Davey had never paid much attention to the Refuge. Before he became a newsie, it was only a tall, dirty old building that he and Les passed sometimes on their way to school. Sure, some of the other kids told stories about it, but Davey had never believed them.
“They say once you go in, you never go out,” RIchard Adams would say.
“The only food there is rats you have to catch and kill yourself!” That was Bobby Cameron’s favorite story.
“Some say that if you listen late at night, you can hear the screams of the kids trapped in the basement.” Jacob Emerson only told that one when younger kids were around because he knew it was sure to scare them.
Davey had always been skeptical. “It’s just a juvenile jail,” he had always said when Les asked. “Troubled kids go in, and they come out a little better for it.” After all, that was what his parents had always told him.
Now, though, as Davey sat on a rickety, dirty bunk bed with three other, equally dirty boys, nursing two broken fingers and trying to ignore the blood drying uncomfortably on his bruised face, he found that he was starting to believe every one of those “stories”. On the day they met, Jack had told him to steer clear of the Refuge. Oh, how he wished he had listened.
The other kids with whom he shared the bunk didn’t talk much. Actually, only one of them, a scrawny boy who looked painfully like a younger version of Les, had said more than two words to Davey since he arrived (well, “arrived” was a relative term...it had been more “dragged struggling into the room and thrown onto the bunk so hard he had hit his head hard on the metal frame and could feel a sizable bump forming”). The kid’s name was Todd, he said, but everyone called him Sticks “on account of how much my bones stick out”. Davey’s other two bunkmates were called Jamie and Dodger, according to Sticks. He didn’t know if those were their real names, and he had never asked.
Sticks had insisted on checking the bump on Davey’s head, no matter how many times he insisted he was okay (the black spots dancing in his vision had disappeared after a few minutes).
“I used ta take care a’ my sisters,” Sticks said. “Check ‘em for bumps after Mama...they was too little to understand.” The little catch in his voice made Davey want to turn around and hug him.
“How long have you been in here, Sticks?” Davey asked. “If you don’t mind telling me, that is.”
“Nah, I don’ mind. It’s been…” Stick trailed off, his hand left Davey’s head for a moment, and Davey could imagine him counting on his fingers. “Maybe six months? I dunno. I miss my sisters, Davey.”
This time Davey did turn around, ignoring the pounding in his head, and wrapped his arms around the sniffling boy, careful not to jostle his broken fingers. “I know, Sticks. Y’know, I have a little brother that looks a lot like you. His name’s Les. I miss him a lot, too.”
Sticks just leaned into Davey’s embrace with an eagerness that made Davey wonder how long it had been since the kid had been touched by anyone who wasn’t trying to hurt him. They stayed like that for a few minutes, Davey rubbing slow circles on Sticks’ back until he stopped crying. Then Sticks pulled away, and despite his tear-stained face, he was smiling.
“Your head's okay,” he said. “I remember one time Sammie -that’s my littlest sister- was jumpin’ on our bed and she fell, and that bump on her head was so big…”
Davey leaned back carefully so his back was against the wall, content to let Sticks babble. He noticed that Jamie and Dodger didn’t seem to mind the kid’s talking, either; they sat across from each other at the foot of the bed, quietly playing cards with a deck that had surely been smuggled in somehow, as Davey noticed that no one else had one. He closed his eyes and listened to Sticks’ stories.
Some amount of time later, Davey felt someone gently shaking his shoulder and opened his eyes to see Sticks staring at him, a grin on his dirty, freckled face. Davey didn’t remember falling asleep, but Sticks didn’t seem to mind.
“You got visitors at the window,” he said excitedly. “Some kid wit’ glasses and another wit’ the reddest hair I ever saw! Who are they, Davey?”
Davey stood up carefully, and he smiled when he saw the two familiar faces at the barred window. “They’re my friends Specs and Albert. They’re newsies.”
Sticks’ expression was full of awe. “Newsies! Is you a newsie? I know a newsie! Is you friends wit’ Jack Kelly?”
It took Davey a moment to process the questions. “Yeah, Sticks, I’m a newsie. And Jack Kelly is another one of my friends.”
“Wow.” Sticks sounded positively starstruck. Davey made a note to ask about Jack later, though he suspected most of the Refuge kids knew Jack from the few stories he had heard.
“Alright, Sticks, I’ll be right back.” He left him sitting on the bed and walked across the small room to the window. He leaned against the windowsill to take some weight off of his shaking legs. “Hey, guys.”
“Mouth, you look awful,” Specs said. He gestured vaguely at Davey’s face. “All...bloody and shit.”
“They hurt you any?” Albert asked. Davey shook his head.
“Nah, all of this is from the fight at the square. They’ve left me alone so far.”
Davey was a little confused as to why Albert seemed to care so much, but before he could ask, Specs spoke again.
“Les is fine,” he said. “His wrist is sprained, and he’s shaken up, but he’s fine. Thought you might wanna know.”
“Thanks for taking care of him.”
Specs looked surprised. “You thought we wouldn’t? Come on, Mouth, you know us better than that.”
