Counterfeit Christmas – First Chapter

Chapter 1

A million dollars! What could I possibly do with a million dollars?” Nancy Drew joked, feigning innocence and shrugging her shoulders.

“You’d find something to spend it on,” Bess Marvin teased.

“Come on, Nan, fantasize a little,” George Fayne urged as she gestured around the River Heights Mall. “A trip around the world, a warehouse full of designer clothes…You must want something!”

Nancy could tell that her two closest friends were really into the idea of their being teenage millionaires. “Give me some time to think about this. I’ll tell you later,” Nancy answered, playing along.

Slowly she surveyed her surroundings and took in the tiny gold lights glinting in every store window and the twin glass elevators decked in red and green bows. A banner hung from the second floor balcony, declaring ONLY SEVEN MORE SHOPPING DAYS TILL XMAS!

Nancy hoped she could finish the final and most difficult part of her Christmas shopping in that much time: finding a present for her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. They had a date to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, when Ned would be home from Emerson College.

The longer she waited, the more confused Nancy became about what to get Ned.

“How about a new computer thing or a stereo or a VCR or a cordless phone!” Bess suggested excitedly.

“I like your ideas, Bess,” Nancy said, “but I just don’t have the money. Maybe that’s what I’d do with my million dollars — buy all of you presents.”

The three strode past the food court and twenty-foot Christmas tree out into the open mall. “Do you mind if we stop at the Hip Hop Shop?” Bess asked pleadingly.

“If you don’t buy something soon, your aunt Celeste’s money will burn a hole in your pocket!” Nancy answered.

A line of customers was streaming into the tiny shop, and Nancy, George, and Bess followed.

Costume jewelry covered every surface. As the girls began browsing, Bess started to grumble. “The sign said they were having a sensational sale,” Bess complained. “These prices don’t look so sensational to me.” She scowled at a pair of faux-pearl earrings with a price of seventy-five dollars.

“Oh, here’s something pretty and a lot cheaper,” she said, holding up a pair. “What do you think of these? With a red top and black velvet miniskirt?” she asked eagerly.

“On a scale of one to ten, I’d give them an eleven!” Nancy said.

Bess smiled and headed for the cashier. The man rang up the earrings. “Thirty-six seventy five,” he announced. “Will that be cash or charge?”

“Cash,” replied Bess, handing two crisp looking twenty-dollar bills to the young man.

Instead of placing the bills in the register drawer, the cashier scrutinized Bess before speaking. “You’re going to have to see the manager,” he said, the corners of his mouth turning down.

“I — I don’t understand.” Bess was confused. The music in the store was so loud that she had to shout to be heard.

“Follow me,” he said gruffly.

“We’re coming with you,” Nancy said to Bess.

The cashier navigated the girls through the store to a tiny office at the back. Behind a door marked Manager was a large, bearded man seated at a rickety desk. The cashier handed him something and pointed at Bess. The manager swiveled around to face the wall. Then he turned back and glared at the girls. “What’s the trouble?” Nancy asked, squaring her shoulders as she spoke. “As if you don’t already know!” the manager growled.

“We have no idea,” Nancy said simply. Bess shifted nervously from foot to foot.

The manager opened his fist to reveal Bess’s money. “You may have thought we’d mistake this for cold, hard cash,” he spat out, “but you were wrong. I know funny money when I see it, and these twenties are obviously counterfeit!” Holding one of the bills at either end, he snapped it briskly. The girls watched as the twenty-dollar bill ripped in two with an awful tearing sound. The angry man pointed his finger at Bess. “You’re staying put until the police get here!” he ordered.

It was only ten minutes before a tall, lean officer appeared at the door, though it felt to Nancy like several hours. She’d counted on an afternoon of shopping, not on being treated like a criminal!

“That was fast,” the store manager said grudgingly, not bothering to introduce himself.

“Officer Shaw,” the man said, nodding his head slightly. “The mall’s my beat this time of year,” he explained, “so I was already up on the second floor. Now, can you give me a rundown on why these young women are here.” He slipped a notepad and pen from his back pocket and got ready to write.

