Wait a sec, Nancy,” Bess Marvin said, stopping at the perfume counter on the first floor of Mitchell’s, one of New York City’s largest department stores. “This is the new fragrance in all the ads.”
“No time for shopping,” Nancy Drew said. “We have only five minutes to get to the offices on the eighth floor.” She poked her head above those of the milling shoppers and spotted the escalators.
Bess pushed up the sleeve of her leather jacket, picked up a tester, and sprayed the cologne on her wrist. “Mmm,” she said, sniffing as she followed Nancy onto the escalator. “It’s like flowers — and cinnamon! What do you think?” Bess extended her wrist to Nancy.
“It’s nice,” Nancy agreed, watching the first floor disappear as the escalator rolled upward. They rose past a display of mannequin legs showing off the latest in hosiery.
“Wow!” Bess exclaimed. “Look at those stockings with the little hearts on the side!”
“They’re cute,” Nancy said, smiling as she unbuttoned her wool blazer. “But you’ll have to restrain yourself from bargain hunting until after we meet with Jill. She’s the reason we made this trip, remember. “
Jill Johnston was a vice-president of the department store. Nancy had earned the older woman’s trust when she solved a mystery that saved Mitchell’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. An urgent phone call from Jill the day before had prompted Nancy and Bess to pack their bags and fly to New York City right away.
Nancy’s aunt, Eloise Drew, had met the girls at the airport that Monday morning. Eloise made time to take the girls to her apartment and then to lunch before driving upstate to visit friends. She’d given the girls a key to her apartment, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
“I wish Jill had told you more about why we’re here,” Bess said as they passed the toy department on the third floor.
“She didn’t want to go into detail over the phone,” Nancy explained. “But she made it clear that a friend of hers needs help. Jill did say he’s a well-known fashion designer whose creations are being ripped off.”
“Fashion espionage! Too bad she didn’t mention his name,” Bess said. “The suspense is killing me.”
“At least you’ve done your homework,” Nancy teased. “You’ve been reading nothing but fashion magazines since we boarded the plane in Chicago.”
“One of us should be on top of what’s happening in the fashion world,” Bess said. “My clothes sense just might come in handy on this case.”
“That’s true,” Nancy said as she stepped off the escalator on the sixth floor.
Then she and Bess headed for an elevator marked Employees Only. After checking their names against a list, a uniformed guard allowed them to board the elevator. It rose swiftly, and in moments the doors opened on the eighth floor. “Here we are,” Nancy said as she and Bess stepped into a reception area.
“I’m Nancy Drew, and this is Bess Marvin,” Nancy told the receptionist. “We have a one-thirty appointment with Jill Johnston.”
The woman behind the desk picked up the phone and notified Jill. Nancy was just about to sit down when a tall woman in her forties with wavy chestnut hair came hurrying down the hall.
“Bess! Nancy!” Jill rushed forward to greet the girls. “You are a sight for sore eyes. And what a hectic week! I just found out that I have to fly to Tokyo on business tomorrow. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. But I’m glad you could make it here on such short notice.”
“You didn’t go into detail on the phone,” Nancy said, pushing her reddish blond hair behind her ear. “But you said it was important.”
“It is,” Jill stated worriedly. “Beau and I have been friends for years, and I’d hate to see his business ruined.”
“Beau?” Bess said, her blue eyes flashing. “Do you mean Beau Winston?”
Jill nodded. “He’s meeting us downstairs, in the bridal salon,” she explained. “I thought it would be easier for Beau to explain the problem to you than for me to do it secondhand.”
“Sounds good,” Nancy said. A moment later she and Bess were following Jill out of the reception area and down the corridor.
When they reached a bank of freight elevators, Jill pressed the down button, then turned to Bess. “Beau will be tickled that you’ve heard of him. Fame is still fairly new for him.”
“I’ve always loved the gowns he designs for Beau Bridal,” Bess said.
Turning to Nancy, Jill explained, “Beau’s specialty is bridal attire and dressy gowns. He owns and operates his own studio, and his collection, Beau Bridal, has been quite successful.”
“And his business can only get better,” Bess added. “His name has been in nearly every fashion magazine article since he was chosen to design the Rockwell wedding gown. “
“Joanna Rockwell?” Nancy said. “The heiress who’s marrying that race-car driver?”
“Exactly,” Jill said. “When Joanna got engaged, she looked at bridal fashions from dozens of designers.”
“But in the end, she chose Beau’s design,” Bess said. “What a dream romance! Twenty-two-year-old heiress to wed a hunk race-car driver.”
As the elevator whirred down to the sixth floor, Nancy tried to remember everything she’d read about what reporters were calling “the wedding of the century.” She knew that Joanna’s father, Michael Rockwell, was a billionaire, and the wedding of a billionaire’s daughter was always news.
“When is the wedding?” Nancy asked.
“This Saturday,” Jill and Bess answered together, then smiled at each other.
“It’s getting tons of publicity — like a royal wedding,” Bess said. “One photographer even ran through Central Park alongside their hansom carriage just to get a picture of them kissing!” she added.
“Through it all Joanna has been a good sport,” Jill said. “Her bright smile and unflappable sense of humor have made her the darling of the press. I think the theft of Beau’s designs has to be related to his newfound fame. His association with Joanna has brought him into the limelight more than ever.
