. Wait, chains?
Jack stared at the heavy metal connecting his wrists and ankles. He twisted his wrist and the cuff dug painfully into his already bruised skin. He then resigned to just sitting there, breathing deeply to try and deal with the overwhelming pain. Thoughts raced through his mind. Is Crutchie okay? Is he still alive? Is the rest of my brothers alive and well? Is anyone of them in the Refuge too?
After what must've been hours, the door opened and light flooded in. The light burned, and Jack covered his eyes that were still trying to get use to the dark.
“Up, Kelly,” a gruff voice said. Jack made no effort to move. “Let's move, boy.” Jack didn't even acknowledge the man. The guard kicked Jack. Finally, he started to stand but the chains kept getting in his way. Obviously he was moving too slow because the guard wrapped his hand around Jack’s neck and pulled him off the floor. Jack’s toes barely scraped the ground and he clawed uselessly at the man’s hand. Once black spots began to invade his vision for the second time in as many days, the man let go and Jack dropped. He almost collapsed but somehow caught himself.
Jack stood on impossibly shaky legs and looked at the guard. He was one of the guards who had beaten him yesterday. “Come on, Kelly,” the guard said, motioning to the door. “Snyder wants to talk to you.”
Jack began an awkward shuffle as the guard pushed him up a long flight of stairs and a dark hallway. By the time they reached Snyder’s office, Jack’s whole body was screaming at him to stop.
“Come in, Kelly,” Snyder said and the guard pushed him through the door. “Sit.” Snyder pointed at a wooden chair. Jack collapsed in the chair. “Now I really don't want to do this, but Pulitzer asked me to give you one more chance to take his deal. Personally, I hope you don't take him up on his offer. We've got a lot of unfinished business.”
“Well,” Jack started, smiling past the pain, “since none of the other newsies is here yet, I’se guess you ain’t goin’ to get them. Besides you have no legal cause to arrest them. So tell Pulitzer there ain’t no reason for me to take his deal. You’se stuck with me, Spider.” Of course, being in the dark for the past few days he had no idea if any of his brothers were here, but Snyder’s face let him know he had correctly called his bluff.
Snyder laughed. “I like that decision.” Snyder stood up and walked over to the wall. He picked something up and Jack gasped. “So you recognize this?” He asked, holding up a crutch. “I guess you two really are best friends.” Jack forgot his pain and was out of his chair in seconds. He slammed Snyder against the wall.
“What did you do to him? I swear to God, if you hurt him...”
Snyder laughed and pushed Jack to the ground. “I’ll make you a deal and I think you’ll find this one a bit more appealing than Pulitzer’s. As long as you are here, I will not touch any of your friends. But that also means you take all the beatings meant for Crutchie along with anything I want to do to you.”
Jack barely hesitated. “Deal,” he said. And he didn’t get a break. As soon as the word was out of his mouth, Snyder swung the crutch at Jack’s face. It scraped across his head and Jack whimpered. “Come on, boy!” Snyder yelled, slamming the crutch into his side over and over again. “Scream, boy!”
Maybe he did. Jack couldn’t remember. By the end, he was in so much pain that he couldn't distinguish all the noises. There had definitely been yelling, but maybe it was Snyder screaming at him. A door slammed, the sound sending waves of pain through his head and leaving him alone. Jack whimpered again with tears streaming down his face. Snyder kept telling him he was weak and, in this moment, he thought it was true. He hadn’t even been here for four days and was already dying. How could he possibly protect Crutchie? Jack passed out covered in sweat, tears, and blood.
Jack awoke later hanging limply from the arms of two guards. He was dripping wet and Snyder was holding an empty bucket. “Time to join the boys, Kelly.” The guards dragged him away, back down the long hallway. They stopped outside an iron door and one of the men pulled out a large key ring. The door opened and scraped across the ground, making a loud grating noise. It hurt Jack’s ears and he winced.
“Have fun, boy,” the man said and dropped Jack into the room. He cried out, but immediately silenced himself. A large group of kids stared at him. Jack painfully pushed himself off the floor and stood.
“Hey boys,” he said and smiled. And then all of the boys were crowding him. A couple of the smaller ones hugged him and he shook the older kid’s hands. He saw all of them eyeing his chains, but he didn’t answer their unvoiced questions.
Then he heard a voice that he had missed so much. “Jack?” He looked up to see Crutchie staring at him.
“Crutchie!” Jack called out and tried to run over to his best friend, but the cuffs stopped him and he tripped. A couple of the boys picked him up, but, as soon as he was standing, he brushed them off. As much as he wanted their help, he had to save face. Most of these boys thought he was invincible and watching their hero fall would cause many of them to lose hope. So he shouldered the pain and slowly, but steadily walked over to Crutchie. He wanted to hug him, but the chains stopped him. It was okay though because Crutchie hugged him first.
A shorter chapter, but the next few should be out quickly.
“He’s here!” a kid in the crowd shouted.
“Who’s here?” Crutchie asked, looking at Fox.
“Only the most famous person to ever come to the Refuge,” Fox said as his eyes sparkled.
“The governor?” Crutchie asked, still confused. Then the door opened and Crutchie was surprised. It didn’t look like someone famous. They weren’t dressed in fancy clothes or standing tall. They didn’t look strong. No, they were dragged in by the guards and dropped on the floor. They were in pain. They were covered in blood and bruises. But then they stood up and Crutchie gasped.
“He’s the only kid to ever escape the Refuge,” Fox was saying but Crutchie wasn’t listening.
“Jack!” he cried out. All the boys backed away from Jack, leaving a clear path between the two friends.
“Crutchie!” Jack called out and tried to run to his best friend. That was the first time Crutchie noticed the chains around Jack’s wrist and ankles.They stopped him and he hit the ground hard. A couple of boys quickly help him up and he brushed them away as soon as he was standing. The boys backed off, thinking he no longer needed help. Jack could fool these kids, but Crutchie could see the growing pain with each step he took.
Once Jack reached him, Crutchie wrapped his arms around his brother. Jack let out a sharp hiss of pain and Crutchie quickly let go. Most of the boys had already lost interest in their hero, so Crutchie and Fox led him to a bed up against the wall underneath a window. He collapsed and passed out as soon as he hit the bed. Crutchie had seen him injured before, but nothing quite like this. Even in sleep, he was restless and whimpered in pain. Crutchie sat with his brother’s head in his lap, his fingers running through Jack’s short hair like Jack had done so many times when the other newises were injured. He seemed to relax more and Crutchie smiled.
“How do you know Jack Kelly?” Fox asked, amazed.
“He saved my life,” Crutchie said, smiling down at the older boy in his lap and thought back to when he first joined the newsies.
Crutchie had found the Lower Manhattan newsies about a month after the boy had taken the fall for him. He hadn’t seen the boy since then, but a boy named Hunter had found him on the street and invited him to come with him. Maybe this was the place the boy had been talking about, Crutchie thought. A place with a family. Hunter had taken him under his wing and was teaching him how to sell papes.
“This way, kid,” The older kid said, pointing to a line of boys. “This is where we buy papes. How much money do you have?”
Crutchie dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled up piece of papers, a large clump of lint, and a couple coins. “10 cents,” he whispered.
“Alright,” the older boy, Hunter, said, “you can get 20 papes with that. Buy your papes and you can sell with me until you get settled in and we find a place for you to sell.”
Crutchie smiled towards the ground and Hunter put his hand on the smaller boy’s shoulder.
They got in line and it wasn’t long before Crutchie was putting down his 10 cents.
“20 papes, please,” Crutchie said and hobbled over to Oscar who was handing out the papers.
“Ooh,” Oscar said, “you’ve found yourself a cripple. I wonder how long he’ll last.” But Hunter stood behind Crutchie and made it clear he wasn’t to be messed with. The two walked over to Central Park where Crutchie sold his papes in record time.
“That limp of yours is a gold mine, kid,” Hunter said, laughing. Crutchie helped Hunter get rid of the rest of his papers and the two returned to the lodging house together. Hunter showed him to an empty bed.
“This is the only empty bed we have right now. There will probably be someone on the top bunk later, but enjoy it for now. I think some of the boys are playing cards if you want to join them.” Then he left and went to joy the other older boys. It was obvious everyone looked up to Hunter and he seemed to be their leader. Crutchie glanced over at the kids his age playing poker with pieces of paper as chips but then limped after Hunter.
Hunter was engaged in a heated conversation. “So no one’s seen him?” The other boys shook their heads.
“He’s been gone for a month, Hunter. I know you don’t want to admit it, but there’s only one place he could be.”
Hunter nodded and frowned. “I know,” he said, “but I don’t want to believe he ended up there. How could we let this happen?”
“You know exactly how it happened. That kid is a bleeding heart. He was constantly stealin’ food, medicine, and blankets for the younger kids. He must’ve gotten caught. We’se just lucky he didn’t bring any of us down with him.”
Hunter hit the boy talking in the back of the head.
“Hey, what was that for?” the boy complained.
“Don’t talk about Jack like that. I’ve never met a more selfless kid than him.” Then Hunter walked away from the group. He sat down on a bed and buried his head in his hands.
“What was that about?” Crutchie asked, pointing at the boys.
“Nothing, just we...we lost a boy about a month ago. A kid named Jack. I mean, he’s a dreamer. Been wanting to get out of New York since the day I met him, so maybe he just ran off. But… but more likely, Snyder got him. I should just go down to the Refuge and check, but I’m too scared to get caught.”
“What’s Jack like?” Crutchie asked, hoping to change the subject.
“Jack, well, he’s a dreamer like I said. He’s cocky and arrogant, but also humble and selfless. Hell, he’d probably go to the Refuge for a kid he never met.” Hunter scoffed a little at that. “He’s one of the younger kids, but looks out for everyone. Definitely better than me or any of the older boys can. Sometimes he gives his food to the other kids and will go a week without anything to eat, but he never complains. Sometimes I have to force him to eat. He’s reckless, but never puts anyone else in danger. Jack’s not scared of anything, at least, that’s what everyone thinks. Don’t tell him I told you this, but sometimes I hear him in the middle of the night, crying. But everyday he’s ready for anything. He’s the most mysterious and confusing person I’ve ever met.” The more Hunter said about Jack, the more Crutchie compared him to the boy that had saved him.
Then Mush ran into the room, yelling Hunter’s name and interrupting his description. “Jack’s back,” Mush said, breathlessly.
“Crutchie… C-Crutch.” Jack’s whispering brought him out of his thoughts.
“Jack?” he asked. “What happened? Why are you here?”
“I-I’se went to talk to Pulitzer. He told me that I had to speak against the rally or he’d send us to the Refuge.”
“I'm guessin’ ya refused,” Crutchie said, looking around the dark room. “Is he goin’ afta’ the others?”
“No, no. I’se made a deal with the Spider. As long as I’se here, he ain't gonna touch you or the boys.”
Crutchie gasped. “No, no. They’se gonna kill you.” Jack just mumbled and rolled over. Crutchie was so glad that Jack wasn't coherent enough to feel the pain that he would be in. “Did he do this to you because of me?”
Jack nodded, too out of it to understand the burden he had just placed on Crutchie. Tears burned Crutchie’s eyes and they dripped into Jack’s hair. Jack started to shiver and Crutchie realized for the first time how cold he was. The shivering progressed through the night and, without a blanket, didn't seem to end. Eventually, Fox managed to convince Crutchie to move to the top bunk and let Jack sleep. Just as he was moving, Jack weakly grabbed his wrist and opened his eyes for the first time since passing out.
“Thanks, Crutchie,” he whispered and Crutchie smiled at him. He ruffled the older boy’s hair one last time.
Crutchie awoke in the morning to Jack coughing. The coughs sounded painful even if he hadn’t been beaten.
“Shut it!” a kid yelled from the other side of the room and Crutchie could hear Jack try to stifle the coughs, and they eventually just turned to groans.
“C—,” he heard from underneath him and finally, Crutchie gathered the strength to brave the cold and he joined Jack on his bed. The two sat in silence and Jack snuggled into his side, hoping to absorb some body heat. Then finally Crutchie spoke.
“Why did you take Snyder's deal?”
“I told you about that?”
“Yeah, Jack, last night. You was pretty out of it.”
“It’s my fault you’se here, Crutchie. The least I can do is makes sure you don’t get hurt.”
“Jack, Snyder will kill you. You’se only been here a day and I swear I thought you was gonna die.”
“Actually,” Jack said, “I think I’se been here for three or four days. Snyder kept me in the basement. And, as much as I love you, I didn’t just take the deal for you. Snyder promised not to touch any of the other boys. He won’t bring any of them to the Refuge.”
“But he’ll kill you.”
“Ya mentioned,” Jack replied, sarcastically.
Crutchie sighed. “I think you’se sick, too.”
Jack shook his head, but couldn’t keep himself from shaking and coughing. Crutchie looked at him pointedly and Jack rolled away. Crutchie grabbed his wrist and Jack hissed as his fingers moved one of the cuffs that cut deeply into his skin.
“You okay?” Crutchie asked, worried.
Jack shook his head and held up his hands. “Snyder put ‘em on really tight. Everytime I move or walk, they cut into my skin.”
“Why?” Crutchie asked. “Mine were never that tight and they took ‘em off as soon as we got here.”
“I guess the Spider just really don’t want me to escape.”
“Why do all the boys here think you’se famous?” Crutchie asked, hoping to change the subject.
“Why do you think?” he said with a laugh. “I’m Jack Kelly.” Crutchie laughed and lightly punched him in the shoulder.
“No,” Jack continued, “They say I’se the only kid to ever escape the Refuge. I ain’t sure if that’s true or not, but everyone looks up to me, I guess. And sometimes I bring the kids here blankets and food. I’se a 'hero'. All the times I’se been here, I thought I was gonna die. Maybe I can helps some of them kids.” He looked like he had more to say, but another coughing fit stopped him. It hurt so bad and Jack started to whimper. Then a hand on his arm calmed him down. Crutchie rubbed his arm and smiled.
