that one girl and life is sweet
 

Chapter 3: Humbled and Awed

September 27, 1957

Dan made his way to the apartment over the garage. He walked through the living room and remembered how stark it looked the first time he'd visited. The plain brown sofa, the radio in the corner, and the small television on its stand were all still there, but now there were some pictures on the wall, including a photo of the two of them. He glanced at a different picture, a large framed photo of a race horse, Native Dancer, and smiled. His uncle could talk for hours about any horse, and apparently that horse had been pretty special and had even been featured on the cover of a news magazine.

He made his way to the bedroom and unpacked the handful of items from his overnight bag. He didn't bring much with him since he already had clothes that he now kept at his uncle's place. But he carefully took out a picture of his parents he'd recovered from Teddy Hill's home and placed the small framed photo on the dresser next to one of his current family. He may not visit that often, but it made it feel more like a second home to have some of his personal things remain there.

Once he'd finished taking care of his belongings, he headed to the kitchen. It looked like Regan had gone grocery shopping in anticipation of his visit. He pulled out the carton of milk and took a long swig.

His thirst quenched, he headed back to the living room and turned on the radio. He dialed the knob to an a.m. station that he was familiar with, and then fiddled with the antenna, trying to get it to come in with less static. Unable to get a clear signal, he gave up and tuned it back to the local Sleepyside station, now playing a new Patsy Cline tune. He turned the volume down—he just wanted some background noise—and then pulled a western novel from the bookshelf, Luke Short's The Whip, and relaxed on the couch.

Sometime later, he heard his uncle enter the apartment and turned around to greet him. "Get what you need from Mr. Tomlin?"

Regan nodded. "Yep. Just had to pick up some supplies." He headed to the kitchen. "Meatloaf for dinner sound okay?"

"Sounds fine," Dan replied. He put the book down on the coffee table, spread open to keep his place. "Do you need a hand?"

"Sure. You can come peel some potatoes," his uncle called out to him.

Dan followed him to the kitchen and quickly got to work on the potatoes. The green and cream checkered curtains over the kitchen sink were pulled open and, as he rinsed off the potatoes, he could see the Manor House windows. He wondered if Honey's was on the side of the house facing the garage. He hoped so. He turned away from the window to grab a vegetable peeler out of the drawer.

His uncle glanced at him over his shoulder as he unwrapped the plastic from a frozen meatloaf—one of Mrs. Belden's most likely. "So, don't think for a second that I didn't want you to come, but I thought, originally, you couldn't make it this weekend."

Dan nodded. "I'm not really supposed to be here."

His uncle turned around completely, concern showing on his face. "You didn't run away from home or something, did you?"

Dan shook his head and answered with a bit of a laugh. "No, Uncle Bill. Pops and Mama know I'm here, and they're fine with it. It's just that Mama Rose is in holiday mode. It's Rosh Hashanah, and then we start what she calls the 'Days of Awe', and that's followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement." He sighed. "I try very hard to respect their beliefs even if I don't always understand them, and so I wasn't going to come because of that. This Sabbath in particular is supposed to be a special one."

Regan nodded thoughtfully and then turned back to the meatloaf, placing it in a pan. "Then what made you change your mind?"

Dan shrugged a shoulder. "It's been four weeks already since I last saw you. Next weekend is Yom Kippur. I didn't want to put off visiting for another two weekends."

"Is that all?" Regan seemed to sense there was more.

"These Days of Awe are supposed to be spent reflecting over the last year, repenting sins, and reconciling with people I've wronged." Dan frowned as he set a freshly-peeled potato in a bowl of cold water.

"And that's what made you change your mind about coming up?" He heard puzzlement in his uncle's voice. "Do you feel like we need to reconcile things after ... because of what happened in the city last month?"

Dan shook his head as he reached for another potato. "I don't know. I guess."

Regan gazed at him, concern filling his green eyes. "Dan, you know I love you, right? We may have our disagreements, but you're family."

