"You're sure?" Nancy Drew's bright blue eyes shone with excitement from the front seat of the van.
Tommy Buskirk acted disappointed. "You doubt me?"
Tommy was one of the many men Nancy's best friend, Bess Marvin, had developed a crush on in her unending quest for true love. While Bess hadn't found her prince, Nancy had made a friend -- a friend who was a whiz at computers and hacking.
"I never doubted you for a minute, Tommy," Nancy replied with an impish grin.
Nancy, Tommy, FBI Agent Vince Tarkington, and radio producer Jason Watson had been sitting for hours in a dreary parking lot on Chicago's West Side. Through the seemingly ceaseless late-summer rain, they watched the Bon Homme apartment complex.
"Well, I still have a few doubts," Agent Tarkington stated. He sat behind Tommy, wearing a dark suit and tie. He was dressed like almost every other FBI agent Nancy had ever met.
Tarkington was observing the cellular phone tracking device, or trigger fish, that Tommy held. The agent's pistol gleamed in the shoulder holster under his open jacket when he leaned forward.
Jason, who was sitting with Tarkington and behind Tommy, caught Nancy's eye and looked at her hopefully. The two had known each other since they were kids. Jason was no longer the geek he had been as a child. He had found his calling as the producer of radio WUUL's late-night show with the phenomenally popular DJ Virgyl Laser. It was Jason who had called Nancy to ask her to help them find out who was scamming their cruise ticket giveaway on Virgyl's show.
Nancy and Tommy had been following their suspect, Trey Carter, for three days. They knew where he was, but had yet to catch him.
As Nancy glanced back at Tarkington, she began feeling nervous. The stakeout had been her idea, and her father, attorney Carson Drew, had contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to make it happen.
Tarkington's superior had told him that Nancy Drew was someone to listen to. If she said this was the night to catch Carter, it was worth their time and energy, he said, to send in some agents.
The hours they'd sat waiting, however, had started to erode Nancy's confidence. Tommy had carefully tracked the names and Internet accounts used in the scam to the apartment of one Herman Giger, an alias of Carter's. Still, Nancy couldn't shake her fear that they might be on a wild-goose chase.
"See?" Tommy said, pointing to the columns of telephone numbers that scrolled across the glowing monitor. "A number of cell phone lines originate from this apartment complex, and Carter is starting to trap the lines at the radio station."
"Turn on the radio, Jason," Nancy said, her voice expressing both her tension and her excitement.
Jason turned it on and cranked up the volume. Virgyl Laser's smoky baritone filled the van.
"Keep those phones ringing, chums and chumettes," Virgyl commanded, "because tonight lucky listener number one hundred and four is going to win the final ticket giveaway for the cruise that's going to witness the Titanic being raised. For all of you listeners who are fuzzy about history, that's the ship they said couldn't sink but did."
"Must we listen to this?" the FBI agent asked. No one answered, and no one turned off the radio.
"Okay, I promised to say the leader of this expedition's name on the air, and here it is: Walter Welsch. He's the billionaire everyone's so crazy about. That's right, the guy on the cover of V.I.P. magazine. It's his money that's being used to raise the Titanic, and the cruise is on his ship, the Hampton.
"And you could be there, if you are lucky caller number one oh four. Better than that, there are going to be -- count 'em -- one hundred and three loo-ooo-sers before you!"
Virgyl began his countdown. None of the callers escaped being heckled as the DJ hung up on one after another of them between Top Forty songs.
"Virgyl's in rare form tonight," Jason said.
"Sure is," Nancy answered, not enjoying listening to Virgyl's bombastic and obnoxious chatter.
"It sounds as if Virgyl Laser is trying to pick a fight," Tommy said.
Jason gave a crooked grin. "At least a dozen every night. It's part of his charm."
"Caller seventy-two," Virgyl said, a sneer in his voice. "You're on the air, pal, and let me be the first to tell you that you're a loo-ooo-ser!"
Canned jeering trumpeted over the radio waves. The DJ cut off the caller's angry response in midsyllable with practiced ease.
"Do you really think Carter is in there?" Jason asked, studying the apartment building.
Nancy nodded. "Jason, stay cool. I wouldn't be here if I didn't know he was in there," she said with more assurance than she felt. "He's gotten overly confident and hasn't covered his tracks very well" Nancy tried to sound confident.
"Trey Carter has scammed a lot of radio contests before WUUL," Nancy continued. "There was a Corvette giveaway in Miami six years ago."
After doing her research, Nancy knew his history better than almost anyone. So far, four sets of the cruise tickets he'd won had turned up on the Internet for sale.
The fact that the tickets showed up on the Web sites hadn't surprised anyone, since scalpers had been selling tickets on-line for years. But the WUUL tickets were for special cabins, so tracing them had been easy.