“I don’t think too many people smile in the Refuge as much as you do,” Jack said, then continued in a much quieter voice. “I’m cold, Crutchie. Will you stay with me?” Crutchie nodded and laid down beside Jack. Jack snuggled into his side until Snyder came for him a couple hours later.
Next chapter we'll be hearing from Race.
Chapter 6: Race
Flashbacks are in italics. In this one, Race is seven and Jack is about eight.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Race frowned and rubbed his hand through his hair. It had been about a week since Katherine had approached him on the street, but they hadn't made any real progress. The Brooklyn boys had shown up and no one had crashed the rally. Race was actually surprised. He had half expected the bulls to arrive and take them all. After all, what can go wrong, will go wrong. But since then, nothing had happened. “I wish Jack was here,” he mumbled.
“Me too,” Davey said, walking up behind Race. Race jumped a bit, but quickly calmed down.
“I don’t know what to do without Jack. I mean, he’s been to the Refuge before, but everytime it gets worse. Everytime, Snyder tries just a little harder to kill him. I’se scared, Davey. You can’t tell the other boys, but I’se so scared.” He paused for a second. “What do we do now?”
“I guess we need to speak to Pulitzer. We need to get him to lower the prices and get Crutchie and Jack out of the Refuge.”
Race nodded. “Go talk to Katherine and Spot. See if you can figure something out.”
“What are you going to do?” Davey asked.
“I’se got someone else to meet.” He didn’t add any details and just walked out, leaving Davey confused and alone.
Race started walking. He didn’t stop until a small back alley. It didn’t look like much, more like some place you’d go and get kidnapped or soaked. And it probably was. But to Race, it had so much more value. This was where he had first met Jack.
Race hated the summers in New York. Well, he hated the winters too and spring was always wet and rainy. But summer was hot and humid. Race had spent the last few days trying to find any shelter from the scorching temperatures, but he couldn’t stay in one area for too long before people started to get suspicious.
“Those damn newsies,” Race muttered. “Lyin’ and thievin’ and givin’ all us orphans a bad name. Everyone takes one look at me and thinks I’m gonna rob ‘em blind.” Not that he had never stolen before but only when it was necessary.
He walked down the street and turned into a covered alley. Sweat was pouring down his face and neck, and soaked the front of his shirt. He had heard somebody say that this was the hottest summer in the recorded history of New York. Race didn’t know if that was scientifically correct, but it certainly seemed like it. Race sat down, trying to conserve his energy. He didn’t know how long he sat there, but, before long, he fell asleep.
Race awoke later to loud grunts and groans. He looked up to see two men standing over a body. Well, he said men, but kids was a more apt description. They were whaling on somebody underneath them. Race knew that the boys hadn’t noticed him yet, and he tried to stand up as quietly as possible. He almost ran down the alley and left the boy to his fate, but then he heard a loud, pained cry. The cry made him stop and he turned. The boy was making eye contact with him, pleading through the blood and pain. And Race turned again and ran.
Race ran until he forced himself to stop in another alley. His heart felt like it was about to burst through his chest and his breaths came in short and frantic pants. He buried his head in between his legs and sobbed. For as long as he had lived, he had considered himself a good person, but he had left that boy. Sobs continued to rack his body.
Then, Race glanced up. He saw a small, weird box sitting on top of crate by the door. He scrambled over to it with tears still blurring his vision. He recognized what was in the box. He’d seen his mom and dad with them too many times. It was the last thing he had seen his mom with before she passed out and burned to death. He pulled out a cigar. His parents smoked these all the time; maybe they made you feel better. A box of matches was close by and it was obvious someone was planning on coming back for them. But he struck a match and held it to the end of the cigar just like he had seen his folks do. He coughed, but stuck the cigar back into his mouth. Race fell into sort of a routine; he would smoke it for a second then cough and choke and repeat. It didn’t make him feel better, but he didn’t want to stop.
There were still tears in his eyes and he couldn’t keep images of the boy out of his mind. Then all of a sudden, the boy was right in front of him. Race yelped and stumbled back. He had never heard anyone approach.
He got a good look at the boy now. He was probably Race’s age or maybe a year older. His eye was black and purple and bruises were evident on all his exposed skin. The boy grabbed Race’s shoulders and Race freaked out. He pulled away, crying out. “No, please. Please don’t hurt me. I’se sorry.”
“Hey, hey, calm down.” The boy’s voice was calm and Race looked up. “I’se not gonna hurt you, kid.”
“Kid?” Race scoffed. “You’se a year older than me at best.”
The other boy laughed. “Alright, you got a name then?”
Race stayed silent so the other boy continued. “I promise not to hurt you. I’se fine. I’se not hurt so why should I hurt you? Hell, I probably would’ve left me too. I mean, who wants to deal with the Delancey brothers?”
“I’se still sorry,” Race whispered.
“You got folks?” the other boy asked. Race shook his head and glanced down at the ground. “You got anywhere to live?” Race continued to shake his head. “Would you like somewhere to live? I can’t promise that it’ll be perfect, but it’s a start. You can have a job, make some money. What do you say?”
“What job?” Race asked. “I ain’t stealing from no one.”
“We ain’t stealin' . We’se newsies.”
All the thoughts from earlier raced through his brain. Newsies… lyin’... thievin’... bad name. But he still agreed. The other boy smiled and stuck out his hand.
“I’se Jack,” he said.
Jack put his arm around Racetrack’s shoulders. “Let’s go, Racer.”
Race silently laughed, imagining Jack’s arm around him again. He had never told Jack where the name came from though he’s sure the older boy figured it out after he kept insisting they visit the racetrack. When he’d arrived at the Lodging House, it was obvious his name didn’t stand out amongst all the other weird nicknames. Meeting Jack had been the best thing that had happened in his life, and now he was gone again. It wasn’t like he was always around, but now he was gone when Race needed him most.
Race looked up and down the alleyway. The crate was still there, though it had been reduced to a few broken boards. Someone had tossed an old cigar box next to it, but it wasn’t the same one that had originally been there. It wasn’t the one that had first gotten him hooked. It wasn’t like he was addicted or anything. He could stop whenever he wanted (at least, he thought he could), but he liked the comfort they brought. Even if it wasn’t lit, he liked to have one in his mouth or hand.
Finally night came and Race slipped out of the alley. He whistled as he walked down the dark, silent streets, but, as he got closer to his destination, he got quiet. The Refuge came into sight, and Race almost ran, just like he had run the first time he had met Jack. But he steeled himself and kept moving. He went around the back and climbed over a tall fence and then up the fire escape. In the middle of the night, most guards were gone and it was relatively safe to come.
Race lightly knocked on the wall, hoping to see Jack. A long time ago, the older boy had promised to always be underneath the window, so Race could easily find him.
A small boy with bright red hair popped up. “Who are you?” the boy asked, skeptically. There were bars on the window put in after one of Jack’s many escapes, otherwise Race would’ve suggested running.
Race ignored his question. “I need to talk to—” Then he paused as Crutchie’s head appeared next to the boy’s. “Hey, Crutchie.”
“Race!” Crutchie said, with a smile on his face.
“How is you doing?”
“I’se fine, but…” Then he motioned to the other boy and the boy disappeared again. “But Jack’s not doing great.”
“Where is he? What’s wrong?” Race quickly said.
“Snyder soaked him real bad. Jack made a deal with him: as long as he’s here, Snyder won’t touch me or bring any of you to the Refuge.”
Race groaned. “Why would he do that? Snyder’ll kill him.” Then Race heard a loud groan and a cry, and Crutchie disappeared as well.
Race couldn’t tell what was happening inside in jail, but after ten minutes, Jack appeared. Race gasped. Jack’s face was pale and it made the bruises stand out. He could see gruesome cuts above his eye and on his cheeks. Race knew there was so much more that he didn’t know.
“What is you doing here?” Jack asked, his voice cracking. “You’se gonna get caught.”
“Nah,” Race said, putting on a fake smile. “I’se never gonna get caught.”
Jack smiled and reached his arm through the bars. Jack winced and Race tried not to follow suit as he noticed the blood surrounding his wrists and the cuffs. He grabbed Race’s hand.
“I’se okay,” he said. “How’s the strike going?”
Race shook his head. “Not great. We don’t know what to do. You’se the leader of this strike. Not me or Davey or Spot or Katherine.”
“Well, you’se gonna hafta figure it out. I’se not exactly gonna be much help in here. You hafta lead the strike. The boys will listen to you. You can do it.” Jack gave Race a comforting smile, then laid his head down on his outstretched hands. Race could tell that the older boy was getting tired just sitting there.
“Jack, you okay?” Race asked, concerned.
Jack shook his head. “... hurts.”
Race stuck his free hand through the bars and rubbed his hand through Jack’s hair. Race grabbed his wrists with his free hand then to get a better look. They had obviously been rubbed raw and the cuffs cut into his skin. “It hurts so bad,” Jack whispered.
“I know.” He continued to rub his head and Jack leaned into his touch. Jack whispered something intelligible and Race tried to get closer. “What?”
“Get Crutchie out of here.”
“Get some sleep.”
Jack nodded, but didn’t move. Race didn’t know if he could move even if he wanted to and so he eventually called for Crutchie to help him. Crutchie supported him then reappeared to talk to Race.
“I’se scared, Race,” Crutchie said. “I think Jack is dyin’. He’s sick and always cold and tired. He goes to sleep almost as soon as Snyder’s done with him. He’s had barely any food.”
“We’se gonna get him out. You, too.”
Crutchie nodded. “You promise to get him out first even if it means leaving me behind. Promise?”
Race shook his head. “Jack would kill me if I did that. Both of ya is getting out. Not one or the other.”
“Alright,” Crutchie agreed. “Now get out of here. You got a strike to win. You hafta win.”
“I know.” Then Race dropped down from the fire escape and went to find Davey.
It feels like I'm dragging this out, but next chapter we will be getting back to the strike.
Katherine had been sitting in this room with Miss Medda and Spot Conlon for the last day. The three had been brainstorming ideas, but to no avail. Then Davey burst through the door.
“I’ve been looking for you all day.”
“Well, we haven’t moved,” Katherine said, dryly.
“And we sure as hell ain’t made progress,” Spot growled. And that continued to ring true even after Race joined them in the dead of night. Until finally, Katherine began to whisper.
“And it ain’t just about us. For the sake of all the kids in every sweatshop, factory, and slaughterhouse in this city, I beg you, throw down your papers and join the strike.” Then she began to speak louder, excited. “With those words, Jack expanded the strike beyond just the newsies. He made this about all the working kids in the city. If we can somehow get them to join us…”
“Then there’s no way your father can ignore us,” Race finished for her.
“That’s genius, Katherine,” Davey said.
“But how do we spread the word?” Spot asked.
“The best way to spread news is in the paper,” Katherine pointed out.
“I suppose it’s a good thing we have the greatest reporter here, then,” Davey said, smiling.
“One problem,” Spot said, interrupting their elation, “If I correctly remember, Pulitzer put a ban on strike material. How do you plans on printing a pape?”
Katherine groaned. This would be so much easier with Jack. If only he had never gone to see my father. If only he had left it all alone. Then he never would’ve gone to the Refuge, never would’ve ended up in the basement with the old…
“Printing press!” Katherine shouted, standing up. “There’s an old printing press in the basement of the World. I think it still works.”
“Alright,” Davey said with a smile, “we’ve got a plan.”
“Can we do it tonight?” Race asked. “The faster we can get Crutchie and Jack out, the better.” Katherine nodded. Everyone was smiling. Even Spot had a trace of happiness on his face. Then, Spot left saying he had to talk to his boys and Davey had to help his mom and Medda had a show that night and Race and Katherine were left alone. They stood awkwardly, staring at each other, and Katherine could tell Race was looking for an excuse to leave.
“H-how is Jack? And Crutchie?” she added hurriedly.
Race smiled at her attempt to hide her obvious affection for the leader of the Manhattan newsies. “Crutchie’s okay. He’s got some bruises, but it don’t look like Snyder’s touched him in awhile. Jack though… he ain’t lookin’ too good. He’s sick and hurt. We hafta get him outta’ there.”
Katherine gasped at Race’s description. She had heard stories about the Refuge since joining up with the newsies. All the tales were so horrifying that Katherine had originally suspected that the boys were making up most of the details. But anytime she attempted to talk to Jack about it, he would quickly change the subject. Some of the boys said that even Jack would wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares. It was these reactions and Race’s affirmation that made her finally believe in all the accounts.
Race finally pulled her out of her thoughts. “You gotta write an article for tonight, right?” Katherine nodded and Race gave her a look that said you better get to it, then. She ushered Race out of the door then sat down behind her typewriter.
Thoughts rushed through her mind, but she couldn’t seem to put any of them on paper. She ripped paper after paper from the typewriter and when lunch rolled around she felt like she was sitting in a pool of discarded waste. Finally, her fingers and brain clicked and she produced something she was happy with. She ate a quick lunch then rushed to find Race.
She found Race and Spot talking outside of the Lodging House. Katherine handed them the paper with a proud look on her face. Race’s eyes lit up as he scanned the page though she could tell both he and Spot often had to skip words that were too high of a vocabulary. She inwardly groaned; she should’ve remembered that her audience wasn’t as well schooled as her usual targets. But she didn’t have time to rewrite it. It would have to work.
“This is good,” Race said. “How do you plan on gettin’ into the basement a’ The World?”
“The janitor has been working there since he was eight and hasn’t received a raise in a long time. He was more than happy to help.” She held up a ring of keys and spun them on her finger.
The trio hung around with the rest of the boys until night fell on the city and Katherine led them in a silent procession to her father’s successful business. She let Davey and Race in while Spot waited outside with the rest of the newsies. She introduced them to Darcy and Bill.
Katherine imagined how Jack would react. He would probably laugh and make fun of them and then freak out when he realized how far he had extended his strike. Just the mere thought of it made her want to laugh and cry, but she quickly turned back to business.
“I can see why they tossed this old girl down to the cellar, but I think she'll do the job. A little grease and she'll be good as gold,” Darcy said.