"I know. And ...." Dan paused as he reflected back on their Manhattan vacation. "It means a lot to me that you came out on that terrace, that you stayed behind ...."

Regan's face flushed with color. "You were ... grieving. You needed me."

"Still, thank you." Dan smiled at his uncle.

"Anytime."

The two of them stood there awkwardly for a moment.

Dan returned to his task of peeling potatoes. "There's something else," he finally admitted.

"Yes?" Regan asked softly as he slid the meatloaf into the oven.

"About that one night ... I mean, I get why you were dead set against me going to that meeting. And you were right to be apprehensive."

"Nice choice of words there." His uncle snorted. He heard the oven door close and then his uncle was right behind him. "I thought we'd both end up dead for a while."

Dan moved out of his uncle's way so he could pull a pot out of the cabinet. "I'm sorry, Uncle Bill."

"But you were right, Dan. You went with your gut and you were right." Regan sighed. "That doesn't mean you always will be, though."

"Not about that." Dan took a deep breath and turned to face his uncle. "I'm sorry that I stood up to you in front of everyone else. I should have shown you more respect."

Regan dropped the pot on the counter with a small clatter and turned back to Dan. He enveloped him in a big, if awkward, hug. "Thank you." When his uncle stepped back, he gazed at Dan with admiration. "Thank you," he repeated.

"Aw, Uncle Bill." Dan felt himself getting embarrassed.

Regan retrieved the pot and filled it with water, putting it on the stove to boil. He picked up a small cutting board and knife and took one of the peeled potatoes, cutting it into medium-sized chunks. "Boiled or mashed?"

"Mashed, of course," Dan answered. He worked quietly, peeling the last potato. "There's another thing I wanted to tell you, Uncle Bill."

"Oh? What's that?" Regan asked as he grabbed the next potato.

"I met this girl." He placed the final potato in the bowl and then scooped up the potato peels and threw them away in the bin under the sink. "Her name's Aibhlinn."

"You've lost me." Regan slid the cut potato chunks off the board and into the water on the stove. "Avleen? I thought you liked Honey?"

Dan smiled. "I do. Aibhlinn's not a girl friend, and she's older, your age actually."

"And how do you know her?" His uncle's voice conveyed his confusion.

"She knew Mom."

Regan had been reaching in the cupboard for something but he turned around empty-handed. "Sarah?"

Dan nodded. "Yeah."

His uncle turned back to the cupboard and pulled out a can of green beans. "How did she know Sarah?" he asked, his voice catching.

Dan couldn't say much; he still didn't actually know much. "Sarah was working, helping her and some other girls." He sighed. "I don't know all the details, but I just wanted to let you know." He paused. "She's the same woman we saw in Inwood."

"Woman in Inwood?" His uncle appeared puzzled, and then a smile lit up his face. "That beauty with the flowing, chestnut hair and those intense, green eyes?"

Dan snorted. "Yes, her. I see you barely noticed her that day."

"Well, the way she stared at me, how could I not pay attention?" Regan grinned, and then his smile faded just the tiniest bit. "Oh, is that why she kept looking back at me?"

"Yeah, sorry, Uncle Bill. It was your resemblance to Mom, not your charming personality or magnetic charisma," Dan teased.

"Well, maybe I can come visit you again and you can introduce us properly," Regan suggested.

Dan shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe. She's really nice."

"So you've been talking to her about your mom?" Regan reached for the can opener, still holding the can of green beans. "Did you say your mom was working with her?"

"Mmm," Dan mumbled non-committally. "Anyway, I just wanted you to know. Aibhlinn knew that mom worked for the FBI. It felt strange at first, knowing there are people out there who knew my mom from her job when I didn't even know about her job, but, actually, it's pretty neat."

His uncle turned back to the green beans, dumping them into a small sauce pan. "That kind of validates the stories we've been told."

"You still don't trust Mr. Hill, do you?" Dan smirked.

