A New York holiday tradition draws Nancy into a march of crimes.
"Nancy, I'd forgotten how huge this store is!" Bess Marvin exclaimed. "Everywhere I look, there's something else I want to try on. And we've only been in the store ten minutes!"
Nancy Drew followed as Bess stepped off the escalator on the fourth floor of a gigantic New York City department store, Mitchell's. All around them were colorful dresses, thick hand-knit sweaters, and other fall fashions.
Nancy had been pleased with her outfit when she'd put it on that morning. The long sweater and black stretch pants emphasized her tall, slender figure, and the green of the sweater set off her reddish blond hair. But she couldn't help being tempted by the store's displays of clothes. "Bess, that would look great on you, with your blond hair and blue eyes," she said, pointing to a blue velvet minidress on a store mannequin.
Bess glanced at the dress, then looked critically at her petite, curvy figure. "It would look even nicer if I lost a few pounds," she said.
"This isn't the week to think about dieting," Nancy said. "Aunt Eloise is making a gigantic Thanksgiving dinner -- turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, homemade rolls, pumpkin pie -- "
Bess covered her ears with her hands. "Stop, Nan. I'm gaining weight just hearing about it!"
Nancy laughed, "Well, it's good we don't have time to try on clothes, then. It's after ten. We're already late to meet Jill," Nancy reminded her.
Nancy and Bess had come to New York to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with Nancy's aunt, Eloise Drew. Eloise's good friend Jill Johnston was in charge of the Mitchell's Thanksgiving Day Parade, one of the biggest in the country. The girls had been thrilled to learn that Jill had invited them to get a behind-the-scenes view of the parade.
As the girls continued up the escalator, they noticed that the hustle and bustle of the floors below gave way to a much quieter office area. "We're supposed to find the employee elevator near the credit office," Nancy explained.
On the sixth floor, they saw a sign with an arrow pointing to the credit office. Next to the office was an elevator marked Employees Only. A guard in a blue suit stood at a podium next to it. When Nancy gave him their names, he checked a list, then smiled at the girls.
"Ms. Johnston's office is on the eighth floor," he told them. He inserted a plastic card into a slot, and the elevator doors opened.
When Nancy and Bess stepped off the elevator on the eighth floor, they found themselves in a reception area furnished with elegant modern furniture. Nancy gave her name to the receptionist, and a few moments later a tall, slender young woman with long brown hair appeared from behind a white door that was almost invisible in the wall behind the reception desk.
"Nancy and Bess?" she inquired. When the girls nodded, she smiled and said, "Hi. I'm Bonnie Braun, Jill's assistant. Jill's on the phone, but you can come on back with me."
The two girls followed Bonnie through the door and down a hallway lined with offices. When they turned a corner, Nancy's eyes widened. They had entered an open work area, and it was a madhouse! All around, people were grabbing files, making phone calls, and shouting back and forth to one another. The atmosphere was informal, with people in jeans working on desk-tops and on the floor. A large map of the parade route, with a list of the acts that were scheduled to appear, was tacked to the wall next to a row of windows.
"Feel free to look around. Jill should be out in a minute," Bonnie said, before hurrying to answer one of the ringing phones.
Bess was already walking over to the list of bands, dancers, and celebrities. "Nancy, come over here. Look! Greg Willow is the grand marshal!"
Nancy went over and looked at the list. She couldn't believe it. She, Bess, and Bess's cousin George Fayne had all been fans of Greg's since his days on the soap opera "Next Door." Now he was the country's hottest young actor and star of the country's number one television show, "Coolidge High."
Bess grabbed Nancy's arm. "I wonder if we'll get to meet him!" She was nearly jumping up and down with excitement.
Nancy was about to answer when someone spoke behind her and Bess.
The girls turned to see a tall woman in her forties with wavy chestnut hair. She was wearing a burnt orange wool suit and a cream-colored silk blouse with a chunky goldtone necklace and earrings.
"I'm Jill Johnston," she said warmly. "It's so nice to finally meet you. I'm glad you could come."
"So are we," Nancy said sincerely. She introduced herself and Bess, then said, "Thanks so much for letting us get a look at the preparations for the parade. It looks as if you've got a great list of participants."
Jill nodded proudly. "It's quite impressive this year. All of our interns are going crazy because Greg Willow is the grand marshal."
"I don't blame them!" Bess said, her blue eyes sparkling.
