Oh, great, Nancy Carson thought to herself. If those villains heard that, I could be in some big trouble!
The young sleuth tossed red-gold locks out of her eyes, daintily drew a handkerchief from the pocket of her blue windbreaker, and dabbed at her nose.
Honestly, what housekeeping! Nancy surveyed the expanse of the dusty room, frowning at the assemblage of dropcloths and cobwebs. These people obviously don't have a treasure like Anna at home, she thought, remembering the beloved housekeeper that always kept the Carson household ship-shape while dispensing sage advice with a twinkle in her eye.
But if nothing else, the state of disrepair of the old McShiver mansion lent support to her theories.
THAT's why no one ever saw the old Indian-head statue OR could trace the mysterious Andean flute music... Of course!
Nancy had permitted herself a small chortle of triumph, when she heard a shuffling sound behind her. She turned, but not quickly enough to get a good look at the shape that loomed up behind her, or to avoid the arm that descended towards her head, and seemed to bring the entire building crashing down on the back of her skull. She was vaguely trying to remember if this was the fifth or sixth time someone had knocked her out from behind when she sank into a pool of black unconsciousness.
"Mrs. Carson! Mrs. Carson!"
Drew Carson sighed, lifting her chin from her hands, green eyes flickering from the legal brief in front of her to the young man who had burst into her office.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am!" The small brunette who stood behind the young man called. "I did try to tell him you were busy--"
"That's all right, Sarah." Drew Carson used a pencil to sweep glossy panes of ash-blond hair to either side of her face. "I'm sure Dick wouldn't break in on me if it weren't important."
"I guess not!" Dick Dickerson crowed. "It's Nancy-- she's missing!"
Drew Carson suppressed the sigh this time. She'd lost count of the number of times that her life as the most prominent attorney in the city of Riverview had been disrupted by the adventurous antics of her teenage daughter.
"But I think I have an idea!" the young man went on.
Dick Dickerson. Drew Carson studied the earnest face before her: the editor of a teenage-girl fan magazine might have invented him from some fevered dream: nearly six feet tall, with dark eyes and hair to match that flopped with a casual insouciance into his eyes; the strong chin and dazzling smile, the broad shoulders, firm abdomen, tight-fitting jeans...
The blond attorney shook her head, blinking her eyes. Widowed young, when Nancy was only a year old, Drew Carson had worked hard to provide for her daughter, eventually growing the largest practice in Riverview. Unfortunately, now, eighteen years later, with 40 looming on her horizon, she had begun to wonder if her career had shut out too many other things she might have had-- for one thing, she had found that being a high-powered woman attorney was not the way to entice single men in a small town like Riverview. I HAVE been working too hard-- I'm eyeing a nineteen-year-old boy who's come to tell me that my daughter's missing!
She supposed it was the curse of the single parent-- like any mother, she was concerned for her daughter's safety, but unwilling to curtail something that Nancy was genuinely enthusiastic about: solving mysteries. For all that her daughter was constantly being kidnapped, knocked out, drugged, bound, gagged... Drew Carson couldn't bring her to put a stop to the one thing that seemed to bring her daughter pleasure-- pleasure that her attorney mom was just too busy to give her in any other way.
"Well, Dick, I suppose we'd better pay a visit to chief Goodfellow.” She stood up and reached for her purse.
"I’ll say!" the young man enthused. "He loves a good mystery!"
Don't we all... Drew thought as she found herself following Dick Dickerson's ass out of the room.
Nancy came to, slowly. Her mind flickered to consciousness at the same time that nerve impulses relayed the information that she wouldn't be using her hands or feet anytime soon.
Bound! Nancy recognized the sensation all too well. What felt like rough hemp (by now, she could distinguish boat cord from clothesline without even looking) encircled her wrists, which were crossed over each other behind her back. The loops had been pulled and cinched tightly, isolating her wrists from each other; she could already feel the strain in her shoulders from the awkward position. More of the cord had been used to pinion her arms to her sides; only the blue fabric of the windbreaker prevented the snug wrappings of rope from abrading her skin.
Pretty darn tight! the plucky sleuth thought. This rascal knows his business. Reminds me of sniveling old Jake McCracken, in that business of the Moss-Covered Doorknocker. He may have been a terrible llama trainer-- well, how else would I have exposed him as the long-lost half-brother of Senator Garcia?--, but boy, did he know his knots!
Her ankles were also crossed, bound, and knotted, in what Nancy had come to recognize as the most common weakness of so many villains.
Good as he is, he’s made a fatal mistake! With my ankles crossed, he should have cinched rope between them, as well as around them. He's left me much too much slack.
