An Interesting Acquaintance





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Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew Girl Detective: Volume Four

High Risk

 

Copyright, 2004, by Simon & Schuster, Inc

Cover photograph copyright © 2004 by Michael Frost

Cover designed by Debra Sfetsios

 

It looks like Evaline Waters, a River Heights resident, is knee-deep in trouble. A huge corporation is suing her for her land; they want to tear down her house and put up a warehouse. And documentation of the zoning law that would protect Evaline's right to keep her land is missing. Figures!

I've got to find that document, but it's hard to focus on the land when I'm cruising at ten thousand feet. See, Ned and I are taking flying lessons, him with Colonel Lang, a friend of his family, and me with Frank Beltrano, an instructor at our local airport. It's a good thing I'm good at juggling more than two balls at once. Too bad I'm not the only one.

 

An Interesting Acquaintance

 

"More green beans, Nancy?" Mrs. Nkkerson asked me.

My boyfriend, Ned, spoke up before I could answer. "Are you kidding?" he asked his mom. "Do you really think Nancy Drew would turn down a second helping of green beans?"

Ned was right. He knows that I think his mother makes the best garlic green beans in the entire city of River Heights. "I would love some more, please," I told her, holding out my plate.

"You're the town sleuth, aren't you, Nancy?" asked the Nickersons' other dinner guest, Colonel Lang.

"I do some detective work now and again," I replied. "But I don't have a license or anything."

"Nancy's being modest," Neds father put in. "She's a bona fide supersleuth."

"In that case, I imagine she's sniffed out all the best dishes in town," Colonel Lang said. He held out his plate to Mrs. Nickerson. "May I have some of those green beans too?"

I grinned. Colonel Lang was funnier than I'd expected him to be. When Ned first told me about his dad's old friend who would be coming for dinner, he made it sound as if Colonel Lang would be a very strict, no-nonsense military man. But so far the retired colonel had been chatting and joking just like anyone else. I figured Ned must be remembering how he felt about Colonel Lang when Ned was a little boy. I could see how the tall, broad-shouldered man would be impressive in his air force uniform.

"Will you be in town long, Colonel?" I asked.

"I’ll be flying in and out over the next few weeks," he answered.

"What for?" Yeah, I can be a little... forward.

He paused. "I'm here on... business."

Something about his tone made my detective senses tingle. He had hesitated slightly before mentioning his business. Was it something he didn't want to talk about?

"Won't that get expensive?" Mr. Nickerson asked.

Colonel Lang shook his head. "It would if I was flying commercial. But I've got my own plane now."

Everyone gasped with pleasure. "Your own plane!' Mrs. Nickerson exclaimed. "How exciting."

"Well, I was in the air force," the colonel joked. "I do know how to fly!"

"I wish you could teach me," Ned put in. "It sounds like a blast."

"I'd be happy to," Colonel Lang answered promptly.

I saw a flicker of surprise in Ned's eyes. "Oh, I was only kidding," he said hastily. "I know you probably don't have time."

"Nonsense," the big man said. "I would love to teach you. It will help repay the many favors I owe your father."

"Oh, really?" I asked, smiling at Ned's dad. He had been a highly regarded journalist in Washington, D.C., before moving to River Heights to take over the local newspaper. "Mr. Nickerson never talks about his Washington days. What kinds of favors did he do for you? I'd love to hear some stories."

"Yeah," Ned agreed. "Were you two involved in any political scandals together?"

Mr. Nickerson and Colonel Lang exchanged a charged look. I gulped in surprise. Ned and I had just been teasing them, but it seemed we'd hit a nerve.

"I don't know if you'd call it a scandal," Colonel Lang said guardedly. "Let’s just say James helped me out of a jam once."

"And I shouldn't have," Mr. Nickerson said with a grin. "I compromised my journalistic principles for you."

Now that surprised me. Ned’s father was completely committed to truth in journalism. In fact the main reason he'd wanted to be publisher of the River Heights Bugle was to ensure that true journalistic integrity wasn't lost on the local level. I couldn't help wondering what had taken place between these two all those years ago in Washington. I knew Mr. Nickerson would never be involved in something shady. But who knew about Colonel Lang? Maybe his easy grin hid a lot of secrets. They obviously weren't going to offer me the details though.

Colonel Lang raised his glass of water in a salute. "And I appreciated it. Now in return I'll teach Ned to fly." He pulled a personal digital assistant out of his jacket pocket and turned it on. "Let me write myself a note to clear my schedule," he said. "I'll call you with a time for our first lesson, Ned. What's the number here again?"

"Five-five-five, four-three-four-oh," Ned replied. The colonel entered it into his PDA.

"Would you mind if I tagged along during the lesson?" I asked. "I've never flown in a private plane before."

"Then you absolutely must come," the colonel answered. "It's a completely different feeling than flying in a large jet."

"That would be great. Thanks," Ned said politely. He didn't sound as excited as I expected. He must just be tired, I thought. Ofcourse he'd be psyched about learning to fly.

"So how are things in D.C.?" Mrs. Nickerson asked the colonel.

"Oh, the same as ever," he replied. "I'm sure you two don't miss the rat race."

"No, we're happy here in Paver Heights," Ned's mom admitted.

"What about you, James?" Colonel Lang asked. "You're not bored to death in a sleepy little town like this?"

"Certainly not," Mr. Nickerson replied. "We have our share of crime and intrigue here—just ask Nancy."

I nodded. "I sometimes think we have more than our share," I commented. "River Heights is a small city, but there's always a case for me to work on."

"I may have a new case for you soon," Ned's father said. "Chief McGinnis isn't interested, but maybe you will be."

I felt my cheeks flush and a tingle of excitement rush up my spine. The tiniest mention of a case to solve always causes that reaction. I can't help myself—I love a mystery! My two best friends, George Fayne and Bess Marvin, say I was born that way. I love to get to the bottom of things the same way Bess loves to put together a great outfit, and George loves a new electronic gadget. There are some loves you just can't fight.

"What's the mystery?" I asked breathlessly.

