“Come on, Bess, cool it,” Nancy Drew whispered. “People are starting to stare.”
But Bess Marvin seemed not to hear her best friend’s voice. “I just can’t believe it!” she gushed. “It’s all too much! New York City, Radio City Music Hall, the Bent Fender concert…”
“The hottest rock band around,” said Alan Wales, Bess’s latest boyfriend. “And they’ve invited us backstage!”
“Oh, George, help me with these star-struck kids,” teased Nancy. “I think your cousin has gone off the deep end.”
“Well, you have to admit, this is going to be one incredible vacation,” George Fayne said, falling in step with the group.
“The best,” Nancy declared, running a hand through her reddish-blond hair. “And no mysteries, just fun. This detective needs a little break.”
At eighteen, Nancy had already earned a reputation as one of the nation’s top young detectives, solving mysteries all across the country, and overseas as well. Her most recent one, though, Secrets Can Kill, had started in a high school just a few miles from her hometown of River Heights.
“Well, maybe you need a break, Nan, but I can think of one mystery I wouldn’t mind solving,” Bess spoke up.
George threw her cousin a puzzled look. “Since when are you into detective work?”
Nancy was puzzled, too. George was always eager to jump right in and help her on a case, no matter how dangerous, but Bess usually had to be coaxed. Unraveling mysteries scared her, and she was the first to admit it.
“Yeah, what mystery do you want to solve?” Nancy asked.
Bess giggled. “The mystery in Barton Novak’s big green eyes,” she answered. “I wonder if he’s as gorgeous in real life as he is on MTV.”
“I should have figured.” George let out an exasperated sigh. “You’re not planning on doing anything to embarrass us in front of him and the rest of the band, are you?”
“Yeah, don’t go getting any ideas,” joked Alan, pulling Bess closer to him.
“Hey, guys, don’t worry. One guitarist is enough for me.” Bess stood on tiptoe and give Alan a kiss.
In the few weeks since they’d met, Bess and Alan had been inseparable — joined at the lip, Nancy liked to joke. They reminded her of the way things used to be between her and Ned Nickerson.
Nancy found herself wishing for those days. But then, it had been her own choice to get involved with Daryl Gray during her last mystery. And although it was over with him almost before it started, she couldn’t blame Ned for feeling miffed. Since then, she had visited Ned once at Emerson College, and he had come to River Heights for a weekend, but things had been cooler than usual between them, and that hurt. She could only hope they could put the past behind them.
“Nancy Drew! Earth to Nancy!” Bess tapped the top of Nancy’s head. “Anyone home up there?”
“Sorry, Bess. What — ?”
“I said that of course Alan’s my number one guitarist, but it is pretty incredible that we’re going to meet Barton Novak in a few seconds, isn’t it?”
Returning to the exhilaration of the moment, Nancy smiled. She remembered the thrill she’d felt listening to Bent Fender and how she’d followed their rise from struggling performers to top stars.
Alan echoed Bess’s enthusiasm. “I’ve memorized practically every song Barton’s ever recorded. The first thing I ever figured out how to play on my own was the lead for ‘Break Down the Walls.'” He moved his hands, playing imaginary notes on an air guitar. “I’m so psyched that you guys are taking me along tonight!”
“Alan, how could we not take our favorite future rock star to meet our favorite current rock star?” Nancy smiled and gave him a light punch on the arm. “Besides, Dad said the musicians in the band were happy to have us all.”
Nancy’s father, a lawyer, was negotiating the band’s new recording agreement. Normally, Carson Drew worked on criminal cases. But Bent Fender’s drummer, Roger Gold, was the son of his old college roommate, Sy Gold, who had recently moved to a town not far from River Heights. He and Nancy’s father had rekindled their old friendship, and now Carson Drew was doing Mr. Gold a favor by working on the contract for his son’s band. In return, Roger and the band were letting Nancy and her friends come backstage for one of their concerts, and they were going to give them a personal guided tour of the New York rock clubs.
“What a mob scene,” Nancy said as she and her friends edged through the crowd of noisy fans in front of the Music Hall. Off on one side of the building, Nancy caught sight of a polished brass door.
“This is it, the stage door!” she exclaimed, mounting a few steps and pushing the door open. Just inside, in a glass booth, sat two burly security guards in identical tan uniforms.
“Hi,” Nancy said. “Roger Gold told us to come back and see him before the show.”
The bearded guard frowned wearily. “Young lady, do you know how many times we’ve heard that one?”
“But it’s true,” Nancy insisted. “His father is a friend of my father’s. He’s expecting us.”