“Alright,” Davey said, “Race, you start bringing the boys in.” Race nodded as Bill and Joe started to rub down the printing press. It took several hours to get the press up and working again and for them to evenly distribute the papers between the newsies, but then they disappeared to pass out the papers. Katherine smiled as she watched the last newsie leave the room. She was proud to help these kids bring down the higher powers, even if one was her father.
Now all that was left to get her father to roll back prices and get her boys out of the Refuge.
Thanks for all the comments and kudos so far. I do read all the comments even if I don't respond.
Chapter 8: Crutchie
Warning: This chapter is very graphic.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Crutchie had never been so scared. Jack had barely been coherent since Race had left them last night. He was restless in sleep, constantly shifting and crying out in pain. Not that Crutchie can blame him; Snyder hadn’t left him alone since he had showed up a week ago. Blood had dried on his face and his blue shirt had been stained to an almost-black color.
Jack groaned in Crutchie’s lap and Crutchie ran his hand through Jack’s knotted hair. “It’s okay, Jack,” he whispered. “Don’t move. You’ll be fine.” Jack just hissed and brushed away Crutchie’s hand. He opened his eyes and, though they were unfocused, Crutchie was glad to see that familiar green glint.
“Crutchie, wh-what happened?”
“We’se in the Refuge, remember? Snyder soaked you real bad.”
Jack nodded and tried to force himself into a sitting position, but Crutchie could see the excruciating pain on his face. He knew Jack hated asking for help, so he quickly moved him so his back was propped against the wall. Jack smiled at him, trying to mask the pain with relief. Crutchie leaned up against him and this time Jack made no move to push him away. Then Fox dropped down in front of them, completely ruining the brotherly moment.
“W-who are you?” Jack stuttered out.
“That’s Fox,” Crutchie said. “He’s been helping us. You’se been pretty out of it whenever he’s around.”
Jack nodded at him and spit into his hand for the usual greeting. But Crutchie noticed the spit was full of blood. Obviously Jack noticed too because he quickly wiped the spit on his pants and shot an apologetic look at Fox. He resorted to just normally shaking Fox’s hand though even that seemed to take a lot of effort.
“So you’se Jack Kelly?” Fox asked with a sparkle in his eye. Jack nodded.
“All the boys talk about you. They says you escaped here. How?”
“Well,” Jack said with a smile, “Governa’ Roosevelt came to visit us, tryin’ to prove he cared about orphans for his election. So they opened up everything to let him in and I sprinted out. They all thought I took off, but I was just hiding under the governa’s carriage. The first reported escape from the Refuge.” He smiled, but his eyes were already closed and he was drifting off to sleep again.
Fox’s face fell as soft snores filled his ears and Crutchie frowned. All of these boys somehow seemed to expect Jack to be invincible and many had turned their backs when they realized their hero wasn’t all that he was cracked up to be. At least Fox stayed with them. With Jack down for the count and his missing crutch, he relied on Fox to help him move around.
“Is he okay?” Fox asked.
“What do you think, Fox? He’s barely been fed. He’s sick. He’s hurt. He’s barely been able to move his feet or hands and he’s losing a lot of blood,” Crutchie snapped, then sighed. “I’se sorry, Fox. I’se just scared.”
Fox nodded and looked like he had something to say, but a loud grating noise filled the room. For the past few days, it signalled Snyder coming to take Jack, but today Jack wasn’t waking up. Two guards entered and marched over to where Crutchie sat protectively in front of Jack.
“Snyder needs to talk to Mr. Kelly,” one of the guards said. Crutchie hated this and was tempted to tell them just to fuck off. But he knew that would end up bad for both of them.
“Jack,” he whispered, shaking the other boy’s shoulder. “Jack. You gotta wake up.” But he didn’t even move. “Jack,” he said again, this time much louder. Jack just groaned.
Then Snyder entered the room. “What’s taking so long?” he growled.
“The boy’s not waking up,” the guard said and pointed at Jack.
“Then take the other one,” Snyder replied. “If the boy can’t keep up his side of the deal, I don’t need to keep up mine.” Crutchie felt two large hands grab his arms and hoist him off the bed.
“No! No! Jack! Help me!” Of course, all of the other boys turned away from the crying cripple and left him to his fate. Even Fox felt too guilty to make eye contact with his newfound friend.
“Stop.” Crutchie heard a soft whisper that made the guards freeze and turn around. There stood Jack, precariously swaying and already creating a small pool of blood. “The deal is with me. Leave Crutchie alone.”
The guards glanced at Snyder, and when he nodded, they dropped Crutchie and seized Jack instead. They started to exit the room, but Snyder stopped them at the door.
“Leave him right there,” Snyder said and disappeared. For one hopeful second, Crutchie thought the Spider might be merciful. But then he returned with a whip and metal bat. The guards held Jack and ripped off his shirt. Laughter from the three men and gasps from the boys filled the room as the scars from all of Jack’s previous sentences were revealed. The two guards forced Jack to his knees and turned his back to Snyder.
The whip snapped through the air and struck Jack’s back, leaving behind a bloody streak. Jack cried out in pain and Crutchie shut his eyes. But he couldn’t block out his brother’s pained screams or what seemed like the constant assault of the whip. Every scream shot through his mind like a hammer was trying nail it there. Finally, when the screams died down and Crutchie could no longer hear the whip, he opened his eyes. Snyder was there leaning over a bloodied Jack. He wasn’t unconscious though he was obviously wishing for it.
“You’re in here because of him,” Snyder started, pointing at Crutchie. “You are here because you are protecting him. Why?” Jack stayed silent. “Why?!” he shouted, kicking Jack in the side.
“Because it’s my job to protect him. Because he’s a cripple,” Jack whimpered.
“A cripple, huh? But what if you were a crip too?”
Jack and Crutchie figured out his meaning at the same time. Crutchie’s eyes widened and he heard Jack screaming in the background.
“No! No! Please!” His screaming eventually turned incoherent as Snyder slammed the bat into his left leg, forcing it the wrong direction. Crutchie wanted to look away again, but a guard grabbed him and made him watch. Everytime the bat hit Jack, Crutchie felt like he could feel his pain. After a couple minutes, several resounding cracks echoed through the room. Jack let out one last pained shriek before collapsing, unconscious. Snyder left him there. Crutchie dragged himself across the floor until he was next to Jack. There was blood everywhere, but Crutchie couldn’t bring himself to look at his leg.
“Jack,” he whispered. “Jack please wake up. Please! Jack! Jack!” He was screaming now and was trying to pull Jack closer to his chest. Tears poured out of his eyes and fell into Jack’s hair. Most of the boys stared on in shock, but then three came forward. One pulled Crutchie off Jack, then helped the others carefully lift Jack back to his bed. Fox helped Crutchie over to the mattress. They had laid him on his stomach because his back was too torn up and cut. His back barely rose as he shallowly breathed, but even that seemed to cause pain. Crutchie hated seeing him like this, and it was all because of him. Like it always was.
“Jack’s back!” a boy shouted, halting Hunter and Crutchie’s conversation. Hunter stood up so fast he almost knocked Crutchie to the ground.
“Where is he?”
“Race put ‘im on Crutchie’s bed.” Mush had barely finished his sentence before Hunter had sprinted out of the room. Crutchie grabbed the small crutch he had been using and hobbled after the older boy. And sure enough, there was a boy lying there in his bed. He was thin, almost as small as Crutchie. His eyes were sunken in and the dark bruises and cuts stood out against his pale, clammy skin.
“Where was he?” Hunter asked.
“The Refuge, I think,” Racetrack said. “I found him collapsed just outside. He's so small, so sick. Is he gonna be okay? He’s so thin and… and… is he gonna be okay?”
“He’ll be fine,” Hunter said, though anyone could hear the panic. “Just let him rest. Now come on, we all need to go to sleep. We’se got work to do in the morning.”
Most of the boys left then leaving only Crutchie and Hunter. “Come on, kid,” Hunter said, “let’s get some rest.”
He started to walk away, but Crutchie’s sobbing stopped him. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s my fault. I was hungry and stole some food. But the cops found me. I couldn’t run away fast enough. Jack got me out. He said that he made me do it. They took him. I-I didn’t know it was him.”
“It’s not your fault. Like I said, he would go to the Refuge for a kid he never met.” Then he left Crutchie alone at his bed. He couldn’t sleep that night, the guilt keeping him up. The next morning, he went to the distribution early and used almost all of his money to buy extra papes. He was out until well into the evening using all of his charm and preying on others’ sympathy. He finally returned to the lodging house with his arms full of blankets.
“What are those for?” Race asked, stopping him inside and looking hopeful. Crutchie just pointed at Jack.
“He ain’t gonna get better if he’s constantly freezing. But maybe when he’s all good, he’ll let you have one.” He smiled at Race then went and laid one of the blankets over Jack’s still body.
Once again, Crutchie was the only one to stay with Jack. But eventually exhaustion began to get to him and he felt himself drifting off to sleep. He tried to force his eyes open. He wanted to be here if- no, when Jack woke up. Then something shocked him out of his exhaustion.
Jack was rolling around on the bed, desperately shoving the blankets to the ground. “Get off me,” he mumbled. “Get off me! Don't touch me! Please don't hurt me! Please!” He stopped talking after that and continued in a restless sleep.
This is all my fault, Crutchie thought. Jack got hurt because of me. It's my fault he went to the Refuge. Crutchie reached to ruffle Jack’s hair, but as soon as his fingers brushed across Jack’s head, the older boy flinched away. “Please don't hurt me,” he began to whisper again. Even in sleep, he was terrified of the pain he had suffered over the past month.
“I won’t hurt you, Jack,” Crutchie said over and over again. Jack eventually calmed down, listening to Crutchie’s mantra. “I won’t hurt you, Jack. I won’t hurt you.”
The next day, Crutchie was reluctant to leave Jack alone, but Race convinced him to go sell. “You won’t be any help to Jack if you can’t pay your rent and we can’t afford to cover for two of ya.” Crutchie knew he was right so he said goodbye to Jack and went to do his job. When he returned, Jack’s condition hadn’t changed, but there was a woman sitting by his bedside now. Race introduced her as Miss Medda Larkin, a singer in the Bowery. He said that sometimes she helped the newsies ever since Jack had snuck into her theater once.
“You must be Crutchie,” she said, shaking his hand. He nodded. He already liked Miss Medda. She was gentle and careful not to disturb Jack as she moved around the room. She spent time with each of the newsies, asking them about the work conditions and personal lives. Every single one seemed to be excited to see Miss Medda. Their excitement only grew when she retrieved a large basket filled to the brim with warm pastries and canned food.
“Thanks, Miss Medda,” they each said, digging into the steaming food. Crutchie watched Race go back for seconds, but Medda pushed his hand away.
“We’ve gotta make this last, Race,” she said, and he frowned but retracted his hand. Crutchie noticed she kept stealing worried glances at the bedridden newsie. She finally left after giving Jack a kiss on the forehead.
“You’re gonna to do great things, boy,” she whispered. “You’re gonna lead your generation to greatness.” And Crutchie knew he imagined it, but he thought he saw Jack’s lips curl into a smile. Crutchie slept in short fits, but stayed awake through most of the night, helping Jack through nightmares that didn’t seem to be able to wake him. Finally the next night, things started to look up.
Crutchie’s head was down and he was half-asleep when he heard a small voice that shocked him awake. “C-Crutchie?”
“Jack, you’se awake,” he said, breathlessly.
“So you found them?” Jack asked, and at first Crutchie was confused. “I never had time to tell you where they was.” He quickly realized he was talking about the newsies and Crutchie nodded. Yeah, I found them, Crutchie thought, found ‘em because of you.
“I’se so sorry,” he sobbed, “It’s my fault you went to the Refuge.”
“Hey, hey,” Jack said, “I’se fine.” Crutchie scoffed. Here Jack was, hurt so bad he had slept for three days, thin and starved, bruised and battered, yet trying to comfort Crutchie. “You’se the one that looks like shit,” he continued. “When was the last time you slept?”
“The night you came back,” he mumbled.
He could tell Jack was upset about that. “You don’t need to stay awake on account a’ me. Now I’se tired so both of us need to sleep.”
“You’se in my bed,” Crutchie said, trying to give himself an excuse for staying up for so long.
“Well, I’se hurt so I get this bed.” He was obviously joking, but it still made Crutchie feel guilty.
“Can I sleep with you?” Crutchie whispered, his face burning with embarrassment. Jack nodded and scooted over. Crutchie laid next to him, feeling the warmth that radiated off his body. It was the best he ever slept.
Chapter 9: Race
Today was the day. The day they went to Pulitzer and changed The World. Race had spent the past few hours passing out papes to any kid he could find. He had passed his remaining papes off to Romeo and now, here he was, standing in front of the large wooden doors of The World next to Davey and Spot.
“We doin’ this?” he asked, looking up at the building that he had stood outside of some many times but now seemed daunting.
“We’re doing this,” Davey confirmed and Spot pushed open the doors. The trio marched in, side by side. They stopped outside a room and Race could hear what seemed like constant ringing of phones.
“Sorry, Mr. Pulitzer is simply not available.”
“Sorry, Mr. Pulitzer can’t come to the phone right now.”
“Well, I’m sorry! I am—”
“Silence those phones!” A gruff voice shouted. There was one last ring and then silence.
“The entire city is shut down. No one is working anywhere and they’re all blaming you!”
“They’re all calling: the mayor, the publishers, the manufacturers and such language.”
Then a man saw them waiting in the lobby and raced to warn Pulitzer. So Race followed him in, skipping in and acting way happier than he actually was. He slammed the pape down on Pulitzer’s desk, and the look of pure contempt that Joe gave him made his smile widen.
“These kids put out a pretty good paper. Very convincing,” one of his advisors said after reading their article, and Race had never seen Spot’s face look so smug.
“And it’s thanks to your daughter, Pulitzer,” Race said. A muffled singing filled the room then and Race pointed out to the balcony. The three children headed to the balcony while Pulitzer ushered everyone else in the office back out into the lobby. He joined them and his eyes widened in the fear. Surrounding his building were newsies from all neighborhoods of New York, including Spot Conlon’s gang from Brooklyn. And the crowd continued to grow as kids from all walks of life joined, each carrying strike banners.