As she rolled herself over, Nancy gave out a low moan, which came out as a sort of muffled grunt.
Gagged. Of course. In her experience, the sorts of ruffians that would knock out and tie up a girl detective usually wanted to keep her from calling for help. She realized that the cloth filling her mouth was a man's handkerchief-- clean, thank goodness, she thought, remembering the one in her own pocket that she'd wiped her nose with-- that had been tied in place with a band of thin, strong silk-- a necktie. Meaning that my attacker was probably a man!, the young sleuth deduced.
She shifted the gagging mass around in her mouth, working at the necktie that bound it in place, until the handkerchief was nearly all the way into her mouth; her saliva was soaking it to the point of making the ball smaller in her mouth, so that her teeth were now largely exposed around the band of damp silk.
He's better with ropes than gags, she thought. Of course! Old Newt, the horse trainer-- HE would have plenty of experience tying knots, but probably not much experience gagging a woman!
With renewed confidence at having plumbed the depths of yet another mystery that had baffled the Riverview police, Nancy then turned herself to the task of getting away to tell about it!
"Chief Goodfellow." Drew Carson tossed a crisp greeting to the heavyset man behind the desk.
"Mrs. Carson, I'm glad to see you. Dick called to fill me in. This is quite a pickle we've got here, isn't it?"
My daughter probably kidnapped for the umpteenth time... yes, I suppose that could be considered a bit of a 'pickle'. Aloud, Drew Carson responded. "Yes, Chief-- she seems to have been investigating the case of the mysterious Indian-head nickel, and Dick tells me that she's disappeared."
"Good heavens!" The burly policeman's face reddened. "That plucky young sleuth sure has a nose for trouble, doesn't she?"
That would be an understatement, thought Drew. Aloud, she said "I think that Dick here has an idea about what might have happened."
As all eyes turned to him, Dick Dickerson lowered his voice, and intoned, "I believe she's been kidnapped."
"Kidnapped?" The Chief's face was a mask of horror. "That's terrible!" He shook his head. “How does she get herself into these scrapes?”
"Well, chief, perhaps if Nancy spent more time on, say, her studies, and less on interfering in what is really the business of the police--" Drew began.
"Oh, but we're grateful for her help," the big policeman beamed. "Mrs. Carson, I swear that half the mysteries in this town would go unsolved if it weren't for your daughter!"
Drew Carson would have laughed at that statement if it hadn't been so pathetically accurate. For a small, unassuming town, Riverview sometimes seemed to be overrun with counterfeiters, kidnappers, confidence tricksters, embezzlers... each of whom seemed able to utterly baffle the thick-headed police chief and his somewhat simple subordinates.
"Well, that's as may be, Chief," Drew began, "but I would suggest..."
"Holy cow!" She broke off to look in the direction from which Dick Dickerson had just uttered his exclamation. "I just remembered-- Nancy left us a clue!" He dug into a pocket of his... oh-so-tight-fitting... jeans...Stop it, Drew!!... and pulled out a small, shiny coin.
"The Indian head nickel!" The Chief breathed, slapping his forehead in a gesture that Drew had never seen another human being use outside of a television situation comedy.
"Yes!" Dick agreed. "She left this with Tess and Jo to give to me, but I only just realized that it’s a clue to where she was going--"
"-- the old McShiver Mansion!" the two adults chorused.
You’ve been in tougher spots than this! Remember the Case of the Tap-dancing Teakettle, when that unpleasant Eliza Gump had you roped to a chair at the arms and legs, with her scarf tied in your mouth as a gag; or the Mystery of the Deadly Dachshund-- that awful sea captain with his fancy nautical knots and bandana gag-- THAT had seemed an inescapable trap, and you got out of that OK.
Emboldened by this list of past captivities from which she'd escaped, Nancy began to work her crossed ankles back and forth, sliding them against each other. Each time she did so, the loop of cord seemed to grow larger and looser. Not doing my hose any good, the young sleuth mused to herself as the friction ate away at her stockings.
Soon, Nancy had managed to slip the loop of cord free from her ankles, and she felt the familiar buzzing sensation of returning circulation as she got unsteadily to her feet.
"Nancy! Are you here?" Dick called out.
"She's not answering!" the chief stated the obvious. "Maybe we read the clue wrong."
"No, I'm sure we had it right," Dick breathed. "But what if the villains got here before we did. they might have... they might have..."
"Tied her up?" For all her real concern for her daughter's safety, Drew Carson couldn't keep a note of irony out of her voice. "Gagged her? I suppose we might consider the possibility-- considering it seems to happen to her on the average of about twice a month." If her companions heard, they gave no sign.