“And Crutchie’s fine,” Albert said. “Well, not fine, but he’s okay. Recovering..awake-”
“Crutchie’s alright,” Specs interrupted. He turned to Davey. “You and Al saved his life, y’know.”
Davey blushed. “I don’t think-”
“You got the Delanceys away from ‘im. There’s no tellin’ what they woulda done.”
“Hey, Davey?” Albert’s voice was uncharacteristically timid, and Davey turned to him in confusion.
“I...I’m sorry you got arrested. It was my fault. I grabbed Crutchie like ya told me, but I couldn’t get back in time-”
“Albert.” Davey reached through the bars and put his hand on Albert’s. “It’s not your fault. I realized what I was doing. I knew it might lead to this. Don’t blame yourself.”
Albert looked unsure, but he finally nodded. “Hang in there, Mouth. We can find a way to getcha out.”
“Don’t.” Davey shook his head. “It’s too dangerous. Besides…” He thought about Sticks. “...nevermind. Just...just win the strike for me, alright? And keep Les safe.”
“Will do,” Albert said, a small smile on his face now. He started to say something else, but suddenly there was the sound of running feet and Sticks barreled into Davey’s side, startling him.
“The Spider’s comin’,” he whispered, eyes wide. “Footsteps down the hall. He’s comin’.”
“Damn,” Davey muttered, too afraid to even worry about his language. He looked down at Sticks. “Get back to the bunk. I don’t know much about this place, but I doubt Snyder likes to see kids out of bed after dark.”
Sticks nodded and hurried back across the room, and Davey turned to Specs and Albert. “You guys gotta leave, too, before he sees you.” They nodded.
“We’s...we’s gonna be back, Mouth,” Albert said, and then he and Specs were gone, climbing quickly off the fire escape and disappearing. Davey sighed in relief and pushed himself off the windowsill. He had just straightened up when the door flew open. There was Snyder, his face red with anger and his mouth contorted into a sneer.
What little whispering there had been from the other boys quickly disappeared, and the room was silent. Snyder’s steely gaze fell on Davey, who was still standing by the window, frozen in place.
“Get over here, boy,” Snyder growled. Davey didn’t move. Apparently that was the wrong thing to do, because Snyder whistled, and the next thing Davey knew, two guards came out of nowhere and grabbed him by the arms. He struggled, but it was futile. They dragged him over to Snyder, who glared at Davey for a moment before suddenly backhanding him across the face. Davey’s head snapped to the side and his vision went hazy. Before he could even see straight, Snyder hit him again.
And again, until Davey felt blood on his face and in his mouth from where he had bitten his tongue.
“I am not to be disobeyed, you little rat.” Snyder said. He grabbed Davey’s chin roughly and forced him to look him in the eyes. “It’s a shame they only managed to arrest you. I think I would have had better luck with your little crippled friend.” There was an evil gleam in Snyder’s eyes that made Davey shudder. He was even more glad now that he was here instead of Crutchie. The other newsie was strong and stubborn, sure, but in the hands of this psychopath? None of them stood a chance, and Davey knew he would be able to take anything if it meant his friends didn’t have to. He felt braver, somehow, then he had at the beginning of the strike, and perhaps it was that bravery (or maybe just sheer stupidity) that made him glare right back at Snyder.
“Do your worst.” The tension in the room was so thick someone could cut through it with a knife, and Snyder’s expression alone told Davey that he was going to regret those words.
“Take him.” Snyder waved at the guards. “You know where. Time to teach you a little lesson about manners, rat.”
And the guards dragged Davey from the room, he managed to get a glimpse of Sticks, who sat on the bed with Jamie and Dodger, tears in his eyes again.
I’m doing the right thing , Davey thought.
Then the door slammed shut, and over the next few hours, Davey would begin to doubt every word of that sentence.
“You really are just a worthless little rat, aren’t you?” Snyder’s voice was quiet but harsh, and even the softness of it threatened to split Davey’s pounding head in two. “You think defying me is going to make any of this easier on you?” Davey just stared up at him from the floor, trying to focus on not passing out. The cuts and contusions that littered his body seemed to melt and blend together until he couldn’t tell where one ended and the next began. His nose was probably broken, his thumb was definitely broken, and his previously broken fingers ached even more now that Snyder had stomped on them a few times. He tried to roll over, to...what, crawl away? Degrading, and probably physically impossible at this point; a guard had uncaringly stepped on his ankle earlier and he had since lost feeling in it - after the nearly overwhelming pain, of course. But he didn’t get very far. Snyder ground his heavy boot hard into Davey’s back, and Davey groaned.
“You’re not getting away. In fact, if I have my way, none of you are getting away.”
Snyder’s words chilled Davey to his core. He managed to draw in a shallow breath despite the boot that felt like it was crushing his spine. “Wh-what do you mean?”
Snyder laughed. It was a cruel sound. “You stupid child. The newsies can’t run forever. The strike was hopeless from the beginning. One by one, I will find them, and all your little friends will join you in here.”
“You’re wrong.” If there was one thing Davey knew, it was that his friends wouldn’t give up. Jack wouldn’t let them. He would protect them. They would win.
