“Watch out, Bess!” Nancy Drew shouted as her friend was almost run down by a stroller.
“Whew, that was close,” said Bess, examining the tread marks on the toe of one of her sneakers.
“Sorry, miss,” the mother called back as she and her toddler in the stroller disappeared into the crowd of sightseers.
“New York is one of the few places where it’s so crowded you can get run over by a stroller!” Bess exclaimed as she took in the sights and sounds of Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. “And I love every minute of it.”
“You said it,” Nancy agreed, pulling the dog-eared New York City guidebook out of the back pocket of her denim shorts. Both girls were prepared for the city’s summer heat in shorts and T-shirts.
Behind them were the towering buildings of New York’s financial district. Ahead of them were the Seaport’s promenades, teeming with shoppers, tourists, vendors, and street performers. To Nancy’s right was a cluster of ships, their tall white sails startling against the clear blue sky.
“Where to first?” Bess asked as a warm breeze from the East River lifted and tousled her blond hair.
“It’s hard to decide,” Nancy said, tucking a strand of reddish gold hair behind her ear. “It seems like every time we come here, there’s more to do.”
“Today might be our only day in the city,” Bess said. “If I’m disqualified in the final round of judging, I’ll never make it onto Rising Star — and we’ll be on the next plane home.”
Bess had answered an ad in the River Heights newspaper asking for young performers to try out for Rising Star, a nationally televised talent show. She was the only contestant from the Midwest picked to fly to New York for the finals.
“There’s no way you’ll be disqualified,” Nancy said, giving her best friend an encouraging smile.
“I never dreamed I’d actually get here when I first auditioned,” Bess admitted. “I’m so-o-o nervous.”
“Your song-and-dance routine is so terrific, they’d have been crazy not to choose you,” Nancy said. She knew Bess was more than a little worried about the final round of auditions.
They would be held the next day at Rising Star‘s studio at Rockefeller Center. The show had provided first-class tickets to New York and hotel accommodations for two people, so Bess had invited Nancy to go with her. Bess’s cousin George Fayne had wanted to come, too, but she was busy coaching tennis at a summer camp. All she could do was promise to cheer for Bess long-distance.
Nancy and Bess had arrived in New York early that Monday morning, dumped their bags in their suite at the Astor Towers Hotel, and headed off to explore. No matter what happened with Rising Star, Nancy knew they’d have a great time. She was especially excited because they’d arranged to spend some time with Frank and Joe Hardy, longtime friends and fellow detectives who lived in Bayport, a town outside of New York City.
“The guys are supposed to be here in an hour,” Nancy said. “So we have time to check out Pier Seventeen — that three-story building full of shops.”
“Shops? Shopping?” Bess’s face brightened at the mention of her favorite pastime. “What are we waiting for?” She led the way across the cobblestone walk to the Victorian-style pavilion, where they browsed through boutiques filled with clothes, antique furniture, and books.
Almost one hour later, Nancy practically had to drag Bess out of a boutique so they could be on time to meet the Hardys at the waterfront.
They waited on a long wooden pier with tall sailing ships in the background. “Take my picture,” Bess said, handing her camera to Nancy.
“Say ‘I’m a star,'” Nancy teased as she focused and snapped the photo. As she handed the camera back to Bess, she heard a voice from behind her say, “Isn’t that Bess Marvin — the singer from Rising Star?“
Nancy spun around and spotted Joe, his blue eyes full of mischief, a lock of his wavy blond hair falling onto his forehead.
“Can I have your autograph?” Joe teased.
“Forget about him — give it to me,” said his brother, Frank, moving up behind Joe. At six feet one, he was just a shade taller than his younger brother.
“Frank! Joe!” Nancy exclaimed, her face lighting up as she spotted them. “Hi, guys.” She hugged Joe, then Frank.
Nancy stayed in Frank’s arms for just a moment longer, soaking up the sheer joy of being near him. She knew nothing could ever come of her special feelings for Frank. She had just said goodbye to her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, back in River Heights, and Frank had a girlfriend, too. He and Callie Shaw had been going together for a long time.
“Hi, Frank,” Bess said, hugging him. “And you,” she added, turning to Joe, “please don’t talk about Rising Star. My nerves are already on edge.”
“I’m one of your most loyal fans!” Joe insisted, throwing an arm around her shoulders. “Frank and I are here to give you moral support.”
“We’re also going to help a friend of ours out of a jam,” Frank added.
“Do you mean an investigation?” Nancy asked, her blue eyes flashing at the possibility.
“Could be,” Joe admitted, “but we don’t have the details yet.”
“I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to postpone our time together until after we meet our friend Fish in Greenwich Village at twelve-thirty. That’s just” — Frank paused to check his watch — “thirty minutes from now. We’d better step on it.”