"Carter's lighting up the telephone switch board at the radio station, closing out all the incoming calls but his own," Tommy announced without looking up from his trigger fish. "He must have installed preset traps on the station lines through the phone company's system."
"We have to catch Carter at it," Jason said. "Otherwise the charges won't stick."
"We will," Tarkington said. "If he's there."
Nancy wished the FBI agent would lighten up a little. "He's there," she said once more.
"Caller eighty-four, you're on the air."
"Hello." The voice sounded timid, squeaky.
"That's him," Tommy said with certainty. "He's trying to disguise his voice."
"Can you confirm that the call is coming from inside the apartment complex?" Tarkington asked.
The young computer expert nodded. "You bet."
"Eighty-four," the DJ snarled, "you're just another loo-ooo-ser!" The phone connection broke.
"Carter's on again," Tommy said. "I'm showing a different number, but it's logging through the same telephone switch block here at the apartments."
"Caller eighty-five," Virgyl Laser said.
"Rats." This voice was deeper, but Nancy could hear that it was the same person as eighty-four.
"Loo-ooo-ser!" Virgyl Laser declared.
The next six callers came from the apartment complex as well, and all had similar voices.
"He's using at least four different cellular phone lines," Tommy declared. "He's almost there . . . . Bingo! He's got the phone switch box at the radio station completely trapped. No one but Carter can get through to Virgyl now."
"Okay," Tarkington said into the microphone he held that connected him to his men. "Let's close in." He popped open the side door and stepped out into the rain. The butt of his gun filled his hand.
Tarkington opened Nancy's door from the outside. "We're going in to take Herman Giger's apartment."
"Right," Nancy said, "but he isn't necessarily in that apartment. We'll scout around for pay phones. He could be calling from anywhere in the complex."
"Roger," Tarkington answered: By then Tommy and Jason had joined him in the rain. "Be careful," he said, and disappeared into the darkness.
"Caller ninety-four," Virgyl Laser called out mockingly, "you are a loo-ooo-ser!"
"Ten more callers," Nancy said, "and we have to find Trey Carter before he gets off the air."
She lifted her jacket collar to keep out the rain. She had come dressed to capture a criminal on a dark, rainy night. She wore a black rain jacket over a black T-shirt and black jeans, her strawberry blond hair hidden under a black watch cap. By the time they'd made it to the main building, Nancy's "waterproof" jacket was soaked through and she felt chilled.
"Where are we going?" Jason asked.
Nancy felt like saying that they were going wherever Trey Carter was. Instead she simply said, "Follow me."
They started off making a circuit of the courtyard at a jog. Three quarters of the way around, Nancy slid to a stop in front of a metal security door. The door read Laundry.
"The laundry probably has pay phones," Tommy said, just before Nancy could voice the same opinion. "He could be calling from inside here."
Nancy tried the door -- it was locked. She peered in through the chicken-wire protected pane of glass in the door. The room was a long rectangle with washers running in a double column down the center. Dryers lined the wall to the right opposite windows that overlooked the courtyard.
"Carter wasn't in his room," Tommy said in a low voice.
"How do you know?" Jason demanded.
Tommy opened his palm, revealing a small electronic device. "Police scanner. When Tarkington wasn't looking, I took a peek at the frequency he's using to communicate with the police. I'm hooked in with them."
Nancy shuddered as lightning zigzagged across the sky. In the sudden brilliant light, she saw a tall figure shadowed against the rain-spattered windows of the laundry room. Then it was gone.
Nancy used her cellular phone to call Tarkington. "I think Carter's in the buildings' laundry room. And I definitely saw some pay phones in there."
"You've seen him?" The FBI agent sounded tense.
"I saw someone. The laundry is closed and locked. No one should be inside."
"It could be a maintenance man," Tarkington replied.
"A maintenance man would have the lights on," she retorted. "We'll let you know if Carter's inside in just a second." Nancy held the telephone in place with her chin as she fished her lock picks from a pocket.
"Don't go -- " Tarkington started to say.
Nancy took the phone from her shoulder and thumbed the mute button as she jiggled the pick in the keyhole. In no time at all, she had pulled open the door and was waving at the others to stay put.
Inside, Nancy flattened herself against the wall next to the door. She couldn't see the phones, but remembered from her brief glimpse that they were in the far corner. She listened intently for a moment before dropping into a low crouch.
After leaving the door slightly ajar, Tommy slipped in beside her. She motioned him to get down.
"Shouldn't we give this a little more thought?" Jason whispered from outside. "Guys?"
He received no answer.
The scent of detergents and cleaners burned Nancy's nose and, crept into her throat as she breathed silently. She put the earphone from her portable radio into her ear. It was tuned to WUUL.
