TRIXIE BELDEN

and THE SECRET OF THE SILENT GROOM

by Janel Rodriguez

(otherwise known as Emerald Gown)

 

Party Plans •1

          The soft April rain was coming down in a fine mist when fifteen-almost-sixteen year-old Trixie Belden closed her eyes and took in a deep breath of fresh air. “Mmm,” she said, pulling up the collar of her raincoat.  “Would you smell that?  Spring has finally arrived!” 

          Her best friend, Honey Wheeler, obligingly sniffed the air as well and then said teasingly, “All I can smell is coffee!” She giggled as she pulled her own trench coat more tightly around her.

          Trixie took in another deep breath.  “Mmm, that too!” she agreed with a laugh.

          The two girls opened their umbrellas as they stepped outside the front doors of Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School.  After walking to the corner, Honey pointed to the coffee bar across the street.  “I can see the others from here.  They’re already at a table.  Let’s go!”

          “But look at those magnolia blossoms!” Trixie said excitedly, pointing at the trees that had bloomed in pink on the school grounds, “and the forsythia bushes!”  Bright yellow bushes provided bursts of color under the windows of the school’s main office.   As she and Honey rushed to cross the street, Trixie continued rhapsodizing about the final arrival of spring.  “Oh, Honey, it’s just that I love this time of year, don’t you?  It’s a time of, oh, I don’t know….  Growth!  Hope!  Change!  But the good kind of change, you know what I mean?”

          “I most certainly do,” Honey agreed, as she stood under the pale green-and-yellow-striped awning of Le Bar Belle and closed her umbrella.  “Take this café, for instance.  Part of me feels a little weird that we aren’t meeting the others at someplace like Wimpy’s,” she said, referring to their favorite diner and usual hangout, “but on the other hand, I’ve been dying to try this place since it’s opened!”

          Trixie looked wide-eyed at Honey.  “You?  Cool, calm Honey Wheeler, ‘dying’ to try something?  Isn’t that usually my line?”

          Honey giggled.  “We obviously spend too much time together, Trixie,” she said, “but I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Besides, just take a look at this place. Isn’t it darling?”

          “It sure looks inviting,” Trixie agreed, as she entered the café behind Honey.  They had only been out for a moment, but Trixie was still eager to drink something warm to stave off the chill of the rain.  She took in the buttercream-colored walls of her surroundings, the colorful mismatched chairs, and the display of tin and copper coffee pots that dangled from the ceiling.  It reminds me a little of home—and Moms’ kitchen, Trixie thought. 

          “Over here, Trixie,” Honey’s adopted brother, Jim Frayne, called with a wave.  He patted the space next to him on the bench he was sitting on.  “I saved you a seat.”  

          Trixie fought back a blush and tried to smooth down her short, blonde curls.  She was sure they had frizzed up in the rain. “Coming!  We’re just going to order some drinks!”

          Trixie ordered a decaf mocha to which Honey commented in surprise, “I remember a time when you hated coffee!”

Trixie smirked.  “Yes, but that was when I tried it black.  After I tasted it with some cream, sugar, and chocolate added to it, well…now it’s yummy!  It’s practically dessert!”

          Honey ordered a peppermint tea.  Then the two girls sat down and Trixie looked around at the faces of her six friends.  “Well…?” she asked.  “Who called this meeting of the Bob-Whites, anyway, and what’s it all about?”  Her big, blue eyes sparkled with curiosity.

          The Bob-Whites of the Glen was the name of the semi-secret club that Trixie, Honey, Trixie’s brothers Mart and Brian, Honey’s brother Jim, and their friends Diana Lynch and Dan Mangan belonged to.  Since they all lived outside of town, they had created the club to provide themselves with a small, close-knit community in which they could share in charity fundraising, sports activities, and fun, social events.  Oddly enough, they also often found themselves involved in mysterious adventures as well usually thanks to Trixie’s insatiable curiosity.

That curiosity was making Trixie wriggle impatiently as she waited to hear the answers to her questions.  “Well?” she demanded again.

          The six other Bob-Whites exchanged guilty glances.  Honey cleared her throat.  “We all kind of called this meeting, actually….” she admitted awkwardly.

          Trixie frowned.  The others had all talked about this without me? “Um, why?” she asked, attempting to sound casual and mask her hurt feelings.  She pretended to concentrate very hard on prying open the plastic lip on the lid of her coffee drink.

It was Jim who finally spoke up.  “Trixie,” he began, as she began to sip her mocha.  He hesitated, a question in his green eyes.  Finally, he asked, “What is your heart’s desire?”

            Trixie gulped a larger amount of coffee than she had intended, and near-scalding coffee seared its way down her throat, causing tears of pain to well up in her eyes.  Blinking rapidly, she set her cup down.  Then, waving a hand in front of her mouth to fan away the stinging sensation on her tongue, she finally managed to ask, “Sorry?”

          “You know,” Jim leaned back against the bench, “for your birthday.  We called this meeting because we Bob-Whites want to throw you the sixteenth birthday party of your dreams.”

          “Oh,” Trixie said.  For a moment she didn’t know what to say as she was so humbled by the goodwill of her friends.  Then she shyly looked up at their shining, expectant faces and smiled.  “Don’t you know my heart’s desire?”

          Jim raised an eyebrow.

          “Why, to solve another mystery of course!”

          Six voices around her groaned in unison.

            Trixie pouted.  “Well, you asked!”  Then she shrugged.  “I can’t help it.  In fact, the way I see it, I’m actually due for another mystery.  The other night when Honey was over, I was doing the math, and—”

          Mart Belden, Trixie’s brother, let out an exaggerated gasp.  “Did my auditory appendages deceive me, or did my female sibling just confess to having voluntarily attempted arithmetic?”

          Trixie glared at him.  “This was different than usual math, lamebrain.  This was mystery math, as I will explain in a moment.”

Mart chuckled.  “A ‘mystery’, my dear Trixie, is, by definition, something that is unsolved.  An amateur detective such as yourself should already know this—”

Amateur!”

“—Therefore, the fact that during your own free time, you gleefully volunteer to work out ‘mystery math’ problems—or arithmetic without an answer—is ironic, since when you are presented with the perfectly solvable math problems found in your homework assignments, you are known to run screaming for the nearest exit.”

“Actually, Mart,” Jim broke in.  “You have just said that Trixie is attracted to solving only those things which others before her have failed to—and you forgot to mention that she actually succeeds at solving them—with 100 percent accuracy, I might add (no pun intended).  And do you know why that is?  Because there are two kinds of people in this world: those who learn from textbooks and those who write the textbooks.  Trixie will write the textbook on private investigation someday or I miss my guess.”   Jim nudged Trixie’s foot under the table with the toe of his sneaker.  It was, however, a well-known fact among the Bob-Whites that Jim was Trixie’s biggest fan.

“Take that, ‘twin’!”  Trixie added haughtily.

Mart fell silent.  He loved to tease Trixie—sometimes a bit mercilessly.  He felt that it was his right as her brother closest to her in age.   They were only eleven months apart, in fact, and he was often mistaken for Trixie’s “twin”—an assumption he resented for two reasons. One, he didn’t want it implied that he looked like a girl, and two, he was proud of the near-year of seniority he had over Trixie.  He certainly didn’t want to be perceived as being any younger than he was.  He was, after all, old enough to drive!

This being said, deep down Mart truly loved his only sister, was staunchly loyal to her, and despite his teasing, enjoyed trying to solve a mystery almost as much as Trixie herself.

Trixie was annoyed at Mart, however, so she turned her back on him and faced the others as her excitement returned.  “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I did the math, and I figured out that since we began, Honey and I have solved nearly forty mysteries!”

          Brian Belden let out a low whistle.  “Are you sure about that, Trix?” he asked.  He-–like Jim—was a freshman in college, and his serious demeanor and dark, good looks and made it sometimes difficult for other people to tell he was Trixie and Mart’s older brother.  

          Trixie nodded firmly.  “I’m sure about the number of mysteries, just not the order in which we solved them.”

Honey agreed.  “Actually, Mart, ‘mystery math’ is a good name for it, because when Trix and I decided to sit down and calculate once and for all just how many mysteries we had solved, we had a dickens of a time trying to keep all the dates straight. ”  She tucked a strand of her namesake-brown hair behind her ear. “We got so confused about when we had solved certain mysteries and whether some of them should even really be counted as mysteries, that we even argued about it a few times.  By the time the night was over, we were exhausted, but we still hadn’t managed to make sense of the timeline.”  She wrinkled her pretty nose.  “We seriously need to keep a casebook or something.”

“The timeline doesn’t matter at this point,” Trixie interjected. “What does matter is that we came to realize that we solve three times as many mysteries during the summer months than we seem to during any other part of the year, and, well…it is almost summer again.”

“Leave it to Trixie to want to solve a mystery for her birthday,” Diana Lynch said with a laugh. The prettiest girl in Sleepyside Junior-Senior High, Diana had a flawless complexion, lustrous, almost-black hair, and eyes so deeply blue they could be called violet.  “Personally, my idea of a perfect birthday would be something more along the lines of a ball,” she said dreamily.  She looked off into the distance for a moment, lost in her fantasy. 

“A ball?  You mean like the dance, right, not the kind you bounce?” Mart looked at her with incredulity.  “Who has a ball in the twenty-first century?

Diana batted her thick eyelashes at him.  “People still do, you know.  I think every girl should get the chance to be the belle of her own ball, don’t you?”  Her voice grew soft.  “I think you would look quite handsome in a tuxedo.”

Mart momentarily lost the power of speech.  Only Diana could have that affect on him.

Brian cleared his throat.  “Well, I’m afraid Trixie isn’t really much of the ‘ball’ type.”

Mart recovered his voice and hooted.  “You could say that again!”

There was laughter around the table.  Trixie stared into the froth of her drink.  She knew she was still a tomboy at nearly sixteen, but they needn’t laugh quite so hard at the thought of her in a ball dress!

Sensitive Honey picked up on Trixie’s feelings and draped a protective arm around her shoulders.  “You’re right, Brian, our party for Trixie should be more her style.  But if you were all really interested in going to a ball, my parents are having one the same weekend as Trixie’s birthday.  Remember that charity gala event I’ve been mentioning for the past month?  The one my parents are hosting for Sleepyside Hospital?   It’s actually a ball—at Manor House.”  Honey’s parents were millionaires who lived on a sprawling estate within walking distance of The Belden family’s cozy farmhouse.

Jim ran a hand through his red hair.  “Yes, and they want Honey and me to be there.”

“We’d love it if the rest of you could come,” Honey said.  “That way we wouldn’t be quite so lonely surrounded by all those adults.”

“Or quite so uncomfortable,” Jim added.

“Or quite so bored,” Honey said on top of that.

They both laughed.

“Anyway, that’s why Jim and I were going to ask if we could have your party in the early afternoon,” she told Trixie.  “I know you wanted Di and me to sleep over that Friday night so that we could celebrate your birthday on Saturday morning and throughout most of the day, but I’m afraid Jim and I will need to cut the weekend short.  We need to be home by five on Saturday to get ready for the party.  I really wish you’d end your birthday by coming with me to the ball and then spend the night over at my place!”

“Gleeps, Honey, that’s awfully nice of you, but you know I don’t have a ball gown, and there’s no way I’d fit into anything of yours or Di’s.”  Trixie fiddled with her paper napkin.  “Thanks for the invitation, but I’ll probably just stay home and have dinner with these two goons,” she said, pointing at her brothers, “and Bobby and our folks.  Moms is making me a special dinner.”  At eight years old, Bobby Belden was the youngest of the Belden children, and even though Trixie sometimes lost her patience with him, she couldn’t imagine a better way to spend her birthday evening than spending time with him and the rest of her family and friends, eating her mother’s cooking and laughing the night away. 

“I figured you’d be doing something like that,” Honey said.  “Ms. Trask did, too, which is why she wasn’t surprised when your parents declined the invitation with thanks.”

“My parents?” Trixie looked up sharply.  “My parents were invited to the ball?”
          Honey’s face colored a little. “Why, of course.  Your father is an important banker in town, after all.”

Funny.  They didn’t tell me, Trixie thought.  True, she could barely   imagine her parents even at a ball.  Still, they had turned down the opportunity to attend it in order to spend time with her on her birthday!  What if they had really wanted to go?  Trixie wondered.  After all, when was the last time Moms and Dad and enjoyed a night out together?  Imagine!  Moms and Dad at a ball at the Manor House…!

“Don’t feel bad,” Honey said again showing how well she understood the emotions of her best friend.  “I think it’s wonderful that your parents love you so much that they value spending time with you above anything else.”  Her voice was a little wistful.

“Yeah, Trix,” Mart agreed.  “Besides, I doubt Dad really relished the thought of getting dressed up in a monkey suit and going out, anyway—no offense, Honey.  I mean, I know it’s for a good cause and everything.”

“None taken,” Honey assured him.

“…But Dad wears a suit and tie all day at work.  By the time he comes home, he just wants to relax.”

 “I know,” Trixie said.  Suddenly she realized why Diana was daydreaming about balls….  “Oh!  If you want to go to the ball that night too, Di, don’t you?   I understand.  I’m sure your parents were invited and said ‘yes’ and everything, so don’t let my birthday stop you!”

Diana looked a little sheepish.

Trixie smiled at her reassuringly.  “I’ll have a ball, too, you know: only it’ll be the good time you’re all going to show me by throwing me a perfectly perfect—early afternoon—birthday party.”

Diana clasped her hands.  “Oh, Trixie!  We will!  I promise!  Just you wait and see.  You know, I originally wanted it to be a surprise party,” she said.  “But the others were afraid you’d sniff out our plans before we could finish them.  I guess you can’t really throw a surprise party for a detective,” she added resignedly.

Dark-haired Dan Mangan patted Diana on the hand.  “Meanwhile, it looks like you had the best idea of all of us, Di.  At least if we had all been tiptoeing around, making plans, it would have made Trixie suspicious.  Then, she would have gone all bloodhound on us, trying to solve the “Mystery of the Plotting Bob-Whites.”  It would have given her a ‘mystery’ to tackle, which, it turns out, would have been the perfect present for her.”

Diana groaned.  “Oh, why didn’t you all listen to me?”

“Don’t fret, Di,” Jim said soothingly.  “We still have a few plans for Trixie’s party that she doesn’t know about.”

Diana brightened.  “That’s true.  For instance, she doesn’t know—“

“Stop!”  Everyone cried at once.

Trixie stuck her fingers in her ears. “No! Don’t tell me! I don’t even want to know the flavor of my birthday cake!” she joked. Everyone laughed but Trixie’s eyes twinkled with anticipation.  Just what do they all have planned for my birthday? She wondered.

“Anyway, what about you, Honey?” Brian prodded.  “We know Trixie wants a mystery for her birthday and Di would like a ball.  What would be your ideal birthday present?”

“A car?” Trixie asked. She knew that Honey was taking driving lessons from Jim and their chauffer, Tom.

“No.”  Honey blushed.  “Nothing like that.  In fact, I’m afraid you won’t think of it as much of a birthday present….”

“What?  What is it?” everyone asked.

After a moment’s hesitation, Honey admitted, “A job.  I’d like to be working this summer.” 

Trixie regarded her with admiration.  Even though she was the daughter of a millionaire, Honey always preferred to serve than to be served.  Trixie loved that about her.   “Gleeps, Honey!  That’s a great idea!  I’d love to work this summer, too.  Is there any particular job you had in mind?”

“Well….” Honey’s enormous hazel eyes took in her surroundings.  “I kind of like this place,” she said in a quiet voice.

“You want to work here?  At Le Bar Belle?” Trixie asked loudly.

 “Shh,” Honey placed a finger to her lips.  “I mean, I haven’t applied yet, or anything, but….” She looked around at the faces of her friends.  “What do you think?”

“Let’s see…. Honey serving coffee wearing a black t-shirt, skinny black pants, a little apron tied to her slim hips and her shiny hair tied back in a sleek ponytail….”  Mart struck a thoughtful pose.  “Yup.  I can definitely see it.”

“Me too!”  Trixie practically squealed with enthusiasm.  “Why don’t you pick up an application?   Or talk to the manager?  It’s better to express an interest early.  There’s sure to be lots of competition to work here by June.”

Honey squared her shoulders.  “You’re right, Trixie.  I’ll go do that now.”

Honey got up, spoke to the barista behind the counter, asked for an application, and returned to the table with it to begin filling it out.  As she worked, Maya Dominguez, a Mexican-American girl from Mart and Dan’s grade, walked into Le Bar Belle.  Although they tried to hide it, every Bob-White male was angling to catch a glimpse of the beautiful girl.  Maya’s naturally tan skin and petite, curvy frame turned as many heads as did her doll-like face and long, shiny dark hair.

          “Her clothes are so too small for her,” Diana remarked icily. 

          “Are they?” Mart asked.  He watched as Maya bent over the counter to talk privately with the barista.  Her tiny tee-shirt rode up, exposing her lower back.  “Uh-huh,” he agreed.  “Too small.  Too tight.” 

          Diana smacked him lightly on the arm.

          Trixie took a napkin and lightly dabbed at the corner of Dan’s mouth, pretending to wipe up drool. “You boys are all hopeless,” she proclaimed.

          “Oh, please,” Mart protested.  “You act like you never let a good-looking face—or body—cloud your judgment.”

          Trixie waved him away.  “That’s never been my problem.  When I’m working on a case I suspect everyone: good-looking or ugly, old or young, male or female.  I am not easily swayed by looks!”   She sniffed importantly.  “That’s more a man’s weakness than a woman’s.  A man looks more at the outside. A woman looks more at the inside.  That’s why we make such good detectives.”

          The boys around the table erupted in an uproar of laughter and denial, but Trixie would not back down.  “I stand by what I said.  Sorry, boys, if you can’t take hearing the truth!”

          As if to prove her point, the boys fell silent when Maya made her way to their table.  She pointed at the application Honey was working on and exploded in anger.  “You’ve got to be kidding, Honey Wheeler!” she cried.  “What, it isn’t enough that you’re a millionaire’s daughter? Now you have to take jobs away jobs from people who really need them to make even more money?  How selfish can you get?”

 

 

 

A Mysterious Meeting 2

Honey said nothing. She just stared at Maya, stunned into silence.

Finally, Maya clucked her tongue in disgust and stomped out of the café.

          Honey’s eyes filled with tears.  Trixie was furious.  Honey was the most gentle, giving person she knew!  How dare Maya say that to her!  “Don’t let her discourage you, Honey,” Trixie said.  “She’s just jealous!”

          “But what if she’s right?” Honey asked between sniffles.  “I mean, Daddy is rich, and I have everything I need… I don’t really have to get a job…in fact, I-I’m just going to tear up this application…” Honey made a motion that she was about the rip the paper in half.

          Trixie stopped her.  “Don’t give up, yet, Honey.  This is a dream of yours.  Jobs aren’t always about money, you know.  They’re about skills you can learn and use to serve others.  They can also teach you about business and all kinds of useful stuff.”

          Honey hesitated.  “Well…”

          “Here, let me have it,” Trixie said, reaching for the application.  “I’ll save it for you in my bag.  Let me know if you change your mind and then I’ll give it back to you.”

          “I-I guess that’s a good idea, then.  All right.” 

          Brian rubbed Honey’s neck sympathetically.   Then he announced, “Okay, everyone, let’s pay this check.”

          The Bob-Whites all pooled their money together and as Brian went to the cashier, Mart went to peruse the desserts in the display case that he had yet to sample, and Jim went to the restroom.  The girls and Dan walked out of the café together.

          Outside, the group was just noticing that the rain had stopped when a shiny sports car drove up to them.  The driver honked his horn and the Bob-Whites turned to look at the driver.

          “Hey there, Diana,” Jerry Vanderhoef, a fellow student from their school, called out, ignoring the others.  “Wanna lift in my new car?”

          “Your new car?”  Trixie could not disguise her shock.  What was Jerry Vanderhoef doing in such an expensive vehicle and calling it his?

          Diana blushed and looked away. “No, thank you,” she said.

          “Oh, come on,” Jerry continued.  “Mart Belden can’t squire you around in something like this!”

          “Back off, Jerry,” Dan said warningly.

          “Yeah,” Trixie joined in.  “She’s not interested.  Who’d you steal this car from, anyway?  I’m sure he wants it back.”

          Jerry’s face turned red.  “I didn’t steal it. It’s mine, fair and square.”

          Just then, a tall, tan, muscular teen-aged boy dashed out of the neighborhood candy store carrying a six pack of sodas.  He jumped into the seat next to Jerry, and after running a hand through of his brown, rumpled hair, looked sidelong at the girls with long-lashed, blue eyes.  Then he broke into a dimpled smile that lit up his high cheekbones like sunrise breaking upon a sandy beach.  Trixie could almost hear a choir break into song.

          “Hello ladies,” the boy said, quickly looking them over.  “I hope my friend here didn’t offend.”

          “No….” the girls chorused uncertainly.

          “Good, because I wouldn’t feel right about riding with him if I thought he wasn’t being a gentleman,” he continued gallantly.  He looked pointedly at Trixie.  “If he bothers you, just give me a holler.”

          Jerry rolled his eyes.  “Let’s just go, Shane.”  He looked over his shoulder to make sure he could steer the car back into traffic.

“Hope to see you again, real soon,” Shane said, his eyes still resting on Trixie.  With that, Jerry drove the car away.

          The girls watched as the car sped off into the distance just as the rest of the Bob-White males walked out of the café.

“Who. Was. That?” Diana asked breathlessly.

Dan grunted.  “Trouble.”

          “No, seriously, who was that?” Diana persisted.

          Honey and Dan said together, “Shane Galloway.”

          “Ohhh,” Diana said.  “Of course.”     

Trixie frowned.  “Wait a minute.  How come you all know who he is and I don’t?”

“Shane Galloway attends the private school my cousin Ben Riker used to go to,” Honey explained.

“I hear he’s the heir to a chocolate company fortune,” Diana added.  “Yummy-yum.”

“He’s also, well, sort of the ‘darling’ of the gossip pages,” Honey said.  “And you don’t read the social column, Trixie, which is why you don’t know who he is.  He’s kind of a ‘Champagne Charlie’, type.  You know, partying ’til all hours… with a different girl every night….”

“I heard that TV producers are after him to do a reality show,” Diana said.  “They think his personal life would make for some very entertaining episodes….”

Trixie made a face.  “A reality series?  Ick.”

“Yeah, maybe they can call it “‘A Simpleton’s Life’,” Mart suggested, walking up behind Diana and crossing his arms.

 “Well, with looks like his, they can call it whatever they want,” Diana claimed.  “I’d watch it!”

 Mart puffed out his chest. “What has he got that I haven’t got?” 

Diana rubbed his arm consolingly.  “You’re lovely, Mart, but even you have to admit that Shane looks like…I don’t know…a movie star or something.”

Mart slapped his forehead and the boys all groaned.

Jim nudged Trixie.  “What was that you were saying inside about not being swayed by a person’s looks?”

Trixie blinked innocently.  “I’m not the one who said Shane Galloway looked like a movie star!  I hardly noticed him at all.”

“But he noticed you,” Honey said.

“Yeah,” Dan added.

“He even winked.”  Diana sounded slightly jealous.

Jim looked at Trixie. “He did?”

 “Like I said: He’s trouble,” Dan said again.

 “Oh, please, it was nothing!” Trixie rolled her eyes.  “Do you know how many girls he must make passes at a day?”  She shrugged her shoulders to show how unimpressed she was. 

“That’s my girl,” Jim said.  He squeezed Trixie’s hand.

As the Bob-Whites headed for their minivan, Jim stayed back, allowing the others file in front of him so that he and Trixie could continue to hold hands unseen by the others.  Trixie’s heart began to pound fast and all thoughts of Shane Galloway were forgotten.  When the others were out of earshot, Jim turned to her and whispered, “You know, if you change your mind about the ball, I would be honored to be your escort that evening.  I can’t think of a better way to end your birthday than dancing the night away with you.”

“I-I’ll think about it, Jim,” Trixie answered in a small voice.  Silence fell between them as they walked to the car.  Finally, Jim let go of her hand to sit in the driver’s seat, and Trixie was amazed at the how quickly she missed the warmth of his touch. 

          After Trixie clambered into the seat next to him and buckled in, Jim started the car.  Soon her thoughts returned to the scene in front of the café.  “Where do you suppose Jerry got that car, anyway?” she asked the others aloud.  “I mean, do you think it’s really his?  And if it isn’t, whose is it?”

          “Shane’s, of course,” Diana said.  “Shane has the money for that kind of car.  He has the money for ten of those kinds of cars.  His family has more money than Honey’s and mine put together.”  Diana’s parents were also millionaires.  “Shane was probably just letting Jerry take it for a spin.”

          “I suppose you’re right,” Trixie admitted, “but don’t you think it was kind of—“
          “—don’t say it,” Mart warned.

          “—odd,” Trixie said, smiling slightly, “that Jerry said the car was his ‘fair and square’?  What was that supposed to mean?  I mean, didn’t you find that somewhat—”

          “No!” Mart yelped.  “Don’t go there…!”

          “—mysterious?” Trixie finished.

          “She did! She went there!  She used the dreaded ‘m’ word!” Mart said in a tragic voice.         

“I don’t know if it’s mysterious, Trixie,” Honey said from her seat next to Brian, “but it’s probably none of our business.”

          “Here, here!  Wise words, Miss Wheeler,” Mart said, approvingly.  “Take heed, dear Beatrix.”

          Trixie winced at the sound of her dreaded full name. “Fine,” she said grumpily.  She was used to believing things were mysterious and having the others disagree with her, but it never sat well with Trixie when Honey disagreed.  With a sigh, Trixie turned to look out the window.  A few minutes later, she spoke up again in a slightly awed tone of voice.  “Hey, guys, look.  Isn’t that…Dad?  With…Regan?”

          The Bob-Whites all looked to see Trixie’s father, Peter Belden, with William Regan, the groom of the Wheeler estate and a close friend to all of the Bob-Whites.  The two men were standing in front of the First National Bank, both dressed in suits and shaking each other’s hand.

          As the Bob-White car sped past the scene, Trixie turned all the way around in her seat for a better look.  “That was interesting,” she said.  “I wonder what they were talking about.”

          “Well, I’m not the detective you are,” Brian said dryly, “but my best guess is: banking stuff.”

          Mart snickered. 

          “Again, it’s probably none of our business, Trixie,” Brian concluded somewhat sternly.

          Trixie sat back in her seat.  She felt as if she were being chided.  She crossed her arms.  “I didn’t say that was ‘mysterious’—just interesting.  I mean, Regan has been in Sleepyside for almost three years, but I don’t remember ever seeing him at the bank or, come to think of it, alone with Dad, either.  Not really.”

          “That’s true….plus, Regan was all dressed up,” Honey noted quietly. 

          “Didn’t he look great?” Diana enthused.  The red-headed groom was a fit young man who usually wore jeans and work shirts that ended up covered in grime.  “He looked pretty spiffy to me!”

          “Yeah.  Except that the last time I saw Uncle Bill looking so “spiffy” he was picking me up from the city,” Dan said.  Dan was Regan’s nephew.  Before he lived in Sleepyside, Dan had lived with his mother in New York City.  When his mother died, he got mixed in with the wrong crowd and eventually joined a gang.  Regan was then appointed his legal guardian and he took Dan back to Sleepyside with him in an attempt to ‘reform’ him.  He set him up with a live-in position as an assistant to Mr. Maypenny, the gamekeeper of the Wheeler’s preserve.  The two shared a small log cabin in the woods and the rustic lifestyle of honest, hard work and the kindly concern of the older gamekeeper had helped Dan to turn over a new leaf so quickly, that shortly after moving to Sleepyside, Dan earned the trust of all the Bob-Whites and had been accepted as a full member of their club.

          Trixie caught a glimpse of Dan’s troubled expression reflected in her rearview mirror. See? She thought to herself.  Even Dan thinks it’s mysterious!  The Trixie’s gaze fell on Honey’s image.  That’s funny, she looks worried, too. Maybe she’s remembering that time Regan ran away and we had to go find him. 

Almost as though she heard Trixie’s thoughts, Honey looked up and met Trixie’s eye in the mirror.  Trixie smiled reassuringly at her.  Honey smiled weakly in return.

“Speaking of Regan,” Jim announced.  “We all have to exercise the horses tomorrow, or he’ll have our hides for sure.  Want to come by, say around noon?”

The Bob-Whites agreed.  Like Jim and Honey, the Belden children all rode horses from the Wheelers’ stable, but Diana had her own horse, a palomino named Sunny; and Dan had Spartan, a sturdy workhorse.  They tried to all ride together whenever possible.

Jim dropped off the Beldens at their snug farmhouse first.  As Trixie waved good-bye, Honey flashed Trixie a tiny signal to call her later.  Trixie nodded almost imperceptibly and Honey looked relieved.

As Trixie turned to follow her brothers, an uneasy feeling arose in her stomach.  Honey’s going to tell me something about Regan, Trixie knew.  Something I’m afraid I’m not going to like.

 

 

Changes in the Air • 3

Crabapple Farm was well-named: it was a white, two-story farmhouse nestled within an orchard of fragrant trees. Now with nearly all of those trees in full bloom, Trixie found that a canopy of snowy white crabapple blossoms shaded her walk to the kitchen door.   The beauty of it all was nearly overwhelming, but as she had lived on the farm and enjoyed its seasons her whole life, Trixie was comforted by the familiar sight, and despite her worries about Honey and Regan, she found herself smiling.  She was equally warmed by the sight of her mother standing in the kitchen, peeling potatoes for that evening’s supper.

“Gleeps, Moms, let me do that,” Trixie said, putting down her school books and grabbing one of the aprons that hung on a hook on the wall. 

 “Something smells good,” Brian said, giving Mrs. Belden a squeeze hello.

“That’s the roast in the oven,” Mrs. Belden said as Mart kissed her on the cheek in greeting.

Trixie gently chided her mother.  “You’re almost done here!  I said I would help as soon as I came home from the coffee bar.”

 “I know, dear,” Mrs. Belden said.  “It’s just that since I had some quiet time on my hands, I thought I should make the best use of it.” 

“Quiet time…?” Trixie repeated.  Why didn’t that make sense?  Trixie whirled around and looked over both her shoulders.  “Moms, where’s Bobby?”  The youngest Belden child was a bundle of energy and was usually underfoot.  It was one of Trixie’s chores to look after him.  Typically, by this time in the afternoon, Trixie knew, he would have worn out their mother’s patience and she would be home just in time to take over looking after him until supper was ready.

 Mrs. Belden gestured at the living room.  “Take a look,” she said.

“Now who’s being mysterious?” Trixie asked.

Mrs. Belden chuckled.  “That’s a good word for it.”

That last comment made Trixie very curious.  She exchanged glances of uncertainty with her two older brothers and then the three teenagers dashed towards the living room.

There, sprawled on the couch, was Bobby, intently reading a small, hardcover book.  Reddy, the family’s Irish setter, lay on the braided rug at his feet.  Next to them on the floor, was a tower of hardcover books: The Bunny & Billy Holder Mystery Series.

Trixie gasped, startling Bobby.  “You’ve found my old books!” she cried out.

“You mean my old books,” Mart corrected her.

They both ran to the couch to paw through the small stack of collectible volumes.

Bobby frowned.  “You’re both wrong,” he told them.  “Moms said I could have these books now.”  He circled an arm protectively around the stack.

Trixie ignored him.  “I forgot all about these.  These were my favorites when I was in the second grade.  At least until I discovered Lucy Radcliffe.”

“Yeah, because you kept stealing them from me before I was finished reading them,” Mart complained.  He flipped through one of the books and sighed with nostalgia.  “I used to eat these up like candy.  Remember how Billy was the brain and Bunny was the brawn?”

Trixie placed her hands on her hips.  “That’s not true!  Bunny was plenty brainy!”

Brian chuckled and shook his head.  “I’m getting a flashback, here.  Pardon me as I step back out of the time machine.”  He left the living room.

“Trixie’s right,” Bobby said.  He waved the book in his hand.  “Bunny just solved The Mystery of the Wicked Ruby.  She is smart-- just like Trixie.”

Trixie’s eye’s lit up.  “Thanks, Bobby!”

Bobby put down the book and threw his arms around his sister’s neck.  “When I grow up, I want to be just like you, Trixie!  And I want to solve mysteries and stop the bad guys and things like that.”

Trixie’s heart soared.  She took Bobby by the shoulders, pulled him out of the hug, and looked into his eyes. “I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me!” she exclaimed.

Mart protested.  “What kind of bedtime stories have you been telling that poor, deluded child?   You’re supposed to tell him fairy tales of heroes fighting monsters—not turning yourself into a hero and your little brother into a monster!”

Trixie stuck out her tongue at Mart over her little brother’s shoulder. 

Mrs. Belden walked into the living room, her hands on her hips.  “I found those cleaning out the basement this morning.  I showed them to Bobby to see if he would be interested at all.  If he wasn’t, I was just going to donate them to charity.  But Bobby hasn’t been able to put them down since I gave them to him.  He’s been reading so quietly all this afternoon that Reddy doesn’t know what to make of him!”

Although he remained lying on the floor, Reddy lifted an eyebrow and thumped his tail.  He knew he was being talked about.

“That obviously means Bobby hasn’t had enough exercise,” Mart said.  “Come on, wee one,” he said, crooking a finger at the eight year-old.  “Let’s go play outside and I’ll tell you some real mystery adventure stories about how I came to Trixie’s rescue a few times!”

Bobby’s eyes grew round.  “You will?  You did?”

Mrs. Belden gave Mart a meaningful look.  “Keep it mild, Mart,” she warned.  “If he so much as has one nightmare, so help me….”

“Don’t worry, Moms, I’ll be gentle.  I’ve got it all under control,” Mart assured her.

Trixie watched as her two blonde brothers walked out of the room with Reddy at their heels.  “I’ll go back and help you in the kitchen,” she told her mother.

“Thanks, dear.”

Trixie passed the foyer on her way to kitchen when she spotted a pile of letters on the sideboard.  “I’ll be right with you, Moms,” she said.  Then, making sure she was safely out of her mother’s sight, Trixie hurriedly searched through the pile of mail until she found what she was looking for.   She pulled out a large, square envelope addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Peter Belden and Family” in handwritten calligraphy.  It was already open and Trixie took note of the gold foil lining of the envelope as she pulled out the parchment-colored invitation.

Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Wheeler

Request the honor of your presence

at The Twenty-third Annual  Sleepyside Hospital Charity Gala

on Saturday, the first of May

at seven in the evening,

at the Manor House, Glen Road,

Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson, New York

Black tie required

Please rsvp with Ms. Margery Trask

 917-555-3214

            Trixie looked for the RSVP card and saw that it was gone.  Is it too late for them to change their minds? She wondered.  What would Moms think if I told her that Jim asked me to attend as his escort?  Trixie tucked the invitation back where she had found it.  I’ve gone to dances with Jim before, but that was always kid’s stuff.  I’m not a kid anymore, of course, but would Moms think a ball was too grown up?  Trixie looked at the mirror hanging on the wall above the sideboard.  Besides, I couldn’t possibly ask her to buy a ball gown for me—even for a birthday present.  It would cost way too much money.  I would have to pay for it myself…somehow.

Trixie peeked into the kitchen and watched her mother’s back as she innocently peeled potatoes.   I can see it now, she thought, we go shopping, I pick a gown, Moms takes one look at the price and dies from shock!  Trixie giggled to herself.  What am I thinking?  She’d probably die from the shock of hearing her ‘tomboy’ daughter ask for a ball gown in the first place!   Trixie shook her head as she stepped into the kitchen.  No, I’d better leave things the way they are and not mention the ball at all for now.  But I do wonder why Moms and Dad didn’t even mention the ball to me in the first place….

 After Trixie helped her mother to finish preparing the dinner, she tore off her apron.  “I just need to call Honey about something before Dad gets home,” Trixie told her mother.  “Is that all right?”

“Of course.  Just don’t be long.  Remember, dinner begins promptly at six.”

“I won’t forget.”  Trixie snatched up the cordless phone from its cradle in the kitchen and raced up the stairs with it.  Throwing herself on her bedspread, Trixie hit the #2 on the speed dial.  Soon she had Honey on the line. 

“Oh, Trixie,” Honey said in a mournful tone.  “I’m so glad you called!”

Trixie could hear the strain in Honey’s voice.  She sat up.  “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I’m upset.  Not just now, I mean, I’ve been upset for a while.  In fact, I was going to tell you all about it earlier, but I guess I got so excited about the coffee and the party planning that I forgot, and then when Maya yelled at me, I got upset again—only it was a different kind of upset, so that still made me forget the other reason why I was upset….”

Trixie listened patiently.  Sometimes Honey rambled on in circles when she tried to explain herself.  The Bob-Whites affectionately called it ‘Honey-speak.’

“…until this afternoon when we saw Regan, and suddenly, I remembered!”

“Remembered what?” Trixie prodded. 

“Trixie…I’m afraid Regan is leaving us.”

“What?” Trixie leapt off her bed and onto her feet.  Why?”

Although technically an employee of Honey’s parents, Regan was much more than that to the Bob-Whites: he was a true friend.   As the groom of the Manor House stable, Regan had proved himself time and again to be talented, dedicated, and responsible.  As a friend, he had been all those things and more.  As far as Trixie was concerned, Regan was irreplaceable as both an employee and as a friend.

          However, he also had a quick temper, and on more than one occasion in the past, Honey had expressed her fear that if the Bob-Whites did not properly look after the horses after they had ridden them or were in any other way irresponsible, Regan would grow unhappy enough to quit.  But, Trixie remembered, Honey’s fears had always been just that: fears.  They had never come to pass.  Was Honey now finally right, or would this be like all the other times?  “What makes you think that, Honey?” Trixie asked.

          “I—I think he’s got another job or something.  He seems to exercise the horses early in the morning, and then to clean the tack and leave before the day is half over.  I’m not even sure where he goes, but lately, whenever I go looking for him, he’s never around,” Honey said.

          “Go on.”

          “I mean, I guess he’s free to work two jobs if he needs the extra money or something, as long as the he keeps his hours at the stable and continues to do a good job for us,” Honey continued.

          Trixie nodded, even though Honey couldn’t see her. 

          “The only thing is, Trixie, you won’t believe it, but lately I’ve found myself picking up after him!”

          Trixie gasped.  Regan was a taskmaster who kept the stable impeccably clean and demanded the same perfection from the Bob-Whites.   To leave even one thing out of place in the barn was completely out of character for him.  “Honey, that can’t be true!”  Trixie insisted.  “I mean, I can’t imagine Regan doing anything of the sort.  He must be sick or something. Maybe he’s going to see a doctor….”  Trixie felt a lump form in her throat.  “What—what does Ms. Trask have to say about all this?” she asked.  “Has she noticed anything strange about Regan?”

          Ms. Trask was the manager of the Wheeler Estate.  She had started off as Honey’s math teacher at her boarding school.  When the Wheelers pulled Honey out of the exclusive school to give her a more “normal” upbringing, they asked Ms. Trask to be her governess, since Honey loved her so.  Eventually she became the full-time personal assistant to the Wheelers.  She also often also acted as a chaperone to all the Bob-Whites.  A sensible woman with short, grey hair and a crisp manner, Ms. Trask was dependable, helpful and trustworthy.  She managed to look after the Bob-Whites responsibly while never standing in their way.  Like Regan, she was a favorite adult friend of the teenagers that all the Bob-Whites felt they would be lost without.

