Hours later, Thomas left Kurt and went off to work. He joined the other newsies in line to receive their papers for the day. The regulars were there and a few new faces. The chatter mixing between the new and the veteran newsies was the war. It was the only thing that they ever talked about.
“My old man’s over there right now,” Bobby Brown bragged, “Working personally with Wilson himself.”
The younger kids surrounded Bobby. They listened with rapt attention of his father’s exploits overseas. “My old man killed seven Krauts single-handedly. He’s on the western front and killed seven Krauts with his bare hands. Didn’t need a weapon to get the job done.”
Thomas rolled his eyes. The only western front that Bobby’s father covered was the western front of McArthur’s bar. Thomas looked around and between Bobby’s bragging and the newcomers, a few people were missing. Thomas craned his neck. Maybe they were at the far end of the line. They weren’t.
“Hey Pat,” Thomas asked, “Where’s Joey?”
Pat turned around. “Didn’t ya hear?”
“No dumb-ass that’s why I’m askin’.”
“Coppers took him in last night. He was a Kraut spy.”
“Joey? A spy? You’re pullin’ my leg. Joey can’t count to three.”
“That’s what I thought but the word goin’ round is that he’s putting false information about our troops in the paper.”
“I don’t believe ya.”
“Don’t matter that if don’t believe me, the coppers do. I’m not gonna let those Krauts get us killed. We gotta be careful.”
Thomas collected his papers. The headline was in big bold letters: BULGARIA QUITS THE WAR, TURKEY MAY FOLLOW; HAIG’S MEN IN CAMBRAI, BELGIANS PUSH ON; OUR MEN GAIN GROUND IN HARD FIGHTING.”
Thomas wondered if his hometown was safe or if it was a smoldering crater.
Thomas’ day didn’t get better. It was a rough time for shoe shining. People didn’t spend money on their shoes when there were war bonds to buy. People passed by his station. Dozens of busy people walked on by like he was invisible. Thomas made fifty cents. Normally, he could make a buck – two if he was on the ball. His anxiety spiked. He needed more than that. How was he going to make rent?
If I stay longer at the docks, I can make this up.
His back ached at the prospect but he had to work. There was money to be made and he was going to make it. Thomas packed up his kit early. There was no sense in staying around when he could be earning money.
When Thomas arrived at the docks and got in line, unloading the latest shipment from Asia, he heard a horn loudly honk and saw a beautiful black and red car pull up into the lot. Thomas recognized the driver straight away. Thomas had never seen Mr. William Anderson in person before but he had seen his picture plenty of time in the papers that he sold. Mr. Anderson was lean with dark curly hair. He was a handsome man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His family dominated the shipping industry. There wasn’t a port in the world that didn’t belong to the Anderson family. They constantly made the front page with their generous charity and wartime efforts. However, while everyone else cut back on their spending, the Anderson’s were still living in style. Today, Mr. William Anderson was wearing a tailored dark navy suit with shiny buttons and well-polished black oxford shoes. Thomas wore the same ratty clothes. It was all he had.
“Sorry I’m late,” William said with a flourish of his hand to the foreman, “I had to pick up a little something from my jeweler.”
From his breast pocket, William pulled out a stunning gold pocket watch with little emeralds and diamonds embedded in its case. It was connected to a solid gold chain. Mr. Anderson swung it carelessly around. Thomas couldn’t help but stare. What was it like to twirl a fortune in your hands? What was it like to spend so much money on a simple watch? Thomas looked at everything that Mr. Anderson had; his car, his clothes, his shoes, his stupid over the top watch. He had everything and more. Mr. Anderson placed the watch in his pocket. Thomas made an impulsive move. He bumped into Mr. Anderson and with fingers as light as a feather, he stole the pocket watch.
“HEY! Watch where you’re going!” shouted the foreman.
Thomas nodded and muttered, “Sorry.”
He went back to work. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Mr. Anderson and the foreman walked up to the office, none the wiser of what had just transpired. Thomas ducked into an alleyway. His heart was pounding. He couldn’t believe that he had gotten away with it. Thomas pulled out the watch. He had to see it, just to be sure that it wasn’t a dream. There it was. The most expensive watch he had ever seen. Thomas trembled. It was so much money. It was more money than he had ever seen before in his life. This was it! This was the start of Kurt and his new life. They would finally get out. They could finally leave New York! They were on easy street now! Thomas wiped the tears from his eyes. His hands were shaking. They wouldn’t have to starve anymore. They could go out west! Thomas saw their whole lives playing out before his eyes. They would live on a farm with wide open spaces and breathable air. Kurt would get better in no time. They could eat every night and life would just get better. Thomas restrained himself from jumping up with joy.
Wait till I tell Kurt–
Thomas paused. What would he tell Kurt? His brother was sick, not stupid. He would ask questions, questions of a sensitive nature and demand answers that he couldn’t give. Thomas would have to tell him the truth. There was no way that he could explain the sudden cash flow. Kurt would hate him. He would absolutely hate him. Thomas felt his stomach flip. He couldn’t bear it if Kurt hated him. His brother was all that he had left and if he hated him…he couldn’t take it. Thomas looked at the priceless watch. It was worthless if Kurt hated him. Thomas sighed. He had to do it.
Thomas slowly walked up to the top office. He somberly knocked on the door. The Foreman answered and snapped, “What do you want?”
“I need to speak to Mr. Anderson.”
Mr. Anderson stood up from the desk and walked over to the door. “Yes? Is there a problem down there?”
“Uh, no sir, um-“
The Foreman was exasperated. He started to shove Thomas out the door. “Mr. Anderson is a very busy person-“
“You dropped this, sir.” Thomas held up the golden watch.
Mr. Anderson squealed in delight. “My watch! OH!” He snatched it out of Thomas’ hands, “I didn’t even know I had lost it! Wherever did you find it?”
“Down there, sir. It fell in with some pillows. It doesn’t look damaged to me, sir.”
“What are you? A clockmaker?” the Foreman snapped.
“Thank you ever so much! You’re a good one.” That was all Mr. Anderson said to him. He then shut the door on his face. Thomas walked down the stairs back to the dark docks. He cast one last glance. The warm glow of the office served to remind him of a world that he could never enter. The rest of his workday went at an agonizingly slow pace. Thomas counted the minutes until he could go home. Roughly around eight, Mr. Anderson left the docks. He waved to Thomas as he got in his black and red Packard car and jetted off. Thomas was struck with envy. What was it like for the other half to live? Thomas couldn’t help but daydream.
I bet he never worries about paying rent, Thomas thought resentfully.
He dreamt of all the wonderful things that the other half got to do. He wondered what it was like to get to sleep through the night and to have to work one job.
They probably get to wear clean clothes every day of the week.
Every single photo he had ever seen involving the other half showed them always looking polished and posh. They never looked dirty and they always looked happy. Money was the key. It made the world go round.