The guards exchanged glances. “Why don’t you kids give us a break?” the other one said. “There have been at least a dozen folks in here already, trying to get to see the band. We — “
“Roger said you’d page him when we arrived,” Nancy interrupted, remaining polite.
The guards exchanged another glance.
“Listen,” Nancy persisted, “I’ll make you a deal. You let Roger know Nancy Drew and her friends are here, and if he doesn’t want to see us, we’ll leave. I promise.”
The guard with the beard shrugged and picked up the telephone.
“Way to go, Nan,” whispered George.
A few seconds later, the guard was hanging up the receiver, an apologetic look on his face. “I really thought — I mean, so many kids come back here — “
“No problem,” Nancy said. “You were just doing your job.”
“He said he’ll meet you downstairs.”
The guard pointed to the elevators. “Jeez.” He scratched his head. “I could have sworn you were just another bunch of crazy fans.”
“We are,” Alan called back as they headed for the elevators. “But we’re a lucky bunch of crazy fans!”
Nancy laughed. Alan had hit the nail on the head. From the moment she’d heard Bent Fender’s first single, she’d been hooked. And now she was about to get a behind-the-scenes look at one of their concerts. It wasn’t just any concert, either. It was the first of Fender’s ‘Rock for Relief’ shows, a series of benefits to aid handicapped children.
A wave of excitement washed over Nancy as she and her friends got into the elevator. She smoothed her hand over her short, electric blue skirt and picked a thread off her oversized sweater. Her long, lean legs were flattered by a pair of patterned tights, which looked perfect with her favorite ankle boots.
“Don’t worry. You look great, as usual,” Bess told her. “You too, George,” she added, eyeing George in the simple black jumpsuit that hugged every line of her athletic body. “Boy, what I would give to be able to wear an outfit like that.”
“You look pretty fabulous yourself,” George returned. “I love that turquoise shirt with your blond hair.”
“You don’t think it makes me look too fat?”
“No way,” Alan said. “You look perfect.” He was wearing tight jeans and a T-shirt, the picture of a rock-and-roller. Bess reached up to tie a turquoise bandanna around his neck.
“Same color as your shirt,” George grinned. “Looks like you’re color-coding your boyfriend.”
The elevator door slid open, and the friends stepped out. There, looking just as Nancy had pictured him, stood Roger Gold, unmistakable with his spiky black hair and single silver ear ring.
“Hi,” he said easily.
There was an uncomfortable silence as Nancy and her friends studied the legend standing before them.
Roger smiled at each of them in turn, his gaze finally coming to rest on Alan. “Well, you’re not Nancy,” he joked.
Nancy took a step forward. “No, I am,” she said, not quite believing that she was talking to a superstar like Roger Gold. “And these are Bess and George and Alan.” She indicated each of her friends in turn.
“Hello,” they chorused nervously. Nancy saw how tongue-tied they looked.
“Nice to meet you all,” Roger responded. Then he said, “Nancy, I’ve been hearing stories about your father ever since I can remember. My dad claims they were the best roommate team in the history of college life.”
“Yeah, my dad says the same thing.” Nancy was still a bit awed by Roger’s presence. Although Barton Novak’s name was almost synonymous with Bent Fender, Nancy had always felt most loyal to Roger. After all, their fathers had been best buddies. Nancy had not met Roger before, since he had grown up with his mother outside of Los Angeles, but she’d known about him long before he’d become a star.
“Did your dad ever tell you about the time he and my dad got into the kitchen at the dining hall — ” Roger began.
” — and colored the mashed potatoes purple,” finished Nancy. She laughed, loosening up. Roger was so open and friendly that he made it easy to remember that stars were people too. “And how about when they had that ten-foot-long submarine sandwich delivered to their history class?”
“Yeah. That’s one of my dad’s favorite stories,” Roger said. “So where is your father, anyway?”
“Back at the hotel, getting ready for the opera. He’s not too big on what he calls ‘that music you kids listen to.'” She gave an embarrassed shrug.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Your dad told Barton and me that he wasn’t into rock when we talked to him about our contract. To each his own.” Roger hesitated. “Hey, listen, let me introduce you to the rest of the band. They’re in the lounge having a little preshow Ping-Pong match. Linda’s our resident champ. She’s wasting Barton.”
Nancy saw George’s face light up at the mention of Linda Ferrare, Bent Fender’s bass player and backup vocalist. George was a great fan of Linda’s tough, powerful voice and dynamic style.
