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
Chapter IV: Just To Give It a Tune
Chapter V: Love's a Gift That's Made for Givin'

Chapter VI: Think of All The Implications

February 6, 1957

"Moshe, it's so good to see you.  Come in.  Come in," Mr. Diamond said.  "Where's your better half?"

Danny Mangan stood in the hallway, behind the heavy wooden door to the living room.  He listened from this spot, hidden from view, as Mr. Diamond ushered his friend into the house.  He hoped the judge had some news.

Judge Armen followed Mr. Diamond to the living room.  "Thank you, Akeeba.  Miriam's at home.  I'm here on business, you know," Judge Armen said.  "I can't stay."

Danny put his finger on his lip, motioning for Neil and Harvey, crowding in behind him, to be quiet.

"Ah.  Business.  Then this must be about Danny?"  Mr. Diamond frowned. 

"Yes."  Judge Armen paused for what seemed like minutes to the three boys in the hallway.  "We've found his uncle."

From the direction of the kitchen, Mrs. Diamond walked into the room, carrying a tray with some mugs of coffee.  "I heard you come in, Moshe.  How are you?"

"Well, thank you.  And you?"  Judge Armen took the cup Mrs. Diamond handed him, and Danny could hear the quick blessing the Judge said before taking a sip of the coffee.  He set the cup down on a coaster and made himself comfortable in the old blue armchair facing away from the hall where the boys were.

Mr. Diamond sat in the newer green recliner next to him.

"Thanks be, we're all well."  Mrs. Diamond sat down on the couch after handing Mr. Diamond his cup and taking her own.  "So, what's this about Danny's uncle?"

The three boys still listening in the hall chuckled quietly.  Mrs. Diamond was a notorious eavesdropper. 

"We found him," the judge said simply. 

Neil took a step out toward the room but Danny held out his arm. 

"What?" Neil whispered.

Danny pulled him back and whispered roughly, "They haven't called for us yet.  And you know how adults are.  They'll say more if we're not there than if we are."

Harvey nodded to his brother.  "He has a point." 

The three again stood still behind the door of the hallway, out of sight of the living room, but still in hearing range. 

"Yakov and I followed up on the leads your boys found in the newspapers," the judge was saying.  "Thanks to them, we had a more specific time and place to start."

"So where is he and more important, who is he?" Mr. Diamond asked.

The judge took another sip of coffee before answering.  "We started in Saratoga and followed his tracks around the state.  We almost ran out of leads but then got lucky.  It turns out our Uncle Willie isn't that far away."  Judge Armen opened his briefcase and pulled out some papers, handing them over to Mr. Diamond.  "William Regan," he said simply, and Danny thought he must've given a picture to Neil's father.  Curious, he took a step closer to the living room, and if Mrs. Diamond had looked up, she would've seen him and the other boys. 

"He looks enough like Sarah Mangan from the pictures Danny provided.  We're certain this is Danny's uncle," Judge Armen continued. 

Mr. Diamond mumbled "mm hmm" a few times as he flipped through the papers.  Danny could see Mrs. Diamond waiting anxiously for her turn to look at them as she tucked a stray strand of blonde hair back behind her ear.  Mr. Diamond handed the papers to his wife and turned his head back toward the judge.

Judge Armen sipped from the coffee mug that was back in his hands.  "He works for a man named Matthew Wheeler." 

Mrs. Diamond looked up from the picture, frowning in a way that Danny knew meant she was thinking.  "Matthew Wheeler?  I think I've seen his name mentioned in the newspaper a few times."

Moshe nodded.  "Yes, that’s possible.  He's a big business millionaire, and he has a penthouse apartment here in the city.  He’s also a philanthropist.  Stories circulate in the journals about him from time to time.”  Mrs. Diamond nodded at this explanation, and then the judge continued.  “He also recently bought another home in Westchester County, in a quiet little town called Sleepyside.  William Regan is his stable manager, apparently."

"Sleepyside?" Neil said aloud in the hallway.  "I've heard of that place."

At Neil's voice, Mr. Diamond and Judge Armen both turned around.

Mrs. Diamond didn't look up but kept looking at one of the papers in her hand.  "Boys, you may as well come in and sit down," she said simply.  "You've been standing there long enough anyway."

Neil and Harvey went in and found seats, Harvey on the couch next to his mother, and Neil on the blue ottoman, but Danny only took a couple of steps further into the room and remained standing.  "What happens now?" he asked, not letting any emotion enter his voice.

Judge Armen still had his head turned around to face Danny and he smiled kindly at him.  "What happens now is up to you," he said quietly.  "Since all of this investigation has been done on the side, no one even needs to know about it.  Yakov and I made sure nothing has gone on any official papers."

