Trixie Belden and the Mystery on the Mississippi (through the eyes of 
everyone but Trixie)--Chapter 1: Promise of Adventure

Blue Divider

Jim Frayne sat in the corner of the clubhouse, trying to keep his mind occupied as he waited for his sister and Trixie to arrive. Normally, when he waited for a BWG meeting to start he was able to keep his mind occupied with thoughts of the schoolwork he needed to get done. Or the chores he had waiting for him. But it was summer, and he had no schoolwork, and he had already completed his chores earlier that day.

He had just about given up on trying to effectively entertain himself when movement caught his eye. He looked out the clubhouse window and saw his adopted sister, Honey Wheeler, churning dust as she tried to keep up with her best friend, who was fairly flying down the path to the Bob-White clubhouse. In front of Honey, Trixie was a blue streak in her shorts and top, her sandy curls bouncing effervescently upon her head. The disarrayed curls made Jim smile as he eyed his favorite errant ringlet, now stuck to the fourteen-year-old’s forehead.

Jim felt his face break into a grin as Trixie threw open the clubhouse door, her cheeks flushed and her big blue eyes round with excitement.

"Guess what?!" she called to the club members gathered inside.

"A black bear is right on your heels!" Trixie’s brother Mart exclaimed.

Jim rolled his eyes as Trixie’s brother Mart jumped up and, in mock fear, slammed the door through which Trixie and Honey had just entered.

Jim wasn’t surprised when Trixie dropped into a chair, pulled Honey into the one next to her, and sat gasping and laughing, that errant curl sitting enticingly on her forehead. "Mart, it’s a thousand more times exciting than that! You couldn’t even guess in a hundred years!"

"They’ve discovered oil in our flower garden!"

Jim had an internal chuckle at Mart’s attempt at a joke. The Beldens were so down-to-earth that he doubted even the discovery of a hidden fortune in Helen Belden’s flower garden would change much at cozy little Crabapple Farm.

"Guess again. You’re not even warm." Trixie didn’t miss a beat in her excitement.

"There’s gold in them thar hills back of the Wheelers’ game preserve," Mart suggested next, and Jim wondered what television show Mart had been watching to affect such an egregious accent.

"No," Trixie retorted smugly, "but you’re getting nearer. It does have something to do with Honey’s father."

That statement got Jim’s attention, and he looked keenly at the two girls. He had just assumed that Trixie was on some kind of new mystery, and it certainly hadn’t occurred to him that his adopted father might be involved in Trixie’s news. His green eyes focused on his honey-haired sister, who looked just as gleeful as Trixie.

Jim suppressed an inner sigh. I adore her, but I wish Trixie wouldn’t steal Honey’s thunder. If it has to do with Dad, why isn’t Honey announcing it?

"Something to do with Dad?" he said aloud. "How come? Dad was just leaving for the commuter train when I came over here. What is it, Trixie?"

"If you give me one little minute, I’ll tell you…but then maybe I’d better wait ‘til the others get here…"

Mart jumped to his feet in protest. "Trixie Belden," he started dramatically, and Jim thought that the fifteen-year-old might have been spending just a little too much time with Diana, the thespian member of the Bob-Whites. The redhead looked down at the rough-hewn table that he and Trixie’s older brother Brian had made for the clubhouse, hiding a grin as Mart continued, "You know you’ll never be able to hold out ‘til all the Bob-Whites are together. Dan won’t get away from his job ‘til evening, and Diana won’t even be back home for a month. Five of the seven Bob-Whites are here. That’s a quorum! Come on, Trixie, out with it before you pop!"

Jim knew that Mart had a very good point. Especially about Trixie "popping" with excitement. As he looked at the young sleuth, he could see her fairly vibrating with her untold news. He admired the way her blue eyes shone and her cheeks flushed in a very appealing way. Everything about Trixie screamed that she was alive—and ready for any promise of adventure. He loved that about her.

"Well, then, here it is," Trixie said slowly, importantly. "How’d you like to fly to St. Louis, Missouri? Right to the place where the spaceships are made? Where the factories are right at the airport, practically…"

"Golly…neat! Is it on the level, Trix?" Jim watched as Mart practically jumped out of his skin in excitement. Jim was pretty excited, too, but no one telegraphed excitement like the Belden "almost twins."

