Mr. Farmer's Story leaves

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Authors notes:

A humungous thank you to Susan for editing for me and pointing me in the right direction for this story. And another humungous thanks to Dana for the graphics!

Honey Wheeler cornered Trixie on the bus Monday morning. "Okay, Trixie," she said. "Between telling me nothing was going on with you and Jason, and that everything was okay with Jim and gushing and swooning over him, I forgot to ask you more about Mr. Farmer last night. So what's the plan?"

"Huh? Who? What?" Trixie asked innocently.

"Aaarrrggghhh!" Honey groaned playfully. "You know what I mean. Remember, we were talking about Mr. Farmer and that picture? Has he gotten it reframed yet?"

"Oh, that's a good question. Maybe I should buy him one since I did break the other one."

"That would give you a good excuse to get a better look at that picture. And maybe someone even wrote something on the back of it," Honey suggested.

Trixie twirled one of her yellow curls around her finger, a nervous habit she developed since she had started letting her hair grow. "I still want to look at that paper with the names on it, too. It didn't turn out to mean anything about who stole the cash from the dance, but I still feel like it's important."

"Well, you should definitely trust your gut instincts," Honey agreed. "You're almost always right."

"Thanks, Honey," Trixie smiled warmly at her best friend. "I was so off-base about him selling grades; I just don't know what to think now."

"I know. He really is acting mysteriously, and even though that's not connected with the missing dance money in any way, we should definitely investigate further." Honey nodded her head emphatically.

Mart and Di were sitting just in front of the girls, and Dan was sitting in the seat next to them. Dan turned to Trixie and said with a wink, "I agree, Trixie. And since this doesn't seem like a dangerous mystery, you have my full support."

"Gee, thanks." Trixie stuck her tongue out at him. "You know you'd rather just solve the dangerous ones yourself."

Honey smiled at her dark-haired friend. "She's right, you know. We should probably consider calling it the Belden-Wheeler-Mangan Detective Agency."

"I believe that should be Belden, Mangan, Wheeler, and Belden," Mart piped up.

Di giggled. "How about the Lynch, Belden, Wheeler, Mangan, and Belden Detective Agency?"

Honey tactfully amended her suggestion. "How about the Bob-White Detective Agency? That way it doesn't sound like a law firm."

The bus pulled up in front of the school, and Honey, Trixie, Dan, Di, and Mart all tumbled out, still giggling. Well, Dan was much too macho to giggle or tumble, but he was laughing.

Like all other school days, this one seemed to pass particularly slowly for Trixie. She wished her English class were earlier in the day. She managed to get to the class a little early, and Mr. Farmer was already there.

"Mr. Farmer?" Trixie walked up to his desk and looked to see if the picture had been replaced yet.

"Yes, Miss Belden, what can I do for you?" Mr. Farmer looked at her sternly.

"I still feel bad about breaking that picture frame a few weeks ago. I was wondering if I could replace it for you." Trixie smiled at him.

"A little late now, isn't it?" he asked her gruffly.

"I don't know, sir. I see you haven't put the photo back on your desk," Trixie pointed out.

Mr. Farmer opened his drawer and pulled out the picture and the broken frame. "No, I still haven't replaced the frame myself. So I suppose if your guilty conscience is demanding you replace it, you may." He added a little more kindly, "I would actually appreciate it. This picture is very special to me." He pulled the photo aside, but handed the frame to Trixie. "You might want this to get the right size." He set the picture down on his desk and then reached into his desk drawer for his wallet.

Trixie took the opportunity to pick up the picture and look more closely at it. She had managed to read on the back Marion Rodgers - 1962 before Mr. Farmer gently took it back out of her hands. "She's very pretty," Trixie commented. Judging the woman in the photo's age to be about eighteen, she decided the woman must be around forty-two now. Mr. Farmer looked to be in his late forties. "Is she your wife?"

"No," Mr. Farmer said curtly. He opened his wallet and handed her twenty dollars. "I don't know what frames cost these days, but I hope this is enough."

