Wicked Ways – First Chapter

Chapter 1

“It’s hopeless!” Bess Marvin cried, staring into the mirror. She pulled and tugged at the dark pageboy wig she was trying to position on her head. Finally, in frustration, she tore the wig off completely, letting her long blond hair tumble down around her face. “I’m hopeless!”

Standing beside Bess at the mirror, Nancy Drew smothered a smile and took a moment to straighten her own reddish blond ponytail. The girls were in the employees lounge at Wicked, a trendy boutique at the River Heights Mall where Bess had recently begun working. Like most of the other salesclerks at Wicked, Bess had been asked to model in designer Mara Morrell’s fashion show, which was scheduled to start in an hour on a runway set up just outside the store. Bess was thrilled but very nervous, and Nancy and her other best friend, Bess’s cousin George Fayne, had come along to lend Bess moral support.

That morning’s show was the kickoff of the Midwest Regional Retail Association’s Spring Fashion Week. River Heights’s Chamber of Commerce had wooed the association’s prestigious seasonal show to town. It was a coup for the local business community and a chance for a good time for the area’s fashion-conscious teens.

Bess made a face at her reflection, then gazed longingly at the glossy publicity shot of pop star Lynxette that was taped to the glass. The dark-haired singer was clad all in black, except for her satiny, electric blue bomber jacket.

“Wig or no wig, I’ll never look like Lynxette,” Bess declared, and straightened the scoop neck of her fuzzy black sweater. She turned sideways in front of the mirror, tugged at her short flippy black skirt, and tried to pull her stomach in.

“Well, I think it’s a crazy idea, to have all the models in the Mara Morrell fashion show dress as Lynxette look-alikes just to promote Mara’s bomber jackets,” George remarked, depositing her in-line skates under the dressing table. She picked up the wig and plunked it on top of her own short dark curls. Using a hairbrush as a microphone, George strutted across the small lounge. “Oooooo — babe!” she crooned in a gravelly voice. “I got a bad case of blue and a worse case of you.”

Nancy and Bess burst into laughter. “Some how I can’t imagine Lynxette ever wearing sweats,” Nancy said as she plucked the wig off George’s head.

“Here,” she went on, making Bess sit down in front of the mirror, “let me help. By the time I’m finished, you’ll look more like Lynxette than Lynxette herself.” It was only a little white lie, thought Nancy. Pretty, curvy Bess would never resemble the high-cheekboned, ultra-skinny rock idol. But telling Bess that would only break her heart.

Nancy pulled a sheer stocking cap out of the makeup kit on the dressing table. Deftly, she twisted Bess’s silky hair up into a knot and tucked it under the cap. “There,” she said, as she slipped the wig on Bess’s head and secured it with a couple of bobby pins, “you’re as gorgeous as Lynxette.”

“No way!” Bess scoffed, but blushed a little and peered more closely at her reflection in the mirror. “You know,” she said, lifting her blue eyes to meet Nancy’s, “I’ve always dreamed of modeling.”

“Look out, world, here comes cover girl Bess Marvin,” George teased.

Bess playfully whacked George’s arm with her eyeliner pencil. Then she got up and took a satiny, tangerine-colored bomber jacket off a rack of show clothes and slipped it on. A big needlepoint patch of a vintage electric guitar covered the back. It was one of the famous Mara Morrell jackets, which Bess and the other Lynxette look-alikes would be modeling. Ever since Lynxette had worn one in her last video, the jackets had become the hottest fashion item of the season.

Mara Morrell herself would be unveiling a select group of her latest jackets today as part of her new spring line. Other fashion shows would be going on throughout the week, as well as dozens of special events and promotions. Nancy, Bess, and George had already planned to shop till they dropped during the week’s big sales.

“So when is Lynxette going to be here?” George asked as she finished tying the laces on her high-tops.

“Is she really coming?” Nancy asked in surprise. “I thought that was just a rumor.”

“Nope. It’s for real,” Bess said. “Dan knows someone in her entourage. He says it’s definitely on for the end of the week.”

“Could that be Dan, as in Dan Schaffer?”

Bess blushed as she grinned at Nancy. “Could be.”

“When do we finally get to meet this Dan person?” George asked. “I’m dying to check him out.”

Bess lifted her eyebrows. “We’ve only been dating for a week. I can’t drag him around to meet everyone I know.”

“You’ve made him sound very interesting,” Nancy pointed out. “How come he’s got the inside scoop on Lynxette’s comings and goings?”

Bess shrugged. “Lots of kids who work in CD City are hooked into the music scene. A sales rep clued him in last week.”