“It appears we’ve got you surrounded,” Spot said, taking off his hat and waving to the boys below him. They waved back and Pulitzer groaned.
“The city’s shut down,” Davey said, pointing at the kids.
“You can’t get a shoe shine or ride an elevator. You can’t cross the Brooklyn Bridge. You can’t even get out a’ your own office.
“Kids are the most powerful force in The World.”
The group reentered his office and Pulitzer sat at his desk with his head in his hands. “Fine,” he said, looking up, “I can roll the prices back by half and get the others to do the same. I’m sure you understand I need—”
“You need to save face. I get it. You’se got a reputation,” Race finished for him.
Joe nodded. “I’m glad you understand. So do we have a deal?”
“But I’se got constituents with legitimate gripes,” Race interrupted.
“You take prices back by half and you buy back any papes we can’t sell!” Davey shouted, offering his own ultimatum.
“And you get Crutchie and Jack out a’ the Refuge,” Spot added.
Pulitzer smiled a little at that and three looked at each other, confused. “One of those might be a problem. You see, Mr. Kelly was arrested for his previous escape. That has nothing to do with me or the strike.”
“But nothing,” Pulitzer said. “Warden Snyder arrested him because he has not finished his sentence yet. I can’t do anything about that.”
“But Crutchie was arrested purely because he went against you,” Race said, “so you get him out.” Joe nodded, and Race spit into his hand and held it out to the older man.
“That’s just the price of doing business.” Pulitzer sighed, rolled his eyes, and reluctantly spit into his hand. The two shook and all the feelings that had been bottled up inside Race for the past few weeks burst out. He wanted to scream and cry and dance and punch someone all at the same time. He would’ve collapsed on the ground if it wasn’t for Spot keeping him up. Tears burned his eyes and for a moment he let himself forget all his stress. He let himself forget that Jack and Crutchie were still in the Refuge and that Jack wouldn’t make it out right now.
Pulitzer exited his office and Race began to follow him, but Davey stopped him.
“What are you doing? Weren’t you the one that said we needed to get Jack out?” he hissed.
“Pulitzer agreed to our terms easily. If we pushed any harder, we might’ve lost everythin’. None of the kids can afford to be out a’ work for too much longer.”
“Unfortunately,” Spot said from over Race’s shoulder, “Joe’s got a point. Jack does have a sentence that has nothing to do with the strike. While it ain’t fair, it ain’t something that Pulitzer has control over. Right now, we’se gotta take what we can get. Now, c’mon, let’s give everyone the good news.” He walked away without an answer, and Davey and Race quickly followed him.
When they got outside, Pulitzer was standing on top of the distribution center. Spot pushed Race towards the stairs and Davey gave him a comforting smile. He climbed up and tried to stand tall next to Pulitzer. Joe gave him an annoyed look that said what are you waiting for? Race took a deep breath.
“Newsies of New York City,” pause for dramatic effect, “we won!” Cheering erupted in the square and was echoed by every single kid throughout the city. Race was sure that no matter where you were in the city, everyone would hear that joyous cry. This is for you, Jack.
Pulitzer pushed past him then, and retreated back to his office. Race joined the newsies and hugged Spot. “We did it!” he shouted. “We did it!”
“That’s right, kid, but we’se got one more thing to do.”
Race stepped back and composed himself. “Let’s go get Crutchie.” He tried to walk away, but Spot stopped him and pointed at the distribution center.
“You’se got papes to sell,” he said. “I’ll start sellin’ again tomorrow. I’ll go get Crutchie. You lead your boys.” Race didn’t have any time to argue before the hoard of newsies pushed him towards the papes. He smiled up at Wiesel and was the first to slam down his coin. It was official. They had won.
But it wasn’t over yet. They still had to get Jack out of the Refuge.
Chapter 10: Jack
The flashback in this chapter takes place after Jack gets out of the Refuge for the first time.
Jack had never felt such pain. Everytime Snyder snapped his whip, agony surged through his body. But it was nothing compared to his leg. He had never felt anything quite like it. White hot pain shot through his body even thinking about it. He wanted the leg to be gone. He didn’t want to feel the pain anymore. He didn’t want to feel anything anymore.
Crutchie had stayed with him the entire time, hugging him close to his chest and telling him that it would all be okay. But it won’t be, Jack thought. It’s hurts so bad, Crutchie. Why won’t it stop? He tried to talk to Crutchie, to beg him to make all the pain go away, but all that came out out was a choked sob. He shut his eyes and clutched Crutchie’s shirt even tighter.
Jack barely even remembered what happened. He remembered the pain, but he couldn’t imagine himself getting beaten. Crutchie said Snyder had broken his leg. He had immediately looked down at it, and Crutchie didn’t warn him fast enough. Thank God somebody had covered it with a blanket.
“I c-couldn’t look at it. They covered it for me.” Jack had tried to reassure him then, but Crutchie had bitterly laughed and lightly nudged him with a blood-stained hand. Even that hurt.
Jack tried to roll over, but Crutchie stopped him.
“C’mon, Jack. It’ll only cause more pain,” Crutchie said and Jack knew he was probably right, but he was so sick of this position. His wrists were uncomfortably stuck under his chest and the chains were still digging into them. It was getting harder and harder to breathe. His ribs screamed in pain, but he knew Crutchie was right. His back would be even worse.
“Did you clean ‘em?” he asked, fearing the answer.
Crutchie nodded. “We did as best we could. We had only a little bit of clean water.”
“Alright,” he said, slightly relieved, but mostly worried that it would get infected. He drifted off to sleep not too long after that though Crutchie seemed desperate to keep him awake.
Jack limped out of the Refuge. He was a six-year-old without a family or a home. A boy had offered him a chance at, well, something. He had followed with hesitation. He was trailing the behind the boy until he spoke up.
“So, ya just gonna sulk back there the whole time or…” the boy trailed off and paused to let Jack catch up. It took a minute because he was still bruised everywhere and he was panting by the time he pulled up next to the boy. The boy must’ve seen his pain because he wrapped his arm around Jack.
“Who are ya?” Jack asked, suspiciously.
“Most people call me Spot.”
“Spot?” Jack asked, laughing. His eyebrows raised in disbelief.
“Shut up, Kelly,” Spot muttered.
Jack stopped. “How do ya knows my name?”
“Everyone who’s been in the Refuge in past year knows your name. You was Snyder’s favorite. Ya ever notice how when anythin’ happened people blamed ya even if ya didn't do it. Snyder liked soakin’ ya.”
“Where are we goin’, anyway?” Jack asked, thinking it was best to keep his mind away from Snyder.
“I don’t know. I was following ya.”
“How could ya possibly be followin’ me? You was in front the entire time.”
“I’se joking,” Spot said, laughing at Jack. “I guess you’ll know when we get there.” Jack raised his eyebrows and Spot grabbed him around the shoulder. The two walked in silence though, by the time they stopped, Jack was completely leaning on Spot.
“Welcome to the Manhattan Newsie Lodging House,” Spot said, waving his arm towards a large building.
“What is we doin’ here? I thought it cost money to live in places like this.”
“It does, but they’ll cover ya for a couple days and you’ll have a job.”
“Wh-what if they don’t want me?”
Spot laughed. “Just wait out here. I’ll be back soon.”
He disappeared through the door. Once the door opened, traces of laughter and joyous cries drifted through. The door closed and Jack was left alone on the street. He thought about taking off, but opted for just sitting down. He didn’t think he could even walk anyways. A few minutes later, Spot returned with another older boy in tow.
“Jack, Specs. Specs, Jack.”
Jack cautiously waved to the older boy, but when Specs reached down to pull him up, he flinched away, backing into Spot. Spot helped him to his feet.
“He just got out a’ the Refuge, Specs. He was in there for a year.” Specs’ eyes widened and he looked down at the little boy who appeared broken in front of him.
“I’se sorry, Jack. I’ll warn the others,” Specs said and led the two into the building. The three stopped just outside the doors, and Spot grabbed Jack’s shoulder.
“I hafta go now. Will ya be okay with Specs?”
Jack nodded, but it wasn’t true. He was already shaking by the time Spot was gone. He didn’t trust anyone, but at least Spot had helped him a little. He didn’t have much time to think about it though because Specs pushed him through the door.
“Hey, boys,” Specs said, and whatever else he tried to say was quickly drowned out by the boys yelling.
“Specs, guess what we did today!”
“Everybody shut up for a second!” Specs shouted and it made Jack visibly flinch. The boys started to calm down after that and stared at Jack. “This is Jack. He’s had it rough so everyone’s gonna give him space unless he says otherwise. Ya got it?” Everyone in the room nodded and backed away from the new boy. Jack was grateful for the warning, but he felt like he was being singled out. It was like Specs has tattooed vulnerable onto his forehead.
Jack shied away from most of the newsies for the first few weeks. He spent most of his time on the roof and only came down to sell papes. Spot was usually in Brooklyn, but he came down whenever possible to make sure he was settling in okay. Spot never went inside the lodging house but would sit on the roof with the younger boy for hours. The two would just talk until, finally, Spot managed to coax Jack down for a game of cards. At first, he felt trapped, cramped, nauseous, but as the night went on, his chest loosened and he started having fun. He spent more and more time with the other boys after that. Eventually, they began to trust and love him. He had a family; a family that he would do anything for.
A loud cry awoke Jack. His eyes shot open and he tried to sit up. It was a mistake, but the pain cleared his head. Even though it was muffled, he could hear the cry better now and it sounded joyous. Crutchie was up at the window and was pumping his arm up in the air. He looked down and saw Jack.
“Ya hear that, Jack? They won!” He stepped down from the window and held Jack’s hand. “They won, and they’se gonna get us out soon.”
“How do you know they won?” He hated sounding pessimistic, but he couldn’t get his hopes up. Then the door opened, a loud scraping noise that hurt his head. A guard entered and pulled Jack up to his feet. He grabbed Crutchie too and pushed the duo towards the open door. Jack knew they must be a sight to behold.The guard had to practically carry Jack while Crutchie did his best to hop on one leg all the way to Snyder’s office.
Snyder stood alone in the middle of the office, looking mad and disappointed. “Congratulations, boys,” he growled. “You won the strike.” Crutchie hugged Jack, this time not bothering to avoid his injuries. Pain flowed through his body, but his happiness overpowered it. Jack held out his chained hands to Snyder, but the man just laughed.
“Not so fast, Kelly. Crutchie is getting out, but you still have to serve out your previous sentence.” Jack’s eyes widened, and Snyder smiled as he retrieved Crutchie’s crutch.
“Get out of here, boy,” Snyder growled, thrusting the crutch at Crutchie.
Crutchie reached for Jack. “No, Jack—”
“Now, Crutchie,” Jack begged him, looking at the floor. “Please.” Crutchie stood stubbornly still until Jack looked up and pushed him towards the door. The younger boy stumbled, then gave Jack one last defeated smile before disappearing.
“Guards,” Snyder said as Jack collapsed on the floor with tears burning his eyes, “please escort Mr. Kelly to the basement.” An evil laughter echoed throughout the room and Jack tried to fight the men, but he was too weak. Within a couple minutes, he was shut in the dark, damp room. His leg screamed in pain and burned. For once, he was happy that the basement was so dark and empty. He couldn’t see his gruesome injuries and no one could hear him cry.
Jack didn’t know how many days he spent in the basement, but it seemed Snyder was always there. He couldn’t count the amount of times he felt a foot plant itself in his ribs or brass knuckles cut open his cheeks. He got dirty water once a day, but food was a rare delicacy. He had always been skinny, but now his ribs were painfully obvious.
One day, the door opened, but this time it wasn’t just one set of footsteps. The footsteps stopped at end of the stairs, but Jack didn’t even have the strength to lift his head.
“Jack,” one of the voices whispered. “Jack.”
“R-Race?” Jack asked, finally managing to look up. Race was there - blurry, but there. He smiled and reached down to grab Jack’s arm. Then the kind face of one of his best friends morphed into Snyder’s face. Two guards on either side of Jack held him down. Snyder’s eyes glittered dangerously in the dim light and the knife in his hand glistened.
Race stood outside the lodging house, on the verge of a breakdown. On the other side of this door, Crutchie was sitting on a bed healing from his injuries at the Refuge. Injuries he wouldn’t have if they hadn’t left him behind. Davey had tried to tell him that it would be fine, but Race wasn’t in the habit of listening to him. He tried to work up the courage to open the door, but everytime he reached out, something made him retract his hand. Instead, he opted for standing in the cold with tears spilling out of his eyes. He tried one last time, but he stopped himself only inches from the door handle.
Then the door swung open and there was Crutchie, looking a bit thin and leaning heavily on his crutch but otherwise appeared to be okay. The two boys just stared at each other before Crutchie dropped his crutch to the floor and dashed forwards. He wrapped his small arms around Race.
“Race!” he shouted. “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too, buddy. Ya doin’ okay?” Race asked, and Crutchie nodded quickly.
“Snyder didn’t touch me after Jack came. He tried once, but Jack stopped him.”
“H-how is Jack?” Race asked, hesitantly.
“You saw him before. He didn’t get better. He wouldn't wake up one day and Snyder tried to take me. Jack finally woke up and he stopped Snyder. But Snyder whipped him and kept yellin’ at him. He said that I was the only reason that Jack was there. He asked why Jack was protecting me and Jack said it was ‘cause I is a crip.” He paused then and there were tears in his eyes. Race picked his crutch back up and led him over to a bed. Once they were sitting, he continued.
“Snyder bro- he broke Jack’s leg. It… It looked really bad.” Crutchie was sobbing by the time he was done and Race’s hand curled into a fist. They had to get Jack out now. “You promised that you would get both of us out! How could you leave Jack behind?” Crutchie started screaming all of a sudden and beating his fist into Race’s chest. Race caught his fist and held it until the younger boy stopped struggling.
“Why don't you rest a little?” He said to Crutchie as calmly as possible. He moved off the bed so the other boy could lay down. He walked over to where Spot was leaning up against a wall.
