forgive the past with me
 

Chapter 11: Take Me Wherever I Choose

August 21, 1957

"Whoa." Barbara let out a huge breath as if she'd been holding it the whole time. "Does he usually get so ... I don't even think mad is the word."

"He was beyond irate." Jim agreed with the dark-haired girl.

Mart said just one word. "Broken."

Everyone sat or stood quietly, stunned by his uncle's departure.

Dan mulled over the conversation they just had and also the one with Teddy Hill earlier.

He felt Neil staring at him and he could almost touch the support emanating from his brother. "He's your uncle, but it's still your decision."

Dan nodded. He already knew his mind. "I have to see this through." He looked around the room, at all the other faces.

"You know we'll be there," Harvey stated firmly, as if it had already been discussed and decided.

Ned looked over at Bob and Barbara. They both nodded. "We won't have to see Regan every day once we go home. We'll be there."

Dan stared back at him, unbelieving. "You barely know me. Heck, I wanted to punch your lights out the other day."

"I know." Ned grinned. "And I hope you know I'm not going just because it sounds fun and exciting."

"Or wonderful," Barbara added with a wink.

"Or, really, even just because we're flying home tomorrow." Bob glanced over at his sister. "We'd go even if we were staying longer."

The room fell silent again for a few moments. Dan felt overwhelmed by the Iowans' backing him. He hadn't expected their encouragement.

"I don't think I can go, as much as I want to." Honey wouldn't look at him, but he could see a tear sliding down her cheek.

"It's okay." He hardly felt okay inside, but he didn't want her to feel bad.

"I am so torn." Trixie looked up at him and shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know what to do." She looked at her brothers and then at Jim.

Jim shook his head. "I don't think we should go against Regan's wishes."

Brian was about to speak when the front door opened. The red-headed man standing there was not Regan. Dan wondered if Mr. Wheeler was even more upset than his uncle had been.

"Daddy." Honey got up from the couch and ran over to greet her father.

He gave her a quick kiss on the forehead and then stepped further into the room, heading straight for Dan. "Can I have a minute with you, son?"

Dan nodded glumly. "Yes, sir."

"Out on the terrace, all right?" Mr. Wheeler gestured to the glass doors leading to the outdoor area.

"Yes."

Mr. Wheeler slid open the door and Dan was happy to step outside into the fresh air. He shut the door closed behind him.

"Sit down, please. I promise I won't bite." Mr. Wheeler smiled at him, taking a seat at the oval patio table.

Dan sat across from him. He hated how nervous Mr. Wheeler made him feel.

"Regan filled me in, and I think I have most of the story, but there are some pieces I still don't quite understand." Mr. Wheeler gazed at him inquisitively.

Dan stared back at him as steadily as he could.

"Regan told me there's a fellow named Teddy Hill who knew your parents well, and he knows a couple of people your parents knew. You plan to meet Teddy and these other two sometime this evening, is that right?" Mr. Wheeler spoke calmly.

Dan nodded.

"And Regan objects to this because you've recently seen Teddy Hill speaking with Blinky, and we all know Blinky was working with Tony, the man who killed your mother." Mr. Wheeler leaned forward in the chair, steepling his fingers together. "Blinky also held Trixie at gunpoint and could have easily killed her." The older man's green eyes bore into Dan. "He thinks we should get the police involved, have them go meet these two men. I agree with him."

Dan stared straight ahead, trying to convince himself that it didn't matter what Mr. Wheeler and his uncle thought. It wasn't like he was going to meet with Tony and Blinky. It was more likely that the two men would be Mr. Hill and some other unknown man, possibly another of his dad's old friends.

"The problem is, we don't know where you were planning on meeting them." Mr. Wheeler smiled reassuringly at him.

Dan took a deep breath, and mentally counted to ten. He did not want to lose his temper in front of Honey's father.

"What I want to know is how well you know Mr. Hill, how much you trust him, and why you trust him." Mr. Wheeler leaned back again. "Convince me you're not just carelessly chasing after a clue that could land you in danger."

