home's the most excellent place
 

Chapter I: It's a New-Born Afternoon
Chapter II: On a Distant Shore

Chapter III: So Very Plain to Read

October 20, 1956

"Are you really headed to the library?" Harvey asked skeptically.

"Yes," Danny said simply.

"We're going to try to find some newspaper articles about Danny's uncle," Neil explained.  "Are you coming or not?"

Harvey nodded.  "Yeah, I'll help. But why would there be newspaper articles about your uncle, Danny?"

"That's how my mom found out he'd gotten in trouble."  Danny put his jacket on, and then waited for Harvey and Neil to do the same.

The three boys left the house and headed for the subway.  "Wait, which library are we going to?" Harvey asked.

"We have to get to the main branch in Manhattan," Neil answered.

"We already tried the local branch, but they don't keep newspaper archives beyond one year," Danny added.

Harvey nodded in understanding. "And what is the story about your mom and your uncle?"

Danny acknowledged that Harvey hadn't heard most of the story.  "Mom was reading the newspaper.  There must've been an article about my uncle because she called for my dad to come over and see.  I honestly didn't pay that much attention, because I've never even met my uncle.  But Mom was really upset that Willie was in the paper.  I just remember it had something to do with some horse race in Saratoga."

It didn't take them long to get to the subway station, but when they got there, Harvey had yet another question.  "Shouldn't we be going the other direction -- toward Manhattan?"

Neil simply shook his head.

Danny turned around and with an exacerbated sigh, explained.  "The Brighton Line runs right through Cowhand territory.  We're going to go the other direction on the Sea Beach.  We aren't taking that line all the way up either; we'll get out at Rector Street and walk over so we can catch either the Broadway or Seventh Avenue Line."

"That'll take forever," Harvey noted calmly as he tried to follow the green, black, and red routes on a subway map posted on the wall, "but if it avoids your old gang, I guess it's for the best."

Neil nodded. "What's a few more minutes to avoid some possible trouble?  Here's our train, now."

An hour and a half later, the three boys were finally walking up the steps to the library on 42nd Street in Manhattan.  Inside, they got directions to the newspaper archive room.

"How should we tackle this?" Neil asked.

"We'll need to check the local Times for 1951 and 1952.  I'm really thinking it was '51.  And it was probably summer time, because we were sitting out on the fire escape to get some fresh air."  Danny ran his hand through his hair and then looked at the volumes of old newspapers on the shelves.  The boys walked along until they found the right section.  "June, July, and August of '51 -- we'll each take a month?" he suggested.

"Works for me," Harvey agreed.

"Sure," Neil answered, already reaching for the binders they would need.  "I'll take June."

"What are we looking for exactly?" Harvey asked.  "I mean, how will I know if I find something significant?"

Danny answered, "Just look for anything that has to do with horse racing, and if there's any mention of a 'William' or 'Willie', 'Will', 'Bill', or 'Liam', or any other diminutive of William you can think of."  Danny paused in thought, then added uncertainly, "Or maybe it's 'Willard' or 'Wilson' --"

"Got it," Harvey said.

The boys worked quietly, pulling each edition out of the plastic protective sheets in the binders and working through the local and sports news of each day's paper.  There were a couple of articles that looked like they might be relevant, but as Danny reviewed them, he didn't think they would have upset his mother the way he remembered.

It was a good two hours later when Neil said something that caught Danny's attention.  "There's an article here that mentions a William, but the kid's only seventeen.  This can't be it."

"Let me see that!"  Danny practically snatched the paper from him.

Missing Groom Blamed in Gadfly Scandal

Worthington Farm's trainer, Carl Stinson, told police today that one of his staff members, a young groom by the name of William Regan, was missing.  Stinson thinks the man may have been responsible for the drugs that caused Gadfly to be disqualified in yesterday's claiming race.

"I thought Regan was loyal to me and to Worthington Farms.  He was just a runaway kid when I brought him on, but I trusted him.  He's the only other person who even knew where Gadfly's feed was kept," Stinson said.

Stinson described the groom for us.  "William Regan is a seventeen-year-old kid, about five-foot-ten, with bright red hair and green eyes."  If any one out there knows this young man, please contact the police immediately.  They are working closely with the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Association to bring this case to justice. 

Meanwhile, as the trainer, Stinson is still considered responsible.  Both J. T. Worthington and Carl Stinson are banned from racing for the next six months. 

"That's him," Danny said quietly.  "Red hair, just like Mom."

"He was only seventeen when this happened?" Neil asked, incredulous.  "Your mom must've been a lot older than him."