          Honey sniffled.  “Well, the other day, I was in the barn, picking up after Regan when she caught me.  I pretended I was cleaning up after myself, since I didn’t want him to get in trouble.  I don’t think she believed me though.  So I started talking about your birthday and saying how much fun we would have and wasn’t it wonderful how we were all friends and everything, and she was listening and smiling and nodding, and running her hand across the door of Thunderer’s old stall, when she said—get this, Trixie—she said that this was the time in our lives to make memories because change could be just around the corner.”

          Trixie fought the sinking feeling in her stomach.  “Well, that could mean anything,” she said.  “I mean, with Brian and Jim freshman at Columbia, change has already happened.  But since they come up every weekend, we’ve been handling it all right.  I suppose when Dan and Mart graduate, things might get tougher….”

          “That’s true,” Honey said.

However, the fact that Ms. Trask said what she did while in the stable which Regan had left a mess, and while standing in front of the stall of a horse that had only been kept at the Wheelers’ for a short time were not good signs, Trixie thought.  “And it’s not like Ms. Trask would fire Regan, either,” she continued aloud.  “If Regan is sick, I’m sure she knows about it and would be understanding.  If he’s not sick, he still must have a very good reason for getting sloppy.   If he’s working two jobs like you said, he must really need the money, and we Bob-Whites will just have to help him out for a while.  At any rate, I’m sure Ms. Trask will sit down with him and talk things out.  In fact, I’m betting they already have.  We just don’t know what’s going on, yet.”

          Honey sighed.  “And I don’t want to be nosy, but I just want to be sure that Regan isn’t getting fired or quitting, or isn’t sick or something.  I want to know if he needs our help, but I also don’t want to get him in any trouble….”

          “I know,” Trixie said.  “Me, too.  So let’s see what we can find out.   We’re not going to grow up to form The Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency for nothing, you know.  Tomorrow when we exercise the horses, we’ll do a little ‘investigating.’ ”

“We can’t go snooping around Regan’s things,” Honey said.

“Who said we’re going to do that?” Trixie asked.  “We’re just going to keep an eye out for anything strange or out of the ordinary.”

“All right, Trixie,” Honey said, taking in a shuddering breath.  “We’ll start working on this case tomorrow.”

‘Case’?  Trixie thought.  I guess it is a mystery, isn’t it? Only this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.  Gosh, I hope everything’s okay with Regan. “Tomorrow it is,” she told Honey.

“Thanks, Trix.  You always make me feel better.”

After she clicked off the phone, Trixie became aware of the sounds of Reddy barking and of her father pulling into the driveway.  Drawing back a curtain from one of her bedroom windows, she watched her father step out of the family car and throw an arm across Bobby’s shoulders in greeting.   Actually, she thought to herself as she turned away from the scene.  I’m going to start working on this case tonight.   I’ve got a few questions I’d like to ask Dad….

 

An Investigation Begins • 4

Trixie closed her bedroom door behind her and began to walk down the hallway towards the stairs when she caught a glimpse of her reflection in a mirror for the second time that day.  She stopped for a moment, and with a quick look down the hall to make sure no one was watching, pulled her hair back to inspect her face from a variety of angles.  I know I’m no Maya Dominguez, she thought to herself, but do other people think I’m pretty?  She wondered.  People like Maya and Shane—heck, even Honey and Di—turn heads wherever they go.  Meanwhile, the very idea of me in a ball gown seems to make even my closest friends laugh!  The memory still stung a little.  Still, she remembered, Shane couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off me for some reason, and Jim…well, Jim….  She sighed and let her crown of curls drop, and they fell in a soft frame around her face.   What am I doing? She wrinkled her freckled nose at herself.  Why am I being so silly?  I’m acting like such a…such a… Dare she think it?

 . . . girl!  Trixie shuddered.

Slipping her hands into the front pockets of her jeans, Trixie padded down the stairs, completely unaware of the proud looks her parents were giving her as they watched her descend.

“Just look at her, Helen,” Peter Belden whispered to his wife.  “She’s the image of you in our wedding album.”

Helen pursed her lips in a nostalgic smile.  Was my figure ever that good? she wondered.  Did my cheeks ever glow that way?  “She’s blooming even more beautifully than our crabapple trees are,” she admitted.  She glanced over at her husband and caught him looking at her in admiration. 

“The ‘apple’ doesn’t fall far from the tree, dear,” he told his wife, his eyes twinkling.  The two exchanged a kiss.

“Yucky!”  Bobby Belden yelled out as finished pouring out a bowl of dog kibble for Reddy.  He closed up the bag.  “What’s with the mushy stuff?” 

“Well, you won’t let me kiss you ‘hello’ anymore,” Mr. Belden reminded him.  He pretended to wipe a tear from his eye.  “Your mother is all I’ve got left.”

“And me,” Trixie said, reaching her parents and planting a kiss on her father’s cheek.

“At least Trixie still loves me,” Mr. Belden said dramatically.

Bobby regarded his father thoughtfully.  Then, with a sigh, he said half to himself, “Oh, all right…” and walked over to his father.  He tugged on his father’s arm, and Mr. Belden, surprised, bent down. Bobby pecked him on the cheek.

“Thanks, Bobby,” Mr. Belden said, genuinely touched.

“Let’s all have dinner,” Mrs. Belden announced, with a quick caress of Bobby’s face, and soon the family of five had settled around the kitchen table for a meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and asparagus tips.

          The family ate and laughed and chatted, but Trixie was uncharacteristically quiet as she watched her family.  Part of her wanted to bring up the ball, but she knew there were more pressing matters to be discussed.  For instance: What was happening with Regan?  Why was he slipping away from work and neglecting his duties?  There must have been a special reason why he had seen her father at the bank earlier in the day—otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered wearing a suit.  But what was it?

“What sort of special reasons does a person need to go the bank for, anyway?”

          The silence at the table made Trixie realize that she has asked the last question aloud.  She felt her face grow hot with embarrassment.

“Well, Trixie,” Mr. Belden said.  “Besides the basics of opening up a checking account and a savings account, a person might want to open up a retirement fund, or open a safe-deposit box; they might want to build a trust fund for a loved one, or apply for a loan.”

“A loan!” Trixie cried out.  “That’s right.  Like when Brian wanted to buy his car!”   She ignored the twin glares of warning coming from Mart and Brian. “Don’t you dare ask Dad about Regan, Miss Nosy!” their eyes seemed to say. Refusing to look at either one of them, Trixie kept her face an impassive mask, which she hoped her brothers understood to mean: “I’ll do just as I please, thank you very much!”

Mr. Belden seemed excited at his daughter’s newfound interest in banking.  “That’s right.  A person might also get a loan to start a new business, purchase a new home, or pay for a college education.”

Trixie nodded as she scooped up a forkful of mashed potatoes into her mouth.  “Sometimes people need loans for something bad, though, don’t they?” she prodded.

Mr. Belden squinted one eye.  “Well….sometimes a person can be in a lot of debt, and so they can try to get a debt consolidation loan—to help them reduce their monthly payments to their creditors.”

“Why would someone fall behind in paying their bills?” Trixie asked.

“Lots of reasons: poverty, for one; spending too much is another common reason; sometimes circumstances take a bad turn, too: investments go sour or maybe there are unexpected health issues that insurance can’t cover completely.”

Mr. Belden’s face grew serious.  “Being in a debt is a situation I never want to find any of my children in.  I won’t die happy until I feel sure I’ve taught all of you how to budget wisely.”

Bobby’s voice rose in fear. “Are you going to die, Daddy?”

“I hope not,” Mr. Belden replied, giving Bobby a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, “not for a good, long time.”

Trixie swallowed hard and she looked down at her plate.  The tears that swam in her eyes made her dinner plate appear to shine and jiggle.   What if Regan was sick and needed hospital care?  Trixie thought.  Surely the Wheelers would help him.  Then she remembered….  Willing her tears to dry, Trixie looked up at her parents.   “Why did you decline the invitation to the Charity Ball the Wheelers are having?” she asked.

For a moment, neither parent spoke.  Then her mother answered.  “Well, Trixie, it is on your birthday.  We thought you might prefer it if we spent it with you.”

“But…did you want to go?” Trixie asked.  “We can always celebrate my birthday in the afternoon and then you can go to the ball in the evening.”

“And leave you home like Cinderella?” her mother scoffed.  “That’s hardly likely.” 

“Besides, Trix, it’s not like we are refusing to support the cause.  We’ve already sent in a check,” her father added. 

“What is the cause, exactly?” Brian, the future doctor, asked.

“Actually, the hospital has a fundraiser every year, but just who hosts the event and who receives the money changes from year to year.  The Wheelers are the hosts this year, as you know, and in past galas funds have been raised in order to buy new equipment for the obstetrics ward, to buy new computers, to renovate the ER. . . . A few years ago it was to build a new wing. Last year it was to create an intern training program.  Keeping Sleepyside Hospital up-to-date is a worthy enough cause all on its own, of course, but it’s good to have a focus.  This year, we are raising money to buy a new state-of-the-art ambulance.”

“That sounds great!” Brian enthused.  “Since I’ve been training to be an Emergency Medical Technician in the city, you can imagine that I think a new ambulance is a great idea for Sleepyside.”

“That does sound worthy,” Trixie said.    “I wonder if there’s anything the Bob-Whites can do to help.”  The Bob-Whites were always raising money for charitable causes.

           “Why, Trixie….” Mrs. Belden cocked her head as she gave her daughter an appraising look.  “You almost sound like you want to go to the ball.”

          Trixie shrugged.  “I wouldn’t mind it.  If we all went together, then we wouldn’t be separated on my birthday, and, well, what nicer way to celebrate sixteen years of a happy, healthy life then by remembering those who haven’t been as lucky and trying to help them?  Besides, Jim and Honey will be there….” Her eyes danced, “and, it would be so nice to see you and Dad all dressed up!”

          Brian, Mart and Bobby enthusiastically agreed.

          Mrs. Belden gently placed a hand on her cheek to fight back a blush.  “I don’t think I have anything suitable to wear.  Your father could always rent a tuxedo, but a new dress would be terribly expensive.”

          Trixie shoved her asparagus tips around her plate.  “That’s true.”

          “But, if you’d really like to go…,” Mrs. Belden said slowly and thoughtfully, “...and it is your birthday, after all.”  She exchanged glances with her husband.  “Your father and I will talk about it and see what we can do.”

          “Gleeps!  Thanks Moms!  Thanks Dad!  You’re the best!”  Trixie cried.    As she speared a slice of roast beef she thought to herself.  Maybe, just maybe, Di was really right about balls.  This could be lots of fun! 

 

 

 

The next day, after they had finished their chores, Trixie, Mart and Brian set off for Manor House to exercise the horses.  Usually Trixie held off on telling her brothers that she was working on a new mystery until she had more details, but since Honey was seriously concerned about Regan and Regan was a friend to all of them, she thought she should tell them all she knew.  When she was done, Mart and Brian looked sober.

“Hmm, there does sound like something is going on with Regan,” Brian admitted.

“We’ll definitely be on the lookout for something unusual,” Mart agreed, “but it doesn’t sound like we’ll have to look very hard.”

“Not to find more questions, anyway,” Trixie said. “I just want us to find answers.  Look, there’s Honey!”

Honey ran down the hill to meet them, her shoulder-length hair flying behind her in a honey-colored banner.  Her face was as pale as it was when Trixie had first met her nearly three years before, when Honey had been a frail and sickly child, afraid of her own shadow. 

“Are you all right?” Brian asked with obvious concern. 

“Oh! It’s awful!” Honey cried.  “Trixie, I must speak to you!”

“If this is about Regan, I’ve already told them.”

“Oh.  All right, then.”  Honey swallowed hard as she tried to catch her breath.  “I went to Ms. Trask’s office this morning to ask her something about the RSVPs to the ball, when I noticed a yellow legal pad on her desk, so I took a look at it—”

“—Didn’t Ms. Trask catch you?” Trixie interrupted.

“Well, no, she wasn’t exactly in her office at the time,” Honey said.

Mart’s sandy eyebrows shot up his forehead.  “You were snooping in Ms. Trask’s office?”

“Well, she takes care of family business,” Honey said, biting her lip.  “I have a right to know about what goes on in my own house.”

“Never mind him,” Trixie said, secretly proud of Honey for being gutsy.  “What did you find?”

“It was an ad.  I mean, not really, it was a paragraph, written in Ms. Trask’s handwriting, but it looked like she was trying to compose an ad.”

“And…?” Trixie, Mart and Brian asked.

Honey’s eyes filled with tears.  “I didn’t get to do much more than skim it, but it said—it said….Wanted: an experienced groom for stable of five saddle horses….” Honey couldn’t finish her sentence.  She burst into tears and Brian took her in his arms as she wept.  The Beldens all exchanged sorrowful glances over Honey’s head.

Trixie frowned.  “I think if Regan is going to quit—or be fired—or whatever, they should just tell us,” she said.  “When were they going to spring it on us, anyway?  Were we all supposed to just show up at the stable one day and discover a new groom in his place?”

“Don’t they know how much Regan means to us?” Mart asked, taking on some of Trixie’s outraged tone.  “Why do they have to treat us like children?  They should just be straight with us.”

Honey dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief Brian handed to her.  “Maybe they don’t want to hurt our feelings.”

“It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?” Brian asked.

Trixie crossed her arms.  “I say we go up there,” she pointed to the stables, “and ask Regan to just tell us the truth.”

“I second that!” Mart chimed in.  The brother and sister team began charging up the hill, on a mission.

“Oh, no,” Brian said, calling them back. “Not like that you won’t.  We still don’t know why all of this is going on, and I doubt those attitudes—or expressions on your faces—will make matters any better.  I say we stick to the original plan and see what more we can find out before speaking to Regan—or Ms. Trask, for that matter.”

Trixie stopped in place and rolled her eyes.  “Why do you always have to make sense?” she grumbled.

Mart kicked a pebble and griped, “Because he’s the ‘sensible one,’ that’s why.”

“We’re also forgetting about Dan,” Honey said.  “He is Regan’s nephew, after all. He might know more than we do.  But he might know less.  And since he’s coming to ride with us today, it would be a pretty terrible way to find out his uncle is leaving, wouldn’t it, if we were to fly in there, demanding answers?”

“All right, all right,” Trixie said with a sigh.  “Mum’s the word until we all agree otherwise.  But let’s talk to the others while on the trail ride and let them in on everything, okay?”

“Agreed,” Brian, Mart and Honey chorused.

When they arrived at the stable, they found Jim, Dan and Diana laughing and joking as Regan scrambled to finish preparing the horses.  “All right, kids,” he said, sounding slightly out of breath.  “I have to go into town, so you will have to tack and groom your horses when you get back.”  He handed Trixie the reins to a black horse.

Trixie, expecting to see Susie, her favorite little mare, instead found herself face-to-face with Jupiter, the big, temperamental gelding.  He was a beautiful horse, and Trixie had always wanted to ride him, but he was so high-strung and strong and that only Mr. Wheeler and Jim could ride him without getting thrown.  Nevertheless, Trixie’s regular saddle and stirrups lay across Jupiter’s back.

“Uh, Regan….” Trixie began.  “Regan…?”

Regan didn’t seem to hear her as he ricocheted from one corner of the stable to the other, picking up file folders, knocking down papers, and a snatching up a notebook.  Then he gathered up a blazer and a satchel before setting off at a jog towards an awaiting car.  “Catch you later, kids!”

As the car sped away, Trixie waved silently, and then turned to look at the other Bob-Whites, who were all watching Regan with identical dumbfounded expressions on their faces, their mouths hanging open.

“What’s gotten into him?” Diana asked, finally, as she stroked Sunny’s golden neck.

“Whatever it is, it was enough to confuse him into saddling up Jupe for me,” Trixie said.

Honey gasped.

“I’ll fix that,” Jim said, removing Trixie’s saddle from his regular horse.

Diana shook her head. “It’s like he’s suddenly gone crazy.”

Dan walked over to the corner where some papers had fallen behind a barrel.  Picking up a folded section of newspaper, he opened it and scanned it quickly.  “Not crazy,” he said.  “Just… ‘gone’.”

 

The Truth Comes Out • 5

          “What do you mean?” The other Bob-Whites chorused.  Trixie walked over to Dan and took the paper from his unprotesting hands.

          “It’s the real estate section of The Sleepyside Sun,” Trixie announced to the others.  “It looks like Regan has circled ads for some apartments in town….”

          “Then he really is leaving!”  Fresh tears sprang from Honey’s eyes.

Jim reached out to comfort her as confusion and anger crossed his face.  “What’s going on?  What do you mean, Honey?  Trixie?”

Honey shook her head, unable to speak.  She glanced over at Trixie and then looked pointedly at Dan. 

Understanding, Trixie turned to the boy who sat quietly on a block of hay, looking dazed.  “Have you noticed your uncle acting strangely lately, Dan?”

Dan looked up, suddenly aware that he was being addressed.  Although Regan had red hair and Dan’s hair was dark, if one looked carefully one could the family resemblance between them.  They both had sharp facial features and embodied a similar brooding intensity.  They had also both been orphaned at a young age—as was Jim for that matter—and the difficult lives they had lived after their parents’ deaths had aged them before their time.

Dan furrowed his brow.  “Yes,” he said.  “The other day I came up here to visit him and I couldn’t find him anywhere…”

Honey nodded knowingly.

“…I thought I heard voices coming from his apartment over the garage, so I went up to see him and when I walked in, I found him on the floor, on his knees.”

“On his knees?” Trixie echoed.  “Was he… praying?”

Dan shook his head. “I don’t know. But I thought maybe he had hurt himself or something.  I ran over to him to see if he needed help and he got very angry at me for ‘meddling’, he called it.  He—he just about threw me out.”

Trixie sat next to Dan and lay a hand on one his.  “I’m sorry, Dan,” she said.  “Why didn’t you tell us about this?”

Dan’s thin cheeks flushed red.  “I was embarrassed, I guess.  It just seemed like private family business to me.”

Diana walked over to sit on Dan’s other side.  “Do you think that Regan fell?  Maybe he blacked out or something when you came in.”

“Don’t say that!”  Honey protested. “I don’t want Regan to be sick!”

Trixie rubbed her chin.  “If he was sick, I don’t think he’d be thinking about moving to town, Honey.  It must be something else.”

“Well, we’re going to get to the bottom of this,” Jim insisted. “Today.”

“How?” Diana asked.  “We don’t even know when Regan will be back.”

“We don’t need to,” Jim said.

The Bob-Whites all looked at one another.  “Ms. Trask,” they said in unison.

“We’ll ask her first thing when we get back from the trail ride.”

Diana groaned.  “I’m not even in the mood for a trail ride any more,” she said.

“Well, the horses are,” Jim said.  “And we won’t be doing them—or Regan—any favors if we don’t give them their exercise and properly groom them and clean their tack afterwards.”

“You’re right, Jim,” Trixie said, rising to her feet.  “The best thing we can do for Regan right now is exercise the horses.  The best thing we can do for Regan later is help him out—that is, once we find out what exactly is wrong and what we can do about it.”

The seven teenagers set off for the trail through the woods, along the lake and around the game preserve that was Wheeler family’s property.  At first, they walked the horses slowly, which suited Trixie just fine and as it fit her morose mood.  After a while, the horses became restless, and Trixie did, too.  She urged Susie into a canter, and the little black mare was only too happy to oblige.  Jim soon followed on Jupiter and then Dan galloped Spartan past them both.  Within seconds, the others all joined in for a brief but exhilarating run.   Once they had all slowed back down to a trot and then a walk, Trixie ran a hand through her sandy curls and said emphatically, “Whew!  That felt good!  I needed that!”

“I think we all did,” Jim replied.

“Male, female, equine,” Mart said, nodding.

Once they returned to the stables, they set to work grooming the horses, mucking their stalls and cleaning the tack.  Diana and Dan were going to stable their horses at home, so after tying their horses to posts, they helped the others.

Mart wiped the sweat off his brow with his forearm, still holding a currycomb in his hand.  “It’s a wonder Regan manages to do this all by himself all the time,” he said.  “I mean, we’re not always here to give the horses their exercise.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Honey said.  “I’m going to tell Ms. Trask to hire someone to help Regan instead of firing him!  That’s all he needs: a part-time assistant.  Why, in other stables there are whole armies of grooms.  It’s really not fair that Regan has to handle all the work on his own.”

Suddenly, as though she responding to the sound of her own name, Ms. Trask appeared at the doors of the stables.

“Hello, all!” she greeted them cheerfully.  She looked as comfortably elegant as ever in a dove-gray pinstriped pantsuit. “Cook has fixed up some sandwiches for your lunch,” she told them.  “You must all be famished after your trail ride.  Do you want Celia to serve you in the dining room or out on the porch?  I do believe it’s warm enough to eat outdoors today.”

The Bob-Whites all stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at Ms. Trask.  For a long moment, no one spoke.

Ms. Trask looked questioningly over her shoulder and then back at the Bob-Whites.  She raised an eyebrow.  “Why, whatever is the matter?”  She looked behind her again.  “What are you all looking at?”

“I’m afraid it’s you, Ms. Trask,” Honey said apologetically.  “We all need to speak to you about something very serious and we’d appreciate your complete candor.”

Ms. Trask walked into the stables as she slowly regarded them all with a look of concern.  Patting her short, gray hair into place, she said, “You seem upset.  Of course, I’ll help you in any way I can.  What is it?”

Honey struggled to hold back tears, but her chin quivered.  “It’s Regan!  We need to know what’s wrong with him and why he’s leaving us!”

Ms. Trask’s eyes widened in surprise.  “How did you--?  I mean, what do you…?”   She shook her head.  “I’d love to tell you all, but it’s really not my news to tell.  Why don’t you ask him yourselves?  I think I hear Tom returning with the car, now.”

Regan hated cars as much as he loved horses, so he had been driven into town by Tom Delanoy, the Wheeler’s chauffer.  The Bob-Whites strained to listen as the car pulled into the driveway and the engine was turned off.  Car doors were pushed opened and slammed shut as good-byes and thanks were exchanged between the two men.  Soon, footsteps could be heard crunching along the gravel towards the stable.  A happy, whistled tune announced Regan’s arrival just as he entered.  He paused at the doorway when he saw the stricken faces of the Bob-Whites.

“What’s happened?” he asked, racing inside.  He began to inspect the horses as he peppered the Bob-Whites with questions.  “Was there an accident?  Are you all right?  Is Trixie hurt?”

“No, no, no,” the Bob-Whites all answered. 

Trixie stepped forward.  “We want to know if you’re all right, and if not, what we can do to help you.”

Suddenly Honey threw her arms around the Regan’s neck, sobbing once again. “Please don’t leave us Regan!  We’ll hire you an assistant!  We’ll give you a raise!  We’ll do whatever you want!”

If Honey hadn’t been crying, Trixie would have laughed out loud at the expressions of confusion and astonishment that contorted Regan’s face.  He looked helplessly at Ms. Trask, who shrugged and covered her mouth as if to hide a smile.  Then Regan, who had been holding his arms out in shock, patted Honey awkwardly on the back.  “There, there now,” he said.  “What’s all this drama about?  I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Honey Wheeler.  And I won’t talk to you about anything, either, if you insist putting on this waterworks display.”

As Honey pulled herself away from Regan’s arms and tried to regain her composure, Trixie said, “You do too know what she means, Regan—” She placed her hands on her hips.  “—admit it!” 

Ms. Trask crossed her arms.  “I really think you should say something,” she told Regan.  “I’m afraid they all have the wrong idea and they are quite distressed about it.”

“But I—!”  Regan began.  “I can’t just keep telling other people about—!  Not when I haven’t even—!”  He sighed abruptly.  “All right, I’ll tell you, but you have to keep this a secret,” he told the Bob-Whites.  “I know you’re good at that, anyway. Do you promise?”

“We promise!” they all agreed.

“Come on, then.” Regan crooked his finger and led the teenagers to his apartment above the garage.

Trixie had only seen glimpses of Regan’s garage apartment, and was excited about finally being invited as a guest.  The comfortable two-bedroom suite he shared with Nailor, the elderly gardener, was definitely a “bachelor’s apartment”, with a red plaid couch, a tan recliner, and a large television in the living room.  Low bookcases divided nearly every wall in half, and there were books on horse care and gardening tucked inside all of them.

Trixie surveyed the room, I hate to say this, she thought, but it sure could use a woman’s touch.

 “Have a seat anywhere you like,” Regan said, scooping up a dirty pair of gardening gloves and a bunch of seed catalogs from off the couch. “Can I get you anything?”

“I think I’ll go get the sandwiches I promised you all earlier,” Ms. Trask said.  “I’ll be right back.”  With an encouraging look at Regan, she excused herself and left the apartment.

“I don’t think I could eat anything,” Trixie said the minute the door closed behind Ms. Trask.  “Really, Regan, if you don’t tell us what’s going on, I’ll just die!”

“Hold on a minute, there, Miss Fidget.  Don’t go dying on me just yet.  I’m coming to it….” Regan pulled out an office chair from under the desk that stood in a corner of the room.  He sat on it and rolled it over to face the seven young people who sat looking at him expectantly from their various places on his furniture and floor.  Then he hesitated, as if lost in thought.

Trixie studied the pleasant-faced groom as he grimaced and ran a hand down the back of his head.  At only twenty-five, Regan had a maturity that belied his age.  Although tall, broad-shouldered and strong, he suddenly seemed small and lost, like an orphaned fawn in the woods.  Whatever he’s going to tell us, Trixie realized, it’s not going to be easy for him.

“Perhaps you kids have noticed that I have been a little, uh, distracted lately,” Regan began.  The Bob-Whites did not react and instead allowed him to continue.  “Well, there’s a reason for that.  I’ve been sort of preoccupied about the future…about what my plans might be….that sort of thing.  I mean, should I continue with this grooming gig?  Should I maybe branch out and look into horse training or breeding?  Should I get a place of my own?  Or should I….”  Regan took in another deep breath.  “Aw, heck,” he muttered under his breath.  Spinning around in his chair, he turned his back to the Bob-Whites for a moment, pulled open one of his desk drawers and took out something small.

Trixie craned her neck for a better look. She leaned so far forward that she would have fallen fell off the armrest of the couch she had been sitting on if Mart hadn’t grabbed her by her shirttail and pulled her back.

Regan spun back around again and held out his hand to Honey.  In his palm lay a black velvet box, opened to expose a beautiful gold ring set with an oval-cut emerald surrounded by tiny diamonds.  “Or should I,” Regan said again, “ask Joan Stinson to marry me?”

 

 

 

 

Sworn to Secrecy 6

            Happy gasps rose from all the girls.  The boys rose to their feet.

            “Congratulations!” Jim cried, offering his hand to Regan. 

Honey, who had taken the box from Regan’s hand, was blinking back tears again, but this time they were tears of happiness as she contemplated the ring with silent awe.

“It’s so romantic!” Diana clasped her hands together as she regarded Regan with a new fondness.

            Mart clapped Regan on the back. “Thattaboy,” he said gruffly.          

           “Now, now!” Regan raised his voice above the others.  “Hold your horses!  I haven’t exactly asked the lady, yet.  I’m not even sure she’ll accept me.”

            “Don’t be ridic!” Trixie said impulsively.  “Of course she will!  Right girls?  How could she refuse?”

            “You two are perfectly perfect for one another,” Honey said as she passed the ring down for the others to admire.  “She won’t say ‘no.’”

            Trixie and Honey had met Joan in Saratoga when they had solved the mystery of Regan’s disappearance.  Joan had told them then how she had been sixteen when she first met a seventeen-year old Regan.  She had also confessed that Regan had been the love of her life.

            Regan’s face darkened until it was almost as red as his hair.  “Well, thanks for the vote of confidence girls, but maybe you will get a clearer picture of my problem now.  I can’t be a groom all my life if I want to support a family someday—”

            Diana squealed at the word “family.”  Everyone knew that Regan loved children and the idea of a ‘Regan Junior’ appealed to all of them.

            “—and there’s the small matter of where we’re going to live, since newlyweds can’t share an apartment over the garage with the gardener….”

            Trixie finally understood what Regan had been struggling with.  “You haven’t asked her yet because your whole life will change.  What you do, where you live—everything.”

            “Exactly,” Regan said.        

            Ms. Trask then arrived with a large platter of sandwiches. Celia, the maid (and the wife of Tom the chauffer), followed closely behind with a cooler of drinks.   The Bob-Whites were all suddenly aware of their hunger and quickly dove into the food.  Regan joined in.

            After a few bites of his turkey sandwich, he continued.  “Joan, as you know, lives in Saratoga.  She works with horses, too, and I don’t know if she’ll be willing to leave her work and home to come live in Sleepyside.”

            “If I truly loved my fiancé, I would move to Timbuktu if I had to,” Diana announced firmly.

            Regan smiled.  “Anyway, I’ve been working part time for Mr. Tomlinson, just to check out his breeding program and see if that’s an operation we can replicate here at Manor House.  If it is, maybe I can propose it to Mr. Wheeler.  Not to mention I learned some good “horse whispering” techniques over in Minnesota when we were there,” he said, indicating Trixie and Honey, who had accompanied him, “and with the all the experience Joan also has training horses, I thought maybe we could work something out along those lines, too.

            “The only problem is I’m not sure Matt Wheeler would be interested in expanding his stable and investing in a horse training and breeding program.  That’s why I saw your father,” he told the Belden children, “to see about what sort of loans are out there that would be available to someone like me.”

            “I’m sure if you presented Dad with a tight proposal he’s give it some serious consideration,” Jim added encouragingly.

            “We Wheelers all just love horses,” Honey added.

            Dan, who had been quiet all this time, finally spoke up.  “So…the other day when I found you up here on your knees...”

            Regan began to turn red again

            “…were you practicing your proposal?”  A slow smile spread across Dan’s face.

            Regan looked at the floor. “Maybe.”  Then he sighed.  “Again, I want to propose, but I’m not ready yet.  Not because I think she’ll say ‘no’, but because I don’t have any home or job good enough to really offer her, yet.”

            “Don’t worry about that, Regan,” Trixie said softly.  “You have the best thing in the world to offer her: yourself.  She’ll certainly say ‘yes’ to that.”

            Honey agreed.  “And then once you’re engaged, the two of you can decide on what to do next—”

            “—together,” Diana emphasized.

            Ms. Trask smiled approvingly at the girls.  Adopting a soft tone as well, she said, “The ladies have a point, Bill.  You’re putting too much pressure on yourself trying to decide for the both of you.  Since marriage is a partnership, why not let Joan in on all of your thoughts and preoccupations?”

            “I don’t want her to worry,” Regan said huskily.  “I don’t want to add problems to her life, just solutions.”

            Trixie crossed her arms.  “I think Joan must have her own ideas about where you two could live and what sort of work you should be doing for a living, don’t you?  I’m sure she’d prefer to be a part of the decision making process, instead of being left out of it.”

            “You do have a point,” Regan said.  “I’m so used to doing everything myself—being independent and all—I guess I can’t help automatically trying to figure everything out myself.”

“Joan is a pretty independent lady, too,” Honey reminded him.

“That’s why I love her,” Regan said.

“Oooh,” Diana cooed.  Regan had said the word ‘love.’

Honey giggled.  “In the meantime, maybe the idea of your getting some part-time help around here isn’t such a bad one.  With summer coming around and everything, we can help you out, of course, but a lot of kids will be looking for some work once school is out.  I know we Bob-Whites were all just discussing it yesterday.”

Ms. Trask smiled. “Actually, I’ve already set the wheels in motion for that very idea.  I submitted an advertisement for part-time groom’s assistant to The Sleepyside Sun.

Honey blushed. “Oh. That’s what that was.”

Ms. Trask raised an eyebrow but continued as if she hadn’t heard.  “Would you be interested in helping to conduct the interviews, Honey?  After all, you help your mother as a personal secretary of sorts for these types of things—such as you are doing with the ball—and you did a wonderful job interviewing Tom for his position.”

Honey giggled again.  Her interview of Tom had been far from professional, but he had turned out to be an excellent employee.  “Oh yes, I’d love to help!”

“Can I help, too?” Trixie asked.  “I want to help choose who gets to work with Regan.”

Ms. Trask smiled. “Of course you may.  I was just going to ask you to help, actually.  When we get responses, I will pass on their names and numbers and resumes to the two of you and you can contact them and set up appointments.  I will also arrange for you to be paid a little something for your services.  You will be acting on behalf of the manor in sort of a human resources capacity, after all.”

Trixie bit her lip with excitement.  “And I can use some extra money,” she whispered to Honey.  “I don’t want to stick my parents with having to pay for my ball gown!” 

            Diana overheard and she and Honey drew in their breath in unison. 

“Then you’re coming to the ball?” Diana asked.

Trixie nodded shyly.

“Wonderful, Trix!” Honey cried.

“That means all the boys have to come, too, and they have it easier because they only have to rent tuxedos if they don’t already have their own,” Diana said.

“Then you’ll be my escort?” Jim asked Trixie.

“Of course, Jim,” Trixie said.  She smiled at him and then quickly looked away.

“What about you, Honey?” Brian asked.  “Would you do me the honor of accompanying me to—well—your ball?”

Honey laughed.  “Yes, I would be pleased to, Brian.  Thank you for asking me.”

“I guess that just leaves you and me, then, Di,” Mart said. 

“Not if you ask me like that it doesn’t!” Diana said.  “Honestly, Mart, after all this romantic talk, you’d think you’d know better…!”  She crossed her arms and turned away from him, pretending to be very interested in a framed painting of a Thoroughbred horse that hung over the desk.

Mart hung his head for a moment and Trixie’s heart ached for him.  Then, with a sneaky smile on his face, Mart knelt at Diana’s feet, and taking one of Diana’s slim hands into one of his freckled ones, said in a grave voice, “Diana, you would make me the happiest man in the world if you would just go to the dance with me.”

It was Diana’s turn to blush, but she smiled and teasingly pushed Mart’s head of sandy curls away.  “Oh, you,” she said. 

“Dan, you must come too, you know,” Honey said, suddenly, not wanting the quiet Bob-White to feel left out.

“Please say you will,” Trixie chimed in, “even though I know balls are not your usual cup of tea, either.”

“It’s ironic when you think about it,” Diana added, “considering he’s the best dance partner of the boys.  No offense, guys.”

Dan, who lay on the recliner, placed his hands behind his head.  “I might come,” he said with a casual air, “and I might even ask someone to go with me,” he added mysteriously.  Trixie looked curiously at him, but he said no more.

“You know what I was thinking,” Diana said, with stars in her eyes.  “You should come, too, Regan—and ask Joan.  Wouldn’t a ball be the perfect setting for a wedding proposal?  What girl wouldn’t want to be looking her best when her boyfriend proposes to her?  It would be like a fairytale!”

Regan’s face went white under his freckles. “I don’t know about that, I—I—uh, er, um….”

Ms. Trask came to the rescue.  “Let Regan make his own decision about when and where he asks Joan to marry him, all right?”  She gestured for the Bob-Whites to leave with her.  “Now I think we’ve taken enough advantage of Regan’s hospitality this afternoon, don’t you?”

The teenagers agreed and got up to go.  As Jim took up the tray, Dan picked up the cooler, and Diana and Trixie straightened out the pillows and sofa cushions on the couch, Honey turned to Regan and said, “Whether or not you propose to Joan at the ball, I would still love it if you would come, Regan.  I will write up an invitation for you and a guest.”  Honey lightly placed a well-manicured hand on the groom’s shoulder.  “I consider you family by now, so I want you to know that you—and whomever you choose to bring with you—are more than welcome to join us at the ball.”

“Thank you, little lady,” Regan said, smiling.  “And I call you that because you are becoming more and more the Lady of the Manor every day, Miss Wheeler.”

“Thank you, Regan.”

“Now remember,” Regan said, raising his voice as he addressed all the Bob-Whites.  “This is a secret.  Tell no one what you heard today in this apartment.  I am swearing you all to secrecy.  All right?”

“Yes, Regan,” the Bob-White replied.

“I’m asking for your solemn promise, now,” Regan insisted.    “Promise?”

“We promise!”

Regan asked Dan to stay, and the rest of Bob-Whites then said their good-byes and filed out the apartment.  They trooped down the outside steps that led to the garage and began parting ways. 

“Why do you think Regan wanted to speak to Dan?” Diana asked the others as she headed towards to stable to retrieve Sunny.

“I hope to apologize for snapping at him the other day,” Trixie said.

“They are uncle and nephew, you know,” Honey reminded     everyone. “Dan comes by and hangs out with Regan a couple of times a week.  They watch sports on TV together.”

Diana giggled.  “I forget!  I am a goof sometimes!  Since Dan lives with Mr. Maypenny, and Mr. Maypenny is so grandfatherly to Dan, I keep thinking they’re related instead!  Anyway, I need to get back home and help mother with Larry, Terry, Jessie and Jackie.”  She was the big sister to two sets of twins and one of her chores was looking after them so that she could earn an allowance to contribute to the Bob-White treasury.

“So what do you want to do now?” Jim asked as he began leading Trixie, Honey, Mart and Brian away from the garage.

“I don’t know about you boys, but I have an appointment this afternoon,” Honey said.  She turned to Trixie. “Why don’t you come with me, Trix?” she asked.

“Sure,” Trixie said lightly.  “Where are we going?”

Honey’s eyes shone.  “To see Ella Kline.”  Ella Kline was a seamstress and a friend of the two girls.

“Ella Kline?  What for?”

“What for?  What do you think, Trixie?  We’re going to order ourselves a couple of ball gowns!” 

                                                                                                                                               

The Dream Dress•7

 

            Trixie and Honey had befriended Ella Kline two years earlier, when she had helped sew their bridesmaid gowns for the wedding of Jim’s cousin, Juliana.  Ella had a regular job earning a small salary working for the Bride Shop in town, but she also mended the linens for the Glen Road Inn where she lived.

            The inn was a very old Dutch-style mansion with large, white, multi-paned windows that stood out in bright relief to its red brick face.  Flowerboxes jutted out from all of its second floor windows and a flower garden of tulips lined either side of the cobbled walkway leading up to the front door. 

            “I knew Ella would be just the person to make my gown,” Honey told Trixie after Tom dropped them off in front of the inn. 

            Trixie saw the wisdom in Honey’s choice.  “It sure was a great idea, Honey,” she agreed as they walked towards the front door.  “Ella could use the money, and yet the dress will still be less expensive than one you would buy in the city.”

            Honey ticked off more reasons on her fingers.  “Ella has also sewn for me in the past and she still has my pattern on file and she’s a friend of ours to boot!”

            “The best part of it all,” Trixie said, “Is that Ella is a great seamstress.  I’m sure she’ll do a beautiful job.”

            “You’ve just got to have her make your dress, Trixie.  She still has a pattern based on your old measurements, too, don’t forget!”

            “Oh woe,” Trixie moaned, “a lot of good that will do!  I’m sure I’ve have gained a mile or two around my…um…circumference since the wedding.”  She said, patting her hips and sweeping an envious glance over Honey’s tall, willowy frame.  Honey always maintained a slender, model-type figure.

            “ ‘Circumference’ ?” Honey giggled into her hand. “That sounds like a Mart word! Besides, I’m sure you’re wrong.  If you’ve gained any weight, Trixie it’s because you’ve gotten curvier.”

