home's the most excellent place

Chapter I: It's a New-Born Afternoon

Chapter II: On a Distant Shore

October 9, 1956

"Moshe, Miriam, come in," Mrs. Diamond told the couple at the door as she invited them into the living room.

Mr.Diamond put down his newspaper and got up from the green recliner to greet his friends.  "Checking up on Danny, or are you actually here to see us?" he asked with a wink.

Miriam Armen removed her hat from her perfectly coifed dyed red hair.  "Danny, definitely," she answered with a wink of her own, placing the hat on the coat rack by the door.  "I can't wait to meet him.  He's all I ever hear about lately."

Moshe nodded in agreement.  "A little bit of both, I hope, though I did want to find out how he's adjusting."

Danny, Neil, and Harvey were all crowded in the hallway just outside the living room, having heard the doorbell ring.  Danny groaned quietly enough that only Neil and Harvey heard him.  "Think I can sneak out the window?" he asked.

"Not a chance," Neil answered, pushing Danny into the room ahead of him.  He then walked around Danny and went over to the visitors and kissed them each on the cheek.  "Hi, Mrs. Judge, Judge Moshe," he said.  "It's nice to see you."

"Neil,how are you doing?" Miriam asked.  "And Harvey, come here; how are you?"

Niceties were exchanged around the room, except for Danny who still stood shyly to one side.  Mrs. Armen spotted him and walked over to him.  "You must be the young man I've heard so much about.  It's a real pleasure to meet you, Danny."  She shook his hand firmly and smiled kindly at him.  "Now, Moshe's anxious to talk to you, I know, but when you two come back, I want to sit with you a bit."

Unable to think of a response to this rather intimidating woman, Danny simply nodded.

Judge Armen walked up behind his wife and grinned at him.  "I'll save you from her for now.  Let's take a walk so we can talk in private."  Aside, to Mr. Diamond, he added, "We'll be down by the beach," as he ushered Danny out the front door.

It was a warm enough day, and Danny had no need for a jacket, although he wished he had one anyway so he could stuff his hands in his pockets.

Moshe and Danny walked quietly down the street, getting some distance from the Diamonds' friendly home.  It wasn't until they turned the corner and could see the ocean that Moshe spoke.  "How are things going, really?" he asked, concern showing in his pale blue eyes.  "And don't just answer 'fine', please."

Danny waited a little before answering, trying to figure out just what to say.  "Things are different.  There's a lot of stuff I'm just not used to.  I'm trying to adjust."

Moshe nodded.  "I'm not surprised to hear that.  And I'm really glad to hear that you're trying.  It was an interesting time of year to throw a Catholic boy into a Jewish household."

Danny fought back the habitual shrug before he answered the judge.  "Yeah, I guess.  But it's not like my family was all that religious, or anything."  They had reached the edge of the beach and turned again to follow the path along the shore.

"Oh? Well, at least you managed to miss the Day of Atonement.  I don't think you would've been ready for that."  Judge Armen glanced at him over his glasses.  "And Ros -- Mrs. Diamond, has she been smothering you too much?"

Danny grinned at the judge.  "Not too much.  Just enough."

"She's a wise woman.  What about Kieve?  He can be a bear at times."

"He's been nicer to me than I deserve," Danny said quietly.

Judge Armen turned off the paved walkway and onto the sand.

Surprised, Danny followed him.

"Do you still want to run away?" the judge asked suddenly.

Danny stared out at the gentle waves rolling on to the beach.  He wasn't sure how to answer at first.  He didn't want to run away, but to say no wouldn't be entirely honest either.  "I think about it every day."

"Go on," Judge Armen encouraged.

Danny shook his head.  "The Diamonds are great.  They really are.  But I don't belong.  I--"  He broke off the thought and shook his head again.  "Have you found out anything about my uncle?" he asked.

"Let's talk about you first; then we can talk about your uncle, or anything else."  Judge Armen stopped walking.  The sand beneath their feet was more packed and it was easier to walk on, but instead, he just stood there and stared out toward some vague point on the horizon.  "How is school going?  Kieve told me he got you enrolled at Lincoln High."

"School's okay, I guess," Danny answered.  "But it's another place I don't feel like I belong.  Except my English class.  I really like that."

"Really?  I wouldn't have figured you for English.  But it's good to have something you like.  What other classes are you taking?"

Danny wasn't sure what the judge was trying to find out.  It almost seemed like he was really interested, so Danny told him.  "The usual Freshman courses:  Algebra, French, Social Studies, P.E., and Biology."

Judge Armen actually grimaced.  "I hated biology when I was in school."

"Really?" Danny asked.  "It's not that bad.  Not my favorite, but not bad."

"What about after school?" the judge asked.

"Some days I work at Mr. Diamond's store.  Just stocking items, inventory, ordering, things like that."  Danny shrugged.

"And other days?" he asked with a smile.

"I thought about trying out for the hockey team."

"Hockey?" Judge Armen looked at him, waiting for more.

"Yeah. I used to play with some other kids in the old neighborhood every winter.  Not real hockey, but just skating around at the park and using some old hockey sticks and a puck.  I skate really fast, and I thought it would be cool to play for real."  Danny dug his heel into the sand, making a small hole.

"I sense a 'but' in there," the judge prodded, when Danny didn't continue.

