forgive the past with me
 

Chapter 6: You'd Get To Know Me Too Well

August 20, 1957

"Well, that was interesting," Trixie said when the front door closed.

Jim whistled a bob-bob-white, and, shortly after that, Dan heard the unmistakable groan of the bookshelf moving along its tracks.

But he was still thinking exactly what Trixie had said. That was interesting. Teddy Hill clearly had something more to say to Dan, and he had more questions for the older man. "I wonder if we shouldn't have just told Mr. Hill the truth."

"Tell him we're looking for some kind of key to decipher Sarah's code?" Regan looked at him as though he'd grown another head.

"Yes, exactly that. He knows something he wasn't telling us. He was good friends with both my parents." Dan shrugged. "He might actually know more than we do."

His uncle seemed to be considering the idea. "Do you trust him?"

Dan thought about it. Did he? "He's hiding something. But hiding things isn't necessarily bad. I trust him enough."

Ned, Brian, and Di joined them in the crowded living room. Brian was holding a piece of paper in his hand. "This is interesting."

"I was just saying the same." Trixie grinned.

"Huh?" Brian looked confused for a second. "Anyway, Regan said those papers in there were all just some old stuff you'd written, Danny."

"Yes. But what's that?" Dan stared at the paper curiously, even though it was obviously a piece of sheet music.

"Did you ever write music?" Di raised an eyebrow.

"No." Dan reached for the paper and Brian put the song sheet in his hand. "What? How? There shouldn't be any music in there. Where did this come from?" He didn't recognize it, and if music could be a kind of handwriting, it wasn't his dad's either. The notes didn't slant the way his dad's, or even his mom's maybe, did and they weren't the same oval shape.

"We still have over half the stack to look through." Brian pointed back to the room. "Di and I were doing just that when Honey came in telling us to close up the bookshelf."

Di nodded. "We barely started, really. We should take everything with us."

"There's a lot of paper in there." Ned gazed around at the others in the room. "A lot."

Regan glanced at Dan before turning to Di. "That's a good idea. Do we have anything to carry them in?"

"Not that I can think of. Unless we swipe one of the kitchen drawers." Dan looked over at the kitchen. He was pretty sure Mr. Hill wouldn't mind.

Trixie went back to the office. She emerged a short while later with a frown on her face. "I was thinking we could use the phone cord to wrap around the papers—it might keep the individual sheets from falling out so easily—but I can't pull it loose from the wall."

"Not a bad idea, sis," Mart acknowledged. "But I don't think any of us has a screwdriver. Do we?"

Dan shook his head, and no one else answered either. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jim wander back into the office.

"Exactly how much paper is there?" Honey asked, raising an eyebrow. "I didn't get a good look at the room."

Dan shrugged. "There should be at least a hundred pages, but if there's stuff in the stack that I didn't put in there, then maybe a lot more."

"You do like to write, don't you?" Neil grinned. "I can see why you wouldn't carry those around with you after you left here."

Jim emerged from the office door, a triumphant grin adorning his face. In his hands he held the phone cords, the wires dangling on the end indicating he had forcefully yanked them out of the wall and phone. "Let's get those papers back to the apartment."

 

In the Wheelers' kitchen, Miss Trask and Mr. Wheeler were being filled in on the days' activities. Dan really didn't want Mr. Wheeler knowing so much about everything, but he had to just trust in the others, and the intimidating man was Honey's father. Thinking of Honey made him smile, in spite of the headache all these papers were giving him.

The pages they had taken from the apartment were in the process of being separated into three piles on the kitchen table. Trixie had taken charge of that. One stack was full of the silly stories Dan had written when he was younger; stories about Russians attacking, aliens, hockey, and sometimes all three mixed together: aliens playing hockey and then being attacked by Russians. That was the largest of the piles.

The other two piles were decidedly shorter but also held the more interesting items. She placed anything that resembled sheet music in the second pile. These were thought to be more coded messages. The third pile was the one Danny was most interested in. So far, it contained only six pages, and he kept reading and rereading them one by one. They were all hand-written, very short, and, except the last one, very vague. It was impossible to tell when they were written and which had come first, but he kept them in the reverse order from which they were found. There were at least three different people writing the notes, by his best guess, based on the handwriting differences.