Danny counted on his fingers. "I think she was nine or ten years older than him.  That's part of why they got separated.  No one wanted to adopt a boy and his teenage sister.  When my dad came along and mom got pregnant, she ran off with him.  I guess they lost touch after that."

Harvey was also counting on his fingers.  "If he was seventeen in 1951, that would make him only twenty-two now, right?"

Danny nodded again.  "That seems about right."  He looked at the other newspapers still on the table.  "Are there any other articles about this scandal?"

Neil nodded and quickly skimmed through another paper.  Finding the right page, he handed it to Danny. "This is from the previous day.  No mention of William, so I didn't say anything."

Danny picked up the paper and read:

Gadfly Drugged, Worthington Reputation Tarnished

Gadfly, the undefeated thoroughbred racehorse widely predicted to win the upcoming Triple Crown, was disqualified after winning today’s claiming race at Saratoga.  Mandatory post-race testing found an illegal substance in the horse’s blood and urine.  In addition to the disqualification, the horse’s owner, J.T. Worthington of Worthington Farms, has been banned from racing for six months for violating racing codes.

While Worthington denies any involvement in the drugging, the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Association must enforce the rules. Gadfly, a two-year-old, had been undefeated in his first seven races prior to today’s race.

There is speculation that while Worthington himself may not have administered the drugs, his trainer, Carl Stinson, may have been involved.  According to sources, Stinson had high hopes for Gadfly and was opposed to entering the horse in the claiming race.  Stinson denies these allegations vehemently.

"I may not have agreed with Mr. Worthington's decision to enter Gadfly, but he is my employer and I am loyal to him," Stinson said.  "And I would never violate the racing codes just to keep a horse.  That's just foolish.  I know how sensitive Gadfly is and would never do anything to harm him."

Worthington declined to comment.

Danny looked up with a frown.  "Is there more?"

Neil and Harvey had been scanning the next few days' papers while Danny read.  Neil shook his head, and yet put two more papers down in front of him.  "Nothing specific in those two -- just that they still haven't found William, and they still suspect him."

Danny nodded.  "Thanks." He looked over the other articles and then frowned.  "I should probably just tell Judge Armen not to bother looking for him."

Neil and Harvey glanced at Danny and then at each other.  "Why?" Harvey asked.  "You knew he had some trouble in his past.  Why does this change your mind?"

Danny shook his head, trying to clear it of the memories that had surfaced.  "It would've been okay if it was just a gambling thing.  I figured maybe he was a bookie or something.  But a guy who would give drugs to a defenseless animal -- I don't want to know a guy like that."

"Who said he did?"  Harvey's voice had taken on an icy tone.  He was angry.

Danny looked up in surprise. "You saw the articles, didn't you?"

"Yeah, and I heard you read them.  Nothing in there said your uncle was guilty."  Harvey started pacing, and Danny could see the future lawyer in him.  "There's no evidence he did anything.  It's just this guy," Harvey paused to stand over the paper and look up the name, and then continued pacing.  "It's just Mr. Stinson's word.  That's it.  Maybe Mr. Stinson doesn't like your uncle.  Maybe he's guilty and wants to pin the blame on someone else."

"Then why did my uncle run away?" Danny asked, anger in his own voice.  "If he hadn't done it, why would he leave?"

Neil's voice was calm and steady as he answered.  "He was seventeen.  If the trusted employee of some rich, powerful guy like Worthington accused you of something, would you stick around and try to prove your innocence?"

"No, I guess not," Danny conceded.

"Right," Harvey agreed.  "Don't you believe in 'innocent until proven guilty'?  Give the guy a chance."

"Okay, already.  You've made your point.  I'll give him a chance.  If we ever find him."  Danny gathered up the newspapers and started to put them away.  With a smirk aimed in Harvey's direction, he added, "You just want to get rid of me, don't you?"

Harvey grinned and his tone of voice made it obvious he was teasing.  "Yeah, that's a big part of my motivation."

The boys headed back upstairs and past the check-out desk.

"You're our brother, now and always, whether you find your uncle or not," Neil said, pushing open one of the double doors at the library's entrance.  Then, he added with a smirk of his own, "Though it would be nicer if we didn't have to share a room."

"It'd be great not to share a room.  It's hard to sleep with all your snoring," Danny retorted, following Neil down a few steps.

Neil feigned shock.  "I do not snore."

"Yeah, right," Harvey replied sarcastically.  Then, he added in a loud exaggeration, "Khh-o-orr; khh-o-orr."

