"Oh, Honey," Trixie moaned, running her hands through her long, but still sandy, curls. "I’ll just die if I don’t have a new lead soon."
Honey Wheeler Belden looked up from the pile of depositions she was carefully reading in the utilitarian business office. The home of the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency was down-to-earth, functional, and yet still attractive. It was a perfect melding of the women’s personalities: Trixie’s desire to keep things simple and her whirlwind approach to everything were beautifully and seemingly effortlessly counteracted by Honey’s sense of style and ability to keep anything organized—even the tornado known as Trixie Belden Frayne.
"Trixie," Honey said, trying to look stern, "if you died as many times as you thought you were going to, you’d have to be a cat with nine lives to be with us for one day."
Trixie giggled. "Where have I heard that before?"
Honey smiled. "It does sound kind of familiar, doesn’t it?"
Following the light-hearted exchange, Trixie became serious. She looked down at the pile of paperwork in front of her and frowned.
"Seriously," she said, looking up again into the hazel eyes of her best friend, double sister-in-law, and business partner. "I’ve been reading and re-reading these files for days. I’ve tailed the guy. I’ve done every background check known to man. The client swears he’s guilty. Either she’s a fantastic actress, or he’s the smartest criminal ever. He hasn’t messed up once." She gave a long sigh, swatted at the file lying on the table in front of her, and then leaned back into the comfortable upholstery on which she was sitting.
Both of the women were working on particularly vexing cases, so they had decided to abandon their private offices, order Chinese, and work together in their outer office, with its comfortable seating surrounding a low table. As a result, the table, normally filled with attractively arranged magazines for their waiting clients, was strewn with color-coded manila file folders and decimated take-out containers. The attractive silver vase that held an arrangement of daffodils had been moved unceremoniously, by Trixie natch, to the floor.
Honey looked at her friend sympathetically. "This one isn’t any better," she said, motioning to the file sitting on the table in front of her. "I’ve got an e-mail scam going. This guy has ripped off a bunch of innocent—" Honey paused and allowed herself a rueful smile at the expense of her client and the other victims that she had unearthed "—if gullible, people. I’ve tried to bait him no less than three times, but he won’t bite!" She leaned back among the cushions, her frustration mirroring Trixie’s. She reached for her nearly forgotten Coke and drank thirstily from the aluminum can.
Trixie glanced at her partner. "The Chinese and the change of scenery to the outer office didn’t help," she said with a sigh, thinking that cold chili out of a tin can would have been just as appetizing given that she hadn’t really even tasted the Chinese she’d been so engrossed in her work.
Honey shook her head. "Nope."
Trixie sat up. "Okay, let’s switch files," she ordered as she traded the manila folders in front of her for those sitting in front of Honey. "Maybe a fresh set of eyes will help." She glanced at the clock above them on the beige-painted wall. "Because I really need to get home to Jim soon, and I know my brother would probably like to see you at some point this evening."
Honey took the files Trixie had been reading and offered a weak smile. "Brian would have liked to have seen me about an hour ago."
Trixie leaned back into the soft couch cushions, fully intending to read the notes, affidavits, and other data that Honey had gathered in relation to her fraud case. But instead her thoughts led to Jim waiting for her at home and how she used to arrive home on time. It wasn’t long before her mind wandered to the beginnings of the agency…
It had started humbly enough. Trixie and Honey had both attended college following their successful "detectiving" career while at Sleepyside Junior-Senior High. They had both attended the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, Trixie majoring in criminology and minoring in computer science, and Honey majoring in forensic psychology with a minor in security management. There were so many majors and minors that they could have chosen—and indeed, had wanted to—but they had decided that these concentrations would give them the most diverse knowledge-base possible without getting fourteen separate degrees. Both of them knew that they weren’t their brothers when it came to education.
After graduation, a day that Honey in particular would never forget because that was the day that Brian had proposed with a beautiful diamond ring that still took Honey’s breath away to look at it, the girls had accepted internships with two very different PIs, again hoping to gain as much separate experience as possible in the hopes that someday their varied experiences would complement each other. For three years, the girls worked under the tutelage of excellent PIs until the time that they were eligible under New York state law to obtain their own PI licenses. Once they were both licensed, the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency was officially established, born of a dream the girls had birthed nearly half-a-lifetime before. Trixie smiled dreamily as she remembered the day she and Honey had christened the office with the name that they had dreamed up when they were thirteen years old…she and Jim had christened it later that evening, right after he had proposed.
Trixie, lost in memories, absentmindedly fingering the blue sapphire pendant that Jim had given her, didn’t realize that a happy sigh had escaped her lips. Honey looked up, knowing what the look on Trixie’s face meant. She was thinking of her brother. That is, Trixie was thinking of Honey’s brother, her husband…Trixie’s husband, not Honey’s…Honey stifled a chuckle as she realized that, as organized as she was externally, her thoughts always seemed to be muddled no matter how old she got. Honey forgot about the case in front of her as Trixie’s dreamy expression set her off on her own long road of memories.
Their agency hadn’t always been like this, Honey reflected. Many of their early cases revolved around corporate security and petty crimes at Wheeler International. Matthew Wheeler had been more than happy to send "two of his three best girls" cases to help their fledgling business, but neither girl had wanted a hand-out. They had adamantly sworn that they had never taken charity from him—and never would. After Trixie had espoused the BWG motto of every member earning his or her own dues and Honey reminding her father of the weekend that she had spent answering all of her mother’s correspondence when she was thirteen, Matt had looked at them both calmly, with a knowing smile, and reminded the two young women of the time that he had sent the Bob-Whites to Mead’s Mountain. What had seemed like a vacation and an offer of charity—the club was in desperate need of a way to pay the insurance on its station wagon and Mr. Wheeler had offered to pay the premium—had turned out to be a lot of hard work. Trixie, to this day, cringed when reminded of typing up the detailed report that Honey’s father had demanded on their return from Vermont. Not to mention all of that hard work capturing the counterfeiters who had tormented Carl Stevenson and kidnapped his daughter…
Yes, over the years, they had received some work from Honey’s father, but they had worked as hard, if not harder, on those cases as they had the ones off the street. Nowadays, the girls still took on Wheeler International cases, but more often than not, they were too busy with other cases to accept all of them blindly. Both girls knew that they could have a major operation going if they chose to hire more PIs, but neither one of them wanted that. As young, impressionable girls they had dreamed of a cozy agency that they would run, just the two of them, and as adults, that ideal still held true, right down to the name. They worked as a close-knit team, taking only the cases they wanted to take, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. Other than the college intern that they accepted each summer in an effort to "pay it forward", Trixie and Honey were the only employees of the agency.
Of course, maybe if we employed more people, we would be able make it home at a more reasonable hour, Honey thought.
It was the sigh that escaped Honey’s lips that broke Trixie from her reverie. The sandy-haired sleuth looked up at the clock again and realized that, progress or not, she would have to go home soon. She reached over and grabbed a nearly empty container of sesame chicken, intending to finish it off. It was then that she realized that in their haste to devour their take-out dinner, they had overlooked the unopened mail sitting on the table.
Trixie set the container down and reached for the assortment of ads, bills, and magazines that lay in a pile next to their half-eaten dinner. She leafed through it, sorting the various categories of mail into piles on the floor. Honey, watching her friend, tried not to wince, knowing that it would be her responsibility to gather the mail later but at the same time understanding Trixie’s logic in using the floor. The table was full, after all!
After Trixie had dispatched the various correspondence into sloppy piles, she picked up the stack that didn’t appear to be bills, credit card offers, or any other type of mundane offering. She opened the top envelope, a sleepy look in her ocean blue eyes. Honey, foraging for more crab Rangoon, did not see the sleepy look leave Trixie’s eyes, but her friend’s squeal made her look up immediately.
"Honey!" Trixie exclaimed. "I think we’re being stalked!"
Honey’s eyebrows shot up (proving that, despite the nasty gossip of one certain individual, she did not use Botox). "Stalked? Why on earth would you think we’re being stalked?" She didn’t admit to Trixie about having a feeling something bad was going to happen, just like she did so many years before when they first met Jim, not to mention his horrible step-father.
She suppressed a shudder and decided to definitely keep her feelings to herself. While she had turned out to be right in that case and something did happen, Trixie had excellent instincts, so Honey didn’t feel her special feelings were needed. Plus, Trixie still got upset at any mention of that awful man. She moved closer to Trixie and asked, "What’s in the letter?"
Trixie waved it in the air and jumped to her feet before answering her. Starting to pace, she said distractedly, "You are on watch."
Honey pushed herself up off the floor. "You are being watched? That’s all?"
Trixie nodded then moaned, "Oh, no! Fingerprints!" She dropped the letter on the table and rushed into her office to get a bag and a glove. Returning, she slipped on the glove and then slid the letter into the bag before handing it to Honey.
Honey looked at the letter carefully. The words were cut from glossy pages, so that indicated they were from a magazine rather than a newspaper. They looked to be at least similar fonts but she was so tired from looking at all the files that she couldn’t be sure; her eyes were going a little blurry.
She put the letter down and rubbed her eyes. "My eyes are protesting all this small print! And what sense does ‘You are on watch’ make?"
Trixie picked it up and looked at it again and agreed ruefully, "Yeah, mine keep going blurry." The sandy-haired blonde sighed and slumped down on the sofa. Almost instantly she sat up straight again, "Who do you think it could be?"
Honey laughed and plopped down next to her. "You know that it could be anyone. Besides it’s one letter and relatively ambiguous. What if it’s a warning from someone else and not a stalker? I admit it’s an odd way to warn someone but still . . ." She trailed off, realizing that this argument seemed silly.
Trixie quirked an eyebrow and snorted. "A warning clipped from something? Yeah, that would be very odd. At any rate, we both need to get home," she replied. "The letter and these files are going nowhere for the night. We’re both tired and our husbands are waiting." Trixie jumped up. She was still energetic and exuberant even if it didn’t last quite as long as it used to.
Honey began putting the files into neat stacks. "I’ll just sort these into the ones I’ve reviewed and the ones I want to review again."
"We’ve reviewed our respective files so many times, how do you know the difference?" Trixie laughed, but knowing Honey’s sense of order was the root of her actions and that the sorting helped her friend get things in place in her mind, she leaned down to put her own files in some semblance of order. She paused. "Do you think one of the people in these two cases is stalking us?"
Honey finished her sorting and wandered over to the window. "I don’t know. It is possible." She looked out, straining to see if someone was out there waiting, floors below. Then laughing at herself, she turned back. It’s New York City! Of course, there are people outside! she chided herself. "But you know as well as I do that stalkers, assuming that’s definitely what we have here, are not caught on one letter and need to escalate first. I feel perfectly safe in letting it wait until morning."
Trixie nodded thoughtfully. "I agree, but I’m still going to call our source on the police force about fingerprints when I get home."
