Nancy Drew peered through the windshield of her blue Mustang. “Hey, guys, this snow is some thing else,” she said. “I can hardly see the road.”
“Thank goodness we don’t have much farther to go,” George Fayne said as she reached over and turned up the defroster.
In the backseat, George’s cousin Bess Marvin stretched and yawned. “Are we there yet?” she asked.
“Not quite,” Nancy said as she gently tapped the brakes. “But maybe in another — “
“Look, Nancy, there’s the sign,” George interrupted, pointing out the blurry car window. “‘Butter Ridge Winter Sports Area — One Mile.'”
“Great,” Nancy said. “Now, if we can just make it up this hill.” She shifted the car to a lower gear and skillfully guided the Mustang up the winding, unplowed road.
“Hey, cool!” Bess said, leaning forward excitedly. “Look at that huge building up ahead! It’s like an old European palace.”
“That must be Wickford Castle,” Nancy said, “where we’re staying — it’s the ski resort’s lodge. Keep your eyes open for the entrance.”
She soon found a plowed drive leading from the main road up to a pair of iron gates. A stone pillar on the left held an intercom. Nancy rolled down the window, reached out, and pressed the button. A male voice answered, “Yes?”
“This is Nancy Drew, George Fayne, and Bess Marvin,” Nancy replied. “We have reservations starting tonight.”
“Sure thing,” the voice replied. The gate automatically swung open, and the girls drove in.
The driveway curved around a stand of pine trees, and the castle loomed before them. Built of light-colored stone, it had four huge towers, one on each corner. The entrance was a massive arched wooden door, with three wide stone steps in front.
“Ooh, it’s so creepy and romantic,” Bess said as Nancy turned into a parking lot just past the steps. “I’ll bet it won’t take Nancy long to find a mystery to solve here.”
“No way,” Nancy said, pulling the Mustang into an empty spot. “This vacation is strictly for play.”
“Sure, Nancy,” Bess said, suppressing a giggle. “I think I’ve heard that one before.”
Although she was only eighteen, Nancy Drew was an old hand at solving mysteries. She had even helped the police back home in River Heights crack some tough cases. Bess and George had learned from experience that wherever Nancy went, mysteries had a way of happening.
“This time I really mean it,” Nancy said. Getting out of the car, she tucked her reddish blond shoulder-length hair up under her ski cap. “All I’m going to do this week is ski, skate, and have fun.”
“I’m looking forward to our ski lessons with the champion skier from France,” George put in, standing and stretching. “He sounds really good.”
“And cute, too,” Bess added as she got out. “At least judging by his picture in the brochure.”
“Trust you to notice that,” George teased.
Even though Bess and George were cousins and best friends, they were not at all alike. For blond, blue-eyed Bess, a good time might be an afternoon at the mall topped off by a visit to an ice cream shop. Slim, dark-haired George, in contrast, would choose a cross-country ski trip or a rugged hike.
“Hmm,” Nancy said curiously, staring up at the castle. “Look at those four towers. I wonder why they don’t match. The three closest to us are all square and made of gray stone. But the one at the far end is round.”
“Hey, you’re right,” George said. “And the stone is lighter, too — more like a cream color.”
“Maybe the round tower is a later addition,” Bess suggested. “And maybe the builders couldn’t find the same kind of stone again. I’m sure it’s no big deal. Can we get a move on? I’m freezing!”
Laughing, the girls gathered their bags and skis and headed for the castle’s front door.
As they approached the steps, the door swung open. A tall, friendly young man wearing khakis and a red crewneck sweater stepped out. “Welcome to Wickford Castle,” he said cheerfully. He took skis and poles from each of the girls. “You didn’t need to carry all this stuff yourselves. We could have sent someone to help you.
“We don’t mind,” Nancy said. She stepped past him into a large reception hall. Craning her neck backward, she took in the soaring stone walls, vaulted ceiling, and huge brass chandelier. A grand staircase of carved stone, carpeted in dark blue, swept into the center of the lobby.
“You must be Nancy Drew and company from River Heights,” the man said. “I’m Mark Lane, the owner of Butter Ridge. I hope you had a good drive up. Welcome to Wisconsin.”
“We’re sure glad to be here,” Bess said, rubbing her hands together.