Trixie, her eyes dancing, nodded emphatically. "Mr. Wheeler has some business in St. Louis with one of the biggest aircraft manufacturers in the world!"

"So what?" Brian asked. "He often does that. That’s not news."

Jim hid another grin as Trixie bristled at Brian’s comment. "Well, this is! One of the executives flew here yesterday to talk to Honey and Jim’s father. He came in a big private plane. He’s going to fly back tomorrow, take Mr. Wheeler along with him, and—"

Of course, Mart couldn’t contain his excitement and he interrupted Trixie to shout, "Take some of us along? Who? Which ones? Me?"

Jim’s eyes traveled from the Belden almost twins to his honey-haired sister as she finally spoke up, looking almost as excited as Trixie. "Not some of us. All of us! Every one of the Bob-Whites," Honey said. Jim watched as a shadow crossed her face, diminishing some of the excitement in her hazel eyes, as she added soberly, "except Diana, ‘cause she’s away…and maybe Dan can’t leave his job to go…but isn’t it exciting?"

"I’ll say!" Mart grabbed his hat. "I’ve got to go tell Dan. He’s coaching those Little Leaguers today. Maybe the Park Board will let him take time off to go with us…jeepers! On-the-spot inspection of a capsule that may go to the moon!" Jim shook his head as he watched the fifteen-year-old, who was almost as exuberant as his younger-by-eleven-months sister, disappear through the door.

"If he’s waited just a minute I could have told him one thing," Jim began seriously. "He should know it himself. All that spacecraft business is classified. We won’t get within a mile of one of those factories."

His green eyes met Trixie’s clear blue ones as she insisted, "Yes, we will, Jim Frayne. Won’t we, Honey?"

Jim admired a lot of qualities about the sandy-haired blonde spitfire who had stumbled on him in his great-uncle’s crumbling old mansion. He loved her spirit, her generosity, her determination, but most of all, he loved the way she stood up for herself and didn’t back down. She believed they were getting inside of those factories, and she wasn’t afraid to say so as she looked at him with stubborn eyes.

Honey spoke up. "Daddy did say, Jim, that there’s an exhibit there that will be open to the public. We can at least see a capsule that carried one of the astronauts into orbit."

A spark of hope alit inside Jim. It would be swell if they were able to see some spacecraft! "Don’t you think we can see anything of the Gemini business? I wish I’d have had a chance to talk to Dad," he finished wistfully.

"You can ask him this evening when he gets home from the city," Honey said in a soothing voice as she placed a slender hand on his wrist. Like Trixie, Honey had a lot of good qualities. Jim appreciated her tact and her desire to make sure everyone felt at ease. He smiled at her as she continued, "There’s room on the plane for ten people…ten passengers, I mean, in addition to the crew. There’ll only be six of us, and that’s counting Dan. We have to be ready to leave, though, sometime tomorrow."

"I can leave right now!" Brian said, surprising Jim since his usually quiet voice was loud with excitement. "Say—there’s lots more to St. Louis than spaceships. Have you stopped to think it’s on the Mississippi River? We could maybe take a steamboat to Hannibal, you know…right in Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer country. Or even to New Orleans…"

Jim thought about how wonderful it would be to float down the mighty Mississippi on a steamboat with his friends, stopping in the various interesting towns between St. Louis and New Orleans, so he hated to throw a damper on Brian’s daydreaming, but he knew he had to. "Wait a minute, Brian. We aren’t going to be there the rest of the summer, you know. How long did Dad say we’d be gone, Honey?"

"Less than a week," Honey murmured, and Jim could tell that she hated disappointing Brian, too. Probably more than he did.

"Good-bye, New Orleans!" Brian said sadly, but he brightened as Honey placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled at him. He continued, "Oh, well. I’ll settle for Hannibal, or any place on the river in a steamboat!"

"Me, too. I’m so excited I’m about to explode!" Jim laughed aloud at this. Trixie’s excitement was usually at the level of imminent explosion. He watched as Trixie took hold of Brian’s arm, wishing it was his arm she was holding. "We’d better go break the news to Moms."