The first one looked like his dad's handwriting.

Got the book. Can you copy the list?

The next two looked like they came from his mom.

Need the address.

Still no word.

And the last two of the short notes were in a handwriting he didn't recognize.

It's been four months. No word.

T, where the hell are you?

And then there was the long one; another note that had been written by his mother. That was the one that he read over and over the most.

Danny,

I think you have some important papers. You might have gotten them from one of your dad's songbooks. They look like music. Give those papers to U or H. I'm sorry, I can't tell you more right now. But, please, if you have any of your dad's music, give it to one of them.

I love you,
Mom

"Just more questions, huh?" Mart patted Dan on the back.

Dan looked away from the notes. "Why would she just leave it in this pile of papers? How did she expect me to find it?"

He looked around the room. Miss Trask and Mr. Wheeler exchanged glances, but neither said a word.

Bob shrugged. "Maybe she thought you actually looked through all this stuff sometimes."

"And this means she knew about the music, the papers." Dan closed his eyes. I don't have the papers! I don't even know about the papers!

He heard Brian's calm voice. "You didn't think she knew?"

Dan shook his head. "It was one of the last things she said. Tony was threatening her, insisting she give him the papers. She denied even knowing about them." He kept his eyes closed, finding it easier to keep the tears inside from spilling. "But if she knew ...."

"What happened exactly?"

Dan opened his eyes and looked at the other boy. Silence filled the room as all the others stopped what they were doing. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Tony broke into the apartment. I was in Dad's office, in that room behind the bookshelf, and when I heard someone banging on the front door, I closed it off. I hid in there."

No one in the room made a sound. Dan looked down at the table and tried to continue his story. "I could hear him going from room to room, banging stuff around. Then he came into the office. I could see him through the cracks in the shelf, but he couldn't see me. He started leafing through all the papers, pulling books off the shelf, just looking through everything." Dan felt a tear slip down his cheek.

"Then Mom came home. She shouldn't have come in. She should have realized somehow that he was still there. But she came inside, and Tony went out to confront her. I heard him yelling at her, but I couldn't make out what he was saying. The office door was only partly open. Then ... then the door hit the wall with a bang and ... and Tony threw Mom on the floor. Then I saw ...." His throat started constricting. He took another deep breath.

He sat silently, trying to gather the strength to get through the rest of the story.

Brian spoke in a whisper. "It's okay. I shouldn't have asked."

Dan nodded. "But she told him she didn't know about the papers. She did know."

"She must not have wanted him to get them." Neil's voice sounded far away even though he knew the other boy was standing just behind him.

"Was she really willing to die for them?" His voice came out squeaky sounding. He got up from the table and went out to the living room. He leaned against one of the two large windows in the room, pressing his face against the glass.

 

"Any luck with the code yet?" Trixie sounded impatient.

"Actually, yes." Neil answered her. He and Brian were still poring over the new songs they had found.

Dan walked slowly to the kitchen table and pulled out an empty chair. He wasn't sure how long he'd been out in the living room. He had noted that every once in a while someone would poke their head out of the kitchen, presumably to check on him, but he was very grateful that none of them tried to actually talk to him. Regan, Neil, and Harvey all knew that when he got to feeling sad like that, it was best to leave him alone. They must have told the others to let him be.

"Are you feeling okay, Dan?" Miss Trask moved over to the stove and turned on a kettle.

Dan nodded. "What have you had luck with?"

Brian passed a piece of paper over to him. Someone had written a message in the code, and someone else had started to decipher it. They had scribbled in pencil over the sheet music; letters of the alphabet were everywhere. "U is in. No more contact." Dan read the words and then looked back at the note from his mom. "What does that mean? 'U is in.' Who is this U person I'm supposed to give this stuff to?"

Jim reached his hand out to see the paper and Dan handed it to him. "I'm not sure, but all the scribbles here give us further clues to finding out the message on your pages."

"Danny, were your parents spies?" Trixie's blue eyes were sparkling with excitement. "The good ones, I mean. Spying for us, not against us."

