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Authors notes:

Thank you again to my wonderful editors Leslie and BethAnn. And a special thanks to BethAnn and her English teacher for helping me with those pesky dangling prepositions!

When we last left the girls at Di's house, Trixie's thoughts were occupied by one special, supple red-head. Read what happens next...

The Freshman Dance Mystery

written by El

Chapter 5

The next day Trixie went home to do her chores. All she could think about as she dusted the living room, swept the hallway, and mopped the kitchen, was Jim. As soon as she was done she asked her mother if she could call Brian in California. Moms said that was fine, and so Trixie dialed the unfamiliar number. The phone rang quite a few times.

"Hello?" Trixie heard his voice; he was panting heavily as if he'd just ran up ten flights of stairs. She hung up. Dang it, she thought, why did Jim have to answer? And did I just hang up on him?! She collected herself and hit the redial.

"Hello?" Jim answered again, breathing more normally but sounding somewhat annoyed this time.

"Jim? Hi, it's Trixie."

"Oh. Brian's not here right now."

Trixie winced at how cold he sounded. "Oh, okay."

"I'll tell him you called." Jim started to hang up.

"Wait, Jim," Trixie practically whispered.

Jim heard her. "Yeah, Trixie?"

"Um, how have you been?"

"I'm doing okay. How about you?" He said it normally, but there was still an edge in his voice.

"I'm doing good."

"Good. Well, I guess I better let you go." Jim started to hang up the phone again.

"Jim, I miss you." Trixie couldn't believe she'd just said that, but then she heard the dial tone in her ear. Maybe he didn't hear me, she hoped.

As Trixie put the phone back in the cradle, it rang, startling her.

"Jim?" she answered.

"No, it's me. Why? Were you expecting my brother to call?" Honey was surprised.

"No, I guess not."

Hmmm, what's going on now? Honey thought. Out loud she said, "Well, I was just wondering if you would exercise the horses with me this afternoon. I'd really like to talk to you about last night."

"That sounds great. I'll be over in a bit."

 

Trixie walked up the hill to the Manor House stables. Honey had already saddled Strawberry and was getting Susie ready for Trixie. Trixie took over, thanking Honey.

"So how about Starlight, Jupiter, and Lady?" she asked. "Will we need to exercise them later?"

"Mother actually rode Lady this morning. She and Daddy went riding together for the first time in ages. Of course Daddy rode Jupiter."

"Really? I just can't picture your mother riding."

"I know," Honey giggled, "even though Lady is her horse, she just doesn't seem the riding type. But then everyone is acting a little strange these days."

"Well, Miss Trask has never ridden Susie, has she?" Trixie asked with a grin. She purposefully avoided the 'everyone acting strange' comment.

Regan walked in the stables then, overhearing Trixie's last remark. "Now don't you tell me you'd think of giving Miss Trask a hard time about that? That poor woman is too overworked to find time for riding lessons."

"Oh, yes," Honey replied with a twinkle in her eyes. "Much too busy watching wrestling matches with Mr. Lytell I suppose?"

"Oh, gross!" Trixie stuck a finger in her mouth, causing both Regan and Honey to laugh.

"So you're taking Strawberry, then?" Regan noted. "I guess I'll take Starlight for a ride later and that takes care of exercising the horses today. So where are you going?"

"Oh, just around the preserve, nowhere special."

Regan put his big freckled hands on his hips, and looked at the girls sternly. "Just be careful," he admonished, "You know all the rules, I shouldn't have to repeat them."

"Yes, Regan, we know." Trixie and Honey rolled their eyes at each other when Regan turned his back.

 

The girls rode in companionable silence for a little while. Finally, Honey just had to say something. "So, Trixie, what happened last night? I know before we left this morning you and Di talked a little bit about Jason. It seemed like you and he were getting along great, then it came time to say goodnight, and when you went up to Di's room you just weren't yourself. So is everything really okay?"

"Oh, Honey, he is really nice. It's just, well, he's not Jim."

"No, of course he's not. And even though Jim is my brother, I honestly think he's nice to you, I mean Jason is nicer to you than Jim is. Not that Jim's not nice."

