“I’ve got it!” Bess Marvin said, swinging her blond ponytail as she turned toward Nancy Drew and Regina Houser. Continuing down the sidewalk with her friends, Bess asked, “What if I write my essay about my summer as a camp counselor?”
Nancy and Regina glanced at each other and smiled. Regina had been in Nancy and Bess’s class at River Heights High School. Trying not to laugh, Nancy said, “You mean when you sank the camp’s sailboat and got lost in the woods with a group of campers?” Her blue eyes crinkled in amusement. “Do you want your whole creative writing class to know about that?”
Bess winced. “Uh, maybe not.”
Regina smiled. “My brother, DeWitt, would never let you live that down,” she said. DeWitt was in Bess’s summer creative writing class at River Heights Community College.
“Maybe George will have some ideas,” Nancy suggested. The three girls, having just finished breakfast at a local coffee shop, were on their way to visit Bess’s cousin, George Fayne. George had a part-time summer job delivering prescriptions for Twickham’s Drugstore, which was only a couple blocks away. Twickham’s had been in downtown River Heights for as long as Nancy could remember.
Though she had known Bess and George almost her whole life, Nancy could never get over how different they were. Tall, dark George loved the outdoors and almost every sport. Blond-haired Bess was much more comfortable curled up in front of a fireplace with a good romance novel.
A few moments later Nancy, Bess, and Regina arrived at a small brick building with an orange neon sign that said Twickham’s in curving script. As Nancy pushed the door open, a little brass bell tinkled. The three girls paused inside the door and looked around.
Nancy’s father, Carson Drew, always said that Twickham’s looked just as it did when he was a boy. Though the store carried many modern conveniences, from blank videotapes to contact lens solution, it still had the smell of a different era: a sweet blend of talcum powder, penny candy, and medicinal tonics. The aisles were narrow, but the ceiling was high, with wooden paddle fans cooling the air. There was even an old-fashioned soda fountain, located to Nancy’s right, against the front window.
On a side wall, behind a polished wooden counter, was the pharmacy area, raised a step from the rest of the drugstore. The pharmacy’s narrow shelves were full of small bottles of pills, syrups, and other medicines — it was the best-stocked pharmacy in town, Nancy remembered her dad saying. In front of it, the cashier’s counter had a heavy brass cash register that looked like an antique.
Nancy remembered the store’s owner, Martin Twickham, whose smiling face used to greet customers at the pharmacy counter. She knew he had retired a few years ago, though he still owned the store. She missed seeing him.
“Hey, are you ladies going to buy anything, or are you just blocking the doorway?”
Nancy turned around to see George entering the drugstore with a big grin on her face. Carrying a small, blue zippered bag for her delivery money, George as usual didn’t stop moving. “Come on up to the pharmacy and say hi,” she greeted her friends.
Nancy, Bess, and Regina followed George up into the pharmacy area, past the short line of customers waiting for their prescriptions. The pharmacy was a long narrow room, with floor-to-ceiling shelves on one side. Behind the counter, a man and woman in white lab coats stood before computer screens.
“Hi, Grace,” George called out, waving to the woman in the white lab coat. She was about forty, with chin-length, very curly black hair. Nancy knew she was Grace Cerrito, the head pharmacist and George’s boss.
But Grace seemed not to have heard George. She had just turned, scowling, to the man at her right. “I can’t waste time every morning double-checking your counts from the night before,” she snapped at him.
The man’s face reddened. “You don’t have to,” he mumbled, keeping his eyes glued to the computer screen. “I only got it wrong once.”
“That’s one time too many,” Grace said in a low, tight voice. Then, with a quick sigh, she looked up at the girls. A big smile lit up her face. “What brings you guys here so early in the morning?” she asked. Her voice was totally cheerful again.
Nancy could tell that her friends were embarrassed about overhearing the exchange between Grace and the other pharmacist. She herself was very curious about it. But she broke the awkward silence, saying, “Oh, uh, we’re checking up on George, making sure she’s doing her work.”
Grace laughed, her eyes crinkling merrily. “You don’t have to do that, Nancy,” she said. “George is doing fine. We’re very grateful for her help.” Nancy smiled in reply.
Bess, who already knew Grace, said hello, and George introduced Grace to Regina. “And this is Kevin Duffy,” George added, gesturing toward the other pharmacist.
