there's a gleam in your eye
 

Chapter 13: Past Mistakes and Former Lives

August 13, 1957

"Umm." Harvey started out hesitantly. "Wasn't that our stop, where we were supposed to transfer to the Eighth?"

"That doesn't matter right now," Regan stated. Dan felt his uncle sit down next to him but he still didn't look up. He had his elbows on his knees and his head down, his hands covering his face.

"Who were those guys?" Jim sounded angry.

Dan didn't blame him for being angry. He heard his family, his friends, or maybe former friends, whispering and talking around him. He wanted to run away. He never wanted these friends of his to find out about his past. And for them, for Honey, to see him that way, was the worst. He tried to calm down, to control his breathing. Jim would hate him and would never let Honey near him. Not that Honey would even want to be around him after this. He felt sick to his stomach.

"Who were those guys?" Brian repeated Jim's question, but he sounded concerned, not mad.

Concerned; not mad. Dan repeated the thought to himself. He took another deep breath but still couldn't muster up the nerve to face anyone.

"Cowhands," Ned answered. He sounded thrilled at the notion that they had just had a run-in with a real New York City street gang. "That's what it said on their jackets. And that was the name of that gang Dan was telling us about the other night."

Dan really wanted to throw up.

"When was that?" Bob asked. "I don't remember him saying anything."

"Most of you had gone to bed already," Regan replied. "It was after those guys followed us from the antique store."

His ears were ringing. The voices around him sounded muffled. He kept his head down.

"Oh, that's why I don't remember either," Di said. "It was probably over at your apartment."

And then he heard her. Honey started laughing, albeit nervously. "I am so sorry if I should have kept quiet but it was like that scene with Al in the barn all over again."

Trixie giggled along with her. "Honestly, Honey, I think you may have a secret wish to be in a gang."

Honey snorted in response. "I just couldn't help myself." She started laughing in earnest, sounding like she was unable to stop.

Dan remembered how she had said he was with their gang in that unmistakable New Jersey accent. And he remembered what Mikey had said in response. But here she was, laughing. He peeked at her through his hands. And then he looked up and watched her, this poised girl in a blue skirt and a white blouse, her little white gloves on her hands. And she was laughing uncontrollably. He met her eyes. Suddenly, his nerves steadied. She wasn't mad. She didn't hate him. She was laughing. Not at him, but just laughing. And now she was smiling. At him. Everything was going to be fine. He winked at her. With a sense of lightness he didn't really feel, he attempted a small joke. "I guess New Jersey boarding schools are good for something."

Trixie laughed even harder. "I was all ready to ask that boy who he thought he was." She paused to let out another laugh. "But you, oh, Honey!" She put a hand on Honey's arm. "How could I say anything after that?"

"I wish you would've just let me punch him. Just once." Jim sounded calmer, but still a little angry.

Dan could tell now that the anger wasn't directed at him, but at Pete or Mikey. He turned to the red-headed boy, thankful Jim had held his temper in check. "One punch, and then it would have turned into an all-out rumble, and who knows how that would've ended. Some of those guys carry switchblades." He looked at Honey again. "I am so sorry he said those nasty words about you. Really. I wish Jim had punched him for that. I wish I had punched him for that. I'm sorry."

"Oh, I didn't mind that. I've been called that before." Honey smiled at him.

Trixie turned to her friend, surprised. "You have? Who would ever say such mean things … oh. Boarding school or summer camp?"

Honey nodded. She didn't say which it was, and Dan guessed it might have been both.

The train went through another station. "Um, guys," Harvey said. "Hate to interrupt, but if we don't switch trains soon, we'll be heading over to Queens."

Neil nodded. "We should be able to transfer at the next stop."

"I'm still confused about those guys." Barbara's voice was high pitched, and Dan guessed, or hoped, she was just nervous. "I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life."

"The Cowhands are … I used to be a Cowhand. Like them. That was my old gang." Dan finally confessed to the whole group. He waited to see if anyone would be mad at him, want him gone. No one spoke. "I left them over a year ago."

"I'm glad you left them," Di said timidly.

"Me, too," Mart acknowledged. "You're nothing like them, you know."

Dan sniffed. "I don't know. You saw how easily I could be." He looked around, finally, at everyone who was there with him. His uncle gazed back at him, his green eyes reflecting only love and pride, and it helped to have that silent support. He let himself acknowledge that these people really were his friends. His uncle had been right. They weren't going to hold his past against him.