If Ned could have gotten any more excited, he would have likely exploded. "Spies!"

Bob punched him on the arm. "You already got in trouble for all your talk about gangs. Watch it."

Harvey shook his head. "Spies?" He wasn't excited. He sounded worried.

"No. I can't believe that." Dan remembered all the time his dad spent at the various jazz clubs around the city, and his mom working at the A&P. When would they have had time to spy? And spy on who or what? "No. They couldn't have been. Besides, wouldn't spies destroy this kind of stuff?"

Trixie looked thoughtful. "Not necessarily. Not if the intended recipient never got it."

Honey nodded her head in agreement. "And if it was in that room, and they thought it was pretty secure, they might not have worried about destroying it right away."

"I don't know." Dan still couldn't fathom it. "Wow. No, it's just too bizarre."

"Can you imagine, though?" Di's voice took on a dreamy tone. "Your parents could have been like James Stewart and Doris Day in that one movie."

Barbara sighed and fluttered her eyelashes. "James Stewart is sooo dreamy."

"You mean The Man Who Knew Too Much?" Honey puckered her lips together as she thought. "They weren't exactly spies, just a normal family caught up in some assassination attempt, right?"

Di nodded. "Right. So, maybe his parents weren't spies, but they were somehow caught up in something involving Tony."

Trixie shook her head. "I still think they were spies."

"No." Dan snorted as he looked around the table, his eyes wide with disbelief. Almost everyone staring back at him looked like they were taking the idea seriously. "Do you really think that's a possibility?"

Jim shrugged. "Anything's possible. And between the cryptic notes, the coded messages, even that hidden little room itself, well ...."

"I have to agree." Mart let out a woosh of air. "The FBI was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw that room, especially with this code. If not them, some other government agency maybe?"

Regan arched an eyebrow and Dan wondered what he thought of the idea of his sister being a spy. "What did you suppose that room was for?" his uncle asked.

"Underground Railroad maybe. I dunno." Dan shrugged. "Dad told me he had thought it was a bomb shelter, but I remember telling him that it couldn't possibly be. But honestly, I don't think it could be for the Underground Railroad either. The building was built in the 1880s or 1890s, which seems a bit late for anything like that."

"Still, the Underground Railroad. See, now there's a reasonable explanation for having a hidden room in your house. That makes more sense than this cockamamie idea of my sister or her husband being a spy." Dan was relieved that his uncle was also struggling with the thought. "And I'm sure there is some reasonable explanation for the whole thing."

Miss Trask raised an eyebrow. "Was it a converted Brownstone? Maybe the original owner just wanted to hide a safe somewhere."

"Or liquor." Mr. Wheeler winked. "If it was put in during the Prohibition, they may have used the place to stash their alcohol."

"Right. Those both seem like more reasonable explanations." Dan relaxed. "I suppose there really are all kinds of reasons someone might want a secret little room in their house. We just happened to find one in our apartment."

Trixie frowned, possibly disappointed her idea was being shot down. "I don't know about that. Why have the phone in there? Was it part of the main house line?"

"Yeah, sure. It was the phone I used to call for an ambulance. The operator on the other end sounded like any normal operator." Dan looked over the papers on the table, reassured now that his parents couldn't have been spies.

"But why have a phone line in a room that was supposed to hold a safe? Or illegal booze?" Ned grinned. "That makes no sense to me."

"Convenience to the phone box?" Dan shrugged. He refused to think any more about it and concentrated on the papers in front of him. "All I know for sure is that my dad took something from Tony, and Tony wanted it back, and he wanted these papers for some reason. I hardly think that makes my dad a spy."

Neil came up behind him and looked over his shoulder. He pointed at the last three of the shorter messages. "These could just be your mom wondering where your dad was when she hadn't heard from him in so long."

Brian leaned over to look, and then shook his head. "Except they're in two completely different handwritings."

"I'm not sure about the whole spy thing, exciting as that might be." Harvey frowned. "But take a look at this." He passed another sheet over to Dan.

Dan took it but it didn't make any sense to him. "This doesn't look like the code. The notes are more regular looking and the symbol at the front is different." Dan looked over at Honey and handed it to her. "Is that real music or a different code?"