Honey’s eyes sparkled as she thought of their "source." Then she giggled. "Why do you keep calling him ‘our source’ when it’s just you and me? You know that I know and I know that you know that it’s Dan and that there’s no need to anonymize him when it’s just the two of us. But it’s a good idea. He can stop by to pick it up on his way in tomorrow. We’ll have finished with our visual review then."
"That’s what I was thinking. And I still call him that because if I don’t keep myself in the habit of it I’m going to slip in front of someone else. Knowing my penchant for opening my mouth at the wrong time it will likely be in front of his superiors! You know how much Captain Stick-Up-My-Butt hates us!" Trixie responded, wrinkling her nose.
"That makes sense," Honey said, laughing at Trixie’s nickname for their nemesis. She closed the drapes and moved to check her office. "You know what? Why don’t we have a dinner get-together soon? We can get everyone together and hang out. We can even discuss case stuff like old times. At least case stuff with all the private material left out. I miss having the Bob-Whites’ points of view at times." The last part was slightly muffled as she finished closing up her office for the night.
Trixie hardly noticed, as she was busily running her mind over the possibilities that one of the people involved in her case was a stalker. "That sounds good, Honey. We can do it at our place. We haven’t had anyone over in simply ages and Jim will likely have a ton of school-related things he wants to show off, forgetting that I’m his wife, Di, Mart and Brian work for the school and that you’re his sister. Dan is really the only one not directly in the loop and thus is the only one who should have to sit through yet another demonstration."
"Oh stop!" Honey admonished with a grin. "You know you’re just as proud as he and the rest of us are of that school and the good it’s doing. Not one of us minds it, you least of all."
Trixie laughed. "Okay, okay, I admit it! But don’t tell Jim." She winked at Honey. "I like it when he tries to get around my pouts about listening to another one."
Honey rolled her eyes and picked up her purse and keys. She then looked pointedly at Trixie, who was still standing in the same place. "Are you going home to said-husband now, or am I leaving you here?"
"Oh!" Trixie scrambled to gather her things, rushing from her private office and then back. Honey patiently waited where she was, knowing Trixie knew where her things were and would not collect them in an organized way.
The women often commuted to the office together, keeping their homes in Sleepyside, although the two couples also shared the costs of an apartment in the city. Honey and Trixie had late cases at times, and their respective husbands preferred a secure place for them to stay in the city. Jim and Brian found it convenient, too, in case they needed to be in NYC for any length of time. Ultimately, though, the girls preferred to be home in Sleepyside. It meant a commute on the days they planned to be in the office, but they felt it was worth it, especially since they didn’t always have to be there. Sometimes they took the train, and other times one of them drove. Their office space came with parking for one car. Today, they had taken the train.
"Ready!" Trixie announced breathlessly, rushing back into the room. The duo left, their minds on their cases, on the potential of a new, more personal one and on their husbands waiting at home. Neither saw the figure ducking back around the corner down the hall.
After a brief sprint through the train station, Trixie and Honey found themselves sitting on the train, starting the familiar journey home. They were lost in their own private worlds while settling themselves into their seats when Trixie suddenly had a thought. "Honey, I think I know who our stalker is," she said smugly.
Honey’s eyes widened and she twisted her body so she was leaning in close to her double sister-in-law. "Who is it?" she asked, breathlessly, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear.
"Mart, of course," Trixie replied, smug in the realization.
"But why would Mart bother stalking us?" Honey asked, confused. She couldn’t imagine why Mart would be interested in stalking them. After all, he could find them easily just by picking up the phone or dropping by either of their homes.
Trixie turned to face Honey. In the process, her knees slammed into Honey’s, causing her to grunt in the process. Trixie rubbed her knee mindlessly. "He’s probably doing it to be funny," she muttered. "You know how much he loves practical jokes."
"Maybe you should talk to Jim and tell him to give Mart more work," Honey said with a smile. "Then, he’ll have less time for practical jokes." Honey straightened in her seat, her posture relaxing. "You’re probably right, though," she admitted. "It does seem like the type of thing Mart would do. He may be an adult physically, but he has the spirit of a 12-year-old in him."
Trixie laughed, relief evident as her features relaxed. "Well, remember what he always said, Honey," Trixie began. She crossed her arms in front of her and smiled smugly. "Revenge is sweet. Saccharine sweet."
The next morning was business as usual for Trixie and Jim. Trixie rushed around the house, one shoe on her foot and one in her hand as she searched first for her wallet, then her keys. Jim leaned against the counter in the kitchen sipping his coffee while reading the morning paper. The silver travel mug sat nearby, lovingly prepared and waiting for its harried owner to gather the rest of her belongings and race out the door.
Trixie rushed in, breathless. Both shoes had finally found her feet and while the keys dangled from her right hand, Jim noticed the watch was still nowhere to be found. "Lose another watch?" he asked, handing her the mug that stood nearby.
Trixie wrinkled her nose at him, but took the mug gratefully. Even knowing it was still too hot to drink, she took a tentative sip and felt her eyes water as the liquid burned a path down her throat. She sputtered slightly before answering, "No, it’s not lost," she said, looking around the countertops. "It’s just not found, either," she muttered to herself as she sifted through the mail that had accumulated over the past few days.
She picked the junk mail out of the stack and exclaimed proudly when she unearthed the silver and gold-toned wrist unit. It was not an expensive watch—her penchant for losing them made it impractical to own anything more extravagant than a department store Timex—but she was fond of it and was happy to hold on to the watch for even a little while longer.
"What’s that?" Jim asked.
Trixie looked up at her husband, not sure what he was referring to. "What do you mean?" she asked, looking from his face to her watch and back again.
There were times when Trixie’s intense focus was a source of irritation, but this morning it made him chuckle. "The mail in your hand. There’s something on top addressed to you, but there was no return address."
"Oh." Trixie shook her head, her blonde curls bouncing impatiently, as she reached for the plain white envelope on top. "That’s odd," she murmured. Memories of the prior day flooded back suddenly and Trixie put the letter back on the counter. "Don’t touch it," she said curtly, running to her room to don gloves and retrieve an evidence bag for the contents of the envelope.
When she returned, Jim was hovering over the letter, using his best school-master glare that would have the most impish child shaking in his snowboots. It was a look he’d worked hard on, and one he generally found to be extremely effective on most days.
Trixie stifled a laugh. She still believed the letters were from Mart, but she had every intention of taking all the proper precautions.
"Here, let me see it," she said, moving in front of Jim. She slid a letter opener cleanly through the envelope and quickly removed the single folded sheet from inside.
A single word on a blank sheet of paper, but it seemed to scream out at her. "HI!!" it said.
A frown creased Trixie’s forehead while she studied the letter, hoping to glean more information from the letters that made up the message.
"What’s this all about, Trixie?" Jim asked. He tried to keep the worry from coming through in his voice, but was not entirely successful.
Trixie shook her head slightly to clear it. The worry lines on her forehead were gone, and her quick, sunny smile replaced the frown completely. "It’s nothing, Jim," she replied. "Just Mart playing a practical joke."
"What makes you think Mart had anything to do with this?" Jim asked. He was not as easily swayed as Honey. And while the letter itself was not overtly intimidating, he could not help feeling threatened.
Trixie shrugged. "Well, it just seems like the kind of thing he would do," she said. "He sent one to our office that we received yesterday, so I imagine he’s just trying to make the joke last a little longer."
Jim’s face flushed and he counted to ten before responding. "What do you mean you got another letter?" he asked. He worked to relax his jaw, trying to keep the stress from damaging his teeth.
Trixie sighed. She had learned a long time ago that Jim was most likely to overreact when he felt she was hiding danger from him. He worried when she performed dangerous acts, but it was when she intentionally performed those acts behind his back that he became angry. "I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner," she started. "It was yesterday, just before Honey and I left the office that we found the first letter. It just said, ‘You are on watch’. On the way home we decided it was probably Mart. You know how he likes to tease us," she said with a smile.
She was trying to reassure him, but Jim wasn’t convinced. He looked over her shoulder again, the frown just as prominent as it had been a few moments prior. He picked up the evidence bag that held the envelope and looked at it closely. "Trixie, this is postmarked last Thursday from Queens," he said quietly. His hands shook slightly and his freckles stood out prominently against the sudden paleness of his skin.
Trixie turned around so she was facing him, the cool granite from the countertop pressing through her thin blouse. She looked at him, the confused mask slowly lifting away, being replaced with horrified understanding. "But Mart was in Chicago with you last Thursday," she whispered hoarsely.
Honey carefully set her mug of coffee down on the table before speaking. "What you’re really telling me is we need to take these notes seriously."
"Yes." Trixie bit her lip. She was embarrassed that she had even considered Mart as the perpetrator. This kind of thing was clearly was not Mart’s style. "How do you think we should start?"
"First things first," Honey insisted. "Let’s at least let Dan know what’s going on. He can decide if we should file an official report, but for now, I’d like to keep it quiet. There’s a better chance of us catching this person if we do."
"Agreed. Now, we need to be sure we’re vigilant about our surroundings."
Honey bit back a laugh as her eyes glanced toward the area of the office where the office equipment and supplies sat next to the short row of file cabinets containing their active files. A stack of papers was sitting on the printer. Trixie could remember the color of dress the bagel girl wore last Tuesday, but she couldn’t remember to pick up and file the mail, faxes, or other paperwork that came into the office, including her own reports. "Yes, of course, we will," she smirked, as she picked the mug of coffee up. "Now, has this given you one of your gut feelings yet?"
"Maybe," Trixie said slowly. "Do you remember that case from a couple of months ago, the one we did as a favor for your lawyer friend?"
"You mean David Newman?" Honey didn’t wait for an answer. "That was just a simple process service, Trix. One of our easiest cases."
"It was easy once we located the guy," Trixie reminded her. "And he was totally steamed at us. Remember how threatening he was?"
Honey nodded as she remembered how grateful she was that the two of them had been together on that particular case. The man had been livid to have been discovered and served with the papers requiring him to appear in court. "It could be him," Honey admitted. "But it could just as easily be the case for the insurance company where we obtained the pictures of the disabled claimant skiing, or that case where the woman was a scamming her own mother out of her social security checks, or—"
"Okay! Okay." Trixie held up a hand to stop her partner. "You’re right. We need a plan, one that includes reviewing all of our cases and conducting some preliminary checks for people who might hold a grudge. Do you want to divide them by years, by cases, what?"
"We still have a several active cases we can’t just forget about," Honey said. "Our clients are expecting results. We can’t spend all our time on this."
"Let’s divide the day then," Trixie suggested. "One of us will review old cases during the morning and the other in the afternoon. Maybe we should each agree to take three or four files home as well. After all, it’s been ten years. We’ve had enough cases that we have half our files in that offsite storage facility."
