Racetrack knows Jack’s been to see Spot and his boys already. He was there when they got back from Brooklyn, delivering the same message from Harlem that everybody else has: nobody’s in unless Spot’s in. So when Jack comes back without a definite yes, Racetrack figures it’s up to him to seal the deal.
He doesn’t fool himself that he’s some master negotiator or anything; he’s as good at talking as Jack, sure, but when it comes down to it, Davey’s the best with words. But when it comes to Spot, Racetrack’s got one thing that even Jack hasn’t got, and that’s information. Spot respects Jack, sure, maybe even likes him, but not even Jack knows the things about Spot that Racetrack knows.
And the thing is, Racetrack kind of likes being the only one who knows stuff about Spot, so he’s not all that thrilled about what he’s about to do. Except without Spot they’ve got nothing but a losing battle on their hands, and none of them signed on for the kind of soaking. So he sucks it up and he waits until the others are caught up in their plans, then he slips away and heads out to Brooklyn himself.
“Looks like all of Manhattan’s on the wrong side of the bridge today,” one of Spot’s boys says when they see him coming. Racetrack lifts his chin in acknowledgment, ignoring the snide looks he knows are supposed to scare him.
He keeps his eyes on Spot, lounging against a piling at the end of the pier. Spot’s watching him come, a smug look on his mug that either makes Racetrack want to slug him or kiss him, depending on his mood. Since he figured out he’s actually allowed to do the second one, it’s mostly that.
But he can’t kiss Spot in front of all his boys, so instead he stops near the end of the pier and reaches up to touch his cap. “Spot.”
“Race. To what does Brooklyn owe the pleasure?” Spot says, but he doesn’t give Racetrack one of those little half-smiles of his, the one that makes Racetrack’s stomach go tight way down deep. His eyes are dark and kind of narrow, and Racetrack figures maybe that means Spot’s already figured out why he’s here.
“I was hoping to have a word. In private,” Racetrack answers, glancing over his shoulder at Spot’s boys.
It’s a breach of etiquette; Racetrack knows that, knew it when he made up his mind to cross the bridge and talk to Spot himself. As far as Spot’s boys know, Racetrack’s just one of Jack’s boys, same as them, and he’s got no reason to come looking for a private word with Spot. They don’t know anything about the times Spot manages to sneak away, when Racetrack leaves the track to find Spot lounging outside the gate, waiting for Racetrack to put in an appearance so Spot can drag him somewhere private and not talk much at all.
But the thing is, the strike’s more important than both of them, and he can’t afford to wait around for Spot to find him this time. If it means taking the chance that he’ll never walk out of Sheepshead to find Spot waiting around for him again…well, it’s a risk he has to take. He doesn’t want to, but he owes it to Jack and Crutchy and everybody else back in Manhattan. He owes it to all the Newsies, and that includes Spot, so really it’s for his own good.
Spot just looks at him for another minute, considering, like maybe he’s thinking about saying no. If he does there’s not a lot Racetrack can do besides turn around and walk away, not unless he wants to stay and take the chance of getting soaked by the finest Brooklyn has to offer. He hopes Spot wouldn’t let it get that far, but he’s got a reputation to protect, so Racetrack can’t say for sure. Just when he’s about to get really worried Spot nods once, then he stands up and reaches for his cane.
“Step into my office,” he says, and when he heads back up the pier, Racetrack swallows hard and follows.
None of Spot’s boys follow as he leads Racetrack up the pier and back onto the sidewalk, then into the next block to duck down an alley. The smells of ash and rotten garbage make Racetrack wrinkle his nose, and when he catches Spot smirking at him he wants to take it back. Wants to forget the reason he’s here in the first place, maybe just tell Spot it’s been awhile and he missed him. It wouldn’t even be a lie, but they don’t say that kind of stuff to each other, so Racetrack knows better than to start now.
“Jack send you?” Spot asks, leaning against the dirty brick building. He’s going for casual, Racetrack can tell, but he’s seen Spot Conlon with his guard down enough times to know that the answer to that question is important.
“Nah, he doesn’t know I’m here.”
Spot raises an eyebrow at that, but he doesn’t comment. “You here for a social call, then?”
“Look, Spot, you know what everybody’s saying. No one’s in unless you give the go-ahead. Without your word, we can’t pull this thing off.”
“So you came all the way out to Brooklyn to ask me nicely to go along with one of Jack’s harebrained schemes?” Spot says, and Racetrack winces at the edge in his voice. “You thought I’d like the sound of it a little better coming from you, maybe?”
Racetrack shrugs, tries not to blush and curses himself when he feels his face heat up. “That’d be nice, sure.”
“And if I don’t?”
He knew when he left Manhattan that Spot was always gonna make him say it. Racetrack knows him, better than Jack and maybe even better than his own boys. So he knows Spot’s not gonna give him a smile and a kiss and tell him that sure, he’ll do it, just because Racetrack asked. Still, until he hears Spot say the words, he kind of hopes Spot will surprise him.
“I ain’t saying I want to do it, but it seems to me there’s plenty of Newsies out there wouldn’t think so much of Brooklyn if they heard about me and you.”
