A Treacherous Trip

Sam's chapter of The Mystery of the Blinking Eye was MIA, but it's back!  This story temporarily filled the spot. Of course, I have blatantly plagiarized from Trixie Belden and the Mystery of the Blinking Eye—but because I’m not making any money off of this, we all know that makes it okay. *g*  This is for the Jixemitri Circle Writing Challenge #1, and I used the 1963 Hardback Cameo version of Blinking Eye, which seems to differ quite a bit from the 1977 oval paperback.

Links to corresponding illustrations from the Cameo and Deluxe versions of Blinking Eye are embedded in the text.

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Jim relaxed in the back of the hansom cab and took in his surroundings. New York City was such a bustling place that it was hard to believe this peaceful oasis could exist right in the heart of the city. But Central Park was such a lovely place during the day. Today the sun was shining and Jim smiled as he watched the children play, mothers strolling leisurely with their baby carriages (Jim was sure he heard one speaking lovingly to her "Boo"), and the ubiquitous pigeons strutting around as if they owned the park.

The redhead leaned back in his seat and lazily watched as they skirted the big lake. The sight of families in rowboats, happily rowing their way across the sparkling blue water, brought a lump to his throat. A long time ago, that had been him and his mother and father… But Jim pushed the memory aside. There was no sense dwelling on what was and would never be again. He desperately missed Win and Katie Frayne, but he also knew how fortunate he was to have the family he had found in Sleepyside.

His eyes involuntarily strayed to the animated blonde girl with the flyaway curls. She was responsible for everything he had and he would never forget the lengths she had gone to ensure that he had a good life. How many other runaways could say they had someone so special looking out for them? Jim smiled to himself as he recalled their first meeting; he had been sure she was some sissy girl who would tattle on him; she had been sure he was a tramp up to no good.

"I used to drive for Mrs. Andrew Carnegie," the old driver was saying loudly, interrupting Jim's thoughts.

"Don't believe a word of it," the other driver retorted, rather rudely and with a snort. "He's driven that self-same cab since Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from the Indians for forty guilders."

“I’m not that big a liar,” the old Irishman replied. “But I did drive the old lady herself. She was a great old lady, and she loved the park. She’d always wait for me. She liked everybody. Every year she had red geraniums planted in front of her house up there on Ninety-first Street.” He pointed north with the tip of his whip. “She did it so that people who rode the buses could see them.”

Jim listened to the clop-clop-clop of the horses that followed the cabby's statement, grateful for a break in the boisterous conversation of the Hansom cabbies.

Barbara broke the silence and Jim had to grin when he heard what she had to say. Barbara wanted to know everything about New York City and exaggerated more than Trixie! "How big is Central Park? It seems almost as big as the whole city of Des Moines."

Jim rolled his eyes as Mart answered quickly, "Eight hundred and forty acres." Leave it to Mart to know that arcane fact!

Ned, who, Jim thought, seemed awfully anxious to compare New York to Iowa at every occasion, stated, "That's not much bigger than your Uncle Andrew's farm and ours put together."

Jim enjoyed listening to the talk about Central Park, despite the one cabby's boastfulness, but suddenly he noticed that Trixie and Honey were deep in whispered conversation. His Trixie-antenna was instantly buzzing. Just what kind of puzzle was distracting her now? He wasn't sure why he felt what he did, but he was sure it had something to do with the old Mexican woman at the airport. Or maybe the thugs last night. Or both.

Suddenly Honey burst out laughing and Jim felt relief sweep through him. The two girls were sharing a joke, that's all. He couldn't wait to hear what it was.

But instead of volunteering what the joke was, Honey just clapped her hand over her mouth and mumbled, "It's a private joke" in response to the inquisitive stares she was receiving from her friends. Jim knew his sister well enough to read the guilty look she wore. The girls were up to something!

"It sounded funny enough to share," Mart stated. Jim inwardly agreed and felt his worry of a moment before return in full force. His gut was telling him that the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency had ferreted out another mystery.

"You wouldn't think it was funny at all," Trixie said in that pert voice that Jim recognized instantly. Consciously or not, she reserved this particular voice when her "almost twin" was particularly irritating her.

It also meant she was hiding something. But what?

Clop. Clop. Clop. Clop.

"Just look at those boats!" Bob cried and Jim was relieved to have a distraction. "Over on that little pond!"

“That’s Conservatory Pond,” Brian told him. “Do you think we could leave the cabs here, driver, and go over to the pond to look at the boats? I’ve only been there once before, Bob.”

“Let’s,” Mart said. “The boats are really neat. They’re all scale models. Men over there at the Kerbs Memorial Boathouse help boys, and grown-ups, too, to make model boats.”

“Gosh!” Bob scrambled out of the cab, followed by the rest of the gang.