"See, I told you we should have gone digital." Honey gave a pretend pout. There was enough of Matthew Wheeler in his only daughter that she found herself drawn to the latest and greatest technology in office operations. The computers, phone system, copier, scanner, and fax machines were all state of the art, as were the cell phones she continued to insist they upgrade each year. Trixie had tried to talk her out of it, but Honey won out. When the technology in their phones had helped them on a couple of cases, Honey had been able to smile smugly without ever having to say, "I told you so."
"It’s not a problem to have the files sent over by messenger," Trixie said hastily. "Once we’ve completed our review of the closed files here, I’ll take care of having them brought over. Now, do you want to review this morning or work your open cases?"
By lunchtime, Trixie was more than ready to abandon her review of the closed case files. Sticking her head into Honey’s office, she asked about plans for lunch.
"Sorry, Trix. I’ve got to deliver the photographs we took over to Muriel at the Public Defender’s Office. It’ll be easier for me to grab something on the way back. I want to get there before she leaves for her lunch. I promised her I’d have them to her by today. I meant to do it yesterday, but I was so embroiled in my case, it slipped my mind. If you like, I’ll bring you something back." Honey knew Trixie wouldn’t want to wait that long for lunch even as she offered. Her partner always tried to time her own lunch so that she could call her husband and check in with him while he had a break at lunch.
"No, thanks. I’ll just run downstairs and grab a hot dog from the vendor on the corner. It’s been a few weeks since I had one." She grinned at her partner. "I’d ask you if you wanted one but I already know the answer."
Honey’s nose wrinkled in distaste. She’d never understood her friend’s weakness for the disgusting street vendor food. "Yes, you do. Those things are foul. Besides, you should eat something healthier. At least grab a salad or some carrots or something to go with it."
"Nawww," Trixie drawled. "Jim makes sure we eat healthy enough at home. A hot dog with mustard, onions, and slaw once every couple of weeks isn’t going to hurt me. I’ll be right back."
Trixie returned to her office to grab her wallet. She hurried toward the outer door and practically collided with a courier who was trying to enter the office at the same time Trixie yanked the door open.
"Oops, sorry. Do you have a delivery for us?" Trixie asked, looking over her shoulder toward Honey’s office door.
"Just this package," the messenger replied. Trixie recognized the familiar logo of Wheeler International and knew the envelope would contain the current week’s background checks. Gauging the thickness of the package, she knew they’d be able to whip through them in no time.
"Thanks," Trixie said automatically, keeping the door behind her open with her butt and motioning for the courier to come on into the office. "Do you have a pen?"
It only took a moment to sign for the package and hand the courier a tip. It didn’t take long for her to rush into Honey’s office and hand off the package before Trixie once again was hurrying out the door. She was quick enough that it surprised her that she didn’t run into the messenger at the elevator.
"Some people have all the luck," she muttered as she pushed the elevator button for the third time, wishing it would hurry up. Hearing the sound of a door shut, she took a few steps to peer around the hallway corner and wondered if the messenger had made another delivery on their floor. Remembering their stalker, Trixie shivered at the thought of someone lurking in the corridors. She made a mental note to visit her office neighbors and determine whether they had seen anyone unusual about lately. At the very least, she could warn them to be vigilant.
Trixie remembered how Dick had gloated to Jim about how careless people in office buildings could be. Women workers are especially careless. She punched the button again and sighed. Not these women, she vowed to herself. We’re not going to be careless.
Later that evening, the two girls once again found themselves in their outer office poring over old case files that a second courier had delivered earlier that evening from the storage facility that housed the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency’s boxes of paperwork documenting their prior cases. Although they had agreed earlier to divide up the work so that they could continue to concentrate on their current caseload, both of the girls had become terriers over the years. It wasn’t in their nature to work half-time on such an important case.
Trixie and Honey, although vigilant in looking for clues to their stalker, were lost in ten years of fond and not-so-fond memories as they picked up, read, and sorted each file. Every so often, one of them would chuckle aloud at a memory, and for several minutes the two would reminisce about a particularly memorable case. The files were tossed into three piles: those that the two felt held a low probability to produce a stalker, those that they easily believed could result in a stalker, and those that they were unsure about.
Trixie gurgled as she read aloud a case in which a woman had actually hired them to prove that a psychic had lied regarding the information gleaned during a past-life regression. Both private detectives had tried to refuse the case initially, but the high-strung woman would not take "no" for an answer in pursuing "justice". In the end, the psychic had decided that she had been mistaken in her first reading and had performed a second reading…this time painting Trixie and Honey’s client as European royalty that had been wronged in her past life but had ultimately received justice. Both the client and the subject of investigation had been satisfied with the outcome. Trixie and Honey chuckled at the memory as Trixie tossed the file into the "Low Probability" pile.
More files were thrown into each stack in silence until Honey let out a giggle and reminded Trixie of the case in which both girls had thought that they were living in what they considered to be a bad television and movie premise—a man had come to them because he had remarried following the death of his first wife. The problem? His first wife had not been dead after all. Trixie and Honey had delved into the woman’s "missing" years, and that case had ultimately ended happily for all parties involved.
There were fraud cases, surveillance cases, domestic dispute cases, robbery cases, cases in which the client had asked the women to prove his innocence, cases in which the client had asked them to prove someone else was guilty or innocent. The Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency did not discriminate against specific types of cases—they discriminated against boring, unwinnable cases, and so they had amassed a healthy record of successes. Still, there were a few failures.
"What about this case?" Honey asked as she studied a file. "We never did prove that Meredith White cheated on her husband."
Trixie looked up from the file that she was absorbed in and blinked. "True, but if I recall correctly, they both went to counseling once Jay confronted the demons that made him accuse Meredith in the first place. The counseling was successful, I think."
Honey sighed and tossed the file toward the appropriate pile. "So probably no desire for revenge," she said wearily.
Trixie shook her head, exhausted herself. "Nope," she said, turning back to the folder on her lap.
Honey rotated her neck, enjoying the feeling that came from moving stiff muscles. A thought came to her. "You know," she said, "some of our cases aren’t here in these files."
Trixie looked up again. "What are you talking about? They delivered all of the files from our storage unit. They’re all here." She kicked a box closer to Honey with her toe. "C’mon. We’ve been through almost all of these. Focus on this last box so we can then sort through these piles."
Honey looked at her friend, a mixture of disbelief and stubbornness on her face. "Trixie Frayne!" she exclaimed. "We’ll do no such thing. We’ve already put in a ton of hours today, and I don’t know how we’re going to get through this last box, let alone re-sift through these piles. Forget it."
"Honey," Trixie pleaded, "we can make it through this last box if we focus. I agree it’s ridiculous to sort through the piles tonight, but we’ve just got to at least get through these cases."
Honey brushed a piece of her golden locks off of her forehead. "Fine," she fairly huffed. "I’ll do that before we head to the apartment, but as I said, these aren’t all of our cases."
"How so?" Trixie demanded.
"We don’t have files about all those criminals we caught in high school. They’d all probably be ready or past due for parole by now," Honey pointed out.
Trixie exhaled. "You’re right. I didn’t even think of that."
"It’s overwhelming," Honey said, staring forlornly at the last box of files.
Trixie, seeing her friend’s flagging attention, took charge. "Okay," she said in a matter-of-fact voice, "we’ll get through this last box and then head back to the apartment. Tomorrow, we’ll sort through these piles and also make a list of the criminals from our teenage adventures that are likely suspects. Deal?"
Honey blew out a short breath. "Deal," she agreed, reaching for the box and pulling out a file. Again, there was silence as the girls continued to read and sort. It was near the end of the box that Honey made an involuntary sound, catching Trixie’s attention.
"I remember how much I hated this case!" Honey exclaimed. At Trixie’s expectant look, she elaborated. "Remember that guy who killed himself? I felt so bad for his family."
Trixie snorted. "What about our client? Wouldn’t you have felt bad about a guy going to jail for a murder he didn’t commit?"
Honey reluctantly nodded. "Well, yes, but it was still no fun proving that someone committed suicide."
Trixie, however, was no longer listening as Honey threw the file onto the "probably not" stack. "Honey! Remember that case we took at when we first opened the agency?" she exclaimed. "That guy who hired us to prove he was innocent of drug charges? He thought he could outsmart us and the cops and the DA, but in planting all of the phony evidence to ‘prove’ he was innocent, he actually helped us prove he was guilty! Remember?"
Honey smiled at her friend’s renewed energy. "I remember," she agreed. "He swore he’d get even with us some day. He was furious he paid us good money to prove his guilt."
"We didn’t want to take his money," Trixie said. "But we had to. We had just opened our doors and needed the fee."
"Which is why he chose us. He figured we were so green, we’d be pushovers," Honey said with a nod, remembering. "Too bad he didn’t know that the sleepy little village we grew up in was actually a hot bed of criminal activity."
"Or that you seemed to attract criminals," Trixie said, grinning.
"Me?" Honey asked with a surprised laugh. "What about you?"
"What about me?" Trixie asked, adopting an air of innocence. The façade soon cracked, however, and she dissolved into giggles. "Okay, I’ll accept fifty percent blame."
"Fifty percent?" Honey said with an inelegant snort. "More like ninety-nine percent."
After the girls’ laughter subsided, Trixie held up the file. "But don’t you agree this is the best lead we’ve got?"
Honey nodded. "I do. I know we’ve flagged some cases as potential threats," she said, digging her toe into that pile, "but I just didn’t feel it."
Trixie shook her head up and down so that her unruly curls bounced. "I know. I felt like I was flagging files just because we needed something, but I didn’t really feel they could be the source. I know that we can’t rule anything out, but it feels good to have something concrete to focus on."
Renewed, the women plugged away until they came to the last file in the box. That file was sorted into the "maybe" pile as both girls stretched and yawned.
"Time to call it a night?" Honey asked, her arms held high above her head.
"Yep," Trixie agreed, twisting her back to relieve some of the pressure on her spine. "We’ve got one solid case to go on, and a bunch basically eliminated. Tomorrow we can look over our high school cases and see what seems probable. I also think that I should look at the ‘probably’ cases that you sorted, and you should look at mine. Maybe something will jump out at us."
Honey nodded and stood. "Agreed. The other two piles are low priority. We’ll focus on these other ones first."
It was a tired duo that gathered their belongings, closed the office, and left for their city apartment, never realizing that they had missed a major clue in their very own office.
The next morning, Trixie stopped at the coffee shop located in their office building’s lobby, while Honey continued on to the office. The pair had come in extremely early to try to get a jump on their paid cases and spend some time on the stalking case, so the coffee shop was relatively empty at the early hour. Trixie, being Trixie, was her usual gregarious self, chatting up the new girl behind the register. It wasn’t just friendliness that made Trixie so outgoing, especially in this case. As a regular, Trixie knew every barista, so, presented with someone new, she was curious about her. And curiosity always made Trixie chatty.
"Is this your first day?" Trixie asked conversationally as the girl made the latte that Trixie had ordered for Honey.
