Honey’s Criminal Background
"If this isn't heaven, I don't know what is!" exclaimed Honey Wheeler as she stretched her arms forward as far as she could reach, thrust her oar into the current on the right side of her canoe, and pulled backward. She repeated the motion, enjoying the pattern of ripples that trailed behind her paddle.
Diana Lynch smiled dreamily. "Mmm-hmm. It's like this is the way humans were supposed to live. Like we are three Native American women, here in the Ozark Mountains hundreds of years before white men ever found our land."
"You I can see as an Indian, with your black hair," said Trixie Belden, "but me...." She tugged at a blond curl hanging down on her forehead, then released it, causing it to spring back into place.
The three friends had spent the past four days on a visit by themselves to Uncle Andrew's cabin in southwest Missouri as a last adventure before school started, and they had decided to finish off their stay with an all-day float trip.
"What do you think the boys are up to right now?" Honey wondered aloud.
"Illegal thought!" yelled Trixie. "This is a girls-only trip. No boys allowed, even in our conversation."
"There's a nice gravel bank," Di interrupted. "Let's stop and swim for a little bit."
The other two girls agreed, so they all paddled over to the bank and pulled the canoe up onto the gravel so that it wouldn't float away.
Honey pulled a package of Kleenex out of her pack. "I think that while we're stopped I'm going to take a trip into the woods."
After she had gone, Trixie said quietly to Di, "She would have freaked if I'd told her that's what the river is for." They both giggled.
“Hmm,” thought Honey after she had gone just a little way. "What am I going to do with...." She looked around. Spying an old Pepsi can, she picked it up. "Then what will I do with the can? Oh well, I can't exactly have it rolling around with all the water in the bottom of the canoe, even in our mesh trash sack. It's not my Pepsi can anyway--I'll just kind of hide it so it doesn't make the woods ugly."
A few minutes later she rejoined Trixie and Di, and the three girls splashed around in the water until they were ready to move on. They hadn't gone more than twenty yards when Trixie spied a couple lounging in bathing suits on a more secluded bank just a little ways from where they had swam.
"Funny we didn't notice those people before," Trixie began.
"Don't tell me—" said Di, "it's really mysterious!"
The little group paddled along in silence, just taking in the beautiful woodland scenery.
"Uh oh!" said Honey after a little while, pointing ahead to some rocks, surrounded by snagged brush. "That looks tricky."
As their canoe got closer to the tangled branches and rocks, Honey, Di, and Trixie guided the boat slowly with their paddles, ready to push off of any rocks that they might come to close to. Suddenly, there was a loud scraping noise on the bottom of the canoe and they jolted to a stop.
"Of course—a big rock, right in the deep part where we couldn't see it." Di groaned.
Trixie and Honey scrambled out of the boat to push the canoe free, while Diana stayed in to help steer.
By the time they finally got the boat going again, the three were ready for another break.
"I say it's lunch time," said Di.
Trixie giggled. "You sound like Mart."
"Like WHO?" Diana's eyes were big.
"Illegal thought! Illegal thought!" Honey yelled obnoxiously.
* * * *
By the time the three were finishing their sandwiches and preparing to launch the canoe again, the couple the girls had seen earlier also stopped on the bank. Trixie saw that their canoe had an outboard motor, which had allowed them to easily catch up. The man, who appeared to be in his late twenties and was now wearing shorts and a t-shirt, walked right up to Honey.
"Miss, can I have a word with you?" he said with a slight Southern accent.
"Um...." Honey eyed him suspiciously.
He continued, "I'm a Missouri Conservation Agent." He showed her his badge. "Would you step right this way, please?"
Nervously, Honey followed him just out of the hearing of Trixie and Di, but still well within their sight.
"Miss, would you mind telling me why you took...this can," (he produced the old Pepsi can) "into the woods and left it there?"
Honey's face turned pale. "I...uh...." For once she was speechless. Then she was angry. "Because it has used toilet paper in it! And anyway, it wasn't even mine."
"Well Miss, I don't care what it has in it. And you were the last person to handle it. I went and got it, but now I'm gonna have to write you out a citation, because littering is a state offense."
Honey again was speechless. "What should I do? What should I say? What can I say?" Thoughts flashed through her mind, but none of them were coherent enough to dictate to her what she should do. In horror she watched as the man filled out the ticket, then gave her his clipboard to sign.
"Just saying that I read you the law."
Numbly, Honey signed her full name, barely hearing as the man instructed her as to what she would need to do to take care of the charge. Finally, the man motioned to the girl he was with, and the two got back into their boat and moved on down the river, leaving Honey standing there dazed.
Trixie and Diana ran over to her. "What happened? What's wrong? What did he say?" Wordlessly, Honey handed Trixie the ticket.
“Three hundred dollars! That’s outrageous!”
Diana gasped and grabbed the ticket from Trixie's hand.
"Who does that man think he is, anyway?" Trixie stormed, "Laying out with his girlfriend and spying on you, and then tracking you down like some kind of a criminal! Why, you hunt criminals yourself! The river's kinda quiet today--I bet he just hadn't met his quota and thought he'd pick on you!
"You'd think he would have at least spoken to her back when we were stopped before," Diana agreed.