"The villains!" Chief Goodfellow huffed. "You two--" he gestured to the two police offices that hand accompanied them. "Go around the back and see if you see anyone." He then nodded to Dick. "My boy, you and I will make sure none of the scalawags can get out this way."
Drew Carson rolled her eyes impatiently. Suddenly, there came a thumping sound.
"Chief!" Dick exclaimed. "I think that's a signal... I think there is someone inside!"
"You're right, my boy!" The big man scowled thoughtfully. "It's almost as if it were someone who wanted to get out... but couldn't!"
"Oh, for heaven's sake..." Drew Carson strode past the two, toward the front door of the decaying old mansion. As she reached for the door, it burst open, and a well-dressed man stumbled through the doorway.
"Mr. Chattington!" Dick gasped. "What are you doing here?"
The man dusted his clothes, and said "Well, you see... um... I was just on my way to-"
"Never mind that!" Chief Goodfellow bellowed. "Have you seen Nancy Carson in there?"
"Carson? Why... um... no." The man looked nervously over his shoulder, back toward the house. "The last time I saw her... I mean I haven't.... I don't know who she... her name is Nancy, you say?"
Goodfellow shrugged. "Sounds like this feller won't be of much help. Best be on your way, sir."
"Chief!" Drew Carson blurted exasperatedly. "You can't let him go until we know where Nancy is!"
"Never mind, mom-- that villain's not going anywhere!" All eyes turned to the doorway of the house, where Nancy Carson stood, a damp necktie around her neck like a necklace, and a fistful of cord in her hand.
"That's the man, officer!" Nancy boldly pointed to the scowling Chad Chattington. "Old Newt was working for him all the time."
"Nonsense!" the man sniffed. "Chief, I assure you--"
"Check his pockets, chief," Nancy asserted herself. "I think you'll find that the knife in his pocket matches the cuts on the pieces of rope that were used to bind me."
Drew Carson raised an eyebrow. Of all the preposterous-- She was on the verge of telling Nancy that there was no possible way of determining such a thing, when Chattington blurted out, "You blasted snoop! I should have finished you when I had the chance!" He reached to his pocket, snarling; his face fell, though, and his hand came out empty.
"My- my knife...?"
"Oh, that," Nancy laughed, handing the knife to Chief Goodfellow. "You must have dropped it after you tied me up. After I had undone the knots at my ankles with my feet, I found it there and was able to use it to cut through my wrist bonds.” For a moment, the man just gaped; in the next moment, two policemen escorted the cackling figure of Old Newt from around the back of the house.
"Found this one trying to make his escape, Chief."
"Chattington, you rotter. You were gonna throw me over to the police to save your own skin."
"We found the other Indian head nickel on him," one of the policeman reported, and he held up a cassette tape. "As well as this recording of Andean flute music."
Chattington snarled, "You old bumbler, how could you let them..." he turned his dark gaze in Nancy's direction. “And as for you, you little snoop..."
Nancy gave a silvery laugh. “The bigger the talk, the cheaper the hoodlum, I always say.” Chattington’s only response was a growl.
"Mrs. Carson, I swear sometimes I don't know what we'd do without this girl of yours." The Chief shook his head in wonderment as his officers took the two miscreants away.
"Yes, I wonder, too," Drew Carson responded distractedly, as she watched Dick approach Nancy.
"Gosh, Nancy, it’s such a relief that you’re OK!” Dick reached both arms to embrace the young detective. Nancy seemed not to notice his intention, and instead took both his shoulders and gave them a casual squeeze.
"Thanks for being there for me, Dick. You're the best."
"Gee, Nancy...” Dick seemed flustered. “I was really worried. I mean, we've never even had a chance to..."
But Nancy had already turned away to her mother. "Mom, I told you not to worry. You know I can handle myself. And just wait till I tell Tess and Jo about my latest adventure—they’ll be so jealous they weren’t there to be part of it!"
Drew Carson nodded, murmuring some noncommittal reply; her attention, though, was drawn to Dick Dickerson's face. She tried not to be obvious as she observed the frustrated flush in his cheeks. For an instant, his eyes seemed to flicker to hers, then to Nancy’s retreating form, all eagerness to relate the details of her abduction and captivity to her two equally trouble-prone chums.
Well, I know what’s on Nancy’s mind, Drew Carson mused to herself. But Dick’s mind? What’s on it? The blond attorney met Dick’s glance once more, briefly, before turning away. And, for that matter… what’s on mine?
To Be Continued