Friday, February 6, 1970

Bill Regan glanced at the envelope in his mail slot. He never received personal letters. It wasn’t the right time of the month for his regular bills for stable expenses. His utilities were included in the room and board provided by his employers. And he hadn’t bought any new clothes since just after he started working for the Wheelers. So why was someone contacting him now?

He reached into the box and pulled out the business size envelope, handling it gingerly, as if it might spontaneously combust. An extra stamp marked it as certified mail. His breath caught as he read the return address.

Judge Robert Armen, New York City Department of Juvenile Justice.

Regan folded the envelope in half without opening it and slid it into the breast pocket of his jacket. He could open it later. He didn’t want to deal with the thought that his carefully ordered world could come crashing down around his ears, just when he’d started to find his footing in a good job, working for great people.

Tuesday, February 10

“Regan, I took a telephone message for you this morning,” Margery Trask said as the two of them sat down to lunch the next day. “It was from the office of a Judge Robert Armen, in the city. The person didn’t give any information on the reason for the call, but did say it was important for you to return it as soon as possible.” She reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out a pocket-sized notepad and pulled out a page. “Here’s the number.”

Regan felt his appetite leave him as he accepted the slip of paper. He didn’t want to act as if anything was wrong, but he felt as if his hand was shaking as he folded it and placed it in his breast pocket. Guiltily, he remembered the letter he’d received a few days earlier. The letter he’d found in the washing machine, pulverized into an unreadable conglomeration of stuck-together paper. He’d been so busy with his end-of-month bookkeeping that he’d totally forgotten about the letter.

“I’ll call right after lunch,” he promised.

“They’re probably out to lunch now, anyway,” Miss Trask answered, glancing at her watch. “I doubt if you’d reach anyone before one o’clock.”

He took a bite of one of the hearty sandwiches Cook had prepared to go along with bowls of flavorful, homemade tomato soup. But the good food may as well have been sawdust for all he tasted of it.

Miss Trask stared at him, her bright blue eyes clouded with concern. “Is something wrong, Regan? Anything I can do to help?”

“No. I mean, I don’t know what it could be. I’ve lived here—in the city, I mean—for four years and never been in any trouble. I have an older sister, but haven’t heard from her in years. I don’t know where she is now. Otherwise, I don’t have any family, so if a judge is trying to contact me, it’s either a case of mistaken identity or they think I’ve done something—and I don’t know what that could be.”

“Well, you know I’m here and I’m in your corner, whatever it is.” Miss Trask’s voice was warm and her face radiated faith in his integrity. “And the Wheelers have a high level of trust in you. They wouldn’t have you around their children otherwise, and Matthew Wheeler is a fine judge of people.”

“Thanks, Miss Trask. I appreciate your trust, and theirs. I never want to do anything that might put that at risk. I’ll return the call at one, and let the chips fall where they may.”

The two of them were eating alone because Tom Delanoy, the chauffeur, had driven into the city to pick up the Wheelers at the airport. Tom’s wife, Celia, had gone back to the compact red trailer where she and Tom lived, to fix a special dinner for her husband after finishing her work in the bedrooms upstairs. Honey Wheeler and her adopted brother Jim Frayne were at school.

After lunch, Regan donned his winter coat and trudged back to the stables. The horses were quietly standing in their stalls but lifted their heads and began to whinny as he opened the stable door.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he jokingly called to them. “You won’t have to starve today!” He strode over to the covered bin where hay was stored and scooped out a flake for each of the five horses, breaking up each flake before dropping it into that animal’s trough. Next, he made sure all of them had plenty of fresh water. After their meal he led first Lady and Susie, then Strawberry and Starlight, and finally Jupiter alone, into the pasture to work off some pent-up energy in the fresh, cold air.

Once the horses were in the pasture, Regan walked into his office and closed the door. He pulled out the slip of paper and dialed the number, willing his breathing to slow and regularize.

“New York City Department of Juvenile Justice, Judge Robert Armen’s office,” announced a very dry voice after just two rings.

“I... um, I... ah, my name is William Regan and I’m returning a call from your office,” he finally managed to say.

“Certainly, Mr. Regan. Please give me your date of birth and your current address so I can locate the record for Judge Armen.”

Regan rattled off the requested information and waited while the dry-voiced woman looked for the record. He drummed his desk blotter with a pencil and tapped one foot on the wooden floor. What kind of record could he have in the city? He’d never been in any trouble at the Claremont, and besides that he was already an adult before he went to work there. If they’d somehow unearthed the trouble with Worthington Racing, why was it being handed over to the City? None of it made sense. As he held the receiver to his ear, he could hear file drawers opening and closing, as well as other voices and snatches of conversation. Doesn’t that office telephone have a Hold button? he thought in irritation.

Finally, the woman came back. “I’m transferring your call to Judge Armen,” she said. “Thank you for waiting.” He listened to the sound of the call being transferred.

“Mr. Regan, thank you for returning my call.” This voice was definitely a man’s voice. He sounded like an older man.

“What’s this about?” He was trying not to sound guilty, since he didn’t know of any reason he might have to feel that way. But he felt sure his nervousness was audible in his voice.