Just then two other salesclerks from Wicked came giggling and laughing into the lounge. They squeezed past Nancy to get to their lockers. Both were already dressed in Lynxette wigs and Morrell jackets.

Right behind them was a slender woman in her late twenties, dressed in a short-skirted gray suit and medium high pumps. Her short blond hair was swept back off her face, playing up her prominent cheekbones and large dark eyes. Nancy noticed she seemed almost as nervous as Bess.

“Hi, Ms. Long,” Bess said, greeting her. Nancy realized this was the boutique manager.

Ms. Long flashed an edgy smile at Bess, then addressed all her sales staff. “Lisa, Susan, are you ready? Mara Morrell just called from her car phone. She’ll be here in twenty minutes. She wants to start the show as soon as she arrives.”

Lisa and Susan were all smiles, but Bess still looked nervous. “I’m ready — I think,” she said.

Ms. Long looked at Bess and nodded. “You look great, Bess.” Then she noticed Bess’s high-heeled ankle boots. “Be careful on the runway with those heels,” she said. “The platform is high, and they set it up right at the edge of the balcony. I wouldn’t trust the temporary railing that maintenance put up. I’d hate to see you doing a swan dive into the fountain down in the central court.”

“Don’t worry, Ms. Long. I’ll be careful.”

“Good. Since you’re all ready, you girls should go back into the store and help. Fashion week has brought in a pretty big crowd already. Good for business, of course, but even better for shoplifters. I don’t want to lose any more Morrell jackets.”

Nancy’s ears perked up. “Shoplifting?” she repeated to Bess after Ms. Long left the room.

Bess nodded as they filed through the narrow hallway that led back to the sales floor. “Someone’s been stealing Morrell jackets. Just this morning another one vanished — a white one with a black cat on the back. It’s the third one we’ve lost, and the thieves have hit other stores in the mall. Today’s Woman lost two, the Chic Boutique four.” Bess dropped her voice. “I heard Ms. Long on the phone yester day with security. These jackets have been targeted by shoplifters all over the state.”

Nancy was puzzled as they stepped into the brightly lit store. It was jammed with shelves full of sweaters, slacks, jeans. One rack of filmy print dresses caught Nancy’s eye, but the price tags made her heart sink. Wicked was an upscale boutique, beyond Nancy’s usual budget — except at sale time. She questioned Bess. “Morrell jackets are fun, but they aren’t that expensive, at least compared to a lot of Wicked’s stock. Why wouldn’t a shoplifter take something more valuable?”

George looked up from a rack of some leather jackets. “These are worth twice as much.”

“Morrell jackets are already collector’s items,” Bess explained. “No two of Mara’s jackets are alike. They come in fifteen colors, and each patch is used only once on each color. Ms. Long thinks the thieves are trying to snatch up as many jackets as they can, so they can sell them for a lot of money when they become scarce.”

“Sort of like baseball cards?” George asked as she sidled past two circular racks of blouses.

“Right,” Bess said. “It was the hard-core Lynxette fans who started the craze. In Lynxette’s last video there must’ve been about fifty dancers wearing Morrell jackets.”

“So those jackets are definitely collector’s items now,” Nancy figured aloud.

“Yes, and guess what?” Bess said, clearly excited. “Dan told me that Lynxette is planning to shoot her next video right here at the mall as the grand finale of Fashion Week. The whole plan’s been under wraps until today — Mara Morrell is supposed to announce it after the second half of her show this afternoon.” Bess smoothed the tangerine jacket she was wearing. “Dozens of girls in the new video will wear Morrell jackets.”

“That should inspire the shoplifters,” said Nancy. “Too bad. A crime spree will put a damper on the fun of watching the video shoot.”

Nancy scrutinized the store. Security cameras were discreetly placed in all the right spots: above the shelves behind the cash register, and in the corners with a good view of the door. “I imagine security will be beefed up for the occasion.”

“It already has been,” Bess confided, sounding worried again. “We’ve just finished installing a new state-of-the-art security system, like a lot of the smaller stores in the mall. But it hasn’t stopped the thief or thieves so far.”

Nancy thumbed through some jackets on a rack. None were chained together or secured to the rod with a lock. She felt the inside seams of one of the Morrell jackets, and quickly found what she was looking for. A plastic security tag, the kind that would set off alarms if the jackets were taken from the store before they were removed.

“How do these tags work?” Nancy asked Bess.

“I’m not sure exactly,” Bess said, toying with her bracelet. “We have a handheld device that deactivates and removes the tag when customers pay at the register. Actually,” Bess added, “we have two of them, for when we get busy. Ms. Long chose that kind of system so the customers would feel free to try things on without having to get one of us to unlock them. It’s supposed to be foolproof.”

