Nancy Drew paused at the curb, waiting for the light to change. A stiff breeze off nearby Lake Michigan whipped a few strands of her reddish blond hair across her face. Just a few blocks away, the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago gleamed in the morning light.
Nancy’s friend Bess Marvin suddenly grabbed her arm. “Look, Nancy, there’s Cindy!” she exclaimed. “There, on that billboard.”
Nancy followed Bess’s pointing finger. Across the street, mounted on the roof of a six-story brick building, was a big poster advertising a sale at a local department store. A tall, slim girl with honey blond hair was shown dashing happily across a street, carrying several shopping bags.
It was their friend Cindy Sunderland, a River Heights girl who had recently moved to Chicago to pursue a career in modeling. With its high cheekbones, tip-tilted nose, and dazzling sky blue eyes, Cindy’s face was unmistakable. No wonder she was fast becoming one of the hottest teen models around.
“Isn’t she terrific?” Bess added. “Just looking at her picture makes me want to go catch that sale.”
Nancy laughed. “Come on, Bess,” she said. “You’ve never seen a sale you didn’t like.”
Bess flushed. “Well, maybe you’re right,” she admitted. “But Cindy’s picture does make that ad stand out. I just know she’s going to be the next big supermodel. And it’s so cool that she asked us to come watch her film this commercial — especially considering that we’ve only met her a few times.”
Nancy giggled. “She could hardly not invite us, you dropped so many hints when we saw her last month,” she reminded her friend. “But I think she wanted a little moral support, too. From what she said, it’s a really big break in her career — to move up from ad photos and fashion shows to TV commercials. It could lead to an acting career someday. I bet she’s pretty nervous.”
Bess nodded. “It’s too bad George had to go on a trip with her family this week. She would have loved to come along.” George Fayne, Bess’s cousin, was the third member of this trio of best friends.
The light changed. As they started across the street, Bess looked around at the run-down buildings. “Nancy, are you sure we’re in the right place?” she asked nervously. She flinched as an elevated train rattled past the next intersection. “Nothing around here looks like a movie studio.”
Nancy grinned. “This won’t be that kind of studio, silly,” she corrected Bess. “Cindy is making a commercial, not a feature film. Come on, the building must be on the next block.”
The address Cindy had given them turned out to be that of a solid-looking brick building with wide-arched windows on the street level. Over the entrance a carved stone panel bore the name MacAllister’s Stores. Elaborately sculpted vines and flowers wound through the old-fashioned lettering.
“Are you sure this is the place?” Bess asked, looking up at the stone panel.
“I have a hunch that MacAllister’s went out of business a long time ago,” Nancy replied. She pointed to a new brass plaque to the left of the entrance. “This is it, all right — The Chicago Film Center. We’re supposed to go to the fourth floor, to Studio 4A.”
The man at the information desk didn’t even look up from his newspaper as they crossed the lobby. The elevator was an old-fashioned one, with a brass arrow above the door that pointed to the floor numbers. The elevator rumbled open, groaned when Nancy pressed Four, and started upward with a creak and a jerk.
“Next time let’s take the stairs,” Bess suggested as something banged loudly against the outside of the elevator cab. “It’ll probably be faster, and I know it’ll be safer.”
The elevator shuddered to a halt, and the door rattled open. The girls stepped out into the middle of a long, high-ceilinged hallway lit mostly by windows at either end. As they followed an arrow to the left, their footsteps echoed on the worn marble floors.
When they reached the metal double doors to Studio 4A, Nancy tried the knob. It was locked. Bess pressed the button on the intercom.
“Names?” a voice crackled through the speaker.
Nancy gave their names, and the door clicked open. Inside was a small, bare, white entry hall.
An unfriendly looking guy in his midtwenties came through the opposite doorway. His brown ponytail and the gold stud in his left earlobe screamed Fashion with a capital F. He wore tight jeans and a half-unbuttoned shirt with a designer logo embroidered on the pocket.
He held out his arms to block their way. “You are not on the approved list,” he announced, hard-faced. “What do you want?”
“Cindy Sunderland invited us,” Nancy explained.
“You’re not on the list,” the guy repeated. “This is a film studio, not a tourist attraction. Please do us a favor and go away.”
“Now wait a minute,” Bess said, raising her voice. “We came all the way from River Heights because Cindy asked us to. Why don’t you check with her if you don’t believe us?”
Just then an older man with bushy steel gray hair appeared in the doorway. His faded T-shirt advertised a Mexican restaurant in Paris. “Is there a problem?” he asked, giving Nancy and Bess a warm smile. Laugh lines radiated from his twinkling blue eyes.
“I’m Nancy Drew,” Nancy said, returning the smile. “And this is — “
“Ah yes,” the man said, interrupting her. “Cindy told me about you. I believe you are a famous detective, Ms. Drew, no?” Hearing his slight accent, Nancy guessed he was from Italy.
Nancy smiled modestly. “I have solved a case or two,” she admitted. “And this is my friend, Bess Marvin.”
“I help Nancy out with her cases from time to time,” Bess put in, trying to sound modest, too.