But then Snyder pushed down again with his boot, and all Davey’s mind immediately went blank, replaced by shockwaves of agony. This time he screamed.
“You’re weak, little rat.” Snyder shook his head. “Perhaps we’ll continue this later.”
He finally stepped off of Davey, who gasped at the sudden release of pressure and immediately broke into a wet coughing fit. He closed his eyes and curled into a ball until the coughs subsided. When he opened them again, all he saw was that damned boot flying toward his face before his world went black.
“Davey? Is you dead?”
“He’s not dead, Sticks. He’s breathing. Actually, I think he’s waking up.”
Davey could only guess he was back in the first room in the Refuge, at least judging by the mattress he could feel under him - more comfortable than the stone floor he had spent a few hours hitting over and over, but not by much. Who the hell was that with Sticks, and why were they both talking so loudly? Davey wanted to tell them to keep it down a little, but his mouth wouldn’t quite cooperate, and his eyes were so swollen, he could barely open them. Not that he wanted to - any movement at all made him want to vomit. For a few moments he just lay there before he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah...Sticks, I’m awake.” God, his voice sounded awful. Terribly raspy. He managed to open his eyes just a little (well, the right eye...it was the least swollen) and was surprised to see not only Sticks standing over him, but Jamie and Dodger as well.
“Sticks was worried about you,” Jamie said, and Davey realized it was his voice he had heard before. Huh. British. Who knew. “You were gone for a long time. Hours.”
“The Spider doesn’t seem ta like you much,” Sticks said. “I mean, he doesn’t really like any of us much, but-”
“I think what Sticks is trying to say is that Snyder was...particularly rough with you,” Jamie interrupted. “I mean, you just got here. What did you do?”
Davey let out a weak, humorless chuckle. “At this point, what didn’t I do?”
Jamie looked confused. “Sticks said you’re a newsie, and that your friends at the window were also newsies. And, no offense...but you’re not the usual type of kid that gets thrown in here. What happened?”
“Yeah, Davey, what happened?” Sticks looked so eager, and his earnest, enthusiastic face reminded Davey so much of Les that it hurt.
“Well,” he began, “Pulitzer -he’s the man that owns the newspaper company we all work for- raised the price of papers. We didn’t like that, so we decided to strike. And it...it didn’t really go as planned…”
The bulls came out of nowhere, and that’s when the newsies knew they were in trouble. Romeo crumpled from the force of the cop’s hit and didn’t get back up. Davey tried to get to him, to see if he was okay, to help him get out of danger, but then another cop appeared in front of him, and Davey had to run instead.
The square was full of chaos. It was clear that this was a fight the newsies couldn’t win, and they did their best to escape. Davey had managed to find Les, where he was crouched behind the newspaper distribution stand, whimpering and holding his wrist tightly to his chest.
“It hurts, Davey,” Les whispered. “I...I wanna go home.”
“It’ll be okay, Les.” Davey grabbed Les’ uninjured arm and pulled him gently to his feet. “Come on, we gotta get out of here.”
Les nodded, and Davey led him toward the gate of the distribution center, but right as they reached it, they heard a shout.
“Hey! Let go a’ me!” It was Crutchie. Davey glanced back to see the other newsie struggling in the arms of the Delancey brothers. He managed to hit Morris with his crutch, but then Oscar punched him in the face and he was down. Something inside of Davey snapped.
“Les, stay here.” He didn’t give Les any time to argue, just ran at Oscar and tackled him to the ground before he knew what hit him.
“Get offa me!” Oscar growled. Davey had the element of surprise, but Oscar was stronger, and he managed to flip over and pin Davey to the ground.
Davey saw a fist and suddenly his cheek exploded in pain. He swung his arm blindly, and from the resulting crunch and Oscar’s cry of pain, he guessed he had managed to get a good hit in. He tried again, but his aim was off, and this time Oscar caught his hand.
“Too slow.” Oscar managed to look smug even with blood dripping from his nose, and he suddenly twisted Davey’s fingers until they cracked, and Davey cried out. He tried to jerk away, but Oscar just held onto his broken fingers tighter and oh god it hurt-
And then Oscar let go. Not voluntarily, but because a certain newsie with bright red hair and a slash on his arm had grabbed Oscar by the back of his shirt and pulled him bodily off of Davey. One good punch to the face, and the Delancey was down. Morris, who had been preoccupied with Mush before the newsie had managed to get away, ran for his brother.
“Albert?” Davey couldn’t quite believe who was helping him.
“Don’t look so surprised.” Albert reached out to help Davey stand up, and Davey grabbed the offered hand with his uninjured one. “We need’ja, Mouth. Besides, yer one of us now, and we take care of our own.”
Under any other circumstance, Davey would have been speechless at the very implication of friends that cared that much about him. But that could wait. They had other things to worry about.
“Al, Oscar took out Crutchie.” And Crutchie was still having trouble standing; his leg seemed to have seized up, and he was unable to get farther than sitting on the ground with his bad leg outstretched and his good one curled under him. Davey hurried to him, followed closely by Albert, and Crutchie didn’t even complain when they each grabbed him under an arm and gently pulled him up. Albert handed him his crutch.