Nancy, George, and Bess took turns explaining that Bess was innocent. Bess would still have to go down to the station, the officer insisted. After he’d taken all the information from the store manager, Officer Shaw led Bess to his squad car, suggesting that Nancy and George follow in their car. Nancy was relieved to climb into the blue Mustang after the intense hour they’d just spent.

The mood in the station house was festive. A hearty spruce sat in the lobby, and a pair of off-duty officers were busily setting out food for what looked like the precinct’s Christmas party. Nancy gazed longingly at the enormous tray of lasagna as it was placed on a hot plate. Glancing at her watch, she realized it was two o’clock. Of course she was hungry — it had been five hours since she’d eaten.

Once inside Officer Shaw’s cubicle, the girls repeated the story of how Bess came to have the counterfeit money. Bess was worried as she spoke. The money had definitely come from her aunt Celeste, and Bess was sure that her aunt had no idea the bills were fake.

As the questioning continued, Nancy couldn’t help wondering whether Officer Shaw believed Bess was innocent — his face revealed nothing. It sure is different being on the other side of an investigation, Nancy decided as the man worked on his forms.

Finally the girls were excused and filed out of the stuffy cubicle. Nancy immediately spotted a familiar face. “Chief McGinnis!” she called out, “we — ”

The police chief held up his hand. “I’ve heard all about it,” he informed her. “Come along to my of office and we’ll have a chat.” George and Bess headed for the lobby to wait for their friend.

Alone with the police chief, Nancy relaxed almost immediately. After all, hadn’t the chief of police known her to solve many mysteries? Surely he’d believe her when she told him Bess’s side of the incident.

When Nancy had finished talking, the chief nodded his head. “Don’t be concerned,” he assured her. “Your friend Bess is off the hook. We know she’s not responsible for making counterfeit money, but we would like to know who is!”

“Tell me more,” Nancy asked, intrigued by the idea of creating fake cash.

“Well,” the older man began, his voice taking on a confidential tone, “we’ve had about four reports of fake bills so far. But that’s not unusual for this time of year,” he added hastily.

“You mean people try to pass fake money at Christmastime?” Nancy marveled.

“Exactly,” Chief McGinnis responded. “These particular bills were made on a copy machine — a very sophisticated copy machine. Expensive to buy or lease. We call people who copy money ‘casual counterfeiters.’ So far casual counterfeiting hasn’t been a big problem in this part of the country. But I’ve alerted the Secret Service nonetheless. If we weren’t so busy around here handling burglaries and beefing up security right now, I’d pay more attention to our counterfeiters. They’re using a color copier — at least for now. That’s the only thing we can be sure of.”

“What kind of counterfeiters are there besides ‘casual’ ones?” Nancy inquired.

“Pros, who will use an offset printing press and paper closer to the real thing. Bess’s bill ripped in half because the paper was of poor quality. Real currency paper is made of cotton, which is super strong.” Chief McGinnis reached into his wallet and drew out a ten-dollar bill. He snapped it as the store manager had. This time the bill snapped right back. He replaced it in his billfold.

“But you never know with counterfeiters,” he added. “They may have used a copier this time, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get more professional next time. All it takes is a little ingenuity and a lot of greed.”

Nancy nodded. “How did the cashier know the money was fake?” Nancy asked. He had only held the bill for a few seconds before exploding at Bess.

“Store owners know there’s more fake cash in circulation during the Christmas season. They train their employees. This time the cashier knew the bill felt wrong — the paper was too smooth.”

Nancy nodded. “I understand you’re swamped right now, Chief,” she told him, “so how about if I do a little investigating on my own?”

The police chief’s brow furrowed. “Hold off for now, Nancy, but if the picture gets worse, I’ll consider it.”

“Right, Chief,” Nancy responded. She had the feeling McGinnis would be getting back to her before the holidays were over.

Copyright & copy; 1994 by Simon & Schuster Inc.

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