"No." Mart's voice was decisive. "I saw that you could talk like them and act like them and still be nothing like them. You aren't mean. You aren't a bully. You don't treat people the way they do. Even when you were talking to Mikey, you were respectful."

"More respectful than he deserved," Jim muttered.

Trixie nodded. "If you were like them, you would have punched that foul-mouthed goon." She grinned, and her blue eyes sparked with energy. "I wanted to punch that foul-mouthed goon."

"I suppose I would have. Or worse, I would've said something mean to Honey myself. I could have." Dan hung his head.

The train slowed again as it approached the next station. "But you didn't. And I met you when you were proud to be in that gang, proud to wear that jacket. Even then, you would never have said something like that to anyone, whether you want to admit it or not." Neil stood up. "We should take this stop. We can transfer trains and still make it to the Museum of Natural History before they close."

"So, who is Crystal?" Trust Trixie to pick up on that and ask about it. But at least she was asking Neil, not him.

Neil actually blushed. "She's a girl we know. Well, used to know."

 

"We should go right up to the fourth floor. We don't have much time before the museum closes." Brian motioned for the others to follow him as he headed toward the elevator. They had just gotten off the subway at the stop closest to the museum and knew they only had about thirty minutes before closing time.

The group exited the elevator and made their way through a large room full of dinosaur bones and displays.

"Gosh, is it a giant fish you're going to show us?" Bob asked.

"Hardly. The fish we want to show you is about three inches long." Mart measured the distance with his fingers.

"Look at that, though! He's more than three inches long." Harvey pointed to the skeleton of a huge Gorgosaurus facing them. "I'd hate to meet him wandering around in the woods!"

The dinosaur's short front feet were upraised and a giant lizard-like tail trailed behind it. "That baby roamed all over North America several million years ago." Mart pointed to another exhibit and started talking about that dinosaur.

Dan stopped paying attention to the walking, talking encyclopedia-dictionary that he considered to be one of his best friends. He followed Trixie and Honey and caught up with them in the next room where dozens of jars and tanks contained specimens of fish suspended in a liquid solution. He coughed lightly and they both turned around. Trixie grinned and went ahead to where Brian and Jim were looking at a large black and white striped fish with lots of spiky things coming out of it. Honey smiled shyly at Dan.

"Honey." Dan had wanted to talk to her ever since they switched trains at Bryant Park. "I'm sorry about what happened on the subway."

Honey squinted her hazel eyes in confusion. "You didn't do anything to be sorry for."

Dan shook his head, disagreeing with her. "I didn't want you to find out that way. I wanted … I tried to tell you about the gang back on Bedloe Island." He frowned. "I started to mention it and then your brother came over." He glanced over at Jim who was peering at something over Trixie's shoulder.

"It's okay, Danny." Honey smiled again. "I kind of figured that out when that boy recognized you. I mean, it took me a minute, but I remembered you had said that you ran to the streets to avoid being in an orphanage and that you knew some other boy. Well, I kind of figured that mean Mikey kid must have been who you were referring to." Honey started twirling a strand of hair around her finger.

"No, actually I was referring to a different kid. A guy named Luke. Luke was the one who talked me into joining that gang, which is where I met Mikey." Dan reached for her hand, intertwining his fingers with hers. He brushed the hair out of her face with his other hand. "I am so sorry he referred to you as a …." He couldn't even say the word anymore, when at one time he swore as if that was the only English he knew.

"I told you before that didn't bother me so much. I have heard worse." Honey frowned. "You have no idea how vicious society girls can be."

"I'm starting to understand." He smiled at her. "But I can't really understand how anyone could say anything like that about you." He brought his face closer to hers. He so badly wanted to kiss her. Then he remembered they were in a public museum, with her brother just a few feet away. He pulled back. "Will you tell me about those society girls and why they were so mean to you?"

Honey bit her lower lip before speaking. Her cheeks flushed red. "Maybe some day. It's too embarrassing."

More embarrassing than being confronted by my old gang on the train? Dan shook his head. "I doubt it could be worse than what I just went through."

"That was hard on you, wasn't it?" Honey gazed at him thoughtfully which just made him want to kiss her even more. And then she frowned. "Did you used to bully little kids like that, just for fun?"

