Nancy's full of questions. Her budding romance with Peter Goodwin may shrivel if he doesn't tell the truth about his past. And someone has stolen a bio exam. If Nancy doesn't find out who, it could be Bess who faces failure. Nancy has her work cut out for her, but she's not about to fail the test.
"Casey Fontaine's amazing career, which began in a high school production of Grease!, will go back to the future this month when the TV star turned college student appears in Wilder's own production of the popular musical."
"I've read this article so many times, I can't tell if it's any good," Nancy Drew murmured as she finished reading aloud a section from her celebrity profile of her suitemate and glamorous ex-TV star, Casey Fontaine. She leaned back in the chair in her tiny cubicle at the Wilder Times and squinted at the computer screen in the early morning sunlight.
"Sounds good to me," an unidentified voice said from somewhere in the deserted office.
Nancy whirled around. A dozen blank computer screens stared back -- but no people.
"You definitely need more sleep," Nancy told herself, and slumped over her desk. "You're starting to hear things -- "
"I didn't think you were the kind of girl who talked to herself," the voice responded.
"I'm not," Nancy replied uncertainly, scanning the room.
Her eyes settled on a desk in the far corner. Jake Collins's desk. Jake Collins: junior hot shot and star reporter. One day that desk would be hers, she had decided. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a mussed tangle of wavy brown hair rise from behind a wall of papers and pizza boxes stacked on the desk. Then a pair of black cowboy boots stepped around the desk and Jake Collins came into the light.
Nancy had seen Jake at editorial meetings, but they weren't friends. In fact, they hadn't even had a conversation since she joined the paper. He was one of those guys that freshman girls like her could never talk to, or even get near.
She admired his hard-boiled, investigative articles, but was intimidated by his signature steel-tipped cowboy boots and his gorgeous eyes: warm brown, bottomless, like pieces of glass held up to the light.
Supposedly, he was really funny. To Nancy, though, he seemed deadly serious, always at his computer, churning out feature after feature -- the embodiment of a dedicated reporter.
Nancy couldn't stop herself from smiling at the unruly mess atop Jake's head. "Nice hair."
Jake squinted at her with mock venom as he pushed a hand back through his tangles.
"Have you been here all night?" she asked.
Jake shrugged. "I had a deadline for Gail, and I accidentally fell asleep. It happens every now and then. Get used to it." He nodded toward Nancy's computer. "I can't wait to see your piece on Casey Fontaine," he said. "It sounds good." He leaned down and read from the computer screen:
"'I want everyone to know that I am Casey Fontaine and not my character on The President's Daughter, Ginger Porter,' Fontaine said. 'Ginger's a kid. I'm tired of playing a kid. I'm a college woman now.'"
"Great quote," Jake said admiringly.
"Really?" Nancy replied, astonished by Jake's compliment. He had the reputation of being a brutal critic of everyone else's writing.
"Thanks," she said hesitantly. "I want to get the story just right to make some points with Gail," Nancy said, referring to the paper's editor-in-chief, Gail Gardeski.
Jake nodded. "I heard all about Casey's crazy little stalker friend -- sounds like something straight out of a movie."
Nancy nodded. "It was."
When Casey moved into Nancy's suite, Suite 301, she hadn't only brought her fame and suitcases. She'd also brought along the obsessions of a love-crazed high school friend who sent her scary letters and eventually tried to kidnap her.
Luckily, Nancy and some of the other girls in the suite had stopped him.
Just then a light came into Jake's eyes, as if he'd just thought of something. "Hey, why don't you look at this issue's page-one story and tell me what you think. Hot off the press. You'll be the first to read it."
Nancy swallowed hard. "You want to know what I think?"
"Why not?" Jake said easily. He disappeared behind the papers and pizza boxes and surfaced with a fresh newspaper. Placing it in Nancy's out stretched hands, he looked into her eyes and held her gaze for a second with his own. "You're a really good writer."
Nancy found Jake's eyes beautiful and magnetic, with a determined expression.
Nancy dropped her gaze. "Do you think so? But how can you know?" she said, doubt in her voice. "I've only done a couple stories."
"Well" -- Jake smiled -- "that bit about Casey Fontaine's hair? That was totally killer!"
They looked at each other for a second, then both erupted in nervous laughter.
"Besides," Jake explained, "only a good writer would bother to get in here early on a Monday morning...."