            “Me?” Trixie scoffed.  “Now you make me sound like Maya Dominguez!”

            Honey stopped walking and faced Trixie.  “Actually, I think you and Maya are kind of shaped the same.  You both have, you know, that ‘hourglass’ look.”

            Trixie stared open-mouthed at Honey.  “I-I have an hourglass figure?”

            “Haven’t you noticed?  You know, you’re not thirteen anymore, Trixie.”  Honey opened the front door to the inn and walked over to the front desk.  “My name is Madeleine Wheeler,” she told the clerk behind the counter. “I have an appointment with Ella Kline.”

            Trixie found herself unable to speak another word as she meekly followed Honey to Ella’s room.  Ella herself let the girls in before they could knock on her door.

            “Come in,” she told the girls as she held the door open from her seat on her wheelchair.  “They called me from the front desk so I knew you were coming—and Trixie!  What a nice surprise!  Don’t tell me Honey’s convinced you to go to the ball!”

            Trixie bent down to hug Ella hello.  “I’m afraid she has, Ella,” she said.  “So, if it’s not too late, I would like to see if you could maybe make a dress for me as well.”

            Ella’s brown eyes twinkled behind her thick glasses.  “I would be thrilled to, Trixie!  But I am also curious… however did Honey convince you to go to the ball?  I know such formal occasions—and especially dressing up for them—are not exactly your cup of tea.”

            “I don’t think I convinced her at all, Ella,” Honey said in a teasing tone.  “I think it was a certain redhead who did the trick.”

            “Honey!” Trixie flashed a wide-eyed warning at her best friend.

            Ella laughed pleasantly.  “Well, all I can say is it’s about time.  Make yourselves at home.”

            Trixie took a seat on Ella’s rocking chair as Ella began fitting Honey for her gown.  First Honey stood still as Ella pinned a muslin and paper version of her gown onto her body.  Then, after taking notes, Ella had Honey try on a half-finished version of the real gown.  As this went on, Trixie found herself growing bored and then sleepy as she listened to the conversation.

            “I do think that this olive green was the best choice,” Honey said.

            “Yes!  Simple, lovely, elegant…and it goes so very nicely with your honey-colored hair and hazel eyes,” Ella said.

            Trixie’s head started to bob.  Soon images of Regan, rings, balls and hourglasses jumbled together in her thoughts as Honey and Ella continued chatting.

            “...and of course Diana already has something in lavender to bring out the violet tones in her dark blue eyes,” Honey went on.

            “It’s also a wonderful color in contrast to her pale skin and dark hair,” Ella informed her.  “She’s a ‘winter’ you know, so cool colors look good on her.  You’re more of an ‘autumn’, Honey.”  Suddenly Ella’s voice grew louder. “And the sleepyhead blonde with the sky-blue eyes over there is a ‘summer.’ Trixie! Trixie!

            Trixie’s head jerked up. “Huh?” she grunted as she shook her curls to clear her thoughts.    I was almost dreaming there, she thought.

            “I was saying,” Ella said, pursing her lips in amusement, “go take a look at what I have in that bag on the door.”  She pointed to the wooden hanger that dangled from a white hook that had been fixed to the front of her bathroom door.

            Trixie rose from the chair, stretched, and then walked over to the garment bag.  She unzipped it carefully and revealed a strapless Tiffany blue ballgown.

            “Wow,” Trixie said. 

            “Take it down and try it on,” Ella urged.

            Maybe I am dreaming, Trixie thought, and I’m still really asleep on the rocking chair in the corner.  Aloud, she said, “All right.”  She walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.  Within minutes she had shed her clothes and had put on a shimmering, blue cloud.

            It’s like I’ve stepped into a fairytale—and I’m the princess starring in it, Trixie thought in disbelief as she spun around and admired her reflection in the mirror.  I can’t believe it!

            “Come on out, Trixie, I’m dying to see you!” Honey called out from the other room.

            With a swallow of apprehension, Trixie gingerly stepped outside as if doing so would make the effect disappear forever,

            The gasps from Ella and Honey proved to Trixie that the effect had not been lost.

            “You look perfectly perfect!” Honey breathed.

            Ella’s eyes shone with happiness.  “I knew it!”

            “It’s as if you made the dress for me,” Trixie told Ella.  She missed the secret exchange of glances Honey and Ella gave one another as she twirled a little.  “Wherever did this dress come from, Ella?”

            “I made it to order,” Ella explained, “but then my customer changed her mind.”

            “She changed her mind?  She must have been crazy,” Trixie said.  Then she looked up at Ella sympathetically.  “That’s so unfair, to have you make something like this and then not buy it in the end.  I hope you were paid for it.”

            “Only partially,” Ella admitted.

            “Well, then, I’ll pay you for it,” Trixie said.  “That is, if you let me pay for it in installments.  I’m going to be doing some work for the Wheelers—and I also plan to get a summer job—but I need a dress for the ball, and this one would work perfectly!”

            “I’d be happy to work out a deal with you, Trixie.  But for only half the price since the rest has been paid, and there’s no one I would rather see wearing the dress than you.”

            “Really?”  Trixie slapped her hands to her face.  “I swear, Ella, you must have magic in those fingers.  How else could you change a tomboy like me into a—well, into this?  It’s too much, really!  Isn’t it a scream, Honey?”

            “I told you that you had an hourglass figure,” Honey reminded her.

            Ella chuckled.  “I’ve heard of a belle of the ball, but it looks like you will be the bombshell of the ball instead!”

            Trixie laughed heartily.  “I wouldn’t go that far!  But that line sounds like it should be the cue in my dream to wake up!” But Trixie didn’t wake up, for she hadn’t been dreaming, and soon, she and Honey were leaving the inn with Trixie’s dress in hand.

            “Wait until Moms takes a look at this!” Trixie breathed. “Only I don’t think I’ll let her see it until the night of the ball.”

            “You mean your birthday,” Honey said, taking the garment bag from Trixie and adjusting it in her arms.  “You have to hold it like this so that it doesn’t drag on the ground.  Here, let me carry it to the car.”

            “Jeepers, Honey, thanks.”

            “Now, don’t forget: you still have to figure out how to wear your hair and what jewelry to wear,” Honey went on.  “--and shoes!  You’ll need a lovely pair of barely-there slippers to complete the outfit—“

            “—Hold on!”  Trixie held up a hand in protest. “It’s a miracle I even have a dress—and so soon, too.  I can barely manage to even think about shoes or accessories right now. My mind has had just about its fill of fashion for the day—for the week—for the year, even!  I’m just not used to playing dress up.”

            “I know,” Honey said.  “Sorry.  I just got excited, that’s all. But just wait until Jim sees you in that!”

            Eager to change the subject, Trixie said, “I’m glad the whole Regan thing came out all right, aren’t you?”

            “Oh, yes,” Honey agreed, “and in such a lovely way, too. Although I must admit I’ll feel anxious until I hear that Regan has proposed—and that Joan has accepted him.  Then I’ll feel anxious until I find out whether Regan will stay with us or not.”

            “That,” Trixie said, “will all happen in good time.”

            “I know it’s terribly selfish of me to want Regan to stay,” Honey said, “but I do wish he would.  I can’t imagine tolerating any other groom who even dared to try to take his place.”  She sighed and then confessed in a low voice.  “Do you want to hear something else that’s terribly selfish of me, Trixie?  I hate to admit this, but I felt a little, well, disappointed that the Regan mystery was solved so quickly.”

            By then, the two girls had reached the car and Tom leapt out to open the backseat door for them.  Trixie smiled at him.  Then, as a spring breeze tousled her curls, she turned to Honey and said, “It’s funny.  I know you’re right, but something inside me doesn’t quite believe it.  That is, it’s hard to say exactly why, but I feel like there’s still a mystery in the air, just waiting to be solved.”  She hugged herself and ran her hands up and down her upper arms.  “I can almost feel it in my bones.”

            Honey shivered in the light breeze.  “Now I’ve got goosebumps, Trixie.  I wonder if you aren’t right!”

            The two girls then ducked into the warmth of Mercedes and settled in for the drive home.

 

 

A Window of Opportunity•8

            At lunch time on Monday afternoon Trixie settled into her seat at the regular Bob-White lunch table.  Without Brian and Jim in school with them, only Mart, Diana, Dan, Honey and Trixie were left to eat together.  But they kept Jim and Brian informed of any Bob-White business through e-mail, phone calls, and during scheduled weekend meetings.

            “This Saturday we should air out the clubhouse,” Trixie told the others as she settled into her seat between Mart and Dan, “and see what repairs are needed.  It’s getting warm enough for regular meetings there again.” 

            The clubhouse had originally been an old gatehouse belonging to the Manor House that had been left in disrepair by its previous owners the Bob-Whites renovated it all by themselves, doing everything from repairing its roof to painting its walls, sewing its curtains and building the shelves, tables and chairs that furnished it.  Although a small, wood-burning stove had been recently installed to keep the two-room house warm during the winter, and made it an ideal hiding place for all the Bob-Whites to work on winter projects requiring privacy, such as Christmas presents, the clubhouse was generally not used much during the coldest months.

            Honey held up a finger as she listened to the messages on her cell phone and scribbled something in a notebook.  Then she clicked off her phone and blinked with amazement at Trixie.  “You’ll never guess,” she said.

            “Well, if I’ll never guess, than why don’t you just tell me?” Trixie teased.

            “Ms. Trask left me a message. It seems like there are three responses to the ad for an assistant groom already,” Honey said, “and two of them were from students who attend this school.”

            “Really?” Trixie asked, as she bypassed the discolored main meal on her tray in favor of a cup of apple sauce. 

            Diana looked around the cafeteria.  “Who applied?” she asked.

            Trixie scooped up a mouthful of applesauce on her spork and looked around the lunchroom as well.

            Honey cleared her throat. “Um…Jerry Vanderhoef, for one…”

            Dan nearly spit out his soft drink in surprise. 

            “That drip?” Mart scowled.

            “…and Maya Dominguez for another…”

            The boys suddenly grew quiet.

            “So,” Mart said, his voice cracking a little.  “When exactly will you be interviewing her?”

            “Them,” Honey corrected him. “I will be interviewing everyone who applies.  The Manor House is an equal opportunity employer.”

            “Oh, come on,” Dan said. “Maya has got to be better than Jerry.  You couldn’t possibly hire Jerry, first of all, because, well, like Mart said, he’s a drip, and Regan couldn’t stand someone like him for long.  I’ll bet that Jerry’s never done a day’s hard work in his life.”

            “There’s always a first time,” Honey said diplomatically.

            “Besides,” Dan continued.  “I hear that Maya’s dad is a groom or something.”

            “Oh?” Trixie asked.  “How’d you hear that?”

            “You boys act like Maya’s a done deal,” Diana broke in.  “Have the two of you forgotten that she was mean to Honey?”

            “No,” Mart said.  He made a motion as if waving away a fly. “But what’s past is past. Obviously, she can’t still be too mad at Honey if she’s willing to work for the Wheelers.”

            “I don’t know about that,” Trixie said, stirring her applesauce.  “But I do think it means that you can still apply for that job at Le Bar Belle,” she told Honey.

            “I guess I can,” Honey acquiesced.  “But let’s go back to the assistant groom position…I haven’t told you all who the third applicant is, yet,” she reminded all of them.

            “Is it …you?” Dan asked.

            “No.”  Honey shook her head.  “It’s…er…um…Shane Galloway.”

            Diana gasped with excitement.  “Shane Galloway!  Oh, Honey, you have to hire him!

            “You hire him,” Dan broke in, “and Uncle Bill will quit!”

            “That’s not true,” Trixie found herself saying. “I mean, not necessarily.   After all, think of how polite Shane was to us when we last saw him.”

            “He’s a phony baloney,” Mart said, “an artificial life form…an insincere boybot that—”

            “Say another word and I won’t go to the dance with you!” Diana threatened.

              “Funny,” Trixie said, “how you boys don’t mind a new, pretty face working at the stable—as long it belongs to a girl.”  She smirked.  “The only things that should matter about whomever we end up choosing are that he or she works hard, knows what he or she is doing, has a good rapport with Regan, and is honest.  For all we know, that person may turn out to be Jerry Vanderhoef!”

            Everyone hooted.

            “Good one, Trix!” Mart said, laughing.

            “All I’m saying is that we can’t judge a book by its cover.  Didn’t we all think Dan was trouble when we first saw him in his leather jacket and cowboy boots?”

            Diana looked off to the side, remembering.  “Come to think of it,” she looked back at Dan, “isn’t that what you call Shane?  ‘Trouble’?”

            Dan leaned across the table to look directly into Diana’s eyes.  “You forget, Di—and you, too, Trixie—that I was trouble back then.  And maybe Shane’s not a gang member, like I was, or anything like that, but I still think he’s trouble nevertheless.  Just a different kind.”

            “Well, don’t you worry about us,” Trixie said.  “Honey and I know how to handle ourselves in all sorts of trouble—and I don’t expect we’ll run into any while interviewing the applicants, do you?”

            Honey shook her head.

            “So in case you boys wanted to volunteer to help when we interview Maya, thanks but no thanks,” Trixie said.  “But if we were to run into any problems, we’ll be all right.  After all, we’ve been taking self-defense classes for weeks now.  In fact, today’s class is right after lunch, so I’d better get some protein in me—even if it is ‘mystery meat.’” Trixie looked down resignedly at the unidentifiable gravy-covered slab that dominated her plate and began to cut it with her plastic knife.

 

            A little while later, dressed in a gray T-shirt and sweatpants, Trixie dashed eagerly from the locker room into the gym. All the sophomore girls were required to take the six-week self-defense course as part of their spring intramurals and Trixie couldn’t have been more excited.  She loved the feeling of empowerment each learned self-defense skill gave her.  She threw herself wholeheartedly into the warm-up, looking forward to what the teacher, a new policewoman assigned to the police station in town, had next to show them.

            “All right, girls,” Officer Tanisha Powell said, rubbing her hands together, “welcome to another lesson in how to ‘Fight Back!’ and I must say, I am proud of how well you are all moving along.  I am confident that by the end of this course, all of you will know how to put an attacker on the defensive and even knock him out in less than ten seconds—if it should come to that.

            “Of course, I hope you girls are never faced with a situation where you’ll have to use the skills I have been teaching you, but if you do, what are some of the things you have to remember…?”

            “‘De-tensify’!” Trixie shouted.  “…for one.” 

            “That’s right,” the young African-American policewoman nodded.  “Even if you find yourself in a very tense situation it is best to relax your body.  You will be able to move more quickly and efficiently if you tell yourself to loosen up and look for your window of opportunity.  And don’t worry, you won’t forget anything you learned in this class.  It’s all been recorded into your muscle memory.  When you need it, it’ll all come back to you—just like riding a bike.

            “So, let’s bring out Mugger Mike and have some review.”  Officer Powell gestured at a man dressed in protective padding to come forward.

            Diana, who stood by Honey and Trixie, giggled nervously.  “He always looks so funny to me.  Like some kind of robot or something.”

            Honey whispered, “Yes, but if he wasn’t padded that way, one of us could really hurt him.”

            “Didn’t Officer Powell say he’s broken some bones on this job—and even got knocked out once?” Diana asked, wide-eyed.

            Honey shuddered while Trixie replied. “Yep.  But they want us to learn our moves by hitting full force. It’s not the same if we have to pull our punches.”

            “He must be a brave man,” Diana noted with appreciation.

            “That,” Trixie said, “or he’s taken one too many blows to the head!”

            “Let’s review a basic mugging scenario,” Officer Powell said.  “Trixie, why don’t you step up here?”

            Trixie’s heart was pounding as she stepped forward.  She always felt a mad rush of adrenalin whenever she had to act out a self-defense scenario.

            “Pretend you are walking down the street—remember, walk with your head up!  Look alert and assertive!  You are less likely to be attacked if you are aware of your surroundings.”

            As Trixie walked, trying to act as though she were not expecting an attack, “Mugger Mike” crept up behind her and grabbed her from behind.  Trixie went into automatic.

            “NO!” she bellowed from the pit of her stomach.  Then she immediately stomped on her ‘attacker’s’ foot as she yelled, “FOOT!”  This caused him to release his grasp.  “GROIN!” Trixie yelled out as she used her forearm to strike “Mike” in his most sensitive area.  “HEAD!” Trixie shouted, as she spun around and grabbed “Mike’s” head with her two hands and forced it to connect with her knee which she brought up at the same time.  Soon her “mugger” was on the floor.

            “Then what do you do?” Officer Powell asked the class.

            “STOMP!” the class yelled.

            “That’s right, make sure he’s really unconscious.   Stomp by his head, if he doesn’t react, he’s out.  If he does, you need to strike his head again.  Then what do you do, finally?”

            “Run!” yelled one girl.

            “Call 911!” yelled some others.

            “Exactly.”  Officer Powell held out her hand to help “Mike” from up off the floor.  “Give poor “Mike” a hand, girls.”

            The girls all clapped as Officer Powell continued.  “Now, during these past few weeks, I’ve shown you different attack scenarios and how to ‘Fight Back!’ even from the ground.  This is important ladies, because your legs are just as strong as a man’s.  If you try to fight hand-to-hand combat, you will lose.  But if you fight with your legs—ah…now you’ve got something.”

            “What happens if your attacker has a gun?” Trixie asked aloud.  She looked sidelong at Honey and Diana. All three of them had experienced being held at gunpoint.

            “Good question, Trixie.  That’s actually the lesson for today.  When someone has a gun or some other weapon in their hand, you are best off cooperating with them as best as you can,” Officer Powell said.  “However, as in any self-defense scenario, you really have to gauge each situation on a case-by-case basis.  You never know when you will find your window of opportunity.  Look for it!  Sometimes the person with the gun is close enough for you to actually disarm.”

            “Really?  How?”  Diana asked excitedly.

            “Here is a ‘gun’,” Officer Powell said. “Don’t worry, this is not my real gun, this is a toy.  Mugger Mike?  Would you please come back and help me out here?”

            “Mike” walked over and took the ‘gun’ from Officer Powell.           

            “Now, aim it at me.”

            ‘”Mike” raised the weapon and aimed it at the teacher’s head.

            “Ordinarily, in a case like this, our first instinct might be to run away,” Officer Powell said.  “That might not work in our favor, because then the gunman would probably just shoot at us.  Another instinct might be to stay very still.  Again, that might not also work in our favor.  The last thing I might think to do is something that could work best, and that is to actually get closer to the gunman really fast—“

            Suddenly, Officer Powell stepped right up to “Mike”—close enough to kiss him, but did rather the opposite.  While she thrust her knee up into his padded groin area, she simultaneously clamped both of her hands around his wrist and twisted them in opposite directions.  “Mike” dropped the “weapon” immediately.

            “Just as in the other scenarios, step into your attacker’s personal space.  Get the upper hand. When you do this when someone has a gun, you have just made yourself impossible for the gunman to shoot without endangering himself.  And when you are in his ‘space’ and twisting his wrist—a move I will show you each how to do individually—you will resort back to your knee-to-the-groin and knee-to-the-head combination attack.

            “Now who wants to try this first?”

            Many girls raised their hands.  “Me!  Me!” Trixie cried.  Officer Powell chose Ruthie Kettner first, however, and as she began going over the scenario with her, Diana turned to Trixie. 

            “How can you be so eager to do something so creepy?” Diana made a face.  “I’ll never get used to this class.”

            “But Di, we’ve been in situations like the ones she’s described before.  I, for one, don’t want to be a victim the next time I’m in danger.”                                                                

            “The ‘next time’ you’re in danger?  Trixie, you almost sound like you expect to be in danger!”

            Trixie shook her head.  “It’s not like I want to, I just know I will.  Honey and I need to be prepared if we’re going to be detectives someday.  Right, Honey?”

            “Riiiight,” Honey agreed uneasily.  “But Trixie, couldn’t I be a more behind-the-desk sort of detective?”

            “Of course you can, Honey,” Trixie replied.  “You just never know with criminals, though. You could be at work, minding your own business when some bad guy walks in and pulls a gun.”

            “Trixie!  Bite your tongue!” Honey protested.

            “I’m just saying….!  Stranger things have happened to us!”

            Honey sighed.  “I could argue, but sadly, you’re right, Trixie.  They certainly have.”

            Once class was over, Trixie told Honey and Di, “Go on ahead.  I’ll meet you in the locker room.  I just want to ask Officer Powell a question.”

            She ran over to the policewoman and asked, “Officer Powell, I think it’s great to know how to disarm someone, but I was wondering if you could show me how to unload his weapon?  I mean, let’s say I have just knocked a perpetrator out cold, while he’s out of commission, I’d like to make his gun out of commission, too, you know?”

            “No one’s asked me that before,” Officer Powell admitted.  She took Trixie off to the side.  “I’ll show you how I remove ammunition from my service weapon, but you should know that there are other types of guns out there.”

            “Thanks.”

            Trixie paid close attention to the impromptu lesson.  When the officer was done, Trixie thanked her.

            “Thank you, Trixie,” Officer Powell said, shaking her hand.  “You’re always so appreciative.  You know, you seem to be a natural with this sort of stuff.  Have you ever thought about going into law enforcement?”

            “Have I…!” Trixie’s eyes sparkled.

            “Are you kidding, Powell?” “Mugging Mike” walked over to them.  Out of his protective helmet and gear, he turned out to be a fairly young officer.  “That young lady you’re talking to is Sleepyside’s best detective—and Molinson’s worst nightmare.”  He referred to the town’s sergeant, Wendell Molinson who was forever warning Trixie to be careful.

            Officer Powell laughed.  “Quit playing, DeLuca.”

            Officer DeLuca AKA “Mike” insisted. “I’m not kidding.  There’s, like, a file the size of a dictionary on that kid back at the office.”

                 Officer Powell looked Trixie over.  The short, curly-haired, freckle-faced

teenager hardly looked like a detective.  “Give the sarge a hard time, do you?” she asked, crossing her arms.

            Trixie blushed.

            Officer Powell smiled.  “That’s good.  He needs to be kept on his toes.  Keep it up.  It sounds like we could use more women like you on the force.”

            “Thanks, I’ll try!” Trixie said.  “Catch you next week!”  She spun on her heel to leave the gym when she suddenly had an idea.  “Officer Powell,” she asked, turning back around, “are there any jobs at the police station that, say, a teenager could do, maybe part time during the summer?”

            “Now there’s an idea.  You mean like filing, typing, keeping up a database, and making coffee?   Things like that?”

            Trixie nodded eagerly.  “Exactly!”

            “You may have something there, Trixie.  We just might at that.  Why don’t you give me a resume and a letter of recommendation when you come to class next week and we’ll see what we can do?”

            “Jeepers!  Thanks Officer Powell!  I will!”  Trixie raced back to the locker room to change.

            Diana was already showered and changed into a cashmere sweater and jeans when Trixie walked in.  “What’s up, Trixie?”

            Honey, who was combing her hair, glanced over at Trixie’s smiling face.  “You do look like the cat that swallowed the canary.  What gives?”

            “You do,” Trixie replied smugly, “Your resume, that is.  You’re coming with me to Le Bar Belle right after school and handing in your application.”  She grabbed her towel.   “Me for a shower!”  she announced, and ran off before Honey had a chance to protest.

 

Coffee Talk •9

       “Where do you two think you’re going?” Mart asked as Honey and Trixie walked past him and the school bus stop.

            “We have a stop to make before going home,” Trixie told him.

            “But maybe we should just take care of it tomorrow...” Honey added.

            “Hon-ey!” Trixie said chidingly.  “Don’t lose your nerve now!”

            “I haven’t,” Honey said.  “It’s just that Maya is right over there.”  She pointed at the pretty girl standing under the awning of Le Bar Belle, talking to Ruthie Kettner.

            “And there’s Jerry Vanderhoef going into Le Bar Belle,” Trixie said.  “This is perfect.” She fished in her tote bag and handed Honey her employment application.  “Here. You go in, submit this, and make then make an appointment to interview Jerry as well.”

            “We should both interview Jerry—and Maya, and Shane, too,” Honey reminded her.  “When do you think would be a good time to do that?”

            “That’s easy.  Tomorrow we have a half day thanks to that teacher’s conference.  We can do it around, say, 1:30 at your place.  What do you think?”
            Honey nodded, thinking it over.  “Yes….  We should do it at the stables so that they can all meet Regan and we can see how well they get along with him.”

            Trixie agreed. “That way they can also all have an opportunity to… how shall I put it? Um, demonstrate their horsemanship—or horsewomanship—or whatever.  We have to make sure they know their way around a stable.”

            “That’s a good idea, Trix.”

            “Of course it is,” Trixie said hastily.  “And tonight we can talk on the phone and make up questions for the interview, but go on, now, Honey, before you lose your nerve again.  I’ll take care of Maya.”

            “Need any help?” Mart asked, waggling his eyebrows.

            “Ahem,” Diana cleared her throat as she came up behind the group.  “You can help Trixie,” she told Mart, “as long as I can help her interview Shane.”

            Mart glowered.  “Never mind, Trix.”

            “Do you want to wait for us or do you want to take the first bus home?” Trixie asked as Dan jogged over to meet up with the group.

            “I need to take the first bus, if you don’t mind,” Diana said apologetically.  “I have the twins to look after.”

            “You two can go off and meet with Maya and the others,” Mart said.  “But I, too, choose to take the first bus.”  He turned to Diana.  “It seems I have taken over the duties of my female sibling, and have been tending to the nurturing of the youngest of our kin.  We’ve been ‘bonding’—if you will—of late.”

            Trixie snorted.  “You mean filling up his head with stories like ‘Sherlock Mart Saves the Day’.”

            “It’s more like deprogramming, actually,” Mart claimed. He turned to Dan.  “I had to!  You should hear him!  Gosh, the way he’s been talking these days you’d think she’s got him convinced that she flies around wearing a cape!”

            Dan tried to hide a smile. “And leaps over crabapple trees in a single bound?”

            “Exactly!”

            “And what you want Bobby to know,” Dan continued, “is that you are the one who does that.”

            “Exactly!”

            Trixie rolled her eyes.

            “You’ve got to admit, Trix, Mart has helped to pull you out of quite a few scrapes in the past,” Diana said, giggling. She flashed Mart one of her best smiles.  His face flamed red.

            “I suppose,” Trixie said grudgingly.  She poked Mart on the shoulder.  “Get going then, dear brother, you don’t want to keep dear little Robert waiting for your heroic presence any longer than he has to.”

            “It seems to me, Super Freckles,” Mart said, poking Trixie on her shoulder.  “As you are the one who gets paid to look after him that you should be giving me a cut of your allowance.”

            Trixie’s mouth dropped open. “Why of all the—“

            “Trixie!” Honey interrupted. “If you want to catch Maya and ask her about tomorrow, you’d better do it now.  She’s walking away.”

            “Oh!  Gleeps! I—” Trixie shook a fist at Mart and ran off to follow Maya.  “Maya!  Wait up!” she yelled and dashed across the street. 

            Maya turned around and watched as Trixie pounded down the sidewalk towards her.  She gave Trixie a once-over.  “Yes?”

            “It’s—about—the Wheeler job,” Trixie said between pants.

            Maya looked surprised.  “The Wheeler job?”

            “You still want it, don’t you?” Trixie asked.

            “Yes….”

            “Okay, then, good.  Honey and I will be conducting interviews tomorrow at 1:30 at the Wheeler stable.  Do you know where that is?”

            “You and…Honey?”

            Trixie scowled.  “Yes,” she said impatiently. “At the stable.  At Manor House.  Can you come or not?”

            “I-I guess so.”  Maya stood up straighter.  “Yes.” 

            That’s more like it, Trixie thought.  “All right then, we’ll see you and whoever else is interested in the job for an interview and a test.”

            “A test?”

            Trixie almost rolled her eyes.  Here we go again!  “Yes, you know, to test your—well, ‘grooming’ abilities and see if you would be any good for the job.”

            Maya held her chin up.  “I’m great at being a stablehand. Just you wait and see.”

            “Okay.  Prove it on Tuesday, then,” Trixie said.  She glanced over at Maya’s tight clothes. “And you might want to wear something more, um, ‘stable appropriate.’ ”

            Maya raised an eyebrow.  “What do you mean?”

            Trixie shrugged her shoulders. “Stuff you won’t mind getting dirty.”

            “Oh,” Maya looked down at her sneakers. “Right.” It looked to Trixie like Maya blushed.

            Suddenly, over Maya’s shoulder, Trixie noticed the figure of Shane Galloway coming up the street, What great timing!  she thought.  “So, um, great, then.  See you tomorrow,” she said dismissively to Maya.

            “See you tomorrow,” Maya replied.  She spun around to continue walking when she almost collided into Shane who had been right behind her.

            Shane grabbed her by the shoulders and held her back. “Whoa, there!  That was close!  Are you all right?” he asked.

            Maya took one look at him and jerked herself away from his grasp.  “I’m fine,” she said through gritted teeth, “no thanks to you.”  Then, after tossing her hair over her shoulder, she stormed away.

            Trixie watched after her in wonder.  “What’s with her?” she asked Shane.

            Shane shook his head sadly.  “I don’t know.  I tried to say I was sorry.”

            “I know,” Trixie said.  “She sure is rude!  Anyway,” she looked up at Shane, “I’m glad you’re here.  You’re just the person I wanted to see.”

            Shane leaned against the side wall of Le Bar Belle and crossed his arms.  “Well aren’t those the words any red-blooded male would love to hear come out of your lips,” he said.  “How can I be of service, pretty lady?”

            Trixie laughed nervously and then frowned at herself.  What’s wrong with me?  Why do I act like such a goon when I’m around Shane?  She squared her shoulders and flipped a lock of curly blonde hair away from her eye.  “Um.  Tomorrow.  Are you free?” she asked.

            “Now, that all depends on what you’ve got in mind….”

            “Me and Honey…that is, Honey and I….would like you…I mean we would like to interview you…for the assistant groom position.  You know, for the Wheeler place.”

            “Oohhh,” Shane nodded knowingly. “All right.”

            “It’ll be after at 1:30 PM.  It’s a half-day you know.  So we’ll both interview you and whoever else is interested in the job and then we’ll test you’re um, ‘horse sense’, I guess.”

            “Sounds like fun,” Shane said. “I’ll be there.” 

            “Great!” Trixie replied.  A small gust of wind blew her troublesome curl back over her eye.

            Shane gently pushed the curl off her face and winked.  “Catch you later,” he said, and sauntered off.

            As Trixie slowly turned her head to watch him go, she soon found herself looking straight into the serious face of Dan Mangan. “Oh.  Hi, Dan.”

            Dan jerked his head in Shane’s direction.  “Did I just see him play with your hair?”

            “Don’t be silly,” Trixie said.  “Honestly, you and Mart are worse than Jim and Brian when it comes to being overprotective.”

            Dan ignored her remark.  “And what did he say to Maya just now that made her walk off in a huff like she did?”

            Trixie set her jaw. “Oh.  So that’s what this is really about. For your information, smarty, he tried to apologize because she almost slammed into him—not the other way around, mind you—and she just blew him off!”

            “She probably had her reasons,” Dan mused.

            “Why don’t you go catch up with her and find out, then?” Trixie snapped.  “I’m going to go find Honey!”

            She brushed past Dan and turned the corner in time to catch Honey leaving the coffee bar, all smiles.

            “I did it, Trixie!” She exclaimed, her face glowing with happiness.  “I submitted my application.  They said they’d call me!”

            “Congratulations!” Trixie gave her friend a hug.  “What about Jerry Vanderhoef?”

            “Oh, I took care of him, too,” Honey said.  “He’s meeting us tomorrow—and I just saw Shane walk in and he told me he was coming, too.  Good work, Trix.”

            “Thanks,” Trixie said.  “You, too.” 

            Honey looked at her watch.  “I think we have time to catch the second bus.  Have you seen Dan?”

            Trixie quickly scanned the area. “He was here a moment ago….”

            “Should we wait for him?” Honey looked worriedly down the road for any sign of the bus.

            Trixie shook her head.  “No.  Somehow I have the feeling he won’t be joining us.”  Not unless one of us morphs into Maya Dominguez.  She shook her head.  Gosh, boys are such suckers for a pretty face!

           

            The next morning, as Trixie sat down at the round kitchen table for breakfast, her father looked over his reading glasses and morning paper and greeted her with the words, “Good morning, ‘Mystery Girl’.”

            Trixie cocked her head and smiled quizzically.  “Good morning, Dad.”

            Mrs. Belden placed a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon in front of Trixie.  “Good morning, Trixie.  Forgive me for asking, but is there anything we should know about Shane Galloway?” She laid a hand on Trixie’s shoulder.

            “Shane Galloway?” Trixie asked, tossing the curls off of her forehead.  “Why?”

            With a theatrical flair, Mr. Belden pulled out a section of the newspaper and lay it flat on the table in front of Trixie.

            She gasped.  It was the gossip page of The New York Bulletin daily newspaperThere, in black and white, was a large photo of her and Shane standing around the corner from Le Bar Belle.  Shane was leaning against the wall, smiling down at her, and brushing the curl away from her face.  The headline above the photo read:  Who is Shane’s New ‘Mystery Girl’?

           

 ‘Mystery Girl’•10

            Mart’s mouth dropped open.  “When did this happen?” he asked, grabbing the newspaper.  “When I left you yesterday you were going to talk to Maya!”

            Trixie began, “I—I—”

            Mart squinted at the photo.  “Wait a minute!  What’s he doing?  Why is he touching your face?”

            Trixie tried to snatch the newspaper away from Mart’s hand, but he held it out of reach.  “He’s just brushing a curl away from my eye, if you must know, Martin Belden!  It was nothing more!”

            Riveted to the newspaper, Mart scanned the text underneath the picture and suddenly burst out laughing. 

            Trixie leapt out of her seat to look over his shoulder.  “What?  What’s so funny?”

            Mart pointed.  “‘Party boy Shane Galloway was spotted in Westchester County yesterday chatting with local “million-heiress” Madeline Wheeler…!’ ” He laughed again.  “They identified you as Honey!”

            Bobby, watching Mart laugh and pound the table, imitated his big brother.

            Trixie threw a withering glance in Bobby’s direction, and since Mart was helpless with laughter, grabbed the newspaper back from him and threw herself back into her chair.  “Well, that just about fits, doesn’t it?  This whole thing is just ridiculous.”  She looked from her mother to her father and then back to her mother.  “We were just setting up an appointment for this afternoon.  He’s one of the applicants for the groom’s assistant position at the Wheelers’.  Remember when I came back from Ella Kline’s and told you how Honey and I were going to be paid to interview candidates?”

            “A groom’s assistant?” Bobby suddenly stopped laughing to listen to the news.  “Like a helper for Regan?”  He pouted thoughtfully.  “Regan doesn’t need any help!”

            “Actually, he does, Bobby,” Trixie said gently.  “He has a lot to do at the stable.  If you ask me, I think it’s about time he had a helping hand.”

            “Well, that’s all very interesting,” her father said. “But do you really think Shane Galloway is the type of person who should be working for the Wheelers?”

            “Why, because he’s rich?”  Trixie asked, picking up a piece of crunchy bacon and taking a bite out of it.  “The Wheelers are equal opportunity employers.  Besides, he doesn’t have the job yet.”

            “I’m glad to hear that.  And no, not because he’s rich, but rather because he comes with, well—” he glanced at Bobby, “—let’s call it a ‘reputation’.  I just want you to be careful around him, that’s all.”

            Trixie felt her face flush. “I’m not dumb, you know.”

            “Trixie!  We never said you were!” her mother admonished her.  “But we are right to warn you. I’ve heard tell of this character and he’s supposed to be a pretty charming guy.  Since we can already see that you’ve allowed him to get close to you—”

            “’Close’ to me?”  Trixie exhaled loudly.  “The boy is practically a stranger!  Really!”  She shook her head.  “I can’t believe this!  Isn’t making a mountain out of a molehill what I usually do and not you guys?  What’s gotten into all of you?  Don’t you trust me?”

            Mrs. Belden looked hurt.  “Of course we do!”

            Mr. Belden pulled the newspaper back over to his side of the table.  “We just don’t necessarily trust him.”

            “Don’t worry,” Mart said.  He leaned back in his hair and interlaced his fingers behind his head.  “I can accompany Trixie to the stable later and stick around for the interviews if you’d like.”

            Trixie narrowed her eyes. “You’ll do nothing of the sort,” she said.  “Moms, Dad—Honey and I are doing this together.  We don’t need a babysitter.  We even have it all planned out.  We’re going to interview all of them this afternoon first, then have them meet Regan to see how they interact with him, and then we’re going to give them a series of tasks to do at the stables to see how well they know their stuff.”

            “Like three tests,” Bobby said.

            “Exactly.”  Trixie smiled appreciatively at him.

            “Hmmm,” Mart said.  “In-ter-est-ing.” 

            “A candidate has to pass all three tests—and with flying colors, mind you—in order to get the job,” Trixie continued.  “If it ends up that no one succeeds well enough, then we’ll just have to keep looking until we find the right person.”

            Mart drummed his fingers against his chin.  “Yes.  Very in-ter-es-ting.”

            “So can Honey and I just go ahead with it?  Please?” Trixie asked her parents.

            “Well, if Ms. Trask and Regan approve, I don’t see why not,” Mrs. Belden said.

            “Obviously, they are the ones who will really have the last word on who gets hired,” Mr. Belden added.  “I agree with your mother, then, Trixie.  You may proceed.”

            Trixie breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thank you.  Besides, I’m going to need that money to help pay Ella Kline for the ball dress,” she said.

            Mart snickered.

            “And what’s so funny about that?” Trixie huffed.

            “Nothing,” Mart said.  “I just don’t know which is more unnatural: that you are going to a ball or that you will be wearing a ball gown once you get there.”  He snickered again.  “Will wonders never cease?”

            Trixie fought back the tears that threatened to come.  “I’m not exactly a gorilla, you know!  But if you think I am, go take a look in the mirror, twin!”  Trixie pushed her chair back from the table and dashed out of the kitchen.

            The room was silent for a moment.  Then, Mart quietly rose from the table, picked up Trixie’s breakfast dish, and scraped it clean.  As he placed it in the dishwasher he turned to his mother.  “I wasn’t saying she was ugly,” he said in a quiet voice.  “I was laughing because Trixie still has no idea—”

            “I know,” Mrs. Belden nodded understandingly and patted her son on the back, “I know.  Just bring Bobby to the bus, will you?”

            “But that’s Trixie’s job…!  Oh, all right.” Mart gestured at his younger brother.  “Come on, Bobby.  It’s time to get a move on.”

            A short time later, Trixie watched her two blonde brothers leave the house and walk up the path to join her.  Bobby had grown a lot in the past few months.  At eight, he no longer spoke with his once trademark baby talk, nor did he lisp as he used to now that his two new front teeth had grown in.  His hair, which had once been mass of silky curls, was now cut short into a crew cut, and a growth spurt had reduced his cherubic chubbiness so much that he could almost be called skinny.  Still, he’s completely adorable, Trixie thought, tempted to give him a squeeze.  He’s just not a baby anymore.

            Mart, on the other hand, had let his crew cut grow out into longer, golden waves.  Always taller than Trixie, he had now officially left his petite sister in the dust when it came to height, and was just an inch shorter than Brian.  In the last year Mart’s shoulders had also broadened and his jaw had squared off.  All in all, Trixie grudgingly admitted to herself, Mart had developed quite nicely.  What she liked best about his look at the moment, however, was the expression of regret on his face. 