“Sixth floor, bridal salon,” she announced, holding the elevator doors open for the girls.
Nancy was still thinking about what Jill had said as they arrived in the bridal salon. Although the rest of the store had been crowded with shoppers, the bridal salon was empty and quiet. Framed by a scallop-shell-shaped archway, it was decorated in creamy shades of white with satin fabric on the walls and a trim of lace and velvet bows.
“I’m in heaven,” Bess said, circling a mannequin dressed in an exquisite ivory gown before checking out a display of white hats and veils.
From the corner of her eye, Nancy saw a salesperson approaching. The tall, dark-skinned woman with high cheekbones wore a simple maroon knit dress. She paused in front of the girls, then blinked when she recognized Jill.
“Ms. Johnston,” she said, smiling. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Not at the moment, Nola,” Jill answered. “We’re meeting Beau Winston here to go over some of his designs carried by Mitchell’s.”
“No problem,” Nola said, picking up a head piece from the display in front of Bess. “Would you like to try it?” she asked, lifting the braided satin headband and spray of lace over Bess’s head.
“I’d love to,” Bess said, blushing. “But I’m not getting married — at least not at the moment.”
“It never hurts to dream,” the woman said. Gently she placed the headband over Bess’s blond hair and arranged the veil over her face.
“What do you think?” Bess asked, posing for Nancy and Jill.
“Beautiful,” Nancy said.
“Try one of the hats,” Jill suggested.
Bess tried on a wide-brimmed picture hat.
“You look like a southern belle,” Nancy said, handing Bess a veil with a sequined headband.
As Bess tried on one headpiece after another, Nancy wondered if her best friend was thinking of Kyle Donovan, the new guy in Bess’s life. Nancy had to admit that here, surrounded by bridal gowns, her own thoughts had strayed to Ned. Tall, smart, adorable Ned Nickerson was definitely the guy of Nancy’s dreams, even though she wasn’t ready to be a bride yet.
The saleswoman was helping Bess adjust a crown made from satin lilies of the valley when Nancy saw a man in his late twenties come in through the arched salon entrance. He had a bulky garment bag draped over one shoulder. Dressed in black jeans and a bomber jacket, he was a tall, lean silhouette in stark contrast to the white salon. Nancy watched as his dark eyes scanned the room before locking on Jill.
At that moment Jill spotted the man, too. “Hi, Beau!” she called, waving him over.
At that moment Jill spotted the man, too. “Hi, Beau!” she called, waving him over.
“Jilly!” He crossed the room and gave Jill a hug, while Bess fumbled to remove the headpiece and smooth her hair. “Sorry I’m late, but I was halfway here when I remembered I needed this,” he said, holding up the garment bag.
“Beau, this is Nancy Drew,” Jill said, introducing the girls, “and Bess Marvin.”
“Thanks for coming,” Beau said. As he shook hands with her, Nancy studied Beau Winston. He had dark, serious eyes and brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. Nancy liked the way he looked her right in the eye.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Winston,” Bess said. “I just love your designs. “
“Please, call me Beau,” he said, hanging the garment bag on a nearby rack. “I’m flattered that you know my work.”
“When it comes to fashion, Bess is right on top of things,” said Jill.
Bess shrugged. “It’s a hobby of mine.”
“That’s great! It will help you understand my problem,” Beau said, unzipping the garment bag.
Jill touched the saleswoman on the arm and asked, “Nola, would you please bring us the blue beaded Budget Fashions dress from the back?”
With a nod, Nola disappeared into a doorway marked Private near the dressing room. Beau reached into the garment bag and pulled out a shimmering gown in a deep shade of blue. “This is one of my new dresses,” he said, lifting the full chiffon skirt so that it billowed gracefully.
“It’s gorgeous!” Bess said, running her fingers over the white and silver beaded design on the fitted bodice.
“I just designed it,” Beau said. “This is a sample, which I intended to introduce in my spring show next week.”
Just then the saleswoman returned, carrying a pale blue dress. “Here’s the gown you asked for, part of the new line from Budget Fashions,” she said as she hung the gown beside Beau’s sample.
“Budget Fashions is a discount manufacturer that makes dresses cheaply and sells them to consumers at a fraction of the cost of designer labels,” Jill explained.
“This is one of the dresses Budget is already manufacturing,” Beau said, lifting the skirt of the pale blue dress so that the girls could get a better look.
“It’s a copy of yours!” Bess exclaimed. “But not nearly so nice.”
Touching the skirt of the Budget dress, Nancy frowned. Although it mimicked Beau’s design, the fabric felt cheap and the stitching was uneven. “This feels as if it’s made of polyester, and the color looks washed out,” she said.
“My dress is made of chiffon and silk,” Beau said, “and it comes in deep shades — cobalt blue and scarlet.” He turned away from the two dresses, as if the sight of the cheap imitation hurt him.
“Your design would have been copied a while ago,” Nancy said. “Who do you think could have stolen it?”
“That’s why I wanted to meet you here — away from my studio,” Beau said, lowering his voice. “The only way this design could have gotten out of my studio was through someone on my design team.”
His black eyes fixed on Nancy as he added, “One of my own people is stabbing me in the back!”