there's a gleam in your eye
 

Chapter 5: The Clickety Clack

August 11, 1957

Dan and Regan left the Bob-Whites and their friends and headed down the subway stairs. They waited quietly for the train that would take them north through the Upper West Side and Harlem. On the platform, Dan wandered over to a wooden post in the station covered in brightly-colored papers. Notices for missing pets, used items for sale, and flyers for parties and nightclubs made up most of the jumble.

"Anything interesting?" Regan asked, standing over his shoulder.

"Nah," Dan answered.

"Looking for anything in particular? A new electric mixer maybe?" Regan chuckled as he pointed to a hand-written page offering the mixer, package unopened, for a mere three dollars.

Dan ignored the advertisement. The sound of an approaching train made him turn. "Washington Heights. That's us." He was about to get on the train when one of the blue flyers for a night club caught his eye. He quickly ripped the paper from the post and stuffed it in his pocket as he and his uncle boarded the crowded car.

"What'd you grab?" Regan quirked an eyebrow as he reached for the overhead bar of the train car.

Dan waited until the train reached its regular speed before letting go of the round metal post he was holding. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the now-wrinkled flyer. "Pema's. It looks like it's some kind of club."

"Are you still thinking of taking the crowd to a real night club?" Regan's look was disapproving.

"Yeah, but I wasn't thinking of this place. I grabbed it because I know this guy here." Dan pointed to a name in small letters near the bottom of the list of musicians playing in the upcoming week.

Regan squinted at the small print. "Guillermo. Obviously not a headliner, is he?"

"Nope. But he's good from what I remember. His younger cousin was in one of my classes at Junior High." Dan looked out the train window at tiled walls streaming by in a blur as he remembered playing hockey with the young Puerto Rican boy the winter before his life changed completely. "And he speaks Spanish."

Regan's eyebrows rose almost to his hairline. "Are you thinking of that note Trixie's Mexican lady gave her?"

Dan nodded. "She wants it translated, I know someone who can do that."

Regan looked at the paper again. "So where is this Pema's?" He pointed to the address, East 118th St & 3rd Ave. No actual building number was listed.

"East Harlem," Dan answered.

Regan shook his head. "East Harlem again? The neighborhood that's got the toughest gangs around here? Well, I trust your judgment. Although I wonder if I should."

Dan just grinned in response before pointing to two seats that had opened up. The car had been crowded when they first boarded, but was quickly thinning out as they left the confines of the Upper West Side.

Regan smiled back. "I think that's the first time you've smiled since last night." Then he took one of the empty spots.

Separated now by a few seats, Dan continued to look out at the tiled walls of the underground subway system without actually seeing anything. The train continued on its course, veering away from Central Park West on the streets above them. He felt the train car shake with the slight turn that indicated to him they were now below Saint Nicholas Avenue.

"Dan, do you think we should leave?"

Dan was lost in his own thoughts, calmed by the rhythmic sound of the train on the tracks.

"Do you think we're safe?" his uncle asked.

"Hmm?" Dan turned from the window to meet Regan's gaze. Regan had moved to the seat across from him, now vacant.

"Do you think we're safe here?" Regan repeated. "Tony just attacked five of our group."

"No; of course not." Dan's grin belied the pain in his eyes. "But if you think the Bob-Whites will leave, especially now that Mart has an inkling of what's going on, you should think again."

Regan snorted. "You're right, of course." He took a deep breath. "But I'm responsible for you kids. I'm worried we're already in over our heads and we haven't even done anything."

"We haven't, have we?" Dan reflected on that statement. "We just showed up in Manhattan. There was no reason to think that anyone would know I was here. We're not in Cowhand territory. We're not in Tony's neighborhood. I don't get it why he was on my trail so quickly."

The train came to a stop and Dan stood up.

Regan followed suit, peering out the window before stepping off the train and onto the station platform. "Are we here?"

Dan nodded. The two climbed the stairs to the street and Dan led the way to Trinity Park, just a couple of blocks away. "Uncle Bill, do you think there's any possibility those guys aren't after me at all?"

Regan shrugged. "It doesn't really add up, does it? But if not you, then what? I hate to believe it, but it's easier to see them being after you then after Trixie or that ugly little wood carving."

"Yeah." He and his uncle continued walking.

"But you don't think they're after you, anymore." Regan grimaced. "You think Trixie's the target? Because of that idol?"