The girl, whose dark hair was pulled back into a bun and whose name tag proclaimed her to be "Heidi", nodded and smiled shyly. "Well, my first day at this location. I had…issues…at the location I worked at before, but I loved my job. I requested a transfer, and here I am."
"Well, I hope you like it here," Trixie said, accepting the latte and watching as the girl started making the chai latte that Trixie had ordered for herself.
"Do you come in every day?" the girl asked.
Trixie nodded. "I do. My name’s Trixie, by the way."
"Heidi," the girl responded.
Trixie grinned and gestured toward the name tag, Honey’s latte in her hand as she did so. "I guessed that."
The girl looked down and then back up, a self-conscious look settling on her pretty features. "Oops. I guess you would have." The girl paused. "Do you order the same thing every day? If so, I could get your order started as soon as I see you come in."
"That’s very nice, Heidi," Trixie said appreciatively. "My partner and I do tend to order the same thing every day."
"Partner?" Heidi asked as she finished with the chai latte and handed it to Trixie. "Careful, it’s hot."
Trixie accepted the cup the brunette offered and said, "My business partner. We have an office upstairs."
"Partners in what?" the girl wondered.
"We’re private investigators," Trixie answered.
The girl’s dark eyes shone. "Really? That’s got to be so exciting! I bet you’ve had a lot of exciting cases. I read Lucy Radcliffe all the time as a kid. I know she was a spy and not a detective, but I loved all of the mysteries she solved!"
Trixie smiled. "I read Lucy as a kid, too. Good stuff!" She turned to leave. "Well, I need to get up to the office, but it was nice chatting with you!"
"You, too, Trixie," Heidi said with a smile, all traces of shyness completely gone.
What a sweet girl, Trixie thought as she sipped her chai and exited the coffee shop. When she arrived upstairs in her office, Honey was already sitting on the couch scribbling on a notepad.
"What’s that?" Trixie asked, setting the steaming latte in front of Honey and sitting down next to her.
"All of our cases from when we were kids. From Jonesy right up through Jon Burke," Honey explained.
Trixie glanced at the list as Honey absent-mindedly reached for her drink. "You wrote them in perfect chronological order!"
Honey looked at her friend, surprised. "Of course! You didn’t expect me to list them alphabetically, did you? It was easiest just to think back in order of all of our cases, starting with when Jonesy burnt down the mansion."
"You’re so much more organized than I am, Honey," Trixie marveled. "I would have tried to start that way, but once I got to Missouri and Slim, I’d have started thinking of our other case in Missouri, and then I’d be remembering Pierre Lontard. And since he kidnapped us, then I’d remember how Dick Ryks kidnapped Hallie and Dan, and then Dick’s moth-eaten rug of a wig would remind me of Roger Higgins’ mop of brown hair, and then that would remind me of…"
Honey smiled and waved a slim and elegant hand. "All right, all right, I get it. Stream of consciousness works for you, though." She tapped the notepad with her pen. "Me, I need order."
"So, any brilliant flashes of insight as you looked at the list?" Trixie asked. "I see you have some crossed off." Several of the names each had a large X through them.
"Those are the ones that we were notified passed away in prison or who we’ve been following and know they’re either dead or still incarcerated."
"But they could be controlling things from prison," Trixie interjected before taking a sip of her drink as she looked over Honey’s shoulder.
"I know," Honey conceded, "but we had to start somewhere. I figure it this way—stalking is personal. Whoever is doing this is doing it this way because they’re there to see our reactions. You know the profile as well as I do, Trix. The satisfaction stems from the personalness of the stalking, not from getting secondhand reports of our reactions while behind bars."
Trixie nodded, trying to remain matter-of-fact and trying not to think of someone lurking about, watching them. "You’re right. So who does that leave us with?"
"Dick Blank, Bull Thompson, Luke Reynolds, Al Finlay, Thea Van Loon, Margo Birch, Laura Ramsey, James Sletton, and Carl Reid," Honey answered.
Trixie sighed and looked at her watch. "I guess we’re going to have to get to work and rule out those who have alibis. A gung-ho PO might be at his desk already, but it’ll be hours before we can check the West Coast," she said glumly.
Honey smiled at her friend’s impatience. "Most parole officers on our coast probably aren’t in the office yet, so don’t count on catching very many this early."
Trixie sighed again and glanced at the stack of files they had decided to look at this morning. "Well, I guess we can look through those files until we can catch those diligent public servants at work."
Despite the fact that she hated paperwork of any kind, Trixie could be quite a terrier when the situation called for it, and she managed to become so engrossed in the files that Honey had reviewed the day before and determined to be "high probability" that she didn’t realize how much time had passed. It was Honey who reminded her that their first appointment would be arriving soon.
"Already?" Trixie’s head shot up as she looked at the wall clock. "I wanted to call some POs before he got here."
Honey shook her head ruefully and began collecting the files that littered the outer office. "Unfortunately, that’s going to have to wait until later. We need to make sure this place looks like an office and not a war zone before he gets here."
The two detectives hurriedly straightened up the waiting area, placing the discarded files in their boxes and hastily stacking the boxes in the coat closet. The high priority files were placed in Trixie’s office, as the two were planning on meeting with the potential new client in Honey’s office. They finished their straightening with five minutes to spare, and Trixie, wasting no time, took the opportunity to call the first parole officer from her office. When she emerged a few minutes later, glad to be able to tell Honey that Thea Van Loon most assuredly had not left the area of Alabama in which she had settled following her jail term, Honey was greeting their appointment, a tall man so thin that he looked emaciated, his thick, dark hair shocking against his slender frame. He turned and smiled at Trixie, and she noticed that his vivid blue eyes were as shocking as his black mane of hair.
Following the introductions, the three settled into Honey’s office, the door ajar to listen for any visitors to the outer office space. Three minutes into the meeting, Trixie realized that she would not be able to concentrate. Knowing that Honey was more than capable of handling the potential client, she excused herself from the meeting, hurrying to her office and promptly phoning all of the parole officers on her list.
By the time that Alfred Lippman had hired the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency, Trixie had cleared everyone except for Bull Thompson from their list. She reported this fact to Honey after the tall man had left.
"And that’s not all," the sandy-haired PI continued excitedly. "Our drug dealer pal, Denny Hoffman? He’s in the city. Relocated here two weeks ago, right before all of this started."
"Oh, really? Let’s bump him up on the list then." Honey said, making a notation on a list in her planner. She looked up at Trixie. "I don’t remember Dan stopping by to pick up those notes. Did he stop when I was out of the office?"
Trixie shook her head. "No, he did call and said he’d stop by on his way in today. He didn’t have time and at first it didn’t seem that urgent since we…I," she amended, "only thought it was Mart at first. So when I originally called I didn’t exactly convey urgency. He was busy tying up a case when I called back."
"Before work?" Honey asked as it was nearing three p.m. "Since when was he back to shift work? I thought that ended when he made detective?"
Trixie grinned. "It did, but he’s decided to mentor this one cop who wants to make detective and is working some shift work with him this week. He’s not liking the change much, other than getting to sleep later."
Honey laughed. "And how long will he be working the shift? Until the up-and-comer takes his exam?"
"No, he really just wanted to get more of a feel of the guy than he can from seeing him occasionally and reading his reports. Based on those reports, though, he thinks the guy has a lot of potential," Trixie replied.
"And Dan’s current partner will be retiring soon won’t he?"
"Yep, too bad Captain Stick-Up-His-Butt won’t be." Trixie grumbled.
"Now is that any way for one professional to talk about another?" a pleasant, deep voice said from the doorway.
Both women looked up to see a handsome, dark-haired man dressed all in black leaning against the doorjamb, his dark eyes clearly expressing amusement in their black onyx depths.
"Dan!" they both exclaimed happily.
"Come on in and have a seat," Honey invited. "As you can tell, we were just discussing you."
"I gathered, since I heard the illustrious nickname our curly haired sleuth has given my boss," Dan responded dryly.
Ever young-at-heart Trixie responded by stick her tongue out at him and saying, "Let me go get the notes for you." She then jumped up and dashed to her office.
Dan shook his head and turned to Honey. "How are you handling this? Have you told Brian?" He smiled. "I know Trixie told Jim; he called me, too."
Honey sighed. "I did tell Brian. I’m sure he only didn’t call you because of his crazy schedule. Between the hospital, the school and the practice, we barely have time to see each other." Her eyes clouded then cleared as she smiled at her one of her oldest friends. "At least that gave you a reprieve from one of the protectors."
Dan shook his head. "We know from past experience how quickly these things can escalate. What precautions are the two of you taking?"
Honey sighed, "I don’t know that we’re doing anything special at this time. We have the security here. We usually travel together so neither of us is alone, and we each have security in our homes. Trixie doubly so because of Jim and the school. There are students who have been taken away from their parents whose parents may want to have revenge." She shuddered slightly thinking of one such case.
Dan too recalled that case and frowned. "Do you think the stalker is one of those parents or from that case?"
Trixie returned then. "From what case?" She asked handing Dan two evidence baggies.
He looked closely at the notes and replied, "From the case involving Jim and the father who was upset his daughter had been taken from him and placed there."
Trixie paled slightly remembering just how close she had come to losing her husband. That was one instance that helped her to really understand what he went through every time she was in danger. Then, pulling herself out of the former living nightmare and back to reality, she answered him. "No. I doubt that he’d target both of us since the agency wasn’t officially involved. I think he’d target just me. If he was looking to take someone from Jim or he would target Jim. Besides, we’d be alerted if he were out. Not only because of Jim but because his daughter is still in the care of the school."
Not wanting to see the haunted look in Trixie’s eyes anymore and wanting to move on and put it out of her mind herself, Honey quickly changed the subject. "We do need you to check on one person. Do you remember the case where our client proved his own guilt, despite hiring us to prove him innocent?"
Dan grinned. "Oh yeah, that was back in my patrol days. Good old Denny." He quickly turned serious. "I take it he’s back in town?"
Trixie nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, although that’s really all the PO would tell me other than when he got back to town," she grumbled.
"So can you listen around the station and see what’s said, maybe do a little inquiry?" Honey asked sweetly.
Dan rolled his eyes. "Geez, Honey. You don’t have to go all sweet when you ask for something like that. But, yes, I will and let you know ASAP."
"Hey, when can you do dinner at my place next? We want to get the whole group together sometime soon. Jim’s going to check with Mart and Di at the school but they’re usually relatively open as long as the kids don’t have anything. Honey will get Brian there, somehow."
Dan sighed. "Well, I’m not going to be doing this shift for much longer that’s for sure. I’m not cut out to do the graveyard shift anymore. I’m so glad it was my own idea so I’m not locked into it. Actually this is my last night doing this. I’ll be switching back to my old hours next week. I’ll have the next four days off. Tomorrow is bad but other than that I’m good. Do you mean your place here in the city or in Sleepyside?"