Dan swallowed. He turned his head to look out over the park. "I feel like I've known Mr. Hill, Teddy, all my life. I can't remember ever not knowing him. He was a very good friend of my dad's. Even after my dad went to Korea, my mom and I would stop by and see him at least once a week." Dan thought back to those times. He wondered if his mom would pay him rent for the apartment during any of those visits, but he couldn't recall anything like that. It wasn't really important anyway.

"Good. You've known him a long time. How much do you trust him?" Mr. Wheeler waited patiently for Dan to answer.

"Until earlier today, almost completely. Now, only a little less." Dan grimaced. "He told me to check for the bug. He told me to make sure my friends knew where I was."

"Bug?" Mr. Wheeler raised an eyebrow.

"My uncle didn't tell you about that?" Dan frowned, unhappy with himself for letting that slip.

Mr. Wheeler waited patiently for him to explain.

"Blinky dropped a bug in Trixie's purse." Dan watched the older man's face, trying to find any sign of what he might be thinking.

"That's not good." Mr. Wheeler regarded him carefully. "Even knowing Mr. Hill has some kind of connection with Blinky, enough to know that he'd done that, you still trust him?"

"I trust him more than I trust the police." Dan shrugged. "But, no, I don't trust him completely, which is why I won't go to meet him alone."

Mr. Wheeler nodded. "And if you go to meet these two people your parents knew, then what?"

"My mom said I should give those papers to either of them. I guess it depends how I feel about them when I meet them, but I'd probably go ahead and give them those papers." Dan frowned as he gazed steadily at Mr. Wheeler, his mind made up. "It's what she asked me to do."

Mr. Wheeler frowned back. "You wouldn't consider handing them over to the police?"

Dan didn't even need to think about it. "No, sir."

"And you're absolutely determined to meet these individuals," Mr. Wheeler stated.

He turned back to the view, hoping Mr. Wheeler was done with him and that he'd leave soon. He was starting to get anxious about getting to the meeting place on time, especially if he had to pack his bag before leaving and stash it someplace on the way there. He could feel Mr. Wheeler's intent stare penetrating right through him.

"About tonight," the older man finally said. "I'll let you go meet them on one condition."

He paused in his thoughts, surprised by Mr. Wheeler's statement.

"I'm going to come along, too."

Dan whipped back around and studied Mr. Wheeler's face closely. He could see the seriousness in his eyes and in the lines around his mouth. "Yes, sir. That would be great."

Honey's father was not finished. "And if anything goes wrong, I will be calling the police, and you will turn over those papers."

That's more than one condition. But Dan didn't voice that opinion. And he was not going to turn over those papers to the police, no matter what happened. Maybe he should just cancel the meeting. He could call Mr. Hill and tell him he couldn't make it tonight, try to set up a different time when this vacation really was over.

Mr. Wheeler must have taken his silence as consent, as he pressed on. "None of the other kids can join us. I don't want to put them in any kind of danger."

Dan looked up at him. "My brothers can't come?"

"No." Mr. Wheeler continued to study him. "I don't even want you to go, but since you trust this Teddy Hill fellow, I'll give him a chance."

Dan would let Neil and Harvey know where they were going all the same. He swallowed and then nodded his head. "What about my uncle?"

"That's up to him." Mr. Wheeler smiled gently. "He's a bit upset right now, understandably."

Dan wondered what was understandable about it. He certainly didn't understand.

As if Mr. Wheeler could read his mind, the older man pressed on. "He's worried about you, Dan. He's scared you'll get yourself killed. I am, too."

"But you're willing to let me go?" Dan was trying to follow his host's reasoning.

"I am. Because I'd rather you go with me than go by yourself or with just your brothers after we leave the city." Honey's father sighed. "I just hope your uncle will understand. Hopefully I can convince him we'll be all right before we need to leave."

Dan absorbed Mr. Wheeler's words. He hoped so, too.

"What time do we need to leave?" Mr. Wheeler asked, finally.