            Good, Trixie thought with a sniff.  He should feel badly.  His teasing always goes too far.

            Mart and Trixie didn’t speak to one another as they waited for Bobby’s bus to arrive first.  After seeing him safely inside and waving good-bye to Bobby as his bus pulled away, Mart and Trixie continued to stand side-by-side in silence.  After about a minute, Dan, Diana, and Honey met them at the stop.  Sensing the tension between the Beldens, Dan and Diana exchanged glances.  Honey then opened her mouth to say something but the bus pulled up.  So, without a word to one another, the Bob-Whites all clambered inside.

            “Well if it isn’t the ‘Mystery Girl’!” greeted the bus driver.

            Startled, Trixie could only stare at him. 

            “You sure do have a lot of rich friends, don’t you, kid?” the driver continued.  He looked Trixie over with a shadow of a scowl on his face.

            Mart leaned past Trixie and looked him in the eye. “Yep, we both do.  Lucky for us we only know one rude bus driver!”

            It was the bus driver’s turn to be stunned into silence as Trixie and Mart walked to the back of the bus.

            Trixie plopped herself down beside Honey and threw a grateful look at Mart.  “We should have taken the Bob-White minivan and driven to school,” she said with a sigh.

            “Don’t complain!  There are worse things than having people think you’re dating Shane Galloway,” Diana said from across the aisle from where she was sitting next to Mart.

            “Are you sure about that?” Dan muttered from his seat behind Trixie.

            “No one is saying I’m dating Shane,” Trixie said. “They’re saying Madeleine Wheeler is!”

            Honey giggled.  “Yes! Wasn’t that silly?  How did they get my name instead of yours?”

            “I guess he usually dates millionaires—or millionaire’s daughters, anyway,” Trixie surmised.  “They probably figured he couldn’t possibly be dating a farm girl.  Not that he is—dating me, I mean.  Plus, Honey, we’re always together, you and I, and our names have been linked in the newspaper when we’ve solved mysteries in the past, so...”

            “Well, whatever the reason, I think it’s just awful the way newspapers and photographers operate these days,” Honey stated firmly.

            “You mean tabloids and paparazzi,” Mart broke in.

            Honey nodded.  “Why, they don’t even get their facts straight!”

             “…and people believe anything they read in the paper for some reason,” Trixie said.  “I certainly had a lesson on that this morning when I saw how my parents reacted to the picture—and they at least should know better!”
            “That’s the power of the written word,” Diana said solemnly.

            “And why the pen is mightier than the sword, to coin a phrase,” Mart added.

            “And why a picture is worth a thousand words,” Dan added, with a hint of a smile.

            “Anyway, if I hear another cliché I’ll eat my hat,” Trixie said with a laugh.  “Now let’s talk about something important.  Honey and I are going to interview all of our applicants today…” she shot a look at the bus driver and decided not to mention Shane by name, “….and we would like to give them a ‘groom test’ of some kind.  So I thought one good way to do this would be to have three of the horses exercised so that they would have to groom them and muck out their stalls and that sort of thing.  Would you three be willing to take three of the horses out for a bit?”

            Mart raised an eyebrow. “Wait a minute.  Now you’re asking for my help?  A few minutes ago you weren’t interested!”

            Trixie made a face.  “I said I wasn’t interested in a babysitter—a hand I can use.  So, what do you say?  Will you help?”

            Diana, Dan and Mart all agreed.

            “I’ll take Strawberry,” Mart volunteered. 

            “I guess I’ll ride Lady, then,” Diana said.

            “…and Starlight,” Dan said, “should work for me.”

            “Great!  Thanks, guys!  You’re all wonderful!”  Trixie clasped her hands.

            “Well, anything for Regan,” Mart said with a little cough.  “After all, we don’t want to set off that famous redheaded temper of his.”

              “Trixie….” Honey said with a faraway look in her eyes.  “Have you by any chance heard from Jim?”

            Trixie shook her head. She had checked her e-mail before leaving home that morning.  “You mean about that silly photo?  No.  Why?”

            Honey shook her head.  “I just wondered…you know…what he thinks about it.”

            “If I know Jim—and I think I do,” Trixie said, “he won’t think anything of it.  He knows me well enough to know that this ‘mystery girl’ stuff is all nonsense.  Although, I don’t know why he’d even care….”

            Honey and Diana smiled at each other.

            “Although you’ve got to admit,” Mart said, with an amused look on his face, “the ‘mystery girl’ moniker fits.  I mean, I can’t imagine anyone who deserves to be called that more than you do.”

            Diana giggled.  “You’re so right, Mart!”

            “I don’t know.” Trixie shrugged coyly.  “I kind of prefer to be called ‘schoolgirl shamus’ myself,” she said, referring to the nickname Jim had made up for her years ago.  “After all, I prefer to solve mysteries—not make them up!”

            They all laughed. 

            “Well, I have a mystery for you to solve, Trix,” Diana said.  “It’s called ‘The Mystery of the Incomplete Outfit’.”

            Trixie wrinkled her nose. “Huh?”

            Diana laughed aloud.  “I’m talking about your outfit—for the ball.  I understand you’re missing some dancing shoes?  Honey told me you got yourself a lovely ball gown, but you lack the proper shoes to go with them.”

            Trixie sighed.  “Yes.  But I have some old high heels lying around somewhere.  You know, the green ones I wore a couple of years ago—or the white ones from Juliana’s wedding—”

            Diana gasped in horror.  “Trixie Belden!  I will simply refuse to be seen in public with you if you wear green shoes with a blue ballgown!”

            Mart clutched his hair as he cried out in a falsetto voice, “Quick! Call the Fashion Police!”

            Diana smacked him lightly on the upper arm. “It practically is a crime, you know,” she said seriously.  Tucking her smooth dark hair behind an ear, she leaned over and laid a hand on Trixie’s knee.  “Listen, Trixie.  Do me a favor and meet me after school tomorrow.  We’ll go to the mall and do some shoe shopping.  If we find you a nice pair then they will be my birthday present to you.”

            “I can’t let you do that, Di,” Trixie began to protest.

            Diana held out a hand. “I insist. After all, Trixie, you’re only sixteen once and you will truly ruin the ball for me if you show up wearing a beautiful ball gown—and horrible shoes.”

            “What about my sneakers?” Trixie asked, her eyes sparking with mischief.  “My dress is pretty long, so no one will actually see them, and yet I’ll be really comfortable….” The look of sheer horror that cut across Diana’s face made Trixie burst out laughing.  “I guess my flip-flops are also out of the question?”

            Diana’s voice came out in a high-pitched squeak.  “Stop scaring me, Trixie!” she cried, but she laughed too.

            “All right, all right,” Trixie surrendered.  “I’ll meet you after school if that’s what you really want.  And thanks!”  She pulled up the legs of her jeans to show off her scuffed oxfords and then pointed her feet with mock daintiness. “I’m really starting to feel like Cinderella after all,” she said with a chuckle. “In fact, I think while we’re at the shoe store we should see if any of the styles come in ‘glass slipper’ this season!”

            As Honey and Diana laughed once more, Dan grunted.  Then he said under his breath, “What I want to know is: who will be her ‘Prince Charming’?”

 

 

                                                                               The Interviews •11

            That afternoon, Dan, Diana, and Mart met at the stable while Trixie and Honey got ready for the interviews inside the Manor House

            Nearly three years ago, when Trixie had first entered the huge estate Honey called home, she had been overwhelmed by its grandeur.  In fact, the first time she slept over Honey’s house she had even felt a little homesick.  Over the years, however, what had once seemed to Trixie a formal and foreboding mansion eventually grew to become almost as warm and welcoming as her own house.  Gradually becoming familiar with every corner of the house and befriending all of the servants had also help Trixie to become more comfortable over time.

            Ms. Trask and Trixie stood together before the grand staircase as Honey stood off to the side and conferred with Celia and asked that she make sure that upon their arrival, Shane, Maya and Jerry were lead to the sitting room to fill out applications and that they were also all offered something to drink.  “Trixie and I will then take them one at a time into the library to interview them face-to-face,” she said.

            Celia nodded that she understood.  “Yes, Miss Honey,” she said, and left for the kitchen.

            Trixie looked at Honey admiringly.  She was growing into a wonderful hostess!

            As though she could read Trixie’s mind, Ms. Trask smiled at her and winked.

            Ms. Trask used to be a governess to Honey before becoming the manager of the estate, Trixie remembered.  It must make her almost as proud as a mother to see Honey growing up so nicely. Especially since Honey used to be so timid and shy—and now look at her!

            Honey was striding ahead of them.  “Now let’s see what we can do with the chairs in the library,” she said.  She walked through the open mahoghany doors of the sumptuous room.

            “Where should we sit?” Trixie asked, sweeping a gaze about the room.

            “I’m not sure,” Honey admitted.  “This is a nice spot here, near the fireplace—which isn’t lit, thank goodness—and there are these lovely leather chairs that are facing each other, but there’s also that place near the window where that wingchair and loveseat are set up near the pedestal table.”

            Trixie nodded, picturing the scene.  “Let’s sit there.  We can both sit in the loveseat, then, and our interviewees can take the chair.”

            “Well, girls,” Ms. Trask said crisply.  “It seems to me that everything is in order here, so if you don’t mind, I’ll keep Regan company in the stable as you girls take care of things here.  When you’re done, bring them outside and we’ll watch how the tests go.”

            “Great,” Trixie told her, “and don’t worry, we’ve got everything under control.”

            “I can see that,” Ms. Trask said, walking briskly away.  “Which is why I feel safe leaving it all in your hands.  Good luck, girls!” 

            “Thank you, Ms. Trask,” Honey said, beaming.

            “Good-bye!”  With a jaunty wave, Ms. Trask left the room.

            Honey walked over to the window and craned her neck for a view of the driveway.  “I think this is going to be fun,” she said with a happy sigh.

            Before the girls knew it, the applicants began arriving.  Maya Dominguez was the first to ring the front door bell, looking hot and tired.

            She looks almost as if she walked here, Trixie thought.  But two miles?  No way!  She couldn’t have…. 

            Honey looked Maya up and down. In her sagging jeans that crumpled at her ankles and her wrinkled, oversized T-shirt, Maya looked disheveled.  “Come in,” Honey said.  “You look like you can use a cool drink.  Celia, would you show our guest the sitting room, please?”

            As Celia led the teenager into the next room, Honey looked on with concern.  “Those clothes… don’t really fit Maya, do they?” she whispered to Trixie.                                                       

            “At least she’s not wearing something two sizes too small,” Trixie said with a smirk.

            “That’s just it,” Honey said.  “I’m not sure this is better.  She looks almost…like a little girl dressed in her father’s clothes.”

            The doorbell rang again and soon Shane Galloway and Jerry Vanderhoef stepped into the foyer together.

            “Before we go any further,” Shane said, “I just want to apologize to you two ladies about what was in the paper this morning.”  He stepped aside and shook his head.  “I’m used to that sort of treatment, but you are not, and it really wasn’t fair to you two.”  He then raised his head and looked deeply into the eyes of each girl in turn.  “Maybe now you can understand a little bit more why someone like we would like to get away from it all and just do some quiet work under the sun—”

            Jerry held up his hand.  “Save it, Galloway,” he said.  “The interviews haven’t started yet.”

            Shane laughed, his face reddening.

            Honey looked sympathetically at him.  “Actually, I understand exactly what you mean, Shane.  Now if the two of you would just follow me, please,” she said, “we can get started on those interviews.”

            When Honey and Trixie entered the sitting room, Maya, who had been working steadily on her application, looked up.  Seeing the group, she jumped to her feet.

            “Don’t let us disturb you,” Honey told her.  “Trixie, would you please hand these gentleman applications, too?”

            Maya looked at the new arrivals with undisguised disgust on her face.  “Do you mean to tell me that they’re applying?”

            Honey looked at Maya quizzically.  “Yes….”

            “Is that a problem?” Trixie asked Maya.

            Maya looked uncertainly at Shane.  “I don’t know.  Is it?”

            Shane shrugged, but he wouldn’t look at her.  “Not with me.”

            “Then me neither,” Jerry said.

            Hmm, thought Trixie.  She suddenly remembered the scene the day before when Shane and Maya had nearly collided on the street. What had they said to each other…?

            Celia offered iced tea to all the newcomers and soon Trixie and Honey called Maya into the library for the first interview.

            “I think the most important question we ask all of them,” Trixie whispered to Honey as they led Maya across the hall, “is going to be ‘why do you want to work as a groom?’ ”

            Maya’s answer to that question was, “Well, first of all, I need the work.”

            Trixie and Honey gave her all of their attention as she squirmed in her chair, looked uncomfortably at Honey, and continued.

            “My parents are…unable to work right now, and so we could use the extra money.  This job would be perfect for me because I was practically raised in a barn.  Oh, wait a minute—that sounds bad.  What I mean is, you girls may not know this, but my father is—was—a groom, and I grew up around horses and helped him out from as soon as I could pick up a currycomb.”

            Interesting, thought Trixie.

            When Shane answered the question, he leaned forward in his chair, lowered his head, and looked up at the girls through a thatch of his sun-kissed hair.

            “As I was telling you girls earlier, I really just need a space where I can get away from it all, you know?  I need some peace and quiet in my life.  And horses—well, I love them!  I traveled the horse show circuit for years and so the stables quickly became a second home for me. Sometimes I feel more at home there than in my actual house!”

            “Why is that?” Trixie asked.

            “Sometimes I feel like…I don’t know. I know this probably sounds dumb, but I feel like animals can understand me better than humans can, sometimes.”

            Honey sighed.  “That doesn’t sound dumb at all.”

            “Anyway, my parents are going through a pretty ugly divorce—maybe you saw it in all the papers—and I just don’t really feel like hanging out with either one of them much this summer if you know what I mean.”

            Sensitive Honey nodded.  “That must be hard.”

            Shane ran a hand through his hair.  “Yup. Yup, it is.”

            Finally, when Jerry was asked the question, his answer went like this, “I need a summer job, and hey, this will be outdoors, which is pretty cool, and let’s face it, rattling around a mansion all day, looking after a few horses now and again—how hard can it be?”  He drained his glass of tea and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “And Diana—she hangs out here all the time, right?”

            “Actually, she has her own horse,” Trixie said, “and her own barn.”

            “So….do the Lynches need a groom?” Jerry asked.

           

            When the interviews were over, Trixie and Honey led the three applicants out to the stable. 

            “Let’s introduce you to William Regan, the man who you’ll be working with if you are hired for the position,” Honey said.

            “Regan?  Ms. Trask?” Trixie called out.  “Where are you?”

            “In the back!” Regan’s voice answered. “Come on over!”

            They found Regan—but not Ms. Trask—in Regan’s office in the back of the barn.  The office was small and crowded, with an old wooden desk on one end and a row of file cabinets against the opposite wall.  Papers, a half-drunk cup of coffee from that morning, and a dirty horseshoe littered the top of his desk.

            In contrast to his surroundings, Regan himself looked very kempt. He was dressed in a neatly pressed, button-down shirt; brand new jeans; and polished boots.  To complete the outfit, a navy blazer was draped over the back of a chair in the corner, waiting to be shrugged onto Regan’s broad shoulders.

            Knowing that she would only embarrass him, Trixie suppressed the urge to whistle in admiration.  Joan is still driving him to distraction.  Maybe by the time he proposes he will switch back to normal and have a neater barn and sloppier clothes...!                                                            

            “Don’t you look nice?” Honey said.  “Seeing Joan tonight?”

            “Yes, as a matter of fact I am,” Regan answered easily. 

            To Trixie, however, Regan’s tone seemed almost too casual, and she even picked up a hint of a strain in his voice.  Then she suddenly knew why:

            Omigosh, omigosh omigosh!  Her heart pounded fiercely.  Tonight’s the night!  Regan’s going to propose!

 

                                                                                    The Best Test •12

            Trixie felt like jumping up and down with excitement but didn’t dare.  She tried to catch Honey’s eye, but Honey continued, all business.

            “Mr. William Regan, I’d like you to meet our first applicants for the position of assistant groom: Ms. Maya Dominguez, Mr. Shane Galloway, and Mr. Jeremiah Vanderhoef.”

            Regan shook all of their hands in turn.  “Nice to meet you young folks,” he said pleasantly.  “Call me Regan.  This is my office, and I live above the garage there.  If any of you need to use a restroom, we have one right here in this office.  I’d use it now if I was you, as I believe there will be some horses in need of grooming returning to the stables shortly and we should be conducting the test soon afterwards.”

            Heeding his advice, both Maya and Shane headed for the restroom at the same time and bumped into each other.  Shane bowed low. “Ladies first,” he said.

            Maya glowered, but went ahead of him.

            “We’ll wait for you out front,” Regan said to them, and he walked Trixie outside.  “Say, isn’t he the one…?  I mean…aren’t you supposed to be his ‘mystery girl’?”

            Trixie felt her cheeks burn. “I’m not his anything!”

            Regan held up his hands in surrender.  “Okay!  Okay!”  Then he waved at the figures of Mart, Diana and Dan as they walked the horses back to the barn.  “I can’t stay long,” Regan told Trixie and Honey.  “Joan is coming to pick me up.  But trust me, I’ll be here long enough to know what’s what, so don’t you worry about that.”

            Trixie felt torn between wanting Regan to stay longer and being sure he didn’t miss anything, and wanting Regan to leave earlier.  After all, she thought, the sooner he leaves, the sooner he proposes, and the sooner he proposes, the sooner the Bob-Whites can plan another wedding!

            After all the applicants had their turn freshening up in the restroom, they were greeted outside by Mart, Diana and Dan.

            Jerry was the last one out of the back room, and when he caught sight of Diana, he sprinted past Shane and Maya—nearly knocking them down—in order to reach her first.

            Lady shied a little as Jerry grabbed her reigns.  “I’ll do that for you, Di,” he gushed.

            “Um, thanks, Jerry,” Diana said, sounding slightly unnerved.

            Maya reached out for Starlight’s reigns just as Dan was handing them to her.

            “I’ll take that—” Maya said.

            “Here you go—” Dan was saying at the same time.

            They smiled shyly at one another and blushed simultaneously.

            I wonder, Trixie thought to herself, if Dan didn’t catch up to Maya yesterday and have a little chat with her after all….

            Mart handed Strawberry’s reigns to Shane.  “Do a good job,” he said.  “Ol’ Berry, here, was a good girl today and deserves the best.”

            “No problem,” Shane said, leading the horse to a wash stall.

            The three teens set to work.  Jerry began soaping Lady down immediately.  He was working so quickly that Maya, who had been watching him over her shoulder, clucked her tongue and shouted, “Hey, Vander-huff, slow down.  This is a test not a race.”

            Jerry looked over Lady’s back to glare at her.  Shane chuckled.

            Soon, Regan got up from his chair to get a closer look at the progress of the participants of the test. 

            “Don’t get too close,” Honey warned.  “You don’t want to mess up your outfit….”

            “Don’t you worry, little lady,” Regan said as he slowly paced before the three teenagers and their horses, “I’ll be just fine.”

            “Hey!  What about my horse?” a young voice suddenly demanded loudly.

            Bobby? Trixie whirled around to see her little brother walking with Ms. Trask and Susie, who, it appeared, Bobby had been riding. 

            “She needs to get groomed, too,” Bobby said.

            Trixie stepped forward to stop him and explain that a test was going on, when Mart place a hand on her shoulder and put a finger to his lips. “This was an idea I had,” he whispered.  “This will be part of the test.”

            Confused, Trixie looked over at Bobby who flashed a secret thumbs-up signal to Mart and then walked over to Jerry.

            “Hey, there, Mister,” Bobby said.  “Will you wash my horse?”

            “Get out of here, kid,” Jerry said.  “Can’t you see something important is going on here?  We can’t be fooling around with you right now.”  He held up a hose as if threatening to soak Bobby with water.  “Scram.”  Then Jerry raised his voice, “Trixie, tell your kid brother to beat it!  He’s ruining everything!”

            Bobby looked a little rattled by the harsh treatment he had just received, and Honey looked stricken.  Trixie wanted to run over and hug Bobby—right after she took the shovel and smashed it over Jerry’s head.  But she stopped herself and motioned to Honey to watch as Mart nodded at Bobby and prodded him over to the wash stall where Shane was working.

            “Hey there, Big Guy,” Shane said, greeting Bobby with a wink.  “Don’t pay any attention to Jerry!  He’s just grumpy because we’re in the middle of something important.”

            “It looks like you’re just washing horses to me,” Bobby said.  “I want you to wash mine.  She’s dirty.”

            “…and I’ll do just that, too,” Shane said.  He reached out to tousle Bobby’s hair, but since Bobby had a crew cut, he ended up only patting him on the head.  “You just hold on to her and I’ll get you a rope and then I’ll tie her to that post, there.  Then I’ll get to her as soon as I’m finished with pretty Strawberry over here. How does that sound?”

            “Okay,” Bobby said, all smiles.

            “Well, it sounds terrible to me,” Maya interjected.  “Do you mean to tell me,” she addressed Bobby, “that you were going to ride that horse and then just leave her there to be cleaned up by someone else?  Is that how you say ‘thank you’?’”

            Bobby paled slightly.  “No.”

            “Then you tie her and wash her down yourself, and if you don’t know how, I’ll show you and you can help me wash Starlight and I’ll help you wash that horse—what’s her name?”
            “Susie.”

            “Susie.  And you are…?”

            “Bobby.”

            “Okay, Bobby. One of the first things you have to learn about good horsemanship is that horses are living animals and you have to treat them right.  It’s only fair that if they do something for you, you pay them back by doing something for them. Now Susie gave you a nice ride, so now you can give her a nice bath.  And even maybe a treat.”

            Susie’s ears pricked up at the word “treat.”

            “Okay,” Bobby said.  “I’ll help you wash Starlight and then you help me with Susie.”

            “Good.”  Maya slapped a sponge into one of Bobby’s hands and pointed to the water bucket nearby.  “The soap’s in there.”

            Bobby began dunking his sponge in the bucket when Jerry raised his voice in protest.  “Hey!  No fair!  She’ll be done in half the time.  She’s got help—and she’s supposed to be the help. That doesn’t make any sense.  That’s like—like—like cheating!

            “It looks to me like she has twice the horses you do, son,” Regan pointed out.  “And I think you’re probably better off making sure you do a good job instead of making sure that your competition does!” 

            Hanging his head, Jerry got back to work.

            Regan turned away from the scene and glanced over at Trixie and Honey. “As far as I’m concerned, the test is over,” he told them, chuckling, “and if you girls don’t know who won it, then Ms. Trask will have to fire you!”

            “You,” Trixie said to Mart, “are a genius.”

            “Truer words were never spoken,” Mart said, rubbing his knuckles across his chest.

            Just then, a blue Mini-Cooper pulled up to the stables and Joan Stintson climbed out from behind the driver’s seat.

            With high cheekbones, pale blue eyes and fair skin, Joan had classically beautiful features.  In fact, she had such a naturally healthy glow that she usually wore little or no make-up.  She had a strong, trim figure as a result of all her hard work as a horse trainer, and usually wore her dark hair swept up in a ponytail or hidden under a hat.  This evening, however, she wore her hair down, letting it fall softly about her shoulders. She also wore a skirt, boots and a soft pullover sweater.

            Diana hurried over to greet her.  “You look lovely, Joan,” she said a little too eagerly.  She flashed meaningful looks at Honey and Trixie.

            “Thanks,” Joan said.  She looked slightly embarrassed. 

            She’s like me, Trixie thought, that is, she’s not used to being dressed up that often.  

            Regan looked Joan over with an admiration he couldn’t hide.  “Hi, Jo,” he said softly.  “I’ll be right with you. Let me just get my jacket.”

            As he dashed off, Joan gestured towards the wash stalls.  “What’s going on, here?” she asked.  “I see a lot of new faces.”

            Trixie and Honey exchanged glances.  “Let Regan tell you,” Trixie said.  “He’ll, uh, be able to explain it better.”

            “Explain…?”

            “Yes.” Trixie quickly changed the subject.  “Are you two going into the city tonight?  You both look like you’re up to something special.”

            Honey pressed her mouth into a thin line and shook her head, signaling to Trixie to keep her mouth shut.

            “No, we’re staying in town,” Joan answered.  “We’re just going out to dinner.”

            Diana tilted her head. “Awww.  Dinner.”

            Joan shot her a questioning look.

            Regan ran back to the car.  “Okay!  I’m ready!”  He turned and shouted to Maya, Shane and Jerry, “Thanks, guys.  You’re all doing a great job.  Trixie, Honey and Ms. Trask will look after you now. I have an appointment this evening.  So long!”  Then he told Joan under his breath, “Let’s hit it.”

            “’Bye, girls,” Joan said with a wide smile as she slipped back behind the wheel.  Regan ran around the car and slid into the front passenger seat. 

            Watching as they pulled away, Trixie crossed her arms.  Then, turning to Honey and Diana, she whispered conspiratorially, “Tonight’s the night.  I’m sure of it.  Regan’s going to pop the question!”

            Honey and Diana squealed.

            Everyone looked over at them. 

            Honey cleared her throat.  “Sorry.”  Then she addressed Jerry, Shane and Maya.  “Okay.  Once you’re done there, I would like you to muck out the stalls of these horses, so if you’ll just follow me….”

 

            A little while later, the tests were over.  Once again, Ms. Trask left Trixie and Honey in charge as she returned to her duties inside the Manor House.  The girls then said good-bye to all three applicants and promised to get back to them within a week’s time.

            “A week?” Jerry couldn’t believe it.  “Why so long?”

            “Trixie and I need to compare notes and discuss the results with Ms. Trask and Regan before making our final decision,” Honey explained. 

            “That sounds fine to me,” Shane said.

            “Me too,” Maya added quickly.

            Soon after that, Jerry and Shane drove off in Jerry’s silver sports car.

            “Where’s your car, Maya?” Trixie asked, looking around the Manor House parking lot.

            “I, uh, I didn’t come by car,” Maya said.

            “I’ll drive you home,” Dan volunteered.

            “Oh, no, that’s okay,” Maya protested. “I don’t want to bother you….”

            “It’s no bother,” Dan insisted.  He twirled the keys to the Bob-White mini-van and looked back at the rest of the Bob-Whites.  “No else needs the car, right?”

            “No,” they chorused.

            “See?” Dan grinned at Maya.  “Come on, it’s this way.”

            Within minutes, Dan and Maya were on the road. 

            Trixie placed her hands on her hips.  “Well, I hope Maya doesn’t think we’re giving her the job just because Dan likes her!”

            Honey crossed her arms.  “Who says we’re giving Maya the job?”

           

 

A Figure in the Shadows 13

            Trixie laughed.  “Regan, for one.  He practically spelled it out for us, Honey.  He wants Maya.”

            “Shane was pretty good too, you know,” Honey countered.  There was an edge to her voice.

            The girls glared challengingly at one another.

            “Uh, how about Bobby and I walk you home, Di?” Mart asked Diana suddenly.

            “Sure…” Diana answered.  “Sounds good….”  Then, casting one last wary look at Trixie and Honey, Diana fell into step with the blonde Belden brothers and started up the hill to her nearby mansion.

            “You know, Trixie,” Honey said in an oddly cool tone.  “I’m surprised to hear that you are on Maya’s side all of a sudden.  I thought you liked Shane.”

            Trixie rolled her eyes.  “Well, he’s certainly good-looking, but that doesn’t mean he’s not just another spoiled-brat rich kid—!”

            “—What was that?” Honey’s hazel eyes glistened. 

            Trixie clamped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, Honey, you know I don’t mean that you’re a spoiled brat just because you’re rich.  In fact, I think you’re just about the most unspoiled person I know!”

            “Why does everyone act like it’s such a crime to be rich?” Honey’s voice was shaky.  “And then when a rich kid tries to get a job doing some real, honest work, he—or she—gets criticized, too.”

            Trixie gently placed a hand on one of Honey’s slim shoulders.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize that you were still upset about what Maya said.”

            Honey jerked away from Trixie’s touch.  “I’m not.  It just seems to me that there’s a double standard about rich people that just isn’t fair.”

            Trixie wrinkled her nose.  “You’re right.  When I first met you I did immediately assume that you were going to be some kind of a sissy who wouldn’t be any fun—”

            “—Thanks a lot, Trixie!—”

            “—but the point is, Honey, I got to know you and realized how wrong I was,” Trixie continued.

            “Oh, you weren’t wrong!” Honey wailed.  “I was a sissy. And look at me now, crying like this, I’m still a sissy.  I wonder how you even put up with me sometimes.”

            “Now you are being—well, a bit silly, anyway!  You’re the one who’s an angel to put with me all the time,” Trixie argued.  “But…I do think we should hire Maya. Not just because she needs the money the most—although it sounds like she does—and not just because she knows her way around a stable, either, although again, she obviously does. Honey, let’s be honest.  She did the best on the test, and I’m sure Regan would get along with her better than with Jerry or Shane, and those are the points that really count the most.”

            The two girls walked up towards the outdoor patio of the Manor House in silence.  There they sat side-by-side on the glider in continued silence until Trixie spoke again.

            “I’ll admit I was kind of rooting for Shane in the beginning, but after we interviewed Maya, I couldn’t help but think how it took a lot of guts for her to come to you for a job after saying what she did to you.  It said to me that she must really need it.”

            Honey took a shuddering breath.  “I- I’m a terrible person, Trixie Belden,” she said, her voice trembling.

            “What?  Nonsense!  What makes you so ‘terrible’?”

            Honey whirled around to face her.  “I just realized that I really was so hurt by what Maya said that I was willing to give the job to someone else even though she was the best candidate for the position.”

            Trixie shrugged.  “So?  You just said ‘almost’—but you didn’t, so you’re not a terrible person.  You’re just human.”  Trixie gave her friend a hug.  “And that’s just the way I like you.”

            Honey sniffled and smiled gratefully.  “As long as I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I also thought it would be nice to have Shane around because, well, he’s nice to look at.”

            The girls dissolved into giggles.

            “So I guess you like Maya now,” Honey continued. 

            “It wasn’t really that I disliked her so much as I disliked the way all the boys drool when she’s around,” Trixie admitted.

            “We’re not any better,” Honey said.  “We pretend we are, but then we see a Shane Galloway and we’re just as bad.”

            Trixie giggled again. “I supposed you’re right.  But as for Maya, I guess she really earned my vote the minute I saw how she was with Bobby.  Then, when she got the Regan stamp of approval, well, that pretty much cinched it for me.”

            “I thought Shane was sweet with Bobby, though, didn’t you?” Honey asked.

            “Yes, I did, but he didn’t, you know… let Bobby take responsibility for grooming his own ride.  If Bobby was a three-year old, it might be a different story, but Bobby’s a big boy now.  Sometimes I think people forget just how much a kid can do for himself.”

            “That’s true.”  Honey sighed.  “Oh, Trix, It’s going to awful telling Shane he doesn’t have the job,” she confessed.  “I know what he’s going through. I mean, I couldn’t possibly know what its like to have my parents divorce the way his are divorcing—thank goodness—but I do know what it’s like to be a sad, lonely, rich kid with no real friends.”

            Trixie nodded solemnly.  “People like Jerry Vanderhoef are only friends with people like Shane for their money.”

            “And the sad part is, Shane probably knows it, but he’s so lonely he doesn’t care.”

            “That is sad,” Trixie agreed.

            “I think Shane wants you to be his ‘friend’, too,” Honey said, elbowing Trixie teasingly.

            “He’s just not my type,” Trixie said.

            “What is your type, then?”

            “You know, a more—honorable type of guy,” Trixie said. “Nobody calls Shane ‘honorable.’ ” She felt her face flush.  “I prefer the type of guy who respects me and my ideas without trying to flatter me or treat me like I’m all helpless and dumb; a guy who’s independent and respects my independence, but who’s someone I can also count on to help me in a pinch if I asked.  Shane is more ‘Hollywood’ than Sleepyside and I prefer Sleepyside…and someone who is down-to-earth enough to make me feel comfortable.” 

            Honey fluttered her lashes with mock innocence.  “Do you know anyone fitting that description?”

            “Don’t make me push you off this glider, Honey!” Trixie threatened.

            Honey burst out laughing.  Then she said, “Trixie, won’t you stay for dinner?  In fact, why not stay overnight?  I know tomorrow’s a school night, but it’s early yet and I thought maybe we could e-mail Jim together and see what he’s up to.”

            Trixie felt her heartbeat speed up at the sound of Jim’s name.  “I don’t know if Moms will agree, but we may as well ask,” she said.  She and Honey stayed over one another’s homes so often, that each girl had learned to keep a toothbrush and an emergency change of clothes at the home of the other at all times.

            Mrs. Belden gave her permission and soon afterwards, the two girls excitedly raced up the stairs to Honey’s room and to her computer.

            Honey’s room was a vision in white.  She had white, ruffled, organdy curtains, a white, down comforter bedspread, and a white, shag throw rug on the floor.  Even the walls were painted white, in contrast to the honey-brown colored furniture in the room. The look was feminine and classic, just like Honey herself.

            Honey ran to her desk and grabbed her slim, silver laptop with one hand.  “Shall we take it outside?” she asked.  She had a wireless internet connection.

            Trixie shook her head.  “Let’s stay here.  It’s more private.”

            “All right.”  Honey made herself comfortable on her queen-sized bed and Trixie joined her, propped up against a mass of cushions.  Each girl took one of the cushions to use as lap desks to set the computer on.  Soon, they were signed online.

            Honey slid the computer onto Trixie’s lap.  “You could check your e-mail first,” she offered.       

            Trixie smiled.  “Thanks.”  She logged on as “SchoolgirlShamus1” and entered her password: 10Acres.  Once she connected with her internet server, she read:

            You have 1 new message.

            “I have an e-mail from Brian!” Trixie told Honey. 

            Honey perked up with interest.  “Really?”

            Then Trixie made a face.  “Oh-oh, the subject is, ‘saw the paper’….”               

Trixie cleared her throat and began to read aloud:

            To: SchoolgirlShamus1

            From: PreMedBrianBelden

            Subject: Saw the paper….

            Hi Trix,

            Just wanted to say I saw the paper today….  Um, I’m sure you have a perfectly logical explanation, but…ugh!  And which one of you is he really after?  You or Honey?  At any rate, I’d stay away from Party Boy I were you two!  Just my two cents as big brother….

            Love,

            Brian

            Trixie rolled her eyes.  “Thanks, ‘big brother.’ ”

            Honey giggled.  “Oh, don’t be mad, he was being sweet.”

            Trixie was about to reply when suddenly she received an instant message from JWinthropFrayneII. 

            JWinthropFrayneII: Hello, ‘Mystery Girl’.

            “Now it’s Jim!” Trixie told Honey.  She began typing.

            SchoolgirlShamus1: Not you, too!  

            JWinthropFrayneII: How did that happen?

            SchoolgirlShamus1: I have no idea. Shane and I were just talking.  Some photographer must have just snapped the photo and sold it to the paper.  And you can tell that to Brian, too! I hate having to keep explaining myself—especially about something that wasn’t my fault!

            JWinthropFrayneII: I figured it was something like that.

            SchoolgirlShamus1: Yeah.

            JWinthropFrayneII: So what else is new?

            SchoolgirlShamus1: Nothing much.  Honey and I had interviews for the assistant groom’s position today, though.

            JWinthropFrayneII:  Already?  Cool.  Who’s applied?  Anyone I know?

            SchoolgirlShamus1: Yup.  Jerry Vanderhoef for one….

            JWinthropFrayneII: !!!!!

            SchoolgirlShamus1: Maya Dominguez….

            JWinthropFrayneII: Hmm….

            SchoolgirlShamus1: …and Shane Galloway.

            For a moment Jim did not reply.  Trixie held her breath.  Suddenly the IM chimed once more.

            JWinthropFrayneII: Interesting….

            SchoolgirlShamus1: What’s that supposed to mean?

            JWinthropFrayneII:  Nothing.  Except…well, obviously he doesn’t need the job….

            SchoolgirlShamus1: Well, both you and Honey are almost as rich as he is, but I wouldn’t think that should prevent either one of you from seeking good, honest work!

            Trixie was surprised to find herself typing out the argument Honey had used on her earlier, but she knew she had struck a chord with Jim.  He hadn’t always been rich.  He had once been a poor, abused runaway until the Wheelers had taken him in.   

            Jim had learned the value of hard work and being independent from a very young age, and it was very important to him that he earn his way in whatever he set out to do.  In fact, even when he inherited a great deal of money from his miserly old uncle, instead of spending it or using it towards his education, Jim decided to invest it so that when he graduated from college, he could start a school for orphaned boys like himself and teach them the value of self-sufficiency as well.  

            JWinthropFrayneII:  That’s true, Trixie, and you know I won’t argue you that!  But you’re the detective…tell me, do you really think that’s what he’s after?  A good, honest job?  Or is there something else?

            Trixie typed furiously.                                                                                            

            SchoolgirlShamus1:  Well, what else could he possibly be after??

            There was another beat before Jim replied.

            JWinthropFrayneII:  I don’t know if I should be happy or unhappy that you don’t know the answer to that one, Trix.  I’m surprised I have to tell you this, but you are a very attractive girl. It could be that Mr. Galloway has noticed this, don’t you think?

Trixie blushed so deeply that her whole body felt warm.

 SchoolgirlShamus1:  Oh.

            Honey slid off the bed.  “I just remembered, I have something to discuss with Ms. Trask,” she said.  “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

            “Okay,” Trixie said, knowing her friend was really only trying to tactfully give her some privacy.

            She waited for Honey to leave before adding: 

            SchoolgirlShamus1:  Well, don’t worry.   Honey and I won’t hire him if he isn’t any good.

            Trixie exhaled and waited for Jim’s reply.  It took a while.  Finally she read:

            JWinthropFrayneII:  Just be careful.  I don’t want anything to happen to you.  And if you need for anything, you know what to do.                                                                                        

            SchoolgirlShamus1:  Bob, bob-white!  J

            JWinthropFrayneII:  J That’s right.  Just whistle.

            It was their club’s secret distress signal.

            SchoolgirlShamus1:  Thanks, Jim. You always know just what to say—or write!  You’re the best.

            JWinthropFrayneII: …And you’re my special girl. 

            JWinthropFrayneII:  Gotta go!

            Jim suddenly signed off, leaving his IM still floating on the computer screen.

            You’re my special girl.

            Trixie stared at it for a few moments, waiting for Honey to return before finally deleting it from the screen.

            Honey carried a tray with two cups of steaming tea into the room.  “Everything okay?” she asked Trixie.

            “Everything’s okay,” Trixie answered happily.  “Training for work at the coffee shop?” she asked teasingly.

            Getting into the spirit of the joke, Honey strutted around the room, carrying the tray aloft.  “Practice makes perfect!  You never know when they might call me for an interview!”

            The two girls laughed.

            Around ten o’clock that evening, the two girls began to get ready for bed when they heard a car crunch along the gravel of the driveway.  They both ran to the window to see Joan’s Mini-Cooper pull to a stop. 

Trixie grabbed hold of Honey’s hand; Honey held her breath.

            Regan stepped out of the car, and with a wave, walked upstairs to his apartment over the garage.  Once the light in Regan’s apartment turned on, Joan’s car turned and pulled away.

            Trixie’s jaw dropped open.  “That’s…it?”

            “That’s…not the romantic homecoming I envisioned,” Honey said cautiously.

