“I don’t believe it!” Nancy Drew said, stopping in surprise in the middle of the sidewalk.
Before her, dozens of people swarmed around the steps of the old First River Heights Bank, which had recently been converted into Bloom’s Bookstore & Coffeehouse. “Are all those people really waiting for a poetry reading?” Nancy asked her friend Bess Marvin.
“Of course, Bess said. “This is going to be a fantastically exciting evening!”
“How can a poetry reading be fantastically exciting?” George Fayne asked skeptically.
“These new coffeehouses are supposed to be the place to meet cute guys,” Bess explained. “And remember. I haven’t had a date in two whole weeks.”
George laughed and said, “I should have known it was something like that.”
Tall and slender, with reddish-blond hair, Nancy had been best friends for years with Bess and George. Though they looked nothing alike, Bess and George were first cousins. George was slim and athletic with short brown hair and dark eyes. Bess had straight blond hair and blue eyes and was far more interested in clothes and guys than her cousin was.
Bess waved a glossy flyer at them. “We’re so lucky Richard Munro is reading tonight.”
“Who is Richard Munro?” Nancy asked.
“Only the most devastatingly handsome poet on earth,” Bess replied. “Black hair, green eyes, cheekbones to die for — “
“Sounds like he meets all the requirements for a great poet,” George said dryly. “Can he write?”
“Of course he can,” Bess said indignantly.
“Come on, you two,” Nancy said, laughing. “Let’s go inside and see for ourselves.”
Nancy liked Bloom’s the moment she walked in the door. With its marble floors, wood-paneled walls, and carved stone columns, the old bank building had once been imposing. But the new owners had totally transformed it, adding a cheerful clutter of books and antique furniture. Bookcases divided the space into cozy little corners, with tables and a mismatched assortment of loveseats and old velvet armchairs. Oriental rugs were scattered on the marble floor, which not only made the room quieter, but also gave it a warmer atmosphere.
Nancy saw that Bess was right: Bloom’s was the new hot place in River Heights. The coffeehouse was crowded with young people, all browsing the bookshelves or talking and laughing at the tables.
Bess led the way to the coffee bar, where she eyed the tempting pastries.
“What about your diet?” Nancy teased her.
“I’m starting tomorrow,” Bess said firmly.
George rolled her eyes at Nancy. Bess was always starting “tomorrow.”
“Look! Over there!” Bess said in a dramatic whisper. When Nancy and George glanced to their right, where Bess was pointing, she said urgently, “No, don’t turn around! Don’t be obvious. It’s him.”
“Him who?” George asked, still searching the room.
“Richard Munro, the poet,” Bess said with a sigh. “Isn’t he gorgeous? Let’s get some coffee and go sit near him.”
George groaned, but there was no arguing with Bess. The three girls filled a tray with coffee and cakes and took it over to the corner of the room, where a small raised platform had been set up for readings. Bess smiled brightly at the handsome young poet as she sat down on the chair closest to him, but he was about six feet away and didn’t look up from the book he was poring over.
Just then a tall woman in her late teens approached the girls’ table. She had long black hair, almond eyes, and a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. “George, is that you?” she asked.
George looked up and smiled. “Lori Chang! I haven’t seen you in ages. Why don’t you join us?”
“I’d love to,” Lori said.
George introduced Lori to Nancy and Bess. “Her mother plays tennis with my mom,” George explained.
“Hi, Nancy, Bess,” Lori said.
With difficulty, Bess pulled her gaze away from Richard Munro. Lori noticed this and laughed. “Oh, you’ve fallen under the Munro spell, have you?” she said in a low voice to Bess. “Well, look out. He’s trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?” Nancy asked.
“He’s got a ‘rep,’ if you know what I mean,” Lori said.
“What kind of reputation?” Bess asked, wide-eyed.
“Oh, you know. Expensive tastes, expensive girlfriends. And a trail of broken hearts wherever he goes,” Lori said.
“Better be careful, Bess, or you might be Richard Munro’s next victim,” George joked.
“Well, maybe he just hasn’t found the right girlfriend yet,” Bess said.
“He’s Cyril Bloom’s assistant,” Lori explained. “Cyril’s the guy who owns the place. He’s a real sweetie. There he is, in the corner, with the silver hair and tweed jacket and turtleneck.”
“The one with the pipe? Is he a poet, too? He looks just like a poet should look,” Bess said.
“Oh yes,” Lori said. “He doesn’t write any more, but he was fairly well known about twenty years ago, when his first book of poems was published. Haven’t you heard of Cyril Bloom? His book was called Dark Lady. He’s written several others since then.”