Trixie started giggling. "It's okay, Honey. I know what you mean. Jason wanted to get involved in the mystery. And he tried to help. And he never lectured. And all of that is good, but he doesn't make my heart beat fast or my palms sweat the way Jim does. And then when he tried to kiss me - "

"Whoa!" Honey pulled on the reins and Strawberry halted. She sat on the saddle dumbfounded as Trixie on Susie trotted ahead of her. Finally Trixie stopped and turned around, looking at her friend expectantly. Honey caught up to her again. "When did Jason try to kiss you?"

"When he said good night last night but I turned my head away so he didn't either. I just wasn't ready for that. I mean, I just met him."

"Oh, so has Jim ever tried to kiss you?" Honey asked.

"No. But I wish he had. And then I called him this morning only I meant to talk to Brian but Jim answered and he didn't even want to talk to me and I started wondering if maybe I should've kissed Jason anyway. Maybe Brian's right."

"Ok, usually I can follow you," Honey laughed, "but that one got even me a little confused. And, no, you shouldn't have kissed Jason! How dare he try to kiss you on the first date! Boys!!" She shook her head in disgust.

"Why, did Nick try to kiss you?"

"No, he didn't. He was a perfect gentleman."

"But don't you wish he had kissed you?" Trixie teased.

"So that's why you don't want to call Jason!" Honey suddenly exclaimed, purposefully ignoring Trixie's last question. She wouldn't have known how to answer it honestly at this point, anyway. "Well, I can't say I blame you. I'll call him though. It might help to know what kind of sweater or jacket it was that he felt, if he can tell."

"Thanks, Honey. Anything having to do with fashion is way out of my league. And the last thing I want to do is let Jason think I like him. I mean, I do like him, but not how I really like Jim."

"So are you going to tell him?"

"I almost did." As usual, Trixie and Honey had no problem following each other as the conversation skipped from topic to topic. "I told him I missed him, but I'm not sure if he hung up before or after I said it."

"My brother hung up on you!" Honey nearly stopped Strawberry again, who snorted in disgust because his rider didn't seem to know what she wanted.

"Well, I don't know. I mean, no, not really. Anyway, I hung up on him first. Oh, Honey, I just don't know!" Trixie waited until Honey pulled Strawberry aside Susie again.

"So tell me the whole conversation please!"

Trixie told her about the two phone calls she'd made that morning. Honey looked over at her sympathetically. She felt badly over her friend's confusion. She had her own jumbled thoughts about Brian and Nick, so she wasn't sure what help she could be to Trixie. "It's too bad tomorrow is Monday, otherwise I'd suggest another sleepover. Why does it seem like all this boy stuff is way more complicated this year?"

"Maybe we can schedule one this weekend and you can tell me all about Nick and Brian. Well, maybe not all about Brian; some things I wouldn't want to know!!"

Honey giggled. "I'm glad you can read my mind. I guess I don't have that ick factor about Jim since he's only been my brother a little over a year, but that sounds great. Maybe we'll have more of our thoughs sorted out by then, too."

The girls reached an open area where they could canter. Strawberry and Susie gladly ran, eager to exercise their legs. When they finished their ride and returned to the stables, Honey and Trixie hurried through cleaning the tack. Then they went into the Wheeler's library so that Honey could call Jason. At first he was reluctant to go shopping with Honey, but after he confirmed that Trixie would also be there, he relented. Honey called Di next and they decided they would head to Crimper's after school on Monday. The three girls also planned to bike into school so they wouldn't have to worry about missing the bus.

 

At lunch time the next the day the five Bob-Whites sat at their usual lunch table. Trixie wondered out loud why Mr. Stratton hadn't bothered to announce anything about the theft. Mart started to say something but Di playfully stuck a forkful of pecan pie in his open mouth.

"So, Trixie, what's the plan of attack then?" Dan asked as he subconsciously twisted and untwisted a piece of thread around his finger.

"You mean to find out who the thief is?" Trixie bit into her sandwich and chewed thoughtfully.

"Yeah."

"Di and Trixie and I are going to Crimper's with Jason after school," Honey answered instead.

"So that's why you rode your bikes in!" Mart exclaimed. "And you were going to let us in on this latest developement when?"

"Oh, sweetie, no one's keeping you out of things. We'd already said Saturday night that we were going to check out the fuzzy fabric angle," Di reminded him.

"Sweetie?" Dan asked with a wink.

"Ah, what I tolerate for love and pecan pie," Mart smiled as Di let him eat more of her pie. "So how about the Steve angle? Is anyone working on that?" he asked.

