don't know what i thought i would find
 

Chapter III: Chicken Ripple Ice

February 9, 1957

Danny didn't sleep well that night. His dreams came in waves, with first a scene of Honey tossing her brown hair over her shoulder and smiling at him, then morphing into dishes of kosher food dancing around the Beldens' table, and morphing again into his uncle shooting drugs into a horse. The horse suddenly turned into his mother. This last scene caused him to wake up with a start, and after that he tossed and turned, listening to Neil and Harvey snore lightly. Realizing he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep easily, he got up and walked quietly to the door. Opening it, he could see a beam of light coming from the kitchen. Moving quietly, he stepped back into the room to grab a notebook out of his bag, and then, keeping his footsteps as soft as possible, he made the short trek to the kitchen.

Inside the kitchen, he saw that the light came from over the stove. The kitchen was empty. He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was just before four thirty. Danny sighed, then sat at the table with his pen and notebook and started writing.

"Hey, Danny."

The voice was soft but it still made Danny jump. He turned around to see Mart, fully dressed in jeans and a heavy-looking dark blue sweater. He glanced up at the clock and realized he'd been writing for over an hour.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," Mart said. "What are you doing up so early?"

"Couldn't sleep," Danny answered.

"You like writing?" Mart walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a jug of milk.

"Yeah." Danny put the pen down and closed the notebook.

"What are you writing?" Mart asked this time, pulling two bright red mugs out of a cupboard.

"Just writing," Danny answered.

Mart glanced over at him. "I like to write, too. I wanted to join the journalism class at school, but I'm only a freshman. I have to wait until next year."

Danny nodded in understanding. "I have the same problem. Doesn't stop me from hanging around the journalism room, though." He dropped his defensive position over the notebook and turned around to face Mart. "I find it helps sometimes to get all my thoughts down on paper. Sometimes it's like I think in essays."

"I'm more inclined to writing fiction," Mart stated simply. "Say, since you're up, do you want to go check on the chickens with me?" Mart asked.

"Chickens?" Danny stood up from the table.

"Yes, you know: those birds that cluck and lay eggs?" Mart teased.

"Yes, I know what chickens are. Is that why you call this place a farm?" Danny watched Mart get some cocoa out of the cupboard. He wandered over to see if he could help. "I was kind of wondering about that. It's not what I pictured."

"Yeah. We had a cow once, too. But now it's just us and the hens. Plus the vegetables Moms grows." Mart reached around Danny and grabbed a small saucepan from the cupboard behind where Danny was standing. "I'll make us some hot chocolate while you get dressed."

Danny nodded. "Okay by me." He grabbed his notebook and left the room. He returned to the kitchen a few minutes later wearing his jeans and a warm sweater.

Mart handed him a steaming mug. "Marshmallows?" he asked.

"Of course." Danny saw the bag on the counter behind Mart and grabbed a few of the miniature morsels for himself, tossing them into the steaming cocoa. "Thanks."

The two of them sat down at the kitchen table and sipped at the warm chocolate beverages quietly for a minute. "You always get up this early?" Danny asked.

"Sure," Mart answered. "Well, I sleep in when I can, but I'm pretty used to waking up with the sun. What about you?"

Danny snorted. "Nah. I'd sleep in until noon if I could get away with it."

"Well, you wouldn't be able to get away with it often around here. There're always chores to do of some kind," Mart said.

"There's plenty of chores at home, too," Danny countered. "Besides the regular house cleaning, there's Mr. D's store where we all help out. But nothing like a farm, I suppose. We only have to go in early if it's inventory time." Danny gulped down the remaining cocoa in his mug. He noted that Mart had already finished his own hot chocolate as well. "Lead me to these chickens," Danny said, getting up from the table.

Mart grabbed the two cups and placed them in the sink. "Come on," he said, heading to the door.

Danny followed him and they each put on their coats and gloves. The storm door stuck a bit and Mart had to shove it open. The porch was iced over and the packed snow that covered the lawn looked frozen solid. The two boys stepped carefully down an icy path to the chicken coop.

The chickens clucked noisily as the boys entered. The scent inside the coop was strong, but it was dry, and a lot warmer than Danny had expected. He looked around and noted that the walls were insulated with some extra blankets. He watched as Mart went around cleaning out the individual nest areas. Every once in a while he would pick up an egg and place it in a basket. Next, he took the water dishes outside to a water pump. Danny followed him, feeling a bit in the way. "Can I help at all?" he asked.