On their left, sections of the ornate iron fencing that bordered the graveyard were separated by columns of stone and brick. "I keep thinking of that paper Trixie found in the purse that Mexican woman gave her. I wonder if they're after that piece of paper for some reason."

"Like the papers he wanted from your father?"

Dan didn't answer his uncle. Instead, he opened a gate in the wrought-iron fence and stepped into the graveyard. Long rows of small unimpressive headstones were occasionally broken by an obelisk or small monument. A handful of tall trees were spattered amongst those rows. For just a moment he thought he heard whispers in the trees and saw shadows in the corners of his eyes.

"What are you doing with those?!"

Nine year old Danny Mangan had never heard his father yell so harshly at him. He stared at the papers now quivering in his hands. He often looked at his dad's music even though he couldn't read it, and his dad had never gotten so upset.

"Don't let anyone see those," Tim Mangan told his son sternly, taking another step toward him.

"Sh-sure, Dad. What are they?" Danny placed the papers back into his father's outstretched hand. He had walked into his dad's office and saw them on the corner of the desk. They looked different from the other music his dad usually wrote; they looked simpler, cleaner.

His father calmed down just as quickly as his temper had flared. "Just some songs I've been working on. You know how competitive it gets in the music business. I don't want anyone taking credit for my work." Tim smiled at Danny. "When I come back from Korea, we'll finish those up together and get to the recording studio. How about it?"

Danny groaned. It was a long-standing thing between them. His dad always tried to get him more involved in the music business and was constantly telling him he should at least learn how to read music and play a few simple chords. "Dad! You promised you wouldn't pressure me to learn how to play anymore."

Tim grinned. "I know. I know." He held up his hands in surrender, the papers still in his right hand.

Danny looked at the sheets in his father's hand. The music notes were completely undecipherable to him.

The weight of his uncle's hand on his shoulder brought him back, and he quickly shook off the ghosts of his past. "It's this way," he said quietly, choosing a path through the center of the grounds.

 

The grave site was plain. No flowers filled the small cup next to the cheap grave marker. "Sarah Elizabeth Mangan" were the only words carved on the stone. Below her name, the dates proclaimed, "1924 - 1955".

Dan and Regan stood silently next to the final resting place of the woman that connected them. After a few minutes, Dan left his uncle alone and wandered toward the church. He wondered where his father was buried; his body had never been brought back from Korea. For years, Dan had hung on to a foolish notion that his father was still alive, trying to make his way back to America. Maybe he was just hiding somewhere until it was safe to return home.

Danny watched as his father put the sheets of music he'd been so upset over inside one of the songbooks on his desk. "Just make sure those stay safe. They're very important." Dan's father was serious. Then his demeanor suddenly changed as he smiled down at the young boy. "Let me show you something, Danny."

"What is it, Dad?" he asked.

His father went over to the book case and reached behind it. "There's something here." Tim motioned for him to come and find it. "Go ahead."

Danny obediently stuck his hand behind the bookshelf. He felt some kind of flat bar sticking out. He wiggled it and it gave way a bit to the right. Danny pushed it further to the right, and then heard a creaking, whirring sound.

He watched in amazement as the bookshelf moved aside a foot and a half. A couple of loose books fell over on one of the shelves and a pen that had been on another shelf rolled to the floor. There were metal tracks deep in the floor upon which the shelf glided.

Tim laughed. "Come on in, son." He squeezed into the opening.

Danny followed his father inside. "Wow. This is neat. What is this place?"

His father didn't answer right away. First he pushed the lever in the other direction, and the bookshelf moved back in place, closing them into a very small room. The back of the bookshelf blocked the opening they had just gone through. Danny stared at it. He put his face close to one of the small slits where the pieces of wood in the backing didn't quite meet. The office was still there. He could see everything.

He turned around and took in the drab tight space. It was dark; the only light coming in was from the office lamp shining between the small slits in the back of the bookshelf. Still, his eyes quickly adjusted. The walls were bare. There was nothing in the room except an aluminum chair, the kind that could fold up, and a small table with a telephone, a small desk lamp, a typewriter, and a stack of blank paper. His father switched on the lamp and even with the additional light there was nothing else to see.

"What is this place?" he asked again.

"Just somewhere I come and think," his dad answered. "Sometimes I do some writing here. He nodded toward the typewriter.

