“I wonder what could be keeping him,” Nancy Drew said as she checked her watch for the tenth time in thirty minutes. She and her friends Bess Marvin and Anthony Green had been waiting for Carl Dubchek to arrive for lunch, and Nancy was beginning to worry. The lawyer and retired professor had been so precise about the address of the restaurant and the meeting time that Nancy thought it odd that he was late and hadn’t called.
Now that the environmental conference was over, Nancy wasn’t sure what could have caused him to be so late. She knew that Los Angeles was famous for its traffic jams. Perhaps the sudden turn in the weather had delayed him, she thought.
Outside the glass wall of windows, the rain continued to pour out of the Los Angeles sky. Far away in the hills behind the restaurant, lightning flashed against the distant cliffs. The sky grew even darker. Thunder echoed faintly a few seconds later, threatening to move closer.
“Will that be all, then?” the waiter asked the group.
“I think so,” Anthony answered. He turned to Nancy and Bess. “Is everything okay with you?” he asked.
Anthony was well-built, with light brown hair and green eyes. Nancy had to admit that Bess had found herself an attractive escort while they were in California.
Bess Marvin ran a hand through her blond hair and looked at Anthony. “I suppose this will do. What do you think, Nancy?”
Nancy nodded, holding her mouth closed tight to keep from smiling. She knew Bess was trying hard to impress Anthony and so she didn’t want to ruin her friend’s chances.
Maybe she does fall in and out of love a bit too easily, Nancy thought, but she is one of my two best friends.
“Everything seems fine to me,” Nancy said. “I’d like some more iced tea, though.”
The waiter nodded, then hurried away.
Just then a low buzzing noise cut the air. Anthony reached under the table. As he did, the buzzing stopped. Pulling his beeper free from his belt, he held it up to read the numbers.
“Looks like I’ll have to go find a phone,” he said.
Anthony hesitated as he stood up. It was clear to Nancy that he didn’t want to leave the table. Nancy wondered if his mood had anything to do with whoever had just beeped him. She knew Bess was hoping it had more to do with his having to leave her side.
“Is it Mr. Dubchek?” Bess asked.
“I’m not sure,” Anthony answered. Then, keeping his eyes lowered, he added, “I mean, I don’t recognize the number.”
Nancy frowned, suspicion flashing across her blue eyes. She had the feeling that Anthony had just lied to them.
“If you’ll excuse me…” Anthony said.
“We’ll manage somehow,” Bess told him. As soon as Anthony was out of earshot, she turned to Nancy. “Isn’t he wonderful?”
“He’s very nice,” Nancy said. “But — “
“But what?” Bess asked quickly. “Is he too old? He’s maybe four years older than we are. Does he live too far away? Or is it that I don’t know anything about him except that he’s handsome and charming? Well, which is it, Nance?”
“I was only going to ask you, but what about Arthur Truman? I thought you two were going together?”
“Oh, that was ages ago,” Bess said with a shrug.
“To the best of my knowledge, that was last week,” Nancy said with a chuckle.
“Don’t rub it in,” Bess answered, making a face at her friend.
“Hey, you’re the one who brought up all the bad points in this relationship of yours,” Nancy shot back with a grin. She slid a few strands of reddish blond hair behind her right ear. “When we were voted to represent our environmental club at this conference, I only thought about the lectures we’d be attending and getting through the speech we had to give.”
“‘How You Can Make Your Community More Recycling Responsible,'” Bess said, reciting the title of their speech in a voice that sounded like that of a network news anchor. “Well, of course they voted for us — and George — we did get half the businesses in River Heights recycling. It’s too bad George couldn’t come with us.”
Bess was referring to her cousin, George Fayne. George was the opposite of Bess in looks and in temperament. While Bess preferred to sit on the sidelines of most activities, George leaped in without fear. She had short, curly dark hair and dark eyes and stood several inches taller than Bess. The two were so different in so many ways that the fact that they were cousins — and best friends — surprised most people.
“Yes, I wish George could have come, too,” Nancy said, “but the club had the budget to send only two people. And besides, she wasn’t about to miss the soccer playoffs if she could help it. She’d practiced too long and hard not to be with her team when they play their final game tomorrow.”