Jim enjoyed visiting Conservatory Pond when he was in the city. The mirror-like waters were surrounded by fresh-cut grass and, on the whole, it was an idyllic scene. Scale model boats of all kinds and sizes floated gently on the surface. Jim settled himself on the bank to watch the peaceful scene and the rest of the group followed his example.

"Uncle Andrew gave you a sailboat when we came here before," Trixie said. Jim turned to look at her and realized that she was speaking to Brian. "It was becalmed, and you were furious, do you remember?"

“I was furious because I sat here for hours waiting for it to come to shore.” Brian laughed, remembering, and Jim had to smile at the image. “Then I had to leave. I don’t know what ever became of it.”

“The men at the boathouse over there probably hauled it in and, when no one claimed it, gave it to some boy – maybe like that one over there.” Trixie pointed to a boy lying prone on the bank, his eyes never leaving his boat, just launched.

“He makes me think of Stuart Little in E.B. White’s book,” Honey said. “Remember how he sailed the schooner Wasp to beat the big racing sloop?”

“He sailed ‘straight and true,’” Trixie quoted, “and sent the sloop yawing all over the water.”

“Everyone was so surprised to see a mouse at the helm,” Honey said, laughing. “They kept yelling, ‘Atta mouse! Atta mouse!’”

“He had a terrible time before he ever made port,” Mart remembered. “The water was rough; the wind was blowing up a gale.”

“I wish the wind were blowing today,” Bob said, looking around him. “We’d see some action with those sails all filled. Gosh, do we have to leave?”

“I’m afraid we do,” Trixie told him. “We have miles to go and many, many other things to see.”

Jim reluctantly realized that Trixie was right. The rest of New York beckoned! He trailed behind the others as they headed back to the carriages. His green eyes took in Trixie as she laughed at something Ned was saying. Jim refused to admit that he felt a stab of jealousy at the sight. Then he suddenly remembered Trixie's whispered conversation of earlier and the thugs who had apparently followed them the night before. Jim knew from experience that Trixie would eventually confide what was tumbling around in that sharp mind of hers. He just hoped that this time it would be sooner than later.

The cabbies snoozed and the horses chomped on their feed bags, the teenagers noted as they arrived at the carriages. Jim had to smile as Barbara went off on another of her characteristic enthusiastic observations.

“I never saw a park so full of statues,” Barbara said as the older cabbie sat up and rubbed his eyes. “There’s one of Hans Christian Andersen, of the Ugly Duckling, the Mad Hatter, and Alice in Wonderland, and –“

“Statues?” the driver repeated. “Yes, statues. It’s a queer thing, though. You’ll not see a sign of a statue of William Cullen Bryant, him that thought up the whole idea of Central Park.”

“William Cullen Bryant? He was a Massachusetts poet, ” Trixie stated matter-of-factly. Jim was proud of her for remembering her English lessons. It wasn't so long ago that he was tutoring her in the subject.

“He was born there,” the cab driver said. “But for fifty years he lived right here in New York. He edited the best newspaper New York ever had, the Post. In an editorial, way back in the eighties, he spoke out for a city park where people could breathe clean air. The idea caught on, and all this land was bought piece by piece. It cost a fabulous sum… about seven million dollars. Today this very same land is worth five hundred million dollars. A pity they never put up a statue to the greatest poet that ever lived.”

“Dad always said if you want any information, ask a hansom cab driver or the driver of a taxicab,” Jim whispered to the others. “Shall we go to the zoo now?”

“Gosh, yes!” Bob said.

“Then, if it’s all right with the rest of you, we’ll go out of the park at Seventy-ninth Street, down Fifth Avenue, driver, and back into the park at the zoo.” Jim spoke aloud to the driver.

 “Right-o, laddie!” the old Irishman said, and led off with his carriage.

Jim, in the same cab as Trixie, noticed that she wriggled around, stood up, looked back toward the pond, sat down, and then turned her body completely around.

She recognizes someone, Jim thought. He was about to say something when Mart spoke up.

"What is the matter with you?" Mart asked, his voice dripping with older brother disgust. "Don't you think the driver knows where he's going? What is the matter?"

"I don't want to tell you. You're always making fun of everything I say." Trixie stated emphatically.

Jim spoke up then, in a low voice. "Did you think you saw someone you knew back there?"

“Yes, Jim,” Trixie replied soberly. “Those men we saw at the antique shop window, the ones who followed us last night.”

“Where?” Jim's antenna was humming.

“Over on the bridle path, parallel to this road. Can’t you see them? Oh, bother! They’re gone now.”

As Jim turned to look, the carriages reached the edge of the park. The driver pulled up his horse and waited for a chance to slip alongside the Fifth Avenue traffic. Just as the cabbie was going to turn, Jim saw two rough looking men shoot out of the park. Jim watched in disbelief as they grabbed the horse's reins. The frightened animal reared, whinnying loudly. Jim saw that the abrupt stop almost threw the driver from his seat and rose to help him. Trixie also rose to help, but as she stepped from the cab she was tripped. Jim tried to grab her, but to no avail. The blonde fell to the pavement and one of the men tried to steal her purse.