Dan didn't like all the conditions, but he could understand Mr. Wheeler's reasoning. And he'd never actually agreed to getting the police involved. "It's fifteen minutes by subway. We need to be there by seven."

"Good. We'll leave around six-thirty, then?" Mr. Wheeler started to get up. "Dan, another thing. This is your meeting. I'll be there to keep an eye on you, but I won't interfere unless I feel a need to."

Dan suddenly felt in awe of this man. He was going to trust a fifteen year-old kid to handle things. It actually made him feel less certain of what he was doing.

Mr. Wheeler walked over to the patio door and then turned around again. "And one more thing. My daughter?"

Dan turned to face Honey's father again. "Yes?"

"She's too young to date or go steady." Mr. Wheeler smiled at him. "Understood?"

He tried to stay calm. "Yes, sir. She's already told me the same thing."

"Good." Mr. Wheeler started to open the door.

"Mr. Wheeler?"

Mr. Wheeler raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Dan?"

"Thank you." Dan owed Honey's father that much. He was willing to go with him to meet these unknown people, which was more than he could say for his uncle.

Mr. Wheeler nodded. "You're welcome."

 

"You really trust him?" Regan glanced at Dan skeptically.

"Enough." Dan had managed to talk Mr. Wheeler into taking the subway instead of being driven there by the Wheelers' chauffeur. He was sitting next to his uncle and across from Mr. Wheeler on the Washington Heights train traveling north.

"The Blinky connection doesn't bother you?" Regan really did look worried.

"It does." He didn't feel like saying much more than that. He really hoped Mr. Hill still deserved that trust, but he had to go with his gut.

"I still think we shouldn't go." His uncle was still upset, but nowhere near as angry as he had been at the apartment. At the moment, he sounded more disappointed than anything. "Let the police handle this, Dan. Please?"

Dan stared stoically out the window.

Regan sighed.

"What kind of place are we going to?" Mr. Wheeler asked.

"It's kind of a teenage hangout." Dan gave a small shrug as apology. "I thought I'd be going with the others." He still hadn't told either of the two men the actual destination. He thought it kind of ironic that at this very moment he trusted Teddy Hill more than Mr. Wheeler and more than his uncle. He was afraid they would have notified the police if he had revealed the location ahead of time.

"That's fine." Mr. Wheeler glanced around the train. "It's been a long time since I've been on the subway. It's gotten ...."

"Dirtier?" Dan supplied helpfully, but with a bit of a grin.

Mr. Wheeler returned the grin. "Less comfortable is what I was thinking. The last time I'd been on one of these train cars it had cloth seats—not this sticky vinyl—and ceiling fans."

"Some of the cars still have ceiling fans. I wish this one did." Dan could commiserate with him on that. It had been really muggy the last few days, and the new air-conditioning unit that had been installed in this car was not working.

It wasn't long before they were climbing the stairs back up to the street and Dan was leading them to Al's Pizzeria, just a few doors down from the Apollo Theater. They walked in the narrow door and climbed a flight of stairs to the actual restaurant on the second floor. The wall facing the street was almost entirely window, and thin curtains let the light in without too much glare or heat. Behind some of the curtains, Dan could see window blinds had been pulled up, but not quite all the way. Booths lined the far wall, and just over a dozen tables made for plenty of seats. Or they would have if the place hadn't been so packed, mostly with teenagers. A jukebox was blaring out some Elvis Presley tune and a few of the kids were dancing even though there really wasn't any place to dance.

Mr. Wheeler removed his hat, and Regan did the same now that they were indoors.

"Nice crowded place you picked out," Regan observed, relief evident in his voice.

"Let's find a booth where we can watch the door." Mr. Wheeler indicated a couple of booths across from them, but they were all filled. "We could wait a minute. Those people look like they might leave soon."

Dan was busy scanning the room for any familiar faces, friendly or otherwise. He didn't see anyone he knew, but he did spot a booth that still had a view of the door. The people seated there were standing up and looked like they were leaving. "How about over there?"

