The Sign Of The Falcon – First Chapter

“It’s so great to be back in New York,” Bess Marvin remarked, staring out the cab window at the majestic Manhattan skyline. Then she glanced at her friend Nancy Drew, who was sitting next to her. “I wish it didn’t have to be under these circumstances, though,” she added softly.

Eighteen-year-old Nancy nodded, her blue eyes troubled. Usually, the ride from LaGuardia Airport into Manhattan filled her with excitement and anticipation, but not today. “Me, too,” she said. “I mean, we’ve been here on cases before, but not one involving my own father.”

On Nancy’s other side, George Fayne, Bess’s dark-haired cousin, put on a cheerful smile. “I bet we’ll find your dad right away,” she said brightly.

“It’s probably just a mix-up,” Bess added. “You know, like he left town for a few days for some R and R and forgot to tell anyone.”

“I hope so,” Nancy murmured. Inside, however, she knew something was terribly wrong.

Carson Drew had come to New York four days ago on a business trip — and vanished into thin air. The first alarm had come the night before — Wednesday night — from his sister, Eloise Drew. Eloise, who lived in Greenwich Village, was supposed to meet Nancy’s dad for dinner at seven. When he didn’t show up at the restaurant, she called his hotel, the Imperial. The manager informed her that he wasn’t in his room and hadn’t been there for a while. Worried, Eloise then called Nancy.

Nancy had contacted the Imperial Hotel herself and pressed the manager, Mr. Lambert, for details of her father’s comings and goings. Mr. Lambert explained that Mr. Drew had checked into the hotel on Sunday, the day he arrived in New York. But while Mr. Drew had slept in his room on Sunday and Monday nights, he definitely hadn’t slept there on Tuesday; the bed hadn’t been touched. Furthermore, he hadn’t picked up the messages and faxes that had been piling up for him since Tuesday morning.

Nancy’s next call had been to her father’s secretary; Ms. Hanson.

“I haven’t heard from your dad since Tuesday morning,” Ms. Hanson had told Nancy. “I thought it was kind of strange — whenever he goes out of town, he usually checks in with me two or three times a day. Plus, I sent some important faxes to his hotel late Tuesday afternoon, and he never acknowledged them.”

That was Wednesday night. It was now Thursday. First thing that morning Nancy had decided to come to New York, with her friends George and Bess in tow. An amateur detective, Nancy often used their help on cases. She was determined to use all of her detective skills to find her father. She’d lost her mother when she was just three, so he was the only parent she had ever really known. There was no way she was going to lose him, too.

“Nancy?” Bess’s voice cut into her thoughts. “I just know we’re going to find your dad right away. And as soon as we do, we can celebrate by having a real New York vacation. We can go clothes shopping — I got the names of a bunch of cool new stores from my favorite magazine, Bellissima. Oh, and I want to try that new restaurant where all the waiters and waitresses are on roller skates. Plus, we have to take in a Broadway show, maybe a musical…”

“Maybe we could catch a Mets game, too,” George spoke up. “You like baseball, right, Nan? And there’s a 10K race in Central Park on Sunday.”

“You want to exercise while you’re here?” Bess said, aghast. “Why?”

Despite her preoccupied mood, Nancy couldn’t help but grin. She never stopped marveling at how different the two cousins were. Aside from their physical appearances — Bess was short, blond, and forever dieting, and George was tall, brunette, and athletic — their personalities were as different as night and day.

The cabdriver turned around. “So are you girls visiting someone in New York?”

“My father — ” Nancy began, then her voice caught in her throat.

“We’re visiting her father’s sister,” Bess said quickly. “That’s where we’re headed now.”

Trying to keep her emotions at bay, Nancy opened the window a crack and took a deep breath. The balmy April breeze stirred her reddish blond hair. As the cab sped across the Queensboro Bridge, she stared at the steel blue waters of the East River and the cars jammed bumper to bumper on the FDR Drive just ahead.

Manhattan was an island of over a million people, she mused. Where among them was her father?

“Nancy!”

Standing in the doorway of her apartment, Eloise Drew wrapped Nancy in a tearful hug.

“Hi, Aunt Eloise.”

Pulling back, Nancy felt a pang in her heart as she studied her aunt’s face, so like her father’s. Today it was lined with worry.

Eloise hugged George and Bess, then picked up one of the girls’ bags and waved everyone into the living room. “Are you hungry?” she said. “I got some cookies and fruit from the deli around the corner. And excuse the mess — I haven’t had a chance to pick up, with all of this happening.”

Nancy glanced around. As always, her aunt’s apartment looked inviting and homey. All around there were big, soft chairs and pillows, piles of interesting-looking magazines, and vases of colorful spring flowers: daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips.

Nancy smiled at her aunt. “Mess? What mess? The place looks wonderful.”

Bess tossed her long blond hair over her shoulders. “Definitely. If you want to see a real mess, check out my room at home.”

When they’d all sat down in the living room, Nancy turned to her aunt. “So, Aunt Eloise — did you get a chance to talk to the police about Dad?”

“I went down to the station and filed a missing-persons report this morning,” Eloise replied, passing a plate of cookies and fruit around. “Officer Jordan — the man I talked to — said they’d get on the case as soon as they can.” She frowned. “He warned me that their department is very overloaded right now. Of course, I gave him a piece of my mind, but who knows if that’ll get results?”