That made Nancy smile. Somebody appreciated her efforts. "Flattery will get you everywhere," she said, and concentrated on the paper. The headline stretched across the top: "Jefferson College Hackers Crack Computer Codes and Steal Exams."
As Nancy pored over the article, she couldn't believe what she was reading. A small group of computer geeks at nearby Jefferson College had turned out to be part of a ring of sophisticated high-tech burglars. These burglars had developed ingenious computer programs to break into professors' private files. For the right price, they would steal any exam or change a grade. They were caught only when the FBI came in and set up a sting operation. The college administration had managed to cover up the scandal to save face, but Jake found an anonymous source who told all. The story had controversy written all over it, and the writing was snappy and tight.
"This is amazing," Nancy said, looking up from. the paper. Jake was kneeling, reading along with her. "I mean, it's excellent."
"Think so?" he asked as if he could hardly believe it.
For a second Nancy saw anxiety in Jake's eyes. "Really," Nancy assured him. "How did you get all that information?"
Jake smiled wryly and patted the notebook he always carried in his back pocket. "First lesson in journalism. Never reveal your sources. "
Glancing back at the paper, Nancy saw Jake Collins's byline below the headline, and felt a flash of envy. She was eager to break stories like this herself.
"Your time will come," Jake said as though he'd read Nancy's mind.
Nancy smiled politely. "Thanks, but -- "
"No, I mean it. I have a good feeling about you." He was staring at her as though trying to size her up. Then he unsuccessfully swallowed a yawn. "Let's get a cup of coffee at Java Joe's sometime and talk shop. But...hey, what time is it, anyway?"
"Seven o'clock," Nancy answered him.
"Seven," Jake repeated spacily. "Better catch a cold shower. I have a geology exam in two hours."
As he reached the door, he turned around. "By the way, I wasn't kidding about your writing. You may be a first-semester freshman, but I think you have the makings of a journalist."
Before Nancy could say anything, Jake was gone. The door closed on the morning light, and Nancy was alone again.
Her mind was racing. Why was Jake suddenly paying attention to her? Before this morning, he acted as if he didn't know she was alive.
But why question a good thing? Nancy chided herself. He's a lot nicer than you thought. And he obviously wants to help. Relax. Who are you to turn him down?
"Will, cut it out!" George Fayne scolded her boyfriend, Will Blackfeather, with a mock frown. "I can't believe you. I have my first big exam in western civ, and you promised me you'd study, too."
"I am studying," Will whispered with a sly grin. "I'm studying you!"
George tried a mean glare but gave up. It was hopeless. No, not hopeless, George thought with a sigh -- pathetic. "You're dangerous," she whispered, leaning her head of wavy brown hair against Will's muscular chest. She closed her eyes, and all thoughts of her upcoming western civ exam vanished. Even here in the library, where they'd both taken a vow of silence and concentration, they couldn't keep their attention focused on their books.
The truth was, George couldn't be happier. The past few weeks since she met Will, she'd been totally intoxicated with love. She hadn't kept up with her homework, and she hadn't spent much time with her old friends, Nancy and Bess Marvin. She felt like a planet orbiting the sun -- and that was tall, dark, and handsome Will Blackfeather.
Now she was in serious trouble, though.
Twenty-four hours and counting until her exam.
And how much studying had she done? Zero.
Earth to George Fayne, a little voice warned her.
George's eyes popped open. She took a playful swipe at Will's hand, which had been busy stroking her knee. She straightened up and narrowed her eyes.
"Tell me the truth, Will, do you want me to fail this exam?" she asked.
"Negative," Will replied tightly.
Up and down the row of study carrels, people cleared their throats. George's cheeks turned bright pink.
Rolling his eyes, Will lowered his voice to a whisper. "But I thought you were a genius."
"I am a genius." George smiled. "But even geniuses need to nurture their superior minds."
George and Will collapsed in silly giggles, which stopped only when their foreheads collided.
Suddenly a paper airplane streaked overhead and plunked Will in the ear. Barely containing her laughter, George unfolded it. It was a note. It said, simply: --"Go away! I need to study!"
Scowling, Will stood and started to crane his neck down the line of carrels, but George snatched at his belt and tugged him back down.
"They're right," George whispered, taking Will by the hand. "Listen, next week this exam will be over -- and then it's just us."
"Just you and me?" Will asked as if he'd for gotten about their big camping trip. Just that day they'd reserved their tent site with the Park Service.
