by Mary, Kate, and Dana
Dan's face noticeably paled as the slim figure of Joeanne Darnell strode onto the porch, a bright box in her hand.
Joeanne noticed and she rolled her eyes heavenward. "Don't flatter yourself, Casanova. I've moved on. And, thankfully, I've never had to deal with anyone answering the phone during sex since!"
Dan let out a sound that was half gulp and half laugh while Trixie exclaimed, "Joeanne! What are you doing here?" Her blue eyes suddenly flashed and she tucked a protective arm through Jim's. "If you have anything to do with this, I'll..."
Joeanne impatiently waved the box at them. "It's nice to see you again too, Trix. Listen, we don't have a lot of time. I'm on special assignment with the FBI, and we're finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Now, do you want to waste time putting this puzzle together?" She shook her head. "Looks like Jonesy wants you guys to hang around here for a while, doesn't he?"
"FBI?" Now it was Jim's turn to pale. "This involves the FBI?" He gripped Trixie's arm harder.
Before Joeanne could answer, there was a screech of brakes as a silver sport scar slid to a stop in front of the farmhouse. The redhead who slithered out from behind the wheel was clad in black leather and obviously mad as hell. "Darnell! Don't you dare involve civilians!"
Honey's mouth dropped open. "Gwen? But I thought..."
Gwen smiled grimly at her cousin. "Yeah, a lot of people thought. When you go undercover for the CIA, they don't exactly let you send a card home to explain."
Dan covered his face with his hands. "Nightmare. I'm having a nightmare."
As one, the two agents turned toward him. "Oh, get over yourself!"
"Uh, as much as I'm sure we'd all love to catch up," Trixie said firmly, "I think we've got a situation here."
"A situation which Dumbass Darnell here shouldn't have brought you into!" Gwen exclaimed. "We've been on this trail for months. Trust the damned Feebies to stick their noses in at the last minute."
Joeanne was furious with the CIA spook and opened her mouth to fire off a withering retort when tactful Honey interjected. "Can you two please drop the interagency rivalry for a few minutes and tell us what's going on? Please?"
Joeanne and Gwen glared at each other for a few seconds but both turned to Honey and reluctantly nodded. Honey and the rest of the Bob-Whites gave a collective sigh of relief. None of them, with the possible exception of Dan, relished seeing Joeanne and Gwen engaged in a brawl.
"I can understand FBI involvement in a case involving Jonesy, but how on earth did the CIA get involved? Jonesy's too stupid to be a spy!" Trixie exclaimed.
Gwen smirked. "You're right about that. But his niece, one Bridget Jones, alias Meredith White, alias Camille Burgtorf, alias Alexa Castiglione, alias Elizabeth Jackson, has been - " but the rest of her sentence was cut off by the startled exclamations of the Bob-Whites.
"Elizabeth Jackson, as in my new business manager?" Jim asked. At Gwen's nod, he continued. "But she doesn't look anything like the phony Juliana? How is that possible?"
Joeanne spoke up, refusing to let Gwen steal the show. "Plastic surgery."
Before the Bob Whites could react to that startling bit of news, Gwen again interjected, cutting off Joeanne with a toss of her red hair. "AS I was saying, Bridget Jones has been quite the busy beaver—" and here she gave an evil smirk before continuing—"in the past couple of years. She’s been digging into information about the original Ten Acres and getting the blueprints."
Jim shook his head. "But why?"
Joeanne took up the narrative. "Jonesy. He ordered her too. The FBI has been keeping tabs on him for a long time, and we intercepted copies of the letters he’s been sending to his niece."
Jim shook his head. "But why? This doesn’t make any sense. Ten Acres burned down. Anything that may have been of value there is long gone. And he knows he can’t get his hands on the five hundred thousand that Uncle James left for me." He glanced at Brian who had suddenly let out a frustrated sound. Brian merely coughed and glanced away.
Gwen gave Brian a hard look before continuing. "What Jonesy wants wasn’t in the house. Or so it would appear." She whipped her head around and glared at Dan. "And stop looking at my ass. You had your chance." She looked at Joeanne and suddenly smiled. "You know, when all this is over, we should probably exchange war stories." Her look was quite speculative, and Joeanne blushed.
Joeanne smiled back, and Dan squirmed, suddenly hearing cheesy guitar chords in his head.