Mr. Nickerson chuckled. "Well, I don't know how much of an actual mystery it is," he replied. "But it's definitely getting on my nerves. I keep getting mysterious calls from a person I don't know. Three times in the past month, I've answered the phone to hear a voice telling me I have a package delivery that night."

"Is this your home phone or the phone at the Bugler?" I asked.

"My home phone," he replied. "And the person always hangs up without giving me any more information."

"Do you recognize the voice?" I asked."Is it a man or a woman?"

Colonel Lang raised his eyebrows. "You really are a detective, aren't you?" he said, impressed.

I felt a little embarrassed. "I'm just curious," I said.

"Well, I'll take any help I can get," Mr. Nickerson put in. "To answer your question, Nancy, I don't recognize the voice. I think it's a man, but I can't be sure. It's a very gravelly voice, and the person only ever says three words on each call."

"What three words?" I asked.

"The person says, 'Package delivery tonight', and then hangs up," Mr. Nickerson said. "At first I assumed it was a wrong number. But it keeps happening."

"Maybe one of these days a package will actually show up!" Colonel Lang joked.

"That's what our police chief said when I reported it," Mr. Nickerson replied. "He thinks it's just someone at FedEx who has laryngitis."

"That explains it," the colonel said. "With a voice like that, the guy has just been too sick to deliver the package!"

Everyone laughed, and I dropped the subject. There really didn't seem to be much of a mystery there.

"So what kind of stories are you working on at the paper?" Colonel Lang asked Ned's father.

"We have a big court case coming up," Mr. Nickerson answered. "The suit was just announced today. I'm sure your father will be getting involved, Nancy," he added. My dad is one of the most prominent lawyers in town, so he usually is involved in the big cases.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Rackham Industries is suing Evaline Waters for her land," Mr. Nickerson said. "They want to knock down her house and put up a new factory there."

I gasped. Ms. Waters was the librarian at River Heights Public Library before she retired. She was the one who gave me my very first library card, and she was the one who showed me how to look up detective guides on the Internet. She was also very attached to her home—her family had lived there for generations. Ms. Waters’s family was one of the oldest in the city. She was descended from the Native American tribe that originally settled the area.

"But what right does some big corporation have to Ms.Waters's land?" I asked.

"None of the details have been released yet," Mr. Nickerson said. "But I imagine there's some dispute about her ownership of the property."

"That's a shame," Ned's mother commented. "She's such a nice woman. I see her out working in her garden almost every day."

"It's true," I said. "She'd be devastated if she had to move."

"Well, let's hope Rackham loses their suit," Mr. Nickerson said. "Although they have a mighty good lawyer on their side."

I groaned. "Don't tell me," I said."Deirdre’s father."

Mr. Nickerson nodded. Remember how I said my father was a very prominent attorney? Well, there's another very prominent attorney in town—Mr. Shannon, the father of my old nemesis, Deirdre. She and I have been rivals ever since elementary school. I don't really have anything against her, but she's never liked me. She takes every opportunity to snub me, especially when I'm with Ned. She has a big crush on him, and she can't forgive me for being his girlfriend. Plus, our fathers are frequendy on opposite sides of big lawsuits. I wondered if the Evaline Waters case would be one of those times.

Ned glanced at his watch. "We should get going, Nancy," he announced. "Our movie starts in twenty minutes."

"Okay." I pushed back my chair. "Thanks for dinner, Mrs. Nickerson. It was delicious."

"Aren't you sweet," she said.

"No, I'm full," I joked. "No popcorn for me at the theater!"

Colonel Lang stood up to shake my hand. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Nancy," he told me. "It's not often I see a hard-boiled detective as young as you!"

I smiled. "Thanks for letting me sit in on your flying lesson with Ned," I told him."I can't wait!"

He nodded. "See you then."

Ned and I made our way to the door and headed outside just as the sun was setting over the river. I stopped on the front porch to look at it for a moment. The entire sky was filled with thick bands of vibrant red. Ned put his arm around my shoulders. "It's beautiful," he said, looking at the sunset.

"It sure is," I agreed."Usually sunsets make me feel peaceful. But it's hard to be at peace when there's such an injustice in the works."

"You mean Evaline Waters?" Ned asked. He knows me well enough to see when I'm preoccupied by something."

"Yeah," I said. "We just have to help her keep her home. If my fathers not on the case, I'm going to make him get on it!"

Ned laughed. "And when Nancy Drew puts her mind to something, you can be sure she'll get her way. "

 

Intriguing Errands

 

"Hop in!" I called to Bess and George. They were sitting on the porch swing in front of Bess's house when I pulled into the driveway. As they trooped down the steps, I couldn't help marveling at how different my two best friends were. Even though they're cousins, George and Bess are total opposites. For one thing, they look completely different. Bess has shoulder-length, golden blond hair and sparkling blue eyes, and she's always perfectly made up and dressed to kill. George keeps her dark hair short, wears no makeup to accent her big brown eyes, and dresses strictly for comfort. I think the reason we make such a great team is that I fall right in between them.

"I have to sit in the front," Bess announced as she opened the car door. "My skirt would get wrinkled by scrunching into the backseat."

George rolled her eyes and climbed into the back. "That's why people wear jeans to run errands," she told her cousin.

I grinned at them. "Thanks for coming along with me," I said. "Hannah gave me a long list of things to get done in the next few days, and it will go a lot faster if I have company." Our housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, has lived with me and Dad since my mother died when I was three. She's a member of the family—and she expects me to help out with the running of the house. So this week I was taking care of most of her usual errands while her family was in town.

"Where to first?" I asked, backing out of the driveway. "The cheese shop or the dry cleaners?"

"Cheese shop!" Bess and George chorused. I knew they would say that, because Harold Safer, who owns the cheese shop, always gives away free samples. As I headed downtown, I filled my friends in on my dinner at Ned's house the night before.

"Flying lessons!" George cried when I got to that part. "Ned is so lucky!"

"I know," I said. "Though he didn't seem as into it as I was. I'm so happy Colonel Lang is letting me go along." I was driving past the library as I said this, which reminded me of Evaline Waters.