Suddenly, Danny stopped.  Always aware of his surroundings, he had noticed a boy in a black leather jacket duck around the corner.  The sun, though already getting low in the sky, reflected off the white lettering on the back of that jacket.  "Crap," he swore under his breath as he glanced around.

"What's wrong?" Harvey whispered.

Neil caught Danny's eye and then said to Harvey, "I forgot that nice pen Uncle Jacob gave me for my birthday.  We need to go back inside and get it."

Harvey looked puzzled.  "What pen?" he asked, although Neil had already turned him around and was shoving him up the stairs ahead of him.

Danny hadn't moved.

"Come on," Neil hissed.  "There's got to be another way out."

"I'm no coward," Danny said in a stony tone of voice.  "You both go on."

"Don't be an idiot."  Neil grabbed Danny and practically dragged him up the stairs after Harvey.  "Mameleh will kill me if I let anything happen to you."

Danny was surprised by Neil's strength.  Must be all that fencing he does, he thought. He protested mildly but followed Neil and Harvey back up the few steps and into the library.  "Why don't you two just go on?" Danny said again.  "I'll be okay."

Neil shook his head and scowled.  "You will not be okay.  They'll beat the crap out of you.  They'll kill you."   

Harvey nodded; his face had turned white as a sheet.  "How- how many are there?"

"I only saw three of them.  There were probably more."  Danny frowned.  "Alright, then, let's find a back way out."

The three boys went through the main floor of the library to the back area where the restrooms were.  Neil spotted a pay phone nestled in a booth and dug in his pockets for a coin.  "I'm going to call Pop."

"What can he do to help?  Why don't you call Judge Moshe instead?" Harvey suggested.   

Danny wondered what good calling the Judge could do either, but Neil nodded as he rang the operator.  After giving her the number, he deposited the dime in the slot.

"He lives a lot closer," Harvey explained, "here in Manhattan."

"Judge Moshe says he's on his way," Neil said simply after hanging up the phone less than a minute later. 

"Great," Danny muttered.  He'll probably make me leave the Diamonds now. 

"It shouldn't take him more than ten minutes to get here, the way he drives."  Harvey grinned for the first time since they had re-entered the library.

Danny thumped his fist against the wall.  "And when he does get here, what do we do?  There's still a handful of gang members outside waiting to give me payback.  Do you really think he can stop them?"

Harvey's face fell.

"I don't think they'll do anything if we're around an adult," Neil said.  He looked up at Danny.  "Will they?"

Danny shrugged.  "I didn't see Luke or Paul out there.  Maybe the whole thing's just a coincidence.  Maybe it was just some of the guys hanging out and they don't even know we're here." 

Neil shook his head, but said, "I can actually believe that.  If they had known we were here, would they have waited three hours until we left or would they have come inside to start something?"

Danny leaned against the wall and stuck his hands in his pockets.  Neil and Harvey looked at him expectantly, waiting for a response.  Or guidance.  He wasn't sure.  "Maybe they would wait.  But, no, most of those guys aren't that patient."  Danny smiled sheepishly at the other two.  "We probably completely overreacted."

"Maybe," Neil agreed. 

The boys headed back to the main entrance of the library to wait for Judge Armen.  They stayed out of sight of the main doors, but their heads turned each time the door opened, as they were eager to see who was entering.  It seemed like an hour but was probably closer to only ten minutes later when Judge Armen did finally walk through the door.  Neil and Harvey went over to greet him, but Danny stood still.  Right behind the judge was a young man in a business suit, his sandy brown hair brushed neatly back out of his beady green eyes.

Danny's face set into a stony scowl.  The other man smiled evilly, and then flapped open his suit jacket, allowing Danny to see the gun tucked neatly away. 

Judge Armen approached Danny, oblivious to the man behind him.  They don't know, Danny thought. 

"Danny, are you ready to go?" the judge asked. 

Danny nodded and took a step towards the judge. 

Paul, still hidden behind the judge, held up his hand.  His thumb and forefinger made an "L" shape like a gun, and Paul silently mouthed one small word.  "Pow."

"Let's go," Harvey said, relief in his voice that Judge Armen had come for them. 

They don't know, Danny thought again.  They don't need to.  "Let's go," he echoed aloud.  It took all of Danny's willpower to take those few steps past Paul without responding to the threat. 

Outside, the three boys piled into the older man's car.  Danny noticed that the few Cowhands he had spotted earlier were all still around.  They must've spotted me when we were leaving earlier.  If we had just left then, we might have been able to handle them. 