"Dan, didn't Ruthie say he was in her math class?" Honey asked. She slapped her hand to her forehead. "I'm in that class too! And there's two Steves in our class. I'll have to ask Ruthie which one she meant. I don't know why I didn't mention it Saturday night."

"Great!" Trixie grinned. "So you can try to find out more about him once you know who he is?"

"Oh, definitely. I'll try and talk to Ruthie before our class this afternoon. Can I invite her to come to Crimper's with us, too?" Trixie nodded in response as she finished off her lunch.

"So what are we men-folk supposed to do?" Mart asked.

"Nothing specific right now, my dear sweet almost-twin. Just keep your eyes and ears open, instead of just your mouth!"

 

The afternoon seemed to just drag on and on for Trixie. English was especially excruciating. Mr. Farmer, the new English teacher, was really tough, and Trixie was already sure he didn't like her. He was talking about term paper topics, as each student had to work on a paper that was due at the end of the year.

"As I call your name, please come up and review your topic with me. I want to make sure it is not a broad topic with too much information to cover, and also not so specific that you won't find enough material on it," the teacher explained. "Adams, Stacy," he then called out.

Trixie looked around at the other students. She figured he must be going in alphabetical order, so she would be next. On the note card in front of her she had written "Criminal Justice" and wondered if that was too general. She really had no idea how to go about doing a term paper and was glad that at least they had all year to complete the assignment. Stacy left the teacher's desk and Trixie automatically got up to show her topic to Mr. Farmer.

"Interesting subject. But it is a little too broad. What aspect of this will you be researching?" Trixie looked at him rather confused. "You could write about certain kinds of crime, crime in certain areas, how the court systems work, something more specific like that?" he asked again. Trixie continued to seem confused. Mr. Farmer moved some papers around on his desk impatiently, as if he was looking for something. Trixie saw that he had his grade book for his other classes out on top and she glanced at it nonchalantly. "Can you decide on a more specific topic or not?" Mr. Farmer abruptly asked her, as he closed the book in front of her.

"Uh, yeah," Trixie fumbled as a thought suddenly came to her mind, "can I write about crime and child abuse?"

"Excuse me?" Mr. Farmer asked.

"You know, what happens to child abusers in the justice system. How they can be convicted, that kind of thing?"

"That sounds like an excellent topic, Miss Belden." He wrote down "criminal justice: child abuse" next to her name and dismissed her curtly.

She went back to her desk and continued working on the grammar assignment he had also assigned to the class, as Mr. Farmer called the next name. She wondered if she'd have the guts to ask Jim about her topic. Finally the bell rang letting her out, and she ran to her locker.

After pulling her math book out from the bottom of the pile and throwing her English books in haphazardly, she slammed the locker shut quickly and turned to Honey and Di who were watching and waiting patiently. They exchanged amused glances, then shook their heads sadly.

They met Jason in front of the school. Ruthie was there too, but only to tell them that she couldn't go with them after all, as she had too many chores to do at home. The four of them walked to Crimpers and went to the boy's clothing section. Jason quickly confirmed that it was polar fleece that he felt the night of the dance. They went upstairs then to get a snack and mulled over the fact that the flimsy clues they had all amounted to nothing. Something was bothering Trixie in the back of her mind, something she must have overlooked. The sound of a bunch of giggling cheerleaders interrupted her thoughts. "Megan Thompson!" she suddenly exclaimed.


Chapter 6

Honey, Di, and Jason each looked at her as if she'd gone nuts. They had been discussing something else entirely. Trixie lowered her voice and explained that she'd just remembered at the dance Megan had given her a nasty look for no apparent reason.

Jason looked down, a small flush on his cheeks, "I think I can explain that," he said sheepishly. "I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I know that she likes me. She kept hinting for me to ask her to the dance. She might just have been jealous."

"I have to agree," Di said. "She definitely has or had a crush on you, Jason."

Jason blushed again. "I don't know why. I've never encouraged her."

"I don't know, but I've seen her scribbling your name on her notebooks in our homeroom," Di said as she took a sip of her soda. She and Jason shared homeroom together with Megan.

"Hmmm," Honey and Trixie said together, then laughed. "You first." Again they spoke as one and laughed again. Trixie held up her hand. "Please, Honey, you go first."