“I’m calling in regard to your nephew, Daniel Mangan.”

“Nephew? Daniel Mangan?” Regan felt stupid, repeating the judge’s words. But he was stupefied. His sister had a child who was living in the city now? “I have a nephew?”

“Maybe we need to back up here,” replied the judge. “Our office sent you a certified letter last week. Did you read it?”

“A letter? Um, I think I did get a letter but don’t know what happened to it. I’ve had a lot going on.” Regan crossed his fingers against the lie.

“Did you have a sister named Rosemary Regan Mangan? Her birthdate is May 2, 1936.”

“Did I have a sister? Do you mean she’s…”

“Is that the correct birthdate?” The judge ignored his question and pressed on.

“Well, ah, I don’t know her exact birthday.” Regan now felt like an idiot. What kind of person didn’t know his own sister’s birthdate? “She’s—she was—a lot older than me and my parents died when I was three or four years old. She left the orphanage when she was about seventeen—I think—after she finished school… She had a job, and she’d visit me every now and then. One day she came to see me with a soldier, said she was marrying him and they were being sent to Germany for a few years. She said she’d come back for me after they came back to America. I never saw her again.”

“Was the soldier’s name Mangan? Tim Mangan?”

“I don’t remember.” Regan shook his head, as if the judge could see him through the telephone line. “I was only about seven and it was just the one time. I tried to forget about her, the way she forgot about me.”

“From the records we’ve been able to trace, Rosemary Regan Mangan was your sister and she had a son, Daniel Mangan. Her husband, Tim, was killed in Korea about five years ago, when an unexploded mine went off as Mangan and a fellow soldier drove over it. Mangan’s widow was living in Oklahoma when that happened, and she moved back to the city shortly afterward, apparently with the intention of trying to locate her brother.”

“Wait—she never tried to write to me at the orphanage, and suddenly she wants to get back in touch?”

“I don’t know what was going on in her mind, Mr. Regan.” The judge sighed. “But she was alone, with a young son, and she wanted to return to the place where she grew up and where she might still have family. Obviously, she wasn’t able to connect with you, but we don’t know if it’s because she didn’t try or because she wasn’t able to find anything out about where you had gone after leaving the orphanage. You may not know it, but the orphanage has closed. The building is now being used for a community center.”

“Okay, I get it. What about the son? How old is he? And what about my sister—is she—is she dead, did you say?” He gripped the telephone’s receiver tightly.

“Mrs. Mangan developed pulmonary fibrosis and she passed away just before Christmas. Her son, Daniel, is almost fifteen. He ran away before a social worker could take him to a foster home, because he didn’t want to go into the foster system. He unfortunately was recruited into a smalltime gang called the Cowhands. Daniel was involved in some minor crimes such as shoplifting, hotwiring cars, and breaking into a warehouse with other gang members. The police arrested a large group of the gang members when the Cowhands got into a street fight with a rival gang. Daniel has been detained in the Juvenile Center for over a week now. The social workers have been trying to locate some family to find out if there is someone willing to take him in, get him away from the city. We don’t believe he’s a hardened criminal and feel that he deserves another chance.”

“Wait a minute! You want me to take a teenaged boy who’s already been locked up for stealing, breaking and entering, and street fighting?” Regan ran the fingers of his other hand through his hair, making it stand on end. “I work for a fine family with young teenaged kids, and I don’t think the parents would be too excited about having a juvenile delinquent on the property, associating with their kids. Hell, I’m not too excited about it. Ten minutes ago, I didn’t know he existed, and now I’m supposed to be his guardian angel?”

The judge sighed again. “I appreciate your feelings, Mr. Regan. If you refuse, I can’t say I’d blame you. But Daniel has never been in any trouble until this gang escapade. I’ve spoken to his teachers and he was a good student. He hasn’t been to school since his mom died and the truancy officers have been looking for him, too. But outside of a few absences related to helping his mom when she was sick, he had good school attendance and good grades before that. In a couple of subjects, he was working above grade level. And he played hockey in a police-sponsored league for a couple of years. He won a prize for his skating.”

As Regan listened to the recital of Daniel’s history, he couldn’t keep from feeling a stab of sympathy for the boy. He’d been alone in the world himself, and it was only good luck that had prevented him from ending up in Juvenile Court. Just the chance of getting to work with horses, and then escaping into the Army, where he’d promptly won the prize of a tour in Vietnam. If not for those two things, he might have landed in the wrong company and ended up in detention.

Judge Armen continued. “I think the boy deserves a chance. And he doesn’t have anyone else. The dad apparently was an orphan and even in his service records there’s no next of kin listed.” When the judge finished speaking, Regan was silent for so long that the judge said, “Mr. Regan? Are you still on the line?”

“I… I can’t give you an answer right this minute,” he said slowly. “Let me talk to a few people around here that I trust. Honestly, I don’t know that I have any business trying to take in a boy who needs a fresh start. But I don’t want him to feel deserted, like I felt. If there’s a way I can help him, I’ll try.”

“Why don’t you call back in a couple of days and let me know your decision.” It wasn’t a question, although it was phrased like one.