Judge Armen started the car and merged into the traffic on 42nd Street.  He glanced at Neil, who was seated next to him on the passenger side.  "I thought we'd head over to Sal's Deli.  Then we can sit down and you can tell me what's going on."

Neil nodded.  Danny turned to look out the back window.  It didn't look like anyone was following them.  It wasn't long before the judge had gone through the Lincoln Tunnel and they were in Brooklyn.  A few turns later, he was looking for parking. 

 

Inside the small diner-like delicatessen, Judge Armen guided the three teenagers to a small table near the back.  He waved at the girl behind the counter.  "Tell Sal I'm just borrowing a table," he called out to her.    

The girl acknowledged him.  "Sure, Judge Armen.  Can I get you anything?"

"Just water all around."

Neither Neil nor Harvey protested that, and Danny didn't even think he could handle water.  He had taken a seat near the window and was glancing out nervously, watching the people on the street.  They don't know Paul was there, he thought again.  And if I tell them, Judge Armen will make me leave the Diamonds. 

"Go on, then," The judge said in his normal calm way.  "Tell me why you called."  He looked at the three boys in turn, waiting for a response.

"Danny spotted some gang members outside," Harvey replied.

"The Cowhands?" Judge Armen asked.  "I saw a few of them, too, when I came up the steps.  Did any of them bother you?"

Harvey and Neil both shook their heads. 

The girl from the counter arrived with a tray, and set the four glasses of water down.  Danny watched her return to her spot behind the counter. 

"Like Harvey said, Danny spotted some Cowhands outside.  I didn't want to take a chance that they'd, um, bother us, so we went back inside."  Neil glanced at Danny, and then continued.  "We decided to call you to pick us up so we could avoid any trouble with them."

Judge Armen nodded.  "Good thinking."  He stared solemnly at all three boys and then sighed.  "I suppose this is partly my fault, anyway.  You were there looking for information about your uncle, Danny."

"Yeah," Danny acknowledged, staring down at the table. He felt guilty about the whole situation.  "But that hardly makes it your fault."

"Well, let's make the most of this.  Did you find anything?"

"Yeah," Danny said again with absolutely no enthusiasm in his response.  "Neil found a couple of articles."  Danny looked up at Neil. 

Neil and Harvey took turns filling the judge in about the Gadfly drugging in Saratoga.  Danny listened, looking either down at the table or out the window while the other two boys talked.  They didn't mention Danny's initial reaction to the information.

"Good work, boys," Judge Armen stated.  "Five years is a long time ago, but it's definitely a place to start.  Worthington Farms is probably still around, and with any luck, so is this Carl guy.  You've given me some good leads."

"Now what?" Danny finally asked. 

"My friend Yakov and I will follow up on those leads."  The judge smiled kindly at Danny.  "And I'll let you know what we find."  Judge Armen's smile faded.  "I have some other news for you, too." 

Danny looked up, a smidgen of interest showing on his face.  "What is it, Judge Armen?"

"Neil, Harvey, why don't you get us some sandwiches," the judge asked while reaching into his wallet for some money.  "And take your time."

The deli counter was far enough away from the table that anything Judge Armen said wouldn't be overheard.  Neil took the money and stood up to follow the judge's request.  Harvey's countenance fell, but he got up also and stood next to Neil.

Danny shook his head.  "It's okay to talk in front of Neil and Harvey.  I'll just end up having to tell them at ho-- the house again, anyway."

"Are you sure?" the judge asked. 

Danny nodded and gestured for Neil and Harvey to sit back down.  They did so, and even Neil looked glad and eager to hear what the judge had to say.

"It's not that big of news," Judge Armen cautioned.  "Don't get too excited."

Danny's impatience seemed to be reflected in Neil and Harvey's faces also.  "And?" he asked.

"About Kirsten," the judge stated simply.

Neil quirked a dark eyebrow at that.  "Kirsten?  Crystal-Kirsten?"

Judge Armen raised an eyebrow of his own.  "Yes.  I forgot you know her, too.  Danny had mentioned it."   He muttered something unintelligible under his breath then shook his head in Neil's general direction.  "Why am I not surprised?"

Neil smiled.  "So, what's the news?"

"I just wanted to let you know, Danny," the judge turned back to face Danny as he said his name, "that I've found out more about her situation."  The judge's expression was solemn.  "I've been looking into both her parents, and, frankly, neither one is a suitable guardian.  I have Yakov looking for other family that she might be able to stay with.  I will do my best to help her."


chapter IV: just to give it a tune