"Sure. Just wash these out and give the biddies some fresh water," Mart answered.

"Seems easy enough," Danny replied, but he looked at the pump in confusion. He'd never used a water pump before, just a regular faucet. He grabbed the handle on top and pulled it down, then lifted and pumped it a few more times. He was relieved when the water started flowing out of the attached faucet.

"It's not hard at all," Mart said. "I wish we could get one of those new electric pumps though." Mart proceeded to tell him more about water pumps than he would probably ever need to know.

"Uh huh," Danny commented occasionally, only half listening. His mind was still occupied with finally meeting his uncle. He filled one of the dishes and handed it to Mart. Then he filled the other two dishes and he took those back to the coop as well.

A gust of wind stopped Mart's monologue about water pumps. "It's awfully cold," he commented, "and if these below-freezing temperatures last much longer, the hens will probably stop laying altogether. As it is, I only found four eggs this morning. The one good thing about this freeze is that the Wheelers' lake is still solid. When we finish up here, and while we're waiting for the rest of the sleepy-heads to get up, want to go hit the ice for a bit?"

"Yeah, okay," Danny answered. "That'd be great."

When they finished cleaning the coop and making sure all the chickens were comfortable, Mart headed to the garage for his own skates and Danny went back into the house for his. Mart had given him the basket of eggs to take inside.

He joined Mart on the porch after a few minutes and handed Mart a blueberry muffin. "From your mom."

"Oooh, thanks. I was just thinking of nourishment myself. We'll have quite the spread at Honey's in an hour or so." Mart took a bite of the early morning treat. "Come on," he muffled through his full mouth.

Danny fell into step behind the blond as they made their way to the lake. The scenery was beautiful, unlike anything he was used to in the city. The snow was untouched, except for a small path worn between the trees. He stepped carefully as he followed Mart, their boots crunching through the less exposed snow. They crossed a narrow road that had been cleared, and that someone must have driven down earlier; the tire treads were still visible in the thin layer of snow and ice. Mart told him it was the driveway up to the Wheelers' home. It wasn't long before Danny could see a larger clearing ahead with more dense forestry on the other side. The small lake wasn't far from the farmhouse at all, and soon the boys were putting on their skates. They spent a long time clearing twigs and leaves from the ice, but with the help of some brooms from the boathouse, the surface was soon clean enough for skating.

"Race you twice around," Mart challenged.

Danny grinned. He knew he was fast and he could sure use that rush from speed skating. "You're on."

They decided on a nearby tree as the starting point, and with a "ready, set, go" uttered simultaneously, the two boys took off. Mart was fast, Danny noted, but not fast enough. Danny had a small lead after the first round, although Mart caught up with him on the second. Danny skated along the edge of the lake and waited until they were almost at the finish line, before surging ahead. He passed the tree and then slowed down.

Mart skated up beside him and grabbed his arm, holding it up. "The winnah!" he shouted with a pant.

Some applause from the shore caused the boys to turn around. Jim Frayne stood there, casually watching them. "Nice race," he called out to them.

Mart took a few more seconds to catch his breath. "It was. Congratulations. I thought I was fast, but you're a regular bullet."

Danny's grin showed his embarrassment. "Thanks. You're a good competitor." He laughed easily. "For a second there, I actually thought I might lose."

The two of them skated toward the shore. Jim waited until they were closer, and then said, "I went over to the farm but Moms said you were out here. Why don't you come on up to the house and warm up? Everyone else is up and already over."

"What time is it?" Mart asked, looking over at the horizon where the sun was creeping through the trees. He and Danny walked clumsily over to a bench near the boathouse and started taking off their skates.

Jim followed them. "It's about a quarter to eight, but it seems like everyone woke up early today. Even Diana's over at the house, and Sunny and Thunderer are in the stables. Regan had a bit of a fit over it this morning—not that the horses are there, but that we didn't bother to let him know in advance. Brian and Neil are helping him clean out all of the extra stalls. That stable will be full today."

"Shit," Danny muttered. Jim and Mart both looked over at him in surprise.

"You may talk like that where you're from, but please don't swear around here again," Jim said with some tension in his voice.

"Huh? Sorry, man. Sorry. I just ... bad habit." Danny turned up one side of his mouth in a half-smile. "I'll try hard not to do it again."

