It's up to Nancy to put a halt to the robberies at the White House!
"Taxi! Taxi!" Nancy Drew waved down a cab and, when the yellow car stopped in front of her, climbed inside. She tossed her long, reddish-blond hair over her shoulder and settled back gratefully in her seat.
"Where to?" the driver asked, glancing at her in his rearview mirror.
"The White House, please. The visitor's entrance," Nancy replied, trying to sound as if she took a taxi to the White House every day of the week.
The city of Washington, D.C., spread out before her as the taxi hummed over the Fourteenth Street Bridge. To Nancy's right, a sleek racing shell cut down the Potomac River, its eight oarsmen rowing in perfect unison.
Washington was nothing like Chicago, Nancy mused. Chicago was the nearest big city to her hometown of River Heights. In Chicago sleek concrete-and-glass skyscrapers edged the skyline. But in D.C., only the graceful, white granite obelisk of the Washington Monument seemed to touch the sky.
When Nancy's friend George Fayne had snagged an internship as a photographer's assistant at the White House, she had immediately invited Nancy to visit. Nancy hadn't needed to be asked twice. Finally reaching her destination, Nancy's mind began to imagine the days and nights ahead: witnessing the political process from behind the scenes, attending parties, meeting other interns...
Suddenly, Nancy was thrown back into the present as the taxi driver gunned the engine to make it through a yellow light at an intersection. The cab crossed the center of the Mall, home of some of the country's most famous monuments -- including Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's, and the Vietnam War Memorial. As she looked at the horizon, the dome of the U.S. Capitol rose through the late-morning haze.
To her left, Nancy caught a glimpse of the White House before it disappeared behind an enormous, dark sandstone building. That glance started her heart pounding with excitement.
I am going to the White House, and I am not going as a tourist, she reminded herself proudly. Instinctively, she smoothed her hair and brushed a few flecks of imaginary fuzz from her blazer.
The cab stopped at the corner of Seventeenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. "Say hello to the president for me," the taxi driver said as he lifted her suitcase out of the trunk.
"Will do," Nancy replied. She felt so good, she tipped him an extra dollar.
She wove her way through the noisy crowd of tourists, trying to stay out of the pictures they were taking of one another in front of America's first home. Finally she arrived at the nine-foot-high wrought-iron visitor's gate.
A handsome marine in full Honor Guard dress blues stepped from the guardhouse behind the gate. "May I help you, Miss?"
"Hi. I'm Nancy Drew. I'm here to see George Fayne in the White House Photo Office."
The marine ran a white-gloved finger over a clipboard list, his finger stopping about halfway down. He looked up and said, "I'll need to see your driver's license and social security card, please, Ms. Drew." The guard opened one half of the gate and gestured for Nancy to come through. "I'll also need to check the contents of your suitcase."
After a few minutes, the guard returned Nancy's luggage and handed her a laminated blue pass marked with a big A. "Please display this pass at all times while in the White House," he said. "You may proceed to the West Wing straight ahead. Enjoy your visit."
Nancy thanked him and made her way down the long, covered driveway framed by slender white columns. The door was guarded by another marine. He saluted her, ceremoniously clicked his heels together, and pivoted to open the door with practiced military efficiency. I feel like royalty, Nancy thought.
Inside, everything was silent and still. The West Wing lobby had the air of an old luxury hotel, complete with marble columns, polished antique furniture, and thick carpeting. Nancy paused and took a deep breath. "Well, here I am," she murmured to herself, feeling just a little daunted by the fact.
An elderly woman emerged as if from nowhere. "Of course you are, dear," she said kindly. "But the question is, Who are you?"
Nancy laughed, relieved by the woman's sense of humor. "Nancy Drew," she said. "I'm here to see George Fayne in the photographer's office."
"Certainly. Please have a seat, and I'll let him know you're here."
"Her," Nancy corrected the woman.
"Yes, ma'am," Nancy said very politely. "My friend George is a girl."
The elderly woman's face lit up. "Oh, that George," she said.
Nancy sat down in a deeply cushioned wing chair and chuckled to think that George had already made herself known. It wasn't long before her friend came striding through a set of double doors at the far end of the lobby. Her collar-length dark curls bounced with each long step of her gait. George stopped a few feet in front of Nancy and placed her hands on her hips.
"So, it's true, " George said, a wry smile on her face. "They'll let just anyone in here!"
The two friends laughed and embraced in a hug.
"Seriously," George said. "I'm so glad you're here." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "It'll be a relief to be able to talk to someone I know I can trust."
"What do you mean?" Nancy asked, her curiosity immediately aroused.
George led the way out of the lobby. "You thought I was competitive," she continued. "You should see the people who work here. There's nothing they wouldn't do to get what they want." George pointed to a cloakroom off the hall. "You can put your suitcase in there for now."
"You've gotten awfully cynical in just one week, George," Nancy said as they were on their way again.
"Not at all," George protested. "I've just found my niche!"
The girls broke out laughing again as they approached a set of mahogany double doors. The doors opened onto a wide hallway with maroon carpeting and beige walls. At the far end, two men in dark suits were having a quiet discussion that could not be heard over the sounds of clicking keyboards coming from the offices.
"Not very glamorous," George admitted. "This is the first floor of the West Wing, and it's all business. The president's highest ranking staff members have their offices here and on the second floor. I'll give you the official tour of the residence later."
"That's what we call the White House itself. The West Wing was added on decades ago just to provide working space. But the rooms in the White House" -- George placed her hand on her chest, as if calming her heart -- "are unbelievably gorgeous."
"And the president lives -- "
"Second and third floor of the White House," George answered. "I'm afraid we won't be touring those rooms."
