David woke with a start, his chest heaving as he wiped the sweat from his forehead. He looked around the room, seeing the boys in their bunks and wondered how they had not heard the god-awful screaming that had just been in his ears.
He hadn't even gone into the damn building. But it didn't matter; he revisited it each night, hearing the screams, smelling the putrid air that burned his nose and knotted his stomach. He would wander inside, drift from room to room, trying to reach out but would only grasp at air. He was searching for them, anyone, in the thick darkness. So lonely.
So many people, innocent girls, all screaming just as Talia—Ira—had. Her pain…the girls that had been left behind were still trapped in the nightmare, begging for death before another man came into their room. It was unfathomable. It was revolting.
He and Spot had talked for hours the previous night, about the system, about Rockefeller. They had sat in Medda's office, waiting while the doctor was upstairs with Medda and Ira.
"But there has to be something," David had pushed, shaking his head, pacing around the office. He was getting worked up, could feel the energy pushing him to act. "You can't tell me people just look away-"
Spot had looked at him, square in the eye, and David saw the certainty there. Spot was wise, knew a lot about the city and the people in it, both at the bottom and the top. David didn't have to ask to know that Spot had seen some rough stuff.
"Money, David," Spot had said, answering the question in David's eyes. "That's all it takes."
And just like that, David had nothing; no energy, no plan of action, nothing. Something as big as slavery was staring him in the face and he had never felt the call for justice so strongly before; the Newsie Strike was one thing, but this…this was a whole new game. A game he wasn't sure he wanted to play.
David leaned against his elbows, still trying to catch his breath from his rude awakening. He had been staying at the Lodging House, sleeping in Jack's bed. He kept an eye on the boys and visited Medda's at night after he was done selling papers. He wanted to be around the guys, needed to be. The nightmares were too real, too rough for him to wake up in his house, to see his sister sleeping in the bed across from his. Too real.
He heard a noise from the bunk to his right. He saw Mush leaning on his elbow, facing him.
"Had the nightmare again?" Mush asked gravely, his dark eyes concerned.
David inhaled deeply and nodded. "It's the same one, every night…but it just gets worse."
Mush shook his head, looking around at his sleeping friends, his brothers.
"We have to do something, Mush," David whispered, looking to the window across the room. It was still dark outside and the moon was still up, casting a ghostly light over the city.
"We have to do something," he said again.
"Then let's go," Mush said.
David looked at him and saw the glint in Mush's eyes.
"I see the way it bothers you," Mush said. "Ya can't sleep, Dave. And even during the day, you look like you've seen a ghost. A place like that should be burned."
David nodded, thinking.
"Then maybe that's what we should do," David said slowly, looking at Mush. "Burn it."
Mush took a deep breath, a look of determination dawning across his face.
"I hope ya know," said a voice from below. "You two bums ain't goin' anywhere without us."
David and Mush looked down to the bottom bunks and saw Kid Blink and Race track, smirking up at them.
"Ya ever talk ta Jack about it?" Mush asked David as the four of them walked down the street near the bay and the docks. They heard the echoing tolls of the signal bells from the boats in the harbor, felt the cool breeze from the water. It was a peaceful night.
David shook his head, his fingers rubbing his brown curly hair. It had gotten so long.
"Nah. I know it would only get him excited. And he needs to stay where he is, with T—Ira. He needs to stay clean, for her sake."
"Sure is different, huh?" Kid Blink mused, "Ira…"
David kicked a pebble from his path, "It's the name she had in Russia. Jack told me."
They walked for what seemed like hours, talking and trading the can of oil between them, their fingers swollen from carrying it. It had been in the Lodging House storage room; Kloppmann used it for the lamps.
They crossed through Midtown on the East side and crossed the bridge. Luckily for them, the neighborhood where the Underground was located was near the edge of Queens, in an abandoned factory neighborhood. Though the coach ride there had taken only minutes, the walk was a bit longer. But David's feet carried him effortlessly; the faster they got there, the sooner they would be home.
They didn't know exactly what they were going to; there were only four of them and they didn't know what would be waiting inside the building once they barged in. They wanted to save the girls inside and burn the place. They were counting on the element of surprise…
They didn't really have a plan and for once, it didn't bother David. He was content with just going back. It was better than doing nothing. Even if they failed and got their noses busted, it would still be better than forgetting all about it. David thought that maybe if he saw it again, confronted the nightmares, then it would all go away, disappear.
And maybe, they would even save some of the girls and they would stop screaming in his dreams too.
The eerie streets were quiet and the moon and street lamps guided them to Queens, building sprouting up around them. They passed several homes and wandered into a forgotten part of the neighborhood where cats fought in the alleys and bums slept in the door archways of the buildings.
David guessed it must have been near two in the morning. The path was very familiar to him, even though he had only been once. They kept to the shadows of the buildings across the street as they approached their destination, loaming tall and dark against the deep blue sky with its bricks crumbling away like old skin.
He anticipated the screams, waited to hear them, but something worse pierced David's ears as they drew near to the horrible decaying building: silence.
"She was kept…here?" Mush asked quietly, his eyes roaming around the neighborhood, the haunting building directly across the street, its dark windows like depthless eyes.
David looked up and saw that the boarded windows above were dark. There was no light, not that there had been much to begin with. He listened hard, straining his ears to catch the smallest noise, even a whimper. But there was nothing except for a rattling noise from an alley; rats were playing in the sewers, emerging from the grates to scavenge the desolate streets.
David's heart fell to the bottom of his stomach.
"They're gone," he said.
The boys looked at his face, then to the building again.
"All those women…all those people," he lamented. "They'll never be found…"
Race ran across the street to the building, peaked through the boards of one of the front windows, and ran back to the boys, covering his nose with his sleeve.
"Jesus," he muttered into his arm. "What is that?"
"I don't know," David said. "And I've never wanted to find out."
"How could they just pack up an' leave?" Kid Blink asked David angrily. "I mean, you said there were at least ten girls in there. Someone must've seen them."
"Or didn't want to see them," David muttered darkly. Spot was right.
"But, Medda's friend," Mush began, putting his hand on David's shoulder, squeezing. "The one who's undercover, remember? What, uh…Toby said he was working with tha bulls ta find some missing girls. Maybe they'll find 'im, huh?"
Mush looked at Race and Kid Blink, seeing David's sadness in their eyes, too.
"Right?" he asked, his eyes pleading.
Kid Blink half grinned at his friend, "Sure, pal. They'll find 'em."
But as they turned and began their journey back to the Lodging House, David felt a cold stab in his stomach. He had waited too long. They would go home and see Talia—Ira-the next day, healing and getting stronger, like a phoenix from the ashes. But those other girls would never have even a taste of the hope she had. At least they had saved her.
But as he looked back at the dark deserted building, David couldn't help but feel that it was his fault; just one more voice that had spoken too late.