"But why here? I thought you did your writing out there." Danny went back to the crack in the bookshelf and looked at the office. It was still there. He hadn't wandered down a rabbit hole. "I still don't get why this room is here. What was it meant for?"

His dad shrugged. "I think it's supposed to be a bomb shelter. In case the Russians attack."

"Neat." Danny grinned. "But wouldn't one of those atomic bombs blast right through this?"

Tim laughed. "I suppose you're right." He looked around the small space. "I guess it really doesn't serve much purpose for a bomb shelter."

"Hey, maybe this is one of those secret places from back in the slave days." Danny had just learned about the Underground Railroad at school.

"You know, son, you could be right about that." His dad looked at him. "You're a smart kid. I bet you are right."

Danny grinned at the praise. "Can this be our secret place, Dad? Does Mom know about it?"

Tim rubbed the top of Danny's head affectionately. "Yes, of course she knows about it. You know I don't keep secrets from her; she's my partner in everything. But she never comes in here. She hates being in tiny places like this." Tim looked at his son more seriously. "When I head out for the war, you can consider this your very own secret place."

That little secret closet had saved his life, but had it cost him his mother's? Tears began to trickle down Dan's cheeks. He stood there, just outside the church, and let the tears continue. After a few minutes, he wiped his eyes. He looked up at the cross and said a silent prayer. "Help me find the answers. Please let it all make sense."

After a few moments, he walked back toward his mom's grave. A twinge of guilt pricked at his conscience for feeling relieved his uncle was no longer there, but he needed to be alone with his memories. He knelt down and stared at the letters carved in the stone, then traced her name with his finger. "I'm so sorry, Mom. Can you ever forgive me?"

Where he'd let tears fall while remembering his father, here he cried outright. He didn't think he'd ever get over the guilt of not revealing himself that day, of not letting Tony find him before his mom came home. He could've given him the stupid papers, and he'd still have his mother.

He didn't know how long he sat there crying. When he felt a hand on his shoulder, he knew it was his uncle's. He took a couple of deep breaths before standing up.

 

The two of them walked quietly out of the cemetery, passing Amsterdam Avenue and then walking past the subway entrance from earlier. The traffic on 155th was mostly commuters coming across the Macombs Dam Bridge a few blocks ahead. Dan looked up at the tracks above. Most of the elevated trains had stopped running years previously, but the Polo Grounds shuttle still took baseball fans across the Harlem River to Yankee Stadium.

Dan turned down Eighth Avenue, and if his uncle wondered where they were going, he didn't say anything. Dan was glad for both the company and the silence. Eventually he turned down another street and then stopped in front of a row of apartment buildings. He turned to his uncle and pointed to a doorway situated under a fire escape. A cluster of garbage cans stood to one side of the door and flies buzzed around them lazily. "That was my home," Dan stated simply.

Regan put an arm around his shoulders. "Thank you."

Dan looked up and down the nearly deserted street. There were a few people around: a woman carrying a bag of groceries, a teenage boy leaning against one of the other buildings, and a shabbily-dressed man who sat on one of the doorsteps. None of them paid any attention to them. "Come on," he told his uncle as he walked closer to the building. He took off his sports coat and let it drop to the ground. Climbing atop one of the garbage cans, he stood shakily on the flimsy aluminum lid, and then jumped onto the hanging ladder of the fire escape.

"Are you sure you should be doing that?" Regan looked around them nervously.

Dan shook his head. "Of course I shouldn't be doing this." He clambered up the ladder to the second landing, and then looked down at his uncle. "Are you coming?"

Regan shook his head but then skillfully jumped up and caught hold of the ladder. He quickly climbed up to join Dan.

"Not bad. Thought you were scared of heights." Dan looked down to the ground.

"We're not that far up," Regan said, a bit shakily. "I think I can handle this."

Dan nodded in agreement. He peered into one of the windows. "It looks empty still."

One of Regan's eyebrows raised slightly in surprise. "How many times have you come back here?"

"A few." Dan shrugged. "It's been a while though. Over a year."

He put his hand through a slit in the screen and popped it off the window. Then he put his hands on the glass and slowly pushed up until there was a gap just above the window sill. "Still unlocked." He stuck his fingers underneath the sash and pushed open the window the rest of the way, before climbing into the empty apartment. He often wondered why no one ever rented the place. Maybe they had, but it was always empty when he stopped by, as seldom as that was.