"No big," Mart said easily. "First offense and all."

Danny smirked, "If you only knew what Neil had said at the table yesterday. Far worse than a little 's' word."

"I don't want to know. And at least he said it in Yiddish so we wouldn't understand." Mart frowned a little. "Do us a favor and tell him and Harvey not to swear around here, either, okay?"

"Sure, man." Danny and Mart had their boots on again. With his skates slung over his shoulders, Danny followed the other two boys up the hill toward one of the large mansions he had seen yesterday from the car.

"Thanks," Jim said. "I appreciate it. But I'm curious. What was it that made you say that just now? Something about the stable?" Jim seemed confused.

"Something about Neil," Danny answered vaguely. "Kind of hard to explain."

By the expression on his face, Danny could tell Mart's curiosity was truly piqued. The last thing Danny wanted was anyone guessing the ulterior motive for their visit this weekend. "Didn't you say something about a huge spread for breakfast?" he asked.

Mart's stomach growled at the mention of food. "Sure did."

Danny's tactic had worked. Jim started describing all the breakfast goodies the cook had laid out, and he had succeeded in distracting Mart.

As they got closer to the house, Jim pointed out the stables for Danny. "Neil should be there. I'll walk with you and let him and Brian know we can have breakfast now."

Danny nodded. He was growing more nervous with each step, but did not want that to show.

"See you in a bit," Mart said as he turned to the right and headed to the front door of the estate.

Danny followed Jim. In a few more steps they were in the doorway of the large stable. The stables were clean and he found the horse smells mixed with the scent of leather rather pleasant. There were ten stalls, five on each side, and horses stood in most of them. It looked like there had been twelve stalls at one point, but the first two stalls had been converted to an office area and a supply room. In one of the empty stalls, Neil was handing Brian a bale of hay while talking about some kind of medical procedure. Danny didn't really know what they were saying, nor did he care. He turned his focus to the other person in the room, a young red-haired man brushing the coat of a large brown horse.

"Regan," Jim called out.

The young man stopped brushing the horse and approached them.

"Regan, this is Neil's other brother, Danny," Jim said, introducing them. "Danny, our groom and our friend, Bill Regan."

Danny shook the offered hand. It was a good hand-shake. "Nice to meet you," Danny said. "I've heard a lot about you."

"Already?" Regan joked. His wide grin and easy going manner put Danny at ease. "Well, don't believe a word of it," Regan commented. "They'll either make me out to be some kind of ogre or some kind of saint, depending on who and when you ask."

Danny grinned back. "Something like that."

"So, are you here to help, too?" Regan asked.

"Nah," Jim answered for Danny. "We all need to eat breakfast first. Do you want to join us?"

Neil and Brian had come out of the stall and walked over to join them.

"I've already eaten, but thanks. You kids go ahead." Regan glanced at the horse behind him. "I'm giving Thunderer here a good grooming. I really need to talk to Mr. Lynch about that stable he's using for his horses. I wonder if they even know what a curry-comb is."

"Is there a problem with Thunderer?" Brian asked, concern in his voice.

"Nothing to worry you with," Regan answered. Then, with a sheepish look, he admitted, "His coat's just not as well cared for as I like. A few burrs, a small scrape on his shoulder, things like that." Regan turned back to the horse and murmured softly to it, stroking the animal's nose. "And you wouldn't believe how much dirt I got up with the comb earlier."

Brian relaxed. "Not everyone's as meticulous as you, Regan. I hope it's nothing serious."

"Nah, not serious, yet. But grooming is important to a horse's health." Regan looked like he was about to say something more, but then closed his mouth.

"Let's go eat then," Jim said.

Regan walked back to the horse and picked up a funny looking brush with a small hook on one end. Danny watched as the groom ran his hands gently down the horse's right front leg until the horse picked his foot up. Then, Regan started cleaning snow and dirt out of the hoof with the hook-like part of the instrument.

"I already had a couple of blueberry muffins," Danny said. "I can stay and help."

Neil nodded in understanding. "It'd be a shame for you to miss out on all that bacon, though," he said vengefully. "And sausage."

Danny's stomach rumbled involuntarily. The muffins had been consumed a while ago, and the work and race on the ice had built up quite the appetite. Danny fingered one of the skates resting against his chest.

"Go on ahead." Regan winked. "If you're really interested, a groom's job is never done. You'll have plenty of time to help me later."