“Come on, Crutchie,” Albert said, “we gotta get outta here.” Crutchie nodded, and they started slowly toward the gate, Crutchie leaning heavily on Albert for support. Davey started to follow, but before he could take two steps, he was grabbed from behind. He tried to twist around, tried to throw off his assailant, but then an arm snaked around his throat.
“You’re not goin’ anywhere.”
His arms were like iron. Davey continued to struggle, but he knew it was hopeless. He saw Albert glance back, his mouth open in protest, but Davey just waved at him frantically. He needed to get Crutchie out of there.
In a last-ditch effort to escape, Davey stomped on Morris’ toes. He grunted but didn’t let go. In fact, he actually tightened his grip on Davey’s throat, effectively cutting off his air. But right as Davey felt his legs give, Snyder appeared in his field of vision, a smile on his face and cuffs in his hands.
And when Davey was thrown in the back of the police cart, well aware where he was headed, he could only hope that everyone else had gotten away.
Remembering what had happened was hard enough, but telling it left Davey feeling impossibly drained. At some point, Sticks had climbed onto the bunk next to him, and the kid gave Davey the gentlest hug he could. It hurt, but Davey wasn’t about to let Sticks know that. Even Jamie and Dodger had matching expressions of...interest? Mild horror? on their faces, and eventually Jamie stepped forward and put his hand lightly on Davey’s shoulder.
“That’s...shit, that’s rough,” he said. “I was never a newsie. Worked at a factory before I was arrested for ‘loitering’. What kind of bull is that, right? But Dodger was.” He gestured to him. “A newsie, I mean. In Brooklyn. Sold by the stadium. Crossed over to Manhattan one night to see a friend and that’s when Snyder bagged him. He was here for two months before I arrived. Don’t know what Snyder did to him, but he’s never talked. Only found out about him through Sticks here, who’s been here longer than either of us.”
Davey glanced at Dodger, who just nodded as if to confirm what Jamie had said. There was a bit of an awkward silence before Jamie spoke again. “We cleaned you up as best we could, but I didn’t want to try anything with your ankle until you woke up. I think it’s broken.”
Another broken bone to add to the list. Davey sighed; he had been desperately hoping it was only sprained. His parents would never be able to afford the doctor it would take to properly fix it when he got out of here...if he got out of here. “Do you know how to set it?”
“Sure. Did it on myself once, at least.” Something seemed to dawn on Jamie, and he turned to Sticks. “Can I borrow your belt? Davey’s going to need something to bite down on.”
Sticks gave up the belt with no protest, and Jamie handed it to Davey. “Put this between your teeth.”
Davey did, and he had to admit that he was less than excited about what was about to happen, though it was most likely not going to be the worst thing to befall him that day.
“Alright, you ready?” Jamie asked. Davey nodded. “On three. One...two…”
And he jerked Davey’s ankle, and Davey was suddenly very glad for the belt, otherwise he would have bitten down on his tongue again. As it was, he was surprised he didn’t bite straight through the leather. Jamie tore a strip of fabric off the bottom of his shirt and used it to wrap Davey’s ankle.
“That...that wasn’t on three,” Davey gasped out, and Jamie smiled.
“It would have been worse if you had been expecting it.”
“Hey, you Davey?” A kid that Davey vaguely remembered as one that slept near the opposite wall suddenly appeared.
“Jack Kelly’s at the window for ya.”
Sticks’ face lit up, and he turned to Davey, a wide grin splitting his face. “Jack Kelly!”
Davey smiled at him. “Yeah, I told you I knew him, remember? Help me up, kid.”
Sticks immediately moved to comply, but Jamie stopped him. “Not so fast, Sticks. Davey, you can’t get up. You’re hurt badly. Maybe worse if you try to get up.”
“I gotta talk to Jack-”
“Sticks can talk to Jack. Tell him what to say.”
Davey knew it was impossible to protest, and frankly, he was too tired to even try. “Fine. Sticks, you wanna give Jack a message?”
“Sure!” Sticks said. He leaned forward to make sure he caught every word. So much like Les.
“Tell him...tell him I want to see him, but I can’t. Tell him he can’t give up, that he won’t give up as long as I got something to say about it. Tell him we’re gonna win. We have to win. You...you got all that?” Sticks nodded and hurried away, and Davey lay back. He could feel tears in his eyes, and he was grateful that Jamie and Dodger pretended not to notice.
He hoped Jack would understand.
They had to win.
Jack dabbed paint onto the canvas perhaps a little harder than necessary, unintentionally smearing it. He swore under his breath and rubbed at the spot with his paintbrush, but that only made it worse. Shit. He would just have to wait until it dried and try again. Maybe if he-
“There he is, just like I said!” Les was about as quiet as a hammer hitting a metal wall; his voice echoed through the empty theatre and Jack groaned.
He turned toward the rafters, where Les, Katherine, and Crutchie stood. “What’s a fella gotta do to get away from you people?”
“Jack, you can’t just hide in here forever,” Crutchie called, and then Jack heard the telltale thumps of a crutch hitting the wooden stairs. A few moments later, Crutchie was standing beside him, his hand hovering hesitantly over Jack’s shoulder, as if afraid to touch him. “We need you.”