"Sleepyside," Trixie replied. "Which reminds me—we do need to do a BWG family get-together at some point, too. Jim said that Bobby—Robert—was complaining that he hasn’t seen you in forever and that Regan had mentioned that none of us other than Jim, Mart and Di had been by to see the horses at the school in ages."
Honey laughed as Dan smiled and said, "Which is Uncle Bill’s way of saying he misses us."
Honey giggled again as she asked, "Do you remember how he used to get on us about not exercising the horses? I’m surprised we don’t get that same lecture now!"
Trixie winked. "Why do you think Jim employs him at the school too? Not only he is kept super busy but he can lecture the students on care, grooming and exercising and let us off the hook!"
The three friends laughed at their reminiscing, but not one of them would have traded Regan for anything. They all loved him dearly and trusted him implicitly. He’d been a part of getting Dan out of the city and into their circle and had saved Trixie and Honey quite a few times.
Hating to get serious again but knowing it was a must, Honey sighed. "I hadn’t had a chance to tell you Trix and now that you’re here Dan you can give your opinion too. I thought of another case that I think is worth a second look."
Trixie’s blue eyes were puzzled as she looked at her best friend, sister-in-law and partner. "Did we miss a case last night? Or was one of them more likely than we originally thought?"
Honey shook her head. "No, I’m not referring to a long-past case. We’ve been so focused on old cases and making sure that our current clients aren’t pushed aside we missed the ones that were most recent. It occurred to me that perhaps the stalker didn’t wait. If they didn’t then it had to be a recent case. Only one came to mind."
"The Saffert case," Trixie breathed.
"Exactly." Honey nodded.
"Which case is this?" Dan asked with a glance at the clock. He didn’t need to be at work until six that evening to start his twelve-hour shift, but it was best to get there an hour ahead to prepare for the shift. He relaxed a bit. He’d only been there half-an-hour so he still had some time.
"Well," Trixie began hesitantly. She knew how Dan felt about the limitations of the law, and she didn’t want to upset him. He’d been on a short vacation when the case had happened.
"It was one of those unfortunate order of protection cases," Honey answered instead. She knew that Dan would immediately get it once the phrase "order of protection" was uttered. It could be difficult to obtain the proof needed to get one.
"I see," Dan said quietly. "You were hired to get enough information to obtain one?"
Trixie nodded. "This was one case where the woman wasn’t going to take it. She sent her child to live with the paternal family out of state. She was a widow and had recently entered the dating field again. Anyway, this guy started coming off as creepy and she tried to end it but he continued to come around. It could have been passed off as coincidence but she didn’t get that feeling. So she sent the child to safety and came to us."
"The guy’s name was Philip Burges. Anyway, one thing she needed to file was his SSN, and we were able to obtain that. She also didn’t know his birth date. We were able to get enough to show that his showing up everywhere was more than coincidence but couldn’t get any proof of anything else." Honey added.
"Exactly, but the guy was seriously angry and threatened us." Trixie shook her head. "I can’t believe we didn’t think of this case before. It’s recent and the guy’s already shown he likes to stalk."
"Did he leave notes for Mrs. Saffert?" Dan asked.
Trixie shook her head. "None that she told us about, and I think she would have said something. She was strong and not willing to take any of it."
"How long ago was this case?"
Honey clicked some keys on her keyboard. "It was exactly 3 weeks ago that we closed it." She looked at Dan. "It was one of our shortest cases."
Dan looked at both of them. "I know you’re professionals, but you’ve got a lot of people who would have reason to want revenge. You may not even be aware of them. It goes without saying but be careful."
The two women both nodded. "The same goes," Trixie said softly. "You aren’t exactly in the safest profession either."
Dan nodded. "I know, and I will." His tone changed. "Okay," he said briskly to cover his emotion. "I do think that case is worth putting on your possible pile. I’ll also see what I can find. You do the same. Right now I have to get to work." Honey and Trixie stood with him, each giving him a hug good bye. He held up the two evidence bags. "I’ll let you know as soon as I know."
Trixie looked at Honey as the door closed behind him. Honey looked back at her. The same emotions were reflected in both the hazel and blue eyes.
It was Honey who finally broke the silence that hung in the air after Dan’s departure. "Well, should we finish looking at these files?" she asked.
Trixie trudged across the room after her, the heightened sense of anxiety associated with constantly looking over her shoulder making her suddenly exhausted. She ran her hand through her already-tousled curls and sighed. "How many more cases do we need to look at?" she asked as she dropped into her seat at the tidy meeting table.
Honey carried the small stack of high priority cases back to the table and set the files in the center. "Not many more, Trix," she replied soothingly, before taking her own seat.
Trixie took the first file on the stack and opened it to the first page. She pursed her lips as she read through the case history, the detailed notes and the contact information. She jotted down some quick questions along with names and phone numbers before taking the next file and starting the process all over again.
Across from her, Honey was following a similar pattern. Before long, they each had a list of people to talk to and questions to ask on their remaining high priority files. Trixie retreated to her office first to start working on her list.
About thirty minutes later, Honey peeked into Trixie’s office. She waited patiently as Trixie finished up her call and hung up the phone. "Did you pick up the stuff off the fax machine?" she asked once she had her friend’s attention.
Trixie blushed slightly. "No, was I supposed to?" she asked guiltily. She knew her organization skills were lacking compared to Honey’s and she promised herself once again that she would try harder with the administrative duties of the business.
"No," Honey answered, her brow furrowed. "I had requested some information from the bank on that e-mail scam case yesterday. They were supposed to fax it this morning, but it’s not here yet."
"Maybe the fax machine is out of paper," Trixie replied, her relief at not being delinquent evident in her voice.
"Maybe," Honey murmured before walking away to check.
Trixie scrambled up from her desk to follow Honey, but turned back quickly and leaned clumsily across her desk to pull a sheet of paper off the notepad she’d been writing on. "Honey, wait up," she called as she rushed out of her office.
Walking quickly to the fax machine she had to swallow a chuckle when she saw Honey randomly pushing buttons and tapping the machine on the side. She grabbed some paper from the basket they kept on the small shelf that held their office supplies and opened the drawer on the machine so she could shove the paper inside. When she saw the drawer was full, she closed it and put the paper back in the waiting basket.
"Are you sure they already sent it?" Trixie asked.
"The bank rep said they had already faxed it. I’ll give her a call and ask her to fax it again. Maybe there was an error," Honey replied. "So, what did you find out? I know you didn’t chase me across the office out of concern for my missing fax," she teased.
Trixie rolled her eyes, but smiled in return. "No, but I may have done it out of concern for our poor fax machine. Were you trying to torture information out of it?" she asked in mock horror.
Honey started back to her office, but flashed a smile over her shoulder to Trixie. "I plead the fifth about the torture. Are you ever going to tell me what you found out?" she asked.
Trixie followed her more slowly, glancing at the notes she had in her hand to refresh her memory. "I managed to get in touch with everyone on my list and they’re all clear," she said. She walked to Honey’s office, stopping in the doorway. "How did you do?" she asked, leaning against the door jam and crossing her arms casually.
"Same here," Honey replied, sitting behind her desk, jotting down some notes to herself. "I called everyone and they’re all accounted for."
Trixie uncrossed her arms and walked into Honey’s office. She always felt awed when she entered Honey’s personal areas. The mix of elegance and sophistication never failed to make Trixie feel slightly frumpy in comparison— even as an adult.
She sat in the chair across from Honey and crossed her legs casually. "So we’ve narrowed it down to three, right?" The question was purely rhetorical, evidenced by the way Trixie continued without waiting for a reply. "Bull Thompson, Denny Hoffman and Phillip Burges." Trixie counted them each off on her fingers and she named them.
"Those are the people we haven’t been able to locate," Honey agreed. "And I really want to work on this more right now, but we’ve exhausted all our phone contacts already this afternoon. I’m not sure what else we can do right now. Other than work on the cases that pay the bills," Honey said with a smile. She knew how much Trixie loved a good mystery. It was difficult for her to bypass an honest-to-goodness mystery in favor of the more mundane work they had to do, but these cases couldn’t be dropped simply because someone was trying to scare them.
With a sigh, Trixie uncrossed her legs and rose from her seat. "You’re absolutely right, Honey," she said, the smile on her face not quite reaching her eyes. "I’ll start working on those background checks from Wheeler right now." She turned to walk out the room, but thought of something and turned back quickly. "I think I’m going to walk down and get a paper," she said. "Can I bring anything back for you?"
Honey stopped in mid-dial to smile again at Trixie. "No, I’m fine. Thank you, though," she said, smiling.
After retrieving her wallet, Trixie made her way outside. She walked briskly, happy to stretch her legs and work the kinks out of her back. She breathed in deeply, as if she were trying to pull all the energy and excitement of the city into her body. Her initial reaction to being stalked was panic. Panic at the idea of leaving, of staying, of doing anything at all. But the panic had subsided and once she was able to think rationally, she realized it was better to continue her normal routine as if nothing was bothering her. That was the behavior that would give them the best opportunity to find the person who was doing this to them.
The following morning Trixie and Honey rode to work together in silence. Their efforts the previous afternoon had produced results for their current caseload, but they had been unable to make any progress toward the three cases they both considered as the top contenders for their stalker. It didn’t help that the afternoon mail delivery, which arrived late, included another ominous note.
You were wrong
Three words, but they still felt threatening. Trixie had tossed and turned most of the night. When she arrived at the train station to meet Honey the next morning, it only took one look at her friend’s face to realize that her partner had a similar experience during the night.
There was another note and very few clues. They had used latex gloves and packaged the note in an evidence bag for processing the next day before placing it in their small evidence safe. Afterwards, they had agreed they both needed a break at home with their husbands. Honey had to take advantage of time with Brian when she could get it, and his schedule for the evening was such he wouldn’t be on call for emergencies. As a result, neither of them was anxious to spend the night in the city.
Arriving at their office building, the two of them split up in the lobby. Honey went to the coffee shop to order beverages, and Trixie towards the bagel stand for more substantive nourishment. They met up again at the elevator and exchanged purchases.
"There’s a new barista working at the coffee shop," Honey remarked as she handed Trixie her latte.
"Heidi," Trixie replied. "I met her yesterday."
"I guess that explains why she asked me if Trixie was my partner. I take it you told her about us."
Trixie flushed slightly. "Yeah, I did."
Honey sighed. The innocent-looking young woman had startled her with her question. "Maybe," she began tentatively, "you should consider being a little more restrained with our information. At least until this mystery is over. I have to tell you, she gave me a bit of a scare. She thinks I’m nuts, I know she does, because all I could do was stare at her and wonder if she was our stalker."
"She must have remembered the order," Trixie explained. "I did tell her we always order the same thing." She rubbed her nose with the back of the hand holding the latte. "Honey, I’m sorry. You’re right. I wasn’t thinking. Now is not the time to be quite so, um, what’s a good Mart word—gregarious?"