Mrs. Diamond handed the papers back to her husband and looked over at Danny, an earnest expression in her eyes.  "Do you want to find out about your uncle?"

Danny stepped further into the room and stood near the tall oak bookcase, leaning against it slightly for some support.  "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious," he answered slowly, "but I'm happy here."

Judge Armen nodded.  "Yakov and I were going to try to find out more about William."

Danny saw Neil squirming and knew him well enough to know he wanted to say something; he could practically see the wheels turning in Neil's head.  Before he had a chance to ask him though, Harvey piped up from the couch. 

"What are you thinking, Neil?" Harvey asked.

Neil looked up at the group.  "Brian Belden."

The name meant nothing to Danny.  He quirked an eyebrow at his friend.  Again he was about to ask Neil what was going on in his head, but this time it was Mr. Diamond that stopped him. 

First, Mr. Diamond just groaned.  Then he moaned.  Leaning forward in the recliner and holding his hands on his head, he finally asked, "Oy vey.  Who is Brian?  No, wait, don't tell me.  Another gang member?" 

Neil shook his head. 

Mr. Diamond held up his hand to stop Neil from answering.  "A drug dealer?  No, a pimp?"

Harvey was guffawing loudly and Danny couldn't help but join in the laughter.  Mrs. Diamond had that twinkle in her eyes that showed her amusement.  Danny glanced at the judge, who was now facing Neil, but couldn't tell what he was thinking.  He looked over at Neil again, who seemed to be trying hard to ignore Harvey's laughter.

"I promise, Pop," Neil finally said, "there's nothing shady or illegal or dangerous about him.  He's as boring as... as me."

"Go on, then.  Tell me about this Brian Belden," Mr. Diamond demanded. 

"He's just a guy I met over the summer at camp.  He's sixteen by now, and he lives on a small family farm.  He has two younger brothers and one younger sister.  Oh, and he plans on applying to NYU, pre-med, like me."  Neil smiled at his father angelically.  "See?  Nothing unusual at all."

"And how does Brian fit into this discussion?" Mrs. Diamond asked, grinning at her son.

"He lives in Sleepyside," Neil announced.

Danny hadn't realized he'd tensed up with some anticipation, but after Neil made the connection back to Sleepyside and his uncle, he felt himself relax.

"Go on," Judge Armen said quietly. 

Danny looked over at the judge when he spoke, still unable to determine what the man was thinking.

"Brian said I could come visit him anytime, and that I could bring Harvey along," Neil told everyone.  "Why not show up with both of my brothers?  Maybe we could scope out the situation, find a way to meet Mr. Regan.”

Judge Armen nodded.  "That might work.  Yakov and I weren't sure how we would 'unofficially' meet William but we wanted to know more about his character before--"

The tell-tale quivering of Mr. Diamond's mustache showed he wasn't exactly on board. He interrupted his friend to address Neil's statement.  "Scope out?  How?"

Neil shrugged.  "I don't know exactly," he admitted.  "But once we're actually in Sleepyside, it should be easier to figure out."

Mr. Diamond bristled.  "I don't trust William Regan.  I don't like the idea." 

Danny's expression fell.  He did like the idea of getting to find out about his uncle before his uncle found out about him.

Mr. Diamond looked over at Danny and must've noticed his disappointment.  The man who had been a father to him the past five months added gently, "No offense, Danny, but he has been in trouble with the law."

"So have I," Danny mumbled under his breath.

"And you really think the three of you can go visit this boy, Brian, just like that?  Where will you stay?" Mrs. Diamond asked. 

"And what about school?" Mr. Diamond added.

Danny felt like they were both trying to find excuses for him not to visit Sleepyside.

"Why not call Brian's parents and ask them?" Judge Armen suggested.  "If they're okay with it, maybe the three of you could visit him over the weekend."

Danny gave a quick but grateful half-smile to the judge.  At least one of the grown-ups seemed to be on his side.

"I'll get his phone number," Neil stated, getting up to do just that before either of his parents could protest.

Danny watched as Neil walked quickly down the hall and then returned less than a minute later.  He handed a small scrap of paper to his mother. 

Mrs. Diamond got up from the couch and walked over to the telephone.  Danny noticed her glance at Mr. Diamond, and he, too, took a quick look at him.  He looked decidedly unhappy, so Danny quickly turned his attention back to Mrs. Diamond.  

She picked up the phone, gave the number to the operator, and soon the call was connected.  Everyone in the room listened quietly to her half of the conversation. 