Honey looked it over and motioned for Neil. "It looks like real music to me. Just ordinary music."

Neil took the paper. "Am I supposed to feel this happy about finding music instead of clues? Because I am." He grinned and left the room.

Dan shook his head at his brother's departing back. "And now we get to hear him play guitar the rest of the night."

Barbara giggled. "I can't blame him. I am so tired of trying to figure out this code."

"There are worse things." Trixie looked at her two brothers in turn. "You could have to listen to the walking dictionary or the walking medical journal."

Mr. Wheeler cleared his throat. "Have you kids eaten anything all day?"

"Gosh, I'm not sure I could eat anything. This is all too interesting." Bob was looking at another one of the sheets with musical notes on it. "This one has numbers in the translation. See?" He pointed to where someone had scribbled something on top. "'Meet PA 1445 Washington 775.'"

Mart looked over Bob's shoulder. "I envision deciphering the cryptograph is merely half the conundrum. Comprehending the significance will be a more substantial challenge. Meanwhile, our generous host has alluded to sustenance, of which I have certainly not had enough."

Dan barely caught the wink Mart gave to his brother. "Yes, we will all be suffering from hypoglycemia if we don't digest some comestibles soon." Brian winked back.

"Wait, some of the notes correspond to numbers? Let me see that." Jim took the paper from Bob and brought it over to Brian. "How do numbers play into all this? We had only been thinking of letters."

Di suddenly laughed and everyone turned to look at her. She blushed, and held up one of the papers she was looking at. "Sorry. Got distracted reading this."

"They are ... interesting." Ned grinned. "Actually, some of them are pretty good."

Dan blushed as well. "Remember I wrote most of this stuff when I was just nine or ten."

"I can't wait to read them all. That is, if you don't mind." Honey's hazel eyes twinkled merrily as she added, "Although, if you do mind, I'll still read them. I'll just pretend that I haven't."

Dan chuckled and winked at her. "I don't know ... all that stuff about aliens might make you think differently about me." He thought about all the stuff she didn't know about him, none of which was in those silly drabbles. If she wanted some interesting reading, she'd be better off looking at his notebook full of thoughts and essays. He couldn't decide if he would want her to read those, but he wasn't the least bit concerned about the stories he'd written as a young boy.

"Ahem." Mr. Wheeler cleared his throat loudly. "I asked if any of you kids were hungry."

"Brian and I both responded in the affirmative," Mart said with a wounded air.

"Not that anyone could understand you two." Di stuck her tongue out at him.

"I'm so sorry, Daddy. I'm sure most of us are hungry." Honey looked over at her father. "What should we do for dinner tonight?"

"I was thinking it would be good for you to take a break from all this," he pointed vaguely to the papers strewn across the kitchen table, "and go out to dinner."

"I'll stay here," Harvey said. "I can warm up something for myself."

"Why don't you come with us?" Jim asked. "We can go to one of those places you or Neil mentioned up on 72nd. Would that be all right, Dad?"

"Of course, Jim." Mr. Wheeler smiled at his son. "I was actually thinking the same thing myself. I've had more than a few business dinners at a kosher restaurant on 72nd. And we can walk there."

"I've made plans to join my sister for dinner tonight," Miss Trask said. "It may just be hospital fare for us, but I've really enjoyed being able to spend so much time with her."

After they left the apartment building, Dan and Honey walked next to each other. He wanted to hold her hand, but with her father and his uncle both behind him, he didn't think he should.

Honey kept glancing at him as they walked; her hazel eyes were full of wonder. "Do you think your parents, at least your dad, maybe, could have been spies?"

Dan shook his head. "I know the idea of it is interesting, but how could they keep a secret such as that and still behave so normally? No, I can't believe it for a second."

"Hmm. Well, it seems like Jim and Brian and Mart were making some progress on figuring out how the code works. It will be interesting to find out what's on those papers." She glanced behind them and then spoke lower. "And if it's anything to do with Tony, well, I'll do what I can to help put him away."

"Thanks, Honey." He looked at her and saw the fierce determination in her eyes. "It means a lot to me."


chapter 7: the music will know what we've found