"Oh, no, Mr. Farmer. I really should be the one to pay for it."

"Nonsense. I would feel bad if you spent your money on it. You only knocked it over by accident. Besides, you're already doing me a tremendous favor to just go out and get one, as I haven't had any time to do it myself. Like I said, I really appreciate that you would even do that much. Most kids these days aren't so thoughtful."

Trixie felt guiltier still since it hadn't been her idea, and her only intention was to get more information about the picture. With her cheeks flushed, she hesitantly took the money and vowed to buy him the best frame she could find. However, she managed to hang around his desk long enough that when he put the wallet back, she saw that the paper with the names was still there. Part of her thought to just ask him about it, but where was the adventure in that? Besides, he didn't seem like the type of person who would actually answer her and would probably resent her for prying. That didn't curb her curiosity though. As she was still standing by Mr. Farmer's desk, he asked her if there was anything else. When she shook her head, he gestured for her to return to her seat and then got up to begin class.

"At least we have a name," Honey said excitedly as the girls exited the school bus the next morning. "We should be able to find out something about Marion Rodgers, right?"

"Right. And the first thing we should do is check the library." Trixie ticked off years on her fingers.

"The library?" Di asked, not following Trixie's thoughts or the counting she was doing on her hands.

"Yes, we can look in the old yearbooks. Let's see, if she really was around eighteen years old in 1962, then we should probably start checking around 1959."

"Okay, that makes sense." Di nodded. "Trixie, why don't you look through 1959? Honey, you can look at 1960 if you like, and I'll try 1961. If we don't find her in any of those books, we can start over with higher years."

"So we'll meet at the library during lunch?" Honey confirmed. Di and Trixie nodded in reply as the three separated to go to their classes.

At lunchtime, it was a discouraged trio who looked through yearbook after yearbook. They had decided to look for anyone with the last name of Farmer as well. Although there were plenty of students named Rodgers and Farmer, none of them were the people they were looking for.

"Now what?" Di asked. "We can pretty much conclude that neither of them attended Sleepyside Junior-Senior High."

"Maybe we can find something out at the public library?" Honey suggested. "They might have records on microfiche about weddings or funerals or something that would mention them."

Trixie shook her head dejectedly. "I don't know what I thought I'd discover here, but it would take too long to look through all the wedding and funeral notices of the Sleepyside Sun since the late 1950's. Besides, Mr. Farmer said she wasn't his wife."

"Well, it was just an idea," Honey mumbled.

"And a good one," Trixie encouraged her friend. "But we need more information so we can narrow down what to search for."

"Yeah, what exactly are we searching for?" Di asked. "Maybe we're going about this all wrong."

The three girls sat quietly for a minute. Trixie shook her head once more. "I think I need to see that piece of paper again. I just get this feeling that will lead somewhere. So, who wants to go shopping with me this afternoon?"

Di and Honey smiled in amusement. Trust Trixie to change the topic that quickly. "Oh, I think we could both be talked into going shopping," Di said with a wink. "So, what exactly are we going to buy?"

"A picture frame. Mr. Farmer gave me twenty dollars. I was thinking I could check out the frames at Crimper's for him."

Why does school always drag so slowly? Trixie thought to herself as she tried to sit through her History lesson. She glanced at the clock again; only ten more minutes to go. When the bell finally did ring, she sprung up from her chair and practically ran to her English class. As she opened the door, she was pleased to see that Mr. Farmer wasn't there. Picking up a notebook and the newly bought picture frame from her backpack, she quickly went over to his desk and opened the drawer. This must be my lucky day, she thought happily, as she found the paper she was looking for sticking out from under some others. She quickly grabbed it and stuffed it in her notebook, apparently just in time.

"What do you think you are doing, Miss Belden?" a grumpy voice yelled at her.