"I found out something else last night," I added. "Rackham Industries is trying to kick Ms. Waters off her property."

"What?" cried Bess. "Her family has lived there forever."

"I know," I replied. "I feel awful for her. How about we pay her a visit after the cheese shop?"

"Sounds good to me," George said. "We should let her know we'll support her any way we can."

I pulled into the parking lot behind Safer's Cheese Shop and we all climbed out of the car. "Brace yourselves," I warned my friends as we headed for the door. "Mr. Safer just got back from New York two days ago."

Bess gave a good-natured groan. Mr. Safer may love cheese, but he loves Broadway shows even more. In fact his main passions in life are Broadway shows, sunsets, and cheese, in that order. I thought of the beautiful sky I'd seen the night before. Maybe I could distract him from telling us about the shows he'd seen in New York by bringing up the sunset I'd seen right here in River Heights.

As we opened the door, a bell rang out the first few notes of a melody from The Sound of Music. We were clearly the first customers of the day—the shop was empty. Mr. Safer stood behind the counter, slicing some Jarkberg and placing it on crackers to put out for his customers. "Girls!" he cried when he saw us. "What a wonderful way to start the morning."

"Hi, Mr. Safer," we all said. I handed him Hannah's list of cheeses. "We have an extra-big order this week," I told him. "Hannah's family is having a reunion, and she's providing the food."

Mr. Safer's eyes widened as he scanned the list. "Well, that is going to be a lot of food," he said.

I nodded. Hannah's family is huge.

"So let me tell you all about New York!" Mr. Safer sang happily as he turned away to begin filling my order. "I saw four new shows."

"This cheese is delicious," George said, trying to change the subject. She took another bite of Jarlsberg.

"Of course it is," Mr. Safer said. "Now, the first day I got to Manhattan, I went straight to a matinee—"

"Look how red the rind of this cheese is," I interrupted, pointing to a wheel on display inside the glass-front counter. "It reminds me of the sunset last night."

Mr. Safer gasped. "Did you see it too?" he cried. The Broadway shows were forgotten. Bess wiggled her eyebrows at me and George gave me a tiny thumbs-up. One thing we all knew about Mr. Safer was that he could talk about musicals for hours. Sunset talk usually only took up a few minutes. "Wasn't it astonishing?" Mr. Safer asked.

"It really was," I said truthfully."I've never seen it so red."

"You know what they say," Mr. Safer replied. "'Red sky at night, sailors’ delight!'"

"What does that mean, anyway?" Bess asked. "What's so delightful about it?"

"Well, for one thing, it's delightful to look at," Mr. Safer said. "But it's part of an old saying—'Red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.'"

"It's from the days before weather reports," George put in. "When sailors on the open ocean needed to know if a storm was approaching, they'd look at the sky. A red sky basically means there aren't any clouds. It's a clear sky."

I was impressed. This must be one of the facts George stumbled across on the Internet. She is a total computer junkie, and one of the best hackers around. But she also just finds out odd little bits of information during her journeys online.

"Why does it matter if it's red at night or in the morning?" I asked.

Mr. Safer handed me my first bundle of cheese and continued with the rest of the order. "Because if the sky is red at night, you're looking west—at the sunset. That means there are no clouds on the horizon, and there won't be a storm."

"Most weather comes from the west" George added.

"Exactly!" Mr. Safer agreed, thrilled to have a helper in his audience. "But if you're looking at a red morning sky, you're looking east. That means there's clear weather ahead of you. But it also means a storm might be following the clear weather, since that's the typical weather pattern."

Bess wrinkled her nose. "That doesn't seem very scientific," she said.

I laughed. "It isn't," I told her. "I doubt it worked very well for the sailors."

Mr. Safer finished wrapping up Hannah's cheese and gave it to me. "I think weather satellites do a much better job," he confided. "But I'd still rather look at the sunset than at a weather map!"

"Me too," I said, paying him. "Well, we're off. Thanks, Mr. Safer!"

"But I didn't get to tell you about the musicals I saw!" he cried.

"We'll have to hear about them next time," Bess said sweedy, batting her eyelashes at him. No man can be offended when Bess is involved, and Mr. Safer was no exception. He smiled back at her.

"Okay then," he said. "You girls have a good day."

"You too," we all called as we headed out the door.

"Whew! Close one," George joked, leading the way to the car.

My mind was already on our next stop as I got behind the wheel. In no time at all, I was pulling into the driveway of Ms. Waters's lovely Victorian-style home. It was situated on a small hill right next door to the library. Usually Ms. Waters spent her mornings gardening, but today she was nowhere to be seen. My friends and I climbed the steps and rang her ancient doorbell.

Evaline Waters answered a minute later. Her salt-and-pepper hair was usually pulled into one neat braid that fell down her back. But today wisps stuck out all over the place. There was a smudge of dirt on her cheek, and part of a cobweb on her arm. "Why, hello, Nancy," Ms. Waters said, her face breaking into a smile when she saw me. "Bess, George. What a pleasant surprise."

"Hi, Ms.Waters," I replied."Did we come at a bad time?"

"Of course not!" she cried. "Why would you think that?"

"Because you're a mess," George said bluntly. Bess elbowed her cousin in the side while I stifled a laugh. George believes in telling the truth—she'd rather be practical than polite.

Ms. Waters put a hand to her hair and smiled. "I guess I am," she said ruefully. "I've been up in the attic all morning."

"How come?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm tearing the house apart," she said,"looking for the deed to this property."

"Because of Rackham Industries?" I asked. "We heard about the lawsuit.We wanted to come lend our support"

Ms. Waters motioned for us to come inside, and we followed her into the large, comfortable hving room. Even though the house was Victorian style, it was furnished with the retired librarian's eclectic taste. Native American rugs hung on the walls, while the furniture was made of dark wood in a colonial style, and the carpet on the floor was a bright yellow shag. Somehow it all worked.

"You girls are so sweet," Ms. Waters said. "I know if I could only find the deed, I could prove that they have no right to my property."