"I apologize for the mess around here," Jill said, "but with Thanksgiving just three days away, things are crazy -- "
She turned to a young man with short brown hair who was passing by. "Oh, Dan -- hold on a second." Her tone of voice changed; and suddenly she was all business. "I want you to call over to Banderas Stables and make sure everything's okay with the horses for Santa's sleigh. Make sure they can arrive by seven Thursday morning."
The young man nodded and jotted something down on a notepad before walking off. Then Jill turned back to Nancy and Bess.
"The warehouse where we build the floats and store the balloons is in Brooklyn," she explained. "It's about a twenty-minute cab ride from here. Bonnie's calling our car service to take me there now, as a matter of fact. Why don't you come along? The studio is something you really shouldn't miss."
Nancy and Bess exchanged a look. "We'd love to go!" Nancy said.
Five minutes later, the three were settled in the back of a sleek black car. Nancy and Bess took in the sights as the driver made his way through the traffic. Stores selling everything from exotic pets to Chinese herbs lined the street, and crowds of people hurried along the sidewalks.
"No matter how many times we come here, New York City always seems a little more exciting than anywhere else," Nancy said, gazing out the window.
"It's as if the whole city is on fast forward," Bess agreed. She dug into her shoulder bag and pulled out a comb, tissues, matches, and her red sunglasses before finding a pack of gum. She offered some to Nancy and Jill, then tossed her things back in the bag's outside pocket.
They rode through Manhattan, then the driver crossed the East River into Brooklyn. Here the landscape changed from crowded skyscrapers to smaller buildings and stores that had more of a neighborhood feel. Then they entered a warehouse area. The driver stopped the car in front of a huge gray building, and Jill and the girls got out.
The building's entrance had a metal slot next to it. When Jill inserted one end of a card into the slot, the lock clicked open.
"What's that card?" Nancy asked. "The guard at the store's employee elevator used one, too."
Jill laughed as she returned the card to her purse. "Your aunt told me you're quite a detective. I should have known you'd be curious! This is my identification card. Everyone who works at Mitchell's has one. It also has a magnetic strip that works as a key in the store's restricted areas. The stockrooms and offices require the cards for admittance. So do the parade studio and Mitchell's other warehouses."
As she spoke, Jill led the way down a long hallway. She opened a door at the end of it, revealing an open room that was about the size of a football field.
"Wow!" Bess exclaimed as they stepped inside. In front of them workers were constructing about a dozen floats. The floats depicted many different themes -- from a tropical rain forest to a traditional Thanksgiving setting with Pilgrims and Indians. Rock music was playing, and workers were busy hammering and painting.
"It's great to see everything up close," Nancy commented.
"These are just a few of the floats," Jill explained. "The finished ones are stored in another warehouse nearby."
Jill, Nancy, and Bess wandered toward the far end of the studio, where workers were laying out some enormous balloons and inspecting them. Nancy recognized a famous cartoon cat, its face and whiskers distorted into flat, rubbery folds.
"What's going on over there?" Bess asked, and headed toward a taped-off area where two men in goggles, white suits, and boots were welding together metal rods.
"Bess! Get away from there!" Jill shouted.
Bess quickly jumped away -- and fell backward over some long metal rods. The contents in the outer section of her bag scattered all over the floor. Red-faced, she quickly stood up, then stooped down and gathered up her things.
Jill ran over, followed by Nancy. "Are you all right?" the older woman asked.
"Other than feeling like a clumsy idiot, you mean?" Bess said. "Yes, I'm fine. But I don't understand. What's wrong with going over there?"
"Those men are working with oxyacetylene torches," Jill explained. "In addition to the danger from the flame, the tanks are explosive. That's why they're off-limits. I don't want anyone getting hurt."
At the far end of the room, Nancy noticed a tall young man with curly blond hair who was wearing corduroy slacks and a striped button-down shirt.
"Hi, Jules," Jill greeted him. "Nancy, Bess, this is Jules Langley. His father, Howard Langley, is the owner of Mitchell's. Mr. Langley bought the store about a year and a half ago."
"Nice to meet you," Jules said, shaking the girls' hands. He waved around the bustling warehouse. "So what do you think? Pretty crazy, eh?"
"We love it!" Nancy told him. "Are you working on the parade, too?"
"A little," Jules said. "But my main responsibility is for the store's exclusive cosmetics lines. I'm in charge of that."
"Sounds like a great job," Bess said. "All the mascara you could ever want!"
"Actually, the lab where we develop and test the cosmetics is in the adjoining warehouse. Would you like a tour?" Jules asked.