Jack sighed. “What good would I be, Crutch? I ran and you almost got arrested. Hell, the only reason you didn’t was ‘cause of Davey. And now he’s in the Refuge.”
“That’s not your fault,” Crutchie said. Now he let his hand rest on Jack’s shoulder and was glad when he didn’t pull away. “He knew what he was doin’. Davey’s more of a fighter than we give ‘im credit for. He’s gonna be okay.”
“But what if he isn’t?” Jack sat heavily on the crate that held his paints and put his head in his hands. “You didn’t see ‘im, Crutchie. I don’t know what the Spider did to ‘im, but...he couldn’t even come to the window.”
Jack heard a sniff, but when he looked up he saw that it wasn’t Crutchie. Katherine and Les had come down from the rafters at some point, and now Les was quietly crying into Katherine’s skirt. She patted his head comfortingly and glared at Jack.
“Is Davey gonna be okay?” Les whispered.
“Your brother’s a fighter,” Crutchie said with a sideways glance at Jack. “He’s strong. And yeah, they might’a busted ‘im up a little, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be okay.”
“Did you see ‘im, Jack?” Les asked, finally letting go of Katherine and turning towards the older newsie. “Was he hurt bad?”
“I…” Jack stood up and put his hands on Les’ shoulders. “I couldn’t get close enough to ‘im. But there’s another kid in there--looks kinda like you, actually--that goes by the name Sticks...he said Davey’s hurt, but he’s on the mend. Crutchie’s right.” Jack knelt down beside Les and wiped the tears from the kid’s face. “Davey’s a fighter.”
“Yeah.” Les’ face was still red from crying, but he smiled. “Did’ja know that one time, these older kids were pickin’ on me after school? And Davey told ‘em off! They gave ‘im a black eye, but then they didn’t bother me anymore.”
“See? He’s strong,” Katherine said. “And look, Jack, this is why we came.” She reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out a newspaper. “This is the last piece of strike news we managed to print before Pulitzer shut it all down, but it could be enough!”
“Yeah.” Crutchie was grinning. “And we heard back from Brooklyn. Spot says he’s in. So now all we gotta do is tell all the newsies in New York. Get ‘em excited. Get ‘em ready to strike. Maybe a speech or somethin’.”
Jack shook his head. “I’m no good at speech makin’, you know that. Davey’s the talker. How’re we gonna do it without ‘im?”
“I can write you a speech,” Katherine said. “We gather all the newsies...maybe here! Would Medda let us use the theatre?”
“I can ask.” Jack could feel a small smile on his face. “This could really work. We could win.”
Les tugged on Jack’s sleeve. “If we win, does that mean Davey’ll get out of the Refuge?”
“If we win,” Jack said, ruffling Les’ hair, “we’ll make sure that every last kid gets outta that rotten place, including your brother. Now,” he turned to Crutchie and Katherine. “You guys go spread the word. Take Les wit’ ya. I’ll talk to Medda. We hold the rally here. Tomorrow night. And if we’re lucky, we’ll have a real special guest speaker.” He grinned. “I just gotta go convince old man Pulitzer to show.”
When Jack walked into Pulitzer’s office that evening like he owned the place, he honestly didn’t know what to expect, especially considering he hadn’t even made it that far the first time. But now, a lady with red hair and glasses actually let him through the doors and led him up the stairs. He followed her through an ornate door and suddenly he was in the fanciest room he had ever seen. But Jack didn’t have time to marvel at the gold-plated grandfather clock that ticked in a corner, or the enormous windows that overlooked the city, because standing behind the desk was just the man he had come to see. Jack took a deep breath and stepped forward, plastering a grin on his face.
“Afternoon, boys!” Jack threw a mock salute in the direction of the other men in the room. They looked uncomfortable.
“And which Jack Kelly is this?” Pulitzer asked with a sneer. “The charismatic union organizer...or the petty thief and escaped convict?”
“Which gives us more in common?” Jack laughed to cover up his nervousness.
“Impudence is in bad taste when crawling for mercy.”
“Crawlin’?” Jack said. “That’s a laugh. I just stopped by with an invite. Seems a few hundred of your employees are rallyin’ to discuss recent disagreements. I thought it only fair to invite you to state your case straight to the fellas. So, what’d’ya say, Joe? Want I should save ya a spot on the bill?”
“You are as shameless and disrespectful a creature as I was told,” Pulitzer said. He glared at Jack. “Do you know what I was doing when I was your age, boy? I was fighting in a war.”
“Yeah? And how’d that turn out for ya?”
“It taught me a lesson that shaped my life. You don’t win a war on the battlefield. It’s the headline that crowns the victor.”
“I’ll keep that in mind when New York wakes up to front page photos of our rally.”
“Rally ‘till the cows come home!” Pulitzer was smiling now. “Not a paper in town will publish a word. And if it’s not in the papers, it never happened.”
Jack was getting angrier, but he tried to stay calm. “You may run this city, but there are some of us who can’t be bullied. Even some reporters.”
“Such as that young woman who made you yesterday’s news? Talented girl. And beautiful as well, don’t you think?”