"I was just going to say that I find it totally believable the dirty look was nothing more than jealousy. But, I know you and your hunches. Is there something else that would make you add her to our suspect list?" Honey asked.

"No, I guess not." Trixie shrugged. "She's always been pleasant with me before, but ever since the dance she doesn't even say 'hi' when we pass each other in the halls. Now she turns her head and just looks away. I don't know why she's so jealous."

"Hey," Jason laughed. "Is that an insult? Aren't I something to be jealous of?" He playfully flexed his muscles and pretended to show off. The giggling cheerleaders over at the other table stopped talking and watched the tall blonde-haired blue-eyed boy admiringly.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that." Trixie started to blush furiously. How could she tell him he was good looking and nice to boot without making it sound like she was encouraging him? She decided to drop it. "Anyway, what I was going to say is that I remember her being near us and the hall where Mrs. Von Trammel had the cash, but then so were a lot of students. I guess I don't have any reason to suspect her after all." Trixie turned and smiled at her future partner. "It just proves we're on the same wavelength, since I was going to say basically the same thing you did, that the look was probably just jealousy."

 

That evening at Crabapple Farm, the phone rang, once again interrupting dinner.

"Those pesky telemarketers!" Peter grumbled as he got up from the scrumptious roast beef and reached for the phone.

"Don't bother answering," Helen said calmly as she helped herself to some more salad.

"No, I'd rather answer and get our number removed from their calling list." Peter picked up the phone. "Hello? --- Brian!" He gestured to his wife to pick up the other extension. Helen shook her head and mouthed to her husband to hang up and call him back. "Is this an emergency?" Peter asked, dreading the answer. Brian was usually the only one of their children they didn't need to worry about, but you just never knew. He listened to the answer then shook his head at Helen's questioning gaze. "Good, then I'll call you back a little later. We're in the middle of dinner and your mother is telling me to get back to the table before the meal gets cold." He paused again before saying, "Okay, son. Goodbye for now. Talk to you soon."

Peter sat back at the table, four pairs of eyes watching him intently. Five, if you counted Reddy who was still hoping to catch something besides the vegetables Bobby was purposefully dropping from his plate. "He's doing fine. Just returning Trixie's call apparently. Wasn't that a couple days ago you called him, sweetie?"

"No, Dad, it was just yesterday. Can I call him back after dinner, please?" Trixie asked.

"Hmm, just what are my siblings up to now?" Mart wondered aloud.

"Can I talk to him, too, please?" Bobby asked.

"We'll all talk to him, after dinner," Helen told her children. "I'd rather we pay for the phone call, than let Brian's bill go too high," she explained to her husband. Gleeps, she thought, he's the banker. You'd think he'd realize how broke our son is. Doesn't he remember what it's like starting out at college?

While Trixie and Mart did the dishes, Peter, Helen, and Bobby talked to Brian on the phone. Then they passed it to Mart and Trixie. Mart tried to hang around to find out why exactly Trixie wanted her other brother's advice. Trixie finally got him to leave her alone on the phone.

Brian told her about the awful day he'd had yesterday. An early and unexpected rain storm had hit the area, and on top of that his jalopy got a flat tire. "I got soaking wet changing it in the rain on some road up in the hills. Jim didn't even bother to help me! He just sat in the car spaced out. That's when he finally told me you'd called, Trixie," Brian explained.

"So," Trixie started to suddenly feel shy, but Brian knew how she felt about Jim, so she went ahead and asked, "is Jim seeing anyone?"

"We've only been here a little over a month," Brian replied with some amusement in his voice.

"A lot can happen in a month."

"With you, a lot can happen in a day," Brian retorted.

"So he's really not seeing anyone yet?" she asked again.

"No, he's not. He's hanging around moping after you. He hasn't been on a single date. I wish you'd let me out of our bargain. I hate to see him so miserable."

"No, Brian. Maybe it's just better this way. It's not like we can start dating or anything," Trixie wasn't sure what she wanted to hear from her brother. She wished she could sort out her feelings a little better.

"So, you don't want to know about me?" Brian asked with a small chuckle, trying to change the subject.

"What? Oh, I'm sorry. So what's going on with you?" Trixie nearly squealed.

"Well, I'm not really seeing anyone, but I've gone on a couple of dates. There's really nothing to tell. Other than that, it's study, study, study."

"Brian, do you like Honey?" Trixie asked suddenly.

