“I can’t hear you!” Nancy Drew shouted across the cafe’ table at her friend Bess Marvin. Bess rolled her blue eyes at the group of teens who had just exploded in shrieks of laughter next to them.
The two friends were at a barbecue place called CJ’s, which was filled with rowdy, vacationing students.
“Why did Kurt tell us to meet him here?” Bess yelled. “This place is a total madhouse!”
Nancy shrugged and smiled. “I guess they came here to have fun, like we did.” She pulled her chair closer to Bess’s, then gazed out at one of the beautiful streets of Charleston, South Carolina. The old pastel buildings faced with wrought iron balconies and flowering magnolias and azaleas made her feel as if she’d stepped back into the past. “Everywhere I look here there’s a living history lesson.”
Bess grinned, her eyes focused inside the restaurant. “Everywhere I look, I see awesomely cute guys, and some of them are gazing at us.”
That figured, Nancy thought. Bess’s curvy figure and pretty face framed by long blond hair attracted the interest of most boys.
“There’ll be plenty of time for guys,” Nancy said. At five feet seven, she was three inches taller than Bess and more slender. Her long reddish blond hair was pulled back into a high ponytail that poked out from a white tennis visor that had “Southern EXPOsure” printed on the bill.
Nancy wasn’t interested in meeting new guys. She had a steady boyfriend back home — Ned Nickerson, a student at Emerson College. Spending time apart from Ned was the one drawback to this trip to the Southern EXPOsure festival with Bess.
The girls had been invited to the festival by Kurt Zimmer, an old friend of the Marvins. Kurt was directing a new rock musical, Beauty and the Beat, which was to open at the festival in a few days. It was starring Terry Alford, the most popular VJ on the country’s top video channel, PTV.
Nancy and Bess were sorry that George Fayne, Bess’s cousin and Nancy’s other good friend, hadn’t been able to join them.
According to Kurt, Southern EXPOsure had been a stuffy arts festival. The average age of people who came was about sixty. This year, the EXPO leaders had decided to go for a younger crowd, with music, theater, and other events aimed at students on spring vacation from college or high school. Judging by this first-day mob of kids, Nancy guessed that the strategy was working.
“It was terrific of Kurt to get us a room where the cast of Beauty and the Beat is staying,” Bess commented. “I’m dying to meet Terry Alford, so I can find out where she gets those fantastic outfits she wears on TV.”
Nancy laughed. “Do you remember that Terry was a child actress in that old TV sitcom ‘Home with the Hendersons’?”
“Bess!” a deep voice cut through the noise. The girls turned toward a man wearing jeans and a faded T-shirt making his way toward them. A mane of wavy straw-colored hair framed his angular face and brown mustache. He was tall and thin, someplace in his early thirties.
“Kurt!” Bess jumped up and hugged the man, who then stepped back and grinned down at her.
“You’ve sure grown up in the last few years!” he said.
Bess blushed and smiled. “This is my friend, Nancy Drew,” she said.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing your musical,” Nancy said as he shook her hand. Just then she noticed a guy and girl standing behind Kurt. Kids were openly staring and pointing at them.
“Terry Alford!” Bess exclaimed, gaping at the girl behind Kurt. “Nan, it’s her!” she added in a whisper.
Nancy couldn’t believe how different Terry was in person. She was petite, barely five feet two. Instead of the glamorous outfits she wore on PTV, she had on loose khaki pants and a man’s button-down shirt. Her jet-black hair was cut short and hung straight; her large violet eyes highlighted an already expressive face.
“I guess you know who I am,” Terry said. She must have noticed Nancy checking out her clothes, because she said, “Not exactly high fashion, huh? Clothes for rehearsals aren’t what I wear on PTV.” Nancy immediately liked Terry’s straightforwardness.
The man with them was in his late twenties, wearing a sports jacket, an open-necked shirt, and chinos. Of medium height, he had brown hair and dark slate blue eyes. He smiled when Terry linked her arm through his.
“This is Logan Chaffee, my friend and manager,” Terry said.
As everyone took seats at Bess and Nancy’s table, a waiter ran up to take orders. “Isn’t Charleston the most beautiful place?” Terry exclaimed. “I wish I could explore it, but the show’s had me on the run since I left New York.”