Bess shook her head. “I’ve only just begun to appreciate poetry,” she admitted.
“I love poetry,” Lori said. “And fiction, history, biographies…I’m crazy about books. That’s why I work with them now.”
“Do you work here at Bloom’s, too?” Nancy asked.
Lori shook her head. “No, I’m apprenticed to a master bookbinder,” she said. “I’m learning how to bind books and restore old bindings. We do a lot of work for Cyril, repairing rare old editions when they’re damaged.”
“Old editions?” Nancy asked. “I didn’t know Bloom’s sold old books. I see only new books here.”
Lori pointed to the balcony that ran around the room above their heads. On the balcony were even more bookcases. Nancy could see that the books on the shelves were mostly leather and cloth bound. “That’s where the old books are shelved,” Lori said. Then she pointed to a wall on the first floor. “And see that counter over there, where the bank tellers used to stand? The really valuable editions are kept in the rare book room behind the old tellers’ windows.”
“Shhh, you two,” Bess said. “I think the reading is starting.”
Cyril Bloom stepped up to the microphone on the platform. After welcoming the crowd, he introduced the three poets who would be reading. All three were lively performers as well as good writers, and Nancy found that the time passed quickly.
Bess, however, fidgeted during the first two readings, then leaned forward in rapt fascination for Richard Munro’s. The minute he finished, Bess jumped up, saying, “I’ve got to tell Richard that I just love his poems.”
“And his green eyes and his broad shoulders,” George teased her. Bess tossed her head and slipped away.
“I have to be going, George,” Lori said. “But it was great seeing you. Here’s my number at the bookbinding workshop — let’s keep in touch.” She handed George a scrap of paper and waved good bye.
As Lori walked away, George asked Nancy, “Are you in any hurry to leave? I’d like to check out the sports books.”
“Go ahead,” Nancy said. “I want to look around, too. And it’s obvious Bess doesn’t want to leave just yet.” They had both noticed that Bess had found a seat right beside Richard. She was smiling happily as he entertained a circle of young women.
Nancy wandered over to one of the bank counter windows, where she saw Cyril Bloom standing behind a cash register. “May I see the rare book room, please?” she asked.
“Of course,” Cyril said. “I’ll unlock the door.” As he gave her a charming smile, Nancy thought to herself that he’d probably once broken as many hearts as Richard Munro.
Cyril led Nancy behind the old counter and unlocked the door with a brass key. Nancy was intrigued — discovering what was behind locked doors always appealed to her sense of adventure. They stepped into a little room lined with antique glass-fronted bookcases. The room held the wonderful musty scent of old leather. Many of the books inside had beautiful designs stamped in gold on their spines. Nancy wondered if some of these were books Lori Chang had repaired at the book-bindery.
She circled the room, reading the titles of books of all sizes. Some titles were familiar; some she’d never heard before. Then, in one of the cases, she saw a book she recognized — Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles. “May I see that?” she asked, pointing to the book.
Cyril took the book out of the case and handed it carefully to Nancy. She looked over the familiar gray dust jacket with the scarlet type, then lifted the jacket to examine the leather cover’s embossed design: a hound silhouetted against the moon. It was just like a copy she had at home. A skilled detective, Nancy had been given the book by someone for whom she had solved a case.
Opening the cover, she looked at the price written on the first page — and almost dropped the book in shock. Two thousand dollars! She had no idea that the book was worth so much.
Thanking Cyril, Nancy handed the book back to him and left the rare book room. She paused on the other side of the counter to look at some paintings by a local artist.
Just then a small, plump middle-aged woman in a garish red-and-purple print dress strode up to the counter. Her heels clicked loudly on the marble floor, and her face was shadowed by her hat’s enormous brim. Cyril, who had returned to the cash register behind the counter, looked up in surprise.
The woman in the hat brought her fist down on the counter and announced in a booming voice, “Cyril, I’ve come for the book you said you were holding for me — the British edition of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. And mark my words — I’m not paying four hundred for it. Truepenny Books had it listed for two seventy-five in its catalog. Don’t think you can pull one over on me after all these years!”
“But, Risa,” Cyril said uneasily, “I — I can’t sell it to you at all. I’m afraid it’s gone.”
“What!” the little woman bellowed. “You double-crossing toad! I told you I wanted that copy, and you sold it out from under — “
“I didn’t sell it, Risa,” Cyril interrupted. “Now, calm down. You see” — he looked around and dropped his voice, but Nancy still heard him say quietly — “it was stolen.”
“Stolen?” Risa said loudly.
Cyril winced and said, “Shhh. I don’t want this getting around. I don’t want people getting the idea that my store’s security is lax.”