"Honey? Well, sure, she's nice. She's always been a great friend to me. Is everything okay between you two?" His voice showed his concern.

"Yeah, everything's fine. I was just wondering if you liked her, as in would you consider dating her?"

Brian thought for a few seconds, then answered honestly, "No. I do like her, but I don't like her, as you put it." He and Trixie remained thoughtful for a couple of seconds before Brian finally asked, "I know you like Jim, but have you dated anyone since we've left?"

Trixie stuck her tongue out even though he couldn't see her expression. "Actually, I did go on a date. To the dance. It was a complete disaster. That's what got me thinking about Jim again."

"Why don't you talk to him?" Brian was concerned by the sadness in her voice. "He's just in the student lounge down the hall. I could go get him."

"I think he might have hung up on me yesterday." Trixie twisted the phone cord around her wrist a few times in nervousness.

"Hung up on you?!" Brian was a little shocked. Jim would never hang up on Trixie, would he? Then again, he did have that red-headed temper. "When was this? What did you say to him?"

"How do you know I said anything?" Trixie's own temper started to flare.

"Okay, so tell me what happened, then."

"When I called yesterday, I told him I miss him. Then I heard the dial tone," Trixie explained.

"And?" Brian asked. "Are you leaving anything out, like what was said before that maybe?" Brian still figured one of them had gotten the other's temper going.

"Well, he had already said that he was 'going to let me go' so I guess he may already have been in the middle of hanging up when I said it."

"Oh, is that all," Brian said calmly. "He probably didn't hear you. I think if he had it would've lifted his spirits a little. He is feeling a little out of sorts here."

"Oh, Brian! I didn't even think of that. How is everything there in California? Is it so different?" Trixie was suddenly ashamed of her selfishness. She'd barely asked Brian about his life, and after what little he said, she went straight back to talking about Jim.

"Not really. It's an adjustment alright, but I don't think it's any different then if we'd gone to school in New Jersey or Ohio or anything. The campus is really nice though, and our classes are interesting. Plus there are a lot of places to go see around here. A lot of the land just behind the school is part of the state parks system. There's a lake and lots of hiking trails and Jim and I even found a place to rent horses so we can go riding once in a while. But we both do get homesick."

"Sounds really nice. Except the homesick part. I wish I could come visit."

"Nah, there's no crooks around here. No mysteries to solve." Brian paused. "Mart told me about the theft at the school. No leads, huh?"

"Nothing solid," Trixie replied, slightly surprised her brother wasn't lecturing her.

"Well, just investigate safely. Remember to tell the others what you're up to."

Trixie sighed. At least it wasn't a horrible lecture. Just some common sense advice. "Okay, I'll be careful."

"So should I go call Jim?" Brian asked.

Trixie's heart started racing and she felt a little queasy. After what seemed like an eternity but was only a couple of seconds, she finally replied. "Yes. I'd really like to talk to him."

"Ok, hang on." She heard the clackety clack of the phone being hastily dropped on a table. What had seemed like an eternity before was nothing compared to the wait until Jim would come on the line. She didn't think her heart could possibly beat any faster or any louder. She started sweating, the phone nearly slipping out of her palms.

"Hi, Trixie?" Jim finally picked up the line.

He sounded nervous to her, and that reassured her a little. Maybe they could make some sort of amends. She wondered exactly what she should say.

"Trixie? Are you still there?" Jim asked.

She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I'm here."

"Okay. So what's up?" Jim asked, forcing a casualness in his voice.

"I just wanted to know, when I called earlier, right before you hung up," she stammered over the words.

"Yes?" Jim asked.

"DidyouhearmewhenIsaidImsu?" she spit out, mumbling the last bit.

"What did you say? Are you okay, Trixie?" Jim's voice was full of concern.

"Did you hear me when I said Imissyou?" she managed a little better this time.

"You miss me?" She heard a sigh from him. "When did you tell me that? I mean besides just now?"

Trixie started to breathe normally again. "When I called yesterday. Right before you hung up." Trixie waited for a response, but there was only silence. From the living room her mother called out to remind her to get off the phone soon. "Jim? Say something please."

"Is your mother telling you to hang up?" he asked.

That wasn't exactly what she'd been hoping to hear. "Yeah. I still have a minute. I really do miss you Jim."

