The bright lights on the alarm clock read 4:17 a.m.
Trixie tried to focus on the room around her in the dim light, but
her head was pounding so hard that she couldn’t.
She just barely made out the figure sitting on the chair by the
What’s he doing here?
She needed to pee, and she desperately needed
something for her headache. She
gently disengaged herself from Mart’s protective embrace and slipped out
of the bed. As she tiptoed
across the room, she felt dizzy and reached out for the nearest thing to
steady herself. The nearest
thing happened to be Brian’s arm.
He jumped, startled.
He looked up at his sister and saw her holding her palm against her
forehead. He silently got up
and helped her to the bathroom. She
sat on the edge of the tub while he reached into the medicine cabinet for
some acetaminophen. He got
her a drink of water from the tap and handed her the cup and the pills.
After swallowing the pills, Trixie thanked her
brother. Then she asked for a
minute alone, nodding toward the toilet in embarrassment.
Brian took the glass and set it by the sink, gracefully ignoring
her red face, and told her he’d be waiting outside.
When Trixie emerged from the bathroom, Brian pulled
her gently into a warm hug. She
stood in his embrace for several long minutes, then pulled away, wiping at
“Thanks for coming, Bri,” she whispered. “I needed you.”
“I’ll always be here when you need me,” he
whispered back. “How about
some warm milk?”
She nodded, and they went down to the kitchen
When the boys had divvied up the night watch, Jim
had chosen to sleep first after his long day, so he had just started his
shift at four. He heard Brian
and Trixie come downstairs and met them in the kitchen.
When Trixie saw Jim, the tears started again. She hugged him tightly, and he enveloped her in a protective
embrace. Glancing over her
head, he frowned and looked inquiringly at Brian.
The other boy just shrugged and returned the frown.
They were both worried.
Trixie finally stepped back, wiping at her eyes yet
again. “I’m sorry,” she
said. “I don’t know
what’s with me. I just
can’t seem to stop crying.”
Jim rubbed her arms gently with his strong hands.
“Hey, I’m here for whatever you need.
If you need a shoulder to cry on, you’ve got it.
If you need me to kick someone’s ass, say the word.
Anything you want, Shamus. I’m
He was rewarded with a giggle, just as he’d
I needed that.”
They sat at the table, and Brian brought her a mug
of warm milk. She took a sip,
then rested her still pounding head in her hands.
Brian began massaging her neck, amazed at the tension there.
“Now I know you’ll make a good doctor
– you have wonderful hands,” Trixie teased, grateful for the massage.
“I think I learned this from helping Moms calm
down after your adventures,” Brian retorted.
“Really?” Jim asked.
“I thought it was the lessons you were taking from Brandy.”
“Brandy, huh?” Trixie queried.
“I haven’t heard about her.
You’re holding out on me, big brother.”
“You can’t tell all your secrets to your little
sister. Much too
dangerous,” Brian joked. He
sat down next to her and sobered. “Trixie,
how are you really doing?”
Confusion evident in her eyes, she shrugged. “I feel like I’ve been blind-sided. Usually I’m seeing mysteriousness everywhere and everyone
else is telling me I’m crazy. This
time, I didn’t even sense anything was wrong.”
She stared down at her hands and played with her watch, since her
other wrist was bare. “I
just… I guess I feel like I’m a couple of laps behind everyone else,
and I don’t know how to catch up.”
Brian gave her a half-smile.
“Now you know how the rest of us usually feel.”
Jim reached out and gave her hand a reassuring
squeeze. “I have no doubt
that by morning you’ll have an inspiration, put the pieces together, and
be miles ahead of us.”
Trixie smiled gratefully.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
She leaned her head back and closed her eyes.
Brian looked at her in concern.
“Go lay down, Trix. You
need to sleep off that headache.”
Trixie snorted indelicately and opened one eye.
“Oh, and you slept so well sitting up in the desk chair, did
Brian flushed slightly.
Jim raised an eyebrow at him and smiled.
“Hey, at least I crashed on the couch for a couple of hours; much
better than sitting up in a desk chair.”
Trixie opened the other eye and flashed Jim a
wicked grin. “And what time
did you crawl home last night, College Man?”
This time Jim flushed.
Brian snickered, “Just in time to shower before Mrs. Wheeler
Trixie’s eyebrows shot up.