Jack scoffed. What was Pulitzer getting at? “Yeah, I’ll tell ‘er you said so.”
“No need. She can hear for herself. Can’t you, darling?” Pulitzer gestured to a chair that sat next to his desk, and Jack could practically feel his blood boiling when Katherine stood up, tears in her eyes. “I trust you know my daughter, Katherine.”
Jack barely heard what Pulitzer said next; he was still too shocked. Sure, now that he thought about it, Katherine being Pulitzer’s daughter made a little sense. But if she was related to this money-grubbing scum, why would she care so much about the newsies’ plight? Was she doing it for her father? What did she have to gain?
“Jack, I-” Katherine started to protest, but Jack just cut her off with a glare.
Pulitzer chuckled. “Don’t trouble the boy with your problems, dearest. Mister Kelly has a plateful of his own.” He gestured to a darker corner of the office. “Wouldn’t you say so, Mister Snyder?”
And when the man who had tormented him for years, who had never given up hunting him, no matter how many times he managed to escape, stepped out of the shadows and into view, Jack thought he would pass out from fear. As it was, he turned and tried to run from the office, only to be stopped by the Delancey brothers, who held his arms iron-like grips. And Jack could do was try (and fail) to control his breathing as Snyder stepped closer, an evil grin on his face.
“Hello, Jack,” he said. Jack couldn’t speak past the lump forming in his throat.
“Does anyone else feel a noose tightening?” Pulitzer asked. He paused. “But allow me to offer an alternate scenario: you attend the rally and speak against this hopeless strike, and I’ll see your criminal record expunged and your pockets filled with enough cash to carry you, in a first-class train compartment, from New York to New Mexico and beyond.” He turned to Katherine, who just shook her head. “You did say he wanted to travel west, didn’t you?”
“There ain’t a person in this room who don’t know you stink.” And as he forced the words out, Jack glanced around the office, and he noticed that not only was Katherine close to crying, but the redheaded lady who had met him at the front door was frowning deeply. She looked like she wanted to say something, but stared at the floor instead.
“And if they know me, they know I don’t care,” Pulitzer said in a disinterested tone. “Mark my words, boy. Defy me, and I will have you and every one of your friends locked up in the Refuge. Besides,” he looked at Snyder, “isn’t there already one in there? Davey, isn’t it? Smart child, from what I’ve heard. But I’ve also heard that he isn’t doing too well at the moment.” He turned back to Jack. “Do you really want your arrogance and disobedience to be the reason your friend doesn’t make it out of there alive?”
Jack opened his mouth to say something, anything, but Pulitzer just cut him off. He wasn’t interested in what Jack had to say because he knew he had already won. “Gentlemen,” Pulitzer gestured to the Delanceys, “escort our guest to the cellar so he might reflect in solitude.”
The two brothers nodded, and despite Jack struggling for all it was worth, he couldn’t break free. They muscled him down a set of stairs into a dark, dusty cellar. There were boxes and other things scattered around the dirty space, but the most incredible was the massive, old printing press that sat in the middle. Morris threw Jack against it and laughed when he gasped in pain.
“We been given discretion to handle you as we see fit,” the Delancey snarled. “So behave.”
“Oh, but just in case,” Oscar said. He pulled some metal from his pocket and slipped it onto his hand. “I’ve been polishin’ my favorite brass knuckles.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re real scary, Oscar,” Jack said with a dismissive wave of his hand. He knew he probably shouldn’t be antagonizing them, but he couldn’t help it. “You and Morris practice your lines together? Make sure they’re coordinated?”
Morris shoved him against the printing press again, and Jack just managed to stifle his gasp when the sharp edges dug into his side. “Shut it, Kelly.”
“What? I’m just sayin’ that maybe you should get some new material.”
And then Jack found out that as tough as he was, he couldn’t hold his own forever against two angry brothers with brass knuckles on their hands and murder on their minds. Fuck, this was going to hurt.
Jack guessed Pulitzer probably hadn’t counted on the fact that the small window in the cellar was just big enough for a teenage boy to squeeze through if he didn’t eat daily and his job involved walking miles around the city every day. Once the Delanceys had finally left him alone, Jack had managed to stay awake long enough to take note of the window. Then he had passed out.
When he came to, his head was pounding and his ribs ached, but he slowly stood. There was no time to waste. With more than a few grunts of pain and quiet curses, Jack got the window open and slid through it, ignoring the pressure it put on his chest. Then he was moving as fast as he could toward the lodging house.
“Specs!” He called, barreling through the front door. The other newsie hurried down the stairs from the bunkroom and stopped in his tracks when he saw Jack.
“Where did’ja go?” Specs asked. “You look like shit.”
“Thanks. Specs, I need your help. I need everyone’s help. We gotta call off the rally.”
“What?” Specs’ confusion was clear. “But Jack-”
“No.” Jack cut him off. “It’s Pulitzer. He threatened everyone. Me, Davey, all of us. He’s plannin’ on gettin’ everyone arrested at the rally. We gotta call it off.”