"In a brotherly sort of way, right?" Jim tried hard to keep the bitterness from his voice.

Trixie choked back a sob. She thought again about that day in the Wheeler's library. He was in California now. Did she really expect him to drop school, fly back to New York, and be her boyfriend? Would she respect him if he did? "I wish I could explain everything to you. I really want to talk about this. Can I call you again? Next weekend maybe?"

"I'll call you when I have time," he said flatly. Then, due in large part to the glare he received from Brian, Jim added more gently, "I'll try to call you on Sunday. Will you be home?"

"I'll be glued to the phone, waiting for your call." Trixie actually smiled.

"Well, you don't need to go that far. I'll talk to you then. Bye, Trixie."

Trixie could tell he was more relaxed, and even though they hadn't been able to say much, it was a start. "Ok, Jim. Talk to you Sunday. Bye."


Chapter 7

"What has you up on a brume often referred to as cardinal nine this ante meridian?" Mart asked his sister, who was humming softly as she pulled a bowl from the kitchen cupboard.

"Does Trixie have to sweep before we go to school?" Bobby asked while fishing for the toy in the bottom of the Fruity-Ohs cereal box.

"Did you just call me a witch?" Trixie asked at the same time. "I know I heard broom in there somewhere, too." She reached into the fridge looking for the milk, and then noticed it sitting on the table.

"Yes, I probably should have said broom, b-r-o-o-m. You are somewhat hexing, and a melanoid acuminate millinery would fit well atop your cranium," Mart explained pompously. "Alas, what I actually said was brume, b-r-u-m-e. As in mist, fog, vapor, or, in this instance, cloud."

Bobby and Trixie looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. It was way too early in the morning to try and figure out what their kooky dictionary-eating brother was talking about. Bobby handed her the cereal box, and then tore open the package he had fished out, revealing a plastic gorilla. "Cool!" he exclaimed. "It looks just like King Kong! Now I just need to get the elephant and I'll have all the safari animals."

Mart let out a big sigh. "So what gives, Trixie? Why are you so elated this morning?" he tried asking again.

"Oh, no reason. No reason at all." She grinned at him and finished her cereal calmly.

 

Trixie was unusually quiet on the bus that morning. Okay, maybe it wasn't so unusual, Honey mused, since she often got quiet when she was working out details to a case. Honey figured she'd tell her soon, and if she didn't, then she would just have to drag it out of her partner. The bus pulled in front of the school, and Trixie let out a startled gasp. Honey turned to her, surprised, then looked out the window to see if she could see anything. She couldn't. "Trixie? What's wrong? What did you see?"

"Nothing," Trixie shook her head, feeling somewhat guilty, thinking about what she might have just seen.

Honey glared at her friend. I don't buy that for a second, and you know it! her eyes said.

Trixie felt even more guilty. "I'll tell you later, okay?" she pleaded.

Honey nodded. She knew her friend well enough to know that this is just how she was.

 

In homeroom that morning, Mr. Stratton had announced that he was conducting a locker search. When he and the police finally finished, the only rumors going around were that they found a couple of small stashes of marajuana and a few students' switchblades got confiscated. Trixie was dying to find out exactly which of the rumors were true, but she wasn't overly surprised by the finds either. Still, nothing led directly back to the theft at the dance.

At lunchtime the Bob-White table was full of whispers. Dan had invited Ruthie to sit with them at lunch and she reported that she found out more things about Steve. Steve lived in the same block as Ruthie. Ruthie said she and her neighbor were talking and somehow Steve was mentioned. Her neighbor told her that he had just recently started working at his father's office, so that offered one explanation of why he had so much money.

"So who else was wearing polar fleece that night?" Mart asked, the large vocabulary temporarily abandoned as he nibbled at his macaroni and cheese.

Di pulled out the list she and Ruthie had made at Wimpy's the night of the dance, and they all went over it together. Only two other people had been wearing polar fleece. Di and Mart agreed to keep an eye on Stefanie Sommers, a junior that had been wearing a polar fleece jacket draped over her shoulders. Dan, Trixie, and Honey said they would try to find out more about Erik Klein, a sophomore at the school.

"So now we have three possible suspects, but do we even really know if the person wearing the fleece is our thief?" Dan asked thoughtfully.

Trixie shook her head, "Not necessarily, but we can't watch everyone in the school, can we?"