"Just you, me, the stars -- and the mosquitoes. In Andy's tent."
Will's roommate, Andy Rodriguez, had promised them his camping gear. Their entire trip hinged on it.
"You know, I haven't seen Andy in days. He's been spending most of his time at the computer lab in Graves Hall, working on some project. The only way I know he's been in the room is whether his toothbrush has moved, or his mountain of dirty laundry has grown."
"You don't think he'd forget he's going to lend us his stuff?" George asked, frowning. "He knows how important this trip is to us, doesn't he?"
Will shrugged. "He's totally into this computer thing. But that's my problem. I'll get us that tent. In the meantime -- "
"Right," George said, suddenly earnest. "What I was saying was that this week -- "
Will pressed a finger against her lips. "You're not the only one with an exam around here. I'll leave you alone under one condition only."
"Anything." George smiled up at him.
"That after you finish studying, you'll come to my apartment -- for some biology review."
"But I'm not taking bio," George said, playing dumb.
"Not yet." Will smiled lovingly.
"Please, please, please let Nancy's suite be empty," Bess Marvin prayed as the elevator doors opened on the third floor of Thayer Hall.
As she checked her appearance in the metal doors, she rolled her eyes with a grimace. There was nothing wrong with her: blue eyes sparkling, blond hair shimmering, her purple leotard top flattering her curves under her jacket. Bess looked great and knew it. All the glances from guys around campus hadn't escaped her notice.
It was the textbook balancing on her head that threw off her appearance. Carrying the book was chore-of-the-day for Kappa's freshman pledges. From morning till night, wherever Bess went, the book went with her. She had to walk pole straight so the book wouldn't slide off: back taut, neck stiff -- like a whiplash victim. Everywhere she went, she felt a trail of laughter. She'd blushed so often, her face felt sunburned.
"Why am I doing this?" Bess wondered out loud, peering uneasily around her. She was far enough from the Kappa house that it was unlikely a Kappa would catch her without the book, but she couldn't be too careful. Bess remembered what Soozie Beckerman, Kappa upperclassman and official taskmaster, had told her. These "little chores" reduced all pledges to the same lowly status, bonding them in sisterhood. "Consider the chores as tokens of your commitment," Soozie had told them. "The Big Test is yet to come. If you want to be a Kappa badly enough, you'll do anything."
"Including look like a total loser in front of the whole university," Bess muttered.
Before she got the door to Nancy's suite open, Bess knew her prayers hadn't been answered. The suite was a nightmare of frenetic activity. Girls were lounging on the couch, running in and out of the bathroom, packing and unpacking bookbags. As Bess stepped inside, the lounge fell silent for a beat or two before filling with laughter.
"That, um, really suits you, Bess," Stephanie Keats drawled. "Is that the latest fall fashion? Or are we just working on our posture?"
Of course Stephanie was looking her usual slinky, mysterious self in well-worn jeans and a skimpy black halter top, her hair artfully tousled, her mouth enticing and menacing in blood-red lipstick.
"Give her a break," Reva Ross said, lifting the book off Bess's head. Reva's head was wrapped swami-like in a towel. Her graceful, burnished arms were still wet from a shower. "You don't have to do any stupid pledge stuff in here. We're already sisters."
Stephanie rolled her eyes. "Too many sisters is more like it," she wisecracked.
"Thanks, Reva," Bess said, ignoring Stephanie's remark. She took back the book and placed it carefully on her head. "But I'd better keep this thing on. You never know," she said, staring directly at Stephanie. "They said they have spies everywhere -- "
Everyone's eyes shifted toward Stephanie.
Stephanie raised her arms in mock surrender. "Don't look at me."
"What's so funny?" Bess heard a familiar voice call from down the hall. By the time Nancy reached the lounge, she was laughing in spurts.
"Oh, Bess, there's a book on your head," Nancy said, controlling her laughter for a bit.
"Okay, okay," Bess said, exasperated. "Why doesn't everybody just get it over with and laugh really hard. Ha, ha."
"Sensitive, aren't we?" Stephanie quipped, strolling off toward her room.
"Gotta run, Nance," Nancy's roommate Kara Verbeck said as she flew past. When she noticed Bess, she stopped dead in her tracks and whirled around, giggling. "It's a good thing Pi Phi hasn't made me do anything that silly." Then she was gone.