            “Me neither,” Trixie said.  “Let’s go downstairs for a closer look!”

            “Now, Trixie, that’s really being nosy!”

            “No it isn’t…I just want to make sure everything is all right.  I mean, didn’t something seem, well, ‘off’ to you about that whole scenario just now?”

            Honey narrowed her eyes.  “Do you mean ‘mysterious’?”

            Trixie wouldn’t meet her gaze. “Maybe.  “Let’s go see!” she bolted out of the room, leaving Honey to sigh and then follow closely behind.

            When the girls reached the kitchen, Trixie stealthily opened the back door.  She was about to step outside when she drew herself back in with a gasp.  Joan’s Mini-Cooper hadn’t left after all.  She had just pulled over to the side.

            And now Joan stood next to her car weeping into her hands.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                           

A Friend in Need •14

     “Oh no!” Honey whispered.  She slipped past Trixie and dove into the night.  Surprised, Trixie dashed after her.

            “Joan!  Oh, Joan, whatever is the matter?” Honey asked, her hazel eyes looking big and dark in the moonlight.

            Startled, Joan lifted her head to look at the concerned faces of the teenagers.  “Oh girls….” she struggled to regain her composure.  “Never mind me.  I—I was just being silly….” her voice broke, “…that’s all.”

            Honey laid a hand on one of Joan’s shoulders.  “Now I’m sure you weren’t being silly at all, Joan.  It’s all right, you can tell us.  It’ll make you feel better.”

            Joan flashed a grateful—if embarrassed—smile.  “I guess I just expected more out of tonight….  I thought this evening was going to be really special…the way Bill—that is, Regan—insisted I dress up and how he took us to such a fancy restaurant, and all that.  But halfway through the meal he changed somehow.  One minute we were laughing and talking—oh, it was really beautiful—and the next minute he was acting all strange.  He seemed gruff and distant, like he was angry about something.  Afterwards, he rushed my driving, like he couldn’t wait to get back home—and away from me.”  Fresh tears coursed down Joan’s high cheekbones.  “The night just completely…died out, and I don’t know what it means.  Is he angry with me?  Did I do something wrong?  Does he…want to break up?”  She sobbed for a moment longer as Trixie and Honey exchanged mournful glances with one another.

            “It can’t be that,” Trixie said. “It can’t be.  I know for a fact that Regan loves you.  I can’t say exactly how I know, but trust me—trust me and Honey both!”

            “That’s right,” Honey chimed in.  “I’m sure he’s not breaking up with you.  Something must have happened, that’s all.  I’m sure you’ll get to the bottom of it—by tomorrow, even.”

            Joan shook her head.  “Of course you’re both right. I’m over-reacting.  I’m sorry you had to see that.  I guess I had just pictured this night as ending so differently!”  The she added under her breath, “Very differently!”

            So did Honey and I, Trixie thought.

            “You’ve both been very kind, but shouldn’t you girls be getting yourselves to bed?”  Joan patted each girl on the shoulder and turned them towards the Manor House.  “Don’t worry about me a minute longer.  Thank you for being so sweet, but I must insist you go back inside.  I need to get back on the road.”

            “Why don’t you stay overnight?” Honey asked over her shoulder.  “We have plenty of room, and I hate to think of you driving while you’re still so upset.”

            Joan blinked hard.  “That’s awfully thoughtful of you, Honey, but really, driving helps me to think, and—“ she glanced quickly up at the windows of Regan’s apartment, “—I’m not sure Regan would like to see me here in the morning, anyway.”

            Impulsively, both girls kissed Joan on the cheek and after she briefly embraced them both in return, Joan set off for Saratoga. 

            “I hope they haven’t broken up,” Honey said, hugging her herself against the chill of the night air.  “I was getting very used to idea of her being around all the time.  I guess I was already seeing her as ‘Mrs. Regan’.”

            “Me, too,” Trixie said.  She decided not to remind Honey that if Joan and Regan got married after all, there was still no guarantee that they would remain living at the Manor House—let alone Sleepyside!

            Once back upstairs, the girls quietly changed into their bedclothes, each lost in her own thoughts.  Then they tumbled into bed.

            “Good night, Trixie,” Honey said sleepily.

            “’Night,” Trixie replied as Honey shut off the light. 

            But as usual, Trixie did not fall asleep right away.  Whenever she had a problem occupying her thoughts, Trixie would lie awake and mull it over for a long time.  Finally, when her brain was just about full to capacity with worries about Regan and Joan, she decided, Honey and I are just going to have to go see Regan in the morning and ask him how last night went—then we’ll watch and see how he reacts.  And if Honey’s too afraid to go over there, well, I’ll just have to do it myself, because all I know is that we need to get to the bottom of this!

            When Trixie next opened her eyes, it was hours later, and still dark in the room.  But after gradually adjusting her focus, she was slowly able to make out a form sitting at the foot of the bed.  She sat up with a jolt, suddenly full awake.  “What? Who’s there?”

            The figure jumped up, too.  Honey’s voice pierced out of the darkness.  “Oh, Trixie, it’s only me. Did I wake you?”

            “I don’t…think so….”  Trixie said, trying to swallow her heart back down to her chest.

            “It’s five-thirty AM,” Honey told her.  “You can go back to sleep for a little while longer.”

            Trixie frowned.  “But why are you up, Honey?”

            “I couldn’t sleep.  I know Regan starts his work at the stable early…I thought I could pay him a visit, see how he is….”

            Trixie threw the covers off of her body.  “Great minds think alike!  Give me five minutes to shower and change and we’ll both go!”

            “Oh, great!”  Honey sounded very relieved.

            Soon the two girls were sharing a toasted bagel as they slipped on their matching red Bob-Whites of the Glen jackets.  Honey had made them for every member of the club and even cross-stitched the letters “B.W.G.” on the back of each of them.  Lately she had been toying with the idea of using her new sewing machine to stitch on appliqués of the letters onto the backs instead, but none of the other Bob-whites were quite ready to part with the original, cherished design of their Honey-made jackets.

            Trying not to let the kitchen door slam behind them, the girls stepped outside into the hush of the cool air.  Then, whispering, they made their way to the barn, the dewy grass moist under their sneakers. A pale mist hovered over the entire grounds.  Trixie took in a deep breath and entered the stable.

            Regan stood in the back, speaking softly to Lady and stroking her dapple-gray nose. 

            Trixie took a deep breath, put a jaunty step into her walk and greeted him casually.  “Hi, Regan!”
            Regan started slightly but recovered.  “Morning, Trixie, Honey.  You two are up and at ’em pretty early, aren’t you?”

            “Yup,” Trixie said, balling her hands into fists and shoving them into her jacket pockets. 

            “Did you hire that Maya girl yesterday?” Regan asked. There was a strange hollowness in his voice.

            “Um, no.”

            Honey spoke up.  “We didn’t hire anyone.  We wanted to wait a few days to talk it over with each other and of course, you and Ms. Trask before making our final choice. But I’ll admit that Maya is at the top of our list.”

            Regan cleared his throat.  “Perhaps you shouldn’t hire anyone just yet….”

            Trixie’s blinked hard.  “Why…not?”

            Regan sighed.  Then he opened his mouth to speak only to shut it again and shake his head.

            Honey stepped forward.  “Does this have anything to do with…Joan?” she asked.

            Regan shot her a look.

            “Yesterday… when we saw you all dressed up…we thought….we thought….” Trixie struggled.

            “—we thought something…well, special was going to happen,” Honey finished for her.

            Regan looked thoughtful for a minute.  Then looking at each girl in turn, he cocked his head.  “Why don’t you two come with me to the office,” he suggested.  “I have something to tell you.”

             “All right,” Trixie agreed.  Exchanging sober glances behind his back, the girls then followed the groom to the back of the stable.

            Regan pulled up a hay bale for each girl sit down on and sat down in his chair. 

            Trixie perched on the edge of her hay bale, unable to relax.  She saw that Honey, too, wriggled nervously.

            “As much as it pains me to say this,” Regan began.  He stopped himself again.  Shaking his head with disbelief.  “I can’t believe I’m going to say this…”

            “What?” Trixie exploded.  “Tell us what it is!  Maybe we can help you…!”

            “That’s just it,” Regan said.  “I need your help.  That is, I think I need the help of the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency.”

            Trixie’s eyes grew wide.  Honey smothered a gasp. “What?” they asked together.

            “It seems I have a bit of a mystery on my hands, girls.  A crime really, and I need it solved, and solved fast—but without drawing the attention of Joan or of the three people you interviewed yesterday.”  Regan fished into his pants pocket, drew out the small, black ring box, and popped it open.

            It was empty.

            “Where’s your ring?” Honey asked.

            “That’s just it,” Regan said grimly.  “It’s missing.”

            Both girls jumped to their feet. 

            “Why, that’s just awful!”  Honey cried.

            Trixie took the box in her hands and stared at it.  “When did you find out?”

            “Last night.”  Regan winced at the memory.  “I was going to…well, show it to Joan….  She went to powder her nose and I took it out to take one more look at it before I…anyway, when I opened the box…”  Regan slapped a hand to his forehead.  “I just couldn’t believe it!”

            Trixie was slowly beginning to understand.  “And you think one of the interviewees took it.”

            “Who else?” Regan asked.

            “But that doesn’t make any sense,” Honey argued.  “Didn’t you have the ring in a drawer of the desk up in your apartment?”

            “I did,” Regan admitted.  “But when I changed my clothes yesterday to get ready to go to dinner, I took it out to put it in my pocket.  I know the ring was still inside then, because I opened the box to take a look at it.  Then I shut it, stuffed it in my inside pocket, and came downstairs.  A little while later, I draped the jacket over my chair and met with the kids.”

            “And you left the barn with me,” Trixie said, remembering. “So you’re thinking one of the applicants must have taken it around the time they used the bathroom to freshen up.”

            “Now you’re getting it.”  Regan went on, “When I came back for my jacket, I just grabbed it, slipped it on, and ran out the door.  I mean, I patted the box in my pocket, and felt it there, so I wasn’t worried it had fallen out or anything.”

            “Little did you know the ring was already gone,” Honey said softly.

            “I need that ring back, girls—and not just because I spent a lot of hard-earned money on it.   That ring belongs to Joan.   I would prefer not to get the police involved, either, and have the ring become evidence in a criminal case.  The last thing I want is to have everyone find out I was going to propose to Joan before Joan finds out herself!”

            “So you didn’t propose at all last night,” Trixie said, even though she already knew the answer.

            “Nope.”

            “And Joan has no clue that you were planning to propose or that the ring is missing?”

            “Right.  Why worry her?”

            Too late!  Trixie thought.  But no wonder Joan got upset and thought Regan was acting so strangely—and no wonder he was!  He was upset, too!

            “So girls, what do you say?  Do you think you can do it?  Find out who did it?  Get the ring back?”

            “Yes,” Honey said quickly. 

            “We were on the case the minute you showed us that empty box,” Trixie added.

            There was a moment of silence before Trixie spoke again. “Regan...?” she asked slowly.  “What just happened, here?  Did you...did you just hire The Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency to solve a case for you?”

            Regan scratched his head.  “It’s not like I could pay you girls much—” he looked up sharply, “—and I wouldn’t want you involved in anything dangerous...!”

             “...but?” Honey encouraged.

            Regan nodded forlornly.  “...but if you two could solve this mystery for me, I sure would be grateful.”

            Trixie and Honey exchanged excited glances.  Their first real client! And it was Regan of all people!

            “All right then, let’s make it official,” Trixie said, extending her hand.  “And don’t worry, Regan. You don’t have to pay us—this is on us.”

“—Consider it an engagement present,” Honey put in.

“…and we will solve this mystery for you,” Trixie continued.  “We promise.”

            Instead of shaking her hand, Regan held up a hand in protest.  “Now don’t go making any promises.  Just do your best.  That’s all I can ask.  If you don’t find it....”            

Trixie kept her hand extended. “But if we do “our best” that means we will solve the case, doesn’t it?”

             “We’ve never failed yet.”  Honey said solemnly.  She also extended her hand.

            Regan took a moment to look searchingly into Trixie’s determined blue eyes and then into Honey’s sincere hazel ones.  Then he shook each of their hands in turn.  “You know, you’re both right,” he said, “and I’ll be darned if you don’t succeed once again.”

 

 

      

                                                                                          On the Case• 15

            The girls and Regan briefly searched the stable for the ring, just in case.  After coming up empty, Trixie and Honey met Mart and Diana on the bus.

            “Where’s Dan?” Trixie asked, looking around.

            “Not here,” Mart said with shrug.  “Maybe he took the car in this morning.”

            “I hope so,” Diana said.  “Trixie and I are going to the shoe store later today and it’d be great if one of you would drive us there.”

            “We’ll see Dan at lunch, anyway,” Trixie said, “but if any one of you sees him beforehand let him know we’ll be having an emergency meeting of the Bob-Whites then.  Honey and I have important news, but we can’t talk about it here. 

            “Is it bad news or good news?” Diana asked.

            “You’ll see,” Honey said.

            A while later, the bus pulled up at the school.  As the Bob-Whites disembarked, Trixie saw a familiar shape from the corner of her eye.  She turned her head in time to see the Bob-White minivan pull into a parking space.  “I’ll met you all inside,” she told the others.  “I’m going to tell Dan about the meeting.”

            She started off for the parking lot when she saw Dan—and Maya—get out of the car.  They were laughing and talking.

            Trixie stood and waited for them to reach her on the curb.  “Hi,” she greeted them brightly.

            Dan, who had had his hand on Maya’s back, dropped his arms to his sides awkwardly.  “Hi.”

            “I guess I’ll see you two inside,” Maya said, stepping away from the two Bob-Whites.

            “Okay,” Trixie said.  “Oh, and Maya, I just wanted to say we haven’t chosen a groom’s assistant yet, but we’ll let you know just as soon as we’re done with our background checks and stuff.”

            Maya’s naturally tan face drained pale.  “Background checks?”

            “Yeah, you know.  The usual.”

            To Trixie’s surprise, Maya’s eyes seemed to glisten with sadness.  “The usual,” she repeated.  Maya’s shoulders drooped, and without another word, she walked into the building.

            “Well, that was weird….” Trixie began.

            “No, you mean that was rude,” Dan corrected her.

            “Yeah, she was,” Trixie said.

            “I don’t mean her, I mean you, Trixie.  When are you going lay off of Maya?  What did she ever do to you?”

            “What are you talking about?  I was trying to be friendly!”

            “By practically accusing her of being some kind of criminal who needs a background check?  Sure you were!”

            At first Trixie was a bit stunned by Dan’s outburst.  Then she slowly straighten her back and replied in a steely voice, “Well you’d better hope we don’t find anything in Maya’s background, actually.  In fact, you’d just better hope she hasn’t done anything to Regan, either!”

            “What?” Dan looked utterly confused. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “You’ll find out at lunch,” Trixie said.  “We’ve got an emergency Bob-White meeting then. See you there!”  She stormed away.

 

            At lunchtime the Bob-Whites gathered around their usual table, Dan included.

            Diana looked searchingly into the faces of Trixie and Honey.  “I was hoping you two were going to tell us that Regan and Joan were engaged, but judging by the expressions on your faces….”

            “…and your silence on the bus,” Mart cut in, “that’s not what this meeting is about.”

            “Well,” Trixie glanced over at Honey, “they’ve got the part about Joan and Regan not being engaged right….”

            The two girls told Regan’s sad story.  As they spoke, Diana covered her mouth in horror while Mart let his mouth hang open.  As he listened, Dan’s frown grew deeper and deeper.

            The girls didn’t mention that Regan had hired the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency. Instead, they ended only with, “He needs our help.”

            Dan slammed a fist on the table.  “That rotten Shane!  I’ll kill him!” he growled.

            “Shane?  What about Maya?” Trixie asked.  “Don’t you think Maya could have done it?”

            “No, not Maya,” Dan said.

            “Well, I don’t think Shane did, either!” Honey jumped in.

            “Then that leaves Jerry, according to you two,” Mart said.  “So let me get this straight, if you’re good-looking, you’re immediately innocent, but if you’re kind of a jerk, then you must be a thief as well?  Niiiiice.”

            “Stealing just doesn’t seem like a Maya kind of thing,” Dan said, trying to explain. “I know her a little better than the rest of you—she’s in a few of my classes—and we talk and stuff. She seems like a very upright kind of girl.  She always follows the rules and works hard and everything. I just can’t see her doing something like stealing.”

            “But what if she had a motive?” Trixie asked.  “Isn’t Maya…well, poor?  Maybe she needed some extra money and thought, ‘Hey, if I don’t get this job at least I can sell this ring….’ ”

            “You can’t suspect someone of stealing just because they’re poor, Trixie,” Dan said.

            “And I don’t,” Trixie insisted.  “But don’t forget, she was also mad at Honey—mostly for just being rich.  What if she wanted to have something she associates with being rich—like an expensive ring—for a change?  Or what if she wanted to take revenge on Honey—”

            “—I’m telling you, Maya didn’t do it.  What about Shane?  I know Maya doesn’t like him, for one.  I mean, there must be a reason.  Maybe Mr. Charming isn’t so charming after all.  And don’t forget, just because he’s good-looking and rich it doesn’t mean he doesn’t steal or commit other crimes.  Other rich people steal just because they want more than they already have.  Or maybe he’s a kleptomaniac or something.”

            Diana stared at Dan.  “Shane Galloway?  A maniac?”

            “Not a maniac, Di, a kleptomaniac—a person who steals things out of habit—and for thrills—but not out of need.  It’s like an addiction.”

            “You know, Di,” Mart cut in, “like on that I Love Lucy episode.”

            Diana narrowed her eyes at him.  Mart shrank in his seat.

            “Well, you have to admit that that theory sounds almost as far-fetched as an episode of I Love Lucy,” Honey said shooting both Mart and Dan looks of disapproval.

            “Then there’s Jerry,” Trixie said, pouting thoughtfully, “and his newly acquired wealth.  Like that car of his….”

            “I doubt he stole it,” Mart said.  “He wouldn’t be driving around in something he stole, obviously.”

            “Yes, that’s true,” Trixie agreed, “but there’s still the question of how he got it in the first place.”

            “We should ask him,” Honey said simply.

            “Speak of the moron….” Mart said.

            Jerry Vanderhoef ambled over to their table and wedged a chair in-between Honey and Diana.  “So, any news on the job yet?” he asked.

            Trixie narrowed her eyes.  “We said we’d let you know in a week.”

            “I know what you said, but I figure you ladies must have an idea of who you want for the job.”

            “In the end,” Honey said sweetly, “it’s not really up to us.  It’ll be Regan’s decision.”

            “I see.”  Jerry nodded.  Then he leaned his shoulder up against Diana’s shoulder.  “If you ever need a groom, just let me know.”  He winked.

            “It looks more like she needs to call Pest Control to me,” Mart muttered under his breath.

            “Okay, guys, so I’ll be seeing you…” Jerry rose from his chair.  Then suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, he leaned over and gave Diana a quick kiss on the cheek. “Catch you later!” he then blurted, and with a hasty wave, quickly left he group.

            Diana looked stunned.  “Eew…! Eew…!”

            Mart shot up out of his chair and glowered as he watched Jerry walk away.  “Somebody has to teach that guy some manners!”

            Trixie handed Diana a napkin and Diana rubbed her cheek with vigor.  “What did he do that for?” she wailed.  “Is he going to try that again?”

            “He’d better not, or I’ll have to set him straight,” Mart said.  When he found four pairs of eyes staring at him, he added, “Maybe you guys were right.  He must be the ring thief!” 

            “I never said that,” Trixie reminded him.  “Still, I wish there was some way we could find out.   I know!  What if we invited all the suspects to the ball?” she suggested suddenly, “and then watch them like hawks!  Think of all the jewels that will be on display there, hanging off the necks and dangling from the wrists of all those matrons!  What a temptation to a jewel thief that will be!”

            “Wouldn’t it be preferable,” Dan said, “to find the ring and catch the thief before then, though?”

            Trixie felt her face flush.  “Of course it would.”  She knew she had gotten too carried away with her fantasy.   “In fact, I think the best way to find out who the thief is, is to ask all of our suspects to a second interview.”

            Honey nodded.  “Trixie and I discussed it on our way to the bus.  When more than one person does well on a job interview, they are often called back for a second look.”

            “So we’ll do that,” Trixie said, “only it won’t be to decide who to hire, but rather to sniff out who the thief is.”

                          “That sound like a good idea,” Diana said.  “But if one of them is the

thief, don’t you think that maybe he or she might suspect a trap?”

            “It’s not a trap,” Honey said.  “It’s more like…like….”

            “A covert interrogation,” Mart supplied.

            Trixie agreed.  “That’s right.  We’re going to grill them, but hopefully not be too obvious about it.  Maybe you can help us think of questions, Mart.”

            “I still think that if I were the thief,” Diana insisted, “that I wouldn’t even show up to the second interview.  I mean, I would probably just sell Regan’s ring and run away with the money or something.”

            “Well,” Honey said thoughtfully, “if one of them tells us they don’t want to be interviewed again or doesn’t show up for the second interview, or even refuses the job, it could be a sign of their guilt, couldn’t it?”

            Trixie rubbed her hands together.  “I don’t know about that.   I think that if I were the thief and I knew a good place where I could have easy access to expensive things, I would try to steal from that place again.”

            “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” Dan said.

            Honey sighed.  “I’ll call them all this afternoon and make appointments for, say, tomorrow after school.”

            “I hope they can all make it,” Trixie said.

            “What else can we do in the meantime to help with this investigation?” Mart asked.

            Trixie began counting off ideas off on her fingers. “We can do some background checks on our three applicants by asking around, looking at their blogs online—if they have any—doing web searches on their names…you know, stuff like that.  Come to think of it, when I told Maya that we would be doing background checks one everyone, she acted kind of funny about it.”  She glanced over at Dan but continued speaking to Mart before Dan could begin arguing with her again. 

            “Also, it would be great if you and Dan took over a certain job, like, looking for the ring in pawn shops in the area, and on websites like I-Bid or We-Hock. 

            “And Di, I was thinking that since you’re the artist in the group, do you think you could do a sketch of the ring for us?  We can make copies in the library and then carry them around so that we’ll know the ring when we see it.  Right now I can’t remember a thing about it except that it was pretty.  Can you?”

            Diana was incredulous.  “Of course I can!  It was an oval-shaped emerald surrounded by tiny diamonds in a sunburst pattern, set on a band of yellow gold.”  She sighed.  “It looked like just the sort of ring a red-headed Irishman should give to his bride!”  Then, with a fleeting look at Mart, she announced, “Although if I were to receive a ring, I must say that I do think an emerald-cut diamond on a platinum band would suit me better.”

            Trixie blinked at Diana.  She sure has it all planned out.  “Great.  When can you have that picture done by?”

            “Right now,” Diana said. Flipping her looseleaf notebook to a fresh page, she began sketching in pencil.

            Trixie craned her neck to get a better look at what Diana was doing.  “I mean a picture of Joan’s ring, you know.”

            “Of course!”  Diana said with a cluck of her tongue.  But she flipped over to a new page and began drawing again.  “By the way, Dan,” she said.  “Trixie and I are going to the mall after school and we were hoping that either you or Mart could drive us.”

            “I’m not your chauffeur,” Dan said under his breath.

            “Excuse me?” Diana asked.

            Mart spoke up.  “I’ll do it.  I’ll just call and ask Moms if we can stay a bit later,” he told Trixie.

            “Thanks, Mart.  You’re a doll,” Diana purred.

            “Yeah, thanks, Mart,” Trixie said.  She looked pointedly at Dan, who avoided her gaze.

            “Will you be coming, too, Honey?” Mart asked. 

            Honey shook her head.  “I have an appointment this afternoon.  Besides, Mother and Father are coming home from a trip today and I’d like to be there to welcome them.  Plus, I think it’ll be good to go to the stable and search for the ring again.  I mean, maybe Regan lost it somewhere in the hay or something and it hasn’t been stolen after all.”

            “You’re probably right, Honey,” Dan said, “I’ll join you on the bus and then search his apartment.”  He turned to look Trixie straight in the eye.  “I know you wanted a mystery for your birthday, Trix, but maybe this just isn’t it.”

            Trixie set her lips into a firm line.  “You act like I wanted someone to steal from Regan, or something!   I didn’t want this to happen, Dan.  As a matter of fact, I don’t want anyone I love to be hurt just because I want a mystery.  And if it turns out that the ring was just lost and never really stolen in the first place,” she claimed, “why I believe I’ll the happiest Bob-White of them all—mystery or no mystery!” With that, Trixie took a defiant gulp of her apple juice, but she secretly wondered if she had told the whole truth.  She was sad for Regan, but thrilled to be working on a mystery again, and even more thrilled that Regan had hired her and Honey to solve it. 

            …and we will, she thought, no matter who the thief turns out to be!

 

  

Cyber Sleuth 16

 

            Later that afternoon, as Mart drove Trixie and Diana to the Sleepyside Mall, Trixie asked from the seat behind him, “So what do you think is up with Dan?”

            “I’m not exactly sure, Trix,” Mart said.  “I mean, he’s my best guy friend, but it’s not like we share our deepest feelings over tea and chocolate or something.” He made a turn.  “You know what a private person Dan can be.”

            “You know what they say: like uncle, like nephew,” Diana quipped.

            “You’ve got that right,” Trixie said. 

            “What do you mean?”

            “Well, you remember when Regan first began acting strangely and we all wondered what was wrong…?”  Trixie drummed her fingers against the cushion of her seat.

            Diana looked over her shoulder to meet Trixie’s gaze.  “Of course: Joan!  That is, you know, he was in love.”

            Trixie nodded slowly.  “Uh-huh….”

            “Oh!  I see what you mean.  You think Dan is skulking around because he’s in love?”

            “Well, I don’t know if he’s in love, but I’m sure it’s got to do with a girl—and not just any girl.  I’ll bet my ball gown it’s Maya.”

            “Maya!”  Mart whistled.  “What a lucky duck.”

            Diana arched an eyebrow.  “What was that?”

            “Um, er, that Maya sure is a lucky duck to catch a nice guy like our Danny,” Mart said. 

            They all laughed.

            Mart pulled neatly into a parking space.  Turning off the ignition he adjusted his seat so that he could lie back.  After letting out an exaggerated sigh, he announced, “If you don’t mind, ladies, I’ll stay here and wait rather than join you on your expedition for the, um, appropriate decorative external coverings you are in need of for the terminal appendages of your legs.”

            “Thanks loads,” Diana said with a cheerful wave.  “We won’t be long.”

            Mart groaned.  “Famous last words….”

            Diana and Trixie quickly made their way to the sliding doors of the main entrance of the mall. 

             Once inside, Diana quickly led Trixie through the mall, making a beeline to the shoe store.

            “Here we are!” she told Trixie brightly.

            “Wow, Di,” Trixie said.  “It’s like you have a homing device or something.”

            “You have a radar for mysteries,” Diana said, “for me, it’s shoes…and clothes….and jewelry….which reminds me, Trix.  Do you know what jewelry you’ll be to wearing at the ball?”

            Trixie frowned.  “You and Honey are both so anxious about what I’m going to wear! Do you think I’ll embarrass you or something?”

            “It’s not that,” Diana said soothingly.  “It’s just that we know dressing up is not that important to you and both she and I know you could look devastatingly gorgeous if you wanted to.”

            Although secretly pleased, Trixie shrugged.  “I just figure if it takes all that work to look pretty then why bother?”

            “You’re already pretty, Trixie, but like I said, it’s time to be devastatingly gorgeous!”

            Trixie collapsed into giggles. “Sometimes you’re so funny, Di,” she said, wiping tears of mirth from the corners of her eyes.  “I’m glad you’re my friend.  I need someone to remind me that I’m a girl once in a while.”

            Diana smiled wickedly.  “Oh, I think Jim reminds you, too—not to mention Shane Galloway!”

            Trixie chose to ignore Diana’s last comment and plucked a strappy silver high heel from off of a nearby shelf.  “This would remind me I was a girl,” she said, “and make me feel sorry about it, too!”

            Diana gasped and snatched the shoe from Trixie’s hand.  “This is stunning!  And with your Tiffany blue dress, this might be just the thing!  You must try it on!”

            Ten minutes later, the two girls were walking out of a side exit of the mall with the dainty slippers tucked safely inside a shoe box and shopping bag.

            “I don’t know how you do it,” Diana marveled.  “Honey told me you found a dress in no time at all, and now you must have set a record for finding the ‘right’ shoes…!”

            “Since detectives don’t have much time to shop,” Trixie said as she weaved through the parking lot, “we need to be efficient.”

            Diana looked at her doubtfully.

            Trixie tried a cheesy smile.  “Or…just lucky I guess?”

            The two girls laughed.

            A little while later, Mart dropped Trixie off at Crabapple Farm before bringing Diana home and then leaving the minivan at  the Wheelers’.   “If you see Honey,” Trixie told him, “let me know if she or Dan had any luck finding the ring.” 

            “Will do,” Mart said, and he drove away.

            Trixie found Bobby sitting at the kitchen table, his nose buried in another Bunny and Billy Holder Mystery.  She gave him a quick pat on the back and kissed her mother hello as Reddy jumped on her in greeting as well.  “Hi, Moms.  Did I get any phone calls?”

            “No, dear, were you expecting any?”

            Trixie shook her head.  “No.”  I guess that means the ring wasn’t found yet… she thought.

            “Have any luck finding shoes?” Mrs. Belden asked.

            “Yes! Wait until you see them!  I’ll almost as tall as Mart in them!” Trixie giggled. 

            After Trixie helped her mother to chop vegetables for a salad, Bobby piped up from his seat at the table.  “Trix…? Is it true that I found a diamond in the clubhouse when I was little?”

            Trixie smiled at Bobby’s use of the word ‘little.’  “Yes, you cut your knee on it.  Only you didn’t know it at the time.”

            “So it is true!  Wow!  Why didn’t you tell me?”

            Trixie pulled up a chair and sat down next to her little brother.  “We didn’t tell anyone, not even the police at first,” she admitted.

            “Which wasn’t very bright,” Mrs. Belden interjected.

            Trixie nodded sheepishly.  “At the time we didn’t know where it had come from, but we figured it had been stolen and Honey and I wanted to find the thief or thieves ourselves.”

            “Like real detectives,” Bobby said admiringly.  “Only Mart said you didn’t get very far until he came back from camp to help you….”  At that moment, Mart walked through the kitchen door.

            “Oh, did he now?” Trixie crossed her arms.  “Did Mart forget to mention that Brian and Jim also helped to solve the mystery of the missing diamond?” She raised an eyebrow at Mart.

            “Of course not,” Mart said.  “I told him we all worked together.  I even told him how we thought the thieves had lost the precious stone from a ring and probably went back to look for it but couldn’t find it anywhere.” 

            Trixie understood Mart’s hidden message and nodded. “Unfortunately for them,” she said.

            “But fortunately for you!” Bobby cried.

            Trixie chuckled. “You know,” she told Bobby, “that was the mystery where we first created the Bob-Whites.”

            “That was your first mystery?”

            “No.  Although it was Mart’s first,” Trixie couldn’t help pointing out.  “My first mystery was practically right after I met Honey and we found Jim over at old Ten Acres.  He was the one who taught us the Bob-White whistle, you know.”

            “Like this?”  Bobby suddenly let out a piercing “Bob, bob-white!”

            Mrs. Belden nearly dropped the pie she was removing out of the oven.  “Bobby!” she said admonishingly.

            Bobby’s face turned red. “Sorry.”

            Trixie’s mouth hung open.  “Bobby!  How did you learn to do that?”

            “Mart showed me,” he crowed.

            Trixie flashed an appreciative look at Mart.  “That was a good idea,” she said.  “I can’t believe I never thought of it before.  I guess I just didn’t know you could whistle like that, Bobby!”

            Bobby nodded vigorously. “Yup!  I know how to do the whistle real good!  Just like a real Bob-White!”

            “You sure do,” Trixie agreed.  Then, affectionately running her fingers over his closely-cropped head of hair she thought grimly, I just hope you never have to really use it.

            Later that evening, Trixie sat at the desk in the living room, printing up a homework assignment she had typed on the computer.  It was a homey scene, with her mother knitting in a chair, Reddy curled up at her feet; Bobby lying on the sofa reading The Mystery of the Tricky Treasure, and Mart and Mr. Belden sitting on the floor, playing a game of chess that had been laid out on the coffee table. 

            “All done!” Trixie announced with a happy sigh.  “May I sign online now?” she asked her parents.

            “Yes,” they answered, without looking up from their immediate occupations.

            Trixie smiled at them even though they weren’t looking at her, and logged on.  Soon she was reading the greeting:

            Hello, SchoolgirlShamus1

            You have 1 message.

            Trixie knew who it would be from even before she read:

            From: HoneyShamus2

            Subject: Good News and Bad News

                       
                        Hi Trix,

                                    First the bad news:

                        As I am sure Mart told you, neither Dan nor I was able

to find the ring anywhere.   It looks like it really was stolen, and that’s bad news for Regan and Joan!

            The good news is that everyone—all of our suspects, I mean—have agreed to meet with us for a second interview after school tomorrow.  I thought we could conduct the interviews on horseback!  What do you think?  It’s a great way to get the horses exercised, too.  But you and I really need to get together and figure out what we’re going to ask them.  Maybe at lunch tomorrow?
                                                                                                     

                                                                       Honey

 

            Trixie finished reading Honey’s e-mail and then sat for staring at the computer screen for a moment as thoughts of Regan’s mystery filled her mind.  Then, shaking her head, she cracked her knuckles and thought, Okay.  It’s time to get to work and start on a few background checks….

            Trixie typed Maya’s name into a search engine. 

            Nothing.

            Darn.  I wish I knew the names of her parents, Trixie thought, tapping her mouth with a finger in thought.  Well, I know this name will bring up something….  She typed “Shane Galloway.”

            There were over 100 matches.

            Trixie smirked.  First nothing for Maya, now too much for Shane!  I feel like Goldilocks visiting the house of the Three Bears!! She began to scroll down her list of choices.  Clicking on a link to a photograph from a Hamptons newspaper, Trixie found a picture of Shane dressed in a riding habit, sitting atop a gorgeous show horse, being awarded a blue ribbon.

            Just like he said, Trixie thought, nodding.  She then looked at other photos she could find of him and discovered that a lot of them featured Shane on the horse show circuit: leading horses, jumping horses and holding trophies up in horseshows.   One photo in particular, however, caught Trixie’s eye.  Hey…what’s this?  Trixie dragged the photo off of the website and saving it into a different program, enlarged it for a closer look.

            The picture showed Shane’s family in the stands at one of his horseshows.  They were applauding Shane’s performance.  The caption under the photo identified them by name: there was Shane’s mother, Meredith Galloway, who was wearing a big picture hat; next to her was her husband, Alan, talking on a cell phone; next to them was Shane’s younger sister, Violet, who, it appeared to Trixie, had some special type of medical condition, and next to Violet, although not identified by name, was someone who looked just like Maya Dominguez.

            It is Maya!  I’m sure of it!  But…what is she doing there? Trixie inserted the picture into an e-mail to Honey and typed underneath it, “Take a look at the girl on far right of this photo….”  Then she titled the e-mail, “What do you make of this?”  Before sending it off, however, she decided to copy the e-mail to Mart’s address: TyranThesaurusRex@SleepysideOnline.com

            “Are you done, Trixie?” Mr. Belden asked.  “You’ve been on for half an hour and it’s almost time to get ready for bed.”

            “Yes, Dad, I’m done,” Trixie said with a stretch.  She looked over at Mart.  “I was just checking my e-mail,” she emphasized the words for his benefit. 

            Mart stood up and shooed Trixie off the desk chair.  “My turn,” he said.  “Time’s up.  You heard the man.”

            “No need to shove,” Trixie grumbled, but she gave him a secret wink. 

            Soon, the whole Belden family—except for Trixie—was asleep.  Trixie tried to sleep, but she tossed and turned, pounding, kneading and punching her pillow into different shapes to see it if would help any.  It didn’t.  Eventually, Trixie found herself lying on her back, staring up into the dark until she could make out the shape of the ceiling fan above her bed.  I wonder what Mart thought of the Maya photo, she thought to herself.  Honey, too, but I wonder if she even got to open the e-mail yet or if she won’t get to until tomorrow morning….  Glancing at the clock on her nightstand, Trixie groaned to herself.  Oh. It is ‘tomorrow’ morning.

            After shutting her eyes for twenty minutes in another unsuccessful bid to fall asleep, Trixie finally got out of bed.

            Maybe, she thought to herself, I’ll just get a glass of water.

            After padding down to the kitchen and getting herself a drink, Trixie headed back for the stairs.  Suddenly her gaze fell upon the computer in the living room.

            Maybe, she thought to herself again, I’ll just check my e-mail for a minute….

            Trixie soundlessly slipped into the desk chair and after making sure the volume button was set on “off”, quickly turned on the computer and signed herself onto her internet provider.

            Soon she read the words:

            Hello SchoolgirlShamus1!

            You have 5 messages.

            Five!  Trixie’s eyes widened.  How did that happen?  She opened her first e-mail to find out….

 

            To: SchoolgirlShamus1

            From: HoneyShamus2

            Subject: Re: What do you make of this?

            Dear Trix,

            Well, the photo you sent was certainly a surprise.  That sure looks like Maya, doesn’t it?  I will send an e-mail to my cousin Ben, and ask him what he knows about Shane and “the girl in the picture.”

                        I’ll let you know what happens!

                       

                                                                                               Honey

 

            Trixie then opened her second message.

            Her fourth e-mail was from Mart.

 

            To: SchoolgirlShamus1

            From: TyranThesaurusRex

            Subject: Re: What do you think of this?

                        Ah, so Detective Trixie is on the case.

                        Maya and Shane.  Hmmm. What could it all mean?

                        I’m forwarding this to Dan to see what he has to say!

                        See you in the morn,

                                                                                                                       Mart

 

            Next was a note from Brian.

 

            To: SchoolgirlShamus1

            From: PredMedBrianBelden

            Subject: Heard about Regan….

 

            Dear Trix,

            Well, sis, it looks like you got your birthday wish for a mystery after all, but it was at poor Regan’s expense!  I sure hope you and Honey can solve it, though, for his sake, especially.

            Don’t forget that even though I’m an hour away by car, I’m still a Bob-White, so when you get the chance, please keep me in the loop and let me know how the case is going.  I have to admit that sometimes I actually miss the old sleuthing days myself. 

           

            Love,

            Brian

 

            Trixie smiled to herself.  I’m sure glad he admits it, she thought, after all the grief he used to give me whenever I happened to stumble on a mystery….

            She blushed before she even opened the next e-mail.

 

            To: Schoolgirl Shamus1

            From: JWinthropFrayneII

            Subject: A Mystery?

 

            Dear Trix,

            I heard about what happened with Regan’s ring!  How awful for him.  I don’t know who did this or why, but I do know that you and Honey are not going to let this mystery pass by without a thorough Belden-Wheeler investigation.

            Don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of trying to talk you girls out of it.  I would only like to remind you to please, please be careful!  You never know when you’re headed for danger, so give me your word that you’ll keep an eye out and not get into too much trouble—at least until Brian and I come back this weekend!  J

            But seriously, I was forever changed from the moment you stepped into my life, Trixie Belden. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for you.  So please take care of yourself and I’ll see you this weekend!

