“NANCY!” came Bess Marvin’s urgent cry. “Wait for me! We’ve still got twenty minutes. The train won’t leave ahead of schedule.”
Nancy Drew’s flat shoes slipped on the marble floor of Chicago’s Union Station as she stopped quickly and turned to face her friend.
“I know, Bess,” she said. “I guess I’m just excited.” The light reflecting in Nancy’s bright blue eyes danced.
“About seeing Frank and Joe Hardy again?” Bess asked, readjusting her grip on her suit cases and blowing a strand of curly blond hair Out of her face.
“That. And the whole trip. It’s going to be great — ” Nancy began.
“Why didn’t I wait until after this trip to get my hair permed?” Bess asked, dropping her bags to reach up to fluff out her brand-new ringlets. “Are you sure it looks okay?”
“You look terrific, as usual,” Nancy said, reassuring her friend. She scanned the inside of the cavernous building. There was a crowd of people forming at a gate at the far end of the station.
Nancy pushed her reddish blond hair behind her ears and hefted her overnight bag. She grabbed one of the three suitcases Bess had brought along and trapped it between her arm and body. “I’ll take this. Can you manage the other two?”
Bess nodded, and with her free hand Nancy picked up her own suitcase and headed in the direction of the gathering crowd. Bess was right that there was plenty of time, but Nancy didn’t want to miss a single minute of the trip.
She had been invited, along with Frank and Joe Hardy, to participate in a mystery train ride from Chicago to San Francisco. Bess was coming along as Nancy’s guest. The organizers of the ride had invited detectives or writers who specialized in mysteries. During the trip the guests would all try to figure out a real unsolved crime.
Nancy didn’t know much more, since the trip’s organizers wanted to keep the mystery buffs from doing research that might give them an advantage. Now that the trip was about to begin, she was excited to find out more.
She spotted the Hardy brothers talking to each other off to the side. “Frank! Joe!” she called out.
Frank Hardy turned away from his younger brother to smile at Nancy as she hurried up to them and dropped her bags. His brown eyes twinkling, Frank reached out to give her a hug. “Hey, Nancy,” he said, stepping back to look at her in her green turtleneck and short black skirt. “You’re looking even better than the last time I saw you. “
Nancy found herself blushing. Even though she and Frank were not romantically involved at all, he was still the one guy — besides Ned Nickerson, her boyfriend — who could make her blush.
“You look pretty sharp yourself. Frank,” Nancy said. Frank was dressed in chinos and a blue sports shirt, open at the collar.
“What about me?” blond, burly Joe Hardy asked, stretching his arms to give Nancy a bear hug. “It’s great to see you, Nancy.”
“You, too, Joe,” Nancy said, smiling at him. “Isn’t this trip a fantastic idea?”
“It would be even better if I hadn’t decided to bring so much junk,” Bess moaned, appearing next to them. “I should have listened to you, Nan. Hi, Joe. Hi, Frank.” She let her bags crash to the marble floor and gave each of the Hardys a kiss on the cheek.
“Can I have your attention, please?” A tall, blond, fortyish woman in a royal blue suit and a red blouse was addressing the group.
The crowd of about thirty people grew quiet. Nancy watched as the attractive woman with the high cheekbones and aristocratic nose put her hand on the arm of a tall, middle-aged man next to her. “My name is Laurie Adams,” the woman said, introducing herself. “And this is my husband, Jack Lemer.”
The man cleared his throat. “As you know, Laurie and I organized this trip. We’re glad you could all make it. We think we’ve put together a pretty exciting event.”
“Does he mean solving the crime?” Bess asked Nancy in a whisper.
“I’m sure that’s what he means,” Frank said. “And we’re the ones who are going to do it, too. Right, Nancy?”
“I don’t know,” Nancy said modestly. “From what I’ve heard there are some heavy weight mystery people here.”
“Like who?” Joe wanted to know.
As if in answer to Joe’s question, Jack Lerner began addressing the crowd again. “Some of you may know one another or know of one another by reputation. I hope you’ll get a chance to meet everyone on the trip. For now let me give a general introduction by saying that some of the best minds in the mystery field are here. Over the next five days you’ll have the opportunity to work together — or challenge one another — with your methods.”
“Jack and I are proud that you all wanted to take part in solving our mystery,” Laurie added.
“Why doesn’t she cut the jawing and tell us what the mystery is?” a man in a checkered sports jacket and tan pants asked the gray-haired woman standing next to him.