Trixie nearly jumped out of her skin, but recovered quickly as she had been expecting that. "I'm sorry, Mr. Farmer. I just wanted to surprise you." She quickly picked up the photo of Marion Rodgers and also showed him the picture frame she had bought. "I was just going to put the picture in the frame for you."

Randall Farmer made it over to his desk in four long strides, but when he got there, he had calmed down. His student apparently was doing just as she said. "Thank you, Trixie. But please, never ever, go through my desk again. You should make that a rule to never go through anybody's belongings without their expressed consent."

"Yes, sir, I know," Trixie admitted, "but that makes it kind of hard to actually surprise someone."

"Sometimes surprises aren't so good." Mr. Farmer plucked the frame and photo out of Trixie's hands. "This is a beautiful frame. Thank you again."

"Actually, Honey Wheeler picked it out. Oh, and here's your change." Trixie dug into her pocket and handed Mr. Farmer a crumpled ten-dollar bill and some coins. Then she meekly went to sit at her desk.

It was sheer torture to sit through class and not take a peek at the sheet of paper she had swiped, but Mr. Farmer kept glancing her way, and she didn't dare risk it. When the bell finally rang, she quickly gathered up her things and rushed out. It wasn't until she was sitting safely on the school bus, the other club members gathered around her, that she finally took out that list of names.

"I can't believe you actually stole it," Mart said, completely shocked. Dan was also unhappy about it.

"I plan on sneaking it back, so really I'm just borrowing it," Trixie tried to explain. Then she actually looked at the paper. "Gleeps! These aren't grades, maybe they're initials. And look!" She pushed the paper under Dan's nose. "Kettner. L Kettner. Doesn't Ruthie have a sister?"

"Ssshh," Honey whispered. "You don't want the other students to hear us."

"Let me see that." Dan took the list that Trixie was waving before his face.

"Her sister's name is Leslie," Di confirmed. "At least, I'm pretty sure that's right."

"Yes, it is," Dan said. "And there it is - 'Kettner L' - right here. But what does that mean?"

"I don't know," Trixie admitted.

"Let's meet at the clubhouse later," Honey suggested.

"A superlative commendation," Mart piped up. "I believe we Beldens have a few chores to do when we get home, but we should be able to clear some time, perhaps around five this post meridiem?"

Di giggled, "Five o'clock sounds good to me. How about you, Dan? Can you make it?"

"Yeah, I think I can get all my work done by then." He handed the list back to Trixie.

"Why don't you give me the list?" Honey suggested. "I can make some copies of it so that you can sneak this one back to Mr. Farmer. How do you plan to do that, anyway?"

"Um, I hadn't actually thought of that yet." Trixie shrugged her shoulders sheepishly.

Honey slapped a hand over her mouth. "Forget I said anything," she mumbled as she saw Dan and Mart's disapproving looks.

At the meeting, Honey handed everyone a copy of the list, and gave Trixie back the original.

Brandon D
Hinkles M
Kettner L
Larson J
Rodgers F
Sullivan C
Thompson A

"So," Trixie started, "we're pretty sure that Kettner, L means Leslie. Do we know any of these other names?"

"I'm curious why three of the names are crossed out," Di commented.

"It looks to me like he's looking for someone," Dan pointed out. "He started with this list of names somehow and is eliminating them one by one."

"Oh my gosh!" Honey exclaimed. "You don't think he's possibly really eliminating eliminating them, do you?"

"Okay, calm down," Mart shushed her. "Let's not jump to conclusions. Especially those kind of conclusions."

"Honey," Di asked slowly, "are you thinking he's killing these people?"

"Well, I don't know, I mean, I hope not, but the thought just kind of jumped out at me." Honey looked visibly paler. She turned to Trixie to get her opinion.

"Let's not jump to conclusions this time. We can check the newspapers to see if any of those names comes up anywhere. Meanwhile, let's try to come up with ways of figuring out who these people are. They must have something in common, right?" Trixie looked around at the group.

"Right," Dan grunted. "Trixie, is it possible that this Sullivan is another relation to Jason?"