"Maybe we should go inside and sit down," Honey said.
"Oh, Honey," Trixie said, flushing guiltily, "you must be exhausted!"
"Do you need to use the breast pump again?" Diana asked.
"Maybe we should get you a bite to eat," Mart offered.
Joeanne clapped her hands for attention. "Topic, people! I think the most important thing right now is to get this puzzle together. We may not have much time."
"Honey is pregnant," Trixie retorted, "she needs to be taken care of."
"This is the crack mystery solving group?" Gwen shook her head. "Looks like you've gotten out of practice over the years. Bringing a pregnant woman into this? By all rights, Honey should be in a police safe house until this is all over."
"For once, I agree with you." Joanne took out her cell phone, letting out a hiss of annoyance when there was no signal available. "Dammit! We're without communication!"
"No communication is not a good thing," Trixie conceded, "however, Honey is fine. We've been looking out for her and we also decided that the risk to her and the baby we're greater if she stayed behind." Trixie looked fondly at her best friend and then grinned. "Honey's no sissy."
Honey returned her friend's smile and then turned to the two agents. "That's right - I'll be fine once I sit down." Once everyone was seated in the living room, Honey continued. "Now can you please continue with what you were saying about Jim's new business manager? I think that's the most important thing."
Joeanne looked reluctant, but Gwen knew her cousin well and continued. "My agency has been watching Bridget Jones' activities for come some time. We have strong evidence that she - "
Brian jumped up from his chair then, obviously, but inexplicably, irate. "Are we REALLY going to stand here and listen to this when my wife is pregnant? I don't care what she says, she is in much too delicate a condition to stand here and listen to all of this. We did what the notes said - we all came up here together. Now it is time to think about Honey and Little Gizmo's safety. I want her in that police safe house!" At that moment Brian whirled around to face Trixie, his voice spewing venom. "And you! How can you act so calm that we're without communication? Is this mystery you're so hell bent on solving REALLY worth the life of your sister-in-law and niece or nephew? You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
Trixie could only gape at her normally calm brother. A profound silence filled the room for a moment, then Jim put himself between his fiancée and his brother-in-law.
"What in the hell has gotten in to you? You've been acting like a pod person ever since this whole thing has begun!"
Diana, ever the peacemaker, held up her hands. "Guys! We have to stick together. This is no time to fall apart."
But to everyone's horror, Brian became even angrier, actually grabbing Jim around the throat, beginning to choke him. Trixie let out a choked cry and made a grab for her brother's arm while Honey grabbed the other one.
"Brian! Have you completely lost your mind?" Honey cried.
Brian merely snarled and shook them off, his hands popping free for a moment.
Gwen and Joeanne exchanged a glance and in one smooth motion, both agents wrestled Brian to the ground while Trixie and Diana led a now-weeping Honey inside one of the bedrooms.
"Well," Gwen began, examining one bright red fingernail, her boot firmly wedged into Brian's throat. "This is certainly getting interesting."
"It certainly is," Joeanne agreed. She pulled a pair of handcuffs from her pocket and turned Brian over, tethering his hands behind him with brutal efficiency. "I had my suspicions that they'd gotten to at least one of the Bob Whites, and now I guess we know."
"I owe you ten bucks," Gwen said. She used the butt of her gun to knock him unconscious with no more change of expression than if he were a fly to be swatted. "I thought for sure it would be Miss Trask. But I guess Brian was easier, given the long hours. I wonder what the trigger was?"
"Please, for heaven's sake, what are you talking about?" Jim begged. He collapsed into the nearest chair, sending a puff of dust into the air. His entire world was falling apart. Manor House was gone. Miss Trask had been poisoned. His business manager was his evil step-cousin. His best friend had apparently gone crackers, or worse, and attacked him. And now these two women were talking about it as if it were nothing. He turned to Dan, who was regarding his two former lovers with caution. "Can't you do anything? Talk to them? Make them make sense?"
Dan reached out to touch Joeanne's arm. "Joe, can't you just..."
Joeanne slapped his hand away. "Touch me again, boy, and you're gonna go down faster than a cheerleader at a drive-in movie."
Gwen looked at the dark haired woman admiringly. "Good one!"