The woman gave him a wan smile. “I think she’s about to, sir,” she said mildly.
Nancy turned to Frank and lifted an eye brow. “Looks like people are getting tense, ” she commented.
“It’s not surprising,” Frank said. “The reward for solving this case is sizable.”
“No kidding — twenty-five thousand dollars,” Nancy whispered back.
“I know what I’d do with twenty-five grand,” Joe said, a big grin on his face. “Buy a souped-up, customized van.”
“We’ve already got one,” Frank pointed out. “Well, then, we could each have one. How’s that?” Joe punched Frank lightly on the arm.
“No way you’re going to win, Joe Hardy,” said Bess with a glint in her blue eyes. “I’m going to crack this case and buy myself an expensive designer dress.”
“Is it too much to hope that you’ll have enough money left over to treat us all to an expensive designer dinner?” Nancy joked. She turned her attention back to the Lerners, who were passing out large manila envelopes.
“Since I know you are all eager to get started, I’m passing out envelopes that contain everything Jack and I know about the crime you’re to solve,” Laurie told the crowd. “There’s also a map of our route and a description of the crime inside.”
“If anybody hasn’t received a packet, please see me,” Jack said. “I have your room assignments, the keys to your compartments, and name tags for you to wear. “
“When does the train leave?” the man in the checkered sports jacket called out, glancing at his watch.
Jack laughed. “As soon as we all get on board. So you might want to wait to look at what’s inside the envelopes until you’ve gotten on the train.”
Nancy took the envelope Bess was handing her and watched as people started to line up for their compartment assignments and keys. She decided to wait until the line was shorter.
Besides, she was itching to open the envelope and find out what the mystery was.
“We’re on the trail of a stolen diamond!” Bess exclaimed. She’d already ripped her envelope open and was reading the first page from it.
Nancy scanned the handout. “Hey, this looks pretty tough,” she commented.
Fifteen years ago, she read, the Comstock Diamond had been stolen from Brigston’s Limited, a Chicago auction house. Now the train was going to trace what the Lerners believed was the route of the thief as he moved west to San Francisco.
Oddly enough, the thief’s route followed the trail of a miner named Jake Comstock — who was the first owner of the diamond, in the nineteenth century — as he mined for silver and gold.
Frank saw that Nancy looked as puzzled as he felt. “How are we supposed to find the thing?” he asked her, holding up a photo copied map. “The thief went from Chicago to San Francisco. He could have stashed the diamond anywhere along the way.”
“Or even taken it with him all the way to San Francisco,” Joe pointed out.
“There’s no way to be sure,” Frank agreed. “I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves, ” Nancy said. “There’s a lot we don’t know. Like how the Lerners put the map together. Details of the original crime. Why the thief followed Jake Comstock’s route — if he did. What we have here is just the beginning of the mystery.”
“And it’s our job to get to the end,” Bess concluded firmly.
“Right! Let’s go.” Nancy grabbed her suit case and helped Bess cart her luggage over to where Jack Lerner was handing out the compartment assignments. Frank and Joe followed close behind.
Most of the group had already gotten their keys and were heading through the gate to the train. Jack had just finished handing over a set of keys to a middle-aged couple and their teenage son. In front of Nancy a short, stocky, dark-haired man with a new beard stepped up to Jack.
Jack’s eyes narrowed, as if he knew the man but couldn’t quite place him. The man started talking in a low voice to Jack.
Jack listened intently to what the short man was saying. Then he looked at Nancy and her friends. “Excuse me, folks,” he said with a smile. “This’ll take just a second.” He beckoned to the short man, and the two moved a few feet away. The little man began speaking again.
Frank was studying his copy of the route map. “I’m trying to see if there’s any pattern to the stops,” he said to the others. “Hmm — the first stop is a town called Emerald, in Nebraska.”
“Well, we are looking for a diamond,” Bess said excitedly. “Maybe all the town names are precious stones.”
“Nice try, Bess, but the next stop is Central City, Colorado,” Joe told her.
Nancy became distracted by the sound of raised voices behind her. She turned and observed the short man and Jack.
“You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” the little man was insisting.
Jack looked over and caught Nancy’s eye. “I’ll be right with you,” he said, reassuring her before turning his attention back to the man.
“Now — ” he began, but Jack didn’t have a chance to finish. The short man had grabbed him by his shirtfront. He drew back his fist and let fly with a blow that sent Jack reeling to the ground.