"There it is -- Opa." Nancy Drew read the sign stretching across the canyon road ahead. "It means good fortune and happiness in Greek."
"Sounds promising," George Fayne said from the backseat. "I could use a little opa."
Eighteen-year-old Nancy guided her blue Mustang off the coast highway and through an iron gate. Then she drove up the bumpy winding mountain road to the main building of the Opa tourist lodge in Big Sur, California.
"Wow, this is a perfect place for a week's vacation," Bess Marvin said as Nancy parked the car. "Just look at that view. Hannah was right."
The three got out of the car and looked back down the road. Nancy shielded her blue eyes as she took in the breathtaking view. She said a silent thank-you to her beloved housekeeper back in River Heights, Hannah Gruen, who had suggested this resort for a vacation.
They could see for miles in all directions. Behind them, the tree-covered Santa Lucia Mountains stretched toward the sky. Ahead, the sea glittered white in the late afternoon sun. Around them, the golden hills and dark canyons of Opa led to the rocky cliffs that plunged down to the Pacific Ocean.
"Let's get checked in," Nancy said. Her reddish blond hair glinted in the bright August sun. "The brochure said that Tuesday is barbecue and line dancing night."
"I'm thinking about taking a horseback ride on one of the trails tonight," George said as they hauled their luggage from the trunk of the car.
"Not me," Bess said dreamily, following the others into the lodge. "I'd like to sit on one of those benches and watch the sun set over the ocean -- preferably with a nice guy I'll meet at the dance."
George and Bess were Nancy's best friends. Although Bess was George's cousin, people rarely guessed the two were related. Brown-eyed George had close-cropped dark hair and a slim, muscular body, and favored sports and heavy workouts. Bess, who was shorter, with blond hair and blue eyes, jokingly said she loved sports, too, but from the sidelines.
"Hi. I'll bet you're the guests from back east," a pretty young woman said from behind the front desk as Nancy, Bess, and George entered the lodge. "I thought you'd be getting in about now. I'm the owner here -- Didi Koulakis. And this is my dear friend and assistant, Betty Myers. Welcome to Opa!"
Didi was pretty in a natural sort of way, Nancy thought. Didi didn't wear much makeup, but really didn't need it. She had deep green eyes and dark hair pulled back with a plastic clip. She was dressed in jeans and a loose embroidered blouse.
Betty Myers was an older woman -- she looked to Nancy to be close to seventy -- with soft white hair fluffed around her friendly face. "Hannah has told me so much about you in her letters," Mrs. Myers said to Nancy. "I feel as if I know you already. I miss my old friend. How is she?"
"She's wonderful," Nancy said. "She sent you a present -- I'll find it when we unpack."
"Let's go right to your cottage and get you settled," Didi said, picking up a suitcase in each hand. Nancy was surprised to see how young the owner was. She seemed to be about Nancy's age.
Didi led the three visitors down a trail through a dense, pungent pine grove to a small cottage perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean. One room served as a living and dining room. It was furnished with antique redwood chairs, a rocker, and a sofa piled high with plump pillows.
A large stone fireplace anchored one end of the room, a small kitchen nook the other. A ladder next to the kitchen led to a sleeping loft overlooking the living room. One door across from the fireplace opened to a bedroom, with rustic twin beds and dressers. The other led to a bathroom with an old claw foot tub.
"You two take the bedroom, I'll sleep in the loft," Nancy said to Bess and George, climbing the ladder to take a look. "It's wonderful up here." There was a double bed with a headboard made of bent twigs in a spiderweb pattern. A night table, small bookcase, and dresser rounded out the loft's furniture.
"How soon can you get settled?" Didi asked from below. "I've got time right now to give you a little tour around Opa before I have to check on the kitchen for tonight's barbecue."
"I'm ready now," Nancy said, hurrying back down the ladder. "How about you two?"
"Ready as I'll ever be," George said, dropping her bag in the bedroom. Bess checked her lipstick in the bathroom mirror, then joined the others.
"We have fifty acres," Didi said as the group left the cottage, "and plenty of activities to keep you busy."
They walked past other guest cottages, a swimming pool, and an area cleared for campfire suppers that was surrounded by a tumbling creek. Several riding trails disappeared into deep canyons. Others led down to a bay carved from the ocean bluffs.
Didi stopped at the stables and introduced the man working there. "This is Cal Burns, our stablemaster and riding guide. He'll help get you matched up with one of our horses and either suggest a trail or take you out on a ride himself."
"Just call me Cal," he said, with a tip of his baseball cap. He appeared to be in his forties, with leathery golden skin and sun-bleached hair.
"Those fellas over there," Cal said, pointing to two young men hoisting a new window into the side of the stable, "are Sam and Barney Shaw. Sam's our new maintenance man and his brother, Barney, is our new stable hand." The two burly men nodded their greeting as they pushed the window into place.
After a quick tour of the stable, Didi led Nancy and her friends back to the main lodge. "I've got to get into the kitchen to see about this barbecue," she said. "Call me if you need anything."