“How are rehearsals going?” Nancy asked.
“Great,” Kurt replied. “There are a few rough spots, of course, but we have a few days to work them out. We’ll be fine, and this young lady” — he nodded at Terry — “is going to be fantastic.”
Terry smiled happily. “Kurt is incredible. We’d all be lost without him. And no one writes better musicals than Stuart Firman, right, Logan?”
Logan nodded. “That’s what they say.”
Since it was just four-thirty, Bess and Nancy split an appetizer of barbecued ribs. The other three dug into whole dinners of seafood, hush puppies, and spicy cornbread that was a specialty at CJ’s.
“We have to eat now,” Terry explained, “because dress rehearsal starts in two hours. I hope we’ll get to finish early tonight because I’m due on McCallum Island at ten tomorrow.”
“McCallum?” Nancy echoed. “That tennis and golf resort just off the coast of Charleston? What’s going on there?”
Terry’s violet eyes sparkled. “My boyfriend. Pat’s playing an exhibition match with a group of touring pros. I haven’t seen him in two months! We’ll be celebrating our first year and a half together.”
Nancy knew that Pat Flynn was one of the best professional tennis players in the world and knew that he and Terry were an item.
“It’ll be great to see him,” Terry added.
“I saw Pat on TV in a match last week,” Bess said. “It was wild. He got mad at someone and started yelling and — ” She stopped suddenly. “Oh, sorry, Terry.”
Terry said, “Hey, you’re not telling me anything new. I know Pat’s got a temper.”
“I’ll say,” Logan said. “What a jerk!”
“Logan.” Nancy saw Terry give her manager a cool glance.
“I was just — ” Logan began.
Terry cut him off. “You’ve said it a hundred times before. I don’t need advice, Logan.” The two of them sat glaring at each other.
Logan may be her friend, Nancy thought, but there’s tension between them. Nancy changed the subject by saying to Kurt, “Bess and I are really excited about seeing the show from backstage.”
“It gets crazy back there, but I think you’ll enjoy it. Why don’t you come to tonight’s rehearsal? Be at the stage door of the Majestic Theater by six-fifteen.”
* * *
“Warn lights seventy-eight…go lights seventy-eight. Stand by, sound thirty-four!”
The stage manager had been rattling off light and sound cues since the beginning of the rehearsal. Nancy and Bess didn’t have a clue as to what the cues meant, but they saw that he was very busy, much too busy to talk to them.
The middle-aged man wore a headset over his thinning hair. He sat at a table behind the stage near where Nancy and Bess were standing. Kurt had introduced him as Tim Delevan.
Nancy admired Tim’s ability to concentrate with all the quiet but frantic activity. Stagehands carrying props and set pieces scurried around him as curtains and backdrops were raised and lowered from up high. Figures scurried on cat walks above them, too. Nancy and Bess could hear singing and some lines from the stage, but the heavy curtains kept them from seeing the rehearsal. Still, Nancy decided that what was going on backstage had to be almost as interesting as the show itself.
Chorus members exited and raced by, almost stepping on Nancy’s feet. Terry followed, breathing hard. She smiled at Nancy and Bess. “It’s going great! Got to change!” she called out as she ran by.
“What’s this?” Bess whispered a second later, picking something up. She held out a filmy cape that glittered with gold thread. “Terry must have dropped it. What if she needs it?”
Nancy saw that Tim was too busy to be disturbed. “I’ll see if I can get this to her,” she said.
She headed in the direction Terry had run and ended up in a dim corridor. Up ahead to the left was a door marked Dressing Rooms. Nancy started down the empty corridor. The only light came from a few low wattage bulbs in wall brackets.
Just before the dressing room door was another door, partly ajar. As Nancy went by, she heard a noise. “Terry?” she called, listening intently. No one answered. Then a voice rose in the beginning of a scream that was abruptly cut off. Something was wrong! Nancy’s whole body tensed as she pushed open the door.
In the faint light she could just make out Terry’s petite figure struggling with a taller form directly behind her. As Nancy’s eyes adjusted to the dark, she gasped at what she saw. The other person had wrapped an arm around Terry’s throat in a deadly stranglehold!