White-hot rage flooded through Jim's body and without thinking he landed a quick upper-cut that sent the man sprawling. Nobody messed with Trixie! Not on his watch!

Jim was about to deliver another blow and find out what the man was up to, when the would-be thief howled with pain and quickly got to his feet. He and his partner fled. A mounted policeman appeared then and tried to restore order.

When the traffic was unsnarled, the bruised driver returned to his seat, and everything was under control, the officer turned to Trixie for an explanation.

“It was those same men!” Trixie said emphatically, rubbing her elbow. “I told you I saw them in the park, Jim. The same ones who followed us last night. They’re thieves.” Jim nodded his agreement.

”What were they after?” the policeman asked.

“My purse!” Trixie said indignantly.

“I think not,” the old cab driver said. “Not a little girl’s purse. They have grander ideas than that, the rapscallions. They were like as not making a quick getaway from some job. They made off in a great hurry.”

But Jim knew better. He had seen the man go for Trixie's purse; it was what had made him lose his temper. Jim felt a little sheepish about that now that the excitement was over. But when he had seen the man go after Trixie, some visceral part of his being took control and suddenly he was punching the man. But whatever had taken hold of him a few minutes ago, Jim knew the cab driver was wrong. He didn't know Trixie. And that man had been after her purse. Why? Why follow a young girl for so long a distance and try to steal her purse? Surely there were more profitable and easier targets in New York City!

But before he could voice his thoughts to the policeman, Ned jumped in. Of course. Ned. Jim sighed.

“They got into a car that was cruising along the Avenue. I saw them!” Ned said. “They brushed by our carriage and went north.”

“The things that happen now in broad daylight!” the policeman said. “Everyone has sense enough to stay out of the park at night. But daylight! Are you all right, miss?”

Jim watched as Trixie grimaced instead of answering and realized that she was really hurt. It did not surprise him that his kind-hearted sister noticed her best friend's discomfort as well.

“Your knee is bleeding!” Honey cried, horrified. She used her handkerchief to try to stop the flow and Jim noted with satisfaction that the blood did not bother her as it once would have. “It’s a disgrace! Those men should be put in jail!” Honey looked at the policeman and Jim noticed the naïve indignation on her face. He knew the chances of those men being put in jail were pretty darn slim.

“There’s little the officer can do,” the old Irishman put in. “Sure, they were a couple of crooks runnin’ away from a job. We just happened to be in the way. Shall I stop at the drugstore so you can get Band-aids?”

The policeman jotted down their names and where they lived, then moved on. Jim knew exactly how much investigative time was going to be spent on this case. Zero.

“I think, instead, we’ll just go straight back to the apartment,” Brian told the driver. “I’ll look after your cuts there, Trixie. Some Merthiolate and a bandage will do the trick.” Brian planned to be a doctor someday, and he was always eager to do first-aid work. “Do your knees hurt very much?”

“Not too much,” Trixie sputtered and Jim noted that her sapphire eyes were full of ire, “but I’m mad clear through. I’ve ruined two brand-new stockings and I’m afraid the afternoon is spoiled. I can’t go to the zoo looking like this! Please go without me, won’t you, Ned, Bob, Barbara?”

Jim knew it was just like Trixie to put the visitors' feelings ahead of herself. He admired the way she wouldn't let her pain get in the way of the Iowan friends' site-seeing.

“I don’t want to go anyplace till I’m sure you’re not badly hurt, Trixie,” Barbara declared firmly. “Heavens, bad things surely can happen in this city, as well as good things.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, Barbara.” Dan helped her back into the carriage. “You can’t wear rose-colored glasses all the time – not in New York!”

“You’re dead right, Dan,” Jim agreed. Jim realized that some might see Dan, as the other male Bob-White not related to Trixie, as a potential rival for himself, but Jim usually agreed with Dan and his level-headed observations. Dan was a good guy. But whatever his thoughts were about Dan, Jim's main concern right then was Trixie. He wanted to be there in case something else happened on the way to the apartment. “I’m sure Trixie’s going to be all right, though. I’ll go back to the apartment with her…Brian, too." He added almost as an afterthought. "The rest of you go on to the zoo.”

“Please do,” Trixie begged. “All I need is an antiseptic and some fresh stockings.”

“I’ll go with you,” Honey insisted. “The rest of you can tell us about the zoo later.”

Jim and Brian each took one of Trixie's arms. The foursome waved good-bye to the zoo group and headed back to the apartment. Jim looked at the two girls and decided that when they got back to the apartment he would find out what was going on. He was determined to find out why they were treated to such a treacherous trip through the park.

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