George took a banana from the plate. “Did they have any idea what might have happened to Mr. Drew?” she asked Eloise.

Eloise shook her head. “Not without gathering more facts,” she said. “Speaking of gathering facts, I called all the hospitals to see if Carson or anyone fitting his description had checked in in the last forty-eight hours. I didn’t have any luck.”

“At least we can rule that out, anyway,” Nancy said, relieved.

Bess bit into a peanut butter cookie. “So what’s our plan for the rest of the afternoon, Nan?”

Nancy considered. “I think you and Aunt Eloise should stay here and make phone calls,” she said. “For starters, call all the airlines and the train, bus, and car rental companies in town and see if Dad might have used them in the last few days.”

“Sounds good,” Eloise said. “I’ve got keys to my neighbor’s apartment — I’m watering her plants while she’s away on vacation. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I used her phone. That way, Bess can use the one in here, and we’ll go a lot faster.” “Great.” Nancy pulled a piece of paper out of her jeans pocket. “In the meantime, George, you and I will hit the streets. Dad’s secretary gave me the number of a lawyer named Miguel Lopez — Dad had lunch with him on Monday. Mr. Lopez might be able to tell us something about Dad’s whereabouts. I also want to go by the Imperial Hotel to check out Dad’s room.”

Eloise grabbed Nancy’s hand and squeezed it. “I’m so glad you girls are here. With all your experience as detectives, we should find Carson in no time.”

Nancy squeezed back. She could tell that her aunt was trying to sound brave and cheerful. “I’m sure we will,” she said encouragingly.

“I met your father for lunch on Monday at one o’clock, at a restaurant around the corner,” Miguel Lopez told Nancy. “We’re working on opposite sides of a case, and we had some matters to go over.”

Nancy and George were in Mr. Lopez’s office, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The young, dark-haired lawyer was sitting behind a desk cluttered with files and old Styrofoam coffee cups.

Nancy leaned forward in her chair. “What kind of case?” she asked him curiously.

“A malpractice suit. I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss the details.” Mr. Lopez picked up a pencil and tapped it lightly against his desk calendar. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with your father for the last few days, Ms. Drew. He was supposed to send me some very important documents by Tuesday at five, and they never came. And here it is Thursday already.”

“Did Mr. Drew happen to tell you what his plans were for the rest of the week?” George spoke up.

Mr. Lopez shook his head. “No. We talked about the case — that’s all.” He added, “Come to think of it, as he left, he asked me for directions to the City Hall area. Maybe he had some business down there?”

Nancy frowned. That was odd — Ms. Hanson hadn’t said anything about her father having an appointment downtown near City Hall on Monday afternoon.

After asking the lawyer several more questions, Nancy and George thanked him and left. Outside, George turned to Nancy. “Tuesday seems to be a key day,” she commented. “Ms. Hanson said that she hasn’t heard from your dad since Tuesday morning. And the manager at his hotel said that he slept there Sunday and Monday, but not Tuesday.”

Nancy nodded. “It seems as if Dad went somewhere that afternoon — but where?”

The girls took the subway down to the midtown area. It was nearly six o’clock when they emerged from the Rockefeller Center station. Above-ground, the Avenue of the Americas was lined with tall skyscrapers, and the sidewalks were jammed with people just getting off from work. The rush-hour traffic blared and rumbled, while neon signs and streetlights glittered against the dusky blue, twilit sky.

They soon reached the Imperial Hotel, an elegant ten-story building just off the avenue. At the front desk a young clerk smiled at the girls. “Can I help you ladies?” “I’d like to see Mr. Lambert, if he’s here,” Nancy told him.

“Certainly.” The clerk picked up the phone and spoke into it. Seconds later a portly, middle-aged man emerged from behind a closed door. He pushed his wire-rimmed glasses up his nose and studied Nancy and George. “Yes? What can I do for you?”

Nancy introduced herself. “We spoke on the phone last night about my father, Carson Drew. I was wondering if we could take a look at his room. It might help us figure out where he is.”

“Of course,” Mr. Lambert replied. “But first, I’ll need to see some ID.”

Nancy dug into her purse and produced her driver’s license. Mr. Lambert glanced at it, handed it back to her, then reached for a key labeled Suite 312 on a hook. “Right this way,” he said to the girls.

As they crossed the lobby and went into the elevator, Mr. Lambert said, “I don’t know if I told you on the phone, but your father paid for his suite through Saturday.”

“No, you didn’t mention that,” Nancy replied. “If we haven’t…” Her voice wavered slightly. “If we haven’t found him by then, I’ll be sure to clear out his things.”

George put a hand on Nancy’s arm. “Think positive, Nan,” she murmured.

The elevator reached the third floor, and the doors swooshed open. Nancy, George, and Mr. Lambert stepped out. A plush carpeted hall stretched ahead, with a dozen doors on either side. At the end was a door with a bright red Exit sign over it.

“Mr. Drew’s suite is the last one on the right,”

Mr. Lambert said. “It’s one of our deluxe…” He paused and frowned. “Wait a second — what’s that woman doing there? That’s Mr. Drew’s suite!”

Nancy followed Mr. Lambert’s glance. Outside the last door on the right stood a woman wearing a brown raincoat, a matching hat pulled low, gloves, and red cat’s-eye-shaped sunglasses. Her hand clutched the doorknob.

Nancy gasped. “She’s trying to break in!” she cried out.

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