"What exactly is Rackhams claim, if you don't mind my asking?" Bess said, her brow knit in concern.

"They say my property line is in a different place than I've always thought it was," Ms. Waters explained. "According to their maps, the house is built right on top of the property line. That means I only own the land under the living room and not the kitchen!"

"That doesn't seem right," I said. "Why would your ancestors have built the house right on top of the property line?"

"They didn't," Ms. Waters replied. "I know where the property ends. I just can't prove it."

"Do you want some help looking for the deed?" Bess asked.

Ms. Waters sighed. "I'm afraid it won't help, dear," she said. "I've searched everywhere. It's no surprise—my parents weren't very organized, and they owned the house before I did. They never figured out how to file important documents."

I found it hard to believe that superorganized Evaline Waters had come from a disorganized family. "Then how did you become such a great librarian?" I asked.

"It was my way of rebelling," she told me with a wink. "I wanted to be the opposite of my mother!"

"Do you really think the deed is lost for good?" George asked.

"I fear it is," Ms. Waters said.

"I can try to find a copy of it on the Internet," George offered. "A lot of cities put their public records online."

"I already checked," Ms.Waters said. She's surprisingly computer literate for someone her age—she had to be, working at the library. River Heights has one of the most state-of-the-art libraries in the whole county. "My property has been in the Waters family for so long that the original deed is gone, so they had nothing to scan in. It was lost in the flood of 1902, when the city hall floated away down the river."

"Wow," I said. "Your family owned this land even then?"

"Oh, longer than that," she said."In fact, this is the third house that was built on the land—the first one fell apart on its own, and the second one was too old and small to be modernized with bathrooms and such and had to be torn down."

"But this house has to be almost seventy years old!" George cried.

"Seventy-three," Ms. Waters said. "That's why I can't believe anyone would want to take it from me. Why can't they build their factory somewhere else?"

"I don't know," I said."But we'll do everything we can to help you. I'm going to ask my father about your case tonight."

"Oh, Nancy, that would be such a help," she said in a trembling voice. "I'm a strong character, but I have to admit that I don't want to fight this battle on my own."

"You won't have to," I assured her.

"Absolutely not. We'll help," Bess said. "Without you, none of us would even know how to read!"

Ms. Waters chuckled. "I don't think that's true," she said, "but I appreciate your help."

"I'll let you know what my dad says," I told her as we headed out the front door. From the high porch I had a good view of Ms. Waters's land. Something in the far corner of the backyard caught my eye. "Ms. Waters, what's that?" I asked, pointing to a crumbling stone wall.

She squinted into the sunlight. "Oh, that's the old house," she said. "Not the last house. The very first one. It was really just a one-room cottage, the first place my ancestors built when they claimed the land."

"Which land is Rackham claiming that they own?" I asked.

"Everything from the kitchen on in this direction," she said, sweeping her arm across the backyard and the old house.

"That's it!" I cried."That should help us clearly establish the property lines. If the original house was built all the way over there, then your family definitely owned the land past the middle of your house. Rackham has no claim to it."

"But they have a deed that says they do," she said.

"Their deed is wrong," I said confidendy. "And we'll prove it."

 

• • •

 

When I got home from running Hannah's errands, I found a note on the kitchen counter. In Hannah’s neat handwriting, it said that I should call Ned. Grabbing an apple from the bowl next to it, I headed up to my room and dialed 555-4340. Ned answered on the second ring.

"Nickerson residence," he said in a strained voice.

"Ned?" I asked. "Is that you?"

"Oh, hey, Nance," he replied, his voice relaxing. "Sorry. I thought you might be our mystery caller again."

"You mean the package delivery guy?" I asked, remembering his father's story from the night before.

"Yup," Ned said. "Apparently he called again last night right after you and I left. My dad tried to get his name, but he just hung up."

"That is strange," I commented. "Was your father mad?"

"Kind of," Ned admitted. "I think at first he thought the whole thing was sort of funny. But now it's getting on his nerves."

"I don't blame him," I said. I thought telemarketers were annoying enough. But if this guy wouldn't even let Mr. Nickerson get a word in, how was he ever going to find out he had the wrong number?

"There's good news," Ned said. "Colonel Lang has time for a flying lesson this afternoon. I was hoping you'd get back in time."

"We're going flying?" I cried. "What time?"

"Right now, if you're ready," Ned replied. "I'll pick you up on my way to the airport."

"See you soon, then," I told him. I hung up the phone and did a little dance around my room. Soon I'd be flying high!

 

The First Lesson

 

"Where are you?" Imurmured, pulling back the living-room curtain to peer outside for the fifth time. I had run straight downstairs to wait for Ned. I just couldn't wait to get up in that plane! But he was obviously taking his time.

Just as I let the curtain drop, I heard a car pull into the driveway. Grabbing my bag, I ran for the door, yanked it open—and ran straight into my father.

"Whoa, slow down!" he cried, his handsome face breaking into a smile. "You almost bulldozed me!"

"Sorry, Dad," I said." You're home early."

"Actually I just came back to get a change of clothes," he said, indicating a coffee stain on his tie. "I'm due in court in half an hour."

I grinned. When it comes to klutziness, Dad and I are two of a kind. It's a good thing he has at least a hundred ties!

"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" Dad asked.

"I'm going flying," I said excitedly. "Mr. Nickerson's friend is a pilot and he's giving Ned a lesson. They said I could tag along."

"Sounds like fun," Dad said. "Having a good day otherwise?"

"Yup. Except I'm worried about Ms. Waters," I told him.

He nodded. "I had a feeling I'd be hearing about that from you," he said."I called Evaline not ten minutes ago and offered my services."

I threw my arms around him. "You're the best, Dad!" I cried.

"I'm not sure how much help I'll be," he cautioned me. "Evaline doesn't have much of a leg to stand on. Clearly that land has traditionally been considered hers, but she has no proof of ownership."

"We found remnants of the original Waters house at the edge of the property," I told him. "I thought maybe that could help establish property lines."

"Or it could just mean that the Waters ancestors built the house on land that they didn't officially own," he said. "It's difficult when you're dealing with such old claims. Most of the documentation is lost."

