A friend's near-murder plunges Nancy into a dark tangle of clues on Florida's sunny beaches
"We made it!" Nancy Drew said with a grin. "Fort Lauderdale, here we are!"
Gripping the wheel in eager anticipation, Nancy turned the rental car onto Route AlA, a coastal highway lined with tall, swaying palm trees. To the left was a seemingly endless string of hotels and motels, fast-food places, restaurants, and discos. To the right, shimmering in the late morning sun, was a broad beach of nearly white sand, and beyond that, the sparkling blue-green waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Beside Nancy, George Fayne gazed out the window at the beach. "I can't wait to get into that water," she said. "I may never come out except to eat."
"Who cares about the water?" Bess Marvin, George's cousin, said with a giggle. "Just look at all those tan male bodies out there! I've already counted nine that I could fall in love with." As their car passed a group of boys crossing the street, Bess turned around and looked out the back window. "Make that twelve," she said excitedly.
Nancy glanced into the rearview mirror and laughed. "Help me find our hotel first," she suggested. "Then you can check out the boys."
Early that morning, the three friends had left the cold March sleets of River Heights and flown to the south of Florida, joining thousands of other young people on spring break who poured into Fort Lauderdale in search of sun, sand, fun, and romance.
Actually, Bess was the only one who was looking to fall in love. George was still attached to Jon Berntsen, a boy she'd met on a ski trip, and Nancy's relationship with Ned Nickerson was in good shape at the moment. Nancy knew that Bess, with her blond hair and pretty figure, would probably have a date in fifteen minutes flat; while slender, athletic, dark-haired George was sure to set some kind of swimming, volleyball, or surfing record. As for herself, Nancy was looking just to have fun and go home with a great tan.
In her last case, Smile and Say Murder, she'd discovered that the world of publishing could be deadly, when she'd exposed a clever plot that included murder. So a Florida vacation seemed the perfect way to unwind.
"There it is," she said, pointing to a gleaming white stucco building. "The Surfside Inn. They were right -- every room has a window facing the ocean."
"And the boys," Bess said with a sigh.
"Let's hurry and change so we can hit the beach," Nancy suggested, as she pulled the car into a tight parking space on a side street next to the hotel.
"What do you mean, 'we'?" George asked with a laugh. "You've got a case to solve, remember?"
Nancy laughed, too. "It's not a case," claimed the young detective. "I'm just checking up on Kim. It'll take me all of five minutes."
Kim Baylor, a friend of all three girls, had been in Fort Lauderdale for ten days. Just before Nancy left River Heights, Kim's mother had called and told her that Kim had decided to stay on an extra week. Mrs. Baylor wasn't really worried, she said, she simply wanted Nancy to drop by Kim's hotel and see that everything was all right. She'd felt that Kim had sounded odd over the phone, but thought she was probably just being an overprotective parent.
"I bet I can solve your mystery for you without even talking to Kim," Bess told Nancy as they piled out of the car. "It's simple -- Kim met a fabulous guy and she's staying on because she's madly in love." Bess tugged two canvas bags from the back of the car, then stared across the street at a tall, well-muscled boy running toward the ocean. "Just look at him," she said dreamily. "What couldn't I do with an extra week down here!"
"Stop drooling and help us carry the bags inside," George joked. "The sooner we get changed, the sooner you can start looking for Mr. Right."
The hotel room wasn't large or luxurious, but it had everything the girls needed, and besides, none of them planned to spend much time in it. In ten minutes, they had changed out of their travel clothes and into their swimsuits. Bess had brought six, and for her first trip to the sun and sand, she put on a blazing pink bikini that showed off her figure perfectly.
George, who was wearing a blue-and-white-striped tank suit cut very high on the legs, gave Bess a wry smile. "Nobody's going to have any trouble seeing you," she commented. "Not in that color."
"That's the whole point," Bess replied seriously. Then she sighed as she looked at Nancy, whose blue-green bikini was the perfect color for her reddish blond hair and made her slim legs look miles long. "I just wish I had your figure," Bess told her enviously.
"You don't have to worry," Nancy assured her. "I'm not down here for the guys, remember? And even if I were, you have half an hour before I even show up on the beach."
Bess grabbed a large beach towel. "What do you mean?"
