Hands on her hips, Nancy Drew stood in the middle of her bedroom and surveyed the situation. New clothes lay everywhere — strewn across the bed, draped over the backs of chairs, and spilling out of shopping bags.
Laughing at the mess, Nancy reached for a just-bought pair of designer jeans. “How do you like the new look in private detectives?” she said, slipping the jeans on. “Undercover and overdressed!”
“I’d give anything to have a job like yours.” Bess Marvin studied the label on an oversized green sweater that would be perfect with Nancy’s reddish-blond hair. “Not only did you get to buy a whole closetful of clothes for it, but you’ll probably be asked out by every good-looking boy at Bedford High.”
George Fayne swallowed the last of her frozen yogurt and asked, “What’s going on at that school, anyway?”
“I don’t know all the details yet, but it doesn’t sound too terrible,” Nancy said. “Lockers broken into, a few files and some video equipment missing, stuff like that.” She zipped up the jeans and took the sweater Bess was holding out. “The principal, Mr. Parton, said he’d tell me more tomorrow. I won’t say the case is going to be a piece of cake,” Nancy said with a grin, “but it doesn’t exactly sound like the hardest sleuthing I’ve ever done, either.”
At eighteen, Nancy Drew already had a reputation in her home town of River Heights as one of the brightest, hottest young detectives around. And she’d earned every bit of that reputation the hard way — by tracking down clues and solving mysteries that ranged from arson to kidnapping.
Nancy took every case seriously, of course, but somehow, going undercover as a high-school student to find a small-time vandal just didn’t seem very heavy. After all, she’d been up against some really tough characters in the past, like armed robbers and blackmailers.
Nancy studied herself in the mirror. She liked what she saw. The tight jeans looked great on her long, slim legs and the green sweater complemented her strawberry-blond hair. Her eyes flashed with the excitement of a new case. She was counting on solving the little mystery fairly easily. In fact, Nancy thought it would probably be fun! “Right now,” she said to her two friends, “the hardest part of this case is deciding what to wear.”
“That outfit, definitely,” Bess said, sighing with envy at Nancy’s slender figure. “You’ll make the guys absolutely drool.”
“That’s all she needs,” George joked. “A bunch of freshmen following her around like underage puppies.”
“Oh, yeah? Have you seen the captain of the Bedford football team?” Bess rolled her eyes. “They don’t call him ‘Hunk’ Hogan for nothing!”
Bess and George were Nancy’s best friends, and they were cousins, but that was about all they had in common. Blond-haired Bess was bubbly and easygoing, and always on the lookout for two things: a good diet and a great date. So far she hadn’t found either. She was constantly trying to lose five pounds, and she fell in and out of love every other month.
George, with curly dark hair and a shy smile, was quiet, with a dry sense of humor and the beautifully toned body of an athlete. George liked boys as much as Bess did, but she was more serious about love. “When I fall,” she’d say, “it’s going to be for real.”
Both girls had helped Nancy to solve cases in the past, and they’d just spent the entire day with her at the shopping mail, helping Bedford High’s “new girl” choose her new wardrobe.
“Anyway,” Bess went on, “Nancy will be completely immune to the charms of Hunk Hogan. She’s got Ned, right. Nan?”
“Right.” Nancy glanced at the mirror above her dresser, where she’d stuck a snapshot of Ned Nickerson, and her grin changed to a soft smile as she thought of the first boy she’d ever loved.
Nancy and Ned had a very special relationship. They’d known each other since they were kids, and when they’d first realized they loved each other, they’d thought it would last forever. But neither one was ready yet for a “forever commitment,” so occasionally they drifted apart, dating other people. Yet somehow, Nancy always found herself coming back to Ned. They were so in tune with each other that no matter what they were doing — whether it was tracking down the clues to a mystery or planning a private party for two — it seemed that they could read each other’s thoughts.
Nancy smiled to herself and wondered if Ned knew what she was thinking at that moment, which was: that as good as he looked in a photograph, with his light brown hair, soft dark eyes, and gently curving mouth, Ned was a hundred times better in the flesh.
Shivering as she remembered the feel of his arms around her, Nancy promised herself that when she solved the Bedford High case, she would definitely join him for a long weekend with his family at their cabin in the mountains.
“You’re right,” she said again. “In my eyes, no guy can compete with Ned. But if I meet some really gorgeous senior, I’ll be sure to get his number for you.”
“Great!” Bess fingered the gold locket she always wore around her neck. When she was in love, the locket carried a picture of the lucky boy. At the moment it was empty. “But I don’t want to be a complete hog,” she said with a laugh. “Get a number for George, too.”