"I'll have to call him and ask. I really don't know." Trixie jotted a note down next to the name on her sheet.

"You seem rather eager to call him." Mart wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. "What happened to 'Jim, oh Jim'?"

"Stop it, Mart," Di said in a serious tone. Trixie and Mart both glanced over at her, quite surprised.

Honey tactfully cut the sudden silence by saying, "I wonder if they might all be around the same age. Maybe we could check yearbooks again."

"That's a good idea," Dan agreed quickly.

Mart found his voice, "We could also check recent newspapers." He glanced over at Honey who nodded at his suggestion.

"Do you think maybe we should ask Ruthie if she knows anything?" Di asked. "After all, it is her sister's name on the list."

"You would think of the obvious," Honey giggled and smiled at her friend.

"I'll ask her first thing in the morning," Dan volunteered.

"Okay, I think that's all we can do for now," Honey nervously wrapped up the meeting. She noticed that Trixie still hadn't said anything at all since Mart had started to tease her and Di stopped him. She waited for everyone else to leave and then asked Trixie what was wrong.

"I don't really know," Trixie shrugged.

"Maybe there's a grain of truth to Mart's teasing?" Honey asked hesitantly.

Trixie thought for a moment. "Not in terms of my liking Jason. We both know my heart belongs to Jim. But I still don't know how Jim and I are going to have a long distance relationship. We haven't really talked about having any kind of relationship. And he acts like we're just friends again. Which is better than nothing, right? Oh, I don't know." Trixie put her face down on the table. "Can I rewind my life?" she mumbled into her sleeve.

"No, silly. If you could, then I could, and I would." Honey sat down next to her.

"Sorry, Honey. I really shouldn't complain. It's my own fault that my non-existent love-life is non-existent." Trixie got up and put her arms around her friend. "You, however, did nothing to deserve this depression you've been in lately."

Honey found tears forming in her eyes. "I didn't think you'd noticed. I didn't think anyone had noticed."

"I'm sorry. I'm not always the best friend I should be. But, yes, I did notice." Trixie paused to let Honey regain her composure. "So, is this about Brian?"

"Yes and no."

"Well, that helps clear that up," Trixie teased lightly.

"I mean, yes, knowing that Brian never thought that way about me sparked this depression. But, no, it's not really about Brian anymore. I just don't know what I want. Di has Mart. You have Jim. Don't shake your head; you know you do. Dan has Ruthie."

"What about Nick Roberts? He seems pretty interested in you. And there's plenty of other guys who would love to take you out."

"I know. Don't look at me like that," Honey grinned. "I do know that there's plenty of guys who would go out with me. I just don't particularly want to go out with them. I guess when I meet the right person, I'll know. Come on. Let's get out of here. You are inviting me over for dinner, aren't you?"

Trixie giggled. "Actually, it's you who is inviting me over to dinner at your place tonight. I want to make Mart think he really got to me and let him suffer a little longer."

At lunch the next afternoon, Dan couldn't find Ruthie anywhere. She often still ate with the Third-Hand Gang in spite of her sometimes going out with Dan, but none of them had seen her all day either. Jason, however, was easily spotted in the crowd, and Mart called him over to their table.

"I can't turn down an invitation to sit with you all. What's up?" Jason asked with a smile.

"Another mystery," Dan answered easily. "Or the same mystery."

"Do you remember that list of names that I thought had grades next to it?" Trixie asked as she bit into her sandwich, a Crabapple Special. As Jason nodded, Trixie hastily wiped away the bit of jelly that had dribbled on her chin. "One of the names is Sullivan. C. Sullivan."

"So you were wondering if I knew a C. Sullivan? Hmmm, the only C. Sullivan I can think of is my cousin Caroline."

"Caroline," Honey repeated as she wrote the name down. "How old is she?"

"Twenty-three. Does that help any?" Jason had answered Honey, but was still smiling at Trixie.

