forgive the past with me

Chapter 4: They're Liable to Send You Home

August 19, 1957

Dan looked at the paper again. Staff lines were roughly drawn across the paper, and musical notes were placed on the lines. But spread evenly above the notes were letters; letters that spelled an actual message, but it was a sad message to read. "Please help me." Dan wondered when she had written it, for whom it was meant, and how it ended up in that hole.

"It's not the full key," Jim pointed out, "but it's enough that we might be able to figure out the pages we have."

They were back in the Wheelers' apartment and had gathered around the kitchen table. Mart was already comparing the notes on this message to the ones on the other papers.

Honey stood beside Dan, looking down at the small message they had found. "I wish I could've come with you guys."

"I know. And I wanted you to." Dan smiled at her. Her hair was pulled back in a pony tail again, a narrow pink ribbon tied around it, but he liked it better when she wore it down. "How was Coney Island?"

Bob answered instead of Honey. "Fantastic! We even went to the aquarium that just opened there."

"Actually, it just moved," Harvey stated. He came over to the crowded table to see the new message for himself, still talking as he walked. "The aquarium used to be over in Battery Park."

"If this is the same code," Mart said, glancing at Harvey and then pointing from the small yellowed paper to the larger songs, "then the H and the E are the same note, but the H has a flag." He then arranged all three of the coded musical pages on the table. "But if you take that same note that she has for the E on this one, and look at all three of these pages, there are only three Es."

Dan stared at him blankly, and then realized what Mart was getting at. "E is one of the most common letters of the alphabet. It doesn't seem possible that there are only three in all of this."

"Right." Brian frowned. "Which means this probably isn't the exact same code."

Bob groaned. "So it doesn't help us then? We're back at square one?"

"I wouldn't say that." Di looked at the papers and then Dan saw her glance at Mart, almost as if she needed his support. "We now know for certain that the same notes are used for different letters. And just because she changed the code, it may not have changed that much. On this little scrap, there's no beat indicated. But these three that Danny had have some sort of numbers where the beat would be."

Jim was looking at one of the library books. "This says that often there's a cryptographic key." He put the book on the table and pointed to the passage. "If you want to write a code where the same letter doesn't always get encrypted the exact same way you use a shift key. So if you say the key is, for example, 4𤪗0, then the first letter shifts by four, the second by seven, and the third by ten."

"Shift what where how?" Ned scratched his head.

Honey took the book from the table. "Okay, dear brother, I thought I was the one that was supposed to talk nonsense."

"No, that's Trixie. Miss Nonsense of America." Jim winked at Trixie.

"Oh, I see what you're saying now." Honey put the book back down.

Harvey propped his chin down on the table. "Would you care to explain to the rest of us? I'm thoroughly lost."

"Me, too." Dan looked at Honey. "What do you and your brother mean?"

"If you take a simple word, like in this example they have 'seen': The S shifts four and becomes W, then the E shifts by 7 and becomes L, but the second E shifts by ten and becomes O. Then the pattern repeats, so the N only shifts by 4 and becomes R. 'S-E-E-N' becomes 'W-L-O-R'." Honey showed Dan the book, but he didn't see how that helped anything. These were musical notes, not letters.

Apparently Trixie didn't understand either. "I am still lost."

"I see what they're saying." Barbara counted out the letters on her fingers. "S朤朥朧朩; so S plus four becomes W. But then the next letter you add, what was it again? Seven?"

Mart perked up. "Right. But in this first note, that shift thing doesn't appear to be part of it at all because the E's are the same note, and the two L's and two P's are also the same."

"Right." Jim nodded. "But maybe she's made it more sophisticated here and is using a pattern to consistently change the notes."

"Great." Harvey frowned. "If that is the case, and I'm understanding right, then we have no hope of deciphering this without the key."

Neil was sitting on a chair near the door, his guitar in hand. "Maybe the key is on the paper."

"The beat." Trixie grabbed one of the papers. "The beat that makes no sense and keeps changing. Is that the crypt- cryog- the key thingy?"

"Cryptographic key," Mart supplied. "It could be."

Brian sighed. "We have twenty-six letters corresponding to seven notes and something that may or may not be a key, but how do we even know where to start? If the shift is 10 and there are only seven letters, does A become D? And so if we see a D, how do we know if it's an A or an H or an O or a V?"

"My head is positively spinning, but I think I understand what you're saying." Barbara frowned.

"I sure don't." Di frowned and then put her hands over her face as if hiding from the problem.

Trixie sighed. "Me neither. Can someone please explain? Without making it all complicated?"

"Simple." Neil spoke from the other side of the room. "Every seven letters would be the same note, but maybe that's where the stems and flags come in?"

Trixie stared at him and at Brian, and Dan could tell she was really annoyed with them. "That didn't explain anything."

"I agree. I am really not following this at all." Ned sighed. "Maybe I'm just not good at this kind of thing, but it's very confusing."

"Complex; vexing; perplexing." Bob frowned. "Give me words over this enigmatic puzzle any day."