For a few seconds Spot just looks at him like he’s never seen Racetrack before. Or maybe like he just wishes he hadn’t; either way, something twists hard in Racetrack’s stomach, and he’s pretty sure that no matter what the answer, this is the end of him and Spot.
“Seems to me plenty a Newsies wouldn’t be too crazy about backing up Jack anymore either, knowing you’re on his crew.”
Racetrack shrugs again and hopes the panic isn’t showing on his face. “If you don’t join they’re not backing us anyway. ‘Sides, the boys wouldn’t turf me out if they knew. Some of ‘em might not like it, but Cowboy would stand up for me. You’re the one with a reputation ta tarnish here.”
He’s not for sure about that. Truth is that if everyone knew, Racetrack would be spending a lot more time looking over his shoulder than he does now. Still, most of the boys in his crew would stick by him, he’s pretty sure. He’d place his odds at three to one, and he’s put money on worse odds than that.
“So that’s how it’s gonna be,” Spot says, his expression going cold as he pushes himself off the wall to stand in front of Racetrack. For a second Racetrack thinks he might throw a punch, and if he does, Racetrack’s prepared to take it. He deserves it, but if it gets him Spot’s word then he’s willing to take the soaking.
“Doesn’t hafta be,” Racetrack answers, but his voice is softer than he planned and he feels his whole face heating up. “You could just do it on account a you want to.”
Spot huffs a noise that could be a laugh, but it could be something else, too, and before Racetrack can decide he’s turning on his heel and walking away. Racetrack knows he should let him go; he’s said what he came here to say, and no matter what Spot decides, the damage is already done. So he’s not sure what makes him reach out, hand closing around Spot’s wrist before he stops to think about the cane still gripped in Spot’s other hand.
Just for a second Spot glances back at him, eyes flashing with something that makes Racetrack’s stomach sour. “You placed your bet, right? Gotta let it ride now.”
He shakes off Racetrack’s hand and walks away, leaving Racetrack standing in an alley somewhere in Brooklyn and wondering if he just threw away the best thing he’s ever gonna have.
He tries to talk Jack into holding off on the strike after that. Figures maybe he can buy a little more time; not that he thinks it’ll fix anything with Spot, but maybe it’ll give them a chance to convince the rest of the Newsies that they all have to stick together. Except when Jack sets his mind to something, there’s no changing it, so it’s no surprise when it doesn’t work.
It’s no surprise when Crutchy ends up arrested, either.
When Spot and his boys appear outside The World like some kind of cavalry or something, Racetrack’s heart does this weird little dance in his chest. Spot looks just as cocky as ever when he throws himself into the fight, like it’s the most fun he’s ever had. He doesn’t so much as glance Racetrack’s way, but that doesn’t stop Racetrack from noticing just how beautiful Spot looks when he’s spoiling for a fight. Not that Racetrack would ever say so, but he’s not blind.
Spot keeps on pretending like he doesn’t exist, even when they’re standing right next to each other getting their picture taken, then after, when they’re all celebrating their fame at Tibby’s. Still, he sticks around even though it means being in the same room as Racetrack, and even if it’s just because he wants to see his picture in the paper, it’s still something. And if Racetrack spends most of the celebration stealing glances at Spot…well, he figures the others are too busy being famous to notice.
He’s not expecting the fame to soften Spot up or anything. Still, it looks good on him, and if Racetrack steals an extra copy of the front page to stow in his bunk at the boarding house, nobody needs to know why.
They don’t see each other again until the rally; Spot arrives with all his boys, but before Racetrack even gets a chance to get close to him, Spot’s already whispering with Jack and David. Then the three of them are climbing on stage to address the troops, and after that it’s a whole lot of shouting until the cops show up to bust them up.
It’s kind of embarrassing, being one of the first to get knocked out, but he tells himself he was distracted with trying to protect Medda. It was the gentlemanly thing to do, after all, and Jack was a little busy at the time. Still, they all get taken to the Refuge together, and when Racetrack looks up at one of the few bunks with less than two bodies already in it and sees Spot glaring at him, his heart does that thing again.
“Judas,” Spot snarls, and Racetrack feels his stomach drop all the way to his knees.
Racetrack glances around to see if any of the others are paying them any attention, but most of them are too sore and worn out from the fight to care what him and Spot are up to.
“I didn’t wanna do it, Spot,” Racetrack says, and if it sounds like he’s begging a little, it’s just because his jaw still smarts from taking that hit to the face. “Pulitzer’s got us over a barrel, you know that.”
Spot huffs a breath like that’s no excuse, but he doesn’t kick Racetrack off the bunk when he climbs up to sit down next to Spot. “Besides, I wasn’t really gonna say anything. You know that, right?”
He can’t tell if Spot believes him. He’s not really looking at Racetrack; mostly he’s frowning out at the room like it’s done something to offend him, listening to the rest of the Newsies as they groan and mutter in their sleep. Racetrack takes a chance and leans a little closer, shoulder pressed against Spot’s to jostle him a little.
Spot rolls his eyes, then he turns his head to glance at Racetrack.
