there's a gleam in your eye

Chapter 12: Them Boys Ain't Exactly Like Strangers

August 13, 1957

The group walked quickly the rest of the way through Battery Park. They reached the intersection of State Street, Battery Place, and Broadway and Dan headed for the Bowling Green subway entrance near the run-down park of the same name.

Harvey shook his head. "Not here. We need to take the BMT."

Dan looked at him curiously. "Where are we going again?"

"A little deli over on Ludlow." Harvey stared back at him. "You're okay with that, right?"

Dan nodded and then shook his head, confused. "Ludlow?"

Neil grabbed his arm and held him back as the rest of the crowd continued to follow Harvey over to Broad Street. Regan stayed behind as well; Dan could see he was worried. Mart glanced back at them and Dan shook his head, gesturing with his hand to let Mart know he should keep going with Harvey.

"Everything okay?" his uncle asked.

Dan looked at Neil, waiting for him to respond. Neil looked back at Dan evenly. "You said you were okay with this."

Regan's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "What's not to be okay with?"

Dan looked over at him. "In order to get to Ludlow we ride the subway right through Bowery."

"And the deli Harvey picked is just a few blocks from the Cowhand's hangout." Neil looked back at Dan. "Why do you think I asked whether or not you were okay with it?"

Dan looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet. "Honestly, I wasn't paying much attention. I had no idea what I had agreed to, besides another kosher deli."

Regan watched the rest of their crowd moving ahead, and then turned back to Dan and Neil. "So, now what?"

"Let's just go. It's not like the Cowhands are going to be eating at some Jewish restaurant, or even hanging out on that side of the park." He was referring to Sara D. Roosevelt Park, a place he had often considered home during his gang days, even more than the warehouse at Bowery and Houston that was the gang's base.

The three started walking quickly to catch up with the others. "What about on the subway?" Neil asked.

Regan looked questioningly at Dan. "What's the likelihood that you'll run into someone on the subway?"

Dan shrugged. "On the Interborough, maybe, maybe not. On the BMT, especially the Jamaica line …." He stared at his uncle, willing him not to worry. "It's pretty much certain unless we're really lucky."

Neil frowned. "We can still change our plans."

"And what excuse will we come up with for that?" Dan shook his head. "No. We can't keep rearranging our plans just because of my past."

He saw Neil and Regan exchange looks as they continued on their way to the subway station. Just a few feet in front of them, Mart was standing, waiting for the trio. "What's going on now?" Mart's voice expressed his impatience. "And don't tell me 'nothing'."

Neil looked at the younger Belden boy, his tone serious. "Do you remember when we were talking about the Cowhands?"

"Of course." Mart nodded his head while looking at Dan. "You've had trouble with their gang."

"Yeah, that's one way of putting it." He glanced over at Mart as they kept walking. The sound of their footsteps seemed overly loud.

"I don't see anyone around now that looks like a typical gang member. Do you think we'll run into them on the way to lunch?" Mart sounded puzzled.

Dan, Regan, and Neil all nodded. "It's a strong possibility," Neil reaffirmed.

Regan kept peering around warily. "How much farther to the subway entrance?"

Dan noted that the New York Stock Exchange was visible just ahead. He looked to the right and pointed to the others who were already descending the stairs. "Right there."

Mart raised one eyebrow, his blue eyes registering curiosity. "Anything we should know about this gang if we do run into them?"

"Hmm." Neil looked at Dan. "Danny?"

Let me think … they used to be like my brothers? He scowled. And now they want me dead? He couldn't think of a thing to say.

Regan coughed. "Danny?"

"Great. You both know my name." He shrugged his shoulders, shoved past the two of them, and headed down the stairs behind the others.

"Well?" Mart jogged down the stairs right behind him. "I know there's something you're not telling me. So, let me guess. You were one of them?"

Dan kept moving down the stairs to the turnstiles. After two more steps he stopped. "Yeah. I was a Cowhand."

Mart caught up to him and clapped him on the back. "But you're not anymore?"

"No, of course not." He shook his head. "Not for over a year now."

"Then there shouldn't be any problem, right?"

Dan didn't bother to counter Mart's lack of concern.

Neil and Regan caught up with them, and the four each went through the turnstiles to meet up with the others on the platform. There weren't many people waiting in the station on a weekday afternoon, but that just made Dan even more nervous. If the trains were empty, it would be harder to hide.

When the train arrived, as he had expected, it was nearly empty. Regan strategically led them all to a back corner of the car. His uncle and older brother made sure that he was seated behind most of the others. Mart insisted on sitting next to him, while Neil and Regan sat directly in front of them. Dan stared out the window of the car, making sure he could see the platform's bystanders before the train came to a complete stop.