Dan's head was pounding. He looked over at his uncle who was massaging his temples. "It's giving me a headache, too."

"We need to go back to your apartment." Regan looked at Dan pointedly. "If there's a way to solve this, it's there."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Your old apartment? Where Regan and I looked for you the other night?"

Dan glared at his uncle. He regretted ever taking him there. "There's nothing there. If we should go anywhere, it would be to one of Tony's hang outs. He wanted these papers; he must know how to decipher them."

"Are you sure these are the papers he wanted?" His uncle stared back at him. "What if they're just love letters to Tim?"

"You didn't see how angry Dad got when I first took them or how serious his voice became when he gave them to me and told me to keep them safe. They're not just love letters." Dan crossed his arms and continued to stare down his uncle.

"Fine." Regan shook his head. "But how do you know that Tony was after them?"

"You're right; I don't know for certain that they are what he was after." Dan uncrossed his arms and grabbed onto the back of one of the chairs. "That night he told Mom he needed the papers my dad had. He said my dad had put them in his song book." Dan took a few deep breaths, trying to keep from remembering the rest of that night. "These papers I found, that my dad later entrusted to me, he had put them in his song book."

The tension in the room mounted as Dan and Regan continued to glare at each other. "That doesn't mean they're the papers. Maybe those papers are long gone."

"I don't get it. I thought you wanted to know about these papers and why Tony wanted them. Why he killed Mom." Dan shook his head, but it made the pounding inside it worse.

Tears formed in Regan's eyes. "I just want to know what my sister felt she had to keep secret. What she had to write in code. I want to know why Sarah died."

"I thought you wanted to get Tony. I thought you wanted him to pay for what he did to Mom." Dan didn't understand why Regan was trying to keep Tony out of this. "I thought you wanted him dead."

"I do." Regan swallowed hard.

The tension in the room was palpable. Dan realized no one else had made a sound while he and his uncle had talked. "Then the answers are wherever Tony is."

"There could be answers in your old apartment." Regan pointed to the yellowed paper on the table. "We owe it to her to look there first."

Dan frowned. "It's empty. You know that. And I can promise you that my mom didn't have to hide notes in rat holes in our home."

Regan just continued to stare at him. Dan put a hand on his head, where it was pounding the most. The sound of a chair scraping on the floor sounded about ten times louder than it should have.

"Why don't you sit down?" Brian motioned to the now empty chair. "I'll see if I can find some aspirin in the medicine cabinet."

Dan nodded and took the offered seat.

There was an intake of breath and then he heard Trixie quickly ask, "Do you know any of Tony's hang outs?"

Dan turned to look at her, wondering if she were mad, as in crazy. "Jake's Hamburgers ring a bell?"

"Oh. Right." Trixie bit her lip. "I meant any other hang outs. Maybe somewhere not so dangerous."

"Anywhere Tony hangs out is dangerous." Regan's voice was firm. "And off limits. Completely off limits. Understand?"

Dan shook his head, but he had to agree with his uncle on that one. "If anyone goes to any of Tony's other hangouts, it'll be me or my uncle."

"Wrong." Regan gave Dan that piercing stare. "We don't go anywhere either. If we have any evidence linking all this back to Tony, we go to the police and let them deal with it."

Mart snorted. "Like the police will even care."

Regan turned to Mart, but then looked back at Dan, surprised. "Wait. You know of other places Tony hangs out besides Jake's? You told me you didn't know anything."

Dan shrugged. "I lied. I didn't want the police knowing what I know."

"What does that mean?" Dan turned to Jim to find his green eyes sparking with anger. "You're keeping information from the police? Information that could lead to those scumbags being arrested?"

"Why would you keep that from them? And why would you keep it from us?" Bob looked disappointed.

Dan scowled. "Relax. I don't know anything the police don't already know."

Mart snorted again. "I doubt they know anything."

"Enough from the peanut gallery." Regan was obviously getting fed up with Mart's comments. "I know you think they didn't do enough when they had Trixie, but that's no reason to jump to conclusions."

"What do you know that you didn't tell to the police?" Neil's voice was calm as ever. Nothing ever seemed to rattle his older brother.

"Where he lives. Where he pretends to work. His two favorite places to grab a bite to eat. Some of his contacts." Dan shrugged again. "All stuff the police should already have on file if they've really been after him."

"You know all that? What did you do? Follow him?" Harvey was asking questions again.

"That's super gutsy of you if you did." Ned was trying hard not to sound overly excited.

Honey spoke up before Dan could answer. "And why didn't you want the police knowing that you knew all that?"

Dan turned to her. "If Mart and I are right and someone on the police force is crooked and in cahoots with Tony, don't you think they'd go straight back to him, letting him know that I knew all this information? And then wouldn't Tony wonder why I had found out those things?" Dan shook his head. "The less he knows that I know about him, the better."

Honey frowned. "I think I get it. But I don't think the police are crooked. At least, I hope not."

"If we can't trust the police, who can we trust?" Di's violet eyes brimmed with worry. "Because I'm kind of agreeing with Mart and Dan. I don't understand why they didn't chase after Tony and Blinky and Pedro when they had Trixie, and I don't understand why they didn't arrest Tony and Blinky, either."

