Nancy Drew woke up with the sun, her blue eyes sparkling. “Summer vacation, at last!” she breathed. She jumped out of bed and put on gym shorts and her favorite blue T-shirt.
Nancy slipped into well-cushioned running shoes and attached a yellow portable cassette player to her waistband. She pulled a terry-cloth sweatband over her long reddish blond hair and left her bedroom. She heard the shower running down the hall and knew her father was awake and getting ready for a busy day at his law office.
Before Nancy made it down the stairs, the phone rang. She raced back up the stairs and picked up the hall phone on the second ring.
“Is Carson Drew there?” a frantic-sounding male voice asked on the other end of the line. “This is Bob Jamison — I’m a client of his. I have to speak to him right away.”
“No, I’m sorry. He’s not available right now,” Nancy said. “I’ll be glad to take a message, though.”
She heard a click at the end of the line and realized that the caller had hung up abruptly.
“I wonder why he was in such a hurry,” Nancy said as she hung up. She jotted a note to her father on the pad beside the phone. Then she headed out into the early morning air, closing the front door behind her.
Before she started her run, Nancy stretched out her muscles, using the front steps as a kind of gym bar. She maintained an easy pace as she ran around River Heights Park, listening to her favorite tape and greeting the other early morning runners with a smile. She breathed deeply, her skin glowing from the fresh air and the exertion.
Nancy hummed along with the music in her earphones, thinking about what a lovely summer it was going to be. She planned to spend the first few weeks in River Heights, visiting friends she didn’t get to see enough of during the year, including her friend Bess Marvin.
Then Nancy was going to join her friend George Fayne, who was Bess’s cousin, to do some sailing up in Bridgehaven. George, who was teaching sailing at the nearby marina, had invited Nancy to come for a visit. Nancy was looking forward to the trip.
Nearly at the end of her run, Nancy turned up the driveway to the house where she lived with her father and their longtime housekeeper, Hannah Gruen. Hannah had been like a mother to Nancy since Nancy’s mother had died, when she was three.
Nancy slowed to a walk, then stretched out again. Next she ran up the stairs two at a time, jumped into the shower, and dressed for the day in jeans and a colorful cotton shirt.
By the time Nancy got downstairs, her father, attorney Carson Drew, was seated at the kitchen table, looking at some legal papers. He was so engrossed in his reading that he barely noticed the steaming pile of pancakes sitting in front of him. Hannah was at the stove making another batch and greeted Nancy with a smile.
“How was your run, dear?” Hannah asked.
“Great! I went all the way around the park. It’s gorgeous outside. Not a cloud in the sky, and flowers are blooming everywhere.”
Nancy’s stomach rumbled as she sniffed the rich aroma in the air. “What smells so good?” she asked as she took a seat across from her father.
“Your favorite breakfast,” Hannah said. She handed Nancy a plate of pancakes.
“Mmm. Your blueberry pancakes are always super, Hannah, but these look really delicious!” Nancy turned to her father, who usually echoed such compliments to Hannah. Today, however, Mr. Drew was silent.
Hannah raised her eyebrows at Nancy. “It’s those fresh blueberries,” she said. “You know I always like to get the first fruits of the season.”
Still not a word out of Carson Drew. Nancy grinned, then said, “Of course, it’s the motor oil on top that makes them taste so good. Don’t you agree, Dad?”
“Yes, of course, Nancy,” Mr. Drew replied. Nancy and Hannah laughed out loud.
“What?” Mr. Drew asked innocently. “Did I say something funny?”
“Not really, Dad,” Nancy said. “It’s just that you’re not all here.”
“I’m sorry, Nancy, Hannah — I guess I’m a little preoccupied.”
“Is something wrong, Dad?” Nancy asked.
“I’m not sure. I’ve been involved in several cases recently that settled out of court very quickly — much sooner than I would have expected.”
Nancy’s father was a respected attorney, and he often told Nancy about some of the more interesting details of his cases.
“I thought settling was good,” Nancy said. “Doesn’t it mean that both sides are happy?”
“Yes,” Mr. Drew said, “but some of these cases were settled too quickly. Two of them were settled barely after I’d gotten any information from my client.”
“That sounds odd,” Nancy said.
“It is a bit odd. People often get better settlements by going to court,” Mr. Drew said. He put aside his legal papers and began to attack the stack of pancakes in front of him. “Nancy was right, Hannah. These are delicious. Please pass the motor oil,” he added with a grin.
Nancy passed him the jug of maple syrup, smiling at his joke. “I knew you were listening. Is there anything that connects all these clients to one another?”
“Two things,” Mr. Drew replied. “Williams and Brown represented all the opposition. Also, all these clients have been through a criminal court case in the past.”
“Do you think there’s something that they’re trying to hide by settling quickly and not being in the public eye? Maybe something related to their criminal cases?” Nancy asked.
“I’m not sure,” Mr. Drew said. “But these clients did seem unusually scared. They wouldn’t even talk to me after they settled. They wouldn’t explain what had happened. Some of them are people I’ve known for years.
“It really sounds as if something funny is going on,” Nancy said. “Why are these clients so scared? Are you sure there aren’t any connections, other than Williams and Brown, between them? Or the companies they’re settling with? Or — “
“Hold on, Nancy,” Mr. Drew said with a smile. “All your speculating does give me an idea. I have to devote my time to the Harris embezzlement case, at Central City Savings and Loan. I was wondering if you would be interested in coming in and — “
“Helping out around the office?” Nancy finished the sentence for her father. “I’d be glad to. When do I start?”
“How does today sound?” Mr. Drew answered. “You could put the files related to these cases on disks for long-term storage. You could e-mail some letters and hand-deliver some notarized documents regarding the settlements to Williams and Brown.”
“Sounds great,” Nancy replied. “This will keep me busy before I go visit George. It’ll be great to see Ms. Hanson again. Also, I’ll get to meet the new associate, Blaine Warner. And you’ve got some other new people, right?”
“Yes,” her father replied. “There’s Henry Yi, our paralegal. He’s very bright. And Byron Thomas is our summer law student intern. He’s quiet but very thorough in his work. I think you’ll like them all. I’ll be needing their help on this new Harris case, so you’ll be pretty much on your own.”
“I may also be able to discover what’s going on with all those settled cases while I do the filing, Dad,” Nancy said. “I mean, is there one big corporation behind all these cases that doesn’t want to be exposed for manufacturing faulty products, or — “
Now it was Carson Drew’s turn to laugh. “Nancy, you’re always looking for a mystery — whether it’s my not talking at breakfast or clients settling their cases early, or — “
Before Mr. Drew could finish his sentence, he was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. “Who could that be calling this early in the morning?” Mr. Drew wondered out loud. He stood up and walked over to pick up the kitchen phone. “Hello?” he said.
The person on the other end of the line was speaking so loudly that Nancy could hear the words clearly. “Mr. Drew, I’ve decided to take the settlement,” the person said.
“Bob? Is that you?” Nancy’s father said. “What’s the matter? I thought we — “
“I’ve made up my mind, and I don’t want to go through the whole court thing again. Just take the settlement. Take the settlement!” he yelled. Nancy could hear the click of the receiver as the caller hung up abruptly.
Mr. Drew stared at the receiver for a second before he, too, hung up. “I think you’ve just found yourself a new case, Nancy.”