“I assume you heard most a’ that?” Race asked, and Spot nodded. He tried to remain nonchalaunt, but Race could see where his fist was wrapped too tightly around his suspender and his teeth were clenched. “We hafta get him out,” Race continued, expecting reluctance from the Brooklyn king.
“Jackie is gonna owe me forever afta’ this,” Spot said.
He didn't mean to, but Race couldn't keep himself from laughing. “Thanks, Spot. I’ll make it up to you. Tomorrow we’ll make a plan.”
“I’ll see you in the mornin’,” Spot said, and stuck his hands in his pockets as he march towards the door.
“It’s late, Spot,” Race said. “Stay here tonight.” The other boy didn't hear him though and continued out of the room, the door slamming the door behind him.
“R-Race,” he heard behind him. Race turned around and Crutchie was sitting up.
“Hey, Crutchie. What are ya doin’ up?”
He shrugged and Race went to sit by him. “We’se gonna get Jack out. Soon. He’s gonna be okay.” Race words sounded hollow even to him.
In the morning, Spot was waiting outside. “Come on, Spot. Let’s get inside,” Race said and led Spot out of the cool, morning wind. It was several hours of planning and fighting before they came up with an idea. Calling it a plan was giving it too much credit.
“Are we doin’ this now?” Elmer asked.
“No,” Spot replied, “we’se gotta wait ‘til night.” It took too long for night to arrive. But finally the sun went down, and Spot, Race, and Specs proceed into the lit streets. As they got closer to the Refuge, there were less and less lights. The Refuge was bathed in black and the air seemed to get progressively colder.
The rescue was going to be a process. It would take two days at least. Tonight they would find Jack. The trio would split up and go from window to window. Race listened for a whistle that signalled one of them had found their leader. But the whistle never came and, hours later, Race rejoined Spot and Specs.
“Find anything?” he asked, fearing the answer. Both Spot and Specs hesitantly shook their heads. Race groaned. The next day wasn't any better. Once, Race talked with the boy who had been with Crutchie the day he visited, but the boy said he hadn’t seen Jack since Crutchie left.
They couldn’t find him, but there were several rooms on the inside that had no windows. They had to get inside the Refuge now and that meant getting Snyder out. In the middle of the night, Elmer and Romeo would sit outside, singing, until Snyder came out. The first day it worked, but Snyder returned before they found Jack. The next two days, Snyder didn’t even leave the door way.
Finally, though, just when Race was giving up hope, Snyder left, chasing Elmer and Romeo through the streets yelling obscenities. Spot grabbed a small, metal pipe before venturing inside.
“Ya never know what’ll happen,” he justified himself. Race nodded, a faint smile evident on his face as the trio stealthily ran through the halls. They checked every room until the stopped outside the last door in the hallway. Race knew enough to know this was the basement. The door was locked, but he stepped aside and let Spot at it. In half a minute, the door was open and Race started cautiously down the stairs. He faintly heard the Spot tell Specs to wait at the top, but he didn’t pay attention.
A body was lying just at the end of the stairs. Race’s breathing quickened and Spot’s hand suddenly appearing on his shoulder was the only thing stopping him from hyperventilating. It was Jack.
He looked even worse than Crutchie had described. Blood, dirt, and bruises covered his skin. His leg was crooked and his foot stuck out in the wrong direction. His shirt was missing— No, not missing. It was wrapped around his torso, soaked with blood, a pathetic excuse for a bandage.
“Snyder’s coming back!” Specs whispered from the top of the stairs. Spot grabbed Race and pulled him away from Jack. Race slapped his hand away.
“I ain’t leavin’ Jack,” he said.
“We hafta get out now!” Specs yelled. Spot tried again to grab Race.
“Race, ya ain’t gonna be any help to him if you’se stuck in here too,” he said, trying to appeal to his rational side. But Race wasn’t listening. He shoved Spot away. Spot looked at him with death in his eyes. He pressed his weapon into the younger boy’s hand and he ran up the stairs. The door slowly closed and Race watched as the last bit of light left the room. The two boys, one spry and heathy and the other knocking on death’s door, were left alone in the dark.
“I don’t care, Spot,” Race whispered into the blackness. “I ain’t leavin’ Jack behind.” Then the door opened again and Race almost yelled at Spot. But the footfalls were too heavy to be Spot’s or any of the newsies. Race dashed underneath the stairs where the light didn’t reach. Just in time too because Snyder reached the bottom of the stairs. He started kicking Jack in the side until Jack groaned and his eyes fluttered open.
“Oh, Spider” he said, his voice weak but defiant, “you’se back.” Race smiled. Leave it to Jack to be half-dead and still trying to piss off everyone. Snyder laughed and it echoed throughout the small room. He reached down and stuck his hand into the wound on Jack’s leg. Jack’s agonizing scream pierced Race’s ears and he was seconds from screaming himself.
“Find somethin’ new, Snyder,” Jack gasped, and Race could hear the pain seeping into his voice. “You must be gettin’ bored…” his voice trailed off as Snyder removed his hand and blood flowed freely. Then, he reached under Jack’s makeshift bandage and pressed against whatever wound he had created underneath. A painful groan was all he received in reaction.
“That’s smart,” he said, “trying to bandage the wound.” Jack cried out as the pressure increased. Race’s fist clenched around the pipe. Any inkling of rational thought left him and he rushed towards the madman, desperate to save his brother. He slammed the pipe into the man’s head until he fell to the ground, blood pooling from his mouth. The Spider wasn't dead. Race would know if killed somebody, right?
Race stood, frozen in shock, until he remembered Jack. He ripped the keys off of Snyder’s belt then reached out for Jack. Jack immediately flinched and started begging. “Please don’t hurt me! Please!”
“Jack,” Race whispered, comfortingly, “it’s just me. It’s Race.” Jack didn’t listen and continued to whimper.
“Stay away from me. Don’t touch me. Please.”
“Jack, we hafta get outta here now.” There was no response, and everytime Race got close, he tried to scramble away. “Sorry, Jack,” he whispered and one punch across the leader’s face was all it took to knock him out cold. After a couple attempts with different keys, the shackles unlocked and dropped to the ground. The skin underneath was bloody and deep cuts were on either side of his wrists and ankles. Race gently lifted Jack. It hadn’t even been three weeks, but he was noticeably lighter. Race was glad the other boy was unconscious because his many cuts were painfully stretched. Race exited the Refuge swiftly, only stopping to unlock the doors. Once they were out, he fell to the ground, thanking God profusely for the lack of guards. He clasped his hands together and it was then when he noticed the blood that covered them. Then he felt a hand on the back of his shirt.
He was ripped off the ground, and a punch across the face sent him staggering backwards. “You fuckin’ idiot,” Spot growled, his fist clenched. “What if ya had gotten caught?”
“I didn’t,” Race replied, refusing to dwell on ‘what ifs’. “And I got Jack out.” It seemed that was the first time Spot had noticed Jack because his eyes widened and he stalked past Race. Jack’s injuries were even more prominent in the light and Race knew that the dirt and grime probably hid many wounds. Soon, Specs seemed to appear out of nowhere and gently moved Spot away from Jack and lifted him off the ground. Race could tell from his expression that he knew that it should’ve taken more effort to lift a 17-year-old.
“Where da’ we brin’ him?” Specs asked. “We can’t deal with this injuries at the lodging house, and Snyder’s gonna be lookin’ for ‘im at the hospital.”
“What about Miss Medda? She’s likes Jack well enough, and she’s helped before,” Race offered to the older boy, and Specs nodded before taking off in the direction of her theater. The journey to Medda’s was slow going as they often had to stop and try to stem the bleeding a little, and Specs was careful never to go so fast that it might jostle Jack’s injuries.
It was only after they arrived that Race considered it was 3:00 in the morning and Medda had absolutely no reason to be in her theater so late at night. However, a minute after he knocked, Miss Medda opened the door.
“Hey, Racetrack, what brings—” Then she paused, noticing Jack’s limp form in Specs’ arms. She didn’t bother to say anything and instead rushed forward and lifted the boy up. Jack groaned as he was shifted, but otherwise didn’t react. Race had no doubt she had immediately taken notice of all his obvious injuries, and his thought was confirmed when she carefully laid him on his side on a table. She disappeared behind the stage, and returned moments later with a first-aid kit in hand. Already, Race could see blood stains forming on her sleeves. She carefully untied his shirt from his torso, and started to clean off his back. As soon as the wet cloth touched his back, he cried out, an agonizing scream that made Race turn away.
“Hey, Jack. Shh, let me do this,” Medda said, and she continued to talk to him until he relaxed slightly. “It’s okay, Jack. Calm down. I’ve got ya.”
“What happened?” she asked, turning to Race.
“Pulitza’ put ‘im in the Refuge. Crutchie was with him and said Snyder beat Jack, whipped him, and broke his leg. Whatever happened on his chest happened after Crutchie left.” Medda nodded then turned back to Jack. Then, suddenly, her eyes widened and she gasped. Race looked up and saw the look of horror on her face. He jumped up and ran over to his brother. With all the blood, it had been hard to tell what had happened to his chest, but now that it was clean, the cuts were beginning to form into obscure shapes. S-N-Y— Race forced himself to stifle a scream.
Yay! He's finally out.
Katherine was in her apartment when it happened. The boys had informed her of the plan, but she didn’t know when they would break him out. She heard the aftermath of it though. Sirens echoed throughout the city. Loud screams and knocking on doors signalled the cops in the street. They did it! She thought. They got him out!
It was the middle of night, but Katherine got dressed and exited her building through the back door so she wouldn’t run into any cops. She stole through the streets, keeping to dark street corners and alleys. She arrived outside the lodging house at the same time as Specs.
“Did you get him?” Katherine asked, quietly, almost afraid of the answer.
Specs nodded though he looked slightly confused. “How d’ya hear?” he asked. “I haven’t even told the boys yet.”
“Who else would those sirens be for?” Katherine asked as another wailed echoed, sounding closer than any of the others.
“We brought him to Miss Medda’s,” Specs responded, looking at the ground. “Race ‘n’ Spot are still over there. They sent me back so I could tell the boys, but they want everyone to stay here for now.”
Katherine nodded, disappointed, but followed Specs into the building. When they entered, they were immediately greeted by the worried faces of all the newsies.
“Are Elmer and Romeo back yet?” Specs asked and he received his answer when Romeo pushed through the crowd of newsies, panting.
“Did ya get ‘im?” Romeo asked, and Specs slowly nodded.
“Yeah, we got ‘im, but—,” His statement was interrupted by cheering, but they quickly quieted down once they saw the look on Specs’ face. “M-Medda says she don’t know if he’ll make it through the night.” There were tears in his eyes, and in the eyes of everyone in the room. Some of the boys seemed to shut down while others turned to their friends, hugging and desperate for any type of contact.
“R-Race’ll come back in the morning. Let’s get some sleep,” he said, though how he expected anyone to sleep after the news he had just dropped was beyond Katherine. She didn’t return home, but instead went over to where Crutchie was sitting.
“Hey, Crutchie,” she said, sitting down next to him.
“Hey, K-Kath,” he said, his voice broken with sobs. “Heard ya wrote a great article.”
“He’s going to be okay, you know,” Katherine replied, ignoring Crutchie’s previous statement. “I haven’t know Jack for very long, but he is one of the toughest people I’ve ever met.”
Crutchie nodded and eventually, his own injuries and exhaustion caused him to fall asleep. Katherine smiled as soft snores filled the room. She stood up and looked around the room. Besides Crutchie and a couple of the littles, everyone was awake. Romeo was leaning against Specs, obviously tired, and Elmer was laying across Albert’s lap.
“Is he gonna be okay, Specs?” She heard Romeo ask.
There was a long pause then: “Do ya know how many times Jack’s been to the Refuge?”
Romeo shook his head and looked up at Specs. “He went twice while I’se been here not countin’ this time.”
“Do ya remember when he broke out? When he said that he rode out on the governa’s carriage?” Romeo nodded, and Katherine leaned forward, intrigued by the story. Specs continued. “Do ya remember him being hurt at all?”
Romeo shook his head. “Nah. I just remember him tellin’ all of us he broke out. He probably wouldn’t’ve been able to if he was hurt.”
“Afta’ you all went to bed that night, I heard ‘im cryin’. He said that Snyder hadn’t fed him for a week and he was bleedin’ pretty badly from a cut he had tried ta’ banadge himself. He was dealing with injuries that would’ve made a grown man cry, but he was still strong enough to escape. It might take longer for ‘im to get better this time, but nothing can break Jack Kelly. You’ll see. Jack is just too damn stubborn.” Romeo nodded and smiled. He drifted off to sleep soon so he missed what Specs whispered next. “That stubbornness might just get ‘im killed.”
Race took an agonizingly long time to arrive. Katherine imagined a clock, each prolonged tick of the second hand echoing through her brain and made minutes seem like hours. Then, finally, the door of the lodging house slowly opened. Race stood in the doorway. His usual joyful smile was absent and even his cigar that she had become so accustomed to was missing. His vest and hat were in his hand and his sleeves were stained red with blood. As soon as he entered, all the boys jumped up, staring at him intently, waiting for news.
“He’s alive,” was all the boy had to offer, but it completely changed the atmosphere of the room. Hearts were lifted and the building seemed to swell with hope. It can only go up from here, right? “Medda said that we can’t all go over at once, but we can take shifts,” Race continued, and all the boys rushed forward, wanting to go see their fearless leader. Race pushed past them and walked over to Katherine.
“Medda thinks ya should go see ‘im first,” he said, surprising her.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Shouldn’t you let the boys go see him first?”
“I’ll bring a couple of the others with us. I don’t want to the littles to see ‘im right now.” That statement alone made her realize the severity of the injuries. The boys had seen things she couldn’t even imagine, and he wanted them to stay away. “Meet me outside,” he said before pushing past her, and she waited outside. Moments later, Race joined her, along with Specs, Albert, and Elmer. Katherine was well aware of the route to the theater, and often had to remind herself not to run. Finally, after an excruciatingly long walk, they arrived at the theater. Race hesitated, but eventually opened the door to let Katherine and the boys through. Katherine entered first, and almost immediately collapsed on the ground, crying.