"If you two can stop congratulating one another for a moment," Trixie said, walking back into the room, "I think we deserve an explanation. And I, for one, am not doing anything else until we get one! I want to know why my brother just went crazy! And why Jonesy is sending psycho notes to my fiancé!" She stopped beside Jim and he reached for her, clinging to her legs as she stood.
"In a nutshell? You've just stepped into the middle of intrigue that goes back to the beginning of the Cold War," Joeanne said. She sat on the edge of the tattered old couch and looked at them all gravely. "Jim, I'm sorry I have to tell you this, but, well, nobody in your past has been what you've thought they were. Your father, your mother, Jonesy, even your Great Uncle James - all operatives, albeit on different sides."
Jim looked at her in amazement. "You're telling me that..."
"It's not just that," Gwen interrupted. "We have suspicions that you may know some things, yourself. Things that you don't know you know, that were planted in your subconscious by your parents when you were small. Things that could very well be connected with some of the highest levels of the United States Government."
"Which is why Jonesy tried to kill him in the fire at Ten Acres when he was a teenager!" Mart exclaimed. "It makes so much more sense now!"
Trixie glared at her almost-twin while Jim stared into space, dumbfounded. "Of course it doesn't make sense!" Trixie sputtered, her blue eyes flashing with a cold fire. "None of this makes sense! Covert operations? Jim's whole family as spies? Subliminal messages implanted in a young mind?" The blond spitfire turned on Joeanne and Gwen. "I'm not sure what you two are smoking, but there is no way that you are going to tell me that Win and Katje Frayne - that old man Frayne - were Cold War operatives. It's ridiculous! I knew Jim's great-uncle for most of my life and he was a crazy, skinny, old recluse." Trixie could have continued on her tirade, but Jim interrupted her.
"Uhh, Trix?" Jim said in a dazed, but undeniably masculine, voice.
Trixie turned to face her fiancé. "Yes, Jim."
"Actually, things are starting to make sense to me," Jim stated, his voice clearing as he regained control of himself and his memories. Trixie just stared at the red-head, unsure of what to say next.
Honey and Diana had returned to the room at the beginning of Trixie's tirade and Diana now spoke in a soothing voice, "Go on, Jim. Tell us what you mean."
Jim was silent for a moment, his green eyes thoughtful and far away. "They used to go to these meetings all the time. Late at night, at least once a week, sometimes more. They told me it was NOFA-NY, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, but maybe…" He broke off, his face a study in misery. "This can’t be happening."
Trixie threw her arms around him, and they swayed together.
Gwen was nodding, the look of sympathy on her face in sharp contrast with her former demeanor. "Sorry, Jim, but that was no organic farming group your parents were involved in. But if it makes you feel any better, they probably thought they were doing the right thing. Because they never took a dime that we can discover."
Mart suddenly snapped his fingers. "The puzzle! If we put together the puzzle it might be what releases the information buried in Jim’s mind!"
Honey had sank down beside Brian and was gently stroking his forehead. "And what about Brian?" She choked back a sob. "Is he going to stay like this?"
Joeanne sank down next to her. "I did my undergraduate work in Psychology. And I can tell you that these kinds of triggers, once set off, run their course. Jonesy obviously wanted to be sure that you all got here. Now that Brian’s mission is accomplished, he’ll probably wake up and not even remember a thing."
Meanwhile, Trixie and Mart had opened the puzzle box, spilling the brightly colored pieces into the center of the round coffee table in front of the couch.
"Do you think we should? What if…" Diana broke off and looked at Jim apologetically before continuing, "Um, what if Jim goes, you know, crazy?"
Gwen looked grim. "We can handle it if he does. But I don’t think that will happen. I think Jim is a walking, talking, breathing map." She broke off suddenly, a look of triumph making her face blaze. "We’ve been working for this moment longer than any of you can know."
Trixie looked up from her work; she and Mart, from years of experience on the rainy Sundays of their childhood already had the puzzle half way completed. "What moment? Gwen, I don’t care if we ARE civilians; you need to tell us!"
Gwen nodded and sank down on the couch next to her. "The location. After all these years, the location of the last piece of yet another puzzle. The missing microfilm that is the key to it all. There hasn’t been an espionage breakthrough like this since the geeks at Bletchley Park broke the German’s ENIGMA Code during World War II."