"Of all the nerve!" Trixie went on. "It's not like you can just drive down here to go to court, either! Well you'll show them. Your dad can just have his lawyer call down here and tell these courts a thing or two and—"
"Trixie Belden! You take that back! You should know by now that I don't expect any favors from anyone just because my family is wealthy. No, I...I'm a Bob-White, and I...I broke the law. Her throat constricted. "I'll pay for it just like anyone would have had to, and what's more I'll raise every cent myself. How could I have been so stupid?" she wailed. "So…un-Bobwhitish."
Diana immediately put her arm around Honey's shoulders. "Don't worry sweetie. We know it was just an honest mistake. You just weren't thinking. It could just as easily have been me."
Trixie hugged Honey. "I'm sorry—I didn't know half of what I was saying. I still am mad, but we can't let it spoil the rest of our trip. Let's just get back into our canoes and finish the float and try not to think about it at all until we get home."
The girls headed on, but Honey found it hard to enjoy the rest of the float.
* * * *
It was a beautiful summer morning, and the Bob-White boys--Brian, Jim, Dan, and Mart, were exercising horses in the woods, and talking about the girls, who had arrived home the previous night and were spending the morning unpacking. Mostly they were talking about Honey, who had sheepishly told her parents and Jim of her predicament that morning at breakfast. With Honey's permission, Trixie had told her brothers, and they had told Dan.
"I can't believe she didn't know to just bury it," Brian said quietly, a little embarrassed.
"Or just not use any," Mart added.
"Isn't that what the river is for?" said Jim.
"Hey--I can't blame her. I might've done the same thing back when I first came here from the city and before I'd gone camping so much with you guys," Dan pointed out.
"Dad thinks that there are some definite problems with the situation," said Jim. "Even though Honey is insisting on raising the entire amount, he thinks that the Conservation Agent was maybe a little lacking in his professionalism, to say the least."
Brian chuckled. "I'll bet your dad wasn't any too pleased to hear how that guy talked to his baby. I know I certainly wasn't."
Jim grinned at Brian's slip of speech, then said, "Yeah, he was furious. Not only that, but if Honey just pays the fine, she will have a first degree misdemeanor on her record--just one step below a felony."
"Honey with a criminal record!" Mart hooted. "Craziness!"
"Yeah, Honey is definitely the last person you would expect to have a "criminal history," Jim agreed. "But it's really ridiculous! We found out that according to Missouri law, Honey's fine is the same as if she had dumped barrels of oil in the river or something like that! To them, littering is littering. Anyhow, Dad's having his lawyer call the county prosecuting attorney this very morning to see what he can work out."
"Poor little girl," Dan said, "I feel sorry for her, mentally abusing herself the way she is. If it were me, I'd have been awfully tempted to just say, "Pop can? What pop can?" After all, it was just his word against hers."
"Unless the guy's girlfriend also saw," Jim pointed out. "And besides, you know Honey is too honest to do that."
"I was just kidding, anyway."
"She did break the law," Brian's logical mind forced him to admit. "There's no getting around that."
"Well, we'll see," Jim said.
* * * *
"Honey? Can I talk to you in my office, please?" said Matthew Wheeler to his daughter.
"Of course, Daddy."
The two stepped into his office, and Mr. Wheeler closed the door.
"Honey, I just got off the phone with my lawyer. He talked to the county prosecuting attorney in Missouri, and they worked out an arrangement. He explained to the prosecuting attorney that you are not normally a "teenage troublemaker" or anything like that, and he vouched for your character. The prosecutor admitted that the officer should have been more professional in his dealings with you, and he has agreed to drop the charge...provided that you do 45 hours of community service in the next six months."
She mentally rejoiced that her record would be clean. “Can I do the work in New York?”
"Yes, you can." Her father continued, "You know, this may actually turn out to be a good thing. The Bob-Whites are dedicated to community service anyway, and this will just hold you accountable."
"Yeah—we can do all sorts of projects! So, in a way, my little "mistake" will benefit the community!"
"Well, I guess that's one way to look at it...."
* * * *
When the rest of the Bob-Whites heard about Honey's deal with the prosecuting attorney, they all enthusiastically agreed to help her get all her hours done. They spent that fall and winter planning and carrying out fundraisers, volunteering in care homes and after-school programs, and even raking leaves and shoveling snow. By the time February rolled around, Honey had done more than enough community service and was relieved to type up a record of all her work and seal it in an envelope.
"Well, that little "brush with the law" was certainly an adventure that I don't want to repeat," she told Trixie as she put the envelope in the mailbox and raised the flag.
"Yeah, I don't guess you'll be littering for quite some time."
"Never again! Ever! I still can't believe I did it in the first place...it was honestly my first time ever. I've always thought littering was wrong."
"And yet, out of all the people who litter every day, you were the one to get caught. Ironic, huh?"
"Yes it is. And not exactly fair, either. Well, at least some good came out of it after all."
"And we all still love you in spite of your criminal past," Trixie teased.
"I'm all done tangling with the law. I'm ready to turn over a new leaf," Honey said in mock seriousness.
"Things usually seem to work out for us," said Trixie.
"Well, let's just hope our luck holds out."
Author's Notes: I wrote this in 2004 about an incident that happened to me. I decided that making it happen to Honey in the story was the best way to tell it, because just like Jim said Honey would be the last person you'd suspect to have a "criminal past", you could say the same thing about me. J And of course, I wrote this story for my own enjoyment, not for monetary gain, as the characters belong to Random House, not me.