"But I'm a loner.  I don't trust groups.  I don't think I could work well on a team anymore."  Danny shrugged again, and then mentally chided himself for doing so.  "There is something I'd like to do, but... I don't know," he finished lamely.  Danny looked up at Judge Armen.  "Have you found out anything about my uncle?" he asked again.

The older man glanced his way and then shook his head.  He looked somewhat embarrassed.  "I wish I had some news for you.  The truth is," the judge paused and sighed.  "The truth is, I'm worried I won't like what I find.  And so I haven't been looking.  I could make excuses about not having time, and I have been busy, between the holidays and work.  I'm also trying to keep this whole thing unofficial.  I can't use my usual resources to find things out because I really don't want social services to get involved in your case.  Selfish reasons.  I'm sorry, Danny.  I'll look into it right away."

Danny nodded, disappointed, but he thought he could understand.  "I don't want to be in the foster system either, so, uh, thank you for that."  Danny watched a seagull on the beach trying to pull something out of a piece of driftwood.  "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Judge Armen shook his head.  "I'm going to look into things from your mother's end.  I might be able to find out your mother's maiden name from her marriage certificate.  See if there are any records of her and her brother."

Danny's seagull looked at the wood with an angry expression, tilting his beak first one way, then the other.  He didn't call out or make any noise to attract the other seagulls off in a distance.  Instead, after studying the situation, he started his attack on the driftwood with renewed vigor.

"Actually, there probably is something you could do," the judge continued.  "If you don't mind going to the library."

Danny couldn't help himself; he laughed.  He diverted his attention back from the seagull to the conservatively dressed man standing next to him.  Judge Armen glanced at him, his grey eyebrows shooting up in surprise.  "I'd be happy to go to the library," Danny finally said.

Judge Armen's eyebrows settled back down where they belonged, but he still looked puzzled at the outburst of laughter.  "Well, all we know about your Uncle Willie is that he got in trouble over some horse races in Saratoga four or five years ago, right?  That's one place we can start."

Danny nodded.  "You want me to look through old newspaper archives?  I could do that."  As he spoke, he realized he wasn't the least bit upset with the judge for not following up on the flimsy lead earlier.  He could've done so himself if he'd really been interested in finding his uncle.  "I'll do that," he repeated with a bit more conviction.

"Okay.  Try to get me a full name and a more precise time that he was there.  If you find one, a picture would be nice, too.  Find out as many details as you can."   The judge paused before continuing.  "And, thank you."

Danny wondered what the judge was thanking him for. 

Before he could ask, Judge Armen spoke again.  "I have a friend who can help, once we know who exactly we're looking for.  We'll find your uncle, Danny."

The two of them stared out at the ocean for a bit longer, watching the waves roll gently on to the shore.  The seagull from earlier had finally succeeded in pulling some small dead creature out of the log, and it was now fending off other seagulls from its prize.

"We should head back," the judge said quietly.

"Yeah," Danny agreed.

They turned around and walked back towards the houses, fighting the soft sand.  When they reached pavement again, another thought that always seemed to linger in Danny's mind came out.  "Judge Armen?"

"Hmm?" the judge answered.

"I have this, uh, friend, and, well," now that Danny had started to mention it, he wasn't sure how to say what he wanted.

"And your friend has a problem that you think I can help with?" Judge Armen asked with an amused smile.

"Yeah. She's, um -- her parents are divorced and, I'm not sure, but I think her mom probably has custody of her."  Danny looked over at the judge to make sure he was paying attention.

"Go on," he said simply.

"When she's with her mom, she, um, well she does drugs and she's not in such great shape.  Her mom's a hooker and every once in a while she gets picked up."

The judge had stopped walking and was looking intently at Danny, waiting for the rest of the story.  The expression of amusement had been replaced by genuine concern.

Danny stopped also and scuffed his shoe against the sidewalk a few times.  "When her mom's in jail, she stays with her dad.  And when she's with her dad, she looks, well, healthier.  She can't get drugs as easily, and she hates that, but, well... "

"I see."  Judge Armen looked up at the sky and muttered in Yiddish, "Vo den?"  He glanced over at Danny and then started walking again.  "So, you would like me to look into your friend's case, if there even is one, and try to get the custody reviewed to make sure she's under her father's care.  Right?"

Danny nodded.  "If that's even possible," he said quietly.

"Does your friend have a name?"

"Oh, uh, Kirsten, I think.  I don't know her last name," he admitted sheepishly.  Judge Armen opened his mouth to say something but before he could, Danny quickly added, "I do know where she lives, though.  Both her mom's and dad's houses."

"Okay," the judge smiled at Danny.  "I suppose that's better than nothing."

"And Neil might know more," Danny continued as an afterthought.

"Neil?" Judge Armen's right eyebrow shot up again, almost touching his hair.

Danny hoped fervently that the judge wasn't thinking that he might be a bad influence on the Diamond boys.  He didn't answer the question in the judge's voice.  As the silence continued, he wished he'd just kept his mouth shut about Crystal.

A few minutes later, they arrived back at the house.  He and Judge Armen removed their shoes and dumped all the sand outside.  Danny was still a bit shocked that the conservative judge had walked on the beach in fancy shoes.  His face must have shown it because the judge turned around and winked at him.  "Don't tell the missus.  She'll be furious if she finds out."

That wink reassured Danny and he put his worries aside.  "Blackmail material," he whispered with a wink of his own.  He opened the door before the older man could reply to that and entered the house.

chapter III: so very plain to read