"I wish they could arrest those two just for scaring you and Trixie at the Empire State Building." Barbara put an arm around Di's shoulders. "I just don't understand how they're still free, either."

Brian returned with a bottle of Bayer and set it on the table. Dan heard the faucet turn on and off twice, and Brian came back to the table with two glasses of water. He put one in front of Dan and the other in front of his uncle. "You both should take some aspirin."

Regan frowned but picked up the bottle and opened it. He took two of the pills and then handed the aspirin bottle to Dan.

"I can name two reasons they didn't arrest Tony, but that doesn't mean I believe them." Dan had still been thinking about what Di had said. "They had no evidence linking him to the diamond other than Trixie saying he wanted her little idol, and Trixie went to the place willingly; she hadn't been kidnapped or forced to go there. I still think they could have gotten him for threatening Trixie with a gun though, and she told the police that all three of them wanted the idol, or rather the diamond inside the idol."

"Actually, it was Blinky that held the gun." Trixie frowned. "But Tony did have one, too. I saw it. He kept it inside his jacket."

"Going after Tony is too dangerous." Regan sounded impatient. "But solving this riddle is not. I think we should check the apartment again."

Dan frowned. "Why can't we try to find answers where the answers might actually be? The apartment is empty. You know that. We should be going after Tony."

Regan sighed heavily. "Tony's off limits. I promised Mr. Wheeler I wouldn't go after him. And I won't let any of you go after him either."

"My mom is dead because of this bastard and you're worried about a promise to your boss?!" Dan tried to understand, but he just couldn't.

"If he promised Daddy that we wouldn't go after Tony, then we shouldn't go after him directly."

Dan looked at Honey. Her hazel eyes had a fire in them. She was on his side; she wanted to get Tony. He felt immediately guilty for saying his uncle shouldn't listen to her father.

She continued her thought. "But if we can go after Tony by deciphering this code, then we should do that."

"I don't understand all this talk about your apartment, but if there's any chance there's something there and we can find it, it doesn't hurt to look. Right?" Trixie turned to his uncle. "And this time you let Honey come with us. I need my partner there."

"I hope you let all of us come along." Ned crossed his fingers as he looked over at Regan.

"Safety in numbers, right?" Bob grinned. "Please say we can all go."

"How are we supposed to search your old apartment? You say it's empty, but how will we get in? Wouldn't tenants have moved in and out in that time?" Harvey fired off the questions.

Mart let out a laugh as he addressed Harvey. "He's your brother. Haven't you learned he always keeps everything secret until he can't anymore? I guess we'll find the answers to those questions, and probably more questions to ask, when we get there."

Dan groaned. "All right. We'll go there tomorrow. Although I still don't see what good it will do."

"Good." Regan raised an eyebrow. "You want to tell them now or let them find out when they get there?"

"Tell us what?" Di gave him a sympathetic look.

"Oh, God." Dan put his hands over his face as he realized what his uncle was referring to. "It's that damned prophecy."

"What does the prophecy have to do with your apartment?" He heard the puzzlement in Honey's voice.

"It's the last verse of the prophecy. It's all about my old apartment." He rested his head on the table. He wouldn't blame Honey for being mad at him over this. "The moving book shelf, the room hidden behind it; that's in my dad's office."

"You mean you've known what that verse was all about, all this time, and you didn't bother to mention it?" Trixie sounded as upset as he expected. "I thought you were our friend, Danny."

"You just realized this, right?" Di's tone was gentle. It seemed like she was trying to give him an excuse for not sharing with them earlier. "That's the reason you didn't say anything before now."

"We've been trying to help you, both of you," Dan assumed Jim was speaking about him and his uncle, "but you hold out information on us, so how can we?"

"Don't be hard on him," Barbara said quietly. "Let's not fight, please?"

Neil laughed. "No fighting. But I'd come over there and hit you on the head if you hadn't enough of a headache already." He spoke calmly as he strummed his guitar softly. "I'll play at your funeral if you like."

"Did you ever stop to think that it might be painful for Danny to talk about these things?" Mart stood up from the table and addressed the others. "He watched his mom die. In that apartment, I presume. I don't blame him for not wanting to go back. Or for not even mentioning it to us."

"Besides, that prophecy could mean anything. Just because something in his old apartment happens to fit the description doesn't mean that it was about that. We all thought it had something to do with a library, and it still could." Honey wasn't mad; she was actually defending him.

"You're right. Both of you. I'm sorry." Jim's voice sounded sincere.

Dan heard some muffled shuffling and lifted his head from the table. It looked like Jim was trying to get Trixie to apologize, too. "It's okay, Trixie. You're right. You are my friends, and I shouldn't keep so many secrets. I'll try harder."

"You can trust us, you know." Honey smiled softly at him. "All of us."

Dan wondered if she trusted him. She never seemed to want to talk about her past either. Maybe he was being unfair.

chapter 5: you opened up my door