Regan nodded. Remembering the judge couldn’t see him through the phone, he spoke up. “Yes, I’ll call you back Thursday with my answer.”

“Thank you, Mr. Regan. You might be saving your nephew’s life if you could get him out of the city and away from this gang. They might be small time, but they still live by the gang motto that there’s only one way out.”

Thoughtfully, Regan hung up the receiver. Who could he confide in about this nephew he hadn’t known about until a few minutes ago?

With a sigh, he stood up from the desk and stretched. I’ll talk to Miss Trask about it before supper, he decided. Maybe she’ll have an idea. With one decision made, he reached for the manure fork and started on his daily chores, determined to put the situation out of his mind until after speaking to Miss Trask.

Cleaning the stalls, working on the stable accounts, and making out the feed order for the next month, he worked steadily for a longer time than he’d realized before a chorus of neighs and snuffles outside prompted him to check his watch. “Hell’s bells!” he exclaimed. The horses had been outside for almost four hours, and it sounded like they were ready to return to their snug stalls. “All right!” he called. “Give me a minute.” Shrugging into his barn coat, he grabbed a lead rope and strode to the stable’s outer door and entered the fenced run between the stable and the large pasture.

“Come on, Jupiter! Let’s go!” Regan took the big gelding’s halter, snapped on the lead rope, and led him through the gate, closing it behind him. After settling Jupiter back into his own stall, Regan returned to the pasture for Lady. One at a time, Regan settled each of his charges into his or her own stall. Clouds of vapor rose from their nostrils as they settled into their usual spaces, and Regan walked from one stall to the next, ensuring each animal received a good rubdown and a hoof check before ensuring they all had fresh water.

He decided to wait to feed them again. The Bob-Whites would be home from school in a few minutes and after he’d read the riot act to Honey yesterday, they’d be sure to come up and exercise the horses today. Feeding could wait until after their exercise. Meantime, he could get cleaned up for dinner and speak to Miss Trask without anyone else around to overhear.

Miss Trask was relaxing in her sitting room when Regan found her. “Can I take a few minutes of your time before dinner?” he asked, standing just outside her door. “You said you’d be in my corner if I needed anything, and I could use some advice.”

“Certainly.” The older woman smiled and beckoned him to take a seat in one of the comfortable armchairs. “We’ve got about fifteen minutes, I believe. What’s troubling you?”

He entered and sank down onto the chair. Suddenly his feet seemed too big and his arms too long. “Well, it’s like this…” he started to say, but there was something wrong with his voice. It was more like a croak. He cleared his throat and started again.

“That certified letter?” He glanced at her to see if she remembered. She nodded, her bright blue eyes encouraging him to continue. “It seems my sister married a soldier shortly after leaving the orphanage, and they had a son. Her husband was killed while stationed overseas and she’d been living in the city with the boy for a few years, but I never knew it. She never tried to contact me, or maybe she wasn’t able to find me. Anyway, she passed away about a month ago—”

“Oh, Regan!” Miss Trask interrupted. “I’m so sorry! And you didn’t know?”

“No. An older, childless couple was in the process of adopting me when she came to tell me she was marrying the soldier, so she may not have known how to contact me later.”

“But I thought you ran away from the orphanage when you were about Jim’s age,” Miss Trask said, her forehead creasing.

“I did. My adoptive parents had a baby of their own a couple of years after I was adopted, but my mom found out she had some kind of fatal disease during her pregnancy. When she passed away, my dad was overwhelmed—I guess—and he couldn’t take care of me or the baby. His sister took the baby, but she already had five children, including twins a year younger than me. I was sent back to the orphanage because there was no one who would take me.” Regan closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. Those were memories he tried to forget.

Miss Trask reached out to clasp his other hand. “How awful! No wonder you don’t talk about your childhood.” He let her hold his hand for a moment, and squeezed back to communicate appreciation for her sympathy.

“Anyway, Rosemary’s—my sister’s—son has been living on the streets, hanging out with a smalltime gang. The boy’s a teenager and right now is in custody of the juvenile court system after being arrested during a street fight.” He took a deep breath. This was not sounding good. Swallowing his doubts, he started again.

“Judge Armen is in charge of his case. He feels that the boy—Daniel Mangan is his name—is really a good kid at heart. He had a good school record up until his mom died, and has been involved in the police Athletic League in the past. The judge thinks he has an excellent chance of turning his life around if he can be placed into a stable home, preferably with a relative.”

“The poor boy!” Miss Trask’s eyes shone with moisture and she blotted them with a tissue. “How did the judge locate you?” she asked. “And what are you thinking of doing?”

“That’s just it, I don’t know what to do.” Regan stood and shoved his hands into his pockets. He began to pace. Sitting down didn’t let him release any of the tension he felt. “Even though my sister might not have known how to find me, I’ve got employment records in the city and it probably wasn’t that hard for him to track me down.” He shrugged. “I want to help this boy—my nephew—if I can. I hate to think of him being alone in the world. But the thing is that… here, I have a good, steady job. But the Wheelers provide my housing and I’m associating with their children daily. I’m not really living independently.” He straightened his shoulders and stared into the middle distance as if an answer was out there. Taking a deep breath, he expelled it through his nostrils, aware that he was reacting to anxiety as one of the horses might. “So… I have to consider that with any plans I might make. Also, I don’t think I have any qualifications to be in charge of a fifteen-year-old boy.”

