Poison Pen – First Chapter

chapter 1

“So in conclusion, I repeat that detective work is exciting,” reported Nancy Drew, “but it can also be very dangerous. Okay, does anyone have any questions?”

A dozen hands shot into the air. It was Saturday and Career Day for juniors and seniors at River Heights High School, and Nancy was one of three guest speakers discussing careers in law enforcement.

Nancy pointed to a pretty girl sitting in the front row. “Miss Drew,” the girl began.

“Please! Call me Nancy,” she said, brushing her reddish blond hair away from her face. At eighteen she didn’t feel old enough to be a “Miss Drew.” “Please tell me your name, too,” she added.

The girl smiled. “It’s Cindy Larson. Nancy, how do you get your cases? Do you advertise?”

“No,” Nancy answered. “Usually people come to me with a problem, and more often than not there’s a mystery involved.”

“Well, you do have a reputation for solving tough puzzles. Like the Nikki Masters investigation. You know, there’s still something about that case that I don’t understand.”

She launched into a long and technical question about the evidence. Nancy listened carefully and then began a quick summary of the clues.

Cindy’s interest in that particular case wasn’t surprising. Nikki Masters was a popular junior at River Heights High, who had been suspected of killing her boyfriend. Nancy thought of that case as The Suspect Next Door.

No, Cindy’s interest wasn’t unusual. What surprised Nancy was that the girl had such detailed recall of the case. It had happened ages ago! She must have studied the newspaper accounts very carefully. Nancy asked if there were other questions.

Nancy answered them all patiently, until she noticed that the session was almost over.

“Doesn’t anyone have a question for Chief McGinnis or Tom Hayward?” Nancy asked, glancing at her two fellow speakers.

Chief McGinnis studied her with a grin. “I doubt it, Nancy. Your sleuthing sounds much more glamorous than police work. Why, I’m wondering if I should go private myself.”

“The River Heights Police Department couldn’t get along without you, Chief,” Nancy said, her cheeks hot. “Besides, police work must be very rewarding.”

“Does that mean you’ll take the patrolman’s exam when you’re old enough?” the chief asked.

“Not so fast, Chief,” Tom Hayward cut in with a devilish smile. “If anyone’s going to recruit Nancy Drew, I want it to be Hayward Security Systems. My company is growing fast, and I need a bright mind like Nancy’s. What do you say, Nancy? You’ll earn a lot more money working for me than for the River Heights Police!”

Nancy studied Tom. He was remarkably young to be the president of one of the most successful businesses in River Heights. Nancy knew that he was only in his midtwenties and easily the youngest millionaire in River Heights.

He’s probably the most handsome, too, Nancy decided. Tall and athletic, with neatly trimmed sandy blond hair and attractive steel blue eyes, Tom was the all-American dream-boat. Furthermore, his smile was warm and his manner was easy. No wonder he was so successful! Nancy liked him the moment she met him. It was hard not to.

“I don’t know,” she said and smiled in response to his job offer. “Security is a whole different ball game than solving mysteries.”

Tom smiled back and turned to face the students. “I hope that when you finally make a career choice, you will consider the security business. It pays well and there’s plenty of opportunity for advancement.”

Nancy listened in admiration as he shifted smoothly into a final pitch for his firm.

“In fact,” he went on, “I am hiring right now for Hayward Security Guard Services. So far not one of our customers’ homes or businesses has been robbed. So think about Hayward, okay? Especially you graduating seniors.”

Just then a bell rang, signaling the end of the session. As the students rose and began filing out, Nancy turned to Tom and the chief. “Well, how’d we do?”

“I’d say you did well, Nancy,” the chief answered. “I’ll bet every one of those kids wants to be a PI.”

It was probably true. A few students were hanging back, and they were all gathered around Nancy. Blushing, Nancy fielded their queries one at a time. The last of the group was Cindy Larson.

Cindy was of average height, slim, with an athletic build. Her face was pretty in an innocent, hometown-sweetheart way. Her gray eyes were bright and intelligent, and her glossy brown hair was shoulder-length and stylishly cut. She was dressed to impress, like most of the students, but Nancy got the feeling that she’d be more at home in jeans.

“That was a good question you had about the Nikki Masters case,” Nancy complimented her. “Did you follow it in the papers?”

“Oh, I save all the articles about your cases,” Cindy said. “I keep them in a binder, a sort of casebook. See?”

She handed Nancy a notebook. Opening it, Nancy was amazed to see that it contained a complete set of newspaper clippings about her. Some of the articles went back several years! Stunned, Nancy realized that this girl was a fan of hers — big time.

Nancy felt both flattered and oddly uneasy. Fans were for movie stars, not teenage detectives. She closed the album and handed it back to the girl.

“I’m honored,” she said gratefully.

“No, I’m honored,” Cindy answered. “I think you are totally amazing. I mean, a hundred other people could have the same clues that you have on a case, but you’re the one who puts them all together and catches the crook.”

“Oh, I usually have lots of help,” Nancy demurred.

“Not always. You must be incredibly smart.”

“No, just persistent,” Nancy said with an uneasy smile. She was definitely feeling uncomfortable now. It was obvious that the girl idolized her — or at least had an exaggerated mental picture of her. That was too bad. She was bound to be disappointed by the real-life Nancy Drew. Nancy felt that she was a pretty ordinary person most of the time.

“Okay, so you’re persistent and smart!” her fan agreed. “That still means you’re incredible. My goal is to be a detective, too. Your life sounds so exciting.”

“Lots of times it is,” Nancy admitted. “But some of the time it’s downright scary.”

“You always come out of your cases okay, though.”

“So far! I’ve been lucky,” Nancy said sincerely.

“It’s more than luck. You know how to keep your cool,” Cindy insisted.

“I’m also well trained in a lot of stuff, like judo and fencing and — ” Nancy stopped her self. She was beginning to sound as if she were bragging!

“I want to learn all that stuff, too,” Cindy announced.

Nancy nodded. “Then do it. You’ll enjoy it. I know I did. But if you’re going to be a detective, you have to learn that there are times when the work is dull — with a capital D.

“Oh, I’m sure it could never be dull!” Cindy said with a grin.

It was hopeless. Cindy was determined to glamorize Nancy, so Nancy decided to quit trying to set the girl straight.

Just then they were startled by the loud crackle of the chief’s radio. “Headquarters to PO One. Are you there, Chief?”

At that same moment, Tom Hayward’s beep er began to chirp. Shutting it off, Tom swiveled to face the others. “Excuse me.”

He left the room to find a phone. The chief, meanwhile, lifted his black police radio from its leather holster at his waist. He punched the transmit button. “Chief here.”

“Chief.” The radio crackled again. “We need you down at Orange and Duke. We got a major five-five-oh at that location.”

“Anyone injured?” the chief demanded.

“Negative. An S.G. was gift wrapped, that’s all.”

“I’m all done here. Be right down,” the chief said. “Over and out.”

Nancy grinned at the chief. “A big warehouse burglary, huh? Must have been a professional job — that is, since a security guard was bound and gagged.”

The chief shook his head in admiration. “No one slips anything over on you, Nancy.”

“Sometimes, but not usually. Anyway, thank goodness no one was hurt,” Nancy commented.

“No one but me!” said a male voice from the doorway.

Nancy, Cindy, and the chief wheeled around to face Tom Hayward, who had come back into the room.

“That was a call from my office,” he said in a hollow voice. “The warehouse that was robbed is guarded by Hayward. So much for our perfect record! I’m ruined!”

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