Danny was torn. He really wanted to stay and get to know his uncle, but he also knew that if he didn't eat breakfast all the other kids would wonder why. Plus, there's bacon, his stomach seemed to remind him. After breakfast, they were planning to ride, but Danny had never been on a horse before in his life. Deciding he could spend time with Regan while the others were riding, he made up his mind. "Well, I can't turn down bacon and sausage."

Neil raised an eyebrow, but seemed to intuitively understand Danny's line of thought. "Come on, then."

"Danny," Regan called out, as Danny turned to follow the others out of the stable.

Danny stopped and turned back to Regan, his heart racing a bit. From the speed skating, he tried to convince himself.

"Go ahead and leave your skates over on that shelf in my office, if you want." Regan pointed toward the open office door.

Danny smiled at the friendly groom. "Thanks." He lifted his ice skates off his shoulder and headed to the office.

Still somewhat reluctant, Danny then followed the other three boys out. He stepped in line with Neil and held him back a bit so that there'd be more distance between them and the other two boys.

"So?" Neil asked. "What do you think?"

Danny gave him a dirty look. He spoke in a harsh whisper. "I just met the man. You've already spent more time with him than I have. What do you think?"

"Well, I didn't know where you'd gone off to this morning." Neil defended his actions. "I wasn't about to pass up the chance."

"That's a flimsy excuse. All you had to do was ask Mrs. Belden." Danny couldn't stay upset with Neil, though. He understood Neil's need to ferret things out, especially concerning people he cared for. "So what do you think?" Danny asked again.

"Seems real nice," Neil whispered back. "And he seems to really care about the horses."

Danny agreed with Neil's assessment. In just the few short minutes he'd been in Regan's presence, he could not match that person with the one from the newspapers that had been accused of drugging a race horse. He also thought about how much admiration the Beldens and their friends had shown for Regan the previous evening. "Yeah," he told Neil simply. "I hope he is as nice as he seems."

 

After a filling buffet-style breakfast, the group of teens lingered at the table for a while, just talking about school, sports, antiques and an upcoming antique show the Sleepyside teens were working on, and plans for Di's party. While the conversation was lively and interesting, Danny started to feel antsy, wondering when they would get back to the stables and the riding. It wasn't long, though, before the horses were brought up and they got ready to ride. The girls, giggling about something or other, apparently had some business to take care of in Honey's room first, but the boys headed back to the stables. Mart, knowing they were still short one horse, called out that he was going to Maypenny's to pick up Brownie. Danny, having no idea who or what Maypenny was, tried to stop him, since he wasn't going to ride anyway, but Mart had already taken off at a quick jog.

Danny shrugged and followed the other boys into the stable. Regan wasn't there, and Danny tried not to let his disappointment show.

"Let's saddle up the horses while we're waiting for Mart and the girls," Jim said, heading to a closet for some blankets and saddles.

"Most of the horses are already groomed," Brian mentioned. "I don't know if Regan got to Susie or Strawberry yet, but I'm certain all the others have been."

"They're all groomed," Regan confirmed from the doorway. "You kids seriously owe me."

"I know. Thank you, Regan," Jim said. He and Regan passed blankets and saddles to Brian, Harvey, and Neil.

"Um, I've never ridden before," Danny said, when Regan handed a blanket and saddle to him.

"Okay," Regan said. "What about you, Neil? Harvey?"

"We learned how at camp," Harvey replied. He had already placed a blanket and saddle carefully on the back of a horse named Lady, and was pulling on a belt connected to one of the stirrups.

Danny watched, but had no clue how all those belts and buckles connected. Regan, also watching, seemed satisfied. "Watch out for her," Regan said. "She has a habit of blowing herself up so the saddle will be loose. Make sure to tighten the cinch in front again when you're done."

Harvey nodded, and Regan turned his attention back to Danny. "Do you want to learn?" Regan asked. "I could give you a lesson while the others are out."

"That would be great." Danny's smile was genuine, if not for the reason Regan assumed. "I figured I would stay behind and just help you out here anyway, if you don't mind."

"Are you guys all ready for Diana's party tonight?" Jim asked.

"I guess so," Neil said. "We don't have to dress up or anything, do we?"

Brian shook his head over the horse he was saddling. "Nah, a nice shirt and jeans will be fine."