“Were you sober?”
“Yes!” Jim shot back, indignantly.
Then he sighed and shrugged, “Well, mostly.”
Brian and Trixie laughed at him.
Trixie asked, “So, how was breakfast with the Madeleines?”
Jim laughed at her description.
It was a phrase he and Trixie had come up with a while back.
It was meant in good humor, but Honey probably would not have taken
it that way.
Jim smirked at her.
“It would have been better if Honey wasn’t obsessing about the
rift in your friendship.”
Trixie studied him for a minute.
Then she grinned knowingly. “And
while trying to give her advice, you said something which made it clear we
had already spoken. At which
point, Dr. Watson began to interrogate you about your telephonic
correspondence with her best friend, driving you to distraction,
stammering and sputtering.”
Brian laughed and gave Trixie a high-five. “She shoots, she scores!
The great detective lives!”
Then he stuck out his tongue at her and said, “Even though she
sounds like Mart.”
The three laughed together for a minute before
Brian yawned loudly. Trixie
shoved him off his chair. “Come
on, big brother. You need to
go to sleep. In your bed, not
sitting up. Move.”
“You too, Princess.
Your head is still pounding. I
can see it in your eyes.”
Trixie thought briefly of trying to deny it, but
decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
She shrugged and headed for the stairs.
“As long as there are no snakes in my bed, I’m good.”
With that she trotted up the stairs.
Leaving Jim to return to his watch duty, Brian
frowned and hurried after her, clucking like a mother hen until he was
sure she was tucked safely into her bed.
Trixie slept soundly until noon.
When she stumbled into the hallway toward the bathroom she ran into
(literally, of course) Brian, who was just stumbling out of the bathroom.
He had clearly awoken only a few minutes before.
She smiled at him sleepily and pushed past him.
Brian watched her go and smiled.
She looked more like herself today, and even seemed to have a
twinkle in her eye. Maybe
this would be a better day. Provided
no one tries to kill her.
They dressed quickly and met back on the stairs.
As they entered the kitchen, they were joking and laughing
together. The other
Bob-Whites and Beldens were sitting around the table, eating lunch.
They looked up, surprised to hear Trixie’s laughter.
She breezed into the kitchen and stopped behind
Mart’s chair. She hugged
him from behind and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“Good afternoon, Hero Mine.
Did you leave me anything to eat?”
Then she walked on to the refrigerator.
Mart nearly choked on the food in his mouth. He stared after his sister, completely nonplussed.
She was downright happy today.
He was utterly confused.
Trixie headed back to the table, a drink in her
hand. She leaned over and
gave Honey a hug. “Sorry
for being a temperamental bitch,” she whispered in her ear.
Honey stood up and hugged her friend tightly. “It’s forgotten,” she whispered back. Then she stood aside and picked up her plate.
“Here, take my chair. I’m
Trixie smiled her thanks and sat down.
The conversation around the table was lighthearted and fun.
It seemed for a moment like a normal Belden meal.
When they were done eating the Bob-Whites moved
into the family room and started playing Trivial Pursuit.
They laughed and joked their way through a good-natured game for
over an hour.
Di grabbed the box of question cards from Brian.
“Hey, it’s my turn to read, Brain.
Oops, sorry, Brian,” she giggled.
“The category for Miss Wheeler is Wild Card.
Question: What’s the most popular term of endearment among
Honey smiled sweetly.
“Why, Honey, of course.”
cry foul!” Jim complained. “You
can’t get a ‘term of endearment’ question when your name is a
term of endearment!”
“You’re being a sore loser, Jim,” Dan mocked.
“Oh, it’s okay.
If my big brother can’t handle the ease of my success, I’ll
take another question,” Honey graciously conceded.
“The category is still Wild Card,” Di called. She read the question on the next card and laughed.
Sarcastically she announced, “Alright, this is sure to stump her.
Question: What piece
of horse-riding equipment do experts call the most significant invention
before gunpowder in the history of warfare?”
“She knows nothing about the history of
warfare,” Jim crowed.
“You weren’t listening carefully, College
Man,” Trixie snickered. “The
question is about horse-riding equipment.”
“And the answer is stirrups,” Honey replied
“Give the woman a pie!” Brian laughed as he
handed Honey her orange wedge.