Jim watched as Trixie and Brian hurried down the hill to Crabapple Farm, which sprawled in simple cozy comfort in the valley of the Catskills. Crabapple Farm reminded him a lot of the house he had lived in with his birth mother and father before his father had gotten sick. A white picket fence spread its arms to enclose Mrs. Belden’s rose beds, an apple orchard, and the kitchen garden. Mr. Belden worked in the bank in the village, Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson. Mrs. Belden was…well, she was just "Moms" to Brian, Mart, Trixie, and little Bobby. Jim reflected that she was a mother figure to the rest of the Bob-Whites, too.

Jim and Honey left the little gatehouse at the edge of the Wheeler woods that served as the Bob-White clubhouse and strolled across the wide lawn toward the Manor House. On a rising slope above Crabapple Farm the Wheeler home stood, surrounded by riding stables, a small lake for swimming and skating, and a huge game preserve.

Jim half-listened as Honey chatted on about the trip to St. Louis, and what they might do and see. Jim wondered if a mystery would be involved. Trixie seemed to have a second sense that had often helped confused law officers solve puzzling cases. When the Bob-Whites had been on vacation together, she and Honey had investigated mysteries on an Arizona dude ranch, a sheep farm in Iowa, a cabin in the Missouri Ozarks, and in New York City. The Bob-Whites enjoyed good times most when they were spent together, especially since wherever Trixie went there was bound to be excitement. It was no wonder, then, that they were fascinated with the promised plane trip to St. Louis.

