A Crime For Christmas – First Chapter

Chapter 1

“Jack Frost roasting on an open fire; chest nuts nipping at your nose…” The cabdriver absentmindedly tapped the rhythm on his steering wheel as he sang. Outside the taxi, a loud chorus of car horns blared an unhappy accompaniment.

In the backseat, Nancy Drew was half listening as she watched a steady stream of Christmas shoppers bustle in and out of Saks Fifth Avenue. All at once she exchanged a puzzled frown with her friend Bess Marvin. Then she leaned for ward, her blue eyes twinkling. “Wait a minute,” she said to the cabdriver. “Those aren’t the right words!”

The cabdriver grinned. “I thought you’d never notice,” he said. “Most of my customers don’t, you know. They’re too busy getting mad about something or other. But, hey, it’s Christmas, it’s Fifth Avenue — and that means gridlock, right? You got to accept it and keep your sense of humor, know what I mean?”

“Sure,” Nancy answered. She looked over at Bess, and both girls stifled a giggle.

“Atta girl! Say, you two are from out of town — right? You don’t talk like New Yorkers.”

Bess nodded. “We’re from the Midwest,” she said. “A place called River Heights.”

“I got relatives in Chicago,” the cabdriver answered. “Is that near River Heights?”

“Pretty near,” Bess said.

As the cab crept along and Bess made small talk with the driver, Nancy began to grow impatient. There was a lot to do before she and Bess were to meet Frank and Joe Hardy that afternoon. She glanced out the window. The main door of Saks, which had been a few feet ahead of them ten minutes earlier, was now only a few feet behind them.

Tucking her reddish blond hair into her angora beret, Nancy rolled down her window and leaned out to get a view of the intersection ahead. A motorcade of long, black limousines was passing through it, blocking traffic from their direction.

Nancy pulled her head back in the taxi. The driver was still gabbing away. “I tell you, I’ve seen all kinds in the Big Apple — “

“Excuse me,” Nancy interrupted. “There’s a whole line of stretch limos up ahead. Do you know what’s going on?”

The driver rolled down his window and craned his neck out to see up ahead. “Beats me,” he said. “They’ve got diplomat license plates. Probably some sort of U.N. bigshots — ” Suddenly he snapped his fingers. “I know! It must be that prince. What’s his name? He was in the paper. You know, from that country — how do you say it — Sacone, Sacony? I think they’re celebrating their five hundredth birthday or something.”

Bess nudged Nancy in the ribs. “Sarconne!” she whispered excitedly.

Nancy nodded. Sarconne was the very reason she and Bess were in New York. Sam Peterson, the chief of police of New York City, had asked Frank and Joe Hardy to help him with a case that none of his people would be young enough to work on. Frank and Joe had then asked Nancy to help them.

“Yeah, that’s it,” the cabdriver said. “They’re setting up some kind of exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. The crown jewels, I think. Millions of bucks’ worth of jewelry just sitting there under glass!” He chuckled. “I bet every crook in town’s got his eyes on those little trinkets.”

He doesn’t know how right he is, Nancy thought.

Her mind raced over the sketchy details of her new case, which, she knew, wasn’t going to be easy. They didn’t even know who they were looking for. “Two cat burglars” was all their sources could say. These two cat burglars, who dressed all in black, had pulled off several of the most spectacular thefts in New York City’s history. Now, according to their sources, they were going after the Sarconne jewels.

Bess’s eyes were shining. “I can’t believe this. Crown Prince Jean-Claude may actually be riding in that car, only half a block in front of us!” She whipped out a compact from inside her purse and looked into the mirror. “Look at this!” she wailed. “My hair is a wreck.”

She grabbed a comb and frantically began pulling it through her long blond hair. Nancy smiled. “Uh, Bess, I don’t think he can see you,” she said.

“I know, I know,” Bess answered, lining her eyes with a matching blue pencil. “But what if our eyes meet by chance? What if he’s staying at our hotel and we arrive together? Oh, I knew I shouldn’t have eaten those pretzels. I can just hear what he’s saying to his chauffeur. ‘What eez zat whale doing in zee back of zat taxicab?'”

Nancy laughed. No matter how slim Bess was, she always felt she needed to lose five pounds. Nancy had heard her complain a million times, but never before with a French accent. “Look, Bess,” she said, raising an eyebrow, “you asked to be involved in this case. Don’t forget, we’re not here to meet and date Prince Jean-Claude!”

“I know,” Bess said with a sigh. “I’m sorry, but he’s got to be a hunk! I mean, he’s young, he’s a prince. Have you seen pictures of him?”

“Bess, you are amazing!”

Bess rolled her eyes and giggled. “Oh, please, Nancy, I’m half teasing.” She gave Nancy a sweet, sincere look. “Of course, if the prince were to declare his love for me after we save his country’s jewels…”

Bess glanced impishly at her friend, and Nancy scowled back at her — for about two seconds. Then they both broke into laughter.

The cabdriver shook his head. “I tell you, I’ve never seen two people so happy sitting in stopped traffic with the meter running.”

Nancy’s smile faded as she glanced at the dashboard and saw twenty dollars lit up in red on the meter. “Can’t you take another route?” she asked the driver.

“All I can do is try,” he answered. After the motorcade passed, he forced his way into the left lane and turned onto a side street and then eventually down Park Avenue.

“Okay, here we are!” he said when the meter had moved past twenty-four dollars.

Nancy and Bess turned and looked out the rear window. Up the center of Park Avenue, a line of small trees, twinkling with white Christmas lights, stretched into the distance. On their right, a sleek skyscraper loomed. Its forty-story twin towers disappeared into the slightly overcast winter sky.