He shook his head, wanting to deny it. "I …." He stared at a spot on the floor of the museum, and let go of her hand. "I've been with other kids who've done that, and I went along with it. I'm sorry. I knew it was wrong, even then. But I wanted to fit in with the gang."

"Acceptance can be important, I suppose." She sounded so disappointed in him.

He lifted his head again, hoping she could forgive him. "It doesn't make it right. I shouldn't have done it. I could've stood up to them."

"Could you have, really?" She blushed again. "Because when I went against the group, things just got worse."

"You went against the group? I'm guessing you don't mean the Bob-Whites." Dan admired her even more. She was so much stronger than he had been.

"I, well, I was never actually one of them – of that group of girls – to begin with, so maybe it wasn't the same." She frowned slightly, and then switched the subject back to him. "What would have happened to you if you had gone against those boys?"

He sighed. He'd so much rather talk about her past than his, but if he expected her to open up to him, he should do the same. "I did. Not always, but sometimes. They would beat me up pretty bad; tell me I had to learn my place." He tried to smile as he came to a realization. "Eventually, I did learn my place, and it wasn't with them."

She reached for his hand again. "I'm really glad you're not in that gang anymore."

"Me, too. I just wish I'd never joined them in the first place." He shrugged.

"I know." She said the words quietly and he felt like she really did know.

He squeezed her hand lightly. "What did those vicious society girls do? And what did they do to you when you stood up to them?"

She shook her head. "We should probably go look at the ghost fish we came here to find."

Dan was disappointed that she wouldn't tell him. She led him over to where Trixie and Jim were still looking for the fish they had found earlier in the summer, releasing his hand in the process.

"It's right here." Brian stopped in front of a tiny fish on a shelf and waved his hand to the others in the room to come join him.

Trixie nodded vehemently. "Yes, that one looks like the one we found at that cave in the Ozarks."

The other teens and Regan went over one by one to admire the little fish, but Dan noticed that Honey and Trixie wandered off to another corner of the room. Honey glanced back at him once, and Trixie did the same. Dan couldn't help but blush as he figured Honey was talking to her best friend about him. That had to be a good thing, or at least he hoped so. Honey glanced his way again, and he gave her a little wave but then turned around to leave the two girls to talk in peace.

He turned to study some other interesting-looking fish when his uncle came up beside him.

"You doing okay?" Regan asked.

Dan nodded. "I'm fine. Relieved, even, that at least one of my secrets is out there now, although certainly not the way I would have wanted it to happen."

Regan put his arm around Dan's shoulder and led him out of the room just as the lights flickered briefly and a chime sounded, indicating the museum was about to close. "You should probably tell them whatever you know about these other guys, the ones after Trixie and her statue."

Dan nodded. "Yeah. When we're back at the apartment tonight."

They were at the elevator, waiting for the others. Dan looked around and saw that everyone except Trixie and Honey was either already there or close by. "Jim, Brian, have you guys seen Trixie and Honey?"

The two boys both shook their heads. "Last I saw, Honey was with you," Jim said.

"No, Trixie and Honey were looking at those deep sea fish in the big display case," Brian stated.

Regan frowned, obviously worried. "Well, they're not here. Let's go back and find them." He turned to the others in their group. "The rest of you stay here and wait for us."

Dan, Regan, Jim, and Brian jogged quickly around the exhibits in the dinosaur room back to where the different fish were displayed. The door was closed, but they all heard Trixie calling out for help.

An attendant approached them. He was trying to usher them out since it was closing time. Jim spoke up. "You have to unlock this door. Our sisters are still in there!"

"Hurry!" Brian crowded around the confused museum guard as he searched for the right key.

The door opened and all five of them ran down the corridor to where they could hear the girls screaming.

"We're coming, Trix! Honey! Hold on!" Jim called out to them as they ran.

They rounded the large display in the center of the room and Dan saw Trixie and Honey being held against their will by the same guy that had been in the United Nations gift shop. The man released his hold on the girls and turned toward the attendant. "The little girls were worried. They thought they were being locked in. I wanted to show them another exit."

Dan shook his head, letting the man know he didn't believe that. "Where were you taking them?"

"You were trying to kidnap our sisters." Brian glared at the man. His firm statement showed Dan he also rejected the explanation.

The man continued to claim he was trying to aid the girls. "They became excited. I only wanted to help!"