Regan nodded and headed toward the now-empty table. The three of them seated themselves, and a waitress appeared almost immediately with some menus in her hand. She wiped down the table before passing them three of the menus. With a quick, "I'll be back for your order soon," she was already on her way to the next table.

"Would you like to order anything?" Mr. Wheeler asked, glancing over his menu.

"I'm not really hungry." Dan was feeling too anxious to eat.

"I haven't got much of an appetite either," Regan admitted.

"That makes three of us, but we should order something. At least some drinks." Mr. Wheeler looked at Dan and then Regan.

Dan knew Mr. Wheeler was right, even though he didn't want to drink anything either. "Sure, I guess. I'll have a cola."

"Make it a ginger ale for me." Regan sighed. "Maybe it will calm my nerves."

Mr. Wheeler grimaced. "In that case, I might ask if they have some scotch."

 

Dan waited impatiently, watching the big hand on the clock that was placed on the wall near the kitchen. It was already five minutes past seven. They'd arrived about ten minutes early, and the fifteen minutes that had passed felt like hours. He took a tentative sip from his drink and looked around the room. It was no longer as crowded as it had been, and that made it easy to spot Teddy Hill as he came in. Alone. Dan watched him as he made his way to their table.

"Danny. Nice to see you again so soon." Teddy smiled. "And Mr. Regan, it's good to see you here, too." He turned to the other man at the table and held out his hand. "Teddy Hill. I'm sure you've heard a lot about me, probably not all good."

"Mr. Hill." His uncle scowled slightly.

Mr. Hill seemed amused. "Please call me Teddy. Even the kids do. I prefer it."

Mr. Wheeler slid out of the booth and stood up to shake his hand. "Matthew Wheeler."

"Pleased." Teddy sat down in the booth, sliding to the inner seat, and Mr. Wheeler sat back down next to him. "What's your poison?" He indicated Mr. Wheeler's drink.

"The owner has some mediocre scotch here, but it's better than nothing." Mr. Wheeler smiled.

"Scotch? I didn't think this place served alcohol." Teddy looked around at the crowd of teenagers.

"They don't. This is from Alfredo's personal stash." Mr. Wheeler grimaced.

Dan hadn't even thought about alcohol not being served in the pizzeria, but he remembered Mr. Wheeler had handed the waitress his business card. It hadn't taken long for the owner of the establishment to come to their table and introduce himself. After a whispered conversation and a bill slipped into the owner's hand, he had returned shortly with two fingers of scotch in a tumbler. Mr. Wheeler was obviously the kind of man who always got what he wanted.

Teddy removed his hat and placed it next to Mr. Wheeler's and Regan's at the back of the booth. "I see. Do you think he'd be willing to share a bit more of that with us?"

Mr. Wheeler nodded as he held up a hand to signal to the waitress.

Dan looked over at Teddy, wondering why he was alone. "And H and U, whoever they are, are they coming?" Dan tried not to sound disappointed.

Teddy smiled at him. "I'm your H, Danny."

That wasn't surprising. "Yeah, I kind of figured you were. You called yourself a silly old fool at the apartment yesterday, and you are retired."

"Glad you picked up on that. You're a smart boy; always were." Teddy gave him a half-smile. "You remind me more of your mother than your father, even though you look like him."

Dan raised an eyebrow. "I do have her temper."

Teddy laughed heartily. "Good to know. But I meant her mind. Your mother was brilliant, you know?"

"I guess so." Dan shrugged. He waited quietly for half a minute. "And U?" The mysterious U is who he really wanted to meet.

"He'll be here. Not happily, but he assured me he'd be here." The older man frowned slightly, deepening the lines around his mouth.

"What's with the single initials anyway?" Regan raised an eyebrow. He leaned toward Teddy, his elbows on the table.

"Oh, that started out as a joke between us." The dark-skinned gentleman shrugged. "But I couldn't be T because Timmy was T."

The waitress finally reached their table. "I'll have one of what he's having." He pointed to Mr. Wheeler's glass.

"And I'll have another," Mr. Wheeler added.