"Nope." Regan shrugged his shoulders. "I doubt I ever will. And I trust Unay even less."

"Hmm." Dan frowned as he pulled two plates out of one of the cabinets. "I think I trust Unay more than Teddy in some ways."

"I can imagine trust is pretty hard for you, given everything." Regan sounded hesitant.

Dan placed the plates on the table. "I suppose."

Regan turned around and gazed at Dan steadily. "What about Tim's father? Unay's the one who told you about him, right? You never told me what happened there."

Dan regarded his uncle before letting out a loud sigh. He turned around and took two glasses from the cabinet and set those on the table, too. "How could someone hate someone else so much?"

"Hate's a pretty strong word."

Dan kept his face turned away from Regan. "He was vile, Uncle Bill. I don't want to be related to him. I don't want to talk about it."

"Okay." He heard his uncle sigh quietly. "And you don't need to reconcile with him because of these Days of Awe?"

Dan opened the silverware drawer and pulled out two forks and knives. He slammed the drawer shut and turned around to face his uncle. "I don't think I'm supposed to reconcile with evil. Besides, I never wronged him. I never did anything to him except show up on his doorstep unexpectedly." He placed the flatware on the table, trying to keep calm as he thought about Patrick Mangan. "He doesn't want anything to do with me, anyway."

The rest of dinner was prepared in silence, but Dan noticed that his uncle mashed the potatoes with far more force than necessary and cabinets and drawers were shut with unnecessary harshness. As they were sitting down to eat, his uncle finally spoke. "I want everything to do with you. Please don't ever forget that or think otherwise."

Dan regarded his uncle and attempted a smile. "Thanks, Uncle Bill. I know. I love you, too."

The two of them chatted all through dinner, keeping the topics light. They talked about school, his job at the store, and, of course, the horses. As he washed the dishes, he gazed out the window at the main house. "Hey, Uncle Bill?" he called out.

"Hmm?" The mumbled reply came from the living room where Regan was looking through a new supply catalogue he'd picked up from Mr. Tomlin's.

Dan turned the water off after rinsing the last dish. "Is it all right if I go up and visit Honey and Jim after I finish here?" He took a towel and started drying the handful of dishes they had used.

"Of course. Just don't stay too late."

He finished up quickly and was soon strolling up to the house and knocking on the door.

Celia answered with a smile. "Hi, Danny! Tom said you were visiting this weekend."

"Hi, Mrs. Delanoy," Dan responded. "Are Jim and Honey busy?"

"Probably not too busy for you." The petite blonde grinned. "I'll go get them. Wait just a sec."

Dan glanced around the large foyer as he waited. He didn't have to wait long.

"Hey, Dan," Jim greeted. "You're not hanging out with your uncle tonight?"

Dan shook his head. "Nah. Where's Honey?"

"I'm hurt. I thought you came to see me." Jim winked. "But you're out of luck. She went on a bike ride with Trixie. Come on up." He turned around and headed back to the stairs.

"They're riding bikes this late? It's dark." Dan was a bit surprised. He followed the other boy. He'd never been upstairs in the mansion before.

Jim nodded. He waited until they were in his room, which was nearly as big as Regan's whole apartment, and shut the door. "They have lights on their bikes. But now that you mention it, it is kind of strange, isn't it, that they'd go riding now?"

Dan raised an eyebrow. "I'll say. Do you think they went back to that cottage where Harrison was?" He gazed around the room, trying not to show how awed he was by its extravagance. He glanced out the window, noticing that it faced the gardens, not the garage. Honey's probably does, too, he thought, with some disappointment.

"Mrs. Crandall's place? Why would they do that?" Jim frowned. He took a seat in one of the two arm chairs in the room. "I know Trixie thought there was something mysterious about it, but once we found Harrison and heard his story, well, wasn't that all there was to it?"

"Honey didn't tell you about the door?" Dan sat in the other chair. He started to wonder what Honey's room looked like. The Wheelers' apartment in the city was impressive enough, but the rooms there weren't this big. It was, after all, still a New York City apartment.