                                                                                                                      

                                                                                                                       Yours,

                                                                                                                       Jim

 

            Trixie rubbed the goosebumps on her arms and smiled.  It wasn’t cold. 

            The last e-mail was from Honey’s cousin, Ben Riker.

 

            To: SchoolgirlShamus1

            From: BenjRiker247

            Subject: Re: What do you think of this?

                       

            Hey Trixie, long time no talk….

            So Honey tells me that you guys interviewed Jerry Vanderhoef, Shane Galloway and Maya Dominguez for a job at the Wheeler stables and that you wanted to know what I thought.

            Well, I hang out with Jerry, as you know.  Will he make a good employee?  Um, I don’t know.  I guess you could give him a chance….

            Shane is a cool guy, though, and might be the better choice.  He is “Mr. Horseman”, too, as you know.

            As for Maya…well, I’ll admit she’s a good-looking girl, and I know she has a lot of experience with horses, but….  Okay, I admit that I don’t know the whole story, and that you should really ask Shane, or Jerry, or Maya about it, but from what I’ve heard, well…. Maya Dominguez is a jewel thief!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questions • 17

 

            The next morning, a bleary-eyed Trixie stumbled her way onto the school bus.   Throwing herself into a seat in the back, she leaned her head against the window and closed her eyes.  “Where’s Dan?” she mumbled.

            Honey, who had followed her on board, giggled.  “I didn’t think you had even noticed he was missing since you didn’t look completely awake yet.”

            Diana gave Trixie a quick once-over.  “You look like you could use some coffee from Le Bar Belle!”

            “Yeah.  You were a complete zombie at breakfast, too, Trix,” Mart said. “What gives?”

            Trixie rubbed her eyes.  “I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and did a little reading….” She dove a hand into her school bag and dug out a slightly crumpled sheet of paper.  “Take a look.”  She handed a copy of Ben Riker’s e-mail to Honey, who read it silently. Mart and Diana looked over her shoulders and did the same.  When they got to the line about Maya, they all gasped at the same time.

            “What does he mean?” Diana asked, blinking rapidly.

            “Well, apparently that’s something we should ask Maya, Shane and Jerry about,” Trixie said with a yawn, “at their interviews later today.  But if you keep reading, you’ll see that Ben explains at the end of the e-mail that the Galloways had some jewels stolen at a party they were throwing about a few months ago—a party that Shane, Jerry and Maya all attended.”  She sleepily combed her fingers through her curls.  “Would one of you tell Diana about the picture of Maya and Shane?  By the sound of it, I don’t think she’s checked her e-mail since last night.”

            As the bus pulled away from the curb and continued its two-mile journey towards Sleepyside Junior-Senior High, Mart looked over his shoulder for one last peek out the window.  “But I’m guessing Dan did.” 

            “He’s probably taken the car and gone to see Maya again,” Trixie grumbled.  “He really should tell us when he takes the car.”

            “Maybe,” Honey said, “he’s afraid to.”

            “Dan? Afraid?” Trixie snorted.

            But Honey nodded solemnly.  “Afraid of what our opinions of Maya might be, I mean.  Maybe he doesn’t want to hear us say anything bad about her.”

            Trixie suddenly felt fully awake.  “Bad?  Who’s going to say anything bad about Maya?  I actually like her…that is, I will like her—againif she turns out not to be the thief.  But until we know for sure, I can’t safely say that I like any of our suspects!”

            “That’s just it,” Honey said.  “You called her a ‘suspect.’   That’s the kind of thing Dan probably doesn’t want to hear.”

            Trixie sniffed importantly.  “Well, if Dan wants to be in law enforcement when he grows up, he’ll have to learn to be a little less subjective.”

            Mart hooted.  “Fancy word, there, sis.  But don’t think your opinions of other people aren’t prejudiced by your own feelings from time to time.”

            “But my instincts are usually right about people, Mart.  I seem to have a special intuition about them, even.”

            “Oh really?  And were you using this so-called ‘special intuition’ when you thought Mr. Maypenny was a poacher?  Or that Ned’s dad was a sheep thief?  Or that Dan himself was a—”

            Scowling, Trixie held up a hand and cut him off.  “Okay, okay, I get it.  My intuition is far from infallible.”

            “’Infallible’, too, now, eh?  Well, well, well, who’s been sneaking looks at my thesaurus behind my back?”  Mart chuckled.

            Trixie merely stuck out her tongue in reply and closed her eyes again. 

            Honey shook her arm.  “Trixie, I’m sorry you’re tired, but we really have to think about how we are going to interrogate—I mean, interview—our suspects.”

            Trixie opened one eye.  “You mean ‘applicants.’”

            Honey giggled.

            Trixie sat up.  “Actually, this e-mail from Ben sort of gave us the answer.  We told Maya and Jerry and Shane that we would be doing background checks, anyway.  All we have to do now is ask them about this other incident.  I mean, think about for a minute, Honey. They were all there when this other robbery happened.  Doesn’t that make it seem  all the more likely that one of them did it and is also guilty of stealing Regan’s ring?”

            “Maybe they all did it!” Diana announced dramatically.

            “So they’re a ‘ring-stealing-ring’?” Mart asked, smiling.

            Diana gave him a playful shove and giggled.

            Worrying her bottom lip in thought, Honey said, “All right, Trixie.  I guess that’s the way to go about it, but I still don’t know exactly how we’re going to bring up the thief accusation into polite conversation.”

            Trixie laid a hand on Honey’s shoulder.  “Honey, if you can’t think up the best way to be tactful, then I don’t know who can.”

            Honey sighed.  “And how are we going to ask them?  We can’t ask them all together.  We are going to need to ask them separately.” 

            “That’s a good point,” Trixie said.  “Let’s call then and tell them to come to the stable half an hour apart from one another.”

            “But what if our interviews take longer than a half an hour?” Honey asked.

            Trixie shook her head firmly. “They won’t.”

            “I’d like to help if I can,” Diana volunteered. 

            “Well, Honey and I are the ones who are getting paid to do the interviews, and plus we’re the ones who promised Re—I mean, I’m sure we can use your help, of course, but we’re still the ones who are supposed to be doing the actual interviewing.  Let’s see….  What about you, Mart?  Do you want to help?”

            Mart glanced at Diana.  “I sure do.”

            “Thanks.  Then why don’t the two of you meet us at the barn after school?”

            Later that afternoon, Trixie, Honey, Mart and Diana saddled up Susie, Lady, Starlight and Strawberry as they waited for their applicants to arrive. 

            “I brought Sunny along,” Diana said, “because you’ll need an extra horse since no one rides Jupiter besides the redheads.”

            “That was smart,” Honey said.  “Thanks. Besides, Regan was exercising Jupiter when I got here.  I told with him about our plan and he decided it would be best to stay out of our way this afternoon.” Honey looked at her gold watch.  “I also spoke with all of our applicants earlier and confirmed their interviews, so they should start arriving any minute now.”

            Maya was expected first with an interview scheduled for 3:30.  By 3:40 she still hadn’t arrived.

            Trixie clucked her tongue.  “She’s ten minutes late,” she said.  “She’s throwing off the whole schedule!  That’s just rotten.”

             “Remember what happened last time, Trix,” Honey began as she peered into the distance hopefully, “when she came looking like she walked all of the way here?”

            “Yeah, but that time she was early,” Trixie reminded her.  “I wonder….”

            “….you think she’s the thief, don’t you?”

            “Well, maybe she stole the ring and sold it and now doesn’t want to come back.”  Trixie shrugged.

            “Or maybe she’s with Dan,” Diana said.  “I told him where we’d all be after school, but he didn’t sound too interested.”

            “And he took the car again,” Mart griped.

            “Speaking of cars, here comes Jerry’s fancy sports car,” Trixie said.  “Great. He’s early.”

            Diana ducked into an empty stall.

            “Don’t worry, Di,” Trixie said, leading Susie and Strawberry out of the barn.  “Honey and I will just interview him now and get it over with ASAP.  Just give me a ring on my cell phone if Maya shows up, okay?”

            “Okay,” Mart agreed.

            “I know I’m early,” Jerry said as he stepped out of his car.  “But we had to give some car the slip—probably paparazzo—so we went pretty fast on the back roads.”  Shane stepped out from the passenger side of the car.

            Trixie blinked.  “Oh.  You’re both here.  Okay, then.  I guess I’ll interview Jerry while you interview Shane.  How does that sound, Honey?”

            “Fine,” Honey said as she lead Lady and Starlight into the daylight.  Trixie knew that she was genuinely pleased. 

            The girls then agreed to take their charges on different trails around the preserve and rendezvous in half an hour.

            Soon Trixie and Jerry were walking their horses along the bridle path.  Jerry, Trixie was surprised to notice, seemed comfortable in the saddle.  He pointed to the yellow mansion on the hill.  “That’s Diana’s place, isn’t it?”

            “Um….yeah.”

            Jerry nodded.  “Say, how long have you known her, anyway?”

            “The question is,” Trixie said, “how long have you known Shane?”

            “What?  Oh, I dunno.  A month or two now.  I mean, I knew who he was before that, of course, but we didn’t really become friends until his Leap Day party.”

            “Leap Day party?”

            “Yeah, you know.  It was Leap Day and so the Galloways had a big to-do.  Ben Riker invited me, only he ended up not coming.  It was a great party, though, with music and dancing, and a heated indoor pool.  We went swimming in February!”

            “Sounds like fun,” Trixie said.

            “It was.  That is, until Mrs. Galloway went off about how somebody had stolen some jewelry of hers….” Jerry rolled his eyes.  “Kinda killed the party.”

            Trixie raised an eyebrow.  “Someone stole some jewelry?”  She tried to sound only casually interested.  “From where?” 

            Jerry started to laugh.  “I almost forgot!  You’re Sherlock Belden!”  He snickered some more.  “Yeah, they were taken from Violet’s room.  You know Violet, Shane’s sister?”

            “I think I saw her in a picture,” Trixie said. 

            “She’s autistic,” Jerry said, nodding. 

            Trixie frowned.  “Stealing from an autistic girl.  That’s just low. Did they find out who did it?”

            “Well…” Jerry paused and looked meaningfully at Trixie.  “It was never proven, but let’s just say that Mrs. Galloway was pretty sure who it was and fired that person--fired her whole family, actually!”

            Trixie gasped.  “Maya!  But why?”

            “Maya’s dad was the groom for the Galloways.  Maya’s Mom used to look after Violet.  But when Mrs. Dominguez got sick, Maya starting looking after Violet for her.  I guess it was hard for Maya to see all that wealth lying around…especially since a girl like Violet can’t appreciate it, and with all those hospital bills piling up…can’t say as I blame her—much.”

            For a moment Trixie wished Strawberry would rear and dump Jerry onto the ground.  “What do you mean, ‘a girl like Violet’?  Just because she’s autistic it doesn’t mean she’s not entitled to the best life has to offer!  And how do you know Maya really felt that way?  How do you know she even stole anything?  Couldn’t the thief have been someone else?”
            “That’s just it,” Jerry said. “It could have, only when Mrs. Galloway asked Violet if she knew who had taken her jewels, Violet herself said that it was ‘Maya!’”

            Trixie was stunned into silence, and for a moment, only the clop, clop of the two horses walking side by side could be heard.   Finally, Trixie asked again, “What does Maya have to say about all this?  Or Shane?”                                                                                                                  

            “Just a minute.”  Jerry drew up his reins and stopped Strawberry in the middle of the path.  “I thought you were interviewing me, but all you’ve been doing is asking me questions about Shane and Maya.”

            Trixie felt her face burn. “No, it’s just that—”

            “You want to hear about Shane and Maya?  Well, then, here’s the scoop, Trix.  Maya is a thief so she can’t be trusted, and Shane is so rich that he doesn’t need to work for a living.  It doesn’t matter that they might be better with horses than I am: I’m obviously the best choice for the job.”

            “But if you’re not rich,” Trixie said, “then how can you afford to drive the car you do?”

            Jerry chuckled.  “I didn’t say I wasn’t rich—just not as rich as Shane, or Honey, even.  But I will be….someday.”

            Trixie narrowed her eyes.  “But that car….”

            “That car was…earned, so to speak, fair and square, like I’ve already said, Trixie.  And there’s going to be more where that came from, just you wait and see.”

            “But if you have a job where you can earn so much money that you can afford a car like that, what do you need to be a groom for?”

            Jerry sighed.  “I don’t need to be a groom.  I just want to.”

            “That’s the thing, Jerry.  I don’t think that you actually want to be a groom,” Trixie said.  “I think you want to get closer to Diana and thought that this job might be a good way to do it.”

            It was Jerry’s turn to blush, but he was frowning at the same time.  “Look, Trixie.  It sounds to me like you’ve already made up your mind not to hire me for the job.   If that’s the way it is then we’re just wasting each other’s time.”   He clucked his tongue and urged Strawberry to turn back towards the stables.  “I’m outta here.”

                                       

 

            Bob-Bob White! 18

           

            As Trixie watched Jerry trot away on Strawberry, she blew the curls off of her forehead in frustration.  Then, taking her cell phone out of its clip, she called Mart.

            “Hey ‘twin’, it’s me,” she said.  “Jerry’s on his way to you.  I think may have offended his, um, sensibilities with my line of questioning.”

            “Oh, brother,” Mart muttered.  “Okay, don’t worry; I’ll take care of it.  I’ll see if I can get anything out of him while he puts the tack away.”

            “Okay. Thanks.  Oh, and though I hate to do this to her, would you ask Diana to stick around, too?  If she’s there he’s bound to me more willing to stick around—and maybe talk some more.”

            “I’ll ask her,” Mart said.

            “Tell her she’ll be all right as long as you’re there to protect her,” Trixie added, with a smile in her voice.  “Anyway, he’s too ticked off to want to talk to me, so I think I’ll go catch up with Honey and Shane.  Any sign of Maya?”

            “No.  Not yet.  I’ll call if she shows.”

            “Thanks again.”

            “Oh, and Trix?”
            “Yeah.”

            “Give me back my thesaurus once you’ve finished refining you ‘sensibilities’, okay?”

            Trixie then called Honey and arranged to meet up with her and Shane in the woods.  On her way to meet them she cantered Susie past the gamekeeper’s cottage and noticed the Bob-White minivan parked outside.  Dan’s back, Trixie thought to herself. That’s interesting….

            Soon she found Honey and Shane enjoying the view of the valley a picturesque ridge.

            “Hi,” Trixie said, slowing Susie to a walk. “What’s going on?”

            “Just admiring the view,” Honey said.  “So Jerry is done already?”

            “Yes,” Trixie said. She edged Susie closer to Starlight and Shane.  “It was weird.  He mentioned something about a party at your place and Maya being a thief?”

            Shane whipped his head around to frown at Trixie.  Honey looked wide-eyed with shock.  Trixie shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “One of us had to bring it up.”

            Shane shook his head. “Why did he have to mention that?  Poor Maya.”

            “ ‘Poor Maya’?  But he said that she stole from you—from your sister.”

            Shane rolled his eyes and continued to shake his head.

            Trixie and Honey exchanged glances behind his back.  “It looks like you don’t think Maya’s guilty,” Honey told him.

             “How can I?  Her family worked for mine for years and was completely trustworthy that whole time.  Am I supposed to believe they turned into thieves overnight?”

            Trixie swallowed hard.  “Maya’s mother is very sick…. maybe they needed the money…?”

            Shane looked directly into her eyes.  “Even so…it’s not like them.  I can’t see any of them—no matter how desperate they become—you know, committing a crime—and especially not one that meant stealing from my sister.  Maya and Violet were nuts about each other.  Maya would sooner cut off her hands than steal from Violet.  But I think that because when my Mom found out about the missing jewels, Violet kept saying Maya’s name over and over, so Mom thought she meant Maya did it.”

Honey tilted her head to the side. “But you don’t.”

“No.  I think Violet just wanted Maya’s company.”

“Then who do you think did do it?  Do you suspect anyone at all?” Trixie prodded. 

Shane abruptly looked away.  Then, seeing a dark, crumbling shape in the distance, he pointed. “What’s that over there?”  

“That’s Ten Acres,” Trixie said.  “The old Frayne mansion.  It burned to the ground a few years ago.  The land still belongs to Jim, though.”

“You’re brother?” Shane asked Honey.

Honey nodded.  “But he’s not using it now.  Maybe he will once he’s back from college.”

Trixie smiled to herself remembering the first time she and Honey had met one another and how they had gone exploring at the old mansion, only to come across a red-headed runaway sleeping on a mattress on the floor of the parlor….  The room had been filled with cobwebs and—

Trixie shook her head.  Talk about filled with cobwebs!  I’ve gotten totally sidetracked!  “Shane, you didn’t say whether you suspected anyone in particular of stealing your sister’s jewels….”

“Does it matter?”  Shane asked.  “In the end, Violet doesn’t really care, and my parents only want them back so that there’s one more thing they can fight over in court.  I’d like to find out, of course, but mostly because I don’t like the idea of anyone hurting my sister.  Only she wasn’t really hurt, and it’s not like the jewels were even that precious.  Most of them were just expensive fakes!”

Honey regarded him with wonder.  “How do you know?   Can you tell the difference between real gems and paste imitations?”

Shane shook his head.  “No.  My mother told me.”  He stroked Starlight’s mane.  “The true identity of the guilty culprit is anybody’s guess, really.  I mean, we were having a party at the house at the time.  It could have been any one of a great number of people.”

 “You’re right of course,” Trixie said.  “But it’s funny that you and Maya and Jerry were all there when your sister’s jewels got stolen, and then you were all at the Wheeler stable when something else was stolen.”

Shane’s eyes grew large.  “You mean it’s happened again?”

“Yes, Shane,” Honey said quietly.  “And again something was stolen from someone who didn’t deserve it.  Not that anyone does.”

“That’s terrible!  What was taken? I mean, it couldn’t have been a horse….”

Honey giggled.  “It was a—”

            Trixie broke in, “—that information is confidential.  For the police, you know,” she lied.

            “Police?”  Shane cleared his throat.  “It sounds serious.”

            “Well, the robbery at your house sounded serious.  Didn’t you call the police for that?”  Honey asked.

            “Actually, we didn’t…we didn’t want to attract the attention of the newspapers, and like I said, with the exception of a nice tennis bracelet that our grandmother gave Violet, the rest of the stuff that was stolen was junk.  We don’t even know exactly when it was stolen and everything.  For all we know it happened months before it was even noticed.”

            “Or not,” Trixie said.  “Were any of your party guests at your home for the first time?”  She already knew the answer to that question.

            “Of course there were some new people….” Shane admitted.

             “Good point, Trix,” Honey said.  “I would look into that if I were you, Shane.”

            “Let’s just drop it, okay?  I already said we don’t really care.  Money isn’t everything, you know.”  Shane turned Strawberry away from the ridge.

            “Sorry,” Trixie said.  “Look, I’m going to go back to the stable to see if Maya showed up yet, so I’m going to go.”  She urged Susie back to the path.  She didn’t want Shane to leave as angry as Jerry had and knew it would be better to leave Honey alone to work her gentle, soothing magic on him.  “And don’t worry, Shane, I’ll keep what you said in mind.  She’ll get a fair interview.  Catch you guys later!”

            “Actually, if we’re done here, I should be getting back, too,” Shane said.  “Jerry drove me and I don’t want to keep him waiting too long.”

            Honey pouted as she picked a tree blossom out of Lady’s mane.  “All right, then.  We’ll all go back.”

            Trixie led the way, leaving Honey and Shane to indulge in small talk.  When she was just reaching the stable, she was surprised to meet Jerry on the road, too.

            “Are you just getting back?” she asked, shocked.

            “Yeah.  So?”

            “What happened?  Did you get lost or something?”

            “No,” Jerry snapped, and he rode past her to where Mart and Diana waited.

            Trixie flushed.

            Honey trotted up next to her.  “Are you okay?”

            Trixie nodded.  “I’m just having one of those me-and-my-big-mouth days.”  She sighed.  “And I see Maya still hasn’t shown up—which is probably good, because at the rate I’m going I’d say the wrong thing to her, anyway.”

            “Look,” Honey said. “If you want, I can finish up here.  If Maya shows up I’ll let you know, but if you want to go home….”

            “I might do that.  I want to think over the information I got today.  Maybe do a little more cyber-searching, too.  Thanks.”

            Mart, wanting to stay with Diana, agreed to tack Susie, and Trixie headed for home, her mind a jumble of thoughts of horses, jewels, and parties.  Suddenly she remembered the ball and frowned.  “I still don’t know what jewelry to wear with my dress,” she said to herself as she walked into the kitchen at Crabapple Farm.

            Mrs. Belden smiled at her. “Do you want your father to take your ring out of the safe deposit box again?”

            Startled, Trixie laughed.  “No!”  She knew that her mother was teasing.  The ring her mother mentioned had been part of the fortune Jim had inherited. He had given it to Trixie as a ‘thank you’ for helping him when he had run away from his cruel stepfather.  Knowing me, Trixie thought, I’ll just lose it, and we don’t need two missing rings around here…. “I’ll just take a look at what I have upstairs.  I’m sure I have something suitable.”

            Mrs. Belden raised her eyebrows for a moment, and then said, “All right, dear, you can take a look right now, if you want. Everything is under control here.”

            “Thanks. I think I will.” 

            After taking a quick shower to clear her head, Trixie entered her room and closed the door behind her.  Then, taking a deep breath, Trixie changed into her ball gown and slipped on her new high-heeled shoes.  Tottering over to the full length mirror on her closet door, Trixie was relieved to find that she still thought she looked good.  Lifting her skirt to expose her ankles, Trixie admired the way her shoes complimented her gown.  This is almost fun, she admitted to herself.

            Then, sitting at her small vanity, Trixie pulled out her seashell-encrusted jewelry box.  It had been a birthday gift from her Aunt Alicia one year when in an effort to encourage Trixie’s feminine side, she had also given her a seed pearl necklace.   The necklace didn’t last the year, and the box had lain empty for many more years after that.  It was only after Trixie had begun solving mysteries that she had begun collecting jewelry again.  Like the diamond ring from Jim, and….

            Trixie slowly pulled out the silver ID bracelet that Jim had also given her.  Then, cradling the dainty chain and nameplate it in the palm of her hand, she tilted it to let it catch the light.  The engraved letters of Jim’s name gleamed in the sun.

            “You know what it means, don’t you?” Jim had asked when he gave it to her.

            “Tell me,” Trixie had shyly replied.

            “It means that you’re my special girl, Trixie…as if you didn’t know that already….”

            Trixie smiled at the memory.  She poured the bracelet back in the box, and then removed a golden, heart-shaped locket she had received as a keepsake in Virginia when she had solved a mystery as old as the Civil War.

            Pressing open the catch, Trixie looked inside the locket when there was a knock at the door.  Startled, Trixie threw the chain back in her box.  “Who is it?”

            “It’s me: Moms.  Can I come in?”

            Trixie looked despairingly at her ballgown and shoes.  She didn’t want her mother to see her yet, and spoil the surprise.  “Just a minute!”  Leaping from her chair, Trixie snatched up her bedspread and held it to her body.  “Come in!”

            “Trixie, it occurred to me that—” Mrs. Belden paused and blinked.  “Is everything okay?”

            Trixie sighed.  “Yes, Moms, it’s just that I’m in my dress, and I’d still like to surprise you.”

            “That’s sort of why I’m here,” Mrs. Belden said.  It was then that Trixie noticed the long, flat, black box her mother held in her hand.  “I was wondering if you really did have any jewelry that would be appropriate to wear with your dress, after all, and if you didn’t, I thought you could borrow these.”

            Trixie clutched the bedspread under her chin.  “Open it, Moms,” she whispered in awe.

            Mrs. Belden reverently opened the box to expose a pearl necklace.  “I wore these when I married your father,” she told Trixie.  “These were handed down to me by my mother and her mother before her.  They are a family heirloom.  They are from the South Seas, which I understand makes them quite valuable.”

            Trixie stroked one of the iridescent pearls gingerly.  “They aren’t perfectly round.  They’re all funny shapes.”

            “That’s called ‘baroque-style’, dear.  That’s natural.”

            “I like it.  I think it looks prettier than the perfectly round look,” Trixie said.  “They’re really beautiful….but Moms…I’m not getting married or anything.”

            “I know, but if I had a ball to go to when I was your age, I would have worn these.  Let’s see how they look on you.”

            “But then what will you wear to the ball?”

            “Now don’t you worry about that,” Mrs. Belden said.  “I can have my surprises, too, can’t I?  Here, let me just fasten the clasp.”

            Trixie kept the bedspread tucked around her as best as she could, and watched in the mirror as her mother carefully laid the necklace across her collarbone. 

            “There. Now doesn’t that look pretty?” Mrs. Belden asked.

            “It is beautiful,” Trixie had to admit. “But Moms, don’t you think—”

            “Bob-bob white!”

            The piercing Bob-White distress signal cut Trixie off.

            Again.  “Bob-white!  Bob-white!

            Without another thought to her jewelry or her clothes, Trixie broke away from her mother and dashed down the stairs and out the front door.

                                                                                                                                     

Secret Meeting • 19

The first person she saw was Bobby standing outside on the stone path with two of his fingers in his mouth.

            “Bobby!  Are you all right? I heard your whistle!  What’s wrong?”

            Bobby just stood and stared.

            It took a moment for Trixie to realize that he was staring at her because she was so uncharacteristically dressed. 

            “Wow, Trix.  You look beautiful,” he said finally.

            The sincerity in his tone made Trixie feel both flattered and self-conscious.  Then she came back to her senses and asked again.  “But what’s wrong, Bobby?  You whistled….!” 

            Mrs. Belden walked up behind Trixie as Bobby explained. “Oh!  Yeah!  It’s because I know something important!”

            “I hope so,” Trixie said, frowning.  “That whistle is only supposed to be used in emergencies.”

            Bobby chewed on his lower lip.  “Well, okay, maybe it’s not an emergency, but…but…there’s a girl in the clubhouse!”

            Trixie raised an eyebrow.  “’A girl’?  I take it by ‘a girl’ you mean someone besides Honey or Diana….”

            “Yup.  It’s that pretty girl.  You know, the one who was nice to me and Susie.”

            “Maya?  What’s Maya doing in the Bob-White clubhouse?”

            At that moment, Trixie noticed Dan walking through the front gate.  “She’s waiting to talk to you,” he said.  Then he stopped in his tracks and looked Trixie over.  “Gosh, Trixie, you look…you look…” he couldn’t find the words.

            “Never mind me.  What’s this about Maya?”

            Dan cleared his throat.  “I’m the one who brought her to the clubhouse.  I think you’ll want to hear what she has to say.  But maybe you’ll want to change your clothes first…?”

            Trixie turned to her mother.  “Moms, may I?  This is important.”

Mrs. Belden nodded.

            Trixie then picked up her skirt.  “Just give me a minute, Dan.  I’ll be right back in jeans and a T-shirt.”  And then teetering in her high heels, Trixie clopped her way back up the stairs.  “So much for surprising Moms…or Bobby…or Dan….”  She grumbled to herself.

            A few short minutes later, Trixie fell into step with Dan and walked towards the clubhouse.  “So what’s this about?” she asked him nonchalantly, although she had an idea.

            “Well, when I got your e-mail, I decided to ask Maya a few questions, and well… why don’t you let her tell you?”

Trixie nodded, and walked with Dan in silence for the rest of the way. When she entered the clubhouse, she found Maya sitting at the Bob-White meeting table.  Her face looked pinched and red.

Has she been crying? Trixie wondered.  For a moment, her heart went out to the girl, but then Trixie steeled herself against sympathy.  If Maya is the thief, she reminded herself, then she could be conning me into feeling sorry for her.  I have to be careful.

“Hi,” Trixie greeted her flatly.

“Hi,” Maya replied in a barely audible voice.                                  

Dan cleared his throat.  “Why don’t we all sit down?”

Trixie pulled up a chair and sat directly opposite Maya.  Dan sat at the end of the table, in-between the girls.

Maya swept a finger under her left eye and began to speak.  “Look, I asked Dan to arrange this meeting because…well, because it’s my understanding that you have heard some things about me—some things I wish you hadn’t.”

I’ll bet, thought Trixie.  Aloud, she asked, “What things are those?”

Maya frowned.  “Lies.”

Trixie looked down at her nails.  “Well, one thing I’ve heard is that you and your parents worked for the Galloways.  Is that a lie?”

“Um, no….”

“Another thing I heard was that you were accused of stealing from the Galloways, is that a lie?”

“Yes!”

Trixie raised an eyebrow.  “You weren’t accused?”

“No—I mean, yes, I was accused, but I didn’t do it!”

Dan pounded his fist on the table, making both girls jump.  “Darn it, Trixie!  What are you, a lawyer or something?  Maya is not on trial, here.  She’s here to tell you her story and I told her you would listen.  Am I the liar now, too, or will you give her a chance to tell you what happened in her own words?”

Trixie felt her face burn.  “Sorry,” she mumbled.  Folding her hands before her, Trixie started again.  “I apologize, Maya.  Please, go on.”

Maya flashed Dan a look of gratitude before turning to back to Trixie.  “Like I said, I didn’t do it.  The day Violet’s jewels went missing was the day of the Leap Day party.  My Mom was taking care of Violet but she wasn’t feeling well.  I don’t know, maybe the chemo….” Maya’s voice broke for a moment.  Then after taking a deep breath, she resumed in a clearer tone.  “Anyway, she needed to lie down and asked me to take over looking after Violet.  I said, ‘sure’ but was worried about my Mom getting back to bed okay.  She was just really weak that day.  I tried to get Violet to go with me, but she was being stubborn, so I thought it would be okay if I left her alone for a few minutes.  The ‘few’ minutes stretched out longer than I expected them to, but I still thought it was okay because I had told Shane that I was leaving her alone—”

“—You told Shane?”  Trixie asked.

Maya nodded.

“Okay…interesting…go on….”

“I mean, he looked like he wasn’t too worried about her being left alone for a short while.  He was also a little busy with the party, you know.  Anyway, I was also delayed on the way back to Violet’s room by Jerry—”

“Jerry Vanderhoef?” Trixie asked, interrupting again.

Maya exhaled in a huff.  “Yes.  He was so annoying.  He kept asking me out.  He doesn’t know how to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

“Hmm….also interesting,” Trixie said.                 

“So like I was saying, when I finally got back, I found Violet playing with some empty jewelry boxes, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t think much about it until much later when Mrs. Galloway came in to say ‘hi’ and saw the boxes.   Then she realized that the jewelry was missing and had her famous meltdown.”

Trixie nodded.  “I see.  So… what’s this I hear about Violet saying that you did it?”

Maya seemed a little taken aback by the directness of her question, but she continued to look Trixie in the eye as she answered, “Mrs. Galloway was so upset that she….she threw me out of the room.  I couldn’t believe it.  Anyway, I stood outside and listened as she kept asking Violet, ‘Who took the jewelry?  Who took it, Violet?  Who took it?  Who took the jewelry?’ over and over.  Poor Violet kept crying and screaming for me, instead.  I guess her mother thought she was naming names, though, because….”  Maya fought back tears.  “…she had our rooms searched and me and my parents fired even though she didn’t find anything.  She accused us of hiding the jewelry for her husband so that he could have them after the divorce is final.”

“Wow,” Trixie said.  “I had heard the divorce was getting messy, but…wow.”

            Maya leaned forward.  “I could really use this job, Trixie.   With a reputation as thieves, its hard for me and my family to get work, and then there are my mother’s hospital bills and—I mean, look at me. I haven’t even bought new clothes in two years.   Nothing fits me any more.  I would be willing to be fully supervised all the time if you wanted me to.  That way you could see that I’m working and not stealing stuff.”  Her voice became shaky again.

            Trixie patted Maya on the hand.  “I don’t think we’ll have to do that,” she said.  “But we also won’t be able to hire anyone until we solve this mystery.”

            Maya frowned.  “You mean the mystery of….who stole Violet’s jewelry?”

            Trixie shook her head.  “No.  The mystery of who stole something else…” she said, exchanging glances with Dan, “….from the stable.”

            “There was another robbery?  Whoa!”  Maya arched her eyebrows in surprise.   “Is there anything I can do to help?”

            Trixie rose from her seat.  “So far you have helped by telling your side of the story, Maya.  That’s all I need for now.  If I need anymore, though, I’ll let you know.”

            Maya stood up as well.  “Thanks for listening.”

            Trixie smiled at Dan.  “Thank Dan.  I did it for him.  But I’m glad I did.  I need to go back home now.  But I’ll talk to the two of you soon, okay?”

            “Thanks, Trixie,” Dan said, giving her a quick hug. “You’re the best.”

            Trixie blushed and waved him away.  “No I’m not.”  Then with one last wave she left the clubhouse and headed for home. 

            I’ll have to send everyone an e-mailed update this evening, Brian and Jim included, she thought as she took a few steps into the woods. Suddenly, she heard Dan’s voice behind her.  “Trixie!  Trixie!”

Trixie stopped and waited for Dan to catch up with her.

            Once he did, he put his hands on his hips and looked down at the ground.  “I, uh, I just wanted to explain about the car.  I’ve been driving Maya to school.  Her family lives on Hawthorne Street now that they’ve had to move.”

Trixie shivered involuntarily.  Hawthorne was the worst street in Sleepyside.

“I just…I just wanted her to be safe. But I thought you’d be mad.”

Trixie shook her head and placing one of her hands on her heart and the other on Dan’s shoulder, said, “I’m sorry, Dan. I can be such a jerk sometimes.  I’m not mad.  It’s a nice thing you’re doing for Maya.”

“I, uh, I kinda promised to pick her up tomorrow, as well.  I could pick everyone else up, too, though, if you could all get ready early.”

Trixie grinned. “Sounds good.  See you in the morning, then.”

Dan grinned back, looking relieved.  “See you in the morning.”

As Trixie parted from Dan, she thought about all that Maya had said.  I can’t wait to tell Honey what’s happened, she thought.  Maybe I’ll just give her a call.  But the moment Trixie then pulled out her cell phone it jingled with the announcement that she had a text message.  Maybe that’s Honey now.

            Trixie flipped open her phone and picked up her message.  It read:

                                                  Trix, Honey:

                                     Meet me at my locker

 first thing in the

 morning!

                                                 Icky emergency!!!

                                                                       Di

 

Oh-oh, Trixie thought.  I wonder what that’s all about.  She quickly sent a text message back to Honey and Di:

                                                Let’s all meet at early

at CF Farm. Dan’s

driving us to school. 

            She was just reaching the clearing and the welcome sight of Crabapple Farm when her phone jingled again.  Trixie read the message:

                                                Will do!
                                                          Di

It was quickly followed by:

                                                See you there!

                                                            Honey

                    

Seeing that it was a minute to six, Trixie snapped her phone back onto its clip.  As she heard the scolding barks of Reddy hurrying her to dinner, Trixie shook her head.  Never a dull moment, she thought, and set off at a jog for home.

 

The “Icky Emergency” 20

            The next morning, Trixie and Mart joined Dan, Diana and Honey in the minivan.  At first, Trixie opened up the door to the passenger seat, but remembering that they would later be joined by Maya, she thought better of it and squeezed into the back with Honey.

            “So, what’s up, Di?”  Trixie asked.  “What’s the ‘icky emergency’?”

            “It’s this!” Diana, who was sitting in the middle of the van with Mart, threw a small box in between Honey and Trixie. “I found it on my back step.  It had my name on it!”

             “What is it?” Mart demanded.  Dan glanced in his rearview mirror to what was going on behind him.

Trixie bit her lip to keep from laughing. From the way Diana was acting, you’d think it was a frog covered in slime, she thought. 

            “It’s a box,” Honey told the boys, “with a note taped to it.”

            “Read it!” Diana cried out dramatically.

            “All right….”  Honey unfolded the sheet of paper and read:

 

                                    Roses are your cheeks

                                    Violets are your eyes

                                    I’ve watched you for weeks

And sad are my sighs

One day you will see

That my love is true

And mine you will be

‘Til then, here, for you:

 

            “Shakespeare!” Mart muttered, snatching the sheet from Honey’s hand to read it over.

            “Here, what?  What’s for you?” Dan asked from the front seat.

            Trixie looked inside the box.  “It…it looks like some kind of brooch....”  She removed the pin and held it up.  “…of a flower.”

            Diana shuddered elaborately.  “I just know it’s a love token from Jerry.”

            “I’ll bet you’re right,” Trixie said.  That’s what took him so long to get back to the stable.  He stopped first at Di’s house.  Unless….  She peered at her brother suspiciously.  “Unless this some idea of a joke.”

            “No way!” Mart looked furious.  “I would never do that to you, Di.  And I promise if I ever write you a love poem it won’t be like this drivel: I am a loser/A jerk of first-class/Who can’t write a rhyme/to save my fat—”

            Honey gasped. “Trixie!  Take a good look at that pin.  That’s not just any kind of flower!”

            “It…isn’t?”

            “No!  Look harder, Trix.  It’s a violet!”

            Trixie’s mouth fell open.  “Do you think this used to belong to Shane’s sister?”

            “First Shakespeare, now Einstein,” Mart said, snatching the pin from Trixie.

            Trixie glared at him.  “You don’t have to be so grabby.  What’s up with you?”

            “Nothing,” Mart said.  “I just think we should nab this guy.  He sounds like a stalker to me.”

            “A stalker!”  Diana wrung her hands. “Please do something.”

            “Don’t worry, we will,” Trixie said.  “I’ll think up a plan, don’t worry.”

            “Are you sure it’s Jerry’s handwriting?” Dan asked.

            Honey flashed him an admiring look.  “Good question.  Hold on.  I’ll just check.  I have copies of the applications that Jerry, Maya and Shane filled out.”  Removing a neat folder from her bag, Honey carefully compared the two samples. “We’ve got a match.  It’s Jerry all right.”

            “Well, I still think we should check with Maya,” Dan said, “and make sure that pin even really belonged to Violet before we do anything else.”

            “All right,” Trixie said with sigh.  She crossed her arms and sat back in her seat.

            A short while later, the Bob-White minivan swung by Hawthorne Street and Maya quickly got inside.

            “Hi everyone,” she greeted shyly.

            “Hi,” the Bob-Whites greeted back.

            “Maya,” Trixie began immediately.  “Remember how you were telling me about Jerry and how he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer?  How he was always asking you out?”

            Maya made a face.  “Yeah, and giving me presents and notes and stuff.”

            The Bob-Whites exchanged glances.

            “How did you get him to stop?” Diana asked.

            Maya shrugged.  “I didn’t, really.  He must have found someone else to obsess about.  It’s a relief to me.  I don’t think I could have taken one more poem telling me how ‘roses are your lips/nightfall is your hair.…’ ”

            “What about this,” Mart asked, showing Maya the brooch in its box.  “Does this look familiar?”

            Maya took the box in her hand and casually looked inside.   For a moment nothing registered on her face.  “It’s—” Then her eyes widened in recognition. “This is Violet’s!  Where did you find it?  Did you solve the mystery?”

“No,” Trixie said, “but we will.  I’ve just thought of a plan!”

“Let’s hear it,” Dan said.

Trixie shot an apologetic look at Diana.  “Di, I’m afraid you’re not going to like this, but you’re the actress in this group, so hear me out.”

Blinking hard, Diana held her breath and listened.

“Okay, I think you should write a note back to Jerry, thanking him for the lovely present...”