As Jim packed his suitcase for the trip, his thoughts wandered to his sandy-haired neighbor. Trixie was fun to be around, and they always had a good time on their vacations—even the time she had volunteered them to all work on Di’s uncle’s dude ranch during their Christmas vacation. Jim wondered exactly what excitement Trixie would find among the spacecraft in St. Louis. It was not an "if"; Jim knew that where Trixie went, excitement was sure to follow.

~~~

Dan was able to go along on the trip, so it was Diana, vacationing with her family, who was the only Bob-White missing as they checked in at the Vacation Inn near Lambert-St. Louis airport.

As the registration clerk, whose nametag proclaimed him to be Mark, offered his father a pen, it wasn’t just protection Jim was thinking of as he told his father, "I guess all the Bob-Whites had better get rooms close together."

"You’re right. You’d better stick together," Mr. Wheeler answered. "No one can predict what Trixie will be up to. You and the other boys must keep an eye on her. Mr. Brandio is going to let you have a car, Jim. The city is about an hour’s drive from here. Trixie can’t get far away unless you drive her."

Jim watched Honey frown as she listened to her father. "Trixie doesn’t need to be watched, Daddy. Neither do I."

"Of course not. I was only fooling." Jim suppressed a grin as he watched his father grimace slightly, probably remembering some of Trixie and Honey’s more "colorful" escapades. "No, I wasn’t fooling altogether. Trixie has been in some pretty dangerous situations. Let’s have this trip be only fun. Right, Trixie?" he smiled at his daughter’s best friend warmly.

"I never hunt for cases," Trixie insisted. "Can I help it if there are times when Honey and I just have to step in and help solve a mystery?"

Jim didn’t even bother to hide his grin at that. It was true that Trixie had solved crimes that had baffled seasoned lawmen years her senior. He was proud of Trixie and her deductive reasoning skills. They always kicked in after her initial mystery-solving phase of "jump-to-conclusions-itis," as Mart called it. Trixie could jump to conclusions pretty quickly, but she admitted her mistakes and inevitably found the real culprit and solved the mystery.

"I guess not," Mr. Wheeler answered soberly. "I guess not. I can’t help it, either, Trixie, if I’m relieved to know that you will all be quartered near to one another. Have fun now! The car is parked in the back parking lot, Jim. Here’s the key. I’ll be in touch with you."

Mart caught the key and passed it to Jim. "How do we get from here to Mr. Brandio’s factory, sir?"

Uh oh, Jim thought. Here it comes!

"What for?" Mr. Wheeler asked.

"To see some of the space stuff. You know, one of the capsules that orbited Earth…"

"Are you serious, Mart?" Jim watched as the surprise on his father’s face turned to a look of concern.

"I sure am. What’s wrong?"

"It’s classified, that’s what," Brian broke in, and Jim noted that Mr. Wheeler looked relieved that Brian had taken over the conversation. "We’d have told you that back at the clubhouse if you hadn’t gone hunting Dan so suddenly. All that business at the factories is classified. Isn’t that so, Mr. Wheeler?"

"I’m afraid it is. There’s an exhibit to be opened to the public later on. Say, I hope you’re not terribly disappointed. There are lots of other things to see in St. Louis. With the car you can hunt them out…"

"Thanks, Mr. Wheeler," Trixie interrupted, frowning at Mart. "We’ll find lots of good places to go. Don’t you bother about us one minute."

Trixie could sometimes have a one-track mind, but Jim knew that she cared deeply that other people be happy, just like his sister did. He liked that she had jumped to reassure his father that they would have a good time no matter what. Because they would.

"That’s good," Mr. Wheeler said, looking relieved, and hurried to where Mr. Brandio waited in his car.

Jim grabbed his suitcase as well as Trixie’s, and he noticed that Brian was quick to pick up Honey’s suitcase in addition to his own. He gave Trixie a grin. Who said chivalry was dead?

The boys carried the luggage from the motel office down the wide walk that circled the pool. Jim watched as children splashed in the pool, calling delightedly to one another. Overhead, jet planes were taking off and landing, and Jim loved the satisfying sound of the engines. Taxicabs roared in to discharge passengers and to pick up others. The sight of these made Jim grateful that Mr. Brandio had secured them their own transportation. The boys dodged the maids, hurrying about making rooms ready for new occupants, and their carts.

Jim followed behind Trixie, admiring the view, until she stopped dead in front of a room.

"This is our room right here," Trixie told Jim. He and Brian carried the bags inside. Jim took a moment to survey the room. It was simple, but it was clean. Trixie was saying, "You two are just next to us, and Dan and Mart are on the other side of you. Isn’t that right?"

"Right," Jim agreed, happy that he shared a wall with his sister and his…Trixie. He grinned at the two girls then. "Whistle when you’re ready. We’ll decide then what we’ll do today."

After he left Trixie’s room, Jim poked his head into the room that Mart and Dan had already occupied. "We’re going to meet the girls in a few minutes to decide what we’re going to do today. Meet you at that bench by the pool once you’re settled?"

Mart and Dan agreed to this plan, and Jim hurried back to the room he was to share with Brian. It was a mirror image of the room that the girls shared, with identical décor. As he was unpacking, he suddenly heard a gruff voice coming from somewhere outside his room.

"Hand that over! It’s mine, young ladies!"

Jim went still, listening, and he saw Brian straighten up from where he had been bending over a drawer. The dark-haired young man, too, went rigid and still as he listened. Was the voice coming from the girls’ room? Or was the man talking to some of the maids on the path outside?

"What do you mean by opening my dispatch case?"

Jim and Brian exchanged uneasy glances. The man sounded very angry.

"Should we go see what’s up? Or mind our own business?" Jim asked. Before Brian could answer, they heard the man continuing his tirade.

"Don’t you know you shouldn’t touch other people’s property? What were you doing with my papers? Meddlers!"

Jim and Brian could make out a female voice saying something, but they couldn’t hear the words nor recognize the voice. They were just about over their surprise and ready to intervene when they heard a door slam and then silence.