"Thanks," Nancy said. "You've been so gracious. I know we're going to have a great time here."
"I hope so," Didi said with a grin. "See you later."
Didi headed for the kitchen, and Nancy, George, and Bess went back to their cottage to unpack, then shower and dress for the evening's activities. Nancy decided on jeans and a blue, long-sleeved, cropped T-shirt. George chose a red shirt and jeans, and Bess put on a white ruffled blouse and a swirly denim skirt.
Nancy grabbed the present Hannah Gruen had sent along for Mrs. Myers, and the three friends headed for the main lodge.
The building had a dining hall overlooking the ocean, a large party room for dances and receptions, a library, and a game room with card tables, dartboards, and a pool table.
"I didn't realize how hungry I was," George said. "It's been seven hours since we had our lunch at that roadside restaurant. This looks wonderful."
A buffet was set up along one side of the dining room. Barbecued chicken and ribs, potatoes, sliced tomatoes and other raw vegetables, and corn bread were heaped on the main serving table. Side tables offered pies, cakes, and beverages.
"Let's sit outdoors," Nancy said. "You can watch your sunset, Bess," she added with a smile.
"Great," Bess said. "I'll save the moonrise for the guy I'm going to meet at the dance."
Nancy filled her plate, took a glass of pink lemonade, and headed for one of the redwood tables on the long porch outside. Bess and George followed, carrying their plates. They all dug right into the delicious food.
"I see Mrs. Myers," Nancy said, spotting the woman who appeared to be doubling as hostess for the evening. "I'm going to take Hannah's present over."
Nancy wound around the tables until she reached Mrs. Myers, who stood at a small table in the lobby greeting guests. "Oh, it's beautiful, Nancy," Mrs. Myers said as she unwrapped the scarf that Hannah Gruen had sent. "I'll think of Hannah every time I wear it. She's such a dear friend."
Nancy smiled as she thought of Hannah. "Yes, she is," Nancy said. "I don't know what I would have done without her." She thought of how much Hannah meant to her as she'd grown up. Nancy's mother had died when Nancy was three years old, and Hannah had been with Nancy and her father, Carson Drew, ever since.
Mrs. Myers smiled at Nancy and patted her hand. "And now, dear," she said, putting the scarf back in the box, "it's time to return to your friends. I think the dancing's about to start."
Nancy went back to join the others. Didi was herding them to the party room with its large dance floor. A four-piece band struck up a familiar country and western song, and a young couple led the exuberant participants in a lively line dance.
"My feet keep getting mixed up," Bess said, laughing, when the dance was over.
"I don't know -- you look pretty good to me," said a young man in jeans and a denim shirt. He looked like a football player, with broad shoulders. He gave Bess a wide smile. "My name's Ken Randell. This is my friend Jay Webb."
Bess introduced herself and her friends. Then they got back in line for the next few numbers. Finally, Nancy, George, and Jay took a break while Bess and Ken paired off for a couples dance.
"Looks like Bess is falling in love again," George said while Jay went for sodas.
"How about you?" Nancy teased. "Jay's pretty cute -- all that blond hair and those big blue eyes.
Red-faced, George looked around the room. "Well, we'll just have to find someone for you," she said.
"No, thanks," Nancy said with a laugh. "I'll find my own dancing partners, if you don't mind. And besides, I've got my own dancing partner back at home," she added, referring to longtime boyfriend Ned Nickerson.
Jay returned with their sodas. "Are you from California?" he asked.
"No, we're from back east, as Didi says," Nancy answered. "We're staying at Opa on vacation."
"That's great," Jay said. Then he laughed, adding, "Everything east of Nevada is 'back east' to Californians. Ken and I are from San Diego. We're on vacation, too." He smiled at George.
Bess and Jay came over and plunked themselves down onto two chairs. "Whew! What a workout," Bess said.
"Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm going to turn in," Nancy said. "It's nearly midnight, and we had a long drive today."
"Hey, this is the last dance," Bess said, as the music began. "We have to join that one."
Everyone crowded onto the dance floor for a final line dance the instructor called the Earthquake. By the time they had twisted, turned, and hopped through it, they were weak with laughter.
Then Nancy, George, and Bess said good night to their new friends and headed for the cottage.
"I'm exhausted," Bess said happily as they walked through the dark, fragrant pine grove. "I can't wait to hit that pillow."
Nancy reached into her pocket for the cottage key. "Wait a minute," she said softly as they neared the cottage. "That's odd." She held her arm back to stop the other two.
The small porch light next to the cottage door was on and illuminated the narrow stoop. Nancy held her breath as she noticed that the door was open a crack.
"Be careful," Nancy whispered as they inched slowly forward.
She strained to hear any sound from behind the slightly open cottage door. Her eyes narrowed as she peered through the opening into the dark living room. She reached out with her fingertips and lightly brushed the door. Slowly, it creaked open.
Still holding her breath, Nancy cautiously pushed the cottage door open farther. Behind her, George gasped as the porch light's beam spread across the living room floor to reveal the place in shambles.
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