Honey laughed despite her fatigue. "Your brother would be so proud." She turned as the elevator behind them dinged its arrival. "I’m just tired this morning. Unfortunately, I’m starting to look at everyone in our building and on the street as a suspect."
By tacit consent, they stopped talking on the short elevator ride to their offices. The two of them juggled the beverages and bagels between them as Honey unlocked the door, pushed it open and immediately turned to enter the appropriate code in the security system. The two of them were still operating of the same mind when they settled with their breakfasts in the outer office area.
After a few bites, Trixie asked the question they had both been avoiding. "Did you tell Brian about the latest note?"
Honey nodded. "He’s not thrilled about how things are going to say the least. What about Jim?"
"Same thing. He’d like us to seriously consider personal protection. He even called Dan and got several recommendations."
Honey sighed. She knew the two husbands would confer on this, and she’d be getting the same pressures from Brian soon. "Let’s discuss it later. Right now, I’d like a plan for the day. We made a serious dent in those background checks yesterday afternoon. I’m sure we can get that wrapped up this morning and get them couriered back to Wheeler before lunch. Then I’ve got to make some progress on that bank email scam."
"You work the email scam, and I’ll focus on the background checks. When we’re finished we can devote the rest of the day to follow-up on our mystery du jour." Trixie stood as she finished her suggestion and began to gather up the remains of their morning snack. "Unless you have a better idea?" she cut her eyes over at Honey’s perplexed face.
"No," she shook her head, her honey-colored hair waving in a smooth waterfall as she agreed with Trixie’s suggestion. "That’s as good of an approach as any. Let’s get going."
It took well over two hours for them to deal with the most demanding parts of their current caseload, but they both finished around the same time. Honey stood at the fax machine and sent her results back to the bank while Trixie packaged up the background investigations for pick up later that morning.
"It’s a natural stopping point for some lunch," Trixie pointed out. "Do you want me to grab us some sandwiches or do you want to dig right in to the case and work it for a while?"
Honey looked up from the fax machine. "I promised Brian we wouldn’t split up during the day," she said apologetically. "At first I was going to make us a lunch for the day and bring it in, but let’s just call in an order and have something delivered, okay? I don’t want to lose any of the headway we’ve made this morning. We’re on a roll."
"Agreed. I’ll call the courier and then we can decide how to divide and conquer this annoying matter of our stalker."
Inside of half-an-hour, they had a plan for the three cases. Trixie would spend her time trying to track down anything she could on Bull Thompson while Honey focused on Denny Hoffman. They both retreated to their offices with the doors ajar, and the phone calls began.
Trixie was on hold for Bull Thompson’s parole officer when she heard the outer office door signal it had been opened. She cocked her head to one side and listened to see if her partner was going to get it. It took a few seconds for her to realize Honey was in the middle of a conversation. Placing the phone receiver down on her desk and hoping for the best, she made her way to the outer office.
"Oh! You must be here to pick up the package for Wheeler." Trixie recognized the messenger from the courier service. "You’re the same one who dropped these off the other day, aren’t you?"
The woman looked surprised. "Oh, yes. Yes, I am. This is my route now, and I’m just loving it. The last guy was moved to the financial district route."
"Great. Here’s the package." Trixie picked up the package for Wheeler and handed it to the woman. In turn, she was provided a receipt with an illegible scrawl and a smilie face after it. She tossed the receipt into the basket Honey had provided for such things and returned to her office, after making sure the door had shut behind the courier. She groaned at the sound of the dial tone from the handset and realized she had missed the PO. It was frustrating at times, being the only two in the office, and Trixie wondered if they shouldn’t reconsider hiring at least a part-time receptionist. Someone who could take messages and handle the filing. Trixie hated filing.
In took another fifteen minutes, but she finally connected with Thompson’s PO. The call was frustrating, and in the middle of it, she heard the door alarm ding yet again. Fortunately, this time she heard Honey moving to greet the latest visitor. Finishing up her call, she checked to see who had arrived, hoping for lunch.
"Dan!" Hurrying toward the outer office where their friend stood with Honey, she gave him a friendly hug. "It certainly didn’t take you long to get here this morning."
"Two phone calls from worried husbands were enough motivation for me," he admitted. "Not only am I suppose to pick up the latest evidence, apparently I’m to give you both a lecture on safety and encourage you to hire personal protection."
"Right," Honey acknowledged. "I’ll get the evidence out of the safe. You can give Trixie the lecture while I’m gone."
"Chicken," Trixie muttered. "Don’t waste your breath, Danno. We’ll both be sure and tell Jim and Brian that you talked to us about it extensively. Besides, the notes aren’t direct threats."
"But they’re escalating," he protested. "You’re making me worry that you aren’t taking them seriously."
"We are taking them seriously," she explained, pushing a frustrated hand through her hair. "I promise, we are. We’ve already agreed not to leave the office unless we’re together. Do you know what a pain that is? No more running downstairs to get a coffee, the paper, or just a breath of fresh air, unless we’re together. We’re not taking anything for granted."
Honey returned and silently handed him the evidence bag. He nodded, and this time scribbled his initials, date and time on the outside, noting the change of custody of evidence.
"Well you shouldn’t," he said as he finished his scribble. "You’re both professionals, and I’m not going to give you the lecture since you don’t need it. But I’m opening an official police case on this." He held up a hand as both women started to protest. "It’s the reasonable thing to do. An open case on a stalker will put any patrol cop in this area on alert for suspicious activity. Not to mention, should we find the person and go for a conviction, we’ll have a case file for the DA."
Both women knew from the look on his face there was no point in arguing. "How long before you’ll have anything back on the letters?" Honey pointed at the evidence bag in Dan’s hand.
"Since the department is going to open a case on this, I’ll be able to put some pressure on the forensics department. Hopefully, they’ll be able to expedite all three letters. You’ll be sure and let me know if any more letters arrive?"
Trixie and Honey both nodded. Before Dan could say his goodbyes and depart, the door alarm sounded for the third time that morning. This time it was lunch. Instead of leaving, Dan retreated to the entrance of Trixie’s office and watched the exchange of food for money. Honey automatically offered to share lunch with Dan as the delivery boy left the office.
"Thanks, Honey, I’m going to follow that guy down in the elevator."
She looked surprise. "You suspect him?"
"No, I don’t. I just want to try and get a view of your workplace and the surrounding offices from a service person’s point of view." He shrugged. "It’s hard to explain, but just keep an eye out, okay? There’s no way of knowing how close this stalker could be." He hurried out of the office, presumably in an attempt to catch the same elevator down as Genotto’s sub delivery boy.
Over lunch, Trixie and Honey discussed the morning’s progress. Honey had much better luck tracking down leads on Hoffman.
"His parole office swears to me it can’t be Hoffman. Promises the guy has turned his life around, works hard—blah, blah, blah—you know the drill. But the gist of it all, he’s working at La Guardia Airport in Queens six days a week. The PO gave me his manager’s name and phone number at work. When I spoke with him, he said Denny is never late, works all the overtime he can get, and is on a special twelve-hour shift of three days on and three days off. He gave me his work schedule. It would be difficult for him to have posted the letter we received yesterday, since it had a Manhattan postmark. Not impossible, mind you, but difficult." Honey sighed. "To be honest, I agree with them. I don’t like Denny Hoffman, but I’m just not getting the feeling he’s our guy. We could follow him on his off day if you like. That would probably be enough to rule him out once and for all."
"Is he at work today?" Trixie asked.
"Yes, today is the third day of this three day shift. He’ll be off the next three days."
Trixie chewed her bottom lip as she pondered the information Honey had imparted. "I guess we should make a note of his home address. It wouldn’t hurt to stake it out tomorrow and watch where he goes."
"True and if he’s stalking us, we’ll just be following him right to the office. We could go out there this afternoon and talk to his neighbors, see if they’ll tell us anything."
Trixie checked her watch. "Okay, let me keep digging on Thompson. His parole officer couldn’t tell me much. I got the feeling he’s written our old friend Bull off as a lost cause. You could either take a look at Burges or …." She paused for a moment.
"Or what?" Honey asked.
"What Dan said to us, it was similar to what you said this morning. Maybe we should make a list of everyone new in our daily routine. You know, like the coffee barista downstairs. Do you think it’d be worthwhile?"
Honey shrugged as she began to pick up and tidy the remains of lunch. "It could pan into something. I’ll think about it while you make your calls and see what I can come up with on a list. You never know."
Trixie finally talked to someone whose opinion she trusted about Bull Thompson. Wendell Molinson was direct and forthcoming. "Listen, Trixie, I have little doubt that our old friend Bull has no plans to turn over a new leaf and become one of Sleepyside’s finest citizens. But I have a real hard time imagining him stalking you. He’ll be fencing and dealing stolen goods like always within three months, but he’ll be a little more careful about it. He knows we’ll keep an eye out for him to make one misstep, and when he does, he’ll be right back in the slammer. If it helps, I’ll make sure a patrol car goes by his place at least twice a day, but I feel pretty confident telling you, the man doesn’t get far from Hawthorne Street."
When Trixie relayed Molinson’s report to Honey, she tended to agree with him. "Look how many times that crook’s been given jail time that we had absolutely nothing to do with," Honey remarked. "As much as I hate to say it, I’m not getting the vibe from Bull Thompson either."
Trixie threw her pen down on her desk in disgust. "Arrggh," she growled, slapping both hands on the desktop. "We’re just not making progress fast enough. Come on, Honey let’s head out to Hoffman’s place and see what his neighbors tell us. If we can rule him out like you think, they both of us can focus on the Saffert case in the morning."
"Okay, it works for me," Honey said. "I’ve got a list we can talk about tonight if you want. The people I’ve come up with that we know, but we don’t know, I mean we know their names and stuff, but we really don’t know anything about them." She sighed. "You do know what I’m trying to say?"
"Yeah, I know," Trixie said with a laugh. "Come on partner, you’ve got the address and if I know you, you’ve looked up at least three ways to get there. So lead on."
Honey smiled, and the two of them grabbed jackets and handbags before resetting the security system and locking the door. Trixie set the alarm, while Honey waited to confirm it was set. Once had had locked the door and both deadbolts, Trixie tried the handle to confirm. Some things in their partnership hadn’t changed at all. By the time the two of them reached the lobby, the fax machine in their office whirred on leaving an unexpected message.
I’m making it right
"I’m making it right?" Trixie repeated the next day as she snatched the fax out of Honey’s hands. The girls had returned to the office the following morning, after a fun-filled evening that had included dinner at Crabapple Farm with every Belden child and their significant other and their offspring, to find this fax waiting for them.
"Making what right?" Trixie wondered aloud, frustrated. Even her bristling curls seemed to broadcast her agititation.