"I've decided to drop by Kim's hotel first," Nancy explained. She found her beach bag and tossed in everything she could possibly need on the beach: sunglasses, suntan lotion, a book, her Walkman, and even an extra bikini. Then she threw on a short cover-up made of soft white cotton. She started toward the door. "I thought I'd solve my 'case' first," she said with a grin. "But after that -- look out, Lauderdale!"
Kim's hotel, the Vistamar, turned out to be just three blocks away from the Surfside, and it should have taken Nancy about two minutes to reach it. Instead, it took closer to ten. The sidewalks were jammed with kids heading for the beach or just strolling along, stopping to strike up a conversation with anyone who caught their eye.
Girls were checking out boys, boys were checking out girls, and Nancy lost count of how many surfing, swimming, and disco dates she turned down. She saw plenty of great-looking guys she wouldn't have minded spending time with, but because of Ned, she wasn't really tempted. Still, it was fun just being in the middle of it all, and as she spotted Kim's hotel, she thought that Bess was probably right -- Kim must have met somebody special, and she wanted to be with him for as long as possible.
The Vistamar was on a narrow side street just off the main road. It was lime green, five stories high, and when Nancy went in, she just missed the elevator. However, since Kim's room was on the second floor, she climbed the stairs. She found room 207 easily and was just about to knock when she heard Kim's voice through the partially open door.
"Don't blame me, Ricardo!" Kim cried urgently. "I don't know how they found out, but they did!"
There was a pause, and when she didn't hear Ricardo answer, Nancy figured Kim must be talking on the phone. She tried not to eavesdrop, but Kim sounded so frantic it was hard not to hear her.
"I told her not to leave!" Kim went on. "She knew she wasn't supposed to, but...I don't know, Ricardo, maybe she got cabin fever or something. What difference does it make? She's gone!"
Nancy wasn't even trying not to listen any more. Who was gone? she wondered. Kim hadn't come down with a girlfriend. Nancy knew that. But even if she'd taken on a roommate, what was the business about not leaving the room?
Kim lowered her voice, and Nancy leaned closer to the door. That was when she noticed it -- not only was the door ajar, but the lock had obviously been broken. It hadn't been a very smooth job, either. The metal looked as if it had been gouged with a screwdriver, and the wood around it was splintered. Whoever had broken it must have wanted to get inside in a hurry.
Nancy didn't have a clue as to what was going on, and she waited impatiently for Kim to finish talking so she could find out.
"Don't say that, you're scaring me," Kim protested. She waited, then sighed. "All right, okay. I'll meet you at your perch in ten minutes."
Perch? Nancy almost smiled. Was Ricardo a boy or a bird? When she heard Kim say goodbye, she started to knock again. But the door was flung open before she had a chance, and a very startled Kim Baylor was staring at her.
"Nancy!" Kim's brown eyes widened in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"I told you I might come down, remember?" Nancy said. "Besides, your -- "
"Oh, that's right," Kim interrupted. "So much has been going on, I guess I forgot." She was already out the door and hurrying down the hall toward the elevator. "Listen, I can't talk now, I'm in a rush. But I really do want to see you. Maybe when I -- "
"Hey, where's the fire?" Nancy joked as Kim kept jabbing at the elevator button. "Let's take the stairs, and then I'll walk you wherever you're going. We can talk on the way." She hurried to keep up with her friend, who was already at the stairs. "Kim, what's going on? You look freaked, to say the least."
Kim hurried down the stairs, her rubber beach sandals slapping on the cement. "I am freaked," she called over her shoulder. "You just won't believe what's been happening!"
"Try me," Nancy suggested.
"I will, I will, but, Nancy, it's just too complicated to get into right now. I've got something really important to do, but I promise I'll tell you everything as soon as I can."
Frustrated, Nancy followed Kim through the hotel's small, deserted lobby toward the street door. Kim dashed outside. Nancy ran after her, but her sandal chose that moment to slip off her foot. She bent over, put it back on, and hurried after her friend.
Kim was standing impatiently on the curb, her long brown hair blowing in the sea breeze. She reached up, pulled a strand of hair out of her eyes, and stepped into the street.
Nancy was just leaving the hotel when she heard the sound of a car's engine firing and the squeal of tires as the car peeled away. She saw that Kim had reached the middle of the street. Nancy started after her, but it was at that second that she noticed the dark blue car racing toward Kim.
Nancy yelled but it was too late. The car was barreling down the street at a crazy speed. Kim opened her mouth to scream, but her voice was drowned out by the sound of the impact.
The car never slowed down. Its tires squealed again as it sped around the corner and out of sight.
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