“Hey, that reminds me.
I’m hungry!” Mart said.
“So what else is new?”
“Watch it, Beatrix.
I get to read your question.”
have to read the question, not rewrite it in dictionary-ese.”
Trixie rolled the die and landed on a pink space.
“Ah, Arts and Entertainment.
Since you know nothing about art, this might be entertaining.”
Mart laughed at his own joke while the others groaned.
face does Luke Skywalker finally reveal in Return of the Jedi?”
“Way too easy, Trix,” Dan playfully jabbed her
in the ribs.
Trixie wasn’t listening.
She was staring at the board, eyes focused on some distant vision
only she could see. Throughout
the game she had been pushing thoughts of the current situation to the
back of her mind. An
underlying part of her brain had been processing and reprocessing bits of
information, like a computer program running in the background.
Suddenly the program was flashing an alert, calling for her
important was just beyond her grasp, and she was trying to focus on it.
Whose face does Luke reveal?
The table had grown quiet.
Worried glances were bandied about.
Finally, Dan nudged her again.
“Hey, Freckles, snap out of it.”
Sudden flashes of memory exploded before Trixie’s
should have lengthened those stirrups… I guess you don’t know very
much about riding.”
Mangan glared at her. “But
you know all the answers, don’t you, freckles?”
But what does that have to do with anything?
wondered. Whose face does Luke…
now an’ then I’d come to and hear the voices, Dan’s and somebody
was tall, and she saw by the firelight that he was dark and sharp-faced
and seemed a few years older than Dan.
just yeller… I oughta give you a beatin’!”
could see that Dan was afraid of the bigger boy.
that’s the snooper… you’re a fool, Dan Mangan… Stay here with your
friends, but don’t forget, if anything happens where I’m going,
you’re in it deep!”
Trixie drew in a sharp breath.
glanced hastily around the table before jumping up and running from the
room. She found Sergeant
Molinson on the front steps with her father.
She grabbed the big policeman by the arm.
“I need to talk to you.”
She threw a glance over her shoulder, knowing the Bob-Whites had
followed her. “Alone.”
Molinson looked over her shoulder at the others,
then searched her face. He
nodded abruptly. “Let’s
go for a walk.”
They walked to the barn and the sergeant leaned
casually against the wall. Trixie
paced nervously in front of him, repeatedly glancing back toward the house
to reassure herself that no one had followed them.
“Relax,” Molinson told her.
“They can’t hear you. What’s
Trixie ran a shaky hand through her hair. “I’ve been thinking.”
“A dangerous pastime.”
“Funny, LeFou,” she made a face at him.
“Anyway, I’ve been called a snoop fairly frequently.”
He snorted. “But
that’s not what the note said.”
She stood, wringing her hands, as if afraid to speak her suspicions
aloud. Finally, she spoke
again. “The note said
I only remember being called that once.”
Molinson’s mirth faded. She
had his full attention now. He
raised an eyebrow. “So you
think that person is the one behind these shenanigans?”
“It’s a possibility worth checking, I think.”
She started pacing again.
Molinson waited patiently for a long moment. Finally, he asked expectantly, “Well?”
Trixie stopped and looked him in the eye. “Luke Harrigan.”
The sergeant narrowed his eyes thoughtfully and
stroked his chin. He slowly
released a pent-up breath before nodding slowly.
“I’ll see what I can find out.”
Clenching and unclenching her jaw, Trixie looked
away. “Today would be a
good day to prove me crazy.”
He laughed hollowly.
“Neither one of us has that kind of luck, Belden.”
He watched her for a minute. “Dan
is stronger than you think, you know. He can handle this.”
She snorted. “Not
if this wacko kills me.”
“We aren’t going to let that happen,”
Molinson stated firmly.
Trixie faced him again, an eyebrow raised in
challenge. “Prove it.”
“Gladly,” he smiled.
His pale blue eyes twinkled at her as he shoved her toward the
house. “Now get back inside
so I can go check this out.”
Trixie spent the rest of the afternoon alone in her
room. She refused to speak to
anyone, even Brian. She sat
in the window seat and brooded, her stomach in knots and her mind
churning. If she was wrong, she was back to square one.
But she knew she was right; she felt it in her bones.