I frowned, chewing on my lip. I'd been so sure that that crumbling old house would help! "It's not fair," I said. "That original house had to be at least a hundred and fitly years old. It's like an archaeological ruin." Even as the words left my mouth, I had a new idea. But right at that moment, Ned pulled into the driveway.

"Gotta fly!" I joked, giving my dad a quick kiss on the cheek. "See you later."

"Have fun—and be careful!" Dad replied, waving at Ned before he disappeared into the house. As I started down the driveway, I pulled my cell phone from my bag and hit the speed dial number that George had programmed in for me. If she hadn't made my cell as easy to deal with as possible, I knew I'd never have the patience to use it.

I climbed in beside Ned and mouthed a hello while the phone rang. He rolled his eyes good-naturedly. Ned is used to my strange ways—he knows that when I have a hunch, I have to act on it immediately. He put the car in reverse and backed out, starting the drive to the airport.

"Hi, Nancy," George said after a moment. Gotta love caller ID. "What's up?"

"I have an idea," I told her. "Can you get on the Web and research historical-landmark laws for River Heights?"

"Sure," she said. "Why?"

"Well, that original Waters house should count as historically interesting, don't you think?" I said. "It must be the oldest foundation in the whole city!"

"Good thinking," George said. "I'll call you back later."

I thanked her and hung up. Then I bounced in my seat all the way to the airport, anticipating the plane ride. Ned laughed at me, but he didn't seem nearly as excited as I was. "Aren't you looking forward to this?" I asked. "Just think, maybe you'll get your pilot's license and then we can go up flying anytime we want"

"It takes a lot of lessons before you get your license," Ned told me."I'm not sure I'll ever do that."

"But it'll still be fun, even with a flight instructor," I said. "And Colonel Lang is cool."

"You think so?" Ned asked. "I figured you'd find him suspicious."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because he doesn't like to talk about his past," Ned said. "And you're intrigued by even the hint of a secret."

I laughed. He was right. Colonel Lang did seem to be a man with secrets, but I still liked him.

Ned pulled into the River Heights Municipal Airport. The airport can handle smaller jets, but most people use it for their private planes or to take flying lessons. We climbed out of the car and walked into the small commercial-flight hangar. There were a few small planes in the giant barnlike building, one with its side panels open as a man examined its engine. We headed over to the row of dusty counters that lined the wall near the door. Two different flight schools operated out of this airport, and each one had its own counter with a sign on the wall. One sign said Harbert's Flight Training with the word flight in neon.The other had a tasteful hand-painted sign that read Learn to Fly with Beltrano. Colonel Lang stood near this counter, chatting with a petite red-haired woman with an athletic frame. As we drew closer, I could see that she was older than I had thought—probably in her fifties.

"Nancy Drew, Ned Nickerson, this is Janice Mallory," Colonel Lang said as we approached.

Janice stuck out her hand, and I took it. She had a firm handshake and a big, friendly grin. "I've heard of you, of course," she told me. "You're our very own homegrown detective! Not here on a case, are you?"

I blushed. "Nope. I'm just here to have fun," I told her.

"That's what I like to hear," she said.

"Janice is the manager here," Colonel Lang told us. "She oversees the commercial side of the airport—the flight schools and the scheduling of private planes."

"Without her, we'd all be flying into each other in the sky!" joked a voice from behind me. I turned to see the tall, good-looking man who had been tinkering with the plane engine. He looked about forty and he wore a cocky grin.

"Without me, you'd spend all your time doing stunts and forgetting to teach classes," Janice joked back. "Folks, this is Frank Beltrano, one of our flight instructors," she told us. Then she made introductions all around. When Frank shook hands with Colonel Lang, I was surprised to see that he was at least five inches taller than the air force man. In spite of the height difference, though, there was something similar in their bearing—they both stood up straight with their shoulders back, and they both radiated confidence.

"Were you in the air force, like Colonel Lang?" I asked Frank.

He shook his head. "No, I learned to fly in the navy."

Colonel Lang glowered at him. "A navy man, hmm?" he asked in a fake threatening voice. "We may have some trouble up there." Everyone laughed, and the colonel clapped Frank on the shoulder.

"You kids are learning to fly?" Frank asked us.

"Just me for now," Ned replied.

"I'm only here for the ride," I said. "Though I'd love to learn sometime."

"Well, if you ever decide to take lessons, you give me a call," Frank said with a wink. He leaned over the counter and fished a business card out of the pile of papers on the other side. "Here's my number," he added, handing me the card.

"Thanks," I said. As I put the card in the pocket of my jeans, a short, balding man came bustling into the hangar. He hurried over to the counter and stood waiting impatiendy for us to finish. He was clearly upset about something—sweat beaded his upper lip, and he tapped his foot unconsciously as he stood there.

Janice glanced over at him. "Excuse me," she said to us. "You kids have a great time!"

"Thanks," we both said. Colonel Lang led us away from the counter, but I glanced over my shoulder to watch Janice approach the man. He began yelling about something before she even opened her mouth. What could he possibly be so upset about? Frank Beltrano stepped up to Janice's side to help her deal with the outraged man. The guy had turned practically purple in his anger.

"Nance—" Ned said just as I tripped over a gigantic-cord on the floor. I started to fall, but Ned caught me easily. "Watch out for the wire," he finished with a smile.

"Thanks," I answered. "I guess I was distracted. I wonder what that man wanted."

"That's the drawback of being a sleuth," he said. "You're always on the lookout for suspicious behavior."

"Right now I'm not looking at anything but that," I retorted. Directly in front of us. Colonel Lang had stopped before a sleek, shiny plane. It had been painted a deep green color, and it had two yellow stripes all the way around, and two more down the wings.

"It's a beautiful plane," I told the colonel. "A Piper Meridian, right?"

"That's right," Colonel Lang said. "You have a good eye. Hop in!"