Miss Trask was silent for a moment when he finished. When he dropped his gaze to her face, he saw that she was deep in thought. Finally, she spoke.

“You want to help your nephew and I support that. I believe we need to discuss the idea with Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler before making any decision about the living situation, though. As far as being qualified to take on a fifteen-year-old boy, you have a great rapport with Jim and the Belden boys.” She paused, her eyebrows drawing together and lips pursed in thought. “But to take on a guardianship, almost a parental role, you’re quite young. The closeness in age might cause some difficulty—especially if Daniel has been living on the street with a gang.” She sighed. “You know, Helen Belden is so sensible, and she knows everyone. Why don’t you talk with her—see if she has any suggestions?”

“You’re right, of course. I should have thought about Mrs. Belden.” Regan realized he’d been clenching his fists inside his pockets and consciously relaxed all of his fingers before speaking again. “Will the Wheelers be here for dinner tonight?”

Miss Trask checked her watch. “Yes, in fact they should be home any time now. I wouldn’t bring it up in front of the children, though. Better to see Mr. Wheeler privately after dinner.”

“Good idea.” Regan checked his own watch. “I’d better make sure the kids are finished in the stables and that Jim and Honey are getting ready for dinner.” He turned to leave, but remembered just in time he had one more thing to say to her. “Thanks so much. You don’t know how my head’s been spinning all afternoon over this.”

“I’m happy to help in any way I can.” Her eyes and smile radiated support for him.

Over the past few months, the Wheelers had persuaded Regan to join the family and Miss Trask at the dinner table when no guests were present. Miss Trask’s presence helped him to feel more comfortable and he was thankful now that he had the access to his employer.

“Mr. Wheeler, I’d like to speak to you about something after dinner,” he began.

“Certainly,” Mr. Wheeler said with a broad smile. “I hope these two haven’t been causing any problems.” He glanced at his children.

“No, not at all,” Regan replied quickly. “The kids have been doing a great job. No, it’s something else. I may need to take a day off to go into the city on some personal business.”

“All right, we’ll talk in my study after dinner. I wanted to ask you to take on something extra for a few weeks, too. We can discuss both things.”

Honey and Jim both looked as if they wanted to ask questions, but Mrs. Wheeler turned the conversation to Jim’s upcoming school field trip. “Tell me more about the project your group will be conducting on the trip,” she urged her son.

Later, in Matthew Wheeler’s study…

“Can I put my proposal to you first?” Mr. Wheeler asked him. He pulled out his desk chair and sat down. “Please, take a seat. He waved at the two comfortable armchairs that faced his desk in the book-lined study.

“Of course.” Regan sank down into a chair and felt his long legs suddenly gain inches in length. He wasn’t sure what to do with his hands, either. He cleared his throat and tried to look like he was interested in his employer’s proposal, but was afraid he wouldn’t even be able to understand the words.

“George Rainsford called me today,” Mr. Wheeler started. “He has a hunter, boarding nearby. But the boarding facility has had some problems recently and Thunderer—his horse—cut his leg on a protruding nail in his stall. George wants to move him, but he’s scheduled to fly out to the West Coast on Friday and won’t be able to find another facility until he returns in a few weeks. Meantime, the horse’s leg needs dressing twice a day. I hate to ask you to take on another animal, but it would be a great favor, and only temporary.” Regan felt his employer’s green eyes searching his face for signs of hesitation or unwillingness.

More relaxed now that he knew what the extra duties would involve, Regan nodded. “Sure,” he agreed. “I don’t think that would be too much extra work. Jim and Brian would probably like to learn to dress the injury, too.”

“All right, that’s settled.” Matthew leaned forward and smiled again. “Let’s hear your situation now.”

Regan cleared his throat again before speaking. His words stumbled and he had to backtrack and explain several times, but eventually managed to get the whole story out. “I want to help this kid,” he finally said. “No kid should have to live on the streets, and the foster care system is no picnic for a teenager. He doesn’t have any other family.” He straightened his shoulders and forced himself to sit still, although he felt every nerve in his body was quivering with an electric current of apprehension. “But this is your home, and you’ve got your children to consider. I don’t even know that I’m qualified to be a guardian for a kid his age.”

For a long moment, Matthew Wheeler was silent. His hands were still, his features sphinx-like. No wonder he’s such a successful businessman, Regan thought. No one can tell what he’s thinking. Meanwhile, he felt himself perspiring as he waited for the verdict.

“I agree, you need to help Daniel if you can,” his employer finally said, his frank gaze seemingly seeing straight into Regan’s soul. “You did say he has no past police record, has never been in trouble before. If you don’t feel prepared to take on his guardianship, though, it may create a problem. As you know, Mrs. Wheeler and I fly out for a business meeting in a few days, and Jim will be away for a week. I don’t know that I’m comfortable with my daughter being here alone—even with the staff here—with a boy in the garage who’s just spent time in juvenile court for gang activity.”