“What?” everyone in the van chorused.

“Oh, no!  Are you Jerry’s latest crush?” Maya asked Diana.

Diana bit her lip and nodded.

Maya’s eyes were dark with sympathy.  “I’m so sorry!”

“I said hear me out,” Trixie broke in.  “Okay, so you write saying ‘thank you’ for the present and the note, and how no one has ever written you a poem like that before...”

Mart guffawed.

“…but,” Trixie continued, ignoring him, “that you can’t accept them.”

Diana breathed a sigh of relief.

“How will that solve anything, though?” Dan asked.

Honey’s eyes sparkled.  “I know.  It’ll be in the way she writes the letter.  By playing hard to get, she’ll inspire him to give her something else, instead.  Maybe something else from Violet’s collection—something more valuable than costume jewelry--like the tennis bracelet!  Chances are that the pin wasn’t insured, but something like a diamond bracelet could be.”

“Exactly,” Trixie said.  “And if he starts coming up with other jewelry like the others stolen from Violet’s room, then….”  

            “Yes,” Maya said, “it will mean he stole the jewels!  But then shouldn’t we be calling the police and telling them all this?  My parents need their jobs back and—”

            “—I know, I know.  First things first, though,” Trixie said.  “First let’s see if we can get Jerry to fall into our trap.”

Diana sighed and took out a notebook and a purple pen.  “‘Dear Jerry,’” she said out loud as she wrote.  “‘Thank you so much for your present and poem.  I have never had such a romantic gift in my life!’”

Mart groaned.

“Well, it’s true,” Diana insisted.  She went on.  “‘The brooch is really very lovely, too, but I’m afraid I can’t accept it—’ ’” She looked up at the others. “What do I tell him is the reason why I can’t accept it?  I can’t say ‘I’m not interested’.  It’s too mean to write down in a note.  But I don’t want to lie either!”

“Say…say that you’re already involved with somebody else,” Mart suggested.

“Am I?” Diana asked.

Mart and Diana locked eyes.

The van got quiet.

“Aren’t you?” Mart asked, finally.

They both blushed and Diana went back to narrating her letter out loud.  “‘…because I am involved with someone else.  He has never given me anything as beautiful as this flower pin, of course…’”

Mart made a choking sound.

“‘…but I still have to say “no”.  When can I see you and give it back?’”

Diana continued.  “‘Again, I’m sorry, because if I wasn’t already involved with someone else, I might have at least worn it with my dress at the charity ball I am attending this coming Saturday….’”  Diana stopped once again.  “What jewelry will you two be wearing at the ball?” she asked Trixie and Honey.

“I’m wearing a pearl necklace that belongs to Moms,” Trixie said.

Honey shrugged.  “I suppose I can wear my diamond solitaire necklace.”

Diana took a deep breath and finished her note. “‘Believe it or not,’” she said aloud, “‘Trixie will be wearing pearls, and Honey told me she will be wearing a diamond solitaire necklace!  I wish I had something like that!  You know what they say:  “diamonds are a girl’s best friend!”  Anyway, I’m sorry, and thank you again, Diana.’”

            “That ought to do the trick!” Trixie said.

            Diana grimaced.  “I hope we’re doing the right thing.  I don’t like the idea of tricking Jerry.”

            “Don’t worry, Di.  You told him you couldn’t accept the gift and you turned him down gently.  If he really doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and if he really stole Violet’s jewelry and wants to impress you with them, then that’s not your fault—it’s Jerry’s.” Trixie nodded firmly.  “And if it’s true, then he’s a thief who’s ruined the reputation and livelihood of Maya’s family and who needs to be caught.”

            “Yes,” Mart agreed. “Don’t think of it as a ‘trick’ so much as a ‘sting operation.’  Police often set traps—or stings—to catch crooks red-handed.  And that’s all we’re trying to do now, you know, catch the bad guys and help the good guys.”

            Diana looked down doubtfully at the note in her hand.  “If you say so….” 

            Later that morning, she slipped the note through a slat on the door of Jerry’s locker. 

            At lunchtime, when the other Bob-Whites asked if she had heard back from Jerry, Diana shook her head.  “Not yet,” she said.  When school let out, however, Diana was the last to meet up with the others at the minivan.

            “Any news?” Trixie asked the minute Diana met up with them.

            “I’ll tell you in the car,” Diana said.

            “That means news!” Trixie slid open the door and hopped inside the van.

            Once all the others—including Maya—were all securely seated, Diana waved a sheet of lined spiral notebook paper at them.  “Listen everyone!”  She began to read: “‘Thanks for your note, Di.  I am sorry that you cannot accept my gift, and wish to return it.  You should know, however, that when it comes to beautiful women, I don’t give up easily.  Meet me after school on Friday behind Town Hall, and I’ll give you an even prettier, shinier present—one that you might even wear to the ball—and we will see if I can’t make you change your mind!  Yours, Jerry.’”

            Maya was the first to speak. “Yup.  Just like I said: won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

            “Well he’d better take ‘no’ for an answer or else he’ll be spitting teeth,” Mart growled.

            “So, Di, are you going to do it?” Honey asked.  “Are you going to meet Jerry tomorrow?”

            Diana shrugged helplessly.  “I think I have, too.  That is, we have to solve this mystery.”

            “Thatta girl,” Trixie said. “Do it for Regan!”

            “And Maya!” Dan added. “And please don’t worry.  You won’t be alone, Diana. We’ll all be hiding in the bushes and trees around you.”

            “All of you?”

            “Yes, all of us,” Trixie said. “Well, except for Maya.  She’s not a Bob-White.”

            Maya’s face fell.

            “Um, Trixie,” Honey said.  “Won’t we need Maya to positively identify the jewelry as Violet’s?”

            “…Oh…yeah….”

            “And,” Maya added, “you forget that my whole family and I were accused of taking that jewelry, Trixie.  I want to nab this guy!” Her dark eyes flashed.

            Trixie’s blue eyes reflected her sympathy.  “You’re right. You should come along.  Let’s take a drive by Town Hall now so that we can figure out where we’re all going to hide tomorrow.”

            Dan drove the minivan to the common.  The old-fashioned looking hall was a white, two-story clapboard building conveniently located across the square from the police station.  It was one of the oldest buildings in Sleepyside, and its copper, grasshopper-shaped weathervane—which the Bob-Whites had named “Hoppy”—had once featured prominently in one of Trixie and Honey’s past mysteries. When the girls were younger, they had often practiced the tradition of saying “hello to Hoppy” whenever they were in the area.  At nearly sixteen, Trixie felt almost too old to be doing that anymore, but she discreetly waved at the weathervane when the others weren’t looking. 

After making a sweep of the area, they all agreed on different spots where they would all be able to see Diana meet Jerry. 

“I can hide behind this tree,” Dan said, “and Honey and Mart can take those.”

            “You’ll be with me,” Trixie told Maya with a smile.  “We can hide behind those shrubs.  I’ll bring my binoculars so you can get a good look at whatever jewel he brings.”

            “Couldn’t you all be closer?” Diana asked, her eyes dark with worry.

Trixie shook her head grimly.  “We want to be the ones to catch Jerry, not the other way around.”

Diana nodded.  “So… if he does bring another one of Violet’s jewels, how will I know?”

            “We’ll all jump out of the bushes and confront Jerry,” Trixie said.

            “And if he doesn’t?”

            Trixie looked around at the others. “Well, I suppose if Maya tells me it isn’t one of Violet’s, I’ll just give a soft bob-white whistle to let everyone know not to jump out.”

            Diana’s eyes widened.  “And you won’t come out of the bushes to save me?”

            “Don’t worry, Di,” Mart said.  “I’ll come and take you away in either scenario.”

            “That’s more like it!”  She pretended to wipe perspiration from her forehead.

            As the Bob-Whites and Maya returned to the mini-van, Trixie took one last look at Hoppy. 

            “Hiya, Hoppy,” she whispered softly.  “Remember us?  We helped you out once, and now I’m asking you to return the favor.  Would you please keep an eye out for us tomorrow? We’d really appreciate it!  Thanks.”

            “Who’s she taking to?” She heard Maya ask Dan.

            Dan laughed. “Would you believe a giant cricket?”

  

The Sting 21

 

At school all day Friday Trixie noticed that Jerry seemed to go out of his way to avoid her.   That’s interesting, she thought.  He’s either still mad at me for our disaster of an interview, or he has a guilty conscience about taking Violet’s jewels and blaming Maya for it.  She shook her head.  Probably both or—all three, actually.

            During lunch Diana confessed to being nervous.  “Acting on stage is one thing.  Acting in an undercover operation is another.  I feel like I’m working for the FBI or something!”

            “Don’t worry,” Honey assured her.  “You’ll do great.”

Mart concurred. “Jerry’s a thief and he has to go down!”

 “That’s right!”  Trixie nodded.  But as the other Bob-Whites discussed that afternoon’s upcoming sting, she fell silent.  There’s something off about all of this….  She rubbed her temple in thought.  I mean, if I was a thief, I certainly wouldn’t just give my stolen goods away!  Let alone to someone who kind of knows the person I stole them from—and especially if she was also the friend of, well, me!  That is, a detective!  She clucked her tongue.  Either Jerry is an incredibly dumb criminal, or this whole sting might turn out to be a bust after all—and not the kind we wanted it to be!

“What about Jim and Brian?” Dan asked.  “Do they know what’s going on?

“Yes,” Honey said.  “Trixie and I e-mailed them last night. They’re going to meet us out back later.  They didn’t want to miss out on this!”

True to their word, at the end of the day, Jim and Brian pulled up in Jim’s Jeep, which had been a graduation gift from Mr. Wheeler.  Trixie ran ahead of the others and launched herself into Jim’s arms.

“Hi!” she greeted him breathlessly.  She then hugged her brother. “Hi, Brian.”

As Trixie stepped out of the hug, Brian chuckled.  “Nice to see your priorities continue to be in order,” he said as her face flamed, “and that your flesh-and-blood brother is still coming in second to—”

“Hi!”  Honey called out as she ran over and embraced Brian.  She then waved to her brother and said, “Oh, there you are, Jim!”

It was Brian’s turn to blush as Trixie giggled.

Jim tugged one of her curls. “I can’t believe you’ve done it again, Trix.  How do you manage it?” he asked.  You’ve got us all involved in another mystery—and one that was going on under our very noses!”

Trixie shrugged.  “I just have a knack for it, I guess.  But we’d better get going. Di is about to start walking towards Town Hall and we need to beat both her and Jerry there so that we can hide.  I’ll give you more details on the way.”

            “We know a good spot to park, too,” Honey said.

            “Why don’t the two of you ride with us, then?”  Brian jerked a thumb towards the Jeep.  “Hop in and we’ll follow the minivan.”

            On the way to the Town Hall, Trixie admitted her reservations about Jerry’s guilt to Jim, Brian and Honey.

            “You have some good points, there,” Jim said, frowning thoughtfully.

            “I guess we’ll find out for sure when Jerry gives Diana the present,” Brian said.

            Trixie nibbled on a thumbnail.  “I guess so.”

            Soon the Bob-Whites were in place behind various bushes and trees behind the Town Hall.

            Maya waved a pair of binoculars to Trixie.  “I have my own,” she said.  “From years of watching horse shows, you know.”

            “Of course!  I should have known,” Trixie said.

            It took a while of cramped waiting before Diana strolled onto the scene.  Once she did, Trixie let out a soft “bob-white” to assure her of their presence.  The she watched as Diana rubbing her upper arms and she paced back and forth along the back wall of Town Hall.  Finally Jerry showed up behind her.  He watched Diana for a moment and then softly called out her name.

            Diana jumped in surprise and spun around. “Oh!  Jerry!  You scared me….”

            “What’s the matter?”  Jerry asked, smiling.  “You knew I was coming.”

            “Yes, I did, but…” Diana fumbled for the words.  “It’s just that…well...I’m just here to give you the pin back, so, um, here.”  She held out the box with a trembling hand.

            “What’s your hurry?” Jerry asked.  “Hold your horses, Di.   I told you I had something better than that old pin, didn’t I?”

            “Yes, but I don’t really want—”

            “Here it is.”  Jerry drew out a shimmering bangle from his pocket.  “Now how can you say ‘no’ to that?”

            “Take a look! Take a look!  Take a look!” Trixie urged Maya in a hoarse whisper.  “Is it Violet’s?”

            Maya, who had already trained her binoculars on the scene, focused in on the jewelry.  “I…think so….”

            “You ‘think’ or you ‘know’?”  Trixie flapped her hands.  “This is important Maya!”

            Maya glowered at her. “Don’t you think I know that?”

            Meanwhile Diana’s eyes were wide.  “Wow,” she said loudly. “That’s a tennis bracelet, isn’t it?”

            “Shhhh,” Jerry said.  “Yes it is.”

            “A tennis bracelet!  A tennis bracelet!” Trixie squealed.  “Even I know Violet was missing a tennis bracelet!”

            “Yes, but...” Maya said, “…Violet’s was special…if only Diana would…..”

            Diana looked around nervously.

“Why don’t you try it on?” Jerry asked, holding the bracelet out.

“I-I can’t,” Diana said.  “I mean, it is beautiful, but I really shouldn’t. Oh!  Look at that!” She raised her voice again. “Is that an amethyst clasp?”

“That’s it!” Maya told Trixie.  “It had an amethyst!”

Meanwhile, Jerry nodded.  “That’s why I thought of you.  I know how much you like wearing purple…it brings out the violet in your eyes.”

When Jerry said the word “violet” Trixie couldn’t take it anymore.  “All right!  Let’s go!” she said.  Maya dropped her binoculars and the two girls jumped out to the bushes. 

“What the—?” Jerry scowled.  He grabbed Diana roughly by the arm.  “What’s going on, here?”

“Let go, Jerry!” Diana yelled.  “You’re hurting me!”

Instead, Jerry grabbed her other arm and shook her with force.  “Is this some kind of trick?”

            By then Mart was two strides ahead of Trixie and Maya.  But Diana moved first. She stomped Jerry on the foot, hard, yelling “FOOT!” and he released her just in time to go reeling backwards from the right hook Mart delivered to his jaw.

            “Lay off of my girlfriend!” Mart growled.  Breathing hard and with his hands still in fists, he stood over Jerry who lay on his back on the grass, staring up at him.

            Girlfriend? Trixie took a moment to simply stare at Mart and Diana.

Diana looked almost as surprised as Trixie, but she quickly recovered, and linking her arm though Mart’s, blinked up at him lovingly.

The diamond bracelet lay in the grass.  Maya bent over it.

“Don’t touch it!”  Trixie warned. “Pick it up only with a cloth or something.  We want Jerry’s prints on it.”

Jerry sat up.  “Hey, that’s mine!”

“No it’s not!” Maya retorted hotly, tears in her eyes.  “It’s Violet’s!  Just like the pin you gave to Diana before!”

Jerry shook his head.  “That’s not true!   It can’t be!  You don’t know what you’re talking about!” 

“Oh, yeah?  Well, tell it to the police, Jerry,” Maya said, “because I’m sure they’d love to hear about it.”

 “And that’s where we’re all going next,” Trixie added.

“That’s what you think,” Jerry said, and he began to run away when he was intercepted by the Bob-White wall of Brian, Jim, Dan and Honey.  Jim sprang forward and wrenched Jerry’s arm behind his back.  “Not so fast, buddy,” he said.

“Shake him,” Dan growled.  “See if Uncle Bill’s ring falls out of his pocket, too.”

Jerry shook his head. “You’re all crazy,” he said.  “I don’t know what ring you mean, but the bracelet and pin are mine.  I got them fair and square.”

            "Why do you keep saying that?   'Fair and square'?'" Trixie demanded her hands on her hips.

            "Okay," Jim released Jerry from his grip and Jerry sank to the ground. 

 "Make it good, Vanderhoef."

            Jerry rubbed his shoulder.  "I should sue you!" he spat.

            "And we should haul you off to jail across the street," Dan shot back.

            Jerry stared at the ground for a moment, his face a stone carving of anger.

            "Please, tell us, Jerry," Diana said finally.  "I just know you're not a thief."

            Jerry looked up. "You're right about that."  He took a deep breath.  "I won

 the bracelet and other things, too, like I said…" his voice trailed off into a mumble,

 "…playing poker."

           Mart's eyebrows shot up. "Gambling?"

           "Maybe you could call it that," Jerry said. "Anyway, I'm really good at it..." he

 snickered to himself. "Not like Shane.  He's terrible."

          Nodding, Trixie kneeled on the ground to face Jerry. "So, is that how you got

 your car?  Did you win it from Shane?"

          Jerry smirked.  "No, but I'm sure I could have.  Actually, he sold it to me at a discount.  He needed the money--fast."

           "But he has tons of money," Diana aid. "Why should he have to sell his car?"

           "His parents have tons.  He doesn't. Not at his disposal anyway. And what do

 you think he's going to do, go over to his mother and say, "Hey, Mom, can I have

 two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to pay off my gambling debts?"

The Bob-Whites gasped. 

            "Does he owe that much?" Maya asked.

"Maybe," Jerry said with a shrug.  "I mean, sometimes he's wins—and wins big. But other times…well, when he loses, he loses bigger.  Besides, his parents are divorcing, you know, and their money is all tied up in court, anyway. "

"Which makes it even harder for him to get his hands on any," Trixie said.  "I bet that would make him feel pretty desperate—maybe even desperate enough to get his money wherever he could, like his sister's safe, or …"

"…Regan's jacket," Dan said.

Jerry squinted.  "What are you guys talking about?"

"Do you think Shane stole from his own sister?" Maya's face was white with shock. "I don't believe it!"

"Neither do I," Honey said. "I mean, who are you gambling with?” she asked Jerry.  “Other rich kids?"

Jerry shook his head. "No.  It's a mix of people.  Young and old.  Most of them have a lot of money, but they probably didn't all earn it through…um…legal means.  I mean, I don't know for sure.  But even if they did, Honey, money makes friends and it makes enemies, causing just as many problems as it solves.  Plus, it not we're talking pennies here.  We're talking big bucks, and the people Shane owes, well, they're running out of patience and they might…  Let's just say that I wouldn't want to have Lars mad at me."

"Who's Lars?" Trixie asked.

"He's one of the guys we gamble with. I don't know where he gets his cash, but he's got lots of it and he's the guy Shane owes the most to. To tell you the truth, I'd be scared to owe that guy money. If I were Shane I'd be looking over my shoulder all the time."

"Jerry," Trixie said soberly.  "You have to go to the police. I'm afraid Shane could be in big trouble."

Jerry shook his head.  "No way."

"But it sounds like an illegal gambling ring you're talking about."

"So what?  We're not hurting anyone.  If Shane can't stop gambling that's his problem, not mine.  If he needs more money well, then, welcome to reality, Shane Galloway. It's where the rest of the world lives.  Why should I care?"

"You can't mean that," Diana said.

Mart sneered. "Of course he can, because he's a selfish jerk!  Just like he was when he let Maya and her whole family get fired for something they didn't do—just because Maya wouldn't go out on a date with him!"

            "That's not true!"  Jerry whirled around and faced Maya.  "I didn't know!  I thought you really did take them!  I didn't win the jewels until a while later.  I didn't know they were Violet's things!  You should see the stuff that gets gambled away at those tables…! But I'm-I'm sorry that happened to you."

            "And you'll be sorry if something happens to Shane, too," Honey said firmly.

            "No.  I won't."  Jerry insisted.  "Besides, nothing will happen. He's one of those golden boys that trouble never seems to touch—and I'm no snitch.  Besides, I don't want Lars and Milo coming after me, either.”

            "Then you leave us no choice," Dan said, yanking Jerry back up to his feet.  "We caught you in possession of stolen goods.  We have to clear Maya's family's name and you're going to have to take the fall for Shane."

            Jerry struggled.  "No!  It's not fair!"  Then he sagged.  "If that's the way it's going to have to be."

            Trixie was shocked.  He's not doing this because he's such a good friend of Shane, she realized, but because he's so afraid of Lars. That Lars must be a pretty awful guy….

            Soon the Bob-Whites, Maya, and a reluctant and protesting Jerry all trooped into the police station.  “We’ve made a citizen’s arrest,” Trixie announced to the desk clerk, “and we’d like to see Sergeant Molinson.”  Officer Powell rose from her nearby desk and walked towards them as Trixie continued, “Actually, we’d like to call Mrs. Galloway, too, because it’s her jewels we think he’s guilty of stealing—”

“—Mrs. Galloway?  Meredith Galloway?”  Officer Powell asked.

Trixie nodded, happy to see the familiar face.  “Yup.”

“It’s interesting you should mention her….she’s here at the station…” but before the officer could continue, Sergeant Molinson came out of his office, and began escorting Mrs. Galloway down the hall towards them.

            “Rest assured we’ll do all that we can,” the sergeant told her as she wiped her eyes with a tissue.

            “Hello, Mrs. Galloway!” Trixie impetuously stepped forward, holding up both the bracelet that was nestled in a handkerchief and the brooch in its box. “Do either of these look familiar to you?”  

            The sergeant glared at Trixie, holding her at arm’s length as a confused-looking Mrs. Galloway at first shrank away, and then stepped forward and take a closer look.  “Those…those are Violet’s…!” she said.

            Trixie nodded at Shane.  “That’s what we thought.  And we caught Jerry, here, with them red-handed.”

            Mrs. Galloway’s eyes found Jerry.  “Jerry?  How…?  How could you….?”

            But Jerry shook his head. “I didn’t.  Ask Shane.  He can vouch for me!”

            At that, Mrs. Galloway burst into tears.

            “What is it?”  Jerry asked. “What did I say?”

            “I-I can’t ask Shane,” Mrs. Galloway sobbed.  “He’s—he’s been kidnapped!”

The Bob-Whites all gasped.

            “Now, now,” Sergeant Molinson said soothingly, “you don’t know that, Mrs. Galloway.  While Shane is a missing person at present, but he may turn up on his own.  Maybe he just needed some space to think.  Sixteen year-olds often go off on their own….”

Mrs. Galloway shook her head.  “You don’t understand!  Shane would never just leave like that…”  She began to sob anew.

Trixie felt her heart plunge down to her stomach.  “Jerry,” she whispered, “you have to tell Sergeant Molinson what you told us.”

Sergeant Molinson looked at Jerry sharply.  “If you know something about Shane Galloway’s disappearance, you’d better speak up, boy.”  Then he barked, “Powell!  It appears we have some statements to take...” he glanced over at Mrs. Galloway, “…and maybe some charges to press against this young man….” 

 Statements were taken of each of the Bob-Whites.  When Officer Powell was done taking Trixie’s she said, “I told the sarge about your interest in working here.  He almost choked on his donut.”

Trixie sagged in her chair.

“I had to go check out that file on you that Officer DeLuca said we had. He’s right.  It’s a big one.”

Trixie sagged further.

“Personally, I’d love to have you come work for us, though.  So I’ll see if I can soften up the sarge.  In the meantime, if you have a moment, why don’t you come with me and I’ll show you how to remove the ammunition from some more weapons?”

Trixie jumped out of her chair.  “Lead the way!”

Once the Bob-Whites and Maya had all made their statements, they were all asked to leave the police station.  “I don’t have to tell you that Shane Galloway’s status as a missing person is a very sensitive situation,” the sergeant told them.  “I need your word that you will not mention it to anyone for now.”

The Bob-Whites agreed solemnly.

Sergeant Molinson peered deeply into Trixie’s eyes. “…and your promise that you won’t try to solve the mystery of his disappearance.”

Trixie swallowed hard and blinked innocently.  “I won’t, sir,” she said.  “What’s going to happen to Jerry?”

“That’s none of your business either,” the sergeant snapped.  Then his expression softened.  “Seriously, Trixie, the less you—and any of the others—know, the better it probably is for your safety.”

The Bob-Whites then left the police station silently, all lost in their own thoughts. As they began to walk back to their cars, a smile slowly spread across Jim’s face and he turned to Trixie.  “When you told Molinson ‘I won’t’, did you mean you to say that you wouldn’t try to solve the mystery or that you wouldn’t promise not to try to solve it?”

Trixie smiled back.  “What do you think?”

 

 

                  Missing or Kidnapped? •22   

            “Oh, Trixie,” Honey moaned, “I’m so worried for Shane!”

            “Me too.”  Diana nodded, her violet eyes glistening with tears.  “That terrible Lars sounds so scary.”                       

            Turning to face them, Trixie crossed her arms and leaned against Jim’s Jeep.  “You know what I think?” she asked calmly. “I think Shane ran away.”

            “You do?”  Honey blinked hopefully.

            “Sure,” Trixie said.  “Think about it. His life at home stinks, he owes a ton of money, and we probably scared him off with all the sniffing around about Regan’s ring.” She shook her head sadly.  “I bet we’ll never see that ring again.  Poor Regan.”

            “A ring,” Honey said, “is replaceable.  A human being is not. What will Shane do?  He can’t exactly lie low, you know. He’s a recognizable face.”

            Jim shrugged.  “He could do what I did.  Hide around the woods.  Maybe he’ll hike along the Appalachian trail.”

            Mart smirked.  “Shane, in case you didn’t notice, is not exactly Nature Boy,”

            Jim unsuccessfully hid a smile and Honey glared at him.

 “I guess thinking he ran away should make me feel better than thinking he’s been kidnapped,” Diana said, “but now I’m worried how he’ll survive out there on his own.”

            Mart rolled his eyes.  “He’ll manage.”

            Dan looked down at the grass.  “It’s amazing what kind of messes hanging around with the wrong crowd can get you into,” he said quietly.

            “Well, let’s go home,” Brian said.  “Moms is making us all a special dinner to celebrate Trixie’s birthday early since we have the ball tomorrow.”

            “Moms’ cooking will make it all better,” Mart said, rubbing his stomach.

            “Would it be okay if you dropped me off first?” Maya asked uncertainly.  “I’m fairly close by….”

            “No, it would not be okay,” Brian said, “because you’re coming with us.”

            “Yes, please say you will,” Honey agreed.  “You can use one of our phones to call your parents.”

            “Oh…all right.  Thanks!”

            When the Bob-Whites and Maya pulled up into the driveway of Crabapple Farm, Trixie reminded the others, “We can’t tell them about Shane—Sergeant Molinson ordered us not to.  And we can’t tell them about Regan, because Regan swore us to secrecy.”

            “But I’ll just burst if I can’t say something about what’s been going on,” Diana said.

            “It doesn’t feel right not to tell our parents,” Honey added.

            “We can tell them about Jerry,” Dan said. “After all, he agreed to take the fall and whether or not he’s the guilty one or Shane is, it clears Maya’s family’s name.”

            Diana shuddered at the mention of Jerry.

            Mart pulled her closer to him and gave her a comforting squeeze. “Don’t you worry about him anymore.  If he tries to bother you again I’ll take care of him.”

            Diana leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed.

            Trixie smiled to herself.  …Or Diana can always clobber him herself like she almost did today….she thought with a chuckle.         

            Dinner was an informal affair of plastic plates, fried chicken, roasted potatoes, salad and laughter on the back porch of the Belden farmhouse.  The apple orchards were in full bloom and the occasional breeze that ran through the trees brought down intermittent showers of flower petals all around them.

            “The blossoms are so pretty,” Diana said dreamily.

            “Yeah.”  Trixie grumbled as she plucked petals from out of her curls.  “Charming.”

            After she had carefully removed every last petal as per Honey’s instructions, Mart bent over and shook his head over hers.  “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…!” he sang out.

            “Ma-art!” Trixie groaned.

            Soon conversation turned to the ball.  “I was thinking,” Trixie said.  “Instead of my going over to Manor House, why don’t you girls get ready with me here?  I mean, Honey, you’re going with Brian anyway, and Di, you’ll be with Mart—“

            “Excuse me,” Maya said abruptly, and she walked away from the group.

            “Silver-tongued Trixie has done it again,” Mart said, rolling his eyes.

            “I’ll show you a silver tongue,” Trixie said, and stuck her tongue out at Mart.  Then she got up from her seat on the steps.  “I’ll go talk to her.”

            Trixie found Maya leaning against the stone wall that separated Belden property from Wheeler property.  “Maya,” she said, “did I say something wrong?  I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings somehow…. I’m practically famous for saying rude things at wrong times.  Not that there’s really a ‘right” time to be rude—gleeps!  Now I sound like Honey!”

            Maya laughed weakly and turned to face Trixie.  “No, it’s not you.  It’s me.  I—I was just having such a wonderful time with you all that I began to feel so terrible about how badly I treated Honey and about all the mean things I used to think about you rich kids.”

            “I’m not rich,” Trixie said.  Then she looked back at her parents and brothers and her comfortable, rambling farm.  “Wait.  I take that back.  Maybe I’m the richest one of all.”

            Maya smiled sadly and nodded.

            At that moment, Honey and Diana came walking through the garden to join them.

“Dan told us he’s asked you to the ball,” Honey said to Maya.  “But that you said ‘no.’”

Diana put her hands on her hips.  “What’s wrong with our Danny?  Don’t you like him?  Trixie, Honey and I think he’s so great that we might have to dump our dates and go out with him at the same time.”  Her eyes twinkled with merriment.

Maya giggled.  “Well, I’m no competition against three girls….but I’d love to go out with him, only I can’t.  I, uh, I don’t have a floor-length gown….”

 “How do you feel about strapless dresses?”  Diana asked Maya. “I have a gown that I wore once for maybe half a minute altogether,” she took Maya’s hand and gave it a squeeze.  “It was too grown up for me at the time, but I bet it will look just lovely on you now.  It ought to fit your trim little figure, too.”

“Do you really think so?”  Maya’s face first brightened, then clouded over.  “Has Dan seen it?”

Diana shook her head.  “Nope.  So trust me.  You’ll knock him dead in it.”

“How romantic,” Honey teased.

“Honey,” Maya said in a serious tone.  “I’d like to talk to you.”

Knowing that Maya wanted going to apologize, Trixie decided to give her and Honey some privacy.  She gestured to Diana.  “Let’s go have some dessert!”

As they walked back to the party, Diana said, “Poor Shane.  I can’t help thinking about him and worrying if he’s okay.”

“Me, too,” Trixie admitted.  “I guess we’ll have to keep an ear out for any new developments in the morning.”

But she didn’t have to wait that long. 

“Oh no!” the cry came from Mrs. Belden inside the house.  A clatter of dishes hitting the floor soon followed.

“That’s Moms!”  Trixie set off at a run.

Trixie, Mart, and Brian found their mother in the kitchen, one finger to her lips, the other pointed at the radio.  “Listen,” she said.

A news announcer’s voice was saying, “…now rumors that a ransom has been demanded, and that a reward is being offered for information that leads to his safe return home.  We repeat, Shane Galloway is a missing person and reports indicate that he may have been kidnapped. This cannot be confirmed as calls to the Galloway family have not been returned and the police have released no statement at this time. We’ll keep you updated with more information on this story as soon it becomes available.”

“Isn’t it awful?” Mrs. Belden asked in a trembling voice.

As Brian consoled her, Trixie calmly picked up the phone and took the receiver into the den.  Then she called the police station and asked to speak to Sergeant Molinson.  She got Officer Powell instead.

“The sergeant told me he expressly asked you not to investigate,” Officer Powell said, but there was a tone of amusement in her voice. 

 “I know, Officer Powell, but if Sergeant Molinson won’t listen to me, perhaps you will,” Trixie said. “It’s about Shane Galloway’s ransom note—if there is one.  Is it written in Shane’s own hand?  Is it for a about a quarter of a million dollars?”

There was silence on the line.  “Hold on, Trixie,” Officer Powell said, finally. 

A moment later the sergeant was on the line. “All right, Belden, how did you know that?”

“Well, I can’t reveal my source,” Trixie said, “but I understand Shane owes a lot of money from gambling…about a two hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth.  Maybe this is just his way of getting the money from his parents to pay back his debt.”

“Hmmm,” the sergeant said. “Interesting theory. I was wondering why the kidnappers didn’t ask for more.  Thanks for the tip, Trixie, but we’ll take it from here.  Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Trixie said.

But when she hung up the receiver she couldn’t help wishing that she could find Shane before the police did.  But I don’t know where he could be hiding….

The next morning Trixie sat up in bed, stretched her arms and cried out, “Rabbit!  Rabbit!  …and happy birthday to me!”  She jumped to her feet and took a twirl around the room.  I can’t believe I remembered to say ‘Rabbit! Rabbit!’ she thought, giggling.  It was a tradition that she had learned as a child but almost always forgot to follow through with.  The idea behind it was that in order to have a wish come true, one had to say, ‘Rabbit!  Rabbit!’ as one’s last words on the last day of the month and as one’s first words one said on the first day of the month.  

Trixie brushed her teeth vigorously.  I wonder if a wish is the same thing as a ‘heart’s desire?’ she thought to herself.

Letting Honey sleep a little while longer, Trixie changed her clothes and then tiptoed downstairs to open her e-mail and read her many birthday greetings.  Wow, everyone seems to have remembered my sixteenth, she thought gratefully.  Once she was done, her mind drifted back to the mystery. If I were Shane, she mused, where would I hide?

“Good morning, Birthday Girl,” Mr. Belden greeted her with a yawn.  Trixie turned to see her sleepy parents still in their pajamas. “Ready for a pancake breakfast?”

“I sure am,” Trixie said.  “Let me wake up Honey.”

After breakfast, Mr. and Mrs. Belden left for town, where they had a few errands to run. 

“We leave you in good hands, Trixie,” Mrs. Belden said giving Trixie a birthday kiss on the forehead and heading out the door.  “We know the Bob-Whites have something nice planned for you.”

Trixie rubbed her hands together. “I know.  I can’t wait!”

Although Diana had left with Maya after dinner the night before, the two girls were coming back for lunch as were the rest of the Bob-Whites. 

“Wait until you see the adventure we have in store for you,” Jim had told Trixie.

Now still sitting at the kitchen table with her brothers and Honey, Trixie wriggled with anticipation.  “I wonder what you all are up to,” she said.  “Jim sure was mysterious about it.”

“I think you’ll enjoy it,” Honey said. “Jim’s been working pretty hard to make it special.  He wanted to give you something you really wanted.”

“I know I did,” Bobby announced smugly.

“You did what?” Brian asked.

 “I got Trixie the only thing she wanted for her birthday.”

Trixie looked at Bobby with surprise.  “Did you, lamb? And what was that?”

Bobby leapt from his chair and hurried up the stairs to his room. 

Mart pursed his lips in curiosity.  “I wonder what it could be….”

“The only thing I wanted,” Trixie reminded him, “was a mystery.”

“Maybe he’s wrapped up one of his precious Billy and Bunny Holder Mysteries to give to you as a present,” Mart said, unimpressed.

“If he did,” Trixie said, “then I shall treasure it always.  You know what those books mean to him—what they meant to us.”

Soon Bobby’s footsteps could be heard charging back down the steps.  “Here,” he said breathlessly as he handed over a tiny bundle.

“That’s not a book,” Mart said.

“Maybe it’s a short story,” Brian quipped.

Trixie knit her brows.  “Thanks, Bobby.  It sure is small….  Do you want me to open it now?”
            Bobby nodded vigorously.

Trixie gently tore open the gilded paper and fingered through the tissue inside the palm-sized package.  Then she gasped.  “Bobby!”

“It’s a mystery!  A real live mystery for you to solve!  I found it in the woods….”

Trixie held up the present, showing it to everyone at the table.  The emerald engagement ring gleamed in the warm kitchen light.

As Bobby proudly looked on, Honey covered her mouth in surprise while Brian and Mart gaped with shock.

Trixie planted a firm kiss on Bobby’s cheek.  “I think this is the best gift I’ve ever gotten,” she told him.  “Thank you, Bobby!  Thank you!  Where did you say you found this, again?”

“Out there!  Let me show you….”

“All right.”  Trixie rose from her chair.  “Coming, Honey?”

“Sure,” Honey said.  “I’m super-curious to see it myself.”

Bobby puffed out his chest.  “Okay!  Follow me!”

“Don’t you want to see?” Trixie asked Brian and Mart.

“You go on ahead,” Brian said. “We have some things to take care of for, um, this afternoon.”

“All right!” Trixie let the screen door slam behind her.  

Bobby led the girls into the woods and trudged along the muddy earth for a bit until he finally pointed out a spot near the root of a tree.  “There!”

“How did you find this tiny ring in this big wood?” Trixie asked, amazed.

Bobby shrugged.  “It was near my tree house.”

Honey kissed the top of Bobby’s head. “Are you good at finding truffles to?  I swear, Trixie, it’s like he has a nose for gemstones.”

Trixie giggled.  “Maybe the next time we’re at the beach we should wave him over the sand like a diving rod.  Who knows what buried treasure he might find for us?”

“So, is it a mystery?” Bobby asked.

“Yes,” Trixie said. “I mean, I do know who this ring belongs to….”

Bobby’s face fell.

“…but,” Trixie continued, “it is a mystery as to how it got all the way out here.”

Bobby brightened.  “Oh, good.  So whose ring is it?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to say right now,” Trixie said, bending down to look Bobby in the eye, “but you’ll know very soon.  I can tell you this much, though: you’ve made someone you love very happy by finding this!  Seriously, Bobby, you’ve saved the day.”

“I have?” Bobby’s eyebrows shot up.

“You sure have,” Honey said. “Trixie’s right.”

“Cool!”

Honey gave Bobby a pat on the back.  “Now…don’t you have something to do with Mart and Brian…?” she asked him sweetly.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right!  I’d better go back!”  Bobby turned and set off at a run towards Crabapple farm. “See ya!”

“Bye, Bob. And thanks again,” Trixie said as she waved back.  “Soooo…” she squinted at Honey. “ ‘Something to do with Mart and Brian, eh?   What’s the big secret?  More birthday stuff?”

“Yep.  More birthday stuff to get ready.  But my lips are sealed,” Honey said, pretending to latch her lips together and then throw away the key.

 Trixie was only half-paying attention.  “You know,” she said thoughtfully, “I’ve been thinking…if Shane was the one who dropped this, he could be hiding in the woods like Jim said.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense, Trixie,” Honey said.  “That is, if he does owe a lot of money to…to…that Lars character, and he did steal Regan’s ring to pay for some of it, why didn’t he just give Lars the ring already?”

Trixie twisted her mouth into a frustrated pout.  “Good question.  I don’t know.”  Then, without another word, she spun on her heel and began hiking more deeply into the woods.  Honey took off after her.

            After some time of walking quietly through the trees by Trixie’s side, Honey finally asked, “What are you thinking, Trixie?  Where are we going?”

            Trixie pointed to the burnt-out shell in the distance.  “Don’t you recognize this path?  I know we usually took the horses, but….”

            “Ten Acres?  But why?”

            Trixie shrugged. “I don’t know.  Call it a hunch.  But I have the feeling if Shane really did run away and is hiding, he might be there.”

            “…because it somehow attracts runaway boys?” Honey asked with a smile.

            Trixie giggled.  “No, because he asked me about it the other day, remember?”       

As they drew closer, Honey began to protest.  “I don’t think Shane will be here, Trix,” she said.  “Let’s turn back.”

            “Honey!” Trixie whispered.  “I’m surprised at you.  You sound like old fraidy cat Honey, and not Schoolgirl Shamus Honey!”

            Honey took a deep breath.  “It’s just that…well….” She exhaled.  “I have the feeling that we won’t find Shane, but we will find someone else and ruin a piece of your birthday surprise.”