Obviously it wasn’t, Nancy thought. “Does your jacket have a tag?”

“No,” Bess said. “None of the clothes on the rack in the lounge do, because they’ve already been picked for us to wear at the show. We don’t want to set off alarms when we leave the store to model.”

“I doubt that anyone’s going to rip a jacket off a model’s back,” George added.

“True,” Nancy agreed.

Bess looked uneasy. “But it will be a mad house when Lynxette films that video at the end of the week. Just watch what happens today when Mara Morrell shows up. She’s going to raffle off one of her jackets. All the Lynxette-heads will go nuts.”

“Well, what I can’t wait to watch is you coming down that runway,” George commented. “Flashes going off — “

“Flashes?” Bess stopped dead in her tracks. “Nancy, where’s your camera?”

“In the shop being fixed.” At the horrified expression on Bess’s face, Nancy quickly added, “Don’t worry. George brought hers.”

George pulled a yellow waterproof sports camera from her backpack.

Bess’s face fell. “Isn’t that what you use when you scuba dive? Does it even have a flash?”

“It’s a great camera, Bess. Flash and all.” George gave her cousin a quick squeeze. “And you know I’m a good photographer, so just calm down. We’ll get plenty of good shots of you modeling.”

“Hmmm?” Nancy had been distracted by a pair of chili-pepper red cowboy boots on display in Wicked’s shoe section. They would look great with the slim black jeans she was wearing and a candy-apple red Morrell jacket, she thought.

“Now, Bess,” Ms. Long said as she came out from behind the counter, “I’m going in back for a minute. Stay at the register, but watch for shoplifters. If anything else is taken, I may have to pull you girls from the show to keep a full staff here.”

As Ms. Long walked away, Bess took Nancy’s arm. “You don’t think she’s serious, do you?”

“Don’t worry, Bess,” Nancy tried to reassure her friend. “Nothing will happen. You keep an eye on things in here, and George and I will keep our eyes peeled outside.”

“Great,” Bess said, only slightly relieved. “But you guys won’t forget to take pictures, will you?”

“We won’t forget,” Nancy said as she steered George out of the store. “See you after the show.”

Just outside the store Nancy looked around. Wicked was on the second floor of the mall in the main strip of stores, just to the right of the escalators and the railing that overlooked the mall atrium below. The runway and modeling platform had been set up only yards from the trendy boutique. Workers were on tall portable scaffolds, adjusting spotlights and focusing them on the runway.

Nancy and George made their way past a curtained area at the end of the runway and peered over the balcony railing. A higher temporary railing had been set up along the out side edge of the runway to keep the models from falling from the narrow platform. Nancy looked down at the spouting fountain in the middle of a large shallow pool in the mall’s central court. It was a long way down, she thought.

George pointed toward CD City, just below. “That’s where Dan works. Maybe we should check it out, see if we can guess which guy is Bess’s type.”

Nancy chuckled. “Bess loves all types, George.”

“I wonder if Dan’s coming to see Bess in the show,” George said as they walked toward the escalator. A small crowd had gathered in front of the runway, waiting while mall personnel in khaki shirts finished setting up chairs.

“From what Bess has said about him I’m sure he wouldn’t miss it — ” Nancy said, then realized George wasn’t paying any attention.

Nancy followed the direction of George’s gaze and raised her eyebrows. George’s dark eyes were riveted on a cute square-jawed guy in a long, tweed overcoat. He was tall, the kind of guy George always preferred. A serious expression crossed his face as he looked past Nancy and George toward Wicked. Nancy could feel the intensity of his gaze from where she stood. She could see why he had caught George’s eye.

Nancy elbowed George. “So why don’t you go over and say hi?”

“To who?” George said, then colored slightly and laughed. “But I don’t know him.”

“Introduce yourself,” Nancy urged. She noticed him head off toward Blazes, the in-line skating store. “Maybe he shares your passion for skating. Rink World has a skate dance later.”

“Not so fast — but I’ll check him out. If Mr. X isn’t friendly, I’ll just pick up new brakes for my skates. Meet you back here for the show.”

With that, George hitched up the shoulder of her boatneck sweatshirt over her teal blue tank top and headed toward the in-line skating store.

Nancy watched Mr. X bypass Blazes and disappear around a corner. With a wink over her shoulder at Nancy, George casually followed behind.

Nancy turned back to watch the fashion show preparations, smiling at the thought of George’s new interest. But a moment later her expression changed to one of shock, as an alarm blared across the mall.

Before Nancy could locate the source of the alarm she heard a familiar voice, screaming.

“Help!”

Nancy gasped. Bess was racing out of Wicked toward the runway, her tangerine jacket flapping. “Help!” she screamed again.

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