Kevin Duffy’s eyes were still glued to his computer screen. At George’s words he looked over, running his hand nervously through his longish, curly, light brown hair. The expression on his tanned face was sullen, as though he was still smarting from Grace’s rebuke. As George introduced Nancy, Bess, and Regina, Kevin simply nodded, barely even looking their way. Clearly, they had caught him at a bad time.
“Hey, Kevin,” George said, trying to lighten things up. “I saw your favorite team squeaked by in that doubleheader yesterday.”
“Nah,” he said. “They had it in the bag the whole time.”
“Oh, right!” George said with a laugh. She turned to the others. “Kevin’s a big Steamers fan,” she explained, referring to a local minor-league baseball team. “And the way they’ve been playing, that’s not easy,” she added with a teasing smile.
Her remark coaxed a little grin onto Kevin’s face, though he never stopped tapping on his keyboard. He swiveled in his chair to begin counting pills on a small tray and putting them in a plastic bottle.
George turned away to let him concentrate on his work. “So what have you three been up to?” she asked her friends.
Regina laughed. “Food — what else? We just came from breakfast.” She glanced at her watch. “But I’m afraid I’ve got to get going. I have to be at work in fifteen minutes.”
“Oh!” Bess said. “That must mean it’s almost time for my class.” She looked at her friends in a panic. “And I still don’t have a topic for my essay!”
“I’ll give you a lift — I drive by the college anyway,” Regina offered. “We can brainstorm ideas on the way.”
After Regina and Bess said goodbye and left, Grace called George over to her work area and said, “George, that face cream we special-ordered for Mrs. Cay came in last night. She didn’t ask for it to be delivered, but if you have time, maybe you could drop it by her house.”
“Sure thing,” George said. “I always like to see Mrs. Cay.”
Grace smiled warmly. “She’s great, isn’t she?” she agreed. “Say hello to her for me.”
Nancy began to back away. “I should let you get to work,” she said to George.
“Hang on,” George said. “If you’re not doing anything, why don’t you come with me on this delivery run? It’ll just take a few minutes.” She turned to Grace. “Is that okay, Grace?”
“No problem,” Grace said. “Just hurry back. We’re having a busy morning.”
George slipped the jar of face cream into a paper bag and wrote out a delivery receipt. Then she led Nancy out the back entrance to the asphalt parking lot behind the drugstore. They got into a small blue car with the word Twickham’s painted on the doors, along with the store’s phone number.
Nancy watched the morning traffic as George steered the car out onto the busy downtown street that ran beside the drugstore. “You seem to be enjoying this job,” she commented.
George nodded enthusiastically. “It’s turning out to be a cool place to work,” she said. “Doing deliveries means I can get out and move around a lot. Most of the customers have been coming to Twickham’s for years, so they know all the employees. Delivering to them is more like doing a favor for a friend than doing a job.”
“Except that you get paid for it,” Nancy added.
George smiled. “Yeah, that is nice,” she admitted. “This is the last place in town that offers free delivery service, and the customers really appreciate it. Most of them tip me nicely. I’m saving for a new CD player.”
George drove into an older section of River Heights. “This is one of my favorite parts of town,” Nancy said, looking at the small, neat houses lining the residential blocks. “Even though these homes have been around awhile, people really keep them looking nice. Each house here seems to have its own personality.”
“Mrs. Cay told me that she’s lived here her whole life,” George said. “And she’s been a customer at Twickham’s since it opened, over forty years ago. She’s about seventy, I think, though she’s still sharp as a tack.”
Nancy smiled. “Sounds like she’s one of your favorite customers.”
George grinned and nodded as she turned onto a shady side street. “I hope I’m like her when I get to be that age,” she said. “It seems like she’s always got some new project going — she’s always trying to help out someone else. And she still rides her bike around town.”
George pulled the car up to a one-story brick house covered with ivy. The small lawn was bordered with neatly trimmed bushes, and bright flowers lined the walk. More flowers filled rows of pots on the porch. “Someone here has a green thumb,” Nancy commented as she and George stepped out of the delivery car.
“That’s Mrs. Cay all right,” George said as they headed up the stone walkway. “She can grow just about any — “
George broke off suddenly, staring at the front of the house. Nancy came to a halt as she noticed the same thing George had.”Why is her front door standing wide open?” George asked in a low voice.
“Maybe she stepped outside for a moment,” Nancy said. Her eyes swept over the porch and the sides of the house, hoping to spot Mrs. Cay.
Nancy and George made their way onto the porch. George hesitated, then raised her hand to knock on the half-open door.Suddenly, from inside Mrs. Cay’s house, they heard a man’s voice cry out, “Oh, no!”