Nancy Drew sank back into the cushioned seat of the commuter train that traveled between River Heights and Chicago and pulled a glossy new magazine out of her shoulder bag. The star of the hottest new TV show smiled sexily at her from the cover. Above his head, in bold pink letters, was the word FLASH.
Nancy opened the magazine and skimmed articles about a sixteen-year-old ballet star in Atlanta, a fashion show fundraiser at glitzy Hollywood High School, and a college freshman in Nevada who’d discovered a cure for acne. Without a doubt, Nancy told herself, Flash magazine is a winner. No wonder kids all over the country were snatching it up the second it was out on the newsstands.
Nancy had been meaning to pick up a copy for a few weeks, ever since one of her best friends, Bess Marvin, had started raving about it. At the moment, though, Nancy wasn’t just trying to pass a boring ride from the suburbs into the city. She was doing research on a new mystery, a mystery that was bound to take her on a flashy adventure.
Urgent — that was how Flash magazine’s publisher and co-owner had described the situation to Nancy on the phone the other night. And it wasn’t slipping sales figures that had Yvonne Verdi worried. Someone had been sending her threatening letters — ugly ones — and she was scared stiff.
Nancy closed the magazine and stared out the train window as suburb melted into suburb. It would have been nicer to drive into the city, but she knew finding a parking space would be completely hopeless. If I decide to take the case, she told herself, I’d better get used to being a commuter. I’m going to have to make the trip every morning, and Dad is against the idea of my driving in all that city traffic.
Nancy’s mother had died when Nancy was just a child. So for most of her eighteen years it had been just her and her father, Carson Drew, a highly successful lawyer. Nancy figured she and her father had to take care of each other — with a little help from Hannah Gruen, the Drews’ loving housekeeper. Nancy hated to hassle with her father. She figured the best way to avoid that was to leave her blue Mustang at home for the time being.
Nancy’s thoughts returned to the new case. It made her heart pound with excitement. Even if the letters turned out to be just some creep’s idea of a prank, she’d get a chance to see the inner workings of the number-one teen magazine. Of course, there was always the chance that the threats were serious.
Either way, Nancy felt sure she was prepared. With dozens of difficult and successfully solved mysteries behind her, she’d seen through the most carefully constructed criminal plots, and she was ready to do it all over again.
Nancy crossed her slim, shapely legs and ran her hand through her reddish blond, shoulder-length hair. Starting a case was like running a cross-country race. You knew that once the gun went off, you had to reach the finish line before the other guy, but you weren’t quite sure how you were going to get there. That meant you had to be especially alert and observant, or you’d end up following a lot of dead-end trails.
Nancy’s keen blue eyes gazed resolutely at the handsome face of the star on the Flash cover. “Whatever secrets you’re trying to hide,” she said to the magazine, “they’re not going to stay secret for long!”
As the train pulled into Chicago’s main terminal, Nancy stood up, straightened her blue angora sweater dress, and grabbed her gray jacket and shoulder bag from the seat. She hurried outside and found a taxi. Twenty minutes later, she was standing in front of the Flash offices on Michigan Avenue. Here goes, she thought. She took a deep breath and stepped into the building.
Nancy waited for the elevator with a businessman and two bicycle messengers. When the doors opened, two casually dressed women walked out.
“Really, Yvonne is pushing me too far,” one of the women was saying. “I don’t care if she is the co-owner of the magazine. If she makes one more comment to me about ‘proper office clothes’ I’m going to…well, I don’t know what, but I’m going to do something.”
“She’s definitely annoying,” the other woman replied. “But don’t take it personally. She bugs everyone, not just you.”
Nancy listened with interest. Clearly, the women were discussing Flash‘s co-owner — and they weren’t too fond of her.
Nancy stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the sixteenth floor. The doors opened onto Flash‘s reception area, a large, spacious room decorated in a style Nancy liked to call super-tech. Sparse but tasteful, and very, very expensive. Huge glass windows gave a perfect view of Lake Michigan, and a brightly colored painting hung on one wall. Two long hallways, one pale blue, the other cream, led in opposite directions. Through an open door on the right, Nancy noticed six or seven brand-new computers. There was a computer at the reception desk, too. Obviously Flash wasn’t hurting for fancy new equipment.
Nancy walked up to the young man behind the reception desk. He was playing a game of Clone Wars on the computer. “Hold on,” he said without looking up. “I just have to get this last clone.” He played intently for another thirty seconds. “Got him!” he cried. “Okay, who are you and what can I do for you?” he asked, finally paying attention to Nancy.
“My name’s Nancy Drew. I’m here to see Yvonne Verdi.”
“Ah, the queen clone herself. If only it were as easy as a game.” The receptionist sighed. “She’s expecting you. Her office is down that hall and on the left.” He pointed to the cream-colored hallway.