Soon enough I was strapped into one of the two backseats while Ned buckled himself into the pilot’s seat. He looked a little pale as Colonel Lang taxied slowly out of the hangar. From the copilot's seat next to Ned, he could control the plane as well. Once we got out into the sunlight, the colonel stopped the plane and began going over the instrument panel, explaining the purpose of each switch, knob, and gauge. I listened carefully, drinking in the information. Ned took notes in a small notepad.

"You won't be able to look at that while you're flying," the colonel said. "So make sure you memorize all this."

"Yes, sir," Ned said seriously

"Now, this may sound basic," Colonel Lang said, "but the most important piece of equipment in the cockpit is this." He gestured to a small microphone in the middle of the control panel.

"What is it?" Ned asked.

"It's the radio," the colonel said. "This is your lifeline, because it's your connection to people on the ground and to other pilots in the air. Whenever you get into trouble, you radio for help. The controllers on the ground will be able to guide you."

Ned nodded, writing it down.

"I'd like you to handle the radio on our first flight," Colonel Lang said. "You have to get used to talking while you fly. The important thing to remember is that you don't do anything in a plane without letting the controllers know about it."

"Otherwise everyone would be flying into one another, right?" I asked.

"Potentially," the colonel agreed. "At a small airport like this one, there's not much danger. There are so few planes that you can see them all just by looking up into the sky. But it's still procedure to run everything by the tower."

I glanced out the window at the tower. It was really just a two-story building near the end of one of the two runways.

"The radio will connect you to the tower, and also to the main flight-school hangar," Colonel Lang said. "Okay, Ned, ask for permission to take off."

Ned carefully flipped the switch to turn the radio on. "Piper Meridian to tower," he said into the microphone. "Requesting permission to take off." He released the Talk button and glanced at the colonel, who shot him an approving nod.

"Copy, Meridian," a voice crackled over the line. "You're clear on runway two."

The colonel taxied to the end of the runway, then built up speed as he headed down it. Before I knew it, we were in the air. Colonel Lang talked the whole time, explaining to Ned everything he did. But once we were airborne, it was hard for me to hear from the backseat. I turned my attention to the scenery below. This was different from flying in a big commercial jet because we were flying much closer to the ground. From here I could pick out details on the land and recognize buildings we flew over. I spotted Georges house first, a block away from our elementary school. The school looked so tiny from up here! I could see a group of children playing on the swings in the playground. Next I caught sight of Bess's house—and Bess herself out on the driveway. She had the hood of her mother’s car open and was tinkering with the engine.

Soon I spotted Evaline Waters s home. I checked out her property. From above, it looked neady marked. All around the edges of her lawn grew a low, tangled hedge. I could make out the faint perimeter of the stone foundation and the crumbling wall of the original house. It was clearly inside the hedge.

"Okay, I think that's enough for our first lesson," Colonel Lang said, pulling the wheel to turn the plane back toward the airport. I felt a rush of disappointment, but Ned smiled.

"Yup, any more time and I might get information overload," he joked.

Once on the ground, the colonel taxied the Meridian back into the hangar. Janice was chatting with a client near the Harbert's Flight Training counter, and Frank Beltrano's plane was gone. I couldn't help taking a look around for the angry man who'd been here before, but there was no sign of him.

As Ned did a postflight check on the plane with Colonel Lang, I turned my cell phone on. There was a message from George. "Nancy, you re a genius," she said happily. "It took some creative Internet searching, but I found it—a zoning law that will protect Ms.Waters's property as a historical landmark!"

 

Legal Hope?

 

"I have to stopfor gas," I told Bess and George the next morning. Once again I was running some errands for Hannah with my friends.

"Gas? What's that?" Bess joked.

"Are you sure you'll remember how to pump it, Nancy?" George teased me.

I stuck my tongue out at them as I drove toward the gas station. Because my car is a gas/electric hybrid, I get really good mileage. I don't have to till it up with gas nearly as often as my friends have to fill their tanks.

"Tell me more about this zoning law," I said to George."How specific is it?"

"I don't know," George admitted."I didn't find the actual wording of the law. I only found a mention of the existence of the law. It was in an old article about the town charter. The writer didn't cite specifics; he just said there was a law still on the books from back in the early nineteenth century that would protect the original town buildings even if all that was left of them was a single stone of the foundation. I guess there had been a big fire recently and the original town inhabitants wanted to be sure they wouldn't lose their land if their buildings burned down."

"So all we have to do is find the actual law, double-check the wording, and tell Nancy’s father about it," Bess said. "I bet he'll get this case dismissed in no time."

"It's not that simple," George replied. "This is an old law that hasn't been used in more than a hundred years. I doubt the mayor even knows about it. It’s not on any of the River Heights government Web sites—I checked."

"What are you saying?" I asked, turning into the gas station on the corner of River Street.

"I'm saying it's going to be hard to track down the wording of the law," George replied. "I think we have to find the actual piece of parchment that it was first written on."

I thought about that. An old, important document would be kept in a special place... but where? The town hall? A museum? Suddenly I knew the answer. At least, I knew how to get the answer. "Luther Eldridge," I said.

George raised an eyebrow. "What about him?"

"He knows everything about River Heights history," I replied. "If anyone will know where to find that document, he will."

I thought about Luther as I climbed out of the car and opened the gas tank. He was the father of my best friend from first grade, Melissa. One day while Luther was busy volunteering at the local recycling center, Melissa, her mom, and her older brother were killed in a car accident. It had been devastating to all of us. Melissa's dad, Luther, was the only one left in his whole family. He'd never really recovered from his grief—he'd quit his job as a college professor and now he just stayed at home alone with his history books. In Melissa's memory, I visit him from time to time to make sure he's doing okay. Plus, over the years I've come to like him—he's a sweet man, and very smart. He would definitely be able to help.

I gazed out over River Street as I began to pump my gas. Almost immediately one car caught my eye. Well, really it was the driver who caught my eye—it was the angry man from the airport the day before! He was driving slowly along River Street, swerving a little over the double yellow line in the center of the road. And no wonder—he was barely even watching where he was going. His head was craned to the right as he stared at the sidewalk.