Because in front of her lay the man she had, though she wouldn’t admit it, fallen in love with. His shirt was missing and his torso and wrists were wrapped in blood-stained bandages. Bruises covered his pale skin and dried blood marked gruesome cuts across his face. She could his ribs sticking through anywhere the bandages weren’t covering, and old scars adorned his exposed skin. His left leg was covered in blood and swollen. It jutted out at an unnatural angle right below his knee and dangled uselessly off the old cot.
Behind her, she could hear the boys crying out for their leader, but she was barely listening. Elmer raced past her, and stopped only when Specs grabbed his shirt. Tears were streaming down his dirty face, leaving tracks.
“Jack,” he whispered as Specs pulled him into a hug. Then, Katherine felt arms wrap around her. She looked up and saw Medda there, hugging her.
“He’s gonna be okay,” the older woman said though anyone could see the worried etched into her face and the tears in her eyes. And so they sat, close enough to touch, desperate for any reassurance that it would work out. But nothing changed even as day bled into night. Finally, Medda stood up and approached the boy.
“Katherine, will ya help me change his bandages?” she asked, and Katherine nodded. Medda retrieved a wet cloth and began to unwrap the bandages while Katherine held Jack up in a sitting position. Medda made sure that only his back was facing Katherine, and, at the time, she didn’t think that much about it. The last of the bandages disappeared, and Katherine saw his true injuries for the first time. She refused to let herself react, and stood stone-still as Medda used the wet cloth to clean his chest then she handed it off to Katherine.
Katherine rubbed the cloth across his back until all the dried blood had been scrubbed away. The cuts were red and irritated, and Katherine could only hope that this prevented infection. As soon as she was done, Medda quickly rewrapped his torso, starting at his waist and working her way back up. Then Katherine slowly laid Jack back down and they moved on to his wrists and ankles. That took them about 20 minutes compared to the hour and 15 minutes they had spent on his chest and back.
Jack didn’t react throughout any of it.
Katherine didn’t even notice two days had passed before Medda finally made her go back home. She collapsed on her bed, exhausted. She wanted to cry, but her eyes remained stubbornly dry. Jack still hadn’t woken up.
Katherine tried to go over everyday as long as she didn’t have to work too late. Medda had stopped returning home and instead slept at the theater. She had shut down shows for the foreseeable future, angering many of her actors and singers.
A week after they rescued him, Katherine heard Medda get into a fight with her stage manager.
“This is because of that street rat, isn’t it? You’ve had a soft spot for him and his disgusting friends ever since he stumbled in here all those years ago.”
“Let me remind you who owns this joint. I’m usin’ this place as I see fit and right now it’s gonna be used as a safe haven for that ‘street rat’,” Medda growled back at the man. “If you’se have a problem with that, then leave. Plenty of others would gladly accept your job.”
“Miss Larkin,” the man pleaded, “think about what you is doin’. He’s homeless, a ruffian. He’ll turn his back on ya the minute he finds it profitable.”
Katherine heard a long sigh, then Medda continued to talk. “Follow me,” was all she had to say. In a couple of seconds, Medda entered the room with a short man in tow. Medda pointed at Jack. “It’s been a week, and he hasn’t even opened his eyes. This happened because he was protecting his brother, not because he waitin’ on the most lucrative moment.” The man was just staring past her, eyes wide and mouth slightly opened. There were no more arguments after that.
Thanks to everyone who has been reading. Please let me know what y'all thought.
Crutchie could say, with confidence, that this had been the worst month of his life. It had started with Pulitzer raising the price and had just gone down hill from there. He been taken to the Refuge, lost his faith in his brothers, and regained it all within three days. Jack had arrived in the Refuge and was dying. Then things started to look up when they won the strike. But he had to leave Jack behind. And now, he was lying happy and healthy in a comfortable bed while Jack suffered on the other side of town.
It had been almost three weeks since he’d gotten out of the Refuge and two since they’d broken Jack out, but Race still hadn’t let Crutchie go see him.
“Why won’t Race let me go see ‘im?” Crutchie grumbled and Specs sighed, slightly sick of having this conversation.
“He just wants to wait ‘til Jack is better. It’s real bad, Crutchie.”
Crutchie raised his eyebrow. “Really, Specs? Race even let Romeo go. Besides, I was the one who was with ‘im the entire time. I watched him get those injuries. I stayed—”
“I just wanted to wait ‘til you was better,” Race interrupted. “I was bein’ overprotective but I don’t want you gettin’ hurt again.” Crutchie nodded and accepted Race’s answers. His brothers would always worry about him too much. “Ya want to go with me today after we sell our papes?” Crutchie quickly nodded and jumped up, eager to get to the distribution center early today. He moved as fast his leg would let him and made it to the World before anyone else.
When he arrived, Wiesel was already there, pacing back and forth. It wasn’t long before the Delanceys joined him though none of them seemed to notice Crutchie.
“Ya think Kelly’ll be back today?” Morris asked and Oscar shook his head.
“Have ya heard what happened? That kid’s probably not gonna survive until next week. He’s never comin’ back.”
“It’s rather ironic, don’t you think?” Wiesel added. “The boy who started the strike won’t be alive to see the benefits.” Oscar and Morris both chuckled a little at that, and Crutchie stood to the side, fuming. But Crutchie stopped himself from doing anything stupid; Race wouldn’t let him see Jack if he got in trouble. So Crutchie stood behind the gate, constantly clenching his fist until the other boys started to arrive. They were let into the courtyard and Crutchie was the first in line.
He flipped through the paper until he found the small article tucked into the corner of the third page. The first day it had run, it had made the front page, but now, in its second week, it was being moved further and further back. The article always made him mad, but he continued to read it anyway.
Dangerous Criminal Loose in the Streets
Underneath the flattering headline was a small picture of Jack. He had been only days away from his 17th birthday when it had been taken. It wasn’t one of Jack’s best moments - he was covered in cuts and bruises - and the writers were obviously doing their best to show he was the criminal they were making him out to be. But there was a tiny smile on the older boy’s face. It was one that Crutchie hadn’t seen in a long time. And that smile of hope was why Crutchie searched for this article everyday.
Jack Kelly has escaped again. Despite being assured by Warden Snyder himself that there would be no more escapees, Jack Kelly is back on our streets. The 17-year-old has been sentenced to the Refuge on six different occasions, and has escaped two of those six times. He is a thief and has been caught on several separate instances trafficking stolen goods. This wild fugitive needs to be returned to the Refuge if we can ever hope to be safe again. If you have any information on Jack Kelly please contact the police immediately.
The article continued with a description of Jack and distinguishing features such as ‘recently suffered a broken leg, will probably be limping’ and then finally, in bold print, a reward. It had been steadily rising in the past week.
Crutchie scoffed at the article. Anyone who knew Jack knew he didn’t pose any threat. But it was, unfortunately, working. People were less willing to buy papers after learning the newsies’ leader was a fugitive, and strangers seemed to be waiting outside the World everyday, hoping to snag the reward, until Wiesel finally told them Jack probably wasn’t coming back.
“C’mon Crutchie,” Race said, and he swung his arm around the younger boy’s shoulders. “Let’s go.” He led Crutchie through the gate and to his usual selling spot. The headline wasn’t bad - Murder Witness Locked Up - so Crutchie was out of papes before lunch. He limped up to the racetrack and went to find Race.
“Are you done yet?” Crutchie asked as he snuck up on the older boy.
Race jumped then turned around, scowling at Crutchie. “Not yet. Not all of us have your special limp.” Crutchie groaned but went and found a bench to rest his aching leg. It was late afternoon, about 3:00, before Race finished. Crutchie had fallen in a light doze while waiting on his brother but he couldn’t have been more happy than when Race finally tapped his shoulder and he was startled awake.
“Ya ready to go?” he asked as Crutchie’s eyes shot open, and the younger boy quickly nodded and jumped up. He followed Race throughout the grid city before they came to a stop outside Medda’s theater. Race took a deep breath and appeared to be steeling himself before he finally pushed the door open.
The room was dark and empty besides a small body that lay on top of a cot. It took Crutchie a couple seconds to realize that the body was Jack’s. He looked much better than he had at the Refuge. He was still unnaturally pale, but most of the bruises had faded and the blood had been wiped away. Crutchie could see his ribs through the pristine bandages that were wrapped tightly around his chest. His leg was still swollen and obvious under his pants. His hair was long and matted down on his head, but he appeared peaceful. Finally.
“He hasn’t woken up yet?” Crutchie asked, his eyes not leaving Jack.
Race shook his head. “No, but he cries in his sleep sometimes. He’s been calling for ya.”
Crutchie limped forward and sat on the edge of Jack’s cot. The older boy didn’t move. Crutchie found his stillness unnerving. Jack always seemed to be moving, rushing around and helping any of his boys. He didn’t get to relax very often, no matter how often Crutchie tried to convince him to slow down. Now, seeing him like this, Crutchie would give anything for him to be fighting the Delancey’s or even comforting him in the Refuge. Just anything other that this small, frail boy who laid, dying, alone.
Jack started rolling on the cot then, his broken leg bumping into Crutchie. He cried out every time his knee shifted.
“He does this sometimes. Medda thinks it’s because of nightmares.” Race flinched as the cries got louder. “I’se gonna go get some water,” he continued. “Want a glass?” Crutchie nodded and Race left the room.
Crutchie rubbed his hand up and down Jack’s arm, trying to soothe the older boy. “Jack, ya ain’t there. You’se at Medda’s place,” he whispered. “I’se here. It’s me, Crutchie. I’se here, Jack. You’se okay. Race gotcha outta the Refuge. It’s been too long, Jack. Please wake up. Please. I’se here.” It took almost an hour, but Jack finally calmed down. His cries faded and then ceased. Crutchie hopped off the bed and stretched his leg around the room. Race still hadn’t returned. Crutchie walked over to the door, but a small voice made him stop.
Comments and kudos are appreciated. It always helps to know people want to read this.
Chapter 14: Jack
So the end is a bit graphic, but you can skip if you like. It's just explaining something implied in a previous chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was dark. Even darker than the Refuge. Maybe even scarier. It was empty. Dark. Cold. Empty. Scary. He could still hear Snyder’s voice. It was the only thing keeping him company. Just the constant reminder of who he really was.
You’re weak, boy.
You’re nothing. You will always be nothing.
You will always be a street rat, homeless. A nobody.
Jack curled up and cried.
So you’re cryin’, now boy? What the fuck is wrong with you?
You piece of shit!
Jack knew it was his voice. It was the same growl that had haunted him since he was five-years-old. Now it was the thing that kept him from going completely insane in the empty, black void. Snyder’s voice laughed at the ironicness of it all.
I’m the only thing standing between you and death. Your life is in my hands. It’s up to me if you live or die.
You are nothing. Always nothing.
Just stop fighting.
And Jack wanted to. He was ready to give up. Everything Snyder was saying was true. He was weak. He was nothing. He had nothing. He could do nothing. He wanted to be done. But another voice had broken through Snyder’s hold on him. This one was different, kinder.
Jack, I ain't gonna hurt ya.
You’se okay. You’se gonna be okay.
Ya gotta keep fightin’, Jack.
Wake up. Please wake up.
Snyder's voice was still there but quieter, pushed to the background. New voices filled the void instead. Jack’s tears dried as the voices pushed back the pressure that had been weighing him down. He was still stuck in the black, but the voices kept him afloat.
Ya promised ya’d never leave us. Wake up.
I love you, Jack.
Every once and awhile, Snyder’s voice was there, but it was mostly forced from the storm of voices that surrounded him. It made him feel safe for the first time in a long time. It was still dark, but the original eeriness had disappeared. A light had appeared in the black void. The voices urged him towards it. As he got closer and closer, the voices seemed to get quieter and Jack felt he was on the verge of breaking. But, he was too scared to be left alone in formless wasteland, too scared of the light disappearing and Snyder catching up to him again. So he crawled forward, hoping to feel safe again. He finally reached the light and it filled his vision.
Jack opened his eyes. His vision was blurry and he blinked a couple of times. It cleared up within a couple of seconds, but Jack had to push his long, stringy hair out of his eyes in order to see anything. He pushed the brown hair to the side, and glanced around the room he was in. It was dimly lit though he recognized it as the backstage of Medda’s theater. He had spent a lot of time in the back room, mostly hiding from people though sometimes it was just to get away.
Then he saw a boy at the door. The backwards cap and the crutch under his arm immediately identified the boy.
“C-Crutchie,” he whispered. Jack’s voice was rough and hoarse and hurt his throat, so he was sure his brother hadn’t heard him. But Crutchie’s hand paused on the doorknob and he slowly turned around. A look of shock covered his features as he made eye contact with Jack.
“Jack?” he whispered, eyes still wide in disbelief. He rushed forward and collapsed next to the bed. “Jack. Jack. You’se awake.” Jack nodded and opened his mouth to reply, but a coughing fit overtook his body. He whimpered as the coughs racked his ribs and sore wounds. Crutchie placed a hand on his shoulder, hoping to calm the older boy. The coughing subsided as the door slowly opened.
“That better not be you coughing, Crutchie. I don’t know if I can deal with you bein’ sick right now,” a tired voice said as Race entered the room. He was facing the ground as he pushed open the door with his foot. He set down one of the glasses in his hand on a table then reached out to hand Crutchie his glass. “Here ya—” The glass hit the ground and shattered into tiny pieces.
“J-Jack,” he stuttered, his eyes full of shock. “He’s awake?” Race looked to Crutchie for confirmation that he wasn’t crazy and the younger boy nodded. “You’se awake,” he whispered, breathlessly. The glass crunched as he stepped over it and through the puddle to join Crutchie by Jack’s bed. A small smile appeared on Jack’s face and he slowly reached his arm around Race. He pulled his little brother forward and pressed a kiss to his head.
“I’se back,” he whispered. His eyes grew heavy all of a sudden and he let his arm fall limp off the bed. “I think… I think I’se gonna go back to sleep.”