“Well, I’m very glad you could come,” the man said, shaking their hands. “I am Carlo Festa, director and producer of Festa Films. I am supposed to be in charge of this madhouse.” Carlo turned to the guy with the ponytail and added, “Why didn’t you tell me they were here, Miklos?”
“I was sending them away,” Miklos replied, holding up an open notebook. “They are not on the approved list.”
Carlo snorted, took the notebook, and scribbled Bess and Nancy’s names at the bottom of the page. “Now they are,” he said. “In future, please consult me before you send away our guests. Is that clear?”
Miklos, red-faced, muttered, “Yes, Carlo.” As he turned away, Nancy heard him add something under his breath. She didn’t catch the words, but the resentful tone was all too clear.
“Come, I will show you what we are doing,” Carlo said, taking Nancy and Bess by the arm. He led them toward an inner door.
As they stepped through the doorway, Nancy’s eyes widened. The room they had entered was at least as big as a basketball court and jammed with people and equipment. Thick black cables snaked across the floor, held in place by strips of shiny silver tape. Nancy saw a man at the top of a tall stepladder, adjusting the big stage lights hanging from a grid just below the high ceiling.
Under the lights, one corner of the room had been set up to look like a sleek modern kitchen. A woman in a blue smock was carefully polishing the chrome handles of the cabinets.
A man in jeans, a purple sleeveless T-shirt, and a black leather vest hurried over. “Carlo?” he said. “That china pattern is a disaster! It makes the cereal look like a bowl of puppy chow!”
“It was Wei Lee’s choice,” Carlo replied in a calm voice. “She’s the set decorator.”
“And I’m the food stylist,” the man retorted. “How can I make Healthibits look delicious in the close-up shots if I’m forced to put it on ugly dishes?”
Carlo sighed. “All right, Stefan. How long will it take to change the plates?”
“No time at all,” Stefan assured him. “I happened to bring some lovely china with me this morning. It’ll be exactly right. It’s from my personal collection, but I won’t charge the client for using it.”
He turned and walked back to the set before Carlo could reply. The director shrugged and looked over at Nancy and Bess. “In my next life, I want to be a lion tamer,” he confided. “I am sure it is much easier on the nerves. Now, let me show you — ” He broke off as a woman in her forties strolled over. Nancy admired her elegant dark red dress and three strands of pearls.
“Ah, SteIla,” Carlo said. “Let me present Nancy Drew and Bess Marvin, friends from Cindy’s hometown. Stella is from McVie and Martin, the advertising agency in charge of this campaign,” he informed the girls.
“Hi there,” Stella said, without even looking at Nancy and Bess. “Carlo, is everything set? You know how important it is to finish this on schedule. We’re already running behind.”
“I could not start until the script was written and approved,” Carlo pointed out.
“No, of course not,” Stella said, sighing. “I’m not complaining about you. But we’ve had such problems every step of the way. It’s almost as if this campaign is jinxed.”
A man of about thirty, with gold-rimmed glasses and slicked-back hair, joined them in time to hear this. “Getting superstitious, Stella?” he joked, with an odd, sneering smile. “Why don’t you let my team at the agency handle this one? You could even go off on a little vacation. You could certainly use one.”
Stella’s nostrils flared. “I’m very grateful for your help, Erik,” she said. “But I’m quite capable of supervising the campaign myself.” Nancy exchanged a glance with Bess. She saw that her friend, too, had picked up on the tensions gathering in the studio.
Carlo put one hand on Stella’s shoulder and the other on Erik’s. “Erik, meet Nancy and Bess. Erik is also from McVie and Martin,” he explained. Then he added soothingly, “I want us all to have fun and make a wonderful commercial. There are just one or two details about the script I need to discuss. Girls, will you excuse me for a moment? I’ll ask my assistant, Charmaine, to show you around.”
He glanced around the busy studio. Just then a young woman with her black hair braided in cornrows came striding over. The dozen silver bracelets on her left forearm jingled as she walked.
“Ah, Charmaine,” Carlo said, smiling. “I was just looking for you. Could you — “
“We’ve got a problem,” Charmaine interrupted him. “It’s Cindy.”
“The makeup artist is not done with her yet?” Carlo asked. “Don’t worry. We have the lighting and sound checks to do before we need her.”
“It’s not that, Carlo,” Charmaine replied. “Cindy isn’t here yet.”
Carlo stared at her, then looked at his watch. “Impossible!” he exploded. “She knew she was to be here by eight-thirty, and now it is almost ten! Is this what people in the business mean when they tell me she’s reliable?”
Then he paused and took a deep breath. “Call her apartment,” he suggested, calming himself down. “Perhaps she overslept. Tell her we’ll have a car at her door in ten minutes.”
Charmaine tugged nervously at one of her big hoop earrings. “I did call,” she said. “I spoke to Ann Bowers, her agent. Cindy lives with her, you know. Ms. Bowers said Cindy was already gone when she got up this morning.
The assistant drew a trembling breath. “She thought Cindy must have come straight here, skipping her morning run and everything,” she went on. “But now she’s afraid that something may have happened to Cindy…something terrible!”