Who was this man? We would all be lucky if he didn't cause an accident. I finished pumping my gas, paid the attendant, and got back into the car. When I pulled out onto River Street, the angry man's green sedan was stopped at a red light three cars in front of mine. When the light changed, he suddenly veered across traffic and made a left turn. On a whim I followed him.

"Whoa!"cried George."Slow down, speed demon!"

"Where are we going?" Bess asked from the backseat. "The post office is in the other direction."

"I'm tailing someone," I said, keeping my eye on the green sedan. The driver made another left, moving fast. I followed, staying far enough back to avoid catching his attention.

"Tailing who?" George asked, surprised. "Is there a case we don't know about?"

I blew a strand of strawberry blond hair out of my eye. "Not really," I admitted. "In fact, not at all. But I saw this guy yesterday at the airport and he was furious about something. And now he's driving like a maniac." I made another left and followed him back toward River Street. "I just want to see where he's going."

Bess squinted out the window. "It looks like he's going in a circle," she commented.

She was right—we were back to almost the exact spot we'd started in. The gas station was just ahead on the corner. The angry man made another left back onto River Street, this time moving slowly. I pulled up close behind him. He was still staring at the sidewalk.

"He's looking for someone," I murmured.

"Maybe he dropped his wife off in one of the shops and he's circling until she comes out," George suggested. Like I said, she always goes for the practical explanation first. I couldn't help but smile.

"You're probably right," I said. "I guess there's nothing that strange about being angry and driving around."

"Let's ask Charlie," Bess suggested. "He's in Mason's parking lot."

I glanced into the small lot in front of Mason's Drugstore. Sure enough, there was Charlie Adams with his tow truck. Charlie is often my savior, because as infrequently as my car needs gas, I still usually forget to stop and fill up. Charlie has had to come to my rescue with a can full of gas on numerous occasions. He doesn't even charge me anymore!

I pulled into the gas station. Charlie spends his days driving all over River Heights, talking to just about everyone. Sooner or later everyone needs their car fixed, and Charlie's boss runs the best garage in the city. That all means that Charlie knows a lot about what goes on around here. I wondered whether he knew the angry man.

I parked next to the tow truck and we all got out.

"Hey, Bess, George," Charlie said. Then his eyes met mine and he blushed. "Hi, Nancy," he added.

"Charlie, I need your opinion," I said, getting straight to the point."Have you noticed a green sedan on River Street today?"

"Yes." Charlie's expression grew worried. He takes helping me with cases very seriously. "Why? Has there been a crime?"

Bess giggled. "Only if bad driving is a crime."

"Bess is right. There's no case. I just think the man driving that car is acting strangely," I said. "Look!" The green sedan was pulling onto River Street again from the same side street as before. "He's just driving in circles."

"That's the thing," Charlie said. "He's been doing that for almost an hour. I was watching him even before you showed up.At first I thought he was looking for parking, but now I have no idea what he's doing."

We all watched as Angry Man pulled around the block again.

"Nancy, we'd better get going if you want to finish all your errands and visit Luther Eldridge" George pointed out.

"Okay," I agreed. "I guess I'll just have to resign myself to not knowing why that man is acting so weird."

"I'll keep an eye on him for you," Charlie offered. "I'll call if he does anything really suspicious."

"Thanks, Charlie," I said, getting back into my car. "You're the best!" Charlie blushed again.

Charlie gave a good-natured wave as we pulled out, and I headed straight for Luther Eldridges colonial-style house on Spur Woods Lane. Mr. Eldridge’s lawn was full of dandelions, and the car in the driveway was showing rust spots. But inside, the house was spick-and-span, with everything in its place. He was surprised to see us—he doesn't have many visitors these days, since he likes to keep to himself.

"Can I get you girls a soda or anything?" he asked as we sat down in his living room. On the mantel was a family photo. Seeing Melissa's smiling face in the picture made me sad. "No thanks," I replied. "I was hoping you could help us out with something."

"Another mystery?" Mr. Eldridge asked, his brown eyes smiling.

"Believe it or not, no!" I replied. "We're trying to help Evaline Waters hang on to her property."

"Rackham Industries is suing her for it," Bess put in. "They claim they own the land right up to the middle of her house."

Mr. Eldridge slowly shook his head, frowning. "That doesn't seem right," he said. "The Waters family has owned that land for generations."

"Ms. Waters can't find a deed to the property, and there's no record in city hall," George said.

"Ms. Waters's parents didn't seem to keep things like that in order," I explained. "But George found a mention of an old zoning law about historical landmarks. The trouble is, we need to track down the original document containing the law."

"Well, you could try city hall," Mr. Eldridge said. "But their archives only go back to the nineteen twenties. How old a law is this?"

"We think it's from at least a hundred and fifty years ago," George replied."I didn't even know there were laws that old."

"That wouldn't be in city hall," Mr. Eldridge commented.

"Could it be in a museum somewhere?" I asked.

"I doubt it," he said. "It doesn't hold much interest, except to old historians like me."

"I think Evaline Waters would be pretty interested in it," Bess said.

"There's an archive at the university," Mr. Eldridge said. "My best guess is that this sort of thing would be there, if it's anywhere. Since the university was one of the very first institutions in River Heights, a lot of the old historical documents are there."

"Do you think we can get into the archive right now?" I asked.

"I guess my old ID might get us in," Mr. Eldridge said uncertainly. "If the place is even still open at all. I can't imagine that anyone other than security has been there in years."

"I'm willing to try if you are," I said. "It could help Mrs. Waters a great deal." Mr. Eldridge needed a little coaxing to leave his house. Finally he nodded.

"Great!" I said. "Let's go!"

 

• • •

 

Oddly the university archive was just as empty as Mr. Eldridge had said it would be. The place was a small, overgrown brick building out in back of the library. The door had a heavy chain over it with a big padlock holding it shut. We had to find a security guard to unlock it for us, after he took a good look at Mr. Eldridge's old university ID. It took the man five minutes just to locate the correct key on his giant metal loop. He unlocked the door, conferred briefly with Mr. Eldridge, then left us.