Jim shook his head. "What about the door? It was unlocked, wasn't it? Or did our two shamuses-in-training break in?"

"No, the front door must have been unlocked. I think I might've noticed if the lock had been jimmied. But I'm talking about the cellar door." Dan sighed. "Honey said she and Trixie had to struggle to unbolt the door. It was bolted from the outside."

"But that would mean ...." Jim's brow furrowed in concern as he seemed to come to the same realization Honey had earlier. "Someone locked Harrison in there? On purpose?" He stood up and started to pace. "Why would he lie about it, though? Drat. That means those girls probably are going there." He put his finger to his chin, still pacing, and then looked at Dan. "I think Mrs. Crandall was coming home tonight. Hopefully they won't get into any trouble."

"Should we head out there ourselves?" Dan hoped the other boy would agree to that plan. He was starting to worry about Honey and Trixie. If someone in the area was locking old men in cellars, no saying what that person would possibly do to the two girls.

"Let's not panic yet. Let's just call over there first." Jim walked out of his room and down the hall to a small table with a settee next to it. He picked up the phone that was there and dialed the operator. "Mrs. Crandall on Glen Road, Sleepyside, please." He turned to Dan, his hand over the receiver. "If we can't reach them, then we'll go."

Jim had soon connected to Mrs. Crandall. Dan listened to his side of the conversation as he gazed around the wide hallway, wondering which door was Honey's.

After just a few minutes, the redheaded boy hung up with a grin. "They are there, having hot chocolate and cinnamon toast with Mrs. Crandall and her sister."

"Well how do you like that?" Dan chuckled. "At least we know they aren't in any danger."

"True." Jim strode back to his room and sat on his bed. "Want to hang out until they come home?"

"Sure." Dan looked around the room again after following him back inside. The bookshelf was filled with more books than one person could ever read in a lifetime, but it was the large writing desk with all its drawers and cubby holes that really piqued his interest. He wandered over to it and noticed pencil drawings, most of dogs or horses, scattered across the top.

Jim sprang up from the bed and quickly strode over to the desk. He gathered up the drawings in a neat pile and put them in the corner.

"Those are good. You did those?" Dan hoped Jim wasn't upset that he'd seen them. He knew how he'd feel if someone looked at his essays.

"Yeah." His cheeks had a bit of color to them. "Just doodling, really. I like to draw when I'm bored."

"That's cool. They're really good." Dan sat down in the desk chair. "I like to write, but you already know that, don't you?"

Jim laughed. "Yeah, stories about aliens, if I recall correctly."

"Uh, no, I don't write those anymore. Usually I just write down whatever I'm thinking about these days." He picked up a pencil that was on the desk and started twirling it in his hands.

Jim gestured to one of the drawers in the desk. "There's plenty of paper, if you want."

Dan nodded his thanks but didn't open the drawer. "Jim? About your sister?"

Jim glanced at him. "What about Honey? I mean, besides that you like her, of course." He grinned. "And you should know by now that she likes you, too."

"It doesn't bother you, does it?" Dan frowned. "I didn't know you all that well before we shared that room in the city for two weeks. But, now that I do, I just want to make sure you're okay with me see—well, I guess I can't say I'm seeing your sister since she's not allowed to date. But—"

Jim cut him off. "I'm fine with it. As long as you treat her with respect, of course." He fiddled with his blanket for a moment, twisting it in his hand and then letting go.

"I've heard you throw a mean punch. I'm not about to get on your bad side." Dan grinned.

Jim frowned, his eyes narrowing. "Who said that? I've never punched anyone around here."

"Unay? Remember? When he was trying to steal the idol from Trixie?" Dan sighed. Jim seemed unusually sensitive about the topic, but he supposed that was because of his step-father.

"Oh!" Jim snorted. "Yeah, well, he deserved it."

"I know."

"Any news about Tony?" Jim asked quietly.