Roger led them to the lounge and pushed open the door. There, at one end of the Ping-Pong table in the center of the room, stood Barton Novak, his brow creased in concentration beneath a shock of blond hair. Bess let out an audible sigh. Barton snapped his paddle as the ball came toward him. On the other side of the table, Linda prepared to return the shot. She slammed the ball so hard it went speeding out at a crazy angle, bouncing at the very corner of Barton’s side of the table. He took a wild swing and missed.
“Game,” said Linda, tossing her curly dark hair.
There was a smattering of applause from the rest of the band members. Mark Bailey, the other guitarist, was sitting in an armchair, Jim Parker, the keyboard player, was on the couch.
“Nice shot.” Barton wiped his forehead. Then he looked toward the door for the first time. His expression lightened up. “Hey, gang, we’ve got guests. Hiya.”
“Guys,” Roger said, “this is Nancy Drew. I was telling you about her. And these are her friends, Bess. Alan, and Georgia.”
“George,” she corrected.
“Sorry.” Roger grinned. “So, all of you, say hello to Mark, Jim, Linda, and Barton.” Roger pointed to each person, but Nancy had studied Fender’s album covers enough to know the band members instantly.
“Thanks for inviting us to come tonight,” Nancy said to them.
“The pleasure’s ours,” Barton replied gallantly. “We get to have the hottest detective around at our show tonight.”
Nancy could feel heat rising to her cheeks. Barton’s face had been on the cover of Rolling Stone, Time, People, and half a dozen other major magazines, and he was complimenting her. “I am beginning to make a name for myself,” she said humbly.
“Beginning? From what I hear, you’ve done it.” He looked at Nancy. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to you after we’re finished playing tonight.” Nancy cocked her head. Did she detect a note of urgency in Barton’s voice?
“I’d be glad to,” she said, trying to read his expression. But if he was worried about something, he give no further clue. Instead he joined in the enthusiasm of her friends.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Alan blurted. “I’m Fender’s biggest fan. And I’ve learned a lot by listening to you,” he said to Barton.
“You play guitar?”
Alan nodded. “I mean, I’m no — well, no Barton Novak.” He grinned. “But I’m getting better all the time.”
“Do you play in a band?” Jim Parker wanted to know.
“The Mud Castles,” Alan answered. “We’ve been getting gigs in some clubs and bars around River Heights.”
“The Mud Castles?” Roger turned to Alan and studied his face closely. “Hey, you know, I think I heard you when I was visiting my old man a few months ago. Did you play a bar over in the South End — Puffy’s or Puffer’s or something?”
“Puffin’s. Yeah, that was us. But how come we didn’t recognize you?”
“I had on dark glasses and a hat,” Roger said, almost apologetically. “It’s nice to be able to go out like a regular guy once in a while, have a couple of beers. But I had to leave when someone at a table near the bar started giving me funny looks. I just didn’t want to hassle with anyone figuring out who I was.”
Nancy tried to picture Roger in her hometown bar, rubbing elbows with people she’d known all her life.
“Yeah, I like that little place,” he went on.
“And Alan, your band was terrific. You play lead, right?”
Roger turned to his fellow band members. “This kid is okay.” He jabbed his finger in Alan’s direction. “More than okay. Someday he’ll put us out of business if we’re not careful!”
The smile on Alan’s face could have lit up the entire room. Nancy flashed Bess a thumbs-up sign.
“We’ll be out of business sooner than you think,” Linda interjected, “if we’re not on stage in half an hour.” She looked at Nancy and the others. “Make yourselves comfortable. Play some Ping-Pong or something while we get ready.”
“We’ll be back soon,” Barton Novak broke in, “and then we’ll take you out to the wings to watch the show.”
Nancy grinned. She sensed that this night — this rock concert — would be special.
George was going for the game point twenty minutes later when the lounge door burst open. The ball flew by unheeded as Roger Gold appeared in the doorway.
“Show time?” Nancy asked excitedly, putting down her Ping-Pong paddle. Then she saw the worried expression on Roger’s face as his eyes darted around the room.
“Barton’s not here?” Roger was trying to sound calm, but Nancy could hear the edge of panic in his voice. His hands were clenched, knuckles white, on the doorframe.
“What’s wrong, Roger?” she asked.
“Barton’s disappeared. I’ve looked all over the building, and he’s gone.”
“Disappeared?” George finally caught the bouncing Ping-Pong ball. “Maybe he just went out to get some air.”
“Five minutes before we go on? No way!” Roger took a deep breath. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Real bad.”