"We can try to notice if we see or hear anything suspicious," Honey put in. "We don't just have to focus on those three people. Do we think any of the kids who had drugs or weapons could have been invloved?"

Dan raised his eyebrows. "Of course they could have. They could also easily not have had anything to do with it at all."

The six students slumped back over their lunch. Trixie thought about sharing what she had seen earlier that morning, and started to say something. She closed her mouth abruptly, afraid the boys would shoot down her ideas and come up with some totally reasonable explanation for what she had seen.

"What is it, Trixie? Spill." Dan asked casually.

"This whole case is turning out to be very difficult," Trixie offered. "Even I can see that the clues don't really tie in together. It will be hard to prove anything unless the thief steals again." She paused to take a bite of her apple. No one had said anything, so she added, "Or if we can find some evidence. Like the cashbox itself."

Mart looked up suspiciously, "And would you know where to look, by any chance?"

Trixie nodded her head. "The garbage."

"The garbage from Saturday is long gone by now," Dan pointed out.

"Well, then, I guess I don't know," Trixie admitted easily. Too easily.

"Too bad we can't find out what, if anything, was discovered during the locker search," Di said thoughtfully. "I mean, besides the stuff we've been hearing." Everyone was still gazing at her, though mostly just because they were in their own thoughts. "I mean, do you think Mr. Stratton found out something about the cashbox?"

Trixie shook her head, her curls swinging gently with the movement. "I don't think the cashbox was in anyone's locker. I think it got thrown away." Mart made as if to say something, but Trixie continued on. "And I don't think it was thrown away until recently. If they hid the box in school," she started thinking aloud but then stopped.

"Who says they hid the box?" Mart finally managed to interrupt her.

"Look, Trixie," Di said with a twinkle in her violet eyes, "Jim and Brian aren't here to tell you your theories are dumb. And if Mart tries to, well, just trust me, he won't." She turned to Mart, still smiling mischieviously, "Will you, dear?"

Mart's blue eyes twinkled at Di's violet ones as he gulped dramatically then shook his head, while Dan, Trixie, and Honey burst out laughing. Even Ruthie giggled timidly.

"And," Honey declared, "I know you saw something this morning and I'll just die if you don't spill it right now!"

Trixie stopped laughing, "Gleeps, Honey! I can't have you dying on me." She took a bite of her apple and ate it very slowly while five pairs of eyes stared at her expectantly.

"Oh come on, already!" Mart finally yelled.

Trixie smiled at that. "Okay," she motioned everyone to put their heads closer together so she could whisper, "I saw someone sort of sneaking around the dumpsters this morning. He had a metal box, but I couldn't tell how big it was. Anyway, I just saw him stuffing something in his pocket and then he threw the box in the dumpster. The funny thing is, he also pulled out something from his other pocket and threw it away, too. I couldn't tell what that was either, but it was a bag with something white in it I think."

"So you think the metal box was the cashbox?" Honey asked.

"I don't know. I wonder if it's too late to do a little digging." Trixie said.

"And just what explanation are you going to give if the janitor or anyone else catches you in the dumpsters?" Ruthie asked cautiously.

Mart smiled at that. "Why, what a more fitting - " Di cut him off with a stern look before he could finish his thought.

"Man, you are whipped! Whipped I tell you!" Dan laughed. Then he returned his attention to Trixie. He held something out to her. "Here, I fished this out of my own pocket as you were talking. I don't know if your mom or Honey can repair that dress." Trixie picked up the scrap of fabric and quickly tried to hide the astonished look from her eyes. Dan caught the look and explained further, "It tore on the fence ... when we went back to the gym ... after the dance?" Trixie still looked confused after each pause.

"Oh, was that going in or coming back out?" Trixie asked, trying to keep her voice light and casual.

"Going in," he answered somewhat suspiciously now.

Trixie smiled as though that explained everything. "Oh. Well, thanks. I'm sure you can fix my dress, right Honey?" she asked as she slipped the fabric in her own pocket. Honey nodded, a little wide-eyed. Luckily no one else noticed the unspoken exchange.

"So I don't suppose you got a good look at this trash dumping fellow, did you?" Dan asked.

Trixie blushed but nodded. The bell rang at that moment signalling the end of lunch. She started to gather up her belongings, then stood up. Everyone else was still watching her, waiting for her response. "Jason Sullivan," she finally answered.


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