Mark propped the girls’ skis against a nearby rack. “We’ll leave your skis here. They’ll be taken to your lockers on the lower level. My wife, Christi, will assign you each a locker number and give you the combinations.” He nodded toward a slender young woman with a long blond ponytail, grinning at them from the grand reception desk made of carved mahogany.
“You have a beautiful place here,” George remarked.
“Thank you,” Christi said, clearly pleased with the compliment. “We’ve worked hard on renovating Wickford Castle. It had been abandoned for a long time. When we bought it a couple of years ago, it was in pretty bad shape. Even now, not all of the wings are finished, but we’re doing what we can.
“Well, it looks fantastic,” George said, moving over to sign the register.
“And who is this?” Nancy asked as a large tan-and-white sheepdog ambled over to them.
“Oh. that’s Gus,” Christi said. “He’s almost eight years old, but he thinks he’s still a pup. She leaned over the desk and looked fondly down at the dog. “Don’t you, boy?”
Gus wagged his tail and dropped contentedly on the floor next to Nancy. “Oh, he’s found a friend,” Mark said as Nancy bent down to pet the dog. “When Gus lies down at your feet that way, you know he’s decided to attach himself to you.”
“Well, that’s fine with me,” Nancy said with a smile as she gently rubbed behind the dog’s ears.
“Oh, Dexter?” Christi called out.
Nancy turned to see a short, stout, gray-haired man carrying an armful of firewood from a back hallway. He wore overalls and a worn flannel shirt, as if he were a handyman. “This is Dexter Egan,” Mark said. “He’s been head caretaker at Wickford Castle for years.”
“Afternoon,” Dexter said briskly, keeping his head half-ducked. Nancy noted that his glance seemed to dart nervously around the lobby. Maybe he’s not used to dealing with hotel guests, she told herself.
“Will you please help Ms. Drew and her friends with their luggage?” Mark asked Dexter.
With a nod, the caretaker dumped the fire wood in a brass rack, then sidled over to pick up the girls’ luggage.
“You’re in room 304,” Christi told the girls, handing them keys. “Dexter can take your bags now, but maybe you’d like to warm up by the fire before you go up.” She gestured toward a large cozy lounge, just through a stone arch. A fire crackled in a huge fieldstone fireplace at the far end.
The girls headed gratefully for the fire. Near by, on a leather sofa, a young woman sat curled up, reading a magazine. On a matching sofa across the room, two young couples laughed and joked. Sitting in an armchair by the fire was an older man with thick white hair, poring over a book. “The lodge seems to be busy,” Nancy said to Mark.
He shrugged. “It’ll take us a while to get established, but we’ve been lucky so far,” he said. “Lisa,” he called to the young woman on the couch. “I’d like you to meet our new guests. Nancy, Bess, George, this is Lisa Ostrum.”
Lisa looked up and gave a friendly smile. Dressed in black stretch pants with a burgundy fleece pullover, Lisa was a tall, athletic-looking young woman with short brown hair.
“Lisa is a fantastic skier,” Mark said, “and a writer for Ski World magazine. She did a great article about Butter Ridge in the fall issue. We’re really pleased to have her here on a return visit.”
Lisa grinned. “You guys are sure to love the slopes here,” she said.
“Maybe you can give us some pointers,” George said. “Working for Ski World, you must know a lot.”
Lisa made a face. “I love skiing, but I’m afraid I’m no champion,” she admitted. “Not like Mark’s new ski teacher, Jacques.”
Bess’s eyes lit up. “We’re supposed to be taking lessons with him,” she said eagerly.
“Over there by the fireplace,” Mark went on, “is Professor Hotchkiss. He’s come all the way from Massachusetts. Those couples are Ken and Laura Hill and Jon and Chelsea Morton, all from Milwaukee. You’ll meet them at dinner, tonight at seven. We like for all our guests to get to know one another.”
Mark gave them directions on how to find their room, then left. After a few more minutes by the fire, the girls headed back through the lobby and up the big sweeping staircase.
Two flights up, the girls turned off down a wide wood-paneled hall. Gleaming wooden doors, each bearing a brass number plate, lined both sides of the corridor. At one point they passed a narrow, unlit hallway stretching off to the left. “Wow, this place goes on forever!” George exclaimed.
Room 304 was a few yards farther on. Nancy unlocked the door, and the girls walked in.
The room was large, with three casement windows. Its decor was homey, with rough plaster walls, comfortable-looking upholstered chairs, and thick patchwork quilts on the two queen-size beds.