Now she was more worried about Dan than she was about herself.
She needed to figure out what to say or do that would keep Dan from
blaming himself for this.
Despite the large crowd in the house, dinner was a
fairly subdued affair. Everyone
tried to engage Trixie, but she rebuffed every effort.
She stared down at her plate, toying with her food, and refused to
make eye contact with anyone.
A knock sounded at the back door.
Peter went to answer it and returned a moment later with Wendell
Molinson. He looked grim.
Trixie locked eyes with the sergeant.
His face told her all she needed to know. She put her elbows on the table and held her head in her
“You were right, of course, Trixie.
Not only is he Buck’s cousin, but he got out on parole three
weeks ago. His parole officer
hasn’t heard from him since.”
Trixie’s response was muffled by her hands, but
intelligible nonetheless. “Why
couldn’t I be wrong this time?”
“Because, despite your penchant for jumping to conclusions,
sister dear, you’re right far more often than you’re wrong.”
Honey was frowning at Trixie, rather put out that
her partner hadn’t shared her thoughts on the case with her.
Hazel eyes narrowed suspiciously, Honey asked, “Why would you
rather be wrong?”
Molinson had managed to position himself right
behind Dan’s chair. He
calmly announced, “The suspect in question is Luke Harrigan.”
Dan inhaled sharply and looked around wildly. Molinson rested a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Helen, quickly realizing the impact of the situation on the young
man who was like a son to her, grabbed both of Dan’s hands in hers.
The dark eyes staring out from the pale face were laden with guilt.
Helen spoke soothingly, “Daniel, that was a long
time ago, and you are nothing like that boy.
You've changed your life for the better, and he has obviously
Dan just shook his head.
“But, Mrs. B., I brought him here in the first place!”
Trixie slammed both hands down on the table
forcefully, rattling dishes and even the windows.
Glaring across the table at her friend she stormed, “Daniel
Timothy Mangan, don’t you dare blame yourself for this!
You're my friend! You
care about me! You protect
me! You rescue me! YOU
DO NOT TRY TO KILL ME!”
Choking back a sob, she jumped up from the table
and ran out of the room. Peter
noted with some satisfaction that this was a more normal reaction for
Trixie. She was
obviously better today, even if the situation had not improved any.
Knowing that Trixie needed a minute to herself, the
others in the room concentrated on reassuring Dan.
They moved to give him a hug, or they spoke to him encouragingly.
Jim was walking around the table to approach Dan when he suddenly
realized where Trixie had gone. He quickly slipped away in the same direction.
When he came up behind her she turned to glare at
him. He didn’t come any
closer. He held up his hands
in a defensive gesture and said, “Hey, I’d have left you alone if
you’d gone to your room. But,
no – you choose to run out alone out into the orchard when there’s a
psycho stalking you. Don’t even try to tell me to leave you alone out
Trixie’s shoulders slumped.
She was still angry, but her anger was no longer directed at Jim.
She turned her wrath on the fallen branch lying on the ground near
her feet. She picked it up
and swung it like a baseball bat at the nearest tree several times.
Then she whipped around and started yelling at Jim again.
“You know, you’re all the same!
This is no different than when I had to yell at you for feeling
guilty that Jonesy hurt Juliana. Just
because you knew the S.O.B. before he came here does not make you
responsible for his every action after he arrived!
The same goes for Dan and Luke.
He can’t go feeling responsible for anything Luke does to me!”
Trixie stood there, hands on hips.
Her blue eyes blazed with anger, her cheeks were flushed and her
chest was heaving with each breath. She
was simply magnificent.
Reining in his thoughts, Jim crossed his arms over
his chest and leaned nonchalantly against a tree.
Regarding her thoughtfully, he commented, “Pot.
Trixie did a double-take.
Letting her breath out in a whoosh, she chuckled ruefully.
“So, I’m a hypocrite because I feel guilty that Luke’s
revenge plot is hurting Dan?”
Jim smiled softly.
“I wouldn’t say hypocrite.
I would just say that you ought to be able to understand how we
Leaning back against the tree across from Jim,
Trixie played with the branch in her hands.
She stared at it, unseeingly, for a long moment before looking up
at Jim with troubled eyes. “Can
I ask you something?” she queried hesitantly.
Green eyes stared into blue.