“Shit.” Specs nodded. “Okay. I’ll send everyone out. We’ll make sure no one shows up. But, Jack...what should we tell ‘em?”
“...the truth. That way...they’ll know we’re not backin’ down. But we can’t risk anyone else gettin’ taken away.”
“Alright. What about Davey?” Specs asked. “You said Pulitzer threatened him, too? What’s gonna happen?”
“I’m gonna...I’m gonna get ‘im out.” Jack sighed. “I gotta get ‘im out.”
“Let me tell everybody what’s goin’ on, and I’ll come with you,” Specs said. “We’ll get ‘im out together.”
Jack just nodded.
A little under an hour later, Jack and Specs (with Race and Blink close behind) were heading for the Refuge. As the four of them approached the grounds, Jack could feel his heart sink.
“Fuck,” Blink whispered, echoing what they were probably all thinking. “There are so many bulls.”
It looked like Snyder had upgraded his security. Cops roamed all around the Refuge. It would be impossible to get to the window without being seen. Specs put a hand on Jack’s shoulder.
“We can’t help ‘im, Jackie,” he said. “Not without them takin’ us all.”
“Jack, please.” That was Race. “We can’t get ‘im now, but if we follow through? We’ll get ‘im out soon.”
“Besides,” Blink said. “Would the Spider wanna give up his leverage so quickly?”
“Yeah…” Jack tried to mentally reassure himself. “Alright, we’ll head back to the lodgin’ house. He’ll...Davey’ll be fine.”
God, he hoped they were right.
When they got back to the lodging house, the last person Jack expected to be standing in the main room was Katherine.
“Hiya, Kath,” Race said, giving her a small wave. “Whatcha doin’ here?”
“I need to, um...I need to talk to Jack,” she said.
“I don’t wanna talk to you,” Jack said. He ignored the confused looks his friends were giving him.
“Jack, please.” Her voice was quiet, pleading. “Everything that’s happened...I promise I can explain.”
“Hey, uh…” Specs corralled Race and Blink toward the stairs. “Let’s give them some privacy.”
Then the three were gone, and Jack and Katherine were alone.
“You got five minutes,” Jack said. “Startin’ with why you didn’t tell us Pulitzer was your father.”
“I didn’t think it was important.”
“What? You didn’t think it was important to tell us that you’re related to the guy who’s tryin’ to put us all outta work?”
“I don’t let who my family is define me!” Katherine’s voice wavered. “It wasn’t important because I’ve made this career without my father’s help. I don’t work for him because I don’t want that shadow hanging over me my entire life.”
“Why did you decide to cover a story that defied your father? How was that gonna help you?”
“Haven’t you been listening, Jack?” Katherine asked. She sniffed, but now her voice was stronger, firmer. “I want to help all of you, I really do. I want all the people like us--the kids who have to work hard to have a voice--to be heard by people who would never listen otherwise. I want things to change. I want things to get better.”
“I…” Jack was at a loss for words, and frankly, he felt stupid. In his anger, he had never considered any of this. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too,” Katherine said. “I’m sorry any of this happened.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“We can still win. We just...need to figure out how.”
“Well, we can’t have a rally,” Jack said. “The bulls’ll arrest all the second we go public.”
“What if there was another way to spread the word?” Katherine looked thoughtful. “I have that speech I wrote for you for the rally. If we could find some way to print it, then maybe…”
“We could send it out to everyone!” Jack finished. “I know a printin’ press we could use that your father would never expect. And then we might win this thing and get Davey out.”
“The only problem is...winning the strike won’t get anyone out of the Refuge, will it?” Katherine asked. “We need a way to prove that that place is awful. Evil. That no one should ever be sent there again.”
Jack thought of the rooftop, of the countless nights he had spent drawing by moonlight when the nightmares kept him awake. “I think I have just the thing.”
If it wasn’t for Sticks, Jamie, and Dodger, Davey was sure he would have lost all his sanity in the Refuge the moment he arrived. Snyder hadn’t come for him again since that first night, something Davey was grateful for, but it also filled him with such apprehension that he could barely stand it. Was Snyder planning something? Had something happened to the other newsies? How was the strike going? There was no way to know, and that was what worried Davey so much.
He couldn’t do much on a broken ankle, but he didn’t let stop him, no matter how much Jamie protested.
“If you don’t keep off of it, it might not be the same again,” he said every time Davey tried to stand up. “Did that knock to the head make you stupid?”
Davey just waved him off. He hated to admit it, but every time he lay down in the bunk, he felt useless. If he couldn’t walk, how was he supposed to help the others once he got out of this hellhole?
Now Jamie just grumbled every time Davey asked Sticks to help him up, and Dodger rolled his eyes every time Jamie grumbled. The two of them had some sort of unspoken language made up of looks, eyerolls, and completely random hand gestures, and Jamie most often employed it when he thought Davey was doing something stupid and Dodger had to calm him down.
Sticks, however, was more than happy to help Davey, because then he could ask for more stories while they were slowly pacing back and forth across the room together. Davey didn’t have a lot of stories about the newsies, considering he had only known them a few days, but Sticks didn’t seem to mind.