Nancy and Bess looked expectantly at Jill. "Go ahead," Jill said, glancing at her watch. "I have some things to take care of. Jules, why don't you bring them back to my office here when you're done."
"You got it," he promised. Jules led the girls back down the hallway. He turned left onto another hallway, then used his ID card to open the door at the end of it.
"Here we are," he announced, ushering the girls through the door and into another warehouse.
Nancy and Bess entered a room that was mostly white and stainless steel. The shelves lining the room contained hundreds of glass containers filled with liquids and creams. A few people were examining slides under microscopes, but they didn't seem to notice the girls and Jules. Through a windowed wall, Nancy could see a network of other connecting lab rooms.
"This lab is where we test all our cosmetic products and develop new ones," Jules explained. He pointed to a table with different-size test tubes and all kinds of powders and liquids on it. "That's where most of our ideas get started. A dash of this, a pinch of that, and presto -- a new lipstick color is born!"
Bess's eyes focused on a box of silver tubes sitting on the corner of the table closest to them. "Are those lipstick tubes?"
Jules nodded. "Plum Rose, the newest addition to the line." He picked out two tubes and handed them to Nancy and Bess.
Bess opened the tube and twisted up the pink lipstick. "I love it!" she exclaimed.
"And that's just one of our secrets," Jules said, grinning. He pointed through the glass window to the next room, where men and women in white lab coats worked. "They're working on Mitchell's new signature perfume. I'd take you in, but it's a restricted area."
"Mitchell's is going to have its own fragrance?" Nancy asked.
Jules nodded. "It's called Forever. My nose personally voted for the winning scent," he said. He opened a drawer and took out two tiny glass bottles with Forever printed on them in flowing script. "Here, you two can be among the first to try it."
Bess took her small bottle, opened it, then dabbed the perfume on the inside of her wrist, which she then held up to her nose. "Mmmm," she said. Holding her wrist out to Nancy, she asked, "I love it! What do you think?"
Nancy sniffed the rich, musky fragrance. "Very sophisticated, Bess. Very New York. Could we have one more?" she asked Jules. "Our girlfriend George would love it." George hadn't been able to come to New York because she and her parents were spending Thanksgiving in California.
After handing Nancy another sample, Jules said, "Well, I guess I'd better get you back to Jill."
The girls put the samples into their bags, then the three made their way back to the parade studio. Jules stopped next to an open doorway halfway down the hallway leading to the open workroom. "Here's Jill's office," he said.
"'Bye. Thanks for the tour," Bess told him, following Nancy into the office.
Inside, Jill was perched on the edge of her desk, which was covered with newspaper clippings, schedules, and notices. Filing cabinets lined one wall, and a bulletin board hung beneath the room's two small rectangular windows. Two guys were sitting in folding metal chairs next to the desk.
"Hi," Jill greeted Nancy and Bess. "I want to introduce you to Neil Steem, who works with me in public relations. He's in charge of guest relations for the parade. And with him is -- "
The girls' eyes went past the brown-haired man and right to the handsome young man seated next to him.
"Greg Willow!" they both exclaimed at once.
Greg smiled shyly and ran his hand through his jet black hair. He was wearing worn chinos, loafers, and a blue-green rugby shirt that matched his eyes exactly.
"He looks even better in person than he does on TV," Bess whispered to Nancy.
Nancy had to admit to herself that she felt a little weak in the knees. She could hardly believe that Greg Willow was sitting right in front of them.
Greg stood up, flashed his famous smile, and held out his hand. "Well, I can see that you two know me. And you are...?"
Bess just stood there, speechless, so Nancy stepped forward and shook the actor's hand. "Hi. I'm Nancy Drew, and this is Bess Marvin," she said. "We've been fans of yours since you were on 'Next Door.' You must be excited to be the grand marshal of the parade."
She felt that she was babbling, but Greg Willow just smiled again. "I'm really looking forward to it," he told her. "I tell you, though, I never realized how much preparation goes into this parade. It all looks so easy when you're just sitting at home, watching it on TV."
Suddenly Bess sprang to life. "Oh, I know!" she gushed. "It's so exciting to be in on the plans."
As she spoke, Bess moved closer to Greg, her eyes shining. Nancy smiled. Bess definitely had a crush on the actor. Not that Nancy could blame her -- he was gorgeous!
Neil Steem spoke up. "It's a lot of work, but -- "
He broke off as an explosion rocked the room, sending the bulletin board crashing to the floor. Nancy felt her whole body tense. Before she could even react, the room's two windows shattered, sending flying glass showering down on them!
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