"So which one of these high-ranking offices is yours?" Nancy asked, teasing.
"Big shot that I am, I get a basement cubicle," George quipped. "Listen to this: my official title is First Assistant to the Chief Photographer of the White House Archives."
"Impressive," Nancy said sincerely.
"My boss, Joe Newman, is one of the nicest people I've met here," George said. "We've got a big photo shoot at three this afternoon. You'll get to see him -- and me -- in action." She stopped outside an open door. A red velvet rope hung over the threshold. "Take a peek, Nan. It's the Oval Office."
Nancy peered into the huge room. The president was not at his desk, but the room was still awe-inspiring. Nancy noted that a rug the size of a swimming pool covered the floor. The presidential seal was woven into the middle of it. "Wow!" was all that Nancy could manage.
"Come on. Now I'll show you my office."
George led Nancy down another hall and a flight of stairs. "Then we'll call for some lunch. Thursday is enchilada day."
George's office turned out be one in a row of at least a dozen cubicles barely bigger than walk-in closets. On the corridor wall outside her office hung scores of one-by-two-foot photographs of the president and his staff.
"Those are called jumbos," George said. "We catch the president and his staff going through all their daily activities. New pics get posted here every week. The old ones go to staff offices up stairs. Taking them down and putting up new ones is part of my job."
George turned toward her cubicle. "Have a look while I call in our lunch."
Nancy studied the photographs. They looked like what she might see in the newspaper or on the news. One showed the president, seated at a massive desk with somber-looking men and women standing in a semicircle behind him. To the president's left, a tall, elegantly dressed woman held open a wooden case, as if offering the president a cigar. Nancy looked more closely and saw they weren't cigars. They were fountain pens. Nancy remembered hearing that after the president signed important documents, he gave away the pens he'd used as souvenirs of the event.
A burst of noise caused Nancy to look up and see two men about her age emerge from an office down the hall. They were impeccably dressed, and one of them carried a fairly large cardboard box.
As they caught up to Nancy, the one with the box stopped. He smiled at her and nodded toward the wall of photographs. "'So, what's the commander in chief up to today?" he asked.
Nancy pretended to scrutinize the picture. "'Looks to me like he's busy ensuring world peace and democracy," she said.
The young man laughed, a lock of his straw-colored hair falling over his eyes. "That's good to hear." He shifted the box under one arm and extended his hand. "I'm Brent Larson, and this is my friend Eduardo Enriquez."
"I'm Nancy Drew, here visiting my friend George Fayne. Do you know her?"
"Sure we do," Brent said.
Nancy guessed that Brent was a little over six feet tall. He wore a charcoal gray suit, a crisp, white cotton shirt, and a tightly knotted tie patterned with tiny aquamarine fish, whose color perfectly matched his eyes.
Just as Nancy was about to ask him another question, George popped out of her cubicle.
"Nice tie, Larson," George said. "You trying to swim with the sharks, or what?"
"Anything to impress you, George," Brent replied.
"Oh, yeah?" George said. "Well, keep trying. I'll let you know when it works."
Nancy saw Brent begin to blush and decided to come to his rescue. "So," she said, "you and Eduardo both work here in the White House?"
"Please, call me Eddie." Brent's friend had jet black hair and emerald green eyes.
"I work down the hall in the Administration Office," Brent said. "I'm in charge of commissioning presidential gifts and art."
"That sounds like a great job," Nancy said. "Do you have a title as impressive as George's to go with it?"
"Oh , most certainly," Brent said. "I am the Deputy Director of Executive Gifts, Acquisitions, and Honoraria. You may call me His Royal Deputy Giftness."
Laughing, Nancy asked, "'How did you ever get such a job?
"My father owns a New York auction house," Brent said, somewhat sheepishly. "'I guess you could say it's in my blood."
George jumped in. "And Eddie here is studying at Georgetown University, right?"
"Yes." Eddie smiled, and suddenly his whole face changed from its previous serious intensity to welcoming good humor. "I'm from San Valente, a small country in South America. I'm studying political science while my family lives here in Washington."
"What Eddie's not telling you," Brent interrupted, "is that his father is an ambassador from San Valente. His parents will be staying in the Lincoln Bedroom after the state dinner this week -- as the president's personal guests."
"Oh, on the second floor of the residence," Nancy said knowingly.
"I see George has taught you the White House lingo already," Brent said. "Eddie's my pass to get up there with this." He held the cardboard box out, obviously waiting to be asked what was inside.
"Okay," George said, scowling in mock exasperation. "What's in the box?"
Brent carefully cradled the box on one arm and opened the top with his other hand. "Check it out," he said, lowering it before George and Nancy.
Inside was a church scene in plaster of two families in adjoining pews. The women and children sat primly, while the two men stood shaking hands over the back of the bench.
"It's called Neighboring Pews," Brent said. "Designed around 1860 by John Rogers. The Secret Service called me a few days ago and said the maid had accidentally broken the one in the Lincoln Suite."
"Oops," George said. "But this doesn't look broken," she noted.
Brent shook his head as he closed the box. "Rogers made thousands of them. I rounded this one up with only a few phone calls, and when I said it was for the First Family's living quarters, the owner let me have it for free."
"Nice going, Brent," Nancy said.
At that moment the phone in George's office rang. She ducked into her cubicle to get it.
Nancy was about to ask Eddie about his father's relationship to the president when they heard George cry out, "What? Oh, no!"
They crowded into the doorway of George's cubicle. She sat with her back to them, still on the phone.
"Okay," she said into the receiver, and hung up. George slowly turned around in her chair. Her face was pale. "'It's about Joe Newman, my boss," she said in a shaky voice. "He's in the hospital in critical condition."
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