“Alright Jack,” he heard someone say just before his eyes closed again.
When he opened his eyes again, Race and Crutchie were still there. This time, they were joined by Medda. “Hey… M-Miss Medda,” he whispered.
“Hey, kid,” she responded, in the same soft tone. Race was crouched beside the bed, still drinking his water. Jack coughed and reached out to relieve Race of his glass. Crutchie laughed as Race sputtered. Medda helped Jack sit up as he took a long gulp of the cool water.
“You can’t drink that,” Race said with a smile to make it obvious he was joking. Jack didn’t end up drinking much of it anyways. In his hastiness, Jack started to choke and most of the water ended up on his shirt. When spit and mucus and water finally stopped dripping from his lips, he asked the question that had been pressing him.
“How long…” he paused and took a drop breath. “How long was I out?”
“Two hours,” Race unhelpfully replied, and Jack’s shot him a glare. Jack knew he had to have unconscious for awhile, longer than two hours, long enough for his bruises to fade and his cuts to stop bleeding. Then, Medda gave him a true answer. “Two weeks.”
Jack’s eyes widened, and he could feel his breath quickening. “T-two weeks… two weeks?” he whispered over and over again. It wasn’t long before he couldn’t breathe at all. His lungs wouldn’t cooperate. “I can’t breathe… I-I c-c-can’t breathe.”
“Jack,” Miss Medda said, but Jack wasn’t listening. He couldn’t. His vision started to get clouded and black spots danced in front of his eyes. “Jack!” Medda shouted and he turned towards the older woman. “Jack, focus on me. Take a deep breath. In… and out.” She demonstrated, holding Jack’s hand. “Take a deep breath, Jack. Just focus on me.” And Jack did. His breathing was still erratic, but his vision cleared as he got more air.
“Ya scared us,” Crutchie said.
“Sorry,” Jack replied, his voice noticeably rougher.
“Stop apologizin’,” Race said. “Whatcha got ta’ be sorry for? What matters now it you’se gonna be okay.” Jack nodded and a gentle smile graced his face.
“We’re all gonna be okay,” he said. For the first time in a while, there was a smile on the face of everyone in the room. “What happened?” he asked. “I don’t remember how I got here.”
“We broke ya out. It took a long time, a week. Romeo and Elmer baited Snyder and we, uh, Spot, Specs, and me, got ya out.”
“Alright,” Jack said then quickly continued, desperate to change the subject. “Where are the rest of the boys?”
“They’re safe, Jack,” Medda assured him. “Specs is watchin’ them at the lodging house.”
“Good… good. I think I need to… get some more sleep,” Jack said, and he once again fell unconscious.
“Jack… Jack. Kelly!”
Jack knew the man in front of him wanted him to look at him, but he couldn’t. He was too focused on the guards that were stripping his shirt off and the knife that glittered in the dim light. Jack was forced to the ground by the guards. His back was still bleeding and raw and he whimpered as it was harshly slammed into the cool ground. He could feel the cool metal of the knife kiss his skin as it was slowly run across his chest. He was left relatively unharmed besides a few shallow nicks.
“Now Jack,” Snyder growled, “you’ve escaped here three times now. Of course I never admitted you escaped the other two times because that looks bad on me and I know you were always too scared to talk about it.”
“So w-why d’ya admit it the last time?” Jack said, the cold and his injuries making him slightly stutter in his attempt to make a snarky comment.
Snyder scoffed. “Ya rode out with the governor, boy. Everybody noticed it. Ya made the fuckin’ front page, and… ya humiliated me. But you belong to me now. And everybody's gonna know it.” Then, suddenly, the knife was plunged into his chest. A choked sob escaped his mouth and he fought to keep himself from crying. Snyder moved the knife in a twisted fashion down the boy’s chest leaving behind deep cuts. He lifted the knife for a second, just long enough to give Jack a spark of hope, and then slammed it back down again. The knife easily pierced his skin and blood welled up in the cuts. “Ya want to see it?” Snyder crooned as Jack fought to keep tears back. The guards pushed him up and Jack glanced down at his chest, now adorned with a roughly carved S-N.
“W-what are ya doin’ ta’ me?” Jack screamed, fear shaking his voice. Normally, he would never let Snyder see his fear, but this was different. This was new and terrifying.
“C’mon Jack,” Snyder said, ignoring him. “What’s next? S-N… What’s next, boy?!” Jack stayed stubbornly silent. Snyder sighed and another cut was made along Jack’s ribs. This one was small and shallow, made more to hurt than anything else. “What next?” Snyder asked again and was met with the same silence. It took six more cuts before Jack finally broke.
“Y,” he whispered with tears burning his eyes. Snyder nodded, an evil smile twisting his face into that of a demon, and the knife sliced through his skin next to the other letters.
“And then…” Snyder said and was rewarded with a small sob. It only took four cuts this time before Jack whispered the next letter. And ten more shallow cuts later, Snyder’s name was carved into Jack’s chest. Blood covered his entire torso and tears were now streaming full force. As Snyder and the guards left, he pulled himself across the ground and retrieved his shirt. Jack winced and cried out as he pulled it tightly around the bleeding cuts. Eventually, he succumbed to the blood loss and…
Jack woke up, screaming loud enough for the whole theater to hear.
So there we go. Next chapter, we will be getting back to plot. I hope y'all enjoyed.
Race sat outside Jack’s room for almost an hour. Tears burned his eyes and threatened to fall, but his cheeks stayed stubbornly dry. He was getting tired. “How does Jack do this everyday?” he muttered, rubbing his eyes. In between making sure everyone was healthy, fed, and safe everyday and checking on Jack and Crutchie, It felt like he had the world on his shoulders. Then his pessimistic thoughts were interrupted by a muffled coughing fit from behind the door. Race groaned and he stood up. He retrieved the two glasses of water and slowly pushed open the door.
“That better not be you coughing, Crutchie. I don’t know if I can deal with you bein’ sick right now,” Race said, exhaustion seeping into his voice. He set down his glass by the door and moved to hand Crutchie his. “Here ya—,” He began, then Race’s eyes widened, his jaw dropped, and the glass of water slipped out of his hand, shattering on the floor.
“J-Jack,” he stumbled on his words. Jack eyes were open, the sharp green dulled by weeks of sleep. Race was sure he was hallucinating, but Crutchie confirmed it. “You’se awake,” he whispered, smiling. He stepped over the glass at his feet and knelt down by Crutchie. A smile appeared on Jack’s face and it made Race break into a wide smile. He felt Jack reach his hand around him and the older boy pressed a quick kiss to the top of his head. It wasn’t too long before he fell back asleep and the soft sound of snores filled the room.
“Everything’s gonna be okay,” he whispered, mostly to himself but a little for Crutchie’s benefit.
“Yep,” Crutchie said with a wide smile, “Everything’s gonna work out.” Just then, the door opened and Medda rushed in.
“What happened, boys?” she asked, looking at the glass and puddle of water on the floor.
“He was awake, Medda,” Race said and her eyes shot open.
“That’s good,” she said, sounding slightly out of breath. “That’s good. Things are looking up, boys.” Race and Medda started to clean up the mess on the floor, but they got distracted every time there was a change with Jack. He opened his eyes again two hours later, but he fell unconscious even quicker this time.
“We should probably let the boys know,” Crutchie said a little while later, “Katherine, too.” Race nodded and tossed the other boy his crutch.
“Hey Medda,” Race said from across the room, “Crutchie and I are gonna go back and let the boys know what’s happening.” She nodded and finally finished cleaning up the glass as Crutchie and Race left the room. It took them only twenty minutes to get back to the lodging house. Night had long since fallen at this point and the two walked in silence through the dark streets. By the time they arrived at the lodging house, the only sound was the creaking of beds and snoring.
“Hey, boys,” Race said. Tears began to prick his eyes when he realized he finally had some good news to tell them. “Hey!” he screamed louder. Groans echoed through building, but as soon as they saw who it was, the boys began to sit up.
“What’s happening, Race?”
“Is Jack okay?”
“Jack, um, Jack…”
“Is he dead?” Romeo asked quietly and Race shook his head.
“He’s awake, boys,” Race said. “He’s awake.”
Shouts of joy echoed throughout the building, the loud noise making Crutchie wince. “We can go see ‘im tomorrow.” No one got any sleep that night and morning couldn’t come fast enough. Finally, the morning bell echoed through the dark building, the only time Race had ever been glad to hear that harsh noise. But, then another noise began to drown out the bell. Race jumped at a loud knock at the door. He stared at the door suspiciously as if somehow he would be able to see through it. However, the door stayed just as opaque as ever, and Race eventually pushed himself off the bed. As soon as he pushed down the handle, the door was shoved open and he was pushed into the wall. The force had him stumbling, but he quickly regained his footing just in time to see several bulls and a man in a gray suit enter.
“Search the place. Find him!” the man was yelling. The bulls dispersed from the man’s side and began to delve deeper into the lodging house, opening all doors and cabinets and glancing under beds. The newsies scattered then, disappearing through open windows and back doors. Then the man turned on Race and Race could see a dangerous fire burning behind his eyes. He stalked toward Race and wrapped his hand around the boy’s collar. “Where is Kelly?” Snyder growled.
“What?” Race asked, shocked by the sudden turn of events. Snyder snarled and Race felt a fist connect with his face.
“I know ya broke him out. Where is he?”
“Jack’s in the Refuge!” Race yelled, feigning innocence. “I ain’t seen him for a long time.”
“Ya really expect me to believe that?” Snyder yelled, and Race braced himself for another hit, but it never came. Instead the hand around his collar disappeared. Another hand wrapped around his arm and he was pulled towards the door.
“C’mon,” Albert was shouting and Race started running.
“Ya can’t run forever, kid. You are going to the Refuge. You and all your little friends!” Race could hear Snyder’s frustrated screams behind him, but he never stopped. Albert kept a tight grip around his wrist until they finally stopped, panting with sweat dripping from their brows. Race collapsed to the ground.
“Snyder was there,” he whispered. Then he tried to squash his fears like he had seen Jack do so many times. “Did everybody get out?” he said louder now, just managing to keep his voice even. Albert nodded.
“I think everybody made it out. I didn’t see anybody in the house when I went back for ya.”
“What about Crutchie?” Race continued.
“Finch carried him out. I think they went off towards Jacobi’s.” Race nodded and pushed himself off the ground. The duo traveled the streets of Manhattan until they had gathered all the other newsies outside of Jacobi’s.
“We goin’ ta work?” Blink asked from the back of the group, obviously still shaken up from earlier. Race took a deep breath. Jack, help me.
“Yeah, we gotta go to work. We just ended the strike. Pulitza’ ain’t gonna be happy if we miss a day a’ work already. Everybody needs to sell in pairs. When both of ya is done, head to the theater. But make sure ya ain’t followed. We can’t let the Spider find Jack.” The newsies nodded and they all paired up before silently making their way towards the distribution center. Davey and Les were already there when they arrived.
“What happened?” Davey asked after watching each of the normally-lively newsies sulk past.
“Jack woke up last night, and then Snyder showed up at the lodging house today. He was lookin’ for Jack. We is gonna sell in pairs today. Take Les with ya and find somebody.”
Davey’s eyes widened and his mouth opened in shock. “He’s awake? Is he okay?”
Race nodded. “I think so, mostly. We’se gonna meet at Medda’s later, but make sure ya ain’t followed.” Davey nodded and the two went their separate ways as Race paired up with Finch, and Davey and Les joined Jojo. They ended up selling at Finch’s usual place because Race didn’t want to walk all the way up to Sheepshead. Selling seemed to take forever that day even without breaking for lunch, and Race and Finch had to take a roundabout route back to theater in order to avoid all the bulls. But finally, in the heat of the afternoon, they made it into the back room of Miss Medda’s theater.
As they entered, a wave a cool air and a blast of noise hit them. Even in the middle of a rehearsal, when actors and crewmen alike were bustling around, Race had never heard it this loud. Race quickly realized they were one of the last ones to arrive. There was a large group of boys standing in a circle, surrounding something, but it was easy for him to guess what it was. And sure enough, there was Jack, sitting up on the cot, being bombarded by questions and statements as he was filled in on what had happened in his absence. He looked better even than yesterday. All the dried blood had been washed away and his bandages were now hidden underneath a clean shirt. His leg was propped up, and Medda had splinted it. His hair had been buzzed down, close to his scalp, and his sharp, green eyes shone with a brightness that Race hadn’t seen in years.
“I wish ya coulda’ seen it Jack. There was kids from all over the city all there for our strike… your strike.”
“Yeah, we even made the front page again.”
“So did you, Jack!” Smalls shouted excitedly. “Good headline, too. It sold real well.”
“I did, huh?” Jack asked, smiling, obviously playing along with the young rugrat.
“Yep,” Romeo responded. “For escapin’ the Refuge. It talked all about your criminal activities. Very descriptive.” Another amused smile covered Jack’s face, but then his face started to crumble and tears filled his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Sniper asked.
“Nothing,” Jack replied, wiping away his years, but not trying to hide them like he usually did. “Nothing. I just missed ya guys.” All of a sudden, Race watched as his brothers seemingly attacked, tackling Jack back onto the cot. Race could see Jack’s silent groan etched onto his face, but it was quickly covered up with a another smile as he was engulfed in a group hug. Several hours later, as the clock hit 8:00, everyone began to notice sleep clouding Jack’s eyes, and, one by one, they dispersed until only Race was left behind.
“Snyder came to the lodging house today,” Race whispered after a couple minutes of silence.
“What?!” Jack exclaimed, all of a sudden awake and alert. “What’d he do? Did he hurt anyone?”
“No, everyone’s fine. He was lookin’ for you though. I don’t think I’se ever seen ‘im that angry.”
“This is my fault,” Jack whispered.
“He’s gonna hurt all of ya and put ya in the Refuge. I need to- I need to…” Jack shot up off the cot, but almost immediately crumpled to the floor as he put weight on his bad leg. Race caught him and slowly lowered him onto the cot again.