"Hi, my name is Rose Diamond.  May I speak with Mrs. or Mr. Belden, please?”  Mrs. Diamond put her hand over the receiver and gave a quick smile to Danny.  She was about to say something, but then focused her attention back on the phone, removing her hand to speak.  “Yes, hello, Mrs. Belden.  This is Rose Diamond.  I know you don't know me, but apparently our sons met at summer camp. ... Oh, that's right, Neil mentioned Brian had younger brothers.  No, it's Brian that I'm speaking of.  My son, Neil, and he became friends.  They seem to share an interest in the medical field."  Mrs. Diamond looked over at her husband and nodded encouragingly at him. 

Mr. Diamond still looked unhappy.

"Thank you, that's very kind," Mrs. Diamond said into the phone, continuing her conversation.  "Brian and his brothers and sister can visit any time they like, as well.  Please let us know if they're ever in the city.   And that is actually why I'm calling.  Neil would like to visit Brian. ... Actually, Neil has two brothers. ... Are you sure?   You really don't mind putting up with three extra teenage boys? ... Stretchy walls?" 

Again, Mrs. Diamond looked at her husband, and then at the three boys in the room.  Her smile gave Danny some encouragement.

"You really are very nice, dear," Mrs. Diamond said to the mysterious Mrs. Belden.  "I hope I can meet you, myself, soon.   You and your family must come see us here on Coney Island. ... I know it’s rather last minute, but would this weekend be okay for them to visit Brian? ... I'm not sure.  What about school on Monday? ... That's true, and with Tuesday being Lincoln's birthday, that could work.  ...  Oh, no, dear, you don't need to go to all that trouble.  My husband will drive them there and pick them up. ... Yes, okay."

Mrs. Diamond put her hand over the receiver again and mouthed the word "pen" to the room.  Harvey got up, grabbed one from the small desk in the corner, and quickly walked across the room to hand it to his mother. 

"Yes," Mrs. Diamond continued, pushing the phone under her chin so she could write.    "Okay.  Albany Post Road ... left on Glen Road ... Crabapple Farm.  Yes, dear, I'm sure they'll find it. ... Of course.  Hold on, please." 

Mrs. Diamond put her hand over the receiver again.  "Neil, Brian wants to talk to you."  She handed the phone to Neil who had been standing near her the whole time, trying to make sense of the low noises coming from the ear piece of the phone.

"Hi, Brian?" Neil said into the receiver.  "Yeah, I hope you don't mind.  I know it's short notice. ... Okay ... Yes, I know I only mentioned the one brother before.  It's a long story. ... Uh-huh ... Ice skates?  Yes, we all have some. ... Horses?  Really?  That would be great. ... Okay ... See you then.  Bye." 

Neil hung up the phone, turned around, and grinned, looking first at Danny, then Harvey, and then at Judge Armen.  With what almost seemed like a bounce, he walked back to the ottoman to sit down, announcing. "His neighbor has a lake that's frozen over.  And they have horses."

"See, it's fate.  Maybe you can use that horse connection to find out about Mr. Regan."  Mrs. Diamond smiled triumphantly, as if she'd supported the idea from the beginning.  "Kieve, you can have someone else watch the store and drive them up on Friday before Shabbat, right?" 

Mr. Diamond nodded reluctantly.  "I'm not sure if I like it, but it's just a weekend, right?"

Danny smiled fully for the first time since Judge Armen knocked on the door.

"You do know, Danny," Mrs. Diamond reminded, "meeting your uncle doesn't mean losing us.  You will always have a home here."

Danny nodded.

"That's settled, then."  Judge Armen stood up to leave.  "Danny, Mr. Diamond has all the information we've found out about William Regan.  He seems like a good, decent young man.  After all, someone like Matthew Wheeler would not have hired him otherwise.  Keep an open mind when you meet him."

Danny nodded again, this time at the judge.  "I will."  He glanced at Mr. Diamond, and realized that the judge's words may have been directed at him, but were also meant for Mr. Diamond's ears.  "I will," he said again, grinning at the judge.

Judge Armen winked at him and then turned to address his hosts.  "Rose, I really need to get back home before Miriam thinks you've kidnapped me.  Thank you again for the coffee, and for the company.  Akeeba, I'll be in touch." 


Later that night, Danny wondered what meeting his uncle would mean for his future.  It had taken a while, but this house, even this Brighton Beach neighborhood, as Mrs. D had reminded him, this was home.   Danny smiled up at the ceiling before rolling over to fall asleep.  Having a home was a very good thing.  And the possibility of having an uncle could only add to this good thing. 

the end