"I don't think people come here much," Bess whispered as we stepped inside. The heavy wooden door slammed shut behind us with a dull thud. The only light came from a flickering fluorescent tube in the ceiling.

"No one is interested in musty old history anymore," Mr. Eldridge said sadly. "Now they want everything available on a computer screen at the touch of a button."

George shot me a smile. She was definitely one of the people Mr. Eldridge was talking about.

"How do we find the right document?" I asked.

Mr. Eldridge led the way to a big cherrywood desk in the center of the small entryway. On the desk sat a leather-bound logbook. When he opened it, dust flew up into the air, making me sneeze.

"This book should tell us how the archive is organized," Mr. Eldridge said, running his finger down the rows of handwritten entries. "Here we go! Laws, River Heights, 1837 through 1860."

"That's it!" I said. This was going to be easier than I'd thought.

"Room five, section F," Mr. Eldridge said, leading us down a darkened hallway. Along the hall were several closed doors, each with a small lightbulb at the top.The dim light barely illuminated the metal numbers tacked to each doorjamb.

At room 5, I found the number hanging upside down. It gave an ominous creak when I turned it to the right. "I guess this is the place," I said a little nervously. This place gave me the creeps—it was so dark and isolated.

"The door should be locked," Mr. Eldridge said. "The security guard gave me a pass key for all the rooms." He held it out to me, but I already knew I didn't need it.

"It isn't locked," I said. I could feel warmer air coming from within the room. The door was ever-so-slighdy ajar, open no more than a centimeter or two. I put my fingertips on the wood and pushed lighdy. The door opened with a loud squeak of the hinges. I looked inside—and gasped.

The place was trashed! Drawers hung open, papers were strewn everywhere, and ancient-looking books lay scattered on the floor. "There's been a break-in!" I cried.

 

Who Stole the Law?

 

Before Bess had even returned with the campus police, we had discovered that the document we wanted was gone. Once George and I gathered up all the paper from the floor, Luther Eldridge was able to make sense of the mess quickly and easily. Almost all of the papers came from sections E and F. None of the files in the other sections had even been touched.

Mr. Eldridge brought the logbook in from the front desk and we went through the contents of sections E and F, checking off those documents and books that were still here. When we were finished, the truth was clear: The only document stolen was the one containing the zoning law that would help Evaline Waters. I smelled a rat.

I was thankful that the university police were the ones who took our report. I didn't want to have to explain to Chief McGinnis what I was doing here. The River Heights police chief already often thinks I stick my nose in where it doesn't belong.

After we dropped Mr. Eldridge off, my friends and I drove home in silence. I knew they were trying to make sense of this situation, the same way I was.

"It had to be Rackham Industries who broke into the archive," Bess said finally. "They're the ones who want Ms. Waters’s land. They're the only ones who would care about that law."

"But they're a huge corporation," George argued. "They're not going to resort to breaking and entering in order to get a tiny piece of land. They can just build a factory somewhere else."

"But if not Rackham, then who?" I asked. My detective work had taught me that the most obvious answer is usually the correct one, and Bess had a point about Rackham Industries. They stood to gain the most from the theft of this document. But George made sense too—it didn't seem likely that a company would open itself up to this kind of obvious criminal activity.

I was startled out of my thoughts by the sight of the green sedan we'd followed earlier."Look!" I cried to my friends. "It's Angry Man's car." The sedan was parked along River Street in front of a shop with a Grand Opening banner hung in the window.

"Looks like he was just circling in order to get a good parking spot!" George said.

But something was nagging at the back of my mind. I glanced up at the new shop again, and that's when it all fell into place.

"I knew he looked familiar!" I cried. "Angry Man is the owner of the new antique shop!"

"Berring Antiques?" Bess asked. "I haven't been in there yet."

"I have," I said. I noticed another spot along the curb, and I pulled the car over to parallel park. "Dad and I went in last week, the day it opened. It was pretty packed, but Mr. Berring was there behind the counter."

"If he's got a store full of beautiful antiques that's doing good business, what's he so angry about?" George asked.

I finished parking and turned off the car. "That's just what I want to find out," I said. We all got out, and I led the way into Berring Antiques. The store was chock-rull of gorgeous old wooden furniture, pieces of antique china, and shelves full of finely woven linens. It was getting toward closing time, so we were the only customers there. Mr. Berring seemed surprised to see us come in.

"Oh!" he said. "I was just about to put the Closed sign up."

"What a shame," Bess replied with a friendly smile."I've been dying to take a look at the store."

"Well...," Mr. Berring said."I guess I can wait for a few minutes while you look."

"Thanks so much!" Bess cried. She grabbed George's arm and pulled her into an aisle containing antique picture frames.

"Its nice to see you again," I told Mr. Berring.

He gave an uncertain smile. "Have we met?" he asked.

"Well, not really," I said. "But I saw you at the airport yesterday. I hope you got everything straightened out there."

Mr. Berring took a step backward and knocked into a coat rack. It started to topple, but I reached forward and grabbed it before it fell. "I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else," Mr. Berring said. "I wasn't at the airport yesterday."

I looked into his eyes as he spoke, and he glanced away.

"Guess I must have one of those familiar faces," he added nervously.

I smiled at him. "I guess so," I agreed. "My mistake." But I knew I hadn't made a mistake—that had definitely been Mr. Berring at the airport. Now the only question left was. Why would he he about it?

I was still wondering about that fifteen minutes later as we stood in line at the bakery. Hannah wanted two loaves of their special banana bread. Unfortunately so did everyone else in town. Joshua Andrews, the baker, only makes it one day a week, and the lines are always long on banana bread day.

"I know it was Mr. Berring at the airport," I said aloud.

George laughed."Of course it was him,"she replied. "We all know you never forget a face."

"Maybe he has an identical twin," Bess said, only half joking. Vintage Bess: Even though we didn't know if Mr. Berring was up to anything illegal, she was trying to defend him. She never likes to think ill of anybody.

"Lying about it only makes him seem more suspicious," I pointed out. "What is he trying to hide?"

"Sticking your nose into someone else's business again, Nancy?" asked a sarcastic voice.





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