“Tell me more about Les,” he said one evening. They were sitting on the bed with Jamie and Dodger. Davey’s foot was propped up on the one pillow, at Jamie’s insistence. “He sounds real fun. I hope I get to meet him someday.”
“Yeah.” Davey leaned forward and ruffled Sticks’ hair. “I hope so, too. There was this one time…”
As Davey told the story, one involving Les’ less-than-successful attempt to hide a frog he had found at the docks from their parents a few months back, he noticed that Jamie and Dodger leaned forward to listen, which made him smile. He was glad that, even in the Refuge, they could find something to smile about.
“So then my mom found the box under our bed-” Davey cut off when the door suddenly opened. He heard Sticks’ quiet whimper at the sight of the Spider standing in the doorway, scanning the room with an evil glint in his eye. He finally settled on their bunk and smiled.
“Guards,” he said, and two goons appeared from where they had apparently been standing out in the hallway. “It’s time for some...rehabilitation. Get that one, there.” He pointed to Sticks, and Davey felt his blood run cold.
Sticks pushed himself into Davey’s side, but it did nothing. One of the guards grabbed him by his skinny arm and pulled him away from the bunk. Davey couldn’t help it; he stood up shakily, holding onto the bed for support.
“Davey, no,” Jamie whispered, but Davey wasn’t listening. He could only focus on Sticks, the kid who looked so much like his little brother. The kid who had tears streaming down his face and panic in his eyes as he struggled against the grip of a man who did his heinous job unfeelingly.
“Stop,” Davey said. “Don’t take him.”
“And what, pray tell, are you going to do about it?” Snyder asked. He approached Sticks and grabbed him by the hair. Sticks cried out, and all Davey knew was that he had to protect him.
He didn’t get farther than a few steps before the other guard shoved him to the floor. Stepped on his broken ankle. Davey screamed.
“Davey!” Sticks cried. He struggled harder, but the man holding him was so much stronger.
There were black spots in Davey’s vision, but he still tried to get to Sticks. He had to protect him. He had to-
The guard pulled a knife from nowhere and stabbed Davey in the gut.
Davey could hear cursing. It sounded kind of like Jamie, but his voice was far away. Davey’s vision was fading fast, but so was the pain from his side. Actually, all his pain was almost gone, already only a dull ache. That was strange. Someone knelt next to him. They were crying. A small hand grabbed his own. Oh, it was Sticks. Davey was glad he was there. Shit he was tired.
The last thing Davey heard before he closed his eyes was Snyder’s laughter.
“You have your friend Jack Kelly to thank for this, little rat,” Snyder said. But Davey was too exhausted to even wonder what that meant.
He closed his eyes.
They had really done it. Jack could barely believe it, and he knew that everyone else was still in shock. They had won the strike, and now the working kids of New York City finally had a voice. Jack looked across the square to where Katherine stood with Medda and Teddy Roosevelt himself, and he couldn’t recall ever feeling so full of hope. The fliers had been a success. “ The Children’s Crusade ”, Katherine had called the speech. Jack had paired with it one of his sketches of the Refuge, and they had spent all night using the printing press in Pulitzer’s cellar. The newsies had distributed the fliers the next morning.
And now, here they all were. Victorious.
Roosevelt proclaimed his decision to close down the Refuge, and Jack could barely contain his joy. He swept Katherine into a hug, and then he felt another impact to his side. He looked down, and Les was grinning up at him.
“This means we’re gonna see Davey again,” Les said with a happy squeak.
“Yeah, kid,” Jack said. “We are.”
The doors of the Refuge were just opening when they all arrived, and the crowd of newsies and other onlookers watched as a pair of policemen escorted Snyder down the steps and into a waiting cart. Everyone cheered.
Then, kids started streaming out of the place. Jack saw so many he remembered from his last stay. Some greeted him, some just nodded. A few younger ones ran right up and hugged him. This was a good day. A day of freedom and happiness, the first in a long while.
Soon, the stream of kids petered out. Jack could hear worried murmurs from his friends. He knew they were all wondering the same thing. Where was Davey?
Three kids, two older than the third, appeared in the entrance of the Refuge and walked slowly down the stairs. Jack recognized the youngest from his last visit. The kid who met him at the window with an enthusiastic grin and a message. The kid who looked just a little like Les.
“Sticks?” Jack made his way to the base of the steps, where the trio had stopped. Sticks looked up at him, and Jack noticed that his eyes were puffy. Actually, all three of them looked like they had been crying, though the two older kids hid it well. “What’s wrong? Where’s Davey?”
Sticks said nothing, only started sobbing and threw himself at Jack. The two older kids glanced at each other.
“Davey…” One of them said with a slight British accent. “Davey isn’t coming out.”
“What do you mean?” Jack heard Les ask. The kid had approached the group at some point with Katherine in tow. “Where’s my brother?”
The British kid just shook his head and looked at Jack for help, and suddenly the realization hit Jack like a train. He had been wrong. He couldn’t get Davey out.
“Jack,” Les said. “I want Davey. Where’s Davey?”
He couldn’t save Davey.
“Where’s my brother?”
Davey wasn’t getting out of the Refuge.
holy shit an update it's a miracle
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