Risa’s strident voice softened with sympathy. “Oh, dear. I know just how you feel, Cyril,” she said. “Why, I’ve had two books stolen recently myself. And Gerard lost that rare edition of Huckleberry Finn just last week.”
Nancy moved a little closer, her heart beating faster. Maybe, she thought excitedly, this was the start of a new mystery for her to solve.
“I don’t understand,” Risa said. “How could anyone get into that fancy vault of yours?”
“The book wasn’t in the vault when it disappeared,” Cyril explained. “It had just come back from the bookbinder and — “
The two moved away, and Nancy couldn’t hear the rest of their discussion. Should she admit she’d been eavesdropping and break into their private conversation? she wondered, itching with curiosity. But just then she felt a hand on her arm.
“I think we’d better go rescue Bess,” George said, “before she does something really dumb.”
“Richard Munro?” Nancy guessed.
George nodded. “She’s already given him her phone number. I think she’s about to ask him to marry her or something.”
Nancy and George found Bess sitting on a loveseat next to Richard Munro, balancing a mug of coffee on her knee and gazing at him with starstruck eyes. Nancy had to admit that Richard Munro was handsome, with his high cheekbones and wavy black hair.
“I just adore poetry,” Bess was saying. “Especially love poems.”
“Hmmm,” Richard Munro said.
“Sonnets are my all-time favorites,” Bess went on. “They’re just so…poetic.”
Richard gave her a blank stare. George jabbed Nancy with her elbow.
“Bess,” Nancy cut in hastily, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I really have to get home.”
Bess turned toward Nancy. “Oh,” she murmured, her face crumpling in disappointment.
Richard stood up quickly. “Catch you later,” he said, and headed for the coffee bar.
“Did you hear that?” Bess asked dreamily as she rose to her feet. “He wants to see me again.”
“Uh, Bess, he didn’t exactly say that,” Nancy pointed out. She knew that Bess fell in love easily, and she didn’t want to see her friend hurt.
“But he does,” Bess insisted as the three friends walked to the door. “Don’t you remember when Richard read that line about eternal love? He was looking straight at me when he read it. There was definitely some serious eye contact happening back there.”
“That doesn’t prove anything,” George said.
Bess looked offended. “You’re always so negative, George,” she complained. “Your problem is, you’re not a romantic. If you had the soul of a poet, like I do, you’d understand.”
After leaving Bloom’s, Bess strode down Main Street in a huff. Nancy and George caught up to her next to Nancy’s blue Mustang. As Nancy unlocked the car doors, she said to Bess, “The soul of a poet? Is poetry your new passion — I mean, after chocolate, of course. ” Nancy added the last comment with a laugh.
“Well, chocolate still comes first, I confess,” Bess said. “But I’ve been reading up on poetry ever since I saw the flyer with Richard’s picture on it last week.”
As it turned out, Bess actually had been reading a lot of poetry. In fact, she talked about poetry nonstop until Nancy dropped her and George off at the Faynes’ house.
When Nancy got home, she found her father and Hannah Cruen in the living room, watching the TV news. Hannah, a middle-aged woman with silver gray hair, was the Drews’ housekeeper. She’d lived with Nancy and her father ever since Mrs. Drew had died, when Nancy was very young.
“How was Bloom’s?” Carson Drew asked.
“Interesting,” Nancy answered. “Remember that old Hound of the Baskervilles that Branwyn Froud gave me when I found her mother’s necklace? I saw one like it in Bloom’s that’s selling for two thousand dollars.”
Hannah’s jaw dropped. “Who on earth would pay that much money for a book?” she asked, amazed.
“Book collectors,” Carson Drew answered.
“Exactly,” Nancy said. Stepping over to the living room shelves, she began to look for her copy of the Sherlock Holmes book. She checked the bookcase behind the wing chair and then the shelves that faced the sofa, with no luck. “I don’t see it anywhere,” she said.
Mr. Drew stood up and stretched. “Maybe it wound up in my study by mistake,” he said. “I’ll check there.”
“I might as well look, too,” Hannah said, switching off the TV. She started to hunt through the bookcase in the hallway while Nancy continued to search the living room.
Twenty minutes later, Nancy, Carson, and Hannah stood puzzled in the front hall. “It’s just not here,” Hannah said. “We’ve searched everywhere.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Nancy said with a sinking feeling.
“What do you mean?” her father asked.
“There was one other thing I learned at Bloom’s tonight,” Nancy explained. “It seems that some one in this area is stealing rare books. I’m afraid that my Hound of the Baskervilles may be gone for good!”