Jim's fists were clenched. "We'll take care of things here now."

The man bowed with exaggerated politeness, backed off, and hurried down the hall.

"Didn't you hear the warning bell sound?" the attendant demanded sharply. "The museum closes promptly at five o'clock. It's fifteen minutes after now."

Regan and Brian ignored him. They took hold of the girls and led them back to the elevators.

Jim unclenched his fists but his voice was still harsh when he replied to the attendant. "Of course they didn't hear the bell or they'd have left. I'd suggest you calm down a little. Can't you see they've been frightened?"

"I raised my voice without thinking," the attendant said in apology, even as he was leading the boys to the elevator doors. Regan and Brian were just ahead of them, with Trixie and Honey between them. "Do you really think he was going to take those girls? Should I call the police?"

Regan turned around, having heard the attendant. His uncle took a couple of steps back toward them and pulled the attendant aside. Dan saw him talk quietly to the young man as he and Jim caught up with the other three.

"You recognized him, right?" Jim asked.

Dan nodded. "Yeah. That was definitely the guy from the gift shop at the U.N."

 

The group left the museum and walked along Central Park West back to the Wheelers' apartment. When they arrived, the doorman greeted them and then addressed Trixie. "Did your uncle find you, Miss Trixie?"

"My uncle?" Trixie wrinkled her nose in bewilderment.

"Yes, miss. After you left this morning, your uncle came by. I told him you were out, and he asked if I knew where you were. Since you asked me about the hours of the Museum of Natural History, I told him I thought you might be headed there. So, he missed you, eh?" The doorman removed his hat and scratched his head.

Dan was livid. "You told some strange person where we were going? Did you tell him which apartment was ours, too?!" Regan put a hand on his shoulder, calming him.

"Sam," Regan addressed the elderly gentleman. "Trixie's uncle is in Iowa. And her other uncle is in Idaho. The gentleman who claimed to be related to her, I'm guessing he's the same guy that just nearly kidnapped her and Honey over at the museum. Can you describe him?"

Sam Hawkins trembled as Regan's words sank in. "I'm … I'm sorry. I didn't even think. How could I forget that the Wheelers' children might be targets for ransom seekers?" Sam looked over at Honey and Trixie. "I am so sorry. And relieved to see you're both okay, Miss Honey, Miss Trixie."

"What's done is done," Regan said. "But can you describe him for us? And, this is very important; did you tell him which apartment we were in?"

"Oh, no, sir. He asked, of course, but I didn't bother to tell him since you weren't home anyway." Sam was wringing his cap in his hands. "He was a shortish man, looked like he might have been foreign. I kind of thought maybe he wasn't really her uncle, but then he told me her name and described her so well that I did believe him. I'm sorry, sir."

"You're sure you didn't mention our apartment number, or even the floor?" Jim asked, worry in his green eyes.

"Yes, of course I'm sure. I definitely didn't tell him that. He wanted to go up and wait for you, and I said I couldn't allow that. Then he asked where you had gone, and I did tell him about the museum." Sam hung his head. "I feel horrible that he even knows which building you're in."

Regan clapped him on the shoulder. "It's okay, Sam. You didn't mean any harm. The girls are okay." Regan frowned. "Just, please, don't be so trusting."

"Yes, sir. Of course, sir." Sam straightened out his cap and replaced it on top of his head. He held the door open for them. "Mr. Regan, sir?"

Regan turned around. "Yes, Sam."

"I suppose you'll have to be telling Mr. Wheeler about this." Sam swallowed loudly. "It's been a real pleasure working here, sir."

"Oh, Regan, we don't have to, do we?" Honey pleaded with Dan's uncle.

Dan imagined Mr. Wheeler would see the old man fired for being so careless. He almost wished he could fire the doorman himself. But Honey was right to ask Regan not to tell; Sam probably had a family to take care of or at least bills that needed to be paid. He really admired her for being so forgiving and generous, and he realized she would likely feel horrible if Sam Hawkins lost his job over this.

"No, we don't need to mention it," Regan answered.

"Thank you, sir. Thank you." The doorman bowed.

"Mr. Hawkins, sir, I'm sorry I yelled at you," Dan said.

"It's okay, son. I understand." Sam smiled at him and then turned back to the entrance.


chapter 14: the night and the right kind of music