Dan led his uncle through what had been their living room. He looked around and saw a mustard-colored couch with a coffee stain on one of the cushions. A small rectangular table sat in front of the couch, but one of the legs had broken off, so books were used to keep it steady. He saw a fancy stereo and recording equipment that were clearly more important than the furniture, a few vinyl records scattered across the top of a speaker, ready to be placed on the turntable. He could almost hear the music playing from them and the laughter of people crowded in the room. But when he blinked, the memory disappeared and the room was bare. The furniture and the phonograph and stereo equipment had all been packed up. He didn't even know where it had been sent. All there was to see in the room now were a stray nail on the floor near the wall and a couple of spider webs hanging from one of the corners.

He walked to the office door and his uncle followed him. Their shoes made a comforting click-clack noise as they walked across the hardwood floors. Dan hesitated at the office door, but then quickly pulled it open.

Regan went over to the one piece of furniture in the whole apartment. "They didn't take the bookshelf?"

"Built in."

"Really? It doesn't look like a built-in." Regan reached out and took hold of one of the empty shelves. He gave it a bit of a shake, and the bookshelf wiggled a little. "See, it's not."

Dan watched as his uncle tried to shake the shelf away from the wall. It didn't give.

"That's weird. It is attached, just not fully." Regan shrugged, and then looked around the rest of the room. There wasn't much to look at; bare floors, bare walls, and an empty bookshelf.

The scene of the room on the last day he had been there flashed into Dan's mind but he pushed it away and focused on how the room should have been. His father's desk was crowded with papers and books; a number of faded circles from placing down coffee cups without using any coasters decorated the wooden surface. Additional shelves lined the walls. They were filled with books of all kind, including song books his father had used to write original music. A tattered orange and white striped arm chair sat underneath a standing lamp in the corner. A couple of black boxes containing musical instruments were stacked neatly against a wall. There had been a guitar hanging above them; Dan saw the small holes in the wall where the brackets had been screwed in. Another guitar would have been resting against the wall below that.

Inside the empty office, he sat down and leaned against that wall, knees up. Regan wandered out of the office and Dan could hear him moving around from room to room. The apartment wasn't that large. The kitchen, two bedrooms, and a shared bathroom were all that was left to see, and Dan knew each of those rooms were empty as well. Every once in a while he also heard the echoes of sounds from the apartment below.

It wasn't long before his uncle came back. "Ready to go?"

"Not yet." Dan got up and went over to the bookshelf. Regan joined him, standing there with his hands on his hips, looking up and down the shelf as if trying to figure out its secret. Dan smiled at his uncle and crouched down to reach behind the shelf. The lever stuck a bit. It hadn't been used in over a year, so that was expected.

"What in blazes?!" Regan watched as the shelf moved and then stared at his nephew. "What is this?"

"Secret closet. A hiding place." Dan entered the small room. The desk, the typewriter, the folding chair, all were still there. Even the telephone, for which Dan had never understood the need of in that room there was always the telephone in the kitchen was still plugged into the wall. His uncle squeezed in behind him. "You're not claustrophobic, too, are you?"

Regan shook his head with a little grin. "Ask Mart. I don't even know what that means."

"Mom was always scared of small places. Are you?" Dan reached down, hesitant to close the doorway between the two rooms. The small room would be very dark, even in the day time. He decided against it.

"Sarah would be." Regan looked thoughtful and almost frightened. Dan was sure he was remembering the orphanage; it was the same look that would cross his mother's face at times. His uncle shook his head. "But no, I'm not."

Dan let his uncle walk by him and watched as Regan picked up the telephone receiver as if he were expecting an operator on the other end. When he realized the line was dead, his uncle placed the receiver back down. Regan flipped the switch on the small lamp. No light, no electricity. He turned to the stack of papers next to the typewriter and started leafing through them. "Are these yours or your dad's?"

"Mine." They were things he had written between the ages of nine and thirteen, and they were all still there in a neat stack just as he had left them. Dan had no interest in keeping them. He had left them behind with the rest of his life in this apartment; there was no turning back.

"You should take them." Regan looked at him, a question in his green eyes.

Dan shook his head. "I don't want them."


chapter 6: Honey's sweet, but...