"Don't worry, Bess," Reva said, catching the door with her toe. "Kara's not exactly a test for what's silly. But no rest for the weary. I have to get to the computer lab."
As Bess followed Nancy back toward her room, she was thinking that the one person she wanted to avoid was Casey Fontaine. Casey was a celebrity, but everyone was cool about her being famous except for Bess's future Kappa sisters. The Kappas wanted Casey to pledge their sorority. Since Bess saw Casey both in Nancy's suite and at rehearsals for Grease!, the Kappas had given Bess the all-important assignment of recruiting Casey.
It didn't matter to them that Casey hadn't shown up at a single rush party or indicated in any way that she wanted to be a Kappa. If Bess succeeded, she'd be a hero; if she failed, her name would be mud -- especially with Soozie Beckerman.
"This book thing's the least of it," Bess complained, following Nancy into her room. "Soozie had me clean her bathroom floor with a tooth brush last night."
"Hey, Nance?" someone asked from the door way. "Can I borrow your calculator? Mine's --"
Bess winced. She'd know that voice any where -- after all, it was world famous. And worse, it was already laughing at her. "Hi, Casey," Bess whispered, her face turning from pink to tomato red.
"Uh, hi, Bess?" Casey said, and snickered.
Out of the corner of her eye, Bess could see the adorable Casey Fontaine taking her in. Tall, willowy, with short flame red hair and a cover girl's creamy complexion, Casey would have been the envy of every girl at Wilder, if she wasn't so generous and nice. The fact was, she was incredibly cool. But some of the Kappas cared only that she was famous.
"What are you guys up to today?" Casey asked as Nancy handed the actress her calculator. Bess noticed that Casey couldn't keep her eyes off Bess's head.
"Power studying," Nancy replied. "Whopper western civ exam for me tomorrow."
"All right. Well, I'm library bound!" Casey said, raising her clenched fist with mock enthusiasm. Starting to leave, she stopped short and turned to Bess. "You're pretty red. Getting too much sun there, Marvin? Careful, or you'll wrinkle early." Then she was gone.
Bess sat heavily on Nancy's bed, the book clattering to the floor. "Great," she said. "There's no way Casey will join Kappa now -- not after seeing all the stupid pledge stuff I have to do. I'm a total failure."
"Well, that book thing's not exactly a brilliant concept," Nancy pointed out. "Whose idea was it, anyway?"
"Soozie Beckerman's," Bess mumbled.
"Why aren't I surprised?" Nancy tossed off.
Bess dumped out her knapsack on Nancy's bed. Out poured a cascade of assorted papers, books, pens, pennies, and bubble gum wrappers. She sifted through the heap for her biology notes.
"It's really remarkable how much more organized college has made you." Nancy laughed.
"I know, I know, I'm a total slob," Bess said with a sigh. "But I can't worry about that now. I'm doing miserably in all my classes and really need to pass my new exams to bring my grades up. "
"You've just got to make time to study, Bess," Nancy said.
"Well, I have no idea how you get any studying done around here," Bess replied. "This place is a total zoo."
"If you think this is crazy, just wait until you're living in the Kappa house next year. I hear sleep is rare."
Bess dropped her notes and fell back on Nancy's bed with a moan. "What good is joining a sorority if I'm just going to flunk out?" she won dered out loud.
"Knock, knock." Ginny Yuen, another of Nancy's suitemates, strolled in. She looked warily at Bess's stuff spread all over the bed.
"Approach at your own risk," Bess groaned.
"You're studying for Professor Ross's biology class," Ginny observed, picking up a page of notes. "I do work-study for him."
Bess sat up. "You work for Ross?"
"Just research and some grading."
"My roommate works for him, too," Bess said.
"You actually live with Leslie King?" Ginny asked, amazed.
"I wouldn't say I live with Leslie," Bess said sarcastically, thinking of the obsessively neat girl who slept across the room from her every night. "Live under her is more like it."
Ginny glanced at the notes she held in her hand. "That's going to be one hard test," Ginny warned.
Bess threw up her hands. "Great! Excellent! I don't have a prayer."
"Sure you do," Nancy said, assuring her friend.
Ginny lit up the room with a wide smile. "I've been studying pretty hard for the test," she said. "And I know that stuff really well. Maybe I can help you."
"Honestly?" Bess said, excited.
"I'm already tutoring one or two other people," Ginny said. "Let's give it a try now."
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