"I think Ruthie said that Leslie is twenty-three," Di remarked.

"I wonder if all these people are twenty-three," Honey mused.

"I wonder if they're all female." Mart stuffed the rest of his Special in his mouth and reached for a carton of milk.

Jason peered over Trixie's lunch to take a look at the list, and Trixie obligingly turned the list around so he could read it easier. He shook his head, "I don't recognize any of the other names. Do you want me to call Caroline and ask her about them?"

"It couldn't hurt. Thanks," Trixie answered at the same time that Honey whipped out an extra sheet of the names and handed it to Jason.

Randall Farmer sat at his desk before the last class of the day. The bell had barely rung, and Trixie Belden rushed in, out of breath. Randall wondered to himself if Trixie actually liked English, as lately she was often the first student to arrive.

"Miss Belden," he called to her as she entered. He noticed a fleeting look of disappointment as she realized he was already at his desk. "Could you please stay after class today? I need to have a word with you."

Trixie nodded and sat at her desk. The fact that she was completely unable to concentrate on her English lessons was certainly noticeable to Mr. Farmer. He supposed she was nervous because he'd asked to talk to her. I hope I haven't made her too nervous, Randall thought to himself. I suppose I should've worded my request more kindly. I'm sure she thinks she's in some sort of trouble. The minutes dragged by slowly, but eventually the bell signaling the end of class rang.

Trixie approached Mr. Farmer's desk slowly, her head hung down in shame. All she could think of was that somehow he found out she'd stolen his list of names, and she was now going to be confronted for it.

"Trixie Belden," Mr. Farmer began, "I found out you have quite a reputation as an amateur detective."

Trixie nodded.

"I have a, well, a situation, that I could use a little help with." Mr. Farmer walked to the front of his desk and sat on a bare corner. He seemed really nervous. "I thought about hiring a private detective, but upon talking to a few people, I realized that what I'm asking for is really a simple task and might be better handled by someone more discreet and who has an appearance of someone less professional."

Trixie's ears turned red. Does he mean I'm not professional? she thought angrily.

As if Mr. Farmer read her thoughts, he continued quickly, "I'm not implying that you would be unprofessional ... simply that certain people wouldn't expect a teenager to be professional. Mr. Stratton assures me, however, that you are quite adept."

"Thank you, I think," Trixie mumbled.

"I'm looking for someone." Mr. Farmer got up and went back to the front of his desk. He opened the drawer and rummaged through some papers. "That's strange," he muttered to himself. "No matter." He then turned back to Trixie and told her the rest of his story. He pointed to the picture that was once more displayed on his desk. "Marion Rodgers and I were engaged." Mr. Farmer paused again, looking increasingly nervous and somewhat embarrassed. "Mr. Stratton says you know a lot of people in Sleepyside, and you seem to have a nose for finding things out. He tells me you are also trustworthy. I expect what I say to stay between us."

"Thank you, sir." Trixie turned her mouth up in a half-smile. "I usually work with the other members of the club, though. I hope I'll be able to share some information with them, since we work better as a team."

"Club?" Mr. Farmer asked.

Trixie turned around to show him the back of her red jacket. "Yes, the Bob-Whites of the Glen. We're sort of secret, except everyone knows about us."

Mr. Farmer actually grinned. "Doesn't sound very secret. Actually, yes, Mr. Stratton did mention your club. You're the president of this club, though, right?"

Trixie smiled back. "Co-president. Anyway, whatever you tell me will only be shared with them." As an afterthought, she mumbled, "And possibly a few other close friends who could help in the investigation."

Randall Farmer shook his head. "The less people you tell, the better. Mr. Stratton said I could trust you though. I certainly hope he's right." He got up and paced back and forth for a bit. Trixie sensed he was still nervous about telling her whatever he was about to say. Suddenly, Mr. Farmer stopped pacing and faced Trixie again. "Marion and I were engaged. Shortly before we graduated from high school, she broke up with me rather suddenly and ran off with a friend of hers to Sleepyside."