"Maybe we should go check on the girls," Jim said.

Brian thought for a moment and then shook his head. "You heard what Honey said when we checked in. She and Trix don’t need babysitters. I could tell she was really bothered by what your dad said. I don’t want to upset her more by acting like I think she needs looking after."

Jim nodded. "You’re right."

Still, he couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling and wanted to check on the girls to make sure they were okay. Not because they needed looking after but because he needed the reassurance. He’d experienced a lot of loss in his life—his father, his mother, his freedom at Jonesy’s hands—and even though he knew how lucky he was to have found a wonderful family like the Wheelers and loyal friends like the Bob-Whites, in the back of his mind, he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It wasn’t a feeling that consumed him, and most of the time he was able to ignore it, but even so, it was always there, floating on the edge of his consciousness that everything could be taken away in a heartbeat. So, in times like this, he just wanted reassurance that those he cared about were safe.

He couldn’t help it. When Brian went into the small bathroom to unload his toiletries, Jim put his ear to the wall that he and Brian shared with the girls. He didn’t want to spy; he just wanted to hear their voices, to know that they were safe.

"There must have been something odd in that briefcase." That was Trixie’s voice. Jim sighed in relief. The girls were okay. Then he allowed himself to chuckle. Of course Trixie had found something "odd" not five minutes after the boys had left her and Honey.

"Yes. All of those graphs were certainly strange. They had queer designs on them." That was Honey.

Hmmm, Jim thought, if Honey also found it odd…

Trixie was always looking for a mystery, despite her comments to Mr. Wheeler earlier, but Honey generally looked at things more objectively. She always supported her friend, even when Trixie came up with somewhat wild theories, but Jim’s sister also maintained an air of reason, a perfect yin to Trixie’s yang.

"Honey, this motel is near all those airplane factories."

"He looked like a foreign agent, too! Did you notice his eyes?"

Okay, maybe Honey sometimes did float some pretty wild theories, too.

"They’d bore a hole right through the walls. Golly, he almost hypnotized me."

"Me, too. Gosh, Trixie, do you suppose he could be a spy?"

"Who knows? He acted kind of strange for sure. Say, do you suppose those papers over there in that wastebasket belonged to him? The maid evidently didn’t empty it."

"Maybe they are his!" Jim heard a pause and correctly assumed that the girls were investigating the wastebasket. Jim felt guilty listening in, now that he knew that they were safe, but it was too much fun listening to the girls go on about spies to stop.

"Look at this!" That was Honey, sounding excited over whatever she might have found in the wastebasket.

"Hmmm…more of that graph paper. He could have been copying plans. These sheets have figures all over them. And writing, too. There’s a map of the Mississippi River and, heavens, look at these queer drawings along the river!"

"Let me see. They’re not well drawn. Maybe he just sketched them for his children."

"I don’t think so. I think they’re much more important than that."

Of course, you do, Trix, Jim thought, not without affection.

Trixie continued, "We’d better meet the boys and show them what we’ve found. Jim will know whether there’s anything odd about them. Let’s go, Honey."

Jim felt a warmth inside him spread at the knowledge that Trixie thought so highly of him.

"What are you doing?" This time, the voice was Brian’s. Jim grinned sheepishly at his friend as he pulled his ear away from the wall.

"I just wanted to make sure that I could still hear the girls in their room," he explained, realizing how lame he sounded.

"And could you?"

Jim nodded. "But then it was like listening to one of those old radio serials, and I got sucked in. Apparently, the girls found some weird graph paper with strange writing and pictures." He grinned. "Of course, your sister found it all very odd and mysterious. My sister thinks spies might be involved."

Brian groaned. "Just great! Another mystery!" He shook his head. "You’d better not let them know you were listening. That’s just as bad as trying to babysit them."

Jim nodded solemnly. "You’re right, and I shouldn’t have done it, but, well…"

Brian smiled at his friend. "I’m glad to know they’re safe, too," he said, understanding softening his voice. Then, he added briskly, "Now let’s head out to the pool and pretend like nothing happened. We know nothing about spies or strange pictures on graph paper!"

"Agreed," Jim said as the two boys exited the room and strode down the wide pathway toward the pool, where he saw Mart and Dan sitting on a bench.

As he approached the pair, Jim wondered if Trixie’s "mystery-itis" was contagious, because he suddenly had a strange feeling that they were all about to be embroiled in one of their most exciting adventures yet.

*~*~*~*

I really wanted to write from Lem’s perspective, but as he was only in the last half of Chapter 11 and the first part of Chapter 12, I thought too much plot might be missed by not covering a whole chapter. If only there was an entire chapter devoted to Lem! :) Honey is always a favorite choice of mine, but I’ve written twice from her perspective in the last few years. And Bobby wasn’t in this one, so then I thought I’d tackle Mart and his swallowed dictionary. But then he disappears halfway through Chapter 1, which I had decided I wanted. So, well, I had to go with Jim! *g*

I used the original Deluxe edition of The Mystery on the Mississippi for the chapter (although I did correct some punctuation, grammar, Mart’s sudden loss of knowledge of the English language, and misinformation about the Bob-Whites, their families, and their properties. I couldn’t holp it!). This version was written before the moon landing, so I deleted a sentence referring to the landing being a hypothetical, future event.

Many, many, many thanks to Susan and Julia for their quick edits and for being two of the best Bob-White friends ever! {{HUGS}} And thanks to Mary N for handling all of the graphics and page formatting and Wendy for rounding up all the volunteers! I’ve never experienced a rewrite as "just" a writer, and it’s a very liberating experience! :)

Word count: Dana—2302; KK—1649; total—3951

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