“Brooklyn was always in, just so’s you know. Even before you decided to blackmail me.”
“I wasn’t trying to blackmail you. Okay, maybe a little,” Racetrack says when Spot narrows his eyes. “But only ‘cause I didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t do it without you, Spot.”
Spot’s still frowning, staring out at the room again as Mush starts to snore. “I should be sore at you.”
“Yeah, well, lucky for me this face is irresistible.”
Spot snorts a laugh, but it’s not a denial, so Racetrack doesn’t argue when Spot leans in and presses a kiss to the side of his jaw.
It’s dangerous, because there’s at least twenty other boys in the room, and most of them are Newsies. A lot of them are Jack’s boys, though, and Racetrack figures if Spot’s willing to take the risk, he should be too.
His fingers curl in the front of Spot’s shirt, then he turns into Spot until their mouths are pressed together. “You coulda just told me you were in, you know.”
“What, and miss out on you begging for my help?” Spot says, grin curving against Racetrack’s lips. “I kinda like it when you beg.”
Somebody snorts in his sleep on the other side of the room, and they jump apart and peer out into the darkness until they’re sure nobody’s watching them. Once they’re sure the coast is still clear Spot reaches for the front of Racetrack’s shirt and tugs him down onto the mattress. They stretch out side by side, shoulders pressed together and one of Spot’s legs hooked over Racetrack’s.
Nobody who saw them like this would think anything of it; they’ve all shared beds when there wasn’t enough room to go around, just like they’ve all shared body heat when they were sleeping on the street. It’s less than Racetrack would get if they were alone behind the stables at Sheepshead, but in a way it’s even better, because Spot’s not sore at him even after he threatened to spill their secret to the whole world.
“Listen,” he says, pressing a little closer to Spot and turning to whisper close to his ear, “for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t have told.”
Spot turns his head to look at Racetrack, and it’s kind of weird, seeing him close up like this when they’re not doing anything. Like Spot can see inside him all of a sudden, and Racetrack isn’t sure what he’s seeing, exactly, but whatever it is makes Spot grin.
“Yeah, I know. You’ve always been a lousy bluff,” he says, breath warm against Racetrack’s mouth before Spot pushes forward and kisses him. It’s over way before Racetrack’s ready, but he knows as well as Spot does that there’s only so much they can get away with in a room full of Newsies.
When Spot pulls back he just looks for another second, then a hand closes around Racetrack’s, fingers pushing through his and holding on. Racetrack’s heart is beating even harder than it was at the rally, and he’s pretty sure Spot can hear it. He waits for Spot to laugh at him, but when Racetrack chances a glance over, Spot’s eyes are closed. His head’s on the pillow, kind of tilted toward Racetrack, hands still clasped tight together like he’s not planning to let go any time soon.
Racetrack wakes to an empty bunk and the sound of boys shouting back and forth at each other about what’s gonna happen when they go in front of the judge. A sham of a trial and then straight back to the Refuge, Racetrack figures, and it’s not what he was planning to do with the next few months of his life, but if Spot’s going to be there, he’s not gonna complain that loud.
They stand shoulder to shoulder when they go in front of the judge, and when Racetrack buries his face in Spot’s back to hide his laugh, Spot doesn’t complain. In fact, he looks pretty proud of himself, and it’s all Racetrack can do to keep from kissing him right on the mouth when Denton offers to pay all their fines.
Once they’re out Spot heads back to Brooklyn with his boys, and Racetrack tells himself it doesn’t matter that they don’t get a chance to say goodbye. It doesn’t, because he got a whole night, got to wake up in the dark to Spot’s face buried in his neck, steady breath hot against his skin and his hand pressed to Racetrack’s chest. He got more in one night than he ever thought he’d get from Spot, especially after Racetrack…well, he kind of threatened to sell Spot down the river.
And maybe he didn’t really mean it, but he still said it, so if Spot wanted to hold that against him, Racetrack wouldn’t have blamed him. But for some reason Racetrack doesn’t really understand, Spot’s not even sore about it. He doesn’t say bye to Racetrack, exactly, but before he and his boys head back across the bridge, he spots Racetrack and gives him one of those truly gorgeous Spot Conlon smiles.
It’s enough to get Racetrack through the next couple days, with Jack selling them out and then coming around, handing out their own papes and talking every working kid in the city into joining them in their strike. This time he doesn’t even have to ask Spot to show up; he turns up at the strike with all of Brooklyn in tow, and as soon as Racetrack spots him, he can’t wipe the smile off his face.
Not that anybody’s paying any attention to him, or at least that’s what he thinks until Spot finds him in the crowd and reaches out to grab Racetrack’s hand, just for a second before he lets go.
“You planning on heading to Sheepshead tomorrow?” Spot asks, leaning in close so Racetrack can hear him over the governor’s speech and the noise of the crowd around them.
For a second Racetrack doesn’t get why he’s asking, but when he glances over and sees the look on Spot’s face, his whole body goes hot. “Figured I might. Why, you got a tip on a horse?”
“I might,” Spot says, and when he grins, Racetrack smiles right back at him.