Honey absentmindedly tucked a strand of golden hair behind her ear as she answered, "I don’t know, but it sounds more and more like revenge to me."
"So, for example, maybe Hoffman thought he was wronged by us because we failed to clear him, and now he’s trying to make it right?" Trixie asked.
"Maybe," Honey said doubtfully. "But what we found out—or didn’t find out—last night…"
Trixie sighed impatiently. "Last night," she began. "Last night after all of our dead ends on Hoffman, I wanted to come back here and work some more. If we had, we would have found this and…"
"And what?" Honey interrupted. It was obvious that the stalker had them both frazzled, or they wouldn’t be sniping at each other.
Honey was the one who had cajoled Trixie into heading to Crabapple Farm the night before, instead of returning to the office, after Mrs. Belden had called inviting them to the farm for dinner. Which, of course, Trixie was regretting now that they had found this fax. Meanwhile, Honey was feeling guilty that she had insisted that the two head straight to Sleepyside without coming back to the office, which made her feel defensive. Under normal circumstances, she probably would not have reacted to Trixie’s goading or her own guilt, but between the unusually long hours the girls were keeping, Brian’s admonitions that she had to deal with after she got home from yet another long day, and the suspicion that she felt as she stared at everyone around her, even kind-hearted Honey, known for her tact, had reached a breaking point.
"Because we’ve been able to solve the case so well the second we’ve received the other notes?" she continued. "So the twelve-hour delay really meant that much? What?"
Trixie, startled, looked at her normally docile friend. Her first instinct was to argue, and she opened her mouth to do so, but then she realized that her impatience was getting the best of her. Instead, she said contritely, "You’re right. I’m sorry, Honey."
Honey let out a short breath, the argument expelled from her as well. "I’m sorry, too, Trix. I shouldn’t have snapped."
Trixie smiled slyly at her partner. "Let’s focus our anger where it needs to go. At this son-of-a—" Her thought was cut short by the phone ringing. She grinned mischievously at Honey and answered it.
"Hey, beautiful," Jim greeted her.
"Hey, sexy," she responded coyly while Honey rolled her eyes and checked the answering machine for messages. They had forgotten to call in the previous night and check for any messages as they usually did.
We’ve got to hire an answering service if we’re going to be so careless, Honey admonished herself as she half-listened to Trixie’s conversation and noted that there were no new phone calls. That’s odd, she thought. We normally have at least a few phone calls.
"Tonight?" Trixie’s voice had jumped an octave, and Honey’s attention was diverted from the answering machine to Trixie’s conversation. Honey listened as Trixie gave Jim a few more short, resigned responses and then hung up the receiver.
"Let me guess," Honey said. "My brother has decided that tonight is the night that there will be a an all-out BWG get-together at your house, complete with your parents, your younger brother, his girlfriend, who also happens to be Di’s sister, Regan, and anyone else he thought might like to join in the festivities." She ticked off her fingers as she made the list.
"Very good, Ms. Wheeler Belden. You should be a detective," Trixie, groaning as she realized that this would be another night that she wouldn’t be able to work on the stalker or any other case.
"But, wait, I’m not done," Honey said, a gleam in her hazel eyes and a smile playing on her lips. "He is requesting—no, demanding—that we wrap it up here early, cases or no cases, stalker or no stalker, and get back to Sleepyside at a reasonable hour to partake in said festivities with our family and loved ones."
Trixie sighed. "Yep. Any other night I’d be looking forward to this," she said wistfully. "I was the one who said that we needed to do this, and we do. But right now?"
Honey looked at her sympathetically. "I know. We’ll just really have to focus today and get as much done as we possibly can before we leave," she stated. "I can probably devote a good two hours on following up on our stalker leads, unless something unexpected comes up in one of our regular cases."
"I can devote about the same amount," Trixie said, starting to respond to Honey’s upbeat manner. "We do have the field narrowed, so maybe a combined four hours of phone calls chasing up leads will be enough to narrow the field further."
The two girls headed to their respective offices to work, and Honey forgot to mention the lack of messages on the answering machine or to push for hiring an answering service, a subject that she had broached with Trixie in the past to no avail. Both girls spent a good deal of the day poring over background checks from Wheeler International, contacting various witnesses and clients, fielding the regular flow of phone calls, reviewing the monthly bookkeeper’s statements, and being thankful that neither of them needed to leave the office to follow any leads. With their promises to Jim and Brian that they wouldn’t go anywhere alone, one girl would have had to sacrifice her caseload to follow the other on any footwork. Before either of them knew it, it was four-thirty, and Jim was calling them to remind them that they needed to leave to make it to Ten Acres on time for dinner.
Trixie finished up what she was working on, shut her computer and desk lamp off, and stood and stretched. "That was Jim, Hon. Are you almost ready?" she called to Honey as she finished stretching, gathered her jacket and messenger bag—a leather model so stylish it clearly had been a gift from her partner—and exited her office, shutting off the lights as she went.
"Almost!" Honey called. "Gimme a second."
While she waited for Honey, Trixie set the answering machine and checked the fax machine one last time. She wasn’t sure whether she was disappointed or not at the lack of any new missives from their stalker. It had been a quiet day, but Trixie felt misgiving deep within her bones. She took a deep breath, trying to dispel the feeling of fey that suddenly overwhelmed her, and forced herself to concentrate on the fun evening that she knew lay ahead.
As Honey entered the outer office, Trixie smiled much more brightly than she felt. "Ready?" she asked.
Honey smiled back at her partner, but Trixie noted that her smile didn’t look any more real than her own felt. "As I’ll ever be," Honey responded.
The two left the office together, setting the alarm and hurrying down the hall to the elevator, never hearing the phone in their office ring with a crucial call.
They spent an enjoyable evening with their friends and family laughing, talking and sipping the wine Dan brought. Tense at first, Trixie and Honey were able to relax once Di and Mart started teasing Dan about the bevy of females that constantly surrounded him. It seemed he was never lacking in female companionship. Dan accepted the teasing with grace, happily suffering a little embarrassment to help ease the tension in the room.
"Dan, earth to Dan!"
Dan looked up from his glass, smiling as Honey waved a hand in front of his face. "Hello, earth. What’s up?" he asked.
She wrapped her hand around his bicep and tugged him towards a quiet corner of the room. "I was asking about your schedule tomorrow," she answered with a smile. "Do you think you’ll have any more information about the letters?" she asked, anxiously.
Dan sighed. It had been stupid of him to believe that the anxiety had been lessened. After years of practice, everyone had just become more adept at hiding it. "I’m not sure, Honey." He rubbed his hand up and down her arm, not sure if he was reassuring her or himself. "I’ve left instructions to notify me of any new information, even if I’m not on duty." He removed his hand from her arm and ran it through his hair. It was a typical Dan gesture—he was nervous, but trying not to show it.
Honey nodded. "Thanks, Dan. We know you’re doing everything you can. Be sure to let us know as soon as you hear anything, okay?" she asked earnestly. Pushing the anxiety to the back of her mind, Honey smiled slowly at Dan before changing the subject. "So, how many girls are you dating right now," she asked slyly.
Dan threw his arm around her shoulder and steered her back towards the kitchen, laughing. He was going to need another glass of wine if he was going to discuss girls with Honey. "Never enough, Honey. Never enough," he answered smugly.
Trixie closed the door to the study behind her quietly. She had been discussing plans for the upcoming garden party Madeline Wheeler was hosting. There would be a silent auction during the party with the proceeds being used to fund scholarships at Jim’s school. The philanthropic, pillar of the community side of being Jim’s wife was one that Trixie was still not entirely comfortable with. She was always grateful for any help her mother-in-law was willing provide. But for now, she wanted to take a quick moment to check in at the office. It always made her nervous to leave early.
Pushing the garden party to the back of her mind, Trixie walked to the phone and quickly dialed the agency’s office. Though she knew it was ridiculous, she always felt as if she was shirking her responsibility to her clients if she was not in the office when they needed her. When the voicemail system picked up, she entered a series of codes to retrieve their messages. Sitting in the desk chair, she picked up a pen and started lightly tapping it on the desk as the machine started running through the messages one by one.
She made some notes as the messages played—two potential clients who had left their numbers, an advertising firm that had been trying to woo their business for the last three weeks, and an automated message that they had won an all-expense-paid cruise were either deleted or saved before the last message started playing.
"Uh, yeah. It’s me again. I hate to keep bothering you this way. You’re obviously busy, but I really need you to return my call as soon as you can. It’s about those faxes I sent."
Trixie listened to the rest of the rambling message, her brow creased in concentration. Obviously, the person on the phone was upset— in fact, he sounded frantic. But she had no memory of a fax or any idea what he could possibly be talking about. She was deep in thought, trying to figure out what she was missing when the door to the study opened and closed quickly. She looked up as Honey walked across the room and stood next to her.
"Everything okay?" Honey asked, turning the notepad towards her to look at the names and numbers listed in Trixie’s messy scrawl.
"I’m not sure," Trixie answered. She replayed the message for Honey, hoping her friend would be able to fill in some of the blanks.
Once the message had finished playing, Honey looked back at Trixie, bewildered. "I have no idea what he’s talking about. And he didn’t leave his full name—just said we needed to call ‘Bruce’."
Trixie picked up the phone again and dialed the number she’d been given. She waited impatiently while the phone rang, watching Honey pace in front of her. Her friend was deep in thought, mumbling the name "Bruce" to herself over and over while rubbing her temples, as if she were trying to rub the memory back to the forefront of her mind.
When an answering machine picked up, Trixie straightened in the chair. "You’ve reached the voicemail of Bruce Patterson. Please leave a message after the tone." Trixie scribbled the name "Patterson" on her notepad and left a brief message with her name, number and request for Bruce to return her call before hanging up the phone triumphantly.
"Bruce Patterson!" she exclaimed to Honey. At Honey’s blank stare, she continued. "Remember? We helped him a few years ago. He was accused of murdering his business partner," Trixie reminded Honey. "Everyone thought he did it, because he was going to inherit the rest of the business and his alibi was so horrible," she continued.
Honey’s eyes brightened with memory. "That’s right!" she exclaimed. "But he didn’t do it. The partner—oh, what was his name? Jolson? Zachary Jolson, I think? Anyway, he actually committed suicide. That was such a sad case," she murmured to herself, remembering the heartbreak of Zachary Jolson’s family. To tragically lose a loved one, regardless of how, was unbearable in Honey’s mind. She could not stop herself from sympathizing.
Trixie spoke up quickly, trying to distract Honey from the sadness she saw overshadowing her friend’s face. "Well, he sounded frantic. Do you know what he was talking about? What faxes he was referring to?" she asked.
"No," Honey replied. "I haven’t heard from him since we closed his case."
Trixie stood up, pulling the top sheet off the notepad and folding it before slipping it into her pocket. "Well, we need to go to the office and try to figure out what this is about," she said firmly. Honey had gotten her way last night, deciding to wait until the morning to return to the office, but Trixie was not going to compromise this time.