"You're acting like this microfilm has the answer to who was on the grassy knoll," Dan scoffed.
Joeanne and Gwen exchanged a look.
"You're kidding!" Jim looked from one agent to the other, but neither woman flinched. His eyes widened. "You're not kidding."
"But, didn't Lee Harvey Oswald kill Kennedy?" Diana asked.
"That depends on who you listen to," Mart told her. "There's a whole school of thought that Oswald was a patsy of a government agency."
Gwen shook her head and sighed. "I wish. It would make all of this so much easier. We don't know who set Oswald up. The microfilm may provide the answers - not only to who really killed Kennedy, but to other questions. How's that puzzle coming?"
Trixie shrugged. "See for yourself." She backed away from the table. The puzzle was complete, showing a young woman with blonde, curly hair leaning back in the arms of a handsome man. The couple sat on a deserted beach, cliffs visible in the background. "Does this mean anything to you, Jim?"
Jim gazed at the picture for a long moment, then shook his head. "It makes no sense to me. I don't know those people."
"But I do!" Honey tapped the young woman. "That's Sandra Dee. I think I recognize this! It's part of a movie poster - from Summer Place!"
"The summerhouse!" Jim exclaimed. "The microfilm must be in the summerhouse back at Ten Acres!"
Gwen put her hands on her hips. "But that makes no sense - if the film is in the summerhouse, then Jonesy must already know where it is. Why would he send you a puzzle telling you the ans.."
There was a sound like a car backfiring and the red-haired agent's legs collapsed beneath her. She touched a shaking hand to the bloody wound in the center of her chest, then her eyes glazed over. The Bob Whites turned in shock to the shooter.
"Because Jonesy didn't send the puzzle." Joeanne Darnell smiled as she pointed the gun at the startled Bob Whites. "Dumbass Darnell, indeed."
Trixie was the first to recover her wits. "Joeanne! What the - ?" she let her sentence hang.
Joeanne smirked. "Well, since I'm going to kill you all anyway, I might as well tell you."
Honey and Diana visibly paled at Joeanne's words. Mart put his arm around Diana to comfort her while Dan looked at his former flame in disbelief. Jim was still reeling from the evening's revelations. Trixie strengthened her resolve and gazed unflinchingly at the woman pointing a gun at her.
"Jonesy is a first class idiot. He thinks his niece is getting revenge on his behalf but Bridget works for the highest bidder. And espionage pays more than revenge." Joeanne's black eyes glittered dangerously. "I needed a distraction to get you out of the way so that Bridget could excavate the summerhouse unnoticed. With Trixie's gift for following clues and the rest of you following her around like lemmings it was easy to get you up here. Bridget should have had enough time to recover the microfilm by now, so I am afraid your time is up." The double agent stared intently at Trixie. "I hate you the most - you took Jim away from me all those years ago and now you're going to pay. You're going to die last so that you can see the deaths of all of your friends."
With a frighteningly calm demeanor she aimed her gun at Honey. "And you, Miss Rich Girl - " but her sentence was never finished. A shot rang out and Honey blanched but then immediately realized that it was Joeanne who had been shot - not her. At that moment Honey fervently believed in guardian angels. Joeanne crumpled to the floor.
The startled Bob-Whites turned to the woman who held the gun. It was Melanie, the limousine driver. "Listen, I know you have a million questions, but trust me, we don't have time for them right now." The elegant Asian swiftly released Brian from his handcuffs and placed them on the unconscious Joeanne's wrists. Melanie immediately began to bark out orders, leaving no doubt who was in charge. "Jim check on Gwen and try to keep her alive if it isn't too late. Diana and Honey, help Brian, he seems to be coming to. Trixie, call Sleepyside PD on your cell phone and have them apprehend Miss Jones. Mart, help me carry Joeanne out to the car to be taken into custody. I didn't shoot to kill. She's worth much more to my agency alive." Melanie turned to Dan, a saucy grin on her face. "Dan, you know what to do, but that's for later."
Trixie wasn't too busy on her phone call to miss Dan's blush and secret grin. You dog!
A half hour later, Joeanne was safely in custody, Gwen was stabilized and on a Medevac flight, and the Bob-Whites were on a flight home to Sleepyside, where Bridget Jones and her uncle were still at large.
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