"I heard the girls were getting new dresses," Jim said. He looked embarrassed and Danny couldn't figure out why. "I ordered an orchid for Trixie. Do you think that's too much?"

Brian whooped in laughter. "You got my sister an orchid?"

Neil, who was standing near Brian, bonked him lightly on the head with his hand. "Give the guy a break. He's obviously smitten."

"Why?" Harvey asked. "I mean, she seems nice," he added, so as not to offend either of the other boys.

"That's okay, Harvey." Brian smirked. "I was wondering the same thing myself."

Jim chuckled. "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."

Brian groaned. "If you must."

"Aw, let the guy speak." Danny chuckled. "It can't be any worse than some of the stuff you write to your girlfriends, Neil."

"Natural, beautiful, kind, smart, charming, cute, spunky, brilliant, clever, alluring, pretty ...."

"Dazzling, delightful, magnificent, marvelous, pulchritudinous—" Mart added from the stable door way. He dismounted the brown horse he'd been riding.

"In a word, wonderful," Jim finished with a love-struck look in his eyes.

"You do know, Mart, that he was talking about Trixie?" Brian grinned. "She'll be happy to know you feel that way."

Mart just winked. "We're supposed to look alike, and I know all those words apply to me. But if you're talking about the girls, you better stop. They're on their way."

"Thanks for the warning," Jim said.

"By the way, Mr. Maypenny insists that we stop by for lunch. He's cooking up a batch of that marvelous hunter's stew." Mart licked his lips and rubbed his tummy. "I can't wait."

"Didn't we just eat?" Neil asked with a chuckle.

The girls had made it to the stable and heard Neil's response. "With Mart, that makes no difference," Diana said.

"He has hollow legs," Honey added. "So, what are we eating now?"

"Lunch at Maypenny's," Brian answered. "After we ride."

"Oh, great idea," Trixie agreed. She looked at all the saddled horses. "And thanks for getting the horses ready for us," she added with a grateful smile.

The horses seemed to be getting restless. Danny noticed several of them trying to get out and the guys had to hold on tightly to the reins to keep them in place.

"Go on and get out of here," Regan said. "And watch for icy patches on the trails. I don't want to have any injured horses."

"We'll be careful," Jim promised. He led the large black horse out of the stables and quickly mounted him. Trixie followed him, leading a smaller black horse, and the rest of the teens led their horses outside as well.

Regan stood near the door of the stables and furrowed his brow. "Neil, Harvey, just how much experience do you have with riding?"

"We'll be fine," Neil answered. "We've both been riding at camp for years."

"Yeah, but that's in the summer, right? Have you ever ridden in snow and ice?" Regan frowned. Danny thought he sounded more worried about the horses than the two boys.

"We'll watch out for them," Honey said with a slight roll of her eyes. "We all know the rules and we'll make sure they follow them, too. What about you, Danny?" Most of the teens had already mounted, and Danny still stood without a horse.

"I'm staying here. I've never ridden before." Danny smiled at Honey.

Honey's lips turned into a very light pout. "Oh. That's too bad. Maybe I should stay behind, too?"

"Danny'll be okay," Brian said quickly. "Regan promised him a lesson."

Danny thought his voice sounded a little tense. He had noticed last night that Mart and Diana seemed to enjoy that little kiss on the cheek, and Jim clearly had a thing for Trixie, but he hadn't seen anything in either Brian's or Honey's behavior to indicate they were a couple. He wondered why the tenseness. And should he back off on Honey? "That's nice of you to offer, Honey, but I will be okay. I'm looking forward to the riding lesson."

Honey's face brightened again. "Well, okay, then. We'll come back for you before we go to Mr. Maypenny's."

"No need," Regan said. "I'll take him over. I've been wanting to talk to Mr. Maypenny anyway. What say we'll meet you at noon?"

"All right, that's settled. Let's get going," Mart said from atop the brown horse he had borrowed from Mr. Maypenny.

Regan looked around and saw which horse was left. "Harvey," he called out. "Leave Spartan for Danny; he's the most used to inexperienced riders. Take Strawberry, here, instead."

"Yes, sir," Harvey answered, turning the grey horse around, and then dismounting and handing its reins over to Regan. Danny watched as Harvey adjusted the stirrups on the other horse and then led him outside. Harvey quickly mounted and followed the other horses into the woods nearby, leaving Danny alone with Regan.


chapter IV: say what you need to say