“How are ya gonna do anythin’ if ya can’t even make it off that cot?” Race snapped. He immediately regretted his words as Jack flinched away, curling in on himself and moving his leg to the other side of the cot in order to obscure it. “Jack, sorry. Jack, that’s not what- I didn’t mean that, Jack.”
“Yeah, ya did,” Jack said, harshly. Race could hear tears shake his voice. “But ya’s right. I can’t do anythin’ from here.”
Race sat down next to him on the cot, and wrapped his arm around his older brother. They sat in silence for awhile until Jack was able to completely compose himself and Race’s butt started to get sore. “We’ll get through this, Jack, I promise.” Then taking a deep breath and another long pause, he asked a more pressing question. “Does, um, is… is Miss Medda gonna trys to set ya’s leg?”
Race could feel Jack stiffen besides him and, for a second, he thought he had overstepped. But then Jack responded. “Uh, um, nah. Medda says it’ll probably just get worse if she tries to fix it. She was gonna take me to a hospital, but Snyder has bulls watchin’ all the ones in the city. And no doctors’ll do a house call for as little money as we can pay, especially for an injury this bad. She did her best to brace it so it don’t get worse, but there ain’t much we can do. She saids I might be able to walk on it after it heals, but I’se gonna hafta use a crutch for a while.”
“Not a single doctor will do out of the kindness of their heart?” Race asked, sarcastically. They were orphans, the lowest of the low. No one did anything for them out the kindness of their heart (with the exception of Miss Medda, of course). Jack’s scoff mirrored his thoughts. The silence returned, but it was broken much quicker this time by Jack.
“What is we doin’, Racer?” Jack asked eventually. “How is we supposed to fix this one? Snyder’s gonna find me soon or later, or he’s just gonna keep going after you all.”
“Then I guess we just have to get rid of Snyder,” Race replied, offhandedly.
“How? He’s got powerful connections.”
“Especially with Pulitzer backin’ ‘im,” Race muttered, all of a sudden, feeling anger fester inside of him for every single man who had ever looked down on them.
“So, we have to find someone more powerful,” Jack answered, and Race could tell that his mask had fallen back into place. The older boy was trying to act stronger and more confident than he was.
“Like who?” Race asked, and for the third time that night, silence fell.
Who is more powerful than the Snyder? There’s Pulitzer and Hearst. Maybe we could talk to Bill or Darcy, but their fathers probably wouldn’t be very interested in helping without something in return. So who has more power than the wealthiest men in New York? Who would be willing to stand up for a group of orphans? Who can take on Goliath?
Race and Jack said it at the same time. “The governor.”
So, I went back and forth a lot with whether or not to set Jack's leg, but realistically, someone like Medda probably wouldn't know how to set a bone, and, in that time period, its possible no one could.
Updates will probably be slowing down as finals and the end of school approaches.
Chapter 16: Katherine
I'm so sorry for the long wait, but I finally managed to write something. I had a hard time deciding how I wanted to write this but I hope you enjoy.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You want me to do what?” Katherine exclaimed incredulously, staring at the hopeful faces around her.
“We need ya to talk to the governor to get the Refuge shutdown,” Race said.
“Why me?” Katherine asked. This is your fight. I never asked for this, she almost said but managed to hold her tongue. She did bring herself into this even though the boys tried to get rid of her. She fought against them. She did ask for this.
“We think he might be more willin’ to listen if someone with a good reputation brought it up. Otherwise he might just blow us off,” Jack replied in the small voice he had been using ever since he had woken up.
Katherine raised an eyebrow and nodded. She didn’t know why she was still surprised. The newsies had proved over and over again just how smart they could be. “Alright, but we’ll need validation.” Upon seeing the confused look on Jack and Race’s faces, she quickly corrected herself. “Uh, proof, evidence. Something to show Governor Roosevelt that our accusations aren’t lies.”
The room stayed silent for a while, and, ever so slowly, Race and Katherine turned towards Jack. As soon as he caught their glance, he began shaking his head. “Uh uh, no way. I ain’t never showing anyone my scars especially not the governor. Besides, we’ve all got scars. There’s no way to prove it was Snyder.”
“His name’s literally written on ya,” Race muttered.
“What?” Katherine asked, unsure she had heard right.
“Nothing,” Jack quietly replied, glaring at Race and refusing to meet Katherine’s gaze, so Katherine ignored it and moved on. She grasped Jack’s hand and titled his chin up so he was forced to make eye contact.
“If you want to get the Refuge shutdown, this is the best way to do it. We have to show Governor Roosevelt something.” Jack looked like he was about to argue again, but Katherine squeezed his hand. “I’ll be with you the whole time,” she whispered and Jack’s eye lit up and the grim countenance turned back hopeful. Finally, Jack agreed, and the three began to plan. A rudimentary structure of an idea had been formed when David pushed through the door.
“Hey, Davey,” Jack said, waving.
“Hey, Jack,” David replied and clapped him on the back. “Are you feeling better?” Jack nodded and smiled. “Well, you are certainly looking much better.”
“Whatcha talkin’ about, Davey?” Jack asked, looking mock offended. “I’m always beautiful.” Laughter erupted in the room as Jack sent a wink towards David, turning his face bright red. A smug smile slowly spread across Jack’s face and it wasn’t until several minutes later that the laughter finally died down.
“So, what’s happening?” David finally asked.
“We’se shuttin’ down the Refuge!” Race replied confidently and David’s eyes widened.
“H-how?” David asked. “I thought we were staying away from Snyder especially since he’s looking for Jack.”
“We’re not attacking Snyder,” Katherine replied. “Well, not directly. We’re going to Governor Roosevelt.”
David’s jaw dropped and any arguments from him died away.
It was well into the night before the four finally separated. Katherine hugged David and waved to Race as she headed toward the door.
Katherine paused with her hand on the door. She had never heard Jack so unsure. He always had this confident aura surrounding him whether it was faked or not.
“Yeah, Jack?” she asked, turning around.
“I, uh, before we go tomorrow, I wanted to…” he paused, rubbing the back of his neck.
“You wanted to…” Katherine prompted.
“My scars. I want you to be prepared tomorrow.” Tears were already brimming in his eyes though he furiously brushed them away. Katherine’s heart broke a little right there, staring at the broken boy in front of her. She sat down next to him, wrapping her arms around him.
“I helped Miss Medda right after they got you out. I saw them Jack. You don’t have to show me.”
“Jack, its okay,” she interrupted. “I can handle it.”
Katherine had no idea how wrong she was.
The next morning, Katherine and Medda helped Jack sneak into Medda’s carriage. He curled up in the a ball on the seat with his bad leg propped up on Katherine. They rode across town and every bump in the road made Jack groan in pain, but otherwise they made it to the governor’s office without trouble. Miss Medda cleared the sidewalk before Katherine pulled Jack out and handed him a prop crutch that Medda had once used in her show. It was a slow going process because this was the first time that Jack had supported himself since his leg was broken, but he stubbornly refused help, no matter how many times Katherine and Medda offered.
Katherine noticed a police officer who held her gaze slightly too long. Once he realized she was staring, he quickly glanced down, writing something in his notebook. He fidgeted under her gaze until her line of sight was obscured by the heavy wooden door.
“Umm, hello,” Katherine asked, looking around the empty lobby. “Hello?” Once again, no response graced her ears. “I don’t think anyone is here,” she told Jack with an apologetic look in her eyes.
“Unacceptable,” Medda responded in her loud, full voice as she marched towards the stairs behind the front desk. “Let’s go kids. We are gettin’ the meetin’ whether Mr. Governor likes it or not.” Jack laughed as Medda grabbed his hand and lifted him off his feet. The two hiked up the steep staircase with Katherine hurrying to catch up. A long empty hallway filled with doorways greeted them. It didn’t deter Miss Medda though and she marched up to each and every door, knocking on them with all her strength. Most rooms were empty and the doors remained latched, but a few opened and confused people were left in Miss Medda’s dust. Finally, she reached a large wooden door at the end of the hallway. She set Jack down and then banged on the door, her knocking echoing down the hall.
“Ma’am, you can’t go in there,” one man said, but a glare from Miss Medda silenced him. The door finally slowly creaked open and the form of the governor stood in the doorway. The sun peeked through the large window on the other side of the room and illuminated him, making him appear as every bit the savior that Jack remembered from his escape from the Refuge.
“Karen, I told you I didn’t…” he stopped, finally looking up. “You aren’t Karen.”
“No sir, I ain’t Karen but you is exactly who I is lookin’ for.” With those words, she pushed past Roosevelt and into his office. Katherine cautiously followed her and they both watched as Roosevelt waved away his anxious employees. He entered the office as well and the door closed behind them.
“So what can I do for you all today?” Governor Roosevelt politely asked.
“Ya should focus more on what I can help you with,” Miss Medda replied, cockily. Katherine knew that a warning to watch her words when talking to one of the most powerful people in New York would be wasted. After all, Jack picked up his defiance somewhere.
“And what can you do for me, Miss…”
“Medda,” she supplied, “and with the information I got, a dangerous criminal can be removed from the streets.”
“And who might that be?”
“A man named Snyder, a warden at the Refuge.”
“That’s quite an accusation, especially since everything I’ve seen, heard, and read says that that boy behind you is the criminal.”
Miss Medda raised an eyebrow and glanced back at Jack with a look that said ‘seriously’. Katherine was so grateful that Jack missed the sympathetic look thrown his way.
“Well, I really hope you didn’t come here without some type of proof.”
Medda scoffed. “Jack Kelly has been sentenced to the Refuge a total of six times and has never seen in the inside of a courtroom or been offered a fair trial. The first time he was arrested it was because of 'loitering and vagrancy'. Jackie was five years old and had just lost his family. After that, he was arrested multiple times for traffickin’ stolen goods. He was tryin’ to help the kids he looks after and the kids who had to suffer like him in the Refuge. Now, I’se seen him after many of his releases from the Refuge. Each time, he suffered from injuries that would make a grown man cry. Now does it sound like he suffered at the hands of a law-abidin’ citizen?”
Katherine noticed that Jack shifted in his seat as Medda continued with her speech and she reached out and grabbed his hand. He flinched as her hand brushed across his own but quickly grabbed it like a life preserver, shooting her a grateful smile. The governor’s jaw had dropped by the time Medda finished with her story but he, unfortunately, recovered quickly.
“I’m sorry, but I still have no reason to believe you,” he started. “Snyder has been trusted to hold this role and there is no reason to think that he is not fit for the position especially since the only person accusing him is the person who has been in his sights for a long time. I’m sorry but, unless there is something you can show me, I’ll have someone escort you out and him back to the Refuge.”
“Governor Roosevelt,” Katherine interjected, “my name is Katherine Pulitzer.”
“Mr. Pulitzer’s daughter, I assume.”
“Yes, sir. And I’m sure you know about the current strike against my father.” Roosevelt nodded and Katherine continued. “I saw with my own eyes what Snyder did to Mr. Kelly, and he deserves far worse than jail. You know that I would not be here unless I had complete certainty that Jack did indeed suffer at the hands of Warden Snyder.”
The governor sighed. “Yes, ma’am, I do know that, and I’m inclined to believe you. However, Snyder has been looked into before and nothing out of the ordinary was found. I can't just decide to ignore the laws just because I'm the governor. In order to launch another investigation, I must have some evidence to back up your claims. ”
Katherine sat back, shaking her head, disgusted but Miss Medda kept going. “Jack,” was all she said, but the boy in question understood her. Katherine rubbed his hand comfortingly and then released him from her grasp. He stood up and his fingers moved up to the buttons on his shirt. Slowly each button was unfastened until his bright blue shirt hung loosely from his skinny frame. He turned his back to the governor as the shirt was fully removed. Katherine focused intently focused on Roosevelt, grotesquely interested to see his reaction.
“The still red cuts is where he whipped me,” Jack said. “The other scars is from my earlier sentences.” Then he turned around slowly and, if the governor looked shocked earlier, he was absolutely horrified now. “Is this enough proof for ya?” Jack asked. The lack of emotion in his voice scared Katherine.
The governor nodded. “I believe you,” he said. “I’ll settle things with Snyder.” Katherine didn’t bother to contain the smile that appeared on her face.
The three left the office together, Katherine and Medda on either side of Jack and they were soon back outside.
“All in all,” Medda said, “I think that was a successful trip.”
Jack laughed and nodded. “I completely agree.” They climbed back into the carriage and it wasn’t long before they had reached the theater.
“Jack, I want to re-bandage your chest,” Medda said as he hobbled into the back room.
“Miss Medda,” Katherine said, “I can do it if you want.”
“That would be great… if Jack is okay with it.” Miss Medda looked at Jack and he nodded. A sense of pride swelled in her chest. Jack trusted her. Medda left the room and for the second time that day, Jack removed his shirt.
She should’ve been more prepared, but Katherine couldn’t stifle the shocked gasp that escaped her lips. Thick, gnarly scars ran across his ribs and disappeared onto his back. Those she could handle, but they were nothing compared to the half-healed name carved into his torso. The bright red letters, some of which still required stitches to hold them together, stood out in stark contrast to his pale skin.
"This is what you showed the governor. This is why he changed his mind so quickly."
Jack looked at the ground, ashamed.
“Jack, no. I’m so sorry. There is no reason to be upset. I- I just wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s okay,” Jack whispered. “I know. I know I’se broken.”
“No you’re not. You are amazing and kind and so strong and powerful and I’m so privileged to have met you. I love you Jack, so much.” She stopped when she realized what she had said but then continued. “You have changed my life for the better, Jack Kelly, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t return my feelings. I will never be ashamed to say I love you.”
Silence filled the room. Well, there goes our friendship, Katherine bitterly thought.
“Fer sure?” Jack asked, breaking the silence.
“For sure,” Katherine replied with a smile on her face.
“I love ya, too,” he whispered in her ear and kissed her cheek. Then subsequently drifted off to sleep. Katherine realized that his chest still remained unbandaged, but she didn’t care. Despite everything that had happened, Katherine felt happier than she had in a long time.
When Medda walked in the next morning, the two were side-by-side, snuggling in their sleep.
Hopefully the next chapter won't take so long.