Bess ran to a window. “Look, even though it’s snowing, you can see the ski slopes,” she said. “And the ice skating rink.”
George joined her. “Too bad it’s too late to hit the slopes today,” she said.
“Dexter got all our luggage up here all right,” Nancy reported, checking the pile of bags set beside the closet. “While you guys are gawking, I’m going to get unpacked.”
A few minutes later, kneeling beside her bags, Nancy frowned. “What a bummer!” she said.
“My ski goggles are in my bootbag, and I need to treat them overnight with this antifog spray.”
“I’ll bet someone has taken them down to the basement lockers by now,” George said.
“Probably,” Nancy said. “I’ll go down to the lower level and get them. You guys want to come?”
“Not me,” Bess said. “I’m taking a hot bath.”
“I’ll come with you, Nancy,” George said.
The two girls went back down the hall toward the main staircase. “Hey, look, Nan,” George said, pausing as they passed a half-open door. “Here’s some other stairs. If they go all the way to the lower level, this should save some time.”
“It’s worth trying,” Nancy said. “This place is so big, any shortcut will help.”
They started down the narrow, dimly lit wooden stairs. Three flights later, they came out into a large, brightly lit room with a linoleum floor. “This must be the place,” George said.
Tall, black metal lockers lined the walls, with rows of low benches beside them, where skiers could sit to put on their boots. Off to one side was a closed wooden door with the words Ski School Office printed across it.
“My locker number’s 73,” Nancy said, pulling from her purse the slip of paper Christi had given her. They headed across the room, checking locker numbers. Nancy found her locker, dialed the combination, then opened the door to take out her goggles.
“Wonder what’s down there?” George said, peering down a dark, dusty-looking concrete corridor opening off the locker room. After a few yards, the corridor made an abrupt right turn.
“Maybe that leads to a wing that Mark and Christi haven’t renovated yet,” Nancy said. Curious, she walked several feet down the corridor to see where it led. George followed.
Nancy halted suddenly, grabbing George’s arm. “I thought I heard footsteps,” Nancy said softly.
“You’ve been a detective too long, Nancy,” George said with a chuckle. “You hear suspicious sounds everywhere you go.”
“Okay, maybe it’s nothing,” Nancy said. “But it won’t hurt to check it out.”
The two girls continued on around the curving hallway, looking for a light switch to turn on. “Hey, look, George,” Nancy murmured. “What do you suppose that is, up there?” She pointed to a large metal box mounted on the wall.
George stood on tiptoe and inspected the box. “It looks like some sort of power box, Nancy,” she said. “It says Elevator on the front.”
Nancy reached up and pushed open the tiny door on the front of the box. Inside was a single switch, set to the on position. “Where is the elevator this belongs to?” Nancy wondered. George shrugged.
They cautiously walked a few more yards, around the next turn in the dark, doorless hall way. There, set into one wall, was a narrow wooden door with a small round window in it. “That must be it,” Nancy declared.
She grabbed the brass handle and swung the door open. Behind it was an accordion-style inner door. When she slid that open, a dim overhead light switched on inside a tiny elevator cage.
Nancy peered inside. On one wall was a metal control panel with a row of buttons.
“What do you suppose this elevator is for?” George asked, stepping in behind Nancy.
“It may have been a service elevator, put in to help servants transport laundry,” Nancy guessed. “But now I suspect it’s used by skiers, going back and forth to their rooms.”
“It sure beats climbing back up those stairs,” George said. She curiously touched a small piece of mesh dangling from a ceiling hatch. “Should we give it a try?”
Nancy nodded. “Might as well.”
She pulled the outer door shut, slid the accordion door closed, and pressed the button for the third floor. A motor began to hum. A second later the tiny elevator started to move upward.
Through the accordion door, they could see the bare walls of the elevator shaft. They passed a door labeled 1, then one labeled 2. “We’re almost there,” George said.
But as they neared the third floor, the elevator vibrated slightly. Nancy and George traded worried looks.
Then the tiny light in the ceiling began to flicker. The elevator slowed and gave another shake. The light flickered wildly.
“What’s happening?” George asked.
“I don’t know, but you’d better hang on,” Nancy said.
The girls braced themselves against the sides of the tiny cage.
The elevator gave a noisy, violent shudder and stopped. Above them, the light flickered once more and then went out, plunging the tiny cage into darkness.
The girls were stuck between floors!