Two stations later, he spotted a couple of young boys boarding their train, but on the car ahead. They wore blue jeans and white t-shirts but no gang insignia. Still, there was something about the way they wore the simple clothes and the way they walked that made Dan think they might be new Cowhand recruits. His suspicions were confirmed when the boys exited the train just one stop later and two guys in Cowhand jackets entered their car. The boys greeted each other briefly before going their separate ways. The two boys in gang attire departed at Bowery station, but no other gang members were around. They only had one stop to go, and Dan breathed a sigh of relief when the train departed Bowery and arrived at Essex.

Harvey led them to the small deli that served sandwiches and soups, but not the full dinner type fare they had the previous day. Still, the food was good and filling and the teens and their chaperone were satisfied.

Dan thought about telling everyone about the gang. He just couldn't find a good way of bringing it up in front of the whole group, and Mart never mentioned it either.

It was still early enough in the day that they decided to head home and try to get to the Museum of Natural History just before it closed. The museum was just about a dozen blocks north of their apartment on Central Park West.

Regan, Dan, Neil, and Mart exchanged glances once again as they got back on the subway. Even though they would be taking the IND's Sixth Avenue line instead of the train that ran directly through the Cowhands' territory, there was still a chance there would be Cowhands around at the first couple of stops. Once again, they managed to find a group of seats mostly together, and Dan was surrounded by his friends, barely visible from the car's doors.

At Second Avenue, it happened. Four teenagers in Cowhand jackets boarded the train. He recognized one of them but didn't know the other three. The leader of the small group, the one Dan knew, glanced up and down the train and then zoned in on two younger kids riding by themselves on the other end of the car. The four boys sauntered up to them and, even though he couldn't make out what they were saying, it was obvious they were harassing the boys. The boys, however, were doing all they could to just ignore the bullies. Dan figured they were probably, and unfortunately, used to being picked on.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Jim stand up and take a step toward the other end. Oh God, Jim! Don't go and be all noble and virtuous right now. Those boys can take care of themselves.

"Jim!" Neil hissed the whispered shout. He shook his head and indicated to him to sit back down.

Jim turned around and looked at the other boy, both angry and confused that Neil wasn't ready to follow his lead and aid the younger kids. He shook his head in disappointment and took another step toward the other end of the car. Dan saw Harvey grab a hold of Jim's arm and gesture to him to sit down. Jim looked over at him and he nodded in agreement with the Diamonds.

One of the four gang members had turned around when Jim stood up and he was now approaching their group. "You gotta problem, Red?" the boy sneered.

"Yes, I do," Jim answered evenly. He looked ready to punch the gang member in the jaw.

From behind the Cowhand, Mikey, the person Dan actually knew, also turned around. "Wha'z goin' on, Pete?" He took a few more steps until he was right behind Pete and looked at the teens.

The train came to the next stop and when the doors opened, everyone on the car except the gang members and Dan's group left. Even the two boys at the back who were the original targets of the Cowhands' bullying got up and crept out. Dan was sure that not all the passengers were planning on taking that exit, but they were New Yorkers; they weren't going to hang around and get involved in a possible gang fight. Those on the platform that were waiting for the train seemed to grasp the situation. Most of them quickly walked to another car rather than boarding, and the handful that started to enter turned around and changed their minds.

Dan was starting to panic, but did his best to appear cool and in charge. He knew he would have to take on the persona of a gang member; he would have to embrace all the pieces of himself he had tried so hard to discard over the last year.

And then, if he even managed to get through this, he would have to face his new friends.

The doors closed again and the train shook itself back into motion. Dan leaned back in the red vinyl seat, seemingly relaxed. He had his right foot resting on his knee and his arms crossed in front of him. He surveyed the Cowhands with an expression of authority but remained quiet. He avoided looking at the others in his group.

"Well, well … whadda we have here?" Mikey gave a half-smile, half-sneer in Dan's direction. "Danny boy, when did you crawl back into town?"

Dan stared evenly back at Mikey, hoping he didn't appear even the least bit threatened. His voice, when he spoke, came out in a bit of a snarl. "What'chya gonna do 'bout it, Mikey? Go run back to Paul and tell him?"

"You know this goon?" Brian sounded not only surprised, but angry about it.

Mikey ignored him, focusing on Dan. He let out a sound between a laugh and a snort. "Paul? He's nothing."

Dan raised an eyebrow.

Mikey grinned at the former Cowhand. "You showed us that, Danny. Wasn't long after that someone else challenged him. We finally got rid of the loser."

Dan nodded his head slightly. "So who's in charge now? Luke?" Dan let out a scornful laugh. "Or you?"