Hone started to argue, but stopped herself. She saw the look on Trixie’s face and knew she was not going to win an argument tonight. "Let me get my purse," she said with a sigh, dreams of a warm bed next to a warm husband pushed to the side.
It felt like only minutes had passed before Trixie and Honey were back in their office. The searched the floor around the fax machine, behind the filing cabinets and under book shelves with no success.
Trixie ran her hands through her sandy curls, trying not to let the frustration of the evening get the better of her. She scanned the room, searching for answers. If only I knew what the question was, she thought to herself.
Honey stood across the room, hands on hips, scowling. "It’s not here, Trixie," she said harshly. Not that she was angry with Trixie. She was frustrated like her friend. They had tried to reach Mr. Patterson several more times and had been unable to do anything other than leave more messages. Spying the boxes of old case files, Honey stomped across the room. Finding the box she was looking for, she opened it quickly and pulled out the file.
Trixie joined her quickly, happy for something—anything—to do. "What are you looking for?" she asked, peering over Honey’s shoulder at the case file in her hands.
"A clue," Honey said shortly. "A really big clue."
The flipped through the thick file of notes quickly. Then, flipped through it again slightly slower.
"No, this isn’t right," Trixie mumbled. "Something’s missing."
Honey set the file on the table in front of them and flipped through the pages one at a time. "Where are the pictures? We’ve never had a file that didn’t have pictures," she muttered to herself.
"And the contact page," Trixie added, taking pages from the file and looking at them closely before stacking them neatly to the side. "Where is the contact information for Bruce Patterson?" she asked anxiously.
They spent several minutes rifling through the pages in front of them, trying to pull memories of a long forgotten case back to the forefront of their collective memory.
"So, we’re missing photos, contact information, victim interviews and victim contact information," Honey said, ticking her fingers with each newly missing item.
Trixie sat in silence, staring out the window that overlooked the bright city lights. "I think we need to go see Mr. Patterson," she said softly. "Something strange is going on. I don’t like the idea of people messing with our files. It’s a serious invasion of privacy," she said glumly.
Honey nodded. "I know. We have a responsibility to our clients to keep their information secure," she agreed quietly. "So let’s go and get this over with."
A brief Google search helped them find the address. They tried not to think about how embarrassing it was that two seasoned private detectives had to use Google to find information on their former client, but Google was open 24 hours a day while most of their other contacts were home sleeping. Once they knew the address, it was easy to get there, and before long they found themselves standing outside the door, ready to knock.
"Let’s get this over with," Trixie muttered under her breath. She knocked on the door and her breath hitched as it opened slightly under the pressure.
It only took a fraction of a second for Honey to have her phone to her ear, 911 already dialed. As she waited for them to answer, Trixie pushed the door open slowly. Honey hissed behind her in warning. What on earth is she thinking? She diverted her attention to the operator on the other end of the phone as soon as it was answered. She began explaining the situation as she slowly followed Trixie into the room, instinctively lowering herself into a slight crouch as she did.
They both walked slowly into the apartment, Honey still speaking quietly into the phone. As they walked behind the sofa, Trixie’s breath hitched in her throat. She hadn’t seen it yet, but the scent was unmistakable—fresh blood.
They found him there, behind the sofa. If they had any hope after seeing the blood pooled beneath his body, the ravaged state of his head stifled it instantly. Both women rushed to his side, trying to find a pulse. The reaction to help was second nature—they knew there was no hope.
Honey continued to give information to the 911 operator, explaining the new situation. She was waiting for the operator to finish relaying information when she suddenly felt something rushing behind her.
Honey whipped her head to the right and was able to only take in half a breath before she felt a knee connect to her stomach. The phone clattered out of her hand and skidded across the floor. In one swift move, the assailant turned slightly and aimed a punch at Trixie’s face, missing when Trixie shifted to the side and hitting her shoulder instead.
Honey threw up the contents of her stomach on the floor and rolled to her side. She had half a second to recognize that the person attacking them was a woman before she saw a foot coming towards her face. She turned quickly to the side and felt the floor vibrate next to her from the force.
Trixie rubbed her shoulder and bounded to her feet. "Honey!" she yelled, launching herself in a frenzy at the woman attacking them. Honey had taken the brunt of the attack so far, and Trixie wasn’t sure how much more she’d be able to take. Her heart was beating a rapid rhythm in her throat, and she fought with all the desperation she could muster.
Trixie was on the woman’s back, her forearm wrapped around the attacker’s neck. She pulled as tight as she could, using her opposite hand to pull her wrist and tighten her grip. "Stop," she growled in the woman’s ear. "Just stop. I don’t want to kill you," she snarled, pulling her arm even tighter.
The woman fell to her knees, the lack of oxygen starting to take its toll. Trixie rode her all the way down, not willing to loosen her grip in case it was a trick. She waited until Honey had retrieved her handcuffs from the bag she dropped at the front of the apartment before dropping off the woman’s back. She switched places with Honey and stifled a snicker when Honey pulled the woman’s arms behind her back a little rougher than strictly necessary. Honey hated nothing more than getting beat up by a girl.
Trixie finally took a deep breath, willing her heart rate to come back down to something resembling normal, and she looked at the woman closely. She was not as young as Trixie had expected nor as sane as she had hoped. "Who are you?" Trixie asked harshly.
The woman just sat, silently, not meeting her eyes. Honey stayed behind the woman, her hands resting on the woman’s shoulders, ready to push her back to the ground in case she had any ideas about trying to continue her assault on them.
Trixie continued to glare at the woman and asked her again, more slowly and more menacingly than before. "Who. Are. You?"
It was Honey who finally got the woman to talk, with the quiet comment, "You may as well tell us. We’re going to find out regardless."
"I’m Tina Falcon," she said quietly, her head hung low.
"And that’s supposed to mean something to me?" Trixie asked.
"I’m Zachary Jolson’s mistress," she continued as if Trixie had not interrupted. "At least I was, until he was murdered," she spat, looking Trixie in the eyes for the first time. "You’re supposed to help people like Zach. Instead you help murderers get away with killing good, innocent men."
Now that she had started talking, Tina was unable to stop. Trixie listened with a growing sense of dread as the woman described the years she spent plotting and planning her revenge. Trixie felt sick to her stomach as she listened to how the woman spent two years searching for a job—any job—that would get her into their office. When a job opened at the messenger service that the agency and Wheeler International used, the woman said a silent prayer of thanks. When she was hired, she celebrated by sharing a bottle of champagne with her departed love.
Once she had a way to get in, it was easy enough to go through their files, taking what she needed. It was easy enough to get into their office, erasing messages and stealing their faxes when she needed to. She’d enjoyed watching them panic over the notes she had sent to them. Thanks to their meticulous notes, she was easily able to find the address of the murderer and exact her revenge.
When Tina finished her story, she stayed on the floor, her head bowed, her breathing ragged.
It was Honey who broke the silence. "But," she gulped a breath, trying to calm her voice. "Jolson committed suicide. We proved it," she urged, as if she was trying to retroactively change the trajectory of the woman’s life by making her see reason.
"He would never have left me," Tina whispered back. "Nobody will ever convince me otherwise."
They sat silently for not knowing what to say. It was obvious the woman was not able to see reason and the adrenalin from the fight was starting to wear off, leaving Trixie and Honey exhausted and unwilling to engage in any futile act.
The silence was quickly broken by the rush of police into the room. They’d been able to follow the GPS signal from Honey’s phone after it was knocked from her hand. They quickly took possession of the prisoner and roped off the crime scene.
Trixie and Honey hugged before Honey was led away to a waiting ambulance. She insisted she was fine, but Trixie was already on the phone with Brian, telling him what had happened. The threat was over and she wanted to go home and sleep for a week, but if she went home without being seen, Brian would just drag her to the hospital, so there was no point in arguing.
Trixie walked over after finishing her phone calls and watched as the EMT finished up the paperwork so that Honey could go home. "So what are you going to do when you get home?" she asked Trixie, still thinking about her own plans for sleep.
"I’m going to kill the wine that Dan brought over tonight, sit in a bubble bath until I’m wrinkled like a bulldog and then bribe Jim into rubbing every sore muscle I’m not feeling yet," she replied with a wry grin. "And you?"
"Yeah, that sounds good. Except replace Jim with Brian, and replace the wine with a shot of whatever I find first—tequila, mouthwash, rubbing alcohol—whatever," she said smiling.
The EMT handed Honey some papers and told her to take it easy for a few days and come in if she felt worse. Honey promised and then looped her arm through Trixie’s as they walked through the street. She waited until they had been walking for about five minutes before breaking the silence. "So, I really think we need to reconsider the answering service and the electronic files," she said, the teasing in her voice evident.
Trixie laughed, all the tension from the last few days making it more boisterous than it might have otherwise been. "Anything you want, Honey," she said, smiling. "Anything you want."
~~~ The End ~~~
Trish Author Notes:
Thanks to my group members: Dana, Zeute and Purple Passion. It was a good thing we were all okay with Jim/Trixie and Honey/Brian couplings, otherwise this story would’ve been much tougher to write.
An extra thank you to the incomparable Dana. She led us, outlined us, and did the graphics for our team. She should have a special award all her own!
The Bureau of Labor statistics website is very helpful when looking for the kind of cases Trixie and Honey may have seen over their ten-year career.
Word count: 3955 (not including five of JC’s words)
Melissa (Zeute) Author Notes:
First and foremost I want to thank my group. You all were so completely awesome to work with! I also appreciate the generosity of spirit you’ve granted me this past week and weekend. I hope we can work together again in the future! It’s truly been a pleasure to brainstorm, create and complete with you.
Our most excellent editors – Dana and Trish, thank you! We couldn’t have done without your insight. :)
Word count: 3249
PurplePassion (Misty) Author Notes:
Standard copyright disclaimers apply. Many thanks to Dana, Trish and Melissa for their wonderful editing.
Word count: 5399
Dana Author Notes:
I’d like to thank the Academy… Heh. I guess writing these author notes while watching the Oscars is appropriate. :) I’d like to thank my co-conspirators in crime for crafting an awesome story—PP, Trish, and Melissa, my hat is off to you guys and your varied skills! I truly think we each brought something special and necessary to this project. I’d also like to thank everyone who has made Jix the special place it is. Founders, owners, admin, moderators, authors, members, lurkers—it doesn’t matter what you call yourself, you are what makes Jix so special—and what makes it home. Finally, I'd like to thank Julie Campbell, the woman who started it all...
Word count: 5840 (not including 65 of JC’s words)
Total word count (including JC): 18513
Trixie Belden and associated characters are the copyright of Random House and used respectfully, albeit without permission.
Story copyright © GSDana, Melissa, PurplePassion (Misty), and Trish
Graphics copyright © GSDana