“I knew that could be a complication,” Regan agreed. “But Miss Trask suggested I speak to Mrs. Belden, if you approve. She knows everyone in Sleepyside and I’m sure she’ll have helpful ideas.”

“Yes.” Mr. Wheeler nodded, tenting his fingers before his face. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them, fastening that frank gaze on Regan again. “I don’t mind Daniel coming to live on the property, but until we all have a chance to know him better, I’d rather he wasn’t so close to the house. Maypenny could use some help patrolling and filling the feeding stations in the preserve, and he gets along with the teenagers like a house on fire. I’d be glad to pay Daniel for helping with the work, and if we need to buy another horse for him, we can do that, too. Talk to Mrs. Belden tomorrow and get her take, and if she agrees, see if Maypenny would be willing to let the boy live with him.”

“Yes, sir.” Regan stood, shaking hands with his employer. “Thank you, Mr. Wheeler.” He took a step toward the doorway before he remembered about Mr. Rainsford’s horse. “When do we expect Thunderer?”

“Rainsford will have him trailered here tomorrow or Monday. Depends on how soon he can make arrangements. He tells me Thunderer is a gelding, about fifteen years old. He’s pretty quiet, well-behaved and generally gets along with other horses. He’ll send liniment and bandaging supplies.”

“Good to know.” Regan nodded. “I’ll have the extra stall ready for him first thing tomorrow.”

Wednesday, February 11

Thunderer did arrive the next day, just as Regan finished spreading fresh straw bedding over the floor. Since this stall had been used for extra storage, he’d already examined it carefully for potentially dangerous objects—loose or protruding nails, wires, or tools overlooked in a corner. Hearing the sound of a vehicle in the drive, he went outside to meet it.

The driver of the trailer jumped out, holding a case that Regan assumed contained dressing supplies. He greeted Regan and untied the horse before opening the trailer’s back door. Thunderer stood quietly as Regan untied him and secured a lead rope, and then backed out and stepped down with no hesitation after Regan let down the butt bar and pulled his tail.

“Good fella!” Regan congratulated him softly and offered him a chunk of carrot. As Thunderer chomped the snack, he took a closer look at his new charge in the bright daylight.

Mr. Rainsford’s horse was a handsome bay dun with black points, although his age was evident from the frosting around his eyes and muzzle. His front near leg was bandaged but there was no sign of drainage on the white dressing, and Thunderer didn’t hesitate to bear weight on the leg. That’s good, he thought. Must not be too painful.

Regan led Thunderer to his new stall, with the boarding stable’s trailer driver following. Once the horse was secured in his quarters, Regan offered him fresh water before getting the details of his dressing and ointment.

By the time the driver pulled away and Regan fed and turned out all of the horses, it was time for his own lunch. I’ll call Mrs. Belden after lunch and see if I can see her tomorrow , he decided. But maybe I should talk to Ike Maypenny today. Judge Armen really wants to hear my decision quickly, and I hate for that kid to sit holed up at the Juvenile Center.

“This boy is your kinfolk, Regan. I can see you’re spooked over the prospect of being responsible for him, but you can do it. You’ve got friends, like me, who will be glad to help you. He’s bound to be skittish, too. If he’s coming from the city, he probably won’t be too excited about living out here in the hinterlands.” Ike Maypenny paused after his uncharacteristically long speech and drew slowly on his pipe.

The two men sat in front of the wood stove in Mr. Maypenny’s all-purpose room, used for eating, reading, mending traps, sleeping, and whittling. “I sure could use some help from a strong young fellow, and that’s a fact,” he continued. “Matt Wheeler’s a generous boss, but he’s bought up so much land that the job has gotten to be more than I can do alone. I’ll have to train him, but if he’s willing, it’s not hard to learn. I’m thinking the boy may need some spending money, so he may be willing.”

“Yeah, I suppose so.” Regan scrubbed his face with the heel of his hand. “I don’t expect you to pay his expenses, you know. I can buy him some clothes, and Miss Trask feels sure he should be able to receive his dad’s pension and maybe some Social Security from his mom. That’s something I’ll need to look into.”

“Well, no need to worry about that right now. One step at a time, as my daddy always said.” Ike smoked in silence for a few more minutes.

By the time Regan said good-bye, he felt a bit more confident that taking the responsibility for his nephew was both possible, and the right thing to do.

Saturday, February 14

Crossroads Juvenile Center, Brooklyn

Regan sat nervously in the visitor’s room, waiting for a Justice Center employee to bring Daniel out to him. The boy’s hearing had gone well, he thought. Judge Armen had seemed satisfied with the living arrangements Regan had made for Daniel. He’d encouraged the boy to take advantage of the chance to start over in a new community, and reminded him he had the brains and skills to make a difference in the world. Daniel’s head had been down most of the time, shaggy black hair hanging down over his face. Regan hadn’t been able to see his features clearly or get a read on his personality. Would this newly discovered family member be a welcome addition to his circle, or a millstone around his neck? Once again, he started feeling uncertain of his decision.