He wanted to take her into his arms and hold her forever,
protecting her from anyone who might ever try to hurt her.
He chose a safer response. “You
can always ask me anything, Trix.”
“Will it always come back at me like this?” Seeing his confusion, she hurried on. “I mean, I’ve put a lot of people away already.
If I stick to my plans, there will be plenty more to come.
Will they all come after me, or my family and friends, for
She waited for him to answer, holding her breath.
He stared at her for a long time before replying.
Jim considered his answer carefully.
A part of him wanted to use this opportunity to frighten her out of
her career plans. Seeing the
fear already in her eyes, however, broke his heart.
How could he deliberately try to scare her? Besides, if she gave up now it would crush her spirit.
She would cease to be Trixie.
Slowly, thoughtfully, he answered, “I can’t say that this will ever
really end. I mean, there
will probably be a percentage of people who would like revenge against
you. But it will be a small
percentage. It’s not like
there will always be someone running loose.”
He watched her closely as he spoke.
“You don’t spend all your time annoying
criminals. For every one you
make mad, you help dozens of other people.”
She let his words sink in.
A variety of emotions played over her face: anger, fear,
resignation, despair, and finally, determination.
She squared her shoulders and stood up straighter.
He watched her, and breathed a sigh of relief. She would get through this just fine.
think about this. Was helping
Dan worth antagonizing Luke?”
looked at him warily, unsure where this question was leading.
He continued, “Was helping Miss Darcy worth annoying Peter
Ashbury? Or was helping Mrs.
Elliott worth aggravating Al Finlay?
Better yet, was helping Di worth irritating Tilney Britten?
Are Juliana and I worth making an enemy of Jonesy?”
sharply drawn breath was followed by a fierce, “Absolutely!”
Blue eyes blazed, as if daring anyone to say she was wrong.
smiled softly. “From where
I stand, your interference in my life was the best thing that ever
happened to me. But that’s my point of view.
How would you see things if it were Jonesy after you?
Would you wish you had never met me?”
could you even ask me that?” she cried.
“You're my best friend. The
day I met you was one of the best days of my life!”
had happened again. The
conversation was no longer about the situation; it was about them.
Emerald eyes held sapphire, and the world stopped.
After what seemed an eternity, he took a step towards her.
She flung herself forward and threw her arms around him and he held
her tightly to him. She
buried her face in his chest, and he kissed the top of her head.
strength of her feelings overwhelmed her.
Jim meant more to her than anyone in the world.
To think she would have been better off never meeting him because
it would have been safer was just wrong.
Having Jim in her life was worth all the risk.
She squeezed tighter, never wanting to let him go.
wave of emotion that washed over him was overpowering.
He could no longer imagine his life without Trixie.
For every time he had told her to be careful, he thought about
living without her. Her
friendship, her very presence, was worth any risk to him.
He couldn’t begrudge her taking risks if the benefits were this
I know it seems like I always lecture you,” he said softly near her ear. “I want you to be careful because I'm so afraid of losing
you. But being careful
doesn’t mean you should stop helping people.
For me, for Di, for Dan, and for dozens of other people, the world
is a better place because we met you.
Don’t let the shadow of one jerk’s anger hide your light.”
trembled and sighed. “I
spend so much time complaining about your lectures that I forget how much
you encourage me. You are my strength and my rock.” She leaned her head back so she could see his face.
She looked deeply into his eyes, displaying all her vulnerability.
“I need you.”
look did him in. He leaned
down and softly, gently, claimed her lips with his own.
rest of the world melted away. For
that moment in time, there was just the two of them, floating on air.
The kiss seemed to last forever.
Eventually their lips parted slowly.
magical moment was shattered by the blast of a shotgun.
exploded off the tree behind Trixie.
shoved her to the ground, shielding her with his body while he looked
around to identify the source of the blast.
muttered angrily, “That jerk is gonna pay for ruining that
stopped searching to look down at her and grin.
She grinned back.
Jim started to get up. “I
think we’d be better off in the house.
Crouch low and run for it.”
ran for the back door. Molinson
was standing there, gun drawn, carefully eyeing the woods nearby.
He waved them in.
sauntered casually into the kitchen.
“Well, that was an exciting walk,” she announced.
“How much more fun can we have today?”