George blushed and tossed a pillow at her cousin. “No, thanks. I’ll find my own guy.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Bess joked. “Come on, Nancy’s in a perfect position to fix us up. Who knows when we’ll have a chance like this again?”
George tossed a second pillow, but by then she was laughing, too. “Nancy’s supposed to be solving a crime, not setting us up.”
“Who cares? She can do both! Right, Nan?” Bess tossed one of the pillows at Nancy, Nancy tossed it back, and in a few seconds, the girls were in the middle of a full-fledged pillow fight. Soon the room was a bigger mess than ever, as feathers flew from the pillows and slowly drifted down onto the piles of clothes and shopping bags.
The free-for-all was still going strong when the Drews’ housekeeper stuck her head around the door and good-naturedly dodged a flying pillow.
Hannah Gruen had been with the Drews since Nancy was born. After Mrs. Drew died, when Nancy was still a baby, Hannah’s role had grown way beyond that of housekeeper. Mrs. Gruen had hugged and scolded Nancy through childhood, bandaging scraped knees and kissing away tears. As the years went by, she was always ready with encouragement and advice. And, of course, the hugging and scolding had continued, too. In time Hannah had become almost a second mother to Nancy. She was always there when Nancy’s father’s work as a lawyer took him away from his daughter. Carson Drew trusted Hannah implicitly, and Nancy loved her without question.
“Hannah!” Nancy giggled when she saw Mrs. Gruen in the doorway. “I know what you’re going to say — it’s a school night, and I’d better clean up my room fast and get to bed early!”
“Well, I couldn’t help thinking that you are starting a new assignment tomorrow, and you should probably get a good night’s rest,” Hannah said. “But the real reason I’m here is to give you this.” She handed Nancy a bulky manila envelope.
Nancy took it and saw her name printed in black marker. There was no return address, no stamp, no postmark. “Where did this come from?” she asked.
“I haven’t the vaguest idea,” Hannah replied. “I went out to sweep the front porch about five minutes ago and there it was, poking out of the mailbox.”
Nancy fingered the package, then held it up to her ear. “Well, it’s not ticking,” she joked.
She ripped open the envelope and pulled out an unlabeled videotape.
“Oh, terrific,” Bess said. “A movie. I’ve been dying to see a good movie lately.”
“Too bad we don’t have any popcorn,” George said as they trooped down the hall toward the den.
“I just bought a bag,” Hannah said, heading for the kitchen. “Come help yourselves if you get hungry.”
In the den Nancy turned on the television and then opened the cabinet that held the VCR. “I wish I knew where this came from,” she said. “Who goes around leaving videotapes on peoples’ doorsteps?”
“Maybe it’s some advertising gimmick,” Bess suggested.
“No, I’ve got it!” George began laughing.
“It’s that workout tape Bess was so interested in — the one with all the gorgeous hunks.”
Nancy grinned. “Yeah, I had the feeling she was more interested in the hunks than the exercises.” She slipped the tape into the deck and pushed the play button. “Okay,” she said, joining Bess and George on the couch, “get ready.”
The girls were still laughing as the movie started, but after the first few seconds, the laughter stopped.
“What is this, anyway?” George asked.
Leaning forward from her corner of the couch, Bess gave a little cry of surprise. “It’s us,” she said. “Look!”
In silence the girls watched themselves doing exactly what they’d done six hours earlier: entering the shopping mall and arguing about which store to go to first.
But after that the camera stayed almost exclusively on Nancy. There she was, studying the mannequins in the window of a fashionable boutique; there she was again, coming out of a store called Ups & Downs, checking her pocketbook.
“You were afraid you’d left your credit card in the store,” Bess said. “Remember?”
“I remember.” Nancy didn’t take her eyes off the screen. “But I don’t remember anybody hanging around with a video camera, taping the whole thing.”
The tape stayed on Nancy: riding the escalator, going in and out of stores, sipping a Coke. Then it showed the three friends eating hotdogs by the fountain in the center of the mall.
“It’s true,” Bess remarked, “the camera does add ten pounds.”
George shook her head. “This has to be some kind of weird joke.”
“It’s weird, all right,” Nancy agreed. “But if it’s a joke, I’m not laughing.”
“There can’t be much more,” Bess said. “Panache was the last store we went into.”
Sure enough, as they watched themselves come out of Panache, the camera zoomed in on Nancy. The last frame froze in a close-up of her smiling face.
Nancy was reaching out to turn off the tape machine when a screeching, whining sound made her stop, her hand in midair.
Then a high-pitched, hideously shrieking voice invaded the Drews’ cozy den. “Stick with shopping, Nancy Drew. It’s a lot safer than snooping at Bedford High!”