His palms were damp, and he felt his heart pounding. Just sitting in the strange space, not knowing what was in store, had all his senses on high alert. Finally, the door opened, and he stood as a young boy entered, followed by a uniformed officer.

Regan stared for a moment. The boy was scrawny and small, at least eight inches shorter than himself. In contrast to his sister’s pale skin, blue eyes, and vibrant red hair, her son was black-haired and dark-eyed. He must take after his dad, Regan thought. The only family resemblance he could see was the stubborn, sharp chin shared by both mother and son. With a sudden pang, he recognized some of the same anxiety he felt over the newly-discovered relationship. The boy’s posture was stiff, his head back and his nostrils flared. He looked like he might bolt any time.

“Daniel, this is your uncle, Bill Regan.” The uniformed officer gestured to him and Regan pulled his right hand out of his pocket and extended it to his nephew. The boy, however, didn’t return his gesture.

“What’re you lookin’ at?” the boy asked in a surly tone.

“You’re my sister’s son,” Regan replied. “I was just trying to see if you look like her.”

“I don’t look like Mom, I look like my dad. So what—you won’t take me now?”

“Daniel.” The officer frowned. “Your uncle wants to help you. Try to be polite.”

“No—I mean, that doesn’t matter.” Regan tried to make eye contact with his nephew. “Look, family is family. I don’t have anyone else and neither do you, it sounds like. I live in a nice place. You’ll have a good school, interesting, paid work, friends—if you’re willing to take the opportunity.”

“Yeah, yeah. Well, I’ve got my guys here.”

“Most of them locked up right now, I understand.” Regan was starting to get annoyed at the kid’s attitude. He was thankful Daniel was going to live with Maypenny instead of with him.

Daniel glowered at him. For a split second, Regan was pleased that he had come out on top in the verbal sparring match, but after all, why should he be proud of being able to best a kid who hadn’t even turned fifteen yet? He’d never been a bully, and but for a couple of lucky breaks, he could have been in the boy’s position. He took a deep breath and mentally counted to ten to calm himself, trying not to look too obvious about it.

“We can stop on the way and buy some clothes for you,” he said. “The social worker told me you basically have the clothes on your back, and a pair of cowboy boots.”

“Suit yourself.” Daniel shrugged. “But I don’t need a new jacket or shoes. My boots and leather jacket are practically new, and they’ll be fine.”

Regan tried again. “They’re not going to be too practical for working outside in this cold weather and snow.”

“I ain’t no sissy.” Daniel folded his arms and leaned back in his chair.

Regan decided to drop the topic of clothing. “Do you ride?”

“Horses?” A flash of excitement crossed the thin face, but it was gone too quickly for Regan to be sure he’d read the look correctly. The sullen scowl reappeared. “Sure, I can ride.”

“Because part of your job will be patrolling a game preserve on horseback. My boss is willing to buy a horse for you to use.” He forced a smile to his face that he hoped was encouraging. “If you need a refresh or some practice first, I can help you with that. I’ll have to watch you ride in the pasture before we’ll be able to let you go on the trails alone, anyway.”

Daniel hesitated. “Well, it’s been a few years,” he finally said. Regan consciously kept his features impassive. He’d bet money that the kid had never done more than ride a pony at a county fair.

“No problem. You look pretty wiry and agile, and I’ll bet you’re comfortable and safe on horseback after just a few lessons. But we’ll have to make sure you are before you’ll be able to ride the trails.”

“So I’ll be living with you?”

“Um, no. Not right away, at least.” Regan felt like fidgeting. This was going to be difficult. “I live in an apartment over the garage, near Mr. Wheeler’s—the boss’s—house. He’s got a couple of teenaged kids and since he and his wife travel a lot, they have some live-in staff to supervise the kids and take care of the house when they’re gone.”

“And he doesn’t want a juvenile delinquent around his precious kids.” Daniel leaned back, black eyebrows drawing together as he scowled more than ever.

“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Regan protested. “But he does want all of us to know each other better before he puts you up right next to the house. I’m sorry if that feels unfair. But the job I have, it involves being available to the horses at almost all hours, and I appreciate the fact Mr. Wheeler provides a place for me to live. If I had another kind of job, I might be able to have you live with me right off the bat. But I don’t.” He shrugged and tried to chuckle.

“So where are you going to hide me from the precious trust fund babies?” Daniel’s upper lip lifted in a sneer, but Regan noticed he was sitting erect again, his posture stiff and ready for a fight-or-flight situation.

“Mr. Wheeler’s property includes a large wildlife preserve, with feeding stations for deer, riding trails, and he plans to build a hunting lodge in the future. To take care of all that, he hired a gamekeeper, an older man named Maypenny. It’s a lot of work for one person. Mr. Maypenny has a cabin on his own property that’s right in the middle of the Wheeler land, and he’s agreed to let you live with him. He’s a great guy and you’ll have your own room.” Regan hesitated for a moment, but then took the bit between his teeth and plunged ahead. The boy had a right to know. “The cabin is primitive, though. He heats with a fireplace and a wood stove, and pumps his water from a well.”