Dan waited for her to leave before speaking again. "H for Hill, I suppose?" He gave the older man a half-smile. "I almost thought it might have been Hank."

Teddy guffawed. "That Hank, he is a character, but harmless. I'm happy to help him out with a meal here and there so long as he keeps an eye on my place. He's always sitting on that door stoop anyway."

"Yeah, I've seen him sitting there lots of times. How come he never stopped me from going in there before?" Dan raised an eyebrow.

"When he first told me, a long time ago, there was some kid climbing in my window, and then he described you, I wasn't worried. Although I did try to catch up with you once, but you must have left before I got there." Teddy smiled. "I think it was that big crowd that had Hank so troubled."

Regan snorted. "Dan did wonder how he could sneak all of us in there without anyone noticing. I guess it wasn't the best idea."

"I'm glad we tried. Otherwise I might not have known it was your apartment." Dan gazed at the window, unable to really see outside through the sheers. He wished the mysterious Mr. U would show up.

"So you said you had a note that one of us wrote? Something musical maybe?" Teddy peered at Danny. "And are you sure it was one of us and not your mother or father?"

So Teddy knew about the papers. Danny wondered if he'd ever looked through that stack in the hidden room, hoping to find those three pages he'd been carrying for so many years. "Yes. It's another interesting piece of music, but I'm certain it was written by U. I mean the initial U, not you." Dan shook his head. "What's his name? That would be so much easier."

"Unay. Unay Huaman. And he wanted to be H." Teddy winked.

"Uh-nay," Dan repeated. He thought long and hard, but it was an unusual name and he was certain he had never heard it before. "I don't know him."

"Oh, you do. You do." Teddy frowned, and then took a sip of the drink the waitress had just put in front of him. "But he's changed some. He used to be ... happy, always laughing and joking around. Now he's always serious, paranoid even."

"What made him change?" The ginger ale must have been working for his uncle. He no longer seemed so agitated. Or maybe it was just that Teddy had not brought Blinky or anyone else with him.

"Things started going wrong. First, his wife left him. Then Timmy went to Korea and never came back. Then Sarah ...." Teddy's voice became raspier than usual. He let Sarah's name hang in the air for a few seconds before speaking again. "Then Sarah died." He sighed. "And Danny was nowhere to be found. I guess he knew how to get in touch with you, then?" Teddy smiled at Regan. "I'm glad he had family to go to. I was really worried about him."

"Actually—" Regan was about to say something, to correct him probably.

Mr. Wheeler coughed lightly. "I was quite surprised to hear that Regan had a nephew, and one as old as Danny here."

Danny looked down at his glass. The ice had melted and the cola mixed with the water, creating a pale brown liquid. He knew that this Unay person had known the truth. Did Teddy? "Last week, at Minton's, you said her death was a shock. Why?"

He was left to wonder how Teddy would have answered. Near the front of the restaurant, a waitress gasped loudly. Danny looked around the room and noticed once again that the crowd had thinned out quite a bit. That struck him as unusual. And then he saw him by the front door, holding a gun. He had his hat angled down, hiding most of his face, but that long scar just could not be hidden.

"This place is closed," he announced gruffly with a slight Hispanic accent. "Everybody clear out."

Nearly everybody that was still there did. The owner of the restaurant emerged, holding his hands up in the air. "The cash register's over there. It's open. Take whatever you want."

"Get out. Now." Blinky's words were directed not just at the owner but at all the remaining people in the place.

The owner yelled back into the kitchen in a foreign language, probably Italian, and a few people quickly left, looking down so as not to be able to identify the man causing this mayhem. Then he gestured to the four of them, begging them to leave. The place grew very quiet as the song from the jukebox came to an end. Dan realized they were probably the only customers left in the place.

"They stay," Blinky commanded. "You go."

The owner left, looking very scared and very sorry, and Blinky bolted the door shut behind him.

Dan had been mad before, but this was worse. This was betrayal. His eyes flashed with anger as he stared straight into Teddy Hill's eyes, but only sorrow was reflected back in Teddy's. "Why?!"


chapter 12: made me trust somebody else