“But you just got here,” Bess protested. “What about our Circle Line Cruise together?”
“Sorry,” Joe said, playfully tugging on a curl of Bess’s hair. “We’ll hook up later. We’ve booked a room at the Midtown Hotel, since we’ll be in town for a few days.”
“We have a suite at the Astor Towers,” Bess said. “Courtesy of Rising Star.“
“The Astor Towers,” Joe said. “That’s star treatment for you. I wondered why you weren’t staying with Nancy’s aunt Eloise, but now I know.”
“Actually she goes to her house in the mountains in the summer and isn’t even here,” Nancy added.
“How about if we meet you at your hotel — around seven?” Frank suggested.
“Sounds good,” Nancy agreed. “I expect you to tell me all about your case then.”
“Good deal. All Fish told us when he called last night were a few sketchy details. He’s a sound engineer, and right now he’s recording new cuts for a famous rock star.”
“Really?” Bess’s eyes flickered with interest. “Tell us who!”
Joe grinned and said, “Angelique.”
“The Angelique?” Bess repeated. “The singer who’s only our age and already has two major albums?”
Joe nodded. “You got it.”
“I love her voice,” Nancy said. Angelique was one of the biggest music stars in the country. Nancy had always wondered how the teenager had handled her quick shot to success. “I can’t wait to hear the whole story.”
Joe stepped out of the taxi and stared up at Electric Sound Studios, a windowless four-story building flanked by a small theater and a fruit stand. “You’d never guess that major stars record here.”
Frank shrugged as he slammed the door of the cab. “Most recording studios don’t have windows — they’d let in outside noise.”
Inside, the reception area was stark and modern-looking with black leather chairs. Frank walked up to the receptionist, a woman with a wild shock of purple hair.
“I’m Frank Hardy,” Frank said, “and this is my brother, Joe. We’re here to see Steven Fisher.”
“He’s expecting you,” she said. “Second floor, Studio C.”
Joe followed his brother into the elevator, then glanced back at the receptionist. “Nice smile. Weird hair,” he muttered under his breath.
On the second floor the Hardys passed a few open office doors. From the sound of typewriters, ringing phones, and hushed voices, Frank could hear that the offices of Electric Sound were busy.
“Check it out,” Joe said, stopping in front of Studio C. The Recording light above the double doors wasn’t lit up. Frank pushed through the doors.
They went straight into the recording booth with its blinking lights and knobs that resembled the control panel on a spaceship. Their friend Fish, a wiry guy with a mop of dark curly hair, was sitting in a chair behind the console. A glass wall divided the booth from the room beyond, which Frank knew was where the musicians and singers played.
“Hey, dudes!” Fish said.
“It’s the Fish-man!” Joe exclaimed. Frank noticed that Fish wasn’t his usual enthusiastic self. He was biting his lip and holding the handset of a phone to his ear, while a tall, thin guy with dark brown hair paced beside him.
“Frank and Joe Hardy, meet Duke Powers. Duke’s the right-hand man for Crockett Skyler, the producer from Skyler, Inc., I want you to meet,” Fish said.
Frank shook hands with Duke, who was in his twenties. In the room beyond the glass wall Frank saw a handful of people settling in. Dissonant sounds of guitar riffs and drum licks came from the open door to the studio. “Are you guys in the middle of a session?” Frank asked.
“I wish,” Duke muttered, walking to the door and staring down the hall. “We can’t seem to get this session going.”
Fish rolled his eyes at the phone. “I’ve been on hold for five minutes, and Duke here has been wearing a rut in the floor.”
“Rough day?” Joe asked, clapping his friend on the back.
Fish nodded. Back in Bayport, he’d played in lots of garage bands. When Frank heard that Fish had landed a job as an audio engineer, he wasn’t surprised.
“I can’t understand what’s keeping him,” Duke muttered. “We should be recording the basic tracks for the fourth song on Angelique’s album.”
“Cool.” Joe was eager to meet Angelique. He had every one of her CDs.
“Is one of the musicians late?” Frank asked.
Before he could answer, Fish held up his hand and spoke into the phone. “I’m trying to track down Crockett.”
Crockett Skyler, Frank thought, listening to his friend’s end of the conversation — the man Fish wanted them to meet.
“We’re set to record ‘Gun-shy,'” Fish said into the phone. “Seen him around?”
From the look on Fish’s face, Frank knew the answer was no.
“Any luck?” Duke asked after Fish had hung up.
Fish shook his head. “No sign of him. And you tried his car phone?”
Duke nodded. “Five times. I don’t get it.”
“What’s going on?” Joe asked.
Fish frowned as he replaced the phone in its cradle. “It’s weird,” he said. “Our producer has dropped off the face of the earth.”