“I almost wish she had come instead of me,” Bess said. “I mean, I’m glad I met Anthony. He’s warm and sweet and funny, and I’ve had a really great time with him, but — “
“But what?” Nancy asked gently.
“But what am I supposed to do now? Today is the last day of the conference. Tomorrow’s a free day and then Sunday we fly home. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again.”
“Just how serious are you two getting?” Nancy asked playfully. She watched Bess’s face light up as she answered.
“Oh, Nancy — I really like him a lot. That’s why I don’t know what to do. What if we go home and he forgets all about me?” Nancy drained the last of the iced tea from her glass. “I don’t think he’ll forget you.”
Bess’s face lit up mischievously. “Just to make sure he doesn’t, I’ll be positively fascinating until we leave. I’ll tell him a different story every day until he falls hopelessly under my spell.”
“Okay,” Nancy said. “And just what will you tell him stories about?”
“You,” Bess said. “Nancy Drew — the famous teen detective from River Heights.”
“What?” The laughter that Nancy had been holding back earlier burst out of her. “‘Teen detective’? Where did you get that?”
“Well,” Bess answered, trying to control her own laughter, “that is what they call you in the newspapers. And you have to admit that every time you turn around you do end up the center of attention with someone being murdered or kidnapped or blackmailed or something….”
Nancy was just about to answer her friend when lightning bathed the room in a white glow and a clap of thunder sounded so loudly that it moved things on several of the tables. As the rain began to fall harder in response, making a racket against the windows, Nancy spoke louder so Bess could hear her.
“Now who’s rubbing it in?”
“Sorry,” Bess said. “I couldn’t resist.”
Nancy was about to answer when the waiter returned with the iced tea pitcher. He filled Nancy’s glass and then went off toward a well-dressed woman who was signaling frantically from across the dining room.
Alone once more, Nancy and Bess were just about to go back to their conversation when the cloudburst ended. The rain stopped so dramatically that Nancy noticed that the mood of the entire restaurant had brightened.
It seemed that all the patrons in the restaurant turned in their seats, staring at the returning sun. At two different tables, people began to applaud. The clapping was infectious, and soon everyone in the restaurant was applauding, including the wait staff.
Nancy and Bess joined in the applause. “I guess it’s been raining a little too long for everybody.”
“Californians,” Bess said, “they don’t know about anything but sunshine.”
“And the occasional earthquake,” Nancy added.
“I guess,” Bess agreed, smiling once more. As the applause died down, Bess picked up her water glass and held it over the center of the table.
“A toast,” she said. “To my friend, Nancy Drew, renowned detective. May we always be friends.”
“Hear, hear,” Nancy said. She picked up her iced tea and tapped her glass against her friend’s.
Looking out the window as she took a long sip, Nancy smiled to see the cloud cover burning off. Beams of sunlight began to cut through the gray sky. Maybe this is an omen, Nancy thought. Maybe everything will work out okay for Bess and Anthony.
And then, as if in response to her thought, Nancy spotted Anthony Green heading back to the table. “Here he comes now,” Nancy said.
Both girls giggled, but Anthony didn’t seem to notice. Nancy could tell from the look on his face that he had too much on his mind.
Anthony sat down at the table looking as if he was in a state of shock. He appeared so numb, Nancy was certain that if Bess hadn’t spoken to him, he might not have noticed them at all.
“Tony,” Bess asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, I — I’ve been a bit concerned…what with Mr. Dubchek not showing up and all. I had left messages, asking people to call….”
Anthony’s voice trailed off. Suddenly a dark feeling formed in the pit of Nancy’s stomach. “Anthony, what happened to Mr. Dubchek?” she asked.
“I can hardly say it,” Anthony said. “He was shot. They don’t know what happened — only that someone shot him….” His voice trailed off.
“And?” Nancy asked. “Is he okay? Was he seriously hurt?”
“Yes, he was very seriously hurt.” Anthony’s voice cracked with emotion.
Neither Nancy or Bess was prepared for what Anthony said next.
“They killed him. He’s dead!”
Copyright © 1998 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.