"No. The trial's set to start soon, though." Dan frowned as he dropped the pencil and rolled it back and forth across the smooth surface of the desk with the palm of his hand.

The boys sat quietly for a moment. Then Jim went over to a built in shelf and pulled down a pack of playing cards. "Do you play cards? Or chess?"

"Cards." Dan got up and sat cross-legged on the bed across from Jim. "Spades or Hearts?"

"I was thinking Rummy or Canasta." Jim shrugged.

"Rummy, then." Dan smoothed out the blanket between them. "But I'll teach you Spades if you like. It's really easy."

"And I'll teach you chess, someday, if you'd like," Jim replied. The two played amiably for a while, not even bothering to keep score, as they chatted about cars, sports, and animals.

"Knock, knock!" Honey's sing-song voice called out from the other side of the door, accompanied by a soft double-rap on the wood.

"Come on in," Jim answered.

Honey opened the door and poked her head through. "Trixie and I need a fav—" She stopped short. "H-hi, Dan."

Dan smiled widely at her. "Hi, Honey."

"I didn't know you were here." She waved shyly.

"You and Trixie need a favor?" Jim prompted.

"Yes, we do." She smiled at both of them. "It was getting late and the woods seemed really spooky, so instead of riding our bikes home, we left them at Sleepyside Hollow and Mrs. Crandall gave us a ride. I was hoping you would be able to pick them up for us, please, with the station wagon?"

Jim glanced at the clock on his nightstand. "Now? Can't it wait?"

"Oh, I didn't mean tonight! I was thinking tomorrow maybe, before the bazaar." Honey stepped further into the room. "Or if we're too busy because of the bazaar, I'm sure it could wait another day."

"I'll find time tomorrow. I think I can swing by Sleepyside Hollow after I pick up the items from Mrs. Elliott and Mrs. Vanderpoel. The question is if there'll be room in the station wagon after that." Jim smiled at her.

Honey sat on the edge of Jim's bed. "If I tell you something else, will you promise not to tease me or Trixie?"

"What happened, Honey? You look frightened." Dan folded up his cards and scooted a little closer to her.

"We saw ... that is, I'm sure we saw it, but it couldn't possibly have been because of the socks, but we did see it right before we got to Sleepyside Hollow, only it couldn't have been real, but it sure seemed real—"

Jim held up a hand to stop her scattered speech. "Slow down, Honey. What did you see?"

Honey took a deep breath, folded her hands in her lap, and started again. "We saw a rider on his horse, but the rider ... he had no head! And then he and his horse disappeared into thin air!" Her hazel eyes were wide with fright.

Jim shook his head incredulously. "And you're sure it wasn't just the shadows playing tricks on you?"

Dan reached for one of her hands. She'd been twisting them in her lap and it was making him nervous. "Where did you see him?"

Honey's eyes darted back and forth anxiously as she looked first at Jim and then Dan. "It wasn't just shadows. Trixie and I both saw him. Or it. But Trixie found a hoof-print, and it looked like the horse might have had something covering its feet so it wouldn't make too much noise while it galloped." She stopped to take another deep breath. "Oh, I'm just really worried for Mrs. Crandall and now her sister, and Harrison, too, of course. I know for sure the horse wasn't, but, well, I just hope that headless rider wasn't really a ghost, either." She shuddered slightly.

"And you think the rider was there to hurt Mrs. Crandall or Di's butler or both?" Dan was trying to follow along.

"That's just it. I can't figure out why he was there tonight at all, but after talking to Mrs. Crandall, I do think he was responsible for tricking her into leaving town and for locking Harrison in the cellar." She glanced at Jim. "I meant to tell you about that—"

"Dan filled me in." Jim frowned. "The door was bolted from the outside?"

She nodded vehemently. "It was. And we have the bazaar tomorrow so we don't have time to go hunting for clues. Oh, why would someone try to hurt Harrison?!"


chapter 4: it's gonna work out some way