Just as Nancy finished paying the fare, the taxi door swung open, and a doorman in a brown uniform leaned toward them. “Welcome to the Winslow,” he said, extending his arm to Bess. Two porters reached into the open trunk of the taxi and heaved out all the luggage — one suitcase for Nancy and three for Bess.

Nancy and Bess followed the porters through the revolving glass and brass door into the grand lobby with its high, ornate gold-leaf ceiling. A fifteen-foot crystal chandelier cast a circular pattern of dappled light on the parquet floor. In the far right-hand corner of the lobby was a towering Christmas tree, and from a balcony above them “Silent Night,” being played on a piano, drifted down.

Bess looked around in awe as she trailed Nancy to the registration desk. “This is the hotel the cat burglars use as their base of operations?” she asked.

“That’s what our sources suspect,” Nancy answered. “The Winslow is really upset about it. But what can they do? They have no idea who the burglars are — and they’re afraid of bad publicity.”

After they had registered, Bess and Nancy followed a bellboy through a marble arch to a bank of elevators with shining, sculpted brass doors. “But it will take us weeks to find these guys,” Bess said. “Our room must be outrageously expensive!”

Nancy smiled. “The Winslow’s putting us up for free — Frank and Joe, too. Supposedly the younger burglar is about our age, so the Winslow management hopes we’ll meet him and then figure out a way to stop him.”

“What makes them so sure we’ll be able to find these guys? I mean — there are practically no clues, right?”

Nancy nodded confidently. “Right. But those are the best kinds of mysteries.”

Ding! The elevator door slid open, revealing an interior of oak-paneled walls. Bess sighed happily as she stepped inside and sat down on the built-in settee. “I do have one important question,” she said. “Do you know if room service is included?”

Nancy and Bess pushed their way out of the revolving doors of Bloomingdale’s, a large and elegant department store.

“I can’t believe you talked me into buying all this stuff!” Nancy exclaimed, clutching a shiny red shopping bag that said “Christmas Mania at Bloomingdale’s!” “I mean, I love shopping, but some of this stuff is just too much!”

Bess looked shocked. “You mean the La Boue de Visage European epidermal regeneration treatment? Nancy, that ‘stuff’ happens to be the rarest, most effective natural facial mask around. You can’t get it back in River Heights!”

“I know,” Nancy said. “But it still seems weird to pay so much for something that’s really just mud dyed yellow.”

“Remind me not to shop with you anymore. You’re no fun,” Bess teased.

Nancy looked at her watch. “I’ll tell you what would be fun. We have about twenty minutes before we have to meet Frank and Joe. Let’s walk over to Fifth Avenue and window-shop all the way. There are some fantastic stores on Fifty-seventh Street, and the displays will be great this time of year.”

“You’ve finally come to your senses!” Bess said, moving forward excitedly. “There’s a gorgeous jumpsuit I saw advertised in — “

Suddenly Bess stopped short, her face absolutely blank.

“Bess, what is it?” Nancy asked worriedly. “Bess?”

“I — I can’t move,” Bess said.

Nancy’s face was taut with concern. “What’s the matter? Are you all right?”

“That has to be the most fabulous smell in the world,” Bess said in a hushed, almost reverent voice.

Nancy sniffed. The intoxicating aroma of chocolate hung heavy in the wintry air. She looked around the corner to her left to see an elegant little shop called Chocolate Revelations.

“I think we should skip the window-shopping,” Bess said.

Nancy gave her a knowing glance. “This is an emergency!” And she tore around the corner and into the shop, Bess at her heels.

Inside, the aroma was almost overpowering. A hand-painted sign proclaimed: All Chocolates Made on the Premises. Customers were lined up to buy the special of the day, small wooden boxes of candy tied up in red, green, and gold ribbon. “Everything looks wonderful! Bess, what are you going to get?” Nancy asked, peering over the shoulder of the woman in front of her.

Bess didn’t answer. Nancy looked around and spotted her at the far end of the store, smiling wide-eyed across the glass counter.

Nancy grinned. Leave it to Bess to find the only tall, muscular, blond-haired salesperson in the store.

“Nancy, meet Tony,” Bess said as Nancy walked up. “I just asked him to get me one of those incredible creations on that tray in there!” She pointed toward an open door behind Tony.

Nancy looked into the back room, which was filled with candy-making equipment. There she saw a huge metal tray covered with rows of intricately molded chocolate crowns.

Tony nodded hello to Nancy. Then he turned to Bess with a dimpled smile. “Sorry, those aren’t for sale. I’m supposed to put them in a box. They’re a special order. We have to work every evening until Christmas to handle all the special orders we get this time of year.”

Bess put on a weak smile. “That’s okay, Tony,” she said, trying not to let her disappointment show.

“Let’s get something else then,” Nancy suggested.

Tony looked quickly right and then left. “Hang on a second,” he said with a mischievous grin. He sneaked into the back room and brought out a small square wooden box. “Don’t tell anybody,” he whispered, winking at Bess. “It’s on me. “

Bess smiled radiantly as Tony slipped the box into a shopping bag. “Merry Christmas!” he whispered, handing it over.

“Oh, thank you so much, Tony,” she gushed. Nancy put her arm through Bess’s and gently pulled her away. “Let’s go. It’s getting late.”

The two girls squeezed past the other customers and made their way outside and over to Fifth Avenue. They looked up to see a huge, elaborate snowflake, made of small lights, glowing above the intersection of Fifth and Fifty-seventh.

“This is it,” Nancy said, glancing at the street sign.

Exhausted, Bess surveyed all four street corners. “Where are Frank and Joe? I mean, we ran all this way and — Hey! My chocolate crown!”

“What happened, Bess? Did you leave it — “

“No!” Bess cried, her eyes blazing. “That guy just stole it out of my hand! Stop! Thief!”

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