"How old were you when you were engaged? A male friend?" Trixie asked, thinking high school was rather young to be thinking about marriage, and wondering if Marion had run off with another guy.

"It was 1963. In those days, oh so long ago, people often married young," Mr. Farmer explained sarcastically. "And it was a female friend, by the way. If I might continue?" Mr. Farmer cleared his throat. "I joined the military right after high school and got assigned from one base to another, so I wasn't able stay in touch with her. I tried; I wrote her letters that eventually got sent back to me marked 'addressee unknown.' I just recently found out from a fellow alumnus from White Plains High that she had moved to Sleepyside because she'd been pregnant. Unfortunately, this person didn't know what had happened to her after that. He was simply remembering the rumor that circulated at the time. When this teaching position in Sleepyside opened up, I jumped at it. I thought maybe I could find Marion after all these years and determine what exactly had happened: if there had even been a baby, and whether or not the baby was mine."

Trixie waited a few seconds to make sure she wasn't interrupting Mr. Farmer again. "So you want me to find Marion. And her baby?"

"I would ask around myself, but I know how small towns are, and I'm afraid my queries would be answered with a handbag swung at my head." Mr. Farmer smiled ruefully. "The rumors that had been going around White Plains were that I had abandoned Marion, but I never even knew about the baby, or the possibility of a baby, until I moved back to White Plains a few months ago.

"I had a list of names I got from the school records here," Mr. Farmer continued, a small blush on his cheeks at admitting he'd gone through confidential files. "I seem to have misplaced it. Assuming that Marion raised her baby here in Sleepyside, my child could be one of seven that had birth dates between March and May of 1963. I know it's kind of a long shot, but I would really like to know if I'm a father or not."

Trixie flushed guiltily at the mention of the list. "Wouldn't the school records say who the children's parents were?"

"Actually, none of the mothers listed for these children, young adults now, I suppose, was named Marion. I'm not even sure if she had a child, or if the child was raised in Sleepyside." Mr. Farmer shrugged his shoulders. "Like I said, I'd ask around myself, but I'm afraid of the reaction I'd get. Plus, being new to town, I'm not sure who the local gossips are that would know this kind of information."

"Well, I can certainly ask around. I'll let you know Monday if I come up with anything."

"I appreciate your help." Mr. Farmer smiled at her. "I suppose we should discuss fees and expenses?"

"Uh," Trixie hadn't even thought about taking money, "actually my partner handles that aspect of the business. I'll have to discuss it with her. I really do need to go before I miss the last bus." She quickly left the classroom and literally ran into Mart. Dan, Di, Honey, and Jason were also there.

"Hey, you nearly knocked me over," Mart complained.

"What kept you?" Dan asked. "Did Farmer find out about you stealing that list of names?"

"Not exactly," Trixie replied. "Let's go catch the bus, and I'll fill you in."

"I'll call you tonight and let you know what I find out from Caroline. Then could you tell me what's going on?" Jason asked.

"Um, sure," Trixie replied, blushing in spite of herself. Gleeps! Why do I always blush when I talk to Jason? He's going to think I like him or something.

The next day at lunch, Ruthie Kettner joined the Bob-Whites at their regular table.

"I missed you yesterday," Dan greeted her.

"I was home. I was sick," Ruthie answered. "But I found your note in my locker. What's the big case you're working on?"

"Well, Mr. Farmer is looking for his son or daughter," Trixie started to explain.

"Mr. Farmer? The English teacher?" Ruthie asked.

"Yes. Apparently Mr. Farmer dated Marion Rodgers many, many years ago, and he just found out she had a child," Honey filled in.

"M-M-Marion R-Rodgers?" Ruthie paled, and, for a second, Dan was worried she might faint.

"Do you know her?" Mart asked excitedly.

"Marion Rodgers is my mother," Ruthie managed to get out before she pushed her tray aside and walked away from the table.

The End

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