            “Really?  You mean…Jim?”

            Honey nodded. “But don’t tell him I told you.”

            “I won’t.  Hey, wait a minute, take a look over there.  Isn’t that Jupe?”  Trixie pointed to the powerful black gelding that stood pawing the ground, tethered to a nearby tree. “I guess Jim is around, then.”  Trixie said, beginning to tip-toe. “I think I see him now!” She ducked behind a bush and pulled Honey down with her.  “Quick!  Hide!”

Honey craned her neck. “Where is he?”

“Right over there,” Trixie said, pointing.   

Look! He’s with someone….  It’s…it’s…. ” The excitement was building in Honey’s voice.  “I think it’s Shane!”

But to the girls’ surprise the two young men suddenly became locked in a struggle, and then one of them fell to the ground.

 “That’s Jim…!” Trixie cried.  “He’s been hurt!”

Trixie set off at a run.  Honey took off after her.

As she huffed her way uphill, her heart pounding from both exertion and anxiety, Trixie felt her knees go so weak with fear that the faster she wished to go, the slower her body seemed to move.  It’s like I’m running in a field of molasses, she thought.  Hold on, Jim, we’re coming!  We’ll save you!

 “Jim!  Jim!” she screamed. 

Startled, Shane looked over at her and Honey.  Then he backed up against one of the outer walls of Ten Acres and sank to the ground.

 “Oh, Shane!”  Honey cried.  “What happened?  What did you do to Jim?”

            “Nothing!” Shane shook his head. “Why don’t you all just leave me alone?”

            “I’m all right, girls,” Jim struggled to his feet and brushed the dirt off his jeans.  “He’s the one who’s been hurt, but I can’t get him to go back with me and get some help.”

            It was then that the girls noticed the sizeable gash on Shane’s leg.

            “You’re bleeding,” Honey said, bending down for a closer look.  “What happened?”

            It never failed to impress Trixie how Honey, who had once felt faint at just the sight of blood was now capable of immediately coming to the aid of an injured person.

            Shane pushed her away.  “Nothing.”

            “Hey!  Watch it!” Jim warned. “It seems ‘Nature Boy’ fell over a tree trunk,” he informed the girls.

            Shane scowled.  “Why are you all here?  Just go away and pretend you haven’t seen me!”

            “But we can’t,” Trixie said. “You’ve been hurt.  Plus your mother’s been so worried—”

            “Don’t you understand?” Shane persisted. “If you’ve managed to find me, that means—“

            “—that I can find you, too?” interrupted a man’s voice. “You’re right, Shane.”

            Trixie, Honey, and Jim whirled around.  Two men stood behind them.  One carried a length of rope, the other, a gun.

 

 

Ten Acres•23

 

            “Lars!” Shane sounded crushed.

            “What’s the matter, Shane?”  Lars sneered.  “You don’t look happy to see me.  Raise your hands!” he snapped.  “All of you!”

            Trixie, Honey, Jim and Shane all obeyed. Then realizing that she was holding her breath. Trixie let her breath out slowly and told herself, Okay, de-tensify…de-tensify…

Lars then barked at the other man with him, “Milo!  Get their phones!  Now!”

Milo snatched everyone’s cell phones one by one.  Then, and after removing their batteries, he threw them all in pieces into the woods.

Although she didn’t look at her, Trixie could hear Honey sniffling.  She’s crying already, Trixie thought, and I don’t blame her…

“You weren’t really tryin’ to run away from me, now, were you, Shane?”  Lars asked.  “You had a plan to pay me back, right?  You were going to pretend you were kidnapped, and then collect a ransom from your parents and pay me back the money you owe me, right?  That was your clever little plan, wasn’t it?”

            Shane’s face was as white as the crabapple blossoms in Trixie’s front yard.  He nodded slowly.

            “Good.  I’m glad you weren’t thinkin’ of steppin’ out on me, Shane, because it would be a sad, sad thing if somethin’ bad had to happen to your little sister, now wouldn’t it? 

            Shane took a step towards Lars, but he pointed his gun directly at Honey’s head. “Try it,” he said evenly.  “I dare you.”

            Honey closed her eyes.

            Shane took a step back but not quick enough to please Lars who raised his gun as if to strike Honey. At that moment, Jim lunged forward and Lars instead hit him in the back of his head with the butt of his gun.

            Jim collapsed onto the ground and lay completely still.

            Honey and Trixie let out cries of horror.

            “Don’t make another sound,” Lars said, pointing his gun at them again, “or you’re next. Tie him up, Milo.”

            Milo began to tie Jim’s arms behind his back.  Unconscious, Jim offered no resistance.

Honey began to sob.

Oh, Jim.  Please be all right, Trixie begged silently.  This shouldn’t be happening!  Not on my birthday…not at Ten Acres…

How did you find me?” Shane asked Trixie in a small voice.

“You asked about this place the other day,” Trixie reminded him.  “I wondered why….”

“And I just figured your girlfriend would know where you were and followed her here,” Lars said smugly. He threw more rope to Milo. “I was them all tied up—but start with Shane,” he commanded.

            “Why?” Shane asked as Milo roughly yanked his arms behind his back.  “I mean, you just need me.  You don’t need the girls.  Just let them go!”

            “So that they can go back to the cops?  I don’t think so.  You’re lookin’ at a couple of squealers.  Don’t you know that’s what these two did to your pal, Jerry?  They turned him in!”

            Shane looked incredulously at the two girls.  “You did?”

            “He was covering for you…” Trixie said.

            “…saying he stole Violet’s jewels,” Honey added, “even though you were really the one who stole from his own sister!” Her hazel eyes flashed with anger.

            Shane hung his head. “I was going to get them back for her.  Honest….”

            “How?” Trixie asked. “By gambling?  That’s what got you into trouble in the first place.”

            Lars guffawed.  “She’s got you there, Shane. But don’t worry, I believe you. Actually, I’m likin’ this kidnapping idea, Shane.  I’m likin’ it a lot.  I’m thinkin’ that instead of a quarter of a mil, we should ask for a half—no, a whole mil.  Maybe two. What do you think?”

            “What are you talking about?” Shane asked. “I don’t owe you that much.  Now you’re just getting greedy—“

            “Don’t tell me I’m gettin’ greedy!”

            “But I can pay you back some of it.  I have a ring—”

            “—you forgot about interest, my boy,” Lars sneered.

            Trixie swallowed hard, suddenly afraid that the ring might somehow show through the pocket of her jeans.  Shane doesn’t even know he lost it, she thought, exchanging a secret glance with Honey.

            But Lars was still speaking to Shane.  “I just want what’s mine—for all my waitin’.  I’ve been a very patient man, until now, Shane Galloway, but now…my patience has officially run out.”  Then he gestured towards Honey and Trixie with the gun. “Milo!”

Milo obediently started towards Trixie, but she boldly shoved him away, exclaiming, “You’re not doing anything to either one of us until we see how Jim is.” 

She crouched down.  Honey followed suit and the two girls looked Jim over.   Running her fingers through his hair, Trixie touched blood—though not much.  Still, she knew that head injuries didn’t have to be bleeding profusely to be serious, and the fact that Jim was still unconscious was troublesome.  “Give me your sweater,” she commanded Honey.  “We can bandage Jim’s head with it.”

Honey immediately peeled off her white, cashmere sweater and gingerly wrapped it around Jim’s wound.

“Just like that, good,” Trixie said encouragingly.  Then she added under her breath, “Stick with Milo and I’ll take Lars.  Follow me.  I’ll look for a window of—”

“Get up!” Lars roared.  “What do you think you’re doin’?”

Trixie stood up, and placing her hands on her hips looked her captor right in the face.  “I am helping to reduce your sentence, that’s what,” she said.  “Unless you want a murder rap added on to what I’m sure is your growing list of offenses.” 

An expression that was half-fury, half-admiration crossed the man’s face.  “Get a load of this one,” he said to Shane, “My growin’ list of….what do you think, you’re a cop or somethin’, girlie?  Listen, I’m not gettin’ any charges pressed against me. I’m just takin’ my money and gettin’ outta here.  If some nosy kids die in the process it’s nothing to me.  Now tie ‘em up, Milo, before my finger gets itchy enough to make that happen!”

After seeing the defiant look on Trixie’s face, Milo walked over to Honey instead.

“How could you let this get so far?” Honey tearfully asked Shane as Milo began wrapping the rope around her wrists. 

Shane shook his head sorrowfully.  “I’m sorry, Honey, Trixie,” he said, his eyes dark with contrition. “I really am.  I just couldn’t stop gambling. It—it made me feel powerful, somehow.  In control. There’s something wrong with me, I guess.”

“It seems to make small men feel big,” Trixie said with a sidelong glance at Lars.

Lars looked Trixie over menacingly.  “You’re pretty smart-mouthed, aren’t you?  Hey, Shane, isn’t this your ‘Mystery Girl’?  The Wheeler heiress?  I’ve seen her picture in the paper.   So… she’s another rich one….  Maybe I should ask for a ransom for her, too.”   He moved in closer and dropped his voice to a hiss.  “You wanna know what I’m going to do to you, girlie?”   His breath was close enough to flutter the curls on top of her forehead. 

Perfect, Trixie thought. 

“—GROIN!” she yelled, and in one, smooth move, she grabbed Lars by the arm, twisting his wrist with both hands, and forcing him to drop his gun.  She simultaneously rammed her upper thigh into his most delicate area. Once he doubled over, she pushed his head down and she brought her knee back up again.  “HEAD!”  The move had its effect and Lars was down on the ground.  “STOMP!”  Trixie stomped on the earth near his head.  There was no reaction from him.  He was out cold.

Meanwhile, Honey was completing her own sequence of self-defense moves. “FOOT!” she yelled as stomped on Milo’s foot with a crushing blow.  “GROIN!”  He immediately doubled over in pain when Honey used her tied hands like a club.  Then she turned around and drew up her knee.  “HEAD!”  Soon, Milo lay next to Lars, unconscious.

Honey stood over him trembling with both fear and fury. She, too, stomped on the ground once.  There was no reaction.

Shane stared at both girls with wide-eyed respect.

Trixie ran over to him and untied him.  “Tie Lars and Milo up,” she told him.

Shane set to work as Trixie untied Honey’s wrists.  Then both girls knelt by Jim as Trixie slipped Honey the gun.  “Take this,” she whispered.

“What?  I can’t—I can’t…!”
            “Don’t worry,” Trixie continued.  “I took out the cartridge.  It’s in my jeans pocket, but no else needs to know that.  Keep it in case—just to scare Lars or Milo if they wake up.”

“Oh, Trixie, don’t leave me,” Honey began to cry again.

“Be strong, Honey.  Be strong for Jim!  Stay with him!  Stay with Shane since he’s injured, too.”  Trixie rose to her feet.

“What are you going to do?”

“Get help, of course.  As fast as I can.”  Trixie looked meaningfully at Jupiter who was still standing nearby.

Honey followed her gaze.  “Oh, Trixie, you can’t be serious!”

“I have to!  This is an emergency!  Jim’s life could be at stake.”

Honey began to cry again.  “But if you’re thrown, you’ll both be injured and…” she could hardly finish.  “…oh, Trixie, I don’t want to lose you both.”

“Don’t worry.  You won’t.”  Trixie threw her arms around Honey’s shoulders for a brief hug.  “I’ll be all right.  Jupiter knows me.  He trusts me. He’s a smart horse and… I have the feeling that he can tell we need him somehow. You’ll see: he’ll let me ride him.”

Trixie then left Honey’s side hoping she had convinced her, although she was not fully convinced herself. She hurried over to Jupiter who whinnied at her approach.

“Whoa, boy.  It’s okay.  It’s me, Trixie,” she said in a soft voice.

 Jupiter eyed her warily.

 “I need your help.  We have to save Jim.  Will you help me, boy?  Will you help Jim?”

Jupiter whuffed as Trixie took the reins.  “Okay, then,” she said.  “We don’t have much time, so…”  In one move, she heaved herself up onto Jupiter’s back. His powerful neck muscles contracted with readiness and Trixie clucked her tongue.  “Let’s go!” They set off at a canter and Trixie called to Honey with a wave, “Hold on!  We’ll be back soon!  I promise!”

As soon as she was out of Honey’s sight, Trixie urged Jupiter faster.  “Come on, boy!  This is for Jim!” 

Jupiter responded immediately, taking off down the hill towards Crabapple Farm at top speed.  Trixie’s heart pounded with the urgency of her task, yet she wasn’t afraid of falling off the horse.  In fact, she felt oddly safe on his back.  It’s like Jupe really knows that he’s on a rescue mission, she thought.

Still, tears stung her eyes the moment Crabapple Farm came into view.  Taking a deep breath, Trixie let out a series of whistles.  “Bob-bob white!  Bob-white!  Bob-white!”

The front door opened immediately and out popped Bobby.  Trixie could see the whites of his stunned eyes at the sight of her charging towards him on Jupiter.  Trixie pulled back on the reins.  “Get Brian now!” she ordered.  “It’s an emergency!  Jim’s hurt!”

Bobby ducked back into the house, pushing past Mart, who has just appeared at the door.

“Mart!  Call 911!  Tell them to send the cops and an ambulance to Ten Acres!”

Mart pulled his cell phone out of the back pocket of his jeans, flipped it open, and began to dial as Trixie took in a large gulp of air. 

“We found Shane,” she continued, “and we’ve got the kidnappers, too, but Jim’s hurt!”

Mart was dumbfounded by the news but found his voice in time to speak directly to the 911 operator.

Meanwhile, Brian bolted out of the house with car keys in hand and Bobby at his heels.  “No, no!  My car!”  Brian ordered as Bobby and Mart—who was still on the phone—ran towards the nearest vehicle.  “It’s not blocked in and has the best first aid kit in it.  Let’s go!”

Trixie set off for Manor House.  “I’ll meet you back at Ten Acres!” she told her brothers.  As she galloped toward the mansion, Trixie patted Jupiter on the neck.  “You’re doing great, boy,” she told him gratefully.  “When we get back, you’re going to get the star treatment!” she promised him.

Jupiter whinnied as though he understood.

The Manor House was bustling with activity in preparation for that night’s festivities.  Cars and trucks crowded the driveway as caterers carried piles of white linen, silver trays of food, ornate rented chairs and beautiful flower arrangements into the ballroom.  Trixie barely noticed them however, intent as she was on reaching the stable.  Her dramatic arrival, on the other hand, drew the attention of everyone, and they all stopped in their tracks to watch as she thundered towards the barn.

She screamed for Regan and then whistled, “Bob-white!  Bob-white!”

To her relief, Dan and Regan ran out of the stables, quickly followed by Joan and Matthew Wheeler.

Regan rushed over to her. “Trixie! What is it?   What’s the mat—?”   The sight of her on Jupiter silenced him.

Trixie pulled Jupiter to a stop and slid off his back.  Ignoring the looks of shock and amazement on the faces of all the men, Trixie quickly launched into an explanation, “It’s Jim...!  He’s hurt…!  He’s at Ten Acres….  Honey’s with him now…”  Her tears then began to overtake her, but she managed to say between sobs.  “We’ve called 911.  We found Shane and his kidnappers too.”

For a tiny moment there was only silence; then an explosion of activity followed. “Get in the car!” Matthew Wheeler told everyone.

Regan handed Jupiter’s reins to Joan.

 “Take good care of Jupe,” Trixie called out as Dan took her hand and they raced to the Mercedes, “He’s been a real hero!”

“I will,” Joan said with a wave that looked almost like a blessing.  “I promise.”

For Trixie, the rest of the afternoon passed by in a blur.  While Mart took Bobby home, Jim, Lars, and Milo were all taken to the hospital.  There the Galloways were reunited with their son as Sergeant Molinson stood over Trixie, his arms folded across his chest. “What did I tell you about getting involved, Ms. Belden?”

            “I—I…” Trixie stammered.

            “It’s all my fault,” Shane broke in.  “I’m so sorry for everything.  I really am.  You must think I’m the most awful person….”

            Honey shook her head.  “We don’t.  But you do need help, Shane.”

            Shane nodded mournfully. “I shouldn’t have taken that ring…or the other things….  Look what happened today because of me.  It’s all my fault,” he said again.

            Mrs. Galloway wrapped her hands around one of Shane’s arms.  “No, dear, it’s mine. I haven’t been giving you any attention, have I?  I was so focused on what was going on in my life that I had no idea what you were involved in or what you were going through.  I’m so ashamed.”

            “So am I,” Mr. Galloway said, stepping forward.  “Your mother’s right.  We’re just as much to blame as you are, son.  But we’re going to get you the help you need.  The help, I guess, we all need.”  He draped an arm over his wife’s shoulders.

            It looks there’s hope for the Galloways, yet, Trixie thought. 

            “You know,” Shane said to Trixie and Honey with a sad smile on his face, “I always wanted to meet you girls.  Ben used to tell me stories about you—especially you, Trixie. And I even saw you Bob-Whites in a picture Ben showed me once.  You all looked like you were having such fun.  I always hoped that one day we could be friends….”  His gaze lingered on Trixie.  “I just never thought it would be like this.”

            “Speaking of friends,” Trixie said, “what about Jerry?  How is he?”

            “He’s been released,” Sergeant Molinson said. 

            “I didn’t press charges,” Mrs. Galloway added.

            “That’s good,” Trixie said. “I think we Bob-Whites owe him an apology, though.”

            “Yes, we do and we should—but I still hope he’ll leave Di alone from now on,” Honey said.

            “I think he will,” Trixie said.  “I mean, if I were him, I’d be too afraid that if I even looked at her—or Maya for that matter—the Bob-Whites would have me arrested again.” She looked at her watch.  “Anyway, I think it’s time we went to the hospital.”

             “How’s Jim doing?” Shane asked.

            “He’s got a concussion.”

                   “Oh, when I think about that terrible man and his gun!”  Mrs. Galloway

shuddered.  “There’s no way I could possibly repay you girls for how you save Shane, except of course, to give you the reward I was offering….”

            “We don’t need a reward,” Trixie said, “but we will accept it… as a donation towards Sleepyside Hospital.”

            “And there’s another way you can thank us...” Honey spoke up.

            Trixie was surprised.  Honey never asked for anything, least of all recognition for a good deed.

              “…you can offer Maya’s parents their old jobs back.”

            “Yes.” Mrs. Galloway hung her head.  “I made a mistake there.  I see that now….”

Sergeant Molinson crooked a finger at Trixie and waved her over to the side.

Stepping away from the group, Trixie took a deep breath and followed him to the corner.

He cleared his throat.  “Speaking of jobs…” he said, “…er…Officer Powell tells me…well…that we may need some typing and filing done here this summer….if you’re interested.”

“If I’m interested?  Jeepers!  I sure am!”

“All right, then, see me after school on Monday.”

            “Thanks, Sergeant!”  Trixie breathed.  “Will do!” 

           

            Later that afternoon, Trixie, Honey, Dan and Regan all sat with Jim in his hospital room as they waited for Mr. Wheeler to return from discharging his son. 

            “I’m supposed to stay awake for twenty-four hours,” Jim told the others.  “They don’t want me falling asleep and slipping into a coma or something.”

Honey, who was sitting next to him, whimpered faintly.

“I’ll be all right.”  Jim patted his sister on the shoulder. “I’ve been worse off at the hands of Jonesy.”

At the mention of his cruel stepfather, Trixie, who sat on his other side, took hold of one of Jim’s hands and gave it a squeeze.

            Jim sat up straighter.  “Anyway, if I get dizzy or nauseated I have to come back here.  But I can go home for now.  Besides, the ball sounds like just the thing to keep me awake for most of the night.”

            “Oh, let’s just forget about the ball,” Trixie said, “and stay home.”

“No way,” Jim protested.  “I asked you to this ball and I intend to take you.”

“Well, then I promise to help you stay awake.  Maybe we should pick up some coffee at Le Bar Belle,” Trixie joked.

“On me,” Honey broke in, “or at least at a discount rate.  Employees get that, you know.”

“Honey!”  Trixie exclaimed.  “You got the job?  Congratulations! When did that happen?  Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I had my interview on the day you went shoe shopping with Di, and I got news that I was hired this morning by a call on my cell when you were downstairs with your parents.” Honey shrugged.  “I was excited, but I thought I should probably wait to tell you until after your birthday to announce it.  Today was supposed to be your special day, you know.”

Trixie glanced at Jim.  “It was almost the worst day of my life.”  Then she sighed happily.  “But now everything’s better.  I even have a donation for the hospital I can hand over at the ball,” she said proudly.  Trixie unfolded the check she had tucked in the back pocket of her jeans.  Reading it over, her eyes grew large.  “Jeepers!   Will you take a look at that?” She handed the check over to Jim.

“Whoa!  Either that conk on the head is making me see double, or there really are that many zeroes at the end of that figure!”  He passed it to Honey.

“You know, I have an idea,” Trixie said.  “Instead of donating this towards a new ambulance—I think the ball will raise enough money for that—why don’t we use it for something else?”

“What do you mean?” Honey asked, handing the check over to Regan. “Not for the hospital?”

“A Bob-White trip to Tahiti?” Dan joked, as he ogled the check and comically waggled his eyebrows.

Trixie laughed. “No.  I still want to donate it to the hospital, of course, but how about we use it towards the cancer ward instead?”  She searched the faces of Jim and Dan, who had both lost their own mothers to illness. “Maybe we can set up a fund for Maya’s mother.”

Dan’s voice grew soft. “That sounds like a wonderful idea, Trix.” 

“I sure does,” Jim agreed.

“What shall we call it?” Honey asked. 

“The Bob-White Fund, of course,” Trixie said simply. 

“It’s your birthday,” Regan said, “yet you’re the one giving out the presents.  You’re something else, Trixie Belden.”

Trixie waved away the compliment.  “Oh, it’s not really my money, anyway.  And Maya did help to solve the mystery.”  She rose to her feet.  “By the way, Regan, you asked Honey and me to help you with something and we promised that we would….”  She fished in the front pocket out her jeans, took out the ring, placed it into one of his big, freckled hands and folded his fingers over it. “….and today we are happy to keep that promise.”

“Where did you…?  How did you…?”  Regan’s eyes glistened with emotion.  “How can I ever thank you?”

“Don’t.  It’s a long story, but it seems Shane took it to give to Lars, but dropped it in the woods where Bobby later found it.  So while The Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency would love to take the credit for it, Bobby is the one you should thank.  In fact, I’m the one who should be thanking you, Regan.”

“What for?”

“For giving me the only birthday present I really wanted: a mystery.  Your ring turned out to be the key to an even bigger mystery.”

“Which the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency did solve,” Regan pointed out.

“Schoolgirl Shamuses always get their man,” Jim said.

Regan stood up and for the first time that Trixie could remember, embraced her.  He held her silently for a moment, and then whispered, his voice cracking, “Thank you, Miss Fidget. But I remember saying I didn’t want you in danger.”

“I know.”  Trixie patted him on the back and pulled out of the embrace.  “I didn’t really want to be in danger, either,” she said.  “Thank goodness for those self-defense classes.”

“And for your horse-riding skills,” Regan said. “I have to admit your control of Jupe this afternoon was pretty impressive.”  He shook his head at the memory.

“Thanks,” Trixie said, blushing with pleasure. “I had a good teacher.”

“I always knew you’d be able to handle him someday,” Regan admitted.

“I just hope that the next time I get to ride him it’s under happier circumstances,” Trixie said.  “You will let there be a next time, won’t you Regan?  I’ll get to ride Jupe again, right?”

Regan laughed.  “Now, now, Trixie…” he began.

Just then, Mr. Wheeler walked in the room.  “We’re good to go,” he announced.  “And Regan, Joan’s outside waiting for you.”

“Oh.”  Regan quickly slipped on his jacket.  “All right.  I’ll be going then, and I’ll see you all tonight,” he said, walking out the door, “at the ball!”

 

The Belle of the Ball 24

Later that evening at Crabapple Farm, Mr. and Mrs. Belden, Brian, Mart, Bobby and Dan all gathered at the bottom of the main staircase.

“Girls!  We’re waiting!” Mr. Belden called.

Up in Trixie’s room, Honey brushed gloss over Trixie’s bottom lip one last time.  “There!  Perfectly perfect!  You look amazing!” 

Diana peered intently into Trixie’s face.  “What she means to say is that you’re definitely devastatingly gorgeous.” 

Trixie turned for a critical look at herself in the mirror and started with surprise at what she saw there.

“That’s right.” Honey smiled knowingly. “You are.”

Feeling her cheeks burn at the compliment, Trixie nodded at Honey, Diana and Maya appreciatively.  “So are all of you.”

Honey held out her elbow and took a deep breath. “Shall we descend?”

“Yes,” Trixie said in her best posh voice.  “Let’s do!”

Linking an arm with Trixie, Honey stepped aside to let Diana and Maya go first.  “The birthday girl must make a grand entrance,” she explained.  And soon all four of them headed for the stairs in a rustling of taffeta and silk.

At the sight of the girls, the Belden family drew in their collective breath.  Trixie saw her father’s eyes light up with pride and her mother smile approvingly.  Bobby, too, grinned widely, and Brian didn’t seem to know which girl to look at more, as his gaze switched back and forth mostly between Trixie to Honey.  What surprised Trixie most of all was the shine she saw in Mart’s eyes.  Were those tears?

“Trix…you look…fantastic.”  Mart finally managed to croak.  “All of you.”  He embraced each girl in turn, ending with Di, and curling his arm around her waist.

“And you look…well, beautiful,” Trixie told him.  It was true. All the Belden males were dressed in white tie and tails.  She was impressed with how elegant they all appeared—even Bobby.  “…and look at you, Moms!” 

Mrs. Belden twirled in her sparkling, champagne-colored sheath as her husband whistled in admiration.  She patted her perfectly styled hair.  “I guess I’ve still got it.”

Trixie chuckled.  “Where’s Jim?” she asked suddenly.  She craned her neck to look over Brian’s shoulder.

“He called,” Brian told her.  “With that head injury he’s not supposed to be driving or anything, not even from the Manor House to here, so he’s coming with Regan and Joan in Joan’s car.”

“Regan and Joan?”  Trixie repeated.

“That must be them, now,” Dan said, hearing a car pull up.

Mr. Belden opened the front door to let the young couple in.  Trixie had never seen them look better. Regan was exceedingly handsome in his tuxedo, and Joan looked red carpet ready in a daringly cut yet tasteful black evening dress.  But there was something more than their attire that was making them look extra special. 

They’re practically glowing, Trixie thought.  Why—!  She immediately looked at Joan’s left hand.  An emerald sparkled on her ring finger.  “He did it!” Trixie cried. “He asked you to marry him!”

Joan’s smile was more dazzling than the emerald she wore. “And I said ‘yes!’”

Congratulations rose up from the crowd.  Bobby jumped up and down. “It’s the ring!  It’s the ring!” he shouted happily as everyone cheered.

Regan clamped an approving hand on Bobby’s shoulder.  “Thanks, Bobby.  You don’t know how grateful I am.”  He turned back to Trixie.  “You sure do look pretty.” The he warned Mr. and Mrs. Belden, “In no time at all this one will be getting engaged next.”

Mrs. Belden raised her hands to her cheeks.  “Oh no, please, Regan!  She’s growing fast enough as it is!”

Trixie’s blue eyes met the gaze of Jim’s green eyes from where he stood behind the newly-engaged couple.  “Jim!”  Trixie ran to his side.  He looked dignified and manly in his tux, she thought, looking him over.    Her gaze strayed to the bandage on his forehead.

Jim touched the bandage self-consciously.  “This isn’t exactly the latest in evening wear,” he admitted.

“You wear it well,” Trixie murmured with a smile.  To her, the bandage looked like a shining badge of courage.

“And you look…you look…well, Trix, in that dress, you pack more of a wallop than that gun did.  I just might pass out again.”

Trixie giggled.

Regan chuckled.  Then he turned to Maya.  “You look pretty sensational too, but don’t even think about wearing that at that at the barn when you start working with me.  It’s not a great look for Hawthorne Street, either, so get ready to move over the garage with your parents.”

Maya clasped her hands with joy, but Trixie was horrified.  “What!  Are you leaving us, Regan?”

“And didn’t Mrs. Galloway offer you your jobs back?” A pale Honey asked Maya.

“She did,” Maya said, “but my parents feel it’s time to move on.”

“And I’m not leaving,” Regan said, “but Nailor is.  He’s moving to Florida to be with his kids, and Maya’s dad, it turns out, is quite the gardener and will take his job.”

“But I still don’t understand,” Trixie said.  “Where will you and Joan live?  In town?”

Regan placed his hands on his hips and looked down at Trixie. “Now, tell me how you think we can live in town if we’re going to breed horses, Miss Fidget?” he asked.  “Nope.  Mr. Wheeler seems to think a horse breeding program is something he’d like to be a part of, and so Joanie and I are leasing a little property off of Old Telegraph Road—”

“That old house Daddy owns!”  Honey clapped her hands.  “The one we used as a stop at the bikeathon for Hoppy!”

“Mind you, it’s a fixer-upper and some trees will need to be cleared, but there’s good land behind it for some stables and paddocks and rings….”

“…and for raising a family,” Joan added shyly.

“Oh, I love it!” Trixie cried.  “I’m so happy for you!”  Thanks, Hoppy, she thought to herself.

“Well, let’s get going,” Mr. Belden announced.  “Otherwise we may as well have the ball here.”  He looked around at the couples.  “Even though it’s a short distance away, I think everyone will want to take their cars, won’t they?”

And although Joan, Mr. Belden and Dan all offered to drive Trixie and Jim over, they politely declined.  “I think it’s a nice night to walk, don’t you?” Jim asked Trixie.

“Sure,” Trixie agreed readily.

“In those shoes?” Mrs. Belden asked doubtfully.

“…I’m going to kill her…” Diana muttered between gritted teeth.

“You’re only young once,” Mr. Belden said.  He winked at the young couple.  “We’ll meet you there.” Then he added in a stern voice that was only half-joking, “In ten minutes.”  Then Trixie’s parents left with Bobby; Brian and Honey left with Mart with Di; and Regan left with Joan.

After waving the cars off, Jim took Trixie’s hand in his. “Come on,” he said. 

The young couple strolled leisurely in the moonlight towards the grand house. Looking through the French doors on the veranda Trixie could see the ballroom chandelier shimmering with light as silhouettes crisscrossed one another in time to the music that the live band was playing.

She felt caught up in its fairytale magic of it all, so she was surprised to hear Jim say:

“I’m sorry, Trix.”

“Sorry?  For what?”

“That…that I can’t drive you there in style.  That I look like this….”

“How can you say that?” Trixie asked.  “I think walking there is way better than driving. It’s a perfect night.  Besides, some may say that clothes make the man, but I think... I think his scars do.”

Jim gazed at her fondly, his thanks unspoken but understood.

“Besides,” Trixie continued, “I’m the one who should be sorry for getting you involved in a mystery that ended up getting you clopped on the head….  Say, what were you doing at Ten Acres, anyway?”

Jim pressed his lips together.  “That’s really why I was apologizing.  I had it all planned out. I was going to surprise you with a ‘mystery’.  I had written up a treasure hunt and was planting the clues around the stable, the clubhouse, Ten Acres, that sort of thing.  But Shane and Lars and Milo ruined it all.”  

Trixie blinked with amazement. “You were going to do that for me?”  Jim nodded soberly, and looked so deeply into her eyes that Trixie felt the need to look away.  She cleared her throat.  “…and what was the treasure going to be?”

“You’ll see,” Jim said. “It’s at Manor House.”

But first they stopped at the barn and stood before Jupiter’s stall. Jim stroked the black gelding’s nose.  “Thanks, boy.  You did great out there, today,” he whispered.

Jupiter nuzzled his hand.

Jim turned to Trixie. “You did great, too.  I wanted to make your sixteenth birthday special, but you made it special yourself.  Thanks for …well, for saving my life—again.”

 “Anytime, Jim,” Trixie said.  She turned away so that he wouldn’t see the tears that threatened to form in her eyes, but Jim took her hand and slowly turned her back around to face him.  Their eyes met for a moment, and then Jim gently pulled her into an embrace.

They stayed that way for some time.  When they finally released one another, Jim tenderly stroked Trixie’s cheek with his finger. “Do you remember when I asked you what your heart’s desire was?”  he asked, his voice husky.

Trixie nodded silently. Her knees began to tremble, making her wobble in her heels and stumble slightly.

Jim steadied her by wrapping his arms around her waist. “Well, would you like to know my heart’s desire?”

Trixie swallowed and then nodded again.

He moved his face closer to hers, Trixie lifted her head, and their lips met for a soft kiss.

 Once they parted, Jim whispered, “Happy Birthday, Shamus.”

“Thanks, Jim,” Trixie breathed.

Suddenly, Jupiter whinnied loudly.

Trixie and Jim burst out laughing, but Jim’s face was read as he said, “I think that mean we should get going.”

“I suppose so,” Trixie said reluctantly.

“Come on, now, Trix.  I told you there’s a treasure waiting there for you.”

“I know, but….”

“But…?”

“But I think…” Her face took on a bashful glow.  “I think I already found my treasure at Ten Acres three years ago.” 

 Jim’s eyes lit up.  “I’d say it was the other way around.” He bent down and gave her another quick kiss on the cheek.  “We’d better go before your Dad comes looking for us.”

As they walked towards the main house Trixie was surprised to see how many cars were parked in front of the mansion.  I’ve never seen it like this before, she thought.  This will certainly be a night to remember.  She was also surprised when the Lynches’ butler, Harrison, answered the door.  What a smart idea, she thought, to hire out Diana’s butler for an occasion like a ball.  All of Sleepyside must be here.

“Mr. Frayne, Miss Belden,” he greeted them in his usual deep but impassive voice.  “I will announce you if you will just follow me.”

He’d better not call me ‘Beatrix’, Trixie thought as she tucked her hand in the crook of Jim’s arm.  Aloud she said, “Gosh the room got so quiet.”

“Someone’s probably giving a speech,” Jim guessed.

“Well, then maybe Harrison shouldn’t announce us,” Trixie said, lowering her voice to a whisper.

As they walked into the ballroom, Harrison bellowed, “Miss Trixie Belden!”

And before Trixie could comprehend what was happening, the room erupted in a chorus of voices shouting “SURPRISE!”

“What?”  Trixie looked around.  Why, that looks like the Wellingtons, she thought, and isn’t that Ned Schultz and the Hubbell Twins?   Wait a minute…  Mr. Carver…?  Uncle Andrew?  Hallie?  Knut?  Cap?  What’s going on here?

As the guests began to mill around her, Jim held on to her firmly and waved back the crowd.  “Just a minute, everyone,” he said, “I think she’s in a little bit of a shock.  Would somebody please get her a chair?”

Dan quickly tucked a chair behind Trixie and helped Jim to lower her gently into it. “What kind of charity ball brings all these people here?” Trixie asked finally.

The room erupted in laughter.

Mrs. Belden crouched down in her shiny sheath dress to look her daughter in the eyes.  “Darling, that charity was a ruse.  While your father and I did give to the hospital’s yearly cause, as usual, the actual ball is for you.  It’s your birthday present.”

“But the invitation--!”

She shook his head.  “A plant,” she said with a giggle.

“But I had to make you agree to come,” Trixie protested.

Mrs. Belden shook her head again.  “We had to let it be your idea so that you wouldn’t suspect.”

Trixie sank back into her chair.  “Wow. You guys are good.  It’s a little scary.”

Honey handed Trixie a glass of water.  “These are all friends, family and people you helped solve mysteries for.”

“I know.” Trixie’s hand shook slightly.

One of Honey’s British cousins, Gregory Hart, knelt by Trixie’s feet.  “When Anne and I received the invitation, we knew we wouldn’t miss this for the world!”

Ella Kline wheeled over to Trixie’s side, “And I begged to make your dress for it!”

Trixie looked down at her dress, stunned. “But I’m supposed to pay you for this,” she said.

Ella shook her head.

“No wonder it fit so well….” Trixie realized with astonishment.  She was even more astonished when the crowd parted and she saw an oil painting propped on an easel.  “Wait a minute! Is that a portrait of me? I can’t believe it!  It must be the work of Nick Roberts!”    

Diana took Trixie’s hand.  “Yes it is.  I know this all seems a bit overwhelming, and that a ball is more my style than yours, but I hope you like it, anyway.”

“Are you kidding?” Trixie asked. “I love it!  I’ve wanted to see so many of these people again. I mean, there’s Uncle Monty and the Darnells, and Faye, and Spider, and look!  Old Brom at Manor House! Did you ever think you’d see that day?   And oh my gosh, did Hans and Juliana fly over here for this?  Oh dear!  It’ll take all night to catch up with only half of the guests. But thanks, Di.  Really, thanks all of you.  I can’t believe you all did this for me…I….”  Trixie’s eyes filled with tears.

“Do you need a moment, darling?”  Her mother asked.

Trixie nodded.

“I’ll take her outside for a minute,” Honey said.

“Good idea.”

“We’ll be right back,” Honey told everyone, and escorted Trixie out the side doors.

Honey was quiet as she waited for Trixie to regain her composure.  When Trixie seemed ready, she asked shyly, “So…how do you like the ball?”

Trixie, who had been gazing up at the stars, looked over her shoulder back at the mansion and the party. “It’s too wonderful, Honey, really,” she said.

“You deserve it, you know.  You deserve all that and more.”

“So do you, Honey,” Trixie said firmly.  “You know all these people, too.  You were there when I—when we solved their mysteries together.  It’s not fair that they should be here for my birthday party.”

“Well, my birthday is in a few weeks, so it’s kind of like a birthday party for both of us,” Honey said as her namesake hair, melting hazel eyes and sparkling solitaire necklace all glowed softly in the moonlight. “But it is perfectly fair since it was my idea in the first place and I contacted all these people and have been in touch with them for weeks now. Oh, I so wanted to surprise you.”  

“You certainly managed to pull one over this detective, all right,” Trixie said.  She took in a deep breath of the night air.  “Detective….  Think of it, Honey!  We’ve just solved our fortieth mystery!  Can you believe it?”

Honey shook her head.  “Just barely.”

Trixie linked her arm through Honey’s and began leading her back to the ballroom.  “Are you ready to solve forty more?”

Honey fell into step with her.  “Only if I do so by your side, Trixie Belden.”

“Oh, Honey!”  Trixie gave her a quick hug.  “You’re truly the best friend I’ve ever had!  And I really can’t wait to see what our next mystery will be, but for now…” she said, her blue eyes sparkling as she threw open the French doors, “…let’s celebrate!” 

 The End

 

Disclaimer Addendum: Trixie’s memories of receiving the ID bracelet were paraphrased from Trixie Belden #9, The Happy Valley Mystery, © Random House, Inc.

Also: No, I am not Mexican nor do I look a thing like Maya or act like her.  I think Sleepyside needed a bit more color, though, and my experience in barns and horse shows in the NY area showed me that many Mexicans work as grooms.  It seemed natural to make Maya of Mexican descent.  There are no Mary Sues in this manuscript.  J

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

The Trixie Belden Mystery series and the characters found therein are owned by Random House, Inc.  This story is a work of “fan fiction” created for the sole purpose of being freely shared by other Trixie Belden fans at the Trixie Belden Clubhouse online fan site.  No monetary profit was made from this work.  For more Trixie Belden stories, please read other fan fiction found on this site or buy all the books in the Trixie Belden Mystery series.

 TBH Main