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Race reflects on how he made his way up the line, and tells a little bit about how he started in Brooklyn. Racetrack POV, oneshot, character piece, no slash. Little bit angsty, but our boy ain't kn...
I cringe. I know what's coming. "It ain't good to do dat," I mutter, more to myself than anything. See, it wasn't too long ago that I was the lousy little shrimp being shoved to the back of the line.
There's a definite pecking order, no doubt about it. The only reason I'm up here at the front, behind Jack, is because I've earned my right to be here. But all the same, Jack don't always keep strict with the order of things. And that more'n anything, I think, is what gets on the Delanceys' nerves.
Jack, see, he's the leader. Not only is he the oldest of the Manhattan newsies, but he's also the best. He takes his responsibility as leader very seriously. Not like some of them other guys, like the head of the Bronx division, who take advantage of their position and demand respect through fear. Nah, our Cowboy's a natural, inspiring loyalty everywhere he goes. And he watches out for the weaker ones, too.
I wasn't always at the front of the line. Like I said, I had to earn my way up here. And I wasn't always a Manhattan newsie, either. I started out in Brooklyn, cuz that's where my family was from. At least, I think that's where they was from. I don't remember my family very well, seeing as how I grew up on the streets. Back then, it was me and my friend Jockey, conning and pickpocketing at Sheepshead. The Brooklyn leader at the time, Scrapper, he found us there and took us back to the lodging house, with another kid that just kinda followed us home like a stray dog. Jocks thought it was funny at the time, made all kinds of jokes and called him our little puppy, Spot. The name just kinda stuck.
Anyway, Scrapper wasn't exactly the best leader. I mean, he was good and all, as far as Brooklyn is concerned, stuck by his boys and defended our territory like a champ. Jocks and Spot looked up to him. But there were two reasons he was called Scrapper in the first place. One was because he had a habit of getting into fights. You know, real hothead type. Second, he was a big-time believer in "every orphan for himself", and was known to leave little more than scraps for anyone who wasn't strong enough to take what they needed for themselves.
Me, I'm a runt. In most cases that ain't a bad thing. You look younger, you sell more papes. In Brooklyn, though, the smaller you are, the more chance of you get soaked by the bigger boys, and usually for the same reason. And in Brooklyn, if you don't pull your fair share, Scrapper himself soaked you to teach you to sell better. He didn't do it to be mean. Brooklyn's a tough borough to live in, especially for a bunch of homeless kids. But selling papes ain't something you's born with a talent for. It's a trade you gotta learn just like anything else. I'm a slow learner anyways, and Scrapper wasn't in the habit of babysitting. Needless to say, I spent quite a few nights out on the streets with my face bashed in.
He got more violent as time went on. I wondered sometimes if that kid was born without a sense of humor. Either way, I guess my sarcasm got on his nerves one too many times, and he took to soaking me on a regular basis for no reason at all, even after I started making my fair share of money. And when that didn't put me in my place, he started taking a cut of my earnings every week. At first I didn't say anything about it. But when Spot and Jocks caught wind of it, they went straight to Scrapper and told him if he didn't lay off then they'd soak him. He just laughed, and then went and soaked me good, just to prove he wasn't scared of them. That was a mistake nobody's ever made again.
I didn't see him again after that. I dunno if Spot just run him off, or if they actually killed him. But it didn't matter, cuz after that I just couldn't stay in Brooklyn no more. Spot and Jocks understood of course, even if they weren't happy about it. So a few years ago, they sent me over the bridge to Manhattan, cuz they knew the leader there had a reputation for helping the less fortunate kids like myself. And, frankly, given the state I was in, I needed all the help I could get. Not that any kid on the streets would ever admit to that out loud.
Jack Kelly was as good as everyone had heard. Sure, he does it for his own benefit, selling with the younger kids to make more money. But he's fair about it, and when they're ready to move on to selling on their own, he respects that. He never soaks anyone who don't deserve it, and he don't demand a cut from anyone's profits, unless of course it's a previously agreed split.
Most importantly, though, is how he handles the pecking order at the distribution line. He's always at the front, of course, being the leader and all. And right behind him is his core group, you know, the ones as gots the most say, who are the most loyal to him, who sell the best, and who also happen to stay at the lodging house on Duane Street. The latecomers and those who don't take their job so seriously end up at the back of the line, along with the few who actually have homes and families to go back to every night. The Delanceys likes to keep the younger newsies in the back as well, since they don't always do so well selling on their own. Especially me when I first started out, cuz like I said, selling papes takes training I wasn't fortunate enough to get.
Thing is, Jack likes to help those worse off. Being in the back of the line is like saying you's automatically gonna fail at selling. Chances of actually getting any papes by the time you get to the front are slim at times, depending on the length of the line and the quality of the headlines. Not to mention what it does for your confidence, and in this business you need all you can get of that. Every once in a while, though, Cowboy pulls one of the younger kids up front with us, kinda on a probational-type basis. See, you earn your spot in the line by proving how good you are at selling papes, but sometimes, given your spot in the line, the circumstances tend to be a little rigged against you. Jack tries to even that out by giving the younger kids a chance to prove themselves from a better position.
That's how I got my spot. I'd wandered in that day fresh off the streets, waiting at the gates for some bigshot to soak me for taking his spot. For some reason, Jack felt inclined to give me a chance, and wouldn't let nobody touch me. The Delanceys weren't happy at all. They tried to push me to the back of the line. Cowboy soaked 'em good for that. After that he let me sell with him for a couple weeks til I got a handle on the ropes. Ever since then, that's been my spot, right up front with him. See, talent I've got when it comes to peddlin' papes. I just needed a little help getting started, and Jack recognized that from the get-go when no one else did. For that reason, among others, is he the leader of the Manhattan newsies.
"Ain't healthy," I mutter, glancing down at my shoes and pinching the brim of my hat. I know what's coming. Snipeshooter's only been with us a month or so, and this is his trial week at the front of the line. Nobody messes with Cowboy's system. Not even the Delancey brothers.
I watch as Jack goes to help Snipe to his feet, then turns to the two thugs. "You shouldn't be callin' people 'lousy little shrimps', Oscar," he says quietly. Then he smirks. "Unless you're referrin' to the family resemblance in your brudder here."
I can't hold myself back any longer. "Hey! Five to one, the Cowboy skunks 'em, huh? Who's bettin'?"
There's a general chorus of denial, and I shrug. Yeah, so I put the odds a little low today. So give me a break. Jack's good at pretending he's not as mad as he is, apparently. "That's right," he nods. "It's an insult. And so's this!"
That's when the hootin' and hollerin' and general ruckus starts, and the rest... Well, I suppose the rest is history.