Nancy smiled and headed in the direction he had pointed, filing away another bit of information. Already she had the feeling that Yvonne wasn’t too well liked around Flash.
Nancy found Yvonne’s office and knocked. “Come in,” called a voice. Nancy opened the door and stepped in. “Nancy Drew,” the woman behind the desk said as she got to her feet. “Welcome to Flash!” She extended her hand to Nancy.
At five feet eight inches, Yvonne Verdi was only slightly taller than Nancy, but her imposing presence made Nancy feel almost small. She was one of those hot young business people who obviously had it all. Nancy decided she couldn’t be more than twenty-seven years old. In her stylish skirt and jacket, with her black hair swept into a French knot and her dark eyes flashing, she didn’t seem like a woman anyone would want to mess around with. The writer of the letters was either very tough or very crazy to be threatening Yvonne Verdi.
“Glad to meet you, Ms. Verdi,” Nancy said, shaking the publisher’s hand.
“Call me Yvonne,” the publisher replied. “We go by first names around here. Please, have a seat.” She gestured to a cushy black leather couch, and Nancy sank comfortably into it. “Okay, let’s get down to business.” Yvonne pulled two envelopes out of a desk drawer and sat down herself. “These are the reasons I called you here today.”
Nancy smiled sympathetically. “Threatening letters can be very upsetting,” she said, “but they’re not always serious. Sometimes the writers only mean to scare their — “
“Oh, but these particular letters are serious,” Yvonne cut in. “Nancy, someone’s trying to kill me!”
Nancy studied Yvonne’s face. It was hard to tell what she was feeling. “Why are you so sure of that?” she asked.
“Because I know who’s trying to do it!” Yvonne threw the letters down on her desk for emphasis. “It’s Mick, Mick Swanson. He’s the other owner of Flash — our art director and main photographer!”
“Your partner!” Nancy exclaimed.
“Yes.” Yvonne patted a stray black hair calmly into place. “But,” she hastened to add, “it’s not his fault. He can’t help himself. You see, I think Mick is cracking up. He’s never been very stable, and right now, the pressure of Flash‘s success is getting to him.”
“How do you know he’s going over the edge?” Nancy asked.
“Mick and I are old friends,” Yvonne explained. “I can tell when he’s starting to flip out. In fact, our friendship is the very reason I called you instead of the police. I care about Mick a lot, and I want this thing handled delicately. I don’t want any embarrassments — not for Mick and not for Flash.“
“But why is he threatening you?” Nancy asked.
Yvonne sighed. “To tell the truth, Mick and I have been…disagreeing a lot lately. Actually, we’ve been fighting,” she admitted. “It hasn’t quite come to out-and-out punching, but almost.”
“I see,” Nancy said. “Well, then, why now? I mean, why is Mick getting vicious all of a sudden? Has something changed for him recently?”
“Yes!” Yvonne answered, her dark eyes gleaming. “Not just for Mick but for all of us here at Flash. Our sales figures are skyrocketing, and that’s attracted quite a bit of attention, primarily from MediaCorp, the international news syndicate.”
“They want to buy you out?” Nancy asked.
“They’ve offered us ten million dollars.”
“Are you going to accept it?” Nancy leaned forward in her seat, waiting for the answer.
Yvonne’s expression remained impassive.
“No way,” she said. “Flash is my baby. I gave up a writing career for this magazine. I’m not ready to get rid of it yet, not even for a whole lot of money.”
Nancy was surprised. This was an emotional side of Yvonne she hadn’t figured on. “Then it’s Mick who wants to sell,” Nancy surmised. “That’s why he’s been threatening you.”
“Not threatening, trying to kill me,” Yvonne insisted. “But no, Detective Drew,” she said with a smile, “I’m afraid you’ve deduced wrong this time. Mick doesn’t want to sell either. But somehow, he’s gotten the idea that I do! That’s the crazy part. Now he’s willing to do anything to stop me from selling — even though I don’t intend to!”
Nancy felt uncomfortable. She didn’t like the way Yvonne seemed to be getting a kick out of her wrong deduction. But good detectives never let emotions distract them when they were looking for clues. Keeping her feelings to herself, Nancy said simply, “That’s pretty complicated.” She reached across Yvonne’s desk to take the letters. “May I — “
“Oh, please, go ahead,” Yvonne said, interrupting Nancy.
Nancy picked up the two envelopes. She slipped the first letter out and looked it over carefully. There was no doubt about it — it was frightening.
The letter included a photo. The picture was a still from a horror movie. It showed a brutal-looking man with an ax about to attack some poor woman. But the sender of the letter had replaced the face of the movie actress with Yvonne’s own picture. There was a note, too.
You’re mistaken if you think I’m joking. Unless you change your mind about the deal, you’re not going to have one to change. There won’t be anything you can do to stop me. So just sit back and wait for the pain. It’s only a matter of time….
The Grim Reaper