"Come on, Mikey, I'm itching for a fight." Pete glared at Jim some more.

Mikey gave a warning glare to the younger Cowhand. He turned back to Dan and the rest of his group, leaving Dan's question unanswered. "So this who you hanging out with these days? Your new gang?"

Dan didn't answer him, either.

But a girl spoke, her Jersey accent thick and her voice dripping with disdain. "Yeah, he's with our gang now. You gotta problem with that?" Dan tried hard not to fall over when he realized it was Honey. He thought he heard someone in his group snicker.

Mikey did laugh and then turned serious. "You better tell your bitch to shut the hell up."

Out of the corner of his eye, Dan saw Brian spring out of his seat, and Jim started to step forward, presumably to hit Mikey. Dan knew he had to act quickly before this turned into an all-out brawl. He managed to stand up, keeping his legs from shaking, and stepped in front of Jim before he could get close enough to take a swing. He took another step toward Mikey. "My girl can say whatever she wants."

"That's right. I forgot how you'd let Crystal run her mouth off all the time." Mikey shook his head. "That ho finally got what she deserved, too."

Crap. What happened to Crystal? I thought she'd moved out of the area. Dan probably flinched, even though he tried his hardest not to let the other boy know his words had affected him. But he refused to take the bait; he could ask Judge Armen if he knew anything. For all he knew, Mikey was just making up a story to get a rise out of him, anyway. It had been no secret that he and Crystal were good friends.

"What happened to Crystal?" Dan groaned inwardly as he recognized Neil's voice.

Mikey nodded at the unknown teen. "Who's asking?"

"I'm asking," Neil replied calmly.

Dan resisted the urge to turn around and tell Neil to "shut the hell up" as Mikey had put it. Normally, it was that attitude of Neil's that he admired; that way of treating people with over-inflated egos as is they were unimportant. He'd done it to Dan, too, when they first met.

But right now, Dan felt like he was losing all control of the situation, and he wanted to regain that control, fast. "So this is what you're reduced to, now? Trying to scare pocket change out of little kids?"

Mikey scowled, but then quickly masked that over and sneered. "We was just having a bit of fun. Did you forget how to have fun, Danny?"

Dan had an odd feeling that if it were just the two of them, he and Mikey would be patting each other on the back and catching up on what they'd been up to in the last year. It was kind of ironic that they both felt they had to play at this stupid charade just because other people were watching. He had enough of it. The train should be heading into the next station soon. He nodded toward the doors. "I think your stop's coming up, isn't it?" His tone was mildly threatening.

"I ain't got nowhere to be." The other two gang boys had crowded behind Mikey and Pete. One of them kept punching his fist into his palm. Mikey looked over the group again. "Look at all you in your fancy threads." He stepped closer to Dan and reached his hand out to flick his tie. Dan didn't flinch this time. "Even got a noose around your neck." The Cowhand snorted again. "I don't see no jackets. You ain't in no gang. Some kind of club maybe?" He spit down on the floor. He glanced around Dan, dismissing the ex-gang member, and rested his eyes on his uncle, obviously the oldest one of their group. "Whadda you guys call yourselves?"

Dan took a step forward, getting into Mikey's personal space and standing nose-to-nose with the other boy. He was glad he'd grown a couple of inches over the last year and was nearly as tall as his old friend. No, not a friend. Mikey might have been nice to him, most times, but he was definitely not an old friend. "I said your stop is coming up." He slowed down his words to emphasize them just as the train started to decelerate.

He sensed more than saw Jim and Brian step up behind him. Neil stood up, as well. He had at least the three of them backing him up. And he knew he could count on Regan, Harvey, and Mart if it did come to a fight. Seven against four; those seemed like very good odds.

Mikey stood his ground. The train pulled into the station, and the doors opened. A crowd of people waited on the platform, but only a handful of people bothered to enter their car, and they all moved to the far end to find seats.

With Ned and Bob, it would be nine against four. He wished he could look back and see their expressions. They would fight to support Jim and Brian, anyway, regardless of what they thought of him. Hopefully none of the Cowhands had a knife … or a gun. What did that stupid prophecy say about a gun? "Don't be a fool, Mikey. We got you outnumbered more than two to one." He lifted one side of his mouth in a half-smile. "Just get on outta here."

Mikey looked over the group again and must have decided Dan was right. "You’re lucky it really is our stop." Mikey motioned to the other three to head out. He followed them with one last look at Dan before the doors closed again.

The train jolted into motion. Dan sat back down, not in his old seat, but at the closest seat he could find, and buried his head in his hands.

The train continued on its course, unaware of what had transpired in car number 438.

chapter 13: past mistakes and former lives