Using the line of washers in the center of the room as a defense, Nancy moved forward. She had to navigate a course around the laundry carts on wheels, which were hung with hangers. She didn't want to announce their presence by bumping into one of them.
"Caller one-oh-one," Virgyl Laser said in her ear, "you're with me live, but you're going to wish you were dead, because you are a loo-ooo ser!"
The caller hung up without responding.
Nancy glanced behind her, but Tommy was not there. Her heart pounded in her chest wildly until she realized that Tommy must have taken the other side of the washers. Playing hide-and-seek with someone like Trey Carter wasn't her idea of fun, but she thrived on the rush of adrenaline.
Lightning streaked the sky again, illuminating the room with a sudden intensity. Tommy spoke loudly into the ensuing silence after the crackle of thunder passed. "Carter's gone."
Straightening up, Nancy saw Tommy at the bank of pay phones, a pen-size flashlight in one hand and a pay phone receiver with a cellular phone taped to it in the other. Tommy's light played over the rest, all of them had cellular phones taped to them.
"Not gone," a harsh voice said out of the darkness. "Not yet!"
A chill enveloped Nancy as she saw Trey Carter step from the shadow of the dryers, one arm straight before him and shoulder high. A succession of lightning bolts cracked the sky, revealing the small pistol in his hand. The gun unleashed lightning of its own as Carter pulled the trigger, and the hollow crash of Tommy hitting the empty washers was its rolling thunder.
Carter swung around, bringing his pistol to bear on Nancy.
Nancy dropped, taking cover, as a bullet struck sparks from an open washer lid, slamming it shut.
"Nancy!" Jason yelled, opening the door.
"Get down!" Nancy yelled.
Jason dropped an instant before a bullet dug into the metal door frame where his head had been.
Suddenly the thought occurred to Nancy that there was no way she could explain getting shot to her father. Deadly business like this usually followed Frank and Joe Hardy around. Nancy wished one of the brothers was there now.
Her eyes having adjusted to the dark, Nancy could see Tommy shift slightly on the concrete floor.
"Chums and chumettes," DJ Virgyl Laser whined through her earphone, "you're letting me down. We're only one more loo-ooo-ser away from tonight's big winner, and I don't see a single phone line lighting up the switchboard here at WUUL, home of today's hottest music. Come on, don't keep me in suspense."
Virgyl wasn't getting any calls because Carter wasn't calling. He had disappeared from view, but Nancy knew he still had to be in the room.
She inched her way in a crawl over to Tommy, and lifting his arm across her shoulders, helped him into a low crouch.
Tommy moaned softly and put a hand to the side of his head. His face shone pale in the dark.
Nancy yanked the radio from her jacket pocket and cranked up the volume. She flipped the radio away from her, holding on to the earplug.
Blaring rock music filled the laundry as the radio pulled free from the end of the earplug cord. As Carter fired, Nancy yelled "Now!" to Tommy, propelling him down the row of washers toward the door. Jason held it open wide.
The bullet had shattered the radio, and against the sound of the steady rain, Nancy heard Carter come after them.
The sickly light from the lone courtyard lamp revealed no safe cover outside, only the skeletal shape of a jungle gym next to a dented slide.
"The playground!" Nancy yelled to Jason, pointing, and she half carried Tommy toward its meager protection.
Abruptly, Tommy came to a halt at her side and wouldn't -- or couldn't -- move.
"Come on, Tommy," Nancy cried. Then she saw it, the shadow that separated itself from the darkness not twenty feet ahead.
Nancy's brain instantly registered the dark figure dressed in black. One pinpoint of light reflected off the large pistol in the stranger's gloved hands.
Nancy hit the dirt, dragging Tommy down, and shouted to Jason, but the shadow wasn't focused on them. Unable to stop his forward movement, however, Carter, who was still behind Nancy, ran into the bullets that the stranger fired.
The successive gun flashes revealed the stranger's face -- triangular, avocado green, and dominated by huge black lidless eyes -- before temporarily blinding Nancy. She blinked several times to get rid of the spots before her eyes, and when she could see again, the other-worldly gunman was gone.
Nancy heard a stampede of feet.
"Are you all right?" Tarkington asked, kneeling beside her.
"Yes," Nancy replied. She turned back toward the laundry room. Jason, standing beside three FBI agents with their weapons drawn, was looking down at Carter's prone body.
"What happened?" Tarkington demanded harshly.
"Someone shot Carter," Nancy said deliberately.
"I kind of figured that out for myself." Tarkington still held his gun. "Did you see who?"
Nancy tried to figure how best to break the news to Tarkington. He wasn't going to like it.
Jason came to her rescue. "Yeah, we saw who shot Carter. But if this guy flees home, I think you're going to have trouble getting him extradited."
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