“Great, so I’ll be out in the sticks, living like Daniel Boone.”

“Well, you can come with me today, take it and be free—or you can choose to stay here and go into a juvenile home or reform school.” Regan was getting disgusted again. “I think if you give it a chance, you’ll like living close to nature and being able to work outdoors. The Wheelers’ kids are great, and the nearest neighbors have three teenagers. All of the kids get along, and I’m sure they’ll welcome you, show you around school, and all that.”

“All right, I’ll try. But living in the boondocks ain’t my idea of paradise.”

“Give it a chance.” Regan stood. He wasn’t used to sitting for long and felt a need to stretch his legs. “If that’s settled, I guess the only thing that’s left is for me to check you out of here.” Daniel stood up, too, and the officer unlocked the visiting room door and directed them to an office just outside of the visiting room. Regan and Daniel followed as she walked briskly toward it.

“So what do people call you?” Regan asked. “Daniel’s pretty formal. Do you go by Danny?”

Daniel scowled again. “Not Danny. My friends call me Dan.”

“Dan it is, then. Everyone calls me Regan.” He tried to smile but his face felt stiff. No wonder Dan wasn’t very friendly, but the situation was awkward and he felt as skittish as one of the horses if confronted by a catamount. They entered the social worker’s office and sat down again to complete the last bit of paperwork. Afterward, she handed Dan a large paper bag. He pulled out a black leather jacket and shrugged into it. Regan frowned when he saw that across the back, white-painted letters spelled out “Cowhands.”

“We’ll have to stop and buy something to paint over that writing on the back,” he said firmly.

Dan pressed his lips together but didn’t make a retort. Next, he slid his sock-clad feet out of the slip-on canvas shoes he’d been wearing and donned a pair of high-heeled black cowboy boots. Regan thought he looked ridiculous, but didn’t comment on his nephew’s footwear. Time enough for that later. No need for a pissing match right now. “All right, are we ready to go?”

“Thank you, Mr. Regan,” the social worker said, shaking his hand. “The judge doesn’t like to send boys to an institution when they’ve got no history of being in trouble. It’s always good when family is willing to step up. I know Daniel appreciates this chance,” she added with a smile for the boy.

“Yeah.” Dan accepted the handshake she offered and unbent himself enough to give her a faint smile. “Thank you, Mrs. Reed. I appreciate how you and the judge are trying to help me.”

Tom Delanoy was waiting for them in the front lobby. The chauffeur had driven him into the city so that Regan and the boy wouldn’t have to navigate the subway and train system in addition to reaching the court hearing on time. He stood as Regan and Dan approached.

“Everything settled?” he asked with an easy smile. Regan nodded, anxious to get out of the building, where he felt almost like a horse backed into a corner. Tom stuck out his hand to the boy. “You must be Daniel,” he said. “Tom Delanoy. I’m the Wheelers’ chauffeur, and this guy’s ex-roommate.” He winked and lightly punched Regan’s arm.

Dan gave him a fleeting grin. “Why’d you scram? Did he stink up the bathroom?”

Regan felt his face flushing, but Tom threw back his head and laughed. “Nothing like that! No, I got me a sweet little wife in November.” He showed Dan his wedding ring and shook hands with the kid. “We’ve actually got a date tonight,” he added with a goofy grin.

“Yeah! Maybe you’ll get lucky later,” Dan retorted with a waggle of his eyebrows.

“Dan, put a sock in it.” Regan didn’t mean for his voice to sound so grumpy, but it did. He could hear it himself. Dan acted normal with Tom, not sullen and resentful as he did with Regan, and Regan felt a bit disgruntled. He redirected his thoughts, and asked a question. “How far away did you have to park?”

“Not too bad.” Tom tossed his car keys into the air and caught them again. “Just a few blocks.” He started to whistle as the three of them stepped outside into the biting wind and cold of a February morning.

Regan wore a warm overcoat, lined leather gloves, and a flat ivy cap of wool, with a muffler for his neck, and his face felt stiff with cold after only a few steps. His breath came out in puffs of vapor. He glanced at Dan, in his leather jacket, worn jeans, and cowboy boots. Dan’s hands were balled in the pockets of his jacket and he walked with his shoulders hunched, chin tucked in and the collar of his jacket turned up. His nose was red with cold. Regan made up his mind.

“Look, Dan,” he began. “You don’t have to wear an overcoat if you don’t want to. But we’re stopping to buy you some real winter clothes, a coat, gloves, all the things you need to stay warm outdoors. If your job works out, you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors and I don’t want the judge hauling me over the coals because you got frostbite. Capiche?”

Dan grunted. “Whatever floats your boat,” he retorted with a shrug.

Tom paused in his whistling. “No kidding, it really does get cold out in the country,” he said. “Especially if you’re tramping around in the snow for an hour or so. Suit yourself if you want to wear that jacket to school, but at least you’ll have warm clothes if you need them.”

“Okay, okay. I heard you both.” Dan sighed.

Regan was definitely glad Tom had driven him into the city today. He was already on edge between the lingering shock of learning he had a nephew who needed his help, and Dan’s surly, unappreciative behavior. He didn’t need the stress of dealing with New York traffic, too. But Tom wove smoothly through the traffic without using his horn or cursing. In fact, the chauffeur kept up his cheerful whistling until they were well on their way out of the city by way of Broadway toward Tarrytown.

Regan sat in the back seat next to Dan, rather than in the front next to Tom. It was an odd feeling, and kind of uncomfortable—almost as if he was Tom’s employer rather than a fellow employee of the Wheelers. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Dan didn’t seem to share his reaction, but then again, Dan wasn’t talking. He sat there, looking out the window at the passing scenery as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Regan felt as if he should try to engage the boy in talk, but he had no idea what to talk about, and he was worn out from their earlier encounter. He decided to enjoy the peace and quiet instead.

“Say, there’s a Sears, Roebuck store in Tarrytown,” Tom said, glancing back at Regan. “They should have anything Dan needs, from socks to overcoats. Want to stop there? We can grab a burger afterward.”

“Sure,” Regan agreed. “One-stop shopping, isn’t that what it’s called? How about it, Dan?”

Dan grunted again. “Sears is for squares. But since I’ll be living in the sticks, whatever you say, Uncle.”

By the time they had purchased socks, underwear, school shoes and a practical pair of boots for patrolling the preserve on foot, chinos for school, jeans for working and one pair of dress pants, a couple of pullover sweaters and some school shirts, Regan was sorry he’d offered to outfit the boy. Dan tried on the clothes, but his face wore a persistent look of disgust. As Regan mentally tallied the total cost, he studied the boy, trying to calculate how fast he would grow. Once he started a growth spurt, he would be out of the new togs in no time. If Dan actually refused to wear the clothes, Regan would have flushed a lot of money down the toilet. The realization wasn’t a happy one.

He was as quiet as Dan by the time they paid for the purchases and headed back to the car. Even though Tom insisted on picking up the tab for burgers, he was still in sticker shock.

Once they had driven through Sleepyside and headed out Glen Road, it was a short time before they reached the little-used private road through the woods that led to Ike Maypenny’s cabin. The road was gravel, rutted and rough going at the best of times. Today it was also lightly crusted with ice. Occasionally through the trees Regan could catch a glimpse of the far end of the Wheelers’ lake. Today he saw Honey, Diana Lynch, and the Belden kids apparently skating out there.

“I guess the Bob-Whites are planning to hold their ice show on this end of the lake,” he observed to Tom.

Dan looked in the direction Regan pointed, but he didn’t say anything. Regan remembered that Judge Armen had told him Dan won a prize for skating. He decided to suggest to Jim and Honey that perhaps Dan would be able to participate in the show.

“Yeah, wonder why they decided to do it way out here?” Tom replied. “Seems like the access would be tricky. But maybe Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler didn’t want a bunch of people traipsing around close to the house.”

“Still, it seems inconvenient. And I don’t know how they expect people to park out here.”

“Come on, old girl!” Tom urged the car, which seemed to be struggling on the rough, steep road. “We’re almost there and you can rest.”

They left the lake view behind and in minutes arrived at the clearing where Maypenny’s cabin sat. A curl of smoke rose from the chimney, and as Tom stopped the car, Ike Maypenny came outside to greet them.

Once Regan and Dan had disembarked from the car and retrieved the shopping bags from the trunk, Tom put his head out of the driver’s window. “Want me to wait for you?” he asked. “It’s no trouble.”

Regan walked back to the car and leaned over the driver’s side. “Nah, I’ll walk back once I’ve got the boy squared away.”

“Well, good luck. Hopefully he’ll relax and decide he’s lucky to get another chance.”

Regan shrugged. “I hope so.” Maypenny and Dan had already disappeared inside the cabin. He waved a goodbye to Tom and jogged after them, wondering exactly where his life was going now that he had the responsibility of a teen-aged boy. He might have been spooked, but he wasn't going to bolt.

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Author’s Notes

8352 words

Wow! 12 years as a Jixemitri Author!

It is a joy and a privilege to be a part of that group, and I have received much more than I have given over these past 12 years.

Thank you today, dear readers, for continuing to read my Trixie fanfiction offerings. Thank you to my wonderful editors, Ronda, Ryl, and Trish, for faithfully helping me to “get it right.” My stories are always better for your input. Thank you to all of my WWW girls for just being such good friends.

Thank you to the Admin team, who continue to make Jix our home on the ’net. You all are the greatest.

This story is an entry in the Jixemitri CWE#19, Good Help is Hard to Find . It takes place, for the most part, before Dan arrives in Sleepyside. Black Jacket starts on Friday, and Regan and Tom go to the city to get Dan on Saturday.

Because of the year (1969) in which I placed the events of Secret of the Mansion for the purposes of my universe, this story would take place in 1970. In the book, the ice show took place on a Saturday, February 27. In 1970, February 28 fell on a Saturday, so I’m choosing to use a timeline that works for that date for the ice show.

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2019 by MaryN